Someone else was in the house, but they had been upstairs from the recorder, who instantly threw himself into a side room on hearing the booming of steps down to the ground floor. The camera shakes and jilts about in the dark. The only impact of it felt as the slit of light under the door spins and flips in and out of frame. The flashlight comes on once again, revealing a sea of refuse that rusted on the tide that had washed in an untold time ago. There are a plethora of spent economy-size cans that would give a person tetanus in one scrape. As they notice the hazard presented to them in the flooded basement, their light picks up movement not brought on by the waves in the water. A slithering, twisting, dark form is shooting across the water as though it has eyes only for him. A muffled, pained noise slips out of the recorder’s lips as he pans down to reveal he has accidentally set foot in a stray, corroded reel of razor wire. They stumble back, pulling against the wire, panicking as what could only be a snake slithers across the water, closing in on him. The flashlight tumbles down the few remaining, waterlogged steps to sink into murky oblivion. However, he pulls free, the fading light giving view to jeans and sneaker and then flesh and arteries ripping open to free the leg. The kitchen light has been extinguished, and he pushes back into the main level of the house, more anxious for the serpent below than whoever is above.
It had taken all morning, but Lyle had laid out a list of potential locals who could have shot the films. They ranged from younger folks who might have an interest in cinema while not excluding elders around the town who would have had the kind of equipment to record a VHS movie. All Lyle had to do from there was narrow it down; a task made all the easier once Aaron was awake. His call had been less than enlightening but more so crushed any assurances Lyle had that what he held was anything but an anomaly.
Regarding if there was anything else to be said for how the tapes came into his father’s possession, Aaron hadn’t any more details. When pressed about if it were meant as some sort of independent film project, he could only shrug and give an uncertain answer. As Lyle worked down the list with him, they came across very few townsfolk who might have been responsible for the strange video. Most of the youths were quickly marked off, knowing that Aaron would have been an easy contact into getting his father’s help on an editing job and perhaps getting it done cheap. He was a man with a pension for cutting young folks slack when it came to commissions if they seemed to have a real taste for the art of filmmaking. With the kids out of the question, Lyle started asking about some of the older clientele that Aaron’s father might have catered to. Some leads were exhausted simply as not wanting home videos edited, while others could be thrown out with the knowledge that they had moved onto digital recordings. There was only one person Aaron could think of who might use actual VHS tapes, and that man hadn’t even been on Lyle’s list.
Immediately after getting off the phone with Aaron, Lyle tapped in Herbert Reed’s number from the phone book. He held off on calling for a moment or two, not sure how best to broach the subject. Herbert was his own grandfather’s age, were his granddad still alive. He had to be a grandfather himself, if not a great grandparent. The thought of troubling this old-timer or possibly worrying him with something that might not have anything to do with anyone in the area sat heavily on Lyle’s mind. After a few fleeting minutes, he decided instead of calling, he would go for a drive. His attention had been so fixated on the project that he hadn’t had fresh air for half a day and worked through breakfast and lunch.
Picking up a hoagie from the local sandwich shop usually brought out the full extent of Lyle’s appetite, but no sooner did he have it in his hands, he lost any sense of hunger. The second he had considered taking a bite, the recollection of the videos came back into the forefront of his mind. Were that not enough, it was as though his imagination had deliberately attempted to wheedle more and more images of terror into his thoughts. They weren’t those he had seen; some were things that he had wondered and wanted a genuine answer for. But in lieu of those conclusions, his mind was painting elaborate scenes, set through the lens of a VHS camera, to depict what might have happened. A mangled dog that may have been sent out as bait for a mountain lion, a murdered child laying, guts strewn around the hollow of an old willow, and a third body that was only recognizable as a child from it’s outline.
Lyle stopped midway home to heave on the gravel path to one of the many lake accesses in the backcountry. Nothing came out, but it made him almost feel better for trying to emit disgust at the notion of such things, or at least to the thought he would fabricate such vulgar fantasies. He slid half back in the car, letting the late spring warmth take a chill out of his bones he hadn’t realized was growing there. With a quick flick, Lyle turned on the radio, having neglected it on his way to town, so preoccupied in thought.
He had half expected to hear a broadcast of the astrological society; however, was pleasantly surprised by the jaunty folkiness of polka. The beauty, Lyle had to admit, of living in a rural area populated by so many multi-generational immigrants from Europe was in the finer flakes of culture that diligently clung to the standard of Americana. It wasn’t as though he were a particular fan, though Amelia, one of the regular station hosts, always had a charming way to her tone that kept him coming back. She had a spry youthful demeanor despite likely being the same age as his own mother being that she had been the hostess on the station since Lyle was young. He chuckled at the notion that someday maybe she would ask him to edit a somewhat lewd video for her.
Finally coming back to an even keel, Lyle decided there would be no better time to handle that necessary phone call. He pressed dial on Herbert’s number, reminding himself to remain calm. He wanted to keep the older man docile, which also would mean carefully phrasing everything he said. The dial came three times before a creaky old voice came over the phone, “Hello?”
“Hi, mister Reed, this is Lyle Palmer. I don’t think you know me, but I know you’ve lived down the street from Aaron Harris since he and I became friends. I had a couple of questions if you’ve got a minute,” Lyle maintained an upbeat and steady demeanor, quickly silencing the radio as to not drown out the old man.
Herbert muttered something before returning with surprising joviality, “Palmer? Todd, it’s been a while. I’m sorry we haven’t gone finishing so much lately. Now, what seems to be the hubbub about Harris? His boy hasn’t lost any ball over here to my recollection.”
“No, I,” Lyle shook off the notion of correcting the elder, it didn’t matter who he thought he was, “I was wondering if you’d dropped off any tapes for Harris, or someone may be borrowed a VHS camera from you.”
“I don’t have much reason for tapes anymore, Palmer. Last time I think I used one of those cameras I about dropped in the Grand Canyon when me and the missus went on vacation. It was too new for me, and I wouldn’t have had to buy it if Jeremiah had just returned the old one. I used to shoot every Christmas and birthday on that thing. Never once gave me trouble; it was a-workin’ fool. Suppose that’s why Jeremy wanted it; it was reliable,” he sighed.
Lyle thought he might have a new lead and made a stab at it, “Could I get his number from you, Herbert? Maybe he’s the one that dropped off this box of tapes. I’ll need to get them back to him at some point after all.”
“No, no, I lost his number. He changes it so many times. Lisa might have it. I’ll get you Lisa’s number,” mister Reed remarked before evidently stepping away from the phone.
Lyle sat patiently for more time than he would have assumed necessary. He started to wonder if the old fellow had fallen and needed help or just as likely fallen asleep where he sat. However, after almost ten minutes, Herbert returned, assuring Lyle he was still on the line and had the number ready. Lyle happily wrote down Lisa’s number and thanked Herbert, who was still convinced he was talking to Lyle’s father. He didn’t have the heart to correct him and half-wished he could stay on the line with the man. Herbert seemed lonely, though perhaps a bit foggy of mind, but all in all, Lyle wished him well and meant it.
There seemed no point in delaying the next call, and what he hoped to be the only other call he’d need to make to find the truth of the tapes. He typed in Lisa’s number, unsure who this woman was to Herbert. Lyle didn’t know much about the Reeds or even if Herbert had any family left in the area. Lisa might have been a neighbor or one of Herbert’s own siblings who, for all he could recollect, actually had passed on long ago. Pondering the possibilities threw the thought of this Jeremiah into more doubt. Perhaps he had ventured into a thicket of trouble and not realized just how little he had to work with. It wasn’t out of the question to think Herbert was way off with his information, considering he thought Lyle was his own father. Wanting to put the doubt aside, Lyle hazard that call.
The phone hummed twice before abruptly going to the voicemail box of Lisa Schieber. Lyle was confident now that his search, or this lead, was coming to a dead end. Regardless, he waited for the tone, “Hello, Lisa. My name is Lyle Palmer. I got your number through Herbert Reed, but I’m not sure the relation here. I’m looking for a Jeremiah that seemingly is a mutual contact for you two. If any of this makes sense, could you give me a callback? It would help clear somethings up for my end.”
With the call concluded, Lyle was ready to return home, maybe rest, but more than likely start back up with another one of the tapes. However, just as he was prepared to flip the car into gear, knuckles clatter against his window. Looking up over his sunglasses, Lyle set eyes on a bald man wearing a knit sweater with the ugliest geometric pattern one could imagine if only they had thought of it featuring colors that made the overall design look all the worse. He bent at the hip as Lyle rolled down his window, skeptical enough to keep his hand on a box cutter he kept in the car. Yet the man didn’t seem at all intimidating or to have any tendency towards making trouble.
“Lyle Palmer?” the stranger asked, casual as though he had gone to school with him and just now recognized who he had come upon.
Perturbed but containing his unsteadiness, Lyle confirmed, “Yes. You are?”
“Not important, I suppose. I got a note and a package that I was supposed to deliver to a one Lyle Palmer. It said I would find you out here, about this time of day,” he stated matter-of-factly before holding up a brown parcel wrapped in twine. Lyle, still skeptical, now more worried than he’d like, held out his hand. The man brought the package away for a moment before quickly stating, “The note also said to warn you that dig deeper, you’re going to find that you can’t climb out of that hole. Said that you should only open this if you are serious about seeing it to the end.”
“Ok…” Lyle murmured in return as the man tossed the parcel onto his lap and began back up the gravel path. There wasn’t a car in sight, but no sooner did Lyle glance down at the package and then back up the stranger was gone. Taking a shuttering breath, Lyle was quick to throw the car into drive and hurry away from whatever it was he just encountered.