The drugs sat in our medicine cabinet for months. Fifteen bright white pills in an ordinarily blue case. The label read heartburn medication. But, I knew better.
Grandpa had been different in the time before he died.
It was just the two of us in the house. When his routine started to change, it was noticeable. Late hours merged and melded with early mornings and before long – Grandpa was gone more than he was home.
I worried. He was a seventy-five year old man. And yet, I wondered if he slept at all.
One night, I caught Grandpa in the kitchen, sopping drunk and by himself. He was staring at a cabinet and repeating the national anthem to himself. I worried that his mind was starting to go. Instead, it was his body. My grandfather passed away that same week.
Back in the day, he worked in the CIA.
It was a secretive gig. Technically, I am not even supposed to tell anyone about his employment. But this is anonymous. Right? He is dead and buried. Unless any of you plan on tracking down my grandfather, and his unmarked grave, it should be safe to proceed.
He worked in experimental medication. Pops was drunk enough to let that bit slip one night. I did a little research to connect the dots since his death. The results were shocking.
In the sixties; Project MKUltra was the code name given to a number of tests done, by the CIA, on human subjects. It was a horrible, and at times illegal, practice. In case you think I’m kidding – this next bit comes straight from Wikipedia.
MKUltra used numerous methods to manipulate people’s mental states and alter brain function, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and other forms of torture.
MKUltra is famous. The information was brought to light by the Church Committee in 1975. Most of the documents were declassified in 2001. But, I had no proof my grandfather was involved.
I called a few of his army buddies. Most of them hung up on the spot. They were never big fans of sentimentality, I guess. After all, grandpa has been dead for awhile – no state secret was worth spilling in the name of a lonely 28 year old.
I decided to keep the bit about the medication to myself until I reached my final call.
The man that I was able to reach was named Johnsen, and he was one of Grandpa’s closest friends. They had fought in Korea together. After the war, they ditched one government job for another, and joined up with the CIA soon after they got home. His family visited on the holidays. Grandpa still called him regularly, before he passed away. If absolutely anyone knew anything… it would be this man.
“Yello,” answered the old and patient mid-western voice on the line. I collected myself. If the last few calls taught me anything, these guys did not like panic.
“Good morning!” I exclaimed. Too happy. Shit. “Johnsen, this is Matt, Herb’s grandson…?“
The line grew quiet on the other side.
“Ah, yes. How can I help you?” he asked dryly.
“Well, you see, I found some pills here that are my grandfather’s… and I don’t really know what to do with them…“
Before I could finish, Johnsen uttered a slew of curses into the phone. None of them sounded very natural or becoming – coming out of the mouth of a previously polite old man.
“I am a half hour away. Leaving now. Sit tight. Don’t fucking touch those pills, boy. Your grandfather was an old fool for leaving them out.“
He hung up the phone and said nothing more.
I stared at the white case on our kitchen table for fifteen minutes. It had Grandpa’s name in ordinary stenciled letters. There was even a prescribed doctor. The pills themselves seemed harmless to me. Something about their presence was mysterious and intoxicating.
I missed my grandfather so much. More than I had let myself believe. The house was empty without him, and I was alone.
The drugs called in a way that is impossible to explain. Maybe it was some misplaced nostalgia. I wasn’t an addict. I didn’t know know what I was doing, or what the medicine was going to do. But, I wanted to feel what he felt. In my grief-stricken mind, that kind of thing sounded like a way for us to connect, one final time. Resolving the mystery before me would just be an added bonus.
I took two with half a glass of water.
The results were immediate. I never planned on that. To be honest… I don’t know what I was planning. As soon as the pills entered my mouth, I regretted it. My vision started to flicker. It was like if someone was playing with the lights in a movie theater. Every few seconds, I could see the outline of the kitchen table or my refrigerator. Then everything would turn to black. Then it would illuminate again.
