Innocence is never lost gently, it is torn like the psyche's version of the hymen; ripped away by a penetrator greedily intent on satisfying it's
own harsh needs unmarked by your own feelings of painful invasion. And when it comes it comes without warning.
But not quite like this....
My adolescence was spent ferreting through comic books shops and dusty old book stores.
My interests were gothic and, as one guidance counselor told me rather gleefully, unhealthy. The truth is I was never fixated on the subjects of
superpowers or vampires but rather the aura that surrounded the central characters in these fantastic tales. They were outsiders. And, most of the
central figures, like me, were outsiders by choice.
For one reason or another I was born completely absent of the desire to "fit in". The fashionable cliques of High School Societies held very little
interest to me. I knew more about sports than the jocks and more about the real legends of Vlad Dracula and occult activity than the poseurs who
passed themselves off as being "Goth". But I did not like playing sports competitively as I had no desire to participate in locker room camaraderie
or go to keg parties and make braggadocios stories about various faerie tale conquests of the fairer gender most likely riffed from the pages of
penthouse letters in some lurid pastiche of adolescent
Nor did I feel inclined to sit around a dank basement with kids who painted their fingernails black, worshipped that guy from The Cult and watched
repeats of Dark Shadows on Sci-Fi while smoking weed and fantasizing about what it would be like to be Barnabas Collins.
I am not judging the social caste system of High School life nor am I endorsing thee eschewing of it as, it turns out, I have grown up to wish I had
made myself more available to the cliques and packs that roamed the burnished halls of High School. It most certainly would have made my transition
from adolescence into adulthood far easier if I had.
One of peculiar byproducts of being an outcast by choice is the strange aura it seems to imbue you with. The more odd students displaced by either
their background, their looks or their bookish nature seem drawn to you. I have had a knack for feeling drawn to the shunned and the strange and, I
suppose, given my history, they to me.
There have been few I have liked more than a strange kid I met in my sophomore year by the name of Jaimie. He was curiously small for our grade but
older than me by a half year. His hair had the moribund look to be pitch in color. So dark it looked perpetually greasy even when it wasn't but
fiction or not the mere look of it was enough for the rapacious in crowd to use as a sigil of derision against him. Made worse was his oversized
horned rim glasses and his almost unnatural skills at mathematics.
What fascinated me about him though was how open he was about his hatred of his assigned rung on the social ladder. This is where he and I diverged
but the difference in our need to belong was never a point of contention between us. But most curious of all was how he excelled in math, a thorn in
my side since 6th grade, while maintaining an unusually high level of absence. This dude was out of school at least twice a week and, on occasion, for
whole weeks at a time.
Yet his grades never suffered and he only laughed when I asked him how he could excel without being in school and spending almost no time studying. On
one occasion, when I broached this subject with him, he looked around furtively as if he wanted to be sure no one could hear what he was about to say.
When he was confident we had our end of the cafeteria table to ourselves he paused and then a few seconds passed before he said "you would not
believe me if I told you. But maybe someday I'll show you".
I am not exactly the Budweiser Clydesdale when it comes to my affinity for work. I was even less so then so the idea of getting his grades by his
methods and having even more free time to burn was highly appealing to me. I retorted something along the lines of 'anytime, anywhere bud' to which
he laughed again. An entire marking period passed and I never gave much thought to this conversation again.
But Jaime remembered it.
One afternoon he had invited me over his house to see something he thought I would enjoy. Most of our conversations centered on my usual fancies to
which I still carry in my heart today: sci-fi, comic books, baseball and an odd thirst to believe in things that science cannot countenance. Things
that walk on two legs in deep forests or spirits that float in the bleed between this sphere and the next. Unusual fare for testosterone fueled
teenage boys for sure.
Anyway, when I arrived at the modest cape he lived in with his parents he ushered me down into a furnished basement that was decorated incongruently
with old daguerreotypes of what I assumed to be old relatives and off tapestries with strange almost ghastly faced woven into them. Imagine a rug of
fine thick ornate lace surrounding what appeared to be the horrified visage of the central character in Munch's "the Scream".
There were also posters of horror movies from their golden era: "Tarantula", "The Thing", "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" stood out to me because I
was a fan of them as well. If you grew up with cable it was impossible not to recognize the films as Channel 9 out of New York played them every
Saturday morning at 5AM.
There was a makeshift room in the basement constructed of plywood paneling and carpeting. The stone foundation on the far wall was lined with books.
Neither school boy academic nor fiction in their nature they were thickly bound and ran the paranormal gamut from witchcraft to old world legends of
the 'vampyre" and the strigoi.
Jaime went over to the bookshelf and reached high up on the top shelf having to extend himself to the top of his tippy toes to do so and I remember
how absurd he looked. Like Emmanuel Lewis reaching for a cookie stashed away n the highest counter in Alex Karas's kitchen.
When his heels returned to the ground he held a dusty old tome in his hand with what appeared to be a tassel of some sort dangling from the middle
"This is my secret, Jay", he said to me and he held out the book in the same manner as Oliver Twist held out his empty bowl.
There was a pentacle on the leather cover and the words only Sam Raimi fans and occultists really know knew inlaid in the binding: "NECRONOMICON".
"What's that I asked"?, curiously my fascination firmly captured by the old appearance of the book and the word "necro" which I dimly knew meant
dead in some ancient language I could not recall.
Jaime told me rather proudly it was 'the book of the dead' and it was authored by an unknown paramour of literature known only as the Mad Arab and
that, according to legend, it was cursed.
He explained that book contained spells and incantation that acted as a key of sorts to unlocking deposed demons whom he laid claim once strode the
corporeal borders of our world before the saints and angels of christiandome and other modern religious sects banished them to this dimension that
exists sideways of ours.
It was cool story and I liked the whole parallel realm thing as I had just discovered the wonders of String theory so the whole worlds sideways of
ours thing really tickled my pickle but the curse thing was hard to fathom.
Much like I am today back then my attention span was thin even for pre-historic demons.
