North Shore Horror Anthology: The Tunnel

2010.

It’s 6:45 AM and New Trier High School senior Kiefer Cromwell-Johnson is in bed, staring at the ceiling. He’s internally counting every second before his alarm goes off in fifteen minutes because this is a day he would like to delay as long as possible.

Cromwell-Johnson has two weeks before he graduates and gets to enjoy one last summer at home before he starts “real school” in a different state, free from the parental leash that is wrapped around his neck and suffocating his ability to just do whatever the fuck he wants.

For the tennis team captain who is affectionately called both “KC” and “CJ” by his friends, it’s just a waiting game before he heads to Arizona State University, where it’s hard to tell what’s more gorgeous: the weather or the girls.

Yeah, things look pretty peachy, but there’s one little problem. Actually it’s a very serious problem and he has to address it today. He made a bet a few weeks ago in a misguided attempt to impress a junior considered to be the most attractive girl in school. Normally, a bet wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but this was something on a whole different level.

There’s a tunnel at the corner of Willow and Green Bay, right next to North Shore Country Day School’s soccer fields. It’s a narrow tunnel for pedestrians should they have business on Wilson St (and vice versa). Nobody seems to use it and there is an abundance of urban legends that revolve around the mysterious tunnel and they all inevitably involve grisly deaths and such.

Cromwell-Johnson has no reason to be particularly frightened – it’s a tunnel available for public access and as far as he knows, nobody has literally died in it – but he can’t deny the heavy feeling of dread that has permeated through his entire stomach. His arms and legs are leaden and he just wants to stay in bed all day.

Alas, fifteen minutes is nothing but a drop in the bucket and it’s time for him to get up. So he does and he goes through his normal morning routine. When he rides his bike to school, he has to pass the tunnel and he usually rides with a friend or two. Today it’s just one friend and he enlists this friend to wander into the tunnel to take some pictures.

It’s daytime, so the (perhaps naive) assumption is that nothing will happen. But nothing does happen. Cromwell-Johnson’s friend takes some pictures for him to stare at all day and this is a small sample of what he gets:

A tunnel is just a tunnel at the end of day and Cromwell-Johnson can take some comfort in knowing that the tunnel is not very long and more importantly, it doesn’t look bad at all. Of course, this is where we need to talk about the logistics of the bet and how they probably led to, well, a grisly situation.

Cromwell-Johnson said he was going to not only walk the length of the tunnel at midnight, but also stay inside the tunnel for fifteen minutes. Nobody would be in the vicinity; it was expected of him to record the entire incident on film and his peers trusted him to go through with it anyway.

The mistake he made, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is that he did this all alone. There were no witnesses and nobody to help him, save him, or even call the police. It was just Kiefer Cromwell-Johnson, a high school student with decent, affluent parents who were perhaps a little strict, but not overly so.

There’s no footage to be found either, if you’re morbidly curious. It looks like the killer took it with him (or her) to do whatever with. Precious few answers are to be found, whether it’s from the authorities or any crackpot conspiracy theorist you talk to.

People can agree on a few things, however:

  • It was messy. While his body was never found – as of this writing at least – skull and brain fragments of various sizes were in abundance and concentrated on the Willow side of the tunnel.
  • He might be the first known death of an unknown serial killer who has targeted the few individuals who ever enter the tunnel at night; after Cromwell-Johnson’s death, police have been finding signs of other malicious activity within the tunnel at a rate of almost one every four months.
  • It was probably one person, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if some type of bizarre cult was involved. The blood splatter seemed too organized for Cromwell-Johnson’s death and the blood became increasingly complex in design for every ensuing murder.

Kiefer Cromwell-Johnson’s death is a tragedy, as are the deaths of those other unfortunate souls who had the misfortune of using the tunnel at the wrong time, but they are just one big example of the many sinister occurrences in the North Shore. For such a quiet and allegedly peaceful place, there’s a lot of evil lurking in the shadows.

“The School” is here

More Than a Feeling: Why You Should Dance Like Drake

Be cool, cuh.

The way I see it, you can do four things when you walk into a club:

DO NOTHING

This is for the people who are very insecure or are secret dance gods who want to assess the competition before deciding whether to even reveal their true identities. People in this category generally float on the outside perimeter of the floor with their arms crossed. Some may bob their heads while others have a smug smirk on their stupid faces.

DANCE LIKE AN IDIOT

This category is specifically dedicated to my friend Dylan, who has a disconcerting tendency to splay his extremities in all directions at dangerous velocities and angles. It’s a pretty self-explanatory category, to be honest. If you do a double take on the floor and it’s not for a good reason, the person you’re looking at probably belongs here.

