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.
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 momentous happened.
We weren’t the only kids in the neighborhood with a penchant for animal cruelty. There was another gang of kids, one or two years older than us, who would hang out near the lake and throw stones at the geese. I figure they mostly had the intent of simply scaring them away, but on one occasion, one of the kids hit a goose squarely in the head. Very good aim or luck, really.
The adults at the scene were mock-horrified for the violent tendencies of children these days, and how THEIR generation wasn’t like that, and how video games were to blame, and so on. The goose was violently trying to swim, suspended upside-down, drowning while trying to make it to shore. A concerned father waded a few meters into the water, grabbed the animal by the leg, and put it down softly on the shore as a crowd of onlookers gathered.
Its head had been smashed and it was bleeding profusely. Some silly old lady suggested that they take it to a veterinarian, which was immediately dismissed by everyone with a modicum of common sense. It was understood that the bird was dying, and nobody was brave enough to put out its misery, so they just left it there. The goose convulsed and flapped its wings in vain every minute or so. The adults had left the scene, taking their children with them, and in a matter of minutes that section of the shore was left deserted. The animal struggled through its final throes.
Of course, A. and myself had other plans for him. In our minds, it went like this: the bigger the sacrifice, the better the response. And this was a BIG sacrifice.
Once the area had been abandoned, we sneaked close to the animal and confirmed that it was still barely clinging on to life, as demonstrated by its infrequent spasms. We dragged the animal back to the altar of Xochipilli. I told A. that he should have the honors for this one, mostly because he felt queasy about it.
He was initially drunk on blood-lust, and without thinking about it twice, he took out his pen and stabbed the animal in the breast. Warm, red blood jetted forth. That’s when we realize that we couldn’t mutilate it. The goose seemed to alive, not alien like fish, too similar to our own pets. So we just stood there, feeling a little bad about ourselves, waiting for it to finally die. It struggled for only another minute or so.
We quickly got to work. By this point the hole was almost entirely full of fish guts—rotting ones, at that. It’s a marvel that we could stand to be near that horrid smell, but I suppose you have a greater resistance to these things as an intrepid and somewhat disturbed child. We grabbed the goose and pushed it into the altar of Xochipilli. Our hands were once again covered in blood.
With its new sacrifice, the altar looked rather sinister. The goose’s smashed-in head poked its way out of the hole, its neck, sustained by rigor mortis I guess, propping it up, with one broken wing sticking out, and feathers strewn about. We looked at each other uneasily, decided to say our prayers and quickly go home, and unspokenly agreed that our worship days were over.
“We make this sacrifice to you, O, Xochipilli, and hope for guidance in return.” I still remember that prayer perfectly. This time we didn’t bother to try and listen for a response, partly because we feared we would actually get one. We got on our bikes and furiously pedaled home.
This incident took place, to the best of my memory, in August of ’98. And you know what happened in August of ’98 to the lake. It showed up in the papers. All the fish turned up dead overnight, floating belly-up on the surface. And that lake has not been kind to life ever since. Like the kid who drowned.
I suppose that Xochipilli rewards the patient. I didn’t go down to the lake for years after that. Neither did A. We never checked to see if someone had bothered to clean up the whole and the mess we’d made. When I finally went there, there was not the slightest trace of the altar. And I don’t like going there. There are still some geese left; they have nothing to eat but what others feed them. And the way they look at me—I know this sounds like I’m trying to make things spookier, but it’s true—the way they look at me, it makes me feel evil. —END—
This story was almost certainly written by my brother, as it matches his style, and A. was indeed, as far I know, his best friend. According to my parents there was a time when he, as a child, spent a lot of time at Echo Lake, so it fits. As he mentioned here, the lake’s fish mysteriously turned up dead overnight during August of 1990; it is generally believed that a toxic leak from a nearby processing plant caused the disaster. Nowadays only a handful of geese remain.
Exc. from Notebook 1: “Monica”
T. named her new doll Monica, I think after Monica’s Gang. T.’s mom is Brazilian and she brings her children’s comics from there and Monica’s Gang is like the Brazilian equivalent of Peanuts or something.
I told T. that that doll was bad news, though. She had gotten it at one of those big flea market fairs. The doll looked really old and the facial proportions were off, it’s like they consciously tried to NOT model it like a real baby. It hadn’t come with any clothes so T. put a doll-sized one-piece white summer dress on her. Oh god, why am I referring to “her” as if it were a person?
Anyway, back then we were all in grade three or so and even then K. was already very sensitive to what we have come to refer to as “Weird Shit”; for example she knew about the thing in D.’s garden way before anyone else. She said Monica was bad news, and I agreed. I always agreed with K., she’s a lifesaver. We tried to convince T. to throw Monica away, but she’s always been stubborn when it’s worst for her, and instead she started taking Monica everywhere just to spite us. We threatened to stop being friends with her and such.
But in the end we all loved T., we still do, and we didn’t stop being friends with her, but we hated Monica and its vacant, vaguely deformed stare, like a child born from generations of incest, gave us nightmares at night. So one day we hatched a plan to rid ourselves of Monica forever.
We went to the park. It was T., K., D., and me. A. and I had come up with the plan. In preparation, we had dug a hole near [____] Lake, behind some bushes, where we would bury Monica. First, we left our backpacks and things behind a tree in the park, and T. did the same, leaving her bag with Monica in it and nothing else.
Then, while we were playing at the monkey bars far from there, A. sneaked behind the tree and took ALL of our stuff in secret. We were all in on this except for T. When we got back and noticed they were gone, we all acted shocked and assumed that our stuff had been stolen. T. really must have loved Monica because she was bawling the rest of the day.
Later that afternoon, I met up with A. He gave me everyone else’s stuff and I gave it to everyone else. But we kept T.’s bag, and the doll inside of it. We pedaled to the lake. We went behind the bushes and took Monica out, handling it as carefully as possible.
We threw her into the hole and then we piled dirt on top of it as quickly as possible. We covered it with soil until it was no longer a hole. And then we breathed a sigh of relief. Until we heard the crying.
Apparently Monica was one of those baby dolls that emitted a crying sound periodically, like many such toys do. But we had never heard it before. T. had never told us about it. Given how much she loved Monica, that was odd. I don’t think she knew. But if she didn’t know, then she wouldn’t have put batteries in, so how was the doll making that sound? It was a high-pitched analogue squeal, it sounded as old and sinister as everything else about that abomination of a child’s toy, and we didn’t stick around long enough to find out how we could still hear it through all the dirt we had piled on top of it. We got out of there.
T. never found out about what really happened that day until many years later, when we started university. A. accidentally told her while drunk. She wasn’t upset. She agreed that it was the best thing to do. Apparently that doll had also given her nightmares, and the only reason why she hadn’t personally disposed of it was to spite us. Stubborn, as always.
A. and I wouldn’t dig out that hole until one or two years later, when we used it as a makeshift altar to a sacrificial god. (That’s another fun story with a somewhat odd ending.) Once we did dig it out, Monica was nowhere to be found. Plastic doesn’t just decompose into nothingness. Our favorite (and most dreaded theory) is that, after we left, some girl passed by and heard the doll’s crying, dug her out, and, charmed by it, took it home. Monica is probably still out there. It doesn’t feel like she was something a bunch of kids could’ve gotten rid of so easily.
As for my considerations on “Monica”, I don’t have much to say. I don’t have any way of confirming any of this, except by talking to any of the people involved, but T. in particular is currently living in America and I’m ambivalent about getting in contact with her. She was the most shaken by my brother’s death.
There are no details on the doll that could help me find the model that Monica was, or what company manufactured it, so I’m in the dark in that respect. I’ll just take it for what it is.
Exc. from Notebook 4: “Lists of Our Lost Friends”
We write these words with solemn hearts. But not really.
THE LIST of E., LOST IN THE SUMMER OF 1999:
“The List of Adoration”
1. The man with the golden watch transports large fish tanks in shopping carts. He buys them at [____] Gallery, the one in front of the [Supermarket franchise] on [____] Ave. He does not keep fish in these tanks, but he does not keep anything else in them either, except for his feelings.
2. The young man who jogs around the old military training facility in [District] is his partner (in crime).
3. There is a small kiosk on the corner of [____] and [____] St. that sells both children’s sticker albums and pornography, side-by-side. The lady vendor has a deal with these two men.
4. The eye doctor that A.’s dad has been going to is also an acquaintance of my mother. He was part of this group in the sixties.
5. The rat population living under aforementioned kiosk did not form naturally. [See: rat king]
6. Did you know about the hospital black market? Certain bodily fluids are at a premium. The one A.’s dad used to go to is in a discreet little place near [____] park.
7. “The Clan of Adoration” has not been active since the eighties, but never leave it. Members refer to you as “dormant” when you’re not active.
8. The former chairman is now homeless and frequents a specific bench of the same park.
Find out for yourself. To our dear E., lost to a job offer in Europe and wretched away from us far too soon.
THE LIST of N., LOST IN THE FIRE OF 2006 :
“List of In-the-Know Record Stores in [City]”
1. [Store], [___] Ave., [#], close to dumpster. Classic rock, newspaper, st(n)uff. *
2. [Store], [___] St., [#], ask K. for details. Monster, punk, viewpoint. **
3. [Name]‘s place, [___] St., he runs a store out of his apartment. Nice collection of rarities. SAFE!
4. ESSENTIAL: In the Name of the [____], the [____] and the [____], located in you-know-who’s basement. */**
* Not safe during the night.
** Not safe at any time.
To our dear N., lost to the fire of [Marketplace], September [#], 2006.
LIST of X, OUR NEIGHBORHOOD ADDICT, OUR SAVIOR and OUR FRIEND, LOST FAR TOO EARLY IN OUR LIVES:
“List of Places we do Not Mess With”
1. The Office of a Thousand Identical Faces with the Doorman who Looks Impossibly Old where A.’s Dad Used to Work, but Doesn’t Anymore (for Obvious Reasons)
2. The Field of Mars, Located on the Seaside Hotel near [___] Park, which Is Not a Hotel at All, and Will Not Take No for an Answer
3. The Baby Stroller Abandoned in [District] Dumpster, which for Good Reason Has Not Been Moved Since the Fateful Day of Feb [#], 1991, Coincidentally the Birth Date of Our Fearless Leader
4. The Hospital, You Know the One I’m Talking About
5. The End of the Road that Leads to the Haunted House, as Retold in T.’s Riveting Tale of Beasts and Children, as Recorded, Verbatim, In a Previous Tome
6. The Hole Twice Cursed
7. The Bottom of the Lake Where We Freed Things That We Will Probably Never Understand
8. The Playground where Everyone Lost
9. Our Dear School, Left Behind Us Forever, for the Better
10. K.’s House for At Least the Next 12 Days, After Which We Should Be Okay Again, but You Should Always Exercise Caution!!!
To our dear X, who we never fully understood.
Take these lessons to heart!
These are the three articles that make up the “Lists of Our Lost Friends”: the lists of E., N., and X. This is by far one of the weirdest things I’ve come across in my brother’s notebook so far.
I cannot offer much insight into who these people are or were. I don’t know of any friend by the name of E. who my brother ever had, or if she left to work abroad in Europe. As for N., there was indeed a fire that broke out in the marketplace named on the date specified, and dozens of people died, but I didn’t know that my brother was acquainted with anyone who perished there.
As for X, I think I might have a clue to who THAT was. My brother was friends with a guy who got really into drugs in high school and ended up having to be taken by his parents to a rehabilitation center. Even before his addiction truly spiraled out of control he was very eccentric and paranoid, and was noted for writing with arbitrary capitalization, as demonstrated in his list. However, “X” is not a pseudonym I made up; he is literally referred to as “X” in the notebook. So I cannot verify that.
Okay, “Record Store” is coming up next. This is a somewhat long story an it is written in incredibly cramped handwriting, very frantic. This one was definitely not written by my brother, because he appears as a character in it. I will refer to my brother as B. when this happens.
Exc. from Notebook 3: “Record Store”
Let us go down a trip to memory lane, specifically to the summer of 2002, when A. was finally kicked out of school. His dad has always been negligent, as you know, so every day was partytimes in his house, as you also know. Truly this was a glorious time. This was the summer of Sister Zero, of the Convent, of the Arcade Incident. This was the summer when K. got caught and suspended for the mess she made in the boiler room. This was the summer when B. tried to stop smoking like twelve times and failed consistently.
Coincidentally, this was also the summer when B. got very dark in terms of music tastes and we all had to put up with it. Remember all that shit he played in the car when we all drove down to the coast? I mostly remember Swans, he was huge on Swans. This is how we started going to [Name]‘s apartment, you know he runs a little record store out of that place. Guy is the textbook definition of an audiophile, reminds me of the guy from Ghost World (the movie).
B. was looking back then for a vinyl of Swans’ live album, the title had “Castration” in it, I don’t remember too well. I was never into things like that, I don’t find music of that type cathartic, even if I have professed my love for Suicide (the band, not the act) several times with great enthusiasm.
Anyway, the first time we went there it was fairly innocuous. It was just me and B., one Friday after school. I think we also asked K. to come with us because we wanted her to fucking explain what she had been doing in the boiler room, but back then she had holed herself up in her home, poring over her books, you know how she is, she needs her space, she’s weirder than all of us put together, which is saying a lot.
Anyway, the guy’s apartment was tiny, and it was made to seem tinier by the fact that it was lined with shelves which were themselves lined with records, and other than that there were piles of cassettes, mostly bootlegs and mixtapes, and there were also at least five different record players and musical paraphernalia that I’m not enough of an expert to comment confidently on. And there was practically no furniture. And for some reason there were porcelain bowls strewn about. Guy was big on cereal I guess.
He opened the door and he was stubby and unkempt and wearing a Captain Beefheart t-shirt. He didn’t have much in the way of social graces and quietly invited us in. He offered us coffee, I said no, B. said yes, you know how he is, he never refuses a cup of coffee, even if it’s laced with hemlock.
B. and the guy started talking about music and I felt like I should be a part of the conversation as well. They started off on points that we all had in common: Joy Division! Monster Magnet! We got into an argument over whether NYC Ghosts & Flowers was really really bad or just bad. Then I started to zone out when the two of them started talking about bands and movements that I didn’t even know existed. I remember the names Syzygy, Baroque Hell and Spiritual Masters of Shangri-La. I zoned out. I remember that at some point they mentioned a record called “Baby Sex” (the name stuck to me for obvious reasons), which I’m pretty sure is by the Residents.
