“STICK MAN” by Donte-highwater (Horror Fiction Short Story) #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: It’s #ThrillerThursday and this week I’m bringing you an original short story by Donte Highwater entitled, “Stick Man”.
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“Stick Man” by Donte-highwater: https://www.inkitt.com/howard23, https://www.youtube.com/@moul4519
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode… It’s #ThrillerThursday and this week I’m bringing you an original short story by Donte Highwater entitled, “Stick Man”.
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, to enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
“It’s raining; it’s pouring, the old man is snoring. He bumped his head, went to bed, couldn’t get up in the morning,” sang Osmond in broken tones, while gently swaying back and forth on his wooden stool in the dank mudroom, picking the wings off of flies, then watching them scurry across the window ledge. Periodically, staring at the overcast sky with a faraway expression, singing the song over and over to himself.
Martha placed her son Osmond in the little room, away from others, keeping him out of sight and mind as kids of Osmond’s age came for their piano lessons—lessons that brought a little extra money to help with the expenses for treatments that Osmond needed. Treatments that Jon insisted Osmond should undergo. But Martha saw no reason for this, for all she saw was a little boy that would soon outgrow things like talking to people who weren’t there.
“All kids have imaginary friends, Jon. What’s the harm? And besides, all kids act out. But if you feel Osmond needs this medication, so be it. Still, I feel it’s a bit much,” Martha had said.
But when Martha gave her son his medication, Osmond would yawn, rub his eyes, and fight with every being in his body to stay awake. The doctors called Osmond’s condition schizophrenia, but Martha only saw a little boy that needed his mother, hugs and kisses, and nothing else.
Doctor’s visits and the expense of Osmond’s medication placed layers of stress on the Whitman household. A music teacher’s salary only went so far, and it was hard enough with two growing boys to feed, plus a mortgage. James, Osmond’s older brother, worked whenever he could, but Martha placed book-learning above all else. She would rather have him lose his job than have his studies suffer, even though Martha knew James was only trying to help. Yet, Jon, her husband, insisted on it.
Martha gave Osmond one pill in the morning and another before bed. After a week of pills and a week of seeing her son drugged in a dizzy confusion, Osmond held out his tiny hand to his mother with wide eyes. Martha saw innocence in those dark brown eyes of his. “I don’t like taking them, Ma. They make me feel funny.”
Martha rubbed the top of her son’s head, feeling his hair through her fingers, remembering the day he was born and how she brought him home from the hospital. Her blood ran quick as she thought of a lie, a lie that could form into a bond, perhaps. A living testament that her son Osmond wasn’t as sick as her husband thought he was. A lie is a dirty word after all, but a test, ah, a test to show the truth. Now… That’s something she could live with.
Martha bent down to Osmond’s level. She held the morning pill in her hand but away from her son’s grasp. “Can you keep a secret from Pa and your brother?”
Osmond nodded. “Yes, Ma!” he said excitedly.
“Good. So, let’s make a deal. I’ll throw a pill down the kitchen drain if you tell Pa that you have been taking them. This isn’t lying, sweetie, it’s to show your father that you’re not sick… You know, a test.” Martha kissed Osmond’s forehead. “I don’t like seeing you when you take your pills. It makes Ma very sad to see her baby tired. What do you say?”
Osmond smiled, thankfully giving up the medicine that made him feel so weird. “I won’t tell on you, Ma.” Osmond threw his boyish arms around his mother, then he kissed her cheek. Martha, likewise, kissed her son on his. “We have a secret that we both share, a bond, if you will.”
Martha stayed true to her word as she threw a pill down the drain in the morning and another one at night. But Martha would soon learn that decisions have consequences. And her consequences gave root on Wednesday, her busiest day of the week. Wednesday, a day when she got up early and deep cleaned every inch of the house. A day she got a jump on her extra tasks at hand. And it was that day she lost sight of her son, Osmond, as she hummed an unknown melody to herself while she cleaned.
It was in the early afternoon hours when her eyes carelessly drifted to the mudroom where Osmond always sat, but instead, the wooden stool stood naked and alone. Martha’s heart skipped a beat, while her eyes danced wildly around the room, hoping to find her son in the opposite corner. But he was not there. Shortly, sounds of inhuman, animalistic screams broke the stillness of the house. They were the sounds of unholy terror! The growls came from the belly of a certain animal. Then a second low rumble of sound sprung forth, followed by a terrifying hiss. A sound only a cat could make.
Cats? Martha thought, confused by the sudden swiftness of silence—a dreadful, irritating silence that made her blood run cold. Needle pricks formed on the nape of her neck. Slowly, steadily, Martha walked to the wooden door that led to the backyard, the nervous sweat on her palms making it difficult to twist the knob. Goosebumps formed on her forearms as the door gave a terrible groan. Martha closed her eyes, hearing Osmond clapping with delight.
“Look, Mommy! Look!” Osmond shouted from the top of his lungs, proud of what he had done.
But Martha kept her eyes closed, afraid of confirming what she already knew. The sound of droplets hit the hardness of the ground. Fear gripped her tightly. “Osmond, please tell Mommy what you have done.”
Osmond’s claps grew louder as the droplets banged harder, creating a pool that turned the sound into splashes, like raindrops splashing into puddles. Osmond’s voice gave a defiant “No!” to his mother. “I want you to see what I have done for you.”
Tears flowed slowly down Martha’s cheeks as she replayed the cat hisses and growls in her mind, followed by the god-awful sound of silence. She placed it all together, only hearing the sickening sounds of droplets splashing into a pool. Deep fear griped Martha, knowing of what Osmond had done. With a deep breath, Martha opened her eyes. She let out a scream of holy terror as she witnessed the result of the cruelest act one could execute on the two helpless animals that now swung over the clothesline. Martha witnessed two cats tied together by their own tail, gently swaying back and forth as the spring breeze blew across the Whitmans’s yard. Their eyes were open, teeth exposed, with their mouths hung open. Entrails hung out of the two cats as their blood continued to drip slowly, forming into a pool below! She placed her hand over her mouth, hoping to muffle her screams, fear that her husband may hear from the nearby fields where he labored.
