A Wave from a Chimney
by Jeff Brown
Table of Contents|
Part 2 appeared
in issue 136.
He didn’t know if what he was doing would work but he figured it was worth an effort, especially if it meant Cadence not having any more bad dreams. So, he turned and began to walk along Chase Avenue for the two blocks to Burke Street. It was a block and a half to Burke Street Park. He stopped at the entrance of the park. Looking back down Burke Street Jack could see the road he had just traveled up. It was the same road he walked, as was all the other roads he had walked, on when he was a kid. The scenery might be different but the roads were the same. The buildings were different, the people were different, the year was different, but it was all the same in Jack’s mind.
As he stood at the entrance of the Burke Street Park he felt as if he were six years old again with his entire life ahead of him. There was also the house where the waving man was. In order to go forward in life, Jack had to go forward to face his biggest fear (bigger than dying, he believed). Jack had to deal with Mr. Waving Man.
He took a step into the park. Slowly, with each step he took, Jack began to feel less like a six-year old child and more like a thirty-eight year old man on a wild goose chase. For some reason (possibly because of his mother’s stern words) he stayed on the path that cut through the park just as he did when he was a child.
Jack stopped about halfway through the park. He looked around at its trees, bushes and pretty flowers; at the playground just ahead of him and to his left. With the exception of the playground, which had been added only a few years earlier, everything was still pretty much the same as when he was growing up. Everything except...
There were no people in the park. None at all. There were no children playing on the playground; there were no older folk feeding the pigeons and the squirrels; there were no pigeons or squirrels; there were no lovers walking hand in hand or lying on blankets, gazing up at the sky or into each other’s eyes. It was not even three in the afternoon and there was no one around in the park. There was nothing going on, not even the least bit of wind blowing.
Jack let out a nervous chuckle at this. It was appropriate. Even the wind and the animals knew something was wrong here. Walking on, he continued to look around. When he reached the park’s exit he stepped onto Collson Avenue. There were no cars on the oddly deserted street. He crossed over and onto Winchester Street. Here, Jack stopped.
From just down the road he could see the house with its rotting wood trim, boarded windows and collapsing roof. For the first time since he stepped out of Tabitha’s car he felt fear. It grabbed his heart and threatened to swallow him. He wanted to turn back now that the time had come to face the house and the waving man.
Again, like so many other times in Jack’s life, he had to take a step forward to get on with life itself. When he finally took the step he began with tentative steps at first and slowly began to walk like a man with a purpose. His tennis shoes made little padding sounds as he walked up the cracked sidewalk. Jack looked down at his feet as he went. When he reached the house of the waving man he stopped.
This is the house of the waving man, Jack thought to himself, his eyes still focused on his white tennis shoes. All of a sudden Jack was six again and staring at those same shoe tops, hoping he would not see anything appear in the chimney if he looked up. Then, out of the corner of his eye he could see the man appear in the chimney stack.
Jack swallowed hard, trying to force down the fear that threatened to envelop him. Then he looked up. He felt his head moving upward on his neck. He could almost feel his neck muscles creaking and feeling as if it needed oil like a rusty hinge on a door.
Standing there, in the chimney, was the waving man, his skin and clothes covered in smoke soot. He was waving with the hand that was missing its little finger. For the first time since he had first seen the man Jack noticed that the man was waving with his right hand. It was of no real significance to him; it was just that he had not noticed it before.
The man’s eyes were focused in on Jack, their gaze meeting Jack’s. This time the man’s eyes looked different. It was if they were alive but very sad in their living. For a moment jack could feel the man’s sadness in his own heart as if he were the man and his world had come crashing down on him abruptly.
As the man dropped his arm, ending his wave, he began to frown. It made his face look sadder than before, if that were possible. Slowly, and without warning, the man began to fade away.
“No,” Jack yelled. “”Don’t go!”
Beside Jack’s ear, in a cool winded whisper, came one word. Jack spun around expecting someone to be there, but there was no one.
“Come,” the voice had said. The sound was as real as Jack was and he was sure he didn’t imagine it or the coldness that blew against his neck.
Again, the word came: “Come.”
This time Jack spun back to the house, his eyes wide and darting about. There was no one there again.
But, there is, Jack thought before hurrying toward the house to look for an entrance. In his head he could hear the word echoing loudly: Come.
* * *
The front door was shut tightly and locked. It was boarded up, nailed so no one could go in that way if they wanted to. All of the windows were also boarded shut, the nails driven deep into the wooden panes. Jack had worked his way through the overgrowth of grass and weeds to the back yard. He had to climb over a collapsed fence (thanks to a tall oak tree that had fallen either from age or a bad storm or maybe even both) so he could get to the back door. It was shut just as tightly as the front door, locked and boarded up also.
Jack took in a deep breath then released it in a bit of frustration. Getting in shouldn’t be this hard, he thought. He then thought differently. Well, it’s not like there’s a welcome mat on the porch. The door’s not just going to open up all by itself After all, the house is condemned...
For a moment Jack almost expected the door to actually open up all by itself. He thought the lock would turn, the nails would mysteriously be pulled out and the boards would fall off the door. He thought the door would just open up and he would be welcomed in by some guy in a tuxedo that would say, “Come in Master.” That didn’t happen and Jack was relieved that it didn’t. It would have been his luck that if the door did swing open it wouldn’t be some butler in a tuxedo but some dead man covered in chimney soot and bleeding from various parts of his body. He would smile a grisly smile and extend a hand, minus one little finger and welcome Jack in by pulling him by the arm to his death. The door would close behind them and no one would ever hear from Jack again.
Come! the voice said again.
