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August Creepypasta Book Club: The Gift of Fear

August 2, 2015 at 1:01 AM

It’s been awhile since we did a book club post, huh? I had originally intended to post this in July instead of the Discussion Post; however, so much crap was happening on the back-end side of the site (multiple DDoS attacks, the submission form turning evil after the last plugin update and causing the server to overload itself, etc) as well as various offline issues that I ended up just having to shelve this post until things were a bit calmer.

So if you were wondering why there was no Discussion Post last month, that’s why. I had originally intended to have submissions re-opened (check the sidebar Submission Status for the latest update on this; please don’t derail this post with questions that are already answered there – when submissions re-open, it will be a separate post) all the way back in the beginning of July; so I had felt that having that announcement + Discussion + Book Club would have left the front page looking a tad too bloated. But it seems the site had other ideas about how things should play out, so here we are. Better late than never, right?

SO.

The book that we’re going to talk about this month is very well-known; given that it’s almost twenty years old and spent a lot of time on the Best Seller list, many of you have probably heard of it already. However, it’s striking how well it’s held up and how relevant it remains – many of the scenarios the author details are still happening every single day.

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is, obviously, about fear. Specifically, how to identify when your fear is actually your intuition trying to warn you of incoming danger. Those of you who are fans of detective novels, games, and TV shows like Sherlock, Ace Attorney, etc, are probably already familiar with the idea that our unconscious mind notices clues and cues that our conscious mind, for whatever reason, filters out. I see a lot of discussion in our comments sections about the plausibility of how much (or how little) a protagonist notices and deduces before shit hits the fan (so to speak) in any given pasta, so I thought that this might be a topic that everyone would find interesting – and certainly worth applying to both their real lives and their writing.

From the Amazon Editiorial Review:

“Each hour, 75 women are raped in the United States, and every few seconds, a woman is beaten. Each day, 400 Americans suffer shooting injuries, and another 1,100 face criminals armed with guns. Author Gavin de Becker says victims of violent behavior usually feel a sense of fear before any threat or violence takes place. They may distrust the fear, or it may impel them to some action that saves their lives. A leading expert on predicting violent behavior, de Becker believes we can all learn to recognize these signals of the “universal code of violence,” and use them as tools to help us survive. The book teaches how to identify the warning signals of a potential attacker and recommends strategies for dealing with the problem before it becomes life threatening. The case studies are gripping and suspenseful, and include tactics for dealing with similar situations.

People don’t just “snap” and become violent, says de Becker, whose clients include federal government agencies, celebrities, police departments, and shelters for battered women. “There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to a boil.” Learning to predict violence is the cornerstone to preventing it. De Becker is a master of the psychology of violence, and his advice may save your life.”

Over the course of the book, Mr. de Becker discusses and analyzes a lot of horrific scenarios; from the person making an eerily prescient joke about a coworker who – just a few moments later – then showed up to shoot up his workplace (perhaps not so eerie; the joker had actually noticed the warning signs but was consciously suppressing them) to a woman who escaped being killed by subconsciously noticing very small details about her attacker’s behavior – it’s honestly fascinating to realize just how much information we absorb (and both apply and ignore) about danger on a daily basis.

At this writing, The Gift of Fear is widely accessible; Amazon Prime has it included in their free lending library, it’s available for under ten bucks in most markets, the audiobook is available on Audible, and of course, given its age and popularity, your local libraries will likely have multiple copies. So please get your hands on a copy and join us in discussing the book in this post!

A few questions to get you started:

  • Have you ever had an instance in your life where you noticed the signs as detailed by de Becker and listened to them, only to find out later that your intuition had saved yourself from a sticky or dangerous situation?
  • What fictional characters can you think of who use this sort of hyper-attention to detail and intuition? Did you realize that such a habit was something we all do, or did you think it was more of a ‘superpower’ that these characters had exclusively?
  • How aware of such signals do you try to be when writing your own creepy stories? Do you think there’s a line where a character becomes unbelievable if they pay too much (or too little) attention to danger signs and their intuition?
  • Can you think of any pastas that use this idea, whether as an overall concept or by having the protagonist particularly attuned to their intuition?

Please have fun discussing this book! As always, the basic comment guidelines apply: be excellent to each other, even if someone posts an opinion that contradicts your own.

As an extra bonus, I’m going to run a small giveaway that I feel links nicely with this particular book choice!

I’m sure many of you have heard of Her Story; if not, here is a summary from wiki:

Her Story is about a set of fictional police interviews from 1994. In the game players sort through video clips from these interviews, containing answers from questions asked to a British woman about her missing husband, by searching a database in an old computer. Her words are transcribed, and the player searches for new clips by searching these transcriptions in a database, attempting to solve the case by piecing together the information from them.

In a month where we’re going to be discussing clues and cues, a game where the entire point is to notice such things seemed appropriate. I will be giving out FOUR COPIES of Her Story over Steam. This means that you MUST HAVE A STEAM ACCOUNT CAPABLE OF RECEIVING GIFTS in order to win this contest!

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In the spirit of our August 2015 Book Club post, Creepypasta.com is gifting FOUR COPIES of Her Story over Steam!

To win this contest, you MUST have Steam account capable of receiving gifted games. This is the only way that I am paying out this prize; failure to have a Steam account will result in disqualification.
For the additional entries earned by social sharing, you MUST link back to this post. Failure to do so will result in your entry being disqualified.
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Contest Rules & Disclaimer

To win this contest, you MUST have Steam account capable of receiving gifted games. This is the only way that I am paying out this prize; failure to have a Steam account will result in disqualification.


For the additional entries earned by social sharing, you MUST link back to this post. Failure to do so will result in that entry being disqualified.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE DOES NOT IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Please make sure that you read the rules and disclaimer on the contest widget before entering. This contest is running from 12PM EST August 2 2015 until 12PM EST August 22 2015. I will then clear out any disqualified entries (failed email inputs, people who didn’t follow the rules for the bonus Twitter/Facebook entries) and use Random.org to select four winners. The winners will be contacted personally via email; make sure you all whitelist ‘Creepypasta’ in your spam filters!

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Monster Painter

August 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 5.7/10 (10 votes cast)

My name is Ingrid Ramirez, and today on this frozen, storming January day, I was standing before the coffin that contained my son, Alfie Ramirez. The coffin had a wooden, polished finish with flowers placed on top of the lid, like it would help hide the truth on why my son’s coffin had to be closed. It didn’t help; I knew exactly why his coffin was closed. It was an image that I would never be able to forget for the rest of my days. My son was murdered; torn apart by someone, or something, from head to toe. It took the coroner 2 hours to find every piece that he could of my Alfie…

Held tight between my breasts was Alfie’s video camera; it’s all I will ever have of my son. The Police gave me the camera hours after they informed me of Alfie’s murder, since they could find no evidence on it. They still could not answer why Alfie had brought the camera with him if he did not record anything…

Time went around me in a blur; all I could see was them lower my son’s coffin into the cold, uncaring earth and cover it with wet, sloshy mud. Alfie did not deserve that. I could not tell you how I ended up back in my home, sitting at my empty dining room table. I must’ve sat there for hours without a single movement. That is, until an overwhelming urge came over me: I wanted to see the videos my son had recorded. My eyes were too puffy and irritated to cry anymore, so I wouldn’t have to worry about crying through the videos. My chest would shudder like I was going to cry as I opened my laptop and plugged his camera into a USB port, but nothing came out. A file explorer popped up called “Alfie’s Videos” and I saw rows of videos he had captured ever since I gave him the camera on his 18th birthday.

I spent hours going through every video. As a storm raged outside, I sat there lost in the memories of Alfie. From the time he first moved out of this house and into a collage dorm, to meeting his first roommate, Mario. I smiled as he showed me his life through school, majoring in film. He met several new friends while he was there, all of whom I had once known. Some videos had were of him and his friends doing silly college things, like the notorious Spring Break beach parties, to pulling hilarious pranks on each other. I never felt so happy to watch these videos; for a moment it helped me forget the pain…

That is, until I saw it.

Next to his last recording, a strange video appeared. It was completely black and had the caption “The Monster Painter” under it. I felt a sense of dread; my heart raced as I slowly clicked on the video. Did the police see this? It wasn’t there before, was it? The video engulfed my entire screen and the scene began to play out. The video began with Alfie filming himself and his friends walking down an empty street. They were loud and obviously drunk, laughing and tossing their beer bottles into the forest; in the distance was the newly finished lake house down by the river. Why were they heading there?

As if answering me, I heard Alfie’s voice. “To all of my followers out there, this is Alfie Ramirez, and here with me on this cold, spooky night are my friends. My roommate and partner-in-crime, Mario,” he turned the camera to an attractive, Hispanic teen. He was arm-in-arm with two ginger headed boys. “With him are Chaz and Floyd, the infamous ginger brothers.” The two stuck their tongues out in a vulgar manor, shouting about how “crunked” they were (whatever that meant). He moved the camera to his right at one other boy, who looked like he was mildly irritated at being filmed. “And this is Garth, our brother from Africa.”

Everyone laughed as Garth took a swing at Alfie. “Shut up, Alfie. It’s not polite to be racist.”

Alfie chuckled as he turned the camera back to Mario, who was walking in front of the two gingers now. “Alright, Mario, tell our fellow viewers what we are doing here tonight.”

“We are here to see if this lake house is really as haunted as they say it is,” Mario turned and began walking backwards, his shoes crunching on the gravel road as the Lake House in the background grew ominously closer. “They say that sometime back in the 90’s; a beautiful French immigrant named Deanna Levasseur was burned alive here in town of Ipswich. She moved here with her family, but shortly after she did her parents died of a horrible car accident. She lived alone, secluding herself to her home by the river. The town found her to be weird, but they were happy because she was famous for painting portraits of strange creatures she saw in her dreams. Her fame brought the town tourists and it began to prosper. Until one day, on a same cold winter day like this, her house was vandalized by the local gang. They stole her valuables, ruined her life’s work, and set her home on fire. The police and fire department tried to save her, but she perished in the fire along with her precious paintings. They gave her the title “The Monster Painter” shortly after she died and buried her ashes at the edge of the river. And just last year, city hall allowed contractors to build this beautiful house over her grave site.”

Alfie zoomed in on the house. It was a massive, beautiful two story manor that was half way over the water. It had a lot of glass walls for better viewing of the lake. No lights were on and the house looked completely empty. Alfie zoomed out and began filming Mario again, right as they were approaching the front door of the house. “But freaky things have been happening ever since the workers built this place.” Mario continued his story. “People have gone missing and most were found dead… with their bodies hardly recognizable. They finished production of the house and have been unable to sell the place, due to a lot of local superstition and reports of the freak “accidents” associated with the house.”

Right as Garth started to pick the lock the two gingers moved Mario out of the way and grinned into the camera. “And that’s what we’re here to prove! That there is no such thing as monsters!” Chaz shouted a bit too loudly into the camera and Floyd agreed with him. Garth got the door unlocked and opened the door slowly. As he did, all the boys grew slightly quiet as a small breeze escaped from inside the house, blowing into their faces. They grew a bit nervous so Alfie went in first, declaring that the last one out of the house got five hundred dollars as winning bet. That seemed to motivate the other boys and they trudged into the house. Alfie filmed the interior of the empty dining room to his right then the hallway, which was also bare- but he abruptly turned the camera back to the front door as a loud “SLAM” echoed through the house. The front door had slammed shut. The boys began shouting a bit, trying to open the door, but it was locked.

Alfie turned to look behind him as a strange sound skittered from behind. He shouted at his friends to look as his camera caught the inside of the house… that was no longer vacant. All down the hallway were paintings of grotesque, hideous creatures that looked way too realistic for any normal person to endure. Even seeing them through the camera sent a chill down my spine. I watched my son and his friends reluctantly move down the hallway, into a fully furnished living room. If the house was empty… where did all of the furniture, and those paintings, come from?

Needless to say, I forced myself to keep watching as Alfie filmed the layout of the living room. I could hear his friends scurrying about, using the light from the fireplace as they looked through everything they could to try and find something that would open the front door. Alfie, however, was more focused on one particular painting.

It hung above the mantel of the fireplace- much larger than the previous ones, encased in a detailed shiny gold frame. The monster in the painting was crouched on top of a huge boulder; its body human-like, it had several tails that fanned out in all directions. The monster was pure black, but had outlines of crimson red, which glowed in the light of the fire… its mouth and eyes glowed exceptionally bright. Its feet were obviously animal like, the claws digging into the boulder. Its long, pointed ears were folded back menacingly as the creature was looking up at something unseen. Its mouth looked like it was a part of its face, since skin was being pulled apart to form the smile. Wide, hollow red eyes stared upwards as one hand was reaching up with large, extended talons protruding off the end of those long, boney fingers. Alfie moved the camera down after looking at the painting, seeing that there was a nameplate on the bottom frame. He zoomed in on it: It read “Acid”.

A blood curtailing scream suddenly made Alfie turn back around. The boys were stunned to find that one of the gingers, Chaz, was nowhere to be found. Frantically, they made an attempt to find Chaz, but the sound of a door slamming shut somewhere in the house made them stop. They got so quiet, the only thing you could hear was the popping of the fire. They heard the scream again; this time, they all ran for the front door. Floyd hysterically threw himself at the wooden door, trying to break it down while Alfie placed the camera down and joined the other two in grabbing the dining room chairs. They went over to the glass wall that viewed out to the surrounding forest and began beating it with their chairs.

What freaked me out was as I watched my son and his friends try desperately to break the glass, I could see a pale, feminine face in the reflection of the glass. She had long black hair; the left side of her hair had a small braid in it. Her skin was pale, but not quite white. Her eyes… they were black- soulless- with piercing blue irises that glowed with a blaze so sharp, the blood in my body stopped.

Alfie was shouting at Garth about something; it snapped me back into what was going on in the video. Every time they slammed the chairs on the glass, it would crack, but after doing so, the cracks would reverse and disappear. It did that with every single hit- the boys stopped when they heard Floyd shouting. Alfie dropped his chair and ran back for the camera, turning it back in the direction of the front door. What I saw made me cover my mouth.

Floyd was being pulled on his belly screaming as a massive, humanoid monster was dragging him towards a dark spot next to the door. The monster was massive, over 7 feet, with enormous arms, spiked tendrils coming off its back and spikes running down the middle of its featureless face. One of those horrible spiked tendrils was wrapped around Floyd’s ankles, shredding his pants and skin. The frightened boy began clawing at the floor, desperately trying to stop himself from his doomed fate. His nails began to tear, his fingers leaving behind a bloody trail as he was engulfed into the darkness. His screams echoed through the house as Alfie and the remaining two took off down the hallway and passed the living room.

Floyd’s cries didn’t stop until the boys ran into a random room. They slammed the door shut, barricading it with everything they could physically move (which was a dresser and a vanity). Mario was freaking out, sobbing uncontrollably and gripping his hair. Garth was crouched on the floor, rocking back and forth slowly, wishing he had just stayed home. Alfie was sitting on the bed, the camera lowered down into his lap, facing the far wall. His panting was loud and he was obviously shaking. A long moment passed, the three boys got really quiet, not daring to speak. Creaks and moans could be heard outside the door, coming from somewhere in the house. Mario had his head against the wall, covering his ears with his hands. Alfie moved the camera a bit, adjusting the lens when Garth suddenly gasped. “Oh my god, guys! It’s Chaz!”

Alfie turned the camera in the direction Garth was pointing. There was another painting of an extremely big creature with seven eyes, hunched over, with big spikes running from its head down the length of its back, and a mouth that split down the middle of its face. It stood there, mocking Shakespeare’s pose of holding a skull. Except… it wasn’t a skull. In the monster’s massive hand, was Chaz’s severed head. I saw that the painting said “Drogon”- but it wasn’t long before the monster came to life. It looked at the boys, chuckling sinisterly as it began to reach out of the painting. The boys cried out, wasting no time in throwing the vanity and dresser out of the way and squeezing out of the room.

“Head for the basement,” Mario shouted as they ran back through the living room and into the kitchen. A door was wide open; I could only fear that it was the basement. Alfie and Garth followed him through the door, slamming it shut behind them. It was blacker than pitch; all I could hear was the sound of their shoes stomping against the staircase- then silence. Alfie fiddled with the camera, probably trying to find the night vision.

“Oh my god, we are all going to die…” Mario sounded like he was about to cry, whispering the same thing over and over again.

Garth shuffled in the darkness as he made a scoff. “Will you shut up, Mario?! You’re not helping.” He made another annoyed groan as a panting sound began to get louder. “Damn you, Mario, I can’t think with you breathing down my neck!”

It got quiet. The night vision turned on, revealing Mario standing next to Alfie. Alfie grabbed Mario’s arm and tugged on him, whispering that it was just him. Mario looked spooked, but then his face began to twist into horror; he was standing next to Alfie.

“Uh, Garth… I’m over here…” Mario looked in Alfie’s direction as Alfie turned the camera towards Garth. Garth’s face looked confused- terrified when he realized that it was not Mario who was standing behind him. From the darkness came two, long boney hands that grabbed Garth’s head. Before he could scream, a sickening crack was heard. Garth’s head was no longer facing the screen.

Alfie recoiled in revulsion, taking Mario with him just as a creature stepped forward, hissing at them. I gasped; it was the same monster from the painting above the fireplace! The boys stumbled as fast as they could up the stairs, wasting no time in helping each other out of the basement. Alfie slammed the door shut before barreling into the living room. Alfie turned the camera back to the fireplace; the monster was, of course, missing.

He followed Mario up the stairs, neither one of them stopping until they were at the end of the hallway, right in front of a big window. The only place left to go was right, down another hallway where a red door waited ominously. Mario was trying to catch his breath when they both looked over sharply, seeing the shadow of creature stalking up the stairs, hissing. “There is no way I am dying here.” Mario muttered. He took a few steps back, facing the window.

“Mario, what are you doing?!” Alfie reached for Mario. “Don’t do it man!” Mario shrugged off Alfie’s warning and ran for the window. Alfie shouted for him to stop, but it was too late. Mario rammed into the window using his right shoulder, managing to shatter the window open. His body got about half way out the window, when the glass began to reverse back into place. Alfie made a small noise as he saw Mario’s body perfectly suspended through the window. Slowly, Mario’s body began to slide down the glass; the right half falling to the ground below, while the left slid to the floor. I could hear Alfie sobbing a bit; he wasted no time in running away from Mario’s sliced body just as the creature turned the corner to run after him. He ran all the way to the red door, opening it quickly.

I caught a two second glance at the room he entered, which was nothing but a pure white room, before he turned around and slammed the door shut. The creature smacked into the door, beating on it and making frustrated roars. Alfie was breathing really hard in the audio, sobbing every so often. I reached out and touched the screen gently with my fingertips; I couldn’t imagine what he was going through…

A noise behind him made Alfie turn around. In the middle of the empty room was a large chair. There was a woman occupying it, with her back to him. Alfie, to my surprise, walked right up to her, going around to the front of the chair. She had a long, tattered rag for a shirt, tights, and black metal boots. In her hands was a long, jagged paint brush, the handle looked to be made of bone. Alfie was still panting, shaking a bit now as he recorded her. She was looking off at the floor, as if she didn’t notice he was there.

“Who are you?!” my son spoke, a hint of anger in his voice. “What do you want?! You murdered my friends!” she did not answer him. “Answer me!” he sounded a bit more demanding, shaking the camera slightly.

The woman stared up at Alfie, her eyes stone cold. “What is your greatest fear?” she asked, her voice distorted.

Alfie took a step back, obviously affected by those eyes. “Screw you, lady! Just leave me alone and let me leave!”

The woman then turned her head away again, this time to look at a massive shadow that had appeared from nowhere on the floor. She dipped the paintbrush carefully into it, pulling it up in a large black blob. She flicked it off her paintbrush and the ball of shadow began to rapidly take shape. It transformed into the monster Alfie had just escaped from. The monster grinned mockingly at him, growling in amusement. Alfie took a step back, his breath hitched; he turned to turn away- only to be face-to-face with the woman.

“Don’t Scream.”

Was the last thing she said before the camera began flickering, followed with the scratchy audio of flesh ripping and screaming. I placed my hands over my ears as I fought the urge to vomit. His screams went on and on until the screen went completely blank. I was sobbing now. Now I knew just how Alfie died, and who, killed him.

My screen grew brighter and I forced myself to look at it. On screen, lying in a pool of his own blood was the lifeless head of Alfie. His eyes were wide and vacant, a permanent scream on his face. I began to breathe fast, my heart racing as I heard the sound of heels clicking on the floor. They grew louder until they suddenly stopped. The camera was lifted and turned, to reveal the face of that woman: The Monster Painter.

She stared directly into the lens… right at me. I began to hit the escape button, but it would not work. My audio began to make a loud, ear piercing screech as she kept staring at me. I tried everything to close my video viewer, I even unplugged the camera, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I slammed my laptop shut- which ended the stare of those eyes and that horrible sound. I pushed my laptop away from me and sat there for a long time. Everything had gone… strangely quiet. The storm was bellowing outside, yet I could not hear any thunder. The hands of the clocks were moving, but I heard no ticking.

I forced myself out of my chair, dragging myself to my bedroom. In a blur, I had gotten ready for bed. My mind was racing with all the things I had seen… could something like that really exist? Would anyone believe me if I tried showing that video to the police? How could they have missed that? So many questions ran through my mind as I crawled into bed. Sleep was much more powerful than I anticipated, for in a blink of an eye, I was out. I didn’t wake again until I felt something strange… like something was very wrong. My room had grown increasing dark; I could not see anything passed my nose. My heart began to flutter in my chest; lightning abruptly flashed, illuminating my entire room.

And there she was.

Standing on my wall, a foot above my head, was the monster painter. She was staring straight through my eyes, as if she was looking straight into my soul. I could feel it bubbling in my chest, that feeling everyone gets when they are overwhelmingly terrified. I began to heave as I breathed, my fingers gripping my sheets.

Her melancholy face was unmoved as I peeked to the foot of my bed. A small noise escaped me as I saw that monster; that multi-tailed beast who had slain my son. Some kind of force made my eyes move back to look at the woman. I could feel that urge again overpowering me, making my chest burn and my eyes tear up.

“Don’t scream.” She whispered as lightning flashed, distorting her face into that of a monster.

I screamed-

Credit To – Ignis

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Written in the Stars

August 2, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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“Cheryl! That’s great news. I didn’t even know you were psychic!” exclaimed Marian, her face alight with excitement.

“I’m not psychic, Marian.”

“Oh, of course not. That was silly of me. You can just read the future in the stars,” the last syllable trailed off, a hint of mysticism in the woman’s voice.

Cheryl sighed, taking a long sip from her wine glass before continuing. “Actually, I’m fairly certain I could not even find the Big Dipper if I had to. You don’t really need any skills to be a horoscope writer. Just a laptop and a wealth of pithy sayings.”

Marian’s face fell, and Cheryl cringed inwardly. She knew Marian took these sort of things very seriously, with her Tarot and Energy Crystal readings—or whatever was in fashion this week. But Cheryl’s internal skeptic could not stomach reinforcing the charlatan façade of newspaper horoscope columns.

When Cheryl spoke again, her words were clipped, cautious. “It’s not wise to play with things like this.” Her face brightened, “But, I bet whoever hired you could see your potential. We all have some latent psychic ability. I bet they saw straight through to yours!”

“I got hired by an old hippy in a two dollar suit. But, you’re probably right. I’m sure the man has seen his fair share of things.”

“I bet you are going to be amazed once you unlock your potential. Did I tell you about the time my spirit guide taught me to—“

“Yes, a dozen times, each as wonderful as the last,” Cheryl smiled at her old friend. No matter how bizarre the woman was, and how illogical many of her beliefs were, years of friendship and support kept them together. And she could not overlook how Marian’s months of kindness had saved her from a few major catastrophes recently. “Now, can we just drink to the fact that, in a month, I’m actually going to get a paycheck again?”

Marian raised her own glass, beaming with pride and excitement. As much as Cheryl had dreaded outing herself—and, she had assumed, the field of horoscopes—to her friend, it had not been so bad. “To new opportunities and the development of all our hidden talents,” Marian finished with a wink and a long drink from her glass.

Cheryl leaned back in her seat, feeling a weight sloughing from her exhausted shoulders. It had been a long day, and she still was uncertain she could stomach the reality of shilling such snake oil for a living, even if it was necessary to keep the lights on in her ratty apartment. The wine did not necessarily help with that decision, but it did serve to push it just a bit farther away.

“So, how are you going to do this? I mean, until you figure out how to use your gifts, of course.”

The tenacity with which she clung to horoscopes was astounding to Cheryl. She had assumed that once Marian discovered her plain, non-psychic, skeptic, logical friend got a job writing horoscopes, they would laugh together about all the wacky decisions Marian had made over the years based on those newspaper inserts. No such luck.

“Mar, seriously, I’m not psychic. I just slap some words onto paper. You read them and plan your life around it. Then I get paid. No psychic abilities, no star reading required.”

Marian looked slightly off put, her face twisting briefly into an irritated smirk. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you don’t believe, don’t think you can do it, get out. These aren’t powers you want to be messing with, Cher.”

Cheryl realized it was a hopeless battle, one Marian could not afford to lose to reason. “I know. You’re probably right. They must have seen something in me, but I guess it just takes time.” The lies were bitter as they dripped from her lips.

Marian reached across the table and took her hand. “The journey can be difficult, but I know you can do it. I’ve sensed you were special since I first saw you snotty and muddy on the playground. You’re going to help a lot of people, Cheryl. Just remember that.”

Cheryl forced a smile and emptied her glass. When she grimaced, she was not sure if it was from the wine or the pit settling into her stomach.

_

“Your kindness to those you meet will reap great rewards. Be patient, and watch for your return.”

“This week holds many opportunities for fun. Enjoy yourself, but don’t forget to take time to recharge!”

“Remember that problem that just won’t leave you alone? Expect news to clarify your path.”

“An unexpected inconvenience may bring unexpected rewards. Look for—”

Cheryl tapped a pencil on the edge of her laptop slowly, her eyes distant as she tried to find a new and creative way to end Capricorn’s latest memo. After only a couple months, she felt she was doing nothing but rehashing the same, empty promises week after week. Nonetheless, it was keeping food and lights on in her fridge, so it was hard to complain. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.

Her phone buzzed on the coffee shop table. Marian had been giddy at seeing the weekly horoscopes since learning about her friends new job, and she never failed to try to get a sneak peek into the future.

“Coffee, Cheryl?” she asked, skipping routine greetings.

“I’m already at the coffee shop, so why not?” sighed Cheryl, glancing around the sparsely populated bistro.

“Sound like someone must be honing their gifts, eh? Get a little star magic to help you out?”

Cheryl rolled her eyes. “I just like to work in coffee shops. No stars needed. It’s like finding a bear in the woods.”

Laughter filtered unevenly through the phone. “You could predict lottery numbers five times over, and you still wouldn’t believe in any of this, would you? Your note last week scored me a great new pair of heels on sale.”

“Guess I’m just looking for more proof. When do you want to get coffee? The stars are phoning in, so I’m going to have to take them on the other line.”

“I’ll be there around three. Ask the stars if there are any ways to sneak around this traffic jam, if you could.”

Cheryl glanced at the clock. Forty-five minutes would, likely, give her enough time to finish writing and fleshing out the next edition’s worth of swill. “Will do, Mar. See you then. Half caf mocha, as usual?”

Marian gasped. “Well, look at you, Ms. Cleo! I’ll be there on the dot.”

Cheryl knew that meant Marian would be about fifteen minutes late, and so mentally gave herself the chance to relax. What would Marian’s upcoming horoscope say? Cheryl smiled to herself, thinking of all the ridiculous lies she could put into print if she so desired. She wondered if psychics had any sort of immunity for libel, and if any sort of protection extended to the capricious comments of a small town horoscope writer.

“Marian: You will come into an unexpected sum of money,” she typed lazily, smirking at the cliché. “But be wary of unknown strangers. While he may appear to be Prince Charming, you may be courting the Beast instead! A great tragedy awaits you at the end of your week. Make sure your house is in order.” Cheryl chuckled to herself in the coffee shop, laughing at the morbid horoscope. She would love to see Marian’s face if she actually read that in the final edition. She would certainly get fired, but it was almost worth it just to shake her friend’s conviction in the poppycock.

Cheryl stretched, went up for a refill of the house roast, and settled in to finish explaining fate for a few thousand loyal readers. Her next line came to her in a burst of inspiration.

“Look for chances to stretch and grow in the next week. Don’t let your cynicism get the best of you!”

_

Cheryl’s phone chimed, chirping happily with its message. She rolled over groggily, checking the lock and grimacing as she realized she had slept well past her normal wake time this Saturday morning. The plan had been to be up early to start her work, begin looking for more freelance opportunities, but that had fallen prey to a late night bottle of wine and sappy rom-com marathon.

With sleep-addled lack of coordination, Cheryl clumsily gripped her cell phone and gazed blearily at the screen. A new voicemail from Marian. She stiffly pushed the button to listen, begrudgingly entered her password, and closed her eyes as Marian’s chipper voice filtered through.

“Hey Cher! You’ll never guess how great this week has been. Or, maybe you would. Maybe you even knew all about it!” The voice on the other end chuckled, then got back to the message. “I met this guy, and he’s great. I was out shopping for a new entertainment center for the apartment—I can hear you rolling your eyes already, but I got some money back from my bank for some misapplied fees. Anyways, I met Adam and he’s totally swept me off my feet. He’s a total Prince Charming. I know, I know, it’s only been a few days. God, you’re such a killjoy even when you aren’t on the phone.”

Cheryl chuckled to herself, burying her head beneath her pillow and reveling in the soft darkness. Marian’s voice continued its chipper monologue. She had always opted to ignore the “brief” part of the voice mail request.

“Anyway, that’s why I’m calling. He wants to take me hiking this afternoon, told me to cancel any plans I had later. He said he had something really incredible planned for me tonight. I know, I hate cancelling on our plans this late, but…”

Cheryl had known her long enough to hear the shrug on the other end. “I know you’d understand. We can go out tomorrow. I’ll call you in the morning to set a time. Don’t work all day!”

With that, the robotic messaging voice took over, prompting Cheryl to delete the message. After doing so, the phone was again silent, and she tossed it back on her nightstand. Cheryl could not help but feel a bit irritated and grumpy about this change in plans. It was likely the grogginess, but she felt a bit petulant. They had been planning to try out a new Thai place her paper had recently reviewed well, and she had been looking forward to the outing. Especially now that she could pick up her own dinner tab. Still, there was something else. A subtle sense of unease that had settled firmly over her during the message. Something simply was not right, but she could not put her finger on it.

Cheryl sat beneath the pillows and blankets, poking at this uncertain feeling until the heat became stifling, and then begrudgingly swung her legs to the floor. She had hoped to fall back asleep, but her investigation of the edges of this anxious knot made that impossible. It was probably just a lingering artifact of sleep, some half-thought idea that would fade with activity. At least, that was her working plan as she tried to get ready for the day.

The feeling sat in the pit of her stomach, a flutter of flimsy wings, but then carefully began to climb its way up, beating along her insides. As she did some morning yoga, it snaked into her chest and wrapped around her lungs. It felt as if every breath was just a bit too short. Still, she could not identify the mystery source of unease. Something was wrong, but she had no idea what it was. Surely she was not this jealous about her friend having a date?

A shower was the best remedy for clouded thoughts, and so she spent some time under the stream of nearly scalding water. It did not shake loose whatever had set her nerves on edge, and the feeling just continued its steady creep upwards. Now she could feel its fingers clawing at the back of her throat. They left her gulping at her morning cereal, trying to force it past the blockage.

Not yet done, it finally made its way behind her eyes. There this unshakable sense of wrong sat, pressing against her lids. She felt like her eyes were ready to burst with tears, but they never came, never relieved that distinct and unpleasant pressure. Something had been wrong ever since that voicemail. Cheryl could not help but feel she had seen this movie before, and forgotten the ending.

She ran through her emotions, but none seemed to quite fit the feeling that had grown within her. It was not jealousy, frustration, anger, disappointment, sorrow, or fear. It certainly was not happy, surprised, or excited.

Well, sitting and staring at it certainly was not helping. Cheryl pushed back from the breakfast table and dropped onto her couch, pulling her laptop close. She still had work to do today.

Normally, such feelings faded as she worked, dulled by the pressure of the moment by moment tasks. Today, the feeling stayed. It laced its fingers into every keystroke, stroked her mind seductively. It was this terrifying feeling that, if she could only focus well enough, she would realize what the feeling was. Only there as also this subtle fear that it would be too late.

Finally, the restlessness gripped her phone and dialed Marian’s number. It cut straight to voicemail.

“Hey, it’s Marian. I’m either out or screening my calls. Leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you. Probably.” The machine beeped.

“Hey Marian. Got your message, already picking out my bridesmaid dress,” the joke felt hollow and did nothing to relieve the discomfort. “Just call me when you get in so I know he did not throw you in some ravine or something. Talk to you later.”

Leaving a message was supposed to make her realize how silly this was, but it did not. If anything, it made the feeling heavier.

“You’re being ridiculous. Get some work done,” she chided herself, opening her horoscope document. She needed to type some up, and she was finally feeling like she had gotten the hang of it. They almost seemed to write themselves recently, which was pleasant. She hoped it would provide the needed distraction so that she could shake this feeling. Perhaps, she mused, she had a nightmare. There had been ties in the past where she had felt lingering effects like this from some forgotten dream. Surely that was it. A little mundane work would do the trick.

The document flashed open full of lines and lines of her predictions. She kept a running list, assuming she might at some point recycle some, once enough weeks had passed. Fortunately, she had not had to do that yet. New ideas just kept coming to her. Still, it was fun to smirk at her past predictions, enjoying a brief chuckle at the gullibility of some.

However, this time her eyes stuck on one she had never submitted. She re-read her fake post for Marian, and the feeling finally became real. It took on its form, icy fingers piercing through her panicked heart. Money, a man, and finally—“A great tragedy awaits you at the end of your week.

Cheryl thought her heart might have stopped, but it was only the impossible stillness of terror. This was not happening, she told herself over and over again as her eyes sat glued to the screen. These sort of things did not happen. Ever. It was just a weird coincidence.

It took until the news reports began to come in about a body found in the bottom of a nearby canyon for the reality to sink in. Reports of foul play followed close behind, and Cheryl knew.

It’s not wise to play with things like this,” Marian had warned.

And Cheryl had not listened.

Credit To – Katherine C

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Three Friends Diner

August 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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To:  Jeremy Fuentes, Ph.D
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

Jeremy –

        I assume you have heard about the strange discovery made at 918 E. 3rd Street – a converted warehouse located on the corner of 3rd and Weller Avenue, in the middle of the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.

        The building is currently undergoing renovations.  Three weeks ago, construction workers noted a foul odor wafting through the property, coming from behind what they had thought was a solid brick wall.  But upon further investigation, it was discovered that the inside measurements of the property did not match up with the outside.  There was, in fact, a 25x30ft. space on the first floor completely overlooked.  A secret room, so to speak; one inaccessible from any point inside the building or out.  It was located at the far end of the property, along the wall forming the west side of Weller.

        With permission, the workers broke through the wall to access the otherwise-inaccessible area.  Immediately, they were floored by the overpowering stench of rotting meat.  Bandannas over their noses, they entered the enclosure. 

        Inside, they found a nice 16mm camera, smashed to bits.  They found film equipment, all destroyed – cracked lights, torn screens, metal light stands folded like paperclips.  Cheap-looking framed paintings and kitschy prop menus scattered like confetti.  And three bodies.

        Three decomposing bodies, in a state too disturbing for description.  Though the term “half-eaten” has been thrown around.

        How the equipment, or the corpses, ended up there has yet to be determined.  Neither the walls nor the ceiling were disturbed at any point, and there was no sign of tunneling under the four-foot-thick concrete floor.

        No one can explain how three dead people and a bunch of film paraphernalia magically appeared within a completely walled-off space. But it was all the more shocking for me, personally, due to the contents of a handwritten letter left for me by a former patient of mine.

         Her name was Kathryn Soo.  She voluntarily checked herself into the Marsdale Psychiatric Treatment Center, where I am an on-call physician, several months ago, and was discharged shortly before the horrific discovery at 918 E. 3rd Street.  I am no longer in contact with the young woman.  However, I believe you will find her testimony – a transcript of which I have enclosed – very intriguing.

Sincerely,

Larry Schurr, M.D.

*****

Testimony of Katy Soo
1/5/2015, Marsdale Psychiatric Hospital

        Just for the record, shooting Bella Cardone’s movie at the Three Friends Diner wasn’t my idea.  I told her it was a scam; that no restaurateur in Los Angeles with two brain cells to rub together would have possibly charged us so little for a location so photogenic.  Again and again, I insisted it just felt wrong.

        I was right.  I used to like being right.

        A little back story.

        I’m Katy.  I’m 21 years old.  I used to be a junior at Cal State Northridge, studying business administration and film production.  I enjoyed the phone calls and the organizing and the paperwork-filling that most film students hate, and had built up a modest reputation as a pre-production guru amongst my classmates, as well as with friends and acquaintances who attended other schools.

        Bella Cardone was one of such acquaintances, a 29-year-old international student from Italy I’d met at a third-rate horror film festival.  She’d been employed at a television station in Rome doing… something, but dreamed of writing and directing Hollywood movies.  She was one of a dozen or so, mostly foreign, enrollees a year and a half into the two-year Master’s program at New York Film Academy; she was writing her thesis script at the time, and asked me to help organize the production of the short film.

        Her script was about a starving artist working as a waitress, who gets dumped by her boyfriend then has an existential breakdown in which she imagines herself poisoning her customers and getting tortured, culminating with a series of flash cuts in which she simultaneously slashes her wrists and drowns in the ocean.

        Typical pretentious grad student fare.

        We needed to lock down five locations: an apartment, a beach, a park, something that could function as a dungeon, and a restaurant.  The beach and the park were relatively easy, and a classmate of Bella’s agreed to let us use her North Hollywood apartment for two days.  Another classmate, a quiet little guy named Sandeep, discreetly told me about an S&M store with a basement dungeon they infrequently rented out for movie shoots.  I don’t know how he came to be so familiar with such an establishment, and I’m not sure I want to know, but it proved ideal for our purposes.  Which left the restaurant – a notoriously difficult one for student and independent filmmakers.

        So when I found a little French place in Encino on Craigslist, got in touch with the manager, and played the “broke student” card so well he granted us use of his restaurant for a night for a little over $400, I was ready to sign the papers, get the permit, and move on.  It was two weeks before Bella’s scheduled first day of shooting, and I had a million other things to worry about – from liability insurance to catering to talking Northridge underclassmen into helping out as G&E crew and PA’s.

        Bella, however, thought $400 for a night was too expensive, and remained convinced she could find a better deal.  So she went on Craigslist herself and placed a “restaurant wanted for student film” ad.  But I’d put up a similar posting three weeks earlier (that’s how I found the French place in Encino), and Bella received the exact same responses from the exact same people.

        With one exception: an e-mail from [email protected], which she forwarded to me.  It read like this:

CLEAP LOCTN for filmn studnts!  Restarant in downtown Losangeles.  35 weller ave.  100 fr day. Rsp nd to this email, will send you key, pay on dt of filming.  MST b decmbr 3rd aftr noon.

         I was suspicious immediately.  $100 for a day of filming seemed a little too good to be true. Then there was the poor spelling and lack of contact information, and the fact that when I tried to respond to the e-mail, all I got was an error message.

        And then there was the key.

        The key turned up in Bella’s on-campus mailbox two days after the e-mail, enclosed in a stained brown envelope with no return address.  And as if that wasn’t creepy enough, it came with a scrawled note – “key to 3 frends dinr.”

        I was ready to call it a scam and be done with it.  But Bella thought we should at least check the place out.  If it was real, she argued, it was too good a deal to pass up.  Movies are expensive, and we were already pushing her budget.  So I agreed to go with her and Hamed Shirazi, the cinematographer, to 35 Weller Avenue.  Which, it turned out, was in the middle of the Arts District.

        I have a love-hate relationship with the Arts District.

        It’s a cool place to meet a friend at her new loft.  There’s some nice restaurants and amusing wall art, and the dissonance created by graffiti-coated trashcans, barbed wire, and long smelly lines outside the social services building sharing a block with yoga studios, BMWs, and boutique gift shops hawking 80-buck vintage baby sweaters is ironically poetic.  But the streets are one-way and parking is nonexistent.  I drove in a triangle for fifteen minutes before surrendering and pulling into a $10-flat-rate lot.

        “Weller Avenue” wasn’t a street so much as a glorified driveway – a short, narrow alley that branched off of 3rd street and dead-ended.  A large, L-shaped building occupied the east and north sides of Weller.  It appeared to be a closed night-club in the process of being converted into an art gallery. The blacked-out windows were covered with torn, dirty stickers advertising shows long since played and bands long since broken up, and graffiti artists (the gang-affiliated kind, not the Arts Foundation kind) had had their way with both the seafoam-green walls and the ratty trash dumpster abandoned in the corner.

        The grey brick warehouse that functioned as the west side of Weller, 918 E. 3rd Street, looked completely unoccupied.  A sign hung in a window; the building had apparently been bought by East River Development.  I recognized the name – my realtor father knew some people who worked for that company.  They bought old commercial properties and converted them into trendy, pricey apartments.

        The most prominent visual, however, was the mural painted on the north wall.  It depicted the head and chest of a woman, face tilted eastward.  The woman had tan skin, ruby-red lips, and flowing hair in varying shades of blue – periwinkle at the tips, darkening to deep lavender at her scalp.  Her eyes were closed.  In the background, some distance behind her, was what appeared to be an orange grove.  It was a beautiful painting, and strangely mesmerizing.  If you looked at the woman one way, she seemed young and innocent, sporting a demure grin.  Then, if you cocked your head or blinked, lines appeared on her cheeks and her lips rearranged themselves into a pouty sneer.

        I saw only one door on Weller, leading into the grey building.

        It was a very shabby door of splintery, untreated wood; with a rusting doorknob and keyhole.  No business name.  No street number.  This couldn’t possibly be the restaurant from Craigslist – Three Friends Diner, I guess it was called.  How did anyone ever find the place?  I was still puzzling when Bella and Hamed found me.

        “Bloody hell!” Hamed barked, in lieu of a greeting.  “Where’s the restaurant?”

        “Here, according to my phone,” I said.  “I’m willing to bet money someone is fucking with us.”

        Bella didn’t seem too concerned; her eyes were fixed on the mural.

        “So pretty!” she exclaimed.  “Can we film?”

        I shrugged.  “I’m not sure.  We might run into some copyright issues.  And it doesn’t look like we’re going to be filming here at all, since we’re not looking at a restaurant.”

        Bella frowned at me, and took the key out of her purse.  She walked up to the wooden door.

        “Here?” she asked.

        “I don’t think so,” I said.  “There’s no sign or anything.  I mean, you can try it, but I’m really doubting that key is going to fit into that…”

        Bella turned the key and pulled at the knob.  With a creak, the door opened.  Hamed and I rushed to her and, together, we stepped inside. Hamed scrambled for a light switch, and then the room was illuminated by a warm, golden glow.

        We found ourselves staring at Three Friends Diner.  It was perfect.

        It was a larger space than I’d thought it would be; rectangular-shaped, the kitchen jutting out from the north wall.  Behind the kitchen was a small corridor leading to the bathroom and a closet that could function as dry storage.  The walls were painted that particular shade of deep red that looks beautiful on film, and the tables and chairs and diner-style booths were a nice contrast in black and grey.  And each table was adorned with a salt and pepper shaker, an empty bottle of ketchup, and a vase of plastic lilies.

        “Don’t get too excited yet,” I said to Hamed, who was examining one of the series of stained-glass lamps from which light was emanating.  “We don’t know how much juice you’ve got to work with.”

        “That’s the beauty of it,” he said gleefully.  “I don’t even need that much juice.  If we come a bit early and switch out all these bulbs, I can use the lamps as practicals.  Plus, this place obviously isn’t open yet, which means I’m not sharing power with anything.”

        He was right about that.  The freezers and refrigerators were unplugged, the storage closet was empty, and there wasn’t a plate or a cup or a scrap of food to be found.  It was definitely a new restaurant, the latest in an avalanche of trendy urban eateries inundating the Arts District as the neighborhood gentrified.  Of course it was hard to find.  That would lend an air of mystery to the diner, foster the impression of exclusivity, attract a Twitter following.

        “I love it!” Bella announced.  “Can you get permit?”

        I tried to talk her out of it.  Something about Three Friends Diner made me nervous, made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  But it was exactly what Bella had been looking for, and Hamed had already started planning shots, and the little hairs on the back of my neck didn’t stand a chance against cheap, gorgeous, and logistically ideal.  The restaurant wasn’t open yet, which meant we could shoot during the day, decorate how we wanted, and place the camera anywhere without worrying about being in anyone’s way.  And December 3rd – the date the mysterious proprietors had insisted on – was our scheduled 6th day of shooting.

        “Don’t look under the horse you get,” Bella told me.

        I think she meant “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

        That saying is a reference to the Trojan Horse, given as a token of surrender by the Greeks during the Trojan War.  I don’t know why people keep repeating it.  Because if the Trojans had looked into that horse’s wooden mouth, the Illiad might have ended differently.

        As I said before, I’d been forced to park in a ten-dollar lot.  And, of course, the attendant’s iPhone was malfunctioning, so I couldn’t pay with my card.  I had no cash; the attendant directed me to a convenience store on Alameda that apparently had an ATM.  I wasn’t thrilled. It was getting dark, and a trendy neighborhood six blocks from Skid Row is still a trendy neighborhood, six blocks from Skid Row.

         The convenience store stuck out like a gold tooth; a little scrap of what the neighborhood used to be, wedged between a café and a construction site.  A cracked neon sign branded it “Alameda Mart,” the ice cream fridge was stuffed with La Michoacana popsicles, and the cash register sat behind a pane of bulletproof glass.  I engaged in battle what must have been the slowest ATM known to man, and was mentally cursing the “loading” screen when I became aware of the sole other customer in the shop.

        “Need to pay for parking?” he asked.

        I turned.  The man standing behind me was obviously homeless – he wore grime-caked jeans and a stained military service jacket, and his leathery face demonstrated the dullness of days with no soap.

        I nodded and smiled.

        “You a tourist?”

        I shook my head.  “Student filmmaker, actually.  My friend’s going to shoot at this restaurant on Weller.”

        Immediately, I doubted the wisdom of sharing this piece of information.  I didn’t want him to show up and beg for change.  But his unshaven face fell, and his tone became one of alarm rather than anticipation.

        “There’s no restaurant on Weller,” he murmured.  “There’s just Bessie.”

        I giggled.  “Bessie?”

        He nodded.  “That’s what folks ‘round here call her.  The old folks say she can change things.  Make things appear and dis’pear.”

        He leaned in, narrowed his eyes, and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

        “If I was you, I’d stay away.  They say each twenty years, for one day, Bessie ‘comes corp’real and feeds.”

         I would have asked him to elaborate; to explain exactly who “Bessie” was and why I should be afraid.  But right then the shop proprietor noticed the homeless man, and yelled at him what I’d assume were not nice words in Spanish.  He booked it and, by the time the ATM coughed up my cash and I was back on Alameda, he’d disappeared.

        On the way to the car lot, I passed Weller.  The blue-haired girl was right where I’d left her.  Standing in front of a grove of trees in three-quarters profile, facing westward towards the door of the Three Friends Diner, eyes closed.  Was she “Bessie?”

        Then fear washed over me like a cold shower, and I ran.  I threw a twenty at the parking attendant and got out of there as fast as I could.  Something about that mural had scared the shit out of my subconscious.  Halfway to the 405 freeway, I figured it out.

        She – Bessie – was facing the wrong way.

*****

        Bella’s first five days of filming went delightfully well.  So well that, when I arrived at Three Friends Diner for the sixth and final day, December 3rd, I forgot I was scared of the place.

       Crew call was one.  Hamed had already been there for an hour, switching out light bulbs and unloading equipment with Esteban the gaffer and two grips, Miguel and Andrea.  Our grip truck was parked out front, partially obstructing my view of the mural.  But I could tell that Bessie was facing eastwards, towards the club-turned-gallery.  As she had been the first time I saw her.  Of course.  It had been dark that night, and I’d been scared and alone.  I’d seen things that weren’t really there.

        I made my way through the obstacle course of lights and c-stands, set up my iPad at an unused table, and worked on the equipment drop-off schedule as crew members filtered in.  I heard Katia’s voice at least a minute before she and Bella walked through the door.  God, that chick was loud.  Bossy, too; no wonder she was such a good assistant director.  Then came Venna, the production designer, carrying a large box of prop-house framed pictures and the menus she’d designed.  Nairi, the 1st camera assistant, set up the Arri while her lackey du jour loaded film.  Then two more grips, Pete and Ryan.  Kaylee and Michelle, the freshman PA’s.  Lisa, the script supervisor.  Dante, the sound guy.  And finally Ming, the make-up artist.

        Then the actors came, and then Hamed and the guys were setting up lights for the master shot, and then Katia was calling for last looks, and then we were pushing in for close-ups.  The first four hours went as smoothly and productively as we had any right to expect and, for a short time, we entertained the possibility of finishing early.  We were an hour ahead of schedule when we broke for lunch, everyone talking and laughing and enjoying themselves.

        That’s when things started getting weird.

        Right after lunch, as we were picking ourselves up and resuming our work, one of the freshman PA’s – Michelle – went to use the restroom.

        A minute later, there was a bloodcurdling scream.

        Ryan dropped a c-stand.  Nairi nearly dropped a lens.  Hamed and Esteban took frantic steps towards the bathrooms as Michelle sprinted down the hall back towards us.

        “Who the fuck was in the storage closet?” she cried.

        We all looked at each other.

        “Seriously,” Michelle demanded.  “This isn’t funny.  You fucking knocked me over.”

        “Michelle,” Katia asked, “what are you talking about?”

        Michelle was trembling.  She looked ready to cry.

        “I went to the bathroom,” she said.  “And I heard this… thumping coming from the closet that’s back there.   Someone was pounding on the door.”

        “We didn’t hear anything,” Hamed said.

        “Someone was, like, ramming against the door,” Michelle repeated.  “And so I opened it.  And someone ran right into me, then ran towards you guys.”

        She sobbed.  Hamed narrowed his eyes.

        “You sure, Michelle? Because we were all out here, and no one came running from the bathrooms.”

        “He was wearing a black hoodie,” Michelle insisted.

        I looked over the dining room to see if anyone was missing.  Nope.  Seventeen crew members, four actors.  None of whom was wearing a black hoodie.  All inside a restaurant with only one entrance.

        “You didn’t see who it was?” I asked Michelle, rather stupidly.

        “Obviously not!” she shouted.  “It happened really fast.  I just saw the black hoodie and really pale, really white skin.”

        We couldn’t solve the mystery.  Michelle was pretty shaken up.  One of the grips, Miguel, offered to drive her back to Northridge.  He said he had to go, too, because he had afternoon classes.  But it was hard to miss the tremble in his voice or the dampness of his palms.  And suddenly Kaylee, the other PA, also had “classes” she’d forgotten to mention, and tagged along with them back to campus.

        Three hours after that incident, we set up for our last shot in the dining area before moving to the kitchen.  Though we’d come to the unspoken agreement that Michelle was either looking for attention or smoking pot in the bathroom, everyone was a little bit on edge, and it had slowed us down.

        To speed things up, I offered to help Venna dress the kitchen.  She’d brought cutting boards, utensils, bread, lunch meat, and enough restaurant necessities to make the empty kitchen look like a busy back-of-house.  At one point, she ran to her car to fetch some plates she’d bought from the 99 Cents Store. 

I was arranging knives on a knife block.  I accidentally dropped one; it skidded across the floor and got stuck under one of the large industrial refrigerators.  I knelt down and reached under the refrigerator to grab it.  As I did, I heard a creak behind me – a door opening on stubborn hinges.

        I straightened up and turned around, still on my knees.  A blast of cold air hit me in the face.  I was staring into an open freezer, ice caked on the back of the door and the walls.

        There were bodies in the freezer.

        Old, decomposing bodies.   Wrinkled, leathery skin peeling off yellowed bones.  Bones that were oddly compromised, shattered, pulverized.  Greenish mold clinging to the remains of brain matter cradled in cracked skulls.  The putrescent smell of rotting flesh.

        I closed my eyes and screamed.  And screamed and screamed and screamed.

        “Katy!  What the fuck, Katy!”  I heard Hamed’s voice, felt his hand on my arm, shaking me.

        I opened my eyes.

        The freezer was empty.  Empty and turned off.

        I looked up to see Bella and Venna standing over me.  The rest of the crew was crowded around the kitchen entrance or watching through the window that separated it from the dining room.

        “Sorry guys,” I stammered, heart still racing.  “I… I thought I saw a rat.  Did I ruin the shot?”

        Hamed shook his head.  “We’re done.  You sure you’re okay?”

        I nodded.  “Um, can I talk to you and Bella and Katia outside?”

        The three muttered agreement, and we made our way across the dining room and out the door as the rest of the crew set up lights in the kitchen.  I had to tell them.  We had to leave.  Now.  Someone… something… was trying to impress on us we weren’t welcome.

        “I thought I saw… dead things in that freezer,” I started, quite pathetically.  “It was on, and it was cold, and there was this smell.”

        Bella’s eyes widened.  Hamed cocked his head, frowning.  Katia crossed her arms.

        “I mean,” I continued, “I know it was just a hallucination.  But it felt so real, and I’m not schizophrenic, and the thing with Michelle and… I think we should leave.  There’s something really wrong going on here.”

        I’d expected them to laugh at me, or to treat me like a patient in a psych ward.  They did neither.

        “Yeah, this place is starting to creep me out, too,” Hamed said.  “For starters, where are the bloody owners?  Who hands a stranger the key to their business?  Either they’re mental, or they’ve got some ulterior motive.”

        He lowered his voice.  “And I’m getting these sensations.  Like, somebody’s watching us.”

        Bella and Katia nodded in agreement, concern in their eyes.  They’d felt it, too.

        “We can find another restaurant,” I told Bella.  “All we need is the kitchen – we can easily cheat that, make it look like it’s the same place.”

        “I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” Hamed said to her, “but I think we should consider packing up early.”

        Bella looked at Katia, then Hamed, then me.  Her expression softened for a second, then she set her jaw.

        “We wait one hour,” she said.  “No problems, we film.”

        We decided not to tell the crew and the one remaining actress about the agreement we’d come to, fearing they’d panic and make a big deal out of what could have been nothing more than the effect of darkness on a big city.  But several of them were undeniably scared and looking for an excuse to leave.

        As soon as the four of us walked back through the door, Nairi and the nameless 2nd AC walked out.  We were “too immature” for them, Nairi told Katia.  Dante, the sound guy, asked Bella if he could head out early, since we didn’t need any sync sound for the kitchen scene.  Two hours earlier, he’d insisted on staying around for the sole purpose of getting various kitchen sounds.  And when the lights were set and the blocking was rehearsed and last looks were called for, we found that Ming the makeup artist had quietly packed up her kit and left.

        No big loss.  The actress was perfectly capable of applying the simple make-up design herself.  Pete, one of the grips, was fairly adept at pulling focus, and Hamed conscripted me to hold the slate.  And our agreed-upon hour had passed with no new unexplained phenomena.

        Finally, Hamed flipped the camera on, and Bella called “action.”  The actress unenthusiastically smeared mayo onto bread, stacked lunch meat and lettuce, then smiled evilly.  She turned to grab the poisonous cleaning solution from under the sink…

        And then the lights all went off.

        Somewhere in the pitch-blackness, someone shrieked.  There was a bump, and a thud, and then the dining room lamps came on.  Esteban had found the switch.

       “Someone ran by me!” Lisa cried.  “Who brushed against me?”

       “It couldn’t be an outage,” Hamed said to one of the grips.  “The house lights work fine.”

       “Seriously!” Lisa sobbed.  “Who the fuck pushed me?”

       “Hey!”  Esteban yelled.  “Guys!”

        We all shoved our way into the dining room.  The grip crew had plugged the five lights we were using for the kitchen scenes into five different electrical outlets amongst the tables.  The power cables were spread out, lying across the carpet like a spiderweb, so as not to draw too much electricity from any one spot.

        Every cable had been severed.  Sliced down the middle; perfect, clean cuts, as though accomplished with a sharp knife.

       “Who the fuck did that?” Katia snapped, trying and failing to disguise her distress.

Because she knew all ten crew members had been in the kitchen.  And that no one person could have cut all five cables at exactly the same time.

        “Everybody out!” Hamed demanded.  “Now!”

        Nobody needed to be told twice.  We pushed through the wooden door and convened on the sidewalk, under the closed eyes of the blue-haired mural girl.  The Northridge students huddled together, Katia paced, Venna glared with her arms crossed, and Bella attempted to regain control over her compromised film set.

        “We cannot leave equipment,” she told anyone who bothered to listen.

        “Forget this shit,” Venna sneered.  “I’m leaving.”

        She stormed off.  The actress threw Bella a helpless look, mumbled “call me,” and started after Venna.  I looked to the four remaining Northridge underclassmen – Andrea, Lisa, Pete, and Ryan.

        “Miguel was going to give us a ride,” Ryan said.

        “I took the bus,” Lisa stammered.

        “Take them home,” Hamed said to me.  “I’ll stay and help Bella pack up.”

        “I can stay, too,” Katia said.

        Esteban nodded at them.

        “Okay, cool,” I said.  “I’ll come back and help you guys finish up after I drop them off.  Give me an hour and a half.”

        No one spoke the entire way back to campus.  The silence was punctuated only by Lisa’s occasional sob.  Andrea reached over and spun the radio dial, to some Top 40 station, then almost immediately turned it off. The two guys stared out their respective windows.  I left them outside the dorms, turned my car around, and headed back towards the 405.

        I couldn’t wrap my head around what I had just experienced.  Some esoteric party had lured us to Three Friends Diner, left a key with a group of complete strangers, demanded we film today – the third – then hadn’t bothered to show up and collect the suspiciously unsubstantial amount they’d asked as payment.  Why?

        To mess with us?  Were we on some kind of hidden camera show?  Was there a trapdoor we didn’t know about?  Maybe there’d been a projector hidden in the kitchen, creating the disturbing image of dead, decomposing corpses in the freezer.

        But how to explain the smell?  Or the cold?  Or the hooded specter that had produced loud knocks behind the storage closet door that only Michelle could hear?

        On to Explanation B – we’d become victims of the creature the homeless man had called “Bessie.”  She was a ghost, or a demon, and we were trespassers on her property.

        Then why not start with the big stunt – the severed cables?  Why the systematic approach, scaring one person at a time?  And this poltergeist theory didn’t explain who’d led us to the Three Friends Diner, or why.

        Led us there, to scare us away.

        Three Friends Diner.

        As I merged onto the 101, four minutes after midnight, I figured it out.

        One hand on the wheel, I called Bella three times, then Hamed twice, then Katia, then Esteban.  Every single time, I was sent directly to voicemail.  I left messages for them – pleading, screaming messages, begging them to forget the equipment and run far, far away.  Then I called 911, and sobbed to the dispatcher that my friends were in grave danger, at 35 Weller Avenue.  She calmly assured me that help would be there in 10 minutes.

        I got there first.

        The streetlights up and down the block had, at some point, gone out, so I found my way to 35 Weller Avenue with only my phone and the moonlight to guide me.  The dim, bluish beam cast by my cell phone fell on the seafoam-green east wall, then the open and half-loaded grip truck, and finally on Hamed.  He lay crumpled on the asphalt, a pool of dark liquid expanding around him.

        I ran to him, screaming his name over and over.  He didn’t respond.  I saw his chest rise and fall feebly as I knelt beside him, and felt a faint carotid pulse.  I rolled him onto his back.  There was a large cut on the side of his head; his hair was matted with blood.  His left arm hung at an odd angle.  But the most distressing injury he’d acquired, and the one responsible for most of the blood, was a series of five deep lacerations into his right bicep.  The muscle was torn, and shattered bone was visible through the mess of ribboned skin and ground-meat fatty tissue.

        The positioning of the lacerations was consistent with the placement of five fingers, latched onto his upper arm.  Five fingers with very long, very sharp claws…

        I tore off my jacket and tied it around his arm like a tourniquet.  My consciousness had kicked into overdrive; I operated on quick flashes of disconnected logic.  Something had attacked Hamed.  It was gone.  It was gone?  Bella.  Katia.  Esteban.  Where the fuck were they?

        I stood up.  Help was on the way, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do for Hamed until the paramedics got there.  But the rest of them were still in the Three Friends Diner, and if I’d guessed right…

        I ran to the door.

        But the door wasn’t there.  I was staring at a grey, unbroken wall.

        I dashed to the corner of the dead end, and then to the sidewalk, scouring the length of the wall with my phone.  I ran back and forth again and again, feeling the bricks with my fingers.  Nothing.  The one entrance to the Three Friends Diner was just… gone.

        The street lights came back on.  My terrifying impression was confirmed.  I was on Weller, I was facing the right way, but there was no door.  In the distance, I thought I heard sirens.  I looked up at the mural – the pretty blue-haired girl with closed eyes, standing in front of a citrus grove.

        She was gone, too.

        In her place was a shriveled old woman, skin dotted with sickeningly-detailed moles and age spots.  Her hair was the filthy, stringy, disheveled mane of a homeless woman.  Her open mouth took up the entire length of her cheeks, showing off black, rotten, knifelike teeth, dripping blood.  A lot of blood.  Blood that ran down the seafoam-green wall like rainwater, pooling on the asphalt below.

        Her eyes were open.

        Her bloodshot, yellow eyes.  Her dilated pupils, flashing maniacally.  Those bulging, staring, impossibly-detailed eyes.  This was no spray paint.  Her eyes were real.  Then her foot-long pupils shifted, and I swore her fanged smile grew even wider.  She was looking at me.

        This was Bessie.

        I don’t remember the cops showing up, or the fire truck, or the paramedics.  I didn’t notice them lifting Hamed onto a gurney or loading him into an ambulance.  And I have no recollection of the back of the second ambulance, or the psych ER, or the questions I answered for the doctors, or the drugs.

        All I know is that I woke up twenty-three hours later, in the tiny detox room of the private mental hospital my parents had me transferred to.  I stayed there for the remaining 49 hours I was under 5150 hold, then went home to La Crescenta with my family.

        The last I heard, Hamed had regained consciousness and could speak short words like “hi” or “yes.”  This is a good sign; the brain damage may be less severe than the doctors initially thought.  His memory’s shot, of course.  He can’t remember traveling to America, much less what transpired the night he sustained his injuries.  He was lucky, if such a word can possibly apply to his situation, that his left shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact when he hit the wall.  He’d cracked his head on the asphalt at a lower velocity.  The doctors aren’t quite sure what to make of him.  His wounds suggest something threw him, like a discarded Barbie doll, against the east wall of the club-turned-gallery.

        I told the police everything – from the strange email and the key to the mural’s horrifying transformation.  Except the email had disappeared from both my computer and Bella’s, which had been confiscated by the police as evidence.  The key, too, had been misplaced and never found.  And the mural in the crime scene photos was the same mural it had been before that inexplicable night – the lovely profile of a blue-haired girl with closed eyes.

        They were also confused when I referred to 35 Weller Street as a “diner.”  For no diner existed there, nor had ever at any time in the past.  35 Weller Street wasn’t even a real address – there had never been a side door to the grey brick building at 918 E. 3rd Street, and the building had been completely unoccupied for six months.  I insisted.  I described, in minute detail, the deep red walls and the untouched kitchen and the little vases of flowers on every table.  I begged the cops to look at the footage we’d shot.  But that would be impossible, I learned.

        Our camera was missing.  As was half of our equipment, everything that hadn’t been loaded into the grip truck.  As was Bella Cardone.  And Esteban Serra, and Katia Milicevic.  The three had not been seen since the night I’d been found raving and Hamed, half-dead.  Their credit cards had not been used, their cars were still parked on the street in the Arts District, and their phones were off.

        The cops spoke to the other crew members – I hope they corroborated my story.  They designated Hamed’s assault an “animal attack,” and the disappearance of Bella, Esteban, and Katia as a “likely attempt at visa overstaying.”  They kept a lot of the details from the public.  I’m sure they didn’t want to explain how a mountain lion managed to grow an opposable thumb and pick up and throw a man, at 60 miles per hour, against a wall.

        As for me, I’m now a voluntary inpatient at the Marsdale Psychiatric Treatment Center, undergoing treatment for PTSD and an unspecified mood disorder.  It’s okay here.  They let me smoke, and no one freaks out when I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.

        Too late I understood the significance of the name – Three Friends Diner.  Three friends.  The homeless man was right.  “Bessie” is real.  She can make things appear and disappear – the key, the door, the diner.   She’s something inhuman and evil, something that demands sacrifice.  She lured us there.  She played her little games, chasing away a few crew members at a time, until she had a manageable number.  Then she tossed Hamed aside like a chicken bone and took her prize.

        She only wanted three.  Three friends.  Bella, Katia, Esteban.

*****

To:  Jeremy Fuentes, Ph.D
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

        Jeremy –

        As a postscript to my last letter, I should add that the three bodies found in the secret room of 918 E. 3rd Street have been identified as the three missing foreign students – Bella Cardone, Katia Milicevic, and Esteban Serra.  The police are still at a loss as to how the unfortunate young people met their end, though the condition of their remains suggests they were mauled by an extremely large, extremely violent animal.

        We have also learned that the building at 918 E. 3rd Street, which supposedly housed “Three Friends Diner,” was previously renovated in the early 1990’s.  According to building plans, the “secret room,” in which the bodies were found, was originally designed as a back office.  But the company later decided to seal the area off completely, likely after three overnight workers were found dead there.  Their deaths were attributed to an “explosion.”  An explosion that no one saw or heard, and one that did no structural damage.

       The three workers were found dead on December 4th, 1994.  Which is intriguing, because the three students – Katy’s crew mates – were reported missing as of the early hours of December 4th, 2014.  According to Katy, the e-mail she received stated that the crew must film at “Three Friends Diner” on December 3rd, after noon.  A typical film day is 12 hours, putting their end time at shortly after midnight, December 4th.

       I believe Katy’s homeless man said something about one day, every twenty years.

       I looked through pictures in books, old copies of the LA Times, slides, news footage, etc.  I have included several of these for your perusal.  In every single one, since the warehouse at 918 E. 3rd Street and the L-shaped building next door first opened in 1920, the mural of the woman with blue hair is present.  No artist has ever taken credit for this mural.  And it’s always the same, never dulled by the rain or the sun or time.

        Well, not exactly the same.

        Sometimes the girl faces west, and sometimes she faces east.

Sincerely,

Larry Schurr, MD

Credit To – NickyXX

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#AllThatWeAre

August 1, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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First it was the gays. Then the Muslims. Then the terrorists. Then the gay terrorist Muslims. I don’t know. It’s hard to keep track of who you’re meant to be hating when you’re a straight, white male.

I put that as my Facebook status once. Thirty four likes. I felt like kind of a big deal. In a world so over-saturated with attention addicts, I don’t see the issue with indulging in the odd hit of pure, uncut validation once in a while. It’s a good rush.

There was a time when I thought the whole idea of social networking was juvenile. I saw every tweet, blog entry and status update as a child hanging from the monkey bars shouting at their mother for not looking. I’m not above that. No one is above that.

“Grow up!” – What does that even mean? At what age are you meant to stop enjoying positive reinforcements? Is “growing up” synonymous with being a jaded cynic? Forget that. Validate me. I’m going to be dead one day. Tell me that my observations are witty and relevant. Retweet me. Reblog me.

I walk through crowds, tangent and clothed, yet invisible and unimportant. Just like the rest of you. Some of you ‘peacock’ to get a second glance. A real life Facebook like.

“Let’s all peacock and blend in together, right?” – Seven retweets, twenty six likes.

No one will remember your name. They will all remember mine.

I catch the five fifteen train home and rarely get a seat.

“The train ride home is the only time it is socially acceptable to grind on strangers.” – Five retweets, seventeen Facebook likes.

I return home from work at around five forty five every weekday, lock the front door, finish the last of my commutable cappuccino and place the cup in the recycling bin. I remove my tie and drape it over the coat hanger on my living room door. I undo the top button of my eight ninety nine shirt and breathe a sigh of relief that the working day is done. I pull my Iphone from my pocket and scroll absently for around five minutes and then I head to the basement.

It’s quite a nice basement. It’s spacious and insulated. The floor is laminated and kept clean and the walls are decorated with art prints and watercolour canvases. I paint some of them. Check out my Instagram when all of this is over, maybe you’ll like them. The smell isn’t great down there sometimes but that’s a means to an end. I can deal with the smell. Soundproofing. That’s the important part.

After entering my basement, I turn right and head to the far wall. There will always be two objects of interest that I approach. One of them will usually be moving, the other one silent. With my Iphone still in hand, I open the camera and hold it landscape, tapping the screen to gain focus. I take several shots just to make sure that I get a good one and then I lock the screen again.

The one that moves usually begs me to let them go. They bargain and they plead. Sometimes they come on to me. I gesture to the silent and still one tied up next to them. I pull out the swollen, black tongue and turn the gaunt, lifeless face towards them and remind them what they are. All that they are.

“It doesn’t matter how many followers you have on twitter when you’re tied to a radiator in my basement.” – Twelve retweets. I wish I could see their faces when they find out.

I make the live one watch as I fill the small bathtub in the corner with lye. I make them watch as I untie the dead one and drag them over to the tub and slide them in. I then leave the two of them together overnight. By the morning, all that’s left is a brownish, black sludge and a few brittle bones. It’s always too much for the live one to stomach. I tell them again, it’s all that they are. Sex, gender, race, religion, whatever. They all look the same after a night in my tub.

