Jill-O-Lanterns

jack-o-lantern-face-1423845693414

In 1987, a plastic surgeon named Harris Wilhelm Tristemon killed his wife, Jill Texana-Tristemon. Harris was never caught, but it was widely assumed it had to have been him. Only Harris had such expertise. Only Harris had such meticulous attention to detail. Only Harris had such devastating psychopathy.

I know.

I’m his brother.

I shared with the investigators every incident I remembered from our childhood and adolescence: All the animals Harris had killed. All the classmates he had assaulted. Every punch, every slap, every grope. By late 1989, the investigation had yielded nothing. Harris was gone.

Last month, in the small town of Zermatt, Switzerland, an American expatriate named Jill Pepo was found murdered. While Zermatt is small, crime is not alien to them. Neither is murder, although it is exceedingly rare. That said, the circumstances surrounding Pepo’s murder were hideous enough for officials to demand silence during the investigation. There was concern the growing immigrant population would be blamed. Despite the lockdown, some details leaked. I found them online.

Three weeks ago, a Canadian businesswoman, Jill Moschata, was found dead in her hotel room in Düsseldorf. Again, the hideous details were kept bottled up to avoid sparking a xenophobic panic. Again, those details were leaked.

Again, I found them online. That time, I wasn’t the only one.

A few true-crime aficionados had noticed the similarities between the Zermatt and Düsseldorf murders, and one old-timer made the connection between them and the killing of my sister-in-law. The fact the victims were all named Jill was not overlooked.

Once Jill Cucurbita, a Mexican national in upstate New York, was found murdered, all the cases were officially connected. International investigators descended on all the crime scenes. They were looking for evidence to connect my missing brother to the crimes. All they could find were the same wounds. The same cuts. The same disfigurations.

According to an ICPO and CIA estimation, 11,225 people could have made the same travel arrangements to put them at the scenes of the crimes in Zermatt, Düsseldorf, and New York. That number ballooned to unknown hundreds of thousands if the suspect drove, rather than flew, from Switzerland to Germany. This all meant they had no suspect. No one aside from Harris, who everyone assumed had changed his identity decades ago.

Last Friday, I received a piece of mail containing 13 photographs. There were three from each murder scene. They detailed the incomprehensible brutality of the Jill-killer’s process. The skinning. The scooping. The carving. The candle burning inside empty, grinning skulls.

The 13th photograph was of my daughter, who’d been named in memory of my beloved sister-in-law. It was a very recent picture, which appeared to have been taken when she was playing in the backyard. Our fenced-in backyard.

All the pictures were given to the CIA, and we’ve had round-the-clock surveillance of our home ever since. The police presence has done little to allay the fear my wife and I are experiencing. Jill, despite being only four, knows something bad is going on. Something involving her. We can’t tell her, though. We can’t even hint.

Still, it’s hard to keep it a secret from our daughter. She sees the police officers outside. She sees the expressions of anxiety on her parents’ faces. Worst of all, it was she who found the jack-o-lantern that appeared on our kitchen table in the middle of the night. One that was carved with artistic, surgical precision, to look exactly like her.

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He Went Ahead

ahead

My friends and I used to break into old, run-down places and explore. This was back before people were videotaping their own explorations and getting ad-revenue from their YouTube channels. Back before cell phones, even. We’d go wherever we wanted without much concern for the consequences if we were caught. All of us were still under 18 and Kim’s mom was a police officer, so even if we did get in a little trouble, we were fairly confident it’d be taken care of.

Michael was the one who usually made the decisions about where we should go. He suggested we check out an abandoned institution about an hour out of town. A few weeks earlier, after he got out of work, he told me he made a quick trip over there just to see if he could get in. Once he did, he only spent a couple minutes walking around before he got the creeps. Still, he knew it was exactly the type of place we’d always talked about wanting to explore. Continue reading “He Went Ahead”

Recycling

When Danielle was growing up, Ron and I knew she was plagued by depression. It was the same demon both my husband and I had to face daily, so we had no trouble recognizing the signs. As her condition worsened, she wouldn’t bother hiding the cuts on her arms. Once she graduated high school, we couldn’t force her to see a psychologist or get any type of positive intervention. She just sat in her room with the door closed and ate no more than five meals a week. If she ever went out, it was long after her father and I had gone to bed.