With James staying at his friend’s house, Martha conjured up a scheme of keeping everything hidden from her husband. Her first plan, to conceal the bodies of the cats that were slaughtered. The second was to get Osmond back on his stool as she cleaned up the blood of the cats. The third part of her plan cut the deepest. Osmond must take his pill. She hid her eyes from the vile display of her son’s actions. Martha couldn’t fathom her son doing such a grotesque thing. Fear settled within her. She feared Jon would send Osmond away.
Hard at work in the open field, Jon took a break, drinking a small amount of cool spring water from a ladle. He spilled the rest of the cooling water over his overheated head. As he dipped the ladle back into the bucket, he heard screams coming from the house.
Jon’s woes started the day Osmond was born. The year was 1922, and the month was May. He may have been on his thirteenth cup of coffee, but lost count after the fourth. If there was a day for Jon to take up drinking, that would’ve been the day. His excitement was an understatement as butterflies danced and fluttered in his stomach. He prayed for a second son. A second heir to pass on the family name. But like most dreams, some awaken in nightmares, or shattered by realities of what may be. That’s what happened to Jon when he held Osmond tightly in his arms for the first time. Some may call it a sixth sense, but to Jon, it felt more like a ghost, a wind that blew through him, whispering sounds of warning. The blue sky that hung over Jon had suddenly turned cloudy—he waited six years for the rains to fall.
Jon violently slammed the ladle back into the bucket, feeling fear mounting, as he ran towards the screams of his wife. It was a god-awful sound, a sound that which caused phantasms to spring forth from his mind, giving life to nightmares and fears that he suppressed for so long. Images of his wife laying bleeding and hurt, while Osmond strikes Martha with a hammer in hand. Other thoughts of Osmond played in Jon’s mind as he imagined Osmond tripping his mother as she made her way down the steps to the backyard with a load of laundry in hand. Other thoughts came to him as he ran closer to home, worried of what he may find.
The six-year-old drought had finally come to an end. The rains indeed fell as Jon continued to run, pumping his fists, feeling muscles in his legs ready to burst as they gorged themselves on Jon’s blood. Lungs expanding, giving way to oxygen as his heart thumped like wild horses. Nothing was going to stand in the way of his wife, as she continued her screams.
Jon marveled not at the short time it took him to reach the door of his home, for Jon’s mind was blank. His only concerns were to his wife and nothing else. The rest would sort itself out once he gets there.
Out of breath, Jon’s hands trembled with worry. The front door swung open, creating a terrible sound as it hit the wall. Jon’s feet fell hard and clumsily on the wooden floor, nearly dragging his legs behind him. The second door was in the kitchen that went into the mudroom. Jon threw open the door then turned, seeing his wife Martha on the ground! With a second swipe of his eyes, he glanced over at Osmond with his hands covered in blood. Jon’s jaw tightened. Then, to his horror and disbelief, he saw two cats tied by their tails draped over the clothesline. But this time, the droplets of blood had ceased to drip. The ground absorbed the pool of blood, as if the earth itself drank the blood of the cats.
Jon’s eyes then switched back to Martha, seeing her heaving at the gory display of death. He found relief that no physical harm came to her, but unsure for certain. Hate filled in Jon’s heart for Osmond that day!
With a turn of the knob, Jon forcefully opened the door the leads to the backyard. The sounds of the door hitting the house caused Martha to leap with fear. Still on her knees, her arms stretched forth to her husband. Her lips formed words, but Jon couldn’t hear them. All he heard was the sound of his own blood circulating in his head. His eyes darted back towards the dead cats, seeing that the cats belonged to his eldest son, James.
All was quiet and everything moved as if it were in slow-motion. Jon violently, with great haste, picked Osmond by the looseness of the front of Osmond’s shirt. Never in all of his years living had he ever felt rage for someone as he had felt for Osmond. Jon turned to his wife with a near growl. “Get in the house, now!” then pointed with his finger towards the mudroom. He held his finger still until Martha grasped Jon’s demand. Then Jon’s eyes wildly looked into the soulless eyes of his son’s “I want to be alone with our son if that’s okay with you,” said Jon, speaking deep from his chest.
Jon took his son under his arm, placing his face next to the disemboweled cats. “These were once your brother’s pets, and you killed them by torture. “What the hell were you thinking, Son? Well?” Jon waited but found no reply. “I’m giving you ten minutes to clean all of this up. Do you understand me?” Jon said in a near stutter.
Osmond stood morbidly still against his father’s rage. His eyes showed no light or humanity with in them. Osmond’s eyes added an extra layer of fear to Jon, and feared of what Osmond would do next. It was clear to Jon of what he must do. Send Osmond away!
Jon reached into his old, worn, faded blue jeans and pulled an old pocketknife that was given to him by his father when Jon turned twelve. With one swift movement of Jon’s blade, the felon’s hit the ground with a terrible thud.
Jon pointed at the mess that his son had created. “Ten minutes! To clean all of his up. You understand?”
Osmond just nodded, then smiled. “Yes, father.” In a cold, mechanical tone.
Jon left his son alone to attend to his wife, Martha. Osmond grabbed a nearby shovel, then buried the cats next to the shed in their backyard.
As Osmond dug a resting place for the cats. He reminisced on the kill and the hunt and how the idea came to him in tying their tails together. The idea came to him like a voice inside his head. The same voice that taught Osmond how to gain the cats’ trust, then betray their trust by knocking them unconscious. All Osmond had to do was follow the voices inside his head. “They sure put up a big fight. They did,” said Osmond with pride, looking upon his wounds with great satisfaction.
Jon walked up the stairs to his room and found his wife, Martha, waiting for him. He slammed the door behind him, then sighed. “Martha! What the hell just happened?”
Martha, on the edge of the bed, cried into her open hands. She looked up, seeing anger that she never saw before.
“Have you been giving Osmond his pill?” Snapped Jon.
Martha jumped slightly at the sound of her husband’s voice. Her eyes drifted away from his.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought… I’m sorry, but he needs to go. And you know that. How is it possible for a six-year-old to do what he just done? It takes strength to do something like that. I’m making a call tomorrow. The sooner the better.” Jon sat on the bed with his wife and cradled her lovingly in his muscular arms, but unsure when he could forgive her. Time… But how much time would it take for him to forget?
