The Skullcut Man - Chap 1
We grew up on stories of the Skullcut Man, and in a way it transformed all of us in our small town. Like how a family will pass on a certain feature, a beakish nose or a brightly colored eye. The Skullcut man was our collective inheritance, it lingered in our biology, like some sort of malignant DNA. Defining who were as a people, and who we were to become. Stories can do that.
The most haunting tale of the Skullcut Man and the one closest to me, involved my Dad’s sisters, Aunt Paula and Aunt CeeCee, the latter who I would never meet. They were on their way home from school one chilly winter afternoon. It was that time of year when the skies darken around four, and it’s a rare but fine day to read in the paper that the temperature would rise above 0 degrees. Snow was coming down so heavy that if you were to stretch your arms out your hands would disappear in front of you, as if they were just swallowed up.
Aunt CeeCee was wearing a new red petticoat, a gift she had received that Christmas. It had fur around the collar and shiny black buttons that ran down the center. She was up ahead, maybe by just two paces from my Aunt Paula, who was struggling to lift her boots in the snow. Even in the blizzard Paula would say she could see that red coat in front of her, as CeeCee went around a corner, which would later be named Skullcut Bend. Paula came right up behind her, maybe by just a few moments delay, but when she turned, her sister was gone.
She screamed till her throat burned from the cold wind, frantically looking for CeeCee, but her sister was nowhere to be found. A search party would later be dispatched scouring the road and hillside, going down the ravine, and even looking as far as the next town over in Thetchford. They concluded that CeeCee was missing, her body never discovered.
I tell this to my wife, Rosie, who rolls her eyes turning to our one-year old daughter in the backseat. The apple of my eye, Gennie, makes a gurgling sound, expelling a waterfall of regurgitated breast milk. “Thanks baby.” Rosie says, cleaning up the mess. “We almost there yet?”
My eyes go towards the digital clock on our old beat-up Volvo. “Should be arriving just in time for dinner.”
Roise gives me an encouraging smile, and I wonder what karmic deeds I must have done in a past life for a fuck-up like me to deserve someone like her. We’ve been together close for ten years, and she has what I like to describe as a secret heart, seldom revealing what is at the core of her, not even to me. I can only guess how she really feels about the move.
It was my idea, the move. The salesman in me, I presented it like a gift, with a big ol’ bow on top, telling Rosie I wanted to go back to my home in Bellford, Vermont. That it had always been a dream of mine for Gennie to grow up in nature and get to know her Grandma. Besides, Mom was getting on in years with my Dad gone and managing the estate on her own was starting to take its toll. It would be a service to help her… a true act of charity.
What I didn’t share with Rosie, is that we didn’t have a choice. I had gotten fired from my last job at the Mercedes dealership, and our extravagant Boston rent was eating away at our pathetic savings. I had on the off chance reached out to an old buddy of mine from High School, Hank Willox, who owned a Hyundai dealership in Bellford, he had offered me a job on the spot. I saved us, and my dignity, but just by the skin of my teeth.
We pull up to my childhood home, a lofty and handsome brick farmhouse, that sits proudly on over 180 acres. I notice a hammock, a new addition, tied between two ancient maples. My Mom pops her head out from it, she’s wearing a straw hat, in her hand is a book, something by Daniel Steel.
“My babies!” She shrieks, running up to scoop Gennie from Rosie’s arms, before throwing her arms around me. “Welcome home Jerry.” She plucks a sloppy kiss on my right cheek before letting me go. “Go on, get settled. I’ll get working on dinner.”
As we enter, I begin to notice small signs of neglect. The white and red wallpaper has begun to peel, the floorboards creak under our weight. Spider webs have collected in the corners, underneath them a graveyard of fly corpses. My room has been in the same condition since I left for college. Posters of Blink 182 line the walls, and Rosie gives them an appreciating glance.
“Travis was always my favorite.” She says putting down the diaper bag and cleaning up Gennie on my old green flannel sheets.
Mom has made mashed potatoes and roast chicken for dinner. We sit down, and I eat ravenously. Rosie laughs when I finally come up for air.
“Sorry.” I burp, looking to my Mom. She’s lost a considerable amount of weight since we’ve last seen her, and her features are now far too large for her tiny face, she’s all lips and buggy eyes. “How’s Lindsey doing?” I said, asking about my older sister.
“Oh, exciting news. Tanner is pregnant.” Her tone is biting, “Babies having babies, just like their mother.”
“Tanner’s your niece, right? Isn’t she just like what? Seventeen? Rosie said.
