Amy pointed at the large stone mural that stood awkwardly in the centre of the town square. She made a strange laugh from the back of her throat and drew everyone's attention.
'Jesus, guys! Do you remember this thing?' she said, speaking as loudly as humanly possible.
We all gazed over the polished rock and nodded hysterically. A huge stone carving of a man with an eye-patch and a long sword by his side stood heroically in the centre of a small pond. I can't be sure what it is about revisiting your old childhood town that turns everyone into an obnoxious child seeing everything as some magical antique. All I could say was – the nostalgia was real.
At least for all my friends.
I gazed up at the monument and squinted, trying to recall any form of it in my memory. Nothing came. In fact, this whole town seemed a little odd. Something off about it and all round not quite right. All four of us stood in the centre of town, the rest of them laughing joyfully and retelling stories of past high school shenanigans. But something inside me felt loopy and uncomfortable. I scanned the area, seeing nothing but a bunch of scattered brick houses, limestone buildings that were decades old yet still in pristine condition, wiry trees sprouting out from small patches of soil in the otherwise perfectly symmetrical yellow bricked pathways, and finally, a large – almost impossibly large – oval to our left. It spanned out as far as my eyes could see and looking at it gave me a strange sense of claustrophobia. As weird as that sounds.
But where were the people? The animals? Cars? Buses? Anything?
What is this place?
Tom patted my shoulder and I jolted back to reality.
'Does anyone even remember who that's supposed to be anyway?' he asked, laughing at the sight of the statue.
Amy shrugged and Brandon suggested maybe if we had listened more in history, we'd probably remember.
To that Tom had to say: 'Fuck history.'
I laughed and suddenly the uncomfortableness of the past five minutes vanished and I was back to my usual self.
This is Scarsborough. Your old home town. Born and raised.
I hadn't been back in years. No wonder it felt weird.
My eyes started to wander and I noticed a large square clump of buildings on the other side of the square. My mind immediately identified it as the old cinema, and coincidently, our favourite place to hang out as noisy youths.
'Guys, guys,' I said, nodding towards the place, 'now there's a piece of history.'
Everyone looked at it for a moment, then at each other, and at the same time we all howled out a loud hoot of nostalgic merriment. The looks we gave each other appeared as if we were all in the midst of telepathically thinking up ways to commit some juvenile crime. It would probably cause strangers to give us a wide birth, if there were any strangers around.
'We've gotta go in,' said Amy. 'I bet it still looks the exact same inside!'
Brandon agreed, quickly followed by Tom and myself, and before you knew it we were already outside the cinemas doors looking up at the ancient lettering and boring, broken sign. I squinted and tilted my head back and tried desperately to read what films were being shown, but my brain decided reading wasn't going to be on the tables today. Each letter appeared slightly fuzzy and bleeding at he edges. It was like my mind knew there were words there to be read, but just didn't want to acknowledge it. However, even stranger than that, was the fact that I still knew exactly what was being shown just by glancing at the titles.
Dr. Strangelove, Murder Most Foul, The Flesh Eaters, The Incredible Mr. Limpet...
My brow furrowed, but before I could think too thoroughly about it, Tom butted in with his usual snark.
'Are we gonna go inside, or are we just gonna fucking stand here like a couple of retarded assholes?' he said.
'Okay, rude,' replied Amy. 'And offensive.'
Tom stroked her shoulder flirtatiously. 'You love it,' he said, slowly licking his lips.
Amy laughed at him then flung his hand off with a firm flick.
Brandon poked his head in as if from no where and gave the both of them a sly smile. 'I know I do,' he winked, jerking his eyebrows up and down like some kind of creepy porn star.
'In your dreams, fag,' Tom laughed.
'Are we gonna go inside though?' I interjected.
Amy smiled at me and nodded. She looked at Tom and nudged his elbow. 'See? Our beautiful Miss Curtis here didn't need to use the word “asshole” once.'
'It would've been so much cooler if she had.'
Brandon looked at Tom and shook his head while laughing before we finally made our way inside. The place still had those old rotating glass doors that creaked and groaned as you pushed through them. Each of us piled inside one slot and crammed our way through. As we burst out into the crisp, buttery air of the cinema, our eyes immediately were drawn to the strange contraption in the centre of the lobby.
We stood there staring at it for a good couple of moments. Almost frozen. It looked like a stiff bear suit strapped to one of those gym machines with the weights on ropes. A “rope pull machine” I think they're called. Needless to say – super creepy.
I noticed a short blonde lady behind the candy kiosk at the end of the room. The first person I'd seen this entire trip.
Like four minutes?
She was slumped over the counter resting her head in her palm and seemed to take no notice of us, or maybe she just didn't care.
'I don't remember this thing,' said Amy.
Tom leant back and gave the contraption a tentative frown. 'Me neither,' he said. 'Its fucking creepy through, isn't it? Like, Jesus.'
I scanned it up and down. Gazing over the weird matte fur of the bear suit all the way to the uncomfortable mechanical aspect. I had no idea what it was, and it made me feel queasy all the way to my core.