Martha wiped her tears on her husband’s shirt. “Jon, you weren’t there when I gave our son his medication. You didn’t see him stagger or slur his words when he tried to speak. Sometimes he would wet himself when the pills kicked in. He’s a little boy that needs our help. He’s not something to drug-up and then have him put away. Jon! He’s our son.”
“What if he had done something to you? What then? The pills kept him from doing what he had just done. And even then, I still don’t feel safe having him here alone with you. We have done things your way… Now it’s time to have him put away… Look, I’m not saying to have him put away forever. He needs our help; I’ll give you that… But what he had just done to James’s cats is inhuman. And what are we going to tell him? Sorry, but your younger brother killed your cats for fun?”
“That’s not fair Jon!”
“No, it’s not. You’re right about that. I came home found you puking up your guts with our son clapping with blood all over his hands. Martha! That’s sick. What’s wrong with you? I know he’s the baby in the family, but he’s not right. He needs the right help. We can’t give that to him. We now know what he’s like when he’s off his meds. What happens when he grows up? What happens then?”
Martha wiped her eyes. “I love him!”
“I know you do. Okay, how about this? I’ll give the State Hospital a call in the morning. I’ll tell them all that just happened, including the part about him not being on his meds. But we must do what the doctors tell us to do. Even if that means having him sent away for a while. If you truly love your son, then you know it’s for the best.”
“Would we be able to visit him?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not… Well, maybe not for a while. Or until he improves. Martha, I’m not talking about giving up on our son. You love your son. But I love you more than anything. I don’t want to see you, or James hurt.”
Martha’s face showed signs of relief, followed by feelings of remorse over her son and husband. Remorse for lying to Jon and feelings of remorse over Osmond, knowing that her husband was right. Then, guilt replaced those feelings of remorse, in wanting a part of her life to herself, no longer having to worry about where Osmond might be. “Okay Jon, but I feel a little guilty. Is it wrong for me to feel so relieved? I’m also sorry for lying to you. I just hate seeing our son so sick. Please forgive me. Can you ever forgive me?”
Jon’s heart thawed, seeing the conflict behind his wife’s eyes. Then he also sighed. “Yeah, I forgive you. But I’m still angry.”
Martha held out her hand. “I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
“Let’s work on getting our son better. The sooner we put this behind us, the better.”
It was the latter part of July when Martha laid out iced tea and lemonade, accompanied by a platter of ham sandwiches as lunch rolled around. Jon drank long and hard, as sweat beaded over his face and sweat dripped from his hair that now showed signs of receding. James ate and drank along with his father with a towel over his shoulders, drying off the sweat from a hard day’s labor. No matter how much they ate or drank, they couldn’t seem to reach the limits of fulfillment. The day was hot, and the hours were long, but their spirits were high.
Soon, an uneasiness settled with Jon as he wondered if the time had come to level with his son. And to tell him the truth about his cats and why his younger brother wasn’t living with them. Or to stick with the plan that Martha and Jon had concocted together, only telling James the bare minimum. Continuing to allow him to believe his cats died from natural causes. But lying to James kept Jon up at nights—the guilt eating away at him.
He sat his ham sandwich and iced tea down and looked at James for a moment. “Son, Ma and I had spoken little to you concerning your brother, Osmond. Truth is, we wanted to wait till you were older. There are things we hadn’t told you and things that we ourselves were having problems understanding. But I’ll tell this much. Your brother is coming back home soon. The doctors still hadn’t given us any exact time, but it’s sometime this year. But I promise you, we will tell all that you need to know when that time comes. But until then… Be patient. Okay?”
James saw the hurt and worry in his father’s eyes but knew deep in his heart that Osmond might be responsible for his cats’ disappearance, though he didn’t understand how. “Yes, Father.” Was all he said.
The Whitmans continued to keep James in the dark until his twelfth birthday and announced the arrival of his brother Osmond. James took the news about how his cats had died hard and felt betrayed by his parents. Yet, he tucked his feelings in and forced himself to smile, faking his excitement regarding his brother’s return.
Six years moved with a crawl as Martha marked off the days in her mind, waiting for the day to come bring her son, Osmond, home. The house seemed empty and alone without her son. Meanwhile, Jon kept his mind on work and tilling the grounds, trying to blot out the thought of Osmond returning home. Having James, his older son, now at the age of fourteen, working alongside him brought light to an otherwise dreary existence. Jon hated the ticking of the clock, reminding him of the impending return of Osmond. Six years was a flash in a pan. And his constant worrying stole the joy of Osmond’s absence.
Osmond sat at the edge of his hospital bed with his hair neatly combed and parted. It felt strange to him, as he preferred the look and feel of a shaved head that he grew accustomed to, for so long. The door to his room opened. Osmond turned without concern, for nurses always came and went throughout the day. It was the same nurse that came yesterday and given him a package. That package had contained a new navy-blue suit, though there was no card or tag attached to tell who sent it. Today, she held another neatly wrapped package. The paper was red with brightly colored balloons and confetti printed on it.
“Hey! Looks like it’s your lucky day. This just came in a few minutes ago. If I had to guess, I would say it might go along with your new suit. Would you like me to help you get dressed? I have orders for you to wear the suit today.”
Osmond looked back at his new suit that hung in his closet, then looked back at the nurse staring at him with kind eyes. Without a word, he nodded.
“Good! I noticed you already combed your hair, so this won’t take long. It looks as if someone from outside wants you to look good. I must say, you’re one lucky kid. Most kids that come here are dropped off and forgotten. Well, let’s get you into your new suit, but let’s open this package first, then go from there.”
Osmond held out his hands, then brought the package to his lap. The nurse continued to lay out his clothes. It didn’t matter that Osmond didn’t know the name of the nurse, for nurses at the State Hospital for the Insane came and went like a revolving door. Most didn’t stay more than a day. Osmond carefully shook the package, feeling the weight inside shifting.
“I believe they’re shoes, but I could be wrong,” said the nurse, interrupting Osmond’s train of thought.
He shook the box once more, relinquishing all doubt that it was indeed shoes.
