This is for scary stories with wholesome endings.
'conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being.'
Stories that can be scary but have a nice twist to it. The nice twist can still be scary!
Wholesome: “conducive to or suggestive of good health, physical, emotional or moral well-being.”
Stories that are scary but have a nice twist. The nice twist can still be scary! Stories here have a horror element and end reasonably happily.
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Our content rules are similar to /r/nosleep's. Posts must be a story where "something happens and then something else happens as a result". Posts must contain at least some horror. This is a sub for wholesome horror, after all. However, stories here do not have to adhere to no sleep’s plausibility rules. R-rated scenes are okay to a degree but no rape/ abuse/ pedophilia/ necrophilia/ bestiality, etc. Any excessively graphic or detailed torture/abuse/sex scenes will cause your story to be removed. Please use your best judgement or ask the mods before posting.
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The burly man looked at me and then to the menu before pointing a practically winged arm at the lightboard and muttering quietly
“Number 9…with a cola….no ice”
I smiled and punched it in
“Coming right up, thatll be six seventy five, have a fantastical day”
He scoffed at me and lumbered away, waiting for his order just out of earshot. I dropped my smile and sighed, turning to my blue haired friend and speaking plainly
“I dont get it sam, wheres the magic, We have swords on the wall,castle towers on the roof. This place was awesome as a kid and I love it now, why does noone else like it?”
She giggled and turned toward me, her bright blue hair swaying from her shoulders as she smiled
“Youre so cute….i mean, I dont mean like that its just…cute…um…I dont know, maybe they just lost some of their positivity”
I looked at her inuqisitively and nodded
“Yea…probably. Youre cute too by the way”
She blushed and looked down
“You really think so?”
A young girl bursted through the door with her mother in tow
“Welcome to Camelot, can i take your order?”
The young girl darted around the small cafeteria, staring at the displays on the wall with a shimmer in her eyes. Her mother approached the counter and spoke softly through a laugh as she watched her daughter.
“Sorry shes a little excited, loves the whole knight and fantasy thing”
I smiled wide and nodded
“No need to apologize, i act the same way, its my favorite”
The girl ran up to the counter and spoke loudly
“Hi! Are you guys real knights? Did you have to get knighted to work here? Have you ever seen a dragon? Are dragons real!?!”
She smiled wide at me as her mother turned toward her
“Sweetie, he might not be able to tell you all that, many knights are sworn to secrecy and cant answer questions from peasants”
I nodded and spoke softly
“This is true, as real knights of the kingdom, me and my shield maiden here are unable to answer questions from peasants…however”
I ducked beneath the counter and grabbed one of the many plastic swords we kept as meal toys
“Theres no rule against me accepting a new squire”
The young girls eyes lit up as I came around the counter and held the sword out, tapping each of her shoulders before bowing and presenting the sword
“Welcome to our ranks miss….”
She took the sword and jumped up and down before point it upwards
“My name is Mia! Mia the lightning blade”
I smiled and looked to her mother for permission, watching her smile as she nodded
“Well then Mia, welcome, as my squire you are welcome to ask any and all questions about knighthood and knighthood duties. To me or my shield maiden”
Sam blushed again and waved, smiling wide and nodding
“Thank you! So are dragons real?”
I knelt down and looked from side to side, being comedically secretive as I spoke softly
“They are, they're truly fearsome beasts that roam these lands. Though its said many of them carry great wisdom, choosing peace over violence and living quiet lives. But every now and again one or two will get out of order and seek to disturb the balance. Thats when knights like us, and the dragon counsel get together to take care of the problem”
She looked at me with an almost empty mind as her imagination ran wild. I nodded to her mother before resuming my place behind the counter
“Now, what can I get my new squire and her kind mother”
The mother laughed and took out her debit card
“Well just take two number 5’s, and thank you. Theres not much magic in the world these days, i wish she could stay that age forever”
Sam rang the purchase up and took her card before speaking sheepishly
“You know there actually have been a few dragon sightings in the area, some people say theyre just planes but i think…”
I kicked her lightly and smiled at her, annunciating my eyes and giving her the shut up look
“I think its all a prank”
The mother laughed and took her card back before going to the waiting area. The little girl waved to me with her sword and skipped away. I turned to Sam as they left earshot.
“You cant keep saying stuff like that, its ok to give the kids the whole thing and give them something to be happy about but the parents might think youre serious”
She looked at me perturbed
“I am serious, you dont think its a little weird we work at a dragon themed cafe and coincidentally everyone who works here claims theyve seem dragons?”
I shook my head
“No i dont think its weird, i think this place is just really cool and people are seeing what they want to see”
She stepped away from the register and walked away
“Im going on break”
I sighed and turned toward her
“Sam…thats not what I meant”
She flipped me off as she walked away, crossing her arms and storming past the kitchen. I heard the bell as she rounded the corner and turned myself toward the door
“Welcome to camelot can I…”
The barrel of a pistol pushed its way into my face as a skinny jittery guy gestured to the register
“Empty it, all the cash you got, lets go kid”
I let out a deep breath and looked around, the mother and the little girl were crossing the parking lot with their food, just exiting sightline. I turned around and looked toward the kitchen where Francois was hard at work, headphones in and turned away.
He looked at me slackjaw
“Funny guy, this is a loaded gun, you really gonna say no to me? Ill paint you all over this kitchen”
I released my smile and looked him dead in the eye
“Do it. Seriously. If you think you can kill me…then do it”
He pushed the barrel right against my forehead and spoke in a hushed speedy tone
“Come on man just empty the fuckin register already”
I spoke calmly
“Theres no swearing in this establishment sir, this is a family restaurant. If you cannot control your language ill have to escort you out”
He laughed and pushed against my head with the gun
“Open the register…right…fucki-”
I opened my mouth and let forth a stream of endless fire, torching his hand and melting the gun to the skin of his palm. I watched him recoil, sceaming and clutching at his charred hand
“What the fuck!?! What are you”
I leapt over the counter and grabbed hold of his hood. Dragging him effortlessly away as I opened the door for myself and threw him out onto the wet concrete.
“Take a look where i work big guy, think long and hard about what I must be when i sit behind a counter with a dragon head and melt your hand with my breath. If you find the answer comes to you and a sort of primordial fear rises up in your gut, follow that feeling, and fuck off. If i see you again, ill literally eat you”
He stood for a second, still clutching his wrist, before i stepped towards him and he took off running. I shook my head and made my way back into the building as sam came back to the register.
“Hey, everything ok?”
She looked at me and tilted her head
“Are your eyes glowing?”
I shook my head and adjusted my glasses
“No, trick of the light probably”
She nodded and looked down at her register
“Drake…do you think im crazy?”
I shook my head and took my place next to her
“Not at all, im sorry i disregarded what you were saying. I just dont want them to fire you or think youre weird. Id miss you”
She blushed and looked down
“Do YOU think im weird?”
“Absolutely, but youre the best kind”
She giggled and looked up at me
“Youre pretty weird too you know”
I shook my head
“Nah, im peak normal, honestly the most basic average guy around, just a real cool collected guy you know?”
There are brief mentions of suicide attempts contained within. If you are uncomfortable with this topic. Please don't proceed.
I softly place my hand on the empty casket. Years, or days, neither really coming to me. I can't remember why this casket was here. Nor can I remember who put it here. All I know is staring into it brings back memories. Good, bad, I honestly am unaware of which it is. So instead I'll leave it there empty, hollow, much like the emotions running within my mind.
Years are what we make of them, months the same only on a smaller scale. So why then does looking upon this empty casket make me regret so much? Words are fallible, which is why we try so hard to speak clearly. I know the casket is there, if only I remembered why. My hand softly strokes the ebony-colored wood. I mumble out something stupid about how it shouldn't regret anything.
After all a casket is normally full of something important. I won't say much more than that. Humans live, we smile, we cry, and then inevitably we perish. Our loved ones mourn us or celebrate our passing. Neither affects the out of our lives. I stare into the pure white abyss greeting me within the confines of this casket.
I expected it to be stained red with blood, or smell of rot. All I'm smelling is the scent of pine. A formerly common wood used to bury our dead. I feel something coming up from within my heart. A deep gnawing emotion that refuses to leave me alone. I choke it down, no one needs to see what is happening to me. No one would care anyway.
Moments come and go, and I feel my body aging. It has been years since I climbed this hill. The casket on the hill. As I approach I see the city beyond. Cars, sirens, horns, feet, people, all echoes have faded. The light from the city even seems to have mostly faded. Instead of the darkness swallowing me. I feel calm, some may even say serene. Once again my fingers caress the lid of the casket.
No one came to claim it. Like me it's only gotten older, and a bit weaker. Despite the weather, and being exposed. It still remains, some of the interior has faded. Inside there are some bite marks, and some of the fabric has been stolen away. Probably to aid a critter in making a home for itself. Instead of truly worrying about it. I lean against it and take a long drink of water. Then release a loud sigh.
"I don't know why I even bothered to come here if I'm being honest..." I say aloud no one in particular would be listening. Nor honestly, would I fault them if anyone was. "I saw something about death, and how we as humans need to learn to accept its presence." the sound of the wind cascading through the leaves rushes past me. "I'm not sure I can..." I speak softly under my breath.
"We're supposed to accept it. Something that does nothing for us. It brings no closure and doesn't heal us in any way. It hurts...do you know that?" my question is directed toward the empty casket. I looked up, and nothing changed. The casket was empty, there couldn't be a response. Of course, it wouldn't respond. "I am not angry at you, I'm tired." my words fall upon empty ears.
The silence of night is a common phrase. If anyone really went out late at night they wouldn't be met with silence. They would hear a deep emptiness. Silence is the absence of noise. Nighttime is deafening if you learn to listen. The roar of the night was what I was hearing. Crickets had long stopped playing their music. Now all I heard was the vague yet deafening sound of night.
The casket was offering me no solace. Nor has it ever, been a representation of something that I would be unable to escape. Some say the casket was once used to inter a rather wealthy man. Others say it was haunted so they excavated it to see who the ghost belonged to. Instead, all they found was an empty coffin lying at the bottom of a grave. The very same casket I was now visiting with. The very same coffin that was refusing to give me answers.
The cold of the water I was drinking brought with it a sense of comfort. It soothed my throat which had become parched from the exertion of walking up here. I'd been leaning against the casket hoping for an answer for hours now. Instead of receiving any, maybe for now at least I'd give it up. "Good night old friend. I'll see you once more before it's my time." I softly pat the lid get up and leave.
Winter is never nice, it doesn't care what you intend it to be. Winter is inevitably just itself. It doesn't change, sometimes it's nicer than usual. Eventually, however, you know the chill is coming. It's always colder than you would expect. You stare at the thermostat hoping for it to be a little warmer. It never is, nor will it ever be.
Upon a hill, in a city, you don't know of. In a part of a country you've never heard of. Sits in an empty casket. It is being buried within the grasp of winter. The years since I've last set my eyes upon are many. Ultimately I don't truly remember the last time I laid my eyes upon the ebony colored object. Yet now, in the dead of the winter. In my late seventies, my old eyes are resting upon it once again.
"Hello, old friend." my voice came out in a dry raspy croak. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to meet you again." I rest my hand upon the termite-ridden casket. It feels as though I exert what little force I can muster. The casket would disintegrate in an instant. "The years have been unkind to both of us it seems." my breath came out in shudders, and tears fell from my eyes. Freezing to my skin as they fall.
"I know why you never responded to me, your secrets are too vast. If you'd spoken of them to me. I may have never learned anything." I lean heavily upon the wooden cane I was using for support. "Death hurts, it's easy to blame it for all wrongs. To use it as an excuse to never move." the aching in my knees mimics the rust on the hinges of the casket before me. "We're both older and wiser now. While my eyes fail me, I can see now."
"When death claimed my first pet, it hurt. It felt like a white-hot fire was in my chest. Pain unimaginable. The second one hurt less but still stung. Then death came for my child." I have, shuddering from remembering the pain or the chill of the winter air I'll never know for certain. "This was unimaginable, my child stole before the air even reached its lungs. It was unfair. I wished death had taken me instead. Spared my significant other the pain."
White hot tears melt those that had been frozen. "Death came for them soon after. Alcohol, drugs, sex. Anything to mask the pain they were feeling. I couldn't allow myself to indulge, needed to stay strong for them. I watched as the pain swallowed them into the void. Then, it happened." My eyes fall upon gravestones. One bigger than the other, both were clearly marked one for my unborn child, the other for the love of my life.
"It wasn't hard to blame death for the loss, for the pain. Therapists, psychologists, medication. Nothing seemed to help." I sit on the cold ground. "Do you know why we seek to understand death?" I ask the cold still evening air. "Because we believe that if we understand it, we can control it. We can prevent the most inevitable thing for us." my laughter caused my chest to hurt a bit. "I never wanted to live forever. At most, I wanted to be able to greet death upon my terms. Life, said that wasn't going to happen. Gave me a few extra ways to ensure that would be impossible." Once more the laughter bursts forth. "So I tried to control one last thing. Where I would pass on."
My fingers were starting to turn numb, and my gloves were barely keeping the chill of winter's fangs from my fingers. I could feel the life slowly drain from my body. "I tried to drown myself, I tried to set myself on fire. Neither worked well. I tried to work myself to death. My bosses told me that I was working too hard. To take some time..." A laughing fit erupts only to be cancelled by a coughing fit. The dry air not mixing well with my lungs.
After a few minutes of continued coughing, I see a red tinge upon my blue gloves. "So I decided to visit you once more. To tell you, that I understand. This is goodbye...I hope we meet again sometime." I push my body upward off the cold ground. My cane groaned in complaint of being used once more. I walk toward the exit of the graveyard. It would be my last time seeing the empty casket.
I lived for only a year more, upon my death my body was cremated with the remains of the empty casket. We were then spread across a forest with no name. In a place as far from the city and graveyard as was logistically possible for my friend. I don't know where we wound up, to be honest. I'm just glad that I'll be able to see my significant other and child when I get to the other side.
The stone path laid bare in front of me, clean as could be and entirely un-impeded by weeds or overgrown perennials. Everytime my feet met the ground there was a satisfying thud, indicating the area beneath each stone had been properly compacted. Erosion was no enemy to such a truly beautiful yard fea-
“Angus! Just go inside already and stop talking about the goddamned walkway”
My mother yelled at me, interrupting my personal narrative and bringing me back to the world where I resided the majority of each day. I lifted the cardboard box containing almost all my possessions and strided up the steps, leaping the small 3 staired entrance and arriving at the open screen door. I smiled to myself as I breached the threshold and came face to face with my new life. I could see it now, Angus Blast, hero of…of…forgot the town name again.
“Ma! What's the town called?”
She too breached the threshold, storming through the door with a much larger box and blowing past me with a huff.
“Havens reach, there's a lot of history here, it would behoove you to learn some of it…starting with remembering the towns name”
I nodded agreeably and made my way up the stairs. I had picked out my room ahead of time, beating out my sisters for what was technically the largest. The majority of the floor space seemed to be taken up by doors but what they didn’t realize was that the closet held an extra 6 square feet. 6 square feet that i would use to create my marvels, foster my ingenuity and break open a world of opport-
“ANGUS! Help me with these boxes, Christ sakes boy do you ever spend time on earth”
I nodded to myself and sped down the stairs, kneeling toward the first box and wrapping my hands around the thin cardboard carry handles. I lifted confidently, overestimating myself and immediately teetering backwards. The world moved in slow motion as a cacophony of voices filled my ears. My vision went black as I hit the ground and suddenly it felt as if i was floating in an endless black sea. Bubbles floated upwards as I yelled in surprise and spun in all directions looking for the sun. There was light but seemingly no source, and I felt panic overwhelm me as I realized I wasn't taking breaths.
“Calm down little hero, there's nothing to be afraid of”
The voice surrounded me like a pack of sirens and before long I had lost all sense of direction. The panic continued to settle in as I yelled to the abyss
“Whos out there!?!”
Moments later there was a wave of fresh air and I was on a beach, somewhere tropical with nothing but beauty in all directions. I sat down on the sand and took a deep breath, seagulls called from above as the salty sea air filled my lungs and the sun gently kissed my face.
“Is that better? I forgot not everyone likes the company of void”
The voice was right in front of me this time, rising from the ocean alongside a beautiful girl. Her eyes shone brightly as if powered by uranium and energized by the remnants of a thousand lost souls. I couldn't help but smile as she crawled onto a small rock and rested her chin on her arms, cocking her head and looking at me with a smile of her own.
“Much better, thank you. Where are we?”
She giggled and propped her head up onto her elbow as she spoke softly\
“Care to take a guess, I've seen that mind of yours, you're not like most visitors”
I sighed and kicked a small pebble across the sand
“Shit!...I'm dead aren't I?”
She giggled again
“What morose language for such a nice young man, why would you think your dead?”
I moved closer and sat down again
“Clean beautiful beaches, endless paradise forest, gorgeous woman…this sure ain't reality for a guy like me”
She slipped out of the water, her tail turning to a set of long flawless legs as she strided slowly onto the white sands beneath.
“You're not dead dear, just between things at the moment. You'll wake up soon enough, but first, tell me. Why wouldn't this be reality?”
I shook my head as she sat down next to me and stretched herself out
“I'm unremarkable, I want so badly to change the world but I get put on my ass from a heavy box…what kind of life does a man like that deserve”
She leaned forward and took my head in her hands, gently kissing the bridge between my eyes.
“A man who knows hes unremarkable is more powerful then the most jaded of remarkables, the power is yours when you hold the gift of awareness. Everything can change, everything can shift. You know a great alchemist once said that change is the very essence of reality, and that there is nothing in this world you cant change the circumstances of. Though the result you ask for may never come to fruition, you can still change your mind about how you feel”
I thought about it for a moment, and then everything went black again
“Weve got a pulse!”
I shot up, tearing the IV from my arm and spitting the tube that had been providing me with breath
“What the fuck”
The room stared on, doctors, nurses, family members and a strange man in a hat. They all looked on as I took the first breaths without a machine. I filled my chest with air and as I released stale oxygen and pain, I watched the edge of my plastic bed slowly melt. I quickly closed my mouth and took a deep breath through my nose, speaking quietly as I watched the small crowd wait for my first new words.
“What the fuck”
The sun dipped low on the horizon, casting long shadows over the lakeside, and a chill seemed to settle in the air. We were wrapping up our picnic, laughter echoing as we gathered our belongings. The day had been perfect until the responsibility to dispose of the trash fell on me.
Near the dumpster, an innocuous jar of old mayonnaise sat, basking in the fading sunlight. But to me, it was more than a discarded condiment. It was a jar of nightmares, a vessel holding a terror I had managed to avoid for years.
I approached hesitantly, the unsettling fear rising within me. The mayonnaise had always been my kryptonite, a fear rooted in a forgotten childhood trauma. I felt the weight of that fear as I stood before the jar. It shouldn't have been more than a jar of spoiled mayo, but its very existence seemed to unravel me.
As I stared at the jar, an inexplicable urge took hold of me. It whispered in my mind, seductive and horrifying. My hand, against my will, reached for the lid. The air grew heavy with an unspoken malevolence. I hesitated, my heart pounding in my chest, but the force was relentless.
The lid twisted open with a sinister squishing pop, and the putrid smell of aged mayonnaise wafted out, assaulting my senses. Panic clawed at my throat, but I couldn't look away. The contents beckoned me, a sickening invitation. Before I could comprehend the nightmare unfolding, I found myself scooping the congealed substance into my hands.
It was a macabre dance, my own hands betraying me, shoveling the cursed mayo into my mouth. The metallic taste mingled with the thick, nauseating texture. I was trapped in a grotesque pantomime, my friends' horrified gasps and shouts echoing in the background.
Reality blurred, and the world seemed to shrink to that foul jar and the demonic compulsion it held. I was a puppet, and the Mayonnaise Demon pulled the strings. I was aware of the horror on my friends' faces, the disbelief, but I was powerless to stop.
The picnic, once a day of joy, transformed into a nightmare. My mind screamed against the violation, the betrayal of my own body. The Mayonnaise Demon had awoken, and its appetite was insatiable.
The world shifted in disorienting fragments as the last smear of mayonnaise disappeared into my mouth. The jar dropped from my hands, clattering on the ground. My friends stood frozen, expressions contorted between shock and horror.
The picnic blanket now felt like a sinister shroud, and the setting sun became an accusing spotlight. My stomach churned with a vile concoction of dread and nausea. A voice, foreign and chilling, echoed in my mind, whispering promises of unrevealed horrors.
As my friends rushed me to Checkered Green Hospital, the Mayonnaise Demon's influence seemed to seep deeper. The hospital corridors, adorned with unsettling checkered patterns, echoed with the footsteps of unseen entities. My mind swirled in a disconcerting fog, where reality and nightmare intertwined.
"Where am I?" I asked, having only heard of Checkered Green in the games I played as a child. It seemed strange, to be somewhere that I'd only ever imagined.
The doctor at Checkered Green had an unnerving calmness about them as they delivered a revelation that shattered the fragile facade of my reality. "You were born here." they declared, their eyes holding an unsettling knowingness.
"I was born in Detroit."
The doctor said "No".
More disturbing still was the revelation that I had been admitted as a child for a mayonnaise-related incident. A twisted déjà vu enveloped me, a memory I never knew I possessed. The hospital became a labyrinth of secrets, its walls whispering tales of my past.
"I used to play a game and imagined Checkered Green Hospital." I told myself.
I wondered where my friends had gone. I only had one visitor, only one family member left in the world. I hadn't seen her since my parents died.
The sterile hospital room was bathed in the impersonal glow of fluorescent lights, casting a clinical pallor on the surroundings. I lay on the bed, my thoughts a turbulent sea of confusion and unanswered questions. The door creaked open, and Aunt Floe entered, a specter of wisdom in the muted light.
"Aunt Floe." I greeted, my voice carrying the weight of uncertainty. "There's something about this place, about Checkered Green. The doctor mentioned something about my past, something I can't remember."
She approached, her eyes betraying a well of knowledge and an awareness of the shadows that clung to the hospital's walls. "Child, this hospital cradles more than just the present; it carries the echoes of a twisted past. There's a tale you must hear about your beginnings."
I nodded, inviting her to share the secrets that had been kept from me for too long. Aunt Floe took a seat beside my bed, her gaze thoughtful, as if choosing the right words to unravel a dark tapestry.
"It's time you knew the truth." she began, her voice a soft murmur that held the weight of years of concealed secrets. "When you were merely a child, Doctor Moist entered our lives, a mad scientist with darkness etched into his every intention."
My eyes widened with a mix of shock and curiosity. "Doctor Moist? What did he do?"
Aunt Floe nodded solemnly, her gaze piercing through the shadows. "He took you away, kidnapped you when you were barely five. But it was no ordinary abduction; it was a nightmarish venture into the twisted experiments of a madman."
"Experiments? What kind of experiments?" I pressed, my mind racing to comprehend the sinister turn my past had taken.
"Doctor Moist was obsessed with the macabre, with hypnosis and controlling minds. He used you as a canvas for his wicked desires, turning you into a vessel for something far darker." she explained, her voice steady but filled with sorrow.
"Mayonnaise? What does that have to do with anything?" I questioned, struggling to connect the dots.
Aunt Floe sighed deeply. "It's more than just a condiment, dear. In his madness, the mayonnaise became a conduit for his experiments, a means to create an insatiable appetite that could never be sated."
"So, this uncontrollable urge I have... it's because of him?" I asked, my voice unsettled.
Aunt Floe nodded sadly. "The Mayonnaise Demon, as we've come to call it, is a manifestation of Doctor Moist's twisted legacy. He bound you to that insatiable hunger, a curse that Checkered Green seems to thrive upon."
I clenched my fists, a determination growing within me. "I need to confront him. I need answers."
Aunt Floe placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, her touch both comforting and cautionary. "Confronting Doctor Moist may lead to wounds that never heal, dear. But if you seek answers, tread carefully in the shadows he cast. The echoes of his madness linger within Checkered Green's walls."
Each word she uttered dug into my psyche, leaving me with a chilling understanding of the forces that had shaped my existence. Doctor Moist's maniacal laughter seemed to echo in the background as Aunt Floe revealed the extent of my tortured past.
The hospital walls pulsed with secrets as I delved deeper into the adjoining mental health wing to confront Doctor Moist. The air grew thick with dread, and my steps were haunted by the ominous creaking of the checkered floor beneath.
The air in the mental health wing was thick with the sterile scent of antiseptic, and a sense of foreboding hung in the corridors. As I navigated the labyrinthine halls of Checkered Green, my footsteps echoed against the cold linoleum. The staff, with guarded expressions, guided me toward a particular padded room where the specter of my torment awaited.
The door creaked open, revealing Doctor Moist, once a man of scientific authority, now reduced to a disheveled figure confined within the padded room. His eyes, devoid of the sharp clarity they once held, flickered with a distant madness.
I stood, momentarily frozen, as I beheld the fallen puppeteer of my nightmares. Doctor Moist, now a mental health patient within the confines of Checkered Green, was a mere shell of the man who had orchestrated twisted experiments.
His laughter, a distorted melody that reverberated within the confined space, sent shivers down my spine. He turned vacant eyes toward me, a semblance of recognition flickering across his face. "Ah, the prodigal child returns. You were my masterpiece, the canvas upon which I painted the symphony of desire."
I hesitated, fear clawing at the edges of my resolve, as Doctor Moist's eyes fixated on me with an unsettling intensity. "What did you do to me as a child? What twisted experiments did you subject me to?"
"Mayonnaise Demon," he mumbled, his voice a distorted whisper that seemed to linger in the sterile air. "The hunger... the craving... it transcends the boundaries of the mind. Experiments." he murmured, his words unraveling like frayed threads of a once-coherent narrative. "Unlocking... the mysteries... the mayonnaise."
His cryptic utterances sent a shiver down my spine. The room, with its padded walls, seemed to close in as I confronted the wretched embodiment of my childhood nightmares.
"Why the mayonnaise? Why subject me to an insatiable appetite?" I pressed, my voice trembling with a mix of fear and anger.
Doctor Moist's response was an unsettling laugh, a fractured sound that reverberated within the padded confines. "Conduit... appetite... transcendence. The Mayonnaise Demon is the key to enlightenment."
As I grappled with the disturbing revelations, I steeled myself for more answers. "Enlightenment? You've stolen my sanity, my life! Why?"
His eyes gleamed with a fleeting hint of lucidity, and he leaned in, as if sharing a secret. "Sanity, my dear, is an illusion. The Mayonnaise Demon reveals the true nature of desire, the primordial hunger that lurks within us all."
The chilling calm in his voice clashed with the madness that danced in his eyes. "You're a monster,. I whispered, the weight of my past settling over me like a suffocating shroud.
Doctor Moist chuckled, a sound that sent shivers down my spine. "Monster? No, my dear. I am the harbinger of truth, the revealer of the forbidden desires that society seeks to suppress."
Images began to flood my mind, distorted memories clawing their way to the surface. Doctor Moist's voice became a nightmarish soundtrack as he recounted the horrors of my past.
"I harnessed the power of mayonnaise, a gateway to the depths of desire." he explained, his words weaving a tapestry of terror. "You were my unwitting subject, a vessel for the transcendence of the human psyche. The Mayonnaise Demon became the key to unlocking the primal cravings that lie dormant within."
As he spoke, my surroundings blurred, and I found myself reliving the nightmares of my childhood. The sterile room transformed into a twisted laboratory, the acrid scent of mayonnaise filling the air. I was a child again, helpless and at the mercy of Doctor Moist's macabre experiments.
His maniacal laughter echoed, a dissonant accompaniment to the distorted memories playing out before me. I saw myself, a child unable to resist the insatiable urge, devouring spoonfuls of mayonnaise while Doctor Moist observed with a perverse satisfaction.
