This is story I’ve been interested in for a while. I pulled the source material from an article in an old Reader’s Digest book called Strange Stories, Amazing Facts that my grandfather gave to me when I was in middle school. The article, titled the Faces of Belmez, details the story of an old woman in Spain who discovered an apparition of a face on the walls of her home. More faces appeared over the next few weeks, and any attempt to remove them, including replacing the floors and walls with concrete, were to no avail. Investigations alleged to find examples of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) within the home, and local legends dug up tied the property to witchcraft and other nefarious activity.Of course, the story turned out to be a hoax, at least per my sources. Nevertheless, the story left an impression on me as one of the few stories I could read that would genuinely give me chills. The faces, which any cursory Google search will find, show the anguished features imprinted on the walls in an early-daguerreotype kind of fidelity, not good enough to pass off as doctored, but with such vividness as to warrant attention and dread.

This excerpt is the first part of a much longer, possibly novella-length work. That being said, I may not publish the rest online except in draft form. This is so I can justify selling the story to a publisher, should it prove good enough to market. Economics, amirite?

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It seems, to me at least, that stories of the miraculous and terrifying happen outside of two frames of reference: the spacial and the temporal.. What I mean is that any tale of horror happens just outside of our personal experience; a story we hear from a friend or over the Internet. By temporal I mean that the stories we do hear are a somehow beyond time, or in a time that has faded from our memory. Myths, legends, and tales of the fantastic are always beyond our current reference because they lie outside of our frame of understanding. Paradoxically, this makes it easier to believe and rebuke. “We do not know” is a great way of ending an argument in a stalemate.

This story, however, happens very much in a recent time, although in a place far removed from the cities and what many would consider modern society. We forget so often that folk culture, that is the culture of people untouched by the influence of the greater connected world, is still present in the United States, as it is elsewhere in the world. We don’t see it because we care not too look for it, let alone experience it. The small towns and villages that line the countryside in the southwest are rich with stories and myth, and as we see here, some truth.

 

A young man stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base received an unusual message that would color his experience for years to come. He received it in the fall of 2013, on an unremarkable night of no particular significance. Messages from strangers are usually met with some suspicion given the propensity for scams and fraud, or the occasional instance it was a person mistaking you for someone else, all the more likely if you have a profile pic of something other than your face. Josh De Soto froze staring at the name of the sender: Miguel Mictlan. Josh, Lt De Soto to some, had not heard or even thought of that name for years. Miguel, was his cousin on his mother’s side. They had lived near one another in San Antonio in the mid nineties, before Josh’s mother left for California to escape the life of poverty and violence that had begun to plague them. Josh was maybe seven or eight when he left for Los Angeles County with his mother, who remarried a few years later into a solid middle-class family in Burbank.

Miguel’s message sat on Josh’s computer screen for what seemed like hours. The two previous messages, both outgoing, remained unanswered in the six years since they were sent. Josh stared blankly at the screen, his fingertips hovering over the keyboard quivering but without intent. The message was Spartan in nature and curt. There was no formality, no familiar closeness, but no tinge of contempt either. It simply read:

Aunt Maria found out you were living in Texas again. She found out you went to school and she wants you to come help her. I’ll give you the address – it’s in Belmez.

-Miguel

What did he mean when he said she needed help? What help could he provide, especially having “went to school”? The town name, Belmez, didn’t register with him at all. He took to Google to find out where Belmez, TX, was located. He found it, not far from Del Rio in the grand scheme of things, about an hour’s drive southeast on a country road. It didn’t seem to be near any major metro area, or even associated with a large county seat. It was set between a group of arroyos that drained south into small kettles and reservoirs scattered throughout the desert. Other than a name, there was not much else to find about the town. No Wikipedia article, no tourist information, not even a website for the local chamber of commerce.

Little towns like that are not uncommon in Texas and the South. “Blink and you miss it” they say about them. Some defy economics, subsisting on God knows what but supporting small communities with schools, stores, and clinics. A quick overview of the map showed a Main Street carved out of the county road with a cross road in the center. Small side streets branched out from the main road, but other than that, there were no defining features visible from the map or the satellite imagery. Just a sparse grid town with frayed edges hosting small shack houses.

