Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Open Letter to Joe Schreiber

I'm in White's Cove now. Don't need a motel anymore. I am with my son.

I have seen enough here to know that Joe Schreiber is a liar.

My sister posted a comment on this site last week asking for my email address, but she deleted it. I don't know why. I tried to call Ballantine again but the receptionist won't connect me with anyone there. They won't tell me anything more about Joe Schreiber or his book.

Mr. Schreiber: I know exactly where you will be on Friday, October 27th. It's not far from here. Not far at all.

I will be there.

I will bring my boy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

White's Cove

Sunday was my birthday. I turned thirty-seven.

Here is one way to celebrate your birthday:

Wake up in a thirty-eight-dollar motel room with nothing but a laptop and a paper bag full of clothes. Lay in not-clean sheets for about an hour staring at the ceiling, wondering what your wife and one surviving child are doing back in Pennsylvania. Wonder how much they must actively loathe you for your act of almost inconceivable moral cowardice. Almost call them (even dig your Sam’s Club prepaid calling card out of your wallet) and instead weep for a while—you don’t want to, but it turns out that’s one of those things you don’t have much control over—and when you finish fucking around withthat, go back to looking at those ceiling cracks.

They look like a map.

Over the last few days since coming back up here, I’ve been reading Joe Schreiber’s novel Chasing the Dead, picking it up and putting it down in short bursts. It’s not challenging reading, the chapters are short, the prose unpresuming—and the end result almost unendurable. Schreiber, whatever else he may be, has obviously been here, and the towns he writes about, their history, and the history of Isaac Hamilton and the Engineer, are not fabrications; they are simply matters of record.

Yesterday I broke down and placed an anonymous call to Ballantine Books—an imprint of Random House—and after fifteen minutes of winding my way through receptionists and automated menus I was connected to someone named Keith Clayton, an editor…Joe Schreiber’s editor, as it turns out. Clayton was reluctant to tell me much more about his author than what appears on the back flap of the book; he became even more circumspect when I refused to give him my name. He did inform me that the original manuscript submitted to him by Schreiber’s agent was presented as fiction, and there were never any issues of factual confirmation. Yes, there are seven towns in Massachusetts by the names Gray Haven, Stoneview, etc. and the basic events were based in fact, but Clayton assured me the resemblance ended there. Then, courteously but without further preamble, he said goodbye.

I am here in Balmville, Massachusetts, just outside White’s Cove—a historic recreation of an “authentic” 1800s New England Colony seaport. There is very little here this time of year, the tourists have gone home, and the motel where I’m staying is virtually empty. The air is cold and smells like rain. It’s basically exactly the way Schreiber describes it. I’ve been here since Sunday.

Here is one way to finish your thirty-seventh birthday: drink until you’re sick. Walk aimlessly through a strange, empty town for several hours, trying to keep from ripping your eyeballs from their sockets. Stop from time to time and stare down at the ground. Examine the narrow, empty streets. See the oil lamps and mansard roofs. Remind yourself that in the Year of Our Lord 2006 with geniuses like George W. Bush and Karl Rove steering our nation, our children are so much safer than they were back in the 1800s. Dwell on this for some indeterminate length of time. Continue well past nightfall. Move on.

Stop when you find you’ve reached the end of the street. Look down at the alleyway to your right, where the last of the oil-light dies in a thick bed of shadow. You’re drunk, lost, miserable.

There’s nothing here but you.

Come back to your motel room and lock the door. Listen to the sound the rain makes on the glass.

Stare at those cracks, the ones in the ceiling.

They look like a map.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I’m not sure what this means.

The posts since Friday, anonymous and otherwise, have been all over the map. People come at you with all kinds of things at times like this—I have no idea how to respond. I haven’t even looked at the computer since the weekend. But of everything that’s come of the last few days, the strangest didn’t come from email at all.

This arrived in my mailbox today.

I read the first dozen pages. Whoever this person is, the one who wrote it or the one who sent it to me—they know far more about these towns than I do. Supposedly it’s a work of fiction. I don't know what to believe. But I know this.

I read the end.

In the end, the children come back.

In the end, the children come back.

In the end, the children come back.

PhilipC? Are you out there?

Is your real name Joe Schreiber?

Friday, September 22, 2006


It’s 3 AM. I’m sitting in my living room tonight, back in Pennsylvania, watching these words come across the screen. I’ve been staring at that blinking cursor for an hour now, barely moving. You shouldn’t be able to do anything at a time like this and I can’t, I can’t do anything but sit here and watch the words come. I can hear my hands on the keyboard and see the words but I don’t feel it. I keep turning on the TV and turning it off and getting up to get myself a glass of water. I’ve had six glasses of water in the last two hours, I think.

