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Im listening to Creepypastas for around 2 years and have listend to about 550.
Dark Somnium is my favourite narrator and even inspired me to start writing my own story.
But this is not the point i want to make.
I convinced my friend to listen to one story with me.
Now is the question which story should i play?
In my Opinion "turn it off" is a very great story thats creating a scary atmosphere.
What do you guys think?
I want to show a story with a great atmosphere.
(English is not my first language so sorry for any mistakes)
The painting had been put up for auction at a local event raising money for charity. It was an original, according to the auctioneer, by an obscure but talented artist from the early 1900s. It was almost the end of the day and I had yet to see anything that caught my fancy, but the moment the painting was unveiled, I felt something stir in my chest, and I knew I had to have it.
Nobody else seemed quite as enthused as me about the portrait, and winning it had been a relatively simple affair. After countering a few other vaguely-interested buyers, I managed to secure it for myself.
I had it wrapped up in a piece of old, moth-eaten cloth that was found in the auction warehouse, and stowed it in the back of my car, excited to find a place for it in my home. I was a collector of sorts, mostly of antiques and other knickknacks, so it would fit right in with the assortment of old ceramic pots and tarnished clocks and statues that I had sitting in my display cabinet.
On the way home from the auction, I started to feel restless. I wasn't sure if it was because the auction had lasted longer than I expected, or because I was tired, or something else, but I struggled to focus on driving and almost pulled out right in front of another car as I turned at the junction leading left towards my house.
When I finally pulled into the driveway of my semi-detached, I cut the engine and sat for a moment behind the wheel, taking a couple of deep breaths to clear my mind.
When I flicked a glance up, towards the rearview, I thought—for just a moment—
that I had glimpsed a shadow, pressed against the backseat of the car. Between one blink and the next, however, the shadow had disappeared, and I rubbed my eyes, realizing I must have been more tired than I thought.
I twisted around to double-check the backseat, just in case, but there really was nothing there.
Stepping out of the car, I headed round to the trunk of the car and popped it open. The painting was where I had left it, nestled safely in its bandage of thick yellow cloth.
Gripping the edges of the frame, I hoisted it out of the car, careful not to knock the corners against the trunk. Balancing it on one knee, I used my free hand to slam the trunk closed and locked the car behind me, heading up the drive towards the front door.
Somewhere behind me, I felt the strange sensation of being watched. Assuming it was one of my neighbours, I turned round to wave, but there was nobody there. The street was empty. Deserted. I was the only one out here.
Shrugging it off, I headed inside.
Laying the covered painting down on the mahogany dining table, I carefully stripped the cloth away to unearth the portrait.
It was even more beautiful seeing it up close, instead of across the auction hall. I wasn't a painting connoisseur by any means, but even I could appreciate the balance of colours and the masterful brushstrokes used to create the dichotomy between the subject's face and the backdrop.
The signature in the corner, scrawled in black ink, read Thomas Mallory. That was the name of the painter. I had never heard of him before the auction, but the painting itself was a masterful piece of portraiture that held up against even more well-known names. I wasn't entirely sure who the depicted subject was, but judging by the brush and palette he was holding, and the easel in front of him, the subject must have been a painter too. Perhaps it was even a self-portrait of Thomas Mallory himself.
The frame was a deep brass with golden highlights, but there was a faint layer of dust and grime on the edges of the frame, suggesting it had been stored somewhere damp prior to the auction, so I got some low-chemical cleaning supplies and tried my best to clean it up.
By the time I was done, the frame was glistening in the swathes of the fading sun pouring in through the window. It wouldn't be long until dusk fell. I must have been sitting here for hours polishing the frame, and my wrist had grown sore.
Satisfied with my work, I took the painting over to the display cabinet in my sitting room. Despite the wide array of antiques, I did dust regularly, and the air was tinged with the scent of lemon and rose disinfectant. I hadn't quite decided where I would hang the painting yet, so instead I propped it up on the mantlepiece beside the cabinet, above the bricked-up fire that hadn't been used in years. Sometimes, when I hadn't dusted in a while, I could still smell the tinge of ash and smoke embedded within the bricks.
Making sure the painting was secure between the wall and the mantel shelf, I stepped back and admired the portrait in the light of the fading sun. There was something almost melancholy about the painter's face. Those eyes, that sparkled with an unusual, almost corporeal lustre, seemed to be filled with a longing of sorts. A yearning for something that was just out of reach.
But maybe I was just seeing things that weren’t really there. Like the shadow in the car.
The light outside was fading rapidly, but part of me couldn't draw my eyes away from the painting, or the man's woeful expression. Why had the painter portrayed him this way? What was the story behind each stroke of the brush? I don't think I—or anyone—would ever truly understand what was going through the painter's mind as he created this piece of art. That, after all, was the beauty—and pain—of subjectivity. Of art. Of interpretation. Nobody shared the same idea of inference and understanding, especially when it came to something like this.
But perhaps I was overthinking it.
I shook myself out of my daze, realizing that the sun had already set, dusk painting the edges of the sky in shades of dark purple. I should get something to eat before I go to bed, I thought vaguely as I left the room, closing the door behind me.
That night, I awoke to darkness, and the feeling that I wasn't alone.
I lived on my own, as I had done since separating from my partner a few years ago, and didn't have any pets. There was no probable reason why I would feel like there was someone else here with me, but it was something I felt with a strange sort of certainty, that there was someone here in the dark, lurking just out of sight.
My heart began to flutter in my chest, panic rising up through my stomach, but I swallowed it down.
I was being silly.
Of course there was nobody else here. I had locked all the doors and windows before I went to bed, I was sure of it. But I still couldn't quite shake that feeling of unease that tiptoed along the back of my neck, making sweat bead along my skin.
Breathing softly through my nose, I fumbled through the dark until my fingers closed around the light switch, clicking it on.
Bright yellow light flooded the room, and I threw up a hand to shield my eyes from the glare. Squinting between my fingers, I looked around the room.
Empty, as I expected. There really was nobody here.
But then I noticed something that made my throat clench up once more.
The bedroom door was open.
I always slept with it closed, the way I had done since I was a child. I very rarely went to bed with it open, even by accident.
Had someone really been in my room? Or was this one of those very rare occurrences where I had forgotten to close it?
No, I was certain I had shut it. I remembered the creak and the click of the old door against the frame. It had become an almost bedtime ritual, and I would have felt something was off earlier in the night if I had left it open.
I gazed at the crack in the doorframe, shadows pooling around the edges, fear tightening my chest.
Was there someone in the house? Should I call the police?
No, not without investigating first. I didn't want to waste their time if it really was just my imagination, conjuring threats from nothing.
Slipping out of bed, I tiptoed over to the open door, my fingers trembling as they gripped the handle, pulling it open wider. Light from the bedroom spilt out onto the landing, illuminating the rest of the corridor. I couldn't see anything immediately out of place.
I held my breath for a few seconds and listened. Above the pounding of my own heart, I could hear nothing. Just the faint moan of the wind and the rustle of the leaves. The house was deathly silent.
Swallowing back the lump in my throat, I stepped out of my room and tiptoed down the stairs. I wanted to make sure there really was nobody else in the house before I went back to bed.
Downstairs was silent too, except for the faint, intermittent drip of the kitchen tap. I had gotten a glass of water before bed, so perhaps I hadn't twisted the faucet all the way.
I padded into the kitchen, switching on the lights as I went, and tightened the leaky tap until it stopped dripping.
Feeling somewhat less terrified, I went through each room, checking behind doorways and in closets to make sure nobody was hiding. Every room proved empty.
The last place to check was the living room, where the painting was. In a brief lapse of judgment, I considered the possibility that a thief had broken into the house to steal the painting. But who would steal a painting by a less-known artist, after I'd only owned it for a day?
Shaking away the thought, I approached the living room door and froze.
It was one of those old-fashioned doors with a frosted glass window. On the other side of the window stood a shadow. A shadow that wasn't supposed to be there.
Fear stabbed my chest, my heart racing.
Was there someone on the other side?
The shadow wasn't moving. Maybe it was nothing after all. But I had never noticed it before, and I was sure there was nothing on the other side of the door that could be casting it.
Heart thundering in my chest, I went back to the kitchen to grab a knife from the drawer, and hurried back. The shadow was still there.
With a short, sharp breath, I shoved the door open and swung the knife around the edge of the door.
There was nothing there.
A bead of sweat cooled on my brow.
All that panic for nothing. Maybe I really was just overthinking it all. I checked the painting just to be sure, but it hadn't moved an inch. In the dark, the eyes seemed to glisten like obsidian. Eerily realistic.
I took a moment to calm my racing heart and rationalise the situation, then left the room, closing the door behind me. This time, when I glanced back, the shadow was gone.
The next morning, I decided to do some research and see what I could dig up about Thomas Mallory and his work. I thought it odd that last night's experience had come right after bringing the painting into my home. Perhaps I was being paranoid and making connections where there weren't any, but I was still curious to see what I could find out. Surely someone, somewhere, must know something about him, even if he was a more obscure name in the art world.
I searched for the name on the internet, but all I could immediately find were articles about Thomas Malory, the writer. Not the painter of the portrait sitting in my living room.
After scrolling through countless websites and forums, I finally managed to find a page dedicated to the right Mallory. There was an old black-and-white depiction of him, and I recognised him immediately as the same figure in the painting. It was a self-portrait after all.
I was sitting with my laptop on the couch in the living room, and my gaze lifted to the painting. Mallory gazed sombrely down at me, making my chest pinch.
Returning my attention to the webpage, I read through a brief history of his life. According to the text, Thomas Mallory had never managed to succeed as a painter during life, and had died in poverty, without selling more than one or two of his works. Towards the end of his life, Mallory had begun to rant about how he had been unable to find his muse, and that he would keep searching for her, even after death. He blamed the muses forsaking him as the reason he had been so unsuccessful, and had apparently passed away in a state of bitter despair.
When I scrolled down to the bottom, I soft gasp parted my lips. There was a section titled ‘Mallory’s Last Work’, and the picture attached was the very same one that now sat on my mantel.
The last ever painting he created, before his death. Was that the reason for his despondent look? Had he been unhappy with his career, at a loss, abandoned by the muses? Was that the message the portrait portrayed?
I studied it from across the room, raking my eyes over the paintbrush poised against the painted canvas, the palette of muted colours almost drooping in his hand. Was this when he was on the verge of abandoning his passion altogether? Or was that searching, longing look in his eye a plea to the muses, to hear his desperate call?
I shook my head, closing my laptop with a sigh.
Thomas Mallory, despite being a wonderful artist, had suffered the same fate as so many artists had. Unappreciated, unrewarded, dying nameless and poor. It was only after death that they truly found fame.
The following night, I woke up once more to the feeling that I was being watched from the dark.
The room was pitch-dark. Through the netted curtains, there was not even a glimpse of the moon. Only the dark, starless sky, like the open maw of a beast.
I sat up, rubbing my eyes. It was just after three o’clock in the morning, according to my watch. Using one hand to switch on the lamp, I squeezed my eyes closed against the light, waiting a few seconds for my eyes to stop watering and finally adjust.
The air in the room was still. Undisturbed. The door was closed. Nothing felt out of place, except for the strange prickle of unease tiptoeing down my spine.
I gazed around the room for a few minutes, waiting in silence for something to happen, but nothing did. Once again, it was all in my head.
I reached for the lamp again, my fingers brushing the switch. The moment the room plunged into darkness was the moment I heard it.
Soft, muted footsteps coming from somewhere deeper in the house.
I held my breath, my pulse racing beneath my ribcage. Was I hearing things? There, against the quiet of the night, was the sound of retreating footfalls.
Someone was inside the house. This time, there was no mistake.
Fighting the rising panic in my chest, I fumbled to switch on the light and slipped out of bed. The air was cold against my legs, and I shivered, tiptoeing towards the door.
I wrapped my fingers around the handle and tugged it open, as quietly as I could. I peered out. Nothing. The footsteps grew fainter, moving further away, until eventually I could hear them no more. Had they already left? I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
Keeping close to the wall, I padded down the hallway and stood at the foot of the stairs, peering down. I couldn’t see anything. Nothing stirred amongst the shadows. Silence pressed against me like something tangible, broken only by my short, panicked pants.
Taking the stairs slowly, I reached the bottom and peered around the edge of the bannister. My vision swam in the darkness, and I tried to ignore the feeling that there was something crouched in the shadows, waiting to catch me off guard.
It’s all in your head.
This time, I passed by the kitchen and dining room and went straight to the living room. Straight to the painting.
The door was open. Inside, the darkness felt thick, suffocating.
I reached blindly through the dark until I found the light switch, flipping it on. The room felt warmer than the rest of the house. The air felt disturbed. Like someone had been here recently.
There was nobody hiding behind the doorway. Nobody crouched behind the sofa. Everything was in its place.
Closing the door behind me, I walked up to the painting, and gasped. My legs wobbled, feeling like they were about to give way. My head began to spin, not quite willing to believe what I was seeing.
The painting had changed.
The painter—Thomas Mallory—had disappeared, leaving an empty space, a dark, mottled void where he once stood. The paintbrush and palette had been discarded, and the canvas—that had before been turned the other way—was now facing me, containing a new painting. A new portrait.
A portrait that looked exactly like me.
Pulling up to the front doors of The Blue Hills Hospital we quickly got out of the truck. “Maddy go to the front desk and tell them what happened, Gabe go in and grab a wheelchair, I’ll get Mike out of the back seat.” And they both rushed in. As I opened the back door of the truck and tried to get Mike on his feet, he began to struggle from the pain he was in. “Wh-why is… why is everyone talking so loud… why are there so many voices…” Mike said in a daze. “Hold on Mike we got you to the hospital, everything is going to be okay,” I said with a bit of guilt. “No… no I don’t… I can’t,” Mike trailed off. “Mike, can you understand me?” “It's going to be okay I promise.” “I don’t… I don’t want to… please don’t make me… Just get out of my head…” Mike said grabbing his head before passing out again. I stood there with a look of confusion and concern about what the hell Mike was going on about. Soon after Gabe came running out of the hospital with the wheelchair and we loaded Mike in and rushed him inside. We made our way inside to meet with two nurses waiting for us and they took ahold of the wheelchair and made their way through the doors to the emergency room. In a daze still wondering about what Mike said, I didn’t notice Gabe and Maddy were trying to get my attention. “Hey, Damon, you good?” Gabe asked as he grabbed my shoulder getting me out of my thoughts. “Yeah… yeah man I’m good.” “I’m just kind of out of it.” “Damon it’s not your fault, he just came running out of the woods like a mad man.” Maddy stated. “Yeah… but why was he running out of the woods like that?” I asked. Maddy and Gabe gave each other a concerned look as a moment of silence fell over us.
After fully getting out of my thoughts I looked to Maddy. “So, what did you tell them?” “Well, I told them that he ran into the middle of the road and that you didn’t have enough time to stop, and I told them about whatever the hell that was on his hand.” “They said they want to talk to you as well, might be a good idea to call and tell your dad what happened,” said Maddy. “God dammit first day being back home, and this happens.” “Seems like I can’t catch a break.” “Must bring back some memories from the good ole days huh Damon?” A familiar voice said from behind me. As I turned around, I was a bit shocked and taken back a bit, forgetting where I was. It was Ruth… I didn’t think it was possible, but she was even more beautiful from the last time I saw her back when she graduated from high school. Her hair seemed longer but couldn’t really tell since it was in a ponytail. She was wearing light red scrubs and had her signature cherry red lip stick on. But what really caught me off guard were her big blue eyes. In a daze and trying to mumble out a hello or anything at that point, Ruth interrupted me. “I don’t remember your face being that red,” she said with a playful chuckle. “Heh no it’s just… I’m surprised to see you is all.” “It’s been an eventful night and it… it’s…” I trailed off again. “Oh, sweet Jesus Damon just get the cock out of your mouth already,” Gabe said as he slapped my back. With a wave of embarrassment finally washing over me I finally got my thoughts straight. “Is Mike going to be, okay?” I asked. “Well, that’s what I came over to talk to you about.” “He seems to have a concussion, nothing is broken from what we can tell, but we are sending him in for an x-ray right now.” “What about the infection?” “Well, we’re not entirely sure what it is but we’re going to run some tests to find out.” “It seems like he’s had it for a few days from the looks of it since it’s almost past his shoulder,” Ruth stated. “His shoulder?” I said as I gave Maddy and Gabe a concerned look. “But, when we got him into the truck the infection was only up his forearm,” said Maddy as she gave Ruth a puzzled look. As Ruth did the same. “Did Mr. Walters say anything when you guys picked him up?” Ruth asked. “He was mumbling some nonsense when we were outside waiting for Gabe with the wheelchair, but I just figured he was just out of it from the accident.” “What did he say?” Ruth asked curiously. He was going on about why we were talking so loudly, but he began to grab his head and said get out of my head before passing out again.” “Well, I’ll go let doctor know, thank you guys,” Ruth said as she began making her way to the doors to the emergency room. As she took her key fob to unlock the doors, she turned back to me. “It’s nice to see you again Damon,” Ruth said in a genuine tone and gave me a smile before she walked through the doors and they closed behind her. “Yeah, nice to see you too Ruth!” Gabe said sarcastically. “Come on let’s go.” “I just want to go home already,” Maddy said annoyingly as she made her way out the front doors of the hospital. “Jeez someone’s a little jealous,” Gabe said with a chuckle. “What are you talking about Gabe?” “Are you kidding me Damon?” “Did you not see how Ruth completely ignored us and was basically talking to you?” “And the way she was looking at you?” “I think she was just happy to see me is all.” “We haven’t seen each other in years.” “Oh, shut up man, you’re telling me you seriously didn’t notice the way she was talking to you?” “And not to mention you were talking to her like you have a serious case of Tourette’s.” Gabe said with a smart-ass tone. “Hey who knows maybe everything will play in your favor,” Gabe said with a wink. Before coming up with another excuse I caught myself and just slapped Gabe on the shoulder. “Come on man let’s just go home.” “It’s already been enough of an eventful day and I just wanna slam a few beers and relax.” “Now that’s what I’m saying!” Gabe said excitedly as we made our way out of the hospital.
As we got back into the truck, I looked into the review mirror at Maddy. She glanced up at the review mirror to meet my gaze and then quickly looked away out the window folding her arms. I looked over at Gabe where he was smiling and gave me a nod that said, I told you so. I rolled my eyes and started the truck and began to make our way out of town.
Sometimes I forget how easily my own mind can engulf itself in thought. Of overthinking and the anxiety consuming my mind slowly into dread, a feeling I haven’t had in some time. I’ve always had an overreactive mind, of thinking of the worst outcomes in every minor inconvenience in my life. That’s something I’ve struggled to overcome but it was always easier to deal with when my mother was still alive. She always explained things in a way to relax and keep my mind at ease when it worsened. She was the only person I could go to when I needed guidance the most in my young life, about anything. After losing her it shattered my life, and I couldn’t put the pieces back together. Joining the military though gave me what I needed most. Purpose. Since then, I’ve never had the overcoming feeling of anxiety and dread even when it got to the worst of things of getting into firefights and putting my life on the line. Of getting put in a scenario where it was do or die. Fighting for my life and keeping my fellow soldiers alive to see another day, my instinct to take charge and to overcome any challenge that came my way. But this was different. A familiar feeling of my anxiety was building up over everything that happened to me so far that day. Trying my best to shake off this feeling, I focused on the road to drop Maddy off at home and to return to mine with my Gabe. To shake off my thoughts and to finally relax.
As we were driving along the countryside near where we witnessed the meteor, Gabe brought me out of my thoughts. “Hey, you guys see that?” As I looked over to what Gabe was talking about, I noticed lights in the distance in the same direction we thought the meteor crashed. “Damn, seems like a bunch of damn hillbillies found whatever crashed and are having a party,” Gabe said disappointingly. “Well, whatever it is it’s going to be the talk of the town for the next few days,” Maddy said. As Gabe rolled down his window, we heard a light thumping noise in the distance. “What the hell is that?” Gabe said curiously. As the noise began to get closer, I noticed it was coming in the other direction of the lights. I rolled down my window and looked up to see what exactly it was, but it was hard to tell from the hills being in the way. Suddenly a helicopter flew over the hills and right over our heads in the direction of the lights. As it made its way over it began to circle the lights and then it finally began to make its landing. “Well shit, guess someone called the news station and they already made their way over,” said Gabe. But I was taken back a bit. In confusion and concern, of my mind overthinking and my anxiety quickly building back up again. “That wasn’t any news helicopter.” “That’s military grade,” I stated in a hushed tone. Gabe looked over at me with a confused look. “Military?” “How the hell do you know that?” “Did you forget who you were talking to Gabe?” “It’s not like I’ve been a Marine for the last four years,” I said bluntly.” If I had to guess those lights over there aren’t from some local folk.” “Well, who exactly is over there then?” asked Maddy. “Well… that’s what we’re about to find out,” I said as I turned down the road leading into the direction of the lights.
Pulling over to the side of the road where Mike came running out of the woods from, Gabe spoke up. “See I told you I knew where it landed” as he gestured in the direction of the lights down the dirt road, he wanted me to take before. “Yeah, I know.” I said as I quietly closed the driver’s side door. “Gabe you still got your 1911 in the truck?” “Yeah, Why?” asked Gabe. “Mind if I borrow it?” I asked, opening the glove box grabbing the pistol. “Damon, why would you want to bring that?” Maddy said questionably. “Just in case,” I stated while checking the magazine and racking a bullet in the chamber. Placing the pistol in the back of my jeans, I started to make my way over to the dirt road and gazed down in. Seeing that lights were still down some ways to the bottom of the hill obscured by trees as the light escaped through the cracks. “Alright let’s go,” I said as we made our way down the dirt road.
Making our way to the bottom of the dirt road and into the woods to stay hidden from the light, we ended up at the edge of the tree line and stopped to gaze out into the clearing. “Oh my God…” Maddy said dumbfoundedly. In the clearing were military graded vehicles, tents, helicopters and soldiers dressed in yellow and black uniforms wearing gas masks and among them were a handful of people in white hazmat suits. And beyond that were trees broken in half and grassland singed, still slightly on fire leading into the hillside. I noticed from the hillside was an ominous light of a darkish red and pink glow, but I couldn’t see from the trees and tents blocking our view. “Why are there soldiers here?” “How did they get here so fast?” “It’s only been a little over an hour since we found Mr. Walters,” Maddy said as she turned to look at me, but I didn’t pay much attention as I was deep in thought. “It’s not the national guard, Hell it’s not even the military.” “I don’t like this.” “Whoever these guys are it’s not good,” I said as I gazed into the clearing. “Definitely seems like there’s some fuckery afoot I can tell ya that much.” Gabe said in a drily but casual response. “Come on, I wanna get a better look.” Making our way around the clearing still hidden behind the tree line.
Getting to the edge of the tree line we got a closer look at the tent near the ominous light. The tent was bigger than all the others and seemed to be where the order of the operation was taking place. I fixed my gaze from the tent to the ominous lights. What was there was indescribable. Half of the meteor was buried into the ground from the impact. At first glance it looked like a broken rock sticking out of the ground but as I looked more closely it looked like the outer layer was a red-pinkish flesh, shaped like a dysfunctional twisted heart slowly throbbing like it was breathing. Being memorized by the cosmic structure before me I was suddenly pulled behind the bushes by Gabe. “What are you doing man?” I whispered frustratingly. Gabe said nothing and pointed his finger back into the clearing in the direction of four soldiers carrying containers on their backs walking towards the disjointed meteor. The closer they got to the meteor, the more it began to throb like it was panicking. Step by step the harder it pounded as my friends, and I began to feel the ground pound from the vibration of the source. They soon surrounded the meteor and raised the nozzles connected to the tanks they were carrying. “What the hell are they doing?” asked Gabe. But before I had a chance to respond we overheard a commanding voice. “Torch it!” The soldiers set ablaze to the twisted meteor as it pulsated an inhuman shriek. “Seize fire!” Came from the same commanding voice. The meteor’s shriek slowly died down as did the pulsating throbbing it made until it was no more.
