Springdale Resurrections: Part Two
Part Two: Fire and Light
Easter was days away, again. It seemed to come around quicker every year and the nagging anxiety in the pit of my stomach was starting to grow. Buck and I had taken to heading for the beach every year to clear our heads. There was just something healing about sitting on the wet sand and staring out into the vastness of the sea, particularly at sunset. It helped me transcend the creeping fear that was polluting my life.
Ten years had elapsed since the abduction of Toby Matthews. At 21 I had completely rationalised the events of that Spring and all of those since. I had convinced myself that the horror stalking our town was a very human one.
“Kids disappeared all the time and when the police eventually bring the criminal to justice; it’s never a giant fucking rabbit,” I told Buck many times and usually with grin on my face.
“Good point, well made.” He usually acknowledged, but I always knew a punchline was on its way. “To be fair though mate the abducted don’t usually return six months later, looking like a refugee from the ‘Walking Dead’ do they?”
He had a point, but even that wasn’t beyond a logical explanation as far as I was concerned. We were revisiting the conversation sat on the sand and watching the sun set on another day.
“Look, I’ll accept that when I first saw Toby in that church, I thought he looked dead. His skin was so pale and he was, well for want of a better word, lifeless, but that’s not necessarily supernatural mate is it?”
He didn’t reply, so I pushed on like I always did.
“I’d imagine he’d have been suffering post traumatic stress or something like that. A kid of his age, who knows what kind of a toll that kind of experience would take.”
Buck had gone quiet for a bit. I could tell he was pissed off with me. To be honest there were times when I annoyed myself with my unrelenting scepticism. I just couldn’t accept there was anything other serial paedophile at work. If he needed to be angry with my reasoning, then I could take that. I went back tossing the occasional pebble into the sea and waited for him to calm down.
“What about the others though?” He said finally.
“Listen, don’t think I haven’t been down the same road as you. I know how totally weird what I am saying is.”
He paused and I didn’t need to look to know he was crying.
“I could get on board with your argument.” He said “But the others were all exactly the same. Their behaviour after they returned went beyond psychological trauma and I think even you can see that.”
I could, but I think I had chosen to ignore it because it didn’t fit with my new rational model. The town had been deeply shaken by what happened to the Matthews family. They’d done the standard vigils, the laying of flowers and the church services. These are the social bandages people use to wrap their wounds these days. They work for the most part, but eventually they crumble and for some, deep scars remain.
Eventually the media packed up their cameras and went home. The police busied themselves with their ‘manhunt’ and parents kept a tighter leash on their kids for a while. By the time the next Easter holiday came around they were getting back to the business of living. What else could they do?
“Look, Buck it’s like this. I just can’t accept there’s some monster rabbit or whatever it is roaming around pinching kids at Easter. That’s just crazy mate.”
He nodded. “Yes it is, but I know what I saw and I’m not a liar.”
“Buck I didn’t mean…..”
“I know that’s not what your saying, but you probably think I imagined it all. Well, I didn’t. I saw it, I felt its breath. I even smelled it. It was as real as you are to me.”
“Okay,” I said “but a rabbit really?”
“I don’t know what to say to you. That’s what I saw. I’ve been over it again and again in my head trying to make sense of it, but in then I can’t deny the evidence of my senses.”
I couldn’t argue without suggesting he was hallucinating and I didn’t think our friendship could take it if I did. So, I just asked another question.
When the Maguire twins went missing a couple of years back, there was an eye witness, right?”
Buck nodded. “Yes a homeless guy said he saw them walking down the alleyway hand in hand with the thing, at the back of the Maguire’s house.”
“That suggests they went willingly.” I said. “Why would they go so quietly with a thing so scary.”
The Maguire abductions were particularly distressing. Not that I’m saying the others weren’t, but two kids from under the nose of their father. That really hit people hard. The town had become almost used to it by then. People were expecting it every year. Parents nailed windows shut and some stayed up all night guarding their kids. For the Maguire family to lose their kids, despite those precautions, suggested we were all powerless to stop it happening.
Sam Maguire, the twins father, had sat in his boys bedroom the whole time on the night they disappeared, I’ll never forget his anguished press conference. The guilt he felt was palpable. He just kept repeating over and over ‘I only fell asleep for a minute’.
It was heartbreaking. However that only paled in comparison to the pain of waiting for their inevitable return, limp, lifeless and as was the case with the others, with murderous intent. Sam had known what was coming and what he had to do when his boys returned.
