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2

I think God might be real, just not in the way you think (Part 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

We pulled off I-51 a little after midnight, stopping at a truck stop which was couched between the highway and a large forest.

We waited in the van for ten minutes or so. Trent had increased the sonar radius to its maximum of 30 miles a little over an hour ago. Somehow the red pings had kept up with us, holding a steady distance of around 20 miles. Considering we were averaging around 80 mph, and a coyote's top speed is only around 40 mph, we figured they had been enhanced in some way. Either that, or they shape-shifted into something faster. Regardless, now that we had stopped, we waited to see if the demon spawn would try and close the distance. Luckily, or unluckily, they didn't. They kept their 20 mile buffer, but we noticed they were beginning to spread out along the circumference of that boundary.

"We're close. They know that, so they're trying to trap us in." Trent said.

"Trying to?—more like they have."

We considered whether we should stay in the van and keep watch, but we figured that would do us little good. At their speed, they could be on us in ten minutes, which means we would need to stay up all night and keep tabs on their positions. Trent offered to stay up, of course, but I shut him down.

"The demon doesn't want to kill us now. You said it yourself. Plus, we need our rest. If they come, they come."

Trent didn't like it, but he acquiesced.

The truck stop had all the essentials: a gas station and mini mart with showers and an attached McDonald's, a large parking lot for truckers to idle and sleep, and even a section with lodging for those who wanted a more comfortable night's rest. I told Trent that he should take advantage of the showers, and after a little convincing, he agreed. While he was cleaning himself up, I patrolled the dingy, half-stocked aisles of "Daisy's Quick Mart". I probably would have been appalled at the quality of the store had I actually been paying any attention to it whatsoever. But I wasn't. I was thinking hard about what awaited me tomorrow.

During the drive, I had asked Trent why the demon would want us to return to the crash site. What did he mean that I would be 'confronting a dark entity in a place he couldn't help me'? He seemed hesitant to answer, but my little stunt outside the storage facility seemed to have sufficiently motivated him.

"When I said I've never done this before, I meant it." Trent started. "I've never done this exact thing before—meaning I've never projected someone into the past."

"So, I'm time traveling?" I asked.

"No—don't think of it like that." Trent paused, trying to come up with a good explanation. "It's more like I'm opening a window for you to look through: not a door. You're going to see the past, but you can't interact with the physicalities there. But that doesn't mean you can't interact with anything."

There was a space of silence as Trent tried to let me work out his meaning for myself. "I don't get it. Are you saying there's something I can interact with? Like what?" And then it hit me. "The demon. The demon can interact with me? Meaning what? It can kill me?"

"Meaning… I'm not exactly sure. You're going to be in a kind of psychic space. If it does damage, it won't be to your body. It'll be to your mind—or spirit. But I don't know what the limits of that damage could be. I just don't have those answers."

"If you've never done this, how do you know any of it will work?"

"That's an easy one." Trent answered. "Because it's been done to me."

There was silence.

"Look, if I know anything, I know my tech. Don't doubt that this will work. It's my job to make sure it does. I just need you to be in the right mental for this. Just because it knows your coming doesn't mean it automatically has the upper hand. It won't be able to see you unless you make contact with it first. In other words, you have to initiate contact. As long as you remain a spectator, you should be okay. Trust me. Just don't make contact."

I started pacing faster—fast enough to catch the attention of the overnight shift worker, a young man whose name I can't quite remember. I know it started with a "J". Jake, maybe? Anyway, he asked if I was alright, to which I responded in the affirmative. He left me alone for another couple passes, but when I almost ran into one of the shelves, he stood up and said, "Uh—I'm going to have to ask you to stop running around. I don't want you to hurt yourself."

I must have stared daggers at him, because he recoiled from my gaze. What's gotten into me? I thought. Then, steadying myself, I apologized. I looked around and grabbed the nearest edible looking piece of merchandise: a bag of Swedish Fish, and placed it down on the counter. "Just this, please."

The cashier rang me up. It was surprisingly cheap.

"Are you sure you're alright?" the young man asked. He was tall with brown hair. He seemed tired—maybe even more tired than me. But he also seemed kind. 

I smiled as best I could and said, "No, I'm not. But there's not really anything you can do. Hell, there might not be anything I can do." I furrowed my eyebrows at my own response, realizing that imminent death may have broken my verbal filter.

On the other hand, the cashier did not seem surprised at all. "Ah, I see. It's one of those problems." He responded. "Well, hey, for what it's worth, you seem like one of the resilient ones. I think you'll be alright."

I only smiled and nodded at his mildly cryptic comment. Looking back, the whole interaction was a bit strange, but I had way too much mental clutter to recognize that in the moment. I took my Swedish Fish and walked through the anteroom which led to McDonald's. I found an open yellow booth that wasn't littered with crumpled straw sleeves and sat down, chomping mindlessly on my little red fish until Trent returned. When he arrived, he took my place, and I went to shower. After we were both clean and fed, we returned to the van. The pings were still pushed safely out of harm's way. But that didn't mean we were out of harm's way. Trent asked me if I wanted to sleep in the van, saying that "it'd be the safest place."

I thought it over. He was right, obviously. The van was not only outfitted with weapons I couldn't even begin to understand, but it was also our escape, and it would be just as difficult, if not more difficult to break into than the studio-style motel rooms with their wood doors and big windows. Still, if this was going to be my last night on earth, I wanted to sleep in a bed. A real bed. Trent understood and said he'd stay parked right outside my room for the night.

After purchasing a key from the night attendant, I moseyed over to the cement walkways which connected the twenty or so rooms. Mine was room #56, which I thought was odd since, like I said, there were only 20 rooms. I lugged in my tomato plushie and dad's old book and placed them on the queen mattress.

"I'll be right outside." Trent said after I collapsed onto the bed.

"Trent," I called out, stopping him half-way through the door.

"Yeah?"

All the blood in my body rushed up to my face as I realized my unfiltered mouth almost reflexively said the word "stay". I stared at Trent, my heart beating, my face hot. I considered asking him to sleep on the floor like my dad, but that would be childish and impolite. The alternative was to share my bed… Or I could take the floor.

"I'll just be right outside." Trent said before my mind processed a solution. "Come by if you need anything. I'll be up most of the night anyway."

"Okay," I replied in a faint voice.

Trent shut the door.

I sat atop the bedsheets and acquainted myself with my new living space. A feeling of regret closed over me as I considered that even sleeping on a carseat would have been better if it meant I didn't have to be alone. With a sigh, I turned on the bedside lamp and grabbed the book and stuffed tomato, using the tomato as a backrest as I slipped my legs under the covers and situated the book upright on my thighs. I cracked it open and was immediately blasted with a puff of dusty, old book scent. It was ripe at first, and I turned my head away to sneeze, but as I perused through the pages, the scent grew on me. It reminded me of the days growing up when I'd step into dad's study and read through one of the many volumes on cryptic topics which were at least two college degrees above my Lexile range.

I was only a couple minutes into browsing the collection of different scientific and philosophical works when I came across a page which contained highlighted text. This was unusual, as my dad would never mark up his books. He was a purist on that point. I rubbed my thumb over the yellow lines, and sure enough, it was highlighter.

The highlighted text was part of a small book by Carl Jung called "Synchronicity". There were a total of three pages that were marked, and they advanced like this:

Page 5:

The philosophical principle that underlies our conception of natural law is causality*. But if the connection between cause and effect turns out to be only statistically valid and relatively true, then the causal principle is only of relative use for explaining natural processes… That is as much to say that the connection of events may in certain circumstances be other than causal, and require another principle of explanation.*

Page 19:

…there are events which are related to one another experimentally, and in this case meaningfully*, without there being any possibility of proving that this relation is a causal one, since the "transmission" exhibits none of the known properties of energy…a situation which does not yet exist and will only occur in the future could transmit itself as a phenomenon of energy to a receiver in the present…Therefore, it cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity... "synchronicity"*

Page 22:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer… which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment.

I flipped through the rest of the pages of the book. There was no more highlighted text, but there was a message on the last page which read:

Matthew 7:7-8

I'll meet you in the darkest place.

He also included his typical smiley face which had an ovular shape and three sprouts of hair which I now realized kind of resembled my tomato plushie. It was my dad's writing, of course. But why? And how? What did this mean?

The motel had a Bible stashed away in the nighstand drawer. I got it out and looked up the verses which read the following:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

I spent maybe an hour ruminating on all of this. The whole discourse on energy and causality and a "falling together in time" just seemed so right. It was clear that my dad definitely did know what I was going through, but for whatever reason, he made it seem like he was oblivious. Why had he hidden that from me? I felt like I was being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, my dad loved me enough to leave this note, maybe even knowing the exact moment I'd need it. But on the other hand, he had neglected my struggles throughout my entire childhood. He even lied at times. Was this really enough to make up for all of that?

And then there was the section about the future transmitting energy to the past. I read back through the whole paragraph and the original writer had meant it to say this as something that wasn't possible, but my dad's highlighting made it seem like he wanted to flip the meaning. The future does affect the past. I thought about where I was headed and wondered if I would soon discover that for myself.

Lastly, dad's message. The Bible verse reminded me of the first time I prayed; how I reached out to God and received peace as an answer to my prayer. Now I feel like I'm actively seeking… something, but I don't know yet what I'll find. And then there's knocking. At first that reminded me of the story with the beetle tapping on the window, but then I went back even deeper in my memory and dug out the monster tapping at my window, and the words my dad spoke to me in order to set my mind at ease: "you're a superhero. And you know what your greatest superpower is? Your greatest power is you get to tell the monsters what to do. Because the monsters are only as strong as the stories you tell about them…so if you're ever scared, honey, just dream up a better story."

I was crying into my stuffed tomato now. I felt like all the blinking pieces of my life had finally been pulled together into a completed puzzle. This was all by design. My entire life, filled with so much chaos and confusion, was actually preparing me for this moment. And my dad thought I had the tools and strength enough to get through it. I flipped through the book one more time, thinking maybe he had left some other hidden comment—some formula to defeat this demon and return home. But there was nothing. Only that one comment: "I'll meet you in the darkest place."

What's the darkest place, dad? Is that where I'm going? Are you saying you'll be there, too?

With those thoughts in mind, my eyes became heavy shutters which, with a slight pressure on the pulley, winded shut. My swimming thoughts and firework-like fears dissipated, and I returned to a precious childhood memory. It was after an evening soccer practice. Summer. Dad was driving me to Dairy Queen. I got a cherry-dipped twist cone. I was happy.

So, so happy.

***

I woke up to sunlight blaring through my windows. Shit, I overslept, was my immediate thought. I threw off my covers and opened the front door. A glance at the clock showed 1:13 PM. I shouldn't have even been allowed to stay checked in this long. Damn, am I gonna get double-billed for this?

I heard a rummaging sound around the corner of my motel room. It sounded like a squirrel was trying to find an afternoon snack in one of the garbage bins. I stepped outside. The sun was extremely bright, to the point where I had to squint and put my hand over my eyes to even see the ground in front of me. I was trying to walk toward the van, but somehow I ended up in front of the trash bins where the animal's tail was sticking out from a turned-over, silver garbage can. Its tail was wagging excitedly, and I remember thinking that it was much too large to be a squirrel.

The animal bent down as if biting onto something, and I heard the sound of its growl as it struggled to tug whatever it was free from the barrel. Inch by inch, the creature backed out of the canister, and more of its sharp, sticky hair was revealed. I heard something snap, then the creature leapt back and I saw what it was chomping on. My eyes widened in horror as the pink tube of a human intestine was pulled taut like the end of a tangled hose. Blood and entrails were spilling out of the human's opened gut. And then, behind the canine, I saw the person's face. His face was pale white, his eyes closed, and his hair was slicked back… It was Trent.

Before I could react, I heard footsteps approaching from behind. I whirled around and saw my dad. But—no, it wasn't him. It was someone wearing a paper-mache face mask that was painted to look like my dad. The forehead of the mask was already beginning to crack, white specks breaking off like sawdust. Through the cracks, I could see the figure's true form. I didn't know darkness had its own type of light, but that's the only way to describe it. It was as if malevolence itself was reified into a skin which was actually an amalgamation of millions of little, oozing parasites that leached into the nearby light. When it finally spoke, the demon's voice was a full octave lower than the old man's at the deli. And it had an earth-stilling gravitas.

"Today's the day!" He sang and reached into his pocket. His lips curled upward into a foxy smirk. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this day." He said and held up a razor blade. Half his facade had already fallen apart, and now I could see the bugs up close, writhing in what was either horror or ecstasy. And his scent… it was somehow more rank than the rabid coyote rummaging through the trash can with Trent's cut open body inside. The demon closed in on my position, and in one, decisive motion, he brought the blade close to his chin, then sliced it across my throat. "Wake up!" He screamed.

I jumped out of my bed and grabbed my throat, feeling the cold sting of its quick slice. Hyperventilating, I patted the area down, trying to hold the blood in, but when I removed my hands, I saw they were dry. It was only a dream, I thought. Gray light was only beginning to filter in through the drapes. I'm in my hotel room. I'm safe. I tried consoling, but the pragmatic mental massages weren't enough to hold the force of my knees buckling. I dropped onto the carpet and cried for a long while.

Outside, rain was beginning to fall.

***

By the time I met up with Trent, I had already composed myself and decided to keep my dad's message and the nightmare to myself. None of it seemed particularly productive from a logistical standpoint, anyway. And I wanted to focus on the mission.

We stopped by McDonald's and bought a couple cups of coffee. Trent asked if I wanted any food, and I declined. Black coffee seemed like the only thing my stomach could take at the present moment. I could tell Trent was hungry, but he tried playing it off (I guess to be respectful of me?) I told him to knock it off and get something to eat. I didn't need my Charon getting lightheaded and dropping the paddle before he finished rowing me to Hell. He didn't care much for my joke, but he ordered a couple Chicken McGriddles at the kiosk anyway. 

There were maybe ten patrons spread throughout the restaurant. We sat down at the same booth from the prior night, this time across from one another. Trent spent the first ten minutes or so babbling about our fuel supply and the logistics of the trip from here on in. Practical stuff. I've come to realize that's how he deals with his stress. He talks it out in short, durable sentences. I mostly nodded and watched as what looked like a storm front closed in on the truck stop. The sky was overcast, and there were darker clouds in the distance. The rain was still only a patter, but a middle-aged man wearing a yellow bow tie on the wall-mounted TV confirmed that there would be heavier rain and thunderstorms very soon.

After the worker delivered Trent's food and he ate it in record time, I posed the one question that was still on my mind.

"How do I fight him?" I asked.

Trent finished a large gulp of his coffee, then looked at me. It was the first substantial thing I'd said all morning; Trent could tell something was off with me, but he figured there was no point in asking what it was. "By 'him', I assume you mean the demon?"

I nodded.

Trent licked his teeth clean. "You could try praying again."

"I'm serious," I responded.

"I'm serious, too. It worked before, didn't it?"

"You mean at my house?"

Trent nodded.

"I thought you weren't a religious man?"

"I'm not. Just a practical one. If praying worked before, maybe it'll work again."

"That's the best you've got? A maybe?"

"No, I've got a lot of shit better than a maybe." He answered. "It's just not accessible where you're going. Which is why I recommend not making contact on the first run."

"First run? So we're going to do this more than once?"

"At least," Trent answered. Then, seeing my expression, he continued. "What? You thought this was going to be a one-and-done? We have to conduct some research first. I did tell you this was new for me, right?"

Somehow Trent's response had set my mind at ease a little. I was going to have more than one chance. Of course, why wouldn't I be able to go back more than once?

"Why didn't you tell me this earlier? It would have gone a long way in easing my mind."

Trent lifted his hands in defense. "Sorry, I just thought that was a given. I mean, what we're doing is dangerous, just like I said, but it doesn't mean we aren't going to approach this as safely and scientifically as possible. However, there is a different problem with running multiple trials."

"The Organization?" 

"That's right," Trent said like a proud parent. "Our little experiment will be like a giant spotlight, and the longer we wait around after it's on us, the greater the chance we'll have unwelcome company."

"So, safe but speedy."

"Safe but speedy. Exactly."

***

We fueled up and were back on the road a little after 8:00. From that point on, Trent and I were absolutely silent. I had the distinct feeling of being in the eye of a storm. The pings moved closer commensurate with our progress toward the crash site. The cloudfront continued its advance. And I noticed a haze beginning to descend onto the road ahead of us. It was fog. 

We meandered further inland, the forest thickening around us until the rain almost stopped entirely—the leaves drinking it up before it fell onto our windshield. I kept my eyes on the radar. We were approaching the large yellow circle which indicated we had arrived. As we pulled closer, I began to feel things. Fear. Eeriness. Doubt. Then happiness. Hope. Love. Normally feelings like these had a clear source to picture, but these sensations came on in waves without any discernible reason. It was almost as if they were blinking into existence inside me.

"Here we go," Trent said like an airline pilot readying his crew for turbulence.

I still recall the exact moment we crossed the boundary into the area of higher energy. It was like something just "clicked" in my brain, and all of a sudden everything felt so much closer. The sound of the rain against the trees was almost right next to my ear. The trees in the distance would oscillate between their position a half-mile out, then suddenly seem five meters away. If I focused on something long enough, it began to radiate those same ethereal particles as when Trent released Ava's "phase lock". I checked to make sure the shifter wasn't set to "TD". Sure enough, it was still in drive.

"Can you see them?" Trent asked. "The shifts?"

"Yeah," I said in a dreamy voice. I felt like I was driving through a wonderland.

"It's the energy. I barely notice a difference. A bit of movement in the trees, but not much else. But I'm sure for you, it's a whole experience."

"What is this?" I raised my hand and caught some of the pixel dust dripping off the sun visor. It disappeared when it made contact with my hand. 

"It's a kind of radiation. Everything emits it, just in different quantities. I'm still not exactly sure how it relates to the other realms, but I'm guessing it's a kind of primordial matter that helps connect our worlds."

"It's beautiful," I exclaimed. "I wish I could see the world like this all the time."

"Maybe you will," Trent whispered.

As we arrived at the crash site, I began to get glimpses of the past. My childhood dreams and memories were pushing their way out from my subconscious. I noticed an increased number of blinks, which were validated by Ava who reported the following: "Currently detecting 14,350 novel emergences and 2,777 controlled agents. Net anomalies: 2,777."

"That's a lot of blinks." I remarked. "Why doesn't Ava include them in the net anomalies?"

Trent turned his head so I could see his smirk. "Because blinks aren't anomalies."

I thought about it for a second. Blinks aren't anomalies. "I never thought about it that way."

"It's hard to think about it that way when 'normal' for most people means not picking up on a fundamental aspect of reality. But that doesn't make it any less real."

We continued past the epicenter of the yellow circle. "Are we not stopping?" I asked. "I think we already passed the crash site."

"It doesn't have to be exactly at the site," Trent said. "Plus, we don't want to stop on the side of the road and risk getting some civilian involved. There's a field about half a mile up ahead. I'm going to pull off the road and set up camp there.

The "field" that Trent was referring to was actually a large clearing that dipped down into several trench-like troughs which were filled to the brim with fog like witches cauldrons. Further on in the distance, I saw open fields, probably used for farming, and then a large hill where the trees once again reasserted themselves. We had pulled off the road and up a small incline where the trees had already been broken down, leaving a trail for us to drive through. When we surfaced at the edge of the clearing, Trent pulled us onto a flat bed of dried mud which was maybe thirty yards long.

"Here," he said with a sigh.

We both sat for a minute, looking around at the field. We had finally arrived. The rain was beginning to pick up, and the dark sky made it almost impossible to discern the time of day.

"You ready?" Trent asked.

I looked at him. Really looked at him. In his blue eyes. Was I ready? Did it even matter?

"Let's do this," I said.

***

This was the first time I was really able to inspect the back of Trent's van. He had talked up his gear a lot, and honestly, I was impressed. Not in the way that a scientist is impressed by another scientist's lab—I wasn't any kind of expert—but it still seemed remarkably well managed. Now that I was in a state where my vision had been enhanced, I could actually see the enigmatic particles circulating through the pneumatic tubes which were coiled like the pipes and valves of an elaborate wind instrument. The walls of the van, itself, were glistening white, making it easier to make out everything else inside. Along the floor were five overturned columns. Each column was dark and had a vibrating quality, as if they were charged with energy. Then atop the center three columns was a small altar which supported an apparatus with two skinny, metal arms holding a silver halo. At present, the arms were folded and the halo was suspended a few inches above the altar, faced-down. I thought maybe I'd see particles exuding from it, but instead it was emitting visible waves which bent and warped everything they touched.

"That thing is emitting a lot of energy." I remarked, gesturing toward the halo.

Trent stepped in between the columns and started pulling out the packages he had stuffed in there yesterday. "Just wait till' it's on."

Most of the packages contained only a single piece of equipment, and were otherwise packed with foam peanuts. We carefully removed each box and set them on the ground outside. I asked if the rain would damage any of the stuff inside, to which Trent only laughed and continued lugging out the boxes. When they were all out, Trent removed a box cutter from his pocket and went one-by-one opening them. There were eight pieces in total.

"What is it?" I asked as we fished the first item out.

"It's another apparatus, like the one inside. Except it'll mount on the ground out here."

I pulled out what looked like a metal tripod.

"Good, that'll go on the bottom."

"Where are we setting it up?"

"Over here," Trent said and stepped five paces away from the van. He coordinated himself up so he was centrally aligned with the inner ring, then stomped a few times. "This is the spot."

As we continued to work, I asked Trent about how the whole contraption works. 

"Do you remember the first time we were in the van? When we had to escape from the semi-truck?" Trent asked and connected a secondary mounting apparatus on top of the tripod. It had four spider-like legs that made right angles and stuck into the ground. 

"Of course," I said. "The 'phase lock'."

"Yeah," Trent said and gestured toward the metal stick that was in my hand. I handed it to him. "The phase lock is a seal on the level of energy that the van is allowed to release. It also controls its dispersion pattern so that it releases its energy in a steady wave. This allows Ava to scan for anomalies without causing us to become an anomaly." Trent stuck the plank into the neck of the tripod.

"So when you released the phase lock, we started emitting more energy."

"That's right." Trent confirmed. "Enough to create an alternate route through a different realm."

"So we blinked into a different realm, then back, just to avoid that truck?"

"That's right."

"But why couldn't we just move out of the way?"

"Because it had locked onto us. It was tracking our motion and adjusting its course based on the amount of energy we were emitting. So in order to escape, we had to radically skew our potential energy and then use it to shift."

"Couldn't he have just followed us?"

Trent connected four more pieces to the device which now looked like an elaborate teepee. He was fishing in the last box when he spoke again. "Yeah, he could have. But it was highly improbable that he would have found us." Trent returned from the bottom of the box with another silver ring in hand. "Think of it like this. Let's say you're trying to escape from some bad guy who's coming after you, and you enter a new room you've never seen before. Would you prefer this room to have three doors to go through, or ten?"

I thought about his riddle for a second, then responded, "It depends where they go."

Trent fastened the ring atop the teepee. "Let's say they all lead to random places, or let's say they're all closets that lead nowhere. The key is that more is better, because the more doors he has to check, the less likely he is to pick the correct one. Make sense?"

"So we opened up a bunch of doors and escaped through one at random?"

"Hence the gear 'TD', for 'Trap Door'."

I marveled at the insights, but not for long. Trent hopped back in the van and pulled a lever that I hadn't seen until now. The two metal arms raised the inner ring until it was perpendicular with the altar. Then Trent clicked one of three red buttons along the back wall, and I saw what looked like a large, glass eye suspended in a magnifying glass protruding from the wall, aligned with the center of both rings. A couple seconds later, the glass eye began to focus the energy which was being fed to it from the pneumatic tubes, and a blue pyramid of light projected from it into the first ring, then from the first ring into the second ring. All three pieces were aligned at slightly diminishing heights, so the cylinder of light beamed through the second ring, into the ground.

"Alright, time for the first trial."

I felt the nerves starting up in my stomach. Trent sensed this and hopped out of the truck. It was raining quite hard now, though it was still warm. Both Trent and I were soaked, but that hardly concerned us. He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. "I know you're feeling scared." He said. "But trust me on this. You're going to do fine. Just keep in mind what we talked about. Stay a spectator. Okay?"

I looked into his blue eyes, which seemed especially gray in the dark. Still, Trent's voice was reassuring. All I had to do was trust him. Trust myself. Trust my dad. And it was all going to turn out right.

"I'm ready," I said.

Trent was still for a second, holding my eyes in his. Then he guided me behind the outer ring and into the cylinder of light.

"I should step into it now?" I asked, afraid I'd be called away immediately.

"It's not on yet, so don't worry. I still have to press another button."

I followed Trent's instructions and stood in the blue light which was centered on my chest. Then I watched as Trent ran into the back of the van and posted up next to the glass eye. "Ready?" He yelled out. It was hard to hear him over the rain, but I yelled back. "Ready!"

The next thing I saw was a blinding blue light beam from the van. I heard what sounded like a laser, then saw the cylinder oscillate, expanding and compressing. When the energy reached the second ring, I saw everything around me light up—it looked brighter than noon on a cloudless day. Then the oscillations made their way to me, and I was swallowed up whole.

***

When I came to, I was in the backseat of a car. I felt my butt rumbling. Everything was dim and quiet. And then I heard a woman's voice from in front of me.

"Mark, please, not with Lauren in the back."

The man, who I now identified as my father, pulled the cigarette away from his lips and blew the smoke at my mom. He eyed the back seat where I was sitting, using one of five markers that hadn't rolled off my lap to color a rabbit in my animal color book.

"The kid's fine." he said and took another drag.

"Mark," my mom repeated.

I saw my dad raise his hand in a rapid motion. "I said she's fine, Cheryl. Now check the map and make sure we're going the right away. I can't see shit with all this fog."

I took a moment to make sure I was really in the back seat. I patted myself. I clearly had weight. Then I tried touching the car. At first, my fingertips met a solid surface, but when I tried to press through, my hand slipped into the car. I quickly pulled my hand away as if I had reached into a fire.

That's when I heard the little three year old next to me start crying. I turned and saw that little-me had dropped another couple markers onto the ground and was struggling to reach them.

"Hey!" my dad shouted. "What did I say about crying?"

"Quit it, Mark. She just dropped her markers." said my mom; she turned to help me pick them up.

"What did you say to me?" Mark spat with a voice full of guile. He reached out and pushed her back into her seat. "Don't," he commanded. "She has to learn how to deal with life."

"Deal…" My mom started in disbelief. "Deal with life? Do you hear yourself? What's gotten into you?"

"Sometimes shit happens. It doesn't give her the right to cry. You helping her is just going to reinforce her behavior."

"Her behavior? What about your behavior? You're acting like a total dick."

I didn't even have a moment to react before my dad's hand was across my mom's face. I felt the slap more than I heard it, my own face seeming to swell with the force of the blow. I saw my mom cover her mouth and lean away. Then little-me began to cry even louder, which only challenged my dad to step up his own volume.

"Everyone needs to get a fucking grip before I crash this car." My dad shouted and took another drag. The scariest part was I couldn't tell if he was warning us or threatening us. I felt the sudden urge to do something. There was no way this was real. I was definitely in some fantasy concocted by the demon. He wanted to turn me against my dad. That was the only explanation for something like this. My dad was a good man, not… this.

As I contemplated what to do, I saw a small, golden light appear behind little-me's window. Apparently she saw it, too, because her cries hushed as she traced the wisp with her eyes. After a second, the wisp transformed into a bunny rabbit, reminiscent of the one she was coloring. The rabbit hopped alongside the window, then did a couple circles in place. I watched little me let out a playful laugh and reach toward the window.

"What's going on back there?" my dad asked with a scowl. Apparently the only sound more disturbing than cries were laughs. 

I looked back to the front and saw my mom wiping blood from her lip. Her expression was miserable. "Leave her alone, Mark."

"I'll do whatever I damn well want to do, Cheryl. It's my kid back there."

My mom was quiet.

When I looked back toward the rabbit, it was no longer a rabbit but a person. Or at least it looked like a person. The figure radiated pure gold, and atop his head was what appeared to be a King's crown. I recalled Allison's experience of seeing the sun-like figure in her moment of distress. Was that what was happening here? Was this really all true?

"Hey!" My dad shouted, eyeing little-me from the rear-view mirror. "What are you reaching at?"

I looked and saw the golden figure extending his hand toward the window, and little me's hand was reaching back. "Mom, dad, it bright." little-me said.

"What's bright, honey?" my mom asked.

"Don't encourage her, Cheryl."

"Someone there!" little me shouted happily and dropped the rest of the markers and the coloring book onto the ground.

"Who's there?" asked my mom.

"Cheryl, I swear to God. Sit the fuck down."

Everything from that moment on happened so quickly I barely had any time to process it. My mom lifted out of her seat to either get little me's attention or help me pick up my coloring book. My dad responded by grabbing onto her throat, letting go of the steering wheel entirely. He threw her back against the car door, and her head hit the window so hard, the glass cracked. My dad had dropped his cigarette, and I could smell smoke coming from under his seat, but that didn't seem to bother him at all. He turned toward little-me at the same moment my three-year-old hand reached out and grabbed onto the golden figure, whose hand diffused through the window. When my dad turned, I got a whiff of the most awful smell that I wouldn't have been able to place had I not had that nightmare last night. He grabbed onto little-me's shoulder and tugged her away from the golden figure that was trying to pull her the other way. My dad's facade began to crack, and I could see those dark bugs crawling out from the pores in his arms, marching down toward little-me.

I reacted.

I grabbed onto my dad's arm and pulled him off little-me. I heard the sound of my shirt ripping as she was torn from his grip and pulled out of the car, diffusing through it like a ghost. My brief victory was immediately overturned as I saw what was now clearly the demon smiling at me, his wretched fingers curled around my forearm.

"Caught you," He sneered.

Then the whole world once again diffused into countless numbers of particles, only this time, instead of riding through it, I felt like I was falling through an elevator shaft with each floor darker than the last. The further I fell, the less I became aware of my surroundings, and the more I felt a deep sense of loneliness. It was as if I was the only person in the whole world: and the whole world was a prison designed entirely for me. This went on for so long, I began to forget who I was. Where I was. What was.

And then I landed.

***

Source Used:

Jung, Carl. Synchronicity. Translated by Sonu Shamdasani, Princeton University Press, 2010.

1 Comment
2024/06/09
20:03 UTC

4

What I Found On My Missing Cousin's Phone

I don’t really know how to do a proper intro to this type of thing. I just want to get to the point. My cousin Peter wasn’t returning my aunt’s phone calls and texts for 2 days straight, so she went to his house and used the spare key to get inside after Peter didn’t come to the door.

What she told the officers (and my mom) was that she found all his things untouched. His car was still parked in the driveway, none of his things were taken, and there were no signs of a break-in.

Basically, it was like he vanished into thin air. The only out of place thing that was found was Peter’s phone laying face-down in the hallway upstairs.

Authorities searched his phone, but all they found was a bunch of missed voicemails and texts from friends and relatives begging him to answer. The phone was returned to my aunt, and with her too distraught to notice, I took the phone.

I know it was wrong, but I was six at the time and barely understood what had happened to my cousin anyway. I just saw a free phone and took my opportunity to take it and download some games and watch YouTube. After a while of using the phone for dumb kid stuff, I got a notification from the “notes” app telling me to pick up where I left off.

I hadn’t used the notes app since getting my hands on the phone, so I was curious as to what my cousin had been writing before he lost his phone. I didn’t understand the weight of my findings at the time, but I’ve recently heard of an internet phenomenon known as the Backrooms, and it brought back memories of what Peter had described in his final set of notes.

I’ve since grown up and moved out of my old family house, but I managed to find the old phone and get it charged up again. It took an awkward text to my aunt asking what the password to Peter’s old phone was, but I managed to unlock the phone and reread my cousins’ last few messages before he… well, you’ll know what I mean after I share them with you.

But why am I posting this here of all places? Well, for starters, the messages sound like some sick prank, so the authorities and my relatives wouldn’t believe me even if I showed them the messages. It also might cause my aunt unwanted grief over something that happened so long ago, which leads me to my final reason: it’s just been too much time. The case has been closed, and my aunt has finally recovered all that she can.

But even if I can’t tell anyone my findings, I can still make sure Peter’s last messages to the world don’t go unseen. I can’t help but feel some guilt for not telling anyone what I found, so maybe I’m also doing this to clear my conscience.

But I’ve been on about this too long. Let me just show you what I found.

 

 

July 3, 2003

I’ve tried telling my friends about the door, but they just don’t believe me. It doesn’t help that the door always disappears whenever I try to show them. It doesn't appear in pictures either, and after a quick examination of my house from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be a room behind the door. It’s just not possible. I want to see what’s behind it. I really do. I just get this feeling of… dread when I go to open it. I need some sleep

 

July 4, 2003 (This was written past midnight, so it’s counted as a new day)

I can’t sleep. Every time I do, I have the same dream. It starts off fine, normal, actually. I’m downstairs watching something on TV, I can’t remember what. For some reason, I can’t help but feel like I’m being watched from my staircase, but I can’t turn to look. Eventually, the power goes out, and I can move. I go upstairs to get a flashlight from my room, and the door is wide open. It’s so dark that I can’t see what’s on the other side, but I feel whatever it is calling me. My legs start to carry me towards the door, and I wake up. I’m so fucking tired.

 

July 6, 2003

I can’t. I just can’t. I want to cover the door, but I’m scared to get close to it. I keep having the same dream, but when I wake up I’m in my hallway in front of the door. One time, I woke up with my hand moving towards the handle. I told my mom about it, but I couldn’t show her any pictures. I’m scared.

 

July 9, 2003

No one can help me. No one believes me. I’ve been staying in a motel for the past few days. I can’t be in the same house as that door, but I see it in my dreams. Now the dream doesn’t even start off fine, It’s just me standing in front of the door in a dark hallway. I’m fucking done. I’m opening the door, and I’m ending this shit.

 

 

July 10, 2003

I’m in a new place now. The rooms keep repeating. How is this even possible? There is no time in this place. My only way of measuring time is my phone’s clock. No one can help.

 

July 10, 2003 (All his new messages are written on the same day, but he writes them like it’s been days since the last)

Every door leads to a new room. There are kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms. There are no clocks, but there is food and water. There is no windows, but there are places to sleep and use the bathroom. Hell, there’s even toothbrushes and toothpaste here. Someone could get lost in here forever.

 

July 10, 2003

I’ve mapped out as many rooms as I can. I’ve got a bit more knowledge on the layout of this place. It’s an infinite place. It provides for those inside it. But it never lets them leave.

 

 

July 10, 2003

Something is wrong. I know now which rooms I’ve already been in, but things have been moved around. Beds that I’ve slept in already have been made, fridges have been left open with food missing. Someone is here with me. I need to find them.

 

July 10, 2003

 I saw them. I chased them. I lost my way. I’m lost again, but this time it’s different. The rooms are cold. The carpets are damp. The lights are dim. The fridges are empty. The shower curtains are filled with mold. I’m being watched.

 

July 10, 2003

This place isn’t the same. The rooms are entirely different. They are dark concrete chambers with barely any light. I’m going to die here. Im going to die here Im going to die here Im going to die

 

 

July 10, 2003

They keep scratching at the walls. Their screams ring in my ears. Im so cold. Their hands grab at my arms, my feet, my neck, they want to keep me here with them.

 

July 10, 2003

Something has changed. They seem more desperate to keep me here. They tell me to turn back, that Im going to get hurt. But I think I’m getting close to the end. God help me.

 

July 10, 2003

I found my way back to the door. Not the one from my house, but the one from my dream. And I know now what’s on the other side. It’s… horrifying. Their bodies writhe in agony, their cries for mercy echo into the void. They yell as if anyone can hear them. And on top of his throne of mangled flesh and bone, there he sits. The one who’s been calling me back to the door. I can barely even describe him. He almost looks like

 

July 10, 2003

Sv dsl szh ilznvw gsv hkzxv yvgdvvm dliowh, lfghrwv gsv uzyirx lu ivzorgb rghvou, szh urmzoob nzwv srh dzb gl nv. Gsrh rh dszg R dzmgvw gl hsld srn. Gsrh rh gsv zugvioruv blf hzb droo yv kzizwrhv. Blfi ylwrvh droo yv vgvimzoob uozbvw, blfi nrmwh dsrggovw wldm fmgro mlgsrmt ivnzrmh. Zmw sviv R droo dzrg. Sviv R droo dzrg uli blf, Qlhsfz.

 

 

I don’t even know what to think. I don’t remember the messages sounding like that. I don’t know what even happened to Peter anymore. I think he must’ve had some kind of mental breakdown, unless I want to believe what he wrote about in his final messages is really true. I just don’t know anymore.

My findings have only reinforced my decision not to tell anyone in my family about this. This is my weight to carry, since maybe we could’ve tracked him down in time to stop him from disappearing completely if I had just told my family about what I found all those years ago.

I don’t even think it matters much now anyway. As much as I want to believe that everything Peter described wasn’t true, I just can’t convince myself anymore. It may have been coincidence, but last night I fell asleep and had one of the worst nightmares I’ve had in a while.

I’m standing in front of a blood red door, with darkness all around me. It’s cold in this place, so cold I want to shiver, but I can’t. I’m paralyzed. I’m helpless to do anything but watch as the door swings open, and I gaze into what’s beyond. A swirling void of madness and tortured souls, begging me to turn back.

And in the center of it all, there he sits.

1 Comment
2024/06/09
19:07 UTC

9

This man kidnapped my family.The cops told me he doesn’t exist

I 30 years old and I’m living alone in Washington state. It wasn’t always this way, 5 years ago my wife and kids went missing and I know exactly who kidnapped them. The cops told me this person didn’t exist.

5 years ago before my family was kidnapped, we lived a happy life as a small family. Me, my wife, my 5 year old son, and my 2 year old daughter.

