A Scary Story

Oliver Pearson, Year 3 Teacher: When he jumped out the window, I had no idea, and still don’t, really, what those last words were meant to mean. But they echo in my mind on sleepless nights: “Now I don’t have to pretend.”

Jerome Lavinski was a colleague of mine. A fellow teacher at this upbraided private school, known for its aspirational and very posh, spoiled students. Inside, however, there was an inner…rot, that couldn’t be denied, and to the chagrin of upper management, overcome. The teachers, quite simply, were not happy. But Jerome had a strange optimism about himself that others couldn’t deny. Some may have resented it, to be true, but most seemed to appreciate his somewhat jaded enthusiasm and often truly funny sense of humor. When I first met him in the small, pathetic staff lunch room, he ate very little very quickly and our only exchange was thus: “Everything OK, dude?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m alright,” I think I replied. “Cool, let me know if you need anything. I’m gonna go throw up.” And he took his tray and was gone.

As the weeks of my first term passed, I couldn’t help but notice how involved, yet, distant he was from the whole place. He directed our assemblies and PSHE classes, but there was just something strange about any direct conversation. He was always someplace else. Some secret world, it seemed. And, yes, I’ve been thinking about him and these words since it all happened, and sincerely, Jerome was just a completely normal guy, doing his work as best as anyone, and maybe sometimes better, sometimes worse, but overall….I mean, it’s just so hard to believe.

Javier Caso, Neighbor: I’m not sure where to begin. I met Jerome around the community pool. He was always drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, and reading. Sometimes he had his computer with him. I really didn’t speak with him until one weekend my niece was here visiting, and she’s three and just a funny, friendly child, and she started talking to him when he was in the pool, and they were playing together and splashing and laughing. He had her laughing so much, that’s when I started to think, Who is this guy? And that was the day we met, because of my niece. But even then, I didn’t really know him. A couple of people here have since told me that he wasn’t really social or not even very friendly at all. I just figured he was the kind of guy who kept to himself. But now that this has all happened, people are talking about all the shouting they heard from their place, and…oh right, I forgot about the guitar playing. I definitely heard that because he would play down in the garage, and it just echoed around the whole place…loud and bad, but mostly loud. He didn’t do it very often, but when he did…you couldn’t wait for it to stop, but no one really ever complained about that. Anyway, that’s more or less how I met him and knew him.

But then…it was the Friday before Halloween, and I was parking my car in the garage and saw him working on that coffin. He had also made a big, weird looking tree. He had made them out of cardboard and tape, maybe some paper, and when I saw him he was painting the coffin with black spray paint. When I got out of the car I walked over and saw that, actually, they were pretty good decorations, I mean, I’m not into Halloween at all, but he had obviously made these things, and they were pretty good. So I said, “Is that yours?” And he just slowly turned around to look at me with a funny smile on his face. I realize now what a stupid question it was, but I was just trying to make conversation, be nice, right? So then I said, pointing to the coffin he was painting, “That’s pretty good, it looks real.” And then he said something like, “Well, thanks, yes, it’s mine. I made it. But it’s not mine, as in, I’m not planning to be buried in it. Though I suppose you could get buried in it. I hadn’t planned on that, though, it’s just a decoration for Halloween.” Then, for some reason, I don’t know, really, just making conversation, I said, “I think they actually use cardboard coffins sometimes. I think I read that somewhere…for some reason.” And he said, “Yeah, I think you’re right…like in Vietnam or something…or some disaster like that. Fucked up, huh?” And I agreed. And said, “Halloween should be fun!” or something along those lines and that was more or less the conversation. It was weird, but I had started it. I didn’t think anything of it until, well, until…

Halloween was on Sunday, and our neighborhood was really full of kids trick or treating. Alot of people decorate their houses and put out pumpkins and things like that. Halloween used to be really big in our neighborhood, but with Covid the past couple years, it dropped off. So, this year, with the restrictions being lifted, everyone was out walking around with their kids, including me with my niece. It was maybe the biggest Halloween I remember. Lots and lots of houses were decorated and I bet there were 200 kids walking around. But it was the Lavinski house that was the center of the whole party. The music, the terrace and those decorations. It was really something, and the terrace was full of people; kids eating candy and things, parents drinking this warm, and really potent wine that he had made. It was a real party. My niece had a great time.

