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The Jack-In-The-Box

October 31, 2015

SESSION 1

(June 6th , 2014)

I sat in my office chair with my hands folded in my lap. The man in front of me, though reclined, was far from relaxed. After exchanging pleasantries and names (his was Henry Preacher) he had reclined on my couch and stared at the ceiling. I was about to ask him about the Jack-in-the-box he had brought in with him, but he beat me to the punch.

“I know what you are going to ask doc and I will tell you everything. I just need a few minutes to figure out where and how to begin.” He was wringing his hands as he spoke.

“I understand.” It was my standard response. Suddenly he bolted upright and looked at me. There was a frenzy in his eyes which actually unnerved me.

“No. No you don’t. But you will. The first thing you have to know is that I am not crazy. I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness and there is nothing in the family history that would indicate it runs through the family tree. Do you understand that?” I could see that my answer would dictate his response.

“I do.” I smiled a little hoping it would ease the tension that had suddenly built up seemingly out of nowhere. The muscles in his face relaxed a bit and the frenzy that swirled in his eyes disappeared.

“I’m a rational man Doc. I don’t believe in ghosts, aliens, or any of those Bigfoot things.” He stammered for a moment and then continued. “At least I didn’t..” his words trailed off as he laid back down and stared at the ceiling. In order to get things moving I decided to give him a bit of a push.

“Henry, why don’t you tell me about the Jack-in-the-box you brought with you.” He sat up and suddenly looked a lot older than he did when he walked in.

“The box was given to my youngest son a few months ago for his 4th birthday. My sister in law is a garage sale fanatic and she found it at an old place up in Northern Michigan. At first my son refused to part with it. He carried it with him everywhere he went. Gradually though, he started to lose interest in it. My wife and I figured it was just the natural life cycle of a child’s toy. Later on…” Another pause. “One night, about three weeks after he received it, he came into our room at night crying. He said he had had a nightmare about the jack in the box. I didn’t give it a seconds thought back then. Another week went by and I was forced to take a road trip to Chicago for work. I was only going to be gone for three days so it wasn’t really a big deal. When I left the morning of though, Jake, my youngest, was clingier than usual. Again, I didn’t think much of it. That night I got a call from my wife. Jake had been hysterical since the sun had gone down. He kept complaining that the clown in the jack in the box was going to get him and that he couldn’t go to sleep. I reassured him that it was just a nightmare and that if he didn’t start listening to his mother, he’d be in real trouble with me when I got home. The rest of the trip went by without incident and I looked forward to being back with my family. When I got home though..”

I could see the moisture build in the corner of his eyes. I reached out to grab the box of tissue on my desk but he held his hand out to stop me.

“When I got home, my wife looked like she hadn’t slept for 72 hours. My oldest son Ryan, who was 7, even looked worn out. As for Jake, he was pale. He had dark circles around his eyes and he barely spoke. That night, when it was time for bed, Jake started his routine about the clown again. I tried timeouts, grounding, and threats of toy loss but he continued to throw his fit. Finally I had enough and I smacked my son…” He trailed off as the tears fell. This time he didn’t refuse the tissue.

A few minutes later he started up again. “A loud crashing sound shot me out of bed sometime in the real early hours the next morning. I grabbed the .38 I keep in my bedside table and went out to investigate. I held my breath as I deftly moved down the hallway of the second floor. I was straining to hear anything at all, any indication that someone was in the house. Finally after what seemed like an eternity I thought I heard quiet laughter coming from the staircase. I eased my way past Jake’s room and down the hall to the stairs. I listened again. Silence. The laughter I thought I heard must have been my mind playing tricks on me. I turned on the light at the top of the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs laid a motionless Jake. The little blue and red Jack-In-The Box was lying next to him. The little clown that hid inside it had popped up and was grinning at nothing in particular. I fell to my knees, nearly going down the stairs myself. I vaguely remember my wife screaming, but the rest of that night was a blur. The next few days my only focus was making sure Laura (my wife) and Ryan were okay. I was worried that Ryan wouldn’t understand what had happened and would have a plethora of questions. Turns out Ryan had a much better grip on the situation than I did. That’s the thing with kids Doc, I think sometimes they understand certain things better than most adults ever will. I also noticed that his jaw would tighten just a little every time the word accident was used to describe his brothers death.”

I glanced at my watch and saw that our time was up. “Mister Preacher, I’m sorry to have to do this, but our time is up for today. You can make a follow up appointment with Jenny at the front on your way out if you’d like.” He nodded.

“Yes I think I’ll do that Doc. I realize this is a crapshoot, but is there any chance I can leave this…thing here with you?” He was pointing at the Jack-In-the Box which was in its closed position.

“I’m sorry Henry but you have to take it with you.”

He nodded slowly in understanding. As he reached out to grab it, the box suddenly flung open and a little white clown popped out to the sounds of quiet laughter.