She’d been picked up by the police a number of times for trespassing in graveyards or standing on the rooftops of local businesses. She never stood close enough to the edge to make the police think it was a suicide attempt, though, so she wasn’t held for psychological observation. They chalked it up to her being a rebellious kid and sent her home. Continue reading “Recycling”

Elective Surgery

“Elective surgery.” It’s a term that makes people think of botox injections and liposuction. Maybe facelifts. Breast implants, too. Well, purely cosmetic breast implants; never the implants given to people who’ve endured cancer and mastectomy. “Elective surgery” is too pejorative a term to describe the procedures undergone by those who’ve suffered. It seems suffering is a requirement for the surgeries to avoid having a negative social stigma. That same suffering determines the insurance companies’ willingness to pay for the procedures, too. When you realize they’re the ones who determine who’s suffered, then you can see there’s a problem.

My husband’s name is Brian. From the moment he was capable of self-reflection, he knew he was a man. He had to keep this knowledge to himself. It took 20 torturous years before he could safely declare himself to be the person he knew he was. When we met in 2010, Brian was four years into hormone therapy. I fell in love with him during our first conversation. He was extremely open about his transition, but I worried he felt he needed to explain himself to me, which wasn’t the case. I got the impression he’d been hurt in the past. Continue reading “Elective Surgery”

Something horrible is happening to me on Facebook.

(A scary story about social media.)

I don’t know anything about Facebook. I started an account late last year to promote my website. Not much happened. I plugged my Facebook address pretty much everywhere I went, and while fans trickled in and one or two even shared some of the content I posted, my page wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as I’d hoped.

Fast forward a couple months. Same problem. In total, I think my page was stuck around 100 “likes.” The majority of those were from the first week I started the page and a bunch of nice Reddit users felt sympathy for me and visited, clicked “like,” and never came again. I can’t blame them, to be honest.

I was in a creative rut. Very little new content was coming out, and whatever did reach completion was nothing but a rehashing of older, more popular stories I’d done in the past. I was hoping to piggyback on their successes. It didn’t work. It was obvious that interest was waning.

All this was coming at a bad time. My Tumblr, which had done spectacularly well for the first four months of its existence, was also stagnating. Followers were disappearing. Again, I can’t blame them. Why follow a blog that just reposts old stories without putting anything out that’s new or interesting? I’d reached a point where I was starting to think writing wasn’t for me and I’d have to rethink everything I’d envisioned for my future.

Out of nowhere, sometime in April, I got a notification on Facebook that my page had been mentioned. I clicked through, and was astonished to find out that a page with nearly 10 million fans had posted one of my older stories and had credited my own Facebook page as the content creator. Messages and “likes” came in droves. Friend requests, too.

I didn’t know what to do with all the newfound interest in my work. My creativity hadn’t been piqued by it all, but my enthusiasm had reemerged. I chatted with people who messaged me, I gave advice to aspiring writers, despite not really believing any of what I was saying, and I even agreed to collaborate with another, semi-well known author on a piece at some point in the fall.

As April progressed, more and more people were visiting my page and inhaling my old content. Each day, I’d spend hours replying to notifications and messages; sometimes holding 10 real-time conversations at once. It felt good to be connecting with people again. It’s something I hadn’t really done at all since high school, and that was almost 20 years ago.

I grew close with a few of the people who’d been messaging me. People from all over the world, in fact. We chatted about nothing and everything, to use a cliche that I despise but find impossible to avoid. The more we talked, the closer we got. There were about 25 people out of the hundreds who I really felt a connection with. I think it was mutual, too. We chatted together on Facebook, and then we started doing group emails.

In May, Charles, one of the 25, suggested a meetup. Obviously for some of them, it was impossible. Quite a few were way too far away for that to be possible for them, but 8 or 9 of us were all within around 300 miles of one another. After working through some logistical issues, we made it happen. Seven people showed up. I got to meet seven, wonderful people: Charles, Lynn, Malcolm, Anita, Bev, Mellie, and Raj.

We met up at a small restaurant in the Tribeca area of NYC. We chatted and laughed and had an all-around fantastic time. I enjoyed myself and my new friends more than I can even express. But it was Bev who really stood out.

