Friday, September 25, 2009
For many years, few did.
The only regular travelers on the road were the local farmers, taking the shortcut across the glen, and the old couple who lived in the cottage. They made occasional trips as far as Poteet for their few meager needs, and they rarely missed Mass. But they had no visitors, save for the parish priest. The occasional hitchhiker or walker who rambled onto the road quickly discovered that it was guarded by a huge black dog of mixed pedigree.
The black dog would slink silently out of the briars and nettles when a person following the road came within a half mile of the cabin, then skulk along behind them, gradually narrowing the distance, until the click of its claws striking stones in the road would alert the traveler that they were being followed. And when they turned, the sight of the dog was enough to strike terror into even the hardiest of travelers.
It stood waist high, solid shoulders of defined muscle rippling underneath a slick coat. it’s head was larger than a normal dog’s, its ears laid flat against its skulls, blood red tongue lolling from its gaping mouth, in which yellow teeth glinted. Its eyes were the color of rust. No one dared to walk past it and continue up the road to the cabin.
In Pleasanton, the nearest town, the shaken traveler would have a shot of whiskey in the saloon to calm shaken nerves, and if they were unwise enough to mention their encounter with the black dog, they’d be regaled with all the local legends…
The dog was not a real dog, but a demoniac being known to haunt that particular roadway. The old couple who had lived there never admitted to seeing the animal, but it had been witnessed by travelers for many years.
The dog was the devil himself…the spirit of a long dead highwayman…the ghost of a faithful dog…a portent of death….
And when the traveler left the saloon, the fact and fancy would have become so confused that their own encounter with the creature would become less terrifying. If they thought about it again, they would remember nothing but a large black dog , perhaps bigger than any dog they had ever seen, but still, a dog. Nothing more.
But the black dog was much more than that.
The black dog had appeared when the Stones, the couple who had lived in the cabin were young, or at least younger. They had a son then, Austin, a tall ill-tempered lout who spent his time drinking, playing the fiddle, and pursuing the local girls. When Jack Stone threatened to throw the boy out if he did not find work or even help out on the small farm, Austin towered over his father and raised his huge fists silently. The threat was unspoken at that time. But shortly after he made the threat, he punched his father. And once the first blow was struck, others followed. An aura of bitterness, as cold and dark as a wet winter, settled over the Stone cabin then.
Sara and Jack came to fear their son, and he, in turn, began to hate and resent them. He could have left, but he had no desire to travel, not while he could intimidate his father and live rent free.
So he stayed.
And the bitterness stayed, deepened, fed upon itself, poisoned all three of them until one day a furious argument broke out, and Austin Stone hit his mother with his fist for stepping between himself and his father.
In the shock of silence that followed, they all knew it would never be the same after that.
That night in his bed Jack Stone could not sleep. Although it was dark, he thought he could see his wife’s bruised face, feel the throbbing heat of the bruise. And though she she was silent, he imagined he could hear Sara’s soft sobbing. Staring upward, his eyes wide, his cheeks damp, he looked into the future and saw nothing but years of abuse and fear.
At last, he got up and walked over to the wardrobe, and pulled out his fishing tackle. Reaching into the wicker box, he lifted out his fishing knife, a bone-handled sliver of razor sharp steel. He turned over his shoulder to glance at his wife, she lay on the bed immobile. In the moonlight, the bruised side of her face looked black. And that decided him. He crept out, and into the adjoining room where his son was sleeping.
Sara awoke, she dozed semi-conscious, unsure if she were awake or dreaming. She heard a gasp and a grunt, but that might have been the animals in the barn, then a muffled crackling, as if someone had turned over on the straw filled mattress, then silence. As she drifted back into a troubled sleep, she heard the sound of a heavy weight being dragged across the floorboards. The last sound she heard before her nightmares took over was the faintest of splashes, as if something large had tumbled into the well beyond the cottage.
When jack brought her a cup of tea in the morning just after dawn there was a note in his hand. On a single sheet of paper, the words, written in pencil,
“Gone away, will not be back.”
And that was the story they told in the town. Jack produced the note in the saloon to verify his story, and the boys disappearance was seven-day wonder only. The boy was no loss, the locals said, and life went on as usual. Austin Stone was one of a trinity that almost every town possessed: The drunk, the fool, and the rogue. The first pair were harmless, but the town was usually a better place when the rogue left.
With the boy gone, things changed up at the cabin. The air of brooding menace had vanished, and Jack and Sara were seen more often in town. They even had a new well dug on the hillside quite a distance above the first. “The old well’s gone bad.”, Jack explained.
And then the black dog appeared.
No one knew when it first appeared. About a year after Austin Stone had left to seek his fortune elsewhere… a year and a day, others added significantly.
Suddenly the dog was just there, shadowing the footsteps of anyone who came down the road past the cabin. It’s stillness, it’s silence, the faintest of odors… of dank and rot, the stink of fetid meat, that clung to it, told their own story.
Though it might look like any other scared stray, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was a fey beast. Legend had it that they were the souls of the damned, condemned to walk the Earth until Judgment Day. Connections were drawn to Austin’s disappearance and the dog’s appearance.
That was when the cabin began to be shunned. Eventually, even the parish priest, a stout-hearted man, did not feel it incumbent upon himself to pay many calls on the taciturn and morose couple who now rarely left their cabin. They rarely spoke to one another, as if some terrible, festering secret lay between them.
Time passed. Summer, fall, winter, and eventually the coupe died within a fortnight of one another. Sara first, then Jack. With their deaths, the locals expected the black dog would vanish also. But the black dog remains, it continues to guard the twisting, overgrown track past the tumbled cabin.
Looking back, I don’t really know why I decided to film it, I thought it would be funny to see my crazy eyed self giggling at the ceiling and talking rubbish. Regardless, I had a camera with me from my sightseeing around the city, full of photos of me grinning and gawping my stoned little ass off. It was fortunately fully charged as I had plugged it in the night before and had a spare memory card that was totally empty. Figuring I had found a good way to pass the time, I put it onto video mode and then stuck it on the set of drawers in the corner of the room and then got down to business.
Anyone who has ever taken mushrooms will tell you that after you start taking them, the sensation comes on gradually – like a rising tide almost. I remember skinning up a joint and sticking on the tv and noticing simply that perspective was wrong. I remember thinking the beer was starting to taste a bit off... but I couldn’t tell you what point I was under it - just that it came on and it came on strong.
The hours flew by and the next thing I knew it was dark. I remembered odd bits, whispering to myself in the bathroom mirror. Touching the walls, touching my face, stumbling around the room like an idiot ... all the rest. I had giggled so hard my stomach was aching and really enjoyed the floating sensation whilst I watched children’s tv and talked with cartoon dogs that spoke Dutch.
Of all the supplies I have described earlier, just less than half was still remaining... it was dark, but not that late so I felt a dilemma... Now, there was no way I was going to take them back in my luggage, and there was no way I could throw them away either. With my time needing to be spent packing and getting my shit together the next day, I figured it was either take them now or leave them behind, so I skinned up a few more spliffs, opened a beer and got back on it.
This time though, it didn’t come on gradually, maybe it was just that I was topping up on the drugs, but as the shrooms came back on and the tightness in my brain reappeared, my memories just went like the flicking of a switch...
I woke up the next day four hours after I should have woken up, naked and in a pile of my own vomit and cigarette and roach ends. I felt like hell, my head hurt and my stomach ached... looking at the clock, I saw that my room needed to be checked out of in 20 minutes, so I stumbled to the shower, threw all my possessions into my suitcase and leaving behind a total bombsite of a room, made a bee line for the airport where I only just made got the place home.
I got home a total mess and crashed out hard when I got home. When it came to catching up with my friends, I spoke about the mushroom adventure – boasted even a bit to glorify how hardcore I was with my drugs and booze marathon whilst those pussies headed home – but although I spoke of recording it, I didn’t ever get round to watching the video from the camera that I recorded that day. When we were sharing the photos I found my friends didn’t really care about anything but the photos of our trip and I really didn’t feel like going through hours and hours of footage that was probably total shit.... So I ended up putting back the memory card of my trip with my friends back in the camera and leaving the spare one I had used simply as a spare in my camera case – which as I did not do much recording, I found I never used.
Time went by, and the Amsterdam trip became another great memory of me and my friends and our adventures as we grew up and eventually settled down.
The story would have ended there, had I not I dug my camera out this afternoon from tomorrows game and saw that my memory card in there was filled with stuff I really needed to go through and edit and that I couldn’t tape over. I looked for a spare and in the camera case found that same memory card that I had tossed to one side and I connected it to my computer to see what was on it, and if I could erase it.
It took me a long time to even work out what the hell it was, but as I had given a brief introduction at the start of the movie as I toasted the camera in the corner of the room with my beer and joint, it all came flooding back.... so I figured I would give myself a laugh by skimming through it before I deleted it forever.
The first drug binge was as fun as I remembered, I giggled lots and sat far too close to the television and had no sense of balance at all as I chain smoked cigarettes right down to the filters. I put a hat on and found myself staring at a bar of chocolate as I ate it, saying - to no one in particular- that it tasted “purple”. It was really funny to see my eyes like saucers and a big goofy grin on my face as I stroked the carpet and wallowed on my back as I sung nursery rhymes to the ceiling.
As the day wore on and it began to get dark, it was quite obvious when the drugs began to wear off too as observed me stop talking to myself and noted how I became a bit more lucid in how I moved and even how I looked at things. My pupils became smaller and soon I seemed my old self.
Watching it, I figured the show was over and I should stop watching the footage and just tape over, and I almost did – but then I remembered how my memory had faded out the second time, so I figured I would keep on watching just to see if my madness got any funnier and to retrace those lost hours that nearly cost me my flight home.
I wish a lot of things now, as I sit here writing this – that I hadn’t taken the drugs at all, that I hadn’t done a second batch, that I hadn’t recorded it, and truly wish I had turned it off right there and never watched what happened next
The second drugs binge started off as normal, although you could tell I was tired looking and less jovial and no doubt feeling a bit worn down from the first. As I crammed the mushroom into my mouth I seemed to be enjoying it a lot less, and the beer I choke down was more to wash it down than any sort of enjoyment from drinking it, even the weed seemed a chore.
The tv had changed from daytime children’s television to evening programs,and as the drugs came on I was a lot more disinterestedly flicking through them than I had been previously. I was a lot more restless too, and at points wandered off to the bathroom... at which point, I came back naked... almost seemingly oblivious of the fact - it gave me a bit of a laugh as I watched.
Things seemed to take an ugly turn with my mood, and I seemed to become increasingly agitated. Tossing the tv remote onto the carpet of the room, I accidentally knocked the channel finder off the bed, where it hit the carpet and changed to a non existent channel filled with interference and crackling.
I searched in vain for it, but being twisted on the mushrooms simply couldn’t find it as I vainly flailed my arm under the bed to find it. I became frustrated and stumbled back to the bathroom, where I must have spent some time, the only presence on the video being the occasional loud whisper.
The first time I noticed something was wrong, was when I returned to the room and I observed my nose was bleeding slightly. I didn’t think much of it – and still don’t - and mention it only to give a true account of events, but most probably the booze and even the drugs had no doubt thinned my blood considerably. As I stepped across the room, I slipped on a shoe that I had kicked off and fell to the floor.
This must have been when the mushrooms really started to kick in, as I simply couldn’t get back up. So after a bit of efforts, I crawled on the floor towards the view camera.
It was at that point that I paused suddenly and turned and looked back at the bathroom door that I had just come out of
“Who’s there?!” I called.
There was no answer except for the fizz and crackle of the static on the television.
“What?” I said, leaning back on my elbows as I looked back on my arms, a grin starting to appear before suddenly vanishing... and then suddenly I jolted upright, “No!”. And then again, more urgently, “NO!"
I waited a few seconds more, and then suddenly I threw myself drunkenly across the room, slamming the bathroom door shut with my body weight as I crashed against it.
“Stay in there!” I said, slurring, before coughing and turning away.
Crawling across the room and by the television, turning my head way so as not to look at it as I did so, I headed towards the furthest wall of the room. Dragging myself against it I pulled myself upright next to a picture frame on the wall and managed to stand.
I spent a good few minutes looking at it, my face really close to the glass, my fingers occasionally running over the landscape scene. I took it off the wall and carried it back to the television on uncertain feet, before placing it over the flickering screen by way of a satisfactory replacement for the lack of picture.
I sat on the bed, silently enjoying the scene with an expressionless face. Gently at first, I started to rock backwards and forwards with my legs crossed and my arms wrapped around myself. Still staring at the picture covering the screen and listening to the hiss of the static behind it, I rock back and forwards for a good ten minutes. At one point I start humming tunelessly.
Inevitably though, my attention was once again drawn to the bathroom door.
“Go away” I said quietly, under my breath , after staring at it for some time. Then again more loudly and with a brief air of panic I said again “GO AWAY!” and pulled the bed sheets around me.
It seems so mad now describing it – the person looks like me, but they do not move like me and they do not sound like me. That, matched with the lack of memory makes it quite unsettling to watch.
I continued to rock, but less gently and comfortably now – my body pushing to and fro like an angry piston. I moved faster and faster, at dizzying speeds, and then suddenly bolted upright and stared directly at the camera.
I did nothing for a while, and the room was still as I silently regarded it. My pupils were still oversized due to the drugs and I looked flushed and sweaty All of a sudden, I smile – not a nice smile, a cruel unpleasant smile and lunge clumsily for the camera.
The screen goes dark then, as I fumble with it in my hands. Suddenly it turns off.
When the camera comes back on, I am wrapped in a blanket and my nose is bleeding again. I am shivering and look scared. I am muttering indecipherably through chattering teeth and keep pulling the blankets tighter around me. I tip the camera around, and behind me the bathroom door sits open. The camera switches off suddenly, as suddenly as it came on.
The next shot, I am under the blankets of the bed. The whiteness around me is lit by the glow of the lamp. I am difficult to see, but move closer to the camera to just make out the petrified features on my face. My eyes are frenzied as I stare into the lens and repeat over and over.