DANCE GOD: ACTIVATE

These are the people who either get the support of the club through insane dance moves or get weird looks because they’re clearly on another plane of existence and it’s not an appropriate level of effort in relation to just being in a dang club on the weekend. People in this category, like Chris Brown and even Jason Derulo, can get dafuq outta here.

BE LIKE DRAKE

When I see him dance and move and feel the music in the sick video for “Hotline Bling,” he exudes ultimate confidence. He’s moving like he’s the baddest dude in the club, like he walks in and all the guys usher their girls away because he’s suddenly the strongest competition they’ve ever faced in their life and they just can’t handle that type of heat.

This is how all the cool people really dance. And like it or not, Drake is pretty cool – as long as he’s not talking about how gangsta he is or whatever.

Good Riddance: The Beautiful, Utterly Predictable “Goodnight Mommy”

This is what happens when you have an incredible film and a flimsy, predictable twist that gets executed in the worst way imaginable.

*THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE!*

If Zack Snyder is the king of making films that fail to live up to the hype generated by their theatrical trailers, then the entire horror genre has to be the proverbial queen. On an annual basis, we’re treated to a handful of films that blow us away and scare the underwear off us just from their slick trailers. Then we watch the actual movies and leave the theater feeling bitterly disappointed.

The Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy falls firmly and resoundingly in that disappointing category. It’s frustrating because the movie – Austria’s official entry for the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category – is very good in so many different ways.

On a technical level, things are in excellent shape; it’s not often a horror movie has such a solid combination of production design, music, and acting (and other factors, of course). But the most important achievement here is the thorough exploration of uncertainty, paranoia, and doubt in children when faced with unsettling scenarios.

In this case, the cause of such adolescent angst is cosmetic facial surgery and the ensuing bandages that cover a mother’s head. Her twins, Elias and Lukas, are justifiably unnerved by their mother’s frightening appearance and when her behavior starts to become erratic, they wonder if something sinister has taken the place of their beloved mom.

This is where I have to return to the trailer. It makes the mom’s position ambiguous, like there’s a legitimate chance she’s been taken over by some kind of paranormal being or Satan himself. But in the movie, it’s clear almost from the beginning there’s something wrong with the twins. Once you take that approach, you realize the mom is acting weird because, you know, how you would act if you’ve just gone through an operation on your face?

And how would you act if your kids started to conspire against you?

Excuse me, I meant to say one kid and his dead twin. You see, it turns out one of the twins died sometime before the movie’s events and the remaining kid feels all kinds of different emotions. Perhaps to cope with all that, he starts to hallucinate, if you will, and ends up with a mental creation that is considerably more sinister and manipulative than you’d expect.

The evil twin corrupts the living twin and they “work together” to investigate their mom. Again, this is all a big waste of time because it’s excruciatingly obvious that there’s nothing particularly ominous about the mom outside of what I’ve covered above. When the content is this weak, it doesn’t matter that the twins are excellent actors for their age. It doesn’t matter that the traditional methods of frightening the audience work (mood is a big thing).

Content drives everything and Goodnight Mommy loses the wheel almost immediately. Like with many films, I watched this with my friend Kevin and apparently the “twist” wasn’t as obvious for him. So this may just be a personal thing. Perhaps you’ll watch this and marvel at it all. But then again, you already know what happens now, so probably not.

North Shore Horror Anthology: The Prologue

2015

When they found Middlefork Primary School student Adrian Wozniak under the Willow Park bridge next to Hyde Park Day School’s parking lot, he had been missing for almost three days. He was grimy, incoherent, and completely mute. He was also clutching what appeared to be a leather notebook close to his chest with violently purple fingers swollen from prolonged pressure. It took three firefighters to get Adrian to let go of the notebook, and that’s when – excuse my French – shit got real.

One of the more astute paramedics on the scene immediately noticed something odd about the notebook, namely the fact that it wasn’t leather in the traditional sense at all, but rather something of a more disconcerting material: human flesh. And that’s when Adrian broke his silence. He said, “It’s all true. He told me. It’s all true.”

It was a mantra, if you will, that he would repeat over and over again, all the way to Glenbrook Hospital. He kept saying it through the number of tests he received and it didn’t stop while his emotionally distraught parents calmly walked into the room – at first – before breaking down, running over to him, and hugging him, crying on him, and generally acting like any good parents would do in that situation.

