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My Brother

My brother was a whopping eleven years older than me, so I don’t remember much of when he was still living with us during his college years. I was only thirteen when he moved out. But he was always weird. His self-professed hobby was to watch people. I remember there were times when he would pick me up from school, and, as we drove home in the afternoon sunlight, we would see something like a group of children walking home in their uniforms, and those little mundane scenes–old ladies feeding birds, shops closing down for the day–were heartbreaking to him. He took pictures of seemingly innocuous things. He was very nostalgic about things that had never happened to him.

I distinctly remember that on a weekly basis he would sit in a corner of his cramped room and scribble into an old notebook that he used for school. Sometimes I would ask him what he was drawing or writing. He would of course tell me to leave. He kept it well-hidden when he wasn’t writing, because several times during my childhood I looked for it while he wasn’t home, and never found it.

I don’t remember a whole lot else about my brother. He mostly kept to himself, but was willing to oblige when I asked him to play video games or something with me. He wasn’t very much for sports, and he had a small but recurring circle of friends. They were generally as weird as him and Mom didn’t like them around the house. But he didn’t seem lonely or hurt, he got good marks and generally he appeared satisfied with his life. He was the opposite of my sister (seven years older than me), who has always been socially adaptable, self-confident and outgoing.

Whenever my brother went out, it was either to take pictures of the seedier parts of the city, or heading straight to a friend’s house, probably to listen to music. He was big on music, especially anything that used “found sound”, i.e. recordings picked up from somewhere else.

My brother died in a car crash last year. We have made our peace with it by now. My parents decided to keep his room as it was when he left. But I haven’t been able to contain myself. For years the mystery of the notebook had settled in the far back of my mind, but months after his death it resurfaced. I needed to find it.

I scoured his room again. I checked under and inside everything, with meticulous care to make sure my parents didn’t notice I had been moving things around. And finally, by sheer luck, I came across a loose floorboard under where his bed used to be.

It was a clever hiding spot, and I never would have found it as a child. I pried the board loose with anxious expectation, hoping that this was, at last, where I would find the notebook. And I was right.

My brother kept loose documentation of his feverish scribblings. By now, time, humidity and insects had taken their toll on his writings, but most of it was entirely legible. It was kept in a pile of unassuming school notebooks, lined paper, ring-bound, bland black covers. There are marks on the cover that indicate that they were once covered with something, possibly labeled, but those aren’t there anymore.

For the past four or so hours I have been poring over my brother’s lost oeuvre with unbroken interest. What he wrote (and occasionally drew) there is of extremely varied nature. It includes lists of people he “loves”, but these are populated with people like “7:30am cleaning lady, ____ Av. ____ Hotel, wears pink ribbon” or “kindly old doorman from childhood house”. These are people who, I assume, he only knew via his personal brand of nostalgic voyeurism.

There are also interviews with people from the city about varied subjects. My brother would sometimes do this; he would pretend to be a Communications or Journalism major of some sort and interview strangers on the street about various things. Many of the interviews are recorded here.

And then there are also personal (or sometimes impersonal, stated as if they were fact) accounts of strange things that go on in the city, written as if they were the most mundane things in the world. Yet they are anything but. Sometimes his friends pop up in these writings.

I am transcribing these as I go, so you’ll have to forgive me if I go slowly. I don’t have a scanner at hand to show you the writings directly; and my brother’s handwriting is undecipherable chicken-scratch to anyone not familiar with it, anyway.

Just to be on the safe side, I will replace all street names, locales, and people’s name, etc. with pseudonyms or blanks.

A few other notes: I have not gotten in contact with any of my brother’s friends ever since his passing, though all of them came to his funeral and were very supportive throughout. Naturally they are all much older than me and we don’t have many shared interests. Given the close nature of my brother and his friends, it’s entirely possible that some of what was written here is not his own, but his friends’, and that this was their collective project of sorts. This is substantiated by two facts: first, the writing style changes considerably between documents. Sometimes it’s like my brother’s (clinical, distant), and other times it’s unlike him (flowery prose, or liberal use of slang).