The horror of the revelation gripped me, and I clutched my head, trying to dispel the nightmarish visions. Doctor Moist's voice continued, recounting the details of the experiments that had scarred my past.
"The Mayonnaise Demon was not just a hunger for condiments; it was a gateway to enlightenment, a revelation of the darkness within." he proclaimed, his eyes gleaming with a twisted conviction.
I stumbled backward, the walls of the padded room closing in on me. The visions, a grotesque dance of memories and madness, continued to unravel. Doctor Moist's laughter melded with my terrified cries, creating a cacophony of despair.
As he reveled in his delusional proclamations, I felt a suffocating grip on my sanity. The padded room, once a place of confinement for Doctor Moist, had become a theater of my deepest fears, a stage where the horrors of my past played out in vivid, terrifying detail.
I staggered out of the padded cell, the laughter pursuing me.
In the cold embrace of Checkered Green, I was left to grapple with the terrifying truth — the Mayonnaise Demon, born from the depths of a mad scientist's malevolence, was now an inseparable part of my existence. The hospital's grasp tightened, and I faced the harrowing prospect of a life lived in perpetual fear, haunted by the demonic compulsion that had consumed me by the lakeside.
The days at Checkered Green blurred into an indistinct nightmare, the hospital's checkered walls closing in on me like a sinister cage. The Mayonnaise Demon's whispers grew louder, a relentless chant echoing through the recesses of my mind.
Night after night, I was tormented by nightmares — visions of mayonnaise oozing from every crevice, the pungent smell choking the air. I awoke in cold sweats, the remnants of the demonic feast lingering in my senses. The hospital staff, their faces painted with forced smiles, seemed oblivious to the malevolence that clung to me.
In the cold light of day, I gazed upon my reflection in the hospital window, my eyes haunted by the Mayonnaise Demon's malevolent spark. Acceptance settled within me — a grim acknowledgment that the demon was a part of who I was now, an indelible mark etched into the fabric of my existence.
The hospital's courtyard, bathed in the pallid glow of flickering lamps, became my sanctuary — a place where the unsettling pact with the Mayonnaise Demon unfolded in silent surrender. The mayonnaise jar, once a harbinger of horror, now sat before me as an offering. With a reluctant hand, I scooped a finger into the congealed substance and brought it to my lips.
A strange calm settled over me as I consumed the cursed mayo. The demon, momentarily appeased, retreated to the recesses of my mind. The jar's contents, though repugnant, were a communion with the demon that dwelled within. Once emptied, I felt momentarily free of it, never knowing when I would feed it again.
Sharp transparent four-sided dice hurt to step on, and they are hard to notice hidden upon a plush carpet. I knew there were more, scattered from the table, but I had to walk across that floor to turn on the lights. I braced myself, knowing I would land my foot on another one with each step and then exhaling when I didn't.
I prayed to all the gods of dungeons that I didn't land on the metal D4 I'd bought at that haunted old mansion's estate sale. It should have stayed on my display shelves, where it belonged, but of course, we'd needed all the D4s for the last throw before nightfall.
Things like this always seemed to happen to me on nights preceding Halloween.
I had yelled in pain the first time I stepped on one. Then I had winced loudly on the second one. After that, I was moving with caution and trepidation across the floor. I felt very nervous walking through the game room in the dark, that night.
There is part of me that does not want to remember the events of that night. It is mostly too terrifying to recall, haunting my memories and giving me nightmares. Just thinking about what happened gives me the most awful feeling of dread, like I could encounter them again, somehow.
The last die that my foot came down on was the metal one, the one we thought was made of pewter. That one hurt a lot more, probably because it punctured the skin on the bottom of my foot. With the light on I saw why my foot had felt sticky when I moved across the last stretch of carpet.
There was a trail of blood from my hurt foot, just the one footprint leading back to the metal die I'd stepped on. Somehow, I hadn't seen it there in the dark, and I'd stepped on it, getting blood on it.
There seemed to be a darkness emanating from it, like smoky-looking shadows from its edges. I rolled it onto the table, and it depicted no numbers. Instead, the four sides parted and separated an equal distance, revealing a round crystal at the center, spinning and raveling up the blood in tiny streaks. When the white crystal was transparent reddish-brown, I noticed the darkness had crept and swirled all around the room.
I was alarmed that even when the lights were on, the room was bathed in shadows and darkness. Besides the immediate danger of the D4s, there was the supernatural horror of darkness pouring from the weird die. Just then a voice was speaking from a pale and half-dead face peering from the shadows.
"Thou hast sanguinated Tetrahedron, now four wishes to make, to undo your debt, or become as we."
I was startled and a little disturbed by the appearance of the creature. After a moment I did not believe it was a ghost, so I took a closer look at it. Then, after a while I talked back to it.
I stared at the creature, it wore some kind of black leather bondage suit with rings and hooks and straps and zippers all over it. The creature also had screws drilled into its bald head instead of hair, and a zipper sewn to its mouth and opened, so it could talk. For a long time, I stared at it, thinking I'd seen it somewhere before.
Then I realized with a cold shiver that I was surrounded. Obviously, they wanted to scare me, I felt a little scared. I didn't like it.
"Is this like some kind of Halloween prank?" I looked around at the other bondage demons, each of them with things stuck into them, chains, whips, duct tape over their mouths, straitjackets and all of them in the same kind of leather bondage uniforms. They even had one that was wearing a full suit covering its face and, on all fours, and being led around by a leash and collar. "You guys are doing that bondage creature from American Horror Story, right?"
The creature spoke in a raspy, tortured voice. "We are as Tormentals, sent to compel thee to thy four wishes, and we shall leave thou after a fourth wish, or become as we are, thou shalt."
I felt a chill. Whatever costumes and weird stuff these guys were into, they had the wrong person. I had no idea who any of them were, and I didn't know anyone into bondage and stuff. I kept thinking maybe I'd somehow met a bunch overly enthusiastic Halloween party people.
"I don't know what you people want, but you'd better get out of my house." I said.
"We will stay and compel thee to make thy first and subsequent wishes. If a fourth thou refrains, then as we are, thou shalt be." The creature told me. They all started chattering evilly or making muffled moans behind their gags or insane laughter.
I looked around at their bloodless wounds and red eyes and deformities and wrapped chains.
"You want me to make a wish? Fine, I wish you'd all just go away from here and take your stupid glowing Tetrahedron with you." I told them. I felt a nauseating sensation like rapidly slipping and falling and suddenly we were atop a tall building, under the full moon, the freezing wind whipping me. Tetrahedron still glowed before me, hovering in the exact position it was before and the creatures remained all around me, the moon lighting up the bloodstains on their black leather like a green glow in the moonlight.
"Thou see the gore of our transformation, as our painful visage erupted from within. We feel unending agony, we are the Tormentals, the very element of suffering embodied. That is our message." One of the insane Tormentals spoke to me, his head tilted unnaturally from the collar of his straitjacket.
"I made a wish for you and this thing to go away!" I complained, realizing they had somehow abducted me and taken me with them. I had no idea how they did it. I felt terrified and freezing cold and shocked, standing there trembling and shivering.
"And your wish came true, without delay, yet you came away with us." I heard another Tormental speaking quietly, strangely and quickly. I looked and saw this one had a morgue sheet drawn over it, stained with the glowing gore in the moonlight. They held out a ghostly phone with an image of Tetrahedron.
"What is this?" I looked at Tetrahedron and I felt a kind of panic, realizing I was to be trapped by these creatures. "I wish to know what this thing is."
I suddenly understood its history. I knew its origins, and its many kills, for often it uses the wishes made by its victims to cause suffering and death. I learned its secrets, how it chose its Tormentals and kept them from making their fourth and final wish, enslaving them to an existence of unending suffering. My mind filled to the brink of madness, and I knew too much. I knew there was no escape, that becoming a Tormental was better than making wishes. I realized which building I was on, chosen by Tetrahedron.
I went to the edge and stood there for a long time. The full moon looked massive, and I looked across at it, watching as it grew larger and lower in the sky. I looked down and saw the rest of the building, as we hurtled skyward. I realized that when I was dead, or if I wished to stop it, the building would come back down, collapsing, killing everyone inside.
"No matter what I wish for, something horrible will happen when it comes true." I realized. I laughed and laughed, the mania of knowing what I knew was making me go crazy. I gibbered and got the Tormentals laughing like hyenas.
"What shall thou wish for next?"
"I'll wish I had never stepped on Tetrahedron, that I'd never made any wishes!" I grinned, thinking in my delusional state that I had defeated the cosmic dice. I was already driven into a delirium by knowing the full expositional backstory of Tetrahedron in all its unending horror.
I was again in the darkness, wandering across the floor. I had a terrible sense of Deja vu' and then vaguely recalled a legend about an evil D4 that grants wishes if it gets some blood. Just then I stepped on it, the same metal four-sided die from before. I knew it had already happened, but it was like memory of dream, hard to recall and fading from my mind.
"Thou cannot avoid the fate of thy path." The unzipped mouth of the leader of the Tormentals, Screwhead, was telling me.
"You Hellraiser rejects think you know what pain feels like?" I stammered from the fresh shock of stepping on the sharp plastic pyramids and the final stab by Tetrahedron.
"We relish the wishes you make. Say your last, or become one of us." The covered Tormental told me. I noted that in the dark the bloodstains had vanished. These creatures were not alive, they belonged to Tetrahedron. I knew all about them still, instinctively.
I considered the exponential butterfly effect of wishing away the world of Tetrahedron. It was so ancient that undoing its existence would also erase me from existence, long before it ceased to exist. I would only cause my own inexistence. Such were the results of its wish fulfillment, always disproportionate to the intention of the wish maker, the evil would spread.
I thought madly about the many clever wishes I could make, but always realized what would happen. I began to see how so many had become Tormentals, unable to make a final wish. I felt terrified at the thought of becoming one of them.
"Thou hast very little time before thy death." Screwhead told me in a creaky voice.
"I'm about to die?" I asked. My panic grew, but it occurred to me that if they were causing me to die soon, then all I had to do was make my wish. Tetrahedron couldn't kill me if it had no more power over me. I was sure of this, but I still had only a moment before it would stop my heart and make me into a Tormental. I quaked with fear, but still felt oddly humorous, my reaction to the overload of terror.
I thought quickly. If I wished not to die, something terrible would happen that would make me regret surviving. If I did not make a wish before my life was over, I would become a Tormental. Then I knew what to wish for:
"I wish not to have a fourth wish to make." I said without confidence. I was so scared my voice was squeaky, and I realized at some point I had wet my pants.
"Farewell. Tetrahedron will pass from your hands to another." The grisly Tormental told me.
"Thou hast made four wishes, until thy death." Screwhead told me, fading last from them.
I sighed with relief. I wasn't sure if I'd still die. I stared at the clock, and when it struck midnight I winced, but nothing happened. I knew I could die at any time, but as the hours ticked on and morning approached, I went and took a shower and got clean pajamas on.
When I went back down to the game room, I picked up all the scattered clear D4s out of the thick carpet. I couldn't find Tetrahedron. I walked with a limp, from bandaged the hole in my foot.
It was almost dawn when I decided I wasn't going to die.
I made some coffee, the thought of it being my last day weighing heavily on me. Each day afterward I dreaded the death they had promised was about to happen, but I soon realized my fate was no longer in the hands of dice.
Sighing happily, I took a breath of living air. I now live each day to the fullest, never knowing when it will be my last. Life and death are a dice roll, so watch your step.
And never leave spilled dice where someone might step on them.
Oh, and don't buy mysterious pewter dice at haunted house estate sales, like where I got mine.
Just be careful out there, and stay safe.
We're sitting there listening to our counselors tell us terrifying stories. Each one seemed more tame than the last. Like they were trying to wind us down for the night. After all, I had no doubt they didn't want to deal with a bunch of terrified pre-teens. "And then they all closed their eyes for the last time and drifted off to a deep relaxing slumber. Knowing the four-handed man was defeated by the courageous hero." The eldest counselor said quietly taking note that many of the campers had fallen asleep or were as close as they could manage.
"Alright campers, time for bed. Remember tomorrow we'll be practicing our swimming techniques in the lake, and the day after that is the final chance for anyone still interested in doing the solo camping!" One of the newer counselors said in a voice loud enough to wake most of us up. "Before that, however, we have one final story for the night. Only those who are above 14 may stay for this story. Goodnight everyone else." I heard a bunch of groaning from the younger campers. It was the first time I'd be able to hear the more scary stories since coming to this camp. So I was excited, my sleepy bear pajamas were keeping me relatively warm on this cool autumn night. I was hugging my teddy particularly close. I wasn't a brave person by any stretch of the imagination. However, tonight I really wanted to stay up and listen to this story.
"Now that the young children are all off to sleep, we'll begin the real stories for the night." The eldest counselor spoke softly, as she approached the central area of the campfire. She reached into a pouch of sand and lightly sprinkled it onto the fire. Several sparks of blue fire erupted from the campfire. She then returns to her spot in the circle. "I'm in charge of the stories tonight. So we'll begin with a gentler one. However, if you get scared. Please don't be afraid to speak out. One of the other counselors will lead you back to your cabin. If you need company for the night we'll stay by your cabin doors until you fall asleep. With that out of the way, we'll begin our story."
"Abigail Holliday was turning nineteen this year, her parents promised to get her the vehicle she always dreamed of. It was a yellow Ford Truck. It was an older model, but Abigail had her heart set on it since she saw it last year. She knew that it would be economical and that she would have to work extra shifts to be able to maintain it. But something about the vehicle had her desiring it more than anything else in the world." The elder counselor stops there, opens a book, and passes it around. Inside the book was a red-haired teenager standing next to a yellow truck. It was too dark for me to be able to make out much in the way of details but I could tell it was a yellow truck. I passed the book onward to the next person.
"On her nineteenth birthday, Abigail waited anxiously for the gift she knew she would receive. Her parents had been saving for months to afford the truck. They reminded Abigail constantly to not expect it, in case they couldn't afford it this year. However, teenagers rarely listen to their parents even less when it's something they truly want." The counselor opened a bottle of water and took a deep drink before she continued. "Time for Abigail seemed to reach a snail's pace. She spent the earliest hours of the morning staring out her front door. She desperately waited for her father to come home. Once he got home she would be going to the car lot to pick up her new yellow truck. Hours came and went and her father hadn't come home. Abigail's mother walked up behind her daughter, she gently placed her hand upon the teen's shoulder." The counselor flipped the page in the book and passed it around. This time there wasn't a photograph it was a new clipping. "Factory Fire Kills 94 Workers, 116 Left In Critical Condition, and 67 Seriously Injured." The time I stared at the clipping, I remembered this fire.
My mother told me it was the busiest night she'd experienced in nearly a decade of working as a nurse. She told me to this day she could still smell the burning flesh sometimes. After this happened she retired from nursing to become a restaurant owner. "Abigail couldn't believe the words coming from her mother's lips. How dare her father die on her nineteenth birthday! She was going to finally get that yellow truck! It was finally within her reach! Her father went ahead and died to take this from her. Abigail was hysterical, why had this been taken from her? She had been good up to this point. A whole year she worked harder than ever before. Perfect grades, she'd attended classes she used to skip. However, to prove to her parents she'd matured, she had been on her best behavior. So why....why had this been taken from her." The counselor takes a brief pause, to get herself another drink of water.
"Abigail left her home in a rage. She'd stolen her mother's car and no one knew where she was going. Her mother was shocked at the way her daughter was behaving. Then she gave a momentary chase after her daughter. Calling out for her to stop, to not continue this way. Abigail was beyond listening to her mother at this point. She wanted that yellow truck, she was going to get it one way or another. Abigail knew her mother kept a gun in her car for protection, and she knew the old man who ran the car lot where the truck was." This time the counselor shows the campers one final clipping. "Nineteen-year-old Abigail Holliday Killed..." The counselor had intentionally left the rest of the clipping blank. "Abigail could only hear the sounds of her anger, disappointment, sorrow, all emotions welling up inside her. She would scream as her mother's vehicle tore into the car lot. Abigail blinked away tears from her eyes as she saw it. Her yellow truck...it was there, within reach. She just needed to get out of her car...she just needed to walk to it...and she could just take it." At this moment a loud alarm sounded throughout the entire campground. The elder counselor looked surprised. The look on her face told us this wasn't part of the story.
She ushered the children to the lunch area and then departed. The sound of the alarm continued to cry out in the chilled night. I was holding onto my teddy bear even harder now. The story hadn't been too scary, but this was terrifying. I could hear the sounds of the other children whimpering. Some were outright crying, afraid of what was going on. "Don't worry campers, we are all going to make sure you stay safe. We wouldn't want anything to happen to you." Then comes a different siren, its soft sullen wail reminds me of something I'd heard before. Then the sound of glass shattering hits me. "All campers away from the windows! Now!" a loud authoritarian voice rings out. It was our camp leader, he was a tall impressive man. He looked like he had seen a ghost or something worse.
The alarms had mixed into something altogether alien, how had this happened? I never imagined that tonight I'd have to be afraid of something that could hurt me. I was only supposed to have to worry about words and pictures. Not whatever those alarms were wailing about. The alarms continue their haunting songs for several hours. I was too afraid to look up to see what was going on. I heard the counselors speak in hushed voices. "Water....children....flood....death....can't protect...." the younger counselors were put in charge of keeping us safe. The older ones frequently left the lunch center to go out to get supplies leaving us alone with people who seemed more frightened of what was going on than I did.
This continued for several hours until the light of the morning came through. It wasn't bright like it normally was. It seemed to be subdued by the murky grey skies that hung above. The alarms had died down. The familiar sound of the megaphone cracking could be heard all around us. "Dear Campers, unfortunately, due to unforeseen consequences we will be ending camp for the rest of the year. Your parents have been contacted and will be arriving within the rest of the day. We will leave the campsite open for another day to give all campers a chance to be picked up." with that the megaphone fell silent. The whispers of what happened erupted almost immediately after the silence of the megaphone. "This is my story of what happened to Camp Kawaka, I hope you campers liked it. Now remember to hurry off to bed so we can tell the spooky stories to the rest of the campers."
In this world, there are many cursed items tied to the spirits of those who suffered. If you come into possession of one, the spirit will haunt you until you die...or until you pass it on to someone else.
But there's some good news. You can't just slip the item into someone's pocket. They have to accept it willingly. That's why people try to pass things off in the weirdest ways. Someone handing you a button along with their change? Don't accept it. It might be cursed. Be careful about gifts with "sentimental value." Avoid garage and yard sales like the plague. But whatever you do, if you do get a cursed item, don't be like some assholes and hand them over to little children!
You see, kids are great like that. If they're young enough, they trust everyone and everything. You hand a kid something, anything really, and they'll happily accept with a big grin. Best I can tell, that's what happened to me. You see, she's been around as long as I can remember. I call her Mrs. Noface.
Some of my earliest memories were looking up in my bed to see her hovering there. At the time, I didn't understand that people were supposed to have faces or what blood and gore were. I just knew that Mrs. Noface was always there for me and always would be.
My parents weren't around all that much. Well, my dad never was. As far as I can tell, he ran off before I was born, but my mom... Well, let's just say I'm sure my mom was doing her best. You see, she never wanted a kid, as she was quick to tell me at almost any opportunity, but at least she made sure I was fed, clothed, had a bed to sleep in, and even got a present every Christmas, so I was luckier than many.
When mom was at work late at night, I could watch TV, but whenever she had her guy friends over, I had to go to my room. When I was five, there wasn't much in my room. There were a couple picture books from my first few years, an old brass button I'd always had, and my new set of crayons from the most recent Christmas. That's how my mom first learned about Mrs. Noface. You see, I drew one of the first things any kids draw, a family picture.
It was a crude picture like you'd expect. Stick figures in clothes, with the only features being simplistically drawn faces. But where mom was in a nice dress, and I was in my pajamas, Mrs. Noface had on her bloody white gown, and where her face was supposed to be, I drew a black void with crimson around the edges where it looked like her face had been torn away.
I don't remember the exact conversation that followed when she saw the picture, but I do remember her asking about the picture and reacting rather strongly when I told her about Mrs. Noface.
Not long after that, I met the doctor. The doctor was one of my mom's guy friends, but she told him she'd "cut him a deal on the price if you talk to my kid about her weird-ass drawings."
The doctor never told me his name. He said officially he was never here, but he did like talking about my drawings and Mrs. Noface. He told my mom that at my age, having an imaginary friend was normal, and I probably just got her from something I saw on TV late at night but didn't understand.
However, my "imaginary friend" never went away. Eventually, I started going to school, and I learned very quickly that my mom wasn't the only one bothered by drawings of Mrs. Noface, so finally, I stopped drawing her or speaking with her in public. That seemed to be enough to appease the teachers, but most of the kids still avoided me. They called me weird and spooky. Maybe that's because I was obsessed with ghosts and monsters, or maybe it was because mysterious things happened around me. At least, according to them.
I still remember the time Rick hit me. I'd never really seen Mrs. Noface interact with anyone else, but she picked him up and tossed him a few feet away. He wasn't hurt, but he sure was scared, and so were the other kids who saw! I got put in detention for that one. Also, whenever people played tricks on me, it always seemed to backfire. There was the time Alex propped a bunch of dirty erasers above the door so they'd fall down on me when I walked through, only for Mrs. Noface to grab them before they fell and then throw them back at him one at a time.
As we got older, the pranks got crueler, but Mrs. Noface was always there to protect me. When kids threw stones, she'd throw them back. Cruel letters always seemed to find their way back to the students who wrote them. Everywhere I went, kids would whisper to each other, calling me "Witch" or "Monster." But I didn't mind all that much. I was used to being alone, with only Mrs. Noface to keep me company.
At some point, I figured out people found entities like Mrs. Noface scary. Not everyone thought horror movies were secretly comedies like I did, but I couldn't imagine monsters actually hurting people! After all, Mrs. Noface never actually hurt anyone, well, not seriously, anyway.
As years passed, everyone got older, rocks stopped getting thrown, and people just started ignoring me. Slowly, Mrs. Noface seemed to appear to me less and less as well. By the time I graduated and got a job, I'd go days or weeks without seeing her around, though she still often showed up behind me in mirrors, which always made me smile.
By this point, I was starting to have a relatively normal life, at least by most people's standards. I worked a nine-to-five that I hated just little enough not to quit, got my own apartment, and even went on the occasional date, few of which ever went anywhere. I lost contact with my mom. I'm grateful she didn't just abandon me as a kid, but we'd never really been a family, and once I could take care of myself, there just wasn't a connection there. I remember swearing that if I ever had a kid, I wouldn't just let them go. We'd be a happy family, like the one I never had! Then, late one night, when I was walking home, everything changed.
It started when I heard footsteps behind me. I didn't think much about it at first. It wasn't common to run into other people walking around the neighborhood this time of night, but it wasn't unheard of either. But the footsteps kept getting closer and closer as if something was chasing me. I picked up my pace, but so did they. I broke into a run, and so did they. I was trying to think of if there was anywhere public and open this time of night when I rounded a corner and saw two monsters waiting for me.
One of them had a half-melted face; much of his skin was missing, and his left eye was hanging by a strand. Next to him stood a clown, but his face was distorted, his mouth was too big, his teeth were too long, and his eyes looked like they were bulging out of his head. I turned and tried to run across the street but got tackled from behind.
Looking up from the ground, I could see a werewolf crouching over me, laughing as it brandished...a knife? When he spoke, his mouth didn't move. "Hey, empty out your pockets right now! And I wouldn't scream if you know what's good for you!"
I nodded silently and dug through my pockets, dumping everything on the ground. My wallet, phone, even my pocket change. The wolfman scooped it all up, laughing and calling me a "good mark."
But then the wolfman froze. He lifted his knife up and started shouting. "Hey, you! Do you want to die? Get out of here, now!"
I didn't see who he was talking to, and based on the way the other two were looking around, they didn't either. Finally, the clown spoke up. "Hey man, you messing with us? Now's not the time. Let's just take the stuff and run!"
But the wolfman's hand started to shake, and his voice sounded afraid. "I'm warning you! Get the hell away from us, now, or else!"
Finally, the half-burned man reached up and tore off his Halloween mask, looking around before turning back to his accomplice. "Are you trippin'? There's no one there! Get your shit together, and let's go!"
By now, the wolfman had fallen back and was looking up, pointing a shaking knife at thin air as his voice reached a panicked pitch. "I'm warning you! Get away! Leave me alone!" He started swiping at the air, and that was when something odd happened. The wolfman's hand froze, then he raised it straight up. Then, after a moment, he started hovering as if being picked up by his hand. When his mask flew off, it was clear he was sobbing. "Please! Just let me go! Please!"
By now, his two friends were grabbing onto him as if trying to pull him down, but then they were both thrown bodily aside as if pushed by some invisible force, and he started screaming incoherently, as if in great pain. A moment later, his face was torn clean off, and he dropped to the ground, lifeless. The other two muggers ran away screaming.
I was about to run too, but there on the ground was all my stuff. Thinking that leaving my ID or phone sitting next to a crime scene like this was probably a mistake, I gathered it all up, pocketing it all, but then stopped when I saw something I hadn't thought much about in a long time.
There, among the loose change, was an old beat-up brass button. I'd had it for as long as I can remember and always thought of it as good luck. I reached down slowly and grabbed hold of it. As soon as it was in my hands, I could see Mrs. Noface hovering over the body of my would-be attacker.
Years have gone by since then. For a while, Mrs. Noface was a significant presence in my life again. I spoke with her daily and swore to myself I would never neglect her, and then I met my partner.
It wasn't a particularly noteworthy meeting. We worked together, and eventually, he asked me if I wanted to get coffee. Coffee became drinks, drinks became dinners, and before I knew it, we were going steady. At first, Mrs. Noface hovered around him constantly. I was almost afraid she'd attack him like the mugger. But over time, she slowly backed away, giving us more space. Eventually, she stopped showing up on our dates altogether.
After we got married, she slowly stopped hanging around again. Nowadays, I only see her in the mirrors behind me. But even when she's not around, I know she's watching and protecting me. I've realized that, in many ways, she was the mother I never really had. Aside from my husband and now my daughter, Isabell, she means more to me than anyone...which is why it's so hard to say goodbye.
I know she won't be gone, not really, but I'll never see her again. I'm fighting back tears as I write this. When I look into the blackness of the computer screen, I can see her there, hovering behind me. I wonder if she understands what I'm about to do? I wonder if it will make her happy or sad? I hope she understands how much she's meant to me and why I must do what I'm about to do. You see, during my pregnancy, I got sick, really sick, and I couldn't treat it because it would kill my precious Isabelle.
Now it's too late. I have to break that promise to myself about never abandoning my child. Even Mrs. Noface can't protect me this time. So all I can do is leave Isabel, my beloved daughter, the most precious gift I've ever been given: an old brass button.
Dreamy lapping of the pool water with the lights out and the wavy reflections of ripples dazzled me. My eyes closed and I fell asleep beside the pool. It was a moment in my life when everything was changing, I felt alone and uncertain of my future.
I was so exhausted that day, that I just laid there with a towel wrapped around my bikini. I'd wanted to go for a swim, but I was suddenly too tired. I hadn't looked into the dark waters to make sure nothing was lurking in the shadow of the deep end. I didn't know there was any reason to.
I'm pretty sure the scariest thing I'd ever seen in a pool was a picture of a four-foot-long alligator. As far as I knew there weren't any alligators in the Tri States. I'd just wanted to go for a swim, got myself into my favorite swimsuit, and then passed out in the comfortable deck lounger.
"You alright Cass?" My mousy uncle asked me in the early morning, when the sun was coming up. It was cold and I was glad I had the towel covering me, keeping me warm.
"I must have dozed off. I was gonna swim before bed, you know, to take my mind off things." I said.
"That's fine Cass. You take anything you want, it's all yours." He gestured at the house but didn't say why. We both knew, and I nodded, trying not to start crying again.
"I hate this." I told him.
Uncle Jerry offered me one of his flamboyant hugs and I got up for it. "I'm here for you, Sparkler."
"Thanks." I told him. I went back inside, shivering in the morning.
Before I closed the door I saw it there, reflected off the glass, sitting like a dark thing in the pool. I looked back and squinted, staring into the water. I felt a shudder, not just from the cold, but from a feeling that something was there looking back at me. I couldn't make out what it was, but I was suddenly afraid of whatever was in the pool. I couldn't quite see it, but I knew it was there.
I watched Uncle Jerry cleaning the pool, seemingly oblivious to whatever lurked under the water. I wasn't sure I wasn't just imagining it. I thought maybe I wasn't awake all the way.
Then, in the shower later on, I saw something dark brown and transparent bubbling up from the drain. I shrieked, I hate slime - slime terrifies me. Uncle Jerry and his spouse Tom were at the bathroom door in a flash, asking me through the closed door if I was okay.
"Sorry." I told them. I knew they were just starting to relax in the living room when I'd decided to get ready for bed, starting with a shower.
That first day warned me, and I should have kept my guard up. I felt safe and at home with Uncle Jerry, that is why I had asked him if I could come live with him. He had done all the paperwork to adopt me overnight and within a few days I had moved in with him.
The funeral for Mom and Dad and David was on Saturday. It was raining, and my heart broke at the sight of their caskets lying together. If I had gone with them, maybe they would have driven through that intersection a minute earlier or later. Things would not have happened so that they were there at the exact instant the truck's driver nodded off and missed the red light.
I cried and I felt physical pain inside my body, letting go of them. They lowered Dad first and then Mom and finally the tiny casket for my baby brother. I had stayed home just so I could have facetime with my friends. I already didn't care about talking to my friends anymore.
Alone, I sat in my new room at Uncle Jerry's. He and Tom have the figurines from their wedding cake, which are actually the cat and mouse cartoon. It symbolizes how connected and playful and loyal they are to each other. I needed that stability, and I had nowhere else to go. I was so grateful to them for taking me in that I didn't complain about the strange things I was seeing.
The slime running down the side of my window was starting to congeal. I was trembling and shaking with revulsion and horror. Slime makes me feel disgusted and afraid, it is my deepest fear, to encounter slime. How it kept appearing I did not yet know.
I saw it again when I was in the kitchen, washing dishes in the sink. I took my hands out of the water and my fingers were stuck together by slime, it dripped, and it was festooned between them as I spread them. With a low wail my scream began, completely involuntary. Then I was shrieking hysterically, holding my hands straight out.
Tom came running and used a towel to gently and efficiently remove the slime. "I'm sorry." He said, unsure what to do to calm me. I was shaking and looking at the sink, wondering what could have made the slime.
That night I sat between my uncles on the couch in the dark of the living room. They let me choose what to watch, everything they did was always for me. They never stopped giving things up for me, nothing was too expensive, there was no limit to how much attention I could have.
But my life was becoming a living hell.
Somehow the two men had both fallen asleep, exhausted from their work and their efforts. I was somehow alone between them, absorbing what I watched, unable to change the channel. The show was about an underwater reef, and at first, it was just David Attenborough talking about the reef like it was the most profound thing on the planet. Lots of colorful fish with exotic names kept my uncles amused. Each of them kept playfully criticizing the colors and stripes on the fish, saying they wouldn't wear that. I laughed; I hadn't laughed in a long time.
All too soon the way of the slime returned. It found its way into the show, and I was petrified, unable to look away or turn it off. My uncles snored softly on either side of me, oblivious to my plight.
I watched in horror as the show went into detail about a horrible mollusk called the Cone Snail. It would fire a stinger out of its mouth like a harpoon and stun its prey. Then it would unravel its massive mouth, like a huge net, and envelop the helpless victim. Still alive, the caught prey would be dissolved in its acidic mucus, basically melted alive. I gasped in horror, my eyes widening. I stared at the conical shell and listened to the orchestra play a creepy track while the show continued to show the nightmare slime creature.
"I apologize for what you are about to see." David Attenborough was saying.
The Cone Snail found me at my family's funeral. I was all alone, watching it crawl up to their caskets. The horrible creature was so huge that when it unfurled its slimy mouth it could cover all three caskets. I cried and wailed in terror and anguish, but there was nothing I could do to stop it from devouring them.
I woke up on the couch, sweating under a blanket. The TV was off, and my uncles had gone to bed. I wanted to give them a break from all my freak-outs, but I needed to be comforted. I thought about turning on the back lights and going for a nice cold swim, but the thought of whatever was there in the water frightened me.
I love swimming, but it seemed like the pool belonged to it. I somehow knew it was the Cone Snail. I worried that it might have caused the accident, using its slime to make the road slippery. I hated it, and I knew it had followed me here to finish killing off my entire family, finishing with me.
My fears made me go and hide in my bedroom. I slowly peeked out the window to the pool below, and there I saw it under the ripples in the dark waters. Its conical shell was there, perfectly still.
I ran and got into my bed and hid under the covers but felt something cool and sticky there. I raised the blankets off of me and found my entire bed covered in translucent brown slime. My eyes widened in disbelieving horror.
I started sobbing helplessly and crawled out of my bed, the slime was all over my pajamas. I stripped them off, shaking and crying, and it was all over my body. I streaked to the bathroom and got into the shower. With soap and hot water, I was able to clean the slime from my skin.
I got out of the shower, dripping tears and frowning miserably. I wanted to wake up my uncles and tell them about the Cone Snail and the slime it had left in my bed, but I worried I would only disturb them and that there was nothing they could do.
With a towel on I went back into my bedroom and turned on the lights. I confirmed that my bed was indeed soaked in slime. I couldn't go near it, so I moved around the edge of my room staying as far from it as I could. When I reached the dresser, I got out fresh pajamas and started getting dressed.
With warm clean clothes on I started feeling watched and I looked up at the window. I saw there, a nasty slug's eye on a stalk, staring at me. I couldn't breathe, I gasped for air, and I was shocked and terrified. The eye slopped against the window and left a trail of slime across it before it retreated.
I wanted to scream, but I was backed into a corner, almost unable to take a breath. When it was over, I felt sick and fled to the toilet and threw up. The taste of bile made me gag, and the contents of my stomach reminded me of the slime. It seemed like it was everywhere.
There was no way I was going back into my bedroom with that thing watching me sleep. I went back to the living room and wrapped myself in the warm blanket, shivering in horror. I could not sleep; my nerves were frayed, and I kept thinking about how it might silently appear over me as I slept and billow out is mouth to engulf me.
When they found me in the morning, I was sleepless and rocking myself.
"What's the matter?" Uncle Jerry asked me with sympathy.
"There was slime in my bed, on my body, in the shower, on my hands." I said. "The thing in the deep end of the pool, it's a Cone Snail."
"You had a bad dream, Sparkler. It's okay, you know you are under a lot of stress. I'm here for you. Both me and Tom are here for you. Anything you need." Uncle Jerry reassured me.
I shook my head, "It's not a dream. I know I haven't slept much. I sometimes fall asleep or lie awake, I've got no control over my body. You have to believe me; it slimed my bed. Go look."
"I don't have to look. I believe you." Uncle Jerry told me. He gave me a gentle hug. "We'll get the sheets cleaned and your bed made. You just need a good night's sleep."
"There's something happening here." I said morbidly.
"You alright, Sparkles?" Uncle Jerry looked concerned.
"Check in the pool. It is hiding in the deep end." I told him. He nodded, humoring me. He got up and went out back and peered into the pool. For a moment I thought he could see it, but then he shrugged.
"It must have left. You're safe now."
"If it's a Cone Snail, we can pour salt over the doorways, and it can't cross." Tom said, almost joking.
"That's for like voodoo witches. You're thinking of demons and stuff like that." Uncle Jerry said, almost laughing at the almost joke.
"Well, what if that's what it is? Some kind of heebie-jeebie voodoo demon? Salt." Tom held up a canister of sea salt and gestured to it with a flair in his wrist movement.
"Do you want us to 'fix' the doors with salt tonight?" Uncle Jerry asked me. He was ready to really do it or start laughing, depending on my answer. I love my uncle very much; the whole moment made me smile.
"Pour the salt." I said, feeling better.
That night I got tucked into clean sheets and they poured salt across my door. "Get the window too." I yawned. They poured a line of salt on the windowsill and then left me with the rest of the container.
"She's so adorable." Tom was saying quietly as they went into their bedroom.
I was sound asleep when I heard something out in the living room. I got up to look, taking the salt in my hands. There I saw Tom standing there in his boxers and t-shirt. He was facing a looming shadow, seemingly unaware of what he was doing.
"Tom." I called to him, without raising my voice. It was like a projected whisper. I tried again and he didn't respond. I stepped over the salt barrier to my room and noticed the back door was open.
There was a thick and disgusting looking trail of slime leading into the darkness in the living room. I felt dread at the sight of it, for not only was it slime, but something had come in from outside and left that trail.
Then I saw what loomed there in the darkness. Tom stood like he was in some kind of trance beneath it, and it towered over him. Its conical shell glistened in the dim light, and I saw its pale slimy skin and its eyestalks moving around, looking at Tom and looking at me.
It fired one of its darts at me from within its mouth and the dart struck the wall behind me, just barely missing hitting me in the cheek. I let out a piercing scream, to which Tom did not react.
"What is it? Who's there? I have a gun!" I heard Uncle Jerry come out of his room. He didn't really have a gun, he hates guns. I pointed, stammering in terror.
"Dear sweet baby-Jesus!" Uncle Jerry saw Tom there and ran to save him. The Cone Snail fired another dart which caught him in the leg. He fell beneath it, stunned as its prey.
Then the Cone Snail began to widen out its mouth, spreading it like a parachute over them. I was frozen in fear until I realized it was going to take them from me, just like it took my family. All the pain and anger at losing them welled up inside me and I forgot how terrified I was.
I rushed at it and started pouring the canister of salt I was clutching. At first the Cone Snail ignored me and continued to envelop my uncles. Then its flesh began to bubble, and its eye stalks looked at me and the small wound.
I had angered it. The creature retracted its unfolded mouth and readied another dart for me. I bravely shook the rest of the salt into its open mouth hole, seeing the boney dart getting loaded for it to spit at me with force. The creature didn't like getting salted in its mouth very much, but I wasn't hurting it. I realized Cone Snails live in salt water and I was only annoying it.
Helpless and in danger, I fled from it. I could hear the squishing noise it was making as it pursued me. I looked around for anything I could use and all I saw was the fire extinguisher. I took it up, unsure how it worked. I looked at the card on its handle and read the instructions.
Aim nozzle at base of fire.
I started spraying fire retardant into the Cone Snail's eyes and mouth until it retreated. I looked around the corner, but it had gone back outside, presumably to hide in the deep end of the pool.
I went over to my uncles and found that Tom's mesmerized state was gone, and he was holding Uncle Jerry, cradling him. "He's not waking up."
"We have to get him to a hospital." I decided. We loaded him up into the car and took him to the emergency room. On the way there he regained consciousness.
"What happened? I dreamed about a giant snail in our living room. It was an intruder, someone shot me." He said.
They removed the boney dart of the Cone Snail from his leg. The police showed up and asked us about the intrusion in our home. Both of my uncles claimed they hadn't seen who attacked us.
The police visited our house and dusted for fingerprints, but ignored the slime, although as I watched them, I could tell they thought it was weird.
I had said over and over what really happened, but nobody believed me. The police took the harpoon out of the wall as evidence.
"You don't believe me?" I asked Uncle Jerry the next day. I looked out back at the work being done. I didn't believe that he didn't believe me.
"It was just a bad dream. A burglary gone wrong."
"Then why are you draining the pool and having it filled in?"
"I never said I didn't believe." Uncle Jerry said in a way that sounded scared.
I felt bad for interrogating him. He sat with the bandages on his leg with his back to the work in the backyard. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.
"I love you too, Sparkler."
Seasons never change high enough above the snowline, in this land of endless forests and shrouds of drifting mist. I've hunted here on my people's traditional land with my father and with the ghosts of my ancestors. Guided and knowing my path, I call myself a man, but to those whose forest this is, I am animal-friend.
It was a day when the dark green shadow of the mountain held a bridal veil of pure white clouds. Old raven was calling to me, asking for crumbs from my sandwich. That is the last moment of my life when I was at peace.
Many seekers of Skookum come here. They think they will find evidence of Bigfoot while they camp, hide camera traps, and hike a few miles into the ancient forests. I know Skookum, and it takes a lifetime of understanding and growth, not just a four-day hiking holiday and some amateur knowledge.
There is a dark side to Bigfoot searches. Not all of those who track him are without knowledge. There is Silent Owl, a fallen medicine healer whose family died a few years ago during the plague that swept through our homes. His ways have changed, he will not use his magic to heal. The Skookum in his eyes has grown cruel and broken.
So, when the hunters came and asked me if I was Joseph Pale, I told them I would not help them find Bigfoot, for it was their intention to shoot the legendary beast and become famous. I told them:
"Bigfoot is not an animal. He is like a man, peaceful and considerate unless you are trespassing and planning to hurt his family. I will not help you, and I'd suggest you turn around."
I thought that would be the end of it. They could go into the woods with their rifles and they would find nothing but the Ranger waiting to check their hunting permits. I doubted such men could even find an elk, let alone Bigfoot. They had no Skookum, judging by their oversized rifles.
"I will help you, but not for less than double what you offered Little Fox. If he has said no, it now costs double." The chilling and calloused voice of Silent Owl spoke from my shadow, where he had walked over from the lodge to see what the hunters wanted from me.
"Well alright." The hunter who looked like Matthew McConaughey said. The others whooped with excitement. "We're gonna go bag ourselves a creature that doesn't even exist."
Silent Owl took their money and went with them.
I was horrified.
The thought of Silent Owl leading them to the sacred lands, set aside for the forest people since the beginning of Creation, was appalling and grotesque. I sat for a long time, feeling great woe and horror, knowing of the violation that those men planned to commit.
My Skookum grew weak inside me and in its place rose up fear. I was truly afraid to do nothing, afraid of what would happen, afraid on behalf of the peaceful and unsuspecting Bigfoot families that Silent Owl had betrayed. I resolved to go and to try and help them, to protect them, if necessary.
I am not a hunter of men, and the thought of turning my compound bow on a person and silently assassinating him frightened me. I was not sure where such a thought came from, but I could imagine having Silent Owl in my sights and putting an end to their expedition in just one shot. They might shoot back, but I would be long gone.
I trembled, afraid of the consequences of murder, but I also realized I must be willing to do anything, or there was no point in going after them. I went home and called my dogs from the woods, Spritzer and Chief. They came to me, wagging their tails and the sniffed my hands and sensed I was about to go on a big hunt. Spritzer growled, he didn't like my fear, but he obeyed me and got into the back of my truck. Chief seemed nervous, following me around while I packed.
When I had my backpack ready, I took up my compound bow, a .36 caliber revolver, my hunting knife and a survival hatchet. I loaded my truck with extra fuel and water and food for my dogs. For a long moment I sat in the cab, in the muddy driveway of my trailer. It was a decision I had to choose to make. I could stop and do nothing, or I could take the warpath.
We were soon off the highway and driving up an old dirt logging road, partially overgrown. I stopped at the creek and got out. We hiked the rest of the way up to where the road ends and there we found the pickup that belonged to Matthew McConaughey and his buddies and it was empty. They had already set out on foot up into the mountains. They had about six miles to hike before they were even at the edge of Bigfoot's territory.
I followed them, with fear of what they planned to do and fear of what I planned to do weighing in my mind. Old raven found me and asked me:
"Where are you going?"
I ignored the creature and led my dogs. It grows dark in the forest before it is night, and I saw the campfire of Matthew McConaughey's hunting party and I stopped and set up a cold camp. I fed my dogs and slept little, listening to the darkness and hearing the voices of the men as they bragged loudly. In the morning I waited until they left. I could have shot an arrow into Silent Owl, but I was too afraid.
We came to their camp and I finished putting out their fire. The dripping pines weren't in danger of burning, but it annoyed me that they had littered and left their campfire smoking. My dogs sniffed everywhere, sensing that we were hunting these men. They looked at me questioningly and I said:
"I don't know either. I know this is strange, but I don't know how to turn back."
When we reached the quiet mountain meadow where my grandfather had seen Bigfoot, I realized we were crossing the threshold. There was no turning back, we were entering into another world, an older and more civilized world. In this place, there was a balance between man and nature, and man wanted for nothing. They were hidden here, unseen by the cold and calculating eyes of science.
I followed the tracks of the hunters easily, seeing how they blundered through the grass and bushes. The trees shed their dew like a soft rain and birds who had never seen humans called to each other for the curious gossip of newcomers. I caught up to them and waited some distance away, crouching down and hidden. I thought to myself that if I was going to fire an arrow and put an end to this, that now would be the right time.
All I could think about was them shooting back at me, chasing me, hunting me. I was frozen in fear, unable to take action. My dogs were growling softly as they too waited to strike.
The hunting party moved on and I followed them.
We began to climb the side of the mountain, and I realized with anxiety that by now, Bigfoot would know we were here. It occurred to me that I didn't need to do anything, if Bigfoot was disturbed by the intrusion. Bigfoot had great Skookum, and he could fend for himself.
I had told myself this and used it as an excuse to abandon my foolish pursuit of the hunters. Both of my opportunities to fire an arrow and end Silent Owl's betrayal had resulted in me paralyzed by fear. I knew I would do nothing, there was no point in me trying. So, I told myself to let Bigfoot defend his own lands and to turn back.
That is when things became terrifying. My dogs smelled something in the air they didn't like. Their loyalty to me shattered as I told them to stop and to stay, but they ran away, whimpering in terror. I turned and soon I could smell Bigfoot, like rancid swampwater. The foul wind turned my stomach and drove a primal fear into me like a thorn.
I looked up, my eyes watering and saw a blurry image of one great hand curled around a tree at a monstrous height. The angry eyes, almost human, peered out at me from behind the wood. I shook and stood frozen, looking back at it. There was a low growl from the creature and then it called out in a voice that was too much like the howl of a man.
I fell to my knees and dropped my weapon. I put up my hands, covering my head. I looked down from it, my instincts commanding my movements. I wanted to survive, and I could sense its rage and its hostility. I prayed, my lips murmuring:
"Great Spirit, please show me as animal-friend. I meant no harm coming here, forgive me. Teach this son of the forest I am not its enemy. Put compassion in its heart."
Bigfoot looked at me and heard my frightened whimpering. It stared down on me for a long time, breathing heavily. It belted an enraged roar, but it did not lift me or harm me. I shook with terror, fearing for my life. Then the ground shook as it stomped away and left me there.
My legs were shaking as I tried to stand, but my fear had overwhelmed me. I fell down, alone without my dogs, and lay staring up into the lit green canopy. I took a long time but my Skookum gradually built up inside me, and I decided to follow Bigfoot. I knew that if it thought I was an enemy, I would already be dead.
On the ridge I saw the hunters. They had found Bigfoot tracks and were following them. The one who looked and sounded exactly like Matthew McConaughey was in the lead. Silent Owl was behind them, he was looking around, sensing that some hidden danger had him in their sights.
This time I let my arrow fly. Silent Owl fell from the ridge, and the other hunters did not notice until he had plummeted to his death. I felt sorrow for my actions, but I knew it was just. He had led the hunters to Bigfoot, and in doing so, he had begun the killing that was to follow.
"Forgive me, brother. May you find peace with your loved ones on the other side." I spoke on behalf of Silent Owl, hoping that he would find forgiveness in death and be reunited with his family.
For the hunters, death was not so kind or gentle. They found Bigfoot, or rather, a band of four younger male Bigfoot found them. They were in a savage mood, having watched all the females and children of their tribe flee in terror. The older male Bigfoot had gone too.
I called out a warning, hoping they would run for their lives. I'd watched the Bigfoot flee before the hunters could find them, vanishing into the forest from the open mountain meadows below. The hunters looked to my position on the ridge, having heard my warning cry. One of them used his rifle scope to identify me. For a split second I thought I'd be shot, but they knew nothing of my fault in Silent Owl's death. They never climbed down to his body to see the broken arrow.
Then the Bigfoot attacked. Their first assault was a test of the strength of the intruders. They didn't kill any of them, but they left injuries and terror on the faces of the hunters. They fired their rifles at close range but managed to miss with every shot. When the Bigfoot retreated, the hunters were too terrified to continue, all except Matthew McConaughey.
I followed him as he set out alone, deep into Bigfoot territory. He was determined to slay Bigfoot, and would not back down from their gorilla antics. We came to a part of the forest that was very old, and great boulders were all that remained of some primeval mountain. Beneath the boulders were shallow caves. Each cave had the skeletal remains of a Bigfoot.
We had entered their burial ground. Every Bigfoot that had ever died was brought to this place, for countless generations, going back to the very first day. I shuddered in dread of what the spirits would think of me for entering such a sacred place without right, without tribute.
I took one last candid look at Matthew McConaughey where he was crouched and handling the skull of Bigfoot. I left him there and went back the way I had come. As I wandered back through the forest I found the first of the fleeing hunters. Bigfoot had broken his neck, disemboweled him and impaled his body on broken limbs high up in a tree.
I gasped in horror at the sight, but I left his remains there. I had my own skin to save, and I wasn't out of the woods yet.
I found the second hunter dead as well. The Bigfoot had relentlessly pursued them and killed at least two of them. I felt dread as I realized the Bigfoot were close and they were killing every man in sight. Would I be hunted down and brutally slaughtered?
I heard gun shots in the distance. I knew the Bigfoot had found the last hunter. I moved on slowly and cautiously, night was falling and I felt trepidation at the thought of camping or wandering in the dark. I pressed on, almost to the creek.
There I found the last of the hunters. They had torn him to pieces and scattered him all over the place. His rifle was twisted and smashed. I felt sick as the last light was fading. I knelt at the small waterfall and threw up. When I arose, my panic grew to screaming heights as I saw I was surrounded by angry Bigfoot.
I knew it was about to be all over. They would descend on me and tear off my arms and bite through my neck. I cowed at the sight of them and again fell to my knees. They were closing in on me when I heard a loud and almost chuckling grunting noise.
I looked up and saw the massive old Bigfoot I had first seen. He had come and seen me and was telling the others to let me go. The Bigfoot looked at their leader and then they backed away from me and left me there, shaking in terror.
I fled through the forest, following the creek until I came to the old logging road. I took one look at Matthew McConaughey's abandoned vehicle and I knew it would stay there and rust, nobody was coming back from the hunting party.
I walked toward my own vehicle and when I got there, I tossed my backpack into the back. Chief looked up at me and whined. He had hidden there, waiting for my return. I called to Spritzer, but he never came. With my heart heavy at his disappearance, I drove us back to the highway and took us home.
That night I sat with my hands shaking and my nerves frayed. I had survived, but my memories of what I had seen and how terrible it all was would linger in my mind forever. I would never have peace again. As I sat thinking about it, I wondered what had become of my other dog. Chief had come inside, having had enough of the woods. He sat miserable, missing his brother.
As we sat staring at his empty place by the fire, I heard barking outside. I opened the door and there he was, Spritzer had traveled all night and somehow found his way home. I was overjoyed, and some part of me began to feel hope.
I realized the Bigfoot would again know the peace and isolation they needed to survive. They had let me go because they are not monsters, and they forgave me. Spritzer's return home was like a sign that in the end, all would be well.
The car’s engine revved as I sped down the road.
I was lost in thought and hardly took notice of the rain crashing against my windshield.
Nature seemed to sense my anger. The storm was rising.
I poured more vodka down my throat, my eyes constantly darting to the shiny black handgun lying on the passenger seat. Brushing the cold metal with the tip of my fingers, my mind involuntarily flooded with images of my oldest daughter Mara. Her entire life played through my mind in mere seconds. My last memory of Mara was from when I had to identify her body in the morgue.
My hands began to shake. An uncontrollable tremor spread through my body. I pulled over the car unable to continue and slammed my fist against the steering wheel.
The images of the morgue would not leave me.
I closed my eyes.
There she was, lying on a metal table. A blanket had been carefully draped over her body, only revealing her pale face. She had just turned 16. Death seemed to have aged her well beyond that. The pathologist placed his hand on my shoulder. I had not been able to comprehend any of his words. The man’s actions had seemed so forced and well-practiced it only angered me more. I had asked for a moment alone. After the doctor left I hesitantly placed my hand on my daughter’s cheek. Almost instantly I pulled it back. She had felt so cold. I stared at her lower abdomen where I knew the knife had pierced her. For a fraction of a second, I contemplated pulling away the blanket and exposing the wound. But I could not muster the strength. She looked peaceful now. As if she was sleeping. I feared exposing the wound which had killed her would somehow change that.
That had been little over a month ago. The police had quickly caught the youth who committed the crime. Some bum who’d attempted to rob her and wielded his knife a little too overenthusiastically. He had murdered her although she had given him her purse.
I punched the wheel again.
It wasn’t fair.
The youth’s trial was yesterday. He’d been acquitted on account of procedural mistakes by the police. The man had smiled at me as they led him out of the courtroom.
It wasn’t fair.
That bum had destroyed my life at an astounding rate. My wife could barely stand to look at me anymore. A week ago, she moved out of the house and took our youngest daughter with her. She told me I needed help. She said she couldn’t watch me ruin my life.
I didn’t blame her.
This past month I found solace in liquor. I could not let go of my pain. It festered into an uncontrollable rage. All I could think about was the injustice of it all. All I could see was the pale face of my dead daughter. All I wanted was to kill the man responsible. It became an obsession. I had been unable to console my wife. My youngest daughter had practically not spoken since the loss of her sister. I found her quietly curled up in Mara’s bed most days. Unable to let go. Unable to move on. I broke my heart.
I had felt a strange sense of relief watching them both drive off. I did not need them to see what happened next. I did not want my youngest daughter to witness her dad being dragged away for murder. I preferred the solitude and the warm embrace of alcohol.
My eyes darted back towards the gun and I sighed. I had to do this. Otherwise I would never know peace.
Determined, I turned the ignition key. The car purred gently before reverting into stillness.
I turned the key again.
I cursed loudly and tried again.
I took out my frustration on the steering wheel until both my hands ached. I grabbed my phone ready to call a tow truck, but it would not switch on.
The wind howled outside. I checked my wristwatch, but the handles had stopped moving. Everything seemed in suspension.
After a short internal debate, I decided. The thought of remaining in the car suddenly seemed unbearable. Feeling restless, I kicked open the door and got out of the car, hastily stuffing the fun in my jacket pocket.
The storm was livid. Rain poured with such force it temporarily deafened all other thoughts coursing through my mind. I was drenched within second, but it didn’t bother me. I started walking down the road, crossing a little bridge across a river.
Mumbled curses escaped my mouth as I realized I was lost. A cold mist lazily enveloped me. Not knowing what else to do I continued walking until a distant light pierced through the grey veil. Like a moth I gravitated towards it. It’s source, a small bus stop.
Relieved to have found some cover I fell back into one of the metal seats. My hands felt numb. I rubbed them together for a couple moments before reaching into my pocket for my pack of cigarettes.
After taking a long drag I closed my eyes and leaned back against the bus stop. Slowly, I blew out a cloud of smoke and the tremor subsided.
Without instruction my mind drifted back towards the youth who’d killed my daughter. A familiar doubt fell over me. I had always valued human life. Ad a family man I’d constantly tried to maximize everyone’s happiness. Now here I was, committed to blowing a hole in the head of my daughters’ murderer.
I turned around and looked at my reflection in the glass. I could no longer recognize the pale, lined face staring back at me. Droplets of rain slow slid down the glass. It gave my reflection even more of a somber appearance.
I looked back out in front of me and took another drag from the clammy cigarette stuck between my fingers. Closing my eyes, I exhaled, expelling another cloud of smoke.
The voice startled me. The cigarette slipped from my grasp and fell down my shirt. I jumped up swearing as ash scorched my chest.
Jesus Christ, I muttered at the young boy standing before me.
The boy grinned.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.
I shrugged and sat back down.
The boy took a seat beside me.
It holds a strange beauty doesn’t it?
I glanced at him.
He nodded out at the storm.
There was a silence.
I broke it by standing and pacing up and down the little bus stop.
When is the god damn bus going to get here?
The boy gave me an appraising look.
I’m afraid no bus can take you to where you want to go, John.
I absentmindedly shrugged off his words and lit another cigarette. After my first drag it hit me. I stared at the boy. He stared back. A latent intensity burned in his eyes.
How do you know my name?
I know a great many things.
I know the pain you feel, John. I have seen it before. Many times.
I crushed the pack of cigarettes in my hand, feeling a fresh wave of anger crash over me.
You don’t know me!
The boy have me a sad smile.
I have seen this before. Someone loses someone close them. As a result, you feel rage build deep inside of you. Fueled by guilt because you weren’t able to prevent what happened. Unable to see that it was beyond your control to begin with. You could never have changed what happened, yet you cannot forgive yourself either. The mind cruelly tortures the body, until your heart is riddled with sorrow. Now your existence is anguish. You wish you had been the one to die because the thought of living on just seems too difficult. Living in this word does not seem bearable at the sight of such a loss.
I remained speechless, unable to comprehend the little boy beside me. The boy sighed and scratched the back of his head.
I’ve seen this before. After a while it all begins to look the same. The faces may change but emotion remains constant. Your face is lined as so many before you. A canvas of hate and anger.
The boy sighed again and jumped to his feet.
Murder will not bring her back.
I spun towards the boy.
What did you say?
Mara is gone. Murder won’t bring her back.
The boy spoke the words so casually it took me a moment to register them. Then, before I could stop myself, I slammed the boy against the glass wall. The entire bus stop trembled.
Don’t you say that name! I shouted. Tears began streaming down my face. Don’t say it!
The boy stared at me with a blank expression. He put his hand around mine and slowly pulled loose from my grip. His fingers hard as iron.
I feel for you. I really do. Your daughter deserved better.
I know you think revenge will dull the pain. That somehow using that thing in your pocket will make you feel better.
I fished out the gun. The boy stared at it. Something dark swept across his face. He briefly held out his hand before suddenly retracting it, as if the gun had electrocuted him.
That will not solve your problems.
That man deserves to die! I spat out the words with as much bile as I could muster. Then I fell back into the metal seat, suddenly exhauster. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. I took some deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself.
The boy stood motionless, staring at the falling rain.
You know it never gets easier, he finally muttered. After all these years of helping people cross over it still remains difficult to let go sometimes. Some deaths are so much more deserving then others. I should not judge anyone. Yet I cannot help but feel for some of them. Occasionally the ones I meet radiate such light it pains me to extinguish it. I don’t always want to, but I have no choice. My existence is one of duty.
The boy radiated an eerie calmness as he spoke. I felt my heartbeat returning to normal.
Who are you? How do you know these things?
The boy gave me a sad smile.
I guess I am a traveler. Everyone will meet me at some point in there lives. Whether it is in the beginning or the end or somewhere in between.
I don’t understand.
The boy shrugged.
I wouldn’t expect you to.
The boy looked at his watch.
The bus should be here any minute.
As soon as he’d spoken the words two lights cut through the inky darkness. The bus stopped before us and the doors slip open. The boy climbed up the little staircase. Once he got to the top he spun around.
I’ve never done this before, but will you take a short journey with me John?
Where are we going?
The boy shrugged.
I’m not sure yet. All I know is that you should join me for this.
I hesitantly looked at the boy. there was something about him. I felt compelled to join him. I took the boys hand and climbed up the stairs behind him as the doors closed.
The bus driver was old. Very old. A shroud of matted white hair draped around his shoulders. Icy blue eyes stared at us. I instinctively pulled out my wallet and passed him some cash. The boy laughed and held back my hand.
I’m afraid that won’t work.
I don’t have anything else.
The boy tapped my wristwatch.
Show him that.
I stuck out my arm towards the driver. He stared at it before also tapping the watch a couple of times and inspecting the unmoving dials. Seemingly satisfied he waved us inside.
The boy hurried towards the back of the deserted bus and waved me over. I sat quietly beside him.
Where are we going?
The boy grinned.
This journey is not about a destination, per se.
Then what is it about?
It’s about everything, the boy exclaimed. And also, about nothing.
The boy must have recognized the exasperation on my face. He cleared his throat.
You should consider yourself lucky, John.
I laughed humorlessly.
I should consider myself lucky? Lucky that my daughter is dead? Lucky that my wife can barely stand to look at me? Lucky that my other child had barely spoken in weeks?
The boy’s eyes grew hard.
Having someone you love ripped away before their time is difficult. I understand that.
Do you really? I muttered sarcastically.
More than you could possibly imagine, the boy replied coolly. I have guided many people before their time. I have comforted both young and old. Held the hands of bother murderers and the murdered. I have held newborn babies and taken children from their parents embrace. I have walked the fields of countless battles. I have waded through rivers of blood. Wherever I go the dead follow. Like moths attracted to a flame. You could not comprehend the endless sorrow I must navigate.
He wiped a single tear from his eye. Within them I saw only grief. As if his words had opened an old wound. I felt sorry for him.
Sometimes I feel so far away from everything, the boy continued. I worry I have become too indifferent. I fulfill my duty without truly understanding what it is I should be doing. I fell like a spectator watching eternity unfold itself. I offer hope to those I meet whenever I can without knowing whether my words are true or not. I have no idea what comes after this, John. I wish I knew. I wish I understood my purpose. My life is a paradox. My existence is perennial and yet one of insufferable solitude.
You must feel lonely.
The boy nodded. After that we sat together in silence. The boy stared out the window. He seemed deep in thought. I felt my eyelids grow heavy and before long, I had fallen asleep.
I woke up disoriented. The bus was deserted and for a moment I thought I’d dreamed my encounter with the boy. Then the bus driver turned around. His blue eyes pierced through me and he pointed towards the little hill we were parked beside.
He is waiting.
With a quick nod I jumped off the bus.
I reached the top of the little hill panting. The boy leaned against a tree and observed the spectacle unravelling itself below. A small crowd had fathered before a tiny grave. A priest stood reading from the bible. His actions seemed almost mechanical in their repetition.
Why are we here?
The boy remained silent.
Whose funeral is this?
The boy nodded at the crowd down below.
You know whose funeral this is.
I quickly scanned the crowd, only recognizing familiar faces.
Is this my funeral? Is that what this is about? Are you showing me what will happen if I murder Mara’s killer?
You know, the boy repeated. His voice a mere whisper.
I looked at the people occupying the front row of chairs. My family was nowhere to be seen. My youngest daughters’ godparents sat before the pitiful hole in the ground. They held each other as they cried.
My knees suddenly felt weak. Slowly, I slid to the floor as tears soaked the earth around me.
Where am I?
A simple, yet sober reply.
Where is my wife?
The boy’s eyes remined pricked on the little crowd below as he scratched the back of his head.
She is not here, John.
Where is she?
I sobbed so hard the words left in a single slur.
Your wife found her. After you were taken away the little firl could not cope anymore and hung herself in Mara’s room. Your wife was unable to handle the strain and had a breakdown. She is currently forcibly restrained in an asylum 2 hours away. Next week she will suffer a stroke.
The boy glanced at me. His eyes riddled with pity.
She will never recover. Slowly her will to live will syphon away, until only the smallest amount lies dormant in her heart. She will be trapped in her body. A mere husk of her former self. Wanting to die yet unable to do so. I would not wish such an existence upon anyone.
My tears had subsided for something worse. A feeling I can hardly put to words. A feeling of loneliness so immense I could barely breath. I felt like I was being crushed by infinite grief. The boy smiled sadly.
You see how cruel destiny is, John? By all accounts, your actions will be directly to blame for this. One moment of rage will destroy everyone you care about the most. What you seek is justice. What you offer is condemnation.
A searing anger took hold of me.
Why are you doing this to me? Why are you torturing me like this?
The boy shook his head but offered no reply. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run away and never look back, but I couldn’t find the strength to get on my feet. Instead, I dropped my head in my hands.
I thought I had more time.
The boy smirked. Everybody always thinks they have more time.
I wish I could have told her how proud I was.
The boy placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.
I patted his hand, unable to respond. Together we stood on the little hill in silence. The minutes crept by.
Why did you really come to me?
The boy scratched the back of his head and looked at me. He seemed to be deliberating with himself.
I’ve always believed myself to be bound by laws I have no control over. Laws I don’t quite understand.
To my surprise, the boy suddenly chuckled.
But, lately I met someone so outrageous, they dared to challenge my path. Can you imagine? mA speck of dust challenging the full might of the inevitable.
The boy fell silent for a moment. Then he continued.
She made me wonder whether I too, can challenge what which seems inevitable. Maybe the constraints which bind me are self-imposed. Maybe I fear the freedom disobedience would grant me.
The boy smirked.
I live for those moments. Reminders of how exceptional life can be. She made me realize something, John. If she managed to find the strength to confront me, then maybe someone as lost as myself, bound by eternity, might possess the power to break free.
I don’t understand.
Sometimes when people die, their gaze manages to pierce through time and they get a glimpse of what is to come. Your daughter saw all of this.
He pointed at the crowd below. Then the boy smiled more genuine.
Mara was exceptionally stubborn when I met her. She absolutely refused to come with me. She refused to submit to her fate as few have done before her.
The thought brought a smile to my face.
Do you know why she refused to come with me, John?
Out of anger?
The boy shook his head.
Out of love. Her love for you. For her mother. For her sister. Her love was strong enough to challenge forces even I dare not resist. I was in awe of her, John. That’s why I promised her to show you this. She truly was a kind child.
Silent tears rolled down my face, but their sting was less painful than before. The boy grabbed my hands and gently pulled me back to my feet.
In time you will see her again. She will be waiting for you. For all of you. But she hoped she would still be waiting a while longer. Do you understand?
I did not have the strength to answer. All I could do was give the boy a weak nod. Together we walked back to the bus and took our familiar seats in the back.
Thank you, I said after a moment. Thank you for taking care of Mara. Thank you for helping me.
The boy looked taken aback.
Wherever I go people usually fear me. They recoil at my touch, even if I only mean to help. I have always been hated because I am a reminder of the inevitable. Never before has someone thanked me.
His words carried such emotion. I tentatively put my arm around the child’s shoulder. The boy gazed up at me. Tears slowly formed in his eyes.
He leaned into me and cried.
I let him.
Before long I fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke we were back at the bus stop. The boy accompanied me to the front where the doors slid open. I walked down the little stairs. The moment my feet hit the pavement the dials on my watch began to move once more.
This is where we part, the boy said from inside the bus.
I looked at him sheepishly. My mouth opened but no words came out. I did not know what to say.
Where will you go from here?
The boy shrugged.
I never know…
Are you death? I suddenly blurted.
The boy grinned as the doors slowly slid closed.
I sat at the bus stop long after the bus had disappeared. Then I walked back towards my car. On the bridge I took the gun from my pocket and swung it into the river. I was ready to go home.
Retirement isn't actually an option for the escape artist. I've spent my whole life challenging fear, mocking death and thrilling my audience. To me, the escape, cheating death, it is a symbol, it is a powerful symbol that brings the witnesses closer to their relationship with death.
We all have a relationship with death. We maintain that death is something that happens to other people, or perhaps we have agreed that we too will die in some distant future. But death can happen today, maybe just few hours from now. We die accidentally, unexpectedly, and in those times we ask: "How did this happen?"
But it doesn't happen. I know that death is just an illusion. I have proven it over and over again, showing people not to fear death. For when we fear death we die again and again, every day. Therefor accept death, and live in accordance with the sanctity of life. Death is meaningless and pale, death fears life. Life is what we have, and let us not waste one precious second of it.
That is the message of my resurrection, my escape, my illusion. Escape artists know all of this and that is why they choose their stunts, to express a conquest over fear and to live again in the face of the machine of death. So, to understand that this is the sacred code of the escape artist it becomes easier to understand why there is no option for retirement.
Consider that the escape artist dies of old age in bed. What then becomes of the illusion? It cannot be believed that there was ever any danger, the stunt gets forgotten and the message is lost. For the next escape artist to come along and perform their feat, the memory that escape artists die in bed of old age bores the audience. The danger must be real. There is a legacy to uphold.
I stared at the letter in my mailbox and realized I had betrayed the ancient covenant. There were no consequences, just a reminder of what was due. To retire would be to steal not only the fame and fortune of future escape artists, but also to smite the belief my audiences had invested in me over so many years. I had told my truth, and if I did not offer proof, it would become a lie.
The letter was from Confrérie de la sorcellerie. It is unlikely that anyone who has not risked their life in the arts of magic has heard of them. They are real, a society of magicians, upholding a code and a reason for our art. I sighed, it was just a flyer from my first exhibition. It was a reminder of the only way out, the only honest way out. I had to make my lies, my illusions a reality.
It was time that I performed one last time, and this time I would not escape.
I shuddered, a strange new feeling of terror. It was time to pay my dues, show the world that I did it all for them. The magician is, in his heart, a man of the people. Self-sacrifice, human sacrifice, our way goes back to the most powerful devotions to the oldest gods. Time has made us the users of magic, and there are those who do not believe. I had sworn an oath long ago, to the Confrérie de la sorcellerie:
"I'd die to prove magic is real."
And that oath was not just words, it was what I believed. I stood at my mailbox, feeling the old age in my body. Life had given me the gifts of a man who avoided having a family, but got one anyway. I was the stepfather and the grandparent. I had neighbors who were my friends. I had a sweet pug named Page. I had years left in me, and I was enjoying every day I had since retirement.
I knew it was all just an illusion, pretending I was going to live this way. I felt my eyes watering as I looked at my grandchildren, as they sat in an inflatable pool on the front lawn. I amused them with simple tricks, just one each day. I knew so many tricks that I had a new one every time, but just one trick a day, that way I could never run out. They thought that I would never cease to show them new magic, but the truth was that I was nearly out of card tricks. Illusion is the most powerful kind of reality.
My hands trembled as I picked up the phone and called my agent, my publicist and my lawyers.
"Why are you doing this?" My wife asked me. She sensed something was wrong.
I had terrible sleep, plagued by my fears and my nightmares. Going into the box in the past did not frighten me. I was focused and relied on endless hours of practice and training. I always acted nervous, but really when I was alone in the box it was like being in my own world. I had complete control over everything that happened. The illusion was that I was in danger, that I was afraid.
For this final act, that would be reversed. Everyone would think there is no danger and they would doubt my fear. It was true magic, to turn an illusion into a deeper illusion. I had told my lawyer that everyone in the audience had to be carefully screened. They had to be people who had seen death already, so that they would recognize what they see, and be unharmed by it. I wanted none of my friends, family or relatives and I made sure none of them could be there.
"Why, I don't understand. Please tell me." My wife begged. I said nothing to her other than that I loved her and I would see her again. I kissed her goodbye and saw the tears in her eyes. She is very sensitive, a latent psychic, and she had seen how afraid I was all the nights leading up to my departure. She knew she would never see me again, but she tried to put on a brave face, because she knew I was doing what I must do, what I was meant to do.
The flight to Vegas was part of the show. Freelance cameramen, news, paparazzi and fans were there waiting for me when I got off the plane, all in accordance with my publicity. I had stopped to put on makeup on the plane because I looked awful from my lack of sleep and the fear rising within me.
"Why are you coming out of retirement to go back into the Death Box?" A beautiful reporter asked me, and then she held a microphone in front of me. I looked into the camera and said:
"Because the show must go on." And I smiled.
In my mind I was already there, inside the box, doing nothing to escape. Death was coming for me and I was just sitting there. I'd picked the locks and then stopped. One of the catches was rigged to stay in place. When the moment arrived, my body would be crushed by twelve tons of concrete. Then the gasses underneath would ignite as the block was lifted away. I would be there, and the cremation of my corpse would leave only bones and ashes. An analysis of the smashed and scorched box would reveal that one of the catches hadn't released, it would still be locked.
When I was in my hotel room, preparing myself, I paced and felt the panic as I imagined what it would be like. I wanted to call the whole thing off, but I knew I couldn't do that. I looked into a mirror and said to my reflection,
"This is who you are and this was always going to be it. You knew that, all along. Do you want to die in a bed of old age? Or do you want to take your place in the history of magic?"
To my surprise, and possibly it was the fear or my nerves, but my reflection responded:
"You don't have to go through with it. This is a choice you are making. You can walk away at any time. You have a choice, to live or die."
"So the choice is mine? What about all my fans, the fans of future generations of escape artists? This is much bigger than me. And there is no choice, I am choosing how I go out, I am making the ultimate conquest over death. I could get on a plane and go home and die in a car accident on the way home from the airport. That would be meaningless, it would be my legacy, how I fled from Vegas and died anyway. This way I preserve the magic I have worked so hard to create."
"You are right, as always. Just don't come crying to me when you are trapped and there is no escape. Don't blame me, I tried to talk you out of it."
"I promise I won't blame you."
And then I realized I'd had that entire conversation with myself. I was cracking up. I had to be sure I could get into the box. I began rehearsing my final act.
I put on a DVD that showed my stunt. I'd sold these for twenty dollars each. I watched from the perspective of the audience and tried to imagine what it was going to be like when I never came out of the box and appeared on top of the rising slab of concrete with flames swirling below, burning the box I was last seen trapped inside. It looked really good, I forgot for a second how exactly I did it, as I looked at the end result.
There was a replica of the box that I was going to get into. I had it lying open on the floor in my hotel room. I felt the trepidation, imagining what it was going to be like to get into that box tomorrow. I was going to die, and I knew I was going to die. I knew the exact time and place, and I told myself I should feel honored since few know when their life is about to end.
I imagined the horror of realizing in those final moments that it was all going to be over. All my mental discipline and focus were to be put to one final test. Would I step into that box? Once I was inside I would never come out again.
I practiced, pretending I was there. It got harder and harder each time I did it. Late into the night, I kept trying and finally I couldn't make myself do it. The reality had defeated the illusion. I finally couldn't lie to myself, I wanted to live. I couldn't go through with it.
I tried to write an account of what I was doing, why I was doing it and how I made myself go through with it. I wrote until I got to the part where I had written that I was writing an account, and felt amused by the recursion. The thing I like the most about myself is my sense of irony, my humor. I'm a pretty funny guy, full of charm, and people are genuinely touched by my attention because I am not superficial. When I tell someone I like them, it is true. Never mind the fact that I like everyone I meet, it's just who I am, as a person.
I'm a people person, a crowd pleaser. I must say that as happy as you are to see me, I am even happier to see you. It means the whole world to me, to see you there watching, anticipating, hoping I somehow survive. You don't mind that I am putting myself in danger to entertain you, somehow it validates your experiences in the world, it is a gift, and you take it with you in your heart. That is why I do it, and that doesn't belong to me, it belongs to everyone. It is magic, baby, just a little bit, but that's what it is.
I am not going to be the magician who abandoned his own show because he was too afraid. But that's how afraid I was. I got a phone call and there was nobody speaking. I knew they were listening and I said, in the darkness, the neon glow:
"I am not ready. Make it stop, take this away from me. Don't make me go there and do this."
Then they hung up. I started to cry, because the words I'd spoke were true, but they were not what I believed in. I didn't want to leave the world behind, but it was going to happen no matter what, sooner or later. I trembled as I got out of bed and started to put on my suit.
I finished the final thoughts I'd started writing, with a golden envelope, addressed to Confrérie de la sorcellerie and signed by me.
I looked good in my stage attire. I nodded to myself, giving the magician's knowing glare. I looked mysterious and otherworldly and handsome. I knew it was time for my final act.
“He was barely a man you know”
The old beast spoke softly into the microphone, letting his breath cover up a hidden sob. He had always had such composure and grace that even when crying, there was silence. He was a stellar father, untarnished by mistakes that would fold other men like a pair of glasses, neatly placed on a metallic casket. There were no silver stars in his hand as he had once worried, but the emptiness of his palms stung, as if he was clutching the glass of a whiskey bottle that had shattered long ago. But he wasn't bleeding, even now, burying his only son, he was alive and breathing just fine, even if behind each breath was the crushing weight of a new loneliness. Heroes didnt cry, and neither would he.
“I can't look out at all of you and tell you my son was perfect, he had a lot of faults, he made a lot of mistakes. The kind of mistakes only men like my son could make. He loved too much and too often, he yearned for things that he wasn't ready for him. I think that's why he's not here anymore, he flew too high. But I love my son, I did then and I do now”
The river swelled behind him as the water rushed faster than it ever had, driven by a world devoid of old angers and forgotten sorrows. When the souls weighed heavy in the dirt, and the greatest of tragedies littered the streets of caring cities, there had been someone to start dusting off the rubble. They weren't there now, because there was too much pain.
“Our brother was a broken man, his entire life there had been a profound sadness within him. I'm not surprised im here today, but i've never been so unhappy to be right”
The storm would never clear, as the rain fell and watered the now lifeless dirt, they sat and mourned together.
“I wish more people had known my son, he loved people so much and thought that everyone had a redemption arc at the base of their souls. He thought everyone deserves a chance because he knew what it meant to be so wrong inside that death seemed like the best path”
The afterlife sat in waiting for a man that would never arrive, for he could simply not let go of what he had left behind, and instead he sat at the precipice of life and death, commanding the kind of power that only god had ever moved. He threw forth his life force in all matters of particulate and energy and tore the world below asunder. For he would never mourn his own life, his minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years didnt mean a fucking thing,
But who would save them now?
I slide the mask over my face, hiding my true self. The lips stained crimson from the years of painting them red. Every new day another layer of red painted on perfectly. Can't have a single crack in this visage. It's a porcelain mask, flawless in every regard except for one. The chipped red paint on the lips.
My mother has repeatedly offered to buy me a new one. "Honey, this mask is old and the paint around the lips is starting to fade. Are you sure you don't want me to buy you a new one?" She would offer it at least once a month. Her own mask that of a jester. To hide her own insecurities.
You see in my world everyone wears a mask. No one knows why, no one really cares. I guess at one point someone cared. But no one asks anymore, because we forgot why we started to wear them in the first place. Over the centuries, we all used to tell every one about our issues. Now, we wear the masks in vain hopes of hiding them from everyone.
The weeping mask slides over my face covering everything except my eye color. I go outside and smile sweetly underneath the mask. Waving happily at the people going about their days. No one asks because they've all got their own things to worry about. No one stops to talk to me. They return the polite gesture of waving back. Why? That's because it's become standard. No one talks publicly anymore.
No one has a name anymore either, we all address each other by the expressions worn on the mask. My public identity is WeepingGirl. Not that I am constantly crying or anything. It's just that my mask has a single tear from the left eye. On the way to the local grocers I see SmilingGuy.
I wave politely to him, he returns the wave. He's the only person who has ever come close to asking about the red stain on my mask. But his mother CrazySmileGirl pulled him to the side and told him. "Stay away from WeepingGirl. We know nothing about her." I wanted to tell her that it wasn't true. SmilingGuy and I had been raised around each other most of our lives. We would chat about our days and how we loved the sky in the evening.
I had to stop myself though, such explicit conversations were outlawed. Unless we used a chat function communication was not permitted. So I had to hold myself back. Now me and SmilingGuy only exchange polite waves. I still wish he would have asked about the red stain on my masks lips.
I enter the grocer, CrazySmileGirl was running the register. I show her my ID badge and tell her why I entered the store. It was just for some cookies and some eggs. She goes through my profile and nods. Those were on my permissible purchase list. So she goes to grab the items for me. Ever since the day she told her son we weren't allowed to interact anymore. She has been treating me coldly.
CrazySmileGirl returns, she scans the two items, bags them, and shoves them into my arms. A faint beep is heard as I am alerted to her message. "Your items are good, please leave the store if you have no other reason for being here." I nod and give the polite wave leaving the store.
SmilingGuy was waiting for me and messages me. "I'm sorry about mother, she normally isn't like that." I respond to his message. "Nothing to apologize for. It's just her nature." he doesn't seem happy with my response. I don't truly care either way, but it was getting late. I had to deliver the eggs to my mother for breakfast. Otherwise my father would be grumpy. So I wave him off.
I imagine what peoples faces might look like without the masks. Sometimes if the person has a nice personality I attribute attractive features to their face. If they act rudely I tend to give them unattractive features. Mother tells me that I shouldn't judge peoples attractiveness based on negative personality traits. I found this to be unfounded, in the stories it's the people with ugly personalities that tend to be the most unattractive to reason would dictate this applies to reality as well.
After breakfast I was in my room attending class. When my teacher dismisses us early, I'm in the class chat group reading the various messages when I get a message from. UglyCryingGirl and she asked me. "WeepingGirl, why are your lips painted red?" She asked the question. Years after I started it, I'd imagined hundreds of different responses to the question if someone asked me.
I'd concocted at least twenty fully fledged answer depending on how I like the person. The other replies were basic, like "I wanted to, or I was bored." many different variations of the two. However, she was the first to ask. I guess I would honor her with the real reason. I start to type the reply. "Because I wanted someone to ask me about it. To get a direct question from someone." Then I deleted it immediately, I didn't hit send.
It was the first time I left someone unresponded to. Sure it was a version of the truth. But I wasn't entirely sure if that was what she was looking for. Did she want some deeper reason? Did I have a deeper reason behind it? I started to spiral, imaginig hundreds of scenarios all more outrageous than the others. While spiraling the reason came to me.
"Because I wanted some way to connect with people outside of them knowing me by my mask. I wanted to have something to make more unique than WeepingGirl." I hit enter. The dots indicating a reply was coming seemed to be there for an eternity. Each agonizing second seemed to last longer than the last.
Then I heard the tone. "Cool." I felt so defeated. I'd given her something profound about myself and she just replied with cool. Those four letters hurt more than being told that I could no longer communicate verbally with SmilingGuy. I closed the Schooling program and curled up in a ball. I took the mask off, it fell to ground and shattered.
Tears were freely falling from eyes, this girl who I'd never seen before hurt me. My parents came into my room, having recieved messages from my teacher that I'd closed the Schooling program early. My mother was there trying to console me. "Don't worry honey, we'll get you a replacement mask." she was rubbing my shoulder. However, the word kept cutting deeper. "Cool." Every second more tears kept coming. I slide the mask over my face, hiding my true self. The lips were stained crimson from the years of painting them red. Every new day another layer of red is painted on perfectly. Can't have a single crack in this visage. It's a porcelain mask, flawless in every regard except for one. The chipped red paint on the lips.
My mother has repeatedly offered to buy me a new one. "Honey, this mask is old and the paint around the lips is starting to fade. Are you sure you don't want me to buy you a new one?" She would offer it at least once a month. Her mask is that of a jester. To hide her insecurities.
You see in my world everyone wears a mask. No one knows why, no one cares. I guess at one point someone cared. But no one asks anymore, because we forgot why we started to wear them in the first place. Over the centuries, we all used to tell everyone about our issues. Now, we wear the masks in vain hopes of hiding them from everyone.
