The cabin was a cabin. Though this sounds like an obvious comment on the obviousness of a structure, it should be mentioned that it was a departure from the structures we usually discovered upon arrival at our vacation spots. My dad always chose them himself on a whim after some esoteric inspiration had captured his fancy. And so we’d arrive at a place that looked like the Bates Motel undergoing major renovation or a place where Mother Nature had recently had one of her angrier temper tantrums. But today, the cabin was actually a cabin.
We never knew what my dad had in mind when he told us about our summer holiday. He’d always tell us in the middle of winter, I guess now I realize that’s because that’s when we were all so depressed. Christmas was long gone, the end of school wasn’t nearly upon us, and there was nothing to look forward to except for nights that dominated the day.
But right there in the middle of the horrible winter, Dad would come out with a few random comments: Be nice to be outdoors, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe this summer…eh? What a terrible winter, man, can’t wait til summer, how ’bout you?After he dropped a few of these, we knew something was coming. Then he’d gather my mom, sister, and me around the kitchen table and come out with it.
So on a bitter cold February night when I was twelve, we found ourselves sitting around that table. I was staring through the crosshairs of the window pane, trying to remember light, when Dad suddenly shouted “We’re going to The Nature!” The Nature. That’s what he called the outdoors. The Nature. Next came a few incoherent phrases in a staccato mumble that none us bothered to decipher. “New York is better…nature…cabin…mountains.”
And now, in July, as we stood there and I dealt with the fact that the cabin was a cabin, the Rage Monkey rolled her eyes. My sister, formerly Jill, Jillybean in her more pleasant days, now the Rage Monkey, rolled her eyes. To be fair, an eye-roll could have conveyed any number of emotions as it had become my sister’s go to reaction that year. Here are some waffles. Eye roll. Do you think aardvarks are faster than alligators? Eye roll. Is there a problem with your eyes? Eye roll. From what I had been told, this was normal for a fourteen year old girl, but my twelve year old brain couldn’t understand how things had changed. Relatively recently, we’d been best friends and now we were mortal enemies. I spent my days in school thinking of titles for our war appropriate to the class in which I saw sitting: (Religion) The Sibling Crusade, (History) The Battle of 221 West Maple Avenue, (English) The War of the Flies. Nothing took, but you get the gist.
The Rage Monkey’s temperament had approached warlord status since getting dumped by her boyfriend of twenty-two days. Brad. As if anyone could ever love a Brad. But somehow she had and then he’d dispatched her for a girl named Cindy. Cindy. As if anyone could love a Cindy. But I guess somehow Brad had and it just seemed perfect that a Brad should end up with a Cindy, like taking out two unwanted names in one festering puddle of Drakkar and Noxzema. However, my dawning self-preservation instinct sensed that the Rage Monkey would not quite share this perspective. She was an aggressive girl with a broken heart and I was tap dancing on the meniscus of eggshells.
Mom and Dad conferred in front of the Subaru and the Rage Monkey and I stretched our backs. It had been seven hours in a car, and none of us had been able to buy into Dad’s oft-said mantra that the trip there was “Half the fun.” If he was right and the other half of the fun resembled the first half, it was going to be an awful vacation. We recognized the discussion: Mom was quietly explaining something to Dad. She spoke in his ear, like a political advisor. And afterwards my dad would “make” a decision that had already been made.
Only when I got to college a few years later, would I realize how similar my parents’ marriage was to a bicameral government. My dad was President. He made the money, he made the final decisions on all things like vacations and cars and bills. He doled out the punishments if the infraction was severe enough to be passed on from Mom. And we suffered in mortal terror when we got into trouble or failed a test at school.
I had no idea what my dad did for a living; I only knew that he was always busy and rarely at home during the week. We understood that he had this whole difficult thing to deal with out in the world and he came home after 7 o’clock every night with a 5 o’clock shadow. Once, the Rage Monkey and I lay on our bellies in the upstairs hallway and spied him as he walked up the stone path to our front door. He was wearing a quiet smile as he stepped into the yellow light of the front porch; his day was over. But as he came through the front door his smile disappeared, as though he had suddenly remembered what he was coming home to. Us. After a long hard day of whatever the hell he did, all he got was us. We were his booby prize. At home my dad was more of a potentially threatening presence, with faraway eyes and an expression I’d seen on perching cats which said: leave me alone, don’t touch, talk, or address me in any way and we’ll get along just fine. In any event, we never watched him come through the front door again.
My mom ran the house, so she was a mix between an apron-wearing minister of the interior and the prime minister. She dealt with the world in our house, handling all home affairs. Her currency was in food, housework, and repairmen. She signed her name a hundred times a day, took calls from teachers, coaches, and principals.