For six months he hit the drink hard. We all thought it was grief, but he was just anaesthetising himself. He knew what he had to do, but he couldn’t live with the idea sober. The twins did return six months to the day of their disappearance, just like all the others and their father was waiting for them. He had given his wife Sally a heavy sedative. She would have stopped him and in any case he didn’t want her to see.
It was mid afternoon on a Sunday when Sam walked into the local police station to hand himself in. His boys were in the boot of his car. He’d taken their heads off with a spade. It was horrific, but you wouldn’t have found a single person in Springdale who didn’t sympathise with Sam Maguire.
I had expected Buck to lose patience with me, but it was a good question as far as I was concerned. If the thing that he had seen, in the park when we were kids, had walked into the Maguire twins bedroom, why on earth would they leave with it holding hands.
Why wouldn’t they scream the place down. Surely they would have been kicking and screaming down that alley, not walking peacefully. Instead the witness said they had appeared to go without a fuss.
Instead he just nodded. “I have wondered about that myself” he said. “The thing I saw was terrifying. Every cell in my body wanted to run. There would have been no way I would have walked off with it without a fight.”
“So you see what I am saying? It just makes no sense.”
“It’s a Shape-Shifter.” The words just fell out of his mouth like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I realised he had probably thought about little else since all of this started.
“It chose to be a scary thing that day in the park. It didn’t want to take me then. It just wanted to frighten me, to let me know we were marked. Knowing we are terrified, waiting for it to come for us, I think its gets off on stuff like that.”
Buck was in his stride now. “I’m guessing that when it appeared to little Toby, the twins and all of the others, it just took on a fluffier version of its self.”
I lost my temper a little and I still regret that now. Buck was the closest thing to a brother I had. I hated hurting him, I just couldn’t see it back then. “Christ Buck, now it’s a Shape-shifter! Have you heard yourself?”
My patience had evaporated. Despite my feelings for him this was all just too much. There were so many questions, not least of which, what was it that made us so special? Why would it ‘save us for last’? Why not just take Buck in the playground?
He had no answer to that, but I had a nagging sensation that I somehow knew the truth. It really felt like there was an answer lurking deep down in the very bottom of my mind. I had lived my life with a low level anxiety that I was never able to pin down. It just left me on edge all the time, with a constant feeling that something bad was going to happen. I tried to push it down and sometimes it worked, but in truth I was never able to completely get rid of it.
I’m guessing you will have had that ‘tip of the tongue’ sensation. Someone asks you something and you are utterly certain that you know the answer, but you just can’t reach the information. That’s how I felt when it came to this whole horrible situation. There was a reason we were wrapped up in all of this, somehow we had an important part to play. The answer was there, but I just couldn’t remember it.
The sun had almost dipped below the horizon and the temperature had dropped. It was time to go home. Buck basically lived with me in them days. Although we never officially agreed to it, he just stayed over one night and never left. I’d left home a couple of years earlier and got an assistant manager’s job in the local picture house. I could just afford the rent on a two bedroom flat above a bookies on the high street, but having my friend chip in helped.
It was only about two or three miles back to the flat from the beach. The bus service was terrible so we decided to walk. I took the opportunity to make peace.
“I’m sorry if I upset you Buck. I guess you think about this more than me. I get that. After all you’re the one who actually saw something. I have to rely on second and third hand accounts. It’s just tough for me to accept that what you say is actually real.”
He looked at me, rolled his eyes and smiled. I realised that what I had just said could have been interpreted as another swipe at him. I quickly qualified my statement.
“I didn’t mean that…you know what….”
I guess he realised I was tying myself up in knots and chose to let it go.
“It’s okay.” He said. “I know you’re on my side. You’ve always looked out for me.”
I felt a little embarrassed and we walked for a while in silence. We passed park where Buck had his encounter. It would have been in total darkness, save for a flickering street lamp. Buck stopped and stared over at the climbing frame. The old swings had long gone and the place had undergone a renovation.
“I think it’s our turn next.” He said it without any emotion.
It took me a few seconds to register what he meant. “Why would we be next Buck. I thought it was saving us for last. Isn’t that what it told you.”
“Yes it did, but you and I aren’t really kids any more are we? I get he feeling its grown tired of having us around, maybe its a little afraid of us I’m not sure, but I really get the sense that we are about to have a reckoning.”
I didn’t respond immediately. I had a history of engaging my mouth, before my brain had chance to intervene, or to be more accurate, filter what I was about to say. What bothered me most, was the suggestion that he had insight into what motivated this thing. I couldn’t hold back and had to speak up.
