"The Sack Man" as locals here refer to it. My family first arrived in Poland, or "Pshek Lane" as my father jokingly calls it, on a plane from Frankfurt, Germany. We arrived in a small town named Ustroń, where we settled in for the next few years of my life. I can still remember my childhood home. It was this wonderful red-brick hut at the end of the street near the woods.
The transfer to a new country was...well, difficult to say the least. But, with my grandmother holding my hand every step of the way, I managed. I can still remember her. Her toothy grin, that one mole on her nose. More than anything, though, she loved her garden. The one thing that could still give her joy, apart from us of course, was the massive garden hidden behind the house's lengthy exterior.
The garden had to be protected. That's why she had it. Sitting in the green shed, behind our bicycles and resting in between six large jars of jam, was a scarecrow. I can't exactly you what it was, but the thing always gave me an uneasy feeling. The aged straw it was made out of or the tattered clothes of children it wore really didn't bother me. It was its eyes. They were strained, human-like. And the color was completely sickening: a rotting, almost fleshy pink.
I always had a strange feeling about it. The way the eyes followed me. The way the thing's hands were always just too close to me. Still, I never actually broke down crying at the sight of it. But it was definitely strange. Then it started to get in my head.
I forgot this happened. Maybe when I was around four. I had a dream. A very, very, vivid dream. My little mind began racing. It's going to hurt her, I thought. It's going to kill Grandma and stuff her.
How such ridiculous things came over me? I don't know. The logic of my idea wasn't important at the time. All I knew was that I had to stop it. Destroy it, even.
In the middle of the night, around 11:30, I grabbed the hedge sheers from the basement and made my way towards the shed. On my way, I perched the door to Grandma's room open. She was still sound asleep.
Cautiously, I pushed into the shed door. A sudden jolt of energy and it opened. The lunge forward startled me. My elbow came crashing through one of the windows. I collapsed in pain, clenching my teeth and observing my arm. Multiple shards of glass were wedged into my skin.
The pain, for someone my age, was nearly unbearable. But I had to push forward. I had to save her. Our bicycles wear in direct view now. The blood from my hand now made a small trail on the floor. I unhooked the bicycles, one by one, and moved them aside. My eyes widened. The scarecrow was not in its usual spot between the jars of jam. A cold clamped down on my shoulder.
It was Grandma. Even though she was concealed in darkness, I could practically see her expression by the tone of her voice. She was angered, frightened even, and rightfully worried about me. Grandma dragged me inside the house.
"Bastard child," she muttered under her breath. I reached down to comfort her. I was not yet aware that I was the cause of her stress. Both of her hands came crashing down on my shoulders. She had me in a firm grasp.
"You listen to me," she whispered, her voice strained. "You will never go in there. Never." I nodded. My eyes began to swell up with tears. It was that exact moment that her anger wore away.
"Come. I will make you two parówki. Then you will go to bed."
After I ate, Grandpa offered to read me to sleep. She nurtured me with a mother's love. The kind of love I have never received. She was reading me a tale about a vicious spider who ties its victims in an unbreakable string to preserve their flesh and about the brave knight who ventured to slay it. The whole time she looked sick. Ghastly. I could see it in her eyes. So much so that she closed the book halfway through and wished me goodnight.
"Grandma?" I asked as she flipped off the light. "Where has the scarecrow gone?"
Her soft, motherly smile faded.
"Gone," she replied. "I burnt it."
Confusion grasped me throughout the night. I rolled in my bed, wondering. How did she know? I had never told anyone of my fear, nor did my face easily give it away. I was scared. For the first time in my life.
Besides that incident, I had a pretty good childhood. My Dad spoiled me with gifts every Christmas, much to my sibling's dismay. I was constantly surrounded by friends at school. Then I turned 14. My life changed. The rivalry between me and my siblings, although not as childish, was just as intense. It got the point where one of the little shits, Luka, nearly strangled me with with a leather belt. Things were the worst between him and I. Then, one day, Dad proposed taking a hike. Luka wandered off the trail.
Grandma insisted he would find his way back. Dad didn't buy it and, frankly, I didn't either. But I trusted Grandma. I kept my mouth shut. We never saw him again. Dad and I were ruined. I began seeing him, and not just in dreams.