I did my normal routine, tucked the kids into bed and then went into me and my wife’s room. When I woke up, all of them were gone without a trace.

1 week after my family disappeared was the first time I saw John Raker, he was standing across the street. I walked over to talk to him. I asked him if he’s seen my family, or if he’s seen any signs. By that time I had the entire police searching everywhere for my family. John said that he hadn’t seen them but he was willing to help find them.

I appreciated John for willing to help me, but the next morning, I got woken up early, around 6:50 or so. I could here the storm cellar door being slammed shut. I got up and peered out the window. It was John Raker. He was in my backyard. I opened my window and yelled out to him. He said he was going down to search near the lake behind my house. I invited him in for a glass of orange juice.We talked for a bit then I asked him why he was looking in the storm cellar. He told me not to go down there, he said it “wasn’t safe.” That night I put a lock on the storm cellar

I hadn’t seen John for couple days after that, until one night, I lurched out of bed when I heard metal clashing outside my window. The time read 2am. He had bolt cutters in his hands, and beside him were grocery bags, months worth of groceries. What stood out most were the diapers and the baby food. He was trying to get into that storm cellar. I sprinted down the stairs, and out the back door. He stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the door slide open.

“what the fuck John” I yelled

He didn’t speak for about 30 second. He than said “your family needs me, Nick” I tried to shove past him to get into that storm cellar. He than pulled out a dagger out of his coat. He stuck the blade into my mouth.

“If you ever go in there. I’ll kill your entire family” he said. I was gagging, and when he finally pulled that knife out, blood poured of my mouth like a river. I then watched him break the lock and enter the storm cellar with the food. I must have passed out because I woke up the next morning on the lawn. My vision was bright red and blurry. My entire mouth had been gutted. I drove straight to the police station. I told them about John Raker, I told them about my family in the storm cellar. The Officers searched through public records everywhere but never found him. The Police Chief called me in and told me that John Raker doesn't exist.The officers came to my house and searched the storm cellar. My family wasn’t in there, it was just the food from the night before. They offered to park the cruiser outside my house for the night and keep an eye out. That night I saw John Raker about 50 yards down the street from the police cruiser. The next morning when I asked the officer he said he never saw him. How could he not have seen John? The officer said I could give him the call the next time I see John.

I went to bed that night and when I woke up John was standing over my bed dressed in all black.

I yelled at the top of my lungs “GET THE HELL OUT” I yelled so loud that the women jogging by called the police. The officer came over and searched my entire house. John had disappeared again. After that day the entire police department thought I had gone crazy.

Throughout the years, John had terrorized me. I’d see him almost every other day, weather he was across the street, or standing in the backyard. He was always watching. One night while I was shaving in the bathroom, I had a small glimpse of something behind the shower curtain move in the mirrors reflection. At that moment I knew exactly who it was. I wanted to show John I wasn’t afraid of him, so I just walked out of the room, turned the light off, and shut the door. That was a huge mistake. The next morning I woke up and all the knives in the kitchen disappeared.

Every month John would bring food into the storm cellar. What I noticed is he stopped bringing food down there after the 3rd year. He stopped feeding my family.

It’s the 5th year and I hadn’t seen John in over a month. I bought myself a shotgun to protect myself from John.I should’ve bought it way sooner, or was the shotgun there to protect me from myself. You see, the cops were right. John isn’t a real person, but he exists inside of me. I want my family back more than anything, but John, he wants them to suffer, he wants them to starve. John has been feeding them just the right amount of food and water so he can keep them alive. The storm cellar is where me and John would stock up the foods and essentials. The real prize was in the basement. And when I said John stopped feeding them after the 3rd year, it’s because the cashier at the grocery store became suspicious of us.

Every 2 months or so, me and John would stock up. Diapers, baby food, vitamins. This was the type of town where everyone knew each other. Everyone knew my family was kidnapped. The cashier women started doing investigations of her own. I couldn’t take any chances. I stopped going to the grocery store, I stopped feeding my family. And if you were wondering about the knives, the knives were 6 inches deep in the cashiers flesh.

As of now, my son would’ve been 10, and my daughter 7. My beautiful daughter, my wife, my son. All corpses because of John. How can those kids endure such a brutal death? How can I get rid of John for good? I bought a shotgun for a reason.

0 Comments
2024/06/09
18:40 UTC

14

I'm A Cop, And I Just Went Through Something I Can't Explain

I was called out for a wellness check with my partner last month. The home was in the middle of an upper middle class neighborhood. Everything was in full bloom. Trees lined the still street and the sidewalks buckled and erupted in several places from tree roots pushing them upwards.

Vibrant lawns everywhere. The only thing aged and weathered in the entire neighborhood were the painted address numbers on the curbs next each driveway.

Lots of money on that side of town.

The house was an old craftsman two storey. Most of the houses were.

All the window shades were pulled and the car that was in the driveway had spiderwebs along the wheels and a thick layer of dust over the windshield.

The landscaper had called in because the owner had not been seen in two weeks.

The owner was an elderly man who lived alone.

After knocking on the door several times, we walked around the house.

The landscaper had only been charged with maintaining the front of the house. The backyard was nothing like the front. The lawn was completely overgrown. The flower beds were full of brilliant colors of flowers. Weeds had started to infest all of the flower beds and were beginning to take over. Several trees were in the yard, shading over half of it. Lots of flies and other insects were buzzing in and out of the shadows. They were so loud.

Right in the middle of the lawn, there was a blue tarp that was staked down on all four corners. A muddy shovel lay next to the tarp. 

My partner walked over and pulled up one of the stakes and peeled part of the tarp back. Over a dozen spots of fresh dirt, a small hole, and several areas of newly seeded grass were underneath. He jumped backward and started swatting at his pants legs as he ran over to the patio.

He said he felt them crawling all over his legs.

He started stamping his feet.

I watched the tiny bugs fall off of his legs onto the hot concrete and then skitter and jump as quickly as they could back into the shelter of the thick shady lawn.

We knocked on the back door and found that it was open.

As we walked inside, my partner kept swatting at his legs as I yelled out that we were police just doing a wellness check.

All the lights were off.

The kitchen and the laundry room were perfectly clean and organized with the exception of a thin layer of white dust with thousands of tiny black specks on every surface.

The dust had a faint chemical odor. We realized that it was all over the floor as well. The thousands and thousands of black specks amongst the white dust were tiny dead bugs. They looked like mosquitos without wings. Just like the ones that were on my partner in the backyard.

We turned on every light as we walked through the home. The white powder was spread over every floor, although we couldn’t see any of the bugs if they were present due to the nap of the carpet. 

We continued through the home until we found the old man in the bathroom. 

There were a variety of smells inside that turned our stomachs and we were fighting back the urge to vomit. When we turned on the lights, we saw the old man naked on the toilet. His head hung down and he wasn’t moving.

There were several bottles of iodine in the wastebasket and a dried out sponge was in the sink that was covered in it. The old man had smeared it over the entirety of his body, and it had stained the porcelain bowl underneath him. His skin was raised around his feet and ankles, and several places on his abdomen were broken out in bites. I put on latex gloves before I would even touch him.

His pulse was very weak.

My partner called in an ambulance.

I turned toward the shower. There was a towel covering something next to the drain.

I opened the glass door. I meant to slowly raise the towel, but as I moved it slightly, several of those small bugs ran across my glove. I reacted suddenly, and the towel was flung against the back wall of the shower. I closed the shower door and smashed the things on my glove.

The towel had been covering a large mass of bugs that began to jump and skitter as they were exposed to the light. Most of them crawled down into the darkness of the drain, while a small few were jumping back and forth against the glass of the shower door.

On the bottom of the shower were the remains of something that looked like a baby. The bugs must have been feeding on it.

My partner and I both began to back out of the bathroom and the old man made a noise.  

We both witnessed several patches of skin on the old man that seemed to quiver and move. The thin skin of his temples rose and fell as something underneath was moving.

The old man raised his head, and his breathing increased. He stared at both of us.

“It’s not me.”

Both of us were dumbstruck and had no idea of what to do. Then one of those damn bugs crawled out of the corner of his eye and ran across his face.

I’m not proud. Neither was my partner.

We got the fuck out the house. 

We were not going to go back in there unless we were wearing some sort of protective gear. On our way out, I noticed that the thousands of black specks spread out in the white powder in the kitchen were gone, and as we ran past the back lawn, we could both see thousands of the things jumping within the grass.

My partner continued to feel the bugs crawling on him for the rest of our time there despite there being none that I could see.

It’s been several weeks since the incident. The old man died in the hospital; organ failure after severe dehydration. The investigation found that it was a baby in the shower. There was no evidence of trauma present. When the backyard was inspected, the tarp was removed and several more bodies were found that had been buried within the last six months and again, no evidence of trauma was present.

All of the bodies were babies, and all of the DNA testing came back the same for every single one of them. 

Identical.

They were all genetically identical to each other and to the old man.

Not a single bug was found that matched our descriptions although a fair amount of excrement was detected in the carpets.

All of this is public record, although it hasn’t been reported, which to say the least, is very unusual.

My partner has been institutionalized by his wife. She found him in his workshed in the middle of the night taking a wire brush to himself, swearing that the bugs were hiding in his skin.

1 Comment
2024/06/09
18:35 UTC

4

I Install Cable for a Living. My Last Job has Me Rethinking my Career Choices.

My hands are trembling to the point where I've had to restart this several times. I'm a guy who doesn't scare easily, but this encounter has me shaking like a hit dog. I'm still sitting in my work truck, trying to work up the courage to step outside again. Worse, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to tell my boss what happened. I was already on thin ice with him, and this shit might cause me to break through to the freezing water below.

But fuck it, because this was weird.

I install cable for a living. I didn't have dreams of stringing cable when I was a little kid, but my previous life choices left me with few options. In high school, I fell in with the wrong crowd. It started with skipping school, sneaking alcohol at weekend parties, and some petty theft, but it didn't stay that way for long. Soon, I dropped out and dedicated my life to committing robberies to pay for my pill addiction. I wasn't living as much as I was running on a treadmill. I did whatever I could to stay on my feet but constantly felt myself slipping.

My bottom came when I was jumped by two guys who sold me pills. I had bought from them before and trusted them, but the feeling was not mutual. Someone had dimed a buddy of theirs out to the police, and he was looking at real jail time. They assumed it was me and beat me senseless.

I was greeted at the door with a punch to the jaw that sent me reeling. My brain, already addled and slowed by Oxi, was in the middle of putting together what was happening when the next punch caught me in the temple. I collapsed to the ground and covered my neck and face as best as I could. The next few minutes were a flurry of punches, kicks, and stomps. When it was all over, I had a broken jaw, a shattered wrist, several wounds that required fifty total stitches, and a concussion.

That's how I kicked my painkiller addiction.

I can joke now, but the next six months were the hardest in my life. The withdrawals I had were the worst thing I've ever experienced. Having them while I was recuperating from my injuries was a circle of hell I didn't think existed. I wanted to die most days and felt lost in the darkness. But sobriety was the beacon on the horizon. Even during my darkest moments, I could still see the fuzzy spark of white light off in the distance. It kept me going. Six months from my beat-down day, I came out the other side healthier but weaker.

I needed a job but had limited skills. Thankfully, I had a former pill buddy who managed to keep steady employment with the cable company. We always got along, and he called in a few favors and hooked me up. I got hired, but it was a struggle. Not the work, which was easy to learn, but dealing with the public without telling them to fuck off. Worse, was trying to avoid the flood of illegal substances that are around you at all times. Customers will offer you weed or pills for all the channels, or bored co-workers will have something to "make the day pass by." It's a lot to dodge, especially if you're in recovery. Whenever I felt the itch again, I'd feel the scar tissue from my wrist surgery, and the itch would pass.

The last week has been one of those "Shit, is it Friday yet?" weeks that seem to be growing in frequency these days. I don't want to bore you with the details, but needless to say, most nights, I needed to reach out to my sponsor and have them talk me off the ledge. We recently had a turnover at the executive level, and my new boss Rory was a tremendous cock. A rager at levels science hasn't ever seen before. Just the worst dude imaginable.

Part of Rory's new crusade was coming in and firing a bunch of guys. The company called it "checking for redundancies in the labor force," but we all knew what it was. He was picking off two classes of people: high earners and guys with spotty pasts. I was in the latter group and imagined it was just a matter of time before my number got pulled. I was on pins and needles all week. I made sure I was the greatest cable installer you'd ever meet. So far, I was getting high marks but the forced joviality was wearing thin.

It's safe to say my joy had left on a one-way ticket. I have no clue when—or if—she'd return.

Back to this shit. I had just finished up my last job of the day when my work phone started buzzing. I cursed and thought about not answering, but the threat of unemployment loomed too large for me to do that. I picked up and knew from the jump my day was far from over. Denise from dispatch asked if I could cover a job left hanging because of "scheduling conflicts" (see: the original installer had been let go). It was near where I was and was a simple install.

I gritted my teeth and agreed. I liked Denise and knew she was worried about the hammer falling on her, too. She thanked me profusely, and promised to bring me cookies tomorrow. Since she's a hellcat in the kitchen and getting close to a dispatcher never hurts, I said no worries. I hung up, balled up my jacket, and screamed into it. I felt better after that.

981 Maple Street was about five minutes away, but it felt like a world away. Maple Street was at the end of the neighborhood where large swaths of grass fields faded into a thicket of woods. The woods rose up into the foothills until they graduated to mountains. To borrow a phrase from Shel Silverstein, the house resided where the sidewalk ends.

The house, an off-white birdhouse ranch type, was a little run-down but no worse than any of the others that populated this neighborhood. This place had been hit hard by economic times, and property values had plummeted. It was slowly recovering. In five years, this would be a place most current residents wouldn’t be able to afford. The front yard had a large oak tree that looked amazing but had killed the grass under its canopy. The rest of the yard looked well cared for.

I knocked and heard a few voices talking on the other side of the door. It opened, and a man in his late 40s stood there with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand. He was tall and thin, save for a middle-aged paunch. His face was starting to crinkle at the edges, but he was southern California middle-aged, which meant he was holding up pretty well. He did look tired, though—the bags under his eyes were full-on steamer trunks.

"You with the cable company?" he asked, knowing I was.

I nodded. "You requested an install, right?"

"Yes, I did. Please, come in."

He opened the door wide, and I walked in. The house was pretty bare with a bachelor pad aesthetic. That didn't make much sense since I heard a female voice talking to him. I assumed it was his wife. I believe in a lot of wild shit, but to think that a wife would be fine with their house decorated like a 23-year-old bachelor lived there was a bridge too far.

"I'm Tom," the guy said, extending his hand. I shook it. "What did you need from my end?"

"Do you know if there was a previous hookup here?"

"Ugh, yeah. There is one in this room and another in the back bedroom."

"Okay. I should put the modem in a spot that'll hit the whole house. The signal can get wonky if it's in a room behind a wall or bricks or anything."

"This room is probably the best spot then," he said.

"Perfect. I have to get under the house, check the old connections, and replace some parts. Where's your hatch to get under the house?"

"Oh, it's around back. You can exit out this side door and walk through the backyard. It's on the eastern side. You might need a screwdriver to remove the grate. Do you need one?"

I pulled a screwdriver from my pocket and showed him. "I should be good. Thank you, though."

"I should've guessed you'd have one."

"I appreciate your concern. Is there anything in the backyard I should be worried about? Dogs? Kids? Wild dogs? Wild kids?"

It was standard banter, and it always got a chuckle out of people. Same thing happened here. "Nothing to worry about," he said. "You should be good."

"Alright. I'll get started so you can get online as soon as possible."

"Great! If you need anything, I'll be doing some work in the back bedroom."

I nodded and headed for the side door. The dining room door led to the pie wedge-shaped backyard, which was larger in the back than the front made it look. The grass was as cooked as its kin in the front, but islands of green weeds seemed to be thriving. In the corner of the lot, an old metal shed stood, rusted to the point where I assumed divine intervention kept it standing. It seemed to have been there since the house had been built – or maybe several decades before.

When I turned the corner of the house, I spotted a woman and child staring into the corner of the yard, their backs facing me. The Woman wore a faded blue dress that fit her well. Tom had, it seemed, out-kicked his coverage with her. I didn't want to startle them, so I offered a friendly "hello" to the pair. The kid started to turn, but the mother placed a hand on their shoulder and kept their heads facing away from me. I squinted along the treeline, trying to see what they were concentrating on, but I didn't see anything unusual.

Just wanting to be done with the job, I let them be and moved on. I turned another corner to the house's short side and spotted the grate leading to the crawlspace. The grate looked as old as the shed, and I wasn't sure I would even need the screwdriver to open it. Hell, I was sure the thing would disintegrate in my hands as soon as I touched it.

I crouched and was about to pull it off when I heard something rustling near me. I glanced back to where I had seen the mom and kid, but they were gone. I assumed I had heard them leaving. I pulled the grate off – I was right, no screwdriver necessary – and as I set it aside, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.

It was the kid. A boy around eight or so. But they weren't staring at me exactly. They were looking away from me, staring up at the roof line. I found it odd. Clearly, the kid wanted to talk to me but had turned their back on me. I coughed to let them know that I knew they were there, but they didn't respond.

"Hey man, what's up there?" I said.

"Nothing nice," he said, still keeping their gaze away from me.

"Oh," I said, "Not going to hurt me, is it?"

"Maybe," he said.

Not the answer I was expecting. "What is it?"

"They told me you'd know soon enough."

As he said that, I felt something crawling across my hand. I pulled my hand away from the house and shook it. I saw a spider land in a pile of leaves and scurry away. I let out a nervous laugh. I'm not scared of spiders or anything, but the shock of being told some unseen thing was watching me and didn't look pleased, coupled with the sensation of something on my skin, was enough to justify a quickened heartbeat.

I looked back at where the kid had been standing, but he was gone. I chalked it up to kids being little weirdos and went back to work. The faster I could get this installation done, the quicker I could go home and smoke a bowl. I let Kush be my guide. I put up my hood, turned on my small flashlight, and shimmied through the opening under the house.

I know guys who've worked for the company for years and still dread going into a crawl space. Granted, it's not my favorite thing to do, but I don't mind either. The bugs can be a nuisance but if you don't bother them, they tend to not bother you. Same with rats and mice. Raccoons, though? I crawl out and call animal control. Those little dudes are cute but nasty as all get out. My path today was nothing but cobwebs, so I was okay.

I flashed my light around and saw where the cable line went up into the living room floor. My job here was to ensure the coaxial line's integrity was still good. If it had been chewed on or anything, I'd replace it. Sometimes, I just replaced it anyway—saving myself a potential job later down the line.

I crawled over to where the line came in from the pedestal and started my once-over. I not only looked for any damage but also ran the line through my hands to make sure my eyes didn't miss anything. I was under the dining room area when I heard that side door close.

I stopped. Tom said something, but it was muffled. I wanted to be nosy, so I waited a beat to hear if anyone spoke back to him. Someone did. It was soft and quiet – I assumed it was the Boy – and I didn't make out what they asked, but I did hear Tom's response. In a firm voice, he said, "No, not right now. Run along."

There were footsteps over me that faded into another section of the home. Tom said, "He always wants to jump the gun. How many times do I have to tell him?"

I suppressed a laugh at the last line. It's the official father's lament. I kept moving my hand down the line and didn't feel nicks along the cable. In fact, on closer inspection, the line looked almost new. I was planning to change it, but this looked like it had been installed last week.

I could hear someone walk into the living room as I reached the spot where the line went through the house. Another pair of footsteps followed the first, and I heard a breathy but detached woman's voice ask, "Can we show our faces now?"

"I just told the boy 'no.' What makes you any different?" Tom said, an edge to his voice.

A chill raced through my body. I knew those words, but this conversation made me feel like I spoke another language. Can we show our faces? Why would you not?

"Do you think he'll see us?"

"If I have my way," he said, not finishing that thought. "Leave me be. I must try to get some things done before he leaves, and you two keep bothering me."

What did Tom mean to get some things done before I left? What did he have in mind? While trying to process all this, I heard something shuffle in the darkness just beyond my flashlight beam. I moved it around, trying to see the telltale glowing eyes of varmints, but nothing flashed back at me.

I heard something shuffling again, this time down by my feet. I cocked my head as best as I could and shone the flashlight into that corner of the house but, again, there wasn't anything else down here but me and a thousand spiders. I sighed and finished my inspection of the wire.

As I turned to crawl back out from under the house, I heard somebody sneaking around on the floor above me. The wood groaned as the person moved slowly. I wasn't sure what they were doing, but they wanted to keep it a secret. A shadow fell over the pinprick of light from where the cable went into the house. Someone was standing over it.

"Can you hear them down there? Moving in the dark?" It was the Boy. “They like the dark.”

"What are you saying?"

"The little shadows," he said, "They live down there. Do you hear them?"

This kid was creepy as hell. "I, ugh, I can't hear you, dude," I said, inching my body away from the wire, "We can talk inside."

"They're going to get you, but that's okay," he said, "It only hurts for a little bit, and then you're fine."

Fuck. That. I had no desire to respond to that nightmare of a statement. I hastened my inch-worming, heading back towards the open hatch. As I did, I heard more movement in the darkness around me. I tried to ignore it, but it was a fool's gambit. It was impossible to ignore.

I was getting closer to the opening when I saw a pair of tiny legs walk in front of the hatch. It was the Boy. How did he get there so quickly and without me hearing him run on the floor? I didn't have time to run through the scientific method because the Boy leaned down and placed the metal grate back over the hatch.

"Hey! Hey!" I yelled. "I'm still under here!"

The Boy didn't stop. Instead, he placed a trashcan in front of the grate, enshrouding the entire crawlspace in darkness and trapping me inside.

"Hey! I need you to move that!" I screamed. No response. I raised my fist as high as possible and punched the floor above me to hopefully get Tom’s attention. That was a mistake, as I managed to punch straight into an old nail. I felt it puncture in between my knuckles. The pain was instant, and I let out a howl.

I shook my hand and swore a blue streak. I reached up with my other hand, felt the tip of the nail I had managed to punch, and found a flat spot next to it. I banged hard on the floor and yelled again for some help. Nobody responded. Not at first.

Then I heard someone chuckle under the house.

I couldn't locate where it had come from because it sounded like it was all around me. I swung my light around as best as I could but didn't see anything. No glowing eyes, nothing. I inched forward a bit, and someone laughed again – this time, it was to my right. I turned my light in that direction and saw a sudden flood of light fill the space under the house.

"What the hell?" I said, my desire to leave overtaken by a desire to know what was unfolding next to me.

A pair of kid legs dropped down from the hole in the floor. I realized then that the hole must be an interior crawlspace. The kid had blocked off the metal grate and opened this hatch for some reason. While he dropped his legs down, he didn't move any further.

"Hey, you have to open that metal grate," I yelled. "I don't want to be trapped down here."

"They told me they needed you," he said, followed by a slight chuckle.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" I said, not caring that I was talking to a child. "Open the goddamn grate!"

"The shadows are approaching," he said, pulling himself back into the house. He placed the lid back on the hole, and I was trapped in the dark again. I cursed to myself and started pounding on the floor again.

"Hey! Someone come help me!"

That's when I felt something run across my legs. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It didn't feel like the tiny claws of a passing rat. It was cold to the touch, but as it hit my skin, I felt a burn in my bones. It's hard to explain, but I felt both extremes simultaneously. Whatever it was skittered off into the darkness of the other side of the crawl space.

The kid started laughing again, which brought me back to reality. I army crawled as fast as I could to the grate. I balled up my fist and punched in the middle of the metal. The blow knocked the old nails out of the wall, and the grate broke up. I was about to push away the garbage can when it suddenly wheeled out of the way.

I saw Tom's legs standing there.

"You okay?" he asked, concern in his voice.

I got out from under the house so fast that I left a me-sized dirt cloud in my place. Once out, I shook my body loose as if I had things crawling all over me. Tom watched but didn't say anything at first. We finally locked eyes, and he could see the rage, fear, and confusion on my face. He wisely waited until I spoke first.

"What the hell is wrong with your kid? He blocked me under there and taunted me from the indoor crawlspace."

"What are you talking about?"

"He told me the shadow people or something were watching, and then he blocked me under the house!"

Tom's face twisted up into confusion. "I...I don't understand."

"I can't make it any simpler, Tom!" I screamed, letting unprofessionalism take root.

"I don't have a kid."

It hit me like an Ali right cross. My vision got dizzy, and I struggled to catch my breath. I stared at his face, looking for the sign of a lie or a joke, but he was as stone-faced as an Easter Island statue. After a beat, I found my sense again. "I heard you talking to him in the living room when I was under the house."

"One, I was on a phone call. Two, are you spying on me? What the hell, man?"

"I wasn't spying, and you weren't on the phone," I said. I also heard you talking to your wife. She asked you if she could show her face or something."

"I don't have a wife either."

I shook my head. "I fucking saw them in the backyard! They were staring at the fence!"

Tom paused and cocked his head to the side. When he spoke, it was softly, trying to calm me down. "Are you...did you have a few drinks before the appointment? Or a pill or something? No judging – I know pill heads. I won't report you or anything, but I understand if you need to come back tomorrow with a clearer head."

"I'm sober," I said, gritting my teeth. "But I know what I saw. What I heard."

"As the tree said to the lumberjack, I'm stumped," Tom said. "You look a little flush. You want a bottle of water or something? I can show you I'm here all alone."

My adrenaline had seeped out of my body, and I was starting to feel like myself again. I nodded at Tom, and he smiled. "I'll go grab you one. Do you want to come into the AC?"

"No, I'm okay. I need to double-check the connection to the pedestal."

"Sure. Be bright back," Tom said as he walked off.

But I had no intention of checking the connections. I was going to check on Tom. I didn't believe him at all. Something weird was going on, and I needed to know what. As soon as he turned the corner around the house, I broke out my flashlight and headed back to the crawlspace.

I dropped to the ground and shone my beam into the darkness. Something had crawled on me, and I wanted to see what it was. I moved my light into every section of the crawlspace but saw no eyes glowing back at me.

"If you're under there, call back."

There was nothing. I was starting to feel like a paranoid idiot. I called out once again just to be sure, but again, nothing called back. I shut off my light and sighed. I started pushing myself back to my feet when I heard a faint woman's voice call out, "Can we show our faces now?"

"Not yet," someone hissed from the trees above me. I snapped my head up, expecting to see someone hanging on a branch over my head, but I just saw green leaves.

"Can we show our faces now?" It was the Boy. It sounded like he was on the roof. I shielded my eyes and glanced at the roof but didn't see him.

"No. He's not ready yet," someone whispered in my ear. I snapped around, throwing a punch as I did, only to slam my fist into the fence. I felt one of my knuckles crack as it hit the wood, and the pain shot up my arm like lightning. Within seconds, my hand started to puff up, and blood dripped out the wounds.

The Boy chuckled again. It came from under the house. I looked down at the grate and saw his legs disappear into the darkness.

"Hey!" I called and dropped to the ground. I pulled out my flashlight and shone into the darkness again. I was confident I'd see him, but he wasn't there. Nobody was.

I sat up and felt goosebumps turn my arms into braille. I glanced over to the corner of the house and was surprised to see the disappearing hemline of the faded blue dress. I rushed over to the corner and didn't see the Woman. I saw Tom with a bottle of water.

"You okay?"

"Where did that woman go?" I asked, my voice panicking. "She was just here."

"Sir, do you need me to call your boss for you? You're starting to scare me."

"What's up with this house? Is it haunted?"

Tom started laughing. "I hope not. I just moved in. I'd hate to have roommates again, especially ones who leave ectoplasm all over the place."

As I stared at him, I saw the Woman and the Boy emerge from the other corner of the house. They looked up on the roof, their faces obscured by their hands and the sun. I pointed a finger at them and screamed, "They're right there!"

Tom spun around and looked, but there wasn't anything there. He turned back to me, not sure what to say. Instead, he handed me the bottle of water. "I gotta be honest. I didn't see anything. Drink the water...you might have heat stroke."

I threw the bottle on the ground. "I don't have fucking heat stroke. I have a man that's lying about these things." I got close to him. "What did you have planned for me? Why do they keep asking to show their faces?"

"I don't," he said, but I didn't stay to hear him finish his thought. I walked right past him and turned the corner of the house. As I did, I saw the blue hem disappear through the door that led to the kitchen. I followed right behind her.

I walked into the house, which was as silent as a corpse. The Woman and Boy were nowhere to be seen. "Hello?" I called out. "I just saw you guys walk in here. Where are you?"

The door behind me opened up. Tom walked in, his face reddening with anger. "You can't just walk into my house."

"I saw them walk in. Where are they?"

"I keep telling you, it's just me and you here. Now, if you want to finish your work…."

I walked away from him and headed toward the bedroom where I had seen the Boy standing. I wanted to check that crawl space. The room was empty, not even a moving box in there, so finding the hatch that led under the house was easy. I went into the closet and pried the hatch open.

Tom entered the room behind me, more confused now than angry. "I don't want a line run through here."

"The Boy was standing in this spot. I saw his legs. I spoke to him. He told me the shadows needed me for something." I glared down into the darkness under the house. Despite Tom's feigned declarations that there wasn't another person in the house, I knew he wasn't being honest.

"Okay, I'm pretty sure you're back on pills and in the middle of a delusion," he said.

"How did you know I had a pill addiction?"

"The way you're acting, it wasn't a hard guess."

"I'm sober, but I did have a problem with pills. I never told you. I don't tell anyone."

Tom stood there, confused about how to answer. I stood up and stared him down. He looked away, but I didn't move my gaze. "Who are you? Who put you up to this? Was it Rory? He trying to get me fired?"

Tom's shoulders sagged. "You got me," he said. "Rory hired me to get you in trouble. I'm... I'm sorry. He offered me free cable for a year and assured me you were a bad guy and, well…. I'm weak."

"That's really fuc…," I stopped. "You're lying. Right now. You're lying. Why?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something dash past the open crawlspace hatch. I turned to the hatch opening and then back to Tom.

"Are you trying to stop me from looking in there?"

He didn't respond.

"What's under there?"

"He is," he said. "The Boy. He hides under there all the time. He has...friends down there."

"The shadow people?"

Tom shrugged, "What he calls them. I call them a menace. Impossible to get my work done with them causing a racket."

"What work?"

"Things you'd never understand in a million years," he said, "Things beyond your brain's capacity to imagine. Things that will help usher in a new world. Your kind's time is coming to a close. My work represents the new order."

I stared at him. I wasn't sure if I should run away or punch his lights out. Instead, I just spat out, "Bro, what the fuck?"

"Can we show our faces now?" the Boy called out from under the house.

I looked down at the hatch and then back at Tom. He nodded toward the opening. "Do you want to see your future?"

"Fuck it," I said. I got down, grabbed the sides of the opening, and lowered my head under the house.

I kept my eyes closed for a second, assuming I'd either see something horrifying or something would hit me in the face. When nothing struck me, I opened my eyes. It was dark, and I couldn't make out anything.

"There's nothing under here," I said.

"Can we show our faces now?" said the Boy from somewhere under the house.

"Show him," Tom said.

I sat back up, grabbed my flashlight from my pocket, and flipped it on. I looked at Tom, "If you try anything, so help me, God."

Tom just smiled. I looked back down at the hatch and sighed. I was suddenly hit with a bolt of common sense. What was I doing? My internal alarms were going off and I was ignoring them. Curiosity had gotten me this far, but my fight instincts were starting to lose to my flight. No job was worth this.

"Man, fuck this," I said, reversing course and standing. I turned to confront Tom, but he was gone. I hadn't heard him leave, but there wasn't a trace of him there. "Tom? Where the hell are you?"

He didn't respond, and I decided that I had hit my "weird shit" quota for the day. I closed the closet door and headed back into the living room to grab my gear. I'd call dispatch and tell them someone else had to come out and finish the….

The wood floor cracked, splintered, and gave way when I put my weight on it. I fell through the floor and landed with a thud on the dirt in the crawl space. On the way down, I hit my ribs on a crossbeam and heard them crack and knock the wind out of me. As I lay on the dirt, writhing in pain, my lungs did their damnedest to find a breath. It couldn't, and my vision started to blur at the edges. For a fleeting few seconds, I envisioned my death on a dirty crawlspace floor. It wasn’t comforting.

I rolled onto my back and finally took in a massive gulp of life-saving air. The blurring vision subsided, and all that remained was the aching pain of a busted rib. My muscles around my rib cage spasmed and pulled tight against my lungs. After the initial big breath, I could only take shallow gulps because the pain was searing.

I lay there for a few seconds, collecting my thoughts, when I felt something skitter across my legs again. I kicked out of instinct but didn't hit anything. Instead, I heard the chuckling again. My flashlight had fallen out of my hand. I found it and turned it on.

This time, I did see something. Pairs of eyes—dozens of them—watched me from the darkness that surrounded me. These weren't possums or rats. I never hoped to find a raccoon under the house more than I did at that moment. I knew whatever these things were, they weren't natural and they wanted to harm me.

"Still want to know what they plan to do to you?" the Boy asked from behind me.

I turned around and shone the light where I heard the voice. The Boy was lying on his stomach, his face looking down at the ground. All I could see at the moment was the top of his head.

"Wha-what's going on?" I said, the light bouncing from my trembling hand.

"I can show you my face now," he said. He raised his head and….

The Boy didn't have a face.

He had the space for a face, but there were no features whatsoever—nothing but pale pink skin pulled tight across the front of his head. At that moment, the image of a wooden art figure came to me.

“What the ever-loving fuck?"

"Want to see something really scary?" the Boy said, his lack of a mouth not stopping him from speaking. He raised himself onto the tips of his fingers and toes and started skittering toward me, laughing as he did.

I clambered out of the crawlspace as fast as my battered body could carry me. I got out of the hole and onto my feet and let out an ear-splitting scream.

The Woman in the blue dress was standing next to the hole in the floor. Like the Boy, she didn't have a face either. But I could feel her eyes on me. Looking into my mind. Into my soul. She stepped toward me, and I bolted for the front door.

I whipped it open and was greeted by Tom standing there, blocking me. He grinned. "Leaving so soon?"

"What the hell is going on?" I asked, checking behind me to see if the Woman was still coming toward me. She was, and she was gaining quickly.

"Can we show our faces now?" he asked with a laugh.

I turned back to Tom and nearly had a heart attack. His face was gone. I could feel my heart beating in my ears. My legs were jelly, but I kept myself propped up. The human desire to survive can perform miracles.

Tom reached out and pointed at a spot on the far side of the living room wall. I turned and saw three skinned human faces hanging from old nails: a man, a woman, and a boy.

"You're turn to join us," Tom whispered. But the voice wasn't said out loud. It came from inside my own head. "We can always use another body around here."

My brain clicked into action and sent an all-points bulletin to my limbs. The message was simple and actionable – "Get the fuck going, you dope."

I felt my hand ball into a fist and spun. It landed where Tom's nose would've been. It should've knocked him back, causing him to stumble and giving me time to run. But that didn't happen. Instead, his face pulled apart, letting my fist slide right through. It closed on my arm, trapping me.

I yanked and yanked, but my arm would not dislodge from his face. I glanced back and saw the Woman nearly next to me. The Boy was climbing out of the hole, moving like a cockroach. I looked back at the wall and saw Tom's hanging face silently laughing.

Something about those silent laughs cut me to my core. They were laughing because Tom thought he had outsmarted me. He had beat me. That my face would soon be hanging on the wall next to theirs. I wasn't going to let that happen.

I saw a loose brick on the walkway, and a plan flashed in my mind. I yanked hard, sending Tom stuttering forward enough for me to wrap my finger around the brick. I brought it up and sent it towards his face. As expected, the face parted again, and the brick flew through easily.

But as soon as the face curtains pulled aside, I yanked my arm free. With my limb free, I took off in a mad sprint for my truck. I got inside and fumbled my keys as I tried to start the engine. Tom, the Woman, and the Boy stood together at the front door and watched as I got the van going and rocketed down the street.

I drove like a madman for ten minutes, trying to put as much space between me and the house as possible. I finally stopped at a gas station to collect my thoughts. I was jittery, and my mind was swimming, but I was also relieved. I had gotten out.

I collected myself and called Denise to tell her I couldn't finish the installation at 981 Maple Street. I was going to suggest we cancel the order and not send another installer there. That's when the conversation took a turn I wasn't expecting.

"Where have you been? You were supposed to be off an hour ago," Denise said when I called her.

"I was trying to finish the install at 981 Maple, the one you sent me to."

"I didn't send you anywhere," she said. "With how insane Rory is being about overtime hours, I'm trying to keep everyone below the threshold."

"What are you talking about? You called and asked me. You don't remember," I said, a bad feeling growing in the pit of my stomach.

She gave me a nervous chuckle, "I swear I didn't. Are you feeling okay? You gotta come back. People are waiting for the van."

"I can prove it. I have a record of you calling me on my phone," I said. I opened my call log, and my jaw dropped. There was no call from Denise. She was telling me the truth. But if she didn't call me, who did?

"Rory wants to talk to you when you get in. I wouldn't mess around, he seems pissed" she said before hanging up.

I haven't moved since. I wanted to write this down because I felt like it needed to be recorded. Something supremely fucked up is happening at 981 Maple Street. It nearly got me. It still might. To think, on any other typical day, a surprise conversation with my boss would be the scariest thing that could happen to me. Funny how seeing a faceless ghoul can prioritize your problems. If you're hired to do work there, turn it down. Trust me, it's not worth it.

"Can we show our faces now?" they asked. "Fuck no," should be the only response.

0 Comments
2024/06/09
18:03 UTC

20

Bubble Bath

As part of my evening routine, I get my five-year-old daughter Sophie ready for her bath. I bought some new soap from a farmer’s market on the other side of town claiming to make extra bubbles, and it’s pink, so I know she’ll love it. I fill the tub with warm water and pour it in. Wow, this stuff is really pink and the bubbles nearly spill out of the tub. I’m happy with my purchase, feeling like a proud mom.

