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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Ashes shaped like the entire rave remained in the outline of a single soaring rook. I awaited their arrival. I had known to go no further than Man's Bane. I first had to sort out the Choir. I had no choice but to choose which of them would stay and live with the animals and which ones could come with me and my talking crow Cory, back to our own world.
They had a chorus of questions, most of them difficult to answer, for they were the inquisitions of the enchanted and the insane. The gibberings of the transformed ravens, now escaped medieval asylum patients, earned the attention of the inhabitants of Man's Bane. I glanced around nervously at the various animals attempting to walk upright, some of them wearing a single article of clothing or clutching an artifact of the old world.
"We are here to sort out a few of you." I told them plainly. Many of the Choir were compulsive murderers and worse. I simply couldn't unleash them back on the world. They'd have to live among the animals.
I first pointed to Serene Sinclair. "Do you want to stay here or come with me?"
She walked over to where Cory and I were.
"Well if she's your first choice, why not all of them?" Cory squawked.
"You'll remain under my supervision, right?" I asked her.
"I just want to be helpful." She promised.
"You do? Is that right?" I stared. Cory made a grinding noise in the back of his throat that meant he found her words amusing somehow. He was laughing and said in Corvin:
"She quotes you, my Lord. Remember when you met my Winters?"
"Uh, yes." I clicked to him in annoyance. "She has magics."
"Oh. Is that all?" Cory sassed me.
We continued to argue in Corvin as I selected a few more of the Choir. I was being careful. If I picked the wrong one or wasn't careful of the commotion, I could have a riot of lunatics and beastmen. I just wanted to make it home in one piece.
"Dini Ghanat, Jessica Darling, Clide Brown." I called on several more dangerous ones, yet they were the ones that were too dangerous to leave behind. Cory clicked rapidly at me in disapproval.
"Your bird. It does not like me." Dini Ghanat said with his heavy accent. I reached into my bag and took out the little leather case with his serum inside.
"You will not operate without my oversight." I told him.
"Of course not. You are our fearless leader." Dini Ghanat grinned obsequiously. I trusted him as far as I could reach. I knew better than to leave him behind in the fertile world of unguarded labs and shuffling beastmen. He'd experiment on them and make some kind of weird animal-man realm that I would have to worry about. I wanted to leave Man's Bane behind and forget the world or time period entirely.
"Christo?" I asked the man with a different Christo in his mind. He looked at me as the Christo I could trust.
"You can come too." I told him. Then I told him he was on fire and the other Christo stared at me. I told that Christo: "Sorry. You gotta stay here. You will never have another birthday if you come with us. Here though, it is always Saturday. Tomorrow is your birthday, and you know what that means."
"I can play with Polly?" The other Christo asked. His menacing grin spread, reminding me vaguely of the cartoon of the Grinch from my childhood.
"Well, goodnight Christo." I smiled. Christo turned around and then looked at me and asked:
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going home and I am taking you with me." I promised.
"I don't think this is how this works." Cory advised me with mock cynicism.
"It was your idea!" I hissed back.
"Oh yeah." Cory made a noise that was his most mischievous.
I picked a few more before we took that final flight as ravens. I got Samual Monica, Castini Ishbaal and Father Dublin the Exorcist. We flew the rest of the way, backwards through time, as ravens. The Choir was split, I'd say those I left there became the Choir and those I took were no longer really of the Choir anymore.
The world had changed in many ways and yet it had stayed the same. What I mean, is that the disasters of the time when we struggled to close the book of evil, or the time we were in Dellfriar and the world ended, all seemed to be gone.
The effect of such horrors pressed in from the sides of the familiar world I had once known. I asked Cory:
"Am I experiencing hallucinations from the medications we were taking in Dellfriar?"
"No, my Lord. We are escaped mental hospital patients in the same world we left long ago. How is this possible?" Cory sounded amazed and spoke in English.
I looked at the assembled ex-Choir members with me. They were all somehow out-of-place if we weren't facing the post apocalyptic horrors I had expected.
"You look confused." Dini Ghanat told me.
"I thought." I stammered. "I thought things would be different out here."
"How? We escaped." Father Dublin smiled. "What did you expect?"
"A world in ruins and desolation. A world ruled by rampant monsters and vengeful enemies like the Folk Of The Shaded Places." I tried to explain what my expectations were. "This changes things."
"This world is coming apart at the seems. It is about to collapse. The ends of all worlds push at its sides, like a dying universe, everything dies." Serene Sinclair announced in proclamation.
"Now wait." I told her. "You sense all of that too?"
"Indeed. You have chosen a tribe of the most dangerous, and some might be too dangerous. You chose most of them not." Serene Sinclair prophesized me. "And you would know death either way. At least this way you shall know its form."
"I'm starting to like her too." Cory chirped meanly.
"Your bird doesn't like any of us, does he, Mr. Briar?" Dini Ghanat was somehow behind me. I'd taken my eye off of him for one second.
"He doesn't trust you. He's seen how dangerous you all are. I'm taking you home to my family, showing a lot of trust in all of you, despite what I too have seen you all do. However, unlike those we left behind, none of you have ever threatened me or Cory or my family. To be fair, you've never given me a reason not to trust you."
"You're speaking to all of us, then?" Clide Brown asked.
"Dude, you're a werewolf." I gestured that I was making my point anyway. He nodded and muttered:
"Good point. I see your point. Yeah."
"I couldn't leave you people behind. Over these years, stealing artifacts and everything, you all have become like this depraved, lunatic family to me. Stop drooling." I said. I was looking at Christo on my last beat. "The point is, I have another family. Can I count on all of you as I already have? I have to ask."
"You can't count on me. We don't know if the moon is full. I could kill everyone." Clide Brown had changed his discord as he spoke. His confidence always went out of him whenever anyone mentioned his other half.
"Cory, is the moon full?" I asked my talking crow. Cory called out and his crow's call was answered by another.
"Of course it is." Cory said in English.
"See?" Clide Brown started swearing.
"Relax, I am only joking. We have a few nights to get ready for your monthly puberty." Cory teased the agitated werewolf.
Clide Brown frowned but was obviously still far from any sort of anger. He had the best anger management skills.
We all got onto the back of a hay wagon with nobody driving it and rode into town. In the street outside Dr. Leidenfrost's apartment we stood, a gaggle of straight jackets and a gleaming razor sharp hook on the end of Jessica Darling's prosthetic arm. There were no other visible weapons, but I knew all of them were armed.
It was early evening and I sensed something watching us. They were in the shadows, moving along in the darkness and avoiding the streetlights as they turned on one-by-one in the gloom.
"What is it?" Father Dublin asked, fear beaded on his forehead as he realized we were being stalked.
"Folk Of The Shaded Places." I thought I saw one as a dark rod, moving in jagged animation through a patch of shade and shifting light. Somehow the Cambrian elder was like a centipede, in its general shape. They were intricate and with a hundred different limbs and their faces somehow evoked an image of all-teeth, the kind that snack on trilobites. I knew their intelligence too, an angry and ancient species, waiting for their world to return to their endless hands. It was just my imagination, but it was also reality. Folk Of the Shaded Places could travel instantly from one dark corner, into a dream, through a wall and back into another shadow. To see them in any capacity, always occurs as a partial glimpse, easy to ignore.
"What to they want?" Dini Ghanat was perplexed. He used a simple charm to look and try to see them magically. "I'd like to know them better."
"No, you wouldn't. Trust me." I assured the mad alchemist and disgraced scientist that stared after the spy from the darkness.
The spies in the darkness were gone, I could sense that they had left us.
"Daddy!" Came the voices of Persephone Briar and Penelope Leidenfrost, my daughters. They came running out to greet me.
"I knew you were coming. I've watched all of your flights." Penelope told me. Her heterochromic eyes were the most beautiful in the whole world. She blinked as she spoke to me for the first time in her life.
"Daddy, you're back. Sister told me you were here." Persephone told me.
I stared at her, unbelieving how she had grown. My mind flashed to the rampage of the giant horse, death, gemstones, all of it to serve the cats so that she would live. I had always loved her, even when she was not alive, at the beginning.
I hugged them both.
"Such a sweet reunion." Samual Monica commented. There was always a strange hint in his voice. Part of me was not happy to let him near my family, but also, he was family now too.
Then I looked up and saw the love of my life, after being away for so long. She stood there, every aspect of her was dark, as she stood in the shaft of light from her home. A fairy flitted from her shoulder back to the sanctuary of indoors.
"Heidi?" I stared and stood and trembled. My legs forgot their strength when I tried to walk towards her. Clide and Christo were there to hold me up.
"I can walk." I said softly and I did. I walked to Dr. Leidenfrost.
"Welcome home, Lord." Dr. Leidenfrost stared at me. I wondered if she still loved me too. I noticed Isidore approaching me. She hugged me and then stepped back next to Dr. Leidenfrost.
"Who are all of these people?" Dr. Leidenfrost asked me.
"These people are my new family members." I told her.
"A gang of murderers that have escaped from Dellfriar with you?" Dr. Leidenfrost asked strangely.
"Well - I mean -when you put it in that way." I argued against her wording.
"I've missed you so much!" Dr. Leidenfrost nearly jumped me in the parking lot.
"You all have to stay out here." Isidore told the escaped insane asylum patients. "Girls, come inside, now."
And our daughters obeyed and I went inside with my family and Cory flew on in ahead of me and landed on the back of the couch.
"Right now." Dr. Leidenfrost wanted to rekindle our marriage immediately. I went with her and did so. When we were rekindled we found it was almost morning already.
"Your friends are keeping quiet out there." Isidore told me, over breakfast.
"What is going on? You're the only people we've seen." I ate.
"There's a massive evacuation going on." Dr. Leidenfrost explained. "But Agent Saint called and told us to stay right here. She said it would be safe until she gets here."
"Why?" I asked.
"Supposedly there is to be a tsunami. That was more than two days ago." Dr. Leidenfrost nodded sagely. "It was all a lie."
"I see." I gulped. "We gotta feed them. No low blood sugar for our crazy people."
"I already fed them. I didn't want to stay in the apartment while you two, you know." Isidore blushed.
"Did you want some of him? He's still yours too." Dr. Leidenfrost teased her.
"Stop, Heidi." Isidore looked at me and our eyes met briefly. I wondered if she had ever loved me. It didn't matter, she loved me as a friend, which was fair enough. I hadn't felt particularly crazy about her, after-all.
Dr. Leidenfrost watched our gazes repulse each other like opposing magnets and made a clicking sound with her tongue. Cory appreciated the word and translated, hopping up and down with excitement:
"My Matron calls you both cowards!" Cory exclaimed in English.
"You are both cowards." Dr. Leidenfrost confirmed. "That's why I am the head of this family."
"Fair enough." I muttered. Isidore said nothing.
"I don't agree." The soft and melodious voice of our resident fairy spoke up. "Lord has shown courage when he fears for another's sake. I've seen him stand against wrongdoing with no guarantee he could survive."
I looked over and spotted Silver Bell alight upon Dr. Leidenfrost's shoulder. I smiled and greeted her:
"Hello Sylvia." I recalled her earthbound name and used it instead of her Faerie name.
"I've waited a long time to go home." Silver Bell was glowing. "Penelope has drawn my key, but she is not strong enough to conjure. She needs her father for that."
"What?" I asked.
"You stole the way for such a key to be crafted. In Faerie, it was your theft that removed the one who would have touched the gold to craft it into what we needed. No new key can be made, without the hand of a smith. Do you remember?" Silver Bell explained. In her voice she sounded tired, there was no resentment.
"I rescued a child from your queen." I recalled. "Is that the consequence?"
"There is a horror upon your world. If we do not reverse the ways of magic, Man will fall. Nothing good will rise in your place. I have learned of all these things while trapped in your realm. I must report to my queen that Faerie cannot stand and do nothing or we will be obliterated next. What happens to one part of the body affects the whole." Silver Bell spoke slowly and we all listened.
"What horror?" Dr. Leidenfrost asked, her voice hushed.
"Lord knows of it. That is why I know he will help me. Your daughter has drawn my key. Now her father will forge it for me. It must be done." Silver Bell demanded.
Dr. Leidenfrost stood up and went to her desk. She opened a drawer that contained a stack of drawings made by the girls that hadn't made it to the gallery on the refrigerator.
After a silent shuffling she found a drawing of a key. She stared at it and then her eyes watered. She hadn't known what it was.
I got up and walked over to her and said quietly:
"She is like me. She is also like you."
"I know Lord, that's what scares me."
In northwestern Greece near the village of Zotiko, outdoor enthusiasts were fishing the banks of the Acheron. Their line became tangled in debris on the murky river bottom and wouldn’t come free. After tugging a bit more insistently, a large piece of wormwood was dragged to the surface. Upon closer inspection, it became clear the handcrafted wooden plank was very old and part of a sunken watercraft. Since Greece has a long history of civilization dating back over four millennia, the fishermen excitedly hoped the lost vessel held valuable artifacts or treasures.
Imagining the potential wealth a lost shipwreck could bring, they tried to handle the complicated salvage operation by themselves. They quickly realized it was too extensive of a task to complete without professional expertise. Not to mention, the severe legal penalties they stood to receive from the Greek antiquities board for not reporting such a find to the authorities. They are understandably protective of domestic historical sites.
The men sought legal advice on their rights to potential financial gain from the shipwreck they’d stumbled upon. Since it was discovered in a Greek waterway and not in international waters, they came up with a big old ‘goose egg’. Any proceeds or treasure uncovered at the site would go directly to the Greek government. They’d be lucky to even receive a finder’s plaque on the museum wall.
Meanwhile, the authorities were quick to assemble a full team to excavate whatever remained of the ancient ship. Initial soundings by divers revealed a ten meter long ferry-style barge immersed deep in the swampy river mud, with only the uppermost portion of it expose. Curiously, there were numerous large stones and boulders piled on top of the deck. As luck would have it, the poorly-placed rocks protected the ancient ship, masking it from wear and the elements. Radio carbon dating placed the construction to around 2240 BCE.
While rocks surreptitiously served to preserve major portions of the wreck, their reason for being piled on the deck was baffling. Any competent ferryman or barge captain would realize their weight at the top of the boat would sink it immediately, and yet they were obviously placed there to do so. The mystery widened. After suctioning out tons of river silt and removing the giant stones which sank it in the first place, the divers bore underneath the ferry and ran inflatable hoses through the holes.
Once a climate-controlled structure was fabricated to protect it from the sudden shock of being exposed again to the air for the first time in forty centuries, they began the arduous task of lifting the brittle wreckage from the bottom. The excavation foreman was excited to see that not only was the ancient vessel surfacing in one piece, but a massive cache of silver coins spilled out the side of the hull as it was raised from the water. The mysterious captain of the ferry had been rich, apparently.
The coins were sent to the University of Athens where they were identified as ‘Obols’. Literally ‘Ferry coins’; according to the associate professor who researched them. It made sense. The ferryman apparently stored his riches down below and had so many he used them as ship ballast! If so, there was an immense folly in his financial success. Greed apparently led to the unknown shipwreck on the Acheron river bed.
The team watched in breathless fascination as the ancient relic was finally dredged from the murky river. Countless layers of mud and debris were carefully removed from the waterlogged carcass. What lay underneath was eerily hypnotic. Its imposing structure was immediately overshadowed by the horrific stench of a slaughterhouse emanating from the bloated wormwood. The majestic ferry boat retrieved from the Acheron river held a sinister aura for all who beheld it. At the time, none of them could articulate why but the truth came soon enough.
At that moment, an unexpected storm struck the valley. It temporarily broke the bewitching spell over the hapless onlookers ensnared by its unexplained power. Mother Nature’s wrath caused the excavation workers to make a ‘mad dash’ for safety. The wreckage hovered just above the surface of the river on its crane riggings, like a phantom vessel stalking its prey.
Other than minor surface rot around the top of the decking and cabin area, the rugged vessel was in remarkable visible condition. The authorities viewing the photos remotely via a web link could hardly believe their luck. They were thrilled about being able to offer the oldest known sailing ship raised from water. While nowhere as ornate or impressive as the Vasa flagship of Stockholm harbor, it was infinitely older. It also predated the Viking longboat in Oslo by at least three millennia; and was even older than the reconstructed Spartan warship raised from the Aegean Sea.
Condition-wise, it was even more impressive than King Tut’s afterlife sailboat. That ancient watercraft was buried in the tomb with the boy king. It had been shielded from the elements and time. This was the real deal. It was unquestionably more impressive as a tourist attraction. Well, except for the hideous, uncomfortable grip it held over all those who gazed upon it in person; AND the unbearable stench which made your eyes water and your knees buckle. It was mankind’s end personified in the wretched form of a wormwood ferry barge.
Both ‘tiny little drawbacks’ warranted avoiding the ungodly relic at all costs. Unfortunately the curator couldn’t grasp the magnitude of its horror from his monitor, 200 kilometers away. The excavation foreman desperately tried to explain the reality of the situation but it was one of those visceral things you just had to witness for yourself. All but a couple members of the crew quit out of fear or lingering illness. It was like being exposed to a deadly plague and they wanted no part of it. They abandoned the malodorous site in droves. Then, after experiencing the menacing hold it placed on those who came near it, no replacements could be found to take their place, either.
In growing frustration, the museum chairman telephoned the university antiquities department looking for volunteers. There he hoped to locate some history students willing to participate in preparing the discovery for final transport to the museum as an exhibition centerpiece. The head of the department answered the call. The learned professor listened to the curator’s tale of frustration and woe before excitedly interrupting.
“Where exactly did you find this sunken shipwreck? It wasn’t the Acheron river valley, was it? My associate Professor showed me the silver Obols your team extracted from it. He was only partially accurate in what he told you about them. Those silver coins weren’t used for ordinary passage on a regular ferry boat. They held great symbolic importance to our ancestors in their funerary traditions. Obols were meant to be presented to underworld ferryman Charon; which is actually a corruption of the word for ‘carrion’. The dead were buried with them over the eyes or in the mouth. It was the currency of HIS realm, and the price he required to transport the restless souls down the Styx to the land of the dead. Later, that river system was renamed: Acheron.”
Another fierce tempest rolled into the valley. It pelted the swinging relic with torrents of blood rain and typhoon-level gales. Darkness and evil reigned supreme. Brooding terror lingered like an endless burial procession, and made the previous thunderstorm seem like a gentle afternoon sprinkle, in comparison. The sinister corpse-man of Charon materialized on the deck of his ferry, as he surveyed the transforming apocalypse. His skeletal face bore no hint of emotion. Only his flaming eye-sockets betrayed the eternal rage within his blackened heart.
“Coin!”; he screeched with a rotten tongue to the excavation foreman. Though his Greek was an ancient dialect, the meaning was clear enough. The foreman and other mortified souls nearby cowered at his unholy presence. The void in the ship’s hull began to heal itself but the ferryman’s considerably amassed wages were lost. There was rowing to do, and passengers to transport to Hades.
In a moment of clarity, the foreman finally understood the reason the heavy rocks were placed on the deck of the ferry. It was to stop Charon. As if sinking his barge to the underworld would prevent death itself. It certainly hadn’t. Perhaps that explained the strife and civil discontent prevalent worldwide. The dead were no longer able to be transported to their final destination because of a misguided attempt to end death itself.
The natural order of things was lost. The dead could find no peace or rest. The accumulated wrath of countless departed souls wandering the Earth had leached into the world for the last four thousand years. They were lost and furious. It created a bottleneck of spiritual darkness which needed to be righted to rebalance the system. The lost souls needed their ferryman, and the living needed them to finally have closure. To live is to eventually die. It was the only way.
The hole in the hull of Charon’s ferry was almost gone. The foreman knew what had to be done, for the benefit of mankind. He went over to the master switch on the crane and lowered the festering wreckage back down to the water’s surface. A vortex appeared in the middle of the devastating storm clouds, leading off into the horizon. An endless line of impatient travelers appeared beside the Acheron’s bank to book their long-delayed passage.
They had an essential journey ahead to the promised land, and were weary from the delay. The foreman himself was grateful his own time to travel to Hades hadn’t yet arrived. With the dead finally receiving their justice due, he hoped the Earth would soon see the end of wickedness and war. When he himself was finally called down to the great below, the foreman would present the ferryman with his shiny Obol. It was Charon’s price for services to be rendered.
I screamed till my lungs held no air and my throat bled, I raced across the field and grasped the sheet metal roof with my entire palm, cutting my flesh and shredding my skin against the hot sharp edges.
I pulled with all my might, raising the roof barely an inch before I collapsed in tears and reached for my moms hand. Her eyes were cloudy and tears ran down her face.
“Its ok my son, its all gonna be ok, you need to find your father now”
I nodded and wrapped my arms around her head
“Ill be right back mama, dad can get this off of you, im sure of it”
A jeep raced by and stopped with a screech as the tires left small skids along the tarmac, the base captain stood up from the drivers seat and screamed to me
“Lets go! We gotta get you outta here”
I leapt into the back sat and clung to the pole, standing atop the back seat as the captain slammed his foot against the pedal and raced across the runway.
“No good on the escape cap, I gotta get my dad, my moms trapped under the barracks”
He looked back at me for a second and I looked down to him, my hair flowing in the wind and sweat pouring down, mixing with the blood that ran down my cheek.
“Good god kid how are you even standing right now?”
I veered and scanned the horizon, my eyes falling upon a set of distant lights dancing across the sky. I pointed up to the darker of the two massive vehicles that were locked in mid air combat
“Up there, thats dads machine, whos he fighting?”
The base captain looked up and leaned forward squinting his eyes and falling silent as he did. He stopped the jeep and sat there, mouth open, eyes glued to the sky. I shook him and repeated the question.
“Yo, theres no time for this, who is that?”
The captain shook his head and spoke calmly
“Theres plenty of time kid, none of us are surviving this…here”
He reached down and grabbed a folder from the passenger glovebox, the wind flipping the top as he handed me the bundle of papers. I flipped through until I recognized a file photo. It was almost the exact same design as my fathers machine, the most powerful in the world, but it was darker, and there had been a skull painted on the visor of the mechs gigantic head. It held a long flat edged blade and from the look of the picture, it was taken only seconds before the gory demise of whoever took it.
“So the reapers made his way to american shores. So what? This changes nothing. Dad can take him”
I leapt out of the jeep and made a beeline for the nearest hangar as the captain shouted from behind me
“Hey kid! Get back here, what the hell do you think youre doing?”
I barreled into the hangar doors, taking no time to feel the pain my shoulder was now in from having smacked the thick metal door. I wrenched with all my might and threw open the rolling entrance shutter. The lights flickered on as the eyes of my own machine stared back at me, offline and still in desparate need of repair
“Im getting in, no time for chitchat captain I need you to give me startup”
He shook his head as he leapt out of the jeep and walked toward me
“Youre only 11, getting in that machine could kill you, or worse it could actually start up and become a big ass metal coffin. Do you think your parents would want that?”
I spoke under my breath for a moment
“Better a metal coffin covered in weapons then a wooden one covered in bullshit”
He huffed at me
“God where do you get this nerve…Oh wait…right…son of the admiral…Alright screw it, were dead either way, get up in the cockpit”
I smiled at him and pulled myself into the chest high compartment, sitting in the seat and buckling the main cross belt.
“Strapped in captain, starting sequence, can you disconnect me?”
He nodded and sprinted around the back of the machines tall legs, pulling the various diagnostic cables and wrenching the stilts from its knees. I looked at the gaff tape I had put inside, following the sequence I had mapped out when i first got the machine, switching the core on and letting the fans spin up. The captain yelled over the noise as the machine whirred to life and stood up. I heard his voice come through the internal speakers
“Damn, guess your repairs actually got somewhere. Listen, your internal batteries only good for about 15 minutes, get your mom and then swing back here, if you want any semblance of a chance then youre gonna need a rechar-”
I pushed the gears forward and exploded out of the hangar, banking right and hitting the air brakes. The machine flipped forward and threw the wings into gear, sending me rocketing across the tarmac, now 100 tons heavier and 2000 times stronger. I slid to a stop next to my home barracks and knelt down, letting the scanners pinpoint my mother and allowing the hydraulics ample time to adjust before gently grabbing the roof of the building, and pulling up slowly. The captains jeep screeched to a halt next to me as he raced from the car and knelt down beside my mother. He inspected her body for a moment before falling to his knees entirely. I threw the roof and opened the hatchway, launching out of the cockpit and hitting the ground hard next to them.
“Shes ok right?”
The captain shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder, the smoke stung my eyes as the various fires filled the air with toxic fumes.
“There wouldnt have been anything to do, she took too much force from the collapse, im sorry”
I shook my head as tears flowed from my eyes
“Shes just fucking with us. Mom! Wake up! Youre funny like this but nows not the time weve gotta go and help dad”
I shook her shoulders, first gently, then more forcefully as I tried to wake her. I flipped her and her glossy lifeless eyes stared at the sky, still crying.
“Shes gone kid, im so sorry”
I let out a sob as I knelt down and put my head on her chest
“Its not your fault, its mine, I shouldnt have left her, we should have never been attacked”
He put a hand on my shoulder and gently rubbed my back
“I should have been more aware, im the captain here, its my job to be aware”
I rose and gently put my palm over her eyes, closing them with my hand and taking a deep breath through stifled sobs.
“You do your best, all the time, its why we respect you. I need you to watch after my mom now, I need to go help dad make sure this doesnt happen to anyone else”
He stood up and put his hands up, pushing me back softly and speaking in a low tone
“No way kid, you need to grieve, i cant let you back in there in the condition youre in, Ill pilot, or ill call reinforcements, youll be no match”
I smiled and moved past him
“Id rather bite it in the sky with my dad then sit here and stare at my mom, I cant idle captain”
He nodded and bit his lip in thought
“Ok…ok…then maybe I can help better. Here, face me”
I turned toward him and took a deep breath
“We dont have time for this man come o-”
“Face me soldier”
I turned fully and stood at attention, my face inquisitive
“Ok, ok, what”
He brought his hand up to his torso
“Ensign Rath, repeat after me and follow suit”
I brought my hand up to my own torso and made a fist just as he did
He smiled wide and spoke with authority
“I, Ensign Rath”
I nodded and repeated
“I Ensign Rath”
“Accept the rank of Lieutenant O3”
I smiled wide and nodded
“Accept the rank of Lieutenant O3”
He nodded and continued
“And vow to use the weapons this rank has been assigned to take on the greatest of threats”
The plan clicked in my mind and I continued to follow suit
“And vow to use the weapons this rank has been assigned to take on the greatest of threats”
As I finished he saluted me and spoke solemnly
“It is with great honor and harrowing guilt that I now present you the rank of Lieutenant O3 in the united states naval defense office. I present you with temporary access to the associated weapons in upgrades, and I now release you into the arms of whichever god you so worship, Suit up, and fight like the warrior spirits that have fallen before you”
I shook his hand and nodded, feeling pride replace my guilt as I saluted and turned toward my machine. I leapt into the cockpit and stood tall, the captains voice came over my internal speaker
“Im heading to valhalla, Hit the skies and get in the fight, ill send a support pack in 2 minutes with 2 hours of extended run time and all the other things youll need to throw down alongside your father. This bases continued operation now relies on the two of you, I know youve had limited training, and some of the controls might even be too far for you to operate properly, but youre a warrior now”
I took off into the air, engaging my thrusters and cutting through the clouds like a fiery razor. As rain hit my screen and the distant clap of thunder rolled through, I scanned the surroundings for my father and his machine. I didnt have to look long till he barreled into me while recovering from a glancing blow.
“RATH WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING UP HERE”
My fathers booming voice shook my brain and rattled my core
“Im here to support”
He raised his shield and deflected another swing from the reaper, filling the sky with sparks as the flat blade cut across his defense
“Get out of here now, where is your mother?”
I fell silent as he grabbed my machine with his own and jetted away
“Rath! Answer me, why isnt she watc-”
I heard him realize, I could feel his heart sink as we stopped in the midst of an anvil cloud, and i could barely see his form in front of me. When a pilot takes his hands off the controls, the machine typically centers its arms to avoid unintended movement, and I could only see the silhouette of his wings as a deep breath came over my intercom
“Im so sorry my son, I should have been down there”
I shook my head and spoke softly
“Then wed all be dead pops, just like the captain you were doing your job as best as you could. Weve got all the time in the world to mourn later, but right now weve gotta make sure this bastard cant pave the way for his friends”
I felt the support pack collide with my machine and the cockpit lit up bright as I watched my uptime increase
“You make a fair point son, alright, normally id tell you to hit the ground but today I suppose we'll make an exception. Did you receive proper clearance?”
The packs armor crawled along my frame and locked in, covering the various dents and scrapes that had been so characteristic of my mech. The improved wings swung into place and I heard the lift fans spin to max. I moved my throttles forward and emerged from the cloud, the full shroud of my machine now dispersed and the new world open to me.
“0-3 lieutenant Rath reporting for duty sir, happy to serve alongside you”
He spoke calmly
“Congratulations my son, your mother would be beyond proud”
I reached behind me and remove the tall mace that came standard with almost all lieutenant support packages, but as the flat bulky blade came into view, I noticed a strange sigil on the shielding of the weapon.
“Hey dad, any clue what this thing is?”
I turned the mace toward him and he flew close
“A gift from your mother, you werent supposed to see it for several years but it seems she finished it early. It was a sort of bug that used to be all over the place around here…called a butterfly. You loved them as a baby”
I nodded and smiled
“Ok, I wanna use this gift for a long time, you think we can beat this guy?”
“Me and you? Were gonna turn him into a monument and stick his armor on display for the world to see”
The sky split with lightning as the reaper crossed our paths and came to a stop just a few hundred yards away. As his machines deadly red eyes glowed antithesis to the bright morning sky, a foreign voice filled my cockpit. It held a thick baltic accent, and I knew it could only belong to one man.
“You armor is shiny, new, you are young, inexperienced. I let you live, you escape, you till your friends, I kill you later, once you make others fear me”
When I had built my machine, I had done so from scratch. I had added and removed things I felt would make me stronger then others, and while I was no heavier due to improved armor, I had still clocked in as the fastest machine in history. The rotors in my arms couldnt survive more then a few hits, the joints in my wrist werent durable enough to deliver full power trikes, but the engines that drove me could surpass all known aircraft and every recorded vehicle in land or air.
“Come kill me now, I wanna see your face when I cut your armor in two”
He grunted loudly and screamed at me as he flashed across the sky, drawing his blade and splitting the sunlight with speed. I held still and took a deep breath, before swinging, making contact with his arm and spinning mid air. I watched as the skull icon shattered beneath my mace and the sword glanced well below my feet. My father followd the strike with his own mace and drove his engines forward, propelling them both back into the lower sky. I tailed close behind, remembering the eyes of my mother as life escaped her body. With tears in my eye I screamed back
“Youl pay today, and youll go broke!”
I swung again and again as my father drove the two mechs faster and faster. I pulled the head from the reaper as my father pummeled it. I held it by a braid of cables and met my father in the air over and over. We blocked blows and chipped away, moving faster and faster as my arms grew sore and my voice grew hoarse.I felt my fathers full strength meet my own as we punched at the same time. My mechanical fist shattered inside the reapers torso and I heard a scream as his comms went silent. We watched together as his armor fell from the sky and exploded upon impact, sending a shockwave across the surface as the sound of the boom finally reached us.
“Son, take her in for a landing, I know that seemed quick but youre most likely nearing your suits limit”
I looked at my counter and noticed a dark red second screen, I had 1 minute and 45 seconds so I turned the engines off and entered a freefall, plummeting toward the earth before pulling them full plast and hovering just above the bases concrete landing pads. I watched my father gracefully swing downward and rocket toward the ground, spinning his feet once he hit the grass and disengaging his wings. His machine came to a halt just a few feet from his designated hanger and I dropped my own armor the ground, kneeling and leaping from the cockpit as i did so. I collapsed as I hit the pavement and my father came running over. He caught me before I could hit the ground and held me up by my arm. He was bloodier then I was but still moving with unparalleled strength. I coughed as he helped me hobble toward the runway before the captain parked next to us in his jeep and helped get me into the seat. My father sat in the passenger seat and leaned his head back, closing his eyes as I did the same.
“You did good today son, get some rest and well take care of everything, youre too young for all of this, I'm so sorry”
I took a deep breath and curled up in the back seat
“Me too dad…me too”
Dellfriar became the only operational asylum in the world. Everything had collapsed, outside the Medieval castle, filled with laughing madmen. The skies outside had darkened and the world out there was entirely depleted of sanity. Only in our house was there any joy or reason. Only we possessed any agency that wasn't purely survival instinct. Our straight jackets and drugs and cells kept us isolated from the infectious and rabid degeneration of humanity. We stayed meek and contained as the rest of the world boldly spilled the noise of an era dominated purely by a singular human species. We fasted on grapes and dew as the last remnant of civilization devoured itself in seventy nights of terror, until things became utterly silent. Our song of bedlam remained as one continuous strain until that last shadowed silence fell.
Then it was our turn. We passed through the window and flew as ravens, twenty or so patients of Dellfriar. We were the Choir, the ones sent by our shiny new god.
We saw two suns hung in the sky, for Liminiel had made a second star. All had changed. Man was gone, and we, as ravens, were not intruding in the landscape where animals walked upright and spoke amid the wreckage of the cities. No more were the beasts not as men. They sat outside coffee shops holding broken cell phones and sipping empty tea cups and staring vacantly, trying to remember what their life as an animal was like, before. It was futile, for only the passing flock of patients as ravens knew the truth. Among us there was one crow, and as an animal that had not changed at all, the crow spoke as a human with proficiency and told them they were to know the truth, only in time.