The funeral reception was relatively small, as Dad thought it would be "appropriate" only to invite close relatives. Mom had insisted that she come. Just the image of my mother brought Dad back to memories of the divorce. Merely thinking about the divorce made him angry. The anger and depression haunted him night after night.
Needless to say, he declined Mom's pleas. Dad fell into yet another depression, this one worst than the last. He barely left his room, much less go to work. Tensions between him and Grandma were high. They broke into fights. The fights, at first merely verbal spouting, escalated into violence. Police officers appeared at my house the next day asking to speak to Grandma. Dad had disappeared in his car for a "quick drive". He never came back. It was too much for me. I ran away but, eventually, I had to return home.
Of my original five relatives, including Mom, only me, Niko, and Grandma remained. Grandma seemed unphased by the disappearances, though she fiercely refused to speak about them. Niko and I shared only a handful of interests: soccer, mythology, and filmmaking. Mild depression plagued us. I was sixteen. Niko was ten.
Grandma encouraged us to bond. It was she who gave us the idea for the documentary. A massive film reel depicting the many supernatural events occurring throughout Poland. I went online and searched for polish paranormal legends. No results. I deleted my search and retyped polish haunted locations. Two hundred results appeared. One stood out in particular: Wędrowny Forest, Ustron, Poland.
After plugging the exact location into my phone, I discovered it was only two blocks. Not as big as the woods near my home, yet decently sized. My brother asked Grandma to borrow some of her filming equipment. Then we began.
The first few minutes of the film were nothing exceedingly special. A picture of the house overlapped with Niko's voice, introducing us and the documentary. There wasn't really all that much to document. We basically just showed our "viewer" around the house. Niko and I agreed we would save a trip to the forest for our finale. For now, though, a short clip of me walking down the basement steps near midnight would be satisfying. I wasn't entirely sure there would be any paranormal activity in our house specifically. But, even if not, we hoped that the very idea would terrify our audience.
Niko was too much of a pussy to do it himself, so I went. To be honest, I was also terrified. Grandma usually forbid us from entering the basement throughout the day, much less in the middle of the night. Slowly, I inched my way down the stairs and into the dark abyss. My heart pounded with every step. I didn't have the courage to make it all the way down. Halfway was good enough. I sat down, positioned the camera so it was overlooking the basement itself, and waited.
Nothing. The only present sounds were my lengthened breaths and the boiler further downstairs. The whole concept suddenly seemed so childish and naive.
Then I heard something. I listened. The sound neared until an empty soup can roll into view and stopped inches in front of mine. I rose from my spot. My legs felt weak. It was as if they might give in at any moment. The hanging lamp attached to the ceiling flickered to life. A shadow overlapped the soup can. I inched away. My camera was still on. A figure came into view.
A child. Its faces vacant blue. Its eyes missing from their sockets. The child wore no clothes apart from the few inches of fabric it had wrapped around its a right arm.
It reached for the can.
It spotted me.
I screamed in utter horror and practically trampled myself as I hurried up the steps. The creature gave cheese. It carried a disgusting odor with it. My hand was on the doorknob, which I promptly twisted and pulled. Two hands from upstairs powerfully grabbed me and pulled me up. It was Grandma, still in her cooking apron. The breaths I was drawing in seemed unreal as if I shouldn't have survived. I glanced over my shoulder. The creature had vanished into the darkness, the light switched off.
Grandma grabbed me by the ear and pulled me to my room. Believe me, I tried to reason with her. Nothing came through. I offered to show her the video. She ripped the phone out of my hand and threw it down the stairway.
"Spoiled little shit," she scolded. "This is exactly why you're father died, Ethan. He never listened. Even as man."
She threw me into my room. Niko had already drifted off and was oblivious to the commotion.
"You will stay in here until further notice. Is that understood, child?"
I nodded. My face was wet and drained of color. Grandma nodded and slammed the door shut. Spoiled little shit? I lunged over and hurled. My mucus-covered hands were still shaking. The odor had seemingly followed me. I reached into my pocket for s tissue. An age fabric of some kind brushed against the tip of my finger. I pulled it out and examined it. It was a white piece of cloth with marker writings smeared across it.