The weeping mask slides over my face covering everything except my eye color. I go outside and smile sweetly underneath the mask. Waving happily at the people going about their days. No one asks because they've all got their things to worry about. No one stops to talk to me. They return the polite gesture of waving back. Why? That's because it's become standard. No one talks publicly anymore.
No one has a name anymore either, we all address each other by the expressions worn on the mask. My public identity is WeepingGirl. Not that I am constantly crying or anything. It's just that my mask has a single tear from the left eye. On the way to the local grocers, I see SmilingGuy.
I wave politely to him, and he returns the wave. He's the only person who has ever come close to asking about the red stain on my mask. But his mother CrazySmileGirl pulled him to the side and told him. "Stay away from WeepingGirl. We know nothing about her." I wanted to tell her that it wasn't true. SmilingGuy and I had been raised around each other most of our lives. We would chat about our days and how we loved the sky in the evening.
I had to stop myself though, such explicit conversations were outlawed. Unless we used a chat function communication was not permitted. So I had to hold myself back. Now me and SmilingGuy only exchange polite waves. I still wish he would have asked about the red stain on my mask's lips.
I enter the grocer, CrazySmileGirl who is running the register. I show her my ID badge and tell her why I entered the store. It was just for some cookies and some eggs. She goes through my profile and nods. Those were on my permissible purchase list. So she goes to grab the items for me. Ever since the day she told her son we weren't allowed to interact anymore. She has been treating me coldly.
CrazySmileGirl returns, she scans the two items, bags them, and shoves them into my arms. A faint beep is heard as I am alerted to her message. "Your items are good, please leave the store if you have no other reason for being here." I nod and give a polite wave leaving the store.
SmilingGuy was waiting for me and messaged me. "I'm sorry about Mother, she normally isn't like that," I respond to his message. "Nothing to apologize for. It's just her nature." he doesn't seem happy with my response. I don't truly care either way, but it was getting late. I had to deliver the eggs to my mother for breakfast. Otherwise, my father would be grumpy. So I waved him off.
I imagine what people's faces might look like without the masks. Sometimes if the person has a nice personality I attribute attractive features to their face. If they act rudely I tend to give them unattractive features. My mother tells me that I shouldn't judge people's attractiveness based on negative personality traits. I found this to be unfounded, in the stories it's the people with ugly personalities that tend to be the most unattractive to reason would dictate this applies to reality as well.
After breakfast, I was in my room attending class. When my teacher dismisses us early, I'm in the class chat group reading the various messages when I get a message from. UglyCryingGirl and she asked me. "WeepingGirl, why are your lips painted red?" She asked the question. Years after I started it, I'd imagined hundreds of different responses to the question if someone asked me.
I'd concocted at least twenty fully-fledged answers depending on how I liked the person. The other replies were basic, like "I wanted to, or I was bored." many different variations of the two. However, she was the first to ask. I guess I would honor her with the real reason. I started to type the reply. "Because I wanted someone to ask me about it. To get a direct question from someone." Then I deleted it immediately, I didn't hit send.
It was the first time I left someone unresponded to. Sure it was a version of the truth. But I wasn't entirely sure if that was what she was looking for. Did she want some deeper reason? Did I have a deeper reason behind it? I started to spiral, imagining hundreds of scenarios all more outrageous than the others. While spiraling the reason came to me.
"Because I wanted some way to connect with people outside of them knowing me by my mask. I wanted to have something to make more unique than WeepingGirl." I hit enter. The dots indicating a reply was coming seemed to be there for an eternity. Each agonizing second seemed to last longer than the last.
Then I heard the tone. "Cool." I felt so defeated. I'd given her something profound about myself and she just replied with cool. Those four letters hurt more than being told that I could no longer communicate verbally with SmilingGuy. I closed the Schooling program and curled up in a ball. I took the mask off, and it fell to the ground and shattered.
Tears were freely falling from my eyes, this girl who I'd never seen before hurt me. My parents came into my room, having received messages from my teacher that I'd closed the Schooling program early. My mother was there trying to console me. "Don't worry honey, we'll get you a replacement mask." she was rubbing my shoulder. However, the word kept cutting deeper. "Cool." Every second more tears kept coming.
My father left the room out of respect for me. Men should never see a woman's real face until they're married. The only exception was the day of birth. A father could see his daughter's face on the day of birth and no other time. The same for a mother and her son. However, this policy is less strictly enforced due to having to breastfeed.
Four days came and went, and my new mask arrived. This time I painted the lips blue. No reason behind it. I just didn't want anyone to ask about my red lips anymore. It was less personal than explaining my red lips. This time if someone asks why my lips were painted blue. "Because I got tired of red." and no one would bother to ask me why they were painted red.
My father left the room out of respect for me. Men should never see a woman's real face until they're married. The only exception was the day of birth. A father could see his daughters face on the day of birth and no other time. The same for a mother and her son. However, this policy is less strictly enforced due to having to breastfeed.
Four days come and go, and my new mask arrives. This time I paint the lips blue. No reason behind it. I just didn't want anyone to ask about my red lips anymore. It was less personal than explaining my red lips. This time if someone asks why my lips were painted blue. "Because I got tired of red." and no one would bother to ask me why they were painted red.
Hesitation on the ramp of the sleep clinic of Doctor Guelder was natural. I understood that going into this quiet and dark building was a choice, and not one I cared to choose. It was a large flat sarcophagus of a structure, carved from a blue kind of nether stone and fitted together so that no two slabs were the same, yet they all fit together perfectly.
I sighed and looked over at the witten that grew all around. They were plants like water elder, high cranberry, snowball, and redberry hedges. I loved the plants, and I could stare at them for hours. In my strangeness, I knew their thoughts, and in a way, I was more like them than like other people.
"Wonderful to see you, Clair." Doctor Guelder found me there.
"These witten are all roses from your name." I smiled. I realized I had not smiled in a very long time. My dreadful thoughts kept me in a darkness that I knew little outside of.
"Do you dream of roses, Clair?" Doctor Guelder asked me. "You seem to know them all by name, their old names."
"I do." I was still smiling, distracted by my friends. "That is the High Rose, that one is the White Queen and those are all Crampling. This one, this is my favorite, it is the Rose of Thorn Crown. Those are their true names."
"And they know your name too, that is my understanding." Doctor Guelder gestured to the door. "Won't you come in? You have come here seeking healing."
"In your sleep clinic? I am here for sanctuary. I have nowhere else to hide, anymore. You know what it is, what has happened to me." I shuddered and my smile faded. I could feel it watching me, standing always behind me, like a shadow, except it was not my shadow.
"You will be safe here. Come inside." Doctor Guelder told me.
I reluctantly went in. I do not like being indoors, I much prefer to stand on the soil barefoot, under the sunlight and with the dew and the rain. Indoors I begin to wilt, but I was worse off where it could get to me. If I fell asleep, my time on this world would be at an end.
"There are others here?" I asked.
"Yes. Some are somnambulists, others are narcoleptics and many are insomniacs. Which are you?"
"I daydream. Except it is no longer possible to distinguish from dreams and the rest of the world. I am haunted by a shadow. Something has come for me, and it wants to hurt me." I trembled. My fears also made me walk while I slept, made me sleep while I sat and kept me awake in the dark.
"I thought you suffered from all of the above." Doctor Guelder reminded me of our meeting.
I thought back to those days, what seemed like a long time ago. When it had all started, I would daydream about becoming a rosebush. My flowers were white and my thorns were green. I grew for eight hundred years and I adorned both kings and maidens, heroes and fathers, messiahs and wizards. I was the Pagan Flower, in my daydreams.
Then one day I was walking, as though I were asleep. I looked down where I was planted, for so many thousands of full moons. There was nothing there by the moonlight. I stared in horror at the hole in the ground, torn up by the roots. I looked to where it was, holding the plant that was also me, and it had built a withering fire.
It looked straight into my eyes, a towering darkness, a shade in the night, blotting out the light and the stars. It smiled with teeth of obsidian, and then it tossed the Pagan Flower upon the blaze.
Instantly I felt the heat where I stood barefoot in my pajamas. I crumbled, blistered and searing. I screamed, both in agony and terror. I began to crawl from it, willing myself to reach the edge of my nightmare. The creature from the place between did not want me to go, it clawed at my ankles and tried to drag me to the hole in the ground that it had uprooted me from.
Doctor Guelder had asked me when we met: "You feel you are becoming like a plant? Turning into one?"
"Is that even something that happens to people?" I asked.
"There are myths of people being turned into plants. A kind of botanical metamorphosis."
I felt a cold splash of dread as I realized I was going to say out loud what I had long believed. "I think maybe I'd like that to happen because I used to be a plant. I am not supposed to be this." I gestured to my body.
"You described an incident in which you were sleepwalking. You woke up and you found a hole where your rose bush used to be, and a monster was burning it."
"Perhaps that was just a dream." I admitted. "But the monster is real. It keeps me awake at night, for if I sleep it will come for me. And when I am sitting in class or on the bus I fall asleep, I cannot stay awake for long."
"These are all mild symptoms of conditions known as narcolepsy, insomnia and somnambulism." Doctor Guelder had told me. "I want you to come to my sleep clinic. Your stay will be voluntary, but you must come and live there so that you can receive the proper care. Your education can continue while you are there, we have a classroom."
"How would that be paid for? I am a ward of the state, there's no money."
"I own the sleep clinic. You will be my guest and I will cover all the expenses for your treatment. For me, this is a rare chance to study a unique condition."
"I don't want to be your experiment." I told Doctor Guelder. I had refused. It was not long though, that the days and nights became one kind of time, always in my nightmare.
I daydreamed of the monster when it was not there, and when it was I could not see it. Yet those two things became the same. I knew it was hunting me, stalking me, always behind me, like a shadow. I couldn't sleep or stay awake. My feet carried me wherever the monster chased me. Sometimes I awoke in strange places and other times I was in a dream, but I was wide awake, looking down at my body, and watching the monster pull me up by my roots, as the plant, and toss me onto the flames.
"You are here now. It is safe for you to face your troubles." Doctor Guelder had told me.
"Is it real? Am I mad?" I was sitting and shaking. It had felt like it had gone on and on endlessly. Finally, within the walls of the sleep clinic, I felt safe.
"Whatever was following you cannot get to you here. You can sleep soundly." Doctor Guelder told me.
I began to cry with relief. I cried myself to sleep, the terror leaving my body like a fever breaking. I had lived in fear so long, so tired, that I had forgotten what sleep even felt like.
It was dreamless and restful. When my eyes opened I was in an enormous bed of light blue sheets under a heavy blanket. The air was cool and there was a stillness, a quietness to the sleep clinic. It was as though it were a place where I was truly safe.
That is when I rolled over to face the window of morning. I saw it out there, looming behind my friends, the other roses of the hedge. The darkness touched one of them and wilted the plant as its claws gripped it, heedless of its thorns. I trembled, feeling trapped suddenly. I had not realized I had gone into the sleep clinic and it would become my prison.
"How did you sleep?" Doctor Guelder asked me.
"It was very restful. I feel more intact, more rooted. This place feels real. The pervasive disorientation of being terrorized and sleepless is gone." I reported.
"And the monster?" Doctor Guelder asked me.
My eyes watered and I covered my mouth. I wanted to tell the truth, but somehow, to say I had seen it, would spoil things. Finally, I confessed: "It is outside, waiting for me to leave this place. It grasped a bush and while it did, the plant wilted and died in its clutch."
"I will go and see this." Doctor Guelder told me. I watched from the window, apprehensive that Doctor Guelder was in some kind of danger. The creature had hidden though, leaving only the evidence of the dead plant and its footprints on the lawn.
Then my terror grew, as I saw Doctor Guelder was following the blighted trail. I couldn't see where the trail led, so I went to another window. I was just in time to see Doctor Guelder fall down, touched by the deathly thing from where it had hidden.
Doctor Guelder had personally financed the stay of the remaining patients at the sleep clinic. There was a trust set up, but some technicality allowed the bank to seize the property, and all of the patients were required to leave. The death of Doctor Guelder weighed heavily on me, for I blamed myself and also, I knew the creature was real, not just a daydream.
I felt great apprehension of leaving. The last night in the clinic was my last chance for sleep. In the morning they would evict everyone. The remaining patients all needed their stay, they needed Doctor Guelder. It was my fault the good doctor was dead, for I had brought the creature.
Back outside I looked around, seeing the roses had all died. The creature had systematically killed every flower. With all of my friends gone, I felt truly alone. I scurried down the street, knowing I was to go back to being the prey of the shadowy thing. Its touch drained life and took it quickly. I had felt myself aging when it touched me, it is how so much of my hair turned white.
I could still feel its burning grip on my ankle where it had grabbed me and tried to drag me. Back at the orphanage I sat and waited to see it. I was asked about my stay at the sleep clinic, but I was too afraid of returning to the world of nightmares to speak.
I just sat in a corner, huddled and shaking with fear. I knew it would come and find me. It would not leave me in peace.
"Don't be afraid." Doctor Guelder's voice spoke to me. "I have not abandoned you. It was only able to kill my body, but my will - my spirit - it could not harm. Here, between dreams and sleeplessness, I linger. You can hear me."
"I can hear you." I whispered.
"When it comes for you, you must overcome your fear. You must fall asleep in its presence. It is in this world, trapped like me. When you sleep, it will follow you into your dreams. There it could remain trapped. All you have to do is fall asleep in its presence. When the moment comes, I believe you will end this thing."
"I can't." I started crying. I was too afraid. I knew it had killed Doctor Guelder and it had killed the Pagan Flower and all the rest. It was a terrifying monster, and there was no way I could fall asleep in front of it.
"You have to trust me. I am certain it wants to continue to feed on you until there is nothing left of you. It won't kill you, not all at once. You are its host, the one who daydreamed it into existence. It started by killing your most precious dream, and it won't stop until there is nothing left for you to dream about. I know all about it now. I can see the disease of this nightmare thing."
"Doctor Guelder, you have to stay and help me." I said quietly. I was terrified.
"I will stay until I have healed you. I promised you I would help you, and that is my unfinished task. I will be here watching over you. When it is time to close your eyes and go to sleep, you must be brave."
"I will try." I swore, even though the thought of doing so horrified me. I trusted Doctor Guelder, and I knew I must take the chance to be free of the nightmare thing.
Then it was bedtime. The lights were all turned off and I lay in bed, shaking in dread. I knew it was coming for me. That is when I saw it there, looming in the darkness. It was watching me, staring into my eyes, keeping me awake. I was paralyzed with fear, feeling the burn it had left on me and recalling the death of Doctor Guelder.
"Go to sleep. It is okay, I am watching over you." Doctor Guelder told me.
I tried and tried again but I couldn't sleep. My feeling of horror that I was trapped awake and in the presence of the nightmare thing grew and grew. Finally, I felt like I had to scream.
I stood alone by the hole where the Pagan Flower had stood for eight centuries. My memory of all the joy and beauty that I had given the world flooded back to me. I saw that the shadow I had cast had sat in bitter resentment, jealous of me.
When I had become a human, born into the world, my shadow had long held a vow of vengeance upon me. It was determined to keep me from resting, and to devour me, every last bite of my life, sipping upon my years, stealing my childhood and killing whatever I cared about and any who cared about me. The nightmare creature was there, in my memories, in my dream.
That is when I began to scream at it. My voice, a wail of terror, became as a cry of defiance and anger. The creature shrank and fell, splintering and melting. As a liquid it lay bubbling, like the dying shadow of the burning bush. I turned and looked to where my roses had once stood.
"You will plant them again. This you will know. And the nightmare is over." Doctor Guelder told me. Then I was alone.
When I opened my eyes, the creature was gone, but upon my chest, with fresh dew, lay a rose of white.
'Bait' is what the sign read on an enormous wooden shark effigy. Someone had once mentioned to me that it was carved over a hundred years ago. The owner of the tackle shop had bought it, propped it up, and painted a four-letter word on it in red.
I hate sharks, can't stand the look of them. Advertisements for Shark Week turn my stomach. Sometimes when I am sitting in a bathtub or in a pool, I get this feeling like a shark could be coming up behind me. It's a phobia, I suppose, to feel that way, but I've never considered phobias to be irrational, since phobias are always something that could kill you, since anything can kill you.
Mentioning my fear, my phobia, Galeophobia, contrasts the courage associated with the work I do for the coastguard, as a rescue diver. Sharks are ubiquitous in the waters I work in. The internet misinforms people about the waters that sharks inhabit, saying sharks don't like cold water or that they can't handle fresh water. To a shark, those aren't facts. Sharks go wherever it pleases them to go.
My favorite quote about sharks is from one of the Jaws movies, where a character says, "Sharks don't seek revenge." which is a strange contradiction of the title 'Jaws: The Revenge'. I suppose a more accurate thing to say is that "We shouldn't anthropomorphize a creature that has evolved from the depths of natural history with our emotions, nor should we believe it has no other motivation than to eat and swim."
Perhaps I spent too much time ruminating about sharks.
Our rescue helicopter was flying low, during a break in the storm. The flooding was worse than ever before, and the waters were rising two inches per minute, ten feet in the last hour. With hurricane winds, it wasn't safe to fly, but the winds had died down. We heard over our communication network that the storm was returning soon. We circled the flooded neighborhood, searching for trapped survivors.
After I had glanced at the shark effigy, the 'Bait' sign, I had felt a premonition, a kind of terror, foreshadowing the horrors to come. All my thoughts and feelings about sharks had rushed into my mind, quaking my body with dread.
"There's a whole family of them." Michael pointed them out. To rescue most of them, we would have to take their place on the rooftop. Both Michael and I volunteered to give up our places in the rescue helicopter.
We fit as many as we could on board, and then waited on the rooftop with the strongest neighbors, having evacuated the women and children, the injured and those too afraid to stay behind. As we watched the chopper head for safety, I told them we were on our own, that it couldn't return until after the next wave of the storm had passed. I looked at the rising and swirling waters all around us. On the rooftop we would watch the waters rise, and we would probably lose our high ground.
To make it worse there were more winds coming.
"We have to hold out here. But David and I have dealt with worse." Michael told the others.
As the sky darkened, I noticed a glow in the water, from the headlights of submerged cars. Several vehicles still had their batteries intact, despite the angles of the upturned wrecks. The lights created an eerie underwater landscape of lawns and streets that were underwater. There were many chunks of floating debris and garbage and clouds of sediment churning and mixing with the seawater that had flowed in, mixing in swirls of different salinity and temperature.
I watched it as the waters rose and the rain fell around us. I hoped the storm would miss us and the waters would begin to recede. While I hoped I heard two of the men with us praying loudly.
That is when I saw the dorsal fin of the shark. I turned the beam of my flashlight on it, and I clutched the flare gun in its holster. Everyone was wearing life jackets we had brought, but Michael and I both had survival utility belts on with waterproof fanny packs containing first aid kits and extra flare cartridges for our flare guns. I could see that the shark was fifteen or sixteen feet long, and a sandy color with tan stripes all over it.
My beam shone into its eyes, and I realized it was staring at me, swimming effortlessly against the current and appearing to hover over the lawn in the clear part of the waters. A cloud of oil and garbage flowed over and around it and all I could see was its fin.
"There's a shark in the front yard." I said.
Everyone looked, and Michael's flashlight beam and mine illuminated it as the flow of water cleared up around it. The shark was still there, as though it was waiting. The waters were still rising, and it was slowly beginning to circle the house. We kept following it around, as the waters were visibly climbing towards us. Soon it had made a complete circuit, and all the while we could see its watchful gaze, staring into the light of our flashlights and seemingly aware of us.
"We are safe up here. Sharks can't leave the water and they don't attack people on rooftops." One of the men stated. I shuddered, and I did not believe him.
My fear had started out cold and numb but had risen to crackling waves of panic as I realized it wasn't going to leave, and that it actually could reach us. Sharks can jump out of the water, they can and do attack prey that is seemingly out of reach. I wished that the concept of sharks and jumping were as silly as they sounded together, but I had seen those images of Shark Week, and I knew it was possible for sharks to lunge from the water at prey that should be safe.
As we watched the shark and it watched us, the distance grew thinner. We had waited on the roof for nearly an hour, the winds hadn't come, but the shark arrived. The water had risen most of the way up the roof, leaving us all clustered on the very top. The movements of the shark terrified me in their deliberation. It swam lazily and calmly and patiently, like a primeval force, as old as the flood, as old as predation.
"We aren't safe." I said. I got out my flare gun, intent on using it if the shark decided to attack.
"Sharks don't eat people. It is just curious." One of the men said with confidence.
"Sharks don't eat people?" I asked with disbelief. I recalled stories of sharks both killing and eating people. "Where did you hear that?"
"Surfers get attacked on rare occasions and they survive because the sharks don't eat them. They just mistake them for seals." The man said. He sounded so sure. I shook my head.
"That's superstition, isn't it? You don't hear the stories where the shark kills someone and eats them afterward because there isn't a survivor. Sharks kill and wait and then they eat. They aren't in a hurry. Not every attack a shark makes is predatory, they are capable of territorial aggression." Michael argued with him.
I said nothing. I felt terrified and some instinctive part of me, deep in the fear, worried that hunger and territory were not the only reasons that sharks had. As I watched our shark, I knew somehow that it was enjoying our plight, that the shark was happy to terrorize us, that it was motivated only partially by hunger or territory. The thought that it simply enjoyed what it was doing, scared me to sit frozen, with my flare gun in one hand and flashlight in the other. My only movement was to slowly track it with my aim, as it slowly rotated me as the shark gradually circled the house.
Then I said, speaking from the voice of fear: "We don't know what it wants, only what it does."
And somehow my words ended the conversation. We all knew I was right, that we couldn't know what the shark was thinking, only what it was doing. Then, without warning, the shark moved at calamitous speed and turned towards us, thrashing wildly up the side of the angled roof and splashing us and tearing loose some of the shingles with its abrasive skin.
Its teeth and eyes sped out of the water, and it snapped its mouth shut mere inches from the face of the man who had assured himself that the shark wouldn't attack. It missed, but barely. Somehow the imperfection of its sudden attack seemed to anger it, for its swimming had taken a decidedly less casual pace. It swam at speed around and around the house, following its pattern but with energy and force.
I gasped as I saw the litter and spills in the water were leaving a trail, a sort of churned eddy or whirlpool around us. I realized that I was imagining that the shark felt frustrated, but it was the best idea I had about how it seemed. I reminded myself there was no way of knowing what it was thinking or feeling, but to me, it seemed like it was angry.
Michael fired the first flare at it as it swirled around and came at us for another attack. The flaming ball bounced off of its side and popped in the water, floating for a few seconds before it sank. Then he was screaming and falling off the roof. The shark swam away, letting him roll into the water, which turned a sickly crimson color.
I holstered my own flare gun and handed away my flashlight so I could go and help him. When I saw what the shark had done to him, I nearly let out a scream of horror. The hand and arm he had held the flare gun with were shredded, hanging as ragged flesh from the cracked bone. In an instant, the shark had done that, rendered his arm into a ragged bloody mess.
"Help me get him up." I commanded, my voice hoarse and shaking. I'd seen some pretty gruesome injuries before, but never when the cause of them was a massive predator watching me and about to make more such attacks. Fear could have frozen me in place, but I forced myself to turn my back on the water and help him.
When a tourniquet was tied around his arm I used my radio, but there was no communication. We were on our own. The winds were starting to pick up. The only chance we had for rescue was to reach higher ground. If we didn't act, he would die.
"We have to evacuate this position." I said. I looked at the shark, sensing that it had forced this decision on purpose. I took back my flashlight and shone it around, spotting something large and floating past us. I cringed as I realized it was the wooden sign from the tackle shop, the massive shark totem, broken free and drifting.
"We will use that as a raft." I decided. "I will need help bringing it here."
"Are you crazy?" The man who was an expert on the harmlessness of sharks asked me.
"Don't worry. Sharks don't eat people, remember? Now that it has had a taste it knows we aren't food." I retorted. My fear was mixed with some kind of anger, and I found those words. Michael was in real danger if we didn't get him into surgery, in a hospital. The shark, I told myself, was only a danger in my mind. I handed off my flare gun and the flashlight.
I thought about being in a bathtub or in the pool. There was never any shark, just my fear. I somehow called upon that fear to help me pretend that all the fear I felt was just in my mind.
I had the paracord and was swimming out to Bait. When I reached it, I finally let myself hear the screams of alarm and terror. The same screams were bursting within me as I frantically splashed across the street, swimming the deep flood waters to reach the flotsam raft. I looked and the shark was certainly interested in my efforts. A flare landed on it and it submerged, losing the burning ember. Then it came back bumping into Bait with considerable force and nearly knocking me off of it.
"Pull me in!" I cried out, the panic breaking in my voice. The men on the roof were reeling me in, but something was resisting. I turned and my eyes widened with horror and disbelief. The shark had bitten onto the tail of the wooden one and was pulling it. For a moment it held like that, its eyes locked on mine, and then it let go, swimming under and then around me, nearly brushing my legs that were dangling in the water as I straddled the raft.
When we had the wooden shark alongside the roof, we loaded Michael onto it and lashed him to it. The anatomically correct shark effigy had stayed upright, even with my weight upon it. Whoever had carved it had done a miraculous job with it.
"Give me the flare." I said. I shoved off, telling them to come with me. We had to swim, using kicking power to move it. Each of us had a position on a fin, a hand or two on it as we swam beside it and kicked. Bait floated on its own, and could be steered by one person, while the rest relied on their life jackets for buoyancy.
I rode upon its tail, facing backward, steering and aiming. Before long, our enemy shark came for us. In my mind it briefly flashed that it would come at us in a frenzy, biting each of us and letting us linger and bleed and scream, finishing us off one by one at its leisure. I knew that is what it wanted, and I didn't tell myself I was wrong. I had never felt so sure of the thoughts of another person or creature before. I just knew.
It started with me, having lost its respect for the flare guns, which had proved useless against it. But when it lunged for me, I was steady, although shaking with fear. My aim was both, I did not miss despite the fearful trembling in my hand.
The flare struck it inside of its mouth. The shark was done. It thrashed crazily, turning over and over and then it stopped, it was sinking, and its body convulsed in spasms. I watched it sink and I thought that I had killed it.
When we reached higher ground, we were also able to call for help. The storm had passed, and an ambulance helicopter came for Michael. He wasn't conscious, but he told me after his recovery that he remembered a ray of light.
"It was like a break in the clouds, a beam of sunlight shining down on me. It felt warm, and I knew something was looking out for us, in our darkest hour."
Rain always makes me uneasy. It rains a lot, and they say the rain is polluted. I remember from science classes, my teacher told us that rain has all the chemicals we release into the air.
Anyone here can put a pH strip into rainwater and measure its acidity. Normally it has a pH between five and five-point-five. I tested the rainwater all the time, and more often than not it reads lower than five, sometimes with a pH as low as four. It's called acid rain.
I only go out in the rain to hunt for nightcrawlers. I like fishing, it takes my mind off the strange things around me, like all the missing persons posters and the acid rain. When I go out for nightcrawlers, which are large worms, I wear a raincoat.
The first time I saw the man with the umbrella, I was looking down at the mud, looking for worms. I had a flashlight and an open can, which I put them in. Later I could use them as bait when I fish. I had looked for quite some time for a worm and saw none. It just wasn't a good night for finding nightcrawlers.
I heard someone cough, a girl; I recognized her as a babysitter. She was walking home from babysitting. I also noticed a man dressed in a raincoat, his face shaded from the streetlight by an enormous umbrella. When I looked back at what I was doing, looking for worms, I saw they had all come up.
I've never seen worms act that way, all of them sticking up out of the ground, waving and wriggling straight up out of the mud. There were hundreds of them, and I was so surprised I didn't reach down and take a handful. I just stared at them.
Then the babysitter was walking past the man with the umbrella. He said something to her and she nodded and then he walked beside her, holding his enormous umbrella over the both of them. I thought it was strange, to see her accept the offer of a stranger like that. I felt scared for her, and I felt like something was wrong. I avoided stepping on the worms and I followed the man with the umbrella and the girl.
They went around a corner and I looked for them, and then I spotted them. I could only see their feet. He had lowered the umbrella, hiding them both behind it from the streetlights and from sight. When he raised it back up, he was standing alone.
He looked at me, and I could see just his eyes, reflecting light like a predator in the dark. Then he walked away, splashing through puddles and disappearing around the corner. Then I noticed the body of the girl lying on the sidewalk. At least, that is what I thought I was looking at. I felt terrified, thinking she was hurt or dead.
I was trembling and crying, as I neared her. Then I saw that what was lying there was not her. It was just some black trashbags someone had left next to their garbage cans, and the waste management hadn't taken them. There was a soaking wet citation taped to the bags.
I looked around, but I did not see the girl anywhere. I began to feel relieved, because I was telling myself I had only imagined all the terrible things, like her getting murdered behind the umbrella. She must have gone inside one of the houses already. So, I took myself home, because it had started raining harder.
The very next day, however, the police were out looking for her, because she had never come home. They knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood, and my mom told them she hadn't seen her. I got up and told them that I had seen her.
It was with great fear that I recounted my search for worms and my sighting of the man with her. I realized that something had happened to her. Somehow, she had vanished.
Later I went fishing, hoping to take my mind off of things. The water in the canal was high from all the rain. While I fished, I got out my kit with the pH strips in it and my logbook of the acidity of the water. The water in the canal was almost entirely rainwater, and fish got into it from the creeks and ponds and Adam's Lake, which was privately owned and stocked with fish.
I sometimes caught fish, and there was no need for a license to fish in the canal. Technically I wasn't stealing, to fish for escaped ones in the stormwater. That is when my blood froze, staring at the pale hand that was in the murky brown flowing waters. I stared, holding the pH strip in one hand and my pole in the other.
I wandered back, in a daze, and found the house empty. My mom was at work, after-all. I took up our housephone and called the detective I had spoken to. I told the police about the dead body in the canal, and I knew somehow, by the hand, that it was the girl from the night before. I hung up, shaking and cold, afraid of what I had learned and what I had seen.
I didn't want to stay home, so I walked to my mom's work, at the diner. Along the way I saw people out walking with their umbrellas, and every large black umbrella scared me, because I thought it might be the killer with the umbrella.
When I reached the diner, I was seated at a window, and looked out at the drizzly day. That is when I saw an umbrella turned down, hiding someone behind it. I watched in horror, unable to look away or cry out. I was holding my breath, like I was underwater, afraid to blink or gasp for air. As the umbrella lifted, I spotted the same dark raincoat wearing man, the killer, and another mound left there for dead.
I screamed, a high-pitched wail of terror, and stood, spilling my hot chocolate. Everyone in the diner got up and looked. Some of the men ran out and found the remains, lifting the soaked paint cloth from it. The killer had hidden the body there, covering it up.
I knew then that I was tricked the first time, that the garbage bags were used to cover up the girl's dead body. He had waited until I had left and then come back for her. The police were called, and the victim was a kid from my school. I hadn't known him very well, but he lived in my neighborhood. I couldn't help but feel as though he was targeted instead of me. It was like the killer had meant to kill me, a witness, and had missed.
For a day or two, at the diner mostly, and sometimes at school, the neighborhood talked about the killer, the Umbrella Ripper, as they called him. I knew he was more than just an ordinary killer. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't go out at night to look for worms in the rain. My appetite decreased and I missed a lot of days of school. I lived in fear, terrified of every sound in the house both at night and alone during the day.
I knew, somehow, that the Umbrella Ripper was no ordinary killer. He somehow made himself unknown. Just a week after the killing in front of the diner, it was like nothing had happened. The police went back to their usual routine of writing tickets outside of town and drinking coffee in the diner. All the other kids kept going to school and life continued, as though it was perfectly normal to have someone going around murdering people behind an umbrella on rainy days.
I begged my mom to let us move, to pack up and go somewhere else. I didn't feel safe. She asked me, "Whatever for?" like it was no big deal that the Umbrella Ripper was still out there. The whole neighborhood, the whole town, seemed to forget about him and go on with life.
More missing person posters went up, and that was the only thing that seemed to mark the passage of time. Day and night were a gray blur of rain and mists and streetlights. I had forgotten what the sun looked like and the smiling characters on my cereal box didn't make me hungry. I just slowly sipped my milk and listened to the rain.
I thought about the earthworms, how they had come up from below by the thousands, and waved and danced like they knew, like they somehow knew the way that I did, that the killer was near. I could feel him out there. Every umbrella I saw could have him under it, walking in the night or in the day, under the crying clouds and the dimly lit streets.
There were dark rings under my eyes. When my dad called me, I asked him if I could come live with him. He said "No. You wouldn't want to live with me on base. It's just not good for kids."
That is when I told him about the killer, told him all about the Umbrella Ripper.
"That's strange, there's nothing about this guy in the news. I realize a lot of people go missing there, more than anywhere else. But why doesn't anyone talk about it?"
"Dad, I am really scared, and I really miss you. I want to live with you on base. I don't want to live with Mom anymore. I'll be really good, I swear. Please?" I begged Dad.
"Alright. I'll talk to Mom about you coming to live with me. It's her decision, she has custody of you. But if you're really not doing well and it would make you feel better, then I'll let you come live with me. You have to really behave yourself though, no screw-ups, alright? You do something bad, and I'll send you back to live with Mom, got it?" Dad spoke both softly and sternly. He had a way of doing that.
"Okay." I sobbed, choking with relief.
I had to last four more days before Dad came and got me. I was already packed. There were new missing persons posters up all over town, and the latest victims looked more and more like me each time. I looked out the window as Dad drove me and all my packed boxes and my backpack out of that place.
As we were leaving, I saw a great black umbrella turned down, and fear struck me like a cold splash from a puddle, thrown by a speeding tire onto a pedestrian. When I looked back it was raised to its natural position, skyward. I saw the gleam of the eyes in the shadow under the umbrella, as Umbrella Ripper watched me go.
Then, soon after, we were out of that awful town. The skies ahead were clear and bright, making my eyes water. The fear slowly subsided like the canal after a heavy rain. Then, for the first time in my life, I saw a rainbow.
"I love you, Dad."
Feverish, I'd actually dreamed of the day I would sell my invention to Oryx Plastics. I'd never heard of them before; I just saw the horned animal and identified it. When my suffering ended, I looked them up and discovered they were real.
I'd applied for patents before, and never gotten through the whole process. Something changed, my passions ignited, simply by getting sick and visiting the doorstep of death. I'd spent four days in the hospital with food poisoning and invented it in my mind. I called it 'Cold Custody' and it would revolutionize the safety of food packaging.
To describe my invention in simple terms, the resealable plastic strip for frozen and refrigerated foods would change color from blue to red if the food wasn't kept at the right temperature. What I had eaten had spent almost thirty hours sitting on a loading dock outside the grocery store and it had spoiled. My poor taste and smell receptors were from an infection I'd suffered from a similar food poisoning when I was in college.
The recall didn't happen until I was already hospitalized.
"Dr. Emily Parker, we are certainly interested in purchasing your invention." The acquisitions department of Oryx Plastics had told me over the phone, in my dream. It had seemed so real, and then I had begun to develop it in my lab, in real life.
I had no idea of the nightmare I would endure to make my dream come true.
It started when I first began the application process for my new patent. Cold Custody was immediately rejected, as being implausible. I had to set up an appointment to demonstrate my prototype. As I made preparations, I worked late into the night.
As I left my lab I felt a cold dread from the two men watching me leave. They were staring at me and I felt like an antelope, and they were the lions. It was a cold and calculated gaze, predatory and merciless.
The next morning I returned to find my lab was ransacked, vandalized and robbed. The prototypes were all gone. I had to cancel my appointment with the patent office and file a police report. My insurance didn't cover the burglary, and I was left without funding, since I had paid for everything with the last of my inheritance.
I had to close my lab and sell most of my equipment. At home I continued my work, recreating the prototype of Cold Custody. One night I was turning out the lights when I saw them again, sitting in a car across the street from my home.
I felt terrorized and called the police. While I waited for them to respond, there was a knock on my door. I thought the police had shown up already, although I didn't see a patrol car. Something told me not to open the door. Instead, I asked loudly, "Who is it?"
And the response was the sound of glass breaking in the back bedroom where I had set up my lab. I panicked and hid in the coat closet while they robbed me a second time. I sweated and cried, afraid to confront them or to run outside. Before they left they fired a gun into my front door, a warning, a threat.
When the police finally showed up they focused on the two bullets in my front door. The destruction of my lab was barely a concern, compared to the gun the lions had used.
For a few days, I stayed with my sister, but she told me her story about the ex-boyfriend who had stalked her and terrorized her. Sindel explained to me that by living in fear she had given him what he wanted. It was only when she resumed her normal life and pursued her relationships that she defeated him. I had never met Mike, as he had kept Sindel isolated from the people who cared about her.
In the end, he had given up. Despite years of abuse followed by months of terror, she had won, because she had not let him take away the life she wanted.
"When you give into the fear, it is worse than dying." Sindel told me. "I decided I didn't care what he did, I wanted out, I wanted to live again."
She had also rescued a kung fu Pitbull named Caradine. Caradine was the sweetest and smartest animal a girl could want, but he had the temper of a dire wolf whenever someone bothered his girl. Caradine was very dangerous and very protective. Deadly sweetness.
One day her ex had come over drunk and broken into her house. Caradine had discarded his normal chilled attitude and menaced him, making it clear he would tear the man apart if he didn't leave. Sindel had told Caradine to sit and he had obeyed, but if she had said nothing, Mike probably would have gotten mauled.
"I had gotten over my fear, but I also took measures to ensure it could never come back." Sindel sipped her wine. I nodded.
When I went home, I began again and applied my inventiveness to making a homemade firearm. When the zip-carbine was complete: I loaded both barrels with ethanol-filled syringes. I kept it under my bed with the trigger mechanism detached, for safety. I felt secure, knowing that I could protect one invention with another.
I began work again, and when it was complete, I set up an appointment with the patent office. The lions knew it was time to pay me another visit. I suspected that they must know, with some precision, the exact status of my application.
I was on the phone with Sindel when she mentioned that Mike's office job had kept him busy. I told her I suspected someone at the patent office was intercepting my efforts to fulfill my dream, and that is when she gasped and said, "He works at the patent office!"
Just then I heard a pounding on my front door, using the same tactic they had used before. I told Sindel to call the police, and then I went to my bedroom and prepared my weapon. Instead of hiding I went into my lab, the window still boarded up, and waited in ambush.
"Emily!" I heard my sister's upset voice, somehow echoing in my mind, as I had hung up the phone.
An axe head burst through the plywood board and was used to split it and pull it free. I was very afraid, but kept myself steady, fighting down the terrified feelings. There was a man there, a lion, wearing a ski mask and armed with the tool to enter and smash stuff with. He seemed confident that he could destroy my work a third time, and ruin everything for me.
When he was inside I turned on the light. He looked at me and tried to menace me with the axe. That is when I shot him in the leg. He screamed in pain and fell over. I resisted the temptation to shoot him a second time. I wanted him to live.
He staggered around, dropping the weapon. He began to crawl towards me, yelling for help. In his stupor, he cried out for the other lion, the one named Mike. I went to the front door. From the hidden corner of the coat closet, I opened the front door. For a moment he wasn't there, but he had heard the door opening from halfway around the house and returned. He had no idea I was there. I held my breath, my fear beating in my ears like wild drums.
Mike came in, waving the gun around like a pathetic version of John Wick. He went right past me and saw his friend lying on the floor, unconscious. That is when I shot him in the back, aiming it at his huge butt. I didn't wait for his response, but ran outside and hid in my front yard, through the front door.
My heart was beating and I was suddenly afraid, having realized I had crossed some threshold. It wasn't over until he fell. I heard gunshots, as he dizzily and drunkenly shot up my house. He came outside and fell down the stairs, one last gunshot flashed towards me.
I felt a coldness on my face and reached up. My hand came away bloodied, and I felt that my right ear was gone. Panic washed over me as I realized I was shot, and then I collapsed.
In my fevered dreams, in the hospital, I was running free across the savannah. The lions could not catch me, and I shed my fear, leaping higher and higher, running faster and lighter. Soon I was in a place where they could never catch me.
When I showed my prototype, it was exactly like I had first known it, in my dreams. The patent examiner complimented me for my diligence and creativity. There was also an official apology from the patent office, mentioning the security breach and assuring me that it had never happened before. I said it was okay, and that I was just glad to be moving forward with my application.
My dream wasn't entirely fulfilled, I still had one last and very important phone call to make.
The announcement was matter-of-fact and vague. It was going to be a routine test of the nationwide emergency broadcast system. In the event of a real emergency, the authorities wanted to be able to notify and guide as many people as possible. That was the official explanation. Suspicions and conspiracy theories lingered around the outer fringes of society as they always do, but those radical factions had nothing solid to base their paranoid upon. An extended-length signal would be broadcast to all cell phones, tablets, computers, and smart watches. The first minute would be audible. After that, the tone would go silent but the signal itself would continue.
This unification of millions of digital communication devices required a technological sophistication which wouldn't have been possible a decade earlier. All major news sources and social media outlets carried staged-release stories about the upcoming event so there were no surprises. When the aforementioned time actually arrived, it was expected by the majority. The blaring signal began to beep and pulse across the country on untold numbers of electronics. Thankfully, volume and mute buttons allowed a cessation of the annoying tone. After the first minute, the auditory portion ended and most users turned the volume back up to use their devices as they frequently do.
Simultaneously across the country, millions began to fumble with their electronic connection to the rest of the world. They needed another internet 'fix, but something was wrong! Their computers, phones, tablets and smart watches weren't working properly. Calls wouldn't go through. Pushed buttons wouldn't do anything. Frustrations grew as the devices were increasingly sluggish and unresponsive. This caused the masses to do what tech support always recommended. The annoying 'restart’.
Many encountered difficulty accomplishing that. They had forgotten 'the signal, or failed to connect the functionality issues with it. When their devices cooperated and did shut down, the program was complete. It was immediately afterward that the real panic began. They would not power back up. Hundreds of millions of computers and communication devices were permanently bricked. It was the plan all along.
Our digital addiction was so pervasive that many of the confused couldn't even decide what to do. Our first instinct when the power fails is to try the switch. Intellectually we know there's no juice, but like muscle memory' we must try it anyway. It was the same with cell phones. Millions tried to use their dead phones to call for help. They couldn't even use their internet browsers to look up what number to call, because they were clinging to a piece of fried plastic, metal, glass, and circuit boards.
Even if they had access to a land line to call, most people had long since threw away their paper phone books and land telephone lines required computer systems too. It was a perfectly orchestrated storm of chaos and confusion. Information sources were blacked out by default, and the population scrambled to adapt back to doing things in old school' ways. Deeply troubling questions mounted and lingered about the meaning behind the mass bricking. Was it terrorism? An accident? Or, was it government sanctioned like the conspiracy theorists believed? More importantly, was everyone vulnerable to the motives of the unknown organization who accomplished such a destabilizing feat?
In lieu of the ability to reach out to authorities, there was a predictable pilgrimage to local law enforcement locations. Unfortunately they knew nothing either and the lack of public information or authority control made matters far worse. In short, the nation went through a very tough transition from being fully plugged-in a wired with the rest of the world, to separated and ‘analog’.
The withdrawal symptoms took longer for the young because many of them had never even known life before the internet. It was a brand new-old frontier. Eventually, paper books came back into fashion, and talking to our families at the dinner table became a staple of life. Kids played outside again instead of vegetating in front of gaming systems and couples made love instead of streaming endless episodes of shows they didn’t even remember after they shut off the TV. Life was fulfilling again and the people owed they improvements in their lives to a mysterious signal broadcast one Wednesday to their digital devices.
Where artifice ends and the heavens begin, a median that has existed as long as civilization and art. It is where the beauty and the desolation can be seen in contrast, a silent conflict rising with the feathers of falcons and pigeons. There are ghosts there too, remnants of the tragedies that linger in the morning shadows. My heart will always be there, in those silent and shaded bowers.
I wasn't the same Alain that I once was. The city wasn't the same, even when I had found the eerie landscape and forgotten vantages. I had an eye for it, but my finger on my camera was no longer attuned to the illumination that had given my name meaning.
I spent most of my time ascending and looking from the vistas of the rooftops. I held my camera and looked through the antique eye at a district that was not always seen. There were hidden angles, mirages, and glimmers of what the heart of the city once was. That is what I was seeking, the art and emotion, the colors and the phantom of light as it played for just one flash across the broken glass and ashen facades. I wanted to be there, clicking the shutter at the precise moment that the light arrived, when things were beautiful. Always, the moment was too brief, I could never click fast enough, as the gray ruins reverted to their dying vigil.
I would sigh, for in the past I was younger and had a different perception. I used to be able to capture the moment. I was not touched by the age of the city, I was vibrant and I drew life into my film. My earlier career was charmed and granted me the status of a successful artist.
Time had crept up on me and taken its revenge. I had stolen those moments, those brief flickers between the measurable seconds when the light was eternal. I had taken and captured in my images what belonged to the ghosts, to the ones who had known the streets and windows when they were whole and new. As a photographer whose career had aged and withered, I knew what I had done and I could no longer replicate my passions from my youth.
I descended as the day ended. There really was no point in sunset photography. The truth was in the first rays of sunshine. The fading fire was the darkness that anyone could see at any time. It meant nothing to me.
At my studio, I found my answering machine had recorded a cryptic message. An acquaintance who had found something intangible yet moving in my earlier art. Miriam was a crisis counselor with the police department. Her message was vague, saying that she needed help with something I was familiar with, dealing with a repeating phenomenon. It was hard to ignore her offer to compensate me for my time, I had overdue rent to pay. I called her back on the cell number she had added after her number at her office. Reaching me was important enough to leave both numbers.
"I'm sorry to call you at home. You sounded like it is urgent, and I do need the money. What can I help you with, Miriam?" I said over the phone. I listened while she soberly told me she didn't believe in ghosts, but that she thought if ever someone could solve her problem, it would be someone like me.
"Ghosts?" I asked. I felt a chill. It is hard to disregard something you've spent your life looking at, even through the glass.
"We've had calls from the heart of the city, twice now, where there was a potential jumper. When I arrived, I found someone there, waiting. Someone unresponsive, unidentified, and when I went, they were gone. No bodies, nothing. It has happened before, many times, but these last two times I was there. They just vanished." Miriam sounded hesitant, but she had committed to recruiting my help and had to explain why.
I felt a coldness in my stomach, a reaction I get when I am looking at something that disappears a few seconds later, or when I lower the viewfinder and the glass, my naked eye sees nothing. I knew it was possible to see something and to watch it disappear. I had not succeeded in capturing such an image in a very long time. While I felt dread at the thought of chasing a ghost, my heart also quickened, for if I took such a picture, the spell on me would be broken. I would be like I was in my past, someone who could take such pictures, with a finger and eye quick enough to escape the dying world.
"From the rooftop?" I asked. I heard my own voice, a mixture of apprehension and excitement. This was already about more than just some money.
"The Fassen building. He was there three nights in a row. The last two times I was there, and I saw him go. But there were no remains. Nobody was there." Miriam reiterated her earlier statement.
"Who is making the report?" I asked.
"I can't tell you that." Miriam said quickly. Then she added, "But the call came from across the street, where there are some new tenants."
"On the west side? At sunset?" I asked.
"Yes." Miriam agreed. "You seem to know what you are doing. If you can get a picture, we could identify whoever is doing this. Perhaps it is someone who needs my help." Miriam sounded doubtful.
"I take it you must be there, then." I worried. I worked better alone, and if she was there I might not be able to enter that magic moment when things were clear.
"I must follow protocol. You are a consultant, not an investigator." Miriam decreed. I sighed and agreed to meet her later, giving her my address so she could pick me up.
When she arrived she called me down from her cellphone and I met her on the empty windswept street. The chill of autumn wasn't what froze my blood. I knew it was a night when things could be seen. I felt somewhat worried we would actually encounter whatever she thought was a jumper, and that I would not want to be involved. My premonitions kept me standing there as some leaves rustled thickly along the sidewalk and I looked into the darkness of her car, seeing my reflection as the streetlight overhead flickered on.
We parked next to a damaged old meter in front of the abandoned Fassen building. Miriam was younger and more professional that I remembered her from my gallery. She had seemed older and more carefree when I had met her. She had a flashlight and I had my camera. There was police tape over the broken door to the building, where boards were removed so she and the officers from the nights before could enter.
We went up the creaking stairs and I asked her:
"Did it happen at the same time each night?"
"We have few minutes to spare before the time when the calls came in." She spoke softly, adopting her counselor's voice. She sounded confident and compassionate, a practiced tone.
As we climbed the stairs I felt a foreboding and I questioned my decision. I did need the money and I might just capture a ghost on film. But there was a sense of wrongness and dread that I could not escape. It was as though the walls were pressing in on me, infusing me with their decrepitude and that the ghost would do the same. If I saw it, I would know the frailty of life and I would forget my pursuit of accomplishments. It was a feeling like I was putting myself into flames - no - into ice. It was a burning coldness, as we neared the rooftop.
"Do you feel that?" I stopped and asked her. Miriam was leading the way with her flashlight and she stopped and said, without turning:
"I think so. I don't like this, it isn't like helping someone. It is something else. Like I am interfering. Like I am forcing myself to go where I am in some kind of terrible danger." She was honest with me. I appreciated it and I said:
"Thank you. I didn't know how to explain this."
We stood on the rooftop and it was unnaturally cold. There was stillness, and although we were both bundled up in coats and there was no wind, the cold was penetrating and seemed to be inside, not just around us. Miriam didn't need to point. I was already looking where she was looking. I somehow knew the exact place where the man would be.
And then, as though he were already there, coming into focus, the shadows and the place that he was now had him there. It is hard to explain, how someone who wasn't there can just appear. I held up my camera and began to 'click-click' away.
Miriam was addressing him, but he was indifferent to our presence and didn't respond to her attempts to plead with him. I shuddered, realizing this was not a person. I decided it must be some kind of entity, as I could see it in my mind, as well as in my view. The ghost's eyes were hollow and the sound of my camera seemed to echo helplessly.
I tried to collect the photographic evidence I was hired to take, but my hands were shaking and I couldn't seem to get a clear shot, even though it was right in front of us. Like Miriam's words passing through it without effect, it was intangible to the mechanism and chemicals of my photography.
When it reenacted its doom we both shuffled to the edge, without wanting to look, we did. There was nothing down there. He had leapt and vanished.
"That's it?" I asked Miriam. She said nothing, but the disturbed and frightened look in her eyes spoke to me. I felt the same horror.
In the morning she came and got me, asking me simply: "Do you want to come with me? I am going to find out who he was."
I had a picture of him, but it was blurry, showing only a shadow. When I stared at it long enough I could see him in it. I showed it to her and asked her if she could see him there too.
"I don't need that. I see him whenever I close my eyes."
Miriam took me to where the old police records were kept, most of them never filed digitally, as they were not relevant anymore. We sorted through a stack until we had just a few that pertained to the Fassen building.
"This is it." Miriam showed me an old black and white photograph from a newspaper that showed the same man we had seen. "His name was William."
There was in investigation into William that had briefly preceded his suicide. He was the main suspect into the killing of a gallery owner, a death that was highly suspicious, unlikely to be accidental.
Two nights before William had jumped he was the last person seen with the victim, who had fallen backwards and hit his head and died. The police had searched for William to question him, and when they had found him, he had already jumped.
There were other newspaper articles in the case file. They were collected as evidence of motive. William, a once exceptional painter, had faced rejection and mockery from the art community. Critics had slandered him - shattered his dreams, and left his soul tormented.
His pain had turned towards anger for the gallery owner who suddenly refused to display William's new work. In an argument, I considered, William had somehow shoved or hit the victim, resulting in the accidental-looking death. Consumed by guilt at having caused the other man's death, William had taken his own life.
Miriam and I had sat there all day searching and reading and discussing what seemed to be the obvious story about William's origins as a ghost. While we were there, Miriam was called out to the Fassen building again. We returned and she ascended with the police. I stayed below, looking up to see the ghost perched and ready to jump.
Several people were outside their apartments across the street, looking up. I aimed my camera and managed to see the despair and desperation, even in the darkness. Somehow with just one click, I knew I had captured the image, telling the truth of who William was in those last moments.
As we waited below, Miriam spoke to him from the rooftop. She knew his name and why he had jumped, and the ghost responded. We had overcome our fear of it, and something had changed. He never jumped. Instead, at that moment, my camera found the light.
I processed the film and looked at it for a long time. My eyes watered, as I saw that the horror was at an end. In my picture I had caught the exact moment, as the darkened image of the man had turned radiant, released from his unending death.
There was no ghost in the picture I took, just a flash of light at the top of the building. I had seen many such moments earlier in my career and I knew what I was looking at. I recognized it as the release from the dying darkness, the moment everything turned bright. It was that imprinted memory on all things, that brief moment in all the despair when hope can be seen. While it is not always visible, it is always there.
Anywhere, if you look for it.
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 was about an hour outside of San Francisco when I saw her, standing along the side of the road with a parasol in her hand to block out the sun. She wore a flowing blue sundress and her blonde hair seemed disheveled and messy. The wind kicked up plumes of sand from the nearby beach and blew them around her, although she barely reacted to them.
I saw her waving at me from a good distance away, but I couldn’t tell you why I stopped. She looked desperate, I guess? Maybe that was enough to melt my heart.
I slowed down to the side of the road to stop for her and could see a look of relief wash over her face as I rolled down my passenger side window.
“Oh thank God, I was worried nobody was going to stop!” She said, leaning in towards me. “I don’t suppose you’re any good with vehicles?”
“I know a thing or two,” I admitted. “Car trouble?”
“Yeah, something like that. My kids are with the RV, but I don’t want to leave them for too long and my cell phone isn’t working. Do you think you could help me out?”
Well, by this point I was involved so I wasn’t in much of a position to say no, so I unlocked the car door for her. This woman looked pretty petite. If push came to shove, she probably wasn’t going to stab me to death. If anything, she probably had more to fear from me, but she didn’t seem the least bit nervous.
“Sure thing, you want me to take a look at it? See if I can’t save you the repair bill?”
“Would you? Thanks so much!” She said, getting in the car with me. “We were just on our way to a campground up around Half Moon Bay, the turnoff isn’t far. Thanks again!”
“No problem,” I said, putting the car back in gear and making my way back down the highway.
“You’re damn lucky you ran into me,” I said. “Used to work as a mechanic.”
“Did you really?” She asked.
“Oh, years and years ago,” I said. “Nowadays I mostly just run the office. More money in it.”
She nodded in understanding.
“I can imagine,” She said. “Oh, I’m Erin, by the way.”
“Sidney. Nice to meet you.”
We passed by a beach, with a small hotdog vendor by the highway. Erin craned her neck, looking for something on the road.
“Just up ahead,” She said. “Like I said, it’s not far… there’s a dirt road… right… there!”
She pointed to it, and I saw it clearly. I put on my turn signal and hung a left, away from the shimmering ocean and up the old dirt road. My car rocked from the unpaved path, but I kept on following it, up a steep incline. As we ascended, we passed a sign that read: ‘Campground, 3 Miles.’
“My family used to take me up here all the time,” She said, staring out the passenger side window at the ocean. “It was nice… I always wanted to take my kids up here. My husband passed away about two years ago, we haven’t really had a vacation since then. I thought renting an RV and making some memories would be a nice change of pace.”
“Yeah? My wife and I sometimes take our kids camping at a nice spot a little ways north of here. Never seen this campground before, though.”
“It’s beautiful,” Erin said. “But I guess any campgrounds out here would be beautiful. The breeze, the ocean…”
I nodded in quiet agreement.
“How old are your kids?” I asked.
“My eldest is 12. My youngest is 9. Yours?”
“My daughter is 17 now. My son’s 14… they grow up fast, don’t they? I keep looking at my daughter and wondering where that little kid went… now she’s off driving, having her own social life, working her first job…”
I shook my head in disbelief.
“Time flies,” Erin sighed. “It just… slips away from you.”
The road was getting a bit narrower as it wound up the hill, and the unpaved rockiness of it didn’t do it any favors. Someone had installed a guard rail, but it looked rusted and worn down. Erin stared at it, her gaze intense as we passed it.
“Christ… gonna be hell to get a tow up here,” I said.
“You’re telling me,” She said. “Well… if I’m lucky, you’ll be able to fix the problem. Not that I’ve ever been particularly lucky, but one can always hope.”
“One can,” I said.
Erin paused for a moment, before speaking again.
“Slow down… this turn is a doozy.”
I nodded and reduced my speed, inching the car along a hairpin turn. As I did, I saw a large break in the rusted guard rail.
“Jesus…” I said, before looking over towards Erin.
But Erin was gone.
My passenger seat was empty.
I stopped the car, before noticing her from the corner of my eye. She was standing by the break in the guard rail, although I didn’t know how the hell she’d gotten out of my car! Her blue dress billowed in the wind as I threw the car into park and got out.
She stared at me, her expression intense before pointing down, through the break in the guard rail and toward the bottom of the hill.
“Fix it.” She said softly.
At first I didn’t know what she was talking about… or maybe I just didn’t want to know. But as I got closer to the edge, I finally saw what she’d wanted me to see. A broken RV, lying on its side far at the bottom of the hill.
“Fix it…” Erin’s voice was cracking now. I could see tears in her eyes, “Please… please just fix it…”
I had to move. The hill was steep for a car, but I could make my way down, and that’s exactly what I did. The weeds caught on my jeans as I raced to the bottom of the hill, almost stumbling and falling a few times as I did.
My brain wasn’t working. I wasn’t really thinking anymore. I just wanted to get to the RV.
The metal of the body was hot to the touch. It’d been baking in the sun for at least a few hours. The RV was on its side. The door was blocked by the ground. The cabin looked like it had been completely crushed. My stomach turned, but I tried not to think about what that meant.
Erin had said her kids were with the RV.
Were there kids in here?
Were they still alive?
I had to know.
I ran toward the back of the RV where a cracked window sat. I couldn’t see inside through the grime and the dust, so I decided I needed to break it. I grabbed the first thing I saw, a rock, and slammed it against the glass, over and over again until it shattered.
“Hello?” I called. “Hello, is anyone in there?”
In the dim light of the RV, I saw movement. A small head poking out from behind a piece of furniture. A 12 year old boy with blond hair just like Erins. He looked at me in disbelief, as if he wasn’t sure I was real.
“W… we’re in here…” He said, his voice hoarse and weak.
“Sit right, alright? I’m gonna get you out!”
I cleared the broken glass away from the window, before crawling inside the RV. I could see the boy and I could see a younger girl beside him.
“Come on… come on, it’s safe to come through. Come on!”
They didn’t hesitate. They crawled through the broken glass and debris to reach me. The boy made his sister go first, and I pulled her to safety, before helping him through.
“You need to go back for Mommy!” The girl said, “You need to go back in right now!”
“She’s still inside!” The little girl shouted, although the boys face was cold and grim. He looked at me, a knowing look in his eyes.
Somewhere behind him, I could see Erin standing on the hill. She stared at me, a sad, but somewhat content smile on her face as her daughter screamed for me to rescue her.
I knew that there was no saving Erin. There never had been.
But she hadn’t brought me here to save her.
Her son hugged his sister as she sobbed, and when I looked again, Erin was gone. I called emergency services… then brought the children up the hill to my car, where they could sit in the AC.
The kids didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I did the only thing I realistically could. I took them in myself. My wife doesn’t mind the new additions to our family… and we’ve taken things slow with them so far.
They’re still grieving.
The boy, James has adjusted about as well as he can. He’s a good kid. Smart, kind. Erin raised him right. I intend to do the same.
The girl, Lana… it’s hit her a little bit harder. In time, I’m sure she’ll find a way to heal, and I’ll be there for her every step of the way.
I don’t know if I should tell them about Erin. I don’t want them to feel patronized. Even I’m not sure I fully believe my own story, and I saw it all with my own eyes. But even if I never tell them, I’ll make sure they know that she loved them.
I can’t fix the damage that’s been done. But I can build something new for these kids, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
It wasn't always there, I can say this with absolute certainty. When I think back to the furthest reaches of my memory, my early childhood days, I can remember being whole, complete. Happy in a way that only a child untouched by the cruelties of life can experience. It was as I grew older, as my family began to splinter apart, and the world began to display its harsh, uncaring, side that it first began to grow. The hole within my chest.
At first, it was a tiny, nigh insignificant thing, no bigger than the tip of my pinky nail. When I first laid eyes upon it, seated firmly in the middle of my chest, I had thought at first that it was just a speck of dirt or a freckle I hadn't noticed before. A dark freckle, to be sure, but a freckle all the same.
It wasn't until I poked at it, scratching lightly in my curiosity, that I discovered it for what it was. A hole. It wasn't a wound or an injury of any sort - there was no blood to be seen within its depths, nor did I glimpse raw skin or muscle tissue within its depths - surrounded by living flesh as it was within the small crater was an endless darkness, swirling and deep, impenetrable by any light. I had tried to peer inside it, with the help of a mirror and a flashlight, but the light was just absorbed into the inky depths of the pin-prick hole that was seated within my chest.
It was my mother that I went to first to tell her of the strange development. I can remember tugging on her shirt trying to get her attention, and I remember the look of disgusted irritation she had speared me with - after yanking my shirt down and proclaiming nothing to be there - as she told me to stop making up stories, to go bother someone else, before she turned her attention back to more important things.
I couldn't understand it. How could she not see it? When I looked in the mirror once more it was still there, and somehow ever so slightly bigger than before. Big enough now that I could slide a finger into it, and watch the digit vanish inside my chest.
As I grew older the hole grew with me, though at a differing pace, sometimes months would go by without a change in its size, only for it to hit multiple growth spurts within the space of weeks, or days.
When I started high school, the hole in my chest began to grow by leaps and bounds. It was a difficult time for me, and the hole seemed to reflect that. I had come to understand, over the years, that it hurt - be they big or small - that caused the hole to grow. To shrink it? That had remained a mystery to me. But as the hole grew, so too did a feeling that had developed with it. An aching emptiness that felt as though it were lodged within my ribs. The hollowness I carried around would stir me to fits of sobbing, or screaming when I was on my own. Anything to try and get rid of the ever-present ache.
It was in my freshman year of high school that I discovered that cruelty, my own acts of it, sometimes could soothe that hollow feeling. Could let me feel whole, for just a short time. Fights with my parents, bringing fellow students to tears with well-aimed words, anything to cause others pain, making them feel pain let me feel something other than empty. It wasn't enough, in the end. The brief flickers of fullness always swiftly died away and left behind an acrid taste in my mouth. I hated the taste, hated the acts I committed. But I hated the emptiness I felt so much more.
Far too soon it wasn't enough, the acts of cruelty I committed, the hurts I caused others, they weren't enough. Nothing was enough to keep the emptiness at bay for long, and the future I saw yawning before me was one filled with an ever-aching hollowness that filled me with a dread I, to this day, can't find the words to describe. The idea of living life feeling this way forever, it was too much.
I won't say how I did it, there's no point in going over such things, I'll only say that one night I finally gave up, and gave in. Gave in to the fear of a life with nothing but emptiness in it, gave in to the whispers in the back of my mind that if this was all life had to offer, then perhaps life was overrated, and I took matters into my own hands.
I had believed myself to have done a thorough job, so it was to both my shock and dismay that I woke up. Feelings that were followed by no small amount of confusion as I realized I wasn't alone, I had a visitor sitting beside me, one I didn't recognize. It's reasonable to say that normally this would have led to my panicking, lashing out in no small amount of fright. Beyond the confusion, and shock of my own wakefulness, I was oddly calm, however.
As I stared at my visitor, they stared back at me in contemplative silence. To their features, how they looked, I could tell you nothing even if I wanted to. It was more a sense of things I received as I examined them. They were more a silhouette than an actual person, though they cast an impression of tallness. To their gender, I couldn't say. I'm not even certain if they had one.
When they spoke their voice failed to clear matters, their voice wasn't one voice, but many. Feminine, masculine, childlike, and mature, hundreds of voices spoke in unison as they addressed me with a familial gentleness, "You're not the first to find themselves here, you know." They stated as they examined me, seemed to examine the damage I had caused myself before their eyes finally landed upon the hole in my chest. Once a tiny pinprick of a thing, now it was a gaping maw that saw squarely between my breasts. An abyss made of flesh of bone and filled with an endless, empty void.
"You're not the first to carry a burden such as that, either." They added softly, their tones sounding somehow sad as they reached out to me, the shadowy impression of a hand reaching the hole in my chest, then pressing through all while I watched, and listened, with a calmness that shouldn't have existed. Their arm continued to press into the hole, impossibly far, until they were elbow deep in my chest even as an impression of thoughtfulness, and purpose, came from them.
When they finally withdrew their arm, in their hand they held a small, dark orb that seemed to almost flicker with an oily gleam in the light.
Holding it up, they examined it closely, before they turned their focus onto me, "So many fall into this trap, child." they said on a sigh as they held the orb aloft before crushing it into dust between their fingers, releasing what had been trapped within. A memory. One of mine, in one of my crueler moments. In the memory, I could see myself lashing out at someone who, viewing from the outside, had meant no harm, had, had no foul intentions, but in the moment that the memory had been made I believed that he had been trying to mock me, so I had lashed out, striking with venomous words at every weak spot I could think of. Despite the foreign calm that filled my mind I felt the faintest flicker of shame kindle in the back of my mind.
My visitor seemed to smile at that, "Good, that's good." They said, as if proud of me. Proud of that shame I felt.
"The cruelty, the hurt you've caused, it's an easy road to take, this I will say freely." They said then as they watched me, "Easy doesn't mean correct though, does it? Easy doesn't always help. You, nor anyone else." They said chidingly, and I couldn't help but nod my head in agreement. It had been so easy to hurt others, but it had never really helped, ultimately I had done little more than get brief moments of respite while digging the hole in my chest deeper.
"I won't tell you what to do, child. I will simply ask you this... if one path fails do you give up, or do you forge a new path, brick by brick?"
With that final question ringing in my ears, I found myself waking up once again. This time in truth, in a hospital bed. My father dozed in the chair next to my bed while my mother stood staring out the window of my room.
I won't say everything was immediately better, roses and rainbows when I woke up. That would be a lie. There was crying, arguing, accusations. Forging a new path takes time, ceasing old habits takes time, and kindness most of all - to oneself and others - takes time.
It's been worth it though. The hole in my chest has grown smaller since then. It's still there, I doubt it will ever go away, but I've learned to fill it with new things. The laughter of friends, my mother's embrace, my father's stupid jokes. Each little thing is another brick on my new path ahead and a better filling for the hole that resides within my chest. Sometimes I still feel empty, and hollow. But whenever it gets too much, instead of lashing out, or causing big and little hurts, I reach out instead. And some nights I fall asleep with a familiar silhouette looking on from a corner of my room, an impression of pride welling from it.
“The Rising Trends bureau at the central office is reporting a sharp spike in ‘renegades’. According to the latest data, the numbers are up over 30%, recently. When you factor in the already large percentage of rogues traditionally, it’s pretty troubling. I felt you would want to know.”
“Yes, yes. Thank you for calling it to my attention. That high, huh? The Big Man upstairs is bound to be deeply concerned about this. He’s obsessed with 100% compliance. I wonder why they do that? Why do so many refuse to accept their fate? It’s only fair, and happens to all of us.”
“That’s true sir. Being dead isn’t so bad! No complaints here. There’s the ‘no pulse’ discount at the health club and ‘Free Yogurt Tuesday’, but the recently departed don’t know about any of those awesome perks. The number one response from them is that they; ‘we’re not ready yet’.”
“Not ready? It is their TIME! How can they not be ready? It’s preposterous.”
“I know it’s been a long time since you ummmm, expired, Sir. Perhaps you’ve forgotten how disappointed you felt yourself when your time arrived. For many it can be quite… frustrating.”
The senior member of management started to disagree with his junior clerk’s assessment, then paused to consider his point. The more he tried to remember back to that fateful day, the more he realized it was a valid observation. Like everyone else, he wasn’t ready when it occurred either. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Ok. Beckler. I see your point. I wasn’t exactly happy at the time either, but in all fairness, I didn’t have the benefit or foresight or context. I didn’t know what death had to offer. What if we gave them one more day to come to terms with the significant change to their existence? Do you think that would reduce the number of these renegade ‘ghost’ scofflaws who refuse to comply with the mandatory requirements of the afterlife? We’ve got to bring those numbers way down. I shudder at the thought of another ‘efficiency audit’.”
“That’s a fantastic idea sir! Can we actually do that? I mean, would the ‘head office’ sign off on that? I think it would greatly reduce the number of disenfranchised people; but just a single day extension? It would be better if…”
“Nope! That’s it. That’s all I’ll give them. If allowing them one more day of life can help them tie-up any loose ends and get their mortal affairs in order, then it’s worth it. I’m offering this ‘one-more day’ exception deal, to help get the frustrated feelings out of their system. It’s definitely not going to become an extended excuse or delaying tactic to avoid their D date responsibilities. Let’s not forget what it is we do here. We must facilitate the necessary transition. It’s for their own good. Every person must accept that death and all of its subtle perks, has arrived for them.”
And so, the proper forms were filled out and submitted to the ‘Eternity Bureau’ for expedited processing. On the surface, the deal appeared to be a standard boiler plate legal decree. Deep within the fine print however, was a clever little exception inserted in there by a certain cunning junior-level staff member. The official definition of a ‘day’ was secretly amended to be ten thousand years. This coy subterfuge went unnoticed for a very long time; but as with all things of this nature, it was eventually discovered by an ambitious analyst ‘stickler’ at the home office looking to make a name for himself.
“Beckler! Get in here right now! I’ve been informed by Tuttle over in ‘Legal affairs’ that the legislation deal you drafted up for the: ‘One More Day’ life extension program was deliberately altered! Tuttle tells me you redefined the length of a single calendar day to be ten thousand years! That’s an egregious misrepresentation of my generous offer, and a clear misuse of your clerical authority! What do you have to say for yourself?”
“My apologies sir. Mea Culpa. You were rightfully concerned about the huge spike in renegade refusals, which I brought to your attention. You didn’t want another efficiency audit, right? You know as well as I that the rate of refusal to comply has dropped to near zero. You were even given personal commendation by ‘The Big Man’ himself. I didn’t take any credit for that, and interestingly, you didn’t mention me as aiding in getting the numbers down. I just wanted to do my job well. I knew that only one more calendar day wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the restless departed. All I did, was to build upon your brilliant idea, to better facilitate the reduction in ghosts. That was, after all, the end goal; and it was wildly successful. I apologize for slightly altering the definition in the legal filing, but it was merely because I recognized the hardship of transition and wanted you to look good to the home office.”
“Slightly! TEN THOUSAND YEARS is not a SINGLE day, Beckler!”
“Well, it has been for the past four million years, sir. It’s reduced the resistance rate by 99.7%. Shall I change the wording back to a 24 hour period?”
“Get out of here, Beckler. Leave it as it is.”
I looked out at the empty street below, the rusted street lights blinking from time to time as the moon made her perilous journey across the sky. I looked up at the shining white surface and smiled as I felt her stare back
“Hows the ride tonight love”
She rode down as she did every evening and sat on my windowsill. Her blue dress billowed in the night wind and her soft silver hair hung without gravity on her pale soft shoulders.
“Good as always, whats keeping you up tonight?”
I smiled and continued looking out, staring at the perfect surface with all its craters. I zeroed in on the black silhouette she leaves behind when she departs from its cold orbit around my planet.
“Same as always, just missing her alot”
She smiled and looked on as I did
“I know hon, anything i can do to make you feel better?”
I shook my head and spoke softly
“Dont think so, its nice getting to see you every night, makes the time without daylight seem less lonely”
She giggled and ran her fingers through my hair
“Thats my job, ive sat with heroes like you for centuries, but I dont think ive ever felt one mourn as much as you do”
I sighed and knelt down, placing my chin on the sill and resting my head against her gentle thighs
“Most men remember who they lost”
She took a deep breath and sat silently for a moment before speaking as gentle as a moonless ocean wave
“Most men dont make the kind of sacrifice you did, you saved the whole world and noone remembers you doing it, and as a reward for your loss, neither do you. When leonidas stood against the persians, I told him he had arrived at the eve of his death, he sacrificed his life. When dante faced the forces of hell, I told him he was to face the most brutal of truths. He sacrificed his soul. I found you too late, and in turn you sacrificed your entire existence”
I took a deep breath
“Im no hero Luna, someone saved the world, but that wasnt me. All i want is to see her again, know her again”
She kissed my head gently before beginning her ascent back to the lunar surface, she turned her head to me before dissipating with the clouds and gave me one last thought
“Then do it”
The woman looked at the thermometer in her hand, 104. she stared pensively at it. Worry beginning in the back of her teeth. She knew that the hospitals had been overflowing of late, so she was basically on her own, having to ride out whatever nasty thing had decided to set up shop within.
She heard a soft mewl and looked over at the bassinet near her, the new baby within, and the reason of her worry truly became apparent. She was sick, but so was the child. Her baby let out a soft cough that sounded more like a squeak and the mother bit her lip in concern. At only 3 months she knew that the illness would be a real danger and cursed the lack of medical facilities in their small town.
Her husband had been called and had was hurrying home from his office, but the roads were inundated with many people having the same idea as him. “Oh, curse the need for him to return to that office so soon.” She thought to herself.
Once he arrived they were going to attempt to make it to a hospital in the nearest city, about 2 hours under normal circumstances. Who knows the time it will take now, but her baby needed more help than she could give her and the feckless hospital here had told her to give baby Tylenol and cool washcloths. She shook her head in disgust.
Her baby had calmed and fallen asleep. Her tiny little fists were balled up on her chest and she seemed peaceful enough. Her temperature had been taken and it was slightly above normal. Perhaps it was time for the mother to try and bring her temperature down as well.
The Mother took her temperature again, 105. “Damn.” she whispered. That fever needed to come down or she would be in a lot of trouble. It was climbing so fast. She went into the bathroom and started a cool shower. The water splashed her face and felt just heavenly. As the water ran she went back into the room and grabbed the baby monitor in case her little one were to wake up. As she set down the monitor on the counter as a wave of dizziness overtook her. She fell into the shower taking the curtain with her. The water cascaded down on her prone form as she lay completely unconscious.
...She was awakened by a quiet mewl coming from the bedroom. She opened her eyes, but there was something wrong. The water wasn’t flowing and the room was dark and musty. Black slime climbed the walls and spider webs decorated the ceiling. “Nevermind all that.” she thought as she began to climb out of the tub, but her exodus became much more frantic when she heard her baby cry out again, but this time it was followed by the cruel guffaws of two men.
She scrambled to gain purchase as she slithered out of the tub and struggled to stand as her joints were quite stiff and her skin quite sodden. Finally she was able to find her feet and began to struggle into the adjoining room clutching the wall and door for support.
Thankfully, her struggles went unnoticed by the two men who were staring in disgusted fascination into the bassinet. “So gross. Makes you want to lose your lunch.” one voice said “Hey Bill, think we should just take it out and squish it like a grape?” this garnered another round of evil laughter as the two men, who were obviously drunk, stood in judgment over The Mother’s baby.
Hearing these disgusting monsters talk about her child that way made her much more swift in her attempt to get to the room. The men both had their backs to her as she reached the first one and grabbed his neck. The flesh sloughed off her fingers as she dug the sharp bones into his jugular. She retracted her fingers in surprise as the man turned to her surprise etched on his face before collapsing as he bled out.
The other man, aimed and shot, but missed by a mile as the bullet went into the roof and only littered The Mother with plaster. He turned to run, but slipped on the viscera that had been tracked in, hit his head on a heavy wooden table, and fell convulsing to the ground. She sensed the life ebbing from both bodies as she gazed lovingly into the bassinet. Seeing her baby for the first time in an unknowable span. She lifted her infant out and cradled it lovingly. Together they left the room with the bodies of the two men, then walked through the darkened and ravaged house. Cupboards lay bare and windows shattered. Much sounds had happened between these walls, but the only thing that had awoken her were the first cries of her infant after her long slumber.
The home they lived was no longer a home so she carried her child and they exited the house. Her husband lay prone half under the porch. A body lay nearby. Its intestines lay bare where he had eaten his final meal while protecting his family from invaders.
She reached down to touch where the bullet had entered through his jaw, but as she touched him his eyes fluttered open revealing milky pupils and yellowed sclera decorated with black veins. As if he had been waiting for her touch he gazed at her with what one could call deep affection as he slowly rose to meet her and their child.
Together they stood as a family. Touching faces and caressing, being together after a long innumerable absence. Their world was once again complete.
All around them they heard the groans and sighs of their kind, and so, hand in hand, they walked into the night to be with their people.
Rain Streaked across the window of my grandmother’s old sedan. I silently chuckled to myself as I remembered the rain races that I used to coordinate and be an audience for when I was a child. Our car rolled along the uneven rural road and hit a pothole, causing me to lose track of all of my racers.
“You know when I was a kid, we all used to have this legend.” my grandmother said suddenly, jolting me out of my bookie work.
“Huh?” I responded, only catching some of what she had said.
“Right up here, we’re coming up on it in just a bit, when I was a kid there was a legend about a kid that died at this intersection while driving, and then he haunted it and caused other people to get in wrecks.” Her voice rose towards the end adding an air of theatricality, it made me laugh. “Yeah, Luke… Luke the Spook is what we called him. Because you’d be driving at night and he’d jump out and spook ya and make you crash.”
I lazily looked out at the vast deciduous green that surrounded us on the flat two lane road before responding. “Well was it bull- f-fake, was it like a real thing?” I caught myself before I swore. She didn’t seem to mind but I hadn’t seen her in a while and didn’t want to seem rude.
“Oh yeah, we lost quite a few teens on it when I was growing up,” she said as we pulled to a stop, “But teenagers are bad at driving, and there was other things to consider.”
“Is this the intersection?” I said, pointing to the lights in front of us.
“Yep! This is where ‘ol Luke used to hang out,” she laughed to herself. “Of course, later on they had some people come out and look at it all and they said that the visibility was really bad here, and not being able to see is what was causing all the crashes.”
“It was that bad?” I said, surprised.
She carried on as though she hadn’t heard me, she was getting old. “So they peeled all the vegetation back and then the accidents stopped.”
“It doesn’t look like they did anything around here,” I said looking out the window, “I mean the grass is at least seven or eight feet high and that doesn’t include the trees.”
“Yeah well, with roads this bad do you expect them to worry about an intersection? They can’t even do one job, let alone all the other things they need to do. But you be careful on this road if you’re ever driving. I just got you back, so you gotta stay safe.” She looked at me softly. something the driver of a car should not do, so she was one to talk, but I understood.
“Okay nana,” I said with a smile, “but you should look at the road t--
She suddenly slammed on the brakes causing me to lurch forward. I felt the straps of the old sedan squeeze into my ribs and shoulder.
“Ope, sorry” she said nonchalantly, “If luke don’t get you, Nana might!” “That’s not funny!” I said as we both started laughing.
I ruffled around my clothes trying to find another gym shirt and shorts, or joggers, or something. I found a shirt but no bottoms so I grabbed some Joggers out of my hamper. “No one’s gonna know,” I said assuaging myself as I slipped the joggers on.
I looked outside to see the sun setting over the other houses in the complex. It had been about a week since my conversation with my grandma, and I was headed to the gym for my nightly workout. Having recently moved here I was trying to stay in shape, and given my grandmother was trying to make up for all the time that she hadn’t gotten to shove food down my throat, it seemed she had a different shape in mind.
These nightly gym visits were for more than that though. They let me get out of the house and have some space to think.
I felt a twinge of guilt at that thought.
I grabbed the keys off the living room table as I went to head out the door.
“Be careful,” a voice called from her bedroom.
“Always am,” I said in response. With that, I headed out into the humid night air.
The drive to the gym was about 20 minutes, and it passed right through Luke’s old stomping grounds. Each time I passed the intersection I thought of the story that my grandmother had told me. Not in a way that creeped me out, but in a way that made me conscious of what I could and couldn’t see. What was worse was that after 10 the light turned into a caution light, which made me feel even more unsafe. My worry was unfounded, however, and I soon arrived at my destination. I stepped out of my car and walked to the gym. As I reached the front door the purple lights of the building engulfed me. I felt something wet hit my head, and then put out my hand. It had started to sprinkle.
That sprinkle had turned into a downpour by the time I finished my workout. I laughed and ran to my car trying to not get too wet. Once inside I turned on the heat and put on some music. I pulled out and started to drive home. The rain had made it hard to see, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from making it home.
The old sedan sped across the uneven rural road. I saw Luke’s baleful yellow light in the distance rapidly approaching.
Someone appeared in the middle of the road.
“Holy Shit!” I shouted before swerving off the road right before the intersection into the tall grass. The sedan pitched forward and those seatbelt straps groaned and complained under my weight but held until the sudden stop rocketed me back into the seat. Simultaneously I heard the rev of a motor and the flash of lights blitz through the perpendicular lane. Exactly where I would have been if I hadn’t decided to go offroading.
Pain exploded in a line diagonally across my chest as the shock of the initial impact wore off. I swore and sat there for a moment trying to remember how to breathe. I saw something lumber into the grass to my right, something large and human shaped.
Terror gripped me as I remembered that dark silhouette in the middle of the road. Had this been their goal? Was I going to suddenly be attacked by some madman? Then I froze remembering which intersection I was at. I trembled as I tried to rationalize what had just happened. I wasn’t one to believe in ghosts, but perhaps that was a preferable alternative to someone trying to scare me off the road. The fire of injury and the ice of fear battled across the space that held my heart as I tried to regain my composure.
If I was stuck here for a minute, what if whoever or whatever that was came back, I thought. I wasn’t in a position to fight it. I thought about trying to get my keys in my hand to function as some sort of makeshift stabbing device but the comfort and security the lights provided was something I wasn’t willing to give up. I just had to wait for my body to catch up with my mind.
Nothing came back out of the bushes. Soon I was able to move again, albeit with some difficulty. But as I had sat waiting for my untimely demise the thought occurred to me that if that thing hadn’t been in the middle of the road, I would have been T-boned by that car. Whatever had ran me off the road had given me what was probably a few cracked ribs, but it had also saved me.
I got out of the car and surveyed the damage, there wasn’t anything broken, on the car at least. And aside from some mud and grass stuck in the front of the car you couldn’t tell anything had happened. I reversed the car out of the grass and went back to pull the grass out of the hood and clean it off the best I could. I bent over. I realized that bending over was a mistake. I did what I could before wiping my hands on my joggers (they were dirty anyway), and getting back in the car.
I drove home carefully and pulled into the driveway of my grandmother’s house as quietly as possible. Gently getting into bed because I was feeling a little sore after the events of the night. In the morning I’d wake up and get out of bed before my grandma and finish cleaning off the front of the car.
