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.