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The sun was out, thankfully, when my friend took me to the edge of the muddy creek and showed me the old wheelchair that was laying half sunk in the brown, thick water. It was only about a mile away from his house- we would walk to a local park known as Blue Limestone, travel a bit into the woods and then through a tunnel under an old railway.
The tunnel itself was unsettling, it was long and even in broad daylight it was dark inside. The walkway through the tunnel hugged one side and was about five feet above a sluggish portion of the creek that ran through it. In the water there were ruined remains made of concrete and steel bars that I could only imagine would have been the other walkway. It was always a fear of mine to slip off of the narrow, often damp path and into the water below to be impaled on some rusty iron bar jutting out from below.
Once we emerged from the tunnel we walked a further distance through the woods following the same creek. The surrounding area was perfectly safe and nonthreatening by day, but by night the area would fill up with all manner of drug abusers who bought and sold their contraband. Sure, dark woods at night can be creepy, but there’s almost nothing scarier than an ill intended human being.
Presently, after passing through a few old ruins (more concrete and metal bars) we reached an area of the creek where the bank was probably eight to nine feet above the actual water. Along here there was a well-traveled dirt path that we took and turned off only briefly to find a small outcropping over the water. In the water was the object my friend wanted to show me- the old wheelchair.
The thing was, quite frankly, pitiful to look at. It was covered with a variety of muck and marine plant life as it sat half submerged in the muddy water. From what wasn’t resting under the surface, it was pretty easy to tell that the thing was a dark reddish-brown- a rather common color for wheelchairs. At first glance it looked like just old trash but something intrigued me about it. My friend was pretty interested in it too; after all he had come all the way out here to show it to me.
“I’m gonna pull it out,” I said after a moment of thinking. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to,” he said as he looked down at the water. The bank was nearly completely sheer and it was composed entirely of rock. It was like a miniature cliff. However I was feeling rambunctious and was only urged on by his doubt to impress him.
“Watch me,” I said cheerfully, pulling off my shoes and socks and setting them on the outcropping. He didn’t try to stop me- in fact he almost seemed pleased that I was going to go for it.
Clambering less-than-carefully down the cliff was no problem- I’m six feet tall and it took little effort to drop myself gently down to the sliver of an edge that remained at the bottom by the water. Now that I was down there though the wheelchair certainly looked a lot further out and I nearly instantly bemoaned my boast of retrieving it.
But, I wasn’t the first one who had tried to get his hands on the wheelchair, which was looking increasingly unattractive the closer I got. Wedged into the wheelchair was a long branch covered in greenish-white lichen and I seized it eagerly.
I pulled gently, half expecting the stick to pop out and loose the wheelchair for good. The wheelchair began inching closer.
I nearly yelled in triumph and drew in the cursed thing as close as I could. I tremble now to think how eagerly I reached out to touch it and grab it. Pulling it out of the mire, I looked up at my friend. He seemed slightly impressed bust mostly disgusted.
“I’m not touching that thing,” he said as-a-matter-of-factly. I couldn’t blame him; the old, wet vinyl was making my hands itch and burn a little already. But I didn’t need his help, I had a hold of the wheelchair and no little cliff was going to stop me.
I’m not really sure how I managed to climb up the cliff with that soggy mass of rusty metal and stagnant, rotting vinyl in one hand. But I did, and I scrambled enthusiastically to the bank, the wheelchair in tow.
“There,” I said triumphantly, trying to make the wheelchair stand on its own. The axels had rusted out though and the thing kind of leaned pathetically off to one side. To me it seemed more like a corpse than an inanimate object.
“God, it smells,” my friend said. Despite this fact he leaned in closer to inspect it, genuinely curious. I, on the other hand stepped back to observe my handiwork and take a good look at it.
The thing was amazingly grotesque for what it was. Stringy water weeds hung from the parts that had been underwater and dripped slowly on the ground. All the metal had been rusted badly while the material that had been underwater was in a severe state of decay. The vinyl that hadn’t been submerged was cracked, dry and flaking, creating an interesting contrast.
“This thing is completely awesome,” he said in awe. “I can’t believe you got it up the cliff.” He pulled out his digital camera, which he always had with him, and started snapping pictures, circling around for better lighting and angles.
