We spent every weekend growing up at the cottage; mainly because we didn’t really have a choice but it was also “family fun.” Every weekend during the summer months we stayed at the cottage there was a dance at the local pavilion. It was put on by the township and generally had a fair number of people there, the sum of which was made up by a plethora of random people; teens, some elderly, the year-round cottagers & a handful of city folk just trying to let loose while “Cotton Eyed Joe” blared over the sound system.
We fell into the last category.
Our cottage is set off a small lake fairly deep within the woods, you can walk almost any direction for a few KMs before running into anything of substance, I imagine that it’s part of the reason that my parents picked it. The cottage itself was actually built on the land my dad bought brick by brick over a number of years so we’ve all grown up with it. The cottage is typical “dollhouse” shape (at least when we were kids that what we called it), It doesn’t go underground at all and has a couple or really cool features, one of them being that there is a natural rock in the basement that the house was built around.
Other things that we loved as kids were the skylights in the bedrooms upstairs; since there is no light pollution up north you can lay in bed and fall asleep looking at the stars. Being inside safe and warm was a wonderful way to view that world, especially with a dad like ours who insisted on telling us spooky stories around the campfire. For the first few years of my time at the cottage I was convinced that it was built on an Indian Burial Ground. He also used to tell this story of how every summer a creature would crawl out of the lake and search for children to eat. Looking back I get that it’s all in good fun, but let me tell you as a child there were a lot of sleepless nights at the cottage.
When we were younger we loved going to “the dance” and sliding around in our socks on the waxed pavilion floor or trying to look cool in front of the other kids who were dragged to the dance on a Saturday night. We actually had to drive past the pavilion itself when we came to the cottage, so to get back out to it on a Saturday night you have to drive maybe 15 minutes back down the winding one way road which twisted and turned towards our cottage. The road itself was also surrounded by trees so any slight deviation in the path could lead to a head on collision with a tree. This can be especially dangerous at night after having a few drinks and because of that the road was no stranger to accidents.
The first time my dad played the prank in question we were coming back from the dance, maybe around 11 o’clock. Part of the “deal” after making the 1.5 hour trek to the cottage was that once we met the one-way winding road just past the pavilion we were always allowed to take off our seatbelts. Why? I have no idea. It’s by far the most dangerous part of the journey yet this has always been the way. Even to this day the rare times I go up there with my friends, even they know the rule and unclip their seatbelts at the appropriate time, as if to acknowledge the tradition.
On our way back this night however my dad had a brilliant idea, and 10 minutes from the cottage, at the darkest point in the road, he let out a curse word.
“Dammit.” He said almost under his breath.
“What?” my Mom said. Even to this day I don’t know whether my mom was playing along or simply just curious as to what was happening but either way it was convincing.
“Something’s up with the car.” He said in his “serious” voice.
Part of what bothered us so much about this road as kids, besides the creepy winding nature of it, was the fact that it was so isolated. Even at an early age the feeling of being alone is an absolutely bone chilling thought.
After a brief moment and a few more curse words the car rolled to a stop and the engine cut out. As the lights turned off and the car became bathed in darkness, my brother and I just shared a look of absolute panic and fear. The road was pitch black and immediately the outside world beyond the car became crystal clear as all light disappeared in an instant. My mother at this point must have got the joke because she started twisting the knife.
“Oh no kids, I think we have to walk back.” She said without turning her head towards us, probably because she was smiling.
My brother and I now shot a look to my sister in the back seat who at this point was just waking up from passing out at the dance; she is the youngest of us and of course the most susceptible to believing the lie but at that point I think we all felt like my mom was telling the truth. We kept saying, “Try the car again.” We asked questions like, “How can it be dead,” or “What happened, is it the tires?” obviously knowing nothing about cars helped my parents sell the lie. After an exasperated sigh from my dad he turned to us and in his serious tone that we’d all come to fear after hearing it countless times and said,
“Okay kids hop out.”
Being stuck in a dying car on a one way cottage road in the middle of the night as a young child is a terrifying ordeal. Being told that you need to get out and walk home when you also don’t really know the way is an even more terrifying ordeal and luckily the eruption of tears from my young sister was enough to end their joke.
My parent didn’t dare let their fun end though and continued in character.
“Well I guess I’ll try the car again…” my dad said and sure enough it started up with a sigh of relief from all three of us. In the moment we were just glad to be in the safety of the car.
They must have felt it was particularly funny because of the frequency they did it from that moment forward.
It became a regular thing and anyone who visited the cottage for the weekend got dragged along to the dance and got a grand showing of the stalled car routine. By the third of fourth time we’d had all manner of people in the van with us when it happened; grandparents who played along, friends who nervously acted tough and a slew of aunts and uncles who took my dad up on his offer of getting out and walking home on more than one occasion. Looking back it was mostly good fun and I think that’s how my family remembers it.
But that’s not the whole story….
This…..this next part….I never told anyone.
As I said we never wore our seatbelts on this country road and once this was realized by everyone coming with us to the dance the “prime seating” for the children became the trunk. The van had a large rear window (as most family vans do) and seeing the red lights of the van illuminate the road behind us as we drove the twisted trail home was exhilarating. That and it was just so neat to watch the road trail out before you.
My best friend Tommy and I were maybe 11 at the time, old enough to know things are jokes but young enough to still get rattled and when the time came to pile into the van to take the winding road back to the cottage we sat in the trunk.
Tom and I sat in the back seat and watched the road barrel away from us as my dad took us back to the cottage and as if on cue a familiar sound came from the front seat.
“Dammit.” My dad said under his breath.
To my brother, sister and I we knew what this meant however no matter how many times this had happened to us it still unnerved me, maybe because just the idea of being stuck in the woods terrified me or maybe because each time my dad would add another level of tension such as a longer wait, getting out and checking something under the car or sometimes actually making us get out, this time was different.
The car rolled to a stop and he turned off the ignition. I turned towards the front of the car and saw dad putting on his show for my sister and her friend while my brother, being almost 14, probably tried helping my dad weave his tale. I watched them for a few minutes as the silent woods creaked around us with each gust of wind outside the car and eventually I turned back to Tommy who was staring out the back of the van…all the colour was drained from his face.
“Tommy?” I said almost in a hushed voice of concern.
He didn’t stir he just kept staring out the back of the window as the front of the van continued their routine. I saw tears begin to well up in his eyes and I turned to see what he was looking at.
To this day I wish I hadn’t because it still eats at me.
On the cusp of the woods behind the van stood….something…..staring at us.
Here is exactly what I remember, believe me or don’t – I don’t care;
It was the height of a man, that’s for sure because it had one hand on a tree. Its skin was loose and hanging from its body, it’s hands had only three very long fingers and were covered in dirt and what I can only imagine now was wet blood. Above all else what stuck with me most were the eyes. They were black and empty, they looked devoid of any life.
Then it fell to the ground and began crawling towards us on all fours.
I cannot fathom what I would have said had I tried to explain myself back then and for an instant I could not speak, I was paralyzed with fear as this creature slowly dragged it’s loose skin across the dirt road towards us.
The silence of the trunk was broken by Tommy who began bawling, which in the moment I couldn’t have thanked him enough for because hearing that made my sister break out crying as well based on the situation in the car, not what went on behind it. This signaled the end of my dad’s joke, my attention briefly shot to the front of the car to see my dad starting the car and my brother comforting my sister.
I quickly turned back to Tommy who was staring at me as the car started up and in the instant a horrible tableau was imprinted in my memory. The red light of the brake lights illuminated the creatures face which was now inches away from the vans rear window.
I screamed and my dad drove.
In the fading light we could see the creature fall back onto all fours and begin crawling.
Just typing that has made me remember that night more vividly than I wish I had to. No one else saw the creature in the back and Tommy and I silently went to bed.
That night I tossed and turned.
Tommy and I shared one of the bedrooms and I don’t think he slept all night. I did eventually pass out around 3 or 4am confident that at least I was safe in the cottage, but it wasn’t a sound sleep, I remember.
When I woke up the next day Tommy was packed and ready to go, his stuff by the door. The two of us shared a knowing look but something was wrong. His eyes were bloodshot with fresh tears and I had a nagging feeling. Eventually he pulled me aside.
“Last night….” He said.
“I know…I saw it too….” I said trying to reassure him. “We’re leaving today…..it never happened.”
“You saw it too?” He asked as if he didn’t believe me.
“Yes of course.” I said concerned.
“How the hell did you get to sleep then?” He asked almost aggressively
“I don’t know…I guess I just wanted to stop thinking about it on the road…” I said but he cut me off before I could finish.
“No…” He said with tears welling in his eyes, “I mean did you see it AGAIN last night….in the skylight.”
To this day in the bedroom upstairs you can see the imprint of the creatures three fingered hand on the glass, the spot where it’s long fingers stretched out over a small portion of the window leaving a greasy red stain behind; a constant reminder of the creature that found us after a simple prank my dad played.