“Sixteen.” I correct her. “I haven’t spoken to Tanner or Lindsey in forever. Last I heard they were moving from LA to Seattle.”
“Well that’s your sister for you.” Mom said, giving a rigid smile. “Change of topic. I was thinking about it, and since you guys are going to be here, what would you think about cleaning out grandpa’s old cabin? It will take some elbow grease, but it will give you guys some more room.”
“It’s not a bad idea.” I said, mulling it over. Grandpa had built the cabin about a half mile from the main house towards the woods. I had only been there a few times, but I remembered it having a small kitchenette, and two bedrooms.
“Well, it’s something to think about.” Mom says, draining her glass.
We continued eating, and I downed several beers while Rosie left to put the baby down. When she returned she had with her a large glass of wine. She looked worn out, deep purple circles adorned under her eyes, like slabs of raw meat.
“So, Jerry was regaling me with tales of the Skullcut Man on the drive up.” Rosie said looking towards my Mom.
There was a visible change in my mom’s demeanor as her lips pulled inwards and her jaw clenched. “You told her about Caleb Moore, did you?”
I shook my head, “Just Aunt CeeCee.”
“Ohhh, whose Caleb Moore?” Rosie said, her cheeks reddening like two blossoming roses.
Mom let out a weary sigh. “I used to have a good friend from school, Sylvia Moore. She actually stayed with your father and I for a bit, out in Grandpa’s cabin, when her marriage began to sour. This was years ago, before Lindsey and Jerry were born. Anyways, Sylvia had the sweetest little boy, a real cherub, named Caleb. He couldn’t have been any more than four years old, when he and his babysitter, Mildred Sweets went hiking one day. Someone would later say they saw them walking out towards Skullcut bend.”
“I’ll never forget that call. I was making dinner for your father, and the phone started ringing, it was Sylvia, totally hysterical. Mildred and Caleb never came home. Mildred was an experienced hiker, she used to lead excursions with tourists in the summer, so she knew her way around the area. For a while they thought maybe she kidnapped Caleb. But then they found that poor girl’s body down in the ravine. My brother used to work as a volunteer firefighter, and told me that every bone in her body was broken and contorted. She had deep lesions along her forehead, penetrating her skull.”
“Thus the name Skullcut Man was born.” I said, sipping my beer.
“Did they ever find the kid, Caleb?” Rosie asked, hanging onto my Mom’s every word.
Mom shook her head. “They never found him. Gone without a trace. Poor Sylvia took her life not long afterwards. The town wasn’t sure what to make of it. To this day I won’t go out towards Skullcut bend, even though it’s the easiest route to walk to town.”
“They say that sometimes if you go to Skullcut bend, you can see the Skullcut man, lurking by the side of the road.” I said locking eyes with Rosie, “He’ll sit there just waiting and looking for just one…more…skull to cut.” I bring up my hands, pausing, before lunging towards her.”
Rosie let out a small gasp, spilling her wine onto the table, “Cheese and crackers, Jerry.” She said, bringing her hand to her heart.
In bed that night Roise turns towards me, “You don’t actually believe that stuff about the Skullcut Man? Do you?”
I shake my head, “Nah, it’s just some silly shit, they tell kids around here to scare them into not wandering off. My Dad believed it though, after what happened to his sister I don’t blame him. He wouldn’t ever let us go out by Skullcut Bend, told us if he ever caught us there he would whoop us so bad we wouldn’t be able to sit for a week.”
“What’s out there, at the bend?”
“It’s just a bend in a trail near some rocks. Nothing more.” I let my hand wander down the spine of her back, grabbing at her ass.
“So what do you think happened to your Aunt and that kid and his babysitter?” Rosie says looking at me with her deep brown eyes.
“I don’t know. It was probably some sick fucko that saw an opportunity and took it.”
There’s still some apprehension etched on Rosie’s face, but she seems to accept my explanation and gives a nod. “You better get some sleep, big day tomorrow, with the new job.”
I wake up the next morning to the smell of bacon wafting throughout the house. I shower and put on one of my best suits, I bought it when I could afford tailored clothes, and fits like a second skin. When I come downstairs Mom has set the table with what she likes to call a Farmer’s Breakfast, bacon, pancakes, toast, eggs, and strong black coffee. She’s there with Gennie and Rosie already. “Wow, very dapper.” Mom said grinning, “Come on, better eat up!”
I went to the dealership afterwards, full from the gut-busting breakfast, and found Hank waiting for me. Though Hank has added a good forty pounds onto his once trim frame, he’s still handsome as ever, his golden hair swept up in a part on the side of his head. “Good to see you Jerry. Good to see you.” He shakes my hand rigorously.