“How would you know any of this Buck?” His reply made me feel physically sick. It suggested to me that my best friend was delusional, probably psychotic. I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself to contemplate the alternative, as that was an even more horrifying prospect.
“Because I hear it every night.” He said. “It talks to me and taunts me. I lie there for hours listening and nothing makes its voice go away.”
“You’ve never said anything.” I actually wanted to be sick at this point. I had no idea that my friend was so disturbed.
“I knew what you’d think. I know what you are thinking now and I can assure you that I only wish I was insane, but I’m not. I have listened to details of what it did to those kids and I have wanted to scream. It has told me things only the their abductor would know, things that have since come out in the papers. I am telling you its real.”
“But…” I had nothing and my words just trailed off. At that point I was wondering how I could convince him to seek help and I probably would have pursued it if we hadn’t been interrupted.
“Did you hear that?” I’d heard something coming from inside the park. Turning to look I thought I saw something dart behind the climbing frame, but the flickering lamp made it difficult to be sure.
“It’s him.” Buck said.
“It’s just some kids.” I said, but that nagging anxiety was begin to grow and my legs were screaming at me to run.
“No its not, listen. Can you hear it?”
I could. It was unmistakable. From the direction of the climbing frame I could hear something singing our names and I was convinced I could recognise the voice. I turned to Buck.
“Yes,” he replied anticipating my question. “It’s Hair-Bear.”
It couldn’t have been him, but the sound of its voice was undeniable. We knew that Alan Hargreaves had died in prison. He had been serving time down south for armed robbery.
There was more movement from inside the playground. I took a step back and got ready to run. Then it stepped out into the light. It was him, but there was something wrong with his face. I couldn’t make it out at first, but then he took a step closer and at that point I bolted.
I am ashamed to say I was half way home, before I even thought about where Buck was. Luckily he wasn’t far behind, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to go back for him.
“Did you see it?” He was shouting and actually sounded excited rather than terrified.
I was breathing to hard to speak. All I could do was nod. I had seen it and I still couldn’t believe it.
“It turned itself into Hair-Bear, but it couldn’t get the face right. I should feel scared, but I’m relieved.” He said. “Finally you’ve seen it for yourself. You know I’m not imagining this now don’t you?”
What could I say. I had seen it for myself. As it stepped out of the shadow of the frame it was unmistakably Hargreaves. The same size and body shape. It even had his school blazer on. Had it somehow plucked the image of Hair-Bear from Buck’s psyche? It wouldn’t have surprised me that despite it being years since the bully had worn the school uniform, that was still how Buck thought of him.
The face though, the image lingers still. Even now, in quiet moments when I’m alone, I find it haunts me. It was a kind of half human half rabbit amalgam and its unnaturally wide grin was truly sickening. Its teeth were so filthy, almost green.
I looked back down the road. There was no sign that it had followed us, so I just sat down on the pavement to catch my breath. It was completely dark now and the traffic had thinned out. Only the occasional car went by. Buck sat down next to me.
“Mate I don’t know what to say,” I said. “I can’t deny what I just saw, but somehow it doesn’t help me.”
“I know. You’ve been hiding behind your rational self for so long and all of those defences have been ripped away. I was the same, but perhaps its harder for you.”
He was right. I did use logic as a cocoon. Inside the world was ordered, predictable and it followed rules I could live with. Now I had been thrown outside into a place I barely recognised, where there were no rules and no way to predict what was coming my way.
Our roles were completely reversed now. I had always been his protector. Now I was the vulnerable one. I was lost and I had to look to Buck to show me the way out. It was like I had been stripped bear and taken right back to infancy. I was exposed and at the mercy of an uncertain world.
“I don’t know what to do Buck. I don’t know what any of this means and…” I hesitated, realising that what I was about to admit, was something I had never said to him before.
“You’re scared.” He said, finishing my sentence. All I could do was nod.
The two of us didn’t move out of the flat for the next few days. My stomach was full of butterflies, I couldn’t eat or sleep. Buck was completely different. I had never seen him this focused. It was like he was preparing himself for battle. Turned out he was.
The day before Easter arrived and I was a total wreck. I hadn’t slept and was badly dehydrated. Buck by contrast had slept and was eating breakfast. He had made a huge plate of toast and beckoned to me to eat. I couldn’t face it.
“You’re going to need to be strong mate.” He said.
“What’s the point?” I was utterly dejected. I’m not sure if I completely accepted his theory about it coming for us that night, but I was certainly acting like it was my last day on earth.