SESSION 2.

(June 12th, 2014)

Henry walked in my office promptly at 2:00 p.m. for our follow up appointment. He looked haggard. His hair was unkempt, there were dark circles around his eyes, and his handshake was limp. I was about to make mention of this, but he immediately started in where we left off the week before.

“A few days after we buried Jake, we started having issues with Ryan. He became moody and withdrawn and he begged to sleep with the light on at night. Laura and I figured it was just the grieving process he was going through. Looking back, I should have paid more attention to him but I was trying to keep myself going. My heart was so heavy you have to understand that. I had never felt the pain of loss that deeply until I found Jake at the bottom of those stairs. I have no idea what compelled him to get out of bed that night. I understand that dwelling on it only made it worse, but it was constantly there. Every time I walked through the door and saw the stairs to my left, it would hit me. My chest would get heavy and I’d feel like passing out. Laura wasn’t doing much better which unfortunately left Ryan to deal with a bit more than he should have. I want to say that we were good parents but…” He trailed off again and turned to look at the Jack-in-the -box that he had once again set down on the table by the couch. “A few nights later, Ryan started to complain about Jake’s jack in the box. He said that he was scared of it. I, of course, discounted that and told him to stop being foolish. I moved the jack in the box into our room just to reassure him and that was the end of the discussion. That night though, Ryan came running into our room in tears. He claimed that the jack in the box was hiding under his bed and laughing at him. Of course, when I turned our bedroom light on, the jack in the box was right there on our bookshelf where I left it. I told him that we were all grieving and that it was okay to miss his brother. I calmed him down and sent him back to bed. The next morning he came downstairs with scratches down the left side of his face. He refused to answer when I asked him where they came from. Later that afternoon, Laura got a call from the school counselor. They were concerned about the scratches and about Ryan’s change in personality. Laura explained that his brother had recently passed and that we were all going through the grieving period. The counselor reluctantly left it at that. That night, Laura let Ryan sleep in our bed. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was a fight I was going to lose so I gave in. As much as I hated to admit it, it seemed to help a bit. The next few days Ryan was almost like his old self. Then the screaming started. He had been sleeping in his own bed by himself for two nights without incident. On the third, Laura and I were jolted out of bed by blood curdling screaming. It wasn’t one scream, or a few screams, it was one long continuous wail. We ran into his room and found him kneeling on his bed. His eyes were strained and the veins in his forehead were sticking out. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in my life.” As if to put an exclamation point on that, he rolled up his shirt sleeve where there were obvious goosebumps popping up. “We tried to calm him down but it didn’t go well. We got him to stop screaming but it was obvious that the kid was terrified. I left him with Laura and went to get some water for the three of us. I didn’t even think twice when I nearly tripped over the jack in the box that was lying in the middle of the hall.” Henry sat up and rubbed his eyes. They had become bloodshot. He looked me straight in the eyes as if daring me to discount the story thus far. I returned a steady gaze. He sniffed once then started up again. “I know what you’re thinking Doc. Trust me, I know how this whole thing sounds. I’ve replayed it over and over in my head every day trying to make sense of it. To be blunt, I don’t really care if you believe me or not. The belief will come in time, but time isn’t exactly something I have a lot of. At any rate, the next morning Laura and I decided to let Ryan stay home from school so he could get some rest. I went to work as usual, and Laura was going to stay home and take care of the wash. Early that afternoon I got a panicked phone call from Laura. She had been down in the basement doing wash when she heard a loud, long crash from upstairs. She rushed up the basement stairs to find Ryan lying at the bottom of the main stairs motionless. The jack in the box was lying next to him. The pale white plastic face of the clown was once again flashing its empty grin. This time around though, certain questions were being asked. Uncomfortable, and extremely unfair questions. Instead of having family crowding the inside of our home, it was police and detectives. Questions were raised about the scratches on Ryan’s face as well as the obvious fact that he died the same way his brother did. Allegations began to surface. We were under suspicion of murdering our children. The investigation lasted about a week. At the end they had nothing to charge us on. The investigation was dropped with nary an apology and we were left to our own devices. Of course our families were happy the investigation was dropped, but we noticed that some of the people we had counted as friends no longer came around. For them suspicion was guilt enough.” Henry became quiet and an almost awkward silence filled my office.

“What do you think happened Henry?” I sat up a bit to stretch the lower part of my back expecting to settle in for the rest of the session. To my surprise, Henry cracked an emotionless smile and stood up.

“We have 15 minutes left doc. The rest is going to take longer than 15 minutes. We will finish this next week.” With that he almost absent mindedly grabbed the jack in the box and walked out of my office. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of finality in his last statement.

SESSION 3

(June 19th, 2014)

Henry walked into my office the following week for our third session and I nearly fell over. It was like a new man had replaced the disheveled mess I’d seen the last two weeks. His hair was neat and combed, the circles under his eyes were still present but nowhere near as dark, and when he smiled, there was actually something behind it.

