“You like to be scared?”
I nearly dropped the tray I was carrying. For the past two weeks I’d been bringing Mr. Papp his meals, he never said a word to me. Now, to hear him speak, and more---to make such an accurate guess out of thin air---it startled me.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
He continued to stare out the window as he talked. “I heard you and the other girls at the front desk. You said you like spooky stuff.”
My chest loosened. It all made sense. It was true that some of the other interns and I had been talking lately about scary things. Halloween was coming, and ghosts and ghouls were on everybody’s mind. Old Mr. Papp must have heard us talking.
“Yes,” I said. “I do like spooky stuff.” It was true enough. I was always in the mood for a good story.
Slowly, the man turned his head, and for the first time, I got a good look at his ice blue eyes. There was always a heaviness about the eyes of an older person. They’d seen so much. But Mr. Papp’s eyes were different. They were more than heavy. They seemed haunted.
And now, they looked me up and down with a distinct air of suspicion. He said at last, “Sit down. Take a load off.”
I glanced at the clock. I did have a few minutes before my next meal delivery, and how did I know if I would ever get the chance to actually talk to Mr. Papp again. Not to mention, my feet were absolutely killing me. Gratefully, I sat the tray down before the old man and sank into a nearby chair.
I pretended not to mind as he took a bite of his sandwich and proceeded to talk with his mouth full. “You’re not from around here,” he said. It was a statement of fact rather than a question.
“Massachusetts?” I asked. “No. I’m originally from Upstate New York. I’m down here to study---”
“So you’ve never heard of Enfield, then?” he asked, cutting me off.
I searched my brain. A few people had told me about some places of interest since I’d arrived in Massachusetts. I’d already known about Salem, and I’d just learned about the haunted bed and breakfast in---where was it? Something River? But no, I realized. I’d never heard of Enfield.
“Well,” said Papp through another mouthful of sandwich. “If you really like being scared, I guess I’ll have to tell you all about it.”
I have to admit I was excited. I sat eagerly, waiting for him to start his tale.
He cleared his throat. “I was young once. Your age, if you can believe it. This was back in the 50s. I was stupid, too. Always out dare-deviling. Never thinking, just going.
“Well, one day, I’m out with my buddies and I say, ‘Hey, let’s head up to Enfield, see what’s left of it!’ Because, supposedly, by that time, there wasn’t much left. Well, immediately, they start bellyaching and coming up with excuses and say, ‘you’re all a bunch of chickens!’
“And that’s why Billy Buckman dares me. He says, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so tough. You go and tell us how it was!’”
“So you did?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Papp said with a nod. “Real smart, I was.”
I found myself leaning forward as he continued. He had set up his pride and now I waited for the delicious fall.
“I have to tell you,” he said, “I regretted it the second I got there. You want spooky? It’s dark there all the time in Enfield. Like not even the sun will go near it. And it’s cold. Absolutely freezing. Nothing around it’s that cold.
“But I was a tough guy. I had to prove myself, so I headed past the little sign that said ‘Enfield’ and just went deeper and deeper.”
He paused, and his mood seemed to darken. It was a few seconds before he found his voice again.
“There were buildings. Still there. I thought they knocked them down, or… I don’t know. But there they were. I saw them.”
He paused again to inflate his chest. I could see the distress rising in his eyes.
“I pass this one building, and out of the corner of my eye, I think I see something. So I turn, and just as I’m looking straight on, I see something darting away from the window. Now, I’m shaking because I’ve just seen something and I don’t want to know what it is, so I keep going.
“I keep going and going, and then I see this thing coming out of the darkness. I look carefully. I say to myself, ‘What is that?’ I get closer, and it’s a mailbox. A mailbox still standing at the end of a walkway that didn’t go anywhere. But here’s the crazy part.”
With an unsteady hand, he lifted his glass of water to his lips and drank.
“The walkway,” he said when he’d finished. “It’s covered with---I don’t know. Sand and whatever. I’m there and I’m looking down at it, and I swear I see footprints. Like little lady slipper footprints like someone just came out to get the mail.”
“So now I’m really uneasy, and I’m thinking I’ve got to get out of this place. But I’m all turned around. And I’m heading in the direction I think will take me back where I need to go, but I’m dead wrong.
“Up ahead, you know what I see? Graves. All in little rows. And there’s a lot of them. Now I’m sick to my stomach, and I can’t move I’m so scared.”
He paused again. I watched as his color seemed to drain at the memory that came to him next.
“And then I saw it,” he said. “Don’t ask me what it was. I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. But there it was. This big, black… thing. Floating toward me from far into the rows of graves. It was slow, but kind of… I don’t know… flapped around. Like someone wearing a cape or a dress. And the closer it gets, the more I can make out this… kind of… face… with these big, rolling eyes….”
He closed his eyes tight and shuddered.
“Well, at that point, I’d had enough. I just turned and headed full force in the opposite direction. Finally, I got the hell out of there, safe and sound.” He was no longer looking at me, but at some unfixed point in the distance as he shook his head. “Don’t ask me what I saw, because I don’t know. One thing’s for sure,” he added. “I never went swimming alone again after that.”
The words rang strangely in my ears. “Did you say swimming?” I asked. He nodded, nibbling on an apple slice. “Why?”
He swallowed. “Did I forget to tell you? Enfield’s one of the towns they got rid of when they built the Quabbin Reservoir. It’s been flooded since ‘39 or so.”