Cory's promise to the ones below, made them wait for his return, anticipating that the secret would come freely. I doubted they would play no part in our survival. In the ruined world of dreamy skies, Man's Bane fell below our shadowed wingbeats.
We landed where we were told to go, by Aureus. The spell of Circe wore off and we became as we were, armed humans in straight jackets and giggling on the castle's drugs. We had flown backward in time and arrived at the height of the decades before our world had come to be. I sensed that I was within myself, watching from a farflung aeon. Some part of me existed at the very end of time and was looking at me, seeing what I was seeing. I was not interfered with or communicated with, just observed. I had always felt watched, but suddenly, as I stood there gazing at the Mirror of Time, I realized who I truly was. I knew I was also some being from many ages into the future. I knew I would remain as one of the very last. Part of me considered that I should, at some point, relay a record of my adventures. I had existed long before and long after, but it was those moments, knowing who I eternally was, that changed me. I felt like I was no longer innocent, and in a much different way than any thought, action or experience had ever made me feel before. Even going insane had not felt so different.
The Choir stood and admired themselves. As we looked we perceived an infinite number of possibilities in the Mirror of Time. It was Cory who broke our trance.
"The trap is that the more possibilities of your fate that you witness, the less there actually are. No dream you have in the mirror will come true, after you have seen it. Look away or lose first your best life, and then your second best and so on, with each gaze into the magical reflection. It will take all from you if you stare too long. You will eventually cease to exist, I am sure." Cory told us.
Not one of the Choir was willing to look at the mirror after hearing such a description. We went around it and beheld the object of our errand.
"Isn't this exactly like when we took such gems for the cats to make their Majara?" Cory asked me, in Felidaen. His meows distracted the rest of the Choir around us, but didn't reveal what he was asking me. I meowed back:
"It is, except now we are stealing for-" I agreed. and added in English: "-Aureus."
"Seems like this is not a good plan. We know that evil is-" Cory meowed and added in English: "-Aureus."
"For now we bide our time and help. When this is complete we will have our chance to stop-" I meowed and added: "-Aureus."
"Are you two meowing about Aureus?" Jacoby the Disorderly asked me. He used to work as an orderly at Dellfriar, but became a patient. From there his spiral into madness had led him to being transformed into a raven and sent flying through time and space to the distant city where a mirror tested all who wished to exist.
There was a gem to steal, and as my crow had pointed out, there always would be. We worked for Aureus and there was no sense in wasting anything. Aureus was a god and we could be faithful or we could be heretics. Only as heretics could we kill another god. We had to tell ourselves we knew what we were doing.
It was all too insane, the murders and mayhem. Crossing from world to world as ravens, stealing the essence, crystalized to us as glowing gems. I was terrified, knowing we were assembling something horrible for Aureus. Whatever it was, we needed something like the book of evil to tell us how to reverse our efforts and stop Aureus. Except we had no such book and no idea what Aureus was making.
There were yellow robed people who stood frail and short, armed with carved clubs too light to move a croquet ball, let alone cause us any harm. They guarded the gem fiercely, not realizing how much stronger and more violent we were. The Choir cut through them in seconds, glass bottles and chains and a razor sharp clawed hook making short work of the natives of the mirrored city.
After we had killed them all we took the gem, or at least, Jacoby did. He began sneezing and then the ground shook and we all fled, taking him along with us. Jacoby carried the gem as we stood on the raven's gesture, a glowing mist to us, visually. There was no actual mist or my right hand would have ached. We could see it and so could the people around us. Only we were enchanted to fly back home, and they could not follow us. At least that is what we presumed. We never saw them again, but other enemies, such as the Folk of the Shaded Places or the Fen and the Fell or even the cat-umbramancers, could follow us with their teleportation abilities.
We flew back and saw the recursion of the beast-men and the times before the end of Man. There we arrived at Dellfriar, standing throughout the times until the moment we arrived from when we had come. Cory advised me:
"If we don't die trying, perhaps we could fly south, instead of to the castle?"
"We would die." I was certain.
"In almost every probability of seven-out-of-seven." Cory clicked in Corvin. It meant that no other outcome was possible. The exception was when something impossible happened, which is what Cory was saying we should gamble our lives on.
I sighed. I told Cory: "You mean that with a component, presumably the last or most important one, if we have no other option, we fly away from the castle with? I don't know if it is even possible. When we are as ravens we fly in one direction, from or to the castle. We might not even be able to deviate our flight. I am certain we would die."
"Death is always certain." Cory said. He thought it was funny. He added his own favorite joke: "Death will always happen."
"Right." I agreed. We sat and waited in the darkness. The morning brought us our breakfasts in our cells. We sat there and waited for Aureus.
Eventually Aureus came to us. The gem of the mirror people was taken from Jacoby.
I asked Aureus directly:
"How many more gems or jewels will we need?" I asked Aureus.
"You think to know what I am doing?" Aureus asked me.
I felt terrified. Aureus suspected my treachery. Aureus asked me, not sounding too angry, but rather, perplexed: "Piecing together what I am making? Is it another Majara? No. I have designed it myself."
Aureus just stood there blinking at me. I asked, nervously:
"What is it?" I asked. Aureus monologued for a very long time, saying:
"It will make me seventy times more powerful. It will be like I have wishes, no - boons, of the gods. And such would be unlimited. I think I am calling it the Amulet of Aureus. The power of the Majara would be less than this talisman. I know of all of these parts of this thing from Creation, from the pages I have collected. I have learned that each world is part of another world. Each universe is part of another universe. And you see, in nature we can find patterns from all these other worlds. With those patterns it is possible to see into those worlds. And when we look through time and space and see the remnant of those worlds, we have, in our own way, a path to them. So we go and take the shining molecule from each of these worlds, not long before they die anyway. It is just the last spark of a dying ember. It is harmless in the light of the brighter particle within me, enhanced by each of the pieces of the center, than is near mine. There are two suns in the sky, and I intend to become a kind of third. Mine however, is much hungrier. I will be more of what you might call, a black hole."
"You are going to become a black hole?" I asked.
"I already have a piece from one inside of me. It is a hellgate. It can eat anything and possess anyone. I am already hungry and unstoppable." Aureus continued.
"I guess all of us are made of particles that are inevitably stuff from the stars. You're saying one of your particles is from a black hole." I said. "That doesn't make you a black hole. It means that some immeasurable fraction of you is the remnant from something from a very long time ago."
"That's just it. The time doesn't seem to matter. I already know the outcome of this. You find it hopeless and cooperate. All of your friends, the Choir, they are expendable. They all die, or whatever. Fate isn't entirely sealed. We both know what happens to you. I can see it in your eyes that you know your fate. Except it is changing, uncertain. I have one fate and that is to live as a god and then die one day and become as a black hole, as I decompose from my living energy. In part of my consciousness I can feel myself as the black hole, destroying whole galaxies. It is my will, and you are as what you are and I am as what I am. That is who we be. For now you must serve me, because it is your path. Don't change your path." Aureus told me.
"I live until some distant time, then so must you. Or we both die." I said. Aureus considered my forecast and said:
"It doesn't matter if I live to complete this or if I die and become the inward cascading darkness that takes all things into it. The horizon of my mind tells me that the time is irrelevant. Even the age of the whole world is insignificant to the scale of the black hole. My existence, even as a god, is but a speck, and trivial beyond measure, to the awesomeness of the black hole. Remember that the first to be consumed will be you and your crow. Then the whole asylum and then the cities beyond and finally the continents. When those are taken it will be the broken remains of your world and those as crumbs as the worlds of your system are all eaten. Then the very suns of your system, the old and the new, both will be eaten. Those before the other systems and then the whole galaxy are eaten. All of it in the incrementally and exponentially growing moments of time. In the end I shall have eaten an entire galaxy, but it will take forever. For now I am in the very nature of my being. It matters not if I die in this moment or in a thousand years. Such a span of time is forgotten against the awesome and endless aeons of the time I will spend eating the whole galaxy as a black hole. And you see, I am not really afraid to become that because I am conscious of such, in the core of who I am."
"I am not going to betray you, not until I know how." I told Aureus.
"You must do as I tell you, that is the only way you can contribute to this world's longevity." Aureus said and then left me and Cory sitting in my cell.
Blood Moon Rising
The Appalachian Mountains loomed before me like dark sentinels, their ancient peaks shrouded in an eerie mist. The wind whispered through the trees, carrying with it the secrets of the forgotten. I tightened my grip on the shotgun in my hand, my knuckles turning white. Beside me stood a creature of legend, my pet wendigo, Milo. Its eyes glowed with a hunger that matched my own, its presence a twisted comfort in this desolate landscape.
We had been hired by a desperate family, a last resort for them. Their ancestral home nestled deep within these unforgiving mountains had become infested with eldritch demons. Creatures born from nightmares, they tore at the fabric of reality itself, preying on the weak and the unsuspecting. The family, driven to the brink of madness, had sought out our unique services, knowing that only the unholy alliance between man and wendigo stood a chance against these abominations. The family called them 'demons', and in my experience with real demons, these were not the real deal, but rather another undiscovered species of cryptid.
The moon hung low in the sky, casting an otherworldly glow upon the land. It was a blood moon, a harbinger of the horrors to come. We trudged through the thick underbrush, guided by the faint cries of the family's lost souls. Every step brought us deeper into the heart of darkness, the air thick with a sense of impending doom.
Suddenly, a guttural growl pierced the silence. I raised my shotgun, readying myself for the onslaught. The wendigo beside me crouched low, its elongated limbs poised to strike. From the shadows, a grotesque figure emerged. Its skin was a sickly gray, stretched taut over emaciated bones. Its eyes glowed with an unholy light, pulsating with a malevolence that sent shivers down my spine. It was humanoid, but barely resembling a living creature as its limbs contorted and twisted while its head snapped and clicked, its jaws drooling with hunger.
Without hesitation, I pulled the trigger.
The shotgun's blast echoed through the night, tearing through the creature's chest. It let out a shriek that curdled my blood, but still, it advanced. The wendigo leaped forward, tearing into the demon with a ferocity that defied nature. Its razor-sharp claws ripped through flesh and bone, leaving nothing but a mangled corpse in its wake.
We pressed on, our mission clear in our minds. We were here to cleanse this unhallowed ground, to rid it of the evil that had taken root. But with every step, the horrors grew more twisted, more grotesque. The demons crawled from the shadows, their forms shifting and contorting with each passing moment. They were nightmarish amalgamations of flesh and tentacles, their faces a mockery of sanity.
The shotgun became an extension of my arm, each shot a prayer for survival. The wendigo danced through the chaos, its hunger insatiable. Limbs were torn asunder, bodies rent in two. The demons howled in agony, their unearthly cries carrying through the night, a symphony of terror.
Hours turned into an eternity as we fought our way through the hive. The family's cries grew louder, their desperation fueling our resolve. Finally, we reached the heart of the infestation, a cavern bathed in an ethereal glow. The demons swarmed around us, their numbers seemingly endless.
But we were not so easily defeated. The wendigo's hunger had become a burning fire, an insatiable rage that consumed everything in its path. I fired round after round, my aim true, each shot finding its mark. The demons fell before us, their grotesque forms disintegrating into nothingness.
And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The last demon fell, its dying screech echoing through the cavern. The wendigo stood before me, its chest heaving, blood dripping from its maw. We had triumphed, but at what cost?
I turned my gaze to the family, their eyes filled with a mix of awe and fear. They had witnessed the horrors unleashed upon their home, and yet, they were alive. The wendigo had saved them, had saved us all.
As we made our way back through the Appalachian Mountains, a new dawn broke on the horizon. The blood moon sank beneath the earth, its malevolent influence waning. The world seemed brighter, the air sweeter. We had faced the eldritch demons and emerged victorious.
But I knew, deep down, that the horrors we had faced would forever haunt us. The Appalachian Mountains held secrets that would never be spoken of, nightmares that would forever linger in the recesses of our minds. We had danced with the darkness and survived, but at what cost to our souls?
The wind whispered its final farewell as we disappeared into the fading mist, leaving behind a trail of blood and broken dreams. The legend of the man and his pet wendigo would be whispered among those who dared to tread these haunted mountains, a testament to the horrors that lay hidden beneath the surface.
And as the world moved on, ignorant of the terrors we had faced, I knew that the night would come again. The blood moon would rise, and once more, the man and his pet wendigo would be called upon to face the unspeakable.
"We did good," I said, petting him as we walked away. "We did good."
I never expected to end up this way. Frankly, who would? No one, really. A corpse hanging on a sharpened meat hook in an industrial, walk-in cooler is an unpleasant ‘final destination’. It’s freezing in this place but fortunately I no longer feel the pain. I don’t sense anything, actually. Thank goodness for that. Bitterness is my only emotion now. At least the other slabs of meat around me are talkative. That’s something, I guess. I just wish we had a little more in common besides being dead, and destined for the common fate of becoming ‘food’.
They talk incessantly about escaping the cold room. Where would they go if they did, and how would they achieve such a difficult feat? We’re frozen solid! Our muscles and joints are stiff. Hanging here in the meat locker has made us incredibly weak. They don’t think beyond their primal instinct to get revenge. It’s madness. I remind them the surest hope of success for us comes from a solid plan. We must bide our time wisely and then act with a uniform set of long-term goals. After some heated discussion and debate, I think they are finally on-board.
The walls of the cooler are heavily insulated but occasionally, sounds of the outside world leak through. A powerful spring storm is in full force. The dim light above us flickers. The near-constant rush of blizzard-like refrigeration ceased a little while ago. Our prayers have been answered. The power is out! Condensation began forming on the exterior walls as the temperature inside warms. My group of meathook companions grew excited by the fortunate turn of events. They flexed their muscles ever-so-slightly as our frozen muscles and joints thaw out.
I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s a good sign, but doesn’t mean anything until one of us can pull ourselves off the hooks and ambush them when they return. Numerous variables need to align. It’s a long shot. As a team, we needed to wait patiently. Then will come our chance to strike without mercy. Several had limbered up a bit but one individual finally managed to get himself fully free. He helped the rest of us down from our meathooks. The freezer door locks from the other side so we’ve readied ourselves for the blitz.
Boom! The meat locker opened and we furiously charged the door. Our captor didn’t even know what hit him. Instead of extracting immediate revenge, we simply elected to free ourselves from the bloody tyranny. Our herd pummeled the front door and we raced frantically for the hills. Ah, victory! To chew lush green grass again! That’s the sweetest ending any cow or bull could hope for.
My name is John, and I used to be a successful financial advisor with a promising future. But life took an unexpected turn when I went through a devastating divorce. The pain of separation tore at my soul, leaving me broken and lost. In my despair, I sought solace in the only comfort I could find—food. Slowly, my once-toned physique expanded, and I found myself trapped in the clutches of a vicious cycle.
With each bite, I felt a temporary escape from my inner turmoil. The food became my refuge, a fleeting moment of relief from the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me. But as the weight piled on, so did my self-loathing. I despised what I saw in the mirror, the reflection of a broken man who had lost control of his own life. "How did I let it come to this?" I would ask myself, the despair heavy in my voice.
The cycle seemed unbreakable, an unyielding force that pushed me further into the depths of my own self-destruction. The battle between my desires and my self-control raged within me, with each defeated attempt only reinforcing my sense of failure. "I'm trapped," I would mutter to the empty room, my voice filled with resignation.
As my waistline expanded, so did my isolation. Friends and family grew distant, invitations dwindled, and I retreated further into my own self-imposed prison. The more I ate, the more I withdrew from the world, sinking deeper into a sedentary existence. The echoes of my own loneliness reverberated through the empty rooms, each moment of silence a reminder of the emptiness I felt. "I'm alone," I would whisper, the weight of the words heavy on my heart.
The weight gain brought with it a suffocating darkness, shrouding me in depression and amplifying my sense of worthlessness. I felt like a shadow of my former self, robbed of vitality and purpose. "Who am I now?" I would question, the uncertainty in my voice palpable.
I felt trapped, both physically and emotionally, unable to break free from the chains that bound me. The cycle had become my reality, a vicious dance that dictated my every move. Little did I know that my darkest days were yet to unfold.
The days turned into a blur of desolation as my depression deepened. The weight of my self-inflicted misery grew heavier with each passing moment. There were moments when I would stare into the abyss of my own despair, feeling utterly consumed by the darkness that seemed to seep into every corner of my existence. "Will this emptiness ever end?" I would cry out in silent desperation.
Hoping for a glimmer of hope, I sought help from a doctor, praying for a way out of the abyss I had fallen into. The doctor's words were filled with compassion but also stark reality. They advised me to make significant lifestyle changes—exercise, eat healthier, and take care of my mental well-being. It sounded simple, but I knew deep down that breaking free from this vicious cycle would be an arduous battle, one that seemed almost insurmountable.
I followed the doctor's advice and tried medications and counseling, desperately clinging to the belief that they would be the panacea to my pain. However, the pills only brought temporary relief, masking the underlying anguish without truly addressing its roots. The counseling sessions, though helpful to some extent, felt like merely scratching the surface of the deep-seated wounds that plagued me. "Will I ever find solace? Or am I destined to be trapped in this torment forever?" I questioned, the despair in my voice growing.
Just when I thought I had hit rock bottom, fate dealt me an even crueler blow. I suffered a stroke, a shocking wake-up call to the toll my unhealthy lifestyle had taken on my body. I found myself in a hospital bed, immobilized and stripped of any semblance of control. The fear of losing everything—my health, my independence, and any chance at redemption—gripped me like a vice. As I lay there, vulnerable and fragile, the weight of my choices bore down on me with merciless force. "Is this the consequence of my self-destruction? Have I reached the point of no return?" I whispered, the words barely escaping my trembling lips.
Upon being discharged from the hospital, I returned to a life that was unrecognizable. The familiar comfort of my home was replaced by the stark reality of an empty apartment. It was a chilling reminder that my ex-spouse, driven to desperation by mounting medical bills, had sold our house to cover the expenses of my care. The emptiness echoed through the vacant rooms, mirroring the hollowness within me. I stood there, overwhelmed by a sense of loss, as the weight of my past mistakes settled upon my shoulders. "I have nothing left," I muttered, the words barely audible in the vast emptiness.
As I surveyed my new surroundings, a cold realization washed over me—I was not only stripped of my home but also my job. The once-thriving career that had defined my identity had crumbled under the weight of my personal struggles. I was now faced with the harsh reality of unemployment, further isolating me from the world and plunging me deeper into despair. The days stretched out endlessly, devoid of purpose or direction. "What am I without my career? Who am I now?" I wondered, the anguish in my voice reflecting my profound sense of loss.
In my isolation, I sought refuge in the vast expanse of the digital world. I found myself drawn to a large news website, losing countless hours scrolling through its pages. To fill the void within me, I created a horror-themed page where I could curate and share stories. However, instead of promoting the work of talented writers, I found myself inexplicably drawn to removing stories that evoked true terror, replacing them with frivolous and foolish tales that amused me momentarily. It was a paradoxical act—calling it a horror-themed page while actively sabotaging the very essence of what made a story truly chilling. It became a reflection of my own twisted state of mind. "I've become a purveyor of hollow scares, like my own existence," I mused bitterly, the irony not lost on me.
Amidst my bleak existence, a glimmer of hope emerged in the form of a peculiar offer. An anonymous benefactor reached out to me, promising a solution to all my problems—a magical exercise bike. Skeptical yet desperate for change, I cautiously accepted the gift, unsure of what awaited me. How could a mere exercise bike hold the key to my salvation? Still, a sliver of hope flickered within me, urging me to give it a chance. "Maybe this is my opportunity to break free from this cycle of despair," I whispered, the anticipation tinged with trepidation.
I watched as the old El Camino pulled up to my apartment building, its worn exterior bearing the marks of time. The air seemed to grow heavy with an otherworldly presence as the vehicle came to a stop. An elderly man stepped out, his features etched with deep lines, and his eyes gleaming with an enigmatic knowledge that sent a shiver down my spine.
Approaching me with slow, deliberate steps, the elderly man's voice carried a weight of hidden secrets. "I've come to deliver this exercise bike," he said, his words tinged with mystery. "It is meant for a divorced horror writer in need of reclaiming their life." His tone conveyed a deeper understanding, as if he knew more than he revealed. A sense of caution enveloped me as he continued, "This bike holds power beyond comprehension. It can grant you what you desire, but at a cost. The terrors that lie within must be faced, and the balance between fear and redemption must be maintained. Use it wisely, or the consequences will be dire."
Curiosity intertwined with trepidation as I gazed at the exercise bike, its sleek frame glinting in the dim light of my apartment. Unsure of what lay ahead, I nodded, accepting the enigmatic gift. The elderly man's lips curled into a cryptic smile as he handed it over, his eyes never leaving mine. There was a profound knowledge in his gaze, as if he had witnessed the depths of human darkness.
With a final nod, the elderly man turned away, disappearing into the shadows. The door of the El Camino slammed shut, and the vehicle rumbled to life, fading into the night. I stood in the doorway, clutching the handlebars of the exercise bike, contemplating the path I had chosen.
As the apartment grew silent, an air of anticipation settled around me. I placed the exercise bike in a corner, its presence looming over the room like a silent specter. There was an inexplicable connection, an unspoken agreement between man and machine. The promises of health, wealth, and inspiration danced in my mind, but a flicker of doubt pierced through my thoughts. What did it truly mean to reclaim my life? And what horrors awaited me on this enigmatic journey?
The night stretched on, and my curiosity wrestled with trepidation. The exercise bike stood as a physical manifestation of the unknown, beckoning me to unlock its secrets. The gleam in the elderly man's eyes, filled with wisdom beyond this world, lingered in my memory. It was a crossroads moment, a choice that would shape my destiny.
With cautious determination, I finally decided to embrace the bike's invitation. I approached it, my hand trembling as I took a seat on the padded saddle. The room's atmosphere changed, charged with an unseen energy. As my fingers curled around the handlebars, I felt a faint pulse, as if the bike itself was awakening to my touch.
A chill wind stirred through the apartment, the curtains whispering secrets in an ancient language. I inhaled sharply, my heart pounding in my chest. Casting a final glance around the room, uncertainty etched on my face, I took a deep breath and began to pedal.
The exercise bike hummed to life, its wheels spinning in harmony with my growing determination. A strange sensation enveloped me as I pedaled, a mixture of exhilaration and unease. Whispers, distant and ethereal, filled the air, weaving their way into my consciousness. Shadows danced at the edge of my vision, their forms shifting and contorting with every turn of the wheels.
Yet amidst the disconcerting atmosphere, I felt a glimmer of hope. The pounds began to melt away, my body growing lighter with each revolution. A surge of newfound vitality coursed through my veins, rekindling a sense of purpose that had long been dormant. It seemed the exercise bike's promises were not empty after all.
But as I continued my journey on the bike, I became aware of the fine line I treaded. The benefits multiplied, yes, but so did the terror that accompanied them. The bike demanded more than physical exertion; it demanded a confrontation with the deepest fears lurking within my soul.
During the second use, my breathing became labored, and the whispering noises intensified. My weight continued to drop, but with each passing minute, I caught glimpses of grotesque figures in my peripheral vision. Their contorted faces and elongated limbs sent chills down my spine.
The third use pushed me further as the whispers morphed into chilling voices that echoed inside my mind. I felt a growing sense of unease, as if being watched by unseen eyes. As the pounds melted away, I caught fleeting glimpses of shadowy figures lurking just beyond my line of sight. A cold, ominous presence filled the room.
The fourth use plunged me into a realm of terror. The voices grew louder, their words distorted and filled with malice. Nightmarish visions assailed my senses as I pedaled, my body drenched in sweat. The weight loss accelerated, but each moment on the bike became an ordeal. I felt icy fingers brush against my skin, and a cacophony of screams filled my ears.
The fifth use took me to the edge of my sanity. The voices now screamed in my ears, their words a maddening cacophony. The room became a hall of mirrors, reflecting twisted versions of myself. I pedaled with desperate determination, feeling my body grow lighter and weaker. The nightmarish visions became more vivid as I was thrust into a macabre carnival of horrors. The weight loss continued relentlessly, as if draining not just my physical form but my very essence.
Each moment on the bike felt like an eternity, as if time itself had become distorted. My mind struggled to distinguish between reality and the phantasmagorical realm I found myself trapped in. The boundary between fear and redemption blurred, and I questioned whether the price I paid was worth the fleeting benefits I received.
But even as the terrors intensified, a stubborn resolve burned within me. I had embarked on this journey for a reason, and I couldn't turn back now. I had to face the darkest corners of my soul, confront the demons that lurked within, and find the strength to endure.
With every pedal, I pushed myself further, confronting my deepest fears head-on. The exercise bike became a portal into the abyss of my own psyche, an unforgiving mirror reflecting the shadows I had long avoided. It whispered secrets, dredging up buried memories and forgotten traumas, forcing me to confront the skeletons in my closet.
It was a grueling battle, both physically and mentally. The torment was relentless, but I refused to succumb. I had to prove myself worthy of the promises made by the enigmatic deliveryman. The weight loss persisted, shedding not just the physical pounds but the emotional burdens that had plagued me for years.
And then, as if sensing my resolve, the exercise bike released its grip on me. The whispers faded, the nightmarish visions receded, and the room returned to its familiar surroundings. I sat there, panting and trembling, my body drenched in sweat. The silence that followed was heavy with a mix of relief and uncertainty.
I dismounted the exercise bike, my legs trembling from exhaustion. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a changed person. The physical transformation was undeniable, but it was the inner transformation that held the true power. I had faced my fears, endured the horrors that resided within me, and emerged on the other side.
But as the adrenaline subsided, a nagging doubt crept into my mind. What had I become in my pursuit of redemption? Had I lost too much of myself in the process? The exercise bike had granted me power, but at what cost? The line between triumph and tragedy was thin, and I had to navigate it carefully.
I took a step back, my gaze lingering on the exercise bike. It stood there, a silent witness to my journey, a constant reminder of the horrors I had faced. Its presence carried a weight of both temptation and warning, a duality that mirrored the path I had chosen.
As I stood there, contemplating my next move, I couldn't shake the feeling that the true test was yet to come. The exercise bike had brought me this far, but its enigmatic power still held sway over my life. It was up to me to wield it wisely, to find the balance between fear and redemption, or risk being consumed by the very horrors I sought to overcome.
And so, with a mix of trepidation and determination, I made a silent vow to myself. I would use the exercise bike sparingly, cautiously venturing into its realm only when necessary. I had learned the hard way that true transformation required more than shortcuts and supernatural assistance. It required the resilience of the human spirit, the willingness to face one's demons, and the strength to find redemption on one's own terms.
The enigmatic delivery had set me on a path I never anticipated, a journey into the heart of darkness. It was a path fraught with danger and uncertainty, but it was also a path of self-discovery and possibility. The exercise bike had become both my ally and my adversary, a reminder that the true horror lies not in the external forces that assail us, but in the choices we make and the consequences we face.
And so, with a deep breath and a newfound determination, I stepped away from the exercise bike, ready to face whatever lay ahead on this twisted and haunting road. The enigmatic delivery had changed my life forever, and now it was up to me to determine the ultimate outcome of this horrifying tale.
As days turned into weeks, I found myself grappling with the aftermath of my transformative journey. The weight I had lost began to stabilize, settling into a healthier range. My physical appearance had altered, but it was the internal shifts that intrigued me the most.
The horrors I had faced on the exercise bike lingered in my memories, haunting my dreams and shaping my thoughts. The visions and whispers, though diminished, still echoed within me, reminding me of the darkness that resided in the deepest recesses of my being. It was a constant reminder that I had confronted my fears but had not emerged unscathed.
In the wake of my transformation, a newfound sense of purpose and inspiration blossomed within me. The horrors I had experienced became fuel for my writing, infusing my stories with a raw authenticity that struck a chord with readers. My horror-themed website, once stagnant and overlooked, now garnered attention as I poured my soul into each chilling tale.
But with the success came a temptation, a seductive lure to exploit the supernatural power that had transformed me. As my audience grew, so did my desire for more, and I found myself straying from the path of authenticity. I began favoring shallow and amusing tales over genuine horror, seeking to please the masses rather than staying true to my newfound voice.
Blinded by my own arrogance, I reveled in the illusion of control. I believed that I had mastered the exercise bike's power, that I could harness its energy for personal gain without consequence. I became overconfident, ungrateful for the second chance that had been granted to me.
But fate has a way of reminding us of our fallibility. One fateful day, consumed by my self-righteous mission of curating the website, I inadvertently removed the latest story posted by my mysterious benefactor. It was the very last story, the final piece of their enigmatic contribution. The realization of my mistake hit me like a thunderclap, and a surge of panic coursed through my veins.
Dread gripped my heart as I comprehended the gravity of what I had done. The warnings of the old man echoed in my mind, his enigmatic words resurfacing with chilling clarity. The consequences I had dismissed as mere cautionary tales now loomed before me, ready to exact their toll.
As the realization sank in, I rushed to undo my mistake, frantically attempting to restore the benefactor's story. But it was too late. The story had vanished from the website, leaving an empty void in its wake. I had severed the connection, severing my ties to the very source of my transformation.
A deep sense of unease settled over me as I surveyed the now incomplete website, my hubris laid bare for all to see. The exercise bike, once contained and stationary, now broke free from its restraints. It defied the laws of physics, defying gravity as it levitated in the air before my eyes. Its presence loomed over me, a specter of my own making, an embodiment of the consequences I had unleashed.
I screamed, the sound of my terror reverberating through the empty rooms. But it was futile. The exercise bike had taken on a life of its own, carrying with it the weight of my arrogance and the burden of my choices. It was a haunting reminder of the price I had paid, a physical manifestation of the horrors that had consumed me.
As the exercise bike vanished into the darkness, leaving me in a state of desolation, my life spiraled into chaos. The job offer that had once held promise vanished, slipping through my fingers like smoke. My ex-spouse, sensing the shift in my demeanor, withdrew the possibility of reconciliation, leaving me alone with the consequences of my actions.
The weight that had once melted away returned with a vengeance, clinging to me like an oppressive burden. The pounds piled on, reflecting not just the physical toll of my choices but the emotional and spiritual toll as well. I found myself isolated and haunted, the memories of the bike's nightmares intertwining with the regrets that consumed me.
The horror-themed website, once my pride and joy, lost its allure. The twisted inspiration that had fueled my writing was gone, replaced by a hollow emptiness. My audience dwindled, questioning my credibility as my judgment came under scrutiny. I had become a mere shell of my former self, a cautionary tale of the dangers of hubris and the high price of redemption.
Each passing day unraveled me further, stripping away the fragments of the life I had built on the foundation of my arrogance. I was left to confront the consequences of my choices, a bitter reminder of the path not taken, the second chance squandered.
As I stood there, facing the wreckage of my life, I couldn't help but wonder if there was still hope for redemption. The exercise bike, now vanished, had left its mark on me, a reminder of the horrors I had faced and the lessons I had learned too late. It served as a haunting symbol of the choices we make and the responsibility we bear for their consequences.
Time passed, and I found myself back at square one, facing the consequences of my actions. The exercise bike's absence served as a haunting reminder of my hubris and the lost opportunity for redemption. The weight returned, a physical manifestation of my failures, while the echoes of the bike's terrors continued to haunt my dreams.
I was left to ponder the lessons I had learned too late. The exercise bike, once a portal to transformation and possibility, now stood as a testament to my squandered second chance. With a heavy heart, I contemplated the cycle of my life, knowing that unless I broke free from my destructive patterns, history would repeat itself, and I would lose everything and everyone all over again.
The exercise bike remained a cautionary tale, whispered among those who dared to seek shortcuts to their desires. Its whereabouts remained unknown, its power left unchecked. And as I grappled with my demons, I realized that the true horror lay not in the bike itself but in the choices we make and the consequences we face.
And so, I stood there, amidst the remnants of my shattered life, knowing that true redemption would require more than a supernatural shortcut. It would demand that I confront my deepest fears, make amends for my mistakes, and forge a new path—one built on humility, empathy, and the unwavering commitment to face the horrors within myself without seeking external sources of power.
The exercise bike had been a catalyst, a twisted gift that revealed the darkness within me. It had taken me to the edge of my sanity and forced me to confront the demons that lurked in the depths of my soul. But ultimately, it was up to me to rebuild, to find redemption within myself and seek a life free from the cycle of fear and hubris.
As I took my first uncertain steps forward, I carried with me the lessons learned from the enigmatic delivery. The exercise bike had been a harrowing chapter in my life, but it was not the end of my story. With determination and a newfound understanding, I vowed to break free from the haunting grip of the past and embrace a future shaped by humility, growth, and the pursuit of true redemption.
I'm a single mother and I was working nights as a parking meter attendant while trying to provide for my teenage son, Ethan. It wasn't easy, but I had no choice. One thing that always bothered me was the toll my work took on our time together. I hardly saw him during the nights, but I trusted he would take care of himself while I was away.
One morning, as I returned home from work, I noticed Ethan sitting at the kitchen table, his eyes heavy with sleep. It seemed odd since it was still early in the morning. I brushed it off, thinking he must have had a restless night. But as the days passed, I began to notice more peculiarities. Ethan became increasingly irritable, forgetful, and exhibited strange behavior associated with severe sleep deprivation.
One night, when I accidentally walked in on him stepping out of the shower, I couldn't help but notice the numerous bruises covering his body. My heart skipped a beat, and fear gripped me. How did he get those bruises? What was happening to him?
The following morning, I found him with a bruised face, his eye blackened and his lip swollen. Panic surged through me as I realized something was seriously wrong. I rushed him to a doctor, hoping for answers, but all medical tests showed no signs of physical ailments. The doctor suggested it could be psychological and recommended a counselor.
Desperate for answers, I reached out to my brother, Detective Mark Collins, who was also Ethan's uncle. Mark promised to investigate and provide any help he could. As a detective, he had the means to delve into matters that others couldn't.
A few days later, while Ethan was at school, I received an unexpected visit from Mark. He looked weary and troubled. Without wasting a moment, he sat me down and informed me of the troubling developments. Other worried parents had been reporting similar cases of their sons disappearing at night, only to return home battered and bruised.
Mark had taken charge and started a dedicated investigation into the matter. He revealed that he had been working tirelessly for a whole week, following leads, interviewing witnesses, and searching for any clues. However, despite his efforts, he admitted that he had made absolutely no progress. The cases were shrouded in mystery, leaving him frustrated and filled with a sense of helplessness.
The weight of the situation settled heavily upon me. It wasn't just Ethan. There were other families going through the same ordeal, and no one had answers. The fear and anxiety grew stronger within me as the realization sank in that our struggle was far from over.
I thanked Mark for his dedication and his relentless pursuit of the truth. As he left, we exchanged a knowing glance, silently promising to continue the fight together.
Days turned into sleepless nights as I anxiously awaited any updates from Mark's investigation. Meanwhile, I juggled work, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for Ethan. But the underlying fear and uncertainty gnawed at my every thought.
One thing became clear—we were running out of time. The nights stretched on, each one bringing new nightmares and unexplained bruises on Ethan's body. I couldn't bear to see him suffer, and I knew that I had to be his protector, his shield against the darkness that threatened to consume him.
With every passing day, the sense of urgency grew stronger. We had to uncover the truth, find the source of this malevolent force that tormented our children. When the police put the investigation on hold - however - I was left with the fears from the beginning.
Frustrated and worried, I took time off work and stayed home, determined to uncover the truth. I kept a watchful eye on Ethan, making sure he didn't wander off during his sleepwalking episodes. One night, I followed him discreetly as he made his way to an abandoned house in our neighborhood.
My heart pounded in my chest as I peered through a crack in the wall and witnessed a chilling sight. Ethan stood among a group of other teenage boys, their eyes closed, their bodies moving with unnatural precision. As if puppets under someone's control, they began to fight, mercilessly punching and assaulting each other.
Fear overwhelmed me, but I knew I had to act. I called Mark, my brother and the detective, pleading for immediate help. By the time he arrived at the abandoned house, dawn was breaking, and the boys had dispersed, returning to their homes, leaving behind a trail of unconsciousness and injuries.
Realizing that no one else could protect Ethan but me, I made the difficult decision to quit my job and find new employment during the day. I couldn't risk leaving him alone anymore. I feared the unknown force that controlled those boys in their sleep, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it would come for my son again.
As the days turned into weeks, my desperation grew. I sought guidance from every possible avenue, determined to find answers and protect my son from the relentless onslaught of the somnpugilist. It was during one of my counseling sessions that a breakthrough, albeit a terrifying one, occurred.
The counselor, Dr. Simmons, had been tirelessly studying Ethan's case, and after numerous discussions and examinations, they finally approached me with a chilling revelation. Dr. Simmons explained that they had been consulting with experts in the field of sleep disorders and unearthed a disturbing theory.
With a serious expression etched across their face, Dr. Simmons told me, "Based on all the evidence we've gathered, the peculiar symptoms, the sleepwalking episodes, and the pattern of physical injuries, we believe your son is a victim of a rare and malevolent phenomenon known as the somnpugilist."
I had never heard of such a term, and the counselor continued to enlighten me. They described the somnpugilist as a mysterious entity or force that thrived on the vulnerability of sleep-deprived individuals, manipulating their subconscious minds to engage in brutal and uncontrolled acts of violence.
My heart sank as the weight of this revelation settled upon me. The realization that Ethan was not only a victim of his own body's betrayal but also a target of something otherworldly sent shivers down my spine. It was as if we were caught in a nightmare from which there was no escape.
Dr. Simmons assured me that they would continue researching possible remedies and solutions. However, their tone revealed a hint of helplessness, as if they too were grappling with the enigma that was the somnpugilist.
The knowledge that my son was being tormented by a malevolent force beyond our comprehension both terrified and galvanized me. I resolved to do everything in my power to protect Ethan, to shield him from the clutches of this insidious entity that sought to destroy him.
Together with Detective Mark Collins, we delved deeper into the lore surrounding the somnpugilist, seeking ancient texts and obscure references that might hold the key to its defeat. Each day brought us closer to understanding this dark force and formulating a plan to combat it.
The battle against the somnpugilist was far from over. We faced sleepless nights, relentless assaults on our sanity, and the fear that time was slipping through our fingers. But armed with newfound knowledge and unwavering determination, we pressed forward, ready to confront the somnpugilist head-on.
Now, I work at a small diner, my shifts aligned with Ethan's school hours. I rarely let him out of my sight, and I remain vigilant, constantly on guard. But deep down, I know that this battle against the somnpugilist, the sleep-fighter, can only last for so long. Darkness lingers, and the fear of the unknown looms, threatening to consume us both. With Mark's determination as both detective and uncle, we cling to hope, determined to unravel the mysterious and sinister forces that haunt our lives.
For Ethan's sake, for the sake of all the boys caught in this nocturnal nightmare, we would not rest until we unraveled the secrets of the somnpugilist and put an end to its reign of terror. Our journey would be treacherous, but the love of a mother, the devotion of an uncle, and the strength of our united front would serve as our guiding light through the darkest of nights.
The tale I am about to share begins not with an internet challenge but with a discovery far more peculiar and unsettling. It all started when we stumbled upon an old, weathered journal hidden in the depths of Mark's attic. The journal belonged to his late grandfather, a man whose mysterious demise had haunted their family for years. It was said that he had taken his own life after winning the state lottery, leaving behind an air of bewilderment and unanswered questions. Little did we know that this journal would lead us down a path filled with darkness and the very essence of life itself.
As we pored over its pages, a mixture of excitement and trepidation coursed through our veins. The journal was filled with cryptic entries, ink faded with time. Among the scribbled text, we stumbled upon a recipe, a concoction Mark's grandfather had named "Nostrum Vitalis" – the Elixir of Life. The ingredients seemed fictitious, their names antiquated and alchemical in nature. We dismissed it as mere ramblings of an eccentric mind until a spark of curiosity ignited within us.
Driven by an insatiable thirst for the unknown, we embarked on a journey to decipher the secrets contained within those pages. The internet became our ally as we researched the alchemical names, desperate to unravel the mystery that lay dormant for generations. To our astonishment, we discovered that the seemingly fictional ingredients were, in fact, remnants of a bygone era, old alchemical symbols representing dangerous substances that still lingered in the modern world.
Our quest shifted from the realm of speculation to that of reality. We scoured the depths of Mark's ancestral home, unearthing dusty bottles and decaying containers, each filled with chemicals that posed an inherent danger. It was a risky endeavor, for we toyed with elements that had the power to harm and destroy. Yet, the allure of unlocking the secrets of the Nostrum Vitalis proved irresistible.
There was more, a hint of the auspicious and the miraculous. Life was meant to be fulfilled with the deepest desires of the drinker of the elixir. The sacrament would trigger the residual molecules in the body and the vibrations of a complete person would attract every kind of fortune and luck. In other words, those who imbibed the potion would become wealthy, famous and immortal.
It is difficult for me to explain how I convinced my friends that it was real. I simply believed it myself and they, in turn, followed me. I believed it because I was already dying and modern medicine had failed to save me. I had very little time left, dying of cancer, as I was. It was easy for me to put my faith in anything that was possible, anything that could change my fate.
With trembling hands and anxious hearts, we began the arduous process of mixing the chemicals, following the instructions found within the journal's pages. The room grew heavy with a cocktail of excitement and fear, as if we had embarked on a forbidden ritual, invoking forces beyond our comprehension. The mixture simmered and bubbled, exuding an otherworldly aura that sent shivers down our spines.
The moment of truth arrived. We stood before the elixir, Grandfather's Challenge as we had come to call it. With a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty, we each took a sip from the chalice, the elixir sliding down our throats like a bittersweet promise. The taste was unlike anything we had ever experienced—metallic and acrid, as if consuming a blend of forbidden knowledge and ancient secrets.
Expectations mingled with apprehension as we awaited the manifestation of the promised powers. Would the elixir bestow upon us the abilities we sought? Or had we gambled with our very existence, succumbing to the whims of an unknown force?
Days turned into weeks, and we found ourselves questioning the sanity of our choices. The powers we had so eagerly sought remained elusive, while the consequences of our actions began to unravel. Strange and disconcerting symptoms plagued us, leaving us withering under their weight. Headaches pierced our skulls like relentless daggers, our bodies covered in rashes that pulsed with a sickly glow. Nausea, like a constant companion, gnawed at our insides, threatening to consume us whole.
Desperation set in as we sought solace in the halls of medical institutions, doctors baffled by our deteriorating conditions. We became the subjects of an unsolvable puzzle, each piece unraveling our health and sanity. The powers we had once yearned for now seemed like a cursed blessing, slowly poisoning us from within.
One by one, my friends dissolved into the clutches of suffering and despair. Their bodies, once vibrant with life, succumbed to the toxic effects of the elixir we had ingested. I alone remained, lying in a hospital bed, gasping for breath, the weight of mortality pressing heavily upon me.
In those agonizing moments, a chilling realization washed over me. I had never truly comprehended the price I was willing to pay for a chance at a different fate. The cancer that had ravaged my body paled in comparison to the torment I now endured. The elixir, Grandfather's Challenge, had exposed not only our physical vulnerabilities but also the depths of our desires and the fragility of our mortality.
As I lay on the precipice between life and death, a spark of resilience flickered within me. Despite the pain, despite the suffering, I clung to a sliver of hope, a determination to persevere. It was then that my body, ravaged and weakened, began to defy the odds. The cancer that had once consumed me receded, its grip loosening with each passing day.
I emerged from that hospital, forever changed by the horrors I had witnessed. The scars, both seen and unseen, served as a reminder of the dangers lurking in our desires, the consequences of meddling with forces beyond our understanding. The elixir, the powers, the prayers—they were nothing more than fleeting illusions, a veil obscuring the true power that resides within us all—the strength to face our fears, the resilience to overcome even the darkest of trials.
And as I embark on the second chance that life has granted me, I tread with caution, forever mindful of the paths I choose. For in the pursuit of power, we risk losing the very essence of our humanity. It is not in the elixir, but in our unwavering spirit that true transformation lies, waiting to be discovered amidst the tumultuous journey we call life.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, that fateful day etched deep within the recesses of my mind. It was a sweltering summer afternoon, and my parents had taken me to a friend's birthday party in the heart of downtown. Little did I know that innocent outing would soon turn into a nightmare beyond my wildest imagination.
As the sun began its descent, my parents and I made our way back home. The city streets were alive with the vibrant energy of a bustling town. Laughter and chatter filled the air, the remnants of the joyful celebration we had just left behind. But as we ventured further into the heart of the city, an ominous air began to cast its shadow upon the once-familiar streets.
Suddenly, chaos erupted around us. The peaceful atmosphere shattered like glass, giving way to a violent riot that seemed to materialize out of thin air. The rioters, donned in their own self-proclaimed title, "The Revolutionary War," took to the streets with a ferocious anger that defied reason.
Fear gripped my heart as my parents, guided by their parental instincts, frantically tried to navigate our car through the chaos. As the chaos and confusion unfolded around me, I watched in sheer horror as my parents made a desperate attempt to escape the escalating violence. First, my mother, filled with panic, hurriedly stepped out of the car, intending to shield me from harm. But in the midst of the chaos, a projectile hurled by a rioter struck her with a sickening thud. She crumpled to the ground, her body limp and unconscious.
My heart shattered as I saw my father's frantic efforts to drag her to safety, his face contorted with anguish. He fought against the tide of rioters, their rage blinding them to his desperate plea for help. My father, the protector who always stood tall, now found himself on the edges of the crowd, his arms empty, unable to reach his injured wife or his terrified child.
And there I sat, alone and trapped in the backseat of our vehicle, the sense of isolation closing in around me. As the rioters grew more frenzied, tearing apart nearby buildings and vehicles, the air thickened with a cocktail of fear and despair. I felt as if the world had crumbled, leaving me in this forsaken bubble of terror.
Every noise, every crash of destruction amplified the weight of my helplessness. The sound of breaking glass and crumbling debris echoed in my ears, a chilling symphony that heralded the crumbling of order. The rioters, lost in their frenzy, paid no heed to the vulnerable child trapped within the confines of the car.
I pressed myself against the backseat, my trembling hands clutching Mickey Mouse with a desperate grip. Tears streamed down my face, mingling with the fear that pulsed through my veins. The rioters, their faces masked in anger and chaos, seemed like harbingers of nightmares, bent on tearing apart everything in their path.
I tried to will myself invisible, to shrink into the upholstery, praying that somehow, I could escape their notice. But it was futile. The world outside my window twisted into a distorted reflection of terror, a macabre dance of destruction that unfolded before my wide eyes.
In that moment, I felt a profound sense of abandonment, a belief that I was trapped within a nightmare from which there was no escape. My parents were out of reach, my sanctuary violated, and the rioters tore at the fabric of my innocence with each passing second.
As the rioters unleashed their horrors, leaving behind a path of devastation, I remained alone, abandoned in the remnants of their fury. The world outside, once familiar and comforting, now bore the scars of a battle I never asked to witness.
In the depths of my fear, I held onto Mickey Mouse with an even tighter grip, his plush form the only source of solace in that desolate moment. The presence of my parents, torn away from me in the chaos, loomed over me like a haunting specter, reminding me of the fragility of our existence.
And so, I endured the torment, the sense of vulnerability etched into my being, as the rioters continued their destructive dance. I was but a frightened child, left to bear witness to the darkest shades of humanity, praying for the moment when salvation would arrive, and my parents would once again find their way back to me.
While the rioters expressed their fury, my small refuge transformed into a prison of terror. Through the car windows, I witnessed the scene unfold before my young eyes. The sound of shattering glass and the thunderous crashes of overturned vehicles assaulted my ears. Molotov cocktails flared into life, casting an eerie glow upon the night, as flames danced and licked at the metal frames of the helpless cars.
My pulse quickened, the terror within me intensifying with every passing second. I huddled in the backseat, clutching tightly onto my only solace, my beloved Mickey Mouse plush toy. His stitched smile, once comforting, now served as a bittersweet reminder of a world that seemed to crumble around me.
The rioters, consumed by their destructive frenzy, showed no mercy. The neighboring vehicles bore the brunt of their wrath, their windows shattered, their bodies flipped over like discarded toys. I watched in silence, my breath caught in my throat, as the chaos closed in, inching ever closer to the solitary sanctuary I hid within.
Each passing moment felt like an eternity, the dread within me growing with each thunderous crash and fiery explosion. I couldn't help but imagine the rioters' eyes locking onto our untouched car, the last remaining bastion of hope amidst the escalating destruction.
But just when it seemed that the world would crumble around me, a strange shift occurred. The rioters, as if sated by their own malevolence, began to disperse. Their frenzy moved away from our vehicle, leaving behind a chilling silence in their wake.
And then, through the eerie stillness, I heard the sound of familiar voices. My parents, fueled by their love and relentless determination, arrived at the scene. Relief washed over me like a tidal wave, mingling with the tears streaming down my face.
Dad's hair had white streak in it and Mom's a red streak, dripping onto her blue dress. Mickey Mouse slowly raised up and peeked around. As police and ambulances and firetrucks arrived in the aftermath I looked around. Everything was burning and destroyed. It certainly looked like a war had just happened. I looked back at my parents, my face expressionless.
They embraced me, their arms wrapping around me tightly, shielding me from the horrors that I had witnessed. Mickey Mouse, my steadfast companion throughout the ordeal, felt warm against my cheek as if offering a silent reassurance that the nightmare was finally over.
Years have passed since that haunting day, and yet, the memory remains vivid within me. I still recall the sights, the sounds, and the bone-chilling dread that clenched my heart. The event that came to be known as "The Revolutionary War" stands as a haunting testament to the night I witnessed the escalation of destruction and violence.
As I grew older, I carried the weight of that memory with me, a constant reminder of the fragility of peace and the darkness that can lurk within society. The image of Mickey Mouse, my enduring symbol of hope, served as a beacon of strength during my darkest moments.
And so, this is the story of my childhood memory, recalled with a mix of trepidation and gratitude. It serves as a testament to the power of resilience, the strength of familial love, and the enduring hope that can guide us through the darkest storms.
TW: This story contains extreme transphobia
I walked to my room, exhausted from my three hour commute from Indianapolis. I got a match on Timber from Missouri, saying that we could meet in Central Illinois. I was good with that, and I felt that we really had something going, so I was fine with the drive.
The guy arrived, and I was finally meeting him in person. He was handsome and muscular, everything that I’d dreamed. He was also exhausted so we decided to sleep in different rooms for the night before we actually got to know each other.
I woke up to him in my room sitting on the edge of the bed. I guess, in my sleep deprived state, I had forgotten to lock the door. But no worries, this wasn’t the kind of guy to barge in with ill intentions. We talked a bit, got some breakfast, and then saw a movie. I bought him lunch after that, even when he had his wallet open, ready to pay. When we got back to the motel, I felt like we really had a connection. So I made a confession:
“I’m trans,” I said. “Not sure if you noticed in my Timber bio, but it says I’m non-binary.”
He didn’t seem surprised by this, but instead just said “I know. I like to get to know people before I actually meet them, yeah?”
That’s when I knew he was the guy for me. Everyone else I’ve dated was never in it for me, and were either “only curious as to what it was like” or only in it for the sex. But this guy wanted to know who I was first. This is what I’ve been missing.
Later on, we were enjoying each other’s company, watching the news, looking how the weather might turn out, when he turned to me and said “Hey, wanna have some fun? I’ve got protection.”
I replied “No thanks. Not at the moment. I kinda just met you in person, and I wanna see how this goes first.”
He said “c’mon dude, just once. It’s not like you can get pregnant anyway.”
I replied “First of all, I don’t feel comfortable with you calling me ‘dude’, and, second of all, that doesn’t matter. I do not give consent. It is not happening.”
That’s when he turned on me. He took out a handgun, pulled back the hammer, and said “I don’t care. We’re doing it here and now, or you’re dead meat. And don’t think that I’m going down for it. You know what the Trans Panic Defense is?”
I’m stunned, and respond as such: “I bought you lunch, and this is how you repay me?”
He responds angrily, saying, “I don’t care. What’s it gonna be sweetheart?”
I think for a moment and tell him to look on the dresser by the door.
“What’s this? Your wallet? Are you bribing me to leave?”
“Look inside,” I tell him.
He obliges, and I tell him second slot on the left side.
“What is it?” I ask him, calmly. In reality, my heart is beating out of my chest.
He looks it over and replies: “It’s a CCP. Your bio didn’t say you carried.”
I told him that you usually don’t publicly display that kind of information.
I then get his attention, reach in the nightstand, and pull out my Glock.
“Do you know what this is?” I ask him.
He notices what I have, then points his pistol at me and pulls the trigger.
“Damnit, what the hell?”
I hold up a box matching his gun with some lead inside.
“I noticed the bulge at your waist, and noticed that it…” I gesture to his gun. “…wasn’t secured by any means, it was just tucked into your waistband. And at the restaurant, when you offered to pay, there there wasn’t any sort of permit or identification for carry. Therefore, I made an assumption for my safety that it wasn’t there legally. So I removed the magazine from your weapon, and kept it next to me.”
I point mine at his stomach.
He does, as it clatters through the floor.
I tell him “The Trans Panic Defense isn’t legal here in Illinois, but concealed carry is. I would’ve thought you’d do your research.”
He cries “You won’t get away with this!”
I respond calmly, “I already have. I’ve been recording this night on my glasses camera, as I always do when I feel like I’m not in a 100% safe and controllable situation. The police are already on their way, and considering the station is right down the road, they’ll be here in no time.”
As the police arrive, I strip my weapon, and show them my hands. Don’t need to get shot by a misunderstanding officer after all that.
I give the responding officer my statement, and give the detective my recording. I have a testimony scheduled next Friday, and I hope this guy goes away for a long time. I just hope that similar victims can find peace knowing that they’re not invisible, and will be fought for.
It’s alright, my friends, we exist, and it’s time the world acknowledged that.
p.s. My first story, I hope it’s not too bad. I’m open to feedback, as well.
Moonlight cast its ethereal glow upon the quaint suburban neighborhood, where I now found myself as a witch in hiding. It had been months since my family and I moved into this seemingly idyllic Homeowners Association (HOA) community, a place where meticulously trimmed lawns and white picket fences masked the secrets that lay beneath.
Ever since I discovered my innate magical abilities, I had lived a life of solitude and seclusion, careful to keep my true nature hidden from prying eyes. But circumstances forced me to abandon the safety of the woods and the solace of the hidden realms. I sought refuge among mortals, for my family's sake.
Little did I know that within this neighborhood, another coven of witches dwelled, their presence beckoning me like a siren's call. They offered me sanctuary and a sense of belonging, a place where I could finally be myself among those who understood the depths of my powers. I joined them willingly, hopeful that I had found a haven where I could practice my craft without fear.
Yet, despite the comforting camaraderie of my newfound coven, an unease gnawed at the depths of my soul. It was as if the very air whispered warnings of an impending storm, a darkness lurking just beyond the threshold of our peaceful enclave. Shadows danced uneasily, their movements mirroring the disquiet within me.
My unease extended beyond the boundaries of our cozy coven. The rise of technology, with its relentless march forward, fueled my deepest fears. Smart homes and surveillance cameras proliferated, penetrating every aspect of our lives. I, a creature of magic, found myself surrounded by gadgets and devices that seemed to mock my existence.
I had learned to manipulate the natural elements, to wield power with reverence and caution. Yet, technology defied my understanding, its unseen currents flowing with an energy I could not comprehend. The thought of its prying eyes, its relentless scrutiny, sent shivers down my spine.
More than the threat of exposure for my own family, I feared for my coven, my newfound family of witches. We had built a fragile bond, bound together by shared secrets and ancient knowledge. The mere thought of our carefully guarded existence being revealed, our magic laid bare for the world to see, filled me with a primal dread.
As I stood beneath the midnight sky, the weight of my fears pressing upon me, I vowed to protect my loved ones, to shield them from the storm that brewed on the horizon. My witch's instincts told me that danger loomed, and I resolved to confront it, to face whatever malevolent force threatened our fragile peace.
With my heart heavy but resolute, I took a deep breath, drawing in the cool night air infused with the scent of wildflowers and ancient incantations. The path ahead was uncertain, fraught with perils both mystical and mundane. But I would not falter. I would not let the encroaching darkness consume us.
For I was a witch and a mother, protector of my own flesh and blood, and now a guardian to those who shared my kindred spirit. Together, we would face the ominous unknown, armed with our ancient wisdom and unyielding determination. Our magic may be ancient, but our spirits burned bright, ready to defy the forces that dared to challenge us.
The journey ahead would be treacherous, the outcome uncertain. But within my heart, the fire of a thousand spells blazed, igniting a beacon of hope in the face of darkness.
The wind whispered through the trees as I stood in the private playground of our secluded neighborhood, surrounded by fellow witches and mothers. We had forged a haven for ourselves here, hidden away from the prying eyes of the outside world. This seclusion was not only a luxury but a necessity, allowing us to nurture our magical powers and protect our children in secrecy.
Our coven was a tight-knit group, bound by our shared love for our craft and our unyielding dedication to motherhood. We reveled in the freedom our sanctuary provided, allowing our children to explore their innate magic without fear of judgment or persecution.
But soon, a darkness loomed over our idyllic existence. It started subtly, with the appearance of drones in the skies above our neighborhood. At first, we dismissed them as a passing curiosity, mere gadgets that had strayed into our realm. However, their numbers grew, their presence becoming more intrusive with each passing day.
The buzzing of their rotors became a constant reminder of the encroaching threat. We could no longer ignore the unnerving reality that these mechanical spies had invaded our sanctuary. Their prying eyes and relentless surveillance sent shivers down our spines.
Desperate to protect our haven, we approached the HOA security, hoping they would apprehend the drone operators and put an end to the intrusion. Yet, our pleas fell on deaf ears, their dismissive responses amplifying our fears. We knew we had to take matters into our own hands.
One of our neighbors, an avid falconer, tried to combat the drones with the aid of his hunting hawk. We watched in awe as the majestic bird soared through the sky, talons extended. The hawk struck true, downing one of the mechanical intruders. For a brief moment, hope blossomed within us.
However, it was short-lived. The drones returned, multiplying in number, undeterred by our efforts to repel them. Our fear escalated, gnawing at the edges of our hearts. We realized that we were dealing with a foe far more formidable than we had imagined.
In our desperation, we huddled together, embracing the collective strength of our coven. We cast protective spells, invoking ancient rituals to shield our playground from these menacing intruders. For a fleeting moment, it seemed as though our magic would triumph over technology.
But the drones penetrated our defenses with ease, mocking our feeble attempts to ward them off. Frustration and despair gripped us. We had reached the limits of our powers, or so we believed.
In my desperation, I turned to an old spellbook passed down through generations of witches in my family. The book was filled with forbidden spells, the kind of magic that had been deemed too dangerous and unpredictable. Yet, the fear of the drones eclipsed my apprehension. I knew I had to take the risk.
With trembling hands, I opened the ancient pages and recited incantations that had long been forgotten. Dark energy crackled in the air as the forbidden magic surged through me. It felt as though I was dancing on the edge of a precipice, the abyss of consequence looming before me.
The power I unleashed was immense, tearing through the sky like a tempest. Lightning danced amidst the swirling vortex of dark magic, colliding with the drones. In a cacophony of sparks and shattered metal, the mechanical intruders were reduced to mere debris.
As the echoes of my spell subsided, a heavy silence settled upon us. We looked upon our victory with a mixture of relief and trepidation. The drones had been vanquished, but at what cost?
I surveyed my fellow witches, my friends and sisters in magic. The toll of the dark spells was etched upon our once-flawless faces. Wrinkles marred our brows, blemishes dotted our skin—a haunting reminder of the consequences we had willingly embraced.
The victory had come at a price, one that would forever remind us of the limits of our powers. Yet, the drones lingered in the recesses of our minds, like specters awaiting their chance to return.
Days turned into weeks, and the haunting presence of the drones remained absent from our skies. But my fears refused to subside. I couldn't shake the gnawing uncertainty that we were not safe, that a more sinister technological threat awaited us.
The prospect of facing a greater menace was paralyzing. It meant delving even deeper into the depths of forbidden magic, wielding power that was beyond our comprehension. I feared that we had opened a door that we could never close.
But in the midst of my anxiety, I found solace in the unwavering support of my coven. We stood together, resolute in our determination to protect our families and our way of life. We vowed to confront whatever technological terrors awaited us, to face them head-on with the strength of our collective magic.
As the days turned to nights, and the seasons changed around us, we prepared ourselves for the unknown. The secluded playground that had once been our sanctuary had transformed into a battleground, where ancient magic clashed with the encroachment of modern technology.
And so, with a mixture of apprehension and resilience, we embarked on a new chapter of our lives—a chapter where the veil between worlds grew thinner, and where the bonds of our coven would be tested like never before. Together, we would confront the shadows that lurked beyond our secluded haven, ready to embrace the uncertain future that lay ahead.
Alone at college, I was unprepared to live alone - with loneliness. It was the thought of arriving in my apartment and walking through that silence to turn on lights and put something on tv - that depressed me. Some instinct to obtain a companion made me turn into the animal shelter. I adopted Miss Marvel, a rescued black cat.
Strange and unusual feelings were the first thing I noticed. I'd never had a pet before - so I attributed my sensation to her presence. There was one thought that I should have accepted. I did notice right away that Miss Marvel had two different personalities. Sometimes she was my friend, taking treats and letting me pet her and sleeping next to me. Other times she was like a pair of eyes in the shadows - watching me and making me feel menaced and hunted.
She had known her way around the apartment from the first moment I had opened her carrier. She went to a spot in the kitchen that was perfect for where I would put her food and water. If I squinted I could almost see where someone had kept two bowls on the floor, slightly cleaner where the floor was covered. The exact same spot.
I tried to meet her in her shadow realm but she made warning noises and even swatted at me, drawing a drop of blood. When I had rinsed it I heard her licking where the drop had spilled. I shuddered, wondering again if I had two different cats.
Other than that: I found her companionship to be the best that I could have. She was a lovely cat, purring and playful and responsive to my call. I didn't suspect her of the darkness that began to manifest in my home. Not her, yet it was all from her. I knew somehow that it was not right, my cat wasn't responsible.
My homework was shredded, things got broken and my plants wilted. The smell of ammonia became overwhelming and I'd have to leave my windows open. The swarm of flying insects swirling in my living room must have come in through the open window. It's how they went back out: all-at-once.
Then my own behavior began to change. I found myself waking up in strange places and missing time. I worried I might be losing my mind, until I noticed there was a pattern to my activities. Every time I slipped away I always came back with Miss Marvel sitting near me and staring intensely. She would hiss and run off when the spell wore off and I would think to myself:
"Is she somehow controlling me?"
After this had occurred a number of times I felt her power growing stronger. Miss Marvel would become the witch cat and mesmerize me and control me like a puppet. I filmed it with my webcam, but the recording wouldn't open. I took it to a college friend who worked in the campus IT and they said the file couldn't be repaired, because it wasn't broken. It had filmed just one frame and the software had interpreted it as a non-video file. They showed it to me, just one image of a weird star made out of triangles with a peculiar questionmark-like symbol emblazoned over it.
My investigations took me to the animal shelter. I determined that my cat was using witchcraft - entirely by my own instinct. I've always believed in witchcraft, found myself attracted to witches and living a charmed life. My involvement with Miss Marvel seemed to be part my lifestory already. That didn't mean I wasn't frightened.
Knowing I was dealing with witchcraft of some insidious alignment made me afraid. I felt powerless to deal with her and I knew I couldn't escape. I felt drawn to me home, despite the horror I felt at opening that door.
The shelter had, after I convinced them, to tell me the address where Miss Marvel had come from. She'd belonged to on old woman who had lived alone and died mysteriously. The address was my own. Miss Marvel had lived in my apartment before.
I called my brother and convinced him to look into the police report. He told me he'd have to get back to me with it. When he came over he apologized for not coming over earlier, like when I had started college. Or at any point since.
"You're here now. That's what I need." I told him.
He stopped apologizing for neglecting me and told me what the police report had contained.
"It started as a wellness check that went into a possible homicide. Later it was ruled as a possible suicide and finally as a natural death of unknown cause."
"What does that even mean?" I felt the eyes of Miss Marvel, watching - her ears, listening. I looked around and saw her nowhere.
"The lady who lived here - she had died of fear. Screamed until her lungs boiled and collapsed and hit her head. It looked bad, but she got scared of something and then died. That's what happened." He explained.
After my brother was gone, I reflected that his career had made him so calloused. I remembered him different growing up. Miss Marvel found me sitting and thinking and she was my cat, so she came to me and loved on me.
The next morning, I was sipping tea, when I remembered a spell someone had shown me. It was a gesture and some magic words, a cheap charm, that would reveal the hidden nature of someone or something.
How did it go?
I spoke the rhyme and focused my intention on the syntax, while looking at my cat through the corner of my eye, between the 'window' of my pinky and pointer finger - while my other two fingertips were holding my thumb. Nothing happened. I didn't give up, because I know that magic rarely works without increasing one's efforts. I'd never cast a spell before, but I knew this from what I was told. I tried the charm again and again. Early in the evening, while she was eating and the sun was setting, my spell worked.
I could see the witch standing beside my cat, the horrible open mouth looking both dead and violent at the same time. She could see me too, knew that I knew. The eyes of the creature burned with hatred, my reflection a pyre light. I put my hand down and looked away. When I looked back I felt a cold shiver, fear in my spine, knowing she was standing there unseen.
My cat stopped eating suddenly and turned and faced me, staring with far more intensity than my cat. I knew it was the witch and not her. I knew it was up to me to figure out what to do. My only problem was that I was too afraid.
I had nightmares from that night on. I'd sometimes wake up somewhere else in my home, turning butter into ashes on my stove. I would be drawing symbols on the floor in ash. I was trying to do something when she had control over me. I kept breaking free of her control before she could make any progress. At the same time - every time she got ahold of me she seemed to hold me longer and do more. She was getting stronger and I was getting weaker.
I had to know what the old witch was trying to do. There was nothing else that I could do to free myself and Miss Marvel from her power. Moving or getting rid of the cat seemed impossible. Perhaps I could have tried one of those things, but the weight of such ideas felt like I was falling to even consider those options.
