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The title may sound strange, but it truly is the only way i could describe my situation.
I moved to Utah when i was 7. It wasn't really a difficult move, since i adjust quite easily and make friends quickly. I made a small group of friends that were especially close to me. I dont want to use their real names, so i'll give them aliases.
But me and Ben, we were thick as thieves. We use to play alone In the woods when none of our friends could join. Ben was quiet, smart and extremely logical. I on the other hand was, not exactly brave, i would say, but rather shameless. Adrenaline was the only thing that mattered to me.
Ben would steal biscuits and cake from his fathers fridge, and i would take my fathers old hockey stick. We played in the woods, but we never went to deep, because Ben was scared we may never find our way out, or maybe a bear would get to us, or perhaps, we would get split up. His reasons were endless.
We would play a game we made up with the old hockey sticks that we called "The Black Knight and the White Knight" We would battle with the hockey sticks like swords, wearing black and white bicycle helmets.
Ben was always the White Knight. Some times our friend Ellias would join our game, so he would be crowned "The Red Knight". If our friend, Bella joined, she would be "The Yellow Knight".
It was rare for all four of us to come together to play out little game, but we occasionally managed it.
One one such day, we all came together. We wore our bicycle helmets and posed with our hockey sticks, and play fighting with eachother, occasionally shouting "En garde!" or "Thou shalt not be spared the tip of my blade!" without any idea of what the phrases actually ment. But Ben wasn't playing as usual. He fought, almost Profesionally. I could feel the blood lust in his eyes, as he swung his hockey stick with uttering a single word. I was impressed at first, but i soon became scared, as i realised he was aiming not to play, but to hurt.
I yelled at him to stop multiple times. It wasn't until Bella called Time Out, that he stopped. I breathed heavily, took a sip of water, or rather a couple of gulps, and yelled at Ben.
But again, Ben said nothing. His face was blank but his eyes were fierce. Even at just 8 years old, i realised that this couldn't be Ben. He wasn't acting like Ben. But he had to be him, who else could look exactly like Ben?
Then finally, he spoke. "i'm bored of this game." We all asked whta he ment, he suggested he go back home and bring the largest knife we could find, as a substitution for actual swords.
Obviously we all disagreed. Ben argued to at least use sharp sticks, to which Ellias agreed but me and Bella were against.
Ben started to pout. But not in a childish way as you may expect, but a weird way. I can't describe it, it just seemed strange.
We continued to play, but this time i refused to play with Ben, and fought with Ellias instead. Ben fought Bella, and she yelled at him to be more gentle every so often.
Then came Ben's next brilliant idea. He suggested we go deeper, just to "feel the thrill of doing something new" This seemed harmless to us. In fact we were always trying to convince Ben to go deeper. The adults usually scared us with the idea of bears, but there were no bears. There were, however, Cyotoes.
We walked deeper, Ben in front. He seemed to be familiar with the area, and seemed to be leading us somewhere.
However, At some time, me and Ellias got separated from Bella and Ben. Ellias had water, and I had a couple packets of biscuits and dry fruits. But we were aware, Bella and Ben had nothing. I suggested to go deeper and look for them, but Ellias argued that we were already sort of far from home, and that we should go home and tell adults.
Eventually I agreed with Ellias, and we started to go home. I found it difficult to turn back, like there was some kind of invisible glue that pulled me.
But we got terribly lost. For 2 days, in fact, we couldn't find our way out. We had food, the nuts and dry fruits gave us a bit of warmth.
We would have been in longer, but an adult trecking had found us. We were brought back, and the whole time the only thing on my mind was weather Bella and Ben were okay. I wished when we got home, they would come home and assure me that they were fine.
But they were not there.
2 days turned to 3, 3 turned into 4. They were missing for a week.
Eventually Ben turned up. After a whole week. He refused to talk, or ensure others of Bella, For Bella never came back.
The adults searched for months. The found Bella's yellow bicycle helmet, and the ragged golf stick she used as a sword. They even found muddy footprints of Bella's shoes. But they never found Bella.
Ben would never talk about Bella, no matter how often we badgered him. He would then act cruelly, he became a sort of fierce bully.
Me and Ellias stopped talking to him.
When I was 10, Ellias moved away. I too moved away 5 after, when I was 15.
years later, I came back to Utah to visit my grandma. I found out Ben still lived here, but in less then good conditions. I felt bad about abandoning him.
I still felt strongly about him, but I chalked it up to me being irrational. I figured his silence about Bella and his violent behavior was some kind of PTSD.
I went to visit him, he lived exactly where he used to. But now the house was cold, smelled of rotten meat and food. The place was unkempt and on the table please poorly cooked beef with simple tea in a dirty cup.
I greeted Ben. He looked up, and beckoned me to come sit. No smile, no hello.
I didn't want to be rude, so I sat down. But the cushion on the chair was dusty and rotten and mouldy looking.
I tried to talk, but Ben barely acknowledged me. When it got awkward, I tried to start a new conversation. I complimented a neck piece he was wearing. I seemed hand made and had a single canine tooth on the end of it.
But then Ben smiled. A smile that didn't touch his eyes. He got up, went to the kitchen and brought back another necklace, but the tooth on it was slightly chipped. He handed it too me.
I turned it around my hand. It was definitely a real tooth, but I couldn't understand of which animal. I was too small to be an Ox, and too dull to be a cats.
He spoke in a slippery manner, Ben started to talk about some ritual. A ritual to bring peace to the dead. It was the most grotesque thing I had ever heard. He talked about if one was murdered by an individual without a weapon, the body part used to kill the person must be torn or cut of, as to bring peace to the soul.
He started to talk nonsense after. He told me he was to scared to do it while we were young, but Bella's soul visited him in his dreams and kept telling him to do it.
For the first time he smiled, a full, toothy smile. I gagged in horror.
All four of his canines were gone. Ben grabbed my hand and started to talk rapidly. He kept asking me if I saw it too. I ran away screaming.
I am sure that is not Ben. Ben would never. I don't know what to do. I left Utah, and am preparing to have my grandma move in with me. I don't want her to be alone there. Not when that thing is there. And I don't want to think about what may have happened to Bella.
I saw a finger where it shouldn’t have been.
Moving dishes around in an old cabinet, and rearranging for the shifting of the seasons, I saw it twitching in the shadows of the corners of the wood.
Oh, all the gods! what will I do? I saw a finger where it shouldn’t have been.
I thought it was a worm at first, a fat writhing many-jointed multi-legged thing squirming in the dark of the oak, past paper packed plates soon to be neatly stacked behind display glass. I saw it there.
Moving like a fat white maggot, not thinking or considering well I went to grab it, to remove it and excise it from the old estate sale find. But it entwined its grimy digit around mine and held it it there.
And I made a guttural noise, an involuntarily call from the quivering evolutionary sirens of the lowest part of the pit of my stomach. It hooked my finger tight and tried to pull it back and I lurched in revulsion. And as it writhed it touched the light. Half rotted. No fingernail. Black like soot and now gyrating and trying to keep me pinned. I pulled away fell to the floor there.
And I admit I cried out in terror then. I did. And ran to the kitchen to grab a knife and sever the foul thing and find its source. With a small flashlight from a drawer with old keys, I warred my will to flee and came again to the old antique cabinet, stained in tones of brown and red.
And I looked, and I found nothing. I moved all the plates and shifted the old thing away from the wall and inspected it for cracks and incursions. I ran my hand up and down along the old paint of the house and exclaimed some curses then, I must admit, I did. For I had seen it truly, right where it shouldn’t have been.
And so some weeks passed, and some days more. I sold the old cabinet and the dishes too, and I may have nailed some metal to the wall. I’d like to deny that and say it wasn’t true.
And I would but for the second time, putting on an old boot, pulling at the sides to loosen up the leather enough to fix it on my foot. It caught me there again, squirming up from the darkness of the sole.
Now fast like a centipede and stronger still it inched like gliding upon ice up my arm and into my shirt. And I squealed and tore the shirt from my body, spun around and then hit the ground like I was aflame. And I heard a crunch and thought for certain this foul game was done.
And I spun and saw a streak of blood smeared toward a small crevice in the wall. That fleshy wretch had fooled me again and I groaned and yelled and determined I would burn my house down to the ground. Burn it down to cinders and stone and hot red ash.
But I thought better of it. I stayed with friends and after a couple weeks I implored them to search. And being assured maybe it had died- if things like that could die, I returned.
And it was peaceful for a while, and nothing at all was out of place.
But then, in the creeping itch of a long night I went to scratch my ear and found it there, spiraling and trying to get in.
I woke up in a mad frenzy. I launched myself off the bed and grabbed at the back end of the finger. It slipped away and eluded me. It shot across my neck and face, and I thought, “It’s going for my eyes!”
I quickly covered both of them and began to spasm my body against the walls of the room in the darkness. I knocked over a lamp and heard it crash, and then books and finally a table too. In my misery, feeling it beginning to pry apart my ocular shield, I slammed my head against the wall. Once, twice and finally black. I fell unconscious from the hit.
And when I awoke it was daylight. The only thing around me was the scene of the carnage and madness. The wreck of a room in the sun drenched aftermath of the struggle.
And I want to believe it’s over now. Maybe I emerged the champion of this grotesque contest.
But something is amiss.
I feel an interior squirming, and an undeniable second presence somewhere in my spine and I know not what to do.
For a I saw a finger where it shouldn’t have been.
All this time, all this goddamn time, it was responsible for this. It was the one who…I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll pick up where I left off last. It was a gruelingly slow process, but we finally managed to repair that phone I found.
I didn’t know your blood could both boil and chill, but mine found a way. Even though the screen was still cracked, we could still use a cable to hook it up to Malcolm’s TV on mute of course. However, when we turned it on, we were met with a blast of static. That drove up the panic meter to full.
“Turn it off. Turn it off,” Dean urged, gritting through his teeth.
“It’s not working,” Malcolm replied, frantically hammering his thumb on the power button. “How is it even making static?”
It only got louder as if it sensed our fear. I was nearest to the window so I peeked through the blinds to see the creatures now lumbering in our direction.
“They’re coming this way,” I said.
I turned back to the others.
“Fuck this,” Mickey said and raised his gun.
That’s when the static began changing. As it did, my hands trembled almost like I instinctually knew what was about to appear.
“No, it can’t be,” I said.
“Zane, what’s wrong?” Stella asked.
The familiar image of a pink cobra-shaped cloud with ruby-red eyes greeted us on screen. When it did, the sounds of the monsters outside ceased. I glanced back outside and saw the creatures were hesitating. It was as though they were scavengers and some larger predator had awoken nearby. That’s how we knew it wasn’t merely a video on the screen.
“Ludus,” I said im a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Its face changed into an expression vaguely resembling a smile.
“I see so the other player failed. No matter, as long as there are others, this game is not yet done.”
It’s eyes focused unsettlingly on me. I wanted to avert my gaze. Instead, I stood firm.
“Ludus,” I said in a breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding,
It must have heard the venom in my voice because it feigned offense.
“Zane, is that any way to speak to….An old friend?”
Those words made my legs feel like jelly. This thing apparently knew me. Despite the dryness now in my throat, I managed to force out a response.
“I consider you many things. A friend will never be one of them.”
“Is that so? That’s too bad. Perhaps I need to jog your memory.”
My vision suddenly began doubling. This was followed by the worst migraine I’ve ever had. It was like someone was power-drilling directly into my temple. Dean and Stella kept shouting my name, but they may as well have been miles away. Then I was barraged with a flash of images.
There was a statue by a lake of one black snake and one white snake intertwined. There was a maroon house with a treehouse in the front yard. Then I saw what I can only assume was a child’s room, judging by all the toys lying about. There were voices The last thing I got from that experience were two voices.
I couldn’t understand them because they were distorted and yet they were familiar to me. After that, everything went dark.
“Zane,” I faintly heard Dean yell, “Shit, he’s having some kind of seizure.”
He and Stella kept shouting my name, Ludus cackled and my vision returned. My rapid breathing slowed down and I could see again. Dean and Stella helped me up.
“I hope you had a pleasant nap, Zane,” Ludus said.
I was too weak to respond.
“Enough of this shit,” Mickey growled and raised his gun. “Tell us how to get out of this now.”
Somehow, I didn’t think Ludus was intimidated.
“That’s exactly what I was about to do. First, let me tell you all about the original player. He made a bet with me. If he won, his debts would be wiped away, but you already know how that turned out. A stipulation was that when the game started, something of his would go missing. In his case, it was the memory of our conversation.”
“So you cheated,” Stella said.
“I only initiate the game. Whatever that causes to happen is out of my control.”
“What exactly was this game?” Malcolm asks.
“A scavenger hunt of sorts, there were previously three items to find. Now there are four. Since your situation is less than ideal, nothing will be taken from you upon joining this game.”
“How generous of you,” I sarcastically replied, my strength slowly returning, “but it’s still pretty stacked against us with those things outside.”
“Fair enough, they shall be moved before we start. Let’s say, I scatter them in different areas. None will be near your current location. How does that sound?”
"If we win, will the people who vanished come back?"
Ludus thought for a moment.
"As I said, how a game behaves once it begins is out of my control. They might return. They might not. I tire of talking. Do you accept these terms or not?"
I looked at the others. Dean nodded.
“Fine, we’ll accept the challenge and beat you.”
“When did I say I would be the one you would be facing?”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
‘The other played against an underling of mine. I do hope you have fun with them. Before I go, I’ll say that you’ll know what you are looking for when you see it. The game will officially begin when you step outside. If you complete your task before it reaches this home you win and if you don't, well, at least you tried.”
Malcolm’s TV shut off, leaving a strong air of apprehension over us.
“What now?" he asked.
"First, we need to survey where we need to go and what we have to work with," Dean replied.
We took inventory while Mickey used his binoculars to see out the windows. For our weapons, we each only had a handful of special ammo. Considering, the odds, this would take careful treading. Mickey informed us that he noticed rays of light going to the clouds from four separate locations. We could only assume these were the items.
“There was something odd about the last one, though,” he said. “It was moving.”
“That’s going to be a pain,” Stella said. “Is there anything else we should know?”
“See for yourself, Check the sky.”
Using Mickey’s binoculars, we saw something stirring far off on the other side of town. It almost seemed to be swimming among the storm clouds. Its size was incomprehensible and we were glad its true appearance was obscured. After some discussion, we decided the best course of action would be to split into different groups.
“Who’s going with who then?” I asked.
“Hang on,” Malcolm replied, “I want to come with you.”
This was surprising.
“Malcolm, I hate to be blunt, but we’re not even sure about our chances and we’ve been doing this kind of stuff for a long time. You’d be more of a liability than anything,” Dean said.
“I know the layout of this town better than any of you. I’ve been sneaking around before any of you arrived so I have a better understanding of those things’ behavior.”
He had a point.
“I don’t know how to use a gun, but I can run fast. If one of you covers me, I can help you out.”
“Could you give us a second to discuss things?” Stella asked.
It took a lot of back and forth to settle on the decision to bring Malcolm along.
"Listen," Dean said to him, "Since you know the layout of the town, are there any shortcuts you know of?"
"Yeah, a few, let me jot them down real quick."
Once we each had a note of the routes we'd be following along with some supplies, we headed to the front door. Dean and Stella would be grouping up. Malcolm would be with me and Mickey would be going solo.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with one of us?" I asked.
"Don't worry. I can be stealthy when I need to. Now, let's move out."
Stepping outside acted as a trigger for the thing in the sky on the other side of town. It began moving in our direction. Based on its speed, we estimated we only had about two hours to win. We wished each other good luck and then split up. I followed Malcolm.
"How many bullets do you have again?" he asked as we jogged.
"Eight in my gun and two fast loaders."
"Is that regular or the special ammo you guys told me about?"
"Special, I have a lot of the regular kind too, but it doesn't do much against them."
Our destination was the local elementary school. Meanwhile, Dean and Stella were heading to the fountain with a statue of the town's founder. Mickey was going to the movie theater. It took Malcolm and I half an hour just to reach the school. That was with shortcutting through the forest.
"Stay low," he instructed as we got closer.
We used the trees as cover and soon reached the schoolyard.
"Oh no," Malcolm murmured.
In front of the school were the creatures. There had to be at least a hundred and seeing them made my chest tighten.
"Do you think we can sneak around them?" I asked.
"No good, there is a tree that stretches to the roof, but we'd need to get past the clearing for the road to reach it."
I looked around and then upward at the power lines which I noticed went past the school.
"Do you want to hear a really stupid idea?"
The only good thing about our situation was that no electricity was circulating through the power lines.
"Did you say stupid?" Malcolm asked. "I think you meant insane."
We were currently walking on the powerline with our arms held out for balance. This was the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done. Between the monsters below, how high we were up, and the fact it was pouring meant a single slip would be game over. Growing up, this sort of thing was a routine part of my training.
Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how much practice can teach a person. Dean has taught me that there’s no better educator than experience. Granted, that wasn’t the first time I’d been in this sort of predicament. The difference was I had to look out for someone who wasn’t nearly as experienced with this kind of thing.
A majority of balancing is mental. You have to keep your nerve. This was easier said than done especially under our given circumstances. Despite each step seeming like a mile, we eventually made it to the tree that connected to an upper classroom window.
“Hang on, is it even going to be unlocked?” I whispered, now scolding myself for not considering this sooner.
“Yeah, they tend not to bother locking them during the hotter months. I need to hurry up with this because I don’t know how long that branch will support my weight.”
Malcolm grabbed a knot in the tree and then hoisted himself over. There was a tense moment when it jounced and he managed to hold on. He shot me a thumbs-up and then knelt down. With a grunt of effort, he lifted the window. Risking a glance, I noticed some creatures were wandering toward our area.
“Come on,” Malcolm urged.
One step on the bough and we both heard a sharp crack. Instinct saved me then. I didn’t think. I just dove for the window, landing on a classroom floor.
“Shit, that was close. Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Close the window.”
I used a desk to pull myself to my feet. Outside, the creatures were gathered around the fallen limb as if expecting it to do something.
“Good thing they aren’t that bright,” Malcolm said.
“With their numbers, they don’t need to be.”
We went out into the hall and there we saw backpacks and books scattered all over the floor. Students were leaving and then fell victim to Ludus’s twisted game. Malcolm stopped and picked up one of the books. I saw it belonged to the Magic Treehouse series. I remember Dean got me a stack of those for my eighth birthday.
“I didn’t want this,” Malcolm said.
“What do you mean?”
During our stay at his house, we talked a lot. It wasn’t about anything important, more things to keep ourselves distracted. Now, it seemed that he wanted to open up more.
“I always wished people would just leave me alone. Maybe that’s why I was the only one it missed.”
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best at comforting someone. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through so much shit it’s made me emotionally numb in some areas. I’ll try, though and I’ll listen.
“I’ve been doing this sort of thing for over a decade now. Sometimes things like this just happen. Whatever the reason you survived, don’t let it go to waste.”
With a sigh, Malcolm put the book down.
“I didn’t want people around, but I still wanted them around. Sorry, that probably doesn’t make any sense.”
“No, I get exactly what you mean.”
Locating the item in question didn’t take long on account of the glow it gave off. It turned out to be a flask that we found sitting on the principal’s desk.
“I take it he wasn’t too fond of his job,” I quipped.
“From what I heard, he always had a bit of a drinking problem, but his job certainly didn’t help.”
Malcolm went into the office and was about to grab the flask. Another thing I learned growing up was to trust your gut.
“Wait,” I called out.
“Is something wrong?”
“Doesn’t this seem a little too easy?”
He looked at the flask and then back to me.
“What do you propose we do then?”
“Let’s search around first for something that might help us.”
Doing so gave us a pair of car keys.
“That could work,” I said.
I made sure my gun was ready and then signaled to Malcolm.
“Here’s goes nothing,” he told me and grabbed the flask.
The resulting noise could have woken the dead. It was like someone hooked up an airhorn to the world’s largest megaphone. It didn’t take long for the noise of shattering glass to reach us. Leaving the principal’s office, we made sure to stay low.
“They’re probably coming in from the front and back entrances. There’s another exit on the basement level.”
Malcolm once again led the way with me ready to give him cover. By the time we reached the door connecting to the basement, we could already hear them in the connecting halls. We descended the stairs and then booked it to the exit. Before we went out, we looked out the window to survey the area. The creatures wandering about outside meant we’d need to come up with a plan fast.
“I’ll draw their attention and you find the car the keys go to. Got it?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll try to hurry up with that.”
“Alright, count of three we head out.”
“Okay. I’m ready when you are.”
We pressed our shoulders against the double doors.
Pushing them open, our plan was to beeline for the car. Unfortunately, we were met with a horde of those monsters.
“Get the car started. I’ll hold them off,” I shouted, then fired at them.
Most of them took the bait and focused on me. Unfortunately, some were still going for Malcolm. Aiming from that distance was already hard enough. The rain on top of that meant I may as well have been firing blindfolded. I figured if I aimed high and fanned my shots, I could hit some of them without putting Malcolm in the line of fire.
Luckily, this worked and I saw them crumple to the ground. However, with the horde after me, I couldn’t protect him for long. They followed me in a circle around the building. I wasn’t running for long, but I was straining just to stay ahead of them.
I considered squeezing off a few shots behind me and decided against it. The last thing I needed was to not be able to see where I was going. My lungs felt like they were going to burst at any moment. That’s when Malcolm pulled ahead of me and put down the back windows. One of the monster’s hands nearly got me and I had to duck to avoid its swipe.
In a last burst of speed, I dove into the backseat.
“Floor it,” I screamed.
One of them tried jumping in after me and managed to grab my leg as the car was moving. Cursing, I fired directly into its head, making it let go and causing its lifeless body to roll on the road.
“Hey, I don’t see the other lights. Does that mean the others succeeded?” Malcolm asked.
One of the supplies we bought was our radios. I turned it on and spoke into it, informing the others we had the object we were looking for. Dean and Stella responded right away followed by Mickey.
“We got ours too. It was a silver dollar someone threw in the fountain,” Dean said.
“Are you still there?” I asked.
“No, we’ve barricaded ourselves in a nearby store,” Stella answered. “I don’t know how much longer we could hold them off.”
Malcolm and I gave each other worried looks before I responded.
“And what about you Mickey?”
“I found mine and it’s one of those old film reels and right now I’m holed up in a projection booth. If they find me, I’ll go down fighting.”
This meant it was up to us to find the fourth item. That thing in the sky was already over us. We knew we didn’t have long until it reached Maclolm’s house.
“Okay, everyone hold on a little while loner,” I said, “We’re going to finish this!”
We drove to the light of the fourth item. According to Malcolm, it was currently coming from the park.
“What could it be?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but if it’s moving we might have another fight on our hands.”
That was the understatement of the century. When we got to the park, they were there and their numbers made what we faced at the school feel like child’s play, no pun intended.
“How are we going to get past them?”Malcolm asked.
“Can’t we just drive around them?”
He considered this and shrugged.
“I suppose it’s worth a shot.”
We had to drive through the fence in order to get into the park. More of the creatures were inside.
“Of course, they’re here too,” Malcolm breathed. “How many bullets do you have left?”
I checked and cursed under my breath.
“Half in the revolver and another fast loader so twelve in total. Do you see what we need to find?”
Malcolm coked his head. Confused, I leaned forward to check what he was seeing and saw a cat running on the grass with a bright aura surrounding it.
“That’s not what I was expecting,” I said.
"This is horseshit. There's no way we'll grab it in time."
There were some gas station bags in the principal's car. I reached into them.
"What are you doing?"
"Seeing if there's something in here that can save us."
My hand grasped something that made me gasp.
"What is it?" Malcolm asked, concerned.
I pulled out a half-full bag of beef jerky.
"Hell yeah," Malcolm laughed, looking back at me. "We got this in the-"
"Look out," I shouted, pointing.
It was too late. We crashed into a tree, causing the windshield to shatter, Malcolm to hit his head on the steering wheel and me to lurch forward and bump my head against the dashboard. Groaning we tumbled out of the car, the bag of beef jerky still in my hand.
"Shit, we were so close," I said.
The monsters were headed for ours, ready to do, I don't even want to think about what, to us.
"I'm sorry," Malcolm told me. "I fucked it up for all of us."
The jerky fell out of the bag and onto my chest. At that moment, there was a meow near us. We glanced over. The cat was trotting over. It climbed onto me and picked up a piece of jerky in its mouth.
The creatures were nearly on us when a flash of light washed over us. In the sky, the entity was becoming more visible.
"Close your eyes," I ordered as I was squeezing mine shut.
There was this sound like moving concrete and then we no longer heard the rain. We opened our eyes to find our attackers along with the rain gone. We sat up and tossed aside our coats.
"Does this mean we won?" Malcolm asked.
It seemed that way, but there was only one way to find out. I turned on my radio again.
"Everyone, are you alright? What do you see?"
For a brief while there was no response, and then Dean, Stella, and Mickey told us the people in town were back.
"We won," Malcolm exclaimed, laughing again. "We fucking won."
He fist-pumped and winced.
"I'm happy too, but we might want to take it easy."
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Hey, look there's people here too."
Right away, we could tell something was off. The main reason being we were by a crashed car in the middle of the park and none of them were the least bit curious. My radio crackled and I answered.
"Hey, there's something off about-"
"Is this prize not what you were expecting?"
Ludus's snide voice came from the speaker. My grip tightened.
"What did you do?"
"Me? Nothing, it's simply what the game chose to give you."
Malcolm snatched the radio from my hand.
"No, we beat your stupid game fair and square so you put these people back the way they were now," he screamed.
Ludus only laughed. For a moment I thought Malcolm was going to smash the radio. While I would have preferred it if he didn't, it would've been understandable if he did.
"The circumstances of this contest were unusual which meant the prize of it was bound to be as well. However, if you really want to fix everything you can always issue another challenge."
Malcolm drew in a breath and then shut off the radio. Over the next few hours, we contacted HQ. They sent some people over and the town was put under quarantine. Medics checked on us and thankfully our injuries were minimal. As the others were explaining what happened, I talked with Malcolm.
"Do you think you guys will be able to help these people?"
"We can try. Are you planning on staying here?"
Malcolm thought for a moment and shook his head.
"No, there's not anything left for me here. I want to start somewhere fresh."
"Best of luck."
We shook hands and parted ways. I watched him leave.
"You seem to be taking everything well," Dean said as he came up behind me.
"Hey, we have to celebrate the small victories when we can, right?"
"Good point, come on. HQ is giving us a lift back to our state's airport."
"What about Stella?"
"She said she'll drive. Oh, and she told me to tell you she hasn't forgotten about the puppy."
I rolled my eyes. Of course, she didn't.
"I'll get back to her about that after I talk with Brice and Sheila."
Dean patted my shoulder.
There was another meow and I felt something brush against my leg. The cat was back.
"I think he likes you."
On his tag was the name Herbie. It's been over four hours since then. During the trip back I typed this all out. I'm home now and Herbie is with me. It's a shame about his original owner, whoever they were.
Still, I suppose it is a nice change of pace and he seems friendly enough. I want to show him to Sheila and Brice. Speaking of, I sent them a text letting them know I'm back. I know I'll have a hell of a lot of explaining to do tomorrow. For now, I'm going to enjoy my own bed for the first time in a month.
For as long as I could remember, I've lived in this quiet suburban neighborhood. It was the epitome of normalcy, with manicured lawns, friendly neighbors, and a sense of security that lulled me into a false sense of comfort. But that comfort was shattered by an inexplicable unease that gradually took hold of my life.
It started subtly, a feeling that something wasn't quite right. The air grew heavy, and shadows seemed to linger just a little too long. I brushed it off as paranoia, but as the days turned into weeks, that feeling of dread refused to dissipate.
Part 2: The Unseen Presence
Nights were the worst. As I lay in bed, sleep eluding me, I began to hear faint, mocking whispers. They were barely audible, like the softest rustling of leaves in the wind, but they carried an eerie, almost taunting quality.
"You're not alone," they would hiss. "We're always here, just out of sight."
I would turn on the lights, but the whispers persisted, their source impossible to pinpoint. I convinced myself it was just a trick of my mind, my imagination playing cruel tricks on me.
Part 3: The Lurking Shadows
The whispers were only the beginning. Gradually, the shadows in my home began to take on a sinister life of their own. They slithered along the walls, dancing and contorting in eerie, unnatural ways. I'd catch glimpses of twisted, humanoid shapes out of the corner of my eye.
One evening, I watched in horror as a shadowy figure crawled up the walls, its elongated limbs ending in claws that scraped against the ceiling. My heart raced, and I stumbled back, my mind unable to comprehend the impossible.
Part 4: The Haunting Dreams
Sleep became a torturous ordeal. Whenever I closed my eyes, I was transported into a realm of nightmares. Demons with eyes of crimson fire and grotesque, leering faces taunted me relentlessly. They reveled in my terror, their cruel laughter echoing in the depths of my subconscious.
In one particularly vivid dream, I found myself in a pitch-black labyrinth, pursued by monstrous creatures that seemed to exist only to torment. Their malevolent cackles reverberated through the winding corridors, growing louder with each passing moment. I woke up drenched in sweat, my heart pounding as though it might burst from my chest.
Part 5: The Descent into Madness
Desperation led me down a dark path. I scoured ancient texts, consulted self-proclaimed experts in the occult, and immersed myself in forums filled with tales of the supernatural. The more I learned, the more I began to suspect that I had unwittingly invited these malevolent entities into my life.
The demons, it seemed, were feeding on my fear, growing stronger with every passing day. I had become their plaything, trapped in a never-ending nightmare of their making.
Part 6: The Isolation
Terrified that the demons might reach out to those I cared about, I isolated myself from friends and family. I retreated into a cocoon of paranoia, convinced that the malevolent entities were watching my every move.
I stopped trusting my own senses, doubting my sanity. Was this all real, or had I succumbed to the relentless psychological torment? I couldn't be sure anymore.
Part 7: The Final Confrontation
It was clear that I couldn't continue living like this. I had to confront the demons head-on, to banish them from my life once and for all. Armed with a shaky resolve and the knowledge I had acquired, I embarked on a harrowing journey to free myself from their grip.
The battle that ensued was a clash of wills, a war against my deepest fears. The room trembled with unearthly energies as I chanted incantations meant to banish the malevolent entities. It felt like an eternity, but in the end, I emerged victorious.
Part 8: The Lingering Fear
Yet, even now, as I recount my story, I can't shake the feeling that they are not truly gone. The shadows seem to linger in the corners of my vision, and the whispers occasionally return, like faint echoes of a nightmare.
The psychological scars run deep, and my heart still quickens at the slightest sound in the dark. So, reader, take heed of my tale. The line between reality and the supernatural is thin, and once you invite the demons and monsters into your life, they may never truly leave. Be vigilant, for you never know what might be lurking just out of sight, waiting to taunt and torment.
I was already midway down the road when the first group approached. Three of them, barely tall enough to reach my chest, with merrily illuminated jack-o'-lantern buckets swaying in their tiny hands. Masks, cloaks, and delightful giggles were the typical trademarks of Halloween in our suburban community.
"Trick or treat!" they squealed in unison.
Diving into my pocket, I pulled out a handful of candies and dropped them into their eager hands. The kids' eyes widened with glee, their parents nodding in gratitude from the sidewalk.
As the next batch of children came by, I settled into the routine – smile, offer candies, and watch them move on. Yet, an eerie sensation pricked at the edges of my awareness. The streets looked normal – families, decorations, the smell of pumpkin spice and the gentle hum of laughter.
Except one house, four doors down, was shrouded in darkness.
Contrary to the neighborhood’s decorative spirit, that house was void of any Halloween festivity. I recalled that a young couple had moved in just a month ago. Their silent, reclusive nature was palpable. The only times I'd seen them was during the rare occasion they mowed their lawn or took out the trash.
My internal musings were interrupted by a small hand tapping my shoulder. I turned to see a lone child, mask on, pointing towards that darkened house.
“Mister, they’re not giving candies,” the voice behind the mask muffled.
I nodded, about to explain that maybe the inhabitants weren’t celebrating. But as I looked into the child's eyes, I noticed a glint that felt unsettling. The kid tilted his head slightly, and the hint of a smile became visible beneath the mask.
"They need to pay," he whispered before abruptly turning on his heel and walking away.
What an odd thing to say.
My unease grew. The groups coming to my door started dwindling, but not for the reasons one would expect. They weren't running out, no. They were simply congregating around that dark, unadorned house. Whispers, muffled giggles, then louder discussions began to fill the street. The other adults and I exchanged puzzled glances.
Suddenly, a loud CRASH! echoed from the direction of the house. One of the windows had been broken. Alarm rose as I saw those tiny trick-or-treaters throwing rocks and hurling insults at the home. It was a barrage of chaotic energy, a mass of children turning hostile.
An older teen, maybe seventeen, took charge, trying to intervene. But the moment he approached the kids, he let out a blood-curdling scream, clutching his face. One of the children had slashed him with what appeared to be a razor-blade concealed in a candy wrapper.
Panicking, I ran towards my house, the air thick with a tension I couldn’t understand. As I fumbled with my keys, trying to unlock the door, I felt a tight grip on my ankle.
Looking down, one of the kids - a girl in a fairy costume - stared up at me, her eyes holding a malice that shouldn’t belong to a child.
"We just wanted treats," she hissed.
My hand finally found the doorknob and I yanked it open, slamming it behind me. Peeking through the peephole, the children had now scattered, disappearing into the night's embrace. The assaulted house was wrecked, windows broken, the door hanging off its hinges. But of the couple who lived there? No sign.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to rationalize what had just transpired. Were they playing an elaborate prank? Or had things genuinely taken a darker turn?
A knock on my door made me jump.
"Mr. Phillips," a voice called out, the tone familiar. It was Officer Daniels, a local cop and friend.
Opening the door, I let him in, narrating the bizarre occurrences. He looked concerned, though not surprised.
"There've been reports all over town. Groups of kids turning aggressive when they don’t get their way. It’s unprecedented. We're trying to manage the situation, but these aren’t regular tantrums.”
Suddenly, his radio crackled to life, a distressed voice breaking through, "All units, we've got multiple reports of adults being assaulted. Proceed with caution."
The air grew colder, our apprehensions amplifying.
"They're not just kids," Daniels whispered, his face a shade paler. "There’s something off."
The night was far from over. It was trick or treat... and the tricks were just beginning.
Daniels and I barricaded ourselves in my living room. The unsettling sounds of Halloween – which should have been cheerful and light-hearted – turned distorted. Distant screams, the crunching of broken glass, and eerie lullabies echoed outside. It wasn’t the Halloween from a childhood memory, but a horror scene birthed from the darkest of nightmares.
"Look at this," Daniels gestured, pulling out his phone.
I stared at the screen. Social media was abuzz with chilling videos. Children, nationwide, exhibiting the same menacing behavior. Some were clustered in circles, chanting in languages I couldn’t understand. Others showed kids standing still, their heads turned skyward, eyes white and unseeing, as if in a trance.
"That's... impossible. This is a joke, right?"
Daniels shook his head. "It's as real as it gets."
The realization that this phenomenon wasn't isolated to our town was overwhelming. Trying to formulate a plan, we decided to monitor the situation and stay put until dawn.
Just as we were getting somewhat settled, a thud resonated through the house. We exchanged a glance of alarm. It sounded like it came from upstairs.
Daniels motioned for me to stay put as he slowly ascended the staircase, his gun drawn. Every creak of the wooden steps heightened my senses. Moments stretched to what felt like hours, but finally, he called out, "Clear."
