A Wave from a Chimney
by Jeff Brown
Table of Contents|
Part 1 appeared
in issue 135.
The man made no other movements. He just waved his small-fingerless hand.
Not knowing he was doing so, Jack waved back. It was a force of habit for most people to do so when someone waved at them. It was no different for Jack — he waved just as always, just like any other person would.
The man stopped waving. A look came over his face. At first it scared Jack, reminding him of the look that had came over the man’s face in his dream. But the look on the man was not of anger but, instead, a look of confusion and then what Jack would later come to think of as understanding. He turned his hand to where the back of his hand faced Jack and his palm faced himself. Instead of waving he motioned with his hand (minus its little finger) for Jack to come nearer to him, to come to the house.
Jack’s body went cold, the blood running from it. His mouth was filled with cotton and his hand stopped waving. Somehow the lead in his feet became like a running river and Jack began to run. He ran as fast as he could the remainder of the way home until he had bolted through the front door.
“Jack!” his mother yelled as he ran past her, through the kitchen and up the stairs. He dove into the bed, fully clothed, shoes and all, and pulled the sheets and blankets up over his head.
Even though his eyes were closed tightly Jack could see through the dark of his soul those haunting green eyes and the man’s bleeding, small finger missing, beckoning hand. He lay there, his eyes closed not moving even though he could hear his mother’s calling. Soon his mother would either come up the stairs to see about him or she would go away, back to her cooking and say nothing else about it.
It was less than a minute later his mother’s voice ceased and Jack heard her walking across the floor back to her cooking.
Jack kept his eyes closed.
* * *
Jack awoke with a start, his eyes snapping open suddenly. He hated waking that way but here lately every time he fell asleep he awoke with that sudden jerk as if his body had had a painful spasm. He could feel the sweat on his body, especially on his face and brow. He sat up and looked around the bedroom.
“It was real,” he whispered to himself. “It was so real.”
Jack looked down at the bed. Lying beside him, as she had for the last fourteen years of his life was his wife, Tabitha. Her long red hair covered her face like a veil. She was a sound sleeper, never seeming to stir when he awoke and got of bed at night. Even if it were three in the morning, as it was that night.
Dropping his feet to the floor Jack stood and walked out of the bedroom and down the hall. He paused, momentarily at the door of his daughter’s bedroom. Poking his head in Jack looked at his six-year-old daughter, Cadence. She, like her mother, was a sound sleeper. Jack hoped she was dreaming dreams of princesses and unicorns and teddy bears. Not dead men in chimneys.
Jack closed the door, walked down the hall to its end and into the bathroom. Flicking the light on he looked into the mirror. His hair was short and brown with several cowlicks sticking up and pointing every which way. His soft green eyes held dark gray circles under them and red, squiggly lines in their whites. A slight stubble had grown on his face since the last time he shaved.
He turned on the water and placed his hands under the faucet. As water filled his cupped together hands he splashed it onto his face. The shock of the cold water washed away any remaining sleep cobwebs that might have been there.
Jack looked back into the mirror at his reflection. He had forgotten about the man in the chimney that he first saw when he was six, some thirty-two years earlier. He was sure the man was a ghost — he realized that when he reached about ten. But whose ghost was it? Why was he in the chimney? How come he was the only one who ever saw the man? Or maybe there were others who saw the man just like Jack. They just didn’t know how to tell anybody either.
All those questions, all those thoughts had been gone since he moved away from home and went off to college. Now, with a flood of memories rushing through his head it was all back and very fresh to him. It also added another question to the list: Why was he dreaming about the man now, after all of these years?
Jack made his way down the stairs and into his office. Turning one the light he shut the door behind him. He walked over to the desk by the wall to his right. On it sat a newspaper. Jack frowned at this. He hadn’t remembered bringing a newspaper into his office, much less setting it on his desk. The newspaper was opened up and folded in half to an article the headline of which read:
Condemned House To Be Demolished
There was a small picture of the house next to the article that was only five paragraphs long (for that newspaper that’s a pretty small article). It was the house on Winchester Street, the one with the dead man in it who liked to wave at Jack from the chimney. It was a faded old-looking picture that looked like it had been taken thirty years earlier.
