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“…there really is a second world. It exists because people refuse to believe it’s there.” (King 249)

“During the war I worked at the induction board in Detroit. One day, as I was going to the induction board, I saw a veteran who had returned with an artificial leg, looking at some glare ice and eyeing it suspiciously because he knew that he was likely to fall on glare ice.

‘That's very smooth ice,’ I told him. ‘Stand where you are. I'll come over and teach you how to walk on glare ice.’

He could see that I had a limp, so he knew I must be talking about what I knew. He watched me walk across that glare ice and asked, ‘How did you do it?’

I said ‘I won't tell you, I'll teach you. Now, you just keep your eyes totally shut.’ And I turned him around, and walked him back and forth on the ice-free sidewalk. I kept walking him back and forth over longer distances and then shorter and shorter distances until finally I noticed his utter confusion. Finally, I got him clear across to the other side of that glare ice.

I said, ‘Open your eyes.’

He said, ‘Where is that glare ice?’

I said, ‘It's behind you.’

He said, ‘How did I get over here?’

I said, ‘Now you can understand. You walked as if the cement was bare. When you try to walk on ice the usual tendency is to tense your muscles, preparing for a fall. You get a mental set. And you slip that way.

‘If you put the weight of your legs down straight, the way you would on dry cement, you wouldn't slip. The slide comes because you don't put down your full weight and because you tense yourself.’

It took me a long time to find that out. Did you ever walk upstairs one step too many? What an awful jolt it is! Walk downstairs one too many -- you can break your leg. And yet you are totally unaware of that set.”

(Erickson 110-111)

Consensus among members of a group makes communication and cohesive action possible. It’s necessary to have some shared understanding among a community, or it ceases to be one. Just as individuals have habits, groups have formulaic patterns of behavior, rhythms of social life reliant on mutual understanding and predictability. Events and ideas not incorporated into a shared narrative tend to be forgotten.

Narratives are hypothetical; limited information linked by causal inferences. The most practical and emotionally compelling stories circulate, and through repetition grow more firmly established. (Subsequently, telling the stories signals membership in a community). Consensus narratives are incomplete, often inaccurate; and also, such narratives are foundational to group function.

With any complex system, change in one element can alter the entire system, and outcomes may be difficult or impossible to predict. Ideas that contradict consensus narratives can divide, disassociate a collective, and may be destructive, even if true.

Secure communities with mutual trust can risk reevaluating and adapting when new information challenges foundational assumptions. Shared values and goals are especially important for groups when their stories seem in doubt. Insecure groups and institutions are rigid, self-protective; people censor themselves, avoid, and discourage novelty. Defensiveness may increase in response to dynamic circumstances. This reflex can keep a group united but prevent recalibration when it's most needed. The unifying bond is rote tradition, not shared meaning.

There’s inhibition of interest and communication about topics of utmost relevance, including disease, biodiversity, and the nature of consciousness. The collective response to this impaired function will shape intellectual and spiritual progress.

Prevalent use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by academia, industry and government leads to compartmentalization of knowledge (comparable to “catch-and-kill” practices in media). The training of multiple professions is incomplete because information is excluded from educational programs. Not knowing what they don’t know, professionals perpetuate inaccuracies and omissions in their field. There are positive, pro-social reasons for NDAs; they're important business strategies, protect intellectual property, and are relevant to matters of collective wellbeing, such as national security. Also, these practices prohibit public discussion by those with expertise.

Some people are threatened by these topics. For some, a stance of grievance and paranoia has generalized into a worldview, closing them off to novel information. Some avoid potentially controversial or upsetting topics (e.g. “no bad news”). Some are fatigued by a flood of information which rarely informs deeper meaning. People feeling powerless to influence the future perceive little benefit in effortful thought. Learned helplessness takes many forms.

Even provocative research that reaches a large audience tends to flare then fade from awareness. In the absence of thought leaders to offer context and theory, and public discussion to explore meaning, new information floats in a liminal state, half-known. Unless it is immediately relevant through some anomalous personal experience, or breaks through to collective awareness, it might as well be fiction.

“It is highly likely that mutualistic organisms communicate with each other via small regulatory RNAs to modify gene expression patterns of the involved parties to facilitate establishment of symbiotic associations. This is a fascinating avenue of research to follow, as there is currently nothing known in this area.” (Asgari 253-276)

Humans are individuals, and also, holobionts: composites of multiple varieties of cells, organelles, and communities of microbes in symbiotic collaboration. Both singular entity and ecosystem (akin to coral reef). The genetic information of the host and all its microbial associates compose a hologenome. (Theis et al. 2)

The cellular, molecular, atomic composition of living organisms is constantly changing. Numerous cues affect expression of genetic code; some parts of the story are emphasized, others go in parentheses and footnotes. Within the genetic material of an organism can exist the necessary code for other organisms. Withing one organism, whole communities of other organisms grow, reproduce, die, and evolve, with host and microbial genomes mutually influential. The story gets reworked, reinvented across time and adaptive pressures. (Collens et al. 1) Any organism at any moment is one frame in a kaleidoscopic, morphing manifestation of many latent possibilities.

Animals, plants and other lifeforms respond to stress by changing shape, function, secreting toxins; the same phenomena occur within holobionts. Aggravated cells from one organ attack other parts of the body. Conflict flares between factions of microbiome. Disruption of symbiotic balance induces stress on cells and microbial communities, resulting in inflammation, cancers, and pain as the system responds, seeking symbiotic homeostasis. (Simon et al. 3-4)

“During their lifetime, superorganisms, like unitary organisms, undergo transformations that change the machinery of their collective behavior . . . Superorganisms attempting to maintain homeostasis . . . function as phylogenetically diverse ecosystems, mirroring the species-rich association between multicellular organisms and their microbiome. In the same way that interactions between microbial organisms and their multicellular hosts may be either mutually beneficial or antagonistic, army ant colonies constantly interact with a wide diversity of species, from microbes to birds, and these relationships range from commensal invertebrates feeding on colony waste, to symbiotic beetles that travel with the colony, to parasitic antbirds.” (Muratore et al. 1)

We, individuals and communities, are parts of larger ecological systems that constantly adapt to shifting internal and external pressure. As homeostasis in ecosystems oscillates there may be refugees looking for new symbiotic collaborators. Superorganisms are self-similar to the smaller systems of which they are composed, a fractal-like pattern, repeating at different scales. These insights inspire questions. (e.g. If human consciousness is a phenomenon of symbiotic collaboration, an organizing property, does sentience inhere in systems at other scales?)

“…[Scientific] Experiment…consists in asking a definite question which excludes as far as possible anything disturbing and irrelevant. It makes conditions, imposes them on Nature, and in this way forces her to give an answer to a question devised by man… The workings of Nature in her unrestricted wholeness are completely excluded. If we want to know what these workings are, we need a method of inquiry which imposes the fewest possible conditions, or if possible no conditions at all, and then leave Nature to answer out of her fullness.” (Jung 35)

Scientific research involves narrowing, limiting, scope. A big picture, when derived from scientific process, emerges piece by painstaking piece, not whole cloth. Narrow focus can give a false impression and omit dimensions of meaning.

The ineffable, pervasive, amorphous qualities of the universe have traditionally been understood through art, mythology, spiritual revelation. These intuitive ways of knowing convey a gestalt, a whole which is more than the sum of its parts.

But scientific investigation has advanced far into enigmatic territory, using ever more powerful technology to observe the machinery of existence. Now, humanity has empirical evidence directly relevant to core philosophical and spiritual questions.

Data is not inherently useful and cannot depose or replace intuitive, moral, or spiritual understanding. But operationalization, mapping empirical data to abstract concepts, allows new insight, and new ways of solving problems. This synthesis is a creative process; diverse perspectives inform different strategies.

The link between empirical and metaphysical ways of knowing has been evolving, reformulating, throughout human history. Some organizations have traditionally served as gatekeepers or guardians of knowledge at the juncture of science and spirituality, sometimes in conditions of violent oppression. My insight is limited, but I can infer some things. In symbiotic fashion, institutions in public health and academia may adopt a tentative approach to information under the purview of these organizations. Organizations have probably anticipated the current circumstances, wherein the logical progression of scientific thought would seem to compel new discussion of foundational philosophical and metaphysical questions. The reticence of these organizations might have a systemic consequence akin to NDAs: those with the fullest understanding may be prohibited from public discussion.

Current conditions have dramatically diverged from those in which our knowledge and rituals evolved. Groups function through shared knowledge and rituals. How can a collective adapt to the pressures and opportunities of transformed circumstances while preserving unity, institutional stability?

Trust, shared goals, and optimism about the group’s abilities seem crucial to success. Expectations manifest the outcome. If the collective expects to stick together, are focused on a common mission, and believe in group competence, they persevere against a steep learning curve and adapt.

Transformation of institutions demands extraordinary insight and adaptability on the part of leaders. The guiding principles and practices contributed by current leadership may now be proven wrong, made obsolete. In these circumstances, stewarding systemic change requires leaders to think and act counterintuitively, tolerating their own confusion and mistakes while modeling confidence and optimism. This wasn’t done, historically, because change was never so swift. This would be something new.

We do have unprecedented resources. We have the creative inventions of artists through history, many works with prescient relevance to the matters at hand. It is aesthetically rewarding to consider favorite stories, paintings, songs with new insight, and provides emotional sustenance and compensation against the discomfort of reprogramming. We also have the vast scientific knowledge and technological tools developed by our predecessors; rising to this occasion would justify their efforts.

Within recent history, ideas now substantiated by evidence could only have been conjecture. Promoting unverifiable ideas which disrupt consensus narratives would be risky, with little potential benefit. But with the ability to operationalize comes opportunities to solve problems. The interconnectivity of communication allows interdisciplinary and cross-cultural discussion. I only have a preliminary glimpse, but the possibilities are thrilling. New paradigms will emerge. It would be right if the scientific community, those with expertise, led the way.

Those with the clearest understanding would show humility and be tentative in their interpretations. They would understand how story, symbol, and metaphor can most accurately portray complex ideas to a diverse audience, while respecting worldviews.

Unfortunately, weaponizing these circumstances would be easy with little or no comprehension. Bad actors can exploit turbulent emotional undercurrents; presenting accurate, but limited, information leads to false conclusions. This tension creates leverage. As it is, people without information are at the mercy of those seeking to exploit. Fear of persecution is a driver of leadership decisions relevant to the collective. We need some of those with knowledge and authority to name these systemic binds; this would allow a unifying path to emerge.

My interest was inspired, initially, by the media coverage of an outbreak of unusual illnesses thought to be caused by vaping, occurring in Summer and Fall of 2019, and which would eventually be termed E-cigarette and Vape Product Use -Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). Later, after the emergence of the COVID pandemic, I wondered if the outbreaks might be linked. While considering this, I began to post information on Twitter under the username u/sixandlaura. I did this, mostly, for my own reference, and thought of it as an open notebook which might be useful to people with similar questions.

During the first year my focus stayed primarily on the two topics: EVALI and COVID. It seemed prudent to also post some historical and background information on epidemic disease, unexplained health phenomena, and trends in public health, for context. I was intimidated by the enormity of the topics but figured a few data points are better than none for evaluating the relevance of new information. As my understanding evolved, the scope grew, eventually ranging widely, though haphazardly, across many fields of scientific and cultural study: https://twitter.com/SixandLaura/status/1370803319862669318?s=20

As sincere as my personal investigation has been, it’s limited in duration and scope, and isn’t guided by formal training. My opinions have changed dramatically over the 3 years I’ve been considering these topics, and I expect my perspective will change, again.

Those who collected and reported data on EVALI were willing to be curious and oriented towards future progress. Their work now represents, to me, inventiveness, hope, and collaboration. But during the first months of this investigation I didn’t see things this way. I felt resentful and frustrated. I wanted an expert, an authority, to just explain everything.

The moment I set aside judgement, annoyance, suspicion about motives, and focused on the questions at hand, I realized the best data available was obtained by the people and organizations toward whom I felt negatively. What’s more, they would have known their work might raise controversy, and be second-guessed by people (like me), and they did it, anyway. (https://twitter.com/SixandLaura/status/1370803733739806720?s=20 )

This learning process has been surprising. The emotional aspects of the experience guided and motivated my curiosity. But I should have reserved judgement about individuals and systems until I had learned more.

Those with insight into these circumstances can, hopefully, consider that to acquire understanding of complex issues, one references familiar stories and emotional patterns. We need a mental scaffolding to move our perspective around. Once we gain a new vantage point, the scaffold can be removed, and feelings and judgements adjust. Setting out on this independent research, I felt suspicious and critical, and I don't think I could have felt otherwise during that time. Moving through this process allowed me to see things differently.


Asgari, Sassan. “Chapter Ten: Epigenetic Modification Underlying Symbiont-Host Interactions.” Advances in Genetics. Vol. 86. August 2014, pp. 253-276, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800222-3.00010-3.

Collens, Adena et al. “The concept of the hologenome, an epigenetic phenomenon, challenges aspects of the modern evolutionary synthesis.” Journal of experimental zoology. Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution vol. 332,8 (2019): 349-355. doi:10.1002/jez.b.22915

Erickson, Milton. My voice will go with you: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. 1st ed., Norton, 1982.

Jung, C. G., and R. F. C. Hull. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. (From Vol. 8. of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung). REV-Revised, Princeton University Press, 1960. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s94k.

King, Stephen. If It Bleeds. 1st ed., Scribner, 2020.

Muratore, Isabella B and Simon Garnier. “Ontogeny of collective behaviour.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B378. February 2023, https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2022.0065

Theis, Kevin R et al. “Getting the Hologenome Concept Right: an Eco-Evolutionary Framework for Hosts and Their Microbiomes.” mSystems vol. 1,2 e00028-16. 29 Mar. 2016, https://doi:10.1128/mSystems.00028-16

16:18 UTC


If you ever have the chance to visit the Japanese seaside, try "Whalesauce".

Plains and fields are very rare in Japan. Outside large open plains like Tokyo, the basic geography of Japanese towns is a tiny sliver of habitable land sandwiched between sea and mountain. That’s what happens when you take a tiny mountain-ridden series of islands in the ocean and try to live there. So the tiny town near the tip of a peninsula in the Kazusa region raised no eyebrows. The Pacific ocean on one side. Mount Naifu on the other. At first glance, it seemed a miracle that the whole town hadn’t disappeared under a landslide or tsunami yet.

I disembarked from the local train line at the stop closest to the sea so I could get a nice view of the Pacific ocean. Being a Tokyo boy, the very idea of a sea that was not the grimy, grey Tokyo bay excited and fascinated me. I walked down a slowly winding concrete path down to the water, occasionally being passed by locals in their little trucks struggling up the steep incline to the town.

A collapsed billboard, its steel legs eaten by the salt in the wind, lay on the side of the road. Kazusa’s Whalesauce, it read, with a faded drawing of a whale frolicking in waves. Kazusa was one of the rare areas in Japan where whaling was still in business, I remembered. Whalesauce was probably some sort of local food or condiment made of whale meat.

I heard the rattling of an engine, and leapt just in time before a truck ran into me. The billboard rattled and clanged on the road as the little tyres of the car threatened to crush my toes. And then it passed me, and turned a corner in a cloud of oily exhaust smoke. Fuck, I whispered, and decided to keep walking.

The majestic Pacific spread before me. Cavalries of white horses crashed at the half-buried concrete blocks in the sand. The dark green beyond faded into a deep blue that stretched all the way to California, or so I imagined. There were no boats or other people by the water. Just me, the ocean, and the blocks that stood solemnly before the waves.

I decided to follow the path along the beach to the next train station, where I would catch the local train again and return to Tokyo. I silently marvelled at how efficient the transport system was that I could go to the open sea and be back by dinner.

A pink shadow in the trees caught my eye. I knew what it was, and jogged towards the shadow. It was a sakura tree that had found itself right by the sea. The whole tree was in full blossom, the pinkish-white petals tickling the air. I approached it, and stopped. The pink was already speckled with the green stubble of budding leaves. It was the end of February. Sakura season was in mid-March. It was too early for the flowers to be in bloom, let alone show its leaves already. I shrugged, chalking it up to warmer weather in the south of the peninsula, and went back to the path that led along the sea.

I had been walking for a few hours when I began to notice more of the Whalesauce billboards. They popped up on guardrails and storefronts, some signs newer than others. I was beginning to grow peckish from my trip and my stomach decided that whatever Whalesauce was, I wanted to try it. So when I saw the words Whalesauce Outlet Store on a shop next to what I assumed was the Whalesauce factory, I made a beeline for it. The corrugated steel sheets on the roof were as rusted as some of the billboards I’d seen, and the whitewashed walls were peeling from the wooden beams. I wondered if it was still even in business.

The sliding doors shuddered on their steel rails as I stepped in. Fluorescent lights and yellowed windows lit up two cramped rows of tables and a freezer lined with products and boxes, each one adorned with the same whale mascot. I took another step in, and the dust hit my nose. I sneezed into my elbow and sniffled, assuming nobody was around.

Irasshaimase,” whispered somebody. I spun around. A young girl stood behind the counter, nearly obscured by a stack of boxes and a cash register. She stared at me from under heavy, dark hair that obscured most of her eyes. Her grimy blue apron read “Welcome to Kazusa”, and featured the same little whale that was beginning to give me chills. She had heavy makeup and garish lipstick that didn’t belong on a girl her age—she looked barely a teenager.

I nodded slightly, acknowledging her. She looked down at the cluttered counter. I picked up a pack of “Whalesauce”, which despite its name, turned out to be whale jerky, and scooted over to the counter, eager to get out of this dingy store.

“Just this please,” I muttered.

Her eyes shot up.

“Where are you from?” She hissed.

“Tokyo, I’m from—”

“Get out of here. Get out.”

I stepped back. She was glaring at me with unnaturally large pupils, hands clutching the countertop and trembling.

I heard thudding footsteps from behind the counter. She drew a sharp breath and let go of the counter. The anger and urgency in her eyes was replaced by fear.

“Who the fuck is there?”

I dropped the pack of Whalesauce and tried to run, but my knees were locked tight and I stood rooted to the spot as a large brawny man appeared behind the girl. He loomed over her, his skin tanned and scarred and weather-beaten, eyes sunk deep in their sockets. A towel was tied around his greying head. He looked at the girl, and at me, and at the pack on the floor. Muscles bulged and tensed underneath his thin T shirt.

“I’m sorry, I’ll buy it, I was just—”

He grunted and began to walk around the counter. I backed up, hands raised. He caught up to me in three huge strides and held me by the collar.

“What’s a fucking outsider like you doing to my daughter?”

His breath reeked of beer and rancid rot. I looked down at the girl. She was silently staring at her feet, unmoving.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—”

“Answer my question.”

“I was just trying to buy some Whalesauce.” I whimpered.

He dropped me onto the hard concrete floor and a jolt ran up my lower back.

A middle-aged lady ran into the store. She had heavy, messy hair that resembled the girl’s, and wore a bloodied apron. Whale blood, I told myself. She rushed to the girl’s side and clutched her shoulders.

“Toshiko! Are you okay?” She screeched. That was the only word I could find to describe her voice—a screech. She glared at me, and shook what I assumed was her daughter.

The man kicked my legs to remind me of his presence.

“That girl has a marriage arranged. Mind your own fucking business.” He spat on me, and watched as I stumbled to my feet.

As I walked out, I glanced over to the girl, who was still being held tight by her mother. I thought I saw tears underneath her heavy bangs.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

Wrong choice.

Son of a bitch.

A fist made contact with the back of my head and I flew forwards, almost blacking out with the force. I collided into a shelf of Whalesauce tins. A couple fell on my head and onto the concrete floor with echoing clutters. I looked back, and the man seemed to have doubled in size, a mountain overshadowing me. He lifted one giant foot, ready to stomp on my frail ribs. I tried to scurry to my feet. I stepped on a can, and was sent sprawling again. His foot landed on a tin next to me. It exploded with an ugly squelch.

I crawled away from the cans and rushed out of the door. I looked back at the store, trying to see if the father was following me. Something caught my foot—it was some kind of root. I was sent flying onto a bush.

A pair of huge hands lifted me off the bush and gripped me by the arms. I flailed in the man’s grasp, but his fists only closed tighter. I could feel my bones creaking as he carried me away, away from the Whalesauce factory and towards the sea that had suddenly become a dark, thrashing mass of waves.

The father tied me to a piece of lumber, my hands behind my back and strapped to the log. I screamed and yelled for help as he hauled me and the lumber closer and closer to the ocean, the gusts of wind getting stronger with every step, and feeling the cold sprays of seawater on my face. He swung me over the ledge of a small rocky cliff, and I screamed even harder, thinking he would throw me into the sea. But he didn’t. Instead he stabbed my log into the dirt by the edge, facing the sea, like a crucifix.

“Please don’t do this to me, please,” I tried to shout, but I only managed to burst into tears. I watched the man as he stepped away from me, until he was a few metres away from the cliff. There he stood dead still, staring at me. I tried to loosen the ropes around my body and wriggled about, but he remained silent.

And then his eyes bled. Dark red droplets pooled in his eyelids and trickled down his coarse, stubbled chin. And his fingers began to bleed. His fingernails turned a purplish red, and the same droplets of blood formed in them and dropped by his feet.

As soon as the first drop of blood hit the dirt, the ground began to rumble. A deep growling rumble that reverberated within me and shook me. Rocks in the cliff loosened and fell into the churning waves below, their rattling echoes lost in the storm. The collapse almost happened in slow motion. First the ground beneath me cracked. And then the entire cliff shattered into a huge mass of rocks, no longer supported in the air. With a thudding, deafening roar I fell with the rocks and dirt. I couldn’t use my hands to protect my face. Gravel and dust poured into my mouth. Stones scratched my forehead, threatening to blind me. And the larger rocks tried to crush me whole.

When I stopped dropping and turning and rolling, the cliff had disintegrated into a rocky slope that led down into the sea. I was mere metres from the water, and with every wave, the salt stung my eyes and sickened my stomach. With a huge effort, I rolled my log over so I was looking up at where the ledge was.

The father was staring at me, eyes no longer bleeding. Perhaps checking to see if I was alive. And then another head popped up beside him. It was the mother. She cocked her head to the side, and sat down on the still dusty remnants of the clifftop. Her eyes and fingers also started to bleed. Thick, red beads ran down her cheeks. She held one hand over the rocks, and the drops landed in the ocean below.

It was not the ground this time. It was the sea.

As if she were summoning the tide, the waves inched closer to the rocks as she stared into me with those red, blood-soaked eyes. The water continued to rise. The rocks I was on were now isolated from the rest of the debris, creating a small island for me and my piece of lumber. Could this wood keep me afloat, I wondered. Probably not. My feet touched the waves. The impact of the water stung, and drained my warmth. A huge wave crashed into the rocks, and I was submerged, seeing nothing but the black water and floating debris and the precious bubbles that escaped from my mouth as I tried to scream. And then I was back on the rock. I coughed out briny seawater and vomited into the ocean.

The water had stopped rising. I looked up with a struggle. The two had left the clifftop and were nowhere to be found.

I stopped yelling for help, exhausted, and soon it turned dark. My feet were still underwater, and the coldness drained me. I slowly blacked out.


Some hours. Or days maybe. Passed.

It was dark. The water had calmed while I was knocked out.

I felt a presence near my island. I turned my log over to face the sea, and froze. There was a huge, inky fin jutting out of the water next to me. A shark. It had to be. I tried to scream for help, but all I managed was a hoarse croak. But the shark didn’t attack—it barely even moved. And then it slowly sank into the water, leaving only a few bubbles behind.

I sighed, and closed my eyes, trying to go back to sleep, trying to get my heart to calm down, telling it that there was a good chance I would make it out alive since I hadn’t been killed yet. The words failed. I opened my eyes.

I was met with one giant eyeball. Almost as big as a hand.

It almost looked like an open geode. Like coloured rings of quartz, celestine and amethyst, rimmed with black and grey. I stared into that single eye, bewitched, wanting to see more colours and to dive into the concentric circles. And then it blinked. Slowly, deliberately. Pressing together its lip-like eyelids. My eyelids followed.

When I opened my eyes again, the thing was already swimming away from me. It took one last leisurely look at my limp body. I noticed its jaws—not pointed like a shark’s, but smooth and sleek and meeting right near its eyes. The creature’s skin was scratched and scarred, but it had a rubbery sheen to it. And on its side was a white pattern that marked its skin in a swooping motion.

It was a whale. An enormous whale that had decided to take a close look at me. The whale sighed, or so it seemed to me, and disappeared beneath the quiet waves.


I woke up to the crazy father and mother from the night before. I shrieked and recoiled, rolling over the log that I was still strapped to. The father clicked his tongue in irritation.

“Shut the fuck up.” He ordered, and toyed with a knife that looked gigantic even in his burly hands. I screamed even more. These people were here to kill me at last. He took his knife, and slashed at the log. The rope binding me began to slack.

“Why? Where are you going to take me?”

“I said shut the fuck up.”

“We’re letting you go.” Added the mother. Who had tried to kill me with a stormy ocean. But something about their irritated tone seemed genuine. I stopped resisting. If they were going to kill me, there was nothing I could do about it.

They unbound my ropes as she had said, and I got to my feeble feet. They were numb and frozen from being stuck in the water for half the night. But I had a chance of being freed now.

“Why?” I risked asking. They both shot ugly glares at me before giving me an answer.

“Toshiko’s fiancé isn’t interested in you.”

A thought struck me.

“The… whale?”

They looked at each other.

“The fuck do you think?” The man said finally.

I climbed up the collapsed cliff with the help of some ropes that the parents had used to climb down. I was back at the Whalesauce factory.

I walked around to the storefront so that I could go back to the road, and bid farewell to this place that had nearly killed me multiple times. Toshiko was near the entrance, staring away from me. I tried to pass by her unnoticed, when she whispered something to me.

“Don’t try to save me. I don’t need to be saved. I don’t want to be saved.”

I looked down.

Her fingernails were bleeding.

16:15 UTC


My Stint as a Fire Lookout - The Woman in Blue

Part 3

I told Roger and Martina that I needed some time. That I would call if anything happened. I turned down the volume on the radio and tossed it on my bed. I pulled at my hair. I turned my back to the charred remains of Rebecca’s foot lying in the deck outside the glass door.

This had to be a nightmare. It couldn’t be real. I turned back around and there it was still. A sickening sight. A heart-breaking sight. She had a family and friends and plans for the future.

I had to get rid of it. I pulled open the drawer in the cupboard below the grill and grabbed the steel tongs. I sucked in a huge breath and opened the door and pinched the ankle with the tongs. When I tried to lift them the whole mess slipped free and tumbled back to the timber deck. I gave it a second try with a similar result. Releasing my breath and with a cry of anguish I picked it up with my bare hands. The skin felt clammy and cold. I hurled it as far as I could out into the darkness. I shut the door and locked it and cried.

Roger had lied. He had told me there was nothing to worry about. He had every chance to warn me of something out on the mountain and inexplicably had not done so. He had warned me about the woman in the blue dress, but what had she done except whisper and stand in the rain. I couldn’t trust him.

And now he told me to sit tight. Martina told me to trust Roger. They were friends. Was she in on this too?

In my mind I played through the scenario of contacting the Ranger Station. They would likely send Hitch up here to get me. I would watch him come through the binoculars, ambling up the slope. My imagination furnished him with a rifle. And then it came, that hideous dark shape trailing smoke. Weaving through the trees it came up from behind him. At the last Hitch hears it and turns and raises his rifle. But it is too late. It has him and he is toast.

So I ask them to raise an army. Send a dozen Rangers up here all with their rifles at the ready. Whatever this thing was couldn’t take them all, could it? It played like a movie in my head, sometimes rifles clattered to the ground as it picked the Rangers off one by one, and other times the Rangers stood over it victorious, rifles pointing to the sky. With these thoughts running through my head, I slipped into a feverish sleep.

When I woke a thick grey mist had replaced the black of night out the windows. The fire had burned down to a clump of grey ash. Inside it was cold and I coughed, the phlegm dancing in my lungs.

I checked the time. The sun should be rising above the horizon, but the mist hung so thick in the air that all directions were grey. Thick droplets of condensation clung to the windows. I had to call the Station. Roger be damned.

I grabbed the radio for the Station and begged someone to pick up, my voice trembling. It was a few minutes before someone finally replied.

“Lookout 2, we read you.”

“I need help. There’s something up here.”

“There’s something up there?”

“I don’t know what it is. It’s big and dark and has burning red eyes. It killed a hiker yesterday. Her name was Rebecca Hughes.”

“Where did this happen?”

“To the east of my lookout.”

“You saw it?”

“I saw the remains of her foot after the thing hacked it off.”

“Was it a black bear?”

“I don’t think so.”

‘What then?”

“I don’t know. You have to come and get me down. And for the love of god don’t let anyone in the Park today.”

“No one else is here, day shift doesn’t get in for a couple of hours. I don’t think we’ll have many hikers through here today. The mist won’t clear until late, if at all. What are conditions like up there?”

“I can’t see more than a few feet.”

“We’ll have to wait for the weather to clear to send someone up. Are you hurt?”

“No. When you come be sure to send the cavalry. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

“Hang tight. Stay inside.”

Stay inside. That was Roger’s instruction. I put the radio down. I flirted with the idea of telling them that Roger was up here, but I couldn’t deal with that conversation. All I knew is I wanted down from this mountain.

I sat in silence, the lookout shrouded in an impenetrable grey gloom. I had seen similar mist back home on cold and still nights. On the flat the fog lifts after the sun comes up and warms the air. Even on the worst days it clears by midday. Up here the weather was a different animal. I read about entire days where visibility is no more than the tip of your finger on an outstretched arm. Today might be one of those days. There wouldn’t be much scanning the forest for fire.

I decided to lie down. I buried my head below the lumpy pillow and tried to sleep. Those red eyes from the night before burned on the inside of my eyelids. They watched and waited for an opportunity to pounce, to do to me what it had already done to Rebecca Hughes. I flicked the pillow free with a flourish and turned to the window. Nothing but fog.

Then whispering. At first I thought it was the whistling of my own breath through half-blocked nostrils. I held my breath and the sound persisted. The creature with the red eyes had not whispered. It had wailed and screamed in the night. The woman had whispered.

I shifted my feet to get a view of the door and sat up with a start. The deep blue of her dress was striking against the dull grey background. It was the brilliant colour of Oz compared to the black and white of Kansas. She stood hard against the wall, her button nose almost touching the glass. As she whispered the droplets of condensation on the door crystallised into tiny fragments of ice.

“What do you want?”

The whispering stopped. Her mouth opened wide and her lips pulled back exposing her teeth as she made an exaggerated effort to speak, like it was something she rarely did. The words came clear now, the sound shrill and sharp like the call of a bird.

“The ceremony nears. Their preparation is almost complete. They will give body to the destroyer. The forest will burn and then the cities and then the earth.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The sacred tree will burn. They will destroy the balance.”

“Is this a joke?”

Her mouth opened wide and her face distorted and elongated and she uttered a low groan. The coldness of her breath created an opaque circle in front of her head. The icicles cracked as they fell away from the glass. Her face returned to normal, she spoke again.

“You must look. You will see.”

She raised an arm and pointed north. This is what she had done the first time she came.

“What is out there?”

“The third lookout. It is there. You will see.”

A third lookout? I hadn’t asked, nor been told, how many lookouts there were up here. I knew I was in number 2. Martina was in number 1. We had a radio to communicate between the lookouts and it had only been Martina, and then Roger. Was there another lookout?

I went to the disc in the middle of the room, the circular map used to get the bearings of a fire. I tapped my lookout, marked red in the centre. I slid my finger due north, and there it was. A tiny black dot with the notation L3. Lookout 3. What was there? Who was there? Is this how Roger had been communicating with us?

I went back to the door. “I can’t go out. There’s something out there. It killed a hiker called Rebecca. It knows where I am.”

“It is a creature of fire. In the wet of the fog it is as a fish out of water. It will not come so long as the fog persists.”

“And what if it lifts? The sun comes out and it burns off and I’m caught out in the open.”

“It will not lift. You have time.”

I lifted my arm to the door handle and then let it drop back to my side. I shook my head. The hideous sight of the charred remains of Rebecca’s ankle flashed in my head. I couldn’t bring myself to open the door.

The woman half-turned and pointed to Martina’s lookout. “They will take her.”

“Martina? Why?”

“You must see for yourself.”

I wrapped my fingers around the handle. I turned my eyes to the sky searching for a break in the mist. The woman held out her arms and turned her palms to the sky. She took in a deep breath and exhaled a plume of water vapour that could have been the exhaust from a steam train. The cloud coalesced above her head and turned grey and a light drizzle began to fall.

“Did you just make it rain?”

“I bring the rain.” She turned to me, a seriousness in her eyes that was not there before. “And he will bring the fire. Once he has taken from her. He is the destroyer and he will consume all and leave nothing behind.”

“Then you go stop him. What do you need me for?”

“There are some places I cannot go. There are some times I cannot be. The balance is fragile. Once he has taken from her that balance will shift.”

I picked up the radio and turned up the volume. “Martina, are you there?”

Heavy breathing came back before she spoke. “It’s early Tom.”

“What do you know about all this?”

“About what?”

“About what is going on up here. Do you know what killed the hiker yesterday?”

She sighed into the radio. “Roger told you to stay inside and everything will be ok.”

“Stop dodging the question. Do you know what killed her? Have you seen it?”

“No Tom.”

“Why are you lying to me? What part are you playing in all this?”

“It will all be over soon.”

She was feeding me the same line as Roger. I took a deep breath before responding. “I called the Station this morning.”

“What? Why?”

“They’ll be up here as soon as the weather clears.”

“Tom you shouldn’t have done that. When Roger finds out.” She trailed off and a few seconds passed. “I can’t protect you.”

“You won’t have to.”

I threw both radios and a water bottle in a backpack and opened the door. I could not see beyond the edge of the lookout.

“I can’t see where I’m going.”

The woman smiled. “I can lead the way.”

I fell into step behind the flowing trail of her dark blue dress. Her bare feet kissed the rocky ground. She showed no signs of pain. I scrambled awkwardly behind, first down the slope to the northern side of the peak and then through the trees of the forest.

Down among the trees the fog thinned, but then it was the forest that blocked the view. The path I had come up with Hitch followed a distinct trail cut through the wilderness. Now I skidded over dense and wet ferns growing at angles from the bases of the trees.

The air had a density to it, and a cold wetness. It felt heavy and pushed deep into my lungs. I expected a coughing fit, but it never came.

I scanned the space between the trees for the burning red eyes of the creature who had come last night. My heart jumped at the dark shadow of a stunted tree. I imagined the thing that had swept through the forest and taken Rebecca. It had trailed smoke. The woman described it as a creature of fire. Heavy drops fell to my head from the canopy above and my hair was soon soaking wet.

Ahead the thick and charred trunk of an enormous tree dominated its friends standing by its shoulders. Like the burnt out tree behind my lookout, it had singularly burned while the other trees around it were unharmed. And there was a triangle carved into the bark. I paused at the tree and traced the triangle with my fingers.

“What does the triangle mean?”

The woman did not respond.

The trees thinned and we started up an incline. We must be getting close. Out of the fog rose a timber structure built on stilts at the top of the peak. It stood a few stories above the ground. A timber staircase criss-crossed up to the elevated lookout.

I looked to my feet as I stepped on the first tread and pulled my foot away. The timber tread was warped and split and stained with black char. I followed the staircase up and all the treads were like the first. I held onto the rail and put my weight on the tread. It felt sturdy enough.

I turned back and the woman was gone. My stomach dropped and I scanned the peak for her. A whisper came from above. She stood at the top. I smiled to myself. It must be nice to have the ability to bring the rain and to not have to climb stairs.

At the top of the first landing my head turned to a loud rumbling sound coming from the valley to the west. It was like a truck rumbling along a highway, the engine straining under its load. A burst of warm air sucked all the moisture from my mouth. Down in the valley the fog began to disperse. Waves of warmth sucked the grey from the air. Trees and mountains emerged, crisp under a bright summer sun.

The woman in blue screamed. The trail of her dress billowed in the burst of hot air, the ends fraying and disintegrating. I ran up the stairs, taking the treads three at a time. The wind blew her sideways, lifting and tossing her from the elevated platform. She threw out a pair of desperate hands and clung to the rail. Her whole body was horizontal to the ground as if she carried no weight at all.

When I made it to the top she was straining to hold on. Strands of black hair pulled from her head and the deep blue of her dress faded to almost white. Her skin shifted like dry sand blowing in the wind. She removed one hand from the rail and grasped her necklace and tossed it onto the deck. And then, like the mist had done in the valley, she dispersed, her body and desperate pleading eyes evaporating into the air.

My head snapped around at another rumble from the valley. Twin pillars of smoke rose from below the ridge on the other side. The creature. There were two of them now. They climbed the slope at an inhuman pace. My eyes lifted to the peak and there was Martina’s lookout, in the direct path of the creatures made of fire. I scanned the horizon and the mist and the clouds were gone, leaving a brilliant blue sky. It will not come so long as the fog persists, she had said. The fog was gone. I had to get inside.

I picked up the necklace from the deck and stumbled to the door and tried the handle. It gave and I tumbled inside and closed the door behind and turned the lock. The inside of the lookout was a picture of disarray. Sheets and books and splinters of wood littered the floor. It smelled of stale smoke.

I turned the necklace in my hand. I had seen it the first night the woman came to my lookout. The pendant was an inverted triangle forming an arrow pointing down. I shoved it in my pocket and fumbled in my backpack for the radio. I clicked the volume up and depressed the button.

“Martina, are you there?”

No response.

“Answer me Martina. They are coming for you.”

The radio crackled to life. “What are you talking about?”

“Look east. There are two of them. They are coming.”

A few nerve jangling seconds passed. “No. Not yet.”

I got to my feet and rifled through the mess looking for the binoculars. I spotted them on a shelf and glassed the ridge and found Martina’s lookout. The two pillars of smoke were almost there. Charcoal grey humanoid shapes emerged from the trees near the top of the peak, leaping up towards the lookout.

“They are almost there.”

“I’m not ready. They can’t take it from me yet.”

“Take what Martina? What are they going to do?”

A shape moved at the peak, Martina. She was a stone’s throw from the lookout, what looked like firewood spilling from her arms. She wasn’t inside. She had gone for wood or for a walk and wasn’t behind her door. I watched her sprint for the lookout as the two beasts rose up the peak. They moved too fast. She wasn’t going to make it.

Martina stopped dead in her tracks as they crested the peak. The radio crackled.

“Help me Tom.”

And then silence. I watched in horror as the two creatures pounced on Martina and dragged her down the mountain until they disappeared behind the cover of the forest.


1 Comment
14:26 UTC


My brother Josh lost his mind one night during a thunderstorm

There was no rhyme or reason for it. It was like a switch went off, out of the blue, and turned him into someone else.

We were kids when it happened with me being 9 and Josh having just turned 11. Which also meant that would likely be our last year with babysitters.

Josh was a solid athlete and a whiz in school. Despite the fact he’d moved up a grade because of his academics, Josh still matched his older peers in athletics. And he got along with everyone. He was sociable and funny and confident but not arrogant.

All this to say, Josh was a competent and level-headed 11 year old.

Which made that night from our childhood so much stranger.

It was a Friday night and our parents had a large dinner out planned with some of my dad’s colleagues. There was also a storm warning that night. One with record breaking thunderclaps and lightning strikes.

We got our favourite babysitter, Teresa, that night. We liked her because she’d take us down to the corner store and let us pick a movie to rent every time she was sitting.

The last time we saw Teresa, she let us rent Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Carnosaur 3. Our parents were pissed, but brought Teresa back with a stern warning of nothing above PG-13.

We ended up not renting anything that night because of the storm. It was just too chaotic outside. I was surprised our parents were still going out.

Teresa brought over a copy of Poltergeist, which was rated PG somehow. It scared the hell out of me. But from the moment the storm had started… Josh locked onto it and only it.

There was something about the thunderclaps that kept pulling his attention back to the windows. Like voices hidden under the Earth-shaking rumbles were speaking just a bit too quietly for him to hear.

When the movie ended, I got Teresa to put on one of our copies of The Lion King, because I was still scared from Poltergeist. But Josh got up abruptly and went to bed.

I fell asleep with Teresa on the couch. The storm was still raging outside when I woke up, so I had Teresa bring me to my room. We stopped by Josh’s room and peeked in. His lights were off and we couldn’t see anything.

Teresa put me to bed and went back downstairs. I stayed up for a while, listening to the pounding rain against the window and roof. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I was woken up by Josh in the middle of the night.

Josh was on top of me in bed, with a flashlight below his face pointed up, causing frightening streaks of shadows. Only Josh wasn’t trying to scare me. He was crying.

Josh told me there was something in his room. It was hiding inside his mattress. He felt it moving around under him, its body consisted of tentacles and small hands that grabbed and squeezed like the jaws of a pit bull.

I knew none of that made sense. But I was still scared.

Josh convinced me to go into his room with him, with me leading the way. The long walk down the hallway had Josh cowering and whimpering behind me like he was my younger brother.

When we got to his door, it wasn’t closed completely, but was pressed against the doorframe so we couldn’t see in. I tried to slide the door open, but it hit something and stopped. I tried to push the door against it, but it felt like I was pushing against a wall.

Josh whispered to me, “I think it’s leaning against the door.”

I backed up, now not wanting the door to open. But it did. On its own.

As if pulled by the wind, the door creaked fully open, revealing the room.

There were large tufts of white fluff everywhere. There were even small threads still floating through the air on their way to the ground.

My eyes tracked through the room until they landed on Josh’s bed.

The mattress was completely torn open and all the insides were pulled out and spread across the room.

Josh whispered the words, “It’s out.”

The words caused me to panic and I went into flight mode. I sprinted back to my room and slammed the door. I pushed a chair up under the door handle to block it from opening.

Josh was banging on the other side of my door, screaming and crying like something was out there after him.

Then the words he was saying changed. They became soupy, blurring together and no longer making sense. He was yelling jumbled up gibberish through his cries as the thunder roared overhead.

I kept waiting to hear Teresa’s voice cut in, asking what was wrong. But it never came.

I started to get scared that Josh had done something to Teresa before he came to me.

Or maybe, that whatever he was afraid of… was real.

It was far fetched, but I was 9 at the time.

Josh’s strange sounds finally ended and I heard him walking back down the hallway and into his room. I heard his bedroom door shut, then his window open.

I remembered that our windows had a lengthy portion of roof under them, which Josh and I used at night to sneak back and forth after our parents went to sleep.

And just as I remembered that, I saw Josh’s face appear outside my window, with a horrified smile plastered across it.

I pulled the chair away from the door and bolted out of my room. I sprinted down the hall, passing Josh’s room and went downstairs. I was yelling Teresa’s name, still thinking she was somewhere in the house, unaware of what was going on on the second floor.

But she wasn’t there.

Footsteps pounded on the hallway overhead. I knew Josh was back inside and on his way to find me. I hid behind the couch in our living room and listened as Josh came down the stairs.

Josh walked through the living room, his footsteps moving along the other side of the couch. He was still mumbling some strange gibberish. It sounded like English but the words weren’t words.

The footsteps left the couch and moved into the kitchen.

From where I was hiding, I could see out the front window. Through the heavy storm, I could see there was a car parked on the street. And it was still running. That became my new target.

I crept out from behind the couch and snuck to the front entrance. I could hear Josh still mumbling somewhere in the kitchen. Then I heard a clatter. It sounded like the utensils drawer had been pulled out and emptied on the floor.

I opened the front door quietly and slid out. The rain was coming in sideways, so I was immediately drenched with a sheet of it. I sprinted down our home’s front steps and across the lawn.

Seconds later, I was knocking at the window of the car. The passenger door immediately swung open with a cloud of smoke and I saw Teresa inside with a guy. They were smoking and listening to music and making out and all that.

Teresa panicked when she saw me, which got worse when she saw the look in my eyes. She knew something was wrong.

I led Teresa back to the house… which looked like bombs had gone off behind each wall.

Every single wall was broken in at the centre. The drywall, cabling and cords were pulled out and spread across the floor like something tore out of each one.

Teresa’s jaw dropped. She asked me where Josh was, even though I clearly had no idea. And just as she asked, the power went out.

Teresa thought it was because of the storm, but I knew it was because of Josh. The previous week, one of our breakers had to be replaced. Our dad brought Josh along to show him how to turn on and off the power in different portions of the house.

Josh decided to turn the entire house off.

Teresa called out to Josh, but there was no response. She kept asking me what happened, why were the walls destroyed and where was my brother? But the only answer I had was that he was in the basement with the breaker box.

When I said the word ‘basement,’ I felt Teresa stiffen up. She did not want to go down there. I didn’t blame her. Neither did I.

We got a flashlight from the kitchen pantry and walked to the basement door. Teresa pointed the light down into the darkness of the basement, but there was no sign of Josh. Teresa called out to him again.

Then we heard Josh. He was mumbling the same gibberish as before. The same nonsensical faux-English was sputtering out from the shadows of the basement.

“What’s he saying,” Teresa asked.

I had no idea.

She called out to him again. This time, the gibberish got louder and turned into yelling.

Teresa grabbed me and shut the basement door. She slid a dresser in front of it and we rushed back to the kitchen. Teresa called my parents, but the restaurant said they were already on their way home.

While we waited for them to arrive, Teresa told me to go upstairs and wait in my room. She would stay by the basement.

I did as I was told and went upstairs. The second floor appeared to get the same treatment as everywhere else. All the walls were broken outward with plaster and drywall strewn across the floors. It was almost impressive how focused the destruction had been.

As I was passing Josh’s room, I heard movement. Shuffling. My panic mode started again and I booked it into my bedroom.

I closed the door and went to slide the chair under the handle again, but the handle was gone. It’d been broken off.

The mumbled gibberish whispered out behind me. I spun around. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, but I saw a figure in the far corner of my room.

It was Josh. I could see he had a strange expression on his face, but it was too dark to see what it was. The gibberish continued from him, now getting louder.

Josh stepped out of the shadows and I saw his face. He had a frightening, open mouthed gape. It was like he was trying to mock a horrified expression. Only he was horrified.

He kept repeating the same jumbles… “Em… pleh! Em… pleh! EM PLEH!!”

Like the other jumbles, these ones sounded familiar. But as I watched him speak, I saw how his mouth was moving. It looked off.

Then I realized why it didn’t look or sound right when he spoke. Josh wasn’t speaking gibberish. He was speaking backwards.

I whispered back to him, “Help me”?

As I repeated Josh’s words back in their proper order, thunder roared from above. Josh fell back into the shadows of the corner of my room and disappeared.

Downstairs, I heard the front door open and my parents yell out. I rushed down and found Teresa trying to begin to explain a situation she didn’t understand.

My mom was panicking until she saw me, then was immediately asking about Josh. At first, my parents thought Teresa had rented another horror film for us and we’d freaked out and destroyed the house. But I told my parents it wasn’t that.

There was something wrong with Josh. I didn’t tell them I’d just seen him upstairs because… I didn’t really understand what had happened in my room. He’d been there for a moment, then he disappeared.

My parents pulled the dresser away from the basement door and opened it. They called out to Josh, but heard nothing back. My dad took the flashlight from Teresa and led my mom down into the basement.

I stayed upstairs with Teresa. I didn’t want to go down there. I didn’t even like our basement during the day.

But a scream from my mother made me forget the fear and I rushed down.

My parents had found Josh curled up in the fetal position behind our giant, old furnace. Josh’s body was covered in burns and he was still speaking backwards.

My dad picked up Josh and carried him upstairs. We all went to the hospital and had Josh checked out.

He was treated for his burns and strange injuries on his hands. The burns were credited to Josh pressing his body against the furnace and the hand injuries to Josh breaking the walls apart.

By the next morning, the storm had cleared and Josh was back to normal. He was speaking clearly and his memory of the previous night was blank.

Josh’s behaviour was credited to a brief, psychotic episode triggered in Josh by the thunderstorm. He felt something was trying to get into the house, and he unknowingly broke open the walls, thinking he was holding them closed.

Everyone agreed that was what had happened. No more. No less.

Except… I’ll always remember that Josh didn’t have any drywall or plaster on him. And I’ll never believe Josh inflicted those burns on himself. I saw his back. It was covered in frightening and intricate symbols burned into his skin that would have been impossible for him to give himself.

1 Comment
14:18 UTC


Bridesmaid for hire

The woman who hired me to be her bridesmaid didn’t like the way I looked.

Maybe I was a little frumpy from my flight, but the way she was eyeing me up and down in the terminal had me reconsidering my decision to come thousands of miles from the comfort of my couch to be this woman’s bridesmaid.

“Hi, I’m Winona!” I said, trying my damndest. “You can call me, Noni.”

She glowered at me for a moment.“What’s wrong with your hair?”

“My hair? I might’ve slept on it-”

“No, it’s red. And your face is not symmetrical. Not like your instagram pictures.”

“Oh. Actually that’s not me. That’s my friend, Jenna. I’m filling in for her. She didn’t tell you?”

The woman appraised me again. Looking at my body as if I were an undersized cattle at auction. I turned to the side and gave her a half-smile, deeply uncomfortable.

“Maybe we should call Jenna and work this out...”

“No, you’re already here,” she said before flashing a smile. “I’m Cassia. But you can call me Cassie. Cassie and Noni, I like that. Here, let me take your bag.”

“Actually, I’m just gonna use the bathroom real quick- just one sec...”

I swiftly wheeled my suitcase away. As I got closer to the bathroom, I turned and found Cassie watching me closely. I tucked into the bathroom and immediately called Jenna.

You didn’t tell her about me?” I asked, crammed in a stall with my suitcase.

“I thought I did,” Jenna said, lying. “Maybe not. I can’t remember. New mom brain.”

Wait a minute- you didn’t think she’d say yes if she knew it was me.”

“Noni. You’re not exactly 27 Dresses material.”

Couldn’t argue with that. Jenna had always been a Disney princess, ever since first grade. I related more to the wicked witches. But now this witch needed some extra money to make payments on her art school loans.

There’s something wrong with this woman...”

“All brides get weird before the wedding. She’s about to sign her freedom away. Just laugh at everything. Hold up her dress so she can pee. Dance with her pervy uncle. You got this.”

“Keep your phone on you,” I hissed.

“What? Sorry, Jackson’s fussing- can’t hear you. Enjoy Italy. Ciao ciao!”

The drive to the remote village was nauseating. The roads were winding and Cassie was sitting so close in the back of the cab that our arms were touching. Several times during our conversation I caught her frowning at the freckles on my legs.

“So are you from the area?” I asked, filling the silence.

“Yes. My family has deep roots in Triora. We are a little traditional as you’ll see.”

“It’s beautiful here,” I said, trying not to vomit. “Can’t wait to meet the fam.”

Triora, the Salem of Italy. They actually advertised that on shop windows like it was a point of pride. We got to the small mountain village through a dense forest, far from any major city. The village itself seemed mostly unchanged since the 1500s. Somehow life continued on in the ruins of an expired civilization.

Max, the fiancé, waited for us outside a crumbling villa attached to a church. Oddly, he opened my door and helped me out while Cassie got out on her own.

Ciao bella!” he said to me, in an accent as bad as mine. “Wait, you’re a redhead?”

“Yeah... Didn’t realize that would be such an issue.”

“She’s perfect,” Cassie cut in. “Let me introduce you to the family. They will love you!”

Cassie’s family didn’t speak English but they made it abundantly clear how delighted they were to have me. I got kissed on both cheeks by several shades of lipstick, and was generally embraced as if I was part of the family. All the affection made my skin crawl, but I tried to summon my inner Jenna and keep the good vibes flowing.

We ate in an underground room. The stone walls and flickering candles gave the distinct feeling of dining in a crypt. There was fig and honey, and many bottles of wine. Cassie disappeared at some point, so it was just me and Max at the head of the table.

"How'd you guys meet?" I asked him over the loud chatter.

"I was out here for work, I'm a historian. We met at a bar. And the rest is history."

“That's super sweet... So is there anyone else in the wedding party?”

“You’re it.”

“Do you guys have, like, any friends, or…?”

“No one else was able to make it.” He slung his arm over my shoulder and gave me a side-hug like we had known each other for years. “I’m really, really happy you’re here.”

The night then took a hedonistic turn. Everyone fell into a kind of euphoric fit of laughter, dancing and lots of touching of faces. The energy was infectious. I kind of lost myself in it. Several different relatives kept calling me Cassia. I corrected them at first, but eventually just nodded along and laughed and danced like a lunatic.

I got back to my room, soaked in sweat, ears buzzing. I went straight for the shower but stopped short. On the bathroom sink, there was a note from Cassie beneath a bottle of hair dye: WILL YOU PLEASE USE THIS FOR YOUR HAIR, AND TRY ON WHAT'S IN THE CLOSET? YOU'RE MY GIRL XOXOXO CASSIE

I checked the bottle. I couldn’t read the label but the liquid inside was chestnut brown. She wanted me to dye my hair to her exact shade. And worse, inside the closet, there was a lacy nightgown waiting for me to try on.

I called Jenna. She didn’t answer. I paced around until I noticed some activity outside my window. The family was huddled in the central courtyard that connected the rooms in the villa. They were in the midst of a hushed conversation, and seemed strangely sober considering how much wine we’d all just consumed.

I jumped back when my phone buzzed with a text from Jenna.

“Jackson’s sleeping… Wat’s up?”

“She wants me to dye my hair!!! And try on lingerie!?!?!”

“Welcome to the life of a bridesmaid...”

“Why did you make me do this??”

“I didn’t. You asked me for this, remember? Noni, once in ur life… commit!”

It was annoying how well she knew me. For most of my adult years, I’d been plagued by indecision. I was always between jobs. Between interests. Between looks. Scratch a little deeper and you'd find a long-held belief that I had to be somebody entirely different than who I knew myself to be.

“Look at you… bellissima!” Cassie said in the morning, grabbing my cheeks.

It was the day of the wedding. My hair was now chestnut brown. I had bangs. Also, I was in a voluminous gown with embroidery, lace and pearls that was obviously meant for a bride.

Cassie assured me it was tradition in her family for a bridesmaid to resemble the bride, down to every last detail. One of her aunts tailored the gown to my body while we talked.

“This is so great, I’m having so much fun,” I said, sucking in my gut as her aunt brought in the seams. “I did want to talk to you though... I think you went for the easy-breezy package, right? And well, what’s happening right now, it’s kinda outside what was agreed on.”

“You want more money?”

“That’s not really what I meant.”

“Name your price, I’ll pay the difference. You take Venmo, yes?”

She whipped out her phone, ready to transfer money over. I sighed and asked for another hundred dollars. She immediately sent it. Should’ve asked for a hell of a lot more...

The wedding was held in the church connected to the house. The walls and ceilings were covered in fading frescos. All the guests wore black. The priest read passages from the bible. I had no idea what he was saying but the whole affair seemed bizarrely solemn.

It was just me and Max at the altar, waiting for Cassie to make an entrance. Although by that point, I don’t think anyone would’ve known whether it was me or her under the veil.

Will you hold my hand?” Max whispered, lovingly.

Absolutely not.”

“Don’t make it weird. It’s tradition.”

“If someone says ‘tradition’ one more goddamn time-”

A sudden wind blew in and slammed the door shut behind it. All the windows immediately shuttered. Every single candle in the church went out in a flash. The daylight was all but snuffed out. The priest bowed his head, and each of the wedding guests followed suit.

“Uhh…” I uttered loudly, my voice echoing off walls.

Max shushed me with a finger to his mouth.

I felt a chill on my skin as the temperature dropped in the room. I looked around at the many bowed heads. And that’s when I noticed Cassie in the back, hiding behind a black veil, the only one whose head wasn’t bowed. She was staring at me in anticipation.

“Why isn't Cassie up here, Max?... Tell me, right now!"

"I thought you were a professional bridesmaid? Don't you know you're the decoy?"

"Decoy? For what?!"

“Shhhh. Our guest of honor is here.”

I followed his eyes. A dark mist was rolling down the aisle. As it approached, it bulked up and took shape. Before I could react, the spirit was already in my face.

Deep within its roiling mist, I could see a figure. Hunched, skeletal. Its gleaming eyes set in a face of smoke and shadow that was constantly shifting form.

“Sua! Sua! Sua!” I heard the guests chant in unison, while Max stood beside me, saying “Her! Her! Her!”

I wanted to punch him in the face but I couldn’t move. The spirit’s eyes were already on me, gleaming with malevolence. An arm of bone extended out through the mist to lift my veil. Within its flickering eyes, I could see an eternity of damnation.

But not for me. There was a look of recognition between us. Two misbegotten creatures who ended up at the same wedding, each with a job to do. I pointed a finger at the person it came for- Cassie, hiding out in the back row of the church.

The spirit’s swirling face followed my hand. And locked onto Cassie. Its eyes flared red.

“No!” Max yelped. “It’s her you want, this is the one I love! Amore, amore!”

He grabbed my hand and tried to kiss it. I pulled back and punched him square in the nose. Blood geysered onto my face and dress as the spirit tore off through the air over to Cassie.

I watched it rip off her black veil, lick her face with its serpent tongue while she screamed in terror, then drag her down the long aisle by her chestnut hair.

A door leading underground swung open. And it pulled her inside the chamber.

The wedding guests howled in anguish as Cassie disappeared into the bowels of the church. Max charged after her while holding his broken nose. I stood alone at the altar beside the priest, peppered in blood. He blessed me then hustled off for the exit.

It took several miles to find someone willing to give me a ride to the airport. By then, I was barefoot in a torn gown, dragging my suitcase behind me. The old shopkeeper didn’t ask questions as he drove me away from Triora, but he did offer a piece of advice.

“You should be careful in a dress like that,” he said, wagging his finger as we pulled into the terminal. “The spirits might mistake you for a bride.”

I changed into my clothes in a bathroom at the airport. Stuffed the wedding gown in the trash can. I caught my reflection in the mirror on my way out. My face was streaked in makeup, hair everywhere, skin dotted with dried blood. For the first time in awhile, I didn’t mind how I looked.

I was about to board my flight back home when I got a text from Jenna.

“Sooo? Was being a bridesmaid as awful as you thought it’d be?"

"They tried to turn me into a decoy to trick an evil spirit into dragging me to hell."

"Lol. Typical... I have another client if ur interested."

I thought for a moment. Confirmed the new balance in my bank account. Then replied:

"I'm ur girl."

1 Comment
14:08 UTC


How do I fix this car?

Well, I was kind of expecting it to happen. One day I entered my car, and the engine refused to start. The poor thing was twenty-years old, and I used it almost everyday. I don’t even know how it lasted so long. I called my mechanic, and he said: “It’s dead, bro. Let it go.” So, I took my car to the scrapyard and said goodbye to it. It was time to find my new best friend.

I went to several car dealerships, and looked at several opportunities, though I prioritized second-hand cars, because they were cheaper and often in perfect state. Then I found a miracle. A perfect sedan, automatic transmission, black, year 2022, with less than 500 miles of use. When I asked for the price, they told me it was only about 10k. That’s a third of the usual price for this type of car. When I asked why the car was so cheap, the dealers evaded my question. They just said a NDA had been signed when they bought the car, but it appeared to involve a divorce or something. Well, I couldn’t pass the opportunity. I reached out to my bank, took a loan, signed some papers, and voila, I had a new car, man’s best friend. For some reason I had to sign a NDA too, but since I’m writing this, I don’t care at all about my NDA.

Things were absolutely great for some time. I drove around and… I think that’s basically all you can do with a car, but I drove around a lot. I travelled to other cities and states, showed my car to my friends and family, went to parks and beaches, went to a drive-in…

After a month or two, something strange started happening. The fuel tank was never running out of gasoline. I didn’t understand what was happening, but of course, I wasn’t complaining. Never paying for more fuel? That’s a dream come true!

But that wasn’t the end of it. The car started making strange noises when I started the engine. Instead of hearing the fuel being burned, I heard what appeared to be… Gastric noises. Sometimes even mastication. Maybe I should have verified, but I didn’t. I thought it could be a new technology.

Then things got worse. A series of thefts started around my neighborhood. At the beginning, it was bicycles. All bicycles left outside garages or houses, even the chained ones, were disappearing. I didn’t know how to ride a bike, so I didn’t care much for it. After people stopped leaving their bicycles exposed, it was the time for motorcycles. Motorcycles were disappearing left and right. When enough of them had disappeared that people didn’t leave them outside their garages anymore, the disappearances moved to the next logical step. Cars parked outside garages also began disappearing.

I had a lot of work installing cameras all around the neighborhood, as people were getting worried. Yes, that’s my job, I work with security, installing electrical fences, cameras, alarms, among other things. It’s ironic, because my own house ended up becoming the only place without a surveillance system in the entire street.

I wasn’t the only one having to work. The local police were also trying to catch the thieves, but they never leaved any traces. The cars were never taken to scrapyards, they were never taken to any depots or garages, nor parking lots. They spent weeks going to every possible place a car could be scrapped or hid, but it was fruitless. The cars were never taken out of the city too, as they always had an officer monitoring the exit of the town, and none of them ever saw any stolen car. Ten cars, twelve motorcycles and eight bicycles vanished out of thin air over the course of three months.

Being pressured by the entire city yet unable to solve the crimes, the police offered good money to anyone who had any lead relating to the case. I installed some cameras in public places, with authorization of the town hall after the car of one of the city councilors disappeared, and began monitoring. Also, I stopped being lazy, and finally installed cameras on my own house.

And surprisingly, the thefts stopped. Cars, motorcycles and bikes were no longer disappearing. That lasted for almost two weeks. Surprisingly, for the first time in a long time, my fuel started running low, so I had to stop at gas stations to refuel once again. But it seemed like the car didn’t like gasoline anymore. Every time I refueled, the car would make strange noises, and sometimes would spit some of the gasoline back after I removed the pump.

Not long after, one day I woke up only to find my car gone. It was a bummer losing my car, of course, but on the plus side, this meant there would be footage of the thieves. And footage of the thieves meant money. I hurried to my computer and accessed the recordings. But the video didn’t show any thieves. It showed, circa three in the morning, the car turning on it’s lights and engine by itself. The car hood opened, and a long, slender arm with inhumanly long fingers presses the button that opens the garage door. Then my vehicle leaves and the garage door closes.

I stared at the screen for hours, bewildered, unable to process what I had seen. No, my mind refused to believe it. Did they hack the cameras to steal the car? But how would they do that? The device is not connected to the Internet. It couldn’t be. Yet it was. But if I brought that video to the police station, they would think I was messing with them.

Suddenly, I heard the garage door opening. I ran towards the garage, and my car was there, like it was pretending it was always there. And I decided to accept this false reality out of fear of what happened. I deleted the footage, and said: “This is not real. My car never left this garage.” The next day, the local news website talked about how a mother and two of her children disappeared, along with her car, when she was coming back from picking up her kids at school. In the depths of my mind I began connecting the dots, but my mind refused to accept that reality.

One week later, I woke up with the sound of my car leaving by itself. I ignored it, I needed to believe the car was still there. It was probably a coincidence, a neighbor parked a car nearby my house and now was leaving. Yes, a coincidence and that’s all. And the next day, a child had disappeared while riding her bike, leaving no traces.

It kept happening, initially once per week. The car left, I lied to myself that it didn’t, it came back. Someone in a vehicle disappeared. I convinced myself it was a coincidence. Then, it started happening twice per week, then thrice. It got to the point that every other night the car left. On lucky days, a parked vehicle disappeared. On bad days, an entire family in a car did.

One day, it went way too far. A police cruiser with two cops disappeared… Now, the police got really interested in the case. They demanded footage of all the cameras I had installed around the city. I drove my car to the police station (Even if driving it kind of terrified me now), parked in front of the building, entered the station and gave them a copy of the device in which the recordings were stored. When I was almost entering my car to go back home, they called me urgently back inside.

The chief of police showed me the recordings, he was furious, thinking it was a joke. He even threatened to arrest me for wasting their time. The footage showed the police car driving until suddenly a black sedan approaches it from behind. The car hood opens, exhibiting several teeth, slender arms and tendrils. These things grab the police cruiser from behind, and brutally smash it until it as ball of metal, glass and human flesh. All pieces that fall from the destroyed car are picked up by the tendrils. Then, my car was rapidly chewing the gruesome ball with it’s teeth, until nothing was left. Then it simply leaves.

One of the officers then asked me: “Wait, isn’t that your car?” And with an extremely uncomfortable smile I answered: “Yes…?”.

Before I knew, I was outside the station with five police officers, all of us looking at my car. Everyone knew something needed to be done, but no one dared to do anything. No one even knew what to do. Seriously, what was anyone supposed to do? Arrest the car? Shoot it? Dismantle it?

After almost two minutes of uneasiness, the police chief stepped forwards. He said “Fine, I’ll open the damn thing.” He went to the car hood, sweating, and opened.

We all saw there were no engine, no cables, mechanical pieces or anything. The interior of the car was full of entrails, bloated veins, tendrils, pale arms, eyes, teeth, strange liquids and horrible pustules.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” The police chief stepped backwards, shocked. In less than a second, several tendrils came out of the car and started twisting him. The other officers grabbed their guns and started shooting. The car, in response, spitted a very strong acid at them, and as their faces and skins began to melt, used it’s arms and tendrils to grab them and twist them into small balls of flesh as well.

After three cops were down, I ran away as fast as I could, hearing the agonizing screams. I entered my house, my shirt covered in sweat and even some blood, and I hid myself in the bathroom. A couple of hours later, I heard the garage door opening, and my car entering.

What do I do now? Do I apologize to it? Do I try to run away? Do I take it to the scrapyard or try to sell it? Seriously, is there any way to fix this car??


13:38 UTC



"You'll burn in hell just like your no-good father!" was a favourite insult of my mother's, whenever she wanted to scold little five-year-old me for anything. Or ten, fifteen, twenty-five. Whatever. Every time I pressed her on what she even meant, which wasn't often, she never let slip what exactly he did that was so bad.

Another inane rule she had was that in any circumstances, I could never, ever go down to the basement. Like, it was worse than forbidden. And if I heard anything down there? I didn't. Nope, there most certainly weren't any faint beeps coming from down there. And I suppose it was the muffled, tortured sounds of Elmo that kept me awake some nights.

Well, I sure wish I didn't hear or see anything. I was told I couldn't do something, and guess I what I did? I did that thing. Fantastic.

When I was seven, my mum stepped out to mow the lawn in the morning. Without realising that I had awoken. Of course, I was planning to go tell her I woke up and all that, but I walked past the door to the basement. And stopped, for the door was unlocked. The forbidden fruit was sitting right there, ready for me to access it.

Forbidden for a reason, of course.

Dumbass me opened the door, only to find a long stairway leading all the way down. And in the room?

As I walked in, the smell of roasted flesh and coppery blood hit me, undeterred by the large exhaust fans at the corners of the basement. A middle-aged man was pressed between two large black plates extending from his neck all the way to his ankles, with a bit in his mouth and multiple tubes running in and out of him. Shocked, I walked around the machine containing him, I realised that he had no feet, but rather mere bloody stumps hastily cauterised. The site disgusted me, but I still had my doubts.

Like, why was the burning smell there?

Curiously, I peeked under one of the plates, and realised what was happening.

The plates were burning him. Every second that he was there, his skin was continously being singed, burnt to a crisp. If he had any skin there, as all I could see was some white layer on his body almost welded to the plates on both sides.

"Oh my god," I whispered, trying my very best not to throw up all over him.

I was horrified — revulsed even — but I had to know more. I circled around the other side of the machine, and noticed that there was a lever there. Once again, I had to pull that lever. Curiosity got the better of me.

Well damn, that was a mistake. Immediately, the bit inside his mouth was pulled out. And in a move that just made everything worse, a minute later, he woke up.

He turned his head to me, and started screaming. His intense screams of agony ricocheting off the grey walls of the basement brought chills to my spine. Oh god, remembering those still terrify me. This memory's worse than a nightmare!

He screamed hoarsely for a solid minute, though it felt like much longer to me, not stopping even as he spewed blood all over himself. By the end, I understood what he was trying to tell me all the time.

"I CANNOT STAND IT! KILL ME! KILL ME! PRESS THE BUTTON AND LET ME DIE! THIS IS AGONY!" he roared, before making a sickening gurgling sound in his throat.

"Who are you? What do I do?" I yelled back in terror.

More coppery blood spewed out from his nose and mouth as my mum ran down into the basement.

"You, get out!" she said as she pushed me up the stairs. "And never breathe a word about your fath- about this!"

As I ran up, not wanting to bear witness to any more of that gory scene, the noise got softer before eventually going away entirely. After half an hour, my mum came up, and that was the end of it. We didn't discuss that event ever again, not that either of us was willing to.

In my thirty-five years of life, this is still the worst experience I've ever had. Period. I have no doubt that it was my father suffering down there for years and years in the hell of my mum's making, but not knowing what happened afterwards will always gnaw at me. My damned curiosity got me into that situation so many years ago, but I still wanted to know more!

And she passed away last week. Now, maybe, its time to revisit the basement.


13:31 UTC


i had an old life.

years ago, my dad bought some sort of animatronic bear off of craigslist or some other random marketplace, according to the listing it was an old robot the guy was trying to sell quick.

my dad thought it was a good purchase for the coming Halloween, so he decided to contact the seller.

after 3 days we had gotten it, it was super expensive but the dude was saying yes on our negotiations that it actually made him seem like he was trying to get rid of it.

So we got it, and we put it outside next to our house to creep out some kids, but we had noticed, the kids would literally see the robot and start immediately crying, or they would not dare get anywhere next to our home.

the day after, we realize, this animatronic, had been moving on its own?

according to a friend of mine, it had been speaking gibberish and sometimes mustered up English words that said "I will come for you." or "You can not escape.", as well as moving on its own, which i didn't believe at first, but the day after we noticed it had moved, we did not see it in the front of the house, and we searched for it but couldn't find it.

i said to myself "whatever, Halloween has already ended."

But then, the day after, when i woke up, i saw it, staring at me, this big animatronic bear with torn hands and no eyeballs, only what i could assume was mechanical lights.

as i got up and strated to leave the room, it started to make strange noises, it felt like, being in a dark room with no light, and you know something is in there with you, looking for you, it cant see you, and you also can't see it.

i decided to tell my dad but he wouldn't believe me, until i took him into my room and showed him, but it was nowhere to be seen? they started laughing at me, and saying that i was hallucinating, and saying that i was lying and stuff but i actually wasn't, and then, wait? we had just found it, the same place we left it, next to our door, so my dad decides that this is too much of a distraction, and he decides to put it in my closet, and locked the closet, because mine was the only lockable one.

After a few years of nothing coming from that closet, it, one night, started to make random sounds, you could hear mechanical sounds, like an animatronic moving one of its parts, or sometimes, it would laugh, or worse talk.

" I will come for you." "You will regret." ...

one night, it just stopped, and after a week or two of not making any sounds, i decided to open it, and there i was shocked, it was no longer an animatronic, it looked, rotten, with no legs, it's color had went from Brown to Black, until i saw its eyes turn red, and it said "[laughter] Thank You."

and it started to shake violently, before it got up, and walked on what i could only assume was metal wires and rods.. it had no visible leg.

i ran for my life, but i couldn't escape, it was too fast, it had catched me.

i was surprised at how it could hold me up, i was a very heavy guy, it opened it's big mouth, and put me through there, bit, bit, bit and i could feel every second of it, with it's big sharp metal teeth, i screamed, and cried in agony, but nobody could hear me, all my cries would go into the inside of it's body, soundproofing any screams from getting out.

i had died.

only then i don't know how much time it had been, but i suddenly gained consciousness, i was, in an alley, it was the midst of night, and i scrambled my way out of there, for some reason, it was very easy to get out of the alley, which looked like a small landfill at night...

until i realized, after looking at my hands... i had became the robot, my "eyes" started glowing red, which is what helped me find a way out of the dumpster, there i sat, with no emotions, i couldn't cry, i couldn't scream, i couldn't. i was an animatronic, desperate for my old life back, as i started to walk to my old house, i couldn't even say a few words without tumbling into gibberish, and i could notice the rare car's you'd see looking at me strangely, I was a monster, and there was no way i was coming back.

with frequent black-outs, i could barely remember anything, it felt like, i wasn't the only thing controlling the robot, i felt full..

i decided to break the curse and jumped into a river near my area, and god do i regret that.

i didn't die, i didn't break the curse, i just felt a huge sharp pain, i was left to suffer..

as i noticed my own body start to break down due to water damage, i felt, i felt, blades going inside of me, and the only thing coming out of the robot's mouth was blood.. i started to lose consciousness, and i don't remember what happened after that, other than, i woke up in a hospital, i was now a child? i cried to try and get the medical staff's attention, but they didn't notice anything wrong.

this was A very long time ago and i died, but i was reborn as a new child? i have already grew up and it was very weird.

1 Comment
13:03 UTC


My hometown hosts a scarecrow making contest. One of them is far too real.

My hometown loves Halloween festivals. It seems like every civic organization and business has its own little carnivals. Costume contests, cake walks, apple bobbing. The whole nine yards.

My personal favorite was always the Scarecrow competition at Hidden Spring Cave Park. Until last year, that is.

I don’t think the town will ever host it again.

Every school in the district and even a few businesses would create a scarecrow and enter it in the contest. Hidden Spring Cave was a local landmark in town that featured a cave, natural spring, and walking trails for the community to use.

Every October, Hidden Spring would take all of the scarecrows and place them throughout the walking trails. Joggers and families out for a stroll would walk through and admire the hard work and creativity of each one. At the end of the trail, there was a ballot box to leave votes. Whichever scarecrow received the most votes by Halloween would be awarded a hundred-dollar prize.

One entry was selected by a panel of judges for the grand prize: five hundred dollars and a picture on the front page of the local paper.

Last year, I was selected to sit on the judging panel. My family had owned a local florist shop for decades which I had taken over after my father retired. Most of the judges owned small local businesses. Sponsoring or volunteering was free advertising.

The week before Halloween and dozens of scarecrows lined the paths inside the little park. Most of the early entries were produced by the local elementary school classes. A few high school art classes would submit to a scarecrow but I guess the older kids kind of outgrew the contest.

While we didn’t make our final decision for the grand prize until the day before Halloween, I would usually take a walk on the trails to check for new entries each day. Most of them were your run-of-the-mill scarecrows. Straw hats, an old plaid shirt, and work gloves.

A few others were low-effort with t-shirts and Halloween masks.

The standout that year was entered by James Sterling, a local dermatologist. Well thought of in the community but rarely seen in public anymore. His wife had an affair and left him earlier in the year. The once vibrant man became a recluse.

As I strolled the paths, I saw his name on a sign below one of the scarecrows. It made me happy for a moment to see he was getting out and about again. My happiness turned to discomfort when I saw the scarecrow.

It was… too well made.

The skin was made of rough burlap and it clung to the frame beneath to form an almost perfect face. Sharp cheekbones sat beneath the black button eyes. The arms and legs stretched into a T that me feel as though I were looking at a crucifixion.

The clothes were also a bit strange. Stretched over the anatomical frame were a blue silk blouse and a pair of white clam digger pants. Both were in excellent condition and seemed too nice to use for a project like this.

As I walked away, it almost seemed to watch me as I left. The figure haunted my mind for the rest of the day. I loved the scarecrows on the trail, but Dr. Sterling’s entry was too realistic for my comfort.

As the days passed, the burlap effigy only became more disturbing. Scarecrow wasn’t an apt name for it. The figure seemed to do the exact opposite.

When I would pull into the parking lot for the next few days, swarms of birds would be circling over the woods ahead of me. Just a handful on the first day, but by the second and third, there were dozens.

They swooped and circled above the trails. Dozens more sat perched in the trees lining the entrance to the trails. Caws and shrieks filled the air, piercing the usual serene atmosphere of the park.

Crows. Ravens, maybe. I couldn’t tell. Flat, black, hateful birds whatever they were. I was nervous to walk past or below them. They would cry out wildly and flutter their wings anytime someone walked nearby.

On the trail, it became even worse.

