It all began with a framed poster, something that had caught Phil Mantillio’s eye when he was wandering around the local Spencer’s Gifts looking for a joke birthday present. Phil wasn’t normally the kind of guy to hang a poster on his wall, much less pay sixty bucks to have it professionally framed. I guess there was just something about the sight of those two heavily airbrushed and scantily clad women making out that excited his college-aged sensibilities.
Phil lived in the Theta Upsilon Omega frat house; a three story building just a stone’s throw from the SUNY campus. I know what you might be thinking but the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega were not known for their shenanigans. In fact they were more Revenge Of The Nerds than Animal House.
Maybe if Phil had been in one of the more debauchery oriented frats he might have been too busy partying to think about hanging smut on the walls. Maybe if somebody had reminded him there was a whole internet full of faux lesbians just waiting for him to download he would have kept his sixty dollars. Maybe if he had even the slightest understanding of the female sex he would have understood that his shiny new objet d’art would ruin his chances with any young ladies he might have convinced to come up to his room. So many maybes, any one could have saved him but not a one of them did.
They say the kingdom was lost for want of a nail but in this case Phil’s personal kingdom was lost because he had a nail. It was his lousy hammering of the thing that cracked the plaster of his wall into a fist-sized hole. He barely had time to mutter an “Oh shit!” before he saw the slim cardboard box of videotapes crammed between the inner and outer walls of the room.
I suppose Phil could have taken those video tapes to the college’s media center but instead he decided to stop by Vincenzo’s Pawn and pick up a VCR. Oh yeah, we’ve got plenty of the damn things in stock. Make us an offer.
Phil had been hoping to find something scandalous on those tapes but the first two were nothing but episode after episode of Green Acres.
The opening moments of the third video revealed chickens, a whole room full of chickens. The video camera was at floor level giving Phil a coop’s eye view of the proceedings. It speaks to Phil’s investigative spirit, or his boredom, that he fast forwarded through almost twenty minutes of poultry footage. The chickens milled about, the chickens alternately examined and ignored the camera, the chickens crapped everywhere. At the twenty-four minute mark the chickens began to panic. Phil set the VCR from fast forward to play.
A boot came crashing down in the midst of the birds, killing one of them instantly. The animals went wild, the screen became a storm of feathers and panic. Phil watched the pair of boots come down again and again, crushing the life out of the chickens with cruel determination.
Until that moment all he had seen of the ‘star’ of the video was a pair of workboots, a shape wearing heavy winter clothing and a pair of thick hands that clenched and unclenched spasmodically with every downward stomp.
Once all the chickens were dead the owner of the camera picked it up and glared into the blood and shit streaked lens. Whoever they were, they had chosen to hide their face beneath an ugly burlap mask. The picture then went to static. Phil sat there for a moment, shaken and confused, then he rewound the videotape and told his frat brothers there was something they just had to see.
They brought the tapes and the VCR down to the main room of the house. Phil hooked the VCR to the wide screen TV they all shared and then the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega settled in to enjoy the freak show.
Most of the tapes were more Green Acres, hour after hour of the show; sometimes a tape would be nothing more than the same episode over and over again. But mixed in with those shows was other footage, the person filming this never took off their heavy parka or the gunny sack they wore over their head. Maybe it was sexism but the members of Theta Upsilon Omega unanimously decided that this person must be a man.
Just as unanimously they all started referring to this individual as ‘Gunnyhead’.
The Gunnyhead tapes were sometimes unwatchable because of the quality of the recording and other times because of the subject matter. Most of the tapes were of animal mutilations. Fish were left to drown on land, cats and dogs were clumsily vivisected. All the while these animals suffered and died Gunnyhead worked in silence. That was one of the worst parts, if there had been just a touch of fiendish laughter or a few sentences of schizophrenic rambling the audience could have dismissed all this as an elaborate prank or a student film gone off the rails.
That is not to say that Gunnyhead was completely silent. A few hours of footage was devoted to him sitting in an easy chair, still masked and dressed for winter. The angle of the camera showed he was watching his favorite TV show and speaking the dialogue along with the main characters. His voice was soft and strong, a librarian’s voice.
