October 31, 1974
Piotr and Janek Tarkowski, American born sons of Polish immigrants, ran through the woods just west of Germantown, Pennsylvania. The elementary school age boys enjoyed the thick treed wooded area not far from their modest suburban Philadelphia home. They knew the area like the back of their hands from playing in the woods daily before dinner.
“Race you to the waterfall,” cried out the 9 year old Piotr as his 7 year old younger brother tried hard to keep up.
“No fair Piotr,” replied young Janek. “You got a head start.” Nevertheless, Janek followed his older brother as fast as he could.
The boys sneakers could be heard slipping and sliding on the wet leaves as they ran down the path toward an 18 foot modest waterfall which led to the small local creek that ran through the woods. Both were huffing and puffing as they reached the waterfall but neither would slow down. Pride ran deep in the Tarkowski family and each dreaded the thought of being the loser in any competition that was held.
The older Piotr reached the edge of the waterfall first and raised his arms in triumph as he went to stop just feet from the edge of the cliff. But wet leaves on the ground took away his footing and the 9 year stumbled to the ground. Grabbing a small tree just 3 feet from the edge allowed Piotr to stop his forward momentum. Janek was not as lucky. Trying to stop, Janek slipped and slid toward the edge of the cliff. Piotr scream out and extended his arm in an effort to catch his younger brother. But it was all in vain. Janek slid off the edge and headed downward to the rocky creek below.
“Janek!!” Piotr scrambled to his knees to get to the edge of the small fall. On the ground below, he could see the body of his brother lying in a contorted position with his left leg twisted 90 degrees from its natural orientation. Janek’s head was lying against a large boulder near the base of the falls and the boy was completely motionless.
“Janek!!” Piotr called out several times, hoping that his brother would move or somehow acknowledge the yells. But the boy continued to just lie on the ground.
Fearing the worst, Piotr descended the cliff and headed toward the creek, all along being careful about the wet conditions in the wood. Soon he reached the bottom and moved briskly toward the body of his brother. From a distance, he could see a light gray mist now covering the area where the body was laying. The mist seemed an oddity given the relative warmth of the fall afternoon. But Piotr didn’t have time to consider it. He had to reach his brother.
After following the twisted creek path, Piotr finally each the bottom of the falls and Janek’s motionless body. He moved toward the body but stopped in a lurch. Standing next to Janek was a large white dog, appearing to almost be guarding the body. As Piotr continued to move toward Janek, the dog raised his head. Piotr gasped as he realized that the animal was not a dog but rather a white wolf. The animal seemed almost inquisitive as it looked at Piotr. Then in an instant, the wolf took to flight, heading down the creak and into the woods. Piotr stared at the animal as it ran away and then immediately went to the side of his brother. Janek was unresponsive and his body was already cold to the touch. Piotr screamed for help, not giving up until adults from the area finally came to his help. But paramedics could do nothing for the young boy as his grieving parents and brother looked on.
October 31, 1994
29 year old Piotr Tarkowski looked up from the Germantown Gazette and wondered. The article in the paper was just like previous ones from 1979, 1984, and 1989. Every 5 years on the exact same date, a young boy had been found alongside the Cresheim Creek not far from a modest waterfall that partially fed the Wissahickon Valley waterways. Always occurring on October 31st, local authorities had been questioning whether the unexplained deaths might have been from a serial killer living around the Germantown area. Authorities were cautioning people to stay away from the Wissahickon Valley area with Halloween once again coming. The police promised to patrol the area in hopes of stopping the deaths.
Piotr rubbed his eyes and contemplated the article. He wondered about the first strange death when it had occurred on October 31, 1979. The young boy was just slightly older than Janek was at the time of his death. But 15 year old Piotr wrote off the death as being a coincidence. But then another came in October 31, 1984. The second death was similar to the first one. And then there was the death in October 1989. The pattern was too specific to ignore. But while the authorities searched in vain for a serial killer, Piotr pondered the unthinkable.
As October 31, 1994 came, Piotr decided that he had to address his nagging suspicions. He drove to his old neighborhood and parked next to his family home. With the death of his parents in 1990, the family home was now owned by a young family very much like the Tarkowskis. Piotr paused as he looked at his old home, knowing that the young children now living there could be at risk. Tears came down his cheeks as he thought about how much he had lost. His brother and his parents.
After a few moments, Piotr headed for the woods. The path leading into the heavily wooded area looked the same as when Janek and he had played there 20 years in the past.
Inside the woods, he could hear police patrolling Cresheim Creek. He stopped at the top of the waterfall while police moved downstream further into the woods. He checked his watch. It was 4:15 PM, close to the time when Janek had passed away just 20 years earlier.
Piotr slowly descended from the top of the waterfall to the creek below. He headed left and in a short time he reached it. The location where Janek’s body had laid back in October 1974. Tears came down Piotr’s cheeks as he looked at the large rock that had crushed Janek’s small head. The guilt of that day came back and Piotr felt embarrassed. Couldn’t he have done more?
Rustling came from the woods adjacent to the creek bed as a white wolf appeared. The wolf looked at Piotr and growled. Sharp teeth were visible in the mouth of the animal. But Piotr didn’t run. Instead, he stood his ground and spoke to the animal.
“Janek, it’s me Piotr. I have come to talk to you.”
The animal stopped growling but continued to look menacingly at Piotr. The animal’s eyes looked intently at the young man.
“I know that you have been killing the young boys along this creek. I know you are doing it out of frustration and revenge over your life being taken so young. But this has to stop. They are innocent and don’t deserve this. Just as you never deserved to die.”
The wolf growled again but much less intensively. The animal looked away from Piotr as if it were unwilling to look into his eyes. Piotr eyes were fixated on the wolf as he continued his one sided dialogue.
“If you don’t let go of this anger, you will never have peace. You are better than this. Mom and dad mourned you for years before they died. I have too.”
The wolf hung its head and whined. Piotr was convinced that the animal had to be Janek. But was he getting through to him?
“Let go of this anger. Mom and dad are calling for you. Go to them and find peace.”
As the wolf looked at the large rock in the creek, the one that had caused Janek’s death in 1974, it’s color started to change. The white fur on the animal turned darker and darker as it eventually reached grey. And above the animal, a light gray mist formed, just like the mist seen by Piotr in 1974. The animal looked up, shook it’s head and then took off into the woods.
Piotr shivered as he watched the animal run off. Had he convinced Janek to search for the peace that he had never allowed himself to have? Piotr wasn’t sure.
As Piotr climbed back up the cliff back to the edge of the waterfall, he looked back, searching for a glimpse of the wolf. But to his surprise, he saw instead a rainbow over the creek bed below.
The Cresheim Creek killings stopped in 1994 and no additional occurrences every took place. The Germantown police keep the case file open as part of standard practice but as time passed, they would eventually close it. In 2012, the case was finally closed as an unsolved mystery.
Piotr Tarkowski eventually moved from the Philadelphia area, taking up residence in Colorado as a freelance writer. He enjoyed the Rocky Mountains and hiked the area often. And whenever he would see a gray wolf, he would pause to wonder whether Janek was finally at peace. On several occasions, he saw a rainbow over top of the animal and he suspected that he knew the answer to that question.
Author’s Bio: Tom Schmidt is a Chemical Engineer working in medical diagnostics in upstate New York. He enjoys creative writing and has been published on www.short-story.me in the past and is scheduled to be published on www.overmydeadbody.com later this year. He is currently working on the “Paul Garigan Crime Mysteries”, a collection of short stories centered around a Malibu based police detective which he hopes to publish in the future.