I can’t take another season of uncertainty, of not knowing what the hell is really going on with that place. Yet, here I am, asking you, strangers, to get the answers I’m apparently too fragile to go and grasp for myself. But I need them. I need to stop the dreams of harrowing isolation. I need to stop waking up with that indescribable medicinal taste in the back of my throat.
What I really need is for someone to see the things I won’t let myself see. My own mercy may be blinding me. Shielding me. Refusing to let me deeply consider what’s really happening here, because reality cannot be as impossibly horrific as I suspect.
On to Mr. Market’s roof, then, and all its little intrigues.
Brindley is just south of Ogdensburg in upstate New York. Come late November, it’s well out of shifting Fall colors, and if you do a fine-toothed one-over on your yard then, you probably won’t have to mess with it until Spring (unless you count shoveling snow, in which case the work is far from done). I grew up on the north side of town, where the population is more clustered together in a usual northeastern fashion. Mr. Market lived at the very southern end, where modest homes began to trickle into pine forest, which then was dotted with large, semi-secluded estates. That’s the type of area the old man’s Victorian house was located. His lot ran a few acres, but most of that was uncut woodland. A sizeable circle had been hewn out of the tight-knit trees what I imagine to be some time ago, and that was kept up with by a crew of landscapers he would hire out. That’s where I came in.
On one of those late November days in 1992, under a flawless blue sky encapsulating all within the lower and cuttingly dry fifties, my father drove me to Mr. Market’s lonesome niche in the autumn-rendered woods. I had turned twelve a month earlier, which to my father meant it was time to hire me out. Okay, he wanted me to start learning responsibility and such, which is why he’d decided to answer an ad that appeared in the local classifieds a week earlier. The ad had requested help cleaning off a roof of an older home, and had specified an amount of thirty dollars would be reimbursed for the efforts. I can see why my old man figured it was perfect for me. It wouldn’t take too long, meaning it wouldn’t cost him all of his day to watch me the first time, and there was just enough danger involved to put my mom on edge (I believe what I’d overheard at least twice from her was something to the effect of Don, you know Riley’s too uncoordinated to traipse around a roof!).
The house was big, with two tall stories, and somewhat wide for a Victorian design. Mr. Market had apparently been adding on here and there, and then coating everything in the same near-black mahogany brown paint job. I suppose that works well for hiding the wear of time on a home, but it’s just freaking ugly for all other intents and purpose. In the Fall especially, sitting there against those wiry birches and thick sycamores accented by pines with the color palette of a mudhole, the building took on an authentically austere feel that made me wonder why anyone would bother cleaning off the roof. The place looked like it had already died, and I was there just to primp the corpse.
There was a shit ton of sycamore leaves absolutely smothering the ground. My dad and I had parked along the road in front of the estate, and crunched across most of it heading toward the front door, both of us with a push broom propped on our shoulder. It was fifty yards of work, every step challenged by those large, unwieldy remnants that some other poor bastard would have to come in there and rake up before the first real snow. As far as I knew, I was simply charged with knocking crap off the roof and calling it a day. Sounded simple enough to me, and with thirty bucks thrown in, I was totally game. I was still nervous, mind you, especially when Dad knocked on that tall, thin, black door with its brass ring knocker. I’d never seen a knocker at that point, and eyed it critically with my hand buried in the pockets of my denim jacket. At the last second before the door opened, my dad pulled the brim of my red and blue Buffalo Bills cap up, admonishing me to ‘quit hiding under there.’
“Well, hi there,” greeted the elderly gentleman at the door. He spoke in a forced rasp, as if he’d spent the night before yelling. He was tall and thin, a bit hunkered over, and Arabic. His long beard was silver streaked with holdout runs of black, but his tanned head was completely bald (I remember the pale pallor of the dim entryway light reflecting off his scalp, and wondering if my head would end up looking that shiny at some point). The thin nose that arched below his baggy eyes was long and slightly bent, maybe having been broken at some point.
“Uh hi, I’m Don. This is Riley,” my dad introduced.
