i just spent the last three hours sobbing

Mr. Grabs

Mr. Grabs’ house was at the dead end of Alexander Lane. There was nothing weird or off about it from the outside.  All of the haunted houses in movies are dilapidated or covered in cobwebs.  But Mr. Grabs’ house was a typical ranch style suburban eyesore.  The outside was a pale brown.  There were three little plastic gnomes arranged haphazardly in the front yard. A wind chime hung from the gutter. It could have been anyone’s house, but lore dedicated it to Mr. Grabs.

In reality it was probably just some shit hole house that no one wanted.  But that’s not the stories we told as kids.   It must have been passed down from generation to generation, because even my parents knew the story of Mr. Grabs. He was a legend in our little town. No one liked going anywhere near his house.  I had a friend, Ronald, who lived on the same street.  And if we kicked the ball a little too close to the abandoned house we just let it go.  It was his now.  The house was littered with Frisbees, baseballs, and other childhood memorabilia.

This is the Mr. Grabs story: Basically, 100 years ago, a bunch of pedophiles moved into town.  They all lived on Alexander Lane.  The town’s people didn’t like this, and burned all of their houses down (with them inside of course).  But one house didn’t burn.  That house belonged to Mr. Grabs.  He was worst of the bunch.  Not only would he abduct children, but he would also murder them in all sorts of disgusting ways.  Legend has it Mr. Grabs still lives there, haunting the property, and grabbing any child who ventured too close.

Obviously this was a stupid story.  Not only did it make no sense (this house was clearly not built 100 years ago) but no mass migration of pedophiles ever happened to our town.  But it was a good way for us to scare each other as kids. One time we got Ronald to open the door to his house and step inside.  He came out right away squealing with fear and we all ran away.

I grew up and soon had a family of my own.  I had three kids – two boys (Aiden and Preston) and girl (Malia).  I heard the older boys whispering about Mr. Grabs to try and scare Malia.  Apparently in the new stories Mr. Grabs was a vengeful spirit who had to kill little kids to stay alive.  I chided the boys for their lies.  But Malia wasn’t fazed.  She had always been a brave girl.

Malia was seven when she joined Girl Scouts.  She loved being outside and building things with the other girls.  I was the resident den mother (even though I’m a man.)  I took the girls on camping trips and taught them how to make birdhouses.  It was actually really fun.  Aiden and Preston were more interested in video games than scouting, so Malia was the one I spent most of my time with.

But Girl Scouts was not just fun and games.  It was also COOKIES.  I wasn’t looking forward to this.  I knew I would have to become a cookie peddler to my coworkers and family.  But I accepted the inevitability of the situation. Plus it would teach Malia about business and accounting, which I supposed were good skills to have.

It was our first day of cookie selling.  We woke up extra early (her decision) so we could walk around the neighborhood before any of the other girls got there.  I knew we were going to have some grumpy neighbors.  But seeing Malia dressed up in her little sash made it all okay. I mean, who could be angry at an excited seven year old?

We left the house at 6am.  I tried to convince her to let the neighbors sleep a little longer, but she was determined. She was so cute – a tiny little firetruck with big bushy braids.  She told me sternly that I was to wait at the sidewalk.  She would knock on the doors and get the orders.  I was basically her backup.  This was fine with me.  

We went around our street first.  Most people didn’t answer (I could have told her that.)  The few who did were either super chipper and awake, or extremely annoyed but hiding it well.  We got a few orders.  Soon we branched out to neighboring streets.  Malia was having a great time.  Every time she got an order she would do a little dance that nearly broke my heart.  I loved my daughter so much.

It was around 9am when we found ourselves on Alexander Lane.  I was well past the age when I believed in Mr. Grabs, but my tired feet were telling me to go home.  “Mally, let’s head back,” I pleaded.

“No daddy! I need one more order and then I’m at a hundred!”  She gave me a peck on the cheek and it gave me a bit more energy.

We knocked on a bunch of doors but they were all no-answers.  Malia knocked on Ronald’s old house and I could see him peek through the window shades but then disappear.  We made it all the way down to the dead end.  The only house left was Mr. Grabs’.

Malia strode up confidentially.  I grabbed her shoulder instinctively.  She looked at me with a smile.  “You don’t believe in Mr. Grabs, do you daddy?”  She laughed at me.

I smiled kindly.  “No! It’s just that no one lives there.”

“How do you know?”  Malia was very smart.  She gave me her best teacher impression.

“I guess I don’t know.”  I went to tickle her but she danced out of the way.

“Don’t worry daddy, I’ll be fine!”  

Malia skipped up onto the yard.  I had never seen anyone get this close to the house other than that one time as a kid. My childhood creeped up my neck. Even though logically I knew no one was in there, it still felt wrong to see her walk up to the porch.  She pranced up the steps and knocked loudly on the door.  She turned around to flash me a smile.

The door opened.  A long, thin arm reached out, clamped down on Malia’s shoulder, and pulled her into the house.  Then the door slammed shut.

I screamed something and ran up to the house.  My fears be damned, someone had grabbed my daughter!  I burst through the door and yelled for Malia.  There was only silence.  No one was there.

I stamped around the house threateningly.  “I’ll fucking kill you!”  I had just seen the person grab her, so they had to still be in the house. But I searched the entire place. It was empty.  There was no furniture, no nothing.  Not even any dust.  It was just a vacant shell of a house.

I stood in what must have been the living room.  Frantically I called the police.  

“911, what’s your-”

“Someone took my daughter!”

“Sir, where are you?”

“I’m in Mr. Gr…I’m on Alexander Lane.  The house at the end.”

“Sir, if this is a prank, I have to let you know-”

“It’s not a fucking prank!  Send someone here now!  She’s in trouble!”

I heard sirens in the distance.  Our town isn’t big, the police were there in minutes.  I tried to call my husband Marc but he must have turned off his phone.  I sat on the front step in complete disbelief. Something had taken Malia and I had no idea who, or what it was.

The police took my story.  I explained everything that happened.  They asked if I’d been drinking, which of course I hadn’t been.  They asked if maybe Malia had run off.  I screamed at them that I saw someone take her!  They treated me like I was insane.  Maybe that’s how I sounded.  But I could still see that sickly thin arm reach towards my baby.

While I was being questioned my phone rang.  It was Marc.  I picked up instantly, in tears.

His voice was concerned.  “Whoa, sweetie, calm down.  Tell me what happened.”

“It’s Malia…”

“What about her?”  Marc was always so level headed.  His words were so kind.

“Someone took her, Marc.  Someone grabbed her and now she’s gone.”  I was sobbing into the phone.  I hated myself for losing her.  I knew Marc would hate me too.

But he just paused for a moment.  “Landon…Malia is home with me.”

I choked. “What?”

“Malia is home with me.  She got here a few minutes ago.  She said you two got separated or something?  She says she’s been looking for you for hours.”

I dropped the phone.  The policeman looked at me like I had just shot someone.  I swallowed.  This couldn’t be true.  I had spent the last three hours with Malia.  I looked around for the clipboard with the orders but realized Malia had it when she was grabbed.  I peered up helplessly.  Marc was screaming on his end of phone trying to figure out what was going on.

The policeman drove me home.  I didn’t have words.  He had picked up the phone to speak with Marc.  He tried to question me further but I didn’t say anything.  We drove to the house in silence.  I got out of the car and standing on the porch was Marc in tears.

Malia was peeking out from behind him.

Except that wasn’t Malia.

I froze. Marc came rushing towards me, arms outstretched.  But I was staring at the thing pretending to be my daughter.  It cocked its head at me and then raised a single finger to its lips. “Shhh” it motioned to me.  Marc swept me up in a hug.  But I was far away, watching the thing pretending to be Malia as it bit down on its finger, blood bubbling around its teeth.  Then it turned and went into the house.

Marc shook me.  “What’s going on?”  His face was full of love and fear.

“I don’t know,” I replied despondently.

Marc put me in the shower and tucked me into bed.  It was agreed that I had some sort of mental break.  I just stared at the wall.  Nothing made sense, but I knew for certain that my daughter was not the thing laughing outside my door.

I laid in bed for five days.  Marc tried to tempt me out with my favorite foods.  He did everything he could to make me feel safe and supported.  But nothing worked.  I just stared ahead.  Nothing felt real anymore.  

Once he offered to have the kids come in and cheer me up.  I screamed at him and threw a pillow.  I couldn’t stand to see that mockery wearing Malia’s likeness. Poor Marc.  He suffered through all of this with as much as confusion as me.

On the fifth day I had a visitor.  Marc knocked softly on my door.  He came in, worried.  “Landon, I know you need some space right now.  But there’s someone here to see you.  She said she has some comforting words for you.”

A woman made her way into the bedroom.  I blinked with recognition.  She was Ronald’s mom.  I hadn’t seen her in many years but I remembered her face.  She smiled sadly at me.  “Do you mind if I sit with you?”

I considered it for a second.  I wasn’t particularly close with this woman.  I only knew her as the mother of my childhood friend.  Stiffly I nodded for her to sit.  

Marc’s eye darted to each of us.  “Should I stay?”

“No,” I said curtly.  The woman sat on the edge of the bed.  Marc looked a bit hurt by the whole thing.  He closed the door soundlessly.

Ronald’s mother stopped smiling the minute the door was shut.  She looked me dead in the eye.  Her voice was like a bed of nails.  “Tell me what happened.”

I coughed. Even though my throat felt like sand I knew I needed to answer her.  “Malia knocked on the door of that house, and someone pulled her in.”  I didn’t feel tears this time.  Just a white hot anger.

The woman nodded.  “And how do you explain your daughter being home right now?”

My face felt as though it were made of rock.  “That isn’t my daughter.”

Ronald’s mother inched closer.  Her head was so close to my own I smelled the mint of her toothpaste.  When she spoke her voice oozed hatred.  “The same thing happened to my Ronnie after you kids played your stupid fucking game.  That thing that came home…it wasn’t him.”  She straightened.  

“Ronald…”

“You learn to live with it.  You learn to accept that your child is never coming back.”  She stood up emotionlessly.  “Everyone will call you crazy if you say anything.  You will lose your other children.  Your husband.  Just stay quiet and pretend.”

I got out of the bed desperately.  “But Malia must be out there somewhere!”

“She’s with him now.”  The woman reached into her jacket and produced a note.  “This arrived the day of Ronnie’s 18th birthday.” She grasped the paper tightly and then dropped it on the floor.  Without another word she left.

I looked after her.  My body felt as though it were about to give up.  I knelt down and smoothed out the paper.  It read:

“Hope you enjoy the replacement.  I have been enjoying your son immensely.  Too bad they grow up so fast.  –M.G.”

Mr. Grabs


Mr. Grabs’ house was at the dead end of Alexander Lane. There was nothing weird or off about it from the outside.  All of the haunted houses in movies are dilapidated or covered in cobwebs.  But Mr. Grabs’ house was a typical ranch style suburban eyesore. The outside was a pale brown. There were three little plastic gnomes arranged haphazardly in the front yard.  A wind chime hung from the gutter.  It could have been anyone’s house, but lore dedicated it to Mr. Grabs.

In reality it was probably just some shit hole house that no one wanted.  But that’s not the stories we told as kids.   It must have been passed down from generation to generation, because even my parents knew the story of Mr. Grabs.  He was a legend in our little town.  No one liked going anywhere near his house.  I had a friend, Ronald, who lived on the same street.  And if we kicked the ball a little too close to the abandoned house we just let it go.  It was his now.  The house was littered with Frisbees, baseballs, and other childhood memorabilia.

This is the Mr. Grabs story: Basically, 100 years ago, a bunch of pedophiles moved into town.  They all lived on Alexander Lane.  The town’s people didn’t like this, and burned all of their houses down (with them inside of course).  But one house didn’t burn.  That house belonged to Mr. Grabs.  He was worst of the bunch.  Not only would he abduct children, but he would also murder them in all sorts of disgusting ways.  Legend has it Mr. Grabs still lives there, haunting the property, and grabbing any child who ventured too close.

