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Souvenirs from Amsterdam Falls
Problems exist whether or not you pay attention to them. That’s how Dr. Bonnester began his psychiatry course. His words have haunted me ever since. I was getting up at least 2 or 3 times a night. I wasn’t my level-headed, rational self. I was afraid of the dark. My friends and family chalked it up to the stress of med school and I didn’t argue. They wouldn’t believe me anyways. But today would be different. “So what do you think?” I sat nervously in the chair. “Well….” Dr. Bonnester flipped back two pages. He hemmed and hawed. I wish he just would have come out with it. He then flipped forward four or five pages. “Well?” “Marvin – the research is good. Your knowledge of the field is light years beyond your classmates. But the theory – at least some aspects of it – are beyond sound clinical analysis.” “I’ll start again.” I sighed. “Hmmmm…..I didn’t say that was a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes the borders of modern scientific thinking have to be pushed an inch or two. Then again, when the borders of science get pushed, something always pushes back.” “So, you like it?” “I think it’s a fundamentally sound argument and this will get you through my course. I wouldn’t have done this when I was a medical student. You’re intent on blazing a trail, aren’t you?” “This means a lot to me Dr. Bonnester.” “I can see that. You put a lot of effort into the project.” He slid my paper across the desk and into my eager hands. “Just don’t go too far – you don’t know where you might end up.” “Thank you Dr. Bonnester.” I shook his hand and left his office.
“How did you get away with that?” Naomi wanted to know. She looked at the title of my paper: “Erasing the Borders Between Hallucination, Psychosis, and Superstition”. “I did extensive research. I also had a lot of coffee which kept me up at night – maybe my hyper-caffeinated state gave me insights beyond mortal man.” I flashed a devilish grin at her. “I think you must have had help.” My girlfriend’s interrogations were always long and excruciating. “Help…well..no. I did have some mighty good inspiration.” I winked. It was then I just realized the date. It was the one year anniversary of the first visit to the house. “I thought I was your inspiration.” Before I could respond, my i-phone beeped. It was a message from Aunt Clara. She had been trying to get in touch with me for months. It was probably something about the cats. I always deflected her to mom, who had a special rapport with her. But for some reason, she kept on ringing me. Aunt Clara was getting sophisticated. This time she sent a text: Marvin please come talk to me. We have a very important family matter to discuss. “I’m sorry honey. I have to visit Aunt Clara in Cheektowaga. I’ll let you in on my academic secrets later.” “How in the world?” Dr. Bonnester came out of his office. He had a bloody handprint on the side of his shirt. My heart froze.
Maybe a trip to see Aunt Clara wasn’t so bad after all. It would get my mind off of the mystery of the bloody handprint. It was following me – or were they following me? Why? What did I ever do to them? I was starting to relive my geeky catholic school days, where I would get picked on for no reason. I felt so powerless, so alone. I put it out of my head and focused on the traffic. I pulled into Aunt Clara’s driveway and turned off the car. The house on Harlem Rd. hadn’t changed in forty years. In fact, the red brick house seemed to laugh defiantly, mockingly at the “modern” neighborhood all around it. Was this such a good idea after all? It had been
less than a year since I fled like a babbling madman from Amsterdam Falls and right now a dark, lonely house was the last thing I needed. I got out of the car and Sally bumped into me. She giggled and clung to my leg. Her big blue eyes seemed to draw me into another world where fear did not exist. “So this is Sally!” I picked her up and she squealed with glee. “Say ‘hi’ Sally!” Cousin Lacy prodded. “I’m still working on that.” She laughed. “She’s beautiful.” I handed her back to Lacy. “Marvin. I know you’re out there. Come in.” Aunt Clara called from the open door. “Coming Aunt Clara.” I called back. “Marv – Dr. Bonnester is dead.” Naomi was in shock. “Naomi – this isn’t funny. I know you barely passed his course-“ “Dr. Bonnester is dead! He died of a rare virus.” “I just saw him 24 hours ago. That’s impossible.” “Marv. I’m right here reading the autopsy report.” “Marvin. We must talk – immediately.” Aunt Clara was getting nervous. “Look, honey. I’ll talk to you tonight. OK? Trust me, there’s got to be an explanation.”
Aunt Clara’s house was darker than usual. The many crucifixes were hard to discern in the dusty gloom. Books on saints and angels littered the kitchen table and living room floor. But what surprised me was the oil painting of the stern man. I had never seen it before. “Do you recognize him?” Aunt Clara asked. She set down a tray of chocolate chip cookies and rum before me. “Is that Uncle Walter? From Grandma’s side of the family?” Uncle Walter had the dubious reputation of being angry, unpredictable, and dangerous. “No…no…no….this gentleman is from your grandfather’s side of the family. When I heard about what happened in Amsterdam Falls-“ “How did you hear about what happened in Amsterdam Falls?
“Marvin, an old woman like me hears things from the most unexpected quarters. Like I was saying, when I heard what happened down there I realized that we would have to face our past.” “Our past?” “The gentleman on the canvas is Aachien Boer. He owned farmland in Amsterdam Falls before the area fell into the hands of the English.” “Is he?” “Yes – and yes. He is the Dutch farmer behind the tale in Amsterdam Falls. He is also our ancestor.” Aunt Clara gave me a moment to process the shocking news. “Jake was so foolish to take you there.” “What happened?” “Mr. Boer accidentally killed another farmer. At least that’s what he wants everyone to know. The victim’s wife wasn’t convinced and put a series of – unfortunate events into motion.” “And then?” “That’s all I know. That was all I was allowed to hear. Grandma Piorkowski was hoping that part of the family tree would wither when she died – but it still lives on.” “Mom!” Lacy was screaming frantically. “Sally stopped breathing!” I rushed out to the back yard. Poor little Sally was blue – and she had a bloody handprint on her dress. “Marvin, I suggest you deal with our family’s problem before anyone else dies.” Aunt Clara gently sighed.
I raced down Cairn street as the rain was pouring down. I got out of the car and the bloody footprints came up to me. I passed them by without a second glance. I kicked in the front door and was greeted by a fetid smell. As the holy water hit the floor, flames erupted. Soon the whole house was ablaze. An old woman took shape out of the flames and smoke. She cackled and grinned. “The crucifix – take it to the basement!” A voice whispered.
I struggled to get past the flames, but luckily made it to the basement. I turned on the flashlight and pulled back. A fresh human head was half buried in the old floor. It looked like it had only been there a few hours. I put the crucifix on the remains.
The Amsterdam Falls Daily
The Mystery of The Burning House
Last week, firefighters from Ithaca were called to the scene of a burning house on Cairn Street. When they arrived, the house was fully engulfed in flames. They spent several hours putting out the fire and no one was in the house at the time. However, the structure was burned to the ground. When fire investigators came back to the scene twelve hours later, they discovered that the house was intact and in perfect order. They searched the house thoroughly and found no evidence of a fire. When asked for an explanation, the Ithaca fire department stated that it had sent the fire investigators to the wrong street, citing the lack of street signs in the area. However, when a thorough search was made of Cairn street and several adjacent streets, no evidence of a fire could be found. The fire department declined further comment.