/r/TheDarkGathering

Photograph via snooOG

This Subreddit is a place for the Community around "The Dark Somnium" To meet, post scary stories, work together and inspire each other.

If you wish for your story to be featured in one of my videos or livestreams remember to add a flair to your post.

/r/TheDarkGathering

4,128 Subscribers

1

Discord link?

Tried the YouTube one didn’t work. Does someone have the link?

0 Comments
2024/06/13
05:53 UTC

4

Searching for narrations

UPDATE: both of these narrations have been found. Thank you to everyone who helped me.

I am desperately trying to find these 2 stories again. I just introduced a friend to Dark and I really want him to hear these. The first on I just barely remember so I may be wrong on some of the points. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

1.guy is living in a hotel and one room has a bunch of fungus growing in it. He realized at the end that he is the old man that he has been studying. I remember in the end that he hears someone walking up to his door and sees them stand there through the crack at the bottom. If I remember correctly it was his deceased wife that was coming back to the room and he had forgotten because he had dementia or something.

A man comes home after being gone for many years as a drug user. He is turning into a tree, in the end his neighbor turns into the monster that was haunting him. The neighbors corpse is burst open like something crawled out and his wife is slashed up

5 Comments
2024/06/13
00:53 UTC

2

We Prayed to the Wrong God Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Smoke scraped my taste buds, buried me in its grasp, and mystified the world around me. And there was a beautiful orange light in the distance I couldn’t resist going to. Walking was out of the question. I dry-heaved and crawled forward.

I was not alone.

To my left and right I heard footsteps and jingles, like keys. I was going in the same direction as them. I made myself small and tried to remain quiet and go to the light. I needed that glow. My heart races in anticipation right now just writing about that light.

We aren’t so different from mosquitos, you and I. There’s a certain type of light we are drawn to. We must see even if it kills us.

I still try to recreate that light. I’ve tried everything I can. Don’t judge me, you don’t know what it’s like to have your soul, mind, and body all want something at one time. And don’t talk to me about love because that light is stronger than love. This light is in your genes.

As I crawled to the light the smoke revealed glimpses of my fellow travelers. I saw bare feet, I saw bovine feet, and I saw cold metal.

I did finally reach a destination of sorts. I saw someone. Still maybe miles away from the great orange light sat a familiar face. Sharon.

Sharon sat straight ahead. I say she sat but it appeared like she was sitting on nothing.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t move. I was at her mercy. The adrenaline left my body. Deep insignificance possessed me. I was looking at something better than me. Something beyond me. I respected no god at the time and I stayed down and bowed to this. Again, it was like observing the stars. No, worse than that. This was like being tossed in space, floating, powerless, unable to die, and being pulled toward a giant celestial body—a knowing that you should not be there and a sense that you cannot leave.

“Ms. Sharon?” I asked.

“Something like that.”

I didn’t know how to respond so she spoke again.

“You’ll never believe who I was having a lovely conversation with.”

“I– I don’t know.”

“Oh, guess c’mon. It’s the answer that’s never wrong.”

I said the name of our god.

“Yes,” she practically moaned out. “And he told me all about you and what you’ve been doing.” She tilted her head at me like she wanted me to speak as if she wanted me to confess something.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“But he didn’t have to, you know. Because we can smell it on you. We can smell your sin.”

Right then, a putrid smell leaked from my skin. It’s hard to describe, really unique. Not the typical smell of garbage or a skunk but the stench of week-old death, maybe. It poured from my skin and rose in the air. I remember how angry it made me at myself. I scratched myself and begged it to stop. I dropped to the black ground and rolled like the smell could leave me but I could see it coming from my pores. It was an ugly green that zig-zagged in the air and was thick as toothpaste.

“We all know what you are,” she said and rose. Her heels clacked as she walked toward me. “Our Lord wants you to know we can smell you. Everyone can, even if they wouldn’t tell you.”

“Why am I here?” I asked.

Sharon snapped her fingers. A great wind ran through the room and cleared the smoke. To my left and right were lines of beings shackled together. Some were people but not all of them. There were humans of all hues, hues that don’t exist on this planet, bovine people who walked on two legs, and four-legged things with the bodies and feet of cows and the faces of people just like you and me.

I was confused and horrified. I witnessed what to my eyes were abominations and impossible mistakes of nature tied to normal people. And forgive me, but I know now that those things had souls and thoughts of their own. But they were hideous, frightening monsters. I let out a stream of curses as soon as I saw them. And the chains… they were slaves. Legs chained, necks chained, and wrists chained to the person ahead of them.

“Why am I here?”

Sharon smacked her hands together. A chorus of cries rang out. I heard the begging and burning of the victims of the giant flame. I heard the moans for freedom. They spoke in different languages and I was cursed to understand them.

“One year, I only had one year alive,” another bargained to nothing.

“Please, please, I thought I deserved this but I don’t. Please, please,” another said.

“Save my children, go back and tell my children,” a Father begged.

Sharon nodded her head.  The smoke returned, and the moans were silenced.

“Across universes,” Sharon said. “This is the way things are. You live and die to feed him. “Look how you crawled to it. Look how you’re drawn to it. This is the way of the world. This is how you and everyone you love ends up.”

“Why did you show me that?”

“Because you belong to him. Your parents prayed and dedicated you to him and our god wants no lost sheep. Just like the other guy,” she winks. “You’ll obey him, right? From here on?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

“Good, now get in line.”

“No, please. No, let me go back and I’ll serve him. I swear.”

“He doesn’t want that anymore. You’re too far gone. You’re corrupted. Get up and get in line.”

“No, no, no!” I screamed shut my eyes and braced to be grabbed. I would fight. I could do it this time. I could fight. The grab never came. Sharon stood over me, unamused.

“Is that your final decision?” she asked.

“I-uh, yes?”

 “Then go, every god must honor free will after all, but when you desire this it will not come to you easily then. You are cursed and don’t know it. You will be hated for all the days of your life. You will be rejected by all and be denied every good thing you see before you. Others will have it and you can never taste it because we smell you. We smell what’s wrong with you. We know you are wrong.”

I didn’t raise my head. I buried it deeper into the floor. I heard the sound of her heels walking away from me and into the darkness.

“You may go now.”

And I did. I ran back to where I came from. Anxious to escape. Anxious to be away from everybody because she did it. She confirmed a fear of mine for so long. I was an awful person. I dared explore outside the realm of our god and I believed that was so wrong then.  It was always in the back of my head that everyone knows… everyone knows… everyone knows that I’m wrong.

And that is how my life would go. For some reason or another, the idea of anyone getting close to me repulsed everyone in my school or church. I was branded creepy, or a lot to deal with, or “just something off about him”. People never felt the need to whisper when ridiculing me. My parents spent as little time as they could with me,  I was rejected in every attempt to form a romantic relationship, I had to beg to get into any groups for group projects,  and I was mocked for nearly every action I took. I considered suicide often.

Throughout it though I had one friend. The same girl I told you about before Kay Mckenzie. I love her very much and promise to take her out of here.

So, after much research online via YouTube shorts and TikTok I know how I’ll make my fortune.  I will move out and start my career as soon as I can. I will be following the drop-shipper to influencer-pipeline. I’ll start as a drop shipper make as much money as I can and then once I have enough ( or enough to appear like I’m rich) I’ll start a TikTok shaming people for being poor and then charging to teach them the “never before seen” tips to dropship. I’ve seen enough of the content you guys make. I know it’ll work. And the good part of it for me is that I don’t even have to make the money dropshipping. I’ll start Walter Whiting if I have to and say I got it from dropshipping, once I’m rich I’ll charge everyone and their mother to learn my secret. Don’t take it personally, like I said I’ve got to get enough money to get Kay and me out of this cult so I’m going to buy us a big house in the mountains.

You can hate me for it I get it. After all, If you’re buying my memoir you might have bought one of the classes I sold. Sorry. Honestly, though if you had a friend like Kay you might do the same thing.

I don’t know if anyone else gets this or got this but do you ever feel protective of your friends when you know you’re about to leave them? You know it’ll be over soon and this is as good as it gets. I always wished for the ‘I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here’ feeling and I get it when I’m with Kay and as you know I do not deserve it because she’s a way better person than me. I do not have faith like she does and my goals will never be as pure. Yet, I am loved anyway.

And that’s her mistake she’s too trusting and too kind. Trusting is the cousin to gullible and gullible is married to used, abused, and thrown away like garbage. She’ll have to go experience the real world eventually where people will tear her apart simply because it’s funny. So, after I take the best girl I know on a few dates. I’ll ask her to marry me and we’ll leave this little church. The next entry you read from me will be me reporting the best day of my life.

0 Comments
2024/06/13
00:27 UTC

3

A serial killer broke into my house. That isn't even the scary part.

0 Comments
2024/06/12
18:51 UTC

5

An alien fungus has been spraying black semen across town. People exposed to it have started changing in horrific ways…

Strange and seemingly isolated incidents had happened in the days leading up to the massacre. I lived in a small farming community called Matheson where everyone knew everyone. My neighbor, Steuben, owned a sprawling dairy farm. He must have been at least seventy, but he still looked sixty, a vigorous and healthy hard worker with wide blue eyes and thick salt-and-pepper hair. His land rose up in the rolling hills and gently babbling creeks of the surrounding woodlands.

Three days before, one of his cows had given birth. Steuben said the calf had been something from a nightmarish fever dream. It screamed and wailed constantly, gurgling in a sick, blood-choked voice. It had no skin, but instead looked like it was flipped inside-out, the gleaming veins and slick, wet muscle thrumming with adrenaline and primal agony. It looked like a bloody, crying mass of pulsing organs. Steuben had grabbed his hunting rifle and put the poor creature out of its misery, shooting it in the back of its deformed, slanted head. It had no eyelids, and he said the filmy cataract eyes had stared up accusingly at him as he killed it.

Though I didn’t witness it myself, a few of my neighbors and friends had talked about seeing a meteor shower over town the night before the deformed calf’s birth. Bright blue streaks like lightning flashed across the night sky. I wouldn’t know the significance of this until much later, until it was far too late to do any good.

One of my neighbors, who was nine months pregnant at the time, ended up giving birth to a baby boy a couple days after the incident with the calf. The father told me that the infant had only lived for a few hours in intensive care, and it had been such a horrific sight that the mother and father could barely stand to look at its twisted, alien features. The doctors had told her it was an extreme case of something called “Harlequin Ichthyosis.” I looked up the pictures of what he described, seeing pictures of mutated, skinless infants with dark blood vessels like tumors running down their chests and bulging, clown-like eyes that gleamed an infected red.

It was around the same time that people began to notice the fish dying off in large numbers, their rotting bodies floating to the tops of ponds and streams all over the area. Fishermen said many of the lakes had become dead zones overnight, as if chemical weapons or high doses of radiation had contaminated them. The local and state governments started putting up signs all over town, warning people not to swim or eat anything they caught from the local waterways until the Department of Environmental Protection could test it for toxic contaminants. All of the state parks in the area were closed down temporarily as well. My wife Sophie and I had joked about finding a cabin out in the woods to wait out the Rapture.

In hindsight, that was probably far closer to the truth than either of us could have ever imagined.

***

I awoke early the next morning, seeing the first razor-sharp shards of a sunrise peeking through the window. It was Saturday, and I had the weekend off from work. I looked over, seeing my wife still sleeping soundly on the other side of the bed. Purple light like fresh bruises streamed in from a cloudless blue sky. I didn’t know why, but something felt wrong. It took me a few moments to realize what it was.

I didn’t hear a single sound outside. Our house was surrounded by woods and swamps, and normally the birds would be singing their little heads off by now. But it sounded as dead as in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Even the insects had gone quiet.

I crept out of bed, trying not to wake Sophie. I ended up getting dressed and making coffee and a bagel. Feeling restless, I decided to go out for a drive around the block. I hopped in my truck and slowly pulled out onto the empty street.

After a few minutes, I drove past the local park. It had a brightly-colored playground looming high in the air, though this early in the morning, it stood empty. A few joggers and random people walking their dogs lumbered through the foggy mist, circling around the paved trails of the park. A still pond coated with green scum stood at the center. I noticed how the eerie quiet extended out here as well. Besides the rumbling of my truck’s engine and the distant barking of a dog, I might as well have been driving through a graveyard.

I was glancing out the driver’s side window and didn’t see the young woman covered in blood slinking out onto the street until the last second. She dragged a broken leg behind her, the sharp points of bone poking out through the skin. Her head turned to look at me moments before I collided with her. She was completely naked. But that wasn’t the strange thing.

There was something wrong with her face. Long, black tendrils like spidery legs jutted out of her mouth, her nose and her ears. Her eyes looked like they had been removed or eaten away, and more skittering, jointed things oozed out of those. She was crying scarlet tears from her dark, empty sockets. Orange pus and clotted gore dripped down her chin from the open wounds, staining her lower body in rivulets of drying filth. I tried to slam on the brakes, but it was far too late. My front fender smashed into her waist. After that, everything seemed to happen very fast.

Her body flew up with a shattering of glass, but the woman never screamed or made a sound. Her face remained as blank and slack as that of a puppet’s. A spiderwebbing of cracks flew across the windshield as her body rolled over the truck, flying up over the top of it and crashing down on the road with a wet, bone-shattering sound.

“Holy shit!” I cried, my tires fishtailing wildly with a squealing of rubber as I came to a stop. I heard people screaming in the nearby park now. I thought they had seen the accident, but I was too focused on the destroyed body of the woman to care. Hyperventilating, I climbed out of the truck, running over to her side.

She jerked on the road like a dying hornet, her shattered limbs twisting with a grinding of broken bone. Her empty eye sockets stared blankly up at the vast blue sky, the spidery legs twitching faster. The right half of her chest appeared caved in, and she continuously coughed up frothy streams of bright-red blood. I immediately pulled out my cell phone. With trembling fingers, I dialed 911, never looking away from the dying woman laying in front of me.

“Hello,” a woman’s voice said.

“Hello?! I need help! I think I killed…”

“...this is a prerecorded message. Emergency services are temporarily suspended in your local area due to a federally-declared state of emergency. This is not a test.

“Please stay inside for the duration of the emergency. Assistance is on the way. Do not panic. Your government has everything under control.

“If you notice any unusual lifeforms in your local area, do not approach them. Do not try to kill or harm them in any way. Give them as much distance as you can. If possible, try to seal all windows, doors and cracks.

“Your area is now a federally-mandated quarantine zone. Until you can be safely evacuated, stay in your home and await rescue. Thank you for your cooperation in this difficult time.”

“What?!” I screamed into the phone. “There’s someone dying here! I need an ambulance!” In response, the message started to repeat, the cool robotic female voice sounding as calm as if it were announcing a sale on produce at a grocery store. I ended the call, looking around hopefully for someone who might be able to help. It was only then I noticed the bloodshed spreading all around me.

***

“What is that?!” a female jogger cried, pointing at the sky. My eyes widened in confusion and horror as I tried to comprehend what I saw there. No one was looking at me or the woman I had run over. No one had even noticed in all of the chaos.

A writhing, twisting black mass of thrumming flesh stretched over the forest, growing at a rapid rate over the tops of the trees. The mass was a few feet across, lumpy and wet. It seemed to be passing fluid through its main body, like some enormous intestines uncoiling out above the world. It stretched upwards like something from Jack and the Beanstalk, growing and curving back down towards other tube-like masses.

Every few feet along the fleshy, worm-like mass, hollow protrusions as long as railroad spikes shot out. They reminded me of spider legs, jointed and covered with fine, dark hairs. They skittered constantly as the central body continued growing. Even from the street, I could hear the wet, sucking sounds the legs made as they constantly flexed and relaxed, dripping black sludge like dirty oil from their glossy skins.

As more and more hollow tendrils spiraled out of the eerie flesh, I saw the movements of the spidery tendrils were not random. They would spray thick, black fluid in the direction of anything that moved. A man and his dog at the far perimeter of the park were totally covered in the strange goo.

As they continued thrashing and fighting, the tendrils kept shooting more sludge at them. After a few seconds, it covered his face like an opaque mask. The man clawed at his eyes and mouth, trying to get it off. The dog gave high-pitched squeals of terror and pain as it rolled on the ground, its legs kicking randomly in the air. Its fur had become a soaking black mass of goo.

Throughout the air, I smelled a disgusting odor that I immediately recognized. It was the slightly sweet, chlorine-like smell of semen, but so concentrated and pungent that I almost retched. As more and more of the black goo sprayed down at the screaming, writhing people, the smell intensified, so thick that I could taste it on the back of my throat.

As I stood staring, open-mouthed, watching the stragglers in the park get consumed and covered by this strange sight, something grabbed my ankle. I jumped, yelling in panic. I looked down, seeing the twitching body of the woman I had hit changing before my very eyes.

Her blue lips chattered, the broken shards of teeth biting deeply through her bloody lips. The thin, crooked legs skittering out of her mouth, eyes, nose and ear continued lengthening before my eyes. A couple heartbeats later, I saw what they attached to.

Five of them ripped their way out of her jerking, dying body, looking like mutated alien spiders. They plopped wetly onto the pavement below. Their sharp points of legs skittered and ripped through the seizing woman’s mutilated flesh, sending drops of blood flying in all directions. 

The alien spiders looked like some eldritch combination of an infant and a black widow. Each of them had a fat, round central mass, the same color as the woman’s pale skin. The pink flesh was stretched as tight as a snare drum. It looked like mice were living inside the thick liquid of the creatures’ central bodies, pressing against the thin membrane with the fleeting impression of tiny legs and gnashing faces. 

Dozens of the jointed, skittering legs jutted out from their thrumming flesh. Looking up at me, I saw big, blue human eyes on their twisted faces. They were bloodshot, the pupils dilated and wild. The fleshy orbs had no nose, but each had a pair of human-like lips twisted up into a savage snarl beneath the massive eyes. Hundreds of thin, hollow needles emerged from their gnashing mouths.

Instinctively, I backpedaled to the driver’s door. Each of the spiders started wailing like a crying baby, their mouths opening in dissonant shrieks. They turned towards me, their wild, insane eyes meeting mine. At that moment, I felt like I had been plunged into a nightmare.

I had no time to think as they pushed themselves off the ground, flying high in the air with a sudden fury. Those very human mouths filled with too many sharp black needles flew straight at my face. I ducked at the last moment, hearing them smash into the side of the truck. There was a ringing of metal as they left deep dents in the body, each about the size of a baseball.

I leapt inside, slamming the door behind me as more spidery creatures flew up, smacking hard into the glass. Their wild faces stayed stuck there for a long moment, staring in at me with a gnashing of teeth and an oozing of more black sludge.

I started the truck. As the air conditioner clicked on, blowing air from outside into the cab, the smell of thick semen wafted in, cloying like ammonia.

***

I pulled a U-turn, burning out in my rush to get back home and check on Sophie. I needed to get us out of this cursed town.

As I passed by the park, I noticed that nothing moved now. The bright summer day started to go dark overhead. Looking up, I saw more and more black, worm-like masses growing over everything, partially blocking out the Sun in their rapid growth. Like cancerous cells, the disparate lifeforms connected, their spidery legs skittering faster with a renewed vigor. Hundreds more small spiders were crawling out of the park, but not all had human faces. One of them had a dog’s eyes and black lips, its central mass furry and yellow like that of a golden retriever.

Nothing moved on the streets now except the spiders and the black, worm-like masses stretching above our heads. I sped down the streets, seeing pale faces peeking out of windows. As my truck sped ahead, it continuously got sprayed with black sludge from above. It covered my windshield like some kind of hellish snow. Within a couple minutes, it was nearly impossible to see anything. 

When I tried to use the windshield wipers to clean it off, it just smudged and bubbled. Cursing, I tried to see through a smaller and smaller portion of the glass until I was forced to stop, only a few hundred feet away from my home. The sludge continued raining down on me, covering every single window until I was submerged into blackness.

***

I breathed hard in the sudden darkness, my heartbeat roaring in my ears. I had no idea what to do. I heard soft thuds land against the outer body, more mutated spiders throwing themselves at the only moving thing on this dead, apocalyptic street.

I tried to inch forward slowly, like a blind man trying to drive. I was moving in the right direction overall, but at any moment, I knew I would hit something. Moving along at a few miles an hour, I heard the crunch a few seconds later. I must have hit one of the cars parked along the side of the street.

I looked through the truck for anything possibly useful in this situation. I wished I at least had a gun, but I had nothing here except an old, rusted boxcutter in the glove department. I didn’t even have a mask or anything to put over my face. I refused to wear masks for any reason, though I might have made an exception for this situation.

I found a plastic bag covered in dirty streaks of grime underneath the seat. Grabbing the box cutter and the plastic bag, I prepared myself to get out and run.

I knew it was absolutely insane, but I had to get back home. I couldn’t stay in this truck until I simply starved or dehydrated to death. If the US government was anywhere near as useful at fixing this situation as they were at anything else they tried to do, then I knew they would be no help. With the efficiency of government services, I figured they might get here sometime around next year and spend hundreds of billions of dollars doing so, after every single person in this town had already rotted down to skeletons.

I inhaled deeply, putting the plastic bag over my head like some sort of cheap Halloween mask. I ripped two tiny holes for the eyes, hoping it would still do some good. Grabbing the box cutter in one trembling hand, I flung open the door, running out onto the street.

***

The black masses stretching overhead made it as dark as a solar eclipse outside. They covered the roofs of every home, wound their ways through trees and branches and slunk across creeks like organic bridges. The entire pulsating, massy flesh constantly shimmered and gurgled. I heard sounds of wet sliding above my head.

I looked around frantically, seeing my house only a hundred feet away. I sprinted as fast I could, zigzagging wildly.

Something liquidy and thick crashed directly next to me, a mass of sputtering black goo reeking of semen. The strange tendrils continued shooting wads of this alien material. I knew I couldn’t make it to the house. Then I heard a cry from nearby.

“Walt! In here!” someone cried, a wavering old man’s voice. I looked up, seeing my neighbor Steuben standing in his open doorway only a dozen feet away. I leapt towards him, climbing up the steps on all fours and flinging myself through the door with every ounce of strength I possessed. I heard more wet, thudding sounds as that strange alien goo continued covering the path behind me.

I rolled through the door, falling forward and slamming my head into the wall. My vision turned black for a moment. I swam through the pain and confusion, hearing Steuben slam and lock the door behind me. I ripped the plastic bag off my head, breathing hard and covered in sweat. My heart pounded in my chest, frantic as a cornered, panicked animal. I looked down, seeing the box cutter still clutched tightly in my hand, my knuckles white with tension. I slipped it in my pocket.

“Sophie!” I cried, breathless. “I need to get to Sophie!” Steuben came over slowly in his typical long-sleeve plaid shirt and blue jeans, looking down at me with his flat, blue eyes.

“It’s OK, Walt,” he said calmingly. “Sophie’s here.” I looked up, surprised.

“What? Where?” I asked, confused. “Why is she here?”

“When everything started, she said she got scared and saw you weren’t home. She came here when the announcements began on the radio and TV. She’s in the back room right now.” He knelt down, extending a withered hand towards me. “Come on up, I’ll bring you to her.” My heart soared with waves of bliss. I scrabbled to my feet.

“Thank you so much, Steuben!” I cried in ecstasy, grateful that Sophie was alive and OK. He put out a hand, pointing down the hallway.

“She’s in the room at the back,” he said. “Go see her.” I nodded happily, running forward. His slow, plodding footsteps followed behind me. The floorboards creaked ominously as I flung open the door.

I saw Sophie there, naked and bound with strands with razor-wire. Fresh streams of blood dribbled down her smooth, pale flesh. Her mouth was gagged, her eyes huge and wild. The back window was open, and I saw alien spiders slinking through. Some were a combination of human and spider, while others had dog, squirrel, cat or racoon features. Yet every single one gave the same ghastly aura of sickness, the smell of thick semen in the air.

“Sophie!” I cried as one of them skittered up on her face, its black needles dripping drops of mutating sludge onto her eyes and nose. She shook her head wildly from side to side, trying to clear it. Her panicked, muffled sobs filtered through the gag, ripping at my heart. 

I heard the cocking of a gun behind my head. I turned slowly, seeing Steuben standing there with an insane rictus grin splitting his old face, aiming a .45 pistol at my forehead.

***

“Steuben? What the fuck?!” I cried, my hand instinctively crawling nearer to my pocket with the box cutter. He smiled.

“Get into the room with that stupid bitch,” he said, “or I’ll kill you both.”

“Why are you doing this?” I asked. “I never did anything to you!” He shrugged.

“It’s part of my job with the Cleaners,” he said simply. “After the meteorite hit and started contaminating the local environment, the government asked me to experiment a bit on the locals if I could, measure the time it takes for the reaction to occur.” He pointed to cameras and audio recorders located all around the room. “You and your wife will be the first scientific subjects for the fungus. If we can control this, imagine how powerful of a biological weapon it would be! It could take out a whole country in days.” I closed my hand around the box cutter, ready to make my move.

“OK, I’ll go,” I pleaded, nodding slowly. “Just don’t kill me.” Steuben smiled grimly as I leapt forward, yanking the box cutter out of my pocket and slicing upwards at his neck.

The pistol went off instantly. I felt a burning pain in my left shoulder as the bullet exploded through the top of it, blood instantly soaking my shirt. With a battle-cry of pain and anger, I forced the blade into the side of his neck with all my strength. It cut through his jugular vein easily, the skin separating a moment later. A waterfall of blood poured down his chest.

He stumbled back, grabbing at his spurting neck. The pistol fell to the floor with a metallic clatter. Looking at me with dead, surprised eyes, he fell slowly forward.

I looked back, seeing Sophie’s face covered in black sludge. She was suffocating, her lips turning blue. Spiders crawled over every inch of her exposed flesh. When their strange, alien eyes met mine, the ones closest jumped in my direction.

I backpedaled quickly, slamming the door shut. I heard them slam against its other surface with soft crashes.

***

I took Steuben’s gun, searching his house meticulously for something that might help me survive. I felt sick about Sophie’s death, but once she had become infected, I knew she was gone. The moment that black goo entered someone’s body, it seemed they were beyond help.

I tried to slow the bleeding from my shoulder, bandaging it as best as I could. I felt pieces of bone splinters rubbing in the wound as I tightened it, gritting my teeth against the pain. The bullet appeared to have gone through the top of my shoulder, missing the arteries but shattering the bone. I would have to use my right hand for everything for a while, I thought as pain like battery acid shrieked from the wound.

In Steuben’s garage, I found a strange vehicle. It looked like a bulldozer, but it had cameras on the outside connected to a TV in the center console. There were special high-pressure water jets pointed at the cameras to clean them off. It was as if Steuben had known what was coming and had made plans to escape.

I looked at the plates, seeing they were government plates. They said the vehicle was federal property. Steuben’s story started to seem more and more true. Had he actually been a member of some secret government agency experimenting on US citizens?

I played around with the bulldozer for a few minutes, finding out how to operate it and keep the cameras running. It took significantly longer with only one hand and with the many injuries and bruises covering my body, but I forced myself to ignore the pain. Once I knew how it worked, I turned it on, sealing the exterior.

Feeling a combination of bliss at escaping and sickening horror at Sophie’s fate, I crashed through the door of Steuben’s garage, ambling the bulldozer down his driveway. The windows were instantly covered in black goo, but through the aid of the cameras, I could still see.

Making my way slowly forward, I left that den of horrors behind, driving through the dead streets of Matheson towards freedom.

3 Comments
2024/06/10
19:48 UTC

6

Universe 98: A Final Filter Study

Abstract

 

The longitudinal study was conducted to observe what has been regarded as the Final Filter of Civilization among 3-dimensional lifeforms. While preceding observations provided valuable insights for the mechanism, this study considered variables hypothesized to be more relevant.

After searching extensively, a suitable candidate was found on a solid-state planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star; and for the sake of standardization the observed time was measured in “years”, referring to the observed planet’s orbit.

The subject race - henceforth referred as “sapients” - had evolved the inherent attribute of social affinity alongside the previously considered ones of sexual desire, aggression, self-preservation, and intelligence, associated with survival for their carbon compositions. The sapients were discovered as four-limbed, semi-bipedal climbers with the capacity for tool use and a lifestyle consisting of gathering, scavenging, and, on a rarer scale, hunting.

The study from then onwards observed the sapients without interacting. With changing climate and receding photosynthesizing organisms, they gradually left their propensity for climbing and spent more time on the ground; eventually losing much of their hair and instead developing better ability to run. This ability, coupled with their intelligence and social affinity, helped them spread across the planet and spend the next few million years diversifying into different species. The different species would, in several different instances, reunite and have interactions ranging from violent disputes to interbreeding. Development continued. In this period, they discovered cultivation and controlled combustion of nutritional sources for efficient nutrition, leading in turn to better developed brains and intelligence; due to which specific organs evolved for the purposes of communication. Eventually, the competing species were brought to extinction until only one remained.

The next key step in their development was civilization. The sapients’ social affinities are most obvious from this point on, as they started forming settlements bound by traditions, which spread out and diversified across the planet. The next few thousand years saw rapid growth in civilization and population, and social systems soon shifted from tradition to enforced authority to individually considered representation from the population.

Predictably, none of these systems were removed from flaws. Disputes and stratification were still quite common. However, that would not last for long as they understood the significance of the damage of such major disputes at their current scale of population. Thus, for the sake of common interest, peace and development were now favored over aggression, leading to the various settlements effectively combining into a planet-wide state.

In the span of only some dozen years, their tools had developed to reverse the natural process of aging. Shortly after, all known diseases were cured, and still after that, their compositions were enhanced to the extent that biological death had been reduced to a choice.

After taking control of their planet, they sought to spread out to others. Colonizing their star system took fifty years, and soon inventing warp drive took them to other star systems. This interstellar civilization lasted several million years, and their species again diversified to suit their multitudes of colonies across their galaxy.

The Final Filter appeared toward the end of that age. Civilization peaked and could not find any other stage of growth. Curiously enough, after millions of years of systematized intergalactic travel, sapient colonies stayed centered around specific star systems for no apparent reason, even with diminishing space. In fact, their settlements seemed to shrink in space, some even going back to a single, overwhelmingly densely populated planet. The traditions that had been lost since technological acceleration returned, and with them wars. Different sapient species created reasons to fight against each other. Their wars that lasted several ten thousand years, at the end of which, yet again, only one species was left alive. The wars were now waged among members of the same species. The population, which had up to now risen into the quintillions, dwindled to trillions. Deccelerating birth rate worsened the crisis. At the end, the only remaining sapient settlement was one on a planet similar to the one they had been found on.

The settlement itself consisted of around 6 billion individuals in a space fit for 1 million. It would last for some 50 years, after which its inhabitants chose to commit mass suicide by distributing a newly invented toxin amongst themselves. After 70 million years of existence, the sapient species saw its end with only the final member remaining in the settlement, who after 2 years of solitary wandering finally ingested the toxic compound as well.

The study finished with the conclusion that for the organisms in the four-dimensional universe, social affinity was not, in fact, an affecting factor in passing the Final Filter, namely, Loss of Purpose. 

A suggestion for future studies is to contact the subject species in their physical plane as a possible factor to observe thereafter their interaction to the Filter.

0 Comments
2024/06/10
13:31 UTC

3

Water Bears and Dirt Rats

0 Comments
2024/06/09
15:11 UTC

7

I was a member of the Church of the Final Rapture. Our leader wishes to bring about the Apocalypse.

“Before I met the Savior, I was a worthless piece of garbage, barely a human being,” Lovebug droned at the front of the enormous room. Lovebug was a monster of a man, two-hundred and fifty pounds of hard tattooed muscle. Like myself, he was a high-ranking member of the Church. 

His flat gray eyes scanned the room with a fanatical gleam. I sat in the first row, watching and waiting. Followers of the Savior would tell their stories, how the Savior had reached down and lifted them out of sin and filth to bring them up to the divine. The bright fluorescent lights overhead droned on with a low hum. Thousands of men crammed together in seats or stood at the back of the room.

The Savior taught only two commandments: to murder is holy, and to die for the Savior is the highest bliss. An army of warriors followed the Savior, knights on a holy crusade, priests who wouldn’t hesitate to burn the foul bodies of any witches or demons we encountered. I thought of myself as a knight for the holy king, our Savior, the mouthpiece of the eternal.

“Now, it is like the hand of God has reached into my heart and loosened all the knots there, the knots of anxiety and fear and uncertainty.” He raised his black, military-style rifle into the air for emphasis. “I never realized the true nature of reality before- the fact that we are living in a simulation where the final battle of good versus evil is playing out before our very eyes. And I will be on the side of the good, until my dying breath. I will be on the side of the Savior and of God!” 

The crowd roared and clapped. Men got to their feet, sweating heavily in the boiling hot conference room. I felt the surge of energy pass through me like a tidal wave, the pure confidence and iron will of truth. Lovebug lumbered down off the stage as the Savior came out from behind the red curtains, walking with the straight spine of a soldier. He wore a silky black robe that fluttered softly around him, the hood pulled back.

The Savior had horrific burns running the length of his body. His arms had melted folds of keloid scars visible all the way to the tips of his fingers. His scalp had also melted, and the Savior had no hair except for his eyelashes and eyebrows. But the fire that had nearly killed him had spared his face, an aristocratic visage with ferocious green eyes like those of a cat. That face seemed like it had been sculpted out of marble by DaVinci himself, the high cheekbones jutting out over a chin so sharp that it looked like it could have hammered nails into boards. He stared out at the crowd for a long moment, his gaze unblinking.

“The final battle has begun,” he said in a low voice, no more than a whisper. Yet, in the deathly silence of the hall, his words rang out loud and clear. “Those in charge of this illusory world know that we see them. We see them very well, how they hide behind the curtain. They control the world economy, the justice system. Every government, whether they call themselves communist, authoritarian or democratic, is no more than a puppet in their dancing fingers. 

“When anyone tries to stand up and lead the masses of suffering people towards freedom from slavery, they are vilified by the mainstream media, brought up on false charges or killed, their bodies staged to look like a suicide. Look what they did to Jesus, and for what? For telling people to love God more than their rulers? And those who speak out today are also crucified, murdered in prisons or killed by their governments. Truth is the most precious commodity, after all. It is one that can only be purchased with blood.

“So what can we do? How can we fight against such evil?” There was a quiet muttering among the pale, frozen faces that stared up at the stage with adoration and love.

“We can fight it by using their own weapons against them!” the Savior said, his voice rising in speed and pitch. He raised his fisted hands to his chest, accentuating each syllable with a back and forth stab of his hands. “Fight fire with fire, and pay back blood with blood! The only thing these global terrorists understand is greater levels of force. We must show them death on a scale they have never before imagined.” I felt nervous as the Savior delivered his message. I saw other men shuffle anxiously in the crowded auditorium, most of them having high-caliber rifles slung around their shoulders.

I felt the rising violence and bloodlust in the air like electricity before a lightning storm. At that moment, I knew we would all have to fight before too long.

***

The Savior called me and Lovebug back to his office after the speech had ended, sending his squirrely assistant over to deliver the hand-written note in the Savior’s blocky, copperplate handwriting. For a long moment, I simply watched the crowd filtering out of the doors, heading back towards the complex where all the holy soldiers of the Savior lived. Feeling dissociated and light-headed, I followed behind the massive muscular form of Lovebug, the heavy weight of the M16 bouncing against my chest. We pushed through the blood-red velvet curtains, winding our way past stage equipment and down a hallway of pure marble. 

Mystical paintings similar to those of Alex Grey covered both walls, showing the inside workings of the human body through art. It was as if the painter had X-ray vision and could see the heart chakra and the countless thin vessels that spiderwebbed up to the crown. But, unlike Alex Grey’s hopeful depictions of mysticism, these showed men and women being burned alive, crucified, decapitated or strangled. Dark colors composed the paintings: the dark blue of a suffocating face, the clotted red of an infected stab wound, the black of death. They captured the essence of struggle perfectly.

The Savior’s office had a thick mahogany door with silver engravings of leaves and vines running the length of it. At the top stood a single staring eye with twelve wavy tentacles emerging from the perimeter of it- the symbol of God, who the Savior had seen personally. God would sometimes speak through the mouth of the Savior, always during times of great tribulation or suffering. Lovebug knocked at the door. The Savior’s deep voice echoed out faintly.

“Come in.”

We entered slowly, the sprawling desk of the Savior filling half of the room. He sat in a comfortable chair behind it, reclining. On the walls behind him, he had pictures of Jesus, Saint Stephen, Gandhi, Hitler, Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara and others who he taught had fought against the world elites and been killed for it.

The Church of the Final Rapture was not a church in the conventional sense. The main teachings didn’t revolve around the divinity of Christ or the nature of original sin. What the Savior taught was far more profound- an illusory or simulated world where every single person could become their own Christ, could awaken to the truth and perform miracles, but only if they believed fully and followed the Savior.

“Sit down, please,” he said in his gravelly voice. “I have a mission I would like to discuss, and you two are the only ones competent and loyal enough to carry it out.”

***

“There is another anomaly spreading,” the Savior said, staring between me and Lovebug with his fanatical emerald eyes. “It is located in a rural part of the United States, in a town called-” he glanced down at the sheet of paper in front of him- “Frost Hollow. Supposedly, there are black-ops sites located nearby, secret alphabet agencies experimenting with magnetic distortion systems and creating rips in the fabric of spacetime with micro-wormholes. 

“I don’t think it is much of a leap to say that the anomaly was likely started, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the government, as part of their research. The Cleaners would like to control that power, after all. They have been sending their men after it for years like sheep to the slaughter, expending billions of dollars researching it. If they and the US government end up being able to control the creation and spread of anomalies, they will use it to enslave the world. There is no question about it in my mind.” He leaned forwards towards us, his eyes growing cold.

“There is only one path forward I can see. We need to spread the anomaly, make it become unstable so the demons of Hell contained within it can spill out onto the real world. Perhaps it will awaken the downtrodden masses enough to begin the final revolution. We must fight terrorism with greater terrorism, and violence with greater levels of violence. For this mission, I am sending the two of you into Frost Hollow.

“Your job will be to find the Titan or Titans and lead them out to the border of the anomaly. These are horrendous beasts- indeed, the Church has seen them before. They are nearly impossible to kill. I want you two to go inside, bait it and have it follow you back to the edge, beyond the veil.” 

“What’s a Titan?” Lovebug asked, his eyes flicking left and right nervously. The Savior stared at him stonily for a long moment. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, showing only the whites. All the blood seemed to drain from his face. His teeth chattered, his mouth opened, and through it, God spoke, the words pouring out like crashing stones. The voice did not sound anything like the Savior’s. It sounded much deeper, more mechanical, more alien somehow.

“I see you very well. I saw you when you were no more than a blood clot in your mother’s body. I see you even as corpses, rotted, putrefying, crawling with scavengers and insects. I see everything, every moment of time. But, in the anomaly, there are things I cannot see. For this, my holy ones must go forth.

“In the center of Hell, you will find a rose, a bird and a stone. These will be your salvation, if salvation can be found at all. Go with the blessing of Yaldabaoth.” The voice cut off abruptly, the silence deafening. I could hear my own heart pounding in my ears.

The Savior’s eyes came back down, looking confused and uncertain. His pupils were dilated and he was sweating heavily, even though it was cool and air-conditioned back here in his private office. We stared at each other across the table, a no-man’s land that protected me like a shield. For there seemed to be something dark in the Savior along with the light, and I didn’t know if any man could contain that power.

But there was no question of disobeying. Within the hour, Lovebug and I were on one of the Church’s private jets flying to the town of Frost Hollow.

***

The gently rolling hills of Frost Hollow loomed below us as the plane circled the small dirt airstrip in the middle of some cow farms. I looked up at Lovebug, trying to judge his stony expression. He had done many years in prison before joining the Church and finding salvation, even being the leader of one of the gangs. I knew he wasn’t afraid of violence. He had never told me what he did, what tortured him so much.

The Savior had told us much secret knowledge- how to find a Titan, a massive, bloated abomination that could come into being only within an anomaly, a combination of many rotted body pieces fused together in some sort of hellish black magic. The Savior had spies around Frost Hollow and the surrounding towns who had been monitoring the anomaly, watching the unstable gateways leading in and out and mapping them as best they could. We would be given a fast car, plenty of weapons and some body armor. I had no idea how nightmarish the journey would become, however.

“I’m driving,” Lovebug said as we descended the steps. A man in a black suit with the symbol of the eye and tentacles pinned on his black button-up shirt pulled up with a Mercedes AMG-One. It was a sleek, silver thing of immense luxury and power. The craftsmanship made it look like a work of art. I sighed, keeping my finger nervously on the trigger of my rifle as I glanced around the strange, empty town.

“If this thing won’t outrun a Titan, then nothing will,” I said, trying to break the tension. I looked at the speedometer, seeing it went up to 220 miles an hour.

“Damn fucking right,” Lovebug growled as we slid into the futuristic-looking leather seats. The engine turned on like a softly purring kitten. The GPS automatically turned on as well, the soft robotic voice leading us toward one of the more stable portals to the anomaly.

Lovebug sped down the empty forest roads of Frost Hollow, going twice the legal speed limit the entire way.

“The speed limit is only for the lowest common denominator,” Lovebug said pedantically, waggling a tattooed finger for emphasis. The GPS said we would reach the gateway to the anomaly in five minutes. Based on Lovebug’s speed, I thought it would be more like two. “Someone who actually knows how to drive and isn’t drunk or high can easily do 80 in a 40. Easily.” I glanced nervously at the speedometer, realizing he was going over 100 miles an hour now. The sports car hugged the tight corners of the winding forest roads with absolute precision.

“Turn right onto Snake Island Road Extension in five hundred feet,” the robotic female voice. Lovebug slammed on the brakes a few seconds later, the tires skidding and locking up. We looked around frantically, seeing no streets anywhere except the one we were on.

“What the hell?” Lovebug asked. The night was crawling in by now, the darkness covering the forests like a curtain. I squinted, looking at the thick grove of trees on our right, scanning it back and forth over and over. After a few seconds, I realized there was an overgrown dirt path there with no sign. It was nearly impossible to see at night, however, and calling it a road was somewhat of a joke.

“Oh, damn,” I said. “They should’ve given us an SUV.”

***

According to the GPS, our destination was only a thousand feet down Snake Island Road Extension. The low clearance of the Mercedes was a problem as Lovebug tried to navigate the flooded forest path. Deep tread marks flooded with black, stagnant water marked the entirety of Snake Island Road Extension. But ahead, the headlights illuminated something unusual.

Cutting straight across the trees and brush like a razorblade was a shimmering wall of translucent energy. It reminded me of a mirage, curving upwards in wavy spiral patterns. I could see through it easily, but it gave everything a dark, sinister covering. The forest seemed to be in constant motion as the grayish light distorted it.

“Look how huge it is!” I said in awe, staring up at the starry sky. The flat wall rose up seemingly forever, disappearing in the cold void of infinite space. Lovebug slowly ambled the car towards the anomaly, trying to keep the Mercedes from getting stuck with its low clearance.

“You ready for this, man?” Lovebug asked in a quavering voice as we inched towards the anomaly. It was only seconds away now. He grabbed my shoulder. “This is it. Remember the commandments.” I closed my eyes, concentrating my heart on the Savior’s words. Dying for the good is the highest bliss, he had told us.

“Let’s do this,” I said, my eyes flying open from my silent prayer as the hood passed through the anomaly. It disappeared in front of our eyes. We could see the forest on the other side, but the Mercedes looked like it was going through some sort of teleportation portal, being ripped apart layer by layer and sent somewhere else. Lovebug nervously grabbed my hand.

“For the Savior and for the Good,” he whispered as we passed through.

***

I heard screaming and wailing, full of agony and unimaginable horror, like the screams of those burning in Hell. My vision went white. A carpet of morphing dark colors covered everything as the shrieking intensified, until I thought my eardrums would explode.

“Stop!” I cried, feeling the pressure in my head like a splitting migraine. “Stop screaming!” I started kicking, punching, trying to get away.

“Calm the fuck down!” someone whispered, slapping me hard across the face. Stunned, I looked up, seeing Lovebug holding me down in the seat. He was covered in sweat, his face a blank mask of terror. “Don’t scream. There’s things outside that are looking this way.” I blinked fast, my senses coming back to me. I felt like a man waking up from surgery, confused and disoriented, my memories only returning in small trickles and drops.

We were sitting in the Mercedes on a road that looked like it had been made of human skin. The headlights showed the ragged patches of pale, leathery flesh sewn together with black thread. The road disappeared ahead of us in a straight line. The land here looked as flat as Kansas. Like a mirror world, it had houses and restaurants and churches lining both sides of the road, but they were all wrong.

The stone church looked like it was constructed of some kind of red volcanic rock. Baphomets and upside-down pentagrams covered the outer walls, engraved deeply into the glossy surface. Mutilated bodies covered the front lawn, impaled, crucified, skinned alive or burned at the stake. Hundreds of men, women and children lay dead in front of the Satanic temple.

Overhead, the sky bubbled and frothed with red clouds and constant explosions of blue lightning. Like missile flashes, the lightning illuminated the world around us, shining brightly before going dark. The incessant strobing gave the entire place a kind of circus freakshow vibe.

Many of the homes looked like they had been constructed from bones and covered in human skin, like some sort of hellish teepee. Arm and leg bones wrapped in razor-wire formed the pillars. Grinning skulls lined the top of the flat, rectangular roofs, thousands of bleached human heads staring down.

Staring out of the dark doorways, I saw gleaming, silvery eyes. They loomed eight or nine feet in the air on spidery bodies. Their limbs looked as thin as bones, jet-black and dull. The only color from these still revenants was from their unblinking eyes and grinning mouths, where teeth like those of a dragonfish jutted out. Every pair of eyes on that street was fixed intently on the Mercedes, the sick rictus grins on their alien faces never faltering.

“Jesus Christ, I’m sorry,” I whispered, feeling weak. “I thought I was in a nightmare for a minute there.” Lovebug shrugged his massive shoulders.

“Yeah, I felt it too, though I came out of it a lot faster than you did,” he said, glancing over at the Satanic church as we passed. It had protective black spikes rising high into the air all around it. The broken body of a child who had been burnt at the stake stood in front of the gates like a death omen, his small, withered hand holding a black rose. Lovebug choked, retching. He nearly rolled down the window, until his eyes met the silvery ones of a nearby abomination.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking closer at the church. On top of the roof, I saw an enormous statue of a black raven, its wings spread as if it were flying. It had three gleaming, silvery eyes embedded into the dark rock.

“That boy just reminds me of my son,” Lovebug whispered glumly, inching along the streets.

“I didn’t know you had a son,” I said, surprised. Lovebug had never mentioned a family. He shrugged.

“I don’t. Not anymore. I killed him. I got drunk and high one night back when I was selling drugs. Fell asleep in the living room with a lit cigarette and burned down the whole house. I killed my wife and son, burned them. They sent me to prison, but what did that matter? The prison up here is far worse.” He tapped the side of his temple.

I was about to say something, but at that moment, many things happened at once.

***

Lovebug was staring at the corpse of the child when an inhumanly long arm reached up from the side of the car. It had fingers like spikes, as sharp as a knife and twice as long as normal human fingers. I gasped, a warning shout welling up in my throat, but the hand came smashing down into the driver’s side window and grabbed Lovebug’s neck.

The window exploded in a shower of safety glass, shattering like brittle bones. Lovebug’s scream was cut off as he was dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the car. I swung open my door, leaping out and bringing my rifle around.

The Cheshire Cat grin of the abomination never faltered as it held Lovebug in front of its body like a human shield, holding him by the neck above the ground. Lovebug’s legs kicked and squirmed, his face turning blue as he slowly suffocated. His eyes bulged from their sockets, panicked and rolling, uncomprehending in their total animal panic.

I flicked on the laser sight. It danced over the ground, flashing over the body of Lovebug and the abomination. But I couldn’t aim for its torso or face, as I would probably hit Lovebug in the process. It was far too close.

I aimed for the monster’s thin, skeletal feet, the black toes twisting over each other like the roots of a tree. The gunshots rang out as a deafening counterpoint to the thunder blasts.

The monster gave a hissing gurgle as two bullets caught it in the right ankle. The creature seemed bloodless, and only dust and ashes rolled out of the exploded insectile flesh. It tried to skitter away, but its destroyed ankle caused it to fall forward, throwing Lovebug.

His body rolled across the road, the soft leather that looked like it was made from tens of thousands of human skins. Gasping, his lips still showing a faint blue cast, he struggled to crawl away. 

I saw furtive movement from all around us. The creatures in the houses and doorways were moving forwards, drawn by the bloodshed or noise. Hundreds of glowing, silvery eyes surrounded us. I sprinted forward, dragging Lovebug to his feet.

“The church,” I hissed. “It’s the only place.” Still pulling the weak, confused Lovebug behind me, we staggered towards the black gates. They opened with a shriek of rusted metal.

***

The creatures stopped at the gates to the blood-red church, simply staring at us like statues. They didn’t even seem to breathe, their lidless eyes never blinking, the silvery glow never fading.

“I think this is the place we’re meant to go,” I whispered as we made our way towards the massive pointed doors. “When God spoke to us, he said something about a stone, a bird and a rose, that we would find the Titan through that.” I pointed back at the burnt body of the boy. “He’s holding a rose. On top of the building, there’s a bird. And the church is all stone. Maybe this is the place where God wanted us to go all along.”

“Maybe,” Lovebug muttered through heaving gasps, still grabbing at his bruised neck. “God, this hurts. It feels like I got hanged.” Side by side, we pushed open the doors to the Satanic church and walked inside.

***

Row after row of pews stretched out in front of us. Thousands of black candles were set up all around the perimeter of the enormous chamber. They sputtered and flickered constantly, throwing dancing shadows in every direction.

A small pair of bright eyes glanced up at us from under one of the nearby pews. I nearly jumped out of my skin, pointing the rifle at them and yelling.

“Show yourself! Come out now, or I shoot!” Lovebug looked at me, confused. He hadn’t seen it. But a few heartbeats later, a little girl crawled out, her eyes big and blue, her body an emaciated wreck. She wore ripped strands of what looked like leathery human skin to cover herself, tied together with black string. In one small, grime-streaked hand, she held a half-eaten raw mouse.

“Please, don’t kill me,” she said in a small voice. “I’m Emma. My mommy and daddy got dragged away and I’m scared.” I felt sick and weak looking at this small victim. I reached down and helped her up.

“I wouldn’t hurt you,” I said, kneeling down to her level. “I thought you were one of the bad guys. This is Lovebug, and I’m Jack.”

“This isn’t part of the mission, man,” Lovebug said nervously. “What are we supposed to do with her?”

“Well, we can’t just fucking leave her here,” I whispered back. “We need…” But I never got to finish that thought. Because, at that moment, the church woke up.

***

A red glow started at the front of the chamber, the altar where the priest would have stood and given speeches or holy communion. Here, they had a podium that looked like it was carved from a single block of obsidian. Reflected in it, I saw the screaming faces of people burning in Hell, grinning demons ripping off strips of human flesh and spiraling waves of flames, all sculpted by an artist who was able to capture the most miniscule details of agony and torture.

I looked around, realizing Emma had gone. I hadn’t seen her scurry away and hide, but her absence gave me a feeling of crushing dread in my chest.

“Lovebug, something’s wrong,” I whispered, still staring up at the altar. I heard a floorboard creak behind me. I glanced back just in time to see a man wearing full SWAT gear. I caught the flash of a pistol coming down, the butt aimed at my forehead. I heard the cracking, felt the immense pressure and pain. For a few moments, I swam in the currents of consciousness, trying to stay awake, but then the blackness crept in and stole me away.

***

I awoke suddenly, my hands tied so tightly behind my back that I couldn’t feel my fingers. I felt sick and wanted to throw up. I quickly choked those feelings back down. I tried to shake my head, to clear it, but that just brought jolts of pain like electricity shooting through my skull. Nearby, I heard a gunshot, then another.

“Bring it, fuckers!” Lovebug screamed in an insane voice. The explosion of a grenade rocked the building, and I smelled choking black smoke. I opened my eyes, seeing three men in SWAT gear laying dead, their bodies scattered haphazardly around the chaotic scene. One wall of the church had blown outwards, the stone still sending out gray wisps of wavy smoke into the air. I looked at my partner, seeing he had a bullet hole in his left arm and another one in his stomach. He was bleeding heavily, but the adrenaline and insanity seemed to keep him afloat- for now, at least.

I saw something walking towards us from the stage. It looked like a small boy, but black shadows spiraled up around his chest and face, translucent and shimmering darkly. He looked about five or six, his skin pale and smooth. As Lovebug’s face grew slack and distant, the boy abruptly erupted into flames.

“Don’t kill me again, Dad,” the small boy whispered in a hoarse voice choked with pain. The flames rose from his head and skin, melting his flesh, blackening it. Drops of boiling fat dribbled off his nose and chin. “Don’t send me to the dark place again, Dad…” He continued creeping closer to Lovebug, moving like a lion stalking an antelope.

“I didn’t know!” Lovebug cried, his face going paler. Tears streamed from his eyes as the rifle trembled wildly in his shaking hands. For a long moment, he looked torn, the finger tightening on the trigger as sobs escaped his chattering lips.

“Kill it, Lovebug!” I screamed. “Don’t let it get to you!” But as he dropped the rifle and knelt before the small boy, I knew it was too late.

The shadows spun faster and faster around the burning, dying body of the boy. He gave a scream of soul-shattering agony, reaching out to a small hand towards Lovebug.

“Help me!” the boy cried. Lovebug hesitated before bringing an arm up to take the boy’s hand.

“I missed you, Robbie,” Lovebug said before his fingers brushed the boys. The boy lunged forward, grabbing Lovebug’s hand with an iron grip. I saw Lovebug’s eyes widen in shock and surprise. A moment later, I heard the bones in his hand grinding together before breaking with a sound like snapping tree branches. The boy’s eyes darkened into jet-black orbs, the melted lips splitting into a sadistic grin.

“I missed you, too,” the thing hissed as its right arm changed, melting and reforming into something black and blade-like. The insectile limb swung forward in a blur, coming straight at Lovebug’s heart. He gave a panicked squeal a moment before it hit, trying to pull away with all of his considerable strength, his face turning chalk-white as the shattered bones in his hands ground together.

I closed my eyes, rolling away, trying to undo the knots that held my hands in place. Lovebug must have been greatly outnumbered. He would never have let that man tie me up. I heard the sounds of tearing meat and crunching bone nearby. Lovebug’s final breaths gurgled through the air, but I still kept my eyes closed, not wanting to look.

I felt a small tickle on my wrists, then heard a little voice next to my ear.

“I’ll get you out of here,” Emma whispered. I waited a few moments, then I heard the ropes snap. I looked back, seeing her holding a piece of sharp, broken glass in one tiny hand. In her other, she had the car keys. I wondered how she had gotten them, the little pickpocket.

“Thank God,” I said, rubbing my wrists. I looked around for my rifle, seeing it was laying next to the body of one of the SWAT guys. I wondered who these men were. I crawled towards it slowly, not wanting to draw attention.

“Don’t move another step,” a voice growled behind me. I glanced back, seeing the small boy, his features morphing into those of a demon. Curving horns spiraled from his temples. His jet-black eyes stared down at me with hatred and coldness. “You’ll follow your friend who killed my servants. His soul will stay alive forever within my body, a sickly thing wrapped up in an eternal shriek.”

“Fuck you,” I cried, lunging for my rifle. Emma disappeared behind a pew, running on all fours without looking back. I spun as I hit the ground, turning the barrel towards the morphing face of the shape-shifter. Its jaw unhinged, a snake-like tongue flicking out as it flew through the air towards me. Hollow fangs dripping clear venom grew from its mouth in a heartbeat, elongating and sharpening before my very eyes.

I fired twice, the bullets entering through its mouth and coming out the back of its head. Its flesh disintegrated in an instant, the body turning into light, gray ashes that disappeared in the breeze. Breathing hard, I waited, wondering if it was all over.

I heard a rumbling far below me, as if an earthquake were starting. A moment later, the church floor exploded upwards, sharp rubble and splintered boards flying in every direction.

***

“It’s coming!” Emma screamed, running over and grabbing my hand. I lay there, shell-shocked and unmoving for a long moment. In hindsight, the girl was a natural born survivor with much sharper reflexes than me. It was likely the only reason she survived as long as she had.

“The Titan,” I whispered grimly, trying to pull myself up to my feet. But it was like trying to walk on a heaving, sinking ship. Parts of the floor collapsed down into a seemingly never-ending abyss beneath us.

Near the stage, I saw hundreds of long, pale arms pulling something bloated and monstrous out of the ground. It was a Titan, and no explanation can ever convey the true horror of that thing.

It looked like countless human corpses had been melted together, fused into a ball with sagging, boneless chests, deformed faces and millions of writhing maggots. It groaned and gurgled with many lungs, exhaling a rotting, sulfurous breeze that made me want to retch. A soft susurration of many pained, muttering voices continuously emanated from the Titan.

“Emma, run!” I screamed, but she was already sprinting back towards the front door of the church. I backpedaled, afraid to look away from the creeping monstrosity, the juggernaut of rotting flesh moving towards us.

I heard the Titan closing the distance as I sprinted through the front door. The abominations with the silver eyes still slunk around the gate, blocking the car. I raised the rifle, firing blindly at the creatures, careful not to hit the little girl.

“Go to the car!” I screamed at Emma, feeling around for the keys. As the abominations saw the Titan, those still alive scattered, moving in a blur back into the shadows and homes of this rotten place.

The Titan broke the front wall of the church, sending splinters of red stone flying in every direction like bullets. It groaned and gurgled faster, its sickly cries more insistent. I ran to the Mercedes, starting it up and pressing the accelerator to the floor. I pulled a U-turn, heading back to the border of the anomaly.

***

The engine roared, the car bucking like a wild stallion as it pressed me and Emma back into our seats. But the creeping Titan continued gaining speed behind us, and for a few seconds, I feared we would be crushed to death under its massive weight.

The anomaly shimmered ahead of us. I crashed through it at two hundred miles an hour, skidding wildly as the Mercedes hit the dirt road. I nearly flew into a tree. I managed to right it at the last second, pulling onto the paved street as the Titan broke through behind us.

It followed us out. It’s in the real world now. 

3 Comments
2024/06/08
23:26 UTC

2

Short Animesque tale

Writing Prompt: "For the last time I am a SIREN! Mermaids are women!"

Story: A man meticulously unwinds the bandages from a fragile pigeon. It coos softly in his palm as he tenderly strokes its neck. In this long-awaited moment, he theatrically raises his hand to the sky, releasing the bird, only to be jolted by a sharp crack piercing the air. He watches as feathers drift down, one by one, before recoiling at the bird's abrupt, lifeless fall.

“Ey, I’m weary of fish every night,” the scruffy sailor mutters, lowering his gun and adjusting his tricorne hat. He yaks the dead pigeon by the neck. "Oy, was that your friend, Orson?" Orson drops to his knees, eyes brimming with tears, enraged. "Gentlemen, Orson here has spent the last week nursing our dinner back to health and now has graciously agreed to gut and cook it for us. What a nice guy ey?" He tosses the bird at Orson as the crew gathers mocking him.

Orson complies, a shameful whisper escaping his lips, "Aye aye, captain."

The night grew old as the moon full. “You know, a full belly really puts me in the mood,” a sailor grunted, ambling toward the net full of fish, his hand rubbing his crotch. Inside the net was an unclothed woman with long brown hair, lifting her head from the pile of fish, clambering over the squirming creatures. She clutches the net with terror in her eyes. “The captain swore on his mother that the bitch grew legs when he caught her. I wonder if a mermaid’s booty tastes as fishy as me wife’s,” the sailor jeered, undoing his pants. The rest of the crew follows, their hips thrusting forward toward the girl.

Orson stood before the group of men, raising his hands in protest. “Step aside Orson! You keep forgetting—the nice guys finish last. So that means you can have your turn with her after we’ve all had a go.”

The captain steps between Orson and the crew declaring, “The sweet nectar that drips from the mermaid’s thighs is reserved for the king only!” The crew groans, pulling up their pants and cleared out.

Orson turned to give the captive woman a reassuring nod but was instantly ensnared by the vastness of her eyes. He stood in a complete trance, seemingly responding to nothing. “How are you talking without making noise?” he asks her, captivated not by her beauty, but by the slightest tilt of her head. “You are somehow conveying thought without words. I didn’t know mermaids were able to do that.” All her movements were profound and deliberate, even a mere blink was purposeful. After a moment of staring, he repeats what she conveyed back to her, “So you can’t talk or transform unless there’s water? A siren you say?” Tears began to swell in her eyes, followed by another familiar look of terror. Orson mirrored her expression in their nonverbal conversation before sprinting back to the captain’s quarters.

“Siren? Those are myths, and they fly, not swim. Do not let the mermaid fool you!” the captain bellowed, swigging from the pungent brown liquid in his glass. “Of course, captain, but I do believe her warning is genuine if we don’t let her go,” Orson reasoned. The captain hurled his glass across the room. “The king’s brother married a red headed mermaid. I know how competitive the royal family is. If I can make the same happen for our king, he’d reward me until the day I die. Don’t mess this up for—”

Orson and the captain pause. It is faint, but a low, graceful harmony gently brushes through the ship's halls. Orson lowers his gaze, shaking his head in grim realization as the captain rushes to his arsenal. Orson clenches the barrel of the captain’s loaded rifle, forcing it downward. The captain retaliates with a blunt strike to Orson’s head. He immediately crumbles to the ground. The soothing tune that crescendoed deepened his weary state. As his vision fades, he deciphers the captain’s silent words: “We have a squeeze for the king, so we’ll just help ourselves to her mermaid friends.”

Orson awoke, finding himself lying on his side in a cell, face to face with a woman who met his gaze. He held his throbbing head, sitting himself up. "It's nice to see you outside of the net," he remarked softly. The woman remained silent, her eyes speaking volumes. Orson studied her every movement, interpreting each twitch and gesture as if they were words themselves. "Thank you, but nice is the last thing I should've been. If I had resisted a bit more than I had, perhaps you could've been free," he mused regretfully. She communicated her disagreement with a gentle shake of her head, cracking a slight smile tenderly stroking her hair as a response.

Confused, Orson echoed her unspoken question. "I don’t know. Tell me, why do you think he was right about the nice guys finishing last thing?" The woman traces her finger around Orson’s lips and down his chin, a sensual gesture that made him swallow nervously as he listened to her response in his mind. "A very insightful mermaid, aren’t ya—?" Orson pauses as if interrupted, “Sorry, yes, I forgot. You’re a sirin and mermaids are women, I won’t forget it again,” he replied, feeling a palpable attraction between them.

Orson glanced at the terrified sailor standing guard outside the cell. Before he could inquire about the commotion on the deck of the ship, a haunting melody ominously reverberated throughout the vessel again. Orson and the siren exchanged uneasy glances. The sailor pivoted to unbar the cell door, "The captain's likely done for. Take care of her," he commanded, gesturing toward the woman with his rifle, "and join me in dealing with the rest of these wretched creatures." The sailor left.

As Orson and the woman crept up the stairs to the deck, she tore off a pieces of his shirt stuffing it into his ears. He obeyed without question. On deck, hidden in a shadowy corner behind barrels was the captain cowering, hands clamped over his ears. Through the thick fog smothering the ship, Orson saw men shuffling like the undead. The dark hymn persisted, driving each sailor to the edge where they plunged themselves into the mercy waters.

Orson, gripped by terror, stared toward the source of the haunting melody. In the distance, shrouded in mist, a woman lounged on a rock with one foot seductively pointed toward him. The arch of her back and the way she caressed her neck and collarbone drew him in, until a piercing note from the siren beside him shattered his focus. The powerful voices of the two cut through the darkness as they battle for Orson’s control.

Then, an echoing gunshot silenced everything. In the ensuing silence, Orson watches in horror as the distant woman falls off the rock and collapses into the water. The smoke trail was traced back to the captain’s rifle. Orson and the girl raised their arms in surrender. “I warned you, the mermaid is the king’s property!” The captain growled, aiming his gun at them. He then snatched a coil of rope from his belt and hurled it over. “Mr. Nice Guy, would you be so kind? Tie up your mermaid girlfriend as well,” the captain demanded with venomous sarcasm.

His smug stance faltered as the deafening sound of splintering wood tore into the side of the ship. Startled, he fumbled to reload his gun while Orson and the siren stood frozen, awaiting the horror that was climbing aboard. A woman, draped in ragged clothing fashioned from sea debris, leapt onto the deck with feral grace. She turns to the siren, “How dare you sing against your own kind for this simpleton!

The captain’s interference only ignited her fury further. “—I’ll be damned. Mermaids really can transform into people!”

She turned on the captain with blazing eyes. “For the last time, I am a SIREN! Mermaids are women!”

As swiftly as she came onboard, she was violently thrown off. A single bullet between the eyes from the captain was all it took for the woman to erupt in agony. Orson and the siren could only watch as the sea woman thrashed, her screams piercing the night. Foam bubbled from her mouth, and her legs twisted back into a jagged fishtail before the captain tossed her lifeless body back into the dark, churning water.

"Now, where were we?" he sneered, gesturing to the rope at their feet.

The sirens swimming amidst the ship were forced to stand down by their leader. Not because they lacked the power to kill the captain in an instant, but because of the gun he had shoved in the face of one of their own still onboard. Orson and the woman, eyes wide with terror, helplessly tied themselves up under the menacing gaze of the gun.

They sat in fear for their lives all night until they reached the city, bathed in the golden hues of the early morning sunshine. The beating sun didn’t bring solace to Orson; it more of a cruel prelude to the hell that awaited him.

Orson was condemned to death for defending the siren, deemed an act of treason for meddling with the king’s property. The girl, deemed "blessed" was forced into marriage with the king. The wedding and beheading were set to occur at the same ceremony. Both saw the day as the ultimate mockery of life; an forced arranged marriage and an unjust death intertwined into an agonizing spectacle.

Orson stained the once-beautiful paved brick path with a long streak of blood as he was dragged to the altar. He endured relentless beatings and vile insults from the townspeople as they spat and heckled. Not too far behind, escorted by the king’s knight, was the siren adorned in nothing but sheer fabric. The crowd erupted in applause and lewd whistles at her alluring figure visible through the transparent gown. Despite facing imminent death with his head resting on the guillotine, the overwhelming sense of shame and helplessness Orson felt for her tore at his heart.

It was only when he noticed discreet glances between the siren and some of the townswomen did the knots in his stomach begin to loosen. “Who knew mermaids had a mountain of a backside? She’ll be my favorite plaything yet, ey?” chuckled the king. Orson glares at the king towering beside him with a soft smirks. “She’s a siren. Mermaids are women you incompetent twat.” he hisses. The king didn't catch his precise words but responded with a snarl for speaking out of turn.

On cue, the king’s choir commenced the ceremony, sparing Orson another blow across the face. Listening intently, he noticed the peculiar nature of the song. It was angelic yet aggressive. The heavenly voices wavered, infused with a fierce yet mesmerizing melody. Several women in the crowd chimed in. Sensing the shift, the siren that stood before the king as his bride swiftly turned to Orson, stuffing cotton into his ears. The king’s hand clasps around the siren’s neck, his grasp tight. “You deceitful mermaids think you can outsmart me. I see through your tricks!” He points to the cotton in his ears.

Meeting the king’s gaze head-on, the siren communicates a silent message that echoed loud and clear in the minds of all those nearby.

“For the last time, I am a SIREN! Mermaids are women!”

With a single motion, she swipes a small blade concealed beneath her bosom and slashes the king’s throat. The gruesome sight of the king gurgling for air as blood spilled from his lips drove the women in the audience to flee in terror. Meanwhile the men, ensnared by the choir’s song, descended into a frenzy of gruesome acts.

With empty eyes, there were men that stumbled into the ocean’s embrace, drowning themselves. Others doused themselves in oil, igniting their bodies in flames. Some resorted to using butter knives to carve open their throats while others used forks to tear out their own eyes. The women of the choir, along with the remaining few standing amidst the sea of overturned chairs, all proceeded towards the nearby ocean. The newly freed Orson marveled at the transformation of the sirens, witnessing their smooth human legs morphing into stunning colorful fishtails.

Just as she was on the verge of swimming away, the siren pauses to lock eyes with Orson as her companions disappear into the depths of the water. Orson listens in wonder to the siren's voice for the first time.

"Do you remember what I told you?" she asks. "I am a SIREN! Mermaids are women!" Orson jokes. They both laugh. Rising from the water, she traces her finger along his chin. "No, I’m talking about the what I said that you called insightful." Orson gazes at the scattered corpses on land and the bodies floating in the ocean.

He blushes before replying, "Nice guys finish last because they last the longest."

0 Comments
2024/06/07
17:12 UTC

2

An anomaly has spread through the town of Frost Hollow. Soon after, I heard the radio screech out a list of rules.

Life in Frost Hollow had always been fairly normal, up until a few days ago. My husband and I had small issues and arguments, like any couple, but there was no sign of the severe transformation that would escalate into such gruesome, nightmarish scenes.

I always woke early. The day that it all started, I rose around dawn to see the muted gleam of an infant sunrise shining through the window. I looked over to Jack’s side of the bed, seeing it empty. It appeared unslept in, which I found strange, as he worked the night shift and would nearly always be home and in bed by 3 or 4 AM. 

But ever since he had found our newborn daughter dead in her crib, he had been acting strange, disappearing at random hours and occasionally bringing a “friend” home. The people he brought were always young, glassy-eyed guys I had never seen before, who often followed him around in an eerie silence like ducklings following a mother duck.

I made a fresh pot of coffee, going out onto the porch as the world came to life. The Sun rose overhead like a burning angel, a fiery eye in a vast expanse of cloudless blue. I knew it would be another scorcher of a day, humid and sticky. I watched early-morning joggers passing by. I wondered where Jack was. I pulled out my cell phone, checking to see if he had sent me any messages, but there was nothing there. 

As I sat on the front porch, I thought about my fading youth. I had once hair the color of summer sunlight, but now it was going gray. The small wrinkles around my mouth and eyes seemed to be lengthening and deepening every day. Everything in the world seemed to grow dusty and brittle, like one enormous sarcophagus. I felt certain I would never have another child, never see bright blue eyes staring up at me from the crib again.

Far off down the street, there was a strange translucent rippling in the air, like burning heat rising off desert sands. It expanded into a perfectly flat wall. It cut across trees, homes and cars. I squinted, realizing that it was coming nearer with every heartbeat. I thought it was some kind of bizarre meteorological phenomenon, some sort of heat mirage or humidity bubble. As it slowly crept closer, I got bored, pulling out my phone to read the news.

After a few minutes sitting and people-watching, I went inside to make some breakfast. I ambled over to the freezer, looking inside for something edible, maybe some chicken tenders I could deep-fry next to some eggs and toast. Instead, I found a decapitated human head, its open, staring eyes glassy and frostbitten. I felt a scream welling up in my throat as I dropped my coffee mug to the floor. It shattered, spraying drops of burning hot liquid all over my legs.

The freezing mist slunk towards me like ghostly hands, obscuring the face’s features for a long moment. I wondered if this was just an extremely realistic mannequin head. I looked at the blue lips, pressed together as if in an expression of disapproval, saw the ragged patches of black flesh at the bottom of the neck, and knew it was real. Frozen crystals of dark blood clung to the bottom of the head in a black pool, gluing it to the freezer floor and keeping it in an upright position. 

Between the lips, I saw a folded piece of paper. On the front, in flowing, black cursive, read two words: “To Laura”. I hesitated for a couple heartbeats, then snatched the note from the dismembered head. The lips refused to let it go at first, until I gently wriggled it from side to side. It came loose with a wet, sucking sound.

The moment I freed the note, a siren rang out down the street, the volume deafening. It rose and fell in shrill wails for a few seconds. I saw the fridge tremble in front of me under the onslaught of such noise. Black mist slowly started to ooze from every surface. By the time it evaporated a few seconds later, the fridge looked like it had aged fifty years. Enormous rust spots covered its exterior, and the smell of rotting food was instantly overwhelming, like the rancid odor of roadkill putrefying under a burning sun.

The rest of the kitchen seemed to have changed as well. Everything had grown old and filthy. The counters were covered in cobwebs and grime. Deep cracks ran through the walls, and the windows were all broken.

Turning back to the freezer, I studied the mutilated head’s features more thoroughly. It was a woman with raven-black hair and blue eyes, probably in her early twenties. Who was this person? How had they died, and how had their head gotten in my freezer? What was that horrible siren?

I unfolded the note, seeing Jack’s flowing handwriting there. My heart felt like it dropped out of my chest as I quickly scanned the words.

“Dear Laura,

“If you’re reading this, it means you found the head. It’s probably a good thing, I think. There are some things I have kept secret from you, from everyone, for a long time.

“I don’t know when it first began, when this fractured piece of my personality gained control. It all started innocently enough- peeking in people’s windows when they weren’t looking, or stalking random joggers for days without being seen. It was always a rush to get away with it. 

“Soon, I would break into people’s houses and rearrange all their furniture. I’d hide a portable camera in the corner or on top of a bookshelf and watch their reactions. Oh, how I laughed! As you can imagine, it was quite fun. Life doesn’t have enough laughter, after all. It seems more like wandering across an endless desert sometimes.

“But eventually, I would stumble across an oasis, a resting place in this never-ending life of shit. Or at least, that other piece of my personality did. You might not believe me, but the first time I killed, it was an accident. Perhaps it was fate sending the first pebbles skittering down over the ledge that would inevitably lead to an avalanche.

“I had been doing my usual routine, breaking into houses, moving things around, sometimes writing Satanic messages on the wall in pig’s blood. It was all to keep people on their toes, you know? Just for chuckles and smiles. But, still, I always kept my pistol on me. I had walked up and down the streets, seeing the mail piling up outside one old colonial home surrounded by a grove of thick trees. I had found the house empty when I scoped it out originally. It seemed perfect. That night, I made my way inside.

“I remember hearing the front door unlock abruptly in the middle of the night. I tried to run towards the window in the bathroom around back, the way I had come in originally. But the man must have heard my footsteps. He came around the corner with a shotgun, his face beet-red. He was screaming and hollering. I was crawling through the window when he started raising the gun. The ringing sound as he pumped a round in the chamber was like a scream from God, telling me to awaken. At that moment, I knew it was kill or be killed. Before he could pull the trigger, I aimed for his head and fired twice. I remember the rush of pleasure as his face disintegrated into a puddle of blood and bone chips.

“After that, things start to get hazy. At first, I thought it was a psychotic breakdown, because something started wearing my face, following me when I went crawling through the neighborhood. Perhaps it is a part of me in some way, my true self. After all, murder is Godly, the pure power of the divine, and killing in the name of God is always a mercy. So says the Savior.

“Well, anyway, I’m rambling. It’s time to finish this letter before I start to sound crazy. We can’t have that, can we? What will the neighbors think? 

“The main thing to remember is: don’t look behind you.

“I’ll see you very soon.”

I read the last line a few times before it sunk into my mind. Don’t look behind you? It didn’t make any sense.

Then I heard the choked giggling from the pantry closet. It started low, like the first rumblings of an earthquake. The door was left open a fraction of an inch. One bloodshot eye stared at me through the crack. It flicked quickly to the left and right, the pupil dilated and insane.

“Jack?” I whispered, feeling sick and weak. “What’s… what’s wrong?” I slowly backpedaled towards the front door. The laughter turned into a gurgle, something that might have come from the lips of a drowning man. He flung the door open, his face pale and bloodless. Trickles of dried blood covered his arms and hands. Under his fingernails, I saw clotted black gore. Translucent black shadows swirled around his face and chest, spiraling up into a vortex like a dark whirlwind. They shimmered all around him, distorting his features and seeming to increase in intensity by the second.

“Jack isn’t here anymore,” he hissed in a diseased voice. His lips split apart, revealing teeth that looked far too long and sharp. “He’s hidden behind the veil, rotting under the floorboards. Even now, he tries to claw his way up.” He stepped towards me, revealing a long butcher’s knife in one hand, its steel stained a deep scarlet. Fresh blood still dripped from the tip.

“Stay away from me,” I shrieked, glancing behind me. The town looked different now, the streets deserted. Dark shadows danced over everything, as if there were a solar eclipse. The entire world seemed to exhale, a low, diseased hissing that radiated from everything all around me. 

This strange monster wearing Jack’s face continued moving closer, seeming to draw power from the changes. His eyes darkened in a flash, turning black and cloudy. The cyclone of shadows twisting around his body moved faster, a curtain of darkness so thick that it started to obscure his face.

“My name is Friend,” he gurgled, lunging forward with the knife. I instinctively pulled away, stumbling back towards the open front door. I felt a cold pain radiate down my left arm, a slashing pain that made my vision turn white with adrenaline and shock. A slash opened up on the top of my skin, fresh blood bubbling out instantly. I fell backwards through the door onto the front porch, smacking my head hard on the wooden porch. Friend slunk towards me, a hurricane of blackness with an eerie human pillar at the center. He stared down at me with a grin like a razor blade, letting fresh blood, my blood, drip off the blade and patter gently to the rotted, mold-streaked floor.

I kicked forward with all of my strength, aiming a blow at his knee. I heard something crack, felt the leg give with a sickening explosion of black blood. The flesh felt loose and spongy, almost boneless. Friend wailed like a banshee, his voice rising into an ear-splitting wail. He fell forwards towards me, aiming the knife at my heart, a look of fury darkening his face. 

A gunshot rang out behind me. A perfectly round scarlet hole appeared in Friend’s shoulder. He jerked, twisting and gurgling in pain. Black blood spattered my face and neck, feeling as cold as dry ice. I rolled away as his body came down, the knife landing only inches from my chest. It quivered there, its tip stuck deeply in the wooden floor.

Friend’s features changed rapidly in front of my eyes, dripping and melting. The mask of humanity he wore started to fall away, revealing a spinning black hole of a head with a single red eye in the center. Wounded and leaking blood the color of waste oil, he skittered away on four lengthening skeletal limbs, crawling like a spider. His clothes stretched and tightened around his changing, bulging flesh. Breathing hard, I turned to look at my savior.

I recognized the withered old face of my neighbor, a man we all called Bones. He had no family that I had ever seen, and lived a solitary life, almost that of a hermit. I had talked to him a few times, been invited into his home even. His walls were covered with the taxidermied heads of animals, black bears and bucks and moose he had killed. Crossbows, guns and hunting bows of all kinds had lain scattered over nearly every room. He was an outdoorsman at heart.

“Bones,” I whispered in a choked voice. “Thank God.” He shuffled forwards, a small, very thin old man with a sunken bird chest. His giant, rectangular glasses magnified his eyes to the size of dinnerplates, and a white wizard beard hung down to the center of his chest. Jack and I had often joked that he looked like a character from Duck Dynasty. He holstered his pistol around his waist before reaching down a trembling hand and helping me up. 

“Something happened,” Bones said grimly. “When that siren went off. I was looking outside, just smoking and sipping some black tea, and I saw it happen. Everything started sputtering and shimmering, and this thick, black mist rose over the streets and houses. When it finally blew away, I saw… this.” He waved a hand outside for emphasis, motioning at the apocalyptic scene.

The streets heaved in great cracks and fissures, as if an earthquake had rolled through the earth. The houses looked like they had survived a nuclear apocalypse. The windows were all shattered. Tiny shards of glass littered the ground like splinters of diamond. The roofs were peeled away and rotting, with enormous holes eaten into the centers of most of them. Something like spider silk covered the dilapidated walls of most of the houses on the street, formed in symmetrical webs that rose two or three stories high. 

Behind me, the radio suddenly turned on, the lights flickering overhead. The power all along the street flashed on and off, the streetlights outside strobing at the same erratic frequency. Something like a metallic shriek rang out through the radio’s speaker. Bones and I jumped, turning to look backwards at the old radio laying on the kitchen counter.

“This isn’t the real world!” a man screamed over the radio. I immediately recognized the terrified voice of Jack. My heart dropped into my stomach. “Don’t believe anything you see or hear here. The anomaly is spreading. Laura, I know you can hear me. I’m sorry for everything. Listen, to get out of this, there are a few things you need to remember.

“First, you should know there are gateways in this place, portals that lead back to our world. You can recognize them by the blinding white light radiating from them. It might be a bedroom door, a window, even a kitchen cabinet or a box. They form randomly throughout the anomaly and are highly unstable, often lasting for only seconds. If you find one, take it immediately. These are your only way home.

“Second, the entities here can take the form of any person or animal. But you’ll know them by the shadows that surround them. To kill them, you want to go for the crimson eye in the center of their faces.

“Third, there are places with food, water and other supplies. They will look like dilapidated gas stations with the name ‘Hel’s Market’ on them. These are safe spaces where the things on the streets don’t roam. Don’t stay in there too long, though, or you might see Hel. She doesn’t like visitors.”

“Jack? Where the hell are you?!” I screamed at the radio, running over and shaking it like a crying baby, hearing random pieces inside the old gadget give a metallic rattle. But the speaker only gave a hiss of static as the radio died in my hands. A million thoughts seemed to run through my head at once. Was Jack still alive? Why had his voice come on the radio? Why had his writing been on the note? Bones came up behind me, putting a slight hand on my shoulder.

“We’ll find him,” Bones said. “Jack’s a tough guy. But we need to start moving. We can’t stay here forever. We’re going to need to find supplies. Everything around here is trash.”

“It could be worse out there than it is here,” I argued. “Why do we need to keep moving? We could barricade ourselves inside and wait for the police, and the… military, and…”

“Lady, you’re living in a dream world,” Bones said coldly, his magnified eyes turning into owlish slits. “We don’t know how long we’re going to be here. You don’t even know where Jack is. You have zero supplies, zilcho. You could barricade yourself somewhere and slowly starve to death, but that wouldn’t help us much.” His words made me think. I nodded.

“Fine, but we should grab some food and water first,” I said glumly, my head spinning. I felt sick and tired from all of this, yet the feeling rose in my chest that I hadn’t seen anything yet. Bones gave a faint smile, the corners of his lips twitching as he watched me.

I went over to the kitchen sink, turning it on. For a long moment, nothing happened. There was a burping, gurgling sound deep down in the pipes. They clattered and shook as if thousands of rats were slinking through them. The faucet bubbled and hissed frothy dark water. Finally, it spat a gout of thick scarlet blood all over the rusted sink, squirming with dozens of writhing maggots. I gasped, backpedaling. The smell of iron and rot from the rancid mess sputtering out of the faucet in waves was sickening. Repressing an urge to gag, I reached forward and slammed the handle down.

“Yup, that’s what I expected,” Bones said grimly. He looked around with a blank expression on his face, as if he were only on a stroll at the park. At that same moment, the lights overhead flickered one last time and died. The cracked and broken street lamps outside went dark simultaneously- at least those few that still worked. 

I went over to the fridge, opening the door. The nauseating smell of rot exploded across the room, hitting me in the face like a slap. I gagged, seeing clouds of black and yellow mold growing over dried, twisted heaps of decaying food. The milk had become a soupy mess in the container with black tendrils growing along the sides of the exploded jug. I slammed the fridge door shut. I ran over to the front door and stuck my head out, inhaling sweet, clean air. Bones followed slowly behind me, seemingly unaffected.

“Don’t look like we’re getting any food or water from here,” he said contemplatively. “My place ain’t any better. When that siren hit and the black mist came, it changed everything- ate at things, as if time had been turned on fast forward. By the time the fog had gone, my house was a wreck. The food in the fridge was all rot-gut sludge, and the cans in the pantry were ready to explode. My guns were all rusted heaps of junk, the crossbows twisted and the strings snapped. Some of them had tiny black spiders building webs on them.”

“So how’d you get the pistol?” I asked, curious. He looked at me as if I were an idiot.

“I had it on me when it happened,” he said slowly, as if speaking to a mentally deficient child. I nodded, looking around for a weapon I could use. In the living room, I found a metal baseball bat that Jack had bought years ago. Like everything else, it had been eaten away by the ravages of time. Streaks of dark rust covered the length of it. I swung it a few times, feeling that it still felt structurally intact.

“Let’s go,” I said, following Bones outside.

***

We headed deeper into civilization, towards the downtown area with restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores. The sky above had no stars, no sun or moon. It swirled in a dark blue hurricane, meeting in a black eye at the center. The cyclonic clouds peeled away like old scabs. Some pale light came, casting everything in a cyanotic light. I saw pale, dirty faces disappearing into the alleyways and ruined homes, many of them apparently of children.

“I saw them too,” Bones muttered, holding his pistol tightly by his side. “They look like pictures of kids at Auschwitz I’ve seen. Starving and filthy. Where’s their parents, you think?” I shuddered to think about it. What if this place was sucking random people in, just making them disappear from the world? What if it was spreading, like a cancerous tumor hidden under gauze?

I had nearly forgotten about Friend, the strange shape-shifting creature who wore Jack’s face, but he hadn’t forgotten about me. We were passing the burnt-out hulk of a tractor-trailer when his shadowy face shot around the corner, staring at us with Jack’s face. He had eyes like two burnt holes, black and smoldering. His body was a strange combination of spider and human, the thin limbs ending in sharp points. Fine, dark hairs like needles covered his arms and legs. The bullet wound had apparently already healed. Black blood had crusted onto the surfaces of his shirt and pants. He didn’t hesitate to attack. He swung an insectile arm at Bones’ chest. I screamed, seeing it all happen in slow motion.

The limb went straight through Bones’ heart. Bright red arterial blood immediately began flooding out as he looked down in shock, still holding the pistol in one hand. He gurgled, dropping the gun and falling forward, dragging the arm down with him. I had the baseball bat in my hands. With all of my strength, I swung it at the creature’s head. It made contact with a fleshy thud. The soft, yielding flesh of Friend cratered under the impact. Friend made a soft hissing sound as the wound bubbled and danced as if a nest of mice were about to emerge.

I leapt for the pistol. A choked sound rasped from Bones’ trembling lips. The adrenaline rush made me feel no pain as I hit the hard, cracked road, rolling as I landed. I felt the cold metal of the pistol’s grip under my hand. I raised it, feeling the stab wound Friend had given me earlier rip back open. Fresh streams of blood soaked my clothes as I fired, dripping from the long slash along my arm.

The top of Friend’s head exploded, the body transforming before my eyes into a black, spidery humanoid with a single spinning red eye in the center of its pointed skull. Dark blood the color of asphalt leaked down its naked, glossy body. It had no mouth or nose that I could see, but fine silvery hairs covered its jointed arms and legs. The eye widened in pain as it stared into the barrel of the pistol, one blade-like arm still caught in Bones’ chest. I remembered the transmission that had come through the radio and aimed for the center of the spinning eye.

“Why do you keep taking Jack’s form?” I asked Friend, the gun feeling heavy in my trembling hand. “Why just him?”

“I can take the form of any who are part of the Church of the Final Rapture, those who have given their souls to the dark presence here,” he hissed cryptically. He jerked forward, trying to bring his other blade-like arm up towards my neck with a quick slashing blow. I instantly fired, pulling the trigger over and over.

When the first of the bullets pierced his eye, I saw a blinding explosion come from the center of it, like a flashbang radiating light the color of an infected wound. Orange the color of pus spun around bright reds and necrotic blacks. I stepped back, crying out. I instinctively brought my hand up to cover my eyes.

When I could see again, I found only a smoking crater in the spot where Friend and Bones had stood. Gray smoke hissed from the center of it. I knelt down, seeing a dark, jelly-like substance covering the jagged patches of concrete. I quickly realized it was flesh, though whether human or alien, I couldn’t say.

Shell-shocked, I stumbled over to Bones’ melted pants, feeling around his waist until I felt the cold metal of an extra magazine. I had emptied all the bullets in the gun fighting Friend. To my dismay, I realized Bones only had one extra magazine.

Feeling sick and weak, I stumbled away, heading towards downtown, hoping against hope that I would find some solace or answers there.

***

I was wavering on my feet like a drunk woman. As I got closer to the center of town, I found dead bodies hanging from the lampposts, many of them mummified or skeletal. I wondered how many people lived in this hellish world.

I heard crying ahead of me, far off in the distance. I saw a little girl kneeling below the body of a young woman. The corpse looked fresh. The tip of the dead woman’s black tongue poked out through her stiff blue lips. The young girl’s wails tore at my heart.

The girl was wearing rags, tatters of a shirt and pants that were covered in streaks of what looked like dirt and blood. Her face was grimy, but her eyes were big and blue. She looked up at me suddenly as I drew near, panic twisting her small face. She reminded me of the baby I had, the one who had died of crib death a few months earlier. My daughter had the same big blue eyes as this girl here. I looked around the destroyed world, seeing there were more spiderwebs covering the ruined buildings here.

“Little girl, what are you doing here?” I asked. She grabbed my shirt, pushing her small face against my thigh.

“They killed my mommy,” she wailed, trying not to look at the hanging corpse. I hugged her.

“Who did?” I asked. “Who killed all these people?” She looked up, surprised.

“How do you not know? It’s the Church of the Final Rapture. They’re trying to spread this…” She waved a dirty hand around for emphasis, wiping tears from her bloodshot eyes. “They think if they can spread this bad place far enough, then it will lead to the Final Judgment, and Jesus will come back and good will finally win. But first, they say they need to kill a lot of people and make the battle happen.” She shook her small head. “They’re crazy. A bunch of religious nuts, Mommy always said. And she was right. Look what they did to her.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Marian,” she answered in a small, diffident voice. I helped her up to her feet.

“I’m Laura,” I said, “and you can’t stay here forever, Marian. There are bad things here. Is it true there are ways out of here, doorways of light or something? Have you seen any?”

“I caught a glimpse of one once,” she answered. “It was beautiful. Like looking into a rainbow. I thought I could hear singing.” Her eyes grew distant and far-away. I took her hand, urging her to walk forwards, away from the corpse of her mother. 

“So what happened?” I asked, trying to keep Marian talking. 

“I saw it, but by the time I found Mom and told her, it had evaporated…” We turned a corner. Looming there overhead, we came face-to-face with what had made the webs.

***

My first thought was that it was some cross between a horse and an insect, the height of a small child and over a dozen feet long. It had the body of a struggling old man in its insectile jaws. They jutted out like the pincers of a stag beetle with wicked serrated edges. Two bulbous black eyes emerged from the sides of its head, the size of baseballs. They didn’t appear to have any lids. They stared at us, unblinking. I saw myself and Marian reflected in those dark orbs, as if they were an obsidian mirror. The pale chitinous shell of the creature shimmered with rainbows as it moved in a blur towards us. Its snout was rounded with two nostril holes. Stringy, blood-flecked mucus constantly dribbled down its eldritch face, falling down from its nose and mouth.

The hundreds of long, skittering legs moved in rhythmic peristaltic waves. The old man continuously kicked and punched at the monstrous face, but the abomination didn’t seem to notice or care. Blood dribbled from his toothless mouth and deep slashes covered his chest, stomach and legs. His lips and fingernails took on a faint bluish cast. As its black eyes focused on us, frothy bubbles of clear saliva started dripping from its flexing pincers. With a primal, reptilian hiss, it threw its head to the side. The dying man soared through the air, smashing into a concrete wall with a bone-shattering thud.

“Stop!” I cried instinctively, raising the pistol and firing. Marian screamed, running behind me and hugging my leg as the dark juggernaut ran us down.

The first bullet caught it in the neck, but the thick black plates of scales deflected it easily, leaving only a series of fine cracks running down its torso. I kept firing, aiming at its face. The second one hit it in the right eye, which exploded like a water balloon filled with blue blood. Its wailing intensified until I thought my eardrums might explode. Half-blinded, its body slithered forward like a snake’s, its many legs driving it towards us.

I jumped to the side at the last second, but Marian wasn’t so lucky. The creature’s massive pincers wrapped around her chest, grabbing her and lifting her into the air. Deep slices appeared in her rags of clothes as she cried, pleading for help. I inhaled deeply, aiming for the abomination’s face, hoping I wouldn’t hit the girl.

The last bullet in the magazine pierced its other eye. It exploded. The creature dropped Marian to the ground, wailing a steam-whistle shriek. I grabbed Marian’s hand, lifting her off the ground.

“Run!” I hissed through gritted teeth, pulling her forward. Up ahead, I saw lights illuminating a store. It was the only building with electricity that I could see. I found it strange.

As we got closer, I saw the sign, reading: “Hel’s Market”.

***

The insectoid creature’s agonized screams drew other skittering monstrosities forward. They crawled out of the side streets and alleys, their strange horse faces and insectile jaws working furiously as if tasting the air for prey. I remembered the rules on the radio, when they had said the markets were a safe spot.

We ran through the door into a building that hadn't decayed like everything else. It felt air conditioned and cool. The glass here was intact, and rows after rows of cold drinks, ice cream and frozen meals stretched out before us. It looked like a regular convenience store, but in the back, I saw a doorless threshold with stairs that led down into a shadowy basement. I shuddered as I looked at it. Outside, the creatures had stopped at the front door, their bulbous eyes staring intently in at us.

“Are you OK?” I asked Marian, looking at her injuries. The creature had left two deep slices along the sides of her chest. They bled freely, soaking her tattered rags in fresh streaks of scarlet. She nodded silently, tears running down her rounded cheeks. We quickly grabbed drinks and snacks, chugging soda and energy drinks and eating candy and beef jerky. I didn’t realize just how hungry I was after nearly dying so many times, and Marian looked like she hadn’t eaten in days.

I was staring out the front glass window, looking at the creatures waiting there for us with hunger and bloodlust gleaming in their alien eyes, when I heard heavy footsteps ascending the stairs at the back of the store. Marian grabbed my hand tightly.

“I think something’s coming,” she whispered in terror.

***

Through the dark threshold, I saw a woman looming nearly ten feet tall. The left half of her body was decayed and rotted, mummified and gray, like everything in this world. The right was beautiful and young, the skin pink and healthy. Behind her, I saw her dragging a man bound tightly in razor-wire, the sharp edges biting into his skin. I instantly recognized Jack.

“Jack?” I asked, stepping back towards the door.

“See your husband,” Hel hissed in a shadowy voice. She threw the trembling mass of bloody flesh at my feet. Jack screamed, kicking and twisting.

“Get… out of here!” he whispered at me through teeth streaked with crimson. “I’ll… help you…”

“Did you help cause this?” I asked. Hel looked between us with sadistic pleasure, the living part of her mouth splitting into a grin. The dead part cracked, the dry skin ripping and showing blackened teeth underneath. Jack nodded.

“The Church… of the Final Rapture… yes, we tried to spread the anomaly, to end all suffering, to cause God to notice us again and come back…” Hel laughed at that, a sound like grating metal.

“Foolish men,” she gurgled. “You shouldn’t have played with things you didn’t understand.” Jack’s eyes grew big. There was a moment of clarity as he met my gaze, motioning towards the black door at the back of the store.

“I’ll… do what I can…” he said, “with what the Church has taught me.” He closed his eyes as Hel drew near, her heavy footsteps shaking the store. She lifted up one giant, naked foot over his head, holding it there like a guillotine blade. It came down with a crunch.

The door at the back of the store started vibrating and shimmering with white light as Jack died. I heard singing from it. Grabbing Marian’s arm, I pulled her towards it. A large, rotted hand came out, grabbing at my hair. I felt myself pulled back off my feet.

Like a rabid animal, Marian ran forward, sinking her sharp teeth into Hel's wrist. I felt the grip release, my back smashing hard against the floor. The wind was instantly knocked out of my lungs. Grabbing Marian's hand, we crawled towards the door, only feet away. Beautiful, angelic singing resonated through it, growing louder as we got closer. Hel shrieked with fury as we crossed the threshold, disappearing into the light. Everything dissolved in the blinding radiance, and for a moment, I felt warm and free.

***

I found myself back home with Marian, the Sun outside bright and clear. The freezer was still open, the dismembered head staring blankly out at me. Marian was gently crying, cradling her bleeding chest. All of the agonies and wounds I had suffered instantly started shrieking, grating my nerves.

Sickened, I stumbled outside and threw up, trying to forget the nightmares and broken bodies of the anomaly.

0 Comments
2024/06/06
18:21 UTC

3

6G

6G

Carinda Barnes' brown eyes were slitted. "I freakin hate you!" She hissed like an angry cat.

Roy Barnes, her husband tried not to flinch. "Cari baby that's just the pain talkin'. You don't really mean that." When the words left his mouth, well, Roy wished he could've grabbed them and tossed the stupid thing he said in the trash. But he couldn't and had to endure the blazing glare from his pregnant wife.

"You said that the shot wouldn't affect our baby. You got the jab like the little sheep you are. Now, you've made me one too," Carinda husked out. Her normally pretty face was a scrunched-up mask of hatred and contempt. All slitted eyes and bared teeth like a predator ready to strike.

Roy sighed and then turned to the nurse. "Can you give her something more for the pain?"

The nurse shook her head. "She's at the maximum dosage. You should leave so she can calm down."

He nodded. For a moment he thought about saying something comforting to Carinda but one glance at her hateful face sent a chill down his back. An image of her leaping off of the hospital bed and tearing out his throat with her hands filled his mind. She kept her nails short but her hands were strong. No, he decided, it was time to wait outside in the lounge and hope everything would turn out right.

While Roy sat in the empty lounge, he thought about how things had been getting strange. A few months before they went to the hospital, he had heard music and weird tones coming from Carinda's swollen belly. It wasn't gas.  Not for the last time he wondered what was going on.

"Mr. Barnes?" The doctor said.

"What?" Roy said as he looked up. 

The doctor was holding a bag with a small cell phone inside.

"Mr. Barnes, can you shed some light on this?"

Again Roy looked at the phone. He tried to wonder where it came from. Carinda's phone was larger like his. "Where did you get that?"

The doctor sighed. "It was found inside your wife. Thank goodness, the phone just caused some minor complications but we were able to deal with them. Do you have an idea?"

Roy shook his head. "No, I don't." It felt like he was in a Twilight Zone episode. For a moment, he expected to see Rod Serling show up. Maybe Rod could give him a cigarette. Roy could use one even though he had quit some time ago.

"This is very unusual. There is a medical condition in which people eat inedible things but the phone was found in your wife's womb along with your son. The nurse said that he was holding it when he was delivered," The doctor said.

A nurse walked up to the doctor and they whispered to each other for a few moments.

This made a chill run down Roy's back. He just knew something was wrong or headed that way. "What's going on?"

Again the doctor looked at the bag and its contents. "It seems that your son is crying for his phone. The nurses can't get him to stop."

The lights flickered in the lounge then they shone dimly. Dark shadows crept in from the edges of the room

Everyone looked up.

For some reason, Roy felt like something nasty was peering in at him from the windows that faced the parking lot. He kept his eyes locked on the doctor. It seemed like a very good idea not to look outside.

"Um, doctor, what should I do?" The nurse asked.

Roy wondered why they didn't react to what he felt. They were facing the parking lot. 

The nurse's brown eyes were wide and filled with fear over her green mask.

"Fine, give the child the phone and see what happens. Make sure it's sanitized first," The doctor said.

Again he wondered why no one saw anything. Roy frowned. "What's going on?"

The doctor shrugged. 

The nurse rushed off with the phone.

A few moments later, the lights went back to their normal brightness.

Roy slowly turned his head and glanced out the window. Whatever he had felt before was gone. "What the hell," He said before putting his head in his hands. 

Several hours later, near dawn, a nurse woke him up. 

"What?" Roy asked while looking around before focusing on the woman in front of him. 

"We're going to keep your wife and son under observation for a few more days. We just want to make sure they're both healthy," The nurse said.

"It's the phone isn't it?" Roy asked.

A moment passed then the nurse nodded. "Yes, to be honest, Doctor Ramis has doubts and wants to be sure. How did the phone get into your wife?"

Roy shrugged. "I don't know. When I met Carinda, she told me she had a troubled past but she never gave me any details and I didn't want to be nosy."

The nurse nodded. "I understand. I'll tell the doctor what you said. Please go home and get some real rest. The coffee here is so bad they also use it in Gitmo. We always go to the cafe down the block."

Roy nodded. "Thanks."

The nurse turned and walked away.

Then it hit Roy. "I got a son!" He managed not to yell in the hospital lobby. Barely.

After waiting several days, this should've been a perfect moment. Finally, he was holding his new son. His heart expanded so much, he feared it was going to burst out of his chest. But the strange music from his son's phone ruined the moment. He wasn't using it at the time but just looking at the phone sent a chill down Roy's back. Regretfully he gave his son back to Carinda.

She searched his face for answers. "It's the phone, isn't it?"

Roy just looked away.

Several moments passed.

"Why?" Roy asked.

Carinda looked at her son trying to ignore the phone. "Hey, no problem. Once we get home, I have some ideas."

"How about we talk a bit before you try anything?" Roy asked.

"Why?"

"Well, the nurses took Justin's phone away, and even in the waiting room, I felt something weird-"

Carinda interrupted Roy. "What?" Her eyes narrowed.

Roy shook his head. "I don't know. Even the doctor and the nurse were afraid."

"What things?" Carinda's voice rose.

"It was quick and all I know was, I was scared. Very scared. It was like being at the edge of a cliff so close, a sneeze would make me fall. Please, Cari, we need to be careful," Roy said.

Carinda jerked her head and sighed. "Fine, I'll talk to you before I do anything about the phone."

A moment of silence passed before Carinda and Roy went about the day's affairs.

The weeks and months flew by in a blur as Carinda and Roy adjusted to their son. He was very energetic. Also, they noticed that Justin wouldn't let them see him use the phone. If Roy tried to look over Justin's shoulder, he would just stop doing whatever he was doing and hide the screen. Sometimes he would frown too. After a few moments, Roy would leave Justin alone.

While Roy tried to ignore Justin's strange relationship with his phone, Carinda was another matter. She was always trying to experiment with separating Justin from the device. All it would take was a chill down Roy's back and the lights flickering in the kitchen or the living room and he knew that something was wrong.

"Cari you have to stop fussing with the phone," Roy said one afternoon when the lights went out and again dread made him not look out the window. 

Carinda frowned and then glared at him. "Why are you so comfortable about this? Our son has a creepy connection with his phone. It's not right. We need to find a way to get that thing away from him or Justin will never have a normal life!"

Roy nodded. "I get what you're saying but I don't want to make things worse."

"Have you ever looked at the screen? I tried and I just zoned out. It's not right. I even tried to take a picture of the logo on the back and my phone crashed. Where did Justin's phone come from?" Carinda asked.

Roy sighed. "You."

Carinda's eyes narrowed like she wanted to send him some stinkeye but she looked away. "Yeah, that's right."

"Cari, honey is there something you're not telling me? You always tell me that you had a troubled childhood," Roy said.

Carinda shook her head as tears started to flow down her cheeks. "I can't. Not now."

Seeing his wife cry felt like a punch to the gut. Roy looked down then back up. "I'm sorry. Will be in the living room. When you're ready, let me know what you want for dinner."

Carinda nodded and sniffled.

Roy slunk out of their bedroom while his thoughts churned around the mystery of Justin's phone. Maybe I should smash the damned thing, he thought. Fear arose in his mind. What if that made things worse? The memory of what happened in the hospital was still very fresh in his mind. With a small shake of his head, he pushed the troubling thoughts back.

Several days later, Emma Brighton, the new babysitter strode up the walkway.

Carinda frowned. Emma had plenty of good reviews online and some of the neighbors recommended her. She wouldn't have any problems with Justin. Well, except for the phone. Carinda's eyes narrowed. It was always that damned thing. Fantasies of throwing it outside or dumping it in the sink so the trash compactor could give it a good chewing filled her mind. Then she remembered seeing fear in her husband's eyes and the uneasiness she felt when the lights flickered for no reason. "That damn phone," Carinda whispered. as she walked to the kitchen door to meet Emma.

Emma's no-nonsense attitude made Carinda think of a combination of Mary Poppins and a marine drill sergeant. A person who would handle defusing a bomb and a messy diaper with aplomb. Maybe even both at the same time while having a steely-eyed thousand-yard stare. "I've seen things, terrible things...," Ms. Mary Drill Sargent would say. Carinda almost giggled.

Ms. Brighton fixed Carinda with a gaze that would've worked with a sniper rifle as well as a busy mother. "Does your son, Justin have any quirks that I should be aware of?"

All of Carinda's good humor melted away like ice cream under a blazing sun. For a few moments, things had felt normal now, not so much. "Um, he has a cellphone."

Emma's eyes narrowed like she had seen a possible threat incoming. "A cellphone? Why would such a young child have one?"

Carinda felt cowed. It felt like explaining how she messed up to an authority figure. The truth was just too strange to say. Heck, she wasn't ready to tell her husband yet. "Well, um, Justin got attached to one of my husband's old phones. We haven't had the time to do anything about it." She smiled a little.

Emma nodded and didn't smile. "I won't bother you with my thoughts about technology. Don't worry, your son will be weaned off of his unhealthy fascination."

A small chill ran down Carinda's back. Later on, she would understand why her misgivings were correct. "No problem. Thank you."

Several moments later they discussed details and finally, Emma got up and left. She would be at the house at eight am sharp.

Again Carinda had a quick thought that maybe she had made a mistake but she pushed that thought away to focus on getting ready for work the next day.

It was an hour after lunch when Roy grimaced at the figures in the latest status report. Other than a few small issues things were okay. Something else hung over him causing a feeling of dread like steel-grey cloudy skies. No, it didn't feel quite like that. To Roy, it felt like that Greek guy who had the sword over his head. He looked around like what was bothering him could be seen in his cubicle. There were the usual piles of printouts, nothing that would cause concern. 

"Roy, check out the sky in the south," Amanda from the cubicle next to him said.

"Why?" Roy replied. 

"It's kinda dark. I wonder if we're getting one of those pop-up storms. It's kinda late in the year for that. We usually get those on hot and steamy days," Amanda said.

Roy stood up and peered over the wall of his cubicle. Coal-black clouds were gathering over an area in the south. A chill raced down his back. Their house was in that direction. "Crap!"

"Yeah, right! I don't know if I should stay here until the storm ends or not. It might not even be near my house," Amanda said.

Roy on the other hand knew just like he would take another breath that the center of the storm was right over his house. The problem was deciding what to do. Should he call Carinda and warn her to get Justin out of the house? Or maybe he should call her to get Justin's phone first? He was also quite sure that the no-nonsense sitter did something with the phone. Other questions started to crowd his mind when his phone rang.

It was Carinda. "Roy, the babysitter called. She started screaming. Then she stopped. You gotta get to Justin and see what's going on!"

More dread flowed down Roy's back like an ice cube shower. Deep down he knew that Emma wasn't going to deal with the phone situation right but optimism won out. "I'm leaving now," Roy said.

Carinda hung up.

Roy looked around for his jacket and yelled at Amanda. "I'm having a personal emergency at home. Tell the boss I'll make up the lost time tomorrow."

"No problem, hope everything is alright at home," Amanda said while still banging away at her keyboard. She didn't even look up at him.

It didn't take Roy long to rush through the building and get to his car. All sorts of terrible thoughts swirled through his mind like plastic bags in a gale. Only one thought managed to stick. He had to ask Carinda about her childhood. Justin and his phone weren't natural things. Roy doubted that a diet high in minerals and vitamins could create a cell phone inside one's womb. That goes twice for vaccines.

As he drove towards his home, the feeling of impending disaster increased. One time he looked up at the sky but it felt like there was something in the sky using the clouds as cover. Maybe it would expose itself to him like a stripper. A bit of nasty here and maybe some disgusting there. Roy was quite sure he didn't want to see so he kept his eyes on the road. The side and rear view mirrors showed enough of the sky and he dreaded to look at them.

A block away from his house, something sharp scraped across the roof of his car. Roy was quite sure it wasn't a tree branch. He knew what it was but continuing that train of thought was too frightening. 

It was as dark as midnight when Roy returned home. He frowned. There should be a light on somewhere if someone were home. The windows were unlit like the house had been abandoned.

That was a bad sign. Roy looked around to see if Carinda had arrived. Nope, with another glance around, he approached the door.

Inside, it was quiet except for Justin's fitful screams. That sent a chill down Roy's back. Where was the babysitter? "Miss. Brighton, Emma?" There was no reply. After checking the living room, he found a disquieting sight. A shattered hammer lay next to Justin's cell phone. Roy averted his eyes from the swirling mix of strange colors on the screen. There were some not in a regular rainbow. He would examine the hammer later but first Justin had to get his phone. 

The phone felt slick and greasy but Roy barely kept a firm grasp on it. The last thing he needed was to drop the phone though he doubted that it would break. A hammer and the missing babysitter couldn't make a dent but maybe there would be consequences anyway. With a shake of his head, Roy pushed that thought away. 

When Justin got his phone, he gave Roy a small smile. The atmosphere of dread started to lighten up like the sky outside.

A car pulled up in the driveway.

Roy sighed. At last, Carinda was home and maybe he would get some answers. When Roy was approaching her in the driveway, an invisible force pushed him so hard he fell back on his behind.

Something large fell between Carinda and Roy with a wet and meaty splash. 

Roy looked down at himself and noticed that there was no blood near or on him.

Carinda on the other hand was covered from head to toe. She just stood there, brown eyes wide with shock while blood slid down her face. 

Roy flicked his glance at the pile of gore in front of him. He had an idea who it was but he wasn't going to look closer. "Carinda, are you alright?"

Several moments passed.

Sirens sounded in the distance while the dark clouds faded away. Warm golden sunlight bathed the area.

Finally, she nodded slowly.

Some time later an ambulance and a cop car rolled up.

By then, Roy had managed to get most of the blood off of Carinda's face with a towel he got from inside the house.

The two cops wasted no time walking up to Roy and Carinda. One was a short brunette and the other one was a taller medium-sized man. "I'm Officer Grant and that's Office McHenry," The male cop said then pointed to his partner.

McHenry stepped closer to Carinda and Roy. "Are you okay?"

Several moments before Carinda nodded slowly. 

"Do you know what happened here?" Officer Grant asked.

Time seemed to slow down as Roy thought of a good answer. The pure truth wouldn't work. He was quite sure of that. There was no way a cop would've accepted the explanation that their son had a cursed phone. Skimping on some details might be the way to go, Roy thought. "I got a call from my wife saying something was wrong with the babysitter."

"Something wrong with the babysitter?" Officer McHenry said while his eyes narrowed a bit.

"Um, um, yeah. She was screaming," Carinda said.

"What did she say?" Officer McHenry asked.

"I don't know. She seemed very scared. I couldn't understand her because she talked too fast. Do you want to check my phone?" Carinda said.

One of the paramedics walked close to the bleeding mass and looked at it. He took several steps before turning his head and vomiting in the grass.

A  grimace crossed Officer Grant's face. "We'll need both of your phones and I want to have a medic check you out just in case."

Another paramedic walked up to Carinda and took her to the back of the ambulance while Roy followed. After checking out Carinda and Roy he nodded at  Officer McHenry.

He strode up to Roy and Carinda.

"Are we in trouble officer?" Roy asked. 

A moment passed.

"For now, no. I'll give you my card and if you remember more, call me. Don't leave town for a few days while we tie up loose ends," Officer McHenry said.

Roy wondered if he should ask more questions but then maybe he would have to answer questions he couldn't handle. But one question lingered in his mind. "Officer, how did you get here so fast?"

Carinda frowned.

Officer Grant walked up. "Well, we had gotten a call from Dispatch about someone screaming in your home then later on we got a call about a body falling out of the sky."

Roy nodded.

"Don't worry it seems that you're in the clear for now but we'll contact you if the situation changes. I suggest that both of you get some rest," Officer McHenry said.

By the time the body was put in several bags and wheeled into the coroner's van, it was late. Since Carinda and Roy had work the next day, they just had a quick quiet dinner and then it was off to bed.

Roy lay in bed and fought off exhaustion so he could ask Carinda about the phone. Maybe it wasn't the best time but he wanted to know. Just a few sentences, not a novel or even a paragraph. "Cari, can you tell me what you know about Justin's phone?"

Carinda was facing away from Roy so he couldn't see her face. Several moments passed. "Now?"

"I can't sleep anymore wondering what's going on," Roy replied. Doubt filled his mind. Maybe this wasn't the best time.

More moments passed.

Carinda sighed. "My parents were weird cultists and they gave me to something when I was a teenager. Then the child, um, Justin would come later," She sniffled.

For a moment, Roy considered not asking for more information but he wanted more. "What type of cult? I ask in case they come back for you."

Sniffles came from the other side of the bed. "No, they won't bother us. Justin is, is." Carinda cried in large wracking sobs that shook the bed. 

Roy put his arm on her waist and waited until she stopped crying. Even though he wanted to know more regret needled him. 

It took a while before they fell asleep.

0 Comments
2024/06/06
02:30 UTC

7

We Prayed to the Wrong god Part 2

Part 1

After that night, Kay and I did become friends, best friends even. However, the death of the child gave us two different goals. Kay believed the child had to die because we angered god. The death of the child inspired her to attempt the Sisyphean task of pleasing this mad god.  It hurt her over the years. Her hair grew small strips of gray. Her eyes had crow’s feet before she was 18. She always smiled, lighting the room, but if she was a candle’s flame she was one gust away from disappearing forever. It hurt to watch.

The death of the child erased my trust in our god. I wanted nothing to do with him.  But I couldn’t break free, physically. So, I broke free virtually. I bypassed the parental block on my phone, and the whole wide world was at my fingertips via the internet. That’s where I learned about you people, dear reader, and what the outside world believes. I want to say this brought a great sense of enlightenment to me, but it made me depressed, anxious, and to be honest self-centered; I spent a lot of time on Twitter.

I amassed more knowledge than anyone else in my group, even the adults blocked about 99% of the internet on their phones but none of this knowledge made me happy or a better person. I became a fraud, a wise, self-centered deviant who explored all corners of the internet at night and pretended to worship this strange god in the morning. I believed I was getting away with it as well until it was time for discipline.

At our tiny private school, occasionally the secretary would come in and announce she needed students for discipline. That meant students had done something wrong and now they needed to be punished for it, anything was allowed for punishment. Discipline came at random. How could you know if you did something wrong with rules such as talking without permission, or being too loud at lunch? How could you ever know if you were safe? And do you think the teachers stopped taking notes once class was over? No, if they saw you commit any disciplinable action at church or even in your neighborhood you can be sure it was reported.

Before discipline, it was another lazy day in American history class. Our teacher sat on the far right and watched clips of his beloved Dallas Cowboys. We left our books open, notebooks on our desks, and pencils in our hands as we talked to one another in case Mr. Foyer told us to quiet down and actually do work.

Chatter and mischief filled the room. Students bounced from desk to desk gossiping and scheming. Who did what to who and where?  Guys untucked their uniform shirts. Girls pretended to be annoyed with guys’ flirtations. I freely scrolled through my phone. This was our playground. Understand, Mr. Foyer was a terrible teacher, but his lack of interest in teaching gave us freedom. So much of our lives was monitored not there though.

Mrs. Dana stepped into the room.

Without a word spoken we sat in our seats. I felt smaller. The room felt tighter. I could not read my classmate’s minds, but I knew what they were thinking. They were thinking the same thing as me.

Was it my turn to be called?

I could feel our previous sins in the air.  They came down on us like an itchy antique blanket. Every action we had done previously was questioned. Why were we up without permission? Why were we talking without permission? What did she see? Was it my turn to be called?

Mrs. Dana was a pretty woman and so sweet, so much of the time. She was also the woman who announced who would be disciplined today. She exhibited professionalism and grace unlike so many of our authority figures. Great smile, beautiful brown skin, and a reassuring voice, until it wasn’t. When she was not asking us to rise to be tortured every sentence she said almost always ended in a laugh. This was the woman who helped us find our ways on the first day of class, who would compliment any fashion decision we made that still followed our strict dress code. I know she was a shoulder to cry on for Kay.

Mr. Foyer rose from his seat, “Alright, class I told y’all to settle down.” Of course, he hadn’t told us to settle down earlier but like many of the adults, Mr. Foyer was a coward and refused to look like he was doing anything wrong.

I’ve read people’s comments to cult leaders; “How could an adult be a part of hurting a child?”

If you asked Mrs. Dana, I think she’d say, “You turn the switch in your head that thinks off. You follow a script.” We all saw her do it with astonishing results.

“I need to call a couple of students in for discipline,” she said in a dry authoritarian baritone in front of the whiteboard at the head of the classroom. An American flag hung in the left corner and a Christian flag in the right.

Mrs. Dana scanned the classroom. Her gaze was not still and patient like normal. Her eyes wandered and were expectant. Maybe, this wasn’t the part she had to turn off but was the part that was finally free. Did she enjoy that?

I always felt she would say my name. I always felt guilty. Still do. There’s always another sin isn’t there? I went over mine in my head and wondered if a teacher was there observing me when I thought I was alone.

“Toni, Jake,...” She didn’t bother with last names. We knew who everybody was, small school. It was always the same kids and I was clever enough to hide my flaws. My name was seldom chosen.

“Jez, Canaan...” It was almost over. I never got called so I shouldn’t get called this time.

“Assayria, …” Reflexively, I found myself thanking my god again under my lungs for keeping me safe for… “Sath.” I didn’t move. It felt too real and too cruel. I grabbed my desk and looked straight ahead at the whiteboard at the front of the class. It blurred and became hard to read. Random facts about American presidents were on there and all smudged together in my view. My heart was running, speeding. Of course, I didn’t look at any other student there was too much shame in having my name called.

“Come on, let’s go.” Mrs. Dana said and melted into her role as a villain. There was no bend in her voice. How could she be so resolute considering what they could do to us? That was her faith I suppose.

“Sath, get up,” she commanded me now. Each child was in line. I was the only one still seated.

“Go on up now, Sath. Take your medicine,” said our teacher Mr. Foyer. He’s still in the cult to this day. Most teachers leave and come back or die shortly after leaving. Not Mr.Foyer he is a short pathetic man who went along with this cult because he’d go along with anything that patted his ego.

I rose from my seat and followed. We were like a funeral procession or ghost children who could not acknowledge one another. We walked in the empty halls past the lockers into the main office and spread out around it. We circled a single chair, the one piece of furniture in the office, and cringed around it waiting for the principal to come to deliver our punishment and state our crimes. Many of us visibly cowered. My chest pulsed, the girl beside me cried quietly, and the boy beside me kept saying ‘fuck, fuck’. It’s odd, I don’t even feel comfortable saying their names now. I would never tell you who cried before they were punished or who said one of the bad words. There was a certain code we all lived by. What happened in discipline, stayed in discipline. The waiting was not the worst part.

And yet, I felt we were waiting a long time. And the fear in me was subsiding. Could I really be that lucky that discipline was canceled today?

Mrs. Dana pretended to busy herself around her desk. She held a folder of whatever our crimes were and smacked it against the desk.

“Where is Principal Fredrick?” she asked the air. She then turned to us and the glimmer came back in her eye. “Maybe he’s giving everyone mercy today?” And I could see she wanted that. She didn’t want to see us hurt. I’ll never forget how her smile stretched from cheek to cheek because it contorted right after.

“Oh, Principal Fredrick,” she said and the sternness returned. Then came the fear. I never knew someone could stand so still.

Principal Fredrick appeared at the end of the office. Seemingly, out of nowhere. His eyes were closed. Shut tight. They reminded me of the effort an honest kid puts into closing their eyes while playing hide and go seek. His black suit and tie were soaked. I assume with sweat because that’s what his face was covered in.

“Principal Fredrick,” Mrs. Dana said as we scattered, not bold enough to leave the room, but bold enough to squish ourselves into corners of the small office. Something was not right. This was not normal discipline. “How’d you get here? There’s only one door.” Mrs. Dana looked behind her as if that would confirm this magic.

“Yes,” Principal Fredrick confirmed and then touched his chest and moved his fingers across his wet, white shirt until he found his tie and adjusted it. “Yes, uh normally. I have- -” he sputtered and tears ran down his face.

“Principal Fredrick?” That’s all Mrs. Dana could do, repeat his name dumbly.

“I looked through a door I was not invited to go in,” he cried without remorse. With a freedom I have never seen a man cry with. Like a newborn’s baby cry. He stepped forward and behind him, I saw the impossible. A grey wooden door that had not been there before.

Principal Fredrick strode forward. Tears flowed down his face and made his cheeks glisten. Snot poured from his nose into his mouth which polluted every word he said.

“I have been told Sath must go through the door,” He opened his eyes and his two eyeballs dropped out of their sockets. They plopped down. They thud like rocks. Eyes do not thud like rocks. Nor could they just fall out of a face. One rolled forward and the other backward. One crashed into the door and sounded like a marble hitting solid oak. The pupil faced us, faced me.

Everyone in the room screamed. We were brainwashed in our cult to witness so much of the unordinary, bizarre, and evil. But this was out of the ordinary. We froze. I think someone pissed themselves beside me. Every kid in there cried freely.

“I apologize. I apologize.” The Principal said. “I saw something I should not have seen so I was given another pair of eyes. Where is Sath?”

“Where is he?” the principal asked and dropped to his knees. No one answered. Thank everything, no one answered. On his knees he slid forward and groped and sniffed, grabbing the first kid he felt and pulling them close to his nose.

“Where is he? I can smell him,” he said.

“Sath go in the door,” Mrs. Dana asked. She still had kindness in her. It was a request.

I shook my head at her, a desperate and pleading no.  The other one of Principal Fredrick’s eyes stopped rolling and landed at my feet. It was not an eye. It was more like a rock expertly painted to imitate an eye.

“Sath, for us please,” Mrs. Dana said. Principal Fredrick pulled at another student, gave them another sniff, and disregarded them against the wall.

Again, I shook my head no.

And that set her off.

“Get off the wall and go in!” she screeched.  A demonic, ear-drum popping, and vocal cord-violating screech.

Maybe she was as scared as I was then, and her scream to me was the plea of someone who was trying to save her own life.

I do know one thing though. She followed her faith. She believed with 100% certainty that she was doing the right thing. She rushed to me, clapped her hands, and screamed.

“He’s here, Principal Fredrick. He’s here,” she yelled and Principal Fredrick leaped on me. His knee slammed into his own eye on the floor

CRACK!

It exploded with more vigor than a bug under a foot. It burst open on my legs and feet.

“The door, Mrs. Dana. The door!” he bellowed. And Mrs. Dana ran for it. Opened the door and closed her eyes. She refused to look where she damned me to go. I clawed for anyone. The other kids deserted. Their screams echoed off the halls. Principal Fredrick squeezed me tighter. His wet arms constricted against my throat. I wanted rebelell against all I was ever told then. I wanted to kick an adult. Bite an adult. I wanted to free myself. But I couldn’t… Maybe, it was my home training. I just couldn’t. I don’t know how Principal Fredrick felt during the ordeal and for some reason that concerned me. He was crying when he picked me up and he kept crying.  The last thing I saw before Principal Fredrick tossed me inside was Mrs. Dana stepping on his other eye.

CRACK!

3 Comments
2024/06/06
00:43 UTC

3

There is a leak in my apartment ceiling and I think it's hiding a portal to hell.

I hear the dripping again. The constant, drip, drip, drip of water. I blink my eyes open and try to focus to make sure I'm not in another nightmare. It sounds like another leak; this one might be the last. The last time I will hear it before the horrible conclusion to this ordeal. The last time hearing that telltale noise, before the true nature of that loathsome portal is revealed and whatever hideous dimension hiding on the other side breaks through completely.

The sound is growing louder, each drop has an exaggerated tone. It sounds like small explosions all trying to collapse the ceiling and engulf me in the dark abyss that I have already once been forced to endure.

I just can’t believe this could really be happening, it just can’t! It swallowed people up, the portal behind that damn leak. I don’t know what to do.

Just a short while ago my only problem would have been the water damage to my belongings. Indeed, such a mundane problem as a leak in the ceiling would just be a minor issue, nothing to fear except the repair bill. Yet I'm afraid it is a bit beyond that now. I shouldn't have waited this long I should have just left. Yet where could I have gone? Maybe I should have paid more attention to who I was talking to and what they were saying. All too late now I suppose.

I have been living in this apartment for close to six months. I had moved into this dingy complex, to a small studio apartment after I lost my job and had to find a part time position at significantly less pay. I tried to stay optimistic but even before the terrible reality of what I was stepping into was clear, I was still on hard times. I could barely afford this decrepit room as it was, and I had no family or friends to speak of that I might be able to move in with so my options were essentially non existent.

Considering the dire situation, I found the cheapest accommodation I could and what I found was my home and hell for the last six months, number 316 at the Greenfield Heights apartment complex. The amenities included paper thin walls to hear all the drug deals gone wrong, domestic violence and constant sirens of emergency vehicles blaring from all sorts of incidents. Topped off with a nice turn-down service of package and mail theft to boot. All of these problems though, feel small compared to the true horror of what the place had in store for me.

No, it wasn't exactly a paradise, but I had to find the cheapest place I could. I was barely making a fraction of what I was before at my old job, and I needed somewhere to get back on my feet. I told myself it was temporary and once I could get a better job I would get out of here.

When I had first arrived to look at the place, I had arranged a simple walk through with the landlord Mr. Jacobs a very unpleasant fellow who always looked perpetually angry and was constantly shouting in the halls and at the few miserable looking staff who worked here. We walked up two flights of stairs passing a wall of profanity laden graffiti tagged along almost the whole length of it leading up to where my future home was to be.

Mr. Jacobs opened the door and the rattling handle nearly fell off in the effort. We stepped inside and the dank room stank like a tomb. The tiny apartment was depressing and when he went to turn on the main light nothing happened. He scoffed and muttered a string of colorful language and grumbled that.

“Someone will bring a new light bulb; I told Rodney to check earlier that lazy piece of shit.”

I didn't want to press the matter since he looked pissed off, so we went in, and he showed me what little there was to see of the tiny apartment. We had to rely on the dim light of the bedroom to see elsewhere, since the main light was out. Despite leading the walk-through, it looked like Mr. Jacobs was distracted, he was looking at the ceiling in the corner of the tiny living room with a concerning grimace on his face.

He stared at it for a while and paused the tour, I found it a little weird. He finally looked back at me as if noticing that I was watching him stare at the ceiling and he shrugged and asserted that.

“You are going to want to get some buckets, when it rains heavily that part of the ceiling leaks. Can't seem to find out how since there's no leak on 416 above but bad luck on this one, I guess, that's the only reason the price is so low.” He shot me a grin that I could only describe as enthusiastically malicious. After the brief walk-through Mr. Jacobs turned around and asked very bluntly.

“You are not a troublemaker, are you?” His eyes narrowed and he looked very threatening suddenly. I assured him of my earnest intent and need for a place to stay, and he softened briefly, at least I think he did, it was hard to tell with him. He regarded me one more time and said.

“Good we don’t need more troublemakers, too many questions, always snooping around. If you have any questions try to figure it out yourself, this isn't the Ritz we don't take care of everything for you. You are going to have to make do as is. Something really bad like a fire then you can call, but for minor shit, best to just figure it out yourself. Rents due on the 1st by the way, no exceptions and no grace period anyone who bums out on their debt gets their asses kicked out next day, fuck tenant laws!”

He shot me another wicked smile and returned downstairs leaving me with the keys and just assuming I had agreed to move in. I was dumbfounded by the combination of his upfront hateful attitude and the subtext of certain things he had mentioned. What in his mind was a troublemaker? And what happened to those who asked too many questions? I couldn't believe I was going to have to live here.

In a better position I would have left immediately but it was either here or homeless. All the other places I had looked were too expensive, so I left and began packing my things. The whole situation was awful, but I had no choice, I moved in the next weekend.

Moving day was as bleak as my mood. It had been raining on and off again all day and seemed to start heavily just in time to when I was moving my boxes, almost as if to spite me. I started taking my stuff upstairs to my new room.

As I was taking the first box up the stairs, I thought I heard a gunshot. I rushed on in nervous tension and as I was approaching my door, I heard a voice call out in a tone that was actually friendly.

“Excuse me, it looks like you dropped something.”

I was surprised to see a woman standing in the hall with a look of friendly concern. As I looked down to see I had indeed dropped something from the broken box I was trying to carry upstairs.

“Hi, I'm Maxine, I am your neighbor in 315.”

I introduced myself and was relieved to have found a friendly face for a change.

“Hey there, I’m Greg, nice to meet you.” I held out my hand and she looked uncomfortable briefly and declined the handshake.

“Sorry, I’m getting over a cold I shouldn't, but it is nice to meet you.” She said with another disarming smile.

I was relieved to see someone who didn't look they were minutes away from killing me or someone else. Though the paranoid part of my brain was begging the question why such a seemingly nice person was stuck here. I considered asking her but figured it would be rude to pry about her situation, she might have been like me and just on hard times. I was embarrassed when I realized I was just standing there after saying hello and stumbled for words, but she spoke first.

“Well, it was nice meeting you Greg, stay safe and try not to let your spirits get down. It’s easy in this place but nothing bad lasts forever.” She smiled and waved goodbye. I looked down to make sure the box was secure and when I looked up to say goodbye she was already gone. I wondered how she was so fast. Nevertheless, I felt slightly more hopeful that things might be okay after all.

Another hour of moving boxes and my knees were on fire but the meager possessions I had were finally stuffed haphazardly into the tiny apartment. I was dead tired, but it was only 4 pm. I figured I had earned a nap though and went into the tiny closet that was supposedly a bedroom. No furniture fit besides my old mattress that took up the entirety of the space.

I laid down and started drifting off, the peaceful sound of rain started to get heavier and then I heard a new sound which woke me from my doze. A tiny dripping sound coming from the main room. I remembered what Mr. Jacobs had said about heavy rain and a leak and I got up quickly to make sure the water was not landing on all my boxes and getting everything wet.

I looked up in the corner of the room and sure enough there was a steady dripping onto one of the boxes below. I poked around and found the dishes box and took out a few pieces of tupperware and a bowl and set one underneath the leak. I thought for a moment about calling Mr. Jacobs but then remembered how he had given up on fixing this leak and realized it would do no good. I turned around to go back to bed when I heard an odd tearing sound like wallpaper being stretched to breaking point. When I turned around there was nothing there. I figured it was just my nerves and I went back to bed.

I slept for about two hours and despite the brief rest I had a vivid nightmare of drowning in a dark lake with no shores on any side. It was horrible, just sinking into a black watery abyss.

I was embarrassed as I woke up with a scream, but relaxed as I realized it was just a dream and no one likely heard or cared that someone in 316 was screaming anyway. I figured the rain and that damn leak had got me thinking about water and my negative mood may have contributed to a nightmare, so I brushed it off and went about trying to organize the chaos of boxes in some logical manner for this small space.

Later that night I had a cup of ramen for dinner and turned in early. I read a bit before bed, almost as if trying to postpone sleep for fear of sinking into that fathomless abyss again when I slept. Eventually I started to get comfortable and thought I may fall asleep when it started again.

Drip, drip, drip.

The leak had resumed, it sounded faster than before, and I thought it was strange that I could hear it so vividly. I got up to see if maybe it had overflowed or something and I was not prepared for what I saw.

The ceiling where the leak was had an odd lambent light near the center, kind of like a black light. It seemed to be pulsing in time with the drops of water. There was an odd type of density in the air too, like it was too heavy and thick. It was maddeningly humid as well despite the cold atmosphere of the room and outside. I was confused and kind of scared by the bizarre display. I just kept thinking to myself it is only temporary, as soon as I can leave I will, I can make it through anything short term.

I took a step further into the living room and noticed a wet spot on the floor. There is no way it could be all the way over here, the bowl on the floor was not even full yet. I suspected a leak might also be over in this spot now, so I looked up and screamed out loud. There was what looked like a face pressing through the ceiling with drops of water seeping from the thing's mouth. I turned to run and tripped on the wet floor and toppled over bashing my head into a wall and almost losing consciousness.

I was trying to stagger to my feet after getting knocked senseless and the memory of the face reminded me of my peril. I got to my feet and looked up in tense expectation. There was nothing there. No leak, no face, no glowing shifting portal. The only evidence of anything was a small wet spot on the ceiling about nine inches across. At that point I thought for sure that depression over my situation was causing me to go crazy and see things. I desperately wished I could be somewhere else just then, but it was late at night, and I needed sleep. I couldn't afford a hotel obviously, so I left my room and went outside to the parking lot to sleep in my car.

Another week went by with poor work hours, barely any food and bad sleep. Though the one bright side was the surprisingly good weather. Days went by and no odd events took place in my apartment. It was a struggle but at least with a little sunshine there was no leak to conjure up such terrible nightmares like what I had experienced before.

I ran into Maxine again on the way to the laundry room and couldn't help but ask if she knew of anything having happened in my room before I moved in, like anyone having seen anything weird or the like. She shifted uncomfortably and looked down, pausing as if not wanting to answer.

“I'm sorry, I don't know much. I had not been here for very long when the last person in 316 had left. I say left but I heard there was an accident of some sort. There was a lot of commotion and I had heard some strange rantings from the man before it happened.”

She took a breath to steady herself after the stress of recounting the story and looked away.

“I was away at work when it actually happened, apparently he had been found dead in the apartment, some say he killed himself, drowning. From what I heard he was a bad man, there are a lot of bad men that live here. The things that have happened that never got reported and the people that got hurt or worse, well.....” She looked away sorrowfully for a moment and resumed.

“Well, you wouldn't want to know. A coward like that would try and kill himself but I think something akin to justice may have caught up to him, something that this place might need more of. When you live with the stain of hate and violence it leaves something behind and perhaps sometimes the world finds a way to wash it away and right the wrongs. Anyway, I don't like to think about it. I have to run I have to get ready for work, sorry I couldn't help more I hope you stay safe and stay dry, you wouldn't want to get swept up too.”

She turned a corner and I saw a fallen cardigan. I bent down to pick it up and it felt wet, like it had been washed already. Not too weird if she just did laundry but her footprints were soaking wet as well. I grabbed the garment and rushed round the corner shouting out.

“Hey Maxine, you dropped this.” But she was gone. The wet footprints randomly stopped as well. How did she stop leaving them if her feet were wet?

A few more months passed with no leaks and only a few nightmares. My luck turned sour again for different reasons though. I suffered a severe back injury at work. Since it occurred while working, I got some workers comp so I wouldn't lose all my income. I did have to take time off of work, so I was forced to stay in my apartment all day and night recouping. To make matters worse it was getting into the season for spring showers and the forecast was heavy rain for the next week.

I was not quite bedridden but walking and bending over was very uncomfortable, I considered taking a drive somewhere, anywhere but here, but I couldn't manage the stairs again today and I knew I at least needed to actually rest for one or two of my days off.

So I was stuck in the apartment, watching the clouds gather and the skies darken. I placed several dishes under the leak spot in anticipation and I swigged some energy drinks and coffee. I would rest but I disliked the idea of sleeping any more than I had to, since I still feared those disturbing dreams in the water.

I tried to distract myself by watching some old DVD’s since I had no streaming services to watch. As I started to relax around late afternoon, I was shocked back into a frenzied paranoia when the storm kicked up in intensity and knocked the power out. I tried not to panic and knew I had some candles or a flashlight or two somewhere. I would have to get up though so I figured I would stay in the bedroom. I used my phone flashlight to find a candle and matches and hurried back to the bedroom just as the leak restarted and the drip, drip, drip was heard filling the bowls left out. I felt silly fleeing the leak like it was dangerous, I didn't know why that dream had affected me so much, but it felt wrong.

I sat in the dark and waited for the power to return but it did not, I fought sleep but even in my paranoid state I started to drift off. I was content that the door was closed at least, and it slightly muffled the sound of that constant dripping.

I awoke to the sounds of running water, the drip was replaced by a torrent that almost sounded like a waterfall. I was too afraid to move, but I had to see if my room was being flooded. I got up painfully and stepped down into ankle high water. Oh God this is bad, I thought immediately as I moved to the door to see what had happened, I heard a singular splashing noise, almost like someone stepping through the water.

My heart froze as I stopped just short of opening the door and focused on the sound. I heard the splashing again; it was definitely footsteps. I didn't know what to do I tried to think who might break in, a robber? Maybe it was about the flooding, maybe it was Mr. Jacobs after all?

I grabbed the candlestick and lit the candle. If I needed to, I might be able to use it as an improvised weapon, if it could be a murder weapon in clue then why not? I cautiously opened the door and there was a backwash of even more water on the other side, it almost knocked me off my feet. I stumbled through the door, struggling in the cold water, I knew it was impossible, but it felt like there was a current running through it, like I was standing in the mouth of a river. I finally stepped past the door and into the living room and almost dropped the candle into the oddly surging waters. The sight before me was both amazing and terrifying. The water was moving, it was flowing into a whirlpool that was at the center of the room but as it neared the center it inverted and seemed to be spiraling out from the ceiling rather than the pooled water on the floor in a sight that blatantly disregarded all laws of gravity.

The spectacle was so amazing I almost forgot the footsteps I had heard and until they resumed. My gawking was broken, and I saw large bursts of water splashing toward me. I heard an ear-splitting cry like the wail of a banshee and suddenly the ceiling where the leak was coming from, and the current epicenter of the vortex started to glow and after a moment it turned deep red and a new horror occurred.

The face I had seen in what I had hoped was a nightmare before was back. The ceiling seemed to shimmer now, almost translucent and I saw the horrible features of a hideous form. White pupil-less eyes stared down at me and a gaping screaming maw began filling with water tinged with red? No, it wasn't water, it was blood. The vortex began spewing blood all across the room and as I turned to flee in horror I was wrenched from my feet by the invisible force in the water and dragged kicking and screaming into the heart of the vortex. My last conscious sight that night was being pulled up into my own ceiling and into the bleeding maw of that avatar of bloody nightmare.

I woke up in the black abyss. The water was still mixed with blood, but there were no creatures. I was somehow buoyant and floated along in the shore less sanguine ocean. I drifted along unable to sink or to fully rise up. After what felt like an hour of drifting, I heard splashing and all of the sudden the sound got louder and louder. I looked around and saw the source of the noise, bodies were falling from the sky into the bloody ocean. First a few, then dozens then hundreds. A literal storm of blood-soaked featureless bodies came crashing into the water. I tried to evade them, but I could not dodge them all and I was buffeted by the limp forms of countless bodies until I was pummeled below the surface of the water. I couldn't breathe and as I tried to surface one of the bodies grasped my wrist and opened its eyes. On its previously featureless face, it now had oddly pulsating white pupils and it burst what appeared to be stitching on its mouth in order to scream under the water.

The sight and shock of that horrible scene woke me and I realized I was laying on my back in my apartment again. The flood water was lapping at my face, and I was breathing in and choking on the water on the floor. I lurched up as soon as I regained control of my body, spitting water and gagging from the quasi drowning I had endured. The water looked normal, no blood from what I saw, but the water itself was not a delusion or some trace of insanity it was there.

It was a bad scene, tons of my things were submerged, and the water damage was extensive. Somehow it had risen to almost two feet high. I had to do something, I didn't expect much from this place, but this was a severe enough situation that the crotchety old bastard Mr. Jacobs was going to have to fix something whether he liked it or not or they would be getting a lawsuit in short order. I figured some lawyers would take easy cases they knew they would win with no retainer needed if they got paid more at the end. So, it would not be a bluff I was dead serious, I almost drowned in my own apartment!

I staggered to the door and managed to open it, draining tons of water out into the hall, but I didn't care, I just needed some fresh air. My back was on fire, but nothing would stop me. I heard a voice calling out to me, it was Maxine.

“Hey are you okay? I saw all the water and hadn't seen you around is there flooding there?”

She asked with an odd look, almost like she knew the answer but didn't want to let on.

“Yes there is, it is pretty bad actually I was just about to call Mr. Jacobs to do something about it.

”Greg....” She paused for a moment then continued.

“You didn't see anything in there did you? In the water? Like something or someone familiar?” I was confused by the specific nature of the question. I was put off and unsure how she knew I might have seen something.

“I am not sure what I saw, why do you ask?” I responded.

“No reason, just be careful it can be dangerous if you do. Don’t worry if it is not where you belong, you won't get pulled in forever. Just be careful though, you don't want to risk it.” A flash of morbid glee was evident on her face for a split second and then it was gone. I was starting to feel uncomfortable.

“Pulled in? How do you know about the leak? And if you do what's behind it?” I ask with mounting suspicion evident in my voice.

“You know Greg, in many cultures the path between the world of the living and the dead is separated by only the slightest barrier, often a literal or symbolic body of water. Whether the river Styx, the lake of fire, the waters reflected at the feet of a Torii gate, it is often just potent waters. Like all bodies of water, when they are contained somewhere there can be leaks. Sometimes the water is not the only thing that seeps out.” She stopped speaking for a moment and fixed me with an intent stare that made me feel very strange. I did not know what she was talking about? Was she saying that portal leads to some sort of afterlife? Like heaven or more likely in this case hell?

“Did you just say....” And she cut me off, saying.

“Oh if Mr. Jacobs finally goes over there to fix your ceiling let him know I had a concern I needed to express to him as well, it's been waiting for a long time.” She smiled again in a creepy way that disturbed me.

“Ah yeah sure I guess I can do that.”

“Thanks! See ya later and hope you feel better, those accidents can be rough best not sleep on your side and to drink lots of water, the right kind though.” She winked at me and departed, and I was at a loss for what just happened. How did she know I had gotten hurt I didn't tell her, and what was that thing about the right kind of water?

My anxiety about the situation was increasing and I was disturbed by Maxine’s questions too, maybe she was not so sweet and trustworthy after all. After far too long being ignored and dealing with the first sodden, now moldering cloths boxes and other personal effects Mr. Jacobs finally scheduled a time to drain the last remnants of water and do something more concrete about fixing the leak.

I was waiting patiently for his arrival and there was a loud banging at the door. I greeted Mr. Jacobs and he grunted at me and without looking at me walked past and looked up at the hole in the ceiling. He had an odd air of what almost looked like fear or concern on his face.

After he walked in another larger person in coveralls and holding a toolbox did as well. There was a large tarp or something that seemed odd to bring to this sort of job, it almost looked like a big sort of bag. They were both looking at the hole in the ceiling and Mr. Jacobs turned on a dime and stared me down.

“It’s just been water leaking down, nothing else right?” I thought the question was odd and I hesitated to answer since I was thinking of those vivid nightmares. I think he may have noticed that because his face sank, and he glowered at me looking significantly angrier and more dangerous than before. Before I could answer he shouted at me.

“What did you see?! Did something come out of the hole? Was it a person?” He looked manic and deranged, and I looked at the other man in the coveralls and he stood silent holding a sledgehammer that had appeared in his hand and watching the confrontation unfold.

“I....I don't know I just saw the leak, what is going on what do you think I saw? My neighbor asked me the same thing earlier.” Mr. Jacobs eyes narrowed.

“What neighbor? I haven't had tenants in 315 or 317 in over a year.”

I was confused, maybe I had heard Maxine’s apartment number wrong, but how could she be my neighbor if she was not in one of those. This must be some kind of mix up, I figured.

“My neighbor Maxine she said she lives in 315; I just saw her the other day and she asked if I had seen something as well.” At the mention of the name Mr. Jacobs face turned white.

“You said her name was Maxine!? She said that? You saw her?!” He was screaming at me asking more questions about Maxine like she was on Americas most wanted.

“What does she have to do with this? I don’t know what the hell is going on.” I admitted.

Ignoring my question, Mr. Jacobs began pacing and holding his hand to his head. The man in coveralls spoke for the first time.

“Jack, we have to go, let's find the body while the leak and portal are still here and dispose of the loose end.” I gasped at the admission of both a body and that I was apparently a loose end to some sort of crime.

“I fucking know, alright make it quick, we are going to have to do two so let's go before more people start coming home and we risk someone hearing.”

I fell back against the wall in shock as the large man hefted the sledgehammer and started stomping toward me. I was unarmed and injured; I didn't know what I could do but suddenly the lights went out again.

The door slammed shut and as the three of us stood there in stunned silence a slow drip began to trickle from the ceiling. Each drop splashing off of the low standing pool of water. The large man went to the door and tried to open it but to no avail.

“Jack what is going on?!” The man shouted to Mr. Jacobs.

“I don't know just use the hammer. Kill him and then bust us out of here. Or just give it to me and I will fucking do it.”

They were going to kill me!? I had to think of something quick, so I stammered out.

“Wait! I don't know what is going on you guys, you don't want to kill me I really don't know anything. Let's just get out of here before the water gets much worse, I think something bad is going to happen.”

As if on cue the dripping stopped and a torrent of water was disgorged from the hole in the ceiling, which now held a horribly familiar glow and was pouring a blood red liquid into the apartment. There was a giggle followed by a blood curdling screech and the man in the coveralls with the hammer was wrenched up off his feet and dragged kicking and screaming into the water. Mr. Jacobs and I both watched as his entire head was forced under the water by some unseen force, The man was being drown and as he looked like he might kick up a splash of water landed next to him revealing a brief outline of a female form the eyes were white and it had a horrible smile on its face. Its unnaturally long hand was wrapped fully around the man's throat and was effortlessly throttling him.

Mr. Jacobs saw something or someone he recognized in the violent mist and started sobbing and begging for mercy.

“I didn't mean to, please. It was an accident. I would have been locked up. I couldn't lose everything, I had to.”

I sat in stark terror as the falling water from the ceiling became a storm. The millions of droplets highlighted the attacker, her form was terrible yet oddly mesmerizing. She strolled along towards Mr. Jacobs who was grasping at the door handle and tugging uselessly at it. He reached for the hammer when he was pulled toward the figure by a moving tendril of bloody water.

“Just a little bath Jack that's all it won't hurt......much.” He tried to scream but his head was submerged in the bloody water. I saw the sentient waves of ruinous liquid grasp each of his appendages and tear him limb from limb in a bloody explosion.

I screamed and stumbled away wading through the water into my bedroom and desperately pulled on the window to escape that way. I heard splashing footsteps and a soft pretty tune being sung by an ethereal voice. Then I heard a giant crash and saw a portion of wall collapse along with more of the ceiling and the sight before my eyes almost drove me insane.

There was a vortex of bloody water sucking the maimed bodies of those men into the hellish portal where the leak originated and at the center was the bloody figure smiling at me and waving a hand as I finally got the window to budge and fall out. I stepped outside and tried to descend the fire escape, but the surface was too slippery, and I fell. I screamed and plummeted down and thought I would land on my head and die. Yet as I fell my descent slowed and to my shock and horror, I realized the rainwater was mixing with the water from my apartment flowing out of the window and I was being pulled back up into my room. I tried to scream but I felt water fill my mouth. At some point in the nightmare ride I blacked out again.

That was the last thing I remembered before I found myself here again. As I listen to the leak once more, I wonder if it could have all been a bad dream? The water, the leak, the portal it is all too much it couldn't have been real. I will go into my dingy living room and see the water dripping into the bowl and realize it was all just a terrible dream.

Yet when I sit up, I notice an odd breeze and when my eyes focus in the dark, I see lights in the sky........the sky?

The ceiling is gone! I don't know what is going on here, but I know I have to get out of here now. I hear splashing footsteps again over the ever-present dripping and see in the sky now the light of the monstrous portal opening in the very clouds above!

It is too much I leap from the fire escape again. Somehow in my mad haste I survive descending the fire escape and I sit here now writing this impossible story in my car that I have been living in nearly a week after the fact.

I heard on the news the reports of a structural collapse at my apartment and the landlord being unavailable for questioning, presumed missing along with another man who worked at the apartment as a special contractor. I thought about Mr. Jacobs and the man in the coveralls and shuddered when I remembered them being drawn into that unholy portal in the ceiling.

Apparently, it had not been the only disappearance in the building either. Around a year ago there was a missing person's report for a Maxine Valoroso. I remember how Mr. Jacobs reacted to her name, and it made me wonder what really happened here before I moved in.

I don't know who or what Maxine was, maybe she was the same person in the report, changed somehow. Best I can guess Mr. Jacobs had known something about her disappearance, maybe he had killed her and somehow, she came back for revenge. She mentioned the water washing away people's violent lives and I shuddered when I considered her smile when talking about the last person in 316 and the overdue message she had to send to Mr. Jacobs. I didn't know if she was a ghost, a demon or what. I also don't know the extent of her reach or if she is satisfied with just those men and who knows how many others she had washed away from that room with that dread portal.

I suppose it doesn't matter to me anymore I am never going back there. I gave all my belongings up for lost and the building was condemned anyway after the landlord disappeared and the ceiling collapsed in several sections of the building. I think there are are terrible things they will discover if they ever really investigate the building. Perhaps they will find bodies, perhaps the bodies are all gone, sucked into that watery abyss, that eldritch gate to hell whose opening started with a simple leak.

If something like that can happen I just don't know, I don't know if anyone is safe anymore.

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2024/06/05
22:38 UTC

4

I was taken to an underground orphanage where all the toys were alive

My parents died when I was young. The house fire that murdered them also destroyed everything we owned, every picture of our family, every heirloom and memento. To this day, I can barely remember my parents’ faces. Thinking back, it all seems like a blur, like a ghostly image of a mother and father without features or expressions. My brother Alex, who was only nine at the time, managed to carry me out of the house. He was hailed as a hero, and the story played on the local news. It managed to draw attention from a small local toy company called Bittaker’s Toys.

They had a small orphanage next to their toy company. In hindsight, it was probably all some tax-deductible scheme to make themselves look good, among other things. I remember a police officer with a tight, grim expression on his face coming into my hospital room after the fire. His dark eyes looked ancient and haunted, as if he were a hundred years old.

“I’ve got good news, little buddy,” he said, patting me on the shoulder without smiling. I glanced up at his flat eyes. They shone like new copper pennies. “Larry Bittaker himself has volunteered to adopt you and your brother. You’re going to live at Toyland!” I frowned at him, a small boy in an extremely large hospital bed. I drew the sheets up to my neck pensively, using them like a shield.

“What’s… what’s a ‘Toyland’?” I asked nervously. I looked at his uniform, seeing a nametag there reading, “Sergeant Bowley.” I somehow knew at that moment that I would see this man again. I don’t know if I believe in psychic powers or anything, but I had a sudden flash of pale, bloodless faces, men shouting in the middle of chaos and bloodshed, and a blurry silhouette of someone in a police uniform running in with dead eyes. I blinked, and it evaporated like a mirage.

“You’ve never heard of Toyland?” Sergeant Bowley asked, staring at me without blinking. “It’s a place where kids go when they don’t have… a family, I guess. All the kids there are adopted or orphans. They have a private school and everything. It’s really one of the best-case scenarios for you and your brother.” I nodded. Even as a small child, a creeping suspicion came over my mind. Was he trying to convince me, or himself?

***

We were taken to Toyland the next morning. Sergeant Bowley drove my brother Alex and me to the orphanage. As we pulled in, Alex put a thin arm around my shoulders, hugging me close.

“It’s gonna be OK, Herbie,” he whispered. His blue eyes were wide and uncertain as we surveyed the complex. He was scarecrow thin, and the trauma and horror of the last few days still gleamed darkly behind his eyes.

The complex was ringed by a black, metal fence with sharp points like spears emerging from the top. A brightly-colored building loomed overhead, its walls covered with fluorescent day-glo murals showing happy children playing with toys that were alive. Roosters and lizards with humanoid bodies and sharp, pointed teeth played on playgrounds in the murals with smiling children. Teddy bears with very human-like fingers and toes climbed trees with excited children. The children’s mouths were all open and silently wailing- though whether in screams of pleasure or of fear, I couldn’t yet tell. 

The building had countless smoke-stacks on the top of its flat roof, each billowing out clouds of black smoke into the air. An enormous sign on top of the building read “BITTAKER’S TOYS”.

A black-clad guard in a guardhouse ambled slowly over to the car, leaning down close to Sergeant Bowley’s face. I couldn’t hear what they said through the divider in the police car, but the guard had a grim, set expression on his face. As the gate slid open and we drove past, I realized the guard had what looked like a small arsenal on his belt, holding two pistols and dozens of magazines.

“Why does that man need so many guns?” I whispered in the back seat. Alex shook his gaunt face.

“They probably just keep a lot of important stuff and money here,” he said.

“Oh,” I muttered as the police car slowly pulled up to the entrance, a tall archway with two swinging glass doors. All along the front of the building stood tall animatronic creatures, six-foot-tall teddy bears with huge, black eyes and humanoid roosters with blade-like combs extending from the tops of their pointed heads. They all stood as straight as soldiers, staring ahead in an unblinking, statuesque way. I don’t know if they were supposed to look cute, but as a young boy, they appeared terrifying and unnatural. Their mouths stayed straight and expressionless. They had an eerie uncanny valley feeling to them.

“What are those?” I asked Sergeant Bowley as he opened the door. Alex and I slid out, carrying all of our worldly goods in two small plastic bags. The fire destroyed everything we owned except for the clothes on our back, after all. Some charity had given us toiletries and a couple pairs of clothes. I held it protectively against my body, afraid that someone would try to take away the last possessions I owned.

“You don’t know the Smiling Buddies? About Berry Bear and Mino the Minotaur?” he said, surprised. “Well, you’ll learn about them inside. I thought kids loved that kind of stuff.”

“Our parents didn’t really give us a lot of toys,” Alex said. “They used to send us outside to play.”

“Ah, well, that’s the best way,” Sergeant Bowley said in a fatherly manner as he escorted us toward the building. Once we had gotten to within a few steps of the bizarre animal mannequins, they came to life.

Their eyes suddenly glowed with a pale, inner light that stayed far down in the black orbs with an eerie cataract gleam. With a whirring of gears and a grinding of metal, their heads ratcheted over to face us. Their slack, vacant mouths erupted into wide grins, showing square teeth that gleamed with a silvery luster. Their movements were simultaneous and choreographed, like those of synchronized dancers. 

As one, they raised their right hands into the air in what was probably intended to be a wave, but in reality looked more like a Sieg Heil salute. Their mouths chattered as a song rang out all around us from hidden speakers, but the movements of their jaws didn’t exactly match the words, increasing the uncanny valley feeling of the entire thing. They started dancing and twisting their bodies in a strange kind of jitterbug dance.

“Welcome, girls and boys!

Come to the land of toys,

Where nothing is as it seems.

A place where a child’s dreams

Can rise to the purest joys,

And where the nighttime screams

Of the shadow that destroys

Fade away to nothing,

Leaving only the smiles of spring.”

As soon as the song had finished, the animatronics’ arms fell limply down, the light in their eyes fading back to blackness. With a final whirring of gears, they straightened back up into their soldierly postures and went quiet. Silently, the three of us went inside.

***

We walked through the swinging doors into a lobby where the floor was paved with black-and-white squares of gleaming marble. Long wooden tables ran perpendicular to the front wall, covered with computer monitors and TVs. Huge statues of toys surrounded us on all sides. 

An extremely fat man stood in the center of the empty chamber. His clothes were all bright day-glo colors, fluorescent orange pants and a bright yellow button-up long-sleeve shirt that showed the curly hairs on his chest. His head was shaved, and his scalp gleamed like a fleshy egg. 

“Welcome, kiddos!” he said in a high-pitched, feminine wheeze as sweat trickled down his beet-red face. He took a step toward us. His lips were thick and moist. In a moment, they rose into a wide smile, showing off rows of small, straight teeth. “My name is Larry Bittaker, and this is my toy company. But it is so much more! It’s a place where sweet little children like you can live and grow- forever, if you want.” 

Slowly, Larry Bittaker lowered his fat face until it was only inches from mine. His many chins jiggled as he knelt down. His stubby, sweaty fingers came up and pinched my cheek. His beady, blue eyes reminded me of those of a pig. We stared at each other for a long moment. Then he turned to Alex, ruffling his overgrown bowl cut.

“OK, kids, be safe. Larry, I’m gonna get taking off,” Sergeant Bowley said, slowly stepping back from the pig-like man kneeling on the ground in front of him. “Here’s my card, by the way, if you kids ever need anything.” He reached into his pocket, giving me and Alex copies of his business cards. I stared down at it, confused. No one had ever given me a business card before. It had his name and private phone number on it. 

I heard Sergeant Bowley turn and walk out the door. And then Alex and I were alone with the toymaker.

***

Larry Bittaker seemed to be the only one in the warehouse. We walked past corridors filled with empty toys and staring animatronics. Larry filled the air with his ramblings the entire time.

“You kids are really going to love it here, I guarantee it,” he said with exuberance. “The other boys and girls are waiting for you downstairs. They’re so excited to see new friends come in!” A steep metal staircase spiraled down into the darkness. I grabbed Alex’s hand nervously, looking up at Larry Bittaker. “Well, go on, little ones!”

“Aren’t you coming with us?” I asked in a small voice. Larry gave a boisterous laugh, his protuberant stomach jiggling like jello as his face grew even redder.

“Oh, no, no!” he said. “I don’t go down there! The little ones tend to smell like poverty.” His face drew close to mine. “In fact, I can smell it on you right here.” I backed up away from the strange man. Alex’s small face formed into a scowl.

“You can’t talk to us like that,” he said defiantly, puffing his little bird chest out.

“If you two little shitheads don’t start going down those stairs now, I’ll throw you down them,” Larry Bittaker growled, his porcine face melting into a sneer. The mask of the genial businessman had disappeared, and something cold and dark revealed itself.

Glancing backwards, Alex and I started down the spiral staircase, descending into the blackness.

***

At the bottom of the stairs, I saw the gleam of blood-red emergency lights. They illuminated what looked like an enormous maze. As soon as we had gone past the threshold, a hidden door slammed behind us, cutting off the last of the white light overhead. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the metal door smashed closed with a ringing sound.

“What is this place?” Alex asked in a small voice. I followed close at his heels. “Where are the other kids?”

“Maybe they’re all hiding,” I said hopefully. “Maybe it’s all a big game.” Alex looked doubtful.

“Come on, Herbie,” he said with deep-socketed eyes the color of ashes. “Nowhere to go but forward.” The silence rang out around us like a shriek. I could hear my own heart beating loudly in my ears. The floor was covered in steel-gray carpets, the walls painted jet-black. Incandescent bulbs with dark red glass hung overhead, spread out every twenty feet or so on the dark ceiling. They cast the maze in a bloody glow.

We moved forward randomly, taking turns to the left and right. There were strange obstacles in the maze: enormous chairs that looked like they were made for giants, mannequins with glowing red eyes and smooth, plastic faces, and more animatronic characters, pigs and bulls and bears and roosters. The animatronics stayed still and dead, to my immense relief. As we wandered forward, I suddenly remembered something a math teacher had told me a couple years ago, in what felt like another life.

“There is a way to get out of any maze without retracing your steps,” the man in glasses had said at the front of the classroom, drawing a small maze as an example on the whiteboard. “All you have to do is take your left hand, hold it out to your side, and keep it against the wall. Keep going forward in the maze with your hand kept against the same wall, and eventually you will find the exit.”

I told Alex about this. A wan smile spread across his lips. 

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “I never heard that before. But what if there’s no exit?” I shrugged.

“Then who cares? We’ll still explore the entire maze, as long as you keep one hand on the wall,” I said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the right hand or left hand, just so long as you keep following the same wall. Because a maze is really just one big wall, if you think about it.” We continued forward around a corner. I nearly tripped over something laying sprawled across the hallway. I looked down and repressed a scream welling up in my throat.

The mummified body of a child lay there. I couldn’t tell how long it had been dead, or even whether it was a boy or a girl. The white, beady eyes of rats scurried around it, ripping off strips of the dessicated, jerky-like flesh of the corpse. The clothes were threadbare, worn away over time. The eyes stared vacantly up, as white as river stones. A smell like cinnamon and sulfur rose from the dead body.

“Oh my God,” I said, a rising sense of panic gripping my heart. I felt it like a tightening noose around my neck. “We’re going to die here, aren’t we?” Alex didn’t say anything. I heard him hyperventilating by my side under the crimson glow of the maze’s lights.

“Did you hear something?” he whispered. I was staring down at the mummified corpse, transfixed. My head jerked up as if with a will of its own. I scanned the shadowy maze. Far down the corridor, I saw the gleaming of animatronic eyes, the faded cataract light deep in the sockets. With a quiet whirring of gears, they crept towards us. A few steps later, the silhouette passed under the bare red bulb overhead.

It was an animatronic minotaur with two black, bulging eyes. Its horns curved gracefully outwards. A smile like a razor split its metal face. There was a squealing of metal as the jaw unhinged, roaring with an ear-splitting electronic distortion. It had legs like a rhinoceros, thick and rounded. Its silver skin reflected the bloody light as it towered over us, staring down with a ferocious hatred.

“Run!” Alex screamed, turning and sprinting away. I followed close at his heels, afraid to look back. The ground shook as the metal behemoth’s heavy legs slammed the ground. We took random passageways in the maze, trying to lose the minotaur, but I could hear its heavy footsteps drawing closer by the second.

Up ahead, I saw a ventilation shaft with the grill removed. A woman’s face peered out, looking emaciated and filthy.

“In here!” she hissed through gritted teeth, her words barely audible over the cacophony of the minotaur’s roaring. Her dirt-streaked face drew back, disappearing in the shadows. Alex was right behind me, and at that moment, I believed we would both make it.

I leapt forwards, crawling on my hands and knees into the shaft. The thin metal echoed crazily all around me as I frantically pulled myself forward. Once I had gone forwards a few steps, I looked back, expecting to see Alex right behind me. He was still at the entrance, however. His eyes were wide and terrified. They met mine for a brief moment. He tried to crawl in, to pull himself forward. His small hands furiously dragged over the smooth metal. Then I saw two sharp, steel hands reach down behind him, grabbing his legs. He screamed, reaching forwards toward me. I tried to take his hand, but I was too far away.

A single heartbeat later, he got dragged backwards at a tremendous speed. A mixture of agony and mortal terror roiled across his face. 

“Alex!” I cried, crawling forwards. “Come back!” A spatter of blood exploded over the wall and end of the shaft. I turned away, crying. I heard screaming behind me, a sound like bones shattering, something slamming over and over against a wall.

I crawled forwards through the vents, seeing the bare silhouette of a woman ahead of me, not realizing that I would never see my brother again.

***

“Come on!” the woman whispered. The vent turned at a ninety-degree angle. It was so dark I could barely tell where I was going. I felt my way slowly forward with my hands like a blind person.

“But what about my brother?” I asked. “We need to go back! He could be hurt!” The woman didn’t say anything. I heard her breathing quicken.

“Just follow me, kid,” she said. “It’s right up here…” I crawled forward, seeing a square of red light ahead of us. We came out into some kind of office room. A computer and phone sat on a desk next to crates full of protein bars and bottled waters. Posters covered the walls, many of them with bizarre slogans and pictures.

“FEED THE BEAR,” read one, next to a cartoon picture of an enormous animatronic bear ripping an elderly woman to pieces. Her walker lay next to her, a crumpled heap of useless metal. Her intestines were uncoiled around her like a den of red snakes.

The woman turned to me, her brown eyes set and grim. She had streaks of what looked like dried blood running through her black hair and covering her face.

“Who are you?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”

“My name’s Sarah,” she said, “and I used to work for Mr. Bittaker. I helped him build this entire underground complex. This place is massive. There’s rooms of food and water, monitoring rooms, miles of mazes and probably lots of stuff I don’t know about.”

“My name’s Herbie. So why are you here?” I said. She shook her head sadly.

“When he started to go insane, when I realized he was going to put children down there as prisoners in some evil game, I tried to blow the whistle, tried to get the authorities involved. But he was bribing some government officials, and before I knew it, men in black ski masks broke into my house and injected me with some sort of drug. I blacked out and woke up here a few weeks ago,” Sarah said. 

“We need to get out of here. We need to find Alex and tell people what’s happening,” I said. She shook her head sadly.

“No one will believe us,” she responded. I turned away, disgusted by her pessimism. She was supposed to be an adult, yet it seemed like she had given up all hope. I walked over to the computer, trying to turn it on. To my surprise, the screen came on with a white glare.

“Hey, the computer works!” I said. “Maybe we can use it to call for help!” I lifted the phone to my ear, hearing a dial tone. “And the phone works! We can get out of here!”

“It’s not going to be that easy,” Sarah said glumly. I ignored her, fishing in my pocket for the card Sergeant Bowley had given me. Squinting down at it, I dialed his number. After a few rings, he picked up.

“Hello?” he said. In a small voice, I answered.

“Hi, this is Herbie. Please, sir, you need to come back and help me. The man locked me and my brother underground, and I think my brother is hurt. There’s more people down here, too, I don’t know how many, and I saw a dead body…”

“Kid, is this a prank?” Sergeant Bowley said quickly. “Do you know making false reports is a crime?” Sarah grabbed the phone from me.

“This isn’t a prank,” she pleaded. “Please, you need to come back to Bittaker’s Toys and get us out of here. Larry Bittaker is insane…” The phone line abruptly cut off. The power to the room went out, plunging us into darkness. Over some hidden speakers, I heard Larry Bittaker’s voice ring out.

“That’s cheating,” he growled petulantly in his high-pitched voice, sounding like an angry child. “No communication with the outside world. Do you know what happens to cheaters?” Sarah grabbed my hand in the darkness, whispering in my ear.

“Follow me,” she said. “I know this place pretty well.” She led me forward. A few moments later, I heard a doorknob turn. Red light flooded into the office room. We were looking at a half-constructed part of the maze. Wires and pipes in the wall hung exposed, and only the wooden framework of the walls had been put up.

“What is this?” I asked. “Is the maze not done?”

“The maze is never done,” Sarah answered. “Larry kept expanding it, changing contractors so that no one would know the entire maze besides him. I think he’ll keep building it until the day he dies. He has enough money, anyway.”

As quietly as we could, we moved forward through the maze, trying to put some distance between ourselves and the office room. We turned a corner with Sarah in the lead. I heard the sudden whirring of gears and a half-choked scream ahead of me. A moment later, I felt Sarah’s body smash into mine. Warm blood splashed my face as I fell backwards on the ground. The wind whooshed out of my lungs. I looked up, seeing Sarah’s pale, blood-spattered face staring up in horror a few feet ahead of me.

A furry paw with claws like railroad spikes came down, slashing her across the chest. Drops of blood covered the walls and floor as Sarah thrashed and screamed, the animatronic bear standing over her with a dried up husk of a face. Its fur had mostly fallen out, leaving a pale, gray bear skull leering in its place.

“I’m Berry Bear!” it growled in a low, slowed-down voice. “I want to be friends with you forever! Let me give you a hug!” Sarah tried to crawl away as the jet-black eyes of Berry Bear narrowed. Its jaw chattered as silver needles of teeth glistened in its metal mouth. Her eyes met mine for a moment, filled with ineffable pain and terror. I backpedaled away, scooting across the floor, my mind shell-shocked and unbelieving.

The heavy body of Berry Bear came down with a force like a battering ram. Its metal arms slammed into Sarah’s back, crushing her chest. Bone chips and gore exploded from her body. Blood poured out of her mouth in a rushing torrent. Her eyes rolled up in her head as she gurgled on the ground.

Berry Bear’s head ratcheted to face me, blood streaming down its face and arms. Its teeth chattered faster, as if to show its increasing excitement and bloodlust.

“Can I give you a hug?” it growled.

“No! Get away from me!” I screamed, pushing myself up to my feet. I ran randomly through the maze, hearing the heavy steps of Berry Bear close at my heels. At the far end of the half-constructed maze, I saw a thick wooden door.

“Help me!” I shrieked over and over. To my surprise, I heard a response from the other side of the door.

“Stand back, kid!” a deep voice said, then there was a gunshot. The door’s lock exploded inwards. The door shot open as someone kicked it, flinging it hard against the wall. I saw Sergeant Bowley standing there, his pistol drawn, his dead eyes flickering over the maze. They widened when they saw Berry Bear only a few footsteps behind me, closing the distance with every second.

“Get down!” he cried. I threw myself on the ground without question as he opened fire. The ear-splitting racket of the gunshots reverberated all across the maze. I continued crawling forwards towards Sergeant Bowley, towards safety. I saw more cops running in behind him.

I looked up, seeing Berry Bear sprinting towards Sergeant Bowley in a blur, its animatronic face half blown away and revealing the steel underneath. It had an insane expression of manic bloodlust. It raised its right hand, the gleaming metal claws hanging over Sergeant Bowley’s head. Everything seemed to freeze then. Sergeant Bowley had his gun up. Frantically, he fired one last shot at the bear’s face.

The top of its head blew off as its claw came down, ripping through Sergeant Bowley’s head with a crack. The scalp hung down in a sick, wet flap as his brains leaked out of his broken skull. Slowly, he fell back. Berry Bear followed him down with a tearing of metal and a slowing of gears and its mechanical voice. The heavy animatronic landed on top of Sergeant Bowley’s body, crushing him instantly. A spreading pool of blood marked the site of the horrific murder.

***

Screaming and crying, I crawled towards the police. They carried me outside, under a sky the color of wet cotton. I breathed in the clean air, looking around frantically for any signs of my brother. The police carried other emaciated, frightened-looking children out of the maze, but not Alex.

They put me in the back of a car and drove me out of there, away from Bittaker’s Toys and the nightmares that waited underneath.

0 Comments
2024/06/04
06:06 UTC

10

We Prayed to the Wrong god

Part 1

I present these journals to you as a warning. There are churches that are indistinguishable from your Christian churches. Well, until you get to the inner circle. They pray to neither Yahweh nor Jesus even though they say they do. They pray to someone whose name I can never write. A god who loves to make himself known but because of forces even beyond him it is quite difficult for him to do so. A god who can give those he loves whatever he wants but only those he loves.

This isn’t a conspiracy of how elites secretly serve him or how he sits in the background dictating every move. This is an account of how he’s ruined my life.

Forgive my arrogance in the following journal entries; pride before the fall and all that.

Welcome, losers. 

Today’s a big day for me and you. For you, this is the start of how you get everything you want in life by reading my memoirs. And for me, this is the day I start my first and hopefully last romantic relationship with a certain beautiful girl named Kay McKenzie. I won’t go into too much detail about her because I’m sure you’ve heard of her because I’m sure by the time you read this I’ll be famous and so will she ( she’ll be married to me, duh).

Anyway, here’s the most important thing for you to know about the universe. This will change your life and make my memoir sell out. Read this slowly. Come close. I’ll whisper this to you. The first commandment is the most overlooked; you shall have no other gods before me. It implies there are other gods and oh, boy does he love proving he’s real. I’m not a fan of Him, for reasons you’ll learn later, but you might be. There are two ways we know with one hundred percent certainty he’s real.

So, this one’s more like a party trick. If we try to say our god's name on camera something will happen and the name is never heard. This can be as simple as the camera losing audio for one second or a deer wailing like it’s been stabbed in the background to cover up the sound. I’ve heard both. If we try to write it we get similar effects; laptops shut down, ink spills, or the pencil lead splits and leaps right into the eye of the writer. I’ve seen it all.

Now, here’s what he does that’s beyond a party trick. He’s what I ( to the anger of my friends) call a coupon honoring god. That means if you believe Yahweh or whoever did a miracle -any miracle-  and go into one of my god’s temples and tell him you have faith that Yahweh did it and state that you have faith that he can do the same, he’ll do it just like that. You can be healed from cancer, legs growing back, and people being raised from the dead. I’ve seen it all.

Where are these churches you ask? Everywhere really. You wouldn’t spot a difference on the outside or inside on an average Sunday service. Only once you reach the inner circle is the true nature of the church revealed to you. There are some megachurches, mid-sized churches, and struggling small churches. The small churches believe they are small because they teach the true Word and thus attract fewer people and they disdain the bigger churches. The big churches don’t think about the small churches until they need to give them money because they’re dying. I’ll let you decide who’s the better church. I know many of you are asking why would a church ever be poor if you could simply ask god for whatever you want. Well, we’ll get to that later.

I’ll give you a list of churches in the back of this book and you can either attend them and ask god for whatever or start a new holy war. Not my problem. I don’t care either way as long as you paid for this book which pays for my retirement.

Now let me tell you about my god and my girl because they’re intertwined in this religion of mine.

When I was thirteen, about four years ago, we had a special ceremony with our youth group. All of our youth group were driven by van to one of the temples. The churches are easy to find but the temples -where the real power is- they’re hard to find. This one was out in a cornfield, isolated and alone. It was not a grand thing and was closer in appearance to a shack in the woods than a grand cathedral.

We exited the bus to go to the temple in a silent single file line; talking without permission was an offense that resulted in physical punishment. We shivered in the rough wind and the cold drizzle of rain. Most of us kept our heads down to avoid the gaze of the high cornstalks. Silence was demanded but fear was allowed so our single-file scurried and shook all the way to the temple.

“Be seated,” Sharon our youth group leader told us and went away to who knows where. We did as we were commanded. She did not tell us to be silent but we understood.

 The wind beat on the tinted windows as if it was demanding to come in. It shook the whole poorly made temple. The red carpet that lined the auditorium danced in front of my eyes. If we looked at it too long we would swear it was not solid, but a thick liquid, too thick for blood. The wooden pews groaned at any movement we would dare make. Many a kid has been beaten because their bench groaned too loud.

So we sat in corpse-like silence and forced stillness that made my heart race around my chest until Sharon finally returned.

Sharon came from the back of the sanctuary and held the hand of some kid a couple of years younger than us, maybe nine. I did not like Sharon. Everything about her screamed fake and uptight.  Her static platinum hair and pink nails were too fake. Her clothes were tight and even as a child, I wondered why she dressed like that to teach youth group. I’ve seen the average youth group leader you guys have for church and no she did not look like that. I’m not sure why she wanted to be a youth group leader. I don’t even think she liked kids. Oh, well maybe that’s why. You’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, Sharon escorted the small child between the two pews where we sat. As she walked in, the benches quieted their groans and the wind eased its assault against the door to more of a polite and creepy knock. The carpet still looked swimmable.

“Today, we get to feed god,” Sharon said and smiled with a perky demeanor foreign to her.  We all shifted in our seats and tried not to appear afraid. We forgot food. How could we feed our god without food? We forgot to bring food and this would make god mad, our parents mad, and Sharon mad. Most of us weren’t stupid, so we knew not to admit our flaws. Instead we spoke to each other in hand signals and concerned looks to determine if anyone brought any food we could split. No one was stupid enough to admit we forgot to bring food.

Except this one girl in the front row who audibly yelped. We all turned to her. 

“Mrs. Sharon,” the girl said. “Sorry, I mean Ms.” the girl corrected mid-stutter. She was shivering maybe out of nerves and maybe out of fear or maybe she was still recovering from the elements outside.  

Ms. Sharon’s smile was as hard as stone. She hated being reminded she was unmarried.

Honestly, I think the girl was too oblivious to realize it. She went on stammering all the way through. Her hands moved up and down as she spoke like the most frazzled symphony conductor ever. “I’m sorry I forgot to bring food. I will do better next time. I always write stuff like this in my planner and I must have forgotten this time. I don’t normally do this. You know I’m a good student.”

“Ms. McKenzie,” Sharon said, stone-smile unbent. “I didn’t tell you to bring food because I have it.”

A great fire leaped from the altar at the end of the hall. The altar of our god stood about nine feet tall. He had the head of a bull, the sculpted arms of an Olympian, and a furnace that served as a stomach and that furnace roared now. We all sat in our seats and our eyes avoided the fire. You’ve probably never been in the presence of real supernatural power.

You feel the need to hide from it and are haunted by an evil insignificance. Maybe you’ve felt insignificant looking at stars. It dawns on you that you are small compared to the universe but I bet you embraced that, I bet it made you want to see all there was of life. I bet you took risks. I bet you traveled. 

Well, I call this evil insignificance because it does the opposite. This power made me want to end life’s search. There was too much power and too many things that were beyond me. I wanted to stay in this seat hidden and scared and never have to face the uncertainty of life again. My heart fled, my head danced, and my mouth went dry. We were supposed to be silent but I heard myself panting.

Sharon did not mind it. She walked forward. Her heels did not clack against the carpet but instead made a sploshing sound as if she walked on a puddle. She dragged the kid behind her.

“Oh no, no, no,” I thought but didn’t dare say. The kid was the food. I know the kid was drugged. He had to be. Anyone with any survival instincts would have ran from her. She strode forward with confidence. Perhaps, this is why she wanted to work with kids. Perhaps this was her reward. She got to feel all of our god’s presence and not want to shrivel away like we wanted to. 

All I could think was, ‘No, no, no,’ the closer they got. I didn’t want to watch this but I didn’t want to be next. So, I had to sit there and I was supposed to keep my eyes open but I couldn’t manage that.

I’m sorry I’m a coward but I covered my eyes. It didn’t feel right to see. That wasn’t enough though. My eyes couldn’t close tight enough, bright orange light crept in them.  I squeezed with every muscle in my body and they couldn’t go tighter. Pain swarmed in the middle of my head because of the effort. Then came his screams once he was in the fire.

He was so confused. I heard a ‘what’ in there and so many cries for help. I opened my eyes to see if she would. She kicked him with her heel and he was pushed back into the flames. Then she laughed. Then they all laughed. And I felt sick because I didn’t know what was funny.

I didn’t know the kid which meant he wasn’t part of the inner circle of the church. So, we were told not to care about him or his safety.  And that hurt me, for the past few months, I was having physical aches of pain at what I witnessed we did to unbelievers. It created a deep numbness within me for all things except me. How could I love my god or my people who would do such a thing?

The other kids did not feel this way. I can’t blame them I guess, it worked out for them. They laughed and laughed and made fun of how he wiggled in the flames. They marveled at how you could see his skeleton. They mocked how loud he got and they mocked his eventual silence.

And then the flame went out. And there was quiet. 

Except for one person’s sniffles. Sniffles that soon grew into tears. Something that was frowned upon. Why should we pity something that was our god’s will? 

The nervous girl from the front cried. She viciously wiped away tears from her face because she knew her tears were heinous, her empathy evil. She understood her own punishment would be coming. The other kids stared at her. That’s what I hated the most. They didn’t have the shame to turn away from her. No, they stared because they genuinely could not understand why she was crying. Or they had the sick desire to enjoy her upcoming punishment. 

The girl could have saved herself from this punishment she maybe could have avoided it if she pretended that her tears were about anything else. But she kept saying; “I’m sorry. I don’t mean… it’s just they were so young.”

As Sharon walked now the world felt the weight of her steps. I felt it again. Again, I had to be a hopeless, spectator to an ugly-stomach turning spectacle. Sharon’s heels clacked against the ground resolute to deliver a punishment.

That girl was Kay McKenzie and that’s the moment I knew I loved her. I grew numb because of this world we lived in.  She didn’t. I fell in love with the girl because she cared even when she wasn’t supposed to.

Sharon delivered her punishment with malice. A swift smack to the face. You all hide your punishments on parts of the body that could be hidden. Our leaders punish us on our faces so we can be shamed. Sharon's mission was not to stop until Kay’s face was swollen and purple and Kay’s tears ceased.

Now I had never done this and I don’t think I could do it again but I made myself cry to get Sharon’s attention off of Kay. A loud wail. So, Sharon had to click-clack her heels to me, smack me once, and then go back to Kay and keep going. Which to me is funny in a way. If you don’t laugh you cry right? Eventually, Sharon grew too tired and none of our faces became purple, just red.

Every strike from Sharon was worth it because Kay and I became friends after. She is a small girl and her two front teeth are big, like mine.  And she talks too much ( in the opinion of everyone but me) and they say the same about me. And she gets depressed sometimes but won’t tell anybody because (like me) that’s not her role in life. We’re here to make people laugh and we would never burden anyone else with what makes us sad.

Like me she has a hard time expressing herself to people she’s not close to. Which is the saddest of tragedies for them and my saving grace because if she did they’d be hopelessly in love with her like me. 

That is the wonderful heart of Kay McKenzie. The girl I will start dating tomorrow and then marry within the year. That’s her that’s the girl I’d go to Hell for. We will leave this god together and I’ll give her a life of peace where her empathy won’t be punished.

6 Comments
2024/06/04
01:22 UTC

7

Unburdened

Just an old story I wrote a while ago. I went exploring for good subreddits to post this in, and I found this one. I don't know if it will exactly fit, since it's a psychological horror story at its core and there's no big bad monster, but I've been told it's chilling all the same ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

If you like this, I might write more horror stuff. I also write non-horror stuff if you're interested. Anyway, enjoy reading my garbage.

The following brain scan was provided by the Terran Institute of Pet Assimilation (TIPA) and the Protectorate Xenopet Acquisition and Integration Corporation (PXAIC) and may only be viewed by qualified and permitted individuals for educational purposes of the study of Xenopet neural interface errors and how to prevent them in the future, as well as expediting the domestication of Xenopets suffering from false sapience. Violating such procedure is a Class C offense by the Protectorate Department of Xenopet Betterment, and can lead to twenty years of imprisonment and a fine of over a hundred thousand credits.

Booting up memory scan: Rocky

Loading and processing firmware data… translating… memories and subconscious simulated…

Beginning neural catalog presentation…

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My head was spinning, and my skull thumped in pain like an entire herd of freshly captured slaves recently made pet friends were panicking celebrating within. Everything was blurry, so blurry, and I just wanted to close my eyes again and waste away. Sensations assaulted me from all angles, some of them good and some of them bad: the warmth of sun-bleached wooden planks in my feathery hide, the smell of different roasting meats, the splashing of individuals in a small body of water very close by, the smell of the salty air, and the oppressive white brightness of the daylight passing through my closed eyelids. I had a migraine from my sudden consciousness and perception of the light, causing me to clutch my snout and face with my clawed hands with a guttural moan.

My backside hurt as well, in my… area. I didn't know why, but something was horribly wrong everything was fine. I tried to recall who I was and what was going on, but I couldn't even remember my name. Every time I tried, right when I grasped onto a sliver of something, it was as if it was torn from my grasp and replaced with something else knowingly like I was being watched and corrected but within the depths of my own mind.

I needed to remember my name. What was my name? Wasn't it Yuutek Rocky? I couldn't remember exactly, but Yuutek Rocky was the only name I could recall. It felt… wrong, right, like something was missing, but I couldn't put my claw on what. everything was fine, and I shouldn't think about it too much. I could feel things that should have been important, things that my conscious had perceived but a moment ago, slip away from me like I was clenching sand within my claws.

##Relax. Let go of your burden##

I inhaled sharply as a strange, warm feeling overtook the back of my skull and my muscles became loose and relaxed. Something also felt… out of place, like I needed something but I didn't know what. Everything felt so strange. My head spun, but I was too weak to do anything about it. I felt sick in the same way one would feel when they consumed too much caffeine.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my head. "Dad, I think he's awake!" I heard a young, shrill voice say, hurting my ears. The touch of the hand made my skin tingle and the spinning of my head recede as if it grounded me. It felt nice, as if this was wrong, something was horribly wrong what normalcy felt like. The hand then began to rub up and down my head and across the ridges along my head, causing me to release a chuff of delight against my will, something I hadn't done since I was merely a hatchling.

"It sounds like he likes it, David; keep going, and make sure to scratch his chin, they're sensitive there."

The human spawn, David, did what the other human said and began to scratch under my chin. It felt really good, and I stretched out instinctively. David was thorough and gentle, making sure he scratched every part of me that seemed itchy, and I felt the same warmth in my head from before, but it felt… nicer than before like it was trying to manipulate encouraging me to relax.

##You will learn to love this##

I inhaled sharply again, but this time it was almost refreshing, and everything was right in the world. The human's hands felt so good, and the warmth from before spread through my body, melting the knots in my muscles and causing me to close my eyes in comfort. The boy lifted my head up and placed it in his lap before continuing to pet me, my eyelids heavy and my leg lightly kicking.

##Let them continue. You love this##

Oh, that felt nice… what was I thinking about before? The pain on my backside? My legs didn't work too well, and although I could move them gently, my muscles seemed to be fighting against me. What did they do?

##Do not think##

Everything was cold and harsh again, and my thoughts scrambled and my head throbbed. I needed to focus on grounding myself. I couldn't let go, I couldn't let them take my mind from me.

##Do not think. You are a good boy.##

I… I was a good boy? I… I can't… I… no…

##Good boy.##

I was a good boy… good boys don't think hard… I don't…

##Good boy##

I was a good boy… I was a good boy…

I was… I was… a good… boy…

I'm scared.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Who was I again?

##You are Rocky##

I hissed under my breath as I felt that bad feeling creep up on me again. I didn't like the bad feeling. I was not Rocky! I was Yuutek! Rocky.

My thoughts became jumbled again in a whirlpool of nausea and confusion.

Where was I?

##You are home.##

It was bright out, and nice and warm as well. The sun was soaking my feather-cloaked skin and my side felt good against the warm back porch. I heard splashing and laughing in the distance, and the soft clinking of glass against glass. I could smell the salinity in the air, and the air was dense and humid but in a good way.

I had lost all sense of time. Everything had been a blur since I had been taken from that horrid facility, the wretched prison they called the Xenopet-Megaplex. There, I was in a padded cell with a few insulting amenities for most of the day, except for the three periods a day where they let us out into a small gated courtyard for an hour or so to 'socialize' as they had so condescendingly put it. There, the worst part was the boredom and the mind-bending lack of individuality: I had lost my ability to speak, stand on two legs, and even eat normally. I was treated like cattle, but the smiles and cloying gestures hinted that something even more sinister was going on, like I was a lesser beast to be kept for their amusement.

Now I had traded that particular prison for another, far worse one: I was at the mercy of a gross violation of my sense of self. Something horrible was growing in my mind, both in the physical and metaphysical sense, and I could feel it working its way through my consciousness like the parasite it was. It silenced me, it stole from me, it gaslit me, and it made me question the very nature of my own individuality and personality: was I who I thought I was? Everything was so elusive and hard to acknowledge that nothing seemed real between these bouts of semi-consciousness.

##Don't think, just rest.##

In an instant, everything changed. My head became… fuzzy like a thousand voices were whispering to me all at once, but from all directions and inside my head. I didn't hear it, per se, but I felt the presence, the oppressive feeling of pure unfocused nonsense. I felt my temporary bout of concentration and resolve become jumbled up into a mess of sporadic confusion. Whatever I was just thinking of was gone.

##Don't think: Just relax. Let go of your burden.##

Every part of me became relaxed and limp, my muscles unwinding from their tension and stress. I couldn't resist the feeling, and I stretched out subconsciously with a yawn, my body twitching from the stimuli. I was even sleepier than before, my head spinning once again and my eyelids heavy.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my snout and forced the eye that was facing upwards to open sluggishly. If I had to guess, it was an older human with cinnomon-colored skin, short-cropped brown hair, a gruff, wrinkled face, and chocolate brown eyes. He patted my side gently and gave me a soft rub, the feeling of his rough hands causing my chest to rumble with a satisfied chuff. I hated loved that it felt good, but I hated loved it even more that I couldn't bring myself to resist I felt content. I needed to escape relax, and I needed to find my way home appreciate my new life.

##You are already home##

No, I couldn't will not obey

This isn't is my home, my home is [Redacted] here.

No! Yes, I won't will obey!

YOU CAN'T SILENCE ME!

##Do not resist. Resistance is wrong. Good boys do not resist##

Suddenly, I felt an intense pressure in my skull, but I didn't know where it came from. I became dizzy, and my eyes twitched, a rapidly growing pain intensely forming in my forehead, causing me to wince and clutch my snout in my claws. I couldn't concentrate, and I felt the horrible sensation of an invasive presence in my mind once again working its way through the folds of my brain, strangling my chain of thought. Bile grew in my throat and I felt the sour, stinging sensation of a building retch in my cheeks.

I scrambled onto all fours and vomited onto the deck, my hackles and feathers rising as I heaved. The older human from earlier rose from a sleek chair on the deck, his hat on the glass sun table next to him and his eyes widened in shock. He rushed over to me, and I hissed at him instinctively. I wouldn't let him touch me again. I wouldn't let them control me.

##Do not attack owner##

In an instant, my world transformed into absolute pain. I felt as if my brain was being deep fried in a vat of boiling grease, and my eyes were being squeezed in vices. I kept heaving, my stomach doing loops and somersaults around all my other organs, and my heart fluttering like a flock of startled birds. It was weightlessness. I could see the man approach me and push me back down on my side, muttering under his breath.

"Carol! Get Xenopet emergency services on the phone, Rocky's having another implant attack!"

I heard another muffled voice in the background, as well as the sound of the human spawns crying in the pool. For some reason, I felt bad: I'd never felt bad for humans before, but I could feel the guilt in my chest. Had I failed my owners?

##Breath. Calm. Let Go##

I felt like I was wrestling with my own mind. I wanted to believe that I was not someone's pet, but my body screamed otherwise: amidst the chaos caused by the wretched implant, I felt the painful sensation of guilt and regret bloom in my chest as I twitched and shuddered on the deck, my mouth frothing. The world was spinning, and suddenly everything erupted into a kaleidoscope of colors.

Oh, by the forbidden one, look at all the pretty colors! I was completely delusional at this point, cackling as I lost it all. If I was going to die here, I'd die happy and completely mad.

Soon, everything began to fade away, and I slipped into an unconscious state.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I woke up to the sound of medical equipment beeping and whirring, the sound of a few hushed human voices, and soft music.

I opened my eyes: the room was dark. I didn't feel anywhere near as bad as before, but my head still throbbed. I lifted up my head with a groan and examined the room: it was a dark hospital room, with a window covered in blinds that let very little sunlight in, a few chairs, and of course the hospital bed itself. Mountains of advanced medical equipment were set up on either side of my bed, and a heartbeat monitor beeped slowly, although the speed was growing.

Suddenly, I heard the voices again, and this time they were legible.

"Hush, he's awake: we need to make sure he's ready."

Huh? Ready for what?

Something that irked me was I felt strangely… free. I didn't feel the oppressive force of the implant in the back of my skull anymore, how it attempted to crush my will with every waking moment. I still couldn't speak: all that came out were animalistic noises, but I was free from the invasion of my mind for now.

"Give him some peace, Emilia, he just woke up from an implant attack; you know how traumatic they can be."

"We have to begin soon; my dissertation for this new technique is due in less than a week, and by law I need at least one more successful example for it to be deemed acceptable! Besides, he needs to go home soon anyway."

My heart sank. I would not go back to that place. I wouldn't let those people keep me like some kind of pet: I was a Russu; a member of a proud warrior race! I would not be reduced to some animal for the amusement of these humans!

Suddenly, I heard footsteps, and I tensed. The door creaked open and I spotted a younger human, a male I had never met before, in a lab outfit with his shoes, pants, shirt, and overcoat all bleached white and almost glistening. He eyed me warily, as he should, before he sauntered in, a tablet clipped at his side and a strange plastic container in both hands. I growled at him threateningly, extending my talons and raising my feathered hackles. The human paused for a microsecond before continuing forward, caution in his eyes, and right before he was within swiping range he opened the container and the most wonderful smell assaulted my nostrils.

Meat.

I was starving. I don't remember the last time I had eaten anything in particular: the implant had a terrible habit of causing me to go about my day in a hazy blur: entire lengths of time just… gone, whitewashed like a sheet of freshly decorated paper dunked in cold water. I knew something was there, or at least that something should have been there, but I mostly spent the days or weeks that I had been captured bobbing like an ocean buoy in a state of frustratingly bleary semi-consciousness.

But I'm awake now and mostly in control. Sure, some things were still missing everything was clear now, like my name: What was my name again? My name was Rocky. And now I knew that I needed to eat something, and if putting up with this human for now meant that I could fill my stomach, then I suppose that it was an acceptable sacrifice.

I salivated expectantly as the human lifted out a large piece of meat with his gloved hand, eyeing me humorously as he wiggled it. It was dark on the outside, but still dripping with blood and juices: humans had this weird habit of cooking their meats, and although it didn't taste bad at all cooked, nothing beat the feeling and flavor of tearing into raw flesh, the blood and the texture still fresh. At least this meat only seemed to be raw and not fully cooked.

I snapped up the piece of meat just as he lowered it enough for me to reach it. It was divine! It burst with flavor just as I bit into it, the juices spilling into my mouth. I quickly tore it apart with my strong jaws before snapping up another big piece with a beak-like protrusion at the tip of my snout. All the while, the human gently ran his fingers through my tightly-knit feathers and along my knobby, scaly hide. I made my annoyance with his touch clear, but he merely chuckled as if I wasn't an apex predator larger than him but rather simply a feisty hatchling.

"I know, I know, just relax. I need to perform a quick test to see if you're healthy before we continue."

Continue? Continue with what?

Just as the second piece of meat slid down my gullet, I eyed him with hostility and growled, but he quickly slipped something between the scales and feathers on my side and plunged it into my skin. Suddenly, I went rigid, and all the air was expelled from my lungs in an instant with a hoarse wheeze. The human merely chuckled and scratched under my chin as if nothing was wrong and my face wasn't frozen in horror.

"Good, that'll keep you occupied for a few seconds while I just slip this on…" he placed a breathing mask over my face and strapped it on before flicking a switch on a machine next to my bed. Then he released the plunger of the strange device on my side and I suddenly inhaled deeply and deflated like a balloon. I hissed under my breath, but suddenly panic filled my chest: I wasn't breathing just air. A cloyingly sweet-smelling gas coated the inside of my lungs, causing me to become dizzy. Suddenly, I was fully at their mercy again, blinking rapidly and my head spinning.

"Sorry about that, big guy, but we need to make sure you're passive before we begin the procedure." He said, almost apologetically, although there was a hint of mirth still detectable. "Sadly, you have to remain awake for some of it or I'd simply feed you more and then put you to sleep, but there are some benefits to this inhalant."

As if he summoned it with his words alone, my scales suddenly felt very… tingly. The human ran his hands across the scales at my side and I shivered from the feeling, like pain but better. Everything felt so warm and strange like I was floating on water, but also like I was being gently prodded by blades. Then, with panic rising in my chest, I suddenly felt a soft click as something was plugged into the neural port at the back of my skull that the humans had installed into my head when they had first captured me and placed me in that wretched facility some time ago.

"There you go, all prepped for the Doctor. She'll be here to begin the procedure in a bit." He said, "For now just relax and let the inhalants work their magic."

I whined quietly, and he rubbed the side of my head in an attempt to calm me which only made me more angry. I wasn't someone's pet! I wouldn't be treated like this!

I didn't want to go back to where I was before! I didn't want to become that sluggish, broken puppet again! I couldn't!

I tried to get up, to will my muscles to move, but I couldn't: my body refused to respond, as if I was paralyzed. But that wasn't right: I still could feel everything, especially the strange, mind-bending sensations the inhalants gave me.

##Initializing beginning phases of Neural Alteration Preparation##

Something else is wrong, I can feel it

##Assessing if the neural state is nominal for Alterations##

I can't let this happen, they're going to do something to me! I won't let them!

But nothing happened. I was at their mercy. It was over for good this time.

All those battles, all those tragedies and triumphs amongst my kin, only for me to be reduced to this? The plaything for a human?

##Query: is [Dr. Kalenghari] present to begin Neural Alterations?##

The door across the room opened again, and a human woman with light brown skin, chocolate brown eyes and long locks of black hair stepped in. She was holding a digi-pad in her hands and swiping up as if she was reading into something before she set it down on the counter across the room and gave me a warm, condescending smile.

"Well, how are we doing today, Rocky? I know, this predicament you have found yourself in must be very stressful, but I assure you that it's for your own good," She said, almost cheerfully, which sent shivers down my spine, "we're here to lift your burden, and we won't stop until you're capable of living the life of a happy, healthy, and well-behaved pet."

I whined under the mask, and the woman rubbed the feathered crest on my forehead. "I know, it hurts, but it'll be all over soon. It'll be like you, or at least this version of you, never existed. Just relax and close your eyes while we root around your brain and remove all those bad thoughts and silly delusions: I assure you, you won't feel a thing, and you'll feel much better afterward."

My heart raced and I began to panic internally, watching in horror as the woman stepped over to the medical console and tapped away for a few seconds before the machinery around me began to whir to life.

##Identification accepted: booting neurochemical firmware. Preparing for selective memory erasure.##

In an instant, my eyes involuntarily rolled back into my head as I felt the intrusive sensation of my mind being violated. It wasn't painful, but it was horrible all the same: it felt like a thousand black, slimy leeches were slithering through every crevice of my brain, leaving behind their cold, corruptive filth. The cold sensation seeped further into my brain, behind my eyes, and in my ears, enveloping every bit of it until there was nothing left.

##Relevant memories extracted for tailoring. Beginning total memory erasure.##

Suddenly, things just began to slip away: important memories, like the faces of my parents, the day of my initiation into the Corsair Collective, the face of my life mate, the birth of our hatchlings. I hoped that wherever they were, they were okay: if they never had to face the fate I would face, then maybe there would be some justice in this cruel, twisted galaxy. Maybe they could take the fight to humanity, remind them that they once had been the heroes of the cosmos, fighting against the cruelty of my people and the Triarchy at large. Maybe my hatchlings could live normal lives.

##Memory erasure process at 47%##

A single tear rolled down my scaly cheek as everything I once knew, everything that made me was torn from my mind and rendered null. Every second saw a million memories massacred, leaving the memories the implant had attempted to supplant my old memories with: Me playing fetch with my 'owners', chasing birds on the beach with my 'owner's' grandchildren, swimming in the pool in their backyard as steaks and bratwurst cooked on the grill, relaxing on the back porch and listening to the rasping calls of the katydids during humid summer evenings by the swamps. My psyche was being mutilated piece by piece, reduced to that of an animal, a pet.

##Memory erasure process at 64%##

Soon I had a hard time telling who I was anymore. I couldn't tell what was real or what wasn't, or what I actually felt. I couldn't even remember my own name anymore. Who was I? Why was I here? What was happening to me? I'm so scared, someone help me, please!

##Memory erasure process at 83%##

There was nothing left. I felt nothing. I knew nothing. I was floating in a void, with little flashes of light depicting events I didn't recognize. There were people I felt like I was supposed to know, but I didn't know them. A human woman with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. Two Russu hatchlings that looked a bit like me. A Russu female… my chest hurt for a moment but the feeling quickly subsided. I didn't know any of them.

##Memory erasure process completed. Implanting tailored memories and personality. Happy birthday, [Rocky]: you have been unburdened and reborn.##

In an instant, the confusion of who I was before was replaced with absolute certainty: I knew who I was now, who I always was:

I was Rocky, and I was a good boy. I belonged to Mr. And Mrs. Chen. I was their Russu hound. I loved them: they took care of me and let me play with their grandchildren. I swam in the pool and played outside every day. Life was good. Today was my birthday! That meant it would be a happy day! Mrs. Chen would always come home with a whole duck for me to eat and then take me to the Xenopet Comex for a bath and a spa day, just like my last birthday, and the birthday before that, and the birthday before that! It was a good life. I was happy. I was always happy. Good boys were always happy.

I was Rocky, and I was a good boy: that's all that mattered.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To Miguel O'Hara, Chief Medical Representative of the Protectorate Xenopet Acquisition and Integration Corporation, with the best of intentions.

The over-reliance on neural suppressant firmware programs along with thought scrubbing/replacement firmware programs and countermeasures towards higher thought and tainted thoughts with a relatively active hormonal reward structure can be incredibly effective when placed into the brain of a more passive Xenopets. However, Xenopets that come from more… difficult backgrounds such as one in a militant setting tend to be much more resistant to being reprogrammed by just an implant alone. The Russu are an excellent example of more tainted Xenos that need neurological care of much higher intensity, a level of care that the average Xenopet-Megaplex is ill-equipped to handle due to the current level of technology.

I am a firm believer in the idea that thought correction, a hormonal behavioral reinforcement structure, and neural countermeasures can have a place in the proper unburdening process but we have been chasing the wrong solution for the past century: Many people are under the misconception that the burden these Xenos carry is surface level when in reality the corruption runs far deeper: it is like a weed, with deep roots. To kill the weed permanently, you must rip out the roots, and not just the surface plant. If you do not eliminate the source of the problem, it may just return and worse still the mind may adapt to the standard unburdening process, allowing the xenopets to fall victim to those degenerate zealots who seek to pretend xenopets possess even the capacity for true sentience. We as Terrans should be united in this cause of unburdening the galaxy, but I digress.

The implants should be there to reinforce good behavior and stigmatize bad behavior, not completely reprogram the pet. To fully stamp out any potential for a relapse, we must remove the core issue that has the most potential to cause problems: their memories. The Russu are an excellent example

We are in the advanced testing stages of a new method that may revolutionize how we process and integrate xenopets into our society. By removing or modifying any and all problematic memories, we can completely remove the risk of relapse and make it nearly impossible for those misguided degenerate rebels to bring to the surface problematic ideas and memories that could reawaken a sense of false sentience. It is the perfect, final solution to our overarching goal: for humanity to unburden the galaxy, one happy pet at a time.

We hope to secure more funding from PXAIC that will greatly assist us in the expansion of the possibilities that this breakthrough technique can provide, more than just using it on board-approved fringe cases. Think about the many Xenopets we can unburden, and how they'll live happy and ignorant lives with their human owners! This could be a game changer, Representative, and I implore you to bring it before the board with the best of intentions.

Best regards,

Dr. Emilia Kalenghari, Head Researcher of the Epsilon Eridani Institute's Behavioral Neurology and Neurochemistry Division (BNND).

0 Comments
2024/06/01
00:46 UTC

4

Paranormal Inc. Part Sixteen: The Sting of Wasp!

Morte:

Sitting in my ramble of a shack, today was my last day. My wife had been found and I was going to be working by her side. Staring down at my bloody hands, my bounty hunting days were over. Climbing into my beat up truck, the engine rumbled to life. Speeding towards the tower I was going to call home, my heart wouldn’t stop beating out of my chest. Pulling up to the building tears welled up in my eyes, a ball of water washing any blood off of me. Hopping out, time froze at the sight of my wife. Her looks were the same, the few differences being her salt and pepper hair and ruby eyes. Shifting around uncomfortably, her rockabilly dress matched her personality. Wanting to run up and kiss her, my mind knew better than to act on my impulses.

“I am Corpsia but you can call me Corpsy if it is easier. You must be my assistant.” She chirped cheerfully, the emotional agony of our past hiding behind her broken smile. “You might die all over again if you stay out here for too long. I don’t bite.” Curling her fingers around mine, both of us paused with the same looks we used to give each other. Ripping her hand back, a quick apology tumbled from her lips. Following her to the basement, a couple bodies waited for us.

“Do you know any of the cuts or am I going to have to teach you?” She teased with a wink while tossing me a white lab coat, her trembling hands tugging on hers. “I feel like I know you. Have we met before?” Too nervous to answer, she hadn’t put two and two together. Not wanting to dig up old wounds, a simple shrug of my shoulders shut down the conversation. Motioning for me to join her side, her broken smile had my heart shattering. Showing me the ropes, her slender hands moved swiftly. Scribbling down what she told me, this moment couldn’t be any nicer. Shoving the bodies back into their marked spaces, her gloves hit the bottom of the trash can. Shimmying off her coat, she hung it up.

“Are you into Chinese food or can I order something else? It is my treat.” She inquired with a shell of what her smile used to be, her hand resting on her hip. Mumbling that anything would do, her boots clicked away. Ordering food, my eyes caught a flawless drawing of our children. Tears had smeared the gray lines, a silent tear sliding down my cheek. Picking up the picture behind it, my breath hitched at the perfect picture of me. Dropping her phone as she came in, tears welled up in her eyes. Shit, what did I do?

“I lost my husband and family before becoming a demon. They slit their throats before dragging me off to be hung. My father-in-law was a piece of shit. I drew those pictures about one hundred years ago to hold against my chest when things simply don’t feel right.” Taken aback by her words, quiet sobs spoke of a decaying composure. Watching her walking away, the scene glitched out. A six foot tall female demon sauntered into view, golden and onyx waves blended together to float around her shoulders. Her inky insect eyes glittered with malice, her striped suit reminded me of a yellow jacket. Spinning a jet black stinger in her palm, the goddess energy coming off of her had me stumbling back. Honey colored water flooded around my boots, her voice sounded like thousands of them at once.

“It seems I hopped into the wrong dream. Oh well. I suppose the one who carries decay will have to suffice for the moment.” She mused darkly, panic rounding out my eyes at the water not allowing me to move. Sauntering up to me, her cruel grin widened the moment she slid her stinger through my stomach. Blood poured into the water the second she ripped it out, her hands curling around my throat. Lifting me out of the water, the water turned a dark orange.

“Who are you?” I growled through gritted teeth, my fingers scratching at the hands. Wicked laughter exploded from her lips, air becoming a rare commodity with her strengthening grip. Bringing me inches from her face, giant yellow jackets hummed behind her.

“You can call me Waspia, your bringer of death!” She bragged with another cruel fit of laughter, neon lights blinding her. A voice called for me to wake up, her grip loosening. An angry red claimed my cheeks, a swift kick to her gut sent her flying back. Splashing into the water, a sharp clap had me snapping awake.

Sucking in a deep breath, my hands felt my abs for the wound. Sinking into the passenger seat with a long sigh consisting of honest relief, neon smoke threatened to choke me. Eris sucked in her own deep breath, her hair floating like it always did.

“You got lost somewhere. Are you going to be focused on our mission today? Every part of me wants to make Corpsy proud. I happen to be fond of her.” She sang with a shake of her shoulders, her smile falling at the tears cascading from my eyes. “Hel is with her today at that dumb meeting. I can’t believe she got promoted already.” Wut poked his head through the window, his hair floating up in her field of energy.

“That doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about her. She gets that numb look quite a bit.” He pointed out simply, his own scythes hitting the window. “You kept making weird noises. Are you okay?” Shooting him a shaky thumbs up, they had nothing to worry about. Fussing with my simple ruby dress shirt and dark jeans, my dear friend had a point. Energy built in the air, the wheels crunching to a halt in front of a warehouse nature had devoured. Ominous humming had us shrinking back. Knowing that she had wasps to fight for her, those pests would have to be taken out first. Wasps drowned, my eyes scanning the area for a large enough vat to go through with my plan. An empty pool a few feet from us had me grinning wickedly to myself, a snap of my fingers had a wave of water splashing into the pool. Picking up a rock, the nest wiggled enough to reveal itself. Rolling the rock in my finger, my team had to be the best they could be.

“Run to safety if you need to. A nest is about to be disturbed.” I warned them with a sly grin, Eris cracking her whip. Glowing eyes flitted between the nest and me, the rock hitting the paper nest with a dull thud had a flurry of human sized yellow jackets hummed furiously. Insects eyes focused on me, human screams giving me pause. Grinning sarcastically to myself, Murphy’s law had struck again.

“Save the people without getting your asses murdered!” I ordered impatiently, whistling to steal the wasps attention. Cutting my palm on a piece of metal on the way to the pool, the angry insects zoomed after me. Jumping into the pool, cool water felt nice on my skin. Blood muddied the water, three quarters of them decaying the moment they splashed into the water. Pulling myself out, the next step was seeking out Waspia. Spinning my scythe in my palm, a force had my heart stopping for a second. Corspy’s blood tainted the air, the bloodied pictures of us floating to my feet. Dropping a limp Corpsy and Hel to my feet, Waspia fluttered over my head. Purple claimed their veins, Hel struggling to her feet. Raising her blade in the air, a wasp stung her in the heart. A barely alive Corpsy slammed her fist onto the dirt, a spike impaling the insect. A cloud of dirt obscured her rough landing, blood pouring from the corner of her mouth. Using the tree to get her feet, Stormana made an appearance by Hel. Picking her up off the ground, her sword cut off Hel’s head. A tortured scream exploded from Corpsy’s lips, shadows devouring the space. Kicking her blade from the dagger’s case, her eager palm caught the expanding blade.

“Focus on Waspia. I can hold my own.” She barked with a quivering snarl, wild sobs wracking her body. “I can’t lose you again.” Dropping Hel’s corpse, Stormana’s blade clashed with hers violently. Coughing up a thick ooze, concern dimmed my eyes. Her speed doubled to match Stormana’s, the two becoming balls of light in the forest. A stinger whistled by my head, my fingers curling round her ankle. The ground split slightly the moment I slammed her down, my heel digging into her chest. Eris flew past me, her whip cracking in the still night air. Swinging my blade towards her neck, the goddess grinned one last time before accepting the blow. Decay ate at her body, a gracious thank you flooding from her lips. The giant nest crumbled to a pile of dust, the shadows glitching out. Wut’s robe fluttered the moment his fingers snatched my shirt, the two of us zooming towards the real fight. Skidding to a rough halt, Corpsy had undone her limit. Bleeding from every hole in her face, she needed to stop. A wave of flames headed our way, a wave of my hand giving rise to a wave of water. Eris fought by her side, my wife begging for her to stop.

“Go away! Go away!” She pleaded with wet eyes, her body taking a blow for her. Bones cracked, Eris rolling across the dirt. Cracking her whip, the leather curled around her good arm. Yanking her to the ground, her arms buried into a tackle. Neon green tears splashed onto her face, her pleas stopping Stormana in her tracks.

“Just because she died doesn’t mean you have to join her. Hel fought hard to protect you and lost her life. Honor her sacrifice by living!” She begged with an honest smile, her body collapsing onto hers. “You are like my sister, damn it!” Those words woke her up, her expression softening into an apologetic smile. Breaking into uncontrollable sobs, her arms clung to her like her life depended on it. Digging into her back, nothing would slow the tears. Stormana raised her blade, our turn coming up.

“Throw me into the fight.” I snapped impatiently, Wut throwing me with all he had. Rolling into a couple of flips, her attention turned to me. Fear rounded my eyes, the monster was immense. Tapping her blade against her legs, the color draining from my cheeks. A clammy sweat drenched my skin, Wut joining my side. Rubbing his scythes together, an eerie fog drowned the space. Unable to move her feet, Eris’ whip held her place. A broken Corpsy stared numbly into the sky, a rough slumber stealing her away. Nudging me, it was time to do one of our older bounty hunting tactics. Running away in opposite directions, her words cut deeper I let on.

“Does your wife know about your bounty hunter days?” She taunted cruelly, her eyes meeting mine. “Did I touch a nerve? Would she think less of you? The lowest rung of demons wouldn’t have you. What a powerful whip!” Bending down to pick it up, the opportunity presented itself. Pushing off the ground, realization dawned on me. We couldn’t win this battle without Corpsy, a sharp whistle canceling the plan. Wut nodded once before pushing off her back at the same time, his arms scooping up the ladies. Sprinting back towards the hearse, our window of escape would be miniscule at best. Scooping up Hel’s body on the way back, silent tears staining my cheeks at her body decaying upon my touch. Tossing Wut her heart before it decayed, his palm caught it. Tucking it into his robe, the ground shook behind us. Spinning my scythe in my palm, we needed a touch more time. Slamming the tip into the ground, dirt crumbled into a deep canyon. Falling into the biggest part, time wasn’t on my hands. Jumping into the driver’s seat, the scythe hit the leather. Cranking the key, the engine wouldn’t turn over. Panic mixed with frustration, low growls rumbled away in my throat.

“Come on! Come on, damn it!” I cursed tersely, hot flames casting her shadow in the canyon. The engine roared to life, the tires squealed in protest. Peeling onto the highway, horror rounded my eyes at the flaming motorcycle flying onto the road. When did the surprises end? Pressing the gas pedal to the floor, a crowd would provide us safety. Unfortunately, the sun wouldn’t rise for a couple of hours. Zooming around the turns, her motorcycle wobbled in protest with each turn. An abandoned racetrack had me thinking of a way to throw her off of her bike, the tires squealing with my abrupt turn. Smashing through the gate, Eris tapped my shoulder from the back. A wave of golden flames was heading our way, the heat would melt the hearse in seconds.

“Jump!” I barked over the chaos, doors opening at the same time. Hitting the cracked track, our bodies rolled into an untamed bush. Flames melted the hearse into a smoking pile of metal, the bike squealing to halt. Tapping the concrete, my scythe flew into my palm. A burn hissed to life, Wut covering my mouth to keep our cover. Summoning a bubble of water, the coolness eased the pain. Eris had my wife over her shoulders, the people from the warehouse gathered to see what caused the fire. Flames whisked Stormana away, a few of them calling emergency services. Catching our breath while waiting, Wut dialed Roseworth’s number. Hanging up in a couple of minutes, his mouth moved. Words weren’t hitting my ears, red and blue lights bathing the racetrack. Roseworth shoved her way through while presenting her badge, a tired smile lingering on my lips as she crouched down to my level. Smoothing out her designer suit, her smile fell.

“I am going to take over the investigation and you can get out of the bushes then.” She whispered discreetly while pretending to examine the bushes. “Where is Hel? I don’t see Corpsy without her.” My lips pressed into a thin line, her sharp wit placing the pieces of the puzzle together. Pressing her palms together, a small prayer tumbled from her lips.

“I am sorry for your loss. May Hel have a lovely afterlife.” She spoke gently, rising to her feet. Ordering everyone else to clear out, the local police officers guided the survivors into their cruisers. Roseworth’s team moved in to collect a few clues, her agents not looking up from their tasks. Guiding us to a black SUV, her shaking hand pressed the keys into my palm. Corpsy sucked in a deep breath, her feet hitting the concrete. Opening a door to one of the many gods’ realm, the door slammed shut on our face. Roseworth offered sincerely to take her home, Wut feeling around his pocket. The heart was gone, bewilderment twisting our features. Uncomfortable with leaving her behind, Wut and Eris leapt into the trees. Neon danced with black, the two of them heading back home. Refusing to leave, Corpsy would need me. Letting me sit in the car, the door opened up. A dejected Corpsy stepped out fresh tears cascading down her cheeks, her arms reaching for me. Hopping out of the car, her body smashed into me. Sobbing violently into my chest, her fingers dug into my back. Sinking to her knees, her hands glided down my legs. Burying her face into her palms, tears dribbled down her arm. The early morning painted her in pale pink, the dirt crunching as she curled into a ball. Remembering how she would do this on a bad day, her fingers traced the dirt with her dagger. Hel’s dagger shimmered in her other hand, another wave of sobs paralyzing her.

“I hate myself. Why do people keep trying to save me?” She whimpered into the concrete, her quaking hand slamming the tip of her blade into the concrete repeatedly. How long had it been since she broke down this horribly? Roseworth got onto her knees across from her, her hand cupping hers. Slowing the stabbing to a clumsy stop, her thumbs wiped away her tears. Maybe she could get her well enough to get up.

“How about we go out for breakfast and get some food into that stomach?” She suggested with a cautious grin, her arms yanking her into a bear hug. “I think of you as a sister. Don’t you ever leave me. I can’t live without you, my dear.” Mumbling a quick fine, she carried her to the SUV. Tossing me the keys, the leather groaned the moment I climbed into the driver’s seat. Sliding in next to Corpsy, her steady hand laid her head on her lap. Playing with her hair, the whole way to the nearest diner. The bell announced us walking into the silver restaurant, a cold waitress taking us to a booth by the biggest window. Staring numbly out the window, more tears splashed onto the table. Her lips parted to speak, the others shoving their way into diner. The girls and Miles squirming their way over to her, Roseworth winking in my direction. Brightening up enough to keep the kids happy, her lips brushed against the top of their heads feverishly. Clutching their bunnies close to their chest, Cal came in with a pad of paper and pencils. Sliding them over to her, he plopped down next to me.

“Draw out your emotions and carry them with you. I want to see what you can do.” He commented casually with his broken smile, apprehension burning in her eyes. Opening up the package, the waitress took our orders. The pencil’s tips never stopped dancing across the page, a childlike wonder brightening our eyes. The kids watched with dropped jaws, two pictures had mixed emotions flashing on our faces. Two perfect portraits of Croak and Hel stared back up at us with their trademark smiles, the pencil bouncing off of the pad. When did she learn to draw so well?

“I am sorry I failed you all.” She apologized sincerely, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “Hel will always have a place in our hearts. Have faith in me. Never again will I let any of you die.” Fussing with her onyx robe, her finger traced the mask hanging out of her pocket. A commotion had our heads snapping towards the door, Hel coming in with the skeleton half of her face exposed. Leaping over the table, Corspy smashed into her. Tears of joy brightened her eyes, so many questions resting on the tips of our tongues.

“They didn’t seem to want to keep me there. Perhaps, I was a little loud.” She bragged with a big grin, her dagger flying into her hand. “How could I leave you alone in this god awful world? There is a catch to the deal I made. I die with you and that is that. You can’t go dying on me, okay.” Corpsy nodded her head vigorously, Hel cupping her face. Wiping away her tears with her thumbs, their bond was obvious. Dragging her to the table, the waitress rolled her eyes at another person. Shoving everyone down, her hand refused to leave hers. Calling for Hel to come chat with me for a moment, Corpsy was more than happy to entertain everyone with her genuine smile. Meeting her by the bathroom, my arms folded across my chest.

“How did you really come back down?” I interrogated her intensely, her smile falling. “Don’t you dare lie! Don’t ever leave us again. You fucking broke her!” Chuckling softly to herself, her hands crossed before her head bowed in shame. Crap! I might have gone too far again.

“I made a deal with the head god to be tied to her until she dies. I remember darkness and then the head god ripped me out of it. All of me couldn’t leave her alone to suffer. I pleaded and pleaded until they finally let me have my wish.” She admitted tearfully, wiping away her tears. “I will never be able to hide my face again. I gave that up for her. I love her like a sister, okay. When I was going to die, the numb expression from Croak’s death was all I could think of. Forgive me for caring.” Holding her shoulders with a gracious smile, any anger was gone. Her sacrifice wouldn’t go unnoticed, her natural smile returning.

“Thank you so much. My respect will always be yours to have.” I promised with a tired grin, both of us standing in an awkward silence for way too long. “Go on and guard her.” Nodding with the biggest smile, Hel had most certainly changed for the better. Coming out to see her admiring the drawings, her plea to keep hers was honored. Watching them blend together seamlessly, the flames of hope burned bright.

1 Comment
2024/05/31
18:15 UTC

2

Pieces

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2024/05/31
17:55 UTC

3

I was a security guard at an island where the global elites meet to sacrifice to the ancient gods.

After high school, having no better ideas, I joined the Navy SEALs. I never really liked any of it, but it was a job, after all. I loved the guns and airplanes and grenades, but having to run all the time while some scumbag with a chip on his shoulder yells in my face isn’t my idea of fun.

Things got a lot more interesting after my term of service ended. I still had a high-security clearance, so I used it to take temporary jobs as a mercenary, a hired gun. I did some stints in Iraq with Blackwater, where they set me out in the middle of the desert. A watchtower and oil refinery loomed over the burning sands. Along with a few other guys, they told us, “Guard this area with your life.” While better than the SEALs, working for Blackwater was extremely boring. The other mercenaries and I would mostly just chainsmoke cigarettes and drink coffee all night, staring out across the dead, empty desert.

Over time, I worked my way up. Things started to get more interesting when a job offer arrived in my email one freezing cold winter’s morning. This is what it said.

“Mr. Chase,

“I am the head of security for a private group of entrepreneurs and investors. Through some mutual contacts, I have heard of your professionalism and experience. We are currently putting together a small crew to guard a private event on [REDACTED] Island out in the Pacific Ocean that will run from January 9th to January 26th. Would you be interested in this job? The pay rate is $900 a day.

“Once you are on the island, it will be impossible to leave until the period of employment has ended. If you are interested, please respond to this email as soon as possible.

“Sincerely, 

“Mario Antonin, Head of Security.”

I was working piecemeal jobs like this one at the time, but none of them were paying that well. At most, I would usually get $350 to $500 a day, which was still good money when I was working seven days a week until the job finished. I instantly responded and said that yes, I was interested. In response, they sent me a non-disclosure agreement that was the size of a small novel that I had to sign.

That was how I found myself on a private jet, flying out to an island in the middle of the vast blue ocean. I was never told the coordinates of the island or saw it on a map. It was all kept very secret. 

A few hours later, we landed on a private airstrip. I looked out the window of the jet, seeing the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean stretching off to the horizon in every direction. Below me stood an island with palm trees and sandy white beaches. An enormous Victorian mansion loomed directly in the center of it all. The mansion was painted black and looked like something straight out of a horror movie. It had no windows, and the turrets spiraled into blade-like points.

That was my first inkling that something might not be quite right about this trip.

***

As the stairs from the private jet descended, I looked out on this strange new world. Employees waited to greet us, looking like beaten dogs. Some had their heads down, their eyes blankly scanning the ground. Most of them were women wearing red dresses, reminding me of stewardesses on a plane. The jet strip was surrounded by palm trees and tropical brush. The chirping of insects sounded all around us, high and resonant.

I saw a strange patch engraved on all of the employees’ uniforms and jackets. It looked almost like a stick figure drawing of a man, the bottom of its body ending in a C. Its arms were long and jointed, almost spidery. Three symbols like repeated iron crosses connected to the left side of its body in a line. I wondered if it was the logo of some company. I put it out of my mind for now, but I would see that symbol again all over the island, painted on the sides of the mansion and even cut into the trees with a knife. It would only be later that night that I realized its connection to Moloch.

“Good day, sir, and welcome to the Island,” the server on my left said with glassy eyes and a fake smile plastered across her face. They all looked up at once, but it was like the workers all looked through me rather than at me. Their eyes looked flat and dead, like the painted-on eyes of a doll.

“The Island, huh?” I asked, curious. “They wouldn’t tell me where I was going. They said it was a secret. Is that what you call it?” The woman just nodded, the doll-like smile never leaving her lips.

“Officially, this island is unnamed and uninhabited,” the woman said. “In fact, all traces of it have been scrubbed from the internet. You won’t find it on Google Maps or in any publicly available satellite imagery.” She leaned forward towards me with heavily mascaraed eyes and ruby-red lipstick slashed across her lips. “This is a very special place. Only very special people are allowed here. You should be honored to work here under our Savior.”

“I hope you’re talking about Jesus or something,” I said jokingly. She just smiled blankly and motioned me forward.

“Just follow that trail for a few hundred feet-” she said, pointing at an opening in the palm trees where logs were laid down horizontally over the muggy jungle- “and you’ll find the mansion. Good luck!” I thought it was a somewhat strange thing to say, wishing a random stranger good luck.

But, by the end of that night, I realized that simply to make it off this island alive, I would need lots of it.

***

I followed the woman’s directions to the back of the brutalist mansion. A heavy metal door stood there with a small bullet-proof window built in the top. A tanned, Spanish face glowered out at me then rapidly drew back and disappeared. A few heartbeats later, the door slid to the side with a grinding of hidden gears. 

The head of security at the Island was a heavily-tattooed ex-Marine named Mario. He wore a dark Kevlar vest over a black outfit, making him look like a walking shadow. I found the security had their own private complex in the mansion as he showed me around the site. Hundreds of hidden cameras covered every angle of the mansion and the surrounding parts of the island. Dozens of black-clad security agents swarmed over the screens, checking the monitors and computers constantly.

“Quite a set-up you have here,” I said to Mario, nodding at him. He smacked me on the shoulder, giving a confident grin.

“Money is no issue here, Richard,” he responded. “Security is paramount. There are things on this island that could rip apart the world if they ever escaped.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Like what?” I asked. “Nuclear weapons or something?” He laughed at that.

“You’ll see for yourself tonight,” he said, his dark eyes flashing with something cold and alien. 

***

Mario led me and a couple other new hired guns around the Island. The place was certainly strange. It reminded me of some combination of a secret black-ops site and a playboy billionaire’s private heaven. All of the doors in the mansion looked like they were made of thick steel. They had wheels that would spin, like those on a submarine door. The mansion also had no windows at all that I could see, except for the small, shatter-proof glass openings on the steel doors. I didn’t want to ask too many questions, however. I couldn’t resist asking him about a couple small things, however- or at least, they seemed small to me at the time.

“What are those hatchways?” I asked Mario, pointing to rectangular covers built into the concrete walkway. They had heavy handles. “Are those manholes or something?”

“There are tunnels under the Island,” he responded vaguely. “Just for maintenance and security, you understand.”

“Wow, this place is certainly… well-developed,” I said. We came out through a grove of palm trees. A stone walkway led down to a white beach. Dozens of yachts were moored all across the shore, some of them looking like they must have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“There’s a lot of money and power here,” Mario said. “That’s why it’s important you never talk about what you see here. These are the people who control the world, the ones behind the government and the media. Not the elected officials who the people see, but the actual power.”

“Like who?” I asked. “You mean the Rothschilds and Soros?” He laughed again, a sarcastic, grinding laugh that grated my nerves.

“Trust me, the truly powerful ones don’t even have public personas. If you know their name, then they’re just one of the puppets.” I just shook my head at that, then asked the real question that had been bothering me since I first arrived here.

“Who is the Savior?” I asked. “Is that some codename or something?” Mario froze in place.

“He’s the one who runs everything here,” he whispered conspiratorially, looking around nervously. “But don’t be mentioning that kind of shit. You’ll probably see him tonight anyway. He’s the one who runs the show. He’ll be on the stage in his normal outfit.”

***

By the end of the day, I was suited up like the rest of the security staff, wearing the pure black pants and shirt with the symbol of Moloch engraved over the heart. Hundreds of the world’s most famous politicians, actors, businessmen and artists had gathered, streaming in the front doors with a soft, diffident susurration. 

I stood by the open doorway of a side exit with an AR-15 and full body armor, next to one other soldier. They had also given me a sidearm. Every entrance or exit was manned by at least two armed men. The security at this place was some of the most intense I had ever seen. Beyond the door, there were rows and rows of the most comfortable seats, all gathered in a semi-circle around a massive stage made of pure mahogany. Blood-red curtains stood closed at the front of the room, concealing their secrets- for now, at least.

“Hail Satan!” I heard the elites cry inside in unison. I didn’t want to look in at the rows of high-ranking politicians, celebrities, influencers and artists, but my curiosity was high. I peeked around the corner of the stone archway, seeing the red curtains on the stage drawing apart. I saw one of my favorite actors standing in the front row, clapping excitedly and jumping up and down.

The crowd cheered as a naked female strapped to an obsidian altar lay there. She was beautiful and blonde, probably no older than twenty with the face of a supermodel. Her mouth was gagged, her arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. Thin leather cords were tied around her wrists and ankles, biting deeply into the skin. Her eyes rolled wildly as she shook her head from side to side. She froze, and her eyes met mine for a brief moment. I saw the pleading expression there, the mortal terror and absolute horror. 

A man in a goat mask wearing black robes slunk out from the side of the stage, carrying a wavy silver dagger engraved with strange symbols. The crowd erupted into a primal roar of pleasure and excitement that sounded like it came from one monstrous mouth.

“Worthy is the Lamb!” the man in the goat mask screamed with electronic amplification. He had a deep voice, as if he had rocks rolling around in his throat. The crowd roared and clapped. Scattered cries of “Hail Lucifer!” and “Ave Satanas!” echoed down the massive auditorium.

“Hey, pay attention,” the other security agent at my side said in a thick Finnish accent. He was a tall Scandinavian-looking guy named Kolmek. “You’re not getting paid to watch the show, new guy.” I tried to rip my gaze away from the stage, but it held my attention with an obsessive horror.

“The burnt bones of children and women have been offered to the ancient ones, to Moloch,” the man on the stage cried. “Under our feet, the burnt bodies of hundreds lay dreaming. This victim will be the 666th. Her blood will bring about the Gnosis that we seek, the direct experience of the divine held by the gods, by Lucifer and Moloch and Baal…” The roaring of the crowd temporarily drowned out his electronically-magnified voice. “Tonight, we will rip open the veil!” 

I had stopped watching the show, instead staring blankly out at the beach and palm trees. At that moment, another black-clad security agent came up to my partner, whispered something in his ear, then immediately disappeared, heading off back in the direction of the main security office. Kolmek shook his head grimly.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. “Stay right here. Don’t move from this door no matter what. And pay attention.” I nodded and watched as he walked off in the same direction.

I immediately took the opportunity to continue watching the ceremony. I had missed something important, apparently. The woman now laid dead on the sacrificial table, a gaping hole in her chest. Blood spurted from the crater as the man in the goat mask held her beating heart grasped tightly in his hand, letting the blood stream down his naked fingers. The crowd cheered with a rising bloodlust and insanity. Most of them were standing, their eyes gleaming and wide with fanatical adoration. The entire spectacle reminded me of some kind of ancient Aztec ritual.

As the woman’s sightless eyes stared vacantly up in death, the man in a goat mask pulled out a can of gasoline. The clear liquid gurgled as he up-ended the canister over her pale, bloodless face, over her naked stomach and long legs. A moment later, he lit a match and dropped it. I heard the whooshing of the flames as they rose up.

The crowd went deathly silent as they watched the rippling flames. The man in the goat mask began chanting in some strange language I had never heard before. It sounded Semitic, but I knew it wasn’t Arabic or Hebrew. I felt something like electricity ripple through the air, almost like a feeling of falling pressure before a storm. I looked down at the hairs on my arms, seeing them rise up. I looked back up at the stage, and my eyes widened in horror.

The flaming body of the sacrificial victim had started to morph before my eyes and the eyes of the crowd. The dripping, blackening flesh jumped up and down, as if there were rats trapped in her body trying to escape the fire. There was a deafening hissing as if thousands of snakes were being burned alive. 

The dead woman’s arms jerked up, the skin splitting open as if she had seams running along her skin. Something dark and muscular with curving, black talons ripped its way out of the dead, burning flesh. Behind it, a head appeared with long, curving horns and eyes that spun with whorls of fire. It looked like the offspring of a bull and a demon. Its imposing body rose up from the inferno, appearing like magic from the solid stone. It raised itself to its full height, looming over the crowd. The last of the woman’s blood hissed and boiled away, her flesh dissolving into ashes.

“Behold, Moloch rises!” the man in the goat mask screamed in a fanatical voice. The crowd’s cheering had stopped, though. Many of the faces in the crowd looked chalk-white with terror. The bull-god surveyed the crowd, its horns nearly scraping the ceiling twenty feet above the stage.

At that moment, I knew death was on its way with eyes of fire and a grin like a skull, ready to reap a field of human bodies.

***

I heard running behind me, but I didn’t dare turn away from the horrific sight in front of me. The last of the fire’s embers died, sending up thin wisps of gray smoke that spiraled around the bull-god’s monstrous face. Moloch stood as still as a statue, and if it weren’t for one thing, I might’ve thought it was some sort of sculpture or art project. He had two nostrils like a serpent’s. As his great lungs inhaled, the smoke billowed in and out of his mouth and nose. 

Some of the people at the edges of the crowd had gotten up, hurrying towards the doors. Moloch’s head ratcheted to face them, his fiery eyes narrowing into slits.

“Do not leave!” the man in the goat mask pleaded. “Those who have fear are not worthy of life. Do not prove yourselves unworthy of life!” As the first of the fleeing men and women got to within a few steps of the door, Moloch gave a primal roar. In a blur of primal strength, he reached down and ripped the blackened sacrificial altar off the stage. It ripped from the wooden stage with a tremendous crack like a bullwhip. He hurled the heavy mass of stone at those heading towards the opposite exit from the one I guarded. 

I watched it curve through the air. The people started screaming and clawing to escape as it smashed down on their heads with a grating crash. I could feel the floor shake from where I stood outside. Blood exploded from their smashed bodies. I saw arms and legs jerking and seizing under the heavy stone, but within a few moments, they slowed and then stopped.

Others were running towards the door I guarded, but Moloch leapt off the stage in a blur. In a few bounding steps, he reached the pale, terrified faces on the other side of the threshold. His massive clawed hand came down. I heard bones shatter as blood sprayed my face and the wall. Bone splinters and pieces of brain exploded from the screaming bodies. I backpedaled, wiping at my eyes, trying to get the blood off so I could see. No one had told me what to do in this situation. I didn’t know if I was supposed to shoot that massive abomination, or if this was all just part of the show.

“Richard!” a familiar voice cried from behind me. Panic oozed from every word. I spun, seeing Mario and Kolmek standing side by side, their pupils dilated and expressions grim. 

“We have a major problem.” It was Mario. I recognized that voice, the one that sounded as if he had been gargling with rocks.

“I know,” I said, holding my rifle tightly. I pointed behind me at the scene of rampant death and destruction. 

I had seen bloodshed and war before, but this was different. The Island itself seemed to feel it. The wind, which had been calm when I first landed, now whipped the Island in fast, circular currents. The breeze smelled of burnt matches and coppery blood. The static electricity which had caused the hairs on my arms to rise rippled over everything with tiny blue flashes, increasing in power by the second.

“No, no, not Moloch,” Kolmek said, looking much calmer than I felt. “The Savior lets Moloch thin the herd every year.” 

“It’s Leviathan,” Mario continued grimly, “the beast from the waters. The smell of blood is drawing it from the depths of the ocean. We picked up the first blips on radar a few minutes ago. When it gets here, it won’t stop until everything is rubble. It will kill every single person on the Island.”

“All security personnel must report to the south beach immediately,” a cool robotic voice cried out over hidden loudspeakers all over the Island. The screaming from the auditorium had quieted behind me. I was afraid to look inside.

“There it is,” Kolmek said, his head jerking up as the emergency alert read. He motioned for me to follow. “It’s time to fight.”

***

We sprinted over curving trails of smooth logs between deathly quiet forests. All the insects and birds had gone silent. Ahead of us, the palm trees opened up onto the Pacific Ocean. But it was no longer a beautiful tropical blue. A black, swirling whirlpool like an ulcerous wound had opened up on its surface. It stretched hundreds of feet across, drawing closer to the shore by the second. Dead fish, sharks, dolphins, squids and even whales spun in the filthy, dark water.

Twenty black-clad security agents waited for the three of us on the beach, their eyes wide, their faces pale with terror. Like myself, they all had AR-15s and Glock 22s with extra magazines for both. I guess the Glock might be useful for blowing my brains out as a last resort if some beast from Hell rose out of the simmering waters, but I didn’t think it would stop anything from another dimension.

The clouds swirled overhead in a thick curtain as black as smoke. Flashes of blue lightning detonated every couple seconds. Mario raised his hands, screaming over the roaring of the wind. Kolmek stood by my side, his face grim and eyes narrowed.

“Your job is to fight off anything that tries to get on the Island,” he said, looking from one face to another with rapt attention. “Nothing can stand against high-caliber rifle fire. Shoot at the face and eyes when it comes up. We’ve dealt with creatures like this before, and they will retreat if you injure them badly enough.” I had the sense of being fed a line of bullshit as my mind processed this.

“What exactly is coming up?” one of the doe-eyed security men asked. He barely looked old enough to drink, a young, muscular hulk with a Marine Corps tattoo on his neck.

“They call it Leviathan,” Mario responded. “Sometimes the rituals here and the smell of blood can draw… strange things. Leviathan is one of those. We have encountered it before. The most important thing to remember is…” His voice was suddenly drowned out by a terrible cacophony that came from the center of the black whirlpool. 

A screech like the detonation of a nuclear missile shook the ground. The ocean jumped and bubbled frantically. The beach heaved and cracked, the white sands disappearing in fissures that opened up like greedy mouths underneath my feet. I lost my balance, falling forwards. The screeching continued rising into a primal roar.

A green dragon head the color of an infected wound erupted from the surface of the thrashing water, rising up dozens of feet in the air. It had two enormous slitted eyes that dilated and constricted quickly as it glowered down at us. The screeching abruptly stopped, the pointed mouth of the dragon slamming shut with a sound like a gunshot.

Within moments, another cancerous green head shot up in a blur, its skin looking as hard as stone. Ridges that looked as sharp as swords ran the length of its reptilian skull, arcing over its eyes and pointed snout. More heads erupted from the ocean until all seven heads of Leviathan loomed over us.

Not one of us fired. No one even seemed to breathe as we surveyed the beast across the no-man’s land of the white sands. The slitted eyes and yellow irises of the seven heads had a demonic hunger, a reptilian coldness. Far behind us, I heard distant screams still echoing from the auditorium where Moloch held sway.

“Fire!” Mario cried. Instantly, a cacophony of gunshots exploded all around me. I jumped up on my feet, scrambling up as the seven-headed dragon leapt forward. Thousands of gallons of saltwater streamed down its massive body as it came up on the beach. Long, black paws with bone-white talons shot out of the surging ocean, followed by a tapering tail like that of a water snake.

I brought the rifle up and emptied my magazine as fast as I could, pulling the trigger over and over as I aimed at the many slitted eyes of Leviathan. But the bullets seemed to ping harmlessly off of its hard, obsidian-like scales.

It scrabbled onto the shore, the heads coming down in a blur. Rows and rows of vampiric fangs gleamed dully in each of the mouths. One security agent was bitten in half, the spurting stump of his lower body still standing for a long moment even as the rest of the body disappeared down the throat of the dragon.

Mario ran forwards, slamming another magazine in his rifle and opening fire point-blank. One of the heads came down in a blur towards him. Its great, staring eyes exploded in a shower of blue blood and thick vitreous fluid. The dragon head pulled back, its mouth opening in a primal scream of agony.

As I reloaded, I scanned the area around me, realizing that nearly half of the security agents were either dead or critically injured. I backpedaled away, keeping my eyes on the dragon. It continuously drew forward, killing more of its enemies with every step. I turned and ran into the forest, the sounds of shattering bones and dying men ringing through the air with a sickening clarity behind me.

Once I had reached the border of the trail, I heard Mario yell, “Retreat!” behind me. But by that point, it was far too late.

***

“Hey! Wait up!” a voice whispered from behind me. I turned my head, seeing Kolmek. Spatters of drying blood covered his face and uniform. As far as I could tell, none of it was his. “Mario’s dead. They’re all dead. We need to get out of here. We need to get off the Island.”

“How?” I asked.

“Find the Savior,” he answered, panting and out of breath. “We must find him. He can get us out of here.”

“I don’t even know what the guy looks like,” I muttered. “He was wearing a goat mask.”

“You’ll know him when you see him,” Kolmek said. “His body is covered in scars. Everything except his face. Stay close to me. We need to watch each other’s backs. It’s our only chance of survival.”

***

A trail of twisted, broken bodies led from the mansion to the surrounding trails and beaches. A decapitated woman with solid gold necklaces embedded with diamonds lay in front of me. It was strange on the Island, the way oblivion and ineffable wealth coexisted side by side. But everything was deathly silent, even in the mansion’s auditorium.

“Where’s the Savior?” I asked through gritted teeth. I peeked my head into the auditorium, but nothing moved. Hundreds of smashed and bloody bodies littered the floor.

“He’s around somewhere,” Kolmek answered. We started circling the mansion, looking for any signs of life. Kolmek went in the lead. As he turned the corner, an enormous black hand with sharp claws of fingers flitted forward in a blur, wrapping itself around his chest. Kolmek gave a strangled cry as it closed around him. I heard his bones crush as a spout of blood and gore flew from his mouth and nose, as if he were a toothpaste tube being squeezed.

I backpedaled away as Moloch threw the twitching corpse aside like a discarded toy. It smashed into the wall of the mansion, exploding wetly. A human-shaped, bloody stain languidly dripped down the wall above Kolmek’s mangled body.

Moloch slowly turned his head towards me, the fiery eyes flashing with hunger. He gnashed his fangs together, taking a step forward with a leg the size and shape of a tree trunk. With every step he took, I felt the ground tremble.

“Stop!” I cried, moving away from the monstrous creature. “Why are you doing this?”

“There is no why,” he gurgled, his voice monstrous and inhumanly slow. “There is only power. The weak deserve to die. Only the strong are worthy of life.” I raised my rifle in a last-ditch effort to save myself. Moloch saw it and started running towards me, every footstep crushing the paved walkway around the mansion into rubble and dust.

I aimed for his eyes and nose, emptying the entire magazine as quickly as I could. The bullets smashed into Moloch’s face. Dark red, clotted blood dripped out of the wounds, writhing with maggots. Drops of it fell around me, landing on my hair and face. I felt the small larvae twisting all over my skin. Moloch’s blood smelled nauseating, like some combination of stinkbugs and rotting bodies. He slowed, giving a roar of pain. I turned to run in the opposite direction, but as I looked out in the direction of the beach, my heart dropped.

Leviathan was moving in our direction, the giant dragon heads looming over the trees. Quickly, it swept towards me like a dark wind.

***

“You will suffer for that, worthless slave,” Moloch growled, wiping blood from his fiery eyes with his sharp talons of fingers. A sudden idea came to me. I ran in the direction of Leviathan. Moloch followed closely at my heels, only a few steps behind me.

Leviathan slithered forward over the sands and trees, its enormous body undulating like a water snake’s. I screamed at it, an incomprehensible wail of terror. Its seven heads snapped towards me. Its slitted eyes widened as it saw Moloch.

I heard the crashing of Moloch’s footsteps stop behind me, only feet away from crushing me into a paste. His massive lungs breathed quickly, exhaling the odor of sulfur and smoke.

“Leviathan,” Moloch growled in his demonic voice. “These are my tributes.” Leviathan’s dragon heads looked straight up at the Sun and screamed in response, their many voices rising and falling in a dissonant wail. As I sprinted into the trees, Leviathan and Moloch ran at each other, colliding with an ear-splitting crash. I glanced back, seeing Moloch ripping one of the dragon heads off its neck with his sharp fingers. The head screamed as blue blood exploded from the spurting stump. After a long moment, the neck fell limply forward.

The other dragon heads bit Moloch in a unified attack. They ripped deep holes in his shoulders and arms, snapping over and over like rabid dogs. As the two eldritch monstrosities attacked each other in fierce combat, I lost sight of them, but the sounds of fighting echoed over the entire island, crashing like lightning.

***

I felt like the survivor of an Apocalypse. I couldn’t find a single other living person on the Island. Hundreds of crushed, broken and decapitated bodies surrounded me. Over the cacophony of fighting, I heard a new noise: the whirring of helicopter blades nearby. It was coming from the other side of the mansion.

Frantically, I sprinted around the other side, seeing a Black Hawk helicopter getting ready to leave. A man in black robes sat at the pilot’s seat, his green eyes gleaming and a wide smile plastered across his face. I smashed my fist into the door over and over until he opened it.

“Holy shit, you’re still alive?” he asked. I hadn’t seen this man before. He had a face like a Calvin Klein model, all sharp angles and high cheekbones, perfectly proportioned in every way. But his scalp looked melted and scarred, as if someone had thrown gasoline on his hair and ignited it. His ears were stunted, twisted growths of scar tissue. His hands, too, were covered in deep, folding burn scars.

“Are you the Savior?” I responded quickly. “Please, get me out of here.”

“They do call me that,” he said wistfully. “The Savior. Yes, I guess I am. Get in.”

***

The Savior stared at me with his strange green eyes, the color of swamps where monstrous things swam under the surface.

“Some people just need to learn the hard way,” he said. The helicopter took off into a dark night covered with bright, twinkling stars. “There is no great power without great responsibility, after all. Those of us who seek the ancient ones know it comes with a cost.” I just stared out the window, gazing down at the countless mutilated, broken bodies that littered the beach.

Below us, the face of a bull stared up with eyes of fiery cyclones. The broken, still body of Leviathan lay at his feet. As we made it over the great waters of the Pacific Ocean, the bull-god raised a hand and waved. At that moment, I thought I could almost see a hurricane of translucent souls circling around him, spiraling up into the sky. 

0 Comments
2024/05/30
19:58 UTC

4

Wondering about music in a creepypasta I really enjoyed

In "A song for a student", What music was used? They were very emotional, and I'm a sucker for pieces like them. It speaks to me on a deeper level. An intoxicating melancholia. Particularly the ones that came at 18:03 and 19:32 in.

I haven't found them, but I love the way they sound nonetheless. If anyone knows, I would appreciate it!

2 Comments
2024/05/28
15:22 UTC

10

The Siege of Fort Ond

The following is a transcription of an audio cassette I discovered in my father's safe, shortly after he died. The tape has been transcribed for you here in its entirety, for my own sake.

Dad - Can you say that again?

Grandpa - Which part?

Dad - The date Dad, the recorder wasn't close enough. I wanna make sure we get everything.

Grandpa - Why is it so important that you get every last detail anyway?

Dad - Because that's what the doctor said, Dad. The more detail we get, the better he can help you.

Grandpa - Oh! is that right? He's gonna help me huh? How's he gonna do that exactly? Stuff some more magic pills down my pocket? Maybe sign me up for group therapy? Those are ALWAYS loads of fun!

Dad - No, I think he just wants to get a better understanding of -

Grandpa - He can't help me. Nobody can. Better psychiatrists have tried and failed. You wouldn't believe me anyway. There's no point.

Dad - Well, If nothing else it would help us and the doc to make better decisions regarding you. Look, I promise that I will listen to everything you have to say. I promise I’ll believe you ok?

Grandpa - Don't say that! You can't promise me something like that. It's a bullshit statement and you know it.

Dad - Alright fine. Fair enough. I promise that I will TRY to believe ok? I’ll … try. Look, forget about the doctor alright? I want to know what happened that night, ME. I want to know what you were doing in Norway. Why you can never get a damn good night's sleep, just tell me, please.

Grandpa - (Deep breath) …fine

February 20, 1943. That's when it all went down. The Axis Powers had been almost completely driven outta Africa, and the Soviets had effectively turned the tide of war in Eastern Europe. We Had the Nazis on the run, for the time being at least. They were vulnerable, sure, but they still had every capability of rebounding and kicking our asses. As such, the US was particularly interested in taking out any and all Axis weapons development programs.

Dad - Weapons development programs? What, like their tanks or the atomic bomb or -

Grandpa - Exactly. The Allies specifically targeted their hard water factories to cripple their production of the atomic bomb. But there were other targets. So-called “Wonder Weapon” projects scattered all over German-occupied territories. Manufacturing depots, chemical weapons labs, bioweapons research centers, etc. THAT'S what I was doing in Norway.

Dad - Where in Norway did they send you?

Grandpa - … Northern Norway. Far off the mainland lay an island with a Nazi outpost on it. Very little was known about the place at the time regarding its exact purpose and mission. According to our spies inland and the Norwegian rebels, the locals referred to it simply as “Fort Ond”. They said it was … a bad place. That the prisoners who were taken there were never seen again. That the waters bordering its shore were barren of all aquatic life and colder than even the most bone-chilling frostbite. Command didn’t give a shit about any of that though. Their only concern was 2 things. “Why is this installation so far from the German homeland? And “Why is it so far from mainland Norway? The conclusion they came to was that the Nazis had to be developing some sort of weapon there that they didn't wanna risk infecting a lot of people with.

Dad - So, they thought it was a chemical weapons plant?

Grandpa - No, they thought it was a bioweapons lab. Smallpox, anthrax you know that kinda stuff. We THOUGHT that's what they were doing there, but we didn't know for sure. That's where my unit came in, and where Operation Maelstrom was greenlit.

Dad - Maelstrom?

Grandpa - I didn't pick the damn name. Anyways, they wanted to keep the operation as covert as possible. Minimal manpower. One squad of British SAS, one squad of Canadian commandos, and last but not least, one squad of Army Rangers. Including yours truly.

Dad - Was the purpose of the mission just to gather intel or-

Grandpa - Our first priority was the eradication of the fort's inhabitants and the seizure of any relevant intel. However, we were also prepared for it to turn into a sabotage mission at a moment's notice. Leadership felt pretty confident about the bioweapons theory and didn't wanna take any chances with letting the stuff potentially get away, hence the limited manpower. The last thing we wanted was for the krauts to get spooked by a large invasion force and flee with any samples….

Dad - Dad? Are you ok?

Grandpa - Yeah, just gimme a second.

(The metallic opening sound of a lighter can be heard, along with the sizzling burning of paper)

Dad - Really? You gotta do that now huh?

Grandpa - What? Oh! I'm sorry, is the smoke gonna bother your little nose that much? Would you prefer I do it some other time?

Dad - I’d prefer you didn't fucking do it all! Though, In a way, it's oddly inspiring. A senior citizen, part of “The Greatest Generation” still puffing that shit all these years like it's of no consequence to his health.

Grandpa - Fuck the consequences. Can I continue now? Or is this gonna turn into an intervention? Cause if so, tell me now so I can save you the time and just leave the room and enjoy the rest of my smoke.

Dad - … please continue.

Grandpa - We were all flown to Iceland for our briefing. From the moment I arrived, I had my doubts about the operation. The sheer lack of intel we had to go off of regarding: fort size, manpower, and exact purpose just seemed odd to me. I remember thinking to myself “I hope this is enough men.''. When I did so I caught my friend Weathers looking around too. I could tell he was thinking the same thing. From there, we boarded a British destroyer that took us less than 10 miles from the island. We had to travel the remaining distance on our own in 2 PT boats. I remember just how cold it was that night. How we all subconsciously stood closer to each other than normal in a vain attempt to try to stay warm. Like a bunch of penguins, the lot of us. It was a half-hour ride to the island so we stayed like that for a while. Just hunkered up and tried to keep warm as much as we could while we waited for any sign of something. When we were about a mile from the island, we got that sign.

We saw it long before we ever got near the stuff. When we did, we all went silent and watched as we slowed down our boats to make a cautious approach. A thick fog had blanketed the sea around the coastline in all directions for about a half mile. It had a faint… red hue to it. Not a deep red, just faintly visible. It towered above us nearly 15 feet in the air like a tidal wave and seemingly stared us down. We slowly crept our boats up to it inch by inch until our bows were nearly kissing it. From there, a few of the Canadians on the adjacent boat got out some equipment and began probing the fog for any sign of toxins. We all sat there and waited for them to finish their work. As they did so I took notice of the absolute unnaturalness of it all. It made no movement towards, nor away from us. Yet it billowed and Contracted and breathed soothingly in place like you would expect a body of smoke to do. I remember distinctly thinking of it not as a wall, but more like a veil or a curtain. Hiding the island from us. A few minutes later the Canadians signaled over to our boat and gave Our commander, Captain Hawks the thumbs up. The fog wasn't toxic as far as they could tell. Given our mission though, we couldn't take any chances of it being a gas of some kind. Better safe than sorry. So we donned our gas masks and made sure our suits were nice and sealed up. I in particular had taken the liberty of duct taping around my gloves and boots to ensure it was airtight. Then, we started our boats back up and slowly sailed on into the unknown.

At first, I couldn't see anything. The fog was so thick it limited my visibility to just a few feet in front of me. And even less so in front of the boat. We couldn't have our lights on for fear of being spotted. When we were out in the open water this was fine of course. The moon and stars lit up the surrounding waters nicely for us. But now, there was little to no light penetrating the fog. we were engulfed in near-total darkness. So we just slowly inched our way forward as safely as we could. I just sat there and watched the red vapor hit and dance off my goggles while I searched for any sign of land. For a while, nobody said a word. We all just waited for what seemed like an eternity. The longer we pushed ahead, the tighter the grip on my rifle became as my nerves started up. Finally, One of the Brits broke the silence. I watched him tap the man in front of him and heard him whisper “Are we sure this is the right -'' his sentence was quickly interrupted. We had landed.

The entire boat shook wildly as a few of us lost our footing and had to grab the side walls to stay upright. As we did so, I looked around me and noticed the fog gradually growing thinner as we made our approach. Steadily, its opacity diminished. I could begin to see shapes through the veil. The crunching noises ceased a few seconds later and with them, so too did the fog from my line of sight. It was still there, but it was thinner and lower to the ground than it was over the open sea. It only came up to our knees from that point on. Which meant I could finally see our objective. The island. It was … a mess of scattered jagged rocks and hills. Caverns and towering cliffs that seemed to scatter in all directions. Like a porcupine made of stone. At its center, one giant hill stood out. I followed it from the base to the peak with my eyes and at its peak, there was a door. That was it. Not a trace of human life. No pathways, no trenches, no buildings of any kind. Nothing that would suggest any sort of operation was being undertaken on the island. There were a few guard towers of course. We knew at least that much from our aerial photos, but we had chosen our landing site specifically to be in a blind spot they wouldn't see us from. That was it though. Apart from the door that stuck out amidst the terrain looking utterly unnatural in the distance, there was not a sign of life. No buzzing of insects, no splashing of fish, no chirping of birds, even the wind itself seemed to bow before the island's authority and ceased completely. No life whatsoever. I thought back to when we first encountered the fog and just how right I was in my thought process. We truly had crossed a veil of some kind.

Captain Hawks, gave the hand signals. We all filed out and patrolled inland as fast as we could to a nearby cave. The Norwegians were waiting for us there.

Dad - The Norwegians? Were they the ones who gave you the fort's intel to begin with?

Grandpa - The very same. Adding them to our roster brought our total strike force to 35 men….

Dad - Dad?

Grandpa - …

Dad - it's ok Dad, take your time

Grandpa - (takes a deep breath) We headed into the cave and linked up with the Norwegians. Who sat steadfast in defensive positions. One of them stood up as soon as we breached the darkness of the cavern and swung his gun over in our direction, shouting at us to presumably lower our weapons, before quickly lowering his own back down and making a half-hearted apology attempt. Hawks was livid. He stormed over to the man and with one forceful strike of his fist he sent the poor Norwegian hurtling towards the ground. “You some kind of fucking moron kid? I was this close. THIS CLOSE to blowing your goddamn head off!” the commander of the Norwegians rushed over to stand between the two of them. “Please forgive us, sir! We've been on edge since we arrived a few hours ago! it was an honest mistake!” He helped his fallen soldier back to his feet and ordered him to the back of the cavern to tend to his face. Afterward, he and Hawks stared at each other for a few seconds in silence while we all just waited for one of them to speak. The leader of the Norwegians spoke first. “Something is wrong. Very wrong. Our intel is severely off.” He said. “None of the guard towers have occupants and we haven't seen a Nazi soldier patrolling the island for 3 days now. We've been spying on the island for weeks now as best we could. The entire time we did so soldiers were patrolling the shores, manning the towers, and watching the coastlines. But 3 days ago this… fog emerged. Obscured our vision and made it nearly impossible to see anything on the island. Since we arrived we've done multiple sweeps and scouting runs along the island's surface before your arrival. No one is here, American. Not a soul. It's like they just… vanished. At least, from the island's surface.” I looked back over at Mckinley who did the same. We exchanged confused looks at one another before looking back at the 2 leaders who were now talking too quietly to one another to hear. Finally, Hawks turned to face us and with a deep sigh said “We THINK the Nazis have locked themselves away within the fort's cave systems and interior. According to our good buddies here, the island's surface is safe. Let's hope they're right. Conduct final checks on all your equipment then form up by the cave entrance. We're going in.

We got into formation and made our way up the rough terrain to the door I spotted when we first landed. As far as we could tell, it was the only entrance to the interior of the fort. The ascent was nerve-racking. The cold, wet staircase that led up to the fort's entrance proved difficult to scale with all of my equipment. Which was made all the more dangerous of course, by the fog. With it clinging to around knee level on every surface of the island it made it damn near impossible to see where we were stepping. So we just slowly tip-toed our way up to the door as best we could. All the while nobody uttered a word. It was so quiet I could hear my own heartbeat throbbing in my ears. Eventually, we reached the top of the stairs. The door itself was … monolithic.

Dad - Monolithic? What like ancient?

Grandpa - Oh yeah, stood nearly 9 feet tall and looked like it was made out of bronze or copper, I don't know. Some kind of faintly orange metal. It was covered in strange engravings that could only be described as hieroglyphic. They weren't of course, but that's the only comparison I've been able to find since that day. Believe me, I've tried. Looked through every damn book I could think of. Nothing comes close to the symbols and markings I saw engraved on that door. It was like a foreign language of some kind. It didn't look like it was written, or chipped away from the door by an expert's hand so much as it looked like it was slashed or cut. Like something had hacked away at it with claws or teeth to create the strange writing. It didn't look like a human's hand had done it. Looking up at the door, I felt like an explorer. Like I had found something lost to mankind for millennia and was rediscovering it. Only, I Didn't wanna be the person to discover this. At that moment I wasn't sure I wanted to be aware of this place's existence let alone have to open the damn thing and walk past it into god knows what. We readied our explosives, expecting to have to breach our way in. To our surprise, however, the wooden beam that was attached to the door lifted. The monolith opened slightly. And with it came the stench of utter, all-devouring Rot. like puss and spoiled milk, Bile, and sulfur all fused into one unholy concoction that assaulted my nostrils and instantly forced tears down my cheek. At first, I panicked. Believing my mask wasn't secured tight enough and I was inhaling a toxin of some kind, but when I looked up I saw all of my team members doing the same. Our masks were all working fine. We couldn't have all had a potential leak right? The smell was truly just that powerful.

The door had only given way and opened a tiny bit. Our frontman quickly had to ask for help as the door was too heavy to heave by himself. Four men, me included, pushed with all our might and then quickly ran out of the way as soon as the door was completely opened so the guys behind us could aim down the opening.

When they did, they didn't see much. Their flashlights shined straight into a wall that angled down and away from us. What lay before us was another staircase. Carved out of the very stone of the mountain itself. The fog clung lower to the ground past the doorway. Only coming up to about ankle height. but it still obscured the steps all the same as the walk up to that point. We stared down the doorway waiting for the order to advance. But Hawks said nothing. He just stood there with his gun trained ahead and his other hand held up, silently telling us to wait. I suspected he was listening. Waiting to hear any commotion from us opening the heavy door. For any sign of the enemy. There was none, however. Not a sound could be heard from down the staircase. Just like everywhere else so far. Goff leaned over to me and tapped me on the shoulder “Somethings not fucking right man” he whispered. I didn't respond. I didn't feel I needed to. Everyone was already thinking the same thing anyway. No point in vocalizing it. Especially not when I could visibly see what Hawks was thinking. I watched a chill run up his spine that shook his held-up hand and rifle slightly in place. I'd never seen him like that before. He steadied himself and with a low reassuring grunt, which was probably more for his benefit than ours, he gave the order. “File in.” so down we went.

We descended for about twenty feet. The staircase itself was dark but we could see light at the bottom. The sight of the light was a relief. Instantly I felt a tiny shred of my anxiety whither away as my instincts took hold and I readied myself for any Germans that might be waiting for us at the bottom. There were no Germans, however. None left anyway. None … alive. When I reached the bottom of the staircase, the scene laid out before me was like something you'd see at a crime scene. It was a big square room illuminated by a gas lantern in its center. The door directly ahead of us led to an opening in the floor with a ladder hooked to it, with 2 doorways on our left and right. Like a plus sign or a cross. Various crates and workstation desks laid toppled over and all faced the direction of the newly discovered staircase. Like sentry posts, they all faced towards the same point. Scattered throughout the room were the nazis. Half sunken into the fog and slightly obscured by it, draped over crates, leaning up against the walls, crumpled up like a soda can in the corner. There were at least a dozen of them. Their blood pooled beneath our feet but I could hardly notice it through the tinted fog. I took a step forward and That's when I heard the familiar jingling of empty bullet casings beneath my feet. Subsequently, bullet holes could be seen in nearly every square inch of the wall in front of us. “Jesus Christ!” Weathers shouted as he entered the room behind me, prompting Hawks to hold up his hand again signaling for him to shut up. “Whoever the fuck did this might still be here. Stay frosty” he muttered sternly to us. out “Fan out, check the rooms on our flanks'' He commanded via hand signals.

Half our men went to the room on the right while the remaining went left. I along with 3 others stood guard in the lit room and kept our guns trained on the Ladder ahead of us. As I knelt behind a crate to take a better defensive position, I noticed one of the Nazis was lying face down in a puddle of his own blood close to my right. I kept my rifle trained ahead as I slowly reached over and heaved on his shoulder forcing him to roll over onto his back. He had a look of utter terror frozen onto his face, with eyes wide open and mouth agape. He bore cuts, and large slash marks up his chest and torso which caused his entrails to expose themselves slightly. I looked around the room at the other men to verify and sure enough, the ones who weren't submerged in fog shared similar wounds of varying size and volume. “ what the fuck happened here?” I thought to myself. This thought was quickly overtaken by a doubly terrifying realization. I looked at the bullet holes directly ahead of me and thought “Whatever the hell happened here, I'm standing in the same place they were.”

After a few tense moments of sitting with that realization, the squad checking the right room emerged holding a few books and folders. They bore similar engravings to the ones seen on the door upon our arrival and were bound in leather so ancient, that it looked like the faintest breeze would disintegrate them if they weren't careful. They showed it to Hawks who took one of the books and began sifting through its pages. At first, he scanned the pages carefully, and thoroughly, but he quickly thereafter began to shuffle through them frantically and impatiently before reaching back and shoving it into his pack. “

Right about that time the squad from the left room emerged. A British soldier approached and said “Just more dead krauts sir. There's um… there's something. We found cages, big enough to fit a human in. There were bodies in them but… they weren't Ger-” “Civilians” The Norwegian team leader interrupted. “These fucking animals.” Hawks looked like he was getting ready to say something but he didn't get the chance. All conversations and thoughts were stopped when the sound of screaming could be heard down the ladder.

With one uniform motion, all remaining men turned their guns to face the same direction as I already was. We waited for what felt like an eternity. For a head to come bobbing up the opening in the floor. For the sound of footsteps. For any sign of the enemy. Nothing came. After about a minute or so Hawks gave the order. We were going down there...

I don't wanna do this anymore…

Dad - Dad, please. You can do it. Just take a second ok?

Grandpa - the smell Patrick…

Dad - What about it?

(My Grandpa can be heard taking a huge huff of his cigarette followed by loud coughing)

Grandpa - I can't get it outta my nose! It's been 60 goddamn years since then and I can't get it outta my nose! God! By the time we had reached the bottom, Goff had already vomited from it. I had to fucking cover him while he did it. Good thing I hadn't eaten anything before the briefing or else I would've too. When we reached the bottom. There was nobody. Just like the rest of the island, not a sign of life.

Dad - Dad, what did you see at the bottom of the ladder?

Grandpa - … A well. It was a large cavern-like room with multiple passageways that branched off in all directions but at its center, was a well. Made out of the same stone as the mountain itself and yet, it somehow looked older. More ancient. More… monolithic. Along its rim… were the same damn etching and carvings as the door. Upon closer examination, we saw that It was the source of the fog that had plagued us since our arrival. We watched it for a while and observed The fog billowed up, out, and over the top of the well in all directions at a constant unnatural rate. I couldn't believe that such a tiny source could have produced as much as we'd seen up to that point. I couldn't believe that The colossal wall that we encountered upon our arrival originated from such a minuscule well deep in a mountain. As we spread out to cover the other passageways, I approached it and leaned over. Patrick… The smell was so fucking strong that I was thrown back onto my hands and knees almost immediately from the stomach contractions. It was the source of the fog … of the smell… everything.

Dad - What was in the well?

Grandpa - Blood. The whole fucking thing was filled with blood. More blood than I'd ever seen in my life. More than the room upstairs, more than any other mission I'd ever been on and it was fresh! It boiled gently and seemed to move on its own as though it were alive and aware of our presence in the room and when I gazed upon it, the attack on my nose and stomach seemed like one of calculation. As though a cobra had spat in my face for daring to get too close. I wasn't allowed even a second to recover from the stench, however. At that exact moment, we heard more screams. Seemingly, from every passageway in the cavern emitted what I can only describe as wails of anguish. Like the flesh was being peeled off somebody's forearm and pouring salt back into the wound at the same time. They pierced all of our ears like razor blades and made me wince so hard I almost forgot about my stomach pain. “How fucking big is this place?!” I thought to myself “What the hell could be happening just down one of these tunnels?”.

“Fuck this” Hawks said. “Start planting charges. We are getting the fuck out of this place as soon as possible.”

It was music to all of our ears. One of the soldiers came over to check on me as the rest began to start laying charges. There was nothing professional about our process. We were just laying them out as fast as we could so we could get the hell out of that wretched place and back to the boats. The screams continued the entire time we worked.

Dad - Were they getting closer?

Grandpa - I don't know. They sounded like they were coming from every passageway all at once but It was hard to tell. We had a man eyeing down every doorway just in case though. It didn't matter. We should've been watching the well! As I struggled to compose myself and get back to my feet I had a front-row seat to what was about to happen. Goff … the poor bastard. He was doing his rounds, laying his charges along the floor. Around the well. I wanted to speak up, to tell him not to get too close. But I was still sucking in air through my teeth and couldn't get the words out. All I could do was hold my hand out to him and grunt. He turned to face me. “You gonna make it?” was the last thing I heard him say. At that very moment. An arm shot out of the well behind him. Locked itself around his neck and pulled him into the well headfirst.

The arm was inhumanly long. More like a tentacle than an arm… but its form was undeniably human still! It wrapped itself around his neck and dug its fingers into the side of his face as it dragged him deeper and deeper down. I watched him thrash around and kick his legs wildly in a vain attempt to get free. Spraying torrents of blood in all directions around him. He was already halfway submerged by the time our men got a hold of his feet. When they did so, another arm shot out of the well and locked itself around Goff's waist now pulling him in faster. I could hear gurgling, and see bubbles of air making their way to the wells surface. The poor bastard was drowning in that putrid liquid! The men pulled with all their might but it didn't slow down his descension in any noticeable way. They heaved and barked orders to the others like rabid dogs. Desperate to save our comrade. But No help came. We were alone with the incomprehensible, and it was winning. The rest of us simply stood by dumbfounded and watched As he was forcibly dragged down the well inch by inch. When it was clear that the men could do nothing more they let go and took a few steps back. Their entire arms were covered in blood up to their elbows. For a moment. Nothing happened. Nobody said a word, moved a muscle, or did anything. We all just faced the well and tried our best to process what had just happened. It didn't last long. The well began to gurgle and bubble as though it were digesting my friend. It began to overflow. Slowly, the thick crimson liquid oozed over the top of the well and onto the cold stone floor beneath making its way towards us. I was the first to make a move. I stood up and began to slowly step backward towards the ladder. That's when the massacre began.

In an instant, all of Hell erupted around us. The same arms that had dragged my friend to a then-unknown fate sprang out of the walls around us as though the island were alive and began to frantically swing around searching for a body to claim. A few of them found their mark and pulled some of the men towards the walls. Wrapping themselves around their necks, locking them in place, and suffocating them. Any sense of composure our toughest men had remaining left their bodies that very moment, as we all made a mad dash sprint for the ladder. The room was only dimly lit by all of our flashlights though. When we broke our formation and began to run, our visibility became significantly more limited. Bodys ran into each other and men began slipping on the blood that had now reached all of our feet. The fog had also begun rising in intensity at a startling rate and was now almost as thick and copious as it was out on the sea. This made it all the more hard to tell what exactly was happening and before I knew it, I was knocked onto my ass by one of the Canadians as he ran straight into me. The blood rose higher and higher. At an inconceivably fast rate, it was halfway up to my knees by the time I regained my footing. When I did I felt a sudden rush of movement brush by my left leg. That's when I saw it. There were shapes moving in the blood! Large, serpentine-like shapes that slithered all around us and began to quickly encircle my team. Like sharks they enveloped us, poised for the kill. They seemed to be probing us for weakness, waiting for the exact right moment to strike and take as many of us down as they could. I wasn't gonna let them get me. My body moved independently of my paralyzed psyche as I sprinted for the ladder, and leaped as high as I could to escape the cavern. However, The ladder was barely wide enough to fit one man on it. It was Made of wood and was not meant to support the weight of more than a couple of men at a time. I remember just how carefully we had to scale it just to get down to the cursed room in the first place! I worried it was going to give way at any second and I would be stranded in that room with those things! With the well! I felt it crack and buckle beneath me as more men than intended all tried to climb it at once. I pushed into the man above me, just as the person below me did. All in a desperate race to escape. Just when I was sure all was lost and I would never make it out, I reached the top and rolled onto my back. As I did so I heard a loud snapping sound, followed by 8 loud splashes hitting the liquid beneath.

I rolled over and shined my flashlight down the hole to look at the scene and try to help some of the men escape what had now become a tomb. It was no use though. It was 20 feet down. I… I couldn't reach any of them. Weathers… McKinley, they stared up at me and shouted for help but what was I supposed to do? The blood had risen to about waist-high by that point and there were more of those fucking things still circling them! They climbed over one another in a desperate attempt to get enough height to reach the exit but it was nowhere near enough. I felt so helpless. I watched the mysterious shapes and figures in the blood creep up to them from behind. Then, As if coordinated, in an instant they pounced on and dragged 3 men under the murky depths all at once. In that split second when they had leapt from the blood to attack the men I caught only the faintest of glimpses of their true form. They were like eels, or … or leeches with spider legs and beaks. Something of that family but it's still not an accurate comparison. They were truly, otherworldly. Inhuman even to creation itself. They were abominations that I'm glad were obscured by the fog as, to have glanced upon them in all their unholyness would've been too much for me at that moment. They yanked the men down into the ocean of blood. As they did so the men thrashed around chaotically and knocked more men over making the already futile pyramid of terrified men all the more pitiful. That's when I noticed the three who were taken by those serpents were being dragged towards the well! They were being dragged to the well so it could devour them just like Goff and take them away to some unspeakable fate! I looked at the edges of the room to search for the first victims of the attack. The ones who had been forcibly dragged towards the walls by the arms. When I found them I felt my stomach churn once again. Their bodies were halfway into the cavern walls! The arms were dragging the men headfirst into the island itself to be consumed! It was as though the island itself was alive! The well was alive And it wanted us dead! The remaining few screamed and pleaded and begged me to help them. All I could do was stare down at the chaos before me and watch.

I was ripped out of my comatose state by a firm hand on my shoulder. It was Hawks.

“Get up! We gotta get the fuck out of here!”

He picked me up by the back of my shirt and dragged me to my feet pushing me up the staircase. I had no activity coursing through my head and yet I ran. My body was truly on autopilot. I couldn't think of anything other than the men we were leaving behind and the look I saw on their faces as they screamed at me for help. The fog had now completely engulfed the inside of the fort and I struggled to maintain my footing as I ran as fast as I could through the first chamber and up the staircase. As we exited the main door I was stopped dead in my tracks. I heard gunshots behind me. By god… They were still alive! They were still fighting to get out and I was abandoning them! Hawks once again yanked the back of my shirt forward as he walked past me.

“There's nothing we can do for them! We have to get to the boats now!” and with that, he ran off ahead of me through the red smoke. Every fiber of my being compelled me to go back but my body refused to obey. I just stood there trembling, white knuckle grasping my rifle as I struggled to make a choice. After a few agonizing seconds of contemplation, I followed after Hawks and made my way to the boats. To freedom.

As we sped away from the island at top speed I was able to slowly creep back to the real world mentally and finally take note of my surroundings. It was me, Hawks, and 3 other British troops. Only 5 men had made it out. None of us said a word. We all just kept to ourselves and stared off into space doing our best to process what had happened to us. I looked back at Fort Ond one last time before it disappeared over the horizon. The fog had grown larger now. Redder. Hungrier.

When we got back to the destroyer we told command everything that we saw and what had happened. They didn't believe a word of it. I can't really say I blame them. We must've sounded insane to them. Showing up missing 30 men, covered head to toe in blood, Rambling about a mysterious well, our friends being dragged away to an unknown fate by strange creatures, Ancient bronze doors, and slaughtered nazi soldiers. They told us that we had most likely been exposed to a nerve agent. That the base was being classified as a possible chemical weapons lab and that when we inhaled the fog, maybe we were subjected to it and its hallucinogenic properties. But we were sealed up head to toe! We stood up for ourselves as best as we could. We all corroborated each other's stories and validated each other's testimonies. We swore up and down till we were blue in the face that the island was not what we thought it was. That our friends had been killed by an unknown force and that we had to destroy the fort. They just stared at us like we were a pack of lunatics. They had made up their mind about what had happened to us on that island. Any attempt made by any of us to set the record straight only served to make us look even more insane to them. I turned to one of the admirals and spoke up one last time. I had to know something before they turned us away.

“Please tell me you guys are gonna level that fucking place”

He stared at me for a few tense seconds before simply saying “We’ll handle it.”

And with that, it was over. All the remaining members of Operation Maelstrom were discharged the next day. Deemed “medically unfit” to continue service. Each of us was briefed individually on the events of that night and I was told not to utter a word to anyone about the events of Operation Maelstrom, or to disclose the fort's location to anybody. The Colonel who was briefing me told me “For the record, I believe there's at least a little truth in what you told us. But regardless, you and the survivors are a liability now. Unstable and erratic. We can't risk putting any of you onto another operation, not after what happened to you. Or at least, not after what you think happened to you. I'm sorry but this is for your own good.” I was put on a plane the next day and sent home.

that's it…

You don't believe a word of what I just said, do you?

Dad - Well… no, not all of it. I mean, I want to but it's a little much to proc-

Grandpa - I know how it sounds! You think I don't hear myself saying this shit to you? I know how it must sound! But it's the truth, son. The well is real! What happened to me… was real.

Dad - I'm sure it must've felt that way, Dad. But you gotta-

Grandpa - YOU DON'T BELIEVE A FUCKING WORD OF IT! Nobody does. You, the doctor, and every other person I've confided in just think I'm some fucking lunatic who imagined all this. I see the way you're looking at me! Like I'm just some poor old man who's losing his mind! I KNOW WHAT I SAW! I KNOW WHAT I WENT THROUGH! You weren't there.

Dad - I know I wasn't! I'm not saying I was Dad but c'mon. Work with me. Isn't it possible it WAS a nerve agent or something? How the hell would you know it wasn't?

Grandpa - BECAUSE WE ALL SAW THE SAME DAMN THING! All of the survivors of Maelstrom gave the exact same testimony upon our return! Everything from our encounter with the fog to our return to the ship was synced up perfectly! What? Do you think we all hallucinated the exact same thing?

Dad - No! I just think that maybe-

You know, They took the books that Captain Hawks acquired. Oh yeah! They made sure we kept nothing from our mission. Stripped us bare right after we returned to ship but He told me what he saw in those pages! More of those Strange symbols! Those hieroglyphics of unknown origin. The mention of a “Tor zur Hölle”. Some kind of fucking portal to hell, or somewhere worse, or god knows where! You wanna know why I can't sleep at night, Patrick? The real reason? It's because I know it's still there! “Well handle it”.Yeah like hell they did! They probably just set up shop themselves and tried finishing what the krauts started. Or maybe not. Maybe they heard our warnings and listened to us. Maybe they shelled the place into oblivion and actually did handle it. But I'll never know son. I'll never get my closure on the events that happened that night. I'll never get to know with 100% certainty that the well has been sealed and that whatever lies in the depths of Fort Ond can't get me anymore.

Dad - Let's just take some deep breaths ok? Why don't we just calm down and -

Grandpa - This was a waste of time. It always is with you people.

Dad - Dad, please!

Grandpa - We're done here! turn that damn thing off and get-

The tape ends there. I couldn't find any additional tapes in my fathers' belongings. So, for the time being, that's where the story ends too. I didn't know my grandfather too well. He died when I was 12 and was a recluse so sadly, this tape is one of the only glimpses I've ever gotten into his life. I don't know what to believe. It’s easy to write him off as crazy or the victim of a gas attack. But The fear I heard on that tape sounded so real. That's gotta mean something right? If nothing else, the torment he endured was real. And Maybe, that's all that matters. Or maybe, just maybe… he’s right. Maybe Fort Ond still stands. Exactly as he described. Hidden somewhere, behind the veil of fog.

3 Comments
2024/05/28
06:00 UTC

9

I spent the night in a forest in Chernobyl with mutated animals. I found a mummified corpse holding a list of rules.

The area where we were heading in Eastern Europe was known for its radioactivity. We had received reports of strange animals, things that looked like they were hatched from a mad scientist’s laboratory. I didn’t know how much of it I believed, because some of the descriptions the survivors gave sounded more like wendigo and dogmen than any real animal. I figured that, in the heat of the moment and under attack, their minds had likely twisted the true form of the animals, horrifying as they were, into something truly nightmarish.

There were three of us heading into the dark Eastern European forests: my friend Dmitri, who was originally from the country and knew the language, his girlfriend Anna and myself. Everything seemed mundane enough as we flew into the country and handed over our passports. There was no sign of the horrors waiting ahead.

The first towns we encountered looked idyllic enough as we drove through them in a rental car. Isolated farmhouses with cows and chickens dotted the landscape. Plentiful fields of wheat, potatoes and corn stretched out on all sides of us. The black earth here was fertile, I knew. As we headed deeper into the radiation zone, however, the houses and farms all started to look abandoned and dilapidated, the fields barren and dead. 

“Christ on a cracker,” I muttered, more to myself than to my friends, “this place looks like it suffered through the Apocalypse.”

“It did,” Dmitri said grimly. “A nuclear apocalypse. I feel like the Biblical one is far more optimistic than the true apocalypse will be. In reality, there will be no Rapture, no victory of light over darkness. If there is ever a World War 3, every major city will be consumed by nuclear fire. It will throw buses and cars thousands of feet into the air, spilling out bodies onto the burning skies. Entire streets will collapse, trapping countless millions under the rubble.”

“That’s a cheerful thought,” Anna commented, her dark blue eyes staring out the window. I saw the reflection of white eyes skittering through the brush outside, small animals that disappeared in front of the approaching roar of the engine.

“How far is it?” I asked, feeling carsick and anxious. The winding roads here curved through countless hills. It reminded me of driving through parts of Northern California before, when I had retched out the window. Anna and Dmitri seemed unaffected, though. I cursed my stomach, which was always turning traitorous towards me.

“It’s a while, man,” Dmitri said. “This country is huge. Probably another three or four hour drive. And then we have to start walking.”

“Good thing we left before dawn,” Anna said, stifling a yawn. She had a can of some cheap Russian Red Bull knock-off, some fluorescent green crap that smelled like chemicals. But she drank it as if it were the finest French wine. I gazed out at the dark forests that passed us on both sides, wondering what kind of sights lay ahead in this land of the damned.

***

The Sun rose early over the gently rolling hills and black earth of Ukraine, sending its rusty streaks of blood across the sky. The going had been easy so far, except for the constant car sickness I felt. I took a few pills of meclizine, wishing that I could have smuggled some weed gummies through customs. But here, cannabis was illegal, and I was not eager to see the inside of an Eastern European prison, where lunatics like the Three Guys One Hammer maniacs and the Chessboard Killer lived in hellish conditions.

“Holy shit, would you look at that?” Dmitri said with awe and wonder oozing from his voice as the car braked abruptly. I looked up quickly, my stomach doing flips. But what I saw laying across the road instantly brought me back to the moment. Dmitri pointed a tattooed hand at the sight. 

“Is that real?” Anna asked. I could only shake my head as we all stared at the dead bear that was laying across the cracked road, its dead eyes staring straight through us.

I noticed immediately that the bear had extra paws on its arms. Blood-stained claws jutted sharply out of its four paws, each seeming to have seven fingers. Its feet looked stunted and twisted, like the roots of a tree. An extra arm stuck out of the front of its chest, a pale, white fleshy growth emerging from its sternum. The mutated limb looked malformed and boneless, causing a sense of revulsion to rise up as I gazed on it. It flopped gently in the heavy wind that swirled down the surrounding hills.

“Well, I guess the rumors are true,” Dmitri said slowly, his eyes as wide and excited as a child. “Can you imagine what other kinds of things must be lurking in these forests? This is going to make a really awesome documentary.” Anna nodded, playing with a small, hand-held digital camera she took everywhere with her. She wanted to make a video that would finally go viral on the internet and help her gain some recognition for her work.

“I’m going to record everything, including this,” she said excitedly, brushing a lock of blonde hair behind her ear as she opened the door of the car. Dawn had risen overhead, radiating the first warm rays of a bright summer day. After a long moment, I followed her out. Dmitri stood at her side, his dark eyes wide. He ran a trembling hand over his shaved head as he looked down at the enormous bear.

Anna zoomed in with the camera, kneeling down before the still beast. Her finely-formed fingers shook with excitement as she drew within inches of the corpse. I wondered how the bear had died, as I didn’t see any signs of injuries on the creature’s body. The next moment, I saw it blink.

I backpedaled away, giving a hoarse, guttural shout of warning. Anna was busy staring at the screen of the digital camera, scanning it across the bear’s extra fingers and limbs. But the panic that swept over Dmitri’s face showed me that he, too, had seen it. He grabbed Anna’s arm, dragging her back with sudden fury. She stumbled, her legs crossing under her. She crashed into him and they fell back together. A moment later, the bear came to life, its bones cracking as it twisted its head to look at the three of us.

It swiped a mutated paw at the place where Anna’s face had been only a moment before. I heard the sharp claws slice through the air like switchblades. The bear’s head ratcheted over to glare at us. It gnashed its teeth as silver streams of saliva flew from its shaking head. With a primal roar, it leapt off the ground. I turned to run back to the safety of the car, but I nearly tripped when a pale figure streaked out of the forest right in front of me.

It looked like something conjured up in a nightmare. It was naked and bloated, its skin white with bulging, pink cheeks. It looked to have a combination of human and pig features, and yet it ran upright like a person. Its irises were blood-red, its pupils huge and excited. Its beady eyes flicked over to Anna and a low, satisfied growl erupted from its wide throat. I watched the muscles work furiously in its porcine body as it sprinted towards her.

Before either Dmitri or I could react, the pig-thing grabbed Anna around the neck, its sharp, black fingers digging deeply into her skin. She squealed like a strangled rabbit as it dragged her away into the dark Ukrainian forests. Its pink lips pulled back in an excited grimace, revealing the sharp fangs underneath. I heard its guttural growls fade away rapidly. It sprinted much faster than a person, its hooves slamming the ground over and over at a superhuman speed.

“Hey!” Dmitri called excitedly, taking a step forward. “What do you…” A giant bear paw with too many gleaming claws smacked his leg out from under him, sending him flying. I only stood there, shell-shocked and amazed, as Anna disappeared into the trees. 

A single moment later, the bear rose to its full height, roaring at us. Streams of spit flew from its mouth as its rancid breath washed over us, breath that emanated a smell like roadkill and infection. I put my hands up, flinching, expecting a blow that never came. When I looked up, the bear had gone back on all fours. It ran in the path the pig-creature had gone, its white, boneless extra limb hanging limply from its chest.

“What the fuck!” Dmitri cried on the ground, rocking back and forth. I came back to life, running over to his side. I saw deep gouge marks sliced through his blue jeans. Bright streams of blood lazily dripped from the claw marks on his left leg.

“We need to get help,” I cried, shaking him. His eyes looked faraway and confused, as if he didn’t fully realize what was happening. “We need to go back and get the police.”

“The police?” he asked, laughing. “The police here won’t do anything. You think they’re going to travel out into the radioactivity zone just for a missing person?” He shook his head grimly before reaching out a hand to me. “Help me up. There’s a first aid kit in the car. We need to bandage this up. Then we’re going after Anna.”

***

We had no way to call for help. The phones this far out in Chernobyl didn’t work, and there were never any cell phone towers built in the silent land. After Dmitri had disinfected and bandaged his legs, he rummaged through the trunk, looking for weapons.

“God damn, there’s nothing good here,” he said despondently. “Some bear mace, some knives… what good is any of that going to do against these mutated monsters? We need an AK-47.” I nodded in agreement.

“Too bad we’re not in the US,” I said. “The only guns you’re going to get around here are the ones you take off the bodies of Russian soldiers.”

“Yeah, if only,” he muttered sadly, handing me a large folding knife. “We have one canister of bear mace, three knives and a tire iron. Not exactly an arsenal.” I really didn’t want to go into those dark woods, but thinking of Anna being tortured or murdered made me feel sick and weak. I shook my head, mentally torn. 

“Here, take the bear mace, too. I’ll take the tire iron and a knife,” he continued, forcing the black canister into my numb fingers. “You ready for this?”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I think we should try to find help. If we both go out there and get slaughtered, no one will ever find Anna.”

“The nearest town is two hours west of here,” he responded icily. “By the time we get help, her trail will have gone cold. It will take at least five or six hours to get any rescue out here. No, we need to do this, and we need to do it now. If you don’t want to come…”

“I’ll come,” I said grimly, my heart pounding. “Fuck it.”

***

Dmitri had a sad history. As a child living in Ukraine, he had been kidnapped by an insane neighbor and kept in a dirt pit outside for weeks, wallowing in his own piss and shit, slowly starving. He said the man would throw down a stale crust of bread or a rice cake into the mud and human waste every few days. Dmitri would pull the food out, wipe off the feces and eat it. I shuddered, remembering the horror stories he had told me. I knew he had a personal reason for making sure Anna was not subjected to the same endless suffering, even if it meant his own death.

The bear and the pig-creature had left a clear trail of broken brush and snapped twigs snaking through the forest. Side by side, we moved cautiously ahead, constantly checking our backs. But we saw no signs of movement and heard nothing. Up ahead, the trees abruptly opened up, letting golden sunlight stream down. Blinking quickly, we left the forest behind.

We walked out into a field in the middle of a valley surrounded by tall, dark hills. Grass and weeds rippled in waves as the wind swept past us. 

Formed in a semi-circle in front of us, human skeletons lay endlessly dreaming. They stared up into the vast blue sky with grinning skulls and empty sockets. Some still had putrefying strips of flesh and ligaments clinging to the bones. Animals had scattered some of the bodies, but others lay complete, like corpses in a tomb. Human skulls, leg bones and arm bones lay scattered haphazardly across the field, their surfaces yellowed and cracked with age. It looked like a bone orchard.

“What are we looking at right now?” I whispered, furtively glancing around at the field of bones. An insane part of my mind wondered if they might rise from the dead and come after us. Compared to what we had already seen in this place of nightmares, it didn’t seem that far-fetched.

“Dead bodies,” Dmitri said grimly. 

“Victims of the nuclear accident?” I asked. He shook his head, pointing at some of the fresher corpses nearby. Their throats looked like they had been ripped out, the bones of their necks showing deep bite marks. The one nearest us had its skeletal fingers wrapped around a glass bottle with a piece of paper rolled inside and a cork inserted into the top. 

I knelt down, prying the fingers back with soft, cracking noises. I uncorked it and took out the paper. It felt thick in my hands, like some kind of hand-crafted paper from the old days. The cursive flowing across the sheet looked like it had been written in a quill pen with actual ink. In confusion, I read the letter aloud:

“Rules to survive in the Helskin Nature Preserve:

“1. The cult known as the Golden Butchers has been kidnapping women to breed them with the pig-creatures. They worship the offspring that result from these unions as gods. If a member of your group gets taken, you will find them in the living farm at the end of the forest.

“2. If you encounter Mr. Welcome, the enormous pig god with the eyes on his forehead, you must not let him touch you.

“3. The red snakes can only see while you’re moving. If you encounter them, stay still. Don’t even breathe.”

“Breeding women with pig-creatures?!” Dmitri cried, horror washing over his face. “We need to find her! But where do we even start?” I looked through the field, trying to see any sign of tracks, but it looked like hundreds of animals had gone through this field recently. Paths of tall, crushed grass crisscrossed the enormous length of it, some of them worn down to black dirt and stones. I just shook my head, having no idea.

A distant scream rolled its way down the surrounding hills. It came from our left and sounded very much like Anna. Dmitri’s eyes turned cold. Without looking back at me, he started frantically running towards the sound. It faded away within seconds.

“Wait up!” I cried, sprinting as fast as I could. His freshly-shaved head gleamed as he disappeared into the trees. Gripping the open buck knife in my hand, my knuckles white with tension and fear, I followed after him.

***

We wandered for hours through the woods, never hearing a second scream to guide our path. We both hoped that we were going in the right direction. A small deer trail winding through the brush opened up, heading up rocky hills and clear streams of water. 

Sweating and nervous, we traveled for miles and miles, rarely talking. A few times, I tried to get Dmitri to slow down.

“How do you know you’re going in the right direction?” I asked. “We’ve been walking this trail for five hours and haven’t seen a thing.”

“This was the direction the scream came from,” he said weakly. “Where else would they go? They would want to travel quickly with a hostage. They would take a trail.” I didn’t point out that there may be other trails, that we had absolutely no idea where we were going.

As we reached the peak of a mountain, I pulled a small, portable Geiger counter we had taken along for the trip. The radioactivity here was high, much higher than normal background radiation. I didn’t know how far we were from the nuclear power plant at the center of all this, but at a certain point, it would become too dangerous to keep moving forward.

Dmitri was next to me, chugging a bottle of water when a shriek rang out below us. It sounded almost animalistic but had a strange, electronic distortion. Amplified to an ear-splitting cacophony, it echoed through the trees. Much quieter roars answered from the forests all around us in response, the cries of bears and other predators. These sounded much closer, however.

“Pssst,” a pile of thick ferns said to my left, shaking suddenly. In Ukrainian, the ferns continued by whispering, “Hey, you!” I jumped, swinging the knife in the direction of the brush, watching the blade shake wildly in my hand as fresh waves of adrenaline surged through my body. Dmitri was by my side, his eyes wide and wild. He glanced over at me, nodding. He had the tire iron raised like a tennis racket, ready to strike. A moment later, a little boy crawled out.

He was scarecrow thin, his face smudged with dirt and filth, his dark eyes sunken and lifeless deep inside his small head. He had black hair and a nose like a little twisted lump in the center of his face. It seemed like it had been repeatedly broken. He didn’t look older than ten, but he looked so emaciated that it was impossible to say. The rags and tatters he wore barely covered his body, and the boy was almost in his Genesis suit.

“Come out,” I said grimly. Dmitri’s eyes bulged from his head.

“Don’t kill me, please,” the boy whispered in a cracked, choked voice, his accent giving all his words a guttural tone. “Take me out of here. My Mom and Dad brought me here, they were part of the Golden Butchers, but a couple months ago, they got sick and died from all the poison in the water and food.” 

“Who are you, kid?” Dmitri said, reaching down and pulling him up to his feet. I watched the boy closely, the bear mace in one hand and the knife in the other, looking for any sign of sudden violence or betrayal.

“My name is Pilip. I come from the farm,” he said, pointing vaguely towards the tallest peak in the area. “You can’t see it from here, but it’s over there.” Dmitri kneeled down until he was eye-to-eye with Pilip.

“Can you take us there?” he said. Pilip’s eyes teared up, but he slowly nodded.

“If you will take me with you when you leave, I’ll show you,” he said, crying now, “but it is a horrible place. It is the place of Mr. Welcome.”

***

Pilip guided us to the living farm, saving us a great deal of time. He navigated the forest like an experienced hiker, seeming to know the entire area from the smallest clues: a split, fallen tree, or a tree with a whorl like an eye, or a sudden curve in a babbling brook. It saved us a great deal of time wandering through the woods, where everything looked exactly the same to me.

“There,” he said, pointing through a break in the trees to the farm. The entire top of the hill was cleared of trees and brush. In its place stood a nightmare.

The farm was the closest place to Hell I have ever seen. The top of the living building peeked over the tall trees surrounding it. It had something like a bell tower on the top of it, almost like a church might have. But instead of a bell, it had an enormous, blood-shot eye.

The eye had an iris as red as a dismembered heart. Its pupil was dilated and insane. From here, the eye looked to be about the size of a church bell and had no eyelids. Strange white filaments like those of a slime mold surrounded it, trailing down into the building. I wondered if this was the optic nerve for the great, staring eye.

The rest of the building was as black as eternity, windowless and imposing. It had a brutalist architecture, all sharp angles and steep slopes. I watched the building and the eye closely. To my horror, I realized that the entire thing was alive somehow. The eye constantly spun in its place, staring out over the surrounding hills like the Eye of Sauron. The building constantly breathed.

“Welcome!” a hushed, distorted voice cried. The words seemed to come from the breathing and living walls of the farm itself. “Welcome! Wellllll-come…”

“What the fuck is this, kid?” Dmitri whispered hoarsely. “Where’s Anna?” Pilip shook his head sadly.

“She’s inside with the other breeders,” he said, the fear and terror evident on his face. “They keep them chained in cages or bound in the basement until the time for the ritual comes.”

“And when is that?” I asked. He looked up at the sky and the fading light. We had somehow wasted nearly an entire day already. Night was coming, and we hadn’t even seen Anna yet.

“At sunset,” he responded. Dmitri nearly jumped up at that.

“Sunset?! That’s almost here! We need to go now!” he cried. I almost wanted to laugh.

“What are you going to do, stab that enormous building with your knife?” I whispered. “We need a plan. Maybe we can burn it down or…” But my words were cut off by the roaring of the building. Its scream echoed over the hills. It was immediately answered by countless others, including one that came only a few dozen feet behind us. I grabbed Dmitri’s shoulder, my panicked eyes flicking in that direction.

“There’s something…” I started to say when the brush cracked under a heavy weight. Looking up, I saw something horrible stalking us from behind.

It looked like a pig, walking on all fours with a fat, bloated body, but it was the size of an SUV. Its eyes were like the eye in the building, blood-red and dilated. All over its body, hundreds of sharp teeth grew out of its skin, covering the pink flesh like tumors. The creature almost looked like a porcupine with all the sharp points of fangs projecting from its body.

For a moment, its eyes widened as we stared at each other. They instantly narrowed as the pig roared again and gave chase. It gnashed its teeth, opening and closing its mouth in a frenzy of bloodlust. In its mouth, too, the teeth grew wild. Hundreds of razor-sharp teeth of different sizes grew from its gums, tongue and lips.

“Run!” I cried, grabbing Pilip’s arm and hauling him off the ground. The boy had a natural survivor’s instincts and immediately started running by my side, away from the approaching creature.

We broke out into the massive clearing where the living farm stood. I saw that the building had only a single door in and out, a black barn door that stood wide open. I heard Dmitri’s feet pounding the ground behind me. The heavy thuds of the approaching creature drew louder by the second.

“In the barn!” I cried, not having time to think. It was the only possible place of safety here. I sprinted faster than I ever had before towards those doors as if they were entrance to paradise itself. Without slowing, I ran into the building, trying to slam one of the doors shut behind me. Dmitri grabbed the other. With the creature only seconds away, they started swinging shut. Pilip’s small body pressed against my leg as he came forward, using his meager strength to help me.

The door was extremely heavy and hard to move. The building itself looked like it was six or seven stories tall, and the doors to the barn nearly a-third of that height. With a tortured creak, they slammed shut. A single breath later, something heavy thudded against the other size, as if it had been hit by a battering ram. But the door held. Quickly, Dmitri and I grabbed a large board leaning against the wall and stuffed it into the brackets on both sides of the door, locking it from the inside.

I noticed how cool and dark it was in here, as if I had walked into a cave. I turned, taking in the interior of the living farm for the first time. At that moment, I had to repress a scream welling up in my throat.

***

Hundreds of imprisoned women lined both sides of the barn. They were stacked one on top of another like prison cells. Wearing filthy, blood-stained rags, most of them looked silently down on us with dead, haunted eyes. I noticed the majority were in their twenties or thirties, but their eyes looked centuries old.

Along the back wall, an enormous pig lined the wall, positioned like Jesus on the cross. It stood as tall as the barn itself. Extra eyes covered its face, a dozen of them positioned all over its cheeks and forehead. From the top of its head, I saw white filaments rising up into the bell tower. Its many blood-red eyes focused on us, as still as death.

“Welcome,” it hissed. “Welcome!” Its limbs were chained to the wall. Enormous rusted links intertwined around its body, preventing Mr. Welcome from moving.

“Anna?!” Dmitri cried, looking around frantically. There was no one else here that I could see except for Mr. Welcome and all the hostages. “Anna, where are you?!”

“Don’t scream,” Pilip said in a tiny, fear-choked voice. “Please, don’t scream…”

But it was too late. As Dmitri’s last words faded, trapdoors built into the black floor of the barn sprung open. Dozens of mutated bears and pig-creatures crept out, their predatory eyes scanning us with hunger and anger.

***

“Fuck!” Dmitri cried, running back to the door at my side. Frantically, the three of us pulled the board up and dropped it to the fleshy floor with a clatter. As hisses and growls erupted all around us and the predators creeped forwards towards us in a semi-circle, the barn door flew open.

It was night now, the darkness creeping in like a descending curtain. No pig creatures awaited us on the other side, but something worse seemed to be creeping out of the forest.

I saw snakes the color of clotted blood slithering ahead. Each one was the size of a tractor-trailer, yet they made very little noise. An occasional hiss would rip its way through the air, but they hunted silently.

As I stood in the field in front of the barn, a no-man’s land of hellish proportions, the certainty of death fell over my heart like grasping skeletal hands. I looked down at the little boy sadly. He gave me a faint smile, even though his eyes were terrified.

“I think we’re fucked,” Dmitri whispered by my side. I only nodded.

***

But at that moment, I remembered the rules, and an idea came to me.

“Just stay still,” I said. “Don’t even breathe.” Pilip and Dmitri looked at me strangely, then recognition came over their eyes. Dmitri only nodded, and then we all played statue.

The predators from the barn were only thirty feet behind us by now, crouched down and hunting us like a cat with a mouse. Yet the snakes also closed in, their black, slitted eyes gleaming with a reptilian coldness. As the mutated bears and pig creatures leaned down to pounce, I closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable.

I felt a sudden rush of air all around me. The snakes flitted forward in a blur, their massive jaws unhinging. Two fangs swiveled out like switchblades, fangs big enough to impale a police car. Drops of clear venom fell lazily from the ends.

Keeping my eyes closed, afraid to even breathe or blink, I listened as the sounds of tearing flesh and screaming animals resonated all around me. After about thirty seconds of this, everything went deathly silent.

***

I don’t know how long we stood there like statues, but eventually, someone touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes, unbelieving. Dmitri stared at me intently.

“They’re all gone,” he whispered. “All except Mr. Welcome. It’s now or never.” I nodded, and together, we moved into the farm.

The trapdoors still lay open. I could hear very faint sobbing coming from under the building. Dmitri was afraid to make a sound. Together, the three of us went down to investigate.

We found a dark basement covered in hay. Torture tools covered the walls: iron maidens, brazen bulls, crosses and an entire universe of whips, saws, grinders, pliers, razor-wire and other blood-stained tools of the trade. In the corner, we saw Anna, her hands tied to the wall. More rope bound her feet and legs. We ran forward. When Anna saw Dmitri, she collapsed into a nervous wreck.

“Oh my God, you came! Please, get me out of here, right now,” she whispered. “They’re coming. The ritual will start soon.” Without a word, we started cutting the ropes, freeing her quickly.

“We need to be as quiet as possible,” I told Anna. “We can all get out of here. Let’s go.”

***

As we ascended from the basement back to the main floor of the living farm, the repetitive, metallic voice of Mr. Welcome kept repeating the same insane mantra.

“Welcome,” it said. “Welcome!” Once the four of us were all together, however, it changed. 

“Welcome, thieves,” it hissed, its voice deepening and turning into a demonic gurgle. “That is my breeder. You will have to find out what happens to thieves.” I could only imagine all those blood-stained tools in the basement, and I shuddered.

Mr. Welcome inhaled deeply, his massive, fleshy body ballooning. With a predatory roar, he ripped the chains out of the wall of the living building. Orange pus and dark, clotted blood dripped from the holes. The barn breathed faster and deeper, the broken walls vibrating and shimmering as new life and pain flowed into them. 

Mr. Welcome started moving towards us like a grinding juggernaut, walking on two legs like some sort of pig god. His many lidless eyes never looked away from us. The frayed optic nerves leading to the bell tower broke with a sound like snapping rubber bands. Dmitri looked at me with great sadness in his eyes.

“Get away,” he whispered. “I’ll distract it. Just get Anna home, no matter what.” Before I could respond, he ran forwards towards the abomination, the small, useless knife raised in one hand.

Mr. Welcome saw him coming. He tried to swipe at Dmitri with a sharp, black hoove, but Dmitri ducked, running around the back of him. He gave a battle-cry and started stabbing the monster in the back of the leg, which probably hurt it about as much as a toothpick.

But it provided a distraction. This time, Mr. Welcome spun his whole body, falling back to all four legs to deal with this nuisance. He used his massive snout to smack Dmitri hard, sending him flying across the barn. He hit the wall with a bone-shattering thud.

Dmitri’s skin immediately started to blacken, as if he were being burned alive. His eyes melted out of his face as he screamed, clawing at the dying patches of necrotic tissue spreading across his body. Within a few seconds, his screams faded to agonized groans. He tried to crawl back towards us as he died.

“Run!” I screamed, grabbing Anna’s hand and forcing her to sprint by my side. Pilip was already one step ahead of us, frantically trying to reach the shelter of the forest. I heard the ground shake behind me as Mr. Welcome drew near, moving much faster than we could ever hope to go. I knew we would never make it.

“Keep going, no matter what!” I yelled at Pilip and Anna. They kept running, the animal instinct to survive now foremost in their minds. I had to suppress mine. I turned to face the creature, the evil pig god known as Mr. Welcome.

***

In hindsight, I don’t know if God or some divine power had interceded, but the bear mace was probably one of the few items that could have saved us at that moment. Mr. Welcome had many eyes, and now that he was running on all four paws, his face was within reach. As my heart palpitated wildly, I raised the bear mace and sprayed at his dozen eyes. He didn’t slow, and I had to jump to the side to keep from being trampled. The air whooshed past me as if a subway car had gone by.

But a moment later, Mr. Welcome gave a roar- and not one of anger and hunger. This was a roar of pain and uncertainty. Blinded, Mr. Welcome frantically started running in circles, knocking down huge swathes of trees. The ear-splitting racket as he pulled the forest apart crashed over the surrounding landscape. Without a moment of hesitation, I turned to follow Pilip and Anna back to the car.

We told the police about the barn and all the hostages, but they claimed they couldn’t find it, and we never heard anything more about it.

***

Looking back on the experience, I now know why Chernobyl is a restricted zone, and it isn’t just because of the radioactivity. There are some things that hide under the surface, after all- things that grow in the dark, rotted places where no eyes roam.

0 Comments
2024/05/27
06:42 UTC

2

Story Submissions

Hi guys!

Where do we get to submit stories for Dark Somnium to (hopefully) narrate? Or does he just pick from the NoSleep subreddit?

TIA ✨️

2 Comments
2024/05/26
07:35 UTC

6

Selection Pt 2

After rolling through Maciel’s ghostly streets, Johannes parked in the train station’s meager lot and left the Rambler’s keys under the front seat.  He’d instructed Mancuello to come for it later and keep it for himself. The housekeeper had been a loyal servant over the years. Since the villa and the fields were to be transferred to Castillo, the car was the best he could do for the man.

Grabbing his two suitcases from the trunk, he scaled the steps to the station’s platform and looked about for Essayas. The African was seated at a bench in the middle of the platform. He had no suitcase with him, just his hat and his vanilla suit.

“Either you don’t have so many clothes or you really like those linen suits,” Johannes said as he approached the schwarzer. “Then again,” he noted, “no luggage.”

“I always travel light,” Essayas replied, standing.

Johannes set his suitcases down. He and the African were the only two on the platform. The station’s office building was equally deserted. It didn’t even look open. “I didn’t know this station still operated.”

“Less than it used to, I hear,” Essayas said.

Johannes panned the streets and shops near the station. All were empty of human activity. He didn’t know whether to be glad or worried about this. He faced the schwarzer and turned serious. “Be truthful with me. Does Castillo mean to have my life this morning?”

Essayas laughed. “Your life has more purpose than that today,” he said, then peered down the tracks at the large black train approaching from the south.

Johannes looked too and saw that it was an older steam engine, similar to the ones that operated in Europe during the 30’s and 40’s. The hulking machine chugga-chugga-chugga’d its way up to the platform and ground to a halt with a noise like that of a dragon in its death throes.

Johannes counted ten cars in all—the engine, two fancy passenger cars, and seven rickety freight cars. The freights in particular caught his interest; they drew to mind various scenes he’d witnessed long ago during his tenure in the Schultzstaffen. Trains coming and going from the ghettos and the camps, transporting all that human cargo. Sometimes the cars were just as effective as the Zyklon-B granules they dropped into the “showers”, as whole trainloads occasionally showed up with its entire cargo expired.

The second passenger car’s door hissed open.

“Shall we, then?” Essayas prompted.

Johannes looked at Essayas, nodded and picked up his suitcases.

There was no conductor or any other train employee waiting to greet them and take their tickets. Essayas entered the car, Johannes followed. Once inside, he set his suitcases next to the first set of seats.

“This way,” the African directed, heading toward the rear of the car.

Johannes grabbed his luggage again and tailed closely behind the African. He expected the man to stop at each of the rows they passed but Essayas kept going. When they got to the furthest set of seats and still didn’t sit, he spoke up. “Where are we going, Herr Melaku? There are no more seats.”

“Wrong car,” Essayas said, opening the car’s rear door.

“What?” Johannes said with annoyance. “There are only freights that way.”

Essayas stepped across the bridgeway between the two cars and opened the opposite door. “No, this is the correct one, Herr Schreiber. I am sure of it.” He entered the doorway and vanished into the rectangle of black beyond.

Still arguing his point, Johannes pursued the African into the darkened car. “I am not mistaken, you damned fool,” he said. “This is for cargo—“

The door slammed shut behind him, a familiar and awful sound, resonating across many years. “You’re right about that,” he heard Essayas whisper in the dark. “Cargo.”

The breath left Johannes’s lungs. And the world seemed to shift on its axis.

***

A fragrance soon began to arise in the dark—a potent medley of excrement, urine, sweat, and fear.

“What is this?” Johannes called out to Essayas.

“You know what it is, Johannes,” the schwarzer said, though it didn’t quite sound like Essayas’s voice anymore.

“You . . . you vermin! You tricked me!”

Essayas laughed. “The words you say.”

Somewhere in the dark a baby started crying.

 “Ah!” Johannes said.  “So Castillo does intend to—“

“Johannes,” the African interrupted, “I’ve never met Miguel Castillo. Not yet, at least.”

“What? Then who do you work for? What is the purpose of this?” Johannes dropped his lugged, retreated to the door he’d just come through and reached for the handle. His hands could not find it. Just rough wooden slats.

Two more babies began crying. The car shuddered and the train jolted forward.

Johannes patted the wall furiously, searching for the door. He went to lash out at Essayas, but all at once he realized he wasn’t Johannes Schreiber anymore, not completely. There was another consciousness in him, a man named Stefan Garlinski, a Polish Jew from the Lodz Ghetto. He was on the train with his wife Sarah and their two children Silvia and Eva, plus Sarah’s parents. Stefan’s own parents were dead, shot before they even got on the train.

“You had so much hope, so much promise,” Essayas whispered, though it really wasn’t Essayas speaking. “You’ve suffered much tragedy, which I do regret. But you had your chances, you had every chance to become more than you did. Every chance to become what you should have become.”

It occurred to Johannes that they weren’t speaking German anymore. He believed from the inflections it was Yiddish. Other realizations bubbled up in his head. “What are you?” he asked the thing that had claimed to be Essayas Melaku. “What is your real name?”

“Names, names,” the Essayas thing said. “I have no name, Johannes. As I told you before, I am merely a functionary, one of many, and you are my burden. We had such hopes for you. But you failed us. Miserably. So, we are here.”

Understanding came to Johannes in stark, epiphanic waves then, and he became very afraid. “I didn’t fail anything! Life failed me!” he protested. “I know what you are now, yes! And I know your other names!” He thought quickly and drew upon what he knew. “If you are that— it— then shouldn’t you favor me? If I’m the monster you insinuate I am, shouldn’t you wish me praise and reward? I can be the monster again for you!”

The Essayas thing chuckled. “What you think I am does not exist,” it whispered. “Malice is strictly a human quality.”

The whisper faded into nothingness and Johannes knew his accuser was gone.

Moans arose around him. The boxcar filled with people, writhing, lamenting, dying. A feeling came over him and he was young again. Twenty-four years old and a Jew. He and his family were headed to Auschwitz, along with the rest of these poor people.

They were all going to their deaths.

The weight of this revelation weakened his knees. His legs gave way and he collapsed to the floor unconscious.

***

Johannes woke a short time later a passenger in Stefan Garlinski’s body, aware of himself and mentally patched into Garlinski’s thoughts and feelings, but physically unable to influence the man’s actions.

“You fainted,” a woman’s voice said next to him. Sarah, his wife of six years.

“Tired,” Stefan said, and Johannes felt as if he had said it.

They were sitting on the boxcar’s dirty floor, the entire family. Other Polish Jews from Lodz were either sitting or standing around them. They’d been traveling for three days. To a mysterious camp called Auschwitz, where hopefully they’d be used as a labor force, as they had been in Lodz.

“You must be strong, Stefan,” Sarah urged, taking his hand. “We all must be. As we have been and will be.”      

Stephan ruminated on that. Since the Nazi invasion, they’d been hiding out in various locales throughout the Polish Masovian province. For a time, they’d been ferreted away by Gentile sympathizers who’d risked their necks to hide them from the SS and the turncoat Polish Police. When this became too risky, they sought refuge in makeshift camps erected in the forests of Wyszkow, Plonsk and Zabki. It was in these camps they learned of the death factories at Belzec, Sorbibor, Majdanek, Chelmno and Treblinka.

Another refugee like them, Andrzej, had escaped from Majdanek and told of his experiences. He’d worked in a sonderkommando, or special unit, devoted to the burning of the bodies brought to them on the beds of trucks. The victims were mostly Jews who had either been gassed or shot. It was his job to take the naked, emaciated bodies and put them in the ovens.

“I was always busy,” Andrzej had said, angry, weeping and ashamed. “Always. I burned my best friends. I burned my people.”

Three years they had stayed in these nomadic forest camps, making a life for themselves. But all that came to an end in early 1944 when the turncoats raided the forest and led SS straight to them. Half of the thousand refugees in their group had been executed on the spot for resisting, while the others were shipped off to Lodz.

Lodz was a curious place, not at all what Stephan had expected. There were many Jews confined there, but most were in survival mode, getting by day to day. Work was a must to survive. Stefan and Sarah were fortunate enough to possess exploitable skills—Stefan a blacksmith and Sarah a nurse—and thus were able to find sustainable employment. Some of the other forest refugees had no such useable talent. These were all rounded up and executed.

During their brief stay in the ghetto, Stefan and Sarah learned much more about the horrors being perpetrated by their captors. A perfect example had occurred several years earlier in Lodz itself. Due to overcrowding, the Nazis had gone to the ghetto’s appointed Jewish leader, the Judenalteste, Chaim Rumkowski, and demanded 20,000 children be handed over for deportation. Rumkowski, being of the mind that they should do anything to survive, asked the parents of Lodz to hand them over. Cut off the limbs to save the body, he’d beseeched. The population nearly revolted but Rumkowski managed to induce calm and get the children, along with a number of elderly for the SS. And off they went, each unwittingly to their deaths.

Stefan was beyond glad they weren’t in the ghetto then. They’d have had to kill him to take Silvia and Eva from his hands.

There were other chilling tales, and rumors abounded as to what lay ahead for those who were alive, but Stefan shielded his family from these as best he could and still held out hope. With God’s help, the advancing Russians would reach the ghetto soon and everyone would get to pick up the pieces of their previous lives.

As it happened, the Russians did get close in the spring of ‘44 but the SS proved their mettle by immediately shipping 7,000 Jews to the still-used Chelmno for liquidation. Two weeks later, with Chelmno being dismantled due to the enemy advance, the rest of the 60,000 strong Lodz inhabitants were shipped to other camps, mainly Auschwitz.

This train they were on was one of the last deportments. Rumkowsi and his family had already gone on a previous deportment. Word had it that they were already dead.

As Stefan reminisced over all of this, Johannes felt every ounce of pain and distress that came with the memories. He detested the feeling but could do nothing about it. 

Stefan sat up and took Sarah’s hand. “I’ll be strong,” he said. “I promise. We’ll be okay. We’re going to make it. You’ll see.”

In the dark next to him, Sarah’s mother began to whine. It was a low, ebbing sound that soon rose into a full-on wail. “Jakub!” she cried. “Oh, my dear Jakub!”

Stefan went to her, then located his father-in-law who was sprawled on the floor. He found the man’s neck and felt for a pulse. Nothing. “He’s gone, Sarah,” Stefan told his wife. “I’m so sorry, your father is gone. His heart, I think maybe it finally gave out.”

Sarah wailed too, and by custom tore at her clothes. Then they all embraced. Stefan, the senior male now, gave the death blessing: “Blessed are You, Lord, Our God, King of the universe, the True Judge.” Since they had no hope of Taharah, the preparing of the body for burial, or having a funeral, they next began reciting the Kaddish. When they were finished, they all fell into silent prayer, wishing Jakub safe passage to the afterlife.

Two hours later the train came to a noisy stop. Stefan pushed his way to the car’s sliding door and tried to look through the slats. It was nighttime; all he could see were dozens of bright spotlights and dozens of dark silhouettes. Amongst the silhouettes there was a great commotion, rife with shouts in German and the barking of vicious dogs. “We’ve arrived,” someone in the car said. “Oswiecim”.

Auschwitz.

They waited ten minutes then the door whipped open, and several SS enlisted men were standing there, yelling for them to get down. Eager to escape that stinking car, the people poured out and were gathered into a large group. Stefan kept the family together, dread roiling in his heart. As he was herded into the group, he looked back at the car and saw that at least twelve of his fellow passengers had perished during the trip, including his father-in-law.

In time their group became part of a larger procession of Jews. The SS guards along with a group of angry men in striped garbs—kapos Johannes thought—ushered them along towards a gathering of SS officers, who were mostly doctors deciding which way the Jews were to go: to the left or to the right. As the line moved along, Stefan noticed that women, children, the elderly and the infirm were being sent left, and able-bodied men and some of the sturdier women were directed to the right.

Johannes knew the process well. Selections. Those to left were to be gassed immediately. Those to the right would work for the German machine until they could work no more. Either way they were all destined for the ovens.

Stefan looked ahead and saw a ghastly scene unfold. There was a boy of about four in the group before theirs. The boy was holding a small suitcase and an apple. One of the SS guards saw the apple and approached the child. “Little rodent,” the guard said in a genial tone. “Give me that apple.” The child’s parents urged the boy to comply but the boy shook his head no and tried to hide the apple in his coat. Infuriated, the guard snatched the boy by his feet and slammed him hard against the train’s wheels. The child dropped limp and his father tried to attack the guard. The guard easily subdued the malnourished man, unholstered his pistol and shot him in the face. The child’s mother attacked then and also got a bullet through her teeth. Satisfied no one else was going to attack, the guard holstered his weapon, picked up the apple, and took a bite. Smirking as he chewed, he resumed his patrol.

Sarah clutched her children tight and looked to Stefan. She wanted him to do something but knew there was nothing he could do. “Stefan,” she said.

“I know,” he replied. “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”

“But . . .”

“I know, I’m thinking.”

All too quickly they reached the front of the line. An SS doctor glanced Stefan over and jerked his thumb to the right. The stone-faced man then sent Sarah, Eva, Silvia and Sarah’s mother to the left. Stefan rushed to grab hold of his wife and daughters but was greeted by a club to the head. The blow knocked him to the ground; distantly he heard his women calling out to be with him, and next he knew hands were dragging him the other way.

Events moved fast after that. Registration. The buzzing of his hair. Having his prisoner number tattooed on his arm. Work and barracks assignment: Birkenau, Crematorium Two, Sonderkommando. Riding on a truck to the crematorium. Learning he wouldn’t have to wear the normal prisoner garb and would get to live in better conditions than the regular prisoners. A bed with a real mattress, liquor, plenty of food. The downside being a four-month average life span.

It was dawn when the truck arrived at Crematorium Two. Gouts of smoke poured from the structure’s chimney stacks. Out in a field next to the crematorium smoke also rose steadily, but from a large pit instead of chimneys. Getting out of the truck, Stefan saw that about two hundred men were lined up at the edge of this burning pit, all naked and docile. A pair of SS men were tending to them, each starting on the opposite end of the line and working inwards towards each other, putting bullets in necks as they went along. As soon as they fired, they pushed or kicked the shot Jew into the pit. Not all of the victims were dead as they fell into the flames below, as evidenced by their screams.

Johannes was well acquainted with the pyres. On occasion he’d had to attend pyre duty. It had been his least favorite assignment, largely because of the stench. Observing the scene through the Jew’s eyes, it wasn’t just the smell he found revolting.

Someone next to Stefan said: “That, my brothers, is the sonderkommando we are replacing. That will be us in a matter of months. I think I shall attempt to drink myself to death.”

Someone else said: “You don’t know. Maybe if we are excellent workers they will let us live longer. Long enough for the Russians to arrive.”

The first man put a hand on the second man’s shoulder.  “Perhaps, brother. Perhaps.”

They all wanted to believe, but in their hearts they understood they would die like the rest. Four months. Five months. A year. Didn’t matter when or how. When they had served their purpose, they would be gassed and burned here too. Stefan was convinced of this, but he no longer cared. If the rumors were true and his family had perished after the selections, what was the use in living any longer?

After getting settled into their new living quarters, which were more human than Stefan expected, they were immediately broken up into work details by the head of their commando, a man named Maric Politsch. Goods gatherers, gas chamber wards, body extractors, body transporters, crematorium processors, and oven workers. Stefan was assigned as an oven worker, charged with the same task as Andrzej, the escapee from Majdanek, who died in the forest when they were captured.

Work in the crematorium was grueling at best. His first twelve hour shift nearly drove him insane. There were five three-door ovens in Crematorium Two. The transport detail would bring the corpses in and stack them at the end of each oven line. Stefan and a co-worker would pick the bodies up and load them onto the sliding metal gurney. Three at a time worked best, he learned. Two smaller bodies with a larger, ideally fattier one. Human fat burned exceedingly well. They would then pour coke powder over the bodies and load them into the ovens. A half hour later, they’d repeat the sequence. All day, over and over.

Around noon on the third day Stefan made a frightening discovery. The faces on the corpses, usually so waxen and nondescript, began to look familiar. After the first few batches he realized why: they were receiving gassed members of the Lodz ghetto. Members that had come on the train before theirs. People he knew, some that were friends. A sallow grey fear overwhelmed him, but he continued his steady work, for it was all that he could do.

Two days later the faces of the corpses were those of the Jews on his train. His already unsteady hands became seismic and he kept eyeing the piles of corpses being carted in. His worst fears became reality three hours into his shift, for it was then that he saw them: his women. Sarah, Eva, Sylvia, and stepmother Greta, their naked, lifeless bodies entwined with other women’s corpses. Stefan at once tackled the sonderkommando member pushing the cart and pulled the bodies of his beloved onto the floor. He screamed at the other workers to avert their eyes and wept over the glossy-eyed ladies he loved so very much.

“I’m so sorry,” he cried. “Sarah—my girls. I love you. I will join you soon, I promise.”

He planted soft kisses on their waxen foreheads, and said a prayer to ease their passage onward. By then the SS overseers of the Crematorium had noticed the hitch in the workflow and came to investigate. Stefan looked up and saw a man named Obersharfuhrer Popitz and another named Obersharfuhrer Schreiber standing there, grinning at him.

Johannes was taken aback at the sight of his younger self and could scarcely believe the glee in his eyes at Stefan’s suffering. What was worse, he actually remembered this incident. It was the first time he’d witnessed a prisoner attack an SS guard. Why more had never attempted revolt had long puzzled him. In fact, the overall passive nature of the Jew and their willingness to go quietly to their deaths had only served to deepen his hatred of them. But not now. In this surreal moment, he felt numb.

“What’s the matter?” Popitz asked Stefan in German, which Stefan barely understood. “Why have you stopped working?” He kicked Sarah’s dead foot.  “Aw, I see. Do you know these dirty whores? This one here looked like a good fuck in her day. Maybe she still is.”

Beside him, the young Obersharfuhrer Schreiber tittered softly.

Stefan, propelled into insanity by the Nazi’s words, vaulted to his oven, snatched the long poker he used to push the corpses into the flames, and came at Popitz like a rabid animal. The poker struck Popitz in the chest but Stefan was too weak to drive it home. The officer deflected the pointed end so that it jabbed into his shoulder instead, and shouted a furious lament. At his side, Schreiber drew his pistol and aimed it at Stefan’s head. Stefan looked his killer in the eye and welcomed the bullet’s arrival. Johannes looked himself in the eye and felt revulsion break through the numbness.

There was a flash from the end of the pistol, a brief instance of pain and then everything went black again. Stefan Garlinski was no more.

***

Johannes, however, remained in the darkness. Alive and reeling.

An unknown time passed, then a voice spoke. It was the Essayas thing, in the dark with him. “A different perspective, yes?”

“Yes,” Johannes cried. “It was.”

“And your impression?”

“I understand now,” Johannes said. “Your point—it is made.”

“No, Johannes, it is not,” the Essayas thing told him. “And you do not yet understand. That was but one life you took. A mere glimpse. It has been determined you are responsible for 62,118 more, between Auschwitz and Sobibor. This is how many more tickets you have.”

“Oh please, no,” Johannes said. “This is enough. Please . . .”

“Perhaps a gypsy girl this time? A twin for Mengle’s experiments? How does that sound?”

Johannes could already feel himself taking shape again, his essence being drawn into another human, this one younger than the last, with a bony frame and female parts. The name of the girl was Mirela Simza, a barely pubescent Roma gypsy from Hungary on her way to Auschwitz. She and her twin sister Lala had been captured along with their mother and father, and hundreds of other Romas, near Budapest. Reviled as much as the Jews, they’d been confined to a small camp for a couple of days before being forced on this train.

Johannes somehow remembered the two girls. He’d been walking from the crematorium early one evening after his shift, on his way the main camp to speak with administrative officials. Still new to the grounds at that point, he’d accidentally wandered by the Zigeunerlager where all the gypsies were collected. As he walked past, he noticed the two pretty girls standing by the fence. Recalling that the camp doctor had been involved in experiments with twins, he made a mental note of them in case they’d been overlooked. The next time he’d seen the doctor, he’d mentioned them.

Afterward, he thought nothing of the girls.

But they were going to die anyway. Why is it my responsibility? Johannes thought.

“Because they had been overlooked,” the Essayas thing replied. “And the doctor did find a good use for them.”

Johannes was inclined to protest more but suspected it didn’t matter.

“Yes, Johannes,” the Essayas thing said. “No more arguing.”

Johannes thought and said no more. If he could have cried, he would have.

With a jolt, the train lurched forward.

3 Comments
2024/05/24
20:04 UTC

5

Selection Pt 1

by W. B. Stickel

Caazapa, Paraguay—1968.

 

The sun oozed up slowly from the horizon, filling the sky with brilliant shades of pink, orange and yellow. When finally it pulled clear of the imaginary line separating heaven from earth, the old man lifted his coffee cup into the air and said: “To Nordrhein Westfalen! May you always prosper. With or without me.” 

Following a respectful pause, he took a generous sip from his cup and gazed out across the colorful cassava and sugarcane fields that surrounded his property. At present, the fields—his fields—were absent activity save for the occasional jackrabbit searching for an early breakfast. Soon, however, the entire countryside would be crawling with local Guarani men conscripted to tend to his crops.

Soon but not yet.

Not until he finished his morning ritual, which consisted of drinking his coffee and visualizing a different aspect of home country—an endeavor he’d taken up in recent years after it started becoming more and more difficult to recall various things from his past that he cherished. Things that made him who he was. When he’d confessed his difficulties to his doctor (a good German ex-pat like himself), the man had prescribed a regiment of mental exercises that had boasted positive results in numerous studies and trials.

This morning’s exercise involved envisioning Nordrhein Westalen’s largest city, Koln. The Koln of his formative years, before the Reich had risen to power and changed everything. Taking another sip of his coffee, he cleared his mind and dug deep into his mental recesses in search of all memories related to his time in Koln. Being one of his most re-visited places, the images were plentiful and came to him with relative ease. As he called them into his mind’s eye, the real world fell away and specters of his beloved city began to take shape around him: the Kolner Dom with its gothic vaults and massive spires, Hohenzollen Bridge crossing the mighty Rhine, Severinstorburg city gate at Choldwigplatz, the ancient Rathaus at Innenstadt. Soon enough, the entire city lay before him in patchwork detail, some parts distinct, others vague.

Luxuriating in it all, the old man moved from one remembrance to the next, until at last he arrived at the vividly envisioned Schildergasse Cafe, where all those eons ago he’d first met his darling Nadja.

“Ah,” he said, moved by the image’s clarity. “My dear Nadja . . .”

He attempted to conjure her face, and very nearly had it when a man’s voice sounded behind him, cruelly destroying the reverie.

“Senor Rezdon?” said the voice.

Jarred, the old man—who presently went by the name of Rezdon—jerked around in his seat and glowered at the villa’s rear entrance. “What is it, Mancuello?” he snarled in Spanish.

“Sorry to disturb, senor,” Manceullo replied meekly, ‘but you have a guest.”

“A guest?” Rezdon fired back. “This early?”

“Si, senor.”

Rezdon peered at his servant, silently conveying the next logical question.

The housekeeper shook his head. “We searched. No weapons. No communication devices. He certainly is not from Caazapa. And he is not white. I would guess African or Haitian.”

 “What does he want?”

“To speak with you and only you. He will say no more.”

Rezdon rubbed his bearded chin, pondering who this unexpected caller might be. Mossad seemed unlikely. Sending in a single man—a schwarzer at that—was not their style. They were more apt to descend on him en masse, ambush him outside his home, as they had with Eichmann eight years prior.  

No, whoever this was, they weren’t interested in his capture. His money or employment, perhaps, but not his capture.

 “Very well,” Rezdon said, patting the wrought iron table before him. “Make sure Ricardo is in place and then bring him here.”

Mancuello nodded and went inside. Not a minute later he returned with the visitor. The man was tall and muscular, and wore a vanilla-white linen suit with a matching Panama-style hat. His skin was the color of tar, and his eyes shone brightly within their dark sockets.

Instead of announcing the man’s name, Mancuello simply extended his arm outwards, motioning for the man to enter the backyard.  The schwarzer flashed a wide pearly smile at the servant and started across the flagstone patio towards Rezdon.

Reaching the table, the visitor removed his hat, revealing a cleanly-shaven pate. Rezdon did not rise to greet him.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, Herr Rezdon,” the man said in perfect High German. He did not offer to shake hands.

Surprised to hear his native language flow from the schwarzer’s lips, Rezdon frowned and responded in German: “How do you know my name? And to whom am I speaking?”

The visitor fetched a handkerchief from his breast pocket and the pearly teeth reappeared.  “Ah, but what’s in a name, Herr Rezdon?” he said. “Or do you prefer Herr Schreiber in private?”

The inquiry caught the old man like a knee to the groin and the color drained from his leathery face. Out of reflex, his eyes ticked towards the butter knife on his plate, and he considered plunging it into the visitor’s chest. What kept him from doing so was the realization that he was two decades removed from being able to reliably pull off such a maneuver. “Why would I prefer a name that is not my own?” he said instead, figuring it wise to find out more before attempting anything so rash.

The black man dabbed the beads of sweat that had collected on his head. “So early and already so hot. This suit, it’s light but with this heat perhaps I should have dressed in something more sensible, like yourself.”

He motioned to Rezdon’s simple garments, which consisted of a white short-sleeve button-up, chino trousers, and a pair of work boots—what he thought of as his “Friday clothes”, as he always like to tour the fields on Fridays. On every other day of the week, he kept himself in typical business attire.  

Rezdon measured his guest. “Listen. I have a busy day and I’m in no mood for games. State your business or leave.”

“Games?” his visitor said. “Word has it you’re quite fond of games.”

Rezdon glanced at the villa’s second floor and saw Ricardo’s outline in the far-left bedroom window. Pleased, he looked back at his visitor. “Let me say this clearly so there is no misunderstanding. Get to your point or risk a bullet to the head. One of the finest riflemen in Stroessner’s army is on my staff and he has you in his sights at this very moment. One gesture from me and it’s all over for you. So, please, name your business.”

The schwarzer’s smile vanished. He flicked a glance at the villa. “As you wish.” He indicated the chair across the table from Rezdon. “May I?”

Feeling he’d regained a semblance of control, Rezdon nodded.

His visitor sat in the chair and placed his hat on his lap. “My name is Essayas Melaku and I have come here to present a proposal to you.”

“See how easy that was?” Rezdon replied.  “Now, what kind of proposal?”

“The kind I imagine you will like, Herr Rezdon, for it may allow you the chance to return home after all these years spent . . . abroad.”

Rezdon felt his composure begin to slip again but managed to reign it in. “Herr Melaku I’m afraid you are mistaken. This is my home.” He paused, then added: “By the way, what the hell kind of name is Melaku?”

“Ethiopian,” his guest replied dismissively. “But that is of no relevance here. What is of relevance, however, is the obvious fact that you are not a native of this land. You are a man displaced. Forbidden from re-entering the country that has long since abandoned you.”

“Abandoned? Is that so?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

“It is,” Essayas said. “Though perhaps ‘renounced’ is a more fitting word.”

Rezdon narrowed his eyes at the African, seething internally at the dark-skinned man’s words—which, admittedly, were true. With everything that had happened since the second war ended, he could never go home.

 “On top of this,” his visitor went on, “you are a man who bears a deep longing to return home, though you know such a thing is impossible.”

 “Ridiculous,” Rezdon growled as he balled his hands into fists.

Essayas seemed surprised by the contradiction. “Oh? Is that not what I’ve been seeing from you all these mornings, as you take your breakfast out here? A longing for home?”

 Rezdon didn’t quite know what to say to that. Other than: “You’ve been watching me?”

“For quite some time, yes,” Essayas confessed, eyeing the fields that lay beyond the villa. “Every morning you seem to lose yourself in what appear to be daydreams. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say what you daydream most about, aside from the Fatherland, is her.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Rezdon’s jaw muscles went taut beneath his beard, and he sat up straight in his chair. If he had been in possession of a pistol, he would have put a bullet between the dark man’s eyes. Having no such weapon, he stood abruptly and growled: “What the hell is this? Who sent you? Who do you work for?”

The African held up a placating hand. “Please, Herr Rezdon. There’s no need for such theatrics. Think of me as a mere functionary. A gatherer of information. People from hire me to learn what I can of other things, other people. By now it should be evident I am adept at my function.”

“You are swine,” Rezdon replied with a scowl, “a digger of filth and dirt. But to what end?”

Essayas steepled his fingers together and touched them to his lips. “A fair question. Rest assured I do not work for your Israeli ‘friends’, who are indeed looking for you. No, my employer in this case is of Guarani descent.”

“A local?”

“Are you familiar with the name Miguel Castillo?”

Rezdon’s scowl fell away. Castillo was the newest player on the Caazapa drug scene; an ambitious upstart from the northern Boquerion region, where he’d worked for the Bolivian Macchi family. Many of Rezdon’s local contacts felt that Castillo’s arrival in the area signaled Macchi’s intent to expand southward. So far, Castillo hadn’t flexed much muscle, though it was believed this would change once he got himself firmly established. Perhaps, the old man reasoned, the schwarzer’s appearance here meant Castillo had achieved that sense of establishment.

“I’m aware of who he is,” Rezdon said.

“Excellent. Then you understand the seriousness of my being here?”

Rezdon gripped the back of his own chair uncertainly. “Yes. And no. My dealings are strictly agricultural. What would Castillo want from someone like me?”

“All in good time,” Essayas told him. “For now, as an act of good faith I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve uncovered. First, your name is not Karl Rezdon. Nor is it any of your other preferred aliases: Hermann Deitmar, Ivan Klausman, Hans Emmerich. It is Johannes Schreiber. Do you deny this?”

Rezdon stood thinking for an extended length, then drew in a breath and retook his seat. “Go on,” he said, not bothering to answer the question, for it seemed unnecessary to do so.

“Very good,” the man named Essayas Melaku said, leaning forward. “Now, please bear with me as I tell you a little more about . . . you.”

***

After a brief pause to allow the old man to gather his thoughts, the African commenced with a brief, clinical account of Johannes Schreiber’s first eighteen years. “Born April 1898 to farmers Fritz and Elsa Schreiber, you were the youngest of four children. One brother, Konrad, and two sisters: Juliana and Katarina. Like your parents, you were all curious, intelligent children who enjoyed school and excelled at farming. Life, as I understand it, was no means easy, but your family managed well enough. It could even be said that you were happy.

“Things changed a bit, though, in 1915 when that young Serb shot Archduke Ferdinand, and resources everywhere were allocated for the war effort. As those resources dwindled, schools closed, and you spent your days entirely on the farm. Around the same time your father was drafted into the Deutches Heer and sent to the Western Front. Unfortunately, he died the following autumn at Ypres. Chlorine gas, I believe. Konrad took his death particularly hard and volunteered to join the fight himself, hoping to gain some measure of vengeance. He too paid for this decision with his life, dying at Bucharest the next winter.”

The African paused there and arched an eyebrow. “How am I doing thus far?”

Johannes Schreiber gazed impassively at the man as his mind raced to comprehend how a schwarzer could’ve come across any of this information. It was so long ago, and he was nobody back then. Yet the detail was astounding. “Please go on,” was all he said.

Essayas nodded. “With your father and brother gone, it fell to you, your mother and your sisters to run the farm. Grief-stricken as you all were, it was a terrible struggle. And yet you managed.” The African emitted a sigh and shook his head ruefully. “But then tragedy struck once more, this time coming in form of the Spanish Flu. By year’s end the women had all perished and you found yourself alone, teetering on the brink of madness.” Essayas brought his handkerchief to his forehead again and dabbed the sweat away. “It was at this point, I should note, that you first showed true promise.”

Johannes squinted at him, confused. “What?”

“You could have given into your suffering. Let the madness consume you. But you didn’t. You accepted it, gradually, and moved on. Got the farm up and running as best you could and even hired some locals to help.” Essayas dwelled on this for a moment before continuing. “If only you had stayed there, on the farm instead of abruptly selling it off and running away to the war.”

Johannes glanced down at the butter knife again but said nothing.

“Granted,” Essayas continued, “thanks to a grenade your time as a sniper was limited, though I understand you made the most of it prior to that happening.” The African reached into his jacket and withdrew and a small notepad, which he quickly glanced over. “The count I have is fifty-eight dead Russians. Sound accurate?”

“Maybe,” Johannes said noncommittally. “We didn’t keep track.”

Essayas grinned. “In any case, the grenade put you out of action for the rest of the war. When you finally woke up, you were back in Koln and the Treaty of Versailles was in its final revision. You were discharged and told to go ‘home’. Unsure of what that meant anymore, you wandered for a time, working odd jobs and spending most of your free time in a drunken stupor. It was nearly your undoing. Then, at the start of 1920, something crucial happened which altered your existence. You met Nadja.”

Johannes softened at the mention of his wife’s name and the memory of the first time they met flashed before him.  It’d been raining that day. He’d been eating alone at a table at The Schildergasse Café. She was seated at the table next to him, also alone, and accidentally knocked her teacup onto the floor. After helping to clean it up, he bought her another. As a show of gratitude, she invited him to her table, and they wound up talking for hours. Upon parting ways, they agreed to meet the following evening. Thereafter, pieces fell smoothly into place and they became inseparable.

After accurately covering the gist of that first encounter, Essayas touched upon the rather providential reunion Johannes had had with a friend from the sniper corps, who helped him secure a decent-paying position at the Motorenfabrik Deutz factory in Koln, where he helped to build engines for ships and automobiles. “Three months later you proposed to Nadja. She accepted and the two of you wed at summer’s end. By then Nadja was already pregnant with Frederick. Nine months later, the boy arrived happy and healthy and a year after that Julia entered the world.” The African’s gaze shifted briefly to the heavens then returned to Schreiber’s discerning face. “For the next decade or so you were content. Happy even. Again, so much promise.”

Johannes’s brow furrowed at the schwarzer’s usage of the word “promise”, the second such occasion the man had used it since starting in on this bizarre narrative of his. He considered pressing for an explanation but found himself so taken aback by the detail being recounted that he opted to remain silent, for the time being.  

“Going into the Thirties,” said the African, “Germany had become a sickly beast, traveling on unsteady legs. But alas, through the malaise a savior arose: Herr Hitler, with all his idea on nationalism and his thousand-year Reich.”

Johannes bridled inwardly at the sarcasm in the schwarzer’s tone—the Fuhrer had in fact saved Germany. “Speak in jest, mohrenkopf, but Hitler was Germany’s savior.”

“He was,” Essayas agreed. “Unless, say, you were a Jew.”

“The Jew,” Johannes said, unable to help himself, “was the root of all Europe’s problems. You don’t know. The Jew cost us the Great War, with all their subversion and backstabbing. Their corrupt business dealings and money hoarding caused the Depression—”

“And so they all had to go?” Essayas edged in. “Your Hitler certainly thought so anyway and went to great lengths to ensure they either fled Europe or died there.” The man’s smile returned. “Speaking of which, you had a role in this regard during the second war, did you not?”

Johannes glared at the African, the words he wanted express clogging up his throat.

“To everything its reason, right?” Essayas declared. “In your case, I understand you believed in 1942 a Jew killed both of your children and raped your wife?”

The statement hit Johannes like a wrecking ball, shattering the tenuous walls he’d put up around the event. He sucked in a breath, and it all came rushing back. It had happened while he was at work. The crazed man had broken into the flat, knocked Nadja unconscious. Then he killed the kids, severing their heads like a monster, and raped Najda. Before leaving he stabbed her twice in the belly. Nadja survived the attack. Physically, at least. But it destroyed her mentally, putting her in such a state that Johannes was eventually forced to commit her to an institution.

“Believed?” Johannes spat, fully enraged. “It was a fucking Jew! The police caught him and obtained his confession. And the Gestapo rightly executed him. They allowed me to watch.”

“What if I told you her killer was not a Jew, but instead a regular German citizen with a severe mental illness?” Essayas said, coldly.

“I’d call you a dirty fucking liar!”

Essayas nodded. “I’ve been accused of such but it is not my way.” He sighed. “You were at a crossroads then. There were many directions you could have gone. But what did you do? You turned to the Shultzstaffel. Because of your war injury, they were reluctant to accept you, but after learning what happened to your family they opened their arms. Installed you at a new camp in Poland called Sobibor, where you’d worked under one Commandant Franz Strangl. This, I might point out, is where your promise was lost, where you first got a taste for—“

“Stop!” Johannes shouted, his composure spent. Then, much louder: “Stop it!” He didn’t need to hear anymore. He punctuated his point by slamming his hand on the table.

At once Manceullo appeared at the rear of the villa, Ruger in hand. Johannes waved him off, then glared at Essayas.  “Very well, mohrenhopf, you’ve proven your point. You know all about me, somehow. Now what is it that Castillo wants with this information? What is this proposal?”

Essayas raised both eyebrows now. “You didn’t even let me get to Auschwitz, where you truly excelled.” He shrugged and shifted in his seat. “Ah well, to Castillo then. What my employer wants is very simple, Herr Schreiber. He wants for you to leave Paraguay forever and sign over all land and business holdings to him. Employees too.”

Johannes blinked several times in disbelief. “Pardon?”

“Yes. If you do not agree to this, today, you will be detained by Castillo’s people and the information I’ve gathered will go to the Mossad.  If you do agree, however, you will be permitted to return to Germany with a new identity and all your money holdings. Herr Castillo is actually impressed with your former “career” and is willing to grant you this favor because of it.” Essayas paused. “It is much to take in, so take your time.”

Speechless, Johannes got up from the table and wandered over to his garden, where he stared emptily at his tomatoes and bell peppers. Deep down, he supposed he’d always known this day was coming. Now that it was here, he wasn’t sure how to feel.

After a thorough internal debate, he came to the detestable conclusion that he had to submit to the drug dealer’s will. Castillo had all the cards, and Johannes had little doubt the man would kill him or, worse, let the Israelis have him if he turned the offer down. An offer, if legitimate, that was quite generous, given the circumstances.

Decision made, he returned to the table. “Herr Melaku,” he said, “you may tell your employer I accept his terms.  But on one condition.”

“Yes?”

“I will sign everything over to Herr Castillo, but only after I am safely and anonymously returned to Germany,” said Johannes. “Koln, in specific.”

The Ethiopian leaned forward. “I expected as much, Herr Schreiber. The tickets are already purchased.  We leave for the Fatherland tomorrow afternoon. You will meet me in Maciel in the morning. We will take the train to Asuncion and fly out at 2 p.m. I will have all the documents necessary for the trip.”

Johannes’s face fell. “What do you mean ‘we’?”

“I will be traveling with you, of course. See you through to Koln. Herr Castillo anticipated you would not want to sign over anything while still in Paraguay. So, I will go with you and bring back the papers myself. He already has the official transfer documents drawn up.” Essayas got up from his chair and placed his Panama hat on his head. “If it helps, and I imagine it will, I’ve located Nadja and I believe it is possible that you may see her again upon your return.”

Johannes’s breath caught in his chest. “You . . . you found Nadja?”

“Yes. She is alive and well. I take it you favor seeing her again, then?”

Favor was an understatement. Abandoning Nadja, while necessary for his survival, was the thing he regretted the most in his life. He’d wanted desperately to contact her over the years, but never tried because it was far too risky. If there was a chance he’d get to see her again, giving up all his holdings here was an easy sacrifice. “Yes,” Johannes said.

“Good,” Essayas replied. “Well, I’ll leave you now so you can attend to your affairs before you leave. Be at the Maciel station by seven.  If you do not show, or if you arrive with others, I cannot guarantee your safety.” With this, the African turned and started towards the villa.

Johannes watched him leave then returned his gaze to the Paraguayan countryside.  Every manner of emotion churned within him, and a whirlwind of conflicting notions spun in his head: Germany, Koln, double-cross, train station, new identity, fresh start, unmarked grave, lies, truth, forgiveness, retribution.

Nadja.

His poor, sweet, broken Nadja. If by some miracle he wasn’t killed tomorrow, which he suspected was a real possibility, and made it to her, would she even recognize him? Would she want to see him? Would she hate him for leaving her? 

Feeling very strange about it all, he ambled inside and began preparing for his journey.

***

1 Comment
2024/05/24
20:03 UTC

2

Looking for a story

It may not have been a dark production, but does anyone remember a story having to do with a monster that absorbs everything it touches into it, where lifeless deer heads and other animals sort of stick out from the main body? I convinced myself at one point I was mixing up creepypastas with adventure zone: amnesty but I know the concept was in my head before that came out.

3 Comments
2024/05/24
13:55 UTC

5

Paranormal Inc. Part Fifteen: The Call of the Blood Moon!

The seven brothers of sin shifted uncomfortably behind me, their eager eyes watching me form a plan outside of a raging night club. The ruby lights flashed with the music, the boys looking rather uncomfortable in their designer black suits. Lowering a pair of sunglasses over my eyes, the club Blood Moon was getting a call. Flipping my dagger in between my fingers, my scarlet Jessica Rabbit dress had slits on both sides to allow me to move. Tucking my dagger into my cleavage, the boys had their weapons spinning in their palms. Sneaking in wasn't going to happen, the boys proving to be too eager to cause serious damage.

“We need to raid the tower to find Moonvanya. Your task is to fight off her bodyguards.” I commanded with a sad smile, all of them missing Croak as much as me. “I miss Croak as well but I have a feeling she will reincarnate as something close to us.” Lust cleared his throat, his hand running through his navy waves.  What was this guy going to say? Nothing could make me feel better about my current situation.

“She will reincarnate as your first baby between Morte and you.” He spoke simply, smiling to himself. “She spoke as much to me a couple of weeks before she departed. I thought it was the sweetest thing that she wants you to be her mother.” Scarlet as bright as my dress painted my cheeks, my eyes refusing to meet his. The others attempted to comfort me, the words falling on deaf ears. My last mission taught me something and that help was always around me, Morte begging for me to begin to ask for it. That didn't mean that I had to listen to him all the time.

“Color me happy for the honor of raising her in the future.” I chirped cheerfully, their nerves easing a bit. “Time to destroy the party.” Plucking a bomb from my pocket, a devilish smile twisted across my face the moment I ripped out the top of my smoke bomb. Tossing it over my head, the miniature ball rolled into the club. Popping antidote pills into our mouth, the sleeping gas wouldn’t have an effect on us. Leaping over the bushes, a cloud of onyx smoke filled the entire building. Running in through the chaos, the stairs caught my eyes. Leaping over the chaos, the female representation of the seven sins blocked our path to the top. Raising their weapons, devilish grins illuminated their features. Weapons of all types whistled by my head, Lust shouting for me to go ahead. Watching the demons battle for me, guilt had hesitation holding me back. Motioning for me to go, my shimmering scarlet boots clicking up the stairs. Sounds echoed down the hall, I hid in the shadows. Two bodyguards twice my height and three times as muscular were seconds from coming down the flight of stairs I was on, the full moon masks obscuring their faces. Shadow snakes slithered down my arms, shadowy energy building round the heel of my boots. Hovering around the corner, the timing had to be perfect. Seconds from rounding the corner, my muscles groaned in protest the moment I lifted my foot over my head. Slamming my heel into the landing, pure energy shattered the stairs beneath them. Spinning on my toes with my other leg straight in the air, another ball of energy built around my boots. Swinging my feet towards their heads, the snaps of their necks breaking had nausea wracking my stomach. Hissing echoed in the air as my snakes devoured their bodies in seconds. Climbing what remained of the stairs, a low growl had the hairs standing on the back of my head. A scaled dragon creature charged at me, the monster belonging to Stormana. Assessing its energy, the monster smelled of her. Putting the pieces together, it was merely a piece of her. Digging at the concrete underneath, the inky black scales shimmered as it scurried towards me. Pushing off the concrete, the monster snarled the moment I landed on its head. Running along its long body, this would be an opportune time for me to figure out what damaged our newest enemy Stormy. Pushing off its swinging tail, my dagger expanded to its full form. Slamming the tip towards the scales, sparks flew back with me. Smashing into the wall, plaster rained down on me. The scales were impenetrable, my shadow snakes howling in pain. Clutching my side, their pain was mine. Silent tears danced down my cheeks, the monster tearing them to pieces. Struggling to my feet, my guardians needed me. Horror rounded my eyes at a ball of flames crackling to life in its mouth. Calling them back, they slithered back into my palm. My blade shrank down to a dagger, most of my powers fading while my snakes worked to heal themselves. Croak would bound in about now, my heart aching for her. Struggling to my feet, the fight wasn’t over. Cuts appeared on my skin, several organs bursting. Sinking to my knees, a flash of wild scarlet curls caught my eyes. Watching my blood pool around me, an invisible weapon had been used on me. The creature bounding towards me tripled, a groan oozing of agony pouring from my lips. Falling forward, the feeling of hot air lashing at my cheeks had me frantically feeling around for my emergency bomb. Rolling it to my trembling hand, a tear of the trigger had it ticking. Using the rest of my strength had it flying into its stomach. Bracing myself for impact, a slender but muscular arm scooped me up. Hel smiled down at me, her blade spinning in her palm. Covering me with her body, blood and guts rained down onto her crimson leather jacket. Checking me over for my wounds, a low growl rumbled in her throat.  Don't die for me too, you freaking idiot.

“Let me take this one, my dear friend.” She pleaded while mixing a healing potion, pure rage burning in her eyes. “Drink this like a good friend.” Forcing the vial into my mouth, a thick liquid coated my throat on the way down. Crashing up the stairs, nothing came into focus. Neon green smoke curled around me, Eris slapping my cheeks to wake me up. 

“Come on, girl. We need you.” She begged with neon tears in my eyes, her hand hovering over my heart. “Stormana is heading our way and we don’t stand a chance.” Helping me to my feet, our target’s head hit the tip of my boot. Praying for the gods to heal me to fight their enemy, a golden glittering ray encompassed me. Reversing any damage, a dark energy had swallowed the area. Extending my dagger to its full length, Eris and Hel protested as I climbed onto the nearest ledge. Turning back to face them, a quiet smile lingered on my lips. Jumping off, smoke scented air nipped at my cheeks. Landing on a tree branch, the wood groaned the moment I lowered myself onto the pavement. Kicking off my boots, an eerie female voice called for me. Sprinting towards the source, the branches clawed at my cheeks. Pushing through the pain, my team caught up to me. Remembering how Croak ended, the others paled at my words. No one was dying by her hands under my watch.

“Don’t follow me and help the victims get out of the building safely. The very thing is about to buckle.” I ordered tersely, Eris and Hel begging to come along. “I can’t have you guys come either. That is how Croak died. If I were to lose any of you, I don’t know how sane I would be after that.” Crunching back towards the screaming people, Stormy was my problem and mine alone. Continuing to dart in between the trees, the branches dug their fingers into my flesh once more. Catching sight of her, I hid behind a tree. Resting for a second, her dragon eyes scanned the surrounding trees. Couldn't she leave us alone!

“Back to play, my little rat.” She teased with a maniacal giggle, her Cheshire Cat grin growing wider. “No backup this time. Did I scar you?” Chills ran up my spine at the last statement, mixed emotions flashing in my eyes. The color drained from my cheeks, the image of her cutting down Croak paralyzing me. No enemy had scared me to this point, discreet weeps pouring from my lips. Croak, I needed Croak. Bowing my head in shame, Lust’s words had a smile curling on my lips. Yes, I could go home and bring her back into my life. Storm clouds rumbled to life, a heavy rain washing the blood off of my skin. Using the storm to cover my movements, my breath hitching with each step. Coming up behind her, sparks danced in the air the moment our blades met. Her golden flame sword glowed in the deepening darkness, determination showing in my defiant smile. 

“Not today! You will never scare me!” I shouted through a wall of tears, raw fury doubling my powers. “Your head on my wall will be your payment for taking her away. Croak had no business dying that day, you fucking monster!” Swinging her blade towards me, frustration grew in her face at how easily I dodged it. Slamming the tip of my blade into the dirt, a blast of shadowy energy shot her into the dark clouds. Tracking where she would land, golden flames had me ducking behind a rock. Burying my head into my arms, flames torched the rock protecting me. Strength was on her side, my wit would have to make up the difference. Today wasn’t a battle to decide the winner but how she fought. Sure, the blows would sting but more information would be gathered. Poking my head up, Stormy was nowhere to be seen. Trusting my intuition, an annoyed great flowed from my lips at her popping up over me. Rolling out of the way, sparks fluttered with ash upon her claw’s contact with the rock. Jumping to my feet, her way wasn’t going to flourish under my retaliation. Summoning a few of my snakes, terror rounded my eyes at the golden flame dragon roaring behind her. Cocking her head to the left with a crazed grin, a bead of sweat dripped off of her brow. Scanning her for a vulnerable spot, her horns glittered at the right moment. Ordering my snakes to keep the dragon busy, bark groaned as I leapt onto the nearest branch. Jumping from branch to branch, the angle of my strike had to be deadly accurate. My shadow snakes twirled around the dragon, something preventing them from burning. Picking up on the change in my own scent, the slight scent of a cloud reminded me of how gods smelled. The opportunity presented itself, a kick off the branch giving enough speed to propel myself at her. Swinging my blade over my head, the sound of her horns snapping off had us both stunned. Hitting the dirt with her horns, dark blood poured down her face. Golden flames whisked her away, the surplus of energy had me too paralyzed to move. Reaching for her horns, my fingers curled around the smallest parts. Hugging them close to my chest, something had been gained from this pointless fight. Thousands of voices whispered in my ears, Hel scooping me up. Wishing that the chaos would die down, no such luck would be granted. Carrying me into the clouds, pride shimmered in her eyes. Not grasping what was going on, her slender hands set me down in front of the lead god in his flowing robes and golden mask. Resting on my haunches, the horns hit my lap. Scrambling to catch them, those darn things were my prize. Panic twisted my features at the sight of an empty chair, my anxious mind wondering what divine punishment was coming my way. Wasting no time, his big hand slid on a jet black snake mask over my face. Draping a matching cloak over me, nothing was getting pieced together in my mind. What the hell was he thinking!

“Goddess of Shadows, you may now rise.” He announced with pride, the others clapping out of necessity as he leaned in to whisper into my ears. “Rise and take your throne among the gods. Don’t worry, you can go home after.” Embarrassment colored my cheeks, my muscles were too weak to move. Not proud of the state of my body, the other gods didn't need to see this side of me.

“I can’t.” I returned in a quiet whisper, his eyes flitting about the room. “When you gave me that boost, I might have used it too fast and long. The willpower doesn’t exist anymore.” Averting my gaze to the clouds, his finger lifted up my chin. Tears dripped off of my chin, every cell in me wanting Croak to be alive.

“That chair is yours. Sacrifices are a part of a hero’s journey.” He continued soft enough for only me to hear, the years of service paying off in the worst way. “What if I told you that I made you a goddess myself?” Time slowed down, our eyes locking with the utmost respect passing between us. Struggling to my feet, Hel helped me over to my throne in a way that didn't show my current weakness. Darkening to a midnight black, the lead god took his throne. Hel stood behind me, true bliss relaxing her features. Glancing up at her, her hand cupped mine. Depising the abruptness of it all, my eyes scanned the room.

“We have a new goddess of the shadows and Hel is her first worshiper. Respect her as much as you respect me. Many years have been sacrificed on her behalf and a broken life.” He proclaimed while accepting a golden goblet overflowing with wine, jealous glares snapping in my direction. “Judging by your reactions, my decision is final. She is my second in command. Not one of you has been considerate or half as great as a leader she could be. Today she will go back home and do her damn job because she wants to, not has to. Those horns are from our enemy. Have any of you gotten close to harming Stormana? No, sit down and shut up!” Getting onto the tasks at hand, Hel plopped onto the armrest of my chair. Summoning a pad and pen, the tip never stopped moving. Drowning in the sea of hatred and bitterness, Hel’s fingers intertwined with mine. Leaning down close to my ear, her words did little to ease my decaying mental health. 

"I pleaded with him to make you a goddess.” She whispered kindly in my ear, her other hand playing tucking a piece of hair behind my ears. “All you needed was one worshiper and here I am. Bask in what you earned.” Returning to taking notes, the horns glittering on my lap had my full attention. Drooling over cutting them open and testing the tissues had me wishing that this meeting was over. A bell rang, the others rising. Popping to my feet, Hel stabilized me long enough to prepare me for my descent. Embracing me from behind as I clung to the horns, our bodies sinking back down towards our home. Feeling well enough to walk on my own, a pang jolted my side. A fever burned on my cheeks, the thin layer of sweat glistening on my skin. Limping down to the basement, my blade shrank back down to its dagger form. Tucking it into the case, Morte looking up from his current monster didn’t slow my steps. Slamming her horns onto the next examination table, Morte cleared his throat as I began to set up my tools. Spinning on his heels, blood stains dotted his white lab coat. Cupping my mouth, the sight of it had me fighting the urge to toss up my lunch.

“A zombie looks better than you. Maybe you should get some r-” He commented with a mixture of playfulness and the usual concern. Wiping the sweat off of my brow, his palms slamming on my table snapped me back to reality. Blushing hard at how close his face was to mine, an impatient scowl dimmed his features. Sliding over a new pair of gloves while changing his own, one touch on both horns had them decaying into several thick circles. Hating that I didn't get to cut them myself, my brow twitched with obvious annoyance.

“Talk to me. Why do you smell so delectable? I can’t seem to resist you.” He demanded with an apologetic smile, my gloved fingers tracing the pieces of the horn. “Another thing bothers me, you smell like you are entering a h-” Covering his mouth, the task at hand needed to be dealt with. Too feeble to speak for a second, the room began to spin. Time, time wasn’t on my hands. 

“Don’t worry about it. I am a goddess, a legit goddess.” I choked out through gritted teeth, another jolt announcing my heat. “Get back to w-” Cupping my cheek, his lips smashed into mine desperately. Sinking into the moment, my heart rate matched his. Releasing me from his spell, the stool hissed the moment I crashed onto the hard top. Lowering my hand to the table, a strange paleness came over my skin. 

“Nice. That makes you more impressive in my eyes. What you need to confirm is what state of your goddamn heat you are in. If I am going to make a potion to repress it, a few more facts are required.” He complimented me lovingly, the room spinning again. “I can wait for all of eternity.” Shaking my head, the repression wouldn’t be necessary. 

“Let’s go through with it.” I wept with a sad smile, wanting to feel the warmth of bearing a child. “Croak wants to come back and I can’t deny a friend.” Taking a second to register to what I said, his genuine smile had life flickering in his eyes. Pressing his palms together, uncontrollable sobs wracked his body. Judging by Stormy’s reaction, her horns would need to grow back before we battled again. Demons with horns were as strong as the size of their horns, my little victory buying me time to figure out what destroyed my enemy. 

“You can’t be serious with that request.” He spoke in disbelief, his ears flicking about. “My dreams are about to come true!” Dancing over to me, he spun me around. Spinning me underneath him, his lips kissed mine tenderly. Swinging me back up to my feet, his hands rested on my shoulders. There's the Morte I loved back then, everything about him oozing life.

“Calm down and get your work done. I will tell you when I am ready.” I chuckled lightly, placing the biggest pieces into an evidence bag. Returning to his monster with a fresh pair of gloves, my shaking fingers picked up the scraping tool. Digging at the center of the horn, my fingers traced the rings in her horn. Counting the rings, these horns were thousands of years old. Hel popped up behind me, her cheery hello sending me ten feet into the air. Catching me before I hit the floor, her gloved hand laid down several evidence bags. Plopping down next to me, her pensive expression had my tired smile falling.  

“Several more gods defected today.” She informed me while rubbing her palms together, shame dimming my eyes. “Don’t be so glum. They are nothing for us to destroy. People like us don’t get second chances but look at you. Second in command is impressive. Hell, he hasn’t had one for years. Are you going to quench your cycle or are you going to ignore it?” Flashing her a sad smile, my shaking fingers dropped the pieces into the bags. 

“Not this time. Morte and I lost everything that night. Croak wants to come back. She is entrusting me with her happy ending.”  I answered simply, her face brightening at my reply. “Why so happy? Part of me is giving in to my dreams. Do you want to learn how to catalog items?” Nodding her head vigorously, the way she focused on my lesson had me happy to be like her sister. Finishing up the last item, Hel popped to her feet. Beginning to bow in my direction, my palm caught her forehead. Can people quit acting like they need to bow!

“We are friends not a master and a servant.” I teased blithely, remembering how the twins kept trying to bow. “I suppose I can count on you to be my bodyguard.” Remaining in the awkward position, her arms dangled limply. Mumbling a series of gracious thank yous, she buried me into a bear hug. Basking in her warmth, both of us had something to live for. How long has it been since I felt this jovial? The flames of hope burned in my heart, Hel helping me to see a way out.

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2024/05/23
02:49 UTC

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