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July 2015 Discussion Post & Upcoming Writing Challenge Theme: Summer Ghost Stories

July 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM

This month’s discussion post has two purposes: one, it’s a normal discussion post. Clearly. Secondly, I’m using it as a way to give you guys a heads-up on the next writing challenge theme – and the topic for both discussion and challenge are one and the same, once again!

In the past, we’ve discussed the basic question of whether or not you all believe in ghosts. It’s summer for me, and as July/August are pretty traditional ghost story seasons for many parts of the world, I thought it might be fun to do a “summer ghost story” theme for both our monthly chat topic as well as the next Creepypasta writing contest!

Please use this post to share any fun, ghost-related experiences that you’ve had, especially if they happened in the summertime. Have you ever explored somewhere that’s said to be haunted? Have you ever seen a ghost? Do you use ouija boards, and if so, do you believe that they contact the spirits of the dead? Have you ever tried to play Hyaku-Monogatari? Feel free to answer these questions or any other related thoughts!

I’m also hoping that this post will help provide inspiration for our next writing challenge: writing a creepypasta related to the theme of summer ghost stories.

I want to make this clear: the dates for the upcoming contest are not yet set in stone – the contest submission form will go live at the same time as the normal submission form. I’m currently hoping to be ready to re-open submissions in mid to late July, extending both the contest and the open period until mid-August. Yes, it will be a short open period, so that I can (in theory, at least) process it quickly enough to comfortable re-open once again in October, just in time for Halloween. Knocking on wood, here!

More details about the contest will be released when I formally announce the dates, but I thought I’d give you guys the opportunity to start working on your entries now by sharing the theme. It will likely operate similarly – if not exactly – like the last Creepypasta writing challenge, so please check out that post if you’re curious. I can also reveal that the physical prize this time around will be a package that contains this Ghost Meter EMF Sensor and a paperback copy of The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide: Protection Techniques for Encounters With The Paranormal by Michelle Belanger.

Please save specific questions about the contest for the actual contest post, however – let’s keep this discussion post on the topic of ghost stories!

As always, have fun and I look forward to reading your responses!

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Wounds

July 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Note: There is some gore in this pasta. If you believe this will bother you, please skip today’s story.

His hazel eyes skimmed over the words for what he knew had to be the twentieth time. His pupils darted back and forth over the lines, dancing rhythmically as they flowed toward the bottom of the page yet again. Braxton could feel his heartbeat quicken with each successive pass over the words. Small beads of perspiration began to form on his forehead, causing it to glisten under the soft, white light shining down from above his head. He felt a sudden pain in his jaw; he unclenched his teeth, which had tightened without his realizing it, relieving the growing pressure in his jaws. He could feel a low tremble building within his muscles, a product of the fear that was beginning to course through his veins, turning his blood icy.

He inhaled deeply, holding it momentarily before releasing it in a powerful whoosh. He closed his eyes tightly. He stood like that, motionless, for almost a full minute, the only movement coming from his fingers, which ran lightly over the pale white sheet of paper with the typed message. He listened to the low sshhh sound that wafted up to his ears from the paper. Before realizing that he was doing it, Braxton tore the paper in half and crumpled the two pieces into a tiny ball and hurled it across his small living room, where it bounced lightly from the wall and fell behind the tattered couch.

Braxton put his face in his hands, trying to regain his composure. Tears of fear and rage stung the corners of his eyes. He let out a scream, which was muffled by the palms of his hands. He raised his hands and ran his fingers roughly through his dark hair. His mind reeled at the implications contained within those now-crumpled words. Questions clouded his thoughts, prohibiting any course of action from being taken.

Where did this letter come from? Who brought it? How did this person get in and out of his house? And, most importantly, how did this person know the things that they did? Hadn’t he always been careful? He had always planned meticulously; hadn’t he?

Braxton felt his knees tremble slightly as his legs tried to give out. The room tilted to the left as a wave of lightheadedness washed over him, almost sending him to the dirty, yellowed linoleum floor. He reached out blindly, grasping until his fingers found purchase, feeling the smooth, yet slightly bumpy, texture of duct tape. He slid the barstool, well past its best days, towards him, scraping his palm on a torn piece of the vinyl cushion as he did so, and dropped down onto it. Using the first two fingers on each hand, he rubbed his temples softly, trying to focus.

This person obviously knows me, he thought. Somehow they know things that they have no way of knowing. In all the time he had led his double life, carrying out his acts of mischief (to him it was merely mischief. To others it was far more serious), he had never slipped up. He never spoke of his deeds. Under no circumstances did he keep souvenirs or trophies. A single camera, Polaroid or otherwise, was never used. And every single field trip that he took was at least three hours away from his home. He always did the proper reconnaissance beforehand, checking the weather, traffic flow of the town, and the habits of the local civilians. So how could this person possibly know what they do?

Braxton opened his eyes and sat upright as a sudden revelation, what he knew to be nothing but pure truth, dawned on him. The thought came with such ferocity that it almost bowled him over; literally almost knocking him to the floor as he sat up straight.

It’s a hoax, he thought. Someone broke in and left that note because they thought that it would be funny. It just struck a nerve because, by some stroke of luck, the house they chose happened to contain a resident with secrets.

Braxton stood up and began pacing the length of his small house. He nodded thoughtfully as the idea worked itself out within his mind. He slowly convinced himself that this could be the only plausible explanation. The idea that someone might know who he actually was was inconceivable. It was downright ludicrous.

What did the note really say, anyway, his train of thought continued as he stepped out of the shower and began to towel himself off. I know exactly who you are and exactly what you’ve done? Well, that was just too vague for his taste. If anyone really knew anything, they’d say something to prove what they knew. Give an example to authenticate.

Despite his best attempts to reassure himself, Braxton found himself obsessed with the locks, certain that he had forgotten to lock one, leaving him unable to go to bed. He walked through the small, two-bedroom house checking each lock, trying to raise the window afterwards. Once he had made his rounds, he began at the beginning once more, double- and triple-checking the locks.

Stop! he screamed to himself on his fourth pass through the house. This is insane. This type of scared, nervous behavior is the intended result. I won’t succumb to that. Now, it’s time to go to bed. Leave the locks alone.

And, surprisingly enough, he was able to do just that. He curled up in his bed, grasping his pillow in a tight embrace, and drifted almost immediately to sleep. He slept that way until he awoke the next morning, when he was greeted with absolute terror.

The thin band of yellow morning sunlight slowly stretched across the bed from the crack in the curtains as the sun rose. Braxton rolled over, still clutching dearly at his pillow, shifting the light into his eyes. His eyelids fluttered lightly as he gingerly rose from his sleep. He yawned loudly and stretched, groaning as he did so. His back popped audibly, and he chuckled at the thought of his age finally beginning to catch up to him.

“Good morning, Braxton,” a gruff male voice said from behind him.

Braxton flipped over quickly and scrambled away from the intruder. Reaching the edge of his mattress, his hand slipped, sending him toppling backwards. His head made a hollow thonk! as it connected with the floor. A piercing pain tore through his mind, and he could feel a trickle of warmth that he assumed was blood begin to run down the back of his head and neck. He pushed the pain aside, focusing his attention on the sudden unwanted guest.

“Who the hell are you?” he wanted to scream. He wanted to shout at the intruder. To demand answers. He opened his mouth to do just that, but only a small squeak managed to escape his throat. Instead, Braxton did the only thing that his body would allow; he continued backing away, relishing the illusion of safety that the distance managed to bring, until his back hit the wall just three feet away. He stared at the intruder, eyes wide. His breath was harsh and ragged. He inhaled deeply, unable to control himself. A wave of lightheadedness filled him, the quick, panicked breaths threatening to lose consciousness as he hyperventilated.

“Calm down,” the stranger instructed. “You shouldn’t lose consciousness right now. We have some things to discuss, you and I. I would think that it’s in your best interest to pay attention.”

The stranger sat in the old leather chair in the corner of Braxton’s bedroom. He was lounged back comfortably; legs spread wide, elbows resting on the arms of the chair. A sense of utter calmness radiated from him, as though breaking and entering was the most natural act in the world. A pair of smoky grey eyes stared out from behind the black ski mask that he wore. Those eyes were cold, calculating, showing no remorse. Light glinted from the scalpel that he held in his hands as he twitched it absentmindedly.

“Wh… who are you?” Braxton’s voice cracked and quavered, despite his best attempts to keep it level.

“That isn’t important.” The stranger leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “You may call me Teacher, for I am here to educate you.”

Braxton’s mind reeled. He fought desperately to understand the situation, but comprehension stayed just beyond his grasp. His face twisted into a look of confusion.

“You have led a horrible life,” the stranger continued, seeing the bewildered look that Braxton wore. “Your education will be one to show you the consequences of such a life; that is why I am your teacher. It has fallen upon me to show you the error of your ways.”

Braxton opened his mouth to protest, to deny the allegations that had been laid at his feet, but immediately closed it, a single sound unuttered, when the stranger raised his hand and shook his head. The gravity in the intruder’s movement said all that he needed to know: there was no bullshitting his way out of this. No quick thinking, followed up with expertly chosen words, would convince this threatening persona that he had broken into the wrong house, chosen the wrong pupil. Instead, Braxton remained silent. What the stranger said next was enough to confirm both his conclusion and his worst fears.

“August 10, 1994,” he began. “You were ten years old. In those days you had an affinity for fire. That night you snuck out of your window, a box of matches that sat on the mantel in hand. You wandered the streets for over an hour before finding the right location. It was a small, wooden house a few blocks from your own. You struck the match, using it to light a pile of dried sticks and leaves that you had placed by the front door.”

Braxton’s eyes continued to grow as he listened to the details of his life being recalled to him. The interloper spoke in a monotone voice, reciting the tale as if he were reading from cue cards.

“When the pile was lit, you rang the doorbell and ran. What you were unaware of was that an elderly woman lived there, all alone. She had taken out her hearing aid before bed, so she didn’t hear the doorbell. It didn’t take long for the old, dried wood to catch fire, quickly setting the house ablaze. The woman died in her bed. She never had a chance.”

The Teacher stood up, staring down at Braxton with reproach. “That was the first person to die at your hands, but it wasn’t the last. Although it was an accident, you found that you had a taste for murder. You craved it. It became an addiction, your own private heroin.”

He began to pace slowly around the room, hands resting behind his back, his empty hand clasped loosely around his wrist. “The time has come to right the wrongs. Now is the time of your redemption.”

“How do you know all this?” The terror rang through clearly in Braxton’s words, teeming behind each syllable.

“I don’t think that really matters; do you? The fact remains that I know. I know each and every detail of your horrid actions. Everything.”

He stopped pacing and stared down at Braxton, his cold eyes studying him calculatedly. Braxton felt as if those eyes saw past his outer appearance. It was almost as if they peered beyond the physical and into the metaphysical, into the nature of his soul. How else would he know such things? Those were things that no one had any way of knowing, or even had any right to know.

The black ski mask shifted, and Braxton knew that the man was smiling beneath that layer of cotton.

“I even know about the man that you planned to kill when you took your vacation from work in two weeks. You planned to do it slowly, to try out torture for a change.” His voice was grave. Braxton knew that the smile he wore beneath the mask was only for show. Perhaps it held back that raw emotion that he could sense lying behind the words, waiting to break forth.