“Sorry, I hope I didn’t ruin the surprise for you. I didn’t mean to. Sometimes I just don’t know when to keep my big trap shut. Anyways, I’ve got your suit laid out for you here. When you’re done opening the gift, I’ll help you get dressed. Okay?”
Osmond nodded once more, feeling his morning medication kicking in. Looking down at his present, perfectly balanced on his lap, he began to unwrap the box. Sure enough, beneath the torn wrapping paper was a shoebox. Osmond lifted the lid, revealing a pair of black dress shoes. He carefully laid the box on the bed, then took off the slippers that were issued to him by the hospital.
Each patient received a new pair of slippers at least once a year, but since Osmond came to the hospital at the age of six, he outgrew his clothes quickly. Most of his slippers came from patients that had died from illness or from treatments performed on them. Osmond tried to remember the term that his mother used to use—hand-me-downs. That had been the bulk of his clothes before he entered the hospital. He remembered wearing his older brother’s clothes, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember the term.
As Osmond went to place his foot into the mouth of the new dress shoe, he noticed for the first time that his feet didn’t dangle, but instead, touched the floor! This perplexed him, then he looked at the waiting nurse beside him.
“It has been a long time, Osmond. I remember when I started working here. I believe you were only seven then. So, that means I’ve been working here for five years or so. You are no longer that little boy from six-years ago. You are now growing into a young man. It won’t surprise me if in a few years you’ll start dating and, hopefully, down the road, you’llhave a family of your own someday.”
Osmond didn’t say a word, but only rolled his eyes inwardly, finding her upbeat demeanor irritating. He simply shrugged his shoulders, then continued to stare at his feet, marveling at the size he had now become.
While Osmond put on the other shoe, he felt the coolness of the metal frame of his hospital bed behind his kneecaps. The feeling triggered memories of the metal table that they had forced him on, strapping him in place to keep his head still, while the nurses strapped his arms and legs in place. A nurse would place sticky pads on his temples, then force a rubber guard into his mouth, telling him to bite down. Osmond also remembered the buzzing of electricity, followed by the sudden burst of volts, causing him to bend and contort in odd, awkward ways.
Then, he heard the doctors yell to the nearby nurses. “Lower the wattage!” or “Increase the wattage!” When he came to, he’d smell the foul stench of his own flesh burning. That smell would remain in his nostrils for weeks at a time. It’s hard for anyone to forget a smell like burning flesh, especially when it’s your own.
“So? How do they feel on you?”
Osmond looked up, nearly forgetting the nurse was in his room. “A little stiff,” he replied.
“Well, that’s how dress shoes are. They look good on you and look to be a good fit. I bet it’s better than those slippers. Take a walk around the room, then take them off so we can get you dressed. What do you say?”
Osmond didn’t say a word. He did what he was told. He walked a few laps around the room, suddenly feeling the comfort of his new shoes. It felt like heaven to him. Never had he remembered feeling something with so much support on his feet before. With another lap, he took his dress shoes off.
The nurse held out an off-white dress shirt. Osmond took off his hospital gown. “Turn around and place your arms inside.” Osmond turned, then put his right arm, then his left into the sleeves of his new shirt.
“It’s time for you to drop your boxers.” Osmond did what he was told, revealing himself to the nurse as he had done many times before. He handed her the used boxers, exchanging them for a new pair. With a final tug on his pants and his shirt neatly tucked in, the nurse affixed the final touch onto his new suit—the tie. “There you go! Hey! That skinny tie sure makes the suit. I like ties that flare out myself, but… no, this really brings out the suit. So, tell me, how do you feel?”
“Confused,” replied Osmond.
The nurse looked slyly at him. But Osmond couldn’t read whether her expression was good or bad. “Everything will come soon enough. After all, there’s another surprise for you,” she said, then walked out of Osmond’s room, leaving him alone, unable to ask another question.
When she was gone, Osmond laid on his bed, waiting for something to happen, but he wasn’t sure what that something was. With the room to himself, he continued to think on the treatments he received for the past six years—half of his life and the loss of his childhood.
There had been no tears shed when his parents left him. He remembered hearing the cries of his mother as the men in white jump suits grabbed him, then placed him in his room. The same room he laid in now—the same room he held for six years. Those years weren’t too kind to Osmond. It was here he felt helpless. He had never felt that way before six years ago, not until he underwent his first treatment. It was his treatments that caused his helplessness. The screams and cries that had come over the cats now echoed within his own screams these days. He would beg them to stop, but they wouldn’t. Just like how the cats had begged Osmond to stop, but he hadn’t.
It was during his treatments that he realized the doctors were just like him in every way. The only difference was that they were granted permission to do the things they did to him. But unlike them, he had always done his acts in private, until the day he uncovered his masterpiece to his mother. But then, his family had left him here for the past six years, only to be tortured by doctors who gave little to his wellbeing.
“They are just like me,” Osmond repeated to himself.
Hours went by and Osmond sat at the edge of his bed waiting for a surprise that he felt in his heart was probably not going to happen. He looked down, staring at his new shoes, looking, marveling at the high gloss that reflected the light of the room.
While he did this, Martha stood patiently, silently in the doorway, looking at her son for the first time in six years. As she took him in, a look of shock came over her. She turned to her husband, unsure if he was seeing the same thing that she was.
“Yes, I had the nurses measure him, then bought him a new suit just for this occasion. Well… I know how hard this has been for you. It’s my way of saying I’m sorry. And it’s also my way of saying thank you for being strong through Osmond’s absence. I wanted him to look good for you.”
Martha grabbed a Kleenex out of her purse, then dried her tears. “Oh, Jon. Thank you. Jon… Doesn’t he look so handsome in his suit? He looks like a little man.”
“Well? Aren’t you going to say something to him? Did we come all this way just to look at him?”
“No, I suppose not,” she replied.
A quiet but noticeable cough aroused Osmond from his new shoes. Looking up he saw an older woman and man standing in his doorway. They looked familiar but he was unsure of who they were. “Ma?” Osmond finally asked, tilting his head sideways.
“Yes, baby, it’s Ma.”
