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1

The creature by the river in Puerto Rico

When i was a little girl, my mom use to tell me about the urban legends of our hometown. You see, my dad wanted to move to the U.S to give us a better life, and had a decent job that he could take care of us. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico for long. We lived in a town, that I will not mention. So, we decided to start a better life, and a future for us.

At about 5-6 years old, every night, me and my mom were so close. And I use to ask her so many questions about how her life was back at home. She said she lived in poverty, her home was basically this run down place, she lived with her mom, and 5 other siblings. They really couldn't afford much, food, clothes for school, books, etc.

I'm not sure, how I even wound up asking, but as I can remember, I LOVED scary stories, horror movies (Yes, my parents were okay with me watching horror movies since i was probably 3-4 years old)

I would beg my mom to tell me these stories, every night before bed. I was more interested in the scary stories, than the hard times she suffered because it made me really sad, and looking back, I'm truly blessed I didn't live that life, and she worked very hard to give me a better life than what she had. My mom has told me Legends from, "El Chupacabra" to "La Llorona" to El Yunque extraterrestrial being and lastly, "El Cuco"

If you're not familiar with, "El Cuco" parents use to tell their misbehaved kids that El Cuco was coming to get them and steal them at night if they don't behave. Messed up isn't it?

There's this one story, though, that till this day, i think about.. Apparently, this creature had lived in a cave deep in the jungle by the river. This "Dog" apparently was huge, hairy, red eyes, and had thick chains around his neck. Some say, he belonged to Satan, and Satan had released him so this "Dog" could do his bidding, and kidnap them to bring them back on a full moon night. This demon dog, is what I call it, roamed the streets at night, making a growling, scary growl every night by midnight. Many people tried to stay off the streets before midnight, if you lived by the jungle that has a huge river that supposedly, at the end of the river, it is said to believe that is where this Demon dog was said to haunt and torment those who dare walk anywhere near his home. Nobody could find this so-called cave. Those that did, never got to speak upon the location that this thing lived in. Late at night, at the stroke of midnight until 330 in the morning, he would walk the streets looking for his next victim. The windows in Puerto Rico are very different compared to ordinary windows around the world. The windows were just pannels that you turned and they either open or close. No screens. Scary enough, anyone can easily peek through those windows and see everything. Creepy right?

So back to the story, one night, on a full moon, had not realized it was a full moon..My mom, at the time was only 14, was getting ready for bed and she heard this loud growl and she had hurried to bed. Lights off, everything. She had hidden under the covers hoping this creature wouldn't spot her. Or notice that her lights were on. Living by the jungle only ten minutes away, you could hear could hear the chains rattling late at night, with a growl, just like a lion. Many people the next day would talk about hearing the chains and the growling.

One day, her friends decided they wanted to sneak out to prove that it was someone messing with them in the neighborhood. They wanted to prove, there's no such thing as a demon dog with chains that had spooked the townspeople. Her friend, let's call her Sylvia, was that one girl that was so arrogant and never listened to her parents and was always up to no good. It was her idea to rowdy the rest of them out. My mom's cousin, Pedro, had told Sylvia, that it is a really bad idea. Sylvia had replied, "Oh, don't be a chicken-shit, if we can find this cave, we can prove that it's someone messing with us." My mother was scared and believed that it was true, and she didn't want to go. There was another girl, whom was my mom's neighbor, they grew up together and were best friends. She had pulled my mother aside and said, "I know Sylvia can be a pain in the ass, but we can't just let her go by herself to find this creature" Within five minutes of everyone looking at each other with beady eyes saying, "Please, please?! Preeeettyyy please?" So Pedro and my mother finally decided they were going to the jungle.

Sylvia had said, we can head out by 11PM since it will take us at least forty-five minutes to get to the end of the river. Pedro had replied, "I have some flashlights in the shed, enough for all of us."

My mother had spend the rest of the afternoon wondering and fearing that she might not ever return home. She kept thinking, "What if I get caught sneaking out, boy, my mom is going to beat my behind if I sneak out, just to be in the jungle late at night"

You see, there's so many snakes, spiders, a lot of poisonous creatures out there.

My mom had given my grandmother a kiss goodnight before bed, to make it seem like my mom was truly going to bed. She had worn her pajamas, but underneath she had on the clothes she was going to be wearing that night.

She then started getting some equipment ready for this hike up into the river. With a bookbag in hand. My mom had snuck into the bathroom too get some mosquito repellent, since at sundown the mosquitos were the worse. But by the river, it would be worse.

11PM had finally crept up. My mom had so much anxiety built up, that before Pedro would knock on her window to sneak out, she jumped up. Her heart was pumping so fast, you could of probably heard it. Her mind kept wandering all the possibilities of what could happen.

Finally, Pedro had tapped on her bedroom window, three times, to let her know that everyone is waiting across the street, behind the trees to venture off. My mom grabbed her bookbag and beat up sneakers and crawled out of the window. Everyone was asleep by then. As Pedro and my mother ran across the street very quietly, Sylvia, and Carmen were waiting for them.

"You guys are late." said Sylvia. Pedro replied, "My father was still up and I thought he'd never go to bed!" Sylvia rolled her eyes. Carmen was very quiet she barely even said two words.

Pedro had handed them each a flashlight. They all turned theirs on and ventured down the road that led to the river. Sylvia was so ecstatic, hoping down the road and skipping.

My mother looked at the rest of them and said, "She's loca!" and they all giggled quietly walking down the end of the road. Within ten minutes they had reached the entrance into the river. Sylvia was so excited, it was truly annoying.

The river, did indeed look so beautiful with the moon shining against the river that night. You could definitely create a portrait with this view.

Pedro had known these parts of the river, since twice a week him and my uncle went fishing a lot. You see, the river, had woods surrounding this area. It was a little run down looking. If you go by there today, so much trash, and paraphernalias, like needles and such are scattered. I'd never recommend to walk barefooted around this area, anyway.

Sylvia looked at Pedro and said, "Ok, where do we turn?"

Pedro replied, "We're going to make a right down this path, at the end of the path, we turn left and within five hundred feet, we will then make another right, to avoid the dunes. By 11:30, it was already high tide. And the mosquitoes were so bad, even the gnatts were swarming, she kept hitting them out of the way. She sprayed repellent all over her face and hair. You could hear the crickets, even owls hooting away. The moon was so bright, that they wouldn't need flashlights, at this point. Pedro had told us to keep quiet incase anything comes out. Sylvia had ran ahead of everyone, and Pedro had told her that they stick together incase we trip over rocks and get hurt, or worse trip into the stream since by then the water was starting to get quite higher.

As they finally got to the edge of the river, Sylvia spotted a rope long enough that it reached the other side of the river. Pedro had given Sylvia an attitude and commented," Don't even think about it, Sylvia, it is not safe, we're almost there.

Sylvia had nothing to say, for once.

They finally had been deep into the woods, where trees were starting to cover the moon. They turned their flashlights on and had been directing the flashlights to the end of the path. There was so many deep holes into the earth, enough to fall into and probably break a few bones and that would mean the trip would of been all for nothing.

11:45, it started to get so quiet, it was like dead silence. My mother had claimed it was so quiet, that if you even made a sound, it would echo. Suddenly, Pedro felt cold. How could it be so cold when it's literally 70 degrees out? Out of no where, something jumped out at Carmen. Sylvia had yelled from behind

"Gotcha!! Ha-ha" Pedro had quietly whispered,

"Shh!! We have to be freaking quiet, I swear if you do this again, we're leaving, either you take this shit seriously, or we're done! Grow up and shut it"

Sylvia groaned and sighed, "Ugh, fine. Whatever, Captain."

They continued to get close to the end of the river. My mother had looked around and noticed something, she claimed that what she saw had never left her mind till this day. In horror, she tapped quietly to Pedro, "What the hell is that?" We all looked over with our flashlights shining down at what looked like skin and bones. The animal barely had any hair left, like it was mangled and had it's hairs plucked out. We all looked at each other in fear.

"Guys, I'm scared, we should," Claimed Carmen. Before she could finish, we heard a snapping noise and we flashed our lights in different directions.

Sylvia had whispered, "Guys, it's probably a llama that escaped from one of the houses, and died. The animals in the forest most likely ate it."

Pedro whispered, "How do you think? I've seen many animals dead on our farm, and it never looked like someone had ripped it's head off and barely any blood is left, there's only drops, almost like the head was pulled, like something sucked the life out of it." It almost looked like something had sucked the soul out of thaf llama.

It was sounded so creepy. I literally didn't even know if I wanted my mom to continue, but what kind of person wants to end a story, with thoughts in my head what had happened?

She continued.

Pedro had whispered,

"Quick, let's hide behind this little chicken coot."

The broken down chicken coot had barely enough room for us to have us hide, they hid behind it, since it was on the ground tore up. Flashlights were off at that moment, they made sure the flashlights didn't make a clicking noise.

Within those seconds, they started hearing loud thud sounds, even a loud chain sound, almost dragging on the earth.

It started to get quiet again.

Something was making movements, with heavy breathing. It was breathing loudly through it's nose. They all covered their mouths so they couldn't be seen or heard. There was a hole in one section of the chicken coot, that my mom could peer through the hole to look. What she saw was enough to shake anyone out of their core.

As she peeped through the hole, she saw something she's never seen before. Still covering her mouth, this weird looking, dark shadow, outlined with a shape of a huge dog. with long fur, eventually it moved by the moon's light. What she claimed she saw was this creature's teeth were so huge, it barely had enough room to close it's mouth. Almost like it was smiling, with an evil sinister smile. Grinning. it's eyes were huge, gouging like someone squeezed the hell out of it. It was scanning around, standing on it's two back feet. The backfeet were so long, that the legs were curved hunched forward. The feet weren't normal, they looked like big hooves. It stomped around so loud, even the chains were rattling. It's nails were so long, at least 3 inches long, curved and sharp looking.

Creepy..

The beast's eyes were yellow, almost like the color of the full moon that night. It was snarling so evily, its eyes started turning red. Pedro had literally almost peed his pants from how scared he was. My mother was so scared she slowly turned over so it couldn't see her. The beast continued to stomp out of the area disappearing into the darkness.

"What the hell was that!" cried Sylvia quietly.

"I believe that could of been what we been looking for" As Pedro was trembling.

"Guys, I think it's time we should go, before it returns"

"Oh, nonsense, we have to follow those tracks backwards to see where it came from. Maybe if we find it's hiding spot, we could run back into town and let the others know." commented Sylvia.

Pedro had replied back, "Are you serious right now? Did you NOT see that?"

"Are you scared, Mr. Pee-pee pants?" As Sylvia giggled. Carmen had finally had enough and snapped at Sylvia, "We need to go NOW, before that thing comes the hell back here and do what it did to that llama!" Right as they turned around to head back quietly and stealthy back out of the forest through another way that they wouldn't have to bump into that thing. We heard something like the bushes were brushing hard. Pedro turned around and Sylvia had disappeared into the darkness.

"For God's sake, she's going to get us killed, I swear." We need to go find her," Carmen exclaimed

"Pedro! I'm really scared and I'm not sure I can handle this any longer."

"We can't leave her behind, Carmen, what if something happens to her?"

They started to turn the flashlights back on, along with rolling their eyes and groaning with fear in each other's faces. My mom's heart was beating really fast that it almost felt like she was going to pass out. She kept thinking she should of just stayed home, safe in her bed feeling safe and out of danger.

A few feet away, Pedro was speed walking searching around with his flashlight, but following the heavy tracks that were left on the ground. To the right, they saw a cave like structure, and Sylvia scanning outside the cave at weird markings. She got a little closer with the flashlight. It looked like symbols in red markings, it almost looked like blood. This was what the Taino's had claimed that the cave looked like, in their stories from long ago.

There was a long claw-like scratch on a piece of plywood that was deserted on the side. Before my mom could blink, she noticed Sylvia had disappeared into the cave. "DAMN-IT SYLVIA!" Now Pedro was pissed, that he actually yelled and forgot for a split second not to be loud.

"I don't like this at all," Carmen started to say as her eyes were watering and tears began to run down her face.

They all are started to hear a large howl, it sounded like it was a yard away. Pedro shined his flash light into the darkness of the cave. Sylvia light started to flicker.

"Sylvia!! We need to get the hell out of here, it's coming back!"

My mom felt her nose get numb and warm. She brushed her nose and felt something wet starting to stream down. She had gotten a nose bleed. Her heart was pounding so hard. Carmen had dropped her flashlight and took off scared.

"MIERDA!" yelled Pedro, but silently this time. Sylvia had ran out of the cave, her face was as white as snow, she ran off in the direction Carmen had headed. Pedro grabbed Carmen's flashlight so it wouldn't look like anyone was there. A loud thudding started coming behind them. They started running into the direction Sylvia and Carmen ran off to. As they're running while panting. They started hearing a loud howling sound and it felt like it was starting to charge into our direction.

My mother said she ran so fast like she has never ran before. Pedro had tripped over a root that was starting to raise from an overgrown tree. My mom had yanked Pedro from the ground and they continued running. They spotted an old abandoned car, hoping that's where the girls were hiding.

"We have to hide in there! Maybe they're in there, too." We slowly opened the car door and jumped into the backseat of the car and slowly closed the car door. In the front passenger seat, we saw Sylvia crawled in fetal position, shaking.

"Where's Carmen?!" whispered Pedro.

Sylvia was shaking and slowly whispered, "No?"

"Shit, we can't go look now, that thing sounded like it was behind us."

They started to hear loud running, almost like the creature was finally on all fours speeding through the same path they took.

That beast was pissed.

It started to sniff around, slowly growling now. Pedro had slowly looked at me and put his finger against his lips. We were so quiet. A minute went by, and Pedro had slowly peered out the window. The creature had its back turned, it was literally a few meters away. Pedro's eyes widen as he was looking behind the creatures back. He slowly taped on my mother's shoulder, "Move your head slowly and look!"

My mother explained to me that this beast fur was so dark, dirty, long and mangey looking.You could also literally see it's back and bones. The outline of this creature's back almost looked as if you could see the outline of the bones. Think of ribcages. The creature was still scanning, by the way it turned sideways, it's eyes were so red, it made her shiver. The creature was breathing heavier, and sniffing into the air, angry.

They had all shut their eyes tightly hoping it would disappear.

It did after a few minutes fade into the darkness.

"We need to go, we need to find Carmen." They slowly slipped out of the doors and slowly closed the doors.

Sylvia started crying saying, "I want to go home, guys!"

"We can't leave Sylvia behind." Pedro had replied back quietly.

But where could of Carmen ran off to? Did she go home?

Pedro had looked down on his watch and realized it's 1:30 in the morning.

How did time fly so fast?

There was enough light from the moon to walk heading back to their homes, since they were scared to turn on the flashlights, incase it comes back.

Again, the howling continued. It was in the opposite direction of them. It sounded like it wasn't that close, but not far. "How fast that thing walked," my mother continued to tell me, "it shouldn't of been normal for any animal"

Sylvia had looked back and realized she forgot her flashlight and bag.

"Forget it, we'll come back in the morning, there's no time now, we have to leave out of here!" Pedro had said.

An hour has passed and they looked everywhere for Carmen.

Carmen was no where to be seen.

Maybe she went back home?

A few feet away, we found Carmen's shoes.

"Ok, now this is getting weird," Sylvia commented.

Pedro and Sylvia got into an argument about how this was a bad idea, that if we just stayed home, none of this would of happened.

My mom cut them off and told them to get theirselves together.

Pedro scanned around, whispering a little loud calling out for Carmen. Letting Carmen know that it was them.

Still no Carmen...

They all started running back outside of the woods and onto the streets. As they were about to walk into the street, they heard the howling and a scream. It sounded like Carmen. My mother bolted out of Sylvia and Pedro's way back to the house, she started screaming and yelling back pounding the door down, almost"

Her oldest sister, Vera answered the door, rubbing her eyes trying to see with her eyes, who she was looking at.

"Carmen, Carmen!! It took her!"

Vera had no idea what she was talking about.

"Diana, what the hell are you doing out here, I thought you were in bed? And what do you mean it took Carmen?"

My mom was out of breath and panting.

Pedro and Sylvia were running behind onto the steps also out of breath.

"You guys need to tell me what the hell is going on and why are you guys out here at 2:30 in the morning! Oh, your mom's going to beat your asses." As she was laughing

Pedro snapped at her saying, "NO, LISTEN, CARMEN IS GONE. WE ONLY HAVE HER SHOE!"

That night they told their story to Vera, as my grandmother came out to join them in the conversation.

Now mind you, they were so poor, they didn't even have a phone. So they decided to run over to Carmen's house first before going toPedro's house to call the police.

My grandmother at the time, was more upset about Carmen, she was hoping maybe Carmen was home and the nightmare was over...

That morning, the police were surrounded and blocking off our street. A few police offers were showing others a picture of Carmen in the neighborhood.

A search party was formed that morning. The kids had to relive that moment, but thankfully it was light out. They had to follow the same path they took.

We searched everywhere before they got to the chicken coot that they had hidden from this creature. Whose going to believe them? Who is going to believe what they saw?

They continued to tell the detective that was questioning them, why they were out there that late. Pedro did all the talking. My mom nose still has dry blood and even the detective asked her why there was blood on her nose. Sylvia had sat by the stream of the river quiet, and staring out into the river with tears running down her face. It was actually the first time anyone has seen any fear in her eyes. Her face was so pale, almost as if she seen a ghost.

Now everyone at that time were all talking and whispering, a lot of the same questions were being asked amongst theirselves.

"Why were these kids come out here this late?"

My mother had turned over scanning looking for the dead animal that they saw from the night before.

There was nothing there.

They all continued to the path they had taken the night before. As they reached the end of the river, they took the path they assumed the cave was.

Sylvia, Pedro and my mom were flabbergasted. The cave they saw from the night before was boarded up with rocks, almost like it's been that way for a long time.

"No! No! I swear, this wasn't covered up last night!" Pedro had cried out.

The search team now was getting annoyed. Suddenly, someone yelled out, "We found something!" They all turned over into the direction the voice came from. A man started approaching them with a ripped up shirt that belonged to Carmen..

The three of their eyes widen with fear. Sylvia continued behind and cried, explaining, "No! That's impossible, Carmen didn't go that way!" She then added, "We went down this way," pointing at the path where it would later lead up to the car. Sylvia finally ran up to the car to show the team that she had left her bag there because they all hid in the car, except Carmen. The teams had finally split in two groups, one that would lead the search where her shirt was found, and the other team would begin searching by the exit where Carmen's shoe was found.

Time passed by. Soon Carmen's photo would be in news station, radio, even the paper. The search had given up looking for Carmen after a month.

Til this day, Carmen was never found. No explanation of the dead animal was seen that night. The cave... the damn cave that apparently didn't exist. Could this creature, or Satan cover up everything? So many questions were finally flooding my mind. Those following weeks, they could still hear the howling, the chains dragging on the street. Everything continued, like nothing happened. Everyone had gone on with their life. People felt sorry for them. Carmen's poor mother. She use to visit my grandmother everyday, but one day she just stopped coming altogether. My mother blamed herself for a long time. Hell, they all did.

Two months, and still no word of Carmen's disappearance. Until 1985,(two months later) a group of guys were fishing by the river, and one of the guys had caught something on their rod. Apparently whatever they caught, they assumed it was something big, but it was stuck. One of the guys grabbed a net so they could have a better grasp of the big catch they had caught, so they thought. When the net was finally pulled out, another shoe was caught. They thought they've seen that shoe before.

Can you guess whose missing shoe it was?

Carmen's missing shoe. The men were finally scanning around while one of the men ran back into town to call the police. One guy, Jorge, had decided to search that area. In horror... Carmen's corpse was hanging on a tree. But her head was missing. Carmen's torso, looked so fresh. But how can that be since she has been missing for 2 months? Carmen's body looked exactly like theanimal that the kids had spotted that night. Carmen's head?

They never could find Carmen's head. For a long time, police had just assumed maybe an animal had done it.

But how do you explain how her body looked like it recently happened? Couldn't the heat and rain, and even bugs have done it's damage on her corpse?

Nobody could decide the actual cause of death.

They ruled Carmen's death as accidental drowning and animals had eaten her body.

Til this day, Carmen's skull was never found.

Her funeral was a closed casket. Many people do believe that this demonic looking dog or wolf could of been Carmen's demise. But whose going to put in their report, "A demonic dog had slained a 14 year old girl"

I have so many other stories that I've heard from many people in all these years, that I could share. with you one day. But this story still haunts me.

I definitely did not go to bed that night, it took me weeks to close my eyes. Every little noise would startle me.

I've heard other stories from people about this "animal", but this one, still bothers me. Sometimes I'd picture what the body looked like hanging from that tree branch.

If you'd like to hear more stories, just let me know. I have tons.

0 Comments
2024/02/26
18:19 UTC

1

Paralyze

It happened again. This time, at the mall. And holy shit, Simone is going to kill me…

Simone. My wife. A woman whose career as a so-called entrepreneur is at odds with her inability to take risks in her personal life. To be fair, she got shot down a few years ago after she pitched a bread-flavored ice-cream to a bunch of executives at a regional confectionery company. They had laughed at her in that smug, unapologetic way corporate assholes do. Simone was humiliated, of course. And ever since then she's been somewhat…what's the word?

Guarded.

Anyway. A few hours earlier she had jabbed her manicured fingernail into my chest and growled a severe warning into my face. And by warning, I mean a threat, which went something like this -

“If you take our daughter to the mall this evening, I will straight-up murder you while we're having sex.”

In other words, when I'm least expecting it.

Of course I ignored the warning / threat. And why not? Isn't the instinct of most human beings to challenge and be defiant when faced with an ultimatum? Besides, I was not about to obey my wife when she was dressed in her fuck-me shoes and suck-me lipstick, both of which were designed to entice yet another executive she was scheduled to meet tonight at a romantic-looking restaurant we had been to a number of times.

So off to the neighborhood mall we went, Georgia and I.

Georgia. My daughter. A toddler with a disturbing lack of interest in whatever is trending with toddlers nowadays - pigtails, ice-cream, jungle gyms - I don't fucking know. I suppose that's why I had brought her to the mall, in an effort to uncover what, if anything, excites her.

I aborted my mission only an hour later, having seen not so much as a flicker of joy on my daughter's face, not even when I detoured past the billion varieties of candy in the window display of some.store whose name I can no longer remember.

Oh well. Fuck it. At least I tried. Give the parent of the year award to Ned Flanders for all I care.

Georgia and I were en route to the mall exit when it happened…

We, along with every other shopper, encountered some resistance…not much, subtle at first, but it gained strength quickly, like we were wading through a wall of molasses…or a dense, invisible web of jungle vines…until finally, we all came to a gradual stop, everybody rooted to the spot, as if our legs were encased in a block of concrete.

Our collective voices were non-existent, as was every other aspect of our movement. If a random stranger had walked in on us at that moment, he or she would have observed a colony of human statues, the only motion being our eyes, alive with panic, bouncing around like that frantic little ball trapped inside the vintage arcade game.

Bizarrely, it was not a unique or even frightening experience, at least not for Georgia and I, and a number of other shoppers, I'm sure. The truth is this phenomenon has occurred frequently since its debut a few months ago.

Georgia and I had experienced it for the first time a week ago, while at the park adjacent to our house. It had been a what-the-fuck moment then, but now, at the mall, it felt unpleasantly routine, like staring helplessly at that glaring light while a dentist hovers overs you, ready to extract a tooth.

As expected, a blanket of gloom fell over us seconds before we heard a shift in the tomb-like silence behind us…

I couldn't turn my head. My neck was rigid like rock, anchored to my body, which was also weighted down, like a sandbag. Even so, I knew what was behind me…as I had seen it in front of me a week ago, that day at the park…

Now, I caught a murky glimpse of it in a darkened storefront window…A child-shaped figure, having emerged from nowhere, cloaked in a swirling shadow. It weaved through the pattern of shoppers with steps that were as slow as they were menacing. I could sense it somewhere behind me, scrutinizing each shopper, like a sharp-eyed bride, taking her time while she studies a rack of wedding gowns, searching for the perfect one to wear on her big day.

Meticulous and discerning, that's what this entity was…

And that's when I flinched - my eyes snapping shut, startled - as the shadowed figure sliced into somebody - I assume with a knife, or some exotic weapon forged in its ghostly universe - lethal and efficient, so that all it took was a single piercing to the throat before one of the shoppers folded to the ground in a crackling of shopping bags and a crumbling of lifeless limbs.

It was fucked up. Killed in cold blood. In front of dozens of people, none of whom could react - at least, not with their voices. Their eyes, on the other hand, seemed to run away from this demented crime scene, searching for safety…a way out…instead -

Schlick!

Another shopper dropped behind me…closer this time. The newly deceased seemed to have a heavier physique, judging by the louder thump with which his body hit the tiled floor.

The slow, deliberate steps of the child-like entity started once more…

Fuck. Here it comes…

I risked a glance at Georgia. Her sneakerd feet were likewise fused to the floor, deprived of mobility. Her eyes were intense, staring straight ahead, as if she had rehearsed this position countless times, and now it was show time.

Don't screw this up. Everybody's watching.

That's what her face said. I had no idea what her actual thoughts were. All I knew was that no child on earth should have to experience something like this, not even those little shits who bully other kids…or steal their bikes…or -

My feet twitched.

Abruptly. Involuntarily. I closed my eyes again, this time in relief. A wave of euphoric gratitude that the entity was gone. The killings were over.

For the time being, at least.

Other shoppers started to fidget as their motor skills were gradually restored - arms flexing, necks swiveling, legs shaken out - all in a bid to get the blood flowing again. On cue, a brigade of mall-employed security personnel converged on the bodies.

It felt vaguely routine, this clean-up or corpses. After all, we had lived with this phenomenon for a number of weeks already, a phenomenon that none of the world's most nerdy scientists could explain. Even seasoned paranormal investigators were at a loss. Sure, they had used their EMF detectors and Rem Pods and all the other ghost gadgets you see on those spooky Travel Channel shows. Even so, the evidence they had captured, what little there was, had been inconclusive. One spiritual scholar had suggested that the entity was half spirit, half human - whatever the fuck that meant. A couple YouTubers had also chimed in, claiming that the entity hailed from the same alternate dimension as BigFoot.

As for me, I didn't give a shit about the origin of that child shadow killer. All I cared about was the beating that Simone was going to inflict on me when I got home. Truth is, I deserved it. I had betrayed her trust. It was vindictive. And reckless. I had taken Georgia to the mall to spite her mother. A defiant act that had nearly cost my daughter her life.

So there I was. In our driveway. Resigned to my fate. Georgia was still staring out the window. as blank-faced as ever. I felt like telling her to snap the fuck out of it, until an alarming thought crashed in my mind: What if she was traumatized? Like - psychologically fucked up beyond repair? What if we had to spend thousands on useless child therapy, only to end up spoon-feeding her baby food while her empty eyes gazed out at a world only she could see? And holy shit, what if we had to -

She coughed.

Next to me.

A delicate puff of cute air.

Thank God.

She was still herself. My Georgia. My brave, deserves-a-better-father-than-me Georgia.

I released my seat belt with a click and stupidly asked, “Are you okay?”

She eyed me, somewhat sharply, as if my question was illogical. Like - Hey, I know you just witnessed a couple friendly shoppers murdered by a fucking ghost, but are you doing okay otherwise?

To her credit, Georgia gave a slight nod. The type of nod which indicates somebody is not okay, but doesn't want to inconvenience the person who asked. Honestly, I had no idea what to say, or how to reassure her, so I just propelled myself from the car and assumed - or hoped - that she would follow.

And she did, trailing after me as I trudged up the driveway…

The house was dark. Of course it was. After all, Simone left the house in gloom whenever she wanted to bite my neck off in anger, like Count fucking Dracula lurking somewhere in the depths of his castle.

Georgia flew up the stairs in a burst of little steps. I stared after her and found myself smiling. Considering that she had no apparent interests, I couldn't imagine what she was in such a hurry to get to.

No. That's not it.

The truth was she wasn't in a hurry to get to anything. She was in a hurry to get away from something - namely, the verbal war Simone and I were about to have with each other.

I let my eyes scan the dark corners of the house, aware for the first time that it's possible Simone wasn't even home yet. That maybe she had hit it off with the executive at the romantic-looking restaurant. That perhaps he had loved more than just her business pitch. I wonder if by now they had exchanged more than just -

Bump.

I reacted -

And no sooner had I turned toward that abrupt sound when I instinctively back pedaled, the better to avoid Simone as she erupted from the kitchen and stormed towards me…

She hissed, “You fucker!”

Murderous. That's what she was…

Until she pulled up short.

As if somebody had yanked an invisible rope attached to her back. She stumbled slightly. Her steps were no longer storming across the carpet, they were straining…as if shackled by an imaginary ball and chain. Hatred flew from her eyes, replaced with a vulnerable fear…and a growing desperation.

I lunged forward - knowing that I had only seconds to save her life - closing the distance between us, almost colliding with her as she jerked to a rigid stop. On instinct I heaved on her upper arms, which felt like concrete pillars. Her eyes were wide open with panic.

Buried alive.

Fetch the shovel. Excavate the earth. And those are the eyes you'll find, staring up at you from the ground.

Only, right now, Simone’s eyes were directed at the open window...as the child-like entity contorted its way into the living room…

For some stupid, inexplicable reason I clapped my hands over my ears, so as not to “hear” the blade pierce my wife's throat. Droplets of stringy blood splattered against the carpet as her knees buckled and she flopped onto the sofa. Dead.

And just like that, the entity was gone. Vaporized. Like a fucked up magic trick. Now you see her, now you don't. Thanks for coming out tonight, folks.

I tried to process the death of my wife in front of me, my chaotic mess of thoughts interrupted by -

“Dad?”

Oh God - Georgia. Behind me. A frown on her face I will never forget. A frown that said - Surely I am not seeing what the world is showing me.

I stumble-ran to my daughter and rattled her little body, like a rag doll. I didn't even notice when she winced in pain, so intent was I on ensuring that the entity hadn't taken hold of her and -

Clunk.

An object dropped from Georgia's hand, onto the floor.

I had to blink a number of times until I realized it was a seashell. In the dim light, it resembled a slumbering, white snail.

When my confused eyes returned to Georgia, she simply shrugged, and said, “I collect them.”

I smiled numbly, through my tears. Turns out my daughter had an interest after all. A pleasant discovery, spoiled by the fact that she would never in her life scan the beach for seashells with her mother.

That realization poked a violent hole in my soul, through which an outpouring of fury erupted, inspiring a promise to myself that I would find a way to destroy whoever - or whatever - had taken Simone’s life…that demonic little fucker who liked to put the world on pause…so she could kill at her leisure…

I wanted to find her this second and banish her from this and every other realm in existence…

Except…

I couldn't get up off my knees.

I felt that familiar resistance…the texture of my body turning into a gradual, gum-like dough…

Georgia backed away from me…

She could move. I could not.

She was free. I was imprisoned.

She was going to live. I was not.

She was crying.

So was I. But I encouraged her to keep looking into my eyes, as I said, “Tell me about those sea shells…which are your favorite?”

Georgia fumbled to find the words. She bent and retrieved the sea shell from the floor, turning it in her hands, as if it might help clear her mind…

At last she smiled, ready with an answer to my question…

As I felt the cold blade press into my neck…

0 Comments
2024/02/26
17:37 UTC

1

Sakura Shadows

The year was 1991, in the bustling halls of Sakura High School, amidst the chatter of students and the clang of lockers, there was a mysterious and enigmatic figure that captured the attention of his peers. His name was Kai, a quiet and reserved student with an air of mystery that surrounded him like a cloak. Kai was known for his interest in the occult and the supernatural, often seen reading ancient texts and sketching intricate symbols in his notebook.

Despite his reserved nature, Kai had an uncanny ability to draw people to him, his enigmatic presence sparking both curiosity and unease among his classmates. Some whispered that he possessed a deep connection to the spiritual world, while others believed he was simply a misunderstood loner with a sense of wisdom beyond his years. Among Kai's classmates, there was a mix of fascination and apprehension about the enigmatic student who seemed to exist in a realm all his own.

As I, one of Kai's classmates, step into the bustling corridors of Sakura High School, the air is filled with a vibrant energy that hums with the essence of a bustling Japanese marketplace. The soft murmur of students' voices blends with the gentle rustling of paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, casting a warm, inviting glow over the hallways. The click-clack of wooden geta sandals echoes on the polished floors, adding a touch of traditional Japanese charm to the school's atmosphere.

Amidst this lively backdrop, my gaze is drawn to Kai, the enigmatic figure who moves through the crowds with a quiet grace that sets him apart from the rest. His presence seems to cast a subtle aura of mystery and intrigue, like a character from a timeless Japanese folktale.

Kai's deep, contemplative eyes hold a wisdom that belies his youthful appearance, and his demeanor exudes a sense of calm that is both captivating and unsettling. As I observe him from afar, I can't help but feel a sense of curiosity and fascination about the quiet classmate who seems to exist on the fringes of our vibrant school community, like a hidden gem waiting to be discovered in the midst of a bustling metropolis.

In the midst of the school's Japanese-inspired ambiance, Kai stands out as a figure of quiet strength and enigmatic allure, his presence adding a touch of mystery and intrigue to our everyday surroundings. As I navigate the bustling hallways of Sakura High School, I can't help but wonder about the secrets that lie beneath Kai's calm exterior and the untold stories that are waiting to be unveiled in the vibrant tapestry of our school life.

As the story unfolds, the dynamic between Kai, Lily, Sam, Maya, and myself takes shape in the vibrant setting of Sakura High School, with its Japanese-inspired ambiance.

Kai, the enigmatic and mysterious figure, often finds himself the target of Sam's bullying behavior. Sam, with his boisterous demeanor and penchant for picking on those he perceives as different, takes pleasure in taunting Kai and making him the subject of cruel jokes and pranks.

Lily, the bubbly artist with a compassionate heart, often steps in to defend Kai and offer him words of kindness and encouragement. She sees beyond Kai's eccentricities and recognizes the unique qualities that make him stand out in a sea of conformity.

Maya, the bookworm with a fascination for folklore and mythology, is intrigued by Kai's aura of mystery and often engages him in deep conversations about the supernatural and the unknown. She sees in Kai a kindred spirit who shares her passion for the esoteric and the unexplained.

As for myself, caught in the midst of this complex web of relationships, I struggle to navigate the tensions between Sam's bullying behavior, Lily's protective instincts, Maya's curiosity, and Kai's enigmatic presence. I find myself torn between standing up for Kai and maintaining the fragile balance of our group dynamic.

In the halls of Sakura High School, where the echoes of Japanese culture mingle with the everyday lives of its students, the story of Kai, Lily, Sam, Maya, and myself unfolds against a backdrop of friendship, conflict, and self-discovery. As we navigate the challenges of adolescence and the complexities of our relationships, we are drawn together by a shared journey of growth, understanding, and acceptance in the face of adversity.

It was a brisk autumn day when a peculiar invitation fluttered onto my desk at school. The ornate lettering spelled out an invite to a mysterious festival in a remote village in Japan. The sender was a quiet, enigmatic student named Kai.

Excitement and curiosity bubbled within me as I shared the news with my friends. There was Lily, the bubbly artist with a penchant for adventure; Alex, the tech-savvy jokester always ready with a witty comment; Maya, the bookworm with a fascination for folklore and mythology; and Sam, the laid-back athlete with a fearless spirit.

We gathered after school to discuss the invitation, our voices filled with a mix of skepticism and intrigue. Lily was the first to chime in, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "This sounds like the adventure of a lifetime! I'm in!" she exclaimed, her paint-stained hands gesturing animatedly.

I, always the skeptic, raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure this isn't some elaborate prank by Kai? It sounds too good to be true," I remarked, tapping away on my phone as I searched for more information on the village.

Maya, flipping through her ancient tome of folklore, spoke up next. "I've read about similar festivals in Japan. They're steeped in tradition and mystery. It could be an incredible experience," she mused, her eyes alight with curiosity.

Sam, leaning back with a grin, added, "Well, you know me—I'm up for anything. Count me in for the adventure!"

With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, we decided to accept Kai's invitation and set off on our journey to the remote village in Japan, where the festival was said to take place. As we boarded the plane, the anticipation in the air was palpable, mingled with a sense of unease at the unknown that lay ahead.

Little did we know that our decision to attend the festival would lead us down a path filled with ancient rituals, eerie encounters, and dark secrets that would test the limits of our friendships and our courage. The village whispered with tales of spirits and shadows, and as the festival unfolded, we found ourselves drawn into a web of mystery and danger that would change us forever.

As the night sky enveloped us in its inky embrace, the echoes of the festival's ancient chants filled the air, sending a chill down our spines. We were about to embark on a journey into the heart of darkness, where the line between reality and the supernatural blurred, and the true test of our friendship and bravery awaited.

As the festival in the remote village of Japan unfolded, a sense of unease settled over our group like a heavy fog. The air was thick with the scent of burning incense, and the flickering lanterns cast eerie shadows that danced on the ancient buildings.

As the night deepened, we found ourselves drawn towards a secluded shrine at the edge of the village. The rhythmic beat of drums grew louder, and the villagers moved in a trance-like state, their faces hidden behind elaborate masks.

Kai, the mysterious student who had invited us, stood at the shrine's entrance with an unsettling smile. His eyes gleamed with an otherworldly light as he beckoned us closer. "Welcome, my friends," he murmured, his voice barely above a whisper. "The true festival is about to begin."

A chill ran down my spine as a sense of foreboding washed over me. Lily's hand tightened around mine, her fingers cold with fear. Maya's gaze darted nervously between the masked figures, while I fidgeted with my phone, trying to maintain a facade of calm. Sam, usually the picture of confidence, looked pale and uncertain.

As the drums reached a feverish crescendo, the masked figures began to move with an unnatural grace, their movements fluid and hypnotic. Shadows seemed to twist and coil around them, and whispers filled the air, carrying ancient words that sent shivers down our spines.

Suddenly, a figure emerged from the shadows—a spectral presence cloaked in darkness, its eyes glowing with a malevolent light. Kai's voice cut through the silence, his words dripping with a chilling certainty. "You have been chosen to partake in a ritual as old as time itself. Embrace the darkness within you, for only then can you truly understand."

Panic gripped us as we realized the gravity of our situation. The festival was not what it seemed—it was a gateway to a realm of ancient horrors and unfathomable power. With a sinking feeling, we knew that our only chance of survival lay in unraveling the mysteries of the village and confronting the darkness that lurked within.

As the night descended into a maelstrom of terror and uncertainty, we clung to each other, our bonds of friendship our only defense against the encroaching darkness. The festival had become a twisted dance of survival, where the line between reality and nightmare blurred, and the true test of our courage and resilience awaited in the shadows of the ancient shrine.

The eerie ritual unfolded around us, enveloping us in a maelstrom of fear and uncertainty. The masked figures swayed in a haunting rhythm, their movements a macabre dance that seemed to beckon us closer to the heart of the darkness that pulsed within the village.

As we stood frozen in place, the air grew thick with tension, and a sense of impending doom hung heavy over us. Whispers filled the night, carrying fragments of ancient incantations that resonated in the depths of our souls.

Kai's eyes gleamed with a feverish intensity as he gestured towards the shrine, his voice a chilling echo in the darkness. "The time has come to embrace your true selves, to face the shadows that dwell within. Only by confronting your deepest fears can you hope to survive the night."

A wave of dread washed over us, but a flicker of determination ignited within our hearts. With a silent agreement, we steeled ourselves for the terrifying ordeal that lay ahead, drawing strength from the unbreakable bond that held us together.

As the ritual reached its climax, a sudden surge of energy crackled through the air, causing the very earth to tremble beneath our feet. Shadows twisted and writhed, coalescing into nightmarish forms that prowled on the fringes of our vision.

In a moment of clarity, we realized that the true test was not in facing the external horrors that surrounded us, but in confronting the inner demons that threatened to consume us from within. With a collective resolve, we delved into the depths of our own fears, each of us battling our personal demons in a harrowing struggle for survival.

The night wore on, each passing moment a trial of courage and resilience. As the first light of dawn broke over the horizon, we emerged from the ordeal changed, our spirits tempered by the crucible of fear and darkness we had faced together.

The village lay silent and empty, its secrets buried once more in the shadows. As we made our way back to the world beyond, we knew that the echoes of that fateful night would linger with us, a reminder of the bonds of friendship that had seen us through the darkest of trials and the power of resilience in the face of the unknown.

I found myself standing at the entrance of the mysterious village, the fog rolling in thick and cold, obscuring the path ahead. Kai, with his unnerving smile, stood before us, his eyes glinting with an otherworldly light. "Welcome, my friends, to the first round of the game," he intoned, his voice sending a shiver down our spines. "You must each choose a path that will test your courage and determination." As we stepped forward, the shadows seemed to stretch and contort, the ancient trees looming ominously overhead. The air was heavy with the scent of decay, and the distant sound of howling wind carried a sense of foreboding that settled deep within our bones.

Round 1:

Lily bravely stepped forward into the twisting corridors of the maze, her heart pounding in her chest as the walls seemed to shift and close in around her. The air was thick with the scent of musty earth, and the only sound was the echo of her own footsteps as she navigated the labyrinth.

The challenge for Lily was not just to find her way to the center, but to face her deepest fears that manifested in the form of shadowy figures that lurked at every turn. Their eyes glowed with an unholy light, and their whispers filled her mind with doubt and despair. Lily had to steel herself against the onslaught of terror and press on, her every step a battle against the darkness that threatened to consume her.

As Lily ventured deeper into the twisting corridors of the maze, her resolve was put to the test as she confronted her deepest fears and insecurities. The shifting walls and ominous atmosphere seemed to conspire against her, amplifying the sense of foreboding that hung in the air. With each step, she felt the weight of the shadows pressing in on her, their whispers of doubt and fear threatening to undermine her courage.

Despite the overwhelming darkness and the menacing presence of the shadowy figures that taunted her at every turn, Lily summoned her inner strength and pushed forward with unwavering determination. With a heart that beat in rhythm with the echoes of her footsteps, she confronted the shadows head-on, refusing to let fear dictate her path. Each obstacle she overcame in the maze was not just a physical challenge but a triumph of her spirit, a testament to her resilience and courage in the face of the unknown. And as she neared the center of the maze, her heart pounding in her chest, Lily knew that she had faced her fears and emerged stronger for it.

Round 2:

Maya's challenge in deciphering ancient symbols and runes was not just a test of her knowledge, but a trial of her intuition and determination. The symbols glowed faintly in the dim light of the chamber, their intricate patterns weaving a tapestry of hidden meanings and secrets. Maya had to draw upon her expertise in ancient languages and symbolism to unravel the messages encoded within the markings.

One particular rune stumped Maya, its twisted lines and curves defying easy interpretation. It seemed to pulse with a malevolent energy, challenging her to unlock its secrets and prove her worth. With a steady hand and a sharp mind, Maya delved deeper into the mysteries of the symbols, determined to uncover the truth hidden within their enigmatic designs.

Maya approached the symbols with a scholarly curiosity and a keen eye for detail, her analytical mind dissecting the intricate patterns and hidden meanings embedded within each glyph. As she studied the ancient symbols etched on the walls of the chamber, a sense of purpose drove her to unravel the cryptic messages they contained. Drawing upon her vast knowledge of ancient languages and symbols, Maya deciphered the meaning behind each symbol, piecing together a narrative that revealed the secrets of the village's mysterious past. With each symbol decoded, Maya's confidence grew, her determination unwavering as she delved deeper into the mysteries that had confounded us all.

The challenge of the symbols was not just a test of Maya's intellect but also a reflection of her ability to navigate the complexities of the unknown with grace and precision. As she uncovered the hidden messages and unlocked the secrets that lay within the symbols, Maya's scholarly approach and unwavering resolve guided her through the labyrinth of ancient knowledge. With each puzzle solved, Maya's expertise and determination shone brightly, illuminating the path forward and leading us closer to the truth that had eluded us for so long.

Round 3:

As I faced the challenge of riddles and puzzles, the air crackled with an otherworldly energy, sending a chill down his spine. The riddles presented to me were not just simple brainteasers, but cryptic messages that seemed to taunt his every attempt at solving them. Each wrong answer brought forth a discordant sound that reverberated through the chamber, adding to the pressure of the ticking clock.

