A Wave From A Chimney
by Jeff Brown
“Remains Found Of Man Missing for 38 Years”
That’s what the headlines read on the morning after Mick Price’s body was found.
* * *
He was six years old the first time he saw the man in the chimney. Jack was barely in the first grade at the time and had been walking home from school by himself for only a couple of months. To Jack it was a big deal to be able to walk home alone, without Mommy or Daddy holding his hand. Even though Jack didn’t realize it, he had gotten his first taste of freedom and it was something he really liked. He looked forward to the school bell ringing each afternoon signaling the beginning of another nice walk for him. It was his favorite part of each school day.
Jack walked his normal route of two blocks along Chase Avenue, make a right and walk the one and a half blocks down Burke Street until he reached the Burke Street Park. From there he would cut through the park, being mindful to stay on the sidewalk as his mother instructed him to do. From the park he would exit on Holland, crossover to Winchester Street and walk the almost three blocks to his street, Collson Avenue. Six houses down on the left was a two-story cottage house made of brick with white wood trim. This was home to Jack Kenzie.
When Jack was six and on his way home from a very good day in first grade he saw him. He saw him just after he had exited the Park onto Holland and crossed over to Winchester Street. He had been thinking of how Mrs. Baker had let him beat out the chalkboard erasers that afternoon (a privilege reserved for the most well behaved student of each day), and the milk and cookies he would be having when he got home.
Jack had been humming a children’s tune as he walked, not realizing that John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt had made its way into his head.
The tune, as well as the thoughts of eraser dusting and cookies and milk left him behind when he first saw the man appear in the chimney. It was as if he came out of nowhere, as if he were thin air made solid in a bat of an eye.
Jack saw him out of the corner of his eye as he was passing a one-story brick house that had a “For Sale” sign staked into the ground. The grass was brown and overgrown and wilted from the previous winter. He frowned as he tried to remember something about the house that his mother had commented about but couldn’t.
The man was standing, his legs in the chimney up to his knees. Jack, even in his young years, thought this was odd. The man was actually sanding in the chimney. Not beside it. Not sitting on top of it with his feet on either side of the chimney. No, he was actually in the chimney.
Well, Jack thought to himself, if Santa Claus can do it, why can’t he?
Jack crossed the street, not realizing he was doing so. His feet carried them with a will of their own. As he grew nearer to the house Jack could see the man better. But, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
The man looked to be about his father’s age, in his early thirties (thirty-five at the very most). He was a white man with brown hair, or so Jack thought his hair was brown. It was hard to tell. The man was covered in black soot: his white face and skin, his brown hair, his clothes, which Jack thought was a long sleeved button up shirt and a pair of jeans, all of which was covered in black soot. A black-red fluid seemed to seep out of his hair and down his face. In the back of his mind Jack thought the liquid was blood; blood intermingled with the black soot (which he thought was dirt) running down his face.
The man was waving.
Jack watched as the man waved his right hand slowly from side to side, his arm not moving at all. His little finger was missing and there was more of the red-black liquid running down his arm and into his shirtsleeve.
Slowly, Jack raised one hand and waved back at the man. A cold feeling began to rise in him, starting at his toes and working its way up his body. The small hairs on the back of his neck began to stand on ends and his heartbeat picked up several beats faster. Jack had been scared many times in his six years of life whether it was the dark or a thump in the night or an angry dog, but this was different. This fear he felt was a deep down gut fear, one that was telling him to get away. Get away fast!
Jack began to back away, slowly at first. The sound of the car horn honking brought his attention away from the house and to the car in the road that he was standing in the middle of. The man in the car said some words, which Jack didn’t hear, then moved around him and drove off. When Jack looked up at the house the man was gone. Jack’s jaw went slack and he turned away from the house. As he made his way home he picked up his pace, hurrying as fast as he could without running.
* * *
The light was off in Jack’s room when his mother came in. The night light in the corner which hadn’t been turned on since Jack started first grade was on, its white glow shining like a star in the darkness. Jack was under his covers, his body in the fetal position. He held a small gray and black raccoon in both hands, held tight to his chest. The raccoon’s name was Rocky and he was Jack’s security blanket. The only time Jack held Rocky was when he was scared or upset.
His mother frowned when she entered the room. Reaching over she turned on the light. She walked over to Jack and sat on the bed. Slowly she reached over to him and stroked his light brown hair.
“What’s the matter, Jack?” she asked as she stroked his hair with the backside of one finger.
“I don’t feel too good, Mom.”
“Do you feel bad?” she asked. She had noticed the night-light was on and now, sitting beside him, she could see Rocky the raccoon in his hands.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Jack said in a small voice. He didn’t look up from the wall he was staring at.
“Sweetie, did something happen in school today?”
Jack shook his head as if saying no.
“I just don’t feel good,” he said.
Jack’s mother nodded. She knew something was wrong with him but she didn’t want to push him. She never pushed him when he was upset. Jack would come to her eventually, just as he always did, and they would talk about what was bothering him.
“Well,” she said, “if you need something let me know.” She stood and started for the door. “I’ll check on you in a little bit,” she said and walked out of the bedroom.
When the door closed Jack looked back. There were times he loved his mother dearly. There were other times he hated her. At this moment he hated her. He had wanted to talk to her, tell her about the waving man in the chimney, about the fear he felt when he saw the man. He had wanted her to hug him, to hold him, to kiss his fear away. One hug from his mother would wash it all away. But, she didn’t do that. She just walked out of the room the way she always did. If he didn’t fear what would happen if he cursed her (even if it was just in his own thoughts) he would damn her for being so uncaring, so insensitive.