Besides "Thundercats" would be coming on soon and, despite my advanced age of sixteen I still marveled to the adventures of Lion-O and the Eye of
Perhaps sensing my urge to leave his creepy basement dwelling Jaime quickly flipped the book open to the tassel and vehemently pressed his finger into
the middle of the page. There was a paragraph of glyphs and, because I did not recognize the symbology, I immediately though of it and Egyptian or
Sanskrit. Underneath the paragraph was a drawing of what seemed to be a bat of some kind with an elongated jaw and eyes as wide as spotlights. In his
open maw he had what appeared to be a pile of shapes that resembled, well, people.
"So you read about giant bats and translate Egyptian stuff and that's how you get good grades, huh"? Yeah, I was mildly annoyed as my attempt to
learn the secret to his academic success was very real and I felt like he was using my need to indulge our shared interests but to a degree I did not
find entertaining at all. My interest in these subjects was very real and, at the time, I would have likened myself to an agnostic whose fascination
with the Almighty so abiding that even though I did not believe I hungered for something that would make me believe. Jaime, it appeared, was my
diametrical opposite: a fanatic who gave himself over to the blind belief with or without verifiable proof of thee existence of the fantastic.
Or so I thought.
I was wrong.
Perhaps my furrowed brow gave away my doubt so Jaimie scrambled not to lose the audience he had taken for granted and lured into his dank abode. "I
know it's f-ed up dude", he said, "but I just read the words and then I feed the book and everything just…works out for me ya know"?
Like a master magician Jaimie had captured my attention again right at the crucial moment of losing it. I think they call it The Prestige in the magic
world. Anyway, I stared at him for a moment examining my little friend for any hint of posture or look that would give away an attempt at
prevarication. What I found were black eyes filled with a wanting I had never seen before. This kid needed me to believe him and I felt bad, even if I
did not believe him fully, so I played along.
"What do you mean you feed it, dude. It's a f--ing book. Are telling me this dusty piece of Egyptian b.s. eats"? I used a genial tone accentuated
with sarcasm because that is what I was known for and because it naturally masked any anger that would have made my odd little class mate shrink away.
"It Asssirian", he said, "not Egyptian and, yeah, I feed it. A lot. More than I used to anyhow. I think it gets hungrier the more you use it or
"Yeah, like a girlfriend" I joked and we both kind of laughed. But neither of us looked at each other while we did so. My eyes were on the book and
so were his.
"Um, so what do you feed this thing? Ink or does it prefer the salty snacks like Combos"?
Jaime then held up his palm towards me and for a brief instant I assumed it was a gesture to make me stop joking around. But it wasn't. I realized he
was showing me something. A long pale, puckered scare lined its way diagonally across his palm. It looked almost like a thunderbolt and it seemed to
get lighter and darker as if it had its own pulse.
"I feed it my blood".
The smile on his face when he said this must have made my face look as pale as the scar on his palm because I felt a guttural, instinctive need to
take leave of that basement and of the company of its occupant. But it's funny how powerful curiosity can be. It does not kill the cat directly, I
think, but seduces it to the precipice of its own demise and then it's the true face of the pursuit, when uncovered that pushes the kitty over the
I needed to know more about this morbid, intimate ritual between boy and book.
"So you just cut your hand open and drip blood on it or whatever and 'voila' you ace Algebra"?
Jaime laughed again but it was a hollower laugh. Condescending I guess you could say.
He lifted the tassel and shook it at me in a grotesque way like a fakir waving a cobra at a crowd of wild eyed tourists afraid equally of the serpent
as they are of its handler's unchecked bravado.
"It took me a couple cuts to figure it out because I thought this was just a bookmark or something. But it's a tongue. This part of the book Jay is
the book's mouth. It only works if you drip your blood into this part of the book".
I was enthralled now.
In movies I had seen trees that eat children, dogs that craved flesh and houses that devoured people but blood hungry books that traded sustenance
for academic excellence was a totally new concept to me. And I liked it. 'So', I thought to myself "this is original. Let's see where the little
guy goes with this'.
I still wish I hadn't.
Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I had left.
But it was too late to turn back now.
"So dude if you feed this bad boy here with your blood how come there's no stains or whatever"? It was one of those "AHA" moments skeptics get
when they see a zipper glinting in sunlight on a Bigfoot video or when a giant sturgeon washes up dead on the rocky shores of Loch Ness. It's when
you get to be a prick basically and say "You're a hoaxer and I just nabbed you d-bag".
But, alas, Jaimie had an answer.
"Yeah, it's weird". As if out of this whole scenario this was the one detail that stood out as strange to him.
"After I drip it onto the page I have to close the book and then, when I open it up again, the blood it gone. It just sort of drains it like its gone
so long without eating that nit just sort of evaporates".
His attention to detail was like the black hole pulling me closer to the center of his madness. I had recalled that in deserts like the Kalahari or
Sudan that the Earth is so parched that it literally swallows the rain that does fall and moments later returns to its natural hard sun baked state.
But my cynicism, as always, maintained the same parched thirst for proof as the Kalahari had for water and this book had for blood.
"So prove it then. I mean we have a quiz in algebra tomorrow and you have not been in class since Monday. Feed this thing and tomorrow, if you face
it, I might believe you".
His face lit up with a smile that crawled from one ear to the other. I recognized as the look of someone on the threshold of finally receiving
validation…or acceptance. His smile was just like my cynicism and the sands of the Kalahari. He needed to belong as much as his mysterious book
"Come on let's go", he said.
"What do you mean"?, I asked. "Can't you just bust an artery here and let the thing chow"?
"Nope. It will only eat if I bring it to the place I found it".
"And I imagine that's not at the Bristol Public Library now is it"?
He giggled like a nine year old who just discovered the magic inside of a National Geographic pictorial on the the unclothed tribes of the Amazon.
"Nah, not anywhere near the library".
It was like he was trying to make me ask the location of its discovery.
" Ohh-kayy, where then"?
He smiled again. But this time it was genuine glee. Like the kind you feel when you break a promise by revealing a secret you have kept for a long
time and that has gnawed at you to be freed like a genie from a bottle.
"Tory's Den. I found in the cave".
Tory's Den is a little known historical landmark that lies on the border of Bristol and Burlington. It's hidden away pretty good in the hills and,
if you go looking for it by yourself having never been there before, you are likely to miss it. The Den is not so much a cave as it is a geological
accident. Basically one big giant slab of rock fell across two other big rocks with the result being a cave that looks like a dark little mouth that
never gets to close.
