“Oh god, that smell. It’s like rotting fish or a deer that got split open on the highway in the middle of July,” the cameraman mumbles in disgust after heaving a watery deluge of acid on the soil. What was found inside the two small shacks was nothing but clutter, a few dead animals, garbage, and evidence nature was reclaiming the wood, but the more significant, almost barn-sized building was different. Water from the river had worn away the soil underneath one edge and allowed all manner of marine and amphibious life to slip up and into the building. The odor was likely the rotting fish any number of raccoons or other wildlife had drug inside. There was also evidence that those dead animals in the shacks were not brought down by another beast or natural causes. From the rafters, there were several bestial forms hung in a net of barbed wire. Their various states of decomposition said it was not some queer trap or accident that had brought them there.
It wasn’t long after waking up that Lyle had dealt with Aaron on the phone and was immediately concerned about what else he may have missed in his time out. Checking through his phone, however, yielded no new messages or calls. In fact, the call he was supposed to have made to Aaron wasn’t registered in the log. Lyle had to chalk it up to one more strange thing after so many others, but at least could comfort himself in knowing technology wasn’t always perfect. A reminder of the imperfection of machines was evident as he looked at the monitor again.
The video was still playing, and though the audio was subdued now by the sounds of the outside world, he could still just barely hear Clovis and the caller. It was just ending, and Lyle braced himself to see that two-dimensional nightmare once more. The audio finished, yet as he waited, there was nothing to be seen. He held for a moment, wondering if his memory had accelerated the occurrence, but the strange paper man was not present. It was then that Lyle knew the video was no longer the same, as the camera was hoisted up to reveal the front lot of a less than well-kept home.
It was a rough-looking two-story house, an attic window apparent high up where the trees were encroaching on the home, with several other buildings littering the yard beyond. There was no indication of where the place was or if it was occupied. Knee-high grass, worn down garbage showered across the lawn, and tree limbs scrapping against siding and windows gave Lyle good reason to believe it abandoned. Then he saw, as the camera panned around the yard, the link to all of his worldly fears.
The treeline met the cornfield at just the right angle, and though Lyle didn’t want to admit it to himself, he was looking at the house that yard belonged in. There was a clear awareness of this in the camera person, as they halted at the end of a short, gravel driveway and focused on that space where the trees met the field. It was as though they too had seen what had emerged from there and were apprehensive about proceeding further. However, after another moment, they kept moving, heading up the steps to knock on the screen door half hanging on its hinges. There was no sound from inside and only the whispering of the wind to give the video any ambiance. The tape cut out then, a quick blur of black and static to then flicker back on a moment hence.
They were now trekking from the porch to one of the outer buildings, none of which seemed to have a proper door on them. There was an odd effect over the camera a sunny sky had clouded and faded to look almost like evening. Lyle tried to justify it quickly for himself. They could have gotten into the house and not recorded until departing, or a storm had rolled in, and the camera person was looking to take cover in one of the open buildings. Either case, it still left Lyle feeling less than confident in what was to come.
They entered the widest outbuilding, one that could have easily housed a combine or tractor, but any such equipment was not apparent from the outset. The entire building was dark as pitch, and even upon entering, the camera didn’t reveal much at first. Whoever operated the camera evidently had brought a flashlight or had one built into the camera as when it flicked on, it seemed only to be able to follow the frame of video. Its light fell across a few expected items, a broken down lawnmower, an old-fashioned tiller for a small garden, a variety of outdoor tools like rakes, and finally, a workbench ladened heavily with items Lyle did not want to speculate. However, the camera operator moved close to this waist-high shelf built into the far wall.
At first, the video adjusted, the zoom going in and out as though they had pressed the button accidentally and only realized it after a moment. Then, once the frame was focused again, a wide shot of the table revealed less sinister items than Lyle would have guessed. It looked like a few old radios had been dismantled, parts of a VHS player and a camera. Lyle thought some of it might have belonged inside an old tube television, and lastly, there was an intact polaroid camera. They seemed out of place in the exterior building and likely wouldn’t be functional based on the condition of the shack and how they were stored. Any worry of equipment fell away as the audio screeched with static.