And also, there is no guarantee that everything–or anything–documented here actually transpired. It may have been an elaborate exercise in fiction. My brother read a lot of it. He was especially fond of authors like Borges, who have an almost mathematical grasp on fiction, and others like Cortázar, who are fond of letting it intermingle with reality.

Finally, I should mention that both my brother and my native language is not English, and these notebooks are not written in English, either. So I have the double task of transcribing and translating here. If any of the following prose seems awkward, that may not necessarily be my brother’s fault.

Some of what is here is not written, but was typed out and printed, then pasted into the notebooks with tape or glue (and most of it is falling apart), lending credibility to the theory that my brother’s friends participated in this project, or whatever it was supposed to be.

I suppose that’s more than enough preamble. I will now post excerpts from my brother’s notebooks. There are five of them in total, of varying size. The third is by far the largest; the other four seem like additions or further explorations on ideas first explored in the third notebook.

But I’m probably reading too much into all this anyway.

Exc. from Notebook 3: Untitled List #4

PEOPLE WHO KILL ANIMALS & OTHER THINGS

1. [___] St., corner store, mom & pop shop, Chinese sweets. Rat infestation.

F. told me that what they really do is take them to the back and cut them up and this is why the radio in that store is really loud.

2. DRAMATIC shortage in dove population thanks to the “DOVE STRANGLER”, anonymous assassin of winged pests.

3. Group of children in [____] Park, use carbines. They used to gut fish at the lake in [District] but we all know what happened in ’98.

Although A. doesn’t know. Most agree that the fish all turned up dead one morning because of a poisonous leak but I disagree.

4. Doors fan in [Record store] enjoys making films of this, K. is a friend of hers.

5. Do you remember those commercials that started airing past 3am back when pet dogs were turning up dead, strangled or poisoned? And it was like a bunch of grainy footage of this dead animal asking people to report whoever was doing it? Good job guys.

6. Nobody ever figured out where it was buried, not even us.

7. Ask A. about that guy from Architecture who is into torture porn. [this entry is crossed out.] CONFIRMED FALSE
Exc. from Notebook 1: “A Memory”

Back then we lived in [District] which has always been very boring. You know the tagline. “The Greenest District in [City]“. They’re very proud of it. In truth, it just got boring. Adults moved there to get away from the hubbub of city life but I prefer gritty urban chaos to some kind of lame attempt at bohemian country life.

And anyway it was bullshit because soon enough everyone else moved there and it was just another part of this awful city. Engulfed. Assimilated. The Borg of urban planning.

Anyway, back then I was like nine and I didn’t have a lot of friends (HA HA), but I had this one friend whose name was I., he was a kid who lived across the street from me and sometimes we would play house (all you boys played house when you were little, don’t pretend you didn’t) and sometimes we would go exploring the neighborhood, which was almost the same thing.

But there was one place we didn’t go to, which we blatantly referred to as the Haunted House. I’m still not sure what it really was, I think once I asked Dad and he said it was an old terrain used to keep horses for the [Country Club], but people lived there, too, and there were cars parked inside and you could hear a TV and sometimes see its glow inside the little cabin. But we never dared to go past the barbed wire.

I guess I should describe the infamous Haunted House. I have told this story over drinks countless times and I always describe different details. But anyway, it was in the really remote part of the neighborhood, right at the edge of where all the wealthy houses gave way to the shantytown, and that’s where there was all the burglary going on. There was a main entrance, which was this huge old rickety steel gate, which you arrived to by following a dirt path (back then [District] really did feel like the country a bit), and it was this HUGE terrain, you could tell just from looking at it from outside, and the whole perimeter was surrounded with barbed wire and warnings about trespassing, which I don’t think is the sort of thing you could get away with in a neighborhood like that nowadays. And the whole place looked and felt old and sinister. There was a little cabin in the front and then in the back there was sprawling gardens and in the far back was the “main” house, where I assumed the residents lived, and there was a pool but it was always empty, and I never saw any guard dogs despite the warnings.