I’m starting to get a little shaky now, thinking about it. The next day, Monday, was All Saints day, so no work or school, and I first saw him cleaning up the terrace, and bringing the big tree and the coffin he had made back down to the garage. Later, I heard him playing the guitar and later still he was shouting or singing, chanting, like, and then what sounded like a whole box of bottles and glass being thrown around. This went on for awhile and I almost thought about going over there to see if everything was ok, but around 10 at night, it quieted down. But right at midnight, there was this crazy screaming and guitar playing from down in the garage. I can’t tell you how awful it was. I was calling the police when I heard the door to the garage opening and slamming shut over and over. I started to really get scared, and think that I might be in danger, so I grabbed a golf club and stood just behind the door, listening and waiting for the police. That’s when the neighborhood security guard showed up. I wasn’t the only one who had heard all the noise.

Fernando Roig, Security Guard, El Bosque Golf Club: Halloween night was busy. This neighborhood, around the golf club, you know, lots of kids, rich kids. We had to talk to one or two older kids about speeding around on their electric scooters, and later on it was just complaints about noise, but alot more than usual. Monday night, though, apart from being a very windy night, you could hear a pin drop. Quiet as a mouse. So when the call came in about the noise up at Vista Golf, I knew right away it was trouble. It wasn’t going to be kids on Monday night, with school tomorrow. I didn’t know what I thought I was going to find, but there’s no way I would have ever thought it would be…that.

The guy I talked to, the neighbor, was really shaken up, and said the noises had been going on most of the day, but then, right at midnight, there was all sorts of smashing and banging and slamming doors, going down to the garage. So, I go to the door, and there’s no lights on, and no answer. No one. I figure they saw me coming and just want to hide, so I stayed for awhile, ringing the doorbell the whole time, then walked down to their terrace where the party had been, and then came back to ring again. Nothing. So I went down into the garage.

The garage is for everyone in that block, but the Lavinski’s have their own garage within the garage, like a big storage locker. And it was this door that was getting slammed, but when I walked down there, and I have to say, walking down those stairs, I was really wishing it was just more silly kids, or maybe a broken door blowing in the wind, or whatever, but I could just feel that something wasn’t right. The Lavinski garage door was open, but the light was out. The light from the main garage was on, but it wasn’t much, so I turned on my flashlight. I called out, “Mr. Lavinski?” and, I’m getting goosebumps now, from out of the garage came a short, quiet laugh. A chuckle. I took another couple steps and called out again, but this time there wasn’t any answer. I looked into his garage, and there on the floor in the back of the garage was a coffin. And someone was inside it. With the top closed. The coffin wasn’t big enough for whoever was inside, so the bottom of it had been ripped apart and the feet and a bit of the legs of the person were sticking out. “Hello?” I said, moving a bit closer, entering the garage. And there was no reply. But then, again, that laugh. This time long and low, hoarse, rough and wheezing, like moaning, but laughing. It was awful. And then, like a heart attack, BOOM, the garage door came slamming down behind me. The noise was deafening and I just started yelling for help. Shouting, “What’s going on?!?” and all that. I’ve never been so scared in my life. Then I heard a “Shhhhhhhhh” from the coffin. And in a loud, truly horrible whisper, “Pretend you’re dead.” And more soft laughing. I turned around and found the handle to the garage and pushed it open, which let in some light, but just then, that light went out. Those garage lights are on a timer. But I got the door open and started to run out. That’s when I just about smashed into the neighbor running down the stairs holding a golf club, scared out of his brains as well, saying, “What happened, what happened?” and everything else. We turned the light back on and left the garage.

So, two police officers arrive, I tell them what’s happening, and we three go back down into the garage. These guys, I realize, are not scared at all because my story, I guess, they just didn’t understand, or they think I’m exagerrating, or, you know, I’m not as big and tough as they are. So, they just walk right into Lavinski’s garage, turn the light on, and shout at the guy in the coffin to cut the shit and get out of the coffin or they’re going to pull him out. He doesn’t move. And then, “Shhhhhhhh. Pretend to be dead,” in that horrible voice. One cop says, “O.k., crazy drunk, let’s go,” and he first gives the legs a little kick, and then bends down and pulls open the lid. And there’s Jerome Lavinski, dressed in a suit and tie, clean shaven, hair combed, but pale, white pale, eyes closed and a little smile on his face. “Let’s go, get up, what the hell are you doing?” the cop says. And again, louder, “Hey, hey, come on, let’s go! Open your eyes. ” And the smile goes away from Lavinski’s face and he says, “You think I’ve got my eyes closed? I’ve been watching you the whole fucking time.” The lights go out, the door slams, and Lavinski is out of the coffin, in the dark, absolutely going crazy on this cop, punching and kicking him to the floor, then turns on me and the other one and says, “I was pretending to be dead. It helps me sleep. You shouldn’t have woken me up,” and he runs at us. We try to grab him, but he busts through us, gets to the door, pulls it open a bit, falls to the floor, rolls out, closes the door and locks it before we even knew what happened.

Oliver Pearson, Year 3 Teacher: When I got to school that morning there were four police officers in the reception area speaking with the Head of School, which was clearly quite alarming. When I got to my classroom, the Head of Primary found me and asked if I could cover Jerome’s class for the first hour, since mine had PE. To be honest, I didn’t put the two things together. I really didn’t. It just didn’t occur to me. Why would it? So, I go to Jerome’s classroom and welcome the students and do the register and get them started on their spelling words. Just a normal morning.

It was right around 9:20 when I heard a bunch of shouting from across the patio, and about twenty seconds later our Operations Manager, Jorge, was on the speakers system we use to call the kids at the end of the day when their parents pick them up, and he says, “We are in lockdown. The school is in lockdown. This is not a drill. Please remain in your classrooms.” Now, of course, I know what had happened, but at the time, it was such a shock. We had never had a lockdown, obviously, and had only done a lockdown drill once. I had no idea what was going on. The kids were fine, though, not panicking at all, but definitely nervous and excited. I turned off the lights and had to get everyone back into their seats as this classroom has big windows that look out onto the central patio, and all the kids were out of their seats looking out the window. And just as we sat down and quieted down, Jerome comes into the room.

“Good morning 6C!” he says. And still, as alarming as everything was, I just didn’t think he was the reason for the lockdown. I honestly just thought he was arriving late to class. I understand, now, that he had come into the school before the police arrived. And he didn’t enter through the main door either, he came in where the students who are dropped off early are let in. The woman who opens the door there didn’t think anything of it. No one who was looking for him knew he was already here. Then, it seems he was hiding someplace in the school. It’s not a big school, so I’m not sure where he was, but he must know the secret places to hide around the school, because when someone finally found him, and there was all that shouting, he ran off and found somewhere else to hide! After losing him and not being able to find him, that’s when they decided to announce the lockdown. Wherever he was hiding this time must have been a real secret because we could see the cops and our administrators running around looking for him, and then he just walked into the classroom as if everything was normal.

“How was your weekend, everyone? Did you have a fun Halloween?” he said to the class as he crossed the classroom and came over to me sitting at his desk. All the kids started talking at once, and I stood up and said, “Ok…ok, keep it down.” As they continued all their chattering, Jerome stood in front of me with his back to the class and he said, “Listen, Oliver, I beat up a cop and they’re coming to get me. I was in a coffin, pretending to be dead, and…have you ever heard of Samhain? Nevermind…the thing is,” and here he paused, and I could see his eyes fill with tears, and leaned forward and put his head down and whispered, “I’m possessed by a ghost,” he took a deep breath, “but everything is going to be o.k.”