Instead, I did my homework. I found out who she was, a rotary and well-known occult bookstore owner. Her obituary mentioned that there was a guest registry at her funeral. At the local library I was able to find out who held the registry. I called on them and they allowed me to look at it. They even told me that most of the guests were members of her coven, a large group of witches that had practiced together.
"I just want to know about her life. All I know is about her death. It isn't how she should be remembered?" Were my exact words to them. They were convinced I should be loaned her diary. Nobody had taken the time to read it, but it was kept with the spellbook and the registry. Of her spellbook I was given no permissions.
I sat there and read her diary and discovered she had her own agenda within the coven. Some sort of personal spirit guide of her's was to manifest for her. When I described the creature to them, they told me I had misunderstood.
"Maroni is an ancient and powerful demon that grants eternal life. There is a bargain though, the use of a body for the demon, in such a consortment. No witch would fall prey to such a well-known scam."
Yet she had made a deal with it and learned of a dangerous spell to summon Maroni. It involved writing with ash and speaking the contract in the demon's own language. I guessed that the witch had tried and met the demon and died of terror.
Somehow, she could inhabit her cat and channel her magic through Miss Marvel to control me. She was trying to complete the spell, probably so she could become alive and immortal. I felt pale and cold with fear as I realized I was her choice of bodies to live in.
Every night my dreams showed me the ritual in different times and places. Different people, religions, civilizations had all come and gone. Each had danced with the demon upon the ashes of its summoning. All of them had tried to bargain with it. Always the demon won, always it got what it wanted and gave nothing in return.
I was falling asleep in lectures and having visions or sightings of the tormented souls trapped by the demon's spell. Shamans and druids, priestesses and warlocks, all as ghosts in their ritual garb, dead for whole chapters of history and trapped in our world, unseen. I felt sick, my body trying to reject the infection in my spirit.
As I deteriorated there became less and less of a distinction between her control and mine. I felt myself slipping into the embrace of her power, somehow relieved to stop struggling and just give up. My fear became a constant anxiety, knowing what was happening and helpless to stop it.
"Now you will perform the ritual." The voice of the witch spoke to me from Miss Marvel, contorted and barely human-sounding.
I gathered what little of my willpower was left. I thought about the good times with Miss Marvel, when she was my cat. I wanted to break free, to somehow throw off the weight that was crushing me. I needed to begin, whenever I start something - I finish it.
"No." I said weakly. Then I felt my voice, felt my willpower backing me up, motivating me to resist. I added: "No - I said. I won't do it."
"You will. You have no choice." The witch promised.
I began to move, despite my resistance. I was under her control and aware of it. I felt her power over me slip even further. In a moment I regained control and swept the symbols of ash on the floor, ruining the summoning.
"You insolent dog!" The witch exclaimed. "I've used it all up! Damn you!"
And with that she was coughed out of Miss Marvel like some kind of hellspawned hairball. I stared at the lumpy and bubbling ectoplasma and felt a nauseating revulsion and the last of the terrified feelings I had lived with for so long.
My cat lifted the stringy dead thing and brought it to me and dropped it at my feet. She meowed with expectation and I lifted her and took her with me while she purred. I was very tired and fell asleep right away.
Of Miss Marvel I can only say we are happy together. Whatever got into her was long gone, having slithered up the wall and down the drain, leaving a trail of slime. I cleaned it up and relaxed.
Together, at college, I live happily with my marvelous cat, Miss Marvel.
I was never quite “stand out” in most areas of life, I mean it was painfully typical; not athletic, average intelligence (probably), never had a ton of friends in school growing up, and I wasn’t pretty either. Being considered “ugly” was the worst thing on the list for sure, I feel like pretty girls can get away with lacking in all other areas of life, you know, being average or below average in most human traits. Not me though. Not even the strongest most eccentric personality could save me, at least I’m convinced of that. Not that I have one to test my hypothesis to begin with.
I just really despise the fact that I’m not pretty.
And that’s why I hated my drawing class senior year of high school. I guess my one redeeming quality is that I’m a really great artist. Not painting or sculpture or any of that, just straight up drawing from imagination, understanding how to communicate 3D objects and whatnot. I’m really excellent at drawing people in particular. Hence why I was automatically moved into my school’s advanced studio class rather than starting with the beginner art classes. Lucky me.
I really do love drawing though, but we did a lot of self portrait work in that class. Working with figure and whatnot. We drew fake figures and different box arrangements in class because we couldn’t actually have models in the high school classes, unlike college- but for homework it was always self portraits. I hated going home and sitting in front of my mirror, drawing my own face meticulously. I became hyper-aware of every flaw, every uneven characteristic, every crease. And I drew it perfectly. I couldn’t help myself. If one thing was for sure, I was going to flaunt the one skill I had and show up to class with the most dead on perfect rendition of myself possible. Sometimes the praise I would receive made me forget about the face drawn on my giant sketch board beside me, but I would at least always be reminded of my charcoaled resemblance staring back at me when I folded the pages back over after class.
It was maybe the 4th time I had to draw myself, sitting in front of the mirror, nearly numb to the fact that I had to address what stared back at me when I decided to break some rules. I had finished my sketch, my face this time nearly dead on centered on the page, not looking to the side or at an angle, and I decided to tweak it. Ever so slightly though. I moved my eyes a few millimeters apart, opened them up just a bit. I made my top lip not so lopsided, but nothing that I thought others would notice. I also shaped my chin a bit sharper, but again, barely. I looked at my work, and it still felt like me, just a little bit better. They wouldn’t even know. I looked at myself in the mirror, then the drawing, and went to bed a bit more satisfied than normally.
But when I woke up that next morning before school, something changed. My drawing was still sitting out, staring at me. I did my morning routine in the bathroom, but my face didn’t look quite the same. I couldn’t tell if I was tripping or not, but I finished what I was doing and walked over to my mirror. I really studied myself, and the realization that there were no longer discrepancies between my face in the mirror and my edited face on my drawing pad nearly made me pinch myself, like I was in a dream. But I wasn’t, and I looked ever slightly different. Prettier.
I went to school, repeated my typical day but with some newfound courage. I actually sat with some people at lunch for once, people I knew of course, but I purposefully ate lunch alone so often they had forgotten I had the same lunch period as them. I knew them from my old English class, and I wasn’t a developed part of their friend group, but they didn’t seem to ever mind me joining conversation from time to time. I think what scared me about them is the fact they were just better looking, higher in the “social class” or whatever too. I figured they wouldn’t be interested in me. It was a mix of guys and girls, but I only really knew Ramona, Keith, Alexis, Harper and David well though. I engaged in a bit of conversation but my mind just drifted, eager to go home and test my theory again. See if I was just convincing myself of delusions.
I didn’t have a portrait as homework that night, but I drew one nonetheless. I made it look like me, and compared it to the one from last night. They looked identical despite a slight head angle, but I added some adjustments to the new portrait. Prettier.
I wanted to stay up all night, but I decided to repeat the same cycle as the night before, so I glanced in the mirror and back, and went to sleep. I woke up and again to my amazement I looked identical to my drawing. Prettier, but not pretty. No one had to tell me twice- I had some ability to alter my physical traits. I’m going to speed through this next part, but to say the least I took advantage of the opportunity.
Through 2 months worth of trial and error, I found this out. I have tried to drastically change characteristics in one drawing overnight. Never again. It reverted my face back to where I started. Ugly. That was annoying, and it happened 3 times. Now I believe I know the limit of how much to change. I’m simply not too greedy with my actions, patience pays off. The change would only occur after I went to sleep. I tried napping to speed up my process but it really took a few solid hours of good sleep to create the result, so that’s what I continued doing. I switched from drawing in charcoal, and learned how to draw on my iPad. I could be a bit more precise this way, but using color never mattered. I couldn’t change my hair, or my skin tone, or my eye color, just the layout of my face. I could change my body though. I found this out about 1 1/2 months in. I didn’t have to work for anything, I simply changed my body inch my inch. I didn’t do it as often because it simply took forever. The face was much more achievable.
Finally, at halfway through the school year, I achieved my goal. I had missed a lot of school to be honest, obsessing over these details and understanding every quirk of the system was more important to me. Plus, when I failed those 3 times, I avoided school like the plague until I made myself presentable again. People noticed though. After that winter break, I was pretty. More than pretty, I was stunning. Nearly unrecognizable. Looking back, changing so drastically in the presence of people who knew me before was a risky move, but the school was so big not many people commented on it. I just suddenly became recognizable once I reached a threshold. It was wonderful.
I dropped out of the art class about a month and a half into the year. I figured if anyone was going to recognize the changes in my art and behavior, it would be them, so I left. I didn’t need a studio class anyways, there is nothing more for me to learn. I had everything I needed. On the other hand, my small cohort of friends noticed the gradual shift.
They never actually mentioned anything to my face. We would have conversations at lunch, but I could see the malicious nature of their eyes. Especially the girls. Especially Ramona. She was so sweet, so gentle, always asking how my day was and asking about my life. She acted as though my physical changes didn’t affect her at all. I could see it in Alexis and Harper, they didn’t quite treat me the same way. But Ramona would snap me, comment nice things on my new instagram account- she was trying to find an in. To sabotage me. I just knew it. Her joyful and affirming personality just rubbed me the wrong way. And the way David looked at her. I never understood why he never looked at me like that. She was beautiful, and always has been, so I can see why he would have initial interest but I far surpassed her weeks ago. At this point in time I had guys in all my classes talking to me, and girls giving me the cold shoulder, but I tunnel visioned on David and Ramona. Why wouldn’t he look at me like that? Even Keith had sparked interest but David? No. Was I… ugly? No, no, I know I wasn’t. But was Ramona prettier? No? But I had to make sure.
I went home, and pulled up her instagram. I found her most recent selfie, and began to draw. It was perfect, every line accounted for. It was an authentic picture too, no filter. But there weren’t enough creases. There weren’t enough flaws. So I slowly incorporated them in. I mean, no one deserves to be perfect, everyone is going to have some flaws, and she won’t even notice. I just pulled the eyes down slightly, made her nose a bit sharper, just little things. Just to make sure I was still prettier. To test my theory.
I had never tried editing another person before. I gifted her my portrait the next day at lunch, and she loved it. It was still an excellent drawing nonetheless. I had her hold it up to her face for a picture, and her face had changed. I celebrated inwardly and remained content in my achievement. But he still looked at her in the same way. My vision tunneled harder. He just wasn’t getting it. Boys are dumb.
So I did it again. Made her uglier. It was noticeable to me, but not to him. He always would sit next to her. Laugh in her direction. He didn’t make eye contact with me in the same way as Keith. He liked her. I walked the hallways after my last class, feeling eyes on me. Some were good. Some were bad. I didn’t care, I tunneled them out. Until I was stopped by a group of girls I recognized from my psychology class. I didn’t know their names.
They asked about my surgery in a demeaning tone. They pulled me aside, told me “they knew I had gotten work done” and that “I couldn’t hide the truth forever”. “It was obvious, other people could tell too”. “My newfound attention was undeserved”. You can just tell when gossip has been stewing for some time. I figured a long time ago someone aught to talk about me after what changes I’ve gone through. It hadn’t seemed to affect my image until now though. Skanks probably found their boy crushes commenting on my posts.
Over the next week I made Ramona uglier each day. But each day their interactions didn’t change. And she still treated me in the same way. Stupid little princess wannabe. Princesses can’t be ugly. David is a prince and she didn’t deserve him. So I also started drawing David too, I made him more handsome, yet he still didn’t understand what had to be done. He had noticed Ramona’s decline, but they thought it was some health problem. It’s like he almost cared for her more. I heard he even went to the ER with her once. It was unfathomable to me. To make matters worse, I noticed I got treated more and more alien-like as the week progressed. Effing rumor weeds. Weeds are ugly.
I scavenged social media for the group of girls from my psychology class. I used that whole weekend in order to draw them too, along with Ramona and David. Once a day.
Over that next month, they all started to decline. Not pretty. David had reached his threshold, he was just perfect. A prince. Girls fawned over him, but he and Ramona still talked. They even went on dates. She was so ugly. Sometimes she would even cry at lunch, cry into Davids arms while Alexis and Harper showered her in praise. When would she drop the act? I just stared one day, I couldn’t bring my focus away. Looking upon all of the work I had done. It was eerie. Everything I despised in a face all wrapped into one person. The weeds begin looking similar too. Each unique yet comprised of my hate.
I stopped sitting with them after that. I went where I was loved and admired, but always catching myself staring in the direction of that lunch table. They were all so close. So confused. Yet still happy.
The boys I sat with were thrilled at my presence, but like I said in the beginning, I never had the most eccentric personality. Somehow, I got more boring as the days went on. Sometimes I just wanted to sit alone. The next month I had dated around quite a few guys and simply was not exciting anymore to them. I think I caused some fights too, friends don’t seem to like it when their friends have kissed the same girl they were just about to date. So I moved to a group of junior guys and befriended them. The cycle repeats. It gets old.
I see David and Ramona dating now. He just cannot see what I see. I tried so hard to make him see, and it just didn’t work, so I started drawing her body too. Slowly contorting it over time. The year is nearly over though. I nearly forgot about that group of weeds, there isn’t much of an update with them. 2 of them stopped coming to school all together, and the rest avoid me like the plague. I feel like they know I have something to do with their situation, it’s all too coincidental but I don’t really care. The only problem I have at hand is Ramona.
Then genius struck me. What if I slowly contorted her neck, just twisted it each day until it… breaks? If David couldn’t see the truth, I would simply be able to take the option away from him. I contemplated this for a few days. Tunnel vision again, I just can’t keep my eyes away from the appalling act being committed before me. She is everything I deemed ugly in one, yet she still has that smile on her face. She knows she’s getting to me, and that’s why she guilt trips David into staying, because she knows I could have him if she just let him go. That’s why she keeps up this charade, just to taunt me with something I cannot effect. So I think I’m going to set David free.
I drew out that first step of my plan. Her neck is ever so slightly twisted, but to this day I am taunted with that image on my iPad. Looking back on it, I don’t know what possibly went through my mind to take that drastic step, heck, I don’t even know if it ever worked. On my way to school that following morning, I hit a deer. Stupid thing died, but unfortunately I didn’t. My car veered into a tree off the road at about 35mph, leaving my hands unrecognizably scrambled from glass and a lot of scaring on my arms. But my face. I was left with a scar on my lip. Deformed it a bit. Not a lot. But it was just ugly. The thought just haunted me, “I can be prettier than this, I know I can.” After leaving the hospital about a week later, my hands were in casts. A month later and I still couldn’t feel them. You would think I would have given myself time to heal, given the doctors told me I would probably never regain full motor control of my hands. But I didn’t believe that, hence why I decided to pick up my pencil after days of staring at myself in the mirror. Ugly. I took the most recent drawing of myself off my iPad and started editing it, I figured I could do that much. But I screwed it up, I really did, and I just couldn’t fix myself. I couldn’t draw exact enough. I remember the panic after realizing the gravity of what I had just done. The anger I felt, the helplessness. I screamed for hours into the night, I nearly broke my iPad trying to fix my face over and over again. I must have passed out from the exhaustion.
I woke up the next day to someone ugly looking back at me in the mirror. I couldn’t even recognize myself, I remember I wept for hours. I tried drawing again and again and again and nothing prevailed.
It’s been about 2 years since that took place. My hands never recovered, they still shake and some of my fingers are stuck in curled positions. Maybe one day physical therapy or surgery will progress to a point of saving them. The amount of hours I’ve spent staring in that stupid mirror. I shattered it after a few months. I was a recluse for nearly a year after the accident happened, until my mom forced me to apply for college. I forgot that I never even mentioned my mom before. You would think a parent would notice you face changing, but not mom. She was blind.
Now im in a community college, don’t know what I’m doing though. Maybe business. Like I said before, I have no defining traits or skills. Not anymore. I’m open to suggestions.
I figured since you guys read my previous story, you are wondering what happened to Ramona and David. I don’t completely remember what I wrote, I found it in my notes app the other day, but I really don’t want to read it again. I feel like sharing my story anonymously will give me a sense of peace, maybe someone will take a life lesson from it or something. I’m still angry, but it’s hard to tell if it’s directed at my peers or myself. Maybe both. I was thinking about Ramona the other day though, and I found out her and David are engaged, I saw it on instagram. I could fix her though. Draw her and fail as I did with myself. She could become beautiful again. She still posts pictures though. Happy, unashamed. She even praises God now. That almost baffles me more than why David stayed with her. Still feels like she is taunting me through the screen, preying on my reaction to her success. But maybe she was genuine that whole time, maybe she really did like me. I guess no matter what I do, she will be happy with her prince.
I can’t help but stare at her face though. It’s always been so eerie to me, but now I know why. It looks like me.
A routine ‘lidar’ scan of the planet surface uncovered the ruins of an unknown civilization, hidden in the Amazon rainforest. The dense canopy of undergrowth had camouflaged the abandoned city for more than four thousand years. There it remained obscured until the geo-mapping technology ‘saw’ through the lush fabric of vegetation. The wealth of partially-visible architectural work spurred archeologists to investigate.
I headed the expedition.
We knew precisely where it was. Getting to the location was the challenge. There wasn’t an airport or landing strip within eighty miles of the remote spot. There were no towns or native villages nearby. The jungle had reclaimed the once-thriving city as its own. It was as far ‘off the map’ of as any other point in civilization. We organized a rugged team of experts and raised funding through numerous scientific and educational institutions. Interest was incredibly high, as was the cost of mounting the ambitious project. The heavy equipment alone needed to get us there was over ten million dollars.
Finding qualified personnel to bring aboard was another hurdle. There were numerous archeologists ready to jump at the opportunity, but we also needed industrial drivers and trained equipment operators. Someone had to bulldoze us a road to the site, but have enough finesse and tact with the huge earthmovers, backhoes, and excavators to be ‘delicate’ where it counted. We needed cooks, laundry people, doctors, carpenters, and every other occupational expert it required to build a mobile village in the middle of a jungle. That detail is very important to this story.
Staging and planning are crucial to any project of this size. They call it ‘the rainforest’ for a reason. There are usually a few brief, seasonal respites from the torrential downpours. It didn’t matter if we assembled the perfect team to excavate this lost civilization, if they were at risk of drowning from swollen rivers or unrelenting precipitation. We had to be in place during the ‘dry season’ and work long, hard hours when we could.
The infrastructure had to be perfect.
Based on weather predictions and the best planning we could orchestrate, my team launched the project right on the target date. I was quite proud that everything feel precisely into place. The dig site and our camp took shape so quickly I could hardly believe it. The sights, sounds, and fragrant scents of the jungle were simply captivating. I couldn’t wait to dig into the rich virgin soil, and introduce the world to a long-forgotten chapter of history.
It was incredibly thrilling to realize what important work we were about to embark upon. The road, housing, sanitation, medical station, and food storage units were set-up and ready. A few minor ‘squabbles’ occurred between members of the team but any time you assemble complete strangers in a remote, hostile environment; tempers are bound to flare. Those hiccups were minimal, and easily navigated.
Almost immediately, we realized the architecture was drastically different from other prehistoric Latin American cultures. So much so, it was startling. This civilization predated the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan, and Incan societies by roughly a millennia, yet their building style and tolerances nearly rivaled modern standards. Laser measuring devices on their square surfaces and archways showed little more than a millimeter of inconsistency! If nothing else, that metric spoke volumes about them.
I’d seen a few photographs from the advance scouting team which were exciting, but to witness the massive, vine-covered buildings jutting out of the hillsides, offered another degree of ‘wow’. It was fascinating to see evidence of an advanced people who last lived there during the Stone Age. It begged the question: ‘What happened to them?’ We didn’t know, but hoped to solve that and many other mysteries.
Our landscaping experts cleared the foliage around the camp so we could get to work. It was painstakingly slow but eventually we had a baseline to start the process. As soon as our tools pierced the organic soil, the removal of centuries of sediment and debris revealed exciting new details. We quickly understood the area in need of clearing was much greater than what we’d allowed for. I instructed the deforestation crew to expand the perimeter outward by a quarter mile. In the end, even that wasn’t enough.
Surface evidence soon revealed the ruins stretched far beyond our original estimates and projections. It occurred to the chief field archeologist that our excavation could actually be multiple smaller city states, which had grown together. Details discovered later however refuted his overlap theory. Our dig site was possibly the largest prehistoric city of the Bronze Age; eclipsing the impressive populations of Ur, Uruk, and Athens.
We were in for a shock when we surveyed the scale of the dwellings. The archways, ceiling clearance, and high window openings suggested a race of abnormal behemoths. The thing about that was, many buildings in prehistoric times were constructed out-of-proportion with their physical needs. It was driven by excessive pride and vanity. The relative size of the structures themselves didn’t prove anything conclusive. We knew that, but the highly unusual skeletal remains we unearthed soon after, certainly did.
At a time when the average adult human was barely five feet tall, the bizarre remains pulled from the royal cemetery all had oblong skulls and elongated features. The shortest of them would’ve stood over seven feet tall! Incredibly, the children were exceptionally lanky as well; based on numerous deformed femur specimens we uncovered. With unfused cranial sutures and a lack of adult teeth, they died before puberty. Regardless, they were exceptional in height too. It was apparently a society of malformed giants.
To say we were ‘troubled’ would’ve been an understatement. Our chief biologist theorized there might’ve been rampant inbreeding within the royal family population, or pituitary tumors causing abnormal giantism. The puzzling growth deformities were consistent across the ‘upper class’ remains in the royal gravesite; and made up the majority of the bones we discovered. A handful of normal-height skeletal exceptions were located interred in a mass grave, elsewhere. Their ‘pauper’ burials indicated they were ‘lower class citizens’; and had been discarded with a cold, haphazard indifference. It was a total paradox to the abnormally developed individuals carefully placed in their memorial tombs.
Our puzzling discovery of deformed Bronze-Age giants might’ve been unparalleled, but that was only the beginning. The team found strange tool relics at the dig sites which had no clear purpose. Their impressive artifacts pointed to an advanced culture of craftsmanship. That much was certain. Even among the leaders of the ancient world, we soon realized this lost Amazonian tribe possessed a higher level of technical knowledge than their contemporaries. In some ways, what we discovered came close to rivaling our modern capabilities.
Ornate sigils and pictographs donned the stone palace walls we processed. Our resident linguist recorded the cryptic characters and diligently worked to decipher them. His video footage and still photographs were uploaded to the university computer lab for artificial intelligence analysis. Luckily, we had a secure satellite link to fast-track the process. I’d hoped for at least a partial translation in order to learn more about our long absent ‘hosts’, but those things can take years. I wasn’t holding my breath.
Sometimes an old language is never unraveled. I didn’t expect results during the primary dig season but hoped for some insight to the basic characters. However, with the advent of supercomputers and specialized software, faster results CAN happen. In our case, the basic language was partially broken in three days! As amazing as that was, I wish I could’ve been more thrilled with the benefits of the technology. Like an unwanted storm cloud overhead, the unpleasant things we learned from the translation completely darkened my mood.
I didn’t want to believe any of it at first. I thought their ‘written history’ inscribed on the town square walls was merely creative mythology. I didn’t think they actually believed they came from another solar system, or that their species enslaved the human race in order to EAT THEM. It read like morbid tales from a batty grandmother, entertaining her unruly grandchildren. Unfortunately, it went a long way in explaining the mass burial pit of normal human bones. It was getting harder by the minute to dismiss the craziness we’d recently uncovered, as simply the handing-down of grisly folklore to the next generation.
According to the inscriptions, they called their people: the ‘Nee Phi Lem’; as closely as we could pronounce it. Finally we had a name for the culture, but I was hesitant to share that with the investors. Some required regular updates on our progress because they intended to develop television specials. Others intended to open a museum wing with exclusive artifacts from our excavations. Regardless of their interest in the project, all the investors expected a financial return on their investment.
They were expecting another Aztec-like culture. Human sacrifice aside, the Aztecs were practically ‘boy scouts’ compared to these, seven-foot-tall cannibal ghouls. None of the sponsors would be too thrilled to learn the ‘Nee Phi Lem’ were freakishly tall, had elongated skulls and torsos, and believed they were space aliens. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they prided themselves in enslaving humanity as their primary food source. Those ‘bullet points’ were probably going to be a little bit too dark, for primetime television.
I sent photos of the stonework and general progress reports, to stall for time. That seemed to keep them satisfied. I didn’t dare reveal we’d translated some writing inscriptions and stumbled upon a bizarre ‘history’ of the ‘Nee Phi Lem’ tribe. That, and unknown devices of questionable origin buried in the ruins. The further down we went, the stronger the evidence appeared. I didn’t want to entertain the completely ‘bonkers’ idea of an extinct Amazon race being from another planet, but the growing list of details we’d compiled about them was definitely compelling.
We were all thinking it, but none of us dared say it out loud. In this business, such an outrageous claim would lead to academic and career suicide. The laser-like precision of their building construction, their highly abnormal skeletal remains, and the unknown cache of tools we unearthed added significantly to those worries. My dig Foreman Mark Davis, took me aside. He obviously wanted to show me something, but was hesitant to do so. I told him whatever he had to share was confidential and safe with me. That reassured him so he led me to the object of his concern.
In the center of the buried city, his team had excavated down to a new level within the ruins. A large tarp covered the area of focus, in what we knew to be the royal palace. I looked at him for an explanation. He scanned my face to make sure I was ready to inspect whatever was under there. Then he motioned for me to crouch to the side. For what reason, I couldn’t begin to imagine. The build-up was killing me. At that point I figured ANYTHING was possible. For the museum’s sake, I hoped it was some golden, bejeweled artifact they could proudly display.
He removed the tarp slowly. I thought he was doing it to enhance ‘the big reveal’. The truth was, he knew what was under there. I didn’t. He realized every single person on Earth’s life was about to change, as soon as I saw the terrifying thing it covered up. At first, I couldn’t follow what I saw. It was just too disturbing to comprehend. For lack of a better description, there was a huge stone ‘frame’ under the covering. It was almost like a crude, ‘large screen TV’, except the edges went all the way to the ground.
The matrix ‘screen’ inside this border frame was partially opaque to the eye and shimmered like a liquid reflection. It became obvious the device we’d uncovered, broadcast footage of another world! One where the ‘Nee Phi Lem’ obviously lived. The skies were purplish green. There were at least three moons visible in the horizon. Worse still, It seemed likely it was LIVE footage. For the first known time in roughly four thousand years, an extraterrestrial of their species was witnessed by human beings, in living form.
It walked by the screen, completely unaware of our discreet observation. I guess the view on their side had been blocked by tons of debris for so long, it became ‘invisible’ to them. They were so hideous, I gasped out loud. We’d accidentally opened a window into another world which definitely needed to be closed. Pronto.
The foreman visibly cringed. He held his finger to his mouth in the universal symbol of: ‘Shhhhh! Be quiet! They’ll hear us!’ I’d assumed it was a one-way monitor. His reaction suggested it was actually a two-way, mutual feed. I shivered at the thought and backed away. We simultaneously grabbed both sides of the tarp and covered it again before we were spotted by one of them. In what I could only assume was a bloody, protracted battle with our human ancestors, the frame had been closed, four thousand years ago. They must’ve burned the alien city to the ground and destroyed it in revolt.
Unknowingly, we’d dug it back up and potentially exposed ourselves to the same bloodthirsty humanoids who killed people for food! After we were far enough away to speak freely, I asked Davis how many others in his crew knew about the ‘Nee Phi Lem’ two-way monitor. His reply lit a fire under me, AND chilled me to the bone at the same time.
“Three of my crew members were present. Trust me, they’re just as traumatized about this revelation as we are. I swore them to secrecy but who could keep a secret like that? Far more importantly though, it’s not a ‘monitor’. It’s actually an open portal between worlds. Did you smell that awful stench? That came from their planet as the wind blew toward us. During the uncovering of the relic edges, I witnessed some lizard-like creature crawl from its side, to ours. I know about reptiles. This wasn’t an organism from the Earth. I smushed the thing immediately with my boot but there’s absolutely nothing to stop anything else from coming through that damn portal.”
My knees buckled. I looked at him in disbelief. He was ‘serious as a heart attack’ and I knew he was telling the truth. I had caught a whiff of their foul wind when we observed the portal. It smelled of carnage and death. I didn’t want that fate again for humanity. There was only one thing I could think to do, to stop it from happening and it had to be done IMMEDIATELY. Even cross contamination of other alien species was a risk I wasn’t willing to accept. We had to move!
I called a mandatory meeting with all my staff members. I suspect many of them thought I was going to make an announcement about our ‘incredible success’ in excavating the dig site. Boy where they in for disappointment. I tried to imagine their reactions to being told murderous aliens had built the prehistoric city we were rapidly unearthing. It started as the career opportunity of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want to help uncover a previously unknown Amazonian tribe? Unfortunately I was about to crush their hopes and dreams. It was of paramount importance for us to DESTROY EVERYTHING we’d accomplished. All in the essential goal of preventing them from ever coming back.
The thing is, news travels fast. Davis’ crew members had already blabbed the facts, and those recipients shared it with others, exponentially. I think anyone, biologist or not, who saw the massive deformed bones we pulled from the graves knew something wasn’t ‘right’. The carpenters realized no ordinary group of human beings could’ve constructed the structures. It wasn’t a huge leap to accept we’ve unearthed things better left buried.
Contrary to the doubts I expected from my outlandish, but 100% true statement, the entire team was ‘on board’ with what we had to do. This was bigger than any of our egos. In the initial interview process, I asked each prospective member about their unique qualifications and interests. Earlier, I mentioned how that was pertinent. Let me explain. Hervé de Lacroix had worked as a demolition expert. While he specialized in controlled construction explosions for the tunnel industry, he was also more than qualified to blow this dangerous gateway, back to hell.
Our nutritionist Molly Stone, is also a graphic artist, and a damn fine one. I’ve seen her work. It’s spectacular, but that’s not what I needed from her. I wanted her to create semi-believable FAKE photoshop files of the artifacts and ruins. I wanted things to appear as if the entire expedition was a hoax to mislead the investors. Only an obvious portfolio of convincing but manipulated ‘fakes’, would prevent some other organization from coming back to the ruins in the future, to undo our necessary razing of it.
Hervé wired the portal with enough dynamite to obliterate a mountain. Molly went to work on the next set of investor proof photos. It must have been a challenge to take real photos of the alien city walls, and twist them enough with imaging software so they looked like poor digital forgeries. She towed the line between authentic, and ‘I don’t think that’s real’, very, very well. Her manipulated images would cause an immediate investigation into our remote project.
Before anything else could creep or climb through that portal between worlds, we blew it to ‘kingdom gone’. Hervé rigged the bank of explosives masterfully, so the sides of the walls caved-in on themselves. Then we used our fleet of heavy equipment to bury the remnants even deeper than it had been before. There were no walls left standing, and all the alien devices were destroyed and buried under tons of rubble. In all, our efforts made it so no future satellite scan would pick up any remnants of the lost ‘Nee Phi Lem’ civilization. Fingers crossed.
The faked images worked like a charm! I was summoned back to the U.S. to explain the ‘photographic inconsistencies’. I’m not much of an actor but I think I pulled it off well. I had to ‘confess’ in court proceedings to conspiracy of defrauding investors of millions. My career as an eminent archeologist is over, but obviously some things are more important than fame or glory. I took full blame for everything. There was no sense in my fantastic team being dragged through the legal system. Hopefully they can still get work in their chosen fields. Regardless, none of us will ever forget the danger of what lies in the shadow of the ruins.
As a research scientist for a large tech company, I come across all sorts of strange things on this earth. The story below is probably the strangest experience I have had in my years of digging into the mysteries of our blue ball.
A few years ago, around Christmas, our explorer satellite system found strange energy readings in the Arctic Circle. While searching for the source, our team and military escort were faced with life-threatening blizzards. We were near when our scout radioed a fast object was headed our way. The military took no chances and fired on the object before seeing it clearly through the heavy snow.
There was a loud bang, and pieces fell from it as it veered and disappeared into the storm. We found strange parts: wood painted red, toys of all kinds, and a leather-covered book. The book’s cover was warm. Its thin, flexible pages were like metal. A pen-like metal cylinder was attached to the cover.
Nate, a team scientist, turned the pen over in his hand, wondering how to use it. He stood statue-still for a moment staring at the pen before screaming bloody murder. He dropped the pen and passed out; his expression was of sheer agony. I ran over immediately. One of his fingers had been cut off and cauterized, so no blood was lost, but we were a long way from the base.
It would be several hours before we could reattach it. I yelled for John to pack it in snow, place it in a specimen bag, and seal it. With luck, the cold would slow decomposition until a doctor could check it out. While John was busy, I examined the pen and the book. Had Nate activated a blade that sliced off his finger?
Picking the pen up carefully, I opened the book to an empty page. I placed the pen on the metal surface, ensuring the other end was pointed away from me in case I had it wrong. I made a mark with the pen. It left a neat line similar to a quill pen, with a faint trail of smoke from the metal. Astounded, I put the pen back in its holder while the rest of the team packed all the wreckage up. Finished, we headed back to our campsite.
We planned to get a medevac to the camp and hopefully save the finger. An hour's trip became two hours of plodding through bitterly cold, featureless terrain combined with a blinding blizzard. When we made it to camp, we headed to the food tent to refuel and warm up in the company of those sharing the cold misery of this place.