I have been documenting the whole thing from the start. Just a few more and my blog can go live. I don’t know what to call it yet. Social macabre? Maybe? I don’t know, I’m going to be critical of whatever name I choose. Either way, once I share it, the internet is going to explode. I’ll be viral. A social media pandemic infecting the feeds and personal profiles of people all over the world. They’ll forget the names of my art pieces but they will remember my name.

I might even get my own hashtag.

Credit To – Radarshine

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Nihil

August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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‘The first time I heard the legend of the Mad Hangman was from another inmate in our prison. He told me that there was a man with the ability to ward off death. That he was immortal. At first I thought it was a comforting fable for people who were about to be executed, but then I heard it from other places. ’

‘His name was August Atherstone. A master executioner in Britain in the 1800s.’

‘He hanged a countless number of criminals. There were rumours that the only way August could get so effective at killing was that he performed ‘unofficial’ executions. Favours for prisons who quickly wanted rid of an inmate.’

‘August said he had seen ‘reflections of the afterlife’ in dead eyes so many times that death and life became one. He was Death’s Messenger, and through this, entered into a pact with Death Himself.’

‘Some people say he was afflicted with eternal life. Some say Death rewarded him.’

‘He walks the earth now. Waiting by the graves of his loved ones for Death to finally come for him. But he never does.’

‘They say that some cults worship August as a God. They offer him sacrifices so that they too can live forever. I tried to find them. I couldn’t. That’s why I ended up here.’

The legend of the Mad Hangman, pieced together by various letters found in an abandoned apartment.

Death Himself is a mystery; the milestone to which we measure life. We wait for him like we await an old friend, often attempting to delay his intervention, but never to defy him entirely.

He was my obsession. I longed to see the world through Death’s gaze. By the time monotony and routine had become the foundations of my existence, I had learned that life held no discernible meaning. Death would come for me, and I would be a name carved into stone, long forgotten before high winds prevented graveyard visits and overgrown wilderness masked the details of the dead on my colorless headstone. Through some divine inspiration; perhaps driven by the stale nothingness of reality, I unknowingly embarked upon a journey into the realms of the unreal.

I began contacting murderers, serial killers, terrorists, cult followers, cult leaders, mental patients, grave robbers, necrophiliacs, cannibals; any type of deranged mind I could locate the whereabouts of. Within a few months I had contacted notorious inmates such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It seems that I had a natural talent for eliciting a response from such people. I would study their victimology and work backwards, often posing as a woman, or a gay man, or a devotee of their interpretation of art. On the night Ted wrote his last letter to me, he had signed off with ‘your friend’, and it was no coincidence that he was executed the following morning. I always found it humorous how the prospect of death reveals true intentions, even from someone as experienced in the art of death as Ted was.

My interest in high-profile killers began to wane, as their stories were often elaborated to the point of fiction. My concern, then, moved onto lesser known evil. The nameless occult killer haunting the backstreets of small towns; the curious Satanist eager to offer his new God-deity his first sacrifice. After all, if I was to unlock the secrets of Death, would I not find it veiled in the unattainable depths of a morbid psyche?

What became clear through my correspondence was that although serial killers were the most egotistical people alive, they held a secret admiration for each other’s work. An admiration which existed only in the murderer’s collective conscience, never to be spoken of. It was not uncommon for me to play the part of the middle man, passing messages between psychopaths across the country. It was through this that I learnt the legend of the August Atherstone, the Mad Hangman, and his pact with Death Himself. Whenever a serial killer with occult connections was incarcerated, several murderers would try to contact them, and the subject of the Mad Hangman seldom arose.

Occasionally, I would be asked if I could contact certain people who I wasn’t familiar with. It was rare that this happened, but one name in particular kept arising; Baron. I had uncovered no details regarding such a person, but I was assured he existed. Robin Gecht informed me that Baron was an unstoppable, merciless killing machine driven by ritualistic delusions. Rod Ferrell was certain he had met Baron before, and that he was somehow affiliated with the cult which worshipped the Mad Hangman. Months of searching for this mysterious inmate yielded no results, until I received a letter from a cannibal in Britain.

‘He’s here.

There’s a cell in the basement we call the Throne Room, because it’s just a chair and nothing else. Some of the guards organise fights between inmates down there and a couple of guys claim to have seen an unknown prisoner in the Throne Room. I’ve overheard conversations between guards – he’s painted the walls with his own blood, his mouth has been sewn shut, he wears a mask, he’s been eating rats. I sometimes hear sounds coming from his cell. It isn’t screaming, or shouting, or any of the shit you usually hear in prisons at night. The noises coming from down there are not human.
I know from experience that he won’t be around long.

I’ve heard that the guards have been told to ‘get rid of him.’ They will unofficially execute him, August Atherstone style. If you want to see Baron, get here quick.

Stephen G, inmate #364, Wakefield Prison Monster Mansion’
I made arrangements to travel to Wakefield, not hesitating to leave routine and monotony behind.

Standing infront of the Monster Mansion itself, its gigantic stone walls cast a shadow on the sleepy town beneath. Cold January rain beat against the arched gates which slowly opened to reveal a gothic palace housing the most deranged criminals in England.

‘I have a visit scheduled to see Stephen Griffiths, inmate #364,’ I told the guard, who escorted me to our allocated room.

‘I’ll be supervising your meeting with Mr Griffiths,’ said the guard. He tied back his long hair with a hairband from his wrist and straightened his uniform.

‘It’s for your own safety, and to make sure nothing is given or exchanged. Do you understand?’

I agreed to the protocol, and soon found myself sitting face to face with Stephen – a sociopathic cannibal lusting for infamy. His shackled hands rested in his lap, and his gaze was primarily focused on the table between us. We made small talk, such as how I was finding my stay in England and what I did for work. Stephen’s crimes did not interest me in the slightest, nor did his life story. I had begun regular correspondence with Stephen so that my motives for entering Wakefield Prison would not be questioned. I suspected Stephen knew my true agenda, but who was he to reject friendship?

When I finally asked Stephen about what I needed to know; Baron’s whereabouts, his eyes met mine for the first time. Before Stephen could speak, however, the prison guard promptly intervened.

‘Visiting time is up,’ he said, and ushered in another prison warden to escort Stephen back to his cell. I had anticipated that this would be the case, and somehow needed to prolong my stay at the prison. The same guard forcefully ushered me out of the room and back to the courtyard.

‘Please follow me, sir,’ he said, walking in the opposite direction of the arched gates I entered from. ‘The exit is this way.’

I followed him across the empty courtyard, my visibility reduced by standard issue English weather. We passed between two stone pillars, bearing plaques honouring the architects who built Wakefield Prison. We passed through a picturesque scenic garden, decorated with benches and rose bushes. Despite its beauty, the place seemed more barren with every step we took. We eventually arrived at a spiraling concrete staircase leading down seemingly to the bottom of the world, and it wasn’t until then that I realised where I was being led. The guard was not leading me to the exit. He was leading me to where I wanted to go. His silence and blank stare told me all I need to know; he was one of us. A follower of the macabre, a seeker of Death.

Not a word was spoken between me and the guard, but like serial killers before us, we upheld a mutual silent admiration. At the bottom of the staircase the guard unlocked a steel security door which opened into a dimly-lit corridor. Once the scent of damp stone had subsided, I followed him through a narrow tunnel illuminated only by a single bulb in the distance. For the first time in my life, excitement coursed through my veins. It felt as though I was walking into the mouth of hell, and I didn’t care if I made it out alive. This was the closest I had come to Death’s realm since I first contacted John Wayne Gacy and those letters seemed like child’s play in comparison. Death had visited here; this I was certain of.

At the end of the corridor, it stood. The Throne Room, in the flesh. Just as Stephen had described in his letter. Albeit with one minor difference: the cell bore no prisoner. It was simply an empty chair, camouflaged against the grey stone wall behind.

‘I’m sorry to disappoint,’ said the guard, finally breaking the silence. ‘But Baron is no longer kept here. He was coerced into a fight to the death with another inmate just yesterday, if the rumours are to be believed.’

‘He’s dead?’ I asked.

‘Yes, or so I’m told. I didn’t witness it myself, although I had bet a lot of money on Baron to win. Such a shame.’

‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I asked.

‘There’s no death penalty in England, you see, so we have to find ways of keeping the prison population down. The official report will say that a fight broke out, resulting in the death of an inmate. No one really bats an eyelid when a criminal dies.’

‘Can you tell me anything about him?’ I asked. ‘Did you talk to him? Do you know about his crimes?

‘I can’t divulge any details. Besides, he didn’t say much. His lips were always sealed. His possessions are still in his cell if you’d like to take a look. Just don’t take anything.’

The posthumous items adorning the floor of Baron’s cell would be priceless to some of the deranged collectors I had come to know. A detailed sketch of a public execution with a sharply-dressed hangman holding a scythe. A masked man sitting atop a tombstone. Two crows encircling an empty grave. The only other item in the cell was a pack of playing cards, missing every card but one. The card in particular was the Jack of Hearts, and something had been hastily scribbled on the back.

‘355 Churchfield Terrace, WF6 4QZ’

An address. I slipped the card into my pocket when the guard was unaware. I thanked him for his time, and asked him to show me the real exit.

Grey skies set in overhead as I took shelter from the rain in the doorway of Wakefield library. My taxi arrived, ten minutes late, and took me towards my next destination.

‘That’s a ways away,’ the driver said. ‘Be about an hour.’

He was not wrong. The journey was made more treacherous by the sterility of the vast Wakefield countryside. Endless acres of woodland, with only hints of blackened skies visible through impossibly high trees. My drop off destination was what seemed to be in the middle of a marsh. No distinguishable path led the way and all signs of urban life had long been depleted.

‘Here?’ I asked.

‘No, not here, dummy,’ the driver said. ‘This is as far as I can go without driving into a bog. Keep walking that way,’ he said, pointing into the black expanse of trees. ‘Should come to a few houses eventually. Some right weirdos living ’round here.’

I followed his instructions as he drove away. I struggled my way across dead wildlife and broken tree branches, eventually arriving at remote territory resembling a domestic residence. It was more of an abandoned farm, but the worn plaque on the broken gate told me that this was 335.

Exactly what I would be greeted with, I was unsure. All I knew was that Baron had brought me here. Overgrown grass and weeds led a makeshift path to the front door of the house, which – despite knocking on for several minutes – no one answered. I edged around the side of the house, eventually stumbling upon a small window. A dim light flickered off the reflection of the glass, allowing me to make out a handful of details inside. A trophy cabinet. A white leather robe hanging from the wall. A painting of a tentacled eyeball.

‘I knew you’d come,’ said a hushed voice behind me.

I turned around, ready to run.

‘I just needed to know you’d take the initiative.’

A familiar silhouette appeared from the shadows. Waist-length black hair, no longer tied back.

‘My apologies for not being honest with you earlier. I couldn’t risk our conversation being overheard. I planted that address in Baron’s cell. My address. I needed you to come here.’

‘This is your house?’

‘Correct.’ he said. ‘I’ll explain everything soon, and I assure you you’re in no danger. Would you follow me please?’

The prison guard, or who at least I believed to be just a prison guard, led into his decayed farmhouse. Each room was more decrepit than the last, some of them barely held together by loose wooden panels. One of the rooms had a semblance of order; perhaps a living room, since lost to domestic neglect. A corridor led to what I assumed to be the room I had stared in from outside the house. The entranceway appeared different to the rest. It had been cared for. It boasted three steel padlocks and was made of corrugated iron.

‘Very few people have ever stepped foot in this room. Or even laid eyes on it. Please do not touch anything.’

The iron door took an age to swing open. Orange light from bare bulbs illuminated the rectangular room, showcasing wall-to-wall glass cabinets. Headless mannequins adorned the corners of the room, decorated in clothing from a previous age. Bizarre paintings of otherworldly demons hung in black frames.

‘I’ve read all of your letters,’ the guard said. ‘Your preoccupation with death goes beyond obsession, to the point where you are willing to travel blindly in the vain hope you might uncover something the rest of the world doesn’t know.’

I walked up to the first glass cabinet, unsure where to look first.

‘I know this,’ he continued, ‘because I’m the same. Every item in this room has, at some point, passed through the hands of Death Himself. All the artwork you see has painted by murderers, serial killers, sometimes with their own blood. The offspring of demented creativity and the paintbrush. I own genuine torture devices, used centuries ago in public executions. I am in possession of the bones of the most deformed man to have ever lived, who was hanged from a tree as he was thought to be an adversary of God. I own occult artifacts, murder weapons, a piece of skin said to be torn from the Devil himself.’

He walked towards a mannequin wearing a white mask and a frayed leather robe. Infront of the mannequin stood an empty altar. A visual straight from the scene of a cult sacrifice, albeit its human elements replaced with lifeless ornaments.

‘This is my collection. This is my obsession. All I’m missing is the ultimate item.’

His eyes glanced towards the empty altar, and took a breath to indicate that the piece was not wholly complete. That something should be perched atop; some priceless tome or grimoire.

‘Which is?’ I asked.

‘Please step this way. I have a surprise for you.’

A door – camouflaged between two glass trophy cases – became apparent when the guard placed his hand on its gold doorknob. He opened the door outward and proudly stepped back, as if revealing a master painting he had spent his life creating.

It appeared to be a storage room; perhaps for items deemed not important enough for viewing privileges in the guard’s personal museum of the dead, yet not. A sudden influx of shock blinded my rationality. How long I remained silent for, I will never know, but between breaths I eventually managed to ask the question:

‘Who is that?’

I needed not to wait for his answer. A man, bound with rope and chain sat in a chair, unconscious. Any other time, I would not have recognised him. His pale features and thin blonde hair – uncut for decades – resembled no one I had seen before. My realisation came when the prisoner’s head lulled to the side, revealing lips which had been somehow torn to pieces. His mouth had swelled to twice its normal size, and his lips pulsated with holes and fresh scars anew.

‘I apologise for showing him to you in such horrific appearance,’ said the guard, ‘his lips had been sewn shut for years. I’m no surgeon. I couldn’t help the trauma.’

For the first time, I felt that maybe I had come too close to Death. Maybe this was all some kind of error, and Death was not my reason or my obsession. Maybe something else entirely; literature, painting, poetry. Maybe I could take solace from a medium where Death was not immediate, not presented within touching distance inside a glass case.

‘Please, explain.’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I want any part of this.’

‘Being in the inner circle in the prison system gives me access to the information I need. The amount of inmates who pass through us without the public’s knowledge is immense. From there I can locate the killers who interest me, and be the first to get hold of their possessions. I convinced the courts to send Baron to Wakefield so that we could keep him hidden in the Throne Room. Most prisons are reluctant to take the high profile inmates because it’s not worth the hassle, so the courts were glad to send him to us.’

‘High profile?’ I asked. ‘No one knows who he is.’

‘Because we managed to keep his whereabouts a secret. Regardless, our instructions were simple; keep him hidden from public, starve him to death then claim it was self-inflicted. But last week the instructions from the courts changed; kill him immediately. The authorities had unearthed more of his victims, and they found a word carved into their skins – Nihil.’

‘Which means?’

‘This isn’t the first case we’ve heard of with this word being carved into victim’s flesh. The problem is it’s been occurring all over the country. Different victim types, different methods of body disposal. At first it was assumed to be some sort of underground trend; maybe killers were somehow contacting each other and this was their way of showing off.’

Thinking back through my correspondence with inmates, the word had made vague appearances in the sign offs of some of the lesser known murderers, often those with connections to the occult or Satanism. I assumed it to be a farewell of those initiated into Death’s circle.

‘It took me three days, but I finally got Baron to speak. Everyone who knows about him believes he’s dead, so I could do what I wanted to him.’

The guard cast a maniacal glance towards Baron’s shattered ankles. What little consequence was threatened as a result of his torture had manifested itself into violent interrogation. The guard did not strike me as psychotic, merely motivated by desperation at a rarer-than-rare opportunity.

‘I needed to know about Nihil. About what it meant. But what he told me was a lot more interesting.’

The guard leaned down and spoke to Baron’s swaying head.

‘Tell him what you told me, about the Executioner.’

A soft voice eventually began to speak, slowly, as if narrating a story he had told a thousand times. His arms and legs still shackled, his body leaning forward as if independent from his thoughts. He recanted the tale of the Mad Hangman, applying details of the story lost during its telling through the ages. Night turned to morning, and myth became reality. I left the guard’s house in the early hours, coming ever closer to a chance meeting with Death.

The guard financed me considerably. Money was no object to him, or so it seemed. Or at the very least he was willing to part with a generous sum of money for what he deemed ‘the ultimate item.’

August documented everything he knew about Death in his journal. A book unlocking the secrets of existence. It’s in possession of a cult who worship August as God, and his Book of Death as their Bible. A cult I was part of. They have used it to enter the realm of immortality.

Baron was certain he knew the whereabouts of the book, and even claimed to have seen it himself. I followed his directions to the letter, taking the west-bound train out of Redditch until it came to a stop in a tunnel while the tracks changed. I exited the train through a window and hid in the tunnel until I could safely move. I followed the tracks out into the ensuing greenery and into a backdoor town called Logslow. What windows were not whitewashed were boarded up, and a grey tint illuminated every building and path. After asking multiple Logslow residents for directions, and them denying its existence, I eventually found what Baron had assured me was August’s eternal home; Logslow Cemetery.

I waited until dusk and scaled the cemetery walls. The gigantic bolted gates showed no signs of allowing visitors. Nervous adrenaline propelled me into the waist-high grass from the atop wall, barely checking for any dangers below me. The graveyard was a forgotten sanctuary, unspoiled by human hands for decades. The dead here were calm; almost certainly.

I waded through grass and across frozen mud until I discovered the tombstone I was searching for. A blind angel atop a black headstone; the resting place of August Atherstone’s wife. In Baron’s version of events, August came to this grave after madness had claimed him. Unable to cope with the grief of seeing his loved ones pass away, he attempted to dig up the remains of his deceased lover. When he failed, he simply sat in this graveyard waiting for Death to take him, but Death never came.

I followed a dirt trail leading from the blind angel grave to a nameless mausoleum paying an unsung tribute to the dead.

The tomb leads below the graveyard. A private burial ground. It’s where they buried the men that August hanged. What you are you searching for is down there.

I followed a spiralling path into blackness, keeping my body against the wall. The shuffling sounds I heard as I ventured further in I attributed to vermin and large insects. I continued down, trying not to avert my eyes towards the few creatures which grazed my neck and hands.

Follow along the left-hand wall all the way down. There is a gap when you think you’ve come to the end. Get through it. It’s in that room. Take matches, there are torches along the walls you can light.

I struggled through the gap, barely wide enough to pass through a child. I felt along the walls and came to the first lamp, which lit without issue. I welcomed the sudden influx of light, heat offering a secondary comfort. I lit as many torches as I could find, and came to realise that the burial chamber I stood in was colossal, perhaps stretching the entire terrain of the graveyard above. Each lamp I lit exposed another until the whole room shone with radiant orange flame.

It took me several minutes of stunned silence to overcome the beauty before me. The room’s perfect architecture, its macabre decorations of bone and flesh. Coffins lined the floors, carcasses lay draped across detached headstones. Decomposed bodies hung from the walls in mimic execution; a nightmarish tribute to the legend of the Mad Hangman. It became clear why the entrance to this room was a single rupture in stone; the room had been sealed off. This crypt was intended to be inaccessible, yet it had been breached. Sanctuary was not to be found here. A sense of intrusion befell me, and looking back I vaguely made out a silhouetted figure between two lamps, watching me from behind the ruptured entranceway. He did not move as I backed away. My senses told me to sprint, and I ran. Far back into the catacombs beyond the reach of light. I trampled bones and tripped over corpses in my haste, but didn’t once slow down. Footsteps followed behind me. Slow, innocuous footsteps, cementing my fear that somewhere in this crypt I would reach an end. I found a darkened corner and hid. Perhaps awaiting my demise. Why now? Why, when I was so close to my answer to Death’s enigma?

I waited, breathing in damp air and the scent of putrid decay. I waited hours, possibly days. I will never know. My senses were rendered absent by fear and obscurity. My body failed me. It wasn’t until the unlit torch I leaned against brightened, and I was greeted face to face with an entity; a lifeless figure devoid of shape. A deformed mass of hanging cloth, his face concealed with a white mask. He said nothing, and stared at me with vacant eyes. He was not alone. Behind him, replicas of the bizarre man appeared. All wearing identical robes and masks.

I was terrified. The cultists held me against the cold stone floor. I protested my innocence; that Baron had sent me here. He had told me all about the Nihil Cult. He told me of their devotion to Death, and that August was their God. He told me that they kill as followers, so that each cultist can live in a world between worlds; in Death’s realm. Sacrifices to their God meant eternal life, and eternal life meant immortality.

My final vision was of an execution. The colossal burial chamber was my courtroom, and a horde of Death-worshipping cultists my jury. I pleaded with them to spare my life; at first with declarations of my acquaintance with Baron, and secondly that I was only there to retrieve the Book for a collector.

‘Baron failed his initiation. He is to be removed from paradise.’

The speaker; August. The hangman himself, passing judgement from atop a magnificent throne of human heads. His voice low, yet piercing. His features barely visible through withered skin.

‘And the book. The most treasured item in existence. The book is what keeps people searching. The book is the whispers of the condemned and children’s fears embodied. This so called Book of Death does not exist. A myth, created to bring people like you to us.’

And with these words, consciousness faded.

An afterlife called out to me. I awoke in the same crypt I had died. August’s throne sat empty. The gallows on which I drew my last breath announced no successful execution. The chamber lay desolate, no cultists in sight. I searched the cavern, hoping to find something which could explain recent events. I made my way out of the unending burial chamber and back into the graveyard, and what I saw was not a world I recognised.
At the center of the cemetery was a gallows, already with a condemned prisoner attached to a rope. A smartly-dressed hangman dropped him to his death to the applause of a thousand-strong audience baying for his blood. I watched his lifeless body be removed, and the rope be cut up and passed to audience members craving a token of death.

I now realise why August informed me that the Book was merely a myth. In life, yes. It exists to lure Death-worshippers to the burial chamber of a living Death God. For sacrifice? Perhaps. But I now realised that I was not executed; I was initiated.

I now see the world as I saw it before, but with remnants of death haunting every avenue. Along every road and on every street corner, murder victims replay their dying moments. Severed heads decorate barbed wire fences, and streets are awash with the wreckages of fatal accidents and bloodshed.

This place was not an afterlife, yet it was. It was neither hell nor heaven, but somewhere between. A private purgatory. A paradise in black and grey. This was Death’s realm; reserved for the chosen few who seeked him.

I returned to Wakefield. The guard waited for me to return with his ultimate relic, but I never did. I found it amusing to watch his sanity gradually slip. I eventually killed him, along with Baron. The guard’s occult collection proved useful in locating further devotees of Death, cementing my position as a member of the Nihil Cult.

I was assured that neither Baron nor the guard would be granted access to Nihil. They would simply pass out of existence, never to lust or desire again.

I’m afraid I can’t reveal my name, nor the exact whereabouts of Logslow Cemetery. Just know that I exist in your world, yet I live in Nihil; Death’s realm. I have no choice but to continue to walk the earth. Undead, yet unliving. Seeking Death more with each passing day.

Credit To – Joe Turner

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