At home my dad excelled in the arts of aloofness and selective hearing, while my mom knew everything that was happening in our house at all times. The Rage Monkey used to say that if we ever tried to drink alcohol Mom would know before we cracked the first beer, but we could sit on Dad’s chest and do beer bongs and he’d be none the wiser. Once I figured out what a beer bong was I found that hilarious.
After the conference, Mom pointed down through the woods to one or two other cabins barely peeping through the trees. Dad smiled and said what he’d been saying since the first dirt road crunched beneath our tires:
“This is nice, isn’t it? Nice.”
The Rage Monkey rolled her eyes. I hovered near Mom, who was organizing the keys as she neared the front door of the cabin that was a cabin. I wanted to get in to beat the Rage Monkey to the best bedroom. As soon as mom got the keys in the door we burst through in a melee of arms, knees, and braces. I sized up the situation on our stampede up the stairs. There were two doors, one on the left and one on the right, and I was on the right, so I’d go there. I nudged the Rage Monkey to the left. I got there first and threw open the door on the right and the Rage Monkey opened the one on the left.
In the middle of the room was one large bed. Damn. I had gone into what was surely going to be my parents’ room. I came out and the Rage Monkey was standing on the landing. “This is nice.” I heard Dad say from out front. “Nice.”
“Forget it, Dorkus,” she said, “it’s a bathroom.”
It hit us simultaneously and we clamored down the steps, past Mom who was carrying a brown spider outside. We immediately found the other door. The Rage Monkey pushed it open and we went inside. There were two sets of bunk beds, one on each side of the room, a table and three chairs were in the middle of the room.
“Ugh,” quoth the Rage Monkey.
I chose the bottom bunk on the right and lay down on it.
“Guys?” Mom called.
The Rage Monkey knew our enlistment in unloading the car was imminent, so she quickly made herself comfortable on the bottom bunk on the left. It creaked when she jumped in. Mom came through the door.
“Oh, well isn’t this nice?” She brushed some dust off the table, picked up one of the two candles in metal holders standing in the center of it. She eyed up a fat spider in the corner. She said, “Come help Daddy and me bring in the things from the car,” and she left.
“OK,” I called into the air behind her. There was no use in arguing and I was angling for ice cream. Rule number one for getting what you want was being compliant and it was always good to have a few good deeds in your pocket for future ‘discussions’. I got up and went to the window, which overlooked the woods out back. Trees poked out of the ground and a narrow deer path split them like a brown part in green hair.
“Ouch!” the Rage Monkey said. “What’s this?”
I went over to see that she was holding up a doll. It was Barbie in fashion and dressed in some kind of silver dress that made her look like a rock star. It was a little shorter than a Barbie, lacked anatomical correctness (I checked. I was twelve), and it had a human-made slice across its face that gave it a mildly deranged smile.
“Did you bring that?” I asked.
“No!” The Rage Monkey stood, opened the window and flung the doll through it into some weeds near the edge of the forest. I was impressed by the distance she’d made. At Mom’s secondary insistence we went to help.
That night Dad grilled hotdogs and burgers on the back patio and we feasted at the picnic table. It was a beautiful night, the cool mountain air was a welcome relief to the muggy Pennsylvania summer we’d been suffering through. Outside of autumn, Pennsylvania had no hospitable season. Mom ran the gastronomical show, delivering food and goodies, there was potato salad, cornbread, and baked beans. She had turned on this old radio in the kitchen window and found a local oldies station, so we ate listening to Motown and Doo Wop tunes introduced by a local DJ whose voice was the kind of gravelly and weathered that suggests he had never been young, but rather born at the age of fifty-two.
Dad told stories and sipped on canned beer. Every now and then he rose abruptly and walked around the cabin inspecting things. Then, as if to prove the necessity of his diversion, he’d kick a wall or pull a weed. He was wearing these old moccasins and a Panama hat. In a dictionary under the definition “dad on vacation” there’s a picture of my dad walking around the cabin in this get up, holding a can of beer.
I think even the Rage Monkey was having fun, because she became Jill again for a while. Despite her broken heart and eye rolls, she laughed a lot, helped Mom with the food, and had four hotdogs with ketchup. It’s amazing what you remember.
At dusk, the sun dipped behind the ranges, exploding in rays of bright orange whose distant outskirts dissipated into a sky painted in pastel pink. In the woods around us, the tapestry of green became darkened, the sounds of creatures became magnified and our yard was surely enveloped in long shadows. As it grew darker, Dad sat us at the table to tell ghost stories. When the Rage Monkey rolled her eyes, he affected a “Mwahahahahah” like the tuxedoed host of a vampire movie marathon introducing the next tale of total terror from a cardboard coffin.
Jill and I sat on one side and Dad and Mom on the other. Mom draped a blanket over us and we all leaned in so close that I could smell the beer on Dad’s breath. He told one about the guy with a hook, another about a couple who’d gone camping in these woods in a haunted tent, and one about a demonic doll that terrorizes a couple of bratty kids. Despite the fact that the stories were corny and silly, when I looked into those deep dark woods and they looked right back at me a chill ran up my spine. I know it happened for Jill too, because she kept shivering and edging the blanket closer. But that was part of the fun.
While we listened, we ate cookies and drank cocoa. The last of the coals glowed orange-rimmed in the darkness. The atmosphere was great. Mostly it was nice to have Dad’s attention for the night. We all started yawning and Mom finally told us that we needed sleep since we were going for a nature hike the next day. Jill’s will finally gave out and right after hers did, mine did. Sometimes holding out longer was all that mattered.
“Hey Marsh,” Dad said to me. “Grab that can over there, would you? Don’t want to ruin The Nature.”
I followed his pointed finger to the edge of the forest to an empty beer sitting in the weeds. I resisted the urge to point out that it was his damn can; we’d had a nice night and it was good to see Dad in a jolly mood. I didn’t want to ruin it. I walked over.
“Tard,” my sister said, as she reformed into the Rage Monkey, just as the unfortunate dude in torn jeans does in a werewolf flick.
“Yeah?” I had become used to answering to all sorts of monikers in the last couple years. Tard. Douche. Frog. Marsh the Harsh. His Royal Fuckness. The Rage Monkey had developed quite a lexicon of insulting terminology to address me.
“Look.” She pointed. And there, standing in a pose like a soliciting prostitute, was the doll. I did a double take; at first I thought it was actually a very tiny person. We both went to it.
“How did you make it stand like that?”
“I have no idea,” she said. She looked out at the woods. “I really thought it went further. Oh well.” The Rage Monkey grabbed it by the head and flung it deep into the woods with a ketchup-scented grunt. We walked back.
“Marshall. Can,” Dad said.
The night ended without further incident.
The Nature. I have always felt that The Nature was a thing best enjoyed from the indoors, or at the very least from a table very close to the indoors. This feeling never manifests itself more distinctly than when I am smack dab in the middle of The Nature. First of all, The Nature is very hot and there is no air conditioning. There are lots of booby traps in The Nature, like ponds, puddles, streams, and mud. I am fairly certain that I nearly drowned in quick sand were it not for my catlike reflexes, a nearby branch, and my mom. The Nature is also guarded by tiny, aggressive pests like flies, gnats, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, snakes, spiders, and badgers. OK, we didn’t get attacked by a badger, but I swear I saw one ducking under a log. Nobody believed me.
Dad relentlessly led the charge. He wore that dumb Panama hat, sunglasses, and a tiny pink backpack. But I’ve got to give him credit, his skinny white ankles just kept pumping ahead. He had raved the night before about getting back to The Nature, but now that he had got back to The Nature, he was storming through it with a clear interest to get back from The Nature. At times, he dodged off the trail and I could hear him thwacking into the brush. In the late afternoon, after one such sojourn into the brush, he popped back onto the trail and said: “There’s a bench up ahead, you want to sit and have lunch?”
“Yeah,” Mom said. She was her normal trooper self, carrying a backpack large enough to contain an oven. Then she said to me: “Go get your sister, please.” My sister had spent the walk far behind us, dragging her feet and doping off the track here and there to do her depressed female poet act.
“She’s coming,” I said.
“Marshall,” she said, the way one might repeat the name of a communicable disease to a doctor. I rolled my eyes (this was contagious) and walked back to find her. I strolled around the last corner, the narrow brown path sideburned by patch weed. I continued and became a little worried. But then I spied her sitting on a log in a grove a few yards off into the woods. The sun was coming down onto her and into the grove in heavy rays like beams from the mothership. In between us was an awful lot of The Nature; I spoke to her from the trail.
“Hey Jill, lunchtime.”
“Jill. Rage Monkey.”
I stepped with a muddy splat towards her. “Jill, we’re having lunch.” I ducked under a pine branch, and jumped ahead shaking off the universes of sap, ticks, and spiders that had obviously just attached to me in hopes of developing new colonies. I had to jump over a thin stream to get to her.
“Go away.” She didn’t look at me when she spoke.
“Come on, lunch.”
“Go away!” she shouted and when she looked up, there were tears in her eyes. I started to ask her what was wrong, but I stopped. I tried to look her in the face, but she twisted away from me.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Just go away.”
I went back through The Nature and ran up the trail to the picnic table sitting in an alcove of the trail. The stream tinkled alongside and a wooden kiosk holding trail information pinned to a board stood partially hidden in the trees. Dad was lying on the grass under a tree with his Panama hat over his face. In the meantime, Mom had set up a nine course meal and I swear that she had raked the dirt around the table. She looked up at me.
“OK, drink some water. I’ll be right back.”
I sat and went through the sandwiches, found a bologna with mayo on white and the world made sense again. Dad started snoring. Mom came back with Jill, her arm draped over her shoulder. Tears made streaks down her dusty face, her eyes were red. Despite the state of war that we were in, my chest jumped at the sight of her. Brad. Who could cry over a Brad? I guess a Cindy. Or a Jill.
“What kind of sandwich do you want?” Mom asked Jill.
I had been preparing my feast: chips, a pickle, pudding, and I now held my sandwich in position for its inaugural bite. Jill looked across at me and I strengthened my grip on the bologna with mayo on white. Mom could sense our fur bristling.
“Marshall,” Mom said, “why don’t you give your sister the bologna sandwich?”
This was bad. I could see the mechanics already working on removing my bologna sandwich by playing on my good nature. A spritz of sweat peppered my scalp. I bought time. “Isn’t there another one?”
“Daddy ate it.”
We all looked over at him sleeping on the ground. He had stopped snoring.
I could read Mom’s mind. Diplomacy was not going to work, my time was up. I decided on blunt. “I want the bologna and I got here first.”
“Marshall,” she said, this time as though her jaw had been wired shut. “Please.”
As you get older and the years pass, you look back at times, at moments, which represented growth and maturity. You might recall a particular moment and say to yourself, “That’s when I became a man” or “That’s when I understood the difference between being a girl and being a woman.” They are times when you shed some faction of childhood and replace it with a more adult outlook, a more mature something.
This was not one of those times.
That said, as I look back, I do recall that I knew what the right thing to do was. I was what my mom used to call precocious, but I was also twelve and therefore overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. It was kid logic:
(A) I wanted the bologna.
(B) I got there first.
A + B = Let me keep my damn bologna with mayo on white.
As a storyteller, I’m now stalling. I’m distancing, as my editor says. I should be telling you the story, what happened. But instead of relating the awful things I said about my sister and my mom, and the awful untruths I came up with about the unfair lawlessness of our household, and the shameful names I called her, I’ll just now glance over it, because to be honest, I think I went into a demonic trance and though I recall the Rage Monkey growing fangs and shouting back and shrieking and cherry-faced Mom mediating above us and me throwing the bologna with mayo on white against a poplar tree, I have no recollection of events.
The only thing I remember is my sister stopping dead in her vehement tracks and pointing. Stunned out of our quarrel, I hushed and looked. There, in the wooden frame of the trailhead’s triangular logo, was the doll. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely this was some sort of a sick joke; I envisioned lots of these dolls hanging around the woods like mascots or something. But the Rage Monkey didn’t laugh, she only grabbed my arm and dragged me towards her.
On our way over to the doll, I looked at Dad. His face was visible now; he had probably lifted the Panama hat during our argument. His eyes were closed, but I had the inexplicable feeling that he was watching us. As we neared the doll, I could see the silver rock star dress, the stumpy legs, the scar across its face. The Rage Monkey smacked me on the arm.
“It’s the same doll.” Then she said, “Dad!”
“Mom, did you bring this doll here?”
“Honey, why on Earth…?”
“How did it get here?”
“From where?” Mom asked.
“Our cabin. It was at the cabin and we threw it in the woods.”
Mom shrugged. “I…have…”
My sister turned to the other source of knowledge. “Dad?”
“How did this doll get here?”
“Jillybean. I dunno.”
My dad let out a sigh. I would learn later in life, as I developed the same sigh, that it conveyed resignation. He squinted up at us. “What are you talking about?”
“This doll that was at the cabin is here. Here.” She pointed.
Dad shook his head. “I told you kids last night, lots of weird, unexplained things happen in these woods.” He didn’t say anything else, just watched us and the doll. He lay there with his hands folded on his stomach. There was a mood of heavy implicitness and conspiracy to the whole thing. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“But we threw it away into the woods,” I said.
“Think you’re gonna stop it by chucking it in some woods? Things come back.”
“Stopit!” I said.
“Let’s eat,” Mom said, realigning the integrity of sandwich shape back to the bologna with mayo on white I had thrown against the tree.
“No, not yet, we need to throw this thing away,” Jill said.
“How can we make sure it stays away this time?” she asked me.
Me? Was she asking me my opinion? I looked around us; the stream all of a sudden became intensely loud. An idea came. “Mom, can we have that plastic bag?”
“Why?” She shook her head and ogled the bag. My mom was one of the world’s leading packrats. She had Chinese food containers that had been delivered to her house during the 1980 Superbowl. To part with a plastic bag was to part with a limb. But before I could make my case, she relented. I think she realized that she didn’t want to disrupt this momentary ceasefire between us in the face of combat against our combined enemy: the doll.
Me holding the bag and my sister clenching her fists, we approached the doll as it stood arrogantly on its perch. Jill held her hands up, palms towards the doll. She reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s smoothly approaching Dracula in an old black and white flick. The monsters always did that, didn’t they? They came at you slowly, inching towards you, and in the end you might as well die of an extended period of impatience rather than attack.
“You hold the bag under it and I’ll push it in.”
“OK.” I held the bag out from me and Jill circled around behind the doll and sized up the situation. She looked at the bag, at the doll, at me. Mom and Dad watched in quiet. I was proud of the way we were taking care of this demonic doll for them, for everyone who came to this forest. We were heroes. Jill inched towards the doll like a monster.
Though I was terrified, I actually giggled. We had always been addicted to those Saturday afternoon B monster movie marathons. The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Howling, American Werewolf in London, Dracula. Before Jill had become possessed with the Rage Monkey, we would spend our Saturdays in the finished part of the basement watching these movies. We’d turn off all the lights, block out the light from the one window with a cushion, and hide under blankets on the couch. We’d watch movies all afternoon, then tell ghost stories of our own.
This was in the finished part of the basement, right next to the unfinished part. In the wall between the finished part and the unfinished part, right below the light switch, there was a hole. A big hole, I think my dad had put there either by a two-by-four or after a Phillies loss during the 1982 pennant race. Who knew? But as we’d watch these monster movies and tell stories, we’d become more and more aware of that hole, that black hole that led to the dark, cold, cement-floored side of the basement. The side decorated like a haunted house, with spider webs, dark corners, lurking shadows. We’d look at that hole and wonder what was on the other side of it and what was waiting to poke out of it: gray dead hands, a lascivious face, a tiny white ghost. Everything. We’d work ourselves up a sharp crescendo to a fever pitch until we finally sprinted out of the basement, covered in popcorn emitting high pitched squealing which always turned to laughter. Without fail, Dad would snap at us or if we’d interrupted a good baseball game, he’d really let us have it. But this, this was real, and I was giggling.
“What are you laughing at?”
I made sure that the bag was in place. “Yep.”
She pushed the doll and it toppled over once and flopped into the bag with a thwoop. There was a palpable release of pressure. My sister immediately wiped her hands on her shorts. I tied the bag in a knot as quickly as I could manage. We were both breathing heavily, the sweat danced down my back.
“Now what?” she asked.
“Let’s stick her in the river.”
“Yeah.” Her eyes got wide.
Mom intervened. “Lunch. Now.”
“Mom, we have to do this first. I can’t eat with this doll here. We’ll be one minute.” Jill stated our case as she grabbed me by the arm (not the one holding the bag) and dragged me through the woods. I didn’t have time to say anything, but looked back and was quick enough to catch a grin escape.
We went back into the woods a ways, but Jill kept checking that we were close enough to see Mom and Dad. I don’t think she wanted to be alone in the woods with the doll. Neither did I, to be truthful, but I thought about it in a brotherly protective manner that allowed me to save face in my head.
We walked through the woods towards the stream. I held the bag away from me as though it was filled with tarantulas. The light slashed through the trees and Jill led us to the stream, and looked up and down it. A few yards up the stream, we found a deep-looking pool with an eddy swirling in a racetrack on the surface. I raised my arm to throw the doll, but Jill stopped me.
“Put a rock inside and she’ll go to the bottom.”
I untied the knot I’d made in the top of the bag as Jill went to the bank and dislodged a rhomboid stone from the mud. I held the bag out and she dropped it in. We’d both later say that we’d heard a muffled cry from within the bag. I tied a knot into the plastic and before I dropped her unceremoniously into the brown water, I said: “Jill, let’s name her Cindy.”
Her smile took up so much of her face that her eyes closed; it was the smile she reserved for Christmas morning and baby penguins. “Yes. Bye bye, Cindy,” she said to the bag.
I dropped her. As Cindy went to the depths of her muddy tomb, a series of bubbles escaped to the top in a thin, prolonged stream. I shivered. We stood there and watched the bubbles run to the top for as long as they lasted, and when they stopped, I grabbed Jill by the shirt and pulled her back. We walked back through The Nature, but our walk soon became a quick walk, then a shuffle, and finally we bolted out of the woods breathless. Neither of us said a word, but I know she was as relieved as I was to get back to the table. Only when we returned did I venture a peek back to where we’d made the drop. I don’t know what I expected to see, but there was nothing.
Dad was sitting at the table eating another sandwich. This one was ham. There were plastic plates with chips and grapes for all of us. Dad drank at a can of root beer. “How’d it go?” he asked.
“Good,” Jill said. She dropped onto the picnic bench. “We threw her back there in a deep hole, she won’t get out of that one.”
“Well done!” Dad said.
Mom put the refigured bologna sandwich on Jill’s plate and looked over at me.
“What else do you have?” I asked.
Over lunch I told them how we’d weighed the bag down with a rock and dropped her in. Jill picked up the story there and talked about all the bubbles that came out for a really long time like someone breathing for the last time at the bottom of a river. Mom and Dad pressed for more details, and Jill and I made them right up, with no regard for the truth. I told them she’d screamed when we threw her in the river and Jill told them how we heard splashing when we were walking back through The Nature. I asked Dad what the heck it was about these woods that made them so weird.