“Ah, then this is the roof boy!” the older man concluded. “Yes, that’s right, we had agreed to this day and time on the phone, hadn’t we?”
“You’re Mr. Market?” Dad guessed.
“That is correct,” he answered in his hampered voice. “At least, when I hire out help, I am. A name much easier on the American tongue, I’ve found.”
“Yeah, I got ya,” Dad nodded with a smile. That same smile would creep up on his face later, when he spoke about Mr. Market in more candid, derisive terms.
“Behind the west side of the house, you will find a ladder. It is already leaned against the roof. Please do not move it. Whatever you find on the roof, do not…interact with it. Do not touch it. Just brush it down to the ground,” Mr. Market instructed. I couldn’t begin to imagine what he was referring to at the time. Wouldn’t it just be layers of leaves and pine straw up there? Was he worried about us picking up ticks or something?
My father bobbed his head. “Sure, sure. No problem. Come on, Riley.”
With that, Mr. Market nodded once, and pushed his front door closed. Dad grunted some summation of the old guy to himself, and we started around the west side of the home.
By the time you’ve reached the middle of Fall in upstate New York, cold weather is old news, but the wind still makes it challenging. When the wind picks up around you, you know to expect a dry, sharp cut to the nose and cheeks, like a phantom slapping its hands against your face and siphoning out whatever warmth or moisture might still be harbored there. The wind was mild, but present that first day at the Market house. The quality was distinct from any other leaf-rattling breeze you’d expect, though. It moved in every direction toward the lumbering Victorian structure. Trees swayed slightly inward toward us as we moved around to the back, as if the air itself felt compelled to push towards the location, as if some central object required a balancing act with precise shifts in force from any given direction at any given time. I could feel this dynamic in my ears, too, which were popping from the moment we reached the back of the house on. Even the barometric pressure was at odds.
At the west back corner of the home, a rectangular fence made up of unpainted wood pickets that were about my dad’s height encircled the ladder. Dad unlatched a shorter door in the staked-off area, and held it open for me.
The ladder itself was huge. It was an ashen wood, wide between its struts and held together by abnormally broad steps. We looked at each other, understanding why it was already in place: it looked like it would have taken three full-grown men to just get it upright. Weeds had grown fairly tall at its base, and cobwebs spanned almost every open corner. The thing looked like it hadn’t been moved in some time.
“Let me go first,” Dad insisted, wanting to test out its stability. He started up it, and midway past the second story, looked winded.
“Harder climb than it looks!” he called down. Once at the top, he appeared to grab a hold of something jutting out of the roof, and pulled up over it and out of sight. I stepped onto the ladder, my broom clenched white-knuckled in my right hand, and began to ascend.
Near the top, the impact of the wind seemed to halt. I could still see the trees blowing in my peripheral, but the closer to the roof I got, the more the air became…neutralized? I’m not sure how to relay it. When I’ve heard weathermen talk about the ‘eye of the storm’ on newscasts, I’ve always imagined that it felt like that rooftop. Not that I imagined the forces of nature were swirling in a wall around me, leaving nil in the middle; rather, everything felt pushed into place just so. Sustained, in a sense.
My hand found the cold steel handle that had been built into the roof that my dad had used (it seemed like aiding in climbing the roof was its only function). The second scariest moment that day was making the transition from the ladder top to the roof, because for a very long second I felt like I was going to be yanked backward by gravity. When that didn’t happen, I closed my eyes for a moment on my hands and knees, then began to work my footing back under me.
On a roof, of course, you’re typically at an angle, and that took some getting used to. Dad already stood near the apex of the dark tiles, against a deepening blue sky, surveying the situation. I attempted to cautiously move toward his position, instead of, you know, freezing in place like a pussy.
“Looks like a mess of pine straw. Eh, should have brought a rake,” he lamented. “Bet it all comes off those pines there in the eastern corner.” He motioned toward where the thicket encroached closest to the house. A grove of loblolly pines, the perpetrators whom I would be awarded thirty bucks to clean up after, swayed lackadaisically as innocent bystanders.