I grabbed hold of the kitchen sink to steady myself. There was a window there, that looked directly out at the neighbors. I looked into the sunlight to stop the darkness.
After a couple minutes, the flickering started to ease, and I was able to see more clearly.
There was a large group of people sitting on the neighbor’s front lawn. I never noticed them before. They were facing the neighbor’s front door, as if they were waiting for someone to come outside. The clothes were odd, and seemed ill-fitting in the heat.
A little girl turned to look in my direction. I waved. She did not wave back. I stared her down for a little while, desperately trying to make out the details. The little wore a black dress that dripped down well below her knees. Her hair was up and coiled in an eighties-esque bun. Her skin was pallid and milk-white in the reflective sun.
And she was thin. Impossibly thin.
The little girl grabbed an older woman’s hand. The lady followed the child’s gaze. In a moment, they were both staring at me. The older woman’s wrinkles looked as though they had wrinkles. She was ancient, and definitely not someone I had ever seen around the neighborhood. What was truly stranger, though, was her dress. It was an elegant, period piece that seemed to poof out at the bottom by her legs. The whole ensemble swung around her feet in a perfected bob as she angrily marched across the street. The rest of the group got up and followed them.
Their cold, black eyes, never left mine.
Then, they both stopped. As if on point. As if by some oddly organized and organic dance number. One sharp-dressed man had a knife sticking out of the back of his head. One promiscuously clad preteen was covered in blood, originating from her belly. Ten people raised their arms in the street, in unison, and pointed.
I did not have much time to freak out. A familiar voice filled my kitchen.
“You should not have done that, Matt.“
My grandfather was skinnier than I ever remembered.
The grey hair on his head had started to fall out. That stayed the same. His skin still looked pasty and sick. His eyes were black, instead of their traditional blue. But his smile was comforting. His presence was awe-inspiring.
“How is this possible?” I asked. “We buried you.“
Grandpa ignored me completely. Someone started to pound on our front door. But my grandfather’s tone grew stronger and angrier. His voice boomed across the cavernous and cold kitchen like a megaphone.
“I know where you have been, my boy, and I know how it ends.” he paused as a pounding started on the front door. “You better turn from this path, before you end up like your old man.“
The door finally gave way to one final kick. Johnsen stumbled in through it with a huff of breath and slew of cusses.
“Did you fucking do it? You stupid fucking moron. They will know. You have been been spotted, *” he gasped. “There are a hundred thousand dead fucks stuck in Salisbury county. Do you want to be one of them?*”
Somebody slapped me so hard it shook me right out of my state.
I woke up in a hospital gown, with a very angry Johnsen by my side.
“You awake, kid? You can’t go back to that house, you know that right? You’re marked. You just broke some very ancient and hallow rules. Why do you think the program was shut down?“
I mumbled something in reply. My head felt like the Devil was playing drums.
“Wait, do you remember anything?” Johnsen asked, hopefully.
I shook my head.
“Oh, perfect. That’s actually perfect.“
He collected himself.
“Son… you survived a robbery. Bunch of goons hit the joint while you were sleeping. You will have to move. Burglars like to hit the same place twice, you know? Just looking out for you, kid,“
The heavy jowls on his face quaked furiously as he pulled a cell phone from his suit pocket and stepped away. I heard him mumbling in the background. Apparently, spy skills wear off after awhile.
“Nah, kid remembers nothing. I cleaned out the apartment.“
Johnsen listened to the other end.
“Twelve pills in the case. Sounds about right. He popped a few before we got there, as you know.“
Johnsen nodded a couple of times into the phone. As if the idiot on the other end could hear him. Finally, he ended it with a
and sidled back over to my bedside. Johnsen told me he could not stay. That I was fine, anyway. He promised to visit again, but never did.
I followed his advice and moved out of my house a few weeks later. The same one I shared with my grandfather. It was hard to do. But, you know what they say. Sometimes closure is the only way.
During a final sweep, I found a bright white pill stuck underneath the kitchen windowsill.
I did not visit my grandfather yesterday. Maybe I will today.
Call it what you will. I am definitely fucked up still.
There was one more bright white pill, caught in a crack, just underneath my windowsill. I kept it safe until some of you broke my will. Let it slip, right? Fuck it. Maybe the truth behind the people outside is worth the sacrifice of my pride. My world is spinning still and my eyes burn as if they’re covered in cyanide. I need to write this letter to you while there is time.
Or maybe just before I lose the will.
The effects of these drugs are a lot stronger and stranger than anticipated. The hospital in my first update kept me elated. Johnsen made things seem fine. They’re not. My quiet and picturesque cul-de-sac that once seemed empty has now come alive.
In the day and in the night, I keep real still behind the windows, and I do my best to hide.
My neighbor, Mrs. Morgan, is married; with a mortgage, mid-life crisis, and a heckling but bustling family of five. She is the sweet, innocent, type of housewife that smiles on the street and tucks her kids in every night at nine. Sometimes she stays up for a glass or two of white wine. She checks the locks two… no, three times. She arms a burglar alarm that was the most expensive one online. But, there is no siren for the forty-year-old man that sits on the lawn outside. There is not another pair of eyes that see the dripping wound in his side.
Jack lives in a starter home. Jack lives alone.
The place was a gift from his mom, but in reality, he pays money back to her as a loan. The deal is a bargain until he can afford a proper place of his own. Jack has a baseball bat that he keeps by his bed. When the thunder claps the street, he usually goes outside, to check on the body that he keeps hidden in the shed. Once satisfied, Jacks shuts out the lights. I am the only one surprised by the shadow of a young woman sliding into his den. She slips into bed and snuggles close by Jack’s side.
Norma is a wonderful woman that lives with a few friends.
They are the type upon which a girl can truly depend. She feels safe with them. But Norma also has an alcoholic boyfriend, named Ned, that she relentlessly defends. Sometimes, Ned, hits her, usually around the time he struggles to get it up in bed. You might think there is no justice for a man who’s own wife’s blood he would so willingly shed. But there is a unique reprisal among the dead.
Generations of Norma’s ancestors have gathered from near and far. They clutter the driveway, lawn, and even the basement – by the bar. You see, Ned’s last drink must be coming up quick. The ghosts of the past wait with open arms, razor claws, and closed fists. They anxiously anticipate each and every sip. Which one will be the last?
Nathan loves the Internet.
He browses the stories online for hours at a time. He read all the best ones that he could find. He has memorized all of his favorite lines. Sometimes, Nathan reads them very late into night. There is a constant rustling in his sheets, and occasionally, some movement outside on the street. I know Nathan hears the noises too, because he wakes up often from his sleep often in the night. But he never checks. He never realizes the source of his nightmares is inside. Three tall men with white stockings and black suits wait in the kitchen with hands full of knives.
I see them all. As clear as morning in the fall. They wait on my lawn, as well, after all.
A large group of strangers have congregated on the block like a fair. Some, but not all of them, like to frequently stare. There is middle-aged man with a hat sits on my porch rocking chair. There is a woman, with a white dress, that is missing all of her hair. Last but not least… my grandfather is also there.
He reclines on the lawn in those old pajama bottoms. His hair is still white, but nothing else seems quite right. His once trustworthy eyes now shine blacker than the cold, dead night. His face is pallid and showing signs of some rot. I have avoided approaching him with everything I have got. The truth is that it makes my insides shutter to constantly consider these crazy thoughts.
I have been trapped inside for two days and two nights and am still shaking from the fright. There it no way out when the shadows are constantly sniffing about. The reason I write in rhymes is not difficult to disguise. Frankly, I fear, this drug has made me lose my mind.
Soon the dead will realize there is nowhere for me to hide. If anyone can help me, anyone at all… please, God, try. Before he died, my grandfather offered one final piece of advice.
“Do not let the dead capture a soul that is still alive.”