Obviously this was a stupid story.  Not only did it make no sense (this house was clearly not built 100 years ago) but no mass migration of pedophiles ever happened to our town.  But it was a good way for us to scare each other as kids.  One time we got Ronald to open the door to his house and step inside. He came out right away squealing with fear and we all ran away.

I grew up and soon had a family of my own.  I had three kids – two boys (Aiden and Preston) and girl (Malia).  I heard the older boys whispering about Mr. Grabs to try and scare Malia.  Apparently in the new stories Mr. Grabs was a vengeful spirit who had to kill little kids to stay alive.  I chided the boys for their lies.  But Malia wasn’t fazed.  She had always been a brave girl.

Malia was seven when she joined Girl Scouts.  She loved being outside and building things with the other girls.  I was the resident den mother (even though I’m a man.)  I took the girls on camping trips and taught them how to make birdhouses. It was actually really fun.  Aiden and Preston were more interested in video games than scouting, so Malia was the one I spent most of my time with.

But Girl Scouts was not just fun and games.  It was also COOKIES.  I wasn’t looking forward to this.  I knew I would have to become a cookie peddler to my coworkers and family.  But I accepted the inevitability of the situation.  Plus it would teach Malia about business and accounting, which I supposed were good skills to have.

It was our first day of cookie selling.  We woke up extra early (her decision) so we could walk around the neighborhood before any of the other girls got there.  I knew we were going to have some grumpy neighbors.  But seeing Malia dressed up in her little sash made it all okay.  I mean, who could be angry at an excited seven year old?

We left the house at 6am.  I tried to convince her to let the neighbors sleep a little longer, but she was determined.  She was so cute – a tiny little firetruck with big bushy braids.  She told me sternly that I was to wait at the sidewalk. She would knock on the doors and get the orders.  I was basically her backup.  This was fine with me.  

We went around our street first.  Most people didn’t answer (I could have told her that.) The few who did were either super chipper and awake, or extremely annoyed but hiding it well.  We got a few orders.  Soon we branched out to neighboring streets.  Malia was having a great time.  Every time she got an order she would do a little dance that nearly broke my heart.  I loved my daughter so much.

It was around 9am when we found ourselves on Alexander Lane.  I was well past the age when I believed in Mr. Grabs, but my tired feet were telling me to go home.  “Mally, let’s head back,” I pleaded.

“No daddy!  I need one more order and then I’m at a hundred!”  She gave me a peck on the cheek and it gave me a bit more energy.

We knocked on a bunch of doors but they were all no-answers.  Malia knocked on Ronald’s old house and I could see him peek through the window shades but then disappear.  We made it all the way down to the dead end.  The only house left was Mr. Grabs’.

Malia strode up confidentially.  I grabbed her shoulder instinctively.  She looked at me with a smile.  “You don’t believe in Mr. Grabs, do you daddy?”  She laughed at me.

I smiled kindly.  “No!  It’s just that no one lives there.”

“How do you know?”  Malia was very smart.  She gave me her best teacher impression.

“I guess I don’t know.”  I went to tickle her but she danced out of the way.

“Don’t worry daddy, I’ll be fine!”  

Malia skipped up onto the yard.  I had never seen anyone get this close to the house other than that one time as a kid.  My childhood creeped up my neck.  Even though logically I knew no one was in there, it still felt wrong to see her walk up to the porch.  She pranced up the steps and knocked loudly on the door.  She turned around to flash me a smile.

The door opened.  A long, thin arm reached out, clamped down on Malia’s shoulder, and pulled her into the house.  Then the door slammed shut.

I screamed something and ran up to the house.  My fears be damned, someone had grabbed my daughter!  I burst through the door and yelled for Malia.  There was only silence.  No one was there.

I stamped around the house threateningly.  “I’ll fucking kill you!”  I had just seen the person grab her, so they had to still be in the house.  But I searched the entire place.  It was empty. There was no furniture, no nothing. Not even any dust.  It was just a vacant shell of a house.

I stood in what must have been the living room. Frantically I called the police.  

“911, what’s your-”

“Someone took my daughter!”

“Sir, where are you?”

“I’m in Mr. Gr…I’m on Alexander Lane.  The house at the end.”

