Leaves don’t grow on the trees in this town. Birds won’t nest in them, either. I can’t remember the last time I saw a squirrel, let alone heard one chittering in the branches overhead. Everything’s just dead or dying around here. Been that way since that shaky fellow started showing up.
I think it was 1966 when I realized he might really exist. I guess that means I was around ten or eleven. Hard to trust the memory of a kid that age, I know. Still, all these years later, it’s as clear as anything. Clear as the screen I’m typing this on. And I just cleaned my glasses.
I was coming back from a sleepover at Davy Egan’s place. Kids were allowed to walk around town by themselves back then. We weren’t afraid of getting kidnapped or fondled or anything like that, although it probably happened a lot. Not to me, though. Not to anyone I know. But that doesn’t mean much in the scope of where I’m going with this.
To get from Davy’s place to mine, I liked to cut through the Wilhelm Country Club golf course. Saved me from having to go around. The groundskeepers would chew you out if they caught you walking on the greens, but they wouldn’t chase you if you ran.
I’d always been a good runner.
It was an early morning in late July. Davy had kicked me out before dawn because he had something to do that morning. I didn’t mind. We hadn’t gotten any sleep that night, so I wasn’t groggy.
It was raining a little. That meant groundskeepers wouldn’t be out and about. That’s what I told myself, at least. Made sense to my eleven-year-old mind.
Turned out I was right. I was all alone out there.
I enjoyed the gray, misty gloom and the otherworldly, lurid green of the grass. Despite the sun barely shining behind the heavy clouds as it rose, that grass seemed to have a light all to itself. Must’ve been those fertilizers and pesticides they could use back in the 60s before the environmentalists got them banned. Probably for the best.
There was a thick line of trees that served to cut the golf course in two. Eight holes on one side, one at the bottom, and seven on the other side. The place in between was my favorite.
Even when it was broad daylight, when golfers were smashing balls and chugging beers and bitching about how the country club had hired a black waitress, that spot in the middle was near silent. Kids who snuck onto the course could hide there all day without being seen.
Davy and I learned about it the summer before, and we spent hours shooting the shit, telling dirty jokes, and whatever else kids that age do.
It was there he first hinted at who folks refer to as “that shaky fellow.”
I wish I’d been paying a little more attention to what Davy had said about him at first. I guess his cousin knew where the guy came from or something like that. Back then, though, and for a long time after, all I was interested in was Davy’s beautiful face. Beautiful everything, really.
I couldn’t ever tell him. And I never did. Just one of those missed opportunities so many folks like me had to deal with back in those days.
Anyway, from the little I can recall, Davy told me his cousin Patrick stumbled upon that shaky fellow when he was out in the Lewistown woods trying to find a spot to hide the Playboy he’d found snooping through his neighbor’s garage.
“He was burying it under a rock or something when he heard a lot of rustling leaves behind him. He thought my uncle had caught him and was sneaking up to give him a beating. But when he turned around there was just this… guy.”
I watched his perfect lips form the sentences and dreamed of someday kissing him.
“…but there was something up with him, like he wasn’t deformed or anything but Patrick said he was just, well, weird. He said the guy was blurry — like Pat had something in his eyes but everything else was sharp and clear.”
I half listened, half wondered if kissing him would be worth the colossal ass beating Davy would lay on me. Peppered throughout our day-to-day conversations were the same passing remarks about “the faggots” I’d heard his father say. And my father. And most kids’ fathers.
“…Pat was like ‘hey mister, what are you doing sneaking up on me?’ and the guy didn’t reply. But he got blurrier. Pat said it made him real dizzy. And the sound of the dry leaves going back and forth was super loud.”
At this point, I started forcing myself to pay attention to what he was saying since my stupid little dick was starting to react to all the thoughts about his lips. Shorts were a lot shorter back then.
“…Patrick said he was getting freaked out, and you know Pat, it’s not like him to say he’s afraid of anything, so it must’ve been serious. He looked around and saw birds and squirrels falling out of the trees, along with all the leaves. But the animals were all messed up, like their feathers or fur had fallen off and they were just bleeding and flopping on the ground.”
“That’s messed up,” I replied, finally engaging in the story he was telling me.