I ended up falling asleep in the couch where I had settled. Afternoon sunlight, the time when all the kids are coming home and you’re being lazy, listening to crackly AM radio and procrastinating over homework, that kind of stuff gets me woozy. I woke up abruptly when one of the guy’s ferrets jumped onto my lap. Did I mention the guy had a bunch of pet ferrets? They all had names like Patsy Cline and Howlin’ Wolf. It was cute.
I noticed that B. and the guy had moved to the kitchen, which was tiny and adjacent to the living room, and were talking in hushed tones about something.
At this point I realized that it was already dark outside, I glanced at my watch and it was like half past seven. So I called out to them and their conversation stopped abruptly. The guy almost dropped the beer he was holding. They both stared at me as if they had heard a disembodied voice or one of the ferrets talk. I guess they had forgotten I was there. B. could really get into music when he wanted to, to say nothing of the other guy.
So we said our goodbyes (I hurried the whole thing along) and B. left with the record he wanted, I remember it now, it’s called “Public Castration is a Good Idea”. Quaint title. He put it in the backseat and we drove back, he dropped me off at my place. He was playing something really soft and tender on the way back, I think it was Joni Mitchell, she’s a favorite of mine. First time I heard something like that playing in his car all summer.
On the way back I asked him what had he been talking about with the guy all that time, all in all we had been there like three hours, and he said nothing, just music and trivial shit, he’s an interesting guy, but a little weird. And I agreed and didn’t pursue things further. He dropped me off and I went to sleep because for some reason I was unholy tired, despite having done nothing but sleep for the last few hours.
The next day B. didn’t show up at the regular place, which was weird because it was a Saturday. I called his cellphone but it apparently had no batteries. I called his phone number and his mom answered, she said that B. was in his room, I could hear little [My Name] crying in the background, back then he was just a baby. Apparently B. had been “studying”. Ha.
That day I was with A. and T. and we both called bullshit on that, because it’s B., he doesn’t study for tests, he just wings it. We decided we would march over to his house and see what was up.
His mom opened the door for us, she looked a bit distressed, but then again B.’s mom has never been a big fan of B.’s friends. She is nice and polite though, and she offers us cookies, and that’s good enough for us. B.’s sister was playing Mario or something in the living room and the door to B.’s room was closed. We knocked and knocked and he finally opened.
B. looked like he hadn’t slept, there was an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips, he had that hilarious spotty attempt-at-a-beard he got when he forgot to shave, and bags under his eyes. He looked at us as if it made no difference who we were and let us in.
This is when I realized that B.’s record player was playing the new Swans record, but it wasn’t making a sound. B. had a nice used record player he got at a really good price, it worked really well for what it was. A. tried to play around with it and B. told him to be careful. T. just grabbed a magazine and sat down to read, she was out of it that day, I think she was still mad at B. for what she did to I.
So we just sat there in silence for a minute or so, A. and I were mostly waiting for B. to offer up an explanation, T. was in her own world. B. raised up his head, he was practically falling asleep in his chair, he was about to talk when we heard this UNEARTHLY SCREECH FROM HELL coming from the record. The speakers sprang to life and out came this hellish sonic torture that blasted the room at full volume for all of four seconds, and then it stopped and everything was silent again. B.’s mom stormed into the room, incredibly angry, wanting to know what that was. B. sheepishly apologized, said it was a malfunction of the system, wouldn’t happen again. She gave us all a disapproving look and shut the door. Really, we don’t LOOK weird, so parents usually like us, but when you spend as much time around us as B.’s mom did you learn to roll your eyes at everything we do. I guess.
B. started to spill the beans at this point, but not before hooking a pair of headphones to the record player and disconnecting the speakers to spare us of any further torture. He said that he had talked to the guy who sold him the record and he had told him that this was some sort of special first-issue version of the record. Apparently it was recorded live at a different venue than the one on the official version of the record or something, it was a pretty nerdy distinction but apparently B. was so excited about the notion that he played it the second he got home last night.
The problem is that the record has been playing all night and it doesn’t make a sound except for periodic outbursts every hour or so, apparently like the one we had just witnessed. At this point I felt a horribly headache coming on.
Well, fuck that, I said. It’s probably scratched beyond recognition, or the guy conned you. Take it out and we’ll go bitch at him right now and get your money back, I said.
But B. shook his head. He explained further. Apparently he had been listening to the record all night on headphones so as to not disturb his family, and the record is not damaged at all, it’s just… different. He nervously lifted the headphones up and offered them to me. I gave him a blank stare. Then I put them on.
First I only heard the usual vinyl crackle and pop. But then I realized that there WAS music playing, but it was playing incredibly softly, like it had been recorded from miles away. From what I understood this was Swans alright. I listened for about thirty seconds, there were other sounds, like I think I could hear something like a wood-chipper in the background, but B. took the headphones back and put them on the floor.
He explained to me that the outbursts, the extremely high-volume screams coming from the record, were unpredictable, and that’s why he couldn’t listen to it continuously. You had to crank to the volume all the way up to hear the music at all, and if one of those high-volume sonic blasts came at you through headphones at full volume. That was it. You’d go fucking deaf or damage your eardrums beyond repair.
Listening to the record for any long stretch of time involved putting yourself at risk of that.
A. and myself listened to the story with moderate interest; T. was still out of it and would continue to be out of it for the rest of the day. In fact it won’t even make a difference to the story if I stop mentioning her. You know her. She’s stubborn, when she’s mad at someone she doesn’t acknowledge their existence. She and B. wouldn’t really make up until months later.
B. looked at our reactions as if he expected them, but then he looked at us and leaned closer, as if to tell us the punchline.
“The thing is”, he started, I remember this word-by-word, “That this isn’t a Swans record. This is a list of places being recited repeatedly.”
I didn’t really react. So aside from being a dangerous piece of shit, it wasn’t even a Swans record. It was some random bootleg probably by some random band that never got anywhere. I said fuck it and put the headphones on again. I strained my hearing to make out the lyrics. The singer, who was definitely not Michael Gira or whatever his name is, was indeed screaming out locations of places. Places in our city.
When I confirmed this—the street names, the locations—everyone looked at me weird. Suddenly this became interesting. This had either been recorded by a native of our city or this was simply inexplicable. But my hearing isn’t so great. I couldn’t make out most of what was being recited. Back then we were bored and there was nothing else interesting going on. K. was still cooped up in her house and with T. and B. not addressing each other directly the whole group was tense. So we decided we were gonna find out what that guy was saying. So we decided to call up the guy with the best ears, and that would be N.
Remember back then? We weren’t really friends with N. We had conversations every once in a while but I guess he was a bit too cool for us or something. He wouldn’t be a part of the group until a year later or so. It was kind of funny how much he got into the whole thing, and how fast.
So the next day we called up N., asked him to hang out and get a couple drinks, he agreed. When we were in the store where we always did our requisite non-I.D. drinking, we casually and briefly summarized the story for N. He was fascinated by the whole thing, but, as he told me later, he didn’t really believe us at the time. He was mostly humoring us because, remember, they had sort of kicked him out of the cool group at school for being gay, so he kind of turned to us for a new group of friends. It’s true, he told me all this!
Anyway, we went back to B.’s house. The record was still playing. Now we warned N. about the thing with the sudden blasts of super-loud music. He seemed unimpressed by our somber warning. Again, because at the time he didn’t believe us. He put the headphones on we gave him paper and a pencil. The rest, of course, is well-recorded history.
That episode with the record is how N.’s List of In-the-Know Record Stores in [City] was composed. Of course, back then we only had the names and locations. N. wrote them all down on the paper, scribbled them, really, and then when the thing started looping he put them down, with a half-bewildered and half-amused look, he said “that’s all”.
And I am not shitting you when I say that not more than one second passed after “that’s all” that the record emitted the must brutalized, awful scream, it was like a wave of metal crashing into a sea of metal, with tortured people screaming over it, it was like a tower or Church organs stacked on top of each other, it fucking BLEW out B.’s headphones. We all stood there in shocked silence. N. was slack-jawed, it’s a funny image now but back then I felt bad for him, because we had used him and put him in danger (he’s forgiven us for it now). We just stood there in silence with the list in hand.
And well, the record never stopped making that horrible sound as far as I could tell, except B.’s headphones were shot. He lifted the cartridge and took out the record, it was scratched all over, A. grabbed it and broke it in two in a moment of righteous fury.
Of course that list would lead to tons of other stuff—the expeditions, the midnight chases, the run-in with the doctor, as we discovered which stores were Safe and Not Safe and Never Safe. But that came later. Right after this happened we—B., N., T., A. and myself—drove right the fuck back to this audiophile fuck’s apartment, wanting a series of explanations.
During the drive there we got N. up to speed on the whole thing—that this is where we had bought the record, that B. originally thought it was a Swans live record, that we tended to get into Weird Shit (the official term wouldn’t appear until later) like this unnervingly often. He was still amused, but I think he was also a little scared.
By the time we got to the guy’s place it was nighttime. We stormed up the steps to the third floor where the guy’s apartment was. This was a somewhat abandoned building by the way, in a somewhat shitty part of town, and the whole scene was a little perturbing. But anyway A., who always takes the lead when shit is expected to go down, knocked on the door impetuously, and nobody answered. He kept knocking for like a whole minute. T. started complaining that it was cold and in this part of town they might try to jack the car and that we should go. Then suddenly the door budged, and it opened, abruptly and unexpectedly. And we entered the apartment.
There was only one light one, a naked light bulb hanging from the center of the living room ceiling, barely illuminating anything, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the ferrets scurrying about in the darkness. But the guy, the bastard, was nowhere to be found. But all his stuff was still there. This is when T. noticed that something that been spray painted on the far wall, in big, fat letters.
“FOREVER OPEN FOR BUSINESS, JUST FOR PRE-ADMITTED CLIENTS”
“PLEASE PAY EXACT AMOUNT IN CASH, LEAVE IN SINK, THANK YOU, HAVE A NICE DAY”
These three lines had been sprayed onto the far wall; we had to combine the illuminating power of all our cellphones to read it. This is when it hit us, and we realized that the guy was gone for good. For some reason we were certain of it. Mostly everyone was just weirded out, but B. looked knowing. And then he spilled the rest of the story.
Apparently The Guy was a part of a sort of underground circle of really obsessive record collectors in the city. Apparently that day when B. and I originally went to the apartment B. had sort of taken an “entrance exam” with the guy, where he asked him about music and if he answered enough obscured shit correctly he gained entrance into this circle, which presumably implied access to lots of rarities and oldies. But B. also mentioned that the guy was moving soon and he’d let him know about his new address.
The guy has never gotten into contact with B., by the way, nor has he ever come back to his apartment. We still use it sometimes. We go there, surprised that nobody else has robbed it clean by now, we browse the shelves, we find a record we like, and we pay the exact amount in cash, on the kitchen sink. We feel a little silly because there’s a rather big pile of money building up there—it’s not like the money disappears overnight or anything cheesy—but we feel like we should pay. T. wants to take one of the ferrets home, but that doesn’t feel right to us either. I guess they’re like cats, they find their own food wherever.
And to this day, this is the only store we consider Safe.
Well, that last story took a long time. Although N. apparently became a part of my brother’s circle of friends, I don’t remember anything about him, nor did I know that my brother knew anyone who perished in the 2006 fire mentioned in his list.
Excerpt from Notebook 5: “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”
[Note: The title of this entry was originally written in English in the notebook; I did not translate it. This happens with a few other entries, all of which seem to be musical references.] THE GROUP, F.’s APARTMENT, EARLY POST-INSOMNIA MORNING, FEB. 3, 2002
B: Okay, go.
A: What are we doing again?
F: No, not you. K. is doing this.
A: Why is K. suddenly our fearless leader?
K: Because I am the one going through with this endeavor. Please be quiet.
T: Oh my god, ‘endeavor’. I’d forgotten how weird you talk.
F: Yes, yes, K. is weirder than the rest of us put together–
N: Okay I seriously doubt that–
B: Okay, guys! Come on. This is for posterity. For the ages. Someday this will be important, probably. Okay, go.
K: [pause] Well. As we all know [laughter], this began in ’99, when we realized that we were not going to be together forever after E. suddenly up and left. Back then our records of our travails in this cesspool we like to call our city consisted of little more than a few cassettes of recording and even fewer transcripts. Back then, X was our… uh, treasurer?
T: Well you really shouldn’t speak of the dead so lightly.
A: Shut up.
K: Okay. After 2001 all of that material was lost for reasons that are painful to recall. We don’t have to make a record of that. Do we have to make a record of that?
B: No. Just keep going. K: Okay. It is now 2002 and we have decided that we are going to compile our findings in a series of books which will be kept by B., our new… uh, treasurer? Are you okay with that?
F: He’s okay with it.
K: So… Starting on this day, we will record everything that we have and will continue to refer to as “Weird Shit”. Let me leave for the record that I did not come up with this term and happen to have extremely vulgar friends.
A: That’s funny.
N: Come on, stop.
K: [Loud sigh] I wanted to name this project “The Sand Notebooks”, because it is a much more elegant reference, not to mention extremely fitting.
B: What is that? Borges?
F: Yes, it’s a Borges story.
T: I only ever read him in school. I liked the one about the library.
K: Well. Whatever it ends up being. On this day we have decided to continue exploring these avenues and record them, if somewhat haphazardly, and B. will keep them. And that’s all.
B: We should probably keep a record of who is here and participating in all this. F: Well, I guess the official group is B., T., A., K., our lovely new member N…
N: Nice one–
F: And myself. F. [Pause] Where’s D.?
T: At the wake.
K: So yes. That’s it. Wait, what about J.?
T: Guys, J. is scared of most of you. I can talk to him if you want but no way he’s gonna hang out with the whole group.
B: It doesn’t really matter. Honorary member.
A: That’s so stupid.
K: Okay, I have to go. Keep the notebooks at your place where your family won’t find them or anything because I would be deathly embarrassed. We would all be.
F: But B.’s mom is so nice. [Laughter]
B: Okay! That’s all we needed. Since cassettes are no longer a safe medium I’m gonna type this up later and–[End]
This excerpt is important, as it all but confirms my brother’s friends’ involvement in this, and is also where the name for this blog comes from. It also sheds light on the alleged purpose of keeping these notebooks, and reveals why my brother had them in his room.
Excerpt from Notebook 2: “Mom & Pop”
This is the first time I get to tell a story for this so let’s hope I don’t fuck it up.