I exhaled, realizing I'd been holding my breath.
Then, the television – which neither of us had turned on – flickered to life. Static at first, then the screen displayed a feed from what looked like an old-style camcorder. A basement room, dimly lit, with children sitting in a circle. They appeared to be playing a game, laughing and cheerful.
But then the atmosphere shifted. The laughter grew maniacal, distorted. One by one, the children turned to face the camera. Each wore a twisted grin, and their eyes... those were not the eyes of innocent children. They bore into us, as if they could see us watching them.
Suddenly, one of them stepped closer to the camera, filling the screen. The child’s voice, although young, carried an old, chilling depth, "This isn’t about the candies. It's about the message."
The screen went black.
Daniels and I sat in stunned silence. Before we could process, my landline phone rang – a relic I had kept for nostalgia’s sake.
"They’re coming for you," a child’s voice whispered. The line went dead.
The weight of our situation sank in. We were targets, and escape wasn’t an option.
The front door shook as if something or someone was trying to force its way in. A chorus of childlike giggles filled the air, but these weren't joyful – they were laced with malicious intent.
Daniels aimed his gun at the door, ready to defend. "Whatever happens, stay behind me."
The door burst open, revealing not monstrous beings or supernatural entities, but children. Their faces, once innocent, were contorted with anger and malevolence. They charged, not walking, but gliding towards us.
For every child that Daniels tried to hold back, three more would appear. It was overwhelming. They swarmed, pulling, scratching, biting. In the chaos, I caught glimpses of once-familiar faces from the neighborhood – transformed, lost.
A blinding light suddenly flooded the room. The children recoiled, shielding their eyes. Outside, the sound of sirens wailed, and a booming voice ordered, "Stay down!"
Flares, emanating an intense bright light, had been launched outside, keeping the horde at bay. It seemed that the police, or some other force, had discovered their vulnerability to light.
Reinforcements poured in, their floodlights forcing the children to retreat. One by one, they dispersed, hissing and spitting like feral creatures.
Daniels and I, battered and bruised, were evacuated to a makeshift safe zone established at the town's community center. The place buzzed with activity as officials tried to control the situation and tend to the injured.
As dawn approached, a hush settled. The children, no longer in their possessed state, appeared confused and disoriented. Parents and caregivers rushed to comfort them, tears of relief flowing.
But the relief was short-lived.
A news report played on a projector screen: "Halloween Nightmare: Children Across the Nation Affected." A doctor from the CDC addressed the public, "The cause is still unknown. It's neither a virus nor a disease. We're looking into every possible angle."
But the undertone was clear – they were as baffled as we were.
As the sun's first rays hit, the community, though safe for now, knew that Halloween would never be the same again. The boundary between treats and tricks had blurred, and the real question remained:
What had turned our children into messengers of malevolence? And more importantly, what was the "message" they wanted to deliver?
The days that followed were chaotic. The nation struggled to comprehend the horror of that Halloween night. Tensions were high; trust, especially in the children, was eroded. Schools were shut down and curfews imposed, while authorities scrambled for answers.
The CDC, alongside various international organizations, launched an in-depth investigation. All affected children underwent evaluations. Some pointed to the candies, suspecting some form of contamination. However, upon rigorous testing, the treats were declared safe. The commonality remained elusive.
I became involved in a local support group formed to deal with the trauma. There, I met Linda, a child psychologist who was trying to get answers directly from the kids.
"It's like they were tapped into some collective consciousness," she mentioned during one session. "They speak of 'delivering a message' but can't, or won't, clarify further."
Haunted by the chilling footage on my TV that night, I approached her with the idea of hypnotherapy. Delving into their subconscious might reveal clues.
After receiving consent from several parents, Linda began the sessions. I was present during one, where a boy named Max was placed under hypnosis. His demeanor changed, his voice deepening as he began to speak.
"They forgot us," he murmured, eyes closed.
"Who forgot you, Max?" Linda probed gently.
"The old ones... the first children. Buried under concrete, their voices silenced. But on that night, the veil thinned. They reached out, wanting to be remembered."
The room grew colder. Linda's face turned ashen, realization dawning. "Are you talking about the old settlements? The foundations this town was built upon?"
Max nodded slowly. "They were there before any of us. Before the houses and roads. We built on their lands, forgetting them. They only wanted to be remembered, to share their message. We became their voice."
Emerging from hypnosis, Max looked around, bewildered. He remembered nothing.
Historians were consulted, and it was revealed that our town was indeed built upon old settlements, dating back centuries. Many of those early inhabitants were children who had succumbed to various adversities of that time.
A decision was made. The community united to pay homage to the forgotten souls. A memorial park was created at the heart of the town, honoring the first children, the original settlers.
Ceremonies were held, stories shared, and their existence acknowledged. Slowly, an air of normalcy began to return. Children went back to school, laughter resonated in the streets, and the horrors of that Halloween started fading into memory.
But as the next October 31st approached, an air of palpable tension enveloped the town. Parents were hesitant to let their children out, memories of the previous year still fresh.
On the evening of that dreaded date, a gathering was organized at the memorial park. Bonfires were lit, and stories of the old settlers shared. The children sat, rapt, as elders recounted tales of the past.
And as midnight approached, a hush fell upon the crowd. The atmosphere was thick with anticipation. But instead of horror, a sense of peace prevailed. The bonfires flared brighter, and for a fleeting moment, the soft giggles of children – not malicious, but joyful – echoed in the air.
The night passed without incident. The act of remembering had quelled the restless spirits, offering them a voice, a place in our collective memory.
Halloween was never the same again. It became not just a night of fun and frolic, but also one of remembrance. The boundary between our world and the one beyond had been breached, but the message was clear.
In forgetting the past, we had awakened it. In remembering, we had found peace.
And so, every year, amidst the tricks and the treats, we remembered the first children. Their legacy, once lost, now immortalized in the heart of the town they called home.
Transcript of an interview conducted by Detective River Hawthorne of the Toronto Police Service with Bob Oster, regarding the disappearance of his 9 year old daughter, Katie Oster.
Transcript provided without the consent of the Toronto Police Service. This is not an official TPS document.
Hawthorne: We’re recording, Mr. Oster.
Oster: Just Bob, please…
Hawthorne: Right… Bob. Why don’t we start from the beginning about what happened with Katie. Walk me through the story one more time.
Oster: You think I’m a monster, don’t you?
Hawthorne: I’m just trying to understand what we uncovered on your property today, Bob. We found your daughter in the river behind your property… you have to understand why we’d regard that as suspicious, right?
Oster: I do…
Hawthorne: So walk me through everything, please. Just one more time.
Oster: You already know it was me… there’s no point in playing coy.
Hawthorne: Was it you, Bob?
Hawthorne: Bob, I need you to talk to me here.
Oster: I had to do it. I had to get her to stop, somehow… I had to…
Hawthorne: Had to get her to stop what, Bob?
Oster: If you saw what I saw, you’d understand. Not just the drawings, those need context, but… the whole picture. If you saw it… you’d understand. It wasn’t just individual tragedies, it was all connected… she knew about them somehow, she knew…
Hawthorne: Bob, can you slow down! What drawings? What did your daughter know?
Oster: You saw the drawings… you had to. You searched her room.
Hawthorne: What drawings specifically?
Oster: The ones she kept on the wall above her desk. We bought her a corkboard two years ago… she always liked to draw. We figured she could put up her favorite drawings. Like a little art gallery, you know?
Oster: And you saw the drawings she had up there, right?
Hawthorne: I did, yes.
Oster: Prophecies… all of them.
Oster: It started off small… the first one was the coyote drawing… you saw it, right? The one of a coyote eating a dead cat. I remember when we saw that she’d put it up… I’d asked Katie why she’d drawn something so morbid. She said she didn’t know and I didn’t really question it at the time… kids draw weird shit. It’s just what they do. I didn’t think much of it… not until Mr. McCurry’s cat died. A coyote grabbed it while it was out. Ripped the damn thing to pieces… I was the one who found it… barely even recognized it when I did. Shame… Fritz was a good cat. We used to leave food out for him.
Hawthorne: I see… and you assumed this was connected to your daughters drawing?
Oster: Not at first, no. But there was more… not even a few weeks later. Another drawing.
Hawthorne: And what did this one depict?
Oster: Two kids… floating under a river. They were dead… that much was clear from the drawing. She drew them dead… bloated… waterlogged… it was grotesque. Even she wouldn’t look at that one. And when I asked her about it, she said she didn’t know why she’d drawn it either. She seemed… she seemed genuinely upset, looking at it. Kept crying… eventually I just took it down, but there was a new one on the corkboard the next day. The same picture. She’d just redrawn it. She said she didn’t remember doing it, and asked me to take it down again. For some reason, she didn’t even want to touch it.
Hawthorne: I see…
Oster: You already know where this is going, don’t you?
Hawthorne: The drowning of Jim and James Pezzola…
Oster: Yeah… figured you’d know about that…
Hawthorne: I investigated that case. Poor kids were caught in an undertow… couldn’t get out.
Oster: I read all about it… two days after Katie did her second drawing, the Pezzola boys passed away. Hell of a fucking coincidence…
Hawthorne: Those were accidental drownings.
Oster: Maybe they were, but Katie still knew about them somehow! She drew them days before they happened! Same with the cat, she drew that days before it happened! Now the cat? I could explain that away! The Pezzola boys? No… no, I couldn’t explain jack shit!
Hawthorne: It never occurred to you that you were reading too much into these drawings?
Oster: I wasn’t! She knew about these things in advance somehow! She knew! The Pezzola boys went to her school… she’d had them over at her birthday party. She knew them!
Hawthorne: You’re positive these drawings appeared before the Pezzola boys passed away?
Oster: I wouldn’t forget that. I wouldn’t forget that because I remember thinking about those pictures she drew when I heard the news. She knew! Somehow she knew… somehow she just… she knew.
Hawthorne: Did you speak to Katie about these drawings, after the deaths?
Oster: I did… I asked her how she’d known they were going to happen. She told me that someone had told her. When I asked her who’d said these things to her, she called it… she called it her head voice…
Hawthorne: Head voice?
Oster: She described it as a voice that whispered things to her… she said it would whisper things, and those things would come true. Then she said she didn’t remember drawing either of the pictures she’d done of the Pezzola boys. She said they just… they just appeared.
Hawthorne: And did you believe that?
Oster: No. The pictures were obviously hers. They looked like things she’d draw. The way she drew the people, the backgrounds. It was her… she was always good at drawing. She was starting to get her own little style. They were hers.
Hawthorne: I see… and these odd drawings continued?
Oster: Yes… but things did quiet down for a little while after the Pezzola boys died. She didn’t draw for a few months after that, and when she did finally start drawing again… it was normal. She was more or less back to her old self. She didn’t draw anything strange for about a year.
Hawthorne: But it eventually started again?
Oster: Yes… it did… like I said, about a year later. This time I saw her make the drawing.
Hawthorne: I see…
Oster: She’d been in her room at the time, listening to this one J-Pop singer her friend had gotten her into. Um… Sakura Hayashi, I think? She was watching some YouTube video she’d done. I remember it because I recognized the song she was covering. ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ by The Smiths. It was because I recognized the song that I went into her room… and I saw her at her desk, drawing. She didn’t even notice me come in. She was just… laser focused on her drawing. I remember looking over her shoulder, curious to see what she was drawing… and I remember recognizing the face of my father on the paper.
Hawthorne: Your father?
Oster: Her grandfather. He was sitting at a table, his eyes bulging, his face purple… he looked like he was choking. There was food in front of him. Steak… he was…
Hawthorne: She drew her grandfather choking on a piece of steak?
Oster: Yeah… she was still in the middle of drawing, but I tried to get her attention. Tried to stop her. She just… she just kept looking down at the paper. She didn’t even react to my efforts to stop her. She just kept trying to draw… Katie… she’d had seizures before, and we were always warned they could get worse, so at first I thought she was having a seizure! But the more I think back on it, the less I’m sure. She’s never… she’s never drawn anything during her seizures before. She usually just stares blankly, forgets where she is, sometimes she passes out… never this.
Hawthorne: She was prone to seizures?
Oster: Yeah… always has been. Something about some damage to her brain, when she was a baby… Katie was… Katie was a twin. Kinda, a twin…
Hawthorne: I see… what happened to the other one?
Oster: We couldn’t keep it… the other baby… they weren’t… they weren’t fully developed. He and Katie had sort of… merged, in the womb. There wasn’t even much of the other baby… just the head, attached to her head. It was barely even alive. It didn’t have its own organs, its brain was part of her brain… the doctors removed it, said she should grow up healthy, but could suffer some minor brain damage. Told us what to keep an eye out for. It was for the best… the other head it… it was grotesque… malformed… when she slept, it was awake. You could see the eyes looking around… see the mouth moving, opening, as if it was trying to cry… Doctors said that it would eventually impact her quality of life, so… so it was better to just… [pause] We always figured the seizures were from that… the doctors had said it was one of the long term side effects she could face.
Hawthorne: I see… but you said she’d never had these seizures while drawing before, right?
Oster: No. Never. And she just kept going even when I tried to stop her, just kept fighting to draw. Even when I ripped the paper away, she just kept doing it on her desk, until I took away her pencil. Then she just stared at me… blinking as if she wasn’t entirely sure where she was.
Oster: I asked her what had just happened! Took her to the doctor to have her looked at. They ran tests… nothing. She said she didn’t remember what she’d been drawing. She just said she remembered her Head Voice had said something, and the next thing she knew I was ripping the pencil out of her hand.
Hawthorne: And which doctor did you take her to?
Oster: Dr. Berger, our family physician. He ordered some scans, but they came back normal. You can ask him about the whole thing! He’s bound to have it all on file.
Hawthorne: Dr. Berger… thank you. So this drawing she did, the drawing of her Grandfather… did the events she drew also come to pass?
Oster: One week later…
Hawthorne: Your father passed away?
Oster: You can look it all up if you want. Hank Oster. Died two months ago. Choked to death at home, on a piece of steak. I’d been checking in on him a little more after she drew that picture… making sure he was alright. The old man was in good health, as always. I told him about Katie’s drawing, told him I was afraid…
Hawthorne: What did he say about that?
Oster: He thought I was drunk or fucking around with him! Didn’t take it seriously, talked to me like I was fucking crazy!
Hawthorne: I have to ask Mr. Oster… do you have a history with alcohol?
Oster: Yeah… a little… I started drinking more after my wife died. But I got help! Tried to tone it down! Tried to get my life back on track!
Hawthorne: How heavily have you been drinking over the past year?
Oster: I wasn’t fucking drunk, okay! Not when Katie drew those pictures, not when I talked to Dad! I was fucking sober!
Hawthorne: Mr. Oster… we found a considerable amount of alcohol in your house when we brought you in.
Oster: I… I might’ve fallen off the wagon… but that was after Dad died, okay! AFTER, not before! I was good before he died! I had it under control! I just… after I found him… I… I needed…
Hawthorne: You found your father dead?
Oster: Yeah… like I said, a week after Katie did her drawing. I said I’d been going by to check on him more, make sure he was doing okay. Warn him… one of the times I came over, I found him in the kitchen… he…
Oster: It was just like in Katie’s drawing… even the look on his face…
Hawthorne: Mr. Oster… Bob… after your father died… how did your relationship with your daughter change?
Oster: I don’t know I… I didn’t want to be around her… I don’t know if she caused this or what, but I… I couldn’t be around her. Not anymore.
Hawthorne: You were angry at her?
Oster: I was scared! She’d predicted three peoples deaths! How the hell couldn’t I be scared! I don’t know if she’d caused it or if it was some sort of fucked up prophecy or… or what… I don’t know… I don’t know… how the fuck do you parent a child when you’re fucking terrified of her?
Hawthorne: So what was the boiling point?
Oster: Yesterday… I… I… I’d been trying to forget. Trying to go back to the way things were. Trying to move on. Heard her in her room again, listening to music and drawing. I went to check in on her.
Hawthorne: And she was in her trance again?
Oster: Yeah… she was. Sitting at her desk, listening to that singer she liked, drawing. She didn’t respond when I spoke to her. It all played out almost the same as it had before. I got closer, asked her what she wanted for dinner and that’s when I saw it… the new drawing.
Hawthorne: What was in the new drawing?
Oster: Me. Dead inside of a crushed car… I knew it was me… she was… she was telling me how I was going to die. She was showing me… I begged her to change it. Begged her to do it differently, not to let me die this way. She didn’t respond. Even when I tried to stop her, she kept drawing.
Hawthorne: So you stopped her?
Oster: Yes… yes, I did… but not like that… I didn’t… I didn’t hurt her, I took her pencil. Took the paper. Tried to wake her up from her trance.
Hawthorne: And did it work?
Oster: No… she was still in her trance. Still looking at something far away. Didn’t even acknowledge me. Even when I tried to beg her to draw something else, she just stared… and then she spoke but the voice… it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the way my daughter usually spoke… it was so lifeless. The tone was all wrong.
Hawthorne: What did she say to you?
Oster: She said: ‘You can’t change it. Not now.’ I still begged her to try… gave her the paper again, tried to make her draw something different but she still kept drawing my face… still kept drawing my… my death… she still kept… I couldn’t… I begged her to stop, I didn’t want to see… I didn’t want to die, I begged… I begged… and I…
Hawthorne: You hit her?
Oster: I… I… I didn’t mean to… I just… I was panicking… I didn’t realize what I’d done until she was on the ground and she was bleeding and I… I didn’t mean to kill her… I didn’t… she was my daughter, she was my little girl… I didn’t mean to… it wasn’t… I didn’t… I…
Hawthorne: You saw she was dead, so you moved the body?
Oster: I… I…
Hawthorne: You took the body to the river. Threw her in. Cleaned up the mess. Waited until nightfall… then called in a missing persons report.
Oster: [Inaudible. Only sobbing is heard.]
Hawthorne: Is that what you did, Mr. Oster?
Oster: I… I was afraid… I tried to draw over her image… tried to fix it… I… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…
Hawthorne: How drunk were you at the time of the incident, Mr. Oster?
Oster: I… I’d had a few… I wasn’t… I don’t know, I don’t…
Hawthorne: The officers on the scene noted you were heavily intoxicated.
Oster: I… I drank more after… I… I wasn’t in my right mind… I wasn’t… I didn’t mean to kill her…
Hawthorne: You didn’t.
Oster: I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean to! I… I didn’t... I… I know what it looks like, I know they found the body… I know…
Hawthorne: We didn’t find a body, Mr. Oster.
Oster: You… what? No… no, I heard that they’d found Katie… you said earlier…
Hawthorne: Currently your daughter is resting in hospital. She’s severely concussed. Lost a lot of blood and has mild hypothermia, but she is alive.
Oster: Oh… oh God… oh God… oh God…
Hawthorne: Whatever your issues are, Mr. Oster… maybe you can take some solace in that. But you do understand the severity of your confession, correct?
Oster: I… I…
Hawthorne: Mr. Oster… as of now I’m placing you under arrest for the assault and attempted murder of Katie Oster. You have the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. Do you want to contact your lawyer?
Oster: I… Katie’s alive…?
Hawthorne: That’s correct.
Oster: I… I need to… I need to see her, I need to talk to her, I need to change this, I need to fix it, let me fix it, please, let me fix it!
Hawthorne: I’m afraid that’s out of the question, Mr. Oster. Hands behind your back, please.
Oster: No… no, no, no, no… no, don’t do this, no… NO! NO! NO! LET ME TALK TO HER! LET ME TALK TO HER, PLEASE! I’M HER FATHER, LET ME TALK TO HER! LET ME… DON’T! PLEASE! I DON’T WANT TO… I DON’T… PLEASE… PLEASE…
Notes: Mr. Oster was arrested and held in custody for the assault and attempted murder of his nine year old daughter, with further child abuse charges pending.
Approximately three days later, while transferring Mr. Oster to a holding facility to await trial, his transport was involved in an accident. A wheel came off a truck, causing another car to crash. The transport Mr. Oster was in went off the road and into a ditch, rolling twice.
The officers in the vehicle and the driver were both unharmed, however, Mr. Oster was killed during the accident. Cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head, caused when he was thrown out of his seat while the vehicle rolled. Though first aid was performed on him, he died before paramedics could arrive.
I didn’t used to be superstitious… nowadays, I don’t know what to think.
Anyways, you asked for any cases I found that seemed up your alley. I passed this one along. I can’t tell you what happened to Katie Oster and officially, I’d advise you not to look into it. What I do know is that she’s safe and has more or less recovered, and I’m going to choose to believe that’s a good thing. I’ll keep an eye out for anything else that’s on brand for you. In the meanwhile, keep out of trouble, Jane.
It all started when he first came as a new student to our school. When he first entered the classroom, he creeped me out. Maybe it was the way he was wearing all black with his hood covering the majority of his face or that he never looked up even once. "Weirdo", I thought to myself. I don't want to be rude, just saying.
After about two weeks, he started acting weird. He started to whisper to himself at random during class. And for some reason, it felt like I was the only one who heard it. Maybe he wasn't whispering to himself at all and I was just imagining things or overreacting. I never even heard what he was ranting about anyways.
Well, it started at lunchtime when my friend Diego, approached me and said, "You know about that new kid Max right?" "Yeah that weirdo?" I answered. "Well...", Diego responded with excitement. "I feel kind of bad for him since he has no friends so I was thinking that you and me can try to talk him into being friends with us!" I looked at him like he was crazy. It wasn't that Max was "weird", I mean he kind of was, but he gave me a bad vibe, like he was a danger towards the school.
So I said no. But Diego wasn't buying it. It took numerous tries to get him to talk me into befriending Max. Eventually, I gave up and decided to give it a try. I tried to tell myself that he wasn't "weird" it was just my mind being paranoid. Little did I know that that was a huge mistake.
After school, me and Diego made a plan to talk to him the next day at lunch and then invite him over to Diego's house if it went well. So that's exactly what we did. Once we had spotted him sitting in a small table in the corner of the cafeteria, Diego went to go approach him, while I kept telling myself to ignore the bad feeling in my gut and follow my friend. I felt safer if I was with my best friend anyways, so nothing bad could happen. I sighed and then followed Diego towards Max's table.
"Hi, I'm Diego and this is my friend Andrew. I- we were wondering if you would like to become friends with us, since we felt bad that you always sat alone." I tried my best to keep a friendly smile until Max looked up from the ground to us. My smile immediately faded when I saw his face. His eyes were bloodshot, his skin pale, and his lips were cracked with a small trail of blood coming from one of the cracks leading down to his chin.
I tried my hardest to ignore that and put back on my friendly smile. Max was probably just... I don't really know how to explain it. I glanced towards Diego, who seemed a little shocked as well but thought nothing of it. That's when Max spoke. I could barely hear him over the cafeteria noise but his voice was very shaky, hoarse, and quiet.
"Sure", was the only word that came out of his mouth. "O-okay, good! I'm glad! Um... I was wondering if, after school, you could maybe stop by my house and we could you know, hang out to get to know each other better. Andrew will be there." Diego said, his voice slightly shaky. I could tell he was a little scared as well.
Later on, Diego and I learned that Max could come over after school, which made me feel even worse, but like I said, it was just my mind overreacting. Right? Max probably wasn't weird or creepy at all, it's just what he looked like what scared me. I told myself to calm down and say that is was nothing. But I was so, so wrong.
A couple of hours later, I made my way to Diego's house. I knocked on the door, and to my surprise, Diego opened it with Max by his side. It kind of freaked me out, but I ignored the feeling and said hello to my friends. We showed Max a little tour of Diego's house and then went to his room to hang out. Surprisingly, it went pretty well for the most part. I even forgot about the bad feeling about Max.
That was until Diego asked him if he wanted to stay the night. Max was silent for a moment and then slowly nodded, suddenly looking more pale than he was before. I thought it was weird that he didn't mention anything about his parents letting him stay over for the night, but then told my myself that they probably didn't care. After about twenty minutes of playing video games and eating junk food, we took one of Diego's spare sleeping bags and lended it to Max. Then we played some board games until it was getting late.
We set up our sleeping bags in Diego's room and then talked a little before deciding to go to sleep. However, after about ten minutes of trying to fall asleep, even though I was tired, I decided to go on my phone for a while. But for some reason, Max was the only thing that came through my head. I then realized that it was a little unusual that Max never really spoke the time that I have been here. He didn't show any emotion either.
I was slightly freaked out, but eventually managed to fall asleep.
I probably woke up in the dead of night to someone laughing like a psycho. I thought it was a dream at first, but it sounded too real. Although I was freaked out, I turned over and almost screamed at the silhouette I saw standing above me in the darkness. It surely wasn't Diego, because I saw the outline of him sleeping across from me. It was Max. I was sure this was just a prank. "Wow um... very funny guys...get to sleep already", I said, my voice shaky.
It wasn't a prank. Max didn't budge. I started to get really freaked out when his laughing just got louder and louder. My heart was beating faster than ever, and I pulled the covers over my head and shut my eyes, begging for the laughter to stop. And then suddenly, it did. I was relieved, but at the same time, I was still scared and just wanted to wake up Diego and get out of this house.
I tried going back to sleep, but I was too scared to do so. After a long few minutes later, I was beginning to doze off, until Max started to scream. I froze, too scared to move. That's when the lights flicked on and I took the covers off of my head. It was Diego, who looked like he had just seen a ghost and Max, who was still standing above me who was still screaming, while the biggest open smile I had ever seen was plastered on his face, along with blood dripping from his mouth towards his chin.
He wouldn't stop screaming, and I glanced a look of terror towards Diego, and he looked as equally as scared I was. We both just stood there, unsure what to do. Then, after what it felt like a decade, Diego ran out of his room, probably towards the downstairs to call his parents then the police for some reason (his parents were visiting Diego's older brother who was in college at the time). Then Max suddenly stopped screaming, and the whole house fell eerily silent. I then realized that I was alone. With Max.
I didn't know what to do. I wanted to run out of the house and never come back. But before I could do that, Max pulled out a knife. I don't know where he even got it from. Then he lunged towards me with the knife and tried to stab me with it while laughing like the psycho that he was. I screamed, trying to fight him off, but I was too weak and too scared.
Luckily, I managed to somehow get him into a chokehold but unfortunately, he still somehow stabbed me in my arm. I screamed in pain and released my grip on him. Max wasn't done. He lunged at me again, but before he could stab me, Diego came out of literally nowhere, and tackled Max to the ground. Max had finally stopped laughing at once and just stayed quiet.
The house fell silent until we heard sirens coming from outside.
I'm not going to go into detail about everything else that happened with the police, but one thing I will mention is that when the police came back from searching the house, Max was nowhere to be seen. Police believed that he escaped through the open window that was in Diego's room, but they are still not certain, and neither am I. Also, yes my arm is okay.
I still don't know what happened with Max, but I never saw him again after that. I tell myself that he had a mental illness, or was just really trying hard to scare us, which worked. So yeah, I still get the chills every time I think about that day and I learned to always trust my gut.
I had always been a night owl, so when the opportunity came to work as a 911 dispatcher on the graveyard shift, I jumped at it. The solitude of the empty dispatch room and the hum of the fluorescent lights were oddly comforting to me. Most nights were quiet, filled with the occasional lost pet or minor car accident. It was one fateful night that would change everything.
It was around 2 AM when the phone rang, shattering the silence of the room. I answered it in my usual calm and collected manner. "911, where is your emergency?"
A deep, raspy voice on the other end sent chills down my spine. "Help me," the voice whispered, barely audible. "They're coming for me."
I squinted at the screen, trying to trace the call. The location was off the grid, in a desolate area of the county where cell service was notoriously spotty. "Sir, I need you to stay on the line and tell me your location."
Heavy breathing filled the line, and then a blood-curdling scream pierced through the darkness. It was a scream of sheer terror, the kind that gave me instant goosebumps. "Please, they're here!" the voice cried, and then the line went dead.
My heart raced as I dispatched units to the approximate location. I could hear the fear in that caller's voice, and I knew we had to respond quickly. But as I stared at the map, I realized something was terribly wrong. The location was deep within the woods, far from any roads or homes.
Minutes felt like hours as I waited for updates from the responding officers. Finally, a shaky voice came over the radio. "Dispatch, we've arrived at the scene. There's nothing here but trees and darkness."
My mind raced, trying to make sense of it all. I knew what I had heard, but there was nothing for the officers to find.
“10-4, the call is pinging from that exact location.” Maybe it was a caller in a vehicle or ATV that got lost while out on a joy ride, I thought to myself.
I watched the map, my fingers trembling as I saw the officers' markers moving deeper into the woods. The minutes dragged on like hours, and the radio was filled with eerie silence punctuated only by the occasional crackle.
Then, a voice crackled through the radio once more, and this time it was mixed with dread. "Dispatch, we've found something... something strange." The officer's voice quivered as if he struggled to find the words.
My heart leaped in anticipation, but it was soon weighed down by a growing sense of unease.
The officer hesitated before responding, "There's a car here. An old, rusted sedan. It's been here for years by the looks of it, covered in dirt and leaves. But... the doors are wide open, like someone got out in a hurry. There's no sign of anyone around, though."
My mind raced, trying to piece together this baffling puzzle. An abandoned car in the middle of the woods? It made no sense. "If there’s a registration or VIN I can try and locate an owner,” I replied.
As I waited for the officer to respond, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was deeply wrong. It was as though the forest itself held its breath, waiting in eerie silence.
Then, the officer's voice came over the radio again, “Dispatch, there are no plates on this thing and the VIN has been etched off.”
My blood ran cold. The pieces of this disturbing puzzle were falling into place, but they formed an image I couldn't quite grasp. The radio fell silent once more, and I watched the map, my heart pounding in my chest. Minutes turned into hours as I waited for updates from the officers on the scene. The fluorescent lights above me flickered, casting eerie shadows on the empty dispatch room.
Finally, one of the other officers came over the radio. "Dispatch, we've searched the area around the car, but there's still no sign of anyone. We're heading deeper into the woods to see if we can find any clues."
My anxiety grew with each passing moment. It was as if the forest itself held the answers to this enigmatic puzzle, and it wasn't ready to give them up. The officers' markers on the map moved further into the darkness, their flashlights cutting through the night.
Then, another chilling discovery was made. "Dispatch, we've found a trail. It looks like someone dragged something through here. We're following it."
My heart sank as I realized that the officers were now walking deeper into the unknown, following a trail that led to an unsettling revelation. I could only hope they would find answers and return safely from this haunting night that had plunged us all into a dark and inexplicable mystery.
I woke up one day bright and early and ready to start my day for school, but I couldn’t get out of bed. My body ached and my head was splitting, and worst of all I could hardly breathe. My lungs were burning like someone put a hot iron down my throat, and I couldn’t explain to you the sheer agony of that morning in every part of my body. My eyes peered across the room, down at my pale white hands, and sweat-drenched sheets and I moaned, “Mooooom.”
She didn’t hear me, which only made the situation worse, as my raspy cry was about all I could muster out of my lips. With the stupidity of a young kid, I decided it was in my best interest to try getting up again. I pushed my hands down trying to hold my weight, and to no surprise I completely crumpled and spilled onto the floor. It hurt. A lot. I wailed out a mumble and felt the air scorch my windpipe all the way down.
Thankfully, the sound of a five year old tumbling out of bed must’ve finally caught my mother’s attention, as she slammed open the door and hit the curve into my room at a turn that would make Dale Earnhardt Jr. wet himself in jealousy.
“Sweetie! Are you okay, what happened? You look like you saw a ghost!” she cried out, coddling me.
She immediately knew something was wrong when I gasped for breath and couldn’t even say a word. She scooped me up and plopped me in the car, and then we drove to the emergency room. The whole drive there, the lights from the sun blinded me as they danced across my eyesight. I had to squint and hold my head down to shield my vision. It felt like a four hour drive, when in reality it was only fifteen minutes.
When we arrived, I was escorted in by my distressed mother frantically crying and screaming, “My baby! My baby can’t breathe!”
The receptionists were quick to get me into a room, holding my mother back as she tried to claw her way with me. The hospital lights were intoxicating, but not like a euphoric intoxication; it was like waking up with a brutal hangover while you’re still shitfaced drunk, spinning and ready to hurl at any moment. I don’t remember much of my early time in the room when it was filled with doctors screening everything and putting all sorts of machines to work. I felt like I was dreaming, I was in a haze. The world around me was slowly zooming around me.
After a few hours, I learned later, they told my mother whatever was happening was a total anomaly. They couldn’t pin it on anything, I should be operating like a perfectly normal kid, but for some reason my body was fighting itself. They said it was like nothing they’d ever seen. All they could do was hook me up on a respirator and IV and hope I don’t go catatonic.
Well, guess what happened.
Legally, I died for twenty minutes. My heart stopped and everything went dead. The doctors were in shambles, almost more than my mother. Nothing in the world could’ve made sense of any of it. And then I just sort of woke up.
Bizarre? Absolutely. Inexplicable? Almost. That was all that was told to me about what happened on the outside. Here’s what I remember at the hospital after the room emptied and I was “alone”.
Remember how I said I couldn’t remember much about when I was surrounded by a crowd of people? The opposite is true for when I was alone. Right as the door shut, I felt a shock of clarity. More clarity than a random five year old should have. I felt every corner of the room, every dark shadow that coalesced away the light. And I felt it all leave.
I felt myself dissipate. I looked down at my hands and they were translucent, I was fading away like a distant memory. Air passed through my body as if it wasn’t even there, and I felt everything. Most importantly, I felt something enter the room.
The door remained shut, completely closed. Not a rat could squeeze its body through that crack, yet what managed to do so was no rat. I felt a second set of eyes beyond my own open up. No, I don’t mean a third eye or a set above my eyebrows; I mean my eyes were open, and they opened again. I glanced into the room and saw what I can only describe as a mass, a big one. It was black, divine, but not angelic. I felt I was peering into the abyss of a deep chasm that could never be escaped.
Words shot through my mind.
“Tommy, are you alive?” It conjured.
I couldn’t reply.
“Vessel, don’t die. Your body is not your own, let me free it,” was proclaimed.
With hindsight, there is something so vague about this statement. “Let me free it.” Free it from whatever is plaguing me? Free it from me? And don’t forget the most chilling description of myself I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing, “Vessel?” As a young child would, I complied without knowing.
Whatever tether was gripping me to this entire plane of existence shattered. Both sets of eyes became one again as I saw the silhouette shimmer into view. A tall, ghastly…thing? It wasn’t humanoid in the slightest. There was a semblance of a body and a head, but beyond that it was nothing on Earth. A stretched mouth wrapped around its torso, etched with pin-like teeth. A block of flesh coated in eyes sat upon its body, which I assume to be a head. Patchy, stringy, and long hair covered its body like a winter coat. And long cylindrical appendages poked from the blob it sat its head upon. No hands, nor tentacles, just long stretches of flesh. It looked like a gaping wound in reality.
Its maw widened and blood-like fluid poured out from it, soaking me. In the split second it happened my surroundings vanished into a pitch black. After this, I simply woke up with a message etched into my mind.
“Cherish, harbinger, for none shall die before you.”
Doctors were surrounding me, their eyes glued open in shock to my survival. The heart rate monitor was cold until now, and everything felt normal. I missed school that day and when I got back, everyone greeted me with cards and gifts. Heartfelt words of joy were all I heard for a week.
But that message still rang in my head.
It still does. Sometimes, it's the most vivid thing I feel. Nothing else felt so real before or after. I’ve done everything to reclaim that feeling, and none of it worked. It’s driven me fucking crazy. I’ve told therapists, doctors, friends, family and none understood. So, Reddit, I’ve come to tell my story and ask you all your opinion. Was it a dream or am I just crazy? What was it if it was in fact as real as I think it was?
Don't go into impossible houses...
With the Halloween season approaching, I decided to get this warning out to everyone I could reach. If you ever come across a haunted house that shouldn't be there, don't go inside. This haunted house pops up between two other houses you already know. It won't be squeezed in like someone built a new house in the middle of the two plots, but rather, it'll fit in like the whole place was designed that way. It'll be as if the street had always been a few hundred feet longer than you remember. If such a house appears out of nowhere, do not approach it, do not knock on the door, and whatever you do, do not cross the threshold. Once you do, your fate is sealed.
Unfortunately, no one gave me this warning when I was a kid. Maybe it was new, or perhaps there just weren't many survivors back then. Whatever the case, no one warned me, so when I went up, knocked on the door, and shouted, "Trick or treat!" I did not listen to the small doubt in the back of my mind that told me to run away.
Now, every year, I have to go back to that living nightmare. After all, I'm on the expected guest list now, and if you don't show up at the haunted house on Halloween night, the house comes looking for you, and from what I've heard, it's much, much worse if you force its hand.
The years have somewhat blurred together, but I still remember the first time all too well. I sometimes curse myself for not listening to my doubts when I walk up to that place, but to be fair, as well decked out as this house was, any kid would expect to get a bag full of loot. The owner clearly went all out. There were realistic tombstones out front of open graves with names like "Timmy" and "John" dated for that very day. Some people in spooky costumes carried body bags out to fill some of the graves as I walked up. I even remember wondering how often they pulled the bodies back out to repeat the show for trick-or-treaters like me.
When you knock on the door, a man I named "The Ringleader" in my head opens the door and invites you inside. Any sane person would probably take one look at the guy, turn around, and walk away. He looks like someone stapled skin directly onto a skeleton, with no thought of where musculature or fat should exist. His eyes look like they're so loose in his sockets that if he leaned too far forward, they'd just fall out and roll around on the ground. His teeth were yellowed and broken enough to give any dentist nightmares for weeks to come, and he wore a baggy, faded suit complete with long tails and a top hat.
On your first visit, The Ringleader will ask you the same question you've probably heard a thousand times before. "And what are you supposed to be?" This is actually one of the few breaks the house gives you. You see, you get one benefit based on what you are. For example, if you say you're a pirate or a ninja, that cheap plastic sword you came in with will become real, a dragon might get actual claws and scales, and so on. At the time, you might think this is cool, but it's really just a chance for the house to make the game more...sporting. And if you manage to survive, you'll be that same thing every time you return until you finally lose the game.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. "What were you dressed as when you showed up." Honestly, I don't remember. That may seem like it doesn't make sense, but let me explain. You see, while the other kids around me were shouting things like, "I'm a soldier!" or, "I'm a princess!" I just stood there, frozen in fear. The part of my brain that should have kept me from crossing that threshold finally kicked in, and I could tell that this man, no, this monster, was looking at all of us as though we were nothing more than slabs of meat. The funny thing is everyone always talks about the fight-or-flight response, but many people fail to realize that there's a third option that your brain can pick to override your thought process, and that's freeze. So when the monster, literally wearing human skin, turned to me and asked, "And what are you supposed to be?" I froze. After a few seconds, he grinned and answered for me. "I see we have a coward!"
At the time, my face burned in shame as the other kids in the room laughed at my new title, but that was the luckiest thing that could have ever happened to me. You see, over the years, I see fewer and fewer familiar faces coming out of the house when I show up for my run. In fact, I've only seen one other person I know in the last five years, but we'll get to him in a bit. Nowadays, when I show up, The Ringleader checks me off on his list and glowers when he says my title, "The Coward..." and I can't help but grin smugly at him. It's probably not wise to provoke the house that way, but in all these years, The Ringleader has been unable to win our little life-and-death game, and it's all thanks to the title he gave me.
Like many haunted places, this house has some rules. Thankfully, it's not a long and complicated list designed to trip you up through sheer complexity. There are only three simple things you need to know.
The first rule is the wolfman is in the basement. This is important because despite how innocuous he sounds, the wolfman is quite possibly the most dangerous obstacle the house has. He's immortal, insanely fast, and impossibly strong. Once he gets your scent, you just have to hope you're close enough to the basement stairs to climb them before he catches you, and if you're not fast enough, you're food. Most of my closest calls came from encounters with the wolfman.
The second rule is to escape the house, you must first find the heart of the house. The heart is in a different location every year, and no one will tell you where. You just have to find it, touch it, and get out. This is where being "The Coward" comes in handy. My benefit is I get hunches. Those hunches might be about a new monster or room you encounter; best of all, they might tell me where the heart is located. The problem is, it's just a hunch, and it's far too easy to let my hopes or fears get in the way of a hunch, but over the years, I've learned to trust my gut. It's a lot smarter than I am.
Oh, and the third rule? It's even more straightforward than the other two. If Mister Hyde joins the hunt, everyone dies. That's it. You just have to hope and pray that Mister Hyde decides to sit out another year. You can do a few things to mitigate that risk, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The rest of my first year was pretty forgetful, relatively speaking. There were some ghosts and zombies to run from, and the heart was in the kitchen. I don't even remember seeing any kids dying that time, but I do remember that while all the other kids were laughing and joking while running through the house, I noticed that those zombies looked just a little too real, and the blood and gore some of them had glistening on their lips looked like it might have belonged to those body bags out front. Maybe the house was taking pity on us because we were just kids, or perhaps it wanted to let our fear simmer a little before it went all out. Over the following years, I saw some of those same kids again, but eventually, all their grins turned grim, and the laughter disappeared.
That's more or less what it was like for a few years. I ran through the house, got to the heart, and ran out. Once you reach the threshold and start leaving the yard, there's just one last obstacle. There, sitting on a bench you never see when you're approaching the house, is a being of pure malevolence. He looks like an oversized man, with arms that are far too long of his body, and always has a grin that would be goofy if it weren't so evil. This is Mister Hyde. You must look at and acknowledge him, usually with a head tilt, then look away and pray he decided your fear is enough that year.
One time, I stared just a little too long, and he stood up and followed me to the yard's edge. The whole time, I could feel his hot breath on the back of my neck, and I knew that if I so much as picked up the pace or turned around, I was dead. Another year, I saw him sitting there with a corpse in his lap. He'd shoved his hand through the back of its skull and was using it like a puppet to make crude jokes and laugh at all the victims walking by. By then, I knew it wasn't just a prop, and I wondered what that poor soul had done to attract Mister Hyde's attention. Maybe nothing. Perhaps it was just an unlucky day for the poor guy. I try not to think about Mister Hyde too much; I get the feeling he knows when you're thinking about him, and I'd prefer not to attract too much of his attention.
When I was fourteen, I made the biggest mistake of my life. My mom told me to take my little brother, nine at the time, out trick or treating. No matter how much I protested or told her I had something important to do, she wouldn't relent, so eventually, I gave up and took him.
Sure enough, the house showed up partway through our little adventure. I remember looking my brother in the eyes and telling him, "Stay out here! I have to take care of something, and you don't want any part of it. Okay?" Of course, he nodded.
When I got inside, The Ringleader started checking us off the guest list. After I introduced myself as "The Coward" (I still hated the title at the time), I heard an all too familiar voice say, "I'm a wizard!" Looking down in horror, I could see my kid brother standing there, grinning like the idiot he was.
I tried protesting. "No, no, no! He's not supposed to be here! Let him out right now!" But The Ringleader grinned and answered, "All are welcome in the haunted house, and the only way out is forward!" He motioned us through.
The first bit of our run was pretty standard. There were a few zombies that were easily dodged, and this time, the heart was on the second floor. While climbing the stairs, giant spiders jumped down and grabbed people, then dragged them up into the rafters as they kicked and screamed. One came for my kid brother, but with a swift kick, it fell to the floor below. As the nightmare on eight legs started scuttling back up the stairs, we ran up and closed ourselves into the first room available.
But of course, there's no such thing as a safe room in a haunted house like this, and sure enough, as we turned around away from the door, we came face to midriff with a living shadow. It stood tall enough that it had to hunch over in a room more than big enough to house even the tallest NBA players comfortably. I call it a living shadow because its skin seemed to absorb light, creating a void wherever it was. I remember it reaching out and grabbing me, and my skin burning from the extreme cold of its touch. But then my brother decided to take advantage of his gift, and I kid you not, he held out his hand like a finger gun and shouted, "Bang!" To this day, I have no idea how it worked or how he knew it would work, but the thing screamed and dropped me, clutching its arm like it'd been shot.
We kicked out the door, which thankfully slammed into the spider that had been chasing us, stunning it as we ran to the end of the hall, wherein lay the master bedroom and the heart of the house. The heart is a very literal heart, by the way, about the size of a large dog, usually visible through a crack in the wall. I've seen people stab it, shoot it, burn it, and do just about anything else you can think of (Yes, my brother has used his finger guns on it.), and while the damage sometimes looks impressive, it always comes back the next year as if nothing happened. In this case, we merely tagged it, ran back into the hallway, vaulted the banister rather than trying the stairs again, and ran back out the entrance, home free.
Of course, now my brother has to run the haunted house every year. We make a point to go together, as between my coward hints and his magic finger guns, we seem to have a pretty strong advantage against whatever the house wants to throw at us. But that's not to say we don't have our close calls.
Two years ago, the heart was in the basement, and you remember what's in the basement, don't you? For most veterans, the basement is the last place you look, only after you've cleared the rest of the house, but when my gut says to go downstairs, that's where we go. It went pretty much like every trip downstairs goes. The place is filled with junk piled taller than me and smelled of cement, exposed carpentry, and mildew that many Midwest basements seem to have. The layout also changes every year, so you are stuck kind of shuffling about, hoping you stumble into the right room without being caught. Listening for screams and trying to go the other way.
This time, we got to the heart without incident, which was good, but the wolfman started chasing us on our way out. As I broke into a run, I could hear the wolfman right behind me, but I figured I had just enough time to reach the stairs, and then I tripped. Falling in the basement is about as surefire a death sentence as you can get in the house, and sure enough, in half a moment, the wolfman was on me. I still have the scars from where he cut my arm up as I protected my face and throat. My only consolation then was that at least my brother got away. However, not a moment later, the wolfman and I looked up in time to see my brother, with both hands making his classic finger guns, as he pointed right at the wolfman's left eye and shouted, "Bang!" Let me tell ya, seeing a full-grown man making finger guns and yelling "Bang" with a straight face is quite the spectacle, but you gotta do whatever you can to survive that place.
Now, the wolfman might be immortal, but that apparently doesn't mean he can't feel pain because he sat up and screamed while holding his eye. I could see bits of his skull while blood and other substances leaked between his fingers.
I didn't need an engraved invitation. I placed my feet square in the middle of his chest and kicked for everything I was worth. As the wolfman flew back, I rolled over and scrambled up the stairs on all fours like a kid who'd just turned out the light. We both took a moment at the top of the basement stairs to laugh nervously before hearing an impossibly loud and engaged howl come from the basement. We decided not to push out luck any longer and got the hell out of dodge, winking at The Ringleader and nodding more respectfully to Mister Hyde as we passed.
That brings us to last year when at least one of the rules got broken for the first time. My brother and I met up as usual. I smirked at The Ringleader as he scowled at my title. We got past the starting zombies quickly enough. Seriously, who dies to those things? But then I got the feeling the heart was out back, in the garden. I was just relieved it wasn't the basement, as I didn't want to see the wolfman so soon after our last encounter.
There was a glass passageway between the house and the garden, and this time, it was filled with paper cranes floating gently on unseen currents of air, many of which seemed to have tiny rubies glistening on their wings. Of course, nothing in this house is ever innocent, and as we started walking carefully through the passage, the cranes began swooping, and every time they passed by, their wings glided across the skin, giving a nasty papercut. That's when I noticed several bodies on the ground with pools of blood around them, apparently death by a thousand cuts. Not having time to think, I raised my arms, covering my eyes, and charged forward. By the time I reached the end, I had probably somewhere between twenty and thirty paper cuts, all of which stung worse than a bee sting, but remembering the bodies in the room, it could have been much worse.
What awaited us in the garden was a solitary figure. There, standing watch, as if he'd been plucked right out of an old Japanese movie, was an honest-to-god heavily armored samurai. His face was obscured by his mask, but I'm reasonably sure that if I pulled down the mask, the armor would have been hollow. However, looking at the bodies beside the samurai that had obviously been cut in two, I decided not to indulge my curiosity. Judging by the placement of the bodies, some had tried to fight, and others had tried to run.
My brother got ready to fight, and immediately, the warrior's hand flew to his sword, but I placed a hand on my brother's shoulder and pulled him back, stepping forward to face the samurai myself.
As the samurai slowly drew his blade, rather than fight or flee, I got down on my knees and bowed, deciding to acknowledge that there was little else we could do. "Oh great warrior, we beseech you, be merciful and let us pass." Yeah, it was a little flowery, I admit, but hey, when asking a ghost samurai to spare your life, sometimes you have to go all out. When, after a moment, he didn't cut me down, which I'm at least forty-five percent sure was due to my actions and words, I motioned for my brother to do the same. After a few more moments, the samurai sheathed his sword and returned to his vigil, and we got off our knees and passed by, approaching the heart of the house.
This time, the heart was standing in a glass cylinder coming out of a rose bush. Carefully opening the cylinder, we touched the heart, which was as warm and slimy as ever, before turning to leave. However, just as we did so, there, coming out of the glass passageway, came the one thing I least wanted to see at that moment. The Wolfman.
He looked a little different than I remembered. Half his face was rotted away, leaving his skull exposed. He had maggots wriggling and writhing in the empty socket that had once housed his eye. His teeth and claws were covered in the blood of whoever had been unfortunate enough to get between him and his goal. And judging by the glare of his sole functional eye, we were that goal.
He stepped forward, crouching to begin his chase. Without the basement stairs nearby, I knew we didn't stand a chance of outrunning him. Unsure of what to do, I froze while my mind ran through what few options we had again and again. However, once again, my cowardice saved the day. As the wolfmen charged forward, he was intercepted by the samurai. The sideways slash should have cut him in half, but the wolfman simply twisted and turned, bending his spine in a way that should have been impossible, before stopping to glare at his new obstacle. However, the samurai did not hesitate and stepped forward again, this time performing an upward slash even faster than his first strike. Realizing he wouldn't get past this annoyance without addressing it, the wolfman launched himself forward, latching onto his opponent. The two fell and grappled in the dirt, and we took the opportunity to run past. When the wolfman reached out to us, the samurai took his smaller blade and plunged it into the wolfman's side, and their combat resumed.
Running through the passageway, all the paper cranes were mangled and torn, lying on the ground, no longer a threat. Once inside, we could see the zombies in the house, all torn to pieces. Running into the entranceway, the Ringleader was just plain missing. Then we were outside and free. We took a moment to catch our breath, but when I looked up to acknowledge Mister Hyde, I realized he was also missing from his usual seat. Then, the screaming started in the house behind us. Some screams always echoed out of the house, but not like this. The screams were tortured and often inhuman. They were also interposed without bouts of manic laughter.
Looking at each other, we both nodded and decided to run. We could wait a year to find out what was happening behind us!
And that brings us to this year. I don't know what awaits me at the haunted house this time. Maybe it won't even show up...but somehow, I doubt I'll be that lucky.
I work a lot with commercial and corporate jingles. I had a bit of a breakthrough a few years ago when I made a tune that was picked up by a major coffee chain. I’m not gonna divulge exactly which, but let’s just say you’ve heard it. I know you have.
So when I was contacted about making a musical piece for a movie project, I was immediately on board. Things had been slow for a couple of weeks, and my backlog was thinning out. This job would put me back in the green, for sure.
And that’s how this started. I’ve switched a few names around for anonymity, but I think I can still get the point across.
They reached out to me through my business e-mail. It was sent from some kind of private server, with the sender listed just as “515”. They did sign it though, using the name “Mark.” No last name.
They did send me an advance though. A hefty one.
It was supposed to be a quick job – a 3-minute song used as the end credits to a solemn piece. They provided me with references, a few samples, and a contact. Savanna, or just Anna – a jazz singer who lived in my immediate area. She was to provide backup vocals.
It was a bit strange though.
No one talked to me in person. No one called or double-checked my credentials. They just wanted this done, quick and easy, with no questions asked. I wasn’t even allowed to see the movie, or the context in which the song was played. All they told me about it was;
“It’s the end credits. It’s really sad.”
I always start with a few simple notes. B4 to E5, D5 to G4. Four solemn notes. I started working it into chords, trying out different tempos, and adjusted along the way. I always end up re-doing the intro later anyway, so I put it on hold and moved on to the main verse.
It took me about two days to get a decent outline done. It was melancholic, with this hint of nostalgia. I had to remake parts of the pre-chorus as I realized the music box samples were a little too much. I bounced around a few ideas, such as adding a horn section, or maybe a violin, but I kept returning to a simple reverbed piano – nothing else. Keep it simple, stupid. Never forget.
The only thing I lacked were the vocals, so I called up Anna.
When working piano mixes, I spend entire days just re-listening to anything by Elton John. I get kinda lost in it at times. When I first went to meet Anna at the Morning Swirl Café, her first impression of me was sitting in my car singing along to “Your Song” while she waited across the road in plain sight. Not the best impression I’ve ever made. Not the worst.
From the moment I met her, Anna, was a professional. A proper handshake, a brief introduction, and she was ready to go. We took my car back to my home studio, letting Elton John move from Your Song to Rocket Man, to Tiny Dancer. As we turned into the parking lot, we were both engulfed – singing an impromptu duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. She outclassed me by a mile, but it was all in good fun.
That car ride was all it took for us to become best friends.
I showed her my home studio, discussed my ideas, and asked for feedback on a few passages in the post-chorus that I wasn’t all too sure about. She came at me with a lot of ideas right out of the gate – suggesting a vocal bridge and a tempo change. We just started jamming.
We spent all day experimenting, mixing, trying out key- and tempo changes. It was a lot of fun, and we lost ourselves in the work a couple of times. We also spent at least an hour listening to samples and shamelessly dishing about our favorite movie scores. Anna might seem like a bit of a stick-in-the-mud at first, but once you got her talking about her true passions, she was an unstoppable music nerd. My kind of people.
Somewhere around dinner time, we called it a day. At least work-wise. We decided to get some take-out and watch Sound of Music, just for fun. We were about halfway through two servings of chicken tikka masala when Anna turned to me with a curious look.
“You know… I got no idea what this is for,” she said, pointing at our barely balanced pile of notes. “It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but… I don’t like not knowing, right?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Like… what if it’s something bad?”
“What do you mean?” she frowned.
“I mean… it could be like an Alex Jones kind of deal. Something crazy.”
At that, she shook her head, leaning back into the musings of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
“That’d suck,” she sighed, poking the takeout rice. “That’d really, really suck.”
It was an uncomfortable thought. Something the two of us making together, ending up misused as something vile, or political. That night, long after Anna had left, I decided to try to and reach out to Mark at “515” again.
I sent him a message asking him to clarify the purpose of the score – as in the context which it would be used. I described that I didn’t want it to be used in something inherently negative, or controversial. Within just a couple of minutes, I got a response. I figured it was automated, seeing as I’d contacted him at one in the morning, but it turns out it wasn’t. It read;
“I can’t tell you anything about the project, but you retain any and all rights to the song, including the manner of which it is used after the initial broadcast.”
A suspiciously generous offer. That would mean I’d keep getting unhindered royalties, and I could pull it from being played at the drop of a hat. I’d never been allowed that kind of control before.
If anything, it made me even more suspicious.
During our next jam session, we re-did a couple of vocals and started matching it up to some background instrumentals. After playing through it a couple of times, and sensing some minor mixing issues, I brought the e-mail up to Anna. It didn’t seem to put her at ease.
“I don’t even know what that means,” she laughed. “Have these people worked with professionals before?”
“No idea. Never heard of the, uh… 515 before.”
“Their e-mail. The account ending with 515.”
Anna checked her phone, holding it up to me.
“That’s not what I got.”
Her e-mail looked completely different. It was sent from a private Gmail-account through some kind of auto-generated contact form on Anna’s website. I figured whoever filled it out had accidentally let it auto-fill, meaning it used a private e-mail rather than a company one. There was an e-mail address, written as a single word; “Markalton”.
“Markalton. As in… Mark Alton? Mine was from a Mark too.”
“I thought it was, like… a fake name. A nickname.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, shaking my head. “That’s our employer.”
“We gotta cyberstalk him.”
“We just gotta,” I agreed.
We put our work aside and started checking our socials. There were a handful of people who matched Mark’s full name, but it was hard to see which one we might be dealing with. We excluded a few of them, figuring we probably weren’t working for a college undergraduate or recently divorced ex-plumber in his late 60’s. No, we were working with someone with a little technical know-how and a job that could pay for anything – even a pair of sassy freelance musicians.
We couldn’t find anyone matching the description on our first go about – but looking a little closer, we found the account of one May Alton; possibly his wife. She had a fancy house out in Nebraska, with three dogs and a pool. From context, we could tell her husband was pretty well-off. She also name-dropped him as Mark a couple of times in the comments.
Finally, Anna elbowed me, and showed me her phone.
An Instagram post of the Altons, in some kind of recording studio.
“This has got to be the guy,” she said. “Right?”
“Could be, yeah,” I agreed. “Sure looks like it.”
“Can’t tell what he’s working on though,” she sighed. “They haven’t been active in a while.”
“I guess we just… gotta dig deeper, right?”
“I guess we do,” smiled Anna.
Long after we’d called it a day, we kept in touch. I tried to find some kind of LinkedIn, while Anna was trying to get access to May Alton’s private Facebook profile. Somewhere around my third re-listen of Elton John’s “Blue Eyes,” Anna called me up. It was close to midnight; not a time which I expected a sudden call.
“I talked to one of her workmates and got an invite. Turns out May has friend-of-a-friend kind of setting, so, uh… I can see it all,” Anna said. “You gotta check this out”.
I received screenshots of May Alton’s profile, showing what’d been happening as of late. Maybe it could give some insight into what kind of project we were actually working on.
What I saw was a long series of posts illustrating the married life of May and Mark Alton. How they moved from their house in Nebraska to some kind of military housing in the outskirts of Ohio. There were cryptic messages about things being “tough”, about having to give away their dogs, and “living among boxes”. They didn’t seem to settle down and were ready to move at the drop of a hat.
There were strange questions too. Things like… where to find water filters, and what weather sites were the most accurate. May posted about trying to learn what wild mushrooms were edible, and what roots could be used as a homemade pain remedy. She started obsessing about her teeth, about the thought of having them suddenly break, with no way to have them fixed – despite living in a town with plenty of licensed dentists.
At one point, she’d made the mistake of posting one of her google searches as a Facebook post, simply reading;
“ocean boiling temperature Fahrenheit”
“What the hell does that even mean?” I asked Anna over the phone. “Ocean boiling?”
“Keep… keep reading,” she said. “That’s not all.”
She sent me a few more screenshots. Some of which were less than a week old.
Pictures of tarp-covered boxes. A hand-dug latrine. And finally, what looked like an old quarry – with lines of trucks loading something into a kind of underground tunnel. It was barely commented, framed as her showing her friends she was okay, with bits and pieces of information revealed in the background.
We got confirmation on the very final image, where she and Mark was standing next to a moving truck, with a long dark tunnel ahead. At the very corner of the truck was a notice about government property, followed by a sticker that simply read “515”.
We just sat there in silence for a moment, trying to figure out what we were getting involved in. This sure as shit wasn’t no simple movie, or a hobby project. Whatever they were working on was large in scale, and none of it seemed to involve an actual movie. There were no cameras, no actors, no movie sets. This was something else completely.
Something chilling crawled up my spine, as something dark settled in my stomach. An uncomfortable thought. Something in the back of my mind surfacing. It didn’t take long to find exactly what I was searching for. It was hidden away under an outdated members list on the wayback machine. It couldn’t be a coincidence. It just couldn’t.
Turns out, Mark Alton was a government liaison for one of the largest public access TV channels in Ohio.
The next day, I met up with Anna at the Morning Swirl Café. We got ourselves a couple of cappuccinos and positioned ourselves way off in the back. I told her about my findings, and she didn’t seem to know what to make of it. After pondering it for a while, she whispered to me;
“How much time we got left to deliver?”
“A few days,” I said. “Not sure about a specific time.”
“You know… I’m willing to bet that if this guy is paying for music, he’s probably paying for video editors too.”
“What’re you thinking?”
“I’m thinking someone at that channel is being paid to work on something that’ll give us an answer.”
She had a point. This seemed like sort of a rush-job, chances were another freelancer was involved.
We went back to my home studio, putting the final version of the song on hold for the time being. Instead, we started making calls. We took turns going down a list of names that seemed influential enough to know what we were talking about. Most of the time we were left either on hold or hit a brick wall. A few of them simply didn’t know who Mark Alton was, and some of them refused to talk about him and his work. They were very cordial about it though.
Finally, we got through to one of the program directors. He, in turn, had personally recommended a video editor for one of Mark’s unnamed “projects”. We got a number and an e-mail address to a man named Christian – a supposed freelance video editor who’d worked with Mark previously.
It took us a few tries and a few bounced calls before we got through to him. Anna was the one who did it, putting Christian on speaker phone. After the initial greeting, Anna got straight to the point.
“Christian, I think you and I are working on the same project. We didn’t get that much of an initial briefing, so we thought you might be able to fill us in on the details,” she said. “Could you send us a copy of your final project render?”
“Sure,” he said. “I finished it up last week, I think Mark is adding the text later.”
“What text?” Anna asked.
“Right now it’s just a… collage. A slideshow. But, uh… we’re adding the final touches in post.”
“What final touches?”
The line went cold as Christian considered the question. After a while, he let out a soft chuckle.
“Honestly, I don’t have the slightest idea.”
He sent us the project file not long after, but we were having trouble getting it to load correctly. After a bit of back-and-forth, he simply linked us a cloud link of the project folder, giving us direct access. I told him it was necessary since we were to upload the final export of the song there either way. Christian didn’t seem to mind.
When we finally sat down to watch it, I couldn’t help but to feel my pulse rise. The name was pretty standard, just “final render”, but there was something to it that just tickled my brain. As I clicked it, Anna immediately pressed pause.
“Should we?” she asked. “You sure?”
“No idea,” I said.
We shared an uncertain look, as she pressed play.
There was no sound. This is where our song was supposed to play.
The clip opened with a drone shot of a sunflower field; showing a mix of vibrant yellow and dark blue. The camera faded into a melancholic low-saturated view of the Columbus city skyline. The picture faded into a view of various people, moving in slow motion. A young couple praying. An older couple reading a bible. Children holding hands, looking up at the sky.
Every now and then, a large and sudden text would appear, simple stating “PLACEHOLDER”.
A 30-second long clip of a woman waving goodbye to the ocean.
A family stepping into a cellar, passing bags back and forth.
An American flag at half-staff, unstirred by wind.
A sky growing darker.
A final white text against a flat black background, simply stating “PLACEHOLDER”.
We played it over and over again, trying to figure out what we were looking at. Anna was the first to come up with something.
“Looks like one of those late-night end of broadcast things.”
“Don’t they usually play something uplifting?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Yeah, they, uh… they do.”
This wasn’t uplifting. If anything, it felt apocalyptic. Like an unspoken threat. My eyes lingered on the clip of the woman waving goodbye to the ocean – such an insignificant gesture.
Maybe that’s all this was. Some kind of insignificant gesture to an overwhelming, unstoppable force.
Something as vast as the ocean.
When Anna and I finally called it a day, I stayed up long into the morning hours, playing that video over and over. Watching the terrified faces of the family running into the cellar. Watching the clouds darken, bathing the world in gray. Christian had done a great job putting it together – I could tell none of it was stock video.
It gave me this enormous sense of dread, like I was missing something obvious. Something terrifying.
I stepped out on my balcony just as the morning sun broke the horizon. And I swear – the clouds looked darker that morning.
Darker than usual.
I woke up around noon to the sound of an incoming e-mail. I’d already missed two from Anna, but this third one caught my attention. It was from Christian.
“You can just talk to Mark yourself,” it said. “Send me the final song export, and I’ll hook you up with some contact deets.”
While Anna and I could still work on a few more details, I was too curious. I sent the mix we had immediately, uploading the final export to the online project folder. In return, Christian sent me an e-mail and a phone number to Mark Alton himself.
I considered whether I should really call. I thought about it for a long time. Not only could it jeopardize the job itself, but more importantly, I might not like what he had to say. This wasn’t just any project – this was… shady, at best. I just sat outside, watching the dark clouds on the horizon.
I decided I needed answers.
It took him four rings to answer.
I had no idea what to say. For a few seconds, I just sat there, breathing into the phone. Finally, a voice on the other end spoke up.
“I know who this is,” he said.
It was a tired voice. Someone who hadn’t known rest for a long time, or possibly slept at all.
“I wanted to talk to you about the job,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
There was a deep sigh on the other end.
“Might as well,” he said. “Hold on.”
I heard him get up, wander about, and return. As he did, there was the sound of something being poured just to the side of the phone. Finally, as he picked up, he smacked his lips with a relieved sigh.
“Alright,” he continued. “Looks like we’re airing it.”
“You weren’t sure?”
“You know about the Turner Video?” he asked. “The CNN one?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s, uh… a kind of goodbye,” he said. “In case the worst comes to pass.”
“Has… the worst come to pass?”
There was a short pause as Mark swallowed something. He chuckled and put a glass down.
“Yeah,” he said. “It has. I’ll upload the texted version in a bit.”
As the conversation faded into nothing, I updated the project folder. Sure enough, there was a final composition.
I clicked it.
There were only four lines in total, all seemingly written by Mark himself.
“THANK YOU FOR BEING BRAVE”
“THANK YOU FOR BEING HUMAN”
“WE FAILED YOU”
And finally, as the screen faded to black;
I stayed on the final screen for a long time, feeling my heart rise in my chest. I was getting text after text from both Anna and Christian, both asking me if I’d seen it. Asking me what it meant. Asking me what the hell we were doing. I couldn’t bring myself to answer.
I looked it up; The CNN Turner Video. Turns out it is a sort of just-in-case video to be shown at the literal end of the world.
The clouds on the horizon looked darker. There was a moisture in the air that I’d never felt before. Something electric. Hundreds of birds flocked over the horizon, dancing silently, as if in mourning. A text file was added to the project folder stating a time for broadcast.
I just sat there, feeling like I’d shrunk. I didn’t know whether to cry or scream. It all seemed so helpless, and everything looked different in this light. The news sites were reporting several new environmental record lows. Images of dead fish washing ashore in New England. Birds falling out of the sky in Florida. It’d started to seem so commonplace as of late; but looking at it again, I should’ve seen the signs. It wasn’t just record lows; it was all-time lows.
At some point, I heard a car. Looking down from my balcony, I could see Anna parked out front. She honked at me, over and over, causing onlookers to stop and stare.
“Get in!” she yelled. “Come on!”
I didn’t hesitate. I ran down the stairs, leaving my front door wide open. I didn’t stop to lock, to turn off the lights, to grab my charger. I just burst into a sprint.
Anna had already started the car when I got in, speeding off as soon as my feet left the ground. As I struggled with the seat belt, I gave her a wide-eyed look. She was sweating bullets, her eyes wide.
She’d figured it out too.
We kept going north, watching the clouds gather, feeling the winds grow stronger. As soon as the warnings started to pile up on the radio, Anna shut it off. Before I even asked her, she looked at me and said;
“I can’t hear it again. I just can’t.”
After a while, we stopped looking at the signs and the maps. Anna broke the speed limit, driving anywhere and nowhere. For hours on end, we just kept going – hoping to outrun whatever this was.
There was a storm brewing. A cold storm, leaving specks of frost on the windshield. Water wasn’t draining away fast enough, making the roads impossibly slippery. But despite the deafening sound of ice spatter against glass, I could hear Anna’s shallow breaths. Just as shallow as mine.
We were driving, desperate, hoping for a miracle.
Anna was zigzagging through traffic, passing straight through every red light, struggling to keep the car straight. At one point, it looked like she was on the breaking point. She was barely keeping her eyes open; thin tears streaming down her face.
“What the fuck do we do?!” she screamed, slamming her hands against the instrument panel. “What the fuck do we do?!”
I didn’t have an answer. Instead, I just shook my head, stuttering for the right words.
I got nothing.
As we got back on the highway, she completely lost control. A flash flood caught up with us, slinging the car all the way around, making the wheels spin and screech – failing to catch ground. As it drifted, we saw flashing lights in the distance. Firetrucks had to throw themselves on the handbrake; unable to pass through a 2-feet tall flood washing across the highway.
Anna and I stepped into the storm, immediately feeling the shivers dig into our spines.
A few cars behind us didn’t manage to stop in time, front-ending one another into a car pile-up. We hurried off the road as the sound of screeching metal chased us away.
Hand in hand, we kept going. Into a field, across a dirt road, and ending up at an abandoned hay loft.
We settled in. We couldn’t go any further. We were frozen, drained, and panicked. This was it.
For the next few hours we just sat there, waiting for whatever would come. Our phones were silent, but the wind was howling outside. There were no funny quips, no friendly banter. Just two terrified people, watching the sky break apart.
I remember that feeling. I think about it every day. That deep rumble worming its way to the surface. Not an earthquake, but something… deliberate. I remember hearing explosions in the distance – something resembling a powerful cannonade. In the small crack of the barn doors, we could see flashes in the distance. Some of which were lightning strikes – some which weren’t.
Then it all went quiet.
We sat there, in the dark. The storm subsided and the trees went silent. I could barely hear the world over my runaway pulse.
I didn’t know what it meant, but I could feel it.
An invulnerable, inevitable, cold.
An end to more than I could fathom.
Something so definite, so incomprehensible, that not even despair was sufficient.
We held our breaths, locking our hands tight – shivering.
It was all we could do.
I don’t know if it was just seconds passing or entire minutes, but at some point I felt my phone vibrate. With the passing of the storm, cell coverage returned – if barely.
News alerts about flash floods and a highway pile-up. A hurricane warning, urging everyone to stay indoors.
And at the bottom of the screen, an update to our online project folder.
The timestamp had changed.
I have no idea what happened that night. I don’t know what kind of 11th hour magic they managed to pull off, but I never heard from Mark again. We got paid though, but I’ve since deleted everything about that song from every backup I own. I want nothing to do with it and reminding myself of it even existing causes this dark feeling to sink into me – like slowly falling into an eternal well.
Hence why I’m writing this. I want to put an end to this and move on. My therapist says that my obsessive need to watch the news for “signs” is tearing me to pieces, and I trust that she’s right. So I need to put an end to this. To acknowledge what I experienced, and how close we were to something I can’t begin to imagine.
After that night, the bond that Anna and I shared is something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like we were melded together; our lives intertwined from that day going forward.
I have this feeling that whenever this airs, for real, I want her to be there with me. It’s like it was meant to be. That we’re living on borrowed time.
I hope I never get an answer to what was supposed to happen that night.
But I know that the next time I hear that song will be my last.
Hello. This is now our last excursion on this beautiful vacation in Sardinia. We're headed to the Neptune Cave. At the hotel, they said this natural wonder is definitely worth a visit. Since it seems that every guest gets this recommendation, we only managed to secure a spot on the last ship of the day. Tomorrow, it's back to the airport.