The story goes that back before the United States became the United States when the land was still the province of the King the revolutionary spark
was just starting to build to a fire. The local Whigs who, of course, were all piss and vinegar in favor of American independence were constantly in
conflict with the few who lived here who stubbornly held on the their loyalty to England. These folks were called Tory's.
Anyway, as the story goes tensions boiled over and as America began it's arduous journey down the birth canal to Country hood the Whigs could no
longer bear the presence of Tory's in their midst. So they began to hunt them door to door and when found they killed them or locked them away
somewhere. The Tory prison on Stone Road for example. But that place, well, that place has a story of it's own I'll share some time.
So the Tory's, fearing their fate and sensing they were not long for the New World, fled into the foothills that bordered the furthermost edges of
what is now Hartford and Litchfield counties. One of the many places they took shelter from their implacable pursuers was here at Tory's Den.
There are tales of bloody slaughter that took place when the Americans found their quarry and the bodies that were not carried back to Whigville
(still a small hamlet within the borders of Burlington) as an effigy to the shrinking shadow of the monarchy were left behind at the Den to feed the
bears and the cougars which, at the time, prowled the new England wilderness with abundance.
Through the decades and centuries that intervened the Den has seen much activity given its esoteric nature. Satanic cults and assorted other pagan
sects have held mess there inside the black maw of the den.
There is always the persistent acrid smell of burnt candles and incense in the air that surrounds it. There was even an old story my father told me
about a hiker who encountered what he could only describe as the devil himself resting on top of the Den.
Before that afternoon with Jaimie I had known the Den only as a historical footnote, a piece of childhood lore I had fashioned together from wild
stories passed down to me from my father. But now, it seemed, the time had arrived to measure the reality against the legend.
We arrived at a little dirt road off of East Chippens Hill road and parked my mom's car on the shoulder of the curb far enough away to avoid oncoming
traffic blinded by the sharp curves of the unpaved avenue. From there I followed my friend who cheerfully bounded his way through the thick underbrush
pointing out with juvenile exuberance all the different landmarks along the way.
He recounted how he had been up here about a year ago looking for deer to shoot (another hobby of his I was unaware of) when he happened on a path
that lead up to the den. He claimed when he rounded the bend that lead up to it he heard someone call his name is a sharp whisper. Naturally unnerved
by hearing his voice called out in the middle of an unpopulated and semi-remote forest he called out to whomever or whatever had asked for him.
"Come here Jaime. I need you".
The whisper was raspy and phlegmy. Like a desultory rattle dragged on as if seeking dramatic conclusion. The whisper was so long one might surmise it
was less an entreaty and more of a trail. An audible bread crumb left behind for the horn rimmed Hansel in this regrettable tale of hunger and need.
The long whisper had snaked its way from the pitch den Jaimie had heard about, much like me, in local legends told around the fire of a cookout or
jamboree. He said that the whisper tendril was extending from the rectangular, perpetually gaping maw of the Den.
I must say that, at this point in his memoirs of the day he discovered this book, I was taken aback by his courage. I do not think I would have the
stones to go any further once I heard the whisper never mind take my actions so far as to follow it up the hill and then crouch down and enter that
dark crawl space of earth and stone from whence it emanated.
"But that's just the thing", Jaimie retorted with a note of genuine curiosity in his own voice, "I wasn't ballsy following the whisper and
getting into that cave. I was afraid not to".
We pushed back the thorn bushes and ivy and made our way through the pines and the birches and the oaks all of which seemed much closer to the ground
than they actually were. Perhaps it was a peculiar geometric quality of the enscarpment we trundled our way up that afternoon but, to me, it felt like
the local flora was leaning down out of morbid curiosity to get a better look at these two foolish teenagers and the fate that awaited them at the top
of the hill.
When we arrived I was struck by overwhelming quiet and isolation of he place. The only sound at all came from the breeze as it stirred it's way
through the dried leaves of summer that covered the ground like burial shroud. I remarked that the noise could quite possibly be rather easily
mistaken by ears predisposed to hearing such things. Jaimie scoffed at my meager attempt to rationalize his super natural encounter. He told me that
what he heard was not leaves. Because: 'leaves don't tell you to come inside and the wind most certainly does not sound like 'open your palm and
I was struck by two things at that moment. The first was how, in my curious fervor to follow this strange acquaintance from High School on the trail
of his mad reminiscence, it never occurred to me to ask him how he knew the book would only work if he fed it. The second, was why I had not
remembered to ask.
My mind is that of an avowed skeptic and cynic. If my mother offered me a hundred dollar bill on my Birthday my first response would not be 'thank
you' but, rather, "what's the catch'? It felt at that moment of paranoia fueled by a blood thirsty book, a strange school friend and the desolate
surroundings of a forest laid to rest for cold season that some unseen force had kept that thought of 'how did you know' out of my head.
Crazy perhaps but no crazier than anything else that had occurred that afternoon.
'Did the book tell you anything else"?, I asked.
That beaming smile again. I was growing to hate it.
"Sure, it told me to bring you"!
I had never quite understood that old saying about geese walking over your graves. But I did now.
It was not so much the words he said that implied his dusty old hitroy book with it's queer tassel had requested my prsence be brought before it at
tory's Den but, the way Jaimie looked at me when he said it.
He was gushing as if he were about to initate me is some secret handshake school yard club that he was the only member of.
I felt oddly like I had been maipulated and that this queer little fellow with the penchant for math and uncanny knowledge of Chris Claremon't run
on "The Uncanny X-Men' had orchestrated my entire day to get me to this point. And yet, though I felt the anger turning my cheeks to a high flush
and my fists curled into fists so tightly the knuckles of my hand were as pallid as my friendly tormentor's face.
But the Dark Seductress Curiosity held sway in my heart rooted far deeper in its rocky soil then the neophytic anger that fervently yet futiley gave
it's brief run through my blood. If I stood there and knocked Jamie's block off the risk would be too great. How would i know what this book as all
about? And if simply a demented liar craving the attention of a companion, any companion, why pick this place out of any other scary haunts closer to
The rationale of hunger and need works fast and is a swift detourant to righteous anger.