All of this went on before I hung out with you guys. It was during winter vacations and days went by slowly. Back then I guess I was a pretty private kid, I mostly stuck to my video games. Or that’s another way of saying that I didn’t have a lot of friends. You know what I mean.
My favorite place in the world back then was probably the Chinatown, right near Yuga park, you know, it’s not REALLY a Chinatown, but close enough. And there’s tons of little mom & pop stores ran by couples of second-generation Chinese, probably descendants of immigrant workers back during the early boom, you’ve learned about this in History class, hopefully.
There was this one little dingy store where they sold the best candy and stuff straight from the Far East, in its cutesy packaging with Chinese characters—at least I’m guessing they were Chinese, I couldn’t read them obviously–, and the girl at the counter was very nice, this slightly plump university-aged girl who was probably the daughter of the couple who ran the place. I only saw the father like twice. The mother sometimes came out to sweep the floors and shoo away the cats, you know how Yuga park is infested with cats and it spills over to its surroundings. Now, you’ve definitely heard the rumors and jokes about Chinatown. You’re only supposed to eat in the well-known places because everywhere else they will give you a back-alley rat on a platter and tell you it’s spicy chicken. I’ve never really bought into that too much, I mostly think it’s people being mean for no reason.
However, this little shop was full of them. Rats. Sometimes you would see one scurry over from one hole in the wall to another. The girl at the counter would look really embarrassed and the mom would get angry as hell and start sweeping everywhere. You know what was really creepy? Once, she was really frustrated I think, she hit one of the far back walls with the other end of the broomstick, she was looking for rats I guess, and I’m pretty sure she got more than she bargained for. We all heard this horrifying rattle and scurrying behind the wall, like there were a million of the little animals moving around behind that paper-thin wall. She never did that again. It was kind of sickening. I guess they were thankful I kept coming back—I was just a kid, after all—because most people steered clear of that place for reasons that are now pretty obvious. The shop had a second floor, a staircase tucked away behind a wall that cut off at the back lead up to it. I think the whole family lived there. You could tell they were going through tough times because sometimes I would start to hear screaming in Chinese coming from upstairs, so the girl would give me this sad stare and turn the volume of the radio up, so I would hear the loud FM crackle and some old tune instead of the yelling. As a child I was very forgiving, I think.
So anyway, I kept coming back to that shop for a decent time, like maybe three months, long after school started again, and one day I come in and I find the father at the counter. I asked him what had happened to his daughter and he said he was taking care of her brother. I didn’t know there was a brother; I mostly thought she was an only child. The father informed me that he had many, many sons. He had a VERY loose grasp on our language so I’m guessing he didn’t exactly mean that. A lot of what he said didn’t make sense. For example, he said that he also sold “milk” if I ever wanted some, which they didn’t, and then he started rambling, half in Chinese, half in chewed-up local vernacular, that the women in his family always pampered the men.
I think I’m getting a bit too long-winded. I’ll get to the point. What happened was that I once mentioned this store to a boy from school I liked, let’s call him Giovanni, because he had a fancy foreign name. You don’t know him, he transferred to another school a couple years later. He was very mischievous, and taller than me. He said, I know that place, and then he asked if I wanted to see what they REALLY did there. So we went to the store one day later than usual, when it was already getting dark, but then again it gets dark early in the winter. Giovanni was wearing the funniest scarf, I remember, but that’s not the point. He said, a kid who lives here told me that they cook rats in the back. I rolled my eyes at him and told him that that’s what they ALL said about EVERYWHERE here and that that wasn’t cool or interesting, but he put on this really serious face and said no, really, I’ll show you.
That day the father was also watching the counter, and the rest of the alleged family was nowhere to be seen. We went around the store and to the back. The store had a little back room, I always assumed it was for storage, nobody ever went in or out of there as far as I could tell. There was a little window in the back that peered into that room, but it was protected by iron bars to keep burglars out. You could still see through it, but barely.
Giovanni put out his hands to let me climb up on them and look. So I did. I grabbed on to the bars and peered into the room. It was dimly lit. I couldn’t see much other than a dingy old bed and a small desk with a lamp on it. Then the door opened. It was the mother. What I’m going to tell you now is why we don’t go to that one kiosk. Again, it was dark in there and it was dark outside. I strained my eyes to see. Also I was freezing and Giovanni down there was complaining about his arms. But I was only focused on what was going on in that room, the mother came down and then she stood in front of the bed. She just looked down on the mattress, which was covered with a really thin sheet, and I could just barely make out that it was covered in stains, plus the whole thing was really lumpy and uneven, like it was a really old mattress that a lot of people had slept in over the years. I figured this all made sense because after all this family didn’t seem to be very affluent. And then she ripped off the sheets.
I realized that the bumps under those sheets weren’t from a lousy mattress, the whole thing was just covered in rats. Like a gray carpeting of these animals, each varying from the size of a hamster to a full-grown rabbit, just sitting there, inert, as if they were paralyzed. At this very same moment, peripherally, I noticed that whoever was working the clerk at that moment—I’m guessing the father—turned the radio up loudly again. The animals didn’t move at all. The mother just stared at them, I don’t really know what kind of look she was giving them, if it was tenderness or fear or hate or something. Then she spun around and yelled out a name I knew. The daughter came into the room. She hung her head low, as if she were about to be reprehended for something. They talked really quickly, like, chattering, in Chinese. First the mother, these long sentences, and sometimes the daughter would try to interrupt but she would overpower her with her own voice and continue. The daughter didn’t attempt to make eye contact. The mother raised her arm and first pointed at her, as if blaming her for something, then she waved her arms around, gesticulating wildly about who knows what, and then the daughter tried to speak up again and she slapped her. When that slap reverberated throughout the tiny, cramped, rat-infested room, that coat of vermin lying on the bed suddenly sprang to life, quivering and shaking like an animal waking up abruptly, and making those high-pitched hissing squeals that rats make when they’re excited, like you’re going to give them food or something, we’ve all had to deal with rats at some point. I can play this whole scene back in my head like it happened yesterday, by the way. Giovanni was still complaining but I tuned him out. The radio was still on pretty loud.
It’s lucky that at that time of day Chinatown is practically abandoned because otherwise we would’ve looked pretty silly to passerby, peering into the back room of some family’s private business, and some old lady with nothing better to do would have probably stopped by to admonish us.
That unified hiss of the rats kept rattling the back room. The mother and the daughter stood there, silent as graves. Then the mother, without saying a word or making any sort of gesture, walked out, shut the door behind her, and left the girl alone with the animals in the room. Giovanni asked me what was going on and I told him to shut up. We were lucky they hadn’t heard us. I looked into the room with full concentration. I was enraptured by the inexplicable scene developing before me. What now? Was she going to take out some big pot from under the bed and start cooking? Was that really all it came down to?
In the room, there was this silence that touched me, went beyond the fear and fascination of that moment, and suddenly I remembered that this girl was my friend and I liked her, and whatever she was doing in that room she was clearly doing it against her will, and that made me sad. It also made me feel wrong, because I was poking my nose into her private life, and additionally my leg was getting sore and I was losing my footing.
The girl just stood there, staring at the animals, and it was almost like they stared back because they quieted down suddenly. I’ve mentioned that this room was dimly lit, there was only one old lamp in the corner turned on, that’s why I couldn’t even really see what was going on on the bed. Anyway, like twenty seconds of ambivalent silence passed. Then—I remember this in slow motion—first, the girl, she unbuttoned her blouse, really quickly, practically tore it off, she had a bra underneath, I think it was the first time I’d seen one, and she had a lot of marks and purple bruises and scars on her shoulders, and over her collarbones and some on her belly, but most importantly on her breasts, they were all scratched, petite as they were, and then she spun around and switched off the lamp. At this point I lost my footing, partially because I was sore, partially because I was scare, partially because I didn’t want to continue looking at whatever was going on there, and fell on my butt. Giovanni made fun of me in silence but then immediately he asked me what I saw. I said, I don’t know. I really don’t know. But there were rats, I said. You were right. And then he did the little song-and-dance all self-righteous kids do when they’re proven right and he started telling me about other strange things he’d heard about Chinatown, but he was cut off by screams.
Do you remember how I told you that sometimes I would hear this screaming coming from the second floor and then the girl would turn up the volume of the radio so nobody would hear? Well this was the same thing, except it was the girl screaming, but then the father joined in, I heard the door open and slam shut once more, and I heard the mattress give in to pressure, the rusted springs squealing, and I heard something get knocked over, and I heard that awful, sinister hiss of all the rats, and I heard them crawling up and down the insulation in the walls, in the sewers, under my feet, and for a moment I FELT hundreds of tiny little claws crawling all over me, it was freezing, I was terrified by the screaming, I nearly pissed myself all over right there. Giovanni pulled me up. For a split second I considered peering back into the room, but with the light off I couldn’t see anything, I didn’t want to, either, so Giovanni and I ran away. On the way back I passed by the front of the store. There was nobody at the counter. I never came back to that place again, but it’s still around, they tell me, although the daughter doesn’t work there anymore, and you never see the father doing anything because he’s senile and in permanent bed rest, so it’s all the mother’s work now. I’ve never seen the son they once mentioned; apparently nobody has. I told this story to F. once, you know he’s my cousin, right? Way before I knew the rest of you I told the story to him, but I chickened out of telling the truth, I went with the conventional answer and said “Yeah, they cook rats there.” As a matter of fact I hadn’t told anyone the whole thing until now. I haven’t seen Giovanni in ages, either.
I could still come back to that store someday if I felt like it—as far as I know they didn’t see me that night–, but honestly I don’t want to. There’s a bit of an epilogue to this story, though, one you can go check out yourself if you want to. You know that little kiosk in the corner of [____] and [____] St. where D. used to buy her cigarettes? They sold all kinds of stuff without regards for regulations, cigarettes, porn, kids’ sticker albums, all on the stands. You know how most days there’s this plump lady, lots of creases and dark spots on her face, of Asian descent? She’s well known. Well, I stopped by there one time. I saw her from afar, she didn’t recognize me. But that’s her. That’s the daughter. I guess she’s working there now. Maybe she’s keeping the business alive, opening a new locale. I don’t know.
I’m not sure of who narrated this story, as I’m not familiar with F.’s relatives. I had never heard of such a store in Chinatown, but then again there are hundreds of such stores in Chinatown. A kiosk does exist in the location specified. I haven’t stopped to look at who runs it, nor have I heard any strange stories about it, but then again I don’t go looking for those, either.
Excerpt from Notebook 3: “Yuga Park under Watch”
THE IGNOMINIOUS X, CAFÉ “HAITI”, [___] ST., 1995
Do you remember all the stories your parents told us about Yuga park when THEY were our age? It was like the nicest most tranquil beautiful genteel bubblegum place in the world, it was cardigans and schoolgirls in mini-skirts and kids playing soccer until five in the afternoon at which point they went home and fought over control of the TV remote because they wanted to watch cartoons but their older brothers wanted to watch re-runs of old action movies and then mothers would come in and say, “Fuck you both, we’re watching my afternoon soaps”, and that would be that, and… Oh man, weren’t those nice and fun and clean times? Now what does Yuga park look like? I’ll tell you what it looks like, it looks like cats and whores. Cats and whores. Did you know about the whores? Yeah you knew about them alright, you’re a lot more, oh let’s say WORLDLY then you let on, I know that perfectly. Anyway what were we talking about?
Oh yeah Yuga park, right? Yeah, well, I met up with the guy—you know, The Guy, the one I’ve told you you should talk to, I’ve told you this before, he runs the record store deal out of his apartment, he’s in on this shit too–, anyway, I was meeting up with him, I think I was sitting on the bench that’s next to the kids’ see-saw or maybe it was in front of the bust of that general commander sergeant, the park was established in his honor or something. Actually I think I was sitting on the bench in front of that sign they just put up the other day, something like “Please clean up your pets’ waste” or whatever, anyway, it’s all bullshit. It was like nighttime but not really nighttime, it was twilight actually, it was around six. It was that time of day we all love because it feels lazy and old and the sunlight is coming from just the right angle to illuminate everything like an old picture, you know? You know about this. [Laughter] Shut up. Shut up! Okay so Yuga park. I’m at Yuga park. This is like just five days ago, this is completely recent shit, I hope you’re paying attention because you and I, we can’t go to that place anymore. As a matter of fact I suggest you advice all your little friends on the dangers of Yuga park, and I’m not just talking about getting mugged or drugged or raped or kidnapped at night or all that other fun teenage shit, I’m talking about REAL danger, I’m talking about the guys, you know the guys.
So I met up with The Guy—you know, The Guy, don’t make me repeat myself—and he was selling me this really good weed for a really good price, I’m not always this adventurous, you know, it’s like my dad said before he died, way before he died, he said, you know, the hard stuff is fun sometimes, but, sometimes you just want some good, old, sticky weed, my dad was a hippie, have I told you that? He was a hippie motherfucker, and so was my mom, but she’s not anymore.
The sunlight was really nice and I was just sitting there watching people like B. does, you know, he likes doing that, he’s weird, I was just letting go and enjoying the moment, and this asshole, at first I thought he was a fag, and he was like, coming on to me. That happens a lot in Yuga park, too, you know, it happens too much. At first I thought he was a fag and he was coming on to me. Have you noticed that everyone is looking at us weird? Get the check. Let’s go to the back. THE IGNOMINIOUS X CONTINUES HIS STORY IN THE BACK ALLEY BEHIND CAFÉ “HAITI”, AFTER BEING UNCEREMONIOUSLY INVITED TO LEAVE THE LOCALE
Where were we? It’s cold. Oh yeah, this asshole. This asshole sits next to me and starts killing my buzz. I think he was trying to provoke me, probably, he was whispering this shit at me, trying to look totally normal and natural, he had a snake tattoo, by the way, it was this stupid fucking snake tattoo wrapped around his arm, it was the stupidest shit I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen lots of stupid shit, mostly coming from old people.
So this guy says something like, “Do you know who the Brutalists are?” And I’m like, fuck, now I’m screwed. But really, really screwed. Because well, he’s talking about the Brutalists, and—what do you mean? The Brutalists, they’re all part of the group, it’s a thing they do. It’s the Brutalists, the Nobles, the Legion, and… one more but I don’t remember what it’s called. Write this shit down later. This is exactly what they do. I said something like, fuck you, man, I don’t know what you’re saying, leave me alone, and suddenly I realize it’s nighttime and everyone has left and there are like five more of these assholes, they were all dressed really nicely, though. But they were all surrounding me. And they just look at me, and they’re grinning. Really wide grins, they have really clean teeth and really white eyes, like, around the eyes. But they’re pure evil. I just know that. I can tell. So the one sitting next to me stands up and says, come with us.
