In late June/early July, I came to be living in an apartment with my old smoking buddy Matt. Matt ran this squat he called “the weigh station”. Nowadays though it was less for the squatters and more for Matt’s buddies from his job at Burger King. It was a pretty fun place to be, we had house parties every night.
About a week after I moved in a couple of my buddies came over to watch the game, and during a commercial I went out for a smoke. While I was out on the porch this punk kid came up and sat down next to me. He introduced himself as Nate, and we exchanged conversation for a few minutes, until he told me that he was supposed to be moving into the squat. Matt never told me anything regarding who was living there anymore.
Nate and I ended up getting along great. Don’t get me wrong, Matt’s a great guy and all, but you can’t have any kind of meaningful conversation with him. Nate was the opposite. I mean, at parties he was awkward as fuck but when it was just two or three of us we would talk for hours about anything and everything. Nate had come from South Boston to visit his girlfriend, who apparently lived about a block from the squat, though no one had ever seen her before. I later found out that this was because she went to a local prep school and was like, insane smart. They met on some dating site for people who love Star Wars and crime shows and all that geeky shit. He was always over at her place and he didn’t take up much space here, so no one really noticed when he was gone.
On the off chance that he was at the squat, we had discussions regarding politics, religion, drugs, anything under the sun. Eventually, during one of our religion convos, I asked him if he believed in the paranormal. He replied that he did. For a little backstory, I’ve been going into haunted houses since as long as I can remember. I’ve always been into ghosts and demons and shit. We talked about this for a while before I decide to pop the question.
“So, has anything paranormal ever happened to you? Like, just anything weird that you just can’t explain?”
Nate looked at his feet.
“I have to go meet my girlfriend. I’ll catch you later bro.”
Even now I regret asking that question.
About three weeks later Nate’s girlfriend broke up with him for reasons I still don’t quite understand. Apparently she was a lesbian or something. You’d have to ask him, I didn’t have the heart to. I came home from a smoke session to find him on the kitchen floor in a crumpled position next to an empty bottle of oxycontin pills. He groggily raised his head when I came into the room.
“Guess I didn’t take enough…”
I kicked him in the stomach. Hard. Hard enough to make him vomit up the remains of whatever was in there. I was livid but at the same time, sympathetic. I’ve been that far down before, and it ain’t fun. I gave him a pen and paper and told him to write down everything he wanted to accomplish in life, sort of like a bucket list. Told him no one would ever see it but him, and made him promise that he would stay alive until he had completed everything on the list. Nate hastily scribbled down a few notes, then put the paper in his pocket and stumbled into the living room where he collapsed on a couch in a drug-induced stupor.
As I sat in the chair next to him, I suddenly became aware of an intense curiosity. I had to know what he had written on that paper. I mean, I was fucking baked at the time. But at the same time, his cryptic answer to the paranormal question a few weeks back had been eating away at me, so I decided to give it a quick look to see if it had any clues. Just one look, then I’d put it back in his pocket. He’d never even know. Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I did just that. The paper read:
To The People Who Matter Most
1. My brother.
2. My mentor.
3. Jessie Mack.
Okay, so it was just paranoia. It was a completely average bucket list, and I was just baked out of my mind. I slipped the note back into his pocket and turned on the TV. Still, there was something that struck me as odd about that last one. “Jessie Mack” sounded familiar, like something out of my childhood that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I never told Matt what happened. Nate was still asleep when he got home from work. We watched a few movies, including this really strange one called Being John Malkovich, which was Matt’s favorite for reasons I didn’t really understand. About halfway through the movie I looked over at Matt.
‘Hey, remember Jessie Mack?”
Matt started cracking up. “The fuck kinda parent names their kid Jessie Mack?”
I smiled back. “Some parents in Boston, I guess.”
Matt couldn’t stop laughing. “I mean, are you fucking serious? Jessie Mack. Jessie fucking Mack. Hey everyone, I’m Jessie Mack, and I’m from Dorchester!”
He was shouting in a faux-Boston accent now. It was pretty hilarious. At the same time, there was something slightly eerie about it, and I started feeling guilty about taking the note from Nate’s pocket.
Nate started to wake up sometime later. He was in a lot of pain, but he managed to grin at me while attempting to sit up. Matt was in another part of the apartment, shouting at himself, which was actually pretty normal.
A few hours later we were all just sitting together watching the South Park Movie. We watch a lot of movies here. Every few minutes Nate had a little nervous spasm, but nowhere near as bad as he’d been. Matt turned to him.
“So about this Jessie Mack. I need to meet this person, she sounds so freakin hot.”
There’s no way I could have predicted what was about to happen. In a fraction of a second, Nate jumped out of the couch, backed himself into a corner, whipped out his pocket knife, and pointed it straight at Matt.
He was shaking all over. In a barely audible whisper that sounded as if he was gasping for air, he mouthed: “Don’t you fucking come near me you have no idea NO idea what you’re doing no FUCKING clue don’t ever fucking mention her name again.”
And with that, Nate vomited all over the carpet and passed out on the floor again.