One riddle in particular stood out to me, a question that seemed to speak directly to his innermost fears and doubts. It asked, "I speak without a mouth and hear without ears. I have no body, but I come alive with the wind. What am I?" The answer eluded me, and as time slipped away, the shadows in the chamber seemed to grow darker and more menacing, threatening to swallow me whole.

However, with a deep breath and a renewed sense of determination, I focused on the riddle before me, allowing my analytical mind to guide me through the maze of symbolism and hidden meanings. As I pondered the words and searched for the elusive answer, a sense of clarity washed over me, dispelling the shadows of doubt that had clouded my judgment.

In a moment of revelation, the answer to the riddle crystallized in my mind, its solution a testament to both my analytical skills and my ability to confront my fears head-on. With a steady hand and a sense of confidence, I spoke the answer aloud, the words resonating in the chamber like a spell cast against the darkness.

As the final riddle was solved, a sense of accomplishment and relief washed over me, the weight of the challenge lifting from my shoulders. Kai, with a knowing smile and a nod of approval.

Round 4:

Sam faced his personal demons in the dark chamber filled with shadows that whispered his deepest fears and insecurities. The shadows twisted and contorted, their voices a haunting chorus of doubts and anxieties that echoed in his mind. Sam stood his ground, his heart pounding in his chest as he grappled with the darkness that threatened to consume him.

One shadow in particular took on the form of his greatest fear, a specter of failure and inadequacy that loomed over him like a shroud. It whispered words of doubt and self-loathing, each syllable a dagger to his resolve. Sam had to confront this manifestation of his inner turmoil, to acknowledge its presence and find the strength to overcome it.

Sam's greatest fear was rooted in his deep-seated insecurities and fear of failure. As a popular and confident jock at Sakura High School, Sam had always projected an image of strength and bravado to mask the vulnerabilities that lurked beneath the surface. However, the pressure to maintain his image and the expectations placed on him by others had taken a toll on his confidence, leading to a fear of not living up to the standards he believed were set for him. In the final round of the challenges orchestrated by Kai, Sam's personal demons manifested in the form of shadowy figures that whispered his deepest fears and insecurities. The shadows twisted and contorted, their voices a haunting chorus of doubts and anxieties that echoed in his mind, threatening to undermine his self-assurance.

———

The air in the final round of the mysterious village was charged with anticipation as we stood before Kai, the orchestrator of the challenges that had brought us to this pivotal moment. His enigmatic presence added to the weight of the moment, his eyes holding a mixture of pride and curiosity as he observed us, his fellow students, ready to face the ultimate test.

"We've come this far together," Lily's voice resonated with determination, her eyes reflecting a blend of excitement and resolve. "Let's trust in each other and in ourselves. We can do this."

Maya, her expression one of focused intensity, added, "Our journey has led us here, and the answers we seek are within reach. Let's combine our strengths and unravel the mysteries that have eluded us."

Sam, usually brash and arrogant, surprised us all with a rare moment of vulnerability. "I may have doubted this journey at times, but I believe in our unity now. Let's show them what we're made of."

As we exchanged nods of agreement, a silent understanding passed between us, a shared determination to confront the challenges ahead as a united front. With a deep breath, we followed Kai into the heart of the village, each step bringing us closer to the revelations that awaited us.

Kai stood before us with a look of quiet satisfaction and a sense of pride in his eyes. As we gathered around him, catching our breath after the trials we had faced, Kai's enigmatic smile hinted at a deeper understanding of the journey we had undertaken together.

"It is not the challenges themselves that define you," Kai began, his voice carrying a weight of wisdom accrued over years of orchestrating tests of character and resolve. "But how you face them, how you support each other, and how you grow from the experiences you have shared."

His words resonated with a profound truth that echoed in the chamber, reminding us that the journey we had embarked on was not just about solving puzzles or overcoming obstacles, but about discovering ourselves and forging bonds that transcended the ordinary. As we absorbed his final words of wisdom, Kai's presence seemed to linger in the air, a silent guide pointing us towards the next chapter of our shared adventure.

The final round was a culmination of our individual strengths coming together in a harmonious symphony of determination and resilience. Lily's artistic eye deciphered the intricate symbols, Maya's scholarly knowledge unraveled the cryptic messages, and I used my analytical skills to solve the challenging riddles. Sam, with a newfound sense of courage, faced his personal demons head-on, overcoming his fears with a newfound sense of self-awareness.

As the shadows receded and the mysteries were unveiled, a sense of accomplishment washed over us. Kai's enigmatic smile conveyed a sense of approval, his eyes reflecting a glimmer of satisfaction at our shared victory. In that moment, we realized that the challenges we had faced had not only tested our individual mettle but had also forged a bond between us that transcended the ordinary.

Standing together, bathed in the light of our shared triumph, we knew that the mysteries of the village were just the beginning of a journey that would lead us to deeper revelations and greater adventures. And as we looked ahead, the shadows of Sakura High School seemed less daunting, knowing that we had each other to rely on as we faced whatever challenges lay on the horizon.

1 Comment
2024/02/26
17:35 UTC

15

We created a black hole in a laboratory. It turned out to be God.

“This has never been done before,” Dr. Riley said excitedly to the assembled team, brushing a lock of straight, black hair behind her ear. The bright, fluorescent lights of the laboratory sparkled off her glasses. “If successful, this will be a first for the human species, a first for science and technology. We should all be proud.”

“The experiment will begin in sixty seconds,” a female robotic voice stated calmly through the speakers, sounding as cool as a swimming pool on a hot day. “Please put on your safety glasses now. The laboratory door will automatically lock in three seconds.”

After a slight pause, the mechanical deadbolts clicked shut, locking the heavy steel door in place. Our team of a dozen highly-esteemed researchers and scientists watched through the safety glass. I observed the tons of iron and nickel piled high in the laboratory with a sense of awe. The square blocks of metal loomed hundreds of feet in the air. Many hundreds of thousands of pounds of material would be used to create the first black hole. The experiment area itself was the size of a football stadium and had cost billions of dollars to construct.

No one knew what to expect. Some of the scientists had bet that the experiment would not work, that the gravitational well created by the thousands of lasers and superconducting magnets would be insufficient to create a black hole of any size. Others bet that a micro-black hole would be created, but that it would evaporate in a matter of a milliseconds or even nanoseconds.

“Magnetic well: Activated,” the robotic voice stated calmly as a deep, vibrating hum started all around us. The metal cubes in the enormous laboratory shook and danced as if the first tremors of an earthquake had passed through the floor. Slowly, the enormous cubes twitched and clattered against the concrete floor. Within a couple seconds, they began slowly rising into the air, hundreds of thousands of pounds of crushing, suffocating weight hovering a few inches above the ground. The countless gigantic magnets surrounding the laboratory gave a cyclical whirring cacophony. It sounded as if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were flying in circles around us, shaking the entire building with their fury and might.

“Lasers will activate in five seconds. Four… Three… Two… One…” All the scientists and researchers counted down with the cold robotic voice, mouthing the words as the penultimate moment arrived. I forgot myself in the roaring of the group consciousness. All the colors of the world seemed to grow brighter and more saturated.

A collective gasp went through the room as a blinding light poured out from the shatter-proof glass windows in front of us. It felt as if I were staring into the dawn of creation and seeing the Big Bang itself. The dark shielding of the protective glasses prevented the cosmic explosion from permanently blinding me, though I still had to turn my face away after a few moments. The eruption felt like staring straight into the face of God. I feared my eyes would melt out of my head.

But as the energy increased, I also felt a sickening, suffocating glee rising up through my chest. My face melted into a wide, toothy grin, even as I screamed internally. I felt like I couldn’t control it. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

“Shit! Make it stop!” I shrieked, but I couldn’t hear my own voice. I covered my ears with my gloved hands and cringed away. It sounded as if the entire universe were collapsing, as if the Sun had gone supernova and erupted into pure energy. I backpedaled, slamming into someone. I saw a white lab coat blur across my vision as someone fell, but I couldn’t see anything in the observation room besides countless rivers of light slicing their way through the air.

I was still screaming when everything suddenly went quiet and dark. I stood alone in the opaque wall of shadows, watching and waiting. My ears rang, a high-pitched whine that slowly faded away. After that, only the sound of my own ragged breathing and racing heart accompanied me.

A soft, white light started to glow on the other side of the glass. It brightened over the space of a few seconds. I blinked fast, letting my eyes adjust to the onslaught of cosmic light and absolute darkness that had strobed past over the last few minutes. As I peered in through the fogged windows, I realized the gleam of a giant, floating eye stared back at me.

The eye itself was inhuman and slitted like a snake’s. The pupil shone out like a black hole. Snapping currents of electricity sizzled and jumped over its surface. Its surface gleamed a uniform, spotless bone-white. The eye hovered a few feet over the ground, extending up fifty or sixty feet in the air- the size of a large house.

“Uhh, hello?” I cried out through the thick layer of protective glass. The lone demonic eye continued to stare down at me, lidless and unblinking. “Am I dreaming?” A hand came down on my shoulder. I jumped, spinning around to see Dr. Riley standing there. Blood streamed from her nose and a few crimson drops fell from her eyes and ears. She opened her mouth, her face contorting like a corpse’s. Nothing came out of her mouth for a few moments, however. She collected herself, lifted her glasses and wiped the blood from her eyes. The crimson streaks smeared across her cheeks. Then she inhaled deeply and looked me straight in the face. I saw the ineffable horror and existential terror I felt reflected back at me.

“We need… to go…” she said, grabbing my arm. I pulled away, looking around for the first time. I felt like a man waking up from a nightmare only to find his house on fire.

I saw corpses of men and women in white lab coats littering the floor. Some of their eyes had exploded. Pools of thick, clotted blood and gore slowly dribbled onto the concrete floor in widening puddles from the empty, black sockets. The victims had disturbing death masks. All of them had the same insane rictus grin plastered across their frozen faces.

“Is anyone alive here?” I whispered weakly. At the far end of the observation room, a head lifted weakly. Dr. Riley continued trying to pull my arm, but I swatted her away. “There’s someone there! Look!” Her shell-shocked eyes languidedly searched the bodies until she saw the weak, struggling movements of the man at the end. I ran towards him as Dr. Riley limped after me.

“Is that you, Dr. Evans?” the man said as his eyes rolled wildly. He raised a trembling hand towards me. I recognized him instantly. It was one of our engineers, Rick. He was black, rail-thin and generally very quiet and serious. I didn’t know him that well compared to some of the other members of our team, but at that moment, I was just happy to see anyone.

Like Dr. Riley, Rick was not in great shape. He had blood streaming from his right eye and his right ear. His dilated pupils flicked over my face as he breathed hard. I helped pull him to his feet. He put a bony arm around my shoulders.

“It’s me, buddy,” I responded, turning to Dr. Riley. “Look, something went wrong with the experiment. Both of you know it by now. There is something on the other side of the windows… No, don’t look! It’s watching us!” But my words were in vain. I might as well have told two children not to look at the enormous, extremely interesting elephant walking past their school.

“Holy shit,” Rick said, edging closer to the window and wiping blood away from his face. The eye continued to stare at me through the window. I felt like I was on the wrong end of a microscope. “What is it?”

“It’s a giant goddamned eye surging with electricity,” I said. Dr. Riley’s face changed into a look of pure euphoria.

“This is first contact,” she stated abruptly. “Oh my God, this is it.”

“You think this… thing… is an alien?” Rick asked slowly. They seemed to have no ill effects from staring into the eye. Cautiously, I drew closer to the glass, peering into the laboratory.

All of the enormous cubes of metal had been consumed during the experiment. Behind the eye loomed a black abyss. The power had gone out, and now the only light came from the glowing, floating eye. A sudden, insane urge came over me. I knocked gently on the window. The eye seemed to spin slightly.

“Who are you?” I whispered faintly.

“I AM WHO I AM,” it exclaimed in a voice like thunder. Dr. Riley looked awestruck, while Rick gave a high-pitched laugh.

“It thinks it’s Jehovah,” he said, giggling and wiping blood from his eye. “That’s the same answer God gave to Moses when he asked that exact question.” I looked at Rick in astonishment. He stepped forward.

“Why are you here?” Rick asked loudly, his voice confident and steady. The eye flicked toward him, the slitted pupil dilating and contracting slightly as it stared in through the window.

“I AM EVERYWHERE AT ONCE, YET NO ONE SEES ME. I PASS ETERNITY IN THE SHADOWS. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE,” it roared in a voice like the rushing of a waterfall. My ears rang and the ground shook with every word. It felt like the being was speaking directly into the center of my heart and my mind rather than transmitting words through the air.

“This is really interesting and everything, but I think we should do something about… you know… the dead bodies of our coworkers,” I interrupted. Rick and Dr. Riley looked stunned, as if they had just stumbled out of a coma. They glanced back at the bodies littering the floor like dead leaves, seeing the blood dripping out of their exploded eyes. “And we might need medical attention, too. I mean, whatever this thing is, it must give off some sort of radiation or something. Looking directly into it during the explosion killed these people in a matter of seconds. The only reason I think I’m not bleeding like you two is because I barely looked through the window for a fraction of a second.”

“That’s a great point!” Dr. Riley said, excited. She turned to the eye. “Why did you kill our coworkers?”

“NO ONE CAN LOOK ON THE FACE OF GOD EXCEPT HE WHO IS OF GOD,” the eye said, the words exploding all around us like nuclear blasts. “THE HUMAN MIND AND BODY CANNOT EXPERIENCE ETERNITY. IT CONSUMES FLESH LIKE A VIRUS.”

“I think we should get out of here,” I said, but Rick and Dr. Riley looked at me like I was something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoes. “Seriously, guys.”

“Do you have any idea of the importance of this moment?” Dr. Riley asked, fixing her glasses. I noticed how the smears of blood covered one of her lenses. “This is either our first contact with an extraterrestrial species or an encounter with God… or some sort of god, anyway. Perhaps not the Judeo-Christian God, I don’t know, but…”

“We should be videotaping this,” Rick said bitterly. “This will go down in history as the most important scientific event of all time. And yet, we don’t even have power or light.”

“So let’s go get some help!” I said, but they just looked over at the eye.

“I don’t want to leave it just yet,” Dr. Riley said. “I still have a lot of questions. What if it’s gone when we get back?”

“Why don’t you go get help and we’ll stay here and keep an ‘eye’ on it?” Rick asked, giving a faint half-smile. I watched my two coworkers as they stood, surrounded by the bodies of their friends and colleagues. A shard of ice pierced my heart.

“Something’s wrong here,” I whispered. “Something’s terribly wrong.” The eye continued to glow marble-white, sizzling with blue electricity in the darkness.

***

“I’m leaving,” I said, but Dr. Riley and Rick paid me no mind. They drew closer and closer to the glass, until their breath fogged it with every exhalation. They whispered more questions at the eye.

“How do I find peace?” Rick asked, staring up with adoration, like a mother with her only child.

“THROUGH THE ETERNAL FREEDOM AND PEACE OF DEATH,” the voice boomed as I ran out of there, veering down corridors and out the front door. I found military personnel and government officials assembled there, wondering why communications to the building had suddenly gone out. They were all suited up and armed. I tried explaining the situation quickly, but the skepticism on their faces communicated more than their words.

“Please! The experiment went wrong,” I pleaded. “We tried to create a micro-black hole, but instead, the matter all got consumed and a giant eye appeared. Most of the team died horribly by watching when the matter got compressed to a pinpoint. Some kind of weird radiation seeped in and exploded their eyes and…”

“Hold on, hold on,” a general with too many medals glittering on his uniform said as he stepped forward. “A giant eye? Are you saying there is an extraterrestrial lifeform currently being held in this building?” He turned to his assistant. “Put the President on stand-by until I return.” He glanced back over at me. “OK, lead the way. Let’s figure out what’s happening here once and for all.”

***

I led the troop of government officials back towards the observation room. As we wandered down the dark hallways, using flashlights to drive away the creeping shadows, I noticed how quiet everything sounded. The booming voice like rushing water no longer shook the building. I heard no echoes of voices from the observation room, either.

I walked through the door and found Rick and Dr. Riley hanging from the ceiling. They had taken the electrical cords and fashioned ersatz nooses from them. Their blue lips and swollen tongues showed me immediately that they were both dead. The glowing, reptilian eye continued to stare in through the glass, emotionless and cold.

“Oh my God,” the general said, “it’s real. I can’t believe it.” I crept closer to the window, whispering and pale.

“Why did you let me live?” I asked.

“SURROUNDED BY DARKNESS, IT SEEMS ETERNAL. BUT FOR ONE WHO SEES, THERE IS NOTHING.

“YOU ARE A SEER. YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE WHO KNEW SOMETHING WAS WRONG,” it boomed. The soldiers and government officials stared up at the eye, some with amazement, others with obsessive interest. They all started to chatter at once. Many called out questions. They all ignored the corpses strewn around the room, moving closer to the glass. Their eyes glittered with euphoria as they stared into the unknown.

And I wondered, at that moment, whether we were all talking to God- or the Devil.

2 Comments
2024/02/26
17:29 UTC

9

I just wanted to go camping

I’ve always been a nature lover, but not quite enough of one to convince myself to trek off trail and set up camp. I’d always wanted to, but I have a paralyzing fear of being torn to shreds by a bear, despite living in a place where the scariest animal alive is the fat and happy dumpster diving squirrel that lives on my street. I call him Stan. He hates me.

My resolve to never venture into the woods overnight remained intact until the day I got dumped. I wasted seven years of my life with someone who ended up boinking my best friend, and I was so delusional that I didn’t even figure it out. She ended things with me. She confessed to me and admitted that she didn’t even feel the least bit bad about what she’d done. I sure felt like shit, though, and wandered home with no idea what to do next.

During my walk thunder clouds rolled in, billowing and black, threatening to unleash torrents of water at any given moment. The first drops smacked me in the eyeballs as I stared up at the sky. I ducked under the eaves of a nearby business right as sheets of rain plummeted to the earth.

What a shit day I thought to myself, contemplating my situation. I knew I didn’t have time to be too existential; I had to make a decision: stay or run. Opting for the latter I tried to shimmy my sweatshirt over my head and took off at a full sprint, getting soaked to the bone before finally reaching my flat.

Once inside, the toasty air washing over me, I changed out of my saturated clothes and took a scalding shower. While towel drying my hair I noticed them: my hiking boots, still in the box, forgotten in the corner of my messy room. I walked over to them, and something clicked; I decided right then to finally take the leap and head out for a night to camp.

Good decision making has never been my strong suit, as evidenced by the fact that I decided to go the next day, alone, with no time to pre plan or even do the most basic of research, let alone break in my boots, something I’d come to regret. Like an idiot I simply picked a path I knew of and decided to hike until I felt like setting up camp.

I set out at 8 am, gear packed and ready to go. I made my way to the trail which was a few hours north of my hometown, outside a desolate former mining town with very few residents nearby. I thought this would mean I’d have very few people to interact with during my trip, which was exactly what I thought I needed.

My hike was generally uneventful. I stopped at times to admire the way the wind tickled the leaves on the trees, listening to its merry whistle as it traveled at sensational speeds through the forest. Before long I managed to find a small, flat clearing, the sun rays breaking through the thick foliage above as if to point and tell me that I’d found my perfect spot.

After hours, many swears and multiple Band-Aids my tent was pitched, supplies unpacked, and firewood gathered. I struggled to start the fire, but after a few attempts it roared to life just in time as the sun began its slow descent, the darkness encroaching. As my ability to rely on my vision waned, I began to pay attention to the sounds of the forest, and at that point I realized… there weren’t any noises apart from the cheerfully crackling fire. The wind had ceased whistling. No bugs could be heard chittering. No birds were chirping. How long has it been so silent? I wondered, suddenly shivering and noticing that the temperature must’ve fallen at least 10 or 15 degrees, warmth radiating from the fire and hitting my cheeks but no longer enveloping me.

Snap, my head whipped around, eyes straining to cut through the blackness in the direction of the jarring sound. My chest tightened, breath caught in my throat, as I stared into the void.

A series of snaps came from behind me in quick succession, ceasing the moment my head turned to the noise, as if someone was playing red light green light as they approached my camp. I waited for the intruder to show themselves, but all that became visible was a wispy black fog that wafted gently toward me.

Silently cutting through the black fog, a hulking, black figure emerged. As it neared the glow of the fire it became apparent that this was no innocent visitor. Before me stood something that looked like a wolf, about five to six feet long, that slowly snarled and pulled back its lips to reveal menacing teeth, licking its lips while staring at me. But something was off. The animal’s eyes glowed a crimson red, and the fire did not flicker within them. It saw nothing but its prey which, unfortunately, was me.

I knew I could never outrun it and, even if I wanted to, I was glued to my seat, completely complacent in the attack that was about to take place. But the animal didn’t come any closer. Instead, black tendrils extended from the fog, tickling my nose before forcing their way up it, burning unrelentingly while continuing into my body. I could feel them tickling my throat, scratching my brain, tangling my stomach into an impossible knot. The edges of my vision began to turn black, and I lost all sense of time, all memory of why or where I was. I was a shell, a means to an end for whatever nefarious deeds the fog wanted to inhabit my vessel for.

I tell you all this because I awoke a few weeks ago on the side of the road, and those around me tell me it had been about two weeks since I left my home. They told me I’d been missing. I was covered in dried red and brown stains. I had no recollection of what I’d been doing all that time. The police are involved, and I don’t know what to tell them.

Ever since I returned home people have looked at me funny, as if I’m diseased. Even Stan the squirrel has scurried away the moment I encroach on his territory. He hides and, I didn’t know squirrels could even do this, seems to snarl at me. If I thought he hated me before, he absolutely does now.

I thought that the fog had left my body, but lately I find myself losing more and more moments.

I'm terrified of what I may be doing during the time I lose, and what I did during the weeks lost. I just wanted to go camping.

0 Comments
2024/02/26
17:07 UTC

8

The Cursed Town.

On one of those calm Sundays, I observed the snowstorm from my small room and drank my vanilla tea. A couple of months passed since I graduated from medical school in Moscow. I never left my hometown so I never saw a snowstorm as violent as that in my entire life. I am a doctor in a remote part of Russia, so snow never melts away completely during winter in this village. Because of the weather, only a few people came to visit the hospital. I decided to rest in the room reserved for me and read the books I bought a month ago.

Just as I concentrated on reading the novel, someone banged the door. This was my apprentice, Nikolai, he came here with me to help me educate the locals about STDs. He told me he doesn’t like the city and prefers the quietness of a remote place. He grew up in a village so he likes the down-to-earth aspect of it. He notified me of a woman on the phone and she needed serious help. I picked up the phone in the other room. The woman told me her daughter had a car accident and the car’s wheels chewed up her arm. She had several broken bones and bled like a river. She told me she was in the abandoned village north, but before I could ask her location, the phone hung up.

I estimated her situation to be critical, she could die on the way if I didn’t treat her. I picked my coat on the bed and got dressed. Nikolai picked up whatever equipment he could and put them in the ambulance. I managed to get into it before turning into an ice cube. He opened the AC and we warmed our hands a little bit. As he started the ambulance, he asked me a great question.

“Where to, doctor?”

“To the village 10 kilometers north.”

He made an audible gasp, and I knew why.

“What are they doing in that forsaken place?”

"I have no idea if we'll be late, we'll never get the answer.”

He started the car, and the reality of the situation dawned upon me for a moment. Were they curious adventurers who snuck into an abandoned place for fun? Did someone get killed in an argument and the murderer ran away? Are we driving to our imminent death? I wanted to smoke to calm my nerves down, but I forgot them in the rush. I played with my lighter to divert my attention, but my mind fixated on the girl, half buried under a crimson blanket. I gave up and stared at the white void in front of me.

It felt like hours before the ambulance stopped. I couldn’t see anything from the windows but I decided to drop out and check where they could’ve been. Nikolai stopped me, and the door didn’t budge anyway.

“Where are you going? You’ll freeze to death if you go out, doctor. Let’s search for them in the car.”

We meandered around in the streets, and I poked my head out of the window to find them, but we couldn’t see any signs of them. I couldn’t sit in my comfortable seat anymore, and I bolted out of the car to check the closest building I saw. I screamed for them, but I couldn’t find anyone in that decrepit store. I found Nikolai doing the same thing, we barged into several houses to find no one. The heavy air hurt my lungs and my hands trembled. Our march turned to a slog; my feet turned to an iron block. We searched for them, to no avail.

After five minutes, I heard a scream from the opposite block, and saw the silhouette of the woman waving her hands. I yelled at Nikolai to bring the car there and jumped into the car. The AC warmed my pink hands as the ambulance struggled to go backward. We came close enough for me to notice a pool of blood next to the building. The ambulance got into potholes, but we brought it into safety and I raced into the abandoned building. A trail of blood helped me to find where they were. This was a hospital with needles, glass shards, and gloves everywhere. If I fell to the ground, no doubt I'd get an infection from these things. I hopped like a frog and climbed to the second floor; the woman welcomed me at the end of the stairs. We rushed to the girl and I checked her while asking what happened to the sobbing mother.

"We've been playing with snow around here, but a car appeared out of nowhere, hit her, and drove away.”

Nikolai arrived and forwarded me alcohol to scrub my hands. I got a pair of clean gloves and checked the arms of the girl; they seemed beyond salvation. I could see the shattered bones from the wound, and the legs seemed to be in a horrible shape. The moment I touched her, she convulsed on the desk and screamed. Her breath grew faint, so Nikolai gave her an oxygen mask. I decided to encase the legs and amputate her arms, they became minced meat. I neither had the experience nor the knowledge to fix these abhorrent limbs back to their shape. The mother protested and even tried to get between me and the girl, but as I stated the obvious, she finally agreed.

She had a beautiful black dress with a ribbon at the back of her hair. I deduced her to be in high school, possibly in 10th grade. Her vanilla perfume mixed with the alcohol awoke a horrible memory in my mind. This seemed too familiar to it. I checked her fingers, and to my bewilderment, they were dark red.

"No," I muttered. I took off my gloves and put her black hair aside to take a clear look at her face. My brain couldn't handle what I saw in front of me. The gloves fell from my hand as I stepped backward. “This is not real,” I told to myself, I pinched my arm, yet she proved my futile attempt to disassociate myself from this place. My sister also had a black dress and painted her nails red on her birthday. She had a momentary interest in the gothic girls and wanted to try it for the first time. On her 16th birthday, a car squashed her and ran away. The only thing left of her was the vanilla perfume fused with the sweet blood scent.

My brain went through the circles of hell within seconds, only to bring me back at the worst moment. The girl stood up despite her horrendous condition and picked up the scalpel next to her. She eyed the room but rested her eyes upon me. Her face churned with disgust, and pointed at me with the scalpel.

Everyone in the room froze for a moment, Nikolai peeked at me and the mother seemed to be in shock. I tossed everything in my mind to the side and realized the danger of the situation. I had no idea how this happened, but I didn't want to die in this forgotten place. I thought a demon somehow took her body, but it was a speculation to make sense of it. The mother snapped out of it and ran to her daughter. She hugged her as she bawled her eyes out. Her happiness didn't last, the girl stabbed her mother in the throat and blood gushed out of her throat. She clung to the child and they both fell to the ground.

Nikolai bailed the moment that happened. In my panicked state, I jumped out of the window and faceplanted to the roof of the hospital. The adrenaline gave me enough energy to ignore my broken nose and get into the ambulance so we could get out alive. I fell to snow again in my clumsiness and finally, managed to enter the ambulance. I had no intention of leaving Nikolai here, so I waited for him in the passenger seat. He showed up unscathed, and I opened the door for him. He didn't stop the car in case the engine froze, so we had no difficulty leaving the town. I looked behind one last time and saw the girl waving her hand. We finally calmed down and talked about it.

“Why did my sister stab her, I have no clue.”

“Your sister? That was my girlfriend!”

We stared at each other. Now we got even more confused about the whole ordeal. I assumed the town had been cursed and we almost became the next victims of it. I reported everything that happened to the police when we arrived at the hospital. Later, police told us that they found the blood puddles we described, but couldn’t find anyone. They found skeletons in the church close to it, though. People speculated a lot of things about us and the event, and the demons gnawing my mind through it.

As time passed, it became a distant memory in my mind, and I had more important things to attend to. Yet, I never forgot how she glared at me. I visited my sister's grave a while ago to feel better, and it worked. Nowadays, I'm trying to survive for the day and accept things as they happened. Sometimes, things happen and you don't have a say in it. Might as well accept them and move on.

1 Comment
2024/02/26
16:08 UTC

21

Weird Coworker Update: I actually went out for once

My voice is gone.

(If you haven't seen my previous updates, start here to see my life fall apart in real time.)

The way I discovered this wonderful new development in my life requires me to reveal how pathetic I am once again: I talk to my cat. Ciri even does little trilling noises back in response, so it's almost like having a real conversation, right?

It started off with my voice slowly getting raspier on the night that Ramy cornered me in the stairwell. I woke up on Saturday morning to my little furry bundle of mischief sitting on the kitchen table and scooting a cup of water around with her paw. I tried to tell her to get off, but nothing came out. Whenever I try to speak, the vocal chords just won't move, like they're atrophied, too stiff and dry to vibrate as they're supposed to. I can't even make a squeak.

I won't lie: I completely broke down.

The weekend is over and my voice still hasn't returned. Yeah, I wasn't the best at talking before this happened, heck, there were even times when I wished I had an excuse not to speak, but now that the choice has been taken away from me, I'm an absolute wreck. Between having my voice stolen and knowing that Ramy is able to track my every move, it feels like I've been caged inside of my own body.

After Googling some basic ASL phrases, I set out to the local convenience store for some supplies to get me through this. Even if no one could understand me, I figured that it would at least get the point across that I couldn't speak until I could get a notebook and some pens. My bad sense of humor also won on this trip, resulting in me buying a package of those "HELLO! I'm ____" badges and filling one out so that it'd read, "HELLO! I'm mute :("

As I was waiting in line to check out, I noticed a woman walking in whose feet were backwards.

She was wearing a long skirt, so at first I wondered if my highly stressed out brain had imagined it. I got out of line and pretended like I'd forgotten to grab something. I know, I know, you'd think I'd learn by now to mind my own business, but given my fragile mental state I had to make sure I wasn't completely losing it. The last thing I needed were visual hallucinations to go along with all of the other blood drinking side effects.

The woman was looking at pre-made lunches and it appeared that she was not enthusiastic about her choices. She had the longest hair I'd ever seen in my life, reaching down to just below her waist, partially obscuring her face like a dark curtain. While she deliberated over soggy sandwiches in plastic wrap, I tried to subtly get another look at her feet. (Wow, that is NOT a sentence I ever expected myself to type in my life.) Her skirt rustled a bit and yup... her toes were where her heels should be.

Not wanting to get caught, I grabbed the first item I found in front of me (a thing of spicy pickles) and marched back to the checkout. I just had to act normal and not draw attention to myself. With any luck, she wouldn't be like Ramy. Of course, luck hasn't been on my side this week.

While waiting, the package of pens broke, because why wouldn't they? I sighed and bent down to pick them up when I noticed another hand reaching for them at the same time; its nails were adorned with little flowers.

As I glanced over, I saw that the hand belonged to the woman with the backwards feet. She grinned beautifully at me and kindly handed me my pens. I smiled back, and clumsily tried to sign 'thanks.' Afterwards, I stared straight ahead, not wanting to risk any further eye contact.

Yeah, she seemed friendly at that moment, but Ramy had seemed nice, too.

I walked out like nothing was wrong, hoping I could get to my car without incident.

"Excuse me!"

Well, so much for that.

I turned around with a stiff smile on my face to see the backwards-footed woman trotting over to me. She raked her ridiculously long hair out of her face, beaming at me.

"I'm kind of bored tonight. Want to go somewhere?"

I did not. I whipped out one of my new pens to write, 'I'm sorry, but I have plans.' When she saw the note, she made a little pouty face that would probably be cute to other people.

"That's a shame. I'd figured you'd want some answers. But if you'd like to spend the rest of your life mute..." Her sad puppy face slowly turned into an impish grin.

Shit. How did she know?

My thoughts must've shown on my face, because her smile got even wider as she grabbed my hand and started leading me to the bar across the street, "Let's get a drink."

When we were seated in the nearly empty bar, I used the notepad to ask her how she knew that my muteness was unnatural. She told me that she could smell Ramy on me from the moment she walked into that store. That answer made me want to move my chair further away from her.

'What did he do to me?' I scribbled.

"I think the question you should really be asking is, 'What did I do to him?'" She responded cryptically, swirling her whiskey sour around.

As I started to write again, she continued, "Think back. Did you say something insulting, perhaps? Or maybe you were caught in a lie?"

My hand froze. I did lie to him in the breakroom when he'd asked me all those questions. Had Ramy been testing me to see if I'd tell the truth? Or maybe the voice theft was simply to keep me quiet about the beheading.

The woman with backwards feet smirked, "I could tell you how to get your voice back. I could even tell you all about the entity that toys with you. But there will be a cost."

Dread settled in my stomach. I used the notebook to ask her what her price was.

The smile she gave me probably looked charming to onlookers, but she reminded me of a cat that had found a rodent it was eager to dismember. She suddenly stood up and declares that she needed to smoke and wanted me to follow her.

No way. I didn't want to be alone with her, especially not with the way she just looked at me.

I held up the note I just scribbled, which read, 'Please tell me the price first.'

"Just a drink. That's all." She responded lightly.

I pointed to her whiskey sour, then wrote out, 'Sure, I'll pay for it.'

The woman with backwards feet impatiently beckoned for me to join her outside. I still didn't feel right, but I'd paid her price, didn't I? That meant that she wouldn't require anything else, right?

In hindsight, I see where I went wrong: she'd offered me two things; buying the whiskey sour for her had only paid for one.

She insisted that she had to tell me what I needed to know outside to avoid being eavesdropped on. Even though my gut was screaming at me not to oblige her, I followed her outside.

Another thing that made me nervous was that I could sense that Ramy was close by. I began to worry that he was considering coming for me again. What if he was on his way to me right now? Would he be angry if he knew that I accepted this strange woman's offer? And if so, what would be my punishment? Would my eyes be taken next?

While I spent all that time panicking over the possibility of Ramy showing up, I failed to notice the threat right in front of me.

The woman with backwards feet threw herself bodily into me, knocking me to the ground. As I struggled to push her off, she sunk her teeth into where my shoulder met my neck and began to drink. Her teeth tore at my skin, deep enough to make the muscles twitch involuntarily, and as she sucked the blood from my body, it felt as if she was ripping my soul out along with it.

I was having my life stolen away and I couldn't even scream.

Two people walked towards the entrance of the bar. I reached for them, hoping, praying that they'd see me. I tried slapping the ground, kicking and flailing from beneath her, but I couldn't get their attention. I couldn't make a sound. As my only hope for rescue left, tears ran from my eyes.

The woman yanked her head to the side, ripping my flesh off, hard enough to make my entire body shake, as if I were a toy in the jaws of a vicious dog. But I still couldn't scream or even sob as she drank my life away. The bar's neon sign got blurrier as she swallowed more of my blood. I couldn't die like this. Please, not like this.

I sensed Ramy's presence before I saw him. He appeared suddenly and seized the woman's ear, dragging her away by the cartilage as if she were a naughty child. She howled like a coyote, clawing at his hand and leaving little scrathes, but he didn't seem to notice.

After taking a moment to make her scream again by roughly yanking her head to the side, he eventually tossed her so that she toppled to the ground, the back of her head slamming against the bar's brick wall.

Ramy turned to me then as I laid, limo, prone, and bleeding onto the ground ground. I weakly tried to scoot away, but in two steps he was by my side, propping me up against a wall and pressing something to the missing chunk on my neck. It felt like a shirt, or a cloth napkin. It didn't matter.

He let out a small laugh, "Damn. She really got you good, huh? You're a bad judge of character, you know that, Lab Rat?"

He grabbed my hand and set it gently, but firmly on top of the mystery cloth clotting the wound on my neck before turning back to the woman. Even though I felt faint, I pressed down on the bite and winced as it made sparks of pain shoot from my shoulder down to my fingertips. Still on the ground, the woman with backwards feet tried to crabwalk away from Ramy, eyes widened in terror. He was able to easily keep up with her with those long legs of his.

She sputtered, "I'm sorry! I wasn't going to kill him! I swear! I wouldn't-"

Ramy's smile wasn't friendly as her seized her ankle and pulled her towards him. She squealed and tried to kick him off, but as strong as she was, she wasn't a match for him.

I don't how nobody inside the bar heard any of this. Neither entity was making any attempt to be quiet during this entire struggle. Either the soundproofing in that place is impeccable or the people inside just didn't want to deal with it.

I began to feel lightheaded as Ramy rested his hand on the woman's chin. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her body limp as she stopped fighting. He tapped her cheek with his thumb until she eventually opened her eyes.

"He's paid in full." Ramy reminded her, that grin not leaving his face as he turned her head to look at me. "You should give him his due."

The look in her eyes was of pure, raging hate as she stared me down. In her mind, it was my fault that Ramy had set his sights on her. However, at that point, I didn't want answers anymore. I wanted to go to a hospital and maybe therapy.

The woman with backwards feet spat, "Your boyfriend here is a jinn!"

Ramy made a point to slide his sunglasses down his nose so that she could see him roll his eyes at her. "Really? Could you be more vague? You don't even want to specify what type of jinn that I am? I swear, baby immortals have no integrity these days."

She growled at him, showing her teeth. He flicked her nose and in an exasperated tone told her to stop, then held her jaw again. Her brown skin turned red, probably from the humiliation of being treated like she was nothing more than a yappy little puppy.

"You promised him two things. That was the first, what was the second?" He continued calmly.

The woman roared, "Fuck you!"

"The second thing, if you please." Ramy repeated flatly.

She scowled at me again and spoke through clenched teeth, "You get your voice back by atoning."

Atoning? It had to be more complicated than a simple apology.

Ramy sighed, "Well, that was a waste of time, now wasn't it?"

He let go of her chin and she tore herself away from him, her teeth clenched. He bent down and lifted me to my feet. Instantly, my vision was overtaken by a dark, shadowy tunnel and he had to hold my shoulders to keep me from falling.

I must have fainted, because the next thing that I knew, I was laying on my couch in the dark. My neck and shoulder were killing me to the point where just breathing was enough to make me flinch.

There was a jingling sound from the kitchen as Ramy dangled a stuffed mouse in front of Ciri's face. His strange eyes glowed as he grinned at me and asked, "How're you feeling?"

I pathetically held my thumb up, then cringed as the movement brought a new wave of pain. Why couldn't she have at least bit me on my left shoulder? Ramy dropped the cat toy much to Ciri's disappointment and strode over to me.

He started off by telling me that I was a fucking idiot. No disagreement there. He then informed me that if I'd gone to the hospital, I would've needed stitches and maybe a transfusion. He didn't give me specifics, but he did something to it so that it would heal faster than normal. He couldn't stop it from the scarring, though.

He also winked at me when he told me that he didn't do it out of the kindness of his heart. I'd have to repay him once I'd recovered, but he promised he'd be more fair than the woman with backwards feet had been. That wasn't much comfort.

5 Comments
2024/02/26
13:58 UTC

123

I work at a secret hospital that serves patients with unusual conditions that have to stay secret. Last night, I almost died on the job.

Dr. Virgil works in a strip mall between the Four Seasons Lawn Care and a sex shop. Day or night, he’ll be there, any time at all. I’ve been his nurse, account, secretary, and confidant for five years and eighty-seven days. No one can succeed like Dr. Virgil, because he does what no one else can.

Last night, he had just injected a healthy dose of Clonazepam, because no one had come into the office for hours. Dr. Virgil swears that he can work just as well under a Clone fog, and we’ve never had a patient who’s survived to contradict him.

I was leaning as far back as the broken chair would allow before snapping, staring at the halogen desk lamp and trying not to doze, about to ask if I could go home early. Suddenly, there came a tapping. It was unnatural; humans knock in a metered rhythm, because we like the illusion of control. Every tap I heard was unnaturally spaced, as though the knocker wanted to mimic the dissonance of a prime’s radical.

I was glad that Dr. Virgil was the one to approach the door.

“What has one voice but goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?”

The voice on the other side sounded like a man who was trying to sound like a man who wasn’t nervous. “Um… the… ah, the most venomous animal on earth.”

Dr. Virgil look at me through his round spectacles. Without a word, I stood.

He’d gotten the password right, but something sounded off. That’s how I knew the patient was legit.

Dr. Virgil opened the door. A man in his mid-twenties walked in, pale, looking too small for his clothes. The doctor closed the door behind him and led the way to the table that served as our examination chair, surgical platform, and dinner table. It sat beneath the best light; we try to look closed at night, so it was mostly dark in the room.

“What did you do to yourself, or what did someone do to you?” asked Dr. Virgil, gently pushing the patient onto the table.

He shook his head, pulling his dark hoodie tighter. “I – I don’t know. It’s just my hand…”

The young man lifted his arm and my spine melted like butter with ants in it. Each finger writhed like an independent worm, far too fast and dexterous for any human to control. What little adherence to natural knuckle pronation remained just made the sight more horrifying.

Dr. Virgil affixed the diminutive head lamp before the hand-washing ritual. “Do you know what caused it?” he snapped as I wheeled in the cart of surgical tools.

“Um…” the man squeaked as he stared at my scalpels. “I don’t know what’s going on. I just – someone I trust told me you’re the only person who can help.”

“That person is correct, but it doesn’t mean you can trust them.” He froze. “You need to tell me what happened.”

“It’s really nothing,” he moaned as two of his fingers dueled with one another.

“I’m not your mother, I’m not the police, and I’m not your friend. Nothing you can tell me will elicit judgment on my part. Now what were you doing when this started?”

“I was having, um, the – sex.”

“You’re a fucking idiot.”

The man’s face fell.

“I don’t want to know your name, so I will call you ‘Mendax.’ What were you fucking when this happened?”

Mendax’s eyes bulged. “What do you mean?”

Dr. Virgil was annoyed. “When you put your penis into the hole, what was that hole attached to?”

“I – uh – she was a girl who-”

“Was this your first time meeting her?”

“Yeah, I met her at a bar-”

“Shitty dive bar?” Dr. Virgil folded his arms. “She was way out of your league?”

Mendax squirmed. “I mean – she was pretty hot, I-”

Dr. Virgil yanked the man’s wrist and pulled back the dark sleeve of his hoodie.

Mendax’s forearm was Pepto-Bismal pink.

I groaned and covered my face with my hand.

“It wasn’t a human being that fucked you,” the doctor explained in a clinical tone.

“Of course it was,” Mendax protested as three of his fingers stood on the table and danced the can-can. “The sex was good sex.”

“I suggest you refine your definition of ‘good’ to exclude all trips to hospitals of the transmundane,” Dr. Virgil countered as he snapped on latex gloves. “I hope you don’t have any allergies, because there’s no time to discuss them. Nurse?”

I had already snuck up behind Mendax, and now gently wrapped my arms around him. “You’re going to need to lie down,” I explained in the most soothing tone the situation would allow.

“Hang on,” he protested as Dr. Virgil grabbed his arm, “you haven’t even explained what OH SHIT!”

The hand, clearly acting independent of Mendax’s control or even knowledge, yanked away from Dr. Virgil’s grasp and slammed against the tray. Fear shot through my body as the situation spiraled.

I compartmentalized. The fear still existed, raw and electric, but I placed it in a corner of my mind where it wouldn’t affect my work.

The rogue, pink hand grabbed a scalpel and stabbed at Dr. Virgil. Mendax tried to jump off the table, but I was too quick, and had him pinned down before he realized it was too late. The wild hand struck in all directions. It sliced through my scrubs but spared my skin.

“What the hell is going on?” Mendax screamed. “WHAT IS THAT THING?”

“The physical manifestation of unfortunate erection-based decisions,” Dr. Virgil grunted as he dodged another swipe. “Nurse?”

“I’ve secured the patient.”

He nodded.

And then he moved his fingers, light and quick, around the combative hand. He snapped a bone saw from the tray with surgical precision as I grabbed the pink elbow.

“Wait, what the hell?! Get that saw away from my arm, you fucking monster!”

“Way too early for you to cast judgment about ‘fucking monsters,’ my friend. Fortunately for you, this is no longer your arm, so it won’t hurt as much as a fair consequence would demand. Now hold still.”

Mendax was paralyzed by fear and the strength of two people holding him down. He stared, transfixed, as the good doctor slid the bone saw’s teeth into his pink flesh while his fingers danced.