He looked at me calmly chewing his a blackened piece of bread. I remember it smelled good and my stomach groaned. The hunger was fierce.
“Today we are going to the shop.” He said, all matter of fact. We need to stock up for tonight. We have to stay awake.” Then he added in all seriousness. “Sleep means death.”
His confidence and sense of purpose was so jarring. It had bothered me since we saw the thing in the playground. It was a transformation so complete it seemed as unreal as everything else I had seen. I flirted with the idea that I was dreaming this. perhaps I was delirious with hunger and thirst.
I took a piece of skin on my arm between my thumb and forefinger and squeezed really hard. It hurt like hell. Seemed this was a waking nightmare after all.
“Tell me Buck. What’s changed?”
He looked puzzled. “I’m not with you.”
“No offence, but have you not noticed the role reversal here? I’m not trying to say you’re usually a completely helpless soul, but…”
“I guess you’re right.” He accepted. “I am. I think it’s because, well certainly since all of this started, I felt like I was living this hell on my own. I felt scared and isolated. Even though you are always with me, you sort of weren’t if you get me.”
I thought I did. He went on.
“That was a terrible feeling. It made me feel so vulnerable. Knowing you thought I was, well lets face it you thought I was mad didn’t you?”
I nodded without really realising I was doing it. He laughed.
“Don’t beat about the bush.”
“Well knowing your best mate thinks you’re crazy just adds to that sense of loneliness. It’s like no one has your back. Now though it’s different. You have seen what I see. You’ve heard it too. That means I have someone. Together we can fight this.”
“It didn’t do the Maguire twins much good.” I said.
“They were only kids though. Plus they had no idea what they were dealing with. We do.”
I was too tired to argue with him. The day passed so slowly. Eventually he persuaded me to get dressed and we left for the supermarket around six. Buck was like a man possessed. I could barely keep up with him as he swept jars of coffee, packets of ‘pro-plus’ and various cans of energy drinks into the shopping trolley.
The girl on the checkout looked at us like we were museum exhibits. She didn’t take her eyes off us the whole time she was scanning our items.
“You two planning on being up all week then?” She asked before blowing a chewing gum bubble. It was both ugly and fascinating at the same time.
“If we can stay up tonight we’ll be happy.” I said.
I must have looked like crap, judging by the look she flashed me. I didn’t care.
“Anything else?” She asked.
“A lighter,” said Buck.
On the way home he pulled into a petrol station. I noticed the tank was half full and asked him what he was doing. He didn’t answer. Instead he filled the can we kept in the boot and we were off again.
By the time we got back home it was dark and the fear was starting to take hold. My hands were shaking and I didn’t seem to be able to take a full breath. Not knowing we had a plan was part of it. Not having one of my own was driving me insane.
When I pressed him on it, all that Buck would say was that there was two of us and only one of it. If we worked together he was sure we could see it off. I was becoming to weary to argue and I just sat down in front of the TV and sipped from a can Turbo-Max.
It was good to see this side of him. In truth I didn’t know he was capable of that. Maybe I hadn’t done enough to show him I believed him. Maybe I enjoyed my superior billing. I could be selfish at times. Had I been holding him back all this time?
The TV was blearing away in the corner. Trevor McDonald was doing some show about the Mafia. His matter of fact upper class British tones seemed reassuring. If old Trev’ could face down the Cosa Nostra armed with nothing more than pin-striped suit and a furrowed brow, then maybe there was hope for us yet.
The flat was warm and the caffeine laced drinks weren’t doing it. I took a few pro-plus for good measure. My heart was beginning to race and every now and then it would miss a beat. I was starting to feel dizzy, but the fatigue just wouldn’t lift.
I still can’t understand how it happened. I had enough stimulants on board to keep me going for weeks, but somehow I dozed off, slipping into a dream so weird and unsettling. I dreamt that the monster had been Buck all along. He had me tied to an operating table and he was going to suck out my brains. In the corner was Mr Matthews, his wife and their headless son. They were covered in blood and Mrs Matthews was pointing at me.
“Why didn’t you stop him. You must have known. You killed us. You and Buck killed us.”
I woke up terrified. I was sweating through my clothes. The cushion I was resting on was drenched. I scanned the flat looking for Buck. He had passed out on the couch, clutching a cricket bat. Still drowsy from my dream, my terror ratcheted up another notch. Somehow I got to my feet. My legs felt like they belonged to someone else, but I just made it across the room.
