The Springdale Resurrections: The darkness arrives
Part One of Two
I had known Buck Lapin since we were kids, at least I thought I did. We had spent so much time together back then. I guess a lot of people would have thought we were brothers.
I always thought of him as the weak one though; the kid I had to protect. He was always be happy to let me do it too. So, when I realised that evil had set up home in my home town of Springdale, I never imagined that Buck would be the one to send it back to hell.
All towns have dark corners and secrets to hide. You probably know that much already. Maybe yours is the same. The difference for me though, is that I know that there’s no randomness to the darkness.
Remember that doctor who killed those people instead of healing them, the fighter pilot who shot up a wedding instead of a convoy of tanks, almost any act of senseless evil; they’re all connected by the same darkness.
It walks the earth, moving from town to town looking for lives to wreck. In the March 1982 that same malevolent force came to Springdale.
Back when we were kids I always felt that darkness close to me, perpetually out of view, and content just to watch me. That wasn’t the case with Buck though. It got closer to him and at times it scared him real bad.
I remember one time, we were off school, maybe it was a weekend. I was eating breakfast, when the sound of hammering on the door interrupted me. It was Buck, he had collapsed on the step and he was sobbing. The front of his pants were wet and smelled of pee. I pulled him inside before anyone noticed. We went up to my room and he changed into a pair of mine.
I just couldn’t calm him down for hours. Eventually he told me that he’d been waiting for me down by the swings in the park, when it suddenly got really dark. Buck said the sun just went missing, like that time when we had watched the eclipse in the school-yard, wearing those geeky glasses. He said he tried to run for it, but he just couldn’t get his legs going. Then he felt something standing next to him, he could feel its warm breath on his skin.
I asked if he could see What it was. What did it look like. He could barely get the words out, he was sobbing so hard and kept telling me I wouldn’t believe him. I pushed him and in the end he gave in.
“It was a Rabbit right! I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I’m telling you it was a big ugly Rabbit. It was bigger than your Dad.
In my head I just saw Bugs bunny chewing on a carrot.I wanted to laugh and say ‘What’s up Dock?’ I knew I couldn’t. The pain in his eyes was obvious and very real.
“How did you get away?”
He looked up at me, and for a while he just couldn’t answer. His face, damp with tears, glistened in the light from the window. It was dirty and his crying had left brown streaks on his cheeks. Buck was always a scruffy kid and the other kids would pick on him bad. We became friends after he’d gotten into a scrap on his way home from school one evening.
Buck’s parents didn’t have much money. His father was made redundant the year before. There where times when they had no hot water and others when the water company would cut them off all together. I guess Buck got used to not bathing. Of course that meant he would smell a little at times.
The other kids noticed. At Springdale High,The student body were masters at honing in on what made you different and then giving you a dog’s for it. Two of them followed Buck home from school one evening.
I had run into them on the corner of Eldersfield and Mentmore. Buck was in the foetal position, motionless and silent.They we beating him real good and I felt sick to my stomach. I was no tough guy by any means, but I thought I could getter the better of at least one of the two thugs. The other though, he was a different proposition.
His name was Alan Hargreaves. Everybody called him ‘Hair Bear’, like the one out of the cartoon. You might say he had a little of the darkness about him. Needless to say were all pretty terrified of him.
My mother had always said if you can’t fight, wear a big hat. It had sounded ridiculous to me, but right then I realised what she meant. Hair Bear had probably never had anyone stand up to him before. If I shouted loud enough, mad my self big enough I might catch him off guard. How would he deal with it? He might hesitate, even for a second. That was all I needed.
At the time the council were in the process of renovating the local housing stock and they had transformed our estate into a building site. There were plenty of makeshift weapons lying around. I selected a piece of sawn off four-by-two and approached them.
My heart was in my throat and it didn’t feel like I was breathing, but I guess I must have been. Even I’m not sure where I got the courage from, but I ran at the biggest of the two screaming.
‘Hair Bear’ spun round. He had a look of curiosity and surprise on his face, but he didn’t move. I was on him straight away and brought the plank down on his head with all the force I could muster. He staggered backwards, blood oozing down his face.
Chest pounding, arms trembling I braced myself for the inevitable retaliation. It never came. I now know that most bullies are a fragile lot. They puff themselves up like a cat will when it feels threatened, but there’s no substance to their menace. Back then such insight was a revelation.
‘Hair Bear’ had wet his pants and was actually crying. I couldn’t believe it what I was seeing.
“Don’t hit me again, please.” He wept.
His mate took off. There was no honour among villains it seemed. Buck got up and staggered about a bit. His face was pretty banged up and he was holding his arm at a funny angle.
I made a gesture in the bully’s direction, waving the piece of wood like I was gong in for the kill. I never intended to, but the threat was enough. He turned and ran, humiliation complete.
