Nosleep is a place for redditors to share their scary personal experiences. Please read our guidelines in the sidebar/"about" section before proceeding.
NoSleep is a place for authors to share their original horror stories. For a more detailed explanation of the subreddit, click here.
Do not private message individual mods regarding official nosleep business. Questions regarding rules, potential story approvals, and post removals should be sent to modmail. Click here to message the mods. Messages sent to individual mods regarding nosleep will not be answered.
Don't be greedy with the upvotes! Nosleepers thrive on karma, so if you read something you like, toss it an upvote to let them know!
Suspension of disbelief is key here. Everything is true here, even if it's not. Don't be the jerk in the movie theater hee-hawing because monkeys don't fly.
Note: All stories submitted to r/nosleep belong to the original poster. If you fail to ask permission before narrating, translating, producing, or sharing their post to another page/website, the original poster may file a DMCA strike against you. This means that they will be able to have their content removed from your page. If several authors file DMCA strikes against you, most sites will remove your page completely.
If you would like to ask for permission to narrate, translate, produce, or share a user's story to another site/webpage, you must do so in PMs. Asking for this permission in a comment on the post is considered out of character, and such comments will be removed.
Have you found stories shared/narrated without author permission? Report it on r/SleeplessWatchdogs!
Read the Posting Guidelines & Author FAQ, and make sure your story fits all of the guidelines before posting. If you are unsure whether or not your story meets the guidelines, feel free to message the mods with a draft (preferably in a google doc) before posting.
The Posting Guidelines include thorough details on each rule in order to make following our rules easier.
All stories, including each part of a series, must follow these guidelines or they will be removed.
Report all posts that violate our rules and guidelines!
Readers are to act as though everything is true and treat it as such in the comments. Click here for more information on this rule.
No debunking, disbelief, or criticism (constructive or otherwise). If the formatting is off, report the post and mods will address it.
Do not ask for proof or tl;dr’s.
No “backseat modding.” If something breaks a rule, report it. This helps the mods keep track of rule-breaking and ensure users are being civil.
Be respectful to one another
Comments must contribute to the discussion. This means no joke comments. It also means your comment should have or make a point.
Report all comments that violate these rules.
Read the Reader FAQ!
Any violation of these rules will be met with appropriate discipline. Inappropriate posts and comments will be removed at moderator discretion. Harassment of users, repeated rule violations, or reposting removed stories can and will result in a ban.
Alimony bleeds me dry every paycheck, but that’s nothing compared to the other payment coming due each night.
Last week, I came home to an intruder in my crappy studio apartment. He sat on the edge of my sagging Murphy bed, strangely out of place with his tailored suit and briefcase. His hawkish face was dominated by all-black eyes, staring at me behind silver spectacles.
If I hadn’t been plastered, I might’ve jumped out of my skin. My tired brain had been playing tricks on me lately, and hitting the bottle this hard certainly didn’t help.
“Are you really there?” I asked.
“Yes; don’t be alarmed Mister Hinkle. I am Grk-Krk-hck—“ his name came out like a guttural coughing fit, “—but you may call me G. I’m here to discuss a settlement.”
I wanted to run from the intruder. But the name… I actually knew it. “You sent me a letter a few weeks back. Big wax seal. You’re a lawyer?” I remembered skimming the document, and casting it aside.
“Sorry, I read ‘Temporal Tribunal,’ and thought it was a prank.”
I didn’t understand. “If she wants more money, I’ve got nothing else.” I gestured to the room, completely bare save for the bed, an a folding table where I ate my meals.
G laughed. A wheezing, sickly laugh. “I’m not here to collect your money. I’m here to collect time.”
“The Temporal Tribunal collects stolen, wasted time, and restores it to the rightful owner,” G said. “My, how you robbed your wife of her formative years.”
I hung my head.
“Before we take you to court, she asked to try a settlement. We’re proposing you repay her 5 years, a few hours at a time, over the next decade.”
“And if I refuse?”
G shrugged. “The Tribunal despises adulterers. You’d probably owe double.“
I was going to wake up. This was a booze-fueled nightmare. “Deal.”
G licked his pale lips.
“Shake on it.” He held out his hand.
His skin felt fibrous and coarse, like cheap sheets at a seedy motel. There was no border between the edge of his sleeve, and the beginning of his flesh. His suit WAS his skin.
He smirked, curling the corners of his thin, pale mouth. “You’ll be seeing me again.”
One second he was there. The next, he simply wasn’t. There was no puff of smoke, or even my door clicking shut.
I brushed it off as the work of my panicked, overtired imagination; a stress-hallucination brought on by the jackals in three piece suits who helped my wife tear my life apart.
Turns out I wasn’t so lucky.
True to his word, G returned. I see him every night at 3AM, leering at me from the foot of the bed with those cold eyes. When I blink, the clock jumps to 6– just minutes before my alarm.
Even still, I held out hope it was a recurring nightmare until last Friday night. I turned off my alarm, planning to sleep as late as my body allowed. I blinked away an entire weekend, walking at 6, Monday morning.
I caught on slower than I’d care to admit: The thing my wife loosed on me is collecting my debt every night. A few hours each day, a few days each week.
I have no idea what happens during the missing time, but I’m certainly not sleeping. I’m feeling the effects of chronic sleep deprivation. Everything aches, and I’m throwing back coffee by the pot just to stay upright.
My next step will be coming up with an experiment to figure out exactly what’s happening after 3 AM.
There’s no way I can live like this for the next decade.
I saw lights in the distance, like paper lanterns through a forest fog, dancing in and out of the obscuration of trees and undergrowth. My head ached fiercely, and for a moment there was nothing but the movement of these colored lamps, without sound or designation impressing itself upon anything.
And then I felt the cold again, and suddenly the sharp claws of a brisk wind lifted me out of the haze of confusion and into waking life. I saw that the dancing lights were small colored tea candles set on a desk in a small room. I found myself laying, not fully reclined, on an old couch that didn't offer much comfort. I recalled the doctor's words, “...find some kind of comfort,” and would have found it humorous had another gust of cold wind not blown through the open window.
In a chair, close to what seemed to be some kind of altar, was a man that was somewhat recognizable, wearing turquoise jewelry. Memories flooded back. I recalled picking him up from the roadside- rescuing him from a broken down fate on a highway in the new cold hells of Kansas.
“Why in the blazes is that window open?” I tried not to sound ungracious, but I had chills and my skull still pounded with a lashing pain. “I don’t mean to be rude, I am just having trouble-” I struggled to organize my thoughts into langage, looking at the man with the topknot and dark eyes. I noticed what appeared to be something in his topknot. It seemed to be a small box made of a kind of metal. I realized I was staring and met his eyes again with some discomfiture.
He waved his hand briskly, “It’s not important. Memory comes and goes. Recall is compounded, it is bound to phenomena and supported by circumstances, just like everything else. More important is that you are here.”
Then I remembered the vast sky, and the parasol the size of a grand city. And the smiling harbinger of something dreadful. I recalled all of that, and the drive before, and suddenly met the man’s gaze again.
“Oh my god, I was driving and then- are you ok?” I asked with a sudden understanding of what could have been.
“Yes.” He said matter of factly. He didn’t explain further. He nodded toward the window and I gazed outside, into a small gravel lot in front of wherever I was. Two vehicles were there and one was mine, not a single scratch other than the ones I had put there myself.
Before I could ask for further details, the door of the room opened, and an older woman, with gray hair but a timeless face, came into the room with two cups of tea. She handed one to the man in front of me, and put another on a small nightstand beside the couch.
“You woke up sooner than we thought.” And she gazed at the man in front of me.
“We could have been killed, I still don’t understand-”
“No, we weren’t very close to that, and won’t be for some time.” He said very softly, in a way that was almost difficult to hear.
“Where am I?” I asked, giving them the question I realized probably should have come first.
“My trailer. Between Oakwood Falls and Menard,” She said. “But, please, stay the night, it is too cold and maybe not a good time to be alone, yes?” She asked very kindly, motioning with her hands again to the tea that she had given me.
“My name is Alejandra. And you are welcome here,” Again, an unexpected tone of kindness, something too real to be given to a stranger.
“Sonam was telling me that you are a detective?” She inquired, breaking my distracted thoughts, and bringing me gently back to the present.
“Yeah, from Oakwood.” I said matter of factly. I was somewhat grateful to be alive, but again the answers were absent, and I could feel the blind spots in my knowledge growing larger than my understanding. I turned again to look at Sonam for a moment, and then leaned forward, took some of the tea to drink and leaned back again.
The libation was unexpected, savory and full, like bone broth and some kind of oil. The surprise made it difficult to swallow, but it wasn’t unpleasant. When I got it down the aftertaste was like some kind of herbal mixture that I could not identify at all. It sank into my body like fine alcohol that didn’t burn. Warmer than any fire. It was the only thing in days that cut through the twisted, bitter cold.
“Thank you.” I said, and for the first time in a long time it came from my heart, and was not some perfunctory social necessity.
She smiled and said, “Please, drink!” And I did. And it was like drinking morning sunlight after a night with good friends, it was like the glow of the hour after being married, it was like drinking what should be and what should have been. It was like everything was rearranged and wonder had returned to the world. The sudden rush of emotions would have caught me and overwhelmed me had I not had such practice in silencing them.
I coughed slightly, catching myself and returning the well worn mask of the deadpan detective.
“Alejandra, If I may ask, how did you and Sonam meet one another? He said he was here on business, if I remember,” and I paused, trying to bring everything back. “But he didn’t say if you were involved in this… business.” I hesitated at the end, remembering the distrust he had shown around my initial questions.
“No, the business isn’t me and I am not involved in the business,” She made a kind of soundless laugh, just staccato breaks in the air, “Not this time.”She said, and looked back at Sonam. There was a stillness then, and they both looked at each other for a few seconds, as if having an unspoken conversation in a mutual language of silence I could never know.
“We met so many ages ago. Less lines on my face,” He pointed to his own face with a smile, “And about the same on hers. Some people don’t even need to make deals with time. TIme comes to them and begs.” He said, with a half grin.
“In any case, I was in Saltillo on-”
“Business,” I said, finishing his sentence and nodding in a way that indicated I knew he wouldn't go deeper than that.
“Indeed.” He said.
“That’s my hometown,” She said, “We met. We had some adventures,” She put her hand on his shoulder, not romantically, I noticed, but with the care one might give a brother or sister. “And then he went back home. After that I visited when I could, if I could, and he would do the same. But letters and distance, mostly.” She finished and then he pointed to the phone on the small table beside.
“Until the age of that damned thing.” He said, “In any case, it has been ten years since we last saw one another, and despite the,” He searched for the word, “Complexities of this business, this has been the upside.” He smiled and looked up at her.
“Well,” I said, not knowing much else to say and not wanting to be rude, “Thank you for keeping me from being dead and frozen. Out there.” and I pointed to the open window. Alejandra walked over and closed it.
“Would you like another cup of tea?”
“Is that what that is?” I asked, and she smiled in return, saying nothing.
“No, not right now. I think I’ll take you up on your offer and stay the night.”
“I’ll get some more blankets.” She said, and left the room. Sonam stood and looked at me, his expression suddenly intense and piercing, but not unkind. When he leaned over to stand from the chair I saw another necklace, under the outer turquoise one beneath his shirt. It was some kind of multi-sided dagger, made of a dark metal with strange swirls of patterns and colors.
It disappeared back under his shirt as stood and walked over a bit closer to me.
“Sleep well, my friend. When you wake up, maybe you’ll ask about the place you went, and what you saw there. And maybe I’ll have some answers.”
I should have been surprised, overwhelmed with the instinct to interrogate, to find answers, and to understand how he knew anything about my blackouts and visions. But I wasn’t. The drink had provided warmth and washed away the black hole of confusion that eats light and time. And I knew that I could finally sleep, maybe for the first time since Wen left, maybe for the first time since some years before that. And I did.
And for a long time there was only the endless, restful black. Directionless and timeless, without grasping or a need for control, it welcomed me and gave me the renewal of nothingness.
And then I was in the house I had shared with Wen. Despite us agreeing to not have children there were two of them there and I knew their names, Robert and Anna. In the dream it was summer and the sky was clear and I was outside cooking on a grill. They were chasing each other, not yet ten year olds, fraternal twins. Wen embraced me from behind and I lost the ability to know what had been and only knew the dream.
I could hear the children laughing, “Tag, you're it!” And the chase began and I smiled and turned, kissing Wen gently as she moved and began setting a table outside. “I love you and love you still.” I said, and tears ran down my face. She looked up curiously and concerned and moved toward me but stopped. Thunder rolled in the distance and small pellets of rain began to fall.
I looked as some of the drops fell on my arm. The drops were like mirrors and they reflected scenes of life and memories in them. I recognized a few of them, but most of them I didn’t. As the rain ran down my arm they would melt and fade. I saw different children with different names, I saw births and funerals, promotions and moves and diseases and sudden deaths. And all of it fell and all of it faded.
And I looked up and saw that Wen was blurred in my eyes as the rain fell more heavily. “Wen?” I asked, not understanding what I was seeing. And suddenly the rain began to wash her away too, as if she was made of the same water, she dissolved and splashed and pooled upon the ground. I screamed her name, “Wen!” But she was gone. I looked to my side and saw the children melting into water too, and the ground and the yard and house and finally the sky and itself and I was moving down a torrential river of water, the only luminous thing flowing into the darkness of forever.
And then I washed ashore, and found that the coast of my dreams had become a bathtub in a motel room, green and white tiles, a chipped mirror and a sink that would never be clean no matter what acid or chemical was thrown on it.
The bathroom of the scene of the murder at the Bluebird motel. I heard voices coming from the adjoining room, tense but familiar, and I listened:
“Do you think it is really so bad as to come all this way, Jim? My god, he is your cousin!”
“It’s bad Kat. Just trust me on this one alright! You never really trust me, Kat. I am trying to save us here.”
Jim Espie and Kat Parr. The two unhappy dead from the previous day’s case. I stood up from the bathtub, covered in still in the illusory water of memory and dreaming, and made my way out into the room, unseen in my perplexing vision of the past and its characters.
Kat was now sitting on the bed of the motel room closest to the bathroom and the enigmatic back door. She had her arm around her partner, and their bags were still unpacked between the beds.
“Everyone gets in a bad spot sometimes, Jim. I think if you call, if you reason with him, if you tell him we will both work and work hard- well, what’s he going to do, kill his own cousin over a few grand?”
“It ain’t the money, Kat.” He looked at her and his face was pale, his eyes sunken and his long brown-blond hair was greasy and slick from days without a shower. “It’s what I saw.” He said and his voice trembled and shook, it deepened on the last word as if it would break and he would cry out in terror.
“I know, honey, you had a bad dream or something, but the doc said-”
“It wasn’t a fucking dream!” He yelled and stood up and put his hand on throat and breathed in strongly as if he was having trouble finding air.
“It wasn’t a dream,” He said, more quietly this time but still perturbed. “I blacked out in the middle of work, fell down a flight of stairs, and god knows how I didn’t break my damn neck! And I can’t even describe what I saw then, Kat. I don’t got words for it.” He stopped and looked at her.
“But I will tell you what I did see, in the other part. While I was out. My cousin at night with a bunch of fuckin’ nutjobs doing something in the woods outside the city. Far outside the city. And when I told Seth what I saw you should have seen his fuckin’ face, Kat. I knew it wasn’t just some dream then. The way he just left our conversation. ‘See ya round, pal.’ He said as if I was already dead to him. We are in trouble here cat. Bad trouble.”
And she stood and walked up to him but both of them began to fade and turn into shadows that moved formlessly around the room, as outside the window I could see the sun of previous days rise and set, and rise and set again, and I could hear as if from a long distance the conversations grow louder and angrier with time.
And suddenly the shadows again became Jim Espie and Kat Parr.
He was looking out the curtain of the motel window toward the parking lot, half drawn to hide his face. I tried to look as well but the curtains were only barely open and most of my view was blocked. I looked back and saw the bags and the condoms and everything the way it was on the day I found them. “This is the day they die.” I thought, and sadness filled my body like a poisoned river.
He stayed watching for a time and then suddenly moved back and sat again on the bed closest to that damnable back door. As he quickly moved I could see a black SUV pulling out of the parking lot and Kat walking back.
Jim leaned over to the nightstand beside his bed and quickly put the handgun in his jeans behind him. As soon as the door closed he launched into a tirade of anger.
“I saw you meeting him!” He yelled. “I saw it! Was that Seth! Why the fuck was he dressed like that Kat!? What the hell! That black hat looked like something out of a damn western movie. You thought I was sleepin’ and you betrayed me! You killed us both Kat. Fuck you!”
And he pulled the gun and pointed it straight at her. She immediately panicked and threw her hands up.
“Jim, Jim, please!” She cried and tears started rolling down her face. “I called Seth. I did. But only because this is ridiculous. We can’t live like this. I can’t live like this! I can’t be on the run. But that wasn’t Seth, ok It was his man. I don’t know why he was dressed like that and I don't know where he was from but look, baby, we are ok. We are good,” She stretched out the last word in an attempt to calm her manic partner.
“The guy out there, he said we can come back. The debt is forgiven. He didn’t even say nothin’ about your dream, baby.”
“IT WASN’T A FUCKING DREAM!” Jim thundered. As he was about to continue the hotel phone rang. The moment it did Kat turned toward the door to escape. Jim looked up, his face skeletal and gaunt and now decided.
But as he pulled the trigger and the spark of shell and powder exploded, thunder crashed outside, and again I could hear something like the sound of cymbals. And the rain started and the room began to melt. The soon to be dead but already dead also melted. And I was again rolling down the river of dreams and emptiness.
This time the shore was actually sand, and the water all around me was red. Dark red like the color of plum wine. In front of me was a forest and I could hear voices and see torches lit. Strange canticles pierced the night. I felt the sand move under my feet, but ignored it and walked forward. The further I stepped the further the chanting seemed to recede until all at once it went silent and the torches were extinguished. I looked up at the sky and saw only black.
I walked forward, now totally alone, until finally I came to a mausoleum. It was gigantic, like a great temple, at least thirty feet high. The design was Grecian in structure, tall and long like a place that should have been long set in ruins. The doors in the front seemed made of stone, and in the center of them each was a painted eye, lid half closed, with the eyes colored yellow and red, staring with complete knowledge. Each door had a large metal ring on it, tied with a massive rope, red and black.
As I went to open the door the rope slid into the stone itself, and like braided coiled serpents traveled to the space above and between the two eyes. Then another eye I hadn’t seen before opened wide in the center of the two others. As it opened, two smaller doors within the main doors opened as well. In the center of the long hall of this temple was a bowl suspended on a platform. The ground beneath was carved out to allow whatever was in the bowl to drain.
There were statues on both sides of the structure, but they were shrouded in darkness. On the far end was a golden statue of a man in robes, with a wide brimmed hat, tasseled in small ornamented skulls. Behind him was a brilliant painting, its colors cutting through the gray lifeless vision.
A parasol, painted in all the hues of the rainbow, surrounded by clouds. On both sides were the sun and moon, and written around the parasol in moving white was a script in letters I couldn’t understand or read.
Then, from the bowl, came thunder and water exploded like a torrent everywhere, melting the temple, and the forest and the shore, and all of my own features and faculties. And then again came the emptiness of dreamless sleep.
Rochester Heights had always been a hell hole. I know that now, I mean I never doubted that some of the people here were assholes but in the time I’ve had to reflect I realize how either indigent or cruel they were to each other. Maybe when people group together like that with no goal beyond inhabitance unpleasant things arise. I lamented once that to them I was nothing but a sulking shadow only half-remembered. Once my landlord had forgotten I even lived there and sent Tony to get the place ready for a new tenant. Now, I’m not so sure I mind as much, being one of the forgotten ones might’ve saved my life.
I was ready for the horrors of the 2nd-floor hallway, meeting the grasping hands with an overhead axe swing that nearly severed one hand at the wrist. Pulling back I used the butt end to smash away another grasping hand until I could slip past them.
Sarah Palmer was next, swiveling around in her mobility scooter to face me but it was too late. The heel of the axe sunk into flesh soft as putty and as I yanked the axe loose half her face sloughed off. I heard her chuckle as I ran past. Something was burning in me, even if I died here, I had to know the what and how of Rochester’s descent into madness.
Harold’s room door was still ajar and I made sure to bolt the door the moment I ran in, only then did I slowly turn around. I thought it was graphorrhea at first. I had read about it one late night, a disorder most often associated with schizophrenics. The incoherent ramblings written and spoken.
The living room floor and adjacent floor contained countless sharp-edged sigils and glyphs. They looked occultic in their configurations but the actual characters themselves were completely foreign. Dead center was free of the scrawl but stained with brownish-red blood. I knew it was where Tony had found Harold’s body. There was a journal left on the coffee table and flipping through I confirmed that it was his.
In the few minutes I had in that room I didn’t have much time to really understand its contents. And though I still have it and I’ve spent hours since pouring over it, I’ve only been able to come up with a rudimentary understanding of what Harold was on to. I’ll summarize it here the best I can.
Harold moved back in with his mother after an episode that cost him his job a year prior. They lived off her social security checks and he deeply resented her for her advanced age, every day she’d wake up with less of her mind intact. He was also having issues with extreme sexual frustration and began clinging delusionally to Joanne’s politeness as a signal that she wanted him.
The confrontation with her boyfriend Carter was the breaking point. It wasn’t the reason why he did all this, but it was the final straw. But he had reason to resent everyone here and he detailed all his grievances big and small. I learned then the difference between being someone pushed to the wayside but still scrutinized with an eye of assumed threat like Harold and being forgotten altogether, like me. In his pages upon pages of detailed slights never once did my name come up, my existence failed to register to someone who was uncomfortably similar. It made me feel bitter and I don’t know why.
Then there was talk of what he dubbed “The Background World,” I still don’t quite understand what it is and its purpose but that's the thing that ties this all together, I’ll let Harold explain in his own words.
I first saw it in a dream, then a vision. It started with a tusked worm taking a bite out of the thin air, and like a scalloped finger, it peeled back what I thought was real to show me the machinations that ran behind what could be seen. Two places within the same space but never allowed to touch or interact. As above so below and from below to above, everything is mirrored. If it exists here in our layer it exists below, within The Background World.
That was the first rule it told me, the most important for creating an interstice where we can finally meet. The second rule is that for an Autarch to touch the human domain something must be offered to it, a life or part of one. Most often the offering is someone else. The greater the offering the more an Autarch can manipulate the human domain as long as it’s within its sphere of influence. The most powerful offerings are oneself, a year of your life, or the greatest joy you’ll ever feel. The greatest offer one can make to an Autarch is your own life.
There’s more, he mentions that the Autarch he’s in contact with is one that operates within the sphere of agony, pain is its domain and Harold knew pain better than most. The best I can piece together is that somehow he came into contact with this entity. Maybe it preyed on him for being vulnerable or maybe its influence scrambled his thoughts, or maybe what he learned was too much for any mind to bear without consequence.
I say this because I don’t believe that Harold was crazy, ill, and in need of help but there are enough commonalities in the strange runic language and his journaling that it feels as if he was truly uncovering something. He was not a stark raving madman, at least not until he let himself sink deeper into the influence of what had been encircling him.
He spent the week leading up to the fateful night of his death preparing for Rochester’s fall into the background world. 16 fetishes were placed around the apartment to mark the boundary for where the Autarch would lift the veil and let our worlds merge. 6 of them were made from parts of his mother. The rest from strays and pets around the apartment. The last of them was Mrs. Lorent’s dog, in the laundromat. Mirrored above and below, even if they were removed they still created something in the background world that sanctioned this hell.
Harold lamented that he never placed one in the basement below it and that was my chance. Maybe just maybe the building was only partially within the insterstice and if I could make it to the 2nd basement and emerge it would be into the outside I had always known, or maybe I’d step righ into The Background World. Regardless, I had no choice but to try.
I scrounged around the apartment and found that Harold was a heavy drinker with a taste for cheap vodka. I fashioned 5 Molotovs with what he had and started the trek back down to the 1st floor.
Stepping into the hallway I was greeted by them, the conjoined endlessly fucking monstrosity that had started this. I greeted them with a sprinter’s launching bolt and an axe swing. The side of Carter’s and Joanna’s faces took the blow and though the flesh came away in a huge chunk and I heard the clinking of teeth splattering across stone floors they didn’t even flinch.
Carter tried lunging at me, arm outstretched but I flung myself against the wall and was trying to slip behind them. they pivoted around to try to face me but the strange distribution of their weight made them cumbersome and the fear I felt was gone. Another axe swing sunk deep into compromised muscle and bone and cleaved through them far easier than uncorrupted tissues. It was enough to nearly decapitate them and they let out this horrible wheezing gasp. Another lunging grasp was met with an axe blow that sent nearly half his fingers skipping across the ground and one last swing to their neck finished it.
Though their head was on the floor before me they did not die. What remained of their face was opening and closing its mouth and I could see that the destroyed cheek was starting to restructure and regenerate. This truly was hell, willed into existence by a resentful heart. The body didn’t fall and wasn’t still either, jerking and twitching about, it eventually started grasping towards its head.
I had the Molotov lit by the time it took hold of its neck and thrown in the moment it lifted it up. They erupted into a ball of fire and I swore I heard screaming, as if some part of their warped mind registered what had just occurred and I hoped that the fire would be enough to put an end to them. The 2nd Molotov was thrown into the corner where Sarah and the hands tried and failed once more to apprehend me, I was gonna burn this place down if I could. Maybe then I would be able to spare them. The third was thrown atop the lobby desk. The last two were for the laundromat. I didn’t know if the building would actually burn but I wanted to cause some harm, to do anything.
The mad dash to the laundry was the fastest I’ve ever run, I’m sure of it. I was certain that the commotion and the fires would have caused the Autarch and its cultist to emerge from management's office but nothing ever impeded my flight down the stairs into the laundry room.
I landed on soft floors and the lights now were dim and blood red but even then I saw the horror that lay before me. A pulsating mass, a conglomerate of flesh formed at the center of the room, and it stretched out across the floor, walls, and machines. Every inch was living tissue and sinews, nerves, blood vessels, all of it. A dozen limbs raked and reached out at open air weakly and I swore they had some identifying features. A watch that could’ve belonged to Jose from the 7th floor, a sleeve of a distinctive neon green sweater from Kiana a college student.
I didn’t need another reason, the 4th Molotov was thrown on the fleshy floor behind me and the final directly at the tumor. The dark was eclipsed by the burning sun that stood behind me. The threshold of the sub-basement and my hopeful exit was before me now but I hesitated for a moment. The heat licked at my spine and my eyes watered at the rising smoke. If I was wrong I would be fucked, but I’d be fucked fire or not.
I moved forward and the moment my foot touched the first step the world behind me plunged back into darkness as the fire extinguished. In an instant it all ceased, the heat, the smoke, a curtain of silence fell and a wave of dread rose. I knew I shouldn’t have looked back but I couldn’t help myself, with a thundering heart I threw my gaze back and saw it. The Autarch of Agony that had caused all this, goaded and tempted Harold with its promise of pain to all he hated. The center of its eye blossomed before me and grew to encompass all before it in its vision.
Yes, it was a vision that it showed me, screams around me rose to a crescendo as the tumor grew to the size of the apartment itself, a living edifice. And yet it still paled in size compared to the Autarch who looked down on it. The countless tendrils and their instruments of torture reached down to the tower of flesh and it raked and sliced and tore and ate and… it all grew back. It would continue so, for eternity. That was a dark wish of Harold. The thing began to bulge and split apart, a perfect copy of its spherical form, mitosis. This thing could split itself and that’s how it planned to fulfill its promise and continue to operate without being bound to it.
I screamed, or I think I did because when I was able to pry my eyes away from it to look around I saw the shadow of my exit, the descent into the sub-basement. I ran, refusing to look back, I wouldn’t, couldn’t look back. So into the murky depths, I went.
I had been in the subbasement once before, small and damp it had only a few fold-up tables and chairs. There were no entries or exits except a single narrow staircase and a seldom-used door, leftovers from a bygone era. It was barred and locked at all times but the door was old, wooden and I was certain it would only take a good kick to break it down.
But what lay before me was not the basement, no it was some dark plane of reality that could not have been The Background World. I had seen brief glimpses of it just outside my window and this was different. Narrow and claustrophobic but at the same time impossibly expansive. Light did not exist here, even when I tried my lighter the air around me wicked away illuimantion. I reached out to touch concrete walls and found that I was in a tunnel. With no other option, I walked and walked until time ceased to have meaning. I know I must've been there for hours since hunger and exhaustion forced me to rest, but comfort was impossible so after a few minutes I got back up and pushed forward.
When at last I came upon an exit dimly illuminated it hurt my eyes that had been bathed in darkness for so long, a shallow staircase that led down to the sub-basement I had always known. The door was there and with a frenzied kick it fell away and I burst out to the world above with a half-scream of joy and a half-maddened sob. It was midday and Rochester Heights did not exist anymore. I had emerged from a subbasement into an empty, overgrown lot.
A homeless man nearby turned to glare at me momentarily before returning to whatever he was doing. Nothing exists of my ordeal and no one even remembers of Rochester Heights. I’ve done searches on the residents and it’s like they don’t exist. Everything and everyone marked by the Agony Autarch have ceased to exist meaningfully, or have been rewritten out of history. I found Macey’s mother and called to ask about her daughter and she swore to me she never had children. The company that owns the lot told me it’s been unoccupied and on the market for half a year.
I’ve not been the same since my escape from Rochester Heights. There’s so much left in this goddamn journal but every time I look at it I get this sense of overwhelming doom. There's so many questions, if what exists below is reflected above, and vice versa hows the world changed? Now as I speak there’s a tower of flesh that rises high above the world below and it casts its long shadow into the world above and I shudder to think at how it will manifest.
I know Rochester Heights has cast it’s shadow over me, darkened my heart one way or another. The people there didn’t deserve what happened to them, and Harold deserved better but in hatred or love their gaze eluded me. Once I resented that but now I find solace in it. The nightmares will never end, and I will never be ok. But at least any that casts it’s hateful gaze upon our world will see nothing but a shadow in my place.
This happened in 2015 when I was still in college in Beijing. I was in my fourth year of university, and everyone was busy working on their graduation projects. In China, university semesters typically run from September to July each year.
It was around April, and though it wasn't winter anymore, the weather was still quite cold. My girlfriend was majoring in illustration, and her classmates were all working with their respective mentors. Since most of the professors lived near the campus, it was convenient for students to have classes at their mentors' homes.
Due to some circumstances, her appointment with her mentor got rescheduled to around 7 PM. Thinking it would be nice to have dinner together after her class, I decided to accompany her to her mentor's place.
Chinese apartment buildings are usually part of a larger community or "compound" containing multiple identical buildings. Chinese housing designs, especially in the north, often prioritize the direction the apartment faces because winters can be bitterly cold. "Facing South" is a common concept, where rooms like the living room or master bedroom get more sunlight while less important spaces like the kitchen or study face north. However, in Beijing, especially after the skyrocketing housing prices post-2008, apartment designs often tend to be more cost-effective "corridor-style" buildings. These buildings consist of long rectangular structures divided into individual apartments, accessed via a common corridor. One side of the apartments has windows facing south, while the other side faces north. I mention this because her mentor’s apartment was on the north side, and it was on the fifth floor.
In Chinese beliefs, houses that don't receive sunlight regularly are considered to have "excessive yin energy." But young people rarely take such beliefs seriously. Financial concerns often outweigh concerns about "spirits." The fifth floor, which is technically the fourth floor (as "four" sounds like "death" in Chinese), is also considered inauspicious. In Chinese culture, it's common for buildings to label the floor above the third floor as the fifth floor, skipping the "fourth" due to the superstition surrounding that number. I heard that some real estate developers even add a mezzanine level between the third and fifth floors that's so low you need to stoop to enter it, and regular residents can't even access it.
Back to that evening. It was already dark when I accompanied my girlfriend to her mentor's place. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor, and when the elevator doors opened, we were met with complete darkness. The only source of light was the green glow from the emergency exit sign. Looking back now, I realize that even during the day, this corridor would have been pitch black without any lights because there were no windows.
We walked through the completely dark corridor and knocked on the mentor's door. She entered the apartment for her class, and I was left alone in the hallway. I decided to go to the supermarket nearby to pass the time.
However, when I reached the elevator, I noticed that it had returned to the first floor. While elevators do have a feature that automatically takes them to the first floor, it usually doesn't happen within such a short time frame, especially when we had only been talking to the mentor for a few minutes. I didn't think much of it at the time and pressed the elevator button, eager to get out of the dimly lit corridor.
The elevator arrived, and I stepped inside. As I was about to press the button for the first floor, I noticed that it was already lit up.
Someone had pressed it before me.
The elevator was empty except for me. After what felt like an excruciatingly long 30 seconds or maybe a minute, the elevator reached the first floor, and the doors opened. I quickly stepped out of the elevator and away from the building. I didn't run because I was afraid that if I did, whatever presence might be there would sense my awareness of its existence.
Every time I think back to that incident, I'm still puzzled. If the elevator had come down from a floor higher than the fifth, it could have been explained as someone pressing the first-floor button and not taking the elevator. However, I distinctly saw the elevator coming from the first floor, which was impossible if someone had pressed the first-floor button. So...
Years later, after we had graduated and the mentor had moved away, I visited his new home. During our conversation, he mentioned that in the old apartment building, he sometimes saw a woman sitting in his living room.
My boss is gonna kill me!