Anyway I. was really crazy about this place, he was into ghost stories and those stupid Goosebumps books and such so this was right up his alley (back then *I* wasn’t as much of a freak as I am now), and he wanted to explore this house. And I said no but he kept insisting, and he was my only friend so I saw him everyday after school. So we ended up going to explore it in three separate occasions, and it got progressively worse. Did I mention that it had the most twisted, evil-looking trees ever? They never flowered and barely had any leaves they were just gnarly towers of twisted wood, and sometimes these HUGE black birds, like buzzards, would roost on them, it was awful.

So the first time we went exploring, not much happened. We didn’t actually get into the house like later. First we spent a lot of time daring each other to slip inside and we both pussied out of it. Then we walked around it and tried to spot something creepy. In the distance we saw someone walking around with a stick in his hand, probably a watchman, and we also saw some figures in the far back, it was a really foggy winter morning, and we couldn’t make anything out beyond a certain distance.

So I mentioned that there is a fairly long and winding dirt path that leads to the entrance to this house, which is straight out of a villain’s mansion from a children’s movie. And we would always look around while we were walking there because we were always afraid of stray dogs or something. We would bike there. So after spending about an hour walking around the perimeter of the Haunted House, trying to find something worth or while, we walked back to the entrance, with the intention of going back down the dirt path and to our homes. We had left our bikes right outside the gate.

So when we got back there, first thing, our bikes were gone. I. cursed for like the first time, I’d never heard him curse. It’s pretty shocking when you’re a proper nine-year old lady like I was! But that wasn’t WEIRD, we were just stupid for leaving them tossed out there and walking away. Some kids stole them, we figured.

But then we saw the footprints.

Now I am not kidding you when I say this. I am not fucking kidding you. These were dogs’ footprints but they were fucking. Huge. HUGE. They were like bigger than a human hand print. Or about as big. [There is a line drawn next to this paragraph roughly 21 cm long.] And they went in a straight line, not in the normal path that a dog goes. And you know what else? They stopped right there at the fucking entrance.

We ran back home.

So when I got back home my parents chewed me out for losing my bike. I was wholly uninterested in my bike and tried to tell them that there was some sort of monster living in the Haunted House, which they dismissed as hyperbole, as parents always do. They told me that I should go back there and politely ask if they had seen my bike, maybe they had taken them into the house for safekeeping until the owners showed up.

I never mustered up the courage to do that. But I.’s mom apparently went there herself a couple days later to ask whoever was living there about the bikes. I never heard it from the lady herself but I. told me that his mom had no luck and that when she came back from the house, she looked “sad and angry”, and told him that he should never go near that place again, and told him to tell me the same.

Of course we were kids, and while we were scared of the footprints, we hadn’t actually SEEN anything, and we wanted to go back there so bad. It was incredibly stupid even for a nine-year old but what can I say? I’m an adventurer.

So one Saturday morning we snuck out of our respective houses and walked back down that dirt path; without our bikes it was a half-hour of walking or so. It gave us a lot of time to speculate on the nature of the hellish beast that had left those tracks. Dog? Demon? Dog-demon? Our imaginations were not very agile. We decided we’d see for ourselves. Somehow.

That morning was a little clearer, almost sunny, a crisp winter morning. It subtracted some of the House’s innately sinister qualities but we were still deathly afraid of it. As per usual, there was nobody around, but there was an old Volkswagen we hadn’t seen before parked outside. The tracks were gone, by the way. And we decided we would find a way in.

The second time we went exploring, it was as though we had fallen into a nightmare. Neither of us wanted to go inside; but no one would believe us about the dog-like footprints, and we were under pressure to get our bikes back.

So we went inside.

This mansion was full of 18th century artifacts. Almost as though it hadn’t been touched since the American revolution. There were gold coins still in small jewelry chests, paintings and portraits of people in powdered wigs all over the wall, and even a musket hanging on the rack. We almost expected to find a skeleton in the closet.

We had no idea where to start looking for our bikes. Until we caught sight of the footprints again.

So this time we were focused on finding, maybe an unguarded back entrance or a child-sized hole in the barbed wire. For the most part we were unsuccessful. The sun was starting to beat down on us as it got closer to noon and we were hot and tired and urging each other to go back home; at this point we were more tired and bothered than scared. But then I heard something and I’m still not sure of what the fuck it was.

Honestly it could have been a super-heated martial dispute, if there was indeed a couple living there. It came from the “main” house, the big and pretty one in the far back of the terrain, which we were some, I don’t know, 20m away from. But we could still hear it. It was this really weird screaming, it was like scream therapy or karate or maybe even a drill sergeant yelling out orders. The same interval of time (just a few seconds) passed between each scream. And there was a male and a female voice, alternating. And it got louder and louder and then it stopped when it sounded like something made of glass had broken.

They weren’t yelling AT each other, though, they were yelling WITH each other maybe? It was weird and controlled, but at the same time really disturbing. We were paying close attention to these screams, trying to see something through one of the house’s distant windows, but then somebody started to walk out of the house through the back door and we got out of there.

Our parents never found out about this second visit. We were now intrigued and decided we would get in there no matter what. That night for some reason I remember having really bad nightmares and having to go sleep with my parents, even though the footprint episode hadn’t phased me. Something about those screams.

We decided that we would gear up for our third (and as it would be, final) expedition to the Haunted House. We stocked up on snacks, I.’s pair of shitty binoculars (they were the kind that came as an accessory along with a G.I. Joe or as a cereal box prize), water, sweaters, and flashlights. Because we decided that we were going to do this at around 5pm, when our parents weren’t around, to make sure they didn’t catch us. It was winter and it got dark fairly early. This was unbelievably stupid in retrospect.

I was still having recurring nightmares after hearing those screams. I was much more shaken up than after the stuff with bikes and the would-be demon dog. On that fateful day we took to the dirt path early and got there in the late afternoon, in the twilight actually, and the house was the creepiest I had ever seen. There were no cars parked outside, that was a first. But there were lots of those big black birds on the trees I mentioned. And there were dogs. They weren’t devil-dogs, just a couple of emaciated stray dogs fighting over a dead rat, near the entrance. They left normal tracks and they ignored us, thankfully.

But the most important detail is that, for some reason, the gate had been left open. Just a crack. But enough for me and I. and our backpacks to slip through. And we were in. It was getting dark by then and we heard the dogs outside howling.

For the first few minutes of exploring we were accompanied by nothing but settling darkness and silence. We passed by the little cabin at the entrance without anyone noticing us. The TV was on and there was some afternoon soap opera re-run playing, but I couldn’t tell if there was someone watching. I remember I.’s face bathed in the glow of the distant TV set pouring out through the cabin window, as we tried to sneak a peak into it. He looked pretty scared.

But since he was the boy he had to put on a brave face and pretend he wasn’t afraid, so he got his backpack and took the flashlight out of it, and gave it a couple shakes and turned it on. It was the weakest little stream of light ever, but at least like that we wouldn’t trip over anything. We were in the middle of the open terrain now. In the far back was the house where we heard the screaming during our second visit. We heard birds and dogs barking in the distance.

The next part is where it gets awful, and is the reason why I. ended up with all those stitches. First we heard the screaming again. This time it was anything BUT controlled. It was wild careening agony coming from the house. Then we heard the heaviest footsteps in the distance.

I’m not going to lie. I was ready to drop everything, grab I. and run out of there and straight back home without stopping.

I. was taken aback by the sudden sounds. He jumped back a little. The light bounced off something that was reflecting it. I first I thought it was a dog but it was a bird.

It was like… a peacock. But it was all black, like an overgrown chicken-crow hybrid. It walked on the ground and it seemed incapable of sustained flight because its body was big and heavy like a squatting ostrich. It had these HUGE reflective golden eyes and the light was shining off of them. It stared at us and made this shrill squawking sound, but the screaming coming from the house drowned it out. I yelled at I. that we had to go. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that there were TONS of these birds. A terrestrial flock of herd wandering about the terrain. I hadn’t seem them until now. They were all around. Then one of these birds brushed past my leg and its feathers were prickly like thorned stems. I. wasn’t reacting to me yelling it him. He was transfixed.

He was shaken back into reality by the sudden distant barking, which was rapidly getting closer. I started hearing these horribly heavy footsteps, like if the ground itself were pounding. And then I jumped back and turned around and saw that, bigger than these creatures, there was something attacking one of them, just some 20m from where we were.

Then the screaming got louder and then suddenly I saw that the flashlight was extinguished because I. had been knocked down by something.

The rest is a horrible blur. I tried to help I. but whatever was pinning him down was huge, like pony-sized. I heard these horrible guttural sounds coming from it that completely drowned out I.’s panicked screaming. And throughout this entire scene the screaming coming from the house didn’t stop. It was like a ritual cry that had summoned these creatures which as far as I knew weren’t supposed to exist.

The guardsman came to help us. He was the one who was watching TV in the little cabin and by now we had made enough of a racket to get his attention. He took me sternly by the arm and with the other he beat… whatever was attacking I. and after a LONG series of SEVERE beatings with the stick the beast back off. I.’s legs were covered in blood. At this point I don’t remember anything else consistently. The screaming had stopped, everywhere, I. was no longer screaming, the House was no longer screaming, only the guardsman was yelling at me, “why are you here?! What are you doing?!” I sobbed and couldn’t articulate words.

He took both of us back in the cabin and started applying oxygenated water to I.’s wounds. They were awful, deep, chunks of flesh gone. He was bawling horribly. I managed to choke out my name and address and he called my parents. They picked us up and took I. to the hospital. I don’t remember how many stitches it was but it was tons, on both legs, and the doctors said he was lucky, even though he needed therapy for the coming months to walk again. Even today I. is kind of weak and he has a really skinny right leg, have you noticed? It’s because it has a chunk of flesh missing. He can’t develop muscle there. He’s probably going to end up needing a cane.

I don’t understand where the birds came from or what they were, or that thing that attacked I. I did do my own investigations some years later.

I asked my parents several times about this incident; I’ve never mustered the courage to ask I.’s. Either way all I get most of the time are stares of disapproval and sometimes Mom starts sobbing because she was so scared that night that I had been hurt, and she was scared that I. might die. My father told me that he had a stern talk with the owner of the terrain two days later, along with I.’s dad. The owner was apparently a short old man, European, terrible grasp on our language, but the doorman served as translator. Apparently his dog had attacked I. after the two of us had trespassed. Dad tried to get him to at least apologize but apparently things escalated and they almost got to a fistfight. Our parents never associated with those people again. I’ve told him about the birds and the screaming and he just gives me blank stares. “There is no bird that looks like that”, he says.

When I was fourteen I had mostly forgotten all about that incident. I. had gone to a different middle school and we wouldn’t start talking again until we ended up going to the same university. But one day I headed down that dirt path once more, against that better judgment, and as if it were a conclusion taken out of a movie, the house was now abandoned. Apparently it had been sold but the new owner never showed up and it was in real estate limbo.

I have talked to some of the neighbors and they agree in that the people who lived there were strange and almost never left the house. They had also heard the weird screaming and such. But they had never seen any birds or dogs. They did add that that Volkswagen I saw parked outside once was a frequent sight; apparently four men, impeccably dressed, visited that house every weekend.

Those birds… appeared and disappeared like fog. I never got a good look at what attacked I. He didn’t, either; he’s practically suppressed the whole thing. My parents didn’t. Whatever roamed those terrains left with the owners.