We've just arrived by boat at the entrance of the Neptune Cave. This way, we've avoided numerous steps. However, up there by the ticket counter, it seems there are problems beyond my Italian skills.
Someone from the hotel translated in broken English that our group is too large. Some of us will have to wait. If I hadn't taken so many photos of the cave entrance and the sea, I wouldn't be sitting on these plastic chairs now.
Finally, we're allowed in.
Wow, these rock formations, these stalactites and stalagmites are truly impressive. But at times, the passages are quite narrow and pose a significant risk for head bumps.
What was that noise? Hopefully not the iron gate at the entrance? No, it couldn't be. But it's better to hurry through and get back on the boat.
It couldn't have been the gate, I hope. Being trapped in here would be a nightmare. There's no cell signal down here deep in the cave – like something out of a bad horror movie, but with all this stone and the sea, it somehow makes sense.
Slowly, these rock formations seem more menacing than beautiful. It's almost as if the stones are weeping. Have they witnessed something terrible in this vast cave? They've had thousands or even millions of years for that. The stagnant water is giving me an eerie feeling too. In the spotlights that cast the cave in a yellow-red glow, it could easily be mistaken for blood.
I was right. About my feeling and about the gate at the entrance. We're trapped, and no one can hear our cries.
How cold does it get in the cave at night? At the end of a hot day, it was refreshingly cool, but at night?
Damn it! The lights have been turned off. We can only see a little with the flashlights on our phones. One person in the group has a bloody gash on their head from the tight passages and sharp rocks.
Another one is mentioning something about another door. At least, I think that's what he's saying in Italian.
We're saved. There really was another door, and light is seeping through from the sides. The hope of not having to spend the whole night on cold, wet stone couldn't have come too soon. Another person in our group slipped and can only move with assistance. The scream echoed a hundredfold in the cave and seemed to never end – an echo of agony.
The second door was only secured by a bit of string. We now follow the faint light. Bent over like Quasimodo and sweating uncomfortably in the cool cave air due to the concentration with every step.
What's happening up ahead? We've reached a new chamber. The rock formations here look like grotesque faces. Did nature carve these devilish visages into the stone, or did humans lend a hand? The features of these diabolical rocks appear older than humanity itself.
But in the center of this large chamber, there are some figures in black robes. They surround an altar. The eerie scene compels me to whisper right now.
One of the people in the robes approaches a cave wall and breaks off a stalactite from the low ceiling.
No, it can't be! On the stone altar lies a boy or a young girl. It's screaming, and the echo is deafening. Can you still hear me?
I can't believe it. He's thrusting the stone point into them. Blood is flowing into the water around their stone island. This water hasn't moved for millennia, and I'm only seeing it now. It's stagnant blood.
We have to get out of here. What is that? NOOOOO.
I found a cell phone in a small corner of the Neptune Cave. I've charged it, and without knowing the password, I can play this audio recording from the home screen.
What should I do with it?
The painting had caught my eye at the sweltering summer-day rummage sale. Amidst the jumbled collection of old furniture, tarnished silverware, and stacks of faded books, it hung on the wall, drawing me in like a moth to a flame.
“Hey, take a look at this,” I called to my friend, Sarah, who had accompanied me on this treasure hunt.
She ambled over, her sunhat casting a shadow over her face. “What is it?”
I pointed to the painting. It was an odd piece, unlike anything I’d ever seen. An old, gnarled tree stood in the center, its branches stretching out like skeletal fingers. Beneath the tree, a small, rundown cottage leaned to one side, as if it had borne the weight of centuries.
“What’s so special about it, Paul?” Sarah asked, her skepticism evident.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was an eerie allure about the painting. “I don’t know. There’s something captivating about it. Look closely, see the details in the shadows, the way the leaves almost seem to move.”
She peered at the painting, her eyes narrowing. “You’re right; it’s a bit...unsettling.”
The elderly woman running the sale shuffled over, her eyes crinkling with a knowing smile. “Ah, you’ve found my little masterpiece.”
I decided to ask about the painting’s origins. “Do you know who the artist is?”
The woman chuckled softly. “Artist? There’s no name attached to this piece, dear. I acquired it myself many moons ago, from an old estate sale.”
Sarah glanced at me. “What do you think?”
I hesitated, torn between my fascination and a creeping unease. Finally, I said, “I’ll take it.”
The woman nodded and accepted my payment, wrapping the painting carefully before handing it over. As we left the sale, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just bought something far more sinister than a mere work of art.
The painting found its place on the wall in my living room, dominating the space with its haunting presence. Over the next few weeks, its eerie charm grew on me, and I began to study it for hours on end.
One night, as Sarah and I sat in the dimly lit room, sipping wine, she remarked, “You know, I can’t help but wonder about that cottage in the painting. It looks so desolate and forsaken.”
I nodded, swirling my wine in thought. “It does. But look closer, Sarah, at the shadows beneath the tree.”
She leaned in, squinting. “What about them?”
I traced a finger along the painting, my voice barely a whisper. “They’re not just shadows. They’re figures, tiny people, and they’re moving.”
Doubt crept into Sarah’s expression. “You’ve been staring at this painting for too long, Paul. It’s your imagination.”
But it was no illusion. The figures beneath the gnarled tree were moving, their movements deliberate and haunting. And as I continued to watch, a chilling realization gripped me: these tiny, detailed figures were representations of my friends and family.
The painting had changed, and now held a chilling secret – it revealed the way my loved ones would die.
The room seemed to grow colder in an instant, and I found I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the cursed canvas. “Sarah, look closely. There’s something terribly wrong with this painting.”
She leaned in, her breath visible in the chilling room, and her eyes widened as she saw what I saw. The figures moved with purpose beneath the gnarled tree, their tiny, detailed forms acting out grim scenarios.
One figure, unmistakably resembling my brother, stumbled and fell, only to be dragged into the darkness by an unseen force. Another, eerily resembling my cousin, reached out in desperation, but its hand was severed with a swift, ghastly stroke.
Sarah gasped, her voice trembling. “What is this? How is this even possible?”
I had no answers, only a mounting sense of dread as I watched the horrifying events unfold on the ever-changing canvas. The figures represented my friends and family, and they were meeting gruesome fates.
My heart pounded in my chest as I observed my loved ones’ agonizing deaths play out before me. But there was something more chilling, something that made my blood run cold: I realized that among the moving figures, there was one I hadn’t noticed before, one that resembled me, and it was slowly making its way toward the sinister tree.
I turned to Sarah, my voice trembling. “We have to destroy this painting, Sarah. It’s evil. It’s showing us our deaths.”
She nodded, her face pale, and we grabbed the cursed artwork from the wall. We rushed outside into the moonlit night, desperate to be rid of its malevolent presence.
As we threw the painting onto a bonfire, its eerie colors flickered and danced in the flames. I watched it burn, the gnarled tree and the forsaken cottage consumed by fire. But the figure that resembled me continued to move, writhing and contorting, its agonized death throes reflected in the dancing flames.
The fire eventually died down, leaving only ashes and charred remnants of the once-dreaded painting. But the horrors it had revealed to us remained etched in our minds.
Sarah and I stood in silence, haunted by the chilling truth that the painting had foretold. The future it had shown us was too horrific to comprehend.
“Is it over?” Sarah asked timidly.
“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see,” I replied. “I think I need to call my brother.”
* * * * * *
The next evening, I sat in my dimly lit living room, staring at my phone. The painting’s horrors had left me shaken, and I knew I had to share this with my brother, Adam, no matter how unbelievable it might sound.
I dialed his number, and after a few rings, he picked up. “Hey, Paul, what’s up?”
“Adam, it’s... it’s something strange,” I began, my voice quivering with a mix of fear and uncertainty.
He chuckled lightly. “You’ve always been into weird stuff. What is it this time?”
“It’s not like that,” I said, struggling to find the right words. “I bought this painting at a rummage sale, and it... it started… changing. It showed me things, Adam.”
“Changing? Showed you things? Come on, Paul, you’re not serious, are you?”
I could hear the skepticism in his voice, but I pressed on. “I swear, Adam, it was real. I saw it with my own eyes. It showed me... it showed us how our friends and family would die.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “You’ve lost me, Paul. This sounds like some kind of horror movie plot.”
“It’s not a joke, Adam,” I replied, desperation creeping into my voice. “I need you to come over, so we can talk more about it in person. I knew it would be hard to believe, but I really need you to give me the benefit of the doubt right now.”
Another pause, and then a sigh. “Fine, Paul. I’ll come over tomorrow evening after work. But if this is some elaborate prank, you owe me a case of beer.”
I agreed, feeling a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Adam’s visit would shed some light on this nightmarish situation. I hung up the phone and turned to Sarah, who had been listening to the conversation.
“He’s coming over tomorrow,” I said, my voice heavy with uncertainty.
Sarah nodded, her expression mirroring my unease. “I hope he takes this seriously. We can’t do this alone.”
“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea that we burned the painting. It seems impulsive now, in retrospect. I mean, how are we going to convince Adam of anything, when the proof is gone?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah replied glumly, “but he’s your brother, and he loves you. Let’s just tell him what we know, and see where it goes from there. Fair enough?”
“Sure,” I said, giving Sarah a side hug and releasing a sigh. “We’ll see.”
* * * * * *
The following evening, as the sun dipped below the horizon, Adam arrived at my doorstep. Sarah and I greeted him with a mixture of relief and anxiety, leading him into the living room where the painting once hung.
He stared at the living room walls, his brow furrowed in confusion. “So, where is this painting you were talking about?”
I pointed to a small pile of ashes in a bowl on my coffee table. Adam glanced at Sarah, who gave him an approving nod.
I watched Adam’s reaction closely. My brother was keeping his composure, but couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.
“Okay, Paul, you got me,” he said. “This is some elaborate joke, right?”
I shook my head, my voice trembling. “Adam, I wish it were. But the painting, it was evil. It showed us... things, terrible things.”
Sarah interjected, her voice earnest. “Adam, it showed us how you would die, and we’re worried it’s going to come true. That you’ll fall, just like the painting says you will.”
Adam’s expression shifted from amusement to concern, but he remained cautious. “Paul, are you for real? It’s not like you to believe in this sort of nonsense.”
I felt a lump in my throat as I recalled the horrifying incident. “It happened, Adam. The characters in the painting looked just like you and me, like our family. And it showed you… it showed you… tripping. Falling. Pulled… dragged by something. And I can’t… I can’t…”
I choked up, unable to continue. Adam was concerned, but not convinced. Sarah took the opportunity to chime in, her voice filled with urgency. “Look, we’d like you to stay with us for a few days, Adam, just until we figure out what’s going on. We don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Adam hesitated, clearly torn between disbelief and his love for me. “Look, Paul, I appreciate you both, and the level of concern here, but I have a wife, kids, and a career to think about. I can’t just drop everything and stay here indefinitely.”
I nodded, understanding the weight of his responsibilities. “I get it, Adam,” I said, doing my best to rein in my emotions, “but promise me you’ll be careful. Watch your step, avoid any potential accidents, and just stay safe.”
He sighed, relenting to our pleas. “Alright, Paul, I’ll be extra cautious. But you have to promise me you won’t do anything reckless either.”
I agreed, relieved that Adam had at least agreed to take our warnings seriously. He and I spent the evening talking with Sarah, recounting the strange events surrounding the cursed painting and the horrifying visions it had revealed. Despite his initial skepticism, Adam couldn’t deny the genuine fear in our voices.
Alas, there came a time when Adam had to take his leave, as he had work early in the morning, and his wife Allison had by then been texting him a storm, asking when he would be home to help the kids get to bed.
Sarah and I bid him goodbye, and shortly after, Sarah headed home herself to try and get some sleep. I had a sneaking suspicion, however, that neither of us would be getting much rest.
Call on 29/11/2022 at 15:27pm
Dispatcher: 911. What is your emergency?
Caller: I’m lost.
Dispatcher: You’re lost?
Caller: And cold. Really cold.
Dispatcher: What’s your name?
Dispatcher: Brian. And how old are you, Brian?
Caller: 8 and a half.
Dispatcher: Do you think I’d be able to talk to Mom or Dad?
Caller: They’re not here. I’m lost.
Dispatcher: Okay. How did you end up getting lost, Brian?
Caller: I woke up here.
Dispatcher: And what does ‘here’ look like, Brian?
Caller: It’s a dark room. Really dark. I don’t know. I’m shining my phone light, but… It’s too dark. The floor is hard. It smells. There’s a brick missing in the wall. I see grass. I think I see a red maple tree, but shadows keep blocking my sight.
Dispatcher: A red maple tree? Wow! You sure know your trees.
Caller: There are lots of them in my town. Grandma likes them.
Dispatcher: That’s really good work, Brian. Hopefully, that means you’re still nearby. Okay, well, let’s work backwards. Perhaps you could tell me where you live?
Caller: I’m… I’m not supposed to say that to strangers.
Dispatcher: I know, but I need to ring your mom or dad, Brian. I need to let them know that you're okay. They’ll be worrying about you. Do you know how I might be able to reach them? My name’s Louise, by the way.
Caller: They’re not alive anymore.
Dispatcher: Oh. I’m sorry, Brian. Who looks after you?
Dispatcher: Okay. How would I reach Grandma? What’s her address or phone number?
Caller: Erm… I don’t know.
Dispatcher: Do you know the town?
Caller: Oh. Yeah! We live in [REDACTED].
Dispatcher: Well done. That's quite far away from here, but don’t worry. I’ll need Grandma’s name to find her address.
Caller: I just call her Grandma. I don’t know her name. Sorry.
Dispatcher: Okay, that’s fine. Don’t worry. What’s your surname, Brian?
Dispatcher: Thank you, Brian.
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: They’re looking for her now. Okay?
Caller: Okay. I’m really scared.
Dispatcher: Well, it was very grown-up of you to ring us, Brian. I’m going to need you to carry on being a big boy and help me out, okay?
Dispatcher: Starting from the beginning, what’s the last thing you remember before you woke up? Were you with Grandma?
Caller: No. I was walking home from school.
Dispatcher: On your own?
Caller: Timmy was with me.
Dispatcher: What’s Timmy’s surname, Brian?
Dispatcher: Thank you.
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: That’ll really help us, Brian. You’re doing a fantastic job. What happened to you and Timmy?
Caller: He went around the corner and vanished.
Dispatcher: And then what happened?
Caller: I spent a few minutes searching for him on [REDACTED]. And then I heard rustling in the bushes by the road. There was a man. An old man.
Dispatcher: Do you think you’d be able to describe him?
Caller: He had a black coat.
Dispatcher: Okay. Anything else?
Caller: I don’t remember. Have you found me? I watched a show with cops who could find people through phones.
Dispatcher: We’ve tried to triangulate the call, but we’ve not been able to pinpoint your location.
Caller: Oh. Okay... You know, it looks really windy out there.
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: Brian, one of our officers just spoke with your grandma... She said you’ve been missing for five months.
Caller: But I only just woke up.
Dispatcher: Do you remember what happened before the dark room? Do you remember any other place in which you might have stayed?
Caller: But... I was walking home from school yesterday.
Dispatcher: Brian, you and Timmy Brown went missing five months ago.
Caller: [crying] I want to go home.
Dispatcher: I know, Brian. I want you to come home too. Do you think you could be brave for me and look around the room with your phone?
Caller: Maybe… It smells.
Dispatcher: I know. But it might help us. Especially if you could get a better look through that gap in the wall.
Dispatcher: Thank you, Brian. Remember, I can’t see what’s happening. You’ll have to keep me updated as you move.
Caller: I’m shining my light around me. There’s a locked door on the far side. I tried opening it earlier. And the smell’s getting worse. It’s getting… [screams and vomits]
Dispatcher: Brian? Brian? Are you okay?
Caller: [crying] It’s wearing Timmy’s clothes!
Dispatcher: What do you mean, Brian?
Caller: There’s a skeleton on the floor, and it’s wearing Timmy’s clothes.
Dispatcher: Okay, stay calm, Brian. Please stay calm.
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: Officers are searching the road on which you went missing, Brian.
Caller: Are they gonna find me?
Dispatcher: Yes, Brian.
Caller: And it won't take five months?
Dispatcher: I promise. Is there anything else in the room that might help? The gap in the wall, maybe? Would there be any way for you to escape?
Caller: It’s only missing one brick. I can’t fit through there.
Dispatcher: Okay. What can you see through it?
Caller: Let me get closer… I’m shining my torch… I’m too small. I can just see grass and the red maple tree. Everything’s so weird out there. It keeps getting really dark.
Dispatcher: What do you mean, Brian?
Caller: It’s… hard to see things. And it’s really windy.
Caller: Oh no…
Caller: — I have to hang up. I don’t want him to find my phone.
Call ends on 29/11/2022 at 15:39pm
Call on 29/11/2022 at 16:50pm
Dispatcher: 911. What is your emergency?
Caller: [whispering] It's me.
Dispatcher: Who is this?
Caller: It’s Brian. Where’s Louise?
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: I’m going to pass this onto Louise, Brian.
Dispatcher: Are you okay?
Caller: I turned off my phone to save battery. But I think he knows I have it.
Dispatcher: What happened, Brian?
Caller: He said he knew I’d been misbehaving, and he didn’t mind, but he’d have to slow the world down. And then he hurt me. [crying] He cut the skin off my feet. He made me watch as he… put it over Timmy’s bones.
Caller: He said he’s going to save my prettiness because time is ugly. He said a little thing like me couldn't understand time because I've not spent it... I'm scared.
Dispatcher: We’re going to find you before he can hurt you again. I promise.
Caller: It’s been days! Where are you? You said you’d find me soon.
Dispatcher: Brian, it… It hasn’t been days. We were just talking on the phone an hour ago.
Caller: No, we weren’t! I don’t know why you keep making things up!
Dispatcher: Brian, you’ve experienced a horrible thing for months, and—
Caller: — I think this room is evil, Louise. I… I haven’t been able to sleep. It’s always light outside.
Dispatcher: Can you still see the maple tree?
Caller: Y… Yeah. But it’s not windy outside anymore. It’s just… calm. Sunny and calm. All day. Every day.
Dispatcher: I don’t think that’s the sun, Brian. Especially not at this time. It’s almost night.
Caller: But... It’s so bright out there. And I can still see it. The maple tree.
Dispatcher: Listen, local officers have been scouring every inch of your home-town. You were right when you said there were lots of red maple trees. But they’re certain that they’re getting close.
Caller: The man in the black coat… He doesn’t feed me very well. I ate a sandwich yesterday… But I’m so hungry. He said he’ll keep me just about... pretty enough.
Dispatcher speaks off-phone
Dispatcher: Brian… I’ve just been told something that I don’t quite understand, and—
Caller: — Oh no, he’s back. I can hear him.
Call ends on 29/11/2022 at 16:53pm
Call on 29/11/2022 at 17:31pm
Dispatcher: 911. What is your emergency?
Caller: It hurts.
Dispatcher: B... Brian...?
Caller: He took the skin from my… hands. It hurts to hold my phone. He said we… we still have a long way to go to make Timmy pretty enough.
Dispatcher: Brian, I don’t… I don’t understand. You’re… You shouldn’t be...
Caller: The sun hurts so much. Why won’t it set?
Dispatcher: I don’t… I don’t know, Brian.
Responding officers uncovered a door in a woodland hollow near [REDACTED]. It led to an underground room containing the blood-stained clothes of the two victims and decomposing bone fragments belonging to Brian Smith.
Forensics experts believed Timothy Brown’s remains had been removed.
Brian Smith’s phone was also found in the room, and later testing would confirm it to be the same device used on dispatch calls with Louise Radcliffe, ruling out the possibility of an external caller fabricating the events transcribed above.
Inexplicably, though officers discovered Brian Smith’s corpse at 16:47pm, Radcliffe continued speaking with the victim until his phone ran out of battery at 19:09pm. Fellow officers corroborated Radcliffe’s story of the overlap between the phone call and the body’s discovery.
After reading the full transcript, not included here, investigators were significantly interested in Brian Smith’s comment on the suspect’s obsession with the passage of time.
Investigating officers have been unable to provide a rational explanation for conflicting evidence regarding the exact times and dates at which the events of this case took place.
TW: guns and alcohol
I wasn’t expecting any mail that day, but still, I wasn’t too surprised when a letter fell through the flap in my door onto the floor. I just walked over and picked it up, thinking it was a bill or something like that. It was actually an invitation to a party. I didn’t exactly know the person whose name was on the invite, but I figured it was a friend of a friend. The rest of the day was normal.
When I woke up the next morning, I ate my breakfast, went to work, came home and sat down to watch TV. Then my phone went off, reminding me that the party was in half an hour. I quickly got changed and examined the invitation one more time to get the address. After that I was in the car and on my way.
On the drive, I noticed that I hadn’t ever been this way. It was deserted and although my GPS still recognized it as a road, it was lagging out. Like, the little car icon was disappearing for seconds at a time before reappearing again. “Weird,” I thought, but I continued the drive anyway.
When I eventually saw the house where the party was, I was shocked. This was more like a building dedicated solely to parties than a house. There was a pool, a grill, and it had a huge backyard. The house was at least 3 stories tall and massive.
I hopped out of my car and walked up to the door. It opened before I could knock and I pushed on it slightly. Already the stench of alcohol hit me in the face but it wasn’t surprising. I opened it all the way and saw what could only be described as a rager. People were dancing to the EDM that filled the air. There was a white folding table with red plastic cups that I assumed were filled with drinks. I walked over and picked one up. I didn’t recognize anyone there, but I wasn’t gonna leave just yet. A girl strutted over to me and asked me to get her another drink. “Umm… okay?” I said, picking up another cup from the table and handing it to her. “Thanks” she slurred and turned around. She then threw the contents of the cup onto another girl.
What came next was a flurry of swears from the girl who was drenched in beer. “Are you kidding me, Carla? It’s my birthday!” The girl screams. Carla then smirked and said “Oops, it was an accident, I promise.” But the wet girl wasn’t buying it. She pulled out her phone and called who I could assume to be her partner. She was unintelligible as she yelled at him to get over to the party.
I just took a sip of my drink but almost spilled it all over myself as a huge, burly man burst through the door with a shotgun. I immediately ran out of the room and found the back exit. I was feeling dizzy, the eminent danger almost making me fall. I heard screams from inside and I jumped into my car and drove away.
As soon as I got home I just hopped into my bed and went to sleep, trying to forget what I’d just witnessed. I would’ve called the cops but I was already panicked enough and I thought there might be scenarios where I could be at fault. The next morning I got onto my laptop and searched up the address of the party. A news article popped up first, it read: 13 PEOPLE KILLED IN PARTY SHOOTING! Recently there was an altercation between two girls at a party. This led to a boyfriend of one of the girls, who had a criminal record of assault and even an attempted murder charge, to bring a shotgun to the party and shoot and kill 13 people. Another 2 were injured.
I couldn’t believe that they had written a news article about it so fast, but then I looked at the date at the bottom of the post. 14th August, 2013. I was confused as the previous nights events had only happened one night ago. I continued digging and learned that there was no record of anything happening at that house in over 8 years, so what happened there? How did I go to a party there and experience events that happened 10 years ago? I don’t have words to describe my panic and worry that something is wrong with me.
Has this happened before to anyone? I’ve tried to use any app or search website I can but there’s nothing. I can’t think of anything better than to post it here so that maybe I can get help. Maybe someone will have a reasonable explanation for why this happened. But even if someone can make it all make sense, one thing’s for sure: I am NOT going to a party again.
I had always loved being a radio host. It was my passion, my dream, my escape from the mundane reality of life. I didn’t mind the long hours, the modest pay, or the isolation. Connecting with my listeners, playing their favorite songs, and sharing my thoughts on various topics brought me joy, even though I’d never met any of them in person.
But everything changed on one fateful night, when an unexpected call disrupted my world.
It was nearing midnight, and I was in the midst of my late-night show. Having just finished playing a classic rock tune, I was about to introduce the next song when the phone rang. I picked it up and greeted the caller with my usual charm:
“Hello, you’re on the air with DJ Mike. Who’s calling, and where are you tuning in from?”
A momentary silence hung in the air, then a voice broke it—a deep, raspy voice tinged with urgency and fear.
“Hello, Mike. I’m sorry for interrupting your show, but I need to talk to you. It’s crucial.”
“Of course, go ahead. What’s on your mind?”
“I know the truth about Project X.”
A shiver ran down my spine. Project X had long been dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but the way this caller spoke made me question my skepticism.
“What do you mean? What is Project X?”
“I can’t reveal everything now. It’s too risky. They might be listening. But you need to know this: You’re in danger, Mike. You’re a part of Project X.”
“What? How? What are you talking about?”
“Your radio station isn’t what it seems. It’s no ordinary station. It’s a transmitter for Project X. They use it to broadcast signals to the surrounding area, and you’re their unwitting subject, Mike. They’ve been experimenting on you for months.”
My disbelief and anger surged. This had to be a sick joke.
“That’s absurd! Impossible! Who are you, and how do you know all this?”
“I was one of them, Mike, or at least I used to be. I worked on Project X, but I couldn’t bear it any longer. I couldn’t stand what they were doing to you and others. So, I decided to expose them and warn you.”
“Why me? Why are they doing this?”
“They have different goals, Mike. Some want to create a new world order, some seek war, some play God. But they all share one thing: They don’t care about human lives. They don’t care about you, Mike. You’re just a test subject to them—a disposable tool.”
My stomach churned. I wanted to end this nightmare, but something inside urged me to listen further.
“What should I do? How can I escape?”
“You can’t face them alone, Mike. But you can save yourself. You need to leave the station immediately.”
“Why? What’s going to happen?”
“They’ve initiated the countdown, Mike. In 10 minutes, they’ll activate Project X.”
“Activate? What will it do?”
“I don’t know precisely, Mike, but I’m sure it won’t be good for anyone who hears it.”
“Then let’s go! We need to get out of here!”
I dropped the phone and raced to the door, but it was locked, resisting my efforts.
Frantically, I searched for another exit, but none presented itself.
I was trapped within the station’s walls.
With Project X’s ominous voice echoing in my mind.
Panic set in as the seconds ticked away. I tried to reach out to the mysterious caller, but the line had gone dead. The countdown continued, and my heart raced.
Suddenly, a chilling thought struck me—what if the caller had been right all along? What if Project X wasn’t just a wild conspiracy theory? The pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. The strange occurrences I had noticed, the mysterious technical glitches during broadcasts, and the unusual experiments conducted at the station—all seemed to connect to Project X.
Desperation fueled my determination to escape. I rushed to the control room, hoping to find a way to override the broadcast. But the controls were locked behind a security code. I frantically searched for clues, and then it hit me—the caller had been part of the project. Maybe he knew the code.
I dialed the number again, praying for a response. After several agonizing seconds, the raspy voice returned.
“Mike, you don’t have much time. I can help you stop Project X, but you have to trust me.”
I hesitated for a moment, then replied, “Okay, tell me what I need to do.”
The caller guided me through a series of intricate steps to bypass the security code. With trembling hands, I followed his instructions, my every move synchronized with the ticking countdown.
Finally, I heard a soft click. The controls were unlocked. I quickly disabled the broadcast, ending the countdown just moments before the fateful activation.
A wave of relief washed over me as silence descended upon the station. I was safe—for now.
But the caller’s voice returned, filled with urgency once more. “Mike, you’ve stopped it this time, but they won’t give up. You’re a threat to them now. You need to disappear, go off the grid. They’ll come after you.”
I knew he was right. My life as I knew it was over. I had to leave everything behind—the radio station, my home, my identity.
As I hung up the phone, I realized that my passion for radio had unwittingly thrust me into a world of secrets and danger. I was no longer just a DJ; I was a target, a survivor, and a guardian of the truth about Project X.
With the weight of the unknown on my shoulders, I vanished into the night, determined to uncover the secrets hidden within the airwaves and protect the world from the sinister forces that lurked behind the radio waves.
Hello, A few weeks ago, I bought an old, long-abandoned house and, of course, did a lot of cleaning. In the process, I came across an old diary with the inscription "Lazarus Serum Experiments," which apparently belonged to the previous owner of the house. I find the content very intriguing, but even though it could potentially explain the peculiarities of the house, I simply can't believe that all of this actually happened. Anyway, here is the content of the first three entries:
March 25, 1986: From now on, I will document my experiments in this book, as I am soon ready to start my first attempt. My first subject is a bird that apparently died due to an illness and seems externally intact. I dare not use a larger subject as my initial research base, as I am well aware of the risks. Furthermore, the room for the subject is a windowless basement chamber with a double-lockable metal door. If all goes well, the substance I have created should be able to bring the subject back to life. Tomorrow it will finally be time.
March 26, 1986: The night passed agonizingly slowly as I waited for morning to break. My basement lab was filled with oppressive silence, only interrupted by the occasional drip of the faucet in the corner. The cold of this windowless room crept into my bones, creating an unsettling shiver. The metal door behind me felt like it was sealing out the darkness. The dead bird, which I had kept in a box, now lay on the rusty metal table in the center of the room. Its lifeless eyes stared at me, as if holding a grim secret.
With trembling hands, I secured the subject on the table, its wings and legs strapped with leather restraints. The light from the sparse bulb above me cast eerie shadows in the room, and I could hear the faint hum of electricity, which condensed into an ominous whisper in my ears. Slowly, almost mechanically, I picked up the syringe with the serum. Its contents shimmered in a pale, unnatural green. My heart raced as I inserted the needle and injected the first drop of the serum into the bird's lifeless body. I felt my breath catch as I slowly pressed the serum into its veins.
The subject suddenly moved, its wings twitched uncontrollably, and a faint, tortured caw escaped its beak. A shiver ran down my spine as I saw its eyes move as if slowly awakening to life. I left the room to prevent the reanimated creature from escaping and stared at the camera feed for the rest of the day, unable to detect any further movement from the subject. It seems that the serum was only successful for a very short time, but I will verify this with my own eyes tomorrow.
March 27, 1986: Yesterday's events have plunged me into a whirlpool of fear and confusion. When I returned to the basement this morning, the bird was on the table where I had left it. It lay motionless, as if it had never awakened, and its eyes were once again lifeless, showing no signs of life. It was as if nothing had happened yesterday. I glanced at the surveillance camera recording the room. The footage clearly showed the bird coming to life yesterday, but now it had reverted to its dead state. Uncertainty gnawed at me as I approached the subject. I checked for its heartbeat, but there was none, and there was no response at all. Carefully, I removed the restraints from its wings and legs to dispose of the failure and toss it into the flames.
As I leaned over to examine the creature more closely, I suddenly felt a cold draft and heard a faint fluttering. Startled, I jumped back, and the bird rose with a single, croaking cry. It landed on the floor of the basement and began to spin wildly, its wings flapping in an eerie pattern. But this time, it felt different. It was not a lively movement but a grotesque distortion of life and death, as if it were trapped between both states. I froze in terror, unable to take my eyes off the bird. It seemed to lose itself in the room as its cries grew more desperate. This was not a revival; it was a grotesque perversion of life that should never have existed. Panicked, I rushed out of the basement and locked the metal door behind me.
The subject remained inside, still trapped in this bizarre dance. I honestly don't know how to react to this development. What is certain is that I need to further examine the subject. Theoretically, it should starve to death on its own in the near future. In any case, I will call my good friend and colleague, Dr. Smith, today and ask him to pay me a visit.
I managed to find the second part of the report which contains the rest of Ms. Varn's record of her time in the mansion.
For those who haven't read it, here is part one: https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/16u2zrk/im_going_to_lose_my_job_for_showing_you_this/
Unfortunately, I can't include anymore of the police interview because the entire thing has been redacted in the copy I found. Anyway, please consider providing an anonymous tip if you possess any relevant information to this case.
Case File: #2023-109
Date: September 25, 2023
This report documents a significant development in our ongoing investigation into [REDACTED] in rural areas, previously believed to be unrelated. A recent [REDACTED] these cases. Ms. Varn was found in a severely weakened state and is currently receiving medical care.
Part Two of Samantha Varn’s written account of the events:
When my eyes fluttered open once more, the room remained dimly lit, but a heavy shroud of sickness had settled upon me, blurring the edges of my awareness. New and unsettling symptoms had joined the fray, deepening my concern. A cold sweat bathed my clammy skin, and my limbs felt leaden, as if weighed down by invisible chains. Each breath came with an effort, the air thick and oppressive.
I turned my gaze to the bedside table and noticed an arrangement of items, including note in Michael’s handwriting explaining that the glass of water and pills were meant to alleviate my fever and nausea. It was then that I realized Michael’s side of the bed was vacant.
But I didn’t have time to figure out where he’d gone. This sickness was tightening its grip on me, and I was running out of time. I couldn't remain passive any longer. If I was being poisoned, I needed to get medical attention, and soon.
Contemplating my limited options, I weighed the risks of attempting an escape. The mansion was located in a secluded area, and I couldn't be certain how far I could get on foot in my current state. The thought of fleeing into the unknown without a clear destination filled me with dread. But perhaps I could find Michael’s keys in here somewhere?
As I began to rise from the bed, my eyes caught something peculiar in the dimly lit room. There was a subtle glint of red, the same glint I had dismissed the other night as a trick of the eyes. In the darkness, I couldn’t figure out what exactly it was coming from, but a sense of foreboding crept over me.
My footfalls were hushed as I cautiously approached the far corner of the room. There, the elusive red glint finally resolved into focus, leaving me initially bewildered. Before me, the only discernible object was a well-loved stuffed bear, innocently seated in its customary corner. Why would a stuffed toy emit such an eerie red light?
From the depths of my foggy mind, a distant memory surfaced—a voice, my mother's voice, "Sam, be cautious when you stay at places you're not familiar with. I read a horrifying story about Airbnb owners secretly putting hidden cameras in their rentals. They hide them in things like smoke detectors and alarm clocks…”
I stared at the bear, and it was then that I realized that the bear was staring back. And someone, whether it was Eleanor, Victor, or even Michael, was watching.
Panic surged within me as I contemplated my next move. I was certain that my expression had given away my realization, so I needed to come up with a plan, and quickly.
In a swift, deliberate motion, I decided to knock over the bear before moving to the center of the room. My footsteps were loud and deliberate, making it sound like I was heading for the exit. This could my best chance to fool whoever was watching into thinking I had left the room.
Then, as silently as I could, I maneuvered my body under the bed and hid there, trying to steady my rapid breaths. The seconds ticked by like hours as I strained my ears to catch any sign of movement or conversation outside the room.
It wasn't long before I heard hushed voices coming from another hallway in the direction of the bathroom. My heart pounded even harder as I listened – Eleanor and Victor were searching for me.
“We can’t let her escape.” Victor hissed, his voice laden with urgency.
Eleanor agreed, and I listened as the two of them conferred in hushed tones. With each passing moment, their voices grew fainter as they moved farther down the corridor. This was my chance. I couldn't stay hidden under the bed forever, and I needed to learn more about what was happening in this mansion.
I eased myself out from under the bed and silently made my way to the door. I still had no idea where Michael was, but I couldn’t just stay here, so I’d have to take the risk that I might run into him as I moved throughout the mansion.
The hall outside was lit only by moonlight, and I could hear the faint echoes of footsteps in the distance. It seemed Eleanor and Victor gone downstairs, likely thinking I was heading for the front door, so for now, I was relatively safe on the upper floor.