Jon stood firm and proud as he looked upon his son. With hair neatly parted in the middle and a crisp new suit, it was hard to believe it was the same little boy that had tortured the cats six years ago. But Jon’s feelings for Osmond remained neutral as he took a seat in a nearby chair, the wood groaning as he sat.
“Look at you! You have grown so much since, well, since—”
“Since you left me,” finished Osmond.
“Yes, ever since we left you here. I’m sorry… But the doctors wouldn’t allow us to visit you. Well, the important thing is that you got better. I love you, Osmond. And Father, he missed you as well. After all, he’s the one that bought you the suit and shoes. Isn’t that right, Father?”
Jon politely smiled, then waved to his son. Osmond stared blankly at his parents as if they were strangers, then forced a token smile. The atmosphere became rich with feelings of uneasiness. It wasn’t how Martha dreamt it would be, seeing her baby boy it felt more like adopting an older child than taking her own son her back.
Unsure of what to do, Martha grabbed his suitcase, then opened it with a sharp snap, reminding Osmond of the first time he opened his suitcase. He never thought he’d relate the snaps of his suitcase to returning home to the farm.
But the idea of returning home proved to be a bittersweet moment for Osmond, for he had made friends at the hospital—friends only he could see. Leaving the hospital would mean leaving them behind, just like how his parents had left him here for all those years. Yet, most of his friends had vanished over time, leaving him alone and vulnerable in his twelve years of living.
Over the years Osmond bonded with friends that no one could see. His invisible friends had introduced themselves to him as spirits or ghost that lived and died beyond the years of Osmond’s life. But Osmond never fully understood. To him, they looked as real as anyone he had ever met. What distinguished his invisible friends from others, was the unique, foul odor that they carried with them—the plague that caused his friends’ passing. Soon, Osmond had discovered who his real friends were and those that only stayed vicariously through the thoughts of his own imagination. Slowly the electrotherapy began sifting through dreams versus reality. Others faded slowly into the never-ending darkness never to be seen or heard from again, causing Osmond to mourn over his loss for those that didn’t stay.
But through the fuzziness of his treatments and the wattage that helped to clear the unwanted clutter of fake, temporary friends, the ones that stayed by his side for all those years were Virginia and Frank. Osmond breathed in, smelling the foul stench, knowing they were in his room with he and his parents, while his mother packed his suitcase. Even though he couldn’t see them, he felt them, and knew it was their way of saying goodbye. Virginia and Frank had always been his special friends, no matter what. Even when the large volts of electricity coursed through his body, they were still there through it all. They were the last of Osmond’s friends.
His eyes drifted, waking himself from his thoughts, and he saw his mother packing the last shirt into his suitcase.
“Well, that’s it. Are you ready to go home, sweetie?” Martha gave her son a puzzled expression at his own unusual expression. “Are you alright? You just don’t seem to be with it.”
His shrugged his shoulders in a stony manner. “Just saying goodbye to a couple of friends of mine. Did you know a lot of kids died here? They were sick, but not sick like me. They called it ‘the cough,’” said Osmond, making air quotes.
Martha looked perplexed at her son, then glanced back to Jon, seeing her husband nearly asleep on the chair by the door. Looking back at Osmond, she asked, “What on earth are you talking about?”
Osmond’s eyes broke away, remembering the last time he had mentioned the kids. Then, thought it best to keep the ones that no one could see to himself. “I’m just looking forward to going back home, Mother. I’ve missed you.”
While confused with the quick and deliberate change of her son’s conversation, Martha was at a loss for words, only managing to utter, “We missed you too, hun,” leaving an awkward silence in the room.
That awkward silence was Jon’s cue to get going. With a snap of his back and a pop of his knee, Jon walked over to his son’s suitcase. “Well… it’s best to get a move on.”
Martha looked at her husband, then to her boy. “Yes. Are you ready, Osmond?”
Osmond nodded, then stood to his feet, waiting for someone to open the door. Once outside, he felt the coolness of the breeze on his face, and the warmth of the sun for the first time in years. The outside had a familiar fresh scent, unlike the hospital where he had been confined for those many years. The staleness of the air and the smell of rubbing alcohol were gone. Osmond marveled at the earthiness of the outdoors.
Jon opened the back door to his old Model T, then placed his son’s suitcase on the seat. Osmond glanced up at his father. Jon took a step back to let his son in. Then, Osmond watched as Jon shut the door behind him. It all seemed familiar to both Jon and Osmond. They had a long trip ahead of them and Osmond still felt the effects of his morning medication, so closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep. Martha kept a watchful eye on her baby boy, hoping and praying for better days ahead.
Osmond felt the shift of the car as his father parked in front of their house. He opened his eyes and looked around. Memories of his youth came flooding back in pieces. Stepping out of the car, he felt as if he was stepping into another life, a world that he had forgotten existed. With the turn of the key, Osmond’s father opened the front door and Osmond walked shyly in, then looked up at the stairs he remembered that led to his room, or so he thought. He looked to his mother for confirmation.
Martha nodded, then pointed. “Yes, that’s right. It’s up the stairs, the door on your right. Father will be up later with your suitcase. Why don’t you rest awhile before washing up for dinner? I’ll come to get you when dinner’s ready.
Martha watched as Osmond hesitated, then placed his hand on the wooden railing. He put a foot on the first step, then carefully took one after another until he was out of sight and she could only hear the sounds of his feet as he made his way to the room he shared with his brother. When she heard the door close, Martha placed her hand over her chest, remembering what the doctor had told her and Jon—that Osmond may experience feelings of disconnect. But she understood that things would never be the same. Long gone were the days when she and Osmond held that secret bond between them. And long gone were the days when he was her little boy that was taken from her. Through it all, Martha had remained hopeful in eventually being able to see the same boy that she once loved and cared for. But now, she could only see Osmond as nothing more than a stranger, a guest in their home.
Osmond looked around his room, noticing the odd differences between the room at the hospital and the room that he would now reside in. Unsure of which bed was his, he decided to take the one closest to the window. Afraid to disturb the tidiness of the bed, he carefully and slowly sat on the edge of the neatly made bed with its quilted blanket folded crisply at the top where the pillows rested. It was all new to him—the pillows, the fancy blanket, even the softness of the bed. It all felt warm and cozy. Something he never felt at the hospital, but something he could get used to. Then Osmond allowed himself to lay on his back, reminiscing on his youth and the last days that he had spent living at home before leaving for the hospital. But his fondest memory was of the cats and the teeth marks that they had dug into his skin. He lifted his hands to see if the marks were still there. With a disappointed sigh, he realized they had but all since healed. Then, Osmond closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Time moved forward and the year was 1940, and the month was May, when Osmond turned eighteen. Over the past six years, he stayed true to consistently taking his medication, though it put him in a fog-like state. The doctors he saw only wrote prescriptions for insulin to help with his schizophrenia. He felt the same as he did when he was six years old. But back then, it had been only pills. Now there were injections that caused the sugars in his blood to spike to dangerous levels, forcing him into a coma-like state for days at a time.
Martha’s heart saddened to see her baby sick and his health depleted. Talk of Osmond going back to the hospital versus weaning him off his medications swirled around for a year.
“Martha, our son is no longer a little boy. He’s a young man, taller than the both of us. I don’t know what would happen… And besides, I’m not sure I could save you from him if he decides—”
“Decides to do what? He’s, our son. And James is just as tall and strong, perhaps stronger, if there was ever a need. But what makes you so sure the I need protecting? Jon… he’s my son. Why would he ever hurt me?” Martha placed her hand inside her husband’s palm. “Look at me Jon. I’m grateful that you’re looking out for me. But Osmond needs a chance to live like other kids live. I know he’s no longer a kid, but he does need a chance to live a normal life. We already took his childhood away from him. He’s still young, Jon. Why take away the last remaining years of his young life? It’s not fair to him.”
Jon searched his wife’s dark, beautiful brown eyes and knew in his heart that she was telling the truth about their son. “Fine! If he slips up just once, he goes back to the hospital. Do we have a deal?
Tears of happiness ran down Martha’s cheeks as she accepted her husband’s terms. Osmond would be free of medication from that day forward.
Two years had passed since the Whitmans had taken Osmond off his medication. He grew stronger mentally, as well as taller. His body resembled a long stick, unlike his brother James, who was stocky with broad shoulders and thick thighs—a result from years of working beside his father on the farm. Besides the growth of the young men, the relationship between Osmond and James also grew over time. Osmond regaled his brother with stories of what it was like being locked away in an intuition, while James told stories of living as a kid at the farm, working with their father. But James never spoke about his cats—the cats his brother had killed.
One night, when the moon was at its peak, shining through the bedroom windows, an uneasiness fell upon James with the desire to talk about what happened the day his brother left for the hospital, fourteen long years ago. While their parents had revealed the truth to James on his twelfth birthday, he wasn’t satisfied, and wanted to learn more from his brother. He wanted to hear it in Osmond’s own words, hoping to learn whether Osmond had been truly insane, or if it had all been a fabrication their parents had made up—though James failed to see why they would make something like a mental illness up. Perhaps, they were mistaken and over-corrected? Either way, what would they to gain in having his younger brother locked up? These questions swirled inside James’s mind as he looked through the darkness, seeing Osmond’s eyes staring oddly back at him.
James cleared his throat. “What on earth possessed you to do such a thing? To the cats. I mean… Tying them by their tails? Why?”
James waited for a moment, but only saw the glassiness of his brother’s eyes. The silence was deafening, and James shifted his eyes elsewhere, anywhere but into the eeriness of Osmond’s eyes.
Then a low register rose from Osmond that took James completely off guard. “Ah! There are things in this world that no one can explain. I tied the tails of the cats together, then hung them over the clothesline as a present for Mother. Did Mother tell you that we shared a bond? Mother and I lied to Father about the pills that I was supposed to take. Pills, mind you, that Father wanted me to take, but Mother saw unfit for me because they made me slow and weak. So, we made a bond. Well… when I was no longer tired and weak, I snuck out found the cats near the barn. I played with them and fed them whatever I had taken from the kitchen. They rubbed their head over my hands, and I felt the soft purrs of their happiness.
“James, it was the voices from inside my head that told me to hit them over their heads quickly to knock them out. So… I did. When they came to, their tails were already tied, and they fought and clawed at me. I knocked them out again, then carefully hung them over the clothesline. I wanted to thank Mother for freeing me from the medication. Do you understand, Brother? When the cats awoke, it only took minutes for them to disembowel each other. But Mother failed to see. She failed to see the art which I had created for her. Father, of course, hated me from the day I was born. When he came to see what Mother was so upset about, he lifted me up and held me in mid-air, forcing me to look at what I had done. There wasn’t anything to look at. I didn’t do anything wrong. I took something of yours and added something of my own. James! Don’t you understand? It was like we gave something to our mother, something from the both of us. But of course, my happiness only caused anger with Father. You know, there are things in this world we can’t explain. God knows I’ve tried. Do you know what else?
“No… What?” James replied, afraid of what his brother was going to say next.
Osmond looked at his brother, James, with one arm under his pillow. “Do you remember when I told you about the doctors at the hospital? And the treatments they put me through? They did worse to me than what I had done to your cats. Were they punished for what they had done to me, or to the kids before me? No! Of course not. Their fancy schooling gives them the right to torture kids that no one cares about. James, let me ask you a question. Did Mother or Father ever speak of me when I was gone? Did you miss me?”
James quickly broke eye contact with his brother, then contemplated on what Osmond had said. Is it possible that doctors took advantage of kids or adults, for that matter, for their own amusement? Something didn’t sit well with that line of thinking. No, perhaps not, thought James. No, because that doesn’t explain away the cruelty to my cats, or how Osmond condemns the actions of the doctors, but not his own. Then James pondered upon the final question. Did he miss Osmond? Or was the real question, did he truly miss his brother? As he thought on this, he instead spoke upon things that he knew. “Father and Mother spoke little about you and your treatments. Mother counted down the days till it was time for you to come home. Father mainly worked. I just wanted to hear what happened from your own words, because I wasn’t sure what to believe. You watched two cats claw each other to death? Honestly, what was the point of it?”
“…There are just things in this world no one can explain.”
James looked across the room and saw his brother asleep. It was more than what James wanted to hear, but he understood his father’s position better than ever after listening to Osmond. The words Osmond had uttered terrified James to the core, making it nearly impossible for him to fall asleep.