Buck stared at me in disbelief. He didn’t speak, but I recognised the question in his eyes. After all I had just embarrassed the biggest thug in the school.
“I’m no fighter Buck mate, but I sure wear a big hat.” I said laughing.
I’m not sure he knew what I meant, but he laughed along with me. ‘Hair Bear’ never bothered either of us again and Buck and me were friends for life from that day on.
Here we were again, Buck all vulnerable, hurt and looking to me for help. I drew once again on that memory and I spoke quietly and calmly.
“Buck, mate, it’s me. You can tell me anything. I will believe you. I am your friend”
He seemed to regain some level of control and he spoke, pausing to swallow between each word. His words froze my bones.
“It knows who we are.” He said, finally. “It said it’s going to take all the kids in town first, but it’ll get to us eventually.”
Thing is I did believe him. I didn’t think Buck was capable of lying to me, but that wasn’t it. It was like I knew this day was coming my whole life. I knew the darkness would eventually reach Springdale and I knew we would be the ones to have to face it down.
I never believed it was a rabbit though, not even as a kid. I know that’s what Buck saw, but that’s just how it wanted us to see it.
The first abduction took place in the Easter of that year. Old Mr Matthews’ kid, Toby was the first to go. Charlie Matthews and his wife Edith had woken around mid-morning and when they realised what time it was they could believe he hadn’t woken them up already.
Easter was like Christmas all over again in the Mathews’ household and they hadn’t been able to get their kid off the ceiling the night before. They had both gone to bed the night before, fully expecting an early start the next day. Toby’s bed had been empty and his bedroom window was open.
He’d been an okay kid, bit too young for me and Buck but decent enough. Police descended on our neighbourhood and the local paper spoke of a manhunt. We knew no ‘man’ had taken the kid, but we played along. What else could we do? There was no way I was going to tell people a giant rabbit had taken Toby.
So, we did what everybody else did. We said prayers in assembly, then we’d lay flowers at the Mathews’ garden gate and we’d attend the candlelit vigils. The old guy and his wife would never come out, but sometimes I would see her peering out at us from behind her net curtains.
The disappearance had consumed the whole town. It was like a black fog hung permanently over all of us. It was all-pervasive and it felt real. I don’t know any other way to explain it, but it really was like wading through treacle at times. Things that used to bring pleasure could no longer be enjoyed. You didn’t look forward to the weekend any more, because that meant more sadness, more darkness and yet more tear soaked vigils.
The Matthews’ became virtual recluses and the only time you saw old Charlie out was down the Booze Store on Lower Lane. I was in there one evening. I think it was a Friday because I was stocking up on chocolate and crisps. It was a weekly ritual in my house. Mum worked nights at the Hospital, and Dad would let me stay up late watching old 1950’s horror movies.
I had paid for my snacks and turned to leave, bumping straight into Mr Matthews. He just looked straight through me. It was like I didn’t even register. He looked gaunt and his breath smelled of stale tobacco and beer. I said I was sorry and hurried out. His descent had shocked me so much. I don’t think I stayed up with Dad that night. I’s sure I just went to bed and cried.
Soon weeks turned into months and the town began to move on. Nobody wanted to, but we had to. The pain and loss were eating away at us all.
I was coming home from the match on a Saturday afternoon in September, carrying my muddy boots and swigging cola from a can. My route took me past The Good Shepherd Church and my eyes set upon the notice outside. There was the usual religious slogan of the week, this time it was a picture of the crucifix with the words “Does it mean nothing to all ye that pass by?” Actually to me it did.
That symbol had done little for me or my family and it had certainly done nothing for little Toby Matthews. In any case I was more interested in the notice below. It was advertising a service of remembrance and prayers for the missing that coming Sunday.
I wondered if the old man and his wife would be there. I knew I would along with everyone else. Springdale was like that. For all its faults and there were many, we faced adversity together. Public displays of solidarity were just how we did things. In all the years since, that fundamental trait of its people has never really changed.
Sunday came and it was a glorious day. The summer hadn’t yet given up its jewels to autumn and it was standing room only in the church. I stood at the back with Buck. Our parents had got there early and were nearer the front.
The chatter seemed lively, almost happy. I remember thinking that was wrong, but I guess you can’t stay sad forever. If you did, it would just wear you out. The mind forces you to take a break now and then. Or maybe it was just the act of coming together that lightened the load.
Buck and I must have gotten swept up in the mood, because we were laughing and joking about something. Somehow the horror of the encounter by the swings had faded and we were once again a couple of kids messing about when we should have known better. Like I say, our minds had forced us to take a break from the horror of it all.
Suddenly we were aware of being the only ones making a noise, and our laughter seemed amplified and echoing. Bucks eyes widened. He was staring at something behind me. I turned towards the doorway and saw Mr and Mrs Matthews bathed in the sunshine from outside.
Applause rang out. At first it was just a couple of people, but soon the place was clapping and people rose to their feet. The vicar approached them and embraced Edith first before, sensing Charlie’s unease, taking the old man’s hand and holding it tenderly. Then he walked them slowly to the front and everyone took their seats once more.
The service got under way. We sang weird songs that belonged to another time. We stood up and sat down and we listened to the up and down tones of the vicar reading from the Bible and told us to have faith in the plan. I wasn’t entirely convinced there was a plan, but if there was one I wondered who it was serving.
We were approaching the end now and I couldn’t wait to get outside. The air was stifling inside. I could see many of the men were loosening their ties, or undoing the top buttons of their shirts. The women were shifting uneasily in their seats. There were sporadic outbursts of baby’s cries and just now and then you could hear Edith Matthews sobbing.
Then He walked in and the vicar’s voice just trailed off. Heads turned and I felt the congregation collectively gasp. Charlie Matthews just managed to catch his wife before she hit the floor. His eyes were wide and tears spilled down his face. His mouth contorted and mouthing silent words. “Toby my son!”
He was still in his pyjamas. They were torn and he had no shoes on his feet. He was filthy. Toby Matthews’ father ran to him, scooping him up in his arms.
Toby’s arms lay limp at his sides. His expression was weird, there were dark circles under his eyes and his skin was grey. He looked like a corpse to me and that look in his eyes, it was like he wasn’t really there. Nobody seemed to notice, or if they did they never let on.
There was tears and laughter in equal measure. Edith needed support on either side as she made her way toward her child. She too seemed oblivious to his appearance. Relief seemed to have pulled a veil over her eyes, but Buck and I saw it for what it was. We exchange looks, but we didn’t need to speak to know what the other was thinking.
It wasn’t him. Whatever made Toby their son was gone. The rabbit thing had drained it away and all that was left was a hollow shell. It was chilling, but it was the realisation that our short vacation from the darkness was over, that caused our hearts to freeze.
The town seemed to have chosen to give the Matthews some distance after that. Rumours were rife and I overheard my Mum telling Dad that Toby was referred for further tests on his heart after his first examination had thrown up some weird results.
I perched on the stairs, listening and trying to stay quiet. They were in the kitchen and the door was open a little. I could see them through the gap and hear everything they were saying.
“Obviously you can’t tell anyone this.” My mum was saying.
My Dad had his back to her and was pouring boiling water into a tea-pot. “Who am I going to tell love?”
“You know what I mean. I’ll be in trouble if people find out I tried to get access to his files, but I couldn’t help myself.”
My Dad walked over to the table and set down the tea. He kissed her on the forehead and said “Your secret’s safe with me then.” He began pouring the drinks. “So what did they say then?”
“That’s the thing.” She said. “I couldn’t get into them. His records had been blocked.”
Dad took a sip from his cup. “Well they are confidential love.”
“Yes obviously they are, but I’m staff and I am normally allowed access to the system. I usually go on there to check on my patients lab results. Only this time when I typed in Toby’s name and date of birth, I just got a message saying ‘access denied’. That’s never happened before.”
The conversation turned to matters more mundane and I chose to go to my room. I put the TV on but I wasn’t really watching. The sound of the evening news seemed to bring a little normality and it was oddly soothing, even if the stories being reported were far from calming.
It was like that for a while in Springdale. Toby seemed locked away from view and people began to fill the vacuum with their own theories. He had escaped from his captor was one. He was traumatized and rendered mute by his experiences was another tale doing the rounds.
Nobody guessed the truth. Why would they? It was too unbelievable. Then on a cold Sunday in November they came to know that the boy the Matthews welcomed home in September, was really a monster.
The sound of sirens woke us at 6 am. Billy and Celia Talbot had lived next door to the Matthews for many years. They couldn’t have wished for better neighbours. However, on that morning the sound of screaming had woken them up. He would later tell my Dad what happened.
Celia had begged her husband to go and investigate. Billy hadn’t got home from work until 2 am that morning and it had been another hour before he managed any sleep. It was 5.30 now and he was exhausted.
Still in all the years he had known Charlie and Edith, he had never heard them raise their voices to each other. He couldn’t deny something was very wrong. He leapt out of bed trying to pull on his jeans in the same move and almost crashing into the wardrobe.
He took the stairs two at a time and was out the front door before he realised he had no shirt on. The air was freezing and took his breath away. Some of the neighbours were also out in the street. Obviously they had heard the commotion too.
“What’s going on?” He called to Sam Osbourne, who lived just across the road.
Sam gestured with his arms as if to deny knowledge. “Sounds like bloody murder mate. We’ve called the police.”
