Written for -- but not read at! -- the October 2003 Kuha-Welter family Halloween Party. The story was re-written as "The Boar Man" when Daphne announced she was ready for something truly scary!
Recently I was introduced to the oeuvre of Hieronymus Bosch, a sixteenth-century Dutch painter best known for his frightening and bizarre portraits of Hell, Heaven, and the "Garden of Earthly Delights." This story, and the companion story, "The Boar Man," were inspired by his work.
In "The Shivers," a church youth group quietly rebel against their parents and seek escape from the drudgery of suburban life in weekly graveyard séances.
Jake and Val had been best friends since the second grade. That was when Jake’s family moved to Edina and started going to Our Savior’s. They had been in the same Sunday school class, and a lot of the other kids made fun of Val because she was fat. Jake, being left out because he was the new kid and because he was sort of a nerd, made friends with her. It turned out that Val’s family lived not too far from Jake’s, so for most of his years in grade school and junior high, they had hung out together at school as well. She was intelligent and interested in a lot of the things Jake was interested in (like astronomy and computers), so even though he never really thought of her as a girl friend, they did a lot of things together, like helping each other out with their homework, going to the planetarium, or playing games with each other over the Internet. That all changed in high school.
Toward the end of junior high, Val got taller and lost weight until one day Jake actually noticed that you couldn’t really call her “fat” anymore. In fact, he actually decided she looked pretty. Their first day of high school, they were supposed to meet in study hall, just like they always had in junior high, but he waited for her, and waited and waited, and she never showed up. And when he asked her about it later she said she’d been “busy,” but wouldn’t say more about it than that. She never met him in study hall again. Two days later he saw her wearing a dress and make-up, and hanging out with Katie Johanssen, Jolene McDonald, and Michelle Krebs, three of the most popular girls in high school. She still sat next to him in Sunday school at church; in fact, church was the only place he saw her any more. But she didn’t talk to him much even there, and at school she wouldn’t wave back at him while passing by in the hallway, much less meet him for lunch or talk to him in class. She was always “too busy” to do stuff with him after school. It finally dawned on Jake that he just plain didn't have a friend any more, and that was a very lonely realization.
So Jake was surprised when one day after church, Val (who called herself “Valerie” now) approached him in the parking lot of Our Savior’s.
“How would you like to come to a party?” she asked.
Jake had been very angry with Val, right up until this minute. Now all he was thinking was how he wished he and Val could be friends again. “A party?” he asked.
She looked over her shoulder and lowered her voice as the Nygren family ambled out of the church. “A Shivers Party.”
“What the heck is a ‘Shivers Party’?” Jake asked.
“I can’t describe it. You have to experience it,” said Valerie. “Oh, and there’s something else,” she added in a whisper, “You can’t tell your parents.”
“How am I supposed to come to a party without telling my parents?”
“Just tell them you’re... Doing homework at my house!”
That hurt. Jake didn’t understand why she wouldn’t really invite him over to do homework like they used to. Lying to his parents to go to a party seemed cheap. And then it occurred to him it had been so long since he and Val had done anything together, would his parents even believe such a lie?
“I don’t know,” Jake said.
“Come on, it’ll be fun. You'll see,” said Valerie, grabbing him by the hand.
When she took his hand, he went all wobbly inside. He would have said yes, even if she had suggested eating horse poop at the state fair or jumping off the IDS Tower in a Superman cape. “OK,” he said, under her spell.
With that, she laughed and kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear (which made him go even more wobbly): “Meet us in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Cedar at seven o’clock on Friday night.”
At the corner of Lake and Cedar? That hurt even more than her asking him to pretend they were doing homework together. He wasn’t even going to her house? But before he had a chance to ask any more questions, Val was gone.
Jake fretted for the whole week about what might happen if his parents disbelieved his story about “studying” with Val Friday night. It did not help that Val continued to ignore him at school. He kept telling himself their friendship was dead and over. But then curiosity and the thought of Val got the better of him. He would go, he told himself, “Just to see what this thing is all about.” As of Friday morning, he had still said nothing to his parents and was still arguing with himself about it and almost convincing himself not to go, when, as he gathered books from his locker for first period, he felt someone’s breath on his ear and heard a sweet voice whisper, “Are you coming tonight?”
He turned to see Val wearing a tight white fall sweater and her hair tied up in a pony tail, a style he wasn’t used to seeing her in. She was beautiful. “Yes! Of course!” he whispered back.
Her smile widened, as she whispered, “It’s going to be fun!” Then she was off, down the hall. That decided it. He would go, come high water or hell.
In the past, his parents had proven to be uncanny lie detectors. Best to make the lie as truthful as possible, Jake told himself. How about if he said, "Val wanted me to ask if I could do homework with her tonight." That much was true.
Jake’s family usually ate dinner together around five thirty. Jake calculated he had to catch the bus by six fifteen at the latest to make it to Lake and Cedar in Minneapolis by seven. But by five forty-five, his mother was still fussing around the kitchen.
“Are we eating soon?” Jake asked.
His mother seemed to be ignoring him, staring at the cabinet in front of her as if she were trying to penetrate it with x-ray vision. “Where is that mixer,” she muttered to herself.
“MOM!” Jake exclaimed, “When are we eating?”
“SOON!” she said. “Why, are you hungry?”
Jake paused. Maybe this was his chance. “Well, actually, I’m kind of in a hurry. ‘Cause Val – you remember Val? – she wants me to meet her... She wants me to help her out with some homework.” He mumbled the last part not very convincingly. It was sort of a lie, he thought, not exactly what he’d intended to say. Did it count as a lie if he’d intended to say it differently?
“How is Valerie?” his mother asked, rummaging through a drawer, “I haven’t seen her over here in the longest time.”
Jake was surprised. She didn’t seem to notice a thing. “Oh. She’s fine,” he replied.
“Well, if you want, why don’t you just grab a snack out of the fridge. I’ll keep some dinner warm for you on top of the stove for when you get back.”
“OK.” Jake's heart began beating wildly. Without another single word, he scooped an apple and some cookies into his backpack and slipped out the side entrance. He exited through the garage to avoid his dad, who was reading the newspaper in the living room next to the front door. There was no way his dad would let him get away with this, he thought.
Jake soon realized it was good he had escaped early. He found the buses into the city only ran once every two hours after six o’clock, and he luckily managed to catch it just as he arrived at the bus stop. “That might be fate,” he told himself. Still, the bus was agonizingly slow, stopping to pick up one or two people at every stop. The connection downtown took another half hour. So he actually arrived at Lake and Cedar a few minutes late, well after sunset.
This part of Lake Street was still busy at night, with fairly brisk traffic and people sauntering along the sidewalks or loitering at the entrances of shops. Across the street, he saw a group of six guys and six girls near the wrought-iron fence that separated the sidewalk from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. Most people in this section of town were black or Hispanic, but this group were all white. A couple of the guys looked older, like seniors or maybe even college-age. One of them smoked a cigarette and the other one wore a trendy denim jacket. The denim jacket guy had his arm draped around one of the girls, who had her hair tied up in a ponytail. The girl was Val.
As soon as Jake saw the group he regretted being there. It occurred to him to walk away as fast as he could, before they saw him, and go straight back home. But Val turned around and saw him, and started waving and calling to him, “We’re here!”
She seemed genuinely happy to see him, which softened him a bit. After he crossed the street, she gave him an enthusiastic hug and a kiss on the cheek. If she was being so friendly with him, Jake wondered, why had that other guy had his arm around her, like she belonged to him? “You made it!” Val exclaimed, breathlessly. Maybe that guy was just being friendly, Jake thought.
But as Val brought Jake into the circle, they didn't look very friendly. The expressions on their faces were tense, as if they had just been arguing. He recognized most of them from church: Jamey Wright, Amanda Peterson, Marlene Wallace. The guy smoking the cigarette was Martin Parks, the pastor’s son. He seemed to be the ringleader.
“Let’s go,” Martin said.
As they filed down the sidewalk, Jake understood why they had met here. They were going to the cemetery. The sun had long set by now, so the only light was the shifting glare from street lamps, storefronts, and cars. They passed through the front gate, and in the gloom of dusk and the random light of the street the graveyard looked abandoned and messy, as though the tombstones and flowerpots had been discarded rather than carefully arranged. Jake had passed by Pioneers and Soldiers’ many times when his family lived in south Minneapolis. In the daylight, this cemetery looked flat and open, an unlikely place for anything or anyone to be able to hide. But now in the dark, it was almost as if, once they were far enough away from the amber glow of the street lamps, they entered a maze of shadows that progressively cut them off from the outside world and ushered them into an unwatched sanctuary of night. Perhaps it was a trick of the shadows, but the trees and bushes appeared scraggly and overgrown, and seemed to reach out as one passed. The darkness transformed the group of assorted, suburban teenagers into ghosts or otherworldly creatures slipping beyond the pale.
“We’re having a party in the middle of a cemetery at night?” Jake whispered urgently at Val.
She didn’t reply. She only shook her head, raised her finger to her lips and hissed, “Shh!” When they finally stopped, Jake felt disoriented, no longer sure where they were in relation to the rest of the city. They had entered a clump of trees out of view of anywhere there was light or civilization, and the others had drawn themselves into a circle and were all looking down at something. Val grabbed his hand and drew him into the circle.
“What is it?” Jake whispered.
This time, he was hushed by about five of the others. “Just watch and wait,” Val whispered back, “You’ll see.”
He looked down at the ground where he thought the others were looking, trying to see what they were seeing. There was nothing but darkness – at first. Slowly, as his eyes grew more accustomed to the dark, he thought he could see something, only barely at first but more clearly as he stared at it. He wondered if it were an optical illusion, like the light you see if you close your eyes really hard and press down on your eyeballs. It was a strange, purple light, and seemed to be emanating from a hole in the ground about three feet in diameter. As Jake stared in amazement around the circle he could clearly see the otherworldly light reflected in the faces of the others, who were grinning in anticipation. “What the heck?” gasped Jake. “Wait... There’s more,” whispered Val. No sooner had she said it, than Jake felt something shift in the air, like the change that comes just before a great storm. It made his whole body tingle, from his spine to the tips of the hair on his arms. He felt suddenly extra wide awake, aware of everything around him: the slightest movements of the others, the sounds of everyone breathing, the thick, bitter smell of the earth and his own sweat, the clumpy taste of fear and excitement on the roof of his mouth, and the temperature of the air. The cutting, late-October chill had strangely lifted, and the air gone warm and electric. It made him want to drop off his coat and loosen his shirt, and that is exactly what the others began to do.
“Go ahead,” said Martin in a full voice. After all the whispering and shushing, the sound of his speaking was a shock, but it now somehow seemed appropriate. Martin peeled his shirt and undershirt off at the same time, and then stretched, flexing his muscles in the night air. “See, it’s not cold.”
The other boys removed their shirts as well, and the girls took off sweaters and shirts, but left bras on. Jake hesitated, but Val nodded at him. “You don’t want to miss it!” she urged him.
So Jake nervously undressed from the waist up. Everyone sat down cross-legged on the ground. Some of the others closed their eyes, but Jake could not take his eyes off the weird light emanating ever more brightly from the hole in the earth like some faerie campfire. “It’s working!” grinned one of the others.