What happened after that was pretty much a blur. I was trying to find a job at the time so I didn’t get to spend as much time at the house. Nate became extremely paranoid, especially around Matt. He would hole up in his room with a terrified expression on his face, pointing this little bb pistol he had at anything that moved. And knowing Nate, this was odd. Nate was about as big as a bear with facial hair to match and an unusually laid back disposition before all this went down.
Matt, on the other hand, was manic all the time.
He’d run around the kitchen screaming “My name is Jessie! Jessie Mack!” at the top of his lungs in his obnoxious fake Boston accent, though it was clearly making Nate’s condition worse. At one point I woke up in the night and heard part of a conversation between Nate and his ex on our porch. He was begging her to stay with him or something, but when she refused, his tone turned from sadness to terror, like the terror of one who has seen too much.
She left, telling him he was talking like a crazy person.
Matt kept having strange people over, whom I’d never seen before. Eventually whenever someone I didn’t know came over, Nate and I would go for a walk down the avenue until they left. I never heard much of what they talked about, but at several different times I heard a few people in the living room mutter “Jessie fuckin’ Mack. Holy shit.” Or something to that effect.
This was clearly upsetting to Nate, and every time he heard the name he’d revert to his paranoid, vomiting state. In late August he decided to leave here for good. He was so sick he could barely stand up, so I ended up carrying most of his luggage to the bus station with him. On our way there everyone was staring at us. I mean, I don’t blame them. You don’t see too many punk teenagers carrying suitcases through some bumfuck town in New Jersey.
As we passed the railroad bridge, a man in a truck threw some kind of gang sign at a group of kids in their early 20s. As he drove by he shouted “Jessie Fuckin Mack!” And everyone in the group started pumping their fists in the air. Nate emptied his stomach on the ground next to the bridge. We kept running into gangs on the way to the bus station, almost like they knew we’d be out today. Gangs that had been fighting each other for decades, standing out in the open, chest bumping, fist pumping, as if they were unifying against some unseen force. All shouting. “Jessie Mack!”
By the time we got to the bus station, Nate was in real bad shape. I hugged him goodbye, and told him to go find a new place to live, one in which no one knew anything about him or Jessie Mack.
He smiled back at me, then managed a laugh. “Funny”, he said. “That’s exactly what they told me back in Boston.”
That was the last time I saw him before October.
After that I moved back in with my dad, in this little town about an hour from Matt’s apartment. I got a real job, bought a junk car, the whole works. I even started dating this girl I really liked back in high school. Three months in Matt’s house made me feel like I had aged ten years, but I was finally stepping out into the light. I doubted I would ever see either of them again.
At some point in September, Matt put up some website with some weird mp3 loop of him and a bunch of other people screaming: “I am Jessie Mack! Jessie Fucking Mack!” Just that, over and over again. Someone told me that Matt was signing his work checks as ‘Jessie Mack’ now. None of his old friends really hang out with him anymore, so it’s hard to verify anything I hear about him these days.
The next time I saw Nate it was mid October. He had apparently come back to NJ to try to reason with Matt, to tell him to shut down the web page. The web page itself had gathered over fifty thousand hits, which was an alright count for the shittiest music in the world. Matt was also selling ‘Jessie Mack’ clothing, which was selling more rapidly than any other local product I’d ever seen.
Nate only stayed for three days, and I was at work for the first two. When I finally saw him, he was standing outside in Matt’s driveway in the pouring rain, looking about as bad off as when I left him the last time. After about 20 minutes of trying to reason with him, we went inside. I didn’t even recognize the place. In the foyer, two of the walls were bashed in. It had always been a dirty apartment, but now it looked as if no one had lived there in years.
All over the house, walls were punched in. Any space that still had a wall had writing on it. Most of the writing was in Gaelic so I don’t know what the fuck it said, but there were several references to Jessie Mack being the name of an ancient Gaelic entity and that the English translation of the name was “the descendant of the dark one”. Nate nodded solemnly as if he had known this all along.
There was an old couple, shooting heroin on one of the couches. The woman looked up at her boyfriend, saying “I want to get closer. You don’t even understand. I want to get closer to Jessie Mack.”
The man looked up at us. “Matt’ll be home in a few hours. He’s going to play guitar and put on a show for us.” He gestured toward a guitar in the corner, with a broken neck, three working strings, and the words “Jessie Mack” crudely carved across the bottom panel.
Nate ran out of the house screaming.
I cornered him in an alleyway. Rain streamed down his face but nonetheless I could tell he was sobbing.
“You’re not even fucking real!” he shouted at me. “You live in my head, none of this is real, it’s all just a fucking joke.” I tried to comfort him but he wasn’t taking it.
“I know, I know. I’m a fucking crazy person. That’s what everyone says.”
We sat together for a few hours and he calmed down a bit, as did the rain.
“I’m done.” He finally said. “I’m done with this. You have no idea how DONE I am with this. I’m going back. I’m gonna be a good person this time. I’m gonna be a vegan, just like Jess…just like this kid I used to know told me to. I’ll go back to school I’ll do anything just someone please make this fucking go away.”
He left the next morning. I never saw him again.