“I know right!” I said excitedly. I loved to do things that were slightly crazier and off the beaten path. As he continued to capture pictures of our new pet I looked down at my clothes. I was fairly filthy, and it wasn’t up for debate whether I smelled or not.
“We should probably get out of here,” I said. My hands, which I had up till now forgot about, were starting to irritate me again.
“Alright,” he said, straightening up from a particularly elaborate shot. “You can shower at my place, though we should check this out again later.” I agreed.
Though, as we walked away I couldn’t help but feel as if the thing was watching us. I fought the urge to glance back at it, and for some reason a tangible sense of relief washed over me as we rounded a corner and slipped back into the safety of the woods.
“What. The. Hell,” I whispered. I glanced at my friend- his mouth was slightly open.
“Well that’s not creepy at all…” he said sarcastically. Though worry and concern had crept into his voice. The godforsaken wheelchair hadn’t moved an inch since we left it nearly two hours ago. But, what was troubling was that it was still dripping wet and was surrounded by flies.
My stomach leapt to my throat but I didn’t think for a moment of turning back. I was fricken pumped now! This was simply too cool. My friend must have felt the same way because he walked up to it, albeit cautiously. And, after all, it was still late afternoon and plenty light out. Oddly enough, the smell was still lingering too, though it was easily to rationalize as it just being the stagnant water.
“I’m slightly surprised somebody didn’t just kick it back in the water,” I said, circling the wheelchair, looking for anything abnormal. I noticed that the decaying material had taken on a whitish, almost pus-like appearance on the really bad patches. It was this that the flies seemed to be most attracted to, and possibly the source of the foul smell. I was tempted to cut some off with my trusty Gerber pocket knife but, thankfully, thought the better of it for once.
“I should have brought my camera again,” he said. “This is even creepier than before!” I rubbed my palm absently on my jeans to get rid of an itch.
“Yeah I suppose. We probably shouldn’t stay here for long though,” I said. I was starting to feel really uncomfortable and restless. For some reason I felt like the night was coming on faster than it really was. He glanced at me, slightly concerned.
“Okay that’s fine. I’m up for some LBP anyways,” he said, drawing out the abbreviation for ‘Little Big Planet’ almost lovingly. The thought of playing horribly made bomb survivals was appealing to me and I brightened up instantly, decided to put the wretched wheelchair out of my mind for good. I was tempted even to kick it back into the water but as I contemplated this action, for some unexplainable reason, I felt pity for it. Yes, I felt pity for this inanimate object. That flare of emotion itself scared me more than anything else and I promptly turned on my heel and walked back into the woods. My friend cast one last look at the corpse-like object and followed me.
Good lord, my hands were itchy. I was gonna rub them down with some alcohol when we got back to his place…
“Bah, I’m so sick of her. I swear she does this crap on purpose,” I said into the microphone of the outdated internet phone. I was drawing idly with the Wacom tablet, feeling particularly uninspired that night.
“Oh, I have no doubt that she does,” crackled the speaker with the voice of my friend. I hated having the phones against my face- caused bad skin breakouts, so he was on speakerphone at the moment.
“By the way,” he said after a moment of silence, “somebody pushed the wheelchair back into the water.”
“Yeah?” I asked. I had forgotten about the wheelchair over the past few weeks, but I wasn’t honestly surprised at this event. The same kind of people who write graffiti on bathroom stalls and idly tear up hospital chairs with their fingernails as they wait for a doctor go on walks through the woods too. Someone innately destructive wouldn’t be able to resist kicking an easy target like that nine feet down into the water.
“Yeah. I think it’d be fun to pull it out again. Maybe we could put it in the tunnel and creep people out.” The thought appealed to me and I grinned a little. If there was anything more fun than being scared out of your mind, it was making other people scared out of their minds.
“I can only assume you’re not willing to touch it still?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m not creeped out by it anymore. It’s a bit of a hike between to creek and the tunnel so if you pull it up the cliff I don’t mind taking turns dragging the thing,” came the response.
“Alright, but wear gloves,” I said. “My hands itched for hours after touching that thing. What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Hauling the cadaver of a wheelchair around, if you’re free.”
I don’t know why I kept going that next day, despite the feeling of dread as I pulled into the driveway outside his quaint, Delaware, Ohio house. The dread only worsened as I stepped into the kitchen and greeted his mom, who was busy heating up a plate of food. The food smelled good at first but it churned my stomach when I took in a deep breath- I had to face it, I was already scared out of my mind.
But, my fear did not beat out my curiosity. There were still a few things that were still bothering me about the wheelchair- the white patches, the flies, the smell, the itching…
Wait, what the hell? My palms were itching again.
I felt my throat close up as a sense of horror crept subtly up on me. This whole thing was a bad idea. I wanted to stop walking up the stairs to my friend’s room, turn around, go to my car and drive away. Why, oh why, didn’t I?
As I neared the top of the staircase my feet began to grow exceptionally heavy and my hands began to itch like crazy. Forehead sweating, I bit my lip and did my best to ignore the feeling.
My friend, however, seemed completely unaffected by the atmosphere that was hanging over my head and he greeted me happily, looking up from his sketchpad. I felt relief at seeing him so blithe and unworried and laughed at myself a little, feeling the dread slip away. Leaning over his shoulder I looked at his work- there were two girls in a pool of water splashing each other, each featuring a set of fox or cat ears done in his own unique anime/manga style.
“Impressive,” I said. His artwork had always amazed me.
“Thanks,” he said, slapping the hard covered sketchpad closed and standing up. “Anyways, I’ve been waiting all morning, you ready to go?” I felt the dread creeping up on me again but I swallowed it down.
“Sure,” I said, rubbing my hands together to relieve the itch. He frowned at me.
“Still itching?” he asked. I grunted, unwilling to admit the truth lest it made the situation seem even more real.
“Yeah,” I said bluntly. “Only when I walked into your house though. I think… I think it has to do with being close to that wheelchair.” I swallowed a dry gobbet of spittle. There, I had said it.
He frowned a little and then brightened up.
“It’s probably just the cats,” he said.
“I have cats.” I pointed out. And even if I didn’t, why the hell would my hands start itching? I scratched them again, this time openly and aggressively.
“Clark has feline leukemia,” he replied, as if this offered some sort of explanation. Great, so I had either contracted hand-leukemia, if that was even possible, or I was reacting to my proximity to the wheelchair. My lucky day.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said, sighing.
“We don’t have to do it…” he told me. I grunted
“Nah, I want to. It’ll be fun to scare people. And besides… I think I need to convince myself that there is nothing wrong with that wheelchair. I’ve been scared to death ever since I got here.”
This seemed to trouble him but he didn’t press further. As we walked back down the stairs and he grabbed his jacket (it was now early fall and Ohio weather gets cold quickly) I felt the dread growing again. He must have felt it too because the nearer we got to the park the quieter and grimmer he became.
“Curiosity is a real stick in the mud, huh?” I asked. He smiled and agreed and we both cheered up.
Now, if I hadn’t have said that maybe we wouldn’t have cheered up and then maybe we may not have gone back in the first place. But, what’s done is done and there’s no point looking back now.
It was just like he said- the wheelchair had been thrown back into the water, only this time it had flipped over so the back of the chair was peeking out from under the sluggish creek. It was deeper too, than before, but maybe the water was just higher.
I had remembered I used a branch to fish it out the first time so I snapped off a dead piece of wood from a nearby tree and tossed it down the ‘cliff’. Then, not bothering to take off my waterproof boots (I had come more prepared this time) I clambered down and hooked the branch through an exposed portion of the wheel that peeked up out of the water.
Carefully, I pulled it towards me. At first it seemed stuck but then it began drifting slowly in after a bit more encouragement from my branch. It was heavier than I had remembered… was it just more waterlogged from being more deeply submerged? As it neared me I saw something grey show underneath the wheelchair. Great, the thing was completely caked with thick mud underneath. I was going to have to clean it off once I pulled it out.
Oh, the smell again. It was a lot worse this time.
Finally the wheelchair was within reaching distance. Using the branch as a lever, I rolled the chair over in the shallow water to reveal the annoyance that had attached itself to my prize.
To my horror, gripping on to the wheelchair was a bloated, featureless corpse, staring at me with two empty sockets. Its skin was greyish-blue and tattered, long strands hanging from the body as they peeled away. The face was all but gone, the nose and lips long eaten away with skin hanging over the black sockets like frayed curtains. And yes, it was gripping the wheelchair as if it were still alive, and sinewy muscles could be seen under the slimy remains of the peeling skin.