Suddenly I am sick, choking up colored liquid all over the bed sheet, clumsily falling back as I try to catch it with my other hand. It slips between my fingers and cascades everywhere, all over me, all over the sheets.
With my hand fumbling around the lens, the camera goes black.
The camera comes back on and the room is black. I can make out only shadows in the pitch black room and my own deep breathing. The camera sounds like it is moving so it must be in my hands. Something rustles and my breath gets faster and more panicked until there is a crash. The camera then seemingly falls and hits something and once again goes black.
The final time the camera comes on, there is only blackness... There is nothing for a moment except that darkness, as deep and still as the abyss. It lasts for about a minute and a half. Turning the volume up, I realized that in the background you can hear snoring.
Suddenly, a tiny flashing red light appears. It twinkles over and over as it moves, shaking around the screen from top to bottom and then left to right at different speeds and angles, almost playfully slow at one moment, and then urgently swift the next.
There is a slight noise... so quiet that I only heard it with the volume louder when I turned it up to hear the snoring, and only properly made it out on full volume, where even the snores in the background sound too loud for comfort as you listen – it is something between a whisper and a rustle... and the camera goes out for the final time.
I watched all that footage this very afternoon. Now it is almost midnight and I haven’t moved. I am exhausted, but too scared to sleep... and even if I could, the thought of lying in the darkness fills me with terror.
I always knew I was a snorer - my girlfriend berates me for it all the time. But it took me a long time to work it out, but finally I figured it. The light was the flat battery light on my camera – the one that comes on at the front where the battery is low.
It took me a bit longer to work out the rest.
The reason it shows up on the tape in the darkness is because it is flashing in a mirror.
The only mirror in the hotel room was in the bathroom.
Just left the doctor's office. He announced my death sentence. Six Months, maybe less, maybe more. He handed me a bunch of pamphlets and a scrip for something called dilaudid. He says that the headaches will get worse, but this stuff will kill the pain. Helps you sleep.
I wake up in my room. Laying on the bed studying the pamphlets Doc gave me. Lots of testimonials of folks talking about Job's trials and support of friends and family.
I have neither. I lost my wife two years ago. Car accident.
No Job either. I was laid off. I have some unemployment money, but I live life on a thread.
I'm not going to pick up the scrip Doc gave me. I don't care that I get headaches. I don't care if they get worse. I've wanted to die for a while.
I've been bitter for a while. Like the black coffee I'm sipping right now. There's a ticking clock and a rotting piece of meat inside of my skull. What to do with the time I have left?
Blood pounds in my ears.
I started watching her corner in the darkness. I know her game. She takes the johns down the alley. Her handler is waiting down there. When the pants come down. He beats them in the head with a bar of soap stuffed in a sock. They've been rolling suckers for a while. I want to play a little game.
I passed out across the street from where the vultures roost. I don't remember when or how I got home. I get up off the floor and go to splash some cold water on my face.
I look in the mirror. I'm wearing my old happy face mask from an office Christmas party. Lenore was with me at that party. We kissed under the mistletoe. Both alive and pretty.
The mask is defaced with nail polish or something. I don't know. Maybe I wrote it. It says, "Please Stop Me". My blurry mind and my daytime mind must be on the same page.
On my bed. I want to die, but I want to make somebody else feel what it's like to be....
Born under a bad sign. Maybe star-crossed. Bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Night. I put on the mask and gloves. I'm a shadow with the shrubs and lampposts.
Slow night. No customers for the girl on the corner.
My head is pounding.
I move quietly to the alley where her handler is hiding. He has his back to me, relieving himself. Blade moves effortlessly across his neck. He is silent and can dream in hell tonight.
I'm not wearing the face now. I walk up to the girl and ask her on a date. She says sure. She takes me to the alley. She gets ready to go to work and looks around like she's waiting for something. Something is stuffed in the dumpster with his soap in a sock shoved down his throat.
I tell her that a place like this isn't becoming of a lady. I offer her a warm meal and to come back with me to my room.
We sit down and eat in a greasy spoon. Her name is Sandy. Turns out she's addicted to meth and has some form of VD or another. I didn't really pay attention.
We get back to my room. She says, "That was a really nice time. It's been a while since a real gentlemen has bought me dinner."
As the word dinner escapes her lips, I splay and split them with a hard fast jab to her face. She lands on the floor.
I put on the mask. Dazed, with a mouth full of blood, she starts screaming. I hand her the gun I had tucked in my belt. She takes it and I kneel down and force it to my forehead. I tell her, "Please stop me, Sandy, please stop me."
Born under a bad sign. Maybe star-crossed. Bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Still confused, shaking. She doesn't have the nerve. Too much shock. Too much fear. She can't help me. My blade kisses her throat. Everything is black and quiet for her now. No more addiction, no more VD.
I wait. I know the neighbors heard. Eventually the sirens come. I can see the lights. The lights of my salvation. I see Lenore. Christmas Parties. Sweet kisses under mistletoe.
I'm covered in someone else's blood. A demon from the pit of hell.
Lenore, I'm coming home.
The pounding on the door starts. "Police!", some voice yells.
Born under a bad sign. Maybe star-crossed. Bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time.
I open the door. Gun in hand.
"Please stop me." I fire as many rounds as I can.
Haze of red. Sun sets to black.
It was noon on the third day of our trip when Jane began to suffer from stomach pains. By one in the afternoon, Jeff began to complain of thirst, and to guzzle water. It took the strength of both Stephen and I to seize his canteen away from him. His voracious drinking threatened to leave us all stranded with nothing left. He was so wild and heedlessly frantic with thirst that we ended up needing to bind his hands and feet with rope to keep him still. Jane began vomiting a little before nightfall and didn’t stop heaving and retching all night. I stayed with her and held back her hair and gave her tissues from my bag to dry the tears that were forming in her eyes. I tried to medicate her, but it didn’t help at all. Stephen stayed with Jeff, and fed him little sips of water because throughout the whole night he never stopped struggling and begging for a drink.
Jeff died around three in the morning. We had given him as much water as we could without jeopardizing the survival of the rest of us, but he always wanted more. We tried to sedate him, but there was nothing that could quell his thirst. He died, Stephen told me, with the word “water” on his lips.
Jane died just as the sun was rising. She was so sick and so pained throughout the night that I could tell she didn‘t have much time left even before she began to fade away. By about four in the morning I had stopped trying to medicate and cure her. For the rest of the night I just prayed.
Stephen and I ate breakfast silently. We left our companions where they had died. We didn’t know what to do with them, and we couldn‘t stand to see them like that anymore. Stephen and I ate together for perhaps ten minutes before he, in one quick and deliberate motion, pulled his revolver out from his knapsack and shot himself in the temple.
I sat for what must have been half an hour just staring ahead at Stephen’s slumped body, watching the blood mix with the sand to create a deep red slurry. I might have sat there forever, if I hadn’t been startled by a deep, velvet voice behind me.
“My apologies for the mess with your three friends, but it seemed the quickest way to achieve a private interview with you.” I spun around to face this voice that had so suddenly addressed me. A lithe young man sat leisurely in the sand, looking earnestly into my face. He wore cargo shorts and a dark blue t-shirt and expensive-looking sandals. “You acted quickly and efficiently with both Jeffrey and Jane,” he continued. “Intelligently, I might add. I had hoped to exhaust a bit more of your water and supplies through them, to give me a few more bargaining chips with you, but c’est la vie,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I had Stephen shoot himself cleanly and quickly because I was done playing games. I’ve grown to respect you too much to continue to fritter away your time as I did with the other two of your compatriots.” He smiled kindly and his eyes gleamed merrily.
“So, let’s get down to business,” he said suddenly, widening his smile. “Again, due to my newfound respect for your level of intelligence and mental clarity, I won’t sugarcoat it. I am in the market for your soul. Normally I might offer you something very big and exciting for it, but I am above all else a businessman. This means that I realize, as should you, that you are in a position without room to negotiate, and I intend to capitalize on this fact. Out here in the desert with limited food and water, I call all the shots. So, I am in effect extorting you for your soul. I need your soul, and I will make life as uncomfortable as possible for you in the meantime until you agree to this. The only offer on the table for you at the moment is a painless death. This is all I can and will offer you. But, I can assure you that this offer will look increasingly attractive the longer you take to accept it.”
He sat back in the sand and looked up while letting his eyes flutter shut. After letting his face bask in the sun for a few seconds, he looked back to me. The small, sweet smile never left his lips. “What do you say? Are we going to have to go through the whole song and dance of your suffering, or can I trust you to be mature enough not to haggle with me?” he asked, and his smile became condescending.
“You’re the devil?” I demanded with something of a choked laugh. “You’re tempting me like you tempted Christ in the desert?”
“No, no, no!” he exclaimed. “My dear sir, you are kidding yourself if you think you are important enough to pique the interest of Satan himself. I am an errand boy. I do little jobs here and there to make my quota of monthly souls. I noticed you and your friends out here all alone, and decided to make a quick job of it. It’s tough to corrupt multiple souls at once. You’ll have to take my word for that. So I singled you out, admittedly quite at random. And now, here we sit. And still, I wait for your answer.”
“I won’t make any deal with you. I -” was all I could say before I was rendered mute by a searing pain which snaked through my gut and ran up the sides of my esophagus. My teeth felt like they were going to explode, to shatter in my mouth. I felt thirstier than I had ever felt in my life. I reached for my canteen with panicked hands, and worked frantically to unscrew the cap. The young man rose and sauntered over, plucking it from my weak, shaking grasp. He unscrewed the cap, and poured the water all over his face and head, using the last of it to slick back his hair.
“Now, look here,” he whispered harshly as he bent over my convulsing form in the sand, letting a few drops of water fall from his greasy hair onto my body. “If you don’t start being reasonable, I’m going to have scorpions tripping the light fantastic inside your skull. I’m going to have maggots setting up shop in your genitals.” His grimace turned back into that serene smile that he wore so naturally. The pain suddenly stopped, and I was left shivering on the ground with exhaustion and fear.
“I’ll make you a new deal!” I shouted hoarsely. The young man’s face became cold again, and I felt the pain beginning to rise in my gut once more.
“Don’t waste my time,” he warned.
“I have a wife at home!” I continued. “And a son! Take them and leave me alone!”
The young man smiled widely. “You have concluded our business,” he grinned. “But…not in the way you intended. You are not allowed to make deals with souls besides your own. Obviously.” He said it as if this were a simple rule that I had merely forgotten. “However, to try to sacrifice, to sell, your family for your own comfort is a damnable sin. Literally. I have garnered your soul for Satan through fear and pain, and I didn’t even have to make a deal with you. You could have taken my offer of a quick and easy death, but now you walk away from the table with nothing.” The pain in my gut flared outwards to the extremities of my body. The blood in my veins seared me with every beat of my heart. “Good day, sir,” he smiled as he turned to walk away. “It may seem like it takes an eternity to die out here, but I promise I’ll be seeing you real soon.”
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Do you know what a Cordyceps is? I didn’t either until 20 minutes ago. It’s a family of thousands of different types of fungus, grows all around the word in various rain forests and jungles. The awful thing about them is they’re parasitic, they grow on other animals. An ant happens to run into some spores, and then it starts to colonize his insides, starting with his brain. At some point, the ant starts to act visibly ill; standing in place and shivering, or walking in circles. If a fellow colony member sees him in this condition, he will be dragged to the border of the colony and exiled.
Then, when it’s almost over, the ant weakly climbs as high as he can up the vines, and locks his body on tight. Finally, he dies, and the fungus emerges from the back of his head, bursting forth like a long and foul fruit. After a short time, the little stalk spews forth its own spores, leaving the mummified and broken ant clinging to the stalk, his eye cavities filled with drying fungus.
I mention this because last night, when I was up on the roof of my apartment complex, I found my brother’s body.
He’s been back from 18 months on duty in the Philippines for less than three days. This was the first I’d seen him. My parents called me up the day before yesterday to tell me that he was on his way up. They told me he’d stayed in his room since he got home, and then suddenly got up and announced he was on his way to see me. They thought he was drunk, I’d thought he’d never made it.
He must have come straight up to the roof and died, by the smell of it. I was just finishing a cigarette, all torn up with anxiety and head throbbing, and when the acrid smoke vanished I caught a whiff of rot on the hot wind. It took me just a few minutes before I’d found him; face down behind the vents and fans. A slimy gray column rose up obscenely from the base of his skull, and a frozen waterfall of roots and tendrils was dangling from his eye sockets and mouth. At the top of stalk was small arrangement of feathery wisps, a white powder drifting idly from it tips.
The spores must have drifting over the north side of the building all day. My side of the building. I came down to my apartment to try to call up the police, and my headache was rising to a feverish throb. I got through the door, and the moment I reached for the phone, pain flared in my head, so bad I almost passed out. I’ve since tried three times and I can never get my hand up on it.
The same thing happens when I try to get up and leave the room; I feel spines of ice tunneling up into my skull and my limbs lock up and shudder.
The ants, in their last moments crawl as high up the vines as he can climb. This is so the spore will spread over more of the colony below. In the end, the parasite controls the ant with an almost intelligent drive. God help me.
The pain is almost blinding now, and a new thought has been rising up rhythmically in my head, like a record skipping. Up. Up. Up. It’s joined by an image of my office tower. It’s taller than my apartment, the tallest place I can think off and although the bulge on the back of my neck is the size of a peach, the skin stretched shiny, and I’m dizzy and my eyes are cloudy, I think I can make it there. Up.
No. I’m sick. I need help.
The building pulses again in my mind. The cold wind. The roof and the sky. These images and concepts dull the pain momentarily as they pass through my mind. I think I can get there. Up. Up.
If you live in downtown Chicago, I would get the fuck out.
In Corona, California there once was a road known by most locals as the Never Ending Road. Specifically, the road’s true name was Lester Road. Now, over twenty years later, the landscape of Corona has changed, and the Never Ending Road is no more. However, years ago, Lester Road was an unlit road that people claimed became a never ending road when driven at night. The people who made such a drive were never seen from again.
The legend became so well-known that people refused to even drive Lester Road during the day. One night, like many teens my age, I drove up Lester Road, but only a short distance, and in my headlights it did look like it went on forever. Frightened, I quickly turned around, because if I continued up the road, I thought I might never return again.
Perpetuation of the legend convinced local law enforcement to investigate. Lester Road took a sharp left turn at its end, and there were no guard rails. Beyond the curve lay a canyon, and on the other side of the canyon was another road that lined up so well with Lester Road that when viewed from the correct angle, especially at night, the canyon vanished from sight, and the road seemed to continue on up and over the hill on the other side of the canyon. Upon investigation of the canyon, dozens of cars were found, fallen to their doom, with the decomposing bodies of the victims still strapped to their seats.
Driving home from a friends house, you sit at a red light when you hear a familiar tone from your phone, sitting in the passenger seat. A text message. Probably from your friend; you always leave things at their homes. Being a responsible driver, and the light still red, you open the message and wait for a moment for the image to load. Suddenly, a photo pops into view. Red, obscured, strange contrast. And no text accompanying it.
But the light is green, so you close your phone and go back to driving, wondering vaguely what that was, and who would have sent you it. Perhaps someone accidentally took a picture of the inside of their bag or pocket and sent it to you. You’re still caught wondering as you pull up to the next light, also red, and another little tone from your phone. You flip it open, hoping for an apology from a friend, but find yourself waiting as another photo loads on the screen. This one, still mostly red, but textured now with scraps of blue, yet still indiscernible. This time, it takes an impatient honk from behind you before you realize you can pass through the light and be on your way home. Closing the phone, and continue on your way.
You sit uncomfortable now as the tone rings again, at yet another stop signal. You pause, hesitate, and then open the phone. The picture now is suddenly much more clear. That scrap of blue seems to be the ragged edge of a bit of denim, half blood soaked and laying across a pile of entrails, torn straight through the back of a human torso. You can only see from the bottom of the shoulder blade to the tops of the thighs, but its unmistakably human. Blue-white spinal bone smeared in blood, tubes of intestine trailing out between ragged looking spinal tissue and going out of the frame of the picture. You choke back a throat full of bile and throw the phone back into the passenger seat, happy to be on your way again, and dreading the knowledge that you won’t be able to not look as you hear that tone again.
There is some relief as you realize there are no more stoplights before you reach your home. But as you pull up to that red stop sign, the bottom of your stomach drops out and you feel a cold sweat build on the back of your neck. You have already picked up the phone, even before that tell-tale little tone has told you there is a message. The cell vibrates in your hand as you flip it open, your mind gone on auto-pilot, driving home with your eyes on the screen as the newest photo loads. Intestines piled almost artistically to the side of the body, scalp ripped free and no hair discernible, and that sickening contrast of darkening red on blue. For some reason, you expected that, even as you taste bile on the back of your tongue.
Its not as close or obscured. Flesh torn apart by God knows what means, torn denim, and blood soaked so far into the threadbare fabric of a hand-me-down couch. The one you have in your living room. You pull your car into park, hands shaking as you make your way up to your front door. You can’t stop yourself now, your body’s just doing as it normally would, but your finger frantically scrolls down the screen, finding no name, no phone number, and a time dated on the message three minutes from now.
You put the key in the door as you try shrug off your denim jacket.
Credited to The Flea!
The doorbell rings, and you get up from where you sat staring stonily into space. You already know who is at your door, and why he is there. You open it, nodding numbly to the man. You make a note in your head that the man looks… sneaky, but you assume that must be because he’s a lawyer. You show him into your living room, dreading what is to come. The man hands you a CD he produces from his briefcase, and sets what looks like a birdcage on your coffee table. You can not see what is inside the cage, as it is covered in a blanket of embroidered silk. The man sits as you put the disc into your stereo and press play.
You hear the sound of stressed breathing from the speakers as you take your seat. The lawyer hasn’t said a word, but you know the breathing to be that of your late friend, the last breathes of your friend. You can hear something in the background, behind your friend’s heavy breathes, as if someone, or something, was scratching at a door. You wonder if you’re hearing things, as the sound is barely audible in the recording. You look up as you hear her voice, as if she was in the room with you, as if she was alive.
“The date is September the first of two thousand eight.” Her voice is shaky, every word she speaks is saturated with fear, “This is my last will and testament. Now, I don’t have much time. They’re almost here, so I’ll dispense the formalities and get on with what I have to say. This is the last day of my life, as you have probably already figured out.”
“This began with the death of my uncle. I had never known him very well, only a few times at family reunions and Christmas parties, but he had left me something on his will. I sat awkwardly through the reading of the document until at last, my name was called. I collected a small box of knick-knacks and a covered cage. On the cage was a note saying ‘Please do not unveil the surprise until you are home.’ So I hurried home without taking the silk blanket off of the cage. What was inside the box is of no consequence, but underneath the blanket – I warn you do not take the blanket off until this recording has ended – is an old birdcage. Inside of this bird cage , is a parrot.”
“I was indeed surprised, but there were more shocks to come. When I lifted the blanket, the bird’s eyes were immediately fixed on me. Its beady eyes shone wickedly upon seeing a new face, and it said plainly in a squawky voice, ‘hello’. I stared back at it, and it repeated itself, ‘hello.’ I dismissed it as a cute trick my uncle had taught it. I was very wrong.”
“The next day, when I took the blanket off of the cage, I was not greeted with a ‘hello’. No, on the second day the bird didn’t talk at all. What it did do was breathe loudly, as if it was hyperventilating, or at least copying someone who was terrified. On the third day the bird did not speak, but made the sound of a grown man crying. I was very disturbed, and covered the cage for the remainder of the day.”
“The fourth day, in a voice not unlike my recently departed uncle’s, the bird cried ‘Oh god. Oh god!’ I thought the bird had learned it from listening to the television, and I resolved to never let it hear the television again. I didn’t turn o n the TV all that day, but on the fifth day, when I uncovered the cage, the bird screamed. Not a normal scream, mind you, and it was nothing I had ever had turned on the television. It was the sound of a man screaming in terror and pain. It was, I know now, the scream my uncle gave when he was killed. When the bird screams again it will be my scream as they tear me apart, for even now the bird is listening to me. It stares at me coldly where I’ve barricaded myself in the kitchen.”
“As you life depends on it, do not yet uncover the cage.”
“The sixth day, yesterday, when I hesitantly uncovered the cage, the bird was quiet. Perhaps ten minutes later it cocked its head to the side, as if it had heard something I could not. ‘They’re coming.’ it whispered, ‘They’re coming’. Over and over again he repeated in a haunting voice. ‘They’re coming’”
“Today is the seventh day, and they are here, just as the bird said. I can hear them scratching at the door and crawling in the walls. The bird is waiting to record how I die, I swear, if it coul d grin it would have been grinning from the moment I uncovered its cage. The noises are getting louder, they’ll get in soon, so I’m saying goodbye now. Take care of the bird; I couldn’t think of anyone else to give it to, I’m sorry. You must take care of him till they come for you. You have seven days.”
The track ended suddenly, and you look around you, startled. You must have been entranced by the disc, for the lawyer was gone. You hadn’t noticed him leave. You stare at the covered cage on the coffee table, and wonder if you had just heard on the CD was real, or just some elaborate hoax. A rustling comes from underneath the embroidered silk. Your curiosity begs you to see what’s in the cage. You slowly raise up the blanket.
Credited to apoisonedlogic.
The clock stared at me with its red eyes, shouting to me that he would arrive soon. He always comes at the witching hour. Of course I didn’t know that the witching hour was three in the morning till I told my friend about my night time wanderer. The witching hour is the time of night when God is at his weakest and all the imps and minions come out. This man was obviously not a three horned demon, nor was he an evil servant of the devil. He looked old, and lonely. I felt bad for him. He was probably homeless with no family or friends to speak of.
Every night he’s there, just sitting in our backyard. Every night I want to go outside and talk to him, but I can’t seem to work up the courage. He just sits on the tire swing, muttering to himself. He looks so lonely. Luckily I have no trees near my window, or anything that could block my view of him. My friend says it’s a trap to lure me outside. He says that a little kid like me isn’t thinking straight this late at night, so obviously; this prince of darkness wants an easy meal. He just wants me to come outside and, wham, I’m a nighttime snack.
Maybe he has a point though. Not about the evil part, but about the unsafe part. The old man might be crazy. I’m sure being homeless takes its toll on your body. I can’t see him that well from window either. I’ll sleep on it, maybe tomorrow night I’ll go and see if he’s harmless or not.
The bed looked so comfortable I couldn’t help but to flop down onto it. I lay there, waiting for the sand man to put his special dust in my eyes to carry me off to dream land. The wind was blowing really hard outside. I could here a tree branch tapping on my window. I bet the man was cold. I wonder if he is smart enough to find shelter. My eyes began to become extremely heavy, but the tree branch’s tapping kept drawing me out of my inner peace. I stared blankly into the cold darkness, when a sudden chill traced its way down my spine. I don’t have a tree anywhere near my window.
I continued to lie in my bed, and stare at window at the far end of room. I didn’t know what it could be. A werewolf? Dracula? Demon? All my childhood fears ran through my mind. There was a full moon out tonight. What did my friend say about the witching hour? When all the evils of the night came out? AND it was full moon? This is doubly bad.
The shadows of the room started to gather around my bed, ready to carry me to whatever terrible cave they called home. A thought occurred to me…Shadows. I looked to the window where the moon was shining its light from, my vision followed to where the light met the ground, and my heart sank. There on the ground was the dark outline of a man’s upper body. A new fear ran through me. One that wasn’t as ridiculous as creatures of the dark. The crazy man outside. Maybe he was the Prince of Darkness like my friend said. No, now I was acting like an eight year old, instead of the teenager that I was. My senses came back to me. He probably just wanted to get away from the wind, and saw me up in my window. So he climbed up the side of the house to the third story to tap on my window to get my attention.
My heart was beating out of control .Its rhythmic pace was thrown into chaos. Fear held me paralyzed, but I needed to know what was on the other side of that curtain. A battle between survival and curiosity was raging inside of me. Survival won. I merely took a step back from the window, and slowly made my way back, never taking my eyes off the window. When I finally reached my bed, I threw my covers over my head, and prayed. Prayed with all my might that I was just dreaming. I asked for a sign that I was going to live through the night. God let me know he was listening by making a knocking sound on the door to my room. A slow rhythm, a constant tempo. It never slowed, nor quickened. I sat and listened for a few minutes. It seemed the more I waited, the louder the knocking became. It almost reminded me of the tapping on the window. Then a terrifying thought donned on me.
I threw the covers back over my head, and shut my eyes as tight as I could, and kept trying to make them tighter. I covered my ears with my pillow trying to block out the knocking. I sat there in my cocoon for what seemed a life time. My body finally started to relax, and my mind began to wander off into dream land, but something wouldn’t let me go to sleep. It wasn’t the knocking. It was the silence. The knocking had stopped. Maybe it went away. I hoped it went away. I sat in silence, wrapped in my cocoon, trying to fade off to sleep.
A new noise started, it was not rhythmic like the last two sounds. It was the sound of someone walking, someone who was quickening their pace with every step, someone in my room. The footsteps stopped at the edge of my bed, and I felt eyes boring holes into the back of my head. I could hear the rain drops dripping onto the floor. I could smell the dirt on his shoes. Taste the mustiness of his clothes. Feel his breathing on the back of my neck. I knew then, that I would not survive the night.
Then I heard a deep voice, maybe multiple voices speaking together: “Come with me.”
I was staring at the man the whole time, and his lips did not move, but I knew the words came from him. They rang loudly inside my head. I didn’t want to move. I just wanted to hide under my covers until he went away. Then he, or they, said the words that would forever change my life, “We are not the ones you should hide from, but if you wait here, they might find you”. The use of the plural coming from this man with many voices frightened and confused me. I had so many questions, but first I had to confront my current fear and follow this thing.
I rose from my bed and looked at the man. He stared back into my eyes, no, through my eyes. Again the voices spoke, “Do not fear us, we shall make you see, follow us.” With that, the man turned, and jumped out the window. I felt compelled to follow. I closed my eyes and leaped after Him.
Down and down I fell. Three stories is a long way for a person of my size. As the ground neared, I expected the fall to slow, till I landed perfectly on my feet. I waited for the man to reach out his arms and catch me. I waited for something magical to happen. The cracking noise of my bones hitting the ground was not what I expected. I laid there on my back, I could feel the blood running through my head, and dripping out my ear. My vision started to blur, and the cold started to set in.
I saw a figure standing over me. The voices said their final words to me, “This was the least painful way we could help you, please forgive us. The only true place you can hide and never be found is death.”
It wasn’t until I broke down in front of my sister that it occurred to me to use the word ‘haunted’. When I tried to explain what was happening to me, finally articulating the weeks of dread and utter dislocation, I found that no other word would come. Haunted. There’s still a part of me that scoffs and glowers at this, to use the language of folklore; it seems to compress what I’d experienced into a simple banality, a prisoner of language.
I paid cash upfront for the house in West Toluca Lake. Something about the 1930’s Spanish architecture tucked behind the grove of weeping willows triggered a strong association with my childhood ideal of what it meant to be famous and successful in Los Angeles. It was far more than I needed, and I struggled to fill the extra rooms with bedroom sets and elaborate smoking lounges; more out of an obligation to keep up appearances when guests were over than to satisfy myself. I was happy there, for a short while.
My friends stop visiting a few months after I moved in. Increasingly elaborate excuses were spun, and I soon stopped asking. It only occurs to me now that I was doing the same, finding every reason to stay in the house.
There was such a gentle descent into the insanity of it all, that I hardly felt it happening. The unusually stormy winter hit me hard, and long hours in front of the sun lamp seemed to do little to halt my growing feeling of melancholy and nameless unease. I started sleeping later and I abandoned even the pretense of writing, spending long hours in silence on the back porch, listening to the dry rasping of the dead leaves in the cold breeze.
It was the middle of the night when I first saw him. After a long time of lying motionless in the dark, I slowly pulled myself out of bed from an Ambien fog at the sharp urging of my bladder, and shuffled towards the bathroom.
He was in the hall, standing perfectly still, his back to me. His head was cocked slightly to one side as if he was listening, but he showed no signs of seeing me. My heart leapt and my body locked as I tried to comprehend this intrusion. He was walking away from me now, the soft tread of his feet on the carpet the only sound that punctuated the stillness. Less than three seconds had passed from the moment I saw him, to when he turned a corner and was gone.
When I wrenched control from my frozen limbs, I found the house empty, and the doors still locked. Sleep came slowly that night as I tried to convince myself that what I had seen was a product of my medicated and half asleep mind.
He returned the next night, as I lay in bed. I awoke to the sound of the door opening and my eyes snapped open to complete darkness. There was the soft shuffling of feet, and then with a sickening feeling deep in my core, the sound of bed springs softly creaking, as if he had sat at the foot of the bed. Fear held me in place like a vice. There was a sound from far away, a dusty crackling breath of wind.
My mouth went dry and I croaked a small involuntary rasp as I struggled to extricate myself from the sheets that suddenly clung to me. In that naked moment of helpless animal terror, he vanished, leaving a palpable hole in the darkness.
After that night, I was never alone in that house. At the corner of my eyes I saw slow plodding movement, the lumbering gait of a shadow that evaporated as soon as I turned. Rarely at first, but increasingly, I would see him in full view; walking slowly from room to room, sitting motionless on the patio, standing solemnly and silently in odd corners of the house. He would be gone only moments after I registered his presence, simply ceasing to exist, taking with him the tiny muffled sounds of his movements.
I could not describe him now if I tried. He was not vague or indistinct, but utterly unremarkable in every appearance. I can no longer even recall the image of him, only the idea of it all. Beyond the sight, there was an indescribable quality around him, a lingering fog of unease and dread that slowly suffused the house and clouded my mind.
My friends and my family all swear that during the darkest weeks they called me often, increasingly sick with worry. I remember none of it, just the constant crashing waves of dread and shock that weathered away at my reason.
The moment of clarity came on a clear February night. In a near daze, I stumbled towards the sleep, not wanting to stay awake, not wanting to wake up again in this house. I turned out the light, sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed when the miasma of his presence enveloped me.
He was behind me in the dark.
I pressed my eyes tightly together, and exhaled a slow wheeze, trying to calm my racing heart.
The bed behind me bucked with sudden movement and a raspy cough of air, and I leapt away, flinging the light switch upward. The bed, once immaculately made was in shambles, the sheets strewn on the floor.
Something deep inside me seemed to slowly bend and snap, and I grasped at a fragment of epiphany that slipped through my fingers away into the gloom.
I felt suddenly and sharply awake and lucid, like I hadn’t in months. I held onto my momentary courage close as I approached the front door; stepping over the threshold for the first time in weeks brought a faint wave of dizziness, and then I was in the car trying not to look back. As I pulled the car into the street, I turned to the house, the last time I saw it, its lights ablaze in mimicry of life. He was at the window, his hands clasped at his side, a momentary silhouette that vanished with only the soft sway of the curtains.
I was at a motel within an hour and at my sister’s Studio City apartment the next morning. My throat was raw from not speaking for so many days and I croaked out the story to her, embarrassed at the absurdity of the way it all, but swaddled in a profound relief.
Despite the usefulness of it to describe the events, the word ‘haunted’ soon turns sour in my mouth. It never occurred to me to call the intruder a ‘ghost’. This was… something else. Something I can’t explain with the clubs and spears of language. The phantom impression of a right word, the perfect word, seems always at the tip of my tongue, but it never comes. It wasn’t the intruder. It was the house. There’s something wrong with the house itself.
The house is… broken.
Credited to entropyblues!
A moment passes. One thing is certain.
He’s not here now.
Your stomach rumbles. Even someone in your position has to eat. Your refrigerator door cries as you tug it open. You peer through the shelves. A jug of tea catches your eye. You take a swig, right out of the container. Your mother won’t know.
The tea tastes sharper than usual. You examine the label. Black tea. She bought the wrong kind. You shrug, reach for some leftovers. Flip the TV on in the other room as you slide them into the microwave. The five o’ clock news plays in the background. It might say something about him.
The usual teary story about the war. Some presidential candidate is coming to your town. You count down the numbers on the microwave. 5, 4…
“And, finally, tonight a food contamination alert for all residents in this county.”
“A shipment of Lipton’s Black Tea delivered to local stores has tested positive for traces of the ebola solanum virus. This super-strain of the disease causes painful sores on the underarms, neck and groin followed by profuse bleeding from all orifices. The survival rate once infected is less than 10%. I repeat, Lipton’s Black Tea has been pulled from the shelves but any resident who purchased the tea is advised to call the Center for Health Control to dispose of it immediately.”
You tug open the fridge once more and look at the tea you just drank.
Lipton’s. That’s not the kind your mother usually buys.
“Authorities report the shipment was tainted by an unidentified biological expert who remains at large.”
He’s not here now. You think. The jug of tea falls to the floor.
But he was.
Credited to Alice Wilde.
In the small town of Stull, Kansas, there once stood an old one room chapel on top of a hill, surrounded by graves. Beside the church was a cellar that was very difficult to find, as its doors had grass grown upon them. In front of it church was great tree that was always bare. None of the towns members could recall ever having seen a leaf upon its branches.
In the towns earliest years, well before the civil war, there were several farming families that lived there. The minister’s daughter had fallen madly in love with a boy from nearby, but had her heart broken when that young man was discovered to have impregnated a certain flirtatious towns girl. The two were married, and all the while the reverend’s daughter saw them, happy together, and her hatred brewed until after 9 months of painful endurance, that despise boiled over. Shortly after the young couples child was born the minister’s daughter went to their house.
They greeted her cheerfully but noticed, all too late, how she eyed the child blood-thirstily. She slit the throats of those two who’d made her life so miserable and then dragged their bodies, along with the newborn child, up the hill to the church. She put the bodies in the cellar and left the baby there, between their bodies, to starve to death. She locked the cellar shut and hung herself on the tree in front of the church. The bodies in the cellar were not found for three weeks.
From that day on leaves never grew on that tree. If you walk the graveyard late at night you can just hear the sound of a baby’s chilling cry. The towns people burnt down the tree many years ago, in the hopes of putting the ministers daughter’s spirit to rest. And more recently the church collapsed onto itself, burying the already difficult to find cellar.
Many have looked for its doors, but the few who have found them and ventured beneath its depths have seldom returned, with the exception of a few who came back to the sunlight after 3 weeks beneath- starved nearly to death and covered in blood that was not their own.
Normally you sleep soundly, but the thunderstorm raging outside is stirring you from your sleep. You begin to doze, then another crash jolts you awake. The cycle lasts most of the night. So you lay there, eyes open and outward, looking at your room stretching out before you in oblong shadows. Your eyes move from nameless object, to object, until you reach your mirror, sitting adjacent to you across the room.
Suddenly a flash of lighting, and the mirror flickers in illumination. For a scant second the mirror revels to you dozens of faces, silhouettes within its frame, mouths open and eyes blackened. They stare out at you, their black pupils fixed upon your face.
Then it is done. Are you sure of what you have seen? Unsettled, you don’t sleep for the rest of the evening. The next morning you remove the mirror from your wall and toss it in the trash. It didn’t matter if the vision you had seen was of truth or falsehood, you wanted to be rid of that mirror. In fact, you scrap every mirror in your house.
Weeks pass and the event of that night falls into passive memory. You are spending the day at a friend’s house and it’s time to use the bathroom. While you are in there the faucet starts to run without you prompting it. Taken aback by this, you do not yet act, trying to reason with your paranoia in your mind. The water starts to steam and a skin of moisture covers the mirror up above. You’re watching intently as words form: “Please return the mirrors. We miss watching you sleep at night.”
It’s been a while since I had anything like human contact, so I’ll attempt to be as brief as I can. At least the sound of typing is noise, and the echoes it produces are the nearest thing to a reply I’ve had in months.
I lost my job back in August. The dollar’s dropping, the economy’s poor, and son, you just aren’t a competitive investment anymore.
I’m young and I don’t have bills, so I took it in stride. The days of day zero closure notices and no parachutes were stories I’d only heard from my bitterest relatives, and besides, it’s hard to feel betrayed when you grow up learning these things really are only business. I collected my generous severance and decided to take a week off or so. A few years of being on call made me appreciate the value of a vacation, whatever form it was in, and my girlfriend and I had our savings.
Like any self respecting nerd, the week quickly became a blur of pizza orders every two days, progressing day by day into a schedule defined by creeping nocturnalness. The girl complained, but she often did. To be perfectly honest, her sleeping form in the bedroom soon became far more familiar to me than her waking self, a persona I now only encountered during the blurry hours just before I slept and just after I woke.
A week became two weeks, then a month. Slowly, the creaks and groans and occasionally startling shuffles of the old apartment building we lived in lost their frightening nature. I’d always been the horror junky, and I suppose my jaded nature made such assimilations much more graceful. In time, even the intermittently flickering streetlights and faint chatter or the distant televisions, conversations, apparitions, or whatever existed in the building became more reassuring than unsettling. I even began to fancy the old stain in the bathroom linoleum, which the landlord swore was wine and I believed was blood, had begun to fade.
Like you’d expect from any nocturnal, unemployed gamer, my relationship with my girlfriend quickly went downhill. Our infrequent conversations grew more heated and then more frigid, an affair of pauses and token acknowledgments. She started going out more. After a while, she stopped coming home more. After that, she stopped coming home at all. I barely noticed. I don’t think I noticed much of anything at that point. The days blurred more, and I could rarely remember if I had eaten, when I had woken, or how long I had been like this. I began to forget what the daytime really seemed like, even the struggling blue-grey of dawn and dust receded as the winter set in. Days became measured in a succession of the flickering street light’s sick yellow sodium arc.
After a while I began to notice a distinct absence in the air. The times I did come to enough to remember to shower or eat, I was drowned in the smell of the building collection of garbage bags in the kitchen, and the sullen stillness of the white courtyard beneath my windows. I often wondered how it could have so little snow, barely six inches, at any time, yet never display a single footstep too or from the darkened windows. At least, I’d think, the neighbors were quiet. Even the nocturnal whispers from the ducting had seemed to grow muted and fade until I no longer could distinguish them from the gentle hum of the building’s innards.
After maybe the fourth or fifth time I experienced these moments of clarity I resolved to remove the trash. The small had faded from sharp to mute, a sweet and musty reminder of life amidst the sharp winter air leaking in through the ill-maintained windows. It repulsed me.
With some effort, I gathered as many bags as I could and struggled through door after door. I winced at every bang and crash at the door, with no leaking sounds of televisions left I had nothing to gauge my racket, and every moment seemed to tear at the brittle air of the building. Around then I noticed I could see my breath, though I did not feel any colder than normal.
After an eternity pushing through the empty hallways, I pushed through the front door of the building into the cutting air outside. A low, constant hum echoed off the snow as the wind pushed over the undisturbed snow cover all about me, forming an inch high mist of blowing grains, tumbling and twisting over the dunes which had formed on the adjacent parking lot, piling on the doors of the various stores which lined the streets. I briefly wondered how bad the weather had been lately, to push the life out of city so thoroughly, then pushed my way down what memory served was the sidewalk, keeping to the edge of the building like it was a life tether.
By half-forgotten habit, and perhaps a morbid curiosity of what other humans looked like, I strained to see through each mirror like window for signs of movement or habitation. What blinds were drawn displayed vacant apartments, tinfoil to block the sun, the occasional poorly-placed shelf or couch. Not a single shuffle or rustle escaped into the vacuumous winter atmosphere.
I rounded the corner to the back alley to find the hulking form of a garbage truck in the alley, laden with snow and ice until it seemed more an ancient monument to the cold than a sign of civilization. It should have seemed unsettling to me, but by then I was so eager to abandon the icy landscape to the relative warming tones of my monitor’s glow my only thought was to drop the garbage off and set back inside my apartment. I rushed down its length and in front of it, ready to throw the bags overhand into the dumpster, when I was stopped by the only light to emanate from the cab of the truck, the rapidly scrawling digits of a radio scanner, visible through the open door of the cab, pushing its tenuous glow on a clipboard and pen.
Abandoning my garbage, I lifted myself into the cab and attempted to read from the frost-bound paragraphs tightly wound over the paper. Near the bottom, ink blurred by its inability to set in what must have been well frozen paper at the time, was scrawl “Four weeks now. Even the radios have gone quiet. -67c last time a station got through. Gas froze last night. Need to find someone”.
I looked back up, down the alley, across the snow scape of parking lots and buildings being swallowed by snow, and listened hard to the howl of ice over ice. I tried to imagine wolves, or mocking voices, or anything from the hells capes of the stories I had studied so thoroughly, but the tone never changed, never let up or grew louder.
It’s a lonely place, missing the end of the world.
If you’re lucky, you’ll never know about it. Your life will be spent in the bliss that can only come from the ignorance of the dark horrors that scratch and gnaw at the edges of reality. You’ll never hear the dark whispers coming from the closet; never feel the cold chill creeping along your spine. You’ll never pause at a turn in the hallway because you know that if you look down it, you’ll see something that shouldn’t be there. Something that creeps, stalks, and skulks in the shadows. Something that, once it sees you, will never stop coming for you. It won’t come for you when you are sleeping. It wants you to know it’s there. It wants you to hear the relentless sound of its footsteps, the panting of its breath. It wants to smell your fear, to hear your whimper, and to see the horror on your face as it approaches.
If you’ve any sense at all, you won’t try to find it. You’ll never pay attention to the sounds. You won’t try to catch sight of those things that flit by the corner of your eye. Your ignorance will be your shield and your protection. Do not be overly curious; discount the sounds as the quirks of an old house, or the heating system, or any other excuse you can think of. Whatever you do, don’t believe. Because once you believe, they’ll become real. Once you inquire into their existence, they will solidify. And once you finally uncover them for what they are…
They’ll come for you.