I gently plop Sophie in the colorful water as she hums softly, looking up and smiling at me.

“What song are you singing, sweetie?”

“I made it up.” She says with a grin.

She used to hate taking a bath, but she’s really come around on them this year. She splashes around having fun, and I realize I should get her toys for her.

I turn away for a second to open the cabinet, grabbing some foam alphabet letters she likes. I’m glad she likes them since they’re educational as well. Gently, I fish out a rubber ducky from the cabinet for good measure, too. Turning back to face my daughter, I notice the splashing has stopped. She’s no longer in the tub.

A wave of dread washes over me. How could this happen? I just saw her in my periphery two seconds ago. She couldn’t have left my sight. I would have heard her. I’m in panic mode now, living out every mom’s worst nightmare. I call out to her, when she suddenly submerges from seemingly thin air.

What the hell?! Something is not right. She’s somehow back in the tub. Only she’s almost unrecognizable. I gasp. I can see right through her and she has a pink hue to her. How is this possible? I flail my arms, reaching out to grab her. Sophie’s skin is slippery to the touch like slime. I recoil in horror.

“Baby?”

She stares back at me with a frightened look on her face, before slipping back into depths of the tub.

“No, come back! Sophie! Baby!!”

I violently dunk my hands into the tub, reaching for her yet only grabbing bubbles. Now sobbing, I throw my hands on my head. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. Why is this happening?

“Mommy?” she says, muffled by the water.

I let out a loud gasp.

“Baby?! Are you ok?! Mommy’s here!” I stare in sheer horror as my daughter returns to the surface. Somehow, her entire body is now made of bubbles, except for her eyes and internal organs, which now float amongst these bubbles.

“Mommy, what’s happening?!” she says, crying, though I can’t see the tears. The more she cries, the more the bubbles pop. I try my absolute hardest to console her, desperately trying to get the bubbles to stop popping.

“Baby, it’s ok I’m here.” I say crying so hard snot runs down my face. I scream. The bubbles won’t stop popping. They won’t stop.

0 Comments
2024/06/09
16:29 UTC

2

I took a cab in the middle of the night. What happened, changed my life.

I woke up at 2 a.m., feeling ravenous. The hunger I was feeling was powerful, I couldn’t sleep I just had to get something to eat. 

I went downstairs to my disgusting kitchen and opened the fridge.

“Damn,” I thought

The only thing I had in my fridge was a bottle of expired milk. At that time I didn’t know it was expired, so I drank it. 

The dreadful feeling of extreme hunger tortured me, I just had to get some food.

I unlocked my phone and ordered a cab. The driver swiftly arrived at my house which did not surprise me, since it was the middle of the night. I walked up to the car and saw a man. Almost everything about this individual was boring and average, but the one thing that stood out was his eyes. They looked dead and were red, he looked like he had just smoked weed. 

At first, I was reluctant about getting in, but I ignored that feeling and got inside the car. 

“Take me anywhere they food,” I said to the creepy man

“Well, what are you looking for?” he answered.

“Anything,” I said

“What about getting something exotic” the man uttered in a terrifying voice

That sentence horrified me. It was the way he said it that erected that grim feeling in me. After a second I realized that it was probably nothing and that I was making stuff up. 

“Yeah, sure” I answered unenthusiastically.

“Great!” The man yelled 

That blaring yell almost made me faint, it was all because I got drunk last night playing a drinking game with my friends. The man accelerated and reached a great speed in seconds, I was terrified.

We got about 5 miles from my house before I started getting even more creeped out. Why did we have to drive so far to get to this restaurant? I kept asking the guy about the ETA of this ride, but he kept saying the same thing

“We’ll be there soon” the creep kept on saying

I was beginning to spiral. It only took me a few minutes to start thinking that he was going to kill me. That’s when I got a phone call. It was a private number, I usually don’t answer calls from these types of numbers, but I had to do something to get this situation off my mind. 

I answered the call.

“Where the fuck are you! I’ve been waiting for you for 30 minutes. You better believe I'm going to be charging you for this!“ The unknown man screamed

“What are you talking about, I got into a car, like 40 minutes ago” I replied

“I don’t know what the hell you’re on about, but I'm out of here!” he yelled

He hung up. 

“Can we please pull over??” I asked the driver

“No” he answered formidably 

“What’s going on here? I just got a call from an unknown number insisting that he was my driver” I replied

“Well, he probably was,” said the impostor 

That sentence sent shivers down my spine. I completely forgot about my esurient state; the only thing on my mind was getting out of this vehicle. 

The only possible resolution at that moment was to attack the man and take control of the car.

I punched him in the head, he didn’t take it well. He lost control of the car and we hit a tree. Thankfully I was fully conscious and I wasn’t injured. I looked at where the driver was sitting and thought he passed out. I was ecstatic and I thought that I was finally free, but that’s when he suddenly woke up and stabbed me in the neck with a syringe. 

I passed out almost immediately.

 

After I woke up I started puking profusely, it was probably caused by either the expired milk I drank earlier or the mixture of chemicals in the syringe. I started panicking, thinking I was going to die, but then the lights came on. 

“I know you wanted to try something exotic, so I made you something I knew you would love,” said a familiar voice.

Suddenly the lights turned on, I looked down and screamed with horror.

“My legs! They’re fucking gone!” 

The sadistic monster laughed with glee.

“Exactly, they're gone and that’s what you’re going to eat tonight” 

“You disgusting creep, how dare you!” 

He didn’t respond. He just left.

I sat there, stuck for hours, crying thinking about stuff I could never do again because of this psychopath. 

After hours of mental torture, he came back 

‘I am going to love this” said the sadist

He walked over to me and put a blindfold around my eyes. He then unblocked the wheels on the wheelchair I was sitting on and rolled me over to a different room. 

The man took off the blindfold and what I saw deeply disgusted me. I saw a table full of different dishes that mainly consisted of meat from my legs. I was surprised that I didn’t hurl. 

I was frightened, but that was only the beginning. 

I started yelling, telling the guy I wasn’t going to eat my legs, but in that moment he whipped out a pistol and told me that if I didn’t eat it he was going to kill me and my entire family. 

I reluctantly started eating one of the dishes and ate until I finally saw the look of satisfaction on his face. I told him I was done eating, he seemed pleased with what he had accomplished.

After he put all the dishes back in a different room he walked up to me, put a knife on the table, put a gun in his mouth, and killed himself. The sound of the gun and the sight of a man's brain being splattered all over the wall scarred me for life.

I then remembered that he had left a knife on the table. I pulled myself to the edge of the surface, turned myself around, and grabbed the knife. I was lucky that he had only tied my chest to the chair, but thinking about it now I am pretty sure he did it on purpose. 

After I escaped from the chair I crawled over to the exit. After I got out the door I saw that this place was in the middle of a city, the second I came out there was a swarm of people surrounding me.

The one thing that I wasn’t expecting was that I deeply enjoyed eating human flesh. It was more like love. I was obsessed instantly. I never considered myself a bad person and I still don’t think I am, I just have needs that most people don’t and I think that is fine. Sure, most people would think I am a monster, but all of them have never tried the beauty that is human flesh. I want to end this by thanking my unexpected driver, for introducing me to this wonderful world of cannibalism.

2 Comments
2024/06/09
16:25 UTC

11

Pigment dispersion syndrome

After recently coming across a Reddit post regarding Pigment dispersion syndrome, a condition which results in the pigment of your iris slowly releasing, revealing the pale blue layer beneath, along with a host of other less than desirable symptoms including atrophy of the iris, blurred vision, and even glaucoma, this post triggered a memory within me, long since forgotten. So long ago that I’m uncertain as to whether it was a dream or simply the product of a child’s wild imagination.

I must’ve been four at the time. My parents divorced 2 years after my birth, and I had been at my father’s house for the weekend. It was summer, and I’d been running around the yard enjoying the tranquility of a warm summer day in the countryside, much like many of us kids did in the 90’s before the advent of iPads and other electronic distractions. I’d been collecting different kinds of bugs around the yard which had led me into the garden in the far corner of the yard. That’s when I spotted it—a small white mass within the confines of a bush. At first, it appeared to be a stone of some sort, before I noticed its octopus-like tentacles emerge from beneath it, pulsating with an otherworldly type of energy. Two large blue eyes fluttered open on the mass, glistening in the sunlight. It appeared to be studying me with its silent eyes. Being a curious child, I began to step towards it. And then it happened—the creature morphed before my eyes, taking the form of a majestic bird, one I’d never seen before, its feathers shimmering in the breeze. I was mesmerized, unable to tear my gaze away as it transformed again, this time into a white cat, its eyes still that piercing shade of blue. My four-year-old mind raced with questions, but before I could make sense of it all, my father called me from the house, snapping me out of my trance. I ran back to the house, turning back once more to peer at the creature, its movements fluid and unnatural.

Upon entering the house, my dad had prepared lunch as I watched TV. Slowly, my mind began to drift from the strange creature I’d encountered in the garden. After lunch, my father told me he had to run out for a quick errand, retrieving some tools from down the road from a neighbor he’d lent them to. He said he’d only be gone for fifteen minutes and asked if I’d like to come along. Being all but transfixed on whatever show had been playing on the TV, I asked to stay home. Being only a quick errand, my father relented and set off through the front door.

Minutes turned to hours, and still, there was no sign of his return. Anxiety began to gnaw at my insides as I paced the living room, waiting for the sounds of his footsteps. It had begun to get dark outside when finally he returned home, strangely entering the house through the back door. I breathed a sigh of relief—until I noticed his eyes. Those once warm brown eyes, now a chilling shade of blue.

1 Comment
2024/06/09
16:21 UTC

6

Nightclub

It was a beautiful summer day. I decided to try my luck again. So, armed with a CD sample, I went to the record label. I was full of hope. It was in vain, as I was rejected again.

I decided to go to a night club. I felt like having something to drink to forget about the day. So I got there and was seated. I ordered a beer. I watched people dance. People talk.

Suddenly, I saw a man in a suit. He was good looking. He came and politely asked if he could take a seat next to me.

I agreed. I was focusing on my drink and cigarette. I wanted to offer him a cigarette, but he refused.

"Smoking kills!" said the man. "Make sure you give up smoking once you get signed" continued the man.

"What do you mean?" I asked. We were interrupted by the arrival of a famous rock star. The star entered the scene, with his bodyguards and thred young ladies.

The star, whom I knew and listened to approached the man at my table. The star kissed his hand. The man smiled.

I was speechless. The star went to a private lounge and was soon attended by an army of waiters.

"Would you like to be just like him?" the guy asked.

"Sir, are you a music manager?" I asked. The man smiled and spoke in a strange language, one I couldn't understand.

I didn't understand. But I really wanted to be a music star.

I finished my drink. The man asked me to order another one. And another. I noticed he never ordered anything. He never drank or smoked at all.

Two gangsters entered the club. The man told me not to buy any drugs from them.

And sure enough, they tried to sell me some crack. I refused. One of them pulled a knife. The two told me to give them everything I got.

Calmly, the man got on his feet. "What are you looking at?" the thugs asked him.

The thugs started to cough. Their coughing soon turned very violent. One of them puked blood.

They left us, still coughing. They hit the floor, coughing and convulsing. An ambulance was called.

"If you were a famous singer, like you dream of, none of them would ever dare to disturb you again." the man said.

"They rejected me yet again." I replied. I also told him I was seriously thinking about quitting this idea. The man told me I should pursue my dream. He told me the only thing I needed was a little help.

"Can you help me? Do you know someone?" I asked. The man nodded and made eye contact. "Do you want me to help you get famous?" he asked.

"Y.. Yes!" I replied. His eyes were beautiful beyond words. "I can turn you into a big star, but you will need to listen to me, ok?"

"Yes, sure" I replied.

Suddenly, a doctor from the ambulance came and asked: "Sir, are you ok? Who are you talking to?"

I looked at the man, but he was gone. There was no one at the table. The man was gone.

"Come with me, sir!" said the doctor. The man appeared again. I looked at him. He produced, God knows where from, a contract.

"All you ever dreamed of will soon become real. Fame, money, mansions, the girl of your dream..." said the man.

The contract was filled with symbols. I instinctively knew what it was, who it was, and what I needed to do.

The "man" kept eye contact.

"Holidays around the world, billions screaming your name, power, fame.." "Sir!" screamed the doctor and then violently pulled me by my hand.

The man got on his feet, and opened his mouth and I saw black scorpions pouring out of his mouth and he screamed.

The doctor dragged me out of the nightclub. I felt hit. I almost fell to the ground. The doctor helped me and took me to the ambulance.

I noticed my body was covered in scratches. I was bleeding. They rushed me to the hospital.

I slept a lot. I woke up at the hospital. Was it all a dream? Did I just drink too much? Yeah, that must be it... I had too much alcohol, that's all.

But as I convinced myself none of this was real and I just got very drunk, my eyes saw it on the nearby table. The contract.

10 Comments
2024/06/09
15:40 UTC

50

I'm blind, and operate an elevator for a living. My passengers keep disappearing.

Last year, when my ten year prison "stint" was finally up, and I re-entered society, I encountered some... obstacles.

Obstacles like.. Lack of upward mobility. Prejudices and stigmas. Wages and earnings lower than the general population. Undesirable and oftentimes dangerous jobs. And lack of protection from wrongful termination.

Not to mention, an already tough job market, and the fact that my parole required that I maintain steady employment, or face re-incarceration.

Which is why, when I finally got a job offer, after six months of aggressive job hunting, I jumped at the opportunity, giving absolutely no fucks as to how I was actually making ends meet.

"Ever operate a freight elevator before?" Mr. Winfred, the manager of "The Cornelius" and my new boss, asked me my first day on the job.

"No, sir." I replied honestly, as I ran my fingers along the doors of the antiquated contraption, the only remaining evidence of the recently renovated luxury building's ancient past.

"Normally these old things aren't used for passengers, but the building's pretentious designers thought it might add a certain charm to its otherwise sterile decor. Which is where you come in." He continued, as I heard him slide open the freight elevator's outside doors...

SLAM!

...Followed by its scissored metal inside doors.

SCREEEECH!

I heard Mr. Winfred step inside and, using my cane, scanned the interior of the rather large elevator, which must have been eight feet by eight feet, and followed him in.

Instantly, my nose was hit with an overpowering, musty scent, like the kind you'd smell in a basement, combined with your grandmother's attic.

He then closed both doors behind us.

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

"Now this here." Mr Winfred added, taking my hand and placing it on the handle of a lever, "Is how you move the elevator from floor to floor. Up for up. Down for down. You'll hear a click when you reach each floor, which will be helpful for someone like yourself." He said, clearly calling attention to the fact that I'm blind.

Someone like myself? I scoffed internally. You ignorant, entitled piece of shit.

Truth is, I've always had a bit of a short fuse. Which I guess, looking back on it, is what got me into prison in the first place.

But in my ten years of incarceration, I was given tools to combat my anger issues. Tools like reminding myself that it was nothing new. Assholes like him were always dropping unintentional microaggressions. It had been something I'd grown used to, and given my probation, wasn't a battle worth fighting.

"Yes sir." I replied through my teeth, as I begrudgingly swallowed my pride.

"Now, why don't you spend today practicing. Our first residents don't move in until tomorrow."

In just a matter of a week or so, as the doors of "The Cornelius" opened to its new tenants, I learned pretty much everything I needed to know about the job.

Said tenants were rich. Very rich. And most of them acted as such. Entitled. Obnoxious. Holier than thou. Especially given my own social class. But a few of them weren't so bad, and tipped well.

Mr. Winfred's assistant, Jane, was a lovely human being. Patient, kind, thoughtful, understanding. Especially when compared to both the building's uptight residents, and Mr. Winfred himself. It had been years since I had dated, and the very thought of meeting a partner stressed me out to no end, but if I was to find someone, I hoped she'd be like Jane.

The elevator didn't open on the basement level. As I'd learned countless times, it was possible to go there, but the doors simply wouldn't open.

The old freight itself was finicky as fuck. Stop the lever one second too early, or one second too late, and when the doors open, you're halfway between a floor. But eventually, I got used to it, to the point where most of the building's tenants assumed the role of freight operator had always been my job. And when you're good at your service job, and do it with a smile on your face, the tips start flowing.

And so, all was well for the first couple weeks on the job...

...A seemingly refreshing return to normalcy, after ten long years...

...Until...

...The disappearances started happening.

I was just arriving to work one day, when I heard about the first disappearance.

"Have you seen - I mean, have you been in contact with Elizabeth Davis? From room 401?" Mr. Winfred asked, after correcting himself. Something he did often, which continued to annoy me.

"Um." I replied, unsure of where he was going with the question. "Not since yesterday. She got back from work, and I brought her up to the fourth floor. But come to think of it, I don't think she rode the elevator down this morning. Like she usually does."

"Interesting." My boss replied, before continuing. "She disappeared yesterday."

"Disappeared?" I asked.

"Yeah, husband said she never came home last night."

"Hmm. Well I know for certain that I brought her to the fourth floor. Did you check the hallway surveillance footage?"

"Not yet. Unfortunately the building inspector's in today, and I won't have time until tomorrow. Let's hope she just went somewhere, or got lost. In the meantime, keep an eye out - I mean - just, let me know if you hear of anything suspicious."

"Yes sir," I replied, once again resisting the urge to snap on him, before heading for the elevator, where I started the day's shift.

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

That day, I did my best to do as Mr. Winfred had asked, and listened carefully for any signs of mischief.

But the day went on, business as usual and by the end of the day, I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary...

...Except... The only thing of note was a difference in Mr. Lawrence's demeanor. The tenant of room 805, he was a salesman, and acted like one. When I say the man could talk, the man could talk. To a point where whenever he was a passenger in the old freight elevator, despite the long ride from floor one to floor eight, I'd rarely have a chance to get a word in.

But this time... was different. This time, Mr. Lawrence entered the elevator chatting away, just as he always did. But about halfway up, he just... stopped talking. And the thing about my job is, if someone chooses to talk or not talk, it's their decision, and none of my business. So I left him alone, and when we reached the eighth floor, I simply said goodnight. To which, he didn't reply.

Must be going through something. I thought to myself, having been unable to truly get a sense of his composure, without being able to see him, before closing the double doors and heading off to help the next passenger.

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

Later that night, Mr. Winfred called me into his office, and asked me to take a seat beside his assistant, Jane.

"Mr. Owens. Are you aware of the situation that's going on in the building?" He asked, in an interrogating tone.

"Um... yes, you told me about it yesterday. The disappearance, sir." I replied.

"Disappearances now. Plural." He said sternly.

"But... who else?" I asked.

"Mr. Lawrence."

"What happened to him?"

"Well, to be honest, I was hoping you could tell me. Cause much like Ms.Davis, the last place he was seen was going into your elevator."

"What about the cameras in the hallways?"

"I'm afraid that after reviewing the tapes, after stepping into your elevator, neither Ms. Davis, or Mr Lawrence, ever stepped out."

"But that's... not... possible."

"Mr. Owens. I'm going to give you an opportunity. Is there anything you want to tell me? I know you have a sordid past."

"Mr. Winfred!" Jane interjected, clearly offended by his words, and implications.

"Quiet, Jane." He scolded, before continuing. "Answer the question, Mr. Owens."

I didn't know what to say. I was so shocked, so flustered, by what he was implying, that I simply froze.

"Mr. Owens!" He screamed.

"I... I... don't know!" I cried out, as I heard Jane squirm in her seat. "I'm telling you, the last time I heard from either of them, I took them up to their floors. But I'm-"

"You're what! Blind?"

"Well, yes sir. I don't see what goes on inside the elevator. I just let them on and off."

"Mr. Owens. If they got on your elevator, and never got off, where could they possibly have gone?"

"I... don't... know." I replied, at this point, wanting to grab him by force, demand that he never speak to me that way again, and scream out my innocence. But my next parole appointment was the following week, so once again, all I could do was just bite my tongue.

Mr. Winfred paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and regained his composure.

"Mr. Owens, I could go to the police now. And that would be very bad for someone like you."

Fuck. He's right. I thought to myself, realizing, that if he went to the police, and I was even remotely suspected of what was going on in the building, it was back to prison for me.

"But lucky for you," He continued, "There are things going on in the building that I wouldn't want to bring unwanted attention to. And for that reason, I have decided not to go to the police... yet. But consider this a warning. And know, that I have a repairman coming first thing tomorrow morning to install a security camera inside the freight elevator, so I can see what exactly it is that you're doing in there."

I had know idea how to react to Mr. Winfred's continued accusations. So I simply remained silent.

"Now get out of here and go home! We'll reconvene on this tomorrow." He said dismissively, before Jane walked me out of the room, down the hall, and outside the building, where I planned to return home for the night.

Fifteen minutes later, we were at a bar down the street, where Jane apparently frequented.

"But where could they possibly have gone?" I asked her, my hands trembling at both the thought of people disappearing in the elevator, and that it was happening under my watch.

"Thing is," Jane said, as she finished her beer. "There's something you should know about the building."

""The Cornelius"?"

"No, from before it was called that. It used to be a factory of some kind."

"Is that what Mr. Winfred was talking about when he said that there were things going on in the building? That he didn't want to bring unwanted attention to?"

"Well, yes and no. Yes, in a sense, that Mr. Winfred cut some corners, and rather than fully renovate the entire warehouse, he simply walled off entire sections of the old structure. Like the basement."

"And no?"

"No, in a sense, that even Mr. Winfred doesn't know what's really going on in the elevator. Sure, it'd be easy to pin it on you, especially with your criminal record - no offense... but even he knows that it's probably something... else."

"Something else?"

"See, that's where things get hazy. Because no one knows what exactly went on at the factory, before it became "The Cornelius." But rumors have it... it was laboratory of some kind, and some fucked up shit went on inside there."

"Like what?"

"That, my friend. I don't know. But what I do know is... I better be getting to bed."

"Fair enough. Well, thanks for the drink, and the support." I said with a smile, as we made our way out of the bar.

"Yeah, don't let Mr. Winfred get to you. And try not to worry too much."

Contrary to Jane's suggestion, that night I worried... a lot. About the disappearances, what might be causing them, whatever may have gone on in the factory, and most importantly, about everything getting pinned on me.

I couldn't fall asleep, tossing and turning in bed as my mind raced. And each time I finally passed out, I'd wake up in a panic attack, my heart pounding, short of breath and in a cold sweat.

But it didn't stop there. The uncomfortable feeling of terror and fear, accompanied by the vibrating sensation of adrenaline pumping through my body, remained well into the next morning, when I stepped back into the elevator, terrified by what might be going on inside there.

Please don't leave me alone in this fucking thing. I thought to myself.

And within a matter of minutes, my prayers were answered.

"How goes it?" The surveillance installation worker called out, his cheery disposition contrary to mine.

"Um... not too bad." I replied, lying through my teeth, as he stepped inside.

But after a minute or two of sharing the elevator with him, my fears lessened and my body relaxed, comforted by the positive conversation, and the metallic, clinking sounds of the installation.

Everything's okay. The doors are open. And he's talking. I thought to myself.

But eventually, the man finished installing the camera, and began wrapping up the job.

"Well, that's it! Camera's all installed and running now." He called out. "Let's just take the elevator for a spin and make sure we don't lose the signal."

"Yes, of course." I replied, before reaching for the double doors...

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

..And moving the lever up.

We started moving.

"Fascinating job, I must say, elevator operator. But I suppose you could say the same for mine."

"Pays the bills." I replied, feigning a chuckle.

If he's here, and he's talking, then I'm safe. I continued to reassure myself.

But a few minutes into our ascent, just like Mr. Lawrence... the man... suddenly stopped talking.

"Alright, looks like it's working fine. We can head back down and-"

SILENCE.

"Hello?" I asked.

But he didn't respond.

Fuck. I thought to myself, realizing that whatever caused Ms. Davis, and Mr. Lawrence, and seemingly now the repairman to disappear, could still be in the elevator with me.

Standing there, shaking, sweat rolling down my brow, I backed myself into the corner of the elevator, as I reached for the lever, pressed it down, and the elevator began to make its descent back to the ground floor.

When I finally reached the lobby...

DING!

I scrambled to open the doors...

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

...And darted out, gasping for air, expecting to find a safe haven.

But instead, all I heard was the sound of Mr. Winfred's voice. "Where is the repairman?"

A few minutes later, I was once again sitting in Mr. Winfred's office, next to Jane, this time attempting to explain what had happened.

"...And then he stopped talking! Just like Mr. Lawrence."

"You know what, Mr. Owens. I'm tired of your excuses. And now that we have a working camera in the elevator, it's time to find out what's really going on inside there." He threatened, as I heard him clicking away on his computer, clearly reviewing the footage.

"Please do!" I cried out, "I'm telling you, it's not me."

That's when... Mr. Winfred, and Jane, both went silent.

"Hello?" I called out, unable to see what was really going on. Given the fact that my passengers had recently been going silent, the thought crossed my mind that they too had disappeared, but I could still hear their breathing in the room. Breathing, that sounded like it was increasing rapidly...

...Until they broke the silence.

"Oh... my..." Jane said, struggling to catch her breath.

"That can't be. Let me rewind the tape." Mr. Winfred mumbled, the most scared I had ever heard him.

"What is it?" I asked, as they seemingly played back the video.

I would later find out from Jane that the footage would show myself and the repairman in the elevator, as a slithering, grotesque, humanoid figure, suddenly climbed down from the roof of the elevator, wrapped it's slimy arms around the repairman, then somehow hopped back out of the elevator, and pulled the man up with it. Leaving me standing there, completely unaware of what had just happened.

But in that moment, Mr. Winfred must have realized the... complications associated with reporting such a bizarre phenomenon, and instead decided to finally pin it on me.

"Mr. Owens, you shouldn't have done that!" He cried out.

"Mr. Winfred, what are you talking about?" Jane asked, "You and I just watched the same footage."

That's when I heard him drag a file to his computer's trash and delete it.

CRUNCH.

"Stay out of this, Jane. This man has killed three people in the elevator. I knew I shouldn't have hired an ex con!"

"But sir, I didn't-" I tried to reply, before he interrupted.

"Mr. Owens, I'm picking up the phone, and calling the police. I'd suggest you just stay put."

"But Mr. Winfred, I'm telling you, I didn't do anything!"

"Yes, is this 911? I'm the manager of "The Cornelius" and I'd like to report three murders in my building."

"We'd better go." I heard Jane say, as I felt her place her hand on my shoulder.

"And yes, I have reason to believe the killer is our elevator operator, an ex convict, who is sitting right in front of me."

"Come on, let's go!" Jane screamed, as she tugged at my shirt, I hopped up from my seat, and she led me out of the office, down the hall, and into... of all places... the old freight elevator, as she explained to me what she had seen on the surveillance tape.

SLAM!

SCREEEECH!

"Take us to the basement!" Jane called out.

"But the basement is walled off." I replied.

"Just do it!" She insisted, before I moved the lever down and the elevator began to move.

I spent the ride catching my breath, until we finally reached the basement level.

DING!

"Now what?" I asked.

But Jane didn't reply.

"Jane?"

Oh fuck. I thought to myself. The monster.

That's when I turned to the center of the freight elevator, where Jane had been standing, reached out into the unknown...

...And sure enough, felt the cold, slimy, skin of the creature, wrapped around Jane's face, preventing her from making a sound.

Not knowing what else to do, I gripped its disgusting appendages with both hands, and slowly pried it off Jane, as she let out a...

...SCREAM..

...And the monster's arm quickly slithered away, back up through the roof of the freight.

Jane dropped to the ground, coughing violently.

"You okay?" I asked her.

But rather than responding, she simply handed me something...

....I opened my fist, to find a pair of keys.

"The lock above the lever. Unlock it." She instructed, still coughing, as I felt around the lever, found the lock, inserted the key, and unlocked it.

CLICK.

"The doors. They should open now." Jane said, as she stood up, having finally caught her breath.

SCREEEECH!

SLAM!

We arrived in the dark basement to smell the same, musty odor from the freight elevator.

After her eyes adjusted and she scanned our surroundings, Jane informed me that this floor looked nothing like the other eight, newly renovated floors, with their modern feel and minimalistic designs.

Instead, the basement was a window into the building's former self, when it had been a factory. Its walls brick and crumbling, its floors concrete and cracked.

And scattered everywhere, were the dusty remnants of laboratory equipment. Devices, machines, tanks, most of which were destroyed, or disconnected, or both.

"What went on down here?" I asked.

"From the looks of it, something inhumane," Jane said, after she picked up a few tattered pieces of paper from one of the lab stations, and told me what was on it.

"The first page looks like some sort of a diagram, of a man being pumped with chemicals from tanks. And the second, a drawing... of the creature from the elevator. In pencil beside it, someone appears to have labeled it "The Silencer.""

Silencer. I thought to myself, before remembering that the creature seemed to always silence the sounds of its victims, and to have been repulsed by Jane's scream. At the same time, it had never bothered me in the elevator, as I tended to stand there in silence.

But before I could dwell too much on the thought, Jane interrupted.

"If you don't mind my asking. What did you go to prison for in the first place?" She asked.

"It's okay," I said, surprised she had waited this long to ask, before contemplating the best way to explain what had happened. "’Cause of my temper. Some guy was being a dick on the train platform. We got into a scuffle, and he accidentally fell into the tracks."

"Over what? Did he insult you? Your blindness?"

"No, I'm afraid not." I replied, "We were drunk... and arguing over... a basketball game, of all things. He was... my friend."

"Oh my God. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay."

Jane put her hand on my shoulder, and we stood there in silence for a moment...

...Until suddenly, we heard the sound of Mr. Winfred, and the police approaching, as they ran down what must have been a hidden set of stairs from the ground level to the basement.

"Come on, follow me!" Jane called out, as she took me by the hand and led me into what I'd soon discover was a labyrinthian network of old passages, while the police and Mr. Winfred both called out to us.

"This is the police! Put your hands on your head, and turn yourself in!"

"You're trapped, Mr. Owens! Just confess your crimes, and you'll simply go back to jail!"

We continued to run deeper and deeper into the passages, as our pursuers began to close in on us, their footsteps getting closer... and closer... and closer...

...Until suddenly, the sound of their footsteps was replaced by that of...

...SCREAMING...

...And they suddenly went...

...SILENT.

"What the?" Jane whispered.

"The creature." I whispered. "It must be down here."

That's when we hatched a plan.

Having found our way out of the labyrinth and back to the entrance of the laboratory, where we had arrived in the old freight elevator, I found myself standing alone, waiting, as I nervously tapped my cane on the basement floor, Jane having gone off on her own.

That's when I heard Mr. Winfred emerge from the passages, alone, and call out to me.

"Mr. Owens! There's nowhere to run! Even your beloved elevator is gone. You're cornered." He taunted, as I backed towards the elevator and tapped at it with my cane, its doors open, its shaft empty.

"What did you say?" I asked, encouraging him to talk louder.

"What are you, deaf now too?" The ignorant old man snapped back. "I said, you have nowhere to run!"

"I'm sorry, you'll have to forgive me," I said sarcastically, pointing to my ears. "Can you repeat that again?"

That's when Mr. Winfred began approaching and screamed, "You worthless, ex con! I knew I shouldn't have hired you in the first place! And now, you'll go back to where you belong!"

But suddenly...

...Mr. Winfred went SILENT...

...As the creature must have wrapped its slimy tentacles around his face.

That's when I seized the opportunity, ran over to Mr. Winfred, gripped the cold body of the creature, which was indeed wrapped around him, turned, and flung them both behind me, into the hollow elevator shaft...

SLAM!

...Before hitting the "Up" button on the wall, and calling the freight elevator down.

Suddenly, the gears of the elevator above could be heard turning away, and the machine began its quick descent down.

"Mr. Owens, no!" Mr. Winfred cried out, clearly now separated from the creature.

I froze for a moment, as my mind raced back to the night of the tragic accident, when my friend called out to me from the train tracks, and I was unable to save him in time...

....Until I eventually snapped myself out of it, and willed myself to save Mr. Winfred, no matter how evil the asshole's intentions may have been, reaching out my hand out, and pulling him up and out of the elevator, just as the freight car came crash down to the basement level.

SLAM!

CRUNCH!

"RAAAAAAAARRRRR!" The slimy beast cried out, as it was crushed under the old elevator's weight.

DING!

The basement fell SILENT for a moment, until...

SCREEEECH!

SLAM!

...Jane stepped out and said, "Going up?"

But the joke was met was silence. I simply stood there, shaking, as Mr. Winfred did the same, clearly shocked by the events that had just occurred.

A few weeks later, after the authorities had done a full sweep of the basement, and cleared out all traces of the building' old laboratory, I found myself once again back in the manager's office.

"Mr. Owens. This is the last time I'm gonna tell you this!" Jane joked, as I heard her recline back in what was once Mr. Winfred's chair, having been named interim manager since her boss's recent and... ironic... prison sentencing.

"Who's the convict now?" I said with a smile, before making my way out of the office.

"Wait." Jane said, stopping me at the door. "You sure you want to go back to operating the elevator? After all that's happened? Like I said, the doorman job is yours if you want it."

"What's the worst that could happen?" I replied with a smile. "There's another one of those creatures in the building somewhere?"

0 Comments
2024/06/09
14:30 UTC

8

The Creepy Watcher

She stood from the hallway in the dead of night. You could see her white dress reflecting from the moonlight in the window. Eyes empty, mouth agape, feet dragging across the wooden floors. I thought I had outgrown her. Children outgrow their imaginary friends right? RIGHT?

I froze as I watched her etch closer. She was heading in my direction. I could see my vision waver and feel my heart pounding. She wasn't a new face to me; but she was all too familiar.

It was as if she knew it was time. Even from a distance I could see her grin forming, contorting her face even more; it looked like a gash that had been left infected, rotting and decaying. Her distorted voice even so quiet as it was seemed like the wails of those who suffer in punishment below us.

I called her "Emily" ; she was my imaginary "guardian" as a child until I realized the haunting truth; she was my watcher. Tormented me as I slept; stood at the foot of my bed; looked over me at my side, then one night hovering over my body like a hanging corpse. Relentlessly present and unwanting to detach.

There were nights she would play her games. She knew when the nightmares would come. Then she would hold me. Not like a loving mother or sibling would. By the neck; to the throat or at the chest; right at the heart. I could hear her mocking laughter like a perpetrator teasing its victim. She would tighten her grip then at the last moment release me to my wake.

Over the years she loomed; a predator stalking her prey. I'd catch her at the corner of my eye, feel her cold stare from behind, and her suffocating presence. We would lock eyes unintentionally during dark moments and I could feel her hunger. Her desperation.

When I was finally old enough I was left alone. Vulnerable and easy. But I wasn't going to go away quietly.

With all intentions to ignore her, I walked away in the opposite direction; crawled into bed, and closed my eyes. I had every intention to come back out of it; just like I always did every single night. However, tonight felt different; heavy, unnerving, and almost peaceful. Too peaceful.

I was asleep for what seemed like seconds. I awoke to my sleeping body below me. I fought back; it lay paralyzed. I could win again right? RIGHT? I survived it every time. So why didn't I tonight? My body lay in deep slumber. Not a tear, not a movement, not a twitch.

She put her searing limb of a like hand on my chest. I felt violated; like a lifeless body being desecrated. But she didn't stop; there was no conscious. Then came the excruciating realization. She stood next to me; her smile consuming her pale face. Empty eyes mocking me. The watcher now being watched. I was now the hanging corpse. My body her soon to be vessel.

1 Comment
2024/06/09
08:42 UTC

237

I'm a girl who doesn't exist

This is my last hope. This is my very last chance that someone--anyone--will see me. Please don't leave me alone.

I thought after eight years I would have gotten used to it. I thought after twelve I would have gotten used to it. As the years passed, I told myself over and over that this would be the year where I stopped whining. But that day where I finally accepted my fate would never come. How could it? It’s hard to come to terms with not existing.

So uh, hi. I’m an eighteen year old girl, and I have no name. Not that it would make much of a difference if I gave myself one. Nobody would ever say it--not in reference to me, at least. The most I could do is stand around in some family’s home and pretend like one of their names is my own, pretending like I can be enveloped in the solace that they share with one another. The unbreakable bonds I can never form. Because for all intents and purposes, I don’t exist.

It took a while to come to terms with. Not that I’ve accepted it as permanent just yet, but I understand my predicament now far more than I ever could. I stated it simply before, and I don’t mean it with the slightest exaggeration. I don’t exist. The world itself denies my existence at every turn. I can’t properly communicate just how much I don’t want to live like this--though even if I could, it’s not like anyone could listen.

But I don’t have a way out. I tried to put an end to things, but the world didn’t let me. The gun suddenly stopped responding to my fingers, the rope untied itself from the ceiling. I’ve never been sick, either. The world denies my existence, and so does everything living in it--so why wouldn’t the smallest, most insignificant organisms do so as well? Viruses aren’t exempt from the cold indifference of the world.

I’ve heard people say that before--that the world is cold and uncaring, indifferent to their suffering. And they couldn’t be more wrong. The world doesn’t deny them their life, it doesn’t deny them their very existence. It lets them interact with everything, with everyone. If they knew just how good they had it, they would be worshipping the universe for all the attention and care it gave to them.

I still wonder how I came to be in the first place. Of course I wasn’t born like any other person--I have no parents to speak of, and if I had been born normally, I doubt I would have ended up like this. The question then becomes--what am I? The first conclusion might be that I’m a ghost--and in a metaphorical sense, sure. But that’s far from the truth, since the ghosts can’t see me either.

I enjoyed living like this for a while. I could take whatever I wanted, live any life I wished and the universe would bend over backwards to accommodate whatever decision I made. But there was a caveat--I could live any life I wanted, but it would have to be a life of solitude. It didn’t matter how much I took, how much I gave, how much I tried to manipulate the world to put me at its core. It would simply never allow that to happen.

