Julie Hutchings is my spirit animal. Is that possible? If not I think it should be. She is one amazing woman. Funny. Confident. Smart. Sassy. All good things rolled up in one foul-mouthed brilliant person. I absolutely adore her. And you all need to watch for her, because this woman is going places and her name will be in lights. And I'm not just talking on a billboard for the Lusty Lady.
So of course I had to ask her to join my little project. And of course I had to give her a creepy picture. Because that's what Jules does best. I am so honored to have this story posted here. So when she's all famous, I can be all "Yeah, she wrote an amazing story for my blog series" and you will all bow to both of us. Okay, not really, but this story…oh my word.
I can't even say anything except you will love it as I do. So, with that, I will just get to it. Here is Julie Hutchings with The Man in the Woods.
The Memory Project (continued)
Even as we sat there, just looking at pictures, the temperature in the air continued to drop. Colder, I moved closer to Jesse, nestling into the warmth of his arms.
The feelings of fear had subsided, but now something even stranger took its place. Pain. Destruction. And the overwhelming desire to run.
(to be continued)
The Man in the Woods
The thing in those woods was not good for him. I knew it at once, like I knew my own name, like I knew that he was a good man at one time. But that time was over. His time was over.
I could almost see him turning the pocket watch over and over in his hand, the very same one I held in my hand now. It was tarnished, and smelled like old pennies, but I loved it like I knew he had.
“I wish I knew your name,” I whispered.
This old house was painfully decrepit, unsafe to be in. It fit me perfectly; I was just as unsafe. I flipped the pocket watch over in my hand and looked at the red slashes up and down my arm. They hadn’t done the trick, but they’d gotten me here. Anywhere but home, anywhere but Bridgewater State Mental Institution. I bet some of the people from those places were still looking for me. But someone more important was looking for me, too.
Pulling the old blanket closer around my shoulders, I took care leaning against the wall. I didn’t want to cave it in like I had the one upstairs. This place could barely stand me. The woods were calling to me, just like they had him. I ran my finger over the photo, hoping against hope that the touch would tell me something more, but it never did. So I opened the scrapbook again.
There she was. The picture was old, faded, but I could still see the light in her eyes and the honey colored hair that fell down her back. She was so soft in every way. I could see why he fell in love with her; I was falling in love with her myself.
Another picture of her, close up. “Jenny” scrawled underneath it in black marker. She was wearing yellow. There was a piece of the fabric in the scrapbook sleeve, lace the color of the sun. I wish I knew how it ripped, or why he had cut it off maybe. He needed to remember that dress. It was the last dress he would ever see her in. He needed some part of her to run his fingers over.
The book was thick, every page bursting with their life together, photos and concert tickets, menus and obscure notes on ripped pieces of paper. It was as full as I was empty. But to see Jenny’s face made me feel like I could have substance again. Reading the ghosts of their memories made me feel whole.
Hunger bit at me, worse than the cold. I didn’t want to think about how long I could stay here, I didn’t want it to end. Being here, with him and Jenny, in this house where they loved each other, was the happiest I had been in a long time. It almost made me want to live.
I had been trying not to count the number of days I’d been hiding in this old house, but I did it anyway. Twelve. The food I was able to smuggle out of the institution had only lasted me six days. I didn’t eat for two more after that. Then I had gotten over my fear, just for a bit, of leaving the house. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was more afraid that I would be seen, or if the house would be gone when I got back, a figment of my diseased imagination all along.
Outside, I’d found berries. I knew nothing about berries, and they might have killed me, but I would have been happy to die where they did. If they did die here, him and Jenny. The berries didn’t kill me, but they were getting harder to come by.
I got over my second new fear, lighting a fire in the fireplace. Someone would see the smoke. Or it would burn the place to cinders. I would burn to cinders.
I’d prepared for the fire when I went out berry picking. I brought back the blanket I now wore, full of branches. Time to light them up. The fact that I’d managed to scoop some matches from one of the orderlies in Bridgewater proved to me that I was, indeed, preparing to survive. That sort of forward thinking only came to those who cared. But I had nothing to care about.