“Don’t know,” he said. “But they are.”
After lunch we continued in the loop that would bring us to our cabin in just an hour. I was exhausted. Jill walked up ahead with Mom, and Dad ducked off the trail for a long while, saying he wanted to take a picture. It didn’t occur to me that he didn’t have a camera, just that dumb tiny pink bag and a pair of hiking shoes he must have had for twenty years. I walked along alone, about fifty feet behind Mom and Jill and ahead of Dad who was well behind me.
I felt victorious. We had rid ourselves of Cindy, the demonic doll. As we started to recognize hills and barns along the path, the clouds came over the mountains in the distance. The sky got black and unruly and grumpy. Mom pointed up at it all and said:
“Looks like rain, huh?”
And boy, she was right.
We were all back in the cabin before it happened. Mom, Jill, and I gathered up on the porch and stood in that heavy air that comes before a storm. The sky had turned gray and green and we knew it was coming. We could see Dad come up the dirt path, a small figure in the distance. He waved and shouted, “Go in!” and we did. Mom told us to go to our room and put on sweatshirts and pajamas.
The room felt like a ship’s hull in a storm. The trees were heaving and swaying all around us, the wind beat against the walls of the cabin and howled through the ancient gaps and crannies. Though we were on dry land in the middle of the mountains, we both felt scared. The window let in a glare of green light and Jill and I stood at it, looking into the dense woods behind the cabin. Jill pulled the curtains closed.
We made a fire. Later, we had dinner and then played Monopoly. Jill and I gathered a blanket around us and we shivered and shifted uneasily to the soundtrack of the storm. Something about it wasn’t real, as though it was a façade for a more ominous event looming behind it.
Dad didn’t help dispel these feelings. He looked out the living room window at the darkening sky and the rain pelting down and said, “Yeah, these woods sure are weird.” Then as he wandered out of the room, his moccasins snapping against the floor, he said, “Bet those streams are overflowing.”
Jill moaned and pulled the blanket closer. I shook my head; there was no way. And yet I envisioned Cindy pulling herself free from the pool, the rock sitting in the bag on the bottom. I imagined her following us back here, growing angrier with each slow monster step that those monsters did in the movies, step, step, step, hands out, step, step. Would she bring Brad the Doll? I did not advance this query to Jill.
Jill and I tried to keep Mom and Dad awake with us. Cindy couldn’t hurt our parents, after all, could she? We asked for story after story and Dad complied for a while, even Mom stuttered through one – storytelling being her forte as anger management was mine. Jill asked for more popcorn and Kool-Aid until she was clearly torturing her body. I harangued them to play another game of Monopoly and when that failed, Jill tried for charades and then cards. At this, Mom relented slightly, so Jill sent me into the bedroom to grab the cards while our window of opportunity remained ajar. The room was still like a ship in a storm, the window was banging with wind and awash with rain. I switched off the lights and left, but when I looked back at the lightning casting shadows on the curtains my imagination did a marathon.
I frantically handed the cards to Dad to shuffle, since it’s a skill I wouldn’t learn for a decade. In Mom’s vernacular, Dad’s eyes were being held up by toothpicks. Jill and I cast worried glances at each other, as it had become clear that stalling our bed time was to inevitably fail. We had fought valiantly, but even we knew this was a losing battle.
“Brush your teeth,” Mom slurred. We walked up to the bathroom. Dad came up a moment later and said a sleepy good night before we heard the springs creak as he fell into bed. We didn’t say a word while we cleaned up for bed. Besides, an avid student of dental hygiene, Jill never fooled around in the bathroom. Mom said good night and shut their bedroom door.
Our room had become cold. Frigid. Windy.
“Want to leave the light on for a while?” Jill asked. “I’d like to read…”
“Yes. Me too.” Neither of us called attention to the fact that there was not one book in the room. Jill climbed into her bed across the room. We lay there and talked.
“That was great today, wasn’t it?”
“It was. We got that Cindy,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. Then I chanced it: “Maybe we’ll find a Brad doll tomorrow.”
Jill laughed until she snorted.
And then the lights went out. Well, the light. The overhead light in the middle of the ceiling sputtered and died, leaving the room lit by an electronic candle which cast a yellow light from its perch above the window. The room was now eerie and shadowy, the place where nightmares came true.
The storm seemed to be louder now that the lights were lowered, and it took us a minute to realize that the window was open. Jill made a choked sound in her throat. I pulled the covers up to my neck and stared at the curtains billowing around the window and being sucked through it and splayed out into the room. The lightning shone disgusting caricatures on the walls, shapes and faces and people.
Jill said, “Would you…please close that window?”