“Jackson Humphries is his name,” he continued. “A middle-aged, mid-level executive at a pharmaceutical company. He’s a lonely man, but a good man. He gives regularly to charity, volunteers at a homeless shelter two weekends a month. You intend to subdue him at his house, keep him in his basement, and slowly torture him until he begs for death.”

Braxton was taken aback. The precision in these accusations was uncanny. It just wasn’t possible. What was going on here? Was this strange person some sort of demon sent to punish him for his deeds? How could he know things that he had only thought of, things that had never been voiced aloud, let alone written?

His eyes shifted upwards. He was just beneath his bedroom window. The bed separated him from the stranger. If he were to act quickly, he could be on his feet and dive through the window before the intruder had time to react. Braxton shifted his weight. His muscles tensed, prepared to move as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

“I don’t think that it would be wise to try and escape.” It was almost as if he had read Braxton’s mind. “To do so would only cause me to chase you. That would anger me. Anger could cause me to skip to the last lesson of your education, the lesson reserved for the possibility that you cannot or will not learn the others. Death.”

He was stuck and he knew it. Braxton decided on an alternate route. Simple denial. He licked his lips. Fear had sucked the moisture from his mouth, leaving only the horrid taste of morning breath in the barren wasteland that was his oral cavity. He took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

“You’ve got the wrong guy,” he began. He no longer tried to hide the fear that drove his stammering words. Fear was good; it could destroy someone’s resolve. This he knew from experience. In the beginning of his mischief-making career, he had almost allowed several victims to slip through his grasp due to the weakening of his resolve from witnessing their absolute horror. He could only hope that the same was possible in this situation.

“I don’t know why you think I’ve done these things, but you’re mistaken.” He worked up some tears, letting them spill over and slide down his cheeks. He breathed in deep, wet sobs.

The stranger was over the bed in a flash, almost a blur of movement. He pressed the sliver of metal that was his scalpel blade, an eighth of an inch thick and sharpened to a deadly precision, against Braxton’s neck. Braxton didn’t need to see it to know that the blade was just above his carotid artery, the blade digging into his flesh. Only a bit more pressure, probably less than a foot-pound, and the vein would slice open, and he would bleed out in just a matter of minutes.

“Do. Not. Test. Me.,” the stranger commanded through clenched teeth. His face was inches from Braxton’s close enough that he could feel the weak puffs of breath, muffled by the mask. “I am giving you an opportunity to make amends, to rectify the wrongs that you have committed. Try my patience and I will kill you in ways so efficient that your final thoughts will be amazement at my prowess. Do you understand?” He pulled the blade from Braxton’s neck, revealing the thin cut that had been formed in his skin, a solitary bead of blood welling up.

“Yes,” Braxton stammered.

“Very well.” The stranger stood straight. He stared down at his pupil. “Sit on the bed. We’ve wasted enough time. Your lessons must begin now.”

“There are three lessons for you to learn,” the Teacher said once Braxton was situated on the foot of the bed. He stood across the room, leaning against the wall directly opposite Braxton. He had once again resumed the twirling of the scalpel. Whether his intention was to intimidate him, or if it was just a nervous habit, some deep need to keep his hands busy, Braxton knew not.

“Physical, mental, and emotional,” he continued. “Whenever you commit your heinous acts, you inflict pain of tremendous magnitude in these three areas on not only your victims, but their loved ones as well. It is for these reasons that you shall suffer greatly in these three areas. Do you understand what you are being told?”

Braxton nodded his understanding. He stared at the Teacher with a blank expression. Some part of him was still unable to accept that this was really happening. That part screamed that it wasn’t possible, that it was, absolutely had to be, a dream.

“I will not administer these punishments,” the Teacher went on to say. “There is no knowledge to be gained in this. Instead, it will be you who does this. Just as you administered this pain to your many victims. Your tasks will be set before you for you to accomplish on your own. Once these are completed, I will take my leave of you. Permanently. I will return later. Whether it be tonight, tomorrow, or next week, you will not know. You have until the sun sets to complete the tasks I have given you in their entirety.”

He crossed the room in a few quick strides. He leaned down, putting his face directly in front of Braxton’s, his hands resting on his bent knees. The anger in his eyes had dissipated, leaving only the gravity of his message.

“I cannot impress upon you enough the severity of the punishment should you fail to do as I have instructed. There is no escape from this. There is no ‘easy out’. You must follow the instructions to the letter. I will know if you do not. If you fail to do as I have asked, I will be forced to teach you the fourth and final lesson.”

Braxton, although terrified by what the answer would be, had to ask, “What’s the final lesson?”

“The answer should be obvious. Your education will end in the same place that your extracurricular activities did: death.”

Tears began to stream down Braxton’s face in thick rivers. He could feel them plopping gently onto his bare skin as they fell from his cheeks to his bare chest.

“Why are you doing this to me?” His voice was thick and watery.

“Why did you do what you did to the others? You must reform. You must learn the error of your ways. If you do not, you cannot be allowed to continue, to inflict this pain on anyone else. It ends today, one way or the other.”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out three envelopes. In thick, black ink a number was printed in the center of each. He handed the envelopes to Braxton, who made no move to take them.

“Take them,” he commanded, his voice deep and guttural.

Tears fell with a renewed vigor as Braxton raised a shaking hand to receive the proffered envelopes. He wiped away the thick liquid that was running freely from his nose.

“Sunset tonight,” the Teacher reminded him. “Contacting the police will do nothing more than waste the precious time that you have. The fourth lesson will only be prolonged until they’re no longer protecting you. Like I said before, there is no escape.”

With that, he turned and left the room. His movements were quick and soundless, fluid and graceful.

Braxton sat, motionless, for almost a full minute. His entire body felt numb. Had that really just happened? If it weren’t for the envelopes that he held in his hand and the steady throb in his skull from falling from the bed in his mad scramble away upon awakening, he would be inclined to think that it hadn’t. Without moving his head, he cast his eyes downward in a desultory manner. He stared at the envelopes, seeing them, but still unable to feel them in his hand. Still in a daze, he stood and walked into the kitchen.

Pulling up the battered stool, he sat down at the counter and placed the envelopes on the counter before him. Spreading them out, he looked at each one closely. There was nothing extravagant about them, nothing more than plain, white envelopes. The numbers that had been printed on them were sequential, numbered one through three. He ran his fingers over the face of each envelope, then circled back, picking each one up and feeling it individually. Each of the three seemed to contain a single sheet of paper baring almost no weight whatsoever.

The thought crossed his mind to call the police. He dismissed this quickly, not seeing any way that this wouldn’t bring his favorite pastime to light. They would need an explanation, some reason as to why the psychopath had chosen him as a target. At best, the police would have no evidence, but would watch him carefully from now on. That would mean that he would have to quit. He didn’t think he could. Murder was like a drug, and he was addicted. Yes, he had found his own private heroin, without the use of a needle. Well, sometimes needles were used, but never on himself. He couldn’t help but smile at his own little joke.

He scooped up the envelope embossed with the number one. May as well get this over with. He glanced up at the clock on the stove in the kitchen. It read 8:07. He thought that the sun was setting around eight pm. That gave him about twelve hours to do whatever needed to be done. That should be plenty of time, right? He twirled the envelope in his hands for a moment, hesitating, before finally ripping the end off and sliding out the paper. He unfolded it quickly, his eyes widening as he read the words:

Mental

Before their deaths, you, intentionally or not, put each and every one of your victims through a rigorous mental torture. In the time before their deaths, they battled with themselves over several issues: why was this happening to them, what had they done to deserve such a fate, and, most importantly, whether they would live or die.

It is your turn. You know why this ordeal has been set before you. You have even been given the reason that you deserve this fate. Whether you live or die is completely up to you. In essence, your mental task is quite easy, compared to the trials of your victims. It is a challenge of memory. I want to see how much respect you have for your victims. This could possibly take all day, or it could take no more than an hour, to complete, it all depends on you.

Do you remember all of your victims? Or are they nothing more than tools to help you get your next fix, used and then discarded, from both mind and memory? We shall see.

Your eighth victim. Do you remember her? Do you remember where she lived? In that location her husband will be at the library all day. If you can get to him, find who he is, and confess every deed that you inflicted upon his wife to him, you may move on to the next task. He is well aware of your coming and the information that you bring to him. There are no cameras in the library; your identity will be safe, for now.

Braxton put the paper on the counter. He felt a burning in his chest and realized that he had forgotten to breathe. His hands trembled uncontrollably. Was he really meant to confess to the husband of his victim? Very well. If that was how it was to be, then so be it.

The name of his eighth victim jumped to his mind instantly. Tabitha Kinchen. He knew the names, faces, location, and how he disposed of each and every one of his multitude of victims, as unlikely as that may seem. From the moment that he had decided that he enjoyed killing and wished to pursue it further, he knew that he would never take a trophy. That would be reckless. It served as nothing more than the noose that tightened should the authorities ever catch wind of what was happening. No, he would not be so careless. Instead, he trained himself to remember each detail with clarity. Should he ever feel the need to reminisce, which he did frequently, as most do, all he had to do was look within himself to experience that joy and exaltation once more.

Braxton threw on some clothes: a pair of faded jeans and an old tee shirt. He grabbed a second shirt as he walked out of the bedroom. He grabbed his keys from the hook by the door and left his house quickly.

At this early hour, it took only twenty minutes to reach the small town where he had first spotted Tabitha. She was early in his career, before he had established his three hour boundary line, back when he was so naïve as to think that he couldn’t be caught, that he was smarter than the police. He had escaped capture and imprisonment several times before he rethought his plans and strategies, turning him into the efficient, ghost-like killer that he now was.

He parked his vehicle around the block from the library’s entrance. You could never be too careful as to who saw you coming and going. Grabbing the spare shirt, he tucked it into his back pocket snugly. He walked casually around the block and into the library.

He saw Tabitha’s husband almost instantly. He had watched the two together many times before he had ever approached her for the first time: eating dinner, leaving the movies, strolls through the park, once they even forgot to shut the curtains in the room and he watched as they made love (he watched for only a moment. He wasn’t a pervert. He never touched or raped his victims, male or female). Even if he hadn’t previously known who to look for, he would have been the obvious choice. The ten or so years since Braxton had last seen the man had not been kind. His face had a sallow, sunken look. His pale skin was hidden behind his mangy beard. His eyes still appeared to hide the grief of his loss, and darted around the room suspiciously, waiting for the one who would be approaching him. His dark hair was long and unkempt, probably hadn’t been brushed in ages. The clothes he wore were wrinkled and stained. Braxton thought that if he walked closer, he would pick up the aroma of body odor and despair. He tapped his foot rapidly, and constantly wrung his hands together nervously.

Braxton cocked his head to the side as he watched. Was the plan to make him feel guilty? If so, it wasn’t working. He had learned how to turn off his conscious many years ago. Yes, he was barely a teenager when he stomped on his Jiminy Cricket, squashing it out of existence forever.

He looked around until he found the sign that he wanted. He walked up to the anxious fellow. Without breaking stride, he nudged him with his foot as he walked by, grabbing the man’s attention.

“Bathroom. Now.” Braxton told him, and headed towards the bathroom sign that he had spotted. He never stopped to look back. The fool would follow; he was pushed by the unknown, too driven not to.

Braxton swung the door open, satisfied that the bathroom was empty. Never too cautious, he walked down the aisle of stalls, pushing the doors open one at a time. At the end, he turned, watching the door and waiting patiently.

“Lock it,” he told the grief-stricken husband as he entered the bathroom.

The man did as he was told and turned to face Braxton. “I was told that you know what happened to my wife.” His voice was anxious, his words eager for the answers that he had waited almost a decade for.

“Who told you that?” Braxton asked. The odds of this guy knowing were slim, but, hey, it was worth a shot.

He shrugged. “I never met him. He called me and told me that if I wanted answers, I needed to be here all day. That the one with the answers would be meeting me.” The pain in his eyes had faded now. In its place was a desperate need for closure, almost a sense of pleading. “Please tell me if you know.”

“She’s dead,” Braxton said coldly. “Her body is buried five miles north of here, down a small road. Tinkerton Way is the name. On your left will be a field. In that field is a small copse of trees in the northeast corner. She’s buried in the center of those trees.”

The man wore a look of bewilderment. “How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s easy,” Braxton smiled smugly. “I put her there.”

In a flash, the man was across the bathroom. He attacked without warning.

Although he knew he should have been expecting it, Braxton was caught totally off guard. The man’s haggard, weak appearance had been deceptive, and he had been lulled into a false sense of security by it. Perhaps he was only fueled by hate and pain, but Tabitha’s husband’s strength and speed had been well hidden beneath that exhausted exterior.

He crossed the bathroom in a few short strides. Before Braxton knew what was happening, the man had his shirt firmly clenched in one hand, and was swinging fiercely with the balled up fist of his other. Braxton’s vision blurred as his head was jerked to the side from the force of the blows. Bursts of light exploded across his field of vision. Braxton felt unconsciousness closing in, reducing his vision to a tiny prick of light as the darkness consumed him, as a volley of blows landed with concussive force.

Braxton went limp. The assailant released him, allowing him to slump to the floor in a heap. He could feel the heat rising from his battered face. His eye was already beginning to swell, leaving only a small slit open. He could feel his mouth and cheeks expanding as the puffiness began to break forth. Blood flowed freely from his nose and a small rill poured from his burst lips. The taste of copper was strong in his mouth as it filled with blood. He could feel a prominent sting on his cheek. Reaching up with a shaking hand, he felt the slice that had opened just beneath his eye, causing him to wince as he drew his hand away.

Tabitha’s husband, Charles, if he recalled correctly, stared down at the murderer, the one responsible for the rapid decline in his life, the loss of his beloved. Hatred filled his every feature; it teemed behind his eyes, waiting to be unleashed. He backed away from Braxton, never taking his eyes from the injured man on the floor. He looked down, examining his bloodied knuckles, his face twisted in a hateful sneer. He stared at his wounded hand for a few moments, then allowed his eyes to slowly drift back up to Braxton. Braxton felt a new sense of unease as he made eye contact with Charles. The hatred that was contained just behind his eyes was now gone; it had been replaced with something else, something fearsome. It was filled with something that Braxton knew quite well, an emotion that he had become well acquainted with over the years, like an old friend. Those eyes were filled with murder personified.

“Why?” His voice was harsh and ragged, strained through the exertion of his screams, mouthed through gasps of air. “What did she ever do to you?” His eyes were brimming with tears, glistening under the fluorescent lights.

Braxton stared vacantly at him.

“Answer me!” he screamed. His face flushed with rage, turning it a deep maroon. Veins bulged and throbbed beneath his skin. He began to tremble uncontrollably. He lashed out, kicking Braxton with all his might, connecting with his ribs with a hollow sound.

Braxton grunted painfully. He looked up at Charles, the anger that resided within him, always waiting to surface, began its ascent. It longed to be let free; it yearned for it always. “There was no reason,” he said defiantly, spitting his mouthful of blood onto the floor. “I was searching for a victim; she caught my eye. There was nothing more.”

Charles’ eyes widened in disbelief. He was clearly taken aback. His voice was full of incredulity. A bewildered look dawned on his face. He stared out blankly, his eyes empty.

“No reason?” He was talking to himself more than to Braxton, his words distant and almost dreamy. “It was nothing more than ‘wrong place, wrong time’?”

He looked back down at Braxton. “Get up,” he commanded, his voice stern and cold. As Braxton clambered to his feet, he reached around his back, pulling out the kitchen knife that he had concealed in his waistband.

Braxton stood, wobbling uneasily. His eyes widened as they rested on the knife, glinting in the light. He opened his mouth to protest, but closed it before he made the first sound; nothing he said would alter the course of events that were about to transpire.

“I’ve waited for this for almost ten years,” Charles said matter-of-factly. He watched the light flash from the blade as he twirled it in his hands. Without warning, he lunged at Braxton, brandishing the knife before him menacingly.

Braxton jerked sideways in a swift movement. He grabbed Charles’ wrist tightly and pulled. Charles’ eyes went wide in shock at the swiftness of Braxton’s movements. Had he not just been staggering, practically unconscious on his feet?

With a measured, precise movement, Braxton snapped Charles’ wrist back, forcing the hand open. The knife fell from his grip and hit the floor in a clatter. A yelp of pain escaped Charles’ lips. Grabbing Charles by the back of his shirt collar, Braxton slammed his head down on the sink with a loud hollow clink. Blood began to pour instantly from his forehead, rushing out in torrents. He threw Charles to the floor and stood atop him.

“You want to know what happened to your damn wife?” he said. His voice shook with fury, that familiar warmth washing over him, finally released from its confines within Braxton’s mind. He kicked Charles in the ribs with all his might, relishing the sound of pain that wafted up to his ears as he did so.

Braxton turned and picked the knife from the floor. He held it out before him as he turned around. “How about I just show you? You look like you’ve been in so much pain. Like you’ve missed her so very much. What if I help you get to her faster?”

Braxton bent down over Charles, who was still dazed from the blow to the porcelain sink. His eyes struggled to focus, barely remaining conscious. He fingered the tip of the blade idly. Flipping the knife in his hand with the ease of a seasoned chef, he traced it down Charles’ torso, feeling it drag across each of his ribs, bumping slightly. With his free hand, Braxton covered Charles’ mouth as he slid the blade between his ribs. Crimson roses began to bloom on Charles’ shirt as blood escaped from the fresh wound. Charles’ body strained against the pain as the cold steel slid deeper into his body, his cries of agony muffled by the hand covering his mouth. Tears began to flow freely as Braxton drug the knife across his midsection, widening the wound. Braxton’s eyes lit up, the pain in his face forgotten in the ecstasy of the kill.

“I’d love to stay and play,” Braxton said into Charles’ ear. “Really I would, but I’m on a bit of a schedule. Give Tabitha my best when you see her.”

With that, he slid the blade across Charles’ neck and stood. He listened to the gurgling of Charles drowning in his own blood with a pleasure that he couldn’t obtain by any other means. Grabbing Charles’ shirttail, he meticulously wiped away any fingerprints that he may have left on the murder weapon and dropped it into the restroom’s waste basket. He turned and began to wash the blood from his face gingerly, wincing at the tenderness of his swollen, battered face. Grabbing the now-lifeless corpse beneath the arms, he dragged it into the last stall, propped it on the toilet, and swung the door closed. After wiping any traces of blood from the floor and disposing of the blood-soaked paper towels in the trash, he washed his hands, dried himself off, and reached into his back pocket, removing the extra shirt that he had thought to bring from home. He removed his bloodied shirt, placed it in his back pocket, and put on the fresh one.

He walked briskly to the car, careful to watch his pace lest he should attract attention. The body would be discovered soon enough; he didn’t want to give anyone a reason to remember him at all. The bruised face that he now wore was bad enough.

Son of a bitch, he thought as he pulled away from the curb and merged into traffic. I was supposed to die here. That bastard that broke into my house set me up to be killed! It was just as well that it had happened; now he knew how the game was to be played. The rules weren’t as he thought them to be. As he thought back, he realized that the Teacher hadn’t mentioned any rules. It was his own assumption that there had been any, and that assumption had nearly killed him. This new knowledge may not change anything, he was at an obvious disadvantage, but now he knew to watch himself more closely.

Braxton was still fuming when he pulled into the driveway. He stormed into the house and went directly to the counter. He picked up the next envelope, the second of his three tasks. He ripped the end of the envelope away madly and slid out the paper, unfolding it.

Physical

You have managed to complete and survive the first challenge. You are proving to be a formidable adversary. There may be hope for you yet. Do not boast; the game is still in its adolescence. You still have two lessons awaiting you.

Throughout the course of your murderous career, you have inflicted an incalculable amount of pain to your victims. To finish this task, the pain that you inflict must be upon yourself. You may have noticed the scale that I have placed on your table while you were out.

Braxton turned and looked at the table. A feeling of apprehension built within him instantly as he saw the scale and found that the Teacher was indeed speaking the truth. He dreaded the lesson that lay before him. His eyes returned to the paper in his hands.

On one side of the scale is a one pound weight, the other is empty, as you have no doubt seen. Your task is to balance the scales. Should you desire to keep your miserable excuse for a life, I expect a pound of flesh placed in the scale to counterweight the lead weight and balance the scales.

The choice is yours.

Braxton sat frozen, reading and rereading the second letter. Did the stranger seriously expect him to do such a thing? He crumpled the paper into a tight ball and dropped it onto the counter. He glanced at the stove; it was now just after ten o’clock. Less than ten hours left. He slammed his fist on the countertop in frustration and let out a pained yell. How had things come to this? How did this complete stranger know so much about him to put him in such a position?

Braxton walked to the table and examined the scale. There was nothing spectacular about it; silver, plain, devoid of any ornamentation or engravings. They reminded him of the scales held by Lady Justice on the walls of every courthouse in America. Yet, despite their plain, simple appearance, they held within them the power to induce dread and malice, both of which Braxton felt as he stared dumbly at the magnificent artifact that held such a significance in his life at this moment. Dread due to the inevitable pain that was sure to follow, as soon as he managed to work up the nerve; malice for the so-called Teacher who had placed him in such a position.

Braxton’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the small, lead weight on the left side of the scale, a nondescript square with the number one carved into the side. It wasn’t the weight that caught his attention, but the small, white triangles that protruded from beneath. He took hold of the objects, the corners of some paper clippings, and pulled them out, looking them over.

They were articles that had been printed from the internet. No, articles wasn’t the right word. Obituaries: that was what they were. He thumbed through the papers, eyes skimming over the words. Each person had died a sudden and mysterious death, but, strangely enough, foul play hadn’t been considered in the cause of death. That would mean that the Teacher was either a terrific liar, or, even worse, he was a superb killer. Braxton laid the five slips of paper on the table in front of the scales, spreading them out evenly before him. He stared at them, bewildered. He didn’t know what to make of them. Were they meant to be warnings to do as he had been told, a clever ruse intended to push him further along this twisted game? Undoubtedly, the Teacher knew that he would be apprehensive with this lesson, more willing to risk himself rather than inflict the torturous pain that was intended.

“No,” he said to himself, pushing the obituaries away roughly. “I won’t do it.”

As if on cue, the telephone rang. The sudden chirping sound was a cacophony in the still air of the silent house. Braxton started, a small yelp escaping from his throat. He stared at the phone speculatively as the ringing continued, echoing through the rooms. After several moments, he reached out tentatively, his hand shaking slightly, and grabbed the handset.

“You wouldn’t be thinking about crying off, would you?” a gruff voice asked before Braxton could speak. “I would highly discourage such a course of action.”

Braxton couldn’t speak. Try as he might, his mouth wouldn’t form the words, leaving him silent. Instead, he stared silently at the scales on the table as he listened to the Teacher speak, his words cutting into Braxton’s psyche like a straight razor.

“Did you not receive the articles that I left for you? There’s no use denying it; I know that you did.” The Teacher chuckled maliciously. “I suppose that you have reached the conclusion that I had nothing to do with the demise of the subjects of the articles. That it’s nothing more than a clever trick to goad you into playing along, furthering your education. I can assure you that this is not the case.”

Braxton was finally able to find his voice. “That’s exactly what I think, you son of a bitch.”

An exasperated sigh travelled across the miles through the telephone wires and escaped through the speaker. “Such vile language is really not necessary.”

Braxton pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it incredulously. Was this guy serious? “You set me up to be killed!” he screamed into the receiver. He could feel his temper rising uncontrollably. At that moment, there was nothing that he’d rather do more than get his hands on this self-proclaimed Teacher. He had been caught off guard on their first meeting; it wouldn’t happen again.

The Teacher ignored this remark, instead continuing with his train of thought. “Let me ask you this; when you consider all that I know, the great lengths that I had gone through to enlighten you and change you, do you doubt?”

Braxton considered these words in silence. He wished that he could disregard the words, but deep within himself, he knew it to be true. If he wanted to survive this ordeal, he had no choice but to follow the Teacher’s directives. If he was going to live, he was going to have to suffer. While he came to this conclusion, he failed to notice that he was now alone on the line; the Teacher had left him to draw his own conclusions and decide his own fate.

The images flashed across the mirror in a blur as Braxton opened the medicine cabinet. He had made his decision. As much as he despised the thought, the Teacher was at an obvious advantage. He seemed to know everything about him, while Braxton knew nothing of the Teacher. This being the case, he had no choice but to endure the two lessons still set before him.

He rummaged through the medicine cabinet, pulling out various bottles of pain killers and setting them beside the sink. The Teacher had set the task before him, this twisted game for his amusement, but he had said nothing to the effect of Braxton not dulling his pain. And he intended to do just that. He knew he had to be careful. He still had another task beyond this one, a third envelope yet to be opened; he needed to remain in full control of his faculties.

Braxton poured out five of the strongest pain pills that he could find into his open palm. After eyeing the pills for a moment, he reconsidered, and poured five more into his hand to join the others. He shifted the small, white ovals around in his palm with his finger, hesitant to take them. To do so would be the first step in a chain of events that led to his own agony. On the other hand, he knew that he was wasting valuable time.

To hell with it, he thought and popped all ten pills into his mouth at once. He chewed them up, grimacing at the chalky, bitter taste that filled his mouth. He grabbed the bottle of vodka that he had set next to the sink and put the rim to his lips. Tilting the bottle up, he gulped down the alcohol, relishing the slow burn that replaced the taste of the bitter paste in his mouth. He gulped loudly, watching the bubbles rise in the clear liquid, loud glugging noises sounding out with each gulp. He pulled the bottle from his mouth, gasping for breath and fighting the urge to vomit.

Braxton flexed his grip on the knife that he held in his hands. The pills and alcohol had taken effect, blurring his vision and numbing his senses. Had he not seen the handle of the knife firmly within his grasp, he wouldn’t even have known that he was holding it. He swayed slightly on his feet as he stared at the scales on the table.

One pound. That’s what the note said. He could do this. He felt that he had sufficiently worked up the nerve to cut himself, and his body was almost entirely numb. Time was ticking away, one second at a time, bringing him ever closer to that dreaded deadline and the consequence that was promised after. So why was he just standing? Why wasn’t he getting down to the horrific act before he started to sober up and feeling began to return?

He had drunk too much. He knew it. He had wanted to dull his senses, and, in that, he had been successful. But he had forgotten to take into consideration the common side-effect of alcohol. It had entirely slipped his mind in his panic. Until now.

Alcohol thinned the blood. That was why it gave the illusion of warmth when swallowed on a cold day. If he were to begin carving himself up right now, bleeding to death was a very real possibility. The last thing he wanted was to exsanguinate. Suppose his plan hadn’t worked as well as he’d intended. What if he were to lose consciousness, the pain too unbearable, before he could tend to the wounds? Why, he would never reawaken. Instead, he would be found later on, probably once his rotting carcass had begun to smell, its putrid stench of decay finally reaching the neighbors. The police would find his bloated, fly-infested corpse lying in his dining room in a large pool of dried, tacky, congealed blood.

What choice did he have but to risk it? One o’clock was quickly approaching. He had watched the time whittle away as he attempted to inebriate himself and build the courage to do what had to be done. If he were to reconsider this course of action, he would have to spend hours waiting for himself to sober up. The day would be almost complete, and his life with it. No, he had made his decision; now he had to live with the repercussions. Hell, if he died, at least he did so with the knowledge that the Teacher hadn’t been the one to kill him, at least not directly.

He pulled his shirt over his head and sat it on the table, firm in his resolve. With his free hand, he grabbed the skin at his side, pulling it away from his body. He took a second to muse at this; he had been trying to rid himself of his love handles since he had started to gain them at age twenty-five. Now he finally was. He shuddered at the thought. Before he could begin to falter, he plunged the knife into his skin, trying to best to stay as close to his ribs as possible.

Although deadened, his nerve endings screamed as the steel pierced its way through them, severing them, and out of the other side of the grasped flesh. Braxton let loose an agonized wail. His teeth clenched together tightly, his jaw throbbing, slowly building to a steady ache. He felt his knees try to buckle, and remained standing by a mixture of stubbornness and sheer force of will. The thinned blood began to pour freely from the wounds, obscuring his view of the pained area. It poured down his side in torrents, soaking his jeans, spreading the warmth across his body, and began to pool at his feet, spreading in crimson waves, staining the cracked linoleum floor. He began the sawing motion, feeling his skin tearing as the teeth of the steak knife tore his flesh free from his body. Tears streamed down his face profusely. Braxton bit his bottom lip so hard against the pain that the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Lightheadedness washed over him like a tidal wave as unconsciousness sought to take hold. Blackness began to seep into his field of vision, narrowing his sight to a small pinprick of light. He fought back against his body’s natural defenses against such agony. The pain was unbearable, nausea building within him until he vomited. The remains of the vodka and stomach bile splattered down his chin and chest, finally landing on the floor where it mixed with the blood like some new-age piece of art. He felt warmth spread across his groin as his bladder released, but he pushed on, continuing the ragged plastic surgery, his own do-it-yourself liposuction.

His hand shook uncontrollably as he raised it to the scale. Blood dripped freely in small rills from his stained fingers. Braxton had gone white, his skin paled from loss of blood. His breathing was sharp and ragged. Sweat poured down his face, mixing with the rivulets of tears that still streamed from his bloodshot eyes. He uncurled his trembling fingers, dropping the hunk of flesh into the scale.

Braxton waited impatiently while the scale teetered back and forth. He grabbed his shirt from the table and held it to the large patch of exposed muscle and ribs. Blood poured freely from the wound, soaking his shirt quickly. His body cried out in horror at the torture it had endured. He felt his strength leaving him. If he didn’t stop the flow of blood, and soon, he was going to die. But first, the scale.

Braxton blinked rapidly at the scale, his eyes refusing to focus. Relief surged through his body as he noticed the tray that held what had been his side moments ago was resting just a bit lower than the side with the weight. A small sense of elation manifested itself within him. It was a small victory, one that could cause his demise in the end, but it was a victory nonetheless.

He pushed the feeling aside, focusing on his dire situation. He had to tend to his side, and soon. Even if he managed to not bleed to death, he still had infection to worry about. That could wait, he chided himself. First, the bleeding.

Braxton staggered to the bathroom, dragging his body along the wall for support. A large swath of blood trailed behind him on the walls, dripping down in small rills like a scene from a horror movie. He could hear small patters as blood dripped from his body and splashed on the floor. In the bathroom, he pressed a towel tightly to his side and wrapping it tightly around his midsection, stringing it around his body and tying it to keep it in place. He winced, groaning in torment as the coarse fibers of the towel dug into his wound. He stared down at the makeshift bandage. Small roses of blood began to bloom, then stopped suddenly.

Satisfied that the injury was sufficiently tended to for the moment, Braxton made his way back into the kitchen. He sat at the counter, head still spinning, and grabbed the last envelope. His fingers left crimson smudges on the crisp, white envelope. With a deep breath and a sustained effort from his numb, clumsy fingers, he ripped the envelope open. His eyes fought to focus, trying to make some sense of the blurred, jumbled letters on the page.

Emotional

To be reading this means that you have endured much pain and suffering. Have you learned from the lessons that I have been trying to impart upon you? Have you taken to heart all that I’ve tried to impress upon you? I hope you have. I truly do. I commend you for making it this far. You are a far better pupil than any of my previous students. Your resolve is to be admired. Should you have chosen to put that determination to better use, no one would have been able to hinder your progress. Alas, you squandered your life through your misdeeds. The time has come for your final task.

Over the years, your actions have made you an emotional terrorist to your victims and their families. Fear. Despair. Terror. Hope. Your deeds have caused the multitudes that you have touched to experience these emotions plus scores of others. Now it is your turn. It is you who will feel the despair and hopelessness that you have been so quick to impart upon others throughout the years.

You must turn yourself in to the police. Do this immediately and completely. Confess to every death, every act of violence. You will spend your remaining years in prison, but your conscious will be clear. I implore you to consider this course of action and see that it is the right thing to do, not only because your life depends on it, but because it is truly right.

Make no mistake, you have no true choice in this matter. To go against these words is to sign your death warrant. Tucked away behind bars is the only place where you will ever truly be safe.

Braxton allowed the paper to slip from his grasp and watched as it wafted to the ground, his eyes drawn to the drying blood on the sheet. He dropped his head into his hands. What was he to do? If he did as he was instructed, he would die in prison. If he didn’t, he would either be slaughtered by the Teacher, or spend his life running, constantly looking over his shoulder. He had the distinct impression that he wouldn’t be running for long. The Teacher knew things that he had no way of knowing; Braxton didn’t trust that he wouldn’t seek him out in time. He had no choice. If he wanted to live, there was only one option.

Braxton stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the police station, trying to work up the nerve to enter. As he stood there, blood pooling at his feet, the steady throb in his side escalating to a searing pain as the pills and alcohol worked their way out of his system, he thought about the course his life had taken, the decisions and actions that had led him to this point. The first death at his hands had been an accident, of that he was certain. Until he realized how easily he could get away with it, not to mention the rush of pure adrenaline that came from taking a life, from playing God, he had never even considered murder as a hobby. Once he had taken that first life, it had become an addiction.

He had never had a twinge of guilt in all these years. He never stopped to consider the pain and anguish that he caused others. Did he regret what he did now? He wasn’t sure. Maybe he did. Then again, maybe it was just that he didn’t want to die or go to prison. Either way, the Teacher had made his point. He had gotten what he intended; Braxton was no longer in the business of murder. He had retired. He only wished that he had decided to do so earlier.