I moved up next to him, examining the view more than the roof itself. I smiled one of those smiles that you feel as a kid, one of those times when you actually enjoy something without being weighed down by what was and what will be. It was the last smile of that kind I ever remember taking over me. The sky was in cloudless harmony with the neutral colors of the house and trees and the dying vibrancy of the leaves below. I was connected to the moment, pulled into being a part of the world in a way that I haven’t known since.
I never knew how to get back there. I’ve tried, but I’ve felt nothing in those moments but a resounding disconnect. Some have convinced me to attribute that to growing up, to the loss of youth and innocence. I say it’s what happened that day, which I’m about to get to.
“Let’s start from the top here and brush down,” my dad suggested. “Watch your footing, okay, Riley? Your mom’s never gonna let me live it down if you bust your ass.”
“Yeah, right. You’re old, your knee will probably give out first before that happens,” I jabbed back.
“Yeah, well don’t go diving after me to save me,” he half-laughed.
“You’re on your own, old dude.”
I started pushing the pine straw down and away, having to work at first to break up the cohesive blanket it had fallen into. Once a good stretch had been swept down and away off the front of the house, and I was already sweating despite the cool weather, I spotted the first object.
“What’s that shiny thing?” I asked Dad, pointing across the roof. Near the eaves, close to falling, was a small golden object. It was metallic, comprised of two straight lines with some sort of arch connecting them together. I moved down, across, and toward it probably a little quicker than I should have at that point.
“Riley, what did that guy say? Don’t mess with anything.”
“I just wanna look at it.”
“Be careful, hard-headed.”
I got close enough to the gold item to get on my knees and reach down for it. I plucked it from its nest of pine straw, and examined it. It looked, and even moved like, the protractor I used in school. Except its points were sharper and longer, and there more far more notches in its flatter sides. Many of the notches looked to have been notched by hand, and there were markings along them that appeared more like symbols than letters or numbers.
“Cool…it’s like a weird protractor,” I told Dad. “Think I can keep it?”
“No!” he snapped. “Riley, toss that off the roof, and come pick your broom back up. Let’s get this over with.”
“Ah, man…” I dropped the golden instrument off the edge. I didn’t hear it hit the ground. I figured it found a cushion of dirt below.
In a little over twenty minutes, we’d gotten the west half of the room close to immaculate. At the mid-section of the roof, we gathered our breath, wiped our brow, and stopped to take in the view again.
“Think you’ll be able to do this by yourself next year?” Dad asked me.
“This isn’t that hard. Yeah, totally.”
“Who the Bills playing Sunday?” he asked, buying more time to catch his breath. I shrugged.
“New England?” I guessed. Dad’s eyes narrowed, locking on to something past me.
I turned to glance several glass containers lying on their sides on the northeastern slope. They were of varying shapes, all some variation on cylindrical, some looking like large decanters, others more obtuse in their expected function or purpose. I moved toward them, seeing by the reflected sunlight that most contained a deep reddish-orange liquid, while two of the smaller vessels had something with a slight blue tint within that reminded me of mouthwash.
“Now what are those up here for, you figure?” Dad posed.
“We can’t just brush them off. They’ll break. They look like glass,” I pointed out. As I said this, I kept moving toward the out-of-place collection of fluids. When I was within a few feet of them, I began to move down the slope from the peak, and that’s when it happened.
Here’s the thing that for sure couldn’t have happened, but by both my account and later my father’s reluctant recollection, inexplicably did: I was pulled forward. Not by my shoulders or arms, but by my feet. They were swept out from under me, as if something had violently grabbed and yanked at my ankles. A hole in the tiles in front of me broke open, and I fell through. My arms reached out to brace me against the roof as I went down, and they halted my fall. Probably.
I could hear my dad yell shit, along with my name, interchangeably several times. Memory is a tricky, boastful bastard, an embellishing fisherman with several takes on the same catch always in its back pocket, and always claiming that it was more there in an instance of time than we ever were. I bring that up because I’m not dead on sure of what I heard while hanging through that roof. Sometimes, when I try to think back on that pivotal moment without relying on the expectation of a logical narrative, I remember hearing other things, too. I remember Dad’s voice coming from further, sounding more distant. I hear him huffing, then something like wood clunking against wood. I hear ‘hey’ shouted several times, and fevered knocking, all from that distant place, but coming so quickly that it seems to happen all at once. My memory says, Yeah, see? Can’t happen. Didn’t happen. You don’t know shit, kid. I was there.