We’d grown close online, but I never had any hope of getting much closer than that. It all changed when we met. While we all shared stories and jokes and beers around the table, Bev and I held hands. She squeezed my fingers with her own and I stroked her wrist and toyed with her bracelet. During the brief glances we shared with one another, we both knew something special was happening.

When it was obvious the night was coming to an end and everyone headed back to their respective hotel rooms or homes, Bev and I remained together. We headed back to her hotel room and let things take their natural course. It was truly wonderful.

After it was all over, Bev got up from the bed to take a shower. I propped myself up with my laptop on my lap, happily reminiscing about the time not only she and I had spent together, but the time all eight of us had shared hours earlier. I decided to go on Facebook and leave individual messages for my new friends to show how much I appreciated them.

While clicking through to where I needed to go, I realized I’d never even visited their pages before. We’d all just chatted either on my page or through email. I clicked on Malcolm’s first. It was weird. A lot of his friends had posted some pretty depressing emo stuff on his wall. I wrote my little “thank you” paragraph, and then headed over to Charles’ page.

Same thing. Just sad stuff. I wrote my letter and moved on. Lynn, Raj, and Mellie’s were the same. A strange feeling started inside my chest and gradually bloomed outward while gooseflesh prickled my limbs.

I clicked on Anita’s wall. More depressing messages. One in particular caught my eye: “We’ll always you love, Anita. You will always be our beautiful, sweet daughter.” It was from her parents. Dated 2011.

The feeling of discomfort and dread intensified. I went back to all the other pages I’d just been to and scrolled down. All the depressing messages were from between 2009 and 2016. They all had something in common: they were saying some variant of “goodbye.”

Doing my best to control my breathing, I navigated to the one page I hadn’t visited yet. Bev’s. The message on her wall, dated February 2nd, 2016: “God bless you and keep you – you were taken from us far too soon, sweet girl.”

A loud thud sounded from the bathroom, causing me to jump. I got up, quietly asking “Bev?” “Bev, are you okay?” No response. I walked slowly toward the bathroom, a sense of doom weighing down my body. I knocked on the door. No reply. Just the sound of water running. I turned the doorknob and entered the bathroom.

The room was steamy and warm with an intense, unpleasant odor. “Bev?” I asked, my head starting to spin with fear. I gripped the shower curtain between my thumb and forefinger and carefully pulled it open. I screamed. Hot water streamed down the remains of a bloated, rotting corpse. Stringy blonde hair was plastered to the side of a gray face with a purple tongue bulging through lips that looked like dark-green banana slugs. Grayish-yellow slime drooled from between her legs and puddled thickly near the drain. Before I could turn away and throw up, I saw the bracelet on her wrist that I’d played with at the restaurant.

I heaved and retched into the toilet, trying to tell myself this was all impossible and Bev was alive and normal and everything was okay. I closed my eyes and turned around to face the tub. I made the sign of the cross, opened my eyes, and nearly fainted with relief. The bathtub was empty. I inhaled. The smell, for the most part, was gone. I sank to the floor and tried to collect myself.

The horror I’d felt was replaced with an immediate concern for my own mental health. I didn’t know if I should call 911 right away or go to the hospital first thing in the morning and get checked out. I dragged myself to my feet and headed toward the bedroom to lie down for a few minutes. As I was crossing between the rooms, I glanced in the garbage can next to the sink. My used condom sat inside like a deflated grub, covered in grayish-yellow slime.

Continued:

Something horrible is happening to me on Grindr.

Something horrible is happening to me on MySpace.

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The Wisdom of Moms

Baby was receiving his scheduled vaccine injection in his right thigh muscle ie intramuscular injection

January 3, 2016

My son will NOT – I repeat: WILL NOT be getting any more vaccines. I was ignorant about how bad they were for the first four years and I never told the doctors to leave him alone. Well, thank God he got lucky and seems fine, despite that. I got my eyes open now.  Are vaccines safe? Hell no. Sandra Barker’s child got poked with all those needles and shot through with nasty chemicals and guess what? Her poor little Eva ended up half retarded. A damn shame for Sandra and her little girl. Sorry big pharma, you can’t have my Thomas. No way in hell. And I’m going to tell the doctor that at his checkup tomorrow.

