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We are always haunted by our past, whether by nature or nurture we are the consequence of our ancestors. Each one of us is part of a long line of teachings and genetic code, being passed down from generation to generation. Criminals and heroes, saints and murderers; we carry them in our blood. Who they were makes us who we are. Yet this past is never fully known to us. Every family has its secrets, which begs the question: can we ever truly know where we come from?
Today’s episode comes in the form of a letter, from a Stephen Leopardi to Ron Hammond. It is dated as October 5, 1984.
My dear friend Ron,
I have recently encountered a phenomenon relevant to your newfound curiosity in the paranormal. In truth, I have no idea who else to contact. A few weeks ago I had inherited a cabinet from my great-aunt. This came as a surprise, as this was the first I had heard of her passing. She and I were never particularly close. She lived in Italy and knew little English. I had only seen her at large family gatherings, and then only when I was very young. Mostly, I remember her sitting quietly to the side of the table, eating little and muttering Italian under her breath. She looked impossibly ancient, her face so wrinkled that you could barely make out her features. She was old, so old, in fact, that I am unsure if anyone knew her exact relation to the family. We all just called her great-grandmother. Her age and cryptic past scared me as a boy, though I wasn’t the only one. Whenever she spoke the entire family fell immediately silent, and everyone rushed to do what she asked.
The most distinct memory I have of her is my family visiting Italy for a funeral. I was about nine years old. We slept in my great grandmother’s house during our brief stay. It was a small house, consisting of one story and a total of five rooms with no electricity or running water. I had a penchant for exploring at that age and being in new territory was immensely enticing. On our first night staying, I had gotten up in the middle of the night, wandering around the house when I found a small room filled with a variety of strange objects, most of them were completely unrecognizable. The room itself was rather nondescript and it looked like it was rarely entered. A thin coating of dust covered everything. Strangely enough, I did not remember seeing the room during the day. The only light came from a crystalline lantern whose light refracted around the room. Though it resembled an ordinary lantern, its light shone fiercely and harshly than any other flame of that size. Odd trinkets and bizarre devices were in the room, and each seemed to be placed with the utmost care. Most of the objects I had no names for, though there were a few that I could identify. Among them was a tea set made of some purple-ish stone, a porcelain horse covered in eyes, and a gyroscope menaced with rusty iron spikes. What interested me most however was a cabinet in the back of the room.
Its wood had black and red tones swirled together with a strange intensity. Carved into it were grotesque images of unrecognizable animals, snarling and entwined. When you looked at out of the corner of your eye, the beasts seemed to writhe slowly, as if acting out some dark, obscene drama. I am unsure how such an optical illusion was achieved, and have seen no equivalent elsewhere.
I approached the cabinet, intensely curious as to its contents. Before I could open it, I felt the tight grip of bony hands. My great-grandmother, with an unexpected strength, pulled me away and held me close. She turned me around and looked into my eyes, with an intensity I will never forget. “It is still dreaming.” she said, in perfect English. Then she marched me back into my room. It scared me so much that I never went out of that house to explore again.
With all this in mind, you can imagine my astonishment and curiosity when my sisters dropped a cabinet off at my house, the same cabinet I had seen all those years ago.
Hammond has a note written on the side: bit of a shut-in.
It was fairly large, as cabinets go, though surprisingly light. It was exactly as I had remembered it as a child. The front possessed those hellish carvings and I now noticed that the back of the cabinet was unadorned save a single symbol etched into the wood.
I had initially used the cabinet to store wine, but when it came time to take a bottle out, it was deathly cold and the glass seemed soft in my hand. It almost felt fuzzy. I tried storing various other objects in the cabinet and the same effect occurred. All I put in came out soft and cold. I ended up keeping the cabinet in my room, storing exercise clothes that I would wear while on the treadmill to keep me cool.
I am aware that I probably should have told someone about this strange property of the table, but I have never been one to show off and I did not want undue attention with people I barely knew coming into my home. All in all it seemed like a fairly innocuous property, even if it was strange.
Nothing new happened for about a week and a half until one night I discovered something I can scarcely describe without my hands trembling. I had opened the cabinet one morning to retrieve some clothing and inside was what appeared to be a mummified child. Its leathery ocher skin was stretched tight over its tiny body, save for the eyes which were absent, leaving two large holes. Its skull looked far too large for its body, while its hands and feet were freakishly small. Most disturbing to me was its pose.The child was curled up in the fetal position, save its visage, which faced upward and outward, mouth agape. It resembled a child discovered during a game of hide-and-seek, mouth open in surprise and delight at being discovered by its mother.