I heard something closer, too, something uncomfortably near. It stands out cloistered by quiet in my mind, stranded by a singular sense of isolation that feels like it clogs my throat with hard-and-fast panic when I invoke the recollection. It sounds like inhalations. Quick, deep, evenly-paced inhalations that speak to something large, something organic, but at the same time…out of synch? It’s here where the recollection, if this is even that, really begins to disintegrate. That’s when I come to my usual conclusion: it was me. I was hearing my own panicked hyperventilating. I was in shock, and lucky to remember anything at all.
What the hell do you know? People in shock don’t know jack, my memory scoffs. I’ve got the answers and I don’t need your help inventing them. Move along, bucko.
Here’s what I do recall: Dad pulling me up slowly but surely, then looking gassed. I sat on the slope, him with his arm around me asking me if I was okay. I wiped my sweat-stringed hair away from my brow, and left my cap off for a moment while I caught my bearings. We laughed about it in the end, got to our feet, and finished the job we’d come to do. The weird canisters had apparently had been jolted to the point of rolling off the roof—they had disappeared. At the end, we climbed down the oversized ladder, informed Mr. Market about the unfortunate incident that left a small hole in his roof, and got paid graciously paid anyway. He told us that the roof needed replacing, and that he was just glad to see that I was alright.
It was directly after that incident that I had my first nightmare about the darkness. There wasn’t much about it that I can accurately remember now, but what distinctly stays with me is the soul-wrenching sense of hopelessness and loneliness I felt. I can tell you that I was in the dark, that I believe the inhaling sound was present, and that I woke up and cried for thirty minutes after it was over. It wasn’t because I was scared; it was because I felt like something had injected concentrated despair into me while I slept.
I kept going back to the house in late November days until my senior year in high school, always showing up before the ad ever hit the classifieds to offer my already-seasoned expertise. The majority of the early years, Dad would drop me off with both a broom and a rake, and with a finger-wagging piece of advice about watching where I stepped (I mean it, Riley--you remember that time you almost went through the guy’s freakin’ roof?).
Mr. Market was different, though, after our first meeting. The second time I had shown up at his place, on my own with my rake and broom in each hand, he had answered his tall, slim black door with a critical eye that he maintained throughout our brief exchange. I said that I didn’t know if he remembered me from last year, but I was the kid who came with his dad to clean his roof. He didn’t seem to acknowledge this in any way, so I began to wonder if old age was playing heck with his own memory. I asked if it was okay that I went ahead and did the roof for him at our previously agreed to price. He answered with a semi-distracted ‘yeah,’ and thinking nothing of it, I went on my way to my duty.
That was the autumn of the peas and kite. Yeah, let me explain as best I can.
Up on the roof that year, I found it covered with small green balls that were actually slightly larger than peas, but the same color. The larger ones were about ping pong ball-sized. None of them were simply freestanding; that is, they were all frozen to the roof (they were painfully cold to the touch). Now look, it was about in the upper forties that afternoon. There was no way anything should have been frozen outside, period, yet these things were an absolute pain to detach from the roof tiles. I didn’t question it too much, just scraped relentlessly until I was sweating under my old denim jacket, at which point I tied it around my waist.
At the eastern end of the roof, where the culprit pine gang huddled in perpetual plotting behind the dead-looking house, the last layer of pine straw hid something blue beneath its dried brown weaves. I yanked the plastic object out of its hibernation.
The kite was cheap and mildly tattered where it had pulled away from its hollow white cross-spine. There were symbols painted meticulously on its face. They reminded me of the ones I’d spied before on the golden protractor object the year before. I didn’t see it this way at the time, but I’m fairly sure now that the marks were made with a thin paint brush, and they were done in blood. It was just another perplexing item that had made its way up to Mr. Market’s roof as far as I was concerned. I tossed it off the side, and watched it land at the base of the pines, its dark rouge markings trickled with the shadows of thin tree limbs.
I dismounted the roof, informed Mr. Market that the task was complete, took my hard-earned thirty dollars, and ran across the big yard towards the road where my dad waited in his truck. I informed Dad that it had apparently snowed pea-like spheres just on the old man’s house. We both found it weird, and tried to think of what they might have been or where they came from. Dad was happy with his theory: an airliner passing overhead probably flushed its tanks, and I had been cleaning off balls of pee from the sky. I laughed at the idea with him, but I didn’t buy it.
The next year was the third trip to Market’s. This was the first overcast day, though it was actually unseasonably warm. I went in short sleeves. I braved the mass grave of sycamore leaves. I swallowed before I knocked on the black door. Again I had to remind the old guy who I was, and again he seemed to be doubtful about this whole process, that it had ever occurred before, and that I should even be standing at his doorstep. Despite this, he agreed to the money-for-services exchange, as if part of him told him that it was probably wise to not doubt this, and to the roof I went.
That was the year I found Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas sitting on an outcropping of the chimney.
I had a modest-sized collection of Starting Lineup figures representing the NFL’s AFC East division. Just before Christmas of ’92, I had coincidentally lost my own Thurman, and found it both so odd and cool that I could harvest this one from Mr. Market’s roof of oddities. It was the same year, same pose. It was as if Mr. Thomas had taken a hand-off in my bedroom and spent a better part of two years rushing to what he felt was his rightful place on top of that greyscale house. There he stood on the mute brick of the chimney, forever high-stepping in a squared ring around it.
Part of me wondered if Mr. Market had grandkids who played up on his roof at times. If that was the case, why didn’t they ever clean it off for him? That was enough of a rationalization for me. I snatched up the figure, working it tightly into the back pocket of my jeans.
Thurman Thomas rejoined the roster with my other Starting Lineup figures, until I lost him once more (this time with several other players) less than a year later.
There wasn’t a mystery object to find every year, but most years. ’96 featured the ‘runway.’ A perfectly straight strip cleared amidst the pine straw, about a yard wide, ran from the west edge to the east edge along the middle of the southern face. Who or whatever had made it had also set coils of thin copper wire along the expanse every few feet. The ends of the coils were running into the roof tiles, but not completely through, as if either someone had half-heartedly anchored them there for god-knew what reason, or as if they had somehow taken life and were steadily worming their way down toward whatever lied below. In ’97, a pile of what looked like black human excrement lied drying next to the chimney, and three baseball-sized golden arms were erected in a pyramid on the northern face. When I tried to move the construct, I found that it came apart with little effort. They were weakly magnetized, both to each other and somehow to the roof, and it would have taken some careful arranging to keep them in that upright triangular formation.
I kept showing up throughout those years, a harbinger of Thanksgiving because it was usually on my school break. When Fall hit, when the leaves died and the air turned to ghosts, I would start having the dream again. More often I would find myself lost in the dark in my slumber, praying for someone to either find me and help me out, or just end the nightmare so I could wake up and be safe. I was thankful when I was awake and attached to the light of the world again. But the taste in the back of my throat started then, though it would dissipate once I brushed my teeth in the morning.
The last time I saw Mr. Market alive was the following year, which I had already decided would be my last since I would be starting college the next Fall. He had looked more thin and haggard than ever when he opened the door. His mind seemed to have been going steadily up until that time, because he seemed only slightly connected with reality.
“Oh, you. You’ve been such a burden to me. Children are disrespectful! Uncaring! A burden!”
I was a little put back by this, but I was also not surprised. I tried explaining that, hey, I did this every year, and this was my last hurrah, so it would benefit him to go ahead and utilize the help while it was in front of him. He agreed in his usual reluctant way. It seemed I was getting out of that working relationship just in time.
I found myself on the roof under similar conditions as when I started my roofwork: windy, sunny, and in the lower fifties. Naturally, the first thing I did upon climbing the roof was examine it thoroughly see what peculiar Easter eggs it might give up that year. But this seemed to be one of the blank slate years. I could find nothing.
Instead, I used the opportunity to sit on the northern face and reflect. I closed my eyes and took off my newest Bills cap, honing in on the bare-limbed clattering and desiccated leaf-jittering of the woods around the estate, and taking in the autumn sun’s warmth on my forehead. When you’re a high school senior, you’re just starting to come to terms with the finality of the phases of life. This was one of those times where it felt heaviest, for whatever reason. In that moment, I wished for one more out-of-place or arcade item to find up there that day. It wasn’t just for nostalgia’s sake, but to be able to carry one more puzzle piece forward when I thought back to the roof.
I felt him before I heard the weight of his footsteps.
My eyes opened, and my head turned to the right where the figure stood on the opposite face and closer to the eastern end. He stood without clothes, and partially without skin. He was emaciated, shambling. He could barely keep his tentative footing, reacting to the balanced breeze blowing toward us as if it were a swirl of gales threatening to blast him onto his hunched over back. My first reaction to him was a guttural cry, like you’d react if a pile of spiders had just landed right next to you. I shot to my uneven feet.
Its bald face looked as if it had been gradually worn down with a pumice stone: the flesh was gone, and the muscle and bone underneath looked to have been rounded down into a dull plum-shaded matte. If there was ever a lower jaw, it wasn’t there. Instead, in place of not just that, but teeth and a tongue, a pair of clear tubes ran up under its upper palette, their ends terminating somewhere within the creature and apparently somewhere beneath the roof, which they appeared to tether the ungodly thing to. Amber liquid filled them; whether it was being fed to or drained from what I was seeing, my brain didn’t take time to ascertain.
To describe this man-mockery as seeming in anguish and agony sells its quivering uncertainty short. It was anguish and agony. Though it was shaped human, there was nothing in its protruding eyes that really spoke to humanity. In hindsight, I’m grateful it made no sound, because I would most likely be hearing it every time I closed my eyes in silence.
The roof was giving up its deeper secrets. I had wanted to believe I was ready for them, but the façade I’d shown it and myself gave weigh with my footing. I fell to my side, rolled twice, and came a halt a good two feet before careening off the edge entirely. When I scrambled to my knees to keep my eyes on the damnation that occupied the roof with me, I couldn’t find it. I searched over the sides to see if it, too, had tumbled. I again found myself the only soul around.
I quickly finished the roof after that, but never collected the money. I just left, taking one last paranoid march across the yard, keeping my eyes on the woods around me in search of the creature as I approached the used truck my parents had just bought me.
That encounter was over seventeen years ago now. Earlier this month, I got a call from my father. “Hey, you remember that Arab whose roof you used to clean around this time every year? They got his picture in the paper. He died.”
That’s when I started digging up the answers I was willing to face, the ones that were sterile and distanced from that place.
Mr. Market, who is now more accurately identified as Amol Annussad, PhD, had been a professor of neuropsychology at Ernbest Private College in Wales. Dr. Annussad’s tenure at the now-defunct institution had run from 1974 to 1988, at which time its closure forced him into retirement. I have no guesses behind the details of Annussad landing in upstate New York. The obituary had been a thoughtful one provided by his surviving children. One of them is now a professor herself in Connecticut, and I was able to locate her to ask her the things that begged asking.
She described her father as a maverick obsessed with the field of what’s called transpersonal psychology. The subject, apparently, incorporates a lot of principles of spiritual and cosmic-connectedness. Dr. Annussad was not interested in just the notion of ‘spiritual transcendency,’ but of duality. The idea, as I understood her explanation of it to me, centers on how the mind and the physical vessel interact with each other, which is supposedly controlled through the pineal gland at the base of the skull. She believes her father carried on his research into this, and that it went on into some pretty esoteric areas. She said that when her family was cleaning out his home to put it up for sale, they found a mix of “just really odd” (her words) equipment, a lot of which even she couldn’t determine the function of.