January 4, 2016

Doctors just make me sick. Funny, huh? Like it’s the opposite of what they say they’re gonna do. Thomas’ doctor is so rude and pushy. He has the nerve to think he knows what’s better for my son than I do. Me. His mother. The strong woman who gave birth to him. You know, because he went to some fancy college in New York and got a piece of paper saying he can look at sick children.

By the way, his name is Dr. Rav Mati and his practice is in Alfonse Creek, West Virginia. Don’t even think about going to him with your own boy or girl. All he’ll do is try to push vaccines on them and gets fresh when you tell him to prove the shots won’t make the kids sick. The man even said there’s a shot for chickenpox now. Chickenpox! Those pharma fat cats will take every dollar you’ve got. I guess they don’t think us parents were taught by our own moms about how to deal with chickenpox. A child has to catch it if they want to get strong! I think Earl has a point when he said those companies are trying to make kids grow up weak so they’ll vote liberal. There’s no other explanation I can think of. I married a smart man.


January 7th, 2016

As luck would have it, Sandra Barker’s poor retarded girl got chickenpox at the special daycare she has to go to. When Sandra called me up, I was relieved. After dealing with that stupid Dr. Mati the other day, I’d started to worry Thomas wouldn’t get to be around other kids who had it if their parents had been duped into getting them vaccinated. The last thing I wanted was for Thomas to be weak. God forbid he ended up that way and Earl found out he was a homosexual. I’m not even going to think about that. No need to do that to myself.

Anyway, Sandra and I set up a playdate for Thomas and Sandra’s little Eva. We’ll go over tomorrow at lunchtime so I can be back to cook dinner for Earl in the afternoon.

January 8th, 2016

Thomas seemed to have fun with little Eva. It breaks my heart to see that little girl, though. She just doesn’t know what’s going on half the time. Thomas was a good boy, though, and was very gentle and shared his toys. Sandra suggested we let them share a spoon and bowl when they ate their lunch so he’d get a better chance of catching her chickenpox. So they shared their chicken soup and Sandra and I talked for a while. Thomas and I went home around 3:30. Perfect timing to get dinner started.

January 11th, 2016

Earl was grumpy this morning when he left for his business trip. He was hollering and complaining about one thing or another, but then he left and things were quiet again. I bet his job is more stressful than I know. Hell, this trip will keep him away from home for three weeks. I wish I told him I was sorry before he went, though. I always feel bad when I feel like I put him in one of his moods.

On a good note, Thomas started to get a fever and he said he was itchy. When I gave him his bath at night, I saw the little dots of chickenpox starting to show up. I called up Sandra to thank her and asked how Eva was doing. Sandra said Eva had it bad but no worse than her cousin Duane did a couple years ago. I got a little sad that Thomas would be so uncomfortable soon, but it was worth it in the long run. He’d be good and strong.

January 12th, 2016

It’s amazing how fast chickenpox shows up! Thomas went to bed with little pinprick dots and woke up with big blotches the size of pepperoni slices. He’s scratching them like crazy and I keep slapping his hands so he won’t cut himself with his fingernails. I can’t stop thinking about all the poor kids whose parents were so ignorant about how the world works that they listened to Dr. Mati and all the other doctors like him. All the doctors lining their pockets with big pharma money so they can donate it to the democrats and whoever else hates families. Well, they’ll see. It’s families like ours who get strong and survive.

January 13th, 2016

Thomas started getting blisters on his palms. I don’t think they’re from chickenpox, but the nice ladies on the homeschool forum I started visiting last year said it was probably just from his fever. Once his fever goes down, they’ll go away. And if they got any worse, it would just have to run its course. He’s young and he’ll heal up good enough.

As mean as this sounds, I’m a little glad the blisters seem to hurt because it stops Thomas from scratching. Didn’t stop him from complaining, though! Not one bit. But it’s okay. I can take it! This is mom territory – we live to deal with kids complaining.

January 14th, 2016

Thomas’ is COVERED with chickenpox. Even when I part his hair, I see them on his scalp. Some of the older ones started to get big whiteheads on them. The one on the tip of his nose looks so uncomfortable, the poor kid. I remember having pimples when I was a teenager. These pox are like five times bigger. Maybe later on tonight I’ll squeeze a few of them to help take some of the pressure off.

January 15th, 2016

In the bath last night, I popped about 20 of Thomas’ riper chickenpox. I squeezed and squeezed and that gunk just plopped down into the water. I had to mash it up with a wire brush before it would all get down the drain. Nasty nasty nasty! But still, it’s natural. So much more natural than whatever the doctor would’ve pumped into him.

The pox I squeezed dry just look like holes now. They’re pretty swollen but he said they don’t itch anymore. The holes are about as wide as a dime. I put Neosporin on them just so they wouldn’t get infected and I’m changing his bedsheets every night. I might be being a little overprotective, but hey, I’m a mom. It’s what moms do. Well, the good ones at least.

January 16th, 2016

I squeezed out more and more of those chickenpox last night. The ones I’d squeezed the night before didn’t fill up again, at least. Poor Thomas looks so ragged. It’s like he’s covered in little, swollen volcanos. At least this is running its course and it’ll be over in another few days.

I’m a tiny bit worried about the fever blisters on his hands and feet. My camera in my phone’s still busted, but I went online and found a picture that’s pretty similar. Obviously this person’s hand is much bigger than Thomas’, but the look is the same. True to what the homeschool ladies said, he was still running a fever. 102 on the nose. Once that goes down, his hands will heal up and he’ll be good as new.

January 17th, 2016

Thomas woke me up this morning! He hasn’t done that since he would cry and yell when he was a tiny baby. But he was standing next to my bed and saying that his body hurts. Well, I took one look at him and saw why. The poor boy’s chickenpox looked worse than any chickenpox I’d ever seen. I’ll admit it – I got pretty scared. His entire body – all his skin – was just filled up with holes. It looked like the remaining whiteheads had popped when he was asleep because he was all smeared with it.

I brought him into the bath and rinsed him off. The water seemed to help him feel a little better, so I let him soak in the tub while I sat next to him in a chair with my laptop. I asked online if chickenpox were supposed to get so bad. One of the homeschool ladies asked if he’d been vaccinated. I was super embarrassed when I told her he got all his shots up until this year because I didn’t know any better. I felt awful admitting that to these smart people. But they were so kind and understanding. Then I was told what I’d assumed but didn’t want to take for granted: his case of chickenpox is worse because of the vaccines he got as a baby. Something about mercury poisoning and his body using the chickenpox as an opportunity to cleanse the toxins from his body.

While Thomas splashed around and I talked to the ladies online, I felt a lot better. By this time next week, he’d be healing up like nothing had happened.

January 18th, 2016

Thomas looked just as bad this morning. He asked right away if he could take a bath, so we did what we did yesterday. I paid more attention to his skin this time. I don’t know exactly how to describe him. Maybe the inside of a wasp nest? He’s just so covered with holes that I can barely make out any skin that isn’t part of a crater, especially now that he’s in the water and his skin is swelling.

I’m just so mad at all the doctors and corporations who put those chemicals into Thomas when he was a baby. I’m mad at myself for listening to them. Like I was just following orders like some damn Nazi. Because that’s what those big pharma liberals are, you know. There’s a reason “socialist” is in “national socialist.” Of course you know. And this country’s going down the tubes because of it. And Thomas is suffering in that bathtub for the same damn reason.

January 19th, 2016

I’m about to go ask the ladies on the homeschool forum for some help because I just went to wake Thomas and all his holes are leaking. There’s yellow stuff coming out of them and a tiny black hard thing is poking out of each one. It’s like a pebble or a seed or something godawful. When he opened his eyes, I could see more holes starting to form in the corners where his tears come out. He said he could see me but I looked like I was underwater.

I carried him to the bathroom so he could do his business, and when he sat down on the toilet, some holes in his thighs split and the stuff inside, the yellow gunk and the hard pebble piece, bulged out. He looked at me like he was scared and started to pick at it. His finger slid all the way inside.

There’s no way I’m going to the doctor who’ll just inject him with more stuff to make this even worse, but I’m concerned his chickenpox might be getting infected. I guess it’s time to go ask online. The ladies from the homeschool forum have been so helpful already. It’s great to be able to rely on the wisdom of moms.

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Something horrible is happening to me on Tumblr

(A scary story about social media.)