“You look great Henry!” I exclaimed as I extended my hand towards him. He shook it briefly but it was long enough to notice that the dead grip was gone as well.

“The story is almost finished Doc, I feel so much better now. I want to thank you for agreeing to see me and not judging me.”

“No thanks needed Henry, that’s what I’m here for.” I settled in my chair and waited for him to begin.

“After Ryan’s funeral, things between Laura and I went downhill quickly. We were both so overwhelmed with sadness that we really just kept to ourselves. Dinners were spent in silence, neither one of us really aware of the others presence. After dinner we would spend our time in different rooms. I’d be in one room reading, her in another playing solitaire on her laptop. Usually she would go to bed around ten or so. I would follow a few hours later when I knew she’d be asleep. In the morning I would get up and get off to work before she’d wake up. It was like everything had died with Ryan. A week later she asked me if I’d get rid of the jack in the box. It reminded her of the boys and she wanted it gone. In all honesty, I had completely forgotten about it. The next morning I took it with me when I went to work. I stopped by a dumpster on the way in and was about to toss it in when an overwhelming since of anger hit me. I took the crowbar out of the trunk of my car and I beat the living piss out of that jack in the box. There was literally nearly nothing left of it by the time I got done. I slumped down by the back tire of my car and cried my eyes out. A bit of a silly image I’d imagine. A grown man sitting on the ground surrounded by busted pieces of a childs toy and crying his eyes out. At any rate, when I was done feeling sorry for myself, I picked up the pieces, threw them in the dumpster, and went to work. That day I was more productive than I had been in months. I even put in a little overtime. On the way home I stopped and picked up some flowers and Chinese food to surprise Laura. I figured this was as good a time as any to start healing. When I got home, the only lights on were the bedroom lights. I walked in the house and placed the flowers and the food on the kitchen table and made my way upstairs. I opened the bedroom door to tell Laura that dinner was already taken care of. When I looked inside the room I recoiled in horror. Laura had a rope around her neck that was attached to the ceiling fan. She was just dangling there her body was bloated and she had started turning blue. I looked down and saw the jack in the box sitting on the bed. The white pale clown face was grinning at me. That’s when I heard the sound of quiet laughter.” At this point,  Henry sat up and started running his hands through his hair.

“Tissue?” I asked. He shook his head no and started up again.

“I don’t know how long I screamed Doc. It could have been hours, it could have been minutes. All I know is that goddamn jack in the box grinned at me the entire time. The official cause of death was ruled a suicide. No one would ever question that after the trauma we had been through. The thing is Doc, I knew better. Laura didn’t kill herself, that damn jack in the box killed her. I know how that sounds Doc but as the Lord is my witness, that thing is pure evil and it killed my family. I’ve tried to get rid of this thing a thousand times. I burned it in the backyard once, ran it over with the car and dropped it in the city dump another, I even drove 500 miles out to the deep woods and buried it in the middle of fucking nowhere only to have it waiting for me when I got back home. Of course, no one believes me and I don’t blame them. I understand how insane this sounds, hell I lived it and I still don’t really believe it. That’s why I came to you. I just needed to be able to tell someone and now I have. I realize we have more time in this session Doc but if it’s okay with you I’d like to just go home now.”

I had nothing to respond with. A million things went through my head but none of them seemed appropriate so I went back to my standard response. “Absolutely. Take care of yourself Henry and I will see you next week.”

“Yeah, sure Doc, thanks for everything.” With that, Henry gathered up the jack in the box and walked out.

SESSION 4

(June 26th, 2014)

I was waiting for Henry to arrive for our fourth session when there was a knock on my door. Thinking it was Henry, I threw out a casual “Its open” and rose to greet him. However, instead of Henry, in walked a FedEx delivery guy. He was carrying a small box with him.

“Are you Doc Lewis?” He asked

“I am.”

He handed me the package and requested my signature. After acquiring said signature, the man walked out of my office leaving me with the package. There was no return address on it. I set it down on my desk and set about the task of opening it. To say I was surprised to find Henry’s jack in the box sitting inside would be an incredible understatement. I set the box on my desk and ruffled around inside trying to find a letter or some sort of note explaining the box. Suddenly the jack in the box popped open. Taped to the grinning clown was a death notice for Henry Winston Preacher. Cause of death was suicide by hanging. I sat in my chair for a brief moment trying to digest it. I threw the jack in the box in my trashcan with disgust and got up to leave my office. I don’t know if Henry was full of shit or if he was being straight as an arrow with me the last three weeks. All I can tell you is this, I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but as I walked out of my office I swear I heard the sound of quiet laughter coming from the trashcan by my desk.

-CJ Williamson

© 2014 Library of Congress

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