I’m not fucking A. or whatever, okay? I can’t just activate my super strength or whatever it is he has and pounce on five guys. Plus I was still tripping, when I told you that The Guy’s shit was good I wasn’t kidding, by the way. So I just keep quiet and keep my head down, I look to see if there’s any police or decent people that might help a poor boy being assaulted by a bunch of evil men, but there’s nobody around, Yuga park is fucking deserted all of a sudden. It’s like people disappear on those few moments when you would actually like them to be around.
So I went, reluctantly with them, I thought they were going to take me behind some place and beat me up or mug me or worse, but no, these weren’t muggers, of course, they weren’t a gang, either. These were upstanding members of society. I picked it up the second he started talking about the Brutalists. These were the assholes who were kicked out of the Clan of Adoration—I think that’s what it’s called—and wanted to get back in. So they started asking me, where does E. live? Does she live with her parents? How does she rank? How long have they been in the clan? And I just shake my head. I’m not a loser or a coward or a traitor, I wasn’t going to say anything, my plan was just to pretend that I didn’t know E. at all, and didn’t know what they were talking about either. Actually I don’t know how they even knew that I was associated with any of that, and I’m not, anyway, so it doesn’t make sense. But back to the story, I was in this fucking seedy back alley, there was no moon in the sky, just a really desolate streetlight in the far left, and I have these five guys ganging up on me, and I think at this point I started to make peace with the fact that I was going to die here, because the guy with the snake tattoo takes out a knife.
But I think I got really brave all of a sudden, I was like, fuck, I don’t care, you’re going to carve up some kid because of something so stupid, are you retards, I started to really make a racket, I think someone could have heard me in the distance, I figured that if they didn’t stab me first someone would come to my rescue, but no one did. Plus it got really foggy that night, which was weird because it’s still summer, but whatever.
And they kept pushing and pushing. And I don’t really have much else to say because I kept denying everything. So the guy got really mad, he picks me up by the collar, the other ones start inching closer, I can feel their combined breath on my face, it was caustic, they had the worst breath in the world, like they had rotten from the inside. They tossed me onto some garbage bags in a back alley and left me there, I was still in a daze, and I didn’t see where or how they left, but I think they got in a car after turning a corner. And well, fuck, you can see what kind of reminder they left me with. [Points to sutured cut on left cheek] It was pretty deep, by the way. The doctor said I was lucky or whatever. I told mom that I got mugged, what else was I gonna say anyway.
Don’t tell E. about this, I don’t want her getting paranoid. They’re not gonna touch anyone unless you get in their range of action. Just don’t go near Yuga park. I’m pretty sure they’re keeping tabs on all of you, on your whole little group, so I’m going to try and keep anything bad from happening. But I can’t promise anything. As you can see. So just be careful out there. They’re losers anyway, this isn’t like the New World Order or anything, just a bunch of angry old men. You know. Old people. They’re the worst.
[--End of interview--] B.,
Sorry for stopping by your house while you were out, but I thought I should leave this in the Books as soon as possible. I forgot to tell you that I was still holding on to a transcript of this back from ’95. It’s a good idea that everyone re-read this sometime. You know, because it’s X.
This appears to be the only testimony by X from what I’ve found in the notebooks until now. As for the “Clan of Adoration”, I have no idea of what it’s supposed to be. Frankly, it sounds a little silly and very novelesque. It’s true, by the way, that Yuga park has deteriorated over time, and today it is frequented by prostitutes and, as you can see, young people looking to buy drugs.
Excerpt from Notebook 2: “Miranda Cassette Exchange”
One morning, E. and I decided that we were going to skip class. For the most part we didn’t do things like that. E. was pretty serious about her marks, which was a change from her usual apathetic response to everything. We spent most of the morning at my house (my parents were away on their second honeymoon at the time, so I guess this was in ’97), watching really stupid infomercials and re-runs of game shows, and talking about all sorts of things. I didn’t really hang out with E. much, she was more of D.’s friend, I guess. But I wanted to ask her about her parents. In the end I didn’t. I felt a little embarrassed.
It was already noon or so when we decided to leave the house and find somewhere to get lunch, first E. changed out of her uniform at my place, I gave her some clothes, they weren’t exactly her style, as you can imagine, but she was okay with them. We drove down to the little Chinese place at [____] St., the one behind the Miranda there. [Note: Miranda is a widespread supermarket chain here.] The food sucked, by the way, and after that E. had to go to the bathroom so we went into the Miranda and I waited outside, looking at some magazines.
So I was waiting for her outside of the ladies’ room (I’m not the kind of girl who does the “oh let’s all go to the bathroom together” thing) and suddenly I heard this sound like she was trying to pry something off the wall. I started to wonder what the hell she was doing in there but kept quiet, you know, because E. was a pretty private person. And suddenly she comes out of there, she’s practically hyperventilating and can hardly manage to form words. She says something like, oh my God, you won’t believe what I found in there, come in, come in right now, take a look for yourself, and from the look on her face it was like she had found fucking Santa Claus in the ladies’ room, so I obliged.
First thing I noticed was this plastic thing lying on the floor. It was this big roll of toilet paper, you know, they put them in these plastic casings and you push a lever and pull out some of the paper to dry your hands with, you know what I’m talking about, right? It was hanging on the back wall of the bathroom. Anyway, where it used to be hanging there was a hole. Apparently E. had heard some sort of scratching or shuffling behind it, and, in a moment of poor judgment decided, to pry it off the wall. Behind it was a hole in the wall through which you could see the insulation and other crap, I figured that they had made it accidentally or found it there and decided to cover it up as conveniently as possible. There was something else in there, of course. It was a cassette tape labeled “EXCHANGE”.
Back then everyone here was still using and buying cassettes for everything, which was very convenient for us because, as we would find out later, they were one of our safe mediums. Not anymore, of course. Now we’re reduced to vinyl and handwriting. Pretty pathetic.
Anyway it was your pretty standard cassette which you can buy in bulk, it had a label on it saying “EXCHANGE”, written crudely in marker. E. was like, what is that? Who do you think left it there? I didn’t really know what to tell her. Needless to say it was pretty weird. I think that at some point some other girl came into the bathroom, saw us peering at the hole in the wall, turned on her heel and walked right back out. We’re pretty lucky none of the staff caught us tearing their bathroom down.
We couldn’t play the tape there, as we had no way of doing so. I was ambivalent about taking it, this wasn’t my first experience with “Weird Shit”, and, although this wasn’t particularly weird, I had a very potent feeling that it could become so. But E. was determined to take it and find out what was in it, for some reason. The cassette was unmarked other than the label. So we took it, tried to get the paper roll back on the wall, sort-of succeeded (it was hanging, lopsided), and drove back to my house.
Back at my place, which was empty those days, I didn’t have a radio or anything with a cassette player for some reason. I dug out my Walkman but I didn’t have batteries and I doubt it would have worked either way. So we ended up having to climb into my Dad’s car to use the built-in cassette player. It was a pretty funny scene, the two of us sitting there in anxious expectation.
So we sat there and listened to most of it. It was really bad quality, you might not remember that tape hiss was already pretty annoying but on top of that it sounded like it had been recorded from a distance or something, like it was a recording of a recording of a recording. Anyway, there isn’t anything particularly weird about that tape. It’s just a mixtape of sixties psychedelia. There some stuff from Kaleidoscope on there, mainlyTangerine Dream, and there’s some Beatles, obviously, and there’s other stuff, but E. and I weren’t really into that genre so we didn’t listen to it all the way. Later on, on my own, I would listen through the whole thing out of curiosity, but as I said, beyond the quality of the recording, there’s nothing special about it.
But this is when we realized that, since the tape was labeled “EXCHANGE”, maybe we were supposed to leave something in return. You know, leave something in the hole in the bathroom, for whoever it was that left this there. The idea struck us as silly. But by that time school wasn’t over yet, and we didn’t have anything better to do, so, armed with one of my many mixtapes, which are sort of a hobby of mine, we drove back to Miranda.
We talked to each other on the way back there and speculated on what kind of person might be leaving these tapes, and whether she (we assumed it was a she, since it was the ladies’ room after all) really expected someone to find them in that hiding spot. We wondered if it was some college student’s social experiment; actually, that’s what I thought for the most part. E. had her own theory. She thought it was some desperate woman, living a lonely life imposed upon her by her family, who had no form of expressing herself, and, in this desperation, reached out to strangers by leaving cassettes tapes hidden in public places throughout the city, checking back every week, hoping that some equally lonely soul had found one of them and given something back in return. I’m pretty sure she was projecting.
We got back to the supermarket and, happily, none of the people working there seemed to recognize us, Miranda is usually pretty busy at that time of day. We both walked into the ladies’ room again. Luckily, the canister or toilet paper holder or whatever you wanna call it was still hanging on, albeit only slightly. We picked it up with care and put my mixtape, which, now that I think about it, was mostly grunge (God, that’s embarrassing), in the hole. We figured that maybe we should leave a message. So we ripped off a piece of toilet paper and scribbled onto it, “THANK YOU”, quite crudely, and we left it in there along with the tape. We put the canister back in its place—we had sort of gotten the hang of getting it to stay there—and left, mostly laughing about the whole thing. Later that day we met up with the rest, but didn’t tell them anything, figuring it would be more fun for now if it was our secret.
The next day E. and I debated over whether we should go back to Miranda and check if there was a new tape. I mostly wanted to forget about the whole thing, because frankly I didn’t think anyone was actually checking that hole to see if someone had responded. I figured it was a fluke, or something that had been left there years ago, and whoever had done it had forgotten it about it. E. didn’t buy it, though. She was certain that whoever had left that tape was actively checking back. I managed to convince her that we should go back next weekend, because even if her theory was true, I doubted that our hypothetical swap partner was checking the Miranda bathrooms every day. Then again what do I know. Maybe he was some pervert looking to get in touch with schoolgirls via public bathrooms.
The rest of the week went by rather slowly, A. was fully into whatever he was doing back then, I think it was Muay Thai or Valetudo or whatever it’s called, it was some kind of martial arts thing, so we didn’t see much of him. B. and F. were off doing their own thing, and anyway we didn’t want to tell anyone about it. So we just hung out at home (I think we ended up skipping three out of those five days of school, it was terrible), watching movies and talking.
I actually ended up learning a lot of stuff about E. back then (much to F.’s pleasure, who was totally crazy for her at the time), but she kept her mouth shut about her parents for the most part. On Friday we drove back to Miranda upon E.’s bequest and went in there again. Sure enough, our mysterious correspondent had been very busy.
The mixtape we left had been taken alright. In its stead a new cassette had been left, exactly the same model as the previous one. This one had a label that was really long and badly-written, and inside that dingy bathroom we couldn’t read it for shit, so we went back to the car. This time around we had taken my Dad’s car in anticipation, since that way we could play it immediately on the way back home. We got in the car and rolled down the windows, E. took the opportunity to light a cigarette. She put the tape in and read the label out loud, not without some effort:
“Soundtrack to a Manic Night of Preparation Before an Important Challenge”
She looked at me, shrugged, and I pushed play. This time the tape was a combination of New Wave stuff, I especially remember “Bizarre Love Triangle” because, although I probably wouldn’t admit it to anyone, I love that song, and then there was also really quiet folk. It went something like this: Bombastic New Wave –> Folk –> Silence –> Folk –> New Wave again, and so on. All in all it lasted about 25 minutes per side. We finished listening to it at my place and were mostly unimpressed.
As with the previous tape, this one had a terrible recording quality. Again, it was like a recording of a recording of a recording. We could recognize most of the songs, and for the ones we couldn’t, we usually knew the artist. Later I asked B. about some of them, without directly telling him about the whole cassette exchange thing, and he confirmed most, I think. The most interesting parts were the silent ones.
In between folk songs there were these tracks which were mostly silence and tape hiss, but you could hear some shuffling and moving things around as well, and in one of them you can hear a voice. It’s really faint, but I’m pretty sure it’s female. And there are these hints of musicality to them, like very softly you’ll hear a sax in the distance play for just like ten seconds and then it’s gone. I’m not sure if those were live recordings or more recordings-of-recordings. And then in another “silent track”, if you listen really closely, you can hear someone talking steadily in the background, I’d say it’s an older man, he sounds like he’s answering questions, but the quality is too bad for me to make out a word.
E. was really excited about the whole thing regardless; just the fact that the person had actually responded was great to her. Admittedly I was surprised by that as well. E. said that the exchange was still going, and we should leave something else for the person the next time we went there. We decided that “next time” would be tomorrow.
This time we put a lot of thought into what kind of tape we were going to leave in return. We speculated about whether leaving different kinds of music resulted in getting different things in exchange. Whoever was doing this was putting so much effort into it, we figured, that surely she(?) must be listening to our stuff as well. I found a bootleg of a band I used to like, they never got big, so it’s not like the tape was worth anything, and its sentimental value to me was gone after a certain incident. So I decided we would do that. We weren’t very creative, and we didn’t consider the tape to be a “Soundtrack” to anything, so we just wrote “Here’s another one” on the label. Nice, I know.
We drove back there, it was a Saturday morning and again we went in Dad’s car, though I’m not sure why. We went into the bathroom, took the canister out, and in the middle of doing this, some girl walked out of one of the bathroom stalls. We were incredibly embarrassed. She gave us a weird look, washed her hands and walked out. She looked a bit older than us, probably a college student, wearing jeans and a black shirt. She gave us kind of a dirty look, really. But as soon as she left we got right back to business. We left the tape, drove back, and talked some more.
I guess I should leave for the record—although I don’t really want to—that by this point E. sort of opened up to me and told me some stuff about her parents. Apparently her Dad owed a lot (a lot) of money to some group. According to her, her Dad had done nothing illegal, he had simply parted with what rightfully belonged to him, but the other members were angry and his entire family had been sucked into a slow-moving legal mess that had been going on for years. E. was really shocked about what had happened to X before, though, because she never thought things would come down to violence. F.’s theory at the time was that E.’s dad was with the mob, which I don’t think is true. Whatever it was, her dad was in deep shit, and I guess that’s at least part of why she left so suddenly only a couple years later.
E. and I went back like three days later and we found another tape. This one was labeled “Soundtrack to a Night of Peaceful Dreams”. It had a lot of Sinatra in it, which I thought was nice, but not really a guy you fall asleep to. The recording quality was the same, though, which gave the songs a distant quality, kind of nostalgic, and that felt different. Again there were also “silent tracks”, and again you heard moving and shuffling, and in one you could hear a dog barking. By now we were getting a little bored of the whole thing an decided we’d leave one more tape.
We kind of wondered what would happen if we left something of our own creation for our correspondent to enjoy. Not that E. or I knew how to play instruments. We just imagined we would leave a small greeting or something. But we had nothing to record stuff with, it was still all at F.’s place at the time, he had needed it once he started hearing that shit in D.’s garden, but that’s another thing, anyway. So I looked and finally came across an old tape which is a combination of songs my Dad liked in the eighties and recorded on tape, and, on side two, me, as a young kid, reading out some story. I guess he thought it would be cute and then forgot all about it and taped over it or something. We decided we would leave this, with the label “Something different”, and we drove there.
It was nighttime on this occasion, in fact Miranda was almost closing down for the day, and we sneaked into the bathroom. The lights were off, E. tried them several times but apparently they weren’t working, so we had to grope around in the dark to find the canister. E. removed it carefully and I felt my way around, left the tape, and we got out of there quickly.
Now that I think about it, I think I saw that girl, the one who caught us in the act last time, the one with glasses, browsing one of the aisles close to the bathroom as we walked out. I looked at her but I don’t think she saw us, or pretended not to. We just left. The next morning we would return to find the final message from our mysterious correspondent.
The last time we visited Miranda for our cassette exchange was on a school day, which we also decided to skip. This had become an alarming habit of ours at the time and our friends had started to wonder about what we were doing. I guess we got a little obsessed with the whole thing, even though we didn’t realize it.
We walked in, Miranda had only been open for an hour or so, the cashiers looked at us expectantly. We just went right past them and into the ladies’ room, which must have looked weird. We opened the door and went right for the canister, but not before checking the stalls to make sure there was no one else in there, just in case.
E. wanted to do the honors for this one—we had already decided that we wouldn’t continue with the exchange anymore—, and so she grabbed the canister by both sides and lifted it up, and out came this wave of insects.
The hole in the wall was just crawling with spiders and bugs and a few cockroaches. A bunch of them fell onto the floor, along with a cassette, and there were dozens more of them squirming around inside. E. and I both had to grab on to each other to avoid screaming. We took three giant steps back, E. still holding on to the canister. I whisper-yelled at her that we should just get the fuck out. She stared at the cassette, and, after arming herself with courage for a few seconds, grabbed it and we ran out, not even bothering to put the canister back in its place.
On our way out the other people looked at us weird, probably because they had heard sounds coming from the bathroom, we didn’t even bother to act like we cared and speed-walked straight out of that place, into my dad’s car, and back home. E. was grabbing the cassette by its edges, covering her hands with her sweater sleeves. I started to wondering how the hell had that hole filled up with vermin practically overnight, although now that I think about it there are several possible explanations for that. She struggled to read the label on the tape. Frankly it is practically illegible, so to this day, we’re not sure of what it says, but our best guess is:
“Soundtrack for a Cancer Cell as it is Born in the Center of Your Brain”
For a few moments we were silent. Then I joked that she must not have liked our last tape. E. asked if she should play it. I said no, it had been covered in bugs, after all, although in reality I didn’t want to hear it anyway, the label had given me a bit of a chill.
That was the end of the Miranda cassette exchange. We never went back in that bathroom to check if someone was still leaving new tapes in the hole. According to A.’s brother, who stopped by that supermarket for entirely unrelated reasons some days later, both bathrooms had been closed for sanitary reasons, and apparently the whole place was due for fumigation soon. So I’m not sure of what became of that.
If you’re wondering about the three tapes we got out of the exchange, well, sometimes I play the first one, the one about preparing for a challenge. I kind of figured I would play it while studying for exams, I tried it out during midterms a couple years later. It’s kinda nice! Or at least I think so. Helps you get in the zone. I ended up giving the second tape to a friend who had trouble sleeping, without telling her about its origins. She said it helped a lot, weird as it was.
I personally never listened to the third and final tape. E. took it home on that day. Many weeks later, after we had put the whole thing behind us, I happened to ask her if she ever worked up the courage to listen to it. She said yes. She said it was just “thirty minutes of noise”, and that it “kind of sounded like being inside a sewer”.
She took the tape with her when she left.
There is certainly a Miranda supermarket located where this incident took place. I don’t know if it was ever scheduled for fumigation, and I’ve never heard any rumors or stories about the bathrooms, other than that they are used for casual sexual encounters. That kind of goes for every public bathroom in certain districts of the city, though.
Excerpt from Notebook 5: “The Children of District 11″
This is just a small incident that occurred to me a few days ago. I’m not sure if it merits being written into the notebooks, but I figure some of you will get a kick out of it.
Now, you’ve all been wondering what the hell I’ve been doing since I dropped out. The answer is not very exciting: I’ve just been doing odd jobs for my parents. Ever since I left university they’ve been on my back about making money in some way or another. Since mom has the whole catering business getting off the ground, I help her with that. But the other day Dad asked me to run an errand for him; he wanted me to leave a parcel at [#], [____] St., in District 11.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, it’s in the far north part of town, where everything is more quiet. It’s mostly just suburbia, kind of a nice and tranquil place. During winter like now it gets covered in fog, and I mean that, you can’t see three feet ahead of you. I got on a bus and rode it all the way to [____] Av., from there it was like thirty minutes of walking to the house. The parcel that Dad gave me was a small box wrapped in newspaper and tied with a string. I didn’t see what it was, it didn’t seem interesting at the time. It wasn’t heavy and something inside it moved around when I shifted its weight, I think it might have been a toy or something. Maybe a present.
The house where I had to leave this package was your typical suburban home in an affluent neighborhood; nice, clean, a bit boring. It was in front of a park, though I couldn’t see much else because of the fog. I was also pretty cold and wanted to get back home as soon as possible. I rang the doorbell like three times before someone answered.
That someone was a child, he couldn’t have been older than ten, he was this skinny, blonde kid who rubbed his eyes periodically, like he hadn’t slept. I didn’t get a good look into the house because he only opened the door enough for his face to peer out, but I heard the TV on inside, I think he was playing some video game. It was a school day, mind you, so it was weird that he was home.
I asked him if his parents were home. He vehemently shook his head. He said, “This isn’t my house, I’m just using it”. That admittedly struck me as weird. I figured maybe he was a friend of the kid who lived here. I asked him if anyone who did live here was home. He looked at me as if I had asked him something nonsensical. We stared at each other for like a minute. Then he shut the door and I heard him calling someone’s name inside. I stood there like an idiot for what must have been five minutes. I heard dogs barking in the distance and what must have been children playing in the park, but again, it was hard to tell with the fog. Eventually the door opened again. It was another child, this one had dark hair, he looked a bit like A., actually, though that’s not important. He also kept rubbing his eyes like he hadn’t gotten any sleep.
He asked me what I was here for. I asked him if he lived here. He looked like he was considering lying to me, but finally nodded. I said that I was sent here by my Mr. [____], my Dad, to deliver a package, and if his parents were in. To this he shook his head emphatically. He looked interested in what was in the box, which I was holding behind me.
I was getting a little exasperated with the whole thing, I just wanted to go back home. The district, with its fog and lack of people and apparently sleepless children, was starting to annoy me a bit. So I asked him when his parents would be home, and he said he didn’t know, but “probably not today”. I gave him a quizzical look. He just kept staring as if everything were normal. So I said, fine, look, I’m supposed to deliver this package here (I double-checked the address at this point to make sure I hadn’t gotten the wrong house), so just take it and give it to your parents when they get home. He nodded, as if finally understanding what I was doing here, and reached out his arms. I considered withholding the parcel and coming back tomorrow, or later, but the notion didn’t appeal to me much. So I reached closer to the door (the kid kept the door only half-open, staying inside the house) in order to hand it over to him. At this point I got a look inside the house.
I was looking into what appeared to be the living room. It was full of kids, there were about a dozen of them. They were all sitting around, watching television, but the second I stuck my head in they all turned around to look at me. It kind of felt like when you look at a pack of stray dogs as they’re in the middle of eating some dead cat, and they stop to look at you, to make sure you’re not going to interfere, and then as soon as you divert your eyes they get right back to business. That’s what it felt like. All these kids were fixated on me, including the one who had opened the door the first time. And the TV? It wasn’t playing anything. Just static. The jingles and music I had heard was coming from somewhere else in the house. I stared at the children and they stared back at me for what felt like whole minutes but was probably just a few seconds. I felt a chill run down my spine for some reason. I handed the kid the package. He shut the door. I started walking, half-jogging away from the house. Inside I heard the indistinct yelling and cheering of different kids.
During the bus ride back I replayed the whole incident in my head, and kind of regretted not looking to see what was inside the package, or withholding it and coming back later, when there were adults, if there are ever adults living that house. When I came home Dad asked me if everything went well and I nodded. He gave me a look, like he was expecting me to say something else, but I just went back into my room and listened to music. I couldn’t get the image of the children out of my mind, it was like something out of a storybook.
And well, that’s all. I did ask Dad yesterday about what the package was, and about who lived there, and he said it was just “a present for a friend”. I didn’t inquire further. You have the address of the house, so you can go there if you want, but, I don’t know. I wouldn’t advise it. At least not when there’s all that fog.
I don’t have much to say about this story. However, I do know that F. dropped out of university around 2004, as it was a matter of discussion among my brother and his friends at the time, so I think he wrote this story. District 11 is indeed known for its dense fog, which rolls in on winter mornings.
Excerpt from Notebook 1: “Origin / Multiple Births”
I think that the determining moments in your life are not seen as such until much later. You can only weigh their importance once they are in the past, and maybe that’s the great tragedy of time.
The children’s section of our school library housed a very small video compendium, mostly consisting of documentaries and bad films. When I was a boy, at the end of every semester the class would hold a pizza party where we would watch movies and relish in the knowledge that we were at the doorstep of summer vacation. Our teacher would ask for a certain kids’ movie—usually a Charlie Brown special or one of the Clifford the Big Red Dog tapes—and before long, the video lady, as she was called, would arrive.
The video lady was slight and always looked tired. She had big hair and spent all her time in the video room. I don’t know why I was fascinated with that place, maybe it was because something was always playing. They always had the news on, playing on one TV, with multiple other movies, recorded news from the past, or documentaries playing at the same time. The place was littered with cameras, costumes used by the Drama club, and shelves stacked with tapes. It had come to serve as storage for the entire school. The concept of spending your days working away in that room, surrounded by the past and the present in video form, connected with this fictionalized account of reality, vastly appealed to me. That I was already so nostalgic and taken by such things at that age is a little preoccupying.
The video lady was cordial and patient, and often I made up excuses to spend time in that room. Usually I was running errands from teachers that I had invented. In one of those many excursions I came upon a couple of cardboard boxes tucked away under a bottom shelf, crammed with old tapes. Pulling the box out released the pungent smell of dust. All of these tapes had cryptic labels. I distinctly remember “DOME”, “FUSE BOX” and “TWELFTH FLOOR”. I took one that was labeled “MULTIPLE BIRTHS”. Not sure why.
I hid it under my jacket and then stuffed it in my backpack when no one was looking. Seeing as the tapes were apparently forgotten, I figured that nobody would miss it.
Back then my parents had a big old Betamax sitting in their room, which they seldom used. My grandfather had brought it for them from America, I think. Back then everyone brought everything from America because our country, in its current state of disarray, could barely supply necessities, much less tapes of romantic comedies. So all we had were a handful of bootlegs, most of them badly-recorded from foreign signals intercepted by local pirates.
Handling the old thing was a hassle. My parents were at some wedding or cocktail party and wouldn’t be back until past midnight. So I put the tape in and sat down to watch.
It was grainy and the image had decayed, but it wasn’t hard to make everything out. It was filmed on a camera standing on a tripod, facing the shore. By the color of the gray skies and septic hue of the sea, not to mention the various empty bottles strewn about the sand, I could tell that this was a nearby beach. At the very beginning you can see the shadow of a person adjusting the lens, then they move out of the frame and are never seen again. The footage is simply a long recording of the thunderous back-and-forth of the waves, with cold wind howling in the background. In fact, just watching the tape made me feel chilly; even though I’m pretty sure it was summer at the time.
I sat at the foot of my parents’ bed and watched. I was prepared to see something disturbing—at the time I wasn’t sure of how childbirth worked, after all—but all I saw was the sea. About ten minutes in, an emaciated, stray dog walks across the sand, sniffs a discarded bottle and walks back out of the frame.
All in all the footage lasted about twenty-five minutes. I remember almost nodding off but forcing myself to stay awake. Then there’s that final minute.
After almost a half-hour of recording the eternal motions of the sea, you notice something different. At first they seem like three black spots some ten meters away from the shore. Like three buoys in the water. Then they begin to move forward, closer to the sand. As they do, they begin to emerge. I realized that they weren’t buoys. They were heads, sitting on necks, giving way to shoulders. Three full-grown men emerging from the cold water. The distance, the quality of the video and the lighting make them look simply like black silhouettes. I think they were naked. They begin to walk out of the water. They move in unison, almost taking steps at the same time. They are very tall. The water is only up to their knees and they’re walking towards the camera in this arrhythmic gait when the footage ends. Whoever was filming cut it off right there.
It’s hard to trust my young and impressionable mind on this, but I’m quite sure that the footage was one continuous shot with no cuts.
At the time I didn’t know what any of it could mean. I guess I still don’t. I removed the tape—almost forcefully—and put it back in my backpack. The next morning I tossed the tape into the basket where students leave books that they’re returning to the library. Obviously the video lady must have known that somebody retrieved that tape from the room.
Apparently she never suspected me, though. The next time I saw her she gave me her usual tired-but-polite stare and asked me what I was here for, a cup of steaming coffee between her arthritic fingers. I’m fairly sure that the cardboard box with the other tapes disappeared.
It seems funny to say now, but I think that was the beginning of my obsession.
Excerpt from Notebook 1: “Origin / Crawl Space”
 Many things have bothered me in the past, like “haunted houses” and “creepy” dolls, but when you’re a child it’s easier to forgive (and forget). There was a particular time when I realized that the things chasing me and reaching out for me in the night would never give it up.
I must have been twelve or thirteen. School was out and it was the hottest summer the city had seen in decades. Some of my friends were jumping rope in the plaza, trying to crank open a fire hydrant or something. Back then the streets were safer and I was allowed to wander about within the constraints of my neighborhood, wearing a nice summer dress and sandals. I was a cute kid.
Do you remember Alex? He left our grade somewhere between middle and high school, he wasn’t a very stand-out kid. I remember the others teased him because he was poor and apparently his parents had to borrow money from extended family to pay for his tuition or whatever. His father actually ran a clinic out of his house, you know. The first story was the clinic and the second story was their home, it was this little apartment complex they owned. On this particular summer day I went to visit that particular boy, because we had established a previous appointment to do so.
Alex had something to show me. I always told him my stories, the ones about big dogs that roam about in the nighttime and about Monic, and about the ghosts I see shuffling about my home while I’m trying to sleep. I was making a conscious effort to creep him out, because at that age that was my favorite pastime with boys, but he was remarkably interested. He said that similar things happened in his house. Apparently I had found a kindred spirit.
So I walked some eight blocks over to his place, the run-down little clinic where a tired secretary fanned herself behind a counter, and sure enough he soon came skipping down the stairs to greet me at the entrance. He was wearing an old Thundercats t-shirt, I think, with worn-out jeans and white sneakers. I offered him a chocolate I had stolen from my mom’s jar. He invited me in.
As I have it understood Alex’s family was in deeper financial troubles than any of us knew or cared to assume, and his grandparents lived with him. They came from the countryside and were appropriately superstitious; one of his grandma’s favorite pastimes was interpreting dreams (apparently they were always ill omens), and on one occasion she told me a thing or two about mine, but that’s a story of its own.
Alex took me to the basement of the two-story complex, which was really a cramped hallway. Apparently it was leftover space originally used for insulation or perhaps as part of a larger design; according to my dad that building was part of a larger complex or something along those lines. It was accessible via a rotting wooden door about the height of a cupboard in the back room which also doubled as the storage for various medical supplies. We had to sneak around his dad and the disgruntled secretary, as the adults didn’t like him going in there.
Had I been even mildly claustrophobic I don’t think I would’ve made it. Even for a kid my age I had to wiggle along on all fours, groping around a damp, winding concrete path with the rickety sounds of the house over my head. I feared that everything would come down collapsing on us. Alex had stolen a lighter from his father before entering, but he was in front of me and the meek light it produced did little to reassure me. After insecurely moving along the path for a minute or so, we arrived at a dead end, at which point he said that we could stand up. He was right; we now had to shimmy along a far wall, I assumed we were right on the edge of the house, between the outer and inner walls. I could hear the sound of a television somewhere, although it was playing something that sounded really old.
Finally, Alex said, “Look.” He pointed the lighter at some point in space in front of him. I had to squint to look, and even then I didn’t really see anything in the dense darkness, so I swiped the lighter from him and used it myself. That’s when I managed to make it out.
It was… well, sort of a hole in the wall, I guess. Opposite to where we were standing was this big indentation in the far wall, roughly egg-shaped, with cut-off wiring and steel frames sticking out of the edges, as if a little meteorite had crashed in there. I could only make out the vaguest contours in the dark, but I could see markings on the inside, which were murky brown in color, amorphous in shape.
Alex told me that, according to his neighbor, the man who owned this house in the distant past left his son to die in that hole when he discovered that he was the product of his wife’s affair. The baby eventually starved and nobody ever found out. He related this tale with mild fascination, with the same tone as a tour guide describes a slaughter that took place hundreds of years ago so it no longer carries emotional weight.
I kind of nodded and stood there for a while. Eventually we crawled back out, played some cards for a while and then I left (his mom offered me lemonade, she was very nice, but looked very tired). I remember telling A. and B. about the adventure and they said that Alex had probably made the story up on the spot just to impress me. Then there was the requisite teasing and taunting about how the two of us would get married and have babies but Alex would be too poor to support them. I swear that year when my teacher said that girls mature faster than boys I felt like life in its entirety had been explained to me.
In all honesty I think that Alex just wanted to be friends with me, because his family, his clothes and his country bumpkin appearance repelled most of the kids at our school. I only went back to his house once, like a week later. It was an equally hot day and I walked there once again. I remember back then there was the whole scare about the Dog Killer and how children were advised to stay at home, but I didn’t pay it much mind. This time Alex came running down the stairs to tell me, with bated breath, that I REALLY had to see something.
We went back in that crawl space. A minute of groping around blind, some thirty seconds of sidling along some insulation, and we were there. This time Alex said, “Look,” with an almost diabolical expression, and took out a flashlight, which was quite an improvement over a measly lighter.
Now I could see things more clearly. The hole looked about what I imagined it did on my first visit, but now I could make out those smudges inside. They were amorphous brown stains that could have very well been made with feces or something equally unpleasant. Together they created some vague shape. Alex told me to take a step back. He said that the figure looked like a baby—he started pointing out the facial features and body as he saw them—but I didn’t really see anything. Just a bunch of smudges and marks. I rolled my eyes and said that we should get back out.
And as soon as I said that there was this sound, like all the air was being sucked out of the house, it was kind of like the sound a river would have made if it were flowing under our feet. The sound intensified, began to shake the planks and loosen bits of paint and dust from the roof. And suddenly we heard this crash, like a refrigerator had been dropped from the top story, and we thought the whole thing was coming down on us, collapsing, so we screamed and ran blindly back where we came from, back into the crawl space, frantically wiggling out towards freedom.
When we got out we found Alex’s mother standing there, arms akimbo, looking at us disapprovingly. We were coated in white paint flakes and dust. She had probably heard us screaming like idiots, and was particularly mad at Alex, who she had warned not to enter that place again. She said she would have the entrance boarded up by tomorrow.
I didn’t get the chance to go back to Alex’s house after that. He was grounded for the rest of the summer, apparently, and once school started it became evident that we weren’t in the same crowds and quickly drifted apart. As I said, he moved to some other part of town a few years later. I’m pretty sure the guys remember that. Oh, and according to his mom the big crashing sound we had heard had been a garbage truck outside, though at the time I didn’t buy it.
What is really weird and makes this entry deserving of being in the notebooks is that, well, I’ve passed that apartment complex where Alex lived several times while coming back from university. His father closed down the clinic when they moved and now it’s a private residence; it’s been remodeled substantially. But I have passed that place and I have looked at it from every conceivable angle, and I have gone over the memories in my head with great care, but it still doesn’t fit. The crawl space, I mean. There is no place in that house—no space—for that passage, and the wall with the insulation space, and the hole. It simply doesn’t make sense. And I’ve asked a friend in Architecture what purpose would a structure like that serve and she said that it would be completely out of place in a building like that, and for that matter it would probably be out of place in any building.
Has anyone gotten in touch with Alex?
Not much to say, honestly. I think it’s fairly clear that this was written by T., but this Alex person is a mystery to me. I asked my parents if there were any clinics around T.’s neighborhood in past years, but they couldn’t answer.
Excerpt from Notebook 4: “Interview with J.”
A few days ago I went up to J. and interviewed him about the incident with the haunted house, when he was a kid. The one that T. was also involved in. I said it was for a scrapbook project or something like that. He was really reluctant; he doesn’t like talking about it and he doesn’t like me very much, either. But I’ll transcribe what little I got out of him. T. is probably going to be mad.
So what do you think it was?
J: What do you mean? It was a dog, it was the guy’s dog.
Did you ever see it after that?
J: No, obviously I never wanted to go back to that house. T. didn’t, either. My dad went there to talk to the owner after it happened and they almost got into a fight, T.’s dad was involved, too. Dad was really, really angry about the whole thing at the time. He said he was going to poison the animal. But I don’t think he ever actually saw it, either.
He said he was going to poison it?
J: Yeah… You know, he was just really angry because my mom was really shaken up about it. But eventually the guy moved and we all forgot about it.
What about all the other strange things, though? T. said that these people did some kind of screaming therapy, and that they kept these strange birds around.
J: Those were peacocks. I think the couple wanted to turn their property into a sort of expensive countryside inn for foreign tourists, and they wanted to have a sort of petting zoo area, with exotic animals like peacocks.
How do you know that?
J: Well, years after the whole thing I asked around the neighborhood about the couple. They were just a regular European couple with no children, but they got a lot of visits. Apparently the husband was a member of one of those Mason-type groups. You know, like the Lions Society, but not the Lions Society. I think they mostly did charity work but they are also kind of New Age.
Maybe the Clan of Adoration?
J: Maybe. That sounds of kind of weird. I honestly don’t remember the name, it was a long time ago. Is that it?
Do you think your dad actually did anything to get back at the man?
J: What? No, of course not. What are you even saying? You know he’s in a wheelchair now, right?
I know next to nothing about J., but I do remember learning that his father suffered an accident which left him a paraplegic some years ago. Apparently it was a fall from a second-story window or something.
Excerpt from Notebook 4: “Faith Healing, Part 1″
Our university outlawed smoking in campus only recently, which comes as a surprise to most people. I guess it hasn’t fully seeped into our culture that second-hand smoke kills or whatever, but until very recently, most universities allowed in-campus smoking. Now, at certain times during the morning and early noon, the same mass of students gathers outside the campus entrances to puff away. B. is part of this group, of course; he has tried to quit innumerable times and failed. F. and A. accompany him out of solidarity, or sometimes simply to bum cigarettes from him.
This massive and timely movement of students in and out of the university did not go unnoticed and soon enough there were people passing out fliers for all sorts of things: supplementary classes, night school, plans for working abroad during summer break, the occasional free condom hand-out, and, of course, New Patricians.
To say that New Patricians is a cult would be exaggerated, but nobody is really sure of what it is. The locale itself is only a twenty-minute drive away from our school and its stylish brochures advertise vague concepts related to self-discovery and philosophical exploration. To us, the most interesting part was that these fliers were handed out by an assortment of wiry, heavily caffeinated, middle-aged women, regurgitating slogans and asking rhetorical questions out loud (“Don’t you want to know what life is really all about?”), and the boys had come to assume that New Patricians was some sort of New Age analogue to a book club; a mostly vacuous endeavor started by bored housewives.
However, we don’t have a lot going on as a group at the time. Ever since the whole fiasco with the record store girl, Weird Shit hadn’t crossed our path. So B., F. and A. decided to go and investigate this thing, if only for kicks. The following is their account of what happened, as recounted to me by A., who, as you know, is a man of few words.
On their way to Kenny’s (a small burger-and-fries place two blocks down from the university) on a Thursday afternoon, F. swiped a bunch of pamphlets about New Patricians from a bunch of different women handing them out. The recurring theme among their propaganda seemed to be “Philosophizing,” an awkward term that refers to both self-discovery and socialization more than any actual discussion about philosophy. It also advertised a meeting for newcomers on Saturday at 3:00. Apparently B. and A. groaned at the notion, assuming that it would be a boring seminar about the importance of purpose in life with some phony spirituality and hand-holding thrown in, so they were ambivalent about wasting a precious Saturday afternoon. But F. was impossible to dissuade and they eventually yielded.
I have been doing paperwork and menial tasks in a law firm of considerable prestige, and they pay me a pittance for it. I’m mostly doing it to have experience once I graduate, of course. The point is that on my way to work I’ve passed by the New Patricians building several times. It’s pretty easy to miss: an eggshell white, three-story building flanked by smaller structures on both sides, with little movement and no more than five or six cars parked outside at any given time. Then again if this really was some sort of kooky cult I wouldn’t have expected anything more flamboyant. Apparently the three guys arrived there fifteen minutes in advance; F. parked his dad’s car a block away. The place was particularly lively on that afternoon; on their way in they were greeted by mostly middle-aged, middle-to-high class people wearing “loud sweaters, white button-up shirts or sports team t-shirts, invariably.” That’s exactly how A. described it to me. I remember because I found it pretty hilarious, since A. isn’t usually the one to be passing judgment on fashion.
The guys were lead into the central building along with thirty more people or so, most of them older. Apparently they got the occasional odd stare for being students. To their surprise, the back door of the building opened to a spacious patio surrounded by tall brick walls. The place seems to be quite a bit bigger than it looks from the outside, and A. says he heard some talk about a “basement” as well. They were herded as a group to the center of the patio, standing before a platform with a podium on top. There were small tents set up on both sides of the area with members waiting behind counters; one of them had a coffee machine and the other gave out yet more information in the form of pamphlets and fliers. There was also merch; F. apparently bought a shirt, which seems very much like him.
The ensuing wait was very much like sitting around, waiting for a concert to start, and the three took cover from the sun by sitting against a far wall. There was a lot of indistinguishable chatter among older members of New Patricians; all in all A. says that there must have been some three hundred people managing the event, which is a pretty surprising turnout, I guess.
By the time someone stepped up to the podium, the afternoon was starting to cool off and the guys rejoined the crowd. Many of them were now wearing New Patricians shirts; F. was delighted and put his on as well. A. noticed that something weird happened as soon as he did. The other members seemed to suddenly and abruptly recognize his existence, as if before he had been a ghost drifting among them. An elderly woman placed a hand on his shoulder for support. He exchanged amicable glances with many of the younger members, who must have been in their late twenties, according to A.’s recollection. The two remained at the fringe, observing with morbid curiosity.
The man who took the podium had an air of regality about him, apparently, a silvery but full head of hair and a well-trimmed moustache. He wore a brown blazer and exhibited perfect poise. B. says that he had seen this man before in the paper; apparently he’s the Minister of Agriculture, or something. For university students I have to admit that we are not the most politically aware.
The next part of the story was not elaborated on by A. because he said it was “boring.” Basically, the man proceeded to give a rousing, elegant and ultimately meaningless speech on the value of the human soul and the mission statement of New Patricians which lasted for about forty-five minutes. There was periodic clapping in between statements, which turned into wild cheering towards the end. People were grabbing F. by the shoulder and using him to prop themselves up and cheer; apparently. F., always the one to humor people like that, cheered right along with them, and so progressed the afternoon. B. and A. considered ditching F. for fun while they could still make it out the front door without the stampede of followers rushing out at the same time. But ultimately they stayed, and according to A., they managed to pick up some interesting bits in the man’s speech. Mostly they were peculiar because they didn’t make much sense. Apparently the man spoke of “a precise dimensional measurement of human potential,” “the ignoble spirit of charity,” “the spiritual value of inanimate objects in our daily life,” and “a new age of adoration for the human spirit and holistic creativity.” If you’ve ever gone to one of these New Age meetings for whatever reason such baseless phrasing probably doesn’t seem strange to you, as it’s a pretty common tactic for charismatic leaders. But A. says that as the speech went on there was this weird feeling in their air, not the typical blind devotion of a fanatical cult, but a sort of intensity in the looks of everyone there. A. and B. started to feel like they didn’t belong and were being made aware of the fact, so they retreated into the building and decided to wander around for a while until the whole thing was over and F. could give them a ride home.