Dr. Virgil parted the epidermis like a clean slice through pork dumplings. Mendax should have bled, but the arm was far from human at this point. The decomposition hissed with a near-flatulent sound as the saw made its way down, grating harshly as steel met bone.

The inside of an arm shouldn’t glow, but such are the consequences of convincing ourselves that ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’

Dr. Virgil’s saw scraped against the table, and the pink arm shot free. Mendax screamed as the fingers raced across the floor, flopping the forearm behind.

“Catch it!” Dr. Virgil yelled, but I was well ahead of him. I ran after the hand, diving painfully across the concrete floor in a vain attempt to catch it before it disappeared into darkness.

I didn’t move. I needed to listen for where it went.

We had to keep it from escaping. Even if it meant burning the strip mall to the ground with us still inside, the hand-thing needed to be destroyed.

I held still and listened harder.

That’s when it squeezed my neck, the fingers finally working in unison with the force of a Toyota Corolla crushing my trachea, acute pain quickly succumbing to lightheaded sleepiness…

scrik

I gasped as molten air flooded my lungs. Dr. Virgil stood over me, one hand clutching the pink monster while the other filled it with the syringe containing what remained of his Clonazepam. The fingers sputtered like the final throes of Jabba’s wiggly tail before falling limp.

Dr. Virgil gazed at me through his Clone fog, and we saw one another. We didn’t need to speak.

“Hey man, can I get my arm back?”

We turned to gaze at the three-limbed Mendax. “What part of the preceding incidents causes you to believe that is a good idea?” asked the doctor.

“Um – can you, like, squeeze the evil out of it first?”

The three of us stared at the limp piece of pink meat.

“No.”

An awkward silence hung in the air. “Well,” Mendax finally sputtered, “can my arm grow back?”

Dr. Virgil blinked. “Is there literally one single piece of information you’ve ever encountered to suggest that idea might be in any way plausible?”

We all looked at Mendax’s truncated arm. It wasn’t bleeding, and he didn’t seem to be in any physical pain.

“Apply ice to the wound at twenty-minute intervals, and take up to 600 milligrams of ibuprofen as needed for pain and swelling,” Dr. Virgil instructed. “Nurse, I am going to prepare for disposal. Please reach out to all appropriate contacts that need to be aware of the presence of a grixxxley beeth.”

“What?”

“Yes, Doctor,” I answered, ignoring Mendax’s interruption.

“The safety of the target population will be inversely related to their sex drive,” Dr. Virgil explained while dumping the arm into a plastic bag.

“I’ll prepare for an influx of autopsies,” I answered in response to his comment.

“Hang on,” Mendax cut in again. “So… what now? For me?”

The doctor and I stared at him for a few quiet seconds. “You get to live at least one day longer than your decision-making abilities should have allowed,” I explained. “No one is ever as grateful for that fact as they should be.”

I turned away to make some phone calls while Dr. Virgil busied himself with the meat sack.

“You can go now, Mendax,” I added before diverting my conversation to the phone.

“Hi, it’s Beatrice. Dr. Virgil and I wanted to let you know that it looks like this is going to be a long night.”

BD

W

12 Comments
2024/02/26
13:19 UTC

64

Alive

It took only 3 months before there weren’t enough nurses or doctors left to staff the hospitals. In Two more months, countries' governments were collapsing into anarchy one after another, and some time after that, all that was left was silence. I stopped keeping track after that. The last date I remember is July 26th 2023. As I stood over the bed, gripping a sweaty hand as the dead man below me lay whimpering in pools of sweat and vomit, I read the calendar pinned to his wall.
“K-Khan…”
July 26th 2023
“It's ok. It's ok. Just keep breathing” I had tried to be comforting. Tried to sound brave, assured, but in the end my words came out devoid of any warmth.
“Please” My father managed to croak out “It hur-”
“Shut the fuck up shut the fuck up right now I cant!” I wanted to bash my head against a wall until I couldn’t move, scream and wail until my throat could make no more sound, cry until I fell to dehydration.
The cruel indifference of the universe is a hell of a thing, you can think you have gone through rock bottom, been hurt any way you can, and it will break you. It will destroy you and rejoice in your despair.
And then the universe goes on.
“Listen to me. Please. You need to help me son, i-it hurts, you need to make it stop.”
You could have your entire life and everything you love reduced to nothing.
“I Can't, I just Can’t” My words trailed off
The sun still rises.
“Ple- Please!” He raised his voice in a groan, then began shallowly gasping. The intense emotions had given away to numbness, and my cries silenced.
Life is created.
“I love you” He didn’t hear me, I could see it in his eyes. Too much pain to be aware.
Life is destroyed.
Bang.
The universe goes on.
When the ringing stopped, in the absence of the moans of pain, and my hopeless cries, that is when the silence became the only thing I could think about. I don’t know how long I sat there, with the gun in my hand, waiting to muster up the courage to off myself. All I know is I did not move until the thirst and hunger combined with the smell of rot was enough to make me keel over.
Imagine that, too depressed about my inevitable demise to even bother killing myself.
I cremated my father in our furnace that night.
Awaiting my fate,
a walking corpse myself.
As the days went on though, I didn't get sick. The disease I had watched turn my father into a shell of his former self, barely clinging onto life, had left me untouched.
What a sick joke.
Stuck to live in a dead, empty world.
The nights I could sleep, I would have the same dream. I am in a large empty white void, it's quiet, so quiet that I can hear ringing in my ears. Absent of all sound. The ringing gets louder and louder until I hold my head and collapse to the floor. My ears bleed. I scream but no words come out. The pain is so intense it consumes my entire senses, then I wake up. Silence. I would spend my days behind walls and boarded windows. With the food we had stocked before shutting ourselves inside. I don't know how long I spent there but at some point I started running out of food. My mind was ready to call it quits, to allow myself to starve or blow my brains out, but something in me fought. That innate instinct in all humans that causes us to want to survive against all odds. I had to go on.
Sunlight burned my tired eyes. The air nipped at my exposed ears. I guessed it was late October. Three months I had been inside. In silence. Losing my mind and sense of self. Now that I could feel it, I was losing my mind for other reasons. The cosmic horror and dread of the unknown hit me harder than the fresh air and chirps of birds.
I stood in the doorway. I’m not ready. Not ready for the 1000s of unimaginable retched fates that could await me, but I wasn’t given a choice. My feet are through the door. Into the abyss.
Justine was my first love.
Justine who I had 3rd period math with in 10th grade.
Justine who had a smile that could cure any bad day.
Justine who had eyes like oceans that held nothing but unwavering kindness and safety, the likes of which I had never known.
Justine who I fell for at first glance, forever lost in those rolling waves of belonging.
Justine who used to look at me like there was no one else in the world, but us.
Justine, who had no headstone, burned in a mass grave to control the spread like so many others.
Justine, who's now just dust, will die with me. A soul so special it should have been commemorated for generations.
Justine, who’s face I’m beginning to forget.
I did not head for town.
Even if I could bring myself to get past the overwhelming loneliness of vast vacant streets and skyscrapers like monuments dedicated to our hubris..
We had done everything in our power to make our lives as easy to live as possible, we thought we were gods able to beat the standard confines of all other life, that we were special, but it's an unforgiving world, and nature had the last laugh.
Besides, any food would be long gone by now. So I made my way into the woods.
Tall grass and weeds had overtaken our lawn. The sprawling greenery that had sprung out around the bones of long empty houses seemed alien.
A parasite driven by a hivemind, consuming everything around it.
Until all that is left is a vast green body stretching to the ends of the earth.
I walked on.
My whole life I had feared failure, I always had something to prove to someone.
Failing ment making myself vulnerable, showing that I have flaws, weaknesses.
Failing meant something very different now. Failing was the difference between life and death.
For 4 days, I failed to get any food.
Most of the game I saw was too large for the 9mm and I missed any squirrels or rabbits.
My whole life, I thought I feared failure.
I did not know true failure until those 4 days in my first autumn.
The gut wrenching feeling that my own fate was sealed, and there was no one to blame but me.
By the fifth day any ounce of hope I held had been beaten out of me.
I sat on my front porch, staring at the cold lonely world.
Born again just to die, submitting to my fate, when the strangest thing happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a small movement.
Before panic could set in I realized what I was looking at and held my breath
In front of me on my porch, previously hidden by the unkempt lawn, hopped a rabbit.
I watched as it stopped its grazing to stand still and look up at me with curiosity.
As I met its eyes, I caught the slightest glimmer of bright blue.
On the fifth day, I was fed.
My whole life I thought I was afraid of failure, I didn't even know what failure was, but
I didn’t know success until that 5th day of my first autumn, and I could dream in peace.
With the morning sun at my back, I trekked through the snow checking my snares along the small trap line I had cut. I had started making snares with the wire from a piano I found rummaging through a neighbor's house. Meant I wouldn’t waste bullets and could passively sustain myself. My dad had shown me how to trap.
When mom died, it was what brought us together. A united front against all the shit life had to throw at us.
A team.
But that was then.
I'm all I have now.
By my estimates, I had gone three years without seeing anyone. The threat of another human being had left my mind. I had taken down the boards from the windows. Let down my guard.
One late night, I awoke to the sound of movement outside my window coming from my smoke shed.
Fuck
A racoon, I told myself, It's a racoon trying to get at your food.
As I got up to check, my chest tightened and I froze.
A racoon, just a racoon.
But what if it wasn't.
It was then I knew I had not overcome my fear of this unknown world I was faced with, I just forgot.
I allowed myself to be distracted by my own survival, living in blissful ignorance, but it was all back now.
All weighing down on me with the pressure of a million oceans.
Just a fucking racoon.
Terror consumed my every thought.
Crouching, walking as silently as I possibly could.
Next to the shed, shrouded in darkness, was a figure.
I leaned in to focus
One step
Snap
Fuck
It jolted upright
BANG BANG
BANG
Ringing filled my ears to replace the white noise that had been drowned out in the chaos of the moment.
Fueled by adrenaline, fixated on the figure who had quickly fallen to the ground.
I stood over it.
The ringing is all I can hear.
In the pale moonlight, the sight below me is illuminated, and I see the face of a man no older than me. Expression frozen, no light behind his eyes.
His arms lie limp.
Empty and lazily ragdolled above his head on the ground where he fell.
I collapsed and began to weep.
My ears are bleeding,
Lost in the Abyss,
Please make the ringing stop.
My dreams weren’t safe anymore.
Every night, I was back in that vast empty void.
The dream has changed now, when I drop to my knees in pain, instead of waking, the ground gives way and I sink in an endless sea of ash. The ringing is mixed with a ghostly wailing I can barely discern. Billions of lost souls all screaming at once my body is consumed by the mountains of dust. Then I am pulled away back to my world by a jolt at the last minute.
Confusion turns to sadness.
Why can I not be with them?
Trekking through the snow, on my way through the forest i had come to know so well, like a big cat stuck in a zoo even outside the prison.
The restless nights have taken their toll.
I am done, I have been done since the beginning, It just couldn’t sink in.
A wave of nausea whips through me and suddenly I am on the ground.
I wriggle and struggle to lift myself, like an injured animal in a trap.
I fight,
with every breath I fight,
There is no more air.
On my back paralyzed, gazing around at the white flurry surrounding me, my eyes have been taken.
The forest is silent with the exception of the drone of howling wind.
The deafening wind continued to pelt my motionless form, screeching at me from all directions until all I could hear was ringing.
My vision grew dark and my breath remained as shallow gasps.
The ringing was consuming everything.
Everything.
In my final viewing of the barren land I leave behind, barely conscious, I notice a fork in the trees.
A path that had punched through the dense walls of forest that had never been there before.
Somehow, I stood.
The wind pushing with the might of all of nature against me,
I pushed back.
Limping,
I enter the awaiting gateway.
As I venture further,
The storm finds calm.
I am met with a clearing that contains a creek, crystal water reflecting the blue sky into my face.
The storm whispers away, the sound of rushing water fills my ear drums.
I had become entranced in the bubbling and splashing. Lost in a daze.
When suddenly I was disturbed, a noise had pierced through the rhythmic sounds of the stream.
My head whipped in the direction the sound had rung without a thought, and my eyes met the gaze of a woman.
She was staring at me, disbelief stricken across her face.
I met her eyes, those eyes that put the intense glimmering blue of the creek to shame. They stayed locked with mine, paying no attention to the snapped twig beneath her feet.
A noise broke through again, weak and stuttering like a broken radio, but this one I could hear clearer than anything I ever had.
I was all I had,
until her eyes met mine.

2 Comments
2024/02/26
05:23 UTC

57

Somewhere Beneath Us {Part 24}

{Previous Part} ~ {Part List}

Alice stared for a moment, her mouth parted as if to say something, but no words came out, "Joel, I know you're upset about your friend and Ethan, but that's insane. Whatever that thing is is far beyond our understanding. How would you even attempt to kill it*?*"

"I told you Ethan had injured it, remember? If I can get close enough to it, I think I can finish it off."

"Well, if that's the plan, then there's no way I'll let you fight it alone. That's too dangerous; you'll get yourself killed."

Ethan's words about his dreams echoed in my head, but I ignored them.

"No, Alice, please. This isn't your fight."

"Yes, it is! It took just as much from me as it did from you."

"I know, but-"

"But what, Joel? What should I tell your group when I get up there? 'All of your friends are either dead or dying, and the only one who isn't just went to fight a demon? possibly the devil himself?'"

I hadn't seen Alice like this yet. Her expression looked desperate and upset, but it wasn't anger. It was fear. I could tell that she was so tired of losing. She noticed that I hadn't said something for a beat and jerked her gaze away, embarrassed by her outburst. I slowly stepped toward her.

"Alice, I… I don't know what happened to you during your time here… I don't know what you did to end up here either, but-" I thought for a moment, "I don't know what you think you still need to atone for, but you've paid for it all, Alice. Over a decade of your life has been spent trapped here, and this place is as close to hell as I can imagine. You've lost so much and sacrificed even more, and it's painful to see you continue to punish yourself for things you can't control."

Her gaze finally drew to mine as I continued.

"It is dangerous, and that's why I want you to go. You don't deserve any more pain. You deserve to make it out of here." I could tell by looking at her that she still wasn't convinced, "Please… In my entire life, I have never done anything good for anyone, Alice. All I do is hurt. So please, just let me do this one thing on my own. Let me try to do one last good thing in case I don't make it out of here."

There was more silence before she quietly spoke, "That day that I left you guys in that basement… A long time ago, I had a friend that I stabbed in the back to get something I wanted. It left them broken, and… Well, it ruined their life. From that day forward, I just always wanted to make up for it… no matter how much I gave up, though, it never healed. No amount of 'selflessness' ever made the pain go away. When I got here, I thought giving my life would be enough, but I should've known that was wishful thinking. The House wouldn't even let me die. Just watch everyone around me suffer that fate."

Her eyes held pain that danced as memories flickered through her mind. Finally, she lifted them from the ground to my face.

"But that day I ran off? That was the first time I hadn't even thought about it; atoning, I mean. I ran off because it felt like the right thing to do. And suddenly, it all made sense. It was like this weight was lifted, and I finally, for the first time in years, felt free. I was terrified as I ran, but I felt free. Because all those selfless acts before were just to make me feel better, whether I wanted to admit it or not. But not when I helped you two... For once, I helped because getting you back to your group was the right thing to do."

I stared at her, trying to understand what she was trying to tell me, but I never figured it out before she spoke again, "What's your plan, Joel?"

"I told you, I'm going to try to kill it. Once I do, I'll come back up for you and the others so we can get out of here."

"But you're not like Ethan was… What if you can't hurt it? That's why I need to stay, Joel. I can help."

"That's exactly why I need you to go, Alice. If I can't kill it and don't make it back, I'm going to need you to get my friends out safely. The House will know you're trying to leave with them, and it'll attempt to stop you. If it turns out that I can't hurt it even while it's injured, there'd be no way for me to protect the others. I need you to be there to get them out safely."

"You keep talking like this is a suicide mission, Joel."

"It's not. I swear. I'm just trying to be safe about this."

She studied me for a long time, running the numbers in her head. I could see that she really didn't like this plan, yet her empathy won out, "Okay. I'll go…."

"Thank you. Thank you so much."

"But you better make it back, okay?"

"I will. But if I don't, wait a day. If I'm still not back, get everyone out."

"How am I going to get up there anyway? The Curator is blocking the door, remember?"

"Don't worry about that. I'll draw it down here when you're heading back up. When you reach the door, knock three times, wait two seconds, then knock once. It's a secret code that only my group knows. It'll help them trust you."

She nodded, then sighed, "Alright, I guess I should get going."

"Good luck Alice."

She smiled, "Thanks, but you can keep it. I think you'll need it more." She looked down at the axe in her hands, then held it out, "This too. Just in case what you have isn't enough." I took the weapon, and without another word, she turned and headed down the hallway before looking back once and disappearing around the corner.

Just like that, I was alone again.

I set a timer on my watch for forty-five minutes while I let Alice get back to the lift. In the meantime, I tried to keep myself occupied and not think about what was to come. I stepped back into Bea's room and sat with her for a while, but she was still out of it the whole time. I gently brushed her hair with my hand and stared down at her.

"I love you too…." I told her. "And I'm so sorry. For the way I treated you. For everything…."

For the rest of my time, I sat in the theater hallway and just thought and prayed. There's a lot to think about when you might die. You wonder about all the things you could have done differently. You think about all the little details that you thought were so important but now are so trivial in the face of everything else. I thought about Rose, Andi, and Ethan and wondered if I would see them again, but I also thought of Him. When the others got out of here and I was confirmed dead in the real world, would they have a funeral? Would he come, or would he even care that I had died?

My watch beeping snapped me from my thoughts, and I stood to my feet. I looked down at my wrist to silence the small screeching machine, but it stopped on its own. I tried the light button to see what had happened, but it wasn't working. Stepping down the hall into the theaters glow, I laughed to myself as I looked at the blank digital display. After all these years, the little thing had finally given out on me.

I stepped into the lobby, then with shaky hands, cupped them to my mouth.

"Hey!" I screamed. "Is anyone there?!"

It was a gamble on who would show up first; the House or the Curator. If it was the latter, then great. That meant more help for me. If it was the former, however… Well, there never really is a good time to die, right?

Tink TINK!

I never thought I would feel relief upon hearing those notes. It was only surface-level, though. After all, the last time I had seen the creature, it was mad I had escaped. There was no telling how it would act.

I turned to the hall it had come from and called out, "Hey, over here!"

Its footsteps were soft and quiet, stalking slowly. It didn't make any other sound.

"It's okay," I gently spoke, "I'm not going to run or trick you. I just want to talk."

I saw its bald, skin-patched, skeletal head peer into the room at me from the dark theater entrance. A shiver ran through my spine, but I shook it off.

"Bad… pet…" It murmured as one colossal hand crept into the lobby.

I set the axe down and then held up my hands as I spoke again, "I know… I know, I was a very bad pet. You like good pets, don't you?"

It tilted its head to the side as if listening but continued moving forward toward me.

"Ethan was a good pet. But the House it… It killed him… You don't like the house, do you? He's mean to your pets." I said as if trying to coax a child.

The creature clacked its teeth together and looked at me before shaking its head. My heart pounded in my chest. I couldn't believe I was having a conversation with the feral beast that had haunted me for the last 4 and a half years.

"I don't like the house either. How about we help each other?" I said sweetly, "You helped Ethan and me last time, remember? If you do, I might be able to make the House go away. Then you'd have your pets all to yourself. Wouldn't that be nice?"

By now, the Curator was only ten feet away from me, and it stood on its hind legs as it stared down. I swallowed hard and hoped that it wasn't ready to pummel me into a stain on the carpet.

"F-Friend?" It squeaked as if trying to understand what I was saying.

"Mhmm. Like a friend."

It tilted its head to the other side and then clacked its teeth once again before saying, "Help, friend." And playing a small flurry of notes on its throat.

The creature and myself looked at each other for nearly a minute in stunned silence. I had absolutely no idea what to do next, and I was frankly shocked it had listened at all. The good news was that I now had the strength I needed to get the upper hand on the House. The bad news was that if we succeeded, I would have a whole new problem to worry about. The indifferent news was that if the next few hours were my last, either outcome would no longer be on me to sort out...

Worried I might lose the creature's focus, I forced out a, "Good. That's really good, f-friend. Now, let's go find that mean House."

Cautiously, I picked up the axe again and began to step around the Curator toward the door. As I did, it pivoted the whole time, following me with its unyielding eyes. I didn't dare to look away from it. When I was about halfway to the door, I felt a rumbling around us. The Curator must have felt it, too, as it nervously shifted its massive hands across the carpet to steady itself. The room was moving. In a panic, I changed directions, heading back toward Bea's hallway. The door was still open to my relief, and I could see the endless black void beyond. Hers hadn't moved. Instead, I turned back to my original destination to see that the lobby's glass doors now peered into a parking garage.

The parking garage.

Across the way, I could see my target standing in front of something on the ground. A figure covered by a sheet with a couple of fake house plants posted nearby. Ethan's body. I clenched my fist in anger. The House really did know how to get to me. It took the form of Him as it had for so much of my time knowing it, and as I stared, it glanced over its shoulder. I couldn't see its face from how far away I was, but I knew it was smiling.

I turned back to my new 'friend' who looked at me with a cocked head, "Well… I guess it found us."

The Curator did nothing but click its teeth and continue to stare at me. What had I gotten myself into?

Not beating around the bush, I placed my hand on the door's handle and pushed it open. The cavernous ambiance of the parking garage wrapped itself around me as I slowly stepped through, followed by the Curator, who crouched low to the ground like a cat prowling toward its prey. The House stared at me every step of the way, unblinking and still as a statue. Once I was about twenty feet away from it, I stopped, my heart nearly throbbing out of my chest. The same could be said for the house, too. The hole that Ethan had torn was still present, the dead heart within beating slowly. Painfully.

"Well, this is a surprise." The shapeshifter sneered. "I truly didn't expect to see you again, Joel. Tell me, how did you get out of your cell?"

Beside me, I heard a gurgle brew in the back of the Curator's throat, but I slowly raised a hand in an attempt to calm it. We couldn't just dive straight into things. I needed to have a clear opening before I went for the kill.

"It's okay," I told it. "Just wait a moment."

"And you brought the passenger, I see. What's the plan? Are you two going to rough me up again like last time? Is Ethan going to spring up from under that sheet and finish the job?" The being chuckled, looking down at the blanket covering the body on the ground. I felt sick as I looked at the blood-soaked tarp. "I wouldn't count on him if I were you. He hasn't been feeling well lately."

My blood boiled, "Yeah? You sound pretty confident for a creature that almost lost to a human and one of your own children."

That wiped the smile from his face, "How dare you insinuate that that parasite is one of my children." It snapped, glaring at the beast behind me. I was confused, but he didn't give me time to think about it more, "And you sound pretty confident for someone with no real leverage. Have you forgotten how this works, Joel? You're not like Ethan or your other friend, that Alice girl. You can't hurt me."

"Oh yeah? That heart of yours looks pretty soft. Why don't you come over here, and we can test that theory?" The hole that Ethan made would certainly be enough, but it was still small. I would have to get really close if I was going to pull this off.

"You're planning something." The being said plainly with a smirk. "I can hear you thinking about it. I can't quite tell what, but I know it's there."

'Don't think about it. Don't think about it.' I chanted over and over again in my mind.

"Think about what, Joel? How exactly do you plan to kill me? I hope you brought more than that toothpick in your hands."

"Maybe I won't." I blurted out, trying desperately to switch topics. "Ethan thought you would kill me in the end. He had a dream about it."

"Oh, really?" The House purred, clearly intrigued. It took a few steps toward me, then spoke again, "And what do you think of that?"

"I'm not sure yet. I guess we'll find out soon enough."

The house laughed with genuine amusement, "Joel, I must say, you have certainly been entertaining to witness. Time and time again, you act so sure of yourself, yet it never fails to blow up in your face."

As it spoke, it once again stepped closer.

"You do the same. You act like you're some god, yet you keep getting humbled by us. We found the exit. We wounded you physically. Heck, I was in your clutches, and you couldn't even keep me there."

It didn't like that response, "Maybe you did, Joel. That doesn't mean I can't put you back. Although, this time you'd be all alone. Trapped with no company. That would even be worse than before, wouldn't it?" my confidence wavered a bit, "At the end of the day, that's what scares you the most, isn't it? It's not losing people. It's not the idea that you're a bad person. Sure, those keep you awake at night, but it all boils down to one thing: you're scared of ending up alone, and you're scared that you'll cause it. That's why you fight to save your friends. That's why you don't want anyone to die on your watch. It's all rooted in that one selfish notion that you'll have them around to numb the pain."

I knew that now wasn't the time to let his words affect me, but he always knew exactly what to say to get under my skin. Maybe I was letting myself get distracted, but I had to ask, even if it yielded no answer. It was a question that had burned in my mind for a long time.

"What… are you?"

The House smiled, "Oh, Joel, you should know. You helped to raise me. To build me. You and everyone else. You humans are such complex things. You hurt each other and commit the most heinous acts, then try to dust it all away with false apologies and affirmations. But all of the darkest things? The sins that are too big to be swept under the rug with simple words? Those you lock away. You see, everyone is so content to acknowledge their guilt and try to move on from it, but no one is actually willing to confront it. Make amends for it. Instead, you bury it deep down in the void of your mind, contained in neat little rooms whose doors you never open. Meanwhile, inside, those memories are screaming out, begging to be released." The House began pacing toward me in an inhuman and jerky way as its form shifted between various faces, some I knew, some I didn't. "But you have to understand, Joel. When those screams echo out into the lowest parts of the void," Its eyes flicked to yellow as it stepped in front of me with a grin, "Something might hear them."

With the creature now so close and my confidence quickly dwindling, I lobbed the axe toward the hole in its chest. Expecting the attack, the being retracted into the floor as the Curator pounced forward, following my lead. We immediately went on alert, trying to figure out where he would emerge next. However, he never did. Instead, his voice filled the entire garage.

"It's a shame, Joel. Your agony tastes so delicious, but you've become too much of a nuisance to keep around. If I can't break you, I suppose there's only one other option. Let's make Ethan's dreams come true, shall we?"

The House went quiet as The curator and I continued to pivot, looking out for it to attack. I gripped the axe tightly, ready to strike where ever it appeared. I knew it would most likely have no effect, however. I saw the asphalt below me begin to buckle outward, and I raised the axe, but the bump sunk back in quickly, surprising me. I waited until I saw it again, although it was a few feet away this time. Then again and again. It took my eyes a second to register that it was happening all around us. The ground was rippling. I turned to the curator, who looked on edge as it shuffled around, staring at the floor.

Then all at once, chaos erupted.

Bodies. Forms of people made of asphalt stretched from the back tar below, all wailing and reaching out to grab us. Their torsos leaped forward as arms and hands writhed upward, clawing at my legs and grabbing hold of me. I swung the axe down on an arm that held my leg, surprised to see that it shattered away on impact. I swung again and again, doing my best to fight off the relentless horde, but there were too many. Meanwhile, they did the same to the curator, leaping on it and doing their best to drag it to the ground. However, they were no match for the colossal beast, who swatted them away like flies from a sandwich. Still, the numbers were beginning to overwhelm.

I wasn't fairing as well. No matter how many I destroyed, more took their place. Eventually, I was dragged to the floor and fell among the mob. They surrounded me with their petrified bodies and began pulling on me harder, this time into the concrete. I let out a cry of pain as I felt my bones try to forcefully pass through the solid ground to no avail. The Curator heard me and turned to see my predicament, then rushed forward, batting away my assailants and scooping me up with one giant hand. It held me suspended above the sea of tortured souls while fighting them off with its free fist; however, this restricted movement was a lot less effective.

I tried to assist by swinging my axe below, but the jerky movement of the beast that held me made it impossible to aim. I could tell the Curator was starting to gauge the futility of the situation as its head looked frantically around the room. Every inch of the asphalt was writhing with the mass of shadowy figures; there was nowhere safe. Nowhere except for…

The creature from downstairs bounded forward over the field of grabbing hands and threw me down on the roof of a nearby car before turning back to fight off the horde below. I got to my feet and looked around at the figures now desperately trying to scale the vehicle. Luckily, they couldn't get past their stomachs before an unseen force dragged them back under.

Suddenly, out of my peripheral, I saw a figure rise up higher than the rest, making it above the top of the car. I spun around and swung the axe, but I might as well have hit a brick wall. The house glared at me with Bea's smile.

"Hey, Joel." It taunted before lunging forward. It pinned me against the car's roof with its unfathomable strength, and I nearly dropped the axe from impact. It was certainly close enough now, but there was no way I could attack with my arms pinned the way they were. I was helpless.

"What? Did you think I hadn't learned from last time? That beast may be nothing but a parasitic savage, but I'll give it one thing: it sure puts up a fight." I struggled, but he only pressed against me harder. "What do you think of my team? Quite a lot of them, huh? Take a good look, Joel. Every single figure you see used to be like you. Full of hope. Eager for an escape. Yet when it came down to it, they just weren't strong enough to make it through. You'll join them soon enough."

Around me, the cries of the grasping souls suddenly made morbid sense. They were screams of pain and agony, sadness and despair. The noise of voices who had come so far only to meet an eternal end right at the last second.

"Was it all worth it, Joel? All that time spent traveling, all that pain and loss. Knowing now that it was all in vain? Nobody gets out of here. Nobody leaves. This is how every one of your journeys has ended, and this is how every journey will end."

I wriggled my head back and looked at the Curator. I could tell it was quickly growing tired and being overrun, its skin being torn from its skeleton.

"Help!" I called to it. The monster perked up and tried to charge back over, but it was quickly pulled to the ground before it could get far. Thankfully though, its arms were very long.

It swung its goliath limb toward the House, catching its shoulder and knocking one of my arms free. I quickly reached up and plunged my hand into its chest, grabbing hold of the being's undead heart. I squeezed with all my might, and the thing screamed in pure agony as it recoiled off of me, its body rippling through several forms. Confidence flooded me as my suspicions were confirmed. Its body was just a shell. That part of it I could hurt. My hand was almost caught in the hole as I tried to pull it out from the creature's spasms, but I managed to break it loose. Then, with all my might, I grabbed the axe, raised it high, and brought it down hard into the House's chest.

The House looked up at me, pure shock in its expression. Its eyes flickered to their true yellow form, and soon after, its moldy body followed suit. It jerked away from me, taking the axe with it as it clawed at the handle, trying to pull it loose. I couldn't believe it. I had done it.

The joy of that thought lasted only a few seconds.

The House pried the weapon loose and peered down at the hole. The Axe hadn't made it all the way through. It had gotten caught right on the edge. He looked at me, this time with no smugness, no pride. Just pure rage. Without even trying, it snapped the tool into dozens of pieces, keeping only the sharp part in its hand.

How could I have been so dumb? Why didn't I stick to the plan? Why hadn't I used the--

Before I could think anything else, it lunged forward, fast as light, and jammed the axe head deep into my chest. So deep that every bit of it disappeared somewhere beneath the pool of blood that erupted from the wound. I could feel every bit of tissue tear as it cracked through my rib cage and sliced through my heart. Ceaseless pain shot fire through every nerve as my body clocked into panic mode, trying to understand the sensation it was feeling. Confusion was all I felt. I couldn't scream. I couldn't cry. I could barely think. All I could do was force my head up and stare at the mess on my torso. It looked so absolute. So final. 'How do you bandage a wound like this?' I struggled to wonder.

"Was that what you were going for, Joel?" the house hissed as it leaned in close to my face, lapping up every bit of my hopeless expression.

As blood began to flood the places inside me it didn't belong, the pain began to subside. Maybe I had just gone numb. I didn't know. I didn't need to worry about that. I didn't need to worry about anything anymore. My last thought, before I had none at all, was that Grace had been right. Once you got past the pain and fear, death really was peaceful.

My vision went black, and I reveled in the small relief of knowing that all my struggling was finally over, but then, something strange happened...

Darkness. A pitch-black void engulfed every sense, like sleep. We sleep every night, yet we never honestly know what the process feels like. We experience the before and the after but never the in-between. One second our eyes are closed, the next, they're open, and it's a different time of day. Sometimes a dream fills the empty space, but sometimes it doesn't. On those nights, it's just darkness. I learned what that in-between space felt like as the last breath of air slipped past my lips, and I gave up my life. It was all I felt.

But then it suddenly wasn't. I was still in blackness, but now I could feel something. An aura around me, a sense of self. I wasn't nowhere; I was... somewhere. I no longer had the sensation of a body, but I focused the tangled string of thoughts that made up my drifting consciousness to remember what it felt like. To have form. To feel. My hands tensed at my sides to grab ahold of something silky and soft, a stark contrast to the cold car roof I had just died on. I felt it not just in my hands but my back too; I was still laying down.

The simple realization caused my consciousness to rush into one point so violently that I jolted straight up with a gasp, my functions returning to me. I had no idea what I expected to first see in the afterlife, but a familiar soft yellow was not it.

The room I was in was undoubtedly the yellow room, but it couldn't have possibly been the same house. It was clean, with no water stains or dust in sight. As I inhaled, for the first time in four years, I smelled no trace of mildew. The room around me was decorated, with pictures adorning the old yellow walls and dressers furnishing the corners. Real, living house plants sat perched on shelves, and below me, a warm, cozy, not damp bed held my newly realized form. My clothes were no longer torn, stained, and tattered, and I had no more bandages covering wounds on my skin. My fingers instinctively wandered up to trace the spot on my chest where I had seen an axe head disappear moments ago. There wasn't even a mark.

I looked behind me out of the clean, clear window to see that it was night outside, unobscured by an endless blanket of clouds that once was. The disturbingly perfect round hills that I was used to seeing had been smoothed out into natural rolling plains of golden wheat that swayed gently beneath an early breeze. Mountains even further hid a crowning, golden sky as the sun began to rise somewhere behind them. The sight beckoned me forward with a warmth in my chest unlike anything I had ever seen, and I wanted nothing more than to answer it.

I stood.

As I went for the door to the kitchen, I stopped, turning around out of morbid curiosity. The entrance to the basement stood waiting for me. The door where the thing from downstairs lived. The door that contained the true horrors of the house. Slowly I stepped toward it and turned the handle. Only a closet full of spare blankets and pillows greeted me.

As I stepped into the kitchen, I found that it too was decorated like the yellow room. The whole house was. Warm colors and pleasant decorations blanketed the area, and though I had spent so many miserable years in the layout of these same rooms, in that moment, all I could feel was comfort. Security. It wasn't the same place I had come from; it had to be somewhere far, far apart.

As I passed the elegant dining room down the hall to the bedroom, I spotted something through the living room doorway. A figure sitting on a bench in the sunroom, gazing off into the horizon. I felt no fear as I called out.

"Hello?"

The figure turned their head slightly, and I suddenly felt numb as they spoke, "Oh, hey. You're finally awake."

I forced one foot slowly in front of the other as I stepped closer. The feeling of shocked joy made it hard to speak again, "E-Ethan?"

I heard him laugh softly before calling out, "Yeah, man. It's me. You want to come talk for a bit?"

I listened to his request, shock still causing me to move slower than I meant to. When I rounded the corner, He turned to me and stood with a smile. "Hey, Joel."

I threw my arms around him like a bear as tears of joy began to leak from my eyes. I had never been happier to see someone again in my life.

"It's good to see you too." he chuckled

"Ethan, I- I didn't think I'd… I'm so sorry." I stuttered, barely able to think of a response.

He pulled away, and sat back down onto the bench, "Have a seat, man. We finally have some furniture around here, we may as well use it."

I chuckled as I wiped the tears from my eyes and sat. "What's going on? What is this place?"

"We're waiting to see if the sun comes up."

"Why? Does it... not... usually... come up?"

I saw him purse his lips, but he remained looking out the window, "Apparently, sometimes it doesn't. If it does, it means we can head out, though. Across the fields."

"What's out there?"

"I'll tell you if the sun comes up."

"Can we not go now?"

"We probably could, but I've heard its easy to get lost out there at night. Besides, it's more pretty in the day."

"You've already seen it come up?"

He turned to me with a smile, "Oh man, Joel, just wait till you see it. The sunrises on earth were beautiful but this is just something else."

I smirked, "I guess dying made you more cryptic, huh?"

"Well, there's some things you just won't understand until you see the sun come up for yourself."

"Why haven't you gone out already?"

"I wanted to wait for you. I figured we could go together."

I didn't understand what he meant by anything he was saying, but the statement still made me smile, "Thanks, buddy." We sat in silence for a beat before I spoke again, "I guess you were right."

"Right about what?"

"Your dream. The House really did get me in the end."

Ethan shifted his glance away from me and nodded, then spoke, "Hey now, I wouldn't count yourself out just yet. There's still time before sunrise. Who knows what could happen?"

"What, are you saying I might not be dead?"

"Maybe not yet."

"I don't know, man. It sunk an axe right through my heart. I don't think I'm getting back up from that."

"Was it the same axe that I almost killed it with?"

"Yeah."

"Dang. That's kind of ironic, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?"

We both laughed, and after it faded, I spoke again, this time more sorrowfully, "I'm sorry, man. About everything."

"Joel, Don't. you don't need to apologize for anything."

"Yes I do. I wasn't a good friend to you Ethan. And you certainly didn't deserve to die trying to save me."

"It was my choice. And besides, I would have died somewhere down the line anyways. Better to go out as a hero, right?" He smirked.

I snickered but quickly fell back into my serious tone. I was dodging around my biggest fault. "Bea, too," I said. He perked up at that. "I'm sorry about Bea. I knew you liked her, and I could tell it hurt you that I… you know. That was selfish of me to do. Really selfish…"

"It's okay, man. I know you had stuff you were trying to figure out. We've all done stupid things. None of that matters anymore. And besides, at the end of the day, its up to Bea who she has feelings for."

"I should have changed them back then, though. Now all of that is just, unresolved, you know?"

Ethan nodded but said nothing. I could tell he was thinking of a response. "You remember when I told you and Alice I bullied a kid back in school? When you guys were trying to tell me I didn't belong in the house?"

"Yeah?"

"That same kid ended up killing himself."

"Oh my God…"

"Yeah, I know. That's awful right? And when I heard, I felt sick for months. I barely ate, I hardly went out, I just isolated myself from things for a while. But once I began to get over it, you know what I did?"

"What?"

"I just rejoined my friends and we found somebody new to pick on. Because while I felt awful that I had ruined someone's life with torment, it felt worse that I might be on the other end of that. Alone with no friends. So I stayed where I knew I wouldn't fall to that level. Tried to ignore what had happened last time and call it an unfortunate circumstance. But the problem is that you can't hide from that stuff. It becomes a part of you, and you're going to drag it around whether you like it or not."

"What happened after that?"

"I kept being a jerk for a long time, tagging along like a henchman in this group of… just awful people. But I started to realize that I hated it. I always had. Looking back, whenever we'd walk away from leaving someone hurt or abused, I always felt guilty. I knew it made me a bad person, but I thought that by acknowledging that, I was somehow better for it. That it made me exempt from the pain I was inflicting on others. It wasn't until one day that we made this one guy cry that I broke. Watching a fully grown person break down like that… all I could think about was the classmate who killed himself. How truly sad he must have been. How desperate I had made him. Telling myself that I knew I was a bad person only stopped me from changing. If that's all you admit, then you feel like you don't have any work to do. 'I'm bad; that's why I do these things.' There has to be an 'and' there. I'm a bad person, and I need to change."

"So, what did you do?"

"I changed. I cut off my 'friends'. Started standing up for people, even if it meant I got put down sometimes. I went back and apologized to all the people I had hurt. Some forgave me, some didn't, but that was okay. I didn't deserve forgiveness after what I had done, but they still deserved an apology."

"Did it make the guilt go away?"

"No. Heck no. I still look back on what happened to that classmate and want to throw up, but it helped me to stop running from it. To stop fearing it. I knew that I would never make a mistake like that again, and it was the most liberating feeling of my life. If we always run from the worst parts of ourselves, the second we slow down to catch our breath, it'll come slamming right back into us."

I looked away from Ethan to the floor and took a deep breath, not sure of what to say. Tears formed in my eyes as only one sentence came to mind.

"Don't feel guilty."

"hm?"

"Don't feel guilty. That's the last thing Andi said to me." I lifted my head and laughed softly, "Ethan, that's the key to the house. She wasn't just telling me that because she knew I'd blame myself for her death. She was telling me because she had figured it out. The house can't get to you if you have nothing it can use."

"Huh. Well, I'll be…"

"Would have been nice to know when we were alive, huh?"

"Yeah." Ethan chuckled, "It would've."

He put an arm on my shoulder as we sat waiting for a bit longer. The golden glow from the sun beyond the mountains didn't seem to be moving at all, and I was beginning to wonder how long it would take.

"So this place… It looks like the house?"

Ethan nodded, "I think the house we know was never meant to be that way. I think it might have been like this at one point. Then that creature showed up and must have done something."

"So, what is it? This place, I mean."

"I can't say I fully even know. Some sort of crossroads, I guess."

I was about to see if he would elaborate on that when the sky began to grow darker. I looked to the window to see that the golden light behind the mountains was beginning to fade. I was worried for a moment until Ethan spoke.

"Huh." He said plainly, "I guess it's not today."

"What? What do you mean?"

He turned to me and smiled, "You got some time before your sun comes up, Joel."

"Are you saying I'm not dead yet? How?"

He shrugged, "Who's to say?"

"So, what do I do?"

As I asked the question, I noticed a new glow filling the room, this one much more faint and coming from behind. I looked around the corner of the living room to see that the door in the back of the bedroom had light bursting from its seams. A warm, green light. An exit.

I turned back to Ethan.

"You should get going. I'm sure you have a lot to get back to." He said with watery eyes and a smile.

"What about you?" I said, tearing up myself. "Are you going to have to have to walk alone now?"

"It's alright. I have a lot to reflect on. Plus, I won't have you bombarding me with questions the whole way."

I laughed, but it was short-lived, "So this is it then?"

"I'm afraid so. Don't worry, though; I'll see you again, Joel. Someday."

We embraced one last time.

"Thank you, Ethan. For everything."

"I love you, Joel."

"I love you too, Ethan."

We pulled away and looked at each other for a moment before wiping our eyes. Ethan smiled and retook a seat on the bench, and I smiled and rounded the corner into the living room. Each step I took felt hard, not wanting to leave my friend or the calling of the fields. As I entered the bedroom, the warm green glow produced a new pull, however. A more powerful one. The will to live. I stepped forward and took the handle. With a twist and a pull, the green light flooded the room, overwhelming every sense. I closed my eyes, but the light was so blinding that I could still see it through my eyelids. The warmth of it burned at my skin until it was numb, and before long, I was once again a string of thoughts floating in a vast void of nothing. That was until-

"SCREEEEE!"

The sharp shriek caused me to jolt back to consciousness. The warmth of the light was replaced by the feeling of the cold car hood behind me. I took a second to get reacquainted with the aching flesh that was my body.

"you've got to be kidding me." I sighed, slightly upset that everything was now again my problem.

I choked the selfish thought back with thoughts of Bea and the others, then slowly lifted my hand to my blood-soaked torso. While a crimson muck still covered my chest, there was no injury besides the hole left in my shirt. My chest tingled at the thought of the gaping pit that had once been, causing me to cough violently. How was that possible?

Another shriek reminded me that I was not currently safe. How much time had passed? I sat up slowly, my head still spinning from death. The answer must have been not much at all. Before me, the shadowy figures in the asphalt assaulted and grappled the Curator while the house loomed over it in its true form, violently clawing the beast. The Curator was doing its best to fight its enemies off, but it was quickly failing. It was my turn to help it.

I checked my belt to ensure I still had my plan tucked in it before shakily standing to my feet. Around the car, figures still writhed and wailed at me, hoping to pull me down to their level.

"H-Hey…" I weakly muttered. The house couldn't hear me over the sound of the chaos, so I tried again.

"Hey!"

I saw it land one last hit into the Curator before it turned its amber eyes on me. It had no true face, no real expression, and yet still, for the first time since I had known the creature, it looked confused. For once, it looked like this was out of its control.

"I'm not done yet," I said through gritted teeth.

11 Comments
2024/02/26
04:59 UTC

21

Only Way Out: RUN.

Do you remember that feeling we all had as kids? The one that sucks the air from your lungs as you lunge for your bed after turning the lights? The one that tells you undoubtedly that ‘there’s somebody behind you, RUN!’ ? If you’re most people, you’re lucky and outgrow this for the most part. But I have lived on a constant edge of terror since the night something chased my best friend and myself up the boardwalk through the woods.