With a deep breath, Braxton walked into the police station, his haggard, weakened body fighting to stay upright. As he entered, he failed to notice the man standing to the left of the entrance, staring intently at him with a pair of smoky eyes. He was smiling contentedly at a soul that had been touched and reformed. The Teacher pulled a photograph from his pocket and stared down at it. The subject of the photograph was his next pupil, a young woman who he thought could still be saved. He tucked the photo back into his pocket and began to walk down the sidewalk, off to prepare his lessons for his next student.

Credit: William Davis

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Memory Lane

July 26, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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There was a bright pink tint to the sky and it brought a smile to Jared’s face. The light afternoon breeze shook up his dark brown hair, flipping it in apparent life. He loved the scene that was occurring before him, the daily setting of the sun to darken the sky for night, and it was one of his favorites. Aside from young children playing with their mothers, wearing nothing but small t-shirts and shorts and skirts, as they laughed. The young were so active, so happy, so alive compared to him. His age of twenty seven was not disturbing to him, but his lack of what the young possessed was dampening his overall mood.

His lack of energy. Of movement. Of happiness.

The young were so eager to touch the occasional ant when in playgrounds, to discover and to learn with an urge that rivaled even the most death-wishing explorers. That was what caused Jared to paw for the good old days.

The days of being a boy and traveling down from his house to hang out with his father at the beach nearby, skipping down the sidewalk on his way to the comic store to pick up the latest issue of Amazing Man, tasting a fresh root beer on his young tongue at the soda shop. Most of all, the days when his mother had been alive.

The funeral was harsh, cold, rained out like a scene from a movie. Jenny had been absent, she had recently accepted an acting job in some play in New York City, and had certainly been missing it on purpose. After all, she and mom had been on not-so-friendly terms after she was fired from her job at the theatre for swearing out a nine year old kid who so happened to have been looking underneath her skirt.

James had been devastated, cried on for days after they lowered her into the ground. Jared knew that he was heartbroken, he was their mother’s favorite after all. Jared hadn’t heard from him since the funeral. He knew how hard it was, but he didn’t let it keep him down.

He just kept on moving.

He heard the hoot of a nearby owl, and snapped back to the present. He stopped walking, a silent figure in a world of trees, oak giants that towered over him. Standing in power and age over him. Reminding him how small and insignificant he was, compared to the massive canvas of the universe. Stars and all.

He remembered the period after the funeral, the drinking problem, the move from his house in California to a cabin in the middle of the woods in some small town called Darkness Falls, Oregon. Sure, it was painful leaving behind all his memories from his boyhood behind but, at the same time, it felt like a new start. A fresh clean slate.

The cabin was small, old wood, one bedroom, one bathroom, small kitchen and a small living room with no television. The nights were the same like in California, dark sky, stars painting it, but with the sounds of crickets echoing in the distance.

Keeping him awake.

He smelled something. It was instant, like a subtle introduction of the scent in the air. He sniffed, taking it in with a single intake of air. His mind detected the particular scent again, analyzing it in a microsecond, comparing it to the hundreds and thousands of various smells he remembered. He came to a conclusion that sent his mind into a state of confusion.

‘Sea salt?!’

The memories of walking down the beach, white sand burning his feet, came back to him faster than the speed of light, shell-shocking his brain. Rocking it. The scent was undeniable, but the fact still remained. The fact that the sea expelled the smell from its cold marble blue waters. The fact that the sea was millions of miles away. The fact that he was in Oregon.

He took a step, and when his foot impacted the ground beneath him, where he expected to feel the hard unmovable crust of the earth, he felt his foot keep on lowering. He looked down, and another wave of confusion came rushing through his brain.

He saw sand.

Sand. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Woods.

The sand was white, sun white to be honest, and was the same as beach sand. His foot had penetrated the soft matter, and he could see that the sand was consuming his foot up to the ankle. The sand was in a small pile, the size of the hill one would make if he or she dumped sand from a bucket.

The sight caused Jared to step back, confusion over taking his mind, and kneeled beside it, lowering to one knee. He examined it closely, looking at it with the careful concentration of a magnifying glass. The sand was the exact same color, the exact same appearance of the sand that had covered the beach from his childhood. Jared took one finger and, defying the voice at the back of his mind that urged him not to, poked it.

A feeling of burning heat instantly seared his finger. The pain was enough to cause him to wince and pull back from it. The feeling of heat disappeared. He slowly stood up, still staring at the sand.

Suddenly, a barrage of questions broke through a dam between the front of his mind and the factory where all his thoughts were created.

‘How does sand from California end up in Oregon?’

‘Who put it there?!’

‘What is going on?!’

‘Why?!’

The questions flooded his mind with rapid importance, flocking to the front portion of his brain. He found himself trying to find an answer to them, to reason, but realized that his attempts where in vain. A sudden thought struck him, causing the questions to fade away from existence, as it placed itself right there, clear as a film in High Definition, to his attention.

The thought that he was going insane.

The idea wasn’t too far off from the point of being true. He was under a lot of stress, as well as the constant hangovers from nights of binge drinking. The amount of empty beer cans that he threw out in garbage bags was increasing each night. He was not sane, after all, he was exhibiting signs of alcohol addiction. But, he shook the idea off. If he was suffering a visual hallucination, then it was a very realistic one. He felt the sand and he was sure that hallucinations could not be physically felt. And, he was sure that no one in his family was a victim of schizophrenia. At least, no one he knew.

He slowly backed away from the sand, and soon felt the impact of cold water drench him. The force caused him to fall backward onto the ground, into the sand, and the heat consumed his back. The feeling of cold water incited the rising of goosebumps up and down his arms, and he shivered. Water soaked his jeans, jacket, hair, everything on him. Chilling cold, he regained his bearings, and felt fear sting his heart. His mind was in a twirling mess, rapidly spinning in a mixture of chilling fear and maddening confusion.

More questions swirled around in his head, and he lost all sense of logic.

He got to his feet, shivering, and ran. His feet hit the ground, and he was instantly slammed by another wave, one that he didn’t see coming. He landed on his back again, causing pain to burn his back, spine certainly injured. He felt the wave like an incoming truck, and he saw the attacker manifesting out of nowhere, from air.

Mind in ruins, confusion and fear flooding his body, Jared began to cry, the tears falling from his eyes, mixing with cold salt water. He sobbed, and heard another wave only a few feet from him. The wave collapsed over him, and he felt water encase him.

Soon, he felt another wave roll over the surface of the water, and soon his lungs began to burn. The oxygen in the air was gone, and the need to swim up to the surface to get fresh air took over his mind. He began to paddle upward, flailing his arms around like a person trying to fly, and reached the surface in no time.

He breached the water, splashes flying through the air, and gasped. Oxygen was inhaled and reached his lungs, and Jared coughed out water. He used his flailing arms to stay above the water. The smell of salt water assaulted his nose, burning his sinuses. He looked around, and saw something that made him gape, and to lose all hope left.

All around him, four waves were speeding towards his body, massive, thick, wide. He couldn’t see any signs of trees from the woods around him, the waves standing high above him, giants that blocked up the pink sky. He watched as the waves breached over his head, and opened his mouth to scream. His scream was muffled and his mouth was flooded by salt water, cold water, and he was tossed around like a rag doll. He plunged underwater, rolled backwards, and found himself again without air.

He opened his eyes, sea water stinging his irises, and blue water distorted his sight. The water was all around him, seaweed passed by him, and he was in the ocean from his childhood. His own personal memory lane. His own little hell. He felt water flood his nose and his ears and he struggled against a sudden current, a rapid tide. He felt a painful ocean in his lungs.

He looked down, and he only saw endless water below his feet. No ground, no sandy sea floor, just infinite blue. He felt his mind breaking again, and he spun around, water bubbles rising up to the surface in the act. He saw something swimming towards him from the distance, approaching him in rapid speed. Something white and gray. He couldn’t tell what it was until it was only a few inches from him, and when he saw it, he opened his mouth in a silent scream. Soon, he felt a pain in his torso, and stomach, as two rows of hundred small triangular teeth pierced his flesh, and he felt that pain for only a few seconds before a numbness enveloped his body.

And soon, darkness overcame his mind and soul.

The ocean disappeared, so did the Great White Shark, and so did the sand. The ground became the same as before the sand appeared, trees and a pink sky as the sun dawned for the day. There were sounds of distant crickets that cat called from the woods. The body of Jared McDonald laid on the hard ground, torn in half at the stomach, blood seeping out in an ever expanding ocean.

Soon, a lone beach ball, striped blue, and white, and red, appeared out of nowhere, and blown by the wind, came to a stop next to him.

A striped beach ball from his childhood.

The last present from the hell of memory lane.

Credit: EvantheNerd83

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The Naera

July 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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‘Tis a fine house, lad, to be sure, and well built. And ’tis sure I am that you and young Maglyn will be more than happy here till the end of your days. But I’ve said it afore and I’ll say it again—I wish I knew what possessed you to build so close to the cairn of Draugs Teigh and so far from me and your ma.

Now, calm yourself, lad! Calm yourself! I meant no harm! But you are my son and I am your father. You can’t blame your old da for worrying now, can ye? You know as well as I the stories about those old stones and the darkness that lives there. And with that evil place being home to no less a nightmare than the Naera himself, well…

What’s that you say? You, twenty years of age last winter, and I never told you the tale of the Naera? Well, I suppose there’s no surprise there. Sure, ’tis a dark tale of twisted magic and betrayal—and one I am loath to tell. Wise folk make a point of avoiding it for fear of attracting his attention. ‘Tis said even the saying of his name will bring the fiend who stalks that hill to knocking.

You want to hear it, do ye? Well, I suppose ’tis best to be forewarned or so ’tis said. Go on, then, and bring your da some fresh ale afore I get to the telling. There’s a good lad.

Now, let’s see… ‘Twas some time back when Faeral committed the deed that cursed that place—almost three hundred year ago now, or so the story goes. Took the lives of many of the townsfolk, he did. Aye, Faeral was a wicked man to be sure—a summoner of the dead. No one knew from whence he came, really. Come here from some land far away where such things are more commonplace, I suppose. The folk here in the valley never took too well to his dark ways. Feared him, they did. All over the countryside, they avoided him as if he were the grim specter of Dathruk himself. ‘Course there were no denying that he resembled one of the death god’s harbingers with his thin, hawkish face and boney limbs.

Indeed, it weren’t far from here that he practiced his terrible arts—built a great tower of stone deep in the forest not more than three leagues from this very spot. Oh, a monstrous place it was, with great stone faces glowering down at passers-by from a parapet that ringed the uppermost floor, their eyes aglow with unhallowed light that froze your blood right in your veins. ‘Tis said they were watchers of some sort, guardians who alerted their master of any foolish enough to get too close. That tower has long since crumbled to ruin, no longer held together by the arcane forces that built it, but folks say they can still hear the ghosts of Faeral’s victims a-crying and a-wailing through the hills.

Now, the first one to come upon that eyesore were the miller. Out looking for one of his mules run off from the mill, he was. ‘Course chasing green fairies was probably more like it, if you take my meaning. He was known to be a bit too fond of the drink. Still there he was, tramping through the brush, brambles tearing his britches and ripping at his legs as he stumbled into the clearing. Run straight into the tower, he did!

‘Twas then that a strange cry above him caught his ear, a sound unlike any bird he’d ever heard. Glancing upward, his eyes caught a line of foreign symbols etched into the stone before his gaze settled on one of those ghastly faces. Sure as I live and breathe, there it was scowling down at him, its eyes shimmering with malice. Afore the full realization of what he was seeing could set in, the thing let loose another cry like a cat being murdered. Scared the living daylight out of the miller! What could he do but shite himself and run?

Straight to the tavern he went, legs aquiver and naught but gibberish pouring from his pallid gob. Took a full four pints afore they could calm him down enough to understand what he were saying…and even then not a soul believed him. They laughed at his crazy story, figured he’d had a bit too much of that barley brew he was so fond of… But they didn’t scoff for long. The necromancer would soon make his way to the village.

In the beginning, Faeral kept to himself mostly. A homely, disagreeable man he was and rarely seen—which was all right by the townsfolk. Once in a great while, he came to town and spent a bit of coin at one of the merchants but the rest of the time, he remained locked away in his tower. What he did up there was anybody’s guess, though everyone had a good idea. You see, shortly after his arrival, folks started noticing great gaping holes in the cemetery—graves with nothing left in them but a broken pine box!

One evening as the sun slipped into its bed, the temple priest set out to perform his nightly duty to Dathruk—the pouring of libations on his shrine and asking the Lord of the Grave to look after the souls in his care. As he walked down the path to the shrine at the cemetery’s center, he noticed something strange in the distance. From where he stood, it looked as though someone had piled a heap of broken wood and earth near one of the graves. As he got closer, though, he could see that was not the case at all. The grave was fully opened, the dirt thrown roundabout as though the perpetrator were in a great hurry! The wood he’d seen were really the broken planks of the coffin laying littered about the place.

The body, buried only days before, was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, the priest stared in disbelief, not knowing what to think. He’d performed the service that laid the poor bugger to rest himself! As he stood there scratching his head, he noticed another pile several graves over, and then another further on still. Shaken, he began slowly to turn about, looking around in all directions and seeing more and more of the telltale mounds—a full score, at least!

Well, everyone knew who were responsible, didn’t they? Faeral the Necromancer! How he’d managed to steal so many bodies in but one night no one could figure. And ‘course that weren’t the most exasperating part of the whole ordeal. The people were outraged that he’d desecrated the remains of their kin but none had the courage to stop him. Not a one wanted to end up on his butcher’s block, that’s for certain. So they let him be, grudgingly allowing him to carry on whatever gruesome endeavors he got up to. At least he were only taking the dead, they reasoned, and not the living. If only they’d known what horror was to come, they’d have burnt him up in his tower as soon as the first sign of grave robbing occurred. But as things were, he hadn’t harmed a living soul and so they left him to himself.

Things went on this way for some time until the day that Faeral met young Maeve. Hair the color of summer wheat, eyes like emeralds, and skin the color of fresh milk. Oh, a beautiful lass, she was, but wild! Nary a drop of modesty nor honor in her at all!

Maeve came from good, solid stock, she did. Her parents were honest, hardworking folk. Her da was the town blacksmith and her ma…her ma was a master weaver. I tell ye, lad, you never saw such things as came from that woman’s loom! Her skill, a gift straight from the goddess of the arts herself, was widely celebrated. Many a prince and noble house commissioned her services to weave wonders for their estates. Aye, and they paid her well for it, too. Magical things, she made—the characters in her tapestries were so real they moved of their own accord, playing out their scenes over and over to the delight of all who laid eyes on them. She tried to pass her knowledge on to Maeve but the girl had no interest in the art of weaving. Her interest lay solely in the art of seduction. ‘Tis true she spent her days doing chores for her ma as any dutiful daughter does but her nights… oh, her nights were another matter altogether.

To the shame of her parents, Maeve prowled the tavern at night, taking a new lover as often as a man takes a breath. Discretion was never her concern. Husband or bachelor, it mattered not to Maeve. She flitted from man to man as a hummingbird darts from flower to flower, taking a sip of each but landing on none, if you take my meaning. She left many a suitor in shambles, promising eternal love to one even as she slipped into the bed of another.

Her folks tried to reel her in, to tame the wild streak in her, but she’d have none of it. And when she caught sight of Faeral in the shops, saw how the townspeople recoiled from him… well, there was no stopping her. They tried to convince her, to warn her of what often comes of those who share the bed of evil but she wouldn’t listen. They reminded her how ugly he was, how much like a gargoyle he looked, but nothing mattered to Maeve. True, a handsome man Faeral was not—he was too thin of body and his face was pinched—but Maeve didn’t want him for his looks. ‘Twas his sinister reputation that enticed her.

Maeve cared not a whit that everyone despised the foul necromancer or that he’d defiled the graves of her friends and ancestors. She reveled in the scandal it caused and her beauty wove a spell of lust over the lanky mage. Oh, he resisted at first, turned his nose up and snorted derisively at her brazen attempts to seduce him but she soon wore him down. No matter how warped his nature was, Faeral was a man still! With each passing meeting, Maeve’s charm snaked its way into his blackened heart and sank its fangs in deep. Aye, caught in her web, he was—enthralled and in love.

What’s that? Did he not know of her reputation? I suppose he did—gossip traveled just as fast and as far in those days as it does now and she made no bones about what she got up to in the wee hours. Maybe it were his own arrogance made him believe she’d not cross him as she had the others, but who can guess? A body in love can convince themselves of any number of fictions and Faeral was a man obsessed. What I do know is that as his love for her grew stronger, his desire for her grew in a most twisted way.

He lavished her with expensive gifts, some clearly from the corpses he stole and others from lands unknown. She accepted all with squeal of glee, smothering him with kisses and other favors. But no matter what promises she made him, no matter what gifts he brought, her dalliances continued. Day by day, he became more covetous, more jealous of her not-so-secret trysts until one night he caught her in the arms of yet another man.

‘Twas the night of a dark moon. The sun had set with a bloody hue. The townsfolk, taking it as an ill omen, had locked themselves in their homes and barred their shutters. Only two people took no heed. Maeve and her newest plaything, a traveling peddler, lay tucked away in a tavern room, delighting in each other’s caresses. Outside in the darkness stood an indignant Faeral, his eyes locked on an open second-story window from which slithered the soft sounds of lovemaking. As he listened, every oath of fidelity she’d taken, every time she’d sworn that she’d never again take another lover but him came flooding to the fore of his mind. Each moan of betrayal from above drove a nail through his withered heart.

His very soul aching, he whispered a few strange words and the tavern doors swung open before him without making a sound. Silently, he slipped inside and made his way to the room where his inconstant love and her latest conquest lay spent and covered in sweat. With a wave of his hand, the door splintered and burst afore an enraged Faeral stepped across the threshold.

The room was lit by a single lamp—its small flame guttering in the breeze from the open window. Without a word, Faeral crossed the floor and gutted Maeve’s stunned lover like a trout before he was even free of the coverlet. Turning on Maeve, Faeral demanded that she be loyal to himself alone from that night forward on pain of death. Yet, as he stood there recounting to her the many oaths she’d sworn to him, the steam of the peddler’s newly liberated entrails rising at his feet, what do you think the stupid girl did? Why, she laughed at him! And a cold, callous sound it was. The gods never made a woman of colder stuff than Maeve! Why, said she as she clutched the bed sheets to her chest, would he think that she could love a wretch such as him? Did he think he was the first she’d made such promises to? He was naught more than a passing fancy, a frivolity that brought her pretty baubles. As she mocked him, his anger built with each scathing word. Finally, her venom spent, she glared at him haughty as a queen, contempt written on her face.

Faeral stared at Maeve in agonized silence, an inferno of pain and treachery raging in his belly. “You and I shall be one, Maeve, one way or another,” he vowed, a malicious grin spreading across his face as he took his leave amidst her ringing laughter.

For several weeks after, no one saw nor heard from Faeral. He did not come to visit the merchants; he did not come to see Maeve. A few of the braver sort tried to organize a search for him in his tower, intent on hanging him for the murder of the peddler, but fear of the necromancer’s power quelled their fervor. The townsfolk hoped he had died of a broken heart or had gone back in disgrace to the place of his birth. Most were just relieved that he was gone. For her part, Maeve thought that it would be only a matter of time afore he returned as all the others had, bearing gifts and begging her forgiveness. By the gods, how wrong she was. How wrong they all were.

You see, ’tis not a love of death that consumes a necromancer but a love of life! He lusts for mastery over death to prolong his own existence! ‘Twas this search for immortality that kept Faeral going and he had come very close to this aim through his grisly work. For years, he had worked toward his goal of unending life and god-like powers… but a gift demands a gift. To obtain the boons he sought, Faeral willingly had to give of the one thing he held most dear. All his life, the only thing that held that place in his heart was his necromantic endeavors but that had changed when he met Maeve. Until that fateful night in the tavern, the love burning in his breast had kept him from sacrificing her to his thirst for eternal life but now…now that she had rejected him, and in so humiliating a manner, what reason had he to stay his hand? He would complete his great work, he reasoned, and keep Maeve with him forever through this final act.

‘Twas in short order that the townsfolk found their hopes of Faeral’s departure dashed. Rumors of missing travelers began trickling in from around the countryside. Tales were whispered through trembling lips of a demonic figure ambushing groups of grown men in the dark and dragging them screaming into the shadows. Hunters would return from the wild shaken and pale, terrified by horrific cries heard echoing through the wood in every direction. Folks walking home from the tavern at night vanished. Everyone knew it to be the handiwork of Faeral but not one of them was brave enough to hunt him down.

Finally, it happened one morning that young Maeve did not return home. As I said, ’twas no secret that she often shared a late night with whatever man had caught her fancy. But when the sun had reached its mid-point in the sky and there had been no sign of Maeve still, her mother began to worry. From home to home, from tavern to shop she went, searching in vain for her daughter.

Immediately, the townsfolk’s thoughts ran to the necromancer Faeral and the tale Maeve had told of their last encounter. The final straw had broken. Fear gave way to fury. Grabbing whatever they could to arm themselves, the men of the village marched to the tower, intent on bringing the girl home if indeed she was captive there. Long and hard, they searched but found nothing. By all appearances, it seemed as though Faeral’s tower had been abandoned for some time so they fanned out, searching the surrounding hills.

And that, my boy, is where they found them; there, where the cairn now stands. Through dark magic, the power-mad wizard had set up a circle of stones. In the center stood a great stone altar, black and slick with the blood of his many victims. The stench of decaying flesh rose from piles of half-eaten corpses—some still recognizable as the missing men from the village. Upon the altar, Faeral crouched over the lifeless body of Maeve, her throat torn. The gathered men were stunned at his transformation. His skin was taut and pale, his eyes sunken into his skull—so much so that his face resembled a death’s head! In his hands hung bloody strips of flesh, wrenched from Maeve’s body with his own clawed fingers. Turning to the sickened crowd, he grimaced and then, as if in defiance, he gobbled it down in a frenzy before tearing even more meat from her corpse.