The next morning, James awoke, startled to find Osmond standing by their doorway. He wiped the sleep from his eyes, then looked once more, noticing how oddly pale and disproportionate Osmond looked. With a second rub of his eyes, his brother’s image became clearer.
“You act as if you just saw a ghost, Brother. Mother wanted me to fetch you for breakfast. Father is in the fields as always. But tell me something. What was it that you saw a moment ago? You did see something, right? I could be wrong, of course.”
James stretched and yawned. “I just wasn’t expecting to see you by the doorway… I’m sorry if I offended you. You know how it is when you wake up. Everything looks distorted for a moment.”
“No. I was just curious. You reminded me of the cats… That’s all.” Osmond walked slowly backwards, then turned, slowly making his way to the stairs.
James’s heart thumped quickly, and he swallowed hard. He had indeed seen something standing by Osmond, but he was unsure of what it was. Whatever it was, it had vanished! Vanished so quickly that it left James wondering if he had truly seen anything at all.
James came quickly down the stairs with the coolness of his aftershave and his hair parted neatly in the middle. But there was an eerie feel to the house. The shades that once were raised now lowered, blocking out the morning light that usually flooded into the dining area. Sounds of utensils on plates, followed by the smell of fried eggs and bacon hung heavy in the air. James’s eyes shifted over to his brother’s shaved head and watched his brother sitting with mother, as they both ate. Sounds began to take form within James’s imagination. Phantom sounds played in his mind hearing the deliberate strokes of Osmond’s blade being dragged over his scalp, images ran loose of how the cats must have looked as they died, still hearing the deliberate strokes of Osmond’s blade that grew louder within his mind.
“I scared James this morning, Mother,” said Osmond, pointing to James with fork in hand.
James snapped out of his stupor, then smiled nervously as his mother turned to see him.
“I already fixed you a plate, Son. Come join us.”
With great nervousness, James shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, then sat down next to his mother with Osmond at the far side of the table—the way he preferred it to be. He looked down at his greasy breakfast, then wondered how he was going to eat with his stomach in knots.
A smile came upon Martha’s face as she grabbed both of her sons’ hands, then squeezed them tightly. “It’s so nice to have my boys home.” Martha looked at James with concern, feeling the sweatiness of his palms. “Aren’t you feeling alright?”
James smiled. “No, I’m fine.” He leaned in, smelling his mother’s cooking. “This looks and smells amazing, Mother. Thank you,” said James, changing the subject.
“You are very welcome.”
Before James took a bite, he glanced over at his brother, hoping to see whether Osmond had noticed his nervous demeanor, fearing he might have tipped his hand about his true feelings after the talk they had last night. “Hey! Is it okay for me to speak with Father after breakfast? I have a question for him. It’s private if you don’t mind.” Said James, finding out what mood his father maybe in.
“Well, of course. Oh! I might know what it is.” Martha glanced slyly over to Osmond as if to let him in on her assumption, then looked back at James. “Are you going to ask Melissa to marry you? She’s a good girl, you know.”
A stressful sigh leaked from James’s lips. “No, Mother. It’s business concerning the farm. All good, of course. I have a few good ideas that I want to run by Father if that’s alright.”
“Of course, they’re good ideas. That I know. But I must warn you, Father’s a bit on edge, not sleeping well, you know.”
James glanced over at his brother, making sure that Osmond hadn’t picked up on anything. “Well, you know how Father gets concerning the farm.”
“Oh, heavens yes, I know. Well, maybe a talk with you may do your father some good. Yes! I’m sure it most definitely would brighten his spirits.”
James squeezed his mother’s hand tightly, then kissed her on her cheek. “Thanks, Mother.”
“You know I missed the days with the both of you used to call me ‘Ma.’ But I suppose you two are getting on in years. But anyway, you speak to your father. Osmond and I will hold the fort until you get back.”
James finished his breakfast, then kissed his mother for the second time, excusing himself from the table. His thoughts ran wild about what he wanted to say to his father. But he felt an apology should be the first thing to come from his lips. He had years of doubts, not sure whether his father had made the right decision in sending his brother to the hospital for the insane for six years. But all doubts had vanished when James spoke to his brother the previous night.
But what really bothered James the most was that he was sure he had seen a young woman with white wispy features holding his brother’s hand in the doorway that morning. When Osmond mentioned that he had looked as if he seen a ghost, he knew it hadn’t been his imagination. James never thought for a second that it was a mere coincidence.
James held his hand up to his eyes, shielding the morning sun as he looked across the field, hoping to find his father nearby, to tell him what he and Osmond had spoken about last night and about the ghostly image this morning. All his thoughts were swirling in madness and confusion. Finally, he found his father at a distance. “Father!” James shouted, waving his hands to get his father’s attention, as excitement built within him. “Father!” James shouted again.
Osmond knew why his brother left to speak with Father. And Osmond knew that James lied when he said, he didn’t see anything. Osmond had read his brother’s expression well earlier, too. It had been a look of shock and fear when James saw Osmond standing by the doorway when he went to get him for breakfast. It was the same look that one has when they see a ghost. James undoubtedly saw Virginia! And now he’s about to speak with Father. Carefully, Osmond placed his fork down beside his plate, then wiped his mouth and hands before placing his hand over his mother’s. Martha smiled warmly back at him.
“You know, I never thanked you for helping me when we made that bond together. Sure, the bond was the lie, but there were bigger things that got in the way. Father, being the main factor. And the pills that made your little boy so tired was the other. But it was the lie that we forged together. A bond between you and me that led you to free me from the pills. The pills got in the way of things. The cats that I killed was my way of saying thanks. And my way of showing you the true nature of your little boy.”
Osmond’s grip grew painfully strong, and Martha’s smile quickly faded. He placed his finger over his lips, gesturing for his mother to remain still. “Shhh. I need to tell you something, Ma. That’s what you want me to call you, isn’t it? Like when I was six?”
“What is it, son? What is it that you want to tell me?” Martha said, trying to conceal her fear.