Jenny and him. The man in the picture that I could feel in the clutches of my abysmal soul. It was as if they had called me here before I ever escaped Bridgewater. As if they could show me that there was something beautiful to be found in something so ugly. This house, their deaths, their need of each other. It was in every photo, every floorboard that creaked, and in that one picture of him, walking into the woods where nothing could save him.
I was crying as I lit the fire. For him. For Jenny. For the heat that enveloped me with that fire. For the squirrel I’d trapped and killed, that would last me another day.
Another day to figure out if any of this was worth figuring out. Their story or my own.
I sat criss-cross applesauce in front of the fire. I think I was smiling. The scrapbook sat next to me as I turned a stick over and over, cooking my squirrel.
That made me laugh; cooking my squirrel.
When I laughed, someone else laughed. Not just anyone. Jenny.
“Jenny.” Relief washed over me. Fire brought her to me. Even I knew that didn’t make sense, me the master of not making sense. But for her and I, it made sense, in this place.
A shadow flickered on the wall, but there was no one to create it. I was certainly no one. A second shadow came. And they kissed, long and longing, desperate and consumed. Love born of fire, reignited by the same. I burned inside with want for it.
The shadows twisted, partial ecstasy in each other, but quickly the motions became wild, and violent. A tortured meshing of memories drowning in each other. The shadows began a terrible pantomime of yelling, vicious fighting, and him, chasing Jenny. The feeling of overwhelming sadness and betrayal filled the room like a pool of fetid water, as he ran after his Jenny, my Jenny, furiously and with vile intent.
The fire raged and bit, crackling loudly as the passion between the once lovers became deadly. I clenched the scrapbook in my shaking hands. I wished I could hide from the aggression that seemed to be all around me.
She was chased, and I was chased, and it was my whole life up there, with the pain and the unrelenting feelings. It was no wonder I was falling in love with her. It was no wonder I’d become like this. We were both running.
I watched the scene with growing fear, when I realized it was the woods in the picture that they had run into. Skeletal ghosts of trees made of shadows surrounded them. The picture became clearer on the walls, until it was the picture in the scrapbook, the one I loved to hold in my hand, to feel him. Because as much as I was growing to love Jenny, it was him that I could feel inside myself.
And all this madness felt right to me. The kind of crazy I could dive right into. I would have gone anywhere Jenny was. I would never hurt her the way he wanted to, chasing her into the woods with who the hell knows what intention.
But it was the woods I went to now. The house pushed me there, the picture now in my hand, and I could hear the wind in the trees saying her name. The peace of this place was a scar against the hurt they had inflicted on each other. I didn’t know how far it had gone, but I knew I was going to find out.
The picture trembled in my hands as I walked into the woods. The image from the house was burning in my head now, and replaying, like it had belonged to me. Now I believed in ghosts.
I suppose they were inside me my entire life.
“Jenny!” He screamed in my head, so loud that I stumbled in shock. His anger was boiling over. I could smell her fear like a bloodhound, but I was helpless to do anything for her.
He was turning, spinning, and I watched it all, a movie in my mind. He would kill her if he found her where she hid.
Finally, he stopped, and stood, a mirror of the photo. The world stopped and the picture was reality, if only for me. My breath was the only noise. He was no calmer; he was only finding new ways to kill her.
With a wild howl, pretty Jenny, dressed in yellow, dashed into view from her hiding place, a boulder in her hands. She slammed it into his head with a wicked thump.
God help me, she smiled. I’d never seen anything so ugly in my life. I wished I never left the institution, that the berries had killed me, that I never picked up that photo and never fallen for her. This whole ghost story that I was living was now living through me.
I was a part of this now, as he fell to the ground. I wanted so much for him to stand, to be as he was in that photo, but with only love in his heart. They had loved each other with such fury, and it had become a wretched thing.
Jenny hit him over and over with the boulder, the grays, blacks and whites of the woods only interrupted with her sunny dress and his crimson blood. Such evil had taken control of them.
Without a doubt, I knew it was what had called me here.
Jenny turned in my mind’s eye to look at me, her eyes a horrifying mix of passion and madness. I imagined that’s what mine looked like.
“This is what it feels like to belong to each other,” she said.
The photo fell from my hands.
You can follow Julie on Twitter here: @HutchingsJulie
Here is her awesome blog: deadlyeverafter.com