I started up a Tumblr blog last November so I could get better exposure for my writing. I was surprised by how quickly it took off. There’s a big horror subculture that seems to enjoy the type of stuff I write, so it didn’t take long before I’d gotten well over 10,000 followers and was cruising along pretty well. As the blog got more established, though, some frightening things started to happen.

Before I go on, I need to give a little background info. For those who don’t know how Tumblr works, they have something called “reblogging,” which just means you repost something that someone else had put on their blog. It shows up in your own blog with the creator’s name linked to it. It basically can allow content to go viral very quickly. Like, you can post something and then someone with a large and established blog might reblog it to all their hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, who can then do the same, and over and over and over until it eventually dies down.

Obviously, wanting to spread my stories and “brand” as far and wide as I possibly could, I sought out opportunities to get my content reblogged by one of those well-established bloggers. After a month or so, it happened. A story of mine got shared well over a thousand times. I gained hundreds of followers. That type of thing happened on many occasions over the following months, leading me to where I was late this April.

In April, after one story did particularly well, I started getting weird messages in my inbox. All of them said something similar. Something along the lines of, “hey I reblogged your story and started getting really personal messages from you – can you please not?”

I was shocked. I thought someone had hacked my account and was spreading harassing messages around. The prospect of someone ruining my reputation before I ever got a chance to really get my writing out there terrified me. As the days went on, more and more people started telling me that I’d sent them unsettling messages.

On April 22nd, when the influx of notifications had slowed and I’d changed my password about 100 times, I was starting to think it had all blown over. I’d posted another story that was met with surprising success. As I watched the reblogs fly and the new followers accumulate, I got a message from a woman named Beverly. All it said was, “I never told anyone about that abortion. Get the fuck out of my head.”

Five minutes later, from a man named Arjay: “But my mom swore she never told anyone about my accident with my cousin.”

Then more came.

Dana: “Fuck you! I couldn’t have stopped that car from killing him!”

Janelle: “Who are you? My father never so much as spanked me. Message me again and I’ll call the police.”

Muhammad: “I didn’t expect him to join and now he’s dead and you’re harassing me about it? Who the hell do you think you are?”

Vivian: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!”

Martin: “She was just lying there. I couldn’t help myself. Please don’t tell.”

I was terrified. I wrote a frantic email to Tumblr staff begging them to see if they could track what was going on and stop it. They never replied. More and more and more notes flooded my inbox. Every single message was from someone who’d reblogged one of my stories. Every single message claimed I’d brought up something to them that was deeply personal; something they’d never told anyone before; sometimes things they never even knew themselves.

I stopped visiting Tumblr for few days and deleted all the email notifications I had about new messages. I tried to keep myself from panicking. It had to be some sort of joke or the work of an extremely determined hacker. My therapist, who only knew I was getting unwanted messages, got me to calm down. He got me agree to give it a month before I visited the site again, and I could figure out a plan of action to either get the messages to stop or to be able to ignore them without panicking.

I took his advice. A little over month later, which was just last week, I went back. I discovered my number of followers had gone from 13,000 to 4,000. So much of what I’d worked to build was gone. The fear of what had happened coupled with the immense frustration I felt from losing what I’d dedicated so much time to. My decades-vanquished anxiety and depression returned with a vengeance.

As I went through my page stats, I saw no one had reblogged one of my stories in three weeks. Part of me knew I had to try to get a handle on the situation and take whatever steps were necessary to get back to where I had been. I waited for a time when it looked like the site was getting a lot of traffic, and then I reblogged one of my older, more popular stories. I prayed it would attract some new followers. Followers that hadn’t heard about my ruined reputation.

No one bit. There wasn’t any indication anyone had read it whatsoever. It was like I’d just thrown the story into interstellar space, never to be seen again. An hour or two passed. I checked the stats. Still just one reblog – my own. I glanced up at the toolbar and saw there was a message waiting for me. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and my hand shook as I moved the cursor to click the icon.

“I watched you eat your little sister. Your little twin sister. Consumed in utero. Before she even knew what pain was, it was the only sensation she ever felt in her short life.”

The message was from me.

Continued:

Something horrible is happening to me on Facebook.

Something horrible is happening to me on Grindr.

Something horrible is happening to me on MySpace.

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