I decided to test it out one day. I walked alongside a man in a grocery store, and I figured that even if he didn’t see me, I could get his attention somehow. So I stuck my leg out to trip him--and to my surprise, it worked! I was so ecstatic that I had truly interacted with the world--until he got up, complaining about careless workers. And when I looked down to where I had tripped him, there were a dozen or so soup cans spilled across the floor. I ran to catch up with him, and stuck my fist out in front of his face. But it was even more severe this time--the structure of the aisles shifted so that he was still walking in it, but I was several feet away. And nobody bat an eye--to them, it had always been like this. To them, there was zero oddity in this new world, because it wasn’t new. The universe itself reshifted its structure to avoid acknowledging my impact.

I began to suspect that it wasn’t just cold indifference, it was hatred. Of course it would never acknowledge me enough to tell me such a thing, but I believed it nonetheless. It seemed to be going out of its way to spite me personally, to make sure I could never have a place in it. What was so wrong with me, then? Was I born wrong? Was I a defect in its eyes? Was my very existence so horrific that it went out of its way to deny every aspect?

I didn’t want to keep living like this--I couldn’t. But I couldn’t put a stop to it either, I wasn’t allowed to. I made one last desperate attempt--I broke into someone’s house. Well, moreso slipped in, but that’s besides the point. I took a knife from his kitchen drawer, and pulled off his blanket when he was sleeping. And I took his arm in my grasp--and I carved into it--LOOK AT ME.

He woke up, looked at his arm, and screamed. He slowly raised his head up--and for a second--his eyes met mine. He wasn’t just looking in my direction--he was looking directly at me. And then the world flashed for a moment, and it was gone. The letters I had delicately carved in were replaced with basic vertical slashes. I remembered him yelling at his wife who was screaming in return, both of them having no idea how the cuts manifested. I remembered looking out the window as he was wheeled away on a stretcher, the world worse off for my involvement. Maybe it did have a point, then.

Maybe it was right to forget me, but unfortunately I couldn’t forget myself. I remained firmly locked into my own fate, unable to change a thing besides ruining the lives of those around me. I tried to do nice things too--grabbing stuff from stores and sitting it down by the homeless, cleaning up people’s houses for them. But I noticed that those changes would either get erased entirely or turned into something bad--the food would be moldy or poisoned, the cleaning would have caused structural damage to the house. So I stopped getting involved entirely.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a happy ending. I pulled away entirely, trying to not let my presence make the world a worse place. I figured that maybe if I isolated myself enough, the world would reward me for my understanding by letting me die. That was naive. It remained uncaring to my suffering, unable--or unwilling--to grant me the slightest relief. But I had long since stopped aging, so I simply sat around.

I couldn’t possibly describe how mind-numbingly boring the passing of time was. I sat around for--thousands? Millions, billions? An indescribable number of years passed me by, each life I saw insignificant and every planet that died barely able to make me raise an eyebrow. I was almost disappointed that I didn’t suffocate when the planet I had spent my early years on finally gave out. I had done my research, and I knew the end of the universe was approaching as well. And I eagerly awaited it at every moment--perhaps then there would be an afterlife that I could partake in.

…But the afterlife was only for people, though. And as far as the universe was concerned, I didn’t count as a person. The only upside of this was that I could outlive the concept that had made my life agony. I was honestly looking forward to when everything gave out and I could finally close my eyes and rest.

Yet even when the universe breathed its last breath, I would remain. The universe is an odd thing. I've seen so much in my practically infinite lifetime, yet never had anyone to share it with. The universe went through a whole cycle--I don't really know how to explain it, but it seems like we're on loop, destined to repeat every single event that happens. Maybe I'm destined to break that loop. So I had an idea.

The whole world ignores my existence, but I don't think it can ignore this. Every key I push is real, whether or not it wants to believe me. I expected it to shift again to ignore my inputs, but it seems like it forgot about me. Guess my laying low did have a purpose. To be honest, I'm scared. I'm scared that this last idea of mine won't work, that it'll cut me off before I can hit post. I don't want to live in a world where I don't exist any more. Please--if you see this, talk to me. Acknowledge me. If this post actually gets out there, please don't let me forgotten.

Can you hear me?

31 Comments
2024/06/09
06:46 UTC

8

Out Of The Apartment (Part 6)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Things have become complicated recently and that’s saying something considering what we’ve been through up until now. We needed to set out early to avoid Mrs. Sheaver and her goons. Before we did, we snuck over to Roscoe’s place. His apartment number was on his house key so it wasn’t hard to find. Upon stepping inside, we were greeted by the site of several hunting rifles resting by the couch.

“That checks out,” Van said.

I went to check Roscoe’s room while Drake went into the kitchen.

“He's got some leftover pizza. Wait, no never mind, it's gone bad.”

Over Roscoe's bed hung a painting of Donald Trump. This wasn't surprising. I went to his closet, opened it, and found several sleeping bags and camping packs there. I came back into the living room with them.

“Hey, I think we can use these,” I said, tossing one to Drake and another to Van.

The former caught it and the other fumbled, dropping it. He squatted to pick it up.

“Gus?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you seen the kitchen? Roscoe had a ton of bottled water for some reason.”

“Oh yeah, I think he mentioned one time that he heard water from the sink makes you gay. I can't lie. He was weird.”

“Yeah, so you want to grab some cases?”

“I can carry a few. Just keep an eye out for trouble.”

I stacked some and lifted them. We also found some metal thermos cups that Van held onto.

“I don't see anyone,” he said after stepping outside.

We followed him out, making our way to the Hummer. Drake had his gun in hand and was behind us constantly looking over his shoulder. We got to the Hummer and unlocked it. That's when a bullet whizzed past my temple and hit one of the tail lights.

“So you were holding out on us,” Mrs. Sheaver screamed from her kitchen window.

“Fuck, get inside now,” Drake yelled.

Yanking the doors open, we threw our stuff in before jumping inside ourselves. In the rearview, we could see the rest of our neighbors armed with bats and pipes chasing after us.

“Start the fucking car,” I urged, and then another hole formed in the back windshield.

Drake cranked the ignition and backed up. Then we were out of there like cows escaping a slaughterhouse. We didn't even slow down when we came to the gate. Drake crashed right through it as the screams of Mrs. Sheaver and the others became faint cries.

“Okay, so we're on track for the most part,” I said. “Do you think the convenience store is too close now? I don't want them coming after us.”

“Guys?” We heard Van interject.

We glanced in the rearview again to see several cars gaining on us. The one at the front was a van being driven by Mrs. Sheaver.

“Oh my God,” Drake said. “Gus, lock and load.”

“Already on it. Be mindful of the tires.”

I loaded a rifle and got ready. The sound of metal on metal echoed throughout the car as we were being fired at. Drake tried taking several turns to lose them, but they stayed on our tail. I took a deep breath, then aimed out of one of the windows and shot at one car's tires. I made my mark, resulting in it swerving and crashing into another vehicle.

Both spun out of control until it was only Mrs. Sheaver left.

“Hold still,” she yelled over the rushing wind. “My eyes aren't what they used to be.”

Unfortunately for her, there was a pothole in the road. It damaged her front tire, causing her to swerve and plow straight into a tree at full speed. We stopped just in time to see it come crashing down, breaking through her windshield.

“God damn,” Drake said.

“I mean, she might still be alright,” I commented.

The tree had gone through some wires. One of them fell on a branch, setting it ablaze.

“Well, at least it was quick.”

“Oh Christ, I'm burning,” Mrs. Sheaver shrieked.

We sat there in silence listening before her cries died down.

“Drake, what time is it?” I asked.

“About twelve till six.”

Today was going to be a long day. We got back on track with our plan and proceeded to the convenience store. We got out and surveyed the damage.

“This thing's tough,” I said.

“Does anyone want to talk about how messed up that all was?” Van asked.

“Yeah, it was pretty fucked,” Drake replied, “but what's done is done. Let's grab what we can and get out of here.”

We tried the door, finding it was unlocked. Inside, a far-from-pretty sight was waiting for us. Blood stains covered the wall behind the counter. Out of morbid curiosity, I peeked over it, seeing only a hand and a shoe with the foot still attached. A shudder ran through me.

“Hey, Gus, what do you see back there?” Van asked.

“You don’t want to know.”

We started surveying what would be best to bring with us.

“I think we should focus on protein,” I said.

“Like trail mix?” Drake replied. “It’s got fruit too.”

“I hate trail mix, too many raisins,” Van complained.

“What about these?” I asked, cocking a thumb to some protein bars.

Something else caught my eye.

“Hang on,” I said, bending over and picking something up. “We can’t be caught dead without this.”

I held up a pack of toilet paper.

“Good thinking,” Drake said, “Van, grab some, will you?”

Van stared down at it with a grimace.

“I bet it feels like sandpaper,” he grumbled but began gathering as many as he could anyway.

While he did, we filled our three bags with what we could. Then we took everything back to the Hummer and got back on the road.

“Hey, Drake?” I said as he was closing the trunk.

“What?”

“I’ve been thinking. If this works and we make it out of here, we’re not exactly going to be well off afterward. Do you think maybe we should see if a store happens to have some loose change lying around if you catch my drift?”

I gestured to the convenience store. About six minutes later, we were driving down the road.

“So there was about six hundred bucks in the register which makes two hundred for each of us,” I said, “and there’s more in the safe if we can get it open.

The safe was in the back next to Van.

“I can’t believe you guys stole this from the store.”

“It’s not like anyone’s using it,” Drake said. “Besides, the guy who ran the place was stingy as hell. One time, he tried to charge me double on something. I had to argue with him about it for two minutes straight so we aren’t beating ourselves up about this.”

“How do you think we should get it open?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.”.

We guessed that there were blockades set up at every exit out of town. We also assumed that there would be more people active where we tried to get out last time. Instead of going there, we went to the woods on the opposite side of town.

“Remember, there’s no turning back after this,” Drake said, “so only take the necessities. I still want to see about opening the safe, though.”

While he was talking, I was glancing among the trees. One of them seemed odd to me and swayed strangely in the wind. Then I realized with a chill that it was moving.

“Lanker,” I choked out.

Drake and Van turned in time to see it sprinting out of the woods. In a flash, it was to us. We got out of the way as it swiped at us with one of its clawed hands. Its nails dug into the Hummer’s back door, yanking it out. I was thinking maybe if we kept still and tried to keep from shitting ourselves, it would go away.

Drake, thankfully seemed to be on the same wavelength as me. Van, however, was not. He screamed, darting away. The lanker pursued him, giving us time to arm ourselves. As Van was circling back around, we raised our weapons, squeezing the triggers. As soon as it was focused on us, we knew to split up to divert its attention.

Drake managed to get some shots into it before he had to retreat. While the lanker went after him, I aimed at its legs. This appeared effective as it let out a cry of pain that sounded like when a microphone is held up to a speaker. The good news was it was no longer after Drake. The bad news was I was now its target.

“Drake, shoot it in the back of its knees,” I yelled, sprinting as fast as I could.

I slid under the Hummer and came out the other side. In spur-of-the-moment planning on my part, I opened the back door and slammed it shut. This succeeded in fooling the lanker as I snuck behind it, getting its weak spot point blank. Unfortunately, I misjudged the distance. The next thing I knew, it was swinging at me with an object in hand.

I managed to raise my gun to block it and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this. Wood splintered as it was broken in half. I observed the world doing several cartwheels as I was rolling along the ground before coming to a stop at the base of a tree.

“Gus,” Drake yelled.

The pain was so immense I couldn’t even get a breath out. The Lanker was about to rip into me until Drake distracted it.

“Guys,” Van cried out in alarm.

I tilted my head up, seeing a metric shit load of zombies racing towards us.

“Welp, we're fucked,” I thought.

In an unexpected turn of events, though, the lanker was now shrieking at them. It went after them, grabbing two by their heads, crushing them like watermelons under a hydraulic press. I took the opportunity to examine where I'd been struck. Touching my abdomen yielded pain. Thankfully, nothing seemed to be broken, just some bruising I would need to deal with later.

Guess I got lucky in that I was knocked away instead of grabbed. If the lanker was smarter, this would be a different story. The other zombies were crawling all over it, gnawing as they did. A crawler saw me in a vulnerable state and tried capitalizing on the opportunity. It pounced and my butt clenched. Then a bullet went through its head. Drake rushed over, helping me up.

“Thanks again, man.”

“No problem.”

“Let's run into the woods while they're occupied,” Van said.

“But our stuff is over there,” I told him. “We won't last long without it.”

We both looked at Drake.

“Let's see how this plays out a little longer,” he said.

For a while, it seemed that the lanker would be the victor. Then its knees buckled as they were chewed through. We watched on, mouths agape. In a move of desperation, it picked the safe back up, swinging it wildly. The zombies previously all over the lanker were now a red paste and it was crawling feebly on the ground.

“I got this,” Drake said.

He went over to it and shot at its legs, blowing them off. It tried swiping at him, but he'd already backed away. It attempted to stand on its stumps. When it lifted its head, Drake jammed the barrel of his gun down its throat, pulling the trigger. With a last twitch, it was no longer a threat.

“Are you sure it's dead?” Van asked.

“I blew out the back of its head. Of course, it's dead,” Drake replied, then threw a rock at the lanker to be sure.

“Yep, as a doornail.”

Drake came over and helped me up.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I'll live.”

“Good, let's get our things.”

Van was already doing that.

“My God is this heavy,” he grunted as he pulled it onto his back.

“Get used to it,” Drake told him.

I glanced around in case we'd have to deal with any more unexpected threats and that's when I noticed the dented-to-shit safe lying on its side with the door open. It didn't take long to count the money inside. There was a little over eight thousand in cash that we divided among the three of us. Thus, our hike began at last. We walked for eight hours, encountering zombies along the way.

Most of the time it was simple to pick them off. The biggest problem came when some tried attacking us from above. I am so glad me and Drake's reflexes are on point. Something unusual we stumbled upon is that whatever has been zombifying people has spread to animals. Long story short, there was a zombie grizzly bear ripping into another bear and its cubs. We thought we would have to deal with this monstrosity.

Luckily, it didn't appear to find us appetizing. That said, it was emitting a deep growl after it noticed us so we got the message to steer clear of it. Eventually, Van told us his feet were aching and suggested we should rest.

“I guess we can stop for a bit,” I said. “Right, Drake?”

“Sure, I was getting hungry anyway.”

We sat down, setting up our packs to rest against. Me and Drake took out some trail mix while Van unwrapped a protein bar.

“Hey,” he said to us, “I got some of these if you want to add them to your water.”

He held up some flavoring packets.

“Hell yeah,” Drake replied, “Toss them here.”

“Actually, I was thinking I could take care of it for you while you guys set up camp since it's going to be dark in a couple of hours.”

“Good point. Gus, help me gather some firewood.”

We did so and threw them into a pile. Van came back up to us with our thermos cups.

“Drake, yours is blue raspberry and Gus, yours is green apple.”

We thanked him and enjoyed the rest of our meal. Halfway through my drink, I was feeling lightheaded.

“Hey, Drake, do I look alright?” I turned to him and noticed he too was in the same condition as me.

“I don't…” he replied with his voice trailing off.

We passed out. When we awoke it was dark and Drake was cussing up a storm.

“What happened?” I asked, shaking off my fatigue.

“That son of a bitch robbed us,” Drake replied. “Look.”

He showed me our wallets which were stripped of cash.

“And he left this.”

I was handed a crumpled piece of paper with this message crudely written on it.

“Sorry to do this. Years working for the mayor have taught me people can be bribed so that's what I'm doing. You won't find me again, but I wish you the best of luck.”

I clenched my fist around it.

“He robbed us.”

“Yeah, I just said that.”

“Well, what do we do now?”

“Get moving, I guess. Can't believe this. How do we get our shit stolen twice in two days?”

We wondered how Van would survive on his own. Then again, he did have a snack for avoiding trouble as he was able to before we bumped into him. After walking for some time, we saw an orange light in the distance.

“I think that's a campfire,” I exclaimed. “Do you think it might be Van?”

“If it is, I'm going to have some words for him,” Drake replied, patting his holstered handgun.

We stepped into the clearing to find a bunch of people standing around a bonfire. They were wearing hooded white robes and turned when they heard us.

“Oh shit, it's the fucking Klan. Drake, get behind me,” I urged, stepping in front of me.

One of them stepped forward, revealing the face of a grinning man.

“Worry not, friends. You have no reason to fear us.”

He explained that his name was Jeff and he founded their group, cult really, of survivors and they called themselves The Uplagued. Every one of them smiled from ear to ear and asked us if we wanted to stay.

“No disrespect, we'd love to, but we need to keep moving,” Drake told them.

“That's a shame,” Jeff responded. “We were about to pass around the calumet.”

For those who don't know, that's another word for the peace pipe used by the natives. Drake and I exchanged a look. Ten minutes later, we were sitting in a smoke circle. When Drake's turn came, he took a rip from it worthy of a dragon about to breathe fire. I got in a good one when my turn came.

Now, I'm high as the moon typing this on my phone. After what we've been through today, it's nice to have something to take the edge off. I'm not sure what we're going to do about our financial situation if we make it out. Hopefully, we come up with something. For now, the munchies are calling my name.

3 Comments
2024/06/09
04:53 UTC

137

The Red Hive

I used to make videos. Not to a large following, just little interesting clips about life in a small town and the various people who live there. It wasn’t just content for the sake of content, it was a record to show what life was like in the 2020’s for the folks of Tomskog, Minnesota.

I’d done a couple of videos already. One was about the old couple running the corner pub, one was about a landlord, and another was about the principal of the local high school (and their apparent pool troubles). Long story.

I was doing a shorter video about a woman named Marla. She was a beekeeper who worked with moving intrusive hives. This kind of content gets a lot of views, so I figured I’d do a more compact but better edited video this time around. I’d done my research, prepped my gear, and was rearing to go.

 

I met Marla on a Thursday morning in late May. We took her pickup, had a gas station sandwich for breakfast, and stopped for a quick coffee. I talked to her a bit about her job, her life, and her aspirations. Small town stuff. She was the kind of woman who was happy as long as she could keep up with her payments and have a bit left over for a Netflix subscription. Wholesome.

She drove me out to the site of the day, talking to the camera as we went. We were turning further and further off the paved roads as the suspension struggled against weeds, rock, and gravel.

“There’s a hive near a walking trail,” Marla explained. “A couple of folks called in about their dogs getting scared. It should be fine, but we’re gonna gear up just in case they’re mistaken.”

“You expect us to get stung a lot?” I asked.

“Not really,” she smiled. “Not if you know what you’re doing. But there’ve been times when folks have called in about a hive and it turned out to be paper wasps.”

“Not as pleasant as honeybees.”

“No,” she laughed. “No, they really aren’t”.

 

We passed through a section of trees that covered both sides of the road; the branches hanging low enough to scrape the hood of the car. Emerging on the other side, a field opened up to our right. A large, wide-open field, covered from end to end in blue sunflowers; a local variety that is, apparently, sort of rare. I asked Marla about them.

“The blues? Yeah, they were introduced as a sort of gimmick back in the… 1930’s, I think? 1940’s maybe? They’re actually quite invasive. I’m surprised there aren’t more of them around.”

“But bees can make honey on them?”

“I guess,” she nodded. “They’re just sunflowers.”

“Have you tried it? Is it blue?”

“Can’t say that I have,” she laughed. “But I’m sure it’s fine. Ordinary sunflower honey is fantastic. Kinda earthy.”

 

We got out and suited up. It felt like putting on a tent. Marla shared some interesting bee factoids that I didn’t manage to catch on camera, but I made a mental note to ask her to repeat it later. Of course, I wouldn’t. I’m kinda forgetful.

I hadn’t seen a single bee yet, but Marla was already heading out into the field. The sunflowers reached about waist-high, and there was this strange, almost chemical smell in the air. Sort of a mix of chlorine and ammonia. As we got further out, Marla pointed out a couple of flowers to me.

“Right there,” she said. “Get a clip.”

I zoomed in, spotting two bees chilling on a blue sunflower petal. They were just sort of sitting there. They had a slightly more reddish tint to them than I expected. Marla didn’t seem to mind, or notice.

 

It didn’t take long before we got to the hive. I immediately started filming as we approached. The buzzing got louder as bees started to poke and prod at my defenses, curiously checking for gaps in my gloves and neck. Thankfully, Marla had helped me secure it. Still, the buzzing kinda gave me the creeps. Never been a fan of bugs.

“Yeah, alright,” Marla laughed. “No wonder there are bees. Someone set this up.”

It was a man-made hive, framed with sheets of mahogany. A series of wooden squares with hollow cork pipes lining the inside. The bees had really taken to it, transforming it into a sturdy hive.

“We usually call these bee hotels,” Marla said. “Some kind-hearted local set it up, but as this isn’t private property we have to take complaints into account. I’m gonna make sure we move it to a better location with more nutrition for our free-bee friends here, where they won’t spook any dog-walkers. And of course, we’re keeping the hive. Someone put a lot of thought into this.”

 

I got a nice video out of it. How she unsecured the hive, moved the sections one by one, and pointed to interesting pieces for the camera. She found the queen and scooped her up in a separate container. Marla stopped for a moment though; apparently, the queen was larger than she’d anticipated. I didn’t really have a frame of reference, so I had to take her word for it.

We wrapped the hive up under a tarp on the pickup and made our way back to Marla’s property. I was afraid all the bumps in the road would shake the bees loose, but they seemed perfectly content. I guess it helped that Marla was a very calm driver, despite some curious bees making their way inside the cabin. We still had the suits on, luckily.

There was a cute hand-painted sign of a bee as we entered Marla’s land. When you live in the middle of nowhere, most folks can get away with owning more land than they need; especially if they don’t mind having spotty internet or a fair drive to the nearest supermarket. One look at Marla showed that she didn’t mind either of these things.

 

We took some time offloading the hive, finding a good spot on the eastern side of her property. There were plenty of wildflowers for the critters to feast on, and Marla seemed confident in her choice. There wasn’t much more to it; we set it up, captured a couple of finishing thoughts, and called it a day.

As I packed up my gear and took off my suit, I got a moment to speak with Marla without the camera. She was excited to have a new hive, but there was something about her expression that seemed a bit… off.

“I’d love to try some of their honey,” I said. “I think it’d make a great end to the video.”

“Yeah, I’ll keep in touch,” she nodded.

There was an oppressive silence as she stared into the distance. I tilted my head, trying to catch her attention.

“You alright there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I, uh… I’m just anxious. New responsibilities, you know?”

“Is there a problem?”

She bit down on her lip, squinting.

“Maybe.”

 

A couple of days later, I started getting updates. Marla was having some trouble with the hive. It was more aggressive than she’d previously thought, and a lot of the bees had been dying off at alarming rates.

“It happens when you move them sometimes,” she sighed. “It’s rare, but it happens. They can have trouble adapting.”

She managed to get a little honey, but she wasn’t too happy about it. Apparently, it wasn’t as sweet and sugary as she thought it’d be. There was just something off about it, texture-wise. She was gonna make me a little bottle of it either way, for the video, but she advised against eating it.

 

Returning to my day job, I was looking forward to hearing more from Marla. Out of all the people I’d worked with, she’d been the most eager to contribute to my channel. We kept in touch over the week, discussing future collaborations and other ways we could make content. She suggested making a couple of DIY videos to showcase some neat tricks for would-be hobby apiarists.

The following weekend, we met up again. Another early morning, this time with a light drizzle spattering against the hood of her pickup. The moment she came around, I could tell something had happened. She had these bright red spots on her arms, and she was a lot less talkative than usual. Before I got the chance to talk to her about it, she explained.

“Got swarmed yesterday,” she said. “Never happened before.”

“Those are all stings?”

“That’s just the thing,” she scoffed. “It isn’t. They’re bites.”

“I didn’t think honeybees bit people.”

“They don’t.”

We just looked at one another for a moment. Her marks were pretty nasty, some of them swollen enough to burst. The conclusion was obvious; these weren’t ordinary honeybees.

 

We made our way back out to the field where we’d found them. I did a little filming, but Marla was self-conscious about her arms. She was scared that it might dissuade people from working with bees, and she kept repeating how it was “her fault” for not handling them correctly. She said it so many times I couldn’t help but to feel she was trying to convince herself rather than me, or an audience.

We made our way out into the field. Marla flipped open a pocketknife and bent down to check on the flowers. Cutting one off at the stem, she examined it for a moment. She held it up for me to see for myself. I looked it over but couldn’t see anything strange – apart from the obvious blue color.

“You gotta touch it,” she said. “Check it.”

So I did. As soon as I touched it, a few petals came loose. The flower was clearly dead and dry.

 

Checking out a couple more, we came to a startling realization. The entire field was, in fact, completely dead. Bone dry of pollen and sustenance. And, according to Marla, it must’ve been dead for months. I didn’t really understand why that was such a big deal.

“Because,” Marla explained. “The hive flourished out here, in the middle of the field. If they couldn’t survive here, they would’ve migrated, but they didn’t. So what the hell have they been eating?”

“Whatever it was, it’s what must’ve made the honey taste weird.”

“Not just taste,” Marla said, shaking her head. “The smell is the worst. Like stale bacteria and methane.”

 

Things started to fall into place. Whatever they had been eating out here in the field wasn’t available at Marla’s place; hence why they had been dying and getting more aggressive. Getting back to the pickup, Marla was deep in her own thoughts, drumming her fingers on the dashboard. She couldn’t figure it out. I tried to cheer her up with a pat on her shoulder, which caused her to flinch a little. I probably poked a bitemark.

“Sorry,” I said. “But you know, maybe that’s why they swarmed you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, maybe they tried to eat you up,” I chuckled, pointing to her arms.

“Bees don’t do that,” said Marla, her face stern.

“I know,” I nodded. “Sorry, bad joke.”

But I could tell I’d planted something in Marla’s thoughts. Something that worried her.

 

As we went back to her property, she explained that there was indeed a kind of bee that was carnivorous. There was a type of bee called the ‘vulture bee’ that fed exclusively on meat. Mostly carrion though; they weren’t active hunters. They couldn’t be, as they were stingless.

“You think these might be vulture bees then?” I asked.

“They live south of the border,” she explained. “Can’t imagine them just, uh… popping up. And even so, they wouldn’t be this aggressive.”

“Would explain the honey though.”

Marla’s face went pale. Had she been eating meat honey?

 

I decided to hold off on posting my video. This was turning into something more interesting, and I wanted to see it through. I filmed a couple of shots where Marla got to explain the intricacies of vulture bees. She did it in the frame of an interesting fact rather than a suspicion, but I could tell something had changed. She wasn’t as certain anymore, and a bit of eagerness had run out of her. There was a tangible worry there.

As we went out back to check out the hive, Marla stopped. Her eyes widened.

“Turn off the camera,” she hissed.

Three dead pigeons; covered in bees.

 

From that point on, I was fully invested. This was something neither of us had seen before; unfamiliar ground. It didn’t take long for Marla to confirm that the honey she’d harvested did, indeed, contain a meat protein. After that, it was just a matter of observation.

Yes, the bees ate flesh. They bit instead of stung. But they weren’t vulture bees.

These were larger, more aggressive, and had a wider abdomen. Their mandibles were longer, and they had a slightly reddish tint to them. It was difficult to tell whether the color was a result of mutation or blood. The dead pigeons were stripped to the sinew in surprisingly little time.

Marla didn’t know what to do. She’d been working with preserving bees since she was a teenager, and this whole situation was testing her. She didn’t want to just kill the hive, but she couldn’t let them spread either. These could be highly invasive.

 

But she took too long to decide. Just a couple of days later, two of the other hives on her property had been completely decimated. The red bees had killed and devoured all of them; leaving only empty chambers and hollow carapaces behind. When Marla facetimed me about it, she couldn’t hold back the tears.

By now, I considered myself a friend of hers. We’d talked a lot and got along really well, and it wasn’t just about content anymore. I didn’t want to see her like that; she deserved better. I offered to drop by and brainstorm a bit. I figured she needed the company. She’d done at least two dozen of these bee rescues, and the one time someone came to cheer her on it all went to hell. That had to suck.

 

So I dropped by one day after work. The sun was setting. Dark clouds on the horizon.

I noticed them the moment I stepped out of my car. A handful of red bees climbed the white picket fence outside Marla’s house. A few others were clustered in a particular spot near the edge of the house; no doubt feasting on a small bird or a rodent. I went up to the door and rung the bell, ducking from a couple of curious bees trying to make themselves comfortable in my rough post-work hairdo.

Marla invited me into her kitchen, offering me homemade lemonade. She had these custom-made coasters with cartoon bees on them, along with the logo for her rescue. I could tell she’d taken a couple of sudden precautions. There were tape lining the edges of the windows, as well as a plastic sheet covering the ventilation duct. No wonder the air felt stale.

“No one knows what to do,” she sighed. “I called the Wyatt brothers, South Bound Api… they can’t even believe it. They actually don’t believe that I have what I say I have.”

“And what is that? What is it you have?”

She sighed, scratching her eyebrows. A kind of nervous tic.

“There’s no name, but… I mean, I know what they do. I know now. They’re like the vulture bees, but…”

She threw her arms up in surrender. I could tell she was tired. One of her eyes drooped a little lower than the other. Might’ve been from a bite too.

 

Marla spent the better part of an hour showing me websites, witnesses to similar bees, drawings, and descriptions. She talked about the application of pesticides, mutations, climate change, GMOs, and microplastics. Hell, at one point, she was bringing up 5G towers as a possible culprit. She was all over the place, and I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. It was all just desperation; grasping at straws.

After a couple of hours, well into the dark of the evening, we’d gone from homemade lemonade to lukewarm, well-nursed beers. We’d run out of ideas and topics. Instead, we just stood by the kitchen window, watching the red bees crawl across the glass. Marla put down her bottle; this time without using one of her cartoon bee coasters.

“Check this out,” she said.

She placed her hand on the window, and the bees outside immediately swarmed to it. Within seconds, there was a cluster of at least 40 crowding around her hand, on the other side of the glass.

“Give them a minute,” she continued. “It’s kinda crazy.”

 

They started to move in a pattern. A sort of pulse, moving counter-clockwise from a perfect circle into a four-armed spiral. Their wings pattered in unison; a buzzing noise that scratched against the windowpane.

“I can’t explain that,” she said. “I can explain following my hand, or killing other hives, but that?”

She shook her head, not looking away.

“I can’t explain that.”

 

It got a little bit too late, and I’d had a couple of beers too many, so I decided to crash on her couch. I wrapped myself in a blanket and pulled a pillow up to my ear, so I wouldn’t have to hear the buzzing outside. It wasn’t loud, but it was such a distinct sound that I couldn’t un-hear it. Marla didn’t seem to share the same issue though, she just walked into her room and that was that. Out like a light.

I had an uneasy sleep, falling in and out of surface-level dreams. I remember forcing my eyes open - just to see if I could. I was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t stop hearing that buzzing noise. Even when things were quiet, I kept imagining myself hearing it. I’d see little black spots on the windows as they landed and disappeared, looking for a way in.

Somewhere in the early morning hours, I was finally out cold.

 

I didn’t notice those first few sounds. How the tapping against the window got louder. How the patterns got bigger and clearer. I was finally asleep, and it was already too late when I woke up.

I was lying on my side as I popped open a single eye, only to see a red bee on my hand calmly brushing itself clean. I didn’t notice the droning noise at first, until I realized the background noise of the room was different. Looking beyond that first red bee, towards the window, I realized something.

The pattern of bees was on the inside of the window.

There were hundreds of bees already inside the room.

But the sound was closer than that.  It was all around me, and somewhere in the background, I could hear a breeze. Was the front door open?

 

I tried to stay completely still, but I could feel something in my chest tightening. I wanted to brush the bee off, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. Something was holding me back, keeping me from just waving my arms around and getting out. There was something more to this.

Seconds later, there was a noise. A rising murmur, like a moving mass. Best way I can describe it is a vibrating burlap bag followed by meaty footsteps. Not loud, but not quiet either. Someone didn’t care too much about waking me.

If there was ever a time to get up, to run, or to fight – that was it. But all I did was lie there, staring at that one red bee on my hand, listening to something slowly approach from behind. It’s as if I knew how badly outmatched I really was.

 

I could feel something shift as the side of the couch was grabbed. Creaking noises as fingers dug into old leather.

Snapping sounds. Sinew and muscle stretching and realigning under a thin layer of skin. Forced breathing and hissing descending on me from above. Little sniffs – then silence. I held my breath.

“…y o u t o o k m y h i v e.”

Less of a voice, and more of a collision of wings and carapaces. A shaped buzzing. The red bee on my hand looked straight into my eyes. Not a single twitch. Nothing.

“I didn’t,” I whispered under my breath, trying not to move my mouth. “I-I… I didn’t.”

 

There was a pause. A sudden shift as someone stepped back. A little moving mass came loose, dropping on top of my blanket. A handful of red bees, carefully spreading out to investigate me. Behind me, footsteps – leading into Marla’s bedroom. I could hear her deep breaths from here.

I stayed completely still. I was unharmed. I’d be fine - I just had to wait. Every nerve in my body felt like it was put through a white fire – still, controlled, and desperate to explode into action. As little creatures made their way across me, carefully looking me over, the pores on my skin were screaming at me to move, itch, and shudder. I could feel the hairs on my neck rise; only to be tugged on by eager mandibles.

Then, a scream.

 

Marla screamed. A bloody, mind-piercing, screech. The kind of scream that you just know means pain. Hearing it was like feeling a physical push, and I couldn’t hold myself from acting any longer.

I rolled off the couch, trying to shake the bees off. The cluster on the window exploded into a disorganized attack, swarming every piece of me, and the room, and the adjoining kitchen. They were inside my clothes, in my hair, in my eyebrows, and they were going to eat their fair share. Every bite was white-hot fire, followed by a sudden stinging cold.

I ran outside. I remember taking off my clothes, waving my shirt around. Shoeless and burned by bites, I ran from her house; making as much space between me and the hive as possible.

 

There was this blur of buzzing, biting, flailing, and screaming. Some of it mine, some if it Marla’s, in the distance. Little red spots crawling across my waving shirt. I threw myself on the ground, rolling in the grass. I smacked my body with the palm of my hand over and over, ensuring me that the little tickle I felt wasn’t another one of them.

Then I just lay there, panting in the grass. They were gone. A single red bee on the palm of my hand remained, carefully brushing itself, before casually flying off.

I could feel the soothing morning dew on my cheek. I slowly sat back up, leaning against a tree. I could see Marla’s house in the distance as I gasped for air. There was a heaviness to my lungs, like I couldn’t completely fill them.

 

A man stepped out. Or at least the shape of a man, it was hard to tell at that distance. It was as if he wasn’t completely solid; his silhouette kept shifting even as he stood still. He stopped in the doorway, looked me way, and just sort of… dissolved.

 

I burst into action.

My phone was still inside, but I had a backup in my car. I wrestled it out of the glove compartment, staining the driver’s seat with spots of blood. My fingertips were bleeding, making it hard to call emergency services. My cheek and tongue were swollen, making it even harder to speak.

I made my way back inside as I frantically explained what’d happened. What would you even call it? An assault? Marla wasn’t in her bedroom, but there was plenty of blood. There was a sound further in. Her shower was running.

She’d made it to her bathroom and dropped into her tub. She’d turned on the water, hoping to keep them off. The end result was her ending up swollen and unconscious in the bathtub; dead bees bobbing in the water around her. Some still twitching.

It was horrifying. She was bitten, and it wasn’t just from bees. There were miscolored marks from all kinds of stings, coloring her skin both a burning red, a pale white, and a faint green. Her neck was almost as thick as her head.

But she was alive.

 

Emergency services arrived. They managed to keep her alive, but she had to be put on a ventilator. They claimed she’d had a massive allergic reaction. They said something similar about me; completely ignoring the eyewitness account of a strange intruder. It didn’t help that neither me or Marla could say the slightest comprehensive thing about their appearance or identity.

 

It took some time, but I recovered. Marla too. By the time she got back home, not a single hive was left. Every single one had been butchered and devoured. And the red bees, well, they were just gone – along with their handmade hive.

Not too long ago, I talked to a friend-of-a-friend who worked at the Sheriff’s office. I told them where we’d found that first hive. He asked me at least three times if I was sure that that was the specific spot. Of course I was. I even had a clip of it.

Turns out, that place had been the discovery site of at least half a dozen unidentified bodies a couple of years ago.

Which, in turn, made me wonder. A couple of wanderers in the area had spoken about finding dead animals on the trail, only for them to be gone the next morning. It wouldn’t surprise me if that field was littered with bones. But with the way these things work, there is no telling what else might’ve gone missing along that trail.

 

That conversation is what spurred me to write this all down. Marla and I will never publish that video, and for all intents and purposes, neither of us will bring it up. This never happened. This couldn’t be real. We can’t move on with our lives if we keep talking about it, because there is nothing we can say that will make it alright.

Instead, she has new hives. She has a new smile.

And for a while, I think we can lie to ourselves just enough to make it.

 

 

 

7 Comments
2024/06/08
22:23 UTC

3

I saw something I shouldn’t have, and now I must deal with the consequences of my actions. 

Listen up. 

I don’t know how I got here. There is a bed, unmade, that I am currently sitting on. The pillows are enveloped by the duvet, being dragged along as if I was only thing keeping it down. There is a bedside table, where a lamp dutifully resides, and a phone, unlocked. There is a picture on the wooden, damp wall, that piqued my interest. 

“A happy family”, the inscription read. I can see 2 parents, the woman being blonde, and wearing a sundress, with hairclips on her hair. The man had dark brown curly hair and was of medium build and he was wearing a collared shirt, and pants that were skintight. A little boy stood by next to his parents, smiling happily at the camera, blowing bubbles. The parents were holding hands, smiling incessantly like it could be their last day. They looked magical, a real perfect family. But, this has gotten me into a whirlpool. I don’t seem to know who they are, their faces constantly contorting in my dreams to produce something ambiguous, a monstrosity, never to be discovered. I see their faces scream out in pain, them clutching their faces, crying. The background seemed to have changed, with it being replaced from a grassy meadow to a cold, damp highway, with nowhere to go, and nothing to do, but to suffer in pain, unnoticed and never found. 

