Living where I do beneath a blanket of stars and surrounded by pristine untouched forest, I imagined nothing more than a simple life devoid of the frequent platitudes that described the typical mundane existence imposed upon us by the powers that be. I purchased this land, the land I built my home on and the land I subsist on with the arduous intent of existing beyond the bounds of an American society. You may think me backwards or with only a rudimentary understanding of what being an American means. The wanton consumption of commercialism, debating the merits of a particular Sunday night drama or the reluctance adherence to the proverbial nine to five. The axiomatic origination of the American dream that for one reason or another had the world congealed in a paltry amalgamation of envy and spite.
Born the only son and one of three to Susan and Phillip Barnes, I amused myself through my teen years with the dream of moving away from the big city, writing poems and short stories about climbing through the cesspool of greed and self-loathing that accompanied life within the confines of the Barnes household. This is not to say that the Barnes house was a cesspool, but rather it resided within the cesspool of American class structure.
College was to be my escape. My escape from my familial obligations and the chance to embrace a group of individuals keen on discovering oneself and capturing the belief that there was a higher purpose laid out within the world. Globalization, cross border dialogue and all that nonsense. Replace unlimited opportunities to stretch our collective intellect with binge drinking, vaping and rampant sexual diversions from the pain of soul crushing debt then you’d have a more accurate portrayal of my university level experiences. Argue that it was my fault. I won’t contest your reasoning, but know it wasn’t the direction I desired. For the record, I removed myself from that situation. I stress that failure was not part of the equation.
Left with no alternatives that I deemed appropriate I went with what I knew and took up work in a machine shop worker. Dodging barbs about my ill-conceived attempts at post-secondary education and throwing more than one pair of cowhide gloves in the trash from grease pranks, I endured. Admittedly, millwork is harder than the average person gives it credit. The foreman approached me after lunch on a September Friday afternoon and dismissed me from the mill. My dismissal included a severance check and a comment that, while hurtful in its own manner, scathed my mental well-being only slightly.
I feel as though I got side tracked from the perseverance contained within the message of this declaration. Just know that I managed to procure enough funds and financial backing from a less than reputable loan reimbursement company to fortify any resolve that remained within me to move to an isolated location.
Thus I ended up buying château Jacob Barnes. A three bedroom cabin, a small freshwater lake, sixty-one and three fourths acres and a quaint single bedroom guest house. The homes were attached, which was for the best because the neighbor allegedly used a twelve gauge shotgun to perform an amateur lobotomy while the former owners vacationed in Los Angeles. I saw a picture of him on the fridge of the guest house when I moved in. Hawk-like features and an unnerving lack of emotion. Surprise would be the kindest word I would use to describe their return from what I assume to have been a relatively pleasant time in the bubble of the American dream that engulfs America’s city of Angeles. As noted before, it would not have been overly engrossing for a man of my tastes.
The problem with owning a home in the middle of nowhere and lacking the necessary survival skills ingrained in our forefathers and the ancestors of those early men who trudged from plat to plat looking for food, is that the enjoyment of isolation rapidly changes to a tepid hatred of my upbringing and the general lack of self-sufficiency I developed beneath the roof of Susan and Phillip Barnes.
It was then I remembered that people enjoyed escaping society, much like me, but only on a temporary basis and that desire was coupled with methods and means to place those desires in a private residence. I would not rent them my own home, but the guest house. Besides, I believed human contact mustn’t be completely abhorrent. After all, I had enjoyed a bevy of coeds in my youth and the stories shared between us would insist upon their continuity until the days we had left on earth numbered zero.
Confession. I did not make the most prudent and valuable use of my pre adult acquired knowledge and understandings. I….slacked….for the lack of a better term. Now, I paid for my deviance in the form of freedom at the cost of actual money. What I mean is I managed to procure my freedom from society, but neglected the foresight to acknowledge that I was not fit enough to live off the grid.
In short, I discovered I needed to earn money.