Hank shows me around his dealership, walking me through the procedures and paperwork, it’s similar to that of my last dealership, I catch on quickly. I’m shown to my office, which Hank considers, “prime location” facing outwards to the showroom floor, behind a clear glass door. “I’m expecting big things from you Jerry.” Hank said as he sat down on the corner of my desk. “Closers get the big bucks here.”
Someone walks by, diverting his attention, a gangly fellow with an ill-fitting shirt, slightly hunched over. “You remember that creep from school?” Hank said in a whisper. “Jamie Culcut.”
I let out a low whistle. “Yeah, the years have not been kind, huh? He works here?” Jamie had been in the same grade as Hank and I but was always a loner in our school, keeping to himself. His family were considered white trash, by definition, living in the Bellford Trailer Park, just on the outskirts of town.
Hank smirked. “He’s been working as a Junior Associate for the last seven years. Told him he needs to make a monumental sale to get promoted. I’m still waiting.”
It was an uneventful first day, a few people trickled in and out. I went with one couple on a test drive but they needed some more time to think about it. Hank was sympathetic, “You’re just getting started Jerry. Don’t worry.”
When I got home I found Rosie and Gennie in the hammock peacefully sleeping. Not wanting to disturb them I went out towards Grandpas’ old cabin. The construction of the building was sound, made by someone skilled in woodworking, with thick trucks interlocking at the sides. Walking inside I hesitated for a moment, unsure if it would be worthwhile to salvage this place. Thick gossamer like webs shroud over every surface, the floors are covered in a black sticky gunk, and there is a rancid smell that permeates the space. I spend the next few hours cleaning, watching as homeless spiders scurry away.
On a faded couch there is a cardboard box labeled: Grandpa Henri’s Things. Curious, I pry open the lid to find piles of papers, yellowed with age, curled at the edges. Something catches my eye, and I dig deep, retrieving a notebook. On the back is the image that drew my attention, it looks like the figure of a man filled in completely with black marker, except for two slots in the face that look like eyes. The arms hang down past the legs, it’s fingers stretching downwards, serrated, like jagged knives. Looking at it makes me shudder.
I opened the book and began reading, the first entry marked as July 8, 1931:
I am a sly thing. Jerimiah whose parcel lies next to mine brought up selling his land to Marcie Colebrook, who passed this information promptly onto me. I go over to Jerimiah’s the next day, knocking twice on the door. He answers, and what do I say, “Jerimiah! How glad I am that I found you! We were getting our land inspected and found that our property lies on the fault lines.” I go on and on, putting on quite a performance, if I do say so myself, woe is me, the land is spoiled, will go next to nothing, but I’m going to try and sell it as quickly and as cheaply as I can. Well what does that grease ball do? He lists his property for $2000 less than half of what it’s worth the next day.
And what do I do? I get my brother in law, Lucas, to buy it up, and then I buy it from him. That stupid scallywag Jerimiah.
“Jerry, you in there?” Rosie’s voice comes from the door. “Dinner’s ready, your Mom told me to get you.”
“Be right there.” I yell out, I take one last look at the strange creature on the back and slip Grandpa Henri’s diary back into the box.
As I walk out of Grandpa’s cabin, I feel a warm breeze brush against my face. I take a look around, thinking it might be Rosie, but I’m on my own, the hair on my neck stands up, as goosebumps run down my arms. I’m walking towards the main house, when I turn around. There on the side of the cabin in the shadows is something moving, the black moves outwards, expanding like fingers. I rub my eyes, looking again. The shadows look normal now. I must have been imagining it, I tell myself, quickening my pace.
In bed that night, with Rosie and Gennie sleeping beside me, I find my brain awake, unrelenting to sleep. There is a storm coming in, some type of hurricane that has hit the coasts, with North Carolina and Florida getting the brunt of it. Still, even in Vermont the ramifications can be felt, I can hear the wind hallowing, and raindrops splattering against the house. I slide out of bed, going to the bathroom to take a piss.
As I walk back to bed, I stop to look out the window, the trees are swaying back and forth in the violent wind, and I am positive that tomorrow morning we’ll find at least a few branches on the ground, if not a whole tree. My eyes go to the hammock between the mighty trees, and notice that it remains still and unmoving. I hold my breath, as I examine the outline, there’s weight in it, somebody is there. Four long and inhuman black fingers appear one after the other, unfurling, one at a time, dangling over the side. I feel a scream pushing up against my throat, as sweat begins dripping down my temples. Then the power goes out, and I am left in blackness.
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