“My friends followed me home. You remember when I told you I was saying goodbye to friends of mine when you and Pa came to pick me up at the hospital? But I knew you didn’t understand. They can hear you, Ma! And I can hear them. They told me I must set you free. I must set us all free. Ma, it’s the only way for you to see and hear them. Virginia loves me and I love her. Frank has never had a family, but they both told me we all can live with them in this house—forever! But Pa isn’t welcome. Virginia and Frank told me that Pa must be punished for sending me away. They can hear you, Ma. Just like at the hospital.”
Martha tried pulling herself free from her son’s grip, but he was too strong, and his hold only tightened. Tears ran down her cheeks as she stared into the eyes of an unrecognizable madman. She remembered him as a boy, rocking silently on his wooden stool, smiling, and laughing as if someone were standing next to him. Then, she remembered the cats draped over the clothesline—hearing the droplets of blood. Her husband’s words echoed in her mind, warning her about Osmond, but she had refused to listen! “Son, you’re sick! I didn’t see it until now. I wanted you to be happy. You’re my baby boy and I love you.”
“Virginia told me you would say that. I’m not the one who’s crazy. Men with masks over their mouths who torture kids, they’re the crazy ones! I hear them calling me, Ma. If you go with me, then you’ll see. You’ll see that I’m not crazy.”
Osmond’s eyes brightened at seeing the fear in his mother’s eyes. With a violent thrust, Osmond’s knife dug deep into Martha’s neck—gasps mingled with Osmond’s giggles, then a violent hush fell over the Whitman’s house.
He closed his mother’s eyes. “Shhh, I must take you, Ma, to where my friends are.” He laid her head down on the dining room table, then rose to his feet and rolled up the blinds, seeing the old oak tree on the hill. Osmond placed his hand on the window. “I’ve done what you have asked of me. I’m bringing Ma now.”
The blue skies suddenly turned gray as Osmond picked up his mother’s lifeless body, then hugged her tight, making his way to the oak tree.
James hugged his father tightly. “I-I-I spoke with Osmond last night. I didn’t realize how bad off he was.”
Jon’s face fell with pity for James. “Son, it was like I said to you. We weren’t sure how to handle it, but—” Jon held his tongue, feeling as though something was off, but he wasn’t sure what. It was the same feeling he had felt when Osmond had killed James’s cats. Jon griped James’s shoulder tightly. “Where is your brother? James! I never wanted Osmond alone with your mother. I need you to get back home. I’ll catch up with you. Go, get!” Jon pointed with great haste.
James ran as fast as his legs could carry him, feeling the burning of his lungs as he beat himself up for being so stupid and leaving his mother alone with a madman. James’s foot hit the unevenness of the concrete step, nearly causing him to lose his footing, but he caught the knob to the back door with his hand just in time. Catching his breath, James slowly turned the knob and pushed hard, opening the door. It let out a mournful creak. Unsure of what to expect, James cautiously looked around before stepping forward, hearing nothing but silence.
He took a step forward. “Hello? Osmond? Mother?” But there was only silence. James made his way to the kitchen. To his shock and horror, as he turned the corner, he found a pool of blood and bloodied footprints leading to the front door. James fell to his knees and wept bitterly, blaming himself for leaving his mother alone with Osmond.
Jon placed the horses back in their stables, then hurried towards the house, feeling the pain in his aging legs, but pushing himself to his limits, nonetheless. Out of breath, he saw the house without life and felt a loss within his soul. The door was wide open, and Jon could easily see James’s lifeless body sprawled in his own blood, his eyes wide open as if he had seen something truly horrifying moments before his death.
The early morning sunlight cast its eerie light over the dining room. “Friends, they now believe,” was painfully written in blood on the wall.
Jon dropped his head, then was startled when he began to hear strange whispers echoing within the house. He looked around but saw no one. It was like the sound of a young girl in her mid-teens. Jon placed his hands over his ears to muffle out the voice. But it was too late. The voice of the girl now echoed within his mind.
Hours later, a pair of police officers showed up at the Whitman home, only to find a dazed and confused man mumbling incoherently to himself. One of the police officers looked out the window to where the old oak tree stood on the distant hill. Something strange was swaying from its branches.
“Go up there and see what that is!” shouted the other officer, who stood with Jon, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders.
Jon rocked gently back and forth, then stopped and looked with distant eyes, staring down the dark hallway. The officer looked down the hall as well, his hand on his gun as he tried to see what Jon was looking so hard at. There was nothing. The officer withdrew his hand from his gun, waiting to get word from his partner. It felt like an eternity, being alone with Jon still mumbling to himself.
Seconds later, the back door opened. The other office had returned, frightened, and disturbed. He pointed to the hill. “There are two bodies hanging from the oak tree! What the hell happened here?”
The first officer stared down the dark hallway again. He swore he saw something moving in the shadows this time. He gathered himself, then addressed his partner. “I don’t know,” he replied, continuing to stare down the hallway as though the darkness itself were staring back at him.
Jon spent the remaining years of his life at the State Hospital for the Insane. The same hospital that Jon had sent his son Osmond to. He spent the remainder of life drawing pictures of a girl he called Virginia. Jon eventually died from natural causes. The Whitman estate was a baffling mystery to law enforcement, and no one knew who placed the call to the police department, giving them the tip about the murders. For it hadn’t been Jon, he was too far gone to do so.
Forty years later, a picture of the Whitman’s old farmhouse emerged in local newspapers at first, then quickly spread online. It gave new life to the old farmstead as rumors spread—eventually giving birth to the legend known as Stick Man.
Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at email@example.com. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find all of my social media, listen to free audiobooks I’ve narrated, visit the store for Weird Darkness t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, phone cases, and more merchandise, sign up for monthly contests, find other podcasts that I host like “Retro Radio – Old Time Radio in the Dark”, “Micro Terrors; Scary Stories for Kids”, “The Church of the Undead”, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Thriller Thursday episodes are works of fiction, and you can find links to the authors and/or stories in the show notes.
“Stick Man” was written by Donte Highwater and was submitted directly to Weird Darkness.
WeirdDarkness® – is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… (Hebrews 3:13) “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
And a final thought… “The strongest people aren’t always the people who win, but the people who don’t give up when they lose.” – Ashley Hodgeson
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.