Suddenly Jake began to shiver. He felt strangely warm and comfortable, so it could not be from cold. The shivers began in the small of his back and then worked their way up his spine and the back of his neck, making his head shake uncontrollably. Then suddenly they stopped. But then they started again, in his left arm resting on his thigh, and up his biceps and into his shoulders, and then up the left side of his neck and through his head again. And then he felt the shivers a third time, this time rising up his belly, his chest, and under his chin, and then up his face and over the top of his head, causing him to gasp in surprise. And so it continued, wave after wave of shivers, seemingly rising up from the earth and washing over him in the warm night air, as goose bumps rose all over the exposed part of his body.
The others were visibly trembling too. It was bizarre to watch, as if they were suddenly seized and shaken by invisible forces. Gradually Jake thought he could make out other lights besides the purple light emanating from the hole. These other lights had a life of their own, rising up out of the earth all around them, with an occasional brilliant flash, and then zipping up into the air and disappearing.
“Do you see that?” Jake exclaimed.
The others just laughed.
As they watched the lights and felt “the shivers,” Jake was unaware of the passage of time. They cheered at the brilliant flashes like they would at fireworks, and they laughed like crazy as the shivers grew in intensity. But eventually the lights dwindled and faded and the shivers came less frequent, until the thirteen of them were left staring, as they had at the beginning, at the unearthly purple light. Even that finally vanished, and the air went viciously cold, as it only can in Minnesota in late October, and they found themselves half-undressed in the pitch dark shivering this time from the bitter chill.
Martin pulled a mini flashlight out of his back pocket. A couple of the other boys had flashlights too, and turned theirs on as well. The kids hurriedly pulled on their shirts and sweaters and jackets and huddled together as a fall wind began to blow.
“What was that?” demanded Jake, as they trudged past the tombstones toward the cemetery entrance.
“You don’t know?” smirked Martin.
“How should I? I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.”
“What, you’ve never seen ghosts before?” Martin started to laugh, and the others laughed too, big uproarious laughter.
“What, you’re telling me those were ghosts?”
“We’re in a graveyard. What do you think they were, northern lights?”
Jake thought about it for a moment as they walked in silence. They had to be pulling his leg. “Tell me, really. What was that?”
“OK,” said Martin, “I have a theory. I once read how the ancient Greeks believed there were certain places you could find a hole leading straight down to hell. The spirits might come up out of the hole to walk among the living, or the living could go down to hell. They called them ‘hell mouths.’ Well, the Greeks weren’t the only ones who believed in hell mouths. Just about every culture has some version of the hell mouth – American Indians, Chinese, Africans, the Irish.”
Some of the other kids giggled. “The Irish!”
“They did!” Martin insisted. “My grandmother used to talk about ‘thin places.’”
“So you’re saying they were ghosts after all?” asked Jake.
“No, I’m saying every culture believes in these weird places. Well, I figure there has to be some rational explanation. Maybe it’s the earth’s magnetism. Or what about the fact that they’re almost always in cemeteries? Maybe its methane from all the rotting bodies.”
“Methane!” giggled one of the girls.
“I don’t care what it is,” said one of the boys, “It’s just cool.”
“In other words,” said Jake, “You have no idea.”
Martin shrugged. “It was cool, wasn’t it? And nobody’s hurt.”
At that, they arrived at the entrance of the cemetery, under the light of the street lamps. To Jake it seemed like they had spent maybe an hour or two at the most in the cemetery, but he was horrified to look at his watch and see that it was after one o’clock in the morning.
“We’ve been here for six hours?” he exclaimed in dismay.
“Yeah, isn’t that amazing?” replied Martin, “It’s always like that. It hardly seems like time is passing.”
The group was already splitting up into twos and threes, heading in different directions. Jake moaned, “My last bus left hours ago. And my parents are going to kill me!”
Val hadn’t left yet, and neither had the tall guy in the denim jacket who had had his arm around her earlier. He was standing a few feet away looking eager to leave. Jake was mad at her, but he swallowed his pride and asked, “Val, how are you getting home?”
She looked awkwardly over at the denim jacket guy and said, “Steve, can you give Jake a ride? He lives right near me.”
Steve looked terribly inconvenienced. He paused for a long pregnant moment, before saying, “I don’t know. I drove my Dad’s pick-up. There’s not much room. I suppose we could squeeze him in if we had to.”
Jake was about to refuse this charity, when Martin spoke up. “That’s OK. I’ll drive him home,” he said.
On the ride home with Martin, Jake was full of unwieldy emotions, furious with Val and heartsick about their friendship, anxious about what his parents would do, exhausted and homesick. He was grateful to Martin for rescuing him from complete humiliation. And interwoven in all of that was awe and wonder about “the shivers.” Even though he knew he would be in trouble for not having left a long time ago, part of him wished it had gone on longer. He would not have admitted it out loud, but he knew in his heart he would have to try “the shivers” again.
During the ride home, Martin had left Jake to his thoughts. It had seemed perfectly normal for them to say nothing at all. When they arrived, Martin stopped the car and said, “Are you coming again?”
“I’m not sure my parents will let me,” said Jake, looking at the house. It was past one thirty, but the light in the living room still on. “They’re gonna go ballistic when I walk through that door. I’ll probably be grounded for the rest of my life.”
“Sorry,” said Martin.
“No, it was cool. I guess I’m glad I went. I’m just not sure if...” his voice trailed off.
Martin nodded. As Jake opened the car door, Martin reached into the glove compartment of the car, pulled out a small notebook and a pen, and scribbled something down in the notebook. “Here’s my cell phone,” he said, tearing a page out and handing it to Jake, “Call me!”
