Last winter I was walking through a park near my apartment when I came across five young boys attempting to smash an object with a hammer. Granted, Chicago children are probably more violent than most, but I am not used to seeing such things in my particular neighborhood. I jogged over to them mostly out of curiosity, but also to make sure they weren’t torturing some poor squirrel or a pigeon or something. If I had known the sort of thing I was about to come in contact with I would have probably went home and bolted the door.
One of the boys was clutching some sort of dark wooden board covered with black paint, and holding it at arms length with his face turned away and his eyes closed. A second boy (I remember one of his friends calling him either Peter or Paul) was aggressively prying the hammer out of the hands of the boy who had been swinging at the wooden board moments earlier while the other two kids watched without saying a word. In spite of all the hammering and arguing, the surface of the board looked perfectly smooth and intact from the angle I was approaching. I put on my toughest adult voice and got the kids to quit yelling and fighting over the hammer just long enough to ask them what in the hell they were trying to do.
The boy holding the hammer (Peter or Paul) looked me straight in the face and said, “we’re gonna break the devil into six pieces and bury him in the woods.”
I was stunned but also amused. I figured he had seen something like this on television and sort of laughed it off as I asked, “so you kids thing this plank is the devil?”
Peter or Paul was clearly not pleased by this question and said something along the lines of “Are you stupid or what? That thing ain’t a plank!”
As I took my first look at the wooden board up close I was surprised to see that the entire surface had not been painted with black paint as I had at first thought. It was actually hand painted to the point that it was nearly covered with a language I wasn’t familiar with. It looked vaguely Asian or middle-eastern. It was entirely alien to me aside from the upper left and right corners, which displayed very detailed paintings of the sun and moon. In the center of both the sun and moon were unnerving faces with blank expressions. As I thought about this last detail it became clear to me that this board was some sort of antique hand-made Ouija.
Peter or Paul explained to me that his grandfather owned an antique store and was on his deathbed. He had requested that the boy’s mother take this board from his store safe and break it into six pieces and dispose of it immediately, burying each piece in the woods not less than a mile apart from each other. He would not say why this had to be done, but continuously referred to the board as “that wooden devil.” When the boy’s mother had refused, thinking it ludicrous as any rational person would, the grandfather had enlisted the boy and his friends, given them the store key, and told them the safe combination. I remember he kid telling me he was disappointed; he had always thought the safe held his grandfather’s stash of ancient pirate treasure.
Upon grabbing the wooden board from the safe, however, the boys had run into two problems. Firstly, the board was hard as stone and the best way to break the thing was turning into a point of argument now that the hammer had failed. The second issue was that woods in Chicago are scarce, and woods large enough for burying things miles apart from each other are even scarcer. Realizing it was most likely not the best idea to get in the way of a group of kids’ family issues when a hammer and a wooden slab are involved, I figured my best option was to break the thing myself to make sure the kids didn’t get themselves hurt, then be on my way.
This proved to be extremely difficult. I remember thinking that the board had to be reinforced with a steel plate or something. I was beating on the thing with the hammer for the hundredth time when I remembered that I had a hacksaw I had bought to remove a broken tree limb two years earlier, and had never touched it since. I told the kids to sit tight and jogged down the block to my apartment. By the time I got back it was snowing and the boys were picking up the snow and throwing it at each other in clumps rather than snowballs. It was an unusually mild winter for us last year and I think this may have been the beginning of the only snowstorm we had all year if I remember correctly. The five of them continued to play with the snow as I hacked into the board with my saw.
It took an unusually long time but it worked. When the first piece snapped off I picked it up and saw that the grain where it had been cut was unlike anything I had ever seen before, spiraling in a very distinct pattern that I can still picture in my head. The unstained wood was a deep reddish-brown.
When the board was in six pieces Peter or Paul grabbed the corner with the picture of the sun, then he and one of his friends ran a short distance into a wooded area on the edge of the park and buried it about a foot down. As this was going on the other boys explained to me that they were planning on spending the day riding the elevated train and taking the pieces to the various wooded areas they had come up with. They just needed one more place to bury the sixth piece and hadn’t come up with anything yet. As it happened to be a Sunday, if I recall, I offered to do it on the way to work the next day and they agreed that it was a good plan. As the five of them walked away toward the north I saw them enter a station for the Blue Line train and I never saw them again.
Later that night as the snowstorm started to get really bad I remember thinking that I hoped I hadn’t made a mistake by letting them go off on their own, but a strange adult hanging around with five neighborhood kids tends to give people the wrong idea, regardless of whether he’s looking out for their safety. I hoped they had gotten their task finished before the storm had really hit.
The corner of the board I had wound up with was the corner with the painting of the moon with the blank expression. I had really planned to bury it, I swear I did, but we all wound up snowed in the following morning and it ended up in the drawer of an end table. I don’t know if you’ve ever been snowed in during a Chicago winter, but when this happens they tend to send out these huge monolithic snow plows that push all of the snow into mountains on top of all the parked cars, none of which will be capable of moving an inch for at least two days.
The day was rather uneventful, but as nightfall approached I was taken by the eerie notion that someone was watching me through my living room window. I kept glancing toward it expecting to see someone peering in at me, despite the fact that I live on the third floor and my living room window faces the street. After a while I shook off the notion, and I believe I went to sleep around eleven.
Around one a.m. I was awoken by what sounded like a mechanical device humming loudly and assumed it to be my heater, possibly being overworked due to the snowstorm. I stood up and put my ear next to the vent, but the sound wasn’t coming from there. I walked into the living room to check the settings on my thermostat, and immediately every hair on my body stood at full attention. The sound was coming from the direction of my living room window, and as I turned to look I caught the ghastly image of a solid white face with a wide mouth and dark eye sockets on the other side of the glass. I quickly turned on a light and the face disappeared. The mechanical droning noise seemed to recede.
Had it all been my imagination I wondered? When I was younger I once had an episode of sleep paralysis where I witnessed a tree devouring my neighbor’s dog through a bedroom window, but when I came out of it the tree was back to normal and the dog was perfectly fine. Had this been something similar? Nevertheless I hardly slept the rest of the night. I kept thinking I was hearing that deep mechanical drone somewhere in the distance.
By the next night I had regained my wits and fell asleep in my bed some time around midnight. I awoke once again, terrified, to the sound of the same mechanical drone as the previous night, but this time much louder. As I sat up in bed I saw the ghastly white face with sunken eyes on the other side of the window near the foot of my bed, no more than three feet from where I lay sleeping. It had no neck, arms, torso, nothing. It seemed to just float there above the streetlights below, emanating that horrible humming sound. I instinctively grabbed the drapes and pulled them closed, but the sound continued. Remembering what had happened the night before, I ran to the lights and flipped the switch. The noise slowly faded but I was too afraid to open the drapes for the rest of the night.
The next morning I was still unable to get to work due to my car being frozen beneath a seven-foot pile of ice, but I absolutely had to get out of that apartment. I thought that if the face was going to come back that I would have to be ready for it somehow. I went to a sporting goods store in the neighborhood and purchased a box of ammo for the .22 range pistol I hadn’t used in years. It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. I also bought some caffeine tablets and a bag of coffee.
Before nightfall I set up camp in my living room with the pistol and a coffee pot, took one of the caffeine tablets, and rigged up a portable audio recorder that I sometimes use for work. I don’t own a camera and my cell phone’s video function had not been working for months, so the best I could do was attempt to snap some photos in the dark with the cell if the face appeared again.
It showed itself around three in the morning. I was beginning to crash from all of the caffeine when I began to hear the droning sound approaching from the distance. I readied my gun in one hand and my cell phone in the other but the face didn’t appear at the window. I began to wonder if perhaps the face was outside my bedroom window, and as I snuck through the dark toward the door the sound seemed to get louder. However, as I entered the room, the door slammed and locked behind me and I heard glass shattering in the living room. Suddenly the apartment was filled with the noises of things being smashed, thrown, and torn to pieces. The droning noise was deafeningly loud and I covered one ear and turned my head away as I clawed at the doorknob with my other hand, but it simply would not open. It was as if the lock had been welded shut. After about thirty seconds of this I raised my foot and smashed the door open with two kicks. Immediately the crashing in the living room stopped, but the room itself had been completely torn to pieces . And as I looked up above the debris at the shattered window I saw the face one last time staring at me from the other side of my demolished venetian blinds. It opened its mouth exposing a wide dark cavern the likes of which I hope to never see again, and the horrible sound got louder and louder as I snapped a single photograph with my camera and the flash went off.
Then in an instant the face was gone. All I have to prove my story is a single blurry photograph and the audio taken by my portable recorder in those last few minutes. But the thing about it that disturbed me the most is the corner of the wooden board with the painting of the moon was sitting atop the debris in the exact center of the room, and the face had been altered so that the expression was identical to what I had just seen in the windowpane with the wide, gaping, cavernous mouth.
I buried it in the woods the following morning.
Credit: Nick Ledesma