Watching the whole spectacle, in shock and awe I was speechless from what was happening right before me. The silence was finally broken by the soldier who gave the order. “Sir, the target has been neutralized.” “We have taken samples of all debris and any other potential contaminants from the target and neutralized unwanted contaminants as well.” “We have already scouted the area and found no other traces from the object,” said the soldier. Looking over was a soldier with the one of the men in a white hazmat suit but this one had black stripes going down both of his sleeves of his hazmat, making me believe he was the one in charge. “Sweep the area again and expand out.” “I need a sample of the specimen that was inside that meteor.” “But Dr. Branner our orders…” “NOT OUR ORDERS!” Came from the man in the hazmat suit interrupting the soldier. “We only destroyed the container of whatever was inside that thing.” “Whatever was held inside was not present when we got here.” “It took us less than an hour to locate the crash site and we were too late.” “But sir we were given strict ord… advisement that all contaminants from the meteor is to be destroyed,” the soldier said sheepishly. “We need to know what exactly landed here.” “You of all people should know OUR protocol,” Major. “Get it done and find it!” said the man in the hazmat suit who I presumed to be Dr. Branner as he walked back into the tent. “Damon we gotta go.” “We need to get back to town right now,” Maddy said urgently. But before leaving I stopped to overhear the Major give out his orders to try and get a better idea of what exactly he was saying. Reaching the radio on his shoulder he began to give out his orders. “All scouting units expand search.” “Contain any live specimen found from crash site.” “Use extreme caution…” Suddenly a voice broke though the radio. “Major, what about the town?” The major was a bit hesitant and took a deep breath. “Initiate protocol “blackout” for the town.” “No communication comes in or out.” “Is that understood?” said the major. “Yes sir,” came the voice through the radio.
Suddenly I felt someone grab my arm and pull me out of hearing of the major. “Damon what are you doing we need to get back to the truck, now!” Maddy said urgently as Gabe waved us over towards the road. “We gotta go back to town and call my dad.” “We need to let everyone know what’s going on.” “Damon, what’s going on?” asked Gabe. “They’re going to cut off all communication from the town and most likely put the whole town on lockdown as well… we need to hurry!” Making our way to the end of the dirt road, about 20 yards away from Gabe’s truck there was a single round of gunfire shot off. Quickly following a voice. “HAULT!”” PUT YOUR HANDS ON TOP OF YOUR HEADS AND GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” Realizing it was just one soldier that must have broken off from his unit, I was quick on my feet and told Maddy and Gabe to run to the truck, tossing the keys to Gabe. In one swift motion of throwing the keys to Gabe with my left hand and pulling the pistol out of my back pocket with my free hand I unloaded the clip in the direction of the soldier’s voice. Letting Gabe and Maddy get a head start to the truck as the soldier ducked for cover. Soon after the gun clicked empty, I hauled ass back to the truck jumping in the box as Gabe put the truck in motion and burned rubber down the road towards town. Opening the back window of the truck and crawling to the passenger seat I opened the glove box to look for the other clip for the 1911. “What the fuck Damon?!” “What the hell was that?!” Maddy said as she began to have a panic attack. “Those guys back there are not good news.” “Whoever they are, they are looking for whatever got out of that meteor and if we would’ve surrendered back there, they would’ve detained us and possibly worse.” I said as I found the clip of ammo and reloaded the pistol. “Jesus Christ what the hell is going on…” Maddy said as she tried to catch her breath. “Damon, you need to call your dad and tell him what’s going on.” “Way ahead of you Maddy,” as I dialed my dad’s number. After a few rings the call went dead. “What the hell?” Looking at my phone and seeing the caller ID said no service. I tried again with the same outcome “Maddy, Gabe you guys have service?” I asked franticly as they both had the same reaction as me. “No, I can’t even text or go on social media.” “It’s like it’s all been blocked from me even opening anything on my phone.” “Gabe?” “Same here man.” “Dammit!” “They must have already blocked our signals already,” I said in frustration. Sitting back in the passenger seat and rubbing my head to try and make sense of the whole situation I looked over at Gabe who was driving the truck. Remembering earlier that he was plastered from drinking all day. “Gabe you good enough to drive?” “Don’t worry Damey boy, getting shot at and running from the Feds sobered me up real quick!” Gabe said with a smirk. “Well at least one of us has a positive attitude about the whole situation we’re in.” “Fucken right doggy!” Gabe said with a smirk on his face. “Damon, what else did you hear from those soldiers?” Maddy asked as she was able to finally control her breathing. “Something about they need samples of that meteor and…” I trailed off as I finally thought over what I heard from the men. “They need a sample of what was inside that thing…” “Well, they jumped the fence a little too soon since they torched that thing,” Gabe piped in. “No… they said whatever was inside that meteor wasn’t there when they got there…” “Well, if it wasn’t there where could it have…” Maddy trailed off. As we all looked at each other and came to the realization of what the soldiers were looking for. “Gabe get to the hospital now!”
Into The Mass
Written by: Alec Reinke
Ever since we were kids, we have always been told that monsters don’t exist. That there isn't a bogeyman in your closet or a demon hiding under your bed. We live in a society where we go on with our mundane lives. Trying to pay off our bills and our house mortgage. To settle down, get married and start a family. To live a life in somewhat reasonable peace… But I'm here to tell you that it's all a crock of shit. There are things in this world and beyond that we have no idea exist. Where our government or shady private organizations keep all that goes bump in the night under fold and out of the public’s knowledge. To cover it up like some big accident of somewhat believable and realistic understanding. I'm here to tell you, my story. To finally let the world know what happened in my hometown six years ago, of when this all started for me and to the events leading to today. To let you all know how dark, twisted and cruel our world really is. To how everything we know, and love could be gone in an instant… Because what has recently been happening in our world is about to burst into the public's knowledge of it all.
My name is Damon Haldeman, I grew up in a town in Northwest Wisconsin called The Blue Hills. It’s an older town with a population of two thousand people. The structure of the town is a weird mix of the downtown area with feeling like a road of museums. All the buildings look old on the outside with a unique interior that mixes the old with the new, having the town hall at the north end of Main Street. The town branches off with suburbs of backroads on backroads that end at the forest line and beyond that is just miles of hills and trees with our town only having one main road out of it. About five miles out on the east side of town are the fairgrounds. Every year at the beginning of the summer is where our town and surrounding towns come to celebrate the beginning of summer called Summer Fest, with rodeos, carnival rides, concerts and some of the best fair food in all Northwestern Wisconsin.
When I was eighteen years old and recently graduated high school with my confidence at an all-time high, with my high school sweetheart Maddy, trying to pick out a college where we both could go to and start the next chapter in our lives together, all started to change shortly after graduation when my mother Sarah was diagnosed with lung cancer. My mother never smoked a day in her life. She always kept a healthy lifestyle and would push her habits on my siblings and myself, so we could live a full healthy life as well. My mother was the type of person who always put others before herself. She was a caring, loving mother who would do anything for her family. Everything happened so fast. My life and goals all went away the day my mother passed away. She was diagnosed only two months prior to her death, and the cancer beat her before she could really have a chance to fight back against it. My life started to crumble and when I needed my girlfriend Maddy the most, I found out she was cheating on me with a dick bag that I went to high school with, named Taylor, who's a self-centered prick that only cared about himself and didn’t care if he hurt people for his actions.
My mother’s passing took a toll on my family. My little sister Jackie, who was twelve years old and my little brother Dom who was five at the time. My father Harold, who was the town sheriff, was not an emotional person. He always kept his feelings bottled up. My father was a farm boy. He came from a family who wasn't much of the touchy feely type, so he had a hard time opening up with us, but that was okay. That was my mother’s department. If we ever had a problem, she would be the person to go talk about our problems and she would handle it in a way where we knew everything was going to be alright and put our minds at ease.
With everything in our lives falling apart and when my family needed me the most, I left. I ran away from my problems and abandoned my family. I couldn't handle the stress and my depression, and I abandoned them. I felt like a failure in life and needed a way to cope with the loss of my mother, so without giving it much thought and making an impulsive decision I joined the military. I needed to regain dominance in my life, so I spent the next four years getting my ass kicked in boot camp and serving two tours in Afghanistan.
I was given the medal of honor for saving two of my brothers in arms in the middle of a firefight on my last tour. My convoy and I were on our way back to base after sweeping and clearing a town in the middle of bum fuck nowhere Afghanistan when we were attacked by Taliban soldiers. The Humvee in front of mine got hit by an RPG. With the rest of the convo getting to cover and returning fire I ran to the Humvee that got hit. I was only able to grab two unconscious soldiers and drag them away until the Humvee got hit again with another RPG, destroying it completely. With pure adrenaline and bullets whizzing past my head I was able to pick up my brothers, put them on my shoulders and hall ass back to the rest of the convo. After getting them back to safety my buddy Tex told me I was hit. As I looked down, I saw a piece of debris sticking out of the side of my calf from the impact of the RPG. As I looked back up at Tex, I gave him a smirk and said, “well shit, that could've been worse.” While racking my gun and returning fire. Honestly, I could give a damn about the medal and praise. After that and a few other close calls of death banging on the door the only thing I wanted was to return home in one piece.
With my four-year contract ending soon I decided to go back to my hometown. It's been three years since the last time I saw my family after graduating boot camp and felt guilty for running away when they needed me the most. I called my sister Jackie. She was surprised I hadn’t called her in so long. The tone of her voice went from excited and happy to short and distant as I assumed her memory of me leaving out of the blue kicked in. I told her that I was ready to finally come home and that I wanted to surprise dad and Dom. She told me that Dom has a baseball game this coming Friday and that was also the same day the summer festival was happening, so I packed up and started on my way home. I wanted to make up for my mistakes and to make peace with my family. But on that day, I realized how cruel and twisted our world really is. This was the day that my view on the world would change forever…
Chapter one – Part One
It was a bright and sunny Friday morning, with a clear blue sky. The weatherman on the radio was giving the details of what to expect for the day. “Well folks it seems like we’re in luck today with sunny skies and not a cloud in sight with today being a nice high of seventy-eight degrees with low humidity and for a low tonight being sixty-nine degrees.”
As he said that I couldn't help but smile and say “nice” as I continued driving up and down the windy road towards home. It was hard to believe how I had forgotten how beautiful The Blue Hills were. Just miles upon miles of beautiful scenery of the thick hilly woods. The only downside of this is we were never able to witness a sunset in my hometown, but I was okay with that. Before arriving at my hometown, I wanted to take a detour to the cemetery, which is only a half mile out of town on the west side. As I arrived at the cemetery and got out of my car, I was hit by the cool gentle summer breeze. A wave of emotions overcame me of pain, loss, and regret, but I shook them off and made my way to the top of the hill of the cemetery where my mother was buried. I got on my good knee and laid down a purple rose on her grave. It was her favorite color.
“Hey mom… I know it's been a while since the last time I came to visit you. I just want to let you know that I’ve been doing better.” “The military helped me out where everywhere else I went to seek guidance and never found it but becoming a marine has taught me true dominance and discipline in my life.” For the first time in a long time, I finally feel like I have control in my life.” Trying my best to not choke up and holding in my tears like a dam holding in water that's about to burst. I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for abandoning them. Dom, Jackie, and dad.” “With losing you and Maddy breaking my heart I just couldn't step up and be the rock that Dom and Jackie needed.” “I’m sorry for being so selfish.”
As tears began to run down my face, I paused to get my bearings while looking down at my mother’s grave. “I’m done running.” “If the military has taught me anything it's to stand my ground and face whatever comes my way.” “You were my rock mom.” “You were always there for me when I was lost and needed guidance.” “I took you for granted.” “To you giving me advice, helping me with school, to you lecturing me about the obvious, even yelling at me when I got out of line.” “I took all of it and you for granted and I am so sorry mom… I promise you I will do better for you and for our family.”
With my mind going a mile a second I couldn't help but smile and say “What I wouldn't give for you to yell at me and give me one last lecture of why I shouldn't be giving old man Walter’s money to buy my friends and I beer and getting caught by dad again… I love you mom and I promise I’ll make it up to you and to them.”
As I stood up, turned around and looked at my hometown on top of the hill. I reflected on everything. On how I was going to do better not just for myself but for my family. As the cool summer breeze brushed against my back I started to head back over to my car. Giving my mother’s grave one last look, with a tear gently running down my face I said, “I’ll make you proud.” I started my car and made my way to the Middle school baseball field to see my baby brother play some ball.
As I arrived at the baseball game, I started to make my way over to the stands. Scanning the stands and the side of the fence, I spotted my father leaning on the waist-high fence near the middle of first base and right field. Although his back was turned to me, I could still make out it was him. With his big stocky frame, wearing his police uniform that seemed a little too tight around his waist. Seems like my old man needed to lay off the donuts. To his Colt Python strapped to his hip. I made my way over. Before getting to my dad, I heard a familiar voice yell my name. “Damon!”
As I turned around, I got blindsided by my not so little sister as she gave me a big bear hug. “It’s about time you showed up! What took you so long?” “Sorry I had to make a quick detour before I came here.” As I was catching up with Jackie, I felt a firm hand placed on my shoulder. I turned around face to face with my old man. He had a proud look in his eyes. A look that I’ve only seen a hand full of times. From when I learned how to ride a bike, to sticking up for my sister when she got bullied at school, and for making all conference defensive line my Junior and Senior year of high school football. I reached my hand out to shake his, “hey dad.” He pushed my hand aside as he gave me a hug instead. “It's nice to see you again Damon.” “It’s nice to see you too, dad.” As another wave of emotions rushed over me, I shook them off and asked, “So, how’s my baby brother doing?” “Well, he’s started off pretty good this year!” My dad said, “He’s only in the fifth grade, but the kid has one hell of an arm on him, and he’s been cracking balls out almost past the fence!” “Yeah Damon, he’s already better than you when you were his age.” Jackie said sarcastically “One thing I didn’t miss Jackie is your smart-ass attitude.” “Come on you guys not now, quit your bickering and let's watch your brother.”
As I was catching up with my dad and Jackie about everything I’ve missed out on and what the latest drama was, Dom finally noticed I was there as he was making his way back to the dugout from center field. My Sister wanted to keep it a surprise for Dom since I haven’t seen him in person since I graduated bootcamp. He was coming off the field when he glanced over at us. Taking a double look when he realized I was there and the look on his face was priceless. A look of shock and a bit dumbfounded. He ran over to us and jumped over the waste-high fence and hugged me so hard, almost knocking the wind out of me. “Damon! What are you doing here?!” Dom said excitedly. “My contract with the military is up and I decided to come surprise you at your game” I said barely able to breath. “Okay Dom that’s enough, you can catch up with Damon after the game”, my dad said laughing. Oh yeah, don’t go anywhere! Dom said as he ran to the dugout. “I don’t plan on it bud.”
As the game went on Jackie started back on with the latest drama that was going on. “Oh, did you hear about your ex Maddy?” “No, what happened?” I asked, trying not to sound too eager about it. “Well, you’re going to like this then,” Jackie said with a giddy smile on her face. “Turns out Taylor and her broke up and by that, I mean he stole all her money, some of her valuables and dipped out of town!” As I looked at my sister her smile grew even more with what she said. “Well damn talk about karma” I said with a chuckle. “Oh, and I guess he also smacked her around here and there a bit but oh well, that girl had it coming.” Jackie said dryly. I was taken a back a bit by what she said. “Wait what?” how do you know that?” “Oh well I ran into her when I went to the store to run some errands for dad a few weeks back.” She just came up to me and just dropped all her issues on me like I was her best friend.” “I’m shocked you didn’t just tell her off and to get lost.” “Oh, I did!” but I waited for her to get done ranting because I’m nosy and wanted to know how miserable she was before telling her to get fucked and walked away.” My sister said with a shit eating grin on her face. “Okay first of all she doesn’t deserve to get hit even after what she did to me and secondly thank you” I said with a chuckle. “You’re welcome big brother! I knew you would appreciate it.” “Honestly though Jackie I don’t want any complications with Maddy. What she did was horrible yes, but I’m over with all that’s happened between us. I just want to move on and forget about it.” So, you forgive her?” Asked Jackie. “Hell no, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along and move on with our lives.” “It’s what mom would’ve wanted.” With Jackie’s smile gone, replaced with a sad expression, she said, “Yeah you’re right.” That’s something mom would’ve said.”
After a moment of silence between us I heard a very recognizable voice call out from behind us. A voice that is a true Northwestern accent with only one person I knew that had one. My buddy Gabe. “Shalom fucker!” he said with that same dumb smile on his face that always made him look like he's half in the bag. Which he usually was. “Gabe!” “It’s good to see you man!” I said excitedly. “It’s good to see you too man.” “What the hell are you doing back here?” “Military finally kick your bum ass out?” Gabe said sarcastically. “Nah man my contracts up and I decided to come back home.” “What are you doing here?” “I thought you went out west to work on the pipeline?” “Nahhh, I got sick of working 16 hours a day, every day of the week.” “So, I decided to come back home and help my old man out with the auto shop.” As Gabe and I were catching up and talking about old stories of all the dumb things we did that usually had my old man bailing us out of, Dom’s game ended, and we all decided to go to Susy’s café in town.
As we made our way into the 80’s style café we sat down and continued reminiscing about the good old days. “Okay guys that’s enough, don’t need to give Dom any idea’s now.” My dad said sternly. “Oh, don’t worry Mr. Haldeman.” “We’ll just tell him what not to do when he’s hammered.” Gabe said with a smirk. He looked over at Dom and said,” okay, first rule of drinking, every good idea you think you have when your drunk is a good idea.” “Until you wake up in the morning face first in the ground in someone’s front yard wondering how the hell you got there.” Gabe said with a wink towards my dad, as my father had a look of annoyance and disappointment on his face wondering why in the hell Gabe was with us in the first place.
“It’s already bad enough I’ve had two of my kids to bail out for getting in trouble.” I don’t want to have to do the same for my youngest.” My father said sternly. “What do you mean?” I asked as I looked over to Jackie. Her face went red as she was taking a sip of water. She slowly put her glass down as she spoke up. “There was a party going on at the old, abandoned steel mill outside of town a few months back.” “It didn’t last very long…” “HA! Rookie move there Jackie. That place is too well known around here for that.” Gabe said bursting out in laughter.
“Oh, come on dad like you and Partlow never had any fun back in your day.” I said to cheer up the mood. “Nope.” My father said. Jackie piped in. “You sure dad?” That’s not what I remember from what Partlow told us.” “No idea what you guys are talking about.” My father said continuing to gaslight us. “You know it’s kind of funny how back in the day you and Partlow caused so much trouble in this town and now you’re both cops in the same town.” “Well, I don’t know what to tell you guys beside the fact that Partlow is full of shit.” Dad said dryly as he took a sip of his water.
Shortly after that our waiter came over to take our order. As we were all laughing together, I glanced up and had to take a double look and I was taken back a bit when I realized it was Maddy. She was skinnier from the last time I saw her. She always was skinny back in school and considering she was barely over five feet tall didn’t help, but now she looked to be frailer. Her long dark hair resting past her shoulders, and it looked like she hadn’t had a decent night of sleep in weeks from her baggy eyes and her make-up that looked like she did it at the very last minute. Everything around me got quiet as my stomach was suddenly full of butterflies and I got a bit choked up. “He-hey Maddy”… I said with a bit of hesitation, as she did the same. “Hey Damon”… “long time no see.” After a moment of awkward silence came over us, Gabe spoke up. “Yeah, hey after you guys stop eye banging each other I’m ready to order, I’ll take a beer as well.” As a bit of the awkward tension was lifted Maddy rolled her eyes at his comment and said, “Gabe how many times have I told you we don’t serve alcohol here.” Giving him an annoyed look. “Oh, shit that’s right, be better if you did, just saying.” Gabe said with a sarcastic tone. As Maddy awkwardly took our order, trying her best not to seem like it didn’t bother her that I was there, she rushed back into the kitchen as we were done. “Well, that could’ve gone worse.” Jackie said. “Well, you’re not wrong.” “Just wished you guys would’ve given me a heads up that she worked here.” “Where would the fun be in that?” Gabe said with a chuckle. “Oh, don’t worry about her besides there’s someone else who moved back to town not that long ago that will take your mind off things.” “Who?” I asked. “Ohhhhh yeah!” “I totally forgot about her!” Jackie piped in. “Who?” I asked again with a bit of annoyance. “Ruth’s back in town!” “She graduated from nursing school and is working at the hospital here in town.” Jackie said.
Now Ruth and I have a bit of a history. Back in high school she was the girl every guy wanted but could never get. She is hands down one of the most beautiful girls in town. With silky blonde hair resting a little past her shoulders, with curves in all the right places, she always wore something with a cherry red color which was her favorite. Ruth had a bit of a tom-boy vibe to her and had one hell of a right hook on her if you ever pissed her off. She was the type of girl who didn’t take crap from no one and told you what was on her mind and didn’t give a damn if she hurt your feelings. Ruth and I had quite a bit of chemistry between us. The only downside is that she was two grades ahead of me. I never had the confidence to ask her out. I knew we had a special bond between us, but I didn’t know if she felt the same way about me. I was even more shy of thinking of ever asking her out because I knew she would’ve been brutally honest about her answer if she said no, and I would’ve been the laughingstock of the whole school I thought at the time. But a little later that’s when I met Maddy. One thing led to another, and she became my girlfriend. I figured it was for the better that I never told Ruth how I felt so we could still be friends and still have a strong bond without me ruining it if I had asked her out, or so I thought.
“Yeah Damon, once we’re done go down to the hospital and tell Ruthy you have an erectile disfunction and was wondering if there’s something she can do to help.” Gabe said trying his best to keep a straight face. Jackie smacked him upside the head right after. “Hey jeez I was just kidding.” “You people can never take a joke.” Gabe said rubbing his head. “Not when the joke isn’t funny you jackass.” Jackie said annoyingly.” Hey, I have an idea!” Dom said excitedly. “Why don’t you ask Ruth out to Summer Fest tonight!” “Tonight’s the grand opening!” As I thought it over trying not to upset Dom. “I’m not sure about that bud.” “I just got home and was thinking of taking tonight to settle in.” “Aww okay” Dom said feeling a little disappointed. “Hey, I promise I’ll come out tomorrow night though, Okay?” As I rested my hand on Dom’s shoulder. “Okay!” Dom said. “What about you dad?” “Are you patrolling the fairgrounds tonight?” Jackie asked. “No not tonight.” “I’ll be in town tonight with Partlow.” “We are switching off this year.” “Don’t want a repeat of last year when we had a couple of vandalisms in town.” “So, hopefully it’ll be a quiet night for me.” “Be best if you take Dom tonight since I won’t be around.” “Sounds good.” Jackie said. “Well Damon if you don’t plan on going to the fair tonight, I got a 30-rack of beer sitting in my garage with our names on it.” Gabe said with a wink. I laughed, “yeah can’t let that just sit there and go to waste.” “Good deal!” Said Gabe as he smacked the table. As we finished our meal, we started to make our way outside until Maddy tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey Damon, do you have a sec?” “Yeah sure, what’s up?” “I was wondering if we could talk later.” “After I get done with work?” As I thought it over, finding it hard to look her in the eye. “Umm I’m not sure.” “I just got into town and was just going to spend time with my family and get settled in.” I said awkwardly. “Oh okay, well I still live at my parent’s farm, so when you’re not busy give me a call and we can go grab a coffee or something?” “Yeah sure, sounds good.” I said as I hastily made my way out the door of the café.