Jake nodded. As he took the note from Martin’s outstretched hand, he noticed an odd little tattoo on the inside of Martin’s wrist, a small five-pointed star inside of a circle, with some odd symbols around it. Was that a pentagram? Wasn’t that a witch’s symbol? he wondered. That seemed odd on the wrist of the son of the pastor. Without thinking on it much more than that, he stuffed the note into his pocket and, his heart pounding, took a deep breath and walked the plank toward the front door of his house.
Jake's mother was asleep on the living room couch when he walked through the front door, but she woke up instantly at the sound of the door closing. Her voice was full of desperation, not anger, when she said, “Son, where have you been?” The anger came after she left the room to fetch his father.
When Jake had not returned at a reasonable hour, they had called Val's parents only to learn that Val was “at a party with some friends.” Val's parents told how impossible she had been lately, how they detested the kids she was hanging out with, mostly older kids, and how she would sneak out of the house at night without their permission. When they realized she would do what she did with or without their permission, they had relented, hoping that if she went with their permission they would at least tell them more about what she was doing. She never told them anything.
Jake’s father made Jake walk a straight line in the middle of the floor. He sniffed Jake’s breath to see if he was drunk and sniffed his shirt and jacket for any odor of cigarettes or pot. Then Jake was required to offer an accounting of himself. He didn’t tell about the effect that Val had on him, how he’d lied because of her. He didn’t tell how painful it was to realize he might have fallen in love with Val, and that even though he'd stuck by her for eight years when everyone else made fun of her, now that she was popular she had humiliated him. He didn’t tell them how lonely he felt and how hungry he was for friends. He told them only the pieces of the truth he thought they could handle, namely that most of the kids he’d gone out with were kids from church, that they hadn’t done anything illegal, that there had been no dirty dancing or drugs or liquor involved, and that they had just “hung out” downtown together and had been having so much fun they had lost track of time, which was all true enough. But he kept back the most important part of all, the truth wriggling urgently about inside him like so many Mexican jumping beans from hell, the part about “the shivers.”
Once they had established their son was sober and unharmed, his mom looked relieved. As he lay in bed, he heard her say to his father outside his bedroom door, “You remember how hard it is to be sixteen!”
Jake drifted to sleep, shivering and remembering the colored lights flying up out of the earth.
The following Sunday at church, as folks gathered before the service, the talk among the adults, usually lively and relaxed, was restrained and tense. Mr. and Mrs. Albrecht showed up looking haggard and teary, and word spread quickly that their teenage daughter Janice had gone missing last Friday. Ralph Wright, the Church Treasurer, seemed to be on a mission to speak with every adult in the fellowship hall that morning before the service. Mr. Wright had always seemed peevish and unpleasant to Jake, balding and thin-lipped, always dressed conservatively in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. When the church voted to hire Pastor Parks three years ago, Ralph Wright had rallied opposition on the suspicion that the reverend was not fully orthodox on fundamental points of scripture. Ralph’s son Jamey had been one of the kids at the Shivers Party on Friday, and he was at church Sunday morning, looking pale and red-eyed as if he had just been crying, in tow of his stern-faced mother. Ralph took Jake’s father aside and they spoke in hushed tones.
Before the service, the pastor remarked dully that it was time for announcements, and Ralph Wright strode to the podium at the front of the sanctuary. “It has come to our attention,” he said. He always said “our” and “we,” thought Jake, even when it was just him. “It has come to our attention that some youth in the church have been involved in very serious, very inappropriate activities. I’ve spoken one-on-one with most of the parents of those involved. There will be a meeting following the service in the Melancthon Room. I urge all who are concerned about the spiritual welfare of our young people to attend.” Jake’s heart began to palpitate furiously. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach. The church service was more hellish than usual, and Pastor Parks strangely emotionless in the leading of the liturgy and the preaching of the sermon. And when it finally ended, Jake’s father took Jake firmly by the arm and led him into the Melancthon Room.
People gathered in uncomfortable silence, and the room quickly filled to overflow. The air felt close and humid, despite the fact that someone had opened a window. Pastor Parks was the last to arrive. He entered the room slowly, gently parting the crowd huddled around the doorway and taking his chair near the front of the room next to the podium. Jake noticed that all of the church kids who had been at the Shivers Party last Friday were there in tow of their parents, except the pastor’s son Martin.
Ralph Wright stood up at the podium. He usually appeared tense and ill at ease, but today whatever Ralph Wright usually was had been heightened. His fingers turned white as he gripped the podium, his usual pallor tinged with red, and the strands of hair he carefully combed over the top of his bald pate standing up slightly as though statically charged.
“Christians must not forget that the Devil is real.” He paused for effect, licking his thin, dry lips. “If you don’t believe in him, just look at his handiwork. Homosexuals displaying their perversion in the streets. Witches trying to make Satan-worship respected as a religion, peddling their smut in New Age boutiques. There are new fads, but it’s always the same old evil, wrapped up in a different package. Well, the latest fad is ‘the Shivers.’ Have you heard about it? ‘Shivers parties’? Anybody?”
Nobody said a word. Jake blushed, the nausea that had started in the sanctuary rising.
Ralph Wright motioned toward his son, who was sitting toward the front of the room next to his mother. Jamey Wright got up, looking shattered, limping rather than walking. Mr. Wright made him turn to face the assembly, though he seemed incapable of lifting his eyes to meet anyone’s gaze. Jake couldn’t bear to watch. He snuck a sideward glance at Val, who was sitting in between her parents on the other side of the room, but she was similarly absorbed with the floor, not capable of seeing Jake.
“Tell them what ‘the shivers’ is!” Mr. Wright ordered.