He moved past me to a cupboard behind his desk. He took a key from the shelf and unlocked it, then took out a plastic box and placed it on the desk. And just at that moment the cops and our Deputy Head, Florence, came rushing into the class. It was caos as the cops start coming for Jerome, and Florence is shouting at the kids to get out of the classroom. Jerome got behind me, and he said in my ear, putting his hand on the box, “Give her this, please, Oliver. It’s the whole reason I’m here. I’ve got to go.” He lunged behind the desk, over to the window, opened it up, and just as he was climbing out he turned and shouted, “NOW I DON’T HAVE TO PRETEND!”

He went running across the patio, but he must of known there was no way out, and I don’t think he was trying to escape. He was already gone. He stopped running, and just walked to the middle of the patio, and as all these people came running out after him, he just stood there, and then, like a puppet whose strings were cut, he collapsed all at once to the ground.

Javier Caso, Neighbor: I was standing at the top of the stairs that lead down to the garage and heard all the noise. There was obviously a scuffle going on, and I was glad the cops were taking care of things. All of a sudden, Lavinski comes running up the stairs and says, “Hey dude!” as he runs past, then stops and comes over to me and says, “You know that talk about the coffin being mine? That’s what got me thinking about this whole thing, so thanks. And you were right, they do bury people in cardboard coffins.” He starts to run off, but then he says, “Hey, make sure they bury me in my coffin! It’s was a great idea, thanks again!” That’s the last time I ever saw him. I went down to the garage and saw that he had left the keys in the lock. When I opened it up, the three of them were standing around the open coffin, just staring into it. Then the cat jumped out and scared the shit out of all of us.

Fernando Roig, Security Guard, El Bosque Golf Club: Yeah, that fucking cat. The whole thing was so fucked up. First of all, Lavinski must have had some classes in martial arts or something, because the way he took that cop down was so fast and brutal. The cop’s shoulder was really hurting him. Then, we saw that the garage door was broken, the hinge on it wasn’t connected, so it really could have been the wind making it open and close like that, which was maybe why Lavinski had locked it when he ran out because it was the only way it would stay closed. But even more fucked up than that was when Lavinski ran out, the cops got their radios out to call for help, and discovered that they didn’t work. I had my phone and was going to call security at the entrance gate to warn them to be on the watch for him and not to let him leave, but my phone didn’t work either. And then I noticed the strange noise. So soft you could barely hear it. A humming that I first thought was coming from the amplifier or the smashed up electric guitar that was next to the coffin, so I went over there, and that’s when I looked down into that coffin and realized the sound was coming from in there. The cops come over and we’re all just staring down into this dark, empty, pitch black space. It was just so strange. Just as black as space. That’s when the neighbor opened the garage door, and I don’t know, maybe the black cat had been curled up in a corner of the coffin the whole time and we just couldn’t see him because it was just so, so black, I really don’t know, but when he jumped out of the coffin, even one of the cops shouted out in fright. The other cop then said something like, “What the hell is going on here?” and he closed the coffin. And right when he did, the humming stopped and their radios squeeled on. Fucked up.

It took a while to get into the house, but once we were inside, there wasn’t much to see. The black cat somehow was already there, watching us. Everything was normal, really, except in the kitchen, where it looked like the bin he used for recycling bottles had fallen over and there were wine and beer bottles all over the floor. And on the table were a bunch of plants, dried flowers and herbs. It was a big mess, but there were a few bowls filled with ground up mixtures and even one with oil, like he was making some potions or perfume or drugs or who knows what. The cops were going to investigate it. They found this book in his bedroom. Like I said, the whole thing was pretty fucked up. The guy clearly had some demons inside. Wherever he is now, I hope he found some peace.

https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Herbs-Samhain-Contact-Spirits-ebook/dp/B07JZ5NXPS

Oliver Pearson, Year 3 Teacher: What was in the box? Ha. Well…lots of beautiful, strange and bittersweet things, and some dried flowers, but that’s a whole other story. What I will say now is that I did what Jerome asked. From what I discovered in the box, I was able to find her, the ghost that was haunting him. I hope they were able to reconnect on the other side.

Jerome disappeared into thin air. He was taken to the hospital after he collapsed and thirty minutes later was gone. No one saw him leave, no one has seen or heard from him since. I’m glad he’s still alive, and I hope he found some peace. And love.

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