Kill the witch, it read. Break the spell.
My Grandma's hostile attitude seemingly vanished at breakfast. I left my room despite her orders. Not that she seemed to notice. The only incident left my head within the span of a few weeks. I convinced myself it was my wild imagination or Niko trying to mess with me. Deep inside I knew what had happened that night was real. I just couldn't face it alone.
Niko and I continued our documentary. Grandma eventually gave us permission to hike a small trail I had discovered near our woods. The visit didn't provide us with any paranormal sitings, but we did get some nice footage to show the viewers while we were talking in between clips.
Finally, the time came. With Grandma's permission, we trekked into the woods and prepared to finish our project. The woods had a long-running stream which we planned to follow. We filmed our journey up the river before explaining to the viewers that we had to "shut off the camera and head home for equipment."
Niko slathered his arm in mud and, yes, animal feces. He had grown a kind of attachment to the whole concept of the documentary and was willing to take strange risks to achieve it. Another two minutes of walking and we arrived at our destination. The ruins of a wooden hut near the heart of the forest. I turned on the camera and filmed myself walking towards the house, shaking it and speaking inaudibly for effect.
The plan was relatively simplistic: Niko would hide inside of the house and attempt to grab me once I neared it, being cautious only to show his arm. Sure, it was a childish and unrealistic idea, but the thought of it made us hopeful we could claim to have caught supernatural events on camera. My hand fell on the loose bronze handle attached to the hut's entrance. The bushes behind me began to shake. I turned off the camera and dropped it in frustration.
"Damnit! You had one job!" The rustling in the bushes continued. There was no answer from Niko.
My throat closed up. I could feel the color draining from my face. A slender, gloved hand reached through the bushes. Niko and I wearily backed away from the sight, still not entirely sure what to do. A pair of slant yellow eyes followed it. A pointed hat was visible now as well.
We ran. Adrenaline took hold of me. I shrieked wildly as somebody began clawing at my back. I glanced over my shoulder. Only Niko. We slowed to a halt by the opening of the woods. And we laughed. I didn't know exactly what we found so funny. I still don't know.
Niko and I headed home. Grandma welcomed us at the door and barraged us with questions.
"How was it?"
"What did you see?"
"Were you hurt?"
The smile on her face seemed fake. Superficial. Still, we denied having come across anything interesting during our trip. Just before bed, I made a quick trip to the shed and grabbed a Gatorade from the cooler. As I was closing the cooler lid, something caught my eye. I maneuvered across the creaking floorboards and unhooked our bicycles, moving them aside. There, lying in a sitting position between six jars of jam, was the scarecrow. It was still smiling.
A cool Autumn breeze cycles through my bedroom window, soothing my tense muscles as I lay in bed. Still, I am not calm. I think over today's events. The whole day was a blur and the memories more or less swam motionlessly in my head, crashing in every which direction. I close my eyes and slowly, but surely, being to drift off into a deep sleep. I had a strange dream that night. I can't exactly recall it, though. What I can recall was waking up to the sound of somebody pounding on the glass slide door leading onto the balcony. I perched up, forcefully holding in my exhale. The pounding changed into a melodic, almost rhythmical, tapping. The back of my throat clogged as I heard the door sliding open.
It stopped with a thud on the end of the track. The floorboards began creaking, followed by footsteps. The footsteps neared, and neared, and neared until a shadow loomed over me. My breaths became short and frantic. I pressed my back against the bed's wooden frame. The shadow limped forward, now barely illuminated by my red LED lamp.
It was a scarecrow, reeking off vomit and gasoline. Its eyes were empty sockets, each with a yellow slit acting like the things eyes. Stitches ran across its face, forming a sickening smile. It wore a brown hat and clothes, also reeking of gasoline.
I couldn't move. My only thought was to bury myself in my covers and cower. The creature leaned forward. I could smell flesh off of its breaths as its eyes narrowed on me.
"It will be better this way," it hissed, flicking its black tongue.