While his parents were certainly happy to see him, they couldn’t help but notice the difference in the new Adrian versus the old Adrian. Trauma was to be expected, of course, but there was something unsettling about the formerly gregarious and sociable third-grader, almost like he was an empty shell of himself.

The doctors told Mark and Mary Ellis Wozniak that only time and therapy would tell what kind of things little Adrian had been through. His parents and even the authorities were very worried, of course, because it’s not a normal thing at all, really, for anyone to be discovered holding a book made out of human flesh.

So naturally an investigation was opened, the whole case made national news, and before you could even ask what happened, the entire Wozniak family was found hanging from their rafters. The police couldn’t find any signs of foul play, and the whole thing was ruled as a suicide. But the leather book was the gigantic elephant in the room and conspiracy theorists enjoyed ruminating among themselves that the book had played a part in the family’s collective demise.

Rational individuals scoffed at the idea and suggested the psychological trauma had simply been too much for a family that had, up to 2015, been living a mostly perfect life. But nobody really had an answer for Adrian’s appearance while his tiny, precious body dangled in the air next to his parents; Mark and Mary Ellis had blank expressions on their faces almost like this was all really no big deal, but Adrian’s face was contorted beyond belief, mouth unnaturally agape and eyes bulging incredulously.

It was the kind of look that caused hardened veterans to retire forever. And it was the kind of look that made guys like me travel to sleepy and affluent Northfield, Illinois to figure out what the hell was going on in a town of less than six thousand people. I was allowed access to the aforementioned leather notebook thanks to some connections and let’s just say I found some things inside.

I’m not sure what to call them. Stories? Anecdotes? Pure fiction? It’s hard to say, but if anything in that notebook is true, I need to get the hell out of this godforsaken town.

“The Lagoon” is here.

Countryside Saloon: Good Deals, Bad Service

Located at 2501 E. Ballard Rd, Des Plaines, IL.

When I went to the University of Iowa for a few years, I experienced my share of bars. Those were college bars too, often staffed by my peers and catering to hordes of horny college students who were trying to take the edge off the weekly grind of university stress. With that knowledge in mind, I can say without a doubt that those busy bars in Iowa City had better service than Countryside Saloon in sleepy Des Plaines.

I’ve been to Countryside a handful of times already and each time my friends and I have had to sit around and wait for a server to come by and hook us up with menus. Sometimes, a burger will be ordered and the condiments will come at a later time – much later.

We know better now, so we take a very proactive approach when we go there. You have to be engaged, otherwise you’re disengaged. And being disengaged means you’re never ordering your drinks and you’re ordering any food.

That’s a responsibility that shouldn’t fall onto the customer’s shoulders, especially when you’re going on weekday afternoons. The poor service at Countryside is a real killer, but it’s not a complete deal breaker either.

The saloon has been open since 1933, and the current family that owns it has been in possession for almost three decades. The interior design reflects many establishments that serve alcohol while maintaining a pretty clean reputation in terms of its patrons. Countryside is not where you go to party. It’s where you can take kids even during the weekend rush.

American nostalgia might be an appropriate description for the inside and “modernized log cabin” might be appropriate too. It’s a homely place, but it’s a dark place too and I’ve found myself losing a lot more energy and cheer than I’d like for whatever reason.

There must be a reason why people go to Countryside Saloon. I suspect it’s because their alcoholic offerings are very cheap, especially their beer of the month, which retails at only $4. What a bargain. Their food is also quite delicious as well, and their sweet potato fries are relatively thick and maintain that distinct sweet potato taste.

Trust me: it’s not that bright in real life. That’s just professional lighting/photography/voodoo.

While the interior can be a bit depressing, there is an interesting combination of nature-related trinkets – like a canoe and a stuffed bass – and sports memorabilia. It looks like the establishment is trying to cater to multiple demographics, although I’m sure they still mostly get middle-aged individuals and their kids.

There’s also an outdoor setup with bag games for people to enjoy. Music is played, like most bars, and Countryside chooses the neutral and perhaps bland genre of 1970s and 1980s classic rock – I heard a lot of overlap between the saloon’s songs and songs Walgreen’s plays at their stores. TVs are set up strategically as well and they all show sports.

The service might screw you over, although you might not mind because you’re probably going to spend less money than you would at another bar or saloon. The sweet potato fries are a must, and Thursdays offer a special on their standard burger.

But that’s delicious too, with succulent meat and fresh veggies. Countryside may have its downsides, but it isn’t a place to completely shun either.