Jamey’s voice was small and croaky. His father had to tell him to “speak up!” a couple of times. “We’d go out to the cemetery after sunset. Martin said it was so we could see the ghosts. We were supposed to take our clothes off, and then the ghosts would come up out of the graves and pass through us.”
People in the room were starting to shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“Tell us how Martin made the ghosts come up out of their graves.”
Jamey started to cry. “I can’t,” he said, trembling.
“Son, it is very important that you tell them,” Mr. Wright insisted.
“I’m afraid!” Jamey sobbed.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of here,” his father pressed him.
“No!” Jamey cried.
“Son, remember what I told you earlier,” Ralph said darkly.
Jamey suddenly straightened up in his seat, a look of absolute terror on his face. “Martin drank wine from the communion table, and went straight to the graveyard the same night and said an incantation in the full moon and lied naked on the ground from sunset to sunrise with his head facing toward the moonrise. He said that was to open the gateway. Then to make us see them, he had to kill a cat and take its brains, and mix them with the dust from a dead man’s grave, and then use it to write some names on a piece of paper and then burn the paper. And there had to be thirteen of us. If there wasn’t thirteen of us, it wouldn’t work. Six boys and six girls and one other, a boy or girl. Then we’d be able to see the ghosts.”
Jake became agitated. What was Jamey saying? Was his father putting words in his mouth, making him tell lies to make it worse than it was? He wanted to shout out that it was all lies, that he had been there, he had seen it, and Martin did nothing like that.
“Were you there when Martin ‘opened the gateway’?” Mr. Wright asked.
“No,” said Jamey, “It was just Martin. He did it before the rest of us went to the cemetery.”
“Why did he tell you about this?”
“He wanted me to do it with him.”
“Drink the communion wine and say the incantation and lie naked in the graveyard. He said it was more powerful if two of us did it.”
“Why didn’t you do it?”
“I... It sounded queer to me.”
Everyone’s eyes were on Pastor Parks now, but he did not object. He did not try to refute what was being said about his son. He simply stared down at the floor with a look of resignation.
“Who did go to the cemetery with you and Martin?” his father continued.
“I didn’t know everybody. Mostly other kids from church.”
“Who?” his father demanded.
Then Jamey named names, slowly and painfully, one by one. The last name he named was Jake’s. Jake collapsed into a heap, hanging his head in between his knees, covering the back of his head. His father grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back up. “Valerie asked Jake,” he explained, “because Janice told Martin she couldn’t do it any more.”
“Janice?” his father asked.
At that, a gasp rose up from the assembled adults. “The same Janice Albrecht who is now missing?” his father asked.
Jamey nodded, tears streaming down his face.
A lively discussion ensued. The adults began to argue while the teens shivered silently under their shadow. Some parents were incredulous, not ready to believe their kids could be involved in black magic. Others seemed defensive. If there had been any experimentation of an occult nature, it could not possibly be anything serious; like playing with a Ouija Board or holding slumber party séances. “Hadn’t you done that too as a kid?” But then there were the Albrecht family, mute and stricken. Mrs. Albrecht only said, “And what about my daughter?” and that quelled any talk about harmless experimentation. There was a growing mood of fear and indignation; and a kind of anger Jake had never seen before. There was outrage about the alleged theft of wine from the communion table, about blood rituals and nudity, which led to a discussion about how all of this could have happened and Pastor Parks be unaware of what his own son was involved in, and what had been going on with the church’s youth. There were questions about sexual abuse, and whether this corruption had begun with Martin or whether proselytizing occultists were involved, and berating of the police for not seeming to take the allegations about Satanism seriously in their investigation of Janice’s disappearance. The police had said it wasn’t illegal to practice the occult.
It was increasingly clear that ordinary measures would not do. The Church Council President declared those in attendance sufficient to make a quorum for an emergency congregational meeting. Over the vociferous protests of a few members of the congregation, they appointed a Task Force on Satanic Activities in the Congregation, led by Ralph Wright, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident. They could not force parents to cooperate, but a resolution was passed strongly urging the parents of all the youth involved to allow the task force to question their children. Further, with the exception of allowing the involved youth to go to school, they should for the time being be confined to their homes and kept isolated from other youth. In the meantime, Reverend Parks would be suspended from his duties as pastor, until he could “set his house in order.” The suspension would pend a fuller inquiry into his role in the matter, and a consideration of his removal from office.
The following week was dark, rainy and cold. Jake’s mother would drop him off at school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. After school he was confined to his room, television and Internet privileges revoked. Once he finished his homework, he spent the rest of the day reading, napping, or staring out the window at the rain. The church’s annual youth Halloween party had been cancelled, so there was not even that to look forward to that weekend. On the other hand, his father had informed him that the Task Force on Satanic Activities would be meeting with him on Saturday, to question him about his involvement in the graveyard scandal.
In the long hours of enforced idleness, Jake's mind wandered back to that night in the graveyard. He tried not to think about it, but the shivers was more alluring now than ever in this state of involuntary boredom. The world of family and church was all black and white, but that world beyond the borders of the graveyard was full of uncanny color and magic. When they had taken their shirts off, let the strange lights fly through them and past them, and let themselves be shivered, they had caught only the slightest glimpse of something infinitely deeper and richer.
Jake had a recurring dream about it. He would find himself back in the heart of the cemetery, in that place he was certain he could not find in daylight. He waited at the edge of the hole, which had grown cavernously large, like the entrance to a subterranean cave. He sensed vastnesses beyond, where things fluttered, teemed and hummed. Then he woke up.