My instincts took over. I bolted out of the bedroom and hurtled into the darkness of the corridor. The creature stood, motionless, watching me. It gave a childish giggle and watched me disappear into the murk.
I ran downstairs looking for Grandma, hollering her name. No answer except for the sound of my own voice echoing off the basement walls. I passed the boiler room. Passed the storage closet. I stopped in my tracks. A rotting odor came over me. A familiar one. I spun around and saw something laying on the table. The apparent source of the smell. Even from such a short distance, the thing was blanketed in shadows. Luckily, a small ceiling lamp dangled above it. I pulled the short chain attached to it, turning it on.
My eyes swelled. I wish I never turned the light on. I wish, oh how I wish I never went into that damn basement in the first place.
Luka was lying on that table. Not just Luka. Luka's corpse, nearly completely covered in a strange pasta holding together hay, wool, and straw. Stitches ran across his rotting face, stretching his mouth out into a small. Only was face was visible.
"I had to conserve the body, Ethan. It was the only way."
Grandma's voice seemed solemn, sincere. I pulled myself back to reality. Luka was dead. And now, after years of an enigma, I knew why.
"You...you murdered him."
I spun around. Grandma donned a loving motherly smile. Her posture was stretched and welcoming.
"Oh, my baby. It had to be done." Tears began to stream down her face. Still, she continued. Every inch she took forward, her smile weakened.
"He only feasts on the souls. But the souls cannot exist if the flesh disappears. I preserved him, Ethan. I'm saving him."
"Bullshit." Grandma stood still. Her face twisted into a mixture of disappointment and anger.
"It had to be done," she whispered. "I had to protect the family."
I just realized there was a second silhouette inches away from her, eying me from the shadows. The figure limped out of the shadows. Bubak's smiles widened. He held out his arms were well, following after Grandma. Miming her.
I turned back to my brother's corpse, holding it in my hands. Granda let out a soft chuckle. Bubak's hand was now grabbing hold of her shoulder. Tears streaked down her face.
"He would have wanted this, Ethan. I know he would."
"YOU DON'T KNOW MY FUCKING BROTHER!"
I charged forward, knocking her from her feet. She collapsed on the floor. Bubak let out a maniacal laugh and chased after me up to the stairs. The door was locked. The demon neared me. His grin had vanished. His eyes were no longer dirty yellow. They were human, practically bulging out of their sockets. I busted through the door and into the living room, then towards the sliding back door leading into the garden. I didn't stop running until I reached a local supermarket, from which I contacted the police.
The police brought me to some kind of rehabilitation facility where I spent the night. They moved into a temporary foster home the next day. I couldn't eat for a few days, much less could I sleep. It's over, I kept telling myself. But of course, it was never over. I couldn't really tell any of these psychiatrist chicks what had happened. How could I? My name was Ethan Kochan. My Grandmother was a druggy and a child abuser. At least that's what I told them. But the truth was always in my. Nagging...no, clawing it's way out. Hell, that's why I'm writing this.
I hadn't found out what happened after I ran until my 21st birthday when I got a guy working for social services to cough it out. Obviously, he wouldn't give me the whole truth no matter how many bills I waved in his face. But, from what he did tell, Grandma was found dead by the time police arrived. She was laying on the stairs, her stomach ripped open, with a cold smile on her face. She had covered herself in salt. A natural preserver. They found Dad and Niko's bodies hidden in the wine cellar, also coated in salt.
Years later, some friends and I returned to that forest. The hut had vanished without a trace, although we did discover something else: an enormous field of scarecrows, about two acres big, hidden behind a blanket of trees and bushes. I had my friend Phillipe pick one out at random. Luka is still resting there today.
I moved to the States sometime later. My life went on. I got a job, got married, had kids. But the afterthought of what could have happened continued to haunt me. I returned to my hometown several years later with my wife. The kids stayed at a nice inn while she and I ventured into the forest. I told her I had "something to show". We stopped in the scarecrow fields in front of the short one wearing the blue beret. She giggled gently and kissed me on my cheek.
"I'm heading out to the car. Feel free to join me."
I stood there for a while, looking up at it. My brother was alive. He always will be. I smiled.
And it smiled back.
Written by SlothIsBack