The house I currently reside in is nothing short of a dilapidated mess. The floorboards creak every time I step on it. The ceiling is always dripping as it goes, clunk, clunk, clunk onto the floor, and the doors screech like a parrot whenever I enter or leave my room. The lights flicker, constantly malfunctioning, leaving me in darkness for most of the day. There are no windows either, and a distant, repugnant smell of something decomposing is always there, like an infestation, climbing and clamoring into the inner walls of this establishment, deeming it theirs forever. There is a basement, but I don’t dare to go in there, as its dark hue fills me with trepidation from head to toe. It is an abandoned child, and I am its ruthless parent, leaving them over and over again, until they simply have nothing. No physical presence, no emotional connection. It is just a stranger with a life of its own, a life I know nothing about, and that fills me with nothing but ignorant bliss. Eventually, I would have to force a connection, and that could either make or break me, and I do not want to find out which one I could be. 

In short, curiosity kills the cat. 

You might have a burning question in your mind, and I hope my explanation solves this. 

I believe this is my punishment for asking questions. You see, you know nothing about me. I am the son of two wealthy parents. My dad is an award-winning film maker, and my mom is a doctor. This means that I have always been surrounded by the newest, latest technology, at the cost of forming a meaningful relationship with my parents. Everything in life has always been handed to me, so I formed quite an arrogant personality as a result. Screaming at fast food workers, never giving to the poor, bellowing my anger onto waiters at restaurants. I was never a forgiving man, rather the opposite. I realize now that although I had everything I could possibly have, there was always something personal and emotional that I couldn’t have, and that filled me with sorrow. 

I was able to pursue my passion as a graphic designer. I’d work late nights, drafting out designs until the sun came up, chugging multiple energy drinks. I had nothing to do but to aimlessly work on the latest product I had been assigned. I had friends, but they were all shallow colleagues whom I talked to once a day, never being invited out for drinks, or even having their phone numbers. Now I crave it. I wished I had talked to them more, then maybe I would’ve diverted my fate somehow. Maybe if I had responded with a meager “Hello” to them when they stumbled in from the result of their late-night drinking, or had said a few words to them in passing, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me. Maybe the devil, or whatever it is, wouldn’t prey on me for being such a miserly, misanthropic weasel, bound to the chains of my own self. 

I need to retrace my steps to properly convey my dilemma. 

It was a Friday, the last day before a 2-day weekend, so of course everybody was relaxing, sailing through their work so they could leave early and drink their woes away, working like machines in their tiny little cubicles, producing drafts and determining their designs. I was tense. I was suffering from a creative block, meaning I couldn’t think about any new designs, and a deadline was fast approaching. My shirt clung to my chest, my hair was a mess, and I was hurriedly tapping on the desk, trying to think, think, think, before I would essentially miss the deadline and be deemed “lazy” by my boss. 

A colleague, who’s name has currently slipped my mind, approached me with a worried look on his chubby face. 

“Hey man, you alright? You look stressed.” 

I don’t respond to him. I don’t particularly like this guy, but he treats me much nicer than all the other weasels and impertinent people in this office. He’s the closest thing I had to a friend, if I have to say. Most of them usually come up to me to snoop in on my work, or to boast about their latest achievements. 

“I won 2 tickets to a circus show!” A lady had said to me, as an attempt to reach out to me. 

“The radio show said I could be on next week!” A man had once said to me in passing. 

“I won $25 on my lottery ticket today!” A woman, my cubicle neighbor, had said to me. 

Tch, pathetic. All they want to do is just boast, boast, boast. I came into work to work, not to hear about your latest quarrels and sorrows. Find somebody who cares. 

“Hey man, you alright?” The colleague’s words had enveloped my mind again, in a whirlpool, again and again. I couldn’t think of anything else but those words. 

I snap out of my daze just as the colleague was about to say another word. 

“Do you want to see my newest design?” he said, snapping his fingers into my face, enunciating every single word slowly, as if I was dumb. He said that in a sort of way that made me feel somewhat inclined to come, despite his impatient actions. 

“Sure.” I said quickly, in a somewhat annoyed tone to reflect my dismay at his actions. I wonder what pathetic design I was going to see next. A tree, a plant? 

I was at the colleague’s computer, curious to see what he had in store for me. 

“Okay, so, how this works is that there is a plant. You know what a plant is right? This plant is slowly dying, and then you drag the sun,” He drags the mouse over the plant on the screen, “to here. Are you listening?” I looked away from the computer, and saw two pairs of fully black eyes looking at me from outside the large, rectangular window. I locked eyes with it, and it flashed me a toothy grin, and then disappeared back into the unknown. I felt a new feeling envelop me from head to toe, and one that felt nothing short of horrible. I continue looking at the screen in hopes that I could forget what I just saw. 

“Anyway, the plant has multiple features on it that can help guide the user. It has a smiley face when it has adequate sun, and a sad face when it has no sun.” He continued, moving his body to face mine, “I think this could help teach people about the importance of taking care of the Earth and make them more aware about the ways to treat a plant. What do you think?” 

“Oh, yeah, it’s alright....” I said, trailing off on the last word. 

“Thanks, you can go now.” He stated in a monotone voice. He swiveled his body away to face the computer, leaving me to find my way back to my cubicle. 

I couldn’t focus on my work, as all I thought about was that thing, with its toothy, pearly whites shining back at me from the window. Was that even real? I would ponder all over it, thinking about it being a hallucination from the excess amounts of energy drinks that I had consumed, to it being just a mistake, how it couldn’t have been a figure with those qualities, rather the reflection of something in the office that I had spotted at the wrong time. Despite these thoughts, I chose to work on some website designs on autopilot, not caring about what I produced, only that I had produced something by the end of the day, due to my incredibly high standards. 

I left the office early that day, to everyone’s surprise. I started to aimlessly walk on the street, my shoes producing a click, clack, click sound every time I walked. There was a slight drizzle tapdancing on my head, making my perfectly gelled hair wet. It formed puddles on the ground, as I could feel the rain slowly soak up into my shoes as I walked into my untimely fate. After a few minutes of aimlessly walking, I stopped to check my reflection in a shop window, and was met with my little stalker. I ran, sprinting down the street until I was breathless, sweating, shaking. I was looking left, right, up and down, like a psychopath. I didn’t know what it wanted from me, and I didn’t know what to do to get rid of it. It was there, waiting for me. Waiting to get its prey. And I was its perfect target. 

I couldn’t sleep that night. Tossing, twisting, turning in bed, trying to get that image out of my head. I’d blink, and it would be in my reflection. Blink, and it would be in my office window. Blink, and the figure was suddenly near me, gripping my neck, choking me, pressing its incredibly long and sharp nails into my neck, lapping at the blood oozing out of me. Screaming at me in tongues with its disgusting, sticky mouth, gripping my neck even harder. I was petrified. My hands immediately went to my neck, grasping at it, trying to get rid of the hands that had clung itself onto my neck like it was a baby bird clinging to its mother. I tried to kick at it, but it seemed like it wasn’t affected, just pressing harder and harder onto my neck until I could see the light. I became unconscious just as the monster was getting tired of holding my neck, seemingly uninterested from me not reacting to it. As a last resort, I screamed, asking it why it wanted to do this to me, and it just laughed at me. Laughed. I felt embarrassed, my cheeks flushing. It decided, just because I asked such a stupid, embarrassing, humorous question, to release me, and roughly shoved me away. It started to walk away, as I heard something squelch with every footstep it took. 

That was the last thing I remembered before I ended up here. Sitting here, wallowing over the past, not being able to help myself get out. I feel hopeless, that there’s nothing else to do here but sit and reflect on my actions, and whether I deserve it or not. This is my true punishment. A lifetime of being bound by harsh, unforgiving, terrifying chains, and this monster wants to violently shatter the safe harness that has held me for my entire life. 

I don’t know if I'm ready to face reality anymore. 

1 Comment
2024/06/08
20:36 UTC

16

UPDATE: My friend was being ignored and left out by her main friend group. I regret trying to get answers.

Context

I was shaking, stressing over the idea the girls might break in at any second. Eventually, the police arrived and told us they'd be on the lookout, which eased most of my nerves. Alice and I still needed to hide, though… and for how long was unknown. A couple of hours after the police left, there was a knock on the front door. A male voice echoed in.

“Hello? We have the property secured. May I come in?”

I went over to the door and answered it, relieved help had returned. The officer stood on my welcome mat, with his radio in hand. I took a deep breath. “Thank you so much for coming. Can you stay for a while?”

“Yes, I will stick around. Because your description of the perpetrators is quite alarming, I've brought backup.”

I sped to Alice’s room, then repeated to her what the officer told me. She sighed in relief, but still had that look of conflict and stress on her face. No matter how much we had discussed her friends, I was still confused as to why they hated her. She has never done anything wrong, as far as I know. This situation was so out of the ordinary. She was always pretty innocent and sweet, so who would act out against her as if she had done something criminal?

The officer was at the kitchen table, speaking into his radio, while Alice and I went over the things she has done that her friends may have mistaken for malice. We couldn't come up with a single thing that would drive anybody to chase after anybody with hammers. Who would be that pressed about someone being unable to hear them? Reading a text wrong? Looking in the wrong place at the wrong time? Eventually, the officer walked over and told us to follow him outside. We put our shoes on, then out we went.

The three of us were mostly silent as we walked along the sidewalk. It was a chill, warm night. So quiet, I could only hear the sounds of our footsteps. At some point, we stepped into a convenience store. The cashier was absent, and there were a few candy wrappers littered across the floor. The officer brought us into one of the isles, then looked us both in the eyes.

“You hear the music playing? That'll be your lesson for tonight.”

It was a rap song about trust. I didn't understand what it had to do with the situation. I didn't understand how what the officer said was supposed to fit in with the atmosphere of this situation. Before I could open my mouth, I heard the front doors. The officer looked over, then stepped away from us. Five girls walked in, all with touque masks and hammers. My heart dropped. The girls stood by each other, left hands resting on their hips as they all stared at Alice and I. Alice gasped. “Oh my god!”

The officer let out a good laugh, right at our faces. I raised my right brow at him. “Why are you laughing right now?”

The girls started giggling, but not in any innocent way. The officer shook his head at us. “You two seriously thought you were safe with me...”

I was confused. Why would a police officer say that? What did he mean? What was he doing? The girl to the far left pointed her hammer at the officer, giggling. “He's my boyfriend!”

The “officer” took his hat off and let it fall to the ground. “I need to get out of these clothes. See you later, Sandra.”

It was like my soul turned to ice. All those feelings of assurance and safety were just… the result of a trick. How'd they even do this? What happened to the police we called??? Our safety wasn't real! I looked at Alice, who’s pupils had shrunk and looked less colorful… like the life was taken from her. “Why…? What are you doing?”

Sandra rolled her eyes. “We got you to come here so we can get you. Did you have fun feeling safe?”

Sandra's boyfriend walked up to the doors, the girls moved out of his way to let him exit. My brows furrowed, I stared at Sarah. “Who's idea was this!? This is cruel and… you shouldn't be doing this stuff!” Sarah, shifting her weight onto her right leg, pointed her hammer at her head. “Mine, actually.”

The girls sprinted towards Alice and I, eyebrows furrowed and hammers pointed at us. I grabbed Alice's shoulder, then turned and sprinted to the back of the store with her. There was a door, but the handle wouldn't budge. My nerves were stinging. Next thing I knew, excruciating pains hit my back and shoulders. The force of multiple hammers brought me to the floor, then one of them struck my right knee. The pain was unbearable. I reached for my knee and let out a scream. Leah grabbed both my hands and held them above my head, then Sarah and Sandra struck both of my knee caps again, making me scream louder than I ever have. They then started scraping my waist with the front of their hammers. Meanwhile, Alice was wailing and screeching. Jessica and Anna weren't holding back, striking every nerve-ending-heavy part of her body once, before scraping her forehead. I could barely do anything other than kick and wail. The only thought on my mind was… “why?” I was then struck in the head, and everything went blurry.

Sometime later, I awoke in an empty room with white brick walls and a metal door with no window. My body was aching from the hits it took, and I was confused as to where I was. Hours went by and nothing happened. All I had were my thoughts. Eventually, I fell asleep, and woke up to a plate with three slices of steak sitting beside me. It was cold, but I was hungry and had nothing else to do.

I'm unsure how much time passed, but I was given some more cold steak meals and my legs were aching less. While the hits from the hammers were painful, I should admit they weren't very strong. I can only guess it was more of an intimidation thing, than it was torture. It was still quite painful though.

Another hour had to have gone by before the door creaked open. It was Sarah, without her mask, face and long blond hair fully visible. She was holding a jar in her hands while staring into my eyes. “I brought this. Have fun with it.”

She pointed the jar at me, then twisted the lid off. Shutting her eyes, she turned the jar upside-down, letting a blurry object fall to the floor. It looked odd. It was as if something was able to be given a censor-blur in real life. As I stared at it, my heart dropped, shivers ran down my spine, and my head began to ache. Sarah backed out of the room, shutting the door on her way out. What made this worse was the click of the door being locked. I jumped up, looking at the blurred object as it sat on the concrete floor. I needed out. I picked myself up, ignoring the aching, and stumbled to, then body-slammed, the door. I twisted the handle, hoping I could somehow rip it out. Of course, it was no use. Fear really does things to your confidence, doesn't it?

I was hyperventilating, but then I wondered, why was I so afraid of this? It was an object… it can't move… I sat down facing the door. I was not going to look at that rancid THING. I hated it so much. It was like its purpose was to heighten my fight-or-flight response. Specifically the flight part. I reached into my pocket for my phone. As I pulled it out, I noticed the screen was terribly scratched and cracked. “LOL” had been written on it with mascara. All I could do was throw it at the object, but I would need to look at the object in order to properly aim for it. I buried my head in my arms, hoping I'd at least fall asleep.

Well, I did fall asleep… but I woke up to a painful prickling on my left shoulder, like hundreds of needles were poking me at a time. I looked and saw, up close, the blurry object. It was just sitting on my shoulder… until it moved. Shocked to my soul, I jumped up and ran my shoulder into the wall. The thing fell off and landed by my foot. I went over to grab my phone, then blindly threw it at the thing while turning my head away. The phone made a thump, rather than a crash, so I had to have hit the thing. While catching my breath, the painful prickling returned near the center of my back. My stomach tightening, I took my shirt off, then slammed it to the ground. Luckily, it was covering the object, but I could see a hump moving around. I became disoriented, throwing up on the ground.

I had felt enough fear for enough time to grow frustrated. In a desperate need to get rid of the thing, I took my right foot and stomped the hump again and again and again. I heard a splatter. Once I could feel I had flattened the thing, I stopped. I bent down and gently lifted my shirt until I started seeing a disgusting mush of black, red, and purple, along with a white slime. As disgusting as it was, my adrenaline wasn't rising. However, my shirt had rips and disgusting stains.

The door clicked, then creaked open. My heart skipped a beat. I stood up, hoping to my life it wasn't one of Alice's twisted friends. It was just Alice. Her face flushed, eyes sunken. Her shirt was torn, exposing her stomach and shoulders. She let out a deep sigh. “What did they do to you?”

I explained everything. She nodded.

“They made me eat one.”

I nearly threw up again. “They made you what!?”

“Yeah… Sarah and Sandra tied me up, then Sarah put a tube in my mouth and… and… I can't even…”

I was desperate to know why Alice's friends were doing this. Going to the greatest lengths possible to torment Alice and I…

“Did they do anything else to you?”

“They sat away from me and talked about all the fun things they've done together, along with all the fun things they plan on doing with each other. I tried to talk to them, but they’d barely respond. Then, apparently, Sarah stole my childhood DVD and brought it with her. She stood up and scratched it against the wall while the others giggled and glanced at me.”

“Well… that's cruel… they're horrible, terrible people!”

“It was worse that they weren't wearing their touque masks anymore. It was like a casual hang out I wasn't invited to.”

“Did they even passively talk about their problem with you?”

“No, but they would occasionally bring up my name, then go “ew” and “gross” or make a disgusted face.”

Alice did not deserve to go through any of this. I wanted to figure out what her fake friends’ problem was, and even if Alice did something wrong… 1. she'd be the one to apologize and do better. I doubt she'd have done it on purpose… 2. her friends are definitely in the wrong for being violent, impersonating authority, and kidnapping. Why can't people just communicate? Or at least say they don't want to communicate… I told Alice we needed to stay far away from her psychotic excuses for friends. She nodded her head in agreement. “Definitely. Although, I think one of them was neutral.”

“Neutral means you don't care about the stuff the toxic one is doing. You don't want to cut them off for being toxic, because you don't see that what they're doing is wrong.”

Alice nodded her head in agreement as a woman with long black hair, who looked to be in her 30s, peered into the room. “Oh my god, are you two alright!? I’m an employee here. I heard there were five girls causing some trouble.”

Alice looked at her. “Yeah! They made me eat a weird bug and socially humiliated me!”

The employee nodded her head. “I see, alright. You two need to come with me.”

We followed the employee into the hallway. I couldn't guess where we were. The hallway was just white bricks and grey metal doors along both walls. It didn't help that I couldn't recall how I got here. Every question Alice and I asked was ignored, which meant I had to wait longer for any answers. It couldn't be that long, though… right?

At the end of the hallway, there was a pair of double doors. The employee held one of them open for us, and when we walked through, a pit formed in my stomach. The five psychopaths were standing by each other in the center of an empty lobby, pointing their phones at us. Sarah rested her left hand on her hip. “Ew, look, it's those sluts!”

Sandra flipped back her long black hair. “They're so gross!”

I looked into the employee's eyes, waiting for her to tell them off. I was hoping she'd curse them out too. She nodded her head left and right. “These two girls were trespassing on this property and brushing up against male employees without consent. Say what you need to.”

And if my trust in authority hadn't already been obliterated… now we were being framed? The psychos put their phones away. I looked at Alice to check for her reaction. Her brows were furrowed.

“I know everything about you, by the way. We've been friends for eight years.”

Jessica chuckled. “Oh yeah? We know everything about you too! We still have that video of you being tricked into keying someone's car by being told it was a junk car you could practice your rage on.” The girls chuckled. Alice had a look of determination. Meanwhile, I was shaking. What's about to happen? Did Alice have to say that at this moment? Sarah looked me in the eyes.

“Alexa, you shouldn't be friends with Alice, if you don't want to be dragged into her problems. You wouldn't be framed as a sex offender if you weren't here.”

I raised my right brow. “But you're the ones causing these problems! You're torturing Alice… and I… and you aren't giving us any reason!” The girls slid their phones into their pockets, then walked over to me. I was cornered. Even if there weren't six women cornering me, the exit doors were boarded up beyond their frames. There was no immediate way out. Sarah was staring me down.

“You know what, Alexa?”

I was sinking, still unable to process any of this very well. “What?”

Sarah and Sandra sped up to me, then grabbed me by the arms. I froze, reminded of what went down in the convenience store. Jessica smirked. “I think we should let Alexa get her words out now.”

Sarah giggled. “I bet she thinks people will believe the bug thing.”

Sandra giggled. “That was the reason we introduced her to the bug, so...”

The employee gave me her phone, then she told me to vocalize every word I type. As I typed this, the girls giggled and rolled their eyes at every moment of fear I recounted. They want me to feel small, but I'm too distrusting of them already. I want this to be settled peacefully and maturely. I don't want to go through anymore torture.

4 Comments
2024/06/08
20:10 UTC

113

My college crush came back and I'm scared

“Your girlfriend’s here” my brother and roommate called from across the house in an obnoxious tone. I didn’t feel like getting up see what he was talking about. I didn’t have a girlfriend, my social anxiety wouldn’t allow it.

With an exasperated sigh I got off the couch. “What are you talking about? Who’s at the…”

My brain froze, she was standing there. Her, Rachel. The girl. She had barely changed, she still had those big brown eyes that had pulled me in a decade ago. She was as beautiful as the last time I had seen her.

Oh God. No.

The memories came rushing back, the memories I had spent years repressing. I had all but convinced myself that night never happened.

I had been a freshman in college, away from everyone I knew for the first time. Making friends wasn’t easy but I was far from a loner.

Rachel and I had some class together, I don’t remember what it was for. We were bored and swapped each other others Snapchat IDs.

We talked occasionally over the next few weeks, commenting on each other’s stories and stuff. Then kind of out of the blue she asked if I wanted come over her place. Her and some friends were having a movie night.

“Heck yeah” I replied with a smiley emoji. “Awesome! We plan on watching the entire LOTR trilogy, pull an all nighter but you know how that’s probably gonna go lol”.

At the time I would have barely considered us friends, but if she wanted to explore things past that I was totally cool with the idea. She was fun, kind and really pretty.

The night came and sure enough the living room floor in the house her and her friends were renting was covered in mattresses.

She greeted me with a hug, it was nice. I think that was the first time we had had any sort of physical contact. After some introductions to the people already there we settled down to watch the movie.

It's funny what your brain locks onto. Shit went to hell right after the troll is killed. Three guys and a girl abruptly stood and starting walking backwards until they were each against opposing walls. Their eyes were blank, almost clouded over.

Rachel was standing in the hallway, the Whiteclaw she was holding fell to the floor but she didn’t seem to notice. Her eyes were wide, she glanced at me for just a moment.

A few people kind of chuckled nervously, the room had a weird tension to it. Like we all knew something wasn’t right but we didn’t know what to do about it.

Each of the four took off their shirts, they threw them to the side never blinking those awful eyes.

Energy was surging through me, I needed to go. I needed out. The girl next to me screamed, I turned to see the chest of the guy standing nearest her bulging. His skin split up the center revealing writhing mass inside him!

Others began to scream and stand, all of the four who stood glassy eyed now had gapping chest cavities. With a wet squelch tentacle like appendages burst out from them!

My heart skipped a beat leaving me gasping painfully for breath. The girl next to me was lifted from where she sat and pulled towards the nearest tentacle monster.

I didn’t help her, I didn’t help anyone. Others tried running but were snatched up and entangled in those wet dark green arms!

Unlike the others I didn’t run for the door. I scrambled up the stairs, pulling myself up with my hands as my feet tried to keep pace. I lost my fingernails but I didn’t care, I needed out!

Rachel didn’t move, she didn’t so much as glance my way.

I didn’t have time to think about that. I reached the top of the stairs just as one of the creatures started up after me. I ran into the nearest bedroom and closed the door behind me.

Running on pure adrenaline I ripped open the window and climbed onto the roof. I stopped myself from jumping down, I was directly over the front door. I could see light spilling across the front yard, the door was open.

Grabbing the gutter and praying it would hold I pulled myself up above the window. I had just cleared the window when I heard the bedroom door shatter. I ran across the roof at a reckless speed.

I didn’t think, I just jumped. The house was on a hill, that fact might have been what saved me. I fell what was probably thirty feet but landed on my ass on an incline.

Rather than shattering my legs I slid down the hill. Until my foot caught something and sent me tumbling head first through the ferns and brambles.

Once I caught my footing again I ran to the bottom of the hill. I found a road and followed it. At some point I cried myself to sleep under a tree.

I never went back. I didn’t even pack my things. Somehow my car ended up back at my dorm. After searching it I climbed in and drove two states back to my parents house.

I told them I flunked out and couldn’t afford my dorm. They were pissed but I didn’t care. I should have gone to therapy but I felt like that would have been like admitting it was real. I just couldn’t do it. I buried the memories by self medicating. I lived by leeching off others for years before I started getting my life back together.

Before convincing myself that night had never happened.

“Dude, that was ridiculous”. My brother’s voice pulled me from my memories, my dream? I was back on the couch. Rachel was nowhere to be seen.

“Seriously man, she’s cute and all but passing out because a girl talked to you? That’s next level bro”. I sat up looking around “where is she?” I demanded.

“Chill man, you probably freaked her out when you went all limp. Don’t worry, not only did I catch you and drag your heavy ass to the couch I got a note from her”.

I ripped the paper from his hand. “She took off pretty quick, she looked spooked. Anyways I have to get going, someone needs to pay the bills around here”.

I ignored him, my entire focus was riveted to the hand written note.

“I’m sorry to barge into your life like this but we need to talk. It’s urgent”.

She left an address and said to be there Saturday at noon.

I don’t know what to do. My memories of that night have to be false, there was no police reports, no missing people. It had to have been in my head. Maybe Rachel can clear things up for me, give me the closure I need.

14 Comments
2024/06/08
18:59 UTC

24

I was a member of the Church of the Final Rapture. Our leader wishes to bring about the Apocalypse.

“Before I met the Savior, I was a worthless piece of garbage, barely a human being,” Lovebug droned at the front of the enormous room. Lovebug was a monster of a man, two-hundred and fifty pounds of hard tattooed muscle. Like myself, he was a high-ranking member of the Church. 

His flat gray eyes scanned the room with a fanatical gleam. I sat in the first row, watching and waiting. Followers of the Savior would tell their stories, how the Savior had reached down and lifted them out of sin and filth to bring them up to the divine. The bright fluorescent lights overhead droned on with a low hum. Thousands of men crammed together in seats or stood at the back of the room.

The Savior taught only two commandments: to murder is holy, and to die for the Savior is the highest bliss. An army of warriors followed the Savior, knights on a holy crusade, priests who wouldn’t hesitate to burn the foul bodies of any witches or demons we encountered. I thought of myself as a knight for the holy king, our Savior, the mouthpiece of the eternal.

“Now, it is like the hand of God has reached into my heart and loosened all the knots there, the knots of anxiety and fear and uncertainty.” He raised his black, military-style rifle into the air for emphasis. “I never realized the true nature of reality before- the fact that we are living in a simulation where the final battle of good versus evil is playing out before our very eyes. And I will be on the side of the good, until my dying breath. I will be on the side of the Savior and of God!” 

The crowd roared and clapped. Men got to their feet, sweating heavily in the boiling hot conference room. I felt the surge of energy pass through me like a tidal wave, the pure confidence and iron will of truth. Lovebug lumbered down off the stage as the Savior came out from behind the red curtains, walking with the straight spine of a soldier. He wore a silky black robe that fluttered softly around him, the hood pulled back.

The Savior had horrific burns running the length of his body. His arms had melted folds of keloid scars visible all the way to the tips of his fingers. His scalp had also melted, and the Savior had no hair except for his eyelashes and eyebrows. But the fire that had nearly killed him had spared his face, an aristocratic visage with ferocious green eyes like those of a cat. That face seemed like it had been sculpted out of marble by DaVinci himself, the high cheekbones jutting out over a chin so sharp that it looked like it could have hammered nails into boards. He stared out at the crowd for a long moment, his gaze unblinking.

“The final battle has begun,” he said in a low voice, no more than a whisper. Yet, in the deathly silence of the hall, his words rang out loud and clear. “Those in charge of this illusory world know that we see them. We see them very well, how they hide behind the curtain. They control the world economy, the justice system. Every government, whether they call themselves communist, authoritarian or democratic, is no more than a puppet in their dancing fingers. 

“When anyone tries to stand up and lead the masses of suffering people towards freedom from slavery, they are vilified by the mainstream media, brought up on false charges or killed, their bodies staged to look like a suicide. Look what they did to Jesus, and for what? For telling people to love God more than their rulers? And those who speak out today are also crucified, murdered in prisons or killed by their governments. Truth is the most precious commodity, after all. It is one that can only be purchased with blood.

“So what can we do? How can we fight against such evil?” There was a quiet muttering among the pale, frozen faces that stared up at the stage with adoration and love.

“We can fight it by using their own weapons against them!” the Savior said, his voice rising in speed and pitch. He raised his fisted hands to his chest, accentuating each syllable with a back and forth stab of his hands. “Fight fire with fire, and pay back blood with blood! The only thing these global terrorists understand is greater levels of force. We must show them death on a scale they have never before imagined.” I felt nervous as the Savior delivered his message. I saw other men shuffle anxiously in the crowded auditorium, most of them having high-caliber rifles slung around their shoulders.

I felt the rising violence and bloodlust in the air like electricity before a lightning storm. At that moment, I knew we would all have to fight before too long.

***

The Savior called me and Lovebug back to his office after the speech had ended, sending his squirrely assistant over to deliver the hand-written note in the Savior’s blocky, copperplate handwriting. For a long moment, I simply watched the crowd filtering out of the doors, heading back towards the complex where all the holy soldiers of the Savior lived. Feeling dissociated and light-headed, I followed behind the massive muscular form of Lovebug, the heavy weight of the M16 bouncing against my chest. We pushed through the blood-red velvet curtains, winding our way past stage equipment and down a hallway of pure marble. 

Mystical paintings similar to those of Alex Grey covered both walls, showing the inside workings of the human body through art. It was as if the painter had X-ray vision and could see the heart chakra and the countless thin vessels that spiderwebbed up to the crown. But, unlike Alex Grey’s hopeful depictions of mysticism, these showed men and women being burned alive, crucified, decapitated or strangled. Dark colors composed the paintings: the dark blue of a suffocating face, the clotted red of an infected stab wound, the black of death. They captured the essence of struggle perfectly.

The Savior’s office had a thick mahogany door with silver engravings of leaves and vines running the length of it. At the top stood a single staring eye with twelve wavy tentacles emerging from the perimeter of it- the symbol of God, who the Savior had seen personally. God would sometimes speak through the mouth of the Savior, always during times of great tribulation or suffering. Lovebug knocked at the door. The Savior’s deep voice echoed out faintly.

“Come in.”

We entered slowly, the sprawling desk of the Savior filling half of the room. He sat in a comfortable chair behind it, reclining. On the walls behind him, he had pictures of Jesus, Saint Stephen, Gandhi, Hitler, Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara and others who he taught had fought against the world elites and been killed for it.

The Church of the Final Rapture was not a church in the conventional sense. The main teachings didn’t revolve around the divinity of Christ or the nature of original sin. What the Savior taught was far more profound- an illusory or simulated world where every single person could become their own Christ, could awaken to the truth and perform miracles, but only if they believed fully and followed the Savior.

“Sit down, please,” he said in his gravelly voice. “I have a mission I would like to discuss, and you two are the only ones competent and loyal enough to carry it out.”

***

“There is another anomaly spreading,” the Savior said, staring between me and Lovebug with his fanatical emerald eyes. “It is located in a rural part of the United States, in a town called-” he glanced down at the sheet of paper in front of him- “Frost Hollow. Supposedly, there are black-ops sites located nearby, secret alphabet agencies experimenting with magnetic distortion systems and creating rips in the fabric of spacetime with micro-wormholes. 

“I don’t think it is much of a leap to say that the anomaly was likely started, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the government, as part of their research. The Cleaners would like to control that power, after all. They have been sending their men after it for years like sheep to the slaughter, expending billions of dollars researching it. If they and the US government end up being able to control the creation and spread of anomalies, they will use it to enslave the world. There is no question about it in my mind.” He leaned forwards towards us, his eyes growing cold.

“There is only one path forward I can see. We need to spread the anomaly, make it become unstable so the demons of Hell contained within it can spill out onto the real world. Perhaps it will awaken the downtrodden masses enough to begin the final revolution. We must fight terrorism with greater terrorism, and violence with greater levels of violence. For this mission, I am sending the two of you into Frost Hollow.

“Your job will be to find the Titan or Titans and lead them out to the border of the anomaly. These are horrendous beasts- indeed, the Church has seen them before. They are nearly impossible to kill. I want you two to go inside, bait it and have it follow you back to the edge, beyond the veil.” 

“What’s a Titan?” Lovebug asked, his eyes flicking left and right nervously. The Savior stared at him stonily for a long moment. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, showing only the whites. All the blood seemed to drain from his face. His teeth chattered, his mouth opened, and through it, God spoke, the words pouring out like crashing stones. The voice did not sound anything like the Savior’s. It sounded much deeper, more mechanical, more alien somehow.

“I see you very well. I saw you when you were no more than a blood clot in your mother’s body. I see you even as corpses, rotted, putrefying, crawling with scavengers and insects. I see everything, every moment of time. But, in the anomaly, there are things I cannot see. For this, my holy ones must go forth.

“In the center of Hell, you will find a rose, a bird and a stone. These will be your salvation, if salvation can be found at all. Go with the blessing of Yaldabaoth.” The voice cut off abruptly, the silence deafening. I could hear my own heart pounding in my ears.

The Savior’s eyes came back down, looking confused and uncertain. His pupils were dilated and he was sweating heavily, even though it was cool and air-conditioned back here in his private office. We stared at each other across the table, a no-man’s land that protected me like a shield. For there seemed to be something dark in the Savior along with the light, and I didn’t know if any man could contain that power.

But there was no question of disobeying. Within the hour, Lovebug and I were on one of the Church’s private jets flying to the town of Frost Hollow.

***

The gently rolling hills of Frost Hollow loomed below us as the plane circled the small dirt airstrip in the middle of some cow farms. I looked up at Lovebug, trying to judge his stony expression. He had done many years in prison before joining the Church and finding salvation, even being the leader of one of the gangs. I knew he wasn’t afraid of violence. He had never told me what he did, what tortured him so much.

The Savior had told us much secret knowledge- how to find a Titan, a massive, bloated abomination that could come into being only within an anomaly, a combination of many rotted body pieces fused together in some sort of hellish black magic. The Savior had spies around Frost Hollow and the surrounding towns who had been monitoring the anomaly, watching the unstable gateways leading in and out and mapping them as best they could. We would be given a fast car, plenty of weapons and some body armor. I had no idea how nightmarish the journey would become, however.

“I’m driving,” Lovebug said as we descended the steps. A man in a black suit with the symbol of the eye and tentacles pinned on his black button-up shirt pulled up with a Mercedes AMG-One. It was a sleek, silver thing of immense luxury and power. The craftsmanship made it look like a work of art. I sighed, keeping my finger nervously on the trigger of my rifle as I glanced around the strange, empty town.

“If this thing won’t outrun a Titan, then nothing will,” I said, trying to break the tension. I looked at the speedometer, seeing it went up to 220 miles an hour.

“Damn fucking right,” Lovebug growled as we slid into the futuristic-looking leather seats. The engine turned on like a softly purring kitten. The GPS automatically turned on as well, the soft robotic voice leading us toward one of the more stable portals to the anomaly.

Lovebug sped down the empty forest roads of Frost Hollow, going twice the legal speed limit the entire way.

“The speed limit is only for the lowest common denominator,” Lovebug said pedantically, waggling a tattooed finger for emphasis. The GPS said we would reach the gateway to the anomaly in five minutes. Based on Lovebug’s speed, I thought it would be more like two. “Someone who actually knows how to drive and isn’t drunk or high can easily do 80 in a 40. Easily.” I glanced nervously at the speedometer, realizing he was going over 100 miles an hour now. The sports car hugged the tight corners of the winding forest roads with absolute precision.

“Turn right onto Snake Island Road Extension in five hundred feet,” the robotic female voice. Lovebug slammed on the brakes a few seconds later, the tires skidding and locking up. We looked around frantically, seeing no streets anywhere except the one we were on.

“What the hell?” Lovebug asked. The night was crawling in by now, the darkness covering the forests like a curtain. I squinted, looking at the thick grove of trees on our right, scanning it back and forth over and over. After a few seconds, I realized there was an overgrown dirt path there with no sign. It was nearly impossible to see at night, however, and calling it a road was somewhat of a joke.

“Oh, damn,” I said. “They should’ve given us an SUV.”

***

According to the GPS, our destination was only a thousand feet down Snake Island Road Extension. The low clearance of the Mercedes was a problem as Lovebug tried to navigate the flooded forest path. Deep tread marks flooded with black, stagnant water marked the entirety of Snake Island Road Extension. But ahead, the headlights illuminated something unusual.

Cutting straight across the trees and brush like a razorblade was a shimmering wall of translucent energy. It reminded me of a mirage, curving upwards in wavy spiral patterns. I could see through it easily, but it gave everything a dark, sinister covering. The forest seemed to be in constant motion as the grayish light distorted it.

“Look how huge it is!” I said in awe, staring up at the starry sky. The flat wall rose up seemingly forever, disappearing in the cold void of infinite space. Lovebug slowly ambled the car towards the anomaly, trying to keep the Mercedes from getting stuck with its low clearance.

“You ready for this, man?” Lovebug asked in a quavering voice as we inched towards the anomaly. It was only seconds away now. He grabbed my shoulder. “This is it. Remember the commandments.” I closed my eyes, concentrating my heart on the Savior’s words. Dying for the good is the highest bliss, he had told us.

“Let’s do this,” I said, my eyes flying open from my silent prayer as the hood passed through the anomaly. It disappeared in front of our eyes. We could see the forest on the other side, but the Mercedes looked like it was going through some sort of teleportation portal, being ripped apart layer by layer and sent somewhere else. Lovebug nervously grabbed my hand.

“For the Savior and for the Good,” he whispered as we passed through.

***

I heard screaming and wailing, full of agony and unimaginable horror, like the screams of those burning in Hell. My vision went white. A carpet of morphing dark colors covered everything as the shrieking intensified, until I thought my eardrums would explode.

“Stop!” I cried, feeling the pressure in my head like a splitting migraine. “Stop screaming!” I started kicking, punching, trying to get away.

“Calm the fuck down!” someone whispered, slapping me hard across the face. Stunned, I looked up, seeing Lovebug holding me down in the seat. He was covered in sweat, his face a blank mask of terror. “Don’t scream. There’s things outside that are looking this way.” I blinked fast, my senses coming back to me. I felt like a man waking up from surgery, confused and disoriented, my memories only returning in small trickles and drops.

We were sitting in the Mercedes on a road that looked like it had been made of human skin. The headlights showed the ragged patches of pale, leathery flesh sewn together with black thread. The road disappeared ahead of us in a straight line. The land here looked as flat as Kansas. Like a mirror world, it had houses and restaurants and churches lining both sides of the road, but they were all wrong.