I stopped her there, but I mentioned to her that I was the boy who would clean his roof for the better part of a decade, and that I would be more than happy to do it one more time for free—since they were trying to sell the place and everything. She said she couldn’t bother me with such a task, that they would hire someone local to do it sooner than later. I told her it was no bother.
Last week, I made my most recent, and most likely last, trip to that old grey place hiding on the southern outskirts of Brindley. Pushing through the leaves across the yard, the autumn wind biting a little harder than usual, I could feel the prevailing sense of loneliness at the estate. It was truly dead now.
The ladder met me and my implements, two old friends greeting each other in one of those damn, you got old moments of mutual observation. When I started up it, it sounded as rickety as it looked, but it held.
At the top of the ladder, an aged, bloodstained sheet waved in the breeze over the form of a human body. I froze for a moment, then fully ascended. I took a moment to actually bend over and grab the sheet. When I pulled it off, no human body greeted me. Instead, it was a golden skeleton, or at least a rough facsimile of one. The unknowable writing labeled most of the parts of the upper body it was etched upon, and in very small and specific regions on the skull. When I manipulated the skull, it came off easily. That’s when I noticed there were no screws. That magnetic force I had encountered before with the pyramid was holding the entire thing together. When I stood and prodded it with my foot, several parts fell off under their own weight.
I know the family hadn’t decided to toss this up there, and veil it beneath a bloody sheet.
But I wasn’t there for any particular object on the roof this time. No. I was there to peek under it.
I found what I thought was roughly the spot I had fallen through when I was twelve. It was very slightly newer looking than the rest of the dilapidated roof (I guess Mr. Market had never gotten around to replacing it like he said). I pried away an area of tiles, then used the small sledgehammer I’d brought up with me to bust a hole in wood beneath. Maybe it was inconsiderate, considering the family was trying to sell the place, but I didn’t care. Not at the time, not up there. It owed me answers.
I took out the flashlight I’d brought in my satchel, and shined down into the blackness underneath the roof. I had been told the place was cleaned out, so I couldn’t tell you what I was trying to see. Or maybe I can’t tell myself that. Whichever the case, that’s when I dropped my phone, but didn’t.
A flurry of events seemed to happen all at once just then, but then seemed to never have happened at all. My phone fell out of my jack pocket (idiot), down into the abyssal attic below. But no: I stood, reached for my phone in my pocket, and produced it, safe and sound. I swept off the roof. I pushed the skeleton down to the base of the ladder. There was no skeleton at the base of the ladder. A voice kept screaming out from the hole. I worked in silence. One of my co-workers texted me about a fantasy football trade. I worshipped the small rectangular light that had fallen from the hole in the sky. I gave it a proper god’s name in my head and tore off bits of muscle tissue from my thigh with my fingertips as an offering. He wanted to trade his first-round quarterback for a pair of running backs on my bench, and I was all about that. Poor bastard still hasn’t gotten the gist of this game, I remember or misremember thinking. It might have also been The God In The Dark will know fear now, and spare me, because The God Of The Hole In The Sky has steeled me with a sacramental artifact.
Linear memory returned me as I walked away from the house. I stopped, literally having no idea how I had gotten to the middle of the pool of leaves on the ground. I looked back at the roof, and it was clean. I couldn’t see any tiles out of place. My tools held fast in the satchel on my shoulder. Then I grabbed desperately on to the comfort of the one familiar thing I knew to do in that moment. I turned around, I got back in my waiting vehicle, and I left.
The nightmares have been unrelenting since then, and when I say that, I mean they’re happening during the day, while I’m awake. There are instances when my attention fades at work, and I sit and stare into a strangling darkness all around me that’s not there. At home, my family has to shake me out of this trance-like state on the couch. They tell me something’s wrong, that I need to see a specialist.
And now we come to our experiment.
At the end of this post, I am going to leave a phone number. It’s mine. I need you to call it for me, as many of you as possible, throughout the day for the next twelve hours. Then ask me a question. Ask me where I am. And if I answer in any way other than ‘home’, or not at all, I need you to help me. I need you to come find me. Please.
I need someone to know the truth for me, even if I can never know for myself.