There was a moment not long ago when I thought: This is it. I'm dead.
I think about that night all the time and I feel the same fear I felt then. It happened two weeks ago, but fourteen days and nights of remembering have left me more afraid and uncertain than ever.
Which I guess means it isn't over yet. Something tells me it may never truly be over.
Last night was the first time I slept in my own room since everything happened. I'd gotten in the habit of waking in the hospital to the sound of shuffling nurse's feet, the dry chalk-dust smell of her skin, and the soft shaking of my shoulder.
The doctor will visit you in a moment. He'll want you awake. Can you sit up for me, Ryan?
There was no nurse or doctor or chalky smell this morning, only the early train crawling through town to wake me at half past five. But in my waking mind, it wasn't a train I heard. It was something more menacing, trying to sneak past in the early dawn, glancing down the dead end streets, hunting.
I was scared - and then I was relieved - because my overactive imagination had settled back into its natural resting state of fear and paranoia.
In other words, I was back home in Skeleton Creek.
Usually when the morning train wakes me up, I go straight to my desk and start writing before the rest of the town starts to stir. But this morning -- after shaking the idea that something was stalking me -- I had a sudden urge to leap from my bed and jump on board the train. It was a feeling I didn't expect and hadn't the slightest chance of acting on. But still, I wondered where the feeling had come from.
Now, I've rested this journal on a TV tray with its legs torn off, propped myself up in bed on a couple of pillows, and have started doing the one thing I can still do that has always made me feel better.
I have begun to write about that night and all that comes after.
Monday, September 12, 6:03 AM
I need to take breaks. It still hurts to write. Physically, mentally, emotionally – it seems like every part of me is broken in one way or another. But I have to start doing this again. Two weeks in the hospital without a journal left me starving for words.
I have kept a lot of journals, but this one is especially important for two reasons. Reason number one: I'm not writing this for myself. I'm putting these words down for someone else to find, which is something I never do. Reason number two: I have a strong feeling this will be the last journal I ever write.
My name, in case someone finds this and cares to know who wrote it, is Ryan. I'm almost old enough to drive. (Although this would require access to a car, which I lack). I'm told that I'm tall for my age but need to gain weight or there's no hope of making the varsity cut next year. I have a great hope that I will remain thin.
I can imagine what this morning would have been like before the accident. I would be getting ready for the hour-long bus ride to school. I would have so much to say to Sarah. An hour next to her was always time well spent. We had so much in common, which kept us from going completely crazy in a town populated by just under seven hundred people.
I'm really going to miss those hour long conversations with Sarah. I wonder if I'll get lonely. The truth is I don't even know if I'm allowed to mention her name. But I can't stop. I am a writer. This is what I do. My teachers, parents, even Sarah – they all say I write too much, that I'm obsessive about it. But then, in the same breath, they can't help but mention that I'm gifted. Like when Mrs. Garvey told me I understand words and their usage in the same way a prodigy on the piano understands notes and sounds. But I have a much simpler answer, and I'm pretty sure I'm more right than my teacher is: I have written a lot, every day, every year, for many years in a row.
Practice makes perfect.
I think my favorite writers are those who admitted while they were still alive that they couldn't live without writing. John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost – guys who put writing up there in the same category as air and water. Write or die trying. That kind of thinking agrees with me.
Because here I am. Write or die trying.
If I turn back the pages in all the journals I've written I basically find two things: scary stories of my own creation and the recording of strange occurrences in Skeleton Creek. I can't say for certain why this is so, other than to fall back on the old adage that a writer writes what he knows, and I have known fear all my life.
I don't think I'm a coward – I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now if I was a coward – but I am the sort of person who overanalyzes, worries, frets. When I hear a noise scratching under the bed - either real or imagined - I stare at the ceiling for hours and wonder what it might be that's trying to claw its way out (I picture it with fangs, long boney fingers, and bulging red eyes). For a person who worries like I do and has a vivid imagination to match, Skeleton Creek is the wrong sort of place to endure childhood.
I know my writing has changed in the past year. The two kinds of writing – the made up scary stories and the documenting of events in Skeleton Creek — have slowly become one. I don't have to make stories up any longer, because I'm more certain than ever that the very town I live in is haunted.
This is the truth.
And the truth, I've learned, can kill you.
I'm tired now. So tired.
I have to put this down.
Even if I can't stop thinking about it.
Monday, September 12, 2:00 PM
I have to be careful to keep this hidden.
I have to make sure nobody sees me writing in it.
They're curious enough as it is.
They're watching me enough as it is.
I'm a captive, really. I'm imprisoned in my own room.
I have no idea how much they know.
I don't even know how much I know.
I have so many questions, and no way to answer them.
There is something about having been gone for two weeks in a row that helps me see Skeleton Creek with fresh eyes. I have a new idea of what someone from the outside might think if they drove into my isolated hometown where it sits alone at the bottom of the mountains.
I like to act on these insights and write them down as if they are occurring. It's a curious habit I can't seem to break. Maybe things are safer when I think of them as fiction.
If I imagine myself as a person arriving in Skeleton Creek for the first time it goes something like this . . .
The sun has barely risen when a car door opens and a man stands at the curb looking out into the forest beyond the edge of town. There is a gray fog that hangs thick and sticky in the trees, unwilling to leave, hiding something diabolical in the woods. He gets back in his car and locks the doors, glancing down side streets through dusty windows. He wonders what has brought this little town to its knees. The place is not dead; it is not even dying for certain. Instead, the driver thinks to himself, this place has been forgotten. And he senses something else. There are secrets buried here that are best left alone.
It is then that the car turns sharp and leaves in the direction from which it came, the driver confident that the growing light of day will not shake the unforeseen dread he feels about the town at the bottom of the mountain.
The driver would not know exactly what it was that scared him off, but I know. Sarah knows, too. We know there's something wrong with this place, and more importantly, we know we're getting too close to whatever it is.