"So this book here asked you to bring me here"? I meant that to come out wath a raspy acerbic bite that only those well schooled in the fine art of
cynicism and daily beating behind the school would grasp. I may have been staggered but a part of me anyway still knew how to reach my targeted
demographic. Except my fine attemt to diffuse the stark ambiance of this meeting at Tory's Den came out as a whisper not much higher in volume than
the diembodied vocal tendril of the book that drew Jainmie to the Den.
"It sure did" he giggled. "I think it wants me to share it with someone else. And it picked you. Yep, lickety split. If it were a chick I might
think it has a crush on you".
This last dagger of ridiculous insight almost drew my knees to the ground. I think that was actually the first time my conscious mind recognized that
I was afraid. Not afraid in a 'hey you flunked alhgebar now it's time to tell mom' kindo of way or a "cat jumps through the open window while fair
ingenue suspects a killer nearby' in a horror movie kind of way either.
This was primal.
Real fear, unlike the artificial kind you get from movies or books, is like an element. It craawls into your skin and props you up like a second
skeleton. You can't close your eyes against it. You can't even look away. It is cruel in that it not only forces you to meet it's gaze full on but
everything around you comes into sharp focus.
The smell of burnt leaves and hickory chips wafting on the breeze from somewhere distant was carried to me on the wind like an unshriven revenat of
normalcy, the birch trees, bare and stark seemed to be skeletal finger reaching up from the earth and we were nothing more than captives in their bony
grasp. And that black, unyielding mouth of the Den looked even more alive then ever.
It was hard to believe at that moment that any visitor here would be foolish enough to think that opening was passive and serene. It was the Alligator
Snapping Turtle of local yore and it's pitch depths were the lure it used to trick it's meals into entering it's gullet.
My mind had conjured a brief image of a 1700's era Tory, on his hnds and knees, peering into the Den as if to make sure it was unoccupied only to see
the earth rise up and sever him at the middle in a mocking unearthy bite.
But despite my fear i could not let this scurrilous little Judas before me quiver. I would not let this manipulato,r who took bold advantage of my
love for "Daredevil" comic,s to draw me into his tarpit.
"Great", I said, "I can't get Coreen poirier to look at me twice in biolgy class but a book will give me a bj and swaloow to boot. Color me
The bespeckled object of my scorn peeled off into laughter again. If I had a pistol of, even better, a light sabre I truly believe I could have killed
him right then with his pale face chortling away with laughter like a rusty engine of a lawnmower sparking up after a long winter's rest.
'So dude are you gonna show me how this copy of "Crime and Punishment" eats or are we gonna stand out here all afternoon jerking off to ghost
In a clumsy move his glasses tumbled to the watershed beneath us as he wiped his tears of comical elation from his eyes which, i noticed for the first
time, were set far back in his skull. Almost unnaturally far. Like birthday candled oushed too deeply in a vanilla cake.
"Sure, yeah, sure. It's getting late anyway and my Mom will be pissed if I miss dinner again. It takes like an hour to wlk back from here. It's a
real pain". He sighed when he said that and it was wretched as if he genuinely hated to leave this place which made me wonder just how many times
he'd made this little pilgimage to the Den since he had the amount of time it takes to get back so well mapped out in his devious little mind.
"Wait', I said, "you sound like you've made this trip more than onc ethere cowboy".
He furrowed his browa little as if he were retracing our conversation in his mind to find out just how he managed to give away that little prized
nugget of information.
"Um, well, yeah. Jay, I told you I feed this thing whenever I need soemthing. I mean, #, how many quizzes have we had in algebra this semester so
far? Six, seven maybe"?
Something little light at the bottom of my brain stem fired on and all of the sudden I realized I was not victimized by Jamie but by a nemesis far
older and well know to me. An enemy that had bested me time and again: my arrogance. Jaimie was not trying to hide things from me, in fact, he was
being so open with me as to seem incredulous in the face of my piercing sarcasm. He had actually taken my intelligence for granted and in my
blundering I had, of course, underestimated his. He did not need to explain further but when he g=began I felt obliged out of shame to let him
complete his unwanted victory over me.
"This is the only place where the book will....feed. The first time I tried using it away from here was when I had that test in U.S. History two
months ago. I blew off studying for it and got some kind of a weird cold that made me miss a few days so I was pretty freaked. But then I remembered
how awesome the book worked the last time I made a wish and gave it a little blood".
ah, I thought, so we go right from finding the book and using it up here to using it a seconf time. It seemed my friend had conienently skipped the
part of telling me what the book gave him in exhange for it's meal.
Conspiratorial, untrusting minds have a bit more staying power in the face of fear than does shame and anger I guess.
"Hold up dude. You said you remember how well it worked for you the first time you fed but you didn't say what you aske dit for. An A+ on the ropes
course in gym class? What"?
Jaimie had been tolerant of my questions and my sardonic retorts all afternnon but this line of questioning brough a dull flash to his muddied eyes.
"Do you want to listen or do you want to play Commisisoner Gordon all #ing day"?
His raspy tone which had been the impetus for many a cafeteria belting from flying milk cartons and such sounded clear and lucind and, well, tinny. As
if there were another voice inside him echoing on the tail of his own. I just held up my hand in a gesture that said 'apologies, please continue'.
He rubbed his eyes which were now bloodshot and placed the glasses back on the ridge of his crooked nose. "Anyway, right before class started that
day I went to the bathroom. I found a stall empty on the far end and I lcked it and pulled my feet up on the seat. I rested my bag on the tank behind
me and removed the book which always seemed to be there when I needed it. In fact I had remembered leaving it on the top of my bookshelf in my cellar
that morning but I knew, I just knew, when I reached my hand into my bag at that moment it would eb there. And it was.
"So I opened up to the middle where the tongue is and I jammed a pen into that really soft part of skin on your palm just under the thumb. The funny
thing is it didn't even hurt but damn if it did not gush like a fountain. Huge drops of really dark blood splatted all over those clean white pages
and that rusty inky and the drawing of the bat creature. the, like the time i found it up here, I shut the book, used the gauze in my bag to wrap my
cut and went in to class. I took the test and the next day I got it back witha bigh "56" written on the front. I failed".
