Transcription of voice mail message from Michael James Cochran to Frederick James Cochran,
Sunday, February 12, 2017, 3:02 PM.
[…] Hi Dad, it’s me. I was hoping to catch you, but … well, I guess you’re probably busy shoveling snow, right? [brief laughter] … Boy, it’s really coming down, huh? We’re almost up to our waists around here, and I just heard it was even worse for you guys up there … Anyway, uhm … I was actually calling to ask if you, uhm, I know it’s been a while and all, but, uhm … how would you feel about having the kids come visit you for a week or so? We were going to Pittsfield … you know we usually go there in the winter holidays, right? … Well, you see, I managed to fall down and sprain my ankle out in the driveway. Nice going, huh? [grunting laughter] So, uhm … no skiing for us this year. But then I thought … [clears throat] … the kids might go and visit you instead. They’ll bore themselves silly spending the week in the house with me, so I, uhm … if it’s fine with you, of course … I could put them on the train tomorrow morning … But, you know, I understand if you have other things to do, that’s perfectly fine, we’ll just figure out something else then … Anyways, uhm … I’ll let you go. Give me a call when you get the message, all right? Thanks, Dad […]
Entry from the blog My Otha Life by Otha Cochran,
Monday, February 13, 2017, 11:08 PM.
This was supposed to be a short entry. I just wanted to tell you guys how the planned vacation I have been looking forward to for months was cancelled at the last minute, thanks to my clumsy dad who tripped over a pile of snow in the driveway and sprained his ankle.
Instead he arranged for me and my brother to go visit my Grandpa who lives all the way up in Maine. Sounds awesome, right? #sarcasm
At first, I thought it would be too lame to write an entry telling you about what’s going on up here, but I’ve actually changed my mind. A few things happened today which made me think the vacation won’t be as dull as I feared. In any case, writing a few entries will give me something to do. I apologize in advance if these aren’t going to be the most thrilling entries I’ve done.
(By the way, I wanted to once again thank all you guys following my blog. I still can’t believe the everyday life of a nineteen-year-old hopefully-someday-writer is that interesting, but I’m very flattered.)
All right, here goes.
The train ride was, as expected, dreadful. It lasted 8 hours! We were delayed several times due to snow on the tracks, and apparently about a million people were going home on winter holidays, because the train was stuffed to the rafters.
When we finally got off, it had (surprise, surprise) started snowing. Like, really snowing. It was drifting so much you could barely open your eyes—which of course didn’t bother Hugh in the slightest; he immediately threw himself down and started making snow angles. (Sometimes I seriously consider if he has some sort of undiagnosed mental disorder.)
I couldn’t see Grandpa’s car anywhere; in fact, there were no cars at all in the parking lot next to the station. I had to bite off my glove in order to get to my phone and call him up, but he didn’t answer. I tried a few times, but no luck. I thought he was probably just running late.
So, we started waiting.
Twenty minutes later, still no sign of Grandpa. I was halfway dead from the cold, and I was just on the verge of crying, when our savior showed up.
A large pickup truck came plowing through the snow and stopped right in front of us. At first, I actually thought it was Grandpa, as he too drives a pickup (I guess pretty much everyone drives a pickup up here), but it wasn’t him.
As the window rolled down, a young guy with a beard said in a thick accent: “Hello there. You guys don’t look like a regular pair of maniacs.”
“Well, we’re not,” I said, feeling very confused.
He laughed aloud, like it was some kind of joke.
I explained to him that we were visiting and our grandpa was supposed to pick us up. He asked me for Grandpa’s name, and I was puzzled at this at first, but then I realized that of course everyone knows each other up here. And sure enough, the guy lit up when I told him Grandpa’s name.
“Well, what do you know?” he laughed. “I had no idea Old Fred had any grandchildren, that darn old-timer.”
Then he offered to take us to Grandpa’s house. Now, normally, I would have turned down an offer like that in a heartbeat—although the guy seemed friendly, you just never know. But I was about half a minute away from pneumonia, so I decided to take the chance.
Inside the car, the air heater was blowing at full force, and there was a pleasant smell, not cow dung or armpit sweat like I’d expected. The cabin was pretty clean too, except for a few candy wrappers on the floor.
The guy drove responsibly, the conditions considered. He kept saying how “greasy” the road was—I’m not fluent in Maine-lingo, but I think he meant “slippery”—and we didn’t meet any other drivers who had dared venture outside. He was pretty talkative, and according to all my prejudices, he was dressed in a thick work jacket with a big woolen collar, worn-out jeans and heavy boots.
“You know, I could tell right away you guys were flatlanders,” he said at one point. “Where are you from? Boston?”
I told him yes, we had come from Boston, and we were going to spend the week at Grandpa’s due to the cancelled skiing trip. He told us his name was Martin, but everyone called him Mowgli.
Hugh asked him where he got the nickname from.