The stone church looked like it was constructed of some kind of red volcanic rock. Baphomets and upside-down pentagrams covered the outer walls, engraved deeply into the glossy surface. Mutilated bodies covered the front lawn, impaled, crucified, skinned alive or burned at the stake. Hundreds of men, women and children lay dead in front of the Satanic temple.

Overhead, the sky bubbled and frothed with red clouds and constant explosions of blue lightning. Like missile flashes, the lightning illuminated the world around us, shining brightly before going dark. The incessant strobing gave the entire place a kind of circus freakshow vibe.

Many of the homes looked like they had been constructed from bones and covered in human skin, like some sort of hellish teepee. Arm and leg bones wrapped in razor-wire formed the pillars. Grinning skulls lined the top of the flat, rectangular roofs, thousands of bleached human heads staring down.

Staring out of the dark doorways, I saw gleaming, silvery eyes. They loomed eight or nine feet in the air on spidery bodies. Their limbs looked as thin as bones, jet-black and dull. The only color from these still revenants was from their unblinking eyes and grinning mouths, where teeth like those of a dragonfish jutted out. Every pair of eyes on that street was fixed intently on the Mercedes, the sick rictus grins on their alien faces never faltering.

“Jesus Christ, I’m sorry,” I whispered, feeling weak. “I thought I was in a nightmare for a minute there.” Lovebug shrugged his massive shoulders.

“Yeah, I felt it too, though I came out of it a lot faster than you did,” he said, glancing over at the Satanic church as we passed. It had protective black spikes rising high into the air all around it. The broken body of a child who had been burnt at the stake stood in front of the gates like a death omen, his small, withered hand holding a black rose. Lovebug choked, retching. He nearly rolled down the window, until his eyes met the silvery ones of a nearby abomination.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking closer at the church. On top of the roof, I saw an enormous statue of a black raven, its wings spread as if it were flying. It had three gleaming, silvery eyes embedded into the dark rock.

“That boy just reminds me of my son,” Lovebug whispered glumly, inching along the streets.

“I didn’t know you had a son,” I said, surprised. Lovebug had never mentioned a family. He shrugged.

“I don’t. Not anymore. I killed him. I got drunk and high one night back when I was selling drugs. Fell asleep in the living room with a lit cigarette and burned down the whole house. I killed my wife and son, burned them. They sent me to prison, but what did that matter? The prison up here is far worse.” He tapped the side of his temple.

I was about to say something, but at that moment, many things happened at once.

***

Lovebug was staring at the corpse of the child when an inhumanly long arm reached up from the side of the car. It had fingers like spikes, as sharp as a knife and twice as long as normal human fingers. I gasped, a warning shout welling up in my throat, but the hand came smashing down into the driver’s side window and grabbed Lovebug’s neck.

The window exploded in a shower of safety glass, shattering like brittle bones. Lovebug’s scream was cut off as he was dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the car. I swung open my door, leaping out and bringing my rifle around.

The Cheshire Cat grin of the abomination never faltered as it held Lovebug in front of its body like a human shield, holding him by the neck above the ground. Lovebug’s legs kicked and squirmed, his face turning blue as he slowly suffocated. His eyes bulged from their sockets, panicked and rolling, uncomprehending in their total animal panic.

I flicked on the laser sight. It danced over the ground, flashing over the body of Lovebug and the abomination. But I couldn’t aim for its torso or face, as I would probably hit Lovebug in the process. It was far too close.

I aimed for the monster’s thin, skeletal feet, the black toes twisting over each other like the roots of a tree. The gunshots rang out as a deafening counterpoint to the thunder blasts.

The monster gave a hissing gurgle as two bullets caught it in the right ankle. The creature seemed bloodless, and only dust and ashes rolled out of the exploded insectile flesh. It tried to skitter away, but its destroyed ankle caused it to fall forward, throwing Lovebug.

His body rolled across the road, the soft leather that looked like it was made from tens of thousands of human skins. Gasping, his lips still showing a faint blue cast, he struggled to crawl away. 

I saw furtive movement from all around us. The creatures in the houses and doorways were moving forwards, drawn by the bloodshed or noise. Hundreds of glowing, silvery eyes surrounded us. I sprinted forward, dragging Lovebug to his feet.

“The church,” I hissed. “It’s the only place.” Still pulling the weak, confused Lovebug behind me, we staggered towards the black gates. They opened with a shriek of rusted metal.

***

The creatures stopped at the gates to the blood-red church, simply staring at us like statues. They didn’t even seem to breathe, their lidless eyes never blinking, the silvery glow never fading.

“I think this is the place we’re meant to go,” I whispered as we made our way towards the massive pointed doors. “When God spoke to us, he said something about a stone, a bird and a rose, that we would find the Titan through that.” I pointed back at the burnt body of the boy. “He’s holding a rose. On top of the building, there’s a bird. And the church is all stone. Maybe this is the place where God wanted us to go all along.”

“Maybe,” Lovebug muttered through heaving gasps, still grabbing at his bruised neck. “God, this hurts. It feels like I got hanged.” Side by side, we pushed open the doors to the Satanic church and walked inside.

***

Row after row of pews stretched out in front of us. Thousands of black candles were set up all around the perimeter of the enormous chamber. They sputtered and flickered constantly, throwing dancing shadows in every direction.

A small pair of bright eyes glanced up at us from under one of the nearby pews. I nearly jumped out of my skin, pointing the rifle at them and yelling.

“Show yourself! Come out now, or I shoot!” Lovebug looked at me, confused. He hadn’t seen it. But a few heartbeats later, a little girl crawled out, her eyes big and blue, her body an emaciated wreck. She wore ripped strands of what looked like leathery human skin to cover herself, tied together with black string. In one small, grime-streaked hand, she held a half-eaten raw mouse.

“Please, don’t kill me,” she said in a small voice. “I’m Emma. My mommy and daddy got dragged away and I’m scared.” I felt sick and weak looking at this small victim. I reached down and helped her up.

“I wouldn’t hurt you,” I said, kneeling down to her level. “I thought you were one of the bad guys. This is Lovebug, and I’m Jack.”

“This isn’t part of the mission, man,” Lovebug said nervously. “What are we supposed to do with her?”

“Well, we can’t just fucking leave her here,” I whispered back. “We need…” But I never got to finish that thought. Because, at that moment, the church woke up.

***

A red glow started at the front of the chamber, the altar where the priest would have stood and given speeches or holy communion. Here, they had a podium that looked like it was carved from a single block of obsidian. Reflected in it, I saw the screaming faces of people burning in Hell, grinning demons ripping off strips of human flesh and spiraling waves of flames, all sculpted by an artist who was able to capture the most miniscule details of agony and torture.

I looked around, realizing Emma had gone. I hadn’t seen her scurry away and hide, but her absence gave me a feeling of crushing dread in my chest.

“Lovebug, something’s wrong,” I whispered, still staring up at the altar. I heard a floorboard creak behind me. I glanced back just in time to see a man wearing full SWAT gear. I caught the flash of a pistol coming down, the butt aimed at my forehead. I heard the cracking, felt the immense pressure and pain. For a few moments, I swam in the currents of consciousness, trying to stay awake, but then the blackness crept in and stole me away.

***

I awoke suddenly, my hands tied so tightly behind my back that I couldn’t feel my fingers. I felt sick and wanted to throw up. I quickly choked those feelings back down. I tried to shake my head, to clear it, but that just brought jolts of pain like electricity shooting through my skull. Nearby, I heard a gunshot, then another.

“Bring it, fuckers!” Lovebug screamed in an insane voice. The explosion of a grenade rocked the building, and I smelled choking black smoke. I opened my eyes, seeing three men in SWAT gear laying dead, their bodies scattered haphazardly around the chaotic scene. One wall of the church had blown outwards, the stone still sending out gray wisps of wavy smoke into the air. I looked at my partner, seeing he had a bullet hole in his left arm and another one in his stomach. He was bleeding heavily, but the adrenaline and insanity seemed to keep him afloat- for now, at least.

I saw something walking towards us from the stage. It looked like a small boy, but black shadows spiraled up around his chest and face, translucent and shimmering darkly. He looked about five or six, his skin pale and smooth. As Lovebug’s face grew slack and distant, the boy abruptly erupted into flames.

“Don’t kill me again, Dad,” the small boy whispered in a hoarse voice choked with pain. The flames rose from his head and skin, melting his flesh, blackening it. Drops of boiling fat dribbled off his nose and chin. “Don’t send me to the dark place again, Dad…” He continued creeping closer to Lovebug, moving like a lion stalking an antelope.

“I didn’t know!” Lovebug cried, his face going paler. Tears streamed from his eyes as the rifle trembled wildly in his shaking hands. For a long moment, he looked torn, the finger tightening on the trigger as sobs escaped his chattering lips.

“Kill it, Lovebug!” I screamed. “Don’t let it get to you!” But as he dropped the rifle and knelt before the small boy, I knew it was too late.

The shadows spun faster and faster around the burning, dying body of the boy. He gave a scream of soul-shattering agony, reaching out to a small hand towards Lovebug.

“Help me!” the boy cried. Lovebug hesitated before bringing an arm up to take the boy’s hand.

“I missed you, Robbie,” Lovebug said before his fingers brushed the boys. The boy lunged forward, grabbing Lovebug’s hand with an iron grip. I saw Lovebug’s eyes widen in shock and surprise. A moment later, I heard the bones in his hand grinding together before breaking with a sound like snapping tree branches. The boy’s eyes darkened into jet-black orbs, the melted lips splitting into a sadistic grin.

“I missed you, too,” the thing hissed as its right arm changed, melting and reforming into something black and blade-like. The insectile limb swung forward in a blur, coming straight at Lovebug’s heart. He gave a panicked squeal a moment before it hit, trying to pull away with all of his considerable strength, his face turning chalk-white as the shattered bones in his hands ground together.

I closed my eyes, rolling away, trying to undo the knots that held my hands in place. Lovebug must have been greatly outnumbered. He would never have let that man tie me up. I heard the sounds of tearing meat and crunching bone nearby. Lovebug’s final breaths gurgled through the air, but I still kept my eyes closed, not wanting to look.

I felt a small tickle on my wrists, then heard a little voice next to my ear.

“I’ll get you out of here,” Emma whispered. I waited a few moments, then I heard the ropes snap. I looked back, seeing her holding a piece of sharp, broken glass in one tiny hand. In her other, she had the car keys. I wondered how she had gotten them, the little pickpocket.

“Thank God,” I said, rubbing my wrists. I looked around for my rifle, seeing it was laying next to the body of one of the SWAT guys. I wondered who these men were. I crawled towards it slowly, not wanting to draw attention.

“Don’t move another step,” a voice growled behind me. I glanced back, seeing the small boy, his features morphing into those of a demon. Curving horns spiraled from his temples. His jet-black eyes stared down at me with hatred and coldness. “You’ll follow your friend who killed my servants. His soul will stay alive forever within my body, a sickly thing wrapped up in an eternal shriek.”

“Fuck you,” I cried, lunging for my rifle. Emma disappeared behind a pew, running on all fours without looking back. I spun as I hit the ground, turning the barrel towards the morphing face of the shape-shifter. Its jaw unhinged, a snake-like tongue flicking out as it flew through the air towards me. Hollow fangs dripping clear venom grew from its mouth in a heartbeat, elongating and sharpening before my very eyes.

I fired twice, the bullets entering through its mouth and coming out the back of its head. Its flesh disintegrated in an instant, the body turning into light, gray ashes that disappeared in the breeze. Breathing hard, I waited, wondering if it was all over.

I heard a rumbling far below me, as if an earthquake were starting. A moment later, the church floor exploded upwards, sharp rubble and splintered boards flying in every direction.

***

“It’s coming!” Emma screamed, running over and grabbing my hand. I lay there, shell-shocked and unmoving for a long moment. In hindsight, the girl was a natural born survivor with much sharper reflexes than me. It was likely the only reason she survived as long as she had.

“The Titan,” I whispered grimly, trying to pull myself up to my feet. But it was like trying to walk on a heaving, sinking ship. Parts of the floor collapsed down into a seemingly never-ending abyss beneath us.

Near the stage, I saw hundreds of long, pale arms pulling something bloated and monstrous out of the ground. It was a Titan, and no explanation can ever convey the true horror of that thing.

It looked like countless human corpses had been melted together, fused into a ball with sagging, boneless chests, deformed faces and millions of writhing maggots. It groaned and gurgled with many lungs, exhaling a rotting, sulfurous breeze that made me want to retch. A soft susurration of many pained, muttering voices continuously emanated from the Titan.

“Emma, run!” I screamed, but she was already sprinting back towards the front door of the church. I backpedaled, afraid to look away from the creeping monstrosity, the juggernaut of rotting flesh moving towards us.

I heard the Titan closing the distance as I sprinted through the front door. The abominations with the silver eyes still slunk around the gate, blocking the car. I raised the rifle, firing blindly at the creatures, careful not to hit the little girl.

“Go to the car!” I screamed at Emma, feeling around for the keys. As the abominations saw the Titan, those still alive scattered, moving in a blur back into the shadows and homes of this rotten place.

The Titan broke the front wall of the church, sending splinters of red stone flying in every direction like bullets. It groaned and gurgled faster, its sickly cries more insistent. I ran to the Mercedes, starting it up and pressing the accelerator to the floor. I pulled a U-turn, heading back to the border of the anomaly.

***

The engine roared, the car bucking like a wild stallion as it pressed me and Emma back into our seats. But the creeping Titan continued gaining speed behind us, and for a few seconds, I feared we would be crushed to death under its massive weight.

The anomaly shimmered ahead of us. I crashed through it at two hundred miles an hour, skidding wildly as the Mercedes hit the dirt road. I nearly flew into a tree. I managed to right it at the last second, pulling onto the paved street as the Titan broke through behind us.

It followed us out. It’s in the real world now. 

1 Comment
2024/06/08
18:31 UTC

20

The Thing in the Cabinet

“Hey man, don’t talk about that.” Jason shoots me a nervous glance.

“What? I overheard Mr. Garrison in his office talking about feeding something in the cabinet. The fuck’s that about?”

He clasps his hand on my mouth.

“Shut. Up.”

Mr. Garrison passes by our cubicles, poking around the wall.

“How’s it hanging, fellas?”

“Oh, you know...” Jason says with sweat on his brow.

“No, I don’t know.” He says with a glare.

Jason blinks.

“I’m kidding!” He chuckles.

“You should have seen the look on your face!” He says grinning. “Now seriously, get back to work.” He says with a scowl.

After work, I track down Jason in the parking lot. He jumps when he sees me, already halfway in his car.

“C’mon man, you gotta tell me what’s going on. You know I’m new here. Is this a prank?”

“Not here. Meet me at Wendy’s,” He says, glancing around nervously, slamming his car door shut.

I look up to see the blinds in Mr. Garrisons’ office cracked, eyes peeking out.

We meet up at the restaurant, sitting in the furthest booth in the corner.

“Look man, there are some rules you gotta follow here. Actually just one, don’t ask questions. Just do your fucking job.”

“You realize how much more that makes me want to ask questions?”

“Just don’t.”

“C’mon man, this is killing me!" I groan.

“Trust me! You don’t wanna know! Just enjoy the high pay, stress-free job! If you keep asking, then stress will be the least of your worries.” He says with a mouthful of burger.

“Fine.” It was not fine. I have to know.

Late that night, I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I decide to sneak in to the office.

Flashlight clutched in my palm, I type my number on the keypad and enter the building. Honestly, I don’t know what I expected to find or why I even decided to do this. I ponder this as I ascend the elevator to the fourth floor.

The door opens up to the darkened office. Creeping past the empty cubicles, I hear rustling. Mr. Garrison’s office, of course. I creep to the door, dimming my flashlight. Hesitantly, I crack open the door. I see Mr. Garrison, hunched over a filing cabinet.

“It’s ok honey.” He whispered “Just eat.”

I can’t see inside the cabinet, so I try to get a better look. Creeping closer, I trip. My flashlight clangs on the floor and shines directly on Mr. Garrison.

He turns around, in his hand a severed head, dripping blood. Oh god, it’s Jason! I gag.

A woman’s head protrudes out of the dresser, her eyes milky white and her teeth razor sharp. I scream and stumble backward. Then, blinding white lights shoot out of Mr. Garrison's eyes and mouth and he lets out an otherworldly roar.

I take off running, bolting out of the door, mashing that elevator door closed. I get in my car and never look back.

At dawn I go to the police, when I lead them to the office building however, it’s empty. The building looks as if it aged overnight. They say there haven't been any businesses here in the last ten years. No record of Mr. Garrison or my coworker Jason either.

0 Comments
2024/06/08
16:27 UTC

290

Nothing's been the same since the crash

I (38M) am the janitor for an elementary school just down the road. I love my job: I take pride in making the school look great for the start of every class day, and all the kids smile and wave and call me Mr. Janitor (despite my name tag) as they walk by in their neat little lines. At least, everything was great, until the crash.

One morning, 7:00 sharp as always, I was turning out of my driveway to hurry to the school. But just as I did, a car came speeding over the hill to my left, and struck my car. Once I woke up in the hospital, something didn't feel right. It was oddly...quiet. A nurse came in shortly after, but she seemed distant. All of her movements seemed slow, as if we were both underwater. She unhooked me from all the machines, which I noticed hadn't been making any noise, and handed me back my clothes. The hospital provided me a bus home, which was nice, since I knew my car would be totaled, and I knew I'd never afford a new one.

Once I was home, things felt a bit more cozy. I still felt a little cold and dizzy, but assumed it was whatever painkillers they'd had me on. The next morning, I figured I'd just walk to work. It was only 10m or so up the road, so I'd just have to plan for it.

I woke up the next morning, half an hour earlier than usual. In a bit of a daze, I changed into my uniform, and set off toward the school. It was strangely quiet, and I finally noticed why: no birds were chirping. The sky was a steely gray, as it had been the day before.

Once I was at work, I was scarcely noticed. The kids would occasionally glance up at me, but almost never waved or smiled. For most of the adults, it was as if I wasn't there. Strangely, this felt right. I kept up my mopping until lunch time, and retired to my closet. I glanced at my reflection in the shiny chrome of the boiler, and noticed I was unusually pale. I shrugged it off, and ate my cold tuna sandwich.

The next day was more of the same, but I noticed the cold grayness of the weather seemed to make its way indoors. Walking through the brightly colored hallways, all I saw were dull tones. It was as if the color had been sucked out. On the way to my closet for lunch, I took a painting off the wall of the second grade hallway, which had used to be a bright watercolor of a rose. I hung it up in my closet, irrationally hoping to save away some of the world's color. In doing so, I thought to put two fingers to my wrist, and checked my pulse. Nothing. I tried again, no beat. I tried my throat, nothing noticeable. My skin was cool to the touch, and paler than the day before. I considered calling my doctor, but the world outside felt distant, almost imaginary. I went back to mopping, noticing that the students stared into the ground as they walked by, or straight through me as if I didn't exist.

The worst part was that I started noticing shadowy figures when I turned quickly. I would see a blip of cloudy darkness when I slowly turned around, and if I rounded a corner too sharply, I'd sometimes see an indistinguishable dark mass somewhere in the distance. Some nights later, I started having nightmares, which was uncharacteristic of my normal, calm sleep. Sometimes in the dreams I was at work, and one of the little children would look up at me, and its eyes would be dark sockets. Sometimes I would be standing far above the school, looking down into fog, and slowly plummet. Sometimes a car would come up the hill just as I checked my mail, and veer off the road toward me.

As the days went on, the clouds stayed gray, and the outside got foggy. Sounds continued to get more muffled, and my thoughts and movements continued slowing. It was as if I was a character in a play, and submerged in a lake, all at once. My skin was clammy and gray, and nobody noticed my existence.

The dark figures kept getting sharper, sometimes appearing just behind me in my dreams, which had become third-person. I could start to make out a hooded individual, cloaked in shadow, staring at me. I almost took comfort in it: the only being that could still recognize my existence. I felt cold all the time, but no blankets or warm clothes helped.

As the days ran on, and the world slowly faded, the only thing that grew clearer was the figure. He was braver now, standing just out of sight, around corners and objects. I knew I should be scared of him, but I could hardly feel anything, let alone fear.

Finally, one quiet day, as I walked the halls with my mop, it showed itself. I stared into its hollow eyes, willing it to do whatever it was fated to. It held out its hand, as if for me to shake it. Suddenly, for the first time in weeks, I flashed back to my old life. I saw color again, saw smiles, and outside, saw green foliage and a blue sky. I wasn't ready. I shook my head. As if in recognition, the figure bowed its head. I felt the world go black around me.

I woke up, once again in a hospital bed. This time, when the nurse walked in, she was animated and talkative. I was surrounded by little noises: the beeping of my pulse, the chirping of birds, footsteps in the hallway. Once I was released, I saw green and red and orange autumn leaves, and the next morning, I showed up to work again to cheers and waves and welcomes back.

I don't know where I was for those few weeks. I thought it was a dream, at first. But in my janitor's closet, just behind the vacuum cleaner, hung a faded, darkened watercolor, a watercolor of a rose against a gray sky, splotchy and wilting.

6 Comments
2024/06/08
14:49 UTC

88

I never left The House

My name is Lucija, and I have no idea of what my life even means. I think I’m somewhere around 18 years old, from what I saw on the internet, it seems to match me, but no one ever told me my age, or my birthday. Apparently, most people celebrate their birthday by gathering people together and eating, at least that’s what I understood, I’m still figuring things out. I should probably start from the beginning, I’m losing myself here.

 

As far as I remember, I always lived here, in The House, and I never left it. The grown ups around us always told us that there was nothing to see outside of it, and that it was for our own safety that we were kept here, and honestly, until these last few weeks, I never questioned it. I have one room to sleep, one room to wash myself, one room to eat, one room with computers, and one room where I went when they had to check on us.

 

I shared all these rooms with Peter. Peter is the only person I’ve known for my whole life. The grown ups that take care of us, they come and go, I think I’ve never known one that stayed more than 6 months maybe, apart from Tyler and Debbie, but Peter, he’s like me. I think he’s around my age, again, I’m not sure. We always got along, Peter is nice, he’s my friend, and we know everything about each other, I really like him.

 

All of our days were always the same. We woke up to the sound of an alarm and got dressed. After that, we went to the checking room and grownups were looking at all sort of things on us. They were inspecting our skin, the inside of our mouths, listening to our heartbeats, and many more things. It always ended with an injection. They never told us what was in these shots that we always got, just that it was necessary. After the check, it was time to eat. The food was good, but it’s all I ever had, so I can’t really tell if it’s that great.

 

When we finished eating, it was time for the longest part of the day. We got out in the yard and waited. The yard had a bench, a climbing wall, a space to play basketball and soccer, and that was pretty much it. There was just one more thing: the whole yard was surrounded by buildings, except for one side, where there was a high fence. On the other side of it was a road and other buildings, and all day long, people would be there, watching us. Some were talking, others writing or taking pictures. They never stayed longer than 15 minutes, and when someone left, someone else was taking his place.

 

Our instructions were the same since we were little: ignore them. You might think it’s hard to do, but when you’re used to it, it’s actually not that hard. Peter and I spent hours trying to reach the top of the climbing wall, playing soccer (he’s better than me) and basketball (I’m better than him), talking. It was boring sometimes, but we found ways to make it entertaining.

 

After something like 6 hours in the yard, we were allowed back inside, in the room with computers and books, and CDs. It was our favorite moment of the day. We listened to music, played games on the computers. We had internet, but they said it was all fake, only made for entertainment in the past. Basically, they explained that what was on the internet was all from a long time ago, and that nothing we saw there still existed. It didn’t really matter any way, we were happy to play games and watch videos. However, we were strictly forbidden to interact in any way. We especially liked videos with animals, it was fun. After a few hours in that room, we had learning time, where we watched videos that were teaching us different things, like talking properly, counting to 100, things like that, then it was time to eat again, then another check, another injection, after which we had to wash ourselves, before going to sleep.

 

So, as you can see, our lives weren’t exactly thrilling. I can count with my fingers every time something was just a little different.

 

I remember a few years ago, instead of grownups, there was a group of kids on the other side of the fence. They stayed for a few hours, and we were told that we were allowed to talk with them. Peter and I were pretty excited, so we went closer from the fence than usual and waited. We didn’t exactly knew how to engage in a conversation, so we just kind of sat there, waiting. Most of the kids were laughing, I think they were mocking us from what I understood, but a few of them actually talked with us. They asked us various things, like our favorite song, what we liked to eat, our daily lives. We asked them the same kind of questions, to which they answered for the most parts. They apparently couldn’t talk about their lives. It’s one of my favorite memories ever.

 

Since these last two years, we also have Tyler and Debbie. They’re the only grownups that we know the name of. They bring us our food, take us from one room to another, ask us if we need anything, and, once a week, they come in the yard with us for a few hours. They play soccer and basketball with us, it’s a lot of fun. They’re the first grownups that we’ve really known ever, and with who we have actual conversations.

 

A few years ago, I think 3, there was also an “incident”. It had been a while that I was looking at Peter a bit differently, and he kinda was too. When we where showering, we were looking at each other’s bodies a lot, and we didn’t really knew why, I personally simply couldn’t help it, it felt weird. Once, we talked about it in the yard. We both felt like we wanted to touch the other one for some reason, and to be very close from each other, especially in the shower. He didn’t understand why either. That same day, when we went in the shower, we started to get closer from each other, and eventually we were touching each other. It felt weirdly nice. We were stopped pretty fast by grownups and put in separate rooms. We waited for maybe an hour, before they brought us together in our room. A woman sat in front of us and started to talk to us. She explained that what we were feeling wasn’t wrong, and that it was normal, but that they couldn’t let us do these kinds of things with each other. Since then, we didn’t shower at the same time, but another thing was also added to our daily routines: before going in the shower, we were both took in a separate room where we were given pictures. He had naked woman, and I had naked men. We were given an hour. At first I didn’t really knew what to do, but with time, I started to have my habits, that I won’t explain here.

 

Another time when things weren’t like usual was the time when nobody came on the other side of the fence. Of course it wasn’t the first time it happened, but the other time was because it was raining a lot, or snowing, but that one time, there was nothing that explained it, and also, we weren’t told that there wouldn’t be anyone, the grownups acted like it was a normal day.

 

So, that’s always been my life, until these last few days.

 

Things started to get different 6 days ago. It was a morning like any other. We got dressed and went in the checking room. They checked everything they always checked, but when came the moment to get our injection, we got two shots. It was the first time they ever gave us more than one. We asked why it changed, but they only answered that it was like that now.

 

After that we went to the room where we ate. Tyler and Debbie looked way more anxious and stressed than usual, and they looked tired too. We noticed it immediately but didn’t ask anything. The rest of the day went as usual, but there were way less people on the other side of the fence.

 

The next day went exactly the same way, and the one after that too.

 

Three days ago, there was even less people on the other side of the fence. We also started to hear screams. They sounded like screams of pain, or screams of rage sometimes. We had no idea who was screaming like that, but it was seriously scaring us.

 

Two days ago, there was almost no one left on the other side of the fence. I think we got something like 10 people for the entire day. The screams continued and got more intense and louder.

 

Yesterday, things went the same way they did the day before. We got two shots, we ate, Tyler and Debbie looked exhausted like never before, and we went in the yard. That was the day when Tyler and Debbie came with us. The screams were louder than ever. As we were sitting in the yard, we dared to ask them what they were, but they answered that they didn’t know what we were talking about. We didn’t insist, but they were clearly lying, as they reacted to each scream like us. They didn’t have the strength to play anything, so we just waited. Nobody came to see us, all day.

 

Tyler and Debbie spent most of the time talking together, until just before the end. It was almost time to get back in when they asked us to come closer to them. They told us that we couldn’t tell anyone about anything they were going to tell us. They told us that we couldn’t trust anyone in here except them, and that things were slowly starting to go sideways, putting us in danger. They said that they couldn’t explain too much, as no one could know that we knew anything. They told us that something very bad might happen that night, and that we had to protect ourselves. They discretely handed us two pills. They explained that if we were too scared that night, we had to eat these immediately, and that it would save us. On that, the door to get inside opened and we had to go back. Tyler and Debbie left and we were told that today, we wouldn’t get time in the computer room, or alone time, they gave us our injections, and we had to go to sleep just after. It was vey rushed, and after what Tyler and Debbie told us, we were very anxious when the lights turned off.

 

We really wanted to sleep close from each other, but it was forbidden since what happened 3 years ago. We talked a bit, but none of us really knew what to do of the things we were told earlier. We couldn’t find some sleep, so we just stayed awake for a few hours.

 

Eventually, we started to hear screams. It was close. They were screams of pain, and they were getting closer and closer from our room. None of us said anything, we were petrified. The door was locked, and we had no idea of what was going on. The screams were now clearly coming from the hall just outside of our room. They were people running, other screaming for help, and we could also hear screams of anger. Whatever was happening behind the door, we were praying that it would stay there. After some time, the screams slowly stopped, before it went silent. It was suddenly completely silent. I stayed like that for almost two minutes, during which Peter and I were trying to make the less noise as possible.

 

Without any warning, something started to hit our door. It was punching it, smashing it, screaming. The door was going to break at any moment. We couldn’t hide our fear and started to scream for help, both of us were crying. It was a matter of seconds before it broke, and Peter yelled at me to take my pill. I took it out of my pocket, looked at him, and we both swallowed it.

 

My last memory is the screams getting louder and then, it’s the blackout.

 

I woke up in my room today. I was devastated to find that Peter had disappear. The door was broken, and I had access to the hallway. I slowly got out of my bed and walked carefully towards it. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the hall. The whole place was covered in blood, everywhere. I never saw that much of blood, it was on the wall, on the floor. I was a bit shocked, but I soon realized that there was absolutely no bodies. I thought it was weird. I yelled for help, hoping that Peter, Tyler or Debbie would answer, but I had no answer. I walked towards the other rooms. There was still power but all the rooms that I had access to were empty, there was absolutely nobody. There were other stains of blood all around the place, but not as much as in the hallway.

 

I took the time to eat something fast, as the door to the kitchen was opened. I grabbed some bread and stuffed it in my mouth before exploring more. The only places that I had access to were the one that I was using in my daily life, and the kitchen and some offices in the hallway that were usually locked. I had access to the yard too. I wandered more when I saw something moving behind the climbing wall. I approached slowly, and found a girl. She was probably, 9 years old. She was wearing the same thing I was, and she looked terrified. She was dirty, and way too skinny. I tried to reassure her, and to know her name, but soon found out that she wasn’t talking. I don’t know if she can’t talk, or if she just doesn’t want to, but she didn’t say anything.

 

My first instinct was to bring her some food. She ate a whole bread and some apples. I tried to communicate, to ask her who she was, what happened last night, but had no answers. At least, after I made her eat and brought her back inside, she didn’t seem to be scared of me anymore.

 

I tried to look everywhere for more people but didn’t find anything. I eventually decided to tell my story here. I don’t know if what they told us about the internet being something from the past is true, but I guess I’ll find out by posting here if someone answers. I have no idea what to do now, so, if someone reads this, I’m open to any form of advice, thank you.

14 Comments
2024/06/08
13:13 UTC

66

There's a beautiful looking pond in my town. If you value your life, you better stay away from it.

There is a pond on the edge of my town behind a large willow. I’ve never seen it being used. I’ve never seen a duck swimming in it, or even leaves or other sea creatures. Let alone people taking a bath or just dipping their feet in it.

Every time I passed by the pond, it was like walking past a ghost town. It was eerie to see how deserted it was, how the water surface remained still and smooth as glass, even during windy weather conditions. But despite the strange power emanating from it, I couldn’t help but admire its purity and beauty. When I stopped in front of the pond with my bike for the first time, my gaze was captivated. I stared at the oval outline, the reflection of the surface, the plants growing on the bank and the dusk that shone colorfully on the horizon and rounded off the beauty of the pond. 

I’m sure I sound crazy for wasting so much time and emotion describing a pond. Even my parents thought I was crazy when I raved about it one night at the dinner table. But it’s important that I tell you about it, considering what happened three weeks ago.

I was on my way to school when I saw an ambulance drive past me. It was heading straight for the edge of town and turned into the grassy area where the willow was. I didn’t think anything of it at first and went to school as normal. In the afternoon, during the last lesson, we were all surprised when our school principal made an announcement and said that we should watch out on the way home or have our parents pick us up. That was all that was said. 

On the way out, I heard students everywhere throwing around theories and rumors. I often heard “missing student”, “disappeared”, and “murdered”. But there were also really nonsensical things, so I didn’t pay any attention to them at first.

My father came and picked me up just to be sure. I was surprised because he was still supposed to be at work and would only pick me up in the worst-case scenario. However, I dismissed it as a good gesture from a parent and didn’t think much of it. I was a little worried about my girlfriend, Rachel, though, because she would probably expect me to take her home. But my father insisted that I get into the car without arguing. I did as I was told.

When I brought up the subject of the principal’s announcement at the dinner table that evening, everyone suddenly became quiet. My parents looked at each other worriedly. I sat up curiously and asked: “Do you know more about it? Does it have something to do with the ambulance this morning?" 

My mother sipped her tea and said, “It turns out that student from your school went missing this morning. It is believed that he was kidnapped because his bag was found but I don’t think that’s enough evidence.”

I swallowed hard and finally asked where the bag was found. My mother replied that it happened on the outskirts of the town next to the big willow.

I would like to justify myself and make it clear that I was sixteen years old at the time and still in the phase where I would try anything. If someone had bet me that I could ride a skateboard across a dilapidated bridge, I probably would’ve done it. My thirst for adventure was too great for that. When I finally found out that someone had disappeared at the pond, I knew I had to go to the scene myself.

Luckily, there was no school the next day, so I rode my bike to the outskirts of town. I had told my parents I would stop by Rachel’s house and check on them. They were still fresh out of bed, so they probably weren’t too concerned about it. But I also felt bad that I hadn’t gone to visit Rachel, so I decided to go to her house straight after my explorations.

When I arrived at the pond, I saw that the crime scene had been removed. There was no bag and the whole area around the willow was as green and unused as ever. I saw no change at the pond either. It couldn’t be possible that the missing student was in the water, otherwise he would’ve been found immediately.

I dared to step onto the bank and take a closer look. The water was clearer than the sky could ever be and offered a clear view of what was happening in the ground. Here and there roots were sticking out and you could see lose rocks that had probably been thrown in. Otherwise, the entire ground was just sand. Sand like in a desert. Wavy, hilly and smooth. Almost untouched. The view of the pond was simply majestic.

I had the urge to reach in and see if the water would feel as great on my skin, but I was stopped by a loud scream in the background.

I pulled my hand away and turned around. A person emerged from behind the willow. She was about my age, well dressed, and her brown hair looked like she had been combing it a hundred times nonstop. Rachel. 

She came straight up to me and raised her finger like a strict teacher. “Where have you been yesterday? A classmate went missing and I had to walk home alone? Is that how you treat your girlfriend?”

Rachel has always been very hot-tempered and could be quite bossy, but at that moment I was overcome with shame. I really should’ve gone to see her the day before and walked her home. I really didn’t know what I was thinking.

I apologized to Rachel and was about to embrace her, but she pushed me away. “You can make it up to me by taking me home now. But first, you stop at the mall and get me something.”

I nodded vigorously and promised to make it up to her. I hated acting like that, but Rachel just had this power that made you feel bad for yourself. My mother had brought it up to me once, but I didn’t want to listen to her because I had just gotten together with Rachel, and I was head over heels in love with her.

“What are you even doing here?” Rachel asked. I had completely forgotten why I was here at that moment. But I didn’t want to tell her about the connection I possibly found between the pond and the missing student because she would think I was crazy. So I just told her that I was here to feed the ducks.

Rachel laughed. “There aren’t even ducks here. This pond has been just a decoration for ages, so the lawn doesn’t look so deserted.”

“But it’s so beautiful. You have to look at it and see how clear it is”, I said, a little too excited for my liking. Rachel eyed me confusedly, too.

Without raising her eyebrows any further, I instead took her hand and led her to the shore. I asked her to take a look, which she did.

“Don’t you see how clear the water is? As if you’re looking into a portal where a beautiful desert landscape is visible, right?”

I thought Rachel would at least understand what I was trying to say, or just shrug her shoulders and leave, but her reaction was more than surprising. She frowned and recoiled slightly. As if she had seen something strange.

“What’s that?” she said, stammering. Then she looked at me. “Is this some kind of joke?”

I stood there rooted to the spot, feeling guilty for some reason. I knew it was just Rachel’s persuasive ability to make me feel bad, but I was genuinely curious as to what she was getting at.

“Can’t you see that?” she asked, louder this time. I did as she told me and looked into the water, too, albeit a little hesitantly, eager to see what had frightened her so much. But I saw nothing. Just the clear water with the sandy bottom.

I told Rachel I didn’t see anything, and she hit me on the head. “Don’t act like that, of course you can see it!”

She turned back to the surface and screamed at her own reflection. “No, stop that! I’ve said you must stop! NOW!”

I felt a mixture of confusion and panic. I really didn’t know what Rachel was doing, but at that moment all I cared about was her wellbeing. Her behavior came out of nowhere and was so strange that I really wondered if she was still the Rachel I had come to know and love.

Just as I was about to grab her and pull her away from the edge, something happened that would haunt me for the rest of my life like a recurring nightmare. Rachel reached for the water as if she wanted to attack it and sank into the pond. Even though the area near the bank was less than three feet deep, I couldn’t see her when she hit the surface. The water was crystal clear. Panicking, I dug my hands into the water and searched for my girlfriend. I couldn’t feel any hands, feet, or even a strand of her hair. She didn’t make a sound. Aside from my hands splashing in the water and my desperate screams, the pond was dead silent. I jumped inside, stopped thinking about the mysterious strength of the pond, and dug my hands and feet deep into the sand, searching in vain for Rachel. The sand felt incredibly on my skin.