The article didn’t say much only that the house, which had been vacant since its first owners left the home thirty-three years before, would be torn down on the coming Saturday. The picture showed the house in its prime. It was a house free of broken windows, a sagging roof, and chipping paint. It was a house that still had quite a few flowers blooming out in front of it.
As Jack looked at the picture a light in one of the windows turned on. Jack blinked his eyes and shook his head from side to side in disbelief. He closed his eyes and opened them. The light was still on. Closing his eyes again Jack began to count. When he reached ten Jack opened his eyes and looked at the picture. The light was gone but on the side of the house that was visible in the photo were two words written in red: Help me.
The words looked like they could have been dirt but Jack knew better. It was blood, and he hadn’t seen it in the picture before. Could he have overlooked it the first time he saw it? Jack didn’t think so, but it was a possibility. He closed his eyes again, counted to ten and opened them. The words were gone and there were no dirt or blood smudges to be seen.
“Now, I’m hallucinating,” Jack said aloud. He set the paper back on his desk and then watched as blood began to spill out of the chimney of the house in the picture. The blood bubbled out of the chimney as if it were water boiling in a pot on a stove. It began to pour over the edges and onto the roof. The blood flowed down the side of the house, onto the lawn and out of the edges of the picture. The blood continued to flow out of the picture and onto the newspaper itself, then onto Jack’s desk where it began to drip and puddle onto the floor.
Jack watched as the blood flowed like a water fountain that had sprung a leak and burst. He backed away until his back hit the wall.
The puddle grew, soaking into the throw rug and the recliner by the other wall. Slowly the blood began to rise, to take form almost becoming solid. As the blood rose into the air off of the floor it began to look like a man; a man with a bloodied body and an extended hand. The hand wasn’t waving but beckoning Jack just as in his dreams as a child and now here recently.
The room began to grow hot and Jack could feel his skin growing tight and hot as if he were cooking in the sudden heat of the office. The blood of the liquid man began to boil as it stood there. The bubbles began to burst, spraying blood on the walls, floor and ceiling, as well as on Jack’s bare chest, shorts and legs. With a loud pop the light bulb exploded bringing with it darkness.
With the sudden darkness the room began to cool off considerably as if the light were a heat lamp that had just been shut off. Jack made his way to the office door, which he had not realized he had closed. Turning the doorknob he opened the door and let the dim light from the hall flood the darkness, overtaking it with a soft white light. The blood was gone, the figure was gone, the carpet wasn’t soaked any more and the newspaper was back to normal, except it was on the floor instead of on Jack’s desk where he had placed it after looking at it.
Hesitantly, Jack walked over to the newspaper. He was careful not to step on any glass from the light bulb until he looked up and saw the bulb still intact. Bending down he picked up the paper and looked at it. The headlines stood out in bold red letters, taking up over half the page. It read:
Man Missing Buried Inside Of House
Jack read the headline once then a second time to make sure he had read it right. He started to read the article when he heard a noise in the hallway.
“Daddy?” came the soft voice of Jack’s daughter, Cadence.
Jack looked down at her as he set the newspaper down quickly. Her voice had startled him to where he almost screamed but he managed to hold back. He slipped the newspaper back onto the desk, glancing down at it just long enough to see that the headline was gone, replaced by its original script.
“What’s wrong, Cadence?” he asked as he walked over to her. He knelt down and picked her up in his arms.
“I had a bad dream,” she said in a sleep-filled whiny voice.
“Was it a really bad dream?” Jack asked.
Yes,” she answered. “It was about a man.”
Jack had started to carry her back to her bedroom when she started telling him about the dream. He stopped abruptly and looked at her. Jack took her to his bedroom and lay her down beside her mother.