Then there were the tapes with long sequences of Gunnyhead stalking someone. Always the viewer had the camera-eye view of the event as Gunnyhead would choose an individual, seemingly at random, and shadow them for hours. Each of these sequences would end with an abrupt cut to meat being chopped up on a filthy-looking cutting board. The meat was pale, raw and unidentifiable; it might have been just chicken or pork but there was no frame of reference for the audience to be sure.
All the members of Theta Upsilon Omega were certain the ‘meaty’ scenes had been filmed in the kitchen of their house. But when? The layout of the room was the same but the wallpaper and countertop were at least ten years out of touch with modern aesthetics. It was three AM when they loaded the last tape they would watch into the VCR. That was the tape that would send them running to the police, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually involve yours truly.
The tape began with a close up of a campfire. It wasn’t much of a campfire really, more smoke than flames; probably because it was being fueled by a cluster of twigs, pine needles and a few clumps of organic looking matter. From there the camera swung around to show a hog. It was a huge animal, the kind of pony sized livestock that wins blue ribbons at county fairs. It lay on it’s side, not breathing, not moving at all. The camera drew closer to reveal the hog had been split open from throat to groin, then re-sewn closed again with lengths of metal wire.
Gunnyhead let the camera linger on those ugly stitches then moved his attention to the head of the animal. The mouth was stapled shut, the eyes gouged out.
A muffled sound broke the silence, something white fluttered behind the hog’s empty sockets, fluttered then widened.
Then the poor bastard sewn inside the carcass began to scream.
That was almost five months ago now. The Theta Upsilon Omega frat house has been shut down since winter break and now no one is really sure who owns the place. No one is really sure of anything when it comes to this situation. A real mystery.
That’s why I broke into the building on that frosty February morning. It was cold, too cold for snow but cold enough to keep potential witnesses in their homes. I had everything I thought I might need- a crowbar, a flashlight, my smartphone and some pepper spray. The back door was where I decided to try make my entrance.
Phil Mantillio and his frat brothers had wasted no time in packing up those tapes and bringing them straight to the local police station. They were pretty damn spooked and they didn’t feel much better when a Detective Bradshaw played the tapes back and found… Nothing.
Nothing but Green Acres episodes from beginning to end of them all. From what I’ve heard Detective Bradshaw doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he isn’t too keen on the rest of humanity as well. He went ballistic on the boys of Theta Upsilon Omega, accusing them of trying to play a Halloween prank.
It took me very little effort to break the lock and get into the house. Once I was in there I closed the door and jammed it shut with the crowbar. I flicked on the flashlight and swept it across the room. Then I took some pictures;
Click: The empty counter and sink. There is a thin layer of dust over everything.
Phil Mantillio disappeared three days later that visit to the police station.
Click: The cabinet doors hanging open, one still has cans of soup stacked in it.
A week after that one of his frat brothers went missing as well.
Click: The parlor is just as empty as the kitchen. Brown butcher paper has been taped over the windows.
After the third vanishing in four weeks all the remaining members of the SUNY chapter of Theta Upsilon Omega quit college and fled to the safety of their parent’s homes; all except for the one guy that joined the army and decided to take his chances in Afghanistan. That was Private Rodney Shinn, and he was the one that told me about all this. He was something of a fan.
Click: There is a single footprint near the front door, the brown imprint of a work boot.
A week later after talking to me Private Rodney Shinn disappeared while on a daylight patrol. The other members of his squad said he had been on point. He went ahead of them around corner and then he was gone.
The last room on the first floor was cramped and windowless. I wondered if they’d used it as a bedroom, or an office or a maybe even a makeshift hydroponics lab. It’s gotta be 4:20 someplace right?
Click: The room is empty, the walls bare and thick with shadows. There is a tripod in the middle of the room, a digital camcorder sits atop it.