After twenty minutes I had waded thought the entire pond and had no luck. Rachel was gone.

I got out of the pond and sobbed. I didn’t know what to do. My only thought was how Rachel’s parents would take the news that their daughter had disappeared without a trace. I still hope that she would mysteriously turn up somewhere. I didn’t care how unlikely it seemed. I wanted to hold on to that tiny spark of hope.

I got on my bike and hurried away. Away from the pond, away from the willow. My mind, however, worked on its own and made my head turn back once more. Despite the great distance I had covered, the pond was still clearly in my field of vision, piercing my heart with its heavenly appearance.

After the incident with Rachel at the pond, everything that came afterwards happened so quickly. I told Rachel’s parents about her disappearance, trying to explain everything as plausibly as possible without mentioning that the pond had literally swallowed her. I also left myself out of the picture and limited my part to a random witness so that the investigation would not target me. It hurt my heart, but it was for the best.

All of this happened three weeks ago, and Rachel is still missing. She has never been seen since the incident at the pond. Going to school became a nightmare. All I heard was Rachel’s name. There were many expressions of condolence, many of her friends came to me, hugged me and assured me that would return safely, which I strongly doubted. But I also heard very negative voices about Rachel’s absence. That she deserved it, that the world would be better off without her, etc. I had seen this coming, because Rachel didn’t exactly have a good reputation among us students. I ignored the people as best I could, and with each passing day the excitement died down a little.

The school dedicated a day to commemorate the events. This has never happened before, but it was a very special case, as two students had disappeared at the same time. I also finally found out who the first missing student was, and I was actually a little relieved when I heard his name. His name is Riley, and he is one of those students who thinks it’s cool to bully others. He has often caused younger students to see the nurse, and has never been seriously punished for it. I would’ve at least been somewhat understanding of his behavior if he had had a difficult home life, but I’ve heard from friend that he grew up in wealthy circles and his parents are the kind of people who defend their child at all costs. So it was no surprise when they recently planned to sue our school for poor protection measures. The lawsuit is still ongoing, but I don’t see much hope for Riley’s parents.

Now Rachel and Riley were gone. Both were victims of an extraordinary perpetrator. And now I have only one question: What did they see in the pond that sealed their fate? And why couldn’t I see it?

Today I rode my bike up to the willow again, simply because my instinct told me to. But I didn’t get very far because the pond was fenced off with barrier tape. At least it wouldn’t claim any more victims in the future.

I’ve always been a rather rational person and never believed in things like karma, but lately I’ve been hearing this word from a lot of people, even from my mother. I try to ignore it was much as I can, but there’s a part of my mind that just wouldn’t stop telling me that Rachel has always been a bad person and a horrible girlfriend.

4 Comments
2024/06/08
10:24 UTC

11

I’ve Been Trying to Escape the Woods for 4 Days. Something Won’t Let Me.

Day 4. I’m still trapped in this cursed forest, and something is keeping me from finding my way out. Every time I think I’m making progress, I end up back where I started. The trees and paths shift, confusing my sense of direction. I’m starting to believe there’s more to this place than meets the eye. But let me back up a bit and tell you how I got here.

Four days ago, I decided to go on a solo camping trip to clear my mind. Work had been stressful, and I needed some time away from the city. I found a remote forest online that seemed perfect – quiet, untouched, and far from civilization. It sounded like a dream come true.

The first day was uneventful. I set up my tent, gathered firewood, and cooked a simple meal. The serenity of the forest was exactly what I needed. As night fell, I sat by the fire, listening to the sounds of nature. It was peaceful, almost therapeutic. Little did I know, it would be the last peaceful night I’d have.

On the second day, I decided to explore deeper into the forest. I left markers along the way to ensure I wouldn’t get lost. The forest was beautiful, but there was something eerie about it. The deeper I went, the denser the trees became, and the sunlight struggled to penetrate the canopy.

Around noon, I noticed something strange. Despite following my markers, I felt like I was going in circles. The trees all looked the same, and my sense of direction became unreliable. I decided to head back to my camp, but the path seemed different, unfamiliar.

That night, as I sat by the fire, I heard whispers. At first, I thought it was the wind, but the whispers grew louder, more distinct. They seemed to come from all around me, echoing through the trees. I tried to ignore them, convincing myself it was just my imagination. Sleep didn’t come easy that night.

Day three was when things took a turn for the worse. I woke up to find my markers gone. Every attempt to leave the forest was met with failure. Paths twisted and turned, leading me back to the same spot. Panic set in as I realized I was truly lost.

I decided to stay put and ration my supplies, hoping someone would find me. That night, the whispers returned, but this time, they were accompanied by shadows. Dark, fleeting figures moved at the edge of my vision. Whenever I turned to look, they vanished.

Today is day four. I’m exhausted, hungry, and losing hope. The whispers are constant now, and the shadows feel closer. I’ve tried every possible direction, but the forest seems determined to keep me here. I’ve been writing this down in my journal, hoping it might help someone understand what’s happening to me.

I’ll update again if I can. If anyone reads this, know that something in this forest doesn’t want me to leave. And if I don’t make it out, at least my story will be told.

5 Comments
2024/06/08
10:06 UTC

19

I Tried Exposure Therapy To Overcome My Phobia Of Mirrors

I had always hated the sight of my own reflection. In fact, I hated myself and my reflection just reminded me of that fact but in visual form. My parents called it 'low self-esteem', my paediatric therapist called it 'an ongoing battle with myself and my future self.' I called it 'Hell on Earth.' Every compliment I had ever received felt like it came with a side of pity and sarcasm. Layers of foundation and blush were not able to plaster over the deep rooted loathing for my appearance.

My doctor had prescribed me Diazepam which was supposed to take the edge off the way I felt. Sure, it helped a little but this wasn't something a 10mg tablet taken twice a day could fix. Nobody could seem to understand that this wasn't just teenage hormones, social anxiety or a confidence issue. It was an illness that ate at me from the inside out like malignant cancer of the blood. Furthermore, just like a cancer patient I knew I required treatment before it was too late.

My phone alarm jolted me awake at 7AM which was my cue to hit snooze. I didn't press snooze for a few extra minutes of sleep like most people. I pressed it to have a few minutes in bed to practice self affirmation. It was something my therapist told me would make a subtle difference to my opinion on myself. Actually, it was one of the very few techniques I had learnt that did help to ground me. It was simple, quick and took little to no effort.

"Regardless of how you interpret compliments, you receive them often for your eyes and smile."

"Your friends are always there for you, no matter how much you think they hate you."

"There are bound to be at least a few people in the world that find facial acne tolerable."

That was my biggest insecurity by far. My acne. People would always tell me I had such clear skin and constantly asked me what my skincare routine was but I knew what they were really trying to imply. Whenever I heard one of these remarks, I would feel my face flush red with embarrassment and that would make my acne more apparent which would start a vicious cycle of distress which was frequently followed by a panic attack.

My alarm went off for the second time and that signalled the start of my morning. I was up showering late last night so I decided to stay engulfed in my blankets for a little longer and loaded up TikTok to ease myself into the day. My TikTok feed was filled with models, motivational feminists and self-help gurus. The first video that appeared on my feed was uploaded by one of my favourite influencers: Lisa Cramling. She was a 28 year old Swede who had been living in Thailand for the last year. She was also living proof that not all pretty blondes were dumb. Her content was usually based around self-improvement and this particular video explored a certain form of therapy. Exposure Therapy.

I was vaguely familiar with the concept so I watched on. Lisa explained that it is commonly used to treat phobias. She went on to describe the process of it and how it can be very overwhelming for the patient but the end result is usually effective and the process can be very quick in comparison to other methods. She explained that it was essentially facing your fears head on and letting the fight or flight reaction dissipate until you are relaxed in the presence of your fear. A caption popped up on the screen.

'This is not medical advice. Always consult a health professional to determine whether exposure therapy could be a suitable treatment for you.'

She stressed how important it was that this was done in a controlled environment to prevent the chance of the phobia becoming more potent. The comment section was flooded with virtual nods of approval and testimonies claiming that exposure therapy saved their lives. Despite the thousands of likers and commenters that had engaged with that video, it felt like Lisa was directly addressing me and my issues.

I closed TikTok and fled my blanket cocoon with a motivated burst of energy that felt foreign to my usually lethargic body.

I went to the bathroom to begin my morning routine. I kept a charcoal towel draped over the bathroom mirror which permitted me to wash without being disconcerted by the sight of myself. I confirmed that the shower knob was set to the coldest setting and I began undressing. I took cold showers ever since Lisa said there were countless benefits (both mentally and physically,) to bathing in cold water. I was also made aware by another Tikoker that not drying yourself instantly after showering could lead to fungal infections such as athlete's foot. For this reason, I always kept a towel on the rack besides my shower cubicle so I could dry off quickly after my wash.

I remember my first time ever taking a cold shower. I channelled all of the grit and determination I could scavenge and I stepped into the cascading, piercing water. I think I lasted about four seconds before jumping out and wrapping myself in the warm embrace of my towel. As weeks went by, I started becoming comfortable in the frigidity of my shower cubicle. I guess it was a form of exposure therapy in itself and cold showers were now nothing more than a mundane chore to me.

As the last of the water droplets hit my body, I reached my dripping hand out to reach for the towel rack to begin drying. To my surprise I didn't feel the fluffiness of cotton fibre, but rather the resistance of solid steel. My hands searched the surrounding area and I came to the realisation that after my shower last night, I had forgotten to place the towel back onto the rack. My heart sank.

As the water travelled it's way down my legs and onto my feet, I could feel the skin on my soles begin to smoulder with fungi. I scrambled out of the shower in desperate search of something that I could use to dry myself off. I pawed at the toilet roll holder expeditiously before coming to the realisation that there was barely enough tissue to dry my hands and feet, let alone my entire body. My eyes sped around the bathroom looking for a solution and came to a sudden stop at the charcoal towel.

I paused momentarily and then yanked it from the mirror, keeping my eyes sealed shut. I could see Lisa's Tiktok looping in my mind. In almost no time, I had dried myself and I stood still completely blind. I started thinking that maybe this whole ordeal was a sign that things needed to change and they needed to change now. I knew that phobias were irrational and there was no logical reason to be afraid of the mirror, but knowledge is futile in the face of fear.

I sat down on my bed and leant over to my bedside table. I clutched the white bottle sat atop it, removed two pills of Diazepam and placed them under my tongue before laying my head down for a moment. I then sat up and pulled a large post it-notes and a red marker from my bedside drawer. I thought back to Lisa's video and how she had mentioned that exposure therapy patients usually worked their way up to facing their fears. My plan was to cover the features of my reflection using numbered post-it notes and slowly peel them back revealing a new feature once I felt comfortable exposed to the previous one.

I walked over to the mirror taking caution not to view it directly and placed post-it notes all over the mirror to cover it completely. Level one of the therapy would be to look at all of the parts of the mirror that didn't show my face at all. I scrawled a one over all of the post it notes on the perimeter of the mirror. Level two would be my eyes. I repeated the same process, scribbling the number two on any parts that would be covering my reflection's eyes. Level three would be viewing her hair. Level four would be viewing her lips and I labelled all of the remaining post-it notes with the number five. Five levels of exposure therapy.

I told myself that no matter what happened, I must not turn away from the mirror as the mere thought of this phobia growing any stronger was enough to make my life completely unliveable. I knew it would be intense but I felt I was ready. I was starting to feel the effects of the Diazepam already and felt my shoulders relax and fall to my sides. I locked my bathroom door and started the process.

I began by slowly removing all of the post-it notes labelled with a one. This revealed the reflection of the walls and surfaces behind me and I felt completely fine. I wanted to make sure I did this properly so I really took the time to stare into the reflection and be conscious of the way I was feeling. I started whispering out phrases of self affirmation.

"Your reflection is beautiful."

"Your reflection is pretty."

"Your reflection is drop-dead gorgeous."

Despite the fact I was only looking at a reflection of my surroundings, I was not anxious and I was ready to move on to level two. I placed my hands over both post-it notes labelled with a two and simultaneously peeled them from the shiny surface. I saw my reflection and I was now making eye contact with her. I welcomed my eyes into hers but she did not reciprocate the act as she was staring at the ceiling. I felt a tsunami of warm blood flood from my chest to my extremities. I tensed my face and forced my eyes to close. I knew what I was seeing wasn't real. Of course my reflection was looking back at me but my fear was so strong that my mind was playing tricks on me to get me to safety.

The words of Lisa echoed in my head, "Exposure therapy can be very overwhelming however withdrawing from the treatment too early can lead to dire consequences." Suddenly, those words were interrupted by the fluttering sound of pieces of paper hitting the floor. The post-it notes had began falling. My eyelids served as protection from the monstrosity that was to be revealed in due time.

"I can do this!"

I retracted my defences and what I saw was petrifying. Her head was abnormally small in comparison to the bulbous eyes protruding from her ghastly eyelids. They were suffocating within the very sockets which they were caged. Her wired hair stood straight up, in messy spikes like the teeth of a disfigured headlice comb. Her face was the colour of gravel. The folded wrinkles and cavernous scars on her face intertwined to create a clamour of chaos and commotion. Her cracked lips were pursed together and stretched across the the breadth of her jaw which produced a psychotic smile. Her jaw was low hanging and seemed to be unhinged from one side with a clump of skin dangling from that same side. The bridge of her nose was pencil-thin and revealed her peculiar bone structure. Punctured deep into her skin were a cluster of red spots, with each individual one roasted purple at the tip. As soon as my eyes fell to the spots, her skin began to darken and the capillaries in her eyes became visible along with the network of veins buried belowthe surface of her her translucent skin. Her head suddenly began to violently vibrate and the spots on her face became geysers bursting open one by one and expulsing pus through the holes in her face.

My knees gave out under me and I stumbled into the towel rack behind me. I bent down and grabbed a razor from the cabinet and began slashing wildly at the mirror whilst holding my palm over my face to block my vision.

Some Time Passes

A nurse gently shook me awake.

"Hey, how are you feeling? Could you hold your hand out for me?"

She twisted the canular valve on my hand shut and sat at the foot of the bed I was laying in.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"You're in hospital." She replied gently.

"Why? How did I get here?"

"Do you really not remember?"

She turned her head to the side as if I was supposed to remember exactly what had happened.

"The police were called to your address after a neighbour down the street heard shattering glass. Due to the time of night, they told the operator they assumed it was a burglary. The police made their way into your home and heard distressing noises from the bathroom. The door was locked so they kicked it down to find you on the floor with a razor in your hand.They say they saw blood everywhere and hair all over the floor."

I touched the top of my head and winced in pain as I noticed it had fresh cuts all over it and it was completely bare.

I felt sick at the thought of being bald and my face must have visually showed it as the nurse was soon handing me a metal bowl with one hand and rubbing on my shoulder with the other

My vision blurred and I began vomitting into the bowl. After the contents of my stomach (mostly bile) had been extracted into the bowl, she reached out to take it from me.

"I'll just replace this and be back in a minute."

I felt exhausted. I lay my head down onto my pillow and watched the nurse leave. I looked over to the bowl grasped between her gloved fingers. I could see a faint reflection in the curvature of the bowl. My reflection was perked up in the hospital bed like a mannequin, completely still with the same psychotic smile draped across her jaw.

5 Comments
2024/06/08
08:08 UTC

29

My pet was a monster

Hi, I live in a small town in Ireland called Evercrest. Don't try to find it; the government has taken it off the map and removed it from any records. I think they're just going to abandon us now that it's here. Part of me thinks they always knew it was coming because our little town was always kept away from the other towns and cities in Ireland. Anyway, here's my story.

I was in college, and it was mid-May. When I left, I saw three crows pecking at something in the fields. I went over to see what they were pecking at and found a small white snake-like creature, maybe about a foot and a half in length. Except it really wasn't a snake at all; it had no arms or legs. But that's where the similarities end. It had no eyes, ears, nose, nothing—only a mouth, a big one too. I chased the crows away from it and lifted it up. It let out a light screech as I did.

I said I’d bring him back to my dorm and show him to my science professor tomorrow. So, I went to the pet store and got this snake starter kit thing and assembled it. I put it together, and he seemed to really hate the heat lamp, so I turned it off, and he seemed much happier. I decided I ought to feed him. Luckily, the starter kit came with frozen mice, so I thawed one out and gave it to him. He seemed to love it. At this point, it was midnight, so I decided to go to bed. Unfortunately, he didn’t like that idea very much. Between the hours of 3 am and 4 am, he wouldn’t stop violently screaming. When I checked on him after he stopped screaming, he had grown legs—four of them. He was also covered in his blood. I cleaned him up and brought him to my professor.

The only thing is, my professor had no idea what he was. He said, and I quote, "If there's aliens, this is one of them." Anyway, he took some blood and said he’d get me blood test results for him as I was walking home with the creature in a box. I decided I should name him. The name I landed on was Crester. When I got home, I fed him and watched TV. I let Crester sit next to me on the couch. He seemed friendly and docile now, so I had no problem doing this.

After a few hours, I fed him and went to bed. Thank God that night he didn’t start screaming again. When I woke up the next morning, I noticed something that scared me. His tank was smashed, and one of my windows was broken. I looked for Crester, thinking he had escaped. Nope, he was on the counter, sleeping, twice the size he was the night before, with blood around his mouth.

He went hunting, I thought, so I put cardboard on the window. I didn’t have the money to fix it at the time after buying the snake kit thing that I'd now have to work doubles to replace. I just decided that he was friendly enough and big enough to free roam my dorm, so that’s what I let him do. When I got to my college, I saw the field full of dead crows.

I wondered if he had done this as revenge against them, but I brushed it off. The next few days were relatively normal, with him increasing in size every day. But then one day, I came back from a lecture, and he was acting very aggressively, roaring at me and walking backward when I'd try to approach him. He even whipped me with his tail. I also noticed that his skin had turned to a dark green color with a red stomach. I left him alone, knowing something was up with him. But then the next morning, I woke up to a massive cocoon in the corner of my kitchen, huge enough for at least 2 or 3 adult humans to fit inside.

I left the dorm quickly and went to work. When I got back that evening, the cocoon was shaking and making noise. Later that night, it broke in two, and out walked Crester on two legs. He had gone back to his white color and was now 7ft tall with very long arms compared to his body. He walked toward me slowly, cornered me in, growled at me, and bared his teeth. I had never been so scared. I thought he would kill me, but then he hopped out of my window and left, breaking it in the process. I went to the bar to try and forget about the whole thing as I was utterly traumatized. The next day, I got to my college and saw crowds of students crowding around crime scene tape as my science professor was wheeled out in a bag. Apparently, someone attacked him, ripped him apart. They say it was likely someone he had a debt to, but I know it was Crester getting revenge for the blood test.

A few missing person reports later, there is a meeting about it in the town hall. When the police start talking about suspects, Crester bursts in and starts attacking people. The rest is kind of a blur, but I remember screams. Now I’m hiding behind a desk in the town hall. There are bodies and blood everywhere, and Crester is still here looking for people. I think he knows I’m here. I’ll update this if I can.

6 Comments
2024/06/08
07:46 UTC

28

Curiosity Killed the Cat

They say curiosity killed the cat, but in my case, it lured me into the depths of a horror I could never have imagined. I was always a skeptic, someone who laughed at ghost stories and dismissed tales of the supernatural as products of overactive imaginations. But what happened to me one bleak October weekend has forever altered my perception of reality.

It all started with an invitation from my old college friend, Mark. He was an amateur historian with a particular fascination for abandoned places. When he called me one Friday afternoon, his voice brimming with excitement, I knew he had found something interesting.

"Dan, you've got to check this out," he said. "I discovered an old mansion deep in the woods, about an hour's drive from the city. It's been abandoned for decades, maybe longer. The place is practically untouched."

I agreed, more out of boredom than genuine interest. The thought of spending a night in a crumbling mansion seemed like a fun adventure, a break from the monotony of my nine-to-five routine. We packed our gear—flashlights, sleeping bags, some food and water—and set off early the next morning.

The mansion was every bit as eerie as Mark had described. Hidden behind a thick curtain of trees, it loomed like a shadowy behemoth, its windows dark and empty, the front door hanging on rusty hinges. The air around it felt heavy, charged with a sense of foreboding that made my skin prickle.

We stepped inside, our footsteps echoing in the vast, empty foyer. Dust coated every surface, and cobwebs hung from the chandeliers like ghostly drapes. Mark was in his element, snapping photos and jotting down notes. I wandered through the rooms, trying to imagine what the place had looked like in its prime.

In one of the upstairs bedrooms, I found an old diary tucked away in a drawer. The pages were yellowed and brittle, but the writing was still legible. It belonged to a woman named Eleanor Hawthorne, who had lived in the mansion in the early 1900s. As I read her entries, a sense of unease settled over me.

October 3, 1902: There are whispers in the walls, voices that speak of sorrow and despair. I fear I am losing my mind.

October 12, 1902: Last night, I saw her again—the woman in the white dress. She stood at the foot of my bed, her eyes hollow, her face twisted in anguish. What does she want from me?

October 20, 1902: I can no longer distinguish between reality and nightmare. The woman is always with me, her presence a constant torment. I fear I will not survive much longer.

I shivered and closed the diary. The sun was setting, and the mansion's shadows grew longer, more sinister. I found Mark in the library, surrounded by old books and papers.

"Mark, I think we should leave," I said, my voice trembling.

"Leave? Are you kidding? We've only just begun!" he replied, not looking up from his notes.

I tried to argue, but he was adamant. Reluctantly, I agreed to stay the night. We set up our sleeping bags in the grand ballroom, a vast, empty space that felt cavernous in the dark. The night was cold, and every creak and groan of the old mansion seemed amplified in the silence.

Around midnight, I was jolted awake by a faint whispering sound. I sat up, my heart pounding, and strained to listen. The whispers grew louder, more insistent, but I couldn't make out the words. Mark was still asleep, oblivious to the noise.

I grabbed my flashlight and followed the sound, which seemed to be coming from upstairs. The air grew colder as I ascended the staircase, and the whispering became clearer. It led me to a small, locked door at the end of a narrow hallway. To my surprise, the key was in the lock. I turned it slowly, the old metal groaning in protest, and pushed the door open.

Inside was a small room, empty except for a large mirror that covered one wall. The whispers were louder now, almost a chorus, but the room was empty. I approached the mirror, my reflection pale and ghostly in the dim light.

As I stared into the glass, the whispering ceased, replaced by a chilling silence. Then, slowly, the surface of the mirror began to ripple, like water disturbed by a breeze. I stepped back, my breath catching in my throat.

A figure emerged from the mirror—a woman in a white dress, her eyes hollow and her face twisted in agony, just as Eleanor had described. She reached out to me, her mouth opening in a silent scream. I was paralyzed, unable to move or look away.

The woman stepped through the mirror, her form becoming solid, tangible. She moved towards me with an otherworldly grace, her feet barely touching the floor. I wanted to run, to scream, but I was rooted to the spot, my body refusing to obey.

She stopped inches from me, her cold hand brushing my cheek. "Help me," she whispered, her voice a mournful wail that echoed in my mind. "Release me."

In a flash, I was back in the ballroom, gasping for breath. Mark was shaking me, his face pale with fear. "Dan, what happened? You were screaming!"

I told him about the woman, the mirror, everything. He listened, his expression shifting from concern to disbelief. "Dan, there's no mirror in that room. I checked earlier."

Desperate to prove I wasn't losing my mind, I dragged him upstairs to the locked room. But when we opened the door, it was empty—no mirror, no whispers, just a dusty, unused space.

We left the mansion at first light, our spirits subdued by the night's events. Mark tried to rationalize what had happened, but I knew the truth. The woman in the white dress was real, her torment palpable, her plea for help etched into my soul.

In the weeks that followed, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being watched. At night, I heard whispers, felt a cold presence in my room. I tried to move on, to forget, but she wouldn't let me. Her image haunted my dreams, her mournful cries echoing in my mind.

One night, unable to bear it any longer, I returned to the mansion. I had to know, had to understand what she wanted from me. The place was just as we had left it, a decaying monument to forgotten lives.

I found the diary again, flipping to the final entry.

October 31, 1902: I can no longer endure the torment. The woman in white is relentless, her cries a constant agony. I have decided to end it, to seek peace in death. To whoever finds this diary, beware the mirror. She is trapped within it, and she seeks to escape.

I closed the diary with trembling hands. The mirror was real, and so was the woman. She had chosen me, for reasons I couldn't fathom. And now, I had to find a way to release her, or face an eternity of torment.

As I stared at the diary, the whispers returned, louder and more insistent. I felt a cold hand on my shoulder and turned to see her standing there, her eyes filled with sorrow. "Help me," she whispered again, her voice a dagger in my heart.

I knew what I had to do. I would find the mirror, confront whatever dark force held her captive, and set her free. It was the only way to end the nightmare, to save my sanity. And so, with a sense of grim determination, I set out to face the horrors of the mansion one last time.

2 Comments
2024/06/08
05:15 UTC

9

Out Of The Apartment (Part 5)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

We're still working on how to get out of town. I mean, we're not dead which I guess is a step in the right direction. We got the Hummer working again, and you'll all love this. We thought it shut off due to the wreck. Come to find out, Roscoe had forgotten to refuel it. We only realized this when by some miracle Drake got the engine to turn and observed this on the fuel gauge.

“Typical of that moron to forget something like this,” Van said.

“The dude just died. I know you and him hated each other, but don't be a fucking dick, alright?” I replied.

Van relented and kept his comments to himself.

“Okay, we know it works. Now, all we need is fuel,” Drake said.

Rummaging through the back, I produced a container of gas.

“It seems safe right now so I’ll go out and refill it,” I said.

“You might want to reload first,” Drake advised.

I heeded this, exchanging the clip of my pistol before hopping outside. We’d gotten lucky throughout the night, having avoided any encounters. Although, there were some close calls. Another one of those crawling ones wandered by. It got too close to Drake and he stabbed it in the eye.

The most significant one was the one I encountered. We were doing rotating shifts and it was my turn to keep watch. Everything was fine until I spotted a figure off in the distance. This thing was tall. We’re talking a height that puts even Robert Wadlow to shame. Remember, the moonlight was my only source of visibility.

I’m watching this monstrosity jittering about. It wasn’t walking so much as striding. I thought about waking up Drake and Van so we could blast it away. Then I thought better and figured I should take a closer look with the binoculars. Good thing I did. Otherwise, we’d be zombie food.

What made me reconsider was what it did. Up close, it had several other distinct features. It was entirely bald and had no eyes or a nose. I don’t mean they were gouged out. There was only lumpy skin where they should have been. Its head was constantly shifting directions, presumably listening for any potential prey.

It stopped and I realized it had stepped into a boulder about as big as the Hummer. I thought it was going to bypass it, What happened instead that almost made me piss myself was as follows. It picked it up in both hands and crushed it. Let me repeat that.

It crushed a boulder the size of a fucking Hummer like it was a clump of powdered parmesan. Somehow, I didn't think our weapons were going to cut it. Even if they did, the noises would surely attract other zombies. All I could do was keep quiet in hopes it wouldn't wander to us. Then something happened that made my nuts retract.

Behind me, Van sharply inhaled and I realized he was going to snore. I'm not proud of what I did next. Acting on reflex, I punched him in the throat. He awoke, staring at me with a mixture of anger and confusion. Whatever he was going to say died in his throat.

I already knew it was behind me before I turned around, having felt its hot breath on my neck through the broken window. Its breath was foul like a decomposing body in a sewer and it was making my eyes water. I would have rather been smelling week-old roadkill left a week in the humid heat. Fighting the body's natural impulses is the hardest thing a person can do. Right then, mine was wanting to make me puke.

The zombie partially stuck its head in, growling as it did. Neither of us even did so much as breathe too fast. The seconds it remained in place were going by like hours. Finally, it decided it was wasting its time and went away. We still weren't going to make a sound until we were sure that thing was at least several miles away. On top of all this, we have no means of escape without getting shot so yeah, things are kinda shitty.

By then, the sun was peeking over the trees. We got Drake up and told him about what happened.

“God damn,” he had said, “good thing none of us had any beans last night.”

As I was standing out there, filling the tank, I started wondering what other shit we'd have to deal with. The regular zombies were already bad enough. Then we ran into the crawlers and now we have to contend with those tall ones. I'm calling them lankers. Once I was through, I got into the passenger side.

“Alright, now let's see if they did anything,” Drake said, turning the ignition.

The Hummer roared to life, making us all ecstatic.

“Now we're getting somewhere, but how exactly are we getting out of here in this oversized thing?” Van asked.

The area where we'd ended up was a bad spot for any normal car, let alone a Hummer.

After glancing around, Drake replied, “Very carefully”.

He was to pull some maneuver where the tires on my side were hugging the base of the cliff. Meanwhile, Drake's side was snapping through branches. Eventually, we found a way back up to the road.

“Alright, we're back in business,” I said, then looking at our desolate town added, “For the most part.”

Our first course of action was heading back to the hotel. This shifted when we came to hordes of zombies shambling in front of it.

“They're here now too?” Drake said.

“Probably migrating,” I replied.

That raised the question, what would happen to the zombies if they ran out of food? Do they actually need to eat or are their cravings more akin to an addiction? Whatever the case, it was bad news for us.

“Where are we supposed to go now?” Van asked.

“They had to come from somewhere which means wherever they left should be safe,” Drake responded.

“Alright and how exactly do we go about figuring out where that is?”

“We go the opposite way they are.”

“Hang on,” I said, mentally tracing the distance, “won’t that take us back to the apartments?”

Sure enough, it did. We parked at the convenience store down the road.

“Gus, what do you see over there?” Drake asked.

“There’s a handful of zombies,” I replied with the binoculars to my eyes.

“What kind?”

“Just the regulars, do you want to try and snipe at them?”

“Sounds good. I’ll handle it and you two take care of the stragglers.”

We got in position with two sniper rifles. Drake climbed onto the Hummer roof while I was going to be covering him on the ground. Meanwhile, Van would be warning us if anything came from behind.

“Why don’t I get a gun?” he asked.

“You panic too much,” Drake told him. “Ready, Gus?”

I cocked my weapon.

“Go for it,” I said.

Things occurred uneventfully under the given circumstances. Drake sniped at the zombies that were further away and I got the ones attempting to climb over the fence. Once that was over, we drove up to the gate. Drake used Roscoe’s keycard, causing it to beep and then open.

“Figures it’s working now,” Drake said.

Driving through, we could see corpses covering the sidewalk and grass that had been mostly eaten away. From what I glanced at, I saw several heads, feet, hands, and what may have been someone’s genitals.

“I didn’t think this place could get any shittier, but here we are,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Do we really have to stay here?” Van asked.

“For now. So do you want to crash in our apartment or are you heading back to your place?”

Van looked at a man by a fire hydrant with his intestines hanging out.

“I'll stick with you guys if it's all the same to you.”

Once parked, we went to the trunk to gather the groceries. While our backs were turned, we heard the sound of several guns being clicked.

“Turn around slowly.”

We did so to see an old lady with a revolver and a cane. Her face was covered in dirt. With her were some people, also armed. We squinted.

“Mrs. Sheaver?” Drake said in a perplexed tone.

She wasn't known for having a nice demeanor. If anyone got on her bad side whether by making too much noise or just looking at her funny, she would pelt them with rotten fruit. Nobody knows where she gets it.

“Damn right, we couldn't help but notice you and your friends have some food and weapons. You wouldn't mind sharing with us. Would you?”

“I mean, maybe we could negotiate-”

She pressed the barrel of her gun to his chest.

“On second thought, we're feeling generous.”

So we've managed to survive countless horrors for the better part of a week only to be robbed blind. Mrs. Sheaver had people search through the Hummer to take whatever they deemed valuable.

“Welp, this sucks,” I said.

“Quiet,” she snapped, “Now, tell us what you saw out there.”

“Why should we?”

She poked me with the gun.

“Oh, right.”

We relayed to her what we'd encountered and how we were effectively being trapped in town.

“Damhad theregovernment bastards,” she said. “The IRS will have my savings when they pry it from my cold dead hands.”

She then asked the others if they got everything to which they replied yes.

“Thanks for the shit, suckers.”

Mrs. Sheaver laughed while shuffling away.

“How the hell did she end up being the one in charge?” I wondered aloud.

That's a weird phenomenon where in a survival situation the worst qualified somehow become the leaders just because they happen to be more assertive.

“I don't know,” Drake said. “Let's check if we have anything left.”

Then we gathered up everything, bringing it inside and laying it on our table. Luckily, Mrs. Sheaver forgot to have people check us so we still had our handguns. As for everything else, that would remain to be seen.

“Okay, we have the two axes, the pistols, two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, four bags of dried mix beans, a box of sweet tea, and I found this bag of Spicy Chili Doritos under one of the seats,” I said, taking stock of everything. “What do we have here already?”

“I know we still have like half a pack of bottled water and some gas station food from the other day,” Drake replied.

“The stuff here should last us at least a few days.”

“I mean, we could try going back over to Walmart.”

I thought about Drake's suggestion. It wasn't a bad idea. The issue was we had no way of knowing if the zombies had left that area or more had gone there. Furthermore, what if stronger ones were now there?

“What about the convenience store we were just at?” Van said.

“Oh yeah,” I replied. “It didn't look like it had been broken into so there's bound to be some good stuff in there. Why hasn't anyone else gone over there then?”

“Because they're shortsighted,” Drake told me. “I say we get started on boiling some beans and try to work out a plan.”

“To escape?” Van responded to him. “You saw what happened to Roscoe. They're not letting anyone out.”

“Then why not just bomb the town or something and be done with it?”

Our town was isolated. Therefore, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for them to have the ability to do something like that and sweep it under the rug.

“I don't know,” Van said. “Maybe it's too costly or something. Explosives aren't exactly cheap. Whatever the case, it doesn't change the fact we're stuck here.”

“You know you are way too defeatist,” Drake replied.

Van responded with a shrug.

“Hang on,” I said. “I think I have an idea.”

“Shoot,” Drake replied.

“We cut through the woods.”

“Gus, I'm not sure if you're aware, but we already tried that.”

“Not on foot.”

I explained that I planned for us to walk straight through instead of taking the dirt road again. It's unlikely the government people would be there since there are only a few roads leading into town.

“So to sum up everything, we gather what we can and walk until we come across a main road,” I finished.

“Great plan, there's only one problem,” Van said.

“What?”

“There’s a bunch of zombies outside that want to eat us alive and you're talking a minimum of two days straight out there.”

“We didn’t see any in the woods,” Drake pointed out. “I think if we keep moving we should get through it okay. I mean, you can stay here if you want. Me and Gus aren’t going to make you come with us.”

Van considered this and said, “I’ll have to sleep on it.”

That sounded like a good idea seeing as how we were going to wind down anyway. Right now, the sun is setting. I don’t see any zombies outside right now, but when I open the back door, I can hear their cries of hunger being carried by the wind. I wonder if any other neighborhoods have managed to hold down the fort? If they have then maybe that’s where they’re heading.

Drake is setting up my laptop with an HDMI cable to our living room TV. I have a lot of movies downloaded so that’ll be good to keep our minds off things until tomorrow. Wish us luck. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some stove popcorn to make.

https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/1dblrwf/out_of_the_apartment_part_6/ (We may be short on cash, but at least we're safe. I think)

1 Comment
2024/06/08
04:34 UTC

26

We Joined a Cult as a Joke [Part 4]

[Part 1]

[Part 2]

[Part 3]

[Part 4] <- You are here.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, the loose-fitting blue polo clinging to my sweat-dampened skin as I adjusted the collar for the hundredth time. Tim straightened the emergency medical badge on his chest as he wiped down the dashboard with a dirty rag. 

“This isn’t going to work,” I muttered. 

“Can you stop being a bitch, for like, five minutes...? Please...?” Tim snapped. “I’ve been doing this gig for six months. Most security booths just buzz me right through. We’ll be fine.” 

I didn’t respond. Instead, I gazed out the window, watching as the city lights of Seattle dwindled behind us, swallowed by the darkness as we ascended the winding switchbacks into the hills.

The view was almost beautiful enough to distract me from the weight of what we were about to do. Each turn of the road felt like a step closer to our doom. 

We turned onto an immaculately manicured path, the large wrought iron gates looming ahead, framed by imposing stone walls. The black veil of night surrounded us, leaving only our headlights, the guard booth, and the soft glimmer of the mansions lining the hillsides. My heart pounded in my chest as I saw an old man in the booth straighten up, set aside whatever he was eating, and approach the window. 

Tim waved and pointed to the logo on his shirt: Imperial Medical Services. He slowed the car to a crawl, his confidence seeming unshakeable. The old man stood at the window watching us as Tim slowly rolled by, expecting the gate to open. Instead, the guard held his hand up, signaling us to stop. 

“Fuck…” Tim whispered under his breath, his facade cracking ever so slightly. 

The guard motioned to roll down the window. “Evening, gentlemen. Delivery slip and IDs, please.” 

“Sure, one second,” Tim said, his voice unnaturally calm. He reached into the glovebox, and I caught a glimpse of IDs from at least four different states, all with different names but each featuring Tim’s face. He picked one and handed it over along with the papers. 

“And your friend there?” the guard asked, his gaze shifting to me. 

“He’s undocumented. Doesn’t have ID,” Tim replied smoothly. 

“Right… one minute,” the guard said as he stepped back into the booth. The minutes stretched agonizingly as he examined the ID and spoke on the phone, casting occasional glances our way. Tim’s eyes were glued forward, his fingers drumming a nervous rhythm on the steering wheel. 

“Sorry, gentlemen,” the guard finally called out. “Without two IDs, I can’t let you through.” 

“Are you joking?” Tim shouted. “I’m supposed to believe this is the only housing community on the West Coast that doesn’t have undocumented workers?” 

The guard’s eyes narrowed. “Not ones that show up at eleven o'clock at night. Now leave before I involve the authorities.” 

