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There’s a story that goes around the small valley town of Clearwater Brooks. A few towns in the surrounding area have citizens who’ll talk about it a little, but it’s far more obscure with every mile from Clearwater you go.
I’ve heard the myth several times in my life, though it seems to evolve a little with each new retelling, keeping mostly fresh with changing times. No one is quite sure when it started either, so the tale they tell today may not be much farther to the truth than the version years ago. It’s hard to say.
The myth tells of a man now known as Noose, though the story usually goes he only got that name years after the fact. No one ever called him that to his face. To his face, and through his life time, his name was Edgar Nihl.
The town of Clearwater Brooks has still never come to a true consensus regarding where Noose came from. The Midwest, the North, maybe a whole different country. No one has ever agreed on his roots, or his childhood. Anyone who may know has long demanded you stop questioning them on the matter. In addition to little of his location, no one knows the type of child he was, all that was clear was one of his most recurring comments in adulthood, “My father was a preacher man.”
Some say Noose had a very normal childhood. Some say he was a shut in who resented the world and all in it. Some say his father drank and beat him and called him a murdered for the death of his mother during his birth. I won’t take a stance on this, I simply do not know.
It is a joke among some that religious parents raise irreverent children. In the case of Noose, this was the truth.
“My father was a preacher man. He was an excellent role model of exactly what I wished to avoid.”
In spite of only the slightest hints at his early years, one piece of the story is always set squarely within them, one no version of the myth is said without. It is said the young Edgar “Eddie”, as he is called when referring to him as a child, was quietly playing one day when his father received a telephone call from a local family. Sometimes they were relatives of the Nihl’s, other times just church-going folk. Whoever they were, they were sobbing hysterically over the phone, Eddie’s father trying desperately to calm them.
Their eldest daughter was found in her room one way or another. Wrists slashed open, hanging from the ceiling fan, with an empty bottle of pills, something or another, depending on who was telling the story. Regardless, she had taken her own life. Mr. Nihl was shocked and disturbed by this news and tried to quell the family’s cries, but could do little.
Being a holy man Mr. Nihl had been taught and always believed suicide was an act of grave sin, one that God would not forgive. But this was a sweet girl, a friend of his family, she came to church every Sunday and never wished harm on anyone. How could she be damned? How could he tell this family he could not hold a service for a soul in Hell?
This is said in the tales to have been a turning point in young Eddie Nihl’s life.
“I wanted to know why a beautiful young woman like her did a thing like that. Why anyone would do a thing like that… Some men study animals for a living, I think other people are quite fascinating enough.”
Noose first appeared in Clearwater Brooks in his early twenties, attending the town university to study psychology, an experience he was said to have always look back on fondly.
“There’s a wonderful small town atmosphere to Clearwater. The food in the cafeteria all came from local farms, you got to know the tenders at the bars personally. It had a nice homely feel. That’s why I’ve never left.”
In a few years’ time he became Doctor Edgar Nihl, with his doctorate in psychology. In spite of all the doors it opened for him, he chose to take a decidedly low paying job working for one of the high schools in town. He was hired with little reaction from anyone. School counselors are usually not treated with much gravitas and relatively few students actually know the full extent of their services. His first year was relatively uneventful, but his second was where the story really begins…
Though her last name changes depending on if the teller bothers to say it or not, it is consensus that the girl who walked into his office sobbing that day in November was Jennifer. She had seen and heard almost nothing of the school’s new councilor, and was surprised to see Doctor Nihl seated there. He was a fairly attractive, if shorter man who kept a well groomed appearance of short black hair he slicked back, a suit and tie and a pair of glasses, all that seemed to break the flow being a birthmark under his right eye that stories say resembled, “A kind of pointed heart.”
Nihl calmly asked her what was the matter and she admitted she was sent there for getting into a fight with another girl in the school, one from a greater social class who Jennifer claimed, “Stole (her) first love with her pouty lips and fake tits”, which resulted in a great battle of hair pulling, kicks and bites between the two girls. Doctor Nihl just nodded and took a few notes, Jennifer screaming and demanding to know why he wouldn’t validate her feelings, Nihl only telling her it is a councilor’s job to listen first and give advice later. She was ready to walk right out when Nihl stated that, by the notes from their conversation, he feared her violent tendencies in the wake of her break up was only the earliest emergent sign in what could be mental illness. Jennifer was disgusted at first, until Nihl suggested what happened may not have been her fault.