I made it out; Charlie didn’t.

Like most teenagers that grow up in this town, we frequently walked down to the beach to smoke weed. It was generally left alone because we weren’t loud, we were the only ones down there, and we weren’t driving anywhere.

The most dangerous part of the endeavor was really just picking your way down the boardwalk at night. Again, not that we really needed to sneak down there, but it did make us feel generally better about it to not disturb the neighbors with our phone’s bright ass flashlights. So we used our phone screens on a dark background to light just the few boards ahead of each step. It helped too that I had grown up here and Charlie has been coming down here with me for years; you walk on it enough in the dark and you get to know where every step, creak and turn is.

The only thing that stands out in my mind’s memory of that night was feeling more consciously aware of the animal noises than normal. It was eerily quiet most of the way down, but toward the end by the last bench I remember hearing two animals run opposite directions, one heading our way. Didn’t really seem worth a second thought, I had just happened to notice because generally they tend to scatter in the same general direction; away from the intruders.

The walk itself is pretty quick, usually takes about 4 minutes to walk down and about 7 to get back up. Factor in that we’re both… less than athletic and stoned, it takes us about 7 minutes to get down and 20 to get back up- the gradual incline is a bitch. The night Charlie disappeared it felt like we’d spent 3 hours running up that boardwalk. I’m never going to feel safe in the dark again.

Our joint passed in much the usual fashion, tossing some rocks in the water, chatting and making each other laugh. But Charlie seemed kind of unsettled the whole time, he kept asking if I heard or saw something moving up in the woods behind us. I looked. I listened. But there was nothing out of place as far as I could tell.

So once he said it a third time I realized he was more paranoid than his words let on and suggested we head back up. His relief was palpable as I watched his nervous energy focus to motivated movement to the staircase that led back into the darkness.

The first point of ‘fuck I don’t like this’ in the paranoid stoner’s journey back up the boardwalk is after the second flight of stairs. At the top the angle changes just enough to obscure everything but the water and a few steps in you’re cut off from what little light the beach had offered. The trees create a sort of tunnel with only patches of the dark clouded sky peaking through. But it’s not a picturesque tunnel no matter the time of year. Even with the maples and oaks high above waving gentle green flags of comfort the sandy bluffs support more desolate, sparse, dead and creaking dune plants. The shell decorations on them look sweet in the day and equally as menacing at night. It all just… makes you pick up the pace a bit. Not quite hurrying, just not lollygagging as one might normally after a joint.

It was maybe 3 yards past that point that I started to feel the same unease Charlie was still clearly being bothered by. It was really just like that feeling that you know somebody is watching you and you want to whip your head in all directions to find the eyes you feel on you but some instinct leads you lock dead ahead for fear of what eye contact might bring out of the darkness- I can’t see you, you can’t see me- hide and seek rules; plain and simple. It’s easy to rely on childhood logic and insist to yourself that the eyes on the back of your neck are just that of an owl and your red and glassy eyes wouldn’t be able to pick it out of the dark anyways- so why bother to look?

Without having to verbalize our intensifying discomfort, we both picked up the pace just to the point of breathing a little heavier. It sort of helped really, the louder our breathing the less we could hear the creaks and groans of the woods spooking ourselves for no reason. It established an unspoken agreement that we were going to seriously hustle as we approached the second section of boardwalk that really reinforces that feeling, “fuck, I really really don’t like this”. The boardwalk makes a 90 degree left turn in such pitch black darkness that you’d think the boardwalk just ended if you didn’t know to make the turn.

It was just after that turn that Charlie’s footsteps skidded to a dead stop like he was trying not to run into something. He told me to hold up a sec because he was taking a picture on night mode- something we regularly did on these walks back up when we wanted to reassure ourselves there was no boogeyman hiding in the dark. He only gasped out a whisper of disbelief, “oh FUCK!”.

When I looked back I was blinded by the flash from his iphone, the iconic ‘click’ of a photo being taken as Charlie gasped. I asked him what the hell he was doing and he sounded like my kid brother when he choked out “I’m scared Bethany, did you see that?” It was so dark and my eyes hadn’t readjusted from the flash and I was telling that to Charlie as I took out my phone to snap a picture with the flash of him so he could see how it felt. I thought he was just high and spooked- it wouldn’t have been the first time it happened to us and I was annoyed at him for getting me scared with him and then blinding me. If I'm being honest, I really thought he was just screwing with me or I wouldn't have blinded him back with the camera flash. But as I looked down at the photo my stomach dropped and I could feel the blood leave my face pale in cold fear. The last picture I ever took of Charlie was the most terrified, distorted face choking on a scream that I will never unhear. His scream was so guttural it scraped the inside of my skull as it raced down my spine to settle in my rock bottom stomach. I didn’t know if I was going to throw up or cry when I spun around with my flashlight and didn’t see Charlie. He was just… gone. I froze, unsure how to help my friend much less myself as I heard him struggling, then heard him being dragged deeper into the woods away from what little light made the boardwalk feel safe.

As I sucked in as much air as humanly possible to let out a shriek of my own when I heard Charlie moaning in agony, the last words he would ever say to me: “Beth, rrRRRrruuuuuuuun”. I regret that I didn’t think twice before taking off, but I couldn’t see Charlie or anything else out in the woods for that matter. I just knew I had to run for help. I couldn’t see anything outside the reach of my flashlight but I could hear something rustling the leaves moving fast toward the boardwalk- toward me and my light. I ran for the last few flights of stairs like my life depended on it, begging for the sweet relief of the streetlamp at the top and the false safety it promised if I could just run fast enough to get to the gates. I was tripping and falling as my legs propelled me forward of their own accord. I could feel the blood dripping down my legs where they caught sharp pieces of wood climbing on all fours trying to pull my body up the stairs like an rabid animal outrunning certain death. I could hear someone breathing behind me and the muscles in my back tightened at the notion that whatever it was it was gaining on me.

It almost felt like a bad dream that I was waking up from I was so relieved to see the gate come into view. I felt like I could fly I ran so hard and fast at that gate. My arms out in front of me I threw the gate open and shut behind me so hard the clang of metal when it didn’t click shut was loud enough for a neighboring porch light to come on to see what all the ruckus was. I was stumbling backward crying and pointing when they asked me what happened. They told me I was babbling about the gate and how we had locked it and demanding to know who had unlocked it. And I sobbed as I told them that something got Charlie. The reality of it all came crashing down on me and the last thing I remembered was the start of a panic attack before I blacked out and woke up in the ambulance.

I was checked over and physically and mentally as okay as could be expected. The final diagnosis was PTSD due to a marijuana induced psychosis. See, they never did find Charlie. Or any trace that he or anyone else had been there. There were no footprints. There were no disturbances in the leaves indicating a teenage boy had been dragged through here. They insist I'm mistaken about the gate being locked behind me and I still insist, that gate automatically locks and is only unlocked when there is a key in the mechanism. And most troubling, his location according to his phone, was and had been at home all night.

Charlie wasn’t at home though, and they eventually chalked it up to a runaway and my psychotic break was part of how my brain on drugs decided to cope with Charlie’s disappearance. They honestly believe I was alone in the woods that night. And now I can’t stand to be alone, much less in the dark. But I need to know what happened to my friend all those years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure. Or if I really am okay.

When I went back for the first time at night, I knew I would not be able to go any further than the safety of the streetlight at the top. As I faced the gate to take a picture, honoring Charlie in my own way, the picture was out of focus and obscured by the streetlight. Keeping my body and face in the yellow pool of flickering light, I reached my arms into the shadow toward the boardwalk and held my breath as the seconds ticked by forming one of our traditional night-mode-safety-check photos. When I opened the result, I was sure I’d made a mistake. But the time stamp read correctly;

The picture that popped up was taken from inside the boardwalks gate.

0 Comments
2024/02/26
04:14 UTC

54

Finger Bags

His hand waited beneath the popcorn like an antlion. My fingers were the unsuspecting ants. I reached for the popcorn, and the trap sprung. Fingers weaved through mine at an odd angle. Instead of adjusting for my comfort, he pulled my hand into a firm grasp.

"Ouch?" I said before pulling away. We watched the rest of Madame Web in uncomfortable silence. 

A first date on Valentine's Day is never a good idea. It comes with too much pressure to be romantic. All romantic gestures are essentially well received creep moves. Anything resembling an insect predator should never be well received.

We didn't speak until we were outside the theatre. I lingered because I didn't want him to follow me to my car. 

He had his hands in his pants pockets. "So?"

I shrugged. "It was nice meeting you, Jon."

"Ah," he said, "it's like that."

I tried not to express pity. "It's not anyone's fault," I said. 

Jon backed away toward the sidewalk. "It is. It's mine. It always is. I'm sorry." He took a quick glance back, straining to look both ways along the street. "Since I won't see you again, I can tell you this: I love you. From the second I saw your photo, I knew. Goodbye."

It happened fast. One second, Jon was there. And then… gone, taken out by a bus. 

I'll give him this: His suicide was better timed than his romantic gesture. Oh, don't get me wrong. I feel bad Jon killed himself. I just don't own any part of his reasons for doing so. Clearly, he was deeply troubled. 

I already have a therapist for unrelated reasons, so I knew I'd have to deal with post-traumatic stress. What followed, however, has nothing to do with a mental break or psychosis of any kind.

After speaking with the police, I went home. My sister came over for support, but I hardly noticed her until the weekend. I was in a daze, processing a near stranger's tragic death, I suppose. 

I'd been using work as a distraction, but reality demanded I deal with Jon's death, which pissed me off a little. How dare he burden me with shit I didn't earn. We had no relationship, and now we did. Forever. 

Heidi used the big bowl for a mixture of Doritos, all-dressed Ruffles, and chocolate M&Ms. She called it the celebrity mix because those were our favorites. 

Sacraments might be more accurate. I viewed these junk foods, paradoxically, as cleansing.

She turned on a movie, and we started to veg. We shared the bowl, unconsciously munching. I thought about Jon and the antlion maneuver. When I felt something hard in the depths of the snacks, I imagined it was a finger. Then it seemed like a hand, and I recoiled.

"No!" I shouted.

"What the fuck?" Heidi said. " What’s wrong?"

I got closer to the bowl, and tapped the edge.

"What? What is it? A spider? Is it a spider?"  She started to freak and leapt off the couch, brushing off her pajamas and shaking. "Ew!"

"It's nothing," I said. PTSD can mess you right up. Again, it pissed me off. Jon's depression made him inconsiderate. Being sorry for yourself all the time is selfish and often destructive to those around you. 

That's why it's important to fight depression, every day if you must. Staring at the sacrament bowl - also our cake bowl and occasional vomit receptacle - I resolved to remember to fight. I would raise my anxiety medication. I would exercise harder. I would get through this, you fucker, Jon.

"You okay?" Heidi asked. "You're staring at the bowl and getting all red and stuff. Do you hate the bowl? We can get another bowl."

Heidi's humor was lame but served to get me out of my thought spiral. I smiled and shook my head. "Let’s watch some more." I sat down with my arms crossed and forced myself to stare at the TV, and not the bowl.

"Maybe I should grab the wine too," Heidi said, going to the kitchen faster than I could agree. We each drank a bottle and fell asleep on the couch.

It was in the night, in the midst of a dream about a dog nipping my palm and tugging that I awoke to my hand in the sacraments bowl, half buried in chips. Figuring I'd passed out mid snacking, I retracted my hand, which felt sore. The muscles on the inside of my thumb hurt, and fingernail crescents were there, pressed into the skin. 

I stared at the imprints. Still inebriated, it took a moment to realize the marks were facing the wrong way. If I'd squeezed hard, the inside of the crescents would face my palm. They weren't. In fact, they were the opposite.

Working my hands into various configurations to see if I'd somehow done it in my sleep, I came to only one plausible, yet highly unlikely theory: I had dug into the skin with the nails on my other hand. 

Too afraid to test this conclusion by placing my nails in the grooves, I went into the kitchen for more booze. Clearly, I hadn't drunk enough. I needed to be passed out until daylight. 

With a topped up glass, I also found the M&Ms bag. Chocolate would help. Chocolate always helps.

Stiff digits were inside and the bag flexed out violently as the hand within grabbed at mine.

I fell over. The M&Ms spilled everywhere. More delusions. Had to be. There was nothing real in there.

I opened the bag to convince myself, and the fingers and the hand they belonged to sprang, clipping the bridge of my nose. 

The antlion had returned.

Blood trickled from a small cut. Delusions and stress and PTSD couldn't do that. 

Jon could. Jon did. He was there. At least, his hand was.

Of course, I'd dropped the bag again and stamped on it as if crushing an insect. Seriously freaking out, I returned to the couch with my wine and gulped as much of it as I could in a single swallow. 

The short, agitated breaths from my squeezed together mouth woke Heidi.

"Uhh, what time is it?"  Gradually, she recognized I was not okay. "Hey, what's the matter?" She looked everywhere for the source of the problem.

I pointed to it. "Go and check the M&Ms."

It took more convincing and she was obviously reluctant because I wouldn't tell her what I thought was in there. Heidi used a pair of salad tongs to complete the examination. After a long look, she tore it open to reveal nothing. It was empty.

"Tell me," she said. We are sisters, close in age. We keep nothing from one another, so I told her everything. She expressed no skepticism and didn't rationalize.  Instead, she went into the freezer, got out the vodka, and poured us some straight shots. 

After we'd finished, Heidi began the experiment, setting bowls, buckets, and an old popcorn bag she found in a drawer, onto the kitchen island. Into each vessel she poured the sacraments, Ruffles primarily.

"Okay," she said, "here we go."

Heidi put her hand into the first bowl. Nothing happened, but I didn't expect that it would. Then it was my turn. No amount of alcohol could stop my shaking. 

"I'm right here," Heidi assured me. 

But what could she do if Jon grabbed me? I buried the thought as I buried my hand in chips. No ghostly fingers were there. Relief sank in and Heidi noticed but didn't say anything until we'd repeated the experiment with the other containers, including the old popcorn bag.

She let me draw the conclusion rather than doing it for me. "Stressed out delusion," I said. The condition wasn't good either but at least it had a reasonable explanation. 

I must have scratched myself.

"We'll get to a doctor tomorrow," Heidi said. "We should hit the hay." 

I agreed and went to bed, finding sleep easy and the dreams only a little harder. Jon was there. I guess I was in my kitchen and his hand shot out of a pot. 

"It's not stress," he said as the hand gripped the lip of the pot and pulled his head into view. His skin looked gray and green. If I could have yawned in a dream I probably would have. This didn't scare me. I told him so.

Dream Jon appeared confused. "Why would you be scared? We're in love."

Before I could gently correct him, I woke up. Heidi had already left the bed and was in the shower. I called up the doctor's office and explained to the administrator my situation. She said I could come that afternoon. Everything was going to be fine.

I poked my head into the bathroom. "Heidi, want to go out for breakfast?"

"Sure!" she shrieked over the hiss of the showerhead. "Now get out here you little pervert or I'm gonna slap you silly!" I laughed. "Oh, you're cookin' Heids!" She launched into the rest of the Home Alone reference and I went to find my purse. 

I reached in for my meds. That's the last time I saw my right hand. Jon's fingernails had become familiar. They dug into my skin like thorns and pierced deeply as I fought to free myself. 

Heidi raced from the bathroom to find me writhing on the floor. She was confused but joined the fight until I begged her to stop pulling. 

Out of breath, she looked to the purse still full of my hand, and his.

"Jon?" she asked. I nodded. "Can I meet him?" Heidi hadn't accepted his existence. Neither was she scoffing at my belief. Telling someone their delusions are crazy goes about as well as one might think. Plus, I had proof, and I needed her totally on my side.

"Jon," I said, "my sister is here and would like to meet you… I've… told her so much already… it's long overdue." The death grip slackened. Blood trickled down over my fingers and started to fill the bag.

With salad tongs again, Heidi pried open the purse. Her mouth went wide before she started screaming. Jon squeezed so hard I felt a bone pop.

"Heidi! Stop! Stop it!"  I needed her to calm down. She did. And then she went to the kitchen for a knife. "No! Heidi! Stop! He knows! He knows what you're doing!" I writhed and screamed; the pain brought me close to unconsciousness, which would have been good. Unfortunately, I stayed awake, and now it's like he's aware of that possibility as a means of escape.

The ordeal did not cease. Jon pulled harder, and the purse slipped up to my elbow despite the actual depth being far shallower. 

My sister put the knife down and begged Jon to stop. "Sorry, Jon! Sorry! It was… a misunderstanding! I'm so happy… to finally meet you." She didn’t sound or look remotely happy. 

I could hear him whispering from inside the bag. "What… is it, Jon?" I asked, bringing my ear closer.

"If you or anyone tries to part us again," he said quietly, calmly, "I'll rip your goddamn arm off. I'll bring you here. With me. Forever. Because I love you."

I nodded. "Of course, Jon. Why would I leave?"  Heidi started to cry. So did I. We sat on the bedroom floor for a long time with Jon making suggestions for conversation and activity:

"It's too quiet."

"Ask about my day."

"Let’s walk to the park."

If I hesitated, I paid for it immediately with pain. We walked to the park. We kept the conversation going. Jon and I and Heidi had another sleepover. He strongly suggested we watch all the Spiderman movies, so we did.

We went to bed. It's Sunday night. I brought out my phone.

"What are you doing?" he inquired, pressing his index finger into the cartilage beside my thumb, a not so subtle reminder to forget about escape.

"It's work tomorrow, Jon," I told him. "I've a few things to sort out, especially since… I'll be bringing you with me to meet everyone…" 

What I did next makes me sick. I stroked his disembodied hand, wiggling the digit in his death grip until he relented and let me trace a path along his palm with one freed finger.

"Why don't you sleep, Jon? It's been… a long day. I'll be down soon."

I had no intention of sleeping, and when he didn't respond, I wasn't foolish enough to think he'd gone to sleep or needed to. It's probably some kind of test.

I typed this out with one hand. I'm lying here with him, and Heidi is here too, staring at me. She doesn't dare ask what I'm up to because he'd kill me for sure, or make good on his threat to pull me to where he currently exists.

Need a way out though. Don't want to lose an arm. Or die. Or go where he is. Help. Can anybody help?

Cleriot

3 Comments
2024/02/26
00:31 UTC

61

Something beyond life decided to contact me. I figured out what it was.

A few years back me and my sister had went to the same school, my sister is three years younger than me and I was in 5th grade. I was her bus buddy since we went on the same bus.

I was walking down the hallway a few minutes before my class ended because I had to get ready to pick up my little sister. No one was in the halls except for the other bus buddies, but there was a legend at my school. There was a staircase, it was blue and white checkered, but I don't know if it's still like that. It's said that if you go up the stairs hold your breath, we didn't know why but everyone who had went up the stairs without plugging their noses either felt faint or actually fainted.

I always looked at the staircase, holding my breath when I walked past it, but something caught my eye. There was a little boy underneath the staircase, huddled up in the corner, holding his knees and staring at me. He had a blue, old backpack on and a NASA shirt, I don't really remember what other features he had but I quickly stopped right after I had passed the begging of the stairway. I went back to look under it but he wasn't there. Like any person I thought it was just my brain picturing something because it was at the corner of my eye.

I remember picking up my little sister and feeling a weird sensation in my stomach, it felt like when you know something is wrong but you don't know what.

The next day, same time, I was walking down the halls, when again I saw that boy, but this time I stared directly at him. I noticed that he was a bit transparent, not a whole lot, like I couldn't see everything behind him, but I could see the basket balls outline and colour shining through him like a foggy mirror. I felt extremely freaked out and continued walking, holding my breath like usual.

This happened for a whole week, making eye contact with him, not telling anyone until I told my best friend. She told me not to worry but I was of course extremely worried. Like she told me to I tried to shrug it off, but how could I? I kept seeing a transparent boy who kept disappearing right after I went on with my day.

Another day passed, I decided not to look at the bottom of the staircase, so I did just that. I held my breath before I put my foot in front of the stairs and exhaled when I went passed. I felt a feeling of curiosity hit my brain and I looked behind me. I tried to keep in a shriek when I noticed the boy sprinting at me. I started to run, continuing to look behind my shoulder at the boy, and then I heard it. I heard a screaming voice telling, saying something I could not make out before I heard him say "Do not tell anyone" He disappeared right in front of my eyes, a few feat away from me and I bumped into my friend, Ty.

We fell to the ground and he started yelling at me because he almost hit his head, but despite the little 'ghost' boy telling me not to, I told him everything. He looked at me with a concerned face and I knew he wouldn't believe me. So I just got up and picked up my little sister.

That night weird things started happening. My curtains would move like a wind was striking them but I always closed my windows before sleeping. I saw the same goddamn boy in my mirror just staring at me from the corner of my eye, and when I looked at him he wasn't there. I would hear a little boy talking to me but I don't have a little brother or brother in my house, I did have a dad but he doesn't have a little boys pitch of voice.

I told my mom and she didn't believe me, but my sister did. She saw ghosts and apparently still does, but she never saw my ghost. The same things would happen every night until my mom was driving me and my little sister to taekwondo, I was telling her what happened for the millionth time and she didn't believe me, until I said he had a NASA shirt and shoes that I don't remember the colour of.

Her face went pale and she glanced at my sister through the car mirror, she told me that a little boy with autism had been skate boarding down the stares and broke his neck after falling in the same school I had went to. Several teachers had told him not to. He was in the same grade as my mom, no one really got along with him. It was all over the news the next day, he had the same features and clothes I had mentioned to her, the thing was that she had never mentioned that story to us, so it obviously couldn't have been my imagination.

One year later when me and my sister got an ouija board we went to my little sister's school. My lotter sisters school had a floor in the middle of the back entrance's garden. It was a burned down shack they used for storage. My friend could see and feel ghosts. She said that was the area she feels them the most.

We placed the board on the floor along with the planchet. I had told my friend and my little sister about the boy, so my little sister asked "Are we speaking to my sister ghost?" She asked. The planchet moved to yes and I froze. She asked another question "Why are you here?" The planchet moved to -To protect her- Just then pebbles started falling onto our heads, I asked "Are you doing that?" And he answered no.

We all looked up and realized it was a tree behind us, there was no animal like a squirrel or bird, any animal in the tree, so how was pebbles being thrown at us?

I never saw him again, but my sister did. I'm worried that my sister has something that is going to happen, so he has to protect her from the harm that gets thrown at her in her life just like what happened to me.

I'm currently in my room writing this. I still hear his voice sometimes, but he's not my guardian angel anymore. I know no one will believe me until they experience it, no harm in that. But I just want to tell you this now; if a ghost decides to contact you and only you, you're probably in for a good treat.

2 Comments
2024/02/26
00:14 UTC

105

I Work at a Haunted Hotel, and I Have a Demon Bodyguard

I never would have expected to end up with a demon bodyguard, but I guess after all that's happened, it was necessary. I also never would have imagined they looked the way they do. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit.

Mrs. Coriz’s family has run a spirit sanctuary for generations. Why do spirits need a sanctuary? Because they're hunted by vipirits. Spirits aren't the dead, but creatures born of humanity’s pain and suffering. Whereas vipirits are creatures born of humanity's hate. Spirits feed off of fear, and vipirits feed off of spirits.

The sanctuary was protected by invisible barriers that the Corizs innately knew how to make. Sooner or later, the spirits wanted to give back, and thus the Eidolon Hotel was born. Each spirit gets a room (except the twins, they share one), and Mrs. Coriz charges guests a fee to spend the night in their preferred room to get their scare on. A perfect solution for everyone.

Mrs. Coriz is the last of the Corizs, and after a few dangerous run-ins with vipirits where I proved my worth as an employee, Mrs. Coriz adopted me and began teaching me vipirit-banishing and barrier-erecting. Although it wasn't in my blood, I was getting pretty good at it.

But not fast enough.

Mrs. Coriz ended up getting sick, and she needed to undergo a dangerous surgery. Afraid of being responsible for the hotel by myself while she recovered, I suggested she take an ancestry test to see if she had any distant relatives who shared her skills. To our surprise, Howard popped up.

It was also to our detriment, as he turned out to be a monster. Howard had the innate ability and learned everything from Mrs. Coriz within a week, but he also cared more about money than spirits. He decided, instead of the hassle of running a hotel, he was going to auction off spirits to vipirits.

The night before Mrs. Coriz’s surgery, while she was at home, he launched his idea. He trapped Wd. Luleelei (one of the sweetest spirits in our sanctuary) with the vipirit that paid the most. And he did this in a glass structure so other vipirits could watch the massacre and see that Howard was true to his word. Thankfully, his sick demonstration was ruined by my fear for Wd. Luleelei, which gave her a surge of energy that allowed her to escape the vipirit long enough for it to die of exhaustion.

The vipirits on the outside were furious with Howard, but he managed to calm them down with the offer of a spirit each. Thankfully, with the help of Wd. Layl, I managed to evacuate all the spirits, sending them to the forest. All except Wd. Luleelei, who was still trapped. To buy myself time, I told Wd. Layl to call Howard and pretend to be a fussy guest to distract him while I called Mrs. Coriz. Despite being sick, Mrs. Coriz was able to teach me how to free Wd. Luleelei, and she demanded that we run away for our safety while she took care of everything. So, I hung up and let Wd. Luleelei carry me to the other spirits. (If you want the details of this part of the story, you can find it here.)

In the forest, beneath a broken bridge over a dried up creek, I smiled in relief when I saw all the spirits safe and sound. Wd. Luleelei glided to the ground and set me down, and I ushered her under the bridge. It was the only place I'd protected from vipirits during my practice sessions with Mrs. Coriz. But it wasn't safe from Howard. His skills exceeded mine.

The spirits crowded around Wd. Luleelei, making sure she was okay as well as marveling at her exceptional silvery brightness. I listened to them as I looked around with wary eyes, dreading catching a glimpse of a vipirit's white.

“He was ready to feed us to the vipirits for money?”

“And lure us in by pretending he was still running a sanctuary!”

“How could he betray us?”

“I always had a bad feeling about him!”

“I thought he was nice, I'm devastated.”

“I'm not surprised, he never cared about us.”

“But murder? I didn't think he'd go that far!”

“What are we going to do now?”

They all fell silent as they turned to me, and I said, “First, do any of you know how to pick a lock?”

I lifted my arm to show them the handcuffs dangling from my wrist, and Wd. Sko floated over.

I've got some experience,” he said, holding up his long, thin, pointy fingers.

It didn't take him long at all to free me, and I tucked the handcuffs in my pocket as I said, “Now, I need a phone. I have to call Mrs. Coriz. She said she was going to take care of everything but she's sick and I want to help.”

Wd. Bunny floated forward. “I can carry you to her. I know where she lives.”

“I don't want you to be vulnerable to vipirits.”

“He won't be.”

We all jumped and looked up as a giant silvery spirit with fifty eye-stalks floated down.

“Wd. Layl!” I said, thrilled she was okay. “You were amazing! I don't know what you told Howard to do when you called, but he rushed off right away!”

“I just took your advice and ran with it,” she said, smiling. “And I have good news! After sending Howard on an errand for the third time, which he used your car for, by the way, I called Mrs. Coriz since I couldn't call you. She said she sent a demon to take care of the vipirits at the hotel, and so I told her where I sent Howard and she's sending the demon after him!”

My mouth fell open as I stared at her. “A what? A … a demon?”

“Yes! The little guys with the big shadows!” Her eye-stalks drooped down in quizzical amusement. “You've never heard of them?”

I shook my head, still stunned.

“They're born of death,” Wd. Vinashak said.

“And they feed on memories!” Wd. Samara and Wd. Tamara said in unison.

“But they're attracted to heat,” Wd. Cobra added, “so they don't hang around much. Most burrow down to the Earth’s core.”

“So … but … what do they look like?” I asked in mesmerized awe. “Do they have, you know, wings and horns and stuff?”

Wd. Rowena, who'd chosen to look like a succubus, unfurled her wings. “If you're asking if they look like me, they don't, but their shadows do.”

“That’s why humans draw them like that,” Wd. Dolor said. “The demons that stay up here hang around fire for warmth, and they have insanely huge shadows for their size. Humans see their flickering shadows and get freaked.”

“So what do they really look like?” I asked.

“You'll see for yourself!” Wd. Layl said. “But first, Mrs. Coriz told me to carry you back to the hotel to take care of the guests. And once the demon erases Howard's memories, it'll let us know so the rest of us can go back.”

I nodded, taking a deep breath. “I'm ready, let's go.”

She grabbed my shirt and the waist of my jeans, and I squeezed my eyes shut as she zoomed up and away, the wind whistling across my ears. My stomach turned as my pulse raced, and I hugged myself. One of these days, I was going to have to work on my fear of heights.

Once I felt my feet touch the ground, I opened my eyes, and I gawked at the viney, white clumps hovering around the hotel. Those were vipirits, but they weren't moving. Their color wasn't completely transparent, so I knew they weren't dead, but what were they doing?

“A-Are they sleeping?” I whispered.

“No, they don't sleep. I think the demon ate all their memories.”

She flew up to one, and I gasped. “No! Wd. Layl, what are you doing?”

She didn't reply as she poked one, and I cringed, expecting it to start screeching. Instead, it bobbed to the side and bounced off another motionless vipirit.

“They're brain-dead,” Wd. Layl said, grinning as she floated back down to me. “I mean, if they had a brain to begin with.”

I gulped, the relief that the vipirits had been neutralized now overshadowed by the demon’s power. “Do demons just eat any memories they want? As m-much as they want?”

“I don't know, actually. But this one has lived with Mrs. Coriz for a decade or so, so she trusts it.”

I walked towards the hotel door, casting anxious glances at the vipirits above. “Are demons like you? Or more like the vipirits?”

“They're like vipirits in that they can't choose how to look. They're like spirits and vipirits in that they can fly and vanish. They’re alone in that they're bluish, have shadows, can touch the living, and can't talk.”

“They can't talk?” I asked in surprise.

“No, but they understand just fine.”

“But how do …”

My words trailed off when I saw the crowd of disgruntled guests in the lobby. The spirits had only been gone an hour, a bit longer for Wd. Luleelei, but that was apparently too long. These people had paid for a thrill, and I couldn't tell them why they weren't getting their money's worth.

“I'll wait out here,” Wd. Layl said. “Good luck!”

She hovered back, and I took a deep breath and walked inside.

“I haven't seen a ghost for the past hour!”

“I didn't see mine at all!”

“Is this a scam?”

“It's not, I've been here before, but I never had to wait for the haunting to start!”

“No one is answering the phone!”

“Ladies and gentlemen!” I said, jogging towards the counter. “I deeply apologize for being away from the desk. We had a minor emergency, but it should be settled. I don't know why Howard isn’t answering the phone, but I'm here now.”

“I want a refund! This was a waste of time!”

“Are the ghosts okay?”

“What were those white blobs with tentacles?”

I looked across their faces, some angry, some concerned, and I tried to come up with a safe reply. “Howard … he, uh … he’s been experimenting with new ideas for the hotel. He decided to test them out today and that you’d be the reviewers. The white blobs, the elongated breaks between hauntings, those are some of his ideas.”

“They suck!”

“We didn't consent to this!”

“We want what we paid for!”

“He didn't want to tell you because he … uh … he wanted genuine reactions,” I said, scrambling to salvage this mess. “I understand that this isn't what you signed up for, and I'm ready to refund any of you who wish to leave.”

“Howard is an idiot.”

“Where's Mrs. Coriz? I want to issue a complaint!”

“Mrs. Coriz is preparing for a serious surgery tomorrow,” I said, trying to hide my worry. “I hope it’ll go smoothly, and once she recovers she’ll be able to address your concerns, which you can leave with me.”

A hush fell over the crowd.

“If she doesn't recover, will the hotel shut down?”

“Shut up! Of course she’ll recover! And there are two employees to handle the hotel until she’s back!”

“You won't shut down, will you?”

“There are no plans to shut down,” I said, struggling to keep my voice steady. “And we’re all praying for Mrs. Coriz to recover quickly after a successful surgery.”

“I don't want a refund anymore, but I don't want this new-fangled haunting stuff. I want the usual!”

“Same. No blobs, no waiting.”

“I still want a refund.”

“Of course,” I said. “I'll let the spirits know that they're free to haunt as per their usual methods. For those who wish to stay, please return to your rooms and the spirits should join you shortly. For those who wish for a refund, please form a line.”

Out of the thirty-one people in the lobby, only six lined up, and I began refunding them as well as offering them a discount on their next booking. This was a bad hit for the business, and one we'd never encountered before, but hopefully we could rise above it.

The fifth person in line gave me a curt nod and walked away, and I froze when I saw the person behind him pull back his hood.

Howard.

We both stared at each other, me in fear, him in fury, as we waited for the guest to exit the hotel, neither of us wanting to ruin this hotel’s reputation. It didn't seem like the demon erased any of Howard's memories. Maybe it didn't find him. We needed to get it here. Now. I had to let Wd. Layl know. My throat was dry, but my determination managed to push my hoarse, shaky words out.

“Howard is here! He's h—”

Howard tackled me over the counter, and I cried out in pain as we crashed to the floor. I tried to shove him off me, but he was twice my size, and my arm was broken. With one hand over my mouth, he dragged me to the employee area in the back, and I screamed and kicked as I tried to wiggle free.

Once we were in the kitchenette, he chanted, and my heart dropped as I realized he was creating a barrier to block spirits from saving me. I'd learned the counter-chant not even an hour ago, but I doubted he'd let me finish saying it. He threw me to the ground and straddled me, and my terrified eyes got wider when he pulled out a knife.

“Where are the spirits?” he asked, foaming at the mouth as he pressed the blade against my neck.

My heart rattled in my chest as I strained to escape the blade.

“Where are they!” he roared.

I flinched, tearing up as I gasped in jagged breaths. I hoped Wd. Layl heard me and went to send the demon here. I also hoped they'd make it in time. I had to stall in any way I could.

“Th-They're s-safe,” I stammered.

“You got one of the spirits to call me, didn't you? To distract me. After the fourth call, I caught on and rushed back here.” I let out a terrified squeak as he twitched the knife. “Tell me where they are.”

I tried to muster up whatever courage I still had. “Wh-why does it m-matter anymore? The vipirits are dead. You s-saw them out there. W-Word will get out, they'll never t-trust you again.”

I gasped as he slashed open my shirt. “No! Stop!”

“Tell me where they are, and tell me the truth or I'll carve every lie into your skin,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

He brought his weapon to my abdomen, and I held my breath again, watching my stomach quiver beneath the knife’s glinting tip.

“Where are the spirits? Don't make me ask again,” he growled.

“It's t-too late, y-you—”

I screamed as the blade pierced my skin. “Howard, stop, please!” I cried out, straining to escape his weight and wrath.

“Where are—”

He stopped talking, and I paused my struggles in desperate hope as I looked at him. He was still straddling me, knife in hand, but his cold, piercing eyes were now unfocused and vacant. He didn't move a muscle as he stared right through me, and drool began dripping out of his open mouth.

This had to be the work of the demon. It made it in time! But where was it? Assuming it had to be on his head, I squirmed out from under Howard and sat up, cradling my broken arm as I scanned his hair.

There it was. And it looked nothing like what I imagined. Its body was like two small, blue, crystalline saucers placed on top of each other, face-to-face, with two triangles cut straight through. Four sharp protrusions stuck out from the lower half, two in the front and two in the back, and those were now stuck in Howard's skull. The upper half had four protrusions as well, but those were long and spindly, like a daddy long-legs spider, and they were keeping it steady as it feasted on Howard's memories.

It did save me, but I wasn’t about to stick around so it could eat my memories too. I didn't know if Howard would end up like the vipirits or if he'd regain alertness, so I scrambled up and handcuffed him to the fridge’s handle before I searched his pockets. After finding my phone, I dashed out of the room, only to run straight through Wd. Layl.

“I'm sorry!” she said, looking at my bleeding torso and crooked arm. “I tried to be fast!”

“Don't be sorry, you got the demon here just in time! I'm going to call Mrs. Coriz, you go tell the spirits they can come back.” I managed a shaky smile. “Your fans are waiting.”

She smiled back. “On it.”

She vanished, and I dialed. “Hello, Mrs. Coriz?”

“Where are you now?” she asked, her weak voice full of concern.

“I’m at the hotel. The vipirits are neutralized, I took care of the guests, only five wanted a refund, and Howard attacked me but the demon got him in time. It's on him as we speak.” I cast a nervous glance into the kitchenette. “Is it going to eat all his memories?”

“No, I told it to only eat the most recent ones that contain knowledge of us. How are you?”

“I’m fine, I'm alive … a bit shaken up. Howard broke my arm, but I’ll go to the hospital after everyone checks out.”

“You must call the police. Tell them Howard is a new employee and he had a psychotic break. There is surveillance footage of the lobby, parking lot, and kitchenette that can back you up. Call me once that's done.”

“Okay.”

I did as she said, and I took a detour to the bathroom to clean off the blood. Howard didn't cut me too deep, so I found the first aid kit and disinfected and dressed my cuts myself. Once Wd. Layl returned, we worked on wrapping a rudimentary split around my broken arm, pressing it to my body. Grabbing a spare hoodie from the back office, I slipped it on, jogged to the front desk, and sat down, still shaking with adrenaline.

“Can you let me know when the demon is done with Howard?” I asked Wd. Layl, casting a nervous glance back. “I know you should be haunting your guests, but I’m scared it’ll come after me.”

Wd. Layl chuckled. “It won’t. Mrs. Coriz told it not to.”

“You sure it'll listen?”

“Positive!”

Wd. Layl vanished, and I sighed and pulled out my phone, dialing.

“Mrs. Coriz? I called the police. They're on their way.”

“You have gone above and beyond. I’m sorry for putting you in this situation.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry. In your place, I’d have hired Howard too. You were desperate to make sure this hotel was in good and capable hands. It just sucks Howard betrayed us, he actually had skills.”

“I already had someone with good, capable hands and exemplary skills. I should have spent time training you more instead of focusing on a stranger.”

I smiled, wiping away a tear. “Well, everything is good now, the hotel is safe, the spirits are safe, I’m safe, and I know you’ll be safe after your surgery tomorrow. The—”

I froze at the sound of a scream coming from upstairs, and I relaxed when it dissolved into shrieks of laughter.

“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Coriz asked.

“Business as usual, I’m just a bit jumpy,” I said with a nervous chuckle. “Should I banish the vipirits? They’re just … floating outside.”

“Yes, please. And also start up the fireplace in the lobby for the demon.”

I gulped. “Yeah, about that demon, how come you never told me about them?”

“They are not as prevalent as spirits and vipirits. Most make their way to the Earth’s core as soon as they are born. They only eat memories if there is no heat available.”

“How did you meet this one?”

She was silent for a while before she said, “It’s my brother’s. I was with him and his family the night of their fatal accident. He and I were thrown out of the car, and I knew he had passed when I saw his demon. In my traumatized and sorrowful state, I offered it a memory and promised it warmth and a good life if it remained with me, and it did.”

“Oh …” I said, too shocked to find the right words to say.

“I know it’s not my brother, it doesn't have his memories or his soul, it was just born of his death. But I wanted to hold on to the last living thing related to him. The last living thing related to my family. I trained the demon - they are quite intelligent once you get to interact with them - and it has lived with me ever since.”

Mrs. Coriz had always been stoic, and this was the first time she’d opened up to me about something this emotional. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Which, you know, I already knew about, but not about the demon. That’s … wow. It must be some type of comfort for you to care for it.”

“It is.”

“Was it easy to train it?”

“Yes. They may be non-verbal and instinctual, but they are eager to learn for warmth. You can consider them like a pet with above-average intelligence.”

“So, this one, you told it not to eat my memories?”

“Yes. I told it not to eat any memories unless I specifically request it. It has its own continuously running heater here, so it doesn’t need more to feel full. I have noticed it doesn’t feel fulfilled, though, so I’ve been trying to incorporate activities into its life despite being overprotective of it.”

"Does it have a name?”

“I named it KC, after my brother’s initials.”

I smiled. “KC, that’s a nice name.”

“I would like it to remain with you.”

I nodded. “Of course! I’ll take care of it until you’re ready to take it back.”

“No, I mean I want it to always remain with you. It can be your bodyguard.”

My mouth fell open in surprise. “Really?”

“You have been through a lot at this hotel, and you will go through a lot more. I believe both you and KC will benefit from this union. You will be protected, and it will find purpose.”

“Mrs. Coriz, I … I don't know what to say. I’d be honored. Thank you!”

“No, thank you.”

“I promise to take amazing care of KC! I’ll—” The old grandfather clock chimed in the lobby, and I gasped. “Oh, Mrs. Coriz, it’s really late. You’ve been up worrying all night! You should rest before your surgery. Don’t worry, everything is fine here.”

“I know it is. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight!”

After hanging up, I grabbed my spare banishing weapons from my car and took care of the vipirits before I ran back inside and started working with the fireplace. Before I could light the fire, I gasped at the large demonic shadow cast against the wall.

I whipped around, my pulse racing, and let out a shaky chuckle when I saw the little demon scuttling towards me. I expected it to settle down by the fireplace in anticipation, but instead, it climbed up my pant leg and shirt before it settled on my shoulder.

I didn’t move, my heart hammering, my eyes darting towards it as I wondered if it was going to defy Mrs. Coriz and sample a memory. It adjusted itself, draped its legs down my shoulder, and snuggled in, and I relaxed, smiling.

“Hi, KC.”

It wiggled a leg at me, and I chuckled. “I'm starting a fire for you, just give me a sec.”

As I worked, I could hear Howard in the back, confused and weak. "Where am I? What am I doing here? Hello? Anyone? Help!"

I ignored him, hoping the police would show up soon and take him away. Once the flames sprung to life, I backed up and smiled.

“Okay, KC, I’ve got to get back to the desk, which is all the way there.” I pointed. “If you want heat, you’ll have to stay near the fireplace.”

It didn’t move, so I walked towards the desk to show it I wasn’t kidding. It still didn’t move. Maybe my body heat was enough right now. As insectile as KC looked, it was rather cute, and I gave it a little pat as I sat behind the counter. It responded to my touch by sitting up and poking my cheek with its leg. The lamp behind us cast our shadow, and it looked like I had a giant demon perched on my shoulder. KC was going to be a great addition to our hotel.

I drew KC & me :)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6

-----

SR

14 Comments
2024/02/25
21:31 UTC

31

Me and a friend investigated the Bristol Hum back in 2021, and we may have found the source

For those who don't know about the Bristol Hum, imagine a pulsating throbbing low pitch sound, like an air turbulance or that sort of sound you hear in horror movies before something bad happens, as you can guess, it can be annoying, and best of all? no one knows the cause, there have been various investigations over the years and supposed recordings along with hypothesis after hypothesis, yet no one knows the true cause, and it's made stranger by the fact that the hum isn't just in Bristol, or the UK, or Europe, it's been heard all over the world.

Me and one friend (who we'll call M) started hearing the hum back in 2020 during the lockdowns, exclusively at night, the day after the first night i heard it i phoned M up and his first words? 'dude what was that strange sound last night'

And for the next year, we continued to hear it, and that's when our interest in finding the cause increased, our attempts at recording it were in vain, but we did manage to get something with the help of a friend who works in audio, we tried to use special microphones to find a bearing of the sound, but it seemed like it was coming from every direction.

One night the hum was particularly strong so the next day i had an interesting proposition for M, to investigate it, to assemble a small group and leave our comfort zone to find the source once and for all, so the next day i texted all my friends, expecting at least a few to decline.

But it turned out that they'd all been hearing it since 2020 and were just as interested, and so we all agreed, to prepare and wait for a night where it's bad again and hunt it down, you see, the hum isn't as bad every night and some nights it's not there at all, it's one aspect about it that can drive you insane and leave you wondering if you just imagined it.

Over the next few weeks we got our equipment and plans together, sound engineer friend, S, supplied us with recorders and microphones, a friend who liked airsoft, T, provided us with two way radios, torches and a military grade NVG (PVS-14) for me at least, the rest of the crew got night vision camcorders.

We all coordinated it like a military operation, my job, since i had the night vision device, was just to keep an eye out, while recording the hum making notes with my recorder, S would attempt to narrow down the direction of the sound and give us areas to investigate, M would be providing backup for me and focus on videoing the action, T would keep track of where we were and would be the first to investigate any potential sources before we went in further, finally a techie friend, B, kept an eye on our locations with FindMyiPhone and monitored and recorded our radio communications all from home.

Our plan was simple, wait for a night when the hum was strong by 12 AM and if we all heard it, we were to bring our equipment and rendezvous at a nearby park, starting our search from there.

Every night we made sure to keep our batteries charged, and followed Ts strong advice not to burn out his NVD by using it during the day, it took a few nights, but finally the night came.

Quickly texting my friends, they all confirmed they heard it too, some even texted before me, X was notified, and i grabbed my recorder, phone, NVD, torch and made my way to the park.

The rendezvous went perfectly, we met up and setup and tested our equipment, everything on and recording, we started off, the hum sounded kind of different outside, and S had found an ever so slightly stronger hum signature towards the west, in the back of my mind it occured to me that it could just be ships but there was no turning back now.

We advanced westward down the Avon, S still reported the hum was stronger towards the west, soon we passed the S.S Great Britain, but according to S no sound signature was coming from her, and my NVD showed nothing, we continued advancing for an hour and a half, and soon the city of bristol was behind us, and we were on the near the leigh woods between bristol and the dock, heading towards the clifton bridge.

Suddenly our radios crackled into life with the voice of B.

'This is control, comm check, comm check, 123' control was what we called B over the radios.

'What is your 10-20, i repeat what is your 10-20'

10-20 is old CB codewords for location so i replied

'Just wanted to warn you that your signal is dipping, i estimate you will have no comms back to me if you go beyond the bridge, i advise keeping to high ground'

We heeded Bs warning and continued on, keeping away from the edge of the Avon while trying to stick to higher ground, it was pitch black and the PVS-14 was doing a great job of making sure i could see, what i didn't realize was the hum was becoming increasingly louder and it was being picked up clearly on all our recorders, the reports from S solidified that, and we were just a few hundred yards away from the bridge when i noticed the hum, it was strongest i'd heard it.

S moved even closer to the bridge and reported that it seemed to be coming from across the avon, somewhere in or near leigh woods.

We all focused our equipment across the gorge, but i couldn't really see anything out of the ordinary, to my perspective it just looked like when you see night vision being used in the woods, creepy, but nothing obvious popped out as an immediate threat.

We stood around investigating for a while, not finding much of anything, we decided to backtrack to investigate leigh woods, we found our way on the other side of the avon gorge and kept following the hum, it seemed to be getting much stronger, you could almost feel it.

The whole group descended into leigh wood and that's when we noticed it, aside from the hum, there was no other sounds, the woods seemed devoid of any animal life, i looked around the woods, and up at the night sky, i thought i noticed a little structure in the distance, and S's sound equipment showed the strongest signature yet eminating from that direction.

It was at this point that M started telling me he was getting a bad feeling, we had fearless almost the entire investigation up to this point, i did too think something was disagreeable about the hum, something not right, but i quickly snapped out of it, it's just a strange sound, that's all.

We slowly advanced towards the small structure with T at the front of the group, at it drew closer it seemed little more then a small wooden shed, the kind you would see in someones back garden, a familar sight, in an otherwise creepy landscape, yet i did feel as though bad vibes were coming from the shed, i dismissed it as infrasound from the hum, infrasound is supposedly a pitch of sound that can cause feelings of anxiety, creepiness, and paranoia, and the hum apparently produces it.

At this point it felt extreamly strong, it felt like it was eminating from the shed, and indeed T said he could almost feel it with his hand against the wood work.

The shed was up against a tree, and the four windows on one side seemed to have been painted over, none of us could see what was in there, when we peered in with our night vision devices and torches.

The front and only door was locked, by an old fashioned lever-type padlock, it was here our radios lit up with a crackly tranmission, barely understandable, it was from B, another comm check, we told him of the shed, the padlock, the painted over windows, B told us that he would continue tracking us, but radio communication might be hard or impossible any further out, saying the trees were blocking the signal.

We looked at the shed and wondered if and how we should effect an entry, none of us knew lock picking, so that was out of the question, T told us that if we really wanted to see the source of the hum, put a stop to it and possibly even end up in the news, we were going to have to break in.

T, who was the kind of person to do an SAS-type raid on his own house, and the person assigned to go in before us, happily obliged to do it, every kick of that wooden door sent a loud rattling bang across the gorge, it seemed much louder then the hum, almost like a gun going off, and i wondered what gossip there would be tomorrow of the hum and apparent gunshots, the hum didn't even seem that loud, but S said those low pitch sounds can travel far and wide, like a ships horn, and that the sound of our forced entry wasn't going that far.

With every kick the wood seemed to weaken and on the fifth kick, the wood around the shackle gave way and lock flew off, the door didn't burst open, as it was an outward opening door.

T put his foot in the door, and after a count of three, swung the door open.

Our equipment focused on the space as T went in first, it looked like a typical shed, a shelf hung below the windows, we all checked for signs of security cameras, but there was nothing, save for a small box we went through, and it just contained old car parts, some old gaskets, a stereo, filters, and some aftermarket steering wheel.

We were all just going to leave when T suggested something:

'Wait a minute, move the box, don't ask why, just move it'

I shifted the box across the small space and to my surprise, there was a hatch.

'I thought so' T said

T again, obliged to lift the hatch, as we watched and filmed on, all i saw down there was a blizzard against an inky black sky, the achilies heel of passive image amplification, according to T, was true darkness, not star or moonlight, so we'd all need our camcorders night vision, which are like invisible torches switched on, according to T, the NVDs were capable of seeing this infrared night vision.

T descended on a dodgy old ladder and came down to a small space with an indescript piece of machinery, the hum seemed to eminate out of this hole, from this machine, we all descended after T deemed it was safe.

The space was no bigger then the shed itself, the machine seemed to vibrate with the humming, and sheets of paper littered the floor, we walked over to one corner, where was a little table with an old book on it, it looked victorian, like the kind of book that would contain a 19th century engineering text.

It was blank on the cover but the first page was signed by I.K Brunel, the late great engineer, and most of the book, written in latin with some english, mixed in with depictions of whatever the pump-like steampunk apparatus behind us was, thinking back now, it had a thick wire extending straight into the earth.

We did find manage to find some english writing in the book, reading by torch because that PVS made it almost impossible to read close up.

'Such an apparatus shall gurantee the west country if not the entire world a certain security from the beast'

The word beast was underlined, but a werid book was never going to put a stop to the sound that has quizzed the world over, so T went up to it and grabbing a lever like you would see on an old steam locomotive, squeezed the trigger and pulled it.

Just like that the hum stopped, it was now 3:30 in the morning, we left, but not before taking the book with us.

As we exited the shed to a hum free world, we radioed B and told him of what we did, we would be in the news, for sure, and no doubt soon people who knew what they were actually doing would descend upon the machine.

But we never got that far, for as we were walking across Leigh Wood, i caught sight of a huge inky black mass beyond a tree line, we stopped, it was like a dog almost as big as a car, and even though the NVD it seemed entirely black.

Suddenly, it turned toward us, two eyes seemed to give off an immense amount of infrared light, temporarily blinding me with the NVD, and according to T 'caused them to go into autogated bright source protection mode but it still burned two dots into the tube' when i regained my vision all i remember is shouting 'Run Run Run!' and we took off, running back towards bristol.

We felt a presence much worse then the hum, thinking back at this point the hum was almost benign, we ran, but we were soon stopped by a figure in victorian dress near a tree.

A figure who looked a lot like I.K Brunel and who seemed to freeze time as he spoke.

'I am the late brunel, and i come here because i know you switched my apparatus off, that... machine, protects the world'

'Protects the world from what? not being annoyed?' M said

'From the beast, let me tell you a little story, you know that in September of Eighteen Fifty Nine i ceased to be, such is true, but what has never been told is three years before, September of Eighteen Fifty Six, i saw the beast in this very wood, the hound, he is, sent to collect the souls of those whose contract have expired, i knew not long was left after i saw the beast, so between designing my great ship i should never see fully built, work i did upon this machine, putting it into action was the last thing i did before i fell too ill'

'The hum though!' T joined in

'A ghost can neither maintain nor oil a machine, so it is not my fault, but the likes of the great tesla would later improve its powers by way of the so called herztian rays, which were found early on to deter the supernatural'

'Indeed' The continued

'If you looked more upon that book of yours, which i ask back, you may find another half of it is written by the great Nikola Tesla'

We handed back the book, and with that, the ghost vanished into thin air, and so did the hound, we looked behind, and the little shed was gone.

We got into contact with B, who said he had been trying to contact us for an hour, it was now 4:30, and we made our way back to bristol without a problem, apart from the ever present hum that had returned.

The next day we checked our recordings, but it was as if the recordings around the time of finding the shed were deleted, no camera or recorder had any recording of it, it was always us walking into leigh wood, then cut to us walking back to bristol, that's it, Bs recording of our comms was normal, but again there was no mention of a shed, or padlock, just B telling the void that the signal was weak.

The FindMyiPhone logs were of no help either, showing that we went no where near where we think the little shed was.

Nor did any of S's equipment capture anything, it was the same story, hum, but the shed, the ghost, the book, none of it.

But the only reason i write this three years after, is because last night, i dreamed of a large black dog, with red eyes.

3 Comments
2024/02/25
21:27 UTC

25

Has anyone heard of instadamn?

My first crack at the dark web and suddenly I was butterfingers.

Only two, at most three clicks away and my keyboard ninja skills were failing me.

Steady brother, I thought. But I wasn't steady. Something terrible was happening. I wasn't myself. I wasn't right. But I couldn't describe the feeling. Or maybe it was like the feeling of losing all feeling?

My hands went reactionary, unceremoniously defecting to fear; blatantly disregarding my brain's chain of command. Fingers don't fail me now! Come on, come on, I thought frantically.

I sucked down a long and slow draught of air followed by three more sharp inhalations. I was going to hold this breath; I was going to get a grip before the abyss rolled in.

I felt my jaw perma-clenching. I redoubled my efforts. They paid off. I finally managed to successfully negotiate with my left-hand to persuade my right-hand to stop my left leg from engaging in any more of that St. Vitus Dance bullshit.

I looked up at the clock on the wall.

Almost high noon.

Except for the clock, you might never have known daylight was working.

Vera had done up my place with blackout blinds and blackout curtains right after she'd begun making herself at home during Covid lockdown. Before I knew it Vera was a permanent fixture, hand creams and endless potions all. But she was serious about the blackout thing.

She said it would make sleeping the big sleep a lot easier. I might have asked her what she meant but by then I had realized Vera wasn't much for questions. And as for opinions? My opinions were only okay when they were the same as Vera's. And even then, sometimes, they were met with disdain.

But it didn't matter. You had to know Vera to know what I mean. Vera was like a demon goddess. She could bring sad and lonely me to the heights of ecstasy, for sure, like nobody ever has; but beware; even the slightest infractions would be met by outrageously incongruent punitive responses; there was nowhere safe for me as we shared a futon.

I let the desperate breath pass.

I was praying I was wrong and that I wasn't sleeping with the enemy. I was praying that the sweet and sexy Vera I met in 2021 was not draining me of my essence.

Yes, breathe. Restore your essence one breath at a time. One breath in. One breath out. Then another.

I felt the immediate panic passing along with the morning as the church around the corner rang in the afternoon twelve times.

The morning was gone but the free-floating anxiety remained at large.

Vera wouldn't be okay with sleep for too much longer. She'd wake up grouchy. She'd want her Lexapro. She'd want to know what happened to the body. She'd want to drink her brunch out of a vodka bottle. She'd want a filter-less cigarette and a coffee black as the hole where most women have a soul.

And then maybe, maybe she'd want my soul, too.

I heard a low whistle. It came from my nose. The whistle reminding me where Vera had accidentally busted my nose; her elbow making a dramatic point after getting tight one night. I remember how she looked down as my blood collected on her elbow and then dripped on the black satin sheet.

"Serendipity-doo," she said arching her threaded eyebrows. Her mesmerizing black and bloodshot eyes examining the spiderweb tattoo adorning her bloody elbow.

"I should get some red ink dripping down from the webbing part. Maybe a big bloody fly too with a human face. Yeah, that'd be too cool, wouldn't it?"

I did what I usually did. I agreed with Vera.

Now, three fear-filled years later I shook my head like a wet retriever.

I unclenched my jaw.

Snort more air, I thought. Head the panic off at the pass. Focus on the task at hand. Run down that mystery. Steady as she goes. Don't choke now. Just one more breath. In. Out. Breathe innnn. Breathe ouuuut. I felt my heartbeat begin to slow again...

Just as I was maybe getting it under control-

CRASH! SHATTER!

From the other end of my small, one bedroom apartment, I heard what I presumed to be the glass vase on the refrigerator, the one with the dead roses in it, taking a swan dive. This cacophony was interrupted by a piercing and psychotic mewl from gatita; that crazy cute but also very crazy feral cat that started coming in my living room window by the fire escape one snowy January morning.

"Fucking gatita!" I heard myself whisper-curse as my heart did it's version of parkour.

I sat back in my swivel desk chair and ran my hands over my horseshoe head.

Just that crazy fucking cat again, I heard myself think. Focus Gary. Vera could wake up any moment. The shattered glass. Her tortured, violent sleeping. Her sleep talking for Christ's sake.

And that oft-repeated phrase: "Which witch is which, bitch?" I was sure Vera was insane and now maybe I could prove it.

I took another deep breath and held it.

Full steam ahead and damned the torpedoes.

I slowly positioned the mouse over the black button. It was raised and beveled, sitting ominously on a charcoal background. The button read in gothic font, "Abandon Hope All Ye Who ENTER". My eyes shifted a bit to the left. It's sibling button, adorned in gothic bold, read, "GET OUT!"

I looked down at my fingers splayed upon the keyboard. What a sight. Gnawed upon nails, hangnails, dry cracked skin, chapped cuticles and callouses. If I survived, I would start treating myself to spa days. I would go to the park. I would stop and smell the roses. I would-

"Which witch is which, bitch??!?" Vera badgered her dream.

My shoulder involuntarily shuddered and hunched. Vera snarled in her sleep from the futon in the other room. I pulled my robe close feeling a chill. Vera made a sound that didn't sound quite human let alone feminine.

The surrealness of my predicament was not lost on me.

Me. Gary S. Kraft, full stack software consultant for hire. Thirty plus years battle tested in the IT business and now mi manos decide to go on the fritz in my hour of need?

Slowly, and deliberately I put the cursor in the password input. Even more slowly I typed out the password my sniffer had captured.

It was: 50Sh@d3s0fD0r1@nGr@Y@666

I heard Vera stirring. The cat mewled like someone stepped on her tail. The mouse went, "click," and I felt the dark web beckon.

Then I was greeted by an animation of fire and brimstone that dispersed to reveal the lone word, "instadamn" engraved in a Stonehenge background.

It was like instagram only it wasn't. It was deep and dark and all buttons led to Vera. Vera's instadamn; Damn!

There were pictures, so many pictures, of a very hideous and gnarled caricature of an old woman.

I rubbed my eyes and readjusted my glasses.

My heart sank and I knew. I knew beyond any doubt it was Vera.

Only it wasn't the Vera sleeping fitfully on the futon ten yards away. Not sexy Vera with her impossibly long sexy legs twitching restlessly. Not breathtaking Vera the goddess, her long tresses of silken blonde catching all slivers of light.

No, this was another Vera.

Vera's beautiful black eyes weren't very beautiful anymore. And her face, it wasn't smooth as peaches and cream. On the futon maybe. But not on her instadamn.

On her instadamn Vera was old as sin and twice as hideous. She was gnarled, her limbs like old tree branches waiting for the next storm to release them. But there was no release. Just ever more pictures. And every picture more hideous and Medusa-like then the last.

And then I found Vera's reels.

My hand covered my mouth once it began its silent scream.

There it was. In black & white. Reel after reel of young men turned decrepit in time-lapse terror. And there stood statuesque Vera next to them all.

Each played out the same drama. Each reel starting out with Vera hideously decrepit yet by the time the curtain dropped Vera was again young as springtime. But for the men, it played out exactly the opposite. They had been drained of their essence; sweet bird of youth never to fly high again.

My first thought? Run! My legs response?

Fuck you, Chief.

No, my legs did not cooperate. I remained frozen in my chair. The crazy cat now scooched in, pawing at my robe frantically; mewling piteously.

Then a funny thing happened; the lights went out.

I picked up my phone. It hesitated, but it still recognized my face.

The camera app was open and pointed at me. It captured my face effortlessly only it wasn't my face. Well, not quite. This face had more character if hard times build such a thing. And more fright lines. Wrinkles, wrinkles deep enough to hide a sesame seed.

I felt a strange pain in my hands. I looked down at them. Several liver spots began to form before my eyes. Then...

Then Vera rose from the futon.

"Where's my fucking cigarettes goddamnit!?" a voice that sounded liked consequences barked.

I dropped my phone on my bare foot and stifled a yelp.

Hopping to it, I got Vera a fresh pack of smokes from my desk drawer. She grabbed it from my outstretched hand. She didn't seem to notice the liver spots that came and went with the dance of the dust motes.

Vera got a smoke going then ambled off to the bathroom, a silver plume crowning her mare's nest of golden tresses. For a moment, I thought I saw some gray. Then before my eyes, as if someone were running the cosmic avid, Vera's tresses reverted to blonde again.

I wish I could call a friend. But somehow since falling for Vera I am no longer in contact with my family or old friends. Just Vera's friends. Not that she has many. Just that old Haitian lady she speaks French with when they make chicken once a month.

The cat scratched my foot. It began to bleed but it did not move. I saw a blue varicose vein begin to form, then recede, then reform.

Vera hacked up some phlegm and spat it in the sink.

Vera looked at herself in the medicine chest mirror. I fake-reached for a pen and caught a peek. There, in the mirror, clear as day was Vera... old Vera. Ugly Vera. Angry, hungry and hungover, Vera. The reflection gave me the malochi.

"Can I make you coffee, Vera?" I asked.

"Quit making husband noises!" she barked, then coughed spastically before she spat into the sink again. I saw a crack appear in her forehead. Then her cheeks.

Yep. Vera's in the bathroom and I'm having trouble moving. I hope someone can help me.

How does one go about reporting a murder not yet committed with no murder weapon except the looks that kill?

And then I remembered a quote from somewhere long ago, "I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very life essence itself with each release."

It's getting harder to think clearly and the cat is beyond frantic. Vera's gonna be done in the bathroom soon and I haven't slept all night.

Has anyone heard of instadamn?

1 Comment
2024/02/25
19:02 UTC

51

I found a living train that slinks through the multiverse. It showed me many nightmarish worlds [part 2]

Part 1

https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/1ahfzyl/i_found_a_living_train_that_slinks_through_the/

The metal doors we had come in through slid open with a shriek of tortured metal. The pink flesh thrumming over the interior of most of the train flexed. Like a slug, the flesh crawled to the side, leaving a streak of translucent, clear mucus streaming down from the top of the walls.

“Let’s go,” Brother said, ushering us forward into the dark wasteland. The alien sky above us glowed with strange, opalescent whorls of light. They reminded me of the Northern Lights, but these came in shimmering dark red, obsidian black and glowing silver. The black streaks twisting through the beautiful radiance above us had a different look than the darkness of space. They glimmered with a glassy texture, as if rivers of melted obsidian flowed out to the horizon.

“Whoa,” Cook said, spell-bound. “Far out, man.” His mouth dropped open as he saw the beautiful effulgence writhing across the sky like a curtain in front of infinite space. Behind the twisting lights, the rings and twin moons of this strange world glowed faintly in the background. Brother pushed him forwards none too gently.

“Wait!” I cried, running over to the next train over. The machete the eyeless creature had thrown at us had clattered to the ground when the doors of the train opened. I grasped it now, feeling the sticky, dried blood on the handle. It felt revolting under my grip.

“Good thinking,” Brother said, giving me what I learned was an extremely rare thing from him- a compliment.

The ground beneath my feet looked like solid black earth, but it had a lot of give like a trampoline. At first, it made walking a bit awkward. I looked up and down the endless track. The carriages of the train extended to the horizon, disappearing with the tracks in the far off cliffs and oceans of swamps that marked this world. I saw creatures that I would have never imagined, not even in my wildest fever dreams. Even now, a few months later, when I fall asleep in my bed late at night, I catch glimpses of those eldritch beings behind my closed eyes. They crawled, skittered and glided out of the train’s doors, emerging in waves.

They were not remotely like any extraterrestrial life I had ever seen portrayed in fiction. The ones only five or six carriages down had dozens of translucent, black tentacles that writhed over the soft, spongy ground. Their bodies rose up like silver and black tree trunks to about eight feet. Their skin seemed to shiver and dance. They had dozens of boneless, slithering arms emerging from their chests. Hundreds of tiny eyes on stalks rose out of the tops of their heads like thin branches growing out of a tree. Each eye had a thick, glossy eyelid. They all blinked at different times, which gave the creature’s expression a chaotic, otherworldly appearance.

Some creatures further away looked like something from a demonic Alex Grey painting. They glowed with an inner, orange light. They had two arms and two legs and a generally human shape, but no skin or recognizable face. I could see directly into the inside of their bodies, where many thin blood vessels spun around their solar plexus in fast, circular revolutions. The narrow veins swirled together with the orange light, spiraling like a hurricane of crimson and gold.

From there, the pulsating red veins spiderwebbed out faintly, connecting to the ends of their fingers and toes. Each of these creatures seemed to have a dozen fingers and a single thumb on each hand. Their legs ended in feet like those of a rhinoceros. Their heads simply glowed with that uniform, opaque, orange light. I could see no sign of any eyes on their heads nor any place where they might possibly eat.

My attention was roughly drawn back to our present predicament by Brother grabbing me roughly by the arm and pulling me forward. I saw Cook had also stopped yet again, staring open-mouthed at the strange creatures streaming out of the living train into the Boglands.

“If you two idiots want to die, then be my guest,” Brother hissed through gritted teeth, “but if you want to live, you better start moving. First of all, most of those creatures are not your friends. Those with the many eyes are called the Stalkers, and those with the light shining from them are called the Maia. The former will kill you and bleed you dry if you get too close, while the latter might just suck your consciousness out of your skull and imprison it within their minds for all eternity.

“And, secondly, when the train begins regenerating in about thirty seconds, it’s going to start reaching out with those masses of flesh to consume anything it can grab around the tracks. Any native animal or plant life, any proteins or useful carbohydrates, it will suck up and incorporate into itself. After all, traveling through the multiverse is thirsty work, and the train is indeed a living organism- at least mostly.” His words got me and Cook moving. We sprinted into the Boglands and away from the train.

Giant, red-and-white fungal growths as tall as redwoods loomed ahead of us. They had many mouth-like holes up and down their wet, crimson surfaces. White dots in the shape of perfect circles of varying sizes ran up and down their lengths. Thousands of these growths seemed to swarm around us after we got a few hundred feet away from the train. A thick mist kept me from seeing too far into the swamplands, and that made me nervous. Brother also looked anxious, and his eyes kept flicking to the left and right. Every few seconds, he would check his back. I could tell he felt watched, as if sadistic, alien eyes were running over his body. I had the same creeping paranoia.

The Boglands smelled fungal, like a patch of mushrooms after a heavy rain. The pale cataract eyes of the twin moons gave enough light to see by, and this planet’s alien version of the Northern Lights seemed to run constantly across the sky at night.

The trails split off into dozens of smaller trails, almost like deer trails. On the sides of the black earth, the swamps bubbled and gurgled, as if they were whispering secrets. Cook was breathing heavily and kept asking to stop, grabbing his chest. Brother’s eyes seemed as cold as liquid nitrogen as he regarded the complaining man.

“You can lay down right here and die,” Brother whispered slowly, his words dripping with venom. “I don’t tolerate weakness. I haven’t lived this long to watch over a fully grown man-children.” Brother wasn’t even winded. The man seemed made of stone, unbreakable. At that moment, I wondered if his heart was also made of stone.

A terrible cacophony exploded from behind us, from the direction of the train. Cook and I jumped. I looked around like a caged animal, but Brother just emitted a sardonic chuckle, pointing through the tall mushroom-like pillars that rose all around us. I could still see part of the train through a gap in the flora.

“That is why we needed to get away,” Brother said coldly as Cook and I watched, open-mouthed and stunned. The entire train shone like a firefly, sending out strobing, blinding flickers of white light. The pink flesh all up and down had begun to shiver and vibrate. It sounded as if the entire train had started screaming in some high-pitched, alien tongue.

The flesh had turned into groping, snake-like fingers that oozed off the sides of the train and prodded lightly across the ground next to the tracks. The fingers wrapped around anything they found. I saw a small, scaly, deer-like creature burst out of the thick forest of fungal growths, scared by the sudden explosion of light and noise. But the poor creature ran directly into the groping appendage of the train, which quickly wrapped itself around the alien deer like a boa constrictor. The finger of flesh slowly drew back to the train with its panicked, kicking offering. The creature disappeared into the flesh of the train, still fighting and writhing against the powerful muscles encircling it.

“Jesus Christ,” Cook whispered, awe-struck. The train’s appendages continued prodding further out, breaking off huge chunks of the giant red-and-white mushrooms that loomed over the planet’s surface and bringing them back to the main body. Other fleshy fingers broke off piles of black, glossy ferns. A few delved down holes in the planet’s surface and came up with squirming gray lamprey-like creatures four or five feet long. “It’s just destroying everything around it. It’s like a wrecking ball.”

“How many calories a day do you think that train needs?” I asked jokingly, trying to break the tension. Cook didn’t laugh. He had started visibly trembling. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Are you going to be OK, man?” Cook nodded, but he didn’t look at me. He just continued to stare out blankly at the nightmarish train’s feeding frenzy.

“We need to get moving. We need to distance ourselves from the train- and from the passengers it brings,” Brother said dramatically, reaching into his faded jeans and pulling out a gold-plated pocket watch. He flicked it open. I saw a clock there, but it looked like it had 25 hours on it. Each of the numbers were marked in a strange language I had never seen before. They reminded me of Tibetan. “We need to make sure we’re back here in exactly eleven hours and fifty minutes. If the train leaves without us, we will be stranded and most certainly die a terrible death here in the Boglands.”

“You’re always so positive,” I said sarcastically. Brother ignored my comment.

“Is there water here?” Cook asked. “I am thirsty as hell.” He looked pale as well. But his comments brought up a good point.

“What do you do for food and water, Brother?” I asked. “Do you just leave the train and hunt for food and water every time it stops to regenerate?”

“The train gives pure water as a waste product from its feeding,” Brother said. “I would not drink the water of the Boglands. I would not drink it for all the gold in Moria.”

“Ah, shit,” Cook said, licking his dry lips. I was also fairly thirsty and disappointed to hear the waters here were likely undrinkable. “Why not? We had a few beers before all this insanity and…”

“I saw a man who drank the waters of the Boglands once,” Brother said, a distant look coming over his eyes. “He entered the train afterwards. For a few hours, he was healthy and pink, not a scrape nor a sore. And then, the parasite reached his brain.

“One of his pupils was huge, the other tiny. Blood started coming from his eyes, and he grew mad, raving and bloodthirsty. He started attacking anyone and anything he saw, like a rabid wolf, and that was when I was forced to kill him with my boomstick.” He raised his smoking alien rifle for emphasis. “It is possible that not all the streams of the Boglands are corrupted such as this, but…” His story was cut off by a wailing cacophony close by on our right, maybe a couple hundred feet away. Brother’s pale blue eyes widened and he spun, pointing his rifle in the direction of the scream.

Another shrieking cry answered it from our left, even closer than the first. Brother pointed at us, then motioned down to the trail. We nodded. He took off and we followed close behind. All around us, dark shapes blurred through the brush, circling and shrieking. I couldn’t tell how many there were.

The path opened up suddenly a few dozen feet ahead. The huge fungal growths and sharp ferns of this strange alien landscape ended. A castle loomed there. Its exterior shone a glossy black like smooth obsidian glass. It had no windows or openings except for a giant door at the front that streamed silver light across the flat, black plains.

Something snaked out through the brush and grabbed my ankle. I looked down and saw a pale, rotting hand. A woman’s corpse grinned up at me, her eyes filmy and wet, her mouth slashed wide open from ear to ear. The mutilated skin of her face hung down in strips. I screamed as I fell, landing hard on the spongy earth. I twisted around, looking back at my attacker. She slithered out of the brush behind me, forcing me down with her body weight. Her yellowed, decaying teeth gnashed the air in front of my face as her sickly body covered mine.

“Get the hell off me!” I cried, panicked. I still held the machete in my right hand as she lunged down to bite my eyes. I raised it up instinctively, stabbing her through the neck. Thick, dark red blood the consistency of maple syrup dribbled into my mouth and over my nose. I coughed, sputtering and gagging.

Brother appeared in the corner of my vision. He reached down, ripping the woman’s corpse off me with no apparent effort. With a strong, callused hand, he pulled me up off the ground, hissing in my ear.

“There are at least twenty more of them closing in on us,” he said. “Run!” He pushed me forward none too gently. I saw Cook sprinting across the field ahead of us. He looked like he was heading towards the castle. More lunging, limping corpses of the dead came out of the trees all around the castle. I knew we had no choice.

I ran towards the open door of the castle, seeing how its silver light streamed over the black plains like pale moonbeams through infinite space.

***

As the three of us ran into the blinding glare of the castle, I dared to glance back. Dozens of corpses limped and sprinted after us, and only some were human. I saw rotting figures of what Brother had called the Stalkers, creatures with slithering tentacles and countless eyes on stalks. Except these Stalkers had horrifying gashes across their bodies that dripped blue blood. Squirming white larvae writhed and danced in their open wounds, gleefully feeding on the dead flesh below.

“They’re surrounding us!” Brother cried in alarm as we crossed the threshold. The black soil turned into shimmering, glassy stone beneath our feet. “We’re outnumbered! We should try to find somewhere to hide in here, fast.”

“What is this place?” Cook asked, gasping and out of breath. Brother just shook his head.

“We will find out,” he said. “Nowhere good, I’m sure. But perhaps we can pass the majority of the next twelve hours in this refuge. It would be easier to secure a room and force our enemies to enter one at a time than fight them in the open.” The wailing and shrieking rang out fiercely behind us as the undead followed after their escaping prey.

We entered a long, straight hallway with floating orbs along both sides of the wall. It was these many orbs that gave off such a blinding, silvery radiance that we had seen streaming out into the forest. Doorways in the shape of pointed arches opened up on both sides of us with slatted, gray metal doors.

Brother seemed to choose one at random. He turned right after sprinting through the castle’s hallways for a couple hundred feet. I looked back and saw a couple dozen of the creatures close behind us. The fastest of them was only a few paces behind us. My heart was beating like a jackhammer and I felt like I would pass out. My left arm had also started bleeding again after getting knocked to the ground and having to fight the undead woman. I winced as a sharp pang crawled up my skin, feeling the warm blood trickle slowly out of the wound. I was grateful that the eyeless monstrosity had not hit me in the right arm, however.

I cried out something cold and moist wrapped around my arm. The door was so close. I tried pulling against the creature holding me. Brother heard my cry and spun around, raising his smoking rifle.

“Down!” he cried, and I didn’t hesitate. I fell to the ground, the creature still clutching my arm with an iron grip. Brother pressed the trigger. A narrow stream of what looked like molten lava shot out of the end of the rifle, blurring through the air like a fiery spear. I looked back, seeing what had grabbed me: a Stalker with its many rotted tentacles still dancing around its body. Its chest had been cut wide open. Many small, black hearts beat there in the center of its torso. The loose flesh of its undead tentacle stayed wrapped tightly around my arm as the fiery projectile spread out over its body like napalm.

The Stalker gave a steam whistle screech that shook the ground as its rotting flesh melted off its body in suffocating, smoking rivulets. I felt its grip loosen and jumped to my feet, following behind Brother and Cook.

Brother pushed the door open, running through it without stopping. The hard metal slammed against the stone wall with a sound like a cannon firing. In front of us loomed a room filled with various torture tools hanging on the walls in cabinets hewn directly into the obsidian glass. I saw whips, saws, thumbscrews, surgical instruments, knee splitters, head crushers, breast rippers, choke pears, and other, even more insidious devices that I couldn’t properly name. In glass jars, floating in some strange, yellowish fluid, organs and heads from countless species glittered in the silvery light.

There were also chairs and beds in the room, all upholstered in some shiny red leather and embossed with a strange symbol. The symbol looked like a 3 with a long, curving tail jutting out to its right. Beyond all the torture devices and strange biological specimens loomed a staircase leading down into the darkness. No silver orbs illuminated this passage, nor did a speck of light shine out in that foul place. A sulfurous breeze blew up the steps from the hidden dungeon below, like the exhalations of some great, evil dragon.

“Help me move these chairs and beds!” Brother yelled, slamming the door shut. “We’ll barricade the door as best as we can.” Cook and I moved to action quickly. The three of us slid the largest of the couches in front of the door just as the first set of hands slammed their full weight against it. The metal door shuddered in its frame as we continued to slide more furniture in front of the door. It jumped so fiercely with the many strong blows raining down on it that I feared the hinges might rip off. Cook and I were beyond winded and tired from our recent exertions. We were not used to running for our lives and sliding heavy furniture around on a regular basis.

Cook bent over, shaking and anxious. I went next to him.

“What’s up, man? How are you doing?” I whispered.

“I need a drink, man,” he complained.

“We’ll get you some water when…”

“No, I need a drink,” Brother exclaimed insistently. “I’m going to go into full-blown withdrawals soon. I’ve been drinking… a little too much lately, I think.” His eyes started to water as a single tear ran down his cheek. Brother heard the conversation and walked calmly over, regarding Cook with his colorless, stony gaze.

“That part of your life is over,” Brother said coldly. “If you get back to the squalid hole you call home, then you can drink yourself to death. But if you’re here with us, you will fight and struggle, or I will leave you behind here to die. Weakness is death in these lands, and you seem to be overflowing with it, my friend.” Cook’s fists clenched at the unexpected insult.

“Fuck you, buddy,” Cook spat. “What do you know about me? You don’t understand anything I’ve gone through.”

“I’ve encountered many like you before, and they are all the same,” Brother said coldly. “They have let their demons convince their minds they are weak and small, and so they become weak and small, and fade into nothingness and death. Do not let your demons conquer you. You should use them to your advantage, not let them kill you. But if you wish to disappear from this world, then do not burden us with your sickness as you do so. Go find a hole, crawl into it, and die in peace. Or you can fight like a man, and overcome that which destroys you.”

The blows continued to rain down on the door as Brother offered his cold words of wisdom. The dark passage descending into the shadows stared up at us like the empty sockets of a grinning skull, revealing nothing of the mysteries beneath.

***

Brother sat down and pulled out a flask of water and some dried meat from his pack. He passed the meager meal around. Cook drank greedily before passing the water to me. I took a long, satisfying sip. It had a strange, slightly soapy aftertaste, but otherwise seemed fine. I wondered if this was the water from the train. A sense of revulsion passed through me as I realized I was probably drinking the train’s discharge from its prior meals.

The meat Brother offered was not any animal I had ever heard of. Brother said it was a “kalipare,” a type of flying reptile the size of a large chicken who regularly got caught on the train when it stopped in whatever world the kalipares came from.

“They feed on the flesh of the train and drink its water,” he explained, “and they reproduce quickly, almost like insects. If you leave them alone for a few days in a train, you’ll open the door and find hundreds of the things crawling over the walls. They are vicious with very sharp teeth, not at all friendly. They will swarm you like hornets if you let them. But their meat is very tender and soft. I try to shoot them and smoke the meat whenever I have a chance. At times, I have lived on kalipare meat and water for months straight.”

I looked down at the gray meat. It was, indeed, very tender; in fact, it was falling right off the thin, twig-like bones. Brother continued to glance at the shuddering door, but it held firm. It sounded like an army was gathered on the other side by this point, however. We heard hundreds of gurgling voices hissing in many strange and alien tongues. The smell of rotting bodies flitted through the cracks of the door and filled up the room like a fetid cloud.

“Help…” a voice echoed up from the dark passageway at the other side of the room, faint and distant. “Please, help me… Is someone there? I hear voices. Please, God, if someone is there…” The voice devolved into sobs and pained gasping. I looked over at Brother who continued calmly eating the last of his kalipare, stripping the tender gray meat off the bone. He threw the bones to the side of the room and stood up calmly. He gathered his pack and grabbed his rifle. Heaving a deep sigh, he looked at me and Cook.

“There’s someone down there,” Cook said, his face pale. Brother nodded grimly.

“Yes, I also have ears,” Brother responded sarcastically. “It may be another of your kind. They do speak your language, after all.”

“Well, so do you, but you’re not from our Earth,” I said. Brother nodded.

“I speak thirteen different languages, and a few dozen more I know pieces of. I have traveled long. I have had time to listen… and learn. The train has stopped at Market Street in your world for over a hundred years now. Always at night, of course. We have had many English speakers who crossed the threshold of worlds at 3:33 AM.”

“This might be a trap, though. That’s all I meant,” I said, meeting Brother’s gaze. I noticed how silent everything had become, and then I realized the pounding at the door had stopped. For some reason, that only increased my creeping sense of disquiet. I wondered how much time had passed. I wanted to just get back on the train and relax, but that still seemed like an eternity away.

“Everything on these worlds is a trap, son,” Brother hissed, his aristocratic features forming into a scowl. “You should be prepared to meet death at any moment. Death is not your enemy, but a friend. It is nature’s final painkiller, after all, after everything has grown old and gray.” He motioned for me and Cook to follow him. “Grab any weapons you wish from the walls. You will both need them, and soon, if I had to guess.”

Cook and I went over to the stone cabinets, hewn directly into the rock without doors or latches. I still had the wicked, blood-stained machete from the eyeless creature, but I also found a small, sheathed dagger with a spiral pattern on the handle. The color of the metal blade was so light that it seemed to glow white.

“This doesn’t look like any metal from Earth,” I whispered to Cook, gazing at the embossed script across the dagger. It was a language I had seen on the Eldritch Tram, an elegant, curving script that reminded me of the Black Speech from Mordor. Cook glanced over at the dagger with interest.

“What should I grab?” he asked, sounding like a kid in a toy store. His eyes gleamed as he looked as the various weapons and torture instruments. Whips with sharp barbs of metal at the tips grabbed his attention for a few moments. Cat-o-nine-tails glittered next to blood-stained chainwhips and bullwhips.

“Ahh, this one…” He reached out his hand and took a beautiful, two-foot-long war hammer off the wall. It shone a silvery-white with a roaring dragon engraved into the handle. On the head of the hammer, I saw that strange symbol again, the 3 with a curving tail attached to the bottom half of the number. Cook also grabbed a small, sheathed dagger hanging from the doorless cabinet. He slipped it in his pocket, and then we were ready.

“I’ll go in the lead,” Brother said, starting off with a confident stride toward the dark passageway. “Stay close behind me and watch our backs. We don’t know what kind of foul evil or ancient traps await us below.”

***

Steep obsidian stairs led down into the darkness. Cook pulled a lighter out of his pocket, flicking it and illuminating the steps in front of us. Brother used the smoking, volcanic hole at the end of his rifle to help us see. There wasn’t a single window in the entire castle, so when the orbs that provided light ceased, the place became as dark as an underground cave.

“Smells like dead bodies,” Cook muttered in a tone dripping with revulsion. I noticed it too every time a slight breeze blew up the stairwell. It smelled sweet and infectious, like a giant, open sore crawling with maggots. The voice had gone silent again, and now I couldn’t even hear breathing coming from below.

The black stairwell ended in a dungeon filled with prisoners, most of them dead. In the corner, slatted metal cages held three of the glowing, alien Maia. Their orange light gave the entire room a dull, flickering glow. Bodies of many strange species lay on tables, sliced open and dissected.

In the corner, I saw a filthy, olive-skinned man chained to the obsidian wall. His long, dirty black hair had grown over his face, and a thick beard jutted down to his chest. He was unconscious, slumped and drooling. I noticed he had on a Johnny Cash shirt. More disturbingly, his right arm was missing from his body. The stump jutted out from his torso, cauterized and scarred. The arm lay on a table in front of him, severed and naked, the fingers spasming as the hand clenched and unclenched into a fist. I gasped, pointing.

“That… that arm!” I sputtered. Brother glanced at it, then his eyes widened. We looked around, seeing other dismembered limbs shuddering on other tables.

“Oh no,” Brother whispered, a tone of horror creeping over his voice. His stone mask of calmness cracked for a fundamental moment, and I glimpsed the broken, terrified man underneath. “Someone has been using these souls and their bodies for the art of necromancy. A most powerful black magic…” The chained man’s eyes started to flutter. He raised his head, glancing from me to Brother to Cook in confusion.

“You’re not…” he gurgled in a dry, reedy voice, coughing. It sounded like he had been gargling with lye. “You’re not the evil one. What… what are you doing here? Have you come to save me?” Brother raised an eyebrow, drawing closer as Cook and I kept watch the myriad other forms across the dungeon. The caged Maia watched us silently, giving off the slightest smell of ozone as the light within their translucent bodies spun and danced. I felt drawn to them, as if that light were whispering in my ear to come closer. I blinked, pushing these intrusive thoughts away. I made a point not to look directly at the Maia again.

“Who is keeping you prisoner here, friend? Are you a criminal or a murderer?” Brother asked. The man laughed, showing his broken, dirty teeth. He gave a grim smile.

“Aren’t we all murderers here? But no… I am no criminal. I am a prisoner of the Necromancer, the spinner of death. We are all his… experiments,” the man said. Brother nodded, seeming satisfied. He took the rifle and put its end up to the chain. He pulled the trigger, sending out a blast of fiery red lava. After a few seconds, the steel started to melt and drip. Brother yanked on the molten chain and the link ripped apart.

“I’m Cook,” Cook said, “and this is Brother and Justin.”

“I’m Jeremiah… and I’ve been stuck here for six months,” Jeremiah said, coughing up a wad of phlegm and spitting it on the floor. He looked thin and weak, his cheekbones prominent and his eyes deeply sunken. Brother broke his other chains and began helping him up. Cook started suddenly, his finger flying up and his eyes widening.

“Holy shit, Jeremiah? Jeremiah Matheson?” Cook asked. Jeremiah looked up quickly, his dark eyes widening in surprise.

“How the hell do you know who I am?” Jeremiah asked in a weak voice.

“I heard about the Eldritch Tram from your friend, Kyle! Everyone back home thinks you’re dead!” Cook responded. I remembered Cook telling me how two people had found the Eldritch Tram and that only one had returned, insane and rambling. He had told me the other person had died. But apparently, he had been wrong.

“This is insane. What are the chances that we would find a survivor from Earth out here?” I asked. Jeremiah shook his head.

“Better than you might think,” he said. “The Necromancer is powerful. He might have captured you and brought you down here regardless. But then, you would be in chains with me, not my rescuers.” He gave a bitter smile at this. Brother took out his pocket watch, checking the time.

“The train will finish regenerating in about three hours,” he stated robotically. “I think it is time we start making our way back through the forest.” We gathered our things, and Cook and I helped Jeremiah walk up the stairs.

The silence seemed deafening. We started to slide away the furniture blocking the door when an explosion rocked the room. Torture devices clattered to the floor with harsh bangs. A blinding purple light shot through the door like a cannonball. The metal door shattered like glass. The furniture caught on fire and erupted into violet flames and choking black smoke.

A figure loomed there beyond the destruction, a shadow in the shape of a man. Bright whorls of fire spun through his tenebrous limbs. The shadows forming his skin shivered and rippled. His head looked like a black cloud with three sharp, protruding spikes on the top.

“Oh God, help us,” Jeremiah whispered, his tanned skin growing pale as he began to tremble. His back hunched, and at that moment, he looked like a truly broken man. “It’s the Necromancer.”

***

Brother fired his gun, sending out a fiery spray of molten lava that pierced the dark shadow like an arrow. The Necromancer gave a reptilian roar, a blending of many shrieking voices together in a cacophonous scream. He pulled back, the shadowy silhouette disappearing from view.

In its place, dozens of undead streamed in, limping and writhing their way through the shattered door and past the smoking ruins of furniture. Cook and I raised our weapons, but my courage nearly failed then. I wanted to turn and run. The first attacker rushed me so suddenly, though, that I didn’t even have time to think about it. It was a human female with a torn-out throat. It looked like a pack of wolves had gotten to her, though, in reality, it was likely something worse. She gurgled and spat blood as she ran at me in a blur, her eyes rolling back in her head.

I swung the machete as hard as I could towards the massive wound in her neck. She sprinted right into my swing, and the sharp blade did its work quickly, decapitating her. I watched her head fly across the room. Her body stumbled towards me, falling and sliding as blood spurted from the stump of her neck.

Brother kept aiming for those rushing in the doorway. I realized he was trying to create a bottleneck of corpses so as to keep them coming in one at a time. His weapon didn’t seem to run out of ammo, so it seemed like it might work.

Cook was fighting with a Stalker that had wrapped its rotted tentacle around his leg. I watched the heavy war hammer smash into the Stalker’s many eyes, crushing its skull with a sound like a ceramic pot shattering. Jeremiah hung behind us, weak and stumbling, still clutching his mutilated arm. He looked like he might collapse at any moment.

Brother’s plan didn’t work, however. Too many corpses kept flooding into the room, pushing us back further and further. We were surrounded on all sides. I saw the black, rippling silhouette of the Necromancer as he walked in triumphantly.

“You will all die for your insolence,” he cried in a voice like shadows. “Kill them! Do not stop until they are all ripped to pieces.”

5 Comments
2024/02/25
17:25 UTC

23

Metamorphosis

Egg

I went to a support group a while ago. There were flies tapping on their window.

The air was suffocating, a wave of heat sticking to my neck in thin sheets, the smell of ammonia soaking into the skin. Few people attended; long rows of chairs isolated the small group of participants. An old clock ticked on the wall, the small noise of time passing by quietly dissolving through the space. The facilitator was bunching on a chair too tiny for his size. His pupils in his large, bulging, goldfish-like eyes clouded by a dull, grey foam. You’ll have to forgive me, but I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying.

It took me a long while to recall why I was there. Right, my wife died.

I never could recall how I met my wife. I was born in a decrepit bedroom, grew up in a small town, moved to a remote college, started working soon after. Somewhere along the line she occurred, and before I knew it, I was married. Sometimes, as she strolled around the house, I’d look at her face, and she’d remind me of flies — those little black dots wandering mindlessly across rooms, knocking into every piece of object. How, in summertime, impromptu they surface, and then, all of a sudden, they’ve spread everywhere. How, like cryptids, they emerge and perish out of human perceptions, beyond reach. When you aren’t looking, they live out their lives, wilting away like flowers in the cool November breeze.

Flies are fascinating insects.

Inside the old community center, they were still banging on the window. Their shiny, yellowish bellies flared in the sun as they wiggled on the glass, squirming and dropping, then bursting into flights, futilely thrashing at the invisible barrier. As you’d probably guess, I was riveted to the spot, entranced by the dance of their bodies, the transparent, erratic beats of their wings, the sharp, hardened, sable hairs on their legs. I imprinted their images into my head.

When the session ended, I walked up to the window and grabbed a handful, squeezing their plump bodies tightly in my fist. Their little legs pinched my palm for the entirety of my walk home, quivering in my hand like small, frightened kittens. It was almost disappointing to discover that when I got home, they had already been squashed into a pool of paste: red blood fused with yellow juice, tainted with tattered heads and broken wings. Some of the flies were pregnant; I spotted tiny mounds of rice-white eggs in the crevice of my fingers.

I drank a little afterwards, and when I got comfortable, I pressed my hand to my tongue. The juice tasted bitter, like a metallic acid stinging the inside of my mouth. I smeared the remains onto my window. The brownish filter it created formed light circles on the floor — something so magnificent that I imagine you’d want to see someday for yourself.

Larvae

A few weeks later, on a warm Sunday afternoon, I was visited by a stranger. He reminded me of someone close, someone I couldn’t quite name — a nostalgic face of a million unfamiliar beings coiling in my head.

Without warning, he walked inside. I didn’t stop him. We sat by the table for a while, a musky scent lingered in the air. In silence, we rested until the blue sky drained into a sickly white, then peeling away into a greyish purple, pressing down onto the roof. Eventually, when the silence became too unbearable for both of us, he opened up. In whispers, he told me that he was another me — the future me that never existed, the future me that died with my wife.

That probably confused you. You see, when you lose someone, you lose a part of yourself too — a future you that you’ll never experience. He was the part of me taking her to the lake for anniversary, the part of me pressing my ears on her swelled-up belly, the part of me sitting with her looking after our children, the part of me watching the colors of her hair fade, the part of me holding her hand as she closes her eyes for one last time. All those echoing images of myself faded away with her on the hospital bed.

He didn’t leave that night. Side by side, we lay on the warm wooden floor, our hands tightly intertwined, faces caressed by the gentle wind. I had buried the fly eggs in the ground below the crawlspace of my house, where they will imperceptibly germinate and blossom into beautiful flowers. Inattentively, we listened to the rumbling underneath the floorboards, the rhythmed, quiet tapping of worms wiggling, turning the soil. Drifting on the waves of silent writhing, the house quivered subtly with us.

I imagined her quivering with us, too.

With my eyes half closed, I let go of the man next to me, pulled a blanket over his body, and tucked the edge of the blanket under his folded limbs. It was a mesmerizing experience: the tender, brown fur resting in my hand, sliding through my fingers, then propping down his side, coming together underneath his back. The way it surrounded him, covering him like a mummified cocoon, forever preserved, forever full of life. It was beautiful.

He stayed motionless for the rest of the night; the hardening folds of the blanket gradually hindered the patterned heaving of his chest. Almost telepathically, I watched him dissolve into his shell, melting like sugary caramel. In the morning, I buried the empty husk next to my wife in the yard.

Pupae

For a while, I was overtaken by a powerful sense of longing; it would be hard to describe it to you, to make you feel what I felt. It wasn’t obvious at first, like the first few drops of rain on a gloomy day. But the more I waited, the more it loomed, an overcast seeping into trees and dirt until everything was shrouded in fog. The way I felt it in the peripheral vision of my heart, fresh and certain, like the full moon so wet you could see it drip.

It was a powerful feeling.

The smear on my window had grown, in an infinitesimal manner it stretched into a thin, stained foam. Blooming in the hot summer’s day, the edges spilled into tiny arms, reaching and pulsating from the window ledge. I had latched my front door with several locks; I didn’t want to risk my neighbor knocking and opening the door — that would ruin everything.

Sometimes, I would sit on my wooden chair, gazing for hours at the filtered window; it captured me in a trance. As the sun rose, through the shattered wings, the lights dragged out long, incoherent bubbles on the wall. It reminded me of life. How, like rivers rise into clouds, like wildflowers appear in the crevice of sidewalks, life quietly passed us by.

Sometimes, I would look at pictures of her too; they helped me remember her face. It was hard to tell in which photo she looked thinner. With makeup, she appeared no different than when I first met her, a time and place I couldn’t quite recall. She only looked paler than usual lying in the hospital room. Her hair was falling out, so I bought her a wig. I didn’t know which one to pick and ended up with one styled a bit too tacky for someone her age, but she was okay with that.

She was okay with anything.

There were flies in my house; they drifted like dust in the air, forming an unpierceable cloud, condensing into furniture. It didn’t bother me, though. It didn’t bother me that the moment they caught my eyes, they vanished into inexistence. With perked ears, I listened to the buzzing that reverberated through the house, ringing louder as time flowed by, murmuring, then wailing in a cacophony of vibrations. Multitudes of wings beat maniacally, layer upon layer, flutter upon flutter.

It didn’t bother me, really, if I were to be completely honest. Like I said, I was struck by a feeling of intense longing, stabbing my chest like hot daggers. As you can imagine, it was quite problematic. But for every poison, there’s a remedy. So, to cure my own poison, I’d take out my small stonework hammer and crawl through the open window on the other wall into my yard. There, I would carefully tread to the place where I buried myself, just next to my wife.

Lying on top of my grave, gently, I would take the hammer to my arm, slowly crushing each individual bones, then to the legs, then to the ribcage. The hardest part was always the last arm. As it’s obvious, breaking solid bones using a smashed, crumbled up hand was extremely difficult…but not impossible. Flattened, twisted on the ground, I liked to imagine myself wrapped inside the blanket six feet underneath me, slowly morphing into a newer being — reborn, if that’s how you’d like to call it.

Some time later, the shattered bones and swollen tissue would begin to heal, their misaligned connections resulting in some morbid, unrecognizable form. Still, it never failed to fascinate me when I looked into the mirror. It was like staring into someone new.

Adult

In the end, when I had done it enough times, the wounds stopped healing. I was left with pulverized bones throughout my body, barely able to move. Having been disintegrated for too long, the nerves on my fingertips died, muscles shrinking into a blackish mess. It didn’t bother me, though.

What bothered me was when the flies died. Moved on, if you will. The black, erratic swarm eaten by the hollow space; individuals unraveling from each other, dissolving and decomposing imperceptibly into the air, consumed by the room.

The house was a mute mausoleum, its pulse reduced to a mumble. The foam that originated from the window covered the wall, a moldy membrane of wallpaper reeking of decay.

And I was feeling very, very sick. The type of sickness that slowly eats at you, slowly engulfs you in a formless cloud of despair; the type of sickness that slowly emerges and takes you away. It was suffocating. But it was inevitable. So, I decided to take to the yard one last time.

Dragging my body on all fours across the living room, I climbed through the open window and crawled into the yard. I was driven by a primitive instinct, a megalithic calling that you’d hear when you suddenly wake in the night, overtaken by fear and grief. It felt like that.

Creeping onto the hump in the ground, with my swollen, limp fingers, I dug through the dirt bit by bit, until I was able to see the wooden surface protruding out of the hole.

Wiping away the dirt on her coffin, the lid of the box had cracked, through it a giant, needle-like leg pierced the middle. From the grand split, it pointed at the sky like a delicate flower, fresh out of its bud, blossoming in the cool night breeze.

Retracting into a tensed spring, the leg began thrashing at the coffin, each strike strong, powerful, lively. Piece by piece, the fragments broke off like brittle leaves, giving way to the five other sable legs germinating through. Then, tasting air for the second time in her life, she sighed. Steadily, she rose up, erect before me. Her metallic, green stomach glistened in the moonlight, her translucent wings casted streaks of shadows on my broken body. Under the clear night sky, she looked alive.

When I met the gaze of her warm, mesmerizing eyes, I saw in each tiny grid of the compounded structure a future me — a me bringing her to our new home, a me having a baby with her, a me raising our children, a me watching her get old, a me crying as she passes away. A million echoing faces of me living inside her; a million echoing faces of us living forever.

And it was okay now.

Shaking awake her wings, gently, she took flight; the soft wind she created rustled through my hair. Then, like life itself, she shrunk ever so small into the night sky, until imperceptibly, she went away.

Kneeling on the ground, it took me a long while to recall why I was there. Right, my wife died.

I met her on a summer’s day, it was my first day at college, she was sitting in the same class with me, there were flies tapping on the classroom window. We started talking as friends, then imperceptibly, we went from friends to lovers; when college ended, we got married. She was a happy, regular woman; I was a happy, regular man. After we settled down, though, just as imperceptibly, she began to wither. It took us three weeks to figure out she had pancreatic cancer. On a winter’s night, she died on the bed of the same hospital that diagnosed her; there were flies tapping on the hospital room window.

Like flies on a summer’s day, she emerged invisibly into my life, then like flies in a winter’s night, she exited just as invisibly out of it.

But it’s okay now. It truly is.

x

2 Comments
2024/02/25
17:20 UTC

335

Let me tell you what I saw in the Appalachian Mountains

Hello all,

Originally I’m from West Virginia. I moved around between the Appalachian and the Midwest some as a kid.

Between the ages of 10-13 I lived in rule Kentucky in the foot hills of one of the oldest mountain ranges on the plant. I lived with my Dad and my Grams.

We lived in what we call a “holler”, think of it like a cul-de-sac in between a set of foothills. We lived in the middle of the neighborhood with nothing but family on both sides. No one lived across from us or behind us because of the foot hills. When I moved in, my grams had some rules I had to follow, at the time I chalked them up to hillbilly stranger danger. There were thing like don’t mess around with the wild animals, don’t go out into the woods alone, then they got a little weird, don’t whistle, if you here your name don’t answer and don’t go to it, and if you see someone in the woods you might know, no you didn’t and just come home.

This experience happened in August when I was 11. My Dad and I had a mowed path through the tall grass and berry bush’s to the left of the double wide we lived in. We camped out there a lot because it was close enough that we could check on my Grams.

Now when your in the woods things are louder then you think. You have animal life, bugs chattering, wind through the trees and grass. There was a stream that ran along the road you could easily hear. That night we added the camp fire to that list. My Dad decided to go back up to the house about a quarter mile to get more beer and to check on Grams. Before he left he told me not to mess with the fire. After a few minutes of watching the fire, things started to get quiet. Like real quiet. The wind had all but stopped, bug and animal sounds were all gone and the stream sounded like it was miles away. I was getting uncomfortable even though I’ve been left at the camp ground before like this.

Then I started to smell and taste it. It was in the back of my throat out of no where. This awful metal tang. After a few more moments of dread my Dad came back. He was mad right away, said he could small burning metal coming up the trail. He accused me of tossing beer cans in the fire. I told him a didn’t and even pointed to the fire to prove it. He said there was a storm coming in and we needed to get back home and he let it go. We left the tent and started our way back.

Now the very cool, but very weird thing about lightning in woods this dense is when the lighting hits it lights up everything like the middle of the day, well up until the front of the trees. After the first set of trees it’s pitch black. There are no street lights and unless you have lights on your property it’s completely black.

So it’s pitch black, lightly raining and other than the dim lights from the house windows, there’s nothing. I’m eating watermelon as one dose in August in the mountains when the first clap of lighting hits. Everything is as bright as it can be. After the second passes, it’s black as pitch aging.

Next clap of lighting comes and that’s when I kind of see it. On the porch, past the yard, over the stream, past the road and the ditch’s on either side just past the first line of trees I could see the silhouette of it. Then it goes dark. This is also when I can’t start to taste that same awful burning metal. I’m not really sure what I saw so I just kind of stay still. It’s a few moments before the lighting hits aging. The figure is now closer. Standing side by side to the trees. Then it’s back aging. I’m standing now. Not sure what to do.

It’s been 20 years, to this day, and I’ve tried, but could never fully describe what I saw. This things head wasn’t proportioned to its body. The arms were to long and the torso didn’t fit right. It was like if you asked a blind person to draw what a person looked like. It just didn’t look correct.

Once the lighting hit aging, the thing is standing in the middle of of the road.

Not wanting to see this thing get any closer I go inside. My Grams is doing dishes and ask why I’m inside. I tell her I think I saw something. She almost immediately gets my Dad on his feet, telling him to shut and lock all the windows and doors. My Dad, vaguely drunk obeys.

That night I sleep with her. The next day we discover the tent door is torn off. It didn’t look like an animal, things weren’t cut or shredded but looked like someone took and pulled it apart. My uncle who lived a mile or so up had all 8 chickens killed. Heads gone, no blood.

The next few weeks all the kids had to wait for the bus with an adult. My dad had to be late for work for almost 3 weeks. Anytime I tried to talk about it I just had the subject change. I just figured I was a kid and it wasn’t important or real. It wasn’t until years latter I finally understood.

I was in my early 20’s and some cousins were in town for Halloween. As I was telling this story my aunt get irate with me saying “don’t you tell them that, don’t you put that evil on them”. After I couldn’t help but think back on all the times I tried to talk about it and how I was shunned. My kid mind not realizing it wasn’t as simple as a subject change, but then actively shushing me. Once I started dipping my toes in Reddit I realized there was a name for this fucking thing, the same name my anti had called it that day at the party and other people have seen it. The Goatman.

What bothers me the most is how to this day I couldn’t describe any feature nor have I ever tasted that awful burning metal taste.

So friends, if you ever find yourself in the foot hills of Kentucky please remember my Grams rules.

29 Comments
2024/02/25
16:29 UTC

16

The haunted doll in the attic

I'm Sarah, and I've always been drawn to the mysterious and the unknown. So when a stormy night cast our old house in an eerie glow, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the attic. Despite my parents' warnings to stay away, I couldn't shake the feeling that something awaited me amidst the cobwebs and forgotten treasures.

As lightning streaked across the sky, I climbed the creaky stairs to the attic, my heart pounding with a mixture of excitement and fear. The door groaned open as I pushed it aside, revealing a dimly lit room filled with boxes and cobwebs. The air was thick with the scent of mothballs and decay, and a chill ran down my spine as I stepped over the threshold.

My eyes scanned the room, searching for something, anything, that might catch my interest. And then I saw it, tucked away in a corner beneath a pile of old blankets: a doll. It was unlike any doll I had ever seen before, its porcelain skin cracked and faded, its glass eyes staring blankly into the darkness.

Ignoring the sense of unease creeping over me, I made my way over to the doll and picked it up, cradling it in my arms like a long-lost friend. There was something about it that drew me in, something that felt strangely familiar yet utterly alien at the same time.

As I examined the doll more closely, I noticed that its features were remarkably lifelike. Its eyes seemed to follow me wherever I went, and its lips were frozen in a perpetual smile that sent shivers down my spine.

And then, to my horror, the doll blinked.

I froze, my heart pounding in my chest. Dolls didn't blink. Dolls didn't move. And yet, there it was, staring up at me with those lifeless eyes, its lips twisting into a sinister grin.

I should have dropped the doll then and there and run screaming from the attic. I should have listened to the voice inside my head that screamed at me to get as far away from that cursed doll as possible. But something held me in place, rooted to the spot as if I were trapped in some kind of twisted nightmare.

And then, as if on cue, the doll spoke.

"Hello, Sarah," it whispered, its voice barely more than a breath. "I've been waiting for you."

My blood ran cold at the sound of my name. How could it know my name? Who or what was this doll, and what did it want from me?

Before I could gather my wits and flee, the doll spoke again, its voice filled with malice and hunger. "You can't escape me, Sarah. I've been trapped in this attic for years, waiting for someone to set me free. And now that you're here, you belong to me."

With a strangled cry, I stumbled backward, my heart pounding in my chest. I tried to run, to flee the attic and never look back, but it was as if my feet were glued to the floor.

And then, with a sudden burst of courage, I reached out and grabbed the doll by its porcelain arm, ignoring the burning sensation that seared through my fingertips. With all my strength, I hurled the doll across the attic, watching in horror as it crashed against the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.

But even as the doll lay broken and lifeless on the floor, its eyes still seemed to follow me, its grin still twisted into that sinister smile. And in that moment, I knew that I would never be free of its curse, that it would haunt my dreams for the rest of my days.

As I stumbled out of the attic and into the safety of my own room, I knew that the doll in the attic would forever be a reminder of the horrors that lurked in the shadows of our old house. And though I tried to forget, tried to move on with my life, I knew that the memory of that cursed doll would haunt me until the end of time.

2 Comments
2024/02/25
15:29 UTC

226

I was invited to play the Games in the Woods. And what I saw out there will haunt me forever.

When I was very young, my grandfather used to always tell me to stay out of the woods behind our house.

"Legend has it, that there's something terrible in there." He'd say, pointing to the trees behind our home with his only arm, the other of which he'd told me he had lost in the war. "And no one who goes in, ever comes back the same."

But I never took his warnings very seriously, given his age, and hard life, writing them off as the ramblings of a senile and bitter old man.

At least until a few years later, when, at the age of ten, I was told by my mother that my grandfather had passed…

...And had left me a parting gift.

It was a crumpled envelope with the word "Bobby" scribbled onto the back, sealed with more tape than an envelope needed sealing.

Inside, was a folded piece of paper, which, upon unfolding, I noticed my grandfather had sketched the layout of what looked like three games.

Beside the first two games, he had written instructions for what looked like how to beat them.

"Don't go in the box."

"Don’t run."

Beside the third, were a couple more notes.

"Don’t lift it alone."

"This is as far as I made it, before I lost my arm."

And at the very bottom of the page, Grandpa had addressed me directly.

"Bobby, if you receive an invitation to play the games in the woods, do not accept it. Run as far away as you can. But in the event you end up there anyway, may these instructions help you finish what I started."

Games in the woods? I thought to myself. After all the warnings, and all the lectures, Grandpa was trying to protect me from games?

I found the whole thing quite silly, and resolved to put it out of my mind.

And so, that's exactly what I did, burying away both the loss of my Grandfather, and the gift that he had left for me, for four long years.

That is, until, at the age of fourteen, when I was a freshman in high school, I received a scroll on my doorstep, tied together with a thorny vine.

After carefully unraveling it, I discovered an invite to the very games that my Grandfather had warned me about, grotesquely handwritten in ink.

"Bobby,

Join us in the forest behind your house tonight, to compete in the games in the woods.

Don't be late. The games will begin promptly at midnight."

I laughed out loud and immediately tore up the scroll on the spot.

But who could be the one pranking me? I wondered. Surely my mom wasn't in on it? Who could have known about the invitation that my Grandfather referenced? Maybe my Uncle Frank? He's always been a jokester. Yes, it must be Uncle Frank.

And on that note, I went about my day, and completely forgot about the scroll.

That is, until later that night, when, while fast asleep, I suddenly felt myself torn from my bed, stuffed into what felt like a canvas satchel, and dragged out my window and, from the sound of it, what must have been through the woods behind my house.

The whole time, I tried my best to kick and scream…

"This isn't funny, Uncle Frank! I know what you're up to!"

...But Uncle Frank, or so I thought, was much too strong to break free from, and the next thing I knew, I found myself dropped into the middle of the forest, and my satchel ripped away.

"Uncle Frank?" I called out, unable to see my surroundings in the dark.

Until my eyes adjusted, and I looked up to find a hooded figure, wearing a tattered brown cloak and holding a burning torch that illuminated everything around him, save for what lay under his shadowy hood.

What the heck? I thought to myself. That's not Uncle Frank.

The shrouded man said no words, and simply pointed to a footbridge, lit by torchlight, not far away, and gestured for me to cross it.

Realizing now that this wasn't Uncle Frank's doing, and in turn, that the letter, and my Grandfather's warning, must both be real, I began shaking in fear and, not knowing what else to do, obeyed the hooded figure's order.

When I got to the other side, I found myself surrounded by what must have been twenty of the hooded man's kin, all holding torches, and encircling a glen in the forest, where the moon and the stars could now be seen in the night sky.

And in the center of the glen, were four poor souls. Kids like me, who must have also received the invitation, or been dragged here against their will, or both. Kids, from my high school, that I recognized.

There was Brad Ashworth, our class valedictorian, in a sweater vest, khakis, and boots, clearly prepared for the occasion…

...Caitlin Sullivan, whom many kids called a nerd, geek, dweeb, and weirdo, but whom I found to be perfectly normal, wearing a pair of overalls and round, wire frame glasses…

...Colin Richardson, in a running suit, a jock, known for excelling at at least three sports, football, track, and basketball..

...And none other than Milton Dugan, the biggest bully in school, best known for using his sheer size to jam freshmen into lockers, wearing a pair of polka dot pajamas.

"Shut up, loser." He called out to me, noticing the smile on my face when I saw what he was wearing.

"What do you think they are?" Colin asked me, pointing to the hooded figures.

"I have no idea. But I don't think they're friendly." I replied.

Until Caitlin chimed in, "They're Druids, idiots."

"Whatever they are, I'm not scared of them." Brad added.

That's when it hit me.

Who would bring five high school students out into the middle of the woods to teach them a lesson? Well, teachers of course. That must be it! Teachers! Yes, it's teachers under those hoods!

But before I could continue to dwell on my epiphany, we were all suddenly interrupted, by the sound of a loud howl emanating from the forest.

And then…

...An old man with a white beard came hobbling out of the woods, walking stick in one hand, and an object that I couldn’t identify in his other.

It was only when he reached the center of the glen, and stopped just a few feet away from us, that I noticed he was missing something…

...The reflection of light in his eyes.

And upon further observation, it became apparent…

...That he had no eyes at all.

What the? I thought to myself, before gasping, as the old man began to speak.

"Invited ones. You stand before me tonight, under the light of the moon, with a great challenge before you. A challenge that only comes around every seventy-five years. Each of you, were hand picked to play these games tonight, for each of you represent a unique virtue. Five virtues put to the same test, to see which will overcome all others. The winner, will be awarded the greatest prize of all. While the losers, will pay a heavy price."

The other four kids and I turned to each other with looks of confusion, then turned back to the old man, who continued.

"But before we begin. Which of you, knows for a fact, that you are the best player among us? Which of you, is so brave, so courageous, so sure of your abilities, that you'll volunteer to step into the box?" He asked, pointing to an area of the glen, that had been covered in darkness, but until the Druids lit it with torchlight.

It was a wooden box, about the size of a telephone booth, completely enclosed with what appeared to be a door on one side and a metal latch to open it.

The Box! I thought to myself, remembering my Grandfather's letter, outlining three games, and assuming the first of which was this one.

"Don't go in the box.”

Easy enough. I mused, looking over at the other kids, waiting for one of them to heed the call instead, until…

"It's me. I'm the smartest, and the most talented one here. I'll do it." Brad called out, raising his hand, before turning back to us, "Cowards."

"Very well," The old man replied, walking over to the box, opening the door, and gesturing for him to enter.

And so he did.

Oh no. I thought to myself, as all of us kids cringed in anticipation of something unspeakable happening inside.

But after a minute, the old man simply walked back over to the door, opened it, and let Brad out.

He came proudly walking out of it, chest in the air, with a smug smile on his face, and belted out the words. "See! Nothing to fear, fraidy cats."

Despite his obnoxious comment, we all let out a sigh of relief.

Until suddenly, a few of the druids grabbed Brad by the arms, and pinned him to the box.

"What's going on? What are you doing?" Our valedictorian cried out, unsure of what exactly was happening.

The hooded men proceeded to pry open his jaws with their hands, as the old man hobbled over to him, revealing the object in his hand… a sharp, silver sword.

But before any of us could react, the old druid had already reached into Brad's mouth, cut off his tongue, and held it up for all to see.

Brad began crying and wailing, blood spraying from his mouth, as the druids let him go and he fell to the ground, arms flailing in pain.

Meanwhile, the rest of us kids just stood there, wide eyed in fear, unable to comprehend what we had just seen.

"That was Game One." The old man called out to us. "Let it be a lesson, that your greatest strengths can also be your greatest weaknesses. In this case, confidence begets arrogance. Now, take him away."

Upon his command, two druids ran over to Brad, who was now passed out, picked him up, and carried him away into the woods.

"Let's move on to Game Two, shall we?" The eyeless old man continued, leading us, and the other druids, out of the glen, into the forest, down a torchlit path, and to a massive field, illuminated by the moonlight.

He then took his staff, stuck it into the ground, and carved a long line in the dirt.

"Will the remaining players please stand behind the line."

Still in shock from what had just happened, we all obeyed his command, lining up before the line in the dirt, which separated us from the football field sized lawn.

"Are you gonna hurt one of us again?" Milton called out, puffing out his chest. "Cause I'm not afraid of you guys, and I’m fully capable of defending myself!"

The old man ignored his rant, and continued on with his own, "The rules of the second game are simple. When I say go, you're to run with the wolves."

"Wolves?" Caitlin whispered to me, trying to understand he meant.

Just then, a group of druids emerged from the forest, leading four ravenous wolves on leashes to the field behind us, each of them drooling at the mouth while howling and growling at us maniacally.

Caitlin and I shared a brief look of horror, before the eyeless man stepped aside and called out, "Go!"

Colin was the first one to sprint off into the field, followed by Caitlin, and then, what would have been me, but when I began to dart away, something jutted out in front of my legs and tripped me to the ground.

Confused by what had happened, I looked up from the dirt to see Milton hopping over me…

"Sucker!"

...As I realized that it must have been he who had tripped me, and saw the Druids unleash the four wolves.

I hopped up to my feet and attempted to run again, but before they hit the ground, the wolves had already caught up to me.

In that moment, I closed my eyes and braced for the worst, but when I opened them again, I saw that they had run right past me, seemingly in pursuit of the others up ahead.

But as I continued to watch the wolves run away, I noticed that they soon passed Milton too, and then Caitlin, finally making their way to Colin, who was running so fast, that he disappeared into whatever lay beyond the field.

And then, the feral dogs stopped running, just before the end of the field, and began howling and growling again, and they looked down at something below them.

Eventually catching up with the others and making my way to the end of the field, Caitlin, Milton, and myself finally saw what had happened to Colin.

There, at the end of the field, was a great pit, and at the bottom, was the star athlete himself, writhing in pain and begging for our help.

"Help me!" Colin called out, clenching his legs, which must have broken from the fall.

"Does anyone have a rope or anything we can lower down to him?" Caitlin asked.

But the druids had just arrived, and were already lowering one down to Colin.

And by the time they pulled him up, still screaming out in pain, the old eyeless druid had arrived, ready to greet him.

"Why would you put a pit at the end of the race?" Colin screamed, as he lay helpless on the ground.

"You said to run from the wolves."

"I said to run with the wolves, not from them. They mean no harm, just look at your friends here. But you. You got ahead of yourself. And for that, there is a price." The old man warned.

"Price? I already broke my legs." Colin replied.

"Well now, we take them." The eyeless man said ominously, before the druids surrounded Colin and held him down, as another approached him holding a giant scythe, its blade glimmering in the moonlight.

"Wait! No!" He cried out.

But it was too late. In an instant, one of his legs was gone. Severed from his body by the swinging scythe, as blood sprayed everywhere, and Colin screamed in agony.

A second later, I saw Caitlin remove her glasses and wipe the blood from them, before putting them back on and continuing to watch on silently in horror.

"What is wrong with you guys?" Milton called out, clenching his fists and pacing around in a threatening fashion.

For a moment, I thought about cursing out Milton for tripping me, but then I realized he had actually saved me.

And that's when I remembered my Grandfather's second clue.

"Don't run."

He was right again.

"Take him away." The old man said for a second time, as a group of druids walked over and proceeded to carry Colin off into the woods, before turning to Milton, Caitlin, and myself.

"And now for Game Three."

He then led us back into the forest, and down a rocky path that hugged a winding stream.

At the end of the path, we came to a clearing between the trees, where we saw two giant boulders, each nearly the size of a person, placed side by side on the ground.

"For this game, you have an option. Lift a boulder yourself, or pick a teammate to help you lift it. The person or team who holds it the longest, wins. And the one who's first to drop it, loses. Understand?"

Milton, Caitlin, and I all looked at each other for a moment, as we weighed the options.

But suddenly, I remembered my Grandfather’s third instruction.

"Don’t lift it alone."

And before Milton could utter a word, I ran over to Caitlin.

"Caitlin and I will be a team." I declared, as she smiled, and put her arm around my shoulder.

"But what about me?" Milton asked, offended by being the odd man out, before correcting himself. "Actually, you know what? Fine! I'm stronger than both of you combined anyway. This will be your own undoing, dorks! I'll compete by myself."

"Very well," the old man called out, as he stood between the two stones. "When I say go, lift the boulders up off the ground, for as long as you can."

Caitlin and I crouched down and gripped the boulder from below, then looked at each other.

"We got this." I assured her with a smile.

"We got this." She replied, smiling back.

Meanwhile, Milton was scrambling to grasp onto his boulder, and began begging for more time. "Just a second, I swear. This boulder's heavier on one side and it's just-"

But before he could continue, the old man raised his staff and called out, "Go!" at the top of his lungs.

Caitlin and I carefully and calmly lifted our boulder, and despite its heavy weight, strained ourselves to keep it elevated above the ground.

But Milton was not as lucky. From the very beginning, he was doomed, as he still hadn't secured his grip on the rock when the old man yelled "Go!" and bumbled when he lifted it up, catching it in hands, but in an position that looked much too uncomfortable for him sustain.

And as the stone slowly began to slip out of his arms, Milton looked over at Caitlin and I with a sour face and mumbled, "You screwed me, losers."

"Maybe if you weren't such a dick, Milton, someone might have chosen you." I replied, in an attempt to drive home the reason why he had lost.

Milton tried to think of a clever retort, "You know what, Bobby-" but before he could finish his sentence, it was too late. The stone had fallen to the ground. He stopped what he was saying and looked down at it, a look of fear washing over his face.

And as the druids began to surround him, rather than threaten them like he had in the past, Milton began to cry. "Please don't hurt me! Please, I'll do anything!"

But it was too late. The druids dragged Milton to the stump of a tree and laid his arm down upon it, as another swung an ax high above his head, and brought it slicing down through Milton's arm, leaving him with a stump of his own.

As he saw the blood pouring out of his appendage, Milton began to scream, until his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he eventually passed out.

And for a third time, the eyeless old man called out, "Take him away."

Now, only Caitlin and I remained. Together we stood there in silence, arms around each other, as Milton's limp body was carried off into the woods.

"Which brings us to Game Four," the old druid began, "Perhaps the simplest of all. For this game is decided by you and you alone. When I say go, you'll have one minute to come to a decision on who will be the winner, and who will be the loser."

Caitlin replied "Wait-"

But before she could continue, the old man interrupted her, commencing the final game, "Go!"

Caitlin and I huddled together in the woods, as the old man, and the druids, encircled us, waiting for us to come to a consensus.

"Wait, what do we do?" Caitlin whispered.

"I don't know." I whispered back.

"Should we choose both of us as the winners?"

"No, we'd be breaking the rules. He specified a winner and a loser. They'll punish us both. We need to choose one."

"But that means one of us, will suffer the same fate as the others."

"I don't know if we have any other choice.”

"Then how should we decide?"

"I don't know."

"Wait," Caitlin said, as she reached into the pocket of her overalls and removed a coin. "If you're okay with it. A coin toss would be fair. Totally up to chance.”

"It would be fair. Let's do it. But quick." I replied, knowing our minute would soon end.

"Then you choose. Heads or tails." She offered up.

"Okay. Um... heads!" I replied quickly.

And like that, Caitlin held out her fist…

...Dropped the coin…

...Towards the forest floor below…

...Time suddenly slowing…

...As it descended towards the ground…

...Spinning…

...And spinning…

…And spinning…

...Until…

...Thud.

We both crouched down, and saw the result that would seal our fate forever…

…Heads.

I had won.

Caitlin looked up at me, her eyes wide, and her mouth agape, as tears began to roll down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry." I whispered.

"It's okay." She whispered back.

And then…

...The old man spoke.

"Your time is up. What is your decision? Who is the winner, and who is the loser?"

Both Caitlin and my heads hung low, as she began to speak, "I'm the-"

"Winner." I interrupted, as she looked at me, completely surprised by what I had said. "She's the winner, and I'm the loser."

"But Bobby-" She whispered.

"Save yourself. Don't worry about me." I insisted, whispering back to her, as the old man approached us.

"Very well." He said, holding his wrinkled hand out to Caitlin, who accepted it in hers.

And so, he escorted her away, off into the woods, hobbling on his wooden staff, until they disappeared into the night.

And as for me. I… well I was left there in the dark, surrounded by a dozen druids, who slowly closed in on me.

I didn't know what to do so I, accepting my fate, simply closed my eyes and braced for the worst…

...But similar to what had come of the impending doom of the howling wolves...

...Nothing happened.

I opened my eyes, to find one of the druids standing before me.

"Congratulations..." He said, in an ominous voice, "...On winning the games."

"What?" I asked, confused how that could be possible. "I don't understand. I voted for Caitlin to be the winner."

"Yes, you did." He replied, "But humility is the virtue that always wins the games. Your selfless act, sacrificing your own life for that of another's, is why you won."

"And what do I win?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.

"Just as the keeper of the games had stated, the greatest prize of all..." He said, "..Life."

"And what about Caitlin? What will become of her?"

"That is still yet to be decided. But you will find out soon enough."

Any sort of relief that I had felt immediately disappeared, and my heart sank, as I realized that by volunteering my own life to save Caitlin's, I may have actually cost her hers.

"Wait," I called out, "Let me take her place. Please."

But before I could continue, I felt the druids shove a giant canvas satchel over me, just as they'd done earlier that night, before whisking me away into the forest.

They must have knocked me out after that, because when I came to, I found myself back in my bedroom, lying face first on the cold, wooden floor.

The next day at school, I raced to Caitlin's locker, and then her home room, desperately hoping to see her face, hoping to put my mind at ease…

...But she never showed up. That day… or ever again.

And as for Brad, Colin, and Milton, their claims about how they lost their respective body parts, despite being substantiated by me, were all written off by police, parents, and teachers alike as foolish accidents, when no such games were ever found in the woods.

Years later, as my wife and I discuss having a child, I find myself wondering if I'll ever have a grandchild of my own…

...If they, too, will be invited to play the games in the woods, the next time the druids come around…

...And if Caitlin will be one of them.

8 Comments
2024/02/25
15:16 UTC

27

I work for an organization that deals in the unexplainable part 5

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The Ash Mountain incident may be the most important event in the organization's history. If you tried to find information on it you wouldn’t be able to find it. ( at least to the event I’m referring to). When I joined the organization I work for it was one of many at the time that dealt with the unexplainable. The Ash Mountain incident caused the merging of several of the organizations to create the superpower I now work for. If I were to talk about the entirety of the incident in detail I could write an entire story just about that. Unfortunately, I was not there for the incident and was merely sent to deal with the aftermath. However, I can give a brief overview of the incident.

The Ash Mountain Incident:

February 1st, 2014, 3:17 AM An unknown entity arrives through a hole producing a dark grey smoke in *Unnamed* National Park and is spotted by a fire tower Ranger. The ranger radios to another tower and both check on the Smoke. Upon arriving they are faced with the creature upon making contact one ranger solidifies into a grey statue. The second ranger touches the first causing him to turn into an ash cloud. Ranger retreats calling for local law enforcement. In the meantime, the creature begins making its way toward a nearby campground. One by one it begins turning people into ash statues. When local law enforcement arrived the creature how already turned 31 people into statues. Law enforcement engages the creature It turns 5 officers before it’s injured and pushed into a nearby fallout shelter where it remains.

You just read the basic case info that anyone joining the organization can access, but the paragraph doesn’t prepare you for what the place looks like. In the following days, several organizations entered the fallout shelter to go after the creature. 11 days after the incident I was sent in. I wasn’t alone sent with two other agents, Trojan and Wolf. Trojan was already a level 1 field agent, Wolf was level 3 and I was still level 4. We were next up on the list to go after the creature and to prove our organization was on top. We arrived near the entrance of the fallout shelter. The people weren't the only things that were ash, Tree, flowers, grass anything living around the area had been turned into an ash statue. Like a raging forest fire had moved through the area. We made our way towards the bunker entrance. It was a large metal hatch on the ground.

“Looks like A cellar are we sure it’s a fallout shelter,” Wolf said he had a deep southern accent.

We lifted the Hatch.

“After you pretty lady,” Trojan said.

“HAHA you so funny,” I said heading down the ladder below the Hatch.

When I reached the bottom I yelled “I don’t see anyth-” My sentence was cut off by the Hatch slamming.

I flipped on my flashlight and began scanning around me the light scanning over the multiple ash statues of people.

“Alright assholes open up,” I looked up only to see the ceiling was much shorter than it should’ve been and the hatch was gone.

I was alone amongst the ash statue I was sure that I would be the next to grace them. I was shocked by the amount of people down here, these were all members of organizations similar to what I worked for they were all experienced in this field. Yet they all were caught and killed by this creature. What scared me was their faces, the pure look of agony upon them. I could tell their death was painful and the way they died froze that look right into place. You could still smell the burnt skin and hair.

I found myself needing clarification with the fall-out shelter itself. It was an older design like something from the 50’s I wondered why it was so far out in the woods. The nearest town was more than 45 minutes away. A rich family owned part of the mountain and had for some time, way back before the 50s maybe they built it. The layout didn’t make sense most fallout shelters aren't entire facilities underground. But that’s what this was a facility.

The long hallways were still powered by the faint light of dying lightbulbs. Like the place had been somewhat maintained, even through the cobwebs and dirt signs of life remained. One room I came across had a make-shift living space a bed made of cardboard. A lantern, blankets, old food, and water. Someone was living down here something other than the ash entity. Whoever it was most likely taken by the entity. Just another statue among the rows of others.

The whole place seemed like something you’d dream about, like a maze. Hallways lead to nowhere, rooms that seemed pointless, and constantly ongoing. Between the dim light bulbs and my flashlight, I had a decent amount of light a welcome change to most of the cases I had been on. Of course that didn’t last long, suddenly my flashlight went out. The lightbulbs followed soon after. Now I was in complete darkness.

Darkness can do a lot to the human brain, when you are in complete darkness your body has no concept of time. In my head hours passed but I couldn’t tell you how long I was down there. On top of that, it’s not uncommon for governments to use it as a torture technique. When your brain has no sense of what it’s seeing it causes it to fill in the blanks. Isolation causes you to hallucinate, you add the two together, and you get a real shitty time.

Soon my head started playing tricks on me, and suddenly I could feel things moving around me. I tried talking myself out of it. Telling myself there wasn’t anything there, but the problem was something was down here with me. Something had to take the lights out in the first place. I had 36 bullets on me and 6 more in the gun. I could use that light to give a brief view of the room. But that came with risk, not much ammo and I could easily hit something, and the bullet could ricochet. I wayed it but the risk was worth it. I decided to shoot down the way I thought I came from. Bang one shot gone giving me such a brief glimpse of light. But it was enough to see the ash demon 20 feet away.

I didn’t know how quick it was or how easily it could kill me. It waited this long to attack me so something was stopping it. During the initial fight with police, it was rumored it was injured and that’s why it made its way to the shelter. Not many creatures you meet in this career fear firearms. But this one did, and that was the only advantage I had. I shot one more time where the creature had been seen. Just like I thought it was scared of the gun it retreated further into the darkness. The lights came back on once it was gone leading to the theory it was the one controlling the lights.

With the lights back on I reloaded my revolver and went back to freely roaming the facility. I’d been counting the ash statues 112 people dead. We were all sent in with barely any information. Sent to die so that the higher-ups could show each other had the bigger balls. But the naive me didn’t think that he was to focus on killing the creature for the glory of the organization. If I could go back now I slap that kid and tell him to move on with his life and that this wasn’t his calling. But no I’m that kid and I gotta live with my choices.

112 naive kids in there, and only through a miracle that I wasn’t 113. I saw it again staring at me from just beyond the light of the room. It didn’t take out the lights this time. I watched to figure out what it was thinking. I couldn’t make out the details besides what I had seen from the flash of my firearm earlier. Looked just like the ash statues around me but it was grey instead of black. I aimed the revolver at it and shot missing. It came at me dulling but not taking out the lights.

I choose not to fight but to run. Every once and a while I look back and shoot at it. It was quick but I had the speed advantage. I was going farther into the facility. I turned a corner a tripped over a statue it exploded into ash and I was on the ground it came at me. I shot it and hit its stomach, it was hurt but knocked the gun outta my hand. I was hopeless and just then the hatch opened above me. I hadn’t even realized I’d made it back to the entrance. The ash demon began to burn and burst into its ash cloud. It died that easily. The light was what hurt and I realized why it cut the lights in the first place. It didn’t come in here cause it was hurt just cause it was dark.

I looked up to see Trojan and Wolf, I was covered in ash.

“Did you kill it,” Wolf said.

“Kinda.”

They took me out of there, I couldn’t wait to shower and get all the ash off of me. Trojan stopped though to get me something to eat. I was down there for 3 hours. So he figured I must be hungry. He handed me some cheese fries. When I looked down at them some ash fell from my hair right into. Then looking at the black dust I couldn’t figure out if it was human or the creature.

“I don’t think I’m hungry,” I said looking at my food.

Trojan looked at it too.

“What you scared of some pepper,” Wolf said trying to make a joke outta it.

Trojan liked the joke and for the rest of the ride, they began calling me Pepper. Guess the name just stuck. I hate that name.

2 Comments
2024/02/25
05:30 UTC

87

Somewhere Beneath Us {Part 23}

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I opened my eyes to find myself lying in a dusty hospital bed, the white bulbs above me bleaching the color from the surrounding area. I remembered traveling down hallways with Alice, but I didn't recall blacking out. However, I suppose it was to be expected with how much strain my body had been under. I scanned the room to find the woman slumped in a visitors chair, fast asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, I sat up slowly and inspected my wounds. Bloody bandages covered my arms where lacerations had been made, and patches of gauze had been placed over the parts of my torso that hadn't been spared.

"You're awake."

My head pivoted to Alice, "I thought you were sleeping."

"This place has made me a pretty light sleeper."

I held up my bandaged hand and smiled, "I'm going to be very upset with you if you don't go back to Med school when we get out."

She laughed softly. "You're lucky to be alive. With how bad some of those cuts were, I'm surprised she didn't hit something vital. How are you feeling?"

"Surprising well, actually. Thank you, Alice. You saved my life."

She nodded and brushed a strand of hair from her face but didn't speak.

"Did you... carry me here?"

"You blacked out pretty close by. I dragged you the rest of the way."

"Good thing there was a hospital room close by, huh?"

"Well, it was actually a few floors above where I found you, but you managed pretty well up until then."

"How long have I been out for?"

"About a day, I think. At least according to your watch beeps."

I nodded, but then another question dawned on me. "How long has it been since I last saw you?"

She pursed her lips and looked down to the floor, "probably around two months."

I shot up so straight that it caused the cuts on my stomach to sting, "T-Two months? Oh my gosh, Bea, I need to-"

Alice hopped up and crossed over to me, placing a hand on my shoulder as I tried to stand from the bed, "Joel, slow down. You lost a lot of blood. Your body is still recovering."

I certainly didn't feel like I had sustained life-threatening injuries, but that was most likely just adrenaline. My mind was in full-blown panic mode, but I did my best to obey. I didn't want to think about how much might have happened in just the couple of months I had been away. From my room, I now knew that my friends would be alright with their injuries, but that didn't mean that they weren't suffering this whole time. On top of that, if anyone from the surface had given up hope and tried to come find us… A million horrible possibilities raced through my head, but Alice stopped them all at once.

"Your friends are okay. I mean, at least they're alive. I've been monitoring their rooms."

I looked at her, confused, before my brain connected another thing she had said a bit ago. We had traveled several floors upward while I was bleeding out and practically unconscious.

"How are you doing that? How are you getting around so fast?"

"The elevator. Do you not remember riding it?"

"No."

"I guess you were pretty out of it." She said, twirling her earring. "There's an elevator in the middle of every floor. As far as I can tell, it and the rooms it connects to are the only places that the house can't move. The shaft goes all the way from the surface to the garage below. even deeper than that too."

"I remember seeing it down there when I was with-"

His name caught in my throat, and I looked past Alice to see the axe she had been wielding leaning against the wall. When he died, I was so mentally broken that I could hardly process the grief. That was all catching up now.

Alice pieced together what I was thinking and sat on the bed next to me, "I'm so sorry, Joel…."

I continued to stare at the weapon and did my best to hold back tears, "He went out saving me. The house came to take me to my room, and he attacked it with that axe. I think he hurt it pretty bad, too."

She nodded, "When I found my way out of that place below, I came to look for you two. I figured you wouldn't leave without your friends. As I started walking, though, I found his body." Before she continued, she paused, "I made a nice place for him. Well, as nice as it can be in here. I covered him up and decorated around him so it would be peaceful."

At that, I couldn't contain my tears anymore. They were silent though, undisturbed by violent sobs or gasps. Once I had taken a moment, I nodded, "Thank you, Alice. That was very nice of you. I wish I could have been there."

"I can take you if you'd like."

I shook my head, "That's alright." I smiled with a slight chuckle, "He'd probably be mad at me if I spent time doing that instead of trying to rescue my friends."

Alice said nothing, but I could tell she understood.

"Ethan." I forced myself to say out loud. It nearly physically hurt as it swelled past the lump in my throat, but I needed to say it. I didn't want his name to be another one I was too afraid to speak.

His optimism. His positivity. No matter how bad things got in the house, above or below, Ethan was always dead set on keeping spirits high. Once, after we exiled Larry, he tried to cheer everyone up with a "movie night." We didn't have T.V, obviously, But that didn't stop him from reenacting several films from memory all by himself. Sure, it was cheesy, but watching him pretend to be both Jack and Rose from Titanic at the same time made it impossible not to smile.

After a brief respite, I was immediately back to business. As hopeless as things had become, I felt more invigorated than ever. It was one part determination to finish the job I had started and two parts pure rage toward the creature that had damned my friends and me. Since the night in the parking garage, the shattered fragments of my mind had been formulating a new plan, and now that those shards were back together, everything seemed so clear. It was going to be hard, but nothing so far had been easy, and I was somehow still alive. Although, according to Ethan's dream, that might not be the case for too much longer. But he also said that he had changed some of his dreams. I was betting on that single fact alone.

I wanted to get up and moving, but Alice wouldn't allow it, telling me that I at least needed one more day of rest before we continued. I begrudgingly agreed, but to make me feel better, she began to fill me in on all the details she had learned since she had escaped. According to her, once she had gotten out of the house's lower depths and found Ethan's body, she had assumed the worst for me. She knew that if I had gotten taken, no one else would be coming back up for our group.

"Why didn't you just leave? You must have seen the exit." I asked her.

She fidgeted with the ear of a stuffed bunny in her coat pocket, "I didn't want you all to end up like my friends." She responded.

Moving forward, she followed a blood trail that had been left when the Sarah creature had taken me. She found that it led to the only door out of the garage. Knowing better than to go in, she propped the door open with one of her stuffed animals and decided to come back. That's when she found the elevator. Apparently, it was the only other way out of the garage and, to her surprise, the key to moving to any floor of the house.

"There's a number pad inside. When I stepped in, the display said the parking lot was floor 878, so I started punching in numbers higher than that. Whatever floor I typed in, it would take me there."

"You never tired going lower?"

Alice's face went ghost white as she struggled to muster a response, "I did once out of curiosity, but I never left the elevator once the doors opened."

"Why? What's down there?"

She shook her head, "let's just say the house looks less like a house after floor 880."

I didn't push the topic any further.

From there, she set to work looking for answers. She discovered a few rooms that were actually occupied, but found that they tended not to move. It seemed the house had no need to shift its traps once the prey had been caught.

"I don't know why it does it," Alice commented. "I don't understand what it's gaining from all of this."

"Before it attacked Ethan and me after we all split up, it said something to us. That it smelled me below and was salivating at the thought of having me." I told her. I couldn't help but think of venus fly traps. The way they baited their prey into their mouths and snapped shut, locking them inside to be digested slowly. "I think it's feeding on us, the people it captures. I felt weird in my room, like my soul was being worn down through my pain. This whole place is like one big stomach."

We both shuddered at the thought.

I asked her about the rooms she knew of, seeing if she had found any matching Daniel's room or anything that might be Bea's. She had what seemed like a match for Daniel; floor 693. The elevator on the level only opened into one room with a locked door that slowly leaked water from its seams. The floor number seemed to match up with when we lost Dan, and the water certainly felt like it belonged to his room. Once I took care of what I needed to, that was where I would look for Daniel.

His strength. His levelheadedness. Ever the leader, Daniel always put the group's interests first. He was just as scared and confused as the rest of us the day we arrived in the house, yet he never showed it. After the first few weeks, when starvation began to set in, Daniel was the first person to volunteer to go downstairs and scavenge for food. He insisted on going alone, as he didn't want anyone else to be at risk, but we didn't let him. If he hadn't felt the need to stick around for the rest of us, I truly believe Dan would have attempted the journey to the exit on his own long before Andi had.

As for Bea, the closest thing she knew of was an area on floor 864, just a few levels above the exit. It was a door located among the tangle of halls and minor rooms that opened into a pitch-black void. At first, she thought it was a sheer drop, but tossing a piece of debris into it, she found that there actually was unseen ground. However, she decided against going inside, not wanting to chance it. She returned a few times after to find that the door never moved though, meaning it was most likely holding someone. If Bea fell into a dark void, she probably ended up there. I now had two headings.

There were more rooms too, she told me. People who must have been here long before our groups, being slowly drained year by year since their arrival. Most of them were tormented by some sort of creature or creatures. Others were trapped alone to suffer in a specific environment. One particular room she described caught my attention; a television set for a kids' T.V show. A man was trapped, living among horrific puppets and mascots. It seemed that I hadn't witnessed Larry's final moments after all. However, I wasn't sure if that was a fact I was happy about anymore. Interestingly enough, though, Alice told me the man didn't have a scratch on him when I asked. My last moments of witnessing him saw Larry getting eaten alive. How could the House keep you alive even through that?

Alice only observed them when she was able but never dared to try and enter herself. She didn't want to risk getting trapped or killed before she could find an escape for the rest of us.

"Speaking of which, how did you get out of your room?" She asked me.

"Partially thanks to you. I'm sure the door would have been locked had you not propped it open. But initially, the house had let my creature out to find me. I figured if it could get out once, it could get out again, and somehow it was able to bring me with it."

"Strange… I wonder if they all have that ability."

"It's possible. The creature I was trapped with called the House her 'father'. Maybe they're a part of its form in some way?" Alice shook her head and began running over the new information when I had a thought. "Wait, if you've been roaming the house for so long, how has it not caught you?"

She sat up and, without a word, grabbed the axe, then pressed the head against the wall. She dragged it across the surface, crumbling away at the old sheetrock. I stared, surprised.

"Is that new?"

She nodded, "I don't know how or when, but I think I've somehow become like Ethan was. One day I just accidentally dropped the axe and dented the floor. That's when I realized."

"So you can hurt the house? Like Ethan could?"

"I think so, yes. It might have something to do with me being missing for so long. If Ethan wasn't supposed to be here at all, and that's why he was able to damage things, maybe the house loosened its hold on me after it thought I was dead. Now I'm like he was. That's why it hasn't noticed me running around either."

I nodded, "Maybe. That would make sense."

As we finished the conversation, Alice wrapped the last part of a fresh bandage around my hand and then placed a pin to hold it in place. "There you go. These ones should last a lot longer since the cuts have been sealed. Surprisingly well, actually; there's barely even a scar. They must have been very precise incisions to close up so soon. Just take it easy on them."

I shook my head yes as convincingly as I could, but I knew they would probably split again before the day was over. Now that I was feeling better, it was time to move, and the rest of my afternoon wasn't going to go well.

"Thank you, Alice… Again." I said. She avoided eye contact as she usually did and nodded. I couldn't help but feel sad for her. She was clearly carrying something heavy to have gone through all of this and still be so humble.

"Oh," she suddenly grunted, "I almost forgot. Here." She said, grabbing an item sitting on the table next to my bed. "This fell out of your belt when I was dragging you here. I didn't want you to roll over it, so I just left it-"

Before she could finish, I grabbed the item and jammed it into my belt behind my jacket. "What fell out? I didn't have anything tucked in my belt." I said, plainly as possible.

She looked at me, baffled, but I made a face at her that urged her to roll with it. She clearly didn't understand but when along anyways. I felt bad for being so abrupt and rude, but I couldn't have us talking aloud about it for even a second. Now that I was free, the house could be watching us from anywhere, and it couldn't know about what I had in my belt. I instantly changed the subject, trying not to think about it. Thinking about it was just as dangerous.

"I know you've already done so much for us, Alice, but could you take me to the floor that might have Bea? I need to know if she's alright."

"Oh, um, of course. Are you sure you're ready?"

"I never really am, but unfortunately, I don't think I have time to change that fact."

Alice nodded, and together we stood, gathered up our belongings, and began making our way down the liminal halls of the house once again. It was strange to admit, but I had actually missed the quiet ambiance of the dark corridors, no matter how dangerous they were. It reminded me of a time long ago when we had first set out. I had been so full of determination and vigor then, surrounded by people I loved. Now I was alone and tired, so ready to rest. At least the familiar setting kept that ember barely kindled, reminding me of how far I had come.

Just a little further now…

Finding the elevator again was easy, as all we had to do was follow the trail of blood that led straight to it. It was broken in some places from minor rooms shifting, but that didn't matter, according to Alice. Like she said, the lift was always in the center of every floor, so as long as you kept a general idea of where you were after stepping out (and so long as you didn't find yourself in a room as it shifted), You could get back to it relatively easy.

Alice pushed the button to the side of the plain metal door, and it lit up with a dim yellow glow. A rattling whir came from the other side before a chime sounded, and the doors slowly slid open to reveal a plain box composed of metal paneling and mirrors. She stepped inside first, then turned to me.

"Come on in."

I listened and spoke as I did, "I can't believe we never ran into this thing once in all the time we were traveling through."

"I've thought about that too, with my group. We never saw it either. I think the house probably kept us as far away from it as possible as it watched us. Now that it doesn't know we're here, the rooms aren't shifting us away from it."

She reached over to the keypad on the wall where buttons would typically be and punched in '864'. After a second, the doors closed, and I felt the elevator begin to glide upward.

"How high does this thing go?"

"All the way up to the floor below the first basement; floor one. Its the one before the big staircase to the top? I tried to go up there to contact your group, but the Curator has practically been living on that floor. It's been acting different lately, not as aggressive…."

"It got hurt pretty bad that night Ethan and I got attacked in the garage. It's probably still recovering."

The doors opened once again, and the two of us stepped out. In a few moments, we had just traveled what would have taken weeks to travel by foot. I couldn't help but laugh at the thought. This house really was out to get us at every turn.

"The room isn't too far from the Elevator. About an hour walk maybe, depending on how the rooms are laid out today." She pulled a small notebook out of her jacket and flipped through some pages before looking to a door on her right. "This way."

I began moving through the colossal labyrinth, following Alice's lead as she went. It seemed she, too, had mapped out parts of the house in a notebook; however, unlike myself, her map was in steps in specific directions from the elevator. This was a better idea, as even if rooms around you were different, you would still know how far you were from a certain destination and which direction to go. Much more time-consuming, for sure. However, what else was there to spend your time on in this prison?

We reached the door in a little under Alice's estimated time. It was located at the end of a long movie theater hallway, a simple black door that usually would swing open into one of the showrooms. Now, it peered only into a dark abyss, just as she had said. A popcorn bucket sat a distance into the room, resting on nothingness, presumably the debris she had mentioned. I turned to Alice.

"Wait here, I'm going inside."

She shook her head, "I'll come with you. There's no sense in you going in alone. Especially not when you're injured."

"I'm fine now. I can't even feel the cuts anymore." She gave me a skeptical look but said nothing, so I finally caved, "Alright, fine, we don't have time to debate."

I held on to the doorway just in case, then slowly stuck my foot into the 'room'. Just like the popcorn bucket, it found ground to rest on. I moved in entirely, and Alice followed after latching the door open behind us. Instantly, my senses went wild trying to figure out the room. There were no sounds of footsteps below us, no smells that I could distinguish, and other than the open door behind us, no landmarks to know just how big or small the area was. We crept forward cautiously and carefully, keeping vigilant for anything else that might be in here with us, but it truly seemed empty. Pure, lonely emptiness. At least it seemed that way until we spotted a tiny spec of color lying far in the distance. It wasn't much, but against the blackness, it stuck out like a flare in the night. It was hard to recognize, but I thought about her so much that I could tell it was her even if I could only see her hair color.

"Bea!" I cried out as I took off running, Alice following behind. Slowly her form grew into view, and I had never been so relieved to see someone in my whole life. She lay sprawled out on the floor as if she hadn't moved since she fell. The hole in her stomach where she had been impaled was still present, leaking a pool of blood around her that had soaked into nearly every inch of her clothes. Her expression was blank and distant as she stared up at the nothingness around her. I called out again as I approached.

"Bea! Bea, oh my gosh, I'm so glad it's you!"

I dropped to my knees next to her with no regard for the blood soaking into my pants, and she weakly turned to me.

"J-Joel?"

"Yeah, Bea, it's me," I said, caressing her face with tears of Joy filling my eyes. "I'm so glad you're alive; I thought I had lost you…"

"Am I… Alive? It's so dark, I can't tell." She muttered. She was clearly out of it as I had been.

"Yes, you are. It's gonna be okay; I'm here now. I'm going to get you out of here."

"Here?" She said, pondering the thought. "I don't know where here is. It's so dark."

My heart ached as I watched her try to form thoughts. I wanted nothing more than to pick her up and carry her out of this place to safety, but I knew that wasn't an option right now. The house still had its hold on her. I wiped the tears from my eyes before speaking again.

"Just hang in there for a little longer, okay, Bea? I'm going to fix this. I-" I stopped myself before I could say it. It was a dangerous word. One I had spoken to too many people before letting them down. Andi. Dan. Ethan. Even if I hadn't said it verbally, it had always been implied.

"I promise we'll go for the exit together."

"I promise I'll find a way to get you out of this room with us."

"I promise I won't let anything happen to you."

I promise.

"I… I'll do my best," I told Bea as I leaned over and placed my lips on her forehead. I suddenly felt a weak arm wrap around my back.

"Joel…" She whispered, "I love you."

My heart froze in my chest, and tears returned to my eyes as I tightly gripped a handful of her hair, not wanting to let go. I knew I had to, though. There was work to be done.

Her kindness. Her selflessness. Bea always made it a point to get a conversation in with everyone in the house at least once a day. Even Larry. She did this to make everyone feel seen. That they were just as important as anyone else. Such a simple act went a long way in keeping everyone grounded. Any time you'd think to yourself, 'what's even the point? I'm a nobody destined to die here,' You always had to remind yourself, 'Bea doesn't think so. She'll be around tomorrow to tell me so.'

One time in a basket drop, we found this small plastic dolphin. Bea ended up with it and slipped it into my pocket when I wasn't paying attention. I found it later, which started a back-and-forth of us secretly putting this toy into the other's possession. Whenever I felt particularly upset or hopeless, I would just randomly check my pocket to see if Bea had made a move. Every time without fail, it was there waiting for me.

Alice and I stepped out of the room but left the door open, just in case Bea had a miracle happen like I did.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I will be. I hate seeing her like that, but knowing she's alright is what really matters."

Alice nodded, and we fell into silence as I prepared myself for things to come. I was free of my room. I knew where Bea was. I knew where to find Daniel. There was only one thing left to do.

"Alice, can I ask one more favor of you? This is the last one. I swear."

She stood up straight and nodded, brushing the hair from her face.

"I need you to go back to the elevator and ride it up to the top. Get back to the saferooms, tell my group that we found the exit, and wait for me there."

"What?" She said, prematurely ending my request. "What are you going to do? Why wouldn't you come with me?"

"Because there's still something I need to do. I think it will set everyone trapped here free."

She looked at me skeptically, concerned, "What are you saying?"

I drew in a deep breath, steadying myself mentally. Once I said it out loud, I knew the gravity of my plan was going to finally set in.

"I... I need to kill the House."

{Next Part}

10 Comments
2024/02/25
03:26 UTC

94

Slice of Life

“More suction please.” Berta, my favorite scrub nurse and at one point lover stuck the tube into the patient's brain. The large inhalation of the machine slurped up the blood that was obscuring my view. I continued using the cauterizer to start separating the vasculature from the tumor. I felt a bead of sweat trickle down my forehead, and I took a second for my resident to dab my head. This hangover was going to be the death of me.

The patient was a 46-year-old male presenting with right-side weakness and some dysarthria. We immediately took the patient for an MRI and discovered a large mass in the left side of the patient's brain. None of this was new to me, I had performed more tumor resection in my long career than I would care to count. I had about a 75% success rate, which for the type of operations I did was pretty good. My goal was always to keep my deaths per year below vending machine deaths. Something I had never been able to achieve.

When I came to talk to Scott (The Patient) he was alert if not a little boring. Then again you don’t go to the neurosurgery floor for a scintillating conversation.

“And what is it that you do Scott?” I asked through gritted teeth regretting the last few glugs of bourbon the night before.

“I work at NASA.” He said this quickly and refused to look at me.

“Let me guess,” I smirked behind my clipboard. “Accountant?” Another positive of my job is people with brain tumors often don’t notice when they are being insulted. This man definitely wasn’t exploring the vastness of space his sour face looked like it was instead subscribed to multiple porn sites.

“No” Scott turned his gaze to me, and my smirk disappeared. I left the room quickly to let my resident finish the exam. Something about the way he looked at me was… off.

“More irrigation please,” This sentiment was followed up by more fluid leaving the dropper and more sweat leaving my body. I had almost completely exposed the tumor now and was just trying to make sure it was completely detached from the surrounding blood supply before I began tugging. As surgeons, we emphasize the precision and skill that is a part of this work. This is mostly due to our egos and hubris but also if you understood how indelicate and violent surgery could be, you may be less inclined to let us cut a hole in your skull. “Fluoro please.” The use of fluoroscopic dye helped to cleanly identify the tumor from the surrounding brain tissue. As Berta activated the overhead light, I saw that I had done a great job. I had clean margins and could see no additional tumor clinging to the brain. “All right turn off the fluoro please.” I waited a second but could still see the mass glowing. “Berta turn it off,” I put more urgency into my voice as every second spent with your brain exposed increased your risk of infection and despite the chill he ran up my spine I preferred to avoid the paperwork that came along with a negligent death.

“It is off doctor.” She sounded confused and as I looked up, I could see why. The light had been turned off and there should be no reason for the tumor to continue shining. Yet there it was shining bright green in contrast to the swelling pink that surrounded it. I was about to ask Berta to run a diagnostic on the machine but just then the tumor ceased glowing. It once again looked like the gray lifeless hunk of meat. Me and Berta shared a quick laugh ready to pass off the incident as “One of those things”. That was until I continued my work and the color of the tumor shifted to a bright pink almost matching the brain exactly. I could only make out the difference between it and the surrounding tissue because of my previous work cauterizing the entire area.

“Um more irrigation please,” I said through a shaky voice. As medical science improves our margin of error decreases almost to the point of certainty. The scary thing is though sometimes things just happen in the body that we can’t account for. Tumors don’t show up in scans or show up in the wrong place. Terminal diagnoses can right themselves on their own and people can come in and die from the hiccups. I didn’t know what was happening, but I understood there was a man open on the table who would die if I spent too long speculating. “Berta!” I said this with as much exclamation as I could for someone who was currently holding sharp instruments near grey matter. I finally looked up from the microscope expecting to see her still in shock from the incident. Instead, I saw that she had done exactly what I had asked. She had attempted to irrigate the field, but she and the dropper hung motionless over Scott’s head. I could see the fluid suspended in three tiny droplets refusing to succumb to gravity. I looked over at my resident who was also motionless hovering behind me.

I went to call for help not knowing what was happening but knowing it needed to be fixed. That was when some motion caught my eye. The motion was coming from Scott’s brain, and I carefully looked once more through the microscope.

The “tumor” had given up any thought of camouflage as it turned into a deep purple color. The motion I was witnessing could only be described as wriggling. The creature was pulsating and holding my hand near it I felt enough heat to pull away. If only I had pulled my gaze away as well but at this point, I couldn’t move and was condemned to study this thing that had invaded my OR and Scott’s body. As the purple mass writhed and wriggled it flipped itself over and exposed a red circle that encompassed almost half of the thing itself. It was a sucker and the mass that I had spent time carefully detaching from the brain began to recombine and heal itself. It started to slide out of my field of view and as it did I saw that it was much longer than I thought possible. It passed by like a subway car through viscera for what seemed like hours but couldn’t be more than seconds until it was entirely out of view.

“Here is that irrigation doctor.” Berta’s voice almost gave me a heart attack as I accidentally knocked over the tray of surgical instruments on my right. “Doct… Jim, are you ok?” Her eyes peering at me from above her surgical mask looked at me with concern and then at the patient on the table. “Wait what happened to the tumor?”

I had one of my colleagues close up as I made my way to the bar downtown. The entire time I felt as though I was being followed by scary black cars containing men in black suits. As I was sitting at the barstool cradling a glass of bourbon my phone went off. It was Berta, they had taken Scott back for additional scans and had found that we had made a mistake. The tumor was much bigger than we thought and resided in the opposite side of the brain. Scott was doing well post-op and had been consuming a lot of calories and apparently, he had been asking to see me, quite forcefully.

“Jim I am not sure what happened today, but I am sure that Howowitz can take this case if can’t handle it.” Berta had seen me try and fail rehab multiple times and even drove me to a few of them. I am sure she just expected I needed time to sober up and get my head right. That however was not what I needed to do. I texted her back immediately.

“No,” I typed as I downed the rest of the bourbon. “I will see him tomorrow morning in OR 3.” I don’t know what it is that I saw but I can promise you one thing. Scott Branson will not make it off my table tomorrow.

0 Comments
2024/02/25
03:01 UTC

519

I´m being stalked because of a game

First off, let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm a 22-year-old female who enjoys playing obscure and forgotten MMO games. I love being online, chatting with random people I encounter, but I never realized that I might encounter something like this. Due to recent events, I'll refer to myself as "Ellen" throughout the story because I don't want to make it worse. I also had to edit out the email addresses because the people who started sending to them started to DM me, telling me that they responded "very weird" stuff back.

It started on a site where people are able to discuss and talk about a game called "Meridian 59". I was in one of the chats when a person called "YowlFoulIO" joined in on a conversation.

It started nice and friendly; he stated that we had played together in "Project Gorgon" once and that he was pleasantly surprised to see me in the chat. Even though I couldn't recall his name, maybe because I played with so many people, I enjoyed the conversation we had, and after a while, I gave him my Discord tag. We parted ways after that, and he said to add me soon so we could play together in the future.

The next morning, I saw a friend request in my Discord and saw that his Discord name was the same as the one in the chat yesterday. I added him, and after waving, he immediately came online. "Heyyyyy," his first message read. I responded with a "Hellllooooo" back, and we started chatting again. After 15 minutes of polite conversation, I curiously asked him where his name came from.

He didn't respond for a minute, but eventually, he told me that it was an anagram for something "fun" (he added the quotes himself). A bit weirded out, I didn't question him further and told him I was going to go and do something else, not specifying what that was or informing him further. He wasn't really happy about it but reluctantly said "fine."

I started to find his behavior a bit weird but shrugged my shoulders and started to boot up a new MMO I discovered some time ago.

After 3 hours of playing, it happened. I became a bit nervous, and my hair on my neck started to rise. As I was reading the in-game chat, a player called "YowlFoulIO" joined the game. With such an obscure tag, I knew it could only be him again.

I tried to calm myself down; it could be that this was just a coincidence and it was just a meaningless thing. But soon enough, he typed "hey Ellen" in the chat, and I just knew I was dealing with a stalker. Not responding to him, I blocked him on Discord and Steam and also made my socials private so if he went snooping around he couldn't find me. I had heard enough creepy stories to know what stalkers are like.

A bit relieved I was "safe" again, I let out a sigh of relief. I was glad it was a minimal encounter, and I dealt with it before it went out of hand, or so I thought. Not even 5 minutes after blocking him, I got an email from a person called (redacted); it contained only 5 words but it was enough to make me really, really scared. "You made a big mistake."

My blood went cold as I read it. I had no idea how he could've gotten my email as I use "fake mail" for most of my accounts. I didn't know how to deal with it or what to do anymore. None of the stories I had heard prepared me for this, and I felt a creeping fear that this guy was going to do something very bad.

I emailed him back, saying that I blocked him for a reason and that he was seriously creeping me out, stating I would go to the police if he continued like this. I then proceeded to create a new main email account and deleting the old one. It was going to take me some time to change my email everywhere, but I wanted to get rid of this guy as quickly as I could.

For a few days, nothing new happened. It seemed that he had lost his trail on me, and I prayed that he also wouldn't bother anyone else. After college, I went home and booted up my computer to be welcomed by a new mail. A mail to my new main mail account. I was nauseous immediately and felt sick to my stomach as my hands began to tremble. (redacted) had sent me a mail. It read like this:

"In shadows I dwell, an eternal dance with your fears. No escape, no sanctuary; my obsession, a relentless specter haunting your every step.

I love you so much, my ever love, my dove that only wants me, dying. You'll regret it though, you making me crying.

I love you, IFollowYou."

I, now in full panic mode, went to the nearest police station. Showing them all the evidence asking them for help.

They stated there wasn't much I could do besides putting down a complaint against an unknown. They told me to change my accounts again and to make sure I remained as safe as I could. When I got home again, I started crying. I never asked for this, and I was so, so scared someone was going to hurt me. Still in tears, I decided to call my dad who was on a business trip at that time. I wanted to hear his voice and wanted him to make me feel safe again.

He didn't pick up at first, but after the third call, he eventually picked up, and I started blurting out everything. After not hearing him saying anything back or making any noise, I went quiet. The other part of the line was quiet too, only for a faint heavy breathing on the other side. I started crying again and whispered "dad?," but my question was answered by the other side of the line ending the call.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, staring at the phone, not knowing what to do. I wanted to head back to the police again and have them check whether my dad was safe, but I was unable to move. I was so afraid and shocked, and that made me just stand there like a statue glued to the ground.

I only could move again when the power of my house went out. My heart dropped, and frantically I started swiping on my phone to put on my flashlight. Had he found me? Did he cut off the electricity, and was he going to kill me? Never in my life had I been so scared. I quietly went up the stairs, heading to my room, listening to any sound that could indicate he was entering my house. Reaching my room, I started to think that maybe something else had happened, trying to rationalize the power cutting out. Maybe it was just a malfunction and the whole street was out? How could a crazy stalker have found out a way to cut off my power, let alone finding my house when I never told my location to anyone online?

It was as I entered my room I heard the sound of shattering glass downstairs. I now was fearing for my life and even peed myself a little. I quickly opened my closet and removed the grate that was at the bottom of the wall in the back. It used to be the entrance to the crawlspace that led to the attic, but because of renovations, it was now a small space cut off from the entirety of the house.

I was putting the grate back in when I heard footsteps running around my house. Doors were being opened with force, and things were breaking and thrown everywhere. It went quiet for a second when all of a sudden, the footsteps rushed upstairs, and the door to my room was thrown open. Through the grate, I saw a small beam of light shining through the door of my closet. The beam became brighter, and the footsteps louder as it came closer to the door. The latter was slammed open, and the light ran through the closet. Only a bit of clothing was hiding the grate leading to me now. My heart was racing, and cold sweat was running down my spine. I slowly placed my hand in front of my mouth to mask my breathing. Tears were running down my face, but I managed to stay completely silent.

He went deeper into the closet, shining his flashlight everywhere. I could hear his heavy breathing and smell the stench that came off him. I could only see a little bit of him through the mix of grate and clothing, but I did manage to see something. He was large, very large. Wearing stained clothing with some stains looking like blood. In his left hand, he held a flashlight, and in his trembling right hand was a big, dull-looking, kitchen knife.

He was now standing practically beside the grate, only the clothes on the clothes hanger were masking the top half of it. I was counting down the seconds before he found me when he made a blood-curling scream and ran out of my closet, closing the doors behind him. He started frantically running around my house screaming my name and "I love you," "let me take care of you," "my dove."

It took 4 hours for him to calm down and give up. I heard him opening my front door and leaving. I started crying heavily from the trauma I just had lived through.

It took some time for me to calm down a little and call the police. Comforting me, the responder told me a unit was on the way and told me to remain where I was. He stayed on the line till I could hear the sirens and then told me to remain strong before finishing the call.

Hearing the sirens coming closer, I started opening the grate and started to climb out of my safe space. I couldn't believe that I was still alive and was thanking God when my closet doors were thrown open, and a man rushed at me.

He grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against the wall. I could feel my blood being cut off to my head because of the grip, and in the darkness, I could see his big dark eyes looking at me, flashing his yellow rotten teeth in a wicked smile. "I've caught my dove," was what I heard when a knife was thrust into my stomach. My vision got blurry, and I started drifting away, losing consciousness. "I'll always be with you" was the last thing I heard before I passed out.

I saw a big light when I opened my eyes. I thought I was in heaven, but when I opened them fully, I realized it was a hospital. I was hooked up to various life supports, and a bag with an unknown fluid went into my vein. A nurse came into my room and surprisingly said, "you're awake?"

Soon after, a doctor and a police officer came into the room. The doctor told me I had been out for three days and was recovering from a stab wound to my stomach and the infection that followed it. He then nodded at the officer, and the officer started speaking.

He stated that after I lost consciousness, the police arrived at my house and found me laying on the ground, bathing in my own blood. They called the ambulance, and because of a "wonder," as he said, I survived. He told me that the person who had entered my home didn't leave any DNA behind, and even my throat was wiped clean by him to make sure nothing was left behind. The only thing they found was a note stating "the 9th dove for my pen."

I'm still in the hospital recovering. I don't know what to do next, but I wanted to write this to make everyone aware of this. Don't trust the people you meet online. He might be one of them.

61 Comments
2024/02/25
02:04 UTC

19

Quaresma

I still remember the arduous hours I spent kneeling on the porous church floor when I was younger. Being in a family with very strong religious roots, I was only able to distance myself from all the mysticism around us after adolescence. While I didn't mature, I had my mother praying by my side while my grandfather watched and waited, then blessed us with some prayer that I never heard very well and allowed us to do our things.

I never met my grandmother, but my father says that even my mother doesn't look as much like her as I do. Big eyes, brown skin, dark hair, big teeth...I don't know if he tell the truth and I never really cared about it, but when I was younger I liked listening to my grandfather telling Quaresma stories. In general, to be quite honest, I always really liked Quaresma and how it seemed cooler to play with scary stuff, summon spirits and run away when faced with any strange thing.

Quaresma is based on the forty days before Easter, and my grandfather always said to be even more careful during those days while I go outside. I never really understood what he meant because there was only one street that took us to the city and the closest city to us was two hours away, I would never be able to go very far alone and even as a young girl I knew that, not to mention my skepticism which later led to my current relationship with religion being agnostic.

My grandfather never wanted to explain himself much to me, but my mother once told me what, perhaps, messed with him so much.

I still remember the night she told me this story. I woke up very cold and thirsty, I got up wrapped in the blanket and ran down the hall to the kitchen, on the way I passed the living room and there was my mother, she sat in front of the window that led to the chicken coop outside, she looked tired but, thinking more about it today, I imagine it was an episode of insomnia. She saw me running, and when I came out of the kitchen, she called me and held me on her lap.

My mother talked to me, lit candles when the lamp outside the house began to switch off and told me, if I remember correctly, that we were in the middle of Quaresma, which, according to her, made the night "energy" more intense. I remember laughing about it and asking her to tell me stories. At first she didn't agree, but I mentioned my grandfather and my mother looked thoughtful.

I mentioned the fact that my grandfather didn't like to talk about this period, my mother looked at me with those narrow eyes and smiled at me, started rocking me on her lap and talked about when she herself was younger. To be more precise, when she was my age.

The city was even smaller in those years, just a cluster of businesses with few houses around it and farms, like ours, far away. When my grandfather was younger, he was a more active merchant, he took goods in his old cart in the morning and returned with it empty in the evening, leaving my grandmother alone with my mother and her brothers. My mother, being the only girl among all the boys, spent a lot of time with my grandmother and they both feared a lot for my grandfather, as the woods in the surrounding area were much denser than they are now.

My grandfather once came back with the cart full and very upset, shouting that everyone needed to get into the house and that they shouldn't leave until Easter. He placed everyone under the cross that hung in the living room to this day and made them pray, everyone prayed for a forgiveness that no one there understood.

My mother accidentally overheard the conversation between her parents in the morning. My grandfather still seemed distraught and my grandmother seemed to be trying to comfort him, so much so that he decided to open up about what had happened.

He sold almost nothing on the day in question and was frustrated, the movement apparently had been low as most families were traveling. Frustrated, he took the products and began his journey back. As always, he was returning during sunset and remained calm, but the darker the way got, the more his horse seemed hesitant to move forward, galloping slower and constantly choking along the way as he stopped abruptly many times.

My grandfather, through all this movement of the horse, noticed that further along the road there was a person, someone who even from afar he could recognize some shapes like the short-brimmed hat and the pointed cane full of details. He moved the horse forward until he could see the person. A tall man, relatively pretty, but common, by city standards: tanned skin, trimmed hair and a prominent smile. My grandfather could only notice the stranger's clothes, a white overcoat with social shoes matching the hat. Regardless of who it was, my grandfather probably acted cordial because he didn't see a man there but rather a money sign.

The man introduced himself as "Cristóvão", Christopher, and my grandfather offered to take him wherever he needed to go. The horse stamped its hooves, not wanting to continue, but my grandfather certainly paid no attention to that. Christopher was friendly, but he started asking strange questions about my grandfather's life, especially about his family, his wife and his only daughter. My grandfather felt suspicious and wanted to leave him on the road again, but he got so distracted while they were talking that, when he looked at the road again, he noticed that they had been under the treetops of the same forest for a long time, and it seemed increasingly colder.

Christopher made a very nuanced proposal, it seems. He offered to buy everything in the cart as long as he could spend the night at my grandfather's house. My grandfather was not happy to hear this and vehemently denied it, he says that Christopher did not like this but remained silent, which scared my grandfather and made him push Christopher onto the road. As soon as Christopher fell to the ground, my grandfather whipped the horse and got out of there in a hurry.

He says he only managed to leave the forest after putting the dagger he carried between his teeth and praying for protection. He asked so much that, when he walked back home, it didn't take him more than a few minutes to leave the trees behind and see his chicken coop.

My grandmother was waiting for him outside while my mother was with her brothers inside the house. My grandmother was the only one who saw my grandfather and the cart, and she was the one who discarded the now rotten goods that were accumulating. My mother saw her check them one by one and throw them in a hole to bury. That night, my grandfather shouted at everyone as mentioned before. My mother obeyed him and remained at home all these long forty days. The problem, however, was that only she noticed that something about her father was different. He smelled like sulfur.

My mother said she tried many times to ask her father what was wrong, but he just yelled at her for being nosy and causing trouble. My grandfather became increasingly aggressive, wanting no one to go beyond the confines of the house, especially at night. Unfortunately, he was unable to stop my grandmother from going out on one occasion to fetch a basket she left behind at the back of the house.

My grandmother disappeared, and my mother says that my grandfather, despite not wanting to sell the house, took everyone to the city and it took years for everyone to decide to return, take care of the farm and continue the family business.

My mother said that she always felt that my grandfather didn't tell my grandmother everything, that he left out something and that, until then, he never told anyone. She also said that she found my grandmother's wedding ring along with a hat when the family decided to return home. She kept these things until she met my father who never knew this story, but because he was as religious as my grandfather, he never questioned his father-in-law behavior.

She said she doesn't know where the ring is, and after I got older I forgot that little detail. Recently, however, I received a letter that I only found out about when I visited the post office and found out that this item was pending.

It's not a letter, exactly, it's just an envelope with a photo and a ring. The problem with all of this, besides the ring that reminded me of this story, is that the photo is of me as a child. I know I should ask my mom about it to confirm any suspicions, but to be honest, I'm a little scared of what kind of answer she can give to me.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/11LUVLWCbbRY59dU0oSVyV_YCx7u5hxTE/view?usp=drivesdk https://drive.google.com/file/d/11LfzJ-bxS0ksSctidIeoxDKLUD4KePIe/view?usp=drivesdk

1 Comment
2024/02/25
00:56 UTC

55

the house on tall grass circle

Content warning: >!Mentions of graphic body horror.!<

When I moved to Oklahoma from Nevada, all I wanted was a cheaper, quieter place to live. After 34 years, I began to loathe Las Vegas. I hated my neighborhood on XXth Street and XXXXXX. It was always loud, with either the sound of Metro's sirens coming around my block or my neighbors piss drunk screaming and yelling. I can’t count how many times I woke up to hearing beer bottles hitting the apartment’s stone staircases or someone’s window getting shattered. Every day when I would leave my shitty studio, I tip-toed around the shards of Modelo bottles or puddles of vomit. Before work one morning, I saw a couple of bullet casings in the gutter. I hated the tourists and their entitled behavior. They crossed the street with little concern that a casino shuttle SUV might wipe them out on the pavement with ease. I hated how so many people from the neighboring state of California had moved here because it was “cheaper” to live here. 
 
On the other side of the same coin, Las Vegas had been my home. I remember when they built certain malls, housing developments, and casinos. I got drunk on the neon lights—even though, technically, they are no longer neon—every time I walked up and down Fremont Street or in the Arts District. They discarded using neon, argan, or mercury long ago, and now they are combinations of RGB or RGBW LED lights. They told us this on a tour I took at the Neon Museum. The signs of the old age, the golden era, and the atomic times were retired and out of practice living in that boneyard. I had spent my 20s with former classmates, drinking yard-long booze-infused slushies, and crying about my architecture classes. The University of Nevada Las Vegas had been my sanctuary, as had my tired shared dorm. All was sacred and holy in the religious practices of my daily routine. 
 
There was an abrupt change in tone after my parents died and left their two children behind—me and my brother. Mason had the pleasure of taking off when he wanted. That included when it came to the funeral and the arrangements, which I ended up handling. I was 24, and he was 20. Now, he lives in California with his wife and three kids. I was still stuck in Las Vegas up until two years ago. 
 
Three weeks after I turned 32, I put in my two weeks at the county and packed up all of my shit. Not that there was much. I took out my retirement and rolled it into an IRA. I had a decent chunk of change in my savings, so I took $5,000 and used it as a downpayment on a little house. XXXX Tall Grass Circle, in Stow, Oklahoma. It was two floors, with two bedrooms—one guest, one master. 2.5 bathrooms, a roomy living room/hosting space, and a basement. There were beautiful French doors to the backyard. It left little to be desired back there, as it was mostly a lot of dead grass and a tree that had shed its leaves for the season. It had probably been on this Earth longer than I had been alive. I had put in an application for Deputy Director of Building and Planning for the city, similar to what I did in Clark County. 
 
When I pulled up to the curb in the small Uhaul I had driven all by my lonesome, I was just as moonstruck as when I visited the house before. The way the sun glinted off of the windows illuminated the peeling cream eggshell exterior paint of the Victorian-era home. It was complimented by what was probably an ivory-white ornamental trim and rusted iron gating that lined the roof. The roof itself was a nice, coffee brown color. My real estate agent, Monk, warned me that, as alluring as the house was, it changed ownership frequently in the last twenty years. Like a revolving door. Unphased, I, of course, asked why. In architecture and socially, people harbor a strange sympathy and adoration for their homes, as they do hatred and loathing. Spending several years in a structure to echo the families' laughter, love, and growing together—or, alternatively,reverberations of shrill criticisms, caterwauls of wicked reflections from parent to child. He informed me that people had passed away via freak accidents and safety precautions that were not well thought out. Terrible occurrences include falling out of the tree or down the main flight of steps. To me, it was nothing that didn’t have a solution. Install stairway railings and have professionals come cut the tree instead of trying to trim a blackjack oak’s branches myself. Unfortunate follies on everyone else’s part. I said okay. I bought the house. 
 
It didn’t take long to get settled. All of my furniture and things of the sort found their places. It was still really empty since you can’t really spread a 400-square-foot studio apartment across a 2000-square-foot home. Three weeks here quickly became two months, then three. Three and a half. By the time I reached this mark, I had outsmarted my antecedents and hired a local company to trim the trees in the front and back yards. I installed an oak stair rail. My floors were a pristine, polished ivory-white tile. You wouldn’t even know the previous attempted owner split their skull on the edge of the last step, and the blood was dirtying the floor, pooling around their head and hair. while waiting for their partner to come home to their stiff corpse several hours later. 
 
More time passed. All of the bare spaces in my home came to be filled in some capacity. The significance of a house cannot be overstated enough—it’s our way of symbolizing an achievement in adulthood; it’s what we count on for our survival in this big, bad world. Everyone knows that permanent shelter is what separates us from our primordial ancestors. No other creature among us on earth puts in the effort. Birds and their fragile nests can be destroyed with a breeze. Bears and their comfortable caverns get demolished by humanity. Whereas we have houses that have been around for 30, 40, 50, or 100 years. We look upon them with reverence and pride. We have such sympathy for our homes in the way the exterior and interior are reflections of ourselves. 
 
I considered myself well adjusted by month 6. I was pleased by the way I had settled into my new job so fluidly. My office was properly decorated with photos of my family, despite our estranged nature. Family cards and old photos of the Sarkisians before my parents, Rose and Hayk, left the mortal realm. My house was a home. I needed a new coat of paint to fix the chipping problem on the outside. My fireplace burned with the renewed energy that I had felt since abandoning Las Vegas for Stow, Oklahoma. Art on the walls and all of the small things that were neglected by others had received the love the house so desperately longed for. Plumbing, lighting, and deep cleaning regularly. I never knew I could have been so extraordinarily happy about being a homeowner despite the stress. I spent my afternoons curled up on my L-shaped heather grey couch that sat in front of the fire, absentmindedly zoning out while Survivor marathons played.
 
When I was in college, I had a tendency to fixate on how similar a house was to a human cadaver. The relationship between the house’s rooms and functions and our own is remarkable. Like the living room. It tends to be a bigger room in the house, housing all of our social activities or even just us for some quiet time. It’s in the name—mostly akin to a beating heart. It’s also where fireplaces are kept, a horribly destructive force we corral behind metal gates—a force that we as people have dubbed a living thing that breathes and consumes. Hallways, walkways, and corridors functioned as its veins and arteries, carrying us from one room and organ to the next. The kitchen and dining room represent a stomach due to the nature of their functions. Bathrooms, of course, are self-explanatory. 
 