“Not for fifty bucks,” I said. “Why don’t you do it?”
“It was my birthday.”
I did math in my head. “Four months ago.”
“We have to close it.”
“Want to do it together?”
We scrambled out of bed and met in the middle of the room, my heart was pounding in my chest and Jill was muttering. I grabbed her by the arm and she squeezed my shirt in her fist. We inched towards the window, the storm racketing against the walls and the roof. I couldn’t believe how terrifying it all was. A huge gust of wind snapped the curtains into the room against the walls, giving us an unimpeded view out into the dark. In the impossible distance there were flashes of lightning that silhouetted black trees, the rain glinting silver in the sheepish light. But I couldn’t see anything just through the window.
“Ready?” I asked.
“On three, we’ll run over, grab it, pull it down, and get back in bed. OK?”
We ran to the window, adrenalin pumping through us, I reached out to grab the rim of the window and I could see that Jill had as well. We grabbed the rim, and as we pulled it closed, I saw something through the dark hole. The window hit with a thump and I grabbed Jill’s arm. I pointed. My mouth wouldn’t close.
It was Cindy. She was standing on the grill.
We ran in a circle around the table and collided with each other on the other side. We fell to the ground and stared at each other in horror. What was this insanity?
“What do we do?” I asked.
“I have no…” Jill shook her head.
In my panicked opinion, this needed adult supervision. Being chased across a valley by a demonic doll was one thing, but this doll knew where we lived, and could swim and climb things. I opened my mouth to speak, but Jill was crawling towards the window. I watched her with a mix of fascination and horror.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer. Once beneath the window, Jill brought herself up slowly. The storm was still raging, thunder and lightning, cats and dogs, as though it had never not been storming. In the jaundiced light from the candle above the window Jill looked like a creeping specter as she inched herself upwards. Finally, her eyes and nose were above the sill and she must have been afforded a view of the doll. Jill watched for a moment, and then she said:
“Let’s get her.”
“Let’s get Cindy. Now.”
Jill turned and placed her back against the wall. In the dim light, the shadows leaked down her face and the black holes of her eyes seethed anger. Her fists were clenched. I guess she had been haunted by Cindy for long enough. I nodded. Yet, I didn’t forget pragmatics.
Jill scanned the room and I followed suit. There had to be something which two teens could carry into battle with a scarred doll. Jill crawled forward and twisted one of the candles from its metal holder. I went out into the living room to find Dad’s matches.
When I came back the light in the room was off and Jill was at the window.
“Come here. Look at her.”
I slid through the room, tucked myself behind the curtains, and looked. Cindy stood on the grill, watching our window. She was watching us. As sure as my name was Marshall, she was watching us. The rain attacked the world, but we didn’t care. We readied for battle.
“How do we do this?”
“We light her on fire,” Jill said.
“Where?” A slosh of rain hit the window, punctuating my question.
“On the porch. We bring her to the porch.”
“Jill, we’re gonna burn the cabin down. No way.”
“Well, what’s your big idea?”
I looked out again. “We stick her in the grill.”
Jill smiled big and looked around the room. “Get that pillow case,” she said. I did and we drew up the plan on our palms. As we left the room I looked back once at the window, everything around it was all dark, but flashes of lightning brightened the hole. We made it to the front door, paused and waited. We listened for any sound of movement coming from Mom and Dad’s room; there was not a peep. We put on our shoes and jackets.
Jill opened the door and we stepped into the dark and rainy night, my every sense was awake. I could see things deep in the woods, I could hear things from across the valley. I was ready for this battle.
We ran along the wall of the cabin, the waterfalls coming off the eave nipping at our shoulder blades. I was careful to keep the pillow case dry, and I could see that Jill was hunched over, instinctively keeping the matches and candle dry. We reached the corner of the cabin and peered around it to look at Cindy. She was looking straight back at us. That monster. Though I admit I was afraid she wouldn’t be there at all. And then Jill said “Go!”
I took three steps through the muddy grass and then wiped out in a glorious face first splat. Jill glanced at me, but I shouted at her to keep going. I struggled to my feet and was just approaching the grill when Jill ran up to Cindy, wound up, and punched her straight in the face with all her might. Cindy floated dully into the night and landed in a puddle nearby. Jill got to work at the grill and I dove to the ground next to Cindy to prepare her for her pyre.
I pulled Cindy inside of my jacket and turned my back to the driving rain. It disgusted me to have her so close, but it needed to be done. We needed to get rid of Cindy. The heroics of the moment were not lost on me. I pulled the pillow case out of my inside jacket pocket and squeezed Cindy into it to dry her off as much as possible. Chunks of her hair slid out as I pulled at her with the cloth. Then I wrapped her in the pillow case so that it looked like a funeral shroud. From the corner of my eye, I could see a bright orange flame.
Jill called to me and I ran to the grill with Cindy protected in my jacket. Jill had the grill propped open with one of the metal candlesticks. The candle itself she held under the lid, the flame making it a cauldron of fire. Keeping her sheltered from the rain, I transferred Cindy from my jacket to the grill and Jill lit her funeral shroud on fire. She caught slowly, but the flames soon jumped up in a great heap.
“Drop the lid!” I shouted.
“You can’t. Fire needs air.”
We huddled a couple feet away and watched Cindy burst into flames. The pillow case burned away and left her leg exposed, which was melting, then her hair went up, and that scar. Jill’s eyes shone in the light, and then she started crying. I couldn’t believe the beauty of it all. We held onto each other in the rain.
A part of Cindy’s anatomy popped and she let out a long wail. When that happened, the candlestick sprung away and the lid slammed down on her. Jill and I screamed in horror and ran towards the cabin in a frenzied sprint that became hysterical laughter as we pushed through the front door.
When Dad grabbed us in the dark, we shrieked in horror movie perfection. He asked us what was happening and we told him about the doll. He pressed for details and we told him what we’d done. He put on shoes and a jacket. He lifted the lid of the grill and we peered around from behind him to see. Black smoke came out in a big puff and before we reared back I caught a glimpse of a melted leg. Dad scanned the contents of the grill, turned and said, “It should be fine now.” Then he led us inside. The only thing missing was a late-inning baseball game.
Dad got us towels and we dried off and when our hearts stopped palpitating, he put us to bed. The storm had stopped. The only sounds now were the clicks and taps of water dripping on The Nature. The room was heavy for a while, but then Jill let out a sharp laugh which proved contagious. Before I knew it, we were chuckling and then guffawing at the thought of how we had defeated that Cindy once and for all. The demonic Cindy was gone. I made the Brad joke once again (I knew good material) and we laughed ourselves to sleep.
Much of the next five days were spent in The Nature. We went canoeing, swimming, and hiking. Otherwise we told stories, read, and played games. Mom cooked and Dad grilled (after cleaning Cindy out of the grates) and there was no more rain. Amazingly, Jill remained Jill, the Rage Monkey made no more appearances as we engaged in outdoor and family activities. She even resorted to using my real name, which I suspected she had almost forgotten. She didn’t say anything more about Brad and that was good, because that guy was pure rage monkey juice.
On our last night in the cabin that was a cabin, we had a big dinner of burgers, dogs, and corn on the cob. Dad told stories again and Mom ran the gastronomical show and Jill and I loved it all. Still, there was a bit of sadness to it, since we knew that the next day we’d leave and vacation would be over, and that meant that our dad would once again become the aloof guy who acted like a cat and didn’t smile when he came home. But Christmas was just down the road, and we had vacations to look forward to.
After dinner Mom sent me upstairs to fetch a box of sandwich bags from a suitcase in their room. I opened it and dug through shirts and shorts before finding the box of bags. I shut the lid, and paused. Something had caught my eye. I opened the lid again and saw Dad’s tiny pink backpack. I laughed, but found myself unzipping it. Inside there was nothing but a plastic bag coated in mud. I sneered at it, stuffed it back in and then left.
Only when I reached the bottom of the steps did something dawn on me. Jill was coming through the door to use the bathroom.
“Come with me.”
I brought her upstairs and showed her Dad’s bag. She shrugged but I told her to unzip it, which she did. She made the same strange face at the bag, but soon made her Oh, you got to be kidding meface. I fell backwards onto the bed. We carried it downstairs and held it out for them with accusatory glares. Dad grinned and Mom tried to cover her mouth, but a sharp laugh escaped.
Dad pointed. “What’s that you got there?”
“The plastic bag you brought Cindy back here in,” said the Rage Monkey. She had become the Rage Monkey again, if just for this moment, but this time her rage was directed at someone else. Her eyes were shining nuggets of aggression and I was amazed to find how much I enjoyed seeing them when they were aimed at someone other than myself. I threw in a “Yeah!” just to show my support.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about there, Jillybean,” Dad said.
“You brought her back here from the stream!” I shouted.
“Did not. She got back here all by herself. I told you these woods were strange. She could swim,” he said.
Jill couldn’t stifle her laugh.
Before I could say anything else, Dad said, “We had nothing to do with this; it’s you two beat her.”
Jill and I turned and looked at each other. We squinted. There was a minute, a second rather, of insight, of understanding. And though we didn’t fully get it, we stopped the interrogation. Instead, Jill put the bag down and picked up a couch pillow which she then drove into Dad’s face, thus instigating one of the more epic pillow fights in family history. Mom, for all her care and responsibility was a real ninja with a throw pillow, and she and Dad throttled us good. Dad’s aloofness disappeared in a few minutes of intense giggling. And Jill and I went to battle, once again on the same team.
Damien Galeone asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.