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The Cursed Manuscript

October 31, 2012

Was he really moving his family to get a fresh start? Andrew wondered. Was the job offer in Maine really better than the one he already had in New York City? Or was he running from his ex-wife and past memories, maybe taking the kids with him to another state out of spite. It’s not like we’re moving to California–the extended silence in the car had allowed for his mind to wander. He brushed the troubling thoughts away and checked the rearview mirror.

Junior was curled up asleep in the backseat. It had been a long trip and Andrew was beginning to grow weary of the drive himself. Maybe I should have stopped at that motel a couple of hundred miles back he thought.

Moira was awake in the passenger seat listening to her iPod. He could hear the tiny sounds of the drums emanating from her earbuds and tried to identify the song, but it was impossible. He tapped his daughter on the should and, reluctantly, she removed one of the earbuds but did not say anything.

“How about we talk for awhile? I’m bored.”

“What is there to talk about Dad?” she asked, exasperation clear in her tone.”Besides, Junior is sleeping.” She plugged the earbud back into her ear and the small beat of the drums was, once again, the only sound in the car.

He was glad that Junior hadn’t put up such a fight about moving, making him feel a little less guilty about uprooting them to another state. But he understood why his daughter was upset. All of her friends were still in New York City. It was where she’d grown up and, in her 16-year old mind, she was too far along in life to have to start over. It wasn’t fair.

They continued down Old Highway 13 for nearly another hour until they reached the exit called Landings. The sign at the bottom of the off ramp welcomed them:

You have landed in Landings Maine!

Pop. 7,000

Moira pressed stop on her iPod but left the earbuds in her ears. “Seven thousand people! There’s like millions in New York.”

“Look at the bright side. It’s a lot less crowded here than New York”

She rolled her eyes and reached into the backseat to slap her brother in the head. “Wake up Junie, we’re there.”

Junior sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes with two fists and said through the grogginess, “Don’t call me that, it’s a girl’s name.”

“You are a girl.”

“Shut up”

Andrew turned on the radio and found a jazz station. The kids groaned in unison but quit arguing. “What?” he said. “This is good stuff–Louis Armstrong.”

“You mean the guy who walked on the moon?” Junior asked, incredulous.

“Louie, not Neil, and I mean the guy who played a helluva trumpet. Listen.”

About 15 minutes later and deeper into the seclusion of Landings, Maine, they turned onto Ecru St., a broad road that was nearly desolate.

“There’s no houses here! Nobody lives here!” Moira noted with frustration.

“People live here, just not very. many. Think of it this way: it’ll be peaceful and you can work on your paintings without the blaring horn of a taxi every 5 minutes or the wail of sirens. Or better yet, some schmuck down on the sidewalk spewing vulgarities at some other schmuck on the sidewalk.” He laughed softly remembering the hustle and bustle of New York City life but not really missing it. He’d lived there 45 years–same old thing.

They pulled in front of an old two-story Victorian house whose blue color appeared black in the shadow of night. The lawn had been permitted to grow unbridled and tall weeds listed with the gentle breeze in the front yard. The thick branches of a large oak stretched forth from it’s burly trunk and appeared to be inviting them with open arms. Behind them, an owl uttered its eerie hoots through the woods.

“This place is a bitch!” Moira barbed.

“Watch your language.”

“Yeah,” Junior chimed. “When are you going to stop complaining? Life is too short.”

“What do you know about life? You’re 12.”

“Quit with the bickering,” Andrew said. “you’ll love it here, you’ll see. This old place is something else.”

The walkway was narrow and they walked in tandem to the front of the house. The old porch creaked and groaned as if awakening from a deep slumber.

Andrew led them inside. It was dark. Moira found a light switch but, when she flipped it, nothing happened.

“Lamp in the living room,” her father directed.

They followed her through the large living room where she found the lamp and turned it on. It cast a glow that did not even reach back to the front door. A cursory glance around the room revealed a brick fireplace, above which was a large oil painting depicting a bristly wolf, snarling and baring sharp fangs. There were two sofas parallel to each other in the middle of the room and a recliner facing the fireplace.

Junior yanked the sheet away from the recliner and a mushroom cloud of dust poofed into the air. He sat down and pretended to smoke a cigar. Moira slapped the arm of one of the sofas and more dust floated into the air. “look at this place. It’s old! Who lived here anyway?”

“An author and his wife. Can’t remember his name but from what I hear, he was quite famous.” replied Andrew.

“Why’d he move?” Junior asked, still puffing his imaginary cigar.

“Smoking kills dim-wit,” Moira said and her younger brother pretended to blow a long stream of smoke in her direction.

“He didn’t move. He died of lung cancer and after his widow passed, the bank put the house up for sake below market value,” Andrew explained. “And if I ever catch you smoking a cigar, Junior, I’ll make you eat it for breakfast.”

“Great! We’re living in dead people’s house with dead people’s furniture in the middle of nowhere!”

“I’ll bet this place is haunted!” Junior teased. “He probably walks around looking for his typewriter or something. Watch out, Moira!” She ignored him.

“I’m going to bring some things in from the car so we can all get some rest.” Andrew said. “There are four rooms upstairs. Pick one for the night and we’ll get settled tomorrow.” After a bit of shuffling, they found their rooms and quickly fell asleep.

Moira woke early and went down to the kitchen where she found a box of pastries and a sloppy note from father that read: “Went to town to get stuff for the house, back later.” She ate a jelly-filled pastry and was picking at a bear claw when she decided to look around the house.

Junior found her in a room at the back of the house. Curiously, it was the only one not already furnished. Moira was standing at the window looking out at a lake not far away. “I think I’ll turn this room into my art studio, put my easel right here.”

“Look what I found,” Junior held out a stack of greying papers.

Moira took the manuscript from him and read the title page: “The Wolves of Landings by L. Jackman.”

“Let’s read it.”

They sat down in the middle of the floor and Moira began to read out loud. The second page of the manuscript said: “Beware you who reads this story. It may just come true.” She leafed the page. “Landings, Maine is a small town.” Suddenly she could not read anymore. The text began to blur and letters appeared to be spinning like the wheels of a slot machine. The suddenness and speed at which this happened shocked her eyes. She blinked and resumed reading without giving thought to what had just happened.

“Landings, Maine is an evil town.” She rose brusquely to her geet, the manuscript flying from her hands and splaying onto the floor. She shouted, “That’s not what I just read!”

The door slammed shut with a loud report. She ran to it and tried the knob but the door would not open “Dad! Dad, cut it out!”


She turned.

The manuscript was in a neat stack in the center of the floor and the title had changed. It now read: “Finish Reading Or Die.”

Junior picked it up but Moira snatch it from his hands and began to tear the pages in half. When the last strip of paper drifted to the ground, the mess disappeared and the manuscript was returned to a neat stack in the center of the floor, it’s ominous title glowering at them.

Moira tried the window but it would not budge. She kicked the glass and it remained solid, not even shuddering against the sudden force. The sky became smothered with ghostly clouds. Rain began to pour and pelt the window, eventually falling into a steady rhythm of taps.

Junior took the manuscript in trembling hands and the title page reverted to its original text: “The Wolves of Landings by L. Jackman.” The warning in the preface was gone. Now it stated simply: “It has begun.” Junior read aloud.

“Landings, Maine is an evil town. None have ever gone there and left alive. What makes this town so evil is its deceptive charm, which lures the souls of those who wish to get away from the rat race in search of solitude and peace of mind. The town beckons them. But Landings, Maine is far from what it seems. It is cursed by hell with the hounds of death and you can never leave once you’ve arrived–not alive anyway.

Moira tried to call to her brother but it was as if the scream had lodged in her throat, suffocating her. She slid down the wall and just as the stars of unconsciousness began to dazzle in her mind, exhaled a heavy breath. Junior kept reading, couldn’t have stopped if he had wanted to.

“The wolfhounds leak through the gates of hell and scour the woods for life, tortured and ravenous. They skulk and prowl, their fangs lusting for the taste of blood and raw meat.”

Wolves began to howl in the distance and the owl from the night before joined the chorus, uttering its sorrowful hoots and singing a song that no one else knows the words to.

Finally, a scream erupted from Moira’s throat. “Stop reading Junior!” She ran to her brother. “Stop reading!” She snatched the manuscript from his hands and he seemed to awaken from a daze. She grabbed his arm. “We have to try and get out of here!”

Moira held her brother against her with one arm and reached for the door with her other hand. A guttural growl, that gave the impression of hunger and evil and insanity, and eager scratching sounded from the other side of the door. They moved back.

There was a loud crash at the window. A wolf emerged through the dark rain, slamming its snarling muzzle against the window and slapping the side of the house with its paws. The howling grew louder and it sounded like a hundred more wolves had joined the chorus.

Junior snatched the manuscript from his sister. “Maybe if I finish reading it, they’ll go away.” He spoke rapidly, “It’s gotta be the book. Maybe there’s a happy ending.”

Still holding onto him, Moira led her brother to the other side of the room and they sat, huddled together against the wall in the corner. As far away from the snarling wolves as the room would allow. “Okay, read,” she acquiesced, hoping that he was right, hoping for a happy ending.

Thunder that seemed to shake the earth rumbled through the sky. Junior continued to read.

The kids took turns reading, both of them holding onto the edges of the manuscript. This book didn’t look like one with a happy ending. Everyone kept dying and the hunger of the wolves never seemed satisfied. By the time they turned the last page, everyone in the book was dead. Even the little boy who had befriended one of the evil wolves ended up being torn to shreds by the rest of the pack.

They set the manuscript down on the hardwood floor.

“Hear anything?” Moira whispered.

“I don’t know,” Junior whispered back.

Then, they heard the scratching at the door. When it stopped, they stayed where they were, still as statues.


Driving back toward Ecru St., Andrew noticed the dark clouds and rain. Why wasn’t it falling like this through the rest of the town? Some weird meteorological event must be going on. Moira was right, in a way, about this place. It was kind of spooky to be moving to such a small town far away from the big bad city. Funny you’d think it’d be the other way around. The fog was thicker as he neared home, and he drove slowly.

Andrew turned onto Ecru St. The weather continued to be weird. The fog was suddenly beginning to clear. He was nearly home when suddenly a leaping figure appeared in front of his car. He hit it solidly and heard a loud yelp of pain. He slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt. He got out of the car but did not see the animal he had hit and thought was killed. It was gone. There was just a large dent in the grill of his car where he could see traces of blood and thick fur. Must have been a wild dog, he thought. He gazed toward the woods to see a wolf limping into the cover of the trees. It stopped, looked back at him with glowing eyes and vanished into the woods.

At the house, he didn’t see the kids or hear their incessant bickering. Oddly he was drawn to the back of the house to the room he had thought Moira could use as an art studio. Once there, he saw the strangest thing: Junior and Moira cuddled up sleeping. Wow, nothing like a big change to bring the family together.

He walked over to wake them up and found the manuscript in a neat stack in the middle of the floor. He picked it up and thumbed the pages. He stood in front of the kids and kicked their shoes. They looked up at him sleepy-eyed, each of them silently wondering if it had all been a dream.

Until, Andrew began to tell them about the strange weather and the wolf he had hit near the house. “It just took off toward the woods. Stopped and looked back at me too, before it disappeared into the trees. I swear I could see its eyes glowing like little balls of yellow fire.”

He turned around and held the manuscript in the air as he walked away “What’s this? Discover a mystery of this old house? Told you it was something else!”

Junior and Moira looked at each other then where they’d left the manuscript and jumped to their feet.

“No! Don’t read that!” They yelled in unison and ran after him, their feet pattering across the hardwood floor.

From → Short Stories

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