The camera sways and plunges through the woods, up gradual slopes and down into gullies, across a dirty creek, all carpeted in long-dead leaves, all wrapped in that ugly droning noise. There is no context to these woods, other than the title, my name shouting and whispering at me from the title. Sometimes I hear someone’s thin breaths struggling with the movement, and I’m not sure if I mean sometimes the breaths are there when I watch and sometimes they’re not. I don’t know if the breath is supposed to be mine. He, or she, or I don’t say anything yet. The sun leaks into the foliage like unclean water from the creek and film grain and perhaps sweat spoil the lens. There is the sense of pursuit in the trees, through the softening shadows as dusk begins to drip down after the light.
I have watched The Vanishing of Michael Wehunt 14 times. Or more. All 78 minutes. I’m losing count.
It is closed-captioned, as seen in the subtitles of the screenshots, and most of the minimal dialogue is in French. I don’t know why this would be. With something as inexplicable as the tape itself, it hardly seems worth mentioning. But I wrote a story once (“October Film Haunt: Under the House”) involving a group of horror fans tracking down the setting of a cult YouTube video. I mention it here for two reasons. My story “The Pine Arch Collection” connects the Pine Arch Research group, alleged creators of this impossible VHS tape, with the events in “October Film Haunt.” And in the earlier story, in the titular YouTube video, a character who does not speak French speaks French.
So I worry the choice of language was chosen specifically to echo my work. This goes on to create a loop in which I feel I’m a character in one of my own stories and inevitably feel egotistical for doing so. On top of the terror I, a creator of fictitious terror, have crawling all over me, kicking myself for meta fantasies is only adding insult to injury. What if that is what this person(s) masquerading as Pine Arch Research wants? I emphasize again that I made Pine Arch Research up. They don’t exist. Is it someone who dislikes my stories enough to…whatever this is? And to do it before I even thought of making up Pine Arch Research? And the loop goes on, around and tighter in my brain, its needles catching in the meat there. The loop goes deeper. And the author becomes the haunted.
But language and meta constructions are a minor concern in the face of the twisting nausea in my gut. Or the strange looks my partner is giving me as I try to find a way to tell her this is actually happening and I couldn’t have made the film. I don’t have any of the equipment or technical knowledge. I wouldn’t go to such lengths just to tell a story or promote my work.
I mentioned nausea. Following those 11 minutes of jerky, drony movement through the woods, an image appears and stutters on the screen, distorted by warped static only to briefly clear and glare at me from over the mountains I love. And now it’s in my head and I see it everywhere, behind my closed eyes and in front of my open ones.
“Toujours regarder,” the low scratchy voice says, over and over and over, for 3 1/2 minutes, and I can’t work, I can’t write, I can hardly eat or sleep, I can’t tell you about what happens after the eye (or Eye). In the sky it even ate the word PAUSE. I can’t tell you about going deeper into the woods, almost certainly somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, the old worn-down wilderness I’ve returned to over and over again in my prose because it’s where I feel at home. I can’t open my eyes in bed to escape the eye (or Eye) because of that shape against the bedroom window curtain, leaning toward me. I can’t convince my partner (who I won’t name here for her safety) to leave the house for a few days.
I can’t tell you about her voice, later in the tape, speaking French about trying to find me after I vanished. Speaking French in her voice. I can’t do that yet because I can’t get that real yet. The eye is awful enough. But I will show you even though I took this photograph and that is my partner in it, the person most important in my world, walking back to our car after we pulled over along the Blue Ridge Parkway to sightsee two years ago. This is a real photograph that was used. This is inside of my life.
If you’re reading this and can offer advice, please help. I’ve emailed some people who know about these things, at least fictionally, but most haven’t gotten back to me yet. I can’t talk about what happens later just the 3 ½ minutes of the eye coming up rising or setting over the mountains watching me and I can’t write anymore just now because I don’t want to think about what is next. Finally at the end of the 3 ½ minutes of the eye the tape jump-cuts to this. It’s as clear as I can capture it. The voice is garbled beyond comprehension.
I’d rather end today with whatever that is than with the eye that watches me no matter where I look.