“Sir, if this is a prank, I have to let you know-”

“It’s not a fucking prank!  Send someone here now!  She’s in trouble!”

I heard sirens in the distance.  Our town isn’t big, the police were there in minutes.  I tried to call my husband Marc but he must have turned off his phone.  I sat on the front step in complete disbelief.  Something had taken Malia and I had no idea who, or what it was.

The police took my story.  I explained everything that happened.  They asked if I’d been drinking, which of course I hadn’t been. They asked if maybe Malia had run off. I screamed at them that I saw someone take her!  They treated me like I was insane.  Maybe that’s how I sounded.  But I could still see that sickly thin arm reach towards my baby.

While I was being questioned my phone rang.  It was Marc.  I picked up instantly, in tears.

His voice was concerned.  “Whoa, sweetie, calm down.  Tell me what happened.”

“It’s Malia…”

“What about her?”  Marc was always so level headed.  His words were so kind.

“Someone took her, Marc.  Someone grabbed her and now she’s gone.”  I was sobbing into the phone.  I hated myself for losing her.  I knew Marc would hate me too.

But he just paused for a moment.  “Landon…Malia is home with me.”

I choked.  “What?”

“Malia is home with me.  She got here a few minutes ago.  She said you two got separated or something?  She says she’s been looking for you for hours.”

I dropped the phone.  The policeman looked at me like I had just shot someone.  I swallowed.  This couldn’t be true.  I had spent the last three hours with Malia.  I looked around for the clipboard with the orders but realized Malia had it when she was grabbed.  I peered up helplessly.  Marc was screaming on his end of phone trying to figure out what was going on.

The policeman drove me home.  I didn’t have words.  He had picked up the phone to speak with Marc.  He tried to question me further but I didn’t say anything.  We drove to the house in silence.  I got out of the car and standing on the porch was Marc in tears.

Malia was peeking out from behind him.

Except that wasn’t Malia.

I froze.  Marc came rushing towards me, arms outstretched.  But I was staring at the thing pretending to be my daughter. It cocked its head at me and then raised a single finger to its lips.  “Shhh” it motioned to me.  Marc swept me up in a hug.  But I was far away, watching the thing pretending to be Malia as it bit down on its finger, blood bubbling around its teeth.  Then it turned and went into the house.

Marc shook me.  “What’s going on?”  His face was full of love and fear.

“I don’t know,” I replied despondently.

Marc put me in the shower and tucked me into bed.  It was agreed that I had some sort of mental break.  I just stared at the wall.  Nothing made sense, but I knew for certain that my daughter was not the thing laughing outside my door.

I laid in bed for five days.  Marc tried to tempt me out with my favorite foods.  He did everything he could to make me feel safe and supported.  But nothing worked.  I just stared ahead.  Nothing felt real anymore.  

Once he offered to have the kids come in and cheer me up.  I screamed at him and threw a pillow.  I couldn’t stand to see that mockery wearing Malia’s likeness.  Poor Marc.  He suffered through all of this with as much as confusion as me.

On the fifth day I had a visitor.  Marc knocked softly on my door.  He came in, worried.  “Landon, I know you need some space right now.  But there’s someone here to see you.  She said she has some comforting words for you.”

A woman made her way into the bedroom.  I blinked with recognition.  She was Ronald’s mom.  I hadn’t seen her in many years but I remembered her face.  She smiled sadly at me.  “Do you mind if I sit with you?”

I considered it for a second.  I wasn’t particularly close with this woman.  I only knew her as the mother of my childhood friend.  Stiffly I nodded for her to sit.  

Marc’s eye darted to each of us.  “Should I stay?”

“No,” I said curtly.  The woman sat on the edge of the bed.  Marc looked a bit hurt by the whole thing.  He closed the door soundlessly.

Ronald’s mother stopped smiling the minute the door was shut.  She looked me dead in the eye.  Her voice was like a bed of nails.  “Tell me what happened.”

I coughed.  Even though my throat felt like sand I knew I needed to answer her.  “Malia knocked on the door of that house, and someone pulled her in.”  I didn’t feel tears this time.  Just a white hot anger.