It was welcome relief to Jake when his mother let him do chores. He was loading a pile of laundry into the washing machine in the basement when the phone rang. He picked up the basement extension and was about to answer “Blake residence” when he heard his mother’s voice on the upstairs extension. “Hello?” she said. A woman answered, and Jake recognized the voice as that of Val’s mom. He should have hung up, and he meant to hang up, but he did not hang up. He just held his breath, covered the mouthpiece with his hand, and listened.
“Hello, Carol? It’s Vivian,” said Val’s mom.
“Hello Vivian.” Jake thought his mother sounded tired.
“How is Jake holding up?”
“Well, it’s tough on him. He’ll be OK.” There was a bit of tension in her voice. She probably didn’t approve of how his father had insisted on grounding him until the Task Force had finished its work, but she would never dare criticize him in front of anyone else. Typical, thought Jake.
“How about Valerie?”
“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through with her. But we’re scared. We don’t know how serious this is,” said Val’s mom.
“Well, frankly I don’t either,” said Jake’s mom, “Don’t you think they’re overreacting?” Jake could hear pent-up frustration suddenly released. The way she said “they’re” he knew she was referring to Ralph Wright and his posse.
“I just got off the phone with Marilyn.”
“Oh,” said his mother. Marilyn Albrecht. Janice’s mom.
“Carol, something terrible is going on we don’t see here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think someone may be after our kids.”
“Remember what Ralph Wright said about Satanists maybe being behind all this?”
“Ralph! You don’t mean you believe half of his nonsense about kidnapping babies and human sacrifice? Don’t you think the police would be all over it if there was an ounce of truth in any of that?”
“Hear me out. I’m not talking about what Ralph said anymore. Marilyn told me that when they found out what Janice was involved in and asked her about it, she seemed frightened. She refused to say anything at first, but they finally got her to talk. She said ‘things have been unleashed,’ and if she spoke about it or if she stopped going to the shivers parties, ‘they’ would get her.”
“Well, that’s what Marilyn and Morris tried getting out of her, but the more they tried, the more upset she got. She said something about ‘the Infernal Powers.’”
“What the hell is that?”
“Well I don’t know, demons or the Devil, or something like that.”
“Well, I don’t believe that either. Maybe somebody was using that to frighten her or control her. If there are occultists involved, and if they are everything Ralph says, they’d be capable of kidnapping a girl, especially if they thought she was going to tell on them. We’ve tried to get Val to talk about it, but she refuses, just like Janice. Have you been able to get anything out of Jake?”
“Yes. But what Jake told us didn’t square with half of what Jamey said. And he certainly didn’t have anything to report about animal sacrifice or communion wine or demonic rituals. What he described sounded like a graveyard séance, nothing sinister. Typical teenage stuff.”
“You think Jamey was lying?”
“I think Ralph Wright has always hated Pastor Parks and been looking for any way to get rid of him. Ralph is one of the most controlling, manipulative, petty people I know, and I wouldn’t put it past him to pressure his son to stretch the truth, if he thought he could use it to his advantage.”
“But what about Janice?”
“I don’t know.”
“Carol, she disappeared from her own house in the middle of the night, while her parents were sleeping in the next room.”
“And you don’t think that’s a sign Janice ran away from home?”
“They weren’t having those kinds of problems with Janice.”
“Do you know that?”
There was a long silence on the end of the phone, and then a sigh. “I’m still worried. I wish the police would take this seriously.”
“Vivian, if you ask me everyone is overreacting, and it makes everything ten times worse. Sit down, take a deep breath, and stop worrying. They’ll find Janice and our kids will be fine, and everything will be all right.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Jake waited until his mother had hung up before he hung the phone up himself. The more he learned about the shivers, the more questions he had. Val had seemed pretty serious when she told him not to tell his parents about it. And he remembered that little tattoo on Martin’s wrist; he hadn’t told his parents that detail. That worried him just a bit. He was reassured by his mother’s cool approach to this whole thing; she had to be right. Martin was unquestionably an odd character, but he hadn’t seemed like a bloody Satanist.
As Jake continued his chore, emptying the pockets of his trousers before tossing them into the clothes washer, a little scrap of paper tumbled out onto the floor. Jake picked it up. It was the piece of paper Martin had scribbled his cell phone number onto. Jake opened it and stared at the number written hurriedly in Martin’s spindly, left-handed script. In all capital letters, he had written his name above the number and the words “CALL ME!” underneath. Why not get his side of the story? thought Jake. And, he admitted, he wanted to experience the shivers again, though he could scarcely imagine how it would be possible. Maybe Martin would have some ideas.
His heart pounded as he picked up the phone. “No 666 in the prefix,” he thought as he dialed, smiling nervously at his own joke. The phone rang so many times Jake almost hung up when somebody said, “Hello.”
“Who is it?” asked Martin.
“Oh, right. Jake. Hey, what’s happening?”
“Martin, you know we’re in trouble, right?”
“Yeah, yeah. Dad told me all about it.” Martin seemed awfully nonchalant about it. “So, are you coming this Friday night? It’s Halloween... It’ll be the best shivers yet.”
“Haven’t you heard a thing about what’s happening? I’ve been grounded. I can’t even leave the house.”
“That’s cool,” Martin said, though he sounded annoyed. “I can find somebody else to take your place.”
“Take my place? What do you mean?” Jake asked.
“I meant I’m sure there’ll be others who want to come.”
“I wish I could go, really,” Jake insisted.
“Whatever,” said Martin, “just call first if you change your mind.”
“Martin, you know what they’ve been saying about you?”
“What, not you too?” Martin sounded suddenly angry.
“I’m sorry,” said Jake.
“No problem, man,” said Martin nonchalantly again, “No problem at all. Sweet dreams.”