It did not take a Phd. in parapsycology to figure out why it failed. The bookw as just the mouth but it did not work without the brain telling it to
eat. This place, Tory's Den, was the brain and that cave was the mouth.
The book was the teeth.
"Did you try...asking it well, why it did not grant your wish"?
Jamie pondered this for a moment. "No., not really. I mean as soon as I saw the grade I kinda knew what went wrong ya know? Like when you build a
model and it doesn't look the way it did on the box and then you find out you were sitting on a piece that you left out that just sort of makes the
whole thing, I dunno, click"?
I knew exactly what that felt like having experienced the same thing when I saw thorought the foggy veneer of my own hubris a few moments ago.
"So you cme back here and tried it again, huh"?, I asked.
"Yep, as soon a school let out. When I got here I ripped off the gauze, which I always carried with me now just in case, sat down of in the opening
of the den and ripped at the hole in my thumb until it gushed out all over Mr. Bat Thing. And Then I made my wish". He paused for a second perhaps
savoring the memory of that wish or recoiling a bit from regret eprhaps. He was so pale and gaunt that it was hard to read him really.
"So, dude", I asked, "what did you wish for a U.S. History do over or something"?
He smiled he really looked like nothing more than a skull with wax skin pulled over it and an oily wig added on top with glue for the effect of
mirroring vitality in it's mose basest of levels.
"Nope. Something better. But come on it's getting dark".
I was down with that. By this moment the notion of being outhere in the dark with that damned fake cave and Jaimie's book was something I wanted no
part of. in fact i did not want to be out here with Jaimie anymore at all.
"okay this is how it works" he said. I am going to show you how I cut myself and tell you what i wish for but you can't watch the book feed. it
will only drink inside of the cave" (where, it's mouth is I thought to myself) and it doesn't want anyone else but the donater seeing it eat".
secretly this was fine with me. I wanted no part of watching that thing get human blood pured all over it but mstly i did not want anypart of going
into that inky black den. but, I did have my part to play and I felt like my chances of seeing another episode of "thundercats would be greatlt
enhanced if I countinued to act like the skepitcal jackass.
"So, wait, you can't actually let me see this thing eat? How do i know you're not in there painting the cave floor red with your blood instead of
feeding 'Mr. Thicker Than War and PEace' there"?
Jaime smiled and in a fluid motion far quicker than any he looked like he could muster he clawed at the wound on his palm with his finger nails until
a fresh trickle of blood ran down his wrist.
"Becuase what i'm going to wish for is so outragous that when it happens you'll have no choice but to believe".
And with trhat he dispappeared into the Den. The breeze had stopped and there was no sound, not even birds of squirrles, to fill the empty space.
Tehre was nothing to distract me from that feeling of isolated solitude you sometime feel when you are alone somewhere you have never been before.
It's the feeling of being..exposed. After a few minutes I heard what sounded like deep gurgling coming from the cave. It was the sounded of someone
The wet thick throaty sound that came from the darkness of the opening was the final straw for me. I turned my back on that...that mouth and took my
first step on my journey far, far from that place. Tor's Den, from this point, would be relegated to the forgotten history section of my internal
library after this. But just then Jaimie popped out of the cave like a cobra from a wicker basket.
His face had become so pale you could see the tributaries of blue veins that worked their way through his head like rivers on a far flung alien moon.
Yet, his exuberance was that of a 5 year old hopped up on candy bars and sugar".
"You can look now", he said as he pressed some heavily stained gauze agianst his palm. The book, which looked newer somehow, it binding less
cracked, it's lathey color more auburn that rust colored. It looked like it was flushed with blood and refreshed by the quenching of the dark thirst
Jaimie claimed it possessed.
In his post-feeding haze Jaimie misttok my attempt to flee te hilltop as a grand gesture meant to give hima nd his hardbound lover more privacy to
complete their bizarre act of symbiosis. I decided the wise course was to let him keep thinking that by completeing my role in this bizarre theatre of
"It drinks more evry time you use it. It like it gets hungrier after each meal", he admitted while absent mindedly frowning at his own words.
"Pehaps it has a tape worm dude", was all I could muster as I stared at the festering wound in his palm and the soaked mesh that could not contain
the bubbling plasma that seeped out of the frequently ripped wound.
Jaimie guffawed at the tapeworm joke and for a moment Itried to imagine Ralph Maplh still "having it" like me under a situation of such ardent
"Yeah, maybe", Jaimie said iwth his sunken peach pit eyes beaming underneath the ridge of his forehead. "so you wanna know what I wished for"".
I lied with my body by nodding tht I did. It was all I could offeranymore.
"okay', he said. You know that cocksucker Craig Ray the runninng back, who you almost gopt into a fight with last month in gym when you called him a
brainless douche bag for not knowing who the Patriot's backup quarter back is"?
Finally, something that could make me smile convincingly in the midst of all this...stuff.
"Well, he has been beating me up since the fifth grade. You didn't go to the same school as us back then but once he slammed my head into a locker
so hard in 7th grade that my front tooth exploded. I can still see how it looked all powedery on the fron of my locker. He started then and he hasn't
stopped since. Until tomorrow anyway". Again witht he skelton grin. And again with that hollow pit in y stomach filling with a warm brun of dark
"Why", I asked, "what happens tomorrow"?
He was in full out sneer mode now a defiant as someone as thin and sharp edged as he was coud look. "Well I wished that at tomorrow night's football
game that he will die of a giant heart attck on the fifty yard line". That way he'll not only be dead but the whole game will be ruined too! Pretty
I imagine if Jaimie and I were in a competition for pale complexions he, despite his slithering morbidity, would have been hard pressed to match me in
a steel cage match of palor vs. palor. I could feel the color in my face fleing to my feet like rats darting off the deck of a rapidly sinking ship.
I could lie and tell you i vehemently scolded the demented little imp for wishing such a fate on even a giant prick like Craig. But I did not. Instead
I stifled back an unexpected surge of vomit that rose in my throat like hot magma from a lava tube and I simply nodded my head slowly.
"Ah, excellent", I croaked in feigmed approval.
"Yep", he said, "so when it happens you HAVE to believe me right"?
I think that a large portion of me already did but I eagerly assented to his challenge. "Yeah, I'll believe you' Can we go now"?
