Kirtland is the kind of place where mist rolls across fields and sneaks into the dense thick of trees that border it. It's the kind of town where it's not out of place to see a car parked under a street light and the driver wearing a werewolf mask. This is a place where teenagers from neighboring suburbs drive through during the weeks leading up to Halloween, looking for monsters in the woods.
Dave was our driver and tour guide. His girlfriend, Jen, was in the passenger seat. I was squeezed in the back with Darlene, my then girlfriend, who would later become my wife, and then my ex-wife, when I came out of the closet, years from this moment. We all thought this would be a fun Halloween couples' thing to do. Dave’s older brother had driven him around these sites a couple of years before. Dave knew where he was going. He didn’t have a map or any directions, just his memory.
We drove down the hill into the valley, away from our urban suburb and into the more rural Kirtland. Dave pulled off the side of the road. There were no other cars around. Everything outside looked blue from the moonlight. Dave turned off the lights and the engine. There was one house close enough to us that I could see the white structure behind it that looked like a barn but was actually a two-car garage.
“We just sit here?” Jen said.
“See that?” Dave pointed toward the house. “That light on the back of the garage?”
There was a floodlight on the back of the barn-shaped garage that created a round spot of light against the woods.
“The light keeps them away,” he said.
The “them” being giant-headed creatures called Melonheads. They were supposed to have been the creation of a mad scientist who lived in a house hidden in the woods. The legend said the creatures attacked and killed the scientist so now they were free to roam around Kirtland. However, most of them stuck close to the house, a place they knew. It made me sad to think of these creatures who were supposed to be so scary, but they were probably scared. At least scared enough not to stray too far from home, from what they knew.
Maybe they were really like Frankenstein’s monster when he encountered the young girl and wanted to play a game, wanted to be friends, but didn’t understand that she wouldn't float, didn’t understand she would drown. Perhaps we didn’t understand the danger in the game we were playing.
We waited. Wind wagged the bare tree branches at us as if to say we should leave. The air inside the car seemed to stand still, holding our breathe for us. I kept staring at the light on the back of the house as if it would give us a hint about something coming.
There was a noise. Footsteps on the gravel on the road's shoulder? Did a pebble hit the lower half of the car?
The space in the backseat was so small it took effort for Darlene to turn and look at the back of the car. I started to get a cramp in my side as I tried to do the same.
“Nothing there,” Darlene whispered.
“This is stupid,” Jen said. Her voice so loud against the quiet that I thought the people in the house might hear her. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
You were supposed to be able to see the ghost of a witch walking down Baldwin Road. Nothing. The brilliance of Dave’s storytelling was that he told us about the floodlights at the beginning, which allowed me to notice that almost every house had such a light. I’d been through Kirtland so many times and never noticed this. The threat in the woods was all around.
The car chugged up the steep hill on Route 306, leading us past the Mormon Temple and deeper into Kirtland. There was the barn with a window at the top that was supposed to glow green, which was supposed to be evidence that it was haunted. Kirtland was a town full of barns, so I hoped he was taking us to a different barn.
We wound around curves. The way we were going, down Chillicothe Road, took us in the right direction--but it was also the way my family drove every Sunday to my grandparents’ house in Chesterland. We couldn’t get to my grandparents’ without going through Kirtland, without going past Euclid-Chardon road. This was the road I hoped we would avoid tonight.
Dave slowed down and took a left down Eagle Road. Or right around Eagle Road--it was dark and difficult to tell where we were. I couldn’t remember spending much time in this area of Kirtland. All I cared about was that we weren't going where I feared we might go.
This road rose and dipped a few times before straightening out. The car slowed, and Dave pulled onto the shoulder. There was the barn. The wood looked gray, wet, even though it hadn’t rained recently. The shingle roof rose, dark, behind the bare tree branches. And right there in the middle of the second floor was the window, glowing green as promised.
All I could say was, “It’s really glowing.”
It was more a lime color than the emerald I had imagined. Maybe this was the proof of the supernatural I’d wanted.
“Reflective paint,” Jen said. “I can see the parts that are chipping from here.”
“Yeah,” Darlene agreed. “That’s disappointing.” She was on the side of the car closest to the barn and had a much better view than I did.
A car pulled up behind us, its headlights beaming through Dave’s car.
“Go,” I said to Dave. “Get out of here.”
“What if it’s a cop?” Dave said. “I can’t just take off.”