Four days ago, Tuesday night, C.’s sister called me at my motel up in Stoneview and told me I had to come back home. She was crying. I remember thinking she must have had a cold. She said it’s Logan. She said something happened to him. I couldn’t understand the details. I said is he hurt. What happened? She said it’s worse than that. I didn’t understand. I think I said let me talk to my wife. They wouldn’t let me talk to her. She was sedated.

They don’t know how it happened. They saw the plastic dry-cleaning bag on the floor but they don’t know why he ever would’ve put it over his head.

He was two years old.

He’d never done anything like that before in his whole life.

Upstairs now I can hear C. crying. You know how you can tell it’s 3 AM because it doesn’t feel like any time at all. Samuel is asleep in his brother’s bed. He’s holding onto his brother’s stuffed Elmo, the one with the stiff fur from the oatmeal Logan spilled on it. He’s wearing Logan’s pjs even though they’re too small on him. He says that’s all he’s going to where from now on. I just stopped to listen but I can’t tell if he’s sleeping or not, he keeps jerking around and every so often he makes a low noise like a scream but somehow quiet. Maybe he’s making it into his pillow. When I go up there he won’t look at me.

Maybe I’ll go up in a while and talk to C. I hear her in the bathroom now, the tap turning on, water moving. We’re one thirsty family, all right.

He was two years old. He liked trucks. He never had a haircut. The first word he ever said was “pretzel.” We were at the Baltimore Zoo and Samuel and C. and I all got pretzels and we were standing outside the hippo tank. I was holding Logan and he was asleep when the hippo came up out of the water and Logan woke up and started crying. At first we thought it scared him but afterward he started pointing at us and saying pretzel. He just wanted a pretzel.

It’s 3 AM. I should go lie down.

I have to get up early in the morning to bury my little boy.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I’m in Stoneview. I have been here one week.

Something is very wrong here.

PhilipC, the list you posted last week—I have to know how you procured it. Whoever you are, how you came to find out the names of the children that were killed back in 1983, I have no idea. Detective Yates back in Ashford isn’t returning my phone calls, Jay and Amy have been out of touch for almost a month now, and I’m starting to get the distinct sense I’m not welcome up here anymore.

There’s one thing Yates told me that I haven’t mentioned here until now. Those thirteen children that the Engineer murdered in these town twenty-three years ago—the ones he shot the eyes out of, leaving empty holes in the skulls—not one of them stayed in their graves for more than a week.

Someone dug them up.

I have been to visit two of the graves where these children were laid to rest. In one case, the stone was left in place, though the child’s body was never recovered. None of them were. The remains disappeared, every one of them. The people here know about these things, and here in Stoneview they look at me in the street. They know who I am. None of them will talk to me.

Last night at my motel room, late, someone tapped on my window. When I went to the door, they were gone. There was a single sheet of paper taped to the door. It was completely blank.

I have heard through different channels, none of them direct, that there may be someone else in these same towns, another writer working on a book, a fictional account of these same occurrences.

Outside my window, it’s pouring down rain. Six o’clock at night and almost completely dark. Is it supposed to get dark this early in this part of the world?

I miss my wife and the boys, but I know I have to keep going to the end of the route and find out what’s there. I’m leaving tomorrow.

Right now I am in Stoneview.

I have been here one week.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Leaving Ashford

Well bless my soul. Somebody really is listening…

I started to reply to the comment on my last post and before I knew it I’d written half a page. Oh well, time for a new post anyway.

PhilipC, who are YOU? I mean, my stats are right here alongside the right of the page, but from your tone it sounds like you’re the kind of person that doesn’t take people at their word. Your questions about the detective I talked to and how much time I spent in Gray Haven make it sound like you know far more about this whole thing than I do, so what do you say you illuminate me, okay?

Oh, and by the way, I checked out your blog. Very funny. Looks like you created it just so you could respond to mine. Believe me, anything you know about what happened in these towns during the summer of 1983, I’d be more than happy to hear it. That is, if you’re not just some bored kid with a laptop in his parents’ basement. I’m not accusing you of anything, but somebody put that picture on this blog back in July and I got into a fair amount of trouble for it. Anyway, whatever the case, you obviously have some interest in the Engineer/Isaac Hamilton connection, so spill it.

This is an open forum and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve already stated I’m writing a book—I’ll acknowledge any contribution you make to my research on the topic. Obviously I’m not posting everything I find in these towns, for example my decision to hold back the name of the detective here in Ashford that’s helped me is based on his request to respect his privacy. He’s still in active duty. He’s got a right to a personal life too. But I have been here for a while now, I have been talking to people in historical societies, hanging out with folks like Jay and Amy, and I think I can say with some confidence that the information I do pass on is pretty damn accurate. If it doesn’t match up to your info, hey, let me know, I’ll glad make any corrections necessary. This is an organic medium. It’s a long road to publication.