“And I see no good in punishing you for something you may not be able to control… I’d like to see you in here again Jennifer, maybe a few times over the next few weeks. I’ll tell you what, I’ll even get you out of detention and see if I can’t convince them to let you come to Homecoming again if you meet with me and I can get a good idea. What do you say?”
A month and a half later, Jennifer threw herself out the window of her parent’s apartment.
There are no details that can be proven about just what the two were talking about over those few weeks, but in modern tellings there is a question as to just how much stock can be put in the theory that Jennifer really was sick. Young women fight over young men in high school, it’s a painful, hormone driven time. One fight couldn’t prove you were suffering from some mental disorder.
And many believe Edgar Nihl knew that…
When he received word, it was said Nihl was deeply saddened and admitted to the principal that he felt like a failure. But the kind man, a psychology major himself, only assured him, “You did everything you could Eddie. It isn’t your fault.”
A select few students still went into Nihl’s office over the course of the next few months, but it was not until May that another real case came up.
Tommy was a stocky boy who had never so much as hugged a girl in his own grade. He was quiet, didn’t like interacting with others, and usually kept to one of his notebooks, where he liked to draw cartoons, some of them morbid, others lighthearted. He kept a list of the people who bullied him (and there were a great many) out of general sight. The list was of all the people who he’d never, ever be like. But when word of his list slipped out, the student populace grew frightened.
They were sure he was crafting some elaborate hit list and just waiting for a day to walk in the school and kill all the people who had been cruel to him. It took several months for anyone to take it seriously, but when someone did he was escorted to the principal’s office by an officer of the law. Most of his drawings, in particular the more morbid ones, were hidden away and were not found in his locker when the staff searched for evidence. No one was quite sure what to make of the day, but Tommy ended up suspended for a week and sent to Doctor Nihl upon his return.
Tommy spoke fondly of Doctor Nihl to his parents. He said he felt secure with him. That he felt like he was someone he could actually talk to. His parents, still far too disturbed by the prospect of a hit list, spoke little to their son after the incident. Surely in those times, Doctor Nihl was one of his closest friends and figures.
On the last day of school that year, Tommy’s parents came home to find he had slit his wrists. Years later, after much talk regarding the symptoms, its been considered Tommy was at best a normal, bullied individual when he was first called in and at worst was a high functioning autistic. Neither of these are the kind of people who just go and slit their wrists.
Palms were sweaty at the idea two children had killed themselves after extensive meetings with Doctor Nihl. The principal and the teachers venomously denied this, and insisted that Tommy and Jennifer were unhealthy individuals, Nihl’s work keeping them from hurting anyone else, no matter the tragedy their suicides were.
Some place Noose’s third case as the first and don’t bother much with Tommy and Jennifer. It perhaps makes sense, given the third was when the story began to earn its reputation.
Unlike the first two, the stories maintain that there were indeed some things wrong with Kristy McCoughlyn before she entered Doctor Nihl’s office. The exact nature isn’t exactly known and usually isn’t portrayed particularly accurately, but most stories these days maintain it was a case of clinical depression aggravated by Kristy’s recent awakening to homosexuality.
Kristy confided in Doctor Nihl that she didn’t want to die, but there were times she thought it would be easier. The Doctor’s response?”
“People just don’t understand people like you Miss McCoughlyn… They have no respect for what I consider a very basic human right…”
To everyone’s surprise, a year later, Kristy McCoughlyn was still alive and well. In fact, she seemed better than she had been before, though still had not come out to her parents. She was even making new friends. But, as she noticed more and more of life’s troubles among her friends, she began to recommend them to Doctor Nihl as well for the way he had helped her.
In a matter of weeks, Nihl’s office was constantly crowded with students desperate to get their inner feelings off their chests. Some were gay, some resented their parents, some wanted to drop out of school. They were all going through what most would consider difficult but somewhat standard times in high school.
With his office constantly filling up, Nihl made a proposition: The students help raise money so that they could rent out a room at the neighborhood community center once a week, where the teens of Clearwater Brooks could come and talk to him and one another about all of their troubles. The funds were raised near instantly and the rental went through with ease. Sometimes well over two dozen students would come to the meetings to chat openly about life and hardships with Doctor Nihl.
That year there were seven new cases of suicide by students previously believed to be of healthy state of mind, six of whom were regulars at Doctor Nihl’s meetings at the community center. It was then Edgar Nihl made his first true remark on the matter.
“It is human right, our born freedom, to let go when we choose to. And no false god or human manipulating legislation has any right to take that away. I told none of them to do any harm unto themselves, but I never once told them not to either.”
To the relief of many parents this gave the previously hesitant powers of the school the authority to terminate Noose’s contract. He took his leave easily and quietly. At least one of his regulars scribbled, “FREE” on a bottle of bleach and drank it in protest.
Despite his sacking Nihl continued to meet with his students in the community center just as long as they could. Eventually, after many more complaints from the parents of the town, the community center rejected him. All of his students said he should fight for his right to believe and teach what he pleased, but he let it passed. The meetings continued in his home.
More distressed than ever that there was a man teaching their children they had a right to end their own lives, the parents of the city grew more desperate for an answer. Some tried to keep their children from leaving the house, only to find them dead by some horrible mean by the next morning. Some were carted off to mental hospitals and insane asylums. Some completed that journey, others found their freedom before the ambulances arrived.
At least one father who had already lost one of his children caught Nihl out for an evening walk and took several hits at him with a wooden baseball bat, desperate for some kind of justice to come of it all. He broke his nose, left his face bleeding all over, but after several strokes, Nihl caught the bat mid swing, rose to his feet and snapped it in two over his knee.
“You should go back home now. And spread the word would you? I bleed, but I don’t die.”
No one knew what to do. There simply was no solid evidence to convict him. Some children entered the meetings as moles to try and dig up some kind of dirt, but Noose truly didn’t tell anyone to take their own lives, only that it was their right to do so. And to the further horror of the town most of the moles even began to follow Noose’s teachings. At the high point, somewhere around fifty students were following him, rejecting the authority of their parents, their government and their god, regarding Noose’s approach of “Live Free or Die Free” as their mantra. Threats on Noose’s life were constant and he was attacked several more times, though the strikes seemed to always do nothing.
It was at this point a mother with the Clearwater Police, Melissa Gareth took the action that would be the point of no return. Having already lost one daughter to Noose, both ethically and with her life, she went to her younger daughter, around thirteen years old named Leslie and began to feed her information. Information for a rumor they would start. She sobbed the entire time, unable to believe that she was going to such an extreme, but just reminding herself it was necessary, so that no parent know what she had experienced again.
She taught her all the proper information, knowing exactly what the rest of the police at the station would look for, and told her daughter to go to Noose’s house in the middle of the afternoon one day, claiming to want to learn more about his teachings. They would break the hold he had over the town’s children with the only topic more controversial than suicide…
A week later the sobbing Leslie was recounting being sexually assaulted by Noose during her visit to him home, and that he threatened her life if she dared tell anyone. Noose was out that night, but the police found everything the girl recounted to them in place: He had torn up her clothes, came toward her with a knife and even cut her a little on the arm and had stuffed everything inside his bottom-most drawer of his nightstand, but had most likely thrown them away by then.
A good police officer would surely be able to tell the wound was self-inflicted, would call for more research to be done regarding an actual rape and would have gone into more detail regarding how the times all checked out. But it didn’t matter. Everyone in Clearwater wanted Noose’s reputation destroyed and he be put away for good.
Noose never returned home that night, or any night. Stake outs continued around his home for any sign of him, but there was none. The people of Clearwater seemed to have finally overcome their local madman.
If only that were the case.
One of Noose’s students had warned him of the charges as he was on his way home from a several-mile long walk and offered to hide him in his cellar. Noose graciously accepted. The boy’s parents were out of state and beyond contact, probably not even knowing how mad the situation with Noose had become. As a result he kept him safely and quietly. Once a week he threw “parties” at his house in which he invited Noose’s other followers to join him in the cellar. No one believed he had raped Leslie, Noose had never shown any interest in sex, and they were all convinced it was just a stunt to ruin his reputation.
“And ruin it they have, my children… For you are my children now… Your parents have abandoned you. All of you, for their own self-righteousness… I will care for you all now. But we all know the reality, don’t we? This world will never accept you, or I, so long as it can try and mask the truth… My time in Clearwater grows short my children… But I know what we will do to conclude our time together…”
For the better part of three months this was all they discussed in that cellar. Noose’s ultimate going away present, and the ultimate expression of free will.
Once a year, in August, the traveling circus came to Clearwater Brooks during their county fair. It was an affair loved by many and attended by anyone who could pay for admission. And of course, it was a popular place for summer employment…
Noose slipped into the fair wearing the clothes of one of his followers, who performed as a clown under the big top. Covered in white make up and a great green wig, he was inconspicuous in his entry into the fair.
He met briefly with several of his followers working in the sales of refreshments, slipping them arsenic and instructing them to wait.
Several of his children had stolen their parents smaller firearms and smuggled them in. Security was not so tight in these times, you must understand.
And several who were going to be attending the show were given thick lines of rope.
Noose waited backstage patiently as the circus progressed. Animals did tricks, trapeze artists made incredible jumps, it was all quite a spectacle. He climbed up a high ladder backstage at about halfway through the show, knowing he was to play a part in a silly western montage in which he would essentially “steal the show” as an evil clown, holding the audience hostage whilst a hero came and stopped him. It was to be light, quick and funny of course. He took his place in the rafters and cocked his prop gun as the last of the contortionists cartwheeled off-stage.
The big top went dark for a moment before he pulled the trigger and fired a blank. The audience oohed and awed for only a moment.
For following this, all of Noose’s followers in the audience stood up and fired at the top of the tent as well. Their guns loud and real. Suddenly there was a panic in the tent. This was not the show some had already seen before! And then there was screaming by the armed children in the audience, that no one was permitted to leave, Doctor Nihl was in charge of the circus now. He smiled wildly as he discarded his green wig and wiped at the make up on his face, in particular the white covering his birthmark.
His words from there could not have possibly been as long and sophisticated as the stories tell, but those are all I have to communicate.
“Thank you, one and all, for joining us this afternoon! I’m terribly sorry to interrupt the show, but I figured you all deserved a chance to be educated on this fine day! Educated on a matter of life… And death. As I speak here, several of my children are distributing cotton candy to as many of you as they can. It is laced with arsenic, you must know, sure to bring about death very quickly… I would not dare deceive you. It is your right to know the truth, and it is your right to decide what to do with it! Careful now down there! If she wants some she’ll ask for it! Don’t kill anyone, you hear me?! Death is their choice!”
“And yes… That is the theme of tonight’s event. The right to die. Behold all of my children! All those who your world has made ache for the embrace of death! So young, so impressionable… And you rejected them. Kristy down there is a homosexual, and the fear of judgment has long outweighed the fear of death in her eyes! Devin over there on the right was beaten by his father every day of his childhood! Eighteen years of suffering ladies and gentlemen… And death only takes a second!”
“I do not revel in death because I detest these children, but rather because I care for them! They waited and prayed to a fictional god for salvation from the horrors you inflicted unto them! And I have been that salvation… And in a moment, they will cast off that pain and embrace the black. Forever.”
At this point several people were already violently ill from the cotton candy. Others avoided it as much as they could. Police sirens were growing louder outside. Someone had surely called in about the gunshots. Noose had no reaction, he had expected their arrival.
“Let it be known this forced education is the only crime I have ever committed!”
The cotton candy had been distributed and Noose began his endgame and motioned his “children” join him. One by one they ascended the backstage ladder and accompanied him on his raised platform. Each came carrying rope, which they fastened into a hangman’s knot and tied to the handrail of the platform.
It is estimated between forty and fifty teenagers jumped from the platform and hung themselves before the crowd. Somewhere around fifty more ate the poisoned cotton candy before the police finally arrived, led by commissioner Melissa Gareth.
No one cared about due process any more, not after all of this, and not when they could finally convict Noose of anything. Garth’s command was to shoot to kill.
But as Noose said, “I bleed, but I do not die.”
In a cackle of ecstasy he took multiple gunshots to his chest and head, blood pouring out his heart and mouth, but nothing stopping his laughs as other officers tried to get the rest of the audience out as fast as possible.
“I told you you don’t understand! None of you do! None of you ever could! But in my act I’ll embrace everything I’ve said for all these years! Live free or die free my children! Live free or die free!”
And with that he pulled a last hangman’s knot and forced it around his neck, taking a jump.
No one really knows what to make of the story of the man who would become Noose. Some say it is a tale of corruption, that in spite of him never committing a “crime” he needed to be punished. Others have adapted his mentality and try to depict him as a martyr. Most adults try their best to never mention it in the hopes Noose’s legacy will die out.
In spite of his rejection of God and the afterlife and his cold embrace of death, Noose truly did manage to immortalize himself, as a dark, twisted legend of Clearwater Brooks.