My family has always been a bit of a mystery to me. For years, I carried that around as a chip on my shoulder. I’m an only child. My parents died in a car crash when I was three. I was raised by my soul surviving paternal grandmother, and she passed away from Breast Cancer in 2013.
I was, essentially, alone.
And so when I first discovered Ancestry, and some of the genealogy sites like it, I dove face first into a sea of census records and obituaries. The results were fascinating. I found connections to mafia members, and Scandinavian royalty, and Irish peasants, all woven into my unique family history. I did the DNA test. I bought and translated old records from foreign countries and kept them all neatly organized in my Gedcom file. It quickly became my own quirky little hobby. After five years worth of efforts, my family tree stood at about 10,000 verified individuals. By ‘verified’, I mean their existence can be justified by one or more primary and secondary sources.
To a lot of folks… this is all extremely boring information. I appreciate you sticking with me.
As any good researcher will tell you, however, no amount of homework can solve the past’s oddest mysteries. One branch of my family has always haunted me in this way. Oddly enough, they spent their life in the United States, but the lack of records in my state around the turn of the century is a nightmare. For years, I based my entire understanding of my grandfather’s family tree on one lonely, census record.
And then, one morning, I found it. The one record that lifted the veil off my mystery. It was a newspaper article that listed the announcement for funerals. The microfilm was damaged and spotted in some places, so it was difficult to make out all of the details. But, there was a picture, and a small description below it.
“John, of this city, died of natural causes on September 13th, 1967. He is survived by his daughter, Olivia, and predeceased by his wife, Maria. Funeral services will take place at St. Rose Church at 3:00. Burial will follow at 5:00.“
That single record set off a chain of dominoes. I knew my grandfather died at a young age. But I had no idea what date, or where, or how. The death date led to a social security record. The cause of death was just suspicious. The burial location, however, led to my phone call to St. Rose church.
“Administrative office,” grunted an impatient and annoyed female voice.
“Hello, my name is Matt, and I am doing some research on my family history. Could you help me in locating any records you might have for John ____?“
Something about what I said caught the gruff lady’s attention.
“Are you a direct relative of this family?” she asked, quietly.
“Yes ma’am. He was my grandfather.“
She paused over the phone. I heard whispering in the background. For some reason, her next words sounded nervous.
“We have no grave record for that name. Are you sure you have the right St. Rose parish?“
“*Yes, ma’am. I have the obituary,” I said.
“We will need to see some proof of lineage before we give records out sir,” she replied with a rehearsed tone. “If you come down here and bring the obituary, along with a driver’s license, we will release the records.“
“So you do have records…?” I was confused.
“Yes, sir. Will that be all today?“
I told her no, said thank you, and hung up the phone. The trip was three hours north. Being a bachelor with a few days off work and nothing but time to kill… I made the trip that afternoon, on a whim.
You see… sometimes, if an individual is buried somewhere, you can find members of their family in the same cemetery. All of that information is useful when you are trying to piece together a picture. I hoped that maybe somewhere, somehow, I would find some long lost cousins.
I didn’t plan it very well. On the empty highway, I dreamed about reconnecting with long lost family members. Maybe we would get a beer, and they would regale me with tales of my wily and memorable grandfather, or something along those lines. I hoped for a lot of sad, senseless things. But, by the time I arrived, I soon realized that all of them would lead to disappointment.
The town was desolate.
It was tucked inside the foothills of a major mountain range. Each individual city was cut off and accessible by only one major road. I was about twenty minutes out when the first bout of snow peaked its way through the hills. There were two inches on the ground by the time I turned into the shitty little city at six o’clock.
Most of the local businesses were already shut down for the night. I checked the library, post office, and general store; before finally settling on a historical hotel at the end of the street. It was seven at that point, and the snow had started to stack up to six inches.
The inn-keep was suspicious from the get-go. I tried to pay my bill with some cash I had brought just in case, but he insisted on a credit card for potential damages. I paid him, and shuffled into the dingy room down the hall without much of a fight. There was a twin bed waiting, with an already broken cable box. I’m not sure what he thought I could break.
It was hard to sleep.
The town was completely foreign to me. Maybe that was the reason. Or maybe it was because I was not used to traveling without my dog, Lola. But every time I felt myself drifting to sleep, I would wake up again with a start. I had a horrible, aching feeling in my gut, like someone was in the room with me.
Eventually, I realized it was stupid to be there. What would I prove, in the end? That I had cousins? Everybody does. I had 10,000 of them, alive and dead, and none of them had any more reason to give a shit than these ones would. I resolved my mind to get up and go home. I rolled over to get my boxers.
It was then that I realized; an undressed man was lying in bed next to me.
Before I could scream, a foreign voice filled the room from somewhere near the closet.
“That’s real good, Mick, look him in the eye. Look that devil in the eye.“
Something smacked me good on the side of the head, and everything turned to black.
I woke up with my entire body suspended over an empty valley.
It was freezing. My clothes were gone. At first, the cold was more of a problem than my fear of falling. I was lifted up, somehow, above a gushing river that coursed a good sixty feet below my toes. I shouted in a hoarse voice for someone, anyone, explain to me what the fuck was going on.
Someone responded in the background.
“You’re grandfather was a real asshole, boy… did you know that?“
The owner of the voice was old. It was tinted with an accent that I did not quite recognize. I tried to lift my arm to swing at him, but it was stuck. I turned to my left to see nails piercing into the center of my palms. I only felt their pain at that moment.
“What the fuck are you talking about? I never met him. What does this have to do with me? Why are you doing to me?” I rattled out a rapid combination of the preceding phrases as rocks and debris fell underneath my feet. There was nowhere to look but down, and my overwhelming fear of heights kicked in. But neither fight nor flight were an option.
The same voice chuckled patiently.
“Some might have even called him a witch.“
Even in my state, I was still able to choke out a chuckle.
“Are you fucking kidding me?“
He laughed louder.
“See, the problem is that kind of thing runs in the blood, clearly. And our town has flourished without that blood for centuries.“
“When we find it, we flush it down the river. Call it a sacrifice, if you will,” a number of hoots and jeers joined in from the background. “And baby, let me tell you, it has been YEARS since the last sacrifice!“
A full audience applauded the man’s words. There had to be at least ten of them. In that moment, I accepted my death. There was nothing that could be done. My body was failing me fast. Between the blood loss, the cold, and the sheer horror of falling sixty feet while nailed to a crucifix…
I guess, I was ready for it to be over.
The man started to shake the wood from it’s station underneath me. I felt the balance start to shift. The audience got louder as they added ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ to their horrible chants.
Just as I started to slip, a gunshot shattered the cold night.
The wood slipped back into the pole as a body thudded by my feet. Everyone was silent. There weren’t any cries of sorrow, or screams of horror.
And then there was a second gunshot.
And a third.
Several pairs of feet wordlessly ran for cover. But a rapid wave of gunfire resulted in several loud thuds on the floor around me.
I screamed with my last remaining energy to the empty night.
After a minute, gentle hands pushed my cross backwards on the ground. Immediately, the pain of suspension released from my arms and legs, just as a dull vibrating shock shook through my bones. I fell asleep to the reflection of a pair of understanding, bright, blue eyes.
Just like mine.
I woke up, alone, in a hospital by my hometown. The nurses immediately inquired as to how I sustained my injuries. It took me a while to come up with a cover, but in the end, I settled on a sex thing. I assured everyone who asked that the injuries were self sustained.
They thought I was a freak, but they bought the story.
In the months since the attack, I sometimes see a car sitting on the corner of my block. The woman inside does not make much of an effort to hide herself. Her skin color is an oddly olive tone. She has bright, blue eyes; with a crop of curly blonde hair. Just like mine.
She smiles every time I see her. I am obviously aware of her presence, but she does not seem to mind.
My family has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I hope it stays that way this time.