THE CURSE OF THE URAL OWL By Dr. Mel Waldman

I’m the Ural owl. I haunt and possess you. If you see me in your dreams, you’re a dead human, a rotting corpse.

Beware!

*

August 1980

Manhattan

I entered Un-Reality today.

My friend Martin, a short, muscular fellow about five-feet-six with turquoise eyes and dirty, blond hair, returned from his three-week vacation in Russia. He called me a few hours after he arrived at Kennedy, on a sultry August night.

“Jack, I’m home.”

“How are you, Martin?’

“I’m frightened, dude.”

“Are you stoned, old buddy? You’re fearless.”

“I don’t know. I met the love of my life, absolutely hypnotic. But…”

“You devil you.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Meet me tomorrow at the Riviera in the West Village.”

“What time?”

“Noon.”

“Martin, must you really be so mysterious?”

“Yes, Jack. I’ll explain tomorrow. But if I’m not at the Riviera at noon, come to my apartment.”

“What’s going on, old buddy?”

“Just come.”

*

I waited till 12:30. But Martin didn’t show. I hailed a cab and took it to the Upper West Side. Martin owned a one-bedroom condo overlooking River Side Drive. The doorman greeted me.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Weissblum.”

“Hi, Joe, have you seen Dr. Stein?”

“I saw him earlier. He left the building for a short while, maybe twenty or thirty minutes. Then he returned.”

“How did he look, Joe?”

“Scared, Dr. Weissblum. His body shook and he seemed faint. I helped him back to his apartment.”

“What did he say?”

“‘I feel ill, Joe. Thanks for helping me.’”

“I offered to call a doctor. But Dr. Stein refused to see anyone.”

“‘No doctor can help me, Joe,’ he said. His hands were trembling.”

“’Well, if you need me for anything, just beep me,’ I told him.”

“‘Thanks, Joe,’ he said. He looked like a lost soul. And I think I saw a couple tears in his eyes. I left, Dr. Weissblum.”

“Guess I’ll go upstairs and see how he’s doing.”

*

I knocked on his door. “Martin, are you okay?” He didn’t answer.

I rang the bell again and again, almost desperately. He still didn’t speak or come to the door.

I rushed downstairs to the super’s apartment on the 2nd floor and rang the bell. I heard old John shuffle lazily to the door. When he opened the door, I told him what had happened.

We returned to Martin’s apartment. With one of his keys, he opened the door. We entered Martin’s eerie space.

We found Martin sprawled out in bed. His vacant eyes looked up at the pristine white ceiling adorned with huge, hypnotic photos of the Ural owl.

I felt the magnetic photos pull me into a weird universe. But Martin was someplace else. My beloved friend had left his earthly body, leaving behind a motionless corpse. The man I knew was dead at the age of 30.

*

The official cause of death was a massive heart attack. My old buddy had died of terror, I believe. After the funeral, Martin’s parents gave me the haunting photos, his diary, and an unfinished article he had been writing about the occult, especially focused on possession by an evil spirit.

“I don’t think I should have these valuables,” I told his folks.

“Oh no,” his mother said. “It’s in his will.”

“Martin had a will?”

“Not an official one. He scribbled his desires at the end of his diary. He wanted you to have these possessions if he died suddenly.”

“I see.”

When Martin died, I was a young psychologist, only 33-years-old. Then, I considered myself a scientist and a man of reason. I didn’t believe in curses or possession. I left the exploration of occult phenomena to crazies.

At first, nothing happened. Every day I studied his sundry photos of a female Ural owl. I also read his diary and his unfinished article. The photos fascinated me and captured my imagination. I understood why he found the owl captivating. It possessed a dark furious beauty with its mammoth wingspan and lethal talons. Its black eyes seemed to cut through my soul if I gazed at their fierce darkness too long. So I learned to look away, at least in the beginning.

I can’t recall when I became obsessed with this Ural owl. By the third week, I Scotch taped the photos to my bedroom walls and ceiling. Before I drifted off into my unbearable nightmares, I saw the owl. It pulled me into its private universe. While I slept, it penetrated my unconscious dreamscape. When I awakened, I looked up at the ceiling and around me at the surrounding walls. Its piercing black eyes welcomed me into its abyss, consuming and swallowing me within seconds.

I suppose I began to see what Martin saw. I wondered if I were destined to die soon from terror.

*

A few weeks after Martin’s death, I darted and flitted across my owl-covered apartment and shrieked, “You killed Martin!” When I realized I had suffered a mental breakdown, I voluntarily entered a private hospital in the countryside.

*

I told my first psychiatrist, a tall, skeletal man, the dark story of Martin’s death. I told him that the photos of the Ural owl had killed Martin.

“That’s interesting,” he said, his voice cold and inhuman, computerized and unemotional. “So how did you figure out that the photos killed him?”

“Well, I read his diary and his incomplete article on the occult. Then I studied the photos.”

“And what exactly did you conclude?”

“I concluded that Martin, a man of unparalleled courage, died of terror.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The real Ural owl fascinated Martin. On his trip to Russia, he took dozens of pictures of the owl. He told me he loved her. But the night he returned, he gazed at the photos for hours. Something beautiful and frightening happened.”

“What?”

“The Ural owl entered his soul.”

“How do you know that?”

“Martin wrote that in his diary.”

“And how did he know that?”

“It changed him.”

“How? Did it kill him that night?”

“No. His last entry into his diary said, ‘It reveals everything in me, light and darkness, good and evil, love and terror, and Heaven and Hell. I see the Devil. I see the Beast. I’m in Hell. I must destroy the photos.’”

“Did he destroy them?”

“No. I’ve got them in my room.”

*

The following day, they took away my precious, hypnotic, life-altering and terrifying photos. I lost control of my emotions. I screamed incessantly and ran like a Hemingway bull through the halls. When I reached the dayroom, I lifted a few chairs and tossed them across the room. Unintentionally, my flying chairs struck an aide and two patients.

The team surrounded and subdued me. But first, I punched and kicked two aides. While the others restrained me, a nurse injected a long needle into my right arm. Don’t know what it was. It just knocked me out.

I woke up in restraints. I found myself lying on a gurney in a strait jacket looking up at them, a pack of alien wolves, and seething lights in an unknown room. My predatory masters had won the battle. They glared at me and grinned sardonically. I read their minds, I believe. The silent words announced that my voluntary admission had become null and void. Due to my violent behavior, my psychiatric status had become involuntary.

*

Doped up and under control, I resumed my old routine three weeks later. Dr. Ferris allowed me to look at the photos briefly during some of our sessions. On the other hand, he gazed at them throughout each session. Nothing happened to me as a result of looking at the photos. And I observed no changes in Dr. Ferris.

But a week after he began studying the photos, he seemed different, happier and joyous, perhaps ecstatic. I looked at his face. It glowed. The frozen face he usually wore had vanished. And then I got it, I understood. Dr. Ferris manifested the obvious symptoms of a man madly in love. As for myself, I felt calm and peaceful. I looked at the photos for a few minutes and then returned them to the Doc.

The following week, however, his beautiful madness vanished too. Once again, he looked different, but in a dark, sinister way. He wore a gray mask of fear, his frenzied eyes darting across the room, searching for something to soothe or protect him, perhaps, from the eerie photos sitting on his desk.

Inevitably, he gazed at the photos again, drawn into a frightening dreamscape. Of course, he tried to hide his fears. But the wild tics that grew on his cheeks and the sweat cascading down his face revealed his anxious state of mind.

While Dr. Ferris seemed to suffer, I grew calmer. I glanced at the photos for less than a minute. Then I returned them to the Doc.

*

The third week he wore the black mask of terror. He shook uncontrollably during our sessions. His hands trembled as they touched the photos. He tried to give me the photos. I refused to take them.

Our last session ended abruptly. He rose suddenly and left his office. The photos lay on his desk. I thought of looking at them. I didn’t. I got up and left the suffocating room. I never saw the Doc again.

I heard about the accident. The rumors spread. Then I read the obituary column. The night we had our last session, he was in a car accident. He lost control of his old jalopy and crashed into a tree. He died instantly.

*

For a few months, they locked the photos in a secret room. The chief psychiatrist assigned my fascinating case to a psychiatric intern that he supervised. When the young man completed his internship and left, the Chief assigned my case to another intern. And so it went.

