My dearest Declan and Perry. I don’t know if you’ll ever hear this. If these tapes are something you’ll listen to again, if you’ll keep listening to the end. I know everything is a mess right now and you’re both hurting from what happened. Sometimes I may not be able to reach you but I can see you. You’re with me – both of you – always, even if you aren’t with each other.
Declan, if you do happen upon this one more time, you need to go after Perry. Swallow up your pain and pride and go to her. She needs your help more than ever and I don’t know how much I can do for her. Here on the Otherside, I feel things…see things. Things that were once people who want to take her. Things that one day might come for you again. I’m afraid time is running out. So pick yourself up off the floor and go to her.
If you happen to hear this, bring this recording along with you. And when you save her, play it for her.
My story is her story too.
I don’t know where to begin. Looking back on one’s life is a daunting task, trying to recall every month, every year. Even here, in this Thin Veil, where my memories seem sharper, it’s difficult to recall the many details of my life. All that stand out are the important moments, the moments, big and small, that shaped the path I chose. The same path that led me to my death. And led me to you both.
I never thought I’d tell a story that would end with the way I died. This won’t be a pretty one. But it’s the truth and someone needs to hear it. Especially someone like you and Perry. You both are so much like me. So much like each other. If anyone can learn from the mistakes I made it would be you.
I just hope that by the end, you’ll find it in both your hearts to forgive me.
According to the records, I was born on a surprisingly cold day in May of 1925. There had been a rare snow storm that swept through the wooded valley where my father and mother lived in their tiny stone house and I was born under thick flannel sheets with the doctor coaxing me to breathe.
I regret that first breath.
My parents were particularly hardy Swedes. The woods encompassed a large lake, with the nearest town a two-hour walk away. My father was a Lutheran minister for a church that was on the other side of the lake. In the summer he’d row across the shallow waters, in the winter he’d skate. My mother was uneducated and liked to stay home and knit extra thick socks for the cold months. My earliest memory is of me itching away at the scratchy, coarse wool that covered my feet like abrasive boots.
We didn’t have many possessions as my father was staunch in his belief that God gives us everything we need. To him, this also included love. I never saw an ounce of it from him, not to me, and not to my mother. To him his God was everything and we were just creatures of the night. Simple people. Sinners. He never said this outright, but you could see it in his eyes. The way he’d look down at his worshippers was the same way he’d look at us.
My mother was a quiet and well-mannered person who had been stripped of her backbone. I remember watching her at the stove in the mornings trying to heat the water to make coffee. She looked so small and frail, hunched over and defeated by life. Then there was I. Even at six, I was tall for my age and a bundle of energy that rattled my father’s nerves. I’m fairly certain he saw me as a spawn of the Devil. He was never cruel in his beatings, but he made sure I felt them. He didn’t like it when I made up stories about young girls lurking in our garden and wolves tearing babies apart. He said my imagination would be my demise one day, my ultimate sin, and if he didn’t use his belt the way God told him to, I could never be saved.
I’m sure you realize that there were young girls hiding behind tomato plants and that the woods were full of hellhounds that ate abandoned children. I saw them, which makes it true. I never once doubted myself even when I should have. That’s the main difference between you and me.
The first time it happened though, I did blame my mother. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, by watching the tight line that formed between her eyes as she knitted, the clipped and cautious way she talked around my father, but my mother was a wonderful storyteller with a surprising sense of humor. On Saturdays she would take me out into the woods and we’d follow this well-trodden trail through the birch trees until pine and rock took over and we could pass no more. We would stop at a ragged bolder and she’d hand me a piece of licorice. I’m sure she thought the salty sweet treat was the reason I looked forward to our walks, but that was only a bonus. I liked being with my mother as much as I liked being away from my father. She was like a different person all together. She still spoke in hushed tones, but her eyes would dance as she told me the legends of the land, about supernatural beasts that roamed the woods and lived in the lake and about clever trolls who waited for young girls like myself. The stories were half a warning – I see that now – to stay safe at home and never wander into the woods by myself, but I also knew it was a way for my mother to express herself. Maybe it was a way for her to feel like she was giving me something since we were allowed to have so little.
So, on one summer evening, when the light almost kissed midnight, I fell ill. I don’t know what it was exactly, but it struck around dinner time, a terrible piercing at my temple that caused my arm to spasm and knock the smoked trout out of my plate. The pain was so bad that I could only curl up in a ball on the cool floor. My father was out at the church and my mother didn’t know what to do. Back then we had no telephone, no radio, no anything. Not even a horse. My mother placed a cold compress on my head and got me into my bed, then she left for the closet neighbor, who was about a twenty-minute walk away.
The pain continued for a few moments until all I could see were black spots and waves and then as quickly as it had come on, it stopped. The pain had vanished and I felt fine. Perhaps better than fine. I listened hard as the ringing left my ears and was comforted by the rattle of woodpeckers outside and the silence of the house. For once, I was left all alone and I could do whatever I wanted.
I slowly got up and smiled at the sunshine that was pouring in the window. I remember a lake breeze blowing back the red and white muslin curtain and I smiled so wide it hurt my cheeks. This was freedom. My first taste of it.
I walked down our narrow staircase to the living room and kitchen and thought about what I could do in the next forty minutes or so. There was a chance that mama was running so I’d have to do it fast.
Unfortunately there wasn’t I could do. As I said, we didn’t have many possessions and the things I loved most were books that mama read to me when papa wasn’t looking but I couldn’t read yet. So I settled for licorice. I knew it was hidden in the washbasin on the highest shelf.
I brought out the chair from underneath the table and began to push it toward the shelf when I heard a peculiar sound. A giggle.
I stopped and looked around. I was alone in the house, I knew that. Yet there it was again. A light laugh. It was girlish and airy and sparkled in the breeze.
I forgot all about the sweets and walked over to the front door. I paused before I put my hand on the knob, listening again for the laugh. Now, there it was. It was definitely coming from outside, definitely not my mother. Nor a neighbor for I had never seen any children around except for the boy at the goat farm my mother was on her way to.
I felt a strange cool feeling travel down my spine. It made me wince and I began to second guess going outside to investigate but I still did. My hand turned the knob like it did every day and I stepped outside into our yard.
Our house may have been small but our yard was bigger. It stretched all the way down to the lake’s edge where dull brown sand mixed with skinny weeds. Today the water lapped noisily at the shore in a hurried manner, like it was rushing to get somewhere. Perhaps the house. Perhaps me.
I shook such foolish thoughts out of my head and tried not to think about the giant fish woman my mother told me lived in the lake. I faced the trees that bordered the grassy yard and watched as they swayed against each other, their bright leaves glinting in the soft light.
The giggle resounded again. This time it was coming from behind the house where my mother kept a vegetable garden and a small root cellar for preserving over the winter.
I crept along the side of the house, grateful that my tiny leather shoes were worn and didn’t squeak. When I reached the edge of the building, I slowly inched my head around and looked at the garden.
I didn’t move but my breath left me.
In the garden, behind the tomato plants that were snaking up a knotted wood plank, was a girl. She was maybe a year older than me, about the same height. She had the blondest hair I had ever seen, a sharp contrast to my mass of dark waves. She was wearing a red dress that fell in a straight line, free of the bunching I was used to wearing, and shiny white shoes.
She was hiding behind that plant. And she was watching me.
There was no use in me ducking behind the wall. I had been seen and from the strange look in the girls aqua eyes, it looked like I had been expected.
I cleared my throat and tried to speak but all speech had left me. I tried again, worried that something bad would happen if I didn’t say something and finally my tongue worked.
“I’m Pippa Lindstrom,” I said, keeping most of my body out of her sight. “What’s your name?”
I expected a response. Even for a little girl, it was a straight forward question. But the blonde one just lifted her finger to lips, a skinny pale thing I glimpsed through the tomatoes. Her eyes flashed wide and shot to a place over my head.
I followed her gaze.
Behind me, near the start of the path that led into the woods, was a tall, dark man. He was only darkness. I know this doesn’t make much sense but I could barely make out any of his features, anything that made him human. Everything about him was shadows and black and emptiness. He was dressed in a black cloak, black shoes and pants and his bare skin, his neck and face, looked as if he was standing in the shade of a dense tree.
Only he wasn’t. The sun was directly on him but it didn’t…reach him. It was if the light couldn’t even illuminate a single cell on his body.
My blood froze like a winter lake. I looked back at the girl behind the tomato plant and she was still there with her finger to her mouth, her eyes pleading with me not to say anything.
So I didn’t. I didn’t even nod in fear of giving her away. I just calmly looked back at the man as if he was the only person I saw outside my house.
The man stared at me. I don’t know how I knew this because I couldn’t see his eyes, even if he had eyes. But he was staring and in that way the owl does before he decides to bite the head off a mouse. It was predatory.
Then he turned and walked into the woods. Maybe he floated, my memory is a bit fuzzy. If I recall correctly, I think he just disappeared into the bark of the trees. But he was there one minute and the next he was gone.
Sure that the black man had vanished, I stepped around the house and walked toward the girl. She stumbled back a few feet, looking scared. I noticed how white her shoes stayed, despite the layer of mud in the garden from yesterday’s rain. It was strange. But what wasn’t?