Martin hung up. What did he mean by that? Sweet dreams? He had been so odd – alternately cool, then friendly, then impatient, then cool again. It reminded Jake of that night, when he’d been aloof and hostile at first and then cozy and friendly afterwards in the car on the way home. Jake decided he didn’t like Martin after all. Who needed him? And who needed Val? He would just go back to the graveyard and do the shivers again on his own, once he had served the full term of his grounding, whatever that would be.
Halloween night was cold and crisp. There was no party and no trick-or-treating, but Jake knew better than to whisper the slightest complaint. His father turned off the front porch light, signaling there would be no treats at the Blake residence that night. After dinner, Jake’s father turned on the television to watch the news, while his mother cleared off the table. Jake went to his room. He stayed up late reading his Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. At least this much Halloween his father could not take away from him. His mind wandered, and he kept reading certain lines in the book again and again. "The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave." He thought about Ralph Wright’s inquisition in the morning, and Janice Albrecht running away from home in the middle of the night, and Martin’s odd behavior on the phone. He drifted off to sleep some time after midnight, in the middle of The Masque of the Red Death.
Jake woke up disoriented. The lights in his bedroom were all out and he lay on top of his bed fully clothed. It seemed odd, as his mother usually woke him and made him change and tucked him in. It wouldn’t be like her to turn out the lights without doing that much, and odd too that his bedroom door was wide open, as she always closed it on the way out.
Through the open door shone a thin light from down the hall. It was like the watery light of the television when all other lights in the house had been turned off. Had his father left the TV on? That would not be like him either. But this light was not the color of television light. It was thin and purple, barely visible, like the light you see when you close your eyes hard and press on them with the balls of your palms. Jake was sweating in the uncomfortably warm air.
Jake suddenly had the sensation of feeling disconnected from this space, as though the walls and the floor were very much farther from him than they should be, as though nothing was quite in its place. Then he heard a sound like half a dozen pots and pans crashing onto the floor, and another sound like wood scraping against stone, and he jumped and let out a half scream. That noise definitely did not sound right.
There was someone moving down the hall. “Mother?” he called, “Father?” There was no answer.
Suddenly there was a scraping and flopping and thrashing about underneath Jake's bed. Jake screamed again, as the mattress jumped. A creature, frog-like, shadowy and luminescent green, slithered out from under the bed. It staggered to an upright position on gangly, wobbly hind legs, in height about the size of a child, though much fatter. It turned to stare at Jake for a moment, with great, baleful yellow glowing eyes, its enormous amphibian mouth hanging open, revealing snake-like fangs and a black pit of a throat leading down to the inside of its pot belly. Then, just as suddenly as it had wriggled out, it turned and leapt through the bedroom door with an enormous thump.
At that point, Jake's whole room came to life. His headboard shook, and Jake scrambled away from it as a giant bat-winged thing crawled up the wall. The closet door rattled, as though it would fly off its hinges. Dresser drawers flew open and a half dozen rat-sized and dog-sized creatures leapt out. The clattering, scraping noise he had heard earlier from outside the room echoed again, but this time closer, and to an eerie rhythm. It was accompanied by an inhuman wailing and screeching, some strange, discordant hymn. Then came a gust of stifling, humid wind, and a stench reminiscent of an outhouse or an open sump.
The commotion in the hallway moved closer to Jake's bedroom. He heard shuffling, grunting, moaning and squealing, and something jangling like the sound of chains. The unearthly light grew brighter. A number of the shadows scurrying and fluttering about in his room grew quiet as the noise approached, receding to the corners of the ceiling or the edges of the floor, and watching intently with beady red or yellow glowing eyes.
Through the door emerged a tall figure, perhaps seven or eight feet in height. It stooped to pass through Jake’s bedroom door. The purple light followed it into the room, emanating from a lantern made of a human skull. The figure was dressed in black from head to foot, wearing a finely broidered vest, cloak, and robes. It’s head seemed far too big, one third the size of its whole body, and its face resembled that of giant boar, with a large stubbly snout, enormous tusks, and small bloodshot eyes. In its hoofs it clutched an enormous, black, leather-bound tome, at least twice as large as the huge display bible at church. This tome was thick with uneven, darkly stained pages. The boar thing must have been the source of the stink, for as it bowed down and entered the room, Jake retched from the smell of it.
The boar thing was flanked by other creatures smaller than it, but still quite large: a willowy, bluish-gray, fish-headed thing that held up the skull lantern, and a burly, spiny, lizard-headed thing clutching chains in one claw and a terrible jagged spear in the other. A third creature, about Jake’s height, was the most human and intelligent looking of all, though with skin apoplectically purple and long ears like those of a mule. It wore a large key apparently fashioned from the bones of human fingers on a chain around his neck. There were other things too, crowded in the shadows in the hallway behind it, where the horrible shrieking and crashing song came from.
The boar thing opened the book, remarkably deftly for having no fingers or opposable thumb. It snorted and screeched and howled at Jake, terrifying him out of his senses. Shortly after it began, the small purple man stepped forward and spoke in sync with the boar thing. It dawned on Jake he might be translating the horrific braying into English.
The purple man shouted in a staccato, nasal tone: “You, Jacob Alexander Blake, have disturbed the Infernal Powers by trespassing the seven-hundred-thousand-nine-hundred-fifty-sixth gate of the upper regions, permitting sovereign subjects to escape, neither giving due to the Lord of the Outer Gates, his Pandemoniacalness Lord Nebiros, nor binding him under the authority of the one whose name shall not be spoken among the legions of Hell. You are henceforth, therefore, claimed as his rightful property, to be disposed of as it gives him pleasure.” At that, the creature’s face broke into a malicious grin that spread almost from ear to ear and revealed rows of hundreds of needle-like teeth. “And it will give him pleasure,” he hissed, after the screeching language of the boar thing had stopped.