He looked at his watch without even so much as noticing the seeping gouge in his palm and then up at the failing light of the day. He nodded and
together we walked back to to my mom's car. There was not much conversation on the walk back. i remember him asking me if i thought Ric Flair would
go over Nikita Koloff at "Starrcade: Night of the Skywalkers" and a brief conversation about the way way Frank Miller drew Wolverine as opposed to
John Byrne but, in actuality, I was so not there with him in those talks.
No, my mind was just focused on the road and how each second brought me closer to his house.
And when we arrived he got out of the car with just a simple "later" and disappeared into his perpetually dark house. When I got home I did not eat
dinner or talk to my parents. I retreated to my room like a man with a secret he desperatly hoped he could outrace and leave on the otehrside of the
closed door. And for the first time since I was a child I slept with my head beneath the covers.
It was a quiet night devoid of the dark dreams I was fearing and absent of the soft noises one hears when trying to sleep in the grip of fear. And the
enxt day at school I attended lagebra class and took a quiz I was ill-prepared for but, the seat next to me, Jaimie's seat, was empty. It seemed his
talent for absenteeism had struck again.
"Or the feeding is making him sick', I thought and quickly pushed teh notion of all things Jaimie and books out of my mind. A Herculean feat given
that I was in school and surrounded by the pulpy hard covered objects that now forever seemed to have a menacing air of statnic symolism to them.
While sitting alone in the cafeteria that afternoon I notice Coreen Poirier, the love of my life since she fiorst smiled at my Genesis prank that got
me suspened for two weeks, in second grabe catachesm was sitting next to good old unbeknowst-to-him-demonically-cursed douche bag cum running back
They were holding hands and when she saw me across the room she dropped her gaze for a minute. I really had know right being angry at her. I knew she
liked me for seven years but never acted upon it too fearful that doing so would take me away from my meticulously constructed and safe world of
fantasy and solitude.
But yet, pissed, I was.
I realized then that there was a slight notion, an ember if you will, down in my gut that wanted to warn Craig of aimie's "wish". But all day I
tried to envision a scenario where my most frequent social nemesis and the butt of many of my cruselst, yet funny, jokes would not either laugh at me
of drive a well muscled forearm into my midriff for spinning such a far fetched yarn.
But once I saw his lips brush the soft blushed cheek of Coreen Poirier all secenario envisioning leapt out the window. For a brief moment I even think
i wanted him to die. Finishing the school day was a hard chore as the dual images of that preening pompous assbag kissing Corrine raced neck and neckk
w th the grinning face of Jaimie after telling me of his wish for first place in the Kentucky Derby of my internal torment.
And when that bell rang at ten minutes after two in the afternoon I knew that it would be a long nighjt before my feet found their way home. I drove
my car past Jaimie's house and notice dthe light in his basment keep was on. 'Probably plotting world dominiation while opening a femeral artery' I
thought to myself and drove on to the place I vowed just 24 hours earlier I would never go.
I paked my car in the same spot on East Chippens hill road and pushed my way through the trail that led to Tory's Den. The day was colder than the
one before and the wind chill seemed to have enough bite to take my bodie's attention away from the firm grasp of undiluted terror that I experienced
The place still smelled of hickory and dust and even though Jaimie was not here the mouth of that Den still looked ominous and dark. But, on some
level, my mind realized that with it's "teeth" it was nothing more than a stired mouth withour bite. Much in the same manner thatmy imaginary Tory
ventured in I too got on my hands and kees and poked my head and shoulders into it's paralyzed yawn. I recked into my pocket and removed the pen
light my Dad's left in every car he ever owned perpetually convinced it would come in handy in an emergency that never seemed to dawn.
The inside of the cave was caramped and I doubeted anyone much bigger than myself would be abe to wriggle their way into it's snug confines. My light
was trained on a cricle made of some red dye (blood, you know it's blood my other voice cried) when I noticed a tickle on the wrist of the hand I
rested on and shined my thin
shafty of jaundced light down to the floor of the Den.
It was a squirrel. I think. Whatever it was I could only hazard a guess. It was grey and it was mummified. It remoinded me of how a grape goes from
looking full and juicy as agrap to small and hard and wrinkled as a raising. It was as if every ounce of fluid inside teh thing had been drained and
what was left behind was a dried dessicated skull with lethery flesh desperatley clining to it like some scrap memory of life.
It was dessicated and.....something else.
A word on the tip of my mind that flitted in and out like the forked tongue of a scaly serpent. I shined the light around the husk of the dead
squirrel and noitced it was not alone. Pushed back into the far corner of the den were equally mummified remains of other squirrles as well as
chipmucks, raccoons. birds nd something bigger which I imagined must have been either a fox or a dog that had the mosfortune of slipping it's leash
at home only to end up here in the demonic little slice of medievil horrors.
I pulled myself from the opening so quickly that in my reckless haste to leave this place I knocked my head on tjhe DEn's roof and a starbloom of
bright light filled my field of vision. When the world came swimming back into view I noticed small droplets of my own blood on the floor of the
psuedo-cave. I heard it whisper from all around me:
"Good. Jay, tastes good".
My knees locked and my heart shook the very moorings of my soul with it's thunderous rhythm of rapping and knocking inside my chest. I took flight as
soon as the very paniced urge to do so managed to work it' s way in aslow desultrory fashion from my heart to my feet. I imagine I looked much like
Ichabof Crane dashing across the covered bridge as I raced down that holl for the second, but not last, time.
When I reached my mom's car I sped off with every real intention of going home and cowering in my room and losing this whole experienc ein a Celtics
game on Sportschannel. But when I reache dthe fourway stop I knew that hearing Mike Gormn and TOmmy Heinsohn wax peotically about the leadership
skills of lrry Bird was not to be for me that night.
Instead of the left turn that would take me home I went right toward sthe High School. Towards the football game. When i arrived they were announcing
the names of the team and the cheerleaders were rhyming out one inane monstrosity of rhythmic garbage after anther. I snuck up theorugh the eft side
of the bleachers and took a spot two rows behind Corrine.
For a moment her profile, the same one I had stolen peeks at since second grade acted like a sponge for my terror and all I could think of was leaping
down next to her and declaring my undying love for her in front of the senior class.