I pocketed my smart phone and approached the camcorder. The feeling of being watched didn’t kick in until I crossed from the hallway into that miserable little room. The urge to run became sickening as I passed around to look into the camera’s viewscreen. It was on, it showed an open doorway and walls that obscenities and nonsense verses had been carved into. There was a human figure slumped at the edge of the screen. There was no audio, and it was too dark to make out what the human shape looked like but I was sure it was either shuddering or sobbing.
There was no doubt in my mind this was more of Gunnyhead’s work. I paused to consider that video technology had become so ubiquitous that even the drooling psychopaths of the world were using it.
Speaking of drooling psychopaths the star of the show wandered into frame. A stooped figure wearing a dirty parka and a burlap hood. He peered in the doorway and stared right into the camera. The slumped figure went mad at his presence, squirming and throwing itself back and forth against the wall. Whoever they were they must have been secured expertly to that part of the room. I wondered how, then I thought of the description of the ‘luau video’ and of Gunnyhead’s expert use of wire and staples.
In the time it took me to consider these things Gunnyhead had stepped back out of the doorway, leaving nothing more on screen than the miserable figure in the corner and the defaced walls. I switched off the camcorder and unfastened it from the tripod. I wondered why I was bothering, the tapes had been useless as evidence so why would this thing be any different?
Still though, I had to try, even though if all I got for my troubles was a Green Acres marathon or worse yet the Beverly Hillbillies reunion special.
A floorboard creaked somewhere upstairs. The sound was so loud and sudden that I caught my breath and clutched the camcorder close to my chest.
There was another creak, then another. It was footsteps, slow and deliberate. I decided it was time to retreat.
Unfortunately I retreated right into the damn tripod. It hit the bare floor with a dull thud.
The footsteps stopped. I remember thinking to myself, Gee it sure would be nice to have that crowbar right now.
Heart racing I made my way back to the main hallway of the house, then paused at the bottom of the stairway. It was too dark to see more than halfway up the steps. Someone could have been standing at the top of the landing and I would never know.
A loud scraping noise made me jump. It made me think of spring cleaning and chests of drawers being shifted to find lost keys or pens.
More footsteps, then another thick wooden scraping sound. A moment of silence hung in the air before I heard the keen and crash of something heavy being pushed over.
A voice roared from upstairs, the sound of a madman’s rage. Something else crashed to the floor. Glass shattered. A jabbering howl reverberated through the house.
Then something small and metallic hit the landing. It bounced once and plunked down at my feet. I recognized them for what they were, I picked up the dog tags up and examined them.
They belonged to Rodney Shin.
I nearly knocked myself out trying to get out the back door. It took me the longest five seconds of my life to remember that I had jammed it shut. I whipped out the crowbar throwing it carelessly behind me. Then I was running out of the house, leaving the door hanging open behind me. I ran until my legs ached and my vision started getting gray at the edges.
No doubt about it. Things could have gone better.
I never did find out who lived in that house before the Theta Upsilon Omega boys moved in. There was talk of lawsuits and squatters but nothing concrete. Did anyone ever see a man matching Gunnyhead’s description wandering around sometime in the last couple of decades? Nobody came forward to say so.
It should also be noted for the record that I have no idea who burned that house down a few nights ago. My cousin Roy can account for my whereabouts all week. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Item: There is a lot of talk on the Internet about something called a ‘tulpa’. The legends say that the Tulpa is an imaginary being willed into existence. Think of a dream, or a nightmare, given form, think of imaginary friends brought to life, think of Calvin and Hobbes and Fight Club.
Is it a load of bullshit?
But who hid those tapes in the walls? And how did all that Gunnyhead footage disappear between the fraternity house and the police station? Had it ever been there at all?
Item: No trace has ever been found of the missing members of Theta Upsilon Omega. There are six of them left and they aren’t granting interviews to the likes of me. From what I was able to find out many of these once promising honor students have all become shut-ins and a few of them are hospitalized and receiving the best psychiatric care their parents insurance can buy.
Item: When I got back to the relative safety of the apartment I tried to play back the footage from the camcorder. Except, there was no memory card and this particular model of video camera doesn’t have any kind of internal memory.
Meaning that what I saw playing out on the little screen in that house was a live feed.