I stared back at the corpse for a moment, confused. Once it registered with my brain what I was seeing, I ran like hell. Not much stuck with me after that, and I barely remember scrambling up the cliff, though an ugly scrape on my knee that later got infected served as a reminder for that. My friend, on the other hand, had gotten a bit more of a vivid picture of the corpse thanks to his vantage point, and had sworn that it had been trying to get out of the water at me. He specifically recalled the wheelchair tipping forward at me as I turned to run, its movement stopped only by the stick I had lodged in the spokes to retrieve it. Of course this could have just been natural gravity at work, but I didn’t know for sure.
When we got back to my friend’s place we collapsed on his living room floor panting and wiping tears from our eyes as we choked back sobs of horror. However, as I regained some mental stability and motor control I realized I was absolutely delighted. Yes, it was scary as all hell but this was also awesome! The adrenaline and curiosity mixed together to form the most incredible cocktail I ever experienced.
Oh, God, what is wrong with me?
Thousands of things went through our heads in the span of a few short hours. We argued about the possibility of it being a different wheelchair than the one we had taken out of the creek to first day (though why it had a corpse strapped to it was a different story) we also reasoned that it could have been a prank or sick joke. Maybe it was even a murder.
However, once we had become (relatively) calm we came to the general consensus that we had to do two things: Confirm what we saw and also record it. I took his camera and he borrowed his parent’s digital recorder. It was still broad daylight, what was the worst that could happen?
The film is worthless- I don’t have any. When we got to the creek it was gone- there was no trace of the body or the wheelchair. My friend started recording and we did a jittery search around the entire area. Even more flipped out, and regretting our decision now, I think we both decided it was high time to head back. Looking back, I think we weren’t so freaked out to see it was gone because we were so relieved that it was gone. He flipped off the camera and never turned it back on. Like I said, it was worthless because all we recorded was the bank.
Something finally happened when we arrived back at the tunnel though, and I honestly can’t say if I’m glad that he didn’t catch this thing on film or not. Once we were about halfway through the tunnel, and in the darkest part, my friend froze and pointed a shaky finger up ahead.
It was a silhouette of a wheelchair, and in it a peeling, bloated figure with its head lolled to one side. It seemed to be inching towards us and the sound of squeaky, grating metal screeched through the tunnel, as well as an odd sloshing sound. The world blurred as I turned and ran, only a split-second slower than my friend.
I think it did something because I remember we both slipped and fell at nearly the same time. It wasn’t natural though because we were sent sprawling not forward but into the creek below the walkway. My survival instinct was still going strong and I swam to the surface almost instantly, scrambling out of the tunnel as fast as I could and running onto the shore. All the while the sound of squeaking metal and squelching fleshed had filled the tunnel to an almost deafening degree.
Once I got out of the tunnel I looked back. That wheelchair thing was skittering towards me now. I say skittering because I don’t know how else to describe it- it was coming at me so fast with a rhythm of jerky movement, back and forth. The worst part was that the corpse wasn’t moving on its own and was just kind of flailing around as the wheelchair closed in on me. I could have sworn I saw the head tear off before I turned and ran.
My friend and I regrouped a few minutes later, soaking wet and miraculously not hurt. We didn’t say much, and both wore grim visages as we shivered and trudged home. It was a long walk back because we took a two mile detour to avoid the tunnel and the creek. I remember vaguely itching my hands as we walked home, wanting nothing more than to take hold of something and squeeze it until my muscles bulged under my skin.
When we got to his house I showered and, since I didn’t have a change of clothes this time, threw on a bathrobe I found in the cabinet. Normally that would be an awkward thing to do but neither of us was in the mood for niceties. We talked a little bit more afterwards, speaking in dark, quite voices. I don’t remember exactly what we said but we agreed that it had been a mistake to bother the wheelchair in the first place.
What I do clearly remember, however, was gripping the arms of the chair with all my might, trying anything to ease the incessant itch. I also remember feeling hungry but I was unwilling to leave the chair because of the itch eating away at my palms. It would have been really nice if that chair had had wheels…