This is mostly personal speculation, but I’m pretty sure those fuckers were keeping those birds are livestock for the horrible thing that attacked I. It wasn’t the only one, there were more in the distance. I heard them. I don’t get how anyone could deal with those things. Or what they were. Not a single creature living in that house seemed real.

I tried to get in contact with the guardsman who saved I.’s life (and probably mine). My parents thanked him plenty after the incident but I didn’t hear from him again, because after that I stayed the fuck away from the Haunted House for obvious reasons. I looked into it. I learned that long after working there he became a policeman. And that some years ago he killed himself.

Don’t ask I. about this story, he doesn’t like hearing about it.

—END—

Now, a few of my considerations on this story.

This story is not autobiographical. For one thing, the protagonist is indeed a female, and her friend, I., doesn’t fit the description (or name) of any of my brother’s friends as far as I know. My brother DID have a friend, let’s call her T., who is female and her manner of speaking very closely matches this account from what I can remember of her. It’s possible that this is her testimony.

Alternately it’s entirely possible as well that this is all a work of fiction, either by my brother or one of his friends. We never lived in the district mentioned here, and my parents have never mentioned an incident like this.

Now, the next story that I will transcribe seems to have indeed been written by my brother. It is more consistent with his writing style and attitude from what I can gather, and definitely sounds like something he would do.

Exc. from Notebook 2: “Xochipilli”

It seems that in every group of childhood friends there is one requisite expert in tall tales. The kind of boy who will tell you that there is a fourth flute in Mario 3 or a super-secret character in Street Fighter. Or that his Dad killed a lion in his trip to Africa. Or that his Mom is a movie actress. You know the type.

A. was our resident tall tale specialist, and one of my best friends—he is still both of these things. We mock him and enjoy his alleged exploits, which he can never back up. When we were still in grade school and [Sister] was a baby, we had been learning about the Aztecs in school, for some reason, and A. and I were obsessed with the concept of ritual sacrifice, especially if it allowed for communion with the gods.

So what we would do is, we would head out to [___] Lake [note: this is the same lake mentioned in the "List of People who Kill Animals & Other Things"]. We would roll up our pant legs and stand around on the shore with glass jars, looking to swipe up some fish. Some relatively large ones got close to the surface and sometimes we got lucky. The other kids feeding bread crumbs to the geese would look at us weird, something I would quickly get used to.

Now, prior to this we had dug a small hole in the ground behind some bushes, near the rusted swing set that you can still find there. The hole was originally dug out so we could safely bury T.’s doll, which was also an interesting story, but a different one.

At that point we weren’t using the hole for anything. We would take the fish there and gut them with our school utensils (pens and pencils), while they were still alive, and then we would toss their smelly remains into the hole. With our hands covered in fish-blood, we would kneel before our makeshift sacrificial altar, and recite this solemn prayer: “We make this sacrifice to you, O, Xochipilli, and hope for guidance in return.”

Xochipilli was one of the Aztecs’ gods, appropriated from another culture, if I recall correctly. He was one of the few gods whose name we could recall correctly (albeit we usually couldn’t spell it correctly), so he was our god of choice.

Sometimes after our daily sacrifice we would sit there and wait, taking turns putting our ears close to the hole, waiting for some voice to emanate out and reveal, I don’t know, our fates, or the existence of a God, or the answers for tomorrow’s Math test. Eventually we would get bored and go do something else, but continued to do this for approximately one month.

Looking back on it, I find it felicitously odd that nobody called us out on our strange and recurrent behavior. The other kids that regularly went to the lake simply kept their distance. The altar of Xochipilli was tucked away in a faraway part of the park, and nobody used the swing sets anyway, so the pungent smell, which gradually became more notorious as the hole got full of rotting, gutted fish, was hardly ever noticed by others.

Xochipilli would not respond to us, but our efforts went undeterred. As I mentioned, our daily sacrifices went on for at least a month. Then something rather