“You know it,” Davy agreed, and went on.
“…anyway, Pat was trying his best to get the hell out of there but he was so dizzy he felt like he was gonna fall over. And the worst thing was that the shaky guy was getting closer to him. But not like normal. Like, the guy’s body stayed in one spot maybe fifteen feet away, but his face and head got closer.”
This part I remember best.
“…and clearer until the face and head were totally unblurred right in front of Patrick. And he could see the guy’s mouth open and there were so many teeth rattling around inside. Like, more teeth than a shark. And right at this point I told him he was full of shit but Pat swears to Jesus and God and all of that so I think he has to be telling the truth.”
Here it was.
“…then out of that guy’s mouth came my aunt’s voice.”
Davy’s aunt, Patrick’s mom, had gone missing a few months before. No trace.
“…and the voice said ‘Patrick, come help your mom take care of all the babies in here. Come help with all your new brothers and sisters.’”
Patrick was an only child.
“…Pat yelled ‘no!’ and ‘go away!’ and heard what sounded like his mom crying inside the man’s mouth, then he was alone again. All the leaves on the nearby trees were gone. There were like twenty dead animals. Pat had a hell of a headache for a week.”
That’s pretty much all I remember.
A few months later, Theresa Moylan’s mom vanished. So did the moms of another few kids.
Between 1967 and 1976, when I left town to go to college, lots of moms just up and disappeared. And a good number of people reported seeing that shaky fellow. No one had an encounter quite like the one Davy told me, but they’d see him in passing. Sometimes in the woods, sometimes in the backyards.
Always accompanied by dead animals and naked trees.
It’s damn near 2020 now, and the town’s a lot smaller than it was back then. Not because that shaky fellow ate all the moms or anything like that, but because it’s just not that great a place to live anymore.
I moved back in 2010 after my dad passed. Back into the house where I grew up. I don’t like it here. As soon as I can sell the house, I’m going back out West.
That said, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. The house has been on the market for close to a decade. People just aren’t interested in moving to a town where the leaves don’t grow and the birds don’t sing. Whether it’s from that shaky fellow or all the pesticides they used in the 60s, it’s anyone’s guess. If you want me to answer seriously, I’d say it’s obviously from the pesticides.
But there’s still the matter of the bones.
In 2008, the townsfolk started finding a lot of bones around. They got them tested and it turned out they belonged to all those mothers who’d gone missing back in the day.
Investigators concluded whatever serial killer had done them in brought the bones back as a “last act of domination” or something like that. People should “stay on the lookout for anyone suspicious.”
Sure didn’t help property values, I’ll tell you that much.
So that was the explanation for the bones.
But not all of them. Not the little ones.
Ones that appeared to come from kids one-to-three years old. Ones that, once tested, showed they were half related to the moms that went missing, and half to “something else.”
That — that’s something I’d have a hard time answering seriously if you asked me about it.
Ask me in the daytime after a strong cup of coffee, and my logical self would say something about the forensic pathologists having old, outdated equipment that gives shitty results which lead to shittier interpretations.
But if you ask me in the middle of the night when I’m in bed, wide awake in the dark, I might tell you something else. Something about Patrick hearing his missing mother begging for help with all his new brothers and sisters. Begging from the inside of that shaky fellow’s mouth.
I’d get to thinking about all those brothers and sisters, then whether or not all the other moms who’d got taken had boys and girls of their own.
I’d think about the little bones.
I’d try to clear my mind by looking out the window, just to see how the tree branches outside my bedroom window have no leaves on them.
It would bring me back to that time in 1966 when I was walking through the golf course after leaving Davy’s in the early morning after our sleepover. When I was about to cut through that nice wooded area.
I’d remember that as I approached, I noticed how the trees in there were shaking, their leaves falling in clumps as nearby birds fell out of the sky, and something blurry at the center of it all.
I’d remember how I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and ran all the way home — head pounding, breath ragged, and scared out of my mind.
And finally, I’d remember slamming the door to my house, where my father was starting his day, wondering why my mother hadn’t been there when he’d gotten up.
© Max Lobdell, 2019. May not be reproduced in any format without express written permission.