'Art maybe?' Amy offered.
Brandon shook his head and pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose, giving him his signature “nerd bro” look. 'I actually think it might be one of those new VR machines. You know the ones I mean?'
I looked at it again, trying to decipher which theory seemed more plausible. VR machine? Possible. Maybe you zipped yourself inside the bear and images of Canada streamed through your vision. However, I believed it was more likely to be artwork. Hey, if people can get away with selling their shit in a jar for thousands of dollars, this had to be at least somewhat of a contemporary masterpiece.
Whatever it was, my brain didn't want to look at it anymore. A strange acidic feeling cascaded down my throat and festered in the base of my stomach. I felt like a kid who'd just taken their first shot of alcohol: strangely excited yet as if I had been severely poisoned.
How did you even get to this town?
'What're those bars supposed to do?' I heard Tom ask. 'Like, if its artwork, why the fuck add some random pulley system? Fucking artists today, man.'
I looked over at the desk lady who still appeared bored and uninterested by our presence. I thought that was odd. I mean, if I was in her position I would've been thrilled to have some customers to converse with. Especially since the place was deathly empty, and looked like it had been for years.
'Hey!' I called out to her, 'do you know what this thing is supposed to be?'
Everyone turned their focus to her and awaited a response. She just shrugged her shoulders, averted eye contact and all around seemed completely apathetic. She mumbled something about “the newspaper” but I couldn't really hear. I quickly realised I wasn't going to get any more out of her, so I just let it go.
'whatever, guys. Instead on focusing on this trash, why don't we just go see a film while we're here?' I said.
'Only if its an R rated horror,' smirked Tom. 'Anything less and you may as well go home, shit into a diaper and call yourself a baby right now.'
Brandon popped his head back in and gave us all a grin like no other – like he was trying hard not to crack up and subsequently crap his pants. 'Hey, do you guys know what a pirate's favourite letter is?' he squeaked.
We all looked at him blankly and Tom's eyes narrowed almost to a close. 'R?' we all replied, regretfully.
Brandon raised a sassy eyebrow and shook his head. 'You think it'd be R, but it really be the C.' He burst out into a spout of fake, evil laughter and we all rolled our eyes.
Amy and I groaned and Tom's blank expression somehow had a blank expression of its own. 'Go fuck yourself,' he said, and we all laughed. We turned around to the kiosk planning to buy four tickets to whatever horror film they were currently showing.
But I for some reason stopped.
I thought I heard something. Like a scream or cry but from far away or deep under ground.
My heart started beating quickly and I had that sinking feeling like someone was watching me. I slowly turned around and again was presented with the unnerving sight of that weird contraption. Nothing had changed about it. Even so, my heart beat even faster. My skin felt clammy. My eyes wouldn't blink. I stared up at the face of the bear suit and tried to understand why this whole thing made me so uncomfortable. I felt light-headed and floaty.
Why is this thing so familiar?
A gross feeling pricked the inside of my mouth and a rotten taste washed down my throat. Tears started to swell in my eyes – not out of sadness – but fear. A different kind of fear. Fear of the truth. As I glared up at the mask of that ridiculous bear suit I noticed the horrifying fact that it wasn't empty.
Two eyes protruded from the holes in the mask. Staring at me. Bulging. Pleading. Alive.
I heard the faint noise again and realised it was coming from the suit. Someone was watching me – staring at me. Terror and pain painted across their bloodshot irises.
I looked over my shoulder and saw that my friends had disappeared.
Were they even here to begin with?
The desk lady still leant behind the counter. Uninterested.
I adjusted my shoulders and closed my eyes. Mentally preparing myself for what I knew I was about to do next. My brain screamed at me to stop. It was so loud and violent I felt like smashing my head into a pillar until blood caked my face and little lumps of brain exploded down the walls. The urge was so strong, but somehow I stopped myself.
Instead, I split open the back of the bear suit. A man tumbled out along with a foul, putrid odour. He landed roughly on the floor and curled up in the foetal position. I stepped back and looked down at him.
His hair was in clumps and blood was melted through it. Skin pale like snow and small bits of flesh were torn off or pecked at and he had multiple stab would across his entire body. It looked as if he had been fed to a school of very pissed-off piranhas. Tiny nibbles had been taken from sections in his body, and raw, exposed flesh was flaking off from everywhere.
I couldn't do anything but look.
The man's eyes were wide and wild-looking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but a gag strapped to his mouth prevented him from doing so, and bindings around his hands and legs didn't make things any easier.
I heard voices in my head telling me I shouldn't be doing this. This wasn't something I was supposed to be seeing.
But why aren't you scared like a normal person?
I knelt down quickly and unbuckled the gag around the man's mouth and threw it to the floor. He glared up at me with eyeballs still bulging. The sight of them made me want to be sick.
'Kill me,' he moaned. 'Kill me, please!'