With no discernible skills beyond my wasted intellect which was largely useless unless I could scrounge up a BA or BS after my name, I ventured into the nearby mountain village of Camden. No relation with the New Jersey city beyond the name. I managed to get my hands on what most would refer to as a burner phone with a small, but useful data plan. Just enough for me to state the availability of my guest house for a vacation getaway with yours truly as a polite, yet out of the way host.
The guest house was small, but warm and inviting. The realtor regaled me with a disturbing and spooky tale about the neighbor who blew his mind. I mentioned this before I understand, but it’s important that I stress the lack of fear this instilled in me. Not because I am a man with no dread or trepidation to the macabre, but because I am a man of reason.
So when Bradley Carmichael and Sonia Gibbs arrived at my house I paid no heed to the guest house’s sordid past. These lovers were seeking a chance to escape their mundane, corporate existence and I was going to try in earnest to accommodate their desires the best a man like me could.
Naturally, they were apprehensive when we first met. One could hardly blame them considering the deplorable state of my technology base within my homestead and the lack of any semblance of décor beyond what was left behind by the previous owner. In my defense, I didn’t move out here to be an interior decorator and the sole reason for this was to put a few dollars in my pocket. Happily, after a few hours they came around. I promised to give them total seclusion and that’s what I set out to do.
Of course, the second night into their week long excursion this all changed. I was on the back deck when the young couple approached me with a drink in hand. They told me how much they enjoyed the simplicity of my property and at first they were concerned about not having the comforts of modernity, but they came around when they could only focus on each other.
Then they told me something that stirred a certain and undeniable uncomfortableness within me. They told me that they really wanted to see what it was like to spend the night in a house where a brutal death took place. A bit morbid, but not so out of the ordinary or loathsome as a person might think. The two gushed about the various noises and apparitions they heard throughout the night. Most were easily explained away which they did despite my intimations to not wanting to hear about it.
Redemption for their insufferable conversation came in the raw exquisiteness of Ms. Gibbs. She was an account executive at an insurance company out east and enjoyed discussing her role at the company, but I largely ignored that as I got lost in her eyes. She was an olive skinned beauty wrapped with curves.
Mr. Carmichael was a lucky man indeed. Yet that Thursday, late evening, just when the sun crept below the tree line, garbled shouts and bangs came from the cabin. These shouts were soon followed by the sounds of Mr. Carmichael tossing one of the folding lawn chairs across the grass tearing up chunks of clay and grass as it skidded across the lawn. After a few shouts from what I presume to be Ms. Gibbs, Mr. Carmichael is alone. He sees me watching from the porch and gestures me to join him.
A take my time to walk across the darkened yard. The only light the subtle glow from Mr. Carmichael’s electronic cigarette. A faint, yet distinct blue glow coupled with the overpowering scent of artificial banana nearly sent me back to the porch, but a good host bypasses the occasional troublesomeness of guest’s less than desirable habits.
The banana tainted vapor greeted me as I took a seat next to Mr. Carmichael in one of the remaining folding chairs. Intoxicated, he told me of the troubles they had been experiencing in their relationship and how this trip was supposed to bond them together. He regaled me of tales of various infidelities and missteps each experienced. A series of personal grievances about Ms. Gibbs and how he was probably going to call it off.
The distress he felt was palpable. What he decided to address next dwarfed his obvious disdain for the current state of his relationship. He leaned in close as if to shut out the world and whispered to me that a man, who he presumed to be the neighbor who took his own life, told him that Mr. Carmichael needed to kill me in order for him to finally rest. In exchange, the apparition would lift a supposed curse that plagued their relationship. The curse causing their constant disgruntlement and derision. I took a few steps back and examined Mr. Carmichael. In the glow of his vape pen I could see a devilish grin flash in and out of my vision. His features changed part of me swore I could detect the faintest of my neighbor’s….no…that wasn’t possible.
I left Mr. Carmichael to his own devices, but sleep eluded me that night. Every sound, scratch or creak sent me reeling into a paranoia driven panic. I had convinced myself the words were imagined and that I had just been stressed from an anxiety driven experience of hosting when I was a natural introvert. When I awoke I was greeted by Ms. Gibbs raiding my kitchen.
She explained that she was searching for coffee as they had run out since they misjudged how much was needed for slow drip without an automatic machine. While I was pleased to see Ms. Gibbs in a low cut tank top and boy shorts, I couldn’t help feel perturbed by her discourteous entrance into my home. She thanked me for the coffee and said how badly she needed a pick me up after the night she and Mr. Carmichaels had. The voices had come to her too, but she was worried about him stressing that he didn’t seem like himself.
I spent the rest of the day brooding over when Mr. Carmichael and perhaps Ms. Gibbs would seek me out. To destroy me and remove me from this earth. A voice driving them to madness or was I the one being driven to madness? I feared for my very existence. A primal belief that your soul and body were in danger and that you must do anything in your power to prevent your own destruction. I resolved myself to steeling my nerves against the inevitable should it arrive tomorrow night.
The next night the moon bathed the earth in its gentle white glow. From my room I could see Mr. Carmichael’s stumble across the yard towards my cabin. He staggered and slipped on the wetted grass, but persisted towards my doorstep. I heard the expected knock at the door and froze at the sound of the rapping on the solid oak door. Again, I refused to acknowledge him and the slow and insidious knock, knock, knock, and came once more. I felt frantic. My heartbeat and my mind raced with Mr. Carmichael’s words from the other night. Had he come to kill me? I wouldn’t give him the chance.
When the door burst open, the belligerent Mr. Carmichael stood like a shadow in the moonlight. His piercing blue eyes stared down at me as he heaved and gnawed at his electronic cigarette. The vapor poured from his lips like a locomotive as he charged inside and stood menacingly over me.
He mumbled the words “must do this for Sonia” as he stepped towards me. A harrowing sight indeed as I stepped back waiting for my guest turned assailant Mr. Carmichael to come to me. He stepped towards me the sounds of his wet sneakers scrapping across the wooden floor. I waited in the dim kitchen as he called out my name.
“Jacob. Jacob, Jaaaaacob”
I cringed at the sound of his voice then suddenly he rushed forward bearing a large cleaver the metal reflected the moon on its Damascus steel blade. The razor edge scrapped my arm as I dodged the blow and countered with the Louisville Slugger that was left behind by the previous owner.
The crack of solid wood on bone was oddly and horrifyingly satisfying. So much so I struck again and again until the solid crack of bone was replaced with the thud of flesh and splash of blood. Mr. Carmichael, who came to me only to save his relationship through my death, met his untimely end. I would be no one’s martyr tonight.
Mr. Carmichael lay motionless on the floor save for the occasional twitch that periodically accompanied a corpse that met a violent end. What was left of his brains lay strewn across the floor, the blood staining the ornate wool rug that had been gifted to me before I moved west by a distraught Susan Barnes. If she saw it now….
The guest cabin was dark and for a moment I doubted if Ms. Gibbs was there, but the quick flicker of a candle pulled my eyes in the direction of the back room. The door wasn’t locked as I opened it with an audible groan. Stepping inside I scanned the room looking for Ms. Gibbs and to determine what state she might be in. As I entered the back bedroom, the very room where the neighbor took his own life, I saw Ms. Gibbs sitting on the edge of the bed the candle in hand.
With a gentle blow the light went out and I heard a voice. A voice that called for my blood. A voice that sounded not of Ms. Gibb’s. In the darkness, I felt her leap on me and forcing me to the ground with inhuman strength. I pushed her off as she screamed in anger. Her nails slashed and clawed at my eyes. I rushed away and crashed into the night stand clutching at my eyes. Her small frame careened into my side sending us both sprawling. I could taste the blood pouring from my beneath my eyes after he desperate attempts to blind me. We rolled until eventually I came out on top. I gripped her throat with all my might. The image of the neighbor’s face came and went as she struggled.
Being the first time I had chocked someone I had no idea the range colors the human skin took on when oxygen was deprived to the brain. Reds, blues, purples and nearly black in some cases. Ms. Gibbs thrashed about as I did my best to look away at the carnage I wrought. She would stop moving, stop breathing. Her face, once a horrifying amalgamation of her striking beauty and the cold undead visage of the neighbor, now was that peaceful olive skinned face he fell for when he saw her.