I took my new bicycle I had gotten (a beautiful cherry red Schwinn and a gift from my grandfather) and set off into the neighborhood. I rode past the houses of kids I had just seen ten minutes before, but none of them came out to greet or play with me. I rode past the local grocery store that had a sign displayed that proposed: “It’s your birthday? Come get a free cupcake courtesy of Melrose Grocery!” I knew Mr. Melrose, a plump man with a big mustache and glasses that sat on the tip of his nose. I often helped bag groceries at the store. He knew it was my birthday, but when I had come to get my birthday cupcake earlier that afternoon, he told me they had run out. Davey Stone came just as I left, and I saw Mr. Melrose hand Davey a cupcake.
I rode that Schwinn for what must have been hours, so long that when I finally stopped, I had no idea where I was. I knew every inch of my hometown, but where I was I had never seen before. I was in a field, flat except for the thick woods just to the south. The woods were dark, and I couldn’t see past the large trunks of the trees. It had been a windy day, but the wind had stopped. It had been a bright, sunny day, but the sun was now behind a thick cloud cover. It had smelled of sweet flowers all day as well, but now, I only smelt what smelled like burning trash. It was eighty-five degrees that day, but it felt like the temperature was closer to thirty. I was shivering; my bare legs (in shorts) were against the now freezing bright red metal of the Schwinn. That was when I saw him.
He was leaning against a tree at the front of the forest, smiling at me. His teeth weren’t teeth; they were jagged pieces of glass jammed into his gums. The glass was bloody from this, and was trickling down his chin and onto his neck in a fluid, dark red stream. His eyes glistened, but they had no pupils. They didn’t even have white parts, they were just black. They were just cold and black. His nose was twisted to one side; like it had been broken once before and never healed. He was missing a part of one of his ears; it looked like it had been bitten off. He had skin the color of curdled cream. He was very skinny, with strings of dirty black hair blowing in the slight wind that had started up. He was wearing a white dress shirt, now browned from what I assumed had been dirt. Splotches of a lighter brown littered it. I knew this was blood, I had seen the same colored spots on the apron of the butcher at Melrose Grocery. He was wearing tattered brown pants, which were too short, so his bony legs were displayed at the bottom of them, wearing brown socks, also tattered. His brown shoes had holes in them, and one pale toe stuck out. In one pale, bony hand, in between fingers that looked like twigs with sharpened yellowed nails attached to them, he held an old bowler hat.
The man’s mouth moved, but since he was so far away, I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Suddenly, on the brisk wind that again blew past my ears, I heard the whispered words: “Are you scared?”
I simply sat back down on my bike, put my feet on the pedals, and turned around. I rode back the way I came. I turned once to see if he was still standing there against the tree. He was, still smiling at me, but then he put his bowler hat on and calmly walked into the woods, disappearing into the darkness.
For several years after that, I saw the man many times, often before or during tragedies in my life.
He was the drunk driver that hit my car off of a country road when I was eighteen years old, sending it spiraling out of control and into a river. I survived, but my left arm had been crushed in the wreckage. It was amputated soon after. When police arrived, they found a totaled blue truck on the corner of the woods, door ajar, the driver missing. I recounted to a therapist many years later that I had seen him sitting at the bottom of the river, cross-legged, hair sticking straight up as my car sat at the bottom of the river. His mouth was moving, and I didn’t hear what he had said. I didn’t have to, I already knew.
He was the doctor that performed my father’s open-heart surgery, who I didn’t meet until well after the surgery.
My father passed away on the operating table at age fifty-three.
I called the police, but when they arrived at the hospital they found a timid, young, normal doctor wearing the same nametag as the man.
I convinced my mother not to press charges against the poor doctor, who swore he had no open-heart surgeries scheduled at all that month.
He was the landlord who “found” the dead body of my brother, who had committed suicide in his apartment at age twenty-five.
After his death and funeral, I was helping my mother clean out my brother’s items from the apartment when I found numerous journals and videotapes that belonged to my brother. Upon viewing them, I realized my brother had seen the man numerous times in the past few years, maybe even more than I had. He thought nobody would believe him, and the man finally scared him to death.
The landlord was found dead in his apartment, his face cut to shreds to the point of being unrecognizable, in what the police now claimed was the work of a serial killer targeting the apartment building.
None of the other tenants ever died during the time the case was open.
The man dealt me his final blow when he was the male nurse that took care of my mother in her final years.
When my mother’s body was found by neighbors on her eighty-seventh birthday, it was clear that she was slowly poisoned by the aide, who had been with her for several months, and who could only come around on the days I worked.
The autopsy of my mother’s body confirmed that she had died a slow and painful death. Scribbled on the bottom of the autopsy report in a different writing were the familiar words.
Are you scared?
I lived the rest of my life alone.
I never married, I never had children.
I didn’t want anything to happen to them.
I moved into a small house in my old neighborhood, where the other neighbors thought me crazy. I was the bogeyman the neighborhood children told stories about, the old man who snapped and murdered his entire family.
Come October, I had decided I was ready to die. I was seventy-six years old…how much longer could I live anyway?
That was when I found the words written in what looked like blood on the wall of my bedroom, on the night of October 30th.
It was an address: 9182 Harmon Road, where my childhood home still sat, now rotted and barely standing. Under it was a smiley face, drawn in what was definitely not ink.
I accepted the challenge the man proposed. I would meet him in my old house. I was finished. He had ruined my life up to the point I was living it, but I refused to let him ruin it anymore. I put on my slippers and my robe, grabbed my cane, and snatched my hat from the rack by the front door. I was wearing my armor, I was prepared for battle.
I began the walk to my childhood home.