They snooped around for a while without anyone interfering, although the secretary at the front desk gave them a strange look a few times. Mostly they browsed the bulletin board, which had a schedule for upcoming events, all of which seemed to be seminars of a similar nature. They had strange names, though, such as “Conference on the Latest Developments in the Study of Homeopathic Interlinking with Our Animal Friends,” that’s the only one that A. managed to recite from memory. By this point I think that the two had concluded that New Patricians was just another silly pseudo-cult for people lacking direction in their lives.
The seminar finally ended amid cheering and clapping and the mass of followers stormed back into the building and towards the front exit; B. and A. waited for F. to appear. He emerged, still wearing his New Patricians t-shirt, with a mischievous glint in his eye, A. said. He told them to go back to the car because he had to show them something.
Now a block away from the building and in the safety of the car, which apparently still stunk of weed from the last hot-boxing session in the park, F. revealed the fruits of his labor: a small, black matte box padded with foam on the inside, housing an egg. According to A. it was a little bigger than a chicken egg but had the same shape and hue. F. explained that at the end of the seminar all of the newcomers had lined up in a queue in front of one of the lady assistants, who took out a large Chinese box and started handing out these eggs, one per person. There was no confusion or inquiry regarding the eggs; apparently everyone understood that this was a thing that would happen at the end of the conference. F. wasn’t the one to give up an opportunity for something as strange as that and received an egg of his own.
According to A., F. is keeping the egg in a cardboard box in his room, making sure that it is warm. I don’t think that F. knows how to properly care for an egg, or anything else that is or will become a living being. It’s been four days since their little adventure at New Patricians and it hasn’t hatched or changed in any perceptible way. This afternoon I’m going to stop by his house and see it for myself. B. says that it looks like a snake egg, and that he saw a mural in the far back depicting a vivid green serpent. I don’t think they plan on returning. Before leaving, the secretary asked them for names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses so that they could contact them with details about the next seminar, but they gave out fake info. I’m not sure of what to make of all this at the moment. I’m going to ask around to see if anyone knows anything about this whole New Patricians business.
Excerpt from Notebook 4: “Faith Healing, Part Two”
F.’s house is a disaster. His father collects things obsessively. Sensible things, like records, encyclopedias, nostalgic trinkets from decades we weren’t alive in, and also useless things, Halloween masks, kitschy holiday decorations, burnt-out remains of fireworks of New Years past, pop culture detritus. He cannot let go of anything.
Fortunately he is rich (as far as we can tell) and lives in a stately, old house with statues on the garden that look like creatures out of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, a pool that is never filled, iron bars covering windows overgrown with brittle vines. It’s spacious and empty; it’s located next to that one terrain that used to be a school until the late eighties. The first time I went there I had to ask a nearby watchman for directions. I gave him the address; he said there was no such house. Half an hour of walking later, I found it.
I was two years into my university studies at this point; I was bored and resentful at my parents for having encouraged me to choose this career path, so every week I skipped class more often. It reminded me of high school as so many other things do. There were policemen making lazy morning rounds around the neighborhood and housewives in sweatpants walking their dogs. Everyone else was working, studying or doing something allegedly useful with their time. The weather was grey and crisp.
Pushing the gate open and letting loose some dust in the process, I had to wander around the house and yell out for F. I had figured I might as well stop by and see the much-discussed egg for myself. I walked into the living room to find him, surprisingly, with X.
They were playing an old record that I didn’t recognize and sitting across from each other, cross-legged, staring intently at a cardboard box in between them with a lamp hanging over them. I took a guess at what was inside. When I said hello X didn’t respond; he probably hadn’t noticed my presence yet, which I was accustomed to, while F. was cordial as ever. He said that X had another disagreement with his brother and headed over here for the time being. I wondered what that last part exactly meant.
I crouched and peered into the box, feeling a bit silly between the two. We were alone in the house. His father was gone pretending to work. (He was one of those people who, due to the nature of his position, could easily never stop by the office again and keep getting checks in the mail for the rest of his life.) Only a few strident birds interrupted us. I reached out to hold the egg, but X brusquely stopped me. The hue was a bit off for a chicken, it was a little bigger and leaner, more elliptical. I lightly placed a fingertip on it; it was terribly warm.
After a minute or so of just sitting there, F. explained that the egg had remained the same ever since he received it three days ago at the New Patricians rally. He didn’t really know about incubation, but figured he was doing a good enough job. F. has a high opinion of himself. X interrupted to add, in his charmingly unique way, that the egg was important and crucial to “something,” and he had mostly come over here to check on it and made sure it was developing well. I didn’t know whether to believe him.
“We can prove a connection,” He rambled on. “We can show the rest that they are linked to the group. The group that took E.’s father’s house.”
He had touched upon a subject that not everyone was comfortable with.
“Wasn’t her dad in a sort of charity society?” F. asked. X denied this. He assured us that the Clan is not only a charity association, or a club of rich old men, and much less an inoffensive New Age deal like the Patricians are supposed to be. It was infinitely more than that.
“I think it’s going to be one of the nobles,” He muttered.
There was a silence then. For the first time that day I noticed that he reeked of alcohol. “Nobles?” F. arched an eyebrow.
X stared at us like we had just asked him what one plus one was. He stared at us long and deep, as if he were going to reveal a particularly difficult secret. Sometimes it was hard to see his eyes underneath the unruly hair. He suddenly sprung up and started asking for a piece of paper.
We couldn’t find anything that hadn’t been written on, so F. ripped a page from one of his father’s documents and let X go to town with it. He madly scribbled with a pencil sharpened and re-sharpened to the point that it was only a few centimeters long, which he produced from his back pocket. He kept erasing parts of the drawing for no reason and it only made things more muddled.
Then he handed us the drawing. He pointed at each of the drawings and stammered to say something about them.
“Nobles. Reptiles like snakes. Crawlers.”
“Virgins. Pretty birds. Waterfowl.” “Guardians. Rats. But really, all rodents.”
“Legion. Bugs. Spiders.”
Then he pointed at the last drawing on the bottom.
“Null, bad, dogs, they hate them. The Clan hates them. I don’t know.” I studied the picture for a moment. Five animals with exotic names.
“So you’re saying this is what the Clan is about?” “I don’t know what the Clan is about,” he snapped back. This was after he was assaulted at the Park. He said he just knew it had something to do with them. He suggested that perhaps it was all just a joke.
F. arched an eyebrow and asked him where he got that from.
“The fucks at the park,” he replied nonchalantly. Apparently he had pieced it together from that encounter and a number of other incidents, like the hotel, the bath house and the dumpster. Everything in the notebooks. It was his pet theory, I guess. He said he wasn’t sure about the names but he was sure about the pictures.
He them crumpled up the paper and handed it to me, practically pushed it into my hand as if he wanted nothing to do with it. I said nothing, quietly unfolded it and put it in one of my school books. I made a mental note to tell B. about this and maybe store it in the notebooks.
X grew silent after that. We tried to coax him into revealing more, assuming that he knew something else, but he just stared intently at the egg and ignored us. My legs grew numb and I asked F. if I could go out for a cigarette. He accompanied me.
We sat on the lawn chairs by the empty pool, dirty and covered in webs. I stared off into space, something very easy to do when the sky is painfully monochrome, as if it were a screen draped over the neighborhood. F. smoked in silence. I asked him if X was staying at his house now.
He figured as much, he replied after a few moments of apparently mulling it over. He added that he didn’t want X to go back home at the moment because he needed someone to take care of the egg while he was off carrying out errands or working part-time jobs.
I asked him if that was what he was doing now that he wasn’t in university anymore. He nodded slowly. He said his father had more or less given up on interacting with him beyond the common courtesies of hello, goodbye and please pass the salt. He just sent him off on errands that he was too lazy to do. He was set to deliver a package in District 11 tomorrow. I looked at him with a tinge of sadness. F.’s ambition had deflated. He used to do so many things back in school, and excelled at most of them. But back then we all had a future. The future then arrives and is completely foreign to your expectations, so you retreat into past lives.
I was about to say something like that, but then we heard yelling from inside the house. It was X.
When we got back in we saw him holding the cardboard box above his head as F.’s dog leapt up and tried to swipe it off his hands, barking and growling. It was a beautiful Weimaraner that F. has had since childhood. His name is Drogo, I think. He appears and disappears from the house. Sometimes I never see him at all.
F. grabbed him by the collar and dragged him into the kitchen, then locked the door. It looked remarkably difficult as the dog struggled and yelped to break free, but eventually yielded to him.
We could still hear scratching from the other side of the door. F. asked X if the egg was okay. He nodded profusely.
X said that it was time to move the egg into a safer place. F. motioned to me, inviting me to his bedroom, but I declined. Somehow two hours had passed since I had come to the house and it was time for my next class. I wasn’t really thinking of assisting, but I didn’t want to stay there, either. I felt like I was intruding.
So I said my goodbyes, picked up my bag and walked out the front gate smoking a cigarette. I’ve picked up the habit from B., by the way. I really wish I hadn’t, but it’s comforting when you’re standing in the middle of the street and have absolutely nothing to do. I had to walk down the winding streets and pass by many joggers and dog-walkers, looking at me with mild curiosity and disapproval, until I got to the bus stop. I felt a little numb and strange as if everything had ceased to move for a moment. It might have been the cigarettes, I’m not very used to them yet. It felt like a resigned calm, not necessarily good. Like a kind of fatalism in the face of death.
I sat waiting for the bus and strangely felt like crying. I didn’t go to class that day.
I’ve been looking for the drawing referenced in this entry. It doesn’t seem to be in the notebooks, at least not anymore.
I found it
YamiiDenryuuAdded by YamiiDenryuu
After reading “Faith Healing, Part Two,” I started to wonder if the picture mentioned could be anywhere. I looked again in the hole under the floorboard in my brother’s room, where I originally found the notebooks. It was tucked away in a corner. I found something else, too, that I had missed the first time. I apologize for the bad quality, but it’s been clearly crumpled up and folded over many times and I had to wipe a lot of dust out so it would scan properly.
I have been re-reading some entries after looking at this picture.
Excerpt from Notebook 4: “Warning, Goodbye”
1. The killings were misguided. The intention was good. He is out of control. F.’s house stinks of it. That. It stinks of death.
2. The day store is not safe. Don’t associate yourself with the girl. If you do, don’t go at it alone.
3. NP has your numbers. I thought you gave out fake information. Why didn’t you? They’ve been calling my house all day. Why did you give them my number? What else did you give them?
4. I dreamed of a man locked in a second floor room, with a family living below, locked inside his body, stuck in a bathtub covered in ice. I’ve been dreaming a lot of N. ever since he left us. I know that it’s difficult to hear.
5. E. has been talking to me online. She wants me to listen to some music she made.
6. N.’s funeral is in [____], [____] St., the 21st of this month, 7:00 am sharp. You will be there.
7. I didn’t know about D.’s statues at the time. I deduced it because of what happened with F.
I won’t be adding entries to the notebooks anymore. Sorry.
This is one of the few signed entries in the notebooks. There aren’t any other signed entries by K., before or after this one.
Excerpt from Notebook 1: “Origin / To Remember”
A. told me a story the other day. I’m not sure if he was kidding or not.
When A. was twelve or so and his parents would take him to see a psychologist after soccer practice, he recalled seeing a lady every day. The psychologist worked out of his apartment in the third floor of a complex. After the session was over, he would take the elevator back down and wait outside the building for his parents to pick him up. They would ask him how it went and he would reply with a half-hearted “Well.”
Next to the apartment building was a small retail store, summer dresses and ladies’ shoes and the like. At the time that A. was waiting for his parents to arrive, the owner was returning from her lunch break to re-open the store. She was a lady in her mid-forties, from the looks of it; she wore colorful, loud dresses with odd prints. Before coming back into the store she would stand outside and smoke, looking exasperated. Sometimes she would shoot a furtive glance in A.’s direction. He figured that maybe she knew that he was going to see the psychologist in the third floor. She had probably seen many boys like him waiting in that precise spot for their parents to pick him up.
The store windows exhibited gaudy mannequins sometimes lacking arms or facial features, draped in clothing that couldn’t have been fashionable, even back then. A. would stare at them out of having nothing else to do, and also because the lady made him nervous. Sometimes she would stand directly next to him and smoke. But she would always retreat into the store before his parents arrived. She was wrinkled and covered in makeup, always staring off beyond the streets and buildings, expecting trouble to arrive.
This was when A. began to realize, after so many awkward meetings in silence, that the lady’s clothes seemed to be the very same ones that were sold at the store. That seemed sensible enough, as a form of self-advertisement, or something. But what made A. curious is that whenever she was wearing one particular dress, that dress was no longer on display at the store. It was like every night she took one of the mannequins’ outfits and wore it herself, then moved on to another one. A. came to assume that nobody else worked at the tiny store. He never saw anyone walk in or out. He regarded her with mild confusion and never told his parents anything.
Months after this had begun, A.’s appointment was switched to the late afternoon one day, he took the elevator up and waited outside his door. He grew impatient and knocked, even though he could hear talking, and then presumably sobbing, coming from inside. He recognized the psychologist’s voice telling him to please wait a moment. So he sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. Several minutes passed with intervals of silence and sobbing. Then he finally heard steps in his direction and the door swung open. Out came the lady from the store.
She wiped her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief and stared, dumbfounded, for a moment at him, evidently surprised to see him there, as if he had caught her in the middle of doing something bad or sinful. Her face morphed into the same desperate, anxious look she always carried. Then she walked away and the psychologist ushered him into his apartment.
On the last day of these, when A.’s parents figured that he no longer needed the sessions (and had complained sufficiently about how expensive they were), A. was saddened to realize, while he waited outside for his parents to arrive, that the store had closed and was now empty.
I asked A. to write this story down himself, but he declined.
Excerpt from Notebook 5: “Dog Killer”
Sensationalist nutjobs are nothing new in the morning news. You probably remember that cab driver who went around picking girls up and stabbing them with a screwdriver. A screwdriver. They called him “The Screwdriver Psycho” because they’re not very creative around here. The Dog Killer was something like that. It was in the early nineties. T. probably knows the exact year.