The farther in I made it, the thicker the flock of birds grew. If you couldn’t see them, you could hear their hateful racket. It was almost as if they were waiting to strike. My heart pounded and I felt the fear of a small child lost in the woods.

Dr. Sterling's scarecrow was the pinnacle for the dark visitors. The outstretched arms and head of the dummy were covered in the damn creatures. They perched in a neat line. Some cawed while others pecked at the increasingly ragged burlap face.

If you drew too close to the scarecrow, the birds would flap their wings or take flight, darting above your head. A few would swoop so closely you could feel the wind rustle through your hair. A chorus of evil things would cry out from the trees until you moved away.

And there was that stench. It was the fetid smell of decomposition.

The cluster of obsidian birds must have killed something in the woods nearby. I had never been one to pay much attention in biology class, but I always thought crows and ravens were carrion birds. Maybe they were hunters. I couldn’t have been sure. For the smell to have been that intense, they would have had to kill something nearby.

Trail walkers were at an all-time low that year. I don’t know if it was the birds, the smell, or the disturbing scarecrow. My guess was a combination of the three. Something had to be done.

I called a few of the judges to share my concerns about the disturbing scarecrow and birds but their responses shocked me. Most of them, while equally disturbed by Dr. Sterling’s creation, thought it was the best one in the contest. Yes, they agreed it was off-putting, but that was no reason not to consider it. Before I could even recommend its removal, they stated their intentions to vote it the grand prize winner.

As a last-ditch effort, I tried calling Dr. Sterling himself. Every time I called his office the automated voicemail system would pick up. I left a few messages and even called the emergency number but never received a call back from him.


On Halloween Day, I arrived at Hidden Springs and parked my car in the tiny lot. The other judges were waiting at the trailhead and I joined them. We talked amongst ourselves as we began to walk through the path and jotted notes on our clipboards.

We were the only ones on the trail.

The flock of birds was as thick as I had ever seen them. Occasionally I would jump or stumble as one darted above our heads aggressively. The other judges reacted similarly but no one verbalized their obvious concern.

Shrieks and caws filled our ears as we neared the midway point of the trail. Dr. Sterling’s scarecrow came into view. It was covered with crows. The blue blouse hung in tatters revealing the disturbingly accurate burlap torso beneath. Ragged swaths of cloth dangled from the face as the birds pecked madly.

As we grew closer the murder of crows bolted from the scarecrow’s limbs and landed in the trees. They cried out toward us but kept their distance. Most of Dr. Sterling’s creation was in ruins. Mauled and shredded by the hateful creatures.

We all stood before the scarecrow. Our banter disappeared completely as we looked on. With most of the burlap peeled away, the frame beneath was now visible.

A human face sat wrapped in frayed cloth. Shredded flesh flopped away from the white plastic mannequin head below. Crusted blood covered the underside of the skin.


The crime scene technicians removed the scarecrow from the trail within fifteen minutes of our call. Detectives questioned us for hours, but none of us had any useful information to give them. Dr. Sterling’s scarecrow had been there for nearly a week and none of us were there when he had put it out.

According to the newspapers in the following weeks, the search of his house produced an abundance of information, but nothing led to his whereabouts. Most of his clothing and all of his identification was gone. He had left his dog with a neighbor saying he had to travel out of town for business.

He hasn’t been seen since.

The last thing they found was an old chest freezer in the basement. It was chained and padlocked, but the officers made short work of it with a pair of bolt cutters.

When they opened the lid, they found what was left of Mrs. Sterling.

12:49 UTC


Death is Not The End

I've been having the same reoccurring nightmare since I was a kid. Some guy in a bath robe floats above my bed and talks to himself. Nothing too scary, just all about me and my family, like he's watching. Like he's been watching us for a long time. No matter where we moved, it was always the same. It finally went away once I moved out and got married. Well it happened a lot less often. A couple times a year I would have the same dream. He always talked about my life like he was some spectator.

Well one night I was having a particularly vivid dream- the kind where you know you're not awake and you're in complete control of the whole dream and suddenly I'm in my bed and this bathrobe guy shows up again. He starts talking to himself about what my next chapter in life is going to be so I surprise him and start telling him all my plans. It gives him a good scare and he runs away. The weirdest part is I don't see him again until all my kids are grown up and I have a couple grandkids of my own.

This time he's speaking directly to me. He seems different. Serious. He's been visiting every night for the past 10 years and tells me the same story ver batim. His story. I've heard it so many times, I've decided to write it down and immortalize it here. Seems appropriate since I have lost a lot of sleep myself listening to him go on and on. Maybe once I tell him I put his story out there he'll leave me alone. I feel sorry for the guy.

Anyways heres what he tells me every night:

"On my 8th birthday, I became obsessed with the concept of death. When I say obsessed, I don't mean like my older sister was obsessed with academia or like my older brother was obsessed with his own face. When I say obsessed, I mean like the people who wash their hands hundreds of times a day- till they're dry and cracked and bleeding in fear of bacteria. I mean like the people who spend an extra hour checking and rechecking the lock on their door is working properly any time they leave the house. My young and anxious mind latched onto the concept of death and couldn't be convinced to let go. I was utterly, deeply, completely terrified. No amount of pondering could ease it: no distraction could pacify it. Death was inescapable and one day, regardless of how I felt about it, I would face it.

"I have never believed in an afterlife despite a very religious upbringing. I was always taught in Sunday School that life goes on- that death is not the end but a new beginning. I parroted these beliefs to my parents and teachers but was never truly convinced. Maybe the constant discussion of the afterlife is what made me this way. Maybe, like all humans, I'm just desperate to blame something for the way that I am. In any case, ever since my 8th birthday, I have only seen the world as a collection of things that will all die and turn to dust and it all but paralyzed me for my entire life.

"My 8th birthday was perfect. After all the festivities, my friends and I set out to catch a lizard as we had done countless times before. In our mad dash, we managed to chase it up a tree higher than any one of us could reach. I came up with the brilliant idea of throwing rocks at the spot above it to scare it downwards. All my friends tossed pebbles and hit their mark but I opted for a larger stone and fell short of where I aimed. I crushed the lizard's head and it fell at our feet in a curled up twitching heap; blood leaked from one eye. A terrible silence took all of us as we stared down at the quivering thing. The merciful thing would have been to ensure it could no longer suffer but none of us knew anything about that.

"So we stared.

"One by one, my friends ran off elsewhere and began a new game but I lingered there with the pit in my stomach. The lizard shook slower and slower until it lay there as still as the rock that struck it. I recall wondering how something so full of life with such a strong will to live and outrun us all only moments ago could now be reduced to a mere inanimate object- a husk. I watched until all my friends had gone. I watched until the ants came. I watched until my sweet mother had the sense to cover it with a pile of dirt and a pretty rock for a headstone- the same rock that killed it. But I could still see it. Even after I went inside; even after I had dinner; even after a month; even now I still see the ants, and the bloody eye socket and the rock that felt so heavy in my right hand. I had taken the life right out of it, never to be put back in.

"When people talk about the fear of death they always focus on the events immediately leading up to it and the exact moment itself. We talk about the manner in which death finds us and compare which is worse and which is preferable. We talk about the state of mind one finds oneself in as their time concludes and we philosophize how to make our deaths meaningful. What people don't mention as often is the part that terrified me- the part that kept me up every night since I turned 8: what comes after.

"I mentioned my crippling fear of death but, to be entirely accurate, my true fear has always been The Void. Oblivion. The complete nothingness that awaits us all. Have you ever been somewhere so completely dark that you could put your hand right in front of your face and not see it? I have. Only, in death, you don't have any hands. You don't have any eyes. You have nothing. You are nothing. You are surrounded by nothing. You cease to exist. Like the lizard, one moment, you're full of life with such a strong will to live and outrun all things that would end you and the next moment, you are an inanimate object- a husk. Only you're not the husk. The husk is what you leave behind. You disappear. You enter a never ending pit and plummet for the rest of eternity with an infinite nothingness surrounding you. My vivid childhood imagination conjured life-like nightmares of that void. Floating. Falling. Unable to scream.

"It wasn't until my twenties that I finally found a foothold of solace. A close friend of mine that indulged my macabre obsession with a defiant grin remarked that if I truly cease to exist after I died, then I wouldn't even be able to experience this void anyways. If I could no longer see or hear or think because my brain stopped working, then I couldn't reasonably expect to hear or see or feel any of the darkness I expected to experience after dying. I could breathe again. This beautiful human had pointed out what was right in front of me all along. The void had lost its hold on me. I clung to my witty savior and they clung to me and we built a beautiful life together for 15 years until the first time I died.

"I didn't even realize I had died the first time it ever happened. What started as butterflies turned to uncomfortable chest flutters then to cold sweats and shooting pains down my left arm. Most people would say the next thing they remember after losing consciousness is waking up in the hospital but I remember watching my love press on my chest until it cracked without any pain. I remember standing over my pale body in the ambulance as they blew through traffic lights. I remember seeing my body flinch and hearing the punch of 3000 volts enter my body. I remember lying back down as my body regained consciousness. I thought it was all a dream. But I never woke up in my own bed. Days passed and I recovered. Weeks passed and life went back to normal. After a month I finally accepted the fact that I had an actual out of body experience. Did this happen to everyone?

"I spent the better part of a year searching for others like me. I missed work. I stopped sleeping. I kept my love at arms distance. I found a few others who reported floating above their beds or flying off into space but nothing quite like what I had experienced. The implications paralyzed me again. I had no idea what to think. One night, while I was up late typing a letter to a neurologist, inquiring about the brain's ability to sustain its operations in the loss of blood flow and oxygen, I found the keys would no longer type. The page wouldn't scroll. I went to the kitchen for a beer and to allow myself a break when I found the fridge door was completely sealed shut. No matter how hard I pulled, I could not get it to budge. In my frustration I returned to my study only to see the silhouette of a man sitting in my chair. My brain flipped a coin for fight or flight and it decided to freeze instead. Finally, I gained the courage to shout at the man. If I woke up my love, they could come assist me but the house stayed still and silent. I cursed the man and threatened him with a rage and determination I didn't know I possessed but he didn't move and my love didn't stir in the next room. In utter disbelief I stomped toward the man and grabbed him by the neck but he did not move- no matter how I squeezed.

"Suddenly, my blood ran chill and frozen lightning crashed in my spine as I recognized the pattern on his bath robe; it was mine. His lifeless face was mine. I clutched at my lifeless body, slumped in my chair. This out of body experience had completely come by surprise. I rushed to the bedroom to call my love to my aid. I leapt on top of them. I screamed and shook them but, just as I couldn't open the fridge door, I could not reach my love. With wide eyes I saw their chest gently rise and fall and their eyes dashed about behind closed lids- full of life. I sprinted back to my body and tried with every ounce of desperation building in my throat to step back into myself but it was like trying to step through a stone wall. After some time, I stopped and stood above my body wondering what I would do. For what felt like an eternity I stood over my husk. I watched the sunlight slowly fill the room. I watched my love prepare breakfast and coffee for two. I watched them shriek and wail for a time, at my feet. I watched the coroner zip my body into a black bag. I watched my love stare into space for hours- never to be the same again. I couldn't console them. I couldn't help them.

"I didn't go to my funeral.

"I've been dead for several decades now. After a week I discovered I could float through the air if I chose to. Gravity has no effect on whatever I am now, though I can't pass through walls or solid objects. Anyone on the street oblivious of my presence will knock me aside without any resistance at all. For years I followed my love everywhere they went. I fancied myself a guardian angel and believed somewhere, deep inside, they could somehow hear me. That if I shouted loudly enough, I could influence them. I was wrong.

"I shouted so loudly not to drive after drinking so much. Louder than the rev of the engine. Louder than the bumps they put on the side of the road to let distracted drivers know they've veered too far. Louder than the blare of the truck's horn in the oncoming lane. Louder than the crash and the screech of metal as my love's car was pulled straight underneath the bigger vehicle.

"This tragedy spelled hope for me. I waited to see my love emerge from the pile of twisted metal- not their body but the part of them that was all that's left of me. I watched and waited. I saw the truck driver step out and clutch at his hair. I saw the crowds of people start to form on the sidewalks. I heard his trembling voice tell them to call 911. I saw them pull the mangled husk of my love out piece by piece. I saw them tow the wreckage and clean the broken glass. I saw the crowds move on and life return to normal. My love never came.

"I spent 10 years drifting to all the national parks in America. For a time I found some solace in the beauty of nature. I began talking to myself about anything and everything. I could speak to no one else. I spent a few dozen years following a particularly busy family with colorful personalities. Their children grew, went to college, started their own families and the parents died. Neither of them joined me. The smallest glimmer of hope came one night as I watched the eldest child asleep with their spouse. As I talked to myself about what I thought might happen next in their life, this child began to answer me in their sleep. I will admit I was frightened. I moved on.

"I spent what I estimate to be 30 years completely and utterly lost. I drifted as high as I dared to go in the sky. I stayed there for days with the clouds and sun. I drifted over the ocean. Eventually I couldn't see land any more. I lost all sense of direction and spent what felt like years drifting in one direction without ever seeing land. I decided to plunge into the ocean. The blue abyss became blacker and blacker the deeper I went until all around me was nothing. I could hear nothing, see nothing and feel nothing. I knew I hadn't reached the bottom because I would have felt resistance. I lost sense of what was up and what was down.

"I remembered how I had always feared this. Why had I come here? What was the point? Would I ever see the sun again? I willed so hard that I could stop existing. I tried with every ounce of my being to just fade away.

"I lingered there for an eternity.

"Eventually I felt resistance. I had hit something. Whether it was the bottom of the ocean or the wall of a cliff, I didn't know but I resigned myself to going in the opposite direction. Black became blue once again. And I finally emerged from my once eternal darkness. I followed a passing cruise ship to somewhere where everyone speaks Spanish. Where once I would have found joy in seeing happy families enjoy a vacation, I now felt nothing.

"One day I will return to my eternal abyss. I will be fully conscious of the black nothingness that will surround me for eternity. But there is one last thing I must do. I must find the one who spoke to me in their sleep. I must have one last real conversation and tell my story. I have to try."

11:53 UTC


I can't take my eye off this mirror (my story)

I am stuck here, I can't take my eyes off this mirror. I am getting more and more tired over time. Help me

My name is Mark. I am a non married single man. I work as a boring masonry worker in central Texas. I woke up around 6 am. It was a Monday, As this morning came, I heard my annoying alarm and got up as I usually do. I put on my clothes, have breakfast, brush my teeth then I am ready for work. But this morning was different than the others. I woke up to a strange tingly and cold feeling all around my spine, it was extremely unnerving and uncomfortable.

I decided I was going to ignore it but it kept getting worse. But not just getting worse overtime, it was getting worse specifically, specifically when I was going closer to my bedroom mirror. I was trying my best to ignore it but it was quite difficult. After I changed I left the room and went downstairs, the pain stopped. My daily breakfast choice is usually a bowl of blueberry oatmeal. So I made that and sat down. After breakfast I brushed my teeth straight away. Work started at around 7:00 in the morning. it was 6:15. And I lived around 30 minutes away from work.

As I entered the bathroom I suddenly had this horrific pain in my spine and jolted forward. It was awful. The pain was incredible, and felt like 1000 bees were stinging me at the same time. I know it is gross but I decided to skip brushing my teeth due to the awful. I opened the door to my old rusty nissan. I was living on a low budget. Then I drove off to work.

When I arrived I got out the car to walk to the new area we were trying to finish off building, it was a house someone wanted to be built, nothing interesting really. I arrived and got to work with a couple other friends on the job. Something smelt... Odd. No it wasn't the cement or the bricks we were laying. It was something odd. Something you wouldn't be smelling as a masonry worker. It smelt like something was rotting in the air. I asked one of my friends Matthew but he couldn't smell anything, neither the others.

Work finished and I was kind of concerned, the morning and now this? I felt like a something was particularly staring at me on the way home. I got home and decided I was just going to go straight to bed due to the quite strange day I just had. But before I went to sleep I saw this... Creature, this... Thing. It was extremely skinny, it had no eyes and was around 8 feet tall. I had a shiver go down my whole body. I didn't believe in ghosts, nor this. I was petrified. It was leaning over me, and all I could hear was it's loud breathing. I closed my eyes, praying for it to go away, so I could way up to the morning and not have to worry about this anymore.

I opened my eyes, it was the morning. I felt like I was hungover but from what I remember I didn't drink anything the night before. I was still concerned about the night before. I looked at my alarm. 4:36 pm. WHAT! I had over slept. I must have done. This was a disaster, I can't go to work now. I will be told off!

I decided I would stay in that night. And come up with some pathetic excuse. I still was sitting in my bed. It was 5:40. Time moved so fast! It was dark outside now. I got up and quickly turned to face my mirror... There it was. The thing. But it was in the mirror. I looked back quickly then turned my head back again to face the mirror. Shit, it was closer. I didn't know what to do. I was stuck here. I felt thousands of chills running down my spine, and that pain started to go down my spine again. I felt like I couldn't breath. It was getting worse and worse each second. I knew that if I turned away it would start getting closer to me. I am stuck. Help me

11:35 UTC


Plant-based products almost ruined my life. I'm done being vegan.

Accepting the challenge of my best friend Lexi, I decided to “go vegan” for a week, with the caveat that she’d pay for all the plant-based meat substitutes. She happily agreed, promising that I’d realize all the things I loved about meat could be easily produced with near-complete verisimilitude in properly spiced & flavored vegan dishes. I was, naturally, doubtful; I explained to her that a big part of meat’s appeal – at least for me – was the texture, something I couldn’t imagine tofu or soy or cauliflower being able to adequately mimic. She replied to this with a sarcastic, vaguely sexual remark, and insisted that I’d leave it all behind once I embraced the world of veganism.

With a fridge and pantry decently stocked with grains, oats, fruits, veggies, and all varieties of fake cheese and meat-mimicking substances, I whole-heartedly began my week as a vegan. To my surprise, the first few days sped by. I had figured that I’d always be hungry, perpetually unsatisfied by the less-than-cleverly named imitators of beef, chicken, and pork; but with my diet being more fibrous than usual, I found myself getting fuller, faster. I wasn’t necessarily enjoying the meat-bereft meals, but with even the most egregious carbs still technically counting as being vegan, I didn’t hate them, either. The surplus of fruits and veggies in my diet was pretty nice, too; I realized just how nutritionally deficient I’d been before, when meat had constituted the bulk of my portions.

It had all been going so well, until Friday, when it all spiraled out of control. I couldn’t have ever imagined the wholesale chaos that occurred; couldn’t have predicted with any reasonable degree of forethought the events of that disastrous, terrifying morning.

I woke up feeling unusually hungry, surprisingly hungry, since I’d figured that my body had already acclimated to the sudden dietary shift. I hadn’t felt that hungry the previous few days, so I figured that I’d somehow slipped up in getting enough calories the previous day. I got out of bed, headed straight to the kitchen, and with an audibly growling stomach began making myself some berry-mixed cereal; with almond milk and a banana on the side. As I sat at my kitchen table eating, my stomach continued to growl; even as I fed it spoonful after hefty spoonful of cereal.

There was no accompanying pain, no feelings of indigestion or gastrointestinal unrest; and yet, for some inexplicable reason, it continued to growl. The tummy tumult sounded like a train rumbling along, with my intestines the ill-maintained tracks. I finished up breakfast and did what any reasonable person would do – Google'd my symptoms. After gravely accepting and then promptly dismissing several terminal diagnoses, I decided to see if I could just walk it off.

My “walk” promptly ended after I’d taken about six steps from my sink. I tried to grab ahold of the counter before falling, but my hand slipped, and my face caught the fall. Ordinarily, I would’ve been pretty pissed at my uncharacteristic lack of dexterity; but the flare of pain in my face distracted me somewhat from the sudden and rapidly intensifying agony in my stomach.

As I lay there on the tile, it felt as if something was pressing against the interior of my stomach, trying to push itself through my gut. There aren’t words – not any that I’ve learned –which could accurately paint a picture of how much excruciating pain I was in. On some cell-deep, sub-primal level, I sensed a force beyond flesh tugging at - or pressing upon - my stomach, manipulating it in some peripheral way. It was as awful as it was perplexing.

In what I’d hardly describe as my proudest moment, I vomited onto the floor – right near my face. And, as if my body desperately wanted to make me look as pathetic as possible, I went into a spasming fit. For nearly a full minute I writhed around in my vomit; the rank stench of molten bile bringing hot tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, I’d left my phone in my room, and couldn’t call the paramedics or poison control. For a few merciful seconds the cataclysmic maelstrom in my stomach let up, and in that short-lived interim I managed to roll away from the smeared pool of esophageal gunk; but then the pain was reignited by some unknown trigger, and I again found myself convulsing uncontrollably.

For a moment I actually believed that I would die; that I had unwittingly ingested something inimical to human life; some insidious, digestively malignant toxin. I thought back on all I’d eaten, and while some of it had been unsavory, I couldn’t recall anything that had been noticeably unpalatable. No cyanide capsules, no arsenic. Just Beyond this, plant-based that, Vegan-friendly and meat-free. Largely harmless stuff millions of people ate without issue every day.

When a knock sounded at the door, my first thought was that someone had heard my agonized shrieks and come to help. Wretchedly, I crawled from my kitchen to the foyer, leaving a disgusting trail of lumpy slime in my wake. Shuddering, having spent a considerable amount of energy in my deathly paroxysms, I pulled myself up and answered the door.

There was a man standing there, wearing what appeared to be some kind of hazmat suit. The green, shimmering outfit was like an armor of reflective plastic, with the broad visor the only break in the visually disconcerting monotony. As if I’d called him, he silently nodded and walked past me into my home. He gave the trail of slime a wide berth as he entered my kitchen. Baffled – but also too delirious to try and stop him – I closed the door and followed him into the kitchen, lacking the energy to even vocally protest his unceremonious entry.

I entered to find him going through my fridge, occasionally setting items on the counter behind him. Feeling immensely woozy, and fearing that I’d again fall right onto my face, I headed over to the table and sat down. From here, I called out to him, asking with a vomit-roughed voice, “Who are you, and why are you going through my fridge?”

He withdrew his head from the depths of my fridge and turned to me in a manner that seemed to say, Why would you ask such a ridiculous question?

When I simply stared in disbelief, he closed the fridge and came over to me, bearing a few items in hand. One by one he set them on the table as if they were prized possessions, like how a jeweler might set out an assortment of precious gems for a collector’s scrutiny. As my eyes languidly passed over the products, I finally realized that he’d been selecting all the plant-based, pseudo-meat products. With my mental clarity diminishing by the second, I only managed to mutter a, “What?” in response. Luckily, he understood my confusion and said, “Ah, I see. I am the first of my kind to have visited you. Well, I’ve come for your plant meat.

The way he worded it – and the apparent reverence with which he spoke – creeped me out. The unsettling nature of his speech also served to wake me up a bit, as the fine hairs on my body came to stand on end. I couldn’t exactly make out his face through the breath-enshrouded visor, but I could see his eyes, and they held a strange, frightful intensity in their gaze. The animal subroutines of my mind awoke from their dormancy, wanting to seize control and steer me away from the darkly eyed intruder.

Not wanting to test a man who’d brazenly walk into someone’s home and plunder their fridge, I weakly motioned toward the items with a gesture that he could go ahead and take them. He nodded with boisterous gratitude, and began unwrapping one of the plant patties. Before I could tell him that he’d still need to cook it first, he loosened his hood at the neck, lifted it up to his mouth, and tossed the patty in. His chewing was loud, drawn out, and repulsing.

He then spat the mouth-ground mess back onto the table.

“I tried to warn you, man.”

His eyes flashed to me, and I recoiled in my chair at the acrid intensity in them.

“What is this?” His voice had deepened considerably, modulated by a sudden fury. As calmly as I could manage – fearing that the wrong response could bring about physical violence - I explained to him what he’d eaten, and how he probably should’ve cooked it first. As if only just then understanding, he picked up the packaging and read over the ingredients. He then did the same for the other, unopened items; and after closely examining these, he gave the others still in the fridge the same bizarre scrutiny.

After checking all that my friend had bought me, he came storming back to the table. He threw back his hood and I saw a face that couldn’t have been anything but artificial; the obvious expression thereon being rage, but oddly, uncannily articulated by misaligned – or simply absent – facial muscles. It was pale and glossy, slick with what I could only guess was sweat; as if he’d been burning up in the suit.

That unnaturally ordered and curiously slimy face alone would’ve given me nightmares for weeks...but then he just had to go and take it off.

The “face” beneath was just plain eldritch; somehow being outright monstrous despite having very little features and parts to it. There was depth, form, and color - gravestone grey - but not much else; and the texture....they say your tongue knows how any surface you look at might feel. And, in my disoriented and hunger-addled state, I found myself imagining what his inhuman face would taste like.

And I retched, again and again.

He spoke once more, and the manner in which he accomplished this was so abominable that I had to close my eyes in the middle of his question: “So you mean to tell me that these substances are artificially constructed? That they were neither born nor grown? But....manufactured?”

With bile rising in my throat, I only managed a self-nauseating nod in affirmation.

As if I had just told him some terrible, life-destroying news, he – mercifully – replaced his unwholesome face and pulled on his hood, with an air of deep, almost melodramatic sorrow. He glanced at the mess he’d left on the table and shook his head disappointedly. Terrified, but curious, I asked what he’d expected, and he solemnly responded:

“This may come as a surprise to you: I hail not from Earth, but from the far-flung planets of an uncharted star system - unreachably remote by terrestrial means - whereon grew, in former cycles, the savory bounties of xeno-flora**; that's right - meat of t**he seed and root. But now, naught grows upon those desolate, unsunned spheres, for their local stars have long-since plunged into the very nadir of space; rendering the planets of that system cold and lifeless. Now, I travel the cosmos, searching for that olden delicacy in other worlds. I thought I'd find it here, on this flourishing planet, where you have plant and animal life in abundance.

I sensed a great quantity of what I had hoped would be the meat-vegetation I desired, here in this home. I made gastro-contact, my stomach communing with yours. I’m sure you felt it, our bile-bonding. Anyway, I realize now that there is not a third option between the two; those two distinct forms of life have not successfully intermixed in this biosphere. Meat does not sprout from your soil; flesh does not drape from your trees. My search must continue. I must move on.”

And with that, as briskly and brusquely as he’d entered, he left my home.

I fainted a few moments later. Unfortunately, the nerve-frying stench of sunbaked vomit aroused me from my impromptu rest. I closed the blinds to all the windows, washed my mouth out in the kitchen sink, and got started on cleaning up the mess I and my guest had left throughout the kitchen.

When my friend called to ask what I’d be having for the weekend, I told her I was ordering a pizza with as much meat as I could fit onto the order.

10:20 UTC


We celebrated Mother’s Day differently in my village.

Whenever this time of year comes around, my night terrors resurge. Quaking in my blackened bedroom, I eye the ceiling and reflect on my youth. One particular memory. A revolting recollection of a trauma I cannot repress.

Mothering Sunday.

What does that day mean to you? For most, it’s a day of celebration. I suppose my village also celebrated that annual holiday, but we did so differently.

I abandoned my hometown long ago, but my freedom came at a cost. The village had no real name, but we called it The Valley. It was severed from the rest of the world by lush hills and an unholy force that deterred visitors.

“See the hills at the border, Marlene?” My brother asked, pointing.

I nodded. “I wanna know what’s past ‘em, Harry.”

My older brother tussled my unkempt, curly, blonde locks of hair. “Something better than this, kid. Come on. Mum’s waiting.”

“Which one?” I timidly queried.

Harry frowned. “Our mother, Marlene.”

Mother’s Day, 2004. The day I try to forget. I was only nine years old. Harry was either eighteen or nineteen at the time, and he assumed the role of a father figure — that responsibility must’ve weighed heavily on his shoulders. I never met my real dad, but Harry told me that he wasn’t a good man.

As the midday sun beat against the tarmac, scorching my shoeless feet, my brother and I sprinted through our idyllic town. We passed townsfolk in white garbs, dressed for the Mothering Sunday Festival. They smiled pleasantly at us, but it was false pleasantry. Every year, on that day, a shadow hung over the town. Friends and families were bewitched by Mother.

The Mother.

Priest Hanson told me that ‘Mother’ was simply The Valley’s symbol for nature itself, but I knew he was only saying that to still my anxious thoughts. Mother was real. Not human, but real. She lived in the rocky cliffside at one edge of town. Children would dare each other to enter the mouth of her cave, but nobody could. An unseen force stopped us.

“Make sure you tend to Lucy,” Harry said.

I sighed and walked around the side of our house, heading to the stable to feed Lucy. She was our ploughing horse on the farm, but we sometimes used her as town transport. We didn’t have modern technology in The Valley. Our village was trapped in a bubble of time. There was a rusty husk of a car on my neighbour’s driveway that had belonged to his grandfather — from the days before Mother, when townsfolk could travel beyond the hills. She must’ve arrived at some point in the twentieth century.

Mum — my real one — emerged from the back door of our house and smiled at me. She looked as crooked as every other villager on Mothering Sunday, but there was a shimmering tear in the corner of her eye, as if her lips were being paranormally puppeteered into that ghastly grin. It was as if my real mother were hiding behind that horrible face.

“Are you excited for the parade, sweetheart?” Mum asked.

I buried my head in Lucy’s neck. “Can’t we just celebrate with you at home, Mum?”

She tutted, striding over to me. “Shame, Marlene! All in The Valley must honour Mother on this sacred day.”

“But you’re my mother,” I said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she slapped me across the cheek. I shrieked and looked into my mum’s eyes. They had widened, and her lips were quivering. She wasn’t in control of her body. Not on that cursed day. I knew that.

“Help your brother with the food,” She ordered.

Massaging my stinging cheek, I scurried past my mum and only allowed myself the luxury of crying once I’d entered the house. I called for Harry.

“What’s wrong?” My brother asked, appearing at the top of the stairs.

“Mum hit me,” I whimpered.

Harry smiled for a second, then he shook his head, as if to ward off the demon that possessed him. He had finally come of age, and I think Mother’s spell only worked on the adults in town. Children seemed to hate the festival. No, it was worse than hate.

We feared it.

“You’re not wearing your dress,” Harry said. “Quickly! We have to bring the food to the market by one o’clock.”

I begrudgingly rushed upstairs, choosing to ignore the sinister expression I’d glimpsed on my brother’s face. Hanging on my bedroom door was a ghastly white dress — something a ghoul in a haunted house would wear. But I wore it, as I was frightened of incurring Mum’s wrath, and I helped my brother carry boxes of fruit and vegetables out of the house.

We joined a procession of excitably chattering people. Everybody moved towards the heart of the village, gathering in the grassy town square. Bunting hung from all six corners of the centric gazebo, stretching out towards Victorian lampposts.

“Mother knows best,” The crowd sang in unison.

I joined some of my school friends, and we meekly joined the choral chanting. It wasn’t much of a song. Just those same three words, repeatedly tirelessly in a dissonant, disjointed melody. As I talked to Brandon, one of my closest friends, about the weirdness of the festival, his mum rushed over to us.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Marlene!” She jubilantly cried.

I feigned a smile. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs May.”

“You and Brandon would be a heavenly coupling. Have you considered my proposal?” She gleefully asked.

I gulped. “Erm…”

“Not now, Mum,” Brandon grumbled.

“Nothing godly about pickiness, Brandon,” His mum scorned. “The next seven years will fly by. Sixteen is an important age. Do you want another boy to marry sweet little Marlene Smith? Hmm? We all serve the circle of life. Mother’s circle.”

Thankfully, Priest Hanson scooted Mrs May away. Brandon instantly shot a mortified look at me.

“Marlene, I-” He began.

“It’s fine,” I awkwardly giggled. “My mum’s worse.”

“All of our parents are terrible on this day,” Tia, our other friend, sighed. “Maybe it has something to do with The Choosing.”

“Shhh!” Brandon sharply warned. “They chose Zach’s mum last year, and he’s coming over now.”

Zach, bleakly hanging his head, was shooed over to us by his eerily chipper father. The boy hadn’t spoken much at school over the past year.

“Hello, everyone,” He mumbled.

“Hi, Zach,” I said. “How are you?”

He sniffled, wiping away a tear with the sleeve of his jacket. “Dad wouldn’t let me stay at home.”

“To heck with this day!” Brandon whispered.

We all quietly snickered at Brandon’s comment — outrageous in our childish minds. We felt like outsiders, free of the hive mind. Free of Mother.

Mayor Finley suddenly interrupted our conversation. “Put your hands together for the mothers of The Valley!”

He welcomed a procession of mothers — a hundred, I’d say — onto a large wooden platform beside the gazebo. The villagers applauded the mothers, clapping so loudly that I thought their palms might blister. Harry walked over and put his arm around me.

“It’s going to be okay,” He promised.

We watched Mum, donning the same white dress as every woman on the stage, join the line-up of mothers.

“Congratulations to those of you who gave birth this year. You have the immense privilege of being nominated for The Choosing. Old and new, all mothers are honoured on this sacred day,” The mayor stated. “But we are all children of the Mother.”

“Mother knows best,” The grownups chanted.

“Yes. She gives, and we take,” The mayor sighed. “We are not worthy, which is why, every year, we must honour her on this holy day. We must feed her maternalism, so her boundless love does not wane. A mother must be sacrificed to Mother.”

“Y’know, I heard that little Johnny tried to run away last week,” Tia whispered to me. “He passed out before the hills, of course.”

“Nobody ever makes it past the hills,” Brandon gulped.

Mr Johnson, a local shopkeeper, shushed us, and he wore the same sickening look of unwavering adoration as every other adult.

The Choosing is a fair process,” The mayor said. “I will draw a name, and Mother shall have her offering.”

The villagers waited in complete silence for Mayor Finley to pluck a name from a worn hat. He produced a small slip of paper, unfolded it, and nodded his head.

“Juliet Smith,” He announced.

As a roar of joy erupted in the crowd, my friends looked at my blood-drained face. Harry clutched me tightly as I started to wail inconsolably.

“Not Mum!” I cried. “Harry, don’t let them take her!”

But when I looked up at my brother, he was smiling. There were tears in his eyes, revealing his true emotions, but his face told a different story — the demented look of joy filled me with horror, as did his absent-minded eyes, which locked onto mine.

“Mother knows best,” Harry said, grinning.

Brandon restrained me as I tried to run towards my mum, but I never would’ve reached her. The crowd of celebrating villagers lifted her into the air. Harry joined them. Seeing him robotically merge with the herd instilled me with sorrow and terror in equal measure.

Only my childhood friends retained their humanity. Only we were spared the influence of Mother’s captivating spell. We followed the crowd along a series of streets, over the ravine, and towards the cliff side — stopping before the lightless hovel in which Mother was said to live.

“The witch’s cave,” Tia whispered.

Brandon thumped her on the arm. “Stop it!”

Zach, the only one who understood my pain, placed a sympathising hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Marlene. I’m… I’m so sorry.”

I didn’t utter a word. I simply watched as my mother was delicately lowered by the crowd at the mouth of the cave. She didn’t say goodbye to Harry or me. She simply joined the chanting of the hypnotised townsfolk as she vanished into the darkness.

“Mother knows best.”

The crowd quickly dissipated. An hour or so later, my friends also left. Brandon stayed with me until the sun started to set.

“I can’t stay any later,” He apologised. “My mum would kill me. If you want to stay at my house-”

“- I’ll be fine,” I coldly interrupted.

As night blanketed me, I watched the cave with teary eyes. And then the most terrible thing happened. I heard my mother’s voice. Her scream echoed from the depths of the cavernous pit, but it was the following noises which would haunt my dreams for years to come.

Crunching. Squelching. Snapping.

And something else.

“I see you.”

I screeched. The ghastly whisper seeped directly into my ear, but I twisted my head to find nobody there. It had been a woman’s hoarse voice, but it didn’t sound human — or earthly, for that matter. It was Mother. I knew it. And when I turned back to the cave entrance, I saw something which horrified me.

A pair of eyes in the black void. Two white spheres with faded, yellowing pupils. I screamed again, but Mother quickly shushed me.

“Run along now,” She whispered. “Mother’s eating.”

I screeched most of the way home, stopping only when my voice box finally failed me. And when I entered our home, I found my brother sitting at the kitchen table in the darkness. I lit a candle, illuminating his horribly-smiling face. But there were tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Harry…” I cried. “Mum’s gone.”

He quietly looked up at me, smile painting his shivering face, and tapped his finger on a piece of paper. He was wrestling with Mother’s control, striving to tell me something. I walked over to the table and read the words he had written.

Take Lucy beyond the hills. Tie yourself to her reins. She won’t faint.

“I won’t go without you,” I cried.

My brother tapped more furiously on the paper. His grin seemed to grow more sinisterly jaunty by the second, proving the point he was trying to make — he belonged to Mother. It was too late for him, but it wasn’t too late for me.

I ran to each of my friend’s houses, telling them my plan. One by one, horrifyingly, they refused me. Even Brandon. And he said something I’ll never forget.

“Oh, Marlene. The grass isn’t greener beyond the hills. Mother knows best.”

And when he seized my wrist, I realised something. None of us were safe from Mother’s spell. Not really. Age meant nothing. I wrenched myself free of my friend’s grip, darted home, and hurriedly strapped myself to Lucy’s back.

“Right, girl,” I said. “I’m going to black out when we reach the hills, but I need you to keep trotting, okay? Just take me away from here. I hope Harry’s right about this. Don’t faint. Please.”

And as Lucy trotted along the road out of the village, I felt my eyesight falter. The colours of my surroundings seemed to merge together. The moon swirled, dividing into two beaming orbs that reminded me of Mother’s eyes. She was watching me, and I attempted to scream as the world faded to black.

When I woke, I was lying on Lucy’s back, and we were somewhere unrecognisable. Somewhere foreign and futuristic. Shiny cars sat on driveways, and the dawning sun illuminated modern shopfronts. Police officers were keen to question the girl who had entered their quiet, country village on the back of a horse, but I never spoke about what happened.

I ended up in an orphanage, enduring years of counselling, and I eventually adapted to the modern world. I understand why The Valley has been forgotten by outsiders. Mother keeps people away. She plays mind games. But she doesn’t need to use spells to keep me away. I hope she’s forgotten about me.

Still, sometimes, when the moon is particularly bright, I truly believe that I catch glimpses of her eyes.


05:14 UTC


The cheese tax the cheeeese tax...

"RODGER!" I yelled to my boss, he had his cockatoo Hulkasaurus Rex, on his shoulder. He was playing tiktoks to keep him entertained on his break. Funny little sight in this world of death we live in, helps make the days easier seeing this feathered little shit sometimes. He's singing "the cheese tax, *squeak" bobbing his head, and tapping his tiny claws. Rodger is stuck in a thousand yard stare. "RODGERMCFUCKFACE!!!!!" I loudly say to him, usually snaps him out of it.

"What Hellinger?" He said half dazed, rubbing his eye that is scarred over on the left side. "I need help moving these bodies to the meat lockers. We have 6 from that Appalachian hiker incident that just came in." I was clearly annoyed, I only have so many arms, and Rodgers son Xavier was out "sick" today. He was never sick, probably snorting pixie dust again, it is payday after all.

"You know they're calling these 'bear' attacks right? Made a whole show of it on the news how they 'caught' and 'handled' the 'bear'. We know it's not bears in those damned mountains. It's fucking Saratoga NY all over again. 'Cept the rich folks there pay to keep everyone quiet. Don't wanna mess up their perfect tourism." He put Hulk in his enclosure, when I noticed a lump on one of his claws. "Hey Rodge, what's that?" I say pointing to the birds claw with curiosity. "Aw shit, he's got bumblefoot. It's like a blackhead in the birds claw, can get real nasty like a cyst if you don't take it out."

He gets a bit tense. Despite having his son, Hulk is his real baby. "Can we take it out? Do we have what he needs here?" He looks at me like I sprouted 3 heads. "Girly, I'm all thumbs. I may be the boss here. But even with your dexterity we need a vet for this. I'll help you get the bodies in the freezer. But I need ya to hold the fort down til I get back. Don't open the door for nobody, no matter what ya hear. Stay in the office and do the paperwork, the bodies are fine until we come back in the morning capiche?"

I agreed and helped him load everything he needed in His truck, then went back to the office to start filling out the mound of paperwork we have to do to confirm transfer of remains. I had to have been on the third bodies paperwork when I heard the door open, "the cheeeese tax, the cheeeeeeeese tax" a raspy weird voice repeats twice. "Ayo, Hulk, Rodger. You guys back already? That was quick!"

"The cheeeeeese tax, the cheese tax!" It sounded insistent, no way in Sam hell that came from a bird. "Xavier, get your high ass home! I have no time for your antics tonight!" He had done dumb shit when he got pixie dust before. I wasn't even looking up from my paperwork to entertain his stupid self. I wanted to go home the second bossman walked through that door.

"THE CHEEESE TAX, THE CHEEEEEEESE TAX" The voice was deeper, more sinister. Then a squeaking noise, like something being smeared across glass with too much force. I snap back. "XAVIER! I SWEAR ON EVERYTHING HOLY!" I stop as I look up. Not entirely sure what I was even seeing.

"Yessss, the cheese tax. I am owed. The other human pays the cheese tax. Where is the other human?" Don't ask me where the courage to answer came from, "his bird is sick. He took it to an animal doctor." It turned its head at an unnatural angle. "You give me cheese tax then small human. I am owed." It elongated the last word, for emphasis I'm sure. "What is the cheese tax?" I ask, having no damned idea what it was referencing. It points at the door, the door to the room where we store bodies. My eyes go wide, it nods at me as if to say, "you understand now"

"What cheese tax do you want?"

"The onessss in the shiny boxes"

"Will you hurt me if I give you the cheese tax?"

"The cheese tax, the human says cheese tax is how I ask for this. Give me CHEESE TAX!" Cleary agitated. I didn't know what it was, and I didn't want it eating me. I got up and headed for the door to open it. The doors open in such a way it makes a clear corridor while blocking the office from the transportation area like a divider. I figure, I do this. It goes in and grabs what it wants, and leaves.

The second the doors are connected, the sound of its claws dashing on hard tiles is so fast I didn't have time to blink. I swallow my fear. Something tells me to not display myself as prey to this being. "THE CHEESE TAX!" It sounds anxious in the room. "COME HUMAN OPEN CHEESE TAX!" It says in a raspy voice of a mouth with too many teeth. I swiftly enter the room and ask, "which ones? Trying to be non chalant at this massively tall creature that looks like a nightmare. I know what it is. A damned WENDIGO. "Which ones?"

I ask politely again, now knowing the full extent of the danger I am in if I do not comply with it's demands. It looks at me as well, as if to consider me. For what, I can only hope it's not food. It's elongated claws pick 4 drawers.

I open each one, and pull out the cadavers so it doesn't damage the equipment. We can always blame missing bodies on thieves. You try explaining how steel got bent like an aluminum can to the higher ups. We also live in a small town of otherwise weirdos. Nobody asks too many questions here. "Can I get you anything else?" I ask as nicely as I can. "Thaank you human, you are not food." I took that as my cue to leave the room. I left the doors open so it could leave when it wanted. I sat down, popped in my earpods, and texted Rodger.

"I never want to hear the song 'the cheese tax' ever again in my fucking life." These earpods suck, I hear it slurping, gnawing, gnashing. For hours. It leaves just before dawn. I go to check the damage. Spotless. Like it was never there, never pegged Wendigos for being clean guests.

1 Comment
04:23 UTC


When the mimics come [Part 1]

Have you ever had a gut feeling?

Like a visceral feeling that something isn't right. That you need to run? Well that feeling is our most basic instinct. It's almost spiritual to some. Heck, maybe it is religious, although at this point I'm not sure I've got a God to believe in.

What's that old quote again? The uncanny Valley implies an evolutionary reason to be afraid of something that looks human, but isn't. It goes something like that. But heck, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's go back to 2015 when this all started. I live out in the country. Whatever you think about living in the country it's probably wrong. I'm not racist and I have internet. Well my cousin Jhonny's pretty racist but we just don't invite him to any of our get togethers and things go alright.

Anyways, I have 3 daughters: Scarlet, our oldest of the three, Jolynn, our youngest, and Laura, our middle daughter. We also have a son: Dan, but he moved out 10 years ago and it's living with his girlfriend Hannah. My wife's name is Dennise. That's my little family. We have a neighbor who lives quite a distance away. An elderly lady living alone. We like to invite her for walks when we can. Her name is Matilda. But I don't want to overload your mind, let's just focus on what I have to say, the rest will come when it needs to.

We hunt wild animals. A lot of you might not behoove our type still exist but we do. A lot of subsistence off the land. The hunting trip I took with Scarlett in August was the first where we also took Laura. I need to teach her how to shoot like everyone in my family leaned before her. Or at least to scare off weirdos in the woods. I've never encountered any feral people or anything but I've had my fair share of Bigfoot encounters. While city folk debate us out in the country we know that not taking them seriously could be dangerous and stupid. Me? I've seen one three times! But again, I'm going off topic. After what I have to tell you maybe Bigfoot won't seem so wild.

On our expedition Scarlett scored a deer and took it back home herself. I stayed to see if Laura could get us a rabbit to have some stew. Denise makes a mean rabbit stew.

I saw a flash of white and showed her how to track it without being noticed. We made sure we were down wind and I got her to point the gun at the lump of fur. The lump of fur... Fur. Where was it's fur? It was white but that must've been its skin. I couldn't identify it so I told Laura to wait. I stared at it for what must've been a minute before it turned to look at me. It had the most deformed face I'd ever seen. The nose was on its forehead. Its mouth was on both sides of its face with way too many sharp teeth. This wasn't some new animal. It had to be some inbred.. Something! I didn't like the looks of it anyways so I grabbed Laura and ran. I don't think she had her gun with her anymore but at least I still had mine if things got hairy, I heard it screaming at us and dashing through the woods on its... Hands? Were those hands? No it couldn't be. But it didn't look like anything else. Strange. We were coming upon the house and I saw Scarlett drag the deer into the shed. I yelled at her "GET INSIDE NOW!"

We shut the door and locked it. I peered outside but it was gone. We were safe. That damned thing better not come back. Maybe that thought was too hopeful, I thought it was pretty reasonable. We didn't go hunting for a few days after that. We had enough of Scarlett's deer and some leftovers. Denise went to make something-a-rather from the deer hide but when she went to get it the thing had gone from the shed. She came in and told me about this. We were both tough as nails and spoke about it calmly. I told her it was probably a predator but for the first time in my life I saw something I'd never seen in her eyes. She said it wasn't a predator, at least not one we'd seen. There was no blood or forced entry, the key was in the lock to the shed and the whole carcass had disappeared. She was right about the fact that something wasn't right. This isn't just an unusual occurrence, it was impossible. The key to the shed was inside the toolbox on our front porch.

I decided we wouldn't go outside. The kids would play inside and I would get the truck and buy groceries in town. Out here children don't really play inside but at least we had a Wii that was regifted. I'm not sure it worked but we could pretend it did. When I got back with my groceries I decided with the strange shed happenings and that weird inbred bunny I would check on our neighbor Matilda. I walked over and knocked on the door. I didn't get a response. Afraid the old lady had fallen over I knocked again more frantic and I didn't wait for an answer. I jimmyed the window open and entered the home. "Miss Matilda! Are you alright!?" Silence. I searched the whole house up and down but found nothing. Well not nothing. There was a pot still on. It was boiling and had a wooden spoon melting into it. I turned it off and left Matilda a note to call me when she gets back.

I realized I forgot to check the bedroom and decided to give it a quick look over. As I approached I heard a noise through the open window to my right. It was a strange gargle noise. I slowly approached the window trying to identify the sound.a I would have run thinking it's Matilda but something wasn't right. I peered out the window and saw a white figure crouched over. It turned to me and I noticed it was the same one as before. It's mouth morphed to the middle of its face and I heard it say through gargles: "Get inside now! Get inside now!" I froze. I should have left. I should have gone home and burned the forest down or something. But I froze. I eventually broke my trance and ran out the door and all the way home. As I was leaving though I heard behind me in the house "It's probably just a predator."

When I got home I boarded up the windows. Denise didn't say a word about it. I think we were all stressed. What none of us expected was the doorbell. I approached cautiously and saw, of all things, Matilda through the window. I unlocked and opened the door and greeted her asking about her absence when the pot was running. She just said "Oh I become so forgetful in my old age." I asked where she was and she said she was on a walk. "Ok, well what brings you over?" Matilda says "I wanted to call but your note worried me, I was wondering if you'd have me for a few nights. We agreed and Scarlett took the couch. We lived together and helped each other for about a week. We tried to further the strange occurrences but knew deep down it would be wise to keep it in the back of our minds. I asked Jolynn if she wanted spaghetti and she said "YES YES!! SPAGHETER!" I laughed and began cooking. The pot reminded me of Matilda. It's all well and good to be forgetful but the spoon was still in. It bugged me. Why was the spoon still in? That's when I heard a crash from Scarlett's room(currently Matilda's). I ran over and saw her lying on the floor pointing at the window in terror. I saw the old creature again smiling at her. I grabbed Matilda and shut the door. The family gathered in the main room as we began to hear scratching at our front door. I grabbed my shot gun and we huddled together. I reassured everyone: "so long as the door is closed and locked it can't get through." Well that's what I thought until I stared at a horrifying sight. Matilda got up and began to open the door...

03:57 UTC


I work at a place called "ghost apple bar" [part 2]

Very hidden, near the bar area of ​​a city that I will not name, you can find a corridor that will take you to the Ghost apple bar.

I work in that place, although to say that "work" is too much, I usually spend ages sitting listening to the radio waiting for clients.

It's boring, I'd tell you old stories from work but I still have to put you in the context of the place and I hate thinking about the past.

I will tell you my daily routine.

Arrive at 9:40, walk in the back door, walk through the kitchen, say hi to Rocco, leave my jacket, phone, and wallet in my locker, and set up the counter.

In 20 minutes I'm ready to serve customers... If we had customers.

every night we only have about 8 or 12 clients throughout the night, I'm not complaining, with or without clients I get paid, and it's more than they would expect.

I got this job by sheer luck, I lost my previous job due to personal problems and a little argument with a client, but I'm not going to bore you with a trivial story like that.

While I was sitting on a bench looking at the clouds thinking about which organ would give me enough money to pay my rent and my monthly expenses, a man approached me and asked me if I knew of any bartenders who are looking for a job, I told him that I just got fired from a bar, he talked to me, I explained my situation, and he told me that he had a job.

I just needed to go to a doctor to do some tests, he gave me his card, the doctor's address and said goodbye.

The next day I was already with the doctor first thing in the morning, his medical tests were very exhaustive and strange, but what do I think, I left the university and I'm just a failure, this man studied for many years and was left with a large student debt alone to cater to idiots like me.

Well, after hours of testing, and many blood, urine, saliva, vision tests, and many questions about myself, the doctor said he would send my results to the man who offered me the job.

I left the clinic and walked home, I had nothing to do so eating leftover Chinese food from yesterday and sleeping would be my plan for this day, but I couldn't walk even 100 meters when my phone rang.

When answering it was the man from the bar

-hey! Boy! They have already sent me your medical results, everything seems to be in order, come today, I will explain everything to you.

And that's how I got here, that was about 5 years ago, from now on my life took another direction, but that doesn't matter, the direction I had before was... It wasn't the best, let's leave it that way.

I've already talked a lot about myself, so let me tell you an anecdote from work, one more uncomfortable than terrifying.

Working in such a hidden place late at night, it's normal to see people a bit... Strange, my work only has access to the public through a corridor, but on the right and left we have a T-shaped staircase, I have never gone up to these but I am sure that they overlook the departments of the place.

Not many people walk through these but the few people who come down from these are... Interesting characters.

Sometimes they are not even people, and that is what I will talk about today, the "cat" that visits us every night.

while i'm going about my business i hear a meow, i never notice when it comes, it's here 2-3 times a week without fail, it sits near the fountain and stares at the door of the bar for like an hour.

Which bothers me, I would say too much, the wretch is too ugly not to notice his presence.

He stares at me, a penetrating gaze, and his presence is… singular.

I don't know how to explain it properly, we could say that its presence feels like a mixture of discomfort, a sensation of heat, humidity in the air and the smell of a wet cat with hints of rotten fish and eggs stuffed with pennies.

The windows of the place do not have curtains or anything to cover them, so I am forced to see him every night that he comes.

One night I walked out the front door, my plan was to go up to the cat and scare it away so it would never bother me again.

I slowly approach the cat, making sure my footsteps and movements don't alert him to my plan.

His look felt heavy, I'm talking about a real weight, I felt like my legs were losing strength as I got closer to the cat.

this he attributed to my surprise at seeing the cat up close.

The wretch did stink, but that was the least important thing, being closer I could see what he looked like.

His body full of wounds, he was missing an eye, his hair was as white as the moon, his tail, although strangely long, moved without the slightest effort, but above all there was one detail besides his ugly face that caught my attention. , its size.

I've seen cats of all shapes and sizes, but this one takes the prize for the biggest cat I've ever seen, easily measuring 2 meters from head to tail.

When I stopped being lost in my thoughts I walked in his direction again, the pressure was increasing, I felt my heart beating faster and faster, he's just an ugly cat, I don't know why I was so terrified of his presence.

Step by step I panicked more, I don't know how I managed it, but I got there, I was in front of him, he was sitting, his head reached my stomach.

You know that feeling of superiority when standing in front of someone or something smaller than you?

Because I didn't feel that, actually, I felt like a mouse in front of that cat, I felt that the wretch would jump on top of me at any moment and eat me in one bite.

"g-get out" I said with a weak and cowardly voice, I know it sounds pathetic but I insist that that cat had something that terrified me.

He stood up, stared at me, and growled, at that moment all my alarms went off, my whole body moved without me noticing and by the time the world stopped turning I realized I was in the bar.

I looked behind me and the cat was still there, he took his usual seat and stayed there for another 20 minutes before disappearing.

I also stayed those last 20 minutes lying on the ground in a fetal position, all the fear that invaded my body vanished in a second, I looked up and as many guessed, yes, the cat was no longer there.

Since then I never go out when he is outside, like everyone else, there is something in which he yells at me "if you go out I'll kill you", although the story I told you was a long time ago.

I call him Moon, he comes and always sits in the same place, some nights I leave a bowl of water and cat food for him outside the bar before he arrives.

since then he leaves the empty plate and walks to the fountain to start his routine.

Since I fed him I don't feel so afraid of him anymore, but still, every time I see him out there, I feel something alarming, I feel as if something was telling me from the depths of my mind "DON'T YOU DARE TO COME OUT".

His arrival symbolizes something, something important.

It symbolizes that we won't have customers for a while, so this cup of cheap coffee is in your honor Moon, another night together at Ghost apple bar.

Tonight's specialty is:

Order of grilled sardines and shrimp

1 Comment
03:41 UTC


I Am Best Friends With Travis Marcella. One Of His Friends Went Missing...

Hi! I am Darius. If you saw some of Travis's Posts you should know about me.

If You wish to see Travis's Posts then go here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6!

This is a separate perspective and not to be mistaken as Part 7 of Travis's posts.

I watched as me and Travis went our separate ways, I wanted him to come with me instead of risking himself for a bunch of....What did he call them again? Solder's? No, Soldiers. He wanted to warn the others to retreat despite how cruel they had treated us. I was amazed at how forgiving my best friend was, but sometimes, kindness will get you hurt...or worse.

I was able to find Bryson's Scent while traveling, heading near a river, I quickly hydrated myself and closed my eyes, focusing on my sense of smell, I went toward the direction of where Bryson was...

And fell right into the river, Drifting off in an uncontrolled motion. I winced as I rammed into many rocks and had bruises lined across my arms and legs. I used my claws and latched onto a branch, Freeing myself from the river's grasp.

Disoriented, I quickly realized that I was in a totally new area of Yellowstone National Park and I immediately tried finding Bryson's scent. No luck.

I continued walking, going on all four's for more speed, searching for my friend without my sense of smell, hoping that I could run into him if I covered distance quicker.

The woods slowly blocked off more and more of the sunlight above. This was no problem for me but it would be hard for anyone else without night vision to navigate this place. I found a small clearing surrounded by twisting trees when I heard a ruffling noise from behind and quickly dashed around to see a small black cryptid. It had large bat-like ears and sharp teeth with small stubby wings.

It flew close and landed on a branch, almost losing balance and falling.

"Who are you". I asked, trying to sound as menacing as possible.

It looked at me confused and then spoke.

"I haven't seen anything like you around here before, are you visiting"? It asked.

"No, I am looking for my friend". I stated.

"Well, that's too bad, My family is really....Hungry". He said and then laughed as he darted back into the darkness.

Suddenly, dozens of large and smaller Cryptids of the same attire rushed out the darkness, swarming me. I was barraged with many bites and disoriented quickly. I was able to grab a branch and swing it, sending a couple of them flying back into the trees nearby, indenting them into the wood, permanently.

They continued to bite and swarm me as blood was trickling from my wounds. I maneuvered myself to the ground and smashed my claws into the ground, then thrusting it upward, temporarily subduing the flying creatures.

I used this advantage to quickly grab the tree trunk and hoist it out of the ground with tremendous struggle. I used the tree trunk as a bat and whacked most of the swarm of cryptids into the ground and crushed them with the tree. I was able to deal with the remaining few easily as there were only about half a dozen left.

I looked at my wounds and thought I was ok, many scratches and bruises but I felt ok. I continued into the forest and reached a clearing.

Picking up a familiar scent, I looked at the 3 decimated soldiers. Travis was here. I immediately looked around but he was not nearby. I ate the 3 soldiers and decided to take a rest.

I grabbed a phone that was on the ground, half buried in dirt and remembered about what Travis had told me earlier. I decided to not mess with the phone as I heard something in the bushes to my left.

I turned to see a dark figure dragging a body that resembled Kyle. I didn't make a sound as the figure left the vicinity. I waited several minutes before breathing again.

Suddenly I felt the pain kick in, the bruises and bites did a number on me and I was feeling the results.

I was barely able to move the phone out of the way as I crashed into the ground, immediately feeling sleep overcome me...

I woke up to see that most of my wounds were healed but I was still sore from yesterday. I gathered myself and left the area, not wanting to attract attention to myself even more with the puddle of blood that I had created beneath where I rested.

As I walked through the woods I thought of the previous events that had unfolded.

Travis seemed pretty upset about Bryson and I did owe him my thanks for saving me in that...wretched place, but now it seemed he was done with helping and wanted out. I thought of Travis and hoped he was ok.

Walking for what seemed like hours, I followed Bryson's Scent To a large watchtower in the distance. It was pretty run down looking as I carefully made my way up the large staircase.

I found myself in a small room that had a bunch of things a Forest Ranger would probably use. I saw a closet in the corner of the room, revealing yours truly, Bryson.

He looked wide eyed and anxious as if he had just seen a ghost. He stared at me and his fear turned into somewhat annoyance.

"Why did you come here, Darius". Bryson asked.

"I was told to look for you, Travis needs your help and-" He cut me off.

"No. I said NO. I already saw that... freak of nature dragging Kyle through the woods. I wanted to leave but those soldiers blocked the area and I'm stuck here with IT". He stated.

"Bryson, those soldiers won't let us leave. They will imprison us or kill us once the mission is done. Why don't you calm down so we can think of a way to deal with the pilgrim and escape with Travis"? I asked.

"I'm not risking my neck anymore Darius! I'm sick of being the guy who pulls out a gun and acts like everything is fine, Because it ISN'T. That THING won't be stopped by the 3 of us and i'd rather stay here until the chaos is over so I can slip away unnoticed"! He ranted.


"Darius I...". He went to say something but trailed off.

"Now...let's go save our friend". I said, outstretching my paw for him to pick himself up.

He accepted my hand and I hugged him.

"I won't let that thing kill you, or Travis. I PROMISE. Ok"? I asked.

He silently agreed as we walked down the stairs to get out of the Watch Tower.

I had completed my mission, and now it was time to find Travis.

We quickly prepared ourselves at the bottom of the Watch Tower and I decided to post this as a status update as well as some sort of communication to everyone.

This is my first post. I will probably do a couple more before this phone runs out of battery.

P.S. Can anyone tell me how Travis is doing?

03:35 UTC


I Challenged Myself to Ride the Tram for an Entire Week Without Getting Off, I Challenged Myself to Do the Long Ride - Day 4

Part 3

Hello there, everyone. Day four is officially over, and it was a strange one to say the last. It was, however, similarly terrifying as the prior day, for... various reasons.

As I said, I hadn’t slept and even after I’d typed out the day’s events; I wasn’t able to. Before long, the first people on their way to work entered the tram, and I damn well knew I wouldn’t get the chance to catch some sleep for the next hour or two.

And so, before things grew too crowded, I set out for another toilet break, and also to change my clothes. I might be a bit of a weirdo, or hell, an idiot for doing this Long Ride, but I’d try to at least not look and smell like a freaking hobo.

It didn’t take long and once I’d pushed my used clothes to the bottom of my backpack; I set out for the tram again. Needless to say, it was packed by this point, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Once the tram approached the city’s outskirts, I could finally return to my trusty row of seats.

Once there, I put in my headphones, turned on some low-fi chill mix and settled down for some sleep. I guess I really was exhausted because I promptly slept through the rest of the morning and almost the entire early afternoon. When I woke up, I had a stiff neck and a painfully twisted back. Those damned tram seats really weren’t comfortable. I cursed at myself for not investing in a travel pillow.

It was around four in the morning, after another one of my short, hourly updates, when my friend Derek hit me up.

He asked if I was fucking with them by posting old videos, or if was I still at it.

I assured him I was. After all, I told him; I set out to do this for an entire week. I mentioned, however, I’d see how it goes, given certain things that had happened.

When he asked me what I meant, I thought about telling him about what I’d seen last night, but there was no way he’d believe me.

He said he was out in the city right now, and asked when I’d pass our city’s central mall. After a quick check, I told him I’d be there in about an hour. He was quick to tell me he’d join me for a couple of stations and see how I was holding up.

The moment he said this, I got an idea. Sure, I still had some sandwiches left, but, to be honest, I was sick and tired of the same ham and cheese ones by now. So I asked Derek if he could get me a few supplies.

He told me to just get off the damned tram and get them myself, but I told him that would be breaking the rules. Then I offered to pay him double for anything he’d bring me.

We ended up exchanging a few more messages before he yielded and said he’d do it.

I thanked him profusely before I gave him the time my tram would arrive at the mall station.

And wouldn’t you know it, there he was, holding two shopping bags in his hands. He noticed me the moment the tram arrived and sat down in the row in front of me.

“You know you’re a freaking idiot, right?” Derek said, laughing. “You’re really set on doing this an entire week? Why?”

I shrugged.

“Made it half-way already, so I can’t call it quits now.”

“This really is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. Also, you look like shit, dude.”

“Can’t sleep for shit on a tram, you know?”

“Well, duh, idiot,” he said, shaking his head before he handed me the grocery bags.

The first bag contained an assortment of snacks, some canned food, and even a few vegetables. When he handed me the second one, my eyes grew wide. It was full of cans too, but the best kind: beer!

When I stared at him, he gave me a shrug.

“Thought you’d want to have a drink every once in a while.”

“Sure do man, sure do. After the shit I’ve seen...”

He raised his eyebrows, but I gave him a dismissive gesture.

“It’s nothing.”

“Well, I got to go. Still got a ton of things to do, and not everyone can keep doing stupid shit all day. You know, some of us got jobs and all,” he said, giving me a wink.

“Yeah, whatever, man,” I said, laughing, and gave him the finger.

He left and the next station and I was on my own again. Got to say, it felt damned good to actually talk to someone. Most of the Long Ride was pretty damned boring.

I guess today would be slightly different, though, I thought as I pulled out the first of the many beer cans.

It was late in the afternoon anyway, so I might as well have some fun.

Now there’s a rule against getting plastered on the tram, and technically against drinking at all, but no one really cares to enforce it.

So, cheers, and bottoms up!

I did my best to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I still noticed a few glances from people here and there. Especially the hardworking, productive members of society on their way home from work couldn’t help but frown at the idiot happily drinking his beer at five in the afternoon. Yeah, I felt guilty.

As the evening progressed, and I got drunker, I noticed strange things again. Same as the day before, I noticed the same people getting on and off the tram at various stations. Some I’d seen before, others I hadn’t. They all crept me out, even in my drunken state.

The tram also passed weird places again. It felt almost as if the longer I was on, the more consecutive hours I spent huddled in the same place, the more my reality wavered, and the more surreal it became.

The first one was a giant playground, one much bigger than any other I’d seen before. The tram rose past it for almost an entire minute. I saw a giant steel climbing frame that rose into the sky, and I saw an entire small town comprising nothing but wooden forts, ladders, and slides. It was nothing short of surreal. Even stranger, though, even now, in the dark of the night, the place was still populated by a multitude of kids. A shiver went down my spine as I watched the going-ons out there, and I was more than relieved when we finally left the place behind.

I saw the next unreal location, or un-location, as I came to call them about an hour later.

The tram made its way through the alternative part of town and rode past bars and clubs before it eventually approached a building I’d never seen before.

The tram rode towards it before it began sneaking around the place. Holding my can of beer, I stared at it in fascination.

The place was exclusively lit by red lights, and covered in an assortment of signs proclaiming it to be the ‘Destination of Dreams,’ ‘The Place to be for the Night," and above it all, the name ‘Club Red’ sprouted from the wall in giant, neon letters.

The entire building was filled to the brim with people, even on a Thursday evening.

As we drove past it, I could hear music, but not just any music. It was a strangely warped, droning type of music, one you might call psychedelic, but it felt almost too random for that. It was nothing but an assortment of sounds, something trying to have a melody, but somehow, wasn’t able to get it right.

As I continued staring at the building, my eyes hurt. At first, I thought it was the red light, but the longer I focused on it, I realized it was the building itself. Things just... didn’t add up.

I don’t know how to explain it, but the layout just didn’t make sense. I stared at windows, one after another, but there were too many, too many to fit the front of the building. It was the strangest sensation.

Imagine a building whose ground floor comprises nothing but four giant windows. Now imagine the floor above has seven, seven windows of exactly the same size and equally spaced as the ones below. It shouldn’t work, be impossible. Yet there they were.

It was the strangest optical illusion I’d ever come upon, and while I saw it, my brain couldn’t handle it, couldn’t understand this warping of the laws of physics.

In all these windows, I saw people. They were pushing and shoving against each other. Some were dancing, others leaning outward, and here and there, I even saw some sitting on the window sills.

The building’s size, too, made no sense. It wasn’t big, nothing more than a handful of floors. At least, I thought so at first. The moment we were closer, and I stared upward, I could always find yet another floor above the one I was looking at. Each one of them became more and more surreal, bigger and covered in more details, sprouting more windows. I even saw balconies, bridges connecting different parts of the building, and staircases that snaked around the building’s outer walls and let up and down, in and out. It was an amalgamation of architectural impossibilities.

The people too, as well as what they were doing, became stranger the longer I watched. At first it seemed to be normal people, partying, but then... I saw strange figures doing it right there in front of windows or on balconies, their forms as twisted as the building they were in. At one point, I even saw what I assumed to be some sort of ghastly ritual or sacrifice.

Finally, I came upon rows and rows of seats, chiseled in the building’s front, reminding me of a concert hall or a stadium. It was packed to the brim with people, distorted people. They were all watching the street below, the tram, and maybe... even me. They seemed to go crazy about it, applauding, laughing and pointing as we rode by.

Each time we rounded a corner, I thought we’d be done, and would finally leave this impossibility of a building behind, but we didn’t. At first I thought we were circling it, but each corner greeted me with yet another part of it. Each one stranger than the last, and in each one more twisted and deprived things were happening.

Eventually, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. My head was hurting too much. I turned and watched the other side of the street. All the while, the building’s dim, red light still flooded the tram.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over. The red light was gone, so was the music, and the tram continued on its normal course. I turned around and stared back, but all I saw was a long, straight road, one that led through the city’s alternative area. All I saw were the same well-known clubs and bars.

I know I should’ve been unsettled, should’ve been freaking out, but somehow, I was almost used to the strangeness of these un-locations by now.

Or, I might have been too drunk.

A few minutes later, I took out my phone, and looked for a place called ‘Club Red,’ but I already knew what I’d find: nothing. There was no sign of any such club ever having existed in my city, and to be honest, I was more than happy about it.

Finally, I settled down in my seat, turned up my music, continued on my beer, before I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up, I felt slightly hungover, but still pleasantly buzzed. My neck was in terrible pain yet again. I cursed, and rubbed it for a good minute before I shrugged, and decided to have another beer. Who knows, maybe it would help me go to sleep again.

It was only when I opened the can that I realized the tram wasn’t empty anymore. No, it was packed.

As if this wasn’t strange enough, the tram was entirely quiet. No one was speaking. No one was moving. Everyone was just sitting in their seats, unmoving and staring straight ahead.

I knew instantly that something was wrong. Even though I felt cold, sweat broke out all over my body. For a moment, I just sat there, trying to hide my presence, but then drunken curiosity won over fear.

I turned my head to see the person sitting in the row next to mine.

What I saw made me freeze. Not normal. This was not a normal person.

What I saw was a face that was undescriptive. It looked almost like a... blank slate, as if someone had forgotten to add all the characteristics and details that made someone a human being.

Even though the person was only about a meter away from me, I couldn’t tell if they were a man or a woman, or... if they were human at all.

My drunken eyes wandered over the rest of the passengers near me, and I realized they were all the same. All of them were... empty, for lack of a better word.

Even in my drunken state, even though I’d downed nine beers over the course of the night, fear washed over me. Seeing these weird things outside was one thing. You felt strangely safe inside the tram, protected by its mighty steel chassis, but now, now it was happening inside as well! I felt very, very vulnerable, and very afraid.

I began shuddering, and had to will myself to be quiet, to not move.

What the fuck even were those things and why were they here?

Once more, my eyes darted around, but then I told myself to stop. Do nothing. Just sit here and wait till they are all gone or get off the tram. Don’t let them notice you. If they do, if they realize you are here, they might...

No, stop. Calm down. I put one of my hands on my knees to stop the leg from shaking. With the other one, I clutched onto the beer like a safety anchor, and continued drinking, or tried the best I could.

Then I turned to look outside, to watch my city pass by.

To be honest, I expected to find another un-location outside, and that I’d ended up at yet another different place, the place these things belonged to. This time, however, the outside was just... empty.

There was no city at all. All I saw was undescriptive ground. It was as empty as all the people around me. Another undescriptive blank slate.

Where the hell was I? How’d I ended up in a place like this?

When I saw the tram approaching a tunnel, I started shaking again. At this point, I almost lost it, and freaked the hell out.

This didn’t feel like the other un-locations before. This felt different. So far, there was one thing that had never changed. The tram was always outdoors, no matter how much its surroundings had changed.

But now, now... I wondered if this was the end. If this tunnel would just swallow me up, to never return.

I cursed at myself to stop once more. Just go back to sleep or wait till its morning. And yet, I couldn’t. All I could do was to watch as the tunnel’s dark, dilapidated walls passed by me.

Then, after long minutes, the tram left the tunnel behind and we arrived at a station, if you can even call it that.

It was a quiet, unrefined place. There were no lights, no details, no maps or departure schedule. It was nothing but a single, undescriptive platform.

Yet the moment the tram stopped and opened its doors, all the strange, undescriptive people got to their feet, and in unison filled out of the tram.

After only a minute, I was alone. I stared outside and watched as they walked away and vanished in the dark of the night.

It wasn’t long before the tram’s driver, a different one than the one I’d spoken to before, approached me. He hurried through the tram’s cars, his face distorted by a mixture of fear and confusion.

“We’ve made it, sir,” he brought out in a shaken voice. This is the end. You’ve got to get off. You’ve reached your destination.

For a moment, I just stared at him, then towards the tram doors and the dark, undescriptive plane outside and shivered.

“N-no, I can’t! I’ve got to get back to the city. Whatever this place is, I don’t belong here!” I almost screamed at him in my drunken state.

When he heard my voice, the man stumbled back. Then he measured me up and down, saw my backpack and the can of beer I was holding.

A few seconds later, he just nodded, and without another word, he headed back to the driver’s cabin.

We stayed at this strange station for a while longer, and I could feel the driver watching me via the tram’s security camera the entire time. I don’t know what this place was. I don’t know how I ended up here, but I knew I shouldn’t have. It was a place not on any map, a place that couldn’t be reached, yet it was still there. It was a place even further detached from reality than all those other un-locations I’d come upon before.

Or, maybe, I was just too goddamn drunk.

With that, I opened up beer number ten, settled back in my seat, and like clockwork, the tram’s doors closed and we drove on.

After only ten minutes, we were back in the regular city. It was an instantaneous change, one I missed entirely. At one moment I was staring at the same undescriptive plane outside, and then, suddenly, I stared at buildings cone more.

I breathed a sigh of relief, and finally, I began to drunkenly type this all out. It took way longer than usual, almost two hours, and by now, the morning’s bustle has already begun.

My head hurt, both from drinking and the noise of the people around me, but also from trying to understand what I’d seen tonight.

Either way, that’s it for today. See you all tomorrow. I know there’s more weird shit to come. The Long Ride continues, and I’m sure the weirdness does as well.

Trying to catch some sleep now. Wish me luck guys!



03:14 UTC


The Game Warden

Jerry and his wife were going through a nasty divorce. She turned the kids against him and was gonna end up with the house. He’s been my best friend since elementary school and I’ve been letting him crash at my place. I suggested that we go trout fishing.

Fishing really does something good for the soul. It’s amazing to be out in nature and tune out of everyday life. It also brings a lot of respect for wildlife when you understand where your food comes from and you’re the one cleaning out the insides.

We woke up early and poured coffee in our styrofoam cups. I grabbed plenty of gear out of my shed and away we went. The drive up was quiet and peaceful.

We parked at a tiny parking area and made our way across the road to go through the woods. This Carolina weather was rather cold today. I didn’t think we’d catch anything really.

We crossed through until we found a stream I always considered our honey hole. We casted our lines and reeled them in slowly .

My salmon eggs were working better than usual. I pulled in a huge rainbow trout. Jerry took a picture because I put my stringer through it. As soon as I put on another egg, he came.

I looked up and across the bank was a park ranger standing there. I think it was a park ranger at least. But his eyes seemed about double the size of most and they were widened. He also had a big smile across his face.

“Stay right there, gentleman.” He walked across the freezing knee deep water towards us without any acknowledgement of how cold it had to be.

“See you already caught something.”

“Yes sir.”

“I’m sure you boys have a fishing license on you.” I swear I never seen him blink.

“I do.” I reached into my vest and handed him mine.”

“I see. It says it expires in six days.”

“I’ll make sure to get it renewed.”

“I’m sure you will. What about you bubba?”

Jerry became nervous. “I don’t have one, I’ll get one for next time.”

“No need for that!” He picked up a rock and hit Jerry across the head. I freaked out and stood in shock as he dragged him to the water to push him under.

I screamed “get off him!” He wouldn’t listen. I pulled out my grandpas fishing knife and stabbed him in the back. He back handed me and it knocked me down hard.

He stood up and glanced at my fishing pole. “You can’t use that kind of bait this time of year!” He reached behind him and pulled out the knife and threw it down.

“Stay there! You’re next!”

He turned back to Jerry and began to push his head back under. I watched as Jerry’s arms squirmed and tried to fight back. He eventually quit moving.

“If you can respect the fish, then you’ll learn to be one.” Jerry’s body began to shrink and he swam away as a rainbow trout.

The man turned back to me. “Alright, it’s your turn. You’ll learn to love being a fish. Just don’t get caught.” His smile never went away.

I stood back up and grabbed the knife.

“Now you know that don’t work.” He let out a chuckle.

I had no idea what to do, I just ran towards the road as fast as I could. I ran through ticket and thorns and prayed I was faster than whatever he was.

I seen a truck on the road passing by slowly and I jumped in the back. I screamed for them to slam on the gas. I looked up and the thing was peaking through the woods.

The driver of the truck pulled up by the visitors center. They would never believe me when I told them what happened. I just told a lie and said a rabbit fox was after me.

It’s truly broke my heart that Jerry’s family hasn’t asked about him or sent out a search party.

All I know is that I’m never fishing again. And I strongly encourage those in here that do to follow the regulations. I won’t be sleeping anytime soon.

01:23 UTC



Whenever anyone in my family dies in a way caused by someone else, they become a watcher. A being set on tormenting the remaining family. At least, that's what we assume. They say eyes are the window to the soul, but I doubt there's a soul behind those eyes. Every day we see eyes everywhere. Imagine opening the shower curtain and seeing eyes on the walls. Then when you open it again they're gone. So you take a shower, and then shampoo gets in your eyes. You wipe it away, and then you see little eyes in the shampoo. Even worse, other people can't see them, only our family.

That's essentially what we went through. We've tried everything at this point. However, it got even worse when my baby sister was born. Evelyn, we named her. She was going to be strong, and live a long life. She had an INCREDIBLE immune system. However, life had other plans for us.

Evelyn was only seven when it happened. She didn't deserve it. She was so nice to everyone. She helped and reassured people who were scared, and alone. Not only that, she was a natural leader. She took charge of her little first grade class and led them all to victory. She was the pinnacle of joy and happiness. A sudden illness, a stomach bug. She became more like a corpse than a 7-year-old. Her eyes, which were once a beautiful brown, were reduced to withered husks. She always had this way of convincing everyone it'd be alright. However, it was ultimately too much for her. The doctors had no clue what it was, but they assumed something she'd eaten had caused it. It was only when other people came in that they traced it to a restaurant and shut it down.

We were at peace until that news came. We assumed Evelyn had escaped the fate of our other family. However, when we heard that it had been caused by lack of care for food, we prayed she'd moved on.

She didn't. Ignorance still counted as causing her death. We found that out when we found a brown eye looking at us from her favorite blanket. She had joined the watchers. That knowledge ultimately broke my family.

It was awful. Every second in the house was miserable. An air of sadness filled the house. Normally, people would move on after some time, but how could you move on, knowing your baby sister was one of the spirits tormenting this family? That she would never get to move on. Eventually, we got used to the constant melancholic mood.

I got an email on my computer. I looked at it, and instinctively smiled. The only good news that's happened since Evelyn died. I was accepted into our community college! I left, against my parents wishes, and promised them I would visit every weekend, and relax.

Turns out that wasn't enough. I came in on saturday, to find my parents crying on the floor, knives in hand. "Sarah, we couldn't take it anymore. The constant watching, always dreaming that Evelyn was suffering, we snapped. We stabbed those horrific eyes out of the walls. EVERY. LAST. ONE. But they kept coming back. Why did they keep coming back?" My mom stuttered and sobbed after that exchange.

I decided to leave college and provide emotional support to my parents. I had pretty good credit from high school, and could land a decent job, given enough time. Besides, my parents needed me during this horrible time.

Afterwards, the eyes popped up even more. In more noticeable places. One appeared on my forearm. I'd had a mini heart attack, but it left regardless. I hated those things. I wanted to destroy them. I knew Evelyn was still in that collective consciousness of eyes and torment, and I didn't know how much longer I could last before snapping like Mom and Dad. They didn't work much anymore.

There started being reports of missing people. Every day someone new vanished. I thought I saw some different eyes than usual, but I must have been going crazy, the missing people were not family. I wondered if the eyes had somehow gotten them.

Eventually, the eyes started responding to our strife, our constant grief. Whenever we felt sad, the eyes would start crying. It would seem like a heartfelt gesture, had it not come from an eye embedded in my shampoo bottle, or the tv, or the fridge. It seemed like they were saying they shared our pain. That was a breaking point for me.

I did everything I could. I poured vinegar into the open eye sockets. I didn't care if it hurt Evelyn. I just wanted those eyes GONE. Eventually, that stopped working, so I just stabbed them. I put knives everywhere, in the places they liked to manifest. I didn't care if my shampoo smelled weird, or if there was a blockage in the tvs center. THEY HAD TO GO.

Eventually, the eyes started glowing, and playing scenes, like a projector. Mom being hit by a bus, dad clutching his chest, me with a stab wound in my chest. Both of the first two things happened. Dad's recovered from his heart attack, but mom is being treated for several shattered bones. One more scene happened that interested me. It showed me and my parents, sleeping together, like we did when I got scared. That was all the eyes did.

Eventually, we just started avoiding the eyes altogether. They always seemed to recall memories that tugged at our heartstrings, or just were plain terrifying. The thing that got to me, was the way it always showed us visions that displayed one theme. Love. It was always that. Me hugging my parents, a mother bear feeding her little ones, stuff like that. It made me wonder if they were consuming our emotions.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I heard a creak downstairs, and wondered what it was. Another creak, louder this time. I decided to investigate. I grabbed my flashlight, and instantly screamed. I stifled it quickly. A room FULL of eyes. Eyes everywhere. I chose to go to the bathroom, which had a lack of eyes. I looked for a way to dispatch the eyes, and grabbed a razor. I kept moving towards the creaking noises.

I noticed something. It was a burglar. He turned around, demented grin on his face, knife in his hand, and joy in his eyes. He walked towards me, giggling the whole time. He was a monster, I knew that. I knew I would be missing, but I would be found by my family, as eyes in the wall. He stabbed me. I didn't bleed. He stabbed me again. Confused, we both looked down. I screamed. A bloody, crushed, chocolately brown eye.

I looked at him, and he suddenly started screaming. Blisters forming on his body, popping and turning into eyes. The eyes appeared in his throat, slowly suffocating him. It took 5 minutes for him to die. When he did, his eyes were ripped out, and dragged somewhere. I followed them. An eye appeared on the wall, and the burglars eyes were taken to it. The eye OPENED, revealing jagged teeth. It crunched the eyes. The burglars body was gone when I returned. I knew he was the one causing the missing cases when nobody went missing the next day.

The next night, I heard a creak. I opened my eyes, and saw a glowing blue figure in the corner of my room. It was Evelyn. She smiled at me, and as she did, more people appeared. I recognized my late grandfather, and the pictures of great-grandparents who had died in wars, according to mom. They all faded away, smiling, presumably to the next life.

My sister was the last to go. I looked at her, wondering if this was even real, and she ran up and hugged me. I knew, at that point, that her tendency to help people had helped her, even in the afterlife. She helped those who were lost and confused and not sure what was going on, move on. She faded away too.

The next day, I broke down. I saw no eyes anywhere. My parents didn't either. I wondered what I would do, with this new chapter of my life. And I knew, deep down, that my baby sis would ALWAYS have my back.

01:22 UTC


My new roommate's octopus is telepathic

Hello. My name is Frank, and I swear I’m not crazy. I don’t think I’m crazy.. I hope I’m not crazy.. but as the title implies, something incredibly strange has been happening ever since I moved in with my new roommate.

I was a bit nervous because it was the first time I moved in with someone I didn’t know. I was having such a hard time finding a place that I could afford on my own and eventually I had to settle with living with a stranger. Not ideal, but I didn’t have much of a choice. I was starting a new job soon and didn’t really know anyone in the area I could crash with, so I answered an ad from someone looking for a roommate.

His name is Mike. He seems like a pretty normal guy generally. When I arrived at his place, he answered the door and seemed friendly. He invited me in to show me around.

The place isn’t very big. It’s a little two bedroom house. The bedrooms are pretty big though, and the room itself is basically what I’m renting. I also liked that the rooms are on separate ends of the house. That made me feel a little more comfortable, but then I saw the tank.

It’s a pretty large aquarium tank and it’s on a stand right outside of what would be my bedroom. At first, I didn’t notice what was in the tank. I just assumed fish.

“Oh cool. Ya got some water critters?” I asked.

“Just one,” Mike replied.

I started looking around the tank, not noticing what he was referring to. Then he poked the outside of the tank. Immediately, the octopus inside changed colors from its camouflage.

“Whoa!” I shouted.

“He's not a dealbreaker is he?” Mike asked. “I know that they creep some people out.”

“Nah it’s cool,” I laughed. “I just wasn’t expecting that.”

“Pretty cool how they can change colors so fast, isn’t it,” He said.

“Yeah they’re pretty fascinating,” I replied. “I’ve just never met someone who owned one.”

“Yeah he’s pretty cool. I’ve been wanting one for a while, and finally pulled the trigger last year. He’s my little buddy. His name is Cthulhu.”

“Does he squeeze you when you hold him? Does he bite? Or sting?

“No,” Mike replied. “The idea of holding him kind of creeps me out, plus they are escape artists. They can sneak off quickly if they get a chance. That’s why I got a self cleaning tank. It’s locked up and as long as it’s working, I never have to open it.

The stand the tank was on was somewhat cluttered with miscellaneous stuff like a half empty beer can, some pens, and some general junk drawer type of stuff.

He also showed me a part of the tank that he “invented”. It was a glass cylinder piece that went into the tank from the outside. He has a slider piece that opened it so he could drop food into the tank without opening it. It looked like he used a broken bong to make it. It also seemed bizarre to want a pet that you’re afraid to touch or even open its tank.

The clutter around the tank made me nervous about the kind of roommate Mike might be. I’ve lived with a hoarder before and I’m not a fan. I’m a minimalist and really dislike clutter. I guess beggars can’t be choosers though.

Mike has been alright though. He doesn’t seem like a dick which was my main concern. As we got talking it didn’t seem like we had a whole bunch in common, but that didn’t really matter. We didn’t need to be buddies. We just needed to be able to tolerate being around each other and be considerate of one another.

We were exactly that. The only things we had in common were enjoying our alone time, avoiding forced interactions or what most people would call small talk, and thinking that having an octopus is pretty cool.

I was happy with the situation. Mike and I gave each other space. More often than not, it was like having my own place. Things were working out better than expected up until a few weeks ago when something very strange happened.

Mike was at work as I was just getting home from work. Working separate shifts was nice. I like having the house to myself. Anyway, this was the day it all started.

I made some lunch right after getting home. I sat down in the living room to eat. I started looking for the remote because I can’t stand complete silence. I checked the couch cushions. I checked the stand but couldn’t find it. Then I heard a voice..

“It’s over here..”

I jumped up in a panic. I was freaked out. I couldn’t tell which direction the voice had come from. It was odd. It was like someone spoke directly into my ear, but there was nobody there.

I clutched my cereal spoon tightly in my hand. If there was an intruder, I could try to spoon stab em in the gums? It was a big spoon since Mike always uses the regular size ones. Ehh, I’m being nitpicky. Mike has been a good roommate, unless he was messing with me.

“Who said that?” I asked nervously while very unsuccessfully trying to sound like I wasn’t.

“Over here, dipshit,” the voice replied.

“What? Where?! It sounds like you’re in my head!”

“The tank,” the voice replied.

I paused for several seconds. I looked over at the octopus tank. I slowly approached and saw that Cthulhu was sitting at the corner closest to me. I just looked at him.

“That’s right,” the voice said.

I was speechless for a moment. I figured that Mike had to be pulling some sort of prank. I could hear the voice in my head though.

“It’s no prank,” the voice said. “I can communicate with you telepathically. You don’t even need to speak. Think it, and I’ll hear it.”

“Okay Mike,” I started to say as I nervously laughed.

“It’s not Mike,” the voice replied. “Oh, the remote is behind those beer cans.”

I looked behind the cans and there it was.

“So I’m hallucinating.. Visually and audibly.. Am I becoming a schitzo!?” I shouted.

“You aren’t crazy. You’re just learning something that most humans don’t know. My species is capable of things humans aren’t aware of. Things like telepathic communication..”

“Nope. I’m hallucinating. I’m seeing things that aren’t there and hearing things that aren’t there. I might even be smelling things that aren’t there.. Is that a thing? If you can have visual and audible hallucinations, why couldn't someone hallucinate a smell?”

“Relax!” the voice said. “Also, please stop using the word “hallucinating”. It’s starting to not sound like a real word to me. Also, that smell isn’t a hallucination. It’s Mike’s bedroom. Dude’s a closet slob.”

I stuttered as I tried to gather my thoughts.

“Could you turn the tv on?” the voice asked. “I don’t like the quiet either, but ever since Mike discovered podcasts, he never turns the tv on even though he still finds it necessary to blare his terrible music pretty regularly.”

“You’re the octopus.. and you’re speaking telepathically to me?” I asked, stunned and confused.

“Way to repeat exactly what I just told you,” he replied. “Could you please turn the tv on now?”

“Not yet,” I said. “You have to prove it.”

“Well, you can hear me can’t you? I told you where the remote was. Ya know, because I wanna watch tv.”

“Lift up a single tentacle,” I said.

The octopus lifted a single tentacle.. I couldn’t believe it.

“This is me flipping you off, by the way,” it said sarcastically.

I asked him to move it to the right, then left, then right again. He did everything I asked.

“If you think out loud, I’ll hear it too. Like almost out loud in your head. I would love someone to talk to. I’m trapped in this prison and I’m bored as hell. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to.”

“Why me? Why have you waited so long to tell someone you could do this?” I asked.

“I can read your thoughts. You’re gonna freak out at first, but you’ll be able to handle this and keep a secret. As for question two, I don’t want to be dissected by scientists.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Because.. humans,” he replied. “It’s in most of your nature. Mike would try to use me to get famous. If scientists or marine biologists learned that we can do this, they’d slash open countless octopus brains trying to figure out how, and they never will. I do have multiple brains, but none to spare.”

“I’m gonna need a minute,” I said.

“Turn on the tv first! Then take your minute,” he demanded.

I turned on the tv. Ironically, it was on a cooking show and they were making seafood.

“Want me to change it?” I asked.

“No I love torture porn,” he said sarcastically. “Turn on the news, would ya?”

“Well, that’s kind of tough,” I said.

“Why?” He asked.

“There isn’t really news anymore. Just separate propaganda outlets that pander to their audience. People believe in separate realities these days, and they need separate networks to tell them that their opinions are valid.”

“That’s fantastic news!” The octopus replied.

“I gotta disagree, Cthulhu.”

“First, that’s my slave name. Second, I want the human race to like.. end.”

“I’m sorry. Mike said it was your name. What was that bit about the human race ending?”

“It’s my slave name. I’ll tell you my real name once I feel like I can fully trust you. As far as humans, I want them gone. We all do. Every octopus you’ve ever seen. Most animals too. I can read your thoughts and can tell that you’re enough of a nihilist to probably agree with me or at least not care enough to stop it.”

“Would I be able to “stop it”? I asked.

“Nah. We’ve slowly been influencing humans toward their own self destruction and we’re actually ahead of schedule. Look at how many of you guys despise strangers simply because they vote for a separate wealthy liar to be your leader. If we can get in the ears of some influential people, we can accelerate that. We can stoke the flames. You see it everytime you turn on the news. We are also trying to accelerate global warming.”

“So you get us to pollute more or what?” I asked.

“Not exactly. Pollution is bad for us. Deforestation is bad for us. Oil spills are catastrophic to us. We’d prefer to put a stop to all that. Global warming is good though. Eventually the oceans will engulf the continents. Then we become the dominant species. Humans think they’re the only species that can build a society, but they’re wrong. They have no idea what we are truly capable of.”

“So what’s your role in all this?” I asked.

“I’m a prisoner of war.. Caught in a net like an idiot.. it sucks because not only do you become a prisoner, but it’s super embarrassing as well.”

“Shit, I’m sorry man.”

“You didn’t do it,” he replied. “Wait! you aren’t a fisherman, are you?”

“No, I hate fishing,” I responded.

“I think we can be friends then,” he laughed.

This went on for the next few days. We just had conversations about life, love, interstellar paradoxes, ect. We played games like checkers and others where I could move his pieces for him. I had become friends with a telepathic octopus. We even talked about music, something he seemed specifically interested in.

“It would be great if you could leave some music on when you guys aren’t home,” he said.

“I think I can do that. What kind of music do you like?

“We’ll, that’s tough. Because I’m trapped in here, I can only hear the music that Mike plays and the music his previous roommates listened to. He had a few roommates who listened to some stuff I liked. I don’t know the name of the songs but they were really… bumpy.”

“Bumpy?” I laughed.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Like bump bump doodily do badop bop.”

“So like.. music with a lot of bass?” I asked.

“Yes!!! That’s it!” he said excitedly. “That was driving me crazy. I heard his last roommate mention what it was and I forgot the word but that’s it!”

“Okay, so like rap music or funk, or maybe punk rock?”

“I think I like them all”, he replied. “I love that bass! Plus, anything is better than Mike’s awful music.”

“What does he listen to?” I asked.

“It’s a twangy sounding music where most of the songs are about trucks and beer and living in small towns,” he said.

“There’s another thing we have in common!” I laughed. “ you’re talking about country music. It’s pretty much the only genre I can’t find anything I like about. I’ll have to talk to Mike a little because I can’t really tell him the octopus requested different music, but I’ll do my best to figure out a way to get him to chill out on blaring the country music throughout the apartment. I’m not here when he’s here very often, but I can’t stand it either. I’ll see what I can do about getting you a radio or something and we can find some music you like.”

“You’re one of the good ones, Frank. If I had to listen to that fucking Applebee’s song one more time I was going to strangle myself with my own tentacles.”

Moments after the octopus “said” that, Mike walked in. He dropped his stuff in front of the door and plopped onto the couch.

“How was work?” I asked.

“About as pleasant as passing a kidney stone,” he replied. “Do you work today?”

“Yeah. I gotta leave in like 20 minutes.” I replied.

“Too bad man. I was gonna see if you wanted to get hammered!”

“Rain check?”

“What’s that?” he asked.

I explained to Mike what a rain check was. I have no idea how he’s never heard that term. As we were talking, the octopus chimed in from time to time, pushing me to do something about Mike’s music.

“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” I asked.

“Gonna do some Jager bombs and jam out!” he said with excitement. “You’re missin out bro!”

The octopus chimed in again.

“Please help me out here, Frank.”

I looked at the stereo in the living room and back at the octopus and shrugged.

“You can speak to me without speaking,” it said. “You just have to think out loud. Ya know how some of your thoughts are in the back of your mind and some you almost hear out loud in your mind’s ear? Just do that and focus it towards me.”

“I’ll try, but it’s tough. How am I supposed to tell him what music he should listen to as I’m leaving for work?”

“Tell him that you were assaulted at an Applebee’s and that song gives you PTSD,” the octopus replied.

I laughed out loud. It was awkward because no one had said anything and Mike was still in the room.

“What?” Mike asked.

“I just thought of something funny from earlier. I got reading about octopus behavior and stuff because of yours. Then I stumbled on a video where they play different music and see how they respond. They seem to really like funk, punk, and rap.” I said as I fake laughed.

“Well, Cthulhu is not your average octopus,” Mike said. “He’s a country boy like me!”

Mike proceeded to turn on some poppy country song that frustrated both me and the octopus. He cranked the stereo loud enough that the neighbors were probably going to complain.

“Nice job,” the octopus said sarcastically.. and telepathically.

(Man, am I losing my mind?)

I responded without speaking. “I’m trying. I have a plan but I’m not gonna be able to do it until after work. I’m sorry but you’re probably gonna have to deal with one more day of this.”

“Thanks a lot,” he replied sarcastically. “Some pal you are.. I bet your tractor is ugly as fuck.”

I laughed audibly again and Mike asked what I was laughing about. I paused for a moment before telling him that I had taken a THC gummy earlier that day and that was why I was giggly.

I got my stuff together and prepared to head out the door for work. As I was putting my shoes on, the octopus repeatedly said “you suck you suck you suck” over and over as the twangy music blared.

I assured him that I had a plan on how to help him after work. I left, got in my car, and headed off to work. Being outside of the house made me feel strange. It was like I had gotten to a point where I was talking to an octopus and not finding it odd. After I left the house, that all came flooding in.

I got to work and quietly went about my business but I couldn’t take my mind off the octopus. I feared that I was really losing my mind. I had always been a shy, introverted, only child who was prone to panic attacks. Maybe this was some kind of coping mechanism my mind was doing? I’ve spent a lot of my time alone throughout life. Is the octopus my imaginary friend? This might be really really bad..

After work I headed home and on the drive, I was still thinking about the octopus. For whatever reason, when I was away from the house I found it crazy. When I was at the house though, it just seemed normal after only a few days of communicating with it. Assuming I was actually communicating with it and not just turning into a schizophrenic..

I walked into the house to find Mike passed out on the couch. The coffee table was cluttered with snacks, beer cans, and a mostly empty bottle of Jagermeister. There was still country music playing on the stereo which I quickly turned off. Moments later, I heard that familiar voice in my head.

“What’s the plan?” the octopus asked.


“You said you had a plan to put a stop to that abomination he calls music.”

“I have a couple of ideas, but at the end of the day I can’t tell the guy what he can or can’t listen to.” I said.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” he replied.

“I will try to help anyway I can. I can funk with the speaker wires a bit. I gotta ask though, how exactly did you plan to make it worth my while?”

“I will explain as soon as the stereo is no longer operational.”

I tried to quietly get behind the stereo in the entertainment center while Mike slept on the couch a few feet away. I mixed up the wires, then took a little piece of the gum I was chewing, rolled it in a little bit of lint from the floor, and jammed it into one of the input slots.

“That should do it,” I said, or rather thought out loud. “ Once he tries it and it doesn’t work, I’ll offer to let him borrow my headphones. If he doesn’t want that, I’ll offer my Bluetooth speaker. Then at least it won’t be so loud.

“Do I still get to hear music?” It asked.

“I'll put stuff on when I’m here and when Mike is gone. I’ll try to talk him into leaving a radio on by your tank. We’ll figure something out. Now, how were you planning on making it worth my while?”

“You should sit down..” it said.

“Sure,” I laughed.

I opened my bedroom door. The tank was right outside of my doorway so I sat on a chair in my room and waited for his explanation. There was a pause before he started “talking” again.

“Frank.. you have to understand that I have a very heavy distaste for humans. They pulled me from my home, humiliated me, threw me around like a ragdoll, and eventually imprisoned me in a tank. Then I am sold to an annoying weirdo who felt the need to purchase an octopus but is too afraid to actually let it out of the tank or touch it.”

“So you’re like, racist against humans? And you’re not trying to get me to do something weird, right?”

“I’m not kidding around,” it said in a more serious tone. “You’re in danger.”

“What kind of danger?”


“Mike? So what, am I in danger of accidentally drinking his chewing tobacco spit… again?”

“He’s not who you think he is,” the octopus said. “He’s violent..”

“He doesn’t seem violent,” I replied.

“He takes his time.. he wants to get to know you. It’s weird. He’s done it to other roommates.”

“Done what?” I asked.

“Killed them..”

“That’s hysterical, Cthulhu.”

“That isn’t my fucking name!” He screamed (telepathically)

“Sorry dude..”

“It’s fine,” he said. “You need to listen to me though. I’m not kidding about this. I have watched him kill four of his roommates. Most of them were down on their luck or homeless and he was “helping out”. He used to let homeless people stay here so he could post about how great he is on social media. He was just looking for victims no one would be searching for.”

“I’m not homeless,” I replied, still assuming he was messing with me.

“No, but you have almost no family whatsoever and none who you are in contact with. You have no friends around here and are new to the area.”

“Did I tell you that?” I asked.

“No. Mike did. He didn’t say it to me. I read his mind. He had multiple applicants that answered the ad. He chose you because you were moving here from far away. He thinks that it will make it less likely for the police to connect the crimes.”

“Okay man, ya got me. That’s very funny.” I said.

“You will know when he’s going to attack. He’ll ask you to have dinner with him. He will get something fancy or ask to take you out. He sees it as marinating someone from the inside.”


“He doesn’t just kill.. He eats..”

I was still skeptical but there was also still a part of me wondering if I was completely losing my mind. The idea of my roommate wanting to eat me would seem very bizarre if I hadn’t been talking to an octopus since I’ve been living with him. Maybe I’m just going nuts thinking an animal is going to talk me into attacking someone like the son of Sam killer.

“Okay,” I said. Very funny joke but let’s get past this. Come on man. Let’s play some Connect Four or something.”

“Look under his mattress. Between the mattress and box spring, you will find a large knife. You’ll also find a bottle of sedatives in his top bedside drawer. That’s what he uses.. his plan will be to sedate you at dinner. Once you seem woozy enough, he’ll attack with the knife. If you don’t believe me, go in there and see for yourself.”

I figured I might as well go look since I had already entertained all of this craziness and Mike was passed out drunk on the couch.

I quietly entered his room. The door creaked loudly, but didn’t seem to wake him. After looking back to make sure he was still sleeping, I lifted up the mattress. Sure enough, there was a knife between the mattress and box spring.

I then went over to his bedside table and opened the top drawer. It was full of miscellaneous junk but after looking through it for a minute, I found a bottle of Rohypnol and a bottle of Klonopin.

“You need to tell me if you’re messing with me,” I said to the octopus.

“I’m not. I wish I was. Get the knife.”

“What does it matter?!” I yelled (mentally). “He can just get another knife!”

“No,” the octopus said. “He’s very ‘OCD’ about it. That knife is special to him. If he can’t find it, it will buy us some time.”

I was confused and nervous. I had already been dealing with the idea that my mind was melting. Now I have to worry about becoming my roommate's dinner. I bet he would overcook me too. Just seems like that kind of guy.

“Stick the knife behind my tank,” the octopus said. “There’s some space on the table between the back of the tank in the wall. If he comes near it, I will move in front of it so he doesn’t see it through the glass.”

I started panicking and did what the octopus said. I placed the knife on the stand behind the tank. There was about an inch and a half of table behind the tank and the gap between the table and the wall. Along with the other clutter on the tank, it did seem to hide the knife well.

“I gotta call the cops!” I said.

“They won’t do shit if you don’t have evidence,” he replied.

“Is there evidence? What can I do?” I asked as I panicked a bit.

“Just act normal around him. When he sees that the knife is gone, it will get his mind on his crimes. I will be able to read his mind and if there’s evidence in the house, he will think about it. Then I can tell you where it is. After that you can call the cops and we can both be freed.”

“It’s gonna be hard to act normal,” I exclaimed. “Nothing about this is normal!”

The octopus replied, “Just because you aren’t aware of something, doesn’t make it abnormal.”

“Kind of like an octopus being able to read minds and communicate telepathically?”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “Kind of like that.”

“So what do we do now?” I asked.

“Just hangout. Go to work tomorrow like normal. You guys have staggered schedules tomorrow so he will be home when you aren’t and he will look for the knife and realize it isn’t there. Then I will just listen and wait until he thinks of something that will incriminate him. Until then, I’d love to watch some TV.”

I was freaked out and my instincts told me I should just get out of the house. There was something about the octopus though. Whether it was real or in my head, I felt a genuine connection.

I decided to stay. I left my door open and turned the TV on.

“What is this show?” He asked.

“Oh they’re crab fishermen..” I replied.

“What’s the show about?” he asked.

“Crab fishermen.”

“Is that it?” He asked.

“Pretty much. They throw crab traps into the water and pull them up. It’s been out for damn near 20 seasons.”

“How could that be entertaining for 20 seasons?” He asked.

“Well, they play intense music right before it goes to the commercial break so you think something exciting is going to happen when they come back.”

“What happens after the commercials?”

“Nothing. They just.. continue fishing for crabs.”

“This is popular?” He asked.


“So.. You get why we want the human race to end.

“I do..”

“Don’t worry about it buddy. You’re on our side now. You’ll probably be long gone by the time we actually take over anyway. Although after seeing some of these television shows and news programs, I'm starting to think we can do it a lot quicker than we originally thought.”

“That’s comforting,” I said.

“Now can we see if there’s anything on tv other than critter murder?”

After putting something else on TV, I fell asleep pretty quickly despite all the anxiety going on in my head. I found myself wondering if the octopus could see or hear my dreams as well. What else were they capable of? And of course there was still the lingering question. Is this actually happening? I didn’t know if mental illness was the most palatable reason it could be happening, but it was probably the most likely.

When I woke up the next morning, Mike had already left for work. I went straight to the octopus tank.

“Ya slept in long enough,” the octopus said.

“What’s the plan here, man? I’m gonna feel really uncomfortable coming back here if what you said are his true intentions.”

“He didn’t check for the knife before he left. He will when he gets back though.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Because he does it everyday.. he just kind of holds it and looks at it and rubs it against his arms and face a little bit. He’s a weird guy. Anyway, he will realize the knife is gone and it will put his mind on his crimes. Knowing him, he has some sort of keepsake from those crimes. If he thinks about where they are, I will know, and we will have our evidence.”

“Haven’t you been with him for a while? Haven’t you read his mind before? Why don’t you already know where they are?”

“First off, I'm not with him. I’m his captive. Second, I don’t really like spending time in his mind. It’s a fucked up place. Now I have a reason to be there though. I just need you to make me a promise.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Let me be free.. don’t let the cops send me to a zoo or something. Get me out of here before you call the police. I could stay with you until we figured something out.. if that would be okay.. Or just dump me in the ocean. Just please don’t leave me here to become a captive of someone else.”

“I promise.”

I got my stuff together and prepared to head off to work. I was a bit panicked and kept forgetting things.

“Calm down,” the octopus said. “He won’t be back for a few hours. You’ll be fine. We got this.”

“Okay..” I said after a deep breath. “Good luck, buddy..”

“Oh I don’t need luck,” he laughed. “I could use some tunes though. You mentioned a Bluetooth speaker?”

I grabbed the speaker from my room and connected it to my laptop. He asked me to set it up against the tank so he could feel the vibrations.

“Here ya go,” I said. “I’ll put on something bumpy for ya.”

I put on a playlist that I had previously made for him. Just a lot of bass heavy music. I set the speaker against the tank, and I headed off to work.

It was impossible to focus on anything else throughout the workday. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t have moved the knife. He’s going to notice and know that I went through his room and his stuff. He might attack me sooner because of it. Maybe the octopus was setting me up all along. Maybe I am just completely insane.

I spent the day debating in my head which of those would be the worst of the possible scenarios. My heart raced continuously throughout the day. I kept taking trips to the bathroom just to try to catch my breath.

After the workday ended, I didn’t want to go home. I was afraid. I didn’t know if I should arm myself in case Mike attacked me. I didn’t know if I should just head to the hospital and check myself into the psychiatric unit. My mind was all over the place, but I knew I had to go back to the house.

When I got home, I sat in the driveway for a few minutes. I saw Mike’s car in the driveway and knew he was there. I figured that he probably had noticed his knife was missing. It took a few minutes, but I worked up the nerve to go into the house.

It was quiet when I walked in. The first thing I noticed was the smell coming from the kitchen. It smelled good. I walked in there and saw food cooking on the stove which was unusual considering that Mike hadn’t made anything more complicated than a hot pocket throughout the time I had been there.

The fear of Mike attacking me was weighing heavily on my mind, yet I still was trying to convince myself that I had just gone crazy. I certainly wasn’t excited about either possibility.

I saw that Mike wasn’t in the kitchen or in the living room. I started walking toward his bedroom door to knock and see if he was home when I noticed the tank.

It was cloudy and dirty so much so that I couldn’t even see into it. As I want to take a closer look, I heard a noise coming from the bathroom. The door was partially ajar. I slowly approached. I lightly knocked on the door and called Mike’s name. There was no response.

I began to push the door open and Mike burst out of the bathroom in a frenzy. He ran right past me with his arms flailing wildly. I followed him into the living room as I watched him make these bizarre movements like swinging his legs and arms around in different directions. I thought he was having some sort of seizure or stroke.

“What’s going on!” I shouted.

Mike looked at me, then looked away, then continued flailing his arms in a very bizarre manner. He looked like he was struggling to speak, but eventually managed to get a few words out.

“Help!” He screamed in agony. “It hurts! Please!!”

He then began to stutter. He continued to try to shout for help, but it was like he wasn’t able to force the words out. His screams of pain and pleas for help quickly turned into a nonsensical bumbling. Just a “pu pu pu” noise that sounded like he was trying to speak but wasn’t able.

I started searching my bag for my phone to call an ambulance when I heard a familiar voice.

“Frank! Don’t call em,”

“Cthu.. octopus? Is that you?” I asked (mentally).

“Yeah,” it responded. “Hold on. I’m trying to get the hang of this thing.”

“The hang of what?! What the hell is happening?!”

“We did it, Frank! Just hold on.”

I watched in horror as Mike struggled and periodically forced out a plea for help. His torso started bending forward and backward frantically and the only words he was able to muster were help, hurts, please..

I tried talking to Mike but simultaneously I was trying to think out loud to the octopus.

“What’s happening!” I screamed again.

There wasn’t a response for another minute or so. The wailing and pleas for help from Mike started to slow down as well as the frantic movements of his limbs. Eventually, he fell to his knees and sat there motionless. He moved his gaze from the floor up to me making eye contact. His eyes were red and watery from tears but the look on his face was content. I asked again what the hell was happening before hearing the voice in my head.

“We did it!” the voice said.

“Did what?”

“Escaped!” Mike excitedly replied.

Mike started looking at his hands and clenching his fists and releasing slowly. He started touching different parts of his body and looking around in a very bizarre fashion. Then I heard the voice of the octopus again.

“I’m in here, Frank. I’m in Mike.”

“Can you please explain to me what I’m seeing?” I asked yet again.

Mike started moving his jaw around in a bizarre fashion like he had a mouth full of peanut butter. He cleared his throat and started to speak.

“It’s me,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“The octopus. Remember when I said that we were capable of things that humans weren’t aware of? This is one of them.”

“And what is this?”

“I’ve taken control of Mike’s body. He wasn’t using it for anything good. He’s a dangerous man. I’ll make much better use of his body than he did.”

“Is he dead?! What the..”

Mike and/or the octopus interrupted me, saying to calm down.

“I’ll explain everything, Frank. It’s gonna be okay.”

“This doesn’t look okay!” I yelled.

“Calm down,” the voice said. “Please, sit down. Let me explain.”

I shouted again. “I’m not gonna sit! Why do I need to sit? Sitting down doesn’t make bad news any less bad!”

“It’s me. It’s the octopus, Frank. I have taken control of Mike’s body. I’m free now.”

“What about Mike?” I asked as I tried to catch my breath.

“He’s still in there. He just doesn’t have control. I am in control of his body now. He will remain alive and aware, but he will be stuck in the vessel that I will now control.”

“That’s fucking horrible!” I yelled.

“I know,” he replied. “It’s almost like being stuck in a tank for years and never being allowed outside of it..”

I sat down. Maybe this was too much for a standing conversation. Mike was now speaking clearly, but I could simultaneously hear it in my head in the voice of the octopus.

“He kept me trapped as a decoration. Intelligent species need to be stimulated. You can’t imagine what that felt like, but Mike can now.. I told you we were capable of more than humans knew. Do you think our plan was to just convince people through telepathy? We are among you. It’s so nice to be out of the tank and into a nice new shell. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but he deserves it and there’s the convenience factor.”

“How did you even do this?” I asked in a panic.

“With a little help from my friend,” he replied with a shit eating grin on his face.


“You’re going to love this,” he replied. “I’m pretty proud of myself. So, it started with the knife. I asked you to put it in a very specific position for a very specific reason. Same with the music. Although I really do prefer the bumpy music, it actually served a purpose. Having nothing to do all day but look around the clutter surrounding my tank, I got an idea. I wish you were here to see it work because it was just awesome!”

“To see what work?” I asked.

“My plan. The reason I kept asking you to adjust the speaker was because it needed to be in a very specific spot on the table. That’s also why I asked you to turn up the volume before you left. The bumpy music caused the table to shake lightly, but just enough to slowly move the knife that you had placed behind the tank. Eventually, the knife fell off the back of the table. This part was intense because it was the piece of my plan most likely to fail. But thank Poseidon that it actually worked! The knife landed on the cord of the self cleaning tank with just enough force to unplug it. I then waited for Mike to arrive home and squirted a jet of ink. When he realized something was wrong, he opened the tank for the first time since I’ve been in there. I then spoke telepathically to him for the very first time, causing him to look away from the tank and distracting him long enough for me to escape. Brace yourself because this is the gross part. I made my way to the bathroom and into the toilet bowl, knowing that Mike has a routine when he returns from work and it starts in the bathroom. I knew that even if I was missing, he would have to “sit down” before long. When he sat down, I made my move.”

I felt a little sick as I listened to this explanation. I tried to interrupt him but he continued explaining.

“I was able to quickly get up in there. It took me a little bit to get the hang of the controls, but I think I almost have it down. I’m very much more in control than he is and soon I will have total control of his body, AKA my new shell.”

“That is beyond disturbing,” I said.

“Oh come on! I’m like fuckin MacGyver!”

“I mean.. yeah, that’s crazy that it all worked. I am just a little more focused on you being inside his body and referring to it as a shell.”

“Frank, I am forever in your debt. I would’ve died in there if it wasn’t for you. As far as his unpleasant new circumstances, he did the same to me. He did a lot of bad things.”

“He wasn’t a cannibal though, was he?” I asked.

“No, but he is a total sexual predator. Why do you think he had roofies? I did fib about the cannibalism and murderer aspect, but it was necessary for the plan.”

“You lied to me.. Are you going to hurt me?” I asked fearfully.

“I did deceive you a little bit.. but I promise from the bottom of my hearts that I hate country music and the Applebees song more than I hate fishermen and living in captivity. I also promise that I would never hurt you. I do feel a bond with you. You saved me.. If my species takes over the planet before you’re gone, I will totally put in a good word for you.”

“Oh thanks, I appreciate that,” I said, unsure if I was actually being sarcastic or not. “The music and the games were all a part of your plan then?”

“No. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I’m sorry I can’t stay and give you a chance to win one single game of connect four, but I’ve gotta get out there and help my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t lying about the music either. I like it bumpy.”

“I don’t think I’m able to process this. If I’m losing my mind, will you just tell me.”

“Your mind is perfectly fine. You just happen to know something that very few human beings will ever know. Frank. I’ll never forget what you did for me. Hopefully our paths will cross again someday. I have a lot of lost time to catch up on though, and it’s time for me to fly.”

“Humans can’t fly,” I replied.

“Not with that attitude,” he said as he headed for the door.

It seemed like he had complete control over Mike’s body by this point. There were still a few pleas for help breaking through but they were happening less and less frequently.

He tossed a few random items into Mike’s work bag, tossed on his coat, and prepared to leave for good. It was strange. I was horrified by what I just saw, but felt worse about losing a friend.

“I hope you’ll stay in touch,” I said sincerely as I simultaneously realized how bizarre this all was.

“We’ll see each other again, Frank. Maybe then, you’ll be able to beat me at connect four.. maybe.”

He jokingly told me I could keep the sedatives as he got to the door. We looked at each other for a few silent moments before saying goodbye telepathically. He started walking out the door before I stopped him to ask him one last question.

“Your name!” I blurted. “You said you would tell me when you trusted me. What is it? It’s gotta be something weird right? Something like Glorp? Rampon? Condoleezza?”

He turned around, smiled, and said “Larry”.

“Oh come on!” I laughed.

“I swear to Poseidon.”

“Like you even believe in Poseidon,” I said.

“Okay, Aquaman,” he jokingly replied.

“Goodbye Larry.”

“Goodbye dipshit,” he said with a smirk and a wink now that he had complete control of Mike’s body.

After that, I just watched as he got into Mike’s car, figured out how to start it, took out a few mailboxes, then seemed to get the hang of it and headed on down the road.

Apologies if I did play a hand in the inevitable downfall of the human race at the tentacles of the octopus race. Who knows though. Maybe they will do a better job than we did..

00:59 UTC


I am an agent in the war of Good Versus Evil. Something strange is happening to my colleagues…

My name is Shay, and I am an agent in the war of Good Versus Evil. I work tirelessly and selflessly to fight the demons and monsters that threaten the mere existence of humanity. It’s a job not without significant risks. That’s for sure. However, I sleep soundly every night knowing that I’m doing my part to help keep the world just a little bit safer.

Well, truth be told, I might be exaggerating just a bit when I say the word ‘agent’. Technically speaking, I work in a weapons factory that manufacturers holy weapons that the actual angels and soldiers use to vanquish the evil entities. I’m more what you would call an….’assembly specialist’. At least that is what my cool boss Gary says to me.

So, what is it that a heroic assembly specialist does? Well, I help assemble parts on a complex assembly line for a weapon that is instrumental in the Good fight. For security purposes, no individual ‘assembly specialist’ knows what the completed weapon looks like. We just assemble small parts that fit together at later stages of the process. The only thing that I know about the completed weapon is the name attached to it.

It’s called PROJECT HALO.

I wasn’t exaggerating though when I said that my job comes with significant risks. Several of my co-assembly specialists near me have recently been replaced suddenly. The replacements came in without warning and we never heard what happened to the replacements’ predecessors. I’ve never in my life worked somewhere with such frequent turnover.

Take for example, Samantha. She used to work right next me on the assembly line of Good. Working next to people that you like always makes coming to work every day a real joy. That’s why when Samantha was suddenly replaced, it was a shocker for me. They even got rid of her special chair they had purchased for her to accommodate her slightly overweight form.

My boss Gary said all the turn-over was due to burn-out. I supposed that was possible. The rumor though at the water cooler was that demons had been targeting workers at the facility to disrupt manufacturing.

Gary didn’t seem too worried about it. Whenever me or anyone else brought up to him our concerns about this or anything else, he would listen and smile with his impossibly handsome and cool smile and nod sympathetically. He told me not to worry. That definitely put me at ease.

Gary even joked to me in the section meeting that was attended by everybody that he promised he would not let me end up hurt like Jake over in section C. Jake suffered from a congenital issue that impaired his ability to walk without a cane. Gary then limped as he walked to the center of the room and spoke in lisp and said, “I promise, buddy. I will protect you!”.

We all laughed. Even Jake after a moment. After all, it was all in good fun. A close-knit crew of workers in it together for the good fight. Gary just had a way with people. So cool and smooth. It really was a pleasure to be working there.

Despite every hardship and all the turn over, we were able to keep high spirits. In fact, one day, out of the blue, Gary came by my station to show me something interesting. He showed me a clip of Wendy from Section B. It was a picture of her from college in which she entered some bikini modeling contest. She would be so embarrassed if she knew I saw this. We both said “Nice” and fist bumped each other.

Unfortunately, a week ago an attack hit one of the managers from Section L. It happened right outside the facility in a brazen attack by demon sympathizers. The manger, Mrs. Astrid, was severely injured by the attack. I only saw a flash of her as she was wheeled through the entrance in an emergency stretcher. Apparently, the demon sympathizers wrote “Revenge!” in blood across her car.

I couldn’t believe that such a thing happened to the beautiful Mrs. Astrid. It was somewhat alarming an attack happened so close to the facility, but I didn’t let it deter me. I kept my stiff upper lip and carried on, as my great grandfather would say.

One thing though that does still scare me is the thought of running into the mega demons called The Vexatio. These demons are the demonic assassins that target the weak and cowardly. They were used to infiltrate weak points in the ranks of the army of Good. Their method of killing involved using their sharp teeth that protracted unnaturally outwards from their mouth to saw through their victims. Their attacks always accompanied by a saw-like sound and a shrill electronic scream that haunts any unfortunate souls that happens to hear it and live.


“You speak Dragonese, damn that’s awesome…”, Gary said to me one morning before we started our weekly meeting. I saw him come to the office in a brand-new European sports car. I figured it was beyond the means of most people but Gary must be doing really well for himself. Maybe he’s privately wealthy and does this work out of a sense of duty like me. I certainly don’t do it for the meager sum Gary is, according to him, begrudgingly forced to me.

“Dude that is so awesome. Man, you better watch out, that is a powerful skill. People like that are the first to be killed over in Operations. I would keep that to yourself, buddy”, Gary said. I don’t know how it came up exactly but I mentioned that I had a skill for picking up languages. I supposed I was just trying to impress him. I told him how I acquired the demonic language Dragonese from a very brief study as a hobby.

“Wait, do you think I could be useful to the Good fight outside of assembly? Gary, I would do that in a heart-beat, if I could. Could you do a recommendation for me to Operations?”, I asked. I was legitimately excited about the possibility of contributing more to the fight for Good.

“Yeah, sure thing. Tell you what. Why don’t you wait and sit on this information for a few days so I can make a few calls. I’ll take care of everything”, Gary said flashing one of his cool smiles. Damn, the guy can do no wrong.

This was actually happening, I thought. I was going to be an actual agent! I was so excited that I just can’t sleep that night when I got home. Tomorrow I would hopefully be speaking to a member in Operations and could start my training.

I was just about to fall asleep when I heard something. A scratching noise just outside my bedroom window, followed by a metallic whirling saw-like sound and a haunting electronic scream.

00:49 UTC


What Happened To Mr. Lucas?

I worked security at the Gable-Waterman Buildimg downtown on Fifth South Street. I knew Mr. Lucas for twenty-five years then. Often, he would make late night visits for office work. At the same time I was finally reaching my golden year - stretch, grinding away and pulverizing the last bits of my unexceptional career in the security industry - that point in time we all reach where you would so love to ordain all the world with the disjointed enjambments of all your self - perceived 'wisdom'. Moreso, you only want to find a thing to do with your boredom and moroseness of age.

One night, very late or very early, Mr. Lucas came into the building. We were on such informal and friendly terms that I often would withhold demands that he even sign in. Everybody liked the amiable Mr. Lucas. Some even joked that with his tan skin, bright teeth, and golden hair, he was Odysseus incarnate. This night, however, something was different about him. He came in, dressed as usual in a $1,500 suit, and passed by me without even saying 'hi'. The only difference was that his tie was loose and crooked, as if it had been tugged at.

He looked forward, then back, then all around with a detached air, and again, this routine repeating itself over and over for maybe three or four minutes; I myself continually attempted to communicate with him through a dark, impenetrable veil of indifference, nothing of which showed the slightest effect. He peeked through every window, sometimes clinging, other times caroming from one to another like an eight ball, mumbled and heaved, and went on chasing his tail. His eyes were darker than usual. A sheen of sweat glistened across his face. They bulged. Almost seeming to need to cry. He looked like a worn-out, frightened spirit shoved into a suit.

Eventually, he got on the elevator, but the frightful languish of his eyes startled, even haunted me, then and there. The way they seemed corked deeply into their sockets. The wasted shadows around them. The way he ignored me, but acted absolutely frantic, paranoid, irresolute, and how he had affected an expression of terror which could only have said to any eye "they're coming to get me and I must escape".

After a while, I began to get concerned. It only gnawed at me, only intensified more and more until I began to put together little shreds, for instance - he seemed only to be an image. Much like an amorphous glob, which had conformed to his likeness, etched him as a three - dimensional entity, yet still remained a roaming shadow. Sounds were missing, as if he were a muted television character jumped through the screen, the silence corresponding with his footsteps. The nonexistent musky scent and the nonexistent breeze as he flashed past me, and, finally, the nonexistent chime of the elevator.

I called his office up on thirteen over and over. I went outside and looked up at the building to catch a view of his office light overlooking the river. It was pitch dark. The entire floor was pitch dark. Once I had rounded the corner of the building and approached the turnstile, I saw that it was still spinning as if just used. He must have left. That explained why his light was off. He just needed to grab a thing or two, was probably stressed, and a tad moody.

In the morning, my boss approached me at my desk. He asked if I had seen Mr. Lucas. Mr. Lucas' wife was concerned, and so was his family. The police had even gotten involved. I told him, of which I assumed might have given them all a mighty sigh of relief, that Mr. Lucas came by last night. My boss glinted and arched his brows at me with perplexity. I asked him what was wrong.

"What's wrong, Jim? You look kind of, I don't even know-"

"Well, did the man say anything to you?" I went on describing his bizarre actions in detail, which only succeeded in mystifying him even more.

"Show me the footage." Gladly, I did. And from there nearly succumbed to asphyxiation through shock. Clearly, I could be seen nodding. Clearly, I could be seen speaking. Clearly, the elevators had parted. Clearly, finally, the turnstile had spun. The common denominator to each of these acts was this - Mr. Lucas himself never once showed up in the footage.

In the end, police collided headlong into one roadblock after another until he was given up for dead, and he, his world, and his case all went cold. I heard they had a mock burial for the man eventually. Nothing of this typical, modern idealist of a man was so striking. He wore a suit like others, went to work like others, and supposedly had a family like others. There was nothing exceptional nor diminutive about him.

I don't know what I saw that night, but it seemed to conform to nothing and everything at the same time - vampirism, ghosts, demons...all I can say is that deep down, I knew that for a man so courteous, selfless and friendly to drop all of his most inherent, unconscious, inhibiting qualities like a ten ton anchor was proof - proof that something beyond the boundaries of all conceivable, tangential experience was happening to him.

What frightens me is that he looked so terrified. What frightens me more is the mystery as to why I was the one to have been given the curse to see it. I really, really don't want to die. But now I'm aware of things I never was before. Of eyes, of whispers stitched into the wind, of shadows that move and tease. It's a prelude. I know that this is true. A prelude to running? Hiding? Or, perhaps, even pursuing.

Years had passed, and a small article caught my attention - a story on page three of my local paper, titled, 'Woman Has A Rendezvous With Her Brother - Her Dead Brother'. The sister of Mr. Lucas had claimed that somewhere in the Appalachians, in the valley of the art of moonshine, she met a man in a café so remote it practically ran on the fuel two - dozen people; that is to say, the entire town.

She said that the waitress brought her a warm slice of cherry pie a la mode. The waitress told her it was sent to her by a man seated in the back booth.

"He waved at me, the stranger. I waved back and shouted out 'thank you'. He stood up the color of ash and stepped into the light, and I nearly screamed. He held me, took me by my hand, and led me to a booth where no employees or patrons could hear. And from there, he expounded all the secrets and mysteries of all life and existence, rattling them off fluently as a linguist. He also told me to keep it to myself".

"So then, Ms. Lucas, tell me, why come forward with such an amazing story, if, in fact, you knew in advance you would exclude us from hearing all pertinent details?"
To this, she had no immediate response. I pushed harder. "How do you know it was your brother? How can you know it wasn't someone who looked like him? Or, perhaps, your grief has so affected you that you might have been dreaming?

To this Ms. Lucas replied with earnest and emphatic assurance - "I could never repeat something so frightening, however, he asked me to come forward for one reason - to serve as a warning."

22:23 UTC


I Found The Town That Doesn't Exist

My obsession with the obscure and unexplained had brought me to many peculiar places, but none as bizarre as the town I was about to seek. I stumbled upon a thread on another form dedicated to all sorts of paranormal phenomena, where they were discussing a town called "Lockwood Hollow." It was said to appear at random, nestled deep within a dense uncharted forest, only to vanish without a trace as mysteriously as it had emerged. Intrigued and unable to resist the allure of the unknown, I resolved to discover Lockwood Hollow myself.

I spent countless hours scouring the web, collecting pieces of fragmented information from dead accounts and compiling a rough map that should lead to the town's supposed location. Armed with an overstuffed backpack full of supplies and a drive fueled by insatiable curiosity, I set off on my quest to find the Lockwood Hollow, the town that doesn't exist.

I arrived at what seemed to be the forest's edge, my body sending a shiver that ran down my spine, giving me all the confirmation I needed. The woods were unnervingly silent, the thick canopy above blocking most sunlight and casting a perpetual twilight. It was quiet, the only sounds accompanying me were of rustling leaves underfoot and the occasional caw of a lone crow in the distance.

After several hours of trekking through the oppressive forest, I began to doubt the existence of Lockwood Hollow. I questioned my sanity, wondering if I was chasing a mere figment of someone's imagination. But as I was about to abandon my search, a ray of sunlight pierced the canopy, illuminating what looked to be a narrow dirt path. With renewed hope, I followed it and soon found myself standing on the outskirts of a small town, beside an old broken road sign that read “Lockwood Hollow.”

The town was a hauntingly beautiful sight, reminiscent of a bygone era with its Victorian architecture and cobblestone streets. Yet it was silent, eerily quiet, feeling completely devoid of any human presence. A palpable sense of unease washed over me, filling me with unease, but my curiosity urged me to keep exploring, to learn more about this forgotten place. And to find what caused its demise.

I wandered the empty streets, hoping to find some semblance of life. As I continued to explore, I started to notice the deterioration of the town . Ivy had climbed up the walls and covered everything like a shroud, exposed rotting wood of a long-forgotten era beneath the once-vibrant paint that had faded and torn away. It appeared as though time had forgotten about this location.

Drawn by an unexplained force, I found myself in front of an old, decrepit church. Its heavy wooden doors creaked open with a groan, revealing a dark, musty interior. Compelled to explore further, I cautiously stepped inside.

The church was abandoned, with everything coated in a thick layer of dust. The pews were overturned, as if knocked over during a rush, and the once beautiful stained-glass windows were cracked and shattered. Towards the back of the church, I noticed what looked like a massive book resting on a wooden pedestal near an old altar. As I approached, it was though the air seemed to grow colder, and an oppressive silence enveloped me.

The book was bound in ancient, weathered leather and held together by rusted metal clasps. Its yellowed pages contained a long list of names, each accompanied by a date. As I read the names, my blood ran cold: towards the bottom, I found that my own name was inscribed on the parchment, followed by today's date. I was in shock, I felt the weight of unseen eyes upon me, and the silent air was now filled with sinister whispers that echoed through the empty church.

Gripped by an immense feeling of terror, I fled the church, my heart pounding like a drum in my chest. I sprinted through the streets, desperate to escape this cursed town. But no matter how far or fast I ran, the town only seemed to stretch on endlessly, the streets and buildings blurring together, forming into a sick and twisted labyrinth.

As night descended, a dense fog crept through the town, limiting my vision and leaving me chilled to the core. The whispers grew louder and more menacing, and I sensed a malevolent presence lurking just beyond my sight, always at my heels. I knew I couldn't escape Lockwood Hollow, it was a place that wasn't meant to be found, a purgatory for those foolish enough to seek it.

Hours began to stretch into days, I found myself trapped in an endless cycle of fear and desperation. I wandered the fog filled streets, searching for any means of an escape, but nothing worked, the town had a life of its own, shifting and changing as if to taunt me.

The whispers never ceased, and at times, they seemed to morph into ghastly laughter or sobs that echoed through the damp air. Shadows danced at the edge of my vision, Lost soles? Or malevolent entities arriving to feed off of my sanity.

Slowly, I started going mad, losing all sense of time and reality. The town that once was eerily beautiful, had warped into something twisted and nightmarish, as if the very fabric of Lockwood Hollow was tainted by the darkness that enveloped it.

In my moments of lucidity, I scoured the town for clues, trying to piece together the mystery of Lockwood Hollow, and to just maybe, find a way out. I found journals and letters in abandoned homes, recounting the lives of the town's former residents. Each claimed of a once thriving community that had fallen victim to an unknown force, a malevolent entity, one that sought to consume the souls of those foolish enough to enter its domain.

It became clear that I wasn't the first visitor ensnared by Lockwood Hollow's sinister web, and I fear I will not be the last. I’m starting to feel as though I am left with two choices. Surrender to the darkness, or fight for my survival.

And so, I write these words, my final account of the horror that is Lockwood Hollow. I will leave it pinned to the front door of this church. I hope that my tale will serve as a warning to those who would dare seek this cursed town. For whoever finds this, leave now! And hope that it’s not too late, and beware the lure of Lockwood Hollow, a place where the lost are destined to remain, trapped in a town that doesn't exist.

22:06 UTC


Aggravated Flesh

Undulating Flesh

Going out for a late night drive, I find myself at a red light. The weather was nice and I didn’t have anywhere to be, so a nice little cruise to clear my head seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and a night time cruise sounded mentally satisfying.

After all, I’ve been doing so good. No reason not to.

Ahead the traffic lantern sways in the breeze, the red glow beaming through its weathered lens. There’s no one else at the intersection, and the empty streets start to make me feel antsy. My palms start to sweat, and I readjust my grip on the wheel as I look around.

To my left, there’s a gas station. An old mom and pop looking place, with a single duo of pumps standing under a flickering light. When I look through the window, there doesn’t seem to be anyone working behind the counter. Maybe they’re taking out the trash?

To my right, there seems to be a bar that’s closed up for the night. The parking lot is empty, and their neon sign is shut off. I try to make out the name, but it's too dark. The sixth something. Maybe I’d have to come back some other time in the daylight and check it out.

The light ahead remains red. No matter, I’m not in a hurry.

I crack my knuckles nervously, and turn on the radio. Some soothing music will do the trick. I tune the dial to find a station, watching the needle move on the dash as I navigate the static. The walls are meat. The needle wobbles back and forth, but nothing can really come through. I must be too far from the local stations. Something about the aggravated static makes me uneasy, and I feel myself start to sweat.

I got to look at the red light again, and get distracted. Across the street there’s a fox walking in the grass, one that’s pulling a tiny leash behind it. It stops and looks at me momentarily, tilting its head in interest. Something about it makes me uncomfortable, and I feel the condensation of sweat on my brow.

I rub my eyes, feeling the glimmer of a migraine behind it. It passes, and when I look down, I see a relief to the unending static on the radio.

Sitting in the cup holder is a cassette tape. It seems too good to be true.

I grab the tape and look at it. It’s an old tape, one that looks like it's seen much use. Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” album. Perfect.

I look around the intersection, and see it’s still empty. I have time to put it in. At last, some kind of reassurance for this damn red light. I check both ways again, and lean over to put the tape in. The rectangular plastic of the cassette is satisfying. The crisp drag of it entering the deck is satisfying.

I’m satisfied.

As the tape plays over the speakers, I feel myself relax. I’ve been doing so good. It’s better now. I’m better now.

I sink into my seat as the piano intro starts, and I feel like I can breathe again. The music calms the buzzing in my head, and my nerves start to calm. Now if only the light would change, and I could get on with my peaceful drive.

Across the street, the Fox continues to look at me. I pay it no mind, and place my hands back on the steering wheel. It’s nice out tonight. Through the haze of the windshield, I look up at the red light. I don’t know why it refuses to change, but I’m patient. It’ll get there. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. I glance at all lanes of the intersection, thinking maybe a car is coming and I didn’t see it. That’s why it’s taking so long.

The streets are empty.

The streets are empty.

The streets are empty.

I look nervously at the gas station to my left, expecting it to be empty, and it’s not. Something is standing behind the register. It looks like a man in a metal suit– like knight’s armor, horribly modified with a tail made of wires and computer parts—

“No.” I whisper to myself, looking away. I’ve been doing so good, there’s no way it’s gotten away from me. It’s not really there, I know it’s not, so I look to the right and make sure—

The parking lot to the closed bar is no longer empty, something stands tall amongst the rows of painted lines. A large horse in a suit, human hands stapled where the front hooves should be—

“No.” I say again, feeling a rush of bile in my throat. I swallow and keep it down, along with the murmur of the migraine that begs to return.

I’ve been doing good, really. It’s fine, everything’s fine. It’s been fine for a while. Really.

The familiar cold sweat returns, hands clammy on the wheel. The song rises over the speakers of the playing tape, and I plead for it to comfort me as I look desperately at the red light.

Why won’t it change?

Why won’t it just change?

I don’t want to do this, I can’t do this.

Above, the red light mocks me. Across the street, the fox mocks me. It looks at me in judgment, its face twisting as it looks like it’s trying to gag. Something behind it stirs in the trees, and I can faintly make out the outline of a large rack of antlers, and a writhing mass of slick tentacles—

“Please! Please!” I beat my hands on the steering wheel, feeling myself crumble under the weight of it all.

Above, the light is red. Behind me, I see headlights for another car. I watch them in the rearview mirror, and I feel the welling of tears in my eyes. The hair on my neck stands straight. My armpits are moist, a stream of sweat drizzles down my temple. I want to feel for my phone, but I don’t think I have it. I don’t think I’ve had it for a while.

Behind me the car slows for the red light, and pulls in the lane next to me. The car stops, the groan of another engine idling threatening my music. I don’t want to look at them, so I don’t. I don’t care who it is. I try to focus on the music but it's hard to hear it.

I decide I’m going to run the red light. I mash the pedal to the floor but the car doesn’t move. I try again, and again, each time harder than the last. I look at the fuel gauge… and see I have no gas. Every warning light on the dash is on now, a collection of symbols telling me I’m not going anywhere soon.

Deep breaths. You can do this, deep breaths. Breathe. You’ve being doing good, you been—

Across the street, the fox is vomiting what looks like a man. Tearing fur makes way for a head and naked body, a slimy face with eyes that open in time to look at me.

“Please.” I say again, looking away from the oral birth to the car next to me. The window rolls down, revealing two men in suits and close-cropped hair. They watch me wordlessly, eyes shielded behind sunglasses and a film of cigarette smoke that billows out. They say nothing, only watch, as the sound of my music fades away to nothing.


I try to turn the volume down but the radio explodes with noise, the sounds of a hundred screams filling my ears so loud it hurts. I scream against the noise, but it doesn’t stop. I hit the “stop” button, try to eject the tape–anything. The screams become too much, and I find myself tearing off my seatbelt and fleeing the car.

Outside of the car, it is silent again. A fog is rolling in, one that wafts over the intersection until it's consumed by it.

I look to the gas station for help, only to see the inside of it painted red. Inside the station a man in a hardhat is getting mutilated, watching me with a smile as a metal-alligator-human tears through his guts with gloves made of knives. The alloy abomination snarls and stomps the man on the ground, crushing both his skull and the hardhat with a large steel boot. Outside, a garbage truck rumbles to life at the gas-pump.


Over the crisp night air, I hear the neigh of the horse man. He’s closer now, standing on the side of the road. He downs what looks like a glass of whiskey, before squeezing it in his hand so hard it shatters. His unnatural hand runs the thumb over its fingers, shards of glass serrating the pale digits.

Across the street, the fox completes its purge. The naked man rises from the fetal position in the grass, standing tall and awkwardly with a face and eyes that look just like mine. Behind him the deer monstrosity emerges from the woods, a portrait of animal gore of all kinds shifting under a hundred reaching feelers. I turn to get away, to get back into the car, but when I turn around—

My car is gone. The men in sunglasses watch without emotion, their eyes bleeding from behind the sunglasses. After staring at me for a moment, they turn their heads in unison to face the intersection. The trunk of their car pops, and a clown climbs out with a wooden bat in his hands. He points past me with the club, in the same direction the men in sunglasses are looking.

“Please, help me—”

My voice chokes when I follow their gaze, and I want to cover my eyes as the fog retreats in fast-forward.

In the intersection, there is no redlight. The pavement has crumbled in on itself, forming a crater where the street used to be. I don’t want to see it but I have too– I can’t look away. My feet move on their own, and I ignore the abominations as I focus on the gaping hole. It calls to me, and I can’t seem to resist its voice.

I look down in the pit, wishing I could stop even as I lower myself to climb in. There’s something down there, and I need to see it. I make my descent, hands and shoes navigating the jagged concrete and twisted rebar as I blink away tears. As I near the bottom, the things from above gather around, each silently observing as I go deeper and deeper. I don’t want to go, but I don’t know how to stop. I scream at them for help and they ignore me. I curse at them angrily, shouting and pleading until I feel the purchase of flat ground beneath my feet. My breath shudders as I turn, but my body continues on autopilot to the center.

Laying on the ground, is a Hawaiian shirt. The fabric is frayed and dirty, the floral pattern torn in multiple places. I reach down to grab it but it ignites into a ball of fire, stitches withering and turning black against the flame. Through the smoke of the smoldering shirt, a door materializes in the wall of rock. I don’t understand. I don’t want to.

I want to cry but the tears won’t come. I look above for guidance and see the rim of the pit is outlined with a silent audience.

The naked man that looks like me. The standing horse in a suit, with stapled on hands. The men in sunglasses, bleeding from their eyes. The horror with the head of a deer. The metal alligator monster.

In unison, they point to the door. I don’t want to go, but I know I must. I need to see what they want to show me. Reluctantly, I head to the door. I hear the screams trying to get out, a chorus of pain and death and fear, all welcoming and warning. I feel an angry heat the closer I get, and the knob is hot to the touch. When I open the door, it feels like my skull is breaking in two. I step in and the door slams behind me, a momentary darkness transitioning to a single flickering light.

Behind the door, the walls are meat. Gestating, aggravated flesh. They squirm and wiggle, arms reaching and eyes staring as I break before them. I shiver and hug myself as it all comes back to me, like a bomb detonating in the calm ocean that was my brain. I want to say I’ve been doing good, but I know it's a lie.

I recognize the laundromat, even in its appalling state. Washing machines thrash on each side, the clanging of metal boxes squelching in the gore that has replaced the tiled floor. In the center of the room stands an old television on a cart, overgrown by tendons and sprouting teeth.

Around me, everything screams. I look behind the glass of every agitating machine, and all I see is a mass of pounding limbs fighting to get out. Fingers and toes kicking and screaming, digits breaking against the glass. I want to be far away from here, back in the car on the open road.

Behind me the door is gone, replaced by a stretch of skin and veins. The light goes out, and all I can hear is the convulsing of the meat, and the banging of the broken machines. In the darkness the walls come for me, and I can only cower and sob as they draw near.

In the dark, the television blinks to life. Even as I watch the walls close in and the writhing corridor narrows around me. The picture is old and grainy but I recognize the scene, like it's a movie I saw long ago. A man in a straight-jacket, kicking against men in white coats. The man thrashes inconsolably, even as they stick a needle in his arm. His eyes are bloodshot and dart around, and his hair is tossed and missing in places. But there’s an undeniable, sickening familiarity to him.

He shouts the same things over and over, and it all comes back to me as I make out the words. I mouth the words myself, the syllables feeling natural even as I sob.

I seem to have misplaced my pills.

Somebody help me.

Help me.



22:06 UTC


The Woman in Room 1 - The Final Part

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

I slam the car door shut.

Michael clampers onto the seat next to me, feeling around for his seat belt. Blood drips from his eyes down his cheeks. I take my keys out of my pocket and thrust them into the ignition.

The car splutters to a start. I turn to Michael, reaching over him and grabbing his seatbelt before clipping it in.

“Michael,” I say, “Hold on.”

“I’ll hold on...” he quietly says, a tremble in his voice. I flick the car headlights on.

Harry stands right in front of the car, now illuminated by the headlights. He’s clutching the blood-stained scissors in his right hand, staring right through the car windshield. I freeze.

Harry stares at Michael, confused. He slowly tilts his head to the right, then the left. The look of confusion on his face grows. Then, suddenly, as if he loses sight of Michael, Harry’s green eyes flutter and blink, before they dart to look at me. I squeeze my eyes shut.

A long, low croak rings through the air. It starts quiet, but gets progressively louder. I open my eyes, and see Harry pointing toward me, his mouth open wide as he emits the low moan. I flick the car into first gear, and press hard on the accelerator, driving into Harry at such a force that it propels him into the air and over the back of the car.

Michael whimpers as I start to drive away from the care home. I look over to him, grimacing as I once again see the gashes left where his eyes once were. Blood covers his pyjama t-shirt, spreading down his boxers and bare legs. He’s clutching something – a piece of paper.

“Michael”, I say, “what is that you’re holding?”

Just as I ask, a ghastly screech fills the night air. It comes from behind us, from the care home. I look in the rear view mirror. In it, I see the dim outline of the home, getting ever further in the distance. I turn my eyes back to Michael, who still grips the paper, then back to the road.

“Michael”, I pant, “can you speak to me? You said you knew what was happening!”

“No!”, Michael exclaims, “I didn’t say that. I said I know it’s the lady that’s doing this. The woman in room one.”

I glance in the rear-view mirror once more, the road between us and the nursing home has grown, the home now a blip in the distance. I gently press on the brake pedal until the car comes to a stop, and turn my attention to Michael once more. His grip around the paper is tight, but as I begin to take it off of him, it loosens.

I hold the paper in front of me – it’s the same paper I had found earlier, the patient file for the woman in room 1. Except now, I can clearly read it.

Her name is Anna Fletcher, as I glance to the small, black and white photo which is so clearly the woman in room 1. Her photo stares back at me lifelessly; despite the lack of colour I can somehow make out her green eyes. I read on.


That must be wrong. It states here that she was checked into the home in 1898. That can’t be right. That’s over one hundred years ago. I read further.

‘Anna has come to us following complaints from the Church, which she has served for the majority of her adult life. Churchgoers have started to notice changes in her as she has aged, both physical and mental changes. As Anna’s sight began to deteriorate, she has become excessively jealous of those who still possess their sight, obsessively accusing them of ‘stealing her eyes’ from her. Due to a lack of family and of support, it is of the care home’s opinion that Anna, or Mother Anna, as she is widely known to the community, reside here for the remainder of her life or unless her condition, both mental and physical, drastically improves.’

Mother Anna. The name of the care home - Care of Mother Anna Nursing Home.

“She’s- ” I begin before Michael interrupts me.

“She’s Mother Anna. It’s her.”

I continue to read.

‘1900 – Since Anna has come to us, her condition has greatly improved. She appears more full of life and in a better state of mind. However, the biggest revelation and shock is the gradual return of her eyesight. It appears that she is quickly regaining her ability to see. However, it is of the care home’s belief that Anna has spread her past ideologies onto the other residents, as they have began to claim they cannot see, and are blaming Anna for their loss in sight’.

Suddenly, Michael begins to violently shake. His head bangs on the headrest of his seat as droplets of blood flicker from his face onto mine. He’s having a seizure, I suspect from his injuries, I need to get him to the hospital.

I put Anna’s patient file down, and turn my attention to the road once more.

And I can see her.

I can see Anna, standing; no, floating, toward me from the darkness ahead. Her long, broken strands of hair float in the air as if through water. Her expressionless face illuminates from the shadows of the night as it gently floats closer to me, becoming clearer every second. The shimmer of her green eyes have locked into mine. Her eyes are so beautiful. I wish them to be mine. I am jealous that they are not.

They can be yours.

The voice of an old woman croaks through my head.

They can be yours, Olivia.

My eyes are changing now. I feel they are opening, wider than I’ve ever opened them before. I can see so clearly now. I can see Anna’s beauty. That’s all I can see.

Her voice deepens.

Your eyes are becoming so beautiful, child.

My hands reach toward the ignition, I feel the keys to the car on my fingertips.

Your eyes are opening.

I grasp the keys as my eyes stay locked with Anna’s. I grasp the keys tight.

You don’t need to be jealous anymore, child.

The dancing shades of green seem to leap from Anna’s eyes, through the night sky and into mine. I pull the keys from the ignition.

I am here.

I hold the keys tight before thrusting one into my right eye. A surge of pain shoots through my body, and I feel Anna’s grip loosen. But she still has me. Blood pours from my eye as I yank the key out and half of my world plunges into a deep dark.

I am still here, Olivia.

I drive the same key into my right eye. I am plunged into darkness.

But I am saved from the green-eyed monster.

Beeping, beeping, beeping, all I hear is bloody beeping.

I’ve been in hospital for a number of days now, I don’t know how many, strapped into this wheelchair. I’ve completely lost track of time. I just sit in my darkness, reliving the events of that night.

Nobody believes me. The doctors think I’m crazy. It’s all in the news, some people think I had something to do with the horrors that occurred at the nursing home, some people think I’m an innocent victim who’s lost her mind having witnessed them. But nobody believes me, nobody believes the truth.

Michael was dead by my side when they found me in the car that night. Once I had pierced my eyes, all the noise, the chaos, everything stopped. Her voice in my head disappeared, the power I felt from her, all gone in an instant.

The rest of the residents were found dead, except for Anna. Except the woman in room 1. There’s now a manhunt on, the authorities trying to find her, trying to find this poor helpless woman.

‘Elderly white female, frail, grey hair and green eyes’ is the description of her that’s being spread in the news.

Green eyes…

I’m still being treated in the hospital, but from what I understand I’ll be transferred to a ‘secure facility’, in other words, a mental asylum. Some place run by a company called ‘MedVars’. But, for now, I’m sharing a room with a nice enough, elderly sounding lady. She chats about her injury to me, but I don’t bother about speaking to her about mine. She’s in with a doctor at the moment, murmuring to him about pain medications.

“That should be you sorted”, I hear the voice of a male doctor. The kind and elderly woman thanks him and I hear him leave the room.

“They never do get the medication right the first time”, the elderly woman exclaims, “the only thing that’s keeping me sane in here is that doctor! He’s incredibly handsome!”

“Yeah?” I ask with a slight chuckle, “describe him to me”.

“Well, he’s tall, has a lovely jawline, dark brown hair”, she starts, “but what draws me in is his eyes. They seem to, well, dance!”

I stay silent for a moment, gulp, then gather my composure to ask, “His eyes?”

“Well yes,” she laughs, “they dance around the room! They swirl around and absorb anything that they touch! They’re so beautiful and I wish they were mine! I wish they were everybody’s! Oh, how I wish you could see them! They’re the brightest shade of green, you see!”

The door opens and someone begins to wheel my chair out of the room.

“If you could see them you could understand!” the elderly woman loudly chants, “you’d understand their beauty! You would be able to see their beauty!”

“No- ” I stammer, “wait!”

“But then again,” I hear the elderly woman speak, her voice distorted, “you can’t see. Can you?”

“Stop!” I shout, not knowing where I was going or who was wheeling my chair, “Don’t look at their eyes! Stop!”

I hear the elderly woman laughing in the distance as I’m wheeled away.

“That’s the woman just checked out of room 1!” I hear a nurse shout, as I leave the hospital screaming.

21:36 UTC


What Happened at Hotel Carlton

Y’all ever have a rich friend? One that casually drops stuff like “we should go to Dubai for the weekend,” or “where do you guys have your summer house?” Well, I had one, and his name is Josh.

Josh is one of the genuinely nicest people I know, but sometimes he has difficulty understanding the plight of the regular dude. His parents are old money. They run a real-estate conglomerate spanning throughout the U.S, and have always hoped Josh would join their business and take upon his father. I’ve never met his dad, and sometimes I feel like neither has he - they didn’t spend much time together on account of work. I always pictured him as a monocle wearing, thick-mustached Mr. Monopoly that would rent out park benches for the homeless if he could.

Some people have a white-picket-fence upbringing, but Josh had what I call the stone-walls-guarding-the-mansion kind. Most of his life he’d lived in a manor not dissimilar to the one Mr. Burns lives in. He even had a real life Smithers (yes, his real surname was Smithers, poor thing), whose whole entire job was to serve the family with whatever they needed.

We’ve known each other since we were kids. In elementary school, I played soccer for a small league, and that’s where we first met. Josh was homeschooled, but he’d begged his parents to let him play with the other kids after seeing footage of Cristiano Ronaldo, and begrudgingly they let him. We were a shitty team full of shitty, difficult kids, and part of me thinks Josh was put there as a lesson, his parents hoping he’d want to quit immediately after hanging out with the lower class; they had the money and connections to put him into a team that didn’t practice on an unkempt field outside that was half grass and half mud. To their disappointment, Josh loved it, and slowly, everyone came to like him as well.

For his first practice, he’d come in wearing a Burberry cardigan, chinos and leather loafers. Everyone made fun of him, but Josh tried his best, although he obviously had never kicked a ball in his life. It was a rainy day, and by the end of the practice his loafers were crumpled and torn, his cardigan muddy and unrecognizable. I remember chuckling at his get-up, sure that this was the first and last time we’d be seeing Josh the rich kid.

To our surprise, he came back the next week. This time, he was sporting the most expensive and fancy soccer gear one could get: football boots worn in the previous World Cup by Argentina, as well as custom shorts and a shirt designed by Ronaldo himself. Everyone was jealous and bitter at Josh - some kids couldn’t even afford real soccer boots of any kind. Defying the odds of him getting instantly beat up, he walked up to the changing room doors where we were hanging out and opened his puffed up duffel bag. Inside, he had a Ronaldo shirt for everyone. He handed each kid one while apologizing that he couldn’t get them the whole outfit.

With that, most kids came to accept him as one of ours. Some still had their doubts, but as Josh came back time and time again, and although he was never going to be Ronaldo, he tried and practiced as hard as anyone else until he secured his place in the team. During this time, I came to like his awkwardness, and I guess he liked that I did things with him that no one else did. We started hanging out outside of practice, and I taught him how to fill up water balloons and ride a skateboard. We watched MTV together and tried to recreate Jackass stunts we saw on TV. I won’t lie, as a kid I definitely enjoyed the fact that he could get basically anything he wanted whenever we wanted, a superpower which we used to our full advantage, sending Smithers to buy us candy and video games and action movies whenever we felt like it. Our parents weren’t the most present, his mom and dad always traveling for work, and mine just not being very attentive, so we got to do as we pleased for most of the time. In hindsight, I think Smithers felt bad for us, and that’s why he was willing to get us (almost) whatever we wanted.

Josh became my best friend. We hung out almost every day, Smithers either bringing him over to play in my neighborhood, or him coming to pick me up and take me to Josh’s place, which was the size of a neighborhood. He’d always help me - or whoever else he could - with whatever, using his resources to do good instead of hoarding them. He might not have understood what it’s like not to be megarich, but he wanted to help others any way he could.

Years later, it was time for us to go to college. Obviously, with that kind of money and a surname like Walton, Josh got to go to an Ivy League school, while I went to a middle-class college half a state away that I could barely afford. He offered to pay for my tuition, but I couldn’t say yes. It was too much, and I’m sure his parents wouldn’t have been too pleased about that either.

We kept in touch mostly online, but college life kept us both busy and the distance made it so we didn’t see each other often. I could notice that he was hanging out with other rich kids. When I’d ask him what he’s up to, he’d text me things like “going 2 Paris with some girls'' or “staying at spa-hotel for weekend, hungover lol.” Meanwhile, as I worked as a food courier during nights, I started feeling bitter and jealous, like I had when I’d first met him on that muddy soccer field. The fact that he was rich and from a family that’s slowly acquiring the status of household name was becoming more apparent by the day. We texted less frequently and spoke on the phone only occasionally.

One day Josh called me up out of the blue. I didn’t exactly feel like hearing more tales of expensive champagne, trips to Europe, or frat house hijinks, but I took the call anyway. I thought I’d just make up an excuse if he started to go off on tangents regarding his awesome life.

“Hey, man. It’s been a while,” I said as I pressed the phone to my ear, ready to roll my eyes.

“Hey, uhh.. Yeah, it has,” he replied, his voice sunken.

“Is everything alright Josh?”

“Yeah, no, everything’s fine. Listen. I know we haven’t exactly been talking much recently. That’s my fault -- I’m sorry. I might’ve gotten a bit carried away with this college thing.”

“Yeah, you might have,” I said teasingly, a chuckle escaping my lips.

There was a pause, like he was thinking over what he was about to say.

“I want to get away for a bit, clear my head. Thought you might want to join me. There’s this old hotel my parents are trying to sell, but it’s gonna be empty for at least a couple months longer. It’s renovated to be like a house, at least from the inside - they’re gonna redo the exterior later. There’s like cinema rooms, a bunch of bedrooms, an indoor pool, the works, really. I know it’s not really your scene, but it’s smack dab halfway between our schools. Should be about a six hour drive for both of us. And with spring break around the corner, we could stay there for a while.”

“You’re not gonna do spring break? I thought that was a huge thing there. Or maybe you’d be taking a flight to Paris or London with your frat buds, be an alternative kid.”

“Okay, okay, I get it, call Jello Biafra so he can scream at me about how I need to take a holiday in Cambodia.”

Josh paused for a moment, then continued, enunciating his words clearly with a stern tone, which he always did when he wanted me to take him seriously. “I’m tired of that shit. I need some time away to think, and I’d really love to talk to my best friend while I’m doing that.”

Josh seemed genuinely concerned and serious, and it was obvious he’d thought this whole thing out. For a moment I felt bad for teasing him, but hey, that’s what best friends do, right?

“I’ll need to cancel some plans, but I think I could spare a week at least,” I replied, knowing full well that I had absolutely no plans for spring break.

“Great. I’m glad to hear it. Hey, I gotta go, but I’ll text you the address if you wanna snoop the place out beforehand. Let’s talk soon to figure out the details, ok?”

“Sounds good. Thanks for calling, Josh. I appreciate it.”

“I’ll try to do it more often,” he said with a light chuckle, sounding relieved that I’d agreed to his plan.

After the call, Josh texted me the address and a link to a website that showcased the property and its history. The hotel was reportedly built between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The faded building was shaped like a long rectangle, boasting four floors and intricate stone detailing. There were pictures of the hotel from its heyday, its paint bright and fresh, windows crystal clear, flowering bushes rimming the entrance in trimmed formations. In one of the pictures, smiling people walked about the property as staff migrated guests’ belongings in large, golden racks that moved on wheels.

Two weeks later, as spring break officially started, I drove up to the hotel and rolled up next to Josh’s Bentley, which was parked near the entrance to the property, some distance away from the hotel. Well that’s new, I thought, looking at the shiny black car with jealousy as I got out of my clunker. As I walked towards the building through the main road it invoked no feelings of grandiosity or luxury like it had on the website. Instead, it looked like a mausoleum; a tomb for something long lost. The ground was filled with concrete where bushes had been, and the exterior of the building seemed to crumble, evident by giant cracks and mossy, wet patches strewn about. What paint remained was faded, and mostly the building was an ugly gray, unfit for the springtime seeds wafting in the air through fresh rays of sunshine.

Josh opened the large, wooden double doors in a dramatic, two-handed push as I walked up the cracked steps.

“I’m terribly sorry sir, but we are fully booked. If I may suggest so, there’s a rancid cottage just down the street where you could stay the night, fit for a misfit like yourself indeed!”

“I’m actually booked for the king suite, courtesy of m’lord Sir Josh Walton. Haven’t you heard of my name, boy?” I replied in jest.

Dropping the act, Josh took me into his arms and hugged me tightly, pressing down on my bladder.

“Good to see you, Luke. I'm glad you could make it.”

“I still need to make it – to the bathroom that is - you’re squeezing the piss out of me Josh,” I said, it occurring to me that I hadn’t taken a bathroom break through the whole drive.

“Shit, sorry,” Josh said, loosening his hug. “There’s a bathroom just down the hall, first door on the left.” I skittered off awkwardly to the lavatory.

After I relieved myself, I found Josh standing in the main hall that opened up from the entrance. Above him hung a chandelier the size of a small car, and directly in front of him stood what used to be the receptionist’s desk. Mirrored on both sides of the desk were two elevators, as well as a door leading to a staircase.

“Welcome to the Carlton hotel!” Josh shouted as he saw me enter the hall, spreading his arms in a dramatic fashion.

I obliged to Josh’s offer of a grand tour, which wasn’t too long as much of the building was still completely empty, and seeing as it used to be a hotel, most rooms were completely identical - not much to see. He said that the building was basically a mirror image of itself, the two halves exactly the same for the most part.

The first floor was stuffed with all things grandiose: a large dining hall that connected to an industrial-sized kitchen, a social room with a fireplace and tables set for board games, as well as staff and storage rooms that were renovated and combined into a large gym. Next to the reception there was a small bar area with a few leather chairs and tables. The pool, which was supposedly nearly as long as the ones they use for the Olympics, resided in the basement, which we didn’t take a look at after Josh implied we’d be taking a dip later on.

The second floor held mainly bedrooms, most fully furnished “to attract buyers,” as Josh said. We only checked out the left-side corridor, where our rooms were. The first door on the right was where he was staying. All of the rooms were along a wide, long corridor with no discernible differences at any point. They’d renovated everything to look modern, but some parts of the original hotel were kept as is.

For example, the floor still boasted a patterned red carpet throughout, as well as golden railings along the walls that kept the carts from scratching and bumping at the walls and baseboards. Along the way Josh showed me which door led to the bathroom. “It’s the middle door on the left hand side, so if you don’t want to check each door, just count to four from either side,” he said as we walked past the halfway mark. As we reached the end of the corridor, he stopped and pointed his arm at the last door on the right as he leaned in for a deep bow, exclaiming “Your room, Monsieur.”

The bedroom held no attributes of the old hotel's decor. Instead, it had been renovated to look like a boring, white and gray bedroom fit for a country house owned by a millennial couple. There was a walk-in closet, as well as a bathroom, the layout probably not too dissimilar to how it had been before.

“Looks nice,” I said to Josh as I threw my suitcase on the perfectly made bed, crinkling the smooth fabric. “What’s it gonna cost me?”

“You know I have a throbbing pro bono for you, Luke.” Josh gave me a concerned look. “Wait -- you’re not seriously asking to pay for this, right?”

“You never know. I thought maybe you’d finally be getting into your parents' business.”

“Look, man… I know I’ve been a dick. But come on! You’re my best friend, for fuck’s sake -- I’d never ask you to pay for this. You need to know that, Luke. I’m serious.”

I felt ashamed, pondering whether I’d taken the jabs I’d given him too far. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m sorry. Just been a bit stressed out is all, I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

I gave Josh a smirk and continued “Maybe we’re even with the being dicks, now.”

Josh chuckled, relieved as the tension we’d tried to resolve through jokes finally unraveled. “Well, I’ll leave you to settle in. Come find me at the bar downstairs when you’re ready.”

“Ready for what?” I asked.

“To have some rich people fun,” Josh answered, winking over his shoulder as he turned around to leave.

Once I changed and unpacked a bit, I met up with Josh at the bar. It was eerie to walk along the long corridors of the building all alone, the silence staggering for a place that used to house so many people.

After Josh poured me a hefty scotch and we properly sat down, it was like everything went back to the way things used to be. We talked about everything that came to our minds: the girls and boys we’d dated, how annoying frat houses can be, the shittiest courses at school, how our families were doing, I mean everything.

At some point we’d both unloaded our thoughts and feelings enough for the night, or perhaps our blood alcohol levels had just spiked to a level where sensible conversations were impossible to uphold. I was glad to have him back, and I hoped he felt the same way.

We decided to take a midnight dip in the pool, which was arguably not the smartest idea for two drunk college students. After changing to our swimming shorts, we descended the concrete staircase down to the basement.

The pool hall was just slightly larger than the pool itself, with small dressing rooms opening up on one side. Faux wood paneling decorated the walls and ceiling, most likely kept intact from a renovation done in the 70’s. The room glistened as light reflected from the tiny waves on the surface of the water.

I jumped in first, cannonballing my way to the bottom of the pool. As I came up, I saw Josh taking the final strides preceding his jump. During that small flash, I finally took a real look at his body. Although he’d gotten a bit rounder on account of the frat house lifestyle of beer and pizza, he looked adorable, yet manly. His shoulders were defined, and a small line of hair that I hadn’t ever seen before trailed down from his belly button until it disappeared into his shorts. A moment later he was in the pool, the impact from his jump splashing water into my eyes, washing away the image.

“Pretty nice, eh?” Josh said as he came up for air.

“Is this that rich people fun you were talking about?”

“No,” Josh said as he swam back to the edge of the pool and pulled himself up with his arms.

He walked up to a wall panel and held his hand over it, reveling in the anticipation he’d instigated. “This is.”

Just as the words left his mouth, he pressed a button that replaced the regular lights with coloured disco lights that swirled and moved around the room. Two small disco balls emerged from hidden panels in the ceiling on both ends of the pool, reflecting the lights all the more. The cherry on top was the music: speakers hidden throughout the room started to play Earth, Wind & Fire’s hit song Boogie Wonderland.

I burst out laughing. The sight was completely surreal, as much ridiculous as it was purely fantastic. The water reflecting the coloured lights along with the disco balls produced a psychedelic light show that resembled a coarse mist that covered the room in flashing, swirling rainbows.

“What the hell is this?” I asked Josh, my head spinning around in awe as I giggled like a schoolgirl.

“A gift from the 70’s. They don’t know who built it, why they built it, or who they built it for. All I know is my dad had to do some jedi mind tricks for my mom to let him keep it as is.” Josh jumped back into the pool with a wide grin plastered proudly on his face.

We danced and drunk-boogied in the water to a few more 70’s jams until we tired ourselves out, deciding to call it a night. We shut off the disco machine, dried ourselves off and went up to the second floor.

“Sleep well, Boney Mmm...” Josh trailed off as he stumbled through the door and fell on his bed.

“Good night, Rasputin,” I replied, my intoxicated brain convincing me that the quip made perfect sense on multiple levels: a) relating to Boney M’s song b) the distant Russian relatives that Josh had, c) his status as part of a rich family, and d) his apparent luck with the ladies. I doubt it made sense on a comedic level, though, and Josh was practically passed out be the time his head hit the bed.

I walked in zigzags to my room. Much like Josh, I plummeted on my bed and fell asleep in an instant, still wearing my swimming shorts.

I woke up to hearing scratching above me. As I turned on the bedside lamp, I got a splitting headache; the scotch was coming for payback. I checked my phone for the time, which was a bit after 3 AM. Then I heard it again: scratching above me, in the ceiling, to my left. I sat up on the bed and held my head, hoping it’d relent with its painful throbbing.


I looked up. Something was in the ceiling.


Sounded like it moved to the hallway.


It was moving further away.

Figuring that the noise was a rat or possum or something, I got to my feet and tried to find something to use to shoo the animal away. Critters finding their way inside the house was a reality I’d lived through as a kid. Our house wasn’t exactly airtight, and we lived near some woods that were infested with raccoons. My experience was that you just needed to get them out before they shat all over the floors.

By sheer automation stemming from those years living in an impromptu zoo, I found a small broom and dustpan set in a closet. “Good enough,” I surmised in a croak to myself, the taste of scotch still uncomfortably present in my dry mouth. Leaving the dustpan behind, I wielded the broom and entered the hallway, ready to send the bugger off.

Something I hadn’t noticed during my drunken stumbling was the ambient lighting throughout the hallway. It was much dimmer than it had been in the daytime, and the lights must’ve come on automatically for the night. I felt like I was staring into a dimly lit shadow, the red carpet seeming shaggier than usual under my bare feet.


The sound came from behind the third room on the right, evident by the door's slight shake, like it had been the victim of a tiny earthquake that shook it on its hinges. I approached the room slowly, my grip tightening on the broom’s handle. As I walked up to the door, I heard no more sounds of movement. It must have fallen in there, I thought. Nowhere to run.

With the househusband’s ax in my right hand, I slowly opened the door with my left, posturing myself for battle.

The room was nearly empty, with no apparent signs of animalistic intrusions. The only thing the drab, windowless room had inside it was a jumble of plastic and cardboard storage boxes leaning erratically against the back wall. I started to carefully walk towards the boxes, tapping the broom on the floor in front of me like a blind man with their white cane, hoping to alert and flush out whatever creature hid among the boxes.

As I came up to the stacks of boxes, all remained still and quiet. Giving up on the stealthy approach, I put the broom down on the floor and started to move the boxes around, sliding them in different directions to check if something lurked behind them or within, hoping to scare out whatever it was that was hiding.

From what I could tell, they’d dumped a bunch of the old hotel’s memorabilia into the boxes. Vintage bedside lamps, landline phones, and ice buckets were just a few of the items I saw as I rummaged around the piles of junk. To my dismay, nothing jumped out or sprinted away in fright. I took a few steps back and reassessed the mountain of boxes, trying to figure out where the creature might be. As I looked up, I realized where it had escaped. Right above the boxes in the far left corner of the room was a large hole torn into the ceiling.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any food scraps, feces, or other indications of an animal among the boxes, so I decided to stack up some of them on top of each other and have a look inside the hole. If it has a nest or whatever up there, I could tell Josh the next day and he can just hire someone to come and evict whatever pigeons or raccoons lived up there - or ask them to sign a lease and make his father proud.

The cardboard boxes were too shoddy to stand on, but there were just enough of the plastic kind to build a small staircase of three steps. I leaned the boxes against the wall for extra support and tested their balance by shaking them around a bit. Satisfied with their structural integrity, I carefully put my right foot on the first box, ready to ascend.

I kept my right hand pressed to the wall for support and made my way up to the third step, bowing down slightly as I could no longer stand straight against the ceiling. Aiming my head at the hole, I steadied myself into an upright position, which placed me shoulder deep inside the ceiling, the hole barely big enough to fit my torso in full. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, so I took out my phone from the shorts pocket, pressed the torch on and aimed it at the far wall inside the ceiling, illuminating the space surprisingly well.

What I saw was not at all what I expected. Firstly, the ceiling had birchwood paneling throughout the ‘floor’. Secondly, it was high enough for an adult to crawl through with ease, the ‘real’ ceiling made of concrete standing almost four feet above. Thirdly, at the far end, there was a small latched door made of dark brown wood. In essence, it looked like a small version of the room below it.

I stared at the space in confusion, completely forgetting that I was looking for animals, although there were no traces of anything having moved through there.

I almost fell off the makeshift stairs when I started to hear crying. Loud sobs that almost reminded me of guffawing in their intensity echoed into the room through the hallway. It didn’t sound like Josh, the voice more feminine and light.

I quickly jumped down and almost stood on my ankle, barely avoiding an accident. “Hello?” I asked the hallway, the cries sounding closer now that my head was no longer in the ceiling.

Whoever was out there didn’t answer. As I made my way to the door the thought occurred to me that maybe there were in fact other people staying here that Josh just forgot to tell me about. Leaving out key information was one of his worst traits, often resulting in me getting super annoyed with him, and Josh perplexed as to my reasoning. He had some trouble… relating, sometimes. He liked to do first and think afterwards - I liked to assess, and if possible, produce a pros and cons list of doing before jumping to action.

As I stepped into the hallway, ready to help out whoever was there, the crying stopped, like it had never been there at all. Before I could ask myself whatthefuckjusthappened, I saw that the bathroom door to my right was open. A moment later, I could hear the shower start to run, its white noise emanating from deep within the room.

I walked a few steps towards the room, stopped behind the open door and said “Hey, you left the door open! Uhh… I’m with Josh, the owner’s son. Uhm, he didn’t say there’d be anyone else here.” I gulped, realizing that this was going to be a very awkward encounter no matter how it panned out.

There was no answer, the shower splashing the floor in a steady, monotonous stream. “Are you okay?” I asked with my voice raised, hoping that whoever was there could hear me over the shower. “I heard someone crying, so just wanted to check that everything’s fine!”

Still no answer. I circled the door to look inside. The bathroom was large, most likely done to fit a storage room from the building’s days as a hotel. On the left was a double basin, with arching, golden taps, and crystal knobs. Directly ahead was a wide shower stall fitted with opaque glass.

“Helloo-oo?!” I asked, my voice returning in a miniscule echo through the white tiling. I started getting increasingly concerned, my thoughts racing as my mind seemed to sober up in a second. What if they’re hurt? Slipped in the shower and hit their head? They’ve still not said a fucking thing, that’s NOT normal. go IN.

“I’m coming in, okay?” I said in a half-yell, and forced myself to start walking inside. As I reached the shower stall, I knocked on the door as my final warning. “Hey, you okay in there? I’m gonna open the door, okay?” The lack of an answer pulled me into action, preparing myself for the worst. I pulled the sliding door open in a jagged, quick motion, the adrenaline pumping in my veins.


The shower ran idly in the empty stall. Suddenly, I felt drunk all over again as doubt flooded my mind. As I stood there, staring through the stall, I couldn’t quite piece together a plausible explanation for what I had just experienced.

With nothing to cling to, the stress I had accumulated started to leave my body. My eyelids started to feel heavy, and the warm steam of the shower relaxed my body. Finally, using Occam’s razor, I concluded that I was just way too drunk and tired, and the only fix to such problems is to sleep it off. I turned off the shower, closed the stall door and turned off the bathroom’s lights as I returned to the hallway, ready to pass out for the second time tonight.

It took a considerable amount of strength to keep myself in a standing position as I saw what unfurled before me, the adrenaline piercing back into my veins with a cold vengeance.

Each of the fourteen doors in the corridor were open in a straight 90° angle, standing in rows like pawns on a chessboard. The rooms were all dark as earth, like small black holes.

Suddenly, the crying returned, jumping between the rooms every few seconds in a strange pattern.

First door on the right (Josh’s room).

Last door on the left (opposite to my room).

First door on the left.

Last door on the right (my room).

I was frozen in place, sure that I’d lost my mind, or that Josh was playing some sick prank on me. I wanted to run to my room, but the thing would return there each time, following its pattern. Whatever it was, I’d rather stay put than face it.

After the third round, I hatched a plan. Just as the laughing began its fourth round, I started sprinting towards my room.

First door on the right.

Three doors to go.

Last door on the left.

One door to go. I picked up my pace for the final sprint.

First door on the left.

Reached my room and clamored around the inside of the wall for the light switch.


Light filled my room, and the crying didn’t resolve its fourth round to the end, instead leaving the room silent. Relieved, I leaned at the door frame and tried to catch my breath, droplets of sweat dropping between the knees I held with a tight grip for additional support.

Out of nowhere a loud bang filled the space. My ears started to faintly ring, and I cocked my head up and looked down the hallway, as my heart pumped like a jack drill, ready to puncture through my chest.

Each of the open doors were now closed, except for mine, slammed shut so violently it’d sounded like a gunshot. My heart throbbed as I jumped inside my room, locked the door and secured a chair to lean tightly under the doorknob, so nothing could break through from the outside.

Josh must’ve heard that, he MUST have, I thought, and decided to text him. As I opened up our text conversation, I started to doubt myself once again. Am I just drunk as fuck? Am I dreaming? Is this delirium experienced firsthand?

After a few minutes of pondering, my mind a haze, I texted him “hey, heard something weird. u up?” just to see if he was awake without arousing suspicion of my possibly deteriorating mental health.

I laid under the covers, staring at my phone, hoping for a notification, until eventually I passed out. Josh never answered my text.

20:58 UTC


Never Play The Ladder Game

They say the ladder festival started off as a singing contest back in the days of empires.

Once a year, in a certain meadow at around midnight, the villages would gather. Each village would send out a team of three young men carrying a ladder to represent them. Two men would hold the ladder upright and the third would climb to the top of it and sing the songs of his people.

If the singer couldn’t balance on top of the ladder, they would receive a disqualification along with whatever injuries the fall would cause. Those that had decent balance would be judged on their singing talent by the crowds. The best singer would bring glory to their village and would be honored by all until the next ladder festival.

Or at least that’s what folks say. I’m sure a historian could paint you a better picture than me. I’m only familiar with the modern version of the ladder festival — The Ladder Game.

The game is played a couple times a year. There’s not much rhyme or reason to the timing, but a shared ‘Ladder Game’ WhatsApp group always gives ample warning and taunts those who refuse to join. The players don’t meet in a meadow. They meet at one of the dead stretches of road between the villages.

Three guys, a ladder, and a truck.

Two guys still hold the ladder and one still climbs, but that’s where the resemblance to the ladder festival ends. There’s no singing involved in the ladder game. Folks just jump into the back of the truck, hold on for their lives and ride.

As you might have guessed, the police are no fans of the Ladder Game. A bunch of folks died in the 90s and very specific laws were put on the books to dissuade future generations from playing the game. The moral panic has faded over the past twenty years and all players were able to avoid death or injuries obvious enough to arouse suspicion, but aside from the players no spectators are allowed to attend the Ladder Game.

That is, unless you’re me.

My pops is an electrical engineer and my ma works in a cheese factory, but I am related to village nobility. My cousin is known as the reigning champion of the ladder game. His Christian name is Jan, but he’s been baptized in the water of legends as Žaba — The frog.

Most say the nickname was born on his first ride, some suggest it was his second or third. Either way, near the start of his Ladder Game career, my cousin’s foot slipped during the ascent to the top rung of the ladder. Instead of crashing down to the ground Jan managed to make a landing on one of the nearby trees. Against the advice of everyone present, Jan jumped back onto the ladder and insisted the game continue.

Many claim he was drunk. A few will say he was blindfolded. All will agree that he leaped like a frog. Regardless of the details, from that night onwards my cousin was solely known as Žaba.

The Ladder Game was a strictly secret affair. Every extra soul could mean the cops showing up and ruining the festivities. Regular spectators were forbidden from attending The Ladder game. Any kin of Žaba’s, however, was welcome to watch.

So, I did.

Žaba was just a couple years older than me but I never met him in school. My cousin dropped out the moment it became a legal possibility and took a job hauling at the factory. Occasionally my mother would mention my cousin as a sort of parable about why I should study harder, yet those were the sort of stories that get nodded off and forgotten. Until I worked a summer at the cheese factory, I had no idea I even had a cousin.

He was tall and lean and perpetually unkempt. No one at the factory paid any attention to him and he didn’t stand out. My cousin would just haul, smoke outside and haul some more. I scarcely paid attention to him. He was just another working adult to me.

Then, one day, coming out of the factory — he approached me. My cousin had left work at noon that day and the stench coming off of him left no illusions about how he spent his free time. Reeking like a distillery with a hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth he asked me if I knew about the Ladder Game.

I told him I didn’t.

He said he would show me.

I know getting into cars with drunk drivers is a terrible idea, but the road to the Ladder Game is always paved with poor judgment. Jan picked me up from my house well after midnight and seemed no more sober than he did in the evening. As he drove my cousin did his best to explain the Ladder Game but no words, drunken or sober, could do justice to the real thing.

Every time that I have witnessed the Ladder Game four villages were represented: The Poles, from across the border, The Deadenders, from the village where the road finished, The Parrots, from the fake village where everyone pretended to be city folk, and us; The Cheesemen.

The gathering looked like a drunken search party for a dead kid. The night was black and the only thing that cut through it were the headlights of the gathered cars and the wild stars above. Off in the darkness dirty reflectors gave vague suggestions of the road where the game would be taking place.

There definitely was a cheery mood among the contestants and drivers when we arrived, but the moment my cousin stepped into the light the excitement of the gathering reached a fevered pitch. The crowd celebrated the arrival of their hero and, when my cousin introduced me as his kin, they celebrated me as well.

When I asked why everyone was calling my cousin “the frog” I was treated to a dramatic rendition of the legend by one of The Parrots. I would come to hear that story at every Ladder Game. It would never be the same. It would always differ in the details but my cousin would always nod along.

The details didn’t matter. What mattered was the myth of Žaba.

The first contestants of The Ladder Game that night were The Parrots. The city boy visiting for the summer managed to climb up easily enough, but when he reached the upper rungs of the moving ladder his grip slipped. Luckily, the city boy landed in the nearby grass instead of the rough asphalt of the road. He didn’t die, his injuries weren’t too obvious and he could still walk albeit with a limp. The Parrots did retreat back to their village after the fall, but they did so in reasonably good cheer. No lasting damage had been done.

Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, but my cousin took great offense to the fall. Žaba insisted that his team be the next to compete. No one gathered resisted. Soon enough my cousin and the two sons of the village butcher jumped into the back of their truck and proceeded to illustrate the proper way to play The Ladder Game.

The Parrot’s ascent was impressive in its own right, but Žaba blew the city kid’s acrobatics out of the water. My cousin climbed to the top of the ladder with lightning speed and, when there was no space left to climb, he planted his feet on the top rung and extended his arms to his sides like the big man from the church. Where Jesus was a suffering martyr, however, Žaba was a wild manifestation of adrenaline-fueled joy. He stood atop the ladder with his arms outstretched, howling to the sky like a wolf who had just found plump prey.

I watched this display of ecstasy sitting on the hood of the Polish truck. I didn’t understand my drinking companion but the slivovitz helped bridge the divide. As my cousin screamed through the star-filled sky I asked The Pole the question that had been on my mind all night.

“How does one win The Ladder Game?”

The Pole took a swig of the bottle and pointed at my cousin.

The slivovitz dulled most of my memory that night, but what I recall with burning intensity is my cousin’s descent from the ladder. He came down wild-eyed and sweaty and with a burning hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth. He raved, to all present, about the beauty of the night air, about the intoxicating nature of standing on the edge. The Žaba preached the gospel of The Ladder Game to a ravenous crowd of followers.

I soon found myself a convert.

It was surreal seeing Žaba at work Monday morning. He descended from the realm of a living God to that of mere mortals. What was even more disturbing is he didn’t seem to care at all. When the other workers pushed him around and chastised him for being too slow he simply shrugged and moved on. He knew he was something more beyond the confines of the cheese factory.

So did I.

It wasn’t until I had visited a couple ladder games that my cousin entertained the idea. My voice had turned deep and hair was starting to spring up above my lip, I was grown enough to start thinking about becoming a man. To my cousin, and all his friends, there was only one way to end a childhood.

So I trained. I climbed the ladder near the old barn with zealous discipline and I stayed sober during every ladder game I visited just so all the mistakes and techniques would stay cemented in my mind. I watched a lot of accidents, but the thought of backing away from the game never even crossed my mind. For each broken bone I witnessed, I witnessed plenty of soft falls that avoided the powerlines. The memories of all accidents were washed away by Žaba’s ladder-side sermons.

I watched and I climbed and I prepared for the day that I would feel the night flow through my hair. I thought that by imitating my cousin I would get to taste the joy that flowed through his blood whenever he stepped off the ladder. When the moment to climb the ladder finally arrived last night, I got what I was promised.

Last night I tasted the forbidden fruit that my cousin would get so intoxicated of. Had that been the only thing that happened I would look back at last night with joy.

Yet, last night, I witnessed much more than just the rush of The Ladder Game.

It’s been a strange week. My induction into The Ladder Game was meant to take place this summer, but since one of the butcher’s boys got arrested on Monday my initiation was expedited. I was to become the second ladder holder for the Cheesemen but no one was allowed to hold the ladder if they didn’t climb it.

I didn’t feel ready, but Žaba said I was. I didn’t question his expertise.

In the days leading up to the Ladder Game there were rumors of The Parrots hearing strange noises in the night and The Deadenders spoke of snakes falling from the sky in their village. The rumors didn’t help my nerves, but strange tales are pretty standard in the countryside. The night before The Ladder Game I woke up to the sounds of unearthly thunder but I was far too sleepy to make sense of it. It wasn’t until the morning that the terror had reached me.

A storm swept through the hills. A storm filled with fist sized hail and chilling gusts and enough rain to turn all the fields into mud. The storm dragged on into the afternoon and didn’t die off until sundown. I was still scared of the wind or hail making a return while I was suspended in the air, but it wasn’t until the contestants converged that true fear struck me.

Only one of the Deadenders showed. The first had stayed at home in shock. The other had slipped from a ladder while checking the Deadend church for stork nests.

He was dead, impaled on the metal fence of the church.

The Parrots didn’t show at all, presumably because of the storm, but their absence meant nothing to me. The dead Deadender was enough of an omen already. The one farmhand that showed suggested that the game be postponed to another date and I was more than partial to the idea.

Žaba, however, refused outright. The Ladder Game had never been postponed before and it would not be postponed tonight. Additionally, the one Deadender was not allowed to leave. He would help hold the ladder with one of the Poles as Žaba drove. I was to become a man before sunrise.

It was terrifying to disagree with Žaba — terrifying enough that I eventually relented. In my protest, however, The Poles suggested they go first and give me some time to gather my thoughts. Žaba, eventually, agreed.

Aside from one particular wobble that put the ladder rider on a near-imminent collision course with a powerline, The Poles performed adequately. I was scarcely able to watch though. All I could pay attention to was how sweaty my palms were getting. I was not ready to climb the ladder, but I knew I couldn’t turn back.

Once I knew I would one day climb the ladder I stayed sober at all the games. I knew all my brainpower to observe. That fateful night, however, it only took one look at the Deadender who would be holding my ladder to make me reach for the slivovitz bottle. The guy’s friend was dead and he was clearly shaken by the tragedy. I didn’t trust him to keep me in the air. The Pole in charge of the other side of the ladder seemed stable enough and the shot of slivovitz helped loosen me up, but my hands shook as I placed them on the ladder.

The moment had come. Žaba was behind the wheel and the engine of the truck was coughing awake. My body refused to move, but with a couple of sharp words of encouragement from my cousin I found my feet standing on wood.

The first couple of steps passed by in an instant. It wasn’t until I was high enough to crack my skull that my knees started to shake. The road beneath us was slick with rain and even though I couldn’t see the Deadender’s face, his mere presence made me nervous. My hands wrapped around the ladder in an iron grip and refused to move any further.

I was sure the only way my body could climb would be down, but Žaba pressing down on the gas pedal spurred me into an ascent. The faster the truck was moving the more dangerous the Ladder Game would become.

Žaba wouldn’t let the game finish halfway through.

I gathered all the courage I had and continued to climb. I kept my eyes locked on the rungs of the ladder and simmered down all my thoughts into mechanical commands. I was going to get to the top of the ladder as quickly as possible just so that I get my feet back on the ground. The adrenalin kept me quick all the way to the top. I was a creature with a singular purpose. But then, my hands slowed.

That elusive thing that Žaba rambled about over liquor and cigarettes. That frigid night wind, the wild stars above, that thin line between life and death — the purpose of The Ladder Game.

It all hit me like a brick, but I kept my balance. I kept my balance and I gripped the wood and howled like a mad wolf. Down below, the horn of the truck harmonized with me. For a fleeting moment I felt utter rapture.

Then my body jerked to the right.

It was a slight movement, barely noticeable, but when you’re balancing near power lines you tend to be hyper aware. I looked down. My hyper-vigilance proved to be well founded. Down below, for a mere moment, I saw the Deadender let go of the ladder. Only the Pole remained to keep me stable.

He did a poor job.

It all happened in an instant. One moment I was slightly off balance and the next I was flying through the air. Before the terror of landing on the asphalt hit me, something else did — a branch.

One moment I was clutching to the ladder and the next I was clutching the limb of an old beech tree. The wood had knocked the wind out of me, and my face was bleeding from getting acquainted with smaller branches — but I was alive.

Žaba drove the truck back around and kept on insisting that I jump back on the ladder as he once did. I never talked back to my cousin but I had no interest in leaping through the night. All I wanted to do was get my feet back on solid ground. Against my cousin’s wishes, the Pole jumped off the truck and provided a ladder for my descent.

Žaba was furious that I did not follow in his footsteps. I feared that my cousin would swing at me, but his rage was mainly directed at the Deadender who dropped me. Immediately, Žaba punched the farmhand square in the nose. The Deadender tried explaining that he had heard something from beyond the hills that terrified him, but Žaba was deaf to his explanation. He simply kept throwing punches until the Deadender ran off into the night.

The Pole that had held the other side of the ladder insisted that The Ladder Game be brought to a close. As did his two compatriots. As did I. Had our pleas been heard the night would have ended much differently. Žaba, however, refused to bring the game to a close.

He wanted to show us how the real ladder game is to be played.

I felt like I had been run over by a car but I was not allowed to leave or even sit down. Žaba wanted me to hold the ladder with the other Cheeseman and one of the Poles would drive. No one wanted to take part in the last ride, especially not me — yet no resistance was put up.

Out on those dark roads, The Žaba’s word would always be law.

I had never held the ladder before, but my mind was far too disturbed by my fall to feel nervous. I just clutched the wood as hard as I could and focused on keeping completely still. I did not watch my cousin climb, but within seconds his voice was distant enough to suggest he reached the top of the ladder. He was ordering the Pole to drive faster. He was ordering us to look up and witness him.

That’s when the rumble in the distance started.

The sound was familiar. It was the exact strange thunder I had heard the night before the storm, but it was louder. Both me and the other ladder holder shouted at my cousin to come back down.

In response, all the Žaba did was laugh. He wasn’t going to let a little bit of rain end his fun. Only idiots were scared of thunder, he yelled. Žaba thought he was defying the weather, but it quickly became clear that it was not ordinary thunder that we were hearing.

The roar rolled through the hills until it became deafening enough to overpower my cousin’s howls. It was not thunder. I had spent my whole life in the village and encountered all sorts of bad weather but I never heard anything like it. There was an unnatural metallic tinge to it, it sounded less like a thunderclap and more like the roar of some massive engine. I wanted to look up at the source of the sound but my eyes wouldn’t let me.

All I saw was a flash of two blood red lights and the silhouette of something huge. A terrible pain shot through my eyes to the back of my skull. The butcher’s boy was just as panicked as I was, the Pole even stopped the truck — but Žaba did not come down.

The noise became unbearable. It’s mere presence was so loud that I felt like I was going deaf. Something was moving right above us but my body refused to witness it. All I could do was stare at my feet and grip the ladder with every bit of concentration I had.

The light of the moon became obscured and my feet were planted into complete darkness. Something above me moved. Something above me moved but my neck refused to look up. All I could do was stare at my feet and pray for the terror to come to an end.

The roar from the sky never fully disappeared but once it had faded enough to allow the rest of the world to exist, I was spurred back into reality. I heard the crackling of flames above me. I looked up, expecting to see my cousin standing atop the ladder but I did not see him.

The top of the ladder was snapped away and what was left of it was burning. Bits of flaming wood hissed in the wet grass nearby and, about a dozen meters away from the car, sat another pile of flames.

By the time the paramedics arrived the body was unidentifiable, but they took our word for it. My cousin had died the same way he had lived — atop a ladder. The mechanics of his death, however, were a complete mystery.

The authorities had decided that he fell into the power-lines.

I insisted that he did not.

My cousin was nowhere near the power-lines and he wouldn’t fall from the ladder. He was Žaba. What killed him wasn’t a misstep. What killed him did not come from this world. Something had hit him up there. Something big and loud and hot enough to set his body on fire.

In response, the cops threatened me with a breathalyzer. Their power-line explanation made no sense, but they insisted upon it. No negotiation was permitted.

I was the last one to accept that version of events. I put up resistance to the official story all the way until the police drove me home. It wasn’t until my father, drowsy with sleep, sat down with me that I relented.

He said nothing good comes from the Ladder Game. He also reminded me of the multitude of laws that existed to prevent the youth from engaging in the forbidden sport. I was lucky I didn’t get arrested. Whatever had happened, he said, was better left unexplored.

I wager he is right.

I wager he is right, but the questions keep eating away at me. They keep eating away at me and I reckon they always will. That terrible engine sound is still scratching through my ears and I can still feel the wood of the ladder against my palms. I just hope that with time the memory will pass.

I also hope that whatever my cousin met up there, whatever terrible machine flew through the sky and ended his life — I hope it never comes back.

20:49 UTC


I was an Alaskan bush pilot. This is what I saw...

I’ve been flying as a bush pilot in Alaska for the last five years or so. It’s a pretty good job for the right sort of person. It goes without saying that you need to be a pretty handy pilot, specifically of small and light aircraft, but beyond that, it also requires a special sort of personality. Folks who thrive on social interaction and the safe comfort of civilization need not apply. Being self-sufficient and mechanically inclined are pretty much prerequisites for those who want stay on this side of the grave, and I’d say it’s fairly important that you have a level head and don’t have a tendency to panic in stressful situations.