Windows are like eyes peering out into the streets and cul-de-sacs. The staircase bears a resemblance to the vertebrae of our spine: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. It’s like when you read an R.L. Stine book about the tall, brooding house at the end of a fabled, haunted street. There’s no light inside, but instead a dim glow behind the glassy eyeballs and curtains. Suddenly, in our imagination, there is a large sentient creature. It has vision and a level of intelligence unbeknownst to the onlooker. It’s uncomprehensible to us. 
 
It leads us to the bedroom. It reflects our mind—where we rest mentally and physically, experience epiphanies in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, or have strange dreams. One’s bedroom reflects their mental state. If we’re depressed, they’re a mess, so on and so forth. It’s where we experience love and passion. We spend 33% of our lives in it. 
 
I walked into my empty home with respect, caring for it as if it were my own child. I didn’t know how anyone could have bared to leave it. The six months became a year. I adopted a bonded pair of cats named Baloo and Bagheera. The former cat was a toothless grey tabby, and the latter was a black cat missing an eye. They’re so sweet and gentle—the loves of my life. They were 8 years old when I got them. At night, I can hear their mewls, meows, and scurrying. But I started to hear creaking. A creaking that a pair of 10-pound felines cannot make. At that point, I had been in the house for about a year and three months. 
 
I have always had trouble sleeping as a result of being diagnosed with anxiety at the ripe age of 15. Chronically high stress. I noticed the footsteps a few weeks before the incident I’m going to describe. I had gotten up to pee and was able to, or tried to, chalk up the footsteps to the house being old. But as I left the bathroom, the creaking was trailing behind my own as I walked. My own sleepy stupor was quickly sobered by my brain, which registered how close the sound was behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I froze in place. The room was pitch black, and I had at least 10 steps left to get back into bed. My eyes had already adjusted to the dark. I searched rapidly around the room, as if another person had entered without my knowledge. Acid rose in my throat, anticipating some stranger to take the painted lamp base beside my bed and take it out to bash my skull in. No one would know of my corpse until one of my neighbors reported the smell. My long, black curls would rest on my detached scalp while flies and maggots made a feast out of my pink, fleshy brain matter sprawled across the rug. I would’ve laid there, for God knows how long, and waited for someone to find me. 
 
My breath hitched, preparing for the best, but no one came at me. I did not get attacked. I made it back to my bed after a few minutes and crawled under the covers. I hid under them like a little kid. My heart beat against my ribcage; I could swear I was going to crack a rib. I brought the blankets up to my head, and the blood rushed to my head and gave me an instant headache. I can feel it, and I am describing it now. I listen to the dead silence. The horrible, eerie sound that followed my path now left my room and went down my stairs. Once it descended completely, it crept across my living room and dining room. My basement door opens, hinges squeaking. Then it slammed shut. 
 
If the bedroom represented higher thinking, then, as above, so below. The basement is our innermost buried dreadful thoughts and feelings. Dark perceptions and visages are cradled in its murkiness. Memories are covered in dust and cobwebs, along with trauma that we bury deep. So deep, we don’t want to see the bottom. We face the discomfort ourselves as we stare down the concrete or wooden staircase. You envision the inky room full of monsters and great fears and phobias that filled your childhood; now you find yourself facing them as an adult. They lie in wait for us once we reach the bottom. Somehow, there’s always something that beckons us down to its depths, but we seldom want to answer that call. 
 
But that can be a metaphor that’s heavy-handed. 
 
The day after that, I went down my stairs, comforted by the safety of both natural and artificial light. I felt nauseated. Nothing looked out of place or broken, and I gripped a shitty wooden bat I had bought from Big 5—the sports store—for self-defense. All my doors were locked. It was an overcast day out that day, and I could hear the droplets sprinkling against my windows and watched as they gathered, rolling down the glass. I approached my basement, and on autopilot, my fingers gripped around the metal handle and slowly opened the door. I flicked on the light. It sparks a few times before illuminating the space. 
 
We store things in our basements, too. As I put one foot in front of the other, it felt like I was wearing brickstone boots. Still, nothing was out of place. Just my holiday decorations in their plastic storage bins, collecting dust until it's their turn to see the light of day again. I can’t describe to you the relief I felt when I saw that nothing was displaced, distressed, or destroyed. But soon after, it was replaced with unease. I didn’t believe in haunted houses or ghosts.
 
Baloo and Bagheera were constantly by my side, with me more often than not. They are needy cats, yes, but when I went to bed, they no longer wished to adventure around the house all by themselves. For days, I would wake up to the vile stench of cat urine and feces. They ruined my rug. But my cats were happily curled up on the edge of my bed, secured with one another. This happened for four days in a row. After three nights, I moved their litter box to my bathroom. I figured it would keep happening. I took them to the vet, and they were okay. No UTIs, no illnesses. I didn’t know what was bothering them. When I would come home from work, they’d trot down to greet me. We followed our nighttime routine: our dinners, TV time, reading books, or painting. Then, as a trio, we went to bed. Things went back to normal; I just now adjusted to my cats and their reluctance to do anything without me home. 
 
I was still uncomfortable at this point. See, while we talk about the horrors of the night occupying the basements or dark spots in our homes, I neglect the master bedrooms. When I got into bed at night, at the end of the day, it felt like I was swallowing sand. We are at our most vulnerable when we lay in that bed or in that room. Lying in the dark, in those easily missed spaces by our eyes, is where danger lurks. It preys on us. In turn, we pray. We pray in this room that the house will please protect us. In those moments, the bedroom is less of a mind and more of a mouth. 
 
My routine was altered with these feelings. A year and a half came fast. At the end of the cul-de-sac was XXXX Tall Grass Circle, and it watched over me. I woke up, went to work, and came home. On occasion, I would go out just to get some things—my groceries or a little treat for myself. We came to a mutual understanding, the house and I. I cared for it, I painted it, and I made it pretty. I made sure all aspects of it were taken care of. I never failed to get routine care done. With each visit from the gardeners, HVAC workers, and plumbers, my pride was almost parental in nature. Baloo and Bagheera are my babies, yes, but this house had become my child by that point. All the work I put into restoring it made it magnificent. It was beautiful. The restored Victorian frame, ornamental trim, and iron gating lined the roof. If I were anymore self-centered as the Deputy Director of Buildings and Plans, I would try to register it as a historic landmark. With time at my job, I grew closer to coworkers. I hosted parties, and the compliments brought a smile to my face. At the same time, I felt like the house was happy too. It was jubilant as strangers’s hands grazed its walls, cooing about the art that adorned the halls or how beautiful the space was itself. I had even finally figured out what to do with the backyard. I put in a small succulent garden and a koi pond. I had someone come build a white gazebo. Edison bulbs, about a half-dollar in size, were hung around the structure. My cohorts clamored about the small details that I relayed back to the house, as if it could hear me. I had become another year older. 
 
The house and I were on the same page. I kept hearing the groans and grinds against some unknown pressure that was not of this plane. The cats and I remained in the master bedroom each night, and I had accepted that these sounds were the house breathing, murmuring, and sighing in contentment. The house is a creature, and when I step inside its mouth, each night I am at its mercy. With said mercy, I would wake up each day. Weeks and months passed after this revelation. Our relationship is symbiotic in nature. I cared not really for anything else except my cats and the house. After taking care of my parents in their dying stages and my brother for so many years, no one ever took care of me. At the end of the day, I came home. In exchange for my tender love and care for it, the house made me feel—made it known—that it would protect me. 
 
I began to have vivid dreams about three months ago, where I was in a room of flesh and tissue and my body felt feverish in the humid environment. Sweaty, it was moist with a liquid that felt like it resembled water. It smelled like a decomposing carcass on someone’s breath. My body was covered in these bumps that ached, as if they were bone spurs or painful cysts pressing up against my olive skin. They itched, but I couldn’t scratch them enough in a way that mattered. I scratched so hard that my skin broke and came up underneath my fingernails. The blood trickled down and stuck under my nails too. The metallic smell intertwined itself with the rancid stench of garbage that has had the pleasure of rotting out in 120-F heat. They happen about 3–4 times a week. They’re so vivid, I woke up gasping for air and gagging. I didn’t understand why I had these dreams. I shook them off every day, though, as I had to keep going. I greet my house and bid it goodbye each day. When I came home, I swore I could hear it tell me ‘welcome home’. I had become comfortable. 
 
Exactly 20 days ago, I began to see a 1980s Ford truck with maroon paint and a black accent park down my street. I paid no mind to it, as it was parked near another house where all they did was work on trucks and cars. But it began to park closer to my home. It was there when I got off work. Ten days ago, I passed by it again—still far enough—parked in front of a neighbor's house. The occupant had the window rolled down. He looked to be some greasy 20-year-old. His face was covered in disgusting, awful, blistering pustules. Dark, purplish scarring lined his cheeks under the severe acne that plagued him. His hair was a strawberry blonde, and every time he looked at me, he didn’t smile. I figured he squinted because the sun was blinding at that time. I tried to be friendly and said hi a few times. The house he was parked in front of was one of a nice family, and I know there was a set of parents and a girl who just turned 22. She was sweet. I wondered if he was her boyfriend or some kind of helper. I tried to clock what was in his trunk to figure out what he did. It looked like some tools and rope, and I presumed he was some handyman or an apprentice of the sort. 
 
He didn’t ever smile back at me or respond when I talked. It felt like every day, the truck grew closer. We’re approaching 5 days ago now. Two days. One. 
 
Yesterday - I came home and pulled my car in. He was sitting across the street, and his driver’s side door was in line with my own front door. I would have preferred if he remained unfriendly; I had come to ignore his presence because he was so offputting. As I got out of the car, I looked back and caught his stare from across the street. It was the only day he had ever stared at me and grinned from ear to ear. I felt sick to my stomach. He looked so pleased with himself, and I had no idea why. He looked at me as if I were going to be a sacrificial rabbit to some unknown god or group. From across the street, his awful, beady hazel eyes tracked mine. I felt them trail down my body. A sickening chill shot down my spine, and my hair stood up. It matched the primal fear I had felt before. I felt viciously ill and intimidated. The way his eyes bore into me made me break out in a cold sweat. I rushed and got my keys out, fumbling with my purse. I got to the garage door to enter my house, and I slammed it shut. I threw my things onto the kitchen counter and locked the door as fast as I could. He felt like the boogeyman, and if I turned around, somehow he would be behind me. 
 
I think the house could feel it. We were in sync. I double-checked all my locks around the house, and after pulling the curtains and blinds closed, I felt too sick to eat or even think about doing anything to distract myself. Instead, I hid in my room and turned out all the lights. Baloo and Bagheera lay in their usual places, and I cradled the wooden bat with me in bed. I laid in bed the way I had before, with the covers pulled up over my face. 
 
The adrenaline rush passed, and I had fallen asleep. I had that dream again. The one where I was enveloped in viscera. Instead of that feeling where I was soaked in saliva, dribble, and drool, it was ichor. The brassy redolence was overwhelming to my nostrils. This time, instead of sitting in place and scratching my body until it bled, I got up. I walked through the soft innards with my bare feet and approached a white door. There was no rhyme or reason why it was in there, but I approached it. With a blood-soaked hand, I reached towards the door and opened it. 
 
I woke up to a truck door slamming shut. 
 
I got up, panted, and went to my bedroom window. Even though it was nighttime, under the streetlights and moonlight, the dark inflection of the truck’s coloration was unmistakable. That deep red. The man stepped out, and I watched him walk up to my house until the structure of the house blocked my view. He walked right up to my front door. My heart got caught in my throat, and I heard my front door lock become undone. The lights lift. My eyes dart around. My cats look at me to ask some kind of question I can’t answer. I hear heavy, clunky boots trudge into my beautiful home. My feet were firmly planted, trying not to make the floor squeal under my weight. 
 
I heard a sickening laugh, a cackle, and the disgusting phlegmy inhale, followed by clearing of the throat, before I heard the spit hitting my carpet and partially on the tile. Heavy breathing, I could hear him evading my first floor. I heard glass shattering and him breaking my belongings and upsetting things. Through the discord, I strategically walked toward the threshold of my bedroom door to approach the stairs. I didn’t grab the bat. 
 
“Nice fuckin’ house. Too bad you’re home.” He huffed, his voice gravelly, with the other mucus stuck in his throat. Something else is thrown and breaks. The unmistakable sound of a fist hitting my television screen made me jump. 
 
The color in my face drained, and I slowly crawled down my steps. He transitioned from the living room to the dining room. I heard the basement door hinge struggle as it opened. From the dining room to the kitchen. I looked in horror at the destruction and havoc he left in the wake of my home. Broken print frames with art, my broken TV, and family photos thrown on my floor. The house makes a noise as if it were grinding its nonexistent teeth in frustration. Knick-knacks that had been placed on shelves were everywhere, and there was no glass top on my coffee table that was in the middle of my living room. I heard the crisp, clear sound of a knife being pulled from the knife block and a chuckle as the boots made their way to the door that had just opened. They stopped at the doorway, and I could barely see him around the corner of my living room wall. I heard another door unlock, but I don’t think he heard it. 
 
“Nice corner you backed yourself into. You been fun to watch. Makin’ it fun for me.” His voice was low, and he slurred. He was drunk. I couldn’t imagine what horrible things were on his mind as my eyes welled up in fearful tears. I hid in the shadows, and he stepped into the doorway of the basement. A seething rage came over me and filled my veins. Adrenaline pushed the blood to my head so hard and so fast that I was blind. I moved like a woman possessed. So overcome by a fit of pique, fury, and frenzied rampage, I walked to the basement with the staggered, breathing intruder looking down. I went behind him and slammed the door as hard as I could. I heard a yelp as he fell down the stairs. I felt the aches and pains of the house as if they were my own. I could feel his bones snapping as his body made contact with the steep stairs. A sharp crack with each edge he hits, and the lights flicker off in the basement as I hold the door closed. I could hear the bulb crackling. After a minute, I opened the door. Red marks and brain matter were flecked on the door. A breeze passed through the house from the cracked open backyard doors, flowing against my skin and the silk 2-piece pajamas I was about to ruin. I look down, and behind me are bloody footprints. 
 
I lifted my feet to look at the bottoms of them, and they were embedded with glass. I didn’t feel it. I walked down the stairs, and my fingers extended to the light switch. No longer concealed by the darkness, the light illuminated the black ink of his blood. The soreness I typically felt in my dreams returned. The teeth and the spurs rising underneath my skin and growing on my bones and muscles pushed and poked as I looked at his disfigured corpse. I looked at the life force congealing on the dark, poured grey stone floor. I reached down, and I pulled the truck keys from his brown suede jacket pocket. I went to my front door, crossed my grassy front yard, and walked on the asphalt. I got into the truck and backed it into my garage next to my own pomegranate red compact car. I dragged myself out of the truck’s front seat and back through the connecting door that goes to my kitchen. I closed the door, and it locked behind me. I heard my front door lock next. I closed the basement door for the night. The feeling of throbbing, rock-solid cysts persisted as I forced myself up the stairs and collapsed into my bed to attempt to sleep. The teeth kept growing on me, pressing down. I could feel the hot breath, gums, and sinew. It wasn’t a dream. The basement is dark. 
 
Today, I called out of work early in the morning. I really couldn’t sleep. I plucked the glass shards off of my bed and stain-treated the blood on my sage green sheets. Loading them into the washer in my basement, I stepped around the body. I extracted the pieces I left in my feet overnight while I sat in the shower and put them in a Dixie cup. I washed myself, although I would need to shower again later. I went downstairs and dragged the stiff cadaver up my basement stairs and to my backyard. I don’t feel like I slept at all. The house’s tension had melted away. I needed to get flowers anyway to really complete my garden. I dug up the lifeless soil that needed to be tilled and made a 4 ft deep, 6 ft wide hole in the ground. I rolled him tiredly into the grave and covered him in soil and compost. Through deception, faux welcoming, and the unlocked door, the stranger had pried and prodded into the house on XXXX Tall Grass Circle. Somehow, the dead organism laid to rest in my dirt would not think his intrusion would be felt or acknowledged when he entered my home. Like the clueless fly that lands in the maws of a Venus fly trap witlessly, prey in the mouth of its predator, resting on the tongue, would be swallowed. 
Up the stairs again and in the sanctity of my bathroom, I groaned in disgust at being covered in sweat again. The fabric I wore stuck to my skin. Hot water ran over my scalp, and my fingertips worked the shampoo through my water-pressure-flattened curls. 
 
My house is awake and hungry, and every room is not an organ. I have come to realize that they are mouths. An open trap. The day had proceeded with ease. I went to the home improvement store around 6 in the morning. I picked out pretty perennials, pansies, cosmos, and chrysanthemum bushes. The underneath of my long fingernails are crusted with soil I tucked them into as the flowers were given their new home in my yard. I decorated the flower bed with stones and a pathway, leading up to the garden table I had finally put together earlier this week. 
 
I don’t know how anyone could ever abandon this house. We leave our homes—these structures that we built that we are meant to inhabit until we die. What happens when we leave them? They age, the paint peels, and sometimes the foundation sinks. The house grows worn and weary. Too long unlived in, too long untouched. 
 
Does it think? Dream? How does it feel about those who built it and passed it on or left it so abruptly with no notice? There is no time to grieve. It’s brought into existence like a birth, only to be abandoned and orphaned? When its usefulness is no longer relevant and it no longer serves a purpose for its occupants. The windowed eyes peer at other homes full of happy families inside, into the darkness at night of the streets and cul-de-sac. It looks inward into its own empty halls. When someone does come along, it must be overjoyed—someone is here, and I’m not alone. Each time they leave, the cycle starts over, and so does the pain and the hurt. The house creates creatures, figures, and shadows to walk its halls and rooms. Ghosts fill the silence with echoes of conversations, laughter, and whispers. The house’s body grinds as if it were its teeth, clenching its jaw. It asks what it did wrong, and it feels bitterness and anger. 
 
So hungry and so protective of its current occupant that the doors unlock themselves. It may hunger, but the home will not starve. It is so empty that it desperately wishes to be loved the way it was loved before. It will sit. It will lie in wait. Doors open. Shades drawn. 
 
Waiting to welcome me home. 

2 Comments
2024/02/24
23:51 UTC

21

The woods that hunt me

Hey. I don't even know where to begin. I feel like I'm losing my mind. I need to get this off my chest before something terrible happens. I can't keep living like this, constantly haunted by the guilt and the presence that has infiltrated my life.

It all started eight years ago. My best friend, Jenna, and I were driving home after a night of drinking. We were young, foolish, and invincible—or so we thought.

Jenna was drunk and high so she asked me to drive us home, I was also very drunk, but I thought I could manage the 15 minute drive, I was wrong. We hit a girl, Emma, who appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the road. We were in a panic, overwhelmed by the fear of the consequences. It was a rash decision born out of desperation. We decided to bury her body deep within the woods, hoping no one would find out.

The guilt consumed me from the moment we dug that grave. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't escape the feeling that Emma's father, now living without answers, was suffering because of our actions. The weight of our secret was unbearable, and I knew I had to confess. I had to tell him what happened to his precious daughter, even if it meant facing the consequences of my actions.

But Jenna, oh god, Jenna was terrified. She was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. She insisted that we stay silent, that we let the years pass without revealing the truth. I could see the torment in her eyes, the guilt eating away at her soul, just like it was consuming mine. Yet she remained adamant, refusing to admit our involvement in that tragic night.

Years went by, and the guilt only grew stronger. To make matters worse, news reached me that Emma's father had taken his own life. I couldn't help but feel responsible. The thought that our actions had driven him to such despair, that we had torn a family apart, was unbearable.

But then, Jenna began experiencing strange occurrences. She said she was being followed, that she felt a constant presence lurking just out of sight. At first, I dismissed her fears as a product of our guilt-ridden minds. But as time went on, her terror escalated, and it became impossible to ignore.

Jenna confided in me about her fears, about the feeling that someone or something was after her. And then, just like that, she vanished without a trace. Nobody knows where she is, and the police are baffled. But I know. I know that her disappearance is connected to that horrific night, to the secrets we buried deep within the woods.

Now, I'm being tormented too. The unknown figure that Jenna spoke of has turned its attention towards me. I feel its presence lurking around every corner, in the shadows outside my window. It's following me, stalking me. And worst of all, it knows what we did. It knows the terrible secret we've been hiding for all these years.

I can't escape the feeling that this figure, this malevolent force, is seeking revenge for what we did to Emma. It wants to make us suffer, to pay for the life we took that night. It won't stop until it has torn apart everything I hold dear.

As I write this, I sit alone in my room, my eyes constantly flicking to the window overlooking the haunting forest. The trees stand tall and foreboding, their branches reaching out like skeletal arms. And there, emerging from the darkness, is the creature that has haunted my nightmares for months. It moves with an unnatural grace, its eyes glowing with a malevolence that chills me to the bone.

I don't know what will happen next. I don't know if I'll survive this night or if I'll meet the same fate as Jenna. All I know is that I can't run from my past any longer. The horrors that have befallen us are a consequence of our actions, and now it's time to face them head-on.

If you never hear from me again, remember my story. Remember the darkness that lies within the woods and the guilt that can consume even the strongest of souls. And if you ever find yourself driving through the night, remember the choices you make, for they have the power to haunt you until the end of your days.

Goodbye. I can hear it at my door now, scratching, clawing its way into my sanctuary. I hope that my words reach someone, that they serve as a warning. Don't let the guilt eat away at you like it did me. Don't let the horrors of the past come back to claim you.

I'm sorry, Emma. I'm so, so sorry.

  • Carrie
1 Comment
2024/02/24
22:06 UTC

51

She Loves Christmas

“So do you like Home alone one or two better?”

“Hmmm?” I swallowed my sip of beer before setting it down.

“You know, that movie. Kid gets left home alone and booby traps his home to take down the wet bandits.”

It was an odd question but not the worst I’ve ever heard on a first date. We recently met on a dating website.

“Umm. I like the first one best probably.”

Noel smiled at me and had eyes full of eagerness.

“Well, both movies are iconic, don’t get me wrong. I also think John Williams is the greatest when it comes to making soundtracks. I just love the first one more for the story itself. Both also have very quotable lines.”

“Get out of here you noisy little pervert, before I slap you silly.” She let out such a joyful chuckle. She asked again.

“So what is your favorite Christmas movie? Mine is probably Jingle all the way or Miracle.”

“A Christmas story is mine.” She nodded and seemed so happy after that answer

“Most people say Elf or National Lampoons.”

“I just have fond memories of watching Ralphie shooting those burglars in that ridiculously shiny cowboy outfit.”

Noelle was a pretty girl with brown eyes and dark hair. We met recently on a dating website and decided to have dinner. We spent the next hour talking about our careers, hobbies, and other things. She smiled at me after finishing her cocktail.

“So would you like to ride back to my home and we watch a movie?”

The ride back to her home was fairly quiet. She kissed me a couple of times in the car while the uber driver was getting us to our destination.

We walked into her tiny brick home and she flickered on the lights and I was surprised. The house was filled with Christmas decorations. She had three different Christmas trees. She had garlands and mistletoe. It just felt so weird to see this stuff on the middle of June.

“Go ahead and pick a movie. I’m gonna put some cookies in the oven and make some of my famous, homemade hot chocolate.”

I felt really weird out. It wasn’t the worst date I’ve been on but it’s been really strange.

She had a pile of dvds under her tv. All of the movies were Christmas movies and tv shows of all genres. I grabbed the copy of Die Hard.

‘Just get yourself through this date and you’ll be alright.’

I heard a tiny pinging sound. The faintest sound of someone tapping on glass. I noticed a snow globe next to the dvd stack.

‘Surely that wasn’t the noise.’

Ping. Ping….ping.

I picked up the globe and my I felt a cold shiver creep up my back. There was a little man moving inside the globe. He was trying to talk to me but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

I thought about making a run after setting the globe down. I walked back towards the couch and Noelle creeped back into the living room with two whimsical mugs with whipped cream stacked at the top.

“The cookies should be done in about ten minutes.” She was changed out of her green dress into Christmas plaid pajamas.

“You weren’t leaving, were you?”

“No, no. I was trying to find the bathroom.”

“Oh silly boy, it’s the first door to the left down the hall. Try this coco first.”

I took a gulp of it and it was heavenly. It was so warm and frothy. It put a weird feeling in my stomach like when you would wake your parents up on Christmas as a child to see what Santa brought.

“Noelle, that’s amazing.” She crept up and kissed me.

I walked to the bathroom and tried to figure out if I was going to escape or just make it through the night.

There was another globe in the bathroom. It had a tiny train in the middle on tracks but there again was a tiny man standing on it and waving his hands at me. I couldn’t hear him if he was talking.

I had to get out of there. There wasn’t any windows in the bathroom. I then noticed I must have left my phone on the couch stand. I started to feel drowsy.

I walked out and she motioned for me to sit on the couch as I staggered to her. She sat down a wrapped box on my lap.

“I’ve had a great date with you so far. I got this present for you just in case it went so well.”

“I don’t feel so good.”

“Silly boy, I’ll make you feel much better soon. The movie is about to start.”

I opened up the box and froze. It was an empty snow globe.

“It’s your new home.” Everything went blank.

I woke up with lights strung around my body, I couldn’t move. I tried to take in my surroundings. I was in a bedroom, Noelles bedroom. My vision was still somewhat blurry.

She closed the bedroom door and walked up to me.

“I see you’re up.”

All I could slur out of me was “why?”

She was naked and had body paint over her body with strange symbols.

“We really had a great date and I really think you’re a great guy. I figured nothing would be better than to see you every morning when I wake up. Your home will be on my nightstand.”

“This….isn’t right”

“Why not? You’ll get to enjoy Christmas daily and I’ll be here with you all the time.”

“How many of these globes are there?”

“More than you think.”

“But…we could have been together as a legit couple.”

“That’s what the last few said too!”

She began chanting in a language I’ve never heard of and she stopped.

Meow.

“Get out of here, snowball!” I looked as a white cat shuffled out of the room. She continued.

I don’t remember much besides being sleepy. But I remember waking up and trying to make a run…tap. I ran the opposite way and it happened again. I realized I was a prisoner.

I watched her as she slept and when she was in her room. She kissed the globe every night and tried talking, though I couldn’t hear her.

Days go by and I began to lose hope. Suddenly there was a crash.

I was on the ground with shattered glass and liquid all around me. I became full sized and began looked up at the night stand.

Meow.

“Thank you so much, snowball. How about you come home with me? she might go crazy if she seen this.”

I scooped up the cat and asked her Alexa to tell me the time. She was still going to be at work another hour.

I knocked down every other snow globe I seen on my way out, which was fifteen. Those men did the same thing I did, run away without looking back.

I knew I couldn’t tell the cops, they wouldn’t believe me. I don’t think anyone would but maybe some of you.

What’s bad is I received a message from her a few minutes ago that sent shivers up my back, and I need help.

“Hey you, I noticed you aren’t In your new home anymore. You’re not the only one, but there’s still a couple more here at least. I’m asking nicely that you come back. Also, if you are the one that took my cat, please return him as well.”

I didn’t respond and she sent one more message seven minutes later.

“Okay, okay. I get why this feels weird. But if you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you. Love, your whimsical wifey.”

3 Comments
2024/02/24
18:53 UTC

46

Someone that looks like me has STOLEN my life

I’ve recently found someone that looks just like me, every feature from my hair to my jawline; actually he looks slightly better. The small imperfectionists that I obsess over, well, he didn’t have. When I first saw him I was left utterly confounded, I have no twin that I know of, no long lost siblings and if I didn’t know any better it could of been my own reflection. I wanted to call out to the man but somehow I had lost him, it was dark; the sun had recently set. I don’t think he was trying to hide from me, in fact, it looked like he could of cared less if he had seen me. It was something about the way he presented himself, his walk, his chin pointed towards the sky; it was clear that he was confident — something I struggled with.

The next day I went back to the same place that I had first seen him, I must of waited for hours but like the day prior he soon showed himself, I once again contemplated the idea of calling out to him but instead I chose to see where he would go; so I followed trying my best not to be seen. Right away I saw he was a bit taller which angered me; I mean the man already had my face did he really need the extra height? I spent most of the night following him; going to places that didn’t seem of much significance, until, he visited her; Amy — my girlfriend. After that I must of followed him every night and like clockwork he would always end up with her, I didn’t know how it was possible or he was, but I knew the answers had something to do with the Grand Central Zoo.

It started off simple, a light hearted question not meant to be taken serious, I asked my girlfriend of 2 years if she would ever cheat on me. Now I know people tend to ask their significant others this exact question and most of the time the responses are quick; a straightforward “of course not”, and that’s exactly how she answered. Her quick response gave me reservation of how much she meant it, like she didn’t really give it any deep thought, it was more instinctual, so I decided to give the question more complexity. I asked if she would cheat on me with her favorite celebrity, she smiled; something that has always melted my heart and then gave me a little shove. I didn’t relent, I waited for an answer and right away I saw her face drop with annoyance.

“Of course not babe” she responded to my delight.

I felt my heart uplift with contentment and we continued our walk through the Grand Central zoo, a place that Amy had been wanting me to take her. I work a lot of hours, my job is a bit demanding, so most times I tend to miss dinner with her. Typically I get home in zombie mode and sit at the couch to decompress for a few hours; playing some of my favorite games. I know that this bothers her and I try to pay as much attention to her as I can, but, when you work 12 hour shifts in some soulless office not thinking when you get home is one of the few pleasures one can have.

So for months Amy had been giving me subtle hints of how much she wanted to come to the zoo, she had always been fascinated with animals, I guess you can say she’s one of those people. Since I’ve met her she‘s had several pets, originally she had a dog one that sadly passed before I could really know the small creature, she then had a kitten who ran away. Even though she loved animals it seemed as if destiny had very different plans for her, since it seemed like she never could hold on to a pet.

Walking through the zoo I could vividly see the wonderment in her eyes as we passed different exhibits, so far her favorite had been the birds, though my enchantment was not as cheerful as hers, since my mind kept lingering on that pestering question; if she would ever cheat on me. As we arrived to the monkey display I thought of another scenario, one that would need more reflection.

“Okay, how about if I cheated first, would you then cheat on me?” as you could guess she didn’t like this one, I could almost see the flames enrage in her eyes, but to my astonishment she still told me no.

This finally left me satisfied as the satiation that was plaguing mind felt indulged and I grabbed her hand interlocking our fingers as a jovial spirit floated me through the rest of the park. This trip was going to be more special, one that we wouldn’t forget, I caressed the side of my pocket making sure the small ring box was still there. I was waiting for the perfect moment before I would pop the question and as we strolled throughout the rest of the zoo I knew I had to finally choose a spot. I stopped by a small tree, the softness of the clouds hovered above, as the sun rained down it’s warm glow, I stared at how beautiful my soon to be wife really was, I adored every part of her and I told myself that I would cut back on the hours to make more time for her.

She saw me squirming as I mentally built up enough courage to get down on one knee and that’s when I saw the animal behind her, apparently we had made it to the sheep exhibit, I saw two identical sheep that I presumed were twins. I don’t know why but seeing those two fluffy animals made me feel uneasy, a sensation I couldn’t quite describe. The small pen where they were kept revealed they’re were more of them, all looking the same. I pointed towards the exhibit telling my girlfriend to take a look, she followed my arm as her gaze directed towards what I was pointing at. She shrugged her shoulders unimpressed, looking back up at me with a smile; I think she had known what I was up to.

“Don’t you think it’s weird they all look the same?” I asked her, still unclear of why I felt so perturbed.

She turned back to look again but this time stared a bit longer, I even saw her narrow her eyes trying to observe as much as she could.

“I don’t know, they’re sheep, they all look the same” she told me unmoved by any emotion.

I’ve seen plenty of sheep before, I use to help at my grandfathers farm when I was kid and yeah for the most part they do look alike, but this was very different. It was clear to me that the sheep were twins or at the very least siblings, in fact they were all similar; they were white with amber colored eyes, they all had the same dark spot on the bridge of their nose, but more bewildering is they all shared the same deformed ear. There was a small piece of their ear missing, like a predator had got at it and tore a chunk off, this was not common and I scratched my head trying to figure out how such an occurrence could be possible. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it as a zoo keeper came and ushered us away, closing the exhibit; which I found odd since it was middle of the day. They were accompanied by men dressed in all black suits, all wearing sunglasses masking their faces to the public, I thought it was weird. They then proceeded to close the entire park; the men dressed in black escorting us and others to the exit.

The whole event left me feeling a bit empty and I completely had forgotten the reason for bringing Amy here, by the time I had remembered we were already exiting the park; leaving me feeling conquered that I didn’t have the chance to do what I set out to do. So I swallowed my despondency and told myself I would find another opportunity to ask her for her hand, I wanted it to be perfect.

As we were driving home, for whatever reason the lingering question of her ever cheating on me peaked it’s awful head back into my mind, this is when I also thought of the sheep and as I mindlessly drove home holding Amy’s hand I decided to combine the two.

“Okay I got another one” I said as I cleared my throat.

Amy rolled her eyes in a playful manner, more seductive than annoyed as she turned to look at me still holding my hand.

“Okay just hear me out, would you ever cheat on me with my look alike” I saw the question had taken her back a bit and for the first time I saw real contemplation form on her face.

“What do you mean?” she asked confused.

The sheep that looked so similar made me think of how it would be if I had twin, would she be attracted to him? Would we be the same in personality to the point that she would have strong emotions for him?

“Okay”, I paused making sure to refine my words as clearly as I could.

“How about if I had a look alike, someone that was practically me, but not me; we looked the same but he was slightly more handsome; more intelligent; more charming. Would you then cheat on me with that version of me?” I felt the words leaving my lips clash into a puddle of mush, jumbled to the point I knew she wouldn’t understand.

To my amazement she consumed the question thoroughly, as I saw her eyes flicker from side to side making up her mind of how to answer. Her silence only unnerved me as I kept swiveling my gaze from the road and then back to her.

“Well?” I asked but this time a bit irritated.

“I’m thinking” she replied back still with a playful tone.

I let go of her hand now angered by her refusal to reject my bizarre scenario, it was one of those moments, the type that make you rethink your logical view of the world; don’t ask questions if you don’t really want the answers. She giggled gathering my hand into hers, reaching over and planting a soft kiss on my cheek; to be honest the gesture uplifted my very soul as I felt all the blood rush to my face, in the moment I wanted to pull the car over and embrace her into my arms. Though, I remained stoic and didn’t give her the satisfaction of her knowing she had such a power over me, instead I continued driving not displaying how beguiled I really was with her; as she settled back into her seat a bit perturbed that I was playing hard ball.

“You’re so dumb” she muttered out, I said nothing but then grabbed her leg and softly shook it indicating to her that we were okay.

The rest of the car ride was driven in silence, the world outside dissipating as the roads opened up and swallowed us alive; it was quick and before we knew it we were home. As we walked into our house I caught a glimpse of a white animal in the corner of my eye, my brain quickly jumped to the conclusion I think most would of; it was that same darn sheep that I had seen earlier. I thought it would be possible that it might have escaped, but followed us home? Now that would of been improbable, it was a good 5 miles away and I walked around to the side of the house were my peripheral first caught it. To my horror I saw nothing, no animal, by this point the sun had set engulfing our tiny neighborhood in pitch darkness and all I saw were fragmented shadows that seem to dance around in the corners of my eye due to the lack of light; I knew my imagination was running away and I headed back into the house.

The next few weeks seemed to dissolve by a slow drip of seconds, the days felt endless while the nights held it’s cold grip much longer than usual; or at least that’s how it felt. I saw on the news that they had closed down the Grand Central Zoo which I found odd; the news reporter went on about animal abuse. I never did get around to asking Amy to marry me, in fact, after that day she seemed to be more distant; less interested in our time together. I cut back on the work hours arriving home earlier to have dinner with her; only to find she had already eaten. She no longer seemed affectionate, more bothered whenever I kissed her forehead; it was obvious; all the signs were there. She hid her phone whenever I would walk by, laugh while staring at the phone screen only to frown when she realized I was staring. I knew it was over, she had found someone else; something that I had always feared.

My initial reaction was to confront her, or worse, confront him; after all he was the main reason for my heartache, but instead I fell into a bit of depression — something Amy could of cared less about. Each day I would go for walks trying to clear my mind, hoping if I just prayed hard enough things would go back to normal. I even thought about leaving the engagement ring I had bought for her out on the night stand, perhaps it would make her think deeper about our relationship; I knew it was a pathetic attempt for attention. I never did, I just continued drifting into oblivion each night as the sun would set and rise.

One night I must of been more lost in my mind than usual, while I was out for one of my walks I found myself back at the Grand Central Zoo, I was at a loss; I didn’t remember walking so far. Regardless, I took it as a sign from the man above, the last piece of acceptance when it came to her; after all the zoo was the last memory I had of us being happy. I walked towards the entrance, the oversized iron gate that guarded the once vibrant world stood firm as heavy chains kept it’s doors tightly shut. I grabbed onto the rails and poked my head inside; an empty void of darkness stared back, the park was a shell of itself. I felt tears slip down my cheeks as I choked on memories of Amy’s smile and that’s when I saw a bit of light in the distance, a bright one — it was coming from within the middle of the park.

I tried narrowing my eyes, slithering my sight between the shroud of dark as I realized I could see some faint movement. Someone was walking through the park, my first thought was of teens breaking in; urban exploring as they call it, but after a few seconds of my eyes adjusting I realized it was the same men dressed in black suits — the ones that escorted us out of the park that final day. I couldn’t explain it, but, I felt very uneasy; like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t be. I stepped back quietly not wanting to be seen, I turned to walk away but then saw someone exiting the park.

The gates swung open with a heavy creak and I swiftly ducked behind several bushes. I stared on with horror as my heart sank into my stomach, I feared it would be one of them; those men dressed in black. Luckily it wasn’t, but my relief was soon washed away when I saw who it was; it was him — the man who wore my face.

When I first realized that he was coming to my house and visiting Amy, I was left heart broken, I didn’t know what to think; she was cheating on me with someone that looked like me; but better. I stared through the window whenever they were together, watching him embrace her only for her to return the affection. This had to be a nightmare, some vivid reality that wasn’t real. I usually would go inside my home once he would leave, she wouldn’t even acknowledge me, I felt disgusted, she was alien to me but I still desired her love. This went on for weeks and I would follow the strange man to other places, he started going to my job — no one seemed to notice the difference. My coworkers oblivious to the ruse that was unfolding before them. The maniac even had dinner with my parents, their jovial laughter's flung daggers into my heart as I stared in through the window, it was quite evident they enjoyed his company more than mine. This devil was stealing my world, consuming every parcel of my existence; fading me out into desolation.

I didn’t even bothering going home, I slept outside, where ever I could find a spot, I just wanted to hide from the world. I found it easier sleeping outside of the zoo, it was abandoned after all, well other than the men dressed in black. Whatever they would do in the midnight hours was loud of enough to came me awake, I would hear all sorts of dire screams coming from the illuminated space that was located in the middle of the park. Most times it sounded like animals squealing in torment, but then there were the noises that were a lot more familiar; the cries of people in agony. I really didn’t care at what they were up to, hell they probably knew I slept outside the gates, we left each other alone. My mind was all too enthralled with ‘him’, the man that wore my face. I would think about it day and night, always staring in through the window whenever he would have her; my Amy. My hatred boiled to a level I didn’t know existed and I thought of ways on how to rid this monster from my life. I needed him to come to the park, isolate him away from the ones I loved; perhaps he was dangerous and it was only be a matter of time before he did something sinister to them.

I left a note on the porch, one I knew he would read before leaving to my job, I observed from a distance; crouched behind a tree as the devil looked puzzled. Bewildered that I would have the gull to challenge his existence perhaps, he bent over and picked up the small piece paper reading it with such intent, I could see a shattered expression of fear smear itself across his face; my face. He looked around disturbed, somehow I think he knew I was watching, he coward back into the house calling out Amy’s name. In the note I told him to meet me at the zoo, that I knew who he really was; that he was an imposter one designed by those men dressed in all black. I could feel my being uplift with hope, knowing it was only a matter of time before I had her back in my life.

He didn’t come that first night, I waited patiently, hiding in the shadows all too eager to finally confront this beast. I didn’t relent, I left a note every day until his annoyance found it’s tipping point, I remember seeing him crumbling up the small slip of paper with such rage; cursing out to the heavens as I stared on with such elation.

The night was cold, the winter breeze slithered through the rails of the gate that guarded the Grand Central zoo, creating this ominous whistle that echoed throughout the streets of our deserted roads. It was midnight and I waited patiently for the man to come, I giggled with such glee already visualizing the return to my once happy life, talking to my parents, to my coworkers; but more importantly talking to her. I didn’t notice the faint steps at first, the sound was drowned out by my own heart beat as it pumped with such aggression. It wasn’t until I heard him call out to the zoo did it spring my attention to life and I turned to see where he was. He stood in front of the chained gates peering into the darkness, my hands shaking with a heavy yearning but then to my surprise that monster climbed the gate and jumped over to the side I had never been before. I was astonished at the courage he had, maybe it’s because he had never seen the men dressed in black.

I decided to crossover, follow where he went not wanting to lose an inch of his presence. I scuffled around quietly behind him as he aimlessly wandered the parks ground, illuminating his pathway with his phone light. I could see how frightened he was, an expression of trepidation on his face only intensified the further we went in, my own terror irrelevant as my gaze only focused on him. Eventually he saw the lights coming from the middle of the zoo, I saw that it peaked his curiosity and he started his way towards the mystery. I felt anxious but proceeded behind him, jumping out of view any time he picked up on my foot steps; I think he knew I was following. I occasionally glimpsed around waiting for the men in black to tackle me, maybe this was all a trap, perhaps he was well aware of them and was guiding me into an ambush.

We soon found ourselves face to face with the light that shined bright, it was coming from a large tent, one that was located close to the sheep exhibit; where I first saw the identical animals. The man entered the tent and I felt hesitant to follow but I had always been curious myself to know what lay in the middle of the park. I crept close to the opening, gripping at the knife I had stashed in the inner pockets of my coat, wheezing all too heavy. I held my breath and stepped inside, sounds of machine noises chimed all around as a repulsive scent simmered in the air. The monster stood frozen looking down at something, I quietly scuffled towards him as I glanced around seeing strange medical equipment that I had never seen before; empty glass chambers that were large enough to hold a person.

I didn’t see any of the men dressed in black, no one to guard us away, nothing to deter us from here. I visibly could see the man that wore my face trembling with fear, I at first couldn’t see what he was staring at; it looked like a surgical table and it wasn’t until I was behind the man did I look over his shoulder. There was another one of him, or me, there was another man that wore my face laying still on the surgical table, unmoving, it looked dead. It’s presence wasn’t too shocking to me, since the beast standing before me was one of them, a replica and I pulled out my knife ready to kill the monster that had stolen my life.

Before I could stab him, it turned around, presumably to run away but as it stood staring down at me, I saw confusion and terror morph into one single expression. It began to speak with a trembling lip,

“M-m-my face?”

Before it could digest what was happening I stabbed it in the chest, firmly wedging my knife deep into it’s heart as all of my anger seeped out of every pore. I felt a bit of serenity inundate my body as I stood over the dead creature, a smile erupting on my face. I then heard faint breathing coming from behind me, someone was watching. I turned around and there they were, the men dressed in all black; wearing sunglasses, staring at me. Now at this range I realized something was all too familiar about them, they slowly took off their glasses revealing themselves to me and that’s when I realized who they were, why they never attacked me before. The men that were dressed in black all wore my face, they all looked like me; but different. I didn’t know what to think, or what to do, I ran through them and headed towards the exit. I don’t know why they didn’t pursue me, maybe because I’m the real me, the source to all of their existence.

I never returned home, I’m pretty sure another one that wore my face took over, I only hope Amy is happy. Her smile still haunts my dreams, but I’m too much of a coward to go back, I don’t know what they would do to me. So I beaver away in solitude, away from any major cities hoping to live out the rest of my days in peace. Though, several thoughts keep me up late at night, as I stare out my tent gazing at the stars, questions that perhaps should never be answered. Did she know it wasn’t me? Did she purposely cheat on me with my look alike? Even more dire, one that really pricks at my soul, the look it had when first seeing me, I question if I’m the original or maybe it was him?

2 Comments
2024/02/24
17:38 UTC

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