Somewhere around this time, dogs in the city’s District 2 started turning up dead. They had usually been strangled; later on the Dog Killer took on more grisly ways like crushing their heads. Some of them were also poisoned, but cruel neighbors poison others’ dogs all the time if they’re being too loud or obnoxious, so it’s unlikely that most of those killings can be attributed to him.
The Dog Killer story initially perked up the media’s interest when he started branching out of the neighborhood. Family pets were turning up dead via the same methods all over a certain sector of the city. All breeds and sizes, often multiple victims. The motivation behind these killings was practically non-existent. It’s assumed that a lot of stray dogs turning up dead around the time were also his victims, but stray dogs turn up dead all of the time, so it’s questionable. What scared people was that a.) Since the killings were seemingly random, he was probably insane (or just really hated dogs), and b.) a lot of these killings involved breaking and entering at least the back yards of homes, which meant that at any point the Dog Killer could move on to people. The fact that he didn’t bother to take advantage of the moment to steal something only made everyone more afraid of him, because it wasn’t rational. I remember my parents setting up an alarm system at home for the first time back then. They also moved my brother’s crib up to their room so he’d sleep with them for the time being. Back then I was still in grade school, so I’m not sure what I was supposed to do if I came face-to-face with a maniac, but with a baby it’s different, I suppose. Not that I’m resentful, anyway.
The Dog Killer was at large for something like five months, and never far from the papers, though never quite making the headlines. He was sort of a lurking, puzzling shadow in the back of everyone’s minds. A lot of people took their dogs in to sleep inside the house with them. Many more people got rid of their dogs so the Killer would have no reason to enter their house. Walking down the streets meant seeing many stray dogs, some of them with collars, having been let go by their owners, wandering and scavenging for food.
During his spree, many people came forward claiming that they were the Dog Killer. But when the killings continued it became hard to believe. There was a certain young man who appeared in many news reports and talk shows after supposedly providing proof that he was the Killer, but it was then proven false. I’m not sure why so many people wanted everyone to think that they were this person, but that’s fame for you.
I say that T. probably knows the exact year when the killings took place because the whole thing started in her neighborhood. In fact, her neighbors’ dog was one of the first victims, if I recall correctly. We actually didn’t have a dog, so my parents were just being paranoid with the whole alarm thing, as they usually are.
At this time one of the people who owned a dog that turned up headless the morning after claimed that she saw the Dog Killer as he ran out of her garden. She was a very old lady whose pet had been her only companion. It was a popular sob story in the media. She was also very superstitious. She claimed that the Dog Killer was not a man, but a devil. She said that he was a shadow with red eyes who vanished upon being seen. Most people dismissed it as the ramblings of a senile old lady, but a good part of this country is pretty superstitious as well, so others took it more seriously.
Then the late-night ads started.
I only saw it once for myself. They aired very late at night. I had once stayed up until like 2 A.M. watching X-Men reruns, when all of a sudden the TV faded to harsh static, and then came up a grainy image. The whole thing lasted about thirty seconds. It was slow-motion, low-quality footage of dogs simply laying there, presumably dead. I don’t know if it was footage taken from the news or filmed by the broadcaster, but the dogs were obviously victims of the Killer. The “ad” was unnerving by itself, but even stranger was the background music. It was some kind of ritual chanting, or at least that’s how I remember it. Kind of like something you would hear people singing at Mass, but in a weird tone. Meanwhile you had these panning shots of dead dogs. Then, finally, at the end, superimposed in big white letters, “PLEASE STOP.” Then the ad ended and faded to static, which was almost instantly replaced by usual programming. It was chilling.
When the existence of these ads seeped into the cultural consciousness at large, it became clear that they were showing up in all sorts of channels, interrupting cartoons, soap operas and pornography without discrimination, usually between 2 and 5 A.M. And even more interestingly, they were not paid for by the channel companies. They were not official ads; somebody was jamming the signal of these channels late at night to broadcast the ads. Nobody ever found out who it was. The ads stopped after a few weeks.
And then, so did the Dog Killer. At the time people had more or less gotten tired of hearing from him anyway, but eventually the killings seemed to subside. In any big city dogs turn up dead on the streets pretty much every day, but none of it seemed to bear the Killer’s mark or align with his modus operandi. So it was assumed that he had gone back to being a regular psycho, or returned to the depths of Hell for those who believed the old lady’s account.
The Dog Killer’s identity, as well as that of the mysterious broadcaster, are unknown to this day, at least as far as I know. (Some of my friends probably have their pet theories, though.) This guy who used to put up compilations of popular South American ads from the eighties and nineties on YouTube had one of the dog ads up, but according to A. it’s been taken down. Just another strange tale from the city.
It’s clear that this was written by my brother. The baby mentioned was me. I scarcely remember the Dog Killer. He isn’t discussed much these days. I never knew about the videos, though. I asked my parents about it and they didn’t remember anything, either, so maybe it was a piece of fiction tossed in by my brother to spice things up. I looked it up on YouTube but got no results. (There are many videos of people abusing dogs, sadly, but nothing like my brother described in this entry.)
Excerpt from Notebook 4: “Faith Healing, Part III”
I think that I’ve been dealing with depression for a long time now.
Have you ever taken a long bus ride without a destination? Any city with a public transport system is perfect for that. Empty bus seats at night are the most heartbreaking thing. It had become a bit of a hobby for me to simply sit there and watch neighborhood blocks, projects, skyscrapers go by.
It’s becoming progressively easier for me to enter a state of complete disconnect from the world and its troubles. I have a perfect understanding of my pressing responsibilities, upcoming assignments, family expectations and so on. But I survey them with a grey clot in my mind. It’s like I’m in a fog. Lately this winter I’ve been waking up early in the morning to sit on the wet grass outside my room and watch the still world.
I went to F.’s house in this state of mind.
The house is beautiful in its decay. It’s so out of the beaten path, along a deserted street with abandoned lots, running down the steepest hill of District 5. The black iron gate at the entrance has ivy wrapped around it, it looks like a European haunted manor. The guard acknowledged my presence quietly and I pushed the gate open.
I had missed class again. Earlier that week I had already informed my boss that I would be quitting at the end of the month. I was just an intern, anyway. I would eventually be able to find work somewhere. He looked at me sternly and said he was disappointed. I don’t think I was very good at my job.
As I walked along the winding garden path of F.’s front door I felt a tingling in my legs and an odd sweetness in the back of my mouth. It was a kind of anxiety.
He opened the door just as I was about to knock. He looked like he hadn’t slept.
We talked about inconsequential things for a little while and he played with his hair. But the moment we sat in the old living room, with the dusty record player and the spider-covered bookshelves, he broke down. Just sobbing. I had never seen him like that. I actually didn’t know to react for the first few minutes. I just sat across from him and quietly sipped the coffee he had brought me. I looked around nervously to see if his father would show up, or maybe X, but the house seemed to be empty except for us. Eventually I asked him to calm down, but it came out muffled.
He stopped crying eventually and explained to me what had happened earlier that morning. He had woken up to find that X had disappeared. Most of his things were gone with him, but some clothes remained scattered on the floor of the guest room. The bed where he slept had been somehow flipped over and was now leaning against the wall, as if thrown by a powerful wind. F. said that he hadn’t heard any strange noises the night before.
Then he lead me to patio in the back. I trailed a few steps behind, trying to process everything. As he swung the kitchen door open a powerful odor hit me. It was decomposition.
In the middle of the patio was Drogo, F.’s dog. A pigeon was trying to pluck out its left eye.
I instinctively stepped out and scared the bird away. I had gotten used to the smell remarkably quickly. Drogo hadn’t been dead for a very long time. I surveyed the slender, grey body. There were no visible wounds. I turned back to F., who looked mortified.
He said he had discovered the body earlier this morning. He hadn’t the heart to move it. I asked him if anything else was missing. He replied that the egg was gone.
I just stared in disbelief at what he was suggesting.
After the initial shock, we took a walk around the yard and surveyed the gate, the walls, the backdoor. No locks had been broken and there were no signs of forced entry. F.’s father has a guard standing outside his house at all times of night and early morning. It doesn’t seem possible that someone would be able to sneak in without anyone noticing.
We wandered for about an hour, looking for an explanation. He mentioned that he hadn’t told anyone other than me. He knew he would eventually have to tell the rest of the group, but right now he wanted help with something else. He wanted me to help him cremate Drogo.
The proposal seemed a little morbid, and I shuddered at the thought of touching the body. But F. seemed so distraught that I couldn’t possibly say no. I knew that I wouldn’t go to my next class; I was already failing half my courses, anyway. So I agreed.
We did our best to do everything respectfully. The body was extremely heavy, so we had to use the rusted wheelbarrow left in a corner of the yard. Eventually we managed to stuff the body in the furnace. F. shut the door with resolve and started the fire.
Had F. lived anywhere closer to urbanization than he did, I’m sure we would have gotten a dozen complaints from the smell and the smoke. It was thick and black, impenetrable; I shielded by eyes and covered my nose but still stared up in the sky, a dull grey color, at the smoke column. F. was silent next to me. It burned and burned for an hour. We didn’t say much of anything.
After it was over, F. thanked me and asked if I wanted to stay. I was feeling strange about the whole thing, though. I said I had to go to class and showed myself out. He stood on the patio, where Drogo’s body had been, and stared. I shut the gate behind me.
My clothes stunk of smoke. Then it suddenly hit me, that X was missing, that someone had almost certainly broken into F.’s house last night, that F. was probably in danger. I considered calling X’s parents until I realized that I didn’t have their number and I didn’t know where he lived. I considered calling F. and telling him to go to a hotel for at least a week. But the moment I got to my house I felt an overwhelming malaise and collapsed in my bed.
I don’t recall any dreams.
I woke up at midnight, having slept twelve hours. The only light in my room came from my celphone. I had about twenty missed messages, from B., F., E., A., and N.
They were all recounting the same thing, of course. X’s body had washed up on the shore.
Short Exchange with A. at the Harbor
The man referred to as A. in the notebooks is now thirty-one years old. I couldn’t find much from investigating him. He went to the same primary and secondary school as my brother, but was expelled in 1997 and graduated in 1999 from a different institution. He passed the entrance exam for a local university and studied Industrial Engineering. Apparently he won three Regional Vale Tudo Championships in a row, on 1998, 1999 and 2000. Currently he works as a supervisor in the cargo company owned by his father. He has not married.
It wasn’t hard to find A. at the harbor in the summer morning. He looks very much like he did as a teenager, but his hair is much shorter, and he has that tiredness that comes with adulthood. A black mark that appears to be part of a large tattoo peeks out from under the collar of his shirt.
I introduced myself as B.’s younger brother and he almost immediately recognized me after that. There was some effusive hugging and exclamations and asking me about my family and my studies. Then there was a lull as A. recalled my brother and momentarily stared off into the sea, from where a heavy mist was rolling in. I said that I wanted to ask him some questions for a family project that I was putting together for Art class. It seemed like a flimsy excuse as I said it but A. seemed to buy it.
We sat down at one of the many tiny seaside cafés; A. loosened his tie and crossed his arms, leaning back against the chair. A strident group of seagulls were feasting on a discarded fish only a few feet from us. I remembered that he had been a man of few words in his teens, but the years seemed to have mellowed him out.
The interview was very informative right up until the end.
You knew my brother for most of his life, right?
Yes… we became friends in the first or second grade, and we remained friends through high school and university. We couldn’t see each other as often after graduation, but sometimes we managed.
I know this is kind of awkward, but, what do you think made you and my brother so close?
We… We had the same sense of humor, I guess… We were part of a bigger group, which was better.
What bigger group?
Well, you probably remember us visiting your brother as a big group when you were a boy. We were always hanging out with T., F., E…
I remember all of those people.
T. and F. also went to university with us. The four of us would get together sometimes after graduating. We all studied different things, of course, so we graduated at different times.
Do you know anything about T. and F. as of late?
I know that T. is in New York City. After she dropped out of Law, her parents sent her to a design institution abroad, and I think she was immediately hired by a New York design firm after graduation.
I don’t know much about F… In 2006 he headed off to Honduras to live there and do social work for a while. I would get monthly letters from him, real letters, in the mail. Then he went to Africa to take some photographs for a magazine, or so I heard from his father. I actually had a business meeting with his father a week ago. He owns half the place, after all.
What about E.?
E. actually moved to Europe on the last year of secondary school… Nobody heard much from her again. I think T. got a couple emails from her and that was it.
E. was the girl that F. had a crush on for a while, right?
[Laughter] Yes… I can’t believe you remember that.
I’m trying to remember another person who used to hang out with you… I think his name started with an N?
Oh… Yes, that was N. He was sort of friends with us over the last two years of secondary school, but I didn’t see much of him because by then I’d been expelled.
Uh… Why did you get expelled again?
So… What’s N. doing these days? Do you know?
[Clears throat] He died, in 2006. In the Nantes marketplace fire.
I see… Was there anyone else in your group?
That was most of it… D. was around sometimes, you probably remember her, with the red hair. I don’t think you got to meet K…
I think I did.
Really? K. was a very odd person… She didn’t go out that much. I think that was the whole group…
Wait, was K. the girl who almost blew up the school’s boiler room? They still talked about that when I was in secondary.
[Laughter] Yes, that was her. I’m pretty sure it was a miscalculation on her part.
What are they doing?
Nothing much… D. went back to live with her family in the U.K. after she finished school, and K. sort of dropped off the radar… I think she might still live here, though.
I also remember another guy, though… He was kind of… Crazy-looking, I guess. I can’t remember his name…
Who? [Long pause] What are you really here for?
I wanted to confirm memories I have of my brother and his friends… I’ve been having some dreams about it lately, sort of half-remembered childhood moments.
[Pause] I think your brother was friends with a guy from school who got into trouble many times… I think he passed away at some point.
Do you remember his name?
So… what did you do, as a group, usually?
Well, the usual teenage things…
Any record stores?
[Pause] Not record stores, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?
No reason. Well, I guess that’s all… [click]
[end of interview]
I don’t have very much to say. A. became visibly defensive and clammed up towards the end of the interview. I wonder if he knew that I had found the notebooks.
Maybe the whole thing really was fiction, and A. was simply embarrassed that I’d found their collaborative creative writing project or something…
Or otherwise he didn’t want to reveal the identity of X to me, for some reason.
Other than possibly K., it seems that A. is the only member of the group who is still alive and living in this city. Contacting anyone else will be more difficult.