His perplexed gaze burned the city plan into his mind as he stared at the screen. What business did he have in that hamlet? What need could there be for someone’s like him? He didn’t want to drive over an hour to move furniture, or repair a wall or something like that, but something about the brevity of the message told him that wasn’t the case. Josh blinked rapidly before deciding on what he wanted to say.

Miguel,

What is it you need me to do? What’s wrong?

He hit enter reluctantly. He re-read the earlier messages he sent to his cousin years before, asking where he was and what he was doing. How much he missed the old days when they would hang out on the weekends. How Miguel was the closest thing to a brother Josh had ever known. Maybe a bit melodramatic, but it was the truth.

When he went to bed that night, Josh reflected on his day. It was maybe a week before he was to begin pilot training. One week, and his life would be engulfed with the responsibilities of an aviator. He had studied what he could every day on his casual status assignment. He strove to be a skilled aviator and officer. But his concentration was broken this night. He did not break out his boldface, nor did he review the few academics distributed to students before starting class. He did not review charts, nor his publications. Instead, he lied in bed for hours before sleep took him. Belmez, he thought, what kind of place is that? He’d find out soon enough, but not with any great surplus of enthusiasm.

Josh had feared leaving Texas for months after his mother announced they would leave. He was more than scared, one of the few emotions we feel children are capable of feeling. No, he was terrified. The thought of leaving the familiar, his home of seven years and as far as his young mind could remember rattled him and sent him into a deep depression. He cried all night and was plagued by bad dreams. He begged and pleaded with his mother not to go, to let him stay, for them all to stay together in Texas.

Josh was too young to understand the world around him, except in context of the familiar and the unfamiliar. A dusty street full of houses beginning to be stripped of their exterior paint and withering lawns was as much a source of happiness as sprawling suburbs or rich, pulsing city centers would be to wealthier individuals. The more prudish among us would consider his home to be at the edge of squalor, but to him it was simply home, to both him and his family.

He would recall in later years, albeit vaguely, times where he and his older cousin Miguel would run around the neighborhood, climbing trees and visiting empty lots throughout the days in summer, and during winter breaks. For hours they would run and play at his lead, exploring the world they called their home. Rainy days would be spent indoors playing board games or watching TV, always talking and dreaming. They would wonder what the people leaning into passenger-side windows were saying to the drivers, or why some people would choose to camp in the streets instead of him their back yards. The mysteries of life on the fringes entertained them throughout their youth, until the months leading up to his mother’s decision to move away as quickly as possible.

For some reason she would not say why they were leaving, only that it would happen soon. Any attempt to argue was met with sheer maternal rage, the kind tinged with frustration but filled with a desire to protect. She would forbid him to ask questions about the move. He would storm off into his room or the tiny backyard and pout to himself for hours. He would sit on the wall or behind the lemon tree, stewing in his anger. But like any young child, he would quickly forget, or be distracted by the goings on of daily life, school, and the like. This went on for several months, off and on, always back to normal after a painful bout with his mother.

One day he woke up angry. It’s hard to explain, but upon opening his eyes we was enraged at his mother. He couldn’t explain why or how it happened, but suddenly all he could think about was the move, the fights, and his growing hatred. He shunned his mother’s attempts to connect, any gift she gave or sign of affection she offered. His moody scorns stabbed at his mother’s heart, but he never knew until years later, that he began to grow up very early.

He contemplated, as many young children often do, of running away. The irony never caught up with him as he planned to steal away in the night and meet his cousin Miguel. His plan was so simple but brilliant to him: break out at night and live in Miguel’s back yard with his Aunt and Uncle none the wiser. To his juvenile mind, that was the brilliant part, the hiding from the relatives. He was smart enough to know that family would return him to his parents, and that by crafting a clever existence in the shadows of their home, he could live forever in his childhood home in security for all time. He reveled in his genius; the stories of La Llorona that frightened him so badly just a few years ago no longer felt real and dangerous as they used to, he was much to smart to believe them. The night did not frighten him anymore, at least not compared to his inevitable future apart from his home.

His anger at his mother pushed him further and further to the edge. Never had he heard his father provide input as to why they should move, although he had not seen his father in several months. He changed his mind about running away one evening, as he wandered around the halls of his small two-bedroom apartment. He passed his mother’s door and heard her weeping to herself. The door was closed, but he could hear her sobs from within. The sadness of her crying struck young Josh with pity. But as he sat there listening, he came to a realization. It had been weeks since he had seen his father. It had been weeks since he had seen his cousin or his Aunt and Uncle. His Uncle was his father’s brother, and they often spent time with one another throughout the week. But this absence had been longer than usual. At what have been the first moment in his life, he stepped out of his own ego and began to experience the world around him, and he was suddenly nauseated by the feeling. It was so cold in the house. He could feel the draft and the thin, empty air. The ground beneath him seemed to shake and crumble beneath him. He shivered. That night when he went to bed, he turned on his nightlight. The world around him seemed to melt and bleed away to a shadow of its former self. His sadness and discomfort turned to fear and anxiety. He closed his window and the blinds, unable to shake the thought of a thin, leathery hand reaching in and grabbing him. When he did dream, it was of drowning.

Two nights later he was awoken in his sleep by his mother, frantically grabbing clothes and shoving them into trash bags. When he asked what was wrong, she clasped her hand over his mouth, before embracing him warmly. She implored him to be quiet, because they were leaving. He was confused, scared, but he kept his mouth shut as his mother put everything she could into a giant plastic bag. He stood up and tried to gather his few favorite toys and books as she raced around the room. Finally, she slung the sacks over her shoulders and ran to the car in the driveway. She tossed the rest of their life into the back of the car where it would fit. She planted a kiss on her son’s forehead before buckling him into the front seat of the car. She raced to the driver side and without even a glance back, she sped out of the drive way and off into the night. That was the last night they ever spent in Texas. Two days later, they were living in California with his mother’s sister.

 Hey Max, what’s up?

NM, man, u?

Got something I want to run by you.

Sure, what’s up?

My cousin just messaged me on Facebook.

He says our great aunt needs help with something, but he’s being really vague about it.

I’m considering going next weekend.

Lol, why?

No clue, haha.

Sense of obligation maybe?

Yeah I can see that.

So you have no idea what they want?

Not a damn clue.

And this cat is your cousin?

Yeah, I guess I should say that we’ve been estranged for years now.

that’s fun.

Oh you have no idea.

What happened?

If you don’t mind me asking…

Geez man, I don’t even remember at this point

Well, it might have something to do with my dad

And his dad

Not a pretty story

Damn dude, I had no clue.

Meh, it’s all good, it’s just so weird, ya know?

Like, why is he contacting ME?

And why is he being so vague?

Bro, I know as much as you at this point.

What’s he like? When was the last time you saw him?

I haven’t seen him in person since he graduated from MCRD San Diego. That was in…

2006.

Leatherneck, huh?

Yeah. 0811, Field Artillery

Well, that might explain the brevity.

Haha

Yeah…

So, that was the last time you saw him?

Yeah. We didn’t even really talk then.

I was fourteen, and he was having nothing to do with it.

Lol, what do you mean?

I don’t know man, it was just so awkward and weird.

Like I’d never seen him before.

But I knew him.

It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life.

Wow.

Yeah I don’t know what to tell you man.

They might let you punch early.

How you’ll get them to do that,

I do not know.

Haha.

Lol, yeah.

Well, best of luck to you man.

I can’t imagine that being easy.

Ha, I appreciate it dude. I’ll talk to you later.

Lates.

Josh left work Friday evening for 22 Calle Real 5, Belmez. He left with little more information than he had to make the decision in the first place. Miguel had told him that Aunt Maria needed help with a problem no one in town would be able to fix, given how small it was. She thought that because he was a scientist, he could help her. Scientist? Josh didn’t know how a bachelors degree in geography made him a scientist, but he wasn’t about to correct the old woman on her assumption. From what he could remember, Aunt Maria was close to 98 years old. She was his mother’s aunt, one of the lesser known members of the family who remained in Texas. He had met her maybe a grand total of six times in his life, and never really spoken to him. The memories of her were vague, like a dream you just woke up from and are struggling to recall. He could see her aging face, she must have been around 70-something the last time they met, smiling down on him as he played in the living room of some unknown relative’s house. He recalled she was nice, if not somewhat strange. Not in terms of behavior, but in that she was a stranger to him, someone he was barely acquainted with but felt as if he should be. Old Aunt Maria, barely on the edge of his memory.

The road to Belmez was long and dusty in the Texan wilderness. His car left a cloud of silt behind him as he rumbled down dirt and dilapidated country roads. The radio faded in and out between country and Mexican music, skipping as he hit bumps or drove between tall mesas or in carved out passes. All the while, he wondered more intently what his true purpose was. He didn’t feel particularly threatened, although the possibility was there that he was in for some danger. Yet, he doubted this. Logic didn’t play into it, just a sense that everything was going to be fine in the end; it was the beginning he was worried about.

The winding roads and cracked asphalt made the trip much longer than expected. A few wrong turns due to GPS blackouts forced Josh to resort to a map for navigation, putting an extra two hours on his trip. At a pit stop to fill his tank, he leaned against his car and signed to himself. Would he be damned to wander these desert roads alone? Would he ever make it home, or to his destination?

“God bless ‘Vanderdecken’,” he thought to himself.

He drove off into the looming darkness of night as the sun set behind him. He passed small towns and ranches along the way, looking for those critical turns that would take him to the center of the wilderness where he would find his answers. Granted, he had no role in posing the question, but that wouldn’t stop the answers from coming. Hopefully.

The evenings in early October were surprisingly pleasant in this part of the desert, although he could not for the life of him remember the weather in his old home. While warm, there was a certain familiarity about it that he treasured, and the brief gusts of cool wind reminded him of his college town near Agoura Hills, where he had spent the last four years learning and preparing for active duty in the Air Force. He sped along with the windows down and the radio off; this was a moment for serious contemplation, and experience of each individual moment. His thoughts bridged emotions of fear, excitement, confusion, and even a twinge of anger at his cousin’s estrangement. He wondered and contemplated the same topics over and over again, each time arriving at the same lack of a conclusion and abundance of unanswered questions. Each void of information drew him closer to an answer shrouded in mystery. There was something there, something tangible but beyond explanation. He could sense the shadow with his intellect, and feel it’s weight with his intuition, but he could not describe its shape or form. It felt dark and heavy in his mind, and its Gravity was frightening, but irresistible. The answers he sought to these questions of the past few days was there, and would be brought into the light soon. But as he posed an answer to the burning question of what could be so harrowing in his mind…he decided at that time to finally turn on the radio.

The town of Belmez had the appearance of medieval hamlet; a haphazard collection of small houses along a main road. What the satellite image did not convey upon initial research was the sense of seclusion the town had. He felt as an outsider immediately amongst the run-down homes and fractured streets. Each house was illuminated with a faint yellow light from within, and seemed to turn to meet him as he drove past. The town was so still, yet there were signs of life everywhere. A few cars drove by in the night, and a person could be seen sitting on the porch of every other house along the main road. There was a row of shops and a small market at the center of town, and a large building that may have been at one time a mission that was labeled “City Hall.” In the faint remaining sunlight, now just a glow on the horizon, Josh became aware of the sudden calm in the air. Stopping at an intersection, he noticed the stillness as the wind ceased to blow, leaving behind the warm, slightly humid atmosphere he had sensed beneath the motion of the air while he drove. Still, there was no air of danger. He did not feel as if he would be attacked by some stranger; the threat of an animal seemed more likely this far out in the middle of nowhere. The only sensation of character he felt of the town was that creeping unease. Josh couldn’t decide if he was projecting his own feelings on to the town, but he could feel from outside himself a kind of shivering. Like his unseen answer, it was beyond the scope of language or reason to describe, but it was nervous…as if the town had a secret it did not feel comfortable discussing, but that somehow everyone knew.

He pulled up to a rather large home on Calle Real 5, which he took to be Aunt Maria’s house. The house seemed to be at one time part of a larger complex of homes, with a small barn off to the side and a few stone buildings off to the side, maybe the ruins of stables. What struck him about the home was that it was not illuminated inside. His headlights reflected against the window and provided the only light to come from the building. As he dimmed them, he was able to make out the details of the main structure. The house was two stories, mostly plaster on the exterior with a wooden porch out front. The red-tiled roof sloped down over the porch and was suspended by brick columns jutting from the foundation. A wooden staircase painted white led up to the main door of the house. It seemed remarkable well-preserved, and it would not have surprised Josh in the least if it had been built by the Spaniards during their initial colonization.

It bore a resemblance to the adobe houses he had seen back in California. The chain of missions and presidios that dotted the California coast. He had studied them in school, and it was a tradition to visit one or two throughout the school year. He visited Mission San Fernando many times in his youth, and he remembered loving the architecture and the smell of stables and mud on the grounds. Something about the simple, monastic living he saw appealed to his aesthetic self, although he doubted he could live that way. The gnarled wooden furniture, the eroded plaster, and the dusty roads sparked a sense of wonder in his mind that put him at ease in this moment. There was something familiar about this place, even if he couldn’t describe it.

He was so engrossed in his memory that he scarcely noticed the man approaching his car. A knock at the window jolted Josh out of his seat in fright. He stared out the window to see a tall man standing outside. From the faint light of the interior of his car, he could make out the man’s lean figure and long black hair. He wore a cream colored collared shirt tucked into pale denim jeans. His features were dark and defined, with a strong nose and cheekbone that gave him an almost Nahua appearance. Josh could see, despite the long hair and shadows crossing the man’s face, that this person was familiar to him. This was the long-lost Miguel Mictlan.

“Christ man, you scared the shit out of me.” Josh exclaimed. He unbuckled his seatbelt and unlocked the car. He stepped out stiffly into the night air, his heels grinding against the dusty driveway. “How’s it going?”

Miguel stood there with a blank expression on his face. For a moment, it seemed that he would not respond, but stay mute. There was something stoic and proud about him, a demeanor that escaped Josh’s memory. He knew this person’s name, but it was undoubtedly a new person.

“I’m fine.” He said. Miguel had a subtle but unmistakeable Chicano accent, distinct but impossible to misunderstand. “Tia’s glad you could make it.”

Tia, Tia… He thought to himself. He had not spoken Spanish since leaving Texas, and had lost most of it over the years. In his time since then, he had studied German and Japanese, and even learned a little Latin, but somehow he had avoided Spanish enough to lose his grasp of the language. Oh right, Aunt Maria, he realized. Great Aunt Maria was more accurate, but they had grown up calling distant relatives what their parents called them, so it had always been Aunt Maria.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Josh said. “Is she inside?”

“No, she’s staying down the road.” Miguel pointed down the street, where a faint light could be seen. “She’s at the chapel.”

“The chapel?” Josh wondered aloud, “why is she at the chapel?”

“You’ll see… Follow me.” Miguel turned and walked to his truck parked off to the side of the driveway. As he walked back, Josh reeled from the curt and dis-affected conversation he had just had with his cousin. No emotion, no sense of joy – really no sense of anything to be felt from this person. He walked up, spoke, and walked away. Still, it was too early in the stay to think all was lost between them. He still had to meet his aunt, and find out what had troubled her so much he had to take three days of leave to see her.

They drove in trail down the short road to a small church built on what must have been the edge of town. The dilapidated building showed its brick interior behind crumbling stucco walls, torn down by climbing vines and years of neglect. Like his aunt’s house, there was no defined parking lot, only a dusty patch of level ground that may have been better suited to tie up horses than park cars. After parking in front, the two cousins walked down the cobblestone path to the heavy oak doors of the chapel. Miguel took to the front and forced the portal open. Even such a large man seemed to struggle to push the heavy wood against the rusted hinges, but his efforts caused the door to yield, and the chapel was open. Together they closed the doors behind them and stood in the narthex facing the altar. The nave was filled with a matrix of wooden pews made of the same gnarled heavy wood of the doors. The plaster walls held yellow windows and were accented by more brown oak. Between the windows and columns were frescoes of religious scenes, fading from the years since their paint was first laid on the plaster. The floor was red tile leading up to the altar. Miguel dipped his finger in the white stone basin of holy water and made the sign of the cross. Josh, lost in wonder at the sight of this old house of worship wandered into the nave, only to be abruptly stopped by Miguel, glaring at him while pointing at the basin.

“I don’t know what to do, I’m not Catholic.”

“You dip in your finger and make the sign of the cross. You know that, right?” Miguel retorted. Josh nodded, as he did know that sign. He had seen it his whole life, but had not performed it in years. Not wanting to disrespect his cousin or the congregation that was not present, he did as he was asked, and followed Miguel into the chapel. Miguel walked confidently up the nave as Josh petered along behind him. Josh couldn’t to help observe the musty building and wonder how long it had been since it was remodeled or refurbished. The arcade separating the aisle from the nave was composed of more dense oak, holding up plaster arches. Their heels clicked the tile and echoed faintly throughout the hall. At the base of the transept, an old man sat in a pew, reading the Bible quietly to himself.

“Padre, ¿dónde está mi tía ?” Miguel asked the man, who must have been the priest of the chapel. The priest stood up to meet Miguel, showing the long black cassock he wore. He set his Bible down with a smile on his face. “te bendiga mi hijo” the priest said. “¿Y quien es este?” Miguel pointed to Josh, “Él es mi primo, Jesús. Bueno, él va por Josh.” The old man smiled at Josh. “He does not speak English,” Miguel explained.

“Salve, Pater.” Josh said. He may not speak Spanish, but he had studied Latin in an effort to become more acquainted with the more sophisticated dimension of English. The old man’s polite smile turned to a bright grin and joyous laughter. He quickly embraced the young man as he laughed. “Bonus, bonus,” he exclaimed. “quanto Latine loqueris?” Josh thought for a second before responding. “Nisi parum,” he replied, and again the old man laughed. His voice echoed throughout the nave, almost camouflaging the sound of footsteps shuffling behind them.

The priest silenced suddenly before exclaiming: “Ah , tu tía está aquí.” Josh and Miguel turned around to see a frail old woman standing in the aisle. She rested herself on the pew, and seeing this Miguel quickly went to support her. She was wearing a long black dress that covered her withering figure. Her skin was dark and wrinkled, and her hair was white with rouge strands hinting at a radiant black in years past. She had a pair of glasses resting precariously on her nose, and her weak mouth forced a pleasant smile at seeing her two young relatives here before her.

“Ay, mijo, how are you?” She said, pushing off Miguel’s assistance and rushing forward towards Josh. She embraced him, and he held her up as she began to weep slightly I his arms. Unlike Miguel, her accent was more pronounced, and much harder to understand. But he could sense the meaning of her words, and decipher her Spanglish with ease.

“Hello Aunt Maria, it’s good to see you again.” He said, somewhat unprepared for the reunion despite almost a week of mental preparation. She simply smiled with tears in her eyes and a look of joy he could not understand and, for the moment, could not reciprocate. Somehow, her feeling of attachment to him was much stronger than his memory of her, and he tried not to let on that he did not feel as strongly about their reunion as she was letting on. Still, he put on a polite smile for her and his cousin.

The priest went off with Miguel to the back of the chapel, leaving Josh with Aunt Maria in the pews. Together they sat near the altar.

“I am so glad you came,” she said, “I was worried you wouldn’t be able to make it.”

“I’m happy to,” he said to her, “it was easy to find the time. What is it that you need?”

Aunt Maria’s face suddenly turned sour, as if sadness crept from within at his question. “I have a problem at home, and I can not tell anyone about it. I only tell the priest.” She looked up at the altar. Josh noticed that it was very strange, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. A thick wooden altar stood at the base of it, with a large painted image of Christ on the cross up against the back of it. Flanking either side was a wooden wall with small alcoves carved into it. Some were sealed up like a honey comb, while only a handful were still open and hollow. The walls must have been fifteen feet high, almost reaching the ceiling of the nave and barely stretching up to the heights of the tower above the altar, where sunlight would pour in in the morning during services.

Josh whispered to her, “what’s wrong? How can I help?”

Aunt Maria was still trembling, “I’ll have Miguelito show you. Tomorrow” Josh stood confused and slightly angry at the reluctance to tell him what was wrong. He refused to take his frustration out on the old woman, but Miguel would have to answer him. He turned around to find the old priest and his cousin walking down the central aisle. They whispered to one another, before Miguel spoke to Josh: “we’ll be staying in the cloister here, I’ll take you to the house tomorrow.”

Josh immediately rose in protest: “no, I want to know what’s wrong right now. It’s not too late, and I need to know what’s wrong.” Aunt Maria turned her face toward the altar and the priest looked at the ground, knowing what was being said without understanding the words. “Let me see the house.”

Miguel stared at him for a second, before pouting a reply and inviting Josh to get a ride in the car. The two cousins left Aunt Maria with the priest behind and drove down the street back to the house. The car ride was silent, a clear air of anger and mistrust was developing in the atmosphere as the two sat next to one another. It was going to be a long weekend.

Finally, the two arrived at the house. As they stepped out and approached the porch, Miguel stopped.

“I can’t explain what this is or why it’s happening, but it’s terrifying her.” He said. “I don’t know if you can do anything about it, but she seems to think that you can fix it with all that education you’ve got. I don’t want to be here right now in the dark. Go straight in and take the door on the left, you’ll find the kitchen. What I want to show you is in there.”

Josh stared perplexed at his cousin. He was about to protest, but realized that no amount of complaining or begging would get a clear answer out of any of these people. He didn’t know what kind of game they were playing, but he realized he needed to start playing too to get any answer out of them.

 

Josh entered the house as Miguel closed the door behind him. The click of the latch was not the last sound he heard in the house. Every step creaked and echoed throughout the wooden halls and rooms. The living room smelled musty but with a faint tinge of citrus furniture cleaner hiding behind the age and weariness of the structure. On the walls were old photographs in brass-coated frames, chronicling several lifetimes worth of family history against the fading blue paint on the wall. It was surprisingly cool inside, with little draft to stir the steady snowfall of dust motes hanging in the air.

He creaked his way into the kitchen, a clay-tiled room with plaster walls. There was a sink and row of cabinets along the outside wall, with an ancient refrigerator in the corner. A small dining table was pushed up against the wall on the interior side, flanked by several wooden chairs. He stood in the center of the room, feeling the resistance warmth of old holidays and family meals throughout the ages. The only thing that stood out in the dark room was a stain on the wall.

The light switch illuminated an old bulb that merely covered the dark room in an orange glaze of hazy electric light. His steps clicked and echoed as he walked toward the stain on the wall. From a distance it appeared to be black mold, or some kind of water damage leaking through the wall. He stood before the stain, somewhat furious with his cousin for calling him out to only cover the plaster with bleach, but something struck him before he could storm out. This was not an interior wall made of wood. Looking off to the corner with the refrigerator, he noticed that it was connected to the interior by an extension cord, there were no outlets in the stone wall. No outlets meant no pipes, and a very slim chance of rain or moisture leaking in. There were no other stains on the interior walls, only the faint tinge of old smoke and dust.

Josh pulled out it his phone and turned on the flashlight to get a better look. This must have been what Miguel wanted him to see. He approached it and studied it up close. It was not mold, soggy and wet, but more like charcoal or even a silver etching of an old photograph. His heart skipped a beat as he jumped back in surprise, when he realized what he was intended to see: the dark smudge lines and spots outlined ever so clearly the furrows and cast shadows of a human face.

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