He looked to be out cold. A noise startled me. It was coming from the bedroom. My heart quickened again and my chest started to feel heavy and there was a tingling sensation in my left arm. I cursed the fact that I’d let my guard down once. If I was going to die tonight, I would go out fighting not from a fucking heart attack.
Something crashed in my room. I guessed it was the bedside lamp. It was on the night stand, just in front of the window. My head swam and I nearly blacked out, but managed to stay awake by pinching myself hard. It did the trick and I leaned over Buck and shouted in his ear.
“Buck get up it’s in the flat.”
He leapt off the couch, eyes wide and clearly not quite awake.
“It’s here.” I said again. “Buck I need you to wake up. This is it mate.”
I could see he was coming round. “how did we fall asleep?” He asked.
“Look I’ve no idea but there’s something in that room. Let’s get out of here before that door opens.”
I knew running would only be postponing the inevitable, but it seemed infinitely preferable to the alternative. Buck was fully alert now and that sense of resolve was back. He bent down and reached for something under the couch. It was the petrol can. He moved quickly and decisively.
“You, over there by the door. Take this.” He handed me his cricket bat.
I looked at him and realised he was deadly serious. I genuinely didn’t think I had it in me to hit the thing. My arms were now feeling very heavy and the sweat was oozing out of every pore.
“You look like shit.” He said.
I laughed half-heartedly. “I feel worse.” I said.
“You can die on your own time. Now we’ve got work to do.” His expression had changed and he looked super focussed. “In a second its going to come through that door. Be ready. Do not fucking hesitate. You hear me?”
I nodded, swallowing hard.
“It’s just like that day when we were kids and Hair-Bear attacked me. You sorted him out for me. What was it you said to me that day?”
I did remember. It seemed an eternity ago now, but the images were running through my head like a movie. The voice-over was my mum’s. ‘Just remember son. If you can’t fight wear a big hat!’
“Remember?” He asked again.
I nodded, smiling. I knew what his plan was and I obediently positioned myself next to the door and waited. Then it spoke.
“Hello boys.” It said, its voice heavily laden with menace. “I can smell your fear. You reek of it. Never mind it will soon be over.”
I heard it move towards the door and gripped the handle of the bat. Buck was stood a few feet from the room, holding the petrol can. He’d unscrewed the cap. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes waiting for the door to swing open. It seemed to take forever.
It didn’t open. It literally came off its hinges. Then the thing stepped out into the living room. It hadn’t seen me and I took my chance swinging the bat as hard as I could at its head. There was a cracking sound and I heard it roar in pain. The bat fell apart in my hand and the creature fell to its knees.
Buck saw his chance and stepped forward, dowsing it in the petrol. It was too dazed to realise what was happening at first. The stench of petrol filled the air and I almost vomited. The pain in my chest was getting worse and my vision was becoming blurry.
My friend was reaching into his pocket and I now knew why he had bought the lighter. My legs gave way and I slid down the wall. I was struggling to breathe now and the fumes from the petrol can weren’t helping.
I had only managed to stun the monster and I could see it was trying to get to its feet again. Buck was desperately trying to ignite the lighter, but it just wouldn’t spark up. I could see real panic in his eyes as he repeatedly flicked the catch. Then it was on top of him.
Buck fell backwards under the weight of it and they both landed hard on the coffee table in the middle of the room. The creature was dripping fuel everywhere and Buck was now soaked in it too. His right arm was outstretched and in his hand he still had hold of the lighter. He was staring at me intensely. I could tell he could barely speak under the crushing load.
Then I realised what he meant, what he was going to do and I screamed “No!”. The monster raised its arm. Its fingers had grown long claws. In one swipe it would open up his throat and it would be over. I looked at Buck again and could see he was trying to mouth something to me. ‘Run Now!’
He dragged his thumb on the wheel one last time and a heavenly blue flame burst forth from the top of the lighter. There were tears in his eyes and he managed one last word ‘Go!’
The fire engulfed them both. I’ll never forget the screams as I scrambled out of the flat on my hands and knees. There have been many nights since, when they have woken me up. I call out for Buck, before remembering and then i cry myself back to sleep.
The Doctors told me I’d had a small heart attack and that I was lucky to be alive. They didn’t know the half of it. I wasn’t surprised when the investigators announced they’d only found one set of remains in the flat. Tests later showed they were Bucks.
I really miss my mate. Maybe the fire destroyed the monster completely, maybe it got away. I’ve played out both scenarios in my head since and I’m still not sure which I believe is most likely. Anyway, that all happened a year ago tomorrow. I guess I’ll know the truth then.