I exclaimed in a worried voice as I quickly got dressed
It was a Monday morning, and I was almost an hour late for work. I quickly got dressed and ran out the front door
I immediately got on my bike and started pedaling as hard as I could. My work was 25 minutes away if I stayed on the road, which was curved but only 13 if I went off the road for a more straight path. I went off the road while pedaling as fast as I possibly could, I was gasping for air when all of a sudden
I felt myself flying off my bike as it flipped over, and the both of us hit the ground. I passed out for what seemed like an hour. When I woke up, the only thing I could think about was how late to work I'd be
I was so concerned about work that it took me a while to notice how drastically the environment around me changed. Instead of a cool, sunny morning, I only saw dense fog all around me. Instead of sitting on a thin layer of melting snow, I was sitting in a dying meadow. Questions started to fill my head as my heart started to beat faster and faster
Am I... am I dreaming? Am I in a coma?What's going on?
I eventually gathered myself up and started walking...
The more I walked through this place, the more I lost my mind. I almost felt like I was in... another world. I felt the environment changing and shifting as I walked through it, I kept seeing strange things in the distance
Maybe I'm just tired?
I glanced at my watch when I saw its arms moving at an incredible speed
This is all just a dream! That's it, I just have to... stop dreaming.
As I walked through this hell for another hour, two words kept on repeating in my head
Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!
I just couldn't...
I kept on walking when the fog was replaced by heavy rain, the grassland turned into a city, an apocalyptic cesspool of a city.
Ruin surrounded me everywhere I went. The more I walked through this city, the more I felt insane, I started to see creatures zooming past me, watching me from the buildings... or what's left of em. As I kept on walking through the city, the sky began to turn red, the rain turned blood red as the creatures started to stare at me. I felt a sense of dread wash over me as the midnight moon shined through the crimson skies, I ran to the nearest building and hid there, trying as hard as I could to not make a sound, I felt as if... something was trying to kill me. I started to hear screeching and coming from somewhere in the building, I thought of running, but what if all this is a trick made by this place to trick me into going outside? What if I run outside and instantly get split up into cubes?
I decided to stay. I eventually turned around as the noises got louder and louder. You could imagine the look of horror on my face when I turned around to see a hideous demon staring right at me
I felt helpless. Expecting a painful death, I accepted my fate and closed my eyes as tears poured out of them, but instead of being split in half, I heard the rain disappear along with the demon. I opened my eyes to find myself in the grassland again, thick fog surrounded me, so thick that the light of the moon couldn't shine through it
I had no choice but to walk. I kept on walking through the fog as the creatures stared at me from a distance
WHEN WILL THIS ALL END?! WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?!!
I yelled out as I collapsed on the floor
I just couldn't walk anymore...
After staying down for what seemed like an hour, I saw a man rapidly approaching me, I wanted to get up, but I couldn't
We've had enough fun, it seems.
He said in a well-mannered voice
WHO ARE YOU?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM M-
He started laughing, his eyes turned crimson red as a wide smile was drawn across his face. I saw him snap his fingers before I passed out...
I woke up to see a concerned man calling someone on his phone
Oh, thank God!
He said when he saw me waking up
I tried to get up, but I collapsed in pain
Call an ambulance!
I told him
That's what I'm doing. The paramedics should be here soon. Rest
Ok... ok, thanks, friend. I would've probably been food for some bear if you hadn't stumbled upon me!
I eventually passed out again, I was woken up as the ambulance arrived
Hey, get up! The paramedics are here.
Ok, thanks again!
I remembered what I experienced as the paramedics put me in the ambulance, I thought it was all a dream until I saw the man staring at me as his eyes turned crimson red and a smile was drawn on his face
Rain pelted the city, creating pools of water that glinted under the neon lights. Every drop felt like a herald, announcing the start of yet another restless night. The patter against the window pane was once a lullaby, but now, it was a sinister hymn.
From my fifth-floor apartment window, I could see the people below hurrying to find shelter, their hurried steps and colliding umbrellas reminiscent of frantic insects escaping an unseen predator. But what was I escaping from?
The events always began with the rain.
That evening, the scent of petrichor and damp asphalt seeped into my apartment. The room darkened by storm clouds pressing against the city's skyline, the only light from the occasional flash of lightning streaking across the gray abyss.
On the street below, an old-fashioned red payphone stood. It was odd for such an anachronism to exist in our modern age. Every time it rained, that payphone would ring. The shrill trill was distant, but loud enough to reach my ears over the storm's roars.
I don't know why I first decided to pick it up months ago. Curiosity? Boredom? A daring venture? Regardless, the voice on the other end was the catalyst for the ordeal I found myself trapped in.
"You can't run forever." A man's voice, deep, and dripping with malice, pierced through the rain's chorus.
Tonight was no exception. The phone rang, echoing into the storm's cacophony. Someone was about to answer it, drawn in by its mysterious allure.
I watched as a man in a tan raincoat, collar pulled up to shield him from the downpour, approached the phone. From my vantage point, I could only see his back as he hesitated for a moment before finally lifting the receiver. The lightning flashed, briefly illuminating his confused expression as he listened. He hung up swiftly, his face pale, and hurried away, casting nervous glances around him.
Each time someone answered that call, they disappeared the next day, leaving behind only a soaked raincoat.
My curiosity had me ensnared. I'd witnessed this cycle countless times. It wasn’t a coincidence. But every attempt to intervene was met with resistance. The police dismissed my concerns, neighbors laughed it off, and friends said it was just my overactive imagination. “Urban legends,” they'd say. But I knew. I had answered the call once.
I decided to venture out. The city looked different in the rain, a mosaic of reflections and silhouettes dancing in watery mirrors. The payphone was my destination, but why? To confront it? To understand it?
Making my way through the rain-slicked streets, I found myself before the blood-red booth. The phone inside looked ordinary, yet it emanated an energy that made the hairs on my arms bristle.
Hesitating, I entered the booth. The smell of cold, stale metal overcame the scent of the rain. The phone was silent, waiting.
I lifted the receiver and placed it against my ear. Silence. Only the sound of rain drumming on the booth's roof. Maybe I was indeed delusional.
Suddenly, the voice, dripping with cruel anticipation, broke through. "Thought you could escape, didn't you?"
I dropped the receiver, my breath erratic. The voice wasn’t coming from the phone anymore. It was all around me, pressing in, like the oppressive storm clouds overhead. The door to the booth wouldn’t budge. Panic gripped me.
"I'm coming for you," it whispered.
Through the glass door, I saw him. A man, drenched in rain, his face obscured by a wide-brimmed hat. His footsteps were slow, deliberate. Each step created ripples in the waterlogged streets. My heart felt like it might burst from my chest, but I had to act.
Using all my strength, I slammed my body against the booth's door. Once, twice, and on the third attempt, the latch gave way. Stumbling out, I began to run, with the steady rhythm of pursuing footsteps echoing behind me. The city was a maze, streets blending and buildings closing in.
Would this be my fate? Disappearing like the rest, leaving behind nothing but a soaked raincoat?
The rain seemed to intensify, each drop feeling like a million pinpricks on my skin. The streets, which were familiar by day, morphed into an alien terrain under the storm's fury. Corner after corner, I twisted and turned, desperately trying to put distance between me and the relentless pursuer.
Alleys blurred past, neon lights smeared by sheets of rain. The city was an unforgiving maze, yet one thing remained constant: the echoing footfalls, a reminder that he was always close. Every alleyway became a potential trap; every shadow, a potential threat.
I had to find shelter.
A dimly lit laundromat loomed ahead. Without a second thought, I darted inside, praying he hadn't seen me. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, and the hum of washing machines filled the air. Empty. No one else inside, save for a lone janitor mopping the wet floor, his back turned to me.
Gasping for breath, I ducked behind a row of machines, peering through the gaps to see the entrance. Minutes felt like hours, but the door remained closed.
Had I lost him?
My sigh of relief was short-lived. The door creaked open, and the silhouette of the man in the wide-brimmed hat appeared. Water pooled around his feet as he stood there, scanning the room. The janitor, unaware of the danger, continued to mop.
I weighed my options. Running would give away my position, but staying meant certain doom. I needed a distraction.
A flash of inspiration hit. I reached into my pocket, pulling out a handful of coins, and hurled them across the room. The clinking noise echoed, drawing the man's attention. As he moved in the opposite direction, I began to silently creep towards the exit.
The janitor, curious about the sudden commotion, turned just in time to see the man bearing down on him. Their eyes locked. The janitor's face contorted in terror, but before he could scream, the man lunged, wrapping his fingers around the janitor's throat.
No time to think.
I bolted for the door, bursting out into the rain once again. The streets were now virtually empty, the rain having driven everyone indoors. But this was no relief; without the crowds, there was nowhere to hide.
A distant scream echoed from the laundromat. The janitor's fate sealed. Guilt gnawed at me, but survival took precedence. I couldn't save him, but I could still save myself.
The rain continued its assault as I made my way towards the city's heart. A plan began to form in my mind. If this man, this entity, was bound to the payphone, perhaps if I could destroy it, I could end the nightmare.
Navigating through rain-drenched alleys, I finally found myself back at that cursed phone booth. Through sheets of rain, it stood – silent, menacing, and waiting.
Summoning every ounce of courage, I approached it, determined to put an end to the cycle. Grabbing the phone, I pulled with all my might, but it remained steadfast. Frustration mounting, I scanned the surroundings, looking for something, anything, that could help.
And then I saw it. A construction site nearby with a large bulldozer. If brute force wouldn't do it, maybe raw power would.
Dashing to the site, I managed to start the bulldozer. The roar of the engine was almost drowned by the rain, but it was the sweetest sound I'd heard all night. With grim determination, I drove it straight towards the payphone booth.
The impact was explosive. Glass shattered, metal twisted, and the payphone was reduced to a pile of rubble.
Relief washed over me. It was finally over. But that solace was shattered when a familiar voice echoed from the debris, "You can't escape."
From the wreckage, the man emerged. Unscathed. Unhindered. Unstoppable.
Drenched and shaking, I stood face-to-face with my relentless pursuer. The storm around us intensified, seemingly feeding off the confrontation. Lightning crackled across the sky, momentarily illuminating his face beneath the wide-brimmed hat: blank, emotionless, with an endless void where eyes should be.
Desperation filled me. If the phone's destruction didn't stop him, what would? As if reading my thoughts, he tilted his head slightly, his non-eyes locking onto mine.
"You think you're the first to try?" he asked, his voice a haunting melody of mockery and menace. "This isn't about a phone. It's about you."
Questions flooded my mind. Why me? What did I ever do? And who or what was this being?
But in this torrent of chaos, a memory resurfaced. A day, months ago, before the rain-induced terror began. I had been in an argument with a stranger over a trivial matter. Words were exchanged, and in a fit of rage, I wished the worst upon him. That night, it rained, and the phone calls began.
This wasn't just a random curse. This was my doing.
Gathering what little courage I had left, I faced the entity. "What do you want?"
His laughter, if you could call it that, was like the sound of static – grating, unnatural, and cold. "Want? I'm here because of your desire. Your wish. I am the consequence of your malice."
This was my punishment, a sinister reflection of my own emotions taken form.
"But why the others?" I demanded, thinking of the countless victims. "They had nothing to do with it!"
His hollow gaze focused on me. "Misery loves company. Each time you ran, each time you hid, your fear fed me, and so, I sought more. Like an insatiable hunger."
A plan began to form. If he was a manifestation of my own dark emotions, maybe the opposite could banish him. But how could I find hope or love in such a dire situation?
The rain intensified, thunder rumbling in the distance. He began to advance, each step echoing with finality.
Desperate, I closed my eyes, thinking of better times – laughter with friends, love from family, the joy of simple moments. Memories flooded back: my mother's comforting embrace during a childhood storm, the first time I fell in love under a clear starry night, the undying support from friends in my hardest times.
As these emotions surged within me, I began to shout them out loud, each word a beacon against the storm. "LOVE! HOPE! JOY! UNITY!"
With every declaration, the entity faltered. The once-imposing figure now seemed to dissolve, becoming translucent like the rain around us. His form wavered, the once solid darkness now nothing more than a wavering shadow in the deluge.
"Your time here is over," I whispered, feeling an inner strength I never knew I possessed.
With a final scream of anguish, he disappeared, evaporated into the storm.
The rain began to subside, the once tumultuous storm now a gentle drizzle. The city, which had been a haunting maze just moments ago, began to show signs of life again. The dawn broke on the horizon, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink.
Exhausted but alive, I made my way back to my apartment. The ordeal had changed me, reminding me of the power of emotions, both dark and light.
From that day on, the payphone remained a shattered relic, never to ring again. The city moved on, memories of the missing fading with time.
And as for me? I learned the importance of cherishing positive emotions and the dangers of letting negativity consume. The rain still falls, but now, it's just water from the sky, cleansing the city and nourishing the soul.
Hey everyone, my name’s Jamie, and I thought I’d put my story out on here because, I don’t know, I have to tell someone.
I just wanna start by saying I’ve always hated going to church. I was raised catholic, but the whole thing never really made sense to me. It always sorta seemed like a lot of standing up and sitting back down and pretending to understand what the pastor is talking about at any given moment. It always just made me feel a little dumb.
That, and I’ve always been weirded out by all those little statues of Jesus hanging up, dotted all along the walls of the church. I was scared of them as a kid, I always thought that if I did anything wrong they’d see it and tell God or something, I don’t know. Those things always seemed just slightly off, making me feel some weird unsettling vibe.
I’m getting off topic, but all of this is to say, church isn’t for me. No hate to anyone who regularly attends church or anything, its just not for me.
With all that said, anyone who knows me would be surprised to see me wearing my best attempt at “church clothes”, sitting in some unfamiliar church, pretending to know anything about what’s going on. But, I was dating this girl, her name was Ava, for like eight months and she had been insistent that I come with her to one of her church’s regular services. And listen, I really liked Ava so I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll go once”. I pretty much only did it to make her happy.
So I woke up extra early last Sunday morning, and drove down a bunch of twisty ass back roads for about forty-five minutes until I found it nestled in at the edge of a nearby forest. Just a rickety little oak building tucked away with the nearest sign of civilization almost twenty minutes away. But like I said, I really liked Ava, she was kind, and funny, and I could talk about the greatest stuff about her for three pages, but in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t matter.
I parked in the dirt lot out front of the little wooden building, I saw Ava’s car but I didn’t spot her anywhere so I just assumed she was inside. I awkwardly made my way towards the building, and as I did, I passed a little sign that read “The Divine Ascension Parish”, which I assumed was the name of the place.
When I entered, I saw maybe thirty people scattered among the 10 or so rows of pews. I spotted Ava sitting at the very front, of course it was the front, cause why wouldn’t it be? But I smiled and pretended I wasn’t a little weirded out by the entire situation cause I wanted to make her happy. After about another fifteen minutes of people trickling in, there were about fifty of us lining the pews and we all sat down and waited for the service to start.
The service began and it seemed pretty standard compared to what I remember from childhood, I’m not gonna really act like I paid much attention though. I mostly just sat there, said the right thing when everyone else did, and tried my best to look like I was having a good time for Ava’s sake. I did catch at one point the pastor saying something about a “special ascension ceremony” taking place at the end of today’s service, and that kind of stuck out to me, because from my vague childhood recollection I had no idea what that could have been. I just assumed it was some special celebration and that was why Ava wanted me there so bad.
I zoned out for probably another twenty minutes or so before I felt Ava nudge me with her elbow, signaling me to stand as everyone else did the same. The energy in the room seemed to have shifted, as the pastor who had been so boring and monotone before was yelling, and I mean YELLING, about salvation and ascension and all kinds of stuff. I was actually paying attention at this point, but a lot of it went pretty far over my head to be honest. After the pastor finished his wild speech, he gestured towards the room at large. And with no further indication, the whole room started chanting some Latin phrase in perfect unison, literally everyone but me.
I don’t speak Latin or anything so my best approximation of what they were saying is something that sounded close to “Exsurge, et comede carnem nostram”. They just kept saying it over and over for at least five minutes. After about the fifth time they said it, I looked to Ava for any kind of guidance, confused and a little weirded out. It was like she didn’t even see me though, she just kept staring blankly ahead, reciting that damn phrase over and over and over. I asked her what was happening, desperate for some kind of explanation, and received no response. She just kept up the damn chanting, her focus unbroken.
As the chanting ceaselessly carried on, I noticed that a small hole had begun to open in the floor right where the pastor had been standing during his speech. As they kept chanting that phrase in uncanny unity, the hole kept growing larger, until it had expanded to be probably 20 feet across. Then, as though sensing they were done, everyone fell silent all at once. At this point I was freaking out, I should have ran out of that building and drove away as fast as I could, but I was basically paralyzed by how strange this situation had become.
After a few seconds, something started to rise out of the hole. It started as five writhing fleshy masses, each one undulating rhythmically. Then as it started to rise higher, the five masses all connected to form what I realized to be a massive hand. It kept rising out of the hole higher and higher. As it finished reaching up, the wretched thing was revealed fully, a massive arm bending wildly at two separate joints, with a deep wound on its wrist, gushing blood down onto the floor below. Seeing it seemingly reach up to the heavens, fingers brushing the ceiling, it would have almost been beautiful in a weird biblical sense if it wasn’t the most horrifying thing I had ever seen.
When it had fully extended out, everyone around me dropped to their knees in prayer. Meanwhile, I just stood there frozen in terror, unable to process anything that was going on. I guess I never have responded well in crisis situations.
I was finally shaken out of my daze when suddenly, the monstrous arm extended completely before slamming down with unreal speed on several pews on the other side of the aisle. I don’t know if it was the massive spray of blood coating the whole front of me, or the fact that I watched the writhing flesh of the arm grasp onto and fuse with the flesh of the poor guy it slammed down on, but I regained control over my body and started running.
It was only fifty feet to the door I came in from, but it felt so much longer as I ran towards it. Maybe halfway there I heard a massive crash behind me. I couldn’t even look back before one of the heavy wooden pews slammed into me, sending me flying and pinning me to the side wall. The next few minutes, as I lay trapped between the wall and the pew that had been sent carelessly crashing into me, were a blur as I was fading in and out of consciousness.
I remember seeing that thing grasp onto groups of people dotted throughout the room and start incorporating them into its flesh. You wanna know the most fucked up part about it though? As this thing was liquifying these people's skin, they looked happy, content, even fucking excited, but not a single one of them looked scared. They welcomed it, allowing it to take them into its mass or sweep them into the hole it came from.
Then it slowly reached out to grasp at Ava, who was acting just like everyone else, kneeling and praying silently. Right before it reached her, she turned back to look at me for just a second. Believe me when I tell you, she looked fucking ecstatic, like she had been waiting her whole life for this. As the hand nearly the size of her whole body slowly closed around her, incorporating her body into its own writhing mass, she kept looking at me with that massive smile on her face. And this last part will be burnt into my memory forever, I swear right before her face became fully obscured by the shifting flesh of the hand, I could see her expression change to one of pure terror, as though she suddenly realized she was wrong about whatever this thing truly is. Whenever I close my eyes anymore, I see the face she made at her very last moment, and I wonder how scared she must have felt just then.
Slowly and methodically, the arm absorbed the remaining members of the church, its flesh grasping out at the remaining few. Not a single one of them fought back. Not a single one of them saw this as anything other than something to be welcomed with open arms. The entire time, I was laying trapped against the wall, trying desperately to free myself, to no avail. That wretched thing left me alone, I don’t know why, but it acted like I wasn’t even there. After it had fully taken everyone else, it slowly sunk back into wherever it had come from, the hole closing behind it.
Shortly after that, I think I finally lost consciousness fully, I woke up with some cop standing over me asking questions that I couldn’t really process in the moment. I finally regained enough awareness to answer his questions, and I doubt they believed my story but I really just didn’t care. They eventually cleared me to go home, and I’ve just been trying to process what the hell happened.
I needed to tell someone, and a friend told me you all might believe me. I don’t know what that thing was or what it really wants I guess, but someone needs to know. My best guess is that whatever was on the other end of that hole was some kind of fucked-up minor god or something, I just don’t know. I’ve also been wondering if Ava invited me down there, knowing that was gonna happen, knowing that thing would take her and potentially me. I just wish I knew anything at all about this whole thing.
All I know is that I’m not going to be going back to church anytime soon.
Around September of last year I started taking a new medication to help me sleep. I’ve pretty much always known I was narcoleptic. Narcolepsy is known for making you fall asleep at random times during the day. But narcolepsy doesn’t just affect the day. I take one medication during the day to keep me awake, but I take a different one at night to help me stay asleep. And it’s since starting this new nighttime medication that the dream started.
This dream started in different locations, like most dreams do. Sometimes I was at the mall or sometimes I was in Mr. White’s freshman English classroom with the thematic elements of Lord if the Flies painted out on the walls. It honestly didn’t matter where the dream started, cause the scene always changed to my rental house on Hemlock Street.
I rented a small two bedroom house on the edge of town. I had a little privacy, seeing as the house doesn’t directly sit on the road behind a row of trees.
In my dream, when it changed to my house, it never felt off at first. Whoever was in the previous scene would come with me, but slowly the mood changed. One moment my college roommate and a soap star are sitting in class with me and the next, we are in my house, looking for something. I’ve never figured out what it was. It always started pretty calm. At first we are lifting couch cushions and sifting through my junk drawer but everytime a new location is searched it only becomes more frantic. Books were pulled from my bookshelves and torn apart page by page. Someone always takes a knife to the couch, ripping, shredding the upholstery, then pulling out fistfuls of stuffing. In the last diary entry we made it to punching holes in the plaster walls before I turn and look out the window. I always turn and look out the window and it’s always dusk and I always can just make out a face peering in. Watching.
Then I wake up.
After the second or third time having this dream, I started the journal. I thought I could show it to my doctor. Since I started writing the journal, I noticed it was the only dream I was having. Of course missed some entries, but there were definitely enough of them to notice the pattern.
But two months ago, something different happened. The dream was the same: we started in a bowling alley, using balled up t-shirts to knock over sets of Russian nesting dolls, when the location flipped and we were suddenly back in my house. The searching began. This time as I was throwing my set of bowls across the room I looked over to the window and the man was there. I made out the eyeless smile on his face and even in the half light I knew he saw me looking at him—then I woke up. But I wasn’t in bed. This time I was standing in my kitchen, broken shards of my little blue teapot scattered around my feet.
During the night I had gotten up and walked into my kitchen and dropped my teapot on the floor as if even my body was helping my dream-self search the house.
I didn’t mess around. Instead of going back to sleep I pulled out my laptop and express shipped a small self-install security camera set to my house. My idea at the time was to be able to show my doctor, it was a bata meditation and heavily monitored. I had my boyfriend come over in the following couple of days to help me install the cameras.
Then I started recording. I didn’t wake up with a dream that first night, but I watched the recording anyway.
The house was quiet. I didn’t move a lot in my sleep. It was all pretty normal and I thought maybe I had overreacted, but then at three AM the bathroom window slowly slid open from the outside, and a man stepped in. He wandered about my house. Looking through the fridge, fluffing the pillows on the couch but then he walked to my room, to watch me sleep. He stood there for twenty minutes, just watching me. Then he turned, looking directly into the camera.
I know it’s too hard to believe, but I know I have seen that man before.
The one in my dreams. The one who stares at me from the window. He had the same eye-less smile.
I slammed the laptop shut and called my boyfriend. I slept at his place the next night and had a normal dreamless sleep. My first one in weeks.
I brought the footage to the police the next day and they sent someone out to watch my house. Suggested new locks on my windows, or perhaps moving all together since I am only renting.
I wasn’t sure what to do. The man never showed up in my cameras again and my lease was up in a couple months. So I decided to wait.
Last month, the dream came back and I found shoe prints outside of my bedroom window. I unofficially moved out after that. Staying at my boyfriend’s place while still paying rent. But as luck would have it, a water pipe burst in one for the walls, and the Landlord ended my contract early.
I thought that would be the last I would hear of my little rental house on Hemlock Street. But my boyfriend sent me a news clip this morning. I’ve watched it three times now.
In my old house after the water damage, the floors had to be pulled up, and beneath the floors in a tight crawl space, the contractor found the bodies of three women, and the shards of a blue teapot laid out next to the third.
I am writing an email to my doctor now to change medications, but I don't know if that will be enough. What if the smiling man finds me again?
It was just after lunch on a weekday and I was cleaning the dishes while my husband was at work and my daughter was upstairs playing. I was just thinking about what to make for dinner when I heard a knock on the front door. I was rather puzzled by this, since we weren’t expecting anyone coming over today, nor were we expecting any deliveries. But nevertheless, I dried off my hands and went to answer the door. But just as I made it to the door, I suddenly felt uneasy, as if something was telling me not to open it. Instead I looked through the peephole. There, standing just outside the door, stood a man with long greasy hair. I say that because that was the first thing I noticed about him, since it covered most of his face. He was wearing sunglasses and a long dark green hoodie with the hood up. I immediately felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing at the sight of him. I knew right away that this man was up to no good. I remained silent as I watched him through the peephole.
I thought that if I kept quiet, he would eventually go away. However, he continued to stand there by the door, moving his head from side to side, as if checking to see if anyone was watching. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but he didn’t seem like he was moving anytime soon. He knocked once more, this time more aggressively. I didn’t want Bella to hear the noise and come downstairs to see what was happening, so I decided to speak up.
“Hello?” I called out, not opening the door. The man perked his head up, and his body seemed to stiffen.
“Hello ma’am,” he said, in a low tone. “I’m from the repair company. I’m here because your husband called and said that there were some problems with the lights upstairs. Could I please come inside?” I knew right away that was a lie. There was no electrical problem of any sort.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But I think there’s been a mistake. We don’t have problems with the lights anywhere.” I could see the man getting agitated as he moved from one foot to the other, still looking to each side of the house.
“We got a call from your husband, Thomas, telling us to come in and look around.” His voice was much lower now, getting more aggressive with each word. My heart was racing a million miles an hour now and my breath was starting to get heavy. He knew my husband’s name. That means they must also know that he’s not home. But I steeled my nerves and called back to him.
“I know my husband didn’t call you!” I shouted as I gripped the door knob tightly. “I don’t know who you are or what you're doing here, but you need to leave right now!” The man’s features hardened and was now banging furiously on the door.
“Open the door!” he shouted. But I didn’t back down.
“I’m calling the police!” This seemed to do the trick as the man started backing away and headed towards what I can assume was his car. Feeling a sense of relief, I released my grip on the door and pressed my back against it, thinking that it was all over. But Just as I was trying to calm myself down, my daughter came running downstairs in a panic
“Mommy!” she cried out. Seeing the fear in her eyes, I quickly ran over and gripped her tightly.
“What is it?! What’s wrong!” I asked frantically. Bella wrapped her arms around me and began sobbing.
“There’s a man in the backyard!” she cried. My eyes widened after hearing that. “Max said he heard something so I looked out the window and there was a big scary man out there!” My breathing started to tremble as I was beginning to panic now. There was no way that the man from before could make it to the back yard in the amount of time that he did. There had to be more than one of them.
I held my daughter close as I looked frantically around the house, trying to see if I could spot them. Just then, I heard a tapping on the kitchen widow. I looked to the kitchen and I saw him. Another man, wearing all black with shorter, but just as greasy hair as the first man. His face was all dirty and scabby. He was staring at us with wide, bloodshot eyes. He looked like he was heavy on drugs.
He was looking at us with the most sinister grin I had ever seen. He licked his lips as he stared at my daughter with hungry eyes. Suddenly the front door was banging violently and I knew that it was the first man trying to kick down the door. Quickly, I grabbed my daughter and ran upstairs. But just as I reached halfway, I realized with horror that I forgot my phone in the kitchen. I was about to run back down to grab it when I heard glass breaking from the back door. It was too late to grab it as I Picked up Bella and ran into her bedroom. When Bella was younger, she was always exploring around the house and somehow managed to break both my bedroom and bathroom locks. At least in my daughter’s room, there was a dresser close enough to the door that I could brace against it.
I ran into the room with Bella in my arms and placed her on the bed before quickly shutting the door and shoved the dresser in front of it. After that, I went back to Bella and held her tight as we sat next to her bed at the opposite corner of the room. Bella was sobbing uncontrollably and I placed my hand over her mouth. Though it didn’t really matter in the end, they already knew we were here.
We could hear the men stomping up the stairs and stopped in front of the door. Everything was quiet now. So quiet that I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. It was pounding so hard that I thought that it was going to explode in my chest. Bella managed to calm down her sobbing, but she was shaking violently in my arms.
“We know you’re in there,” said one of the men. “Come on out. We just want to play.” Bella’s sobbing returned and she looked up at me with terrified eyes.
“Mommy?” she whimpered. I held her tighter.
“Shhh. It’s going to be okay, sweetie. Mommy’s here.” I knew it wasn’t though. These men were just outside the door and neither the police nor my husband had any idea what was happening. We were all alone. I held my daughter’s head close to my chest so that she wouldn’t see the tears falling from my eyes.
I heard the door knob turn and the door opened, but stopped once it hit the dresser in front of it. Now knowing that something was blocking it, the men began banging on the door with fury, causing Bella to scream.
“Let us in!” they shouted. “Don’t make this harder on yourselves!” With each bang against the door, the dresser was pushed forward inch by inch.
“Go away!” I screeched. “Leave us alone!” Bella was now screaming in my arms as she was holding on to me for dear life.
“Max!” she cried out to her imaginary friend. With one final push, the dresser fell over and the door was now opened. The two men slowly entered the room and I saw that each one of them was holding a knife.
“Now then,” the man with the sunglasses said with a sickening grin. “Let's play.” I knew this was it. There was nothing left to do. I held my daughter tighter than I ever had before and found myself sobbing relentlessly.
“Please,” I pleaded. The men just laughed at me as they stepped closer. They were just a few feet away and the black hooded man was about to reach for my daughter. This was it. They were going to kill me and take my daughter away and do God knows what to her. I wanted to move, to fight them, but my body refused to move. I was petrified with fear. It felt like that night before Bella was born all over again. But this time the danger was real and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For a moment, I thought about all the times I had with my family. All the smiles and laughs that we shared. All the joy that was felt. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more time with them. To see my daughter grow up and get married. To have a family of her own. But just like that, it was all going to be over.
Just then, there was a light bang, causing everything to go silent. The two men looked around for whatever made that sound. Then there was another sound. It was tiny, but there was a scratching sound coming from somewhere in the room. The two men turned towards the closet, where the scratches were coming from. I reluctantly took my eyes off them and looked to the closet as well. It almost sounded like there was an animal trapped inside.
“What’s in there?!” the man in the dark green hoodie shouted. “A dog!”
“I don’t know!” I shouted back. I truly didn’t know. Had an animal gotten inside during all the commotion? I had no idea what was happening. The man looked to his buddy.
“Check it out,” he ordered. The second man slowly made his way towards the closet as the scratching continued. But just as he reached the doors, the scratching stopped. The silence was deafening as the man hesitantly placed both hands on each knob. He then quickly opened the folded doors, but only slightly. He jumped back, expecting there to be a dog inside, but there was nothing there. Confused, he looked back at his buddy with a shrug before leaning in further, looking from left to right.
It was at that moment that something grabbed his head and pulled him upward. The force caused the doors to shut behind him as the man was now screaming from inside, along with a terrible growling and hissing.
“What the fuck?!” the green hooded man shouted. “What the fuck is in there?!” I didn’t acknowledge him and kept my eyes glued to the closet doors as they shook violently. The screaming continued for what seemed like an eternity before they finally stopped. A loud thud soon followed, which I could only assume was the body hitting the floor. This caused the closet doors to be pushed open slightly. There was nothing but silence as everyone kept their attention fixed on the closet.
Just then, I saw a dark figure drop from the ceiling. I couldn't see it completely as my daughter’s bed was blocking most of the view. All I could see was a dark hump from within the closet doors. It then started moving, slowly making its way out of the closet. From my peripheral vision, I saw the hooded man pointing his knife at whatever it was.
“Stay back!” he shouted, though all the confidence in his voice was gone, now replaced with terror. I kept my eyes on the dark thing coming out of the closet until, from behind the bed, a long, gray hand appeared, pressing against the floor. A long arm soon followed. I watched in horror as the dark figure from inside the closet fully revealed itself in the middle of the room. It then stood up on its legs, staring down at the man in front of it.
“Max!” Bella shouted happily. I looked down at my daughter in shock before looking back up at the creature. It looked like a man in shape only, but it was anything but. It was taller than any man I had ever seen. Its skin was dark gray in color and its arms and legs were thin and long, as well as its fingers, which had long fingernails, almost like claws.
But its head was what I noticed more. It was much larger and its bottom jaw was twice the size of a normal man’s. But its eyes were the most distinctive feature. They were yellow where the whites would be, but not a sickly yellow. A dark yellow as that of a black cat. And their irises were orange, almost like fire burning within them. It continued to stare at the intruder, baring its teeth at him, which were sharp and jagged. The man seemed to be petrified as he faced down the creature. For a while, neither one seemed to move. I made sure to keep Bella in my arms and remained right where I was, terrified that if we moved, that creature would turn its attention on us.
Finally, something seemed to awaken in the man as he quickly lunged at the creature. He tried stabbing it with his knife, but it simply moved out of the way. He tried stabbing at its head and chest, but it kept dodging his every move. Then, as the man was about to slash at its head, the creature swung its clawed hand at his and knocked the knife from his grasp. It then grabbed hold of the man’s neck and threw him against the opposite corner of the room from Bella and I. The creature let out a loud growl before it pounced on top of him and began to mercilessly attack the man.
I quickly covered Bella’s eyes before turning away myself. All I could hear was both the man’s screaming and the growling from the creature. The sound of pounding and flesh tearing filled my ears. I tried to tune it out, but that was an impossible task. Soon the screaming stopped and everything went quiet. I dared to open my eyes and turn back around to see the creature looking down at the unmoving body lying upon the floor. I stiffened with fear as the creature slowly turned its gaze to us. I thought that it was going to attack us next, but then I saw its eyes. Before, they were full of hate and anger. But as I looked into its eyes, they were now filled with sadness. I was greatly confused, but did not move from my spot.