It had gone quiet now and Billy had decided to ring the bell. There was no answer. This time he banged on the wood with his fist. The others had now gathered at the Matthews gate.
“Charlie! Edith!” Shouted Billy. “Everything okay?” More silence.
“Police will be here in a bit Billy. Best let them deal with it,” offered Sam.
Billy thought he was probably right, but what if someone was hurt in there? What if they needed help? Hanging around for the police might amount to wasting valuable seconds.
“What if they need help Sam?” He was really anxious now and it showed. “I’d never forgive myself..”
Sam looked uneasy, but nodded in agreement. “You think we should put the door in Bill’?”
“How long did the police say they would be?”
“They didn’t just said they were coming.”
“If it’s anything like when we got burgled a few years back, we’ll be waiting all day.” A voice in the crowd shouted. Billy didn’t recognise it and he couldn’t see who it was, but basically agreed with the sentiment.
“On three Sam. Okay?” They had agreed to kick the door down. If they were overreacting, they would happily pay for the damage. Better safe than sorry.
Sam nodded. The door cracked and splintered and flew open. The top hinges came out of the frame and it crashed against the stairs. Billy looked down the long hallway and could see into the kitchen through the glass door. It was empty and he could make out that the curtains were still drawn. Sam pushed past him and made for the living room.
He came out seconds later. “No one there,” he said. “They must be upstairs.”
Billy looked up the stairs and swallowed hard. The light on the landing was out and the dim sunshine from the street only made it half way to the top.
“Sshh! Can you hear that?” Sam looked worried.
They both held their breath and listened. They could just make out the faint sound of weeping.
“That you Charlie? Is everything okay?” Called Billy.
“Police are on their way mate” added Sam. “should we call an ambulance too?”
There was no answer, just the sound of weeping.
“We’ll have to go up.” Billy said.
“Why don’t we wait for the police mate. Who knows what’s happened up there.”
“I know Sam, but it’s Charlie and Edith we’re talking about. What if they need help?”
Sam knew he was right and reluctantly they headed up the stairs. Billy had reluctantly gone first, but he would come to wish that he had just turned and ran instead.
They reached the gloom at the top of the stairs and could just make out the shape of Charlie Matthews. He was sitting down, with what looked like a pile of clothes in his lap. He was crying and didn’t really seem to notice Billy at the top of the stairs.
“Charlie, it’s me and Sam from over the road. What’s happened mate?” He reached for the light switch and flicked it on.
It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust, but from behind he could hear Sam retching. When he realised why he recoiled, almost falling backwards and taking Sam with him.
“Jesus Charlie. What have you done?”
Charlie was covered in blood and the ‘pile of clothes’ he was cradling in his lap was the decapitated body of his son. The head was lying in the doorway to the old couples bedroom. It was staring at them with one bloodied eye. The other was swollen shut. A discarded axe lay on the carpet next to it.
“I had to do it Billy, I had to.” Said the old man. “It wasn’t Toby. I tried to believe it was, but it wasn’t him.”
Sam had regained control of his stomach and was yelling at the top of his voice. “Charlie where’s Edith? Is she okay?”
Charlie looked up at them with the saddest eyes either of them had ever seen. “It’s too late Sam.” His voice was weak and he sounded broken. “I’m afraid she’s gone boys. I was too late to stop it. That’s why I had to kill it.” Then he nodded towards the bedroom. “She’s in there.”
Charlie Matthews was later convicted for the murder of his wife and son. He went to jail proclaiming his innocence and insisting it was his son who had murdered her. He refused an insanity plea arguing Toby had become a monster. The jury didn’t take long to give its verdict.
He would later take his own life in prison. As a husband and a father he was tortured by his memories. As a convicted child killer he had suffered unending abuse from other inmates. His suicide was a blessed release.
The town was irrevocably broken by the events, but its agony was only just beginning. A grim cycle was set in motion and it would manifest every Easter.
For the parents of the returned there was a double torture. The hell of waking to find their child gone, matched only by the all-consuming sense of dread of their inevitable return, always six months to the day of the disappearance.
Many would not take their child back. Others opted to lock them away in cellars or attics. Neighbours kept their distance and the once caring community suspended its sense of solidarity. It was a collective, if subconscious decision born of fear and desperation.
A dark cloud had descended on Springdale. The papers started talking about the ‘Springfield Resurrections’. I didn’t care too much for that. They weren’t resurrections. Those kids were far from alive when they came back.
I always felt that they were poisoned by their contact with the monster. Buck had another theory. He felt that it was so affronted by their innocence that it had to strip them of every vestige of it. Whatever the reality, I was certain of one thing.
One Easter, maybe the next, it would be our turn to face the darkness.
To be continued……..