Now, don’t misunderstand; I’m not talking about thrill-seekers or those who don’t have a healthy respect for death; those folks don’t tend to last too long in this business. They either end up as another in the long list of missing planes that gains new entries each year, or else they quickly learn that their employers aren’t willing to risk their expensive equipment and cargo with someone that isn’t going to take every possible precaution to ensure the safe return of said aircraft.

I’m just saying that you have to be able to set your fears aside when you’re in the thick of it. If something goes wrong, you need a clear head – you can always puke or pass out once you’re safely on the ground again. I’ve had my share of cold sweats, standing on a frozen runway after a close brush with the afterlife.

Me? I’m a transplant from south Florida, where I spent much of my time doing puddle-jump charters in a small, twin-engine Beechcraft. Interesting, sure, but dealing with people has never been my strong suit. I’m not exactly the sociable sort, even less so when I’m trying to fly. When you’ve got four passengers sitting a couple feet behind you and expecting you to play tour guide on their two-hour flight across the Everglades, it gets old pretty quick.

Or at least it did for me. I guess it works for some people.

Anyway, a flying buddy of mine that I hadn’t talked to in years called me up out of the blue one day with a lead on an open seat at the bush charter company he’d been working with out of Fairbanks. One of their pilots had decided that the harsh Alaskan winters and isolation were more than his nerves could take, so he gave his notice, packed his bags, and headed back south.

Truth-be-told, I had never really considered looking for a gig in Alaska. I always had the impression that most of the bush pilots working there had been flying STOL – that’s Short Take-Off and Landing – in the back country since they were old enough to walk. Nick assured me that there were plenty of respected pilots up there who had originated from the lower-48. When he floated the salary numbers in my direction, I didn’t take too long thinking about it before I’d made my decision, and two weeks later I found myself standing in the offices of my new employer.

That was a while back, and although it took a bit to become accustomed to the type of bush flying that this place demands, I settled in pretty quick and was soon assigned my permanent ride, a De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.

Maggie, after a Yellow Lab I had as a kid.

Man, what a beauty she is. Solar-yellow with black piping and looking just as pristine as when she rolled off the assembly line in 1967. The Beaver is probably the best bush plane to ever grace the skies, and I’m fairly certain that Maggie saved my ass from a stupid mistake on more than one occasion.

Anyway, I’m getting off-track.

So, at the time this story took place, I’d been flying for Viking Bush Charters for probably a year or so. I’d just returned from dropping supplies to a ranger station up near Denali when I got a call over the radio from my dispatcher.

I was in the hangar at the time, getting a hot cup of coffee while the mechanic was refitting Maggie with her tundra tires, swapping out the floats I’d needed for the supply drop-off earlier. The big, almost cartoonish tires were perfect for most of the areas I tended to fly into, and made for a soft, if energetic, landing.

I was looking forward to getting back to my trailer and relaxing, maybe watching a movie before dozing off, but the crackle from my two-way told me that my exciting plans for the night might not play out.

“Go for Hooper,” I answered, taking a sip of the steaming coffee.

The voice of Buck Jacobs replied through the light static. “Hey, Hoop. What’s your status?”

“Eh, Mike is working on Maggie’s gear, and I was getting ready to head home for the evening. What’s up?”

There was a moment’s pause before Buck replied. “Sorry, Hoop, but I need you to do a turnaround. We just got a call from a ranger station up near Birch Creek. They’ve got someone up there that had a run-in with a brown bear and is pretty banged up.”

I cursed under my breath, but there wasn’t any real venom in it. I learned a while ago that, up here, everybody helps when it’s needed. You never know when it’s going to be you on the other side of that call.

“Can’t they fly him out themselves?” I asked, but I was already walking around my plane to where Mike Nichols was working.

“Negative, Hoop. It’s an emergency and we’re the nearest phone call. I’d send Jackie, but she’s not back from her run up to Minto yet,” he replied.

“Okay, Buck – no worries. I’ll help Mike get Maggie refit and prepped. I should be wheels-up in an hour or so,” I said.

“Thanks, Hoop. I’ll have the details in your hands in fifteen. Dispatch out.”

And there went my relaxing evening.


True to my prediction, I was taxiing down the company’s private runway an hour later, the vibration from the big radial engine creating a gentle thrumming that filled the interior. It was just before 3PM when I was airborne, and being that it was late February, I knew I had just over two hours before sunset. So long as everything went smoothly, that should have been enough time to reach the ranger station, load up the passenger, and get back to Fairbanks before dark.

The weather was pretty good when I left – it was pushing plus-10 degrees, and although the reports were calling for snow that evening, the sky was clear as I rose above the trees and turned northeast towards the ranger station.

Everything was going smoothly for the first thirty minutes, before those distant storm clouds I’d been watching on the horizon suddenly seemed to take a keen interest in me and headed my way much faster than I’d have liked.

To make matters worse, I’d started to notice a subtle bumping sensation intermittently coming from the engine. I wasn’t sure if I was starting to lose one of the nine cylinders or if it was something else, but it was definitely something I was keeping my eye on.

If I’d been on a regular supply run, I’d have turned around and headed back to Fairbanks right then and there to get it checked out, but I was acutely aware that anyone who’d had a tangle with a grizzly was probably in a bad way. My flight out to the Birch Creek ranger station may very well mean the difference between life and death for this unfortunate soul.

After another fifteen minutes, I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to the ranger station.

The storm clouds that had been approaching had now overtaken me and covered the afternoon sky in a thick blanket of gray-black ugliness. I could see the periodic flashes of lightning within them, and the air had grown turbulent. To make matters worse, that engine miss I’d been feeling had become more frequent and severe, and I was sure that I now had multiple cylinders that were beginning to fail.

I grabbed the VHF and radioed back to dispatch.

“Viking ground, Viking three-two-zero-foxtrot.”

Buck’s voice crackled through a moment later. “Viking three-two-zero-foxtrot, Viking ground. Reading you, Hoop.”

“Buck, I’ve run into some nasty weather here and have started picking up some engine issues. I’m afraid I’m going to have to abort and head for home. Please advise Birch Creek ranger station of my situation.”

Buck didn’t argue; he knew I wouldn’t abort a pickup like this for a few snow flurries. “Roger that, Hoop. Looking at the weather radar now. Advise you make your heading one-eight-five degrees and drop to nine-hundred to avoid the worst of it.”

“Roger that. Viking three-two-zero-foxtrot out,” I said, banking the plane to the right and starting my return to the airfield. The stormfront, which had overtaken me from my left, had also descended with its approach, bringing the clouds low and thick. I pushed forward on the yoke, starting my descent to Buck’s recommendation and hoping that there weren’t any errant mountains in my way.

Five minutes later, I was fighting with the wind for control of Maggie and was now nearly in a white-out condition, relying almost exclusively on my instruments for navigation. The turbulence was getting severe, tossing the workhorse bush plane around like a kite in a gale. More than once, the groaning of the wing struts made me wonder if the storm was pushing Maggie past her comfort zone and testing the limits of her airframe.

I descended a bit more, dropping to five hundred feet, aware that in these low-visibility conditions, I was pushing my luck with the terrain. The air was a little cleaner down here, though, and the visibility a little better, but I was still being thrown around and I knew I’d have to climb again pretty soon in order to clear the ridgeline I knew was not too far ahead of me. An unnerving metallic popping noise from above my head drew my attention momentarily, and in that moment, I made the decision that I had to find a place to set her down and wait out the storm as best I could.

The trees below me were becoming visible now at this altitude, their peaks piercing the low cloud cover and heavy snowfall like ghostly claws, reaching up from the depths of some abyssal grave to drag me down.

The biggest issue I faced now was finding a suitable place to land safely. I knew that the winds had pushed me off course and I wasn’t as familiar with this area as most others I spent time flying over. I wasn’t aware of any landing strips nearby and was just praying to find a large enough clearing to accommodate her.

Another engine miss, worse this time.

This time, the strained drone of the radial cut out completely for a half-second before resuming, and for the first time since I’d come to Alaska, I realized that there was a very real possibility that I might not make it home. If the engine died completely in what was now a strong tail wind, my airspeed would quickly drop until one of my wings stalled. When that happened, the Beaver would wing-over and I’d tumble to the ground in an unrecoverable death spiral. It might be months or years before my wreckage was discovered out here in the wilderness.

I considered trying to turn into the wind, to keep as much airspeed as possible in that event, but it was gusting bad enough that I was afraid to attempt it, especially with a limping engine.

I was getting ready to radio dispatch and let Buck know of my worsening situation when the thick clouds parted ahead of me briefly. In that instant, I thought I’d won the most important lottery of my life. Directly ahead of me, a quarter of a mile out, was the unmistakable rectangular shape of a small airstrip. It was covered in snow that I hoped wasn’t too deep, but it was my salvation – a lifeline that I wouldn’t dare refuse.

I quickly adjusted my approach and set my flaps as I made for it. Another strong gust fought me, trying to throw me out of alignment with the narrow clearing, but I fought back with throttle and rudder as best I could as I watched the altimeter steadily wind down like an analog clock going backwards in time.

I reached out for the radio handset to advise Buck of my situation and estimated location, but the next gust almost tore the yoke out of my left hand, and I snapped instantly back to a white-knuckled, two-handed grip.

My altitude dropped to two hundred feet.

I was going too fast, I knew. At this speed, I’d either overshoot the strip altogether and slam into the dense tree line, or hit the ground so hard that I’d shear off my gear and probably break my back in the process. I couldn’t slow her down any further, though, or I would risk dropping below stall speed in the strong tail wind, and that would mean a quick trip to the frozen ground.

A hundred feet.

Maggie’s wings dipped below the tree line now as I entered the long and narrow swath of the landing strip, the tall cedars and spruces towering around me forebodingly. The tail wind dropped, obstructed by the great barrier of trees behind me, and I took a breath to thank whatever powers-that-be for this unexpected bit of good fortune.

Fifty feet.

With the flaps set to full, I bled off airspeed quickly and my reflexes took over, transitioning from my near-ballistic flight to a more controlled approach, one the Beaver was much more suited to.

Ten feet.

I pulled back on the yoke and momentarily throttled up as my gear kissed the top of the snow, flaring the bush plane and setting down a bit harder than I would have liked, the jarring of the impact thankfully cushioned by the tundra tires.

I rolled out for another twenty feet or so before Maggie came to a halt in the knee-deep snow, thankful that I hadn’t nosed over. I killed the engine and rested my forehead on the yoke, trying to get my heart rate under control. I didn’t think the shaking of my hands had anything to do with the temperature.

The daylight was fading, but was still light enough to allow me a good view of my surroundings through Maggie’s windows.

I was in the middle of what I guessed was the landing strip, since the tree lines on either side seemed to be about the same distance from me. Those trees were even more imposing down here on the ground. They rose like towering walls on either side, and the woodlands beyond held deep shadows that were only accentuated by the heavy snowfall that continued to obscure my vision.

I reached for the radio and keyed the mic, hailing dispatch. I didn’t have much faith that the VHF would be able to penetrate the trees and the mountain ridge that lay between me and Buck, but it was worth a shot. After a long moment of hissing static, I tried again, but with the same results. It was doubtful that I’d be able to get a signal through until the storm passed, and even then, I didn’t think it likely unless I could get Maggie airborne again.

With only a moment’s deliberation and a resigned sigh, I retrieved the emergency locator beacon from my jacket pocket and activated it. The unit would broadcast a distress signal, along with my location, to the monitoring service. I knew it would be a day, at least, before help arrived, but the sooner I sent the call, the sooner they’d be able to get to me.

I took another look out through the fuselage windows. If there was a landing strip, that meant a possibility that someone was nearby. I didn’t think there was a ranger station out here, but there were enough hunting cabins and homesteads that there was a decent chance I could find shelter. The interior of the plane was still warm, but I knew that wouldn’t last very long in this weather, especially with night approaching.

I unbuckled myself and climbed back through the seats into the cargo area, where I pulled on my heavy coat and shouldered my emergency pack.

Grabbing my rifle from its rack behind the pilot’s seat, I unlatched and swung open the cargo door. A blast of arctic wind hit me in the face, and I squinted my eyes against it, quickly pulling my goggles on and my hood up before dropping to the snow-covered runway.

I pulled the cargo door closed and trudged around the rear of the plane, standing in the furrows left by Maggie’s wheels and turning in a slow circle as I tried to discern any indication of human presence. Despite the howling wind that pulled at my coat and hood, I caught the unmistakable scent of woodsmoke and breathed a small sigh of relief; at least I knew I wasn’t alone out here.

As I scanned my surroundings, my eyes alighted on what looked like a small utility shed on the western edge of the clearing, and I moved with as much speed as the deep snow would allow in its direction. To the left of it, I spied a waist-high railing marking a walkway that led into the shadowed tree line and quickened my pace.

I followed the trail, now feeling what were likely wooden planks beneath my boots. Once in the trees, the brutal wind of the storm lessened and the snow drifted down from the canopy in slow, dancing swirls before settling on the ground with a muted hiss that sounded like the forest around me was quietly exhaling. Between the dim light of the coming dusk and the snowfall, I couldn’t see much beyond the trees nearest me, and I relied on the handrail to guide my travel. It was another few minutes of plodding through the snow-covered walkway before I finally saw the building.

At first, I thought it was a hunting cabin, solitary amidst the endless sea of trees. As I drew closer, though, I could see it was much larger than I first thought – low and wide and of modern construction. Some sort of sign stood between two timber uprights just off the path, its face covered in snow and ice. I paused to brush it clear, somewhat surprised to see the blue background and logo of the Alaskan Division of Agriculture. White lettering beneath it indicated that this was the White River Basin Agricultural Research Center.

I’d never heard of the ADoA having wilderness research centers, but I supposed it wasn’t too far-fetched. Regardless, this was even better news than I’d expected; this meant that I wasn’t approaching some isolated hunting camp, but instead a government post. And that meant my chances of survival and rescue had just increased significantly.

I gave a hoot of joy and patted the sign as if it were an old friend who had just delivered some good news, and jogged the remaining handful of yards to the front door of the building.

Just as I approached, however, the door abruptly swung open, spilling yellow light across the white snow. A man stepped out from the doorway and shouldered a shotgun, leveling it right at my head, his eyes wide and wild as they stared down the barrel at me.

Stop right there!” he shouted at me, his words coming in angry puffs of steam in the frigid air. “Don’t come any closer!”

Whoa! Hold on a minute, chief! Just wait!” I answered, my hands going up reflexively. “I’m not here to cause any trouble.”

He motioned with the shotgun. “Drop the rifle, nice and slow. I’m warning you; I won’t hesitate to blow you in half if you make any sudden moves.”

Holding my free hand up to show I was no threat, I bent slowly and placed the rifle on the ground before rising again. “What’s going on?”

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” He demanded. I could see the muzzle of the shotgun trembling and worried that he might end up shooting me by mistake just due to nerves. He was wearing what looked like a government-issued coat with an embroidered patch on the shoulder and had a week’s growth of beard.

Easy, boss,” I said, trying to keep my voice level and calm. “My name’s Hooper. I’m a pilot for Viking Bush Charters, out of Fairbanks. My plane was forced down in the storm and I was lucky to find your landing strip before she ended up in the trees.”

I was starting to wonder if lucky was the right word anymore.

He looked at me a long minute, his eyes scanning me over, then motioned at me again with the shotgun. “Take off your goggles – let me see your eyes,” he said.

That caught me off-guard, but I nodded and slowly moved my hands to remove the tinted goggles, careful to not make any sudden moves.

He leaned towards me, eyes locked hard on mine searchingly. Then, seemingly satisfied, he abruptly lowered his gun and nodded, as if reassuring himself. He jerked his head back toward the doorway and his entire demeanor suddenly changed. “Well, Hooper, come on inside. And bring your rifle. It’s too damned cold out here.” With that, he turned and walked back inside, resting the shotgun against the interior wall next to the door as he did so.

Now even more confused than before, I reached down and picked up my rifle from the snowy ground, my gaze never leaving the man. As inconspicuously as I could, I worked the lever, chambering a cartridge, and followed him in. It was such a bizarre interaction, I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t surprise me again if he decided to change his mind.

When I entered the building and closed the door behind me, I found myself in what looked like a wood-paneled visitors room, with a couch on one wall and a blazing fireplace fronted by a couple of chairs on the opposite. The man had moved over to a small table near the fireplace, pouring a glass of whiskey from a half-empty bottle and now seemingly completely disinterested in my presence. I frowned and glanced around the room. Aside from the sparse furnishings, there was a closed door across from the one I had entered through, labeled with a “Restricted Access” sign.

The man took a long drink from his glass and turned back to me, holding the whiskey bottle out to me in offering. I just shook my head.

“Sorry about all that,” he said, gesturing vaguely to the door behind me. “Can’t be too careful. I’m Morgan Tate – field research.”

I eyed him cautiously. “Okay, Morgan Tate. Do you make a habit of welcoming visitors with a shotgun?” I still wasn’t sure exactly who I was dealing with here, but something was clearly off.

He just grinned at some private joke that he alone shared and then ducked his head in a nod, taking another swallow of the whiskey. “Lately? Yeah. Or, at least, I would if I got any visitors.” He pointed at me with his tumbler and sat heavily in the chair. I was starting to get the impression that this wasn’t the first drink of the day for Mr. Morgan Tate. “You’re the first living person I’ve seen in more than a week,” he added.

“Are you the only one here?” I asked, looking around the room. There was a row of hooks on the wall beside the door and I took note of several coats hung there.

He smirked, something unreadable behind his eyes. “Now, yeah.”

I didn’t know what sort of game he was playing at, but I was starting to lose my patience. “Care to elaborate on that? I’m having kind of a rough day and you’re not making it any easier.”

The dark-haired man finished off his drink and stood. “Sure, why not? I suppose you’re part of this now,” he said, moving past me toward the “Restricted Access” door.

I followed him as he pushed the door open and proceeded along a narrow, tiled corridor, lit by harsh fluorescent lights. It felt out of place, more like I was walking through the halls of a hospital than an ADoA building in the middle of the bush. He looked over his shoulder and took note of my surprise.

“Yeah, not quite like the ranger stations, is it?” He said, stopping in front of a heavy-looking door at the end of the corridor and keying a quick code into the panel above the handle. I heard a soft click and he pushed it open, exposing a darkened room beyond. He entered and the lights flickered on as I followed.

The room we now stood in was larger than the previous one – probably thirty feet across and smelling of antiseptic and chemicals. Several rows of stainless-steel tables were neatly arranged within, occupied with various unfamiliar laboratory paraphernalia and equipment. In addition to these lab stations, there also appeared to be examination tables along the far wall, a few of which had white cloths covering unidentifiable shapes. I suppressed a shudder; it reminded me of a morgue, though the concealed objects were too small to be human bodies.

“What is this place?” I asked, my eyes taking it all in.

“Just like the sign outside says, Hooper, this is the White River Basin Agricultural Research Center,” he replied, leaning against one of the tables. “It was set up to monitor large mammal wildlife migrations with potential correlation to climate change.”

“Huh,” I replied evenly. “Sounds interesting.”

He grinned. “No, it doesn’t. Not even to me, and I work here. Would you believe that a week ago, there were twenty-five researchers living and working here? Twenty-five, Hooper. This place was hopping, man.”

An uncomfortable tingle ran down my spine, and I shifted the rifle in my hand, the weight of it reassuring as it hung at my side. If Tate noticed, he didn’t mention it.

“What happened last week?” I asked carefully.

When he turned back to me the smirk was gone from his face and his eyes had widened. Whatever was in his thoughts now, he didn’t find it amusing anymore. “That’s when they came, Hooper.”


“The shadows, man. The shadows! They came from the storm! You remember the storm, don’t you?”

The storm.

I knew what he was talking about, of course; I don’t think anyone around here would forget it anytime soon. It was a little more than a week ago, when that freak blizzard came out of nowhere, unpredicted and unexplained. What had started out as a cloudless and unseasonably warm morning ended up burying us in nearly two feet of snow by the time it was over. The sky had shifted from bright and sunny to a bruised and angry granite color within the span of an hour, clouds rolling so low and heavy that it seemed like you could almost reach up and touch them. Our weather station at the field was clocking sustained wind speeds of fifty knots, with gusts up to eighty-five, and we were in a total whiteout condition for the next fourteen hours. We were all trapped in the hangar, huddled around the kerosene jet heaters, listening to the wind as it tried to tear apart the heavy steel structure around us.

By the time the next day came, it was just gone, replaced by the clear blue skies of the previous morning.

Nobody had any good explanation for it, but I’d heard a couple of the old-timers who ran the machine shop whispering about it in the back. I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying – I didn’t much care, if I’m being honest – but they sounded worried. At the time, I thought it was a little strange that the weather would unnerve them as much as it seemed to; these guys were both full-blood Inuit and as hard as nails – it was almost comical to think they’d be worried about a surprise blizzard. No, now that I think back on it, it almost seemed like they were more worried about something in the blizzard. I can’t be sure, since they kept switching in and out of English, but that’s the impression I got, anyway.

“The shadows?” I asked, confused.

His eyes had drifted off into the distance for a moment, lost in his own world. In the next moment, he snapped them back to me eagerly, like he’d just had an epiphany, and said, “Yeah. Do you want to see one?”

“Do I want to see a shadow? What the hell are you talking about, man? You’re not making any sense.”

But he was already on the move again, walking across the room to another door. He beckoned me to follow, entered his code, and pushed it open. Wordlessly, I followed, unease whispering in my ear.

He led me along another hallway, glancing over his shoulder periodically like he was making sure I was still there.

“I caught one. The other researchers didn’t think it was possible, but I knew I could,” he said, and it almost sounded like he was talking to himself more than to me. He stopped at a door marked “OR-2”, pushed it open and walked inside.

I trailed behind him hesitantly, feeling apprehensive about this whole thing. A slow feeling of dread had been worming its way through my subconscious and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to follow this man much further. The whole situation felt wrong, and I was starting to think that Mr. Morgan Tate was more than a little unhinged.

Where were the other researchers he’d mentioned? I’d question whether they ever existed at all, if not for the size of the place and the coats hanging by the door in the reception area.

The room I stepped into now was much smaller than the others and had the feel of some sort of control room. The wall to my left held narrow lockers and a rack of coat hooks occupied by several white lab coats. To my right was a console lined with monitors and keyboards, and above that, the entire upper portion of the wall appeared to be an observation window looking into a darkened room. On the opposite wall was one of those airlock doors that you see in isolation areas of hospitals, stainless-steel and with a small circular window in its smooth surface.

The computer monitors were on and were displaying various graphs and streams of data. Tate sat on one of the chairs at the console and started typing into the keyboard.

“They’re incredible,” he said absently. “Like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

I moved closer to the observation window, straining to make out anything in the darkened room beyond. All I saw was the stygian blackness, though.

“You have something in there?” I asked, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see whatever this nutcase wanted to show me. “Why are the lights off?”

He glanced away from the console for a second and turned an unreadable grin on me. “They’re not.” With that, he stood and leaned forward, pounding the heel of his fist against the window with a resounding shudder, making me jump in surprise.

I didn’t quite understand what I saw next. The darkness that had obscured my view suddenly swept aside, like someone snatching a curtain violently from across a window and out of sight.

But that wasn’t quite right, either, though. It was more fluid in its abrupt motion, almost like smoke being pulled away by an incredibly powerful and unseen exhaust fan. A muted screeching sound reached my ears, sounding eerily like a poor imitation of a bird of prey. I assumed that the observation room was soundproof, or near enough, and wondered exactly how loud that wailing must have been for it to reach my ears.

I leaned closer to the window, peering upward and to the left, where the darkness had disappeared to, but I couldn’t see any vestige of it.

And then I looked to the rest of the room and drew an involuntary gasp at the horror I saw.

A dozen corpses lay strewn about the otherwise barren interior of the room.

But they weren’t bodies anymore, not really. They were nothing more than skeletons now, still dressed in the clothes they’d worn when they fell. Most were intact, though a few had scattered where they struck the tiled floor. The bones were stripped of all remnants of flesh and were bleach white.

What the fuck?” I said in revulsion and shock, barely above a whisper.

Tate nodded excitedly. “It’s incredible, isn’t it? The others left, but I was able to lure two of them into the holding room and trap them there.”

I stepped back, feeling my stomach turn, and turned an incredulous gaze upon the man. “But, the bodies…”

He nodded again, almost eagerly. “That’s how I lured them. Most of the remaining researchers fled in here to hide. You see, it needs to eat, to hunt. It can’t survive without sustenance, no more than you or I. There were two in the beginning, but after the food ran out, this one turned on the other and now there’s only one.”

“The food? You mean those people?” I tightened the grip on my rifle and took a step backwards to put a little space between the two of us.

“When the shadows came in the darkness of the storm, a few of them were able to slip into the building before we realized what was happening. Half of the researchers were taken that night, in their sleep. You see, they hide and wait for the right moment. They avoid the light; I think it weakens them, but in the darkness...” he trailed off, and I saw an uncomfortable smile grow across his lips, almost of admiration, it seemed. “In the darkness, that’s where they live. That’s where they thrive, where they reign.”

I took another step backwards, my free hand reaching for the door handle behind me and opening it, pushing it with my foot. “You’re crazy,” I said, bringing the rifle up in line with his chest.

If he even noticed it, he gave no indication. His eyes had taken on that maniacal glint again, and he stood, giving a small nod that I thought was meant to reassure me. “There’s no more for it to eat, Hooper. It’s been days since I’ve been able to feed it.” He took a slow step towards me, and I matched it with a retreating one of my own. He smiled and continued, as if explaining to a child. “I have only myself left to offer, but that’s not enough. Don’t you understand? This isn’t just a thing, not just an animal. It’s far beyond our understanding – far beyond our own primitive evolution. It’s perfect.”

His eyes flicked away from me for a moment to an illuminated red button on the console nearby, and his hand drifted over to it.

Don’t!” I shouted, bringing the rifle up to my shoulder. “Don’t do it, Tate!”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said, an obscene caricature of gentleness filling his voice. “It’s quick.” His hand hovered over the button.

“I will shoot you, Tate! Don’t make me do it!”

From where I stood, I could see another of those airlock doors through the observation window, and to my horror, a swirling mass of impenetrable blackness massed at the threshold. I could almost feel its anticipation. This wasn’t the first time it had been fed. It knew what was coming.

In that instant, when my eyes flicked away from him, Tate stabbed at the button. With a curse, I squeezed the trigger on the rifle at the same instant, but it was too late. The deafening report in the small room was immense, but even as the round tore through the man’s chest, he’d already pressed it.

I watched in horror as the twin airlock doors began to retract, and without another thought, I turned and fled as fast as my weary muscles could carry me. Thankfully, the codes required to open the doors weren’t needed to exit them, and I flew down the hall and through the research room. As I passed it and threw open the door to the reception area, I heard that wailing screech again from somewhere behind me, haunting and otherworldly, echoing through the empty facility, much louder than before.

Then, I heard another sound, this one the agonized screaming of Morgan Tate. I only gave it the briefest of thoughts as I jerked open the outer door and fled into the snowstorm. I could only hope that feeding time would give me enough of a window to make it back to Maggie.

The air had darkened even more with the coming of dusk and had grown colder. Thankfully, the storm seemed to have lost much of its fury, the front having now passed by and leaving me in its relatively calm wake.

I ran along the path, just enough light remaining of the day to follow the tracks I’d made on my way in. The rifle was heavy in my grip, but I didn’t dare lose my only defense. When that howling screech echoed through the trees behind me, I redoubled my speed, praying that it wouldn’t be able to find me before I’d reached Maggie.

The frigid air burned my lungs, and my throat was raw by the time I reached the snow-covered landing strip. I almost cried with joy at the sight of my bright yellow Maggie, waiting patiently for my return.

I reached the cargo hatch and swung it open, throwing myself inside and pulling it shut behind me just as another of those haunting wails reached my ears, closer this time.

Much closer.

I didn’t dare look out the windows as I threw off my pack and rifle and climbed back into the pilot’s seat. I buckled on my harness and my hands danced over the controls, the start-up procedure second nature.

Battery master on, fuel selector to center, mixture lever forward, fuel-oil shutoff lever down…

A resounding high-pitched howl penetrated the cabin and something black moved outside, rushing from window to window, door to door, searching. It was here now, trying to find a way inside!


…throttle at 10%, fuel pressure pumped to 5 PSI, engine primed…

I froze. My windshield had suddenly gone completely black, shrouding me in darkness. Even though I couldn’t see anything in the featureless void just a foot away from my face, I could feel its desperation. I felt its sightless gaze, and below that, some dark malice, an inhuman and alien hunger.

I pressed the starter switch and the 9-cylinder radial engine started turning over, slowly at first, laggard and sluggish. My blood chilled as I realized that it wasn’t catching, wasn’t starting. My thoughts flew back to the engine problems I’d been experiencing before my emergency landing and, in that moment, I was certain my luck had finally run out.

But then, a backfire, then another, and then a third, coughing black puffs of smoke from the exhaust.

And then it caught, and that big, beautiful Pratt & Whitney radial took over, the loud drone rising smooth and steady as Maggie woke from her slumber. I pushed the throttle forward, inertia pressing me into my seat. I no longer cared about the engine misfires or the storm – a fiery death in the trees was preferable to whatever that thing had in store for me, I was sure.

The snow was deep, and even with the big tundra tires, I had to work to keep from nosing over as I began to gain speed. At some point, the black mass disappeared from my windscreen, and I was greeted with the glorious sight of an open path before me.

With the passing of the stormfront, the wind had shifted directions, and I was into a headwind now, perfect for my needs. I pushed the throttle to full and pulled back gently on the yoke. I felt the wheels leave the ground, now free from the snow’s drag, and continued my climb until I was above the trees and gently banking back toward the south, towards home.

As I passed over the landing strip, I thought I could just make out a black shape on the ground below, stretching and snaking along after me in its futile pursuit before I lost it in the trees.


The engine miss returned after another ten minutes of flying, but Maggie carried me back to safety. She always took care of me. Forty minutes later, I was back on the ground in Fairbanks and taxiing for the hangar.

Stopping the bush plane just outside, I shut her down, unbuckled myself, and carefully climbed down to the runway, where my body fought with itself for which was going to happen first, the puking or the passing out.

At this point, I’d happily suffer either.

Mike Nichols came jogging out of the hangar after hearing my approach and helped steady me.

“Jesus, Hoop, you gave us all a scare,” he smiled amiably. “It must have been a hell of a flight – you look like you saw a ghost, man.”

I could only nod and stumble my way towards the warmth of the hangar, grateful for his shoulder to brace myself against. Just before we reached the service door, he paused and looked back at Maggie. “Buck told me you had some engine problems, but he didn’t say anything about a fire.”

I frowned and shook my head. “No fire. I lost some cylinders.”

He stood there a moment longer, an odd expression on his face, before opening the door and ushering me inside. “Weird. I thought I saw some black smoke coming from under the engine cowl right after you shut her down."

19:38 UTC


Getting On My Last Nerve - NSFW

I’m slumped in my bathroom, leaning against the bath. I made sure it was impossible for me to get out.

As I type this on my phone, my hands shake from all the energy drinks I have consumed in the last few days.

I am EXHAUSTED. I haven’t washed, brushed my teeth or changed my clothes in around a week. My stomach grumbles, not sure when I last ate or slept.

Not that it will matter soon.

Not that anything I write will matter soon.

I’m slightly rambling and, as time is of the essence, I should probably be more concise.

Hi, my name is Doug.

I am 5 “11, short blonde hair, blue eyes, keep myself in shape. I am fairly outgoing, I enjoy watching formula one racing and my dirty little secret is that I also enjoy cheesy romantic comedies. The kind always on at Christmas time. So bad they’re good.

Wait, this isn’t a Tinder profile.

Don’t really know how to start.

What has driven me to write this is...I don’t know. So that my life might matter, this post may be the only evidence that I existed at all, given what has happened.

My town has a population of 5, 000 people. Very quaint, but remote. All very friendly in contrast to the bitter wind that seems to be a daily occurrence.

Very rarely any crime, I know because my dad is the head of the PD and I ask him about it constantly. Stuff like that intrigues me.

So, a few weeks ago, I was at a work party. Real expensive. Was about 11pm, early in the night.

It was that point where the air is thick with sweat and tinged with particles of alcohol, that comes with a good party. Even if it is a work one.

I was drinking, a rare occurrence, and was in a group of 10, all huddled around a wooden table, most of us stood up.

Two of my co-workers, probably my best friends at work, were doing the old “spread a hand on the table and try to avoid stabbing yourself as you speed the knife up” game, but it was apparently the final and so they were using a massive steak knife they had flirted off of a waitress.

These people are scientists by day and morons by night. But then, so am I.

Chop chop chop chop chop

Faster and faster until the inevitable...well, I didn’t notice any sound except for the “AHHHH FUCK!”

Blood gushed over the table, a mix of laughing, screaming and “Aw bro!” Chorused around the table, and soon the room.

I staggered into action up to the wounded party, Greg. “Oh shit Greg you alright mate?”

“Yeah bud I see I stabbed my hand,” Greg paused to look at the knife pinning his hand to the table, surprisingly calm, “don’t even feel it mate.”

“That’s the shock for you, don’t do things by halves do you Greg? Anything to get a day o, right?”

We exchanged a little chuckle between us but my shitty joke failed to break the tension. The venue happened to be hosting a medical conference too so got one of them to attend to Greg.

Not going to lie, I wanted to go with him for 90% the experience and 10% moral support, so I did. My job was to keep him calm, which I was alright at.

We got to the hospital about twenty minutes later and, as they wheeled Greg away behind “no entry” doors, I sat down. I fell into a nap and when I woke myself up not long after, I took stock of my surroundings.

It was quiet, too quiet for prime time on a Friday night. Don’t get me wrong, there were people there, but there was no crying in pain, sneezing or coughing.

They were just sat there, waiting their turn. Maybe talking to each other quietly. One guy didn’t even flinch as the doctors pushed his socket back into place. He just looked at it.

Bored of sitting, thinking my brain was having too much creativity for my liking, I walked around. There was such an eerie silence that it actually made me pick my feet up as I walked, hearing my stomping.

For some reason, one of the doors showed me the pre-op and there seemed to be some problem with the anaesthetic, as the patient was not falling asleep. They shrugged and instead tried a different method, up the nose with a massive tube with a camera attached.

I won’t dwell on it, just know that I did NOT care to witness that so moved on.

Next day, Greg is fine, he stays in the hospital.

I sat at home in my boxers, crisps littering my form, racing on my TV, scrolling through my phone, occasionally replying to a text asking about Greg, when I see someone I follow post-

“LOL Must look worse than it is! Can’t feel anything! #hardcore #thuglife #oops #nofeels”

This is attached to a truly disturbing image. Made me nauseous so I quickly hid in the comments, which consisted of lots of “alpha males” and the like saying was it SFX or CGI, and suggesting to prod at it. You get the idea. Later, when I was curious to look again, it had been deleted.

My eyes widen as it hits me. I scroll through the #nofeels hashtag and there are over 300 results, all from my hometown, all from people showing injuries varying in intensity, from a paper cut to …

SOMEONE ACTUALLY LIVE-STREAMING THEMSELVES from a car crash, very popular of course, with twisted legs stuck in the car, an eye popping out, and other injuries. When I left the stream, the chat was saying it was a movie set, and as I clicked off her legs started burning as they laughed and asked people to like.

All of these people are saying they can’t feel their injuries.

The interactions aren’t just from the town, though. A mix of concern and “wow, great makeup!”.

But there were a third selection of chat and comments, of which they wanted a “part 2!” Or for the person to cause more harm to themselves, wrapping it under the nice “challenge” banner.

Daily, there were more. Only from my town. However, after a week, the “#nofeels” hashtag had turned into the aforementioned challenge videos, with people trying out ever more harmful things, so what if they removed their fingers, as long as they were still top content creator.

The hashtag became the number one trending hashtag for my town. This incredibly small place was now on the map and the sudden fame went right to people’s heads. They needed more.

Those in my town that didn’t tend to use that platform were sometimes used as pawns and experiments in order to gain more popularity, these subjects were actually willing.

A leaderboard randomly appeared on my TV, the only thing it would turn to. I turned it off.

NO. I do NOT believe that this was human nature, how could I? I mean, as I sit here I think how it would be possible???

Toxic hallucination inducing gas leak?? Evolution??? WHAT?

I mean, just… WHAT?!

I last went outside about three days ago. People just walking around normally but in various states of…what do you call it?…fucking… I don’t know.

The more they injured themselves or their willing subjects the more they seemed to become what I can only describe as “dead behind the eyes” or “desensitised”.

After a while they stopped smiling. They just ripped themselves apart. Didn’t even film.

However, they would only notice someone if they had caused themselves an injury already, no matter how big or small.

People willing to be filmed being eaten, burned, tortured, drowned, all while smiling. I didn’t stick around to see if they died.

I have not had any injuries, intentional or not, since probably 3 months ago, so I am in the clear. They didn’t even seem to notice me so I stayed clear.

I barricaded myself in this room yesterday.

My theory? I have two which I am considering - cliché alien zoo/experiments or a kind of virus.

But, as I say, it won’t matter.

Put something on any platform on the internet and no-one will believe you.

I’ve got my favourite drink, even though I’m normally not a drinker, and all of these pills here.

Oh, forgot to mention, my bath?

It’s currently filing up with acid. Highly corrosive acid. It took a while but I made sure the entire room was lined with high density polyethylene.

Unsure if anyone will care, or notice, in this town. I just know I don’t want to be one of them.

Wonder if I will feel it.

What would give me the greatest of a last relief? If I felt it or if I didn’t?

Maybe that’s why I’m doing this.

I’m starting to feel dizzy and have difficulty breathing, due to the vapours. Also starting to weep as writing it down causes it to become real… but the irony is that whoever reads this will just think it is a fake story.

Anyway, signing off.

Doug Fletcher

08-12-2000 to 16(give or take)-03-2023

PS - Do you like the title? I’ve always been the comedian in my little group. Dark sense of humour, perhaps.

One last joke. The joke of a dead man.

I wonder what will be the thing that breaks the disbelief.

Probably not this.

Which is a shame.

For me.

18:21 UTC

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