Jake had been shaking violently through all of this, paralyzed. But now with a sudden spasm, he found he could control his muscles again, and determined to dash past a number of dog-faced creatures lying prostrate on the floor, smash the window with a chair and leap out. Before he could move, however, the lizard thing, assisted by a number of other assorted imps, leapt forward and clutched him with vice-like claws by the arms, the legs, and the back of his neck. They carried him like a rag doll past the boar thing into the hall. There, under the unearthly purple light of the skull-lantern, Jake saw a mob of creatures, of every variety imaginable, resembling insects and reptiles and birds, and many creatures he had never dreamed of. They sang that horrible hymn, beating the syncopated rhythm and somberly playing the wailing, plaintive melody on instruments fashioned from human bones. They dropped Jake to the floor, though the lizard-thing kept its grip on the back of Jake's neck and pushed him forward. As Jake stumbled ahead, the other creatures followed, with the boar thing and his ministers at the end of the procession.
As they passed his parents’ bedroom, Jake saw his mother and father sleeping pale and peaceful in their bed, seemingly oblivious to the demons' ear-splitting racket. Jake tried calling to them, but his calls were drowned out by a cacophony of jeers and wicked laughter. “They no hear thee,” cawed a crow-headed thing, “We come for thee!”
The lizard thing stopped in front of the basement door, and the small purple man rushed forward with the bone key clutched in his left hand. The key seemed to shrink to fit the basement door keyhole, and he slid it in, turned it, and pulled the door open. To Jake’s astonishment, the door opened up not onto wooden basement steps, but onto a great, black, bottomless chasm into which a narrow stone staircase descended seemingly forever. The lizard thing pushed him forward. Once they had all passed through, the purple man followed through last of all after the boar thing, pulled the door shut behind him, and locked it.
At the very moment the basement door clicked shut, Jake’s mother woke. She had had a nightmare about her son being kidnapped. She leapt out of her bed and ran to his room to find his bed empty and no trace of where he was or what had happened to him.
The journey down the narrow stone staircase lasted days or even weeks. Jake wasn't sure. He was startled, though, to find that he felt not tired at all. In fact, if anything, he seemed to be gaining strength. One by one, the bat and bird and fish creatures that had wings had taken flight and dived away into the eternal blackness, leaving behind only the wingless ones. They pressed on, down, ever downward.
Jake gradually noticed that the light of the skull lantern was not the only light down here. There was an eerie, barely visible, purple radiance coming up from far below, that grew gradually brighter the longer they descended. Eventually he saw what looked like city lights, like the view he and his parents had had of Minneapolis and St. Paul as they flew into the airport late at night last year. This must be their destination he thought, and he shivered with terror to think they were arriving. But at the same time, he thought it looked beautiful.
As they continued downwards for what seemed like more days it grew slowly warmer. Gradually Jake realized that what he saw was not a city, but a honeycomb of pits from which leapt ethereal, purple, incandescent flame. As the procession reached the floor of the cavern, he saw that these pits varied in size, some perhaps hundreds of feet in width, and others no larger than the window of a human house. There were other processions of demons, each with one or two captive humans. Some of the humans looked horribly disfigured; bullet wounds in the face; broken necks or broken backs. He even saw a man impaled with a crowbar. Many others looked old or wracked with disease. There were not many young and healthy like himself.
Jake was led to the edge of one of the pits. Here the warmth was unbearable, causing Jake to sweat profusely. An energy radiated from the fire, like the energy Jake had felt in the graveyard, what seemed like an age ago. Even now it raised the hairs on the back of his neck and made his limbs and his head tremble. It was the shivers.
The boar thing came forward, scowling fiercely at Jake as it opened the enormous, blood-spattered tome again and thrust it toward him. It shrieked foully in its pig language, and pointed with its cloven hoof to a blank spot on a page of the book.
“I can't understand you!” said Jake.
“You must sign your name in the book,” hissed the purple man.
“What do you mean I must sign?” asked Jake.
“It’s the Law!” the purple man shrieked back, “You have no choice! You must sign!”
“What do you mean it’s the Law? What am I signing? What happens if I don’t sign?”
“Why do you ask this at this late moment? Did you not join the circle and open the gate and disturb the Infernal Powers and trespass the domain of his Pandemoniacal Lord Nebiros? Did you not secretly wish in your heart to explore the wonders and delights of the six-hundred-sixty-six worlds? Do you not even now?” The purple man turned ever deeper shades of purple, his staccato tones growing more and more indignant.
“Do you mean if I don’t sign, you can’t take me in there?”
“Sign!” commanded the man.
Jake hesitated. He thought about the cold dull world somewhere upstairs, about his home in Edina, Minnesota. He thought about his parents, and about Our Savior’s Church and Ralph Wright and the Committee on Satanic Activities. He thought about the loneliness of high school, and how he had no friends he could count on anymore. Then as he watched the purple flames and felt his body quiver, he realized that, whatever energy they had felt in the graveyard, this was the source. He turned to the purple man, looked him in the eye, and said, “Yes, I’ll sign.”
“I thought so,” hissed the man, nodding to the boar thing. In a single move, the boar thing grabbed Jake by the left hand and slashed it with a black stone dagger it had pulled out of the folds of its robes. Jake cried out and jerked his hand away, but the purple man grabbed him by the wrist and pressed his palm onto the page, leaving a smeared bloody print.
No sooner had he done so than a half a dozen creatures crowded around Jake, tearing at his clothes. They stripped everything off, even his watch and the little gold earring he wore in his left ear. Jake protested but the purple man only grinned, gnashing his hundreds of needle teeth. Then they grabbed him by all four limbs and vanished into the purple flames leaping up out of the pit.