I found myself stepping back again, shaking my head and shivering all over. I heard a creak from behind me and darted my head in that direction. The desk lady stiffly bolted upright and then casually sauntered over to me and the man. All the while rolling her eyes and sighing like I had just spilled something for her to mop up.
I stared in awe as she picked up the gag and stuffed it back into the man's mouth. He screamed and flung his head in every direction, kicking and writhing around like a dying lamb. The lady stomped on his spine and I heard a crunch that sent a shiver through my own. He screamed and saliva spat out from around the circular gag. Bits of skin rubbed off on the carpet and blood began to smear across the floor.
I was completely frozen. Why wasn't I helping? Why wasn't I doing something!? My blood pumped through my veins and I could feel it up and down my arms and neck. For some reason I knew I had no control over the situation.
My attention stayed cemented on the girl as I saw her begin to cram the man back into the bear suit. She heaved and groaned, lifting him up with all her strength and using the metal bars of the supposed “artwork” as leverage.
When it was all done and fixed, with the suit back in its proper condition and stuffed with human meat, the girl looked at me and smiled. This was the first time she had properly acknowledged my existence. A shiver cascaded down my entire body. I didn't know what to do or what to say. For some reason I knew she wasn't going to hurt me, but an alarm in my brain still urged me to run away.
The silence was painful and the unintelligible voices in my head didn't help my composure.
'Well, Miss Curtis,' the lady said, placing a blood smeared hand on my shoulder, 'that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.'
I cocked my head at her and frowned before a deep breath shot into my lungs and I woke up gasping in my bed with sweat soaking through the sheets. I grabbed ahold of my chest and let out the longest breath of my entire life. Dry tears streamed down my face companied by fresh ones and the room spun around me.
'What the fuck was that?' I asked myself aloud.
I looked around my bedroom and grounded myself in reality. There was my bookshelf. There was my window, my door, my TV… It took a few moments to realise what had just happened and I sat up scared in bed and hugged my knees close to my chest.
It was a dream. Just a dream
Pretty weird that you would wake up right when that girl told you to though.
That doesn't mean anything.
Great! Now you're arguing with yourself! Congratulations! You're fucking crazy.
As I calmed down I let my head relax against the wall behind me. And when I had time to think and rationalise things, I realised small little clues that made it obvious I was dreaming. Like why I didn't recognise that stupid statue, or why I couldn't read the cinema sign and didn't even remember travelling to that town. That place didn't exist. And no wonder my friends just disappeared like that. Dream physics.
Still though. It didn't feel like any average nightmare. That man's eyes and his dry, brittle voice begging me to kill him – it all felt too real. And why did I know the name of that place? It seemed pretty strange that my mind would come up with something like that just for the purpose of some random dream.
I grabbed my phone from its resting place on my bedside table and quickly went to the internet.
Scarsborough I typed into the searchbar and within seconds ancient articles and photos came up showcasing some old town. I clicked on one after another and read through each and every piece of information I could find – figuring out what kind of place this was since apparently it was real.
But so what? So my mind read the name somewhere and my subconscious jammed it into my nightmare. No biggie.
Then my heart stopped. I came across an old newspaper article from the 60's with an old grainy photo of a girl standing proudly beside the bear suit from my dream. GIRL SAVES LOCAL THEATRE WITH HUNTING SKILLS the headline read. It went on to say how a young girl by the name of “Sandy Gillburt” revitalised Scarsboroug's old cinema by donating multiple taxidermy animals of her own making as a way to give the building a more “clubhouse feel”. Below the article was another photo. This time of Sandy with six other contraptions, each one a different animal.
I couldn't blink. And I couldn't stop reading. No matter how hard I searched, I found very little else on Sandy. No where did it mention a murder or any jail time. Not even a whiff of something dodgy going on at that cinema.
I frowned in disbelief, so much that I gave myself a headache. How did my brain know this? Especially since no one else seemed to. I had to be there. Witness it. How could I possibly know any of this otherwise? But this was way before I was born and in a different country too. I pulled up a picture of Sandy and stared at it. And stared and stared until my eyes felt like they were going to bleed.
That now familiar tingling feeling spread through my body as I stared into her eyes and those voices echoed back inside my skull to stop. Looking at her I felt something was wrong – something was weird. Like when you look at yourself in the mirror in the middle of the night and you feel like your reflection isn't just your reflection, but a different person actually staring back at you. And as I stared into Sandy's cold, phony, tainted eyes I felt like what I was looking at... was an old photo of myself.
I calmly turned off my phone and placed it back on the bedside table. Never blinking.
Well Miss Curtis, that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.
I don't believe in Buddhism or Hinduism or any of those cultures that believes in reincarnation, but my mind ached and felt as if it had thrown up on itself, and I rationed that if such a thing did exist, then your brain or soul or whatever sure as hell wouldn't want you knowing about it.
Whatever the reason for that hellscape of a nightmare, I can certainly say I have never been more disturbed in all my life. And because of it I will forever believe there is innocent blood on my hands in some weird, twisted way. But to Sandy Gillburt and the ancient history of Scarsborough, all I have to say is: fuck history.