So, yeah, I’m still in Ashford.

I got a call from C. last night—she and the kids are back in Pennsylvania. She called before they left Nantucket. The boys’ preschool starts Tuesday and the following week…well, I’m supposed to be back teaching myself. Except I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not now, anyway.

It’s a long story, and it doesn’t condense itself well at all, but basically, I’ve just found out some things here in Ashford that totally changed my take on Isaac Hamilton. We’re talking a full 180. I don’t just mean how it may be related to the Engineer murders in ’83 (my detective friend doesn’t think there even is a connection between Hamilton and the Engineer) although that is part of it.

Something unspeakable happened in these seven towns. It happened back in 1802, it happened again in 1983. The people here know about it, whether they talk about it or not. You can see it on their faces. Some of these people were parents. They lost thirteen children twenty-three years ago, and something else happened afterward, which I’m not allowed to mention on this blog. Suffice it to say, it’s awful enough that it was kept out of the news as much as possible back then, and has practically been deleted from local history since then. It’s the kind of thing they make horror movies out of.

I’ve gotten an education here in Ashford, but it’s time to move on. Tomorrow I’m heading east. I bought maps, and I’m tracing my way through the rest of the towns. My editor at U of C isn’t going to allow me to keep silent about everything I find when I get to the end of this route. To the detective who swore me to secrecy, I’m sorry, but what you told me about the children…I won’t be able to keep that to myself.

Not about what happened to the children.

PhilipC? Are you listening?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What the Detective Said

Message from C. two days ago, coming through hotmail. She and the boys took the ferry to Nantucket at the end of last week. They’re staying with a friend she used to nanny for ten years earlier, an extremely nice woman who now probably rightly thinks that I’m a total monster.

The syntax of C’s message was brief, without salutation, and absolutely void of any emotion, a simple factual report of where they were staying and who with. Of course I emailed back to apologize—I don’t think either one of us is ready to talk on the phone. Plus I have no idea what I’d say, how I’d even begin. Just thinking about it makes my mouth feel like a kitchen sponge. Nothing like what happened last week has ever happened to me before. It’s taken me this long just to write these words, and it’s all I can do not to delete them again.

Meanwhile, I’m here in Ashford.

My editor at U of C actually sprang for a rental car when I told her what I’ve uncovered…more on that below…

Unlike some of the other towns along the route, Ashford is actually a town. They’ve got local businesses, a civic center and a police station. I went in there yesterday and ended up in conversation with a local detective, a man who’s lived here most of his adult life. He’s asked me not to use his name here, so I won’t. It’s the very least I can do considering what he’s told me since then.

I asked him about Isaac Hamilton, and he asked me why I wanted to know. I explained about the book I was writing -- or trying to write. I showed him some of the pictures I’d found of Hamilton and his supposed victims, and the house Jay and Amy checked out with me. After what felt like a very long time, the detective asked if I’ve ever heard of someone called The Engineer.

Apparently, one summer back in the early 1980s, children began disappearing around here again—throughout these same seven towns. It began June 12, 1983, the detective said, in White’s Cove, and ended with the disappearance of the last child on August 22nd, in Gray Haven. All the victims were twelve years old and younger. When the story went national, the press started calling the perpetrator The Engineer, based on an eyewitness description of a man in bib overalls, a handkerchief and an Engineer’s cap.

It was only a matter of time until the nature of the man’s crimes, and his choice of killing grounds, lead to an inevitable comparison to the ur-boogeyman himself, Isaac Hamilton. Copycat killings with that kind of historical pedigree are like ripping off Jack the Ripper, or H.H. Holmes, who murdered an untold number of young women at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Except the Engineer was never caught.

The conversation with my detective ended somewhat abruptly—he had to go back to work, he said—but he told me he’d try to find time to continue our conversation. Meanwhile, I’ve been pounding the crap out of my search engine digging up everything I could about the Engineer killings of 1983. When I got on the phone with my U of C editor, she made a noise like a kettle about ready to blow. This was, apparently, exactly the sort of “modern-day” corollary to the Hamilton murders that might put the project back on track, even in the mainstream press. That seems a little overly optimistic to me, but she felt strongly enough about it to rent me a car and extend my expense account to check it out in greater detail.

Something about the detective makes me feel like there’s more to it. I’m sure it’s a dark piece of fairly recent history that nobody’s proud of, but with this detective, it feels…I don’t know, personal somehow. He claims he worked on the case, and even that doesn’t seem like quite sufficient an explanation.

I’ll post again when I get more info on the Engineer. Love to find the connection between him and you-know-who.