“I loved climbing trees when I was your age,” Martin said with a shrug, and I could tell right away Hugh got himself a new idol.
The two of them started talking about skiing, and Martin offered to take Hugh out on a beach one of the days. His plan was to tie a rope to the car and drag Hugh behind it, skiing—or “car-skiing” as he called it. “I’ve done it a million times with my friends,” he boasted, blinking at me in the rearview mirror. “That way, you get to do a little skiing after all. How about you? You want to try?”
“No, thank you,” I said, trying to sound firm, but I think I accidentally smiled a little.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, Martin is quite charming, if you can get past the accent, and if you’re into the farmer-type. I don’t know, there was just something very open about him, the way he just talked to us like he’d known us forever.
But before you guys go apesh*t in the comments, let me make it clear nothing will happen, all right? First off, I don’t even know if Martin has a girlfriend or wife. He didn’t wear a ring (yes, I checked, okay?) but you never know. And secondly, he’s like ten years older than me.
Good. Glad we got that out of the way. Back to the story.
Grandpa lives about ten minutes outside Freyston, a tiny dump of a town. As we drove up the icy driveway and saw Grandpa’s house up ahead, Hugh noticed all the lights were out.
Now, I just need to explain real quick about Grandpa’s property. It’s an old farm consisting of four buildings: the machine house, the barn, the cow barn and the main house. I won’t bore you with the architectural details, my point is simply how large a place it is for one old guy. And all the four buildings were black as night in the already dim evening.
Martin parked in the courtyard, and as I looked up at the dark windows, I got a really odd feeling that we might find Grandpa dead from a heart attack. I can’t explain it, it was just a thought.
I thanked Martin for the ride and offered to pay him, to which he simply laughed. But he said he would stay in the car until we were sure everything was all right, which made me feel a little better. So, we left the car with our bags and rushed through the snowy wind into the house.
Seeing and smelling the old scullery brought back memories from my childhood, and my Grandpa’s old dog, Skip, a small terrier mix, came running out to greet us. He has gotten a few more gray hairs around his muzzle, and he honestly didn’t seem that excited to see us, in fact he was more whimpering than anything. I just tell you this because it struck me as very odd, and because it enhanced my sense of something being wrong.
Hugh, on the other hand, clearly had no worries. He kicked off his boots and ran up the stairs, calling for Grandpa. I figured Grandpa was probably taking a nap in his upstairs bedroom, and Hugh would be sure to wake him up.
I had started freezing again after we left the car, so I kept my jacket on and went out to the kitchen. It was pretty obvious Grandpa lives alone, judging from the piles of dirty dishes. I couldn’t find the light switch, so I went on to the TV lounge, which was also cold, dark and empty; the ancient leather furniture looked even more worn than I remembered.
I suddenly realized just how cold the house was, and I noticed the window being ajar, the curtain swaying in the draft. I quickly closed it and felt the radiator: completely cold. I had no idea why Grandpa would have shut off the heat and opened the window.
Upstairs I could hear Hugh still calling and opening and closing doors, obviously looking for Grandpa. My sense of dread increased still further, and I was just about to turn around and go upstairs when my eye caught something through the French door into the dining room. It was dark in there, too, but the windows were visible as bright rectangles, and in front of one of them stood a tall, gangly figure. It kind of looked like Grandpa, except I didn’t remember him being that thin.
I went and opened the door, but the man by the window didn’t move as I entered the room. I could tell he had his back to me, as though he had gone to look out the window and then fallen into a trance.
“Grandpa?” I asked low, not wanting to scare him.
Suddenly, I got a very strange feeling that the man wasn’t my Grandpa. I know it’s totally silly—I mean, who else could it be?
I squinted my eyes in an effort to see his features more clearly, and I realized to my astonishment he was naked except for a pair of white undies.
I’m not kidding. I know I should have felt embarrassed, but for some reason it just made me even more uneasy. Something was definitely not right.
“Grandpa?” I said, louder.
Still, the man didn’t stir. I noticed the faint whisper of the wind blowing through the room, and I noticed the windows in here were also standing ajar.
Finally, it dawned on me to turn on the lights. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier, but the situation was just so unreal and I was really confused and scared. I found the switch and flicked it.
At long last, the man by the window reacted and started turning slowly around. I gaped at him. It was my Grandpa all right, but I almost didn’t recognize him. His cheeks were hollow, his lips thin and dry, the skin around his eyes was very dark, the eyes themselves were really haunting, being way too dark, like almost black, as though the pupils had grown to blot out the white.
There was something strange above his head, too, although it must have been the shadows playing a trick on me—but for a brief second, I could have sworn Grandpa had a couple of branches sticking out of the top of his skull. Yeah, I know. It sounds completely bonkers.
It was all over in a blink of an eye, then Grandpa looked exactly like I remembered him—the only odd thing about him being the missing clothes.
“Well, if it isn’t Otha,” he said, his face lighting up. “I was just wondering when you guys would show up.”