* * *
Cadence had had a bad dream, all right. A very bad dream as far as Jack was concerned. She had dreamed about him — Mr. Waving Man In The Chimney. The man had waved, then stopped and motioned to her. She had walked even though she didn’t want to. She had tried to make her feet stop and when they did she was standing on the roof next to the man.
“He scared me, Daddy,” she said through her tears.
Jack hugged her and rocked Cadence in Tab’s rocking chair that sat across the room from the bed where Tab was sleeping. It was something his mother never did for him. Comforting him was out of the question. Loving him was damn near impossible. Praise and comfort and love were never part of Mrs. Kenzie’s emotions. At least not for Jack.
There was this one time, long after his father had died (when Jack was eleven, from a car accident), that she showed some semblance of love, but not for Jack. It was for his best friend, Donald, who at eighteen was able to get between Jack’s mother’s legs for a few months. When she started becoming obsessed with him, Donald broke it off quickly.
Jack never blamed Donald — he couldn’t. His mother was a looker with nice legs and a decent body for a woman in her early forties. And, according to Donald, really good in the sack.
After the break-off Jack’s mother became even more distant toward him. It became awkward, and Donald stopped coming by, even to just say “hi” like he used to. Mrs. Kenzie drew further away, going deeper into her shell until she finally put a razor to both wrists and drained away in a bubble bath.
Jack could never say he was sad at her death. To be honest with himself, he was actually relieved. It was as if a burden had been lifted off of his shoulders. Her death had brought him a release and a resolve. The long carried burden of not feeling loved and wanting to be loved by his mother was now gone. Along with that came the resolve, the promise he made to himself (and to his mother as he stood at her grave a year or so after her death) to never treat his children the way she had treated him. He would hear every word, every cry, every complaint and every story his children had to tell him. And, if he could, he would help them deal with their problems the best he could. That included now, after his daughter’s horrible nightmare of the waving man, the one that made her cry hysterically.
Cadence had told him something else. It was something the man had said.
“Make him come back,” the waving man had said as he whispered into her ear. She said she could feel his breath, smell it and almost feel the wetness on her neck and ear as he spoke to her. She had awoken in a scream that Jack hadn’t heard. He felt guilty at this. Guilt at knowing how she might have felt by her parents not waking up to come at the sounds of her screams of fear.
As Jack closed the door to the bedroom he shared with his wife he had made a decision.
* * *
It was still dark out when Jack arrived at the house on Winchester Street. He parked his car on the side of the road and got out. He stood for a long while, looking up at the house, at its sagging roof and boarded up windows. He waited next to his car until the sun came up. He waited for the waving man in the chimney to appear.
He never showed.
Jack got back into his car and started back for home. On his way home it occurred to him that there might be a reason the ghost didn’t appear. It was something he thought was worth trying.
* * *
“Are you sure you want me to drop you off here?” Tabitha asked as she pulled up to the curb.
Jack nodded. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I’m just going to take a walk down memory lane.”
“Can I...” Tab Started.
“No, not this time, Honey,” Jack said, cutting her question off before she could ask it. “Maybe next time.”
Tabitha frowned. She didn’t like it when Jack didn’t allow her into his past, but she had learned a long time ago not to ask about his childhood. According to Jack there was nothing good about it, and he would much rather not discuss it. So, this was something out of the norm for Jack to even suggest doing. Far be it for her to interfere with him facing the past of his childhood.
Jack opened the door, stood up out of the car and closed the door behind him. He leaned down, smiled and told Tabitha he loved her. Backing away from the car he began to wave. Tab drove off, leaving Jack standing on the curb.
When Jack turned around he looked at the Thomas K. Hill elementary School. In his hand he held an old backpack. Jack slung it over his shoulder, took a deep breath and shook his head.
“I can’t believe I am actually doing this,” he said to himself.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown