They find a book written in Latin… one guy doesn’t take Latin and doesn’t want to mess up the pronunciation. The girl is studying Mandarin. Another guy recommends sticking it into Google Translate but that’s likely to land them with gibberish. They leave it alone.
The car won’t start. They call an Uber.
The vampire captures the girl and insists that she wears the gown to dinner. The gown is actually hella cute. Only problem is it’s not in her size. Oh, it only comes in 2’s and 4’s? Sorry, vamp, you want me in that dress you contact the goddamn company and tell them to get their shit together.
“How did you possibly know that? It saved our lives!” “I’ve got two degrees and I spend way too much time on Wikipedia.”
They encounter a spirit that gains power the more people believe in it. One girl makes a vine and uploads with, “fakest ghost ever!!! Right??” Twenty minutes later the spirit is destroyed.
The circus is in town tonight. Except she’s lived her whole life here and the circus has never come before… it’s also in a pretty sketchy part of town, not somewhere you’d want to walk alone at night. She goes to a movie instead.
“You’d need an ARMY to fight this evil!” “Okay. I’ve got 20,000 followers, lets see how many can make it.”
The Evil Whispery Voice of Doom tells the jock that it’s going to kill his pretty blonde girlfriend. The jock gets offended because, excuse me, Cindy and I are just friends. However, Marty over there is my boyfriend and I’m not saying you should kill him, just stop making assumptions yeah?
“This spirit tried to convince me it was Jerry when it texted but its texting style is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT so yeah that didn’t work.”
We could have easily gotten lost and ended up at some creepy cabin in the woods, but luckily we all had functioning GPSs. Beach party, we’ve arrived!
“We have to find a way to destroy it! We—what are you doing?” “Looking up ‘exorcising demons’ on Google. Oh look, first hit.”
The child she bares will be the devil’s spawn. Good thing she doesn’t want kids. Or if she changes her mind she can always adopt.
“How can we possibly outwit this serial killer…” “… There’s gotta be an app for that. Lemme look.”
Only the virgin will survive… Turns out they’re all virgins. One is asexual. One wants to wait until marriage. Two just haven’t found the right person yet. One is meh about sex. So we all survive, yeah?
The girl does not fall. She was on varsity track.
“Quick! We need someplace to hide the artifact. And then decoys to confuse the beast! What have we got?” “… I’ve got a hundred plastic bags stuffed into another plastic bag.” “PERFECT.”
It’s time to end the right-wing myths about the so-called “dangers” of accommodating transgender students. They’ve never been true, and they only make it harder to create safe and welcoming school environments for ALL kids.
Pokemon Go is a fun game when you don’t live in an area devastated by industrial contamination and toxic waste. Pokemon Go is a fun game when the Poke Stops aren’t at local landmarks steeped in mercury and lead. Pokemon Go is a fun game when innocent gamers don’t congregate in areas where the grass no longer grows because of carbon tetrachloride and dioxin and radionuclides in the soil.
For the kids in this city - and even for the adults in this city - Pokemon Go should be the kind of game to help them through the hell of their day-to-day lives. It should be a distraction from the omnipresent horror of living in a place that’s no longer on anyone’s map - a place that the outside world thinks is better off forgotten. If only playing it wasn’t killing them.
At the community hospital where I work, we’ve had a substantial increase in the number of patients displaying some effect of being poisoned: skin deterioration, pregnancy complications, respiratory distress, etc. - all consistent with the various environmental pollutants in different parts of town. Nearly all of those admitted have been Pokemon Go players.
CHILLING TALES FOR DARK NIGHTS: HORROR STORY MASTERPOST
Chilling Tales for Dark Nights is my favourite YouTube channel. It has some wonderfully creepy stories read by the most fantastic narrators. I’ve made a masterpost of all my favourite stories from them, but there are so many more aside from these. (Warning: some of these are pretty damn scary and contain triggers such as murder, violence, bullying, eating disorders and abuse. There are no screamers.)
I was 13 when I had my first pumpkin spice latte. Dad had taken me to Starbucks on the way to school, and as soon as we walked in, I saw their poster advertising the drink. Everything about the ad screamed “warmth.” The mug it showcased was a gentle beige, contrasting sweetly against the light-brown wood of the table on which it sat, surrounded by artistically-placed autumn leaves and festive gourds. The contents of the mug were centered in the image, showing off the perfect dollop of creamy foam with caramelly tints of espresso running through it. At the top, lovingly whispered by the deft hand of a skilled, caring barista, was a sprinkling of nutmeg.
It called to me.
I eschewed my normal caramel macchiato and requested a grande pumpkin spice latte. I waited anxiously with Dad by my side. He sipped his black coffee and suggested we sit for a little while. We were running early, for once.
I sat, shaking my leg with anticipatory excitement. The cafe smelled different that day. I’d grown accustomed to the thick, imposing aroma of dark-roasted coffee and the occasional hint of sweetness as a customer’s blueberry muffin was toasted. That day, though, gripping the reigns of the dark roast and riding it to a new and alluring place, was something else. Something exotic. My head swam as I realized the exotic smell was, in fact, the spicy melange of ingredients within a pumpkin spice latte: the same pumpkin spice latte I’d soon taste.
I’ll say it right now, I grew up in a broken home. Dad drank. Mom drank. That might be why I’ve never touched a drop. But I’m getting on a tangent here.
Most of you already know where this story is going. Dad used to get drunk and blame mom and I for all his problems. Mom used to lock me in my room while he… while you knock what aggressive drunks do when they’re upset. i’d say more often than not my mother’s screams and my own sobs were what rocked me to sleep.
Then my mom started drinking and became numb to the whole thing. First dad kept hitting her and left me to cry in my room. I guess he got bored eventually. Three days after my fifth birthday dad came up to my room for the first time. He had never done that before. Mom had stopped him. He broke my nose that first night. We went to the hospital and I told the doctor I fell down the stairs. He seemed to believe me.
I’ll be dead soon, so my doctors asked that I tell my story as a cautionary tale. I don’t want other girls to be sick like I am.
When I was little, Mom used to hold me and say stuff like, “Oh Katie, you fit so perfectly on my lap! You’re so teeny-tiny!” I loved it. She’d keep me warm and hug me and I felt so great. I’d always go to Mom if I felt sad or scared and she’d just scoop me up, saying “what’s wrong, my teeny-tiny girl?” and I’d tell her what was making me upset and she’d always always always make it all better.
The most vivid memory I have was the day I turned 10. It wasn’t of my party, which I vaguely remember being great, it wasn’t the presents, some of which I still have, but it was when Mom had me in her lap that night and had tears in her eyes and said to Dad, “Katie’s getting to be a big girl, huh?” I don’t remember what my dad said, but there was no denying it: I wasn’t her teeny-tiny girl anymore.
At 10 years old, I was about 4’10”, maybe 100 pounds. I was growing fast. Both my parents are tall. I remember being scared. The scale kept going up, and by the time I was 11 I was 5’2”, 120 pounds and I started getting boobs. At that point, when I was sad, mom would hug me tight and say the right things, but it all felt different. She never cradled me. She never had me in her lap. I felt cold and lonely even though I was never really cold or lonely. I just wanted to be closer to her like I was when I was little. So I decided to get little again.
As a professional genealogist and local historian, I have come across some weird things in the forgotten pages of history. I first dove into genealogy because I wanted to know where I came from. Not as in, I wanted to know what countries my ancestors immigrated to America from. Rather, as in, I wanted to know where I as an individual came from. My memory begins fourteen years ago, when I was about eighteen years old. Prior to that point in time is complete amnesia.
I remember awakening in a hospital room that seemed too white. I studied my surroundings—the white walls, white drapes, white tile floor, white bed sheets—all the same shade of white, no less. I felt calm, as though all of this were normal. When a nurse came in and noticed I had woken up, she asked me what my name was, how old I was, and where I lived. I knew none of the answers. With a concerned expression, she asked me if I knew what year it was, or if I knew who the president was, or if I knew what state I was in. I continued to draw blanks.
I asked her why my body was so bandaged up. She explained to me that I was in a hospital in Ohio, and I had been struck by a vehicle in a hit-and-run. There had been no identification on my person. They had been waiting for me to come out of my coma for the last three days, hoping I could tell them who I was. I apologized for not being of any help, and then felt silly—as if I had any control over my lack of memory.
As the nurse turned to leave and fetch the doctor, I found myself blurting out, as if my mouth were controlled by another person: “Bramwell Lindemann!”
The nurse faced me. “Bramwell Lindemann? Is that your name?”
I paused. That didn’t feel right. “No, I am pretty sure that’s not my name. I don’t know why I said that.” I knew the name must have meant something to me before the accident, but I didn’t know what.
The doctor came in and examined me. I heard him say, “Caucasian male, approximately eighteen years of age”. After a litany of tests, the doctor contacted the police department to inform them that I was now conscious and speaking. Two officers came and took a very unhelpful statement from me regarding the accident. When they learned of my amnesia, they searched through countless missing person reports, but no matches were found. Though my story was mentioned two nights in a row on the local news, and the anchors asked anyone who recognized my photo to call the hospital and claim me, no one did.
After recuperating in the hospital for a few more days, the staff declared me fit to leave. I wandered out into the street, with no name, no wallet, no money, no home, and no knowledge of my surroundings. They called me John Doe in the hospital, so that is the name I have stuck with since the year 2000.
I lived on the streets for a couple of weeks, then moved into a shelter and secured part-time employment. I soon found a small apartment. I seemed to have an excellent grasp on math, reading, and science—indicating that I had already attended high school. However, with no identity to prove it, I had to start over. I earned my GED, and then found enough scholarships and student loans to put myself through college. A few years ago, I married the love of my life—Daphne. A true testament to her love for me, she insisted on taking my legal surname, Doe—even at the expense of having a name with goofy alliteration. In climbing the social ladder and building a normal and successful life, I had an advantage over many of the homeless friends I had made in my younger years, in that I didn’t seem to have any addictions or major health problems, other than lingering soreness from the hit-and-run.
While I managed well without knowing my true origins, the question always nagged me in the back of my mind. One day, I saw an Internet ad for Ancestry.com. The first name I searched for on that website was the name I had blurted out in the hospital room: “Bramwell Lindemann”. No exact hits. There were some results for individuals named “B. Lindemann,” but upon further investigation, each of them turned out to be a “Balthasar” or a “Bertha” or a “Bryant”. My heart leapt when I found a record for a “Bram Lindeman,” but I soon found that this individual’s full first name was “Abram”.
Once I started, I could not stop. I expanded my research to the offline world, and found myself at the library studying past issues of local newspapers for any clues as to my origins, and going to area schools and looking through nearby high school yearbooks for any photos that resembled me. I became adept at navigating old records, and friends began to ask me to research their family history for them. This turned into a full-time business for me, but I have never stopped searching for my own origins.
I have even taken DNA tests for Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and ethnicity—these tests matched me up with a handful of other users and claim that, based on our DNA similarities, we are approximately sixth cousins or so (indicating that my 5xgreat grandparents, whoever they were, were probably also the ancestors of the other user). However, these DNA databases have never pinpointed a close cousin of mine. Considering that, barring any inbreeding, every person has one hundred twenty eight 5xgreat grandparents (because you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, and so on), determining which of these 128 ancestors is the one I share with each of these other users is impossible.
Every so often throughout the years, I have made a post on this or that Internet genealogy forum, asking that if anyone has ever come across a “Bramwell Lindemann” in their research, would they please get in touch with me. I had never gotten a response. In fits of discouragement, I would go back months later and delete these unnoticed posts of mine from the forums.
The humorous irony of someone who doesn’t know their own name, let alone their ancestry, becoming an expert on other people’s history, has never been lost on my wife, friends, and colleagues.
A month ago, I went out on a limb and made another post to a forum asking about any information on “Bramwell Lindemann”. The next morning, I received an email with the title, “Bramwell Lindemann”. Though I had just gotten out of bed and had not even had my coffee, every one of my senses became alert in an instant.
The body of the message read as follows: “Dear researcher, I saw on [forum name] that you had inquired about Bramwell Lindemann. In my late grandmother’s box of family history documents, there were several photographs with names written on the backs that I have never been able to place. On the back of one of these old photographs is written what seems to be the name ‘Bramwell Lindemann,’ although it is written sloppily. I have scanned the photograph and attached the image file to this email. Perhaps this can be of assistance to you, and perhaps you can tell me more about who this man was. My grandmother was born and raised in Vinton, Iowa, so the fellow in this photograph may have also lived there or nearby. Sincerely, [name redacted to protect his privacy]”
My fingers trembling, I clicked the attachment and loaded up the scanned image of the photograph. As the top rows of pixels loaded, I noticed the aged brownish-yellowness of the photo. By the coloring alone, it was probably a hundred years old. The rows of pixels continued to load downward. The man’s hair was neat and oiled. As his forehead, then his eyes, then his nose, and his chin came into view, my jaw lowered. It was me. Or rather, someone who looked identical to me. This man could be my great grandfather. The resemblance was mind-blowing.
I replied to the sender, lavishing thanks upon him for sending the photograph. Then, I put down everything and booked a flight to Des Moines for the next day. After arriving in Des Moines, I trekked straight to the Iowa State Historical Society Library and set to work looking for Mr. Lindemann. I first searched all the county death records in Benton County (where the town of Vinton is located) and all surrounding counties for Bramwell Lindemann. It seemed to be a common last name in that area, but no Bramwell Lindemann could be found having died in the area.
I then pulled out case after case of microfilm containing issues of newspapers from Vinton and the surrounding area. I spent hours rolling through issue after issue of microfilmed newspaper, and I began to lose hope. Not much time left until the library closed. That’s when I saw it. A small newspaper blurb, buried in a wall of text in a June 1900 edition. The name in the text caught my eye, and wouldn’t let go: “B. Lindemann Kills Wife and Child,” read the tiny headline.
The article stated: “Bramwell Lindemann, local farmer, 23 years of age, walked into the police station Monday to confess to the murder of his wife of 5 years, Catherine, and their 3-year-old son, Quentin. He stated to police that he revived from a daze to find himself covered in blood and digging through his wife’s and son’s entrails with a knife. He claimed not to remember what had happened, and no longer remembered his name or who he was, but said he knew he had done something wicked, and set out to find a police station to confess so that justice might be done. Mr. Lindemann was taken under arrest pending further investigation.”
Chills ran down my spine. This man from over a century ago, who bore a striking resemblance to me, also suffered from an inexplicable case of amnesia. Perhaps this man really is my ancestor. Perhaps there is some genetic trait I inherited from him that causes these strange bouts of amnesia. However, the fact that Bramwell awoke from his amnesia to find himself mutilating the corpses of his loved ones disturbed me.
I pressed onward through the newspaper editions, finding an article a month later stating that Bramwell had been sentenced to 7 years in the Anamosa State Prison. The judge explained the relatively lenient sentencing as being due to the fact that Bramwell seemed to have committed the act in a moment of temporary insanity and appeared genuinely penitent. I jumped ahead seven years in the old newspapers to 1907, when Bramwell would have been released. Sure enough, there was one miniscule mention of him in the “Local Gossip” section of the paper: “B. Lindemann, formerly of this town, was recently released from Anamosa. In order to try to forget his sordid past, he has opted to legally change his name to Lamar Smith and moved northwest to conduct his farming near the town of Mallard.”
I sat back in my chair, stunned for a moment. I had finally found Bramwell Lindemann, and furthermore, discovered what had become of him. I could not stop just yet. I found the town of Mallard in Palo Alto County and set to work researching that county’s records for Lamar Smith. I found him in the 1910 federal census records, his name slightly misspelled. He was a single farmer, and claimed to be only 20 years old. That didn’t seem right. He was said to have been about 23 years old when he was arrested in 1900, meaning he was born about 1877. That means he should be about 33 years old in this 1910 census. I went forward a decade and found Lamar Smith in the same area again in the 1920 census, still single, still a farmer. He still claimed to be 20 years old in this census. By now, he should have been 43—there is no way he could have passed for a mere 20. Why was he giving these reports to the census takers? I did not find Lamar Smith in the area in the 1930 federal census records, but there was no record of him dying and being buried in the region either. Again, I returned to the microfilmed newspapers.
Sure enough, I found an edition of an area newspaper from 1925, which read: “LOCAL FARMER’S FAMILY BRUTALLY MURDERED—Ed Anliker, farmer east of town, awoke to a gruesome sight in his home yesterday morning. His neighbor, Mr. Lamar Smith, had stabbed Mr. Anliker’s wife and four children to death in their sleep. When Mr. Smith was found, he was consuming the blood and innards of his victims. After being taken into custody by the sheriff, Mr. Smith had no explanation for his actions, and furthermore claimed to have forgotten who and where he was. Mr. Smith has no known relatives in the area. He began farming here nearly twenty years ago, and while neighbors say he is a peculiar man who kept to himself, he was always hailed as a kindly and youthful man, who seems as young today as he is remembered being two decades ago. His crimes bring extreme shock and sorrow to the community.”
Below the article was printed a grainy black and white photograph, with the caption, “L. Smith”. The man was definitely Bramwell Lindemann, and indeed, it appeared that he had not aged a day.
Pressing onward through the newspapers, I discovered Lamar Smith having been sentenced to 30 years, once again to be served in Anamosa. By now, the library was closing. I got a hotel room in Des Moines for the night, and the next day took a rental car to Anamosa to investigate their old records.
Lamar Smith, it seems, had been released on good behavior after only 25 years. After leaving prison in 1950, he disappeared from the records. I scoured Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com and other research websites. Countless “Lamar Smiths” flooded my results, but one stood out. A 1950 newspaper from Spokane, Washington said that a young local man named Lamar Smith was seen wallowing in the blood of a homeless man he had murdered. When confronted by a passerby, Lamar took on a blank and confused facial expression and ran away. His whereabouts were not known.
At this point, the trail for Lamar Smith went dead cold. I could find no further reference to a Lamar Smith matching what I knew about this man. I took a flight home, feeling defeated. I spent days trying every research method I could think of in order to locate what had happened to Lamar Smith after fleeing the murder scene in Spokane, but I came up empty.
Earlier this week, inspiration struck. A different angle occurred to me. Using specific keywords, I searched newspapers on NewspaperArchive.com for articles about a man who “murdered” and then suffered “amnesia”. I found one. The article was from a 1975 edition of a Sacramento, California newspaper. The murderer, who gave no name for himself, was described as a transient hippie who had the appearance of being on some kind of drugs, but tested negative for all known drugs. The murderer had wandered into a campground on the outskirts of the city and slaughtered a family of four with his bare hands, then partially devoured some of the remains. He claimed to suffer from amnesia. Next to the newspaper article was a mugshot photograph of the man: bearded, long-haired, shirtless, shoulders draped in stereotypical beaded necklaces…but that face. I pressed my thumb over the beard, and focused on the forehead, eyes, and nose. There was no mistaking it. This man was a twin of Bramwell Lindemann, of Lamar Smith…and of me.
A subsequent issue of the newspaper stated that the hippie killer had been sentenced to 25 years in prison, and had been processed under the temporary name “John Doe,” until his true identity could be ascertained. I contacted the prison and inquired about this John Doe. The institution’s records indicated this man had been released from prison in June of 2000. I requested a copy of the man’s last mug shot, and after much jumping through hoops, finally received it in the mail. John Doe’s last prison mug shot, taken in June of 2000, showed the same man pictured in the 1975 newspaper. He was now clean shaven and had not aged a day. Without the facial hair, he looked even younger than before, if that was possible.
I stared at the photograph. I stared into the mirror. Then back to the photograph. I was looking at a picture not of some random criminal or some ancient ancestor of mine. I was looking at a picture of me, exactly as I looked 14 years ago, at the time of the accident. Exactly as I look right now.
Am I the Sacramento murderer? Am I Lamar Smith? Am I Bramwell Lindemann? If so, then just how goddamn old am I? I had always chalked up my lack of age marks to healthy diet and exercise. What if there is some other power at work? Why can’t I age? What happens to me every 25 years that causes me to commit brutal crimes and then wipe my memory clean? What really transpired before I lost my memory in the year 2000? If I have connected the dots correctly, then what will happen to me in the year 2025? Is my wife safe around me? Do I tell her what I have learned? Am I going crazy?
It seems too surreal to be true, but I have decided I must get to the bottom of this. I must find out where Bramwell Lindemann (where I?) originated. How far can this rabbit hole possibly go? I will keep you updated on what I discover.
Our small town could be considered a utopia. The location is great, right next to the beach, there is no poverty, no racism and crime is non-existent with the exception of some robberies that have happened. Finding a job is really easy and as long as you are willing to work hard and acquire some skills you will get a promotion. I became my department’s head in the local bank in only a year. Services like the police, the fire department and hospitals are excellent, but taxes aren’t very high.
People are generally friendly and trustworthy, nobody is religious so it’s pretty easy to form romantic relationships, and everyone was very welcoming when we first moved here.
People are strange though. Sometimes their actions will be completely out of the blue. You might get verbally abused by a good friend or get hit on by a happily married old lady. Though I kinda got used to that stuff.
Lately though, some even weirder shit has happened. A woman who was an experienced cook died in a house fire after leaving the hobs on for hours, the weirdest thing was that she had thrown away her fire alarm. I swear she had one, I saw it when I visited her about a month ago. Meanwhile some people have drowned in their pools, young, healthy, sober people drowning in their fucking pools.
My family just started acting strangely. My wife quit her job as a police officer and now just paints all day long. I bet her quitting has something to do with all the weird shit that’s happening, but she hasn’t told me anything. In fact she hasn’t talked to me at all the past three days.
Today has been the scariest day of my life. I woke up really early and I had no control of my actions. I was feeling trapped inside my body. I didn’t go to work and instead spent 4 hours on the treadmill, even though I was really hungry and tired. I only regained my body’s control a few minutes ago, and after talking to my wife after days, I was unable to describe my experience, she was also unfazed by my abnormal behaviour this morning. The creepiest thing though, was that f*cking green diamond hovering over my head.
I started up a Tumblr blog last November so I could get better exposure for my writing. I was surprised by how quickly it took off. There’s a big horror subculture that seems to enjoy the type of stuff I write, so it didn’t take long before I’d gotten well over 10,000 followers and was cruising along pretty well. As the blog got more established, though, some frightening things started to happen.
Before I go on, I need to give a little background info. For those who don’t know how Tumblr works, they have something called “reblogging,” which just means you repost something that someone else had put on their blog. It shows up in your own blog with the creator’s name linked to it. It basically can allow content to go viral very quickly. Like, you can post something and then someone with a large and established blog might reblog it to all their hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, who can then do the same, and over and over and over until it eventually dies down.
Obviously, wanting to spread my stories and “brand” as far and wide as I possibly could, I sought out opportunities to get my content reblogged by one of those well-established bloggers. After a month or so, it happened. A story of mine got shared well over a thousand times. I gained hundreds of followers. That type of thing happened on many occasions over the following months, leading me to where I was late this April.
In April, after one story did particularly well, I started getting weird messages in my inbox. All of them said something similar. Something along the lines of, “hey I reblogged your story and started getting really personal messages from you - can you please not?”
That’s what everyone called her, anyways. Sometimes they would call her Em, sometimes someone would slip up and call her Emily. She was a part of our group of girlfriends growing up in a large town, not quite big enough to be a city but big enough that there was still privacy between neighbors.
We called ourselves the “Unbreakable Six,” because there was me, Summer, Mel, Nina, and Jules.
And there was Emma.
Emma started off as a practical joke by the other girls in the fourth grade. It was probably Jules that started it. She was always playing pranks of people. In high school, she even got suspended once for going too far, and had to babysit for hours to buy that girl a new cellphone. Or maybe it was Summer, who always seemed too busy with music and band to think of such an elaborate prank. Or maybe it was Mel and Nina, who were best friends and could have lived without us, always conspiring together like they were twin sisters.
Either way, I bought my lunch, cold cut sandwich and carrot sticks and a pint of orange juice (I couldn’t stand milk; it would account for how short I ended up being) and walked over to our lunch table. Jules looked excited, waving me over to them.
“Lotte! Look!” I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to be looking. “This is Emma. She moved here from Los Angeles!” We lived far inland and into the boonies. Los Angeles was glitzy and glamorous and chic compared to the flat houses and half-rate high school football that was the only real source of entertainment in the area.
“Los Angeles, dummy,” Jules said, rolling her eyes. “She’s not in our class, she’s in Miss Lark’s, but she’s the same grade as us. Isn’t that cool?”
I still wasn’t sure where I was supposed to be looking. I sat down with my tray uneasily, wondering what I was supposed to see. “Who?”
Summer jabbed me in the side. “You’re being rude,” she hissed quietly. Summer was all about rules and manners. “Say hi to Emma.”
I looked around our table, from Jules to Mel to Nina to Summer and back to Jules, who was waiting impatiently. I don’t know. I was weak. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t get it.
They seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, like I was making everything awkward. “Charlotte’s weird sometimes, but her brother has a Nintendo that he lets us play sometimes.”
They kept on talking, chatting about whatever fourth grade girls chat about, and I ignored it. If they wanted to play that prank, then that was fine. I wasn’t going to buy into it. I was always a precocious child; I knew that what they were looking for was a reaction.
That’s how Emma became a normal part of our lives. It was crazy. We would buy her birthday presents, and they’d disappear like they were taken. I wonder how many candle making kits and Mancala games Jules had piling up in her closet after all these birthdays. One year, Mel even got Emma a really nice necklace, and that disappeared too.
We never went to her house. I asked Nina about it when I was sure that “Emma” wasn’t there.
She gave me this scandalized look. “Lotte, don’t be rude. Emma’s family doesn’t have that much money, she’s embarrassed to let us come over. She told Mel that, who told me, and it makes sense. I mean, what she wears all the time… I mean, we still love her, we’ll always love her, she’s one of us. But don’t rub in the fact that we can’t go to her house. That’s mean.”
After I was scolded so whole-heartedly by Nina, I didn’t ask again. They were covering their bases really well, and by seventh grade, I had to accept that they were taking this prank all the way.
It was weirdly comforting in a way. There was this silent friend that I never saw, but she was always around. We would leave seats open for her, and when we did the buddy system someone always had Emma, walk into the bathroom by herself. When we decided that we wanted to be lame and come up with a name for our group of friends, we decided on the Unbreakable Six, even though there were really only five of us.
I was curious in sophomore year of high school when we were having a sleepover. Summer was at band practice late and Emma couldn’t make it, she had to work on her science project, according to Mel. So I asked Jules, the likely mastermind behind it all, “If you were going to write a story about Emma, like her biography, how would you describe her? Down to every detail?”
Jules loved stuff like that. She wanted to be a writer someday. “Well, she’s taller than you, which isn’t hard.” I threw a pillow at her that she dodged deftly. “She’s medium build—” Jules dropped her voice to a whisper, “—even though she gained a little weight recently but we’re not gonna tell her and she’s still beautiful.
“And… she has green eyes and brown hair, and she’s got freckles. She hates getting her picture taken. She’s nice, but quiet, and she dances really beautifully, I mean, you’ve seen her, right?” Of course, that time a few months ago when we turned on some music and danced around together to practice dancing at homecoming, so we didn’t look weird or do it wrong. We stopped after a while and oohed and ahhed at empty space for a while.
I didn’t ask any more questions. I knew that they would keep up the charade for as long as they could manage.
It was in our senior year of high school that it happened. I don’t know why it set me off, not really. It was something little, something stupid. We were hanging out in Nina’s pool, even though it was still too cold to swim. Teeth chattering and goosebumps rising on our skin, we were waiting for the Jacuzzi to heat up to jump in. The cold sunlight cast a long shadow, and the wine coolers we snuck earlier was making that shadow seem menacing. It was annoying for me for reasons I can’t place.
“Look at Emma, Lotte!” Jules called. She wolf-whistled and hooted, over the top like Jules always is. “Hot mama, look at that booty!”
I didn’t know where to look, like always. Like for the past nine years of my life, I didn’t know where to look. Since the fourth grade at our lunch table, dancing in Summer’s living room, homecoming, football games, at the park, in class, anywhere, I didn’t know where to look, because Emma wasn’t there.
That’s when I snapped.
“Fuck Emma!” I screamed. “And fuck all of you! Have you been waiting for this! The moment I completely lose my fucking mind! Well, here it is!” I waved my arms around, manic and furious. “Emma. Isn’t. Real. Emma isn’t fucking real!”
I looked at their confused faces. “Oh, you’re gonna keep this up? I fucking hate you guys, you’ve always done this, made me the butt of your stupid prank for almost ten years, guys! TEN YEARS!” I slipped a little on the wet concrete but regained my balance. “Fuck you, I hate you so much.” Tears welled in my eyes, years and years of pent up frustration finally spilling over. “Emma was some stupid prank that got out of hand and I can’t believe that none of you ever had the balls to tell me that it was a stupid prank! No, it had to keep going, you had to keep laughing behind my back! It’s not fair!”