Tim let out a defeated sigh. After a moment, he shifted the car into reverse. 

“Wait,” I interrupted, “We’re delivering insulin. Our paperwork shows that he ran out of it today. He could be having a medical emergency.” 

The guard looked at me, his expression momentarily shocked. “If that's the case, then we should call an ambulance.” 

“Why do you think we’re here?” Tim interjected. “You think they call an ambulance every time someone is low on insulin? We make short notice deliveries at least three times a week. Given how remote this place is, it’ll probably be over an hour until a city ambulance gets out here.”

“So, they’re expecting you? I’ll just give them a quick call.” he said as he turned back to his phone. I glanced at Tim with wide eyes and I noticed his hand on a pistol hidden in his waistband. 

I closed my eyes and laid my head back against the headrest, the only sound being the ringing of the speakerphone from inside the guards booth and the pounding of blood in my ears. After a few moments, the speaker clicked, asking the guard to leave a voicemail. 

“He could have passed out. We need to get him his shots. Please.” Tim pleaded. 

“Right, um,” the old man stuttered, “I want you to drive straight there. If I don’t see you back out here in thirty minutes, I’m phoning the police.” 

“Thank you, sir,” I said, trying to muster a convincing smile. 

He moved to push the gate release button but paused, his suspicion rekindled. “Wait, why don’t you have an accent?” 

A lump formed in my throat with my mind racing for an answer. 

Without missing a beat, Tim cut in. “Wow, man. Really? Why does he have to have an accent?”

The guard’s face reddened. “Oh, sorry. Really sorry. My apologies.” He fumbled with the controls, and the gate creaked open. 

We pulled forward, the tension in the car not easing until we were well past the gate and into the dark, winding streets. 

“You really should have had an accent,” Tim muttered, breaking the silence. 

“What was I supposed to do? Start speaking in broken English?” I snapped back. 

“I mean, it wouldn’t have hurt,” he shrugged. 

As we wound our way up the serpentine roads, I rechecked my pack: a length of sturdy rope, a roll of duct tape, a Glock 19 with the serial number meticulously filed off, a compact flashlight, a lock-picking set, and a first aid kit, just in case things went south. I tried to lean back and relax as I gazed out the window at the wealthy and exclusive palatial houses.  

Italianate villas with terracotta roofs stood beside sleek, ultramodern homes with glass walls that gleamed under the moonlight. Each residence was spaced far apart, separated by thick stone walls or dense hedges. Clearly whoever lived here valued their privacy. 

The estate finally came into view, light permeating up from the house and courtyard into the black night like a spotlight on the hillside. Dozens of cars lined the driveway and filled the cul-de-sac. Groups of people approached a guarded checkpoint where security personnel frisked them and scanned their invitations. Once cleared, they were handed black cloaks and masks before entering the mansion. 

“This is bad. We should turn around,” I panicked. 

“No, this is perfect,” Tim replied, a confident edge to his voice. “They’re handing out the disguises for us. We’ll blend right in. Just keep it together.” 

Every instinct screamed to run, but I knew there was no turning back. I mirrored Tim, slipping my gun into my waistband as we parked. 

I scanned the area, searching for a way to bypass security, but Tim was already out of the car, striding up the stone driveway. I hurried after him, trying to match his composure. 

As we approached, several security guards eyed us, their suspicion evident. 

“Delivery,” he announced, opening his bag to reveal it was packed with bottles and syringes.

The guard frowned. “No one mentioned a delivery.” 

Tim continued. “We have an order. I gave my delivery slip to the gate guard. Feel free to call him.” 

I gritted my teeth, waiting through the uncomfortable silence. 

“Hold on, I’ll call Mr. Voss to confirm,” the guard said, reaching for his radio. 

Before he could speak, a familiar voice interrupted. “No need, gentlemen. They’re with me.” 

Dr. Wilcox emerged from the shadows with a malicious smile. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.

“Glad you could make it,” he said in a sinister tone. “Wouldn’t want you to miss the party.” 

He waved us through, and a woman in an animal mask stepped forward, handing us robes and masks of our own. They confiscated Tim's bag, but left us otherwise unsearched. “Enjoy your evening,” Dr. Wilcox added before turning to the guards. “Make sure they don’t leave before meeting me in the basement after the festivities.” 

As Dr. Wilcox disappeared into the mansion, two guards moved in close behind us. Tim and I exchanged a wary glance before heading through the massive wooden doors.

The first thing that hit me was the stench—sweat, animal musk, and incense. Around the foyer, people crawled on the ground like deranged animals. Some barked, others neighed, and a few sniffed each other like dogs, their movements ridiculously exaggerated. It took a moment to realize they were imitating the creatures on their masks. 

A sharp pressure slammed into my back, forcing me to my knees. I clutched the mask in my hand—a cat. With a heavy sigh, I slipped it on and dropped to all fours. The guard's grip was unforgiving as he snapped a collar around my neck, yanking me into the writhing crowd. I lost sight of Tim, the chaotic mass swallowing him up. He couldn't be enjoying this any more than I was. 

As I descended into the rabid throng, the animal sounds grew deafening. My senses were assaulted from all directions—masked faces loomed in and out of view, their eyes wild and unhinged. The air was thick with heat and the reek of unwashed bodies, making each breath a struggle. 

Around the edges of the crowd, figures in white robes moved with calm. They held trays of hors d'oeuvres and waved ornate fans, their masks having no eyeholes leaving them presumably blind. It was obvious they were the servants, catering to the bizarre whims of the revelers. 

One servant caught my eye, towing a strange contraption behind him. It resembled an oversized censer, billowing thick, sweet-smelling smoke into the crowd. As the haze spread, those closest to it seemed to grow more frenzied, their movements becoming even more exaggerated and grotesque. They remained impassive as they maneuvered through the chaos, leaving a trail of confusion and heightened madness in their wake. 

An idea began to form, a desperate gambit in the midst of chaos. I pushed through the crowd, aiming for the thickest plumes of smoke. Holding my breath, I wove through the haze, my lungs burning with the effort. The sweet, cloying scent was almost overpowering, even without inhaling. I felt the guard's grip tighten, then falter as the smoke enveloped us. 

I turned sharply, making sure to drag the guard through the densest parts of the fog. Each pass was a test of endurance, my vision blurring as I fought the urge to breathe. Sweat dripped down my face, mixing with the oppressive heat and stench. 

After the fifth time, I could no longer avoid the inevitable. I gasped for air, the drug-laden smoke flooding my lungs. Disorientation set in swiftly, the world around me warping and twisting like a nightmarish hallucination. Colors bled into each other, smearing across my vision, and sounds morphed into distorted echoes, each bark and neigh reverberating through my skull. 

My limbs grew heavy, each movement a herculean effort. The masked figures around me transformed into monstrous shapes, their exaggerated movements becoming sinister and menacing. The floor seemed to undulate beneath my hands and knees, making every step feel like I was sinking into quicksand. 

The guard was faring worse. His grip on the collar loosened, fingers twitching as the smoke took its toll. His eyes rolled back, showing only the whites, and he swayed precariously. He stumbled once, a drunken lurch, then again, more violently, before collapsing in a heap, unconscious. 

I took a deep, shaky breath, my head swimming, and tried to focus. The room spun around me, the cacophony of animal sounds melding into a chaotic din. I had to find Tim before the effects overwhelmed me completely. My vision swam with swirling shapes and shifting colors, and each breath felt heavier, more labored. 

Fighting the growing disorientation, I scanned the room for any sign of him. My thoughts were fragmented, each one slipping away like water through my fingers. The servants in their eyeless masks floated past, strangely calm amidst the madness. 

I stumbled through the chaos, my movements sluggish and uncoordinated. Each step was a battle against the disorienting haze and the oppressive heat that seemed to press down on me from all sides. 

Somehow, I managed to push through the mass of bodies, finding a door that led outside. The cool night air was a shock to my system. I collapsed to my knees, gulping in the fresh air, my head spinning. 

After a few moments, I forced myself to stand, my legs trembling beneath me. I moved along the edge of the building. Then, I saw him. Tim was leaning against a wall, his face pale and strained. The tension eased slightly as I staggered towards him. 

He looked up with his eyes equally relieved. "George," he rasped, "you okay?" 

"Yeah," I panted, trying to steady my breath. "Barely. What about you?" 

Tim nodded, a smile tugging at his lips. "Managed to take care of my guard. He won't be bothering us anymore." 

"We need to get out of here," I said, glancing around the deserted grounds. 

Before Tim could respond, a shadow moved at the edge of my vision. I spun around to see a figure standing right beside us. A servant in a white robe, their face hidden behind a mask, stood motionless, holding a tray of hors d'oeuvres. 

"Jesus," Tim muttered, his hand twitching towards his waistband. 

"Wait," I said. 

We took a cautious step forward, and the servant remained still, their silence unnerving. I felt a flicker of recognition, but couldn't place it. Slowly, I reached out and pulled off the mask. 

What I saw made my stomach lurch. It was the shopkeeper from earlier, but her eyes had been gouged out, and her mouth was stitched shut. Blood crusted around the crude stitches, and her empty eye sockets stared blankly ahead. 

Tim recoiled, "What the hell?" escaped his lips. 

The shopkeeper's chest heaved with shallow breaths, letting out a soft pained moaned barely audible above the discord emanating from inside 

"Oh my god," I stammered, "What did they do to her?" 

Tim's face hardened. "I don’t know and I don’t care. Let's go.” 

We turned to leave, but the shopkeeper's hand shot out, grabbing my wrist with surprising strength. Her grip was cold and desperate, her head tilting as if trying to communicate. 

"We can't leave her like this," I said, my voice trembling. 

Tim hesitated, his eyes darting between me and the figure. "We don't have a choice. We can't help her. We need to find Chloe and get the hell out." 

The shopkeeper's grip tightened, her breath ragged and wheezing through her nose. I forced myself to look at her, fighting the urge to turn away from the horror. 

"I'm sorry," I whispered, prying her fingers off my wrist. "I'm so sorry." 

A low, resonant bell tolled somewhere deep within the mansion, the sound cutting through the night like a funeral knell. The discordant noises from inside suddenly ceased, replaced by a haunting quiet. 

For a moment, we stood unmoving in the silence. We heard the sound of shifting cloth as we watched through the windows. The revelers unanimously began to stand and filter out towards the backyard. They moved in a trance, like moths to a flame. 

Tim and I exchanged wary glances before sneaking to the edge of the house, watching the steady stream of black wade into the torch-lit labyrinth. At the very back of the yard stood a massive stone sculpture resembling an owl, with a bonfire roaring at its feet. 

Standing on the platform was a row of servants. One in particular stood out from the rest. I couldn't see her face, I couldn't see her body. But I knew. It was her. It was Chloe.

3 Comments
2024/06/08
00:31 UTC

103

I'm a single mom. I never knew who The Donor was. Now my family will never be the same.

First I discovered that children of The Donor turn into killers at the age of seven.

Then I went on a hunt to find the biological father of my seven-year-old, donor-conceived son.

The next thing I knew, I was "waking up" inside a vast compound in the deserts of Utah, my memory completely wiped, as if I had just emerged from a coma.

"Mary. Mary." I heard a familiar voice call out, as my eyes began to focus, and I saw...

...Ryan McDonald, the very nurse from the fertility clinic where I had undergone artificial insemination years prior, who had warned me about David's... affliction in the first place.

"Ryan?" I asked, surprised to see him, as I slowly remembered where I was. "What are you doing here?"

"Turns out, the father of your child didn't appreciate me meddling in his affairs, and had me kidnapped." He began, referring to Cassius, the biological father of my son, and the leader of the cult we were currently inside. "But don't worry, I escaped."

"I see that." I replied with a smile, as I looked around at the dark passage we were hiding in, before wondering how much time had passed. "How long has it been?"

"Well, the last time I saw you was at David's seventh birthday party. About a year ago. Next month will be his eighth birthday."

"A year ago?" I cried out, as Ryan put his hand over my mouth, in an effort to keep quiet. "How is that possible? The last thing I remember was arriving here, just a few days after seeing you."

"Well from the looks of the other "mothers," as they seem to call them, I'd say there's some sort of hypnosis going on. Luckily, when I found you, you seemed to snap out of it."

And that's when I remembered...

"David!" I cried out, "Where's David?"

"Shh, Shh," He whispered, "He's okay. Well, as okay as a possessed child can be. He's just... in the pen. With the other children."

The pen. That's right. I thought to myself, as I remembered where I'd last seen David, after witnessing one of the mothers getting sacrificed to the other ravenous children, as a ritualistic sacrifice to Cassius' catatonic father.

"The "grandfather"! We need to kill Cassius' father!" I called out, realizing that the children, Cassius, everything seemed to be stemming from him.

"Whoa, whoa. We don't need to do anything." Ryan replied. "You need to lay low, while yes, I'm going after the "grandfather.""

"But-"

"Mary, listen to me. You have a cover. Cassius doesn't know you're out of the trance. Just go about your day, same as the other "mothers" until I put an end to this, once and for all."

Despite my better judgment, I did as Ryan had suggested, returning to the great hall in my white gown, and following in the footsteps of the hundred or so other "mothers," as they all gathered in the center of the room and began chanting.

That is, until the thin man with the hunchback stopped me, and asked. "Where do you think you're going?"

Not sure of what to say, and assuming my cover had been blown, I simply remained quiet.

"Over there!" The man said, as he pointed to one of two empty thrones that stood before the great hall.

I nodded, before heading off to the front of the hall, where I took a seat in one of the thrones.

Suddenly, all of the "mothers" stopped chanting, and the room went silent.

That's when Cassisus emerged from an adjacent hallway, followed by two mothers, who were wheeling out his decrepit father.

"Mothers. Today is a special day!" The bearded father of my son decreed. "Today, none of you will be chosen! None of you will be sacrificed."

A mumbling rang out through the hall, before Cassisus continued.

"No, today, we have a special guest. A traitor in our midst. Who will be sacrificed instead."

That's when Cassius turned to me, and smiled.

Suddenly, I was chilled to the core, as I realized that he must have been on to me, and that I... would soon be sacrificed to a pack of feral children, that included my own son.

But I was very wrong.

"Bring him out!" Cassius called out, before the thin, hunched man came barreling out of an adjacent hallway, shoving none other than a restrained Ryan McDonald into the great hall.

"Mothers! This man sought to destroy everything we have worked so hard to achieve here. And worst of all, we found him sneaking into "Grandfather"'s chamber, with this!" Cassius yelled, as he held up one of his own ceremonial daggers. "Bring him to the pit!"

A few minutes later, we had returned to the last place I had visited before I had lost my memory, the ledge that dropped into a large pit, filled with countless rabid children, all growling and drooling for a taste of flesh, including my own son.

Once again, Cassius set his father's wheelchair aside, and, along with the tall, thin man, this time led Ryan to the edge of the pit.

"For father." He said to Ryan, making a strange symbol with his finger, ready to push him into the pit, before...

...I suddenly called out, "Stop!"

Suddenly, Cassius whipped around, and shot me a disgusted scowl. "You dare interrupt me, woman!"

That's when he started to approach me, slowly and ominously, as he continued to taunt me.

"You will end up in the pit next, with your wretched child, bride!"

Bride? I wondered. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I suddenly found myself returning to the horrific marriage I worked so hard to move past, frozen in place by his taunts, as he got closer and closer and closer.

But before Cassius could lay a finger on me, a puzzled look suddenly washed over his face, as he looked down.

There, protruding from his chest, was the very sacrificial blade, he had just held up in the great hall minutes earlier, now lunged through his body.

He dropped to his knees, coughing up blood, as Ryan removed the dagger.

That's when the thin man charged at Ryan, and I seized the opportunity to grab the "grandfather"'s wheelchair, and push him off the ledge, and into the sea of feral children.

And as they began to ravenously tear him apart, limb from limb, flesh from bone, I looked out into the group of children, and wished not to see David. That's when, out of nowhere, I spotted him, howling and screaming, as he pushed his way closer, and closer, and closer to the old man's body.

"David, noooo!" I cried out.

But just before he could get his hands on the bloody body, all of the children, including David, suddenly stopped what they were doing, and snapped out of it, seemingly returning to normal, and backing away from the body, in horror.

That's when Ryan put his hand on my shoulder and said. "Let's get these kids out of here."

Reconciling what had happened was... challenging, to say the least.

For starters, the authorities never believed our story, and did everything they could to cover up what had happened, whether to save face, or save themselves the paperwork, dispersing all of the children, whose memories were permanently wiped, to orphanages around the country.

As for David. David returned to a normal life. Having never actually gone through with or succeeded in his violent impulses, his innocence... had somehow been saved. Even if his memory had not, and new memories had to be rebuilt.

Memories like, welcoming a brand new member of the family, his newborn baby sister Dana, into his life on his ninth birthday, after Ryan and I had gotten married and conceived a child together.

And if inquiring minds must know, you better believe, that there was no fucking way, that we were ever going to use a donor this time around.

9 Comments
2024/06/07
22:32 UTC

28

I'm Indebted to a Voodoo Shop (Part 7)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Home didn’t feel the same after I returned from the hotel. My dad knew that I knew how he’d gotten that high-paying job. And he knew what I had been doing to help us make ends meet before getting entangled with Creole. It got even worse when one day he walked in on me as I was applying the ointment to cover my scars. That broke him. He started crying uncontrollably upon seeing me with the deep scar on my neck and my missing eye surrounded by my skull. It was the first time I’d seen my dad cry like that. And I couldn’t do anything to console or help him. Because I knew if I did, I would start crying and wouldn’t be able to stop. 

We were both at rock bottom, with my mom trying in vain to figure out why we were so upset. Creole must’ve known what I was going through and allowed it to continue. For an entire month, he didn’t call on me for anything. And that worried me more than if he did. Because there was always the looming and constant fear that he would get bored with me. And him being bored with me probably meant my immediate death. 

It was a relief when I was home alone again that I received a knock at the door. I looked down at my phone to make sure that I still had plenty of time since my last ointment appointment. Satisfied that I had plenty of time I stood up and answered the door. Seeing that smiling face and red uniform instantly brightened my day a little. 

“Hey Jacob, what’s he got for me this time?” I asked him as the forever smiling bellhop stared at me with his button eyes. He happily presented me with an envelope and gave me a little salute at completing his mission. I took the envelope and opened it up, sighing when I saw the all too familiar handwriting. 

“Marvelous Ms. Mace! It would seem that I require your skills in another endeavor. Jacob shall escort you to the store, and do make sure to bring all your tools. K.C.” I heavily exhaled through my nose and invited Jacob into the house so I could gather my things.” I quickly ran upstairs and rounded up my lockpicking tools, pepper spray, and this time a pocket knife as well. I’d gotten myself one after the ordeal of the hotel. Just as I was applying more ointment and resetting my timer I heard the front door open and a bunch of grocery bags rustling. 

My heart instantly dropped. My mom had gotten back earlier than expected. I quickly finished putting the ointment on and ran downstairs as quickly as I could. I nearly ran into my mom as she was hanging one of the bags on the stair railings. 

“Jesus, Maria, Jose, Macedonia!” My mom shouted in surprise. I half expected it to be because of Jacob but a glance around the first floor revealed that he wasn’t anywhere in sight. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.” My mom sighed fanning herself dramatically. 

“Sorry Mom,” I apologized, wrapping my arms around her and squeezing her. “I’m going out, ok?” I told her. She looked at me judgementally, mostly at what I was wearing before wishing me good luck and the usual million things to be careful of. I nodded at all of them and parted with a kiss on her cheek. As I exited the front door it was my turn to nearly have a heart attack as Jacob surprised me by poking his head out of the bush next to the front door. 

“How’d you get in there?!” I silently shouted at him. He pointed at the open window just above the bush. And I couldn’t help but snort and giggle at the thought of him diving out of the window into the bush once my mom had arrived back at the house. I helped him to get out of the bush and brushed the leaves off of his uniform. 

We started making our way towards the voodoo shop all the while my mind continued to wander in various scenarios in which my situation was going to end. Most of them with me and my entire family dead or turned into voodoo dolls. 

“Jacob?!” An unknown voice broke my endless doom loop. I looked up and Jacob and I stared at a sketchy dude across the street from us who quickly ran over and grabbed Jacob by his gold-trimmed collar. “Where the fuck have you been man?! I’ve been trying to call you for months!” He shouted at Jacob who just stared at him with his permanent smile and tilted his head in confusion. 

“Leave him alone, we’re trying to be somewhere asshole,” I told the guy, grabbing Jacob by the arm and starting to tug on it. The guy looked at me like I was literal shit on his shoe and stared back at Jacob. 

“Who the fuck is she? More importantly, why the fuck are you dressed like this? It isn’t Halloween you freak,” he shouted at Jacob. He continued on about how he hadn’t made a single delivery in months and that some scary people were looking for him. Jacob continued to stare blankly at this guy before turning to me and taking his hat off. 

“Hey, asshole! Don’t ignore me!” he shouted at Jacob as he placed the hat on me. I stared at him in confusion before he lifted his hands to cover his button eyes. He then lowered his hands and pointed at me. It took me a few seconds to figure out he wanted me to cover my eyes. So I hesitated for a moment before lifting my hands and covering my eyes. 

As I covered my eyes I heard the guy let out a choked scream before a sickening crunch and tearing, overpowered the sounds of his muted screams. I shut my eyes as tightly as I could and suddenly wondered something. My glass eyes didn’t have an eyelid. So how exactly was it shut right at that moment? Did it turn off on command? I didn’t have long to wonder at the logistics as I felt Jacob’s hat being taken off of me. 

I lowered my hands and was met by Jacob’s usual smiling face. And not a single stain on his uniform at all. I looked at him and then around us in confusion. There wasn’t a single sight of the asshole. Not a body part, not a drop of blood not even a scrap of clothing. Absolutely nothing. I knew better than to inquire about what had happened so I simply continued our walk towards the voodoo store. 

“Mace! It’s been so long! How’s the eye treating you?” Creole asked me, giddy with excitement upon seeing me. I was instantly reminded how much I hated him. His stupid smile and his constant giddiness. It irked and annoyed me. 

“It’s fine, sir,” I told him as dryly as I could. As usual that didn’t register at all to him and he simply nodded and looked over at Jacob. 

“I see you two came upon some trouble. But Jacob handled it, so no harm done!” Creole said with a smile and walked over to the register. I followed after him and watched as he picked up the template doll from the register and started tossing it up and down in the air. 

“What’s the problem this time?” I asked him, stuffing my hands into my jacket pocket. He stared at me for a moment with that toothy yellow grin for a few moments before letting some giggles rise up from his throat. I could already tell that this was going to suck.

“Seems, that while I was away. A rat got into some of my potions. Made quite the mess of the shop, you should’ve seen it! Now that lil ol’ rat has run off and made a nest in the high school. I’m gonna need you to deal with it for me.” He smiled as he caught the template doll in midair and gave it a hard squeeze in between his gloved fingers. 

“No,” I told him. That got his attention. He raised a brow at me and tossed the doll onto the register table. “I can’t,” I said as I felt my heart beating out of control. Since I was a little girl I had an absolute phobia of rats. Everything about them disgusted me and freaked me out. And now I had to go and kill some probably giant monster rat. 

“Oh Mace, we both know you ain’t in a position of refusing me.” Creole extended his hand out to me and the contract that I signed with him. He was right, I had no right to refuse him. But at the same time, I’d rather have him kill me than have to face a giant rat. Not to mention if it had gotten into his potions, there was no telling what that thing had turned into. 

“Can’t you have the cops handle it?” I asked, still trying to find a way out of it. Creole slammed his fist down on the hard wooden table and I swear it felt like the entire shop would come crumbling down in top of us. 

“You’ll be doing it. Understand? I don’t want to have to visit your parents any sooner than I have to, Macedonia.” He told me in a low and gravely voice. His yellow teeth sharpened into fangs and I quickly looked down at the floor and finally nodded after a few moments of trying to think of a way out of it. 

“Yes sir…” I told him submissively. 

“Splendid! Jacob will be coming with you, naturally. You two seem to make a good team.” His mood shifted instantly once I became cooperative. His usual bubbly and happy personality returned. I simply nodded and looked over at Jacob. He kept up his permanent smile and gave me a little wave. I returned it with a half-hearted smile of my own. 

“Well off with the two of you then, the sooner you deal with that rat the sooner you can go home again,” Creole said with a smile as he dismissively waved the two of us away and without giving me any other way of protecting myself from whatever monster rat he’d accidentally created. I sighed as I followed after Jacob as he fished out the magic skeleton key and inserted it into the voodoo shop’s door. 

I watched as the door contorted and warped into one of the high school’s main doors. I grabbed the metal handle before Jacob could and pushed it open. Being inside the darkened school was like having one of those nightmares where you’re back in school again, or when you come to school after hours and the entire building is eerily quiet. 

“Let’s just get this over with,” I mumbled to Jacob as we started making our way towards the cafeteria. If a giant rat was going to be anywhere, it’d probably be there. We passed several photos of past classes and clubs and I came to a stop at the photo I had managed to get into. I’d snuck into cheer practice with Jess who had been a cheerleader and had gotten my picture taken with the whole squad. It brought me back to simpler times and was a cruel reminder of what had happened to my friends. 

I looked over at Jacob and noticed that his button eyes were trained squarely on a photo. I walked over to him and noticed he was looking at a picture of the video game club. And staring straight at me with a happy and toothy grin was the old Jacob. Before dropping out and becoming a drug dealer, before becoming an undead bellhop. Jacob kept staring at the photo for a few more seconds before turning to look at me. There was no indication on his permanently closed and stitched smile that he felt any different but something felt off about him. 

As I was about to ask him what the matter was, but a loud crash and rattling came from the direction of the cafeteria. I instantly shoved my face into Jacob’s chest in absolute terror. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hard squeeze. I don’t know what it is about Jacob that gives me such a calming response whenever I’m near him. Whatever it is, it was powerful enough to give me my strength back as I quickly dug into my pockets and pulled out the can of pepper spray and my pocket knife. 

“Okay…I can do this…right?” I looked back at Jacob for confirmation. He gave me two thumbs up and we continued on course toward the cafeteria. Finding the doors locked I quickly handed my items to Jacob and got on my knees to begin picking the lock. It was second nature to me at this point, there had been plenty of times during high school where I had broken into the cafeteria to steal some food or a snack. In just a few swift flicks of the pins and tumblers the door swung open. 

Jacob went first before motioning for me to follow after him. It certainly seemed like the rat had been here. Judging by the simple fact that the tables and benches were strewn and thrown in every possible direction. In the direction of the kitchen, the whole metal screen separating the kitchen from the cafeteria was broken and bent in various directions. I was suddenly realizing that I was probably going to be fighting a bear-sized rat with only a knife and some pepper spray. 

“I don’t hear it,” I whispered to Jacob as the two of us began approaching the kitchen. We poked our heads into the utter devastation that had happened to the kitchen. Appliances were ripped from the wall, the freezer door had been ripped from its hinges, and the remains of dozens of frozen lunches were strewn about in every possible direction. 

I picked up a frozen round pizza and said a silent prayer for the only decent thing the school ever gave to me. Despite all the destruction, however, there was no sign of the rat. I suddenly became afraid that the thing could turn invisible. It was then that I noticed that Jacob was staring up at the ceiling. I quickly dropped the pizza and followed his gaze upward, terrified that the rat was hanging from the ceiling like the mirror version of me had done. But instead, I was greeted by a giant gaping hole in the ceiling. 

“Well, it isn’t here. Where the hell else could it be?” I asked Jacob who looked back at me and shrugged. I groaned and started looking around at the floor trying to think of where it could be. I stared too long at the floor though as my new glass eye just popped out of my head and fell to the floor. 

“Oh fuck off,” I hissed in anger as I quickly dropped to my knees and began scrambling after it. I managed to catch it just before it rolled under the stove and cleaned it as best as I could before inserting it back into my skull. As I was letting the magic item return vision to my left side I stared at the stove for a moment before a thought crossed my mind. 

“What about the home econ room? They have a cooking class there.” I quickly stood up and Jacob quickly nodded. The only problem was that the home econ room was on the other side of the school from where we were. Plenty of chances for the rat to ambush us. So as we started walking down the halls towards the home econ room I made sure to hold on to Jacob’s hand. Our high school isn’t even that big and yet the walk from the cafeteria felt like it took sixty years, mostly because every single noise caused me to stop and wait to see what was going to pop out and attack me. 

By the time we entered the area where the home econ room was, I was able to hear something rummaging around and destroying things in the classroom. It seemed that my hunch had paid off. The only problem was that I was too scared to move even a muscle. I looked back at Jacob and he gave me a thumbs up. I squeezed his hand tightly and nodded back at him, letting go of his hand and fishing my can of pepper spray out of my jacket pocket. 

I glanced into the classroom through the window. Besides the absolute devastation of the classroom, I watched in horror as a giant rat’s tail was dragged along the floor like some enormous worm. I quickly shook my head and turned to Jacob. 

“I can’t do it,” I whimpered at him, feeling the onset of a panic attack incoming. Jacob rubbed my arms and waited for me to slightly calm down. I did my best to get a hold of myself and again peeked into the window of the destroyed kitchen room. I got a good look at the giant rat as it broke into one of the stoves. Most of its fur had fallen off in giant patches, and giant spikes were piercing out of its back. As it turned its head to toss the stove away from the wall I could see that one of its eyes was missing. I breathed a sigh of relief, it was blind in that eye just like I was. 

I took a deep breath and carefully tried to open the door, but the handle only jiggled a little, it was locked. That slight movement of the door triggered the rat, as it quickly whipped its head towards the door. My eye met its eyes, as it still had its right eye along with a giant cluster of eyes above and below it. 

“Shit,” I mumbled as it let out a loud screech and proceeded to charge towards the door. I felt Jacob quickly grab me and shove me away just as the giant rat busted down the door on top of him. I landed on the floor on my ass and watched as Jacob struggled to keep the rat from bringing its full weight on top of him and squishing him into a puddle. 

“Hey, shithead!” I screamed at the rat getting its attention. I aimed my pepper spray at it and pressed down, spraying it in its giant cluster of eyes. It let out a pained shriek and fell over as it tried in vain to get the stinging chemical spray out of its eyes. I quickly dropped the empty can and winced as the stinging began to form in my good eye. One good thing about having a magic glass eyeball is that it isn’t affected by pepper spray, so I at least had one advantage over the rat. 

At least I thought I did, as a deep rumbling noise came from deep inside the rat, I took a step back as I held my knife out in front of me as if it was some kind of sword or spear. I watched in disgust as a new cluster of eyes spawned from the empty eye socket, and before I could process that, the rat pounced on me and pinned me to the floor. I thrashed and kicked trying to get it off of me, and even began stabbing it in the neck. It screamed and began rumbling again as long slender tentacles began to spawn from its back and began thrashing around like whips. 

“Oh, you gotta be fucking kidding!” I screamed as I began stabbing it in the face and the eyes, any spot that could get it off of me, doing my best to avoid its mouth which was constantly snapping and gnashing at me. One of my stabs ended up landing underneath the rat’s snout and I was too careless. The knife became stuck inside him and I tried to use my left hand to give me more leverage to pull it out. In doing so I got too close to its mouth and it clamped down on my hand. 

I screamed my fucking lungs out, and on instinct yanked my hands out of its mouth. And watched as my pinky, ring finger, and half of my middle finger remained in the rat's mouth. I let go of the knife and clutched my bloody hand with my other. The rat eagerly chewed on my fingers and was about to come back for more when Jacob slammed a metal desk chair against its head. It stumbled and looked over at him, just in time for Jacob to bring it down on the rat's head. It screeched and quickly began scurrying away. Instead of chasing after it, Jacob quickly dropped to his knees and began taking care of me. 

“W-we gotta get outta here, before it comes back,” I whimpered, staring as a fountain of blood came pouring out of my damaged hand. Jacob quickly ripped off his sleeve and made a tourniquet and a bandage for me out of it. I couldn’t really stain it since it was the same color as my blood. Jacob quickly picked me up bridal style and ran towards the stairwell entrance just as I heard the rat coming back for another attack. 

We entered the stairwell and Jacob quickly rushed us upstairs just as the rat crashed through the door. We made it upstairs and found ourselves in the science wing of the school. Jacob quickly ducked us into a classroom that happened to be open and quickly closed and locked the door, pushing a chair up against the door as well. We both ducked down as we heard the rat running past us on a wild goose chase to find us. 

I whimpered and winced at the pain stinging from my hand. It was then that a terrifying thought entered my mind. I wouldn’t be able to pick locks with a hand like this. At least until I could get used to only having two and a half fingers. Would Creole get bored of me if I couldn’t pick locks anymore? I looked around the classroom and suddenly was struck with a familiar feeling. Like I’d been here before. I looked over toward the teacher’s desk and was flushed with memories of the only science class I’d ever enjoyed and passed with a grade higher than a C. Mr. Picot’s chemistry class. 

“Jacob, I have an idea.” I winced as I stood up and quickly whispered to my smiling savior. He quickly came over and got on his knees as I wobbly sat up on mine. “In that cabinet,” I pointed towards a big metal cabinet. “Mr. Picot keeps some dry ice in a thermal cooler. We can make dry ice bombs to fight that thing.” I told him, Jacob quickly nodded as he agreed to my plan. He helped me stand up on my feet and the two of us walked over to the cabinet. I dug into my pocket and pulled out the tools. 

Jacob helped me as he held the left hook pick steady for me as I used my good hand to fiddle around. I was lucky that Mr. Picot used a pretty cheap lock for the cabinet. After only two failed attempts we got the locker opened. Jacob quickly opened the cooler and pulled out the small block of dry ice from its container. I went under Mr. Picot’s desk and quickly grabbed a couple of mini water bottles that he always had on hand in case someone needed some water during a test. 

Jacob carefully drained each bottle so only a little bit of water was left and cut the dry ice into little chunks, wrapping them up in a paper towel and adding them to the water bottle. I was impressed at how skillfully he was doing this. I’d always imagined Jacob as the typical school-hating wanna-be gangster. But here he was proving that he knew what he was doing. The water would stop an immediate release of the CO2 into the bottle and give us time to chuck it at the rat. 

Our best bet was going to be getting it to swallow one, so with our arsenal of six bombs made and carefully being carried by Jacob in a lost and found backpack we’d found in the classroom, we exited the classroom and started making as much noise as possible. Banging our hands against the lockers and me screaming as loudly as I could. Soon enough we heard the loud scurrying running towards us again. 

It had changed again, with its mouth having split open like a flower full of teeth and bleeding gums. If I didn’t walk away from this completely traumatized of rats I was going to be very surprised. Jacob reached into the back and pulled out a bomb, giving it a good shake before tossing it. Unfortunately for us, it blew up midair and sent a loud bang throughout the school. That didn’t seem to bother the rat as it kept charging towards us. I quickly took a bottle from Jacob and started rushing towards the rat. 

It tackled me to the ground and screamed at me with its giant gaping mouth. I shook the bottle as well as I could and stuffed it into its mouth, acting quicker on this occasion to pull my hand back out. It swallowed the bomb and I winced in anticipation. As if on cue the bomb exploded in the rat’s throat and nearly decapitated it. It staggered over me for a few moments, as if trying to figure out why it had lost function of its whole body before it tumbled to the floor and let out a long death gurgle. 

“Thank god,” I sighed as I crawled out from under it. Jacob was carefully opening the bottles to relieve their pressure. It turned out we only needed one after all. I walked over to him and shoved my face into his chest, letting a wave of emotions come over me as I began to cry uncontrollably into him. Everything bubbled to the surface at once, my fear of rats, my situation, my hopelessness, everything all came to the surface at once. I stood there crying into Jacob’s chest for a good five minutes before I finally got some bit of composure back. 

The two of us made our way back down to the first floor and toward the main entrance. As we were about to leave I looked back to see Jacob staring at his old picture again. I wondered what he could be thinking about, but I figured it was better not to dwell on that, so I simply opened the door and stepped back into Creole’s shop. 

“Mace! Goodness girl, what happened to ya?” Creole asked in shock which I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or fake. He walked over to me and quickly grabbed my hand, removing Jacob’s makeshift bandage to get a good look at it. “Oh dear me, quite the nasty bite it gave you, huh?” He asked me, that stupid smile replaced with a look of concern on his face. 

“Can you fix me, sir?” I asked him as he looked at the hand and reached into his pocket. He wordlessly doused my hand in some potion and I half expected my lost fingers to start blooming like some flower or something. But instead, the bleeding ceased completely. 

“There we are. That should deal with any infection as well, can’t have my new toy breaking so soon after I bought it,” he said with that stupid smile returning to his face. I stared back at him and felt my anger boiling over. I was his toy. No better than a frisbee he could throw around. And easily replaceable if he broke me too badly. 

“What about my fingers?” I asked him, wanting to know if he could do anything with them. He stared at them for a moment before letting go of my hand and shrugging. 

“If I had them I could sew them back on. Unfortunately, we don’t have them do we?” he said with a smile that quickly grew sinister as I was sure some other horrible idea had crossed his mind. “I could always chop it off and give you a new hand,” he said with a sinister snicker. I quickly held onto my hand and backed away from him. 

“No thank you. I’ll manage with this.” I told him as I turned to leave, surprised to see that Jacob had replaced his damaged uniform in the time I had been talking to Creole. 

“Oh, Mace my darling? You still can pick locks, can’t you? I would hate for your injuries to end that hobby for you,” Creole asked me as I kept my back to him. I looked down at my hand and bent my remaining fingers. It was doable, it would just take me a long time to get used to. 

“Yes, sir,” I told him, opening the front door and listening to the sad bell jingle its tone as I left the shop. I was sure that he was just looking for any reason to break me further and get rid of me. Or he would finally get bored of me and get rid of me that way. 

Either way, I was resolved with one simple goal. Free myself from King Creole by any means necessary. 

3 Comments
2024/06/07
15:42 UTC

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