As we continued to stare at each other, the creature lowered itself, pulling its knees to its chest to make itself into a little ball, just as Bella described. I wasn't sure what it was doing, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. However, before I could stop her, Bella pulled herself from my arms and ran over to the creature.
“Max!” she cried as wrapped her little arms around the creature’s neck.
“Bella!” I called out, but she ignored me. Then, to my astonishment, the creature gently wrapped its arms around Bella. I felt my heart stop when it had my daughter in its arms. What’s going to happen now? The monster had its arms around my daughter. Was it going to attack us now?
But it never made a move of any sorts. It just held my daughter in its arms as Bella remained right where she was. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I felt helpless should this thing decide to rip us apart.
But then it looked up at me with its bright yellow eyes. The look it gave me wasn’t at all what I was expecting. From the moment we locked eyes with one another, it gave me a look of what I can only describe as worry, like it was just as afraid as I was. What did this creature have to be afraid of?
It then looked down at Bella before closing its eyes and letting out a heavy breath. Its face fell to what I recognized to be sadness.
“Bella,” the creature spoke in a slow gurgling voice. It pulled away from Bella’s embrace to look her face to face. “Bella. It. Is. Time.” Bella cocked her head to one side, as she always did when she was confused.
“Huh?” she spoke.
“Max. Must. Go.” Bella didn’t like what he said at all and began to cry.
“No!” Bella cried. “No! I don’t want you to go!” She hugged his neck once more, holding on tightly. The creature looked down at Bella with a sadness that I hadn’t expected from anything other than a human. It embraced Bella in a gentle embrace as it shut its eyes.
“I’m. Sorry,” it said. “I. Can’t. Stay. Any. More”
“But mommy will let you stay!” she continued to plead. “I know she will!” The creature, Max then looked up at me, as if asking me to help. My body still felt weak from everything that had happened. My heart was still pounding a million miles an hour and my hands were trembling terribly. But I somehow managed to stand up and slowly stepped closer to them. I cautiously reached for Bella, still keeping my eyes on the creature in front of me, and gently grabbed her arms.
“Bella, let go,” I said just above a whisper. My throat was dry all of a sudden.
“No!” she cried out again. “He’s my friend! I love him!” I managed to pry Bella’s hands free from its neck and pulled her closer to the bed, holding her tightly in my arms, never looking away from it. The creature looked at me as well before lowering its gaze. For a moment, everything was quiet, save for the little girl crying in my arms. The creature then looked back up at Bella
“Bella,” the creature said. Bella looked back at him, sobbing uncontrollably. The creature gave her a smile before pointing a long finger at her.
“Max loves you,” it said. “Be good girl.” The creature then slowly stood up at full height. It then turned to the body behind it and picked up one of his legs. I covered Bella’s eyes, despite her protest, as it picked up the body and tossed it out the window that I didn’t realize was open. It then did the same thing with the other body in the closet before slowly climbing out the window, but not before turning back to the two of us. Bella was still crying as she turned in my arms to look at the creature. The creature gave Bella one last smile.
“Good bye,” he said slowly. With that, he jumped from the window and into the backyard. Bella and I quickly climbed on the bed to look out the window to see him making his way towards the woods with the two bodies. He tossed them over the fence and climbed over himself. The last thing I saw from him was his long gray hand disappearing behind the fence.
The police soon arrived after that. Turns out, one of the neighbors saw them break into the house from across the street and called the authorities. I didn’t know what to tell them, or even begin to explain what happened. So I just said I managed to fight them off before they fled into the woods as they arrived on the scene. The two officers that were there were a little unsure of my story, but didn’t argue about it. My husband came home not long after and I explained to him the same story I told the police. He kept on asking how I was able to hold them off, but all I said was that everything happened so fast that I couldn’t remember. This seemed to satisfy him, at least for the time being. We cleaned up the house after the police left to search the woods, but they couldn’t find anything. It took a while but we managed to fix all the damages that those men caused.
After that, I went up to the attic for the first time since moving there. What I found was astonishing. There was a large nest of fabrics, sticks, and stuffings, all packed neatly in the far end of the attic. He had been living in our attic all this time, and I had no idea. It was rather unnerving to know that there was something living just above you for years without your notice. But then I thought about how happy he made our daughter, and it made the situation a little less unsettling.
Bella slept in our room for weeks after that day. My husband thought it was because she was afraid to sleep alone, but I knew that wasn’t it. She was sad that her only friend, whom she had spent so much time with, was now gone from her life. I played with her as much as I could to make her feel better. After a couple months, Bella was starting to act like her old self again. I soon thought that she forgot all about it, but I would never forget.
It’s been years since that day, and we had all been living our lives like normal. Bella was now in Highschool making so many new friends. She was the captain of the lacrosse team and a sure win for scholarship. I was so proud of her.
I had continued to be a stay at home mom. But not a day went by that I didn’t think about what happened that day. How that creature, how Max saved both mine and my daughter’s lives. The more I thought about it, the more I thought of him less like a monster, but rather a lonely soul. All that time that he was in my house, he was protecting my daughter, being a friend to her. He even told my daughter to spend more time with me when I was feeling lonely. I realize now that he was never a danger to us. All he wanted was a friend.
I doubt I’d ever see him again, but part of me wished I would, so that I could thank him for everything that he did for us. For what he did for my daughter.
One night as I was about to set the table for dinner, I received a call from my husband, who told me that he was going to be late coming home. I thanked him and continued setting up the table, but with only two plates. Just then, my daughter, who was in the backyard practicing her lacrosse, opened the back door.
“Your father’s going to be home late tonight,” I told her. She nodded but was looking at me nervously.
“Hey, mom?” Bella asked sheepishly. “Since Dad is coming home late, do you mind if I invite a friend over?” I looked over at my daughter with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s a little short notice,” I said. “But sure. Who is it?” Bella smiled before taking a step to the side.
“I think you’ll remember him,” she said. She looked down and motioned her hand forward. “It’s okay.” My eyes widened as I saw a long, gray hand slowly appear from around the corner. I covered my mouth in surprise as I immediately recognized what it was, or rather, who it was. I looked up at my daughter, who was looking back at me nervously. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I slowly removed my hands from my mouth, showing my daughter a wide smile with teary eyes.
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll set another plate.”
The elevator lurched upwards, leaving our fallen companion behind.
Beside me, Karen silently wept.
"I'm … I'm sorry for your loss," I muttered, unsure what else to say.
"Oh, Frank!" she cried and collapsed into my arms, sobbing. "He's dead! Gone! I'll never see him again."
I placed my arm around her for the first time in a year and a half. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would ever be this close again, remembering the end of our relationship, when even the slightest touch would have made her shudder. She hugged me tightly while below her lover was being eaten alive—a man who I considered responsible for our breakup. But that wasn't true, was it? I had destroyed our marriage, not Jeffrey. It had been me who had ignored my duties as a husband, me who had been too committed to his research to see that our marriage had been falling apart right before my eyes.
No … Jeffrey wasn't to blame. I was.
"He's dead, Frank," she moaned. "I can't believe it—"
Cling! The elevator doors began to drift open. In our misery, we had forgotten that Karen had pressed all the level buttons in our haste to depart.
Still embraced, we turned slowly, dreading what we would find. If we had thought that the turmoil of the last hour would prepare us for what we were about to see, then we were wrong—go directly to jail, do not pass go, kind of wrong.
The opening of those doors is an experience that tested my sanity. It made me question whether everything I had been taught was a lie. Science, was a lie.
I have never believed in the supernatural, or what others may call ghosts and spirits, but whatever was out there on level 4 made downstairs with Timothy and Jeffrey and good old Dr Eckhart, who became the impromptu meal of the day, look like heaven.
You couldn't see it, but you damn sure could feel something, a presence, drift through the doors like a bad smell. Karen could sense it too because she started shivering uncontrollably, recoiling at this unknown entity. It didn't press against your skin or anything physical; it seemed to press against your soul.
My colleagues and I had always joked about how level 4 employed acne ridden lab techs. Small fish compared to us whales who worked the floor below. We had always assumed that the research laboratories were ranked according to security risk, and ours, being the deepest underground was the most important and dangerous.
Well, you better believe that as I looked out over level 4, I doubted my theory. For standing behind the glass of the nearby laboratory were six dead scientists, each with their backs turned towards us.
I bet you're asking: how do you know they're dead if they had their backs turned to you and are standing?
It would be a good question—and I would answer I knew this because their heads slowly began to rotate in a 180-degree motion without their bodies moving an inch, which no living creature could do. It was a move right out of The Exorcist playbook—only this time there were six scientists in place of poor little Regan.
Their heads twisted to reveal empty eye sockets, the blood crusted and dried where the eyeballs had been removed. It was the eeriest moment of my life, facing off against these … demons are the best way I can describe them.
Whatever possessed the scientists was aware of our presence. To the naked eye, the laboratory looked no different than on any other day, but the soul inside you could feel the thick smog of levitating evil.
In a synchronized motion, the scientists grinned, as if a puppet master had pulled their strings. My jaw fell open, and to this day, hearing the cling! of the elevator doors closing was akin to being pulled out of a frozen lake just before you are about to drown.
Once the doors had closed, I collapsed to my knees.
"Frank?" Karen whispered, no longer sobbing. "What's going on? What the hell was out there?"
I turned to find her bulging eyes white with fear. I guessed I probably looked worse. "I don't know," I croaked. My throat was raw like it had been rubbed with sandpaper. "If I was a religious man, I'd say we are in hell."
The next part can only be put down to the special recovery powers of women—a fascinating study to get lost in—for it was Karen who took control of the situation. "Come on," she said, helping me to my feet and dusting me down. "We will not give up that easily."
She lifted my chin. "Hey, we can get through this, right?"
Trembling, I looked up into her fierce eyes. I nodded. "Yes, maybe we—"
It was that moment when the doors on level 3 opened. Out of fear of seeing more demons, we both held our breath … then relaxed as we looked out over an empty laboratory.
No sooner had our fear deflated, however, than a burst of maniacal laughter sounded and out of nowhere appeared a scientist, so caught in laughter that he collapsed onto the nearest bench. There was nothing funny about the situation, and the fear in the man's eyes told me he didn't think so either.
Horrified, I asked. "What the hell is wrong with him?"
Karen did not answer but began to stab the > < button, repeatedly.
The laughing scientist stretched out his hand as if for us to wait, then managed to rise from the desk and stagger towards us. "WAIT," he cried between bursts of hysterics. "HAHAH …. THEY'RE … HAHHA EVIL … WAIT."
He was cut off by the elevator doors.
I placed my hands over my head and fell against the wall. "Fuck. I think I've gone crazy. Is this the elevator to hell?"
"Frank!" Karen hissed, shaking me. "You got to keep yourself together! We can't —"
Zoooooooooooom. The power went out in the elevator, plunging us into darkness and causing it to judder to a stop.
I laughed—I had cracked. "Ha!" I said. "That's it. Game's over! No credit left. Defeated before we had to face the big boss upstairs!"
"Frank!" Karen snapped.
"Shut up, will you?"
I slumped to the floor, nearly jumping out of my skin when I felt the cold, limp body of the dead soldier beside me in the darkness. I had forgotten all about him.
Karen kicked me. "Where are you?"
"Errrm, where do you think? I'm in the elevator next to my good old friend, Private Fred. Though he's not feeling too well, are you buddy?"
"Shut it, Frank! God, you always were a baby. Where's your phone?"
I slipped my phone out of my pocket and handed it to her. A moment later a burst of light blinded me.
"Get up!" she snapped, holding the flashlight in my face.
Miserably, I accepted it like an angry toddler, then watched with curiosity as she ran her fingers over the doors. "What are you doing?"
"I'm getting us out of here. What does it look like? Make yourself useful and get that soldier's gun."
I rolled my eyes and stooped down over the dead private. He had a large gash on the side of his forehead and a deep wound on his neck. In his hand was a Glock.
I waved my hand over his face, then knocked on his skull. "Hellloooo, anybody home?"
No, I guess not.
I lifted his eyelid—this time actually jumping back at the red veins forming in the sclera. The pupil had stared back at me like the man was very much alive.
I stood back up and coughed. "We should get going, Karen."
"Yes, I know," she replied, irritated. "What do you think I'm trying to do?"
I pointed at the soldier. "I think our friend here might come back from the dead."
Karen swiveled around. "What?"
"Yeah. It's not Virus X-93. That much I do know. But God knows what else they've been doing around here …"
The dead soldier's hand twitched.
Karen screamed and pushed me. "Get the gun you idiot!"
Without thinking, I lunged for the soldier's hand, prizing the stiff fingers away from the Glock. In my peripheral vision, I saw one of his eyes open.
"FRANK! HURRY UP, HE'S WAKING UP!"
A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead as I prized away the last finger.
—the dead, very much alive, soldier groaned—
I raised the Glock as the dead man lurched towards me, pressing the trigger and hoping the gun was loaded. It was—and a loud bang ricocheted around the elevator.
Ten seconds later, I opened my eyes to see pieces of brains splattered on the metallic walls. Karen was pressed in the corner, staring at the limp body.
"I think he's dead," I said. "Hopefully, anyway … are you okay?"
Karen's eyes flicked towards me. She nodded. "Yes … or maybe not. I don't know." Offering a hand, she helped me to my feet for a second time. Once we stood face to face, I felt a jolt of fear mixed with excitement.
Karen stared back.
Should I kiss her? Is this the part in the movie where we embrace and confess our love? If so, that must have been a record speed of getting over someone. The infected were probably still chewing on Jeffrey's privates as we speak.
Karen cleared her throat, and embarrassingly turned away, examining once more the doors with the flashlight. "I think we can get this open. Give me a hand, will you?"
I felt a pang of disappointment that we hadn't kissed and helped her by jamming my fingers into the metal.
"One. Two. Three. Heave!"
With a screech, the entrance gave way to reveal concrete.
"Arrh damn," I began, but Karen shone the torch beam towards the ceiling, and above our heads was an opening—the entrance to level 2. It was just enough room for us to crawl through.
"Oh good," I said. "I guess our journey continues. Let's go explore in the darkness, shall we? I can't wait to find out what else is out there."
The day started alright. The school was okay. The teachers were questionable. With how they teach and how they act. Some were strict which tells me that their household was most likely strict as well. Some teachers were chill which tells me their household was less strict. When lunch was happening I would be at the liberty to read books like Captain Underpants, A Walk of Shadows, IT, 1984, Percy Jackson, The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger , and stuff like that. I was feeling sleepy and fell asleep. I dreamed of a shadow person in the distance of the void. It was long, tall, and eating something of flesh. Flesh of an animal? I couldn’t tell you for the life of me.
I stared at it. For god only knows how long. Then suddenly the damn thing charged at me. As fast as a sports car at max speed It got to my face. I woke up feeling my body temperature rise in which sweat started to form on my skin which had a gross smell to it. Not that I didn’t shower, I did a lot and the smell still lingers. It was 1 minute until math class so I booked my ass over there.
Later that day I went to the dump with my dad to drop off cardboard and glass. He would always tell me “You can’t recycle plastic because not all of it can be used again and will be sent to the landfills and oceans where sea animals will eat or get stuck in them and we end up eating them” he would say. And I would take him at his word.
He and I went to get dinner at Subway and had Italian bread with turkey, cheese, bacon, and ham with a pack of cookies, Dr. peppers, and sometimes a monster if I got really good grades. And so I went to bed.
I awake to a shadow person in my room; playing with cards. The shadow person looked odd, not really because it was a shadow but because the shadow wasn’t on the wall. They are on the same playing field as people of this realm. My room has toys scattered around, from Nerf guns to Barbie playhouses filled with army men and Ken dolls doing kung fu. The floor was made of carpet and was stained with apple juice in some areas and some weird brown liquid here or there.
The shadow had eyes sockets with no eyes or it looked like there weren’t any eyes. And then I saw the white in the eyes looking right at me. Don’t hug me I’m scared. Suddenly I was sent into the void where I could feel my brain invert, my eyes going inside out. My stomach inverted feeling the acid flowing out of my being. Every bone, every cell, every organ was inverted, everything backward. I was thrown back into my room. And I died almost the second I was back in there.
And then something odd happened. I started to regenerate? My bones, flesh, and skin came out new but then I realized that I made a new body and the old one was on the carpet. I fucking reponed the fuck. I could feel something new, I could go into the void and so I did. Just to see a Lovecraft-type god just looking at me, not knowing what to do due to them seeing something like this before. It attacked me though.
Another odd thing happened, I shocked them with lighting without thinking about it. They flunk back 20 yards into the void. I could see their organs and so I went for it. They screamed. As I ripped their heart out and inverted it. Killing them. I went back into my room from the void and went to sleep.
The next morning I went outside to touch grass and listened, then I heard it, a voice from beyond the void. A dark voice. A being that controls all, The Tree of Creation. They are evil; and they are Destiny.
A lot of posts here start with something like, “I've never really had any experience with the paranormal… “, not the case here. In fact, I’d venture to say, that the paranormal is bog standard for me.
I’m a dark web streamer, now before you start calling the Fbi, it’s not what you're thinking. I don’t torture people for some cult, I don’t let some abomination hunt folks and take bets, I play games. It just so happens that the games I play usually have a bit of a disturbing backstory, and tend to, from time to time, break the laws of nature.
The first question folks always ask is, “ Isn’t that dangerous?”, the short answer is, yes, but no more so than any number of science or gun channels on the clear web. Which is to say, as long as you have some real training, and aren’t a moron, you’ll be fine.
The long answer is that my family tree has some deep roots. And in addition to spending a couple hundred thousand on essentially paranormal community college, I’m naturally inclined to luck when dealing with the supernatural.
People like hunters, witches, warlocks, they get all the fame when it comes to supernatural nepotism, and with good cause. What they do is flashy, exciting, but there are a lot of folks out there who were just born with a jib cut in the way the things that go bump in the night like. Wouldn’t let me go on a coffee date with the devil, but avoids me becoming the main character in a Lovecraft novel while making serious bank.
Now, I’m going to kill a lot of your buzz here, I’ve never played any of the big names. I mean, I know they are out there, but, a guy’s gotta know his limits. Though you’d be surprised at exactly how many carts, tapes and floppy disks have been haunted, Damned or cursed, in fact, if you are a collector, you likely have one or two in your home right now.
Don’t go starting up a Nes bonfire just yet though. The most common types are targeted, made to ruin a specific person or family’s day, or life. Unless you really go trying to stir up shit, you’ll never see so much as a misplaced pixel.
That’s my job.
I sit in my recording studio, the master bedroom of a small bungalow. I could probably afford to do an upgrade, but, I’m happy with what I’ve got.
I curse as I try for the tenth time to edit out some visual errors that have nothing to do with faulty data, and everything to do with a mass murder trapped in a copy of Oregon Trail. The software I use is designed for the task, but like most things involving the supernatural, it’s more of an art than a science.
“You know what Paul, you’re going to need to add another number to your tally, because you are killing me with this shit. “ I say to the ancient, blocky 486 in one corner of the room.
There are some grinding unnatural noises from deep within the machine.
“Right back at ya. And for the record, if I knew you’d mellowed out over the last 40 years, probably wouldn’t have bought you.
‘I need to talk’ was real spooky, until you started asking how the Tigers were doing. Shit, like always, they’re the fucking Tigers. “ I reply.
Depending on your sense of Humor, you are going to find the following fact either hilarious or depressing as hell. See, most folks that do bad enough things to be used as a supernatural alternator, well, they weren’t doing so of their own free will. Whether simple mental illness, or some kind of more sinister compulsion, once they pass on, they are seeing and thinking clearly. No chemical imbalances as a spirit, and even the worst demonic forces have a hard time keeping their claws in ghosts.
So often, what I get is less ‘trapped psycho wanting to kill again’ and more ‘Bored old person who hasn’t talked to anyone in decades’ or ‘Sad wanker unable to atone. ‘. But, like all Internet personalities, faking a vibe is easy enough. And the Pasta is usually willing to cooperate for the odd favor and some company.
If your not that quick on the uptake, Pasta, is Paranormal gamer slang. Obvious source, refers to all of the various void-touched entertainment we have.
For all of the occult electronics around me, the fact my cell phone startles me when it rings is pretty ironic. The number is blocked, of course.
“Hello” I say tentatively.
The voice on the other end is rough, not panicked, but stern.
“Leave your house, now. “ it says.
I laugh, I’ve had fans, or haters contact me before. And if you think the level of parasocial bullshit on youtube is bad, add in some pseudo religion, and folks who’ve fried their brain on interacting with the void, and it’s not something to screw around with in my line of work.
“Gonna stop you right there. However you found my number, lose it. Whatever deep end you've just jumped off, is going to get you into a world of shit.
If you think I can amass an Olive Garden worth of Pasta, and not know a few people to take care of the cultists and psychos you are really fucking mistaken. “ My threat is somewhat empty. If this were to get to the point where my life was in danger, I’ve got a couple favors but it’s not like I have a werewolf on speed dial for whenever I get spooked.
“I need to talk to you, urgently. And you’re in immediate danger.. “ the voice Isn’t pleading, but demanding.
I chuckle, “You are the second disappointing creep that’s said that to me today.
Listen, if you want a commission or something, just send me an email, my prices are pretty clear. Otherwise find someone else to be your Jodi Foster, okay?”
I hang up the phone, “ You catch that Paul? Next time, go for that kind of thing. Be vague, kinda angry, I don’t get paid, I can’t afford to keep you guys. Let’s work together here. “
The editing goes slow, but eventually I have a useable video. Would have liked to be able to stream it, but I had a feeling Paul might have been a bit of a wet firecracker.
When I first see the tall, bald man wearing an outdated Adidas track suit, I don’t bat an eyelash. I assume it’s some Pasta trying to grab my attention.
“Oh my God, in a minute. “ I say, putting some finishing touches on my outro.
Not that I knew it at the time, but what knocked four teeth out of my face, and splattered my monitor with blood was a lead ball about the size of a chestnut, thrown by the now enraged man.
I try to get my bearings, but I’m dazed, I stand, knocking over my chair, but before I can turn to face this Slavic looking giant, he has me by the throat, pinned against a wall.
Fear courses through my body like a fever. Reeking sweat begins to pour from me, I’m 5 foot five and 145 pounds, and while my house is equipped to keep me safe from every type of pasta I own, I’m not much for mundane self defense.
Three people enter the room behind him.
One, I’m guessing the leader of whatever the hell this is, is about my size, but lean, corded with muscle. He’s wearing a tactical vest, armed to the teeth, and stalking toward me with eyes full of violence.
Behind him is a hefty Asian guy, looks to be in his 40’s, He’s less armed, a pistol is all I can make out, but I recognise some of the other items he is carrying. And get a sinking feeling of dread.
The last member of this crew was an older woman, unlike the psychotic vigor of the tacticool guy, or the nervous fidgeting of the Asian amateur alchemist, she seems almost aloof, immediately starting to sort through my collection of pasta and start putting some into a large duffel.
The small man taps the dead eyed goon on the shoulder, and he drops me to the ground, I struggle to breathe, struggle to keep calm.
He kneels, putting his face inches from mine. His pupils are dilated, I’d call it Dutch courage, but I’m guess the source is likely Bolivian.
“You want me to call you Mateo, or would you rather go by your channel name, Mexican Baseball? I want you to be comfortable here, as much as possible anyway. “ The short man pats the torn, bleeding side of my mouth, the spike of pain almost puts me on the ground, “You can call me Robin, you’ll find out why in a bit. “
I’m too scared to spit out the shards of bone and gum, I swallow them, and almost vomit before speaking.
“Call me Matt. “ I say, unable to look the man in the eye, “ I’ve got lots and lots of money. I get where this is going, but you don’t want a random selection of Pasta, it’s dangerous. And unless your buddy there with the Wish exorcism supplies is a lot more trained than he seems, you guys are doing nothing other than signing your own death certificate. “
Robin grins, and looks up to the giant, “Uri, I just got threatened. “ he says smugly.
Before I can say that wasn’t my intend the large man kicks me in the chest. I hit the ground as if I was thrown.
As I stare at the ceiling trying to get my bearings, Robin sits on my chest, leering down at me.
“No, Eric Isn’t, but that’s where you come in, Matty.
See, you’ve got the wrong impression here. You think this is about money, or maybe some kind of cult horse shit. And of course you’d think that, it’s all people like you know.
But me? I’m not some greedy asshole like you, and I gave up religion long ago.
I’m a social worker. An angry one.
And do you want to know what makes me angry, Matt? What really pisses me off?
The fact the supernatural exists, I know, that’s a little broad, but give me a moment.
I’m not some kind of anti-void skin head or anything, what pisses me off, is that right under society’s nose there is another entire realm of untapped resources.
But like always, with wealth comes disparity. People like yourself, horde this shit.
And what do you do with it? “ I assume Robin’s question is rhetorical.
I couldn’t name the small, pointed metal device he hits me with, some cousin of brass knuckles I assume. Robin’s blow splits my forehead open, stinging blood runs into my eyes.
“You don’t know what you do with it Matt? Let me educate you.
Instead of finding some way to harness all of this for the good of the world, you stream. You use a connection to a rule breaking source of power, to make three quarters as much as a family doctor. “ rage, pure and focussed radiates from Robin’s face, “ There are plenty of scum like you, little trinket peddlers, and fame seekers. And in the entirety of recorded history, none of you have done the right thing. “
In a flash Robin stands, before I can try and get my bearings, and run, Uri is picking me up, sitting me in my editing chair.
You have no idea how scary duct tape can sound.
After a few minutes I’m held helpless in the chair, hopelessly affixed with not one, but two full rolls.
“If you don’t know what your doing, these do nothing, or terrible shit. The reason no ones used them to cure cancer or solved world hunger, is, they can’t. “ I plead, trying to skirt the line between direct and rude.
It's only Robin, Uri, and myself in the room. I hear the other two rummaging through other rooms.
“So you say.
But I have no intent on doing a smash and grab and taking my chances. My friends know enough, and you Matt, you can tell us the rest. “ Robin ends this statement with a wicked grin.
“No problem” I say, simply. At this point if these idiots want to play Russian roulette with the paranormal, let them.
“Didn’t think there would be.
But, here’s the part your not going to like.
I don’t want there to be any funny business. And try as I might, I’ve only got one idea as to how to make that happen.
Understand, Matt, tonight isn’t ‘ if you fuck me over I’m going to hurt you’ , no, tonight Matty boy, there is no way you make it out whole. The only question is, how many pieces wind up on the literal cutting room floor? “ I know something terrible is coming as Robin finishes his sentence. The room is silent, only the vague noises of searching from elsewhere in the house.
Seconds stretch out like drops of molten glass.
“Not right this second. “ Robin says, shaking his head and laughing.
His two companions enter the room, a large bag filled with disks, cartridges, c.d.’s and handheld devices in tow. They empty them on the floor, and my immediate reaction is there is no rhyme or reason to them. Like what someone who knew nothing of cars would bring back from auto zone to fix an engine.
Except for one, a deep crimson lcd handheld console. On the back, gauged into the plastic as if my a knife or maybe a claw, are the words Mr. Game.
That, is not good. That, is something I regretted buying about a week after doing so, and have spent about two years trying to find somewhere safe to dispose of it.
“And the first question of the night is, which one of these screws with electricity? “ Robin says.
“Screws with electricity? What are you talking about? “ My reaction is maybe too genuine.
The fact this guy has no idea what he is talking about, means his expectations are going to be unattainable. My heart races as I realise how bad this is for me.
He looks to Eric, “What do you say? “
Eric is unsure of himself, but Robin doesn’t pick up on it, “One of those doesn’t need power. I Just don’t know which one. “
I understand Eric isn’t mistaken, he’s lying. Whatever street cred he convinced his boss of, he doesn’t have. Not to say there isn’t any unpowered pasta, unplugging the system and it keeps going is like trope number one, I just don’t own any.
I’ve heard brutality, both literally and second hand from some of the more talkative pasta. I’ve even seen it, everything from crystal clear moving images no film could hope to reproduce, to haunting 8-bit renditions of real atrocities. But I’ve never experienced it.
A sap is a leather pouch filled with lead shot. When used correctly it can generally knock someone out without causing permanent damage.
Uri does not use it correctly.
The black, almost purse looking object strikes my hand and I’m hit with a wave of pain so intense, so pure, I vomit immediately. A moment later I realise that was just the beginning.
“That’s what internal amputation feels like. Two or three fingers I’m guessing.
You know the bad thing about torture? You can’t ask the same question twice, because the second answer is always going to be what you wanted to hear.
Which one can create something? “ Robin’s cool, entertained demeanor shakes me harder than any brush with the other side has.
My hand is starting to swell, pressure building between the tightly wrapped tape and arm of my editing chair. It takes me a few tries before I can speak.
“They don’t, none of what I have does. “ I think of lying, but give the man the truth, trying to get this over as quickly as possible.
He looks to Eric for an answer, Eric, briefly makes eye contact with me.
“He’s right, I think. “ The imitation relic hunter says.
“I think isn’t a really definitive answer. “ Robin replies.
He motions to Uri, the man takes one step toward me before my addled mind makes a connection.
“The golden eye cart, the gold one. First time you turn it on, makes this 2000s, tween smorgasbord, surge, pizza rolls, that kind of crap. “ I breathe slightly easier as Uri stops.
“See, surprising how much help you can be when your motivated.
Uri, take an ear. “ Robin says as the older woman stows the game.
Trauma and pain are very entwined. Sometimes so much so that we forget that pain isn’t always the worst part of injury.
Losing an ear with a sharp blade, isn’t fun, but it’s a very brief burst of sharp pain. Seeing a walking brick of a man dangle this ear in front of your face, is something that breaks you.
I spend the next hour poorly answering questions that make no sense, losing fingernails, patches of skin, and being beaten to the point where I couldn’t feel the individual blows.
I find myself helpless, pathetic, I catch glimpses of my battered body in the reflective ancient monitors and I’m horrified. I don’t know how I’m going to survive.
“Now, for the million dollar question. What this has all been leading up to.
Which one of these things is the most destructive? “ Robin asks the question I’ve been dreading.
“That one. “ I say, my mind broken long past the point of resistance, but still trying to avoid disaster, “ The red one. “ I say, attempting to gesture with my head.
“There are 4 ‘red ones’, which is it? “ Robin’s tone is short.
I make a decision then that fills me with pride. I’d rather let them do their worst than say it out loud. That thing, the supernatural equivalent of a damaged grenade needs someone to say it.
Eric chooses this point to show he has a little knowledge. As everyone knows, that is a very dangerous thing.
“ I think he means the, Mr game. “ The con artist’s blunder is immediately obvious.
Every light in my home shuts off,, even the incessant whirring and beeping of the pasta is silenced. The only illumination coming from the black on red lcd screen.
It displays simple text, taunting salvation, “ Quit game Y/N? “.
Robin seems elated, in an almost religious state of awe. Eric looks out the door, and starts walking backward, his face blanched, “ We need to get out of here. “ he says.
What enters the room is an eyeball straining vaguely human horror. A man shaped mass of shifting pitch black and digital looking red lines. His laugh is digitized chaos, and with a flick of his hand, every screen in the room is filled with the almost dripping looking red and black lines.
I try to tell someone to turn off the game, but my voice is drowned out by the hellish static now screaming from every speaker. The solution is so simple, but nearly impossible at the moment.
Eric starts trying to shout something over the din, the bits I catch sound Hebrew. He gestures toward Mr. Game, dramatic flourishes of his hands. Now I don’t actually know if spells are a thing, but I can tell you, either way, Eric is no wizard.
Mr. Game thrusts a claw like hand at Eric, the man sees death coming and closes his eyes. But the blow never lands. Long seconds pass before the Asian man has the courage to open them again.
Once he does, dozens of clawed hands, pixelated claws snake out of each of the monitors. It isn’t a quick death, each takes a handful or so of flesh before retracting back into their digital hellscape. Turning Eric into a dying, flensed body over the course of about 30 seconds.
I knock my chair over, and try to inch toward the handheld. One foot bare, with all of the toes broken into swollen lumps pushes me inch by agonising inch.
Robin is lunatic calm, Uri is stoic, but even his dead shark’s eyes show a deep fear.
I realise I never caught the woman’s name as she attempts to rush past the entity.
If she’d asked, I’d have been able to tell her, with something like Mr. Game, space, isn’t really an issue. He isn’t just the form in front of us, he is a force that has taken over this area.
She makes it out the editing room door, we hear footsteps on my stairs, then silence.
The noises were horrific. If I were to be nice, I’d just describe them as eating noises, but that wasn’t it. It was more like a garbage disposal that enjoyed it’s job.
For a moment we see a harsh pixelated version of the woman’s face display on the monitors, before fading back into the black and red static.
I’m inches away from the handheld, my already mangled toes twisted into every angle but true. Mr game appears to grow, his static from spreading through the room as he glides toward Uri, Robin and myself.
I slam my torn and skinned forehead into the system, nothing but a blinding burst of pain that threatens to make me pass out. Another misses entirely my abused neck muscles missing the mark. The third though, like a light switch, turns the impromptu horror film off.
Robin is laughing, giddy, energized by this display of supernatural force. I can see the concern on Uri’s face, but either He’s being paid well or scared of the small man.
The little psycho flips my chair up, sending fresh pain through every part of my abused body.
“Didn’t I tell you this guy would be useful Uri? Oh, the shit I am gonna cause with this thing.
Matty boy, this is the kind of thing that will make people listen, this is the kind of thing that will give a voice to the voiceless. We are gonna make fucking history kid!