The cruel little voice we all have inside of us seems to grow stringer when we are in a state of emotional duress doesn't it?
hat ugly disquieted internal damper reminded me that as I was doing this act of emotional exposition there was a possibility her new football ehro
boyfriend could be dropping dead of a heart attack. So I kept quiet and took another wrong turn at an intersection on a night that changed everything
for so many.
The first play of the game was what one expected from a High School team desperately lacking talent and possessiing the best College Proispect in the
entire state. Yep, Jay Craig. The Quarterback reached back and handed the ball off to Craig and, asper the norm, he pushed his way past the defensive
line until he reache open field. He was ailing to a sure touchdown by the time he reached the enemies 45 yard line.
And then, as he reached midfield, he collapsed.
The crowd gasped and Corrine clasped her perfectly strucctuered hands around her beautifully full lips.
Jay Craig was sprawled out on the 509 yard line just as Jaimie had wished. In some kind of bizarre mockery perpetrated by whatever Dark Appetites he
fed his blood too Craig was aplayed out on the painte dgrass as if he were about to make a snow angel. Coaches and students raced onto the field. A
oulsating mass of blue and gray school colors and whirring siren lights undulated across the gridiron and Corrine just stood there her feet glued in
shock and terror and unable to move. I could relate to that feeling. It had become a fixtue in my life as of late.
I hopped down to her level and for the first time in seven years I actually touched her voluntaory. I put my arm around her and she looked at me in
wide eyed shock. But instead of launching into the oft-practiced and never befored uttered soliloquoy about my unending love for her I could only
"Craig is dead".
The words had the same effect on her that the starter's gun has on sprinters.
One minute she was in my arm and the next she was flying down the bleacher's in fevered attempt to reac her love's side. I did not stay to see her
reach her end. I did not need to see her tears flow like Jaimie's blood nor did I need to hear Craig officially pronounced dead. instead I walked
slowly scross the street to the desserted Page Park with it stell pnatome of monkey bars that looks like dinosaur fossils in the moonlight and
vommitted underneath chutey chute until tehre was nothing left inside of me.
The whole experience had left me weak and tired adn perhaps being sdo close to a symbol of ancient paranormal evil had opened me up to some
otherworldly illness because for two eeks I had a fever and I slept in a haze that seemed almost coma like to me. My parents blamed the stress of
schoola nd teh death i had witnessed and they concealed all newspares from my hospital room anfd my old man told me he would not even spring for the
buck a day it cost to have the televison powered up so i could at least recoverwhile distracted by Larry bird and Dennis Johnson.
But instead I took solace in Batman and the Justcice League. My mom, at least, recognized that this was a job for Superman.
The day i returned to school I tooka bold step towards my recovery. I stromed over to Jaimie's home room and waited there for him determined to
avenge the fallen student I once despised. Stuffed full of comic book bravado I was determine that if I hit him hard enough, long enough that I could
get him to "wish" Craig back to life. So I waited. But no Jaimie. His Homeroon teacher told me had been out of school sinc ethe day before the
tragedy on the fottball field.
Since the day he first brought me to Tory's Den.
I relaized that this blow to my now incomplete act of highly anticpated ct of viginatism had taked the most of th steam from my legs. So I went down
to the nurse and found my first day back to be a short one. I told my Mom on the phone that a friend wa sgiving me a ride home so she had no need to
trouble herslef with leaving work to takle me home. In truth I needed to walk, to feel that crip illuminated air of a fall day untainted by faling
loners and blood thirsty books and petty adolescent grudges alchemized into death.
As I reached the back entrance of the school I found Corrine sitting on a rock on the edge of the small glen that surrounded the school. She was
crying. I felt like crying too. So i joined her. At first I just sat there and listened to her cry and then absent of any romantic inclination I slid
my hand over hers and squeezed it.
"I'm sorry Corrine. I'm really, really sorry".
She nodded and wiped at her cheek.
"How did you know? How did you know he was dead"?
It took a minute for me to recall my reckles sproclamation of Craig's passing before it was officically pronounced. "I dunno", I shrugged.
"Sometime you just know ehen something really awful is about to go down. I used to ignore when I felt like that i guess. I reckon that when he fell
out there on the field I just said what I felt like that feeling could not go ignored anymore, ya know"?
It was not all a lie.
I did ignore that feeling before tory's Den and my assertion that Craig had passed away was an involuntary aknowledgment that those days had indeed
passed with th seting sun on top of that damned hill.
She was rubbing her stomach absent mindedly and I assured her that i had spilled my guts onto the ground plenty of times simnce that night and if she
had to she should do so with untaineted abandoned and free from my accustomed jusgement. "My stomach is fine why do you ask"?, she said.
"Ah, sorry. I just saw you rubbing it and thought..."
A fresh rivulet of tears begn to run down from her gem green eyes.
She looked up at me through tears I never guessed that outr first real conversation in seven years would turn out like this. Never guessed.
"I'm pregnant", she said and collapsed into her hands.
Old habits die hard even in the face of supernatural fueled tragedy and I acerbically noted that "at least Craig left behind something for you huh"?
Whatever grief she held back evaporated beneath the rage she now aimed at me. She snapped to her feet nad paintbushed my unshaved chhek with the palm
of her hand. "The bay isn't his asshole" she bellowed. "it's Jaimies"!
Not it was my turn to snap and it was with a arge that far dwarved hers. She was not on this rock crying because her boyfriend died she crying because
she was impegnated by a dwarvish little prick who held a mystical power to have his most base desires fulfilled at the end of a lurid feeding.
What", I said, "you slept with him"?? I spat out th last part of that as if saying his mane would evoke his presence.
"Yes, I don' t really remember it though", she said. "I just remenvber that after Craig died I felt some kind of...nedd to go to his house. I
still do not even know his last name but that night I knew.." she trailed off the grtief and mystery overtaking her anger once more.
"You knew how to get there like you had a map to his house in your brain". I finished the snetence for her she thought but, really, it was jut me
drawing my last conclusion on the most recent wish of my boy Jaimie.
"Yes", she said, "how did you know"?
I smiled grimly as I watched my last shred of arrogance and juvenile naivete flutter off into the autumna sky.
" I had a feeling like that once in Algebra class".
I walked her home and made sure she got in okay. She offered me a soda but I declined. She asked me if I could please keep her confidence on the
pregnancy as she was unsure of her decison. She had reached a different intersection that I had and when we parted on her doorstep neither of knew
which way we would turn but we both knew, I think, that our respective turns would undoubtedly meant we would never reach the same stop sign together
I cannot speak on where the road she chose landed her. I don't know what she chose and I do not know where she is. But, my road, you see, took my
right toward s Jaimie's hosue where I now had a supernatural murder and a suernatural rape to avenge.
My temples were beating hard as I imagine beting him over the head with his cursed book and my step had extra spring when imagine throwing it into a
fire and then urinating on it's perpetually hungry pages.
After what seeme dlike hours I turned the corner on the street where he slinked like a skunk in the underdwellings of that cellar and as I laid eyes
on the modest cape and the rapidlt approaching vengeance I quested for I saw...
His mother, a diminutive woman with curly black hair, stood in the driveway. As I apporached I saw the object of my vengeance on a strechter his head
and rigfht arm partially exposed beneath the plain white hopsital sheet that covered him and for the second time in three weeks I pronpunced someone
dead befor ebing given official word.
I attented the funeral despite my anger. I did not do so out of moruning but curiosity. Jaime was not popular and his odd ways did not draw many peers
besides myself into his demonic world. Yet everyone from the Senior and Junior classes at both High School's in town turned up at that funeral and
all of the girls hovered over his closed casket with tears flooding from their eyes.
I shook my head and pursed my lips. Jamie's last wish" I said to myself. And as I as leaving the antique show room of epitaphs and mourning I
stopped to use the men's room. While I was in a stall two men came in and they were talking in an excited manner.
"Strangest thing I've ever seen" one said to the other".
"Yeah, it's pretty weird Steve but ya have to admit it was the easiest day at work we've ever had here. # all we had to do was pump him full of
embalming juice? said the other one.
"Yeah, Mike I never had to not drain blood from a body before embalming him. It was like he was, what's that word the coroner used...."?
And before Steve the Funeral guy could utter it fluttered back into my mind.
That word that had flirted with me while in the opening of the Den as I examined the dead squirrel memmy"
"Exsanguated", I whispered to myself just as Steve the Funeral Guy fumbled for the word.
Jaimie had died and when he was found by his mom his body had been completely drained of blood. And the only injury he had on his entire body was a
scar on the palm of his hand.
I read his obituary and, at school, listened to the urban legends that soon sprang up about Jamie and Craig and the town of Bristol itself. In each
story there were tales of witchcraft and devil worship and, yes, "vampyres" but there was not one mention of a book and Tory's Den was never
mentioned at all.
Corrine had been absent from school since the day we parted and I knew she would not return. I knew that i owed her and Craig and maybe, just maybe I
even owed Jamie a little bit of payback. I waited two more weeks and on the Wednesday before Christmas I knocked on the door of that ranch I entered
so arrogantly and innocently two months earlier.
Jaimie's mom answered and I introduced myslef. She immediately recognized my name and happily pronounced that I was her son's only friend from
:He talked about you all the time" she said and for a minute I saw Jaimie reflected in her stretched smile.
I shuddered a little and she closed the door behind me as if it were caused by a natural chill.
I explained to her that Jamie had borrowed an old library book from me and if I did not bring it back before Christmas Break I would get a day of in
house suspension and that my Mom would be really upset with me.
I described teh book and told her he had placed it on his shelf downstairs. She told me she could not yet bring herself to go down there into "his
domain" as he had called it and I asked if I could just go down myself real quick and look for it. She agreed and even offered to make me some hot
When I reached the bottom of those creaky wooden steps I turned the light on and was immediately greeted by the staring eyes of Bela Lugosi as Dracula
and Michael Landon as the teeneaged Werewolf and John Agar in the shadow of a giant spider. I entered into his room and the shadows seemed to coil
around me like a nest of snakes.
I reached up on the top of the shelf in fully expecting the book to clamp down on my fingers and suck down my blood like old Bela himself.
But it was not there.
I searched the whole cellar at a fevered pace irregardless of shimmering shadows and the soft shuffling of unseen forces moving about the basement
walls. The book was gone.
I shared a long cup of cocoa with Jamie's mom and endured her fond remembrances of her "quizzical little boy" as she put it and managed to ask if
any of his stuff had been taken away. She said she could not yet bear to part with any of it. As she offered me her farewells at the door I noticed
her tears as she wished me a Happy Holiday.
knew that before the first snow fell that night I had one more trip to make into the leave strewn forest that hid
Tory's Den deep within it' s chest..
When I arrived I let my mom's car assume it' natural position on the dirt road at the shoulder of the forest. I paused for a moment before entering
to tap my pocket and make sure what I needed was there. I marched up through the bony birches and whispering pines and soon found myself staring into
the oily mouth of the Den's opening. It was noon time so there was no real need for artificial light. The cracks in the Den's skull were numerous
and wide enough to allow saberss of sunlight to pierce it roof and illuminate the bottom of it's jaw.
My business here would not take long. I knelt down like my fantasy tory and poked my head into the Den ignoring the mound of freeze dried rodents and
birds and sought out that red ring on the floor. My foresight had
been correct. In the center of that circle was the book.
I smiled knowing somehow that the caves hunger, the book's magic could only work when removed from the circle. I knew from some distantt genetic
memory, if there is such a thing, that the Den book needed an innocent to remove the book from that circle and use it as its succor in exchange for
And in the end when your wishes were granted and your veins sucked dry the teeth and the tongue were somehow brought back to the maw. Without the
innocence it could not feed.
As I turned my back to that vile domain for the final time I heard the whisper myself. It was not the pine's. It was the seductive melody of Jaime's
"Come back here Jay. I neeeeeed youuu".
I paused for a minute a closed my eyes against that raspy tendril of hollow promises that peeled out behind me like the trail to Hell.
# you", I said out loud.
And before it could answer me back I reached into that pocket and pulled out a pair of earphones and just as I thought I hear that whisper start up it
was blasted out of my life by James Hetfield and Metallica blasting away on "Master of Puppets".
And I have never looked back since.