Jack’s stomach growled but he ignored it. He could smell dinner wafting through the house, up the stairs and to his bedroom. His mouth became wet with hunger as the aroma entered his room, calling him to eat. He ignored it, closing his eyes and choosing not to go down stairs where his parents were, where his mother was.
Within minutes the growl of his stomach was gone, replaced by the sound of his sleeping breath, exhaling and inhaling.
He was standing in front of the house on Winchester Street looking up at the man in the chimney. At first the man hadn’t been there and the house looked just like any other house on the block. The grass was a lush green and cut tight; the flowers were yellows and whites and pinks that lit up the little garden in front of the house. The house was brick and the trim painted a bright yellow.
Jack stood in front of the house, just off the lawn, looking up at he chimney. First one soot covered hand appeared out of the chimney stack, then another. The chimney began to expand, the bricks moving and contorting as the hands pulled up the body they belonged to. A head appeared, black and bloodied. Then came the shoulders as the man pushed up with his hands, followed by his chest, waist and hips. The man stood straight up with only his legs just below the knees still inside the chimney. To Jack he looked like the little tar baby from the Uncle Remus stories his mother had read to him. But only this tar baby was tall and obviously not a baby.
The man looked to be trying to pull his legs out of the chimney but couldn’t. A look of frustration came over his black and bloodied face. He stood erect again and his eyes, which were dark and cold and barely even there, fell on Jack. The man smiled a horrible smile, exposing black and rotting teeth.
The front of Jack’s pants became damp as his bladder released. A fear — a complete fear — swallowed him as he looked at the man. He wanted to run, to get away from the man’s horrible stare, his rotted out smile, his soulless eyes, but he couldn’t. His feet were firmly implanted in the grass, which had now faded from green to brown and held his ankles as if each blade were a hand or a finger.
The house began to sag as if it were a painting sprayed with water so that the paint would run down the page. The brick exterior looked to be crumbling, its yellow trim now an ugly brown color. The roof sagged and looked as if it were about to collapse. The windows were broke out and looked just as empty as the eyes of the man in the chimneys were.
There was an odor. Jack didn’t think he was smelling the odor that permeated through the walls of the house, but it was there. It smelled of decay and Jack was certain it wasn’t the house with the smell to it but the man in the chimney.
The man raised his hand and waved to Jack. The little finger was missing and there was a thick black sludge oozing from the wound.
Jack started shaking his head back and forth. He tried to scream but nothing came out.
The man in the chimney stopped his waving. There was a look of hurt or maybe anger on his face. Jack couldn’t tell what the look was but it scared him worse than what he already was. The man reached his hands toward Jack, his arms seemingly stretching, his hands growing bigger. As the hands reached toward him Jack screamed loudly.
Jack sat bolt right up in his bed. There was sweat coming off of his face and body. His bed, nightclothes and hair were soaked from it. He felt his heart beating hard in his chest, temples and throat. His breathing was labored. He wasn’t sure but he thought he might have been crying. He also wasn’t sure if he had screamed or not. If he had screamed where was his mother? Or his father? Surely one of them would have come running at such a horrified screech of terror from their only son.
Neither parent appeared at Jack’s door, opening it and seeing if he were okay. After several long minutes in the dark Jack decided he had not screamed — at least not in reality. Besides it was just a bad dream. That’s all. And Jack didn’t need any hugs or kisses or reassurance that all would be okay. Not Jackson Thomas Kenzie.
I’m a big boy, he thought to himself as he lay back in bed. The wetness of the sheets chilled him a little more than what he already was. It was just a dream.
* * *
The next day went by slowly. Tired from a lack of sleep the night before, Jack fell asleep in two of his classes. The first time, in Mrs. Giles’ class, the old bat had awakened him with a loud slap of a ruler against Mary Murphy’s desk right beside him. The class got a roar out of that one and an even bigger roar from the drool that had pooled on the desk and smeared against the side of his face. Mary Murphy gave him a dirty look. After the class she told him how much she disliked him for embarrassing her. He hadn’t thought she was embarrassed by the way she was laughing at him.
The second time he fell asleep he had better luck. Miss Braylenn let him sleep, waking Jack only after class was over and it was time to go home. She had been much more forgiving than Mrs. Giles. Jack was thankful for that.
Miss Braylenn asked only if he were okay. Jack told her he didn’t sleep very well and was tired. He didn’t think she believed a word Jack had said but she didn’t question him any further. She just sent Jack on his (normally) merry way home.
It had taken Jack longer than usual to get to and through the Burke Street Park. Almost twice as long, in fact. He stepped onto Holland and crossed over to Winchester, looking both ways before he did so. Jack’s feet stopped on Winchester, freezing still as if in blocks of ice that had suddenly been frozen around his ankles. He could see the house, though not too good from where he was standing. It didn’t matter to Jack if he could see the house or not — he knew it was there, and he knew he would have to pass by it in order to get home.
Jack crossed to the other side of Winchester and then slowly started up the street. He could feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest. His mouth had gone dry and sweat began to bead along his forehead. He was slightly aware that his bladder had just developed a sudden feel of urgency in it.
Looking down at the toes of his old Traxx tennis shoes with the blue laces in them Jack walked. He tried focusing on each step, trying to make each one as deliberate as the previous one, as deliberate as his attempt at not looking toward the house when he neared it.
It did no good.
As Jack approached the house he could see it out the corner of his eye. He tried closing his eyes but that didn’t matter: he could still see the house in his mind’s eyes. Finally, halfway pass the house, Jack looked up. In the chimney was the man; his skin and clothes were dark with soot and blood. His little finger was missing on a hand that was raised up and waving at Jack. Unlike in Jack’s dream the man in the chimney had eyes that were quite visible and a deep green color, as if they were bright green lights staring from the man’s skull. They were haunting eyes that pierced into Jack’s soul.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown