In 1983 I took a teaching position at an elementary school in the town of Pulp. It was a small, unincorporated town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The town had been build around the corn liquor business during the prohibition. But despite the town’s criminal past, a real community had developed. I was happy to greet a class of smiling children every day.
‘Hello Mr. Schuler!’ The class would say,
‘Hello class!’ I would reply.
My days were filled with teaching my class everything from science to history. They loved to learn and I loved to teach. Every child left with a smile on their faces, excited to share what they had learned with their families. Everyone except for little Joey Smith. He was always particularly gloomy after class, sometimes scared to leave school for the day. Some days he would come in with a black eye. One day I asked him what was wrong and what he said concerned me.
‘I have to go somewhere after school. I don’t like it there anymore.’
I contacted the police and they conducted a thorough investigation of the boy’s family and supposed after school activities. They sent a deputy named Clarence to talk me after they had finished their investigation. He told me what they had found.
‘Joey’s parents have been dead for months Mr. Schuler. We found their bodies on the floor in their home. It seem that they were killed in a robbery. We talked to Joey and he said that he hid under his bed and ran away after the robbers left. He’s been living in an abandoned distillery out in the woods for some time now. We’re going to put him into the foster house down on Denton Avenue for now. Thank you for alerting us to the situation.’
I talked with Clarence for some time. I did not want Joey growing up in the foster system. I had seen what that can do to a kid. We decided that adoption was probably the best option.
The next day I went to the foster house and filled out a massive pile of paperwork. I left with Joey as my adopted son. Over the next few weeks I noticed a change in Joey. For the first time I saw him happy, both at school and at home.
One day, Joey and I walked into class together as usual. Although today the class didn’t bother to greet me. Instead they talked amongst themselves.
‘Hello class!’ I exclaimed.
Only Joey said hello back. The rest of the class stared at the clock. I chose to ignore their insolent behavior and started my lesson. I got about ten minutes in when students started leaving. Just walking out of class and talking to each other. I had never seen anything so rude in my life. I yelled at them to come back but they ignored me. I had no idea what I had done to anger them so much. Soon enough everyone had left, everyone except for Joey. He was a good kid.
I continued to teach till the end of the school day. I looked back to find Joey smiling, I packed up my things and we started walking back home. We had just reached the edge of school property when Joey told me there was something he wanted to show me. I humored him and inquired what it was, but he just laughed and told me that we could only get there by walking. I let him lead me into the woods. We walked till the sun began to set before spotting a shack sitting in a small clearing of brush. I hesitated, but Joey did not. He walked straight up to a piece of sheet metal that served as a door and knocked three times.
‘We can go in now.’ Joey whispered to me.
I realized what this was. It was undoubtedly the old distillery Joey had called home for so many months. I called out to Joey to come back to me, but he had already entered. I would have to go and get him.
I pulled open the rusty door to find Joey making himself at home in the tiny shack. He sat in an old rocking chair that creaked as it moved back and forth.
‘This was my old house! I always sit in this chair. It’s the best chair I’ve ever had!’
I was delicate with him. This was obviously a coping mechanism that he had developed after the death of his parents. I walked through the doorway and the rusty door closed behind me. I placed a comforting hand on Joey’s shoulder.
‘Joey. Let’s go home.’
Suddenly I heard a loud bang on the metal door. A soft, concerned voice spoke from the other side.
‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’
The door creaked open slowly, revealing a thin, attractive woman. She had long brunette hair and her complexion was the fairest I had ever seen. For someone who lived in this shack, she seemed fairly clean. Her eyes lit up when she spotted Joey sitting in the rocking chair.
‘Joey! My little Joey! I thought they had taken you away forever!’
‘Mommy!’ Joey unzipped his backpack and took out a drawing he had done in class. ‘I made this for you!’
I assumed that this woman took care of Joey after his parent’s murders. She glanced over at me with wide eyes.
‘I’ll always love you Joey, but why? Why did you bring him here?’
‘Because I like him mommy. He takes care of me.’
‘Oh, no child.’ Tears welled up in her eyes ‘He can’t take care of you anymore. You have to go to the police now, live in a foster home. You can’t keep doing this!’
I was confused and infuriated. Who exactly did this woman think she was?
‘Excuse me miss, I believe I can take care of Joey just fine at the moment.’
She looked at me with blind fury contained within her eyes. She kicked the door open and left. After the door slammed shut it was silent. I gestured to Joey that it was time to go home and he obliged me by following me out of that shady forest. It would be dark soon, and I needed to get him to bed for school tomorrow.
By the time we got home I was very tired. I can’t explain it, but something bothered me about that woman’s words in the woods. ‘You can’t keep doing this!’ It seemed like a strange thing to say. Did it mean that Joey brought other people out to that shack? If so, why?
I threw those ideas out of my mind for now and walked into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Joey sat at the table scribbling away on some homework I had assigned him.
‘Ya know, I don’t feel like doing homework.’ Joey tossed aside his pencil.
‘That’s fine, just have something to eat. I’m making pasta salad.’ It was fine that Joey didn’t do the homework today. Seeing as how he was the only one in class today, he was already ahead.
‘No!’ His face contorted and turned red. ‘I’m not doing homework ever again! And we’re not having pasta salad! We’re having ice cream! Ice cream for dinner! I want it now!’
I was taken aback. Joey had never acted like this before and I wondered if it had something to do with the woman in the woods. I felt for him, he must be in a very troubling state of mind. Still, I could not stand by and let him walk all over me.
‘No, we’re having pasta salad. Maybe you can have some ice cream after dinner. And you’re still going to have homework. That’s non-negotiable.’
‘NO!!’ His face had turned even redder as he screamed ‘You’ll do what I say or I’ll make you hurt!!’
‘You know what? This behavior is inexcusable. Go to your room. Now. When you cool off you can come down and have some food.’
Joey thrust his hand into his back and rummaged around. He pulled out a small needle. I felt inexplicably troubled at the sight of it. Before I could tell him to put it away he stabbed it down into his palm. I instantly felt a searing spasm of pain in my hand. Joey was silent. He glared at me with an intensive stare.
‘DO WHAT I SAY! DO IT! DO IT!’ He hopped up and down in his chair like a rabid animal. He started to dig around inside his palm, blood streamed from his palm onto the table. I felt the pain return even more potent this time around.
I could not take the pain any longer. It was like my hand was on fire. I stumbled over to the freezer, clutching my hand in pain and ripped the door open. Then I grabbed the ice cream and threw it onto the table. Joey pulled the needle out of his skin and the pain instantly stopped. What just happened?
‘Now you know to do what I say. Things will be different now.’
‘What?’ My thoughts were racing and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. ‘No! I’m still the adult here. You need to stop you behavior right now.’
Joey sighed and flipped his hand over on the table. Then he pushed the needle through the back of his hand. I felt the pain the instant he broke the skin. I could feel the metal sliding against the inside of my hand somehow. The pain was unbearable. Once the needle was through, Joey pulled it out from the other side. The pain subsided. He was still very quiet the whole time.
‘I have something to show you to help you understand.’
He walked upstairs and gestured for me to follow him. We walked down the hall until we got to the door to my room. It was cracked open slightly. I felt a icy shiver rattle my spine. Something was very wrong. Joey opened the door and my heart stopped when I realized what was inside.
There I was, peacefully in bed. I had no rational explanation. I was there, but I was also here at the same time.
‘I’ll let you return to your body, but now you understand to do what I say’
I looked down at Joey. He had a wide grin from cheek to cheek.
‘My daddy couldn’t take it. He shot my mommy, then he tried to shoot me. But I was always faster than him. Then I had to live by myself. And that wasn’t very fun. You won’t make me live by myself again, will you?’
I shook my head. There had to be an explanation for all of this. It was all too terrifying to be true. Had I been dreaming this whole time? Am I dreaming now?
Joey snapped his fingers and I woke. The sun shone through the blinds and I struggled to untangle myself from the mess of sheets and blankets. Had it all been a horrible, horrible dream? I walked downstairs to find Joey happily eating cereal at the kitchen table. I smiled but froze when I spotted a needle, sitting in reach of his left hand. It was covered in sticky, dark red blood. That’s when I realized just how real last night had been. He was evil, an unholy abomination. I had to kill him, I can’t explain the desire without sounding completely mad, but I had to. I scanned my surroundings frantically. A dull steak knife lay on the counter between me and him. He looked up at me and winked. A sudden burst of adrenaline took hold of my body and I ran at him with the knife in hand.
I can’t recall a lot about what happened next. All I can remember is when I tackled him to the floor, his eyes filled with a red fluid. Not blood, but something else. Then everything went black.
I woke up in the run down shack in the middle of the woods. The pale woman knelt over my body, running her fingers through my hair.
‘I love my little Joey, but he has to stop doing this. It’s a shame what happened to you.’
‘Wha-‘ I scrambled to my feet. ‘What happened to me? I remember it all going black, then I woke up back here. Did Joey take me here? How? I don’t understand..’
‘Honey.’ She placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. ‘You’re dead. You’ve been dead for a few days now. Though I suspect no one else knows yet. He keeps us here, the people he’s killed. We cannot leave. You’re the third, but I suspect you won’t be the last. If this is hell, then I suppose he is the devil. He didn’t feel anything when he abused us, when he made us do things, when he murdered us. He is evil incarnate, but I love him and you will learn to as well.’
I have spent what seems like an eternity here in these woods. Joey’s mother was right, over the years more and more people would appear in the shack. He visits us occasionally, and although I resented him at first I learned to love him. He doesn’t hurt you if you love him. Recently there hasn’t been anyone new here. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe someone succeeded where we had all failed. Maybe Joey is dead and no one else will share our terrible fate. I’m not even sure if he is capable of dying. Or maybe he is just looking for another person to be his plaything. I don’t know how old he is currently, and I have trouble remembering his face. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
If you ever meet a Joey Smith from Pulp California, please don’t try to see if I have been telling you the truth. I have. Just run, get as far away from him as humanly possible, and them some.