As I got into my car Jackie jumped in my car instead of our dad’s. “So, what was that all about?” Jackie asked. “It was nothing.” I said, trying not to sound too bothered about it but knowing my sister she could see right through the BS. “Oh come on Damon talk to me.” “Did she ask to go grab a coffee and talk.” Using air quotes to be more specific. “Yeah, she did.” I admitted. “You’re going to take her up on her offer, aren’t you?” Jackie asked, already knowing my answer. “I’m not entirely sure honestly.” “I figured that I was able to move on from everything that’s happened between Maddy and I but… I don’t know.” “You still care about her, don’t you?” Jackie asked. “Jackie, I don’t know.” I said annoyingly. “Look Damon you don’t have to answer my question, but I do want you to listen and really think of what I have to say.” I glanced over at my sister and gave her a nod. “I know you still have feelings about Maddy.” “It was noticeable at the café.” “The reason I didn’t tell you she worked at Susy’s is because I wanted to see your reaction when you saw Maddy.” “You talk big Damon but when it comes down to the people you truly care about, even the ones that treat you poorly, you still go out of your way to please the people who wouldn’t do the same for you.” As I began to speak up Jackie interrupted me. “Look Damon you can do whatever you want with your life, but you should always be looking ahead in life and moving forward not back.” As I looked over at my sister, giving me a caring and concerned look, I nodded and said “Yeah, you’re right… I just thought I had everything figured out but now… It’s like everything I planned out is just scrambled now.” “Thank you, Jackie, … I needed a pep talk.” I said with a smile. “You’re welcome big brother.” “Someone’s gotta help you get your head out of your ass.” Jackie said with a laugh. “Okay let’s get home before everyone is wondering what we’re doing.” “Sounds good.” I said starting up my car and finally making our way home.
As I made my way into my old room, I was shocked to find it exactly the way it was from when I left four years ago. Of all my comics and books in the shelve towers on the sides of my bed to all of the paintings and posters I had on the shelf above my bed connecting to the two shelve towers. As I finished unpacking my things I went to the garage where my family was. “Come on Jackie, the fair started an hour ago.” “All my friends are there already; can we go now?” Dom said eagerly. “Dom it’s only seven o’clock.” “The fair goes on till midnight on the first night you know that.” Jackie said annoyingly. “Okay guys stop your bickering, Jackie what are you all dolled up for?” dad asked. “She’s meeting up with a boy tonight.” Dom said sarcastically. “Dom shut your mouth before I leave your butt here!” “Okay what’s his name?” asked dad. “It’s Jeremiah from church dad, you know him.” “Oh, I see, since when did you two start talking?” “It’s nothing serious, he knows I’m going to UW Madison for college and he’s going to Duluth, so we’re just going as friends.” “Yeah, until you guys start playing hanky panky behind the stage.” Dom said sarcastically making some questionable hand gestures. As Jackie picked up a piece of wood lying on our dad’s work bench our dad intervened. “Okay that’s enough, Jackie put that down, Dom stop being a pest to your sister.” As our father got into his squad, he turned to look at us and said, “okay you all behave tonight I don’t want any calls from my deputies at the fairgrounds got it?” “Yes sir.” they both said. “And Damon… it’s nice to see you back home.” my father said before taking off down the road.
“Okay Dom let’s get going.” “The concert starts around nine and I want to get a good spot.” “You just going to stay here then Damon?” Jackie asked. Before I could give an answer Gabe came flying down the road in his rusted-out shit box of a ford ranger playing Rock you like a Hurricane. Coming to a sudden stop leaving light tire marks on the road. “Alright good buddy let’s get to drinking!” Gabe yelled out of his truck, seeming a little more intoxicated than he was before. As Gabe got out of his truck I realized the 30-rack of beer he was holding was half empty. “Okay we’re gonna get going before Gabe starts running his mouth again.” “Good idea.” I said with a chuckle. “You guys have fun!” I’ll see you when you get home!” I said as I waved goodbye to Jackie and Dom as they drove away. “Heeyyy Dammy boy.” Gabe said with a slur. “We need to head into town to get some more booze, Holding up the half empty case of beer. “Yeah, no shit.” I said with a chuckle. “Alrighty then let’s go!” he said doing his best impression of Jim Carry while holding up his keys. I snatched the keys out of Gabe’s hand. “Probably best if I drive Gabe.” “Yeahhh probably don’t wanna get caught drinking and driving now.” he said with a wink as he cracked opened another beer while getting into the passenger seat of his truck. “Seems like nothing’s changed with you.” “No sir!” Gabe said as he grinned from ear to ear.
Driving back home with a questionable amount of booze in the back seat of Gabe’s ranger, I gazed out the window at the sky. Looking at the beautiful colors of the dusk sky with the sun resting behind the forestry of the blue hills, of the red and pink sky on one side and the other purple and black. I couldn’t help but feel joy and hopeful. A nostalgic feeling. A feeling I haven’t had for quite some time. A feeling of a time back when I was a kid with not a worry in the world. To waking up in the morning, hearing my mother hum my baby brother Dom a lullaby while rocking in her chair as they gazed outside to the view of the sun rising above the blue hills on a Saturday morning. While my father made breakfast and Jackie and I turned on the TV to watch Saturday morning cartoons. A simpler time in my life that… Suddenly Gabe slapped my shoulder, “Watch the road there guy.” as I realized I was swerving into the other lane. “Oh, shit my bad.” I said with a half chuckle. “Jeez Damon you’re driving like you’ve been drinking all day.” Gabe said sarcastically. “My bad man, just been daydreaming a bit too much,” giving a halfhearted chuckle feeling a little embarrassed.
As we continued driving down the road, I saw what looked to be someone walking on the side of the road. “Who the hell is walking down the backroad of the countryside at this time of night?” Gabe stated. As we drove closer to the person walking, I started to recognize who it was. I didn’t have to look at their face to know who it was as I recognized it was Maddy. “It’s Maddy,” I said as we drove past. Why the hell is she walking all by herself all the way out here?” Gabe asked. I sighed and began to slow down and pull over on the side of the road. “Woah, woah, woah, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Gabe asked sternly. “I’m not going to let her walk home at night in the middle of nowhere, besides her house is only another couple of miles or so from here.” I rolled down the window as Maddy walked closer to the truck. “Hey Maddy, you need a lift?” I asked. “No, it’s okay I can walk, not too much further.” she said shyly. “Maddy we can give you a ride I’m not going to let you walk all the way home at night.” “You sure it’s okay?” she asked. “Yes.” nodding my head while Gabe popped around the corner of my head and said no. “Gabe stop being a shit.” as I slapped his chest. “Hop in Maddy.” I said as I unlocked the truck.
As we drove along the backroads of the countryside it was hard not to notice the awkward silence in the truck. As I glanced over at Gabe, he gave me a fuck you look and rolled his eyes. Finally, I broke the silence. “So Maddy, your car break down or something?” “No.” she said shyly. Maddy was at a loss for words debating on how to come up with an answer. “Taylor stole my car…” she admitted with embarrassment spelled across her face. “Oh no, I’m sorry…” I said feeling lost on what to say. “He stole that and the money I’ve been saving up to move out of this town and now I’m stuck here, and I had to move back in with my parents…” “I’ve already pressed charges and there’s a warrant out for his arrest, but they haven’t found him or my car yet.” “I just hope he hasn’t spent all my money on blow and other dumb shit.” Maddy stated with anger and a hint of embarrassment. “I’m sorry Maddy, they’ll find him sooner or later, Taylor wasn’t always the brightest guy around,” I said. Suddenly Gabe slapped my shoulder, “hey you guy’s you see this?” It's a shooting star!” As I looked out the window and slowed the truck down, I saw it, but it looked different from any shooting star I ever saw. It looked like any regular star at first, but then it started to have a red pinkish glow to it and each second it went by it looked like it was getting closer. Then shortly realizing it was… “Oh shit that’s a God damn meteor!” I said as it rushed right over heads as it slightly rumbled the truck. Turning to the other side, we saw the meteor go over the hills and we heard a distant crash. “Oh man this night just got more exciting!” “Come on, let’s go look for it!” Gabe said ecstatically. “Well let’s…” I was interrupted by Gabe, “ohhh no were going right now!” “I let you stop to pick up little miss goody two shoes, now I’m telling you we’re gonna go find that thing and see what landed, so pitter patter and get going.” Gabe said demandingly. I turned and looked at Maddy and she shrugged her shoulders and gave me a look that said, fuck it. I gave her a nod and a half smile and floored the ranger down the road to find and see what crashed.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to find it guys.” I said a bit disappointed. “No, we saw it pass this way just keep going and take a Larry there.” Gabe said pointing his figure at the dirt road. “You mean take a left Gabe?” Maddy said. “Yeah yeah whatever.” Gabe said as he waved his hand dismissing Maddy’s statement. Finally, I slowed the truck down to a stop next to the dirt road Gabe was telling me to go down. “Gabe, we’ve been looking for this thing for the past 20 minutes, I don’t think we’re going to find it, so let’s just go back home already.” I said with a bit of annoyance. “Yeah, that would be ideal, I just got done working a twelve-hour shift and I’m just ready to be done for the day.” said Maddy. “Okay fuck you and fuck you we’re gonna find whatever landed then you two can go fuck off after.” Gabe said annoyingly. “No Gabe, we’re gonna go drop Maddy off and then we are going home.” “You can throw a tantrum and act like someone pissed in your face all you want, but I think it’s for the best, got it?” I said sternly, maybe a little too much as everyone in the truck got quiet. “Ten four!” Gabe said sarcastically as he gave a drunken salute.
As I finished making a U-turn, I gunned the ranger back down the road where we came from, when suddenly something came awkwardly running out of the woods next to the road. When it came into view, I realized it was a person. I didn’t have much time to react as I slammed on the brakes trying to stop the momentum of the truck, but it was too late… The truck hit the person right before coming to a screeching halt and whoever I hit went flying back about ten feet. “Jesus Christ where the hell did he come from?!” I blurted out loud as we all got out of the truck. Maddy and I ran over to make sure whoever we hit was okay. Gabe stopped to look at the front of his truck. “Dammit Damon you hit the guy so hard he left a dent on the front of my truck. “Oh, Jesus Gabe like your truck isn’t already a dented filled rusted out shit bucket,” I yelled back in annoyance. “Sir, Sir?” “Are you okay?” As Maddy turned the man over on to his back. “Oh my, Its Mike Walters…” “Old Mikey?” “What the hell is he doing all the way out here?” I asked. “Mr. Walter’s got caught trying to steal from the liquor store for the hundredth time, so then after every time he was in town, they didn’t let him in any of the stores or restaurants and he got so many complaints from people in town he was trying to bum from he finally left or so I thought,” Maddy stated. “He still breathin or did you finally put the poor old bastard out of his misery?” Gabe said as he jogged over. “Yeah, he’s alive, I think I just knocked him out.” “Gabe come help me get Mike in the truck we gotta get him to the hospital.” As we got Mike in the truck, we took off making our way to the hospital on the south end of town. “Umm guys… I don’t think Mr. Walters is doing too good.” Maddy said. “What’s wrong?” As I looked in the rearview mirror to see Mike’s head laying on Maddy’s lap. “He’s running a fever and he’s shaking bad and…” Maddy trailed off. “What is it?” I asked. “There’s a rag wrapped around his hand…” Maddy unwrapped the makeshift bandage around Mikes hand, she gasped. “What?” I asked more urgently. “His hand… It looks like he has… Some sort of infection… I don’t know what the hell this even is…” As Gabe and I glanced back we saw what Maddy was talking about. His whole left hand was covered in pink – purple blisters, It looked like it was throbbing all at once. His hand looked raw, like the skin was completely peeled off, with the veins in his hand slowly pulsating up his forearm. Gabe and I looked at each other and he gave me a nod telling me to step on it, so I did, flooring the truck the last few miles to the hospital.
They walked in without a care in the world. I acted relaxed, hiding my eagerness, forcing my face to appear bored. The bell above the door rang as it closed and a group of four teenagers entered. Three girls, one boy.
The group spoke in hushed tones while they walked about my store, studying cryptic items that reeked of the occult. Though people were often attracted to forces they were unable to grasp, those who did go ahead with the ritualistic requirements of my items were few. My store was perfect to attract those few, however.
One of the girls approached the desk to talk to me.
I feigned interest. “Yes, young maiden? How may I be of assistance?”
“Do you know anything about Ouija boards?”
“I know all there is to know about them. Youngsters like you tend to poke fun at such objects.” The girl’s friends, accordingly, snickered at the back of the store. “Yet, those who play with it rarely repeat the experience. And there are those, of course, who aren’t lucky enough to be able to repeat it.”
The girl mulled this over. “Why do you sell it at your store, then?”
I smiled. If I told her the truth, she would think me a joker and not go through with the ritual. So, I lied, “These are items that directly connect to places better left alone. If one were to destroy said items, one would find oneself in the darkest tangles of destiny. By their very nature, these objects must exist to keep the balance of the worlds.” Oh, how they ate it up, and with such earnest expressions. The girl who was talking to me was especially entranced. “It can be healthy to experiment with items such as Ouija boards. If nothing else, they can humble those who jeer at things much more powerful than they.” I eye the girl’s friends.
“So, you’re saying you’d rather curse other people than be cursed yourself for the greater good?” the girl asked.
I nodded. “You catch on quick.” The girl handed me the Ouija box and I passed it on the scanner. “What are you planning to do with this? Contact someone dear?”
The girl shrugged. “A boy from our school was killed in an abandoned warehouse north of the town. We want to see if his spirit still lingers.”
The girl laughed. “Very spooky stuff.”
“Hey, pal,” the boyfriend of hers said in an overly aggressive tone.
“Yes? Pal,” I replied. Boys like this were always the first to crumble at the sight of a threat. Their wills were weak, their minds feeble, susceptible to the tiniest divergence from their authority. Most humans were, but some more than others.
“That board ain’t cursed, now, is it?”
I spun the board in my hands. I undid the small strip of tape and opened the box, showing it to them. “This, my youngsters, is but cardboard and wood and a little bit of glass. This ain’t cursed. But you are doing the cursing. If I had to give you one piece of advice, I’d tell you to leave this board and everything that has something to do with it alone.”
“What now? Are you going to sell us herbs to cast away evils?” And the boy laughed.
I pointed at patches of herbs on the back of the store. “I could. Do you want some? I do advise you to take them.”
“Just buy the Ouija board, Mary,” the boy said, half-laughing and walking out of the store. I decided then that that one would be the first to go.
The girl, Mary, smiled at me politely and said, “I’m sorry for them.”
“I’m sorry for them as well,” and shrugged it off.
Mary paid and I handed her the box, wishing her the rest of a good day. Just as she reached the door, I called back, “Miss?”
“Yes?” she said.
“Here. I’ve got something you might want to take.”
“Oh, I’m all out of money.”
“That’s alright, it’s a special offer. I like to treat my polite customers well.” And I smiled. I’ve got to be careful with my smiles—I have turned people away through its supposed wrongness. Mary felt none of it, however, and returned to my desk.
The girl was so honest, so naive, I had to hold myself from sprawling laughter. I pretended to search the shelves behind me, held out my hand, and materialized the necklace. The Amulet. My Blessed Gift.
I showed it to the girl. The Amulet was a simple cord with a small, metal raven attached to it. It looked masonic and rural. A perfect concoction. “This,” I said, “is called the Blessed Raven. This is an ancient amulet, worn by Celtic priests when they battled evil spirits. The amulet by itself is made of simple materials, but I had a bunch of them blessed in Tibet. They should protect you, shall anything bad happen.”
I shrugged again. “Spirits are temperamental. The realm beyond is tricky, so it’s good to be prepared.”
She held out her hand.
“Do you accept the amulet?”
I closed my hand around it. “Do you accept it?”
“Yes, Jesus. I accept it.”
I felt the bond forming, and I smiled again. This time, the girl recoiled, even if unconsciously. “Thank you.” She exited the store in a rush.
Falling back on my seat, I let out a sigh of relief and chuckled. Once again, they’d fallen for the Blessed Gift like raindrops in a storm. I’ve achieved a lot over the years. I was proud of my kills, proud of my hunts. For today, or very near today, I would celebrate with a feast.
They’d never see the demon before I was at their throats.
Demons do not appear out of nowhere, nor is their existence something lawless that ignores the rules of the natural world. Our existence is very much premeditated, necessary, even. Even if we are few and our work is not substantial enough to change the tides of history, rumors of us keep humanity in line.
We do not eat humans—some of us do, but not because we need it for nourishment. We hunt, and it is the killing that sustains us. Our bodies turn the act into energy; sweet, sweet energy and merriment.
Our means of hunting and preparing the prey also vary. Each of us has very constricting contracts which won’t let us do as we please. For us to be hunters, we need to be strong and fast and, above all, intelligent. These are traits not easily given. They must be earned, negotiated.
They must be exchanged.
I, Aegeramon, operate in a very quaint manner. I am bestowed with a capable body, though I cannot hunt my every prey. For each group I go after, one member must survive. Hence, the Amulet. The Blessed Gift. A gift for the human who survives, and a cursed nuisance for me.
I must offer the Amulet to a human, and the human must accept it and wear it. This chosen one will be completely and utterly physically immune to me from the moment he puts on the Amulet to the moment death comes knocking. This may cause hiccups during a hunt. If I hunt in a populated area, the Amulet human might escape and get help, and I will be powerless to stop them. Imprisoning them is considered an attack, and as such, I cannot stop them from leaving. For my own survival, my hunts must take place where no help can be reached.
Most importantly, the Amulet human is to be my weakness. A single touch from them would burn my skin, a punch would break my bones, a single wound could become fatal. I am a monster to humanity, but these few humans are monsters to me.
Nonetheless, they pose me no danger. I am careful in selecting them. They must be the weak links of the group, the naïve souls, those who will either be too afraid to face me, or those too sick to get me.
I felt them—felt the Blessed Gift—getting away. I could sense its direction, its speed, the heartbeat of the girl who wore it. I know when she took the Amulet off to inspect it, then put it back on. I know what she thought as she thought it, and I know she felt uncomfortable all the time, as if something was watching her. It was. I was.
Even after this hunt was over, even after she threw the Amulet off, there would be a burn mark shaped like a raven on her chest. I would never be able to touch or hurt her, and I wouldn’t need to. I would disappear, only returning when it was time to plan my next hunt, years hence.
I wish I could still feel those who were saved by the Blessed Gift. Did they hate me? Fear me? Somehow, had they ended up revering me as a force of nature?
There was one I’d like to meet again. I’ll never forget those eyes. She’d been a little girl, and if still alive, she’d be but a withered crone now. Her health had been lamentable then, so I doubted she’d lived this long.
So I sat, and while waiting for Mary and her friends to take the Ouija board to the abandoned warehouse, I thought back to my glorious hunts and to my disgraceful hunts. To that horrible, wretched hunt.
That day, my body had been masked as a friendly bohemian of a lean but frail build—
—I decided that campers on the remotest sides of the mountain would be more willing to pick a hitchhiker up if he looked as nonthreatening as possible. Thus, I made my body into a thin bohemian. I could always bulk it up later.
The first travelers that picked me up were a pleasant couple with a child. As a rule, I never went after couples—first, because hunting a single person was unsatisfactory, and second, because the Amulet member of the couple would be greatly inclined to hunt me down in vengeance. Though that wasn’t a worry I normally had, with so many campers going around, I was sure to find another group.
I caught two more rides until I found the perfect people. I ended up coming across a batch of young adults and teenagers having a picnic below a viewpoint, and two of the youngest were in wheelchairs. The girl in the wheelchair had a visible handicap on her left leg, while the boy was pale and sickly. It looked like their older brothers had brought them along with their friends, though they hadn’t done so out of obligation. They all looked happy and cordial, but there was a hint of discord in the undertones of some strings of conversation.
I smiled oh so delightfully.
“I am sorry to disturb you, my guys, but do any of you have any water?”
I could see that the older ones eyed me warily. Was I a vagrant? Was I dangerous?
I held up an empty bottle. “I ran out a couple of miles ago, and the last time I drank from a river I ended up having the shits for a week.” This got a laugh from them all, and the older ones eased up a little.
“I have a bottle here,” the girl in the wheelchair said, grabbing one from her backpack and handing it to me.
“Thank you so very much, miss. What’s your name, darlin’?”
“Marilyn,” she said.
And just like that, I was in. In for the hunt.
Through comical small talk, I was able to make the group accept me for the night. I had canned food in my backpack, which I shared. I had cannabis and rolling paper, which made everyone’s eyes light up. Hadn’t I been who I was, these youngsters would have remembered this night for the rest of their lives.
Only Marilyn and the boy in the wheelchair eyed me warily.
“You okay?” I asked.
She looked away. “Hmm-hmm.”
I had to earn her good graces. She was weak, and her health seemed frail; she’d be a good fit to wear the Blessed Gift. “You don’t seem okay.”
“My lungs,” she said. “They’re not great. Asthma.”
I nodded as if I perfectly understood the ailment, as if it had brought me or a dear one suffering as well. “You know, when I was—”
“Hey, Marilyn,” one teenager said. He was tall and buff and looked much like Marilyn. “Leave the man alone.”
Marilyn’s eyes turned back to her feet.
“That’s alright, man,” I said, “she’s cool.”
The boy looked at me as if I was some alien who had no conception of human culture. “Cool, you say?” He wore a jeering grin.
After engaging in an uninteresting conversation with Marilyn, who appeared to be greatly immersed in what she was saying, I got up to go to the bathroom because the time seemed appropriate, sociologically speaking. I don’t use the bathroom. I used the opportunity to spy on the group from afar, to observe their interactions. As soon as I was out of earshot—of human earshot, that is—the group turned on Marilyn and the sickly boy.
“God, Marilyn, you’re so lame. You never speak with us, and you’re speaking with that bum?” the oldest boy said.
“You never let me speak!” she protested.
The girl next to the boy—who looked like his girlfriend—slapped his arm and said, “Don’t be nasty to your sister.”
“She’s the antisocial freak, not me,” he replied.
Tears stung Marilyn’s eyes. “Screw you, John.”
The scene went on for a while longer, a time I used to plan the next part of the hunt.
I returned and sat near Marilyn again. She was still sensitive from before, though I managed to bring her out of her shell by asking her about her friends, what she usually did in her spare time, her favorite books, and so on. She liked classics with monsters, say Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stoker’s Dracula. I was alive when those novels were published, so, in a way, they were very dear to me as well. I occasionally had to switch the conversation to the other kids in the group, but I tried to talk with Marilyn as much as I could.
And an interesting thing began to happen—something that had never hitherto come to take place. I kept the conversation going out of pure interest.
I was sick, most probably. Demons can have illnesses of the mind, so I’ve been told. Yet the effect was clear—I was enjoying the conversation, and as such, I kept it going. I could have introduced the Amulet a long time ago. Hours ago, in fact.
The sun meanwhile set, and the group decided to hop back on their truck and ride to a camping site twenty minutes away. They were kind enough to let me ride with them.
“I do sense something strange today,” I eventually said. Me and Marilyn were in the back of the truck together with the sickly boy, who was quiet and refusing any attempts at communication whatsoever.
“Something strange? How so?”
“Do you know why I wander around so much? I hate cities. The reason is simple, if you can believe it. I can feel bad things. I can feel bad feelings. In a city there is stress, anxiety, sadness; there is violence, frustration, pollution. Out here, there’s nature. There’s peace. There’s an order—an ancient order—harmonious in so many aspects. Here, I feel safe.”
Marilyn nodded towards the front of the truck. “You’re probably feeling my brother, then.”
“I felt him a long time ago. I’m feeling something different now.” I reached over to my backpack, and I froze. Should I? The moment the Amulet was around her neck, it’d be too late to halt the hunt. These thoughts of mine befuddled me. They weren’t supposed to happen. Why me? Why now?
“You okay?” she asked.
I nodded. The sullen boy glanced up at me quizzically. “Yeah, sorry. As I was saying, I feel something different now, something I’ve felt before along this mountain range. I think something evil lurks in these woods. This could help.”
I bit my lip as the Amulet formed in my hand. I clutched it in my fist.
Marilyn lit up. “Ooh, what is it? Is it some kind of artifact? Some witchcraft thingy?”
I smiled, and it wasn’t a grotesque smile. It was painful. “Yeah, you may call it that. This is an Amulet, the Blessed Raven. It’s a gift.”
“Oh, thank you so much. For me, right?”
“Of course. Do you accept it?”
“It’s pretty. Damn right, I accept it!”
I nodded, hesitated, then handed it to her. Something in my chest area weighed down as she put the Amulet on, and I gained insight into her very mind. Into her very heart. She was happy—content, even—that somebody was talking to her, making an effort to get along with her.
“Does it look good on me?” she asked.
“Suits you just fine.”
It was strange how I knew that even if I had to, I wouldn’t be able to kill her. Nevertheless, the hunt was on now, and it was too late to turn back.
The kids set up camp. I helped. I also helped Marilyn down the truck, slowly, my thoughts turning to mush midway as I thought them. The sickly boy kept studying me, as if he had already guessed what I was. Even if he cried wolf, what good would it do? Destiny was already set in stone.
“You keep spacing out,” Marilyn told me.
“I’m tired, and the woods are really beautiful around here.”
Marilyn nodded. “But also dark. A little too dark, if you ask me.”
Marilyn’s brother lit up a fire; I had to surround it with stones as embers kept threatening to light the grass on fire. This forest would have no option but to witness evil today. Let it at least not see fire.
The group naturally came to rest around the fireplace, stabbing marshmallows and crackers with a stick and holding them up to the fire. It was a chilly but pleasant night.
“Have you ever heard of the Midsummer Ghost?” a boy said. And so, it started. I glanced at Marilyn. She’d be safe. She’d at least be safe.
“The Midsummer Ghost always hides like a man in need. You never see him for who he is, for he only lets you know what he is the moment he’s got you in his claws.”
This was too fitting. God was playing tricks on me.
“Legends say he was a little boy who was abandoned in the woods by parents who hated him, all because he was deformed and broken. It is said the boy never died, that he was taken in by the woods and became a part of them. He asks for help, as help was never given to him in life. If it is denied ever again, the Midsummer Ghost will slice and pull your entrails and dress himself in them.”
The kids were silent. I began to let go of this human form. What was I doing? Why wasn’t there a way to stop this?
But there was. And it would cost me my life.
The sullen boy in the wheelchair moaned, grabbed and shook the wheels, then raised a finger at me. One by one, everyone at the fire looked at his hand, then turned their heads at where he was pointing, turned to face me. I wasn’t smiling. I was…no longer myself. Marilyn was the last to look at me. Her eyes watered as my skin came apart to reveal my hard and thick fur, swaying as if I were underwater.
Her brother screamed. The others all followed. All, except Marilyn. Above fear and horror, above disgust, Marilyn felt disappointment. I wanted to end the hunt there and then, but I couldn’t. If I stopped now, it’d be my life on the line.
“Why?” Marilyn croaked.
I lunged. I attacked her brother first, went for his throat, saw his blood, made dark by the light of the fire, seeping into the leaves and grass.
My body finally finished cracking out of its fake human cocoon, and I was free. There were few sensations as pleasant as the soft earthly wind caressing the claws at the ends of my tentacles, caressing the thousands of small tendrils emerging out of my mouth. My true form felt the freest, and yet, I wanted nothing more than to return to my human shape. Marilyn was white as snow, the expression on her face that of a ghost who’d long left its host body. She was seeing a monster, a gigantic shrimp of black fur and eldritch biology, a sight reserved for books and nightmares.
Marilyn turned her wheelchair and sped down into the darkness of the trees. The entire group scattered, in fact, yelling for help, leaving me alone by the fire. I looked at it, empty, aghast at what I’d always been. I stomped the fire until there was nothing left but glowing coal.
I ran after the two girls who were always next to Marilyn’s brother. Though their bodies were pumping with adrenaline, running faster than what would otherwise be considered normal, I caught up to them while barely wasting a breath. Thus worked the wonders of my body. I crumpled the head of one against the trunk of a tree, then robbed the heart out of the other. With each death, my body became lighter, healthier. The hunt was feeding me, making me whole again.
And I was emptier than ever.
One by one the group was lost to me. One by one, they crumpled to my claws. I tried to kill them before they got a chance to fully look at me. I didn’t want me to be the last thing they saw in this wretched existence.
Lastly, I came before the sullen boy. He moaned and was afraid. He’d sensed me from the start, and still he was doomed. Those closest to death often have that skill, though it is a skill that rarely saves them.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Stop!” a trembling voice said from behind me. Marilyn. I glanced back and saw a petrified girl clutching a kitchen knife. She hadn’t run away. She had gone to the truck to find a weapon.
“I cannot,” I said. “I am sorry, Marilyn, but I do what I must do. I am bound by rules as ancient as the dawn. You…showed me things. I thank you for that. But I will not stop. I cannot stop.”
I raised one of my claws.
“Please, stop!” she sobbed and pushed the wheels on her chair with all her might.
I brought my claws clean through the boy’s skull. His soul vanished instantly. I felt crippling despair emanating from Marilyn, a pain so hellacious my lungs failed to pull air in. I couldn’t move, not while she wore the Blessed Gift and her mind streamed all its intensity into mine.
The knife in her hands plunged into my back.
An entire universe threatened to pour out of me. The agony of the countless people I’d thrown to death’s precipice threatened to overwhelm my existence. Above my physical ailment was only Marilyn’s pain. It took centuries’ worth of stored energy just to keep myself from passing out.
She removed the knife. It clattered to the ground. Remorse. All her anger and fear turned into simple, mundane remorse.
“I am sorry, little one,” I whispered.
Marilyn, sobbing, yanked the Amulet out of her neck and threw it over where the knife had fallen. Where the Amulet had been, her skin smoked, and the shape of a raven formed. She’d always be safe from me. That was my only comfort.
I was curled up, trying not to move. Each breath of mine was raking pain. I was told even a punch from one who wore the Amulet could prove fatal. And here I was, stabbed, black, slick blood like oil gushing out.
“Won’t you finish this?” I croaked.
“I will find you,” she managed to say through shaky breaths. I heard her wheels turn, cracking dry leaves as she escaped.
The only human to ever touch me disappeared into the moonless night, into the embrace of the forest.
My head was filled with visions of Marilyn as I walked to the warehouse. There was something odd happening with Mary, the girl who’d bought the Ouija board. I felt the usual fear and anxiety, yet there was something strange in her emotions. As if they were thin. As if they were veiled.
I scouted the perimeter, around the warehouse, spied through the windows. I saw the four teenagers moving the eyepiece over the letters on the board, laughing with their nerves on edge. The little fools.
I went to the front door, let go of my human skin, and waited until my true body came to light. The sun was nearly set, the sky bathed in those purple tones of dusk. It was the perfect hour for my hunt.
I opened the doors, entered, and closed them hard enough to make sure my prey would hear their way out closing. I set a chain around the door handles.
And I froze. The girl sporting my Blessed Gift ceased being scared at once. Instead, triumph of all things filled her heart.
I had walked into a trap.
“So you’ve come, Aegeramon,” a familiar voice said to me.
I was still and aghast. I wanted to be content to hear Marilyn again after all these years; I wanted to go and hug her and ask her how she’d been. But that wasn’t how our relationship would go tonight, was it? She was old now. Old and worn and tired.
“You’ve learned my name,” I said. “I hadn’t heard it spoken out loud in a long time.”
“Everyone I spoke to judged you a legend. But I knew you were a legend that bled. Bleeding legends can be killed.”
“I spared you,” I told her.
“Out of necessity. I should have killed you when I had the chance. I was afraid, but I know better now. I spent my life trying to correct that one mistake.” She smiled, gestured at me. “And my chance to do just that has arrived.”
She walked into the few remaining shreds of light coming from holes in the roof. Marilyn was old and weathered, though she wasn’t in a wheelchair anymore. She walked with the help of crutches, but she walked. She had a weapon held toward me. It was a kitchen knife.
“Everyone,” she said. “You can come out.”
Mary walked over to Marilyn. Other people sauntered in from the shadows, all holding weapons—blades, knives, bats, axes, everything. All showed the burned raven mark below their necks.
I recognized each and every single one of them.
They were people I had permitted to live while forcing them to be aware of their loved ones’ deaths.
I smiled, finding glee I hadn’t known I had. At last, I was the one being hunted.
“The girl who bought the board was a good actress,” I said.
“My grandkid,” Marilyn explained. “I trained Mary well. You were hard to find, and I was sure you’d be harder to catch. Hopping from town to town, always changing appearance. You were a ghost.”
“A rather interesting ghost,” an old man said from my side. I remembered him. He was a historian whose colleagues I had hunted during an expedition. “I found you in documents centuries old. You once struck up a friendship with a monk who studied you.” I nodded. I had. That man had been a lot like Marilyn. “He gave you a name after your physiology. Aegeramon. How many innocents have you killed since then? Hundreds? Thousands?”
“Too many,” was my answer. “Do what you must. I did what I had to do, so I won’t apologize. You know I cannot attack you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wear you down or run.”
I turned to rush to the door, but there was a young woman there with the raven mark below her neck. She held a pitchfork.
“It’s no use,” Marilyn said. “We each had our weapons blessed. I spent decades studying you. You might be fast, you might be strong, but against us, you’re powerless.”
“I won’t sit idle as you hunt me.”
And Marilyn smiled, so very much like me. The sweet girl I’d known was nowhere to be seen. I had transformed her into a monster she had never wanted to become.
Blessed weapons couldn’t save them. I could dodge bullets, so evading their attacks would be a piece of cake. I would walk out of here victorious to live another day.
Marilyn seemed to guess what I was thinking. She fished something out of a purse and handed it to her granddaughter. I squinted and froze.
It was one of my hairs, a short knife, and a vial of thick black oil. My blood.
“Don’t look so scared now, Aegeramon. You must know what this is. Surely you know what will happen if you try to hurt a wearer of the Blessed Raven.”
I sprinted, jumped up on a wall, and tried to climb out of a window.
Bullets flew and ricocheted all around me, and I was forced to retreat back down. Goddamnit.
Marilyn put the hair on the knife and emptied the vial of blood over it. She handed it to Mary, who got on her knees, put her hand on the ground, and raised her knife above it.
Triumph. Such strong triumph emanated from that girl.
“You killed so many. I know this was your nature, but it was a corrupted nature,” Marilyn said. If it’d been anyone else, I wouldn’t have cared. But this was Marilyn. I was unable to doubt the rightness of those words.
“There are others like me. There are others more dangerous,” I said. “You should have lived your life, been happy, counted that as a blessing. You should have counted that as a gift. You threw your life away.”
She shook her head. “I will hunt others after you. Those who’ll come after me will, at least. I’m old. I need to rest.” Marilyn held her hand out, telling her granddaughter to wait. “When you hunted me, something happened to you. As if you didn’t want to be doing what you did. It took me years to accept that, but I did. You were paralyzed by me, and as such, you let me strike you. And you bled.”
I tried to run again, and again, bullets came, this time from the outside. Marilyn truly had found all my victims. I was starting to panic, my fur swaying furiously. I was outmatched. I was told humans would become too fragile after a hunt to come after me. Demons could be so blind.
“All you stand for ends here, Aegeramon. Thank you for saving us. Yet, that will never account for your sins.”
Marilyn nodded, and her granddaughter stabbed her own hand with the knife dressed in my fur and blood—a knife with me in it—and pain washed through me all at once.
This was a direct breach of my contract. A part of me was hurting a wearer of the Amulet, and as such, I paid the price.
I screamed, fell, convulsed. I saw colors bursting as pain threatened to subdue me. Then I felt a kick, a punch, a hit after another, all from the branded ones I had saved.
The dark unconscious I’d brought on so many finally caught up to me. I smiled as my prey became the hunter and life elided my body, becoming but a husk of ancient oaths.
Doctor, I'd like to inform you that Operation Eternal Rest for Christ was a resounding success. Albeit with a high casualty rate, we have nonetheless put our old friend in the ground. Actually, no, most of him was scattered about in the explosion.
You need not worry however, I've got a piece of him with me, so you could study whatever made him into an amalgam of living necrosis. That wasn't any ol' regular zombie. Not at all, whatever had gotten into Christiansen made him into a cancerous ghoul hell-bent on ceaseless murder. Even so, he was undoubtedly alive at the moment of contact. He clearly wasn't too happy with hearing my voice calling out his name.
As for the ghouls, none of them made it out alive. I feel like I should have some sympathy for them because of how he basically made piñatas out of them but I can't bring myself to feel bad for the death of murderers, pedophiles, and all other manner of scum being torn to bits.
What's really interesting is the manner in which he tore through them, quite literally, I might add.
He came out of nowhere, after our guns for hire were convinced, his house was empty, and began beating the living fuck out of them with his own torn-off arm. Christiansen used his own arm like a club to batter and smash everything in his path.
Bullets didn't do shit to the thing he had become, and neither did knives. He ate all of it. To be quite honest, I wasn't even sure if there was anything left of him in his new body.
A monstrosity of a man, a gargantuan, fat-headed and like a mole as to the smallness of his eyes; disgusting with his short, broad, thick, and half hoary beard; disgraced by a neck faded under its titanic head; bald-headed with a few stray strands of hair sticking out crudely, barely hanging on to dear life. His skin colored the shade of rot; one whom it would not be pleasant to meet in the middle of the night even if he wasn't driven by a lecherous drive for bloodshed; with an extensive belly and a noticeably taller than I remember him.
After a few bloody moments, he reattached his appendage and punched one of the ghouls so hard his arm broke. Without even flinching he shoved the sharpened ends of the broken bone into the neck of another, tearing a new hole in it. He proceeded to hack through several men this way before kicking one so hard his knee shattered and then he decided to nail a couple of men into the floor with his exposed bone fragments, right before spewing acidic blood onto their faces – I can say so because I saw their heads melt off.
At this point, one of the sad excuses for hired guns pissed himself and blew his own brains out. Our colleague noticed it and didn't let a good body go to waste, he fixed his broken arm and shoved it into the corpses body before yanking out a handful of guts and then used the headless corpse like some medieval type morning star.
Oh, what a shame it took him about ninety seconds to get off thirty men. I was just starting to enjoy the carnage. Some of them died too quickly relative to their crimes, doc, but I digress.
Once he was done with those cretins, I leaped into action and called out his name. Wolfgang always hated it when I called him Wolfy. Hearing me calling him that made him squint his already barely visible blackened eye orbs he let out a sickening belching sound as acidic slime drooled down his face, melting some of the skin around his mouth.
Driven by the atavistic brain disorder he decided the best course of action was to tear his head off along with a segment of his spinal column and use it as a weapon against me.
The scariest part about this whole thing was just how accurate he was, hell, he even got me a few times. I don't know what kind of intergalactic prionic spaceworm got him into that state, but we have to prevent anyone else from going this far.
Perhaps afflicted by the same atavistic brain disorder that zombified our former pal; I shot the head. It didn't do shit… why I did this? I don't know!
Eventually, he got me, and pinned me to the floor with that living dead head skull of his screeching in my ear as his free hand was trying to pry my helm open; without any hope to throw the monstrosity off, I shoved a hand grenade into his neck hole. The moment my hand reached inside; I felt the fleshy hole clenching its walls around my arm.
I guess both Christianen and I had gone too far, but sometimes going too far is worth it, right?
I was prepared to die when the grenade went off, but by sheer dumb luck the amount of flesh on that abomination just absorbed all of the blast, leaving me covered in monster gore and clutching the fleshy skull mace I am currently on my way to deliver to you, Doc.
P.s I threw up a little in my helm and the smell is killing me right now, so don't worry if I pass out the moment we meet, I haven't been touched by his internal juices just like you instructed!
Hey add my youtube if you want to listen to my music playlists. Music is a gateway into the soul these are all songs that I adore. I will continue adding. 😎👍🏿
Also I have a playlist to all my narrated stories.
My youtube page: which is still a work in progress btw: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ0WzyhHXw3G5yKOgE3m1QQ
Is there a discord?
-A World in Ruins-
The world lay in ruins, a haunting testament to the cataclysmic event known as the Resonance. Once-thriving cities now stood as crumbling skeletons, their once-vibrant streets overgrown with nature's reclamation. Humanity clung to existence within fortified settlements, their lives overshadowed by fear and uncertainty
Cecil stood at the edge of one such settlement, gazing out at the desolate landscape before him. The sky was a sickly shade of green, a constant reminder of Resonance's aftermath. The air was thick with the stench of decay and ash. Despite the bleakness surrounding him, Cecil couldn't help but feel a sense of awe at the sheer scale of destruction wrought upon the world.
Cecil shielded his eyes from the sun's intense glare, a stark contrast to the sickly green sky. He knew he should heed its silent call and return to the safety of the settlement. But something held him back, a yearning for adventure that burned within him. With one last wistful glance at the ruins stretching out before him, Cecil turned and made his way back toward the fortified walls. As he walked, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to this world than just survival. As Cecil made his way into the settlement, he was greeted with warm smiles from familiar faces. The sense of community here always brought him comfort after a long day outside the walls. One young man approached him and asked, "Did you go outside again?" Cecil nodded and replied, "Yeah I did." He knew that going out beyond the safety of the settlement's walls was risky, but it was necessary for scavenging supplies.
"How are the kids Mark?" Cecil inquired about his friend's family. Mark smiled and replied, "They're doing well. Just be careful out there, you know..." But before he could finish his sentence, Cecil cut him off with a sarcastic tone in his voice saying, "I know Mark - the monsters might get me!" They both chuckled at this inside joke they had developed over time.
Cecil cherished the small interactions he had with people who understood what life was like outside of their haven. It was refreshing to be reminded that despite living in difficult times where danger lurked around every corner, there were still moments of laughter and connection to be shared. As he walked through town towards his home, Cecil couldn't help but feel the weight of the bag filled with supplies digging into his arms and shoulders. The discomfort caused by the straps made it challenging for him to continue walking, but he knew it was necessary to bring all these items back home.
Despite feeling burdened by the load, Cecil found comfort in knowing that his house wasn't too far away. As he trudges wearily towards his home, the weight of the heavy bag slung over his shoulder feels like a burden that has been weighing him down all day. His feet drag along the pavement as he struggles to keep moving forward, each step feeling heavier than the last. But finally, after what seems like an eternity, he reaches his front door and with a deep sigh of relief, he realizes that this is it - he can finally put down the bag and rest.
The sense of relief that washes over him at this moment is indescribable. It's as if a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders and suddenly everything feels lighter and easier to bear. He takes a moment to catch his breath before reaching for the doorknob and stepping inside
Once inside, he sets down the heavy bag with a thud on the floor. The sound echoes through the empty hallway, emphasizing just how much weight was in there. As he stretches out his arms and shakes off some of the tension from carrying such a load for so long, he feels grateful for being able to finally let go.
He grabs a chair and sits down, taking a deep breath and exhaling. "That was heavy," he says, still catching his breath. Looking around the house brings back memories of a younger time when he didn't have to worry about food or supplies and when his parents were still alive. However, peaceful memories quickly turn into horrible ones.
Cecil was playing in the backyard when he suddenly heard his mother's voice calling out to him. He could sense that something was wrong from the panic in her tone. She sounded desperate and scared, which made Cecil feel uneasy. As he rushed towards her, she yelled out again with even more urgency, "Cecil!, Cecil! Run! Run!"
This was not like anything Cecil had ever experienced before. He had never heard so much pain in his mother's voice before, and it left him feeling helpless and confused about what to do next. His heart was racing as he tried to process the situation quickly while running toward his mother.
Cecil's small feet pounded against the ground as he ran, but despite his effort, he seemed to cover little distance. As he got closer to his house, a sickly sweet smell wafted toward him. It was an odor that reminded him of the dead deer that Dad would bring home after hunting trips. The pungent scent hit Cecil hard and caused his heart to race faster than ever before.
Thoughts raced through his mind as worry set in. He wondered what could have happened inside the house and if everyone was okay. With growing concern, Cecil called out for his mother, but there was no response - only silence greeted him. He yelled again with increasing desperation, hoping for some sign of life from within the walls of their home. But still,, nothing came back to him - no sound or movement indicated anyone else was around. His running and yelling finally came to an abrupt stop when he saw what lay before him: His mother and siblings were lying on the ground in pools of blood that dripped from their bodies onto the floorboards beneath them.
Cecil's world shattered into a million pieces at this moment, as he realized that his entire family was dead. The shock and horror of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks, leaving him feeling numb and disoriented. His eyes quickly darted around the room in search of his father, hoping that he had somehow survived whatever had happened here. But instead of finding his father, Cecil heard an ominous growling sound coming from where the bodies lay. He couldn't see anything at first; the darkness seemed to be closing in on him like a suffocating blanket. But then he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye - something tall and disfigured with dark skin that looked too tight for its body.
It was a creature unlike any Cecil had ever seen before: with arms twisted into grotesque shapes and razor-sharp claws that glinted menacingly in what little light there was. Its tail flickered back and forth like a whip, seeming sharper than any knife. As if sensing Cecil's presence, the creature turned towards him slowly - revealing an uncanny smile filled with black teeth that were far too sharp for its face. Cecil felt his heart skip several beats as he stared into those cold black eyes.
The scene was horrifying and gruesome. The Creature, with its grotesque appearance, bent down to the dead bodies of Cecil's family members. It then proceeded to take Cecil's mother's leg and rip it from her pelvis. In front of Cecil's eyes, the creature began to eat the leg, tearing apart the muscle until holes were formed in it and bones started showing. The creature did this process with Cecil’s two younger siblings as well.
Cecil felt paralyzed during all of this; he couldn't move even if he wanted to. It seemed like the monster held him in place so that he could witness every moment of this horrific ordeal. The tears flowed uncontrollably from his eyes, hitting the wooden floor beneath him. Suddenly, a desperate yell broke through his thoughts - "CECIL!!" His father had been searching for him frantically amidst all this chaos and devastation.
Cecil had been lost in thought, staring at the strange creature devouring its meal. Suddenly, he felt as if someone was calling his name and it broke the trance he was in. He let out a scream of surprise and fear as he realized that the creature had turned its head toward him with disapproval. It seemed like Cecil had broken some kind of unknown agreement between them.
The creature threw down the flesh that it was eating, treating them like they were nothing more than mere scraps to be discarded. Then, it began to walk slowly but steadily toward Cecil. Each step echoed through the house and left behind a trail of fear. As Cecil stood there frozen with terror, his father's voice suddenly pierced through the silence: "Cecil! Are you okay?" His father rushed over to his side in a hurry, trying to assess what had happened and whether or not his son was safe.
The monster quickly pounced on Cecil's father. He rapidly pulled out his katana from the sheath to battle the creature. The sounds of metal clashing against bone and flesh filled the air as Cecil watched in terror. The creature was powerful, but so was his father.
As the battle raged on, Cecil felt a glimmer of hope flicker within him. Maybe they could defeat the creature after all. But just as quickly as it had appeared, that hope vanished when he saw his father falter for just a moment. That was all it took for the creature to strike, its claws slicing through his father's arm like butter. Cecil screamed in anguish as he watched his father fall to the ground, blood pooling around him. The creature let out a triumphant roar before turning its attention back to Cecil. There was nowhere left to run.
Cecil's heart was pounding as he watched the creature slowly approach him. Its eyes were filled with hunger and malice, causing Cecil to tremble in fear. He couldn't bear to look at it any longer, so he closed his eyes tightly. He hoped that by not seeing the creature, his death might be more peaceful. But then something unexpected happened - a piercing scream echoed through the air. Cecil's heart raced faster than ever before as he wondered what could have caused such a sound. Slowly but surely, he opened one eye just enough to see what was happening around him. To his surprise and relief, he saw that the creature had been wounded and was now writhing on the ground in pain.
As Cecil opened both of his eyes fully, he saw something even more incredible: His father's sword sticking out from the chest of the creature! It seemed like a miracle - somehow his father had come to save him!
But joy quickly turned into horror as Cecil watched helplessly while the wounded beast retaliated against his father with its tail. The next thing he knew, both the creature and his father fell heavily onto the ground. Without hesitation or thought for himself, Cecil rushed over to where his father lay motionless on the ground beside him. Tears streamed down his face.
Cecil's heart was heavy with grief as he realized his father had sacrificed himself to save him. He couldn't believe that his father, who had always been so strong and brave, was gone forever.
"Cecil, wake up," an old man yelled from outside the house. Cecil jolted awake in fright and sweat dripped down his head. He got up from the chair where he must have fallen asleep after carrying supplies earlier. His back still ached in pain. He walked toward the door and opened it to see an old man in his late 50s standing there.
Before Cecil could ask why he came. The old man asked if he was having nightmares again. Cecil nodded because he knew the old man cared for, and raised him; He was also the head of their settlement.
The old man continued: "That happened when you were six - twelve years ago, Cecil. You can't let your past continue to hunt you like an animal.
Cecil nodded again but wanted to know why Jack had come over in the first place. Jack cleared his throat before asking if Cecil could help out with some grocery shopping for the Allen family and assist Mark with maintaining some weapons. Additionally, Jack asked if Cecile had time to get some supplies beyond their gates. Cecil said that it wouldn't be a problem for him and thanked Jack for looking out for him as Jack smiled while walking away. Cecil took a deep breath and tried to shake off the remnants of his nightmare.
Cecil mumbled to himself, "Jack was right that he couldn't let his past haunt him." However, despite this realization, Cecil still never forgave himself for what had happened. He constantly replayed the events in his mind and wished he could have been stronger. "If only I had come home earlier," he thought to himself. "If I hadn't sat there in fear while watching my father fight... If I helped him, he would still be here today... If... if... if..." It was a vicious cycle of self-blame and regret that seemed impossible to break free from.
But then Cecil snapped out of it. He knew now was not the time to dwell on these thoughts any longer. He needed to focus on helping out the Allen's who were currently struggling with their own problems. Despite feeling overwhelmed by his emotions, Cecil reminded himself that others were counting on him and that he needed to be strong for them.
As he made his way towards the Allen's house, Cecil felt a sense of purpose wash over him. Although it wouldn't erase his past mistakes or take away the pain completely, helping others gave him a glimmer of hope and allowed him to feel like maybe there was something good left in this world after all.
On his walk towards the house, Cecil was lost in thought. Then suddenly, he heard a familiar voice call out to him. "Hey, Cecil!" It was Sarah, one of the settlement's farmers.
"Hi Sarah," Cecil replied with a small smile.
Sarah fell into step beside him. "I heard you're helping out the Allen's today. That's really kind of you."
Cecil shrugged. "Just doing what I can."
"Well, we appreciate it," Sarah said warmly. "We all know how tough things have been lately. It's nice to see someone making a difference."
As they walked, more and more people greeted them - some with a nod or a wave, others stopping to chat for a moment. Despite everything that had happened in the past, Cecil couldn't help but feel grateful for the sense of community he had here.
By the time he reached the Allen's house, his spirits had lifted considerably. He knocked on the door and was greeted by Mrs. Allen, who thanked him profusely for coming over to help.
"Jack said you need help with some groceries, Mrs. Allen," Cecil asked, sounding puzzled.
"Yes, I need bread," Mrs. Allen quickly replied. After a pause, she continued, "My husband has been sick with a fever and my kids are at school so I couldn't get it myself."
Cecil responded empathetically, "Don't worry Mrs. Allen; I'll grab it for you." She thanked him again for helping her out.
Cecil walked towards the market, taking in the sights and sounds of his surroundings. He couldn't help but smile as he passed by the various stalls seeing all the different produce on display
As he approached the bread stand, one of the farmers who worked there greeted him warmly. "Hey Cecil! What can I get for you today?"
"I just need a loaf of bread for Mrs. Allen," Cecil replied, pulling out some coins from his pocket.
"Ah, sure thing," the farmer said as he handed over a freshly baked loaf. "Tell Mrs. Allen that we hope her husband gets well soon."
Cecil thanked him and made his way back. When he arrived, Mrs. Allen was waiting at the door with a grateful smile on her face.
"Oh thank you, Cecil!" she exclaimed as she took the bread from him. "You really are a lifesaver."
Cecil smiled humbly and replied, "Just happy to help out where I can." As he bid her farewell and turned to leave, he felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that he had made a difference in someone's life today.
Cecil sighed as he left Mrs. Allen's house, knowing that he still had a long way to go before he reached Mark's place. He checked his watch and realized that he was already running late. As he walked down the street, his thoughts drifted back to Mrs. Allen and her family. He couldn't help but feel glad that he could make a difference in their lives, even if it was just by buying a loaf of bread. But now, he had another task to complete. He quickened his pace, taking shortcuts through alleys and side streets to shave off some time. The sun beat down on him relentlessly, making him sweat profusely. His feet ached from all the walking, but he pushed himself onwards. Finally, after what felt like hours of walking, Cecil arrived at Mark's place. He knocked on the door and waited patiently for Mark to answer.
When Mark finally opened the door, Cecil was panting heavily. "Sorry I'm late," he said breathlessly. "I had to help out Mrs. Allen first."
Mark nodded understandingly. "No worries man," he said with a smile. "Let's get started on these machines." And with that, they got to work.
"So what do you need help with?" Cecil eagerly asked.
Mark explained that they needed to replace the Quantum DSK on the QRide. Hearing this, Cecil's excitement grew even more intense - he loved working with machines of all kinds, but there was something special about working on a QRide in particular.
As he prepared to assist Mark with the task at hand, Cecil couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to work on such an impressive piece of machinery. With his skills and expertise, he knew that he could make quick work of replacing the Quantum DSK and getting the QRide back up and running smoothly once again.
Mark takes Cecil to the QRide location and shows him.
The QRide is a sleek and futuristic vehicle that combines elements of a motorcycle and hovercraft. Its overall design is aerodynamic, emphasizing a sense of speed and agility. The body of the QRide is streamlined, featuring smooth curves and sharp edges
At the front, the vehicle has a narrow, pointed nose that tapers slightly upward. It incorporates advanced LED headlights, providing powerful illumination for night rides.
Moving upward, the rider's seating position is positioned towards the rear of the vehicle, allowing for a comfortable yet sporty riding stance. The seat is contoured and padded for comfort, with ergonomic features to support the rider's posture during acceleration and maneuvering.
The power source, the Quantum DSK, is positioned within a compartment located beneath the rider's seat. The compartment may feature sleek, translucent panels that showcase the advanced technology inside, giving it a futuristic look.
The hover mechanism is implemented through a series of repulsion modules located on the underside of the vehicle. These modules generate a magnetic field or anti-gravity effect, allowing the QRide to hover above the ground, free from contact with the surface. The repulsion modules might be concealed within recessed sections of the vehicle's undercarriage, maintaining a clean and seamless appearance.
On the sides, the QRide may feature streamlined fairings and air intakes to optimize aerodynamics and airflow. These features contribute to both the vehicle's performance and its futuristic visual appeal. The rear section of the QRide is compact, with a sleek tail that enhances its sporty look.
Mark and Cecil were eager to get started on the QRide. They wasted no time in taking the seat out so they could access the Quantum DSK. However, Cecil couldn't help but feel a bit puzzled as he looked at the seemingly fine DSK. "Mark?" he asked, still wondering why they needed to replace it. Mark took a deep breath before countering with, "Cecil, we need to replace it because even though it may look fine on the outside, there could be internal damage that we can't see." It was important for them to ensure that every component of the QRide was in perfect condition before taking it out for a ride
After carefully removing the Quantum DSK from its compartment, Mark and Cecil inspected it closely. They checked for any signs of wear or tear on the exterior casing before opening it up to examine the internal components.
As they opened up the Quantum DSK, they were greeted by a complex array of circuitry and microchips. The DSK was a marvel of engineering, with advanced technology that allowed it to power the QRide's hover mechanism and propulsion system. Mark and Cecil carefully inspected each component, looking for any signs of damage or malfunctions.
After a thorough inspection, Mark and Cecil determined that the Quantum DSK was indeed damaged and needed to be replaced. They carefully removed it from the compartment and set it aside before installing the new one. The installation process was meticulous, with every wire and connection double-checked for accuracy. Once they had finished installing the new Quantum DSK, they closed up the compartment and reinstalled the seat.
With the Quantum DSK replaced, Mark and Cecil moved on to the next component on their checklist: the repulsion modules. These modules were critical to the QRide's hover mechanism and needed to be in top condition for safe operation. The duo carefully inspected each module, looking for any signs of wear or damage. They also checked all connections and wiring to ensure everything was properly connected.
After a thorough inspection, Mark and Cecil determined that one of the repulsion modules was damaged beyond repair and needed to be replaced. They quickly sourced a replacement module and installed it with precision, double-checking all connections before moving on.
Next up on their list was inspecting the vehicle's exterior features such as fairings, air intakes, and tail section. Mark and Cecil closely examined each feature, ensuring they were streamlined for optimal aerodynamics while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing appearance. With everything checked off their list, Mark and Cecil were finally ready for a test drive of their newly refurbished QRide.
Mark turned to Cecil and nodded, giving him the go-ahead to take the QRide out for a test drive. Cecil eagerly climbed into the driver's seat and fired up the engines. As he lifted off the ground, he could feel the smoothness of the ride and the precision of the controls. The new Quantum DSK and repulsion module were working perfectly, allowing him to effortlessly maneuver through the air.
Cecil took the QRide through its paces, testing its top speed and maneuverability. He was impressed with how well it handled, even at high speeds and in tight turns. After several minutes of flying, he brought the QRide back down to land safely on the ground.
As Mark approached with a grin, Cecil knew they had done an excellent job refurbishing the QRide. All components were in top condition.
Cecil turned to Mark with a smile, feeling proud of the job they had done refurbishing the QRide. As he looked at Mark, he wondered if there was anything else that needed their attention. Without hesitation, Cecil asked, "Is there anything else you need help with?" Mark shook his head and replied, "No, we did a great job today. Everything is in top condition thanks to your hard work." Satisfied with Mark's response, Cecil nodded and grinned. He was glad that they had successfully completed the task at hand and that everything was working perfectly. With nothing left to do but admire their work, Cecil took one last look at the QRide before turning to leave with Mark.
Mark turned to Cecil and extended his hand. "Thanks again for your help today," he said with a smile. "You really made this a smooth process." Cecil shook Mark's hand, feeling pleased with the recognition. "No problem at all," he replied warmly.
As they walked towards the door, Mark guided Cecil out of his home, making sure to point out any potential hazards along the way. They chatted amicably about their shared passion for refurbishing and customizing Quantum Rides. Before long, they reached the front door and said their goodbyes. Cecil felt a sense of satisfaction as he walked away from Mark's house.
Cecil made his way back to his home, gazing up at the starry sky above. He couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder as he watched the stars twinkle and dance in the darkness. As he approached the gate leading to his property, he realized that he didn't have time to venture out for any supplies tonight. With a shrug, he pushed open the gate and made his way inside.
Cecil couldn't shake the feeling of unease that settled over him as he stepped into his home. The warmth that once felt comforting was now suffocating, and memories from years ago flooded back. He tried to push them away, but they lingered in his mind like a bad dream.
Cecil took a deep breath in as he made his way into the kitchen, trying to shake off the sense of unease that had settled over him. As he looked down at the wooden floor, he couldn't help but notice the scars that still remained from years ago. The marks left by the monster that had once terrorized his home were still visible, even after all these years.
He couldn't help but feel a sense of anger and frustration as he gazed down at the floor. Despite all his efforts to move on and start anew, those scars remained as a constant reminder of the past.
Cecil filled the kettle with water and placed it on the stove to boil. As he waited, he rummaged through his cupboard for his favorite tea leaves. He found them tucked away in a small tin at the back of the shelf.
Once the water had boiled, Cecil poured it into his favorite mug, then added a teaspoon of tea leaves. The aroma of lavender and chamomile wafted up from the cup, calming his nerves.
Sipping on his warm tea, Cecil made his way to the living room. He settled into his favorite armchair and gazed out at the night sky once more. The stars seemed brighter now, almost as if they were trying to reassure him that everything was going to be okay. With each sip of tea, Cecil felt more relaxed and at ease. The scars on his floor may still remain, but he knew that he could move past them.
Cecil sat there, staring out at the stars for what felt like hours. The warm tea had long gone cold, but he couldn't bring himself to move. Memories from years ago continued to plague his mind, and the scars on his floor seemed more prominent than ever before.
As he made his way to bed, Cecil couldn't shake off the feeling of dread that settled in his gut. He knew that he would never be able to fully move past the horrors of his past, no matter how hard he tried.
Lying in bed, Cecil's thoughts raced as he tried to find some semblance of peace. But it was all in vain - the darkness within him refused to let go. It consumed him whole, leaving nothing but emptiness in its wake.
As Cecil drifted off into an uneasy sleep, he knew that tomorrow would be just another day of struggling to keep his demons at bay.
Cecil groggily opened his eyes, the sound of knocking jolting him awake. He stumbled out of bed and rubbed his eyes, wondering who could be at his door so early in the morning.
Neon lights followed me everywhere I went.
I drove across the countryside of Nevada, heading out East into the lone, empty desert on winding roads bare of any other drivers. The desert night was cool, and I let it breeze through my windows as I stared at the millions of shining stars above. I was in the night, driving without a sense of direction ever since I left my home to experience something ‘extraordinary’. That might have meant driving alone in the loneliest parts of The United States, but for me, it was perfect.
The radio was silent as my headlights slowly illuminated someone on the side of the road, and I almost swerved out of the way preemptively, thinking it must have been someone trying to rob me. As I slowed down and saw the person, I realized it was a woman, sticking her thumb out, holding a suitcase and standing beside the road as she flagged me down. I slowly pulled over into the side of the road, rolling down my passenger side window.
“Are you lost?” I asked. “Or a hitchhiker?”
“Hitchhiker’s a rough term,” she said. “I’d prefer to be called… a traveler. Mind if I join you?”
“It’d be fine,” I said, unlocking the door as she sat beside me.
I got a good look at the girl and realized she was my age, but looked a few years older. She had the whitest, smoothest hair I’d ever seen, it seemed natural, tied into a half-bun and round, cute dark glasses over her bright purple eyes. She was wearing a tracksuit and necklace, and I noticed she had tan, shining skin. She had some sort of accent, an unrecognizable way of speaking that made her voice sound like a smooth, slow echo.
“You’re not some kind of serial killer, right?” She laughed nervously. “I’ve never really done this before… I thought I’d have to wait all week to flag someone down.”
“I guess today’s your lucky day,” I shrugged, continuing to drive. “What were you doing out here?”
“...Got stranded. I didn’t want to go as far as I could, so I waited.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Same direction you are, the road barely veers off. Why were you driving this late?”
“I…. just wanted to clear my head,” I replied. “A lot’s been going on.”
“I get it,” she said. “I never got your name?”
“Lane.” I replied.
“Lane… that’s interesting. I’m Angel.”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Not from around here,” she said. “What about you?”
“The Sunshine State,” I replied. “It ain’t so sunny over there.”
She chuckled. “I hear it’s not like it is in the movies.”
We talked well beyond the hour the sun had set, as we spotted a homey-looking motel on the side of the road, its neon lights blinking and humming softly in the night, with a ‘twenty-four-seven’ sign half-operating.
“Lets stay there for the night… if that’s fine with you, I guess.”
“The motel?” I asked. “It looks pretty run down.”
“Looks ‘cozy’, really.” Angel said. “Or do you usually sleep in the car?”
I sighed as I slowly pulled into the driveway, walking out and stretching as I saw how tall Angel was. She was only about five-foot-four, but had this… feeling, aura surrounding her that made her seem, feel, bigger than she really was.
Was it comfort or anxiety?
I still have no idea.
“I’ll pay,” Angel said, as we walked up to the receptionist's desk. “It was my idea anyway.”
“It’s fine, it’s my treat.” I said, pulling out a few bills I stuffed in my pocket.
I paid for our room as the lady at the front desk pointed to a door on the first floor, down the hall as I shuffled inside, relieved to find no cockroaches skittering about.
“It’s clean enough,” I said. “There’s only one bed, you want me to sleep on the couch?”
“Lane, you’re too nice sometimes. If anyone should snooze on the couch, it’s me. You’ve been so… generous, unless you just wanted to, you know, sleep with me?”
My face turned red as I chuckled. “No, it’s not that, really. I mean, you look great, a mysterious woman in the night, but truth is, I’ve just been feeling a bit lonely on my trip. I wanted a buddy along for the ride, and you’re nice to talk to.”
“Aw, thank you.” Angel said. “Really, I’ll make up for it sometime. Does the TV work?”
“Sure, I’m not really up for a movie tonight, though. Give it a minute, I can download something on the phone for us tomorrow?”
“Sounds great to me,” Angel replied. “I’m pretty exhausted myself, I was out in the desert all night.”
I lied down beside her as she passed out, but I stayed up for a few more minutes, looking at yet another unfamiliar, cold ceiling. Who was she? Why was she so… friendly with me? I couldn’t help but sense an ulterior motive, but the company was welcome, and I assumed she would have killed me by now if she had intended to.
No, she was…
I woke up very slowly.
It was the dead of night, but I noticed the window was open, letting in the cold, desert air as I sighed and prepared to get up. My blood turned into ice as I stood up, feeling fear and confusion beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. In the darkest corner of the room, standing perfectly still, was a dark, unmoving figure that appeared humanoid, but hard to make out in the darkness. Its head scraped the ceiling, it was so fucking tall and gangly-looking.
I slowly turned to Angel, who was still sleeping, softly snoring as she sprawled out on the bedsheets. Her eyes suddenly shot open, and when they stared into me, I saw this primal instinct in them I had never seen in Angel before, and even though we only knew each other for less than twenty-four hours, it scared me. She stared right into my eyes, then her eyes drifted to the shape in the room, and she put a finger on my lip before all hell broke lose. Angel jumped out of the bed faster than I could see, moving towards the monster.
The lights flickered on and off as everything exploded into action, as the lights turned on and off, I could see Angel’s face… change. In between the glimpses of light I saw her entire head open up into dozens of petal-like jaws snapping shut, filled with tentacles and rotating rows of sharp, needle-like teeth as she wrestled with the figure, which seemed to phase in and out of reality.
What the fuck.
Angel pushed the figure into the wall, as it crumbled, and the fight broke out outside of the motel, as Angel’s jaws ripped and tore at the creature’s dark, gooey flesh until it stopped moving.
“What the fuck,” I said, slowly backing up.
Angel, or what I thought was her, was on all fours like an animal, and slowly stood up as the pieces of her face and neck closed up and reverted back to normal, as she started to approach me.
“What the fuck, get the fuck away from me!!” I yelled, backing into the wall as I fumbled for the doorknob, sliding open as I ran down the hallway.
“Lane, wait-” I heard her say.
As I ran out of the motel, I could see blood splattering the walls along with a few limbs, and the decapitated corpse of the receptionist. I guess we weren’t first pickings. I jumped into my car, fumbling for my keys when I realized I had left them in the fucking motel, as I locked my doors and hid under my dashboard. I could hear Angel’s footsteps slowly approach, as she talking in her calm, soothing voice.
“It’s just me,” she said. “I won’t hurt you. Please get out of the car.”
“What the fuck are you?” I asked. “Don’t come near me, don’t fucking come near me, holy shit.”
She was holding my keys, and looked normal as ever as she unlocked my car, and I jumped into the passenger seat and ran out on the opposite side of the car, keeping the car in between us.
“What the fuck was that just now?!” I yelled. “I saw you… your whole face opened up like a flower, you had teeth and tentacles and shit coming out of your throat, what the fuck?”
“Just calm down,” Angel pleaded. “Please? I’m coming over to your side of the car, slowly. Don’t run, you can trust me.”
I watched her walk towards me as I leapt for the passenger seat door, swinging it open as I pulled out the pistol out of the glove compartment and turned the safety off before I pointed it at her from ten feet away.
As she wept into my shoulder, I heard the siren start up again. It sounded muffled inside the church, but still vibrated the floors and the walls all around us. I didn’t know what the siren signified, but I doubted it was anything good. After all, the last time the siren had sounded, we had run into something horrible: dozens of walking corpses with white eyes that seemed to look at us with thirst and hunger.
But I had no plans, not anymore. We were unarmed and seemed to be in a relatively safe place. My main thought was that we should hide in here until morning, when daylight arrived and made travel safer. We could always try jumping the police car, or even finding a car where the tires weren’t totally flat and jumping that to drive it out of the town. I had seen dozens of car keys in the diner, and one of them had to fit with one of the more reliable cars parked on the street. If I had to, I’d drive my car on the rims as far as it would go and then abandon it once we were outside the town limits. Anything would be better than being trapped here another night.
The siren wound down again, its haunting echoes dissipating in the night. I turned to Betty, flipping my phone over to get some light.
“Let’s search this place,” I said. “Maybe we can find a weapon. This is the priest’s living quarters, I think, so that means there should at least be knives for cooking somewhere around here. If we’re lucky, maybe the guy even had a gun.” This was a thought I had considered already, going from house to house to search for guns. This was, after all, rural New Hampshire, deep in the mountains, where people liked to hunt, and where farmers would likely keep some sort of shotgun or rifle for pests. If we were armed, our chances of survival would rise exponentially- at least, so I hoped. For all I knew, ammo would be as useless as a squirt gun against those things we had seen coming out of the forest.
My wife wiped away her tears, then she reached into her purse and pulled out her keychain. She dropped it into my hand. I looked at it for a moment, confused.
“That black thing,” she said, pointing at a small canister connected to the chain, “is pepper spray. I don’t know how effective it is, and I’ve had it for nearly ten years. It might not even work at this point. I don’t think pepper spray really goes bad, though. It should still be able to stop someone in their tracks.”
“Yeah, someone, as in, a human,” I said. “We don’t even know if those things feel pain. Their eyes…” I didn’t need to finish the sentence. She had seen their strange, cataract eyes. She knew as well as I did that we weren’t dealing with the living.
I got up, sighing. I took her hand and helped her up. We grabbed our phones, and she grabbed her purse and plastic bag of goodies, lighting a cigarette with trembling fingers. It took her nearly three tries to get it lit. She reminded me of a Parkinson’s patient in his last days.
We explored the rectory area in silence, finding a small kitchen. As I suspected, it had a knife block with some long, wicked blades. I took one for myself and gave one to Betty. We went back to the rectory and searched every drawer and closet, but I could find no sign of a gun or ammo.
Feeling slightly better now that I at least had a knife, we went back to the chapel. I shone my phone’s light across the immense chamber, and my heart leapt into my throat.
The front doors stood wide open now, letting the dim moonlight stream into the nave. Even worse, the corpses were all gone.
And, while we were in the rectory, someone had used blood to write a message across the wall, covering the stained-glass windows and aged beams in letters five feet tall: “THE BLACK SUN AWAKENS.”
As I stood there, gaping, not sure what to do, Betty grabbed my arm and pointed outside the door.
“Look!” she cried, a note of triumph in her voice. “Someone’s coming!” I saw with excitement that she was right. I felt a surge of hope rise in me so powerful that I felt light-headed. Headlights streamed down the dark street, casting long, twisting shadows across the buildings. I grabbed her hand and we ran outside without a second thought.
The car traveled slowly down Main Street, coming from the same direction we had originally come. We ran out into the middle of the road, and I started waving my arms frantically, trying to get the driver’s attention. A chubby old man pulled up beside us, looking at us with suspicion and narrowing his eyes. I gestured for him to put his window down. He hesitated for a long moment, looking between me and my wife, and then lowered it an eighth of an inch. I heard all his doors lock as he quickly pressed the button.
“Um, does anyone live here?” he asked. “I need gas. The map said there’s a gas station here, supposed to be 24 hours, but there’s no one inside. It doesn’t look like anyone’s been inside in weeks. All the food in the refrigerators has started to rot, and there’s not even electricity. So…” He trailed off. I didn’t even know where to start. I certainly didn’t want to start rambling about walking corpses and messages painted in blood. But Betty, always my smarter and better half, thought quickly instead.
“We had a massive electrical failure,” she said, lying smoothly and smiling at him with her disarming charm. I saw the old man relax slightly, though he still glanced over at me with suspicion from time to time. “We really need help. Our car broke down and everyone besides us was already evacuated.”
“Yeah…” the old man said skeptically. “Makes sense, I guess. OK. So you both live here?” I nodded, building on the lie.
“Yes, we used to, but we missed the evacuation. Can you please give us a ride just to the highway?” I said, giving him what I hoped was a neighborly smile. He frowned, the lines on his face deepening.
“What’s your name, friend?” he asked, not answering my question and refusing to roll down his window anymore than the tiny crack he had made.
“I’m Jonny Redfern, and this is my wife Betty. Please, sir, we really need your help.”
“How come you two didn’t just walk out of here?” he asked. “The highway is only a ten-minute drive. It’s not exactly around the corner, but it shouldn’t take you more than a couple hours to walk it.” I swore inwardly. Of course we had to get an old man who was as sharp as a tack. If he kept talking to us, he would inevitably pick up on our lies. In fact, he probably already had. The story wouldn’t make much sense, especially when he kept driving and saw the messages painted in blood on the police station.
“And, um… well, I’m not saying you’re being dishonest or anything, God forbid, but if people were evacuated, why are all their cars still here? Did they walk out? Did they all take a bus? It sure looks like they’ve been here a while.” I froze, not knowing what to say in response. I looked over at Betty, her pretty dark eyes narrowing with consternation as she stared at the old man.
“Sir, what’s your name?” she asked him pleasantly, changing her face in a moment back to the beatific and friendly smile she always used in her job as a real estate agent for difficult customers.
“I’m Freddy. Freddy MacKenzie,” he said. He looked like he considered rolling the window down to shake our hands, but instead, he quickly looked away.
“OK, please listen to me, Freddy. Something strange is going on here. We don’t know what it is. We really need your help. I’m afraid if we stay in this town any longer, something… something really bad is going to happen to us,” Betty said, her smile fading. Freddy’s bright blue eyes shone with intelligence as he weighed her words, looking from my face to hers before frowning slightly and wrinkling his forehead.
“Yeah, no, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sure you two are very nice people, but I don’t pick up hitchhikers, ever. I don’t know you guys from Adam. But, if you want, I can call you a tow truck when I get on the highway. Or even a police officer. They can sort this mess out. I really don’t know what’s going on here, and I don’t want to know. This is none of my business. But I wish you both good luck.” He put his car back in drive and rolled his window back up. Waving in a friendly manner but not meeting our eyes, he pulled away at a snail’s pace, going at least ten miles under the speed limit as he languidedly drove down the road.
“I should’ve maced him,” Betty said bitterly, watching the old man’s tail lights as they grew smaller. “I really should’ve. I thought about it, you know.”
“What would that have accomplished?” I asked.
“Well, it would have made me feel better,” she said. We both laughed, an anxious and nervous release of tension that I felt I needed at that moment.
A gunshot pierced the night. I jumped, almost falling on the sidewalk curb as I quickly backed off of the road. I grabbed Betty to steady myself. She was looking down the road, at the old man’s red brake lights. They cast a bloody glow across the Main Street. Another gunshot rang out, and I could hear a loud hiss, as if a monstrous snake had just awakened.
But it wasn’t a snake. We watched Freddy’s car as clouds of smoke and plumes of exhaust began rising from the engine, and the hissing grew louder. I realized something must have given in his engine when the bullet passed through. His tires looked fine, but even from this distance, I could see a puddle expanding around his car. I didn’t know anything about cars, but from my meager knowledge, I assumed it was likely coolant or transmission fluid. Either one was not good.
“What should we do?” Betty asked, grabbing my hand tightly.
“I’m not running in the direction of gunshots, if that’s what you’re asking,” I said quickly. “We should take cover. Let’s go back to the church for now.”
“What about the old man?” she asked, more loudly now. “What’s going to happen to him?”
“We should worry about ourselves!” I yelled at her, not meaning to raise my voice. She shrank back as if I had slapped her. I stepped forward, taking her hand and whispering. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry.”
“What if he dies because we did nothing?” she asked.
“He did nothing to help us!” I said.
“Well, he was going to call for help, at least. I can’t really blame him for not picking up two wild-eyed strangers with a bullshit story in the middle of an abandoned town.” I kept watching his car, but he didn’t get out. “Do you think he was hit?” she asked.
“God, I don’t know,” I said, feeling like things were quickly spiraling out of control. Our potential rescue had turned into a potential burden. Luck was not on our side today.
The old man’s tail lights changed as he put his car in reverse. He tried to slowly back up in our direction, but the engine made loud knocking sounds when he pressed the gas, and the thick cloud of smoke began to expand, rising up in the air in huge, billowing plumes. I heard metallic groaning sounds as the knocking died down. And then his car stopped moving, and the engine shut off by itself.
He hadn’t managed to reverse more than twenty feet in that time. I wondered what he was thinking at that moment- whether he thought we were part of some band of robbers who had staged a gunman up ahead. If I were in his shoes, I felt certain that would be my first assumption. After all, who else in the town was there to blame? A secret gunman and vandal who hid in buildings or in forests, yes, and corpses who got up and moved around. But no one in their right mind would buy that story- at least until they had seen it for themselves.
“OK, fuck it, let’s go get the old man out of his car and make sure he’s…” I started to say, but then the siren came on again, seemingly even louder and shriller than before. I covered my ears with my hands, and without thinking, I ran forwards towards the old man’s car, hoping I would live to regret the decision.
By the time I had run through Main Street, the siren had started to die out again. It seemed to be getting shorter every time it ran. I didn’t know what to think about that. I tried to justify it by saying perhaps the building where the siren was located ran on generators, and they were running out of fuel, so to compensate, they ran the siren less and less each time. But why run it at all? There was no tornado here, no hurricane or tsunami. I felt like I was missing an essential piece of the puzzle. As I got to within ten feet of his car, I saw the old man moving inside, apparently unharmed.
Freddy stumbled out of the driver’s seat, shaking and pale. He looked at me with wide, accusing eyes.
“What did you do?!” he asked me. “I’m warning you, I have a gun!” I looked around, at his hands and next to his seat. I saw no gun, and I assumed he might be bluffing. However, I wasn’t going to risk my life on it. I still had the butcher’s knife tucked into the back of my pants, the blade looped through my leather belt, and had even pulled my shirt over it so the old man wouldn’t see it and get scared.
I put my hands up and backed slowly away. His eyes narrowed even more, as if he suspected a trick.
“Please, I’m just trying to help,” I said. “My wife and I, we’re not actually from here. We’re from Connecticut. We came here, just like you, just to stop for a minute. But someone slashed our tires, and this town has some… strange things happening in it. I can’t explain it. That siren, every time it goes off…” I didn’t know what to say next. “I think it’s a warning, or perhaps a signal. Every time it goes off, we see people walking around. Maybe they’re part of a cult, or a terrorist group. But we need to get to safety now. There’s a church just down the street with deadbolts on all the doors. It can be locked from the inside and maybe even barricaded. We should go there immediately. If you won’t come with us, that’s your decision, but I’ll tell you right now, you probably won’t survive out here.”
“Is that a threat?!” he asked, his blue eyes blazing with anger. His chubby face reddened, and even his bald head had a crimson hue.
“OK, fine, I tried,” I said, giving up and turning to leave. “Stay here and die.” I started walking away, not looking back. I heard heavy footsteps slapping against the pavement, and suddenly, he was at my side, walking with me. He sighed heavily, the redness slowly fading out of his face.
“I’ll come with you,” he said. “But if this is a trick, know that I intend to report all of this to the police as soon as possible.”
“My friend,” I said, quickening my step and starting to jog towards the church, “if the police were coming, don’t you think they’d already be here?”
After we got into the church and locked all the doors, we saw dark silhouettes walking past the stained-glass windows. They surrounded the church, their strange gait revealing their inhuman nature even based on their shadows. I knew it was the corpses, like the ones I had seen come out of the woods. Off in the distance, one of them started to scream, a shrill, piercing noise that carried on the wind. It sounded like she was here, standing right next to me in the church. I shuddered.
I heard a few of the corpses respond, until it sounded like the shrieking came from all around the perimeter of the building. Yet they didn’t try to get in. If they had smashed through the stained-glass windows, they could have easily crawled through, yet they didn’t. At least, not yet.
Soon, I heard a sound like a man crying in pain. This scream sounded far different than the empty banshee wails of the corpses. I looked through a pane of clear glass and saw the woman from the forest, the walking nightmare with the black, matted hair and white cataract eyes.
Next to her I saw two children, twins from the look of them, dressed in nearly identical clothing. Two little boys, holding hands and walking behind her. The skin on their faces had mostly peeled off, showing the eternally grinning skulls underneath. Their eyes had turned white, with drops of thick, black blood dripping down their face like tears. Their bodies looked partially decomposed, just like the woman, with sharp finger bones poking out through the skin. On their hands, I could see the tendons and ligaments and muscle underneath in places where the skin had been eaten away.
In front of them, I saw a man crawling on his hands and knees out of the dark forest on the perimeter of the town. His leg looked broken, the area around his knee twisted at a 45 degree angle, matted blood soaking into the denim. By the time I realized what I was looking at, all three had caught up to him. The woman’s corpse gnashed her teeth as she drew near, biting at the air and smiling. The twins looked serene, as if they were just going on a walk to the playground. They didn’t hurry or run, knowing their prey was injured and doomed.
The man looked back at them, an expression of sheer terror twisting his face. And then all three were on him, eating him alive from the legs and stomach. His agony-filled shrieks shattered the night. I turned away. Within a couple minutes, everything had gone quiet again. But I saw dozens more of those silhouettes passing on Main Street, or coming from the graveyard behind the church. I wondered just how many of them we were up against.
Over time, Freddy warmed up to us. He seemed to realize we weren’t lunatics who were going to stab him and eat his heart while praying to a serpent-god in Aramaic. He ended up being much more talkative than I would have expected. When we talked to him in the car, he came across as an aloof curmudgeon who wouldn’t have helped his own mother if she fell down.
“You know what this reminds me of,” he said, his eyes widening, as if he were telling a ghost story around a campfire. “Roanoke. Those people disappeared without a trace.”
“I’m pretty sure they just interbred with the Natives,” Betty said. “The Mary Celeste was similar to this, though. The crew just disappeared from the ship in the middle of the ocean. No one knows where they went.” The two of them acted much more relaxed than I felt. My nerves felt jangled, and I just kept waiting for the next siren. Or, maybe, the gunman who shot out Freddy’s engine block would show up, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and carrying buckets of blood around with him to paint messages whenever he felt like it. I could see him in my mind’s eye- a nutjob in a ski mask, two dark eyes glaring out at me, his heart filled with bloodlust and murder.
“These people didn’t really disappear, though, did they?” I said, turning to look at them. “We found the corpses of a couple dozen of them here, in the church. And we have seen more of them outside.”
“But where’s the rest of them?” Betty asked. Freddy looked at her, raising an eyebrow. “There’s way more than a few dozen people living in this town. Where’s all the bodies? Maybe the rest of the town isn’t even dead.”
“You didn’t tell me that someone staged bodies in this church,” Freddy said accusingly, looking at Betty. She shrugged.
“So maybe,” he lowered his voice, “this place is haunted. Did you ever think of that?” Betty laughed at that, and even I cracked a smile.
“My friend,” I said, “this whole town is apparently haunted. I wouldn’t worry about the church.”
I don’t know how much time passed, but after they talked for a few more minutes, we ended up just sitting there in silence. Betty and I smoked cigarettes, and Freddy drank some of the whiskey she had grabbed.
“Just to steel my nerves,” he said, and he looked like he needed it. He was still shaking, and he would often get up and pace in a circle, muttering to himself and sending dirty looks towards the blood-stained pews. Ever since we told him about the bodies, he had seemed much more uncomfortable and frightened. I knew how he felt. I felt the same restlessness and terror within me. It seemed like we were trying to hide in the closet as the house burned down around us. But what else could we do?
Soon, that decision would be taken out of our hands.
I realized the church seemed to be getting brighter. Freddy and Betty didn’t notice for a few moments, as they had started up another conversation, this time about the sigil painted on the mutilated body of Jesus hanging upside down from the ceiling. But I noticed the lightening immediately. For a second, I thought maybe the electricity had come back on but that the lights were just dim, or that maybe someone was driving outside and their high beams shone through the windows.
But I quickly realized that this light had a different texture. It was almost like a black light, giving off an intense, purplish glow over everything it touched. Betty had gone silent, her mouth open in silent awe. Freddy rubbed his hand over his bald head, opening his mouth.
“...uhhh, what?” he said. He stopped his pacing, nervously smoothing out his shirt. “What is this? Is this some sort of stage trick?”
“Not from me,” I said, looking around the church. All the dark corners were now illuminated, shining with the eerie light. I could see the bloodstains glowing on the pews, looking almost black against the shining mahogany hue of the wood. The sigil of Lucifer shone with an intensity that dwarfed everything else in the church, however. It was so bright that I had to turn away.
The light it gave off was a dark red, and when I closed my eyes, I could still see that crimson symbol burned into my sight. As I looked out the side window, I saw that the light seemed to be coming from the forest at the edge of town, deep behind thick groves of evergreens and muddy swamps. It felt almost like looking into a second sun, and I quickly moved away from the window, my vision still swarming with bright dots and white light.
The strange slogan I had seen painted on the police station came into my mind: “We follow the Black Sun.” Was this what they meant?
“I want to go investigate,” I said. They looked at me as if I was crazy. “We can’t just stay here forever. Maybe we’re supposed to figure this place out, or stop what’s happening.”
“And who, may I ask, gave you this divine order? God?” Freddy asked, smiling. “No one is ‘supposed’ to do anything except survive. If you want to die…” He never got to finish, as the siren sound had started up again. I realized, as I listened intently to the shrill, deafening wail, that it appeared to be coming from the same place as this eerie light that flooded the town. It shook the floors and walls, and caused the upside-down statue of Jesus to start moving from side to side, swaying like a pendulum.
As soon as it had stopped, I heard crashing at the back door. It sounded as if dozens of people threw their bodies against the locked doors that led out the rear entrance, towards the graveyard. Yet no one tried to break down the front doors. Without thinking, I undid the front door’s deadbolt and ran outside, not looking back to see if they would follow me.
With the light flooding in, I could see much more of the town illuminated. Looking into the cop car, I realized it was not empty at all. The body of a police officer sat in the driver’s seat, lying sideways so his head rested on the center console. He had a single gunshot through his temple, and I saw the gun, still in his hand.
I opened the driver’ s side door, and a horrible odor of rotten eggs, rancid meat and feces hit me immediately. I held my breath, trying not to gag. I took the gun from his hand, and quickly undid his belt, pulling it off. I turned and saw Freddy and Betty behind me, pale and watchful, looking terrified as they continuously glanced back at the church.
“Hide,” I said quickly. I got on my belly and slid under the cop car, not looking back to see if they would follow my orders. If they didn’t, they would probably die.
As soon as I was underneath it, a gun in one hand and a heavy police belt with mace, a taser and extra ammo in the other, I saw bodies stream out the front door of the church. Many were no more than skeletons with some tendons and gore still clinging to the bones, yet they still were able to walk. They moved quickly, looking around with empty eye sockets and rotting faces.
Betty had, by this point, crawled underneath beside me. I turned and saw her, watching the corpses with wide, girlish eyes. I didn’t see where Freddy had gone.
The corpses emerging from the church split off in groups, going in different directions. After a few minutes, none remained on the street, at least from what I could see. Looking back and forth quickly, the pistol extended in my right hand, I slid out from under the police car. I took the weapons and ammo off the belt, giving Betty a taser and another canister of mace.
“Give the extra mace to Freddy,” I whispered. “Where is Freddy?” A half-smile crossed her face, and she pointed to the dumpster in an alley behind us. Quietly, I walked over and opened the lid, peering inside. I saw Freddy, maggots writhing in his hair, a banana peel stuck to his chest. The smell from inside the dumpster was bad, though not nearly as bad as the rotting corpse smell from the police car.
Freddy climbed out, grumbling and wiping himself off. Betty gave him the cop’s mace canister, and I started walking towards the source of the eerie, black light, hoping to find answers.
Though this happened three months ago, I still question my decision that day. For that was the moment when I sealed our fates. The moment I set my mind towards walking towards the Black Sun, I ensured we would see Hell itself.
Three months ago, my wife and I were on our way to visit my mother-in-law, living alone far up in the White Mountains. I had been driving for five hours, and my wife, Betty, started saying she needed to use the bathroom and that she was starving. My full bladder agreed with her on the first issue, though I also had tried to make good time and get there before nightfall, when the street signs would become harder to read. I had never been to Betty’s mother’s house before, or even the county it lay in.
I pulled over the car on the side of Main Street, looking down the center of the town. It had everything a small, rural American town usually had- quaint houses with blue siding, 24-hour diners, hardware stores and tobacco shops, liquor stores and restaurants. Majestic mountains rose all around us, and the town itself was so high that I could see for miles. The air smelt clean and sweet. Everything was here, except…
“No people,” my wife said, as if reading my mind. I looked over at her, frowning.
“Yeah, this is bizarre,” I said. “This place looks like it was hit by the Black Death. Where is everyone?” My wife unlocked her door and got out, pulling a cigarette from her purse and lighting it. She gave the pack to me, and I took one. My wife looked pale and thin under the late afternoon sun, her black hair and dark eyes contrasting heavily with her light, Irish skin. Lately, she seemed to have lost weight, but she wouldn’t talk about it. Every time I asked her if anything was wrong, she said no, and I could get no more response from her than that.
The fragrant Turkish tobacco of the Camel cigarette instantly woke me up. We didn’t smoke in the car, as it was brand-new and had cost me over $25,000 that I didn’t really have. The last thing I wanted was burn marks on the seats and ashes flying everywhere.
We walked slowly down the sidewalk, looking around, searching for the slightest signs of movement. I didn’t even see an animal, except for an occasional fly buzzing past on its way to eat garbage. I looked into the diner window, and saw plates set out on the tables. Mold grew wild on the food, strange patches of green and red and black sprouting filaments and making the dishes unrecognizable. Next to the plates, I saw cell phones and even car and house keys. All the screens on the phones looked black, as if they had been sitting there for months. A slight layer of grime and dust had settled over everything. The door stood wide open, a cheerful sign reading, “We’re open. Come in!” displayed on the front.
“That’s gotta be a code violation,” I said, pointing inside at the disgusting plates of mold and fungus. My wife laughed, but it sounded nervous and high-pitched, almost desperate in its cadence. “Listen, Betty, do you think we should… maybe, call the police or something?” She looked at me for a long moment, then sighed.
“I mean, I don’t know,” she said. “What crime has been committed? It’s just an empty town. Maybe everyone’s at a… funeral?” Her voice raised hopefully. I laughed.
“And they just abandoned their shops and restaurants with no workers and moldering food? And, by the way, there’s a cop car right there,” I said, pointing. It sat on four flat tires, covered in a thick coat of dust. The tires didn’t look damaged in any way. It seems they had just lost pressure over time without anyone to care for them.
Looking around at the other cars, I saw most were not in much better shape. Many of them had low or no air in their tires, and their windshields were covered in dirt and grime. It looked like a junkyard in the middle of a town- a junkyard that had been abandoned.
“I’m calling the cops,” I said, pulling out my phone. I opened the screen and, of course, found I had no service. I tried sending a text to my mother, explaining the situation and telling her to call the authorities if she received it and send help immediately. I gave her the name of the town and the time.
I figured the chances of a text going through were far better than a call, since a brief moment of service could prove sufficient to transfer the message.
“Yeah, I’m not calling the cops.” I shook my head. “We don’t have a shred of service out here. What kind of town doesn’t have service on its own Main Street?”
“We’re in the middle of the mountains,” Betty said. “Who the hell knows out here?” We kept walking down the street in silence. Betty went inside a few of the shops and tried flicking on the lights or looking for a phone. The electricity was apparently as dead as the town itself. I occasionally checked my phone, finding nothing had changed.
As we walked further along, I started to give up hope that help would be coming from outside. I finished my cigarette, and Betty lit another one and gave me the pack again. I sighed and took another Camel out of the pack, lighting it and inhaling deeply. It gave me something to do, at least, and it helped take my mind off the strangeness of this town.
Then we came up to the police station, and I choked on the smoke as I saw what lay there before us. At first, I thought some vandal had used red spray paint to put up a bizarre slogan across the front of the station. And then I saw all the flies, and smelled the copper and iron, and I realized it likely wasn’t paint at all.
“WE FOLLOW THE BLACK SUN,” it said in huge letters, each of them nearly six-feet tall and thickly painted across the windows and walls. My wife squinted at it, tilting her head in a girlish way, her black hair falling across her face. She took a long, thin hand and pushed it aside.
“The Black Sun?” she said. “Is that a metal band? It sounds like those Norwegian Satanists you like to listen to- what’s the name, Burzum and Darkthrone and stuff?” She started walking forwards, trying to inspect the letters more closely. I put my hand on her shoulder, and pulled her back with a little more force than I intended. She stumbled, and gave me a dirty look. “Jonny, be careful, dammit! You almost made me fall.”
“Sorry,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest, “but don’t get close to that. I’m fairly sure that’s… blood. And it might be a crime scene. You don’t want to touch it or trample the area if it is.” She looked at me, shocked, then glanced back at the letters, seeing the flies swarming around the coagulated, sticky mess.
“Animal blood?” she asked helpfully.
“Yeah, sure, I guess,” I said noncommittally. “OK, let’s go back to the car and get the hell out of here. I’ve seen enough. We need to get the cops here. Whatever is going on here, it’s way beyond anything we can deal with.” I turned around quickly, taking my wife’s hand. She pulled away.
“Don’t start getting all worked up,” she said. “We haven’t seen any indication of anything… crazy, not yet. All we know is the people are somewhere, not here, and that someone vandalized the police station. I want to keep exploring.” I looked at her, amazed. She pointed past me at an old-looking church built of stone, probably from the 1800s. It stood near the end of the small downtown area, next to thick clusters of evergreen trees. It had a plaque outside that I couldn’t make out. The doors stood wide open, and the darkness inside seemed to beckon.
For a moment, I almost agreed with Betty; I almost said that I, too, wanted to go inside that church. I think it was what the French call, “l’appel du vide”, or the call of the void- that urge to suddenly jump when standing at the edge of a cliff, or to see if a car can go 130 miles an hour on the highway when it’s snowing. Then I shook my head quickly, as if awakening from a short dream. I looked back at Betty and laughed. There was no humor in it, however.
“You must be crazy,” I said. “I want to get the hell out of here, now. There’s nothing to explore. Everyone’s gone, and if we keep going deeper into this, I have a feeling we’ll run into something far worse than anything we’ve yet seen.”
“OK, how about this?” she said, making a thoughtful face, putting her finger up to her chin. “Why don’t you see if the cop car is unlocked, jump it with our car, and use whatever they have in it to call for help? They probably have a walkie-talkie or something connected to the state police network. If you really think we need a SWAT team here, then that’s probably the quickest way.”
“No, let’s just leave,” I said, walking quickly back in the direction of our car. I saw the new Chevrolet Trailblazer off in the distance, contrasting heavily with the dirty and abandoned cars surrounding it. And then, as we got close, I saw it had four flat tires. I started running forwards, seeing the deep knife marks slicing open each of the sidewalls.
“What in the hell…?” I said, stopping in my tracks. I looked around the town, but still saw no trace of anyone. “Why? Why would someone do this?”
“To stop us from leaving, obviously,” my wife said, sounding unperturbed. “Look, we might be here for a while, so I’m going into that package store and grabbing a few things. Maybe some wine. And some cigarettes, because someone smoked most of mine.” She narrowed her eyes at me playfully.
“Do you even realize what’s happening right now?” I asked, my voice rising unconsciously in anger and frustration.
“No, do you?” she said.
“This isn’t a joke,” I said, feeling hot and anxious. “We’re trapped here, and there’s letters written in blood, and now someone slashed our tires. Do you still think we don’t need the police?” She smiled at me.
“You always worry too much,” she said. “Just calm down for once. Don’t have an anxiety attack on me. There’s no cell phone service to call for help if you do, remember.” That jogged something in my memory, and I looked questioningly at her.
“Do you have any weapons on you?” I asked. “I have…” I reached in my pockets, frowning. I pulled out a small Swiss army knife. Its red surface looked dull from age, and even I thought it looked small and pathetic in my hand. “...this.” She laughed.
“What are you going to do with that, kill a chipmunk?” she asked. “I mean, I think you can cut your nails with it, too, if you want to use a dull, crappy pair of scissors that barely cut paper.” She laughed at her own joke, then stopped when she saw the anger and fear on my face. Betty looked at me with a strange expression.
It was hard to perturb her. She had always been different from me. When I was stressed about money or work or anything else, she would laugh it off and say I was too serious. But this seemed to be stretching the boundaries. I felt in my heart we were in danger, and she didn’t seem to notice. “Look,” she continued, sighing, “let’s go get some more cigarettes and drinks and stuff, and then maybe we can take the car over to the police cruiser and jump it. Then we can call the cops, and AAA too, and just sit here and wait for the cavalry to arrive.” I sputtered.
“This is a brand new car!” I yelled. “I’m not driving it on the rims over there. That’s going to destroy the rotors and could damage some… other stuff.” I didn’t actually know anything about cars, and she knew it.
“No, I think it will be fine,” she said, smiling. “But I wouldn’t get my…” Her words were cut off by a siren that started up suddenly, deafening and shrill. It seemed to vibrate the air itself, and the dead town came to life in a cacophony of noise and vibration. I saw my wife’s lips moving as she tried to scream something, but I had no idea what it was. I covered my ears with my hands, which barely helped. And then, after about ten seconds, it stopped. My ears rang, a high-pitched whine like I had just walked into a flashbang. It went away slowly, and Betty’s voice came back to me, rising from nothingness in a crescendo, until I could make out her cadence and speech again.
“...into the siren,” she said, her face unusually serious and drawn. The sun had started to go behind the mountains now, sending long shadows streaking across the road. Soon, it would be dark, and we would likely be trapped here for the entire night- or longer. Hiking out of here was an option, and the highway was only about five miles away. These thoughts passed through my mind as I saw shadows fall over Betty, before I realized I had no idea what she said.
“What?” I yelled.
“I said,” she rolled her eyes at this point, “we should go towards the siren. They have electricity. They probably have a landline and maybe there’s people there,” she said, still speaking far too loudly. I guessed her ears were ringing as well.
“OK, you don’t have to yell,” I said. “I can hear you, and I don’t want to attract… the wrong kind of attention.” She pointed at the sliced tires of my car.
“We already have, Jonny,” she said seriously.
“Listen, I don’t like this,” I said. “I don’t want to be trapped in some nutjob’s basement a few hours from now, chained up against a wall and covered in blood, and think back on how I should have done something different. I think the safest plan is to leave this place now, right now. Let’s just grab some drinks and cigarettes and whatever from the store and hike back towards the highway on the main route. Maybe we’ll see someone on the walk, but we’ll definitely find help on the highway.” She thought about it for a fraction of a second then nodded.
“OK, whatever,” she said. “Let’s go.”
The plan worked at first. Betty ran into the package store while I kept watch outside, looking up and down the street for any signs of movement. I saw nothing, but from the slashed tires, I assumed we were being watched. Whoever “they” were, they knew when we were far enough away to vandalize the car.
A minute later, Betty came out with a plastic bag. I saw nine or ten cartons of cigarettes in it and some plastic nips of Jack Daniels. She also had Coca-Cola and some water.
“I thought you were grabbing a pack of cigarettes,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “Ten cartons? Why do we need ten cartons for a five-mile hike?”
“We don’t need them,” she said, “but, you know, they’re expensive down in Connecticut. Much cheaper in this town.”
“Yeah, I guess you can’t beat free,” I said, reaching into the bag and taking out a pack. We started walking out of town in silence. I didn’t even hear an animal stir. The regular buzz of the insects that chirped and squeaked throughout the White Mountains was missing here. It gave the town a supernatural eeriness, as if we had wandered into an apocalyptic wasteland where even the crickets had died. To break the monotony, I lit a cigarette. The flick of the lighter and the soft tread of our footsteps were the only sounds we could hear for miles.
As we got further down Main Street, the shops and houses started to thin out. Soon after we passed the church, both sides of the street had turned to forest, and only an occasional house or farm broke the endless trees. The downtown area couldn’t be more than a quarter-mile long, but this town and the surrounding forest felt like it went on forever.
“This is really spooky,” Betty said, shattering the silence. I was glad for a break, though I felt eyes on me as she spoke, as if we had somehow violated the sanctity of a graveyard with laughter.
“I have never experienced anything as weird as this,” I said, whispering and getting close to Betty. I noticed she also spoke in a quiet voice, and she constantly glanced behind and around. She smoked a lot of cigarettes, nervously lighting one after the other, and she drank three of the nips on the way, chasing them down with Coke. I took one myself and downed it. The burning liquid seemed to revive me somewhat and clear my head. I chugged some soda to get the taste out of my mouth.
Betty had opened her mouth to say something else, when the screaming erupted from all around us. The sun had long disappeared behind the mountains, and we were surrounded by thick curtains of darkness. I couldn’t see more than a few feet into the forest. Betty gripped my hand tightly.
“OK, now I am really freaked out,” she whispered into my ear. We had both stopped and stood, holding hands as shrieks echoed through the trees. The light breeze carried a smell that nearly made me gag- the smell of decay and blood. “Do you think it’s a fox or a fisher cat or something?” I shook my head silently, then leaned close to her.
“We’re going to run,” I said. “Back towards the town. It’s a lot closer. Ready?” She nodded grimly. “Go!” We started sprinting away, our footsteps bouncing off the pavement, far too loud. The screaming drew closer and something broke through the outer boundary of the woods. With twigs crunching and branches snapping, I saw a silhouette emerge into the road to my left. The smell of rotting flesh seemed overwhelming now.
I only saw her for a second, but I knew, in that moment, that she wasn’t human.
It looked like a woman, or at least, like the corpse of one. But she was clearly alive in some form, running and shrieking, sending out wails of pure agony and horror. The eyes snapped onto me. I met them for a brief moment. Even in the dim light of the Moon and the stars, I could see they were pure white, without pupils or irises. And yet, they seemed to see everything, even in the deepening shadows
Long, stringy black hair ran down over her face and down her back. Papery skin hung tightly to the skull, and the mouth hung wide open, inhumanly wide, like the tendons and ligaments holding the jaw to the skull had been cut. The huge black pit of her mouth emanated those screams constantly, as if she didn’t need to breathe.
On the body, parts of the skin were missing. I could see the gore and bones beneath, where the thin, fragile skin had broken. Purple and black sores shone from these spots. The long, skeletal hand of the woman ended up claw-like fingers, with the nails blackened and the bones sticking out at the end of each digit.
She ran fast, gaining on us. And she wasn’t alone. I could see dozens more bodies breaking through the tree line now, a deafening howling emanating from them as they ran. I was breathing hard by this point. I could see the first buildings of the town up ahead. We only had to make it another hundred paces, and then we could lock ourselves in and barricade the doors and windows.
I didn’t dare look back, but I heard the screaming just behind me. I felt a soft swipe across my back, the sharp, bony fingers dragging across the shirt for a brief moment. It gave me another adrenaline rush, and I pushed myself forward with all of my will, feeling my heart beating far too fast in my chest. I began to feel light-headed and see flashes of white light every time I blinked. I knew I would pass out if I had to go much farther. I hadn’t gone running in over ten years, probably since I was in high school. But I ran for my life just the same.
Betty was in better shape than me, and she had gained some ground. She glanced back as she sprinted down the middle of the dark street. I saw her point to the church. It stood just ahead, the doors already opened, as if waiting for us, as if it knew we would be back. She veered sharply to the right and I followed close behind, panting and sweating like a madman. The doors were so close now. The shrieking behind me had been joined by a few others. With the last of my strength, I began an all-out sprint, hoping I wouldn’t trip over something and go flying into a car. It would mean the end of me- of that, I was certain.
We ran through the doors into the church. I turned around, and saw the creatures had gone. Their screaming cut off as soon as we had entered, and now I saw no sign of them. It was as if they had vanished.
I shut the doors of the church just the same, turning a deadbolt to lock them. Betty had her phone out, turning on the flashlight app to help me see in the dark church. I would have to also check for auxiliary entrances, but it was a start, just the same. And then I turned, and I saw what Betty had already noticed- the desecration of this holy place.
The statue of Jesus on his cross had been broken off at the bottom of the beam, and now hung upside down from a rope that extended to the high ceiling, dozens of feet above our heads. His face had been slashed and cut, his nose and eyes now missing, and on the front of his chest, I saw a strange symbol carved deeply into the wood with what looked like blood.
The sigil looked like an upside-down triangle within a larger upside-down triangle, and had lines curving out of the sides of the bottom. Connected to the lines of the larger triangle, at the bottom, I saw a line curving like a J, and on the other side, another line curved like a backwards J. The lines extended outwards, curving over a V. Around the sigil sat a thick, black circle. It definitely seemed magical, like something from a medieval textbook on witchcraft.
“That’s the sigil of Lucifer,” my wife said quietly.
“How do you know that?” I asked, and she shrugged.
“I read a couple books on black magic when I was a teen,” she said. “That one stuck with me for some reason. That symbol- it’s eerie. I never forgot it.” I looked over at the font at the front of the church. Instead of holy water, I saw it was filled with blood.
“I guess no one’s crossing themselves in here today,” I said, trying to break the harsh terror that threatened to overwhelm us.
Then, as Betty moved her light around, I realized we weren’t alone in here. People sat in the pews, their heads bowed, silently praying. Dozens of people were in here with us, yet they made no noise, and no one turned their heads to look at us or say anything. An icy chill ran down my spine. I turned to Betty and pointed at the people.
“Yeah, I see them,” she whispered, and began to creep slowly forward. I took out my phone and turned on my light as well, moving silently a few feet behind her. I shone the light at the first pew of people and gasped.
They all had their throats cut. A waterfall of thick, coagulated blood stained the front of their bodies. The smell hit me at once- an overwhelming odor of rotting meat and iron. I gagged, turning to retch. Betty pulled me towards the back of the church. I searched for any other entrances, locking the ancient deadbolts on the doors. We ended up going to the rectory in the back, sitting on the priest’s couch. There were no bodies in here, and no smell but the musty scent of an old building and books.
“Well,” Betty said, turning to me, barely concealing the terror in her eyes, “it looks like we found the townspeople. Some of them, anyways.”
I said nothing, but instead put my phone down and sat in the darkness with her, putting my arm around her while she cried.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked him, stepping back and slowly flicking the safety off my shotgun with my pointer finger. “And where’s Stacey?” Roger laughed.
“Your wife is somewhere safe, I can assure you,” he said, his face a mask of insanity and evil. “She is being transformed. She is becoming. Something more than human, greater than humanity ever imagined. With my help, she will live forever. Would you like to join her?”
“I’d rather die,” I said, raising my shotgun and pointing it at his head. He smiled.
“If you kill me, your wife will die, I assure you,” Roger said, pushing his blonde hair to the side. “She will die slowly, probably starving. She is in a place no one will ever find her. Only I know where she is being held. But, it is your choice. Do we not all have free will?” The creatures around him stood as still as statues, each of their blood-red eyes focused directly on me. If I hadn’t seen them move earlier, I might have thought they were simply grotesque Halloween decorations. They didn’t even seem to breathe. And then I realized, perhaps they didn’t.
“What are these things?” I said, pointing to the blackened, emaciated bodies that surrounded him. “Some sort of black magic?” He shrugged.
“Black magic is just a word, my friend,” he said. “There is no such thing as white or black magic. There is only power, and those with the will to change the world. As a great man once said, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.’” I shook my head.
“I have no idea what that means,” I said.
“‘Do what thou wilt,’” he said, his eyes blazing with intensity now. “Do what you will. When God created the universe, in His infinite energy and power, he willed it to be. In the space of a moment, it came out of the void. I, too, have a will. We are made in His image, after all. And my will has been honed and intensified until, soon, I will approach the power of the angels, and one day, even of God himself.”
“So what’s your actual plan here?” I asked. “You want to create a race of monsters that goes around killing anyone they want at random? You want to kidnap innocent people and subject them to God knows what kind of horrors? All because of your will?”
“Yes, exactly!” he said, his voice raising in excitement, a fanatical gleam shining in his eyes. “And I make myself the ruler of all, starting with this infinitesimal state, and moving onto the country and, eventually, the world. Can you imagine what we could accomplish without nationalism separating people into competing groups, without countries constantly fighting over resources? What if we had a leader with a true vision, one who could unify everyone and help to push humanity towards the next stage of its evolution, perhaps even towards colonizing the rest of the galaxy? But it all starts here, with you and me. So I’ll ask you- would you join me?” I looked over at Dean, who stood close to me, looking pale and terrified. His eyes flicked from Roger to me, as if he were watching a sports game rather than an insane spectacle of death and black magic.
“I’d rather die,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest, my mouth going dry. Roger’s face turned into a mask of fury as he screamed for his minions to attack. I fired the shotgun, but they swarmed in front of him, and the slug hit one of the burnt abominations in the chest instead. I swore, turning to run into the cabin.
“Dean, let’s go!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I looked back and saw him standing there, shell-shocked and vacant-looking. “Dean!” I said again, and his head snapped towards me. He began sprinting as the creatures closed in around him. I had already reached the cabin door and waited for him, breathing fast. I raised the shotgun and shot one of the creatures only a few feet behind Dean. The slug broke through its leg, sending splinters of bone and blue blood spurting into the earth below.
Roger screamed in rage behind us, an incomprehensible roar of fury and madness. As if on queue, the creatures started screaming too- a shrill, maddening sound like someone being burned alive. They didn’t seem to need to breathe, and the screaming went on for an inhuman length of time.
I pulled Dean into the cabin quickly, slamming the door shut. A blood-stained padlock hung from a nail on the left side of the door. Looking quickly down, I saw a metal ring connecting the door to the wall. I pushed all my body weight against the door and took the open padlock in my hands, feeling the cold metal and the sticky, congealed blood. A sense of revulsion and horror overtook me, but I brushed it aside.
With fumbling fingers, I slipped the padlock’s shackle through the door’s ring, but at that moment, a creature smashed into the other side, sending me sprawling on the ground. My shotgun went flying, sliding across the rough planks of the blood-stained floor and stopping beneath the crucified body of the cop. His intestines swayed back and forth from the force of the gun. The door flew open, and I saw the leering faces and the red, bloody eyes of the abominations as they stared in, dripping long strands of saliva onto the dirt below.
“Kill them all,” Roger shrieked in an insane voice, and the creatures rushed in. Dean began shooting, and I pulled out both my pistols, pressing the thumb levers on the holsters and releasing them. I started shooting madly, and their screams turned from fury to pain as they fell on the floor, their blue blood mixing with the red, coagulated stains below them.
Within seconds, we had blocked the door with bodies. The cabin was small, barely even a room, though the wood was strong and fairly new, totally free from rot or holes. The only way in and out was through the door. With the narrow doorway blocked by a dozen blackened corpses, the rest of the creatures behind them tried to push through but made no progress. One tried climbing over the pile of corpses, and I shot it in the head as soon as it peaked through. The rest didn’t follow his example. I heard their high-pitched whines and screams outside, and Roger’s much deeper one bellowing orders.
“Get some dry leaves, twigs and logs!” he said. “If they won’t come out, we’ll burn them out. No witnesses. No loose ends.” He said this last part as if to himself, his voice slowing down and becoming reflective, almost meditative in its quality. I turned to Dean, terrified and exasperated. His face reflected the emotions I felt. I regretted ever coming out here. We would most likely die, and my wife would be left in the hands of that psychopath outside, unless the police made some sort of unlikely break in the case and found her.
“Well, Dean,” I said slowly and sadly, “I think this is the end. Unless you have any plans. I sure don’t. I guess we could start moving the corpses and try to fight our way out- that’s probably what we’ll have to do.” Dean shrugged, his movements apathetic. He looked as if he also had given up hope. And then a miracle occurred.
I heard a voice I had not heard in what seemed like eternity. It was the voice I had heard through my walkie-talkies, the one talking about dead stars. What had he said to me?
As if in a flash, my subconscious repeated the strange words I had heard. I remembered, as if I were there- as if I had gone back in time and stood in the woods, calling for help with a mutilated corpse walking up behind me.
“Get out of there and never come back. That cabin is for the sinners, those who worship the dead stars, those who have offered their lives to the ancient ones.” The ancient ones, yes, that is what he, or it, had said. That stuck with me for some reason. I thought of Roger, and his bizarre ideas on will. It reminded me of NIetzsche, or Hitler. Hadn’t they made a movie about him called “The Triumph of the Will”? Roger clearly had an obsession with the power of the will. In fact, I thought perhaps his obsession had come from black magic and Aleister Crowley, but I couldn’t be sure. These thoughts all flashed through my head in a fraction of a second, and I thought, for a moment, I understood something ineffable- some way out of this madness. But then it was gone, and I was just a scared man, sitting in a blood-soaked cabin, listening to an otherworldly voice.
“You and your cult have trespassed on holy ground,” the voice said, booming and God-like. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, from all around me and even inside the cabin itself. It shook the ground and sent the crucified body of the police officer swaying again, his disemboweled intestines slowly moving from side to side. “You have committed horrors and disrupted the peace of the dead. You and your creatures are doomed.”
“You have no power over me!” Roger said, his voice seeming faint and almost child-like in comparison to the voice of the other. “Come out here and try it! Don’t hide. Let’s see your true form.” The voice laughed. Dean began moving some of the corpses, trying to look out the door. I got up and went to his side. I saw the creatures surrounding the cabin had gone. They stood in a circle around Roger. His white face was the only color, a contrast to the blackened bodies of his minions, and the jet-black robes that he wore. He looked like a dead star in infinite space, his skin lifeless and pale.
“The ancient ones use you as a puppet,” the voice said. I peered around, and saw Dean doing the same, but I could find no source for it. “I, too, have an army. But mine are not drawn from the dead, or the despicable art of necromancy. I use the forest, and its many secrets. And who do you think is the stronger- the dead, or those with a connection to the living and breathing holy ground of this place?” Roger’s eyes widened as hundreds of animals came out of the woods, a stampede of fur and feathers. I saw bears rushing in the front on all fours, approaching the emaciated, blackened victims of Roger and standing on their back legs, roaring and clawing. They swiped at their chests and faces, leaving deep gouges before lunging for their throats, and with a quick side to side motion, ripping the heads clean off.
Roger turned and began to run, his remaining minions following suit. The animals chased after them, and within a minute, everything had started to go silent again. We kept pulling bodies out of the doorway, and by the time we got outside, no one was left- except for some of the corpses of the monsters.
We made it back to the cabin in record time, moving quickly with guns drawn. I saw police cars and FBI agents everywhere, and they started moving into the woods with searchlights and dogs. Antonio Brown was back, bandaged up and looking haggard and pale, but otherwise OK. He came up to me and Dean.
“We know it was Roger. We’re looking for him now,” he said. “The FBI and state police just searched all known properties associated with him. We found the blood of your wife, Cal. I’m sorry. We didn’t find a body, but it’s a lot of blood. Too much for someone to lose and survive.” His words stunned me into silence. I had held onto the glimmer of hope that Stacey was alive, that we would just need to capture Roger and then we could find out where she was held prisoner. I started shaking and almost collapsed, but Dean caught me. He pulled me over to a bench and sat me down.
“Take a minute,” he said. “Just breathe.” I sat there for what seemed like hours, watching the police and FBI agents pass by, going into and out of the woods. After a few hours, a team came back. Antonio was outside, talking to the police chief of the town. The team went up to him.
“We found the body of Roger Grey,” the police officer in charge said. “It looks like an animal attack. There were all sorts of blackened corpses around him, we don’t really know what they are. It looks like he dug them out of a graveyard and burned them, for some reason. The whole scene is… well, it’s bizarre. We don’t know what to make of it. There were no animals around when we went, but the tracks look like hundreds of bears, deer, owls, crows and others passed right through there and attacked him.” He shook his head. “I swear, this job gets weirder and weirder every day.”
I went home that night. Everywhere I looked, I saw traces of Stacey- in the bedsheets she had chosen, the pictures she hung on the wall, even the dishes she had washed a couple days ago, which seemed like years ago now. Little did I know, but I would see her again.
My insomnia got worse after that night with Roger and the strange voice in the woods. I had always had trouble sleeping, but now I didn’t sleep at all. I would sit up, night after night, drinking scotch and watching the 24-hour news channel, or just there and stare out the window. And then, after a week, I saw something strange.
It was Stacey, my wife. I would’ve recognized her anywhere. But at the same time, it wasn’t her. She had the same eyes, yes, the same hair, even the same clothes as the last time I had seen her. But now, she was covered in blood, and dragged one leg behind her, weeping and gnashing her teeth. I saw her lunge down and grab a raccoon from next to the garbage, biting its neck as it squealed and thrashed in her arms. After a few seconds, its thrashing died down, and then stopped. She sucked the blood into her open mouth, her eyes shutting in pleasure, then she dropped it, turned to me and smiled.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I ran outside, but by the time I got there, she was gone.
Only a dead racoon with its neck broken remained at my feet.
I took a leave of absence from work and began to search the woods. It was the only place I could think of, the forest where all this strangeness had begun. My intuition guided me, and my heart told me that if I was going to find Stacey, or what was left of her, it would be in that forest.
I would return home every night, disconsolate and broken-hearted. After a month of this, I returned home and turned on the news, pouring myself a shot of whiskey and sitting back in my recliner.
“...the corpses were found in a campsite next to Windermere Lake, within the Temple National Park,” the broadcaster said, and I sat straight up in my chair. That was where I worked. I knew exactly where Windermere Lake was- hadn’t I hiked it every day? The lake itself was only three miles from the cabin where this had all started, that cabin of horrors and blood.
“They apparently had their throats mutilated and the blood drained from their bodies,” the broadcaster continued. “Authorities are tight-lipped on the mutilations and murders, but one officer told our reporter that eight people are now dead or missing. The governor has responded, saying that they will close down the park if…” I turned the TV off, getting up and going into my bedroom. I got dressed and put on my hiking shoes.
After all, I now knew the reanimated corpse of my dead wife roamed the forest, attacking and killing innocent people. Roger was dead, but there was more work to do.
I saw my wife’s smiling face in my mind, and I remembered the way she smelled, like perfume and flowers. I quickly blinked back tears and grabbed my shotgun, strapping a pistol to my waist.
No matter how long it took, I would bring her down, and hopefully free the forest of this evil. It’s been three years now, and still, I haven’t had success. To this day, I still go out at night, roaming the trails. I’ve found bodies skinned alive with limbs twisted around tree branches, and campers with their faces eaten off, leaving just a mask of gore and bone behind. I’ll never know if they’re all from Stacey, or if something else lives there, but I have a mission, and I’m determined to fulfill it.
I know my wife’s soul has moved on, and that something else has taken over Stacey’s body. Whatever shell remains is just an extension of Roger’s Satanic magic, his necromancy and evil. And I won’t stop hunting until I know she is at peace.
As the sun set, I saw the first silhouettes across the field. My grandfather sat, smoking and reading, on the rocking chair in the back of the house. I ran to him, scared and uncertain.
“There’s people coming, grandpa,” I said. He flicked his cigarette on the ashtray, put down his book, and looked straight into my eyes.
“Where? Who?” he asked, his clear blue eyes searching my face.
“I don’t know, but there’s dozens of them, I think,” I said. “I couldn’t see their faces or anything. They just looked like shadows moving across the field.” He stood up quickly, knocking the ashtray off the small table to his right. Cigarette butts went flying all over the floor, and a cloud of ashes got swept up by the wind.
“Where’s grandma?” he asked, his face growing grave. A crease appeared across his forehead, and he looked around quickly.
“I don’t know, but they’re coming fast,” I said. He began limping inside the house, his bad leg slowing him down. He looked out the front window and gasped. Quietly, I came up behind him and stared out at the field, covered in deep orange and red hues from the sun, covered up by clouds as day rolled into night.
“We need to find grandma, right now!” my grandfather said. He went to the kitchen and unlocked the safe, taking out his .223 rifle, which he mostly used to kill coyotes and foxes who hunted his chickens or attacked the baby pigs out in the barn.
“I don’t get what it is…” I said, staring out the window. It seemed like hundreds of black spots now approached, spread out over the field. The ones closest, I saw, were not human at all.
They walked on their hands and feet, with shining black skin stretched thinly over their bones and joints. Silver tendrils of saliva rolled down from their mouths, and every time one of them got too close to another, they would begin to snap and hiss, their sharp, serrated teeth flashing with every bite.
Their eyes had the strange look of a goat’s eyes, with rectangular pupils. Placed on each side of their face, it looked like a small island of light in the darkness of space. The rest of their naked bodies seemed to suck in the light, causing a slight shimmering on their reptilian skins.
“Oh God, they’re back,” my grandfather said. “Last time they came, they killed off half the town.”
“Where’s grandma?” I asked, a current of anxiety running through my body now. My grandpa shook his head.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “When’s the last time you saw her?”
“She was weeding in the garden and then said… it would be dark soon and she should start putting the tools away,” I said, suddenly remembering. “She’s probably out in the shed right now!” My grandfather grabbed the gun and ran out the door- at least, as much as he could run. It ended up being more of a fast, limping walk.
By this point, the first of the creatures had nearly reached the front of the house. We went out the back door, looking towards the shed. I saw the light on inside and the door wide open.
“Grandma!” I screamed. My grandfather jumped, then put his free hand over my mouth, holding the gun loosely in the other.
“You idiot!” he hissed. “Don’t draw them near! Keep quiet! Do you want to die?” But it was too late. I heard growling and snapping from the front of the house, and the smashing of windows and doors. Then, on all fours, a few of the abominations came running around the side of the old farmhouse, attracted by my screaming. They hopped in a strange way, their abnormally long and thin arms going between their bodies as their legs pushed them forwards in constant jumping motions. They moved fast now, much faster than me, and in the growing darkness, they seemed little more than a blur.
My grandfather grabbed my hand and we ran towards the shed, slamming the door behind us. I looked back in the corner and saw my grandmother, totally oblivious to everything going on, sorting through tools and small seed containers.
“Ah, we need more basil and rosemary,” she said to herself. “Never have enough seeds, it seems.” She looked back at us, smiling. “Have you come to help? I’m sorry to say, I’m nearly done.”
“No!” my grandfather said, raising his gun for emphasis. “We’re being attacked. You need to stay with us. Remember what killed the Kellers, and the Cavendish family and their dogs and cats and cattle?” My grandmother’s face went pale, and I thought she might pass out for a moment. She grabbed her chest, breathing hard.
“But… that was thirty years ago,” she said. “How could they be back?” My grandfather just shook his head.
“They’re here,” he said. As if on cue, someone started smashing on the locked door of the shed. Then another pair of hands joined in, and another. It sounded like a riot had broken out on the other side of the wall.
My grandfather raised the gun, as if to start shooting through the door. Then he checked his pocket and frowned.
“Dammit, should’ve grabbed more ammo,” he said, rifling through a few bullets in his overalls. He looked like he had grabbed a couple dozen from the safe, though even with perfect aim, that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the crowd of beasts I had seen.
“Go out the back door,” my grandmother said. “We’ll go escape to the woods. We can come out at the Jefferson house if we take the dirt trail.”
“Fine, fine,” my grandfather said, pushing me forwards and grabbing my grandmother’s hand. He looked out the side door of the shed. The beasts still pounded on the front door, and I heard the wood begin to splinter and give way.
“Coast is clear,” he said quickly, and we ran out through the field and towards the woods. Behind us, I heard the door fall, the last rotten beams shattering as the black creatures moved inside.
“What if they’re already at the Jefferson’s place?” I asked my grandfather in a low tone. We ran through the corn plants, though my grandmother and grandfather couldn’t move very fast. I could hear the creatures howling with rage and sniffing the air from the shed behind us.
“Then we deal with it,” my grandfather whispered. I heard the first heavy booming steps as the creatures gave chase, running over the corn plants and knocking them down with a wispy echoing sound.
By the time we got into the forest, the creatures had circled us. Some had run ahead, and some followed close behind, but they kept a distance of ten feet, as if simply watching and stalking. My grandfather stopped and raised his gun. With a deafening boom, he shot at the first silhouette he saw on the trail. The bullet went high, and with a deep growl, the creature disappeared into the brush.
My grandfather motioned us forward, and we walked down the trail, close together in a group. Any time he saw the slightest movement, he would shoot in that direction. One of the creatures seemed to have been hit, and on the trail, I saw black blood shining under the moonlight. Drops disappeared into ferns and prickers that surrounded the trail, and for a moment, I thought I saw eyes gleaming through the brush. Then they were gone. My grandmother reached out for my hand.
“It’s going to be OK,” she said reassuringly, patting me. “We’ve survived this before. We’ll make it this time.” My grandfather shook his head, but he said nothing.
As we got to the Jefferson’s house, I saw lights shining in every window. Hope soared in me, until I saw the bodies strewn across the porch.
The mother had her head ripped off. I saw a body with a blood-stained dress, the neck a mess of gore and bones. Looking up, I saw the head staged neatly on a metal fence post, the spike driving into the throat. Her eyes looked blank, her expression a mask of horror. The mouth stood slightly open, and the lips looked blue.
The rest of the family lay around her, disemboweled, their eyes ripped out, the soft flesh eaten off of their faces. My grandmother pulled me to the side, looking over at my grandfather. Then she began laughing.
He turned to her, confused.
“My pets, my pets,” she said in an insane voice. “They’re here for you, though they take whatever they want. Hungry work, you know.”
“What?” my grandfather asked, a certainty and bitterness crossing his eyes as he stared at his wife with distrust.
“I know you were sleeping with Mrs. Keller,” my grandmother said, her eyes turning dark and her features savage. She grinned, showing all her teeth. My grandfather stepped back, muttering excuses and saying how it wasn’t true.
“You killed them?” he asked. “And you did all this?”
“I did what I had to, to protect me and my grandson from monsters like you,” she said. And with a nod of her head, the creatures came out of the woods, grabbing my grandfather and dragging him away. He shot his gun, emptying the clip and blowing apart the heads of three or four. But a dozen more followed from behind, hissing and biting at the air.
I heard his screams and the breaking of his bones as they savaged him, biting and stomping on him, ripping at his throat and face. Soon, he disappeared into the darkness, and the last gurgling scream echoed back to us. My grandmother turned to me, her normal placid, friendly expression back on her face.
“Well,” she said, “that was quite a day. How about we go home and have some ice cream? I could really go for some ice cream.” And so we turned around and left, and I never asked her about any of it.
My grandmother recently died, and I found a book in the attic while cleaning out the farm house. It looked like it had a cover made of human skin, and in the middle it said, in blood-red letters, “Summoning Spells and Necromancy.”
I awoke to a cry from downstairs. Half-naked, I jumped out of bed, nearly tripping on the throw rug laid out on the floor. On my nightstand, a huge bong, about four-feet-tall, stood next to a Bowie knife. I always kept the knife next to my bed, especially after reading too many true crime books about Richard Ramirez and the Original Night Stalker, people who would come into your house and slit your throat for no reason.
“Mom?” I screamed. “Are you alright? What’s going on?” No answer. I pushed the bong aside and grabbed the knife. It felt perfectly weighted in my hand, the carbon steel shining in the sunlight coming in from the window. “Mom? I’m coming down!” I called, realizing how stupid it seemed to give away my position and intentions immediately after I did it.
“But wait, if there is an intruder down there, perhaps I could fake him out,” I thought to myself. I paused, my heart racing, thinking hard.
I used to sneak out the window all the time as a teenager, to meet with pretty girls by the lake or drink cheap beer and smoke weed around bonfires in the middle of the night with my friends. The fall to the bottom, I knew, wasn’t too bad, being only the second-story. If I hung down from the window ledge from my arms and dropped into the soft earth below, like I had done a hundred times before, I should be fine. And I might gain an advantage on a potential intruder.
These thoughts all passed through my mind in a fraction of a second. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs now. I opened the window, threw the knife down on the light brown soil below, and began to slowly push my legs and lower body out the window. I had to put all the pressure on my stomach and chest as I shimmied, a thin bar of wood and metal biting into my skin and bones. It was certainly uncomfortable, but…
“Not nearly as uncomfortable as getting stabbed to death,” I whispered to myself. My head was still in the room when the door flew open. I saw a man in a plague doctor mask standing there, covered in blood from head to foot. The mask’s surface imitated the flesh of a bird, wrinkled and plucked, an off-white with furrowed skin. It had a sharp beak, just like a bird, a beak where plague doctors used to stuff herbs and medicines to “keep the bad air away” when the Black Death had swept across Europe, killing over 50% of people in some areas. The medical professionals of the time had believed, quite wrongly, that the bubonic plague was spread through poisonous air and bad smells, rather than the fleas carried to other continents on rats from ships in Asia.
Besides the mask, the man wore a black hoodie with black pants and black, steel-toe work shoes. He had the hood pulled up, and with the black leather gloves on his hands, the only visible part of his body was his eyes- reptilian and cold, never-blinking.
He didn’t say a word or make a sound. The man’s dark eyes stared through the holes, and I felt a surge like electricity run through my body as we examined each other for a moment. The world seemed to stop spinning, and everything went away except for me- and him.
I don’t know what a mystical experience feels like, or a psychotic breakdown for that matter, but in that moment, something happened. As if looking down from above, like God examining the endless stars and planets, I saw my whole life leading up to this moment, every good and bad decision I had ever made. I saw the people around me, happy or depressed or angry as my choices emanated outwards, like ripples in a pond. And I saw myself, dead at 24, my body mutilated and torn, and then I saw a closed-casket funeral, awkward and hot in a stuffy church, before everyone I knew and loved followed it out to put me in the ground. And then, who would remember me? Perhaps my friends and family, on long drunken nights, might nostalgically say, “Remember when James did this,” or, “It’s so sad about what happened to James,” but mostly, they would go on with their lives, and it would be like I never existed.
Then, in a flash, it was over. I was back, just another man terrified for his life, hanging desperately from a window, his face still above the ledge. And the other person here, he, too, seemed just a man again, not the monster I had created in my mind.
But as he pulled the bloody ax from behind his back, held in one hand, he finally spoke.
“They will be my slaves in Heaven,” he said in a whisper, his eyes widening behind the mask and showing off the yellowed whites. “The dead, they serve me, forever and ever, and I will be God. There are many rooms in the mansion, and I will fill every one with the corpses of my slaves.” He ran forward, breathing hard now, and raised the ax above his head.
I let go as quickly as I could, but his sudden change from silence and stillness to maniacal energy had surprised me. My left hand still held the window sill when the ax came down, and within a moment, I felt my pinky and index fingers chopped off at a 45 degree angle.
I dropped, blood dripping down from the window sill. The pain didn’t come right away. As I fell, I wondered over and over, “Where’s the pain? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he missed. Maybe…”
And then suddenly, like a wave of fire, it came over me. I hit the ground, rolling around and grabbing at my spurting hand. Trying not to cry, to keep my vision clear, trying to focus on survival, I took one deep breath after another, just like I did when I was hiking up a steep mountain and my heart felt like it might burst. I slowly raised myself to a sitting position, and realized I had to move- now, right now.
With shaking legs, I got up, trembling and nearly retching on the way. I grabbed the knife off the ground quickly, tucking it under my right arm. Then I held my left hand cradled in my right, the blood seeping out between my fingers and staining my pants and shoes. I felt light-headed, and as more and more of my body’s fluids seeped out through my amputated fingers, I knew the risk of collapse was real.
“My servants in Hell!” the madman cried from within the house, shrieking at the top of his lungs. It sounded like he was coming down the stairs, or maybe already even in the kitchen. “They will be with me under the burning sun, on the sands which scorch and scar the disbelievers. When the demons and the angels look at me, at what I will become with more and more people transformed, in death, into my slaves, they will see not an equal- but a God.”
I had nearly reached the woods now. It quickly descended into thick brush, prickers and ferns surrounded by evergreens, oaks and maples. As the front door slammed, I leapt forward as fast as I could, ducking and rolling under the thickest pile of ferns I could find. Then I lifted one leaf up, peering out towards the house. I felt spiders crawling on me and mosquitoes biting me, as well as incessant gnats that flew in my eyes and mouth. I saw the man exiting the kitchen door and looking around.
I needed a plan. I had left my phone up in the bedroom, charging against the far wall. If I had grabbed it as soon as I heard the scream, instead of the knife, I could be calling 911 right now. For all I knew, my mother was dying on the floor at this very moment.
“No, she’s already dead,” my mind whispered to me, and I brushed it aside. I had to have hope, but that seemed a commodity in short supply.
A spider fell right next to my head, still holding onto a strand of silk that connected it to the fern. A fat, brown spider with ugly hairs on its legs. I jumped and nearly made a sound, brushing it away as fast as I could. Even in a life-or-death situation, instinct still kicked in.
By the time I looked back, the man had disappeared. I don’t know where he went. And that got my anxiety going. I looked back over my shoulder, expecting to see an ax or a knife coming down. Yet nothing there that way too. Odd.
At this point, I had no idea what to do. Part of me wanted to run as fast as I could deep into the woods. I knew these woods better than anyone, having loved hiking since I was a boy, and I weighed almost nothing, being six feet tall and only 160 pounds. I could outhike or outrun any of my friends, and any time we went up mountains, I would be far off in the front, not even tired while the rest of them cried for a break. I considered these points, and thought of the man, trying to make a mental image of his body through all the coverings. He looked slightly overweight, if I had to guess, and I doubted he would be as fast or agile as myself.
The other part of me argued that I should stay there, hiding. He almost certainly hadn’t seen me, and if I ran out, he could be anywhere. He might also have a gun, and then no matter how fast I ran, it might not matter. My mind kept considering the points over and over, until I realized that indecision was a decision in itself. If I stayed here thinking about it, then I would be, in essence, just choosing to hide.
I guess I had a third option, to fight with the knife. I didn’t consider this an option at all, and in reality, only brought the knife as a last resort. A madman with an ax, and maybe a gun, and maybe even accomplices for all I knew, would easily take out a skinny kid with a knife in a one-to-one fight. I knew nothing about knife-fighting, or killing people, or even self-defense, for that matter.
“Choose now,” I whispered to myself. “Choose now. Choose now…” I got up and ran deeper into the forest, not giving myself time to second-guess my decision. I heard indecipherable yelling behind me as I broke twigs and ran through the brush, making noise. A gunshot went off, and the branch of the tree to my left exploded in a shower of splinters and leaves. Running as fast as I could and zigzagging, still holding my bleeding hand against my chest, feeling light-headed but also strangely energetic and alive, I left the maniac far behind in minutes. He tried shooting a couple more times, but his shots hit trees far away from me, and I felt I had escaped.
After a while, I stopped for a rest. I had sprinted at least a mile by this point, gone off the trail and scrabbled up rocks and changed direction multiple times. I still had a general sense of where I stood in the forest. I knew if I continued north, I’d find a six-lane highway cutting across the rural town. And so I headed north, hoping to find someone who might help a guy who just had his fingers cut off by a madman.
After what felt like days to my exhausted and frightened mind, I heard the roar of traffic echoing through the trees. The deceleration and acceleration of trucks and large vehicles as they passed on the highway gave the roaring echoes a cyclical sound, and it calmed my heart immensely as I imagined the help that waited not far away.
But I hadn’t hiked as quickly as I had thought, apparently. For as I reached the treeline, the man in the plague doctor mask came running from behind me, his gun raised, the bloody ax apparently left behind in his maniacal pursuit.
“You will never escape from me!” he shouted, pulling the trigger and hitting me in the back of the thigh. I screamed, coming out from the trees and limping slowly into the road. A car in the slow lane swerved crazily around me, and the next one put on its hazards and pulled slowly forward. I ran as fast as I could to the passenger’s side door, which was locked. I knocked on it over and over, and the woman inside reluctantly unlocked it and opened the door. I jumped in, bleeding all over her seat and crying. I looked over at her quickly, realizing she was attractive and in her 30s with green eyes and light hair. I wondered how I looked to her in that moment.
“Drive, drive! For God’s sake, get me out of here! He’s going to kill us!” I screamed. Her eyes went wide, and her mouth went slack. I thought, for a moment, I was dealing with a dullard, and I cursed my luck. Then she shut her mouth. As the man in the plague doctor mask ran out of the forest, as my leg spurted blood and my heart beat ever faster from the blood loss I had suffered, she hit the accelerator.
The car that had swerved to avoid me had put on its hazards and started to pull over. The driver looked like he was trying to call someone, hopefully the police. Then I looked at the woman.
“Call the police!” I said quickly. “Call 911! Do you have a phone? Is it charged? We need help immediately, and I need medical attention.”
“Why?” she asked. “What is this about?”
“The Temple-Body Killer, I think that’s what he calls himself when he writes those crazy letters to the newspapers,” I said. “I don’t really watch the news, but I heard people talking about him at work. Anyway… He came into my house, chopped off my fingers-” I raised my left hand for emphasis, “and shot me, and he has a gun, and he’s looking for me right now. So you better get the hell out of here as fast as you can, unless you want to meet him yourself.” As if on cue, I saw the madman run to the car with its hazards on in the breakdown lane. The woman driving in my car pulled out her phone and frowned.
“No service, sorry,” she said. “This is a dead zone. Usually in another five or six miles I get service, but down here where the states meet and there’s no real towns for miles, they never built any cell towers.” I sighed. I felt like my luck today was abysmal.
The Temple-Body Killer pulled out his gun and tapped the window of the stopped car. As soon as the man on his phone looked up, the madman shot the driver of the car in the face, a man who was likely trying to get service, to report that I had run in the highway and he had nearly hit me with his car. Another good samaritan, taken out by a lunatic under the bright light of a sunny and beautiful day. I saw the masked man drag the body out of the car and hop in the driver’s seat, reloading his spent casings as he sat there and looked around.
Then he saw me, turned around in the passenger seat and looking back, and our eyes met for a second.
“Dammit,” I said. “I think he just saw me. He has a car. This is not good…” The next second, he peeled out, running over the man’s body as he pulled away. Cars coming down the highway honked and swerved as the madman and killer pushed his car’s accelerator to the max. I heard the screaming of its engine as he began to gain.
“We need to go faster,” I said. “Can this thing go faster? He’s gaining on us and he has a gun. He might shoot out your tires or something. He might shoot you, or me. I don’t know. He’s insane. Totally insane.” I rambled. “We need to get away. I only have a knife. I don’t know what we can possibly do… against a madman with a gun.” The woman smiled over at me, cryptically. It seemed out of character.
“I have a gun,” she said, reaching under her seat and pulling out a huge pistol. She passed it to me. “Do you know how to shoot?”
“This end faces forwards, I think,” I said sarcastically, laughing. “Is this a 45?” She nodded. “Big damned gun. ACP, I think. This could do some real damage.”
“Well,” she said, “if you’re going to buy a gun for self-protection, you might as well get something worth the money. Good stopping power in a 45. I’ve only ever used it on the range. I don’t believe in hunting or anything.” At that moment, a gunshot ripped through the car, shattering the back windshield and the back passenger’s side window. I looked behind us, and realized he had gained. The woman drove smoothly and quickly, but her car did not have the same acceleration or horsepower as the one the killer had stolen. I saw he had a souped up, newer Ford Taurus, while the woman drove an older Buick Encore. I instantly knew I was screwed.
Except for the gun. That was my ace in the hole, my deus ex machina. Now, at least, we had a more level playing field. He had a gun, and I had a gun. He was insane, and I was not. I don’t know who had the advantage, actually. Perhaps insanity might be an advantage in a one-to-one fight, as an insane person would feel no pain and fight like a rabid beast. But their logical thinking abilities may be compromised. So far, I had seen no way to exploit this in my adversary. He had shown no weakness, and even if I had to do it all over again, the only thing I felt I could have done differently was grab my phone instead of the knife.
The Temple-Body Killer pulled up beside our car, swerving in the middle lane as he raised the gun towards us.
“Stay down!” I yelled as a shot blew apart the driver and passenger side windows. We both kept ducking as he shot over and over again, destroying this poor woman’s car. But then he stopped, and I took my chance.
Raising my head quickly, taking a deep breath in and steadying myself, I shot the .45 ACP through the smashed and broken window of the woman. She made a small cry and jumped as I fired at the madman. I saw a spray of blood as a bullet hit his shoulder, and his car swerved madly to the left, smashing into another car in the fast lane that had tried to go past us.
With a tearing of metal and a screech of tires, the cars flipped and rolled over towards the breakdown lane, eventually landing on the grass in a tangled mess of broken glass and twisted frames.
But by the time the woman driving the car had stopped, and I had gotten out, the Ford Taurus stood empty and broken on the ground. Blood stained the seat, and a hole from a gunshot went through the shoulder area, but the madman had gone. I looked towards the thick forest that lined the sides of the highway, seeing no one.
We quickly drove on and found service, summoning the police and the SWAT team and ambulances and everyone else we could call. But they found no trace of the madman in the plague doctor mask, though they had samples of his blood to match to any suspect that may be apprehended. I didn’t consider that much of a win.
My mother didn’t end up surviving the attack by the man who called himself the “Temple-Body Killer”. She had died within seconds of him invading the house, when he chopped her head off in the kitchen and staged it in the oven. Then he turned the heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and let it cook while he walked upstairs to deal with me.
By the time the police got to my house, they found the head cooked to a blackened crisp. We buried my mother, God rest her soul, and had a closed-casket funeral. She was one of the sweetest women I had ever met, and she didn’t deserve to die in such a way, or have her body desecrated. But this world is a sick place, with sick people on the loose, and I know she is in a better place now.
I moved far away and tried to forget. Every time the Temple-Body Killer struck again, the newspapers would explode with headlines, and the media always wanted to interview me, the first known survivor of this mass murdering fiend. At first, the police gave me an escort and a patrol car would pass by my house every fifteen to thirty minutes, but as time passed, they forgot about me, and I felt relatively safe. I didn’t think the madman would come all the way down to Florida from New England, where he usually hunted, just to find me, after all. Until today.
I walked out into palm trees and the smell of the ocean, and found a note in my mailbox, written in blood. It wasn’t in any envelope, but it looked like it had been personally dropped off by someone. I unfolded it, looking at the half-sheet of torn computer paper in stunned silence. On it, I saw only a few lines, written in blood. Elegant, curving copperplate cursive formed the letters. I dropped the letter and ran inside to call 911, the words ringing over and over in my head.
“We will be together in Hell- very soon.
The Temple-Body Killer”
This one’s an old narration I did. Just letting you guys know that I added some sound effects. Maybe sometime I can improve better my voice and audio. This is for TJayLea