The woman nodded.  “And how do you explain your daughter being home right now?”

My face felt as though it were made of rock.  “That isn’t my daughter.”

Ronald’s mother inched closer.  Her head was so close to my own I smelled the mint of her toothpaste.  When she spoke her voice oozed hatred.  “The same thing happened to my Ronnie after you kids played your stupid fucking game. That thing that came home…it wasn’t him.”  She straightened.  

“Ronald…”

“You learn to live with it.  You learn to accept that your child is never coming back.” She stood up emotionlessly.  “Everyone will call you crazy if you say anything. You will lose your other children. Your husband.  Just stay quiet and pretend.”

I got out of the bed desperately.  “But Malia must be out there somewhere!”

“She’s with him now.”  The woman reached into her jacket and produced a note.  “This arrived the day of Ronnie’s 18th birthday.”  She grasped the paper tightly and then dropped it on the floor.  Without another word she left.

I looked after her.  My body felt as though it were about to give up.  I knelt down and smoothed out the paper.  It read:

“Hope you enjoy the replacement.  I have been enjoying your son immensely.  Too bad they grow up so fast.  –M.G.”

September 16, 2015 (Day 17)

Today, dear readers, I ate a giant slice of humble pie. A whole pie as a matter of fact.

When I set off this morning, it was raining but manageable. Within 3 km, everything changed. I pressed on through a horrific storm with raining coming straight at me and winds threatening to topple me over. It took me almost three hours and getting lost twice to make it the 11 km to the next town (hooray for things being far apart this morning!). At one point I had to cut through muddy wheat fields to get to the main road to orient myself since the trails weren’t marked properly. I sobbed and spent my last hour hiking straight into the wind screaming out in frustration. I was wet and freezing and upset so I just kept screaming at the top of my lungs as rain stung my face and saturated everything I had on. I couldn’t tell if I was actually crying or if the rain was just doing it for me. When the first town came into sight, I summoned all the strength I had left to get there. The wind mocked me and sent my screams elsewhere.

When I finally stumbled into town and found a bar, I got a tea and tried stripping off the layers of clothing I was wearing. Even in rain gear, I was soaked down to my underwear. I had to try and change into a few articles of remaining clothing in this small bathroom to try and gather up some heat again for myself and went out to drink my tea. Everything was soaked including my pride and the tea barely brought sensation back into my hands.

I sadly put on my stuff to try and finish the last 14 km to Fromista and made it less than 200 meters in the wind and cold before gritting my teeth and turning around to go back to the bar. I uttered words I never thought I would say on the Camino:

“Can you call me a cab to take me to Fromista?”

I realized in those less-than-200-meters that if I had tried to attempt to walk the rest of the distance to Fromista, I would be sick. I was wet and cold and still had very little feeling in my extremities. I knew my situation wasn’t good and I had to swallow my pride to save my body.

Driving in the taxi with four others, I saw people walking in the now sunny, still freezing and windy day and felt tears well up again. It occurred to me that maybe these were people who waited and didn’t have to battle a massive storm, but I still felt like a failure anyway. I realized 14km isn’t the end of the world when I am hiking like 800 just to Santiago and another 100 plus kilometers out to Finisterre and Muxia, but it still felt stupid. My ego kept trying to get in the way, but I knew deep down that I shouldn’t be an idiot and catch hypothermia (which I have had before so I can catch it easily, especially with my nerve and muscle problems).

When the cab stopped for the first person to get out, I noticed it was a hotel and got out as well. I couldn’t deal with an albergue in my current state and I knew I needed to take a really hot bath to try and warm up again. I didn’t care about money in that moment because I genuinely knew that my health was infinity more important than 65 euro was.

I battled the wrath of the gods this morning and had to take a lesson in humility. But I would rather make it alive to Santiago than push unnecessarily just for my ego’s sake. I’m finally warm again and I figured if I was already spending money, I would also just pay the extra 4 euro to have all my clothing washed and cleaned. Sometimes you need to get stuck in a hard place in order to come to the realization that in life, you need to be humble and know what you are capable of. And even if you are an incredibly capable person, nature is always going to win against you.