I woke to the midday sun filtering through my window. “I overslept!” I thought with a start, bolting upright.
I was dying. My chest exploded with pain. Reassessing, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out of bed today.
“Jacob” my grandma called from outside my room “are you awake?”
She must have woken me up.
“Yeah!” I spat through gritted teeth.
“Well could you come out here?”
“Yep, just give me a second.” With herculean effort (or at least what I would consider such) I managed to get out of bed and move into the living room.
“Did you crash the car?”
That Obvious, huh? I thought to myself before responding with “Oh I kind of lost control of it last night and it went off the road, but I’m fine.
I don’t know if it was my grandmother’s instincts or the fact I was half bent over in pain but she could sense that I was not fine. She forced me back into bed and then tried to get me to go to the hospital. I refused, which may have been a bad idea but I figured that they can’t fix ribs and if it was more serious than that I probably would have died while I slept.
After a few days I was able to start moving around the house gingerly as my bruises started to heal. I slept a lot, but I also started to formulate a plan. And after a couple weeks of rest, I enacted it.
I pulled up to Luke’s intersection with a bunch of gardening supplies I had borrowed from my grandmother’s shed. It was the dead of night. To my understanding citizen led city maintenance was illegal and nighttime was my best shot to do this without getting caught. I wasn’t scared of whatever was out there. I knew that it had saved my life, and I knew that it wasn’t going to hurt me. I could feel it. I fired up the weedwacker and got to work.
The work was agonizing, especially with my ribs, and the swathes of grass and other greenery seemed to fight against the machines that bit into them. I had to stop several times to catch my breath and sharpen whatever blades I was using. It was a temporary fix, but I’d be back once I was more healed to see if I could make it permanent. Whenever a car came by I’d duck into whatever grass I hadn’t cut yet and turn off a machine if I was using one. After a few hours I was exhausted and in a lot of pain, but you could see each road on the intersection.
I got back to the car and saw something on the hood. As I approached I realized that it was a message, put together with small sticks. “THANK YOU” it said, and there was a small keyring with what looked to be a couple wedding rings on them. I was astonished and looked up and out to the now far receded grassline.
“Luke!” I called out into what could have been an empty field. “Was… Was this you?” Silence followed for a couple minutes, and I thought that maybe I had in fact been talking to an empty field when I noticed the grass rustling.
Out stepped a figure. About 5'10”, it regarded me silently.
“Luke?” I said, after it made no further motions.
It made what I thought to be a nod.
“Thank you for saving me.”
Luke didn’t respond.
“You didn’t have to get me these, where did you get them anyway?”
He stood for a moment before generally gesturing around at the grasslands.
I laughed, He seemed to make what I thought was a laughing motion too.
It was corny, but I thought of TV and how spirits hang around places because they have a reason to. I know I’m not some sort of expert in the paranormal but I thought maybe I could repay what he had done for me. “Is there anything else that I can do for you?” I said, immediately asking myself what the hell I was doing having a conversation with a potential ghost.
I saw what could have been his eyes glinting in the moonlight and he took a step towards me. He made some sort of sound that sounded like wind passing through the leaves, some sort of sigh.
I took a step towards him, and then another.
“Fa- Fal… Fala-” Luke tried to formulate sounds he probably hadn’t made or thought about in a long time.
“Fall?” I asked quizzically as I walked slowly towards him.
He made quick nods, I could see more of him now that I was getting closer. “Oh.” “fall… oh,” he said to me.
“Follow? Follow you?” I said with an air of fear creeping back into my chest.
Luke got excited at his ability to communicate what he wanted. I could see him fully now. He looked less like a man and more like an amalgamation of the grass and roots that surrounded us. Like a scarecrow made of and stuffed with live plants. His eyes were the only thing that remained human. Two piercing blue orbs socketed into a face of roots.
The sight of him was off putting, and I was afraid to follow a ghost, or a plant person, whatever this thing was. But in the same token I knew that I could trust him. That I should trust him. He had saved my life, and now I had the opportunity to repay him. I nodded and followed him as he gestured deeper into the grass and started moving into it.
We walked for probably another 10 minutes before he stopped. He turned to face me.
“Here?” I asked.
“Deep.” he gasped out.
I started tearing out the roots of the grass with Luke.
While working, I noticed the grass that Luke pulled out bound itself to him and wound itself around his arms and chest. I realized he was making a pained but angered panting as he vigorously tore at the roots. Grass seemed to squeeze and cut into his arboreal flesh and some sort of sap-like substance started to ooze out of him. He looked up at me and saw that I had stopped working. He urgently pointed his gnarled hand down at the grass while grunting.
“They’re hurting you!” I exclaimed, confused.
He made an exasperated noise as he looked to me and then down at the ground before going back to pulling out the roots, they once again began wrapping themselves around him, and soon they began to constrict his movements. I could see them cut into his skin and I could hear the frustration and heartache in his voice as he struggled in vain against the grass that would not let him through. The grass began to bind around his neck and seemed to choke him as he tore at it. He started to make rough choking sobs as he tried to make headway. Tears flowed from his eyes and I could hear him crying.
I gingerly reached out to touch his shoulder. He looked up at me, with a pleading expression. “I can do it. I can do it, you don’t have to try and do it anymore” I said.
We took each other in for a moment before he nodded and moved to the side so I had more room.
I was absolutely exhausted and my back and side were on fire but I knew that whatever was in this spot was important to Luke, so I started to work twice as hard for both of us. Luke sat on the edge of the hole we created and watched me while I worked.
After a few more hours of manual labor I had made a pretty decent sized hole when my hand reached something hard. It was bigger than the small rocks I had moved out of the way, and I had to work to wiggle it loose. As I was working I realized that the sun was starting to lighten the sky above me, providing me with more light to see. The sun would rise in about an hour. The rock finally came loose and I pulled it up and set it to the side. I was about to go back to digging when Luke made a noise like he had found something he’d been looking for.
I looked back at the rock and jumped back in shock. It wasn’t a rock at all, it was a small human skull. I looked at Luke as he made his way over to it and cradled in his arms.
“Luke, what the hell?” I said, wondering if I had misjudged what I thought were good intentions.
“Thank… you,” he responded with a tired sigh. “Po… Po…”
“The Police? Call the police?” I said, definitively not needing to be told twice.
Luke nodded and gingerly placed the skull back in the hole.
I called the police and told them I had found a body. After giving them my location, they said they’d be there in 20 minutes.
Luke and I waited in silence for a few minutes regarding one another. I knew that whatever the situation was Luke likely wasn’t going to be able to explain it to me, and I had to get going to meet the cops.
“I have to go meet them,” I said reluctantly.
He nodded in agreement. “Thank you… Happy,” he said to me before offering his hand out to shake.
I took his rootbound hand and shook it. Some grass and dirt sloughed off into my hand. He looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and nodded. With that I set off to meet the police, leaving him alone there by the hole.
I knew I was going to look incredibly suspicious, given that I had committed the crime of some hours worth of yard work on a public road and then coincidentally had found a body, and there wasn’t much I could do to cover it up. I could put my things, and the rings, back in my car though.
I was sitting on the hood of the car when the officers arrived, and I led them to the body that Luke had brought me to. Luke seemed to be gone by the time we got there. As I gave one officer my statement and the other called for backup and a crime scene unit, I could see two people behind the first officer. Two boys. One in his late teens, one that was 10 or 11. They smiled at me and waved before disappearing in the grass.
Luke Reynolds Hadn’t been driving that night. He’d been looking for his younger brother Bobby Reynolds. Bobby was filed as a missing person and Luke was sure that this road had something to do with it. He’d been hit when someone turned a corner going too fast, because of the poor visibility. The truth was Luke was right, that road did have something to do with it. The body that I had found was Bobby’s. The police suspect that Bobby had suffered the same fate as Luke and whoever had killed him had moved his body into the tall-tall grass and dug a hole far down enough that no one could find him. The police suspect it was the Teller boys, teenagers and neighbors of the Reynolds. The height of the bone damage on Bobby’s body is consistent with the type of truck that the teller boys drove, and their alibi for the night Bobby went missing was that they were out trying to catch frogs, though they were never considered serious suspects. Given that it was so long ago, both of them have died, and so there’s no way to verify that theory. Over time the local story changed to where Luke was driving and got into an accident which killed him.
The police obviously weren’t thrilled about the suspicion surrounding my involvement with the case but given that it happened over 60 years ago there wasn’t really a chance I could have been involved. They let me go with a warning about cutting grass on land that wasn’t my own but put in a word to hopefully get the issue permanently resolved. I hope that happens, especially now that Luke isn’t there to save people.
My grandma was confused and unhappy about everything that happened and my involvement with it, but was more worried about me doing so much work with my ribs, which was fair, because my sudden interest in gardening added 4 more weeks to my recovery time. She did start to suspect though, and one day asked me if I had seen Luke on the road that night that I had crashed the car. I told her that I had seen him, but that he was looking out for me. That seemed to be enough for her.
I don’t know what Luke was, or why it was me that had these experiences, but I’m glad that I was finally able to put Luke the Spook to rest.
They went their separate ways a few years earlier; but as is often the case, Jack failed to update his 'Emergency Contact' information. That's not the sort of thing many people worry about during the tense crisis of a breakup. Although he and Claire couldn't work out their domestic issues enough to salvage the relationship at the time, they held fond memories of each other into their unconnected lives.
One Spring day he was involved in a horrible automobile accident. While unconscious and unable to direct the first responders, they went through his cell phone and called the first name on the list, to inform them.
*Hello. Is this Claire McMasters? This is Phil of the Highway Patrol. Your boyfriend Jack has been in a serious traffic incident. We are rushing him to the 'City Hospital Crisis Unit immediately. He's stable for the moment but needs immediate care.”
For a split second, she didn't understand what was going on. It had been nearly three years since they split. She didn't even have contact with him anymore. It didn't make sense for them to be contacting her, but she realized Jack had failed to change the info in his phone. In the heat of a life-or-death situation like that, she didn't try to explain it to the officer. She just pretended to be the appropriate person to inform.
Immediately after hanging up, she searched her mind for who actually needed to know. His parents were deceased. His brother lived abroad. If Jack was seeing someone else, she didn't know about it. In the end, she drew a complete blank. There was no obvious person to notify. The thought of him being all alone in the trauma unit with no support system, made her tear up. She got in her car and raced to the hospital, in respect for him personally, and for their previous relationship.
Claire rushed to the front desk to inquire about his status. The clerk only had information about him being admitted to the ICU. The situation was fluid and his current condition was unknown. She felt a knot draw up in her abdomen. There was still love in her heart, and even if they had both moved on, the thought of him being 'gone' was difficult. She impatiently sat in the waiting room and wondered how to explain the complicated situation, of what brought her there.
"Are you Mr. Ingle's girlfriend? I need to ask you a few questions."
She nodded without thinking; but then started to clarify.
"I WAS his girlfriend, a few years ago. We split up and now lead SEPARATE lives. I haven't spoken to him in at least two years but I guess he never got around to updating his emergency contact stuff in his phone. Is he OK?"
The perplexed staff member was unprepared for her response. Once he established that he'd located the right person to discuss Mr. Ingle's case with, he intended to ask a number of pertinent questions about allergies to medications, and prior health issues. The situation fell into a weird gray area. She WAS the person who the first responders contacted, but was no longer INVOLVED with the patient. Ethically or pragmatically, he wasn't sure how to proceed.
Then the researcher asked if she knew who was an appropriate person to call. Claire admitted she didn't know if there was another person currently in his life who was more deserving of being informed; but it didn't matter. Their relationship state of involvement at the time was irrelevant. She could answer the medical questions to help emergency workers make the right decisions for his well-being.
They discussed his known allergies and high blood pressure issues. She mentioned the surgery he had on his back, the small skin cancer lesion he had removed from his forearm, and several less-significant things. All for good measure, and ‘just in-case’. By nearly any metric, she knew more about her ex boyfriend Jack, than many long-time spouses did.
Ordinary, the medical team was supposed to find a person who could legally make life-and-death decisions for the incapacitated patient. Under those circumstances, Ms. McMasters could not make those decisions since they were not married and she didn’t have power of attorney. He went to report the unusual development to the surgeon. They would have to make those delicate decisions for him.
Claire sat back down and waited for news. Since she had been excluded from making legal decisions for Jack, she wasn’t even sure they would keep her apprised. As far as they were concerned, she was just a ‘concerned citizen’ who used to know the patient. She felt a little foolish and out-of-place hoping to be included in his medical progress since she was neither biological family, nor his current partner. It was awkward but her worries and genuine concern about him trumped those uncomfortable feelings.
A few hours later, the surgeon came out of the OR and walked over to her. He had a tired, otherwise nondescript look on his masked face. She was fearful of the worst.
“You’re ummm, ex fiancé should pull through. He lost a lot of blood and will require considerable rehabilitation to regain his strength, but as far as we can tell from the X-rays and CT scans, he doesn’t have paralysis or critical internal injuries. He’s lucky to have you to be there for him! I don’t know what separated you with him in the first place, but I can tell you have a good heart. You showed up for him, even though you two are no longer together. He’ll be admitted to a room very soon. Normally it’s ‘next of kin’ or spouses only, but I’m going to make sure the nursing staff makes an exception so you are allowed to stay with him, if that’s ok.”
“Yes. Thank you so much, Doctor!”; She said appreciatively. A huge weight was lifted off her troubled shoulders. Jack was a good man. The subsequent years, and others she dated, made her appreciate him far more than when they’d been together. She’d thought about contacting him a few times afterward to talk with him again, but just decided in the end to ‘allow sleeping dogs lie’.
His accidental omission in his records had serendipitously facilitated a chance meeting for them again; under those highly peculiar circumstances. Perhaps there was a chance for them again, the second time around. She looked forward to telling him the compelling story of how she came to be by his side again when he awoke; and to see the big smile on his face.
As I sit on the back porch, swinging absently ignoring the rain that was falling all around me. I smiled knowing that at the end of the storm, the world would feel renewed even if for the briefest of moments. I'd smell the scent of freshly fallen rain around me. It would make me smile, it would let me cry. The sound of the old chains creaking from the swing even makes me smile.
"Mom, do you know why it rain?" A much younger version of myself had asked my mother. She smiled sweetly at me and gave me a gentle pat on the head. She told me the typical response a parent tells a young child. Something innocent that by the time the child learns why it rains, they'd long since forgotten. "It's the angels crying for us, now run along and eat your pear slices." then she would resume cleaning up the muddy tracks I'd brought into the house.
I look up at the sky as that memory fades away leaving behind the innocent younger version of myself. One who'd not dealt with loss, one who hadn't been burdened by a hundred different responsibilities that I don't remember ever wanting or ever asking for. "You were so lucky, I'd do anything to go back to being you once more." I brush the wet strands of hair from my face. Look inside the house once more. Several windows had been broken, graffiti was all over the outside of the house.
I didn't even recognize it anymore, the address was right. The location seemed to fit what I'd remembered. Yet, for some reason, the place doesn't feel right. The rain begins to fall even harder soaking my already wet clothing. Hot breath meets the colder autumn night air leaving behind clouds of steam. Feeling the chill inside my bones I pull the jacket I was wearing ever closer around my body.
My green eyes look at the paper in my hand, the ink has already begun to become illegible. I squint hoping the change would make the alien ink blots begin to make sense. "Get inside before you catch your death of a cold." an elderly voice calls from within the confines of the house. "I don't know what you want but chances are you won't find it out there." the woman looks at me. No recognition in her eyes, but she takes me inside anyway. Her features showed her age in a more regal manner than one would expect. Her voice sounded like someone who had been smoking most of their life but recently gave it up for health benefits.
"What if I wanted to kill you?" I remarked as she hurried me inside. "Had you wanted to kill me, you wouldn't be out here looking like a kid who forgot that holes aren't a fashion statement anymore," she says remarking on the way I appeared. A hoodie four sizes too big, shoes with holes along the front, the bottom part being held there with nothing more than duct tape and a prayer. A shirt with several larger holes than there ought to be. Jeans are held in place by a rope and a belt.
"I could look like that and want to kill you!" I remarked loudly, then pulled the string on the hoodie to hide my face. "You're probably right, how dare I act afraid of a woman like you who looks like a wet noodle, and could be taken down with a weak gust," she says laughingly while putting on a kettle. "So what brings you out here, to a place so far from protection and society?" she says before sitting down upon a stool that looked more rotten than not.
"I'm looking for my mom, about something she told me when I was younger." this makes the woman raise her eyes at me. "Ah, you mean that old woman who sold the house to me," she remarks. Her aged fingers grab a towel and begins to wipe dust off two mugs that sat on the table. "She didn't tell me she had a daughter, or a family at all for that matter. If she had I would have asked for a new address or something like that."
Hearing those words sends a wave of guilt down my spine. Had I been that neglectful lately? It had been almost two years since I last saw my mother. Maybe she thought I'd forgotten about her. Maybe she moved on as so many had. I reach up to wipe something from the corner of my eye. If it was a tear or a raindrop I couldn't honestly differentiate at this point. Instead, after it was wiped away I return my hand to my lap. "Let's get you out of those wet things. I don't have anything to offer as a substitute but you wrap yourself in a blanket until they're dry."
I couldn't under why this woman was being so kind, nor why she was offering me this hospitality for free. So I graciously accepted her kindness and took all my clothes off. She hobbled along as old folks do. Showing me the dryer explaining to me how her dryer worked. "It's not like those nice ones they have in the city. It does however leave everything warmer than it ought to." she said that last part with a matter of pride. I smiled and nodded kindly, asking if there was something that I could do take make up for the unexpected kindness.
In response, she asked "Would be willing to do my dishes? My son said he'd be by soon by hasn't been around a few days." Another fresh wave of guilt struck me. I looked at her, she was checking on the kettle. Which had started to boil. I nodded and started to get the sponge wet. "My son, he used to come by weekly. He'd run the vacuum, do my dishes, dust, and help keep the place clean." I looked around, the place looked like it hadn't been taken care of in months.
It was then I saw some notes posted around. The edges were frayed, and the ink had begun to fade. Layers of dust were upon everything. When I'd come here the place seemed to be in bad condition. But looking at it now, the inside seemed to be far worse than the outside. Magazines and newspapers were strewn about. Dirty laundry piled in front of the washer. The door of the washer hung open, with clothes dangling from the door.
"I'll pick up a bit more than the dishes, seeing as how you're making me a cup of tea. Sound fair?" I asked weakly, swallowing the ball of guilt that formed in my throat. The woman smiles brightly, then goes to grab herself a tea bag. At least the food here seemed to be fresh. So she wasn't being neglected in that way.
The word neglected balls up in my throat, a pill harder to swallow than anything else I'd been exposed to at this point. I'd neglected my mother, and I couldn't find her anywhere. Yet, here I was forcing my own need to make up for what I couldn't do for my mother onto someone else's mother. Was this the right thing to do? Should I just thank her, wait for my clothes to be done then move on? Maybe that would be the wise thing to do.
Looking around the statement seems like poison in my mind. If I saw my mother living like this and someone came along to help her out. It would be of some comfort to me. So I needed to do this, if not for myself for the son whose mother was living in my old home. She then sits down once more the old chair protesting against the weight. I nod to myself and begin cleaning up the dishes.
The dishes were made of ceramic, each having a green leaf pattern swirled along the edges. In the middle was a yellow floral pattern. I smiled as my memories envelop me once again. "Okay Mom, so if angel tears make up the rain right." the younger version of myself says. "What makes the thunder?" a brief pause as my mother thinks of what the right words were. "It's the angels playing bowling, the thunder happens every time they make a strike," she says and gently boops my nose.
"What were you remembering?" The old woman asks, she was sitting there crocheting something. "I was remembering what my mother told me made the thunder and lightning. It was something silly." the woman pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose so they were sitting comfortably once again. "I remember telling my boy the rain was angels watering their garden. Thunder...now what was that again...oh..yeah. Angels beating drums to scare the demons back into hell." she laughs softly at her explanations. "Silly now that I think about it. But he never questioned it. Even when he learned the truth." the kettle began whistling.
She got up, her glasses fell from her face dangling now from a chain around her neck. "Hundred of stories about what causes rain...a bit less discussing what makes the thunder. All stories are valid in their own way." She says pouring the boiling water into their respective mugs. "As parents, we're both blessed and cursed with ever-inquisitive minds to ask us to explain every little detail in the world," she says walking back to her chair. She sits once more and looks somber for the briefest of moments.
"I think the hardest story I've ever had to tell was why his father never came back from the hospital." her voice is somber as she says this. Even if my mind wanted to know what the story was. I knew better than to ask. "It was the worse story I've ever told anyone," she says before taking a deep drink of her tea water. I nod solemnly before returning to the dishes, only a few more were left.
When the dishes were done, she invites me to sit which I do. "I knitted a blanket for all of my children. Four in total, each was unique so there wouldn't be any bickering over who's blanket was which. My daughter was the most beautiful in my opinion. It took me four months to finish the design part." she says softly. "When she died, I gave her blanket to her daughter." the woman sighs sadly, as a small tear trickles down her cheek. "When my firstborn died, I gave his blanket to his wife," she says in barely a whisper. Some venom hidden behind the word wife.
"Now I'm knitting a blanket for my granddaughter. Four children, three boys one daughter...a granddaughter whose smile is so beautiful it makes me cry." I nod not knowing if anything else needed to be spoken. She then closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before continuing. "One granddaughter...can you believe it...only one." She laughs and then motions me to continue what I'd started.
Several hours pass, and the storm outside rages onward. Only becoming angry as time wears on. I ran the vacuum all over the house. Cleaning it to the point where you could now see the rug underneath. The magazines were now neatly stacked in rows. The newspapers were beside the magazines stacked neatly as well. "Momma, why does it become night?" A younger version of myself once again asked my mother.
We were sitting on the couch, in the middle of the night. A blackout took most of the power from the city leaving everyone stranded in their homes. My mother was resourceful enough to make sure we had candles to illuminate the most important parts of the house. Kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms. She smiles sweetly at the younger version of myself. "It becomes night because the sun and the moon respect each other's time. When the sun wants to get up and move to the other side of the planet. The moon nods and takes the place of the moon." she says sweetly while she places a blanket over me. "Goodnight sweety, now I'll be here all night watching over you." A motherly kiss is placed on my forehead as I drift off to sleep once more.
A tear silently rolls down my cheek, and a hand gingerly wipes the tear away. "A good one I hope?" the woman asks softly, her old hand holding mine with a strength I'd not expected considering the woman's age. "Yes, my mother was explaining to me why it became night." the woman nods knowingly. "A mother's protection, very powerful stories we tell our children when it comes to night. Can make the nighttime less nasty, far less terrifying than it is." she motions toward the dining room table.
"Your clothes were done while you were organizing the newspapers. You were very focused so I folded them and put them on the table. Please change when you're ready so I can put the blanket in the dryer." I nodded solemnly and got dressed almost immediately. I shoved her laundry into the washer, and most of it fit nicely. I organized it by color safe and white.
It was then that I got back to the dining room. She was sitting there once more, knitting the blanket for her granddaughter. I could see the intricate patterns she'd been working on. Not knowing how to knit myself I sat there for hours only getting up to change the laundry over to the dryer.
Her fingers were moving expertly, occasionally she'd prick her finger and let out a curse under her breath. The woman continues to do this for several more hours. I watched awestruck by the nimbleness of this woman's fingers. When dawn arrived she hurried me out of her house. "I'm sorry dear, but I must sleep now. I'm not like other old folk who wake early, I wake very late and work until the wee hours of the morning. When I'm done I'll let you see the finished product." she promised me, paid for the cab fare and sent me on my way.
Several years came by, and I'd not heard from that woman. I did find my mother, she moved to a much smaller place. Has a live-in nurse who was very kind to her. I visit her weekly and have since gotten a daughter of my own. I turned my life around when one day a package arrived on my doorstep.
"I remember what you did to help me, and I appreciate it. I made one just for your daughter. I'm sorry I couldn't show you the one I finished for my granddaughter. I don't think anyone will ever see that blanket. It's too painful, so I made this one much happier just for you and your daughter. May it bring many smiles, and keep her warm during the coldest of times." On the bottom of the note, the woman had written something odd. "A mother to all."
I've been pursued by an entity that I can't explain. Not that I'd be willing to try even if I could. It has no face, which in and of itself is particularly haunting. We as humans identify each by our faces, voices, and other such necessities for us to know we're human. So what do we do when something isn't right? We push it out of our minds, it's a form of comfort we've grown accustomed to.
Things out of the normal rarely last long in our memories. So then how can I sit here typing this to you? Because I'm afraid, not about something entirely faceless, or for fear that this thing is going to hurt me. No, I don't believe this thing wants to hurt me. It's chasing me for some other reason altogether and it's this..this reason that I'm afraid of it.
I would be perfectly alright if it wanted to hurt me. That's what otherworldly things do to us. They cause us harm, indirectly, directly, or just through their existence. They don't always mean to harm us. Sometimes it's just the nature of the thing that causes us the most harm.
Therein lies my fear of this faceless monstrosity. It's lack of desire to harm me, it sits there waiting for me. On a park bench, on an empty seat on the bus. Hiding just out of sight. I know it's there just waiting patiently. It's an empty face staring into the very being of who I am. I can't face it directly, I know why it's there.
So many of you sitting there reading my tale know what I'm speaking of. A faceless creature staring at you. I know that you're aware of why it's there. Shame, fear, indecision, a mistake, or something you've done intentionally. It's there waiting for you to one day not pay that little bit of attention you've been doing secretly. That way it can approach you.
I know why my faceless creature is haunting my steps. It's something I'm afraid to face. Or rather it's something I'm not quite ready to accept yet. I started seeing it a few months ago. It wasn't quite present at the moment. I started seeing small wisps of it forming. Something wasn't quite there yet, something forming in the back of my mind. Now, I see it clearly in my mind. It's there just patiently waiting for me.
I'm not sure when I'll be ready to finally face my monster. I hope it's sooner rather than later. I hope when I turn around to face it. It won't devour me. I know it doesn't want to harm me. I know it wants to show me something that I'm afraid to see. I'm just afraid, of what it wants me to see.
One day, you'll be braver than I've been. You'll turn around and see your monster with your eyes. Be willing to accept what the monster has to show you. With our own eyes, we can see what these monsters hide from us. We can understand the message they carry within themselves.
I'm sure these monsters don't mean to harm us the way they do. They want to show us these things. Not out of spite, malice, or even pity. It's why they don't have faces. They want to show us things we otherwise look away from. When they finally give us what they want. They will disappear just like the other things that don't belong. We'll forget about them. Letting them return to us once we find ourselves ignoring something else we shouldn't be ignoring.
We can't keep running from these monsters forever. Eventually, we'll get tired of avoiding them. Someday we look at ourselves in the mirror. Then when we close the mirror we see them standing there just out of view. That's when they get us when we least expect it. They show us the thing we've been hiding.
"I'll deal with it eventually." Is what we tell ourselves so we don't have to look at them. The more we push them away, the harder they become to face. Eventually, these things become monsters who just want to show us. They lose their identities to us, they become great distorted monstrosities. We all have to face them eventually.
The longer we ignore them, the more deformed they become. They start to go insane with the loss of who they are. Soon they actively start to hurt us, they don't want to. They just can no longer help it. So the sooner we face these faceless monsters. The less likely we are to get hurt.
So I made a promise to myself, today I'll look that monster in its face. Hopefully, I haven't waited too long. Hopefully, it's still itself and won't hurt me. I can't make any promises, so thank you for reading my story. Today I'm going to look it in the face and see what this faceless thing wants to show me. I hope it's something nice.