Summer was furious. “Lotte, don’t fucking be this way, Emma is right there and you’re being a bitch, why are you doing this? Are you mad?”
Mel spoke up in a tiny voice. “Lotte, you look hot too, I mean, you look good in your bathing suit too.”
“Yeah, but don’t take out your anger on Emma, god,” Nina said, rolling her eyes. Nina walked over to the side of the pool and reached out a hand, like she was rubbing someone’s back. “It’s okay, Emma, Lotte’s just under a lot of stress right now, figuring out where she wants to go for college.”
“Shut up!” I howled miserably. “Stop it, stop it, stop it! Emma isn’t real! She’s not there! How could you guys do this to me?”
They were starting to look scared. They were really invested in this prank. I wondered what the endgame was. When were they going to start laughing, when were they going to jump up and say, “Gotcha!”
I had enough of this. If they wanted to play charades, then let’s play charades.
The next part was a blur. I don’t remember it, not even now. But I walked over to where Emma was and I kicked at the air. I heard a scream and I slipped on the slick, wet concrete and hit my head. There was blood everywhere. There was so much screaming, but I kept on kicking and punching and fighting until I blacked out completely.
I came to a day later in the hospital. My parents were there, and so were my friends. They were pale and tired and miserable looking. My heart panged. I must have really scared them. When my parents left, Jules approached me. She took my hand.
She began crying. The others stared crying too. “I’m sorry, Lotte,” she wept. “I’m really sorry.”
It was almost frightening, looking at the way my friends were. They were beside themselves in the privacy of the hospital room. I started crying too. I wasn’t sure why, but I started stammering apologies too, like if we all said sorry things could go back the way they did. “I’m sorry,” I cried.
Summer was the only one who didn’t look like she forgave me completely. She looked at me, eyes red and cheeks pink and wobbly chinned, and said, “Are you?”
I didn’t have to answer. The nurse came in to change the bandages on my head.
For the rest of the year, no one mentioned Emma. Emma only belonged to our tight-knit group of friends, so there was no mention of Emma. One time, a cop came to the principal’s office, and Mel and Nina were quick to drag us away.
After the accident, I withdrew from everyone. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t go to Summer’s recital, I didn’t go to Mel’s birthday party, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go to prom, just stared at the ceiling, wondering what had happened. Emma was in most of my life, and now she felt like a ghost.
I graduated high school and left immediately to go to a university far away in Southern California, where the weather was always perfect and the beach was a five minute walk away. I started to recover. I realized that I was depressed after what had happened, understanding that my best friends chose a punchline over me. Unbreakable Six, yeah right.
I got good grades, volunteered at an animal shelter, found a boyfriend. He was so nice to me, even when I got quiet when he asked about high school. He never pushed, just held me when I had bad days and made me pancakes.
It was four years later when I was about to finish up college when I ran into an old classmate from high school. Her name was Annie. She hung out with a different crowd than me and my friends. Most people did; the six—the five of us were a clique of our own, separated from everyone else.
I ran into her in our apartment complex. It turns out that she was living there the whole time and we didn’t know. I wasn’t necessarily friends with her, but overreacted the way you do when you see someone that you haven’t seen in a long time.
“It’s been forever!”
“Oh my god!”
I went to her apartment for coffee and saw that she was packing up her things. “Moving back home for a while until I find a job, yuck.” I saw a thick book on the sofa. “Oh, yeah, that’s our senior yearbook. I was flipping through it when I found it in my bookshelf.”
I didn’t bother getting a yearbook. I didn’t have friends at the end of high school. But I was curious to see what I looked like back then, if I had gained or lost weight, if my skin had gotten any better. I opened up the first page and was instantly confused.
“‘For Emma’?” I read aloud from the first page. It was a dedication. My mind raced; was there someone named Emma in our year?
“Yeah, it’s really sad what happened to her,” Annie said, handing me a mug of hot coffee.
I flipped through the yearbook, looking for a trace of Emma. Then, I found it. My heart stopped, mouth going dry. My hands shook as I held the yearbook, looking at the photograph.
It was a picture of the Unbreakable Six. We stood with our arms slung around hips and shoulders, sticking close together for the photograph. There was Summer at the end, then me, then Jules, then Mel, then Nina, then…
I had never seen this girl before in my life. Never. But there she was. I can’t even remember getting this picture taken. She was right there at the end. Green eyes, brown hair, muffin top, shy smile, threadbare shirt and ripped jeans, looking straight at the camera like the rest of us. She looked as normal as can be, just another teenage girl.
Annie looked over my shoulder. “Oh, there you all are. What did you call yourselves again?”
“What happened to her?” I couldn’t even touch her photograph, just let my shaking finger hover over her face.