A man, thin, in slightly baggy clothes approached Dave’s car. He knocked on Dave’s window. I could see he wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans. This wasn’t a cop. I leaned forward, whispered to Dave to drive away. This was how an actual horror movie began. The man could have a gun or knife.
Dave rolled down the window. The man put one hand on the roof of the car and leaned on his elbow in the open window.
“You kids causing trouble,” he growled. It was a statement, not a question.
“We’re just out for a drive,” Dave said.
Darlene squeezed my arm.
“Let’s go,” Jen said through her gritted teeth.
“You kids come out looking for this ghost shit and forget that people live out here and don’t want to be bothered. We’ve been bothered enough.”
“We’ll be heading home soon,” Dave said.
“Now or else.”
I had no idea what the “or else” meant.
“David,” Jen almost shouted.
Dave started the car. The man backed away. Dave rolled the car back into the street.
“Roll up your window,” Jen said.
Darlene looked out the rear window. “He’s following us.”
The headlights from the man’s car came up behind us. Dave took a right, headed back he way he had come, back to the suburbs. The man followed us for another ten minutes before he turned onto another street.
“I need a drink,” Jen said.
Darlene put her head on my shoulder. We didn’t stop anywhere else. We didn’t talk. Our tour guide drove us home, away from whatever lurked in Kirtland.
The foreground of the shot: yellow-and-black striped Do not cross tape flapping in the wind. The grass in the yard looks barely green, lumpy, mixed with the mud beneath it. Behind it is a white house with a wraparound porch. A pine tree hugs the end of the porch and the side of the house. It is tall but scrawny. Not plump or well cared for like so many of the other trees in town. Looming in the background is the dark red barn. The main doors slightly open. Drab, ordinary. My family had driven past this property numerous times, and nothing stood out about it from all the other houses and barns . . . until January 1990.
Bodies found in Kirtland — WEWS News 5 Cleveland
The next shot of the news report: three people framed in the doorway at the bottom left side of the barn. One to the left, one to the right, and one in the center, silhouetted by the open back door. The one in the center, the shadow figure, wears a hat and has broad shoulders, but doesn’t take up the whole doorway. You can see the bare trees behind him, behind the barn. The other two are closer to the front door: you can see they are wearing navy blue jumpsuits. One has his back to the camera, and the jumpsuit says: Lake County Crime Lab.
The person on the right is in profile to the camera, a shiny new silver trash can in front of his body. I can’t tell if it's a man or a woman. A bottle of bleach sits on the table where this crime lab employee is doing whatever work the team is doing. The reporter does not go into these details. This is breaking news, and the reporter susses out only the few details he has.
In a voice-over while the camera pans across the barn, he says, “There's confusion over the exact number of bodies that have been found in a common grave in the basement of this barn along Route 6. The body of a man was found last night; two or three others, this afternoon.”
This was how the news coverage of the Avery family’s murder began on Channel 5, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland. This was before anyone started calling this case the Lundgren Cult Murders.
Originally, the plan had been to go back to Jen’s house and have some drinks in the finished basement, but we decided to call it a night after our run-in with the Kirtland local. Dave dropped me and Darlene back at her house.
Even though it was October, Darlene’s room felt stuffy, hot. I laid across her bed on my stomach with my shirt off. My face was down in the blankets, and I heard her footsteps across the wooden floors, the click of the door as she closed it. We were doing something wrong by being in her bedroom when I knew her parents wanted me to stay on the couch. She laid down next to me and traced her finger along a spot on my lower back.
“Where did this come from?” she said.
“Where did what come from?” I said. I had no idea what she was talking about.
“I don’t know. I didn’t know I had a scar there.” I fumbled around trying to feel it. Darlene moved my hand so that my finger rested right on the scar. It wasn’t very big, or at least didn’t feel very big, but it was raised, puffy, slightly tougher than the rest of the skin around it. I searched for when and how this might have happened and couldn’t remember. At this time, I had been only slightly aware of gaps in my memory, spots I knew where there but could not access. This, it seemed, was where this scar lived.
Bruce Owens Grimm has published essays in The Rumpus, The Kenyon Review online, Ninth Letter, The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog, Older Queer Voices, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere. He has attended residencies and workshops at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), and he received a Lambda Literary Residency fellowship to attend The Sundress Academy of the Arts residency. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More information can be found at www.briankornell.com.
Read all the CULTLAND entries right here.