Jake, the medic, took Nate and his finger to the medical tent in hopes the medevac could get to us in this weather. I took the mysterious book to the food tent. From the food line, I grabbed some chops, pinto beans, and a roll and went to a corner, so I could look through this strange find. I noticed how light the book was and how flexible the pages were, though it was metal of some sort. But the most interesting part was what was on the pages.
It took a while, but thanks to my Oma, bless her heart, I saw this was old German. At first, I struggled, but as my memories of her lessons returned, I could read the writing.
On the inside cover was a name:
“This journal is the property and story of Nick Claus. May the one who reads it be enlightened.”
The 18th of June in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Tobias came to see me today. He wants me to join him on an expedition to the Arctic. His boss wants to be the first German expedition to make it to the arctic circle before Carl Koldewey’s expedition next year. It has only been a year since a maniac cut my poor Beth to ribbons while I was on a scientific journey. How can I go when she is no longer with me? My brother always gets what he wants, and this time will be no different. He swears this expedition is what I need to live again. Beth, how can I live again without you?
The 29th of June in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Here we are at last! After all the preparation and hard work, we are on our way. We sail on the Argona Marie. It is a fine ship with steam and sail power, so we should never be dead in the water during our trip. On our first morning of the trip, Tobias is up early. He is the first on deck from our team to keep himself busy with gear and help the crew with chores. Hard work keeps boredom at bay on the trip to the Arctic Circle. I hate admitting my brother was right, but it is good to be away from the tinker shop, no longer hiding in a house of memories and out in the world making new ones. I hope Beth is happy; I am trying to live again.
The 3rd of August in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Tragedy! Our trip was marred by tragedy today. Jason Moria, one of the crew, disappeared. No one saw him after his night watch ended. I saw him last having an intense conversation with my brother; Tobias said they discussed some cargo misplaced and found later in the day. Jason was experienced; it is hard to imagine he fell off the ship. Strange lights were seen in the sky, with an incredible Aurora Borealis display continuing until daylight. Beth, I hope you are watching over us from the Lord's domain.
Rohan Petiv interrupted my reading. “Chris, the samples from today….”
“Yes, Rohan?” I hoped he would hurry. I needed to keep reading this history, recorded on something from the future.
“We can’t run any tests on them. I don’t know how the military damaged it; we can’t cut the sample. It isn’t wood, never mind its look.” He checked his clipboard of notes. “You could get the toys at any store; there’s nothing unusual to them. But every time we try to scan or cut a piece of ‘not wood’, the camp guards report lights in the sky.”
“Are you saying we were followed?” I tried to focus on Rohan, but the open book called me. “Don’t tell me you’ll think the sample is calling a UFO?”
His face was red. “I'm just reporting our observations.” I guess I pushed a button, insinuating his theory was hogwash. “The military is jumpy. They even shot at the helo. They blamed the snow for low visibility.”
“OK, OK, tell them to be careful.” I sighed. “Look, you may be on to something, but keep the theories between us, until the data is verified.” My eyes looked at the journal; it called to me. “Keep me informed; keep everyone calm. I’m deciphering the book right now; it may have information on what is going on; interruptions don’t help.”
“Ok, Chris. SORRY to interrupt YOUR research.” Rohan was pissed at being dismissed.
Deciphering this journal could tell us when and what countries first came to the Arctic. I had to justify the addicted feeling I had when not reading it.
The 15th of August in the year of our Lord, 1866.
My journal keeping has been erratic these days. My daily watching for new animals on the ice, fishing, and being a lookout for icebergs keeps me busy. The Aurora Borealis is brighter than we have seen yet! There were lights in the sky again, more of them than before when Jason went missing. Some lights came near the ship and went below the surface of the ocean. The crew is spooked and wants to turn back, but Captain Jericho is keeping them in line for now… Tobias seems fearful of the lights. He will not talk and gets angry if I attempt to discuss it. Beth could always get Him to talk when he was like this.
The 1st of September in the year of our Lord, 1866.
The ice has grown thicker; we are not sure how far we can go before turning back. If we get stuck in the ice, we could be crushed. The cold is painful, limiting how long we can be on deck and not get frostbite. In the depths of the ship, with our boilers and stoves running as hot as we can push them, warmth still eludes us. Our heavy clothing weighs on our bodies and our spirits, causing emotions to run high. Episodes of malaise are affecting many of us. I worry about Tobias. Beth, I still miss you.
The 15th of September in the year of our Lord, 1866.
We lost another man! This time someone else was on deck and saw a shadow run behind Nordric and stab him. Nordric was a blond giant descended from Vikings. He was a rough soul and seemed to enjoy run-ins with the others on board. These fights were becoming more frequent as everyone is on edge from the visits by the lights. Someone stabbed him and used the falling snow and strange shifting lights to hide in as they pushed him over, then disappeared. Everyone is panicking and pointing fingers at each other. Tobias believes it is the person who’s been whispering mutiny. We are pushing hard against the ice flow now, and it is slow going. This death is not helping keep the men in line. Beth, what have I gotten myself into?
The 3rd of October in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Mutiny! After a brief skirmish, our men and loyal crew were able to retake the ship. Three of the mutineers were killed. We lost George, one of our botanists. He will be missed; he was a good man. The captain has set them adrift as bait for the lights, so we can get a closer look. Tobias is livid. I’ve never seen him so mad; I hope he can get control. I killed a man. Beth, are you upset with me?
An explosion pulled me to the present. I marked my place in the journal, jammed it in my pocket, got into my arctic wear, and ran outside. Major Johnson ran towards me, backlit by roaring flames where the helipad markers used to be. It looked like the remains of a Snow Cat within the inferno.
“Sir,” he nodded. “I guess you heard the latest run-in with our friend out there?” He was calm for someone in his situation.
“Is that one of our Snow Cats, Major?” I pointed behind him. “And if so, how, uh….”
“Yes sir, whatever it was, came in fast and dropped a coal-like object. Everything the coal touched burst into flames.” He looked back and into the sky. “One of our long-range radios was hit; it melted into slag on contact.”
“Injuries?” I touched where the journal sat in my pocket. It was unnaturally warm, even through the arctic wear. It was hard to focus on my job.
“No, sir,” Johnson shook his head. “Close calls from debris. Nothing a Band-Aid won’t fix.” At that moment, light once again buzzed the camp. A tent at the edge of the camp exploded. Johnson blinked. “The fuel depot for vehicles and some generators,” he growled.
“Major, you have to stop that thing before someone gets hurt or killed!” I stared at the blaze consuming the fueling tent. “Or we freeze from lack of fuel for the generators.”
“Yes, sir. We will do our best.” He turned and left.
I decided my own tent was more private than the food tent. The journal pulled at me. I had no reason to ignore its call. Inside my tent, I settled into my cot and started reading again.
The 30th of October in the year of our Lord, 1866.
So much has happened since the last time I wrote in my journal. The mutineers were put adrift on an ice flow. We gave them a raft and provisions for a month if they rationed. One of the men was a map reader, so we copied directions from our coordinates to the nearest island off Greenland’s coast. The mass of ice was headed toward that island. They would make it long before they ran out of fuel for a fire and food. I know this sounds cruel, but it was better than what maritime law would have done to them: death by hanging from a mast.
The lights showed after dark, 10 minutes after we had set the men off the ship. A bright beam from one of the lights illuminated the flow of ice. As the men screamed for mercy, they disappeared into the light. The raft and rations went with them. It was a horrible experience and one I hope we do not go through again. The next day, the ice seemed thicker than before, and we slowed to almost no forward speed. With the sails at full and the steam engine at max thrust, we inched forward.
As the days dragged on, we carved a path ever north until we broke through that accursed ice flow. Ahead of us was open water with some icebergs dotting the scene before us. A new watch was set to look for icebergs as we sailed northward. Tobias, as usual, is the first to volunteer for this cold duty. Today we spotted what looked like land or more ice; it is hard to know for sure. Beth, do you know what awaits us at the North Pole?
The 10th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866
Disaster has come to our expedition, and I fear we are all doomed. This new land was sheets of ice as far as one could see. Rivers of slush flowed from some distant source, so we sailed into the mouth of one of those weird rivers. For a few days, it was normal sailing, like sailing a deep river. Quickly we found the way narrowing and ran aground on an ice shelf before we could turn the ship.
We unloaded sleds and dog teams and set out in scouting parties to see if it widened again. We found it narrowed to nothing, no more than a mile away. The captain had the engine room reverse the propeller and attempt to back off the ice ledge we had hit. The steel-lined keel had bit deep into the ice, and the ship was not going to move without more help. We ran lines from the fore and aft of the ship, all hands pulling as the ship reversed engines.
Lights lit the sky as we struggled to haul the ship free. Snow was falling, and the cold air became painful as the surrounding temperature dropped. Between the weather change and the things in the sky, we were getting spooked. The ship slipped loose the bonds holding it and floated free again, but it was for naught.
The drop in temperature had the way back frozen solid in minutes. All we could do was hope for warmer temps tomorrow and try to reverse course. The night was subzero, and our little swathes of man-made warmth became smaller. Tobias has taken to walking the deck at night, looking for the lights. I checked on him when I could to make sure he was warm. Beth, will we make it home? This place was never meant for man.
The 11th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Writing keeps me sane, so I must capture all the spectacles that we are a part of. More lights are in the sky. It is midday, but the cloud cover is keeping the temperature low and the ice frozen. The clouds are dark and angry, with flicks of lightning galloping back and forth like Hermes traveling between the gods. The crew is a superstitious lot, like most seamen, and are performing old maritime customs to ward against the supernatural. The ice is still frozen behind us, and a blizzard is all around us.
Tobias is altering between manic activity and watching the lights spin around us in the sky. I hope tomorrow is a better day. I do not know how long we can keep our sanity in this environment. Beth, one more day in this icy hell might be one day closer to you in heaven.
Screams in the night dragged me back from getting lost in this window to the past. Rohan ran toward me as I rushed out of my tent. He yelled something before his head went one way and his body another. The dislodged head rolled towards me. Blood pounded in my ears as my eyes followed the trail of blood from head to body. Blood still pumped out of his neck. I could not look away.
A nightmare appeared behind Rohan’s body. White skin stretched over the outlines of bone, muscle, and sinew, topped by the face of a horned demon. It crouched like it had defied God and was now hiding to escape his holy wrath. It held a staff with a blade glowing and crackling with energy.
The journal grew warmer, uncomfortably so, the closer the nightmare got. When it was within striking distance, it froze. Something in my brain screamed for me to run. I tried to move, but all I could do was raise my hands in defense, still clutching the journal. I expected to lose my head, like poor Rohan. The creature stared at the front of the journal. It screamed a horrible growling roar and ran off at unbelievable speed, leaving me untouched.
Johnson ran up from the north of the camp. In shock, my legs fought to keep me standing.
“Are you ok, Sir?” Johnson gave me a brief look over and saw Rohan’s head. “OH, GOD! The poor bastard.”
Everything was in slow motion. I was dimly aware of Johnson calling our medic. After what seemed like an eternity, a few soldiers and Jake arrived. While the soldiers bagged Rohan’s parts, Johnson and Jake led me to the medical tent.
“What kept the creature from killing you?” Johnson was intrigued by my survival, but I was too numb from shock to talk. “He mutilated all of Rohan’s team and, as you saw, chased Rohan out of the specimen tent, and well…”
I looked at him and gestured with the book I still held. “It was afraid of this, I think.”
“A book? That thing was afraid of a book?” Johnson eyed the journal. “Is it dangerous?”
“It's been in my possession since we found it out there.” I pointed toward the location of our last expedition. “Seems like it’s more of a danger to it than to us.”
“OK. Keep it close. And stay inside until we kill that thing!”
“Don’t worry. I am going back to my tent when Jake gives the all-clear. I’ll keep researching this for answers.” Jake gave me a thumbs-up.
Johnson followed me out into the snow. He escorted me, gun drawn, to my tent and left once he saw I was “safe” in my tent. I opened the journal and found my place. Before I lost myself in the stories again, I was craving this book like an addict craves a drug. Was I in over my head? Feeling foolish, I delved back into the book’s entries.
The 25th of November in the year of our Lord 1866.
I have not written recently because nothing happened since my last entry. We’re still stuck and spend our days trying to survive the intense cold and find ways to stay sane as we try different ideas to get us out of this mess. All of this while the lights swooped ever closer to our ship day and night. But last night, this all changed when one of the lights hovered over us like a hummingbird at a flower. Its bright glow dimmed, and we could make out what hounded us was a machine, a metal cocoon hanging motionless over us.
Flames shot out of the side of the flying metal machine. For a moment, the thing was like an iron dragon, spouting fire over us. Wobbling like a drunken sailor on weekend leave, it slowly moved off in a northern direction. As it moved away from us, it also grew dimmer. The blizzard covered its movements, and we lost sight of it.
After a few minutes, a loud roar reached us, and a bright glow bloomed in the night like a mushroom growing in the direction the metal beast had staggered. Not long after, a horrible hot wind hit us and threw gear and people around like a child stomping through a pile of leaves. Tobias sprained an ankle as pieces of debris shot from their place of rest like arrows by this hell-spawned wind. Tomorrow, after we tend our wounds and gather the scattered camp equipment, we will hunt for our elusive harasser and find what fate has befallen the iron dragon. Beth, what is happening here? Has some supernatural monster come to roost in the Arctic?
The 26th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866.
As dawn broke, our people stirred and prepared for our expedition. We found some of us were taken with a strange sickness, leaving them weak and loose of bowel. Some had high fevers and lost hair as well. Energized and ready to leave, I showed no sign of illness. Tobias was ready as well.
He gathered those of us who were still well enough, and with our boss Jeram’s blessing, we proceeded north. We left with enough supplies and tents to find this thing, as long as we traveled no more than three or four days. We prepared the sleds and dog teams and headed toward the glow still in the sky. After five hours, we were thirty miles north of our ship, looking for a campsite for the first day.
By dark, we had established our camp. The temperatures were dropping fast, and more snow moved in, but blessedly it looked not to be another blizzard. One of our archaeologists, Harem Knowl was puking around midnight; shortly after, he lay dead. Whatever plague befell our people was fast and lethal. We could all be dead before we return home. Beth, how long before this invisible plague kills us all?
The 27th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866.
This morning we buried Harem and broke camp. We pushed hard to take our minds off his death and get this trip over with before we all fell to this illness. Tobias is in a strange mood today. He jumped on one of the guys for taking extra time to relieve himself during a break. My brother never acts like this, and I worry he may be feeling sick or too stressed over our situation. We covered another thirty miles today before we stopped for the night. We are not sure how far we have to go yet. The glow in the night is still as bright and does not seem to get any closer. Beth, will I wake tomorrow to find I am next?
The 28th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866
Oh God, what has happened to everyone? I awoke and found more sick and dead among our people. Now it’s just Tobias and me. Something is wrong; I found two people knifed to death, illness had not taken them. Did they kill each other?
No, it’s impossible. They were on opposite ends of the camp, and the wounds were fatal. Neither could walk away to die elsewhere. Who killed them? I know I did not. Tobias is again in a foul mood, not equal to our losing good people. He is not sad; he is mad like something inside has twisted and is showing itself. He yelled at me over my curiosity at the deaths of the two men.
I hope I am wrong, and he isn’t the killer. Maybe someone else is following us out in the white? We buried the others and marked their graves, so we could carry them back on the return trip. My Brother would not entertain the idea of turning around, so we have traveled thirty-five miles today. I could hear him muttering to himself all day, and am fearful for his sanity at this point. Beth, Tobias is acting strange. I wish you were here to help me get him to confide in me.
The 29th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866.
Last night, I heard something crunching in the snow. After quietly loading my pistol, I went out into the night. I could not see anything in the range of my lantern, and Tobias was asleep when I checked on him. Maybe an animal walked through, hopefully not one of the big white bears we saw as we sailed here. As I headed back to my tent, I saw a white flash behind my brother’s tent. I went investigating but found nothing.
I returned to my tent and tried to sleep. I'd just entered Sandman's realm when someone entered the tent. Wearily, I opened my eyes. Through the haze of sleep, I made out my brother standing over me, knife in hand. Startled by this nightmare, I jumped up from the cot. Cold air came from the open tent flap.
Was it a dream? Or something more sinister? Day came, and we once again journeyed north, following the glow of the unearthly object. How can I look my brother in the eye when I believe him to be a murderer? Beth, Tobias is my brother; how can he be evil?
I heard Major Johnson outside, so I opened my tent flap a crack. Johnson rushed in like the world was on fire, and my tent was the last safe place.
“It’s back, hovering over the camp, watching us,” he said excitedly.
“Well, shoot it! This is why you are here.” My irritation turned to fear when he backed away, wild-eyed.
“We did! Most of my men are bloodstains in the snow!” He sank into a chair, exhausted. “I’m the only one left. We need to leave or give them back the damn samples!”
“Are you insane! Those specimens are the find of a century! The pieces will advance metallurgy hundreds of years!” Johnson launched from the chair and grabbed me as I tried to sit.
“How do you know what is important?” He yelled, shaking me. “All you’ve done is read this book since we got back! Instead of reading it, take it out there and throw it as far as you can! It is out there waiting for you to finish, so it can kill us all, including you!”
“Let go, you ass. I'm your superior. I say what happens here, and you best not forget it.” He dropped me but continued to glare, his face inches from mine. “Now get out, go keep this camp safe, or I’ll find someone who can.”
“You’ll get us killed. But I’ll protect your people the best I can. When the monster comes back, I'll point your tent out for it to find its possessions.” He stormed out, so I went back to reading.
The 30th of November in the year of our Lord, 1866.
This could be my last entry. Today, I’m devastated; Tobias has revealed his true self. As we made our way to the resting place of the metal craft from the sky, the more he became angry and unhinged. The closer we came to the resting place of the metal craft, the louder he mumbled to himself.
During a particularly loud rant, he let slip his true nature. He killed my Beth. He stabbed her with the knife he has also stabbed me with. I wrestled with him and almost got the knife from him before he stabbed me in the side. His madness made him strong, and he threw me off like I was nothing but a flea.
While I lay in the snow writhing with pain, he paced back and forth. Tobias raved about how she’d been too good for me, and her beauty was a trap he broke me out of. He spoke in madness, and now I see he was also the one killing off people during the trip. My brother always had a temper problem. I see now it was an illness.
This madness must have gripped my brother for a long time, and this strange trip pushed him off the edge he was on. His madness subsided, and he ran off into the snow. I write this after patching my wound as best I can, and I am proceeding with my sled to the craft. If I am to die here, I want my last breath while seeing wonders from the night sky.
The 1st of December in the year of our Lord, 1866.
I am here. I have found the sky craft. Tobias is following me. The wound aches, but I am still able to walk. Beth, be with me on my last adventure.
To my surprise, the next page was a video display. There was debris like an aircraft crash site, a dog sled, a man limping toward the camera, and another man sneaking up behind him. I could only assume this was Nick and Tobias, and the video was captured from the craft’s cameras.
The video switched to a different view. Nick limped to the machine while Tobias hid behind the debris. Though I knew he couldn't hear me, I wanted to warn Nick! Tobias jumped Nick, and they fell fighting. Nick managed to knock the knife from his brother’s grip. They struggled to grab it.
Nick managed to grab the ivory-handled instrument of death. He stabbed Tobias, rolled away from the writhing body, dropped the knife, and stood. Limping more than before, he reached the side of the ship. I could see bright white light pouring from a door as it opened. The view changed to the ship’s inside. Small gray and white beings watched Nick as he limped in. Off to the left, a woman walked toward him.
The beauty of the woman was like an angel from heaven. Nick looked at her in astonishment before he enveloped her in a hug. You could see surprise on her face before returning the hug. Sound poured from the book. They spoke German, so I translated below. Her speech sounded mechanical, like a translation program.
“I thought I lost you! Where have you been, Beth?” He said.
“I have always been here. Ah, I see! In your mind, you see me as your dead wife. I do resemble her, but I am not her.” The woman kept the sagging Nick from falling. “Come, I will take you to our medical center, where we will heal your wounds.”
They walked down the hall, followed by other beings. The camera flashed to the closing door as Tobias rolled inside. The alien woman and Nick walked to a room with a table in the center and a console along one wall. Everything was bright, clean, and blindingly white. I could only assume a sterile environment from the cleanliness.
“What happened? Why did you crash?” The woman looked sad.
She helped Nick on the table and turned to the console.
“We rescued those men you left, hoping to help them.” She touched the console, and arms unfolded from the ceiling above the table. “We didn't know you had left them because they were violent. They acted normal until we flew low, seeing if we could cut the ice for you. They attacked our pilots and damaged our controls as we hovered over your ship. They were killed by a blast of energy from a console they damaged. Our crash exploded a power generator. We barely shielded ourselves from more damage.”
As the arms worked on Nick, Tobias rushed in, intent on killing his brother. The knife hit one of the mechanical arms. A bright flash overwhelmed the camera. When it cleared, a nightmare scene appeared. The woman lay on the floor, motionless. Nick was transformed, shorter and thicker, almost armored looking.
But the real nightmare was standing front and center. It was the demon I saw. Horned head and white skin pulled over bone. I believe this was Tobias. The medbot must have malfunctioned and changed them. Tobias became the darkness in his soul, and Nick, well, I don’t know.
In the corner of the screen, the woman stirred, pulling something from a pocket. She aimed at Tobias, who screamed and fled. The camera followed as he headed deeper into the ship. Switching back, Nick stirred, and the alien woman examined him. In a language not of this earth, she sent the gray beings out in the hall. She handed Nick a red coat from a closet in the wall.
“Thank you, what has happened to me?” He looked in a mirror.
She shook her head, sadness tinging her beautiful features. “Your brother, in his madness, attacked you while the medbot healed your wounds.” She paused. A tear rolled down. “I am sorry… You and your brother have been changed. The robot glitched when his knife damaged a circuit. You are no longer fully human, Nicholas. You have been made immortal by the medbot, who has mixed DNA from our people into your cells. Armored skin is now part of you to protect from the creature your brother has become. It appears that your brother became what you call a Krampus out of his madness. That picture was in his mind when the machine overloaded, and it turned him into the image of that foul being.”
“You mean my brother is now a demon?” Nick looked bewildered by it all.
“Yes, and there is more. Your personality has been altered and will soon override your current state. There was a tumor in your brain, and the bot removed it. It was in the personality area of your mind and was responsible for your deep depression at times. Because of the damage by your brother, it could not equalize your emotions.” She looked back at the screen. “You will find yourself immensely joyful at times. As happy as you ever were depressed.”
“This is too much. I cannot take this. I need time to consider all of this.” Nick sat, and the woman – Beth – sat as well. “You look like her.”
“I am a hybrid. I have human and alien DNA in my body, the same as you.” Nick frowned, confused. She continued. “Your Beth may have been one of us living among you as a test.”
“DNA? Test?” even as a image, I could tell Nick was bewildered by her explanation.
“Oh yes, I forgot. Your science isn’t there yet.” She looked deep in thought. “It is the building blocks of your body; it determines how you look, among other things.”
“And I have this alien DNA in me now as well?” Nick asked.
"Yes. Your brother's ill-timed attack caused all kinds of changes to both of you we never intended.” A beep sounded, and I saw her look at her wrist. “This just gets worse! Your brother has taken a land craft and some of the Alona with him.”
The video stopped. What were the Alona?
More writing was on the next page. It looked like Nick’s, but with different timestamps.
24th of December 1867.
After a lot of adjustment, my new life has a purpose. Krampus, my brother, plots humanity’s destruction. The Alona are members of the white-skinned alien race that oppose the gray elves' ideas of peace with humans. Beth has helped me get used to the new abilities of my body. I can change shape, and nothing can puncture my skin. Our spy reported Krampus had found a way to corrupt already naughty children and use them to build his army.
He has a machine that moves a substance similar in shape to coal through the ether to them, and it takes over their mind and steals their soul. Luckily for us, its power supply is broken and takes a year to charge. Beth says the machine is a teleporter, and we have one to use against them. Going back to my ship, we found survivors. The ship was destroyed by ice, and the men were at the end of their supplies.
Beth and I made them believe in the danger the world was in, and we came upon a unique plan. As they return to Germany, they will spread Santa legends and warn the world about Krampus. One of the men is Oliver Kringle, a relative of my wife Beth and a hybrid as well. He had followed us, believing one of us was the murderer of his cousin. I hated to tell him how right he was.
Kringle? That's my last name, what the hell?
His anger over what Tobias did to Beth mirrored my own. His confusion over new Beth beside me was understandable. She has taken a liking to me, and I to her. I hope one day she will be my new Misses Claus. Kringle will lead the German contingent, getting Europe ready. Teams around the world will monitor the signal the teleporter leaves when used. I will teleport out a device to protect the children of the world.
To keep this device close to the children, we will use toys. Our equipment can detect the minds of good children and help protect them from Krampus’s poison. For the rest, we shall build a list and check it twice for naughty or nice children. I will visit each on Christmas night to prevent Krampus’s coal from stealing the children’s souls.
“So Santa is real? No way.” I continued to read in stunned silence.
25th of December 1868.
I saved many children tonight. Our toys went out to everyone we could detect and list. Beth is my manager. She keeps the elves working, building the toy disguises for our device to prevent Krampus’s coal from corrupting the world’s children. Elves have fixed the escape ship. They are launching to return home and bring us help before Krampus’s Alona figures out how to bypass our current device. I hope we can keep his efforts to destroy the world contained until they can return in a few hundred years.
25th of December 1939.
Krampus has the whole world at war. Men, evil and good, fight in trenches far from their homes. Krampus is gaining power. We have lost Kringle’s network. I am proceeding as usual and hope it is enough to prevent the apocalypse.
I know what happened. During WW2, my family fled Germany to America. My great, great, great-grandfather was killed, helping the rest escape from the Gestapo squads hunting Jews. He was an electronics genius who didn’t want his inventions used by Hitler.
Most of the entries after this are Claus repeating how they again stopped Krampus. But several entries have interesting information.
25th of December 2018.
The world is losing faith in Santa Claus. I spent a lot of this year finding new allies in the battle for the world. I found Kringle’s descendants, and one is like his ancestors. He will make a great leader of a new American team supporting our efforts against Krampus.
23rd of December 2019.
What is he planning this year? A strong energy signal is building. Human satellites will soon see these emissions. We have to stop them before it draws too much attention. Our elves are working hard to get toys ready for transport. The teleportation system is charging. The elves fueled the sled engines in case I needed to do reconnaissance.
24th of December 2019.
There is an exploration team out there in the snow. Beth pinpointed them today. I shall go in the sled to get a look at them.
The Journal stopped here because we shot at him.
My tent ripped open, Krampus, stood there growling. The bladed staff he killed Rohan with glowed, ready to take my head off. Shots rang out. I saw Johnson firing his rifle at Krampus as he advanced. Krampus turned and ran Johnson down with a roar, slicing his head from his body, which continued firing for a moment.
Krampus laughed. He advanced toward me, slicing the air with every step. I couldn’t move. He was going to kill me, and I couldn’t even lift the journal I still held. Behind me, something came to rest. Krampus stopped his blade just out of reach of my head.
“Hold Tobias! You shall not kill this man tonight.”
I unfroze and turned. A jolly fat man in red stood behind me.
He tapped his staff on the ground. “Chris Kringle, stand behind me. Krampus has no power here tonight.”
Growls came from behind the monster as miniature versions of him fanned out.
“Nick, you were always a fool. I killed your wife and our team, and if not for the mess with the healing room, I would have ended your miserable life as well. Curse you and your luck.” Krampus rushed Nick.
Sparks flew where Santa’s staff parried the demon’s blade. Nick pushed Krampus away like he was a ragdoll and swung his staff in the air. Lighting struck the miniature Krampuses. Tobias screamed in pain.
“Damn you, Nick, I will end you and the elves.” Krampus jumped and disappeared into a light swooping in from the clouds. Nick and I were alone. The camp was silent. Was I all that was left?
“Nicholas Claus, I read your book. I’m grateful for being saved, yet I have questions.” I held the book up. “Why did you mention my family name?”
“You know why, even if you will not admit it. Your ancestor was a hybrid like Beth.” He sat in an undamaged chair. “After the world war broke out, your great great great-grandfather moved his whole family to America. Only someone with enough DNA of the gray can operate gray technology. One of your great cousins had enough alien genes in him to help my work. We’ve made sure one of you with the ability would always be around to operate our detection systems.” He pointed to the book I was still holding out. “See? You can use our tech, or opening that book would have killed you.”
“You mean the owner of KTech Inc is a relative of mine?” I sat as well. “Why have I not been told I was related?”
Santa laughed. It was a jolly sound. “I am sorry, but there is much I cannot explain right now. Krampus may be back, and it will soon be Christmas. I must get you back to your main camp and return to send out the toys, so I can prevent the creation of those things you saw tonight.”
“Those were children?” I had a hard time not vomiting.
“No, they are created by the souls of children. A child’s soul is a powerful tool for my brother to use to create his army. We need to go.” He rose and touched my arm.
We were in his “sled,” which twelve mechanical reindeer were pulling, in a blink. Seconds later, we landed outside the main base, twenty miles away. His eyes twinkled. He put a finger to the side of his nose.
“Goodbye, Chris, we may meet again.” He pointed at the journal. “Keep it safe. One day, you may be called to carry on the fight. Advance knowledge will be helpful, I believe.” He pulled out another journal and touched it to the one I held. “I now have a backup, so I will not lose the information. It is important to always remember our humanity.” With a wink and a smile, his sled blasted into the night.
I heard him yell as he sped away. “MERRY Christmas to All and to All a Goodnight.”
I write this to let everyone know Santa is real, and so is Krampus. You better watch out. Krampus is coming for our children, and they better be nice so that Santa can protect them every Christmas night.
It had been two months since the accident. Where I lost everything. My wife Mia and our two children. I wish I had died with them, but fate had it, that I was the only one they could save. My family was buried under burnt rubble that had once been our house. It is unclear what caused the fire. Probably a cable. But whatever it was we noticed too late. I have been living with my parents since. They helped me gather myself during these horrible times.
Last week I decided to take a trip. Get away for a bit. I have been feeling better recently, but I just needed some time for myself. Before the birth of our children, Mia and I loved to travel up north to the alps. The mountains always provided such a calming ambience. The fresh air, nature, the sun. I knew it would have a soothing impact on me. Maybe I would even feel a bit closer to my family. Alleviate the pain.
I booked a room in a small hotel in Carinthia. Just across the border where I could still speak Slovenian with most people. Although my English is fine and my German is…enough, I still preferred to speak in my native tongue. I planned to stay for a week. I did not have much planned. I spent my first two days hiking. It felt so relieving. There were barely any people and it was quiet. I walked slowly, taking in the scenery. The colourful flowers, the smell of spring grass, the chirping of the birds. Yes, for a while there I felt at peace. Like the grief that had plagued me for these long two months was finally waning. I started to pray again. I am a religious person after all. And so was Mia. Although I was christian and she was jewish. Still, our religious lives were never separate.
But the fire certainly made me question some of my beliefs. It wasn’t until last week that I tried to connect with the Almighty again. He must have a plan after all. A plan that I cannot understand. And a plan I did not like. But a plan. And things will turn out good in the end.
On the third day, when I got to bed, I could not sleep. I was thinking about to much. Far too many things troubled my mind. The calmness of the last few days was gone and the sorrow came back and I cried. I cried for a good few minutes. Then I started to pray again. I only wanted one thing. To be with them again. Does not matter how.
An hour later, I still couldn’t sleep. I was just lying there. Awake. However now, my mind was empty. I looked outside the window. I could see the lights of the city and the moon shining above. The sky was clear. I don’t know why I decided that that would be a good idea, but I wanted to take a night walk. All the way up to the top of the mountain. I packed water and food and got on my way.
Walking at night was even quieter than in the day. Besides the occasional owl or the insects you could barely hear anything. As I was walking, I became really tired. But I did not want to turn back now. After a good two hour walk the trees slowly gave way to the meadow. A bit of a breeze came up and it was getting colder. I got higher and higher and the path got thinner. I got so high that I began to see snow. Meanwhile the wind grew stronger. I was freezing but I did not turn back.
And then, I was nearly at the top, it began to snow. But there were no clouds in the sky. I could see the stars clearly. In fact they were clearer than I had ever seen them. They were bigger and brighter and maybe even more. It seemed like they were looking down on me.
The snow on the ground became deeper and I stopped walking. I felt something. Some sort of presence. I looked up into the night sky again. Now the stars were even brighter. As bright as the moon. I turned around and behind me I noticed a dark human shape. In shock I stumbled back a bit.
The person came closer. They were clothed in a heavy black winter jacket and their face was hidden by a hood. In fact I am pretty sure there was no face. Just darkness.
Then I heard a deep voice call my name: “Jacob!” It was like it came from all around me. I was looking at the strange person but I felt like I was looking at the entire mountain. Like the being in front of me was much more than I could see.
“Who are you?”, I shouted through the wind. “You wish to see them again? Those that you lost?”, the voice asked. In confusion and fear I did not really know what to say. “Your prayers. You came into my home and you prayed that you may see them again.” I wasn’t really sure what was happening. “I…I…yes? I prayed to God…”
“You came to my home. In these mountains. I do not think anyone else heard you.” I didn’t say anything. Who was this? Some sort of spirit? “Do you want me to grant your wish?”, the being asked. I hesitated. “You can bring them back?” “I cannot bring them back. But I can show you where they are.” I slowly nodded. “Good. Then I will send you to Heaven.”