Still, the urgency of my situation pressed upon me, like a vice around my chest. If they were closing in on the exits downstairs, any attempt to leave would prove futile. Escaping was out of the question, but with every passing moment, my need for medical attention grew more urgent.
My only hope rested in finding information about an antidote, something, anything that could save me from the poison coursing through my veins. I stood there in the suffocating darkness, contemplating my limited options as panic began to bubble within me.
Michael, Eleanor, and Victor were deeply connected to this place, their secrets hidden within its walls. I needed to think like them, to consider where they might have concealed information about the antidote.
As I mulled over our shared experiences in this nightmarish mansion, one place stood out in my mind: the room with the suspicious open door. It had seemed significant to Michael, that much was clear. There must be a reason why he didn't want me to see it.
With a sinking feeling, I realized that if this room held the answers I needed, it might also be locked. I needed to find the key – the key to my possible salvation.
But where would I start looking? The upstairs was vast and labyrinthine; it could be anywhere.
Worried I'd been standing in one place for too long, I continued to move forward, my steps muffled by the plush carpet. While walking, my mind wandered back to the night I had first noticed the red light in the corner of my room, and the eerie figure I had glimpsed in the hallway. At the time, I had dismissed it as a trick of my imagination, but now, with the weight of suspicion on my shoulders, I considered another possibility.
What if someone had been watching me that night? If they were so concerned about me leaving the mansion, perhaps… perhaps it was Victor who I’d seen, making sure I didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to. After all, Michael had been in bed with me, and the figure had been far to tall to be Eleanor.
I froze in place, anxiety coursing through me as I wiped the sweat from my forehead with trembling hands. If my suspicion held any truth, Eleanor and Victor's bedroom might be located down that very corridor. Perhaps they had the key?
It was worth a shot.
Returning to the corridor, I proceeded methodically, checking each door with the utmost care, determined to remain as silent as possible. But it didn't take long before the distant sound of approaching footsteps reached my ears, injecting a renewed sense of urgency into my quest.
I fumbled with sweaty hands, jiggling one doorknob after another, my desperation mounting. Each failed attempt added to the torment of impending discovery. The footsteps were nearly upon me, their rhythm growing ever more menacing.
With a final, desperate push, I tried one last door, and it gave way with a soft creak. I slipped inside the room, my heart in my throat, and closed the door as gently as I could. My heart raced, and my breath came in shallow, frantic gasps as I moved deeper into the room.
Beyond the door, the footsteps grew closer with the sound of impending danger. My eyes darted around the room, my blurry vision making it even more difficult to see the outlines of furniture and objects in the darkness. But I needed to hide.
I reached a hand into the darkness, trying to feel my way into the room to find something I could tuck myself behind. My fingers brushed against a cold, hard surface, and I realized I had found the edge of a heavy, wooden wardrobe. With cautious movements, I eased myself behind it, crouching low to the ground.
The footsteps paused just in front of the door, and my heart felt like it might leap out of my chest. I pressed my back against the wall as the doorknob finally turned.
A sliver of moonlight from the corridor spilled into the room, casting eerie shadows on the floor as the door creaked open slowly. I listened, frozen in terror, as the figure on the other side of the door stepped into the room. And then, with a sharp click, the room's light was switched on.
The room's light burst forth, and for a brief moment, I was blinded by its sudden intensity. From what I could see, it turned out I’d managed to find Victor and Eleanor’s bedroom, but it was too late. I was certain I would be found, that my heart would betray my presence with its deafening thuds.
But then, just as quickly as the light came on, it was gone again, and whoever had entered the room shut the door behind them. Waiting for the footsteps to disappear, I remained crouched behind the heavy wooden wardrobe.
My eyes darted around the room, strained and blurry, as I wondered where to look for the key I needed. Perhaps a dresser or a desk held the key? Silently and unsteadily, I rose to my feet and began to explore.
I decided to start with a large wooden dresser on the far side of the room. It loomed like a monolith in the darkness. My fingers fumbled in the obscurity as I cautiously pulled open the dresser drawers one by one, searching for anything that might resemble a key.
The drawers yielded a trove of clothing, neatly folded and organized, but no key. I felt a growing sense of frustration and anxiety as I realized that time was slipping away, and I was growing weaker by the minute, a sensation of pins and needles now spreading from my fingertips to my toes.
I couldn't help but wonder about the nature of the drug they had administered to me. What purpose did it serve? If they wanted me dead, why hadn’t they done it while I was sleeping?
For a moment, I considered surrendering to the numbness and fatigue that threatened to overtake me, but then, just when hope seemed to be slipping away, my fingers brushed against a cold, metallic surface buried beneath a stack of letters on the small writing desk. I grasped it and pulled it free, my heart pounding with anticipation. It was a key, its edges worn and tarnished, but it held the promise of answers.
Now came the most daunting part of my plan—making my way through the maze of hallways and finding my way back to where I had seen the open door. Even in the daylight, it had been a bewildering route, but in my current state, it felt like a near-impossible task.
But what choice did I have? I couldn’t stay in here forever. For all I knew, I could be dead in the next hour if I didn’t figure out what they'd given me.
With the key clutched tightly in my hand, I ventured out of Victor and Eleanor's bedroom and into the dimly lit corridor. Every step was a struggle, every corner an obstacle to be overcome. The mansion seemed to conspire against me, its layout designed to confound and disorient. My vision continued to betray me, and the numbness in my limbs only grew more pronounced.
I was somewhere deep within the maze of hallways when I heard footsteps again. My heart raced as I strained to listen. There were two distinct sets approaching this time, and panic surged within me as I realized that every door in this hallway was locked, leaving me with no place to hide. I had no choice but to turn back.
I’d done my best to etch every corner and turn into my memory. Left at the end of this hall, then another left. Through the third door, and turn right. I walked briskly, my senses on high alert.
But as I reached what should have been the next move, dread settled in. Something wasn't right. There was supposed to be a door there, an unlocked door leading back to the bedroom.
My heart pounded louder as the voices of Michael and Eleanor grew louder too, drawing nearer with each passing second. I was trapped at a dead end, and there was nowhere to hide.
I pressed my body up against the wall, flattening myself into the wallpaper as though I could merge with the shadows. My mind raced, searching for any last-minute solution, but the darkness offered no solace.
My heart felt like it might explode as their figures came into view. Michael and Eleanor walked side by side, their voices hushed as they continued their conversation.
Michael's voice carried a tone of solemnity. "…We mustn't underestimate the significance...
Eleanor hummed in agreement. “It’s been passed down through generations, and now it falls to us to carry it out."
Their voices faded as they turned in the opposite direction, and I released a breath I didn't realize I had been holding. I wasn’t sure if I could take another close call like that, so I had to move quickly.
Once the sound of footsteps receded, I pushed through the darkness. At this point, with no energy to spare, I didn't bother keeping track of directions. But I could tell, after passing through numerous dark rooms and corridors, that I was getting close when the wallpaper changed. The familiar pattern I had seen before came into view, and my heart leaped with hope.
But it didn't last long.
“Samantha, where are you?” Michael’s voiced reverberated off the walls, bouncing at me from every direction.
I spun around, panic gripping me like a vice. I couldn't tell where his voice was coming from, or how far away he was. It was as if the very walls were taunting me, distorting sound and space.
"Come on out Samantha!” he called again, the desperation in his voice cutting through the darkness.
I swallowed the lump forming in my throat, my body trembling from fear and exhaustion. The poisoned haze in my mind was becoming more pronounced, and I could taste the metallic tang of blood in my mouth.
Holding back sobs, I pushed forward as Michael's voice continued to echo through the corridor, now mixing with Eleanor and Victor’s shouts and taunts.
“There’s no way out, Samantha…”
“Why don’t you make all our lives easier and just tell us where you are?”
With the key still clutched tightly in my hand, I stumbled through an open set of double doors into a large room, the world spinning around me. My legs gave way, and I collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. My vision swirled with darkness and disorientation.
I laid there for what could have been one moment or thirty, time a muddled blur in my addled mind. The room around me seemed both familiar and strange, its details dancing in and out of focus. Shadows played tricks on my exhausted senses, and I fought to regain control over my trembling limbs.
But this room… there was something so familiar about this room… Through the haze of my delirium, I managed to lift my head and focus on the outline of potted plant sitting quietly in the corner. Recognition flooded my foggy mind, and I knew in an instant that this was the room with the door I'd glimpsed before.
I’d found it. I’d found it. Just one more push and I’d be inside.
I began to crawl across the floor, digging my nails into the carpet, the teeth of the key pressing into my palm. Each movement felt like an agonizing effort, and I could no longer remain silent amidst my suffering. I groaned between ragged breaths and licked salty tears from my lips.
But I was so close now. Just a couple more feet. Gritting my teeth against the pain and exhaustion, I ignored the fact that Michael’s voice was growing louder. I ignored him telling me he knew where I was and that he was coming for me.
Pushing myself onto my knees, I fumbled with the key, my shaking fingers struggling to find the right position. Michael's voice grew nearer, echoing in the corridor, and I could hear the faint click of a flashlight being turned on.
With every second that passed, my desperation increased, my breaths coming in short, frantic gasps. The key refused to cooperate, slipping from my grasp as I fought to steady my hand.
Michael finally reached the room, his flashlight falling upon me as a a vicious shout left his lips. But then I managed to find the right angle. The lock turned with a satisfying click and I reached up for the doorknob. He must have lunged forward, because I felt his fingers brush against my shoulder, a desperate attempt to grab hold of me.
But it was too late. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I flung myself through the open doorway with all the strength I could muster. The lock clicked into place just in the nick of time, and I leaned against the door, gasping for breath.
All around me, dust hung in the air like a shroud, and old furniture was draped in heavy, moth-eaten cloths. Cobwebs adorned the corners, weaving a tapestry of neglect. I scanned the faded posters of women plastered on the far wall. They were a bizarre collage, a montage of women, all of them young and beautiful.
But I recognized some of them.
These weren't just posters of random women; they were missing persons posters. These were women whose disappearances had made headlines, their stories filled with despair and unanswered questions.
As the chilling realization settled over me, Michael's desperate fists hammered against the old wooden door. With every thud, I clutched the key even tighter, my knuckles turning white from the tension.
I turned to face the door, watching as it rattled on its hinges with each furious blow; it protested with eerie, mournful creaks between his cries of fury and desperation. But the door held steadfast, its ancient lock offering me a sliver of sanctuary. As I stared and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could finally make out a carving above the door, made with crude yet deliberate strokes into the wood – a Roman numeral, 73.
A memory stirred within me, like a faint echo from the past, a glimpse of clarity amidst the chaos.
Eleanor's laughter, that hint of nostalgia in her voice. "I couldn’t bear to change it," she had said about her bedroom.
“That’s very sweet.” I had smiled then, amused by the quaintness of it all, unaware of the sinister truth lurking beneath the surface.
But now, in this moment of desperation, I remembered their words. Michael and Victor reminiscing about "73," about an old rope ladder. It was more than a mere memory; it was a clue, a way out.
I began to search the room. My eyes scanned the corners, the walls, and every inch of the floor for any sign, any hint of that ladder Victor had mentioned.
Outside, the pounding on the door continued, growing more frenzied by the second. By now I could tell that more fists had joined the fight, their combined efforts shaking the ancient door in its frame.
Amidst the chaos, I heard Victor's voice, a calm and deliberate contrast. "It’s no use – we need to pick the lock.”
My heart skipped a beat as the words reached me, followed by the sound of something being jammed into door.
I frantically moved aside moth-eaten cloths and inspected the room until my fingers brushed against something hard and rough. I followed the sensation and uncovered an old wooden chest hidden beneath layers of dust and fabric.
My heart pounded as I opened the chest, and there it was—a coiled rope ladder, weathered and aged, but intact.
There was no time to be relieved. I raced to the window, my heart pounding as I fumbled to attach the rope ladder as behind me, I could hear the doorknob jiggling.
With the ladder in place, I wasted no time. I descended, rung by rung, bathed in the silvery glow of the moon as I made my escape. The ladder didn't reach the ground. I had to jump from at least ten feet.
But then my feet were in the cool, damp grass and I ran. The world outside was a blur, my vision clouded by the poison and exhaustion, but somehow my legs kept moving. The mansion was secluded, hidden away from prying eyes. But as I sprinted through the darkness, I saw a faint, distant light.
I couldn't tell how far I ran or how long it took. Time and distance became meaningless in my frantic escape. My mind was a haze of fear, pain, and confusion.
Eventually my legs gave out, and I collapsed. I gasped for breath, my chest heaving, and my body trembling with fatigue. But the faint light I had seen was now closer, and I could make out the shape of a house. I crawled towards the light, my vision dimming.
My father had always forbidden me to spend the night or be alone at my grandfather's apartment. Whenever I asked my father why, he simply shrugged and said I would understand when I grew older. Well, now I’m 35 years old, and guess what, I do understand, or at least I thought I did. During my teen years and well into my 20’s, I always assumed my grandfather suffered from some kind of mental illness - some of my friends even suggested that he was some kind of a creep, especially after what happened to my brother.
My grandfather spent a lot of time in Africa, and I do mean a lot of time. I only did see him in the summertime, when he came home to Denmark to visit me and the rest of my family. He always brought home gifts, so me and my brother were always looking forward to his visit. However, as the years went by, the gifts became stranger, and stranger. I do remember one time, when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, my grandfather brought home some kind of lizard, which was preserved in a bottle of alcohol. He explained to me that the contents of the bottle would protect me, but how and from what I can’t remember. I do however remember how I almost cried as I pulled the lizard bottle out from the case and my fathers outrage about this strange gift.
My grandfather was a very handsome man, and you would never have guessed his real age. He was a real ladies man, and he seduced a lot of women, even some of my moms friends, which as I grew older, really impressed me, since they were half his age. When I think about it, I do remember some of my lady friends found him to be quite interesting and attractive. Everyone seemed to get along with him fine, and this just added to my confusion about not being allowed to be alone at his place.
The apartment my grandfather lived in was a part of a larger building my father owned. The apartment was on the top floor and quite big and spacious. Most of the supporting wood beams were exposed, and some of the ceiling beams were covered in strange signs and symbols. Because the apartment's floor was covered in a dark carpet and the wooden beams themselves were somewhat dark, the few windows had some trouble lighting up the place, so the place had a very cozy and relaxing atmosphere.
My favorite room was the living room. The living room was a rather large room, at one corner was a small office space, with a desk, chairs, bookcases, and in the opposite corner a glass cabinet with a small table. In the middle of the room were a seating area with 5 comfy chairs, each with their own small standing ashtray in brass and oak, and a round table with plenty of space. At the back of the room was the best feature, a rather large rustic stone fireplace, quite uncommon in danish apartments. In front of the fireplace were two big majestic chesterfield armchairs. A square mahogany table with maple inlays stood between the chairs. At either side of the fireplace were two towering mahogany bookcases, with carved symbols and figurines on the edges.
The apartment was always very clean and tidy - even when he was in Africa, this always puzzled me, since my father insisted that no one would come and clean. Throughout the apartment were a lot of artifacts, charms, relics and other strange stuff. One of the more exotic things was a beautiful wooden door, with a very realistic naked African woman carved onto it.
I remember my brother and I were always allowed to play with all the small figurines, games, charms and of course, dress in all of the funny african outfits. There were only a few items we were forbidden to touch or play with - I do not recall how they looked, but they were all locked away in the glass cabinet in the living room. Only my brother was ever left alone at one time in the apartment when I was around 10 years old and he must have been around 12. I remember how he was crying and shaking when me, dad and my grandfather came back from the bakery and found him by the glass cabinet, which he somehow had unlocked and opened. My grandfather was furious and threw a tantrum, yelling and pointing in different directions, switching between danish and some unknown language, it was almost like he was scolding the empty air itself.
After that day, my brother never wanted to return to the apartment. I never got a straight answer from him about what happened, and the few times I have brought it up and asked what really happened, both my brother and my dad assured me that my brother was simply frightened by something, even though their eyes and demeanor always told a completely different story.
We slowly lost contact with my grandfather after that incident, he visited us fewer times, and almost stopped sending postcards. The gifts he brought when he did visit became stranger and stranger still, and after about 4 or 5 years almost all contact with him had ceased. Only my dad talked to him on special occasions.
After many, many years, the day came when I got a call that turned an otherwise sunny day into a dark one. My grandfather had died in Africa and apparently had been dead for some time. Therefore my dad had to fly to Africa to handle my grandfather's estate rather hastily, and for moral support, my brother chose to accompany him. Before my dad left, he asked me to check in on my grandfather's apartment, but with clear instructions that I was not to spend the night, or stay for any length of time and call him when I left. I of course asked why, like I had done so many times in the past, but before completing my sentence, my dad said in a rather angry and serious tone of voice “just do what I say boy! Please…I..I’ll try to explain everything later…” and then he handed me a spare key. “Alright” I thought, “grandfather's death had clearly hit him hard…”.
It is true what they say, time really does fly, and it had been maybe 20 years since the last time I was in my grandfather's apartment. The last time I was there was in my late teens, but I’m not actually sure.
As I parked my car and walked towards the entrance leading up to my grandfather's apartment, my stomach began to tense up. “Of course you feel this way” I thought, “It has been like 20 years since the last time you were here..it’s only normal”, so I dismissed the feeling and went inside.
I always loved walking up to my grandfather’s, as it felt like visiting a secret place. Because of how the building had been modernized and refurbished, the original staircase were no longer accessible from the inside floors, and a new entry way had been made in the form of a small door, which was discreetly placed in the gateway connecting the courtyard with the street. As I walked up the winding stairs, the squeaking sounds of the steps, the aroma of the old wallpaper and carpet put a small happy smile on my face. As a boy, these sounds and smells meant I was in for a treat, as I would soon get to see grandpa. “It’s truly been too long since my last visit” I thought.
At the top of the staircase was a small room, which functioned as a wardrobe. As I removed my coat and shoes I looked around curiously, like a little boy. The stool my dad broke 25 years ago still occupied the corner, the umbrella stand was, as always, full of empty bottles and not umbrellas and the shelves were littered with gloves, scarfs and other winter essential items.
I looked at the door leading into the apartment and froze for a moment. “This was the first time I would not be greeted by my grandfather” I thought, my smile fading away. I sighed while I opened the door and walked in.
As I closed the door behind me I stood in the rather big hallway, which connected all the various rooms. The apartment was calm and quiet, only the faint noise of traffic from the street down below pierced the stillness. Even though I knew it wouldn't happen, I still kind of expected my grandfather to appear and greet me, but to no surprise the stillness prevailed. I sighed and started my tour around the apartment.
As I walked around, I could recognize most of the charms, trinkets and figurines. They stood exactly as I remembered. Even the scary old wooden mask grandfather used to put on, when we all danced around the place pretending to do an african dance, hung in its rightful place. I took it down and looked at it more closely, I couldn't help but smile, “This isn't as scary as I remembered” I thought and put it back half shaking my head still half smiling. I came to the bedroom and took a deep breath through my nose “Yep that's the smell” I thought, and continued my tour. I came across the glass cabinet in the living room, the very place we had found my brother screaming and crying. This memory almost washed away all the other, very pleasant ones of us playing at this exact spot, I sighed deeply and my smile had all but vanished.
As I walked to the fireplace I spotted the lizard bottle still with the birthday card attached to the neck, “That stupid thing” I thought as I walked past it. I reached the armchair in front of the fireplace and sat down. The chessboard me and my grandfather used to play was, as always, sat up on that beautiful mahogany table. I moved some of the chess pieces and thought about how he had tried to teach me the complex game. As I sat there thinking about grandpa and all of the strange stories he had told me, my eyes became watery as I thought about the last time we laughed together, and I let out a huge sigh.
After I had spent what seemed like an eternity in my memories, I called my dad and told him that the apartment was nice and tidy, as always. My dad and brother were still on their way to the airport, so we chatted for a bit, and I wished them a safe flight and left the apartment.
As I was walking towards my car, I bumped into one of my old childhood friends. We chatted for a while and decided to go out and grab a bite to eat, as I could really use some cheering up. As often happens in Denmark, we indulged in a fair bit of alcohol and after some hours we decided to part company. When I came back to my car, I thought about how much alcohol I had consumed. I tried to stand on one leg, which challenged my balance a fair bit. “Yeah, you shouldn't really drive anywhere” I said to myself. Now what to do I pondered, I could call a cap or just walk home, it is not that far, maybe a 45-50 minutes walk. “Or….you could just stay here tonight, no one would know…” I thought. After a short moral debate with myself, I decided to spend the night at my grandfather’s, afterall what harm could there be?
I walked up to the apartment, up the winding stairs and let myself in. As it was only around 8:30 PM, I decided it was a bit too early to go to bed, so I lit up the fireplace and proceeded to walk over to the liquor cabinet, which stood out in the hallway. This monstrosity was, as everything else in this place, a thing of beauty despite its size. It was made of African teak, had motifs of the African savanna and various animals carved into it, the cabinet legs resembled buffalo feet and the overall attention to details were just amazing.
As I looked at all the bottles I put on a big smile and nodded with satisfaction. My dear old grandfather had a lot of nice whisky, rum and other funny looking bottles, with some weird signs on them. “Surely they must be some kind of African tribal booze” I thought.
I grabbed a bottle of whisky, a Chivas Regal Salute 21 year old, not the most exotic bottle I could have picked, but I did really like the Chivas brand, and I had never sampled the 21 year old before. The bottle was a work of art, dark blue, and with a lion emblem molded into the bottle itself, right below the letters “Royal Salute 21 years”.
I picked up a nice and heavy crystal whisky glass, and was about to wipe it clean of dust when I noticed that it was spotless. “eh” I thought. In fact, the whole cabinet was spotless just like the rest of the apartment, something I simply hadn't noticed or given any thought too earlier. Clearly grandfather had hired someone to come and keep his place spotless. Afterall, he was very well off financially, and what other explanation could there be? Maybe my dad came and cleaned the place, that thought made me laugh a bit. I poured some of the whisky into the glass, swirled it around and smelled it “Damn that's some fine whisky“ I thought, as I admired the deep amber color.
I kind of strolled back to the fireplace, almost zig-zagging, while I looked around at the various things.The Lizard bottle was placed on the round table in the middle of the living room, making it hard to ignore, so I walked up to it. It was a plain 1L glass bottle, with a fully intact lizard inside, which filled almost the whole bottle. I put the whisky glass on the table and picked up the Lizard bottle. As I picked it up, all of the scales from the lizard began to swirl around in the clear liquid, “God, that’s disgusting” I thought.
As I held the bottle I could feel some indentations on it. Upon closer inspection, there were two lines of symbols encircling the bottle at the top and bottom, the dim lightning made it difficult for me to identify them properly, so I gave up and switched my attention to the birthday card and as I opened it, a small envelope fell out. The envelope was of a newer date, but still felt kind of old. The letter was addressed to me “Too Karsten from grandpa”. “A letter for me…funny how neither dad og my grandfather had never mentioned it” I thought. I swapped the disgusting lizard bottle for the nice glass of whisky and walked over to the fireplace.
As I sat down in the comfy chair, I smelled the whisky one last time before taking a sip and damn, that Royal Salute did not disappoint. It was very smooth and I could clearly differentiate all of the different notes in the whisky, the finish lingered on and was very pleasant. I opened the letter and started reading:
“Dear Karsten…” it read.
“I imagine you are reading this letter because I died in Africa. I love you Karsten, and always have, but first things first.
I know your dad has warned you many times about spending any length of time in my apartment. If by any chance you are at my apartment as you are reading this, please Karsten, leave now, and take the Lizard bottle with you, it’s on the roundtable. I will explain everything on the following pages…”
“Leave now…?” I thought, as I took another big sip of that exquisite whisky. A strange unnerving feeling was slowly creeping through my body as I began to tap the whisky glass with my index finger. I have never seen myself as a superstitious person, and I absolutely did not believe in any divine power or any hocus pocus stuff. Even still, I could not shake that unnerving feeling, that I ought to follow the direction of my grandfather.
“Leave now…? Well… not until I have a refill and read the rest of this letter” I chuckled, while I emptied the glass of its flavorful content.
As I walked over to the liquor cabinet, I thought about all sorts of reasons why I was not allowed to stay at the apartment. It sort of made sense, that children should not be left alone with all sorts of valuable and fragile relics. Hell, I remember when I was a boy and I accidentally bumped into the shelves in the hallway, and an old clay War Mask fell out and hit the floor, and shattered into a million pieces. But now? I could honestly not come up with a good reason for leaving. After all, I was not a stranger but family, and I had no intentions of rummaging through my grandfather's things, so what harm could there be?
As I was refilling my glass, my eye caught something, a small latch at the back of one of the shelves in the liquor cabinet. My curiosity quickly got the better of me, so I moved the bottles out of the way so I could get a better look. Sure enough, there seemed to be an extra compartment in the cabinet. It was not hidden as such, but you sure had to look closely to spot it. “I’ll look at this later” I thought, since the letter from my grandfather still occupied the majority of my thoughts. I returned to the fireplace, stoked the fire and sat down, sipping some of the whisky, god it was a real treat.
“Alright, let me get back to this letter and see what all of the fuss is about” I thought as I picked up the letter and turned the page.
“Karsten, I’m sorry I can’t explain this in person, it would have been a bit easier and I fear you will not take my words seriously.
Your brother has already encountered some of them who linger in my apartment. It is very important that you go and talk to him, he will make you understand all of this much better than I ever can.
The following pages contain a set of instructions, take them and the Lizard bottle with you to your brother. Be very gentle with the Lizard bottle, you do not want to anger it.
I sat for a moment, tapping the whisky glass with my index fingers, baffled by what I had just read. Surely this must be some kind of joke, or the scrambled thoughts of a mentally ill man. I was nevertheless intrigued and continued reading these so-called instructions.
The next pages were clearly of a much older date, the paper was rippled and the ink had almost faded away in a few places, as I held the pages the musty smell of old paper started to fill the air. The sentences were written with very fine coherent writing, making it difficult to read for someone like me, who grew up only really using block letters. Alas, I gave it a go anyway.
The Sangoma has given me clear instructions about the spirit, which she has bound in the Akkedis for you, in payment of the debt she owes you.
The spirit is very strong and should offer you excellent protection, should you ever need it.”
I sipped some whisky and thought for a minute, “Sangoma…I do believe that means shaman….Akkedis..? Akkedisss….? Hmm..” I had no idea what that word ment and continued on reading.
“When you need the gift from the Akkedis, pour the liquid around you in the sign of Nyame Nwu Na Mawu, now the gift will be upon you.
Do respect the bottle and treat it well, it is a home now, remember this.
When you use the Akkedis, have the Gris-gris ready to take in your mouth, so you do not become its home. Very, very important.
I wish you well.
On the following page were some symbols and drawings. One of the symbols was circled, clearly this was important somehow. At the bottom left of the page was a rather big drawing of some kind of amulet with the sentence “Gris-gris” written under it.
“That amulet, I have seen that before…” I thought, as I sipped that delicious whisky. The rest of the pages were so faded away, I gave up trying to read them. I carefully folded the pages back into the envelope and then just sat there, listening to the crackling sound of the fireplace, watching the flames dance, while I tried to understand what I had just read.
“What had my brother encountered? Surely they don't mean ghosts…that's…..that's just silly” I thought. I had stopped tapping the whisky glass, the unnerving feeling had passed, and been replaced by a cozy, almost happy feeling. Of course it had, alcohol and a fireplace have a tendency to relax the mind. I began to poke the coal and burning wood with the fire iron, as I continued my thoughts about this whole matter. After I had downed the rest of the whisky I looked at my watch “9:30 pm”. “Still not bedtime yet” I thought, “ I still have things to do here.” thinking about the compartment in the liquor cabinet.
As I walked back to the cabinet, the Lizard bottle caught my eye again. I stopped and looked at it, the scales were still swirling around in it, even though it had been some time since I had disturbed its peaceful slumber. “That's strange” I thought, and moved on.
At the liquor cabinet I unhatched the latch and opened the compartment. It was rather small and filled with dust and spider webs. “Interesting…” I thought, nodding my head in acknowledgement. I could just make out what looked like a bottle. The compartment was just big enough that I could get my hand inside and wiggle the first bottle out of its dusty tomb. The bottle was of an unknown brand and had no identifiers on it, “Secret African savanna booze” I thought with a half smile. I wiggled my hand back inside the compartment and slowly felt around. “Another bottle, yes…” I said to myself as I wiggled the bottle out. As I dusted the bottle off I recognised it as a Macallan, no doubt about it.
“Ohh my…” I almost said out loud, as I examined the bottle, my hands began to shake lightly. This was no ordinary Macallan, but a bottle from 1940. I do know a bit about whisky, and this, it's worth a small fortune. I carefully sat the bottle back in the cabinet, making sure it was in a corner where it would not accidentally tip over. I resumed my examination of the compartment, what else would this small treasure chamber reveal? I spent some time combing and prodding through the dust and spider webs. It was difficult to maneuver my hand inside the compartment because of the small entrance and the odd angle of my arm. I had my whole forearm in, and was just about to give up when I felt it, a small box of sorts and by the feel of it, it was in a very bad condition. I slowly and patiently wiggle the box out and success, I had done it. It was indeed a small wooden box, but the wood had almost disintegrated. It had originally been locked by a padlock, but because of the sorry state of the box, the padlock hardly had any function, and as I was turning the box the whole thing just fell apart.
“What’s this?” I mumbled, fetching a beautiful gold link bracelet up from the remains of the box. The bracelet was about 18 cm long with rectangular plates linked together by small chains, each plate had one, two or three symbols on it. As I looked closer I did recognize some of the symbols. One was “Sunsum”, which simply translates to “Soul”. I did not quite remember what the symbol was used for. However, I did know the meaning of another symbol I recognized, “Eban” which translates to “Fence”, a symbol for safety and is used to separate and secure one self from the outside. I was a bit amused that I could use anything from my grandfather's many stories, as I cleaned the bracelet with my T-shirt. Of course I tried the bracelet on, I mean, did I really need a reason? The bracelet fitted my wrist like a charm, and weighed more than I expected. A strange feeling began to occupy my body and I felt a bit different, a feeling I couldn't quite describe.
“It’s been a long day” I thought, “You are clearly more tied and affected by all of this than you realize” and I decided not to investigate the small compartment any further. I looked at my watch “10:30 pm”, then I glanced over at the fireplace, which still had a fair bit of wood still left to burn.
“Alright, one more drink and then you go to bed” I said to myself. Before I poured my last whisky for the night, I needed to visit the bathroom. As I walked to the bathroom, I thought that maybe the real reason I’m not allowed to be alone here was because of the valuable stuff I might find and keep. But… if that was the reason, why on earth would my dad give me a spare key? I quickly dismissed the thought, since it didn't really make any sense.
The door to the bathroom had that carving of the beautiful African women. As I reached for the door handle, I found myself mesmerized by this fabulous wooden piece of art. I had never looked at the wooden figurine this way before, it was almost as if her wooden eyes stared back at me, gazing at me, looking through me and into my soul. I touched her leg, it was as smooth as silk and surprisingly warm to the touch, it was almost like…
“Damn, maybe you should skip that last drink and go straight to bed” I thought, as I collected myself and went into the bathroom to do my business.
The bathroom was smaller than I remembered, actually it was quite snug, smelled a bit weird and was surprisingly dirty, dust everywhere, even dead flies could be found in the small window. The cleaning personnel had clearly neglected this room for some time, which seemed a bit strange, but then again, they had done a wonderful job in the rest of the apartment so it must be by design. The room was quite boring, the only touch of Africa was a symbol painted on the toilet seat “Opelyf”, which I remembered to symbolize a good bowel movement or something in that order, I chuckled a bit.
As I left the bathroom I could hear what sounded like faint chatter, almost like a chanting of sorts. I could only assume that the noise came from one of the other apartments, afterall it was friday, so maybe somebody somewhere was throwing a party.
“Ah well, I might as well indulge in one last drink” I thought. “With any luck the neighbors will have quieted down by the time I finish”. So I walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured what I thought was the last drink that night, one last Royal Salute 21. On my way back to the fireplace, I paid a visit to one of the bookcases next to the fireplace in search of a book that could help me identify the various symbols on the bracelet.
The bookcase was only half full of books, not because of a lack of books though, but simply because of its sheer size. In between the books stood pictures of my grandfather with various african tribes, “He sure had visited a lot of them over the years” I thought while looking at them all. One particular picture stood out, its frame was a lot more decorated than the other ones, with various wooden flowers carved into the frame, so I picked it up and took a closer look.
The picture was black and white, and showed grandfather standing on the savanna with a rifle over his right shoulder looking real proud of himself, on his left stood a woman dressed in some funny outfit and with a wooden staff of sorts, her outfit was partly ripped apart and her left arm was bandaged up. In front of them layed a dead lion, which looked to be quite large, larger than any lion I had ever seen.I put the picture back and continued my search among the many books. I pulled out a book with various symbols and charms printed on the book cover, and with the title “African symbols - History, interpretation and Folklore. Vol. VII. By N. Abara”, this will properly do just fine I thought and walked off.
I sat down by the fireplace again, sipped some whisky and then just sat there for a while, holding up my right wrist to admire how the light reflected off the bracelet. It was almost as if I entered some kind of trance, just sitting there, listening to the neighbors' chants while the flames danced on the gold. It was almost like the chanting got louder the more I focused on the bracelet, it was surely something I couldn't quite explain or had experienced before. “That 21 year old whisky sure does wonders to your state of mind” I thought, as I collected myself. I opened up the book and began to read about the symbols on the bracelet.
Sunsum “Soul”, refers to a person's soul. As I mentioned before, I already knew this symbol. It was often a part of some of the stories grandfather told me. The same goes for the symbol Eban “Fence”, which often were engraved on doorways, in order to protect the people inside. I was a bit surprised to learn that the symbol also could be used to trap someone in a place.
Gehoorsaam “Obedience”, symbolized making someone of something obedient.
Anetobi “Spirit bridge”, symbolized to communicate with the spirit world or as a means of travel. Beheer “Control”, symbolized control over someone or something. Wawa Aba “Seed”, A seed of a Wawa tree, symbolized perseverance. Verlei “Seduce/Discourge”, making someone like you or discourage someone. Epa “Handcuffs”, which symbolized law and justice. There was one last symbol I couldn't find in the book.
“Interesting I thought”, looking at the various symbols on the bracelet and how they almost merge into one another. The book contained a chapter about various artifacts and charms and what the different combination of symbols could mean. I glossed over the various descriptions and images.
“What’s this now” I thought, as I saw three symbols next to each other with a “danger” marker on. I read the textbox:
“Epa, meaning handcuffs, is often used to describe law and justice. However, when combined with the symbols “Beheer “Control” and Eban “Fence”, the meaning tends to be interpreted as trapped or chained up.
The first encounter of these symbols in this configuration originates from the Shaman Imamu, and was used on the neck collars the prisoners of his tribe wore.
Legend describes that one cannot remove an item, be it clothing, neck wear, jewelry or something else with these symbols on it.
Only a specific talisman, a so-called “Vrylati” can help the person remove the item. See page 172 for a detailed description ”
“What a load of old African Superstition” I thought, while I looked at one of the bracelet links containing these three symbols. The noise from the neighbors seemed to have stopped, I sighed a breath of relief, downed the last whisky and was about to remove the bracelet when I felt a great fear rush through my body. It was like I was about to do something very dangerous, like jumping off a building or taking a dive into ice cold water. My left hand simply hovered over the bracelet clasp. I felt a big knot in my stomach and everything in my body just screamed: no!
“Whaa….whaat?” I surprisingly thought, as I tried to muster the courage to remove the bracelet. I laughed half hysterically, and couldn't quite take the situation seriously.
“Come now, this is ridiculous'' I thought, while laughing over the stupidity of the situation. “Just open the clasp and remove the damn bracelet '' I said loudly to myself. But the fear and the knots in my stomach just kept growing alongside my conviction to remove the bracelet.
The sounds of the crackling fire filled the living room, the flames danced silently as I sat in silence rubbing my left eyebrow and staring quite seriously at the bracelet with a firm look. I made another attempt, this time by placing the bracelet clasp at the edge of the table, and I felt it again, the overwhelming fear, like I was about to pull out a tooth. I just couldn't do it.
I looked down at the floor, bouncing my knee up and down in a fast pace, as I thought about all the rational reasons for what was happening. No matter how much I wanted to explain it away, I just couldn't. This was truly something different. I could feel how the fear started to creep into me, slowly but steadily.
“Maybe it’s time to leave” I thought, and quickly but calmingly stood up, moved the last burning log to the back of the fireplace where It could burn out safely and I went to the door. As I reached out for the door handle, my hand began to shake violently, and a feeling of pure dread filled my entire body.
I backed away from the door and the minutes ticked by, as I simply stood in awe and disbelief, my heart pounding. Here I was, an adult person, who had never given a thought to the supernatural, and somehow, I was what? Trapped in my grandfather's apartment? Simply because I was afraid to leave?
“Nonsens” I thought and reached out again, this time almost leaping towards the door. I managed to touch the door handle but nothing more, as my entire body seemed to scream with a mounting dread, my knees gave way as I stumbled backwards, shaking almost uncontrollable.
I sat in front of the door in a kneeling position, the shaking had slowly ceased but the dread still occupied my entire body, I felt like my stomach had turned into a dark pit of despair. I started to laugh hysterically and collapsed on the floor.
Out of breath and with tears in my eyes, I finally collected myself somewhat. I turned on to my back, gazing up at the ceiling, looking at the strange symbols on the beams, catching my breath. One of the symbols directly over the door seemed to almost glow, pulsating, humming, as if it was somehow alive, because of my watery eyes, I was unable to clearly identify what symbol it was. “Anytime now” I thought, as I fully expected to wake up and realize that all of this had just been a dream. But this didn't happen…
I felt very strange, like I somehow was questioning my whole existence in this mortal world. After all, how could all of this be real? It struck me, like lightning from a clear sky, “None of this is real” I thought, “clearly the whisky had been spiked with some kind of drug” I concluded “What other explanation could there be? Ghosts and spirits? African Voodoo?” I began to chuckle in disbelief while I wiped my eyes dry with my T-shirt.
A part of me didn't really believe this explanation. As a boy, whenever me and my dad visited the apartment, he always indulged in the many treats the liquor cabinet had to offer. Even when we were just making a short visit to collect my grandfather's mail, my dad would sample at least one glass of whisky or rum. And how could a drug have such a specific effect? I actually felt quite clear in my head, and felt fully in control of my faculties as I waved my hands around the air. However, the explanation seemed to help ease the fear and seriousness of the situation a bit, so I entertained it anyway.
“Alright” I thought, “Maybe you should just play along in this, eh, hallucination…what did the book say? Some talisman could remove the damn bracelet, maybe I should see if I can find one, maybe…maybe the hallucination will create one for me…?”. The thought didn't help much, but what could I do? I had to try something.
With the faintest of hope, I got back up on my feet and decided to rummaging through the apartment, hopefully I would find my salvation, or at least, uncover more information about what was actually happening here…
Hey everyone, I didn’t really know where to turn with this information, but I figured this subreddit would be a good start.
I know that at first glance, you would probably think that I needed to post this in some type of meteorological subreddit, but once you’ve read what I’ve experienced, you’ll understand that this is far more complex than what my fellow storm chaser friends can help me comprehend. Maybe someone in this group can help provide me with some much needed answers. Either way, I’ve got to get this off my chest. I just need someone to hear me… And believe me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved storms. My love of storms started from a very young age. I experienced my first tornado when I was seven.
“Jamie, come on, we need to get into the basement!” my younger brother shrieked, clutching our toy pomeranian within his trembling arms, tiny, peg-like feet kicking in protest as she yipped.
I waved him on, my face glued to the tree limbs scattered across the yard and the leaves plastered to the sliding glass door that led out to our backyard. I was mesmerized.
“Jamie!” he called out again, his voice a sharp protest over the sounds of the howling storm.
“Stop being such a baby!” I hollered as I rolled my eyes.
I watched as his big blue eyes watered, bottom lip jutting out. He was completely petrified. The polar opposite of me. My mother shook her head, shooting me a glare before she took one of his hands into hers and dragged him towards the stairs.
“Don’t be so hard on him,” she yelled, her brows furrowed. “Nathan?” My father turned towards her, his face no longer plastered to the window beside me. “Please don’t stay up here too long.” Her eyes were pleading, but her voice was steady and controlled. Even in the midst of chaos, my mother was always the picture of patience. The calm in the storm.
Fair warning, what I’m about to tell you is going to make me seem like I’ve completely lost my head, but I’m telling you right now, I witnessed this with my own eyes, and it most certainly happened. I’m a storm chaser, and today, the clouds fell from the sky. Well, correction, I thought they were clouds… But for the sake of what I’m about to tell you, that’s what they’re going to be called for now. Just bear with me. I know that you’re probably wondering if I caught this crazy phenomenon on camera, but… Well, let me just explain what happened. It will make more sense that way.
Without going into too much detail about where I live, it’s probably important to note that I reside in the South… In tornado alley. Now, what made this storm strange, is that in my specific area, tornadoes ramp up the most in April (291 tornadoes on average), and although late fall and winter tornadoes are not uncommon, this one was particularly bizarre.
I haven’t mentioned it to anyone except for one of my closest friends, but I know by the look on his face that he thinks maybe I had a moment of delusion, or psychosis, or perhaps something else entirely, but I know what I saw. And I know it was… Supernatural. This wasn’t just some mere storm. This is something I’ll never forget for as long as I live.
So here it goes: within my friend group of other storm chasing friends, I had quickly become known as the one who "danced with danger." I’d successfully chased some of the most life- threatening storms in my area, so I figured this one would be no different. In true Southern fashion, chasing storms is a lot like bull riding. You never know what you’re dealing with until you grab that sucker by the horns.
This was one of those instances. Nothing could have prepared me for the nightmarish encounter that awaited me that afternoon. When I hopped into my van to go chasing that storm, the last thing I’d expected was to get stranded in the middle of it.
“Jamie, you gonna be alright out there, man?”
The concern in my friend’s voice made me chuckle. “Listen, I’m sure this beast isn’t anything I can’t handle! I’m fully prepared to tackle it head-on.”
I heard the phone crackle before he responded. “I don’t doubt that you’re fully prepared, but this one’s supposed to be real bad. I really think you need to-”
Bryan’s voice cut out before he could finish his sentence. I sighed and tossed my phone over in my passenger seat. Stupid dead zone. As the storm approached, the atmosphere noticeably shifted. Hail rained down with a fury, pelting my windshield and beating against the sides of the van… But the winds were far worse.
Large gusts pushed and shoved against the vehicle with phantom-like hands as I fought to keep it on the road. My hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, knuckles whitened as I drove closer. This part was always my favorite. The buildup. The anticipation. The danger. It was almost like an adrenaline rush for me, and this storm was definitely my next fix. No matter what, I was hell-bent on capturing its true nature on camera. I just had a feeling about this one.
I worked methodically between keeping an eye on the road, keeping an eye to the sky, and keeping an eye on my doppler radar. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these, red is typically a target moving away from the radar, while green is applied to targets moving towards the radar. And right now? It was glaringly green. I’d struck gold.
When I finally came to a stop on the side of the road, a darkness enveloped me. As I positioned my storm-chasing van, my cameras recording, my radar equipment started to pulsate like a heartbeat.
“Gotcha,” I whispered aloud, excitement evident in my tone. This one was going to be massive.
But that’s when the impossible happened. The clouds, once swirling masses of gray and white, began to descend from the heavens. I cocked my head to the side, examining the sky with complete and utter horror. No longer fixed on the radar, my eyes widened. These weren't ordinary clouds. My heart pounded with terror when what appeared to be clouds descended closer and closer, quickly revealing something else entirely.
Ethereal and grotesque winged beasts fell from the sky in droves, their once-glorious wings now tattered and charred. My breath caught in my throat as I watched those celestial beings plummet from the sky, their faces twisted in agony and despair. A gasp caught in my throat as I watched them land all around the van, their bodies twisted and mangled, writhing on the ground. My radio cut in and out, the sound full of static. I couldn’t help but freeze when I made out the words of a familiar church hymn. I hadn’t heard it in ages, but it quickly sparked a memory.
“Mama, what’s he going on about up there?” My little khaki clad legs swung from the church pew as I twisted the string from the hymn book around my pointer finger.
“Shhh, whisper,” my mother chastised, shaking her head disapprovingly. “He’s talking about fallen angels.”
“But I don’t understand-”
“Jamie, just listen.”
With a sigh, I tucked my legs under me and wiggled up on my knees so I could see the preacher better. Mr. Jenkins always sat in front of me, and I couldn’t ever see past his shiny bald head unless I moved a little to the right and adjusted my seating position.
The preacher was a tall, lanky man, and his hair was all salt and pepper. He had an unusually deep voice, but it was calm and warm, nothing like the “fire and brimstone” preacher my mom said she grew up with.
“Then, war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.”
I cocked my head quizzically at his words before I looked over at my mother again, lightly tapping her on the shoulder and whispering into her ear, “Who is the dragon?”
“Satan. He’s about to tell you that, though. Just listen.” As she turned back towards the preacher, I pondered this for a moment before I did the same.
“But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in Heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
The words formed on my tongue before my lips could even comprehend what I was uttering.
Something deeply rooted within me knew I should flee, but morbid curiosity held me captive. I continued to film, unable to tear my eyes away from the grotesque spectacle before me. There had to be at least a dozen that I’d counted so far. Until the thirteenth fell right on the hood of my van. The metal made a horrible crunching sound as its body dented it, the windshield shattering as one of its monstrously large wings protruded straight through it. A terrified scream left my lips as charred feathers flew across my lap, the very tip of the wing brushing against the collar of my shirt.
My breathing stilled then. A breath caught in my throat as I peered at the being in front of me. Despite being horribly deformed from the fall, her legs twisted and bent at weird angles, she was breathtakingly beautiful. Pale blue eyes stared up at the sky, tears streaking down her porcelain cheeks. Long blonde hair encircled her head in a halo of waves, cascading down around shoulders that were matted with blood.
With widened eyes, I watched as her chest slowly rose and fell. Her lips parted and brows scrunched as she choked on blood the color of rubies. She was breathing. She was still alive.
“Father!” she cried out, her voice a strangled sort of sound. “Why have you forsaken me?”
With a click, I hurriedly unlatched my seatbelt and made a move to shove open the van door.
I froze, my hand still on the door handle. My frightened gaze traveled over towards the voice coming from the woman who was still splayed on the hood of my van. Her head had suddenly turned, those hauntingly blue eyes now fixed on me.
“H-How do you know my-”
“Come here.” Her voice called to me, soft and smooth, dripping from her lips like golden honey. It was the most melodic sound I’d ever heard.
My hand slowly released the door handle, reaching out towards her instead. Her outstretched hand was bloodied and raw, but her eyes were reassuring.
“I won’t hurt you,” her words promised.
With shaky hands, my fingertips trembled the moment hers intertwined within my own. And then, I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed. The amount of pain that radiated throughout my entire body felt like being dropped into a pit of fire, the flames licking my skin and burning at the flesh. Desperate cries left my lips as I tried to pull away, but she clung onto me with a vice-like grip. The only thing that cut through my agonizing wails was her voice, clear as a bell in my ear.
“Jamie…” she hissed, eyes glowing unnaturally bright as her hands gripped mine so hard that her nails bit into the tender flesh. “Do you believe in God?” she questioned, the words gritted out between clenched teeth.
My lips trembled as I cried, the pain almost becoming too much to bear. I shook my head and pleaded with her instead. “Please…” I croaked, my words coming out in between strangled breaths. “Please let go.”
“Answer me,” she demanded, blood pouring from her nose and seeping into the tattered skin of her cheek. It was as if she was transforming before my eyes, her body changing into that of something hideously frightening.
“Yes…” I managed to sputter out. “Yes, I believe.”
A dark chuckle fell from her lips, her body quaking as blood sputtered up from her throat, imitating a geyser. The flesh along her scalp wriggled and writhed. Her once beautiful blonde hair broke free and blew away in the breeze like a tumbleweed. Large blisters popped and exploded across her torso, a cottage cheese-like substance bubbling up and oozing across her body as she wasted away in front of me.
“You silly human,” she spat. “You believe in a God that dooms my soul to this kind of torment?”
My brows furrowed as I choked back another round of screams, the pain I felt transforming into ice cold water, so cold that it was as if I was burning all over again. Like I was being plunged beneath the surface of a polar cap in the dead of the winter. It was so cold that I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even scream.
“Please…” I begged. “Please stop this.”
And then, before I even realized what I was doing, I felt my lips form the words.
The words I’d said countless times before dinner. The words I mumbled sleepily when my mother tucked me into bed at night. The words I muttered under my breath just before my very last exam in college. And the words I cried when I helped lower my mother’s body into six feet of rich, muddied Earth.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven-”
“Stop!” she screamed, her body now melting into a thick sludge and sliding off of the hood of my car like melted caramel.
“Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” My voice shook as I fought past the pain, clinging to the words instead of focusing on the fear that was racing through my system and spiraling out of control.
“NO!” she screeched, the lower half of her torso now completely gone.
“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation.” My shouting grew louder as her fingertips slowly slipped from my own, the pain from before dampening into a dull throb.
“Jamie…” she pleaded, her eyes slowly melting out of her sockets like an over-easy egg.
Nausea stirred within me as I clenched my eyes shut and continued on. “But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever-”
“He’ll turn his back on you too!” I heard her cry before her fingertips slowly released mine.
When I eventually pried open my eyes, one last word fell from my lips as I leaned back against my seat, cradling my hand against my chest.
When I finally got the nerve to step out of my van, I was increasingly confused. There were no signs of the angel on my hood or the others on the ground. The only thing that lay in their wake was a large pile of dust, but even that was being swept away in the wind.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” I whispered under my breath.
As I staggered back towards my car, I searched high and low for my camera. I just needed some type of confirmation of what I’d seen play out before my very eyes. But when I finally found it, catapulted into the back of my van under the passenger side seat, there was nothing but scraps and pieces of it. I scrambled around in hopes of finding the SD card, but that was nowhere in sight. Every last speck of hope that I had in trying to prove that this actually happened was crushed. No one would believe me.
And then my phone rang.
“Bryan?” I croaked, as I leaned back against the driver’s side seat, still gaping at the giant hole in the windshield.
“Jamie, are you alright? That storm stirred up all kinds of stuff. It’s a complete mess. I don’t think I’ve seen one this bad in…”
As Bryan droned on, I couldn’t help but notice something. A singular white feather, slightly singed, sat on the dash of my car. Glass was scattered all around it, but my fingers couldn’t help reaching out towards it almost of their own accord.
“Jamie?” Bryan questioned. “You still there, man?”
“I, um…” As I stumbled over my words, the feather clutched between trembling fingertips, I finally managed to mumble out, “Bryan… Do you believe in God?”
“Well…” I heard him pause and then say, “I suppose so. I mean, there’s got to be something out there bigger than us, right?”
Nodding my head, more to myself than him, my eyes suddenly dropped down to my hand, the feather falling from my grasp and floating down into my lap. Five angry, red, crescent-like shapes were burned into my flesh. This was real. This was real. This was real.
With a shaky breath, I clutched the phone to my ear and breathed out a frightening realization. “Bryan, I… I always thought Heaven was in the sky. But now… I’m not so sure.”
I've always been a skeptic. Ghosts, aliens, monsters – they were all just stories to me. But after what I experienced in the Southwest, my perspective on the unknown has been forever altered.
I was on a road trip with my best friend, Jake. We had decided to take a detour through the Navajo reservation in Arizona, mainly because of the scenic beauty and the rich history of the area. We had heard tales of skinwalkers, but we laughed them off. They were just myths, right?
Our first day on the reservation was uneventful. We visited a few local spots, interacted with some of the locals, and set up camp near a canyon. As night fell, we sat around our campfire, sharing stories and enjoying the serenity of the desert. Around midnight, Jake decided to turn in. I stayed up, mesmerized by the stars. The Milky Way stretched across the sky, and I felt a profound sense of peace. That is, until I heard it.
A low, guttural growl echoed through the canyon. I froze, thinking it might be a coyote or a mountain lion. But then, I heard a voice. It was distorted, as if someone was speaking through a broken radio, but it was unmistakably Jake's voice. "Come here," it beckoned.
Confused, I turned to our tent. Jake was sound asleep. The voice called out again, this time from the opposite direction. I grabbed a flashlight and shone it towards the source. What I saw will haunt me forever.
Standing on a ridge was a figure. It looked like a man, but its limbs were elongated, and its eyes glowed a sickly yellow. It wore tattered clothing, and its skin was a mottled gray. But the most disturbing part was its face. It was Jake's face.
I stumbled back, my heart racing. The creature mimicked Jake's voice again, "Come here." It took a step towards me, its movements jerky and unnatural.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my arm. Looking down, I saw a deep scratch, blood oozing out. The creature had marked me. I bolted to the tent, shaking Jake awake. "We need to go. NOW!" I hissed.
As we sped away in our car, I glanced in the rearview mirror. The creature stood in the middle of the road, watching us, its yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.
We didn't stop driving until we reached the nearest town. We checked into a motel, and I spent the night researching skinwalkers. The legends said they were witches who could take the form of animals or people, using their voices to lure victims.
The next few nights were restless. I'd wake up to that same distorted voice calling my name, and the scratch on my arm seemed to burn and throb. It was clear that the creature had not only marked me but was now haunting my every move.
Jake and I decided to consult a local Navajo elder. He told us that by interacting with the skinwalker, I had inadvertently invited it into my life. The only way to rid myself of its torment was to confront it and perform a purification ritual.
With heavy hearts, we returned to the reservation. The confrontation with the skinwalker was terrifying, but with the elder's guidance, we managed to complete the ritual.
The haunting ceased, but the scars, both physical and emotional, remain. The Southwest is beautiful, but it holds secrets that are beyond comprehension. And I'll never set foot on the Navajo reservation again.
To all of you reading this, please, be careful when you venture into unknown territories. Some legends are rooted in truth, and some nightmares are very, very real.
I heard the soldiers sweeping the house from room to room, dogs furiously barking outside. A car that sounded like its muffler had fallen off sometime during the Vietnam War idled on the street. They found the old woman, laying comatose in her bed, and tried unsuccessfully to rouse her, screaming orders at her over and over with no response.
I heard footsteps coming towards the door of the closet where we hid, and my finger tightened on the trigger. I was resolved to go down fighting, and not be captured and given a slow death on a blood-stained concrete slab in the basement of some building where the townspeople never go.
I saw Agent Hudson’s eyes narrow, the scope of the gun raised to chest height as he prepared to start shooting. The air felt electric with tension, and I tried not to even breathe too loudly, lest we be heard. My heart beat furiously in my ears, each thud seeming to betray my presence to the enemy. I tried to calm myself, to stop the trembling that swept across my body.
But then a commotion started on the street, and the soldiers began issuing orders and rushing outside. Firing started, and screams of agony and horror shattered the small, poverty-stricken town.
I slowly opened the door, expecting some sort of trap. But the shrieking and wails coming from outside could not have been staged- there was too much pain in the voice, intolerable. It sounded like their vocal cords would rupture from the effort, and then the screams were caught off, one by one. I walked softly to the window, seeing Hee-Jin still laying on the bed, unconscious. I would have to give her a dose of an opioid antagonist to prevent a likely overdose that would cause her to stop breathing and turn blue. For drugs like etorphine, we carried a pre-loaded red syringe that read, “Revivon: For Animal Use Only”. I had wanted to laugh when I first read it, but the CIA had assured me that etorphine was the safest and quickest method of immobilization, and that this was an antidote that would work on humans as well.
As I got to the window, seeing the cracked glass panes and ancient, splintering wood, a sudden urge to turn away came over, and I began sweating heavily. Chills ran up and down my body, and I felt unreal, not in the moment. It felt like I had just woken up in the middle of a dream, but when I looked outside, I knew my mind could not have conjured such atrocities in the course of a nightmare.
On a white, skeletal horse sat a red rider, his body twisted and dark, his features demonic and inhuman. The hooves softly clicked on the dirt and stones as the man rode over bodies, their faces frozen in horror. It seemed like I was looking at something not from the angles and geometry of our universe, as if space itself twisted around this horrendous being of power.
Its massive head formed the shape of an upside-down triangle, its crimson skin as smooth as fresh paint. Two bulbous, glistening eyes stared out straight ahead, unblinking. They looked like two spherical obsidian stones, as large as baseballs and seemingly without eyelids. They looked insectoid, or even entirely alien. Like the eyes of a poisonous snake, they radiated malice and power.
Underneath, it had some strange exoskeleton, its bones on the outside of its body, grooved and smooth, like a red shell rippling down its thin chest. Its legs jutted out the sides of the undead horse, like the legs of a praying mantis- sharp and muscular.
The horse, despite having no flesh or muscle on its body, moved quickly. It had two pure black eyes, like those of its master, though not nearly as strange. They didn’t form a bulbous, spherical mass, like those of the rider’s, but looked like two black stones embedded into its skull, shining with oil-spot rainbows and colors that glimmered off its eyes as they caught the sun.
A North Korean man ran across the street, and the rider on the horse pointed a long, festering finger in his direction and uttered a single word. The man stopped immediately, his eyes widening, the blood draining from his face. He began to claw at his own eyes, ripping them and shredding them, until blood streamed from the sockets and two empty, lidless voids stared out.
He began to choke and turn blue, as if he had swallowed his own tongue, and fell to the ground seizing and kicking. I saw his fingernails and lips becoming cyanotic as he laid on the dirt, as limp as a rag doll.
As if in response, the creature on the skeletal horse gave out a deafening, demonic shriek. It echoed across the mountains, reverberating in eerie waves. The voice sounded like thousands of voices spliced together, some simultaneously fading out while others rose in a harmonizing cacophony. It made a nightmarish sound, and goosebumps rose on my skin as I listened to the cry of this creature, a cry as alien and inhuman as anything I had ever heard.
I realized Agent Hudson was no longer standing next to me. He had the red syringe in his hand, injecting some of the Revivon into Hee-Lin’s neck. Her breathing seemed slow, far too slow for comfort, and her face looked pale, but within seconds, her breathing began to accelerate, and her eyes started to flutter. With a confused, sleepy expression, she opened her eyes, seemingly not realizing where she was or how she got there. Agent Hudson looked up, motioning for me to come over. I looked out the window. I saw countless bodies on the road, men, women and children all laying haphazardly next to one another.
The creature had stopped its incessant, demonic screaming, but the echoes still came back over the mountains, slowly dying down over a few seconds. My ears rang from the intensity of it, a high-pitched buzzing that made it hard to understand Agent Hudson’s words. I listened intently, looking at his lips.
“She knows something,” he said, his eyes cold and slitted. “We need to find out what’s going on here. I think it’s something far worse than we imagined.” I heard the distant clicking of the horse’s hooves as it passed down the street, trampling the dozens of corpses on the way.
“Oh, no, I knew it,” Hee-Jin said woozily, her head spasmodically moving from side to side. Her eyes, wide and full of terror, looked up at the ceiling as she lay on her ancient bed. Agent Hudson looked at me.
“Your Korean is far better than mine,” he said. “She will trust you more than me, simply because you know the language and look like her.” I shrugged.
“I’ll give it a shot,” I said. I pulled up a rickety chair, continuously glancing out the window, but the strange rider had passed by. He no longer screamed, and the silence outside seemed deathly. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air, coming through the cracks and broken windows of the dilapidated house.
“Hee-jin,” I said, pulling up close to her. She moved her head on the pillow, meeting my eyes. They were wide and very dark, filled with nightmarish memories and terrors that I couldn’t imagine. “What happened during the Arduous March? What caused the bodies to come back?”
“We don’t know where it started,” she said, “but it seemed to come from the forests north of here.” I looked knowingly at Agent Hudson, who nodded. That was where the biological weapons facility we had been sent to investigate was located- directly north, as the crow flies, not more than three or four miles from this town.
“And what was ‘it’?” I asked.
“The undead, but not just them,” she said. “They followed something inhuman, something that rode by on a horse. I never saw it, but I heard stories from survivors. They said its horse shone a pale color, made of bones, with pure black eyes, like those of its master. The military told us that it was a monster sent by the Americans or the South Koreans, and that our great leader Kim Il-Jong would respond in force by sending a thousand monsters to their country for every one that invaded ours. But others whispered that it was made by the Democratic People’s Republic itself, though they would never say it publicly, for fear of execution.”
“And how did it end?” I asked. “When the famine ended, the corpses and the rider went where?” She shrugged.
“The Chinese sent reinforcements to the border regions, and the DPRK began to fill every town around here with soldiers. Most of the Korean soldiers were starving, just like us, and they would take our food by force, whatever little we had. If anyone was caught hoarding more than a couple meals worth, they would be publicly executed.
“I spent that time foraging in the forest for herbs and mushrooms, and trying to capture small game, even eating rats and mice I caught in traps. I avoided the town as much as I could after I saw the first of the dead rise to life. It seemed to last forever, but then one day, the soldiers were gone, and food began to come back in slowly. We were given rice, and then bread, and the Arduous March came to an end, with millions of our comrades dead.
“It was so bad back then, you couldn’t leave the bodies of your loved ones out. They had to be buried immediately after death, otherwise you’d come back and find their bodies gone, or meat cut out from the legs and arms. Cannibalism ran rampant, and people ate grass and dirt just to fill their stomachs.”
“But you’re still eating grass,” I pointed out. She smiled sadly.
“Only once a day now,” she said, as if that made it acceptable. And in these hellish conditions, maybe it was. I had immense respect for this old woman, who had survived such hardships and starvation, and seen such horrors unleashed.
“How come none of this ever got out?” I asked. “No one in the rest of the world knows anything about the dead rising during the famine. We know that millions of people starved, but even finding out how many was impossible.”
“What happens here, stays here- with our people. It is our burden alone. Living here is like living in a reinforced fortress, with no one allowed to leave or communicate with anyone outside. Anyone who tries to leave is shot on sight. The police make sure you know the consequences of trying to leave, or of communicating with the outside world. They say no one should want to leave, because we are the greatest society in the world, the most equal and the most feared. No one would attack us, and that’s why I think maybe… it came from our own people.”
I was about to respond, when I heard the cracking of twigs and brush moving right outside of the house. Moving quietly to the window, I looked outside. The rider was gone, but now a horde of walking corpses streamed into the town.
They had blood coming from their mouths, their noses, their eyes, streaming yellowish, viscous fluid out of gaping wounds that ran down their bodies. Deep gash marks, bullet wounds or marks of torture shown out on their bodies, revealing bones and ligaments and gore underneath- a horrific sight that sent waves of fear through my body.
The smell that came with the wave felt like a solid wall of fetid rot, an odor so thick I could taste it, and I nearly retched. Like rotten cheese, decomposing tomatoes and rancid meat, that smell emanated out from the hundreds of corpses that gnashed their mouths, chewing the air constantly.
Their bloody eyes stared like doll’s eyes, blank and lifeless in their sunken faces. Most looked starved, and many were totally naked, though on some, rotting fragments of cloth still clung to their pale, lifeless skin, threadbare and clotted with blood. Yellow pus and mucus shone and glistened on their bodies as they moved forward, hungry and fearless, an army that seemed to emanate from one large hivemind, coordinating their movements like birds in a flock.
Hee-Jin didn’t see them, and in her partial opiate stupor, she may not have heard the subtle movements. They didn’t scream or shriek, unlike the rider, and they moved as silently as predators. Whatever few people still had life on the street began screaming again as their bodies got eaten alive, the corpses lunging forward at the human flesh on the street, falling upon it with powerful jaws. The screams were weak and panicked, the last gasps of dying men and women as they came back to a nightmare, even worse than before.
“Those who died during the famine came back,” she said. “Mobs of walking, undead children who ate even their own parents and grandparents, though many were orphans by that point. The parents died, too, from starvation, and their bodies were often eaten by the townspeople. Many turned to cannibalism, and human meat was sold on the black market during the darkest times. Women used to prostitute themselves just to get a bowl of rice, or a piece of bread. People would eat their own children and mothers, and strangers, or even friends, were killed for whatever little food they had.”
The walking corpses turned their heads towards the house, like bloodhounds who just got a whiff of their prey. As she kept talking, they began to rise from the still bodies they fed upon, converging upon the front door, a stream of rotting flesh and gaping mouths who now knew we were here.
“Agent Hudson,” I said in a trembling voice, “time to go.” He had seen it, too, and we started sprinting towards the back door. Hee-Jin didn’t rise, and didn’t seem to realize the danger. We had to save ourselves, and also had a mission to accomplish, one that seemed far more important than ever now. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I left her behind, condemning her to a horrible and slow death.
Agent Hudson smashed through the rickety boards of the back door without even opening it, splintering the wood in an explosion of adrenaline. I followed through the hole. Hee-Jin began to scream in agony, and I quickly turned, seeing the frontmost corpses lunging forwards and eating her from the legs and stomach. Her eyes rolled in pain and horror, shrieking like a banshee as blood gushed from dozens of bites. The undead in the back of the streaming crowd stopped, looking at me while I stood in the door- an M67 fragmentation in my right hand, round and blue as a robin’s egg. I pulled the pin, throwing it an overhand arc that flew past in a blur and bounced off the floor of the kitchen, rolling into the bedroom across from me.
As I turned and ran, I saw Hee-Jin’s eyes, haunted, staring up at the ceiling as blood streamed from her stomach and legs. She moaned and whimpered constantly, no longer having the energy to scream. The creatures ripped the flesh off with their teeth, swallowing huge chunks of her body without chewing. It was a sickening sight, and even a few months later, recalling it makes me feel sick to my stomach.
Agent Hudson had reached the edge of the woods. I was now thirty feet behind him, and I sprinted as fast as I could to give myself distance from the explosion I knew was coming. I counted down in my head: “Five… four… three… two…” But that was as far as I got.
A flash of light exploded out of the house, sending splintered boards and pieces of drywall flying in all directions. I looked back and saw a red ball of fire, catching the dry wood of the house in an instant. My ears rang from the ground-shaking roar of the grenade. I started to look forward again, but I tripped on a rock and went flying.
I landed on the grass, hitting my head hard against the dirt. It only stunned me for a few moments, but as I laid there, still too close to the house for any peace of mind, I heard a new sound coming from the house.
The corpses had started to make noises, but they didn’t scream. It sounded like a bloodthirsty crowd moaning in agreement as some fanatical leader whipped them into a frenzy of mass murder, or the cheering of Roman spectators in a Coliseum seeing men slice each other apart.
It sounded like hundreds of people, enraptured, saying, “Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!” Then, as the fire spread and the house quickly started to collapse on itself, it faded into silence.
All you Halloween shopper please take note, you need to be more careful or you are going to end up killing yourselves and others.
I and my associates are occasionally on here to look for leads, but right now I am here just at my wits end. Halloween is always the worst for my line of work and it is just a prelude to the most depressing part of my year, the holiday season. For the love of all that is normal and not FUBAR’ed take note.
My main day job is tastefully listed as "Aftermath services", most people call me a crime scene cleaner, but that is a misnomer as well. I am the person you call to clean up after crimes, sure, but I am also the person called after the police show up to perform a wellness check 2-3 months too late. Strangely enough I am also the person you call when someone "pranks" a party with Ipecac syrup, to do the cleanup. The location I work has, on the books, 4 employees working as the cleanup crew as well as management. Our LLC is owned by a several shell companies owned by individuals that have a vested interest in the location and destruction of cursed items.
Why such a crappy job? Well, For my line of work in the cursed item identification and removal business its actually perfect, The police have done the "heavy lifting" , no pun intended, usually documented everything in pictures for us. And we can request all that to "get an idea of the scope of the job". I see the police reports usually detailing any oddities I need to look into. Like small shrines covered in what the lab reports as "Ouchterlony test result: blood- Negative", so animal blood. If it comes back as human blood I'm not the guy that gets called. That is usually an unsolved mystery for the state. The Popo get to use all the state funded luminol and their labs are way faster than anything I can get for a reasonable price. When I have to do it myself in a rush it hits the business' bottom dollar and that means less of a bonus in April.
The event scene usually has to remain pristine if there is any foul play suspected, so that means an autopsy, which I can also get the results from! All under the guise of once again, "Knowing what to expect upon reaching the scene to perform the biohazard cleanup." By the time we get there anything "normal" is ruled out, and most of the time any bad juju is either dormant or latched on to any one of the hundreds of public servants who have been through the scene, so its safe for us to get in and do our work , Don't confuse this for us being clever or planning it this way , in truth its just the cheapest and most efficient way to do it.
I'm writing too much but I am too tired and wired and scared out of my skull to not explain it all. All that above is the mechanics of a scene that we get called out on. Even if it isn't an obvious cursed item I'm still possibly the one of many businesses called to clean up a mess that was caused by a curse. The bad part, well depressing, almost every post you have here, a guy like me and mine shows up afterwards paid by the family, or the bank to remove all the evidence that it ever happened so commerce can go on. Good part is that sometimes we get an inkling of what is going on and try to stop it from ever happening again. Final note on the job, I never have to break into a place, Im supposed to be there. And I have a reason to show up in hazmat gear...
The one job today that has me pulling my hair out is regarding the book rules ill cover tonight:
I get it! its Halloween and we like creepy things to decorate with and have our parties, those of you who haven’t already killed your family and friends accidently by being a moron that is. Get your decorations for these parties from Dollar tree, Dollar General, Walmart, the cheaper the better. No one curses items in a plastic mold injection plant, no demonic entity (or someone's soul ridden by one) would get past its ego enough to go into anything under a Target.
If you must be the original one on your block, the queen of the street. Sure go to those antique junk malls and consignment stores. It’s your ass. If you do shop at these places....Here are the rules on getting books.
Books to spooky up your living room..
So onto what's keeping me up tonight long after I should be trying to sleep. I and my cat are staring at a book. And my nerves and instincts are redlining.
The cat is planted in the hallway, staring at the book, the dog wont even come in the room or even the doorway where the book might "see" him, so I have an issue here.
The book was reacclimated from a clean up scene earlier today. Scary part is that this scene was not in any way listed as a criminal one, nor a number 6r, which is our in house slang for not of this world. It was a regular call out. The house as we pulled up was nice middle-middle upper single story That you see all over in this region. I love and hate working here in the south, love it because no basements, F that noise, cause I am all about mitigating personal risk, and basements are on my list of places I don't go. What I hate is that its fall and 100 degrees out still and now I have to get on respirator gear and a suit. Cause this one in this house is going to suck , I look at the SOW and see
"Carpet removal : biohazard - 800 square feet"
"Enzyme concrete treatment"
"concrete sealant - 800 square feet"
" 4 ozone fans 72 hours"
Translation: whatever happened here was not found early on and somebody or several somebodies' popped and all that soaked really deep into the carpet and all the way into the semi porous concrete slab for the house. So on a nice house like this sealed up and weather proofed to be energy efficient, with the lawn service paid for... they could have really stunk that place up a while and really marinated into the house before it was discovered.