The sound startled Jack. “I’m trying to,” he said impatiently. “Just give me a minute or two.”
Jack slid the backpack off of his shoulder. He had tools in there, and a hammer was one of them. He held the bag, trying to decide if he wanted to pry the door open or maybe even one of the windows. The only thing that concerned him with that idea was the noise he would make. Surely, someone would hear him and call the cops. Then his adventure would be over and the waving man would go on waving to him in his dreams.
Who’s to say someone hasn’t already seen me and called the police? he thought to himself.
As he was thinking he looked over to the tree that had been felled sometime in the past. He followed the trunk upward to where it was lying on the roof. Jack smiled at he possible new option that was presented to him.
* * *
The large oak’s trunk was still pretty solid despite the rotting that had begun to take place in it. Jack was a little hesitant at first, not sure he really wanted to try to climb the tree to get to the roof or not. There might not be an opening up there anyway.
I’m not a kid any more, he thought to himself.
Jack pushed the thought aside and began to climb up the trunk anyway. He was crouched down, his hands balancing himself on the trunk as he moved slowly upward. When he reached the roof Jack stepped down into a sitting position so his feet could touch the roof. While sitting, Jack pushed down on the roof to see if it was still sturdy. There was no give in the roof like there would be if there were rotting going on.
Jack slowly stood, keeping his hands out in case the roof did collapse under him. He looked as if he were about to flap wings like a bird. Once he was standing Jack could see what he had been looking for. On the other side of the tree and closer to the top of the roof was a large hole. It was a means to enter the house. Before Jack went to the hole in the roof he had one thing he had to do.
* * *
Jack’s nerves had stilled themselves quite well by then. Jack was feeling like he was meant to be here, on the rooftop of the house of a dead man who Jack was sure was trying to get in contact with him. He reached into his bag and pulled out the flashlight in it.
He straddled the roof with one leg on either side of the roof caps. Jack placed the flashlight in the waistband of his pants and then stood up. He used the chimney stack to balance himself. His hands grew cold as he touched the icy cold bricks of the chimney. At first he pulled his hands away, not sure of what to make of the cold chimney in the middle of May. Then he stood, one hand on the chimney, the other hand groping at the flashlight until it was out of his waistband.
The chimney was dark as Jack looked down it. There was a stench that could have been mildew and dirt or old burnt logs. Or, maybe even decay. Jack didn’t know, but either way he could figure it, the smell was nasty and wet. As he stood there taking in the stench of the chimney he raised the light. With the press of a button the light came to life, lighting up the chimney stack.
Jack could now see the black soot of the chimney caking the sides of it. Further down he could see a mass of entangled cobwebs. Just beyond the cobwebs Jack could see something else... something of a gruesome discovery, he thought.
At first he wasn’t sure what it was he was looking at. It looked white or gray with bits of brown or black on it. As he moved the flashlight a little he could see a little better but he still couldn’t make out what it was. Jack looked away for a moment down at his bag. He reached into it and pulled out a screwdriver. Jack shone the light back into the chimney. As he did so he took the screwdriver, placed it in the chimney and wiped out as much of the cobwebs as he could with its tip.
When Jack looked back in through the cleared cobwebs he couldn’t believe his eyes. The thing that was white or gray with brown or black splotches on it appeared to be a skull. It was lying off to the side and up against one bricked-in wall of the chimney. Jack could see what looked like rotted out clothes — a shirt mostly — and bones. He could see plenty of bones.
His mind’s gears began to spin rapidly. Jack tried to put his thoughts together, trying to put each piece of what appeared to be a puzzle together. The man had obviously died many years ago (at least thirty-two, from what Jack could figure). The man who constantly waved at Jack as a child and still haunted him as an adult was a ghost who was apparently trapped in the chimney (and wanting me to get him out somehow) How was he killed? The last thing played on Jack for several moments as he looked down on the remains of the waving man. How was he killed? It was no question in Jack’s mind that the man had been murdered — why else would he be in a chimney?
I need to call the police, Jack thought. He began to make his way down the roof back toward the tree. He had no idea how he would explain why he was on the roof of a condemned house, but the cops had to know. As far as Jack knew somebody had gotten away with murder.
When Jack reached the tree he stopped. The voice, pleading and pained came back to him:Help me.
Jack stood still, his muscles suddenly tense. His good friend, Fear, tried to show its ugly head again. He listened, his ears straining, for the voice again: Help me.
This time Jack heard it —the voice — clearly: Help me. There was a long pause, then: Please.
Jack dropped his head. His friend, Fear, was gone, replaced by another of his old friends, Mr. Rationale. Mr. Rationale argued with Jack over what to do.
He’s been in there for over thirty years, Jack thought.
That’s right, Mr. Rationale countered. So, what’s another few hours going to hurt him? Or a day?
He’s been trying to get help from me for that same amount of time, Jack thought.
So?! Jack’s mind yelled. He could see Mr. Rationale’s face, an older version of himself with wrinkled skin, a double chin that was sitting in a rocker with a wood cane between his knees. He was a pessimistic individual with a somewhat bitter expression on his face. So! He’s been trying to get help from me for thirty years.
Well, he can wait another day.
There was a silence in this argument for a moment.
Well, then what am I going to tell the police? Jack asked Mr. Rationale.
There was a long pause.
Don’t know, Mr. Rationale said with a snap. Jack had him, and he knew it. Even if Jack left right then he would still have to explain how he knew the man was in the chimney.
At least that’s all you’ll have to explain, Mr. Rationale said.
“Shut up, old man,” Jack said aloud, ending the thoughtful conversation with Mr. Rationale.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown