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My ex-husband, Mark, was emotionally abusive, hence why I divorced his ass. His favourite activity was making me feel awful. When his mother passed away, he said it was because he married an ungrateful bitch of a wife. He also loved playing these little head games. He would be in a crappy mood, but try to pin it on me: “What’s that face about?” I would look up from whatever I was doing, confused, and say “What?” and then for the rest of the night, he would say I was in a bad mood. It would drive me crazy.

Despite him being an asshole to me, I thought he loved our son, Jaden. At first, I was selfish; I wanted complete custody of Jaden, but I knew he loved his father and would probably resent me for the rest of his life if I took him away from Mark. Thus, Mark and I agreed on shared custody; Jaden would live with me for two weeks and then his dad for two weeks. Thankfully, we weren’t that far away from each other, so Jaden never had to leave his elementary school and friends.

I had started seeing someone romantically about seven months after Mark and I were officially divorced. Mark lost his shit on me when I told him. I had never seen him so enraged in the fifteen years I had been married to him. His face deepened to a new shade of red and spittle dripped from his mouth as he called me a whore in front of our twelve-year-old son. I screeched back, cursing him for being a controlling fucker and dragging our son through our marriage problems. The vein on his forehead throbbed at that last comment and he punched a hole in the wall. Mark started rambling about how I only stayed with him for so long because of Jaden (which is absolutely true). It was like he was possessed, he just kept going on like, “You love Jaden don’t you? More than you ever loved me? Jaden’s such a good kid, isn’t he?” He was acting like a jealous child. He started leaving and roughly grabbed Jaden’s arm, snarling, “Get in the car."

For the first time ever, I saw real fear on my child’s face and I followed them out the door, prepared to call the police. Jaden slipped out of Mark’s hand and gave me a hug, whispering, “He just needs to calm down, Mom. I’ve got this.” He kissed my cheek and with that, walked back with Mark to the car. I thought Mark loved him, so I let them go.

The next morning, I overslept. I had a bit too much wine the night before and kept snoozing the alarm. I had just enough time to throw some casual office clothes on, brush my teeth, and grab a coffee. I was half-asleep as I hurriedly got ready and could barely see during the seven minutes it took me. I continued to rub my eyes and yawn. I rushed out the front door, squinting into the already bright day.

I fumbled with my keys and unlocked the car door but paused when I heard what sounded like muffled whimpering. It was close to me, that was definite. I whirled around, looking into the bushes on my front lawn and thought it was maybe a cat or a dog, but I was already running late so I chose to ignore it.

The car was hot, so I cranked the AC and put my car in reverse. I was looking at the clear blue sky, wishing I could just sleep in and have my coffee on the back porch, when my car jolted upwards near the end of the driveway. The wheels had rolled over something and a loud crunch resonated through my car.

Confused, I peered at my rearview mirror and aimed it down at the back wheel of my car.

Something small rested by the wheel and I gasped. I could see the top of someone’s head.

Jaden’s head.

I dry heaved. His head didn’t look right. I couldn’t move. His head was at an unnatural angle. I was screaming at myself to go to him, but every muscle in my body refused to unclench. His little head that I used to kiss before bed.

I couldn’t go out and see him like that.

I willed myself to think that he was alive, so I opened the door.

I collapsed on the driveway and from far away, I could hear someone screaming. Was it me?

I had split him open. I reached for his small arm to feel for a pulse, but that energetic spirit of his didn’t touch back.

I began hyperventilating as I noticed tape covering his mouth. I threw myself over him to shield his body from any onlooking neighbours.

My hands brushed against a rough material. There was rope binding his legs and hands together. Someone had placed him here. He had been the source of the whimpering.

I shakily brushed his hair out of his face, “It’s okay, it’s okay, baby.” I murmured. I felt like I was in a dream. If I stood up, it would be real, so I stayed with him.

The noise of my car door slamming shut somewhat woke me up from the nightmare and I peered up to see Mark looking down at me. He had been in the backseat of my car the whole time.

His ugly sneer tore at my heart as he said, “What’s that face about?”

480
1.6k
Posted by
October 2017
19 hours ago

I never should have dropped out of college.

The difference between Zuckerberg and I is astronomical, but I was delusional enough to think otherwise. I wasn’t completely hopeless, though. I had an idea of what I wanted to become. But that’s irrelevant here.

This is the story about how I ended up at the factory.

I was living by myself in San Antonio at the time. My folks were kind enough to give me a bit of “moving out cash”, and I was also working part time during school. That’s how I’d been sustaining myself. But as much as I love them, there was no way in hell that I was moving back in, that just wasn’t an option. After taking up a few temporary stints around the city, the bills started piling up. In addition to that, I’d also been fired from my part-time. Not that it mattered too much. I was making peanuts there.

I started looking everywhere, trying to secure another steady source of income. But that turned out to be quite the process. As my bills started stacking, so did my rejection emails.

At first, I was being selective, trying to land something that was considerably higher than the minimum wage. That was just wishful thinking.

In the end, I decided to settle for a 9$/hour gig at a local restaurant. But then I found something better.

A lot better.

It was a singular flyer taped to the side of a bus stop shelter. I looked it over and was put into a state of absolute incredulity.

We’re looking for some hard-working individuals to help out in our new factory! Starting rates at $21/hour. Please email or give us a call if you think you’re up to the task! No previous warehouse experience required.

That last line got me. No fucking experience needed.

Now, if I were smarter, then I could’ve seen where this was going. If something’s too good to be true… you know the rest.

But I suppose that desperate times don’t only yield desperate measures. They also make you disregard the concept of reality.

I decided to give them a call later that day. I thought it’d show more initiative than sending an email, I don’t know.

After a few rings, a younger sounding woman picked up.

“Hello! This is the Dolus Company, Marie speaking. How may I help you today?”

I tried to do a quick recollection in my head. Had I ever heard about a “Dolus Company?” I hadn’t. But it’s not like I’d know about every company in Texas, so this wasn’t an immediate cause for concern.

The phone call went surprisingly well. A bit too well in retrospect. But hey, desperate times.

We’d set up an interview for the following day at around 9 AM.

Things were starting to look up.

That morning, I drove out to the factory address. It was kind of on the outskirts of town, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. It was only a twenty-five minute drive, and there would be little traffic on the way there.

I suppose that you could call the place medium sized. I mean, I haven’t seen too many factories in real life, so it’s hard to make an apt comparison. It was located to the side of a narrow road, right next to two large cornfields.

I parked in the lot adjoining to the road, which was about ¾ full. I got out of my car, straightened my tie, and slicked my hair back one more time before walking in.

The lady had told me to go to the manager’s office, which was apparently located to the left of the entrance as soon as I walked in.

I found it easily enough. The door was closed, so I knocked. And knocked. I must have stood out there for 5 minutes, but nobody answered.

At first, that is.

Assuming that the guy was simply late, I took a seat on the chair directly parallel to the door. However, I was surprised when I started hearing movement coming from inside. It sounded like the shuffling of feet, along with multiple hushed voices conversing.

Eventually, the door opened up and I was met by a tall, bulky man dressed less casually than me. He shook my hand and kindly introduced himself as Winston.

When I walked into his office, I'd realized that it was only the two of us in there. I could’ve sworn that I’d heard somebody else. But maybe not. I contemplated asking about it for the briefest moment, but I decided that there was no benefit in doing so.

We sat down and he began asking me some questions. Most of them were regarding my physical strength and endurance. I was in pretty good shape myself, and that was evident from my not-so subtle wardrobe choices, so those were no problem.

In fact… everything seemed fine about the whole process. No red flags just yet, aside from the bizarre delay in the time that it took him to open the door for me.

I was supposed to come in at 7 AM the very next day. Early start, but whatever. Beggars can’t be choosers.

It was a generic place, with assembly line production and heavy machinery sprawled across the wide, concrete floors.

I was given a rundown of exactly what I’d be doing and how to do it. The factory’s production was mostly focused on vehicle accessories, like trailer hitches.

However, my job was even easier than I initially thought it was going to be. Since I had a forklift license, all that I had to do was transport materials from one end of the factory to the other. It was hardly strenuous, and for the first few days, I’d estimated that I was only actually spending about two and a half hours driving back and forth. The other five and a half simply comprised of waiting around for somebody to finish sealing the shipping boxes. I actually managed to get a hefty amount of reading in, which was great.

But I doubt that you wanna hear about all this. To summarize, the job was a cakewalk for the first few weeks. The only peculiar thing that I’d really noticed was the fact that a lot of the other workers sparsely ever spoke to me or even to each other.

My interactions were mostly limited to the two other new guys that had been hired – Chad and Sergio. They were chill enough, and our conversations were about as normal as you could expect for 3 dudes in their early 20’s working at a factory.

It was during the 3rd week where the first interesting occurrences began to manifest. I was doing my usual rounds, when I noticed one of the assembly line workers sitting absolutely still. Now, I expected them to take breaks. They were human, after all. But this woman simply wasn’t moving.

I observed her apparent detachment as vehicle lighting fixtures slowly moved past her. The bizarre part was that her posture remained impeccable. I slowly drifted towards her, trying to get a glimpse of what she might’ve been looking at. As I made my way past her, it looked to me as if she was simply staring at a spot on the wall parallel to her. I took a quick glance over, but couldn’t seem to locate anything worth staring at I mean, it was just a wall.

After a few moments of contemplation, I came to the conclusion to leave it. I mean, we all zone out sometimes, don’t we?

If that doesn’t sound particularly strange to you, I can guarantee you that this encounter was only scratching the surface.

After that, a few days had gone by in which nothing noteworthy had occurred. But then I saw him for the first time. An individual which I can only describe as “the Suit.”

I was taking one of my breaks when he appeared at the top of the stairs connecting to the next floor. Now, I was instructed to never go up there. Winston had told me that there would be no situation where I would ever need to. So I had no idea what was actually above us.

He was a tall, somewhat wiry man, wearing a 3-piece dark blue suit. Or maybe it was just a light black. To be honest, I couldn’t tell for sure.

On the surface, this would’ve been a nothing situation. He was probably just a supervisor or something. But what kind of supervisor wears a facemask? I mean, the guy was wearing a plain black facemask with what looked like black goggles on top. Black gloves as well. From the bits of exposed skin that I saw, it was evident that he was pale. Extremely pale.

I looked up at him in moderate bewilderment, trying to gauge who he was supposed to be. I nearly had a heart attack when Winston grasped my shoulder, pulling my gaze away from the Suit.

“Hey, Jeff! You keeping busy?”

“Yeah… I’m just waiting for the next set of boxes to transport.”

“Great! You know, in the meantime, you could probably help them pack it all in. Keeps everything moving nice and steady.”

“Uh… sure.”

He gave me a smile before inching past me and walking off. I looked back up, only to see the Suit walking back through wherever he came from.

I also saw Winston making a beeline towards the stairs, climbing them with a haste I’d never seen him operate at before. In fact, his movements almost looked… angry. He went the same way that the suit did, and I never saw him again that day.

Obviously, some questions were raised here. Like who the hell that guy was and why Winston seemed to be so intent on having me not see him.

But I wasn’t gonna ask. For some reason… that didn’t seem like such a great idea. I decided to simply keep my head low and do my damn job. Whatever was really going on… I wasn’t about to get involved with it.

As the day was ending, and I was preparing to clock out, one of the janitors nudged me as I walked by him.

“Excuse me?” I muttered out in surprise.

Keeping his voice extremely low, he whispered to me. “Did he look at you?”

I was lost for a second. But only a second. It was pretty obvious who he was talking about.

“No… don’t think so.”

The janitor just nodded at this. “Okay. Just don’t look at him.”

I tried asking him some more about this, but he simply told me that he was busy and couldn’t talk.

Okay… what the hell was going on here?

Those were the first few weeks. I still don’t know what the woman was staring at or who the Suit is, but hopefully I’ll never find out. I’ve read stories like this. And they never end well.

UPDATE

Alright, you know how I said that I was going to lay low? Well… nothing ever goes perfectly, does it?

Since one of the other forklift drivers had called in sick to a night shift, I had to fill his place. The shift itself was from midnight to 8 AM. Extremely obscure hours, but it also paid 25% more. So I didn’t complain.

In addition to that, there were considerably less workers, which consequently meant less work to actually do. I was probably on the forklift for 10 minutes per hour. The day was so slow, that Winston decided to have me do inventory in a back room. Easy enough. I was just supposed to count bumpers.

But the room itself… that was something to be desired. The floors were cracked and dusty, while the only sources of illumination came from a few incandescent bulbs dangling precariously above me.

It is what it is. I thought. Before I started counting, I decided to take a look around the place. There was a singular locked door to one side, as well as a window on the other. The room that the window led to was presumably pitch black, because I couldn’t see anything through it.

I didn’t realize how bizarre this really was until about ten minutes in.

There was a window… but no door leading into the room. Not unless the door on the other side was connected. But then that would have to be one large room.

I went back over to the window and tried looking through it again, mostly out of sheer curiosity.

It was so dark that it honestly could’ve been completely covered, and I wouldn’t have noticed.

After about two minutes of intent staring, a knock from behind made me jump. At first, I thought it’d come from the entrance. But that was wide open. And nobody was there.

There was only one other door in the room. Three more heavy, rhythmic knocks rang through, confirming that it was indeed coming from the locked one.

At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. So I froze. Three more knocks. But there was another sound as well. Almost like tapping on glass. I turned around, catching what I could only assume was a hand pressed on the window for a split second.

I just made up the inventory numbers and left the room after that.

I’m not gonna quit just yet. The chances of a better opportunity popping up somewhere else is slim. I’ll just tough it out. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not in any immediate danger. Hell, it looks as if this factory has been open for years. It can’t be that bad if people keep working here, right?

Right?

But if anything else happens… I guess I’ll take note of it.

1.6k
125

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

Part 5: Training

I took a deep breath and braced myself for what was about to come.

We walked into the room. The shiny marble was so clean It was disturbing. The metal surgical instruments that hung from the walls were so bright it was blinding. So clean. So professional.

I was momentarily distracted by the rooms perfection.

I quickly came to and looked over in the seat that had been occupied by Miri.

“Where is she? Did you kill her already?” I said dryly with anger starting to bubble up inside me.

“Miri. I hadn’t realized you knew her name.” He said with a smile.

“Where is she?!” I got louder.

“She’s back in her room. She’s resting and recovering.”

“Resting and recovering? She’s not at a day spa. You’ve hacked that poor woman into nothing. Do you think she’s capable of rest? I want to see her.” I pushed past him headed towards the metal door that led me to the black hallway.

The marble human cages.

He grabbed my arm.

“Now dear. Think very carefully about what you are doing. There is a certain way to go about this business. We mustn’t form attachments. It’s easier that way.”

I looked at him and down at his hand that was squeezing my arm so hard I could feel it bruising. He released me but I was too frozen to move away from his grip over me. He continued.

“I remember my first. I was just like you. I had an eagerness to help him. I put myself in his position. I thought I’d never be able to do what people do in this business. But...”

He thought for a minute before he spoke again. He looked like a young boy trying to muster up the courage to ask a cheerleader to prom.

“You see..this isn’t something most people just jump right in to. You have to know the right people and you have to be trained.”

“Trained?”

“Yes. Trained. This is methodical you see. You have to know the exact places to cut and how to keep infection and bleeding out under control. Well. Unless that’s what you are trying to do.” He laughed but swallowed it as soon as it came out.

“Anyways. This will become second nature to You eventually. You will be able to disassociate yourself from them. They are just work. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

Nothing. I thought to myself. That was the first thing he had said I agreed with. They were nothing. Nothing to people like him at least.

He waited on my reply.

“So what happens if I say no? The consequences you threatened me with earlier? You can’t make me be a part of this.”

He smiled and it gave me chills.

“You cannot say no. Mom and I will be lenient on the time we give you to adjust but that’s it. You will do this. Maybe not in our time... but in time. “

“I won’t do this!! You can’t make me be one of you! I am not that person! You are evil!”

“Watch your tone Hannah. You will.”

I looked down at my feet. Defeated. Broken. Confused.

“But if I don’t?”

“Kids are the highest selling on the Market, my dear.”

My stomach dropped to my feet and started to rotate like a loopy rollercoaster about to derail.

I felt like my body had lost contact with gravity and I was spinning. What had he just implied? My life was at stake? He would do this to me? For money?

It took me a while to speak. Like when you have novocaine at the dentist and you feel like your jaw is about 15 lbs.

The beginning was just slurred.

“What?” He asked

“I said why! Why?” Hot tears streamed down my cheeks and splashed against my chest.

“Hannah. I don’t want it to resort to that. You have to know that. But your Mom and I are not willing to go down for this. By anyone. If you do not participate you are a threat. If you do participate you are an accessory. We need insurance on you so that we are confident you don’t talk. You don’t want to be a prisoner in your own home do you? With insurance on you, you can still carry on with your life. School. Sleepovers. Outings. Nothing changes. We know you will not talk if you are guilty of our sins.”

I wept. I fell to the floor and I cried like I never had before. I started to hyperventilate. My lungs were refusing to take in any oxygen.

He stood there and watched for a minute. Like I was a jester putting on a performance. Unamused.

“Are you almost done?” He said dryly crossing his arms.

I stared down at the shiny floor as my tears danced on it. I finally looked up to him. Like a puppy begging for food. What could I have even said? Nothing would change this predicament. His coldness convinced me of that. I had to be a willing participant.

He reached his hand out to help me off the floor. I looked at his hand then his eyes. I took his hand and he helped me to my feet.

“As long as you are good to us we will be nothing but good to you my dear. Now...can we start?”

I stood in silence. My arms by my side and my head down. Like a subservient dog.

“Today we will be removing eyes.”

I kept my head down and started to cry harder. My face was wet and sticky. My shirt was drenched at the collar.

I looked up.

“Miri?” I asked like a whimpering toddler.

“No. Miri needs recovery. She is still needed for other things. We can’t be too greedy with her or we won’t be able to get her for all she’s worth. Miri will be with us a while. We have a new patient. But, Hannah, no more names. Names give them too much power. Nicknames are fine I guess? I never really call them anything but whatever they are ordered for.” He said as he trailed off deep into thought.

“If you want I’ll let you nickname this fellow?” He asked as if I should be grateful.

I said nothing. Still looking down at my feet.

“Well then. Shall I go grab him?”

Silence.

“Very good. I’ll be right back.”

He disappeared into the black dungeon and I stood weeping. It felt like he was gone only seconds. I dreaded what my future had in store for the next 24 hours.

He came out with an average built man. Mid forties. White. Balding. Glasses. Duct tape across his mouth. Hands tied behind his back.

We made eye contact and he begged me to save him with his beautiful blue eyes. They were a painful blue. I looked back down at my feet. Crying even harder.

Dad slung the man into the chair and started to strap him in as he fought with all his might.

“The key....to gaining....power....” he struggled with the man.

“Is to keep them hungry and keep them tired.” He said as he dusted his hands off from strapping him down.

“Now” he caught his breath. “The next step is a personal decision. Depending on the patient and how you are feeling. To sedate or not to sedate?”

I looked up at him helplessly.

“Mr.....blue” he smiled as he looked at his eyes and then back to mine.

“He decided to kick me last night. Between my legs. Good thing I’m not having any more kids.” He laughed.

“I told him, Hannah, that it would be best for everyone if he didn’t fight it. I told him. But he did. So he’s lost his right to sedation.”

Mr. Blue wailed under his duct tape. Salt water flooding his face. He knew what was to come.

“Dad please. Please don’t do this.”

“Let me stop you there Hannah. If you continue to talk this way there will be consequences. Would you like to trade places with Mr. Blue? There is a high price on him right now. But you...your eye color is pretty close.”

I stood in awe. How had my life changed so drastically in a days time? How did it go so wrong? What had I done to deserve this? Maybe I wasn’t being physically hurt but mentally I was being just as tortured as them.

“Okay then. As I thought.”

“Can we at least sedate him?” I begged.

“Hannah. My mind has been made up. I do not waver with work. There is no grey area. I said no sedation once and I will not repeat myself. Are we clear?”

I looked back down to my feet.

Mr. Blue flailed the whole time my dad was scooping his eyes out. The noises, even through duct tape, were haunting. I kept my face down. Never once looking up. It felt like hours had gone by and I was starting to get dizzy from adrenaline and nausea.

Mr. Blue went silent. Shock had taken over and put him out of his misery. Temporarily. When I looked up Dad was wrapping gauze around his head where only his sockets remained.

“Go grab me the record book.”

“NOW!”

I jumped from being startled. I quickly walked to grab the green book and brought it back.

“Now open it to the page that’s marked with a post it.” He said taking off his bloody gloves.

“There.” He said as I flipped to the page he was referring to.

I saw a list of names, orders, and prices. But these were different. They were not highlighted.

“That’s what we have left today.”

I ran my eyes down the page. 6 more orders. And that was just today. I felt the blood wash out of my face.

“Next one I’m going to let you take.” He said as he highlighted Mr. Blue’s order.

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258

Silence is subjective.

It’s amazing how our upbringings can distort our perception of silence. They determine the volume that lulls us into a false sense of isolation. If you grew up in a big city, you’ll have fallen asleep to a backdrop of distant cars and pedestrians, thinking it’s quiet. You’ll be so accustomed to the ambience that you won’t even notice the honks and shouts coming from the streets. It’ll all blend into the white noise of the night.

Likewise, if you were raised in the countryside, you’ll have blotted out the subtle chirps of the crickets and the howls of the wolves in the distance, drifting off amongst the insects in apparent bliss.

We need this isolation to fall asleep at night, because when we feel isolated, we can let our minds roam free, able to create whatever we want within the confines of our own subconscious.

My mother taught me that fact, and I never forgot it. In past years, I’d have tried to experiment with it wherever I went. I’d listen for the subtle sounds of the environment, realizing that she was right.

Now, though, I find myself looking back and wishing I’d listened to her more.

My childhood was one of the latter. I was raised in the Pennsylvania Highlands, on a huge estate at least a mile away from any other families. It was truly isolated.

My house was a huge colonial mansion with two stories. It stood overlooking a bleak, mud-covered valley, with a faint view of a pine forest in the distance. Faded pillars lined the sides, converging with the unpainted wooden walls, occasionally lightened up by the off-white windowsills. It was always an intimidating sight from the outside for my young self, even after living in it for several years.

Apparently, they’d bought the estate in the late 1930s. My mother always used to say to me that she’d always regretted it. It was old and worn and chipped and rotten from the inside out, and my father always promised to fix it, but never did.

But there was one reason she’d stayed: the silence.

You can’t possibly understand what it was like to live in that house. Normally, in the countryside, you’d expect there to be a constant, if subtle background noise. The fluttering of a moth’s wings, the rustling of the grass, the creak of the house settling on its foundation. But there was none of that, somehow.

It was absolutely, hypnotizingly silent.

Even if I described it to you, you wouldn’t be able to replicate how quiet it was. You couldn’t just hear your own heartbeat at any given time-- you could hear everyone else’s, even if they were three rooms over. I can’t tell you how many times I was kept up at night by the harshness of my own breathing. If someone stepped on a wayward floorboard during the night, you’d be sure my parents would be on top of them.

And yet, somehow, it was natural to have this total absence of any sound. We never had any sort of electronic device, apart from a telephone, which was sort of necessary. We didn’t want the extra noise disturbing our peaceful lives.

My parents were a quiet bunch. You know the type; the ones who keep their children locked away in their homes, without video games or mobile phones or anything to distract them from becoming their perfect little students. And, like those kids that seem to be popping up more and more often, I had no friends growing up. It was only until I went off to college at 17 that I was able to really mingle with my own kind.

That was where I met Matthias.

He was a city boy, having grown up in the Bronx in New York. He was sweet, sensitive, and had a body to kill for. We were the cutest couple you’ve ever seen. (Still are.)

Long story short, I never went back to my Pennsylvania house. I talked with my family on the phone occasionally, but never got to see them in person. Eventually, I graduated and got engaged to Matthias, leaving my past behind and venturing into the city for our new life.

At first, the noise kept me up at night. My mother had been right about the effect living in the countryside would have when I moved somewhere else. All the sirens and subways were too much to bear.

She’d never wanted me to leave. While my father had always been indifferent to most of my feelings, my mother was caring, nurturing. She taught me everything I know; homeschooled me with supplies passed down from her own parents. I owe so much to her.

But life has a way of punishing the best of us.

I could tell before I left that she was starting to lose herself. She was no longer the excited, wide-eyed persona I grew up with; her conversations with me were brief and devoid of emotion, and she no longer lit up at my presence. I think the silence, combined with her husband’s indifference, was slowly eating away at her.

As my young, selfish self, I looked at my poor mother and told myself I wouldn’t end up like her.

At one point along the way, my father divorced my mother for reasons I never found out, and left with nearly everything they had one night, driving away in the family car and never looking back.

I don’t think she was ever quite the same after that.

After Matt and I had moved into the city, we would get calls now and then from my mother, who still lived in the house. She would speak to me in a soft voice and tell me that she was looking forward to my visit. I’d tell her I never said I’d visit, and in fact that I didn’t want to go back. I loved the bright lights and big dreams that lit up the New York nights. But she’d just chuckle and move on, saying how she missed me dearly.

This went on for about three years. During that time, her calls became less and less frequent, and during each, her voice became more and more unintelligible. Her speech started to slur, and she broke into a habit of repeating herself every minute or so. Eventually, she lost the ability to piece together coherent sentences.

Over those three years, I watched a woman endure the passage of time through the telephone.

Soon, the calls decreased to once a month, then once every two months, then once every four. And, gradually, they disappeared altogether.

Matt and I went through several jobs and several heartbreaks. We loved each other and punished each other for our love. But we persisted. And, soon, I learned to forget my lonely upbringing and move on.

Two weeks ago, my mother called again.

It was a chilly New York evening. Matt and I were taking a break from a big fight, and I was drying my tears in my bedroom, listening to the steady silence of the streets below.

I picked up the phone as soon as it rang, silently hoping it would be her.

“Hello?”

“Hon..honey? That... you, Veronica?”

“My name’s Victoria, Mom. You know that,” I said through the tears, struggling to maintain my chapped smile.

“You don’t need to… too loud…” Her voice was interrupted by a harsh, raspy cough. “Visit… me soon?”

“Mom, I’ve already told you, I don’t want to go back. I love you, but I just can’t.” I sighed. This was the worst I’d heard her.

“Too… LOUD!” Her sudden yell made me jump. I heard her panting on the other end. “Stop… scream…”

“Mom…” I wiped new, guilt-driven tears from my face. “Mom, I’m not screaming. But I’m sorry. I’ll speak more softly.”

“SCREAMING!” she shrieked, exhaling loudly, almost as if she had her mouth pressed up against the receiver. “NOISE! TOO MANY! TOO… Loud…” Her breathing seemed to calm down.

“Mom, are you okay?”

“Veronica…” She was whispering at this point. “Stay… on.”

“I’ll stay on if you need me to,” I assured. Something was wrong. Her condition was worsening to the point where she could no longer speak.

“Stay… on…” Her speech was cut off by an abrupt buzzing noise, like if someone had turned on a radio to a dead station.

“MOM! I can barely hear you! MOM!” I yelled into the phone. I could hear Matthias in the other room, shifting his position on the couch to hear me. I heard a clatter from the other end.

Through the huge noise, I could barely make out my mom in the distance, shrieking, “QUIET! STOP! TOO MANY! STOP!”

The noise overpowered her screams until it reached a point where my ears began to ring.

“MOM!”

The call cut off abruptly. I dropped the phone and let my head fall into my cupped hands, more tears streaming down my face. All I could hear were the car horns and subway trains clattering below.

The guilt of all those years I refused to travel back to that house rushed back to me all in that one moment. I was trying so hard to make a new life for myself that I forgot to look back at the woman who gave me the one I have.

The next call I got was five days later.

It was to identify the body.


If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know the sound of agony. It’s a deep, guttural screech that pours every emotion you’ve ever felt into one, incomprehensibly painful expression of mourning. It is the single most terrifying sound a human can make.

I don’t think I’ve ever screamed as hard as I did when I saw the body for the first time.

The mailman had found her body lying half outside the front door. Her throat had been slit in several places, dried blood oozing out of the wrinkled skin. Her hands were covered in tiny scars, the result of years of unchecked self-harm. I’d never bothered to check in on her after I’d left, and now I was seeing her in this mangled state, exacted by her own hand.

I couldn’t help but feel like it was by my hand, too.

Not many people attended the funeral, unsurprisingly. Nobody was there apart from some distant cousins.

During the time I had listened to over the phone, I came to learn that my mother was unpredictable in her old age. And unpredictable in death, too.

When the time came to read her will, I didn’t expect much. My father had taken mostly everything of value in the home.

So I was completely caught off guard when they announced she’d left me the house.

I didn’t know how to react.

To be truthful, I had become tired of the city life over the course of the past few months. Matt had too, and after we’d made up from our fight, he agreed we should try and look for someplace else.

I looked at him, and he looked at me.

All the guilt inside me wanted me to forfeit. I didn’t deserve this, after I’d left my poor mother to die.

But, now, I realized all I wanted was silence.

So I said yes.

I should have listened to the guilt like I listened to the noise on the phone, standing by as she destroyed herself.


We pulled up in the driveway on the Tuesday of the following week. As our car crawled up the unpaved driveway, the gravel crunched harshly under us. We got out and unloaded the luggage from the trunk. It was then that I finally forced myself to look upon my old house.

It was somehow even more imposing than it had been when I was a child. Vines sprawled up its walls like veins, writhing and weaving all around the structure. The wood was old and warped, with several rotten marks and sharp edges.

Matt and I approached the door in trepidation. He let one of the suitcases drop out of his hand, and pulled the door open.

It was exactly as I remembered it. The pale, mildew-stained wallpaper gave way to the tall, winding staircase, old and creaking. To the right was the kitchen; to the left, the dining room, then the family room, then the living room.

But, for some reason, that sense of… home was missing.

As I pointed out the locations to my husband, I suddenly felt the urge to run up and down the stairs as I once used to do as a kid. Having finished with the first floor, I led him up to the second.

Instinctively, I looked to the left, into my mother’s old room. It looked just as ornate and strangely welcoming as it had when this was still my home. The bed was neat and folded, with the pale green sheets tilted slightly to the side just as she had always left them.

I peeked in curiously, expecting subconsciously to see my mother standing there, smiling, gesturing for me to hug her. I was visibly disappointed when I saw that the room was empty.

We set up in my old bedroom and left the rest of the packing for the next day. That night, we had the best sex we’d had in years. But, unlike Matt, I couldn’t sleep afterwards. I still felt that resonant guilt for abandoning my mother in her time of need. This was her house.

The silence I had come to know and love seemed, somehow, even more devoid than before.


The next morning, I was awakened by gravel crunching and the sound of the doorbell.

I rushed downstairs in my bathrobe and opened the door. Waiting there was the mailman, with a thin, beige envelope in his hands.

“Good morning, miss,” he said.

I rubbed my eyes. “You’re…” Suddenly, I realized. “You’re the one who found her, aren’t you?”

The man sighed. “Yes… yes, I am. You’re her daughter, I guess?” I nodded. “I’m... sorry for your loss. She was such a funny woman, you know. Every day she’d come out to the door and greet me, always striking up conversation. Always said I looked like some old Hollywood star I’d never heard of.” He chuckled to himself. “Seemed like such a nice old lady. Can’t believe..” He stopped himself.

“She was.” I smiled, ignoring the sentence he had begun to say.

The mailman cleared his throat. “Well, I was hoping it would be better news than this, but unfortunately I’ve come to deliver your bills for this month.” He handed them over. “Since you’re now the official owners of this estate, I’m afraid you’ll have to take over where she left off.” He handed me the envelope.

“I… Okay. Fair enough.” I shook his hand and closed the door, opening the form and analyzing the contents.

I frowned. Something was wrong.

I dashed out the door and held the letter up, waving to the mailman, who was about to pull out in his car.

“What’s the matter?” he yelled.

I walked over the coarse drive with my slippers, showing him the electricity bill. “This says we owe over four hundred dollars for electric. There are barely any things in the house that run on electricity! This can’t be right!”

“Sorry, miss, but I’m not an electrician. Don’t shoot the messenger,” he replied, shouting over the engine.

I sighed and walked back inside, hearing the mailman’s car trundle along the rocky drive. Matt was just waking up, and was now descending the staircase.

‘What’s with the commotion, Vic?” he yawned.

I showed him the bill. His eyes widened.

“$400? What the fuck?”

“I know, right? There can’t be anything in here that’s using that much juice. It’s just the phone, the lights, and the fridge. That’s it.”

“Maybe your mother had some giant Frankenstein lab built under the house or something,” he joked.

I punched him in the side. “OW! Fuck! Okay, I’m sorry.”

We tossed the bill aside and sat down for breakfast.


Over the next week, Matt and I settled in. We didn’t talk much during the nights, even though I wanted to talk about so many things. He wanted to consider our future, but I didn’t want to think about that just yet.

Fights broke out, but we always made up afterward. I liked to think it was me that was causing so much unnecessary tension between us, but I knew it was the empty space in my life that plagued me. I just couldn’t stop thinking about her.

And the silence. I expected it to flow through my open arms as soon as I entered the house, but it felt… cold. Like it was a different force entirely. Sure, there was no sound, but it seemed that there was still some tiny, persisting detail keeping me from truly being comfortable.

It was on our thirteenth day in the house that I was able to pinpoint what was wrong.


“What do you mean, a buzzing?”

“Can’t you hear it? It’s faint…” Matt and I were seated on our bed, having just completed another unsuccessful night of love-making. Lately, nothing had been working. Neither of us could really ever… get there.

I held my index finger in the air for emphasis. “...but it’s there. Definitely there. It sounds like…” I froze.

“What? It sounds like what?”

Thoughts raced through my head. I flashed back to the night in the apartment, getting that final call from my mother…

“It sounds like… static. White noise. Like a radio left untuned.” I stopped and got up, following the distant noise.

It was coming from my mother’s bedroom.

“Come on!” I gestured for my husband to follow. He reluctantly got up and strolled over to the doorway.

“Think about it… it would make perfect sense. She left some sort of radio or TV on before she died and never got to turn it off. It would explain our electric bill.” I stepped into the room and listened intently.

“Shh. It’s coming from somewhere over here.” I moved toward the bed in the corner, briefly thinking for a moment my mother was sleeping in it. Snapping out of my trance, I leaned against the backboard and listened.

The buzzing was coming from behind it.

“Help me move this,” I called to Matt. Together, we lifted the bed and pushed it out of the way. For a moment, I felt triumphant in discovering the source of the issue.

But the moment was shattered when I saw what was behind it.

The wall was boarded with a large square of plywood, hastily nailed in with uneven accuracy. Around it was a thin coat of dry rot, which was causing it to slip out of its position.

And, on it, were two words, written in blackened blood:

“STAY ON.”


“We need to call the police,” Matt insisted.

“Are you kidding me?” I stumbled back in shock. “No! We have to get in there!” Tears began forming in my eyes. “This could tell us why she killed herself! Whatever she locked away in there, she meant for me to see it!”

“VIC. Look at that.” He pointed to the bloody writing. “Does that look like an invitation to you?”

I exhaled in exasperation. Nothing about this was right.

But I needed to know something… anything that would explain why she did it.

“We have to.”

I turned to face the board and tore it off, splinters shredding through my fingertips.

“Fuck.”

Behind the hole was a hidden room, about twelve feet in diameter. The walls were clean, and looked like they had just been freshly painted. Unlike the rest of the house, the white here was not intermingled with brown splotches of rot. It was almost like a mirror.

In the center of the room was a simple wooden stool, upon which lay an old television from the 1930s. Its red wooden case was polished and neat, without so much as a scratch.

On the television screen was static.

Something inside me was unsettled by the white noise being produced. It represented a disorder, a hole in my life that deserved to be filled. Because of this television, I couldn’t experience the silence I embraced as a child.

It wasn’t home without it.

I needed to turn it off.

“Vic, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Matt called as I moved my hand towards the switch. As I approached the set, I could see the wood casing, dust-free and almost lustrous compared to the rest of the house. The noise from the dead channel became louder and louder, shrieking perpetually. I turned to face the screen. Dotted pixels danced about the curved glass, listening to the tune of the void. Through the whites and blacks and greys, I wanted there to be something.

And then I saw her face.

She was there, staring at me from behind the glass barrier.

My mother, face stretched in shock and apparent terror at something I couldn’t see.

My arms began to shake as I reached out to the switch. Behind the screen, her mouth stood agape, as if she was trying to scream out of the false silence that surrounded her. And as my eyes locked with hers, I could see, deep within, one emotion.

Pain.

“Vic, are you okay?”

I turned to look at Matt, who was staring at me with a bewildered expression on his face. I looked back at the screen to find a mess of monochromatic pixels, lost between channels. There was nothing to be seen beyond.

I sighed at the thought that my mind was playing tricks on me and pulled the switch. The static mess shrunk into the center, collapsing into a thin bar and then fading away into black.

I could feel it in an instant. The silence washed over me like a thick syrup. No noise, no input from the outside world. The nothingness flowed through my eardrums and into my body in a blissful stream.

I let my hair fall back against the old wooden floor and laughed.

“It’s finally quiet again,” I grinned. “God almighty, it’s quiet again.” I turned and smirked at my loving husband. “What exactly were you afraid would happen?”

Matt shrugged, blushing. “I dunno. You hear all these stories about--”

A thump echoed off the walls of the room.

I lifted my head up and turned to face Matt. I took one look at his fearful expression and knew it wasn’t from him.

Another dull thump. This time coming from behind me.

I swung around to see nothing but the same blank, clean wall that had been there since the house was built.

“What the fuck is that?” Matt hissed.

“I don't know. There could be an animal in the walls, or--”

Two successive thumps rang out from different sides of the room. The two of us held our breaths in trepidation, expecting something to burst through the wallpaper at any moment.

After a minute of no further noises, we exhaled simultaneously. Suddenly, the silence was no longer welcoming. After so much time living here, I’d never heard the place make so much as a whistle in the wind.

I wanted to pull myself to my feet and get out of that room. But both Matt and I stayed firmly locked in place, frozen by fear.

“We should turn the TV back on, Vic,” Matt whispered.

I processed the comment and was about to rebut when another, louder thump from above made my heart jump out through my stomach.

Without warning, the room was filled with the sounds of repeated hits from behind the walls, ceiling and floor. It was as though someone was pelting every side of us with huge, meaty rocks. The thumping increased in volume until it sounded similar to gunfire. Every direction was flooded with the storm of kicks and punches.

Both of us were still paralyzed in place. Every fiber of my being was yelling at me to get up and run, but I just knelt, gazing in terror at the unnaturally clean walls that threatened to give way to whatever horrifying creature lay behind them.

And then, all at once, the sources of the noise started screaming.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know the sound of agony. It’s a deep, guttural screech that pours every emotion you’ve ever felt into one, incomprehensibly painful expression of mourning. It is the single most terrifying sound a human can make.

These were not screams of agony.

These were something far, far worse.

Words cannot describe the terror I experienced knelt down on that cold, splinter-ridden floor, surrounded by the piercing, unholy noise. Matt was crying hysterically, and covering his head with his shaking, sweaty hands.

Above the cacophony of tormented screeching, I could faintly hear him shout:

“TURN THE TV ON! TURN THE FUCKING THING BACK ON!”

As the cries grew louder, penetrating my body and ringing through my ears, I mustered the strength to lift my arm. I saw the switch and pointed desperately towards it, willing my body to break itself free of its paralysis and reach it.

And as the white noise culminated in a final, singular bellow, I flipped the television set on.

Instantly, the walls ceased their roaring. My ears were ringing as I realized the night was silent once again.

Slowly, the steady drone of the static brought me back to my senses, and I pulled myself up to face my husband.

Matt rushed to my side and gazed at the television in the center of the room, still perched on its stool. Slowly, we walked towards the crack in the wall, and, after looking back one last time, put the thought of what happened out of our heads.


We were never really the same after that. Matt started having night terrors, which he said he hadn’t experienced since he was a kid. He claimed he didn’t want to hurt me by accident, so he moved to a separate bedroom, where he’s been ever since.

The silence of the house was never again as comforting as it had been all those years ago, just a little girl, isolated from the rest of the world in bliss. Now, I knew what was hiding behind it this entire time.

Though we’ve never experienced the screams again, I keep wishing for there to be some sound to break the silence. It’s cold, penetrating, and totally unforgiving.

I keep thinking back to what my mother used to say to me: Silence is subjective. It changes depending on where we live, how we live. Our upbringings determine the volume that lulls us into a false sense of isolation. We need it to fall asleep at night, so we can let our minds roam free, able to create whatever we want within the confines of our own subconscious.

I’d like to say the screams drove her to do what she did. But I know it was the silence that killed her.

And I know it’s the silence that, in the end, claims us all.

258
37

I have a really, really nice car. It’s a Mercedes E350 that I purchased after having a few good quarters at my first-ever sales job, which is a soul-sucking endeavor that I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy.

Still, it had its perks, and at the ripe age of 24 I found myself sitting in a new Benz, sunroof down, cruising down Pacific Coast Highway blasting David Bowie.

My girlfriend Jane loved it. I named it the Starship Enterprise. We’d met a week after I’d bought it, and as our relationship blossomed she became the Spock to my Kirk (or the Riker to my Picard for you TNG fans). In the Enterprise, she was my co-pilot – I loved looking to my right and seeing those piercing blue eyes of hers. Outside of its luxurious confines, she was my loving partner.

We lived in a crowded beach town teeming with bars and flooded with frat-boys and spoiled-rotten blondes, and while I enjoyed quiet weeknights spent watching the sunset from a lifeguard tower, by the time Friday rolled around I was usually itching to find somewhere a bit more… serene.

Jane shared this sentiment, and we spent our weekends driving aimlessly up PCH with no particular destination in mind. She grew up in Wisconsin and was deathly afraid of the ocean, so we’d usually make our way inland, and over the course of our first year together we explored Angeles National Park, spent multiple weekends in Santa Barbara, and even spent a week at the Grand Canyon. As the number on the Enterprise’s odometer grew, so too did our increasing repertoire of inside jokes and shared experiences. We were each self-proclaimed weirdos, and while her love for art and fashion bore a stark contrast to my love for sports, action movies and video games, our idiosyncrasies were mutually endearing.

After a year, I knew her inside and out – literally and figuratively (sorry, I had to) – which is why it came as a surprise to me when she asked that I teach her to surf. The only time she’d ever been in the ocean was with me, and I’d basically had to carry her into the water against her will. She’d only gone waist-deep that day and was thoroughly terrified to the point that I hadn’t really tried to get her to join me since.


“Come on!” I yelled, knee-deep in water at Palos Verdes, the weak waves gently slapping my thighs. I’d checked out the surf and chosen this beach for its 1-2 foot swell that day. Perfect for Jane’s surfing lesson.

“It’s so cold! AAAHHHH!” She let out a high-pitched scream as her feet touched the water for the first time.

I’d shown her how to “pop up” on the board and we’d practiced on the sand for 10 minutes. Now it was time for the real thing, and I wasn’t optimistic.

We’d been out for about 20 minutes and things actually weren’t going too badly. I pulled her through the water using the board’s leash and towed her into a few waves. She never managed to pop up like we had practiced, but she seemed to be having a decent time. Maybe she would overcome this fear after all…

“OW!” She screamed a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream.

“What is it!?”

“I… something stung me!” she yelled through tears.

We walked back into shore and I laid her down on the sand. There it was – three penny-sized, inflamed dots surrounded by a large red patch on her calf, which I immediately recognized as a jellyfish sting.

“You ok?” I asked.

“I… think so” she said, clearly fighting back tears.

How bad was this girl’s luck? I’d probably been in the ocean a thousand times and had been stung once. Here she was batting .500. Luckily it wasn’t too severe. I took her home and we put an ice pack on it, and in a few days, it was like it had never happened.

To my surprise, she was insistent that we have another surfing lesson that weekend. This time she led the charge into the ocean, urging me to keep up. We swam and I towed her around for over an hour. Once she caught her first wave, she was hooked. She seemed to have finally overcome her fear of the ocean.

For the next few months, we surfed, swam, and paddle boarded all over Southern California. She’d become fit and tan, and I finally had someone to go to the treasure trove of local surf spots with. I would occasionally work weekends, and on those days she would go to the beach alone. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the thought of her in the ocean solo, but Jane had become a pretty strong swimmer, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

But one Saturday night after a long work-day, I came home at 11PM and she wasn’t there.

I called her phone – no answer.

I went out to lifeguard tower 13 in Newport Beach (our favorite spot) and found her towel, umbrella, and cell-phone.

I found her favorite two-piece bikini washed ashore.

I called the police. The coast guard got involved in a massive search.

Nothing.

Nearly two weeks later, I received a phone call. The coast guard would be suspending their search – Jane was presumed dead, lost at sea.


She had been missing for over a year.

It’s both crazy and perfectly normal what happens when someone dies – life just… goes on. Once the barrage of phony Facebook posts has subsided, it’s almost like it never happened. The world keeps turning. People keep going to work. Couples get married, fuck, and have children. All the joys and sorrows of life persist.

I’d only had the latter since Jane had been gone. I’d gone to her funeral and even spoken there, but I had no closure. I was unable to connect with anyone the way I had with her. I’d attempted to go through the motions at my job for a couple months before requesting a leave of absence. It had been granted to me, but I had no intentions of going back.

Now my days consisted of popping Xanax and gradually murdering my liver with a steady-flow of bourbon.

The Enterprise’s interior, which previously housed my sporting equipment, books, and Polaroid photos Jane and I had snapped on our countless adventures, was now littered with prescription pill bottles and old clothes. I’d gotten two DUIs in the past six months, and my car now essentially functioned as my drug-storage den as it accumulated dust in my garage. I was unemployed, alone, and addicted to drugs.

The pain was unbearable. My optimistic approach to life had died along with Jane, and on yet another a sleepless night I stumbled out to the pier. I looked down into that murky water and remembered all the good times I’d had with Jane.

Now I considered its comforting, eternal embrace.

I stepped over the railing and looked down.

That’s when I saw a pair of familiar, piercing blue eyes staring back up at me.

TO BE CONTINUED

37
119

If you've ever stumbled upon a hiring ad that's vaguely worded and seems too good to be true, chance is you found the Whaley Project. It won't be listed as the Whaley Project and you won't know what you're actually applying for until much later.

The Whaley Project has been going on since 1989. Let me share what I know about it.

Here's a few hints on how to spot a Whaley recruitment ad.

Certain words in the posting will be bolded or italicized. Expect these to be your usual corporate buzzwords. Words like ambitious, talented or teamwork feature quite often. I've been told they recently have taken a shine to "aspiring" and "innovators".

Here's another tip-off: they never list the potential salary or job title. Now, the former is not unusual. A lot of companies avoid salary details in job postings and often put clauses in contracts that prohibit sharing salary information — it's in bad taste after all. The lack of a job title though makes the Whaley people almost seem painfully amateurish.

They'll list stuff like: ENTRY LEVEL POSITION. WELL PAID. TALENTED INDIVIDUALS (notice the buzzword). By the way, the capitalized words in my example make for some fun anagrams if you can be bothered to play around with them. Early on the Whaley Project tried the whole subliminal messaging thing, but from what I can tell by analyzing their recruitment ads they've dropped the habit around 1995.

On to the qualifications then. A college degree is a must for the Whaley people. The rest of the requirements vary from year to year.

They were looking for programmers in the early 2000s, while in the 90s they were all about biochemistry and chemical engineering. In the last ten years it's become all about marketing, social media and sociology.

Watch out for odd numbered years. That's when the fucked up listings appear and there's a clear pattern.

Obviously the Whaley Project uses the internet to advertize itself to potential employees. The platforms vary, but they consistently avoid social media.

On odd numbered years you'd find recruitment ads looking for toxicologists, addiction psychologists, private investigators and surgeons. The "qualities" they want applicants to exhibit?

-No allegiance to religious or professional organizations

-Unmarried and childless

-No history as a reporter in print, radio or television

If you try take a screenshot all you'll get is a black square and after a day or two the page usually 404s.

So where do you submit your application? Depending on where you live the email address (or physical address for that matter) will be associated with a big company that enjoys a good reputation in the area. Once your application reaches them they'll forward it to the Whaley people. Why they do this I am not quite clear on, other than they all have something to gain from the Whaley Project once it's completed.

Applicants that make it through the first round of internal vetting get a phone call (it's always a phonecall from what I can tell, never an email or letter) exactly three days after their initial submission.

Here's another Whaley quirk:

No small talk on the phone. The person on the phone will confirm your identity and tell you where and when the job interview takes place.

The next part is where my info is the fuzziest, so bear with me.

Once you make your way to the job interview you'll be ushered into a backroom in the company building. The person who meets the applicant has been described as a blond woman sporting a neat bob cut and wearing a nondescript suit. She looks to be in her late twenties to early thirties. This description hasn't changed since 1989.

Some of the following information is contradictory. This may be due to the fact that procedure has changed over the years or that some of my contacts lied to me. There's also the possibility that they've been told to spread misinformation.

During the interview you'll be asked the standard questions. What's your biggest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? What does teamwork mean to you? After that the interviewer will move to the more bizarre questions.

If anything is consistent in my research it's this: the Whaley Project has a real hangup about addiction. The interviewer will ask you if you've ever taken drugs. Any drugs. Heroin, pills, weed, the whole nine yards. Taking any of those is a straight disqualification. The interviewer will just leave the room; you won't even be escorted out of the building. And by addiction, I mean any addiction. They'll ask if you're addicted to porn, masturbation, sugar... even cigarettes and chewing gum are on the blacklist.

Some people reported that they've been asked to provide urine samples during the interview, in the very same room, with the interviewer watching. Others claim that no urine samples were required, but that the interviewer took a blood sample. Then again, I've also been told that both of those are false and that the Whaley people acquire your medical records in advance before the interview. I wouldn't know how, since those are confidential.

After the addiction question you get asked if you ever committed a crime. If you say you didn't you're out.

Something as banal as stealing a stick of gum qualifies, but if you give them a simple "no" the interviewer just leaves. If you say something along the lines of "no, but I'd like to," the interviewer might ask you to shoplift something and return to the interview or punch a random passersby in the face. Out of all the info I have this seems the most ridiculous, but multiple applicants confirmed it.

Next comes the brand recognition tests. You'll be asked to identify big franchises by naming their logos, slogans or mascots. This can go on for up to two hours. I will leave out the franchises reported to me by my sources, for obvious reasons. The strangest part though is that if you mess up even one word or misremember one fact about a certain brand the interviewer will make a note of it. Whatever they're writing down can take up to twenty minutes and during that time the interviewer will not say a single word. You may also be given an extensive survey about the brand you messed up with. It'll ask questions like "Would your life ever be the same without X?" or "How many times a day do you think about X?" or even "Would you steal or take up a line of credit to spend money on X?"

Right thereafter the interviewer will rise from their chair and assault the applicant. A slap across the face seems the most common form of assault. I've heard of punches being thrown or needles being subtly jammed under fingernails. The slap however, seems the most common. If the applicant stays docile and doesn't retaliate the next phase of the interview may begin.

The applicant is handed a sealed envelope. Every single source I've talked to refused to tell me what's inside the envelope. Whatever it was, it's enough to make the vast majority of applicants quit the interview. Past applicants are extremely reluctant to divulge any info on the contents of the envelope, but there's a few common threads I managed to piece together.

The contents of the envelope made them physically ill. It'd appear in their dreams for weeks. Some even quit their existing jobs, being unable to perform due to high levels of stress and anxiety.

This is all I know about the Whaley Project. For now in any case. The thing is I received my phone call a week ago and I am about to leave for my interview. I am excited and a little nervous to be completely honest.

This is going to be interesting.

119
48

.

Listen...you need to listen. I'm only going to say this once. If you see the name LionHeart Chateau anyway, on anything, even if it's a come and collect your winnings your a millionaire cheque, don't fucking do it. It's a trap.

Sam, my girlfriend of two years, thought we needed a little break. Nothing major, just a quiet, relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of New York city. I learnt early on who wore the proverbial trouser in this relationship, and when the boss said she wanted a weekend away I knew no amount of digging my heels in would cut it.

She showed me the image of a nice - but sinister looking - old castle.

“It produces five star wines year round, just up your alley,” she said chewing her lip.

I shrugged and passed back the brochure. I liked my wine, but I loved making money more, and if we were going on a trip i’d have much preferred to be lounging on a Jamaican beach with a cold cocktail in my hand. But, like I said, Sam's the boss.

So with our bags packed and the address typed into Google maps, off we went. The drive up the 87 to Lake George was pleasant enough for a three and a bit hour drive. We finally pulled off the road into a tree lined driveway, the conifers met together to form a kinda shady tunnel. I imagined it was for dramatic effect as the wheels of car crushed the shingle driveway. A moment later and Sam gasped.

“Ooh, Grant, it’s beautiful.”

She wasn’t wrong, it was like we had just stepped back a few hundred years. The castle was dressed with vines that crawled up the stone side, two grand turrets littered with arrow hole windows hugged the entrance door like stone galioths ready to defence it's master’s sanctum. A small sign reading - Wine Cellar Door - pointed to a small passage to the left of the building, but nobody was in sight.

“It looks nice babe, but where is everybody?”

Sam glanced out the window, “maybe they're inside?” She said chewing her lip. We got out the car and approached the entrance.

“They’re shut.” I said as I pulled at the huge oaken doors, “you sure you booked this place?”

Just as I spoke another voice called out from near our car. “Hello, Mr and Mrs Hinton?”

Sam extended her hands as we approached the squat figure. The balding man smiled wide and grasped our hands in turn.

“Welcome to the Lionheart Chateau, I am Louie, please follow me.” He gestured with a hand, but not to the door I had just pulled on, but rather to where the, “Cellar Door,” sign pointed. I remembered that we were here for a tasting weekend and thought maybe he was taking us to our first experience.

“Where is everyone Louie? This place looks nicely maintained for it to be so empty.” I chortled more to myself as Louie looked over his shoulder at me, then glanced at Sam, then turned back.

“The staff are arranging the special...events that come with your package. Mind the steps they’re a bit slippery this time of year.”

I reached for the wall as we descended the stone steps and was rewarded with a sticky palm from the creeping vines. I rubbed my palm against my thigh and when I removed my hand a red smear stared back at me. I was just about to complain about my trouser when I glanced up at chateaus gardens.

The back of the chateau far exceeded the front. Green lawns spread for miles, vines upon vines of grapes hugged the horizon on the east side while fields of yellow rapeseeds swelled the left. I only had a few seconds of the lavish view before Sam pulled at my arm and I stepped through a stone archway into a narrow, but long room.

Before my eyes adjusted to the gloom the man closed the door and motioned for us to follow.

“So you checked the box for the supreme package yes?” He turned and glared first at Sam who nodded and then at me, something in the man’s eyes made me stop. Like he was sizing me up like I’d seen the undertakers do in comic westerns.

“Yes,” I mumbled. “But shouldn’t you take us to our rooms first?”

Louie beckoned us in through a small black door. A strange symbol was carved into the frame overhead. A small tight staircase wound down and I grabbed at Sam's shoulder.

“Where the hell is he taking us!” I hissed, but Sam only smiled and patted my hand.

“To the cellar stupid, that’s where the wines are kept.”

I don’t know if it was the dim lights, the creepy Louie, or the fact that Sam didn’t seem put out by this at all, but I was starting to get the sinking sensation that something was wrong.

As the stairs leveled out and a small corridor alighted before us stacked with boxes marked with the chateaus logo. Louie passed through a door marked with the same symbol and out of sight. I pulled Sam’s shoulder.

“What the hell babe! Don’t you think this is weird, no ones around and he’s bringing us down to the cellar.”

A worried line settled over Sam’s brow as she glanced at the door. “You don’t think he’s a serial killer, and he’s going to chop us up and feed us to the plants?” Sam’s shocked face faulted as her hands reached her mouth.

“Ha ha, you dick, it’s a wine tasting experience, of course the wines are going to be down here. The cellars of castles are alway cold, all year round. Why do you think they call them ‘wine cellars’?”

She chuckled as my face flushed. Kicking myself for being stupid I followed her through the door at the end of the corridor.

What seems like a thousand eyes watched me from cages piled up against a back wall. Young, old, male, female, black, white. Their differences were melded into the same horrific expression that laid beneath their wide eyes. Sam stood away from me draped in a white robe. Nine other people in the same robes stood behind her.

“What...what’s going on?”

Sam moved to one side and lifted a cup from an alter behind her shaped like a man with a lion's head holding a buchers knife, then dipped it in a shallow fountain at its feet. I heard the scape of stone on stone as red liquid spilled over the sides.

“It’s the experience Grant, trust me, when you see what we have seen, you will know the truth.”

She offered me the bowl and I slowly backed away.

“No, Sam, what are you talking about. This isn’t you.” I pleaded. But she just smirked and let her offering drop at her feet. Blood-wine splashed up her white robes and the people in the cages fled back deep into their confines.

“Oh my dear Grant. You don’t understand. You have been chosen to taste what the tree provides. You will kneel before him,” she swept her hand to the statue, “and you will know the truth.”

“Blessed be,” the group chorused around her, and she smiled at them all in turn.

“This isn’t happening, you can’t be serious, babe please?” I begged her, but stopped when I noticed something alien enter her eyes. This wasn’t my Sam anymore. This cult, or whatever they are had brainwashed her, turned her into some mindless creature. Why else would she do this?

I turned and fled from the room, pulled open the door at the end of the corridor and ran up the stairs. The sounds of hurrying heels echoed up the stairs and I dived for the main door, but it was locked. I scanned the room for another way out and found another door. I wrenched it open and flew up another flight of narrow stairs, and burst out into the chateau proper.

A elegant carpeted corridor with wide windows letting in the glorious rays of sun panned out before me. I couldn’t see any stairs as I glanced around, however, the sounds of the people chasing me caused my momentary lack to shift again into flight mode, and I darted down the corridor testing doors as I went. One opened to my touch and I bounded inside.

A four poster bed took up a huge space in the centre of the room, where drapes billowed out the side and a large window like the ones in the corridor took up the wall facing me. I dived for the window but it was locked. More than locked, pinned shut. The sounds of pursuit caught my ears again, and I quickly, and quietly closed the door and hid under the bed.

Suddenly the door opened and for a moment I thought the sound of my erratic heartbeat would get me caught. Two sets of shoes entered the room, and then, as quickly as they came, they left. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed. I knew I wasn’t in the clear.

That’s when I noticed this laptop. There was a pile of dust on top like it hadn’t been used for a while, but when I turned it on it had another battery for maybe a few hours. I’m posting to this site because whomever had it before used this site for something similar. I don’t know what happened to him, but maybe this will help deter anyone else from visiting this place.

So, right now, I’m trapped. I can’t leave this room without fear of getting caught, but I know I must. It’s the only way to get away. I’ve done a quick search of the room, and found nothing to help me, and just a second ago I heard my car being started and driven away. I’m going to have to make a break for it. Wish me luck.

GH

48
20

I consider myself to be an avid kayaker. I love spending time out on the water where it's quiet, peaceful, and relaxing. There's nothing like spending your day out on blue-green waters, soaking up the sun, without a care in the world. Sadly, up here in North Dakota, there aren't very many options for open water recreation. Typically, people either head towards the Missouri River or to one of the more popular lakes in the state. Most places are packed with people, since there isn't a lot to choose from.

Now, if you're a passionate kayaker like I am, you'll know where the quiet spots are at. There are a few hidden gems throughout the state that not many people know about, and because I don't want anyone ever going there, I'm going to call my ex-favorite spot Emerald Lake instead of its actual name. I used to call it a hidden gem for a reason.

This lake is gorgeous. Its water is unbelievably murky, which sounds the opposite of gorgeous, but it gives off this pretty emerald green color, and it perfectly reflects the sky and surrounding trees. The lake is surrounded by woods. It may not be exciting to you, but in ND, you're lucky to see any trees at all (if you do, they were most likely planted by someone). These trees crowd the edge of the lake giving it a cozy feeling; you really feel like it's just you and the lake. Emerald is maybe 1000 ft wide and about 3 miles long. Upon first glance, the lake looks to be nothing more than a pond, but if you get towards the back, you'll find a hidden bend that takes you further along, winding in and out of tree studded hills. In order to get to the lake, you need to travel way back into the countryside on a maze of gravel roads. Perfect for keeping this place secret. 

On one of my days off earlier this summer, I decided to take a kayaking trip out to my precious lake. I asked my best friend to come along with me because I knew that we'd be the only ones there. During the weekends, you might run into one or two other people, but since I have days off during the work week, I knew we'd be by our lonesome; perfect for catching up on gossip with your bestie. We loaded our things and set out for a fun day.

We arrived at the lake at around 3:00 in the afternoon and, as I expected, there wasn't another soul in sight. Since there's only one way onto the lake and no other vehicles, we were in the clear. You'd need to trespass onto private state land and chop down a few trees to get onto the lake in any other way. 

I drove down to the water's edge and we both hopped out to unload our things. I crawled into the bed of my truck to unstrap the 'yaks and prepared the paddles. I started to shift the kayaks so that I could get them out more easily.

We quickly set up our kayaks and I parked my truck away from the water in the rare case that someone else came along to enjoy the lake. Right before we launched, my friend stopped what she was doing and turned to me with a quizzical expression lining her face.

"Did you say something?" My friend questioned. After a few moments of me giving her one of those 'are you nuts?' type of looks, she resumed. "I swear I just heard someone. I mean it sound like a guy, but obviously you're not a man, so it confused me." I laughed and told her that she was hearing things. She grinned and shrugged it off.

So, we set off on our journey, enjoying each other's company while discussing the good ol' days of playing Skyrim for hours on end. We laughed at inside jokes, had a few snacks, drank a few brewskis, and discussed trivial things. We listened to the birds chirp, watched swallows dive at the bugs around us and giggled at some very vocal ducks who didn’t like being disturbed. At one point I had paddled over to a couple of mallards to try and snap a pic. It’s pretty difficult to photograph grumpy waterfowl. Satisfied by what I captured, I caught up with my friend who had floated ahead.

"Did you hear that weird cow?" She asked when I'd caught up. I replied I hadn't heard anything but a couple of angry quacks. "Oh," she looked a bit confused, "I swear I actually heard something this time. It sounded like a really low, almost gravelly, moo. It almost sounded like the thing was in pain. I don't know how else to explain it, other than the fact that the sound unnerved me."

I gave her a puzzled look. "I don't think there are any cattle in this area." I paused for a bit. "Maybe one member of the herd wandered off from somewhere nearby and got hurt, but I think the nearest area would be Price's farm about 25 miles back." We both sat silent and decided to continue on. Neither of us thought much else about it.

About an hour into the trip we reached the "end" of the lake, or at least what most people assume is the end. We came upon the first bend of many, knowing that we wouldn't be able to tell if anyone else arrived in the area, which was fine.

I glanced over to a cluster of pretty Aspen trees and saw a large hawk of some sort sitting at the top of one. Spotting a photo op I turned to my friend and asked if she wanted to paddle to the other side of the area we were in to check out the lake. Being a less experienced kayaker, she shook her head and told me to head over there. She and I both knew that it would take twice as long if she joined me. I wouldn't have minded, but she didn't want to put in all of the extra time and effort. I suggested she just keep heading straight while I check out the hawk and I would just meet up with her shortly. She agreed.

I began to paddle over to the lovely aspens and the majestic hawk, excited about the neat pictures I'd be getting. The closer I got, the more I began to notice the dead trees. I saddened me to see the trees I always loved, dead and decaying. The situation was sort of odd though. What would this entire grove of Aspens be dying off? There hadn't been any flooding in several years and we weren't in a drought currently, so why where they dying?

I neared the tree with the hawk in it cautiously and before I could snap a pic, the beautiful bird soundlessly took flight and disappeared into the woods. Now by myself, I began to feel this creeping sensation. My skin began to crawl as if tiny little fingers were tapping every inch of my body. My hair stood up on my arms and I got that empty feeling in your stomach when you know you are completely alone. It dawned on me that I hadn't spotted anything else in a while. No swallows swooping in and out, no irritated ducks, not even an occasional chirp of a song bird. Nothing. It was dead silent at Emerald Lake. Even for an area known for its peace and quiet, this moment was too dead.

Due to missing a nice picture and being thoroughly chilled to the core, I switched directions and decided to head for my friend. Out of the corner of my eye, I could have sworn I'd seen a white aspen move, but that's idiotic. Tree don't move, damnit. My brain was just trying to scare me. I ignored it and began to paddle to my friend. I could still see her on the other side of the water and up a bit further, but she wasn't moving. She was completely stock still, not moving at all. Her face was turned from me and she was looking at something in the trees, but I couldn't tell what is was.

Fearing the worst, I started to power paddle to where she was. It would only take me a few minutes to get to her. Once I was about ten feet from her, she must have heard me splashing the paddle in the water and turned to me. Her face was white as a sheet, and her eyes showed signs of distress. She waved me over without a word and my eyes followed the direction she was looking. I saw what she'd been staring at. Among another set of crowded, dead trees was a dirty, cream colored tent.

Now I know what you must be thinking, so what? It's lake. People like to camp next to lakes all the time. I must remind you the areas surrounding the lake are technically not open to the public, only the lake was. You'd have to hike through miles of private land to get here. The tent was ominously perched right on the edge of the water where it threatened to be consumed by the lake. It seemed abandoned. No one was around, and the site looked like someone had left and never bothered to come back. Bits of trash and miscellaneous camping supplies littered the area surrounding the tent. The little, one-man tent was covered in stains, with one side completely split open. I was too bothered by the tent to get any closer to it. Someone had left in a hurry. Chills were running up and down my spine at that point.

My friend turned back to me and asked, "I thought you said that you weren't really supposed to be on the land surrounding the lake?" You're not, and I reinforced that point with her.

I gave her a hesitant shrug and suggested that perhaps whomever it was just didn't realize that you weren't allowed to camp out here. Of course, I didn't really believe that. I work at a state park for and you get all sorts of people. The ones who break the rules usually know that they are doing so. A lot of vagrants tend to camp in places where no one else is around, even if it's not allowed. 

"Maybe, whoever was out here, knew they weren't supposed to be here, and got chased off by Game and Fish or something. They left in a hurry and forgot their tent." She suggested.

"Maybe." I had mumbled back to her. I couldn't help but wonder why Game and Fish, or any other authority for that matter, would let a tent just sit out in the open and wither away. I changed the subject. "So., do you want to keep going, or should we head back to shore and find someplace to eat?"

A look of relief passed over my friend's face. "I'm starved. Let's head back." I nodded in agreement. We both quickly switched directions and began to paddle away from the lone tent. We didn't get very far before I finally realized that my friend hadn't been hearing things this whole trip. 

It's just like she had described to me, although I didn't really understand what she'd meant until know. It started off as this weird gurgling sound and grew into this weird rumbling...groan? I don't what to call it. I see why she said it sounded like a moo. Whatever was making the sound was animalistic. It was a low pitch coming from the trees only about 20 feet away or so. Whatever it was, it did sound like it was in pain, but what sort of creature could make a sound like that?

My throat was choking on my breath and my rapid heartbeat. I couldn't swallow down my fear of the sound. I knew that whatever was making the noise had to have been just to the right of us. Despite what my brain was screaming at me, I decided to turn my head and search for whatever was making the noise. I wish I hadn't.

Peaking around one of the dying aspens was a creature with the palest skin I've ever seen. The thing was so white it seemed to be able to use the white bark of the aspens to blend in. It was sort of hunched over, with only part of its body visible behind the tree. The creature was human-like in limbs, I suppose. It had two legs and arms, but it was skin and bones. Hairless from what I could tell. A long, ovular...face, peered out as us. No eyes. No mouth. Just horrifying indents where they should be. Imagine the famous, "The Scream" painting. But instead of a screaming mouth, there was just an elongated divot.

My eyes began to water. I had been staring at this thing for God knows how long. I heard my friend whimper my name. She saw it too. Without moving, I squeaked at her to paddle as quickly as possible back to shore. My arms burned with the intensity that we were moving, but we couldn't stop. Not with the rustling coming from the trees that was keeping up with us. We were only about 100 ft from shore, and the trees were beginning to thin out to almost nothing where the boat landing was. A little way behind me I heard a big splash. There was only one thing that could have made that. Our carp aren't that big.

"Faster!" I screamed at my frightened friend. We were already paddling our hardest, but I didn't know if that thing could swim well or not. We finally got to shore and the two of us practically dove out of our Kayaks. "I have to get the truck!" I don't know why I was yelling when she was right there, but the adrenaline and fear were getting to me. I sprinted to the truck, fumbling around in my bag for keys. When I finally found them, they slipped through my fingers and clattered on the ground. Just like one of those damn fools you see in horror movies. I hurriedly snatched them back up and flung myself into the truck. Rocks went flying as I hauled ass over to my friend and the kayaks. 

She was shaking. "Any sign of it?" I hollered. 

She shook her head, "I haven't seen anything." I didn't know whether I should have been relieved or not. 

"Hurry and throw the kayaks into the back, don't worry about strapping anything down." She did as I said and together we lifted and tossed both kayaks and their paddles into the bed of the truck. I nearly slipped on the gravel as I ran to get into the driver's seat.

I heard it again. I looked behind me to see its "head" breaching the water. It's empty sockets just 'staring' at me. It was only about 15 ft from the shore. I ripped open the driver's door and before both of our doors slammed shut we were driving away. I didn't dare stop to check if we'd had everything, but I swear that when I'd glanced in the rear view, I saw something white standing on the shoreline where we had been moments before.

It's only been a few weeks since our time at Emerald Lake and I still have no idea what we saw that day. 

20
33

Part 1

I have to understand what was going on, who that mystery corpse was, maybe even who I am. Most of all, I need to be alive again. It’s playing with my mind to wake every morning and see a dead man in the mirror.

“That’s right you are one of us.” The voices insist with a pleading malice.

I arrange to go and see a hypnotherapist. I wouldn’t normally believe in this type of thing, but desperation has driven me to it. Perhaps there are answers to be found in the recesses of my mind?

Dr Keenan is a smart looking middle aged man. Very business like which reassures me given my doubts about hypnotherapy as a technique.

“Sit down Captain Sinclair, your situation is most unusual. Before we start, is there anything you can tell me that may be able to help and guide how we progress? The human mind is a powerful and deep reservoir, knowing where to fish will always increase the chances of a catch.” Dr Keenan’s voice was smooth and resonant, perfect for hypnotherapy to the point of cliché.

“The Army, that is where the disputed DNA test was taken?” I suggest.

“Yes.” A whispered chorus of excited agreement.

“I think that’s an excellent place to start” he agreed. Keenan went on to explain the regression process and the extent to which it may or may not help with my legal case to prove my identity.

As I listen to Keenan and begin to go under I start to relax, my conscious mind slowly fading. On the brink of regression, I hear their voices, but I’m too far gone and can’t stir myself to warn Dr Keenan.

That’s it, let us through.” My heart sinks at the jubilation in their voices. I see the shivering; shadowy figures gather behind Dr Keenan through my closing eyelids.

What have I done?

When I come around Keenan is lying on the floor a broken man. He looks wretched, shivering, his skin blue and lips shrivelled. A shell of the handsome and well dress professional from just an hour earlier. He is visibly anxious, continuously looking around and though a sound has caught his attention. His hair has turned virtually white.

“We got what we came for.”

I call in Dr Keenan’s receptionist and we get him hot water and a blanket then manoeuvre him onto his own treatment sofa. He gradually composes himself but still looks as though he had aged two decades.

I don’t recall the session itself, but the shivering Keenan played me the audio recording. As we listen to the recording I watch him recoil and weep, shivering all the time and looking at me in fear.

----

“You were in the Army. What can you tell me about your time in service?”

“I served in military intelligence.”

“You mentioned before we started that your DNA was taken as part of a ‘program’ you were a part of. What can you tell me about that?”

“Nothing. That is classified.”

“Even the project name?”

“Duat.”

“Who was the name commanding officer in charge of the program?”

“General Briggs.”

“When you next here my voice it will be the voice of your commanding officer General Briggs. Is that clear Captain.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Captain. I’d like you to give a full debrief of your time on the Duat program.”

“Sir. I was enlisted onto the Duat program in 2008 and served on it until 2012. I was one of three officers in the program. The program focussed on advanced experimental interview techniques to assist with the gathering of intelligence.”

“You know what you did to us.” I could see Dr Keenan wince. The voice was in my head, not on the recording. Did he hear that or was it a coincidence?

“Explain what you mean by advanced interview techniques Sinclair?

“Sir, it was a combination of psychological and psychic questioning, Sir.”

“Psychic, what does that mean?”

“Sir, I was recruited on to the program because of certain ‘talents’ I had exhibited through my training. Sir.”

“Psychic talents?”

“Yes sir. I was tasked with trying to establish alternative sources of intelligence. My role was to sit in interviews under the guise of an observer, in reality I would apply certain psychic techniques to probe the subconscious mind of the interviewee to get better information.”

“Did it work.”

“Yes sir, the program was successful.”

“Could anyone be trained in these psychic interview techniques?”

“No sir, you needed to have latent ability. This was then enhanced with training & medication.”

At this point the recording is silent yet Dr Keenan responds.

“Who said that? Captain Sinclair, is that you talking?”

Again, there is no sound on the recording. Keenan talks again.

“Open what door? Who is this? Captain Sinclair are you still here?”

---

At this point, back in the office, Dr Keenan became so distressed that he passed out. We called an ambulance and when the paramedics arrived they were shocked at his state. As he was being treated the familiar dreadful whispering returned. It was louder now, clearer. Worst of all I no longer heard it, the voices had moved from outside my head to inside. They taunted me “Keenan was warm but it’s you we came for. You are ours now, you should never have come to Duat, our plans were not ready .”

Keenan was rushed to hospital, his secretary accompanying him and leaving me alone in the surgery in the panic & confusion.

I rewound the tape a little and restarted the recording.

---

This time a voice is audible on the recording, though scarcely a whisper “We have him now, the door is ours. The storm may pass through.” The whisper itself would have chilled my bones with its malevolent glee, yet what made it infinitely more terrifying was that it was clearly me whispering.

“Captain Sinclair, what are you doing? Let go of my wrists! Captaaargh.” The muffled thump on the recording is presumably the sound of Keenan collapsing to the floor.

---

I can barely sleep, it doesn’t trouble me, I don’t feel like I need it. I sit down stairs in the darkness, whiskey in hand. My time in the military, deeply buried and long forgotten by my conscious mind, returning to plague my what? My life? Dead men can’t claim the luxury of such a thing.

Duat. I dare not say it out loud, I terrifies me and yet calls to me, calls me home.

I remember now. Not the interviews with the living, how I would sneak unseen into their minds and watch them confess in tears never knowing why their mind betrayed them. No, I remember Duat.

What the living could tell us was never enough for Briggs.

My skin feels increasingly cold and clammy to the touch. An early riser, my wife fails to surface in the morning. We have been in separate rooms for the last few days and when I go to look on her she looks terrible. She is shivering, her skin pale and her lips shrivelled. I should be shocked. Instead I am struck by how little I care. I know who she is, Anne-Marie Sinclair, I know there are strong emotions about her, affection, love even, but they don’t feel like they belong to me. I only seem to have the memory of feelings now.

I ring the hospital in the morning. Dr Keenan passed away in the night. As the last person in his presence I am to be questioned by the police later today. I should be nervous, scared. I feel nothing.

When I look in the mirror I see a dead man. Eyes sunk deep, pale skin and shrivelled lips. The only time I hear those terrible whispers now is when I speak.

33
26

As a child, i was always very paranoid about being watched. i constantly felt like someone was after me, plotting against me. as i got older, the more i thought it would be ridiculous for someone, of all people, to chose me to watch.

when i first moved in to my new house, the old owners had left up security cameras outside and inside the house. i never monitored the cameras though, i didn’t think i needed to. until this evening, i was curious as to what my camera had caught, if anything.

when i decided to watch the footage, i checked out the one by the front door. during the day, not much happened but around three AM the first time I moved in, i saw a man. but something was very off and sinister about him. he was wearing a suit, which seemed odd at that time of night. he was just staring into the camera, like he was looking right at me, not blinking the entire time. without breaking contact with the camera, he began shaking the doorknob. thank god i always make sure to lock it. Once he realized that, he did a 360 around my entire house. checking every window, every door, to see if it was unlocked. he made a stop back at my front door, and continued staring into the camera up for an hour. still not blinking. every night he did this.

the footage from last night was the worst. he got inside. i forgot to lock one of the windows. i felt so incredibly stupid for never noticing or checking the recordings. i watched him climb in through the window in my living room downstairs, and then go upstairs to my bedroom. there, he watched me toss and turn from the nightmare i was having. for literal hours he was standing there and i had no idea. he had a smirk on his face, one that made my skin crawl with unease.

i called the police and waited for someone to be sent out to my house. while i waited, i locked myself in my bedroom in fear. two hours later, there was a knock on my door. the officer seemed very charming and made me feel more safe than ever. after checking the entire house inside and out, he offered to stay downstairs while i tried sleeping a bit upstairs.

i decided to look at the footage on from the last few hours before i went to sleep. i was still really shaken up. it’s 9 pm now, i called the police station around 4 o’clock.

5 pm - i see the police cruiser pull into my driveway. i have a clear view of the area. before the officer can step out of the car, i see the man approach the vehicle. he opens the door and which such force, rips the police officer out, knocking him unconscious. he strips the officer of his uniform, carefully laying it on top of the vehicle. he dragged him into my backyard. ravenously, he began to devour that police officer. i have never seen someone so horrific and terrifying in my life. he was biting chucks of flesh off of his body. there was blood everywhere. he chewed his vocal cords first, so the office was unable to make any noise but i could see the pain and horror on his face. once the officer went limp, the man got up and left his body there. torn to shreds.

6 pm- i then watched the man rinse off the blood with the hose i have in my backyard, and carefully putting the police officers uniform on. i watched him walk up and give my door a knock, where i invited him in.

he’s still inside my house. i hear a loud crash from upstairs, very close to my bedroom. i very anxiously watch the footage. he’s now standing outside my bedroom door, turned to the camera in the hall, with a wide smile on his face.

26
3.8k

Even in the pool water and sweltering heat, her lips remained a vibrant red.

I knew it was creepy to watch my neighbor swimming, but I just didn't know how to talk to her. She climbed up on the side of the pool for a rest, singing something sweet but muffled as she combed her fingers through her hair. I didn’t even know if she was into girls or not.

With a creak, I pushed the window open a little to hear her singing.

“It’s a fine day…” I couldn’t quite make out all the words.

Her eyes caught mine and I leapt back from the window. She must have seen me. My heart pounded painfully in my chest. In a moment of bravery, or maybe just panic, I decided that talking to her was the only way to redeem myself.

Just a pep talk later, I found myself hiding behind the fence and trying to think of something to say. Finally I decided that I would ask her about her water-proof makeup. Or maybe not, that might sound weird.

Frustrated, I decided to just pop my head up over the fence and say the first thing that came to mind. I soon found that the fence was higher than I had anticipated.

With my face scrunched between two fence posts, I said the first thing that came to mind, maybe a little louder than necessary;

“Hey! I like the day out!”

What I meant to say was either “I like your makeup.” or “beautiful day out”, however my indecision led to this mess. I was ready to run back inside and never come out again, but then she laughed. It sounded like music.

“I like the day out too” She said. I could feel the blood rush to my ears. She must have noticed I was blushing.

“Do you wanna come hang out in the pool?”

Not wanting to say something embarrassing, I nodded energetically. Which was probably a lot worse. Then I dashed inside to get my swimsuit.

When I walked around to her yard, she was nowhere to be found.

“Don’t go in the pool yet! I’m getting drinks.” She yelled from inside the house.

I sat down on a lawn chair. The sun was fierce and I realized I wasn’t wearing sunscreen. Ten minutes passed I began to sweat profusely. Surely she wouldn’t mind if I just dipped my toes in.

I sat down at the side the pool and carefully dipped one leg in. It was cold, more so than swimming pools generally are. Considering the weather, this was a welcome anomaly. Without thinking I slid into the pool entirely.

The water was extremely cold, and a shiver ran down my spine. It smelled strange too, like salt. I kicked my legs to stay afloat while I rubbed some warmth into my cold arms. Something touched my foot. Something like seaweed.

I tore my leg away, though it got entangled in the stuff. I gave it another, more violent, tug and finally tore it free. Flailing about in a panic, I pulled myself up onto the tiled poolside.

Shivering with both cold and fear, I pulled the strange tendrils off of my leg. They were dark and stringy. With a jolt I recognized what it was. Human hair.

I looked into the pool. Nothing was there.

With disgust, I peeled the slimy strands off my skin and tossed it them the grass. Then she returned with two glasses of lemonade.

“I thought I told you not to go into the pool…” Her voice had a beautiful sing-song quality even when she was mad.

“I uh…”

Her demeanor softened. She set down the lemonade on the table.

“It’s ok, if you want to go into the pool now we can go into the pool.” She began climbing into the water. I didn’t want to go into the pool anymore, but I also didn’t want to be rude.

The water was just as cold as ever. She led me to the middle, where it was the deepest. I was never great at swimming, and as I struggled to stay afloat the water surged into my nose and mouth. It tasted salty. Like ocean water.

“Let’s try to swim down and touch the bottom.” She suggested. I didn’t like the idea but went along with it anyway.

I swam down, my lungs burning. Something bumped into me. Despite the stinging I opened my eyes.

A pair of cold, dead eyes stared back at me. I yelped, letting my breath escape in a rush of bubbles. I kept my eyes open as I tore through the water. The water seemed infinite, definitely beyond the proportions of the swimming pool. All around me dead bodies were suspended and upright under the surface. Some had pieces missing, as though something had been eating them.

Something wrapped around my leg, and it definitely wasn’t hair this time. I looked down and saw her, unnaturally red lips pulled back in a mocking smile, revealing a row of sharp teeth not unlike those of an anglerfish.

I struggled weakly. My vision became blotchy and blurred. I could see the surface above me. Human forms bobbed up and down, dark and shapeless in the infinite water.

In one last effort, I kicked as hard as my oxygen-starved muscles would allow. For a moment her grip slackened and I swam frantically.

When I finally broke through the surface the atmosphere was strangely calm. I heard the hum of lawnmowers in the distance as I desperately sucked air back into my lungs. My arms were shaking as I pulled myself out of the pool.

I looked back into the water. Nothing was there.

Now, as I’m sitting here writing this, I can still hear her singing her siren song.

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29

This morning, around 11AM, I got a text from my best friend's number, and I cried my eyes out. That was just cruel. It sounded just like her, it used the same smiley she often uses to say hello, and it was around the time at which she usually wakes up enough to start texting.

But it wasn't her. It couldn't have been her because she killed herself last week. There was no way it was my Vivi. Or so I thought when I got the first text.


To be entirely honest, my year hasn't been the best. I had to move to a small town in January and since I, like many of my friends, don't have a driving license, I've been unable to hang out or do pretty much anything with my friends in real life. So when my dog got ran over shortly after, only Victoire could come to my new place. She showed up at 2PM, blank-faced as she usually was, with a chocolate cake and a USB stick with all of my favorite movies. I cried on her a little bit, we watched a few movies, we talked a lot about many different things, including her wanting to dye her hair a lighter color and a character that reminded me of a teacher everyone hates in a series I started watching. I needed to take my mind off Chaussette, and she helped a lot. When she went back home, I was feeling better.

In March, when my grandma died, Victoire couldn't come right away, but she came the day after. And she came again for the funeral, even if she knew there would be a mass. My other best friend, Nicolas, wouldn't have minded the ceremony, but a family member was moving on short notice and needed his help. I know it wasn't his fault, but I don't think I could have said goodbye alone.

And then Victoire's turn came.

I'd understand if someone thought that it was the last straw and that I'm going mad with grief. Of course I'd do anything to get them back. They were three of the most important figures in my life, and I needed them. Hell, I can't think about them without tearing up again. Especially Vivi, since I didn't see any warning sign the last time I saw her, the day before she died. I've known her for ten years: I should have noticed something was wrong.

I've been crying myself to sleep every night since it happened. I lie down in my bed and instead of falling asleep, I start thinking about her and mémé and Chaussette and all the good times we had, and then I remember that they all died young, too young, and not one of them died peacefully in their sleep. I remember that I won't ever see them again. That they're gone for good. That I couldn't do anything.

Want to hear something funny? My Vivi loved horror stories. From the classics to the creepypasta and the urban legends, she loved them all. When we were twelve, she somehow managed to get a Ouija board and convinced me to use it with her during a sleepover. Nothing happened. But after my grandma's death, I was the one who asked to use the board. I wanted to give it another try. Anything to talk to her again.

But of course, nothing happened. The planchette didn't move an inch until I threw it off in frustration. One more proof against the existence of the supernatural.

And then Victoire died. My best friend. Victoire, who sometimes joked that I would never be rid of her. Victoire, who had the emotional range of a teaspoon and still managed to be there for me.

I have to admit that my reaction when I heard that wasn't pretty. I got angry. So unbelievably angry. The tears came later. And unlike the anger, the pain and the sadness stayed with me. That's why I couldn't find it in myself to be angry when I got what I thought was a cruel, tasteless joke in the form of a text. I won't copy this text, or those that followed, but I will translate everything to the best of my ability.


V: Hey (smiling cat smiley)

[Ten minutes later] V: I know you're on your phone. Please answer me.

Me: Stop. Take this phone back where you found it. This isn't funny.

V: I think I'm dead, Cassis.

Me: I'm going to call the cops if you don't take that phone back where you found it.

V: I wanted to use the TeC to get someone to tell me what happened, but it's not here.

TeC is what we call the Ouija board. It means cardboard phone, and it can also mean useless phone. It's a bit of a joke. Victoire was trying to make me laugh: it didn't work, but the name stuck. I cried even harder when I saw that.

Me: What?

V: The Ouija board. Don't know where the thing went. Maybe it's invisible to harmless paranormal beings or something.

Me: Vivi?

Me: What happened?

V: Dunno.

V: How did I die?

Me: You killed yourself.

V: Oh.

[Five minutes later] V: How?

Me: I don't know. Couldn't bring myself to ask.

V: Oops. Sorry. Can I ask how long I've been dead?

Me: One week.

V: Weird. I remember going to bed on June 13th, and then I woke up dead.

Me: Was that a joke?

V: What?

Me: Forget it. Can you come here?

V: I don't know. I'm not sure I could find the way.

Me: You were fine last time.

V: I had a GPS. And everything looked normal.

Me: What do you mean?

V: It's hard to explain. I don't have a body anymore, so I don't have the same senses as I did before.

V: I can feel when there's someone near me but I can't see them. Not in the usual way.

V: My phone feels different too. I can't touch it. I'm not sure how I'm using it.

V: I don't have words for that. I don't completely understand what I... perceive. It's frustrating. And everything is too bright.

Me: Are there other ghosts around?

V: A few.

And then my parents called me and I had to say goodbye to my best friend again. Most of that conversation could have been possible with access to her phone and the TeC bit could have been guessed by someone who knew us, but it sounded so much like her, down to the weird little things that sounded like jokes but maybe weren't.

My mother was concerned because I looked like I'd been crying. To be fair, I had been. But she didn't comment on it: she just gave me tissues and asked if I wanted to stay home. I wanted to, but I said I was fine. She was sick and she still decided to come, so I had to.

And to the funerals we went.


Victoire had always said that she wanted to be cremated and as short a ceremony as possible. Instead, she was paraded around in a church and then buried in a box several meters under the ground. I don't know why they did that. She said she had that talk with her father and he said he agreed. I guess her mother refused and got the last word. It's not like Vivi could be the arbiter in that argument: she was already dead.

I stayed silent during the mass. There was a lot of people here. Victoire had a large family, and it seemed like all of them and then some had come. Most of our classmates came too. The priest did his best to tip toe around the cause of death. I can't even remember most of what he said. I was trying not to cry or make a fuss.

Then we got to the cemetery. I wish I could forget what happened there. It was one of the worst days in my life, and I've lived through many awful days.

We were all following the men carrying the coffin. The clouds that had been gathering all morning were getting darker, just like my mood. I walked by my grandparents' grave and almost cried again, but a baby behind me decided to do it in my place. The baby's mother did her best to try and calm it, but it was already too late.

And then someone cried out from under a grave. I tripped and almost crawled away. I recognized the direction and I just couldn't bear the thought. I bumped into my mom, who was pale and didn't move an inch. Victoire's mother didn't look much better. Her father, who seemed agitated, asked the coffin bearers to just put her down and go get whoever was trapped out.

It couldn't be grandma. I knew it couldn't. She'd been there since mid March and no one can survive that long. It couldn't be grandma, but it could be some sick fuck who somehow got in the grave.

The men from the funeral home lifted the stone covering my grandparents' grave. People near them were watching, and someone screamed to call an ambulance. Phones were out and one of the men, the youngest, started freaking out. Two of them went to get the ropes they were supposed to use to move the coffin down, another shouted reassuring words to whoever was in the grave.

Someone helped me up. Victoire's mother. She quietly asked me if I was all right. When I said I was, she asked my mother to keep an eye on me and then went to check on someone else. With all the people surrounding the open grave, there was no way I could get near, so I stayed where I was and watched anxiously from afar. Mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I'm not sure who she was trying to comfort: me, or herself.

It started raining. As often happens where I live, the clouds soon unleashed enough water to fill an ocean on us. There was no thunder yet, but it wouldn't have surprised me. People started to run to somewhere a little less exposed, except the prudent few who had thought to bring an umbrella. My mom didn't want to get sicker, so she had brought one just in case. She handed it to me, then dad walked her to the car so she could stay as dry and warm as possible. He came back for me afterward.

I can't get the picture of my Vivi's coffin out of my head: abandoned on the ground, forgotten and maybe even flooded.

The coffin slipped once, and the screams resumed. Both from the woman inside the coffin, whose voice sounded like she had spent hours screaming for help, and from the apologetic and frantic coffin bearers who were trying to get her out safely.

When they finally managed to get the coffin on the above ground, someone cheered. And when they opened it, someone screamed. I'm honestly not sure who did. My memories are a bit fuzzy. A small, trembling woman covered in some substance I couldn't recognize was helped out of the coffin and almost immediately fell down screaming in pain. I remember seeing her clothes and thinking “huh, that's a weird color”. Then I noticed her huge belly and the strange color of her skin.

And then I saw her face, and I had to get away from my dad to throw up.

The police was called. They arrived before the ambulance. Everyone who had stayed was told to go to the station. They allowed Victoire's coffin to be lowered into her grave, and then everyone went. Since it was a small town's police station, the dozen of people that had seen what had happened made it crowded.

My phone vibrated repeatedly in my pocket during that time: I had timed silent mode so I wouldn't bother anyone during the funerals, but so I could get some support from my friends afterwards. Many of my closest friends had been there, and those who hadn't were sending comforting messages. I sent a smiley face in reply to a cute picture of a litter of kittens, but I put my phone away when Victoire started messaging me again. I just couldn't deal with dead people right now.

I don't know what happened to grandma. A policeman stayed with her to wait for the ambulance. The other took everyone's statement, or whatever it is called. Time dragged on. I turned on plane mode. It was the only way to ignore Victoire's texts and not break down crying in the middle of the station because of the name that kept appearing in my notifications.

Now I'm back home. I'm sitting in the living room, eyeing the garden through the French windows (ha ha). If Vivi is a ghost and my grandma is some sort of zombie, then maybe Chaussette isn't quite as dead as he used to be. Maybe he's waiting for me under the soaked ground.

I don't know what I should do. I'm not even sure everything was real. Maybe it's just a series of coincidences and misunderstandings, or maybe I'm going mad. Maybe I should get the shovel and start digging, or maybe I should talk to my parents. Mom has locked herself in the bathroom since we've got home, and dad has left. He said he'd be back soon, but we all know he can disappear for hours when he's upset.

I should probably feel like crying again, but I can't even do that much. I'm just numb. I just want to do nothing and stare at empty air for hours. Hopefully writing this will get it out of my chest and make me feel better.

I just received an e-mail. Something about my testimony. I'll stop here for now.

29
10

I wasn’t always like this.

A crescent shape on my left nostril from the time I toppled out of my high chair at age three. Everyone says they don’t notice it, but it’s all I can see when I look in the mirror.

I used to be strong. Fearless. Maybe that’s not just me. Maybe that’s everyone. Sprung from the womb without all the heaviness that envelopes us as adults, so free and clean and new. I know when I was small, as far back as I can remember, I had no fear. The world hadn’t beaten that into me quite yet. My mother had taught me to be brave. She taught me so many things.

I remember running across the tops of hay bales, heart beating hard in my chest, playing chase with my friends. When you get older, you’re playing chase from far worse.

A rough patch of skin near my ankle from tripping over Dad’s dismantled weight bench in the backyard. It had been dark, I didn’t spot the pieces in time.

I wonder about that, still. Where my courage went. Did it leave me in middle school? When suddenly it was wrong to raise your hand and answer the question right? Being right made you a target. Maybe that was it, what started it anyway. The fear of being a target. It’s not what my mother taught me but my mother didn’t matter as much any more, I was growing into who I would really be someday and everything she had spent years teaching me just sort of… evaporated.

I certainly didn’t have courage in high school. I was a spineless little shit, dressing like all the popular girls, laughing at their jokes even when what they were saying wasn’t funny, wasn’t worth anything. Because it was better to belong. I needed to belong to someone.

A curved little nick at the nape of my neck from the time I didn’t tell him ‘no.’ He pushed farther, bit harder, until he drew blood — he said he was sorry but he was never sorry.

The summer after senior year I met Jay. He was meant to be one night of fun that turned into a few months of mistakes. I should’ve known he was trouble when he told me he liked it rough. I suppose he warned me.

It would’ve been brave to leave him but as I’ve said my bravery left me at some point, slipped through my fingers like smoke. I didn’t leave him but he left me for college on the west coast; I called his house one day and his mother said he was gone. She sounded surprised that he hadn’t told me but I wasn’t surprised. I was relieved.

Jay was not the last mistake I would make. He wasn’t even the worst. Not by a long shot.

A short line, a raised hyphen like a break in a sentence on the heel of my palm from where I reached under an old end table for a beer pong ball. It had gotten away from him and I insisted no, don’t worry, let me, and I got scraped by a rusty staple.

Warren and I met at a house party. He was the most charming man I’d ever spoken to in my life. I was 19 and didn’t know that his charm was a mask he wore. It was the sticky-sweet inside of a venus flytrap’s mouth and I was the tipsy, clueless fly.

I also didn’t know that in six months he would propose to me and I, the fly, would say yes to my own flytrap.

We stopped going out with my friends almost right away. He told me it was because I was embarrassing, I drank too much and got too loud, but I know what it was about now. It was about isolating me. Separating me from everyone else.

But that didn’t matter because I finally belonged to someone.

A leathery strip shaped like the state of Illinois on my knee from my tumble outside of the bar. My heels were too high and I ripped a hole in my jeans and he shook his head in disgust, saying he couldn’t take me anywhere.

I didn’t know it then but I know it now — that Warren wanted me, he targeted me because I had no courage anymore. He could sense that I needed to belong to him and he gladly obliged. He ate me up until there was nothing left and I thanked him afterwards.

I was always thanking him for something.

A thin thread of white that runs through my lip from the time I asked him where he’d been all night. I never found out the answer but he found out that if he hit me I’d shut my mouth.

I learned how to hide the bruises. Cover up the black eyes. All the cliches. After all, I was used to the scars. I’d been collecting them my whole life.

My skin used to be smooth and then it wasn’t. I used to be strong and then I wasn’t.

A split in my eyebrow from when he threw me against the wall. I had left, summoned up what I had of my bravery and gone to a hotel, but he had found me and he had hit me and I ended up on the floor, unconscious, not knowing what he’d done to me until the next morning.

I let it go on. I let him do what he wanted. I let him tell me how I was worthless, stupid, how I was lucky that he even wanted me at all.

I thanked him.

But when I took the test, when I peed on that little stick and the two lines stared back at me in silent mockery of what my life had become, well. That changed everything. That brought my courage back.

A long, snaking puff of puckered skin along my palm from where I drew the blade across the meatiest parts of my hand. I knew the ritual, should’ve gone to it before, but I hadn’t been strong enough to do what so clearly needed to be done.

I wasn’t strong enough to fight him, not physically, but I remembered what my mother had taught me. What my grandmother had taught her. I’d always kept it shelved, not brave enough to ask the Dark One for help. No bravery left at all. But with the life growing inside me, well, I knew I couldn’t let him stay in the picture. And hell, I knew he’d never leave. Not on his own.

So I cut and I bled and I called upon Him, the Dark One, the source of our power. And, as I soon found out, the source of my courage.

God, I hadn’t felt that strong in years. Not since I was a girl.

A series of half-moon shapes on my forearm from where he grabbed me in the night. It happened in the night, in his sleep, but it was not peaceful.

How he went isn’t important but I’ll tell you anyway because I love to remember the sounds of him gurgling on his own blood, his insides betraying him, twisting into mush and coming back up his throat. Warren went that way because I wanted him to, I wanted it to hurt, and the Dark One promised it would.

It sure sounded like it did.

The EMTs looked less shocked than I thought they might but I think the Dark One had something to do with that because after he was gone, the doctors who performed his autopsy said something about an embolism. It hadn’t looked like an embolism. It had looked like fucking justice.

A prim, simple slash along my abdomen from when my daughter was pulled from me, screaming her way into life the way I once had. I knew at once that I loved her and I knew at once I would teach her to be brave.

We’re happy now. I’m not the way I used to be, I’m different, but it’s a good different. I’m strong the way you can only become by collecting scars. Smooth skin is pretty, sure, but it doesn’t tell a story. My skin does. I can count each one and tell any stranger my whole life.

I’ve told my daughter my story because it’s important she knows what she is. She is the product of my mistakes and my metamorphosis. She is my most recent scar but she is not the last. She is brave.

We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn.

We are strong. And we will always be like this.

10
77

It was the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I was really excited about the break and I started thinking about everything I could do without all of my school assignments keeping me busy. My parents both work jobs that last all day until five o'clock, so I was alone at home every weekday until then. I would often just hang out by myself watching TV and playing video games. I felt relatively safe because even if somebody decided to try and break in, my dog would bark his head off to warn me. My dog is small, and not too threatening, but in the event of an emergency I could always rely on him to give some sort of warning if I received an uninvited visitor.

For reference, I live in a second story apartment with three bedrooms. It's not too large, and since it was on the second story, I didn't really fear anyone breaking in unnoticed. The front door leads into the living room, and directly to the right is my parents' room. If you walk a few feet to the left, there is a small kitchen area, and a hallway that leads to my room, the third room that was used for laundry, and my bathroom. So, now that all that's explained, I'll get on to the story.

It was the middle of June, and I had set an alarm around nine or ten o'clock to get an earlier start to my day. I would often stay up very late, so I usually woke up around noon or the afternoon. I woke up, took a shower, and decided my dog could use a walk. I put his leash on and looked for my key to lock the door before leaving. I couldn't find it anywhere. I thought for a second, and then realized when I went to eat at a restauraunt with my parents yesterday, I used the key to lock the door when I left, and I brought it with me. The key was on a lanyard, and I took it off in my mom's car. I must have forgotten it in there when we came back home. I figured it wasn't too big of a deal and nobody would know the door was unlocked anyways. So I left to walk my dog with the door unlocked. That had to be the biggest mistake I could have made.

After walking my dog for about twenty minutes, I returned back to my apartment. Immediately, I noticed something odd about the door. It was opened just a crack. Our door sometimes doesn't shut completely if you don't close it hard enough, so it could have been that. I almost dismissed any bad thought I had in my mind until I realized that I made SURE to have shut it hard enough before leaving. I felt a bit uneasy. But something in me kept me from panicking too much, maybe figuring my memory was off or something. I opened the door, and slammed it shut. However I didn't want to lock it from the inside yet, just in case I needed to make a run for it. I was dead quiet, and listened for any sound I could. There was nothing. I started to calm down a bit, and I made my way back to my room. When I entered, I noticed something I definitely knew wasn't right. The closet doors in my room were closed. I NEVER close my closet doors just because I didn't really have the reason to. I took a quick glance at the bottom of the closet and noticed a dark spot that indicated someone was standing there. My heart sank, and I made sure to stay on the side of the closet so I could not be seen through the doors. I tried to remain calm and find a way to leave the room but not give away that I knew the person's location. I sat on the edge of my bed that is also to the side of the closet so it would be just outside of the person's view. I pretended to check my phone, making sure to leave my door open. I deeply sighed, and muttered, "shit" in an annoyed, yet calm tone to make them think I had to attend to something. To my relief, it actually worked.

I walked out my room, down the hallway, grabbed my dog, and broke off into a full on sprint until I was a safe distance away. I called the police, and then my parents to let them know what had just happened. The police were a bit skeptical of my claim at first, but the sheer terror in my voice let them know that I was not messing around, so they came. My parents also showed up, and they both had a look of genuine concern. They knew that I wouldn't be causing all this just for a stupid prank. The cops entered my apartment to investigate. What they found... left me petrified.

A tall and skinny man was escorted out by the police in handcuffs. He was much taller than I was, and I was around 5'10 or 5'11. The police also brought out a large hunting knife that the man had in his hand upon discovering him. As my parents found this out, they both locked me in a tight embrace, being thankful I was alive. The man looked like he was in his 50s, and he had scraggly grey hair that was all over the place. As the police neared their car with him, I'll never forget what he did. He looked straight at me for a second or two, and gave me the most horrifying smile I have ever seen in my life. His mouth was filled with disgusting, yellow teeth and his eyes were opened extremely wide. His eyes were an ominous dark color, close to black. A total stranger was trying to kill me, and I was beyond grateful to still have my life. Upon asking if they knew why he wanted to do this, the police didn't know. The guy didn't even try to steal anything. He just wanted to kill me for something that I will never know. It left me extremely confused and severely anxious for the next couple of days, and I even went to stay at a friends with his parents during the weekdays until my parents got home. Just to feel safe. It's my senior year now, and I'm doing alright. Nothing else like that has occurred since then, but I still remember that day sometimes. An insane person broke in and waited for me, and was close to taking my life. I make sure to lock the door all the time now. And I never, ever forgot my key after that...

77
475

My little Jane was born on the fifteenth of June, she was our perfect little girl. The first time my wife and I set eyes on her we fell instantly in love, every inch of her was perfect from her little tiny toes to her nearly full head of dark brown hair. I thought she looked just like Marie, my wife, and Marie thought that she looked just like me.

I wasn't supposed to remember. Marie doesn't remember.

I'm starting to get flashes of memories now. The dark hall they wheeled us down. The beeping machine they wired us all into. “For a better future” I remember the veiled nurses saying that a lot, they must have drugged us, the memories are so hazy.

I remember seeing little Jane say mommy and daddy for the first time.

I remember watching her take the training wheels off of her bike and how she scraped her knee when she fell off.

I remember when Marie and I sent her off to school, she was nervous but so excited, her eyes lit up with glee when the bus pulled away and she waved to us through the window as she left for a world of wonder, mystery, and delight.

I remember the heartbreak in her big brown eyes when some of the other kids didn't like her. Marie and I felt her pain like it was our own, and God be damned if I didn't hate those kids a little bit even if I knew they were just being stupid kids, they hurt my baby.

I saw her go through her barbie faze, the drama between the Barbie's growing until she outgrew the Barbie's themselves.

I remember the first time she told me she hated me and Marie, she was fourteen and wanted to go to a party.  Maybe I should have let her go, maybe I was being overprotective. I want to drink a bottle of vodka and drive myself into the lake every time I've thought about it over the last three days. My baby.

I watched her spiral after school. Drugs, the depression, the cutting, and then the convience store, two dead, one injured. She was seventeen, her boyfriend twenty, strung out and desperate. How could I have changed that? I lived my entire fatherhood in a couple of hours. I felt every emotion stronger than I'd ever felt any before, I felt new ones that stung worse than anything I could have imagined a week ago. I wish I could forget, I wish the drugs had worked. I wish I was dead.

The one person who could understand the pain I'm living with has no idea that she experienced it too. The drugs worked on her. She forgot. Just like we were supposed to. She thinks I'm crazy, that I'm experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and that the whole thing is a delusion to make sense of my destroyed life.

She's going through her own pain. The pain of a baby delivered dead. I know the truth. We had our baby girl, she was perfect and healthy. I remember her little fingers wrapping around my thumb, not even able to fully encompass it, she was so small, so vulnerable, so deserving of love.

They read our futures, and instead of giving us the chance to change them they killed my baby girl. My innocent little baby.  Because they believed she would hurt people. They believed they were making a better future.

Please. I beg of you. Help me. I can't be the only one. I know I'm not. They're killing our children. And I want to know who they are.

475
11

I am a 25 year old man. 3 years ago, I made a horrific discovery about a close friend of mine. It shook me to the core. That incident has taught me to be aware that not everyone is what they seem.

The whole incident started when my friend Jackson called me over to his house. He wanted to play some Halo or Skyrim game. Having just got off work, and not having anything else to do, I accepted his invitation. Jackson lived in a medium sized house, with a few roommates (around 4-5 of them, if I am remembering correctly). The house was at a shady part of town, but I never felt threatened when I visited.

When I walked into the house, Jackson and one of his roommates were sitting on the couch. They greeted me, as I sat myself on their recliner. We engage in a short conversation about the most recent football game. Eventually, Jackson and his roommate decided to go buy some pizza, while I stayed behind. After they left, I tried to watch some shows on Netflix, but I couldn’t think of anything to watch. Being a bit bored, I decided to wander around the house a bit.

I walked past the down stairs door, and I heard some unearthly moans. My skin crawled when, I realized that the moans were human like. They sounded like they were coming from the basement. Unnerved, yet curious, I decided to walk downstairs to search for who or what was making that noise. Cautiously, I walked down the basement stairs. Once I reached the basement door, I opened the door. Never in a million years, would I be prepared for what happened next.

There were two girls in that room. The girls looked like they were in their early 20s. They were sitting down, tied back to back to a support beam, and they were gagged with bandanas. Both of them were blonde, with very pale white faces. One had a shaggy bob cut that touched only her ears. The other one had very long hair, that likely touched her butt, dangled over her shoulders. They looked at me with the most terrified gaze imaginable, while wordlessly pleading for help. My mouth moved, but nothing escaped my lips. I slowly walked backwards in shock, trying to process on what I was seeing.

I was so emotionally numb that I didn’t notice the footsteps coming down the stairs. Suddenly, I felt two hands that shoved me to the ground. When I landed, my assailants tackled me into the floor. They grabbed my wrists, and handcuffed them behind my back. I also felt my ankles being wrapped up with duct tape. They then finished by gagging my mouth with duct tape. Once I was completely immobilized, my attackers rolled me on my back. This allowed me to see who my assailants were. It turned out to be Jackson and two of his roommates.

It was a total “et tu brute” moment for me. Jackson was a close friend of mine ever since elementary school. I never imagined him doing something like this or turn on me. My world was collapsing at this point, as he was literally my only friend at this stage of my life.

Jackson and his roommates dragged me into the basement’s bathroom. They then debated on what they wanted to do to me. It turned out that they intended to pimp out the girls that I stumbled upon. Obviously they didn’t want me to rat them out to the authorities. A few of them wanted to just outright kill me. One of the guys wanted to slit my throat, chop my body into pieces, and dump me into the river. Jackson simply wanted to intimidate me into silence. However, the other guys disagreed with him. Silently, I prayed for anything to relieve me of my ordeal.

Fortunately for me, the cops showed up. They freed me and the girls, and detained Jackson and his roommates. It turned out that Jackson and his accomplices idiotically kidnapped the girls near some Target store. They were caught on camera, and the police were able to track them down the next day. Fortunately for everyone involved, Jackson and his buddies were terrible at being sex traffickers. They didn’t really use any of the psychological tactics at controlling their victims. The wannabe sex traffickers simply tied them up, and hoped that was enough to keep them in line. So the two girls collaborated with the police without too many problems, and testified against Jackson and the other guys. Jackson and his roommates were sentenced to a few decades in prison.

I still keep in touch with both of the girls. I dated Margaret (the one with the hair that touched her butt) 6 months after the incident. However we had some personality clashes that were not compatible. So we broke up after 4 months of dating. But she ended up being impregnated with my daughter. Despite choosing to not resume our relationship, we still raised our daughter together. A year after I broke up with Margaret, I started dating Amber (the girl with the shaggy bob cut). We are still going strong to this day, and she is pregnant with my 2nd child. Margaret is now married, and I have a civil relationship with her and her husband.

Despite all the trauma I have suffered through, I never have been happier. Raising my beautiful little girl has giving me many blessings. Wouldn’t trade this life for anything else in the world.

11
7

Part 1

Part 2

"What's that suppose to mean? Prepare my checkbook? Why, are you keeping it?" I asked with a tone I usually didn't use.

"I'm keeping it. For now at least. I need to be sure I can get something from you," she said.

"Are you going to keep it unless I do what you say? What if I'm not ashamed of it? What if I'll happily take care of a child?" I figured out the answer as I was saying the words. And I was right.

"Then I'll tell the police that you raped me," she said without any hesitation. "It won't be too hard to convince them. I've done this before."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I went into a panic and started feeling the world crashing down around me. I guess I'll have to give her what she wants. It won't be too hard. I'd made a good amount of money so far and I had some saved up. I'd rather spend it on a beach in Cuba but as long as I could avoid the police, I'd be pretty happy.

"Okay. What do you want?" I asked her with the defeat clear in my mind. I couldn't do anything else.

What she asked me for was way too much. She not only wanted a lot of money but also that I was going to be her constant server. Whenever she needed help, legally or illegally, I were to get her out of her mess. If there were someone she didn't like, I were to ruin their life with the help of my banks lawyers.

"I can't do that!" I said firmly. "I'm not going to be your bank, slave and executioner."

"Then I guess you can say goodbye to your freedom," she answered with a fake pity voice. "Not only your freedom but also your family, friends and fortune."

I had money, I wouldn't be uncomfortable in a long time if I quit my job suddenly but I was by no means a millionaire. I started to think that I'd have to take a loan plus all my saved money. But I got an idea. Something that might fix everything. And I had the Devil to have agreed to help me. And this idea was by no means logical but it's what I wanted to do, and that was what the Devil had told me to do right? Follow my heart and do the illogical thing, that's what the Devil wanted.

"Okay. I'll do it. But I need to meet you, I need your signature on some papers to transfer the money," I said. I tried to sound as sad and defeated as possible.

"I don't buy that," she said. "I've done this before, I know you don't need that from me."

"Yeah, in your country, you wouldn't need this. But you do here," I didn't really think she would buy it.

"Okay, but I'll bring a fucking bodyguard," she said, very aggressively.

We decided to meet the following night at a crowded café and with her damn bodyguard. I say we, but it was really her. She understood first country security measures. When we met she came with a guy that wasn't much bigger than myself but he looked dangerous. He had a thing in his ear, not discreet at all and I think that was the point. He must be talking to someone just in case I were to do something. This is not real, was the only thing that went through my mind. I can't do this, how am I supposed to do anything with him there, I thought. I could feel that I almost started to cry. I excused myself to the bathroom to rethink what I was about to do. I needed to talk to the Devil. How would I do that? Pentagrams were a thing to summon the Devil I remembered from a horror movie. It wasn't much but it was all I had. I drew a pentagram with the liquid soap in the mirror in the bathroom. As I was drawing I heard a voice.

"That is probably one of the saddest attempts to talk to me I've ever seen," the voice said. I turned around and saw the Devil.

"Well, what was I suppose to do?" I asked trying to hold back my tears. "I didn't know how to get in touch with you. I'm panicking here, I can't do this."

"Well," the Devil said looking down on the ground. "You don't talk to me, I talk to you. And yes, you can do this. I'll be here to help you, remember? What a mess this is that you put yourself in."

"I put myself in?" I exclaimed. "What do you mean by that, this was the only way right? Wouldn't my life end up in rut if I didn't do what you said? You said that! I would change the flow of events and I'd still be in this situation just without your help."

"I said no such thing," the Devil calmly said. "I only implied that. I don't know your life, I only know what anyone can find on Google. It's called business tactics. 'Fake it 'til you make it', isn't that what you say these days? You decided to follow what I said. You made a choice to not listen to yourself and this is what happened. You thought that I know everything and everyones life story?"

I just started crying and sat down on the floor against the wall. The Devil was right. I didn't have to listen. I'm a man of God, I could just have told the Devil to leave me alone and all of this would not have happened.

"But I will help you," the Devil continued and sat next to me. "That was the deal. I'll help you and this will all be over soon. Your life will be better and more meaningful after this. Well, to me at least," the Devil said.

"To you?" I asked with tears in my throat.

"Yes," the Devil said with a growing smile. "You'll do what you want to do with her, you'll leave here because, obviously you can't stay here after all of this. I will help you get set up with a new life. I have been working hard with this. I have almost 30 deals with different people working to get this to work for you, several of them in this café right now. One is a paramedic, one is a police officer and one of them is actually her bodyguard. Crazy right? And I'll help them too, to get a better life. This is for all of you."

I don't remember much after that. I had started something so big. What if I just didn't do it? What if I just stopped this and did nothing to her?

"And if you decide to do nothing," the Devil continued. "Then you'll just have to do what she says. But you don't even have the papers right? You figured that I'd help you here. You know that whatever sum she wanted she could just have been wired the money. Did she want more? Or are you so desperate to keep your money?"

I just sat there and did nothing. The Devil was right. I had nothing. And the Devil would help me and all those other people. I didn't care about me anymore. I just thought about everyone else. Did she have something on them too? I figured that her tentacles could reach anywhere. I asked and the Devil, who just looked at me with a smile and said that nothing could be said yet and that this was going to happen.

The Devil gave me what I needed. I was given a small granade. I held it tightly in my hands as the Devil pulled the safety pin and told me to talk back out. I was told that it wouldn't hurt me because the Devil could protect humans from death.

My whole body was shaking as I walked out into the café. I didn't want to walk but I couldn't control my legs. I walked up to the table where I could see the bodyguard looking pale. He looked sick. She was looking impatient and when she saw me she looked confused because she couldn't see the granade in my hand. When I was at the table she looked me in the eyes and was even more confused. I dropped the granade.

I don't know what happened next. I saw light, then darkness and then light again. I saw the Devil and was told to get up and go home. When I got home, get in the red car outside and just do what I'm told. My life was to be given a new meaning.

I got home, saw the car and got in. The driver gave me an envelope and in it was several plane tickets, a new passport with my picture but not my name. I asked the driver what was happening. The driver looked terrified and didn't answer. The Devil was now next to me and this is the last thing the Devil said to me:

"You're going to Mongolia. You are joining the group in the desert that worship me. You will not be able to leave. If you attempt to do anything on the way you will be consumed by light and take everyone around with you. In the desert you will find your new meaning. Your new meaning is to help me come back in heaven where I belong. God has left you. Not only you, but all of humanity. The throne is empty and I will take it and make the world mine. For that I need humanity. Prayers do work, in enough quantities. And you will be enough at some point. The world is about to be mine."

18

To be completely honest here, I wasn't expecting to ever sign up for this site of all things. I'm not a fan of social media, dropped out of it completely in high school. Even then it was just a small facebook account, so this Reddit thing had me a bit confused while signing up. I only knew about nosleep because I used to listen to some youtubers reading creepypastas while I studied in college.

Now that shit seems too real. You guys are the experts, honest to goodness. Real-life psychics or priests I don't believe can help because they've got alternate goals. Money, or fame. I need you people to give me advice here, because I'm freaking out at every noise in my house. It started a few days ago, with a dream. Probably closer to a nightmare, but it didn't start scary. In the dream I was at my parents' house, where I currently live with them and my girlfriend Cindy. We live in a two story home, pretty normal for suburban New Jersey. Out back we have a deck about ten feet out and as long as the back of the house. Each end leads to a yard.

In the dream I was on the deck, looking out into the woods. The back of the house leads straight into a deep swamp-grounds forest. Its protected land, supposedly for drainage. So I'm looking out into the forest, and its summer time. Trees are so full of life that you can't even see thirty feet out, barely to the stream that runs back there. Its pleasant. Then I turn to the right, and I see her. The woman. Or, rather, women. There are two women standing on the side yard, staring not quite at me, but sort of at my feet. They are a pale color with long black hair. Shit's straight out of an asian horror film. Then I notice they're standing awfully close together. They move, and the second woman moves behind the first, and they turn sideways, moving towards me almost like a crab. Their limbs bend at the joints and scuttle, almost bounding and warping like some parts of their bodies don't have bones and some have far too many. That's when I notice it. They're not two women, but rather one. Conjoined at the hip and along their arms that meet between them. Before I can even react they're at the little dog fence that leads up the deck and they just seem to slip through it. Throughout all of this, there is no sound. I don't just mean the women move quietly, I mean there is no sound at all, not even the pounding of blood in my heart makes a whisper. In that unnerving silence I turn around and pull open my sliding door, and I wake up in bed, sweating like crazy, my guinea pig a few feet behind me shrieking bloody murder from his lonely cage.

Now, I have nightmares fairly frequently. All my life that's been true. They usually cycle between a few recurring ones which I'm not going to talk about here because its not important, but the bit that matters is that I very, very rarely if ever have new nightmares. I've been out of school for over a year and the last new nightmare I had was in my first year of college.

I sat up in bed and checked on the guinea pig. Gordo had stopped screaming. Actually, it looked like he was just eating some of his hay quietly. I still don't know if I imagined him screaming or not. This dream was on Monday, and since then I haven't been able to get those women out of my head. Every dark corner, every moment of rest they pop into my brain. Then weird things started happening in real life.

I work at a local GameStop as a sales associate, just a peachy eight minute drive from the house, luckily with people I've known for years. I started working about three months ago now. First thing that happened, happened there. I got to work a few hours after the dream, and our air conditioning had broken. It was also the hottest day of the year so far, here in New Jersey. Peaked at almost a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. While I was there, this kid came in. Let me tell you true, after working three months my fellow employees confirmed I'd met everyone in town who would come in. This kid was not from around here. He was scrawny, eyes pointing just barely in different directions. He seemed to have some sort of mental disability, because he grunted and screamed. The worst part was that nobody was there with him. No guardian, sibling, or parent. He ran to the back of the store and started pulling old 360 games off the rack and opening them. Mind you, like every GameStop in the country, there's nothing in those cases. They're for display. But this kid starts opening them, every other game or so, looking inside, and then closing them again.

We've got to keep those alphabetical, so I immediately sensed the potential for me to get a lot of extra work if I didn't stop him quickly and went over. I said, "Sir, just to let you know, there's nothing in any of those cases."

He nodded and said, "I know, I know, I know, I know, I know..." trailing off matter-of-fact-ly.

Then he smiled and turned to me and said quickly and quietly, "They know." before turning around and leaving the store.

What the fuck just happened? Who did he just talk about? Couldn't be my fellow associates at GameStop, only Ally was working with me today, so that wouldn't be a "they," and there weren't any other customers at the time. He didn't even look at anything but me. Although, now that I think about it, maybe with his weird eyes I saw wrong. Maybe he wasn't looking at me, maybe he was looking behind me. That just gave me a spook writing it. Goddamn it, I wish I noticed that at the time.

After that I got home like normal, spent some time with Cindy and the dogs, and went to bed. The next day is when it got really bad. For some reason, the image of those conjoined women in black came back to me that night. I don't know if I had that dream again, but I woke up with their forms stuck in my head even worst than the day before. I started to become very afraid that something was wrong with me. I couldn't stop thinking about them. The image just seemed so real. The spot where, from under the first woman's dress, right at the collar bone's end, I saw their flesh and skin stretch when they moved against one another. That image drove me up a wall. Its strange though, I've never in my life been scared of deformed people. I've met plenty, been friends with a few. If you didn't notice, I don't really care about being politically correct in my language. That's part of what they liked, at least the ones I knew. They told me they got tired of people stuttering to find the right ways and words to define them. They know what they are, that they're unfortunate.

Anyway, back on topic. So I had work that night, too. I usually help the managers close down, so I'm always in at night. Never even had a morning shift so far. When I left for work, I went out through the deck. I was scared to do so, because of the women, but I knew that if I didn't try it would start to become a habit to avoid the deck, which would be difficult because of the house's layout. Just to set that straight, when Cindy moved in with us, I gave her my old room, so now I sleep downstairs, right next to the deck. There's a plain glass sliding door out to the deck with some old tan blinds that are controlled by a string. When I need to open those blinds now, I always see a flash of the women. Anyway, so I got out onto the deck, and went to my car, no problem, but I felt watched the whole time. I'm a bit ashamed to admit just how many times I looked behind me. I even took one of my knives with me in my pocket, a habit I'd kicked before college ended.

When I got home, after dark, is when things got really scary. I parked and left the car. It was dark now, so I decided not to go in through the deck, just to make life easier. As I walked away from the car, I heard something rustle leaves behind me. Just past the driveway we have bird feeders hung in the woods for our local critters. The noise came from a few feet behind that, maybe six meters away from me. I stopped dead in my tracks and listened. I know the sound that every local animal makes in every season. I spent my youth in the forest learning about animals, was a boy scout for over a decade, and in college I learned the woods on campus just the same. These were not animal foot-falls. They were human. Except a bit off, like there were two sets of feet instead of one.

I turned to face the noise, kicking myself for not having a flashlight to see what was out there. I took the knife from my pocket, and opened it halfway. Some part of me felt that locking it all the way open was committing to encounter violence, so I didn't. I instead walked backwards all the way to our electric garage door. The whole time, I could hear those footsteps. They moved towards me, then back away, then towards me again. Whatever was out there in the dark was pacing, deciding what to do. Maybe just the same as me opening that knife halfway. I keyed in the door code, dreading the loudness of the door opening. We'd replaced the unit a few years ago, and the new one was dreadfully slow to open, and very loud. In those brief moments where I could not hear the sound of those footsteps out in the woods, I was terrified. Sweat rolled down my face, and I started to feel cold. As soon as the door was partway up, I ducked underneath, ran to the button and closed it again. I slammed the inside door shut and pulled both the deadbolt and the key-lock shut behind me. Then I ran over to the sliding door in my room and locked it, too.

I went upstairs and told Cindy what happened. Her response was quick, "Do you want me to come with you to check it out?"

That damned girl. I love her more than life, but I wasn't even thinking of checking it out when I locked those doors. Still, there was no way I was letting her go alone, and she was already getting her shoes on and flashlight out. Fucking hell, in hindsight I wish I had been quicker. If this whole thing is just a coincidence and that was just a weird animal, I might have been able to see it if I were quicker, and put my mind at ease.

We went out together to "check it out," as Cindy said. I brought my Dad's mag-lite, the type that's two and a half feet long so you can hit someone with it. Now that Cindy was with me, my fears felt more silly. Had I been attempting this alone, I probably would have brought one of the axes with me, but with her next to me, that seemed extreme. We checked the entire house's perimeter. There were no conjoined women. No bears. No deer. I didn't even see any birds or squirrels. What had happened to my forest? It was a summer night and the woods should have been teeming with activity. I think that complete, deadening silence scared me just as much as those foot-falls I'd heard. Not as much as the stuff we did find out there. Next to the stream's bank I found my old bow. Two summers prior I'd been making PVC pipe archery equipment. I found my old bow out there, next to the stream, snapped in half. I hadn't seen it in months. I know Dad just recently cleaned out the garage a bit so maybe he threw it away, but why into the woods? Any why break it? We've pretty environmentally conscious at my house, we all know plastic doesn't decay. I still have to ask him if he threw it out there.

The next day was quiet. Blissfully quiet. I played video games, I even did some construction down in the woods. I've been building a new work area down there for forging. I do smithing in my free time, but a flood a few weeks ago fucked my work area up, so I've been fixing it. Nothing unusual came up while down there. Except for the stream itself I guess. The water's low. Still is, actually. Only an inch or so deep. Usually its almost two and a half feet deep. I could see everything along the bottom. Its a man made stream, so its filled with bricks and tires and crap. But that's probably nothing to do with anything.

Today, the day after, I woke up to the sound of water being poured. I thought maybe Mom was on the deck with the dogs and was filling the water bowl, so I shrugged it off. Then I heard it pour again, and again. I got up and put on my glasses to witness the toilet overflowing. Nobody had used it since last night, and there it was, overflowing for no reason. The water coming out of it was black, like the pine barrens where the evergreen needles stain the river dark.

We're waiting on our plumber friend to get back to us right now about that. Dad thinks its a line backup or something, but with one weird thing happening after another, I decided it was time to write down whats been happening here and ask for help. I'll put any more updates later. Should I have the house "cleansed" or any of that crap? I don't know what to do, and those women are still on my mind. Not to mention that fucking rabbit plush. I could feel it watching me last night when I went upstairs for a snack. I'll talk about that fucking thing some other time. Thanks for your help if anyone actually finds this and reads it.

18
6

7:45am.

My day started like any other normal day. Got up, got dressed, had coffee and some breakfast and then on the bus to work. I should add that I live a fairly large city and there are hundreds of people in my vicinity at given time. Privacy is hard to come by but we all make the best of it.

8:51am.

I made it to work at the normal time and said hello to the normal people as I always do. Made my way to my desk and sat. I just sat there. For whatever reason, I didn't want to do anything, no motivation, no drive. Had I wore myself out with normalcy? Was I finally tired of the daily hum drum of life and just didn't care anymore? I didn't feel like I wanted to commit suicide or anything like that either, I wasn't that fed up with life. It just felt like I wanted something different, something new. I literally just sat there. An hour, two? I really didn't know. It was only after I heard my phone ring that I snapped out of the stupor I was in and acted like a human and not a paperweight even if only for a brief moment.

11:26am.

The voice on the other end of the line wasn't anyone I knew. Whoever it was had a very rich, deep southern drawl. Louisiana perhaps? Maybe Mississippi or Alabama, I don't know. I could understand most of what they said anyway, even with the drawl, so whatever.

“You will encounter many different people today, you must kill two of them. We'll be watching. It's them or you. Do not tell anyone. Do not contact the police. There are eyes everywhere. You have until midnight to complete this task. Complete this and you will be rewarded greatly and all wrongdoings will be erased from any record you may have. Fail, and there will be repercussions.”

They hung up and I went back to pretending I cared about this place. Now every thought was consumed by the phone call. All day it was a struggle to show an ounce of care for anything but the call.

4:44pm.

After the standard eight hour day, I decided I was going to walk home instead of take the bus. I grabbed my jacket and left. It was a nice day and it's only a 45 minute walk back to my place, so what the hell. So I set off on my way. Walking in the city isn't all that easy. Everyone bumping into each other and not in a good way if you catch my drift. I made it about 30 minutes into the walk and had to take a piss, so I pulled off the sidewalk to the nearest convenience store. Went in and asked for the bathroom. The clerk directed me towards the back of the store. I made my way towards the back and entered the john.

5:35pm.

As I'm standing there taking a leak, I hear someone come in behind me. I don't think much of it at first but I hear him talking to someone on the phone.

“Haha, yeah man, she took three and was out cold…. Well of course I did, you would've done the same thing if you were in my position…. Fuck no, I'm not gonna tell her. If she ends up pregnant, she'll just assume it was of the other guys she's been with…. No, she won't ever know, like I said, she was out cold, so her claiming rape is highly unlikely.”

I finished up at the pisser, tucked my dick back into my shorts and zipped up quickly. Something about hearing that animal saying he raped some girl, promiscuous or not, set up a fire in me. I tried, like really tried, to hold back the rage that had built up in those few short seconds. I couldn't do it and snapped.

I grabbed the guy by back of his head and yanked him back. I put my head right up next to his.

“You think you're a big fuckin’ hot shot? Like fuckin’ with defenseless women? You god damned piece of shit, rot in hell asshole.”

“Fuck you man, you don't know shit. That fuckin’ bitch had it coming. She fucks any dick she sees. God damn cunt needed a real dick in her, I gave it to her.”

That was the last straw. I still had a hold of him at this point so I gave his feet a swift kick and pushed him forward at the same time. He toppled over catching his mouth and nose on the edge of the sink. When he landed, he laid there looking up me with terror in his eyes. He began to cry, the pain too much now, his tears mixed with the blood pouring from his mouth and nose staining his shirt. Several of his teeth lay on the disgusting tile floor, little nerve endings still attached to some of them. I stood over him, fists clenched, ready to strike.

“Look what you did to me you fucking cocksucker! You broke my fucking face.”

The seething rage had now completely engulfed my mind and body. I stepped over him and grabbed the lid of the toilet tank, lifted it up over my head and brought it down full force onto his head. There was a crunch and his body went limp. Blood slowly started to pool on the disgusting floor.

Oh fuck! I didn't actually think I'd do it.

“Shit, shit, shit!”

I felt sick to my stomach. I didn't know what to do except run. I got up out of there as fast as I could and just ran. Three blocks later I stopped. I sat down on a bench to catch my breath and figure out what I supposed to do now.

5:49pm.

My cell phone rang. Unknown Caller. I answered hesitantly to the southern drawl again.

“Congratulations. One down, one to go. Think you can handle it? Your first was exquisite in fashion and oh so sudden! The clock is ticking. Talk to you later.”

What the fuck? I really have to kill another person? How did they know where, what and how? And who was this voice?

Once I had my senses back about me, I got up to leave. I continued walking towards home now, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible so I wouldn't raise any flags about what I just did. Only about 10 minutes left until home.

I was starting to get extremely worried now. I didn't plan the first killing but now that that I know someone is watching, I had no idea how to go about a second. What would the consequences be if I didn't make it? Was this some sort of contest or just someone's idea of a sick game? What does greatly awarded mean? None of these questions really mattered right now anyway.

I finished my walk home and went inside to think, plan and wonder. Looking at the clock, it was now 6:35pm. Just over 5 hours until midnight.

“Christ. What am I going to do?”

I started thinking about my neighbors and what I could do. Maybe convince one of them to fake their murder? Maybe not even convince them and just do it.

The old lady two doors down had to be nearly 80. She wouldn't really be misses if she died. No, shit. She has grandkids that visit every couple weeks or so. I hear those shits running in the halls every time they come over, so that wont work.

Maybe the dorky dude next door. He doesn't come out of his place except to get his mail and to go shopping or pay for pizza deliveries. I always hear him talking to someone, someones? Probably chatting online or playing video games would be my guess. Would he really be missed if he didn't game chat? Fuck, no, that won't work either.

7:49pm.

I started pacing. Thinking about how and who. I'll go for another walk. Maybe I can find another random stranger and just make it a quick kill. I grabbed a knife from the block and tucked it up into my sleeve so if I do find anyone it's just a quick move to free it.

8:31pm.

Starting to get dark now. I walked for blocks searching out a possible kill. I passed homeless bums, prostitutes, pimps, and crack heads. None of them would really be missed but no matter what I couldn't bring myself to do anything about it.

9:53pm. Shit.

My phone rang. It was my brother. I swiped ignore.

It rang again. Still my brother. Ignore. I had bigger issues right now.

Still he called again.

“Mike, you got to co.....”

“Damn it, I've got my own problems right now. I'll call you back later.”

10:17pm.

Checking the clock on my phone, I didn't have much time left. Panic started to set in now. I needed to find someone fast. I just needed to pick someone that wouldn't be missed but it's so hard to choose. Everybody knows someone. Everybody is connected to someone in some way. Walking back passed the bums and whores. Trying to pick fresh blood to spill. I can't do it, I just can't. I'm going home.

11:21pm.

Forty minutes left until midnight.

My phone rings again. Unknown Caller.

“Congratulations! We honestly didn't think you had it in you! And this one, a two for one! Why, I think a little bonus is in order! You just made yourself a very rich person! Congratulations again and don't worry, none of this will ever fall back on you. Enjoy your newfound fortune, you've earned it!”

“What the fuck are you talking abo…?”

Click.

11:45pm.

There's a knock on my door. Shear terror sets in. I sneak to the peep hole and look through. Oh fuck! It was the cops!

“Mr. Jameson? We need to talk to you. Are you in there? Hello! Mr Jameson!”

11:49pm.

I grab the knife again and get ready in case they bust in.

“Mr Jameson? Mr. Jameson hello!”

I got ready to strike. The pounding on the door intensified.

“Mr Jameson! We know you're in there! We need to speak to you please answer the door.”

11:53pm.

I'm done. I can't take it. I won't be able to complete the challenge. I gather my composure to answer the door. I'll keep the knife handy and if they start questioning me about the bathroom guy, I'll just kill myself right here in front of them. I'm not going to prison while some creepy prick plays games with me.

11:54pm.

11:56pm.

I swing the door open ready to end it all. I've the knife on a small table behind the door set to go.

“Are you Mr. Jameson?”

“Yes, what can I do for you? Is there a problem?”

“Yes sir I'm afraid there is.”

I'm slowly inching towards the knife.

11:59pm.

“Sir, I'm afraid your mother and brother have been in a car accident and unfortunately passed away at the scene. Your name was the last call on your brothers phone. We're very sorry to have to tell you like this.”

I collapsed right there in the doorway.

12:00am.

--“New email from First Nations Bank.”

To: JamesonM@gmael.com

From: First Nations Bank

$3,000,000 US deposited to your checking account.

Thank you for using First Nations Bank.

Have a wonderful day.--

6
comment
5

I'm writing this the day after the events that had transpired.

My aunt had bought a beach house several years back. The house was incredible and the view was to die for. She had allowed my parents and I to vacation to it as normally if someone wanted to live in it she would charge them rent, but because we were family she would let us stay with no charge, but about two years ago she moved out, yet she never sold it, or at least never tried to sell it and she never explained why as all she would do is just give lame excuses like "There wasn't enough space." or "My neighbors were too loud.", but we all knew she loved the house and I think she could be hiding something and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

It was a very hot and humid Saturday as it was normally in Georgia as we were traveling to the Beach House, which was in Savannah and was only a 1 Hour drive there. We had packed our bags and were heading to our aunt's old beach house when I suddenly started to question why my aunt moved out.

"Mom." I said with slight hesitation as Mom replied "What is it dear?" I was thinking about the beach house and while yes, I was excited to go as it had been almost a year since we last went, I was still a little worried about the house and how quickly my aunt had moved out. "Why did aunt Katherine move out?" I was hesitant to say it as I didn't want to ruin the feeling of excitement that was in the car just a second ago. "We don't know, aunt Katherine told me that the house was too small for her and her husband." she paused for a moment "Just promise me Chris that you don't bring it up with your aunt, she gets very uncomfortable when people talk about it around her." "Yes mom." I said with a slightly irritated voice. The car had gone silent as the feeling of excitement had soon faded into one of anxiety and uncertainty and it remained that way for the rest of the car ride.

Once we had gotten into the driveway of the beach house, my dad, eager to break the silence said "Come one Chris let's unpack as we need to make room in the car for your mother to get groceries. It was normal for our mom to get food as we unpacked as it would cut time on moving in and give us more time to go to the beach or do other recreational activities.

As my mom left the driveway my dad and I had taken our suitcases and brought them into the house. It was easy to unpack as we knew the house by heart since we had gone here many times in the past. My dad and I would normally watch TV as we would wait for mom to get back with groceries, but this time was different as my dad pulled me aside and said that my aunt is visiting tomorrow morning and to never bring up why she moved out. "Dad it's obvious she is hiding something!" Dad replied "I know son, but there is a time for and place for everything and right now it is not the time to be throwing questions that you know will make your aunt uncomfortable." dad had basically shut me up and I knew that as I left the room quietly and entered my bedroom. I thought for a few moments until I had been interrupted by my mom to get the groceries.

At this point nightfall had came and I went to bed, I was lucky as I was able to get an ocean view of the place and be able to took out at the beach, and that's where things got strange. I was looking out at the beach and out of the corner of my eye I could see this thing coming out of the water, but It was too dark to see what exactly what it was. It then just looked at me and started walking towards the house and at that point I was scared shitless and screamed "MOM?!? DAD?!?" a few seconds after my parents came and I told them to look out the window, but when I looked back the "thing" was completely gone.

My parents being parents just wrote it off as if I was just seeing things, but I knew it was real, it had to be real! That night I got no sleep and just kept looking out to the beach, but nothing. I kept checking the clock as well and it read 10:30...11:45...1:00 and soon it was 2 o'clock in the morning and that's when it happened again, but as my room was much darker I could see "it" rising out of the water and I could just barely make out the details. It was a tall and did certainly look human though the entire body was dark even in the moonlight. This time it didn't look at me and it just walked in a straight direction and never looked back, but as soon as I moved my blanket it suddenly ran to my porch, I was about to scream, but I knew I would just attract attention so I tried to stay hidden and kept my mouth shut. The creature walked slowly to my sliding glass window and it knocked twice, then after 2 minutes it had knocked twice again and left just like that, back into the ocean. I was shook after that and basically fainted due to how scared I was.

The next morning I was very tired ever after I had slept in till 8 AM. I went downstairs and Aunt Katherine was right there in the family room talking to my mom and dad. "Oh hello Chris! It's been so long since I've seen you!" she got up and had hugged me. "Yeah, thanks it's wonderful to see you too!" I had said with a tired voice. "He just woke up" Mom said trying to excuse my poor greeting.

They had talked while I was getting breakfast, but I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened last night. Once I had finished my cereal I had decided to go on a walk to the beach, once I had gotten to the beach I went to the exact spot that the creature had risen out of and in the spot I had noticed a small hole in the sand and in that hole I found a key with a note attached to it.

I thought about every room in the house, but I know that there was no locked doors at least there were none that I had remembered, but that didn't stop me from checking every door in the house once I had gotten back and found nothing was locked, but right when I we about to give up I looked at the note and on that little piece of paper said this: "If it is the box you seek the bedroom of house 83 is where you will find it." House 83 is this house, I quickly went into my mom's bedroom and searched for the box and soon enough in the corner of the walk-in closet I saw the box, you could barely see it in the dark closet, but I quickly grabbed it and shut the door in my room. It was an old dusty box, but was a perfect square and once the dust was off of it the color was a dark pink was very light.

I took the key and unlocked the box and inside were four photos and a map to the house though it was a small map and only covered the basement. The four photos where a family photo of aunt Katherine and her husband, but in the background you could see it, the dark and tall figure in the background "Oh shit!" I said quietly and examined the three other photos. The third photo was a picture of a kid with short and blonde hair, he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. There was another dark figure in the background again, but it could make out the details and it was smiling almost menacingly. I was at this point super scared and had to force myself to see the other two photos. The second was a picture of a basement and this one looked familiar, it was aunt Katherine's basement and with that the last photo, the last photo almost made me cry. It was a picture of me, last night out cold on the bed and the clock had read 3:00 AM. I was in shock and I was about to cry when I examined the photo's again and the dates read: March 14, 2012, April 16, 2014, May 18, 2016 and the one which was taken today had June 20th, 2018 written on the back.

I don't know what these mean, all I ask is for your help into finding out what exactly is going on.

- Chris Peterson

3

If I had only charged my phone the night before I would have never noticed it. I was sitting on the subway, half asleep, half awake on my way to work. The ride usually took about an hour, and it was quite uninteresting. Trust me, I’ve tried sleeping before, but with the uncomfortable seats and the kind of noise that is brought with the early morning rush, it was nearly impossible. This is why I always needed something to do on the way; typically this was a podcast or music that I would listen to on the way.

Every night before bed I would plug my phone in, hardly even thinking about the real reasons to have it plugged in (emergency, work calls), but mostly thinking about that horrendous commute. Anyways, last Monday I forgot to charge it overnight, and so during that commute I had to entertain myself other ways, not a big deal I had thought to myself at the time. I decided that I would spend the sixty long minutes people-watching, and I managed to keep myself pretty entertained. I watched a woman discipline her child as he managed to create a noise that somehow trumped the cacophony of the morning subway. My eyes went through a number of actions that morning, from flicking back and forth between two men arguing, to slowly scanning the subway car browsing the tired looking faces in each seat, but there was one thing near the end of my ride that made my eyes sit still. As I was scanning, I noticed a man that I had not seen before, nothing too unusual about him, but he seemed different from the rest, and I couldn't quite place what it was. For the last fifteen minutes of the ride I looked him up and down, but still could not figure out what it was that drew me to him.

The entire day at work I thought about that man, remembering his face quite well, I wondered what I was failing to notice. After a few hours I merely wrote it up to the lack of a morning coffee and a first time with absolute boredom on the subway, so for the rest of the day it disappeared from my mind. That was of course the case, until I was just finishing up my shift at work, when I finally realized the small, seemingly insignificant detail that intrigued me. The man had a slight smile. That was all. Just a smile. I chuckled a bit at the fact that this had drawn so much of my attention for the day, packed up my things and started to head out.

It was about a 10 minute walk from my building to the stairs that led down the subway, and again, my time then was often also spent listening to music or podcasts, but that day I paid more attention to my surroundings, noticing things that I never had before. I mostly noticed how disgusting the streets that I worked on were. Trash littered the gutters, and it seemed that everything had a sort of grey layer of grime on it. Just as I reached the steps that led down into the dimly lit subway, I noticed something at the bottom of the steps, a large dark object lying motionless on the ground. As I cautiously moved closer to the object I could make out more and more details until I realized that it was the shape of a person. I quickened my pace, making my way towards the person as I called out

“Are you okay?”.

When I reached the last few steps I noticed that the person seemed to be a young woman, when suddenly, she stood up from her position. The motion was so quick that it seemed to be a single action, one that I hardly even had time to react to. I looked at her and noticed that one of her eyes was cloudy, as if she was blind in one eye. I assumed that she must have bumped into something and fallen due to the lack of depth perception.

Again, I asked, “Are you alright?”

The woman quickly jerked her head to look at me in the eyes. The motion was so fast that I nearly jumped. She did not say a word, and simply looked at me blankly before giving me a wide grin. Her teeth seemed to be in very bad shape considering she looked quite young, extremely yellow with a few missing in the front. She maintained her direction facing me, keeping the same smile as she walked up the steps in the opposite direction of me, only breaking eye contact with me once she had gotten far enough away where I could barely make out her face. She then slowly turned her head forward, and continued walking at constant speed up the steps. I shook my head and continued into the subway tunnel, thinking that it was just another of New York's strange people, of which it had many. By the time the subway train had arrived I had pretty much already forgotten about the incident. I sat down in the first seat I could find, which wasn’t hard as there were not that many people that rode the subway when I got off work. My job often had me working late, which was a hassle, but I never had to deal with rush hour.

As I readied myself for another boring hour, I noticed a man sitting far down the car on the opposite side of me. I could only see the profile of his face, but he was unmistakable. It was the man from earlier this morning. I found it kind of strange that we happened to be on the same ride at the same time twice in one day, but I also felt slightly excited as my boredom receded, if only for a brief moment. As I looked at him, I noticed that he shared the same slight smile from earlier today, as well as a long rough scar that ran down from the bottom of his left ear to the top of his left shoulder.

Again, I found myself spending the hour analyzing this strange man as well as thinking about what I had in store for me tomorrow for work. Surprisingly the trip was over before I knew it and I stepped off into the dark station. It was a short walk from the train to the stairs that led to above ground, but even then, the short walk was quite creepy. As I approached the bottom of the stairs, I heard a slight shuffling noise in the dark. I whipped my head around as fast as I could, but when I looked, I could see nothing. As soon as I turned my head back, I heard the noise again. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me up the stairs and into the front door of my apartment complex on the first floor.

When I sat down on the couch in my apartment I thought back to how foolish I had been. I had walked that short distance hundreds of times and never gotten this scared before. I thought that it must have been because that man had been creeping me out on the subway along with lingering tiredness from work that day.

I hadn’t had time to read the paper this morning due to waking up late, so after I ate a brief meal, I sat down to browse this morning's paper. When I did, I noticed an article that shocked me, one that spoke of another missing person. There had been dozens of missing persons reports over the past year, but none of them I had noted before. The article spoke of a young woman that went missing about a week ago while on her way back home from work. When I flipped the page, an image was shown of the missing woman. At first glance my heart started racing as it was the same woman that I had seen while leaving work. I quickly realized however, that this could not have been the same lady. The woman I ran into was blind in one eye, had significantly worse teeth, greyer skin and a slightly different face structure. I was relieved that I hadn’t just let a missing person go without reporting it. I must be getting more paranoid I thought. It wasn't as if I had given a second thought about the missing persons before now. As my eyes scanned the black ink on the newsprint, I read the various pages for about thirty minutes when my eyes grew tired, and I started to drift off, sitting on my couch in front of the TV. My eyes felt as if they were made of lead when they finally shut for good.


I must have fallen asleep for at least a couple hours as it was pitch black when I woke up. It was not immediately apparent as to why I had woken up, but something made me uneasy. As my eyes were adjusting in the dark, I noticed the moonlight peering through the window closest to the couch. As I stared blankly at the shadow of the window on the floor, I noticed a change, something unsettling about the shadow. I had seen the same shadow countless times in the middle of the night when I had to get a glass of water or go to the bathroom. For some odd reason, it seemed different. Within moments my heart jumped as I noticed what it was. A small figure, a human-like shape, was hardly noticeable towards the top of the shadow. I edged over towards the window, careful to keep my distance and quickly looked outside. I was convinced that I was scaring myself; I found there to be nothing out of the ordinary outside. When I glanced back at the shadow, the figure was missing. I shook my head and assumed it was because I was tired, and headed to my bedroom. I collapsed in bed, still trying to get enough sleep before yet another work day. As I pulled the covers over me, the darkness that surrounded my bed unsettled me, but as the effects of a long work day set in, my eyes eventually closed again.

When I awoke the next morning, I hardly even remembered waking up the previous night, I even considered it to have been a dream. As I boarded the subway for another day at work, I noticed the same man on the subway as before, this time, looking at me.

Something in my brain told me I needed to find out what this man did all day. Everything that had happened in the last 24 hours had been bothering me, all these little things were preventing me from completing my work. Or at least that is what I told myself to justify a day off from work. I don’t know why, but I HAD to find out what was going on. So many small coincidences and occurrences were gathering and clouding my thoughts. I felt as if someone was messing with me, and it was not very funny. I called in sick to work right there and then, on the subway, and then proceeded to sit, and sit… and sit. I rode the line up and down the city, for about 10 hours. I had never been one to sit still and focus, and yet, this time, I was able to. During all this time I analyzed this man, noticing numerous cuts and scars along his neck, and observing the strange way his eyes stared at me, and at other passengers. It appeared as if he had a glass eye, yet the specific eye I could not pin down. He simply had an odd way of looking, as if he had been born without knowing how to use his eyes. Near the end of the day my legs were starting to feel numb and I had to stand up several times during stops just to make sure they would not fall asleep. Night fell faster than I had expected as by the time it happened, it was almost completely dark outside.

He moved. The man who seemed to refuse a change of seats without saying a word. The man who didn't get off at a single stop, or even change his expression, shot out of his seat and immediately walked off the subway. This shocked me more than it should have. I mean, he had to get off somewhere… right? When he moved my eyes snapped quickly to him. It was a stop that I had never gotten off at, and for good reason. It was one of the places I had the fewest reasons to go to, the meatpacking district. While some people might find the area interesting and with activities to do, I never had a reason to come here, everything I needed was closer to home.

I jumped out of my seat at the sight of this action and, as discreetly as possible, followed him out of the car. There were not many people that got off at the stop around this time of night, as almost all the shops were closed, and even fewer people who followed the path of this man. After about fifteen minutes it was just him and I that walked down the dimly lit city street. Old rarely visited shops lined the streets, and an eerie silence filled the air, quite strange for someone who was used to bustling New York City. I crept along, trying to maintain about a half block distance from the man as I walked. I noticed that this part of the city seemed to be poorly maintained as the sidewalk was full of cracks and holes, almost as if it had been forgotten. As I looked on my left and right, the city seemed less and less familiar. Even though I had lived in New York for nearly eight years, I felt lost. I felt like something was unfamiliar, and even though I had never been to this part of the city, and it was expected that I didn't know it, something felt wrong. It… didn't feel like the city, I could have sworn that the meatpacking district was open all day and night, and yet, the area seemed so abandoned, I thought it not possible. How was it that a place like this existed in the most populous city in the United States?

Although I was initially determined to follow this mysterious man, I was getting chills down my back and I started to doubt my decision. I quite nearly turned right around, not caring how much time I had spent following this guy, and went home. But something… stopped me. The voice in my head told me that I had to find out what was going on. I didn’t entirely understand what was happening, but with all the strange, small things that had happened the last couple days, I listened to that voice, determined to solve this. Even though he was just a stranger, I was convinced he had something to do with me. The man walked for close to twenty minutes, with I, following the entire time. Just when I thought he was never going to stop walking, he turned so quickly down an alleyway that I nearly lost track of him. Thankfully I was paying close attention and noticed the space where he had disappeared. I picked up my pace, and headed over to where I last saw him.

As I turned to look down the red brick alley, I was instantly hit with a terrible feeling. As my vision panned down to the ground, I noticed a few clumps of gleaming, metallic-looking items sitting on the ground by a closed dumpster. By this time, it was pitch black outside with only a few distant lights to aid me in seeing. I imagine it was sometime around 11 PM, if not later. I could not tell exactly what the objects were until I approached them. They appeared to be some type of needle, similar to a sewing needle, but they were a bit different. Instead of a straight needle with a point on the end, the straight edge of the needle was jagged, not razor sharp, but similar to a dull serrated knife. In addition to this, they were about three times as large and thick as a normal sewing needle. Mixed in with the piles of these needles were clumps of differing colors of hair, from blonde to black, and another strange substance. It appeared to be some kind of animal skin, though I could not determine which animal it came from. Regardless, I thought my heart would burst from my chest any second now. Despite telling myself that it must simply have to do with the meat processing plants that surrounded me, I could not help feeling a bit terrified. It seemed as if I was the protagonist in a horror movie and the audience was yelling at me to turn back. Despite imagining myself in a similar situation, I ignored the feeling, telling myself that I was in no danger.

After a good 30 seconds of crouching down staring at these perplexing needles, I heard the harsh slam of a metallic door down the alley. I jerked my head up just in time to see a door swinging about 20 feet away from me. I could have sworn that nobody was in the alley when I entered, the man must have seen me then I thought. No, he would have said something to me then, I told myself, there is no way he had seen me. I slowly walked towards the door, more cautiously this time, careful not to notify anyone that I was following them. As I got closer to the door, I noticed a sign that signified that this was an old meat processing plant, probably shut down years ago. Just past the doors I spotted several small thick windows that looked into the first floor of the plant. I decided it would be best if I peered through these before entering, still paranoid that the man knew I was following him.

As I looked through the warped glass, I could not see much of anything as the interior seemed to be completely dark, save a single light on in the furthest corner of the bottom warehouse. I did not see the man, nor what the light shone on. I couldn’t take it anymore, my curiosity was getting the better of me, and I decided that I would enter the plant. I reasoned that if the man noticed me, I could simply play it off as if I was a lost tourist exploring the meatpacking district. I opened the metal door as slowly as possible, but could not stop it from creaking loudly with each movement.

I stumbled into the building as it was even darker inside than it was in the street. I stood completely still for a brief moment to gather my bearings as well as to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. Again, I only saw a single dim light in the corner of the room, but the man was nowhere to be seen. I slowly tiptoed towards the light, noticing and intense foul stench that increased as I got deeper inside the building. As I walked I avoided softly swinging meathooks and rough wooden workbenches that lined the floor in aisles.

At this point I had finally gotten far enough to see what the light revealed. My heart was pounding as my eyes scanned over a dimly lit workbench, that appeared to have a single item sitting on it. When I realized what it was I had to turn away to prevent myself from vomiting immediately. A single human arm sat pinned to the table, as if it were a frog dissection in high school. The arm was completely flat on it’s severed side, as if it had been cut off with purpose and precision. There was also a clean incision down the length of the arm in on the inner side, with each flap of skin on each side pinned down to the table, exposing bone and muscle. Above the table was a poster that resembled a meat diagram that butchers use, except instead of a pig or cow, the diagram was of a...human being. The diagram seemed hand drawn, not one that was produced en masse to sell to the public. It was not crudely drawn however, it seemed professional, yet personal.

As my eyes took in the horrible scene I heard footsteps approaching the light from the far dark end of the warehouse. I didn’t know how to react, my mind was in a jumble… how could this all be real? My body acted before I knew what I was doing. I dashed towards the door knocking over workbenches and slamming into unknown objects in the dark. As things fell, I stepped on various objects that would make squishing or crunching noises… I dared not think what it was that I was stepping on. I pushed my shoulder into the door as soon as I reached it, and for a brief moment it was stuck. In that moment, the only noise I heard was approaching footsteps of who I assume was the man, and then suddenly, my ears picked up a second noise, a second set of feet walking in the darkness, more similar to stumbling than actually walking. Sweat dripped down my face and adrenaline shot through my veins when the door slammed open, my pressure on it too much to hold. I ran out into the alleyway, nearly slamming into the opposite wall as I ran. While running to the main road I nearly stepped on the large needles on the ground, and instead careened into the dumpster on the side, sending flaps of something flying to the ground. I didn’t stop to look. There was nobody on the streets, nobody to ask for help, nobody to see me in my weakest moment. I didn’t know where I was going to go, but I didn’t care, I simply ran.

When I could run no more, I collapsed on the sidewalk and called for an Uber to pick me up. There was no way I was going to travel on the subway again anytime soon. When my driver arrived I spoke few words and got into the car. The ride was long and quiet, and I was presented a hefty fee upon exiting the car, which I didn't mind, as long as I was back home and away from that place. I wearily walked down the single block that remained for me to arrive at my specific complex. As I walked the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt something behind me, the kind of feeling you get when you know someone is watching you.

I whipped my head around to find nothing in the street, nor on the sidewalk, but I could not shake the feeling. I walked quickly to get out of the streets as fast as possible. When I arrived at the front door of my apartment, I unlocked the door, fumbling with my keys for a little while, feeling very tense. I fully intended to call the police when I was safe and secure inside my own home. The second I closed the door behind me with a slam, I noticed something odd in the darkness of my living room, a shape, in the corner of the room. Suddenly this shape appeared to elongate upwards, like a person emerging from water. It was then that I realized it was a person, standing up, as if they had been waiting for me. My right hand searched the wall for a light switch, flicking it on, revealing something that made my heart skip more than one beat… It was the man I had followed, the same one I had seen on the subway more than once. This time, instead of a slight smile, he had a wide grin from ear to ear. I tried to speak, but all that came out was a short squeak. He did not move. When I finally found my words I screamed so loud I find it odd that the neighbors were not woken.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?! WHO ARE YOU?! Oh God… Oh God…”

The man “responded” to my questions by making a strange garbled noise from the back of his throat, as if he was trying to speak but something was blocking his windpipe. As he continued to make these noises, a strange foamy liquid spilled out of his smiling mouth, creating a gurgling noise. As he did this his body jerked around as if he were a machine, one that was still a prototype and could not function properly yet. Even though he was smiling, his eyes showed no emotion, simply a blank stare, with a meaningless smile.

After acting in this manner for a few dozen seconds, he raised his hand to his face, and began to frown. What I then saw hurt to look at. He began scratching at his skin with his nails. This was not ordinary scratching, but in such a way that he looked as if he was trying to peel his skin off, and to my horror, he actually began to tear it off. Blood streamed down his face as he pulled his skin down. He then began to form a cut that went down the side of his face, mirroring the scar I had seen on him earlier.

During this, his skin seemed to become loose and wither, as if it were an unneeded layer. At this point I was frozen in fear, not speaking a word as I did not even know how to react to this. The man was taking off his own face as if it were a mask, revealing something foreign underneath. A second layer of skin. It’s face was dark grey and smooth, sporting a human-like look, but was clearly not human. He had small beady eyes, like that of a spider, a single small hole where the nose would have been, no sign of ears, and an enormous mouth, one that contained pearly white human teeth, still smiling. As his face was revealed from the skin, so was his entire body. It’s torso was small, but it’s size was nearly entirely made up of extremely long skinny arms and legs. It’s arms led to hands with fingers that looked like needles and it’s feet seemed very similar to a humans, and at the time I could not distinguish a difference. Other than these few details, I could not describe what it looked like. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in a horror movie or otherwise, almost without form. It was an entity that chilled me down to my core. When the thing was fully revealed, it pointed one of it’s thin, sharp fingers at me, still sporting the horrific smile, and began to walk, towards me, twitching the entire time…


That was the last thing I remembered when I awoke the next day. Was it nothing more than a dream? I felt nothing, no pain, but the fear lingered. I had never had a dream so realistic before, none so terrifying, so… strange. When I walked into my kitchen, however, I noticed something sitting on the newspaper on the counter. The newspaper was open to the page I had been reading about that missing young woman. Atop the story, were a couple objects; a single large, jagged needle, a roll of thick medical sewing thread and a single, old, bloody measuring tape...

I… am afraid.

I’m begging you, if you ever notice someone acting strange in a big city, please don’t interact with them. There is a chance that they are simply strange, but… perhaps they are beyond the definition of that word. Next time you hear something from me, you might want to ignore it, I might not… be myself that day.

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Important Notes:

  1. This happened on my dad’s privately owned land.

  2. He has cameras set up around his ~34 acre land to capture/record wildlife.

Here are some of the notes I took based on the things I saw and heard on certain camera photos/videos. I check them a couple weeks in advance of any camping trips I want to take to make sure nothing dangerous is in the area.

[Photo] May 10th, 2018. 12:09 pm - Bobcat eating a freshly killed deer. Sun is bright.

[Video] May 12th, 2018. 8:45-9:00 pm - Coyote wandering around, shortly followed by 3 racoons. Howling from coyotes and some wind.

[Video] May 18th, 2018. 3:33-3:40 am - Some branches snapping in the background, a large animal (maybe a deer or cat?) passes in front of the camera; figure not fully distinguishable.

[Photo] May 22nd, 2018. 1:23 am - A person (or, a humanoid figure at least) facing away from the camera, hunched over a dead deer carcass.

[Video] May 26th, 2018. 4:45-5:01 am - Racoons running quickly past the camera. Loud howling and wind in background again.

Of course, some of the clips and photos were a bit odd, but I figured if I had gone out and changed the SD cards on these cameras and came back without a problem, then camping shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Besides, I’d be camping about half a mile away from that exact spot where the camera was. I was VERY wrong.

My camping trip was set for May 27th, 2018; Memorial Day weekend. Despite the stuff I saw on the cameras, I was super excited to the point that I basically forgot about it all. I wanted to pack lightly for my trip. I grabbed my tent, a lighter and newspapers to start a fire, a small container of food, a small cooler for water, and of course, some clothes and toilet paper. I already had a pocket knife in my car, so I was ready to go.

I set out to my dad’s property, singing along to the music on the radio. When I reach his place, I turned the music down. Since it’s private property, I had to unlock and open a large gate blocking the driving path. Afterwards, I drove my car down the ½ mile long road to my camping spot.

I set up my tent and started a fire. By this time, the wind was starting to pick up, so I had to keep a close eye on the flames. I heard some howling that came from deeper in the timber, but I knew what coyotes sounded like.

Fast forward a couple hours later, the sun starts setting and I make myself some roasted hot dogs and a cold can of beans (ew, but I don’t have a pot to put on the fire). The fire is crackling. So warm. So- CRASH! I turn my head and see some branches falling through the large clump of trees and shrubs before falling into the creek. My heart is racing now, but I manage to calm down and finish my dinner.

Normally, I can hear bugs or owls or even fish splashing, but I suddenly realized I didn’t hear any of that. I’ll admit, I’ve read some scary stories, so it worried me a bit.

I look up from my fire for a moment, and my eyes spot a person in the brush, staring directly at me. I usually don’t see people on my dad’s property, so I yelled out at them: “Hey! Get out of here, this is private property!” They didn’t move, so my annoyed ass grabs my pocket knife (defense, just in case) and my flashlight (it was kind of dark by this time and I have horrible eyes) and head towards the person. When I get about 100 feet away, they screech at me and run off at lightning speed into the direction of the heavier forested area. Dazed by whatever the hell just happened, I walk back to my camping spot. The wind has blown the fire out, so I relight it and sit in the opening of my tent (I want some kind of shelter to protect my paranoid backside).

The flames were so warm and relaxing. I looked around one last time, and I thought I briefly saw the same person, but I chalked it up to being deprived of necessary sleep and decided to go to bed. I left my tent partially unzipped for some wind to blow the warm air of the fire into it.

All of the sudden I woke up to rustling and a loud twig snapping somewhere near my tent. I wanted to believe it was a racoon coming for my food but grabbed my pocket knife just in case. Whatever it was came through my camp site, because I heard my container pop open and my tent was brushed up against.

Paranoid and wanting to go back to sleep, I peeked out of my tent to quickly check on things. I turned my flashlight on, swept the light across everything, and saw the same person standing about 200 feet away from my food container. I yelled again, “Leave me alone, man!” but it stayed there. I got out of my tent, grabbed a rock, and chucked it; the person ran off after growling and making an odd gurgling noise.

I decided to go back to sleep, despite my paranoia. I zipped my tent up completely and slept for the rest of the night. When I woke up, my nose burned with a horrible coppery, acidic smell. It was unbearable. I pulled my shirt over my nose and left my tent. My camp was ransacked. The chair I set up was ripped to shreds and thrown a few feet away from its original spot. My fire was okay, dead now though. I checked my food. And oh god, that’s where the smell was from. A dark black, tar-like substance was covering over half of my food; I checked the outside of my tent, and it was all over the back side of it, too!

Thank god it was daytime, because I was scared, and there was no way that I would have tried to pack everything up and leave (meaning getting out of my car to close the gate) when whatever that thing was was roaming around. In that moment, I thought about the camera captures I saw and started panicking. I remembered there was a camera at the camp site and quickly changed the SD card in it to check it at home. I packed everything up that didn’t have the gunk on it and drove home.

Here’s what I found when I got home..

[Photo] May 27th, 2018. 1:23 am - The person, or thing, I saw standing behind my tent. It was looking down at it, the black substance leaking from its mouth.

[Video] May 27th, 2018. 3:33-3:40 am - The same person, or thing, running around, ransacking my camp. It also eats some small animal, a rabbit maybe? It made gurgling noises. At the end, it spotted the camera and then ran off.

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Just to preface, this happened when i was 12 years old and i'm not a writer, so my apologies for any grammar errors etc.

Every year, we'd go to Cornwall for our summer holiday. As most of you know, even if you're not from the UK, Cornwall is a very popular county in the south west of England which attracts many tourists every year.

My parent's were heavily into camping, specifically Caravan camping at the time and allowed me to bring a friend along, so i wouldn't get bored by myself. The friend i chose to bring was my good friend Paul, who i still speak to today.

We armed ourselves with our GameBoys and Pellet Guns and jumped in the back of the car, eagerly awaiting our arrival in Cornwall.

We live just outside London, so the trip would take around 4-5 hours, depending on traffic and other variables. We arrived just before 5pm, my dad parked the caravan in our assigned plot and we set up camp, so to speak.

The plot was in a rather large, open field, surrounded by thick brush and tall trees, which seemed to go as far back as the eye could see. To our surprise, there wasn't anyone else around in the field, which is unusual, due to the time of year and the location, but we weren't complaining.

The first night was uneventful, me and Paul stayed up all night playing Pokemon together on our GameBoys and joking around with each other, usual 12 year old things. We awoke at around 10am, ready to explore the vast area around us, we opened the door of the caravan and were met by my parents, my mum called us over and said "don't move, your dad is checking something out, nothing to worry about kids." My dad was crouched down, looking at the ground intently, i shouted over "hey Dad what are you looking at?" and got no reply, he was engrossed in whatever he had found. Eventually after a couple of minutes of me and Paul wildly speculating with each other about what it could be, my dad walked over and asked "Did you boys hear anything last night? I know you were both up quite late" we both shook our heads and in tandem, asked "Why?". He brings us over to the area he was surveying moments earlier, we look down and see an indentation in the ground, it was quite large in size, but unfortunately it had rained all night and the damage caused by the rain hitting the muddy ground had distorted the indentation, making it hard to work out what could have caused it. After looking at it for a while and wondering, my Dad concluded that it must have been a horse or a cow and the rain has transformed it into something harder to make out. It's worth noting, the field we were staying in, and most camp sites in the UK, have free grazing animals, ranging from Horses to Sheep, so it isn't unusual to find remnants of them left around camp sites.

After this, we had lunch and then me and Paul planned to go exploring in the wooded area adjacent to our caravan. We gathered up provisions, just in case.. which consisted of chocolate bars and Haribo sweets.. and set off in to the unknown.

We walked as far as we dared, which happened to be when we turned around and couldn't see the field/campsite anymore, which if i had to guess, would have been maybe 1 mile or so. We didn't find anything interesting, we found a makeshift swing on one of the larger trees and was made out of an old tractor tire. There was also a burned out camper van, which was a skeleton of rust, accompanied by various foliage growing over/around it.

It was started to get dark now, we both agreed to start heading back, Paul had a bright idea to "loop around" whilst heading back, to see if we can find anything cool on the return to camp. I agreed, as i didn't see any harm in it. We walked slowly, as visibility wasn't great due to the setting sun and the thickness of the leaves on the trees which towered above us. Due to us being 12 year old boys, we didn't have the foresight to bring any torches with us either.. we had the caravan in sight when all of a sudden, Paul stumbled over something on the ground, we both went to inspect the culprit that had done it and neither of us were prepared for the shock we got.. it was a sheeps head.. we both jumped back and sprinted to the caravan, out of breath and scared out of our minds, we started asking each other questions, "where was the rest of it?", "what/who had killed it and left the head?", "why was a sheep in the woods?". We didn't have the answers, but we were damned sure going to find out tomorrow, after a good nights sleep, or so we thought..

That night, after we had time to decompress from the earlier escapade and have dinner/continue to play pokemon, we both drifted off around 11pm. At some point during the night, Paul violently woke me up, which startled me, he said "Listen" whilst pointing to the roof of the caravan, at which point my parent's came in to our side of the caravan, as they had been awoken by what Paul had heard.. then as if on cue, i heard it.. something was walking on the roof. Pacing back and forth and then nothing, dead silence. My dad chalked it up to something falling on the roof from a nearly tree, as it was windy.. though i'm not convinced that he even believed that himself. Me and Paul looked at each other and knew what tomorrow would bring, we both met each others gaze and nodded, we knew we would be going back in to the woods tomorrow to find whatever this was.

We woke up and planned the day out in meticulous fashion, we had rations, a compass, a map and torches, in case we lost track of time and got caught in the dark like the previous day, as well as our trusty pellet guns. We were set to go after dinner and would head home as soon as we started losing light.

We ventured in side the woods, walking slowly and looking at the ground ahead of us, neither of us wanted a repeat of the previous day. We walked for a good mile or so again and stumbled across a picnic area, it had tree stumps that had been moved into a seating area with a larger stump acting as a table, we stopped there to get some rest and scoff down some chocolate. All of a sudden, we heard rustling in the bushes behind us and we both turned slowly whilst aiming our pellet guns in the direction, both trembling, imagining what kind of monster await us.. it turned out to be a lovely golden lab that had been let off it's lead and was quite far ahead of it's owner, who trotted up behind the dog and apologised if they had startled us, the man told us to be careful and went on his way. Me and Paul both breathed a sigh of relief and agreed that we should head back, as again, it was getting dark.

We started making our way back as per evening before, around 10 minutes had passed since our last encounter with the golden lab and his owner, it was now almost completely dark, which was weird, but anyway, we just wanted get back to the caravan and play some more pokemon. Paul was in front of me and came to an abrupt stop, i whispered to him "Paul what's wrong?" he replied "listen, i can hear something.." I tried to listen, but all i could hear was my heart beating loud like a drum, then i did hear what Paul could, more rustling in the bushes/behind the trees.. we both paused and then collectively laughed at ourselves. "It's just that dog and his owner again" we both thought, let's turn our torches on to let them know we're still out here, we both grabbed our torches and waved them around in the direction of the rustling.. what we saw next, will never leave my mind, as long as i live. Our beam of light from our torches was met with 2 glaring red eyes, similar to that of a cat's eyes glowing in the dark.

We both screamed, but kept our light in the direction of whatever it was we just saw, the creature melded back in to the dark whilst we frantically tried to find it again whilst running back to camp. We could hear it following us to the side, as if the predator was stalking us and awaiting a mistake or better opportunity to attack us, the faster we ran, the quicker the creature moved alongside us.. we were so scared, we had forgot the pellet guns on our backs, in a last ditch effort, we both fired off multiple shots to attempt to scare the beast off with before finally reaching the caravan and being met by my parents, who heard all of the commotion in the woods.

We told them everything and were met with laughter, saying we had scared ourselves silly and it was most likely a badger or some other forest creature we saw. Though to this day, i'm adamant, i know what i saw.. it was a cat-like creature, but was bigger than the golden lab we encountered 10 minutes earlier. The remaining week spent there was fine, though me and Paul refused to step foot outside of the caravan.

I'm convinced what we saw that day, was the Beast of Bodmin Moor.. and i will not be told any different. Either way, whatever creature we encountered, lets not meet again.

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I awoke, my mind in a fog, to the sound of the baby’s crying. My thoughts were muddled. Questions beckoned to my awareness from the edge of the fog, but I let them slip away. There’s something primal that stirs in your chest, when you hear your child’s cry. It pushes other concerns aside, or at least I assumed that’s what it was. I heaved myself stiffly out of the overstuffed chair where’d I’d fallen asleep, and yawned.

“Alright kiddo, alright,” I mumbled sleepily, as I rose. “Hang on, daddy’s on his way…”

I shuffled across the room to where he lay screaming and squirming in his crib, and carefully scooped him up. He smelled of baby powder and clean cloth. So, he was having an input rather than output issue, I thought. I much preferred dealing with those.

The motions were virtually automatic for me: get out milk, warm milk, test milk, push bottle into face of bayboo. As I held him and watched him eat, I couldn’t help but grin at the expression on his tiny face. It was almost...indignant. As if, in spite of my fairly speedy attendance to his needs, he wished to communicate the statement “It’s about damn time!

For a few more moments I watched him like that, when the lights in the kitchen suddenly flickered, and I glanced up in alarm, reflexively clutching my son a little tighter. When the light steadied again, I relaxed, and breathed a slight sigh of relief. Caring for babies isn’t easy -- caring for babies in the dark without electricity is much less so. Gotta hand it to those parents back in pioneer days, that had to suck.

I looked back down, and saw that the nipple of the bottle had slipped from my boy’s mouth, and he was dozing quietly again. I set the bottle aside, and walked back to the crib as though the baby I was carrying was actually an old and highly unstable explosive device. I set him down, and then settled back into my chair, watching him sleep through the bars of the crib. It occurred to me then that I’d left the kitchen light on, because a dim slash of light fell across where my son slept. But I was tired. If the baby didn’t care about the light, then neither did I.

My eyes were just starting to grow heavy again when, in the soft light from the other room, a shapeless shadow fell across my son. It seemed far too dark and sharp to be cast by the dim light projected from the kitchen. In the moment, I felt -- no, I knew -- it was wrong, and that I couldn’t let it touch my child.

Shaking off my tiredness, I sprang to my feet and plucked him from the crib. The motion was too quick and he started to wail almost immediately. Looking around wildly, I gently rocked and made soothing sounds to him as I tried to figure out where the shadow had come from. Holding him firmly against my chest in one arm, I slid along the wall of the room, my fingers brushing along it until I felt the baseball bat I kept in the corner, and my fingers closed around its grip. Shouldering my home security system, I made my way around my small apartment.

Once I’d made the rounds and found no sign of an intruder, I began to relax, as did the baby, whose cries gradually softened into occasional sleepy but unstressed vocalizations. Then I turned and saw it.

Black as empty night, the thing stood between me and my son’s crib. It was vaguely human and feminine in shape, but there the similarities to anything mortal ended. It stretched out an arm, and the arm seemed to literally stretch as it reached for my son. Its spindly black hand fell across him in my arms, and stained his clothes and skin with a wet, evil-smelling black ichor. He began to scream, and I did too, but with as much anger and outrage as fear.

Furiously, I battered at the unnatural limb with my weapon, the length of wood seeming a poor defense against such an unearthly thing. Its texture was squishy and soft, but after a hail of my awkward, flailing blows it finally recoiled and snapped back to the main body like a rubber band. I took the opportunity to flee with my son to the only room with a locking door that I could reach from this side of the monster -- the bathroom. I slammed the door behind me and slid the thick, old-fashioned bolt home. I leaned against the door, breathing heavily, my baby screaming his tiny lungs out and writhing in my arms.

His crying was so loud and desperate...it suddenly occurred to me that the black filth on him was actually causing him pain. I had to clean it off. I turned on the shower in the tub and stepped into it, with him held tightly in my arms. As I gently splashed the water onto his face and torso to clear away the muck faster, I saw his skin was red and raw where the foul stuff had touched him. Pain and anger split my heart in two at the sight of his soft, fragile skin so cruelly scalded, as he squalled bitterly and I tried ineffectually to comfort him.

As this happened, the thing outside pounded on the door furiously, but it didn’t seem to be able to break through, so I stayed where I was. I realized with growing fear that I didn’t have my phone. I had no way of calling for help beyond shouting, which failed to bring anyone to my aid. What’s more, I couldn’t do anything to fight this thing while holding my son at the same time. Gradually, the pounding on the door faded.

Had it gone? I didn’t dare hope that, but as my son was now clean of the thing’s corrosive tar, I turned the shower off and strained to listen for any sound from outside that could be heard over his crying.

It wasn’t a sound, but a sensation that finally caught my attention. My feet were burning. I looked down in horror to see the creature’s black slime rising up through the drain in the bottom of the tub, and burning me as it lapped at the bottom of my feet. I leapt out of the tub, barely keeping my balance on the tile as I held my child close. Quickly I put the plug in the sink, snatched a towel from the rack, and made it into an improvised bassinet to place him in.

No sooner had I turned back around than I saw it, rising up from the tub now half-full with the dark, caustic sludge. I had just enough time to seize the baseball bat in one hand before it lunged at me, and we were locked together. I felt its body burning me everywhere it touched my skin as I struggled with the foul thing. Amidst the sound of my screaming and the baby’s cries, I became aware of a shrill shriek that must have belonged to the monster that so viciously sought my child.

Even as the burning pain increased and blisters rose on my skin, strength I didn’t know I had surged through me like some primal force of nature, as I defended my child against this malignant thing that was trying to hurt him. Somehow I shoved it off of me, hurling the squirming black mass back into the tub. I didn’t know why I was doing what I did next, in the moment, but as it writhed at the bottom of the tub, I snatched the plug from the soap dish and gritted my teeth in pain as I thrust it through the burning black mud and into the drain.

As it began to recover, I turned on the water again, and dove at it. It tried to rise, but I placed the bat across my best guess of where it’s neck was, and held it down with all my strength and weight. It bucked wildly beneath me, threatening to throw me off, but against all odds I held on and bore down, my teeth bared in rage.

It didn’t make sense in a physical way, given its amorphous fluid nature, and yet, by some instinct I just knew: I couldn’t beat it to death or break it...but I could drown it. The creature seemed to know it, too, as its thrashing only grew more intense as the water rose up around it. The pure clear liquid refused to mix with its dark slime, instead forming a clear layer above it like oil and water in reverse.

I was near the end of my strength as its thrashing began to slow, and then finally stopped. The blackness of the creature began to drift away into the water like clouds of squid ink, and as layers of it dissolved, I could have sworn that I saw, for a moment, the gaunt face of a woman beneath the surface. Then even that was gone, and I found myself kneeling in clear water, holding a bat above...nothing.

I coughed and panted in exhaustion, as I pulled the plug out and let the water drain. As I watched it swirl away in a miniature whirlpool, I suddenly froze. My son’s crying had stopped. I scrambled to my feet, slipping in the still-draining water and cracking my head on the edge of the tub as I tried to rise too fast. My head swam and the room spun, but I forced myself to steadiness as I swung a leg out of the tub and then rolled onto the floor, clawing my way up to the sink.

There my son lay, swaddled in a towel, staring up at me calmly. Then he smiled, and my eyes filled with tears. Could babies this young smile? Mine could. My sweet, beautiful, wonderful boy, he could smile. He burbled pleasantly as I gathered him up into my arms. The angry red patches on his skin were fading before my eyes -- as were, I noticed, the even more severe burns on my own body. As I smiled back down at him, he lifted a tiny hand and pawed clumsily at my cheek. Almost like he was trying to comfort me, now, I thought.

I slowly carried him back towards his crib, talking to him softly, telling him how much daddy loved him, and that he was safe now. By the time I got him there, he was fading into sleep again, and I gently set him down, still wrapped snugly in the soft towel. A feeling of calm and peace settled over me, and as surely as I had known how to fight the thing from the shadows that had wanted to take my child, I knew that thing was gone now, cast back into whatever dark place is the rightful home of such things. My son was safe. I had won.

I settled down into my chair, and my eyes drifted slowly closed.

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When I opened them again, I knew a moment of utter horror. The crib was gone. My mouth dropped open in shock. But then, the questions that had floated towards my awareness when I awoke last night, the knowledge that flowed around but not into my memory, as though it had been repelled by some invisible barrier that was now gone...it all rushed back to me.

Why would there be a crib in your apartment? I asked myself. You don’t have any children.

And it was true...I didn't. I never had. I knew how to care for babies, of course. I was from a big family, and I had a few much older siblings. As a result, in my younger days I was often forcibly conscripted into helping my parents care for their beloved grandbabies, whenever my older brothers or sister needed a sitter. Bottles, diapers, baths, playtime -- I did it all. Though I loved my nephews and nieces, if I’m being honest, I also got pretty tired of it after a while. Maybe that was why I’d never been in a hurry to settle down and have a family of my own.

Emotions churned within me. Confusion. Fear. Loss, loss of something...of someone I had never even really had. Had it all been a dream? I wanted to believe so. I wanted to believe there was a more logical reason that I woke up with my baseball bat held across my lap, my socks and pajama pants still slightly damp. Sleepwalking? I couldn’t resolve it. And after that night, I couldn’t stay in that apartment any longer.

So, naturally, I went to talk to my landlord about getting out of my lease. He told me he’d been half-expecting me to do so. When he asked me how I’d “found out”, and I replied “Found out what?” he realized his mistake, but it was too late for him to take it back. So, he told me the story himself.

The apartment had once been occupied by a woman with a baby boy. His father was absent, and she was into drugs. One day, high and confused, she’d run a bath for her son...and failed to check the temperature. She ended up putting him straight into scalding hot water, so of course he started screaming. She panicked, and, well...in her narcotic delirium, she silenced him the fastest way she could. Then she went out for more drugs, and because she was still blasted out of her mind, she left the door open when she went. A concerned neighbor went inside while she was gone, and they found her son’s body. The mother was arrested, but as many do she managed to get hold of some of her poison of choice even in jail. Only this time, she got a bad batch, and she died before she could be brought to trial. Ever since then, the people who lived in my apartment had claimed they heard and saw strange things in the shadows, and no one had stayed there for long.

He apologized halfheartedly, but said he had needed to fill the unit. The last few tenants, he explained, had all been younger women, and he hoped a thirty-something guy like myself might be less apt to get spooked. Because, after all, obviously the place wasn’t really haunted, right?

In the end, he let me out of my lease. He looked confused when I told him that I suspected his problem unit wasn’t going to be a problem anymore. I can’t pretend to know exactly what happened that night, but I feel sure of one thing.

A baby boy, who never had a dad and only a neglectful mother, for one night at least, had a father who was there to hold him, protect him, and gently rock him to sleep. Now, I think he can finally get some rest.

As for me, I’ve never been in a hurry to start a family, and the years have gotten away from me a little. But when I remember those little eyes looking up at me, with all the love and trust in the world…

I feel like I might be open to the possibility.

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Writing was my solace.

From the time that I was able to put pen to paper, to string words together coherently, I wrote. I wrote about the sun, the trees, and the birds. I wrote about the smell of cotton candy on the breeze. I wrote about wildflowers.

I wrote about all the good I could find in the world.

It was the only way I could express myself freely.

It was the only way I could dull the pain.

I was raised by parents who thought children should be seen, but never heard.

When I was very young, I had terrible nightmares about a creature who lived in the tree just outside my bedroom window. It had sharp claws and sharper teeth, and it would stare in the window at me grinning. Of course I’d wake up screaming, and that would bring my parents running into my bedroom.

Only instead of consoling me, I was beaten and tied to the bed, a cloth gag in my mouth so I made no noise.

It didn’t take me long to learn that silence was golden in that house.

When I began school, my teachers and peers thought I was mute. I never spoke unless I was asked a direct question, and even then I spoke very quietly. I didn’t make friends. No one wanted to be friends with a girl who never spoke to them, after all.

I kept myself occupied by reading and writing. I would read stories, and then I would re-write them the way I thought they should have gone. It kept me out of trouble with everyone.

In junior high, I started experimenting with poetry. At first it was lame, depressing things like “love lies bleeding on the rug before the fire.” No, that doesn’t rhyme at all, but surely you get the idea. I was still writing stories, but now I was capable of making up my own characters and my own worlds and no longer relying on books to feed my imagination.

I wrote what I felt was my best piece the night my father beat me bloody for daring to speak without being spoken to.

Alive in a holocaust,

seeking destruction, devastation.

The apathy of my kind,

oblivious to their fate.

Blind to the cries of the unseen,

they turn a deaf ear to the harrowed look.

The sound of silence in a place without peace,

something sought after, fought for.

Blood-filled rivers,

houses made from bone.

A flash of silver,

now stained red

and I scream in agony

as the last

soldier

falls.

Junior high was when I really started writing prolifically. I was the mouse of my class, and my peers had discovered they could bully me without me fighting back or telling anyone. When you grow up in a house like I did, the only thing you can do is suffer in silence.

My parents were called to a conference after a particularly bad incident at school, where a group of girls had cornered me in the restroom and destroyed my books along with my writings. They’d held me down and given me a new hairstyle as well – they had cut my hair as close to my scalp as they could get. They probably would have taken it further than that, but a teacher’s aide had happened to walk in and catch them.

I was in a catatonic state, and wouldn’t even meet anyone’s eyes. I cried silent tears, my gaze vacant as I mourned the loss of my writings. Work I would never be able to recreate, I knew.

The ride home that evening was made in tense silence. My dad’s jaw was set, his eyes hard as he kept looking at me in the rear-view mirror. I couldn’t see my mother’s face, but I was sure I’d see the same expression mirrored there. I had caused a disruption in their lives, an unwelcome one at that. I would pay for that, dearly.

They tore my room apart. Anything that wasn’t school-related was destroyed, burned in the burn barrel out back. They took away what few books I had, along with anything I could write on or with, and locked them downstairs in a cabinet.

“Your homework will be done right here at this table where we can see you,” my mother had spat at me. “Nothing else will be permitted, do you understand me?”

I nodded silently.

It wasn’t the answer she wanted from me, though.

In a rage, she had laid into me with her fists, with my father looking on. She broke my nose, busted my lip, and I thought she dislocated my jaw as well before she was done with me. When she saw my blood on her hands, she beat me again for daring to get her bloody.

I was sent upstairs and denied dinner.

Sitting on my bed by the window, I cried more silent tears and rocked myself until night fell.

When my father came to my room to order me to get cleaned up for bed and found me with tears running down my cheeks, he flew into a rage. “We don’t clothe and feed you for you to write those goddamned fantasies!” he yelled, face red with anger. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” I murmured.

Again, it was the wrong response.

“I didn’t tell you to speak!” he screamed, and started punching me in the chest, ribs, and stomach.

As I fell over on the bed, I caught a familiar form at my window.

The creature from my nightmares. It was real. And it was staring at me.

You have a voice, child. Use it!

“Help me!” I shrieked. “Please, help me!”

My mother burst into my room, right as the glass shattered out of my bedroom window and that creature came in. She screamed, along with my father, but it was too late for them. The creature – my old childhood watcher in the window – tore them apart. Blood sprayed in an arc when it ripped out my mother’s throat and left her twitching on the floor. My father looked on in paralyzed terror as it punched those sharp claws into his chest to pull out his heart.

When it was through with them, it turned yellow eyes to me. Go downstairs and call the police. You will be okay.

I moved off the bed slowly, watching as it gracefully slid through my ruined window. “Thank you,” I expressed, wincing at how hoarse my voice seemed.

It turned and smiled, and then vanished into the shadows.

When the police came, along with the paramedics, they were baffled by the scene in my bedroom.

Falteringly, I told them how the evening had gone, and told them my father had beaten me so badly I had lost consciousness and so had no idea what happened to them. Because my injuries were so severe, they didn’t question me further.

As I was bundled into a warm blanket and ushered to the waiting ambulance to be taken to the hospital and assessed, I saw a shadow in the tree move. Smiling, I gave a slight nod in its direction and saw it wave.

Yes, I had a voice. And I would never be afraid to use it again.

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