Lyle tuned it down as much as he could with any hope of keeping it just high enough to catch any other sounds from the recording, but it was no longer a concern. After a second or so of the static noise, the cameraperson had whipped around to face the entry of the building. A person stood at the threshold, dark as night and only outlined by a lone street lamp on the far side of the road. That would have been nothing to Lyle if not for the sheen that outlined the eyes and mouth.
They should not have been apparent, at least not in any meaningful way, in that lighting or through the recording, but Lyle could make out the majority of the man’s features. In every crease of flesh and opening, a soft, pale gray light excreted with the violent liveliness of lightning in a clouded sky. It was clear this, as well as the static sound, was present in truth and not just in the recording. The operator dropped the camera, the light spiraling down and finally coming to rest on its side directed at the feet of the new entity.
It was difficult to assert what was happening, but Lyle didn’t quite want the full image of what occurred just barely off-screen. He saw feet shuffle forward, the cameraperson trying to escape before this newcomer could corner them and do god knows what. However, he didn’t make it past the threshold as the man stood fixed in that spot. The sounds that came a second or so after the two outlines met were nothing Lyle could place. It was fleshy and wet, but not like a dog gnawing on roadkill or someone being cut into. He could only correlate it with sounds that would not be appropriate for that moment; a boot stuck in heavy silt being tugged free or a turkey being violently stuffed. Regardless of what he could hear, it was apparent that the shadows obscured much of it. When he could make out any details of the two again, he could only find on set legs and a mysterious mound beside them.
Lyle paused the tape and ran his fingers through his hair, upset but far less perturbed than before with this project. It was evident that something illegal had been going on one way or the other. This was at the least video footage of a breaking and entering and perhaps assault or murder. If it were the worst he had seen, Lyle might have been happy to think this was an overly elaborate snuff film, but he was certain now that he knew better. He had to report this to the police. If nothing else had to be exposed of this little nightmare, the likely death of that cameraperson was damning enough as evidence.
It took an hour, but Lyle hunted down the number for a local sheriff’s officer with whom he vaguely associated. He was a senior when Lyle was a freshman, and though he had never been the nicest of guys, Lyle was sure he was trustworthy. Nonetheless, Lyle called through the office line to the station, “Is this sheriff’s deputy Robert Porter?”
“It is. What can I help you with?”
“Hi, Robert. You probably don’t remember me, Lyle Palmer, we went to school, you were a bit older than me. I have something that I don’t think I’m supposed to have, and I’d like to have some advice about what to do about it,” Lyle spoke quietly as though he were about to be overheard and not as though he was already talking to the law.
A curious tone came over Robert’s voice, “Ok? What do you mean by that? What exactly is it you have?”
“I have some tapes and polaroids too. There isn’t much to say about where they came from and who they belong to, but I think they depict a murder. I know that sounds weird, I’ve done a lot of freelance editing work for people in the area, and I do get the occasional home movie that’s an attempt to be the next Blair Witch, but this isn’t like that,” he replied, realizing now he wasn’t sure how best to broach the subject.
Robert was overly relaxed about the matter, “Let me guess, you got them from Aaron Harris, or his father, more precisely?”
“Yeah, the thing about that is, he called, hell came down to the station with a tub of VHS tapes, old man Harris, rest his soul, not Aaron. Said about as much; there was mutilation and murder and cult rituals and all this on those tapes. We put a young guy on it, told him to pour through the tapes, you know, desk work kind of stuff. He couldn’t find a thing of what Harris had mentioned. There were a lot of bootlegged movies and television, someone’s old home movies for Christmas, and so on, but nothing illegal. I’d say we could take another look, but it’s just not worth the time if they’re the same videos,” Robert was kind but very direct in his manner.
Lyle didn’t think there was anything more to pursue with law enforcement. He ended the call not long after seeing that there was no easy way to resolve this. There were a few options left to him. He could view the rest and convince himself that what was on here wasn’t criminal and just conflated by his imagination, ignore it for the rest of his days, or destroy them. After a bit of thinking, Lyle decided he would see it through to the end to quench his curiosity. If it still seemed suspect, he’d cut together all of the suspicious content, turn it over to the police, and then destroy whatever remained.