I see the customer requesting the call out is a mortgage company in the area which, also tells me that everyone in this family was impacted. Any living family it would fall to them to schedule the clean up and they would be the customer, not the bank and title company. Nope this one there is no one to inherit the place and no estate waiting to be claimed so its just a bank repo to process it for sale now.
Once we get suited up and head in, well, its about what we expected. Ill spare you the visual carpet stain details. As for the smell you cant even imagine even, through my respirator and the menthol oil dabbed on a cotton swab in there, I was not enjoying my time as we started and completed all the work!
So I get home and that's when I realize I've got a code brown on my hands. First clue is Wesley doesn't greet me at the door. I want to say at that point I knew it, but I was just so hot and tired, and sometimes he's asleep and slow to get to come greet me. Its when I heard the whimper from around the corner I felt that sinking feeling as I realized I had a bad day, week, month, or however much time I had left coming at me . I immediately look around and see Buttercup, my cat, sitting there staring off into the living room from the kitchen over the half wall, This is about as bad as it gets. Big protective dog wont get near it, but the cat will look and see what's going on from a safe distance. Cats are like those people who slow everyone down at traffic accidents, as long as it isn't them they wanna see the death and destruction and savor it. This is bad. I mean I love buttercup, but its his nature to be an asshole.
Here's why I am super pissy and mad about this whole thing. Whoever lived at todays piecework was the jerk who wasn't following the common sense rules about books above and bought this damned cursed tome. I'm just the guy who moved it to a different bookcase, and just that little touch of moving one book among 20 on to another shelf was enough to trigger the curse transference to yours truly. In my defense in respirator gear and the suit it was a little foggy in there from all the sweat evap. so I had no idea I was breaking my rules, I had no idea this one was a code 6r!
So now I am just sitting here, terrified to tell the truth and just dumping everything down here on reddit trying to keep calm.
I see the book on my bookshelf wedged in between two of my cartoon collectors edition box sets. I mean it wants to be seen there, it is well and truly a sore thumb, between those pristine boxes. I only allow myself a quick glance at the spine, but yeah its rough looking.. the symbols or letters or whatever the hell is on it I wont look too close but they are not anything I have ever read or thought to see at my home.
I'm really scared y'all. I don't know how much time I have left before this cursed book does to me what it did to those other people. I don't know if ignoring it will piss it off, or make it less effective, or if it can even be pissed off! I don't know if I should go for a curse box for it, or if I should stay as far away from it physically as I can. Worst part is I have no idea how it got the people in the house as I didn't research this one before going in. I have no idea what when or how this things gonna come at me. Its the not knowing that gets me. All I know about the evil things in the world and how to delay or defeat them, and once it pops into my personal space I am overanalyzing it to death, and doing nothing worrying that doing anything making the situation worse.
I think all I can do is wait for that call with Risk management.
My name is James. I live in a pretty hillsy part of the UK, and this is the story of how I found out my dad was a serial killer.
It started in '92. The year I was born. My parents had a horrible divorce, and the end result was me living with my father, Clayton. It was made more horrible when my mother disappeared three years later. I can't remember her at all. I look a lot like my dad, and my mum was the opposite of my dad.
As far as childhoods go, mine was pretty good. I watched Disney every day, my father was a train conductor, and I attended small public schools where you were friends with basically everyone in the class. That's irrelevant, I guess. A more important fact is that seven people, over the course of my living there, went missing (well everyone knew they were >!dead!<). It was a tragedy. Three of them died on two seperate Halloweens. A little girl and two little boys; all three only five. The police were on the hunt for this villain, but they never found him, only chopped up meat photos emailed to them by non-traceable accounts. The other four people were adults, one homeless, the others working in boring jobs.
I moved out in 2012, but had regular calls with my father. Until recently, that is.
In the corner of a photo he sent me of his taxes, I could see a Reddit profile on his iPad. I laughed it off at the time but soon became curious of his account... beachaphile_59. My dad is 59, so the name didn't surprise me, but today when I went to search his profile it did. He only has about 5 posts dating back to March 1st of this year.
His oldest post in r/TrueOffMyChest (copied and pasted)
I crashed my car into my ex-wife
This might violate your Terms of Service but this is a confession from me I need to get off my chest.
Thirty years ago, my wife and I had a messy divorce when our son was only a month or two old. I was really bitter about the whole thing. My wife was a... well think of the worst word you can. A couple years later she was out on a road since her car broke down. It was stormy and I was drunk. I crashed into her. I didn't know if she was hurt or not but I took her into my car.
The reason why the post hadn't been taken down was because it had basically no audience engagement. One upvote and one comment with three upvotes, which simply read:
"op wtf is wrong with you what happened next"
The next post was in r/AskReddit
Is hiding dead people a crime?
It had 14 upvotes, but there was a comment on it with twenty-three upvotes saying:
"Why do you need to know?"
My father defending himself saying: "book i was reading".
There were six other comments, four repeating the "why" question and one said, "Well idk why you need to know but there is a crime for 'preventing lawful burial'. Hope that helps!"
The other one linked a Quora post.
My father's next two posts were innocent ones about cooking, neither of which got more than two upvotes, and zero comments. My father's final post was the most chilling. In a subreddit that he just made. 19 days ago.
I'M GOING INSANE AH AHA AJHAAA
I KILLED THEM ALL HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
first was my wife and i ran her over stuffed her into my car and threw her into the woods
then that one boy. I HATE children. He asked for candy and I lost it I took him inside and stabbed him to death
think about the worst word you can that was what he was, the girl too was concerned so she had to go
THEN THAT UGLY SCUM OF A HOMELESS GRUB WHO TOLD ME HE SLEPT WITH MY WIFE. he had to go i ran him over, they ll be together in hell
And the last four i murdered while I was drunk
So now I hide in my room on Reddit. I know this is my father. He is a serial killer.
My name is Solomon Anderson, and I'm a monster hunter. Quite possibly the best there is and ever was. Actually, scratch that "quite possibly." No one will ever be able to reach the highs I have reached or get as much experience in this profession as I have in just the past twenty years alone. I've died, went to hell, and came back swinging. You all are lucky to be reading from a guy like me, for I will have some great things to tell you.
Well, actually, if it was me I wouldn't be doing this at all. But my daughter Sara keeps telling me I need to keep a journal to help with my memory and to keep a proper record of all my activities. I fail to see the point when everything is up here but whatever, she's the boss. I do kinda get the memory thing, my brain don't work too good from getting smacked around all the time. I really have no reason to post these entries but hey, I figure if I'm writing all this shit down then at least someone should read it.
I guess I should start with the basics of my operation. I work with my team of three people. I have a fourth guy who works here, Scott, but fuck Scott. The guy's a slacker. My team consists of me, my daughter Sara, and my butler (and part time best friend) Cornelius. We do any supernatural jobs we're hired to outside of the funeral home. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the funeral home. We're the Anderson Family Multipurpose Funeral Home and Crematory, and we're one of the best in the entire country. (near the bottom of the list, but hey, it still counts.) I have a right to be proud, my team and I do good work. We're smart (mostly) and efficient (mostly).
Okay, I'll tell a story now, I'll get to the main thing which finally made my daughter really push me to start keeping a journal.
So this morning I work up, had about fifteen pieces of bacon for breakfast and then got dressed and headed to the funeral home. We didn't have anything on for today so the schedule was to sit around and wait for a call. My butler Cornelius texted me and informed me that he wasn't gonna be bale to make work today because he was sick. So now it was just me and Sara cause that fucking loser Scott had the day off. Sara was just hanging out in the lobby on her phone and I was in my office. We got a call and instead of taking it for me, Sara just picked it up and immediately transferred it over to me. I fucking hate talking to customers. Believe it or not, most people are stupid. Sara's twenty something too, she should be able to answer calls on her own! I didn't have a choice here, so I picked it up.
The call was from married couple who claimed there was a ghost in their house. This stuff happens all the time and 99% of the time there's no ghost so I figured this would be an easy day. Getting Sara to come was like pulling teeth. She didn't have a valid excuse though. We both knew nothing else was gonna happen today because all the dead people go to the better funeral homes and we're in a low period of monster activity. September is a weird month cause it's right at the start of fall but not quite Halloween season yet, and Halloween is when shit gets busy. In fact, it's when we make most of our money.
Anyway, I made sure I was wearing one of my good suits and Sara looked as presentable as she was gonna get today, so we headed out.
We got to the house and when the couple answered the door, I immediately barged in and started waving my bible and crucifix around, making my way into the kitchen. I shouted all the generic stuff you tell a ghost, "leave this place," "you are unwelcome," "allow your soul to rest in peace once and for all!' I probably could have sited a few bible passages, but c'mon, there's a total of like three people in the world who have read the bible.
While I was doing all this, Sara was making all the proper greetings to the family and making the usual apologies for my behavior. She explained that all supernatural activity should stop when we leave and we will take the proper precautions to put a stop to all this. Bless her heart, we got it down to a system now. You always have to make sure to leave the possibly of more activity open so you can come back later and get paid again when they continue to be paranoid. I was barely paying attention to my surroundings, just waving the cross around and basically hurling insults at the spirit who I believed not to be there, when I noticed something on the floor. I paused and walked over to it. It was barely noticeable but the light caught it just right to make a shine on the smooth, white surface. I put the bible on the counter and got down onto the floor. I picked the thing up moved it close to my face just to make sure I knew what I was seeing. A tooth.
A chill ran down my spine. The only words that came to mind were "oh fuck"
I called the couple and my daughter into the room, and Sara ran in, probably noticing the shake in my voice. A few moments later the couple had entered and I raised the tooth up to them.
"You guys didn't lose a tooth recently, did you?"
They were very confused at this because there was no possible way for any tooth to be here.
I put the tooth in my jacket pocket and took a deep breath to calm myself down. I then told the couple to write us a check and then leave the place to get some lunch. It took some urging on both ends but they soon left. Now it was just me, my daughter, and it.
You see, this couple didn't have a ghost in their house, they had a demon. It's a special one that I've encountered many times and have not beat. I the one time it didn't win was because I made a deal with it to leave. Not many people know this, but one of my front teeth is fake. You can't notice it at first glance but if you look closely you'll see it's a slightly different color and shape to the rest of them. This is because of this demon. I call it "The Dentist." It's very tall, and very skinny, so skinny you can see it's bones through it's skin. It's arms are longer than it's legs and there's three fingers on each hand, each one tipped with long, thick, claws. And the head is entirely made out of human teeth.
I told Sara to go to the garage and get a hammer, and after she left I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I pulled the tooth out of my pocket and opened my mouth, holding the tooth high enough so I can see it next to my fake tooth.
Yeah, this was my tooth. It knew I was here the moment I walked in, it was mocking me. Sara hadn't come back from the garage yet so I was on my own for the moment. I went back into the kitchen and seeing that I found the tooth near the basement door, I decided to head down.
I could take this fucking demon, world's greatest monster hunter, right? I've been to hell and came back swinging. And demons are from hell, I could take this guy easy, with or without a weapon. I didn't have a weapon actually. Sara hadn't come back with the hammer. She must have had trouble getting into the garage. Or the garage didn't have a hammer and she was looking around for one. Oh well, no biggie.
I made my way down into the basement, I turned on the light only for it to flicker and go out. I didn't have my flashlight on me so I pulled out my phone and used the flashlight on that. I took a few steps only to hear the sound of chattering teeth. The shiver went down my spine again and I decided to book it, and ran up the stairs. I slammed the basement door shut and locked the door behind me.
I started breathing hard and figured upstairs was the best place to look instead. So I made my way up the stairs with one question on my mind: Where the hell was Sara with the hammer?
I'd feel much better if i wasn't unarmed and had something to whack the fucker in the head with. I turned off the flashlight on my phone and sent Sara a text: "Where the hell are you?"
I made it into the bedroom and saw something that made everything click.
The couple, brutally killed. With all their teeth missing.
The demon messed with the minds of both me and Sara, making us think this couple was still there and talking to us, if they had even been alive to call to begin with. I heard the sound of chattering teeth behind me and I was so angry I forgot what I was fighting. I turned around and punched the thing in the head. It stumbled back, probably surprised I had the balls to just punch it. Seeing it in front of me now I noticed the brand new, white, bloody teeth added to the mass of old teeth that was it's face. The teeth were shifting around where I had punched it, as if trying to set themselves back into place. I took my tooth out of my pocket and flicked it over to it.
"We had a deal."
It leaned over, used the tip of it's claws to carefully pick the tooth up, and then placed it onto the side of it's head. It then took a few steps closer and pointed at my mouth, making it's point loud and clear. It wanted the rest.
Sara came up the stairs behind it, holding the hammer. She had a cut on her cheek. I don't think it was trying to seriously hurt or kill her, just trying to make an example of her.
Sara smacked it in the back of the head with the hammer, causing teeth to fly everywhere. It franticly got on it's hands and knees and began picking them off the floor and shoving them onto the back of it's head. I had Sara toss me the hammer, which I barely caught and slammed it down onto it's forearm, breaking the bone. it grabbed me buy the neck with it's other arm and I slammed the hammer into it's face a few times causing it to drop me and start picking up more teeth.
Thank God for my daughter, she helped figure out the thing's weakness. I pulled out my crucifix and pressed it onto the thing's neck. It jolted back and when it saw the thing in my hand, it scooped up as many teeth and it possibly could in it's hands, ran and jumped out the bedroom window. it ran over to a storm drain, shoved the teeth onto it's face, took a quick look back at me, and then jumped into a storm drain.
Sara and I got the hell out of there and called the police about the dead bodies. The news report didn't mention all the teeth at the crime scene, so I'm guessing the thing went back and got the rest it left behind.
So yeah, I owed my daughter a favor after almost getting her killed by the evil tooth fairy, so I'm doing the journal now. I'm sure I'm gonna have to do something else to make up for this sooner or later, but whatever. She'll hold the grudge until she gets to use this in a few weeks.
So if any of you hear a weird clicking or chattering teeth late at night, I suggest you get the hell out of there.
You know what the worst part of the whole day was? I didn't even get paid.
P.S. Thanks to Sara for helping me set up a reddit page.
I finally know why I see corpses glow, and I found out in the most unexpected way.
Today started with Desmod waking me up, a protein bar in hand. “Serena, you have to eat and get dressed quick. We have to get to Portugal.”
I sat up in groggy shock. “Huh, what, Portugal?”
“Yes, we’re going to fly over the Ca’ii Flock’s trophy site.”
I flipped the covers off and took the protein bar. “Why are we in such a hurry?”
“Cassiopeia is worried the sirens might get wind of what we’re doing.”
“I’m sure the werewolves already told them you guys are invading trophy sites.”
“Yeah, but no one knew what we were after until yesterday, and although the merfolk are discreet, word might still get out.”
“But Mika said it was okay for me to tell the truth!”
“He did, and you did the right thing, or we’d all be dead. But now we have to hurry. I’ll leave you to dress, I’ll be back in five.”
Prompted by urgency, I stuffed the protein bar in my mouth and quickly checked the comments on my posts before I washed up and got dressed. When Desmod returned, we hustled towards the garage, and I slipped into the back seat between Hawk and Desmod.
“Good morning, Serena,” Mika said, looking back at me.
“Good morning,” I replied, surprised he said my name.
“Are you well?”
“Um, I guess. You?”
He turned to face the front, and Desmod chuckled before whispering in my ear, “That’s his way of thanking you for saving his life.”
One handhold and a blink later, I got out of the car to the sight of a giant, gleaming helicopter, its propellers whirring.
"Does Mika have an issue using his car as a sub or plane on Kabic?" I whispered to Desmod.
He shrugged. "I have no idea, maybe."
We climbed aboard, and Mika handed us headphones with an attached microphone.
“So we can communicate," he explained.
I put them on, anxious. “There won’t be sirens, will there?”
“They do come to Kabic to harass sailors," Desmod said, "but I hope they won’t be here now.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll keep an eye out.”
“Did you bring weapons?”
He nodded at Mika’s goons as they piled in. “Yes, we have poisonous gas.”
I blinked at him. “Poisonous gas? Will we be wearing masks?”
“No, it only affects sirens. It’s the only way to kill them. They’re invincible otherwise.”
“Great.” I muttered, hoping we don’t get another bloodbath.
The helicopter took off, and I gasped and grabbed the seat, my eyes wide with wonder as we rose above Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. The azure water sparkled, the glowmains barely visible beneath the noon sun.
“It’s so bright, I can barely see the glowmains,” I yelled over the noise.
“No need to yell,” Desmod said, wincing as he pointed to the headphones. “We can hear you with these.”
I cringed. “Sorry.”
“Once we reach the trophy site, we’ll drop in altitude, giving you a better opportunity to discern the death glows,” Mika said.
After what felt like five minutes, the helicopter dropped, and my stomach flipped. “Woah!”
“Everest, easy on the controls,” Mika said. “Serena, do you see Perseus's glow?”
I peeked through the open door, my hair whipping in the wind, and I flinched when someone grabbed my arm.
I turned to see Desmod, and he smiled and said, “Just making sure you don’t fall!”
I turned back to the water, squinting at the waves as I made out dozens of glowmains. Some of them merfolk, some of them those gorillas with rabbit ears, some of them tiny dolls with four wings, and some of them without heads. I scanned the headless group, and my heart leapt.
One was missing a leg.
“There!” I said, pointing. “That one doesn’t have a head or a right leg below the knee!”
“You found him!” Desmod said, cheering.
“Liche, take note of the coordinates,” Mika said. “Everest, take us back.”
“Leaving without saying hello?” a sultry female voice said.
I gasped as Desmod pulled me back in and shielded me. Hawk and Callan began spraying generous amounts of poisonous gas, and Mika yelled orders to Everest as the helicopter dipped and swayed, turning my stomach.
“The s-sirens found us?” I asked, gripping the seat.
“Yes,” Desmod replied, trying to keep himself steady.
The helicopter flipped upside down, and I screamed as I grabbed Desmod to keep myself from falling out. He thankfully had his seatbelt on and he held me tight, but two of Mika’s thugs tumbled out the door, along with the poisonous gas.
The helicopter spun around in dizzying circles, and I groaned as I squeezed my eyes shut and buried my head in Desmod’s chest, getting nauseous. Mika yelled out in his language as the helicopter growled, and soon we were all airborne as we plummeted.
The cold water interrupted my scream, and I coughed and sputtered after I splashed my way back to the surface. With my pulse racing, I looked around, desperately searching for any survivors. Before I could make anyone out, a huge bird swooped down and grabbed me by my upper arms, and I screamed as it pulled me up.
“Let go of me!” I yelled, bucking and thrashing.
“What's a human doing hanging around with vampires?” a syrupy voice asked.
I looked up, and I froze in shock. The bird had a woman’s face. A beautiful woman, if it wasn’t for her red eyes and small, pointy teeth.
I heard Desmod and I looked down in relief, seeing him, Mika, and Mika's team bobbing in the water alongside two dead sirens.
“Mika, when did the Uster Clan start giving recruits helicopter tours?” the siren asked.
Mika didn't reply, his expression stony as he treaded water, but Desmod yelled, “She’s not a recruit! Let her go!”
“Is she a snack?”
Desmod turned to the others and said something in his language, and the siren laughed as one of the men replied.
“Oh, is your little gas machine ruined?” she asked condescendingly.
“Let her go!” Desmod growled.
“No, I think I’d like a little human pet of my own.”
The siren laughed again, and I gasped as she began flying away.
“No, wait! Stop!” I cried out before I turned to the vampires in despair. “Help me!”
“Don’t worry, Serena, we’ll find you!” Desmod yelled.
“Aw, how sweet,” the siren said. “Are you two a couple?”
“No, we’re not!” I yelled, squeezing my eyes shut as the wind slapped my face.
“I can barely hear your weak, little voice. Let’s save the conversation for later.”
I covered my face with my hands as we zipped through the air, partly to protect my eyes from the cold wind, but mostly to avoid seeing just how high we were. My heart stumbled in my chest as my thoughts rioted. I didn’t know what she wanted with me. Was she going to take me to the werewolves? Was she going to eat me? Was she going to interrogate me?
My stomach twisted at another fear. What if the vampires didn’t come for me? I’d already located Cassiopeia’s brother for them. Desmod was the only one fighting for me after we fell in the ocean, the rest didn’t even seem to care. They didn’t need me anymore.
I hoped I was wrong as I shivered in the siren’s grip, gale after gale of icy wind assaulting my senses. When she slowed down, I peeked through my fingers, and I gawked at the lilac sky and silver trees. Did we cross over to Zevea?
She descended, hovering over the top of one of the trees, and I gasped when she let me go, my heart leaping to my throat. I reached out in a panic, trying to grab on to the branches as they broke one after the other. I grunted as I landed on one strong enough to hold my weight, and I wrapped my legs around it and hugged the trunk, my pulse racing as I looked down. We were still a long way up.
The siren gripped the trunk above me, her claws encircling it completely as she stood sideways and leaned in. Her face was three times as big as mine, and I shied away, disconcerted as well as terrified to have it that close. Around us, five more sirens dropped by, each a carbon copy of the other, all observing me with their fire-red eyes.
“Are … are you guys sextuplets or s-something?” I asked, trying to minimize my unease.
My abductor tittered. “We prefer clones.”
“You humans and your ignorance. Sirens don’t mate, we lay clones of ourselves. Didn’t the vampires explain anything to you before recruiting you?”
“I’m not a recruit.”
“So, what do they want from you then?”
Telling the truth to the merfolk worked in our favor, but I wasn’t sure if it would be beneficial here. Especially since we found Perseus in their trophy site. I had no idea how much I could safely tell her, and I frowned in fretful thought.
“Thinking up a lie?” she asked with a sly smile.
I shook my head. “No, I … I was helping them.”
“They … they wanted me to help them … uh … m-make a tally. Of the bodies in all the trophy sites. Of everyone.”
"B-Because I can see the dead's hovering, glowing shadows."
She studied me, her red eyes glinting. “Interesting.”
“Yeah. Um, can you let me go now, p-please?”
My heart dropped."Why?"
"What fun would that be?"
A chill trickled down my back. "P-Please don't sing to hypnotize me to jump off," I said, my voice shaking as I gripped the tree tight.
They all laughed. "Do you have a fear of heights?" the main one asked.
"Then you probably won't enjoy this."
She grabbed my arms again and took off, and I screamed as we raced through the trees.
“Where are you taking me! Please! I just want to go home!”
She only laughed as she continued to fly, and I covered my face with my hands again, tears welling in my eyes.
This flight was even longer than the last one, and I must have passed out because the next thing I remembered was feeling pressure on my chest. My eyelids fluttered open, and I sat up in shock as the siren stepped back.
“I forget how weak humans are,” she said, chuckling. “Glad you didn’t die. I’d like you to meet someone.”
I stumbled to my feet and stepped away as I looked around in dread. We were in a deep hole, the sandy walls claustrophobic, the lilac sky a small circle above our heads.
“Wh-who do you want me to meet?” I asked, hoping with all my might it wasn’t a werewolf.
With a mischievous smile, she walked up to a small rock and kicked it, and to my shock, it emitted a soft yelp. The rock unfurled into a lanky creature no bigger than a squirrel, its skin almost like bark, its four black eyes blinking at me.
“Meet your father,” the siren said.
I did a double take. “Excuse me, what?”
She chuckled, enjoying my uneasy confusion. “This pathetic creature is the last of what you humans might call a fairy. Fairies were one of the six main folk on Zevea. Do you know what Zevea is?”
“Good. When war was declared, these pathetic creatures overestimated their abilities and the werewolves demolished them. Then, sixteen years ago, the werewolves discovered that not only did this pathetic creature survive, but that he’d also been sneaking into Kabic to inject human testes with his sperm.”
Flabbergasted, my gaze darted between her and the creature. “Wh-what?”
“Crazy, isn’t it?" She looked down at him with a smirk. "He was hoping to create a powerful legion of half-breeds to overpower us and avenge his kin. Too bad for him, even if his plan hadn't been discovered, it wouldn’t have worked. You half-breeds don’t live past the age of eighteen.”
I stared at her in shock. “Wh-What? Eighteen?”
“Ummhmm. We interrogated him thoroughly. He spent twenty years on Kabic, trying his best to raise an army. You’re probably one of the last of his half-breeds. I doubt there are many more of you left.”
I could barely say the words. “I … I’m part fairy and I'm going to die in t-two years?”
“Yes. But look on the bright side! You got a nifty little ability that brought you all the way to Zevea! Not many Kabicers can claim that!” She chuckled and stretched her wings. “And now you two have company! I’ll leave you to get acquainted. You have all the time in the world!”
The powerful gust from her wings blew me back against the wall, and all I could do was watch as she laughed and flew away. Too stunned to protest or cry out, I turned to the fairy crouching on the ground, and he frowned, his four eyes blinking in harmony.
“What brought you to Zevea?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
I blinked, startled. “You speak English?”
“Yes. I learned many languages in Kabic.”
“Is … is what she said true?” I asked, half-hoping it was, half-hoping it wasn’t.
“She was correct about my actions in Kabic, but not about my intentions. During the interrogations, I did not divulge the true reason for my undertakings. As for whether or not you are a half-breed, what abilities do you have that differ from regular humans?"
“Um, I can see the hovering glow of the dead."
"There's more?" I asked, surprised.
“You may not have developed them yet, but your ability to see death glows is enough to confirm you are indeed a half-breed."
His certainty only left me more conflicted. After all these years, I finally knew the reason for my gift … and it wasn’t like anything I expected.
Overwhelmed, I sat down across from him, staring at my hands. “So … so you’re really my father?”
“One of them.”
“One of them?” I asked, frowning as I looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“In simple terms, my sperm splices its DNA into the donor DNA. You are the product of three: me, your father, and your mother.”
My mouth hung open as I tried to take all this in. “What … what was the real reason you were doing this?”
“That is not something I’m comfortable discussing with you yet.” He studied me. “What brought you to Zevea?”
I was getting sick of that question. “I was helping Cassiopeia find her brother.”
He sat up. “Help find him? Why? How? Where is he?”
His reaction surprised me. “Um, I saw his glowmains … sorry, death glow … today in a siren flock’s trophy site. The same flock as the siren who brought me here.”
He stared at me, his eyes wide with shocked despair. “Perseus is dead?”
“Yes, Cassiopeia said he died fifteen years ago. Did you know him?”
“Was his death glow missing a right leg below the knee?”
He bowed his head, almost seeming to deflate as he hunched over and covered his face with his hands.
“Are you okay?” I asked in concern as I crawled closer.
He sighed and straightened up. “I am fine.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, backing up at his curt tone.
“So, you are working with Cassiopeia.”
“I wouldn’t call it working with,” I replied, sitting back down. “She made me make promises with her persuasion powers, so I had no choice.”
“Did she tell you why she was looking for Perseus’s body?”
“She said she wants to give him a proper burial.”
He scoffed. “Nonsense.”
“Oh, then I don’t know,” I said, not surprised Cassiopeia lied to me. “That’s what she said, and Mika and Desmod seem to believe her.”
“Who is Desmod?”
“He’s Mika’s son. He’s two years old in vampire years. He’s with me every time they take me to search for death glows. He’s nice. He explains everything to me so I don’t feel lost and he always has food for me even though they don’t eat. He also saved my life once. So did Mika.”
“That was only because they need you. Now that you have found Perseus, they will not give you a second thought.”
“That’s not true. Desmod was yelling at the siren to let me go when she took me.”
“Then they still need you.”
Optimism and disappointment merged in my soul. I was hoping they'd look for me, but out of the goodness of their hearts, or whatever vampires had instead of hearts. I didn’t want to help them anymore. I wanted to go home. It seemed I was going to have to find a way out myself. And once I was back home, I’d get my parents to move somewhere the vampires would never find us.
“Do you know where we are?” I asked as I got to my feet and looked up at the sky.
“A small rock island void of life in the middle of the Rechuen Sea.”
“Is there a way to go to Kabic from here?”
“Not unless you want to end up forty-two meters below Krasnodar, Russia.”
I touched the wall, and he said, “Don’t try to climb, the entire hole will collapse on us.”
I jerked away and hugged myself. “Oh, good to know.”
“There is no way out of here.”
“There has to be, we can’t just sit here.” I looked around. “There isn’t even anything to eat or drink, how have you been surviving?”
“I drink the rainwater and eat the sealife when the waves send some my way.”
“How often does that happen?”
“Whenever there is a storm.”
I looked up at the clear sky, my stomach growling. “That obviously won’t be today.” I paused at the sound of the crashing waves, an idea materializing. “Hey, would there be merfolk in the sea near here?”
“There could be. Some pods do venture out.”
“Have you tried calling out for help?”
“My voice does not get louder than it is now,” he replied.
“Then let me try!”
“Do you know mertongue?”
“Um … I only know how to say hello and goodbye. Desmod taught me.” I tried to remember Desmod’s explanation as I did my best impression of a snake clearing its throat and yelled out “Hsssegh!”
He chuckled for the very first time. “You need a better teacher.”
My face heated up. “Was it that bad?”
“I will teach you how to yell for help. If, by some miracle, it works and draws the attention of the merfolk, leave the conversation to me.”
He spent the next half-hour teaching me how to make sounds I never imagined making. Although it hurt my throat, I pressed on, refusing to die here, my parents never knowing what happened to me.
Once he felt I was ready, I tilted my head to the hole and yelled for help. When nothing replied but the crashing waves, I yelled again, over and over until I went hoarse. It didn’t take long for me to lose my voice, and I sat down and leaned back against the wall as tears traced my cheeks.
“I need a break,” I rasped, panting.
“I don’t think you should try anymore. I doubt it will lead to a positive outcome.”
“We can’t give up.” I wiped away my tears. “I have a family, and if I have only two years left to live, I want it to be with them. And you have a life. You don’t deserve this and neither do I.”
“This is war.”
“That’s everyone’s excuse for doing terrible things,” I snapped. “It doesn’t make them right.”
He didn't respond, and after a few minutes of silent disgruntlement, I sighed and dried my tears. "Why do fairies see death glows anyways?"
"We are not fairies. At least, not in the way humans define them."
"What should I call you?"
"My name is Wi'dei, but you will not be able to pronounce what I am. There isn't a translation in any human language either."
"So, can't I just say fairy? Or do you prefer fae?"
"Neither are accurate, but for lack of a better alternative, you may say fairy."
"Okay. So, Wi'dei … I'm Serena, by the way … why do fairies see death glows?"
"To help us find and differentiate between bodies."
"Yeah, but why? Do you eat them?"
He chuckled again. “We—”
A hiss startled us and we looked up, and my heart leapt at the sight of a merperson looking down at us, its blue eyes bright. The fairy stood up and replied, and my gaze darted between them as hope and anxiety clashed within me. The merperson was hissing with rapid harshness, and the fairy replied in his soft voice, neither of them emoting or gesticulating.
The fairy turned to me. “This is Hlee, of the Ruc Pod. She heard your distress call. Hlee, this is a human.”
I didn't know why he didn't introduce me as his half-breed, but I assumed he had a reason. “Um, hsssegh. I'm Serena," I said as I gave Hlee an awkward wave.
She made popping sounds in her throat. Well, at least she was laughing and not angry.
“The Buslle Pod mentioned a strange one helping the Uster Clan find Perseus,” Hlee said. “And now you’re with Wi'dei, whom we all thought was dead!”
“Do … do you two know each other?” I asked, surprised.
“Perseus was the one who found Wi'dei after his kind were wiped out, and they teamed up with Cassiopeia to try and stop the war. They wanted us merfolk to join their side. Our pod and a few others were ready to do it, but then Wi'dei disappeared and Perseus died, and Cassiopeia never followed up.”
“That is because she arranged for our deaths,” Wi'dei said bitterly. “I am certain of it, but Perseus and I have the last laugh. I know why she wants his body, and even though she will find what she is desperately looking for, it will not be of any use.”
“What does she want?” Hlee asked as I waited with eager curiosity.
“I would rather not discuss it now.”
Hlee let out a few pops of laughter. “Secrets, the language of war.”
“War against war is the most dangerous battle.” He glanced at me. “I cannot speak before those who are bound by Cassiopeia.”
“I already fulfilled my promise to her,” I said, frowning. “She doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. And even though Desmod wanted to help me, the others didn’t care. They’re done with me. I just want to go home.”
“I still cannot risk speaking before anyone who has connections with the vampires.”
“I know someone you can trust,” Hlee said. “But I’ll wait until we’re alone. As for you, strange one, I can help you get back to Kabic.”
My heart leapt. “Really? Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. Watch your heads!”
I jumped as a net tumbled down to us.
“You will have to carry me,” Wi'dei said. “The damage after they amputated my wings has affected the proper use of my legs.”
“Oh, no, I’m so sorry!” I said, never once wondering why a fairy didn’t have wings. “Of course I can carry you. Would you like to sit on my shoulder? Or in my pocket?”
After inspecting my clothes, Wi'dei deemed my hoodie pocket acceptable, and I began climbing up the net. The walls began to crumble, and my pulse raced as Hlee yelled at me to hurry before we got buried. When I was only a few feet from the edge, rocks and sand tumbled around me, and I gasped as I almost lost my grip on the net.
Buried, my heart rattled as I held my breath and reached up through the avalanche, and I flinched when a scaly hand grabbed me. I drew in a hungry breath when Hlee pulled us out to safety, but I couldn’t enjoy my freedom as I saw a siren heading our way with frightening speed.
“Look out!” I yelled, tackling Hlee just as the siren swooped over us.
“You liar!” the siren screeched, turning to attack again.
“Can you swim?” Hlee asked, crouching in a pouncing pose.
“Y-Yes,” I replied, looking behind me in fear.
“Good, sirens won't pick up your scent in water,” she said as she picked me up and threw me in the sea.
My scream faded into bubbles as I sank into the milky, opaque water. It was deeper than I expected, and I splashed my way to the surface, coughing. A siren swooped down, and I gasped and ducked again, her talons barely missing me. Terrified, I swam with manic strokes under the surface, hoping Wi'dei could breathe underwater long enough for me to figure out what to do.
"Swim towards the island, I am going to plug your ears," Wi'dei whispered, his soft voice nearly making me swallow water as it seemed to come from inside my ear.
I kept swimming as he stuffed something soft in my left ear and something rigid in my right one. Once I hit a rock, I stopped swimming and peeked above the surface, and my mouth fell open at the sight of dozens of sirens scanning the air. A few dove into the water, coming up wet, angry, and empty-handed, while others seemed to be singing.
“You will have to use your camouflage ability,” Wi'dei whispered in my right ear.
I gasped, jerking my head to the side, but I couldn’t see him. How was he even talking to me with my ears plugged?
"Don't make sudden movements and don't speak," he said. "You can hear me because I am plugging your right ear with my jaw and I am camouflaged as your hair. I have to give you a camouflage crash course, I hope the urgency will allow you to pick it up quickly. Now, focus on how the water feels on every inch of your skin. Become one with it, as though you are absorbing it. Take in its color, its texture, let it dictate your cells. Give yourself to it.”
Despite the severe discomfort at the thought of him jaw-first in my ear, I closed my eyes and tried to do as he said. Taking in a deep breath, I explored the scent of the sea, its briny smell not as sharp as that on Kabic. I wiggled my hands, feeling the water flow between my fingers. Feeling its cold silkiness across my skin. Feeling its buoyancy and gentle waves …
“Excellent,” Wi'dei said. “Now hold on to that feeling, embrace it.”
My eyelids popped open, and I gasped in awe as I brought my hand up. It was the same milky white as the water around me.
“Don’t get too excited, focus. Don’t create ripples with unnecessary movements. Keep as little of your face above the surface as possible.”
I remained still, trying to concentrate on embracing the water’s essence while keeping just my nose above the surface. Yet fretful curiosity got the best of me, and I peeked, watching the tireless sirens soar, dive, and presumably sing. My hyper pulse echoed in my head as I wondered if they'd ever give up.
The water around me began to vibrate, and I gasped as a barrage of green balls erupted from the sea. They exploded in a puff of smoke, and the sirens scattered and fled, two of them dropping dead.
“Wh-what’s happening?” I asked, tensing up.
“Hlee must have gathered a few merfolk to help us,” Wi'dei replied. “Don’t drop your camouflage yet, the sirens are already heading back.”
My growing smile faded. The sirens were back, and they were wearing clear masks that sealed their entire faces. Of course they’d have precautions against their kryptonite. Strange vehicles broke the surface, still shooting green balls, and the sirens attacked. Yet although the poisonous gas was useless, the balls did knock a few sirens out of the sky, and I gasped and jerked away as one nearly fell on us.
A siren turned to me, and Wi'dei yelled, “Dive!”
Panic resurfacing, I ducked under the water, but it was too late as a claw wrapped around my leg and yanked me up in the air. I screamed as I dangled upside down, and I screamed again as she tossed me onto the island, the pebbles not enough to break my fall. My breath knocked out, I tried to crawl away, and my panic increased when I could suddenly hear the cacophony of battle around me.
Wi'dei was no longer in my ear.
My mind short-circuited as I tried to search for him and to run to safety at the same time, and I wheezed out a raspy scream when the siren pinned me facedown on the rocks, squeezing my lungs.
“You liar," she snarled. "You weren’t helping the vampires ‘make a tally’. You—”
I gulped in a deep breath when her weight was removed off me, and I whipped around to see her scuffling with a merperson, feathers and tentacles entwining. All around us, sirens and merfolk clashed, screeches and hisses filling the smoky air, and I scrambled away, searching in vain for a place to hide.
A rumble made everyone pause, and we all looked up as a black streak raced across the sky, a trail of heavy, green smoke in its wake. My eyes went wide as I recognized it. That was Mika’s car! My hope took over, only for a siren to quash it as she grabbed my arms and took off.
“No! Help, help!” I cried out as I struggled, trying to kick up into the siren’s guts. “Let me go!”
I could hear Mika's car returning, and I gasped as the siren’s wings collapsed around me and we began falling. She was still conscious, screeching and thrashing, and we both grunted as we bounced and began swinging. Finding myself laying on her stomach with her wings around me, I rifled through the mess of feathers, trying to see what was going on, and a metal net met my eyes.
Green smoke billowed around us as we hung from Mika’s hovering car, and my hope returned when I saw Desmod in his armor sliding down the chain holding up the net.
"Desmod!" I cried out, relieved.
The siren tensed up and yelled in her language … and I screamed in shocked pain when she dug her talons into my body.
Desmod froze halfway down the rope and put a hand up. “Don’t hurt her!”
“Then release me!” the siren yelled. “Or I’ll tear her to pieces!”
Her talons dug deeper, and a shriek scoured my throat as the pain wrung my frenzied heart. Blood began to seep through my hoodie, and tears blurred my vision as I tried to pry her away, my breaths hitching with every agonizing pang.
“Stop!” Desmod yelled, his voice shaking with helpless anger. “If you kill her I swear you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”
While Desmod spoke, I noticed an odd fragment of my hoodie traveling upwards, and my tortured heart skipped a beat when I realized it was Wi'dei in camouflage. He was making his way to the siren’s face. I didn’t know what his plan was, but hoping to distract her, I jerked and kicked, screaming out every ounce of my torment as I tried to yank her claws out of my body.
The siren yelled again, but her voice began to slur, and I glanced up through my tears to see Wi'dei slipping his body beneath her mask, just enough to let the gas seep through. Her claws relaxed, and I shoved them away, trembling as I placed my hands over my gushing wounds.
“Serena!” Desmod yelled, sliding down the rest of the chain.
“The Uster Clan came back for you, so they need you,” Wi'dei whispered quickly in my ear, still camouflaged. “I don’t trust them. I will join Hlee and her pod. Try your best not to mention me.”
“O-Okay,” I rasped, overwhelmed by pain and emotion.
“Thank you for helping me escape,” he said before wiggling through the net and jumping down towards the ongoing chaos of battle.
“Serena!” Desmod landed on top of the net and stuck his hand through, helping me put pressure on my wounds. “You’ll be okay, we got you.”
The net swung back as Mika’s car took off, leaving the battle behind, and my eyelids fluttered shut as fatigue and blood loss drew me towards unconsciousness.
“We’re lifting you up,” Desmod said. “Jin is a doctor, he’ll take care of you until we get back to base. Don’t worry, we won’t let you die.”
The smell of fried chicken woke me up, and I sat up in alarm. I was back in the bedroom, a bucket of chicken on the desk beside me. Lifting the covers and my pyjama shirt, I ran my hand over the layers of bandages covering my abdomen. The siren did a number on me, but somehow the pain was barely perceptible. Maybe vampires had a special way to manage it.
I rested my head back on the pillow and stared at the gray ceiling, my pulse racing my thoughts. I was part fairy. Part. Fairy. It sounded impossible no matter how many times I said it. A fairy. And I could camouflage myself. What else could I do? I wished I had more time to talk to Wi'dei, but he was wary of me, thanks to the vampires.
The vampires who came back for me. But my relief was still tinged with suspicion. Was Wi'dei right? Did they still need me? How did they even find me?
I also couldn’t believe how fast Hlee and her pod came to my defense. Well, I doubt it was for my defense. It was for Wi'dei. They knew and trusted him, and he vouched for me. And then he saved my life. I just hoped he made it safely to Hlee’s pod, and that all the merfolk survived their battle against the sirens.
It was only now that I remembered I only had two more years to live, and I grabbed my phone and made a tearful call to my parents. Unable to explain my sorrow, I sank into the comfort of their voices, swallowing back a sob as I begged them to talk to me for as long as they could. They obliged, and we talked for three hours before they had to take my grandfather to his final post-surgery appointment. He was better, and they were returning home after tomorrow. I couldn't tell them I may not be there, so I just hoped with all my might that I'd make it.
After we hung up, I posted everything, desperate for some sense amidst this uncertainty.
Hello all. As alluded to in my first post, the disappearance of my childhood friend, Tim, was only the beginning of my nightmares. As a side note, I apologize for not responding to any comments in the original post. Just writing this is nerve-wracking enough… but I’ll try my best and respond this time. And for those of you not caught up with everything, here is the original post:
The next chapter in this ever-unfolding tale of terror takes place just a couple of years after the initial vanishing. I was around eight-years-old at the time, and from what I can remember, was in third or fourth grade. It had been a little over two years since that Summer day and we were in the middle of the Fall. Most people, whether on purpose or simply due to the passing of time, had forgotten about the missing kid who “fell into a puddle.” Hell, even I had forgotten about it. I’m definitely ashamed to say so, but I left Tim behind, and I can’t deny that fact. No weirdness had taken place in those two years. The town went back to normal, as if Tim had never lived there in the first place.I was in school on a crisp autumn day, and the leaves had just started falling. The grassy green pigments I was used to had now turned into all different shades of yellow, brown, and red. My friends and I used to always dive right into the leaves and we’d play hide and seek till the sun went down. I was super excited that day because the piles of leaves were massive, like mini colorful mountains. Those were some of my favorite memories from my early childhood.
As soon as the clock struck 11:45, I anxiously awaited my teachers’ approval to unlock the shackles keeping us in that confined classroom. And like the start of a horse race, we ran like bullets to play our favorite game; manhunt. In case you weren’t aware, manhunt is like the next level of hide and seek. There’d be two teams; one would have a given amount of time to find a good place to hide and secure their location, while the other team would count down until the time was right for them to hunt the hiders down. The goal was for the hiders to make it back to home base without getting caught. We bet our Halloween candy from the other night on the winners’ bowl. Today, I made sure to be a runner; I knew the perfect place to hide, after all.
3…2…1…GO!!!! Before I knew it, I was bolting through the battlefield. I ducked under swings, and flew past teachers as I made my way to the edge of the human child-pigpen I was fenced in. But, this particular fence had a secret. A hole: one big enough for a tiny kid like me to crawl through. No one would even think to look for me out in the trees behind the school, and when the time was right; BAM, I’d be back at home base before anyone would be able to realize they hadn’t found me yet. I’d just sneak into autumn’s natural hiding spot, the leaf piles. I could already taste the sweets and sours of the winning candy in my watering mouth.
I checked my left and right to see if anyone followed me, but I was in the clear. I dirtied up my white shirt and blue shorts as I dug my way out, like one of those army men training in the movies. Making it to the other side, I picked myself up and looked around for the perfect pile of leaves to disguise myself in. And there they were, right under a larger-than-life oak tree, one of the grandest heaps of leaves I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but giddily smile as I sunk my way deep into the brush of fall crinkly fall colors. I did so quietly, as to make sure I wouldn’t be alerting the seekers of my where-a-bouts if I crunched too much as I snuggled myself inside the cocoon.
And there I lay. Still smiling, I put my hands over my mouth to hold back from giggling. I had the kind of overwhelming joy a kid gets the first time the tooth fairy visits them, or meeting Goofy at Disney World. I was ecstatic. This feeling soon turned to disgust as I started noticing my surroundings. It smelt atrocious… and I could only imagine hundreds of bugs both living and dead inside this home I’ve made for myself. I wasn’t too scared of bugs, in fact, I loved digging in dirt and picking up wriggling worms. But for some reason, I felt utterly disgusted being in there. It felt moist and sticky and intoxicatingly gross. My eyes started itching… no burning, as I viciously rubbed at them in a fruitless attempt at making the pain go away. The scent seemed to make it’s way into my lungs and started relentlessly stabbing at them. I couldn’t take it anymore; I squirmed around in the nest in an attempt to find my way out, but I could barely see through my fort, as shades of red and brown blinded my vision. I didn’t know whether my eyes were bleeding or if it was just the color of the leaves rubbing against my face, but what I did know is that I wanted out of there, and I wanted it fast. Wiping my eyes against my leaf-stained shirt, my vision finally started beginning to clear. And that’s when I saw them.
Through the tiny slides between her limp eyelids laid two soft hazel pupils. Beneath those, her little nose had dry snot near the openings and I couldn't help but notice that she was in desperate need of some lip balm. It took me a second, but I finally recognized my fellow hider as a girl named Laurel. She was in my class the year prior, but I never really got to know her as she was always by herself. I do recall many of the kids thinking her to be weird, as she mostly spoke to her “imaginary friend.” But that didn’t bother her… She’d often scoff back at those judging her by telling them that her friend had promised her that one day they’d take her wherever she dreamed of going and that we’d all be jealous in turn. Needless to say, none of us were envious.
“Hey Laurel, what are you doing in here?” I whispered to her. She just kept staring at me, but never gave me a response. “Are you hiding in here from someone too?” She looked rather sickly, probably due to eating way too much candy last night. “Um… come on, let’s get out of here.” I reached within the swarm of leaves for her hand and finally got a hold of it. It was tiny and gentle, yet chilly and, once again, sticky. Too many lollipops, I assured myself. I finally made my way into the refreshing sunlight and took in an enormous breath of autumn air. I was still holding Laurel’s hand, but something didn’t feel quite right. She was a small girl, but at this moment she felt almost weightless. When I looked back I noticed she wasn’t fully out of the pile yet. Only her hand has breached the forest of leaves. It was coated in some sort of red sap. And so I tugged once more and this time her arm made its way out… only her arm.
Before I could even let out a yelp, a large hand wrapped around my mouth. It was rough. It felt like the ridges on its fingers were cutting my face with each slight movement. The hand was white and pale, but was covered in filth that contrasted the almost plastic look of the skin. He didn’t have to turn around for me to know who he was. It might’ve been a couple years, but somehow I still knew it was him. The man who wallowed by the windows of that abandoned home as Tim disappeared into the thin water; the scraggly man.
“Shhhh… It’s all right…” His whispering voice was soft… sinister. It felt as though his words had penetrated my ears and burrowed their way into my brain. My breathing became increasingly heavy and he could tell. “Your friend and I were having a playdate, but you can’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret.” I finally managed to free my mouth from his grasp and let out a shriek of pure terror. I heard someone in the distance question the source of the sound. I knew they were coming to look, and he knew it too. “I have to go now,” he told me, “but you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone about me. Not your mom, not your dad, not anyone. And if you do,” his final words seemed to linger for what felt like hours, “I’ll know.” And with that I heard his footsteps walk away, crunching through the leaves, as he made his way back into the shelter of the trees. But he wasn’t even running. His motions were so innocent, and even when a teacher and a couple of other kids found me, I knew he was still there. Still watching. Eyes wide open.I then became distracted by the blood curdling howl a teacher let loose upon my ears, followed by one of my classmates upchucking their lunch from the sight no one should go through the suffering to witness.
Sirens and yelling from parents and cops flooded the schoolyard. Kids wondered what was going on as their moms and dads desperately picked them up. But the ones that were crying… they knew what happened.Soon enough I was being swarmed by officers. They were all talking incoherently, but I’ll never forget the one thing I did manage to make out. I clearly recall one of the officers blurting out, “isn’t this the same kid who was the last to see that missing boy a couple of years back?” I’m not sure what it was about that comment, but my heart sank. “Yes, yes it was.” I could’ve sworn I had only thought that, but suddenly everyone looked down at me in sheer silence. Their eyes were bugging out of their sockets, as if I had just said some taboo curse. Luckily for me, my parents had just arrived to break me free of their critical gazes.I wasn’t able to spend long within the comforting grasps of my parents arms, as a burly police officer with a mustache too big for his lip approached me; the sheriff. And once again, just as he did two years prior, he crouched down to my level and placed a caring hand on my shoulder… “Let’s talk, son.” But I wouldn’t be talking to him that day. I wouldn’t be talking to anyone. There was nothing for me to say. And He made sure of that…
Every night I looked out my window, I saw him. His ghost-white skin haunted the darkness itself, as he stood on the other end of the sidewalk. Most of the time he’d just be standing there, staring at my window. If we made eye contact, he would occasionally wave and sometimes put his index finger against his where his mouth should’ve been. I could never make out any facial features on him. It was as if his face was shrouded in a mist of ambiguity. So every night I’d turn the other way to face the never-ending hallway outside of my room. The one lamp my mom made sure to always keep on out there showed his shadow dominating the wall. If I stared too long, his shadowed head would cock sideways like a dog hearing an unfamiliar noise. He was always there watching over me, like a demented guardian angel.
And that’s how my life went from then on out. Our dreadful nightly routine became the norm for quite some time. That is, until the next incident…
Hey guys, I’m sure it’s been a little while but like I keep telling you time doesn’t really mean much out here.
Let’s pick up where we left off because a lot of happened since I last talked to you guys.
I don’t wanna spoil anything for you, but I’ve made some pretty big discoveries.
So, after spending the night reading the hermit's journal, I woke the next day feeling strange. I know that probably sounds a little weird since I’m walking around a strange place that exists inside a Dollar General, but it was a feeling in the pit of my stomach. It just wouldn’t go away. Felt like I had the beginnings of a stomach flu, but it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. I’m gonna get a little personal here, do you know how sometimes you have to poop but you don’t because maybe it feels oddly good? Yeah maybe you don’t, but it felt like that.
Stranger still, the feeling in my gut seemed to be acting like a compass.
As I put my backpack on and started walking out of the cave, I could feel it pulling me towards a large grove of mushrooms. I have been sort of wandering aimlessly, not really going in any particular direction, but this feeling felt directed. I had no real destination in mind, no direct path that I’d been taking, so I decided to follow it. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
I stopped to get a drink from a nearby stream and found that the water wasn’t as brackish as it had been in the area I left. It didn’t taste good, it was still smelly and kind of soupy, but it didn’t make my stomach hurt or give me the sulfur burps. It didn’t make the feeling in my gut go away either, so I figured it might not be relevant to what I’ve been eating and drinking. Maybe there were different biomes out here, and if I traveled far enough maybe I’d find a different one. Maybe I’d find one with pork chop bushes and steak trees, too, cause I was getting pretty tired of eating roasted mushrooms for every meal.
As I moved into the forest, I looked up and saw that there was a particularly bad bout of fire raining down to the south of me. I may have forgotten to mention that up till now. The yellow sky is sometimes broken by these intense rains of fire. I don’t know what they are, I don’t know what they do, but they just come down sometimes. Some days are heavier than others, and some days you never see them at all, but they scared me enough on the first day that I always look for them now. They haven’t affected me, and none of them have even fallen close enough that I can get a look at them, but I still keep my head on a swivel just in case they’re dangerous.
The one today was close enough that I thought I might be able to see shapes in them.
I had expected to see rocks or chunks of ice or something, but whatever was inside of them looked strangely like a splayed-out starfish.
Worse still, they looked a little bit like people with their arms and legs extended out as far as they would go.
I tried to ignore it as I went deeper into the mushroom forest. I have been mostly seeing lush forest growth in the places I had come from, but I was encountering some stumps here which led me to believe someone besides me might be cutting them. That could mean there were other people out here, but it could just as easily mean that there were creatures out here that also harvested the fungi. I didn’t really want to run up on any natives, friendly or not. I had yet to meet anything out here that hadn’t tried to take a chomp out of me, other than Kenneth, I suppose.
I would say Kenneth’s chomping days were far behind him when I found him.
I kept my makeshift weapons at the ready, and my head on a swivel as I followed the feeling in my gut. I had only had it for the day, but I think I had become accustomed to using it like a compass already. It just seemed the right thing to do, and as the sun began to set and I started making camp, I realized it wasn’t going to go away just because I stopped for the night. Eating didn’t seem to affect it, drinking either, and as I lay down to go to sleep, I wished it would take a break until morning. Laying there and trying to sleep was like having a pot full of eels in my stomach. They kept wriggling and pushing, trying to get me to move again, but I knew well enough that traveling at night was a death sentence. Night time when the lights went out in the store was when the miasma came out. Likewise, when it was dark out here, you could hear big things moving around and it was best to hunker down and try not to be noticed.
As I moved on the next day, the pulling of whatever it was in my stomach became even worse. It was less like a nudge and more like an invisible hand was yanking at my intestines. The direction was even more direct now, and it was undeniable that I was being pulled towards a large mountain on the other side of the grove. It was impossible not to notice. The thing was gigantic with its spires poking up into the sky. The closer I got, the more of those fiery comets I could see smashing into the side of that gargantuan. I really hoped I wasn’t going to be expected to climb it. The idea of climbing something that big with no ropes or gear was daunting, and I thought I might rather just let one of those miasma grab me tonight than try to scale that thing.
That night, as I lay beneath a large red mushroom cap that I’ve been using as a tent, one of them almost got its chance.
My fire was burning low, the flames greasy as they sent up runners of pale smoke. I was just starting to doze off when I heard something big shake the ground as it walked. I threw the mushroom cap over the top of the fire, hoping it would snuff it out, and then hunkered beneath it, as I tried to remain unnoticed. When I peeked out from beneath it, I felt the vibrations of a massive creature as it came stomping blindly through the mushroom forest. I couldn’t see it, it was too dark, but I could guess what it was. Miasma were the largest creatures I had ever seen, and the fact that they only came out after dark seemed to seal the idea that this was one of them. They got closer and closer, leaving me shivering beneath my makeshift cover. I knew that if it brought that foot down I’d be pulverized underneath this thing, and I prayed that it might divert its path or miss me entirely when it’s long gate.
It brought one massive foot down onto the remains of my campfire before wandering off into the forest. I looked up in time to see a massive, black, silhouette as it was put in profile by the strange half-moon that seemed to constantly reside over this place it never looked down, and if my fire had been hot or bothered at all it never showed any sign. It simply kept on going, knocking the tops of the mushroom trees as it went, and leaving me glad to have been unnoticed.
I wouldn’t sleep for the rest of that night, and when I got up in the morning, pulling in my guts was more insistent.
The next day was agony. It was like something was twisting my insides as it tried to get me to move faster. The pulling was insistent and needful, and it seemed like it was telling me to hurry up with every cramping grip. Where were we going? And why did we suddenly need to be there so quickly?
I would get no answers for the rest of the day, and as the sun set, I figured I wouldn’t get any until the next day either.
Just about sunset, however, we came out of the mushroom woods, and into a small clearing at the base of the mountain. The mountain was huge, as I’d said, and at the bottom, there was a large cave that yawned like an open mouth. The teeth inside looked less than friendly, and the whole thing looked like a trap for the foolish. The squirming in my gut was clearly trying to get me into there, but as I took a step towards it, something yowled like an injured creature deep within the forest behind me. I turned around and saw the top of a miasma, probably the same one I had seen last night. It had spotted me from over the top of the mushroom grove, and as I made a sprint for the cave, I wondered if I would make it before it cleared the woods?
Its footsteps shook the earth, and its yowls sent chills up my spine. With every step I took, I felt sure I would make it there before I could get me. The cave was less than fifty feet away when I had exited the woods, but the creature was eating up ground with such haste that it became a full-fledged foot race to see who could get to the cave first. It was the most harrowing experience of my life, but since you’re reading this, you can guess which one of us got there first. It was a near thing, and I had no sooner passed under the teeth of that great mouth than the creature hit the outside of the cavern and sent a cascade of falling rocks that would’ve crushed me if I’d been a little slower. I could hear it outside, yelling and screaming as it tried to get the rocks out of the way of its dinner, but it had done its job well.
I was safe, but my escape was less than ideal.
I had escaped the monster, but now I was trapped inside the cave.
Strangely, the writhing in my guts seemed to be pulling me into the cave. I took this as good news and followed it in. The cave was old and smooth, the walls, looking like they might’ve been worked with tools. There were collections of fungi growing here, and thankfully they were phosphorescent. They provided enough light to see by, and as I made my way in, I felt a strange kind of harmony inside me as I got closer to whatever the squirming feeling had been trying to take me to. When I saw the end of the cave coming into view, it wasn't a huge surprise.
It was just like the others, a blank wall that appeared to be solid rock, but as I rubbed a piece of my grubby T-shirt over it, I could see that it was really filthy glass behind. There was a Dollar General on the other side of that glass, and as I watched, I saw someone. I was almost too shocked to call out to them. This had only happened to other times and both times had been wildly different. The person I was looking at appeared to be a woman, and she looked a little too well put together to be as crazy as a hermit had been. Strangely enough, her uniform reminded me of Gale. It was in the older style the store had used back in the nineties, and she looked put together for a shift in the early two thousands.
As she moved off towards the bathroom, I realized I was about to miss my opportunity altogether.
She jumped when I banged on the glass, and as I called out and asked her to help me, she seemed very hesitant to approach. She had dropped the cans of food that she’d been looking at and was coming up to the door as if she expected it to pop open and eat her. She squinted at me, and I wondered how long it had been since she’d seen another person?
“Are you okay, kid?”
I told her I was as good as I could be, but I was stuck behind the door and I needed help getting in.
“I don’t know how to help you, kid.” she said, honestly, “I’ve only ever seen these doors open once, and I can’t really say how well it worked out for the guy I saw go out there. Since he never came back, and all.”
I told her it was my first time out there, too, and she had opened her mouth to ask a question when her eyes suddenly swam open in horror.
When the creature hit me, its claws shredding my back like steak knives, I thought for sure I was dead when I went to the floor.
It was another one of those nightmare cats I had seen earlier, though this one looked smaller than the one that had attacked me before. Whether it was a pup or a cub, or whatever it was, it would easily be able to finish me off. I was tired from my run, exhausted from my lack of sleep last night, and I could no more fight it off with my bare hands than I could have a grizzly bear. I expected that this would be where I would die, but at least I had seen someone else before the end. I had wanted it to be Gale, but I suppose beggars cannot be choosers.
The beats yowled savagely, opening its mouth to reveal a bunch of very sharp, very shiny teeth, and I closed my eyes as I prepared for the end.
That’s when the door suddenly opened, and the creature looked up just in time to get a face full of a wrench.
The woman grabbed me under the arm and dragged me back into the Dollar General Beyond, and my foot had barely cleared the sliding doors when they snapped shut again with amputative force.
I looked at her in confusion, seeing her upside down as I tilted my head, and thanked her profusely as I probably got blood all over her.
“Well, I couldn’t just let you die, could I? You're the first person I've seen in quite a while, and I think company is just what I could use right now.”
“I can understand that,” I said, with a laugh.
I extended my hand, introducing myself, as I tried not to pass out from painful wounds on my back. Apparently coming into the front door did not have the same effect as going into the bathroom, and that’s why I had to get her to repeat her name when she told me what it was. I thought for sure that I might be hallucinating, or maybe dreaming, but it appears this place likes to throw one curveball after another.
“I'm Celene,” she said a little more slowly, “now, let's get you through that bathroom door over there. I know this is going to come as a bit of a shock, but it will take you to different Dollar General stores and sort of put you back to the way you were. This may be hard to swallow until you see it for yourself, but you are trapped in an infinite loop of Dollar General Stores.”
I laughed, leaning against her as I threatened to pass out.
“You know, Celene, it's really not that hard to believe at all.”
The following is a chapter from a historical novella that chronicles real world events. It is the result of nearly 4 years of research and hard work. Some of the names have been changed
Chapter 3: Dionysus
Augustine Dubois enjoyed a party. He believed it to be ultimate expression of human freedom.
“If I was to imagine heaven it would be a never ending celebration. Food and drink from every part of the world. With music that makes you dance. So if we are too make paradise on Earth it must be a celebration. Gare must be a celebration for it is those that are truly free that can attain heaven” Augustine Dubois Memoirs 1871
It was under this philosophy what we would call a beer hall was built in Gare in 1846, Dionysus’. The establishment would be owned and operated by Augustine and his family until its destruction in 1937. Dionysus’ derived its name from the Greek god of wine making as Augustine and later several of the inhabitants of Gare brewed their own liquor. The building, originally just a small single room hut would become the cultural heart of Gare. When a new group arrived from the USA a celebration was held in Dionysus’. The local Sioux and some traveling Europeans would infrequently join in the festivities
“While crossing through the prairies we came upon a colony of freed slaves. They invited us to their local saloon, nothing more than a small hut. It was without a doubt the most interesting experience of my life. They gave us some of their local liquor and we danced and sang all night. Never have I felt such joy and warmth” Juan Pierre Nault, Fur-trapper 1851
In 1863 after the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by USA President Abraham Lincoln it is said that the sounds of celebration could be heard for miles. Augustine now a grandfather is said to have danced and sang until dawn. Dionysus’ the coming summer would be renovated into a modern two story building with a stage. In 1864 Augustine’s eldest son Augustine Gomez II began operating the establishment from his father. His younger brother, Toussaint would assist him starting in 1866
Between 1866 and 1874 Dionysus’ was in a period of renaissance:
“With the end of the American Civil War in 1865 many freed slaves began to make the journey back south. However a few traveled north to Gare. They had heard of Dionysus’ from other free men and wanted to see it for themselves. What made the establishment special was its mix of differing African, French, Indigenous and Caribbean cuisine. The Gomez family had an open kitchen policy and would serve any liquor their patrons brought. It can be said that Dionysus’ was a celebration of the African experience in North America” Thomas Jefferson: Hidden African History of Canada 2014
However the party would begin to slow in the late 1870s as more Europeans began to move into the area and free-men abandon Gare for metropolitan areas. Some of the immigrating Europeans would venture into Dionysus’ but would find the establishment too foreign and alien. Due to the dwindling African community the more exotic foods and drinks disappeared from the menu. Conflict would arise in 1878 when Manitoba’s first Liquor commission stated that only one bar was allowed per 300 people. The few Europeans, mainly Irish in the area had started their own small drinking club. But fortunately the group agreed to drink in Dionysus
However a deeper conflict was brewing with the Mennonites and Noah Meyer. Under their religious doctrine the consumption of alcohol was viewed as a sin. Furthermore there where racial tensions between the groups, in particular Meyer and Augustine Gomez II the latter viewing Meyer a thief who had stolen his father’s legacy. While Meyer viewed Gomez as a drunk and practicing witchcraft due to the various traditional African ornaments in Dionysus’
The first battle of this conflict would be fought in 1883 when the province requested Dionysus’ obtain a licence to operate. Meyer took the opportunity to write a letter of protest to the provincial capital in Winnipeg:
“…Dionysus’ is a den of iniquity. If it is allowed to continue operating it will pollute the good Christian people of Gare with drunkenness and vagrancy. I implore you to up hold the morality of our province and refuse Augustine Gomez a licence to sell alcohol. Furthermore I request a formal inquiry into the activates conducted at Dionysus’ as it is the belief of myself and the good people of Gare that witchcraft is practiced there” Noah Meyer letter to Manitoba Provincial Liquor Commission August 21st 1883
Meyer’s request was denied and Dionysus’ was allowed to operate. However the growing religious population in Gare resulted in fewer customers and soon Dionysus’ was a shell of its former self. In 1892 the Province of Manitoba voted for Prohibition but it wasn’t enforced. In 1899 the province once more voted for prohibition but the resulted was nullified due to poor voter turnout. However Augustine Gomez II was feeling the pressure mounting. Several of the African residence of Gare had begun to go to Meyer’s services and attendance was dwindling month to month
It was in 1902 that the Gomez family decided to focus on converting Dionysus’ into a restaurant. They would continue to serve alcohol but only with meals. Their traditional menu full of exotic foods would also be abandoned for a more traditional European palate. The open kitchen policy started by Augustine Dubois would come to an end. An Irish bartender and cook would be hired to attract the second growing demographic in Gare
In December 1904 the murder and disappearance of members of the Byrne family would make international headlines. Locally the town was devastated and opportunistic members of the church blamed the tragedy on Thomas Byrne’s love of the drink. Several would even attempt to blame Arnold Gomez, claiming he had killed the family due to Thomas’s disapproval of his and Edith Byrne’s relationship. The police would investigate the Gomez family in relation to the murder of the two Byrne boys in 1905. But the entire Gomez family was cleared of all charges. Unfortunately Augustine Gomez would die due to a heart attack the same year. His brother, Toussaint had moved Ontario several years earlier so Dionysus’ became the responsibility of Augustine Gomez II’s only son, Arnold
In 1907 Arnold would marry Edith Byrne and the two would operate the Dionysus’ until the tragedy of 1937. Arnold would bar-tend and Edith became the cook. In 1909 the couple welcomed a daughter, Maeve. In 1911 they had a son, Alexander Gomez. In 1916 the province instituted prohibition and Dionysus’ officially became an Irish family restaurant.
23rd September 2006: I awoke to the smell of pancakes cooking away in the kitchen, it was 9am, I lay and gathered my thoughts as heavy rain pelted off my bedroom window, I was thinking about how I was just about to get promoted to assistant manager at my firm, money was tight lately and it would really help out. just then i the bed jolted as my daughter Casey ran from the hallway and jumped on top of me “daddy wake up, mommy’s making pancakes…chocolate chip, your favourite” I laughed and picked her up in my arms and brought her into a tight embrace “is she now? Well I better get dressed and come right down” I laughed as I tried to get up off of the bed. Casey ran back downstairs, i quickly got dressed and followed behind her. “Smells amazing hon” I said as my wife glanced over with a smile “yeah well it was Casey’s idea, I’m just the cook” she said with a fun sarcastic tone. I sat at the breakfast bar while Casey handed me a knife and fork and a half empty cup of coffee, she’d spilled the majority on the floor on her journey over to me. “Wow thank you Casey this looks amazing sweetie” I said as Evelyn places the pancakes in front of me and rolled her eyes while trying to hide a giggle “your welcome daddy” she said batting her long lashes as she watched me take the first bite. “Hey Casey, why don’t we go for a walk in the woods after breakfast? look for deer tracks” I said trying to swallow my mouthful “ooooooo yes please, I’ll go get dressed right away” she said excitedly, I chuckled as I watched her run up the stairs at lightning speed.
“C’mon Casey, times ticking” I shouted up the stairs, feeling impatient “coming daddy!” She yelled from over the landing as she appeared at the top of the stairs. Her curly red hair fell over her face as she tried to shove on her pink bobble hat, she had already put on her white coat with the fur hood and a pair of red snow boots “let’s goooooo!” She said in a sing sing voice, and off we went.
As we walked through the woods, the trees I twisted around each other at the top, casting a dark shadow onto the wood floor, the wind whistled through the leaves and the rain fell softly onto our faces “daddy I think I see a track” Casey shouted from up ahead “oh yeah, let me see” I ran slowly to catch up to where she was pointing to “your right, it is a track, good job honey” I said, feeling impressed. We walked further through the woods and chatted about school and what Casey had been getting up to, just then a tall man with his face half covered with a scarf stopped in our path “hey buddy e..everything ok? I said feeling uneasy “hand over the girl” he said in a deep, emotionless tone “what? No..no!” I said in a panic, he then pulled out sawn off shotgun and points it toward us “hand over the girl or I will shoot you in the f*cking face” he seethed. I stood in shock, a million things racing through my mind “please! Don’t hurt us” I pleaded “you have one more fucking chance, hand her over or so help me god I will kill you” I stared at his cold dark eyes and finally did the unimaginable. I handed over my only child to a masked monster. “Daddy no!!!! Please daddy help me! Don’t leave me” Casey screamed, tears streaming down her face “I’m so sorry” I said.
But what was I supposed to do, I didn’t want to die. I know what your thinking ‘worlds worst dad’ but I’m you know she’s not even my kid, not that she or anyone knows, her mom had her on a one night stand and I brought her up as my own. Right f*ck I need to get my story straight, we went on our walk and she was kidnapped by a mad man, well that’s actually true I just did nothing to stop it.
The next few weeks were hell, Evelyn was inconsolable, police were constantly in and out, taking statements and trying to find witnesses. I felt awful lying to my wife, twisting the story ever so slightly and I felt bad I really did but I was in too deep and soooo close to getting that promotion, I could make this right. We’d have more children, we could still have a good life.
7th October 2006: It had been 2 weeks since Casey was taken, we’d just returned home from putting up fliers when two police officers knocked at the door “officers, please tell me you’ve found her” Evelyn said, her voice cracking “can we come in, we need to talk” i gestured them inside “please sit down sir and madam” “I’m afraid a body has been found near an old shack in the woods, I’m really sorry but it appears to be Casey’s” Evelyn let out a scream that wasn’t a shiver down my spine “please god not my baby, not my Casey” I fell to the floor as I cradled my hysterical rial wife. Shit what have I done I thought. Will anything ever be the same? At least now she can never tell that I didn’t fight for her.
17 years later: I sat in my chair watching as my teenage twin boys played on their game station, Evelyn in the kitchen making my favourite..chocolate chip pancakes, when suddenly the phone rang “I’ll get it hon” I said as I picked it up from the side table “hello” “hello daddy remember me” my blood ran cold “wh..who is this?” I stuttered “oh I think you know exactly who it is and ill see you soon daddy” the line went dead. I stood in complete shock as I tried to come to terms with my new nightmare.