As soon as I make sure you aren’t going to pull a runner on us. “ Robin slowly pulls a long combat knife from his vest, the tip pieces the skin just behind my knee, my eyes are wild with shock, my brain a mess with fear and trauma.
Then, a voice. Not one I’ve heard much, but familiar none the less. It’s low, harsh, and angry, with just a hint of a speech impediment.
“Which one of you guys is Mateo? “ the owner of the voice enters the room. He looks to be in his late thirties, six foot tall and built like a boxer, he wears dress pants and a short sleeved black dress shirt, a grey suit jacket is draped over one arm.
Robin looks shocked but confident, hand on an oversized pistol in his tactical vest.
“Me! “ I say, having no idea who this guy is, but knowing his plans for me can’t be any worse than Robin’s.
“And, all of the Ghostbusters from Nintendo games horse shit is over? “ The man stalks into the room, as if he isn’t outnumber and out gunned.
“… yes? “ I say confused.
The man grins, revealing a mouth full of shining silver teeth.
“Well Matt, I’m Rick And I’m your new best friend. “Rick says.
From under the grey coat a massive explosion happens, tearing the garment to shreds. Rick throws it aside and is holding a large, black revolver. Bits of steel and plastic spray from Robin’s tactical vest, and he hits the ground screaming.
“That’s gutshot, and considering your stupid ass Didn’t have a plate in that plate carrier, there are parts of all your little army surplus toys in your intestines. “ Rick kicks the downed lunatic as he speaks.
Uri hesitated, but not long enough to get the gun from Rick. The massive pistol gets thrown across the room.
The fight is mere feet from me, and while I can’t say there was any kind of technical grace to it, it was clear both of these men knew what they were doing.
As the blows land I notice one of Rick’s arms is covered in layers of mottled, ugly scars.
Knifes come out, and I find myself craning my neck to avoid backhanded slashes. My heart races knowing the outcome of this fight determines my fate.
Both men are tired, cut in dozens of places. The Russian smiles, pulling on reserves of strength. My heart sinks as Rick waves his hand in submission.
“I’m done, this kid isn’t worth my life, and I’m sure that lunatic that hired you isn’t worth yours. “ Rick says.
“fuck you” Uri says simply.
“How much ‘fuck you’ does 100k get rid of? “ Rick retorts.
“Most, but I don’t take checks little man. “ Uri’s statement creates a thick tension in the air.
Slowly, calmly, Rick reaches into a pants pocket, pulling out a set of keys, tossing them to the bleeding bruiser.
“That cars about 80k, there’s another 40 in the trunk. We square? “ Rick says, sounding like he does things like this daily.
“If I go out there and it’s a Lada, you won’t make it out of the house. “ Uri replies, shoulder checking Rick as he walks by.
I start to ask Rick a question and he holds one finger up, silencing me.
“Wait for it… “ he says, as I wonder what I’m waiting for.
The explosion shook the house, lighting fire to my front porch.
“Oh my christ I needed that. Stupid bastard.
So Matt… “ Rick walks over as he speaks, expertly cutting me free from the chair, “ I’ve got some ghost related problems, and you were the only person I could find for the amount of money I had to spend.
Bit of a dick move to ask you for a favor after helping you out like this, but, that’s where I’m at kid.
If it helps, this place is going to be crawling with Russian mob, and… whoever the fuck that little fella was attached to really quickly. Help me out though, I’ll make sure that isn’t a problem for you. “ Rick’s offer seems like a lifeline, but it could just as easily be a fire to my frying pan.
Twenty minutes later we are getting into a car that is most certainly not worth 80k, as my house is engulfed in some flames that were expertly prodded along by the mysterious man driving me.
I told the guy I’d help him, but to be honest I’ m just as likely to take off the first chance I get.
That being said, I wouldn’t be posting here unless I needed advice. What do you guys think? Do I owe this guy anything, do any of you know who he might be? What I’m getting into? Feel free to let me know in the comments, I’m at a loss.
I work law enforcement and this report came across my desk today. This is only the first half of the report, and I am working on locating the second part, but in the interim, I feel the need to share this information with the public. If any of you are acquainted with individuals who have been impacted by the following situation, I implore you to contemplate submitting an anonymous tip if you possess any relevant information.
Case File: #2023-109
Date: September 25, 2023
This report documents a significant development in our ongoing investigation into [REDACTED] in rural areas, previously believed to be unrelated. A recent [REDACTED] these cases. Ms. Varn was found in a severely weakened state and is currently receiving medical care.
During an interview conducted on September 24, 2023, [REDACTED]. The following is a summary of the pertinent details disclosed during the interview.
*Officer Smith*: Good afternoon, Miss. Varn. I'm Officer Smith. I’m here to ask a few questions about what happened during your stay at Victor and Eleanor Hartley’s mansion. Could you please tell me what your relationship to them is?
*Samantha*: (quietly) Victor and Eleanor are close friends of my boyfriend, Michael Booth.
*Officer Smith*: How long have you and Michael been together?
*Samantha*: About a year.
*Officer Smith*: Thank you. Now, I understand this might be difficult, but we need to know what happened in that mansion. Can you tell me about the events leading up to your escape?
*Samantha*: (pauses, visibly distressed) I... I can't. It's all a blur. I'm sorry.
*Officer Smith*: That's okay, Samantha. I understand this must be traumatic. If you can't verbally recount it, would you be willing to write it down for us? It might help us understand what occurred.
*Samantha*: (nods) Yes, I'll try.
Part One of Samantha Varn’s written account of the events:
I sat in the passenger seat of Michael’s truck as we barreled down a winding, tree-lined road that seemed to lead to nowhere. We'd been dating for over a year, but this was my first visit to where he’d grown up. Michael barely visited the east coast anymore since his parents passed away years ago, but his best friends Eleanor and Victor still lived in the area.
We came up to a secluded mansion deep in the heart of the woods. Its imposing façade loomed before us, both grand and eerie, its design reminiscent of Gothic Revival. Towering stone turrets reached towards the heavens, their gray stone blocks rising in a mesmerizing pattern. Ivy, lush and green, clung to the aged walls, weaving against the stone.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Micheal had told me that Eleanor came from old money, and that she and Victor had inherited her family’s home, but I had imagined a more traditional family estate. The sheer opulence of the mansion was beyond my expectations.
As we parked the truck, Michael turned to me with a reassuring smile. "I know it's a bit overwhelming, Sam, but I promise you'll love it here. Eleanor and Victor are like family to me."
At the same time, Eleanor and Victor stepped out to greet us. I'd met them multiple times in the past when they visited Michael. We lived states away, but they visited often. Eleanor, a small and elegant woman with dark hair swept up into a vintage style, stepped forward with a welcoming smile.
"Welcome, Samantha," she extended her arms toward me. "It's a pleasure to finally have you here."
"Thank you for having me," I replied, smiling as she pulled me in for a hug.
Victor nodded in acknowledgment, his blue eyes holding mine with a steady, unwavering gaze. "Yes, welcome, both of you."
Michael gave me an encouraging smile, wrapping an arm around my waist. “I thought it was about time I brought her around.”
“We’re always thrilled when you come home.” Eleanor took her friend's hand, beaming up at him fondly.
Victor stepped towards the truck, “I’ll help you carry everything in, Mike.” He patted my boyfriend on the shoulder.
Once the men gathered the bags, I followed Michael and his childhood friends into the mansion, passing through the massive wooden doors that closed with a heavy thud behind us.
The mansion's interior was a testament to a life of privilege. Sparkling chandeliers hung from the high ceilings, casting a golden glow over the ornate furnishings. Beneath our feet was a polished marble floor, and before us stood a grand staircase with a sweeping banister.
"Your room is this way." Eleanor gestured up the stairs, her voice filled with warmth. At the top, we walked down a long corridor lined with portraits of stern-faced figures who I assumed were Eleanor’s ancestors.
We reached the end of the hall, and Eleanor opened the door to reveal what I could only assume was her childhood bedroom. I was shocked by the normalcy of it. The décor was a stark difference from the grandeur I had seen elsewhere in the mansion, and it was as if I had stepped into a time capsule of her youth.
The space was filled with remnants of girlhood. A well-loved teddy bear sat in one corner, and posters of '90s pop stars adorned the walls. There were stacks of books, some with well-worn spines, and a vintage record player stood proudly on a wooden desk.
Eleanor chuckled at my reaction. "I couldn’t bear to change it," she explained with a hint of nostalgia.
“That’s very sweet.” I smiled, amused as I tried to reconcile the image of the opulent mansion with the room that felt so ordinary and nostalgic.
Michael and Victor arrived with the bags, and as they set them down, Michael chuckled at the room. "Yeah, we've all got our own little time capsules in this place. It's like a journey through our memories every time we visit." He nudged Victor with an elbow, “Remember what happened in 73?”
The two shared a hearty laugh and Victor nudged him with an elbow, “Ah, who could forget. You know, our old rope ladder is still in there ‘till this day.”
Eleanor and Victor told us they’d be waiting for us in the back garden whenever we were finished settling in, and with that, they left the room, giving us some privacy to unpack and freshen up.
While Michael and I carried on our conversation and unpacked our bags, I decided to text my mom to let her know we’d arrived safely. To my surprise, my phone had no reception whatsoever, and I couldn't access my data. Perplexed, I turned to Michael and inquired about the Wi-Fi password.
Michael's expression turned apologetic as he shook his head. "Sorry, Sam. There isn't any Wi-Fi here. We've always enjoyed being disconnected from the outside world when we visit."
I sighed, realizing that I wouldn't be able to communicate with my mom or access the outside world during our stay. I was also confused, wondering why Michael hadn’t mentioned this sooner. It was a strange feeling, being completely disconnected in a world so reliant on technology.
But Michael seemed to sense my concern and rested a hand on my shoulder. "I know it's a bit inconvenient, but trust me, it's also part of the charm of this place. It's like stepping back in time."
I tried to smile, appreciating his attempt to ease my worries. "It's okay, Michael. I can survive a few days without Wi-Fi. It'll be a nice break from the constant notifications and emails."
As the night continued, we all settled into a comfortable rhythm of conversation and laughter. The back garden, bathed in the soft glow of lanterns, was truly enchanting. The fragrance of blooming flowers filled the air as we sipped on wine, and Eleanor regaled us with stories of her childhood adventures in the garden, like hidden treasure hunts and secret picnics.
I was a couple glasses deep when a man dressed in chef’s attire arrived with a silver tray, carrying an assortment of dishes. My eyes widened, and I shared a glance with Michael who simply winked.
Eleanor, her eyes sparkling with delight, revealed the secret. "I thought we could have a special dinner under the stars tonight, just like old times. So, I asked Chef Laurent to prepare something delightful for us."
As the night grew late, we decided to retire to our respective rooms. The enchantment of the evening lingered in the air, but the sense of contentment and warmth dissipated as I prepared for bed.
Michael fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow, meanwhile I lay awake, my gaze fixed on the ceiling of the dimly lit room. My stomach churned and ached, the room feeling uncomfortably warm. I peeled off the blankets, leaving only a sheet to cover me.
I accursed myself for overindulging. After such a long day travelling, my stomach was likely protesting the rich meal and wine we had enjoyed.
I tossed and turned for a few more hours, only falling into a fitful sleep when the first rays of dawn began to creep through the curtains.
The next morning, I awoke feeling as though I hadn’t slept at all. Michael’s side of the bed was empty, which told me it must be past 8am, since he always went for a run at 7:30. I groggily rubbed my eyes and pushed myself to sit up.
The morning light bathed the room in a gentle, golden hue, but I couldn't appreciate its beauty. My head throbbed, and my stomach still ached.
Pushing through the pain, I dressed and ventured out of the room, hoping to find Michael or some indication of where he had gone.
I descended a grand staircase, following the path towards the back garden that Michael had shown me last night. As I grew closer, the smell of tea and toast wafted through the air, and I changed course to find my way into the kitchen.
To my surprise, Victor and Eleanor were busy at work, cooking up a morning feast. Victor expertly handled a sizzling pan, while Eleanor moved gracefully around the kitchen, setting a table for breakfast. Michael, newspaper in hand, sat in front of the window, seemingly engrossed in its contents.
"Morning," I mumbled, my voice hoarse from the restless night.
Eleanor turned with a warm smile. "Good morning, Samantha. Sleep well?"
I hesitated for a moment, not wanting to burden them with my restlessness. "Not as well as I'd hoped, but I'm sure a cup of coffee will fix that."
Victor chuckled as he flipped a piece of bacon. "You've come to the right place. Eleanor's a wizard with the French press."
As I reached for the steaming coffee that Eleanor had prepared, I glanced at Michael, who had yet to look up from his newspaper. There was a sense of detachment about him that was unusual. I wondered if he, too, was feeling unsettled.
It was only when my stomach pinched and rumbled that he finally looked up from the newspaper in his hands. Michael laughed, “Why don’t I give you a tour? Help kill some time before we eat?”
I considered it. Perhaps a tour would get my mind off things? I’d always been an anxious person; a bit of a hypochondriac, really. And if I kept fixating on my head and stomach, I might ruin what was meant to be a pleasant morning with friends. I nodded at Michael's suggestion, trying to push aside my unease. "Sure, a tour sounds great. Let's do it."
Together, we left the cozy kitchen and explored the labyrinthine corridors and grand rooms while Michael shared stories of his childhood. I did my best to immerse myself in his voice, but the sprawling mansion's layout felt like a maze with no clear sense of direction. Each hallway and room seemed to blend into the next, and it was easy to get disoriented. I wondered how Michael could remember where he was going.
We were in the library, wandering through the rows of bookshelves filled with leather-bound volumes and antique manuscripts when I spotted something strange. My gaze had been fixed on Michael as he regaled me with the history of the room. But as I listened to him, my attention momentarily shifted to a section of the wall near the back of the library.
There, nestled among the meticulously arranged books, was some paneling that seemed slightly off-kilter, as if it didn't quite align with the rest of the wall.
I became fixated on this anomaly, Michael’s voice fading into the background. In a house that seemed to prioritize perfection, how could such a blemish remain unaddressed?
"Michael," I began tentatively, my eyes still locked on the irregularity in the wall, "have you ever noticed that section of the paneling over here? It looks a bit... out of place, don't you think?"
He turned to follow my gaze, his expression unchanging as he surveyed the area I was pointing to. "What section are you talking about, Sam? Everything looks perfectly fine to me."
I furrowed my brow, puzzled by his response. It was so glaringly obvious, how could he not see it? I took a step closer and pointed directly at the misaligned paneling. "Right there."
Michael let out an exaggerated sigh and chuckled softly, as though humouring a child. "Sam, you always had an overactive imagination. There's nothing there but books and the wall. Maybe you're just tired."
I turned back to the oddity in the wall and reached out to touch it, my fingers grazing the slightly raised edge of the wood panel.
Michael's laughter ceased abruptly, and his cheerful demeanour vanished. "Sam, I think you should drop it." His eyes bore into mine with a strange intensity.
I withdrew my hand, startled by his sudden change in demeanour. "I don't understand. Are you seriously saying you can't see this?"
He sighed deeply and shook his head, his features a mask of indifference. "Honestly, I have no idea what you're talking about. Now, let's get back to the tour. There's so much more to see."
I opened my mouth to protest, but a voice echoed from the hallway outside the library. It was Eleanor, calling us to breakfast.
Michael and I made our way to the dining room, where the tantalizing aroma of eggs, bacon, and freshly baked pastries greeted us. I forgot about the strange wood panelling as soon as I sat down.
“So where exactly are you from in Oregon, Samantha?” Victor asked as he shovelled hashbrowns onto his fork, “I apologize, I always seem to forget the name.”
I replied with a smile, "I'm from a small town called Ashford in southern Oregon. It's a quiet place, not too far from Crater Lake."
Victor nodded as if he were familiar with the area. "Ah, Ashford. Beautiful country down there, I've heard."
"Yes, it is," I agreed with a nod, "Lots of hiking trails."
"Oh, is that so?” Eleanor swallowed a bite of French toast, “I hadn’t realized you came from such a remote area.”
"Oh yes," I replied with a half smile, "there are definitely some remote areas around Ashford. The forests and national parks can be quite secluded."
Eleanor nodded, taking a sip of orange juice as she shared a conspicuous glance with her husband.
"Tell us, Samantha, do you have a lot of family in Ashford itself or do they live in the outskirts?" Victor continued, reaching for a piece of bacon.
I hesitated, perplexed by the wording of his question. "Um, most of my family lives in town. It's nice, especially since it’s a small place. Everyone knows each other."
Victor leaned forward; his eyes locked onto mine. "And what about friends? Do they live in town as well?”
I furrowed my brow, growing increasingly uncomfortable and confused with the direction of the questions. I couldn’t fathom why they were so interested in the geographical details of my hometown.
"Well, some friends enjoy the outdoors, so they might go camping in the more remote spots from time to time.” I chewed my bottom lip. “Why do you ask?"
Eleanor smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Oh, it's just that we find remote places so fascinating. The sense of solitude, the quiet.”
“We’re always looking for new places we could invest in property.” Victor added quickly.
Michael seemed to sense my unease and came to my rescue, redirecting the conversation away from the unusual line of questioning. I appreciated his support, and the tension in the room seemed to ease as we talked about more mundane topics.
Afterwards, I headed back to Eleanor’s childhood bedroom with Michael when he changed out of his running gear.
"Michael," I began, sitting on the edge of the bed as I watched him, "what was with those questions earlier? What’s so special about the remote areas around Ashford?"
I could have sworn Michael's face darkened slightly, and he hesitated before answering. "I'm sorry about that, Sam. Eleanor and Victor can be a bit intense sometimes. They have their quirks, but they mean well."
Michael's response only confused me further, but I chose not press the matter further. I trusted him, and if he said that Eleanor and Victor could be a bit intense at times, I was willing to take his word for it.
As he finished changing, he joined me on the edge of the bed. “Are you feeling alright?” He asked, scanning my face, “You’re looking a bit pale.”
“Oh it’s nothing.” I shook my head, pushing the anxious thoughts out of my mind. “I had a bit of a stomachache after dinner last night so I couldn’t sleep. But that breakfast was fantastic. I just needed some good food to chase away the cobwebs."
Michael seemed to relax, his worry dissipating as I spoke. "Good to hear. Just let me know if you need anything, okay? We can take it easy today if you're not up for too much exploring."
Agreeing that some fresh air might be good for me, we planned to take a walk through the beautiful gardens and perhaps indulge in some outdoor activities.
Eleanor and Victor had set up a variety of yard games, and we spent hours playing, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. It was a perfect day, and for a while, I managed to forget about my earlier discomfort. But by late afternoon, I could no longer ignore the fever that had taken hold of me. My body ached, and a shiver ran down my spine despite the warmth of the day. Michael noticed my discomfort and immediately suggested that we head back inside.
I awoke late that night, disoriented and drenched in sweat. Around me, the room was shrouded in darkness, the only illumination coming from the faint moonlight filtering through the curtains.
Instinctively, I shifted closer to Michael, seeking comfort in his presence as my anxious gaze darted around the room. In the dim light, the antique furniture's delicate silhouettes swayed with a spectral quality. Despite my rational efforts to dispel the notion, I couldn't shake the unsettling feeling that the furniture itself was staring back at me.
I reached for the nightstand with trembling hands, fumbling for my anxiety medication. But of course, this wasn’t my nightstand, and my Ativan wasn’t there.
Desperation forced me to act. I needed relief from the fever that burned through my body and the anxiety that gnawed at my mind. Summoning every ounce of courage within me, I steeled myself to cross the hall and head to the bathroom.
I slipped noiselessly out from under the sheets, and I gently placed my feet on the cool, wooden floor. As I stood, the glint of something red in the corner of the room caught my eye, and I froze in place, puzzled. Clearly, my anxiety was running wild, and my eyes were playing tricks on me.
The corridor that had seemed never-ending during the day was even more daunting in the night's shroud. I swallowed and clutched the edge of my nightgown, my knuckles turning white. The bathroom was down the hall, its door partially ajar, with the faint glow from a nightlight seeping through.
I inched forward, my heart pounding in my chest as moonlight from adjacent corridors cast elongated shadows that seemed to reach out for me like skeletal fingers. The oppressive silence was broken only by the faint rustle of my nightgown and the echo of my own shallow breaths.
As I approached the bathroom door, I caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of my eye. A tall, shadowy figure stood at the far end of the branching hallway, just beyond the pool of feeble light from the windows.
Fear clenched my chest, and my breath caught in my throat. Without a moment's hesitation, I flung myself into the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind me. It looked like a person, what if-
No, no, no.
This was ridiculous.
I was letting my fever and anxiety play tricks on my mind. Maybe it was a trick of the moonlight, a play of shadows and shapes in the dimly lit mansion.
With shaking hands, I rummaged through my toiletry bag on the counter, searching for my Ativan and some Advil. This was just a fever, a bout of anxiety, and an unfamiliar environment all conspiring to make me feel this way. There was nothing more to it.
Returning to the bedroom, I slid back into bed beside Michael, who was still fast asleep, blissfully unaware of my feverish adventure.
The next morning arrived with the gentle rays of sunlight filtering through the curtains. As I slowly opened my eyes, I realized once again that Michael had already gotten up for the day.
Stretching my limbs and slipping out of bed, I followed the scent of breakfast wafting through the air, arriving once more at the mansion's grand kitchen.
I could hear the low murmur of voices, and just as I reached the doorway, I caught the very end of a hushed conversation between Eleanor and Victor.
Eleanor's voice was tinged with urgency as she said, "…we can't afford any mistakes now.”
“We won’t make any.” Victor replied, “It’s almost time.”
I stepped into the room to see that Victor was already seated, and Eleanor stood in the kitchen, buttering two pieces of toast.
“Good morning.” She said cheerfully.
"Good morning, Eleanor," I replied with a polite smile, taking a seat at the table.
Victor greeted me with a nod, his expression somewhat distant.
"Is Michael out for his morning run?" I asked, trying to sound casual, while inside, my mind was still grappling with the cryptic conversation I had overheard.
Eleanor nodded as she set a loaded breakfast plate before me. "He's been gone for a little while now. He'll be back soon, I'm sure."
We began to eat in silence, the clinking of silverware against plates the only sound in the room.
After a few moments, I decided to break the silence by mentioning my adventure from the previous night. "You know," I began tentatively, "last night, I thought I saw something strange in the hallway when I went to the bathroom. Funny how your mind can play tricks on you."
Eleanor and Victor exchanged a quick, almost imperceptible glance, and for a moment, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Eleanor forced a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. “Perhaps this place is haunted after all."
I didn’t press any further. After all, I was a guest in her home, and I didn't want to overstep. I simply nodded and chuckled politely, “Perhaps it is.”
The sound of a door slamming followed by footsteps permeated the room. I turned my head toward the kitchen entrance, and there was Michael, looking as though he hadn't a care in the world.
"Good morning, everyone!" He greeted, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. He leaned down to give me a quick kiss on the cheek before taking a seat at the table.
"Good morning, Michael," Eleanor replied warmly, her earlier unease seemingly forgotten.
Victor, too, seemed to brighten up at Michael's return, offering a nod of acknowledgment.
“When I was out, I saw a few posters for the fair,” Michael poured himself a glass of orange juice, “It’s only in town this weekend. Maybe we could check it out today?”
"That sounds like a fun idea," I replied with a smile, trying my best to match Michael's enthusiasm. I was feeling much better today, and the prospect of going to a fair sounded like a great way to spend quality time with Victor and Eleanor.
The anticipation lifted my spirits, and after we cleaned up breakfast, the four of us headed back to our bedrooms to get ready for the day. I had just finished getting dressed when a sudden wave of nausea washed over me. I staggered slightly, catching the edge of the dresser for support.
"Are you alright?" Michael asked, his voice filled with concern as he rushed to my side.
I took a deep breath, trying to quell the nausea. "I think I just need a moment. Maybe I ate too quickly."
Michael’s eyebrows knitted together, and he guided me to sit on the bed. “Let me to grab you a Gravol from the bathroom or something.”
After he left the room, I could hear him talking to Eleanor and Victor out in the hallway. Their voices were muffled as they discussed something in hushed tones.
Michael returned with a glass of water and a Gravol tablet, which I took gratefully. Eleanor and Victor came to the door a moment after, concern etched on their faces.Eleanor spoke first, her tone gentle, "Samantha, are you sure you're feeling up to going to the fair? We don't want you to force yourself if you're not well."
"I’m okay.” I assured them with a weak smile. "I think I must have caught some kind of bug on the way here. You know how dirty airports can be. But I don't want you all to miss out because of me."
Eleanor exchanged a glance with Victor, and after a brief, silent conversation conveyed through their eyes, she smiled warmly at me. "That's very kind of you, Samantha… If you're sure you'll be alright here, then we'll go and enjoy the fair. But please, don't hesitate to call if you need anything."
I assured them I would, though I wondered how I could possibly call without cell service, and with that, they headed out to have a day of fun, leaving me alone in the mansion.
Convinced that the Gravol would kick in and with nothing else to do, I decided to explore a bit. I thought it might be a good opportunity to familiarize myself with the layout. I began to wander through the grand corridors and spacious rooms, my footsteps echoing in the quiet emptiness.
Eventually, almost by accident, I found myself standing in front of the library's imposing double doors once again. By now my steps had grown a bit unsteady, and I found myself pausing frequently, clutching my abdomen. The Gravol I’d taken had done nothing – in fact, I was feeling worse and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed, but the maze-like nature of the hallways and the increasing fog in my mind had made it impossible to retrace my steps, so I simply continued forward.
When I pushed into the library, the memory of the strange wood paneling resurfaced in my mind. I approached the back of the room, and the paneling seemed even more out of place than before. I could hear Michael’s voice in my mind telling me to leave it alone, telling me he had no idea what I was talking about, but I couldn't resist the urge to investigate it. At first it seemed like it may have simply been a misguided repair to a flaw in the woodwork, but the seam running along its edges appeared too deliberate.
With curious fingers, I pressed against the seam, searching for any sign of an explanation. I gasped when the wood yielded slightly, and I realized that there was indeed something more to this than met the eye. It was now unmistakable that Michael had been aware of this secret… why had he been so adamant to keep it from me?
The paneling swung open to unveiling a concealed compartment within the library wall. Before me lay a carefully arranged array of skeleton keys, suspended neatly from hooks. Roman numerals etched beside each key hinted at their intended purpose, designating the doors they were meant to unlock.
Suddenly, the illness that had been steadily worsening surged, making my legs wobble beneath me. Desperately, I reached out and gripped the wall for support, my forehead now glistening with beads of sweat. Simultaneously, the unmistakable sound of approaching footsteps echoed in my ears, sending panic coursing through my veins - I was acutely aware that I had stumbled upon something I was not meant to see.
With unsteady hands, I shut the concealed panel and snatched a book from a nearby shelf. I forced myself to appear deeply engrossed in its pages, hoping to deflect any potential suspicion that might arise.
"Ah, there you are," a voice broke through my anxiety, and I looked up to see Michael standing there, a warm smile on his face. "We were wondering where you were. I see you've found your way to the library. Good choice."
I returned the smile, my heart still pounding in my chest. "Yes, I thought I'd do a bit of reading while you all enjoyed the fair… how long have you been gone? I think I’ve lost track of time.” I wiped away the sweat pooling on my upper lip.
Michael nodded, seemingly content with my explanation. “Three or four hours.” He extended a hand, and when I took it, his eyes widened. “You’re burning up.”
I swallowed, my throat dry. “Maybe I should go back to the bedroom and rest.”
Michael's grip tightened slightly. "That's a good idea. Let's get you back to the room. You need to cool down."
Michael led me through the corridors while I tried to make sense of everything that had been going on, but I could tell my unease hadn't gone unnoticed, and Michael’s protective grip on my hand seemed to tighten with every step we took.
We were about halfway back to the bedroom when I doubled over in pain, my stomach clenching suddenly, causing me to gasp.
Michael's concern deepened, and he immediately stopped, supporting me as I struggled to regain my composure. "Are you okay?”
I couldn’t reply. A heavy, oppressive silence seemed to hang in the air, making me acutely aware of my own shallow breaths.
As Michael continued to support me, a strange sense of déjà vu washed over me. I knew this room; I had been here before – I recognized it by the distinctive potted plant sitting in the corner. But it couldn't be possible. The doors had all been locked when I had last checked, and now one of them was open.
My mind raced with possibilities. It was clear that Michael, Eleanor, or Victor must have had the key to this room, but why had they kept it locked, and why was it open now? Perhaps it was an office, or a room where they kept valuables. That was a reasonable explanation.
I took a quick peek inside and noticed that the room was enveloped in darkness, its antique furniture hidden beneath dusty, draped sheets. On the far wall, I discerned what seemed to be posters or portraits, but my fleeting glimpse allowed me to make out only one—a woman's face that stirred a strange sense of familiarity, yet also an eerie unease.
This certainly wasn’t an office. In fact, the room looked as though it hadn’t been touched in years…until now.
Michael's tone turned firm as he urged me to continue towards the bedroom. "Come on. You can rest in bed." His words held an undeniable insistence that worried me, but at this point I was feeling truly terrible, so I allowed him to guide me back to the room.
I settled into mattress, the softness of the sheets offering some comfort amidst all the strange occurrences as Michael went to get me a fresh glass of water.
My mind wandered back to the woman's face. Her poster hadn’t been framed, in fact it seemed somewhat haphazardly fixed to the wall. And there was something hauntingly familiar about her, something I should know, but the fever had taken hold of me again, making my thoughts swim in a foggy sea.
With Michael's return, a fresh glass of water in his hand, my sense of confusion only deepened. I accepted the glass without much thought, raising it to my lips to take a sip. But with each passing moment, I couldn't help but question the bizarre string of events that had led me to this point. Why was I the only one who had fallen ill?
If this were something I had picked up at the airport, as I had initially suspected, then Michael should be feeling ill too. And if it were food poisoning from the mansion, wouldn't everyone here be suffering similar symptoms?
Needless to say, I only pretended to sip water from the glass.
"It's strange," I mumbled after setting the cup down, "that I'm the only one who's feeling like this. Maybe I should see a doctor or something."
Michael settled onto the edge of the bed, his gaze unwaveringly locked onto mine. "It's just exhaustion, you just need some rest," he reassured me.
As Michael's words flowed with an outward calmness, they carried a weight that hung in the air like smoldering embers from a fire, casting an eerie and disquieting glow over our conversation.
The initial spark of suspicion had ignited when he denied seeing the irregular wall panel, a detail that had etched itself into my consciousness, impossible to ignore. Then Michael's nonchalant handling of Eleanor and Victor's peculiar line of questioning during breakfast had only stoked the flames, and now? Now he insisted I was merely exhausted despite the feverish chills wracking my body and the persistent ache in my stomach, as if he were pouring fuel onto the fire.
But why? What was he hiding? The questions swirled endlessly in my mind.
And I hadn’t considered it before, but why in a mansion of this size were Michael and I staying in Eleanor’s childhood bedroom? I knew for a fact, after wandering the place, there were numerous other guest bedrooms. I suppose, in and of itself, this wasn’t too unusual. Maybe it was just Eleanor's way of making us feel welcome, a sentimental gesture. But the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed.
The pieces of this perplexing puzzle were scattered, and I struggled to fit them together as my eyelids grew heavy. Before long, I succumbed to the fever's embrace, drifting into a fitful sleep filled with disjointed dreams of locked doors and shadowy figures.
A lot of people said they were envious of my job. It was easy to understand why... I played video games for a living. The envy of hordes of teenagers around the globe. I don't mean the monotonous slog of testing games in early development either. No. I actually played them for a living.
Two years ago I was one of the top competitive BaseKnight players in the world. It was truly an incredible time for gamers. Everybody was playing BaseKnight... and I mean everybody. Sure, before BaseKnight e-sports was a thing, but after it some players became bona-fide celebrities.
It was insane.
Unfortunately for me, I was not, one of those people. Although I had a small following and made a little bit of money from tournaments, I was a nobody. Once the hype died down, the money dried up. This happened to a lot of us.
That's why it was such a big deal when we got the offers.
I thought maybe it was a prank. The email said I had been hand picked to participate in the testing of a new game "Battle Guardian". I had never heard of the developer, but in the e-mail they mentioned how they had secured a sizable amount of funding from various investors who believed in the project.
At first I thought the whole thing sounded kind of... well, trash. The developer said that Battle Guardian was the most intricate combat game ever. I was going to delete the email and forget about it, that was, until I saw the compensation.
Thirty thousand; with opportunities for bonuses.
My live stream had long since fizzled out, but even when I had been pulling in hundreds of viewers a day I only made a couple thousand. Plus, the winnings from the tournament I won last year were already wearing thin. This was a no brainer.
I signed onto discord and joined one of the servers for high level comp players. Before I could even ask, I had my answer... people were already talking about the mysterious offer. After way too much digital chest pounding and trash talking we found out that around twenty of us had been invited. Of course all of us were high level players but it didn't seem like there was any rhyme or reason to the selection. Some of the rich players who had made it big from BaseKnight weren't interested, but others said they would participate just to see what the game was about.
For some reason the developer insisted we had to meet and play the game in person. I was only a couple of hours away from LA, where the office was, but they literally flew people out to test this game. Clearly money wasn't an object and I guess having some of the worlds best players to test your new game was an investment in quality.
The building was kind of inconspicuous and not really what I expected. They didn't even have a logo on the front. I saw a few of the guys I knew from streaming and we talked for a bit, all of us wondering what the deal was with this new game. A man with matted hair and eyes wired greeted us with a smile.
"Hey guys, good to meet you. I'm Zane. Welcome, welcome!" he walked around shaking hands and patting backs. He wore a casual Hawaiian shirt and skate shorts. He looked like a stereotypical game dev, one who had been up for one too many nights running solely off of cappuccinos and energy shots. He showed us to the testing room.
Immediately the group sounded their amazement. The room looked less like and office building and more like a world class lounge. There was even a small cafeteria we were told was complimentary. Large spacious desks with premium equipment were placed around the room. Zane told us his primary focus was to make sure we felt right at home. After we had all settled down Zane directed our focus to a large screen with what was presumably the Battle Guardian menu.
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is Battle Guardian!" he proclaimed proudly as the game demo began to play.
If the group was impressed by the room, our astonishment at the game itself was double.
"What?! Is this the new 'Unreal Engine' it looks like real life!"
"The detail in the map is c-razy, this must have taken years..."
The compliments went on for the next five minutes as the demo played out. Some of the guys thought it was pre-rendered footage but Zane assured us everything we had just seen was 'in-game'. He told us this was the product of years of development and the entire team was really happy they could finally unveil what they had been working on.
We all took places at stations around the room and set up our controllers and peripherals. Zane told us we would start of with something fun and play some competitive multiplayer matches against each other. We decided on a 'battle royale' game mode as that was what most of us were used to coming from BaseKnight. I couldn't believe how realistic the game was, it was like they had thought of everything. I figured they must of have been using AI tech because if there were animations repeating I couldn't tell.
At the end of that first day the group was ecstatic. We had played for hours, all of us competing to be the best. Zane congratulated us and wished us a good night. We would be back early tomorrow.
The group excitedly poured into the gaming lounge when the doors opened. A few were trash talking each other, boasting about how well they would do that day.
Zane walked in cheerily "Hey everybody! Easy now, there will be time enough for competition later..." gesturing to those who had been arguing.
'Today each of you will be testing the core feature of the game... generative combat!" a murmur formed around the room evidently wondering what he meant by generative combat. He picked up on it and explained that today we would be testing the games single player mode. He said the game was able to generate new levels every time we played. It was clear most of the group was skeptical; we had seen other games with procedurally generated quests.
After Zane was done his spiel I clicked on the single player icon. The game spared no time in getting to the point.
OBJECTIVE: ELIMINATE BELLIGERENTS: USE OF FORCE IS AUTHORIZED
I chuckled at how serious games took themselves nowadays. Although we had seen the multiplayer maps yesterday I stared at the screen in wonder looking over the detailed intricacies of the image on the display. This game was truly photo realistic. Of course there were the typical special effects and filters that made the game 'pop' but after I went into the settings and removed most of the enhancements it really did look lifelike.
Immediately I was impressed, everything seemed so fluid. The game had dropped me in the middle of nowhere. A flashing blip in the distance,'TARGETS' in bold red. It was in first person but everything felt so natural. It seemed like whatever I conceived of doing the game would let me do. I couldn't believe how seamless the parkour animations were when I climbed a tree outside of the village. I scouted the area, there was no one other than a few NPCs around a fire. It didn't seem like they had any pattern at all, I thought it must have been the new AI tools allowing so many animations.
I wasn't really feeling like a 'try hard' at the moment and wanted to see what the game was made of. I decided to forgo the objective and just wander around. When I began to walk towards the hills in the distance the game began to coach me back to the objective.
LEAVING MISSION AREA, LEAVING MISSION AREA...
Eventually my character turned around automatically refacing toward the objective markers. I reluctantly walked towards the men around the fire. I didn't recognize where the game was supposed to be taking place. They wore generic looking middle eastern garb and spoke a language I had never heard. Suddenly the men stood up in shock and pointed to my character. What they were saying was unintelligible to me, but suddenly the game translated into English. I remembered seeing a similar mechanic in some older game.
"Tie him up! Tie the bastard up!"
"He's one of them, I can tell. Look at his eyes!"
I wondered what the lore of the game was about. For a generative mission the dialogue was kind of interesting.
"He's the same as the one we saw last month!"
"Kill him! Kill him then!"
The men seemed panicked. I was really impressed by the voice acting. I wondered if this was also generative as I had heard big studios were now using AI to voice characters. Suddenly one of the men picked up a shotgun from behind him and began to blast my character.
CRITICAL CRITICAL CRITICAL
I began to laugh at how ridiculous it was. I looked around the room at the other players who all seemed deeply immersed in their missions. I was surprised to see that everyone's level looked completely different. How many assets were in this game? Game-over appeared, only this one was unique. A stern looking woman in a ponytail and glasses scorned me from a secondary window in the corner of the screen.
"Come on try harder! He got away!" the second screen faded. I hated when games did this.
I had heard of developers using frustration in the equation when trying to find that perfect addictive game loop formula, but it still peeved me off.
Just then Zane walked over. "Hey buddy. Come on now, were not paying you to make footage for a gag video. I want you to actually play the game." he sounded a little passive aggressive.
"DIE DIRTBAG!" I heard one of the guys yell from across the room. Apparently he was enjoying it. I saw another laughing his head off.
"Look at their reactions! I'm 'tea bagging' the mark. Look at him!" he was almost in tears. A few of the other gamers looked over and started laughing.
"Have fun... but play the game." Zane said encouragingly noticing the players on the other side of the room cracking up.
"Yeah... alright Zane" I said sort of annoyed. Micro management much?
The next day a few of us expected to play multiplayer but Zane said to keep testing the single player mode. Some sighed, but the others were already logged in and loading up, eager to play. I don't know if it was Zane rubbing me the wrong way but after he got on my case the day before I didn't really care for the game. I mean it was incredible but I started to notice it was a little too focused on details and not enough on the fun.
For every few fun missions where I was able to just go in and fight a bunch of enemies there was an equal amount of slow reconnaissance levels where the game would basically force you to play exactly as it wanted. For instance, if there were enemies detected it would not let you even leave cover. It just kept saying something about how 'failure was immanent'. A few of us complained but Zane said it was all for the sake of realism and we would grow to appreciate it.
After lunch Zane unveiled a leader board and said whoever was on the top it at the end of the day would get a thousand dollar bonus. I was impressed but I basically knew that wasn't ever going to be me. As fun as the game could be, the play style just wasn't really my thing. A few of the competitive players took it really seriously though. It was like they became completely focused on topping the board.
It wasn't just the stealth missions that bothered me. For one, every mission it seemed like the movement and aiming settings changed slightly. It was fine but had the devs never heard of customization? I also started to find the UI and voice 'companion' really annoying. It was like they would reprimand me if I didn't play the game exactly how it wanted. I talked to the others about it but they all seemed to be enjoying it.
What really bothered me though, and I didn't tell them then, but the game felt too realistic. I mean I had grown up with tons of violent games but this one was different. Not only were the graphics crazy good, the animation and dialogue were also so realistic.
One mission I was in some small village in Africa or something. I had to shoot through a bunch of soldiers but when I got to the target his dialogue really got to me. I mean, I get being accurate to life but this just felt unnecessary. I was about to complete the mission when the character model spread his arms in the air and said 'WAIT!'. He looked at me dead in the eyes and I swear it was the realest expression I had ever seen... and I don't just mean in a game. He was sobbing and his voice was hoarse, suddenly he said 'I have a son! Please'. To be honest it freaked me out. I just wanted to be done with the mission.
I stared at the screen for like twenty seconds while the NPC just sat there crying. It was uncanny valley territory. Suddenly he got up to run. I didn't want to hear Zane complain about me 'not playing properly' so I shot him as he was jumping out a window... The thing that really messed me up though was when he started to cry out a name "My boy... Abimbola, ABIMBOLA!" he was shouting. I recoiled at the screen, did they have to make it this graphic? I would definitely bring this up to Zane.
MISSION PASSED appeared on screen in big bold gold letters with a tally of my score.
I watched as my name moved up the leader board to second place. Hmm.... maybe I could get used to the game?
For the next week all of us played with fervor. I adapted to some of the quirks and was actually getting quite good. As I played different weapons were unlocked and I never saw the same mission. I mean of course some of them were very similar but they all were somewhat unique. We played battle royale most of the time but we would complete at least a few solo missions a day.
I rarely saw Zane and when I did he was generally on his phone talking in a hushed voice. I figured he must have been busy as the game was probably nearing release.
At least all of this is what I had thought... until...
That day was different. After we finished playing the royale mode I loaded up the single player. The game said it was a harder difficulty level then usual. I had to infiltrate a compound and take out their leader. It didn't seem too difficult; I weaved through the corridors stealthily dragging bodies away from detection.
Finally I reached the objective, some type of boardroom or office. My character slowly opened the door... then something happened I hadn't seen before.
Someone had slipped behind my character and tied me up. I watched as my player was bound to a chair. Then a strict looking woman in a beret walked in to the room gesturing to the door. They slammed it shut. I couldn't believe that what I was seeing was in game and not cinematic. She leaned in to the camera...
"Listen to me closely. Yes, you... you spineless coward. You killed a lot of my men back there. Do they at least pay you well?" she spit on the character with vitriol...
I recalled the oddly realistic mission from a few days ago.
"We've got five minutes. Five!? Do you hear me. We were able to hack into your connection remotely. Apparently they don't trust you enough to run a mission alone. How does that make you feel? Watching your every move. You must be real loyal..."
The dialogue was going on for quite a while. I figured it was a scripted mission but was starting to get confused. I looked around the lounge, the others completely focused, blasting away.
Zane was nowhere to be seen.
"SAY SOMETHING!" She yelled tossing a cabinet over in anger.
I stared stunned at the screen. Was there a dialogue option?
"Boss I don't think they are fitted with two way communication." a second voice said from across the room.
"Hmm... he must be able to do something. Nod if you can hear me!" she said.
I stared at the screen in disbelief. Was I supposed to move the camera around? I did.
"Listen you worm! Why don't you come and see me face to face! Instead of hiding behind these killing machines! Do you have no honor? No integrity!"
I was dumbfounded. Was this mission for real? This made no sense... killing machines? We're we playing as some kind of mech or something? My thoughts chugged along struggling to connect. If someone was looking me in the eyes right then they would have heard the old 'dial up tone' as they peered into my blank stare.
It was like a train hit me.
"Is this who you work for?!" she was holding up a picture of Zane.
I knew it then, I couldn't actually understand it conceptually but somehow I knew it. This game... it wasn't a game! These were real people... I thought of the man calling out the name of his son. I couldn't breathe, my ears started ringing, I could hardly see through the water pooling in my eyes.
I started to shake the mouse violently up and down.
"It's Zane..." she said bitterly.
"Innocent peoples lives are at stake here! Do you have no remorse!?"
Again I shook the mouse rapidly.
"You have remorse...?" she said in disbelief.
"Okay... so tell us then... TELL US? Where is Zane?"
"Is he in Asia?" she said.
I shook the mouse left and right.
"This isn't gonna work..." she said and suddenly cut 'my' hand loose.
"I'm going to give you this gun and we're going to leave the room. You are going to spell out for me where you are with bullets. Got it? Try anything and I will find you and gut you."
I nodded, scanning the room around me. Nobody aware of the fact I was a crying wreck in the corner of the lounge.
I looked up the coordinates of where I was online and sprayed them into the wall. Writing like I had done in countless games before, only this time, lives at stake.
LONGITUDE XX LATITUDE XX
I closed the program.
Zane entered the room looking directly at me and walked over. "Done for the day?"
"Yeah... I... my hands are acting up" I could barely speak. I felt like the room was closing in.
Suddenly Zane got a call. His brow furrowed as he put his ear the phone.
"EVERYONE WE GOTTA PACK IT UP!" He yelled more ferociously then we had ever heard. "NOW!"
Everyone eventually snapped out of it and made their way out of the building confused.
Zane said we were done for the day and everyone stared at him bewildered. After insisting, they all got into their cars and drove off. I faked walking off and hid behind some bushes across the street.
I watched as Zane and Co loaded everything into black trucks. If I wasn't scared out of my wits I would have said it was impressive. They peeled off in less then five minutes.
I sat there on the side walk coping with everything that had just happened.
From out of nowhere several vehicles skidded into the parking lot. Black clade figures in balaclavas armed with assault rifles rushed the building. They didn't look like any agency I had ever seen but they were gone almost as soon as they had arrived.
Zane was gone.
Everyone was pretty shocked when they realized the devs had disappeared. They complained on discord for weeks about how it was the best game they had ever played and that they couldn't wait for the release date.
Some wondered if the company had gone bankrupt, but we all had our checks deposited.
I still haven't spent a dollar of it.
Most of the time I just stare out the window thinking about what I've done. Did any of them realize what we did? We were all cold blooded killers now... they weren't the least bit aware...
Or were they? Their laughs haunting me, remembering as they tormented 'NPCs', hysterical as they danced on the bodies and worse... I can barely bring myself to remember. They must have known... they must have...
I've tried to sleep but I can't, every night all I can see is the face of the man in the African village crying out the name of his son....
I don't play games anymore.
The comments on my previous post confirmed my suspicions, which terrified me. Vampires? I’d considered it, but it was impossible. They didn’t exist. They couldn’t exist. But … that was the only explanation. I could barely sleep, but one awesome commentor helped me relax with some techniques. I couldn't change what happened, so I should ground myself and be calm and hope for the best. Then I can focus on my task so I could finally go home.
But once I was asleep, all bets were off as nightmares ruled, leaving me helpless as Mika, Cassiopeia, and Desmod leaned over me, fangs gleaming.
A voice called my name, startling me awake, and I jerked upright on the bed, the covers clutched tight as my heart rioted.
“Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you!” Desmod said, leaning back. “How are you feeling?”
“Stay away from me!” I yelled, scooting away until my back hit the wall.
He tilted his head in confusion. “Are you okay?”
I blinked in shock, not expecting that response. “You admit it?”
He shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, it was only a matter of time before you figured it out. Especially after what happened yesterday.”
I gulped, my tense breaths rapid. “Are y-you going to drink my blood?”
He wrinkled his nose. “No. Human blood isn’t really that good. We’ve got a much better variety here in our sphere. Soib blood is the best. They're like … bears, I guess. But with scales instead of fur. I guess they qualify as reptiles, but I'm no biologist.”
I ignored his attempt at diverting the topic as I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “So you don’t go to our sphere to feast on humans?”
“No. I mean, personally, I don’t go there at all, I’m not old enough. But those of us that are only go there to recruit.”
“Yeah, to turn humans, because we can’t make babies. The only way to get more vampires is to convince humans to join us. Quite a few of us also take jobs in the human police force, gives us more power to persuade.”
“Persuade? You mean like what Cassiopeia does?”
“Not really, only a few vampires have that ability. The rest of us have to use charm and charisma. No force though, we don't want resentful recruits!" He looked at his hands. "I wonder sometimes if I'll develop that persuasive gift when I'm old enough, though I don't think I'll be comfortable using it."
“How old are you?”
“Hmm, Let's see." He looked up in thought. "Mika recruited me almost two years ago, when I was sixteen. So, I’ve existed for almost eighteen years, am stuck at sixteen years, but am almost two in vampire years.”
I struggled to take in all this baffling information. “But … isn’t Mika your adoptive dad?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, that’s kind of how it works. The one who turns you becomes your parent. I’m Mika’s only ‘kid’ and he never wants to do it ever again. Mika has a lot of ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ though, since Cassiopeia has recruited thousands.”
“How … how do you turn someone?”
“A bite. We don’t suck, though, we inject our DNA.”
I held the covers tighter. “Am I g-going to be turned?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Do you want to be?”
I shook my head rapidly, my eyes wide.
He smiled. “Then no. You have a choice, we’re not monsters.”
“That’s not what I saw yesterday.”
His smile vanished. “What, the battle against the Reddige Pack? They’re the most vicious werewolf pack ever! What did you expect?”
I stared at him in shock. "Werewolves?"
"They do. So do merfolk, sirens, and goblins. There used to be fairies too, but they're extinct now. Wiped out by the werewolves around fifty years ago."
My eyes grew twice their size. “Those are all real?”
He smiled. “Yup!"
"What about witches? Or … or centaurs? Or dragons?"
"Dragons are real, we have many. But they aren't as big as the movies and books make them seem. Centaurs aren't real, and witches are human."
I did a double take. "What?"
He chuckled. "I'm talking real witches, not flying broomstick ones. Witches are human born with the ability to read mother nature and make the most of her resources."
My mouth hung open as I took in all of these unexpected revelations.
"They're amazing at potions and stuff," Desmod continued. "I heard we used to deal with them back then, before the war."
“Why is there a war?”
"Okay, so …" He lifted a hip to sit on the desk. “I’m not super into the politics of it all, but I know that before fifty years ago, everyone lived in peace on Zevea until—”
“Zevea?” I asked in confusion.
“So, like our sphere being called Earth?”
He tilted his head left and right a few times, squinting in thought. “Hmmm, no, not exactly. Technically, we’re on Earth too. But we named our sphere because we’re aware of it. We named yours too. It’s called Kabic.”
I grimaced. “Kabic?”
He chuckled and held his hands up. “Hey, I didn’t name it. I honestly don’t know who did. So, as I was saying, everyone lived in peace on Zevea until the folk leaders met up and decided to only allow vampires to cross over to Kabic, so they can recruit to maintain their population if one of them decided to pack it in and pass on.”
“Wait, you guys can do that?” I asked in surprise. "Aren't you immortal?"
He shrugged. “I mean, yeah, we don't age or die naturally, but we can be killed. Once we're sick of existing, we just ask someone to stake us, cut our head off, or burn us.”
I winced. “Oh, right, yeah. Sunlight, silver, garl— … no, wait.” I frowned. “You guys didn’t mind the sun yesterday.”
He let out an airy chuckle. “Yeah, you can thank Cassiopeia's grandfather for those vampire stereotypes. If you'd have called him a monster, he'd have been thrilled. He's the reason that sphere-crossing rule was made."
I gulped. "What … what did he do?"
"He loved scaring the shit out of humans and drinking their blood. Sometimes he even befriended them before betraying them. He hated the taste but loved the fear and the stories they'd make warning others about him. He hunted at night because it was easier to scare them. We see perfectly in the dark, humans can't.
"He terrorized humans for centuries and the stories about him got passed down through generations, and they ended up exaggerating his eccentricities like finding silver tacky, garlic gross-smelling, and church bells annoying." He paused in thought. "He was staked in the heart by a mob and then burned seventy-five years ago, so, hey, humans got some things right! His death brought his atrocities to Zevea's attention and the leaders decided to make Kabic accessible by appointment only."
"But how? How can they control it?"
"With a hsysh made with fairywork."
"Fairywork can only be done by fairies, it's very delicate and technical and magical. At that meeting, one of the fairy leaders offered to build a hsysh that can allow them to close and open the barrier between spheres. The leaders agreed, and soon vampires had to go through them to get approved to cross.
"The vampires hated that extra step, but they understood it. On the other hand, the werewolves hated how vampires were the only ones allowed to cross, so they started complaining that there was too much inbreeding in their packs and they needed fresh blood to remain powerful.
“All the folk leaders got together and agreed to let them cross to recruit too, which would have been okay except that the Reddige Pack went overboard and recruited too many. Other packs started doing the same, and the vampires sensed something was up so they started recruiting a lot too. Now the other folk began getting nervous because there was obviously some sort of battle for dominance over Zevea.
“The leaders tried to set new rules, but the werewolves took over the meeting, killed them all, destroyed the hsysh, and declared war on anyone who dared stop their rise to power. The vampires challenged them, the merfolk challenged them both, the other folk picked sides, and the rest is history.”
“What side did the others pick?” I asked with nervous enthrallment.
“The goblins and fairies joined us, the sirens joined the werewolves, and the merfolk were on their own." He let out a sullen sigh. "Vampires didn't get much time with the fairies, though. The werewolves teamed up and massacred them all within a few days. All because the fairies refused to build a hsysh for them, so the they wiped them out so they wouldn't build it for anyone."
"Oh no," I whispered, covering my mouth as sorrow weighed my heart. "That's horrible. Why did they destroy the first hsysh if they wanted one so bad?"
"I don't know, but I've heard that they saw it a symbol of oppression before they realized they could be the oppressors. Although I'm sad fairies are extinct, I respect them for refusing to build it. Or else this war would have ended quickly and we'd all be buried in the werewolves' trophy sites.”
What are trophy sites?”
“It’s a bit barbaric, but it’s how war is done here. Each faction has a trophy site where we display the enemies we kill. The werewolves bury theirs and stick a spike through them to mark them, we bury ours each beneath a red wyso stone, the merfolk tether theirs to the ocean floor and tie an air-filled bladder to them so it floats on the water surface, and so on. It’s like a warning, sort of. Our site is pretty big, but the Reddige Pack’s is the biggest. They’re heartless. I’m just glad we didn’t end up buried there yesterday.”
I shuddered, hugging myself. “Me too.”
"Today should be better, we’ll be going into merfolk territory. The trophy site of the Buslle Pod. I hope you don’t get seasick!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a protein bar. “But first, you need to eat. I got you another bar since you didn’t seem to like eggs.
“Where’s this site?” I asked, not reaching for the bar. “Antarctica?”
He chuckled. “No, this one thankfully overlaps the Pacific Ocean. So we can look for Cassiopeia’s brother on your sphere.”
My tension decreased slightly. “Oh, that’s one good thing, at least. I wasn’t looking forward to getting ambushed again.”
He winced. “Me neither. Werewolves are pure rage, but merfolk are clever as well as strong. I actually wish I knew them before the war started, they seem pretty cool. I’m even learning mertongue.” He waved the protein bar in front of me. “You don’t want this?”
I hesitated before I took it from him. “You’re learning what?”
“Mertongue. Their language. They all speak it, but with varying dialects. It’s pretty hard to speak, but I understand it okay. Saying hello/goodbye is the easiest. Just pretend you're a snake clearing its throat. Hsssegh!”
I twisted my mouth in disgust. “That … sounds gross. Do each of you have your own language? Was Mika speaking to you in vamptongue yesterday?”
He laughed. “We don’t call it that, but yes. One of them. Vampires have a few different languages. The werewolves and us speak a lot of human languages too, because of how often we recruit. The sirens also speak a few human languages after they began crossing over with the werewolves. They love messing around with sailors.”
“I’ve heard of them, they have hypnotic singing that makes sailors crash or jump. But … wait." I furrowed my brow in confusion. "How are they different from merfolk?”
“I don’t know how humans messed this up, but sirens are a mash between a lady and a bird, not a fish."
We both turned to the door when Mika showed up. “Good afternoon. Are we ready?”
I blinked in shock. “Afternoon?”
“Yes. Are you ready?”
They both looked at me, and I looked down in anxious resignation. “Do I have a choice?”
“No. Desmod, leave her so she can get dressed. We leave in ten minutes.”
Desmod nodded at me with a smile and walked out, and I sighed when the door clicked shut. I didn’t want to do this, but I was compelled to. That stupid promise Cassiopeia made me give. I got dressed, finished my protein bar, and sat on the bed, pressing on my knuckles as I waited for Desmod to return.
“Ready?” he asked after knocking.
“Yeah,” I called out as I stood up.
He unlocked the door and gestured outside. “After you!”
Sighing, I didn’t resist as my body stepped out and walked beside him as we made our way to the garage.
“Yesterday, when you touched me, you … what did you do?” I asked, turning to him. “Did you make me sleep? Or make time speed up?”
“We can make humans sort of enter a trance. Makes them easier to transport through places we don’t want them to see, or if we’re talking about stuff we don’t want them to hear. I mean, it’s better than using sedatives, isn’t it?”
I cringed in discomfort. “So, I’m just staring into space while you guys carry me around and stuff?”
“Um, well, sort of,” he said awkwardly. “In the car, you just sat there, but when I brought you back here, I had to carry you, yeah.”
“I don’t like that,” I said, frowning at him as I crossed my arms. “I didn’t consent.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But we have to do it. There’s stuff you shouldn’t know about.” He cleared his throat. “Do you give me permission to do that to you today? I promise I don’t do anything weird or disrespectful. We’re not like that.”
I shot him an incredulous glare. “Not like that? Your dad and his thugs kidnapped me, tied me up, and interrogated me!”
He winced. “I know, but in Mika’s defense, he didn’t know who you were. He thought you were in cahoots with the packs or something. Like I said, this is war. But I promise they didn’t do anything to you when you were out. We don’t abuse for fun or out of anger.”
I didn’t drop my frown. “If there’s no other option, fine. But if there’s no reason to do it, I don’t want you to do it.”
We entered the garage, and I noticed Mika and his team were in regular outfits today, no bulky armor or helmets in sight. I eyed the trunk of the car and wondered if there were weapons in there, just in case.
We entered, with me sandwiched between Desmod and Hawk again. I couldn’t believe I was voluntarily sitting in a car with vampires. Well, not voluntarily, thanks to Cassiopeia. Desmod held out his hand, and I sighed as I put mine in it. A blink later, we were at a pier, and Desmod smiled as he opened the door and nodded for me to exit.
Shaking off my lingering tension, I stepped out into the salty, humid night, and I stared in surprise at the black yacht bobbing a few feet away. Mika was already on board, and I winced as Callan grabbed my arm and dragged me up the ramp.
“Hey, she’s cooperating!” Desmod said, running after us.
“We don’t have time,” Mika said.
“There’s no war here! We can take all the time in the world!”
“You may not have serious responsibilities, but I do.”
Desmod scowled but didn’t reply as we boarded the yacht. I sat on one of the cushioned benches on the deck, and a few minutes later, we were off. I didn’t say anything as I watched the shore fade into the distance, the glowmains of dead sea life bobbing on the surface of the inky ocean.
“Where are we, exactly?” I asked, turning to Desmod sitting across from me.
“The Pacific Ocean,” he replied.
“I know, but where?” I pointed. “That there, where we parked. What country is it?”
He nodded. “Have you ever been?”
“One of our newest recruits is from there. She says it’s gorgeous.”
Mika walked over, and he said something to Desmod in their language. Desmod sighed and leaned forward, holding his hand out to me, and I blinked in surprise before I turned and frowned at Mika.
“Seriously? I don’t want to be in a trance right now!”
“We have business to discuss,” Mika said.
“Why can't you leave me up here and go discuss it inside? It's not like I’m going to escape by jumping into freezing water in the middle of the night and swimming a billion miles to shore.”
Desmod chuckled, but Mika didn’t as he said, “If you don’t want Desmod to do it, I can get Callan up here.”
Now I was the one scowling at Mika as I took Desmod’s hand. A blink later, I was in the same place, but now Desmod was sitting beside me and Mika across from me.
“Do you see any glows?” Mika asked.
I turned to face the water, and I squinted as I tried to differentiate between the plethora of floating glowmains.
“I see so many. A lot of fish and stuff, but I can’t make out anything human-shaped. Is this the right location?”
“Yes. It seems they've tethered the bodies at such a depth, you may not be able to pick up their glows.”
“If you knew that, why’d you drag me here?”
Mika nodded to the left, and my mouth fell open as his goons brought over scuba diving gear.
“Are you kidding me right now?” I asked, turning to Mika in disbelief. “I only see glowmains in air! Even if I dove down there, it’d be useless!”
“That is why we have this.” Mika nodded at Callan, who held up a hose connected to a tank. “You'll take it with you and spray bubbles over the area as you swim. The glows should appear in the air inside.”
I blinked at him, then I turned to Desmod, hoping one of them would tell me this was all a joke. Mika remained stone-faced, and Desmod shrugged and gave me an apologetic smile.
“Do you realize how long that'll take?” I asked.
“We have ten hours allotted to the search,” Mika replied.
“Ten hours!” I exclaimed. “You seriously want me down there for ten hours spraying bubbles around and attracting sharks and who knows what else? I’m not doing it … alone.”
I grimaced. Damn promise!
“You won’t be alone,” Mika said. “My team will accompany you and protect you.”
“No, I meant this is a crazy idea! There has to be another way! Why can't we use your car? It's a sub, isn't it? Attach the bubble hose to it and I'll look out the window and let you know what I see."
"That's … actually a good idea," Desmod said, turning to Mika. "Why didn't we think of that?"
Mika didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence before an enormous wave crashed down on us. I gasped as the cold water clung to my skin, squeezing not only my lungs but my body as I fell on my back. I shook my head, taking a deep, shuddering breath once I could, and my heart dropped when I realized that wasn’t water squeezing me.
It was tentacles.
I began hyperventilating as I looked up. A creature was standing beside me, face like an angler fish, spiny arms holding a trident, and six tentacles where its legs should be, four of which were wrapped around me. My wide eyes scanned the rest of the yacht, and my heart dropped even further when I saw Mika, Desmod, and every thug held prisoner by their own tentacled creature. Were these the merfolk?
Mika yelled something out in a garbled hiss, and the creature holding him forced him into a kneeling position, pinning his arms back. Mika’s goons struggled and yelled in their language, but Mika didn’t even flinch as he held his head up, his expression stern and devoid of fear. How was he not terrified?
A creature approached him, this one not burdened by a prisoner as it rolled upright on its tentacles, and Mika looked into its round blue eyes and spoke in more garbled hissing.
“H-He’s saying we aren’t armed,” Desmod said in a shaky whisper.
I turned to Desmod bound beside me, distress and awe clashing behind his wide eyes.
The creature spoke, and Desmod translated. “Sh-She’s asking why we’re here.”
Mika replied, and Desmod said, “He’s asking the s-same thing.”
The creature holding me now spoke, and I blanched when the interrogator turned to me.
“Wh-what now?” I whispered to Desmod.
“Th-They know you’re human,” he said, his distress growing as his voice cracked.
The interrogator approached me, and I gulped as I looked into her piercing blue eyes. I’d always hated how angler fish looked, with their large jaws, long, translucent teeth, and strange glowing protrusions, and now a large, spiny one with a torso, arms, and tentacles was staring me down with its emotionless expression.
“You are human,” she hissed.
Fear paralyzed my tongue, my heart rattling between my ribs.
“Do you know you are in the company of vampires?” she asked.
All I could do was nod.
She pointed her trident at me. “So you are a recruit.”
I shook my head in a panic, the tip of the trident inches from my rabid heart, and Mika and Desmod both yelled out something in a garbled hiss. The interrogator paused, ignoring Mika as she turned to Desmod and hissed back. Desmod replied, and I let out a quivering breath when she withdrew her trident and turned back to Mika.
“Th-Thank you,” I whispered to Desmod once I found my voice.
“Don’t thank me yet,” he replied, watching them talk with anxious eyes.
“Wh-what are they saying now?”
Desmod hesitated before he said, “Sh-She asked Mika if what I said was true, Mika said yes, and … um, she said my mertongue needed work.”
“Wh-What did you tell them?”
“That you can see the dead glow.”
The interrogator turned back to me. “Why are you here?”
I looked at Mika in alarm, not sure what to answer, and he calmly nodded. Taking that as a sign to tell the truth, I took a deep breath and replied.
“I … I’m helping them find Cassiopeia’s brother, Perseus.”
“I c-can see the hovering, glowing shadows of the dead. Even across spheres.”
“I … I don’t know. I w-was born that way.”
“Why are you helping them?”
“Cassiopeia … sh-she wants to give her only brother a proper burial back home.”
I flinched as all the creatures began making popping sounds in their throats.
“Why are you helping them?” the interrogator asked.
“Oh. Um, I … I promised.”
The creature turned back to Mika, and I screamed when she whipped the trident towards him.
“No, stop!” I cried, drowned out by the yells of Desmod and Mika’s team.
Mika didn’t flinch, the trident pressed against his chest, but he was looking at me in surprise. So was the interrogator. At least, it seemed like surprise. The merfolks' faces were disconcertingly ridgid.
“No?” she asked.
“He … he saved my life,” I said, feeling uncomfortable as everyone stared at me.
“Because you are needed. He won’t do the same once you’ve depleted your usefulness.”
“I know, I’m not stupid. B-But a life for a life. We’re even.”
“I kill him now, you will be free of your promise.”
“H-He didn’t make me promise, Cassiopeia did. She just w-wants her brother. If you have his body, can … can you please give him to us?”
Those unblinking blue eyes bore straight through me, and I couldn’t help but look away, second guessing every decision I’d made. I only looked back when I heard garbled hissing, the creature and Mika talking once again.
“She’s s-saying you’re a strange human,” Desmod translated. “Mika is asking why they attacked … She’s saying the w-werewolves knew they’d been occupying human waters and have been dumping poison into the oceans … Mika is saying they're both in the wrong since Kabic is for recruitment, not war.”
The creatures made those strange popping sounds again.
“Um, they’re laughing,” Desmod said, uneasy. “That’s not a good sign. Now sh-she’s saying the werewolves have already occupied many human areas and we should do the same if w-we want any chance at winning the war … Mika is thanking her for her advice … and they’re l-laughing again … and now she—”
Desmod gasped, and so did I as the interrogator thudded her trident against the deck and the others released us. I scrambled up to my feet, adjusting my shirt while Desmod slid in front of me, his arms wide in a protective stance. Mika stood up and straightened his suit, his confident posture intimidating despite being dwarfed by the height of his interrogator.
“We don’t have Perseus,” the interrogator said in English, despite her facing Mika. “But we believe the sirens do. Search the trophy site of the Ca’ii Flock.”
“Why are you telling us this?” Mika asked.
“So you can let the poor human go home and live a few years in peace before our war bleeds into Kabic.”
All the creatures made popping sounds as they dove back into the ocean, and all my tension vanished as my legs buckled and I collapsed on deck, shivering. Desmod knelt beside me, his arms coming around for a hug, and I pushed him away, tears streaming down my face.
“Don’t touch me,” I whispered, hugging myself.
“Okay, sure, sorry,” Desmod said, backing away. “Hey, Callan! Get me a blanket!”
Callan threw one at us, and Desmod draped it around my shoulders. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head, gripping the blanket tight as the creature’s words rattled in my mind. The prospect of a supernatural war on our sphere occupied my every thought …
… until Mika began stripping. I watched in baffled surprise as he took everything off except his underwear, threw his clothes overboard, and turned to his men.
“I’m going to take a shower,” he said, his stoic expression failing to hide the repulsion in his eyes. “Men, clean up.”
“For a germaphobe, he can sure keep it together long enough,” Desmod said, chuckling as he tried to lighten the mood.
“Will there really be a war here?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“We won’t let it happen.”
“You guys didn’t even know the merfolk and werewolves were here!”
“We did, and we’re here too. I told you many of us are in the police force. What better way to keep an eye on everything?”
“Oh, right …”
“Would you like something to eat?” he asked, handing me a protein bar.
“Do you just carry those around all the time?”
“No, only for you,” he said, smiling. “We don’t eat.”
“I don’t want that. I want …” My stomach growled. “I want a burger. With lettuce, onions, pickles, cheese, and mustard, no tomatoes, so Cassiopeia doesn’t make me eat something I hate. And waffle fries. And an orange soda.”
He chuckled. “That sounds good! We can get you that.” He sat back with a sigh. “Man, I miss the days when I could eat. It’s not the same now, I only have a taste for blood, everything else is gross.”
“Did Mika tell you about the war when he recruited you?”
“No, but even if he did, I’d have accepted."
"Because I was homeless and dying of pneumonia. He offered me a life full of excitement. And I don’t regret it.” His face lit up. “I can’t believe we just got to meet merfolk. And not any, but members of the Buslle Pod! Never thought I’d meet one and come out alive. I told you they’re not as brutal as the packs!”
“They’re still terrifying,” I said, shuddering.
“Yeah, they do look scary if you’re not used to them, but they’re level-headed, and very smart. If I wasn’t betting on us winning, I’d bet on them.”
“Did they say the truth? About where Cassiopeia’s brother is?”
“I hope so.” He frowned. “Unless they’re hoping we battle with the sirens and kill each other off. Sirens are nasty pieces of work, especially the Ca’ii Flock. We’ll have to find a way to check out their trophy site without getting hurt.”
“Can’t we do it from my sphere?”
“I think we can, Mika will know for sure.”
Speaking of the devil, Mika’s voice flowed from inside, and Desmod sighed and held out his hand. I rolled my eyes and took it, and a blink later, I was back in my room. I didn’t even resist when Cassiopeia eased my stress and minimized my trauma, and I ate my burger with famished eagerness before I showered and hopped into bed.
As before, reading my old posts brought back my emotions, and after I called my parents and friends, once again censored by a promise I was "convinced" to make, I typed everything out, the future’s vague fate roiling in my mind.
Probably the earliest memories I have of my life are storytime.
Dad would sit in his special seat in his room, and I’d sit cross-legged on the floor.
Storytime was important. Storytime was special. Storytime couldn’t be skipped.
Every night. It was a ritual. An event.
I liked it, mostly.
He’d often read from picture books. He’d always shuffle in new ones. Stories about animals, leaves, gremlins, ghouls, talking clouds - all that good stuff. As a young kid, I didn’t realize just how weird it was for him to have so many darn kids books at his disposal.
There was one important rule that always came with his nightly storytelling: Whenever he shared a tale, I wasn’t allowed to get distracted.
In the earlier years, it felt like he was much more lax about this. If I yawned or dozed off, he was pretty forgiving. But if I interrupted him, saying I was hungry or bored or wanted to play video games, he’d shut me down quickly. He’d stare at me from his chair. An intense, angry glare. Then, with my full attention, he’d simply say: “What would the uninvited guests think about this?”
Naturally, I didn’t have a great answer to this question. At first, I assumed it was just an expression akin to saying it’s ‘raining cats and dogs’ – some phrase that sounded like nonsense but one that I'd understand when I was older.
Either way, I ended up becoming a pretty good listener after months of this ritual, and started to really relish these moments with my dad. The stories themselves were boring, sure, but he’d always work hard to spice them up with great pacing and impassioned voice acting.
It wasn’t until I turned nine that his storytime rules became much stricter.
At this point, if I got itchy and looked down at my arm to scratch it, he’d snap his fingers, then glare. “What would the uninvited guests think about this?”
If I noticed a snowfall happening outside, my eyes briefly darting to the window, it would be another snap of his fingers, another disapproving look, and another mention of uninvited visitors.
I’d even learned to stare right at him, nodding intently at the appropriate story beats while my mind was off wandering about something else. Still he’d somehow be able to catch it.
Innocently, I brought this up to some of my close friends at school, who found the whole thing - including the fact that he still read stories to me, nightly even - a bit weird. My curiosity flamed, and I brought it up to him at dinner one day.
“Dad, why is storytime so important?”
He didn’t look up to answer. Fork with mashed potatoes in one hand, that day’s paper held out in front of him in the other.
“It’ll make you smarter. When you grow up, you’ll be thankful about it.”
The answer didn’t really quell my curiosity. I pressed on a bit more.
“And you really need me to pay attention the whole time?”
“Yes. Without a doubt.”
Not a particularly detailed answer from the old man.
If this paints a strange picture about my pops, I do want to make something very clear: he was a great dad. He was always there when I needed him, whether it was for help on my homework or as a shoulder to cry on for something my nine-year-old self thought was the end of the world. He was supportive with all my hobbies - dorky as they were - and never seemed interested in forcing a particular worldview on me. There were only two topics he was guarded about: talking about my mom, who died giving birth to me, and of course, the stories.
Once I hit ten, he ditched the picture books altogether.
The next stories were all ones he came up with himself. They were… interesting, to say the least.
I can recall a few of them that left greater impressions on me, for reasons I’ll get into soon.
The first was the story about the Werewolf who Should’ve Known Better. This werewolf had sharp teeth, sharp claws, and a big heart, like all the werewolves that came before him. He’d heard all the tales about townsfolk crying foul about the wolves and blaming them for various ills, but he brushed them aside. This werewolf was an optimist. One fateful day, he climbed down the hill to finally greet the townsfolk, but they chased him out with pitchforks and rocks. He realized quickly, much as he wished it weren’t the case, that things hadn’t changed. His story would be the same as those of wolves from generations past.
The second story was about a boy who would freeze up in terror whenever there was an earthquake. Rather than dropping under the table and covering his head as he was supposed to, he’d instead stop in place, unable to move an inch. Noticing this, his mother decided to calm him with a story. Earthquakes, big and small, she told him, were all caused by a friendly giant in the sky. Small rumbles meant the giant was exercising, and bigger quakes meant the giant was bouncing on a trampoline. The stories were silly, but they helped the boy find some relief, and soon, he was able to consistently drop, cover, and hold, all while visualizing a fantastical picture in the sky.
The most important story of the bunch was one he decided to save for a special night.
At this point, I’d become the perfect listener. It was routine and instinct, and nothing could distract me.
Even as my dad’s storytelling antics got stranger and stranger.
He’d turn the TV on midway through a tale and start slowly lifting the volume. He’d walk around the room as he spoke, bouncing a ball against the wall with increasing force. And, strangest of all, he’d sometimes bring large stuffed animals into the room that he would hide behind as he told the story.
I barely slipped up. Sometimes the face of a particular stuffed animal would pop out to me, or my eyes would be drawn to follow the movement of the ball he was bouncing. He’d always catch me. He’d always notice. He’d always say the line. “What would the uninvited guests think about this?”
Finally, I asked him, “Who are the uninvited guests?”
He broke into a big smile. It stretched across his face with an unsettling curve, like a caterpillar. Like his cheeks were being pulled.
Then he shook his head.
“There’s still time,” he said.
And there was indeed. The night of the party wasn’t for a few weeks.
When it finally rolled around, it was a sight to behold.
I never knew my dad had so many friends!
They were all laughing. Friendly. Mingling. Shaking hands. Looking at the pictures around our house. Eating. A gathering of sophisticated-seeming adults. None of them paid much attention to me at first.
I assumed this event wasn’t a big deal - Dad had mentioned briefly that some folks might come over to our house in the near future. I still remember the look on his face when they arrived - it was an expression I’d never seen him wear before. He tensed up, a half-smile on one side of his face. His eyes looked like they were welling up with tears as he squinted. I never quite knew what it meant.
After dinner, the guests all started breaking off into some strange behavior. A few of them were staring up at the ceiling in our living room, spinning ever-so-slightly in place as they did. I saw a group of five or so just standing in the bathroom, not really doing anything. One of the guests, a gentleman in a fine suit, started climbing up the stairs on all fours. When he got to the top, he’d walk back down to the bottom, and then start again. A few others followed him.
It didn’t dawn on me that something was wrong until I saw one of the stranger’s smiles dripping blood. I thought my brain was making things up, but then someone down the hall looked at me and waved with a similar-tinged smile, red droplets flicking down from her teeth. I saw it more and more upon the guests, and cried for my dad.
He found me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me into his room. “It’s started,” I heard him mutter to himself in a whisper.
He shut the doors behind him, and barricaded the entrance as I continued crying.
“It’s storytime, alright?” he said.
I was rattled beyond belief, but the words brought me a light comfort.
He sat in his special chair. The one he always sat in. Then, he told me the story about “Patrick Bear and the Uninvited Guests.”
I tried my best to listen intently.
“On one special day, Patrick found out that he was throwing a party. That was news to him!”
I felt a force pushing against the door.
“The guests rolled in one by one. More than he could’ve ever imagined!”
They were already inside. They spilled into the room, wandering. I averted eye contact with them. My dad shot me a knowing, mindful look. I was doing what he wanted.
“They had big hats and big ties and fancy shoes, but Patrick Bear didn’t care!”
A clutter of strangers gathered behind my dad’s seat. They peeked their heads out to look at me.
The others started sitting around me in a circle. They left only a small gap for me to lock eyes with my father. Through my blurry peripheral vision, I could sense all of their eyes were fixed on me.
“Patrick just wanted his alone time, so fancy friends didn’t mean much to him!”
The whispers of the strangers were the hardest part. “Look here,” “Do you wanna have a staring contest?”, “Look away for just one sec,” they all said in different variations.
“The guests stayed longer than he would’ve liked.”
The bloodied smile of a stranger crept up right in front of me. I kept my dad’s gaze with the two-inch gap to the stranger’s left that had been afforded me.
“But eventually, they…”
I saw my dad’s neck slowly twist. His eyes had averted from me. They looked upwards now, towards a woman that was hovering in front of him. I heard cracks and snaps. The strange, caterpillar-smile returned to his face as his cheeks pulled in opposite directions. Blood pooled from his mouth. He briefly looked at me again, now with an apologetic gaze.
“I’m sorry my sweet one, I had to look at your mother.”
His face and neck contorted in ways that didn’t even make sense, but he was able to slip out one final line.
“H-howwww doe-es theeee stor, stor-ee enedddd?”
Something in my gut knew that closing my eyes wasn’t the answer. I was covered by the strangers, but still, I somehow looked ahead. Somehow, they were a blur. I couldn’t look away from them, but my attention wasn’t with them. It was with the story.
“But eventually, they all went home. And Patrick Bear found peace and quiet, once again,” I said.
A breeze blew through the window. The room was suddenly still.
The house was empty. Everyone was gone. There was no sign of… anything. No family photos, no children’s books, nothing I recognized. Just… generic furniture.
When the cops found me days later, starved and confused, the story was that I was an orphaned boy with no traceable lineage.
Everything I told them about my dad, my upbringing, storytime, and more, couldn’t be proven in any way. I talked about my school, about the teachers and friends I had there, but no one mentioned could recall ever knowing me.
For a while, I was convinced that I’d made up the whole thing in my mind. That I’d been abandoned by my parents when I was young, fled from an orphanage, and squatted in uninhabited properties living an imagined life. A storybook of my own. The events of that final night of storytime and the insanity I encountered were proof that I’d merely decoupled from reality as a child.
Unfortunately, like the werewolf, I learned a painful lesson when my wife Meredith died while giving birth to our son Michael.
Through the sheer shock and horror of it all, I tried to convince myself that it was just a disturbing cosmic coincidence.
But then a package from nowhere arrived at my front door a few weeks after her passing. It was a fully-illustrated storybook. It was called Michael Bear and the Uninvited Guests.
On the first page, in the inner lining of the book, there was a note scribbled in it. It read:
“We can’t wait for the party! We’ll bring all our friends!
Meredith, Mom and Dad”
I can’t say for certain when the party will be, but if history is anything to go on, the uninvited guests will show up around my son’s tenth birthday.
And so, to prepare, we do story time every night. After all, it’s important. It’s special. It can’t be skipped. It’s a ritual, an event.
And every time he complains about it, I give him the reminder.
“What would the uninvited guests think about this?”
As a kid, I grew up hearing multiple versions of the same warning: "stay off the back roads at dusk.", and I had a hard time understanding why. Oh sure, there were stories of bad, bad things happening on those roads, but I always figured it was the old folks, trying to mess with us kids. I didn't understand it, but I obeyed regardless.
From 8 to 10 years old, I'd roam all over the woods and old streets in my area, during the day. my siblings and I were always told to be home before dark, and if we'd be late, NEVER to go into the backroads, not even to shortcut. As soon as I hit 14 and up, I started staying out late, hanging out with friends and the like. Up until one night, I was leaving a friend's house to come home, and it was around 9:30, 10PM. I didn't realize how late the hour had gotten.
Naturally, I began to head home, rapidly once I became aware of how deserted the street was in either direction, how virtually every single window and home was dark. it should be noted, that most of the backroads here are lined with homes that've been abandoned since the 90's, and some of these roads have not a single functioning streetlamp. (In this case, the street I was on had 2 functional lamps. one at the start, and one and the end of the street. the one that was in the middle, had long since burnt out.)
Almost halfway down the street, I had the distinct urge to look behind me. when I did, I almost screamed from surprise and not a small amount of fear. there, under the street lamp at the far end of the road, was.. someone. it was too far to tell male or female. they were swaying back and forth, listlessly. Arms by their side, head down, hair covering any features I might have seen otherwise. the kind of posture you'd see on someone slouched while standing.
It wasn't so much their posture, nor the swaying that bothered me, but how they seemed to notice when I'd spotted them. they stopped swaying. just.. stopped. like a puppet that suddenly lost its strings. To this day, I don't know if it was a trick of the light, or if I really saw it, but I briefly saw what looked like a glint of silver. just barely. but that was all it took to make me speed up again. more so when I looked back and they were gone.
I bolted then, as far and fast as I could from that road. when I got home I was happy to survive. happy to escape what I felt was just a bad place. later that night, I woke to the sounds of screams in the distance, coming from the backroads behind my house. they didn't last long. the next morning, I heard rumors of what had been found on those roads. needless to say... I never went near them, ever again. if it was sundown before I'd get home, I'd simply stay the night with a friend.
Even as I share this, I can't help but shudder, as I imagine what might've happened had I not decided to leave the area when I did...
The following is a chapter from a historical novella that chronicles real world events. It is the result of nearly 4 years of research and hard work. Some of the names have been changed
Chapter 2: The Station
Local legends say that Gare got its name from a misunderstanding between the town’s official founder, Noah Meyer and the local Sioux. Before the creation of the settlement fleeing slaves from the United States of America (USA) would cross into Canada several kilometers from modern Gare. This route was part of the Underground Railroad run by a Creole man, Augustine Dubois. Whom many now claim is the real founder of Gare
Dubois had been born into slavery in 1796, New Orleans USA. He was the third of his family to be born into slavery but also the first. For the slave master, Francis Dubois was his father. However this didn’t make Augustine’s life easier, in fact the opposite. For when he was a boy the other children hated him for looking like the man who beat their fathers and took their mothers. When he was older Francis would beat his son mercilessly for resembling him. But Augustine was a resourceful and intelligent boy. He taught himself how to read at great risk. For it was a capital offence for a slave to read
At the age of fifteen in 1811, Augustine Dubois attempted his first escape. Unfortunately he was captured and paid for the failure with his left leg. Later Augustine would write of the experience;
“The slave catchers found me hiding in the corn. They beat me for several hours before returning me to the Dubois Plantation. Upon arrival I was displayed in wooden stocks for all to see for three days. However my agony did not produce the desired dread in the slaves. So my father had my leg publically removed. Those that attempted to look away where beaten; those that cried where beaten. I screamed until I lost consciousness” Augustine Dubois Memoirs 1871
Between 1811 and 1813 Augustine was imprisoned at Dubois Plantation. However the experience only flamed the fires of freedom that burned within him. Upon his release into slavery he began to plot a revolt. During his imprisonment he had gained the sympathy of many of his fellow slaves. When they looked at him they no longer saw their oppressor but one of their own. Over the following three years Augustine would cultivate a small group of loyal followers and on the night of the 11th of March 1817 they would attack
“We waited until it was midnight. We killed the overseers in their beds. Some ask me if I regret what happened to my family; to them I retort, what family? Fancies Dubois? Or the countless brothers and sisters that died in bondage? I may have started the revolt but it was the Dubois’ cruelty and indifference that fuelled it. That tightened the rope round their necks and left them to bake in the sun” Augustine Dubois Memoirs 1871
In the aftermath of the revolt Augustine found himself the leader of eleven armed free men protecting twenty six women and children. They were surrounded by thousands of enemies and 1,600.2 miles from the Canadian border. But Augustine Dubois was cunning. He knew that if they attempted to run inland they would be dead within a fortnight. But in the water they had a chance. He ordered the free people to gather all the valuables they could find and they marched towards the sea
Augustine dressed himself in his father’s best clothes and jewelry. Not out of vanity or pride, but because for the first time in his life his complexion would be an advantage. He would play the part of a high yellow plantation owner moving to Santo Domingo. His plan being the group would use his family wealth to buy passage to the island but mutiny and sail to the free nation of Haiti
The journey to the port was uneventful. The group moved at night and avoided populated areas as much as possible. In truth it was by the grace of God that they safety traveled to the port; for unbeknownst to them rivalries from across the world would assist their escape. On March 17th 1817 a dispute erupted between the crews of the Hamilton; a British ship and a French vessel called the Pacifique. The Hamilton had flew the Union Jack and, below it, a small vane which bore some resemblance to the tri-color flag as an insult. The argument would escalate into the New Orleans riots of 18th March 1817
It was during this chaos that Augustine Dubois and the freemen arrived. On any other day they would have been immediately discovered and arrested. But in the commotion they found a British ship, the Stallion that was attempting to flee the violence. The captain Paul Davies recounts the events in his ship log:
“The mob was searching for any British vessel to scuttle. We had decided to depart as soon as possible out of fear. When a Mr Dubois arrived at the dock. He was accompanied by a retinue of slaves; including women and children. He claimed that he needed passage to Santo Domingo. I was tempted to refuse him but he offered to pay twice the price. We loaded him and his property as fast as possible and departed New Orleans” Captain Paul Davies, the Stallion 18th of March 1817
The journey to Santo Domingo was peaceful but as the Stallion approached the Island, Augustine and his men attacked. The freemen easily took the ship and with the assistance of a hostage Paul Davies sailed for Port-au-Prince. There Augustine was welcomed as a hero and stayed for several years. Meeting and marrying his wife, Analisa Gomez. Taking her last name and becoming the Augustine Gomez but sometimes he would still use the name Dubois. In 1831 Augustine took what wealth he had made as a trader in Haiti and his stolen ship up North to Port de Quebec. He explains his decision in his memoirs:
“I was free, my children and their children would be free. But what of my brothers and sisters that suffered in the land of my birth. I could not in good conscious live knowing I could be of some assistance to their plight. I had been in contact with a colony, Wilberforce established by free men in Ontario. They offered to assist me in establishing my own in the west focused on assisting our siblings gain freedom” Augustine Dubois Memoirs 1871
Under an agreement with both the European and Indigenous leaders Augustine created the colony of Gare, French for train station. As in his vision it would be the last stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1874 a group of Mennonites migrated to the region from Germany lead by Noah Meyer. When the Mennonites arrived they knew little of the Sioux or Augustine Dubois. So when Meyer asked the Sioux what was the name of the region was they assumed he was looking for the colony of Gare. Meyer hearing their response assumed this was the traditional name of the area and so the town of Gare was built a few kilometers from the colony of Gare
I have always been a bit naïve. I cried at ghost stories, tried to forget superstitions, and always believed in luck and other magical forces, so you’ll have to excuse me if I made any questionable choices, thank you.
It all began when that accursed letter arrived at my doorstep.
The envelope was plain and unremarkable, bearing no return address. Inside, I found a single sheet of aged paper, its edges yellowed with time. The writing was also very odd; I had never seen those characters before, yet I could understand everything.
"David," it began, "You have been chosen to play a dangerous game, one that defies all reason. Your life depends on following these rules:
-Never look back. Once you start, there is no turning around.
-Always trust your instincts. They are your only guide.
-Avoid mirrors after sunset. Reflections can be deceiving.
-Whisper your deepest fear to the wind at midnight. It may offer protection.
-Beware the clock that strikes thirteen. It is not what it seems.
-Keep the door to your past locked. Do not let it open.
-Embrace the darkness but fear the shadows. They are watching.
-Never speak the name of the one who waits in the attic. He listens."
I stared at the letter, a cold sweat forming on my brow.
I knew immediately it wasn’t a joke, mainly because I don’t know anyone who would do that, or anyone at all on that matter...
I tried to calm down. “Ok, this apartment complex isn’t very big, but there is still a considerable amount of people who live here, surely a serial killer would never try to kill me in front everybody, right?”
I ignored every response my brain had to that statement, and that seemed to relax me a bit.
I immediately took my phone, ready to call the police, but then I suddenly stopped. Wasn’t I overreacting? What if it was just a kid’s prank. Calling the police just for that could even result in ME being arrested if the officer was in a bad mood.
So, I thought to myself “Well, it’s impossible this guy will kill me on the first day! He spent so much time making this look so old and doing some kind of optical illusion with the letters, it would be such a waste to kill me immediately.”
I again ignored every single warning from the voice in my head, except one: there is a camera installed in every hallway. The landlord bought them last year, after someone’s apartment was broken into, and the owner was able to make him pay for all the stolen stuff. I would’ve asked him for the videos after I got home for work, possibly before midnight, when I assume the recordings are deleted.
It was morning and I was already running late for my job, so I quickly drank my coffee and grabbed the keys. I was about to close the door when I remembered about the weird letter; writing the rules down or taking a photo of it was probably a good idea. But as soon as I was about to turn around, chills went down my spine.
Didn’t one of the rules say something about turning around? Was it meant as physically or like metaphorically? Well, it surely couldn’t mean physically, since I turned around a lot of times that morning, mostly without thinking. Maybe it meant that I can't turn around to change what I've already done? As in this case to take back the letter I left there. What an asshole killer, these rules are too vague.
“Snap out of it, David, how did you jump from an old letter to a serial killer watching all your movements in 5 minutes?! This letter is probably from your boss who just found out how far behind you are with work... Now close the door and rush to the car!”
Wasn’t “trusting your guts” one of the rules? Maybe this was the right call after all. With some difficulty I managed to close the door without turning back, then I walked moderately fast (so I didn’t look like a creep) to my secondhand car.
Again, why would this Saw-wannabe target me out of every person in the complex, I don’t understand, but driving helped me cool off a bit.
I got to the office, said hello to my coworkers and got to work right away. I was three weeks behind schedule, I didn’t have time to waste behind this stupid threat. If I lost my job over THAT, the killer should have been afraid of me.
The morning passed quickly, and it was now lunchbreak. I kept working for a part of it, but then hunger won over responsibility. That dumb letter made me forget my lunch, so I just bought one of those disgusting and probably cancerous sandwiches from the vending machine. There was a half-broken clock beside it.
“Huh, it’s almost 13. Only 20 minutes until I can prove this whole thing is fake haha”
I laughed but I wasn’t really amused.
Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I just stood there and waited. Until it happened.
An otherworldly chime resonated through the whole room. My heart skipped a beat as I realized it was coming from the clock in front of me.
The clock's hands moved in erratic, unpredictable patterns, and its face bore the number thirteen, standing starkly against the fractured timepiece.
Mesmerized by its surreal presence, I drew closer to the clock. Its ticking was out of sync with reality, a discordant symphony that seemed to distort the fabric of time itself. I reached out, hesitantly, and touched the clock's face, only to find that it was cool to the touch, like a living entity.
As my fingers made contact, the room’s walls began to ripple, the very fabric and vinyl morphing into liquid-like patterns. I was pulled into a whirlpool of time and space, spiraling through a kaleidoscope of memories, dreams, and fragments of forgotten thoughts.
I found himself in a place beyond reason, where the laws of physics surrendered to the surreal. Clocks floated in the air, each striking thirteen in unison, creating a cacophonous symphony of distorted time. I tried to move, but gravity itself had become a capricious force, pulling me in every direction at once.
Amidst this chaotic dreamscape, I encountered faces and figures from my past, people long gone, and perhaps those I had never met. They whispered cryptic messages, half-formed riddles, and secrets lost to the depths of my subconscious. The very concept of past and future blurred into a perplexing present.
I realized that I had stepped into a realm where time itself had unraveled, and the clock that struck thirteen was the guardian of this bewildering reality. It was neither friend nor foe but a sentinel of the surreal, beckoning me to unlock the mysteries hidden in the fractured continuum of existence.
Then the clock signed 13:01, and everything went back to normal.
I stood there, paralyzed in front of the vending machine, not sure if what I experience really happened or if it was just my imagination.
One thing I know for sure, I’m never eating one of those sandwiches ever again.
As I’m writing this, it’s currently 1:30 pm, and I’ve decided this has somewhat a priority over my work, but I promise I'll get back to it as soon as I post this.
I think I forgot a rule, though I don’t feel like I’ve broken one yet, and if my gut says so then I’m probably right.
I've read that Reddit users are very smart, so i wonder if you could help in any way? Comment any tip you think could help me survive, and I’ll try to follow it.
Thank you in advance guys!!
My husband, Thomas, is a writer of short horror and I'm very proud of him. He crafts these unique little stories about horrific situations and people really seem to like them. I won't name-drop here, but you may have read some of his work if you've been in the community for a while. He writes a lot and his stories have been read by a lot of different narrators, but recently things have changed.
He's been thinking of narrating his own stories for years, but he just never thought he was up to the task. His voice won't play well with the audience. No one will want to hear someone read their own stories. His stories aren't very good, even though he makes money writing them. He has a thousand and one excuses, but finally, I told him to just try it out and keep his expectations realistic.
He gave it a try, and from the first video, things have been great for him but very strange for me.
You see, when my husband records videos he becomes someone else.
It started with Doctor Winston and the Hospital of Horrors, a series my husband writes. Doctor Winston is a stuttering little guy, someone who's afraid of his own shadow, and when my husband does his voice it doesn't even sound like him anymore. I've never actually seen him do the voice, not really. We have a two-bedroom apartment, so he set up his studio in the bedroom since our son has the other room. He bought one of those green screen curtains from Amazon and some wall foam to cut down on the reverb and he pulls the curtain and sits behind the screen as he works. Sometimes I'll sit in bed and listen, hearing the story unfold, and the first time I heard that whimpery little voice come from behind the screen, I had to get up and peek to make sure it was just him back there.
His voices are spectacular, and soon he had a dozen or more of them.
Lenny Drover, Doctor Winston, Ozark Uncle, Ramon W Sanders, and Doctor Summer, just to name a few, but it's The Terrifyer that I hate to hear.
Tommy Terrifyer is a recurring villain in his stories. Tommy is a creature that hunts children after dark and sometimes leaves them skinned alive beneath trees or on benches or somewhere where people will find them. He's the antagonist of Corbin Banner, Atlanta Detective, and has become a fan favorite. The people just love the voice he does, the deep resonate voice that speaks of horrible acts and terrible deeds. I sometimes put my headphones in when he reads stories about Skinner Park, but I find that the voice of Tommy Terrifyer still bleeds through my AirPods.
"Don't worry, little one, I'll make it quick. You won't feel a thing. I'll snatch your skin so fast that you won't have time to,"
"Stop! Stop! Please no," I shouted one evening, andThomas threw the curtain back and looked at me in alarm.
"What's wrong, are you okay?" he asked, his chair falling over as he stood up.
"I, uh, yeah sorry. I must have dozed off and had a nightmare."
He snorted and gave me a cuddle, going back to work as I turned up the volume and tried to ignore that horrible voice he used.
We went to bed not long after, his audio finished for the evening, but when I woke up sometime later, I saw a light out of the corner of my eye. There was a ghostly glow from behind the curtain and the edges billowed slightly in the breeze from the AC. He had left it set up, the curtain usually covering his workspace, and the chair was lit in the backdrop of his computer screen. I could swear there was something more behind that curtain, but I didn't have my glasses on and couldn't see it clearly. As I watched, the chair seemed to glide as it swiveled around. The curtain rustled ever so slightly at the bottom, and behind that gauzy barrier, I could see someone hunched in the chair. I couldn't see his face, but I could feel his eyes on me. They saw me seeing them, and when he smiled, it was like bugs on my skin.
"Hello, poppet. Fancy a stroll by the old canal?"
I felt my breath hitch, my throat cramping as the terror spread through me.
It was him, it was Tommy Terrifyer.
It was him, and he was just beyond the curtain.
When he stood up suddenly, his height imposing despite his obvious age, my throat opened up and the scream I loosed sounded like a tornado siren. My husband came awake violently, reaching for the bat he kept beside the bed. He believed that there was an intruder, that something had woken me up and scared the hell out of me. He was out of bed and looking for the source of my fear, and when I pointed to the curtain, he seemed confused.
He pushed the curtain aside with the bat and revealed nothing but the chair and the glowing screen of the monitor.
I tried to explain to him what I had seen, but he just kissed my forehead and told me I must have been dreaming.
I didn't sleep the rest of that night.
I found myself watching the curtain, waiting for the creature to return, praying it wouldn't get me if it did.
As the sun came up I finally slipped off, waking up a little later when the smell of lunch being cooked hit my nose.
The bed was empty, except for me, and Thomas had packed up his green screen after last night's scare. I could hear him in the kitchen, whistling as he cooked something on the stove, and I crawled out of bed as I reached for my robe. It was Sunday and our son was likely out at someone's house which would leave the two of us with the day to ourselves. I would have plenty of chances to rest, the night before already just a hazy memory, and as I crept up the hall, I tried to cover my mouth as I got ready to scare him.
My husband, for writing such scary stuff, is kind of easy to startle. He puts on a spooky deep voice for his videos, but he's a big ole scaredy cat in reality. My favorite thing to do is to startle him, something I probably do too often, but as I came into the kitchen, he must have heard me.
He never looked up from what he was cooking, but I heard a terrifyingly familiar voice just before I reached out to grab him.
"Careful now, Poppet. You wouldn't want to startle me at my work."
I don't know if I slipped when my foot came down, but when I hit the floor I was already back peddling. I was scooting away, my fear returning, and when he turned to look at me, I could swear his face had changed. Gone was the beard and the glasses I had grown accustomed to, the thin lips and green eyes I loved. His face was pale and clean-shaven, the skin pockmarked and cratered. His teeth grinned sharklike from his mouth, thin and needlelike, and I screamed and covered my face as he took a step towards me.
I flinched and struck out with my fists as it touched my arms, and when I saw that Thomas was looking down at me with concern I felt confused.
When I saw the trickle of blood coming from his nose the confusion turned to shame.
"Jesus, I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd react that badly. I didn't mean to scare you. I heard you creeping up on me and thought I'd startle you a little."
He apologized as he helped me up, but that was only the beginning.
I didn't sit in the bedroom while he recorded anymore, but that wasn't the last time I heard the voice of Tommy Terrifyer. I heard it wafting from under the door, inserting itself into my ears as I tried to block it out on the couch in the living room. More terrifying still, in my husband's voice as he went about his day-to-day. It was little things at first. Tommy Terrifyer had a noticeable British accent, and I began to notice the way my husband said certain words. He never noticed, but there was an inflection on certain words sometimes that made my skin crawl. When I mentioned it to him he just looked at me strangely and said it must be something he wasn't aware of. Our son, Nathaniel, didn't seem to be able to hear it either, though. When I mentioned it to him, often right after it had happened, he would shrug and say that he couldn't hear it. No one but me seemed to be able to hear the odd inflections he put on, and I began to feel like they were messing with me.
The other thing was that he started calling me Poppet. At first, I thought it was something he was doing on purpose, but when he kept looking at me strangely anytime I brought it up, I began to doubt. It was like he didn't realize he was saying it, and my upset confused him. We were having problems at this point, fighting over my perceived treatment, and his lack of understanding honestly made it worse.
The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was the sleep-talking.
Thomas had never talked in his sleep, he barely even snored, but suddenly he was talking in his sleep almost every night. Well, it wasn't really him talking. Tommy Terrifier was talking to someone as Thomas lay sleeping beside me. He always just called them Poppet, the name Tommy gave to the kids in the stories before he killed them, but it was also the name he had been calling me for weeks now. As I lay there listening to him talk about all the grizzly things he meant to do, I realized he might have been talking to me instead of some random child he was dreaming about. Sometimes he would turn his head and look in my direction, and I could feel his eyes behind his lids looking at me. I wanted to wake him up, but by now I realized it wouldn't do any good. He would just think I was having mental problems or something and the fights would continue.
I moved to the couch that night, and when he found me there in the morning, I told him I was having bad dreams and didn't want to wake him up.
Not long after, he told me about a new angle for the show.
"The fans have really been liking the series, especially Tommy Terrifier. I'm thinking of changing the show up so Tommy reads stories sometimes. It might get more audience interaction, kinda shake up my listeners a little."
I tried to be supportive of this, but I was not pleased to hear that Tommy would be making more appearances in his makeshift booth.
After that, every third or fourth story was narrated by Tommy Terrifier.
Then it was every other.
As the voice became a regular part of his show, the night talking got worse. He would say the most depraved things, things I couldn't believe my normally sweet husband would say. He would talk for hours about skinning people alive or pulling out their teeth, and I would lie there in terror as it all just played out around me. I had taken to using sleep meds so I could get to sleep before him, but sometimes that voice would follow me into my dreams, and I would spend my nights in a state of constant terror. Sometimes I couldn't get to sleep before him, but even from the couch, his dark words seemed to find me. I came to realize that this wasn't something he could help, and bringing it up did nothing to curb it.
He was so excited about his channel that I hated to put a damper on his enthusiasm by telling him how it was affecting me. Engagement was way up, he would say. He had more subscribers than ever, he would say. People were commenting how much they loved Tommy Terrifier, he would say. Revenue was up and maybe he could take a break from work and really work on his stories, he would say. On and on and on about how much people liked this terrifying voice of his, and I would nod and agree and tell him how great it was.
Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck in my own home, waiting for my next encounter with Tommy.
Before long, the show became Tommy Terrifier's Terrifying Tales, and Tommy began to make an appearance in every episode.
That was when I began to notice a physical change in Thomas.
He was spending more and more time in our bedroom, the door closed and that terrible voice creeping from beneath it. It isn't just me hearing it now. Nathan has begun avoiding the back of the house, spending more time in the living room than usual when he has to be home. I asked him why, but he won't tell me. He says he hasn't been sleeping well lately, and I can relate. He's been sleeping on the couch with me lately, and we both shudder when the voice of Tommy Terrifier slips down the hall.
That was a week ago, and now the only time he leaves the house is for evening runs. He says it's when he does his best writing, but I've come to doubt his words. He always comes back sweaty and disheveled, and his stories have taken on a very dark cast. They have become less horror and more horrific. The mutilation and violence have reached a new level and all of it is delivered by Tommy Terrifier. He doesn't even sound like himself when the mic is off now. His normal voice has begun to appear less and less, and I'm afraid that one day that pale creature will come out of our bedroom instead.
It's getting late now, and though he hasn't come back, the police have come asking questions.
They questioned everyone in the neighborhood at the start of the violence, but they had some very probing questions about my husband tonight. Where does he run? When does he run? Had I noticed any strange behavior? Did I notice a change in his personality? Apparently, some of the "stories" he's been writing lately have been a little too similar to the murders in the park and the police want to bring him in as a person of interest.
I told them he was out running and that they could find him in the park.
After they left I put the chain on and waited for him to come back.
He hasn't returned, but I woke up to hear a familiar voice coming from the bedroom.
It seems there's a new story to be told tonight, and the sounds of Tommy Terrifier sound almost gleeful.
I don't know what to do, I'm not even sure how he got back inside.
I want to leave, but I'm frozen in fear as I sit on the couch with my son.
I don't know if I'm more afraid the voice will continue or if it will stop.
If it stops, I'm not sure if I might not become just another one of those tales he reads for his audience every night.
Furnace Fest 2023 is all wrapped. From September 22-24, thousands gathered at the Sloss Furnace grounds in Birmingham, Alabama for three days of hardcore, emo and punk bands, loads of nostalgia, reunions of bands that hadn't played in a decade or more, and a meeting of friends from all over. It was a truly incredible time and I could spend hours raving about my favorite sets and moments from it. But that's not what this is about.
As soon as I entered the grounds Friday morning and wandered around the booths while waiting for noon when the first bands would start I noticed someone unusual. A middle aged man was standing off to the side under a bridge. He was wearing a black suit and tie. Now it goes without saying that is not something you commonly see at a music fest, nor is it the most comfortable thing to be wearing outside in the 80+F weather we had. And upon closer inspection this appeared to be like a rather expensive Italian suit....not something you'd want to be wearing here with all of the dust and in throngs of sweaty people. He didn't appear to have a wrist band on either, although maybe it was just covered by his cuff of the suit. But then the strangest thing I noticed...I couldn't see any shoes. Instead his pants just ran long and and the ends of them were on the ground....not even the toes of shoes sticking out from underneath.
But I just thought "whatever" and walked back to the core of the fest grounds and to a tent to order a drink.
The first couple bands I saw were insane, especially No Cure, a local one that despite being nowhere near as well known as the rest absolutely riled up the crowd and got a truly crazy mosh pit and stage diving going. I was already thinking "oh yeah this is going to be amazing" and was thrilled.
But then came With Blood Comes Cleansing. They were a Christian deathcore band from the latter half of the 00s, and was playing their first show in 13 years. I wasn't exactly a huge fan, but it seemed like a can't miss set. And indeed it was very good. The crowd was into it, the pit was going crazy, I was a bit in the back because this wasn't one of the main bands I came for, but I was still enjoying it. And then I noticed the main in the suit off to the side and behind me also watching.
And...he didn't look happy. He stood there with his arms crossed, his suit somehow without any stains, and a scowl on his face. Also no one standing nearby him as crowded as the place was.
Then about midway through their set the WBCC vocalist after a song gave a typical speech thanking everyone for coming out and how much it means to them so many people cared so much to see them here. And then also said that they started the band to give the message that there is a God and that he loves each and every person in that crowd very deeply and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And the crowd all cheered including me.
But I glanced back and saw the man still there. He didn't cheer...and in fact looked furious. His skin was actually a bit of an odd red tint almost...like he got sunburned all over. And I swear...it's almost like his eyes were lighting up in fire. They looked red from the distance. And I just saw pure anger in him at that. A bit weird....why even see their set?
Later in the set the pit increased in size and people swarmed to the back, thus pushing me back as well....and near the man. And then I could see why people stayed away from him....it got hotter and hotter the closer I got to him. Like the guy was just radiating heat. Later I backed away...but things were weird.
After the set I tried to forget the strange thing that occurred and mostly did. I was into the other bands and enjoying myself. Walls of Jericho and Hopesfall had amazing sets, and MxPx was a great cap to the night. I had completely forgotten about the man in the suit.
Then came Saturday. I walked up to the gates very stoked again. After all today I would be seeing one of my favorite bands Thursday playing all of their album "War All The Time". And I got in early because an awesome band Foreign Hands was opening at noon, and indeed they rocked indeed. I was enjoying myself until Zao played.
Nothing wrong with Zao...they were incredible....but midway through their set I saw him again. The man in the suit off the side. The suit looked the same...so he either had it dry cleaned overnight or had a multiple one. Still no shoes. And a look of sheer rage on his face. This guy seemed to not like Christian bands...but he was showing up to their set specifically, dressed in a suit. Something was off here.
Luckily the next couple bands made me forget him again...until HolyName started. This was Tommy Green, formerly of Sleeping Giant and xDEATHSTARx's new band, and a personal friend of my pastor back home and her husband. In fact, he had presided over their wedding. So I had to catch half of their set (only half was possible because midway through Thursday started and I was not missing a minute of that.)
Being Tommy Green and how openly Christian this band was, he started out mentioning it was first show, and then saying he was going to pray and said if you were OK with it you could pray with him. So most of the crowd bowed their heads and closed their eyes and a lot raised their hands. I did too....but just before that I noticed the main in the suit off to the side. I tried to forget about him while we prayed, but I opened my eyes a bit before the end and couldn't resist glancing at him.
He wasn't praying needless to say. His arms were crossed, his head up, his eyes open...his skin with that weird very deep sunburn look, and his eyes almost inflamed again. Then their set started, and though I tried to ignore him and focus on the awesome set and the amazing pit, every time I saw him in a glance it was sheer rage.
There was one exception. A bit into the set Tommy mentioned one of his friends from the band Beloved couldn't be here today because he's a youth pastor, and one of the girls in her youth group's brother was recently murdered. He was asked to preside over the funeral, which was today. And he suggested we all pray for that family again.
I noticed while he spoke on that the man in the suit had a smirk on his face. For the first time all fest, he looked happy and pleased. But after we prayed for that family I glanced at him again, he seemed pretty annoyed.
I rushed over to Thursday later and had the time of my life, and kept it going until Turnstile closed that night. Again at the end I was so beaming the man in the suit was a low priority.
I only had one run in with him on Sunday, before the As Cities Burn set. This time I found myself too close to him at the beginning, same guy, same suit, no visible shoes. This was just too weird. But as the crowd shifted I found myself too close to him...and the heat overwhelmed me again. And then he grabbed my wrist.
It felt like my wrist was against a hot stove. And I was upset and worried, Furnace Fest is such a supportive and great community things like groping from guys are quite rare, it's never happened to me before. I struggled and pulled my wrist away and ran around the back of the crowd to a completely different spot to watch the set.
I never saw him for the rest of the fest, and was able to enjoy myself. By the time Monday came he had slipped my mind mostly. I just focused on my flights back home, and sharing photos, stories, and talking about the incredible weekend I just had. I felt like shit on Tuesday...the old "festival flu" at it again, along with my fatigue and achiness, but it was worth it.
Until today when I glanced at my wrist where he had grabbed me. I noticed a bit of a burn mark...but not like a typical one when you have your skin against a hot object. It seems to be forming in a shape...and now it's clear, it's some sort of upside down pentagram. There's a Satanic symbol on my wrist where I was grabbed.
I'm now just posting this because I don't even know what else to do.
I see their faces when I go to bed at night. Old, young, desperate. I see the queue of them standing outside my place of work, the Grantham Women’s Health Centre, a brutalist building on the wrong side of Glasgow. In my memory they almost look like figures in a Munch painting; tall, drawn in, grey. I see their eyes when I close mine. I hear their voices, their desperates pleas. This can’t be happening, they’d say, and I’d laugh it off in the staff room with the nurses and the receptionists. That’s what they all say. I knew better than them. I had letters after my name and they had needle marks up their arms.
The first girl was young. Eighteen or so. I can’t tell you her real name, so let’s call her Kourtney. She stunk of tobacco and her clothes looked unwashed. There were bags under her eyes and scars from a bad bout of acne. She lay in the bed staring up at the ceiling light. There were no tears as I gave her my conclusion, just quiet determination.
“I can’t be.” She said, resolute. “You don’t understand… I can’t be pregnant.”
I rolled my eyes as I swivelled around to type my report. I could see the track marks on her arms, small half-healed dots and dark yellowing bruises.
“The tests are quite clear. You have options and I can provide you support regardless of what you choose. You are quite early. Termination is an option and at this stage would simply be a few pills. There is also the option to keep the pregnancy and from there you have other choices too, becoming a mother or seeking adoption.” I told her. “Whatever is best for you-”
“You don’t understand. I’m a virgin.” She stood to her feet. “The tests are wrong.”
“I can only tell you what I know to be true. All tests show that you are pregnant. The HCG, the ultrasound, I can see the embryo.” I said as gently as I could muster. She looked as if I were the class clown. “Is it possible that anything happened when you were unaware? Perhaps… intoxicated?”
Her face went red and she stormed out of my room. I did not ponder then, the indignity I had done to her. She came in next week for her termination. Drug addicts were humans too. It’s easy to forget when you sit on a little perch high above them. I found it all too easy to feel superior. If I had looked at them… truly looked at them, I might have seen my own reflection in their faces. We all have our addictions.
The second girl was older. Let’s call her Kim. She was a regular at the clinic. I had treated her for herpes, gonorrhoea and a rather severe case of genital warts. I had a suspicion that she was a skin peddler. When her hcg test came up positive I was not at all surprised, yet Kim was. Her face scrunched up, as if she were a slug and I’d poured salt all over her.
“I ain’t. You’ve got my test mixed up with someone else's. I can’t have babies.” She said with a casual tone. Her dyed black hair was tied up into a perfect little bun and it struck me, in the cold blue medical light, that she was rather pretty. “Been trying with my man for ten years. He shoots duds. I can’t be pregnant.”
“Perhaps it may have been someone doing the…. Uh… shooting then.” I said and her face went red and she stormed out of my office too.
Kim decided to keep hers. She came back every other month to see the midwives, her belly a little fuller each visit. She didn’t come with her man. I wondered if he’d done a runner because of her apparent infidelity.
The third woman was when I started to think something was amiss. Let’s call her Kris. She was fifty-two and a primigravida. She was already showing when she came into my office and was rather insistent that she had a tumour, not a baby. Her skin was marred with wrinkles and lines and she was determined that she was going through her menopause.
“I can do an ultrasound, just to settle this if it would reassure you?” I said to her, I had one of the ultrasound girls come in.
The room was silent as she scanned. She found the baby with no effort. It was approximately thirty-three weeks in gestation. Kris gazed at it with narrowed, bewildered eyes.
“I’m a widower.” She said, taking a long drink of uncomfortable air. She ran a hand up her arm. She didn’t look like a drug addict, yet I could see them, small little track marks, all that unified these poor, desperate women.
Then it happened. The image on the screen shifted, the swirling mass of black and grey, contorted and for the smallest of moments that baby did not look like a baby at all, but something else. It’s arms were long and coiled, like tentacles on an octopus. The eyes… black hollow pits two times as large as they ought to have been. The ultrasound tech jerked and I recoiled. The woman looked terrified.
An illusion, an odd assemblage of shadow and light. It was easy to dismiss when it was a picture on a screen.
Kylie was next. She was somewhat of a well-known face around the clinic. She would come in twice a year for an abortion. She’d fill her bag with condoms, yet they never seemed to work. Perhaps her husband didn’t like wearing them, so many men claim the same. She wasn’t at all surprised to be pregnant. She was three months along and asked for an abortion. She was too far along for the pills so she lay back on the bed as I prepared to begin her termination.
It went swimmingly. The foetus looked a little strange, larger than it ought to have been and mottled grey in colour. At this point they aren’t really babies, that it looked so inhuman, was not at all surprising. The octopus-like suckers on it’s frail, silvery flesh, was utterly unnerving however. I felt the hairs on my arm stand alert. I did not let Kylie sense my unease. I slipped it into the medical waste bin and shivered when I heard it writhe around against the clear plastic bin-liner.
Something was wrong.
I sent her home and kept it to myself. I had nightmares. Every woman that came through my door, every termination I conducted, I was terrified of finding the same, slippery mass of inhuman flesh. More girls came. One as young as fourteen. I’m not pregnant they’d insist, with their track-marks and their pupils that filled their irises. I’m a virgin, my husband’s infertile, I use condoms, I have the coil… their excuses were endless, and utterly unbelievable.
“There’s something wrong with Kim’s ultrasound Doctor.” The new radiographer said to me in the hallway. She was green and looked utterly terrified. No doubt she was scanning an ovary or a bladder and not the poor woman’s womb.
Kim was laid back on the bed, looking rather uncomfortable. She did not look at all happy to see me, yet she kept her tongue from wagging. I headed over to the ultrasound machine and slowly began to scan her. My heart stopped.
It wasn’t right.
Tentacles. Wriggling snakes all coiling around eachother. A giant mass of blubbering flesh. I squinted my eyes and tried to find a baby in the shadows but could not see it. This wasn’t… this couldn’t be. I thought of Kylie and the odd assemblage of particles that had come from her womb… that twisted rotted thing, grey and covered with suckers.
“We… need…. We… need.” I spluttered out, considering for the first time in my professional career admitting defeat. “A second opinion.”
Kim looked terrified and I put a comforting hand on her arms as she rubbed at her bulbuous belly. I found Dr Wright in the staff room and pulled him in. His eyes widened like saucers. A third opinion, he said, and so we found Dr Auld, who did not condemn us to a cycle of shocked and confused doctors.
“We need to call the centre for disease control.” He said. Dr Auld was older than the building and he looked grey with fright. We called them and they agreed to come, we kept Kim in until they arrived. There were men in hazmat suits and men in black suits and bright red tape was pulled across the entryway. They whisked her away on a trolley and into a black van with blue lights.
One of the men in black hijacked a computer from the receptionist, whilst another gathered all the doctors including myself into a room. We were awe-struck, confused, and when a sharp-looking man in a grey tweed suit came in with a stethoscope around his neck we were reassured to see another doctor.
“I’m Professor Sharpe. How many women have presented like this?” He asked, his hand outstretched to meet us.
“Like what?” Dr Wright said, his jaw scraping the floor.
“Pregnant despite proclaiming it impossible, ultrasounds similar to Kim’s, ill-shaped foetus’ and embryos?” He said with his notebook and pen.
“A great many women around here proclaim it impossible for them to be pregnant.” I said with my arms crossed, still refusing to believe what I had seen. I cleaved to the possibility that it could all be reasoned away with science and hard-fought hypotheses' “We have a lot of… drug-users in our practice.”
“Yes. Track marks up their arms. You assumed it was drugs, you did not care to ask them if they partook, you doubted them, judged their clothes, their class, made your assumptions.” Dr Sharpe said. “They came here for compassion, but found none. They found judgement, doubt, they were not believed. We ran a toxicology test on Kim, it might interest you. Clear. She’s not a drug user. There is something far worse haunting these women, It’s happening in small pockets all over the country. Grantham is only the most recent. You will see more like her and you will send them to me. Their irises will be large, there will be track-marks on their arms and they will be pregnant, often beyond reason. I’ve had eighty-year olds.”
“That’s impossible.” Dr Auld let out a breath.
“What exists beyond the limits of our understanding is not impossible, just unknown.” Dr Sharpe said. “The building blocks of life are innumerable and unknowable, there is more to this universe than we, more to life than what is taught in your books and crowded lecture theatres. There is life, bubbling under the surface of reason, glinting out from beneath the stars.”
Shaking their heads, Dr Sharpe and Dr Wright left. Professor Sharpe walked toward me before I could leave and his hand wrapped around my wrist. My eyes flitted shut and open and for the briefest of moments the hardened flesh of his hand was slimy and grey, and little suckers stuck fast to my sweaty skin leaving little dots on my flesh as something sharp pierced me. Track marks. He smiled at me, his irises black and his teeth, parted to smile, yellowed grey. Terror set in my heart and I felt goose pimples spread across me like a rash.
“It’ll be alright. We are everywhere all at once, we wear your faces and sing your songs.” He said. “It’s only nature.”
My name is Alex, and I'll never forget the night my life was forever changed. It started like any other evening, a quiet dinner date with my love interest, Sarah, at our favorite Italian restaurant. Little did we know that it would lead us down a harrowing path of the paranormal, murder, and horrifying deadly monsters.
As we strolled back to our car under a starlit sky, Sarah held my hand, her eyes sparkling with affection. "I love nights like this," she said, her voice soft and sweet.
"I do too," I replied, wrapping my arm around her. Little did I know that this would be one of our last peaceful moments together.
The atmosphere shifted abruptly when we arrived at Sarah's apartment. The normally well-lit hallway was shrouded in darkness, and an eerie chill hung in the air. We exchanged uneasy glances but chalked it up to a power outage.
Inside her apartment, Sarah's dog, Max, usually friendly and exuberant, was cowering in the corner, trembling with fear. As we tried to soothe him, strange, guttural growls echoed from the shadows.
A sinister presence seemed to envelop us. Our attempts to turn on the lights were futile, and we felt trapped in an oppressive darkness that defied explanation. Whispers, faint at first, filled the room, and Sarah clung to me, terror etched across her face.
"We need to get out of here," she whispered urgently, her eyes darting around the room.
I nodded, my heart pounding, and we made a break for the door. But it slammed shut before we could reach it, as if controlled by some unseen force.
In the suffocating darkness, Sarah and I stumbled upon an old, dusty bookshelf. Desperate to find answers, I pulled out a thick leather-bound tome. Its pages detailed the chilling history of the apartment building, which had once been a site of occult rituals and gruesome murders.
As I read aloud, the whispers intensified, coalescing into horrifying, disembodied voices. They spoke of a monstrous entity that hungered for souls, a malevolent force that had been awakened by our presence.
Terror-stricken, Sarah and I pleaded for mercy, for a way out of this nightmare. The whispers seemed to respond, echoing with eerie laughter.
The entity manifested before us, a grotesque, nightmarish creature with glowing, malevolent eyes. It hungered for our souls, its chilling words sending shivers down our spines.
"We need to find a way to stop it!" Sarah cried out.
Desperation gave us strength. We recited an incantation we found in the book, hoping it would banish the entity back to the darkness from whence it came. But our words only seemed to infuriate it further.
The creature lunged, its monstrous form enveloping Sarah. I watched in horror as her body contorted in agony, her screams echoing in the unholy darkness. In her final moments, she whispered, "I love you."
With one last, heart-wrenching scream, Sarah was gone, consumed by the malevolent entity. I was left alone, broken and devastated, in the cold, dark apartment.
The whispers had quieted, and the entity had vanished, leaving me to grapple with the horrifying truth—I had lost the love of my life to a nightmarish world of the paranormal, murder, and monstrous forces beyond comprehension.
As I sit here, penning this account, I can still hear the faint whispers, a haunting reminder of that fateful night. I am forever haunted by the shadows that took Sarah from me, and I am left to wonder if there is any way to escape the darkness that now surrounds my life.
It was a little after 7 when I arrived back at my Palo Alto home. I had taken the reel of Ed’s death from the video store, hoping that by destroying it I would also destroy the skeleton. I placed it on top of some kindling in my fireplace and set the pile alight.
In the video, Ed’s cries had been replaced by classical music. However, as the Super 8 film burned, bloodcurdling screams filled my house. I was sure that one of my neighbors would call the cops, but no one did. Perhaps I was the only one who could hear Ed’s torturous cries.
As the last of the film burned, his screams were replaced by maniacal laughter—the laughter of the skeleton from Desert War. He was mocking me, for I had not defeated him. Perhaps he could not be killed, but I couldn't give up.
I had three leads to follow up on: the URL from the poster, Ed’s old address in Daly City, and the copy of his children’s book in the collections of the San José Museum of Art. I first checked out the URL: rehcamuhcsde.com. As I suspected, the domain had long since expired. However, I was able to find its archived contents on the Wayback Machine. The site had been saved on two dates: March 2, 2002—four days before Ed’s death—and April 1, 2002—three days before Jason disappeared.
The snapshot from April 1 was the site José had described visiting. Underneath an image of a skeleton in a sorcerer’s hat, the visitor was prompted to enter their email for a chance to win a copy of Desert War. That one page comprised the entire site.
The March snapshot took me to the typical late-90s/early-2000s homepage. On top of the page, a scrolling marquee read “Welcome to the enchanted world of Ed the Sorcerer.” Below it was an animated gif of a door opening and closing. Underneath the gif, bright red text warned: “Enter at your own peril!!!”
Undeterred, I clicked on the door. A photo of a smiling Ed sitting at a desk, wearing his green sorcerer’s hat, appeared. Below it was a hit counter (0007) and a link to sign the guestbook, which, unsurprisingly, was empty. To the left of Ed's photo was a panel with four hyperlinks: Bio, Pics, Contact, and Events. The first three links took me to pages empty save for yellow-and-black banners that read “Under Construction.” I was expecting the same for Events, however, after clicking it, I was informed that “The Famous Ed the Sorcerer will be speaking at the library of Palo Alto High School on Tuesday, March 5, 2002 at 3pm!!!”
The day before Ed killed himself, Ed spoke at the high school that Jason Statler had attended! I’d call the school tomorrow morning, hoping to get more info on what occurred during Ed’s talk. I’d also visit the art museum that held the copy of Ed’s children’s book when it opened at 11. But I was running out of time. Even though it was well past sunset, I decided to head to Ed’s old Daly City address, hoping I would find a clue to the location of his brother, Frank.
It was a rundown 3-story building off of Hillside Blvd. The parking lot was empty; however, the exterior lights were on and a middle-aged man was pruning some rose bushes. An odd time for landscaping work.
“Excuse me,” I said to him. “I’m a journalist doing a story on Ed Schumacher. Did you know him by chance?”
He nodded. “I’m the super, been working here since ’96. I didn’t just know Ed; I found his body. Or his bones, I should say, that was all there was left of him.”
“Is it OK if I ask you some questions about him?”
“How about I show you his old apartment? This place is going to be demolished in a few weeks to make room for a new mid-rise, the whole building is empty.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. We ascended the stairs to unit 202. As we stepped through the door, the super flicked on the lights. We were in a small kitchenette. Its linoleum tile was yellowed and black mold was growing on the walls.
I followed the super as he made his way past the kitchen and through another door. I immediately recognized the room as the one from the video. The beige walls with flaking paint looked the same as they did over 20 years ago.
A large window overlooked the parking lot. Tacked up on either side of it were several unframed watercolors depicting Bay Area landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge covered in fog, Hoover Tower at Stanford University, the Painted Ladies by Alamo Square Park, the Marin Headlands, the sea lions of Pier 39, and Chinatown's Dragon Gate. Sticking out amongst the paintings of iconic Bay Area sites was a watercolor of two blonde-haired kids standing underneath the Modesto Arch.
“Are these paintings by Ed?” I asked.
The super nodded. “Yep, after he died no one took them, so they just stayed on the walls. Pretty pieces.”
“Did Ed live alone?”
“He did. Don’t recall him ever having visitors except for one man who came around quite frequently in the days before his death. Think he was his brother, maybe even his twin, they looked nearly identical. Never talked to him.”
That confirmed my suspicions that Frank was involved in Ed’s death. But I still didn’t know why he had convinced his brother to kill himself.
“What was Ed like?” I asked.
“He looked strange, always wore that weird hat, but he didn’t cause any problems like many of the other tenants did. Was always polite, gifted me some paintings of the rose bushes he made. But then he did you know what.”
The super pointed to a spot on the floor. “If you look there, you can see where the acid ate into the wood. I remember some muffled screams coming from his apartment that day, but thought nothing of it, thought that he was just watching a loud horror movie or something. They lasted for about an hour. The next day, there was a complaint about some odor coming from his unit, so I went to check it out. No one answered when I knocked. I entered and in his bedroom I saw what he had done to himself. He had installed some soundproofing in there, but you could still hear his screams from outside. Can’t imagine what they sounded like if you were in there with him.”
I didn’t have to imagine.
“Did you find a note or anything near his body?” I asked.
“No, nothing like that. The cops came and searched the place, but found nothing. A few days later, some junk haulers came and took away all his belongings, there was nothing valuable in his unit. All that remains are his paintings.”
I had hoped that there would be a clue in this apartment that pointed to Frank’s whereabouts, but there didn’t seem to be anything. “Thank you very much for your time,” I said to the super. “Have a good night.”
“No, wait, there is something else you’d like to see. Look at the corner to the right of the window. There’s blood splatter there.”
I looked. There were some dark, rust-colored stains on the beige walls. I wondered why it hadn’t been painted over. Replacing the acid-damaged flooring might be expensive, but a coat of paint would be cheap.
“Is that Ed’s blood?” I asked.
“Nope, that’s mine,” the super said. “I was changing the batteries on the smoke detector a few months after Ed offed himself when I had a heart attack and fell off the ladder. Hit my head on the wall.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. “Glad you’re OK.”
The super started laughing. “Ed’s wasn’t the only death in this room. By the time the paramedics got here, I was dead. They took my body out, but I never left. I had no family of my own, my few friends were all dead. The only things that brought me joy were the rose bushes you saw me pruning, planted them back in ’99. I knew that without my care, they would die. And I couldn’t let that happen.”
Even after my experiences with the skeleton, I initially thought that the super was playing a prank on me. But then I saw blood, fresh blood, run down the walls.
“Oh, I’m not joking,” the grinning super said. “I’m dead serious. It’s a lonely life, haunting a condemned apartment building, but recently I’ve been visited by another spirit. Not Ed’s ghost, I don’t know whose it is, but it’s not Ed. This specter sometimes tells me to do stuff, stuff that I don’t want to do, but he is too powerful to resist.”
The super started convulsing, like he was having a seizure, and his mouth was pulled into a horrific grimace. I dashed towards the door, but he rushed over and blocked it, moving impossibly fast for someone his age, or for someone of any age for that matter. From the pocket of his jeans, he produced a pocketknife encrusted with blood.
“Game over,” the super said. His voice had changed, had become hoarser, raspier, like that of someone who had smoked two packs a day for forty years. As I backed up, he started advancing towards me, knife raised. I looked around the room, hoping to find something I could use as a weapon, but the room was empty.
My only escape route was the window. I ran over and tried to open it, but it was stuck. I kept pushing as the super made his way slowly towards me, moving much slower than I knew he was capable of. He was playing with me, like how a cat plays with a captured mouse.
I kept pushing up on the window pane. Finally, it budged. As I jumped through the window, I felt the blade of the super’s knife graze my shoulders.
I landed on one of the rose bushes, its thorns cutting through my clothes. I was bruised and bloody, but I had somehow survived. As I hurried to my car, I heard laughter coming from the window of unit 202.
I had a handgun stored in a safe on my bedside table. I planned to retrieve it before I went to sleep, hoping that it would be transported back to video game land with me, hoping that it would be effective against the skeleton. However, I didn’t even make it out of my garage before I passed out.
I was back on the same race course as before. I knew I could not win this level by conventional means. But my attempts to ram the skeleton’s rocket were ineffective—there was no collision detection, my rocket just passed right through his.
What I needed to find was a power-up or a shortcut. I had played enough games that I knew what to look for. As I progressed along the course, I looked for an asteroid that looked slightly different, or a line of static on the track that could represent a hidden shortcut, but found nothing. I continued along, hoping I’d see something, but never did. Like the night before, I was about to cross the finish line, when the skeleton materialized in front of me and my rocket exploded.
I was transported to the skeleton’s lair, where I was once again devoured. One of my two remaining hearts faded away.
I woke up on my garage floor. It was 8:04 am. I checked the news to see if there were any updates on the case of Adam Kim. His body was still missing, but his severed head had been found in a trash can at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, over 50 miles from his home. In addition, a 15-year-old named Ethan Greene had vanished from his home in Marin County. The article said that the police had begun investigating a possible link between the recent disappearances and that of Jason Statler 20 years ago. But I could not rely on them for help.
Time was running short; I had one life left. Today was the day I needed to locate the mastermind behind all of this: Ed’s brother, Frank.
It was a dark and stormy fall night when I decided to explore the abandoned farm that lay on the outskirts of town. I had heard a lot about this place - rumors about inexplicable events and eerie occurrences that were said to have taken place within the walls of this dilapidated building.
It was just before midnight when I made my way to the old farm. The wind howled through the trees, and the gloomy clouds in the sky did not allow any stars to shine through. I felt like I was immersed in a dark video game world where the inexplicable was waiting for me.
I entered the abandoned building through the creaky door and immediately felt the temperature around me drop drastically. My heart began to beat faster, but I ignored the fear and pushed deeper into the farm. The light of my flashlight was my only companion in this darkness.
In a room that had once served as a living room, I found dusty furniture and broken windows. Everything seemed abandoned and forgotten. Suddenly I heard a quiet whisper, as if someone was whispering right next to me. I froze in fear and slowly turned around but couldn't see anything.
“You’re just imagining it,” I thought and continued my exploration. I climbed the creaky stairs to the first floor. The atmosphere became more and more oppressive. When I got to one of the bedrooms, I saw a door slowly open and squeak shut.
My pulse was racing as I cautiously approached the door. When I opened it, I found myself staring into an empty room. But suddenly the door slammed shut with a loud bang and I was plunged into darkness. My flashlight flickered and went out. I felt trapped and lost in this room, as if the world was collapsing around me.
Then I heard footsteps, quiet and eerie, approaching me. Every step echoed in the darkness. My heart was beating so loudly that I thought it was going to jump out of my chest at any moment. I fumbled for my phone and activated the flashlight function. The dim light illuminated the room and I could see shadowy figures.
There were shadows, human-like figures moving around me. Their faces were unrecognizable, just dark silhouettes. I felt cold fingers slide over my skin and a touch of icy touch my face. The shadows seemed to surround me, pushing me further and further into a corner.
Panic seized me and I ran out of the room, down the stairs and through the deserted hallways. The shadows followed me, their dark whispers echoing in my ears. I rushed out of the farm into the stormy night without looking back.
Finally, as I stood at the edge of the farm, out of breath and completely exhausted, I took one last look back. The abandoned farm seemed quiet and lifeless, as if nothing had ever happened. But the memories of the eerie shadows and the whispers would haunt me forever.
Since that night I have never set foot on the farm again. The Witching Hour at the Old Farm will forever be etched in my mind, and I will never forget that reality can sometimes be scarier than the worst horror games.
I awoke abruptly to the sound of quiet chatter outside my bedroom door, it was early Saturday morning, I’d been up late the night before and hadn’t slept great like the many nights before. I lay there for moment, groggy, trying to come to when my eyes widened as I realised, I wasn’t in my bedroom, I was in what looked like a basement.
I bolted upright and rubbed my eyes, maybe I was still in a dream. To my horror I was chained by my ankles, the chain was about 3 feet and was bolted into a concrete filling in the floor, another vacant chain lay scattered next to me and under me was a putrid, stained single mattress which smelled like stale urine and dirt.
I fumbled around trying to stand, pulling the chain but to no avail. What is happening? Is this some sort of sick joke? I sat back down and took a few deep breaths to calm myself and try to figure out where I was and what was going on. I scanned the room looking for anything that might give me a clue. Then I spotted a small yellow watering can by the bottom of the basement stairs, I have one just like that? Oh god I was in my own basement.
Confusion took over as I tried to think how I possibly could have ended up in this situation. Ok so..lastnight I finished work at 6:30pm, got home around 7:15pm, had a shower, poured a whisky, made sure the basement door was locked and turned on crappy reality tv like I did every single night, nothing out of the ordinary, I tried to think of anything else I may have missed but nothing, the last thing I remember was taking the last sip from my glass then… I can’t remember after that? I must have fell asleep. Surely I would have woken up if someone had broken in a dragged me to my own basement. Now the fear really started to set in.
I tried to listen, see if I could make anything out from the whispers at the other side of the door, I began to panic, to scream and yell “HELLO, PLEASE HELP” “HELP, SOMEBODY”. All of a sudden I saw a crack of light shine through the basement door, I stared up, eyes locked and waiting to see who or what id be greeted with. The door opened more and I squinted as I adjusted my eyes to the brightness of the outside world, I could vaguely make out 2 silhouettes at the top of the wooden stairs. “HELP…PLEASE” I screamed, just then a wicked laughter burst from one of the silhouettes, my body frozen as they got closer and that was when I saw them clearly.
Two young looking women, no more than 25 years old, one had long blonde hair that was raggy and unkept, she was so thin you could see her bones protruding through her skin, she wore a light pink dress that looked old and tattered, it was covered in holes and questionable stains. The other girl, who was much taller than her friend, had hair that was dark and cut short, her face was dirty, she glared at me with a sickening grin, her teeth yellow. She donned the same pink dress, except hers wasn’t as tattered and appeared newer. They both just stood for a while, staring, breathing heavily as if in a panic. All of a sudden the blonde girl spoke, snapping them both out of the trance they were in “hello Greg” she seethed, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” I cried “HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME?”. “Come on Greg, it was only a matter of time, you know that” she said with a smile. The dark girl stood, still grinning, she began to pull at the hem of her dress, she was nervous but trying to hide it. “Do you know how long we’ve waited for this? The patience it’s took to get to this very moment?” She said softly, I tried again to pull at the chains harder and harder as fear coarsed through my body. They were new, the concrete was fresh but hardened, the lock around my ankle was tight and strong.
They both edged forward, the blonde girl then picked up a chainsaw MY chainsaw that I had purchased a month earlier and began to pull, the loud roar filled my ears as I began to beg and plead, sweat dripping down my face. I know what what about to become of me. All I could think in that moment was how I was going to escape the shackles, but of course I couldn’t, they were unbreakable, I mean I would know right, I did make them.
I then had no choice but to sit and wait for my inevitable demise.
God dammit Greg, if you’d only finished making them sooner you wouldn’t be in this mess, they would be the ones still in the basement now chained up and helpless, about to be ripped limb from limb, not you.
“Bye Greg, see you in hell” they laughed
I'm not even sure where to begin...
The women in my family, including myself, have had this sixth sense for as long as I can remember. We've had dreams and visions that have come true, as well as a few personal encounters with what we now believe to be spirits or some kind of evil energy.
Yes, we are all spiritual people, but no matter how many times these things happen, we still can't get a grasp on "why" or "how" these things continue to be so drawn to us.
So, what I'm about to tell you, as crazy as it may seem, is a completely true story. Other than my immediate family, no one else knows. I don't talk about this, ever. I don't enjoy having to relive what happened...but I'm hoping this will help others who share this spiritual gift.
So, here goes...
To set the scene - I live in a very rural place, in a small town that has maybe a few thousand residents, but we're all so spaced out and hidden in the hills, you'd never know that many people live here, unless there was a Fourth of July carnival or some kind of festival.
My town isn't anything fancy. We don't have the most up-to-date stores and all that, but, for the most part, we're all happy and thankful for what we do have.
The neighborhoods were like mini-communities. We all cared and helped one another. Everyone was friends with everyone and we all knew each other's business.
It was the middle of Spring. Lovely weather in the mornings and nights, but as the day went on, you could feel the heat steadily rise. As the heat rose, families came outside to bask in the bright sunlight, while young kids laughed and played.
This Spring day was just like any other day. I got up, got ready for school, and left to go listen to mundane lectures for the next 8 hours. I'll never forget that feeling I had while I sat and daydreamed, wishing time would go faster, just for the school day. That little glimmer of hope would trickle up into my brain when the clock finally read 3:00 PM.
"It's time to go home! Oh, thank God!" I thought to myself as the 3:00 PM bell rattled my ears.
I rush home, as always, even though I know the only thing that I'm rushing towards is a mountain of homework. It's like my mind plays tricks on me, making me think that simply being out of school and at home is a relaxing reward for getting through the day, although there wasn't any actual relaxing; it was just more stress in a comfortable environment.
I hussle through the multiple pages, completing every problem with a bit of skepticism, questioning my intelligence. But nonetheless, I talk myself up and get through it.
Before I know it, the clock reads 8:00 PM. Time to eat and shower and then I can rest for the first time today.
I complete these remaining two tasks and gleefully skip to my bedroom. I slip on whatever large T-shirt I can find and jump into my large pink bed, letting the comfort of my soft pillows and furry covers overtake me as I slowly sink into the mattress.
I'm one of those people that are woken up VERY easily. I'm not kidding, a mouse could fart and it'd wake me up. So when I felt my eyelids trying to shut, I took full advantage. I tuck myself in, get comfortable, and go straight to sleep.
Now, these next events are questionable, to say the least. I still, to this day, have no idea why God showed me what he did... I've even questioned if it was God that showed me this... or if this was the work of the Devil...
The very second my eyelids shut, I'm no longer asleep in my cozy bed...
I'm in the passenger seat of a small black truck, an S10...a truck that I've never even seen in person, let alone been in before...and I'm hot. I'm SO hot!! I instantly feel gobs of sweat pour down my face and chest. My once comfortable T-shirt is already drenched in heavy sweat, clinging to my body. It's like my physical body had been here much longer than my mind was aware of.
The heat instantly sends my mind into a frenzy. Intrusive thoughts race through every crevice of my brain as my breath becomes shallow, as if my lungs were incapable of inhaling the boiling air.
I frantically look around the black interior of the truck, trying to find the door handle to get out, but there isn't one. Thats when I notice that, not only am I in the passenger seat, but the truck is moving!
I glance over to the driver's seat to see a large, black, blurry figure that looks like the outline of a person. It's like these black pixels that are constantly moving, yet making sure to keep the outline visible....and it is driving this truck!
I couldnt focus on anything more than the entity itself, at this point. The dark particles erratically swirled all through this outline of a person, imitating normal human movements as one would do when driving. I could see the black pixels wrap around the steering wheel, as the wheel would move whatever direction the entity willed it to.
Complete dread coats every limb of my body as I try to focus on these particles, but I just couldn't. No matter how hard I tried, this thing remained so blurry, all I could see was the scattered outline of a person that was a little bigger than me.
As I stare at the outline with intense bewilderment, I'm met with sudden feelings of nostalgia and grief, but I no longer feel fear, at least not for the entity.
Before I can even question why I'm experiencing these emotions, they were viciously ripped away in a matter of miliseconds. My mind is yet again forced to focus on the overwhelming heat that was continuing to seep through the black truck.
I can feel the gallons of sweat that have combined with the fabric seat, gushing as I move my burning body.
The heat is so intense, I'm barely able to hold my head up to look out of the scorched windows...
We're in the old hollow that I grew up in as a child. The same little red house my neighbor and I played at daily, the same tire swing my cousin and I spent many evenings on, the same blacktop road that was eaten away with more pot-holes than you can count. It was all there! All the things I grew to love and cherish... BUT EVERYTHING WAS ON FIRE!!
The trees were glowing bright yellow, so bright, it was like you could sense the vibration of the intense flames just by looking at them. The grass was swaying with vibrant colors of yellow and orange, as the fire consumed every inch of this world. The sky was overtaken by huge, dark clouds of black smoke that never seemed to let up. The road was even engulfed in these extraordinary flames, like we were magically driving on molten lava, yet I could still feel every pot-hole the truck drove over.
Tears fill my eyes and just for a moment, I forget that my body feels like it's in the middle of being cremated. But then I hear the screams... Screams that were coming from the fire. These high-pitched screams were cries of agony and despair. You don't ever forget screams like this. Screams that make your blood curdle and your stomach turn. Screams that are so prominent, it's like you can feel their pain.
My body tightens uncontrollably, and I'm met with an immense feeling of sorrow. I can no longer talk or move, I'm frozen in place. I'm forced to witness the best memories of my childhood and the people I love, burn to ash in this world made of fire.
The black figure continues to drive us further into my old hollow that is now immersed in blazing flames and cries of torment, as I'm melted to the seat, unable to move or scream.
This continues for what seems like forever.
"How do I get out?! GET ME OUT!" These were the only thoughts I could muster.
The black figure suddenly turns to me, as if recognizing my presence for the first time, and... I'm jolted awake!
I wake up, drenched in sweat, as if I had just come out of a sauna. Considering the A/C was set to 68° and I had my fan on, per usual, I knew the sweat had to be from the flames of my dream.
I start hysterically crying and run straight to my Mother's bedroom. Now, keep in mind, I'm a teenager. Running to my Mother's bedroom because of a bad dream is something I haven't done since I was a very young child.
I frantically wake her up, and try to relive this nightmare I narrowly escaped, just long enough to explain why I was so utterly terrified. As I open my mouth, my words seemed to melt together, as if I were babbling like a baby, not making any sense.
Without full comprehension of why her daughter was crying uncontrollably, Mom instantly wrapped her loving arms around me and started praying in that same sweet tone she used when I got hurt as a small child. After a few minutes of consoling, I realize that I'm safe now, and that brings just enough comfort so I can force back my tears and random babbling.
Thinking that the unnerving night was nearing its end was a soothing feeling that allowed me to drift back off to sleep in my Mother's arms. However, that relief was short-lived.
Fast forward to two days later...
Again, normal day to me. At least on this day, I have a hair appointment to look forward to. It feels nice to have a tiny bit of excitement for more than just going home after school.
Besides, this is a positive distraction from the nightmare that tormented me just two nights ago. "It was just a bad dream, you're okay now." I tell myself, ignoring the obvious denial I'm in.
I get to the salon, which so happens to be owned by my cousin, Laura (like I said, small town). I happily strut in the salon and sit down, smiling ear to ear, simply happy to have a minuscule change of scenery.
Laura and I start off with the normal, nice formalities, "How are you?", ""How's your day been?", etc..
Silence freshens the air for all of three seconds before she sighs and says "Did you hear about Ben?"
Ben is our cousin, as well. I grew up with him and his sister when I was a child. Back then, our whole neighborhood was very well-connected and close, we all cared for one another and we acted like one big, happy family.
I hadn't seen Ben in many years, though. We moved out of that neighborhood when I was in the 5th grade and Ben and I lost touch.
As soon as Laura said "Ben," my mind was flooded with memories of my childhood. The days that seemed to go by in a flash - climbing hills, swinging on tire swings, wading through the creek - my body felt warm as nostalgia filled my every thought. I did everything I could to push back what I had seen just two nights ago - my childhood in those energetic flames.
But that nostalgia was quickly interrupted when Laura hands me photos of what looked to be a black S10 truck. The truck looked like bent-up chunks of metal scattered across the scuffed-up pavement. As badly as the truck was torn apart, I already knew there was no way possible for anyone to survive that...It was nothing more than scraps, surrounded by broken glass and blood.
But as I continue to stare at the photos with immense disbelief, I can't shake the feeling that I KNOW this truck! I know that black interior, I know the entire inside of this vehicle, yet I know I never actually rode in a black S10...
"THE NIGHTMARE!" I thought as my eyes widen and my breath shortened. THAT is how I know this truck!! This was the truck that black figure trapped me in while we drove through Hellfire!
I had no idea that Ben had a black S10. Again, I hadn't talked to him in years...
Turns out, Ben had been out partying for his 21st birthday. He had also been drinking alcohol. (I mean who wouldn't drink on their 21st birthday?)
The mistake he made was driving home after he was drinking. He wrecked and passed away in the same hollow that black entity drove me through... The same hollow where all of our childhood memories were made... The same hollow that was eaten by flames two nights ago...
The very night I was forced to witness this nightmare... is the same night Ben passed away...
After years of racking my brain, the only plausable explanation I can come up with is that this was some sort of message, although I'm still not sure what that message was. I believe the outline of a person that was driving us was Ben...
The last spot in my childhood hollow that I had seen before I was startled awake...was the place where Ben had died...
It's almost like I was in the truck with him when he was driving that night. I was vigorously flung back to reality once he wrecked and died. Maybe that's why he couldn't sense my presence until the very end.
I just don't understand it...and I'm not sure I ever will.
I still have so many questions... Questions that eat away at my soul, deepening the voids that the mysterious flames coercively tore open.
"Should I have focused harder on my nightmare?... Why was I the one that experienced this?... Why me?... What should I have done differently?..."
And the question that still fills my very soul with peril....
"Could I have saved his life?"
A lot has happened since my last post but i’d like to thank you all for your suggestions. Especially the bathtub suggestion. Salt is ineffective against whatever is happening here and I’ve learned my lesson about trying to static noise.
I haven’t slept since and Joanna and Carter are still prowling the hallway, fucking with me. I can only guess that whatever warped their bodies also twisted their minds. I thought I was screwed but then I was reminded of the bathtub. I went to it with my pack filled with a few bottles of water and my laptop.
The landlord and management have known about it for 6 months now. Water had seeped into the walls and started to rot away the floor, so much so that the bathtub’s far end was noticeably sunk in. When I showered I hugged the drain end, fearful that my weight would cause it to fall through the floor. Now I went to that end and stepped in. It sagged and groaned with my weight but held so I started jumping on it, landing with as much force as I could muster until on the 3rd try the floor gave way and I went with it.
I landed badly, cracking my side across the outer rim of the tub, and had the wind knocked out of me but I had done it. My tub and some of the floor were in my downstairs neighbor's bathroom. Picking off bits of debris I struggled to my feet and stepped out into the living room. A single mother named Naomi lived here with two toddlers, I had never talked to her but had a brief interaction with her son who asked me my name of all things. I knew they often spent the night at her baby daddy's house (once again Eleana’s and Macey’s gossip keying me in) and it held true tonight. The living room and bedroom were empty and I was grateful.
I tried to hurry as my fall down a floor wasn’t exactly silent and if anything else was out there it surely heard. I rushed down the hallway in long strides, trying not to look but there were details you could not but notice.
A section of brick wall had discolored monochrome, black and white, and back to faded red. I didn’t stop to observe, I had to keep moving. Only once I came upon several blood-stained doors did my pace slow but I didn’t stop. I tried to not think about the people who lived there or what had happened to them but by now the apartment should’ve been full of the sounds of life instead of the bleak oppressive silence I was drowning in.
I made it to the stairs and practically lept down an entire flight of stairs to the second floor. Blood pumping and confidence high I was running now. This hallway was warped like the one on the 4th floor but in much more extreme ways. The walls had not only narrowed but they were slanted, warping and turning at an angle with every foot until the hallway was nearly spiraled. I had to slow to a stop to get my bearings as it was all so dizzying. The floor beneath my feet ceased to be shitty faux wood laminate and was isntead a smooth stone that felt almost slippery.
The brick walls had melted away to some mottled and stringy maroon cloth thrown over what looked to be grating made of the same smooth stone. It looked almost organic but at the same time, it could've been fabric. The thick dangling strands made me think of sea anemone tendrils and I shuddered at the thought of touching them.
So I forced myself to run once more, past an open door to a room that had a body perfectly bisected and sprawled out on the floor. The pile of intestines between the two halves writhing and rising into the air. It freaked me out enough that I ran past the next open door with my eyes shut tight. It was Harold’s room and I feared seeing what had become of him. I thought mercy was on my side as the hallway eventually straightened out and the next half dozen doors were shut. But as I came up to the last doors that lined the hallway the one to my left flung open with incredible force.
Flayed hands from a black void reached out to grab at me and I pivoted out of the way just before they made contact. But I couldn’t stop my momentum and went stumbling onto the cold slippery floor. I tried scrambling back up as the door to my right opened and from it, Sarah Palmer emerged.
I knew it was her despite her corrupted form, flayed and covered in sinewy tumor-like growths. The severely obese woman had merged into her mobility scooter and she used it to move forward. Sloughed flesh made it difficult as it had wrapped around the wheels but still, it inched forward. The center of her abdomen had split open into a gaping hole and with a quiver and a moan, it erupted with some vile bile-like fluid as it vomited a small figure out onto the floor before me.
The newly birthed child got up at the same time I did and followed me in my panicked rush down the rest of the hallway and onto the stairway. The toddler-sized thing made of diseased and partially digested sinew was fast shrieked like a joyous child as it closed the gap between us with a leap. It was my turn to shriek as I tried shaking it off. As it scaled up my back towards my shoulder I took hold of the thing with my hands and pried it off. The flesh was gelatinous and my fingers suck into it in ways that made my stomach churn.
“Tag you’re it!” the thing said in a voice I thought was vaguely familiar.
Disgust drove me to fling it at the wall with all the force I could muster and its body crunched and splattered on impact with the wall that had reverted back to normal. It let out a small pained groan as it slid off the wall into the floor. As I ran by it spoke in an agonized whisper that I could not rend from my mind no matter how much I try
“Chris, why? I just wanted to play,” it said and I had to stifle a heaving gasp as I cleared the flight of stairs into the first-floor lobby.
The only child who knew my name here was Naomi’s son, they weren’t supposed to be here, not tonight. They had always left on weeknights to their father's house. Had Naomi called off the attempts of reconciliation tonight of all nights? Or had this begun earlier than I had thought? I didn’t know and wouldn’t ponder it until I was out of this nightmare.
The lobby was normal by all means except for the lack of lights, but now the darkness did nothing to deter me. The exit was right there and I ran towards it. The double glass doors froze me in place, not because they were bolted but because of what lay beyond. Pitch dark world where nothing could be seen, except for the momentary brilliance brought out by flashes of lightning ripped across the sky like whips made of TV static. In those moments I saw them, a line of things just waiting for me to step out.
One was a smooth-skinned pale humanoid with a hole right through its chest that leaked inky black fluid, it had no face. Another was a tangle of violet tendrils that appeared to be made of smaller writhing strands. Then there was one that was a massive looming serpentine thing doted with eyes the size of human heads, each iris alien in shape, and one end that I assumed to be it’s head was tusked with mandibles that must've been six feet in length. There were dozens of others but their forms were too varied, too abstract to ever accurately describe.
What drew my attention the most was the many puddles and stains of crimson at their feet and scraps of clothing, one of them obviously being Macey’s distinctive denim Jacket. One work boot lay on its side, one I thought might’ve belonged to a maintenance worker. I would not be leaving… not here. I tried to comfort myself by telling myself that whatever was keeping me here wasn’t letting them in but it wasn’t reassuring in any measure.
I ended up crawling underneath the shitty lobby desk and curling up into a ball for what felt like hours. It could’ve been longer for all I know but nothing mattered in that moment, I was fucked. Only when I heard the sound of a procession shuffling by did I stir. Peaking out from my hiding place I saw them, the robed figures, 6 of them now. Upon their shoulders, they bore the weight of a marble slab, and upon it, a huddled figure. I watched them, backs to me, shuffle down the room and into the hallway that led to the manager's office.
I tried sulking out as silently as possible to bear witness to the ritual that was about to unfold. The bearers lowered themselves and the slab and as light gleamed across it I realized who it was. The body was bent back into itself until it formed a circle. The belly was pointed out to the world the back and spine contorted and twisted, the eyes empty. But goddamn the mouth, Harold was grinning ear to ear in an expression of pure ecstasy.
The chanting began then, as the flung back and twisted glare of Harold’s body lay upon me. Strange throaty vocalizations, deep and reverberating and inhuman. The sound of a mountain splitting apart or two worlds coming together. The vibrational forces of the universe melting away a border that kept the background machinations of a reality unseen. Somehow I knew this, that we had been pulled into this nightmare, but by what or who I still didn’t know.
They continued the hum chants until the space in front of them began to ripple like water and when they ceased so did the distortion. Half a heartbeat passed before it shattered, like glass, and beyond it a massive eye. I flinched, hoping it didn’t see me but if it did, it must've not cared since it retreated back into the darkness before it hauled itself out. A spindly arachnid leg, covered in jagged angles and spines stepped out followed by another and another. Until a towering pinwheeled monstrosity of legs and appendages emerging from a central core stood before the cultists. An eye with concentric pupils was at its center and the rest of it radiated out like a sea urchin.
Every aspect of it told of the agonies it could inflict, it looked like pain incarnate with the sheer amount of sharp corners and serrated spines. Every inch of its being was meant to cause harm, and the longer I looked at it the more detail came to me. Hooks and sythed ends, tendrils laden with hungry gnashing mouths. The thing that stood out the most was the way it distorted the space around it. Though it was within a confined space as I gazed upon it seemed to expand the air around it so that some hidden aspect of itself could be felt. This was a part of a much larger whole and I got the impression that some massive hands on a cosmic scale held this thing out before us and yet they were one and the same.
I looked away, not wanting to gaze upon this abomination, this emanation of pain, any longer. It spoke in an alien language then, a sound so vile like a rusty nail being dragged along my eardrums and corneas. But I understood it, unmistakable gratitude.
I slunk back into my hiding spot and waited for it to be over, waited for them to leave and they did, moving through the hallway, past the stairs into the basement laundromat and into the community room. It’s been hours since and they’ve still not emerged. I took the time to try to silently rummage around and in the manager's office. Next to a pile of fine pulp of flesh that had still Mr.Roderick’s weeping face, our landlord, an axe. I picked up, knowing it would be of no use to me should I face those cultists or the pain entity.
What I did know is that Harold had a role to play in this in some way or another and that his room was just a floor above. If there’s any chance of escape or answers, it would be there. If you don’t hear back from me, I’m dead. I’m certain that there’s no way anyone from outside this hell can help, even then I still ask that you’ll wish me luck. I certainly know I’ll need it.
For anyone who knows me, it should come to no surprise that I joined an MC as soon as I had the opportunity. I’ve always been drawn to the thrill of riding, the freedom of the open road, but most importantly, to the sense of belonging to community that values loyalty, camaraderie and unity above all else.
I wasn’t actively looking for a group, to be honest. I’d obtained my motorcycle license fresh out of high school and did not pursue a club until much later in life, in my mid 30s to be precise. After I’d gotten my career on track and realized I was feeling lonely, I started hanging out in motorcycle bars, going to biker parties, and riding with fellow bikers as often as given the chance. Soon after, I met Clyde Stryker. Or shall I say, I re-met Clyde. Him and I go way way back, his daughter, Bea, and my younger brother, Jack used to go to school together. Once reconnected with Clyde, all the pieces just kinda fell together. Bea and Jack started hooking up. Jack also got his motorbike license, Bea already had hers. They started joining us at parties and on rides. Then, I met Damian, my age, my type. Damian brought by his own little brother, Theo, and the six of us found ourselves always together, plotting, planning, having fun. It was during one of our many gatherings at Clyde’s house that he came up with the idea.
“Hey Cristina”, he said to me, “what about if we found an MC?”
“A Management Committee?”, I joked. Of course, I knew what an Motorcycle Club was. We’d discussed joining one, but no club likes to take six prospects at once, save for the somewhat violent gang-like ones. And that was not our scene.
“That’s not a bad idea!”, Jack joined in, ignoring my bad joke.
“I agree!”, Theo chimed in.
“Well, let’s this be our first vote then!”, said Clyde, bringing out a piece of paper. “On this day, 31st October 2022, I push forward to found the… what shall our name be?”
“How about Stryker’s Spooky Riders, since it’s Halloween”, Bea proposed.
“Stryker’s Wicked Wheels?”, I suggested.
“Oooh I like that”, said a few voices in unison.
“That’s good”, confirmed Clyde. “So, today, 31st October 2022, I move forward the foundation of Stryker’s Wicked Wheels, or SWW, for short. I propose myself and Cristina as President and Vice-President, Bea as our Creative Director or CD, as she is into graphic design, Damian as our Treasurer since he works in finance, Jack, to be in charge with Prospects and Theo as our Secretary”, he said, jotting all of this down. I could tell he actually gave this a lot of thought, and this gave me confidence. He gave all of us confidence, he always did. So we all agreed, voted, signed dotted lines, Theo submitted the application later on and that was that.
By mid summer we were already known regionally, our patch, a wheel engulfed by a skull up in local bars. Shortly, we had a few prospects knocking at our door, saying they want to join us, that they liked our free spirits. Out of all the options, two stood out: Pamela, a super cool biker chick in her 50s who just left her old MC saying they were a bit misogynistic, and Mike or “Owl”, because he was sleeping all day and staying up all night. They were both presented with a Prospect patch and soon enough they were always riding with us.
Owl and Clyde were actually getting very close. Owl was this super charismatic guy, tall, rugged, with a dark long beard and long curly hair. Picture biker dude, close your eyes and you’re seeing Owl, I guarantee you. Clyde was mesmerized, I guess he always wanted he always wanted his rough interior to match his looks. But he was small, thin and practically hairless. That’s how I can explain why our President and founder was way more into his Prospect than his Prospect was into him, and us. Not long after, Owl and Clyde would disappear at odd hours of the night, in the middle of parties, doing God knows what.
“Where are you going again?”, Bea asked them one night, as they were headed out.
“Just around, we won’t be long”, said Owl.
I wanted to follow, but then I realized I was completely out of it. We all had a few drinks, I remember Owl bringing us shot after shot. So I made a mental note to stay sober next party.
The opportunity came last week when we hosted our first party. We rented a club, invited all the MCs in the area. We were so busy getting ready for the party, that we didn’t even notice that Clyde and Owl were barely there. In fact, I only realized something was off when Pamela, who had been carrying beer crates all morning said If the MC weren’t so nice to us and wasn’t co-ran by a girl, I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of being a Prospect all over again, it’s too much work. Indeed, Prospects are expected to do the grunt work, all the heavy lifting. But Owl wasn’t even there that morning. I wondered if, as Vice-President, I should bring this up with the others, but I decided against it for the time being. I also decided that this was the night I would get to the bottom of whatever Clyde and Owl were up to.
The party was a success. We had over 20 MCs join us, nearly 200 people in total. I played good hostess, making sure not to run out of alcohol and that the grill was constantly burning. I spotted Owl passing people free shots every chance he had. He came up to me a few times as well, we cheered, and I pretended to drink his vodka. But I spat it out, every time, waiting for them to sneak off again. Sure enough, it didn’t take long. It must have been a few minutes before 1 am that I saw Clyde gently making himself scarce on one side of the room. In another part of the club, Owl was doing the same. It was go time. I pulled on my black hoodie for better camouflage, and followed them outside, making sure to keep my distance. Outside, Owl pulled something out of his backpack. He kept one and gave Clyde the other. They unwrapped them and put them on. Cloaks. Then they proceeded to walk towards the woods that started just across the street from our chosen club. It wasn’t easy to follow without making any noise. The woods were so silent that any branch cracking or leaf folding under my foot would echo and give me away. Luckily, I was sober and light footed and my presence went unnoticed.
As we ventured deeper into the forest, we came across a clearing bathed in eerie moonlight. There were more hooded figures, all in the same black cloaks that Owl and Clyde were wearing. They were all gathered around what seemed like an old tree. One of the figures, stepped forward and lit something. Under the light, I could distinguish that the hooded figure was wearing a different cloak than the rest, a red cloak. The fire was now in full swing, and the red-hood spoke:
“Bring forth the sacrifice!”
Three hooded figures went away from the scene and came back shortly with two toddlers. My heart sunk, as I was bracing myself for what would happen next. The toddlers, couldn’t be older than five, if that, seemed drugged. They were awake, but did not look conscious, and did not as much as yelp at the sight of the fire in the middle of the clearing.
“Blood and bone, soul of twins
Grant us power from within
Grant us life and grant us flight
In this sacred, unholy night.”
Chanted the red hooded figure once. The rest of the hoods followed suite, chanting the same verse over and over again, while the red hood grabbed the twins by their arms and tossed them in the fire. I covered my mouth to stop myself from screaming. The children didn’t even yelp, and for a second I thought maybe they weren’t real.
As soon as they started burning, the figure in red started levitating above the fire.
“Look upon me, mortals! Look how I draw power from the flames!”, he shouted as the chanting got louder and louder. “We are getting closer and closer to our final quest, that of summoning Vulcan, who will unleash fire and destructions to all non-believers, and most importantly, will grant us, his disciples IMMORTALITY!”
“VIVAT VULCUN”, started chanting the hooded figures.
I’d had enough. I ran out of the woods to call the police. But then I remembered the huge MC party, not entirely legal, happening next door and thought better of it. Of course, it was cowardly. But I told myself I’d call them first thing in the morning, the twins were already dead, what good would it do them?
Early next day, I ran into the woods, but there was nothing there. I kept telling myself that the kids were dolls and this was all a drug rave, but when I started doing more research, I found missing children reports, missing animal reports, all in the area. The last report was from a week ago, and it featured twins.
I contemplated telling Damian, or Jack or someone. But by our rules of the club, all suspicions should be brought up to the whole group. To Clyde. To Clyde and his charismatic Owl. Also, with no information about the other people present, I didn’t want to risk. No, I will contact the police, and told them to be ready ahead of time. I will follow them into the woods and catch them in the act. There is another party this weekend. This weekend, no child will die, I will be ready.
For as long as I can remember, my family home has been a conundrum—a never-ending maze of impossible coincidences, unexplained phenomena, and strange occurrences. It got so weird that even local skeptics started believing something was off. I used to think it was haunted, but then things started to... unravel, in a way I couldn't ignore.
Let's begin with the most benign glitch. Objects would randomly disappear. My keys, for example, vanished from the kitchen counter only to reappear inside the fridge. Then there was the journal I kept as a teenager; it disappeared for months, reappearing one day in a dusty corner of the attic, its pages filled with words I didn't recognize.
Then, more unnerving things started to happen. Once, while walking down the hallway, I experienced an overpowering déjà vu. I was engulfed by an emotion I couldn't quite put my finger on—like nostalgia, but more intense. It felt as if I'd lived that moment a thousand times before.
I brushed it off until one night, I had what I could only describe as a Near-Death Experience (NDE). I was suddenly enveloped in light and warmth, as if drifting into another realm. I felt an overwhelming sense of unity, like I was connected to everyone and everything. Then, just as suddenly, I snapped back into my body, lying on my bed.
Perhaps most bewildering were the "visions" I had. I hesitate to call them visions because they felt so real, but what else could they be? Faces of people I didn't recognize appeared in my dreams, accompanied by feelings of love or intense familiarity. Then I'd meet these people, weeks or even months later, as if fate itself had arranged our encounter.
I started researching these events, diving into ancient texts, modern science, and arcane philosophy. And let me tell you, the rabbithole is deep. My search led me to Gödel's incompleteness theorems—mathematical equations suggesting that some truths can't be proven within a given system. It felt like an echo, reverberating through my mind. Could it be that our understanding of reality is forever limited, always eluding complete comprehension?
And then there were the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). We lived near an Air Force base, and growing up, I often saw strange lights in the sky. But what stood out wasn't just their bizarre flight patterns; it was the timing. They appeared when something significant happened in my life, almost like cosmic milestones marking my journey.
It was around this time that I met Sarah, a psychologist with an interest in Eastern philosophy. She introduced me to the concept of nondualism—the idea that all of existence is interconnected, emanating from a single source, much like ripples in a pond. It struck a chord with me. Could it be that all these glitches were simply reminders of this profound unity?
Sarah and I began to document our experiences in what we jokingly referred to as "The Big Book of Glitches." Over time, the tome grew thick with accounts not just from us but also from friends and strangers who had been lured by the inexplicable magnetism of our home.
Even the concept of death took on new meaning. My grandmother passed away, but her presence never left the house. Sometimes I'd smell her perfume, or a cold draft would sweep through a room she loved, bringing with it the subtle vibration of her laughter. Was this 'memory wipe,' as Sarah put it, a part of this cosmic software? Did experiences carry over, from one life to another?
As years rolled by, I began to see the glitches less as anomalies and more as features, intricately woven into the fabric of our lives. They were like Easter eggs, hidden layers of reality, waiting for us to discover. Was our collective understanding of reality evolving, getting us closer to the source code? Or were we simply participants in a cosmic game, with rules far beyond our understanding?
Sarah and I soon realized we weren't alone in our quest. Online communities sprung up, forums buzzing with tales as wild and bewildering as our own. We found camaraderie in this digital landscape, a tribe of fellow explorers seeking to map out the unknown. We coined it "The Age of Open-Source Spirituality"—a decentralized, user-driven approach to understanding our reality.
It was exhilarating, but also terrifying. The more we delved into these glitches, the more we sensed the shadowy contours of an intelligence—something or someone—that seemed to be guiding us, or maybe manipulating our actions. Were these the architects of the Simulation, overseeing their grand experiment?
The strangest part was the sensation that the glitches were starting to respond to our thoughts, as if the code was becoming self-aware or adapting to our inquiries. Simple patterns emerged, then more complex ones. It was like cracking the security of an impossibly sophisticated software, each revelation pulling us deeper into its labyrinthine logic.
Finally, we couldn't resist the impulse to try something audacious. Gathering a circle of our closest confidants, we decided to attempt a collective action—something so focused and intentional that it would either confirm our theories or expose them as the ramblings of overactive imaginations.
We chose a date, synchronized our watches, and at the exact appointed time, we all concentrated on a singular, almost absurdly specific thought: that a blue rose would manifest in the center of our living room. This was our ultimate cheat code, a command designed to interrogate the very foundations of our reality.
As the seconds ticked by, the room grew thick with anticipation, each of us submerged in a sea of focused mental energy. And then, just as we were about to surrender to disillusionment, it happened. A soft pop, a brief flicker of light, and there it was—a blue rose, impossibly vivid, standing tall in a vase that had been empty moments before.
In that instant, everything we'd theorized, everything we'd dared to believe, snapped into focus. We were not just spectators; we were participants in the most intricate, mind-bending game ever conceived.
The blue rose became our totem, a symbol of possibilities beyond imagination. We continued our research, now with a new sense of purpose and urgency. Because if a collective thought could manifest a blue rose, what else was possible? Could we rewrite the glitches, recode the simulation, heal the fractures in our world?
The implications were staggering, and not a little frightening. But we were committed to diving deeper, no matter where this rabbit hole would lead us. Because now we knew: the only limit was our own belief in what's possible. And the game of reality had just become a lot more interesting.