I closed the cabinet immediately and ran out of the room. After some time had passed, I inspected the cabinet again and found the child completely gone. Perturbed, but believing it to be only my mind, I moved the cabinet into my attic and slept downstairs that night, and the nights following. In the night, in the direction of my room, I heard what I thought was a faint cry coming from the direction of my attic. I dismissed it as another trick of the mind but it chilled me immensely.
In the following months the cries continued, at first infrequently. I am not fond of going out of the house unless I absolutely had to, so I convinced myself that what I was hearing was simply an illusion, the consequence of my dreams seeping into the waking world. I had checked numerous times for the mummified child but it never once was there. But slowly, so slowly that it took me a while to notice it, the frequency of the crying nights increased. The cries began to get louder and louder. Eventually they weren’t only cries. Soon they were screams, desperate screams, primal screams. Have you ever heard someone really scream? Like a mentally ill person being restrained or a mother being taken away from her child? The screams sound as if they are painful to produce, excruciating even. They scream themselves ragged, and right when you think it will end, even more screams come, more agonized than the last. These were the type of screams coming from the attic.
Despite my agoraphobia, I have moved out of the house and am staying at a nearby motel. If you need to enter or inspect the house, there is a key in the potted plant by the front door. I am aware this is not like your usual cases, but I do not know who else to turn to. I will pay however much is necessary.
Your eternally grateful friend, Stephen.
Attached are some additional notes by Hammond, dated October 29th, same year.
After getting the keys from Stephen, I entered the house at 9 a.m. and found the cabinet in the attic like Stephen described. I took some photographs, which I’ll include with file later. It was weirdly light, like Stephen said. I couldn’t just leave it there, and it didn’t seem smart to sell it, or just give it to charity. I’m not going to lie. The cabinet freaked me out. I had handled reports of the paranormal and have been in a lot of dangerous situations but this was my first cursed object. As I looked at the cabinet, with its swirling orgy of ancient beasts, I felt the overwhelming urge to destroy it. The grotesque faces of the carved beasts it was seemed to be mocking me. Even with its small size, something about it felt imposing, like a single massive monolith in a wasteland My mind almost immediately formulated a plan to burn it, and to wipe the object off the face of the Earth.
I picked up some gasoline and drove to a nearby junkyard the next day with the cabinet. I remember it being cloudy, a real overcast day, which was weird for Southern California. Still don’t know if it had something to do with the cabinet. When I’d found a remote area where I wouldn’t be bothered, I doused the cabinet in gasoline and threw a lit match onto the object. It burned up quicker than I expected, faster than most wood. Soon though I heard that horrid screaming that Stephen described. The mummified thing crawled out of the burning cabinet, slowly, clearly in pain. It faced me and began to inch towards me, looking into my eyes. I’m not gonna lie I froze. I didn’t freeze during police training, and I never froze in the army, but I froze then. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what I should do. I just waited, and watched as its leathery skin was burnt away. The thing stopped moving far before it ever reached me. I think it’s dead, if such a word can be applied here. I’m realizing that I’m out of my depth. It could’ve been evil or innocent or something else entirely and I don’t know. I realized I didn’t know if the burning even worked, or how the cabinet worked either. From then on, I was much more cautious with my work; collect as much data as you can beforehand, only take cases you can handle, don’t play with fire. Sometimes I hear the thing screaming in my nightmares.
I’ve looked up the symbol and it seems to be a combination of a dreaming and birthing symbol used by the Nuragic civilization in Ancient Sardinia. I’m not entirely sure what it means as there’s very limited research available even among experts and in occult texts. The civilization believed that in the beginning there was only roiling chaos, the creator deity split the chaos into the realm of reality and the realm of nightmares. Each night, we are slowly pulled to the realm of nightmares, but supposedly it takes at least a lifetime to finally be pulled over. Eventually one’s body becomes useless, or mad, or what have you, and your soul enters the realm of nightmares. There are still so many unknowns, but my theory right now is that the process might also be able to happen in the opposite direction, where something or someone in the land of nightmares could be manifested into the material world, over a long period of time. Could a nightmare wake up?