Yet at the end of my first year at Haven Valley, he assigned my case to a young shrink named Dr. James Rose. And Dr. Rose was a curious fellow. He got permission to examine the mysterious photos. Indeed, the haunting photos became an integral part of our sessions.

Over the next few weeks, I watched the young psychiatrist go mad. One day the chief psychiatrist informed me that Dr. Rose had passed away.  Of course, Dr. Green, the chief psychiatrist, did not tell me the truth. He merely said that Dr. Rose had died suddenly and that the cause of death was unknown. But one of the aides told me the gruesome details after I gave him a carton of cigarettes. Dr. Rose had slit his wrists.

*

Dr. Green did not assign my case again. He became my personal shrink. At first, he locked the photos in the secret room again. Yet he was aware of the rumors floating around Haven Valley. A lot of folks believed the hypnotic photos contained supernatural powers. Was Dr. Green up to the challenge? Of course he was. But only a month before my discharge, the poor doctor jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge.

When they released me, they gave me the photos in a sealed envelope.

“Don’t open it, Jack,” Dr. White, the interim chief psychiatrist, whispered. “You’ll save us all a lot of trouble.” He winked at me and wished me good luck.

I left New York and moved to Ogunquit, a seaside town in Southern Maine. I opened up a modest psychotherapy practice and treated the artists who lived there.

For 18 months I didn’t open the sealed envelope. Then I gazed at the photos of the Ural owl for about half-an-hour before sealing the envelope again. But over the next few weeks, I gave into temptation and opened the envelope numerous times. Still, I never stared at the photos for very long. I just needed a supernatural taste, a small dose of the owl’s magical powers hidden in the photos.

When my patients started getting seriously ill, I didn’t connect their life-threatening illnesses with the photos of the owl. They had never seen the pictures. Then one day I looked closely in the mirror. At first, I didn’t see her. I kept looking and searching, for I began to suspect that she had surreptitiously transformed me into a grotesquerie instead of killing me. And deep inside my eerie eyes, I discovered the fierce, unforgiving Ural owl. She grinned wickedly at me, having transmogrified me into an obscene carrier of her lethal virus.

I hypothesized that I was immune to the virus and merely the owl’s instrument for destruction. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what to do.

In the next few months, I clung to my practice, unwilling to abandon it. And I watched helplessly as my patients committed suicide. The Ogunquit police called me in for questioning. They interrogated me for hours. But they never charged me with anything. Indeed, I had committed no crime. Or had I? In the preternatural universe I inhabited, I was guilty of the crime of omission. No other human knew. But when my guilt became unbearable, I left Ogunquit.

*

I moved many times until I settled down in Key West, Florida. I developed another private therapy practice in this seething town devoted to hard drinking and the arts. I wore dark sunglasses all the time to protect my patients from me. For a while, I believed they were safe. Then they began to get seriously ill too.

I opened the sealed envelope and gazed at the photos for hours. Nothing happened to me. But my patients got sicker and died.

I ripped up all the photos into tiny pieces-minuscule, fragmented images, and tossed them into a large garbage bin. Yet my patients continued to die.

I left Key West.

Now, I’m vacationing in Russia. I’m looking for my master, the female owl that controls my life. I’m searching for her in the Estonian forest. When I find her, I will kill her. I must. She has transmogrified me into a deadly carrier. Perhaps, when I kill her, I will die too. I don’t care. The guilt is ripping my soul apart.

Beware! If you see me in the forest or at the hotel, don’t look into my ebony eyes. And don’t look at me too long. I will bore a deep hole in your soul. You will fall into the abyss. When you sail toward the bottom, you’ll already be trapped in Hell. When it’s too late, you’ll see a sign that reads, No Exit.

I’m the Ural owl. I haunt and possess you. If you see me in your dreams, you’re a dead human, a rotting corpse.

Beware!

*

Dr. Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, and writer whose stories have appeared in numerous magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, DOWN IN THE DIRT, CC&DPULP METAL MAGAZINE, INNER SINSYELLOW MAMA, and AUDIENCE. A past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis, he was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature and is the author of 11 books.  Four of his mystery, fantasy, and horror stories were published by POSTSCRIPTS, a British magazine and international anthology, in October/November 2014. He recently completed an experimental mystery novel inspired by one of Freud’s case studies and is looking for an agent. He has been inspired for decades by his patients and their heroic stories of trauma and survival.

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