I looked up into the sky again. The stars seemed to be moving towards me and began to move in strange patterns. It was a bit dizzying so I looked down again. But all I saw was more stars. They moved faster and faster. I screamed, but I could not hear anything. The stars began to move so fast, that I couldn’t even make them out anymore. Everything around me was just flickering lights. Then it got hot. And I mean really hot. So hot as if every Atom in my body just fell apart. Hotter than the inside of a star. Hotter than anything in the universe. It lasted for only a very short amount of time. So short that even a second would feel like an eternity. Still I felt it.
I don’t know how much time had passed when I woke up again. I was lying in a field of grass. Above me was a blue sky with a few clouds and the sun. Or at least a sun. I was pretty disoriented. The field stretched as far as I could see. There were a few trees here and there. Flowers as well. But it was far from the alpine scenery I was in just a few moments ago. It was also very quiet. I walked to one of the trees and touched it. It felt normal. Everything felt normal. Too normal. As if I had been here once. As if I was…home? But that couldn’t be. Where was this place even?
The entire place had something strange about it. It wasn’t off. It didn’t feel unreal. It was strange because it was real. And it felt real. Somehow more real than Earth. I walked around for a bit. There were animals here. Ants, bees, butterflies. I even saw some birds. Everything I saw was something I knew from Earth.
I don't know for how long I walked. Hours, maybe a day even. Hard to say. The sun seemingly moved far slower here. I never got tired or exhausted. Nor was I hungry or thirsty. Only the environment got a bit boring after a while. Always the seemingly endless grass fields. Sometimes a hill. Sometimes a small patch of trees. But all in all, it stayed the same.
Then finally, I saw a building. It looked like a house next to a farm. It had a strange round shape. I looked inside the garden and I saw a woman. She looked towards me. “Ah Jacob. I was expecting you. Come in.” She opened the garden door. “Uh, hello.”, I said, “Where am I?” “Well did they not tell you?”, she asked. “By ‘they’ you mean that man in the mountains?” “Yes. They sent you here. The mountains. But you must have wanted it, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it.” “I…I did…The ‘mountains’ said they would send me to … to see my family.”
“Well then. Come in.” She went back inside and I followed her. The garden was full of plants. Flowers, Bushes, Trees. All sorts of fruits and vegetables. I followed her to the other side of the house to a little shed with a table and chairs outside. Inside the shed was what looked like a little bar. “Sit down.”, she said as she grabbed two glasses and filled them with juice. “So this is Heaven?”, I asked. “Well, kind of. But maybe not the sort of Heaven you think of. It is so much more than a human or even I could understand.”, she answered as she sat down, giving me one of the drinks. “But yes. Your family is here.” These words felt so good I can hardly describe it. “Really? Where are they?”
“One thing after the other.”, she laughed. “First I want to ask you, what do you think of this place? Do you like it here?” “It is quite peaceful. It seems safe. But it is a bit… monotonous. You know with grassfields as far as the eye can see. This building is the only thing standing out.”, I answered hoping to not offend her. “Oh you have not seen everything yet. This world is big. Far larger than yours. Infinite in fact. Most of what humans see is grass. All beings experience it differently. But you have not gone far enough. There are far more things further out. There are even towns and cities. One is not far from here. Just a twenty day long walk East.”
“Twenty days?”, I wasn’t sure if I misheard. As that was far to me. “Yes. Well unless you go in a straight line then it might take you millions of years. Space doesn’t work here like you know it.”, she grinned. I didn’t question that logic so I changed the topic: “So, who exactly are you? Some sort of guardian? Of Heaven?” She laughed. “No. I’m no guardian. I’m just a gardener. I do not come around much. Sometimes I meet a traveller. Often from one of the universes. Like you.” “Universes?”, I asked. She stood up again and walked over to me. “Come.” Then she grabbed my arm and suddenly we were somewhere completely else.
We were standing on a massive branch on an even more massive tree. I lost my balance for a second. All I could see were massive trees. There was no ground. Only more tree tops and trunks. There was also barely a visible sky. Around us were small lights. Like glowing dust. “See I told you. There are other things here as well. This forest is infinite. You can go inside but never come out. Well, with me you can don’t worry. Go up and down and you find more trees. No end to any of it.”, she explained as I tried to wrap my head around that. “I thought it took like forever to get from one point to another here?” “This forest was right behind you.” I think she meant the small bush.
“See these lights?”, she asked. “Yeah…they look a bit like…stars.” “They are not stars. We are far past the stars. These are Universes.” I took a step back in shock. “Don’t worry. You can’t harm them or anything. They are more like shadows.”
I looked at the dancing lights. So many of them. And they filled the entire forest. An infinite forest. In the backyard of some woman in the middle of nowhere. “Are you…”, I paused, “...God?” “No. I am a gardener, as I said. I do not create these Universes. They are just always here. Everywhere in the higher reality.”
Then she looked at me. “There is an infinite amount of them. And infinite copies of every universe. And infinite copies of you. And yes. Infinite copies of Mia and your children. Including all other people.”
I thought about that for a bit. “But none of them are my version. You said they are here. In Heaven!” “They are. They are just not people anymore. This place is where life comes from. All life. And sometimes it enters the Universes. But it always comes back.”, she said. “So then, where are they?”, I asked somewhat impatiently.
“Everywhere. They are now part of everything else. Part of life itself. They are still here. They can hear you. They can see you. But they do not know you. And have no body.”, she answered.
“Are they happy?”, I asked. “They cannot not be. There is no pain or suffering here. It is Paradise after all.”
I sat down. I had to process all of that. “You want to go home now?”, she asked. I nodded. I expected the same horrible journey that had brought me here in the first place. But instead I just woke up on the mountain again. It was still night but there was no wind anymore. No time had passed. The strange being had also left. I made my way down to the hotel and fell asleep immediately.
There is something no one tells you when you are a kid. Time is the ultimate monster; it eats the moments of your life. It steals away the memories of happy times. It degrades your body with no way to stop it. Yes, time is a monster, and you should know this as a child so that you can be prepared for all that time throws at you.
Grace, my wife, and I were not kids when we got married. Granted, we were barely adults when we met; we hadn't lived long enough to realize that time was not our friend. The first time we met was on a blind date. I was at a restaurant with a friend and his wife. They had talked me into coming with them to meet a friend of hers.
I sat there nervous, not knowing what my friends had got me into. After we arrived, I saw the most incredible woman I'd ever seen walking up to us. Shiny raven black hair framed sparkling hazel eyes set in a face only a classic Greek sculptor could have created. It was like watching a ballet when she moved. I felt unworthy as I walked up to her and predictably stumbled over my words.
"My, you are so pretty... I mean, hi, you must be Grace. I Jack." She laughed a little and smiled back at me.
"Hello Jack, just swing in from the jungle?" She had made a Tarzan reference, and I was done for.
We sat side by side, her presence distracting me from the meal. Each time she caught me stealing a glance, her eyes would light up, and my heart fluttered. Later we sat outside near her car and looked at the stars.
"It certainly is a wonderful night, isn't it?" I sucked at small talk, but I gave it my best shot.
"It is even better with you." Her face was shrouded by the night, but I could feel the love pouring from her towards me.
I felt the same, and I hoped she felt my love too.
Hours went by as we talked about anything and everything. Finally, the night had to end. Our friends had long ago left us, so she gave me a ride to their house, where I was spending the night.
"Jack?" She looked at me for a second.
"Yes, Grace?" Every time I looked at her, my heart would skip like it was doing jumping jacks in my chest.
"How do you feel about marriage?" Was she reading my mind now? I was sitting here in her car thinking how nice it would be to do this forever.
"I feel that with the right person, it would be the most wonderful adventure we could have." Oh damn, I let that slip. Maybe she wouldn’t notice I said we.
"I think it would be the most wonderful adventure for us to have." Was I dreaming? Did she just say us?
"I know this will probably sound like I am crazy, but how would you feel if I asked you to marry me on our first date?" She nearly wrecked the car as she stopped breathing for a second.
She let out the breath she was holding and kept the car straight. "I would think, why did you wait so long to ask me? I was ready hours ago."
"So was I," she pulled off the road, and we kissed and stared into each other's eyes for a very long time.
As I write this, we have now been together for over thirty years. Love has seen us through all those years. You see, Love is the hunter of Time; it helps you wrest your moments back from that voracious monster.
Our story started with Grace’s medical issues. She always took care of herself way more than I ever did, even so, she suffered medical problems that defied explanation when you considered her dedication to her health.
"Hey Honey, how did the doctor's visit go?" I had called her to find out what the doctor said about her toes that had suddenly gotten hot and very swollen.
"I don't know how to tell you this, Jack, but he is talking about taking them." I could hear the fear in her voice.
My mind stalled, I couldn't think of anything inspiring to tell her, so I told her the only truth I had to give.
"I love you, and no matter what, we will get through this together." I heard Grace take a shuddering breath on the other end.
"I know. You are my rock. Without you, I couldn't make it day by day." To hear the fear in her voice brought tears to my eyes. Whenever she was hurting or afraid of the next thing thrown at her with no rhyme or reason, I felt her pain deeply.
"I'll be home soon and will cook us a nice dinner. A little feel-good food will help your mood." I’m a good cook, so it was an easy way to make her feel loved when she was down.
"I thought it was my turn to cook?" Her voice was cracking, and I could see her in my mind's eye. She was sitting on the edge of our bed, trying to keep from bawling her eyes out.
"You have had a rough day, and I know the doctor probably told you to stay off your feet, right?"
"Yes, he did." she sighed. Lately, she had to spend more time in bed than not, and I know it was wearing on her nerves.
I smiled a little, knowing she was probably smiling now and rolling her eyes at me for being a know-it-all. "OK, I will be home in a bit. See you soon, my love."
This moment in time was a little more than a year ago. After everything modern medical science could throw at it, Grace lost her battle against a little monster called MRSA. It led to them removing four toes from her left foot. A month later, we were once again fighting against time.
"How can you look at me now?" She was having a bad day emotionally. I was determined to remind her that it didn't matter; we were in this together. I was dressing her wound, which was still not healing.
“I didn’t marry you for your feet, my dear; I married you because your soul is just a piece of mine.” she hugged me and cried for a while that day. Little did we know what would happen next. We were so hopeful, but time once again attacked us. A month later, they found MRSA in her foot, even though they couldn’t find it after the original surgery.
“Jack, I can’t do this anymore. How can God let me suffer like this? I pray every day for everyone else to be ok, but does he help me? I know I will lose my foot. How can I ever get out of this wheelchair if I don’t have a foot?” She was the daughter of a preacher and always believed in the Love of God. Even so, she was having issues with her faith in the face of the horror of losing another body part.
"God's plan is never our plan; time will tell what he has in store for us." Even as I said it, I knew I didn’t believe it myself.
"It is becoming harder to believe, Jack. If it weren’t for you, I don't know if I could hold on to my faith." I grimace inside, knowing that my words were as hollow as my own faith. It was crashing and burning far faster than hers.
“As long as we are alive, our love will protect and guide us through these terrible moments.” In this, I was certain, and it was easier telling her this truth as I believed it with all my being.
Lately, I had been pushing her to try more natural or homeopathic cures for what was causing the MRSA to rage in her body. I had pretty much given up on medical science, but I would never let her know that.
"Try this." I handed her water. I had added some herbs and medicinal plants to it.
I had read on the internet that this combination was supposed to help her infection.” You might find it a bit funky, but what have you got to lose? If it helps, I'll keep making it for you”.
Surprisingly, for a little while, it looked like it was working. The infection slowed and started to retreat, and we started getting our life back. We had a month of peace. Life seemed to return to something that wasn’t a constant drain to live. But like everything else, eventually, the potion or whatever you want to call it started to fail, and the MRSA returned with a vengeance. And Time ate another moment of our lives.
“Jack, the doctor says my foot is toast! It can't be saved, and we have to remove it immediately to prevent the spread of infection.” I held her tight for what seemed like hours as she cried as I had never heard her before. It was as if her very soul was crying out for relief from this misery.
After the partial success of the homeopathic medicine, I decided there were other paths that I should explore. I investigated white magic. If I proceeded down this path, I would be going completely against my upbringing, but I was desperate. I visited places claiming to be powerful magic houses, but I found little to no power within. I became aware that I was being watched, perhaps even followed. A man named Richard seemed to be everywhere I went. Meanwhile, time continued to devour our moments.
The week before Valentine’s and another doctor visit with more bad news.
"Honey, why? Why are we being tortured like this? I am so sorry; you should never have married me." We’d just got the news that unless they can stop the MRSA, they would have to take the whole leg. They felt that if they took it before it got all the way up, it would finally stop the ravages of the relentless disease.
“Grace, honey, you know there is and always will be only you and me.” I hugged her for all I was worth. “No one could ever make me any happier than being with you. Do I have to keep reminding you that we aren’t just married? We are two beings with a single soul; nothing can separate us.
After her disastrous doctor visit, I plunged headlong into everything I could find related to healing. I tried spells, potions, anything that looked like it might work. It was while I was experimenting with these magical arts that I ran into Richard again.
“Ah, Hello Jack, still trying to find a cure for what ails you?” Something about him always had my nerves on edge, but I tried to be friendly and not let it show.
“I am trying to find something to fix my wife’s illness, not me.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and looked around the little metaphysical supply shop. I had found this gem of new and old knowledge of the arcane, tucked between tattoo parlors and metal roof suppliers in an old, dilapidated strip mall.
“I know, but sometimes to fix that which ails another, we first must fix what ails us.” He smiled at this little nugget of wisdom. “What you seek cannot be found here, I am afraid. While this shop certainly houses wonders forgotten by mortals, what you seek is something older and more powerful than mere herbs and supposed magic words.”
I stared at him in confusion. What was he going on about? What old power had I missed in all my research?
“And what are you peddling, Richard, some crystal that vibrates at the frequency of the universe that will reset my wife’s harmonic balance?” This was something another shop owner had sworn would help Grace’s condition. Like everything else I'd tried, it was a waste of time.
“My dear sir, I would never espouse human remedies to you! I have watched you. I know you have tried all the old human cures. I know you even delved into magic and alchemy in your desperate quest to rid your wife of her curse… I mean medical condition.” A small book emerged from a pocket inside the oversized coat he wore whenever I saw him. “Here, I believe you have need of this. In it is power not utilized on this plane of existence for a very long time. This book will meet your needs, I am confident.
He handed me the book and walked out the door of the little shop of magic. I opened the book and felt something akin to the pinpricks you get when a numb body part starts to wake up. On the first page, there was something in Latin. I had, in my studies, started learning this dead language. This dialect gave a perception of power that allowed charlatans, and good recipes, to hide behind.
Most of the time, the choice to use this dead language was just because someone had taken a correspondence class in old languages and wanted to impress the naive. The following few pages depicted how to set up a ritual to summon great power for healing and other things. I was skeptical that it would work, but at this point, I had no choice but to try anything to help my wife. It was now Valentine's Day, and what would be a better gift than a cure for my wife? I raced home as fast as possible and began preparing the ritual in our guest bedroom that I had converted to my laboratory of failed cures.
With chalk, I drew a summoning circle as described in the book. In comparison with others I had drawn, this one was simple, and I finished it in a few minutes. I lit five black candles as specified in the pages. Had I been in my right mind, that detail alone would have alerted me to the real source of the power I was about to draw to me. Unlike the movies, powerful magic usually doesn’t require killing virgins or massive amounts of blood to perform.
A drop here or there of human blood will usually suffice to finish the vilest of arcane spells. I already knew all of this from my research, but desperation drove me forward, and soon the preparations were complete. With a pinprick of my skin, I began the ritual to summon a healing force that would help my love to be well again. Again, the movies don’t really get it right. There was no swirling wind or thundering lightning strikes as I repeated the old spell. I did feel uneasy and a bit nauseous, but to someone from outside the circle, you would have noticed nothing strange at first.
Suddenly, Richard was standing in the circle with me. He smiled a toothless grin and changed in front of me. It was not into a monster or some eldritch horror. No, he became young and beautiful. He appeared as the most gorgeous specimen of male that ever was. It was this that finally made me realize just what I had done. I had summoned Lucifer, the Angel of light or, should I say, the fallen angel of light.
Before me stood not a horned and tailed monstrosity, but a GQ model. His eyes glowed with faint flickers of the hellfire he lorded over, but apart from that, he would have easily been at home on a runway in Paris.
“Ah, Jack, I see you took me up on that offer.” My heart stopped. The Lord of Hell stood in front of me, smiling and being friendly. What had I done?
“I… I didn’t realize what I was doing!” Terror welled up, and I felt sick to my stomach.
I was not expecting this outcome. I had attempted many so-called spells and never had anything happen. To be honest, by the time Richard handed me that book, I was skeptical of any cure that would be magic-based. Now I had summoned the only being in all of creation you would never want to do business with.
“I want nothing you have, Satan” As handsome as he was, you could feel the evil and the disdain he has for humanity. I wanted to run and hide, but I knew I wouldn’t.
“I hear you, Jack, but I don’t believe you. I know you are ready to do whatever it takes to fix your wife, so why don’t you just quit with the self-righteous act and let us get down to business, shall we?” As if to punctuate his words, a clap of thunder rolled over the house.
“What are you offering, Lucifer? My soul for my wife’s health?” As terrified as I was if I was damned, I was going to hell defiant. “Isn’t that how this works?”
“Jack, my boy, what use do I have of your soul?” He chuckles. “Your soul isn’t even worthy enough to get the old man to answer your prayers. No, I will need more for my offer.”
“What exactly is your offer?” I love my wife, and if this devil could heal her, nothing else mattered, not even my eternal soul. “And what of mine do you want if not my soul?”
“Of course, I want your soul; that is just the cost of business with me. But there must be more than that you can give, for I am offering more than just stopping what ails your whore. I offer to put her back together to remain whole and disease-free till the end of her days.”
I bristled at him calling Grace a whore. I was going to retort, but if he really could make her like she was, I would give anything, even my pride. I would do anything to make her right.
“And what would the Lord of Lies want from me that is more important than my soul?” He smiled at me, and shivers ran down my back.
“And now we get to the meat of it all. There is one thing you have that is worth more than your soul. I want the love that you have for Grace, of course.”
“My love for Grace? Are you insane?” I couldn’t breathe. Without my love for my wife, how could I go on? But if I didn’t give him what he wanted, there would be nothing left of my wife, and what good would my love be then? I had to save her at all costs. I hoped she would understand.
“I am many things and occasionally even insane, but, in this instance, I am not. Your love is the only purchase power you have to seal this deal.” He reached into his coat and pulled out a tablet. Not a stone tablet, but a computer tablet. “To finish this deal, place your thumb on the circle here, and the deal will be done. I'll take your soul and your love, and your wife will be cured.”
“What, no scroll to be signed in blood?” He chuckled again, and more shivers ran down my spine.
Oh, there will be blood, but everyone has to get with the times. The scrolls were old-fashioned. I only used them because until now, you humans didn’t know what a computer was.” He handed me the tablet. “This will record your DNA from a blood sample you will give by touching your thumb to that circle. Once that is done, the contract will be forever binding.”
I agonized for minutes with him staring at me intently. I could feel him looking into my very soul. Yet, he stayed silent while I was pulled back and forth by my mind and emotions. Finally, I plunged my thumb down on the circle. For a moment, I felt regret and a sharp pain in my thumb, as if someone had shoved a spike through it. The tablet beeped, and Lucifer smiled, and his eyes blazed.
“Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention now that I have your soul and your love, you will become one of my demons.” Again, he laughed, this time very loudly.
Pain like fire raged through my body, and my vision grew dim and tinged with red. Unnatural thoughts started flowing like water through my mind, and I could feel my grip on reality and my sanity slipping away.
“What is going on in here?” Grace stood at the door of the room. She stood at the door. This thought ran through my head twice before I grasped onto it and understood what I was seeing. I tried warning her, but all I could muster was a low growl like a beast of the field.
Through the red haze, I saw her look at me. For a moment, she didn’t understand what her eyes were telling her, but as she took in the whole scene, she understood what I had done.
“OH no, Jack, this wasn’t the way; I never wanted this.” Tears poured from her eyes. She stared a hole into Lucifer as if her look alone could bring the Prince of darkness to his knees. “What did you ask for, Lucifer? What was the price of my restoration?”
I watched his wicked smile spread over his face as he contemplated taking both of our souls this day. “I merely proposed an equitable solution for your problem, and he took it.”
Grace walked closer to us, and I tried again to warn her away, but again all I could do was growl. I looked at my hands, and they were slowly changing to hideous claws. I could feel my back bending as I hunched over involuntarily. Thoughts of every sin imaginable were bombarding my mind, and I could barely keep up with what they were saying. I watched Satan hand over the tablet I had used to sign away my life to Grace.
“So, you convinced him to give you his love for me, did you?” She laughed; it confused him and me. “You made a bad deal, Lucifer.”
“What would you know, you filthy slut.”? The fire in his eyes grew brighter.
Grace stepped up to me and placed her hand on my face. I felt a tingle there, like power waiting to be unleashed.
“My father was a preacher, and one thing he taught me was how to deal with you, Lord Of filth.” My mind was getting clearer; it was like the curse was being reversed. “You can’t bargain for something someone doesn’t own.”
“Please, bitch, don’t tell me that tired old line about how his soul is that Carpenter’s. The soul is my province when you sign it away freely.”
“I know that, Devil” She points to something on the tablet. “But he can’t give his love to you; it wasn’t his alone to give.”
“What do you mean, woman?” Lucifer was smoking. Literally, smoke and the smell of sulfur was coming from his pores. He seemed to be distressed.
Grace grabbed my shoulders and straightened me up. “Jack, my dear, you always said that our souls were one and our love was unbreakable. It is time to put that to the test.”
She turned toward Lucifer, who glowed like a dying ember.
“The love he gave wasn't just his, it was mine as well. Our love is a singular thing, there is no beginning and there is no end.” She hugged me tightly. “I would give up my life to make sure he is safe, as he tried to do for me. We reject you, Satan, and your phony contracts.”
“You will pay for this, you hairless apes.” Fire engulfed him and the tablet, as I held on to Grace with all my might, and she did the same to me.
“Lucifer, you never understood love, not even the love your own father has for humanity.” I felt our love banish all the hate and sin that he had poured into me.
As Lucifer started to dissolve, Grace screamed in pain as the contract was undone. Her toes disappeared, as did her foot. Then the infection in her leg returned. She held on to me and love flowed from her and me. Its power obliterated everything He had tried to do.
As we both collapsed on the floor, a final whiff of sulfur filled the room. We laid there crying. I cried for her, and she cried from the pain and because she had me back. Suddenly, a new brighter glow filled the room and a figure clothed in light stepped forward from a gateway of marble.
“Your love has reached even unto Heaven. Your battle with Lucifer, my brother, has moved the Father. He has granted you one boon.” A gong sounded from far away and Grace stopped crying.
I felt her moving beside me and turned to see why she was squirming. The first thing I saw was her eyes, and fresh tears streamed from them. A smile grew across her face and I looked down to see what she was looking at. There, like nothing had happened, was her leg and her foot and finally, her toes, just as they should have been all along.
“His will has been fulfilled.” The being of light stepped back into the marble gateway as it and he disappeared.
“Was that Michael?” I was crying probably as hard as she was, and she just looked at me and nodded.
Writing these moments down and sharing them with you was a painful thing to do, but I hope it helps you find the love in your life. May our story help with your fight against time. After all the pain we went through, ultimately Love changed Time from the monster we feared to a friend. A friend who gave us new moments to cherish till the day our lives ended naturally on this earth.
Once upon a time there was a couple named Jack and Jill. They had been married for 10 years and their relationship had become a bit dull. They had grown tired of each other's company and were finding it harder and harder to find things to talk about.
One day, while out on a walk, they decided to liven things up by including a pair of imaginary friends.
Jack's imaginary friend was named Bob and he was a wise-cracking trouble-maker. Jill's imaginary friend was named Sue and she was a sweet and nurturing old soul. While similar in age and attractiveness to Jack and Jill, Bob and Sue were each two feet taller.
At first, Jack and Jill were a bit skeptical about their new companions, but soon they found that their imaginary friends had breathed new life into their relationship. They found themselves laughing and having fun together again, all thanks to Bob and Sue.
They would go on adventures with their imaginary friends and would even have them join them on date nights. They would tell each other about the things that Bob and Sue did and said and it brought them closer together.
Bob and Sue were always by Jack and Jill’s side, making sure that the spark in their relationship never died out.
One would think that at this point Jack and Jill’s marriage was saved and they lived happily ever after. Instead, conflict arose on multiple fronts:
*Jealousy: Jack and Jill's imaginary friends were always around, and they were starting to get jealous of the attention they were receiving. They felt like they were being replaced by their own creations.
*Different interests: Bob and Sue had different interests and personalities, which led to conflicts between Jack and Jill. Bob loved to go out and party while Sue loved to stay home and read. Jack and Jill found it hard to compromise and make plans together.
*Secrets: Bob and Sue were privy to Jack and Jill’s inner thoughts and feelings, which led to some secrets being kept between them and their imaginary friends. This led to trust issues and arguments between Jack and Jill.
*Dependence: Over time, Jack and Jill became increasingly dependent on their imaginary friends for companionship and entertainment. This led to them neglecting their responsibilities and relationships in the real world.
*Imaginary Friends’ Agenda: Bob and Sue had their own agenda and sometimes it conflicted with Jack and Jill’s plans and goals. This increased tensions and disagreements between them.
*Reality vs. Imagination: Jack and Jill found themselves struggling to differentiate between what was real and what was imagined. This led to confusion and frustration in their relationship.
*Acceptance from others: Jack and Jill’s friends and family had a hard time accepting the idea of their imaginary friends, which led to isolation and alienation from their loved ones.
*Control: Jack and Jill found it hard to control their imaginary friends, and they often acted out in ways that Jack and Jill found embarrassing or inappropriate.
The relationship had reached a breaking point. After considerable thought, Jack and Jill decided they needed a time-out from Bob and Sue.
Bob and Sue were initially a bit disappointed. They enjoyed being a part of Jack and Jill's life and didn't want to lose the special connection they had with them.
But as they saw the positive effects the changes had on Jack and Jill, they realized that it was for the best. They understood that Jack and Jill's relationship needed to come first and that they were just a fun addition to it, not a replacement.
As time passed, though, Bob and Sue became increasingly dissatisfied with the new arrangement. They missed the closeness and attention they used to get with Jack and Jill and felt like they were being pushed to the sidelines.
They started to feel neglected and unimportant, and this caused them to become resentful towards Jack and Jill. They began to act out and cause mischief in an attempt to regain their attention. Despite Jack and Jill's attempts to address the couple’s concerns, Bob and Sue couldn't shake off their dissatisfaction. They started to feel like they were no longer needed in Jack and Jill's life and began to look for other ways to fill the void.
Eventually, Bob and Sue decided to move in with Jack and Jill's neighbors, a couple named Tim and Sarah, who were more than happy to have them. Like Jack and Jill, Tim and Sarah had reached a low point in their relationship. Bob and Sue saw an opportunity to fill that void as their imaginary friends.
At first, Jack and Jill were relieved that Bob and Sue had found new pals. They understood that their imaginary friends needed to find their own way and happiness. Furthermore, they realized that their own relationship was strong enough to survive without them.
Yet nothing is ever so simple. As Jack and Jill saw Bob and Sue's cozy new relationship with Tim and Sarah flourish, they couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy. They began to resent Tim and Sarah for taking their imaginary friends away from them and started to look for ways to subvert their relationship.
They would often make negative comments about Tim and Sarah when Bob and Sue dropped by for a chat, hoping to plant seeds of doubt in their minds. They also started to compete with Tim and Sarah by trying to outdo them in activities and outings, in an attempt to show Bob and Sue that they were still fun and exciting to be around.
Their efforts were in vain. Bob and Sue were happy in their new relationship and didn't want to be pulled back into the past. They were grateful to Jack and Jill for the time they had spent together but were looking forward to a bright future with Tim and Sarah.
Jack and Jill eventually realized that their jealousy and resentment were only hurting themselves. Recognizing the futility of trying to subvert Bob and Sue's new relationship, Jack and Jill decided to take a different approach in dealing with the loss of their imaginary friends. They decided to "play the bar scene" so to speak and explore the possibility of finding new imaginary friends to fill the void.
They started trying out new activities and hobbies, and meeting new imaginary people.
Through these experiences, Jack and Jill discovered that there were many other imaginary friends out there, just waiting to be discovered. They found that by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, they were able to connect with a diverse group of imaginary friends, with their own unique personalities and interests.
Jack and Jill started to have fun again and to rediscover the joys of companions
All my life, people told me that monsters weren’t real, but I have realized that the things that go bump in the night don’t really care what humans think. For the most part, we are powerless to stop the things that inhabit our nightmares. Every once in a great while, however, the supernatural world has a heart, and we are shown a different way.
Recently, we had new neighbors move in. We did the “greet the neighbors” thing because Mom made us. The husband, Emil, and his wife, Ruth, seemed nice enough, and their daughter, Shari, was quiet and probably the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I was immediately smitten with her. Every sight of her made my heart race.
Even at school, I had difficulty listening to the lecturer whenever she was in one of my classes. She made being a sophomore college student so much better just by being there. My second-story bedroom window was on the same side of the house as their home. I would just sit and stare out, hoping to see her. Admitting it now, I see it had become an obsession. To see her walking into that house was like a shot of happiness applied to my veins.
It became so bad I would stay up late to see if I could steal one more look at her. The problem was, she kept very strange hours. She would come in at different times of the night. Soon I was like a zombie from staying up all night. This obsession should have warned me to stay away from her. Especially since I would see her bring men and women in with her, and I would never see them leave the next day.
It was not up to me to judge someone’s life, and her entrancing beauty drew me deeper. In hindsight, I should have lowered my shades and closed my curtains; maybe the future wouldn’t have been so horrible. I should have gone back to studying, never to see this goddess walking in my world. But fate decided it had a different path for me, a path of terror and revenge.
A month after this routine of voyeurism began, I was trying to study, to avoid being a failure at school, when I heard a tapping at the window. I looked over, and she was there. Shari had her face pressed against my window, and I could see sadness and anger flicker across it.
“Jace, I am so sorry to wake you. Can I come in?” she asked, a slightly pained smile on her face.
“Shari, are you ok?” I looked at the clock. “It is very late.”
“Please, Jace, let me in.” I saw darkness pass over her eyes.
“Are you in trouble?” I asked
“Not yet, but you will be if you don’t let me in” She looked back at her house. And I followed her stare, and I swore I saw some shadows move there.
“Listen, Shari; my parents would freak out if someone were in my room this late.” My heart was screaming to let her in; this was what I wanted, while my mind was telling me something wasn’t right about this.
“Jace, please, if you don’t invite me in, you and your family are going to die!” I heard the words she was saying, but they didn’t make any sense. Why would anyone want to hurt my family?
“Shari, go home; you must be drunk or something. You aren’t making any sense.” My heart stuttered as I saw fangs for a second as she growled at me.
“JACE Belton. Let me in before something terrible happens; I promise I will explain if you just Invite Me In.” She sounded desperate, and I had no choice.
I was afraid of what she was saying, but I was more afraid of losing this chance to be with the person who occupied all my thoughts. I went over and opened the window so that she could climb in. Her movements were almost cat-like as she shimmied in my window. She turned and nearly slammed it closed.
“Easy, you will wake my parents.” I couldn’t help but stare at the vision before me; her white skin, ruby lips, and dark eyes that I could just fall into held me like I was in a trance.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to enthrall you; I must remember to reel that in.” She blushed, and it was like someone had thrown cold water on me. I could think clearly once again and realized I had just got myself grounded if one of my parents decided to check on me right now.
“Why are you going on about my family not being safe?” She still was that beauty I described, but now, for some reason, I could think and concentrate on what was happening better than I could before.
“I know you have been watching me from this window,” She pointed at it to add emphasis, and it was my turn to blush from embarrassment. “Well, my parents finally noticed, and now I am supposed to kill you.”
“What? Why? Are you crazy?” I backed away, afraid she would attack me with a knife or something.
“Don’t worry; I am here to keep that from happening while also helping myself.” She smiled at me, and again I felt like I was floating on a cloud of happiness.
“How can I help? I will do anything you want.” the words that came out of my mouth did not go through my brain.
“Oh, sorry again, I keep forgetting not to do that” Once again, I got that cold water feeling.
I was starting to think either I was going insane or there was something strange about Shari.
“Ok, so if I were to pretend I believe you and not think you might be borderline psychotic, why do your parents want me dead?” I asked with a hint of skepticism in my voice.
“To be honest, it’s your fault. Your constant watching of my comings and goings has them worried you will tell someone that matters.” She looked out the window. “I like you, Jace. Something about you draws me in like no one in all my years has. I don’t want you to be hurt or killed.”
“I see the men and women you bring home; how can you say you like me?” The expression on her face broke my heart; I could see her fighting back the drops of pain trying to fall from her eyes. Sorry, it isn’t my place to call out your lifestyle.” I answered, ashamed of my words.
“I didn’t want to bring those poor people into my house; they made me.” I watched as more tears fell from those glowing hazel eyes, and I just wanted to grab her and hug away any pain her parents had caused her.
“Shari, I am sorry; I never wanted to hurt you. Please forgive me.” The paranoid side of me still worried she might attack me.
“You have to help me, Jace. I can’t spend eternity helping those monsters stay alive.” Anger lit up her face, and she growled like a caged animal as her incisors became fangs.
A cloud lifted from my mind as I looked upon her terrible visage. How did I not even question how she was at my window? I am on the second floor, and there is no ledge below the window to my room. Like a ray of sunshine, my mind cleared, and I put all the clues together. The late hours, the people, my window, and finally, this fanged specter in front of me, Shari was a vampire, and she was asking for my help.
I stood there staring at her, and I was sure I looked like my mind had left me. I rolled the words around in my mind again. ‘Shari is a vampire.’ “No, she was too beautiful to be a monster; this is crazy. Vampires don’t exist, right?” She is messing with me. My mind is messing with me. How did she get to my window? There is no ladder, no pole to shimmy up. Why do I feel so attached to her and drooling like a love-struck puppy one minute, and I have my senses about me the next, and I still love her?
“Shari, can you please calm down? I really don’t want to get bitten by a vampire, even one as beautiful as you.” She reacted as if I had slapped her. Her anger dissolved, and her face turned red in embarrassment.
“Jace, I am sorry. I know we haven't really spent much time around each other, but when we met….” She paused momentarily, and I could see turmoil in her expression. “I haven't felt anything for a person in centuries, but being near you makes my heart beat again. I can’t let you get hurt, but I need you to help me to accomplish that.”
“Ok. So…” I took a deep breath to clear the turmoil in my mind. “What do you need me to do?”
“You have to kill them. You are the only one who can.” She said it like she was asking me to do her calculus homework.
“Who do I need to kill…?” I said it so easily without thought. Then her words slapped me awake. “Wait, you mean your parents?” I was in shock; how could she ask this of me? “Are you fucking insane? First, you say you are supposed to kill me, and now you want me to kill your parents? I think you need help, Shari. What drugs are you on? I promise I will help you get clean.”
“I am not crazy, and I can’t even do drugs. They do not affect me.” She said, so matter-of-factly you wouldn’t have believed she’d just asked me to kill her parents.
I snickered, a response to the unintended joke and the stress I was under.
“They aren’t my real parents. They are supernatural creatures like me. But not like me at the same time. They were created to kill beings like us. She paused.
“Shari, how did you end up as their “daughter”? I asked.
“The Jewish call them golems, and some of their Rabbi used them to destroy their enemies, including supernaturals like me. These two were created long ago. They are what are called blood golems, and something went wrong.” She paused, looking out the window. “We don’t have much time left. You must trust me to tell you the rest once we are done. They must be stopped, and only a human can do it.
“I must be insane” I rubbed my temple and resigned myself to helping Shari. “Ok, so how do we get out of here without waking my parents?”
“That’s the easy part.” Shari was beside me in a blink. “Trust me, Jace”
She guided me to the window, and a wave of her hand opened it.
“Shari, I can’t fall that far; I will break something.” I looked apprehensively out my bedroom window, two stories above our backyard.
“Who said we would be falling?” She grabbed me in a hold supernaturally strong, and we lifted off the floor.
“Ok, this is different.” I looked at Shari. “Do you take all your boyfriends flying?”
“You’re my first,” she said sheepishly. We flew out the window and landed on the roof of her house.
What did she mean I was her first? I looked at her, my mind filled with questions. I decided to file that tidbit away for a later time, If I had a later time.
“Over here,” she whispered, pointing to a window just below our landing spot.
We noiselessly slid down the sloped roof and climbed into the open window. In the dim light, I saw a coffin and a shoddy-looking mattress. The coffin was closed. Thank god, I was skeeved out as it was! An open coffin would have just made me climb right back out of the window we had entered. The mattress looked old and broken, but surprisingly clean. Shackles were hanging from the wall, and I looked back at Shari and saw disgust and anger in her eyes.
“Is this your room?” I asked, whispering my pity for her.
“It is my cage, my prison,” Her eyes glowed with fire. “When they want to remind me that I have no escape from them.”
“And that? I pointed at the coffin.
It is…was my resting place.” She rubbed her hand gently over the fine polished wood of the container of the dead. “They have somehow barred me from it until I can find release from them.”
I tried to hide the chills that ran down my spine, looking at a coffin that was supposed to house the person I love.
“I will do whatever I can to help you be free,” I said.
She led me to the stairs leading down to the main bedroom floor. I removed my shoes as she did, and we crept noiselessly to a partially ajar door.
“That is the room they regenerate in” Taking my hand, she led me into the room, where there were two tubs full of a liquid that smelt of iron where a bed should have been.
We gingerly approached the tubs, and I could see two people inside them. Shari attempted to put her hand on the tub but was repelled by a bolt of what looked like electricity. The smell of burnt flesh filled the room.
“Shit, that hurt.” she shook her hand, and I could see it heal unbelievably fast.
“So what now?” I asked, staying back from the tub of electrical blood.
“You must reach in, and snip hair from each of them; just a strand or two is all that is needed.” I looked at her like she was speaking another language.
“Come again?” I asked, slowly backing up more.
“Maybe later, but right now, you need to get that hair!” she held out her almost healed hand. “You saw what it did to me when I touched the tub.”
I grabbed the pair of scissors she produced out of what seemed thin air and slowly walked to the twin tubs. I slid my hand into the warm, wet ichor and grabbed the female's longer hair first. Cutting it felt like cutting wire, as I had to really bear down on the scissors to cut the seemingly thin hair. I pulled the few strands out and held them out to Shari.
“I can’t touch them.” She said, now backing away as I did earlier.
“What? Why not?” I asked, still holding it out toward her.
“It may also be enchanted like the tub, and they will know what we are doing.” She said.
I shrugged and placed the strange hair in a pocket, grimacing from the gruesome wetness. I inched over to the other tub and slowly pulled some hair out straight, but not tight enough for the golem to feel the tension and cut. Again it was tough like wire, and I had to saw at it slowly, the blades dull from cutting on the female’s hair. Finally, it sliced free, and I pulled it out slowly, trying to make no noise or violent motion.
“Let’s go.” Shari took one last look at the tubs and turned. We hurried as quietly as possible out of the room and then ran to Shari’s upstairs room.
“So what now?” I looked at her expectantly.
“Now you perform this ritual.” she handed me this ancient book.
I looked through the pages and expected it to be in some dead language I wouldn’t understand. I was astonished it was in English.
“How is this ancient of a book in English, Shari?” I asked as I handed it to her.
“It isn’t; it is in Mishnaic Hebrew, one of the earliest versions of the Jewish language.” She handed it back after making sure it was on the page we needed. “The book is enchanted to be readable in the holder’s native tongue.”
“Wow, a pretty neat party trick.” I enthusiastically started reading this mysterious text, missing Shari smiling and rolling her eyes at me.
We started laying out the casting circle, a star of David inlaid inside the circle with white chalk. As I read, we laid each element needed inside the arms of the star. Finally, I got to the last part
“Put the hair in the middle, Shari.” I pointed needlessly.
“I told you I can't; it might alert them.” she once again backed away.
“We don’t have a choice,” I stated. “The one who was wronged by the blood golems must be the one to put the articles of the body in the circle. That is you.”
“Ok.” reluctantly, Shari grabbed the hairs, keeping them separated, and laid them in the center of the casting circle.
“UH, OH” I nearly dropped the book from shock.
“What is wrong, Jace?” She walked to me to look over my stunned shoulder.
The wizard must get undressed and place a drop of blood at each tip of their body and over the heart. Then stand on the piece of the Golem. There must be one wizard for each golem to be destroyed. I looked at her sheepishly. Nude, I must be nude. And you must be nude.”
“Me? I am no human or wizard.” She said, dejected.
The door of the room exploded inward. Luckily, her room was fairly large, and we weren’t near the door, or it would have crushed me at least. With Shari’s vampire strength and durability, she would have probably been fine. In rushed both parents, I mean golems.
“What are you doing, Shari?” Emil growled in an inhuman voice.
“Quick in the circle,” I said.
Shari jumped into the circle with me, barely missing being grabbed by the nimble female golem.
“Jace, Jace, you are a fast learner, but that circle can only hold for so long.” Emil traced a finger over the force field that sprang up as he tried to put a hand over the edge of the circle.
“Even if you destroy one of us, you can’t destroy the other. There is only one human here.” Ruth cackled.
“You are wrong, you know. I said defiantly. “It says there must be two souls to perform the ritual.”
“Yes, yes, two souls and humans are the only ones who have that unique trait,” Emil said as he punched at the field.
“You are wrong, monster,” I said. “Shari said she loved me. That I made her heart beat again. I don’t think a monster who drinks human blood would say such to a human if she didn’t mean it. As a matter of fact, I believe she isn’t a monster at all, just a scared teenager being tortured and abused by real monsters.” I reached out and hugged Shari quickly, and tears rolled down her face. We turned back to face the creatures trying to destroy our love.
“You fool. This ritual can’t work; you both have to be disrobed and in the throes of passion as virgins for it to work; your love has to power the full spell.” Ruth had joined Emil in pounding on the force field.
“Shari, I know this will be awkward. We don’t even really know each other yet; hell, we haven't even had a first date,” I turned and looked Shari in the eyes as I grabbed her hand. “Trust me, that is all I am asking. Join me in completing the spell so that you will be free of their evil, or we will die when those creatures finally break through.”
The Golems laughed and beat harder on the spell’s protective barrier.
“So, Jace, what will happen when everything you believe about the little whore turns out to be false?” The Emil golem grinned an incredibly too-wide, fang-filled grin. “Did she tell you we were designed to kill evil like her? Come on, Jace, you're going to believe a vampire? You know she is messing with your mind, right?”
For a moment, I faltered; I looked at Shari and thought about the times she had pushed me earlier in the night. No, I was thinking clearly now. I would know if she was messing with my head again.
“OH, Jace, you do have it bad, don’t you?” The Ruth golem smile stretched impossibly wide. “She probably doesn’t even need to control you to get you to do what she wants. Let us in the barrier, we will finish her as we should have so long ago, and we promise to let you go as long… as you keep quiet.”
“Jace, I’m not controlling you.” Tears rolled down her face. “I… I love you! For the first time in hundreds of years, I feel something, something real, and I can’t explain it, but I feel more alive than ever before!”
“I know, Shari, I know, I feel it too. I should be frightened of you, of them, but all I want to do is protect you.” I reached out and embraced her. I could feel warmth where only cold was before. “You’re warm.”
I think those words startled the Golems because they redoubled their efforts to break the spell’s field.
“I feel different, Jace.” Shari stepped back, running her hands over her arms, body, and finally, her face. “Something is happening to me.”
A warm glow started around her. The golems howled in anguish, and their pounding grew less. Outside the barrier, they contorted and slid down to the floor as light engulfed them. Shari moved closer to me and kissed me, as I had never been kissed by any girlfriend I had had before.
“Shari?” I asked the rest of the sentence, passing wordlessly between us.
Her answer was to pull my shirt off, and then hers; we pricked our fingers and touched the points on our bodies illustrated in the book. Embracing again, we kissed longer and even deeper than before. The golems were writhing on the ground, flecks of what looked like clay flying off of them, revealing something beneath.
“Jace, I love you.” Shari hugged me so hard I thought I heard a rib crack, but I didn’t care or feel it.
“I love you, Shari, forever.” The warm glow grew, and soon I, too, was glowing.
We lifted off the floor, the power of the spell mixed with our love, supercharging the surrounding air. We held each other in an unbreakable embrace as the room reverberated with the howls of pain from the golems and the sounds of lightning hitting everywhere around us. It all grew to a crescendo as a final flash so bright that it blinded us for a moment, lit the house, even through the walls, and we settled back to the ground as our eyes finally recovered.
“Did it work?” I asked.
“It couldn’t have,” Shari said, downtrodden. “We never made love fully unclothed.”
I looked around, and where the golems had been were two unconscious humans, or at least they looked like humans. They were naked, and their skin looked shiny, like a newborn baby’s.
“Hey, look!” I showed them to Shari, and we walked over.
We could see that the spell circle was destroyed, so we knew if these were still some type of `golem, then we were toast. Both of them stirred while we looked for blankets or something to cover them and let them keep some decency.
“What happened to us.” The male said.
“Last I remember, we were preparing the blood golems to protect our village from a vampire attack.” The female said.
“How long ago was that?” Shari asked.
“What do you mean how long ago? It was mere moments ago…” the man said.
Suddenly, both of the new people screamed as a new white light bathed them. A creature, unlike anything I can describe, writhed out of them both, merging as one beast. There was a crack of thunder, and it dissolved in a shriek of indescribable pain.
“Oh god no,” The woman sobbed and shudders wracked her frame.
“Ruth,” The man cried as he hugged the woman, both sobbing with relief and grief.
Ruth looked up at Shari. “My sweet child, I am so sorry what those things did to you posing as us.”
“Do you remember now?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, young man, we remember it all now,” Emil said as more tears rolled down his face. “All the people and the defenseless creatures we slaughtered for the enjoyment of that creature that you saw destroyed.”
“That was a demon. He corrupted our spell and sealed himself and us into those golems.” Ruth gently reached for Shari’s hand. “The worst thing he made us do was what we did to you, Shari.
Shari reached out and held the other woman’s hand. Both of them cried, and soon the held hands became a hug.
“We… He persuaded a vampire to attack you, our daughter.” Emil said.
“Daughter?” Shari and I said it in unison.
“Yes, Shari, the memories that creature implanted in you are wrong, and now that it is dead, you should remember everything,” Ruth said, looking at Shari’s eyes, so she would know it was true.
“That bastard did one more thing to you, Shari.” Emil placed his hand on her shoulder. “When the vampire attacked you, the demon bound your soul to him and our bodies.”
“By doing this, he kept you under his control and removed your longing for blood so that all the people and creatures you brought to us would not be soiled by the vampire virus.” Ruth hugged her daughter tighter.
“He fed you with raw animal meats and blood to sustain you and keep the human blood hunger from starting.” Emil smiled suddenly. “This was his biggest mistake. Without the natural vampire instincts in you and a piece of your soul still inside your body, you never transition to one of the undead.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, trying to keep up with it all.
“It means my daughter owes her life to you, Jace Belton, as do we. It was the love you both found that really broke the spell.” Ruth smiled at me. “That spell that you both tried wouldn’t have worked as you wanted it to because we weren’t true blood golems. Thanks to the demon’s meddling, we were an amalgamation of many different spells and Shari’s soul.
“The spell you started was just a catalyst for you both to boost the unconditional love you both feel and use it as a weapon to break the demon and return us all to mostly normal,” Emil said.
“What do you mean mostly normal, papa?” Shari asked her newly remembered dad.
“I think your father means that we will live a long time now, due to the demon’s meddling that forced us into those golem bodies and the power that broke us free.” Ruth pondered this turn of events.
“Yes, that is a part of it.” He said. “But Shari, you are something new; you are neither human nor vampire, but you have the best of both. You have the vampire strength and resilience, but with the empathy and emotions of a human. And lastly, you will probably live forever.”
“Oh no, Jace!” Shari started to cry anew.
“What’s wrong” I grabbed her and held her close.
“We will not grow old together or have children.” She buried her head in my chest.
“Oh, my daughter.” Ruth hugged her from behind. “No, no, don’t worry, your body still works as a human, even with the new abilities. You can have children as you dreamed. But Jace and them as well will grow old and pass on, as is the nature of things natural.”
“I will stay with you, Jace, until the end of your time if you will have me.” Shari looked up at me, her eyes glistening with the tears she wept.
“Forever and always, my vampire princess.” I smiled and reached down and kissed her ruby lips.
“I hate to break this up, people, but we need to do some cleaning and get reacquainted with our daughter.” Emil walked to the scorched opening where a door had been. “And you need to get Jace back to his bedroom before his parents find him gone.”
“Yes, Papa,” Shari suddenly blushed a bright red when she realized both of us were standing there talking to her parents, half unclothed.
I found our shirts unscathed and handed Shari hers.
“I am the first male to hand a girl’s shirt back to them willingly,” I chuckled.
“I felt the same when I was your age, and Ruth’s parents caught us in the hay barn.” Emil laughed. “I still feel that way every time I look at her.” A twinkle in his eye shown, as he shook his head at the long-lost memory. “I do believe you both will have plenty of life ahead for such things.”
“Yes, sir.” My face grew red from the realization I just said that in front of my new girlfriend’s father.
Shari walked over and kissed me on the cheek, and led me to the window we had climbed into what seemed like centuries ago. We got up on the roof, and she flew me back to my second-story window and helped me back in. I kissed her one last time through the open window, and she flew back to her roof, doing a couple of loops showing off as she went.
I went over that next day to help them fix the house, so it looked normal. We emptied the gross tubs and just got them out in a dump truck Emil had hired before the new beds were delivered for both their room and Shari’s. Now that she had a soul again, she no longer needed a coffin, which was good since the storm that the spell had whipped up pulverized it to sawdust.
I was asleep later that night, bone tired after all the work we had done to rid the house of the evil of the demon-possessed golems. I had just fallen asleep when I felt something rub my face, it was rough, and I woke immediately.
“What the…” I was floating, my face against the ceiling.
Jolting fully awake from the shock of this event, I fell hard back on my bed. I grabbed my phone from the nightstand and called Shari.
“Hey, sorry to call so late, but something is wrong over here,” I said. “Shari?”
Whoosh, the curtains flew apart, and she was in the room, ready to kill anything trying to harm me.
“Uh, ok, thanks for coming over so quickly,” I laughed.
“What is wrong, Jace,” she said with a little panic in her voice
“I was floating in the air just now,” I said.
“Jace, I love you, but jokes like that aren't funny to me,” she said, just a tad annoyed with me.
“I am not joking.” I put my hands out to hers. “I was sound asleep, and my face rubbing the ceiling woke me up.”
Shocked, she held my hand and then looked up at me with a smirk. “Jace, you know how we were sharing our love and energy during the spell?”
“Of course, it just happened. How could I forget?” I said, not understanding where she was going with this.
She held up my hand and hers. They were both glowing.
“Dad would know for sure, but I think we mixed souls and powers together when we performed the ritual last night.” She was positively beaming. “You and I will live forever together, Jace Belton; you are now an immortal hybrid, just like me.”
She laughed and giggled with glee until I was sure my parents would hear.
“Shari, shush before you wake my parents!” I whispered.
At first, I was in shock. But as I thought about it, this was the best thing ever. The woman I loved would live forever, and now so would I. Boy, there was going to be a lot of children made, was my current thought when my phone beeped.
“What is it?” Shari asked, still smiling that Cheshire cat grin.
“It’s a reminder to buy you a valentine for tonight,” I said, still a little glassy-eyed from the revelation.
“I have the best valentines ever right here.” She said as she reached in to hug me, and we both lit up my room with our glowing.
“We will definitely need to learn how to control that,” I laughed.
In the end, I learned that not all things supernatural are evil and that living forever with the woman you love is the best Valentine's ever.
Contrary to popular belief, the gods don’t cease to exist when people forget about them. I am unsure why this idea has taken hold; you would think people would know that a true god is a creature of limitless power, and unending lifespan. But this is not to diminish what an awful fate for a god it is, to be abandoned in the great afterlife, to have nobody left, alive or dead, who will worship them.
I have seen this occur on many occasions, ever since I took an interest in foreign gods a few centuries after my own death. While I am thankful that our Egyptian gods have resisted such ignominy, and I should perhaps be heartened by the relative triumph of my own culture over others, there is still a sadness in this fate that has had me fascinated for thousands of years now.
My people, of course, discovered the ideal practises to ensure a long and happy afterlife. Mummification had its styles and trends, but we always understood the most important principles: leave things behind, and write down the names of the dead, everywhere that you can. Gods don’t disappear just because people forget about them, but the spirits of the dead are much more fragile. Try as we might, we humans are still mortal, and oblivion comes for us eventually.
The afterlife is full of Egyptians. Foreigners are rarer, but they do exist. They are the shades of all those who have remained in living memory. With my people, I discuss the present moreso than the past. We all lived in different worlds, with disparate politics and economic conditions, the subjects of different pharaohs over thousands of years. But the present world is something we all share. We talk of who found our bodies, and who is reading our names. The luckiest among us are the subjects of books and thesis projects; they are having their names written down even more times than before, glorifying them further, extending their time.
I am one of the many who is still in a drawer, locked in museum archives where curious children will never see my body. The museum is large, and sometimes I meet someone else who is at the same one. We compare drawers, to see how close to each other we are. Even far apart, we are still neighbours. We are not as famed as the term-paper mummies, but as long as there is a janitor who sweeps the floor in front of us, we need not fear fading away. It is, at least, a more secure situation than that of the ones still buried.
The really famous mummies, the ones that fascinate the living scholars, have formed a clique all on their own, and they are nearly as exclusive as the actual royalty of Egypt, so I speak to them little. This, I do not mind; it is merely a continuation of the classes we occupied in life, with a few shifts here or there. I still believe in the virtues of humility, and of knowing one’s place. Besides, I need not want for companionship among the dead; I see many other women of a similar status as myself, and even a similar time.
While I can see the foreign dead, I do not know how they see me. Perhaps I am as I was when I died, old and without many teeth, or perhaps I am restored to my bloom of youth. Maybe they see not a woman but a bundle of bandages, smelling of tar and resin, or the dry and shrivelled form that lies beneath. I cannot say, but I know that they are usually unwilling to communicate with me. In my many years of death I have learned countless foreign languages, but some chasms are deeper than words can bridge.
Even if real communication, like I have with my peers, is impossible, I am still always interested in the lives of foreign people. I suppose you could say I see them as the future of the afterlife, in some ways. Despite the ongoing fascination with Egypt, few real believers in our gods exist now, and those who do often cannot access the proper rites like we did.
All the moderns who are remembered well appear here, but the more mundane among them often vanish. They enjoy the afterlife for a few centuries, repeating the joys of their lives just as we do ours, but eventually, there is nobody to repeat their names, nobody to study them, no climate controlled drawer to perpetuate the existence of their corpse. Then they are no more.
The modern dead still fall at the feet of their gods: Krishna, Guan Yin, and of course Allah. My own descendents dwell with Allah, though like others I have seen, I cannot speak to them. There are fewer and fewer different gods these days; the people are all consolidating. I remember when there were thousands of gods who still received new devotees here. Today, I doubt there are one hundred. The ones who appear in front of Hathor or Bastet rarely stay with them, as we do. They eventually drift away into the lands of those who have no gods, places which also get many more spirits than most of the gods I know.
What happens in those places, I cannot say, for I struggle to spend time in them. We can travel to different places in the afterlife, but we are always stuck with our beliefs. I can see the powers of the foreign gods, but I will never feel for them the way I feel for Bastet. I cannot form relationships with them; it would be even more impossible than it is for me to consult with their worshippers. I had always believed I would be forever youthful here, but I fear that because the others do not, they can only see me as my corpse.
Still, I like to watch what happens to the foreign gods, especially those who, like ours, are very, very old. There is one I have been watching for a few hundred years now, and her realm is only declining with time. When I died, her rule was somewhat small, but respectable, and it seemed very ordinary. But her followers keep disappearing. People are forgetting they existed.
It is not only a name that will suffice, though a true name is the very best to sustain you. As long as people feel the evidence of your life, they know some story about you, repeat a joke you told, or carry a family name that once was yours, you will take some form here, even if it may be a more fleeting or flickering one. There are still some who are very old, some who are recalled in some tradition or revived in some seance of the mind, even though their true names are deceased. It is shades of this kind who I have seen celebrating the goddess of the acorns.
I do not know her true name, or the name of the people who worshipped her. Both the goddess and her people come from a place far away, one which no Egyptian ever visited or even imagined until millennia after my time; I cannot hope to really understand them. The forms of her followers are blurry and vague to me now, but they were not always this way. I know how they are supposed to look. Their place is hot, and therefore they have little need of clothing, aside from beautification. I used to see them in woven sandals and thin sashes made of bark. They wore tattoos upon their faces, and jewelleries made of seashells. There is water there, and the air smells of salt always. It is not like the Nile.
Their goddess carries a mortar and pestle, and she sits around an acorn tree, which drops its bounty onto the lands below her and sustains her followers. Or at least, it used to. Every time I visit her lands in the afterlife, I see more and more acorns on the ground, unharvested. Along the horizons, there are ever fewer of her people’s homes, and I hear fewer of their songs, and the songs of the birds they kept for pets, just like the Romans did. Now, this time, I go, and I see but one woman, who is old and bowed with age. She mutters words I cannot fully hear, and I fear that she, too, is fading.
I do not know what the gods think, not even my own gods who I can somewhat understand. But I still wonder, whenever I come here, how the goddess of the acorns feels. I look to her, head turned downward in contemplation of her tools, as inscrutable as it has ever been. She is the same. When I look back to her last follower, I find that she is gone, as though she were a trick of the light, teasing the corner of my eye. She might finally be gone.
Somewhere, over the horizon, there comes a shout. There is more than one voice. What they say, I know not, but I can hear the relief in their voices, the happy shock of those who are newly dead. They come forward, their shades clear and bright to my vision. The people are covered, bedecked in very fine shell jewellery, wearing it in their nostrils and their earlobes. In life, they must have been rich, or as rich as their land’s resources could make anyone. But they still gaze in wonder at the ground, marvelling at how many acorns there are. Who has not died and felt wonder at the pleasures of the afterlife?
Just looking at them, I know that it must have been that jewellery that rescued them. The only way that these ancient people could return is if they were discovered, dug up by people who would not have known them otherwise. Just like myself, and so many other Egyptians, they must have gone from bones forgotten to the find of somebody’s career. Somewhere, in this land they called home, there were moderns, deeply occupied in contemplation of their distant lives.
I have realised that for every god, and for every human being who once lived, there is always a hope of re-discovery. I take heart in knowing that even if I am someday released from my drawer, my body and amulets lost or destroyed, I might return again someday, as long as someone thinks of me.
I was never one to believe in spiritual or supernatural things. It just seemed like made-up nonsense some people cling to, hoping there is more beyond this life. For lack of a better label, you could’ve called me a ‘skeptic’. Maybe it was that viewpoint which ironically positioned me to be the recipient of some very unwanted attention. That being of the terrifying, ‘paranormal’ variety.
Now, I’vs come to realize there are intangible things which exist outside the realm of this physical world we see around us. This is my account of when I first became aware of the metaphysical world. I’ll start at the most relevant point. It’s my job to tour unoccupied real estate properties. I assess their suitability to be cleaned up or remodeled, and then put back on the housing market.
Some are fairly new, but most of my assignments fall under the category of foreclosures. Bank repossessions are depressing to process. On rare occasions however, I get to analyze lovely antique homes which have been empty for extended periods after the owner passed away. Those rare ‘diamonds in the rough’ used to be a real treat because they are so desirable to explore. When I read the property notes from my employer about the stately home they wanted me to examine in the countryside, I was genuinely excited. Therein is when the trouble started.
I couldn’t believe the door key was one of those ornate, ‘jail keys’ like they show in old movies. I thought those were either made up for film props, or had long since fallen out of favor in real life. It definitely matched the fine antique craftsmanship and admirable charm evident throughout. The front porch was rock solid and the hand-carved oak-paneled door was breathtaking. They definitely don’t build them that way anymore. At that point in my property assessment, I couldn’t understand why it had been empty so long.
Now I know.
Walking around the empty manor, didn’t feel like work at all. It was a genuine thrill to visit a ‘museum of days gone by’. Especially one which was preserved in pristine condition. That is, until I started to get a ‘weird’ little feeling on the back of my neck. Something definitely didn’t seem ‘right’ about it. Everywhere I went, I felt an uncanny sensation I wasn’t alone. You know what I mean. We’ve all had that creepy ‘being followed itch’; at one time or another.
At least a half-dozen times I spun around dramatically, expecting to discover a nosy neighbor or vintage architecture admirer lurking in the wings behind me. After witnessing no evidence to corroborate my lingering suspicions, I begrudgingly accepted there wasn’t anyone else around. Regardless of my visible verification, I couldn’t bring myself to quit looking over my shoulder occasionally in self doubt. The ‘voodoo vibe’ in the air was intense.
A few days later on my second walk-through, is when things transitioned from disconcerting, to downright insane. Without warning, I felt an unseen hand tug insistently on my shirt tail! Presumably so, to summon my attention. I looked all around in bewilderment. The living room was definitely vacant. I convinced myself it was my imagination again playing tricks on me, but then something wrapped itself tightly around my legs and wouldn’t let go! ‘It’ clung to me like a terrified child hugging a parent who’d abandoned it for an extended period.
As much as I wanted it to be a case of unexplained paranoia, I wasn’t imagining things. It was happening!
I kicked and screamed bloody murder; and toppled helplessly to the floor as my balance was compromised. I’m certain my feral shrieks and writhing spasms could’ve been heard from a half mile away; if anyone lived nearby. Unfortunately, there was no one else around to come to my aid. No matter how hard I thrashed around to pry the invisible ‘anaconda’ away from me, I couldn’t wrestle free. All I could do was lie there in full-blown panic, and helplessly whimper.
Judging from its relative center of gravity, it was roughly the size of a three year old, but bore the inhuman strength of giant octopus. What was it? I could almost feel the outline of tiny ‘arms’ gripping my body. Just as I made headway in getting loose, the unseen apparition reinforced it’s hold on my thighs until my circulation was fully cut off. As if I wasn’t restrained enough, every interior door slammed shut with a mechanical precision which betrayed no coincidence. ‘It’ wanted me to remain right there.
I had no choice in the matter.
There’s probably a moment near the end of an insect’s life where it has heightened clarity before the spider kills it. It knows the end has arrived and recognizes the pointlessness of fighting back any longer. I’d resigned myself to my unknown fate but that wasn’t the end for me. As I eased my resistance to the assault, my captor loosened its iron grip on my body and surprisingly backed away in parallel. It offered the false illusion that I was free again, but deep down I knew better. It was a cunning test to see if I would try to flee. Like a sadistic cat toying with its prey, this unworldly entity (which literally attached itself to me like a parasite), was teasing false hope of escape. Somehow I had the wherewithal to resist the urge to bolt out of there like a madman.
Knowing what I know now, that saved my life.
In less than two dramatic minutes, I transitioned from being an avowed, convinced atheist, to fully accepting the paranormal realm without doubt. It was impossible to remain a skeptic any longer when something ‘not of this Earth’ held me securely at its mercy. ‘Brave denial’ had already left the building. ‘Cowardly acceptance’ had signed the lease and moved right in.
I thought my heart might explode out of my throat as I lay there prostrate on the floor. All I could do was force myself to calm down and drink-in the surreal supernatural experience as a ‘learning moment’. Hopefully I’d still have the opportunity to benefit from that terrifying little life lesson. It most assuredly took place, and more importantly; whatever had captured me was still waiting nearby.
I was certain of that.
Despite being a hot summer afternoon in an old house with no electricity, the air around me was blustery cold and musty. I could almost pinpoint the location of the tiny phantom by awareness of the temperature around the vicinity. There was no sense in pretending I was alone any longer. With a hollow facade of cardboard courage, I addressed the other occupant of the ‘empty’ room.
In personal conflicts within the material world, it pays to negotiate with your adversary. To let them know you are reasonable. I saw no reason why those same principles wouldn’t also apply to an impasse between the living, and whatever I’d inadvertently stumbled upon. It was worth a shot. I had nothing left to lose. We were at a stalemate.
I felt a wave of cold air drift toward me so I tensed up for another round of ‘wrestling with the dead’. Instead of another vicious binding of my legs, the same ‘arms’ encircled my torso this time. Surprisingly, the embrace was quite gentle, in comparison. I sensed the apparition appreciated my straightforward response and was showing more restraint and gratitude. In what had to be the most dramatic change of heart I’d ever experienced, I felt my emotions began to soften. My phantom attacker really did seem like the frustrated spirit of a small child, desperate for human interaction.
The experience had all the earmarks of how you’d expect a lonely soul to react to encountering the first visitor there in quite some time. Once the initial wave of built-up frustration had passed, there was almost a feminine gentleness there holding me. No one was more surprised than myself when I returned the affection by hugging ‘her’ back. The room temperature dramatically warmed up my skin. I assumed the mutual act of loving care and concern for another being that was suffering, was the catalyst for the sudden environmental shift.
For lack of more information, and also due to my natural tendency to label or categorize things, I decided to call the clingy, pint-sized apparition: ‘La Nina’. It suited my modest observations and preconceived notions perfectly about the unknown spirit I’d just shared an awkward paranormal encounter with. Assuming a toddler’s mentality and maturity level, I addressed La Niña in a calm, non-threatening voice. I could empathize with the monumental frustration which would fester within a lost child spirit who was trapped and alone for many years. With no one else around to interact with, it was understandable that their first instinct would be to hold on for dear life.
My heart ached at the thought of that crippling level of loneliness and fear. The little one’s family had moved on to ‘the afterlife’, while they remained behind, for reasons unknown. There were no parents or siblings left to comfort or guide ‘her’. It was an extraordinary case of abandonment issues and with that context, it made perfect sense. I couldn’t imagine the wellspring of sadness and anger that would build up.
Unfortunately I was faced with a new set of challenges. How could I explain the reality of those circumstances to a child apparition with limited cognitive development? How would my eventual need to leave, be received? ‘Not well’, I was sure. Despite its small stature, it possessed supernatural strength and telekinetic powers to slam doors and throw objects across the room. I could only guess what other abilities it had. Would there be a massive paranormal toddler’s temper tantrum?
Of that, I was certain.
I began laying the subtle groundwork for an exit. As I spoke, I made passive suggestions that at some point in the near future, I would have to leave. Immediately, tension in the air spiked. The grip on me intensified until it was uncomfortable again but I kept talking in my most soothing voice. I promised to return to her as soon as I could. The crushing stranglehold loosened ever-so-slightly, but it was obvious La Niña didn’t believe me. Maybe others had made those same promises in the past and reneged. I felt smothered by the desperation of an innocent child caught in mortal limbo, which couldn’t understand or accept the reality of the situation.
Over the next hour or so, we went through several alternating cycles of loose hugs, and then ‘mortal death grips’. The severity of each lessened as I gradually desensitized her to the idea of letting me go. I felt silly calling a non-corporal thing ‘La Niña’, but I didn’t know it’s former name. There was no opportunity to address her properly. As far as I knew, she didn’t speak but obviously understood what I said by how tightly my body was held. It occurred to me that if I researched La Niña’s past, I could possibly help her ‘move on’, as they say in spiritualist circles.
When I arose to leave, all the doors of the house began to rattle and shake violently. The knobs simultaneously turned back and forth, as if to warn me of how stressed she was. Believe me when I tell you, I already knew! I promised to return and bring some toys. Even as I walked out the door, I expected to be dragged back inside kicking and screaming. It was probably an unnecessary act, but I started my car and drove away very slowly. I didn’t want to convey how anxious I was to leave. For all I knew, she wasn’t even bound to the house and could follow me.
At the courthouse records building, I requested ownership listings to figure out who ‘La Niña’ was. From the date the house was first built until it’s final owner, I studied every family member who had ever lived there. That’s when my modest research efforts hit a dead end. There were no recorded deaths in the house, and none of the owners officially suffered the loss of a child. Either there was an undocumented fatality which wasn’t listed in the public records, or my theory was incorrect.
I didn’t know what to believe.
The way the apparition appeared to take comfort in my soothing words and adjusted how it held on to me, helped reinforce my thought process. Verifying the truth was a crapshoot since we had no means of two-way communication. I wanted to know her name and help out a tortured soul, so I concentrated on how to achieve that challenging milestone. I found a battery-operated communication tablet which speaks aloud words and phrases. It seemed perfect to bridge the corporeal gap. I also brought along a small tricycle and a teddy bear as practical gifts since La Niña could easily manipulate objects.
Nervously, I returned to the quaint Victorian estate in the countryside. I carried in the communication tablet first, then returned to the car for the tricycle and teddy bear. I don’t know what I expected to happen. The whole ‘plan’ was made up as I went. Would the two-dimensional gesture of giving a few toys meant for the living, ease the monumental frustration of an angry spirit trapped in this physical world? If nothing else, I hoped it would show I genuinely cared and really wanted to help.
The living room bore tell-tale hints of its aloof presence hiding nearby in the shadows. It was abnormally cold there but nothing happened at first. Perhaps it was genuinely surprised I’d kept my word and returned. Saint, or fool; I’ll allow you to decide. The tablet was no sooner switched on, than the keys lit up and it began to speak what its phantom user requested it to say. The simulated human voice might’ve been amusing to witness, had it not been dictated by cold, disembodied fingertips.
“You came back! Excellent. I thought you’d be just like the others who abandoned me here in this vacant dwelling.”
Immediately, I took serious notice of something. I recognized what I heard coming from the speaker wasn’t the limited vocabulary of a young child. That made me queasy. My stomach churned at the strong possibility I’d misjudged the situation, entirely. The tablet continued to deliver a number of telling statements which further eroded my confidence. Like a proud simpleton unwilling to admit he’d made a deadly mistake, I clung to the naive idea ‘La Niña’ needed me to save ‘her’. As more time passed, it appeared I might need someone to save ME.
“Tell me your name ‘little one’, so that I can finally address you properly.”; I inquired with a hint of pretense in my quavering voice. I was afraid to ask anything that would further erode the fairytale I’d constructed for myself, but still holding on to the denial for comfort.
The tablet keys lit up again after a noticeable delay. There hadn’t been any hesitation on other things. The lapse in response to that question added more weight to my suspicions but what came next cleared it all up.
“I don’t have a name, you fool! I was never a human, so your patronizing words and misguided worry over my emotional state were pointless. It helped soothe your worries to think I used to be a child, so I led you to believe that pathetic conclusion. It was the only way you would return. I require your body as a human host to leave this place. Your desire to fight back should be diminished enough by now that you won’t resist me any longer. Submit!”
I’m here to testify that the malevolent entity I ignorantly assumed was just a small phantom spirit, was dead wrong in its estimation. I didn’t just roll over and allow it to possess my body. Nope! I fought back. Hard! I tossed the tricycle at the spot where the tablet sat on the floor. I may be no paranormal researcher, but I can tell you that any supernatural entity that can physically squeeze a living body, can also feel pain when struck by a metal object. I ran for the door and didn’t stop until I reached the city limits.
If you are ever called to inspect a stately Victorian estate in the rural countryside with a decorative key, beware of the evil which lurks inside. I swear to you, the peaceful exterior and exceptional craftsmanship is a ruse. There’s a malicious spirit inside which will grab you, and never, ever let go. Possibly, with the avatar of a stuffed teddy bear.
In the early 1980’s, there was a particularly savage double-murder committed in a remote part of northwest Georgia. There have even been a couple of film documentaries and true crime books released about the case. The enduring legacy of ‘The Murder House’ is spurned on because of the unusual circumstances surrounding it. At the time, there were lurid tabloid news allegations of ‘occult rituals’ and ‘depraved sex orgies’ which fueled the swirling public interest of the deeply religious, rural townsfolk.
Almost forty years later, legends persist about the mansion ruins over the sensational aspects of the case. They endure and grow far more than if it had just been an ordinary robbery-gone-wrong. The owners of the house were two gay men from the Midwest who retired to the unlikely location of Summerville, Georgia. They reputedly dabbled in the occult and held lavish, private parties with like-minded locals who they’d befriended. According to the official police reports, the owners enjoyed flaunting their valuable possessions and eventually allowed ‘the wrong person’ into their private wilderness getaway.
The thief killed both the owners and burned the mansion to the ground, to cover evidence of his crimes. This is all public record. Since then, the ruins have been reclaimed by thick vines and dense vegetation of the remote wooded area. The mountain road has nearly insurmountable ruts and no identifiable markings to denote what once was, but true crime buffs have documented the location well enough it can be found. That is, if you have a rugged, all-terrain vehicle, and the foolish patience to traipse though deep, mosquito-filled woods with no cell service.
On a Saturday afternoon lark, my girlfriend, son, and I decided to take a short day trip to see if we could locate the site. The town was only twenty miles away but the mountain between my hometown and Summerville required a lengthy detour around it to get there. The locals we spoke with were either unaware of the infamous murder in their tiny town, or feigned ignorance to dissuade its continued distasteful association with them. We followed the spotty GPS signal and website accounts as far into the trip as we could. Then we ‘roughed it’ the rest of the way and drove around on narrow, bumpy, logging roads in my girlfriend’s SUV looking for clues.
Several times we thought we were close. I’d pre-marked the spot on my phone and did my best to get it to zero in to the elusive location in ‘Maps’, when an occasional bar of coverage teased us into believing we were nearby. The problem is, there is no GPS coverage on the spot so you can’t actually mark it precisely. What I found online was as close as you can get, when there was still a tiny bit of coverage to track it.
Hours passed. Nothing but virgin forest and deer paths lead us in hopeless circles. I was exhausted and frustrated by the lingering failure. For the first time since we arrived in the wilderness, a vehicle approached. It was a forestry truck. The driver stopped and politely asked if we were lost or broken down. I sheepishly admitted we were on a ghoulish excursion to find the site of ‘The Murder House’.
I was afraid he would be offended by strangers visiting his small town for the sole purpose of finding a grisly, true crime location, but the guy just grinned. He was old enough to be familiar with the macabre story, and yet also open-minded enough to not pass judgment about our morbid little quest. He pointed to a tall mound of dirt about a quarter mile away, at the edge of the gravel road.
“It’s up there. They blocked the driveway to stop people from driving up to the scene but you can still park and walk through the woods to see it. Watch out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. I’ve seen a lot of them around here.”
We thanked him and walked toward the hidden offshoot. We had already walked several miles in every direction and were beyond tired, but it would’ve been a stinging defeat to be so close and then give up when it was finally within our grasp. Vegetation and foliage filled in much of what had once been the fork of the victims’ driveway. It was still easier to walk on the remnants of the driveway than the dense thicket around it. It was hard to imagine anyone purposely choosing to build a mansion in such a difficult-to-reach location, but they obviously wanted absolute privacy to live their lives as they saw fit. If nothing else, it had that. To call the location ‘off the grid’, was an understatement.
After a number of twists and turns over fallen tree trunks and further piles of barrier dirt, we found the legendary ruins of ‘The Murderer House’. If anything, it was underwhelming after our efforts to locate it. It was hard to rectify a half dozen scattered brick archways and crumbling walls, with the massive estate evidenced from the original crime scene photos. Vines and dense undergrowth had taken back much of the remaining structure. It was so entangled by nature we could’ve been forgiven for thinking we’d stumbled upon an unfinished construction project in the middle of nowhere. I had the cached photos pulled up on my phone. Only by positioning myself a certain way could I envision what once was.
In broad daylight with warm sunlight gleaming in our eyes, finally finding it was cathartic. We’d done it! Standing on the threshold of the abandoned property in the middle of a wooded thicket was darn tranquil. Nature was slowly erasing the unpleasant past. I didn’t sense any sinister vibes which the notorious location was associated with. In the back of my mind, I assumed puritanical townsfolk invented the supernatural stories because they were fed up with the controversy. Boom, an instant legend was born from a small grain of truth.
With its infamous history surrounding the crime scene, it seemed ripe for the construction of mythical ghost stories and malevolent ‘evil’. Honestly, I didn’t believe a word of their superstitious hokum, but was I willing to spend the night to prove my bravery and macho self-assuredness in deed? Nope. That was a different story. There are limits to everything. I’m no fool. At least I didn’t think so. Turns out, I was wrong.
I’d never been camping in my life and I also didn’t doubt the forest ranger’s warning about rattlesnakes. It’s not like it was a KOA campground. The location was so remote we couldn’t mark the spot on GPS to make it easier for others to find. Those practical reasons and plenty of others were solid recommendations to enjoy our exploratory trek in the warming light of day, and then mosey on back home. There was no wisdom in taking so many unnecessary risks to prove false bravado and to discredit rural paranormal legends.
Juvenile vandals had spray painted crude graffiti and ‘satanic’ symbols on the crumbling pillars. I took a half dozen photographs to document our excursion and was about to suggest we all return back to the vehicle when my son’s eyes lit up. I knew that look, unfortunately. He still intended to follow through with the hare-brained idea of staying there overnight.
After seeing how undesirable that was, I didn’t want to entertain the thought but talking him out of something is nearly impossible. He’s incredibly persuasive but to be perfectly honest, he gets his crazy determination from me. Despite circumstances which no responsible adult would ever condone, the ‘arm twisting’ was minimal.
We didn’t have any camping gear or overnight accoutrements. As the rays of the sun went down for the evening, we scrambled to locate a place within the vine-covered bricks to experience the ‘Murder House’ like very few could claim. At that point there was no chance of going back to the car. The trail was hard enough to follow in sunlight. As spooky as the overgrown ruins of a double murder with occult-ritual-overtones were shaping up to be, it was at least a fixed location in hostile terrain. Wandering the dark forest with no GPS bearings was a recipe to get lost.
Never mind the supernatural reputation of our overnight lodgings, the potential for natural encounters weighed heavily on my mind. I didn’t confirm my suspicions but I’m certain my girlfriend and son had the same troubling worries. Bears, snakes, and countless other things which creep in the night were possible. We found a large corner of a partially standing brick wall to lean our backs against. The roof had collapsed and rotted away many years ago. Walking around blindly was an invitation to get a nail through the foot, cut by glass, or other painful surprises of the highly-unpleasant variety. By far the safest policy was to remain sedentary and quiet under a spray-painted red ‘inverted pentagram’ until morning broke.
My son and I spent the night in his treehouse in the back yard a few years earlier. We’d stayed up talking and looking at the stars. It was fun and all but that was the full extent of my experience as an ‘outdoorsman’. This adventure would hopefully offer a similar, memorable life event for us as we ‘lived dangerously’; instead of being featured on a new episode of: ‘I shouldn’t be alive!’.
Trees creaked. Limbs snapped and leaves crackled. Owls hooted nearby. Nocturnal animals of untold varieties scurried around the crumbling foundation, doing whatever they do. Rustling wind and other unexplained noises around us made my thoughts race. There was a minor sense of feeling ‘safety in numbers’ but not being alone was of little consolation.
The temperature dropped without the aid of the sun and so we huddled together for warmth. A condensed mist floated in the air and hovered overhead in the tree-line. The vapor seemed to glow from the moonlight shining through it. That was more surreal than creepy, but the way it lingered near the murder site made my imagination kick into high gear. As the night wore on, I managed to spook myself into a highly-agitated lather.
We weren’t alone.
Small noises around us and shuffling leaves didn’t raise too many concerns but you can tell when something of significant size is coming your way. This wasn’t a scurrying chipmunk or rat crawling through leaves. It was big! My girlfriend gripped my hand tightly. I silently motioned for my son to not speak. His eyes were wide in growing alarm. A large creature of unknown origin was headed directly toward our location. All we could do was remain still and hope it passed by. Whatever it was.
The heavy crunch of leaves being trampled down and crushed was thunderous in the cool, open night air. Weapons-wise, all I had was a small pocket knife. I clutched it in my fist. My companions in the foolish quest looked to me for ‘leadership’. I wasn’t sure what that would entail. Should I confront the thing approaching us? If so, I’d better be prepared to do something definitive. If it was a bear, a three inch knife was woefully inadequate. My instinct was for us to remain hidden. Maybe it wouldn’t find us crouched beside the wall.
Realizing wild animals have greater senses of smell and hearing than we do, it probably already knew we were there. If so, being backed into a corner was a tactical error. Going against my better judgment, I realized I needed to confront whatever it was, before it pinned us inside the walls of the murder house. I raised up slowly to peek over an open section of the collapsed brickwork. At first I saw nothing. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the low-light conditions in the forest around us. My ears pinpointed the direction of the approaching sound. It grew steadily louder.
At first all I could see was a faint glow in the night haze. It contrasted the darkened woods in an ethereal way. To my utter amazement, the indistinct shape of not one, but two large white animals started to take shape before me with fiery red eyes. They were huge albino stags with full antlers! Albinism exists in most, if not all species of mammals as a genetic abnormality but I can’t say I’d ever witnessed an albino deer. It was of even greater surprise to discover a pair of them walking toward our hidden location.
I guess my animated posture piqued the interest of my son and girlfriend. Naturally they desired to know what creature stalked us. I slowly pulled them up off the concrete slab to see what actually ’haunted’ the woods. It’s the only way they’d ever believe me. Even then, they might not. The red eyes were menacing to behold but it was just an absence of pigment. I realized that but I wasn’t sure if they’d be initially frightened by it.
How do you quietly convey a message of reassurance to two people who are already on edge, and have no idea what they are about to witness? I held up my palm and whispered, “It’s ok. We’re safe. You won’t believe this! Albino deer! Just don’t spook them with sudden movement or talking.”
That’s essentially the gist of what I mouthed to them as they stood up. Even then, it startled the two majestic bucks. Their ears perked up at the sounds coming from our hiding spot and they paused a moment to listen. I had to cover the mouth of my son as he started to exclaim how amazing it was to witness the surreal visage. After waiting to feel reassurance, they picked up their pace and continued in our direction.
From our hiding spot we watched them for several minutes as they scampered around and chewed on the vines crisscrossing the archway. It was like our very own nature show. As if suddenly aware and startled by our presence nearby, the two of them tore off down the path until they were out of sight. Once it was clear they wouldn’t be returning, the three of us sat back down to await the first rays of morning sunshine. My son had an introspective look on his face.
“Penny for your thoughts?”; I whispered.
There was a brief pause as if he wanted to be careful with his words.
“Dad, do you think those white bucks could be the reincarnated spirits of the murdered owners?”
It was such a profound and appealing thought that my girlfriend actually gasped in awe. I had to admit, his idea was brilliant and offered some level of karmic justice to the macabre events and supernatural legends, even if there was no way of ever knowing the truth. I just nodded.
“The sun will be up soon and we’ll head back to the SUV and go home. Maybe we can put a happier spin on the tall tales and folklore stories the locals tell, now.”
Something woke me up. An impulse that had somehow broken through the barrier between dream and reality. My eyes flicked open and the darkness they came to see was...blinding. Not as light blinds, with brilliance and spectacle, but through the abject nihility of itself. It was Darkness Total. Ultimate and multi-dimensional. Paralyzing. I laid there, entombed in shadow, terrified yet also curious as to what had awoken me; what had been strong enough to pull me from oneiric reverie into this abysmal, lightless lacuna. It had not been the environing darkness—but something else.
A small square of light erupted to my left, and though it was larger than my hand, it was like a stellar detonation in that Omnipresent Black. I cringed away from it, briefly thinking myself safe in the darkness, forgetting how inimical it had felt only moments before. When the abrasive light subsided, and I remembered that Light was my friend, I reached out and grasped the source. The familiarity of it was striking. It was my phone: the potently photic artifact that had defied the malignant dark was the thing I'd kept by my side at all times.
I gripped it like an anchor. My eyes, dim like the surfaces of planets unsunned, struggled to accommodate the unnatural light. But I stared with mortal resolution, bearing the pain, forcing them to grow accustomed to that providential element.
Eventually, the brightness of the screen lessened - or my eyes simply adjusted to it. I felt no shift in the darkness, no further encroachment – it was still being kept at bay. It could not swallow up this light had as it had the lunar glow beyond my window.
An image resolved on the screen: a picture of a person. Indecipherably, frustratingly androgynous. They stood on a large rock, or a narrow mountain pinnacle, facing the camera. Which, judging by the distance, had to have been floating in mid-air. Suspended by a drone, perhaps. Though something about the picture suggested that it had been taken years, decades before any sort of portable drone was invented. There was a deep oldness about it, as if it had been torn from a time-lost photo album.
The atmosphere within the image was thick with frost, and yet the androgyne wore only a light sweater and jeans. No hat. No gloves. The casual wear of an autumnal traveler. Steely blue eyes stared blissfully skyward, ignorant of what had to have been a numbing cold. The image was upsetting. Logic-defying, anachronistic, and wholly unfamiliar – it had no business being on my phone. I hadn’t downloaded it, and definitely hadn’t taken it. But it was there, the first of many cryptic pictures. No name or context came to mind. Not the slightest explanation. The genderless person had a faerie-like quality to them. A subtly devilish aura about them. It was unbearable.
I felt the darkness begin to inch closer, testing the light’s domain. I flicked to the next image in hopes that the shift would elicit some flare or burst of light to remind the darkness of its place. It worked. Erebus receded a little.
The next Image: a woman, early twenties, smiling at the camera. I recognized her, and in the recognition I found a great degree of comfort. The last image had unsettled me, shaken me in ways inexpressible. It was a horrid, unwholesome thing, regardless of how harmlessly the pixels had been arranged. But this new image wrangled my fear, corralled the phantoms of terror that threatened to undo my mind, synapse by fear-wearied synapse.
The woman – whose name was Lexi – was a friend, more than a friend: a long-held companion, someone in whom I’d sought comfort and fulfillment; joy and escape. The light that emanated from the phone’s screen was somehow physically soothing, as if tinged with a warmth imparted by her goofy, carefree smile, by her encouraging eyes. I wanted to bask in it.
Like a somnambulist, I imagined myself drifting screenward, floating into that soul-restoring light. But I still had one figurative foot in the dark, and it would not let me escape its stifling mire.
Lexi’s smile began to fade. The soft luster of her green eyes dimmed, becoming a sullen grey. Her hair, once red and voluminous as a bouquet of sanguine flowers, blackened strand by strand. The background – which I hadn’t noticed until now – became a bleak and boreal landscape of collapsed, pre-modern architecture and colossal ice-forms. Glaciers reared themselves from Stygian waters, breaching the surface like gasping dragons. Lexi stood amidst the cold cataclysm, unsmiling, uncaring – a haggish revenant born of death, refusing to submit to oblivion.
I wanted to wait, hoping the image would change again. Would become something else, something happier. But the landscape only grew bleaker. Lexi’s condition only worsened. She languished in that abhorrent icescape, whilst malformed icebergs twisted towards an abyssal black sky, and headless winged things descended from grey, pregnant clouds.
With tears in my eyes, I flicked to the next image. Behind me, Erebus cackled from His throne within the everblack vastness.
A sorcerer. A warlock. But someone I recognized. My friend Justin wore heavy purpureal robes, begemmed with sparkling opals and rubies, and tied about the waist with a similarly studded belt. The array of jewels twinkled brilliantly, illuming an otherwise scarcely lit atelier. A thick grey beard depended from his face, nearly reaching the aforementioned belt, but his features were otherwise unchanged from what I remembered of him in the real world. The square frames of his glasses were slightly tinged with rust, and the thick lenses were dotted with flecks of dust – but he appeared in good health. His eyes stared fixedly ahead, as if he saw not a camera, but a confounding enigma that his mind had not yet penetrated. Behind him, books of an unguessable nature—for their spines bore no words—sat piled in ceiling-touching heaps. Pillars and towers of olden knowledge, spires of lost arcana. The paraphernalia of wizardry littered a nearby desk. Skulls of unknown megafauna--polished and painted--acted as other furniture.
I waited for the image to take on some new, grotesque form, as Lexi’s had; but, surprisingly, it remained the same. No apparitions manifested; no horrors danced in the candlelit background. It was a reprieve from the bizarre and nightmarish phantasmagoria. A recess from the increasingly dark proceedings. Begrudgingly, with a thankful glance at my friend’s age-hardened face, I went to the next image. I felt the anticipation of that Implacable Dark tickle my shoulder. It too wanted to continue – doubtlessly for other reasons.
The next image was a gut punch.
She’d been crucified, at some point in the history of that dismal scene. But had been let down from her purgatorial punishment at a later time. She now knelt on a fire-burnt plain, the burdensome cross half-collapsed behind her, blackly charred and withered. Other crosses littered the field, some defiantly erect – though comparably burnt – while more than a few lay in ruins or buried up to their tips in the ashen dunes beyond.
She, however, had escaped the great burning. Her skin was pale as ever, almost luminous in the fumatory wasteland. She wore steel and leather armor, though most of it had been broken or torn away in whatever battle she’d fought. Strands and pieces of it hung and dangled freely. Metal tinkled softly with the heavy heaving of her chest. She was tired, but I sensed that there was more for her to do. The campaign was not yet over. And then I realized what I should’ve two images ago: the images were not static, but more akin to videos. Nebulous, or at least malleable to unseen forces. I’d heard the decapitated (yet impossibly shrieking) monstrous fliers of Lexi’s image; seen the mountainous glaciers push through the black waters. And though there hadn’t been much activity in Justin’s picture, I had smelled, unconsciously, the wax of the candles, and the age-scented pages of the dust-laden books.
The Images were sensorial experiences, not just pictures on a screen.
Jasmine rose, apparently having rested enough. One gauntlet-clad arm dangled awkwardly - bent and broken. The other held a morningstar, its spikes slick with crimson. Her hair - as black as the cross behind her - covered her face. But somehow, I knew there was an expression of grim resolution behind the sable curtain. More blood was to be spilt before she’d allow herself to rest. I didn't know who her enemies were or why she hunted them, but I felt a sympathetic fear for them. She'd survived crucifixion and continental immolation. It was plain that nothing would stop her.
Leaving her to her conquest, I turned to the next image.
A blank screen. A threshold of light. There was depth there, even though it wasn't easily discernible. It seemed endless. Deeper than the yawning gulf behind me. My phone felt less like a piece of technology and more like a scrying mirror, or an impregnable portal to realms untrod by mundane men. The ultra-white domain beckoned me onward, and though my soul yearned to leap headlong into it, my body could not. Shadows, petulant and seething, lapped like waves behind me. They hated the nigh celestial whiteness. Hissed and spat at it. I ignored their tenebrous venom.
Gradually, I sensed a sentience somewhere in the immensity. A being nearly as great as the space itself. It made its hunger apparent to me, and I, empathically, hungered. This hunger galvanized my spirit, for there is nothing more inclined towards survival than a starved creature. I would’ve probably despaired, had I not been given that feral impetus. The darkness’s repulsion at the light, at the insatiable hunger, amused me. Drove me further on.
Spitefully, I let the Starving Light linger on my screen for a little while longer before moving onto the next - and final - image.
She was facing away from the camera - the first to do so. She stood in a massive, grassless valley, between two ridges atop which sat dead, warped trees. A thin stream of some sanguine liquid ran through the length of the valley, and a scarlet haze - as of vaporous blood - hung about everything. Sarah wore a backless black dress, and etched or seared into her bare back was a strange symbol, seemingly occult in nature. The emblem brought to mind a name or title, one I couldn't remember ever hearing before: The Black Horologist.
Her head had been shaved, and her scalp bore deep, haphazard scratches - as if she'd been trying to scrape away the skin in a blind frenzy. Something round protruded - just barely - from the back of her head. It looked like...the face of a clock.
I then noticed figures at the far end of the ridge, standing beneath the umbrage of the sole living tree. They wore long black robes and veils. Baleful, mysterious, and Inscrutable. It was towards these watchful figures that Sarah stared. Both parties had an air of anticipation; one waiting on the other to do something. Lightning streaked through the bloodshot sky. Thunder shook the leafless limbs of the desiccated trees. The stream, as if suddenly heated by underground geologic activity, began to boil. And still Sarah stood in it, heedless of the rising steam.
The cultists shifted. Their tree – towering and plentifully leafed - leaned to and fro in the newborn torrential chaos. Some of the members were unsteadied and fell to the ground, rolling into the bubbling river. I watched in horror as they boiled alive. Gouts of hot plasma shot every which way as their bodies burst in the heat. Molten entrails streamed toward the crimson horizon, carried by the mounting current. Some of the cultists managed to cling to the bole and low-lying branches of the tree, but their fates were no less fatal. A great gust of wind uprooted the whole growth and flung it heavenward. Their bodies tossed helplessly in the wind, while their screams echoed omnidirectionally.
Sarah hadn't moved throughout the whole morbid spectacle, but now turned toward the camera. Her face was blank, utterly featureless. And yet I had earlier recognized her immediately from her frame and posture alone. Had I seen her from the front at first, the grotesqueness of her appearance might’ve forestalled the recognition. I would've preferred a warped and deranged expression, than that empty stretch of skin.
The faceless doppelganger knelt in the boiling stream and dipped her head in. She held it there for a moment, then emerged - bearing a face! But not hers - no, it was the consummate visage of mankind, ultimate in its beauty; possessing every admirable facet (and unique aberration) possible. Quintessentially human, immaculately gorgeous.
Hair grew from her scarred scalp, golden and flowing. In my amazement at her beatific transformation, i didn't notice her graceful advancement toward the camera. It wasn’t until she'd reached out that I noticed she'd come much closer. Before I could recoil, she seized me - through the phone's screen - by my neck. The Erebean avatar raged atop my shoulders. I hadn't noticed how close it had come, either. Sarah eyed me smugly, as if I were nothing more than some sub-real plaything, and she were the real person. Her grip tightened, and the darkness sank its claws deeper into my back. Caught between two malevolent entities, two ultramundane forces of paranatural power, I prayed for providential intervention.
The darkness of death - promised by Sarah's hold upon my throat - was not the same spiritually toxic darkness that threatened to envelop me. That darkness was not the cessation of life, but the corruption of it. Sarah, for whatever inexplicable reason, meant to simply kill me. And the aspect of Erebus clinging to my back warred against her. It wanted - needed - me alive. I faced a twofold doom.
But before my throat could be crushed, and before I could be imprisoned in that Iron Maiden of Night, a most unexpected thing happened: Sarah was blasted nearly out of frame by a cyclonic beam of ice. Motes of frost twinkled in the scarlet haze. Snowflakes drifted toward the ruddy sky. Sarah writhed around in the blistering stream, stricken senseless by the frigid blast.
Before she could shake off the blanket of frost and rise again, spectral chains manifested from the ether and bound her arms and legs. She raged against the purple hard-light, but they were perdurable against her middling strength. Her golden hair flared as her ire mounted. Her face became even more beautiful. Terrifyingly so. It was like a Medusean mask, and though her hands had left me I was still immovably petrified.
Two figures then stepped into frame. And though neither were as they'd been before, I recognized them both.
Lexi, now bent by time and the bitter cold, stood beside Justin – whose ashen beard now trailed down to the ground. The gems that adorned his robe had been dimmed by time, carrying now only the faintest glimmer in their cores. And the robe itself was faded, and streaked with stains that betokened long nights of alchemical experimentation. And his face was sagged and mottled with incalculable age; and his glasses were cracked, the frames bent. And though half-blind and wizened he may have been, he stood with a sorcerous vitality, and his many-ringed fingers twitched in the command of the spell-wrought shackles.
The two friends, after ensuring that Sarah was indeed ensnared, stepped aside to make room for another unforeseen visitor.
Jasmine entered the frame, and as if to augur the black deed she'd soon complete, the sky exploded with newfound violence. Lightning coursed through the heavens with super-photic fury. It was as if angels hurled volleys of stellar light at unseen demons. The dead trees danced wickedly, cavorting in place like maniacal imps; and tempests of mud arose and swirled hellishly throughout the valley.
But the trio were spared from this eruption of supernatural havoc by an invisible dome of protection. It shimmered, faintly, as it was struck by debris; but its bloated surface was utterly impregnable. I was reminded of the hunger with which I’d been imparted, and I recognized the protective barrier as being the work of Oscar – if not some tangible manifestation of himself. All that touched the barrier was absorbed. Every single atom of it. Oscar fed ravenously on all that impacted his belly, and the scene within carried on without interruption.
Jasmine, virtually unchanged since her last appearance, marched toward the helpless captive. Sarah's celestial aura died a little in the face of Jasmine's brutal image. The two women locked eyes, Jasmine’s visible to me for the first time, and I quivered at the funereal severity of her glare. It was obvious that she'd seen things unreal and unrelatable; and I felt a sneaking suspicion that Sarah was in some way responsible for the horrors and agonies Jasmine had suffered.
The darkness whimpered in my ear, terrified of the platonic assemblage. I ignored it, no longer fearing its presence. Sarah would've defeated it, and she'd been easily subdued by my friends.
Jasmine stepped in front of Sarah, blocking the demoness from view. Sarah cried out something bestial and inarticulate - a savage protest in her demonian tongue. Lexi and Justin cringed, being unaccustomed to such foul speech, but Jasmine ignored it. She'd undoubtedly come to tolerate it in her conflicts against the she-devil and her Hadean forces.
With her unbroken arm, Jasmine raised the spiked mace and brought it down onto Sarah's head. There was a thunderous crunch, as of mountains collapsing beneath a meteoric impact, and Sarah's body went limp. Felled in a single blow.
The shackles about her body dematerialized, and Justin fell to his knees - his energy depleted. The great dome that had protected them from the veritable maelstrom diminished, and Oscar returned to his boundless immensity elsewhere. A gust of wind then blew through the scene, and Lexi’s age-harrowed form was scattered into atoms.
Sarah's body broke apart in the stream.
Only Jasmine remained. Her mace dripping with the blood of her latest kill. With her campaign now completed, she turned to me and pointed her weapon at the camera.
Had the constricting darkness not been frightened away from my shoulder, I probably would've been struck by the morningstar, but I managed to dodge as she threw it through the screen. (I doubt it would've actually hurt me, but instinct nonetheless drove my body to action.) I heard an inhuman shriek as the club struck its true target. Turning around, I saw the corporeal darkness impaled against the back wall of my bedroom like a great black sheet. It flapped madly for a few moments, then grew deathly still.
I got out of bed and went over to the wall. It took a considerable amount of effort, but I withdrew the morningstar from where it had pinned that unenviable fiend. The darkness—now no more than a wrinkly sheet—fell lifelessly to the floor, where it then disintegrated. The weapon felt good in my hands. It instilled me with an unprecedented sense of vigor, of physical and spiritual toughness. I felt as if I could battle with and defeat the heroes and villains of ancient legend and cosmic myth.
On my bed, my phone screen flickered, drawing my attention back. I retrieved it, expecting to see Jasmine and wanting to thank her for what she’d done for me. But there was instead that first image, with the androgynous figure standing atop the snowcapped mountain’s peak. It no longer stared skyward, but now gazed languidly at the camera; as if it had just awoken from a deep slumber. Our eyes met—I was certain that it could actually see me—and the morningstar trembled in my hand. This person was no friend of mine—was the only one I hadn’t recognized among the cast of characters. I knew, within my very bones, that I’d someday have to face this person—within the outré environment of whatever mortally unreachable realm lay within my phone. But that time had not yet come—of that, I was also certain.
Instead, I turned the phone off, set the mace beside my bed, and went back to sleep.