Annie fell quiet. “Well, I guess you might not really remember that well, after your head injury. And you just kind of faded away from everything, stopped doing much at all. But Emma disappeared. Out of nowhere. The cops came by once to ask questions, but her parents were both poor and junkies, so no one really cared. Just another girl that disappeared.”
I left Annie and went back to my apartment, the one I shared with my boyfriend. He took one look at my face and started boiling some water for tea, grabbed a blanket to throw over my shoulders. I pulled away from him, locked myself in my room. I stared at the ceiling. I was eighteen again, lost and confused.
The girl’s green eyes haunted me. Emma’s eyes haunted me.
I went on facebook and found my old friends, my best friends, and I told them, “Please meet me back at home. It’s important.”
I returned back to our big-town little-city, went to the newest Starbucks and waited. They trickled in, one by one. Jules, small time blogger who works at an Italian restaurant until she made it big. Summer, brown and freckled from band camp, coaching kids for their field shows. Nina, the hot librarian at their old high school. Mel, her belly swollen with her second child, wedding ring secured to her left hand by her high school sweetheart.
My friends were not the same, and neither was I.
I cut to the chase. I couldn’t spare a moment for small talk. “What happened to Emma?”
They exchanged uneasy glances. They knew this was coming. “Nothing,” Jules said with finality. “Emma wasn’t real.”
“She was just a trick,” Nina said softly. “She was a prank.”
I figured they might pull this shit. I reached into my bag and slammed the yearbook down on the table, making our drinks rattle and one fall over, spilling tea onto the ground. No one moved to try to pick it up. They stared at the yearbook instead. “Emma was real,” I finally whispered. “Emma was real. What happened to her?”
“Cut the crap, Jules,” Summer snapped. She turned to me. “Lotte, you killed Emma that day by the pool. You went nuts and kicked her and kept kicking her when you slipped and fucked up your head, and you bashed her head and she fell in the pool and it was too late to save her and we had to worry about you and—”
“Summer!” Jules shrieked, swatting her in the arm. I was silent, absorbing what Summer said.
Mel spoke up in a tiny voice. “Lotte… we weren’t going to let you go to jail.”
I looked up at my friends, tears running down my cheeks. “Why?”
Nina reached across the table and took my hand. She squeezed it, hard. “Because we’re the Unbreakable Six. We don’t break because one went crazy and another’s dead.”
I excused myself to the restroom and wept for what seemed like hours. It couldn’t have been that long, but there were angry knocks on the door from other patrons who needed the restroom. I sat there on the dirty floor, sobbing, until I had cried everything out.
I came out where my friends—my best friends—were still waiting. I sat down in my seat and faced them. “I want to turn myself in.”
There was an outcry of different responses. Summer seemed willing, ready to have me turn myself in to the police. Jules yelled out about them all getting in trouble. Mel started to cry. “You don’t have to,” Nina said. “You don’t have to, we got rid of all the evidence, we buried her far away where no one would find her.”
“I want to turn myself in,” I repeated firmly. “I killed her. I’ll tell the cops that it was just me, that I buried her. Tell me where she is so I can tell them where I put her. None of you will get in trouble, it wasn’t your fault.” I thought I had finished crying, I thought I had nothing left, but I choked out what I wanted to say for so long. “I never saw her.”
They looked at me expectantly.
“I never saw her, not even once. I thought… I thought it was just a big prank you were playing on me, I didn’t want you to laugh at me… The girl in the yearbook, I had never seen her before. I just played along.”
Nina nodded. “I thought it was weird that you were always so cold to her. Like you didn’t even acknowledge her.”
“She really liked you,” Mel said. “She thought you were so smart, that you were going to go out in the world and do amazing things. She would always talk about that.”
I felt as though my heart would burst. “I swear I never saw her. Something must be wrong with me, but I never saw her or heard her…” I cleared my throat. “Show me where you buried her.”
We got into Summer’s car and drove out far, into a park in a different city. The park was huge and overgrown, like no one had been there to take care of it in a long, long time. I got out of the car, and left behind by a worker long ago was a rusty shovel. I took it with me.
Jules led the way, deep into the park, deep through the trees, until we came to a small clearing. The dirt wasn’t fresh, there were no markers or indicators, but the way my friends’ faces paled at the sight, I knew this was it. Emma was there, under our feet.
“I gotta see her,” I whispered. I dug the shovel into the ground. “I gotta see her.”
Mel didn’t want to see anything, so she and Nina left back for the car. Jules and Summer found different tools, a hoe and a rake, and we started digging. Blisters rose and popped on my hands from the old shovel, but I kept digging as beads of sweat rolled down my neck, my back.
The three of us worked together in silence, digging up our best friend. Suddenly, Summer jumped back in disgust, throwing her hoe aside. Jules did the same, stepping out of the hole. We looked down. Summer gagged, covering her mouth and nose, and Jules shook her head at the sight.
Me? I laughed and laughed and laughed, tears streaming down my face, laughing until it hurt as I looked down into an empty grave.