It took several moments for the shock of this horrific scene to wear off the menfolk, but wear off it did. Clubs and plowshares held high, they rushed at the lunatic. The fear they had felt for so long came spilling forth in a wave of primal fury. Like men possessed, they attacked him. Oh, he fought back all right, and with an unnatural strength at that, but I don’t think any force in the Heavens or the Hells could’ve saved him from the wrath of those men. It weren’t long afore he was overcome.

When their rage finally abated, they looked down on the vanquished body of Faeral, bashed and broken on that vile altar. Figuring him not deserving of proper burial rites, they interred him with the very stones of his accursed circle. Pulled them down, they did. They got ropes and horses and leveled the place right on top of him!

He’s up there still… but the old villain doesn’t rest in peace, oh no! How could the townsfolk have known that that their actions served to consummate a pact made between the necromancer and the dark god Faruk? By killing him, they brought about the beginning of a terrible curse. Faruk the Corrupt, son of the death god Dathruk and the goddess Isenea, he who sowed the first seeds of corruption into the world, gave Faeral forbidden knowledge, promising him eternal life in return for his devotion and sacrifice. The murder of Maeve, Faeral’s only-ever love, sealed this pact and remanded her broken soul to unending slavery in Faruk’s realm. As for the necromancer, the foul god kept his promise and gave him eternal life through undeath. But Faeral did not rise as the lich he had hoped to become. Instead, he was transformed into a ravening ghoul—the Naera, or Night Caller, as they’ve come to name him—driven by an insatiable appetite for living flesh. To this very day, when hunger or some other force calls him forth from his tomb, he pulls himself free of the rocks and roams the countryside peeking through windows and knocking on doors trying to flush out a bit of fresh meat.

Now, my boy, pay special heed to what I’m about to tell ye. I’ve spoken his name enough times in the telling of this story so as to wake the creature ten times over. That in mind, you listen to your ol’ da and you listen well. If you wake from sleep to the sound of rapping at the door, let it be. He always comes a-calling in the darkest hours of night. The wind may blow, the snow may fall, and still he’ll come a-banging on the doors and a-tapping on the shutters. But don’t you make a sound—not a peep! And he hears but a pin drop, you and all your house will be lost! Family and friends who call on ye next morning will find naught but gnawed bone and blood. He leaves no flesh behind, the hellish glutton. ‘Course, that’s not all…

Oh, he’s a sly one, that old ghoul, and he’s got a bag of tricks as can help him gratify his bedeviling hunger. He can mimic the very voices of the gods themselves, or so they say. Many a man has lost his life and loved ones to Faeral’s trickery, thinking ’twas his own children crying for help outside in the darkness. No matter what you hear, even if ’tis my own voice calling ye out from your bed pleading with ye to save me life, you just lay yourself back down and cover your ears.

Are you feeling all right, lad? It’s that you’re looking a bit pale is all. Oh, now don’t you go fretting about old Faeral. You just remember what I’ve said and you’ll be fine. As for me, I’d best be getting on. Your ma will be looking for me and I’ll not keep her waiting much longer. Besides, night will be falling shortly and I don’t like the look of that fog settling up on the cairn.

Credit To: Tara Grímravn

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Family of Three Plus One

July 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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They follow the same neat routine every day. The boy wakes up to the sound of that unpleasant alarm at 6 AM every morning, Monday through Friday. I listen carefully to the sheets rustling above me as he tosses, turns, shifts in his bed struggling to force himself awake. On the occasion that he falls back asleep in the safe warm embrace of his bedding, face nuzzled sweetly against his puffy down pillow, his mother will come in.

Now, his mother often wakes up at 5 in the morning, a beautiful time when the light of the morning sun is still waking with the rest of Earth’s creatures. I can move more freely at this time, though risky as it may be. I watch her arise; her husband lies silent, still consumed by a world of dreams. I follow her to the bathroom and watch while she cleans her face, brushes her teeth and prepares for the day. Sometimes she sees me, but never thinks anything of it; how exhilarating those days are, to make eye contact with the people who house me. As she wanders down stairs to prepare breakfast, we part ways and visit the boy. As I mentioned earlier, on occasion he will sleep in, much like today. I stretched out and relaxed, awaiting the mothers’ arrival; it was always pleasant to be in the company of my family.

She arrived on schedule. With breakfast ready she wouldn’t be letting him sleep any longer. I have watched this week after week and in my humble opinion it is this behavior that makes the child feel he can sleep as he pleases; this routine is what gives me strength, what gives me confidence. My eyes follow the door as it opens and I watch her fuzzy slippers step closer. Her skin smells so sweet. For a woman of her age, her soft flesh is so tightly wrapped around her legs, it is all I can do to stay put and not act on instinct. I let the aroma fill my nostrils and allow her voice to dance along my ears. She walks out of the room and soon my vision is obscured by cartoon character pajamas and bare feet. His toes are so small, so delectable, little treats on little feet. I reach out to touch them, my claws leaving the safe haven of darkness that conceals all that go bump in the night. The light burns my flesh as my claws sprout from under the bed; they brush against his clothes, so very close to that youthful perfection. The pain surges through my hand, my arm, it’s almost more than I can handle. I reach forward to grab his ankle and he steps away. I pulled my hand back under the bed, nursing the burns, but the thrill of the hunt filled me with glee. I am so proud of how good she is to him and how much he is growing into a little man. I fade into the shadows and vanish from his room.

The father was still asleep. It’s 7 AM now, the bus should be arriving for the little one soon and how I will miss him. I contemplate following him to school, but risk outweighs reward. Exciting as the thought is; to be left stranded in a school yard, even though I would be blessed with tender morsels left and right, I may not make it home. Last thing I would want is to leave my home unguarded, to come back and find it claimed by another. No, I must defend my home; defend my people, till their bitter end. From their closet I watched the father sleep. The door was left cracked open this morning. He disgusts me; he is by no means a pleasant person. His flesh is coated in filth and only does he bathe when forced by the wife. I find myself all too often eagerly awaiting his departure to work. Ever since he changed his schedule to a later shift, I have found my routine has been shattered. Oh, how I miss the days that he would be out the door before his wife rose so that I would have her all to myself; how I could be there for the child and admire the beauty in his ignorance. Now, I’m afraid I must tiptoe from the morning to the afternoon, my time alone with the woman is no longer so. Yes, I can watch her from the mirrors, brush against her as she sinks into the couch, but no longer do I posses the luxury of freedom. The father will leave shortly before the boy returns, with this I find solace. The sun will begin to dip down below the horizon while he slaves away the hours at his job.

As night dominates the sky I can move as I wish, inside and outside of my home. Well, I used to go outside. Lately I have noticed prying eyes gazing at my family from the windows, concealed by darkness. I am tempted to get rid of them, but I don’t know how many wait, and I can’t risk leaving my people exposed. My kind grows very envious of those of us with homes and families of our own, they seek to destroy our success and ruin everything we worked so hard to accomplish. I’ve found myself staring out the window, watching as shadows jump from street light to street light, contemplating if the less fortunate can be of use to me. I may have a decision soon; perhaps tomorrow night I can have a chat with a little one.

They call today, Saturday, and I share mixed feelings for this one. I have my humans all day, but this also means the foul one lounges on the couch, shoveling filth down his gullet and barking at my people like a savage beast. Today was a true test of my self control. Today he hit my boy.

The little one was running around, talking about his school week and what simple things his brain consumed. He was so excited; I was so excited, I wanted to embrace him and share my pride, but to do so would be disastrous for us both. I watched as he spread his joy across the house, but anxiety and fear grabbed hold of me when he approached his father. I could see what was going to happen as the boy tugged on his father’s sleeve and talked louder than the television in feeble hopes of gaining his parent’s attention. I saw the disdain on the large one’s face. I felt the rumble of his growl as the boy continued. My claws dug into my hands as I waited, helplessly. Then it happened, he struck my boy while shouting profanity. The child ran to his room, holding back tears, refusing to show his pain. I was conflicted by the need to follow him, and the need to gut this beast and hang him by his entrails. Saturday is the day I decided he had to go.

Night fell quickly, and once they were in their beds I sneaked outside. I could see the hungry eyes staring from the bushes, trees, rooftops, they were so eager to claim my home. “I only need one of you,” I snarled, my well fed form towering over the lesser creatures of the night. “I am looking for a little Lust,” I called out, and not a moment later several starved demons scurried before me. They snapped and slashed at one another, until I snatched a smaller one up and held it up by its leathery tail; the others quickly disappeared into the night. “I have a deal to make with you,” my voice rumbled in dominance at the tiny creature that stared fearfully into my massive eyes. “I will share my wealth with you in exchange for the removal of the alpha-male in this home. I need it done discreetly and I grow angrier every day I can’t maim or massacre him. Will you assist me?” I asked it, giving not a hint of room for refusal. The creature seemed compliant so I closed my hands over it and returned to the safety of my home. I scaled the stairs in strides and soon was looking down the gaping maw of the monster, snoring away beside the beautiful woman I cared so much for. Once more I held my new weapon by its tail and dropped it into the man’s mouth, it slid effortlessly down his throat without invoking so much as a stir in his sleep. It was the perfect match. I felt better.

As the days went by, the father grew more distant from his family. He earned a promotion at work, had increased hours, and was often away on business. My life was improving exponentially, but this was only the beginning.

Peacefully I watched my boy sleep. I wanted to move in closer, but if I did, he wouldn’t be the same. As I lost myself in happy thoughts, they were interrupted by shouting in the parent’s room. The father came home intoxicated tonight; this isn’t a strange occurrence, but he slipped up. The father was supposed to be on a business trip this weekend. Not only was he home a day early, but there was lipstick on his neck. My heart filled, swelled with joy as the wife began striking him with a lamp and driving him out of the house. She found the strength to get rid of that dead weight and I was so proud of her for that. We were finally all going to be one big happy family.

My family has been doing well, but things have changed. They seem complacent; they seem content with their lives and genuinely happy. I want to be happy for them, but I feel strange. When the father was around, I was so upset, so disturbed, but I was powerful and a force to be reckoned with. The mother has taken to new habits; she admits when she is wrong, she replaces punishment with a teachable moment, she has become so humble. If they are so happy, why can’t I be?

I feel so weak, I feel sick and I think I have been losing weight. I hadn’t thought about what I was doing and now I am going to die for it. They will never know I existed, they will not miss me and I will rot away in the shadows. I only hope the boy can fight off the demons that will nest and make this their home. He will have to forgive his father or invite in Wrath. He must stay active in school and avoid Sloth. He cannot fall to the influences that consumed his father; I hope that the mother will stay strong as well, and look out for him. When Lust took their father, she didn’t have to deal with the abuse any longer; she could move on and be content… She didn’t have to be proud any more, but I will always be Proud.

Credit: Irrelevant

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Tick Tock Goes the Clock

July 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Can you send me the outline over email? That would be way easier,” said Jack, already searching for a taxi as he pushed his way out of the City University of New York’s doors.

“Sure bud, I’ll do that as soon as I get home,” said Abraham, walking beside Jack.

“Cool, I’ll catch you later,” said Jack. Abraham nodded and they parted ways.

Jack waved down a taxi after a few minutes and climbed into the back seat. The musky smell of the taxi made Jack question why he would take his car into the shop in the first place. He hated taxis. Nonetheless, he told the driver his address, then turned on his music and relaxed back in the seat.

“How’s school, son?’

“Sorry?” said Jack, taking out an earphone.

“How’s school going for you?” the taxi driver asked gruffly. He scratched his moustache with the hand he wasn’t using to steer with.

“Uh, good I guess. School is school you know?” Jack said.

The man chuckled, “What classes are you taking?”

Jack desperately wanted to forget about school for at least a few minutes and just listen to his music, but he replied politely anyways. “I’m just taking a few classes for accounting.”

“Accounting eh?” said the man. Jack didn’t say anything. “Are you from here by chance?”

Jack sighed, “No, I’m from Milwaukee.”

“I knew you didn’t look like the usual ‘Yorker. So, you came here to earn a degree in accounting?”

Jack ruffled his brown hair with his fingers. “Yes sir.”

“Huh, that’s something different. Let me tell you a story about one of my accountant friends, he …”

Jack had already tuned out, both of his earphones back in place and the beats of the song playing vibrating in his head. He stared out the window and watched the grey clouds in the sky roll over the city. A few drops of rain were already falling, splattering along the pavement and running down the taxi’s window that Jack stared out of. In the nearly stand-still traffic, Jack watched all the people of New York City bustling along the sidewalks in a mad rush to get home.

Before he’d officially decided to come to the city that never sleeps, Jack had considered riding a bike to and from his classes when he got there. After all, it was environmentally friendly and might even get him from point A to point B faster than anything else would. Now, as he sat in the stuffiness of the taxi with the driver droning on, Jack watched the business men and women on their bicycles groan in frustration as they attempted to weave around the clumps of people walking. In that moment he was grateful for not buying a bike. Anyway, he would get his car back in a few days and then he could be a part of the traffic problem again.

Moving to a new city, especially one as large and crammed with people as New York City, was a daunting task. Jack had always wanted to live there at some point in his life, but it had surprised him when his parents had allowed him to go so soon. It wasn’t like he was totally alone, since an old family friend had let him stay in his apartment for free. No rent meant Jack had the ability to save up for his car, even if it was a little beat up. The family friend had decided to stay in Phoenix at his vacation home until Jack had finished his stay in the apartment, but promised he would continue to pay the bills, which Jack would be forever grateful for.

Jack blinked and shook his head, the fog of daydreaming fading away. He pulled out his earphones as the taxi driver pulled over to the street outside of the apartment building he lived in.

“There you go, have a nice night now,” said the driver as Jack paid him and climbed out of the taxi.

“You too,” Jack mumbled, distracted by keeping his textbooks dry from the rain. He scrambled into the building, hair dripping and shirt slightly hugging his torso. After finally getting into the apartment, Jack slung his overstuffed backpack off of his shoulder and tossed it onto the floor along with the other books that he held in his arms.

“Jesus, I need some dry clothes,” Jack sighed, glancing down at the damp clothing that clung to his shivering body.

A dry pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt later and Jack was all ready to get started on his homework. He sat down at the kitchen table with a beer and opened his laptop. Jack opened the document Abraham had sent him with a sigh. The last thing he wanted to do was work from school and with everything he had to finish, Jack knew he’d be ordering Chinese food again for the third time this week.

A little while later, Jack heard the doorbell ring and went to get the door.

“Hey man,” said Jack as he opened the door.

“Hello sir,” said the delivery man. He handed the Chinese food to Jack who set the food on the floor beside him. “That will be $25.”

“There you go,” said Jack, handing him the cash.

“Thank you, good evening,” said the delivery man. He stepped away from the door and towards the elevator at the end of the hallway.

“You too,” Jack called down the hallway. Just before he closed the door though, something caught his eye. He swore, for only a second, that the man had changed from a man into … something else. Something black and what had looked like it was hovering above the ground. Jack shook his head and blinked a few times, he just needed some food and then he’d be ok.

Nonetheless, after Jack had closed the door, making a point to lock it, he peered out through the peephole. The man was already gone, having taken the elevator Jack supposed. Except he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being stared right back at, like something was looking directly through the peephole back at him.

Jack stumbled back and shivered as a tingle of nerves ran down his spine. Whatever, it was late and he was alone, that stuff happens. Right?

Four hours later, Jack was just about falling asleep as he stared blankly at his laptop. He sat back in his chair, his back cracking with a series of satisfying pops as it released some of the tension built up there over the past few hours.

Beside Jack’s laptop, a half-filled coffee mug that had been refilled twice already, sat staring at him. The coffee seemed to be mocking him, as if all the caffeine in the world wouldn’t help Jack stay awake to finish his assignments.

Jack’s phone buzzed, snapping him back to reality and he glanced down at the screen that illuminated the tiny kitchen he sat in. He picked up the phone and cleared his throat before answering.

“Hey Angie, what’s up?” said Jack.

“Were you sleeping, Jack? I’m sorry if I woke you,” said the voice on the other end. Angie was Jack’s best friend since elementary school and he had learned long ago that Angela Perkins knew everything, so he decided to tell half the truth instead.

“Not sleeping, exactly …” said Jack. He heard Angie giggle through the phone. “I’m doing homework so yeah actually, I am basically asleep.”

“That sucks, Jack-o,” said Angie. When they were 10, Jack had gotten scared while trick-or-treating and tripped over a pumpkin, face planting into the ground which gave him a bloody nose. Angie had called him that ever since, even though he hated it.

“I was just calling since it’s-“

“The anniversary,” said Jack firmly.

“Yeah,” Angie paused. “You know I care about you, that’s why I always check in.”

“I know, but really it’s ok,” said Jack. He scrubbed his hand down his face and cleared his throat so his voice didn’t shake. “It happened a long time ago.”

“Like that matters,” Angie scoffed. “I know you Jack. You’ll always think it was your fault.”

“Maybe that means it was,” Jack stated half-heartedly.

“You know I don’t think that.”

“Yeah,” said Jack. He sighed and switched the phone from one hand to the other. “Anyways, I don’t want to be rude, you know I love talking to you, but I really got to get this work done.”

“Of course, I’ll let you go. Miss you Jack-o,” said Angie.

“You too, Angie, you too.” Jack hung up and interlocked his fingers behind his head. He was never going to finish his work if he was on the verge of falling asleep. What was he going to do? Walk around, that’s it, that’ll get the blood flowing to his brain again.

Jack stood up from his chair and stretched so that all different parts of his body loosened up, then made his way over to the large window that overlooked the streets of the city.

New York City was the destination for dreamers who wanted to stick it to the man and make something great of themselves. It was not the ultimate place to go if you wanted to become an accountant, yet that was the profession Jack had set his sights on when he’d moved there all the way from Milwaukee.

Jack watched the people on the streets from his high up perch as they wove in between each other, like ants. It was almost in the AM, yet people and cars were still crammed together in massive crowds of frustration and impatience.

From up there in the apartment, an individual’s fragility was so apparent that it was a little disorientating to Jack. The late night thoughts of humankind’s vulnerability would inevitably lead to a small existential crisis or two and Jack really didn’t need that just then. He was way too exhausted for that kind of thinking.

Jack stumbled back from the window and into his bedroom. His head had started to throb, the pain focused right in his temples as the blood surged through his head.

“I’m never drinking coffee again,” Jack muttered.

Another particularly sharp throb pierced his head as he shook it in annoyance. “Damn it- bad idea, bad idea.”

Jack shuffled into the bathroom for a couple of painkillers before going back into his bedroom and laying down on his bed. It was so peaceful there, like a warm embrace wrapping around his body as the mist of sleep washed over him. Just a few minutes, just a few …

The sun was bright and warm. It burned the back of Jack’s arms and legs as he ran around the playground with Angie. Her pigtails danced in the wind, exactly like how she used to wear them when they were little. He could hear his mother calling him in the distance so he spun around and ran in her direction.

Next, Jack was standing in the grass that stretched a little ways out from the front of his house. Rachael, the neighbour’s kid who he went to elementary school with, was playing catch with him. He was only seven and many years had passed since that day, but Jack remembered it vividly from all the times he dreamed of it.

“Hey,” Jack said and passed the ball to Rachael. “Want to see who can throw the farthest?”

“Ok!” Rachael exclaimed, catching the ball and hugging it close to her chest.

“You throw first,” Jack said. He walked to the closed door of the garage while Rachael made her way to the end of the driveway.

“Ready?” Rachael smiled and winded up her arm.

Jack suddenly remembered that he wasn’t supposed play catch near the road. Oh well. Rachael threw the ball with more force than Jack had expected and he ran for the ball that had bounced off of the garage door behind him.

“Wait ball!” Jack cried and he stumbled down the driveway after it. Jack lunged forward, falling onto his stomach and scraping his knees, but the ball slipped out of his tiny fingers. It rolled quickly past Rachael, out onto the road and she immediately ran after it.

It all happened so fast. Jack choked out a warning for Rachael as he saw the truck tear around the corner but she was already in the street. Jack tried to stand to wave at her but her back was turned and she already had the ball in hand. Jack squeezed his eyes shut when he heard the blaring horn of the truck and a dull thump only seconds afterwards.

There was screaming coming from everywhere and Jack covered his eyes with his hands, feeling warm tears fall down his cheeks. It was his fault, all his fault, no matter what his parents had told him afterwards. He couldn’t save her. He didn’t save Rachael.

Then everything changed.

Like whiplash, Jack was surrounded by a whirl of darkness until it suddenly settled. Jack stuck his hands in front of his face but the inky black of his surroundings blinded him. A lump grew steadily in Jack’s throat and his stomach felt like it was contracting in on itself.

The warm gust of a person’s breath brushed past Jack’s ear and he spun around, reaching into the darkness. Nothing. Another few moments passed and Jack felt a hot flash on his arm like he’d been scratched. Still unable to see anything, Jack just held his burning arm and prayed for whatever was screwing with him to get lost.

When Jack turned back around he saw, finally, a small light. A candle sat on a windowsill only a few feet from him. Jack tripped and nearly fell on his way over but finally he reached the candle and breathed a sigh of relief. He held the flame up and took in his surroundings. The orange glow brought comfort back into the room Jack was standing in and his heartbeat slowed down as he relaxed.

The room looked like his own bedroom, in the apartment, but it was completely barren, all the furniture and posters Jack had taped to the walls were gone. The room felt almost dead, like it had been so long since it had felt a human’s presence and it was slowly decaying.

Jack blinked and when he opened his eyes he was back in his bedroom, sprawled on his bed.

“No sleeping beauty am I?” Jack laughed to himself as he wiped the small amount of drool from the side of his mouth. He sat up and realized mid-stretch that he was not in his bedroom at all. Well, it was his bedroom, but there was no sign that anyone was living there except for the bed Jack was sitting on. His posters were stripped from the walls; the shelving that was once pushed up against the far corner of his room was gone. Jack shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. He just wasn’t awake yet, that’s all. When he opened them again he swore loudly in frustration. The room remained the same, empty, drained of life. Exactly like his dream.

Jack drew his attention to the alarm clock that was sitting on the floor where the shelves for his clothes used to be. It was the only thing besides the bed that he recognized as his own. As he watched the digital clock, he became perplexed by it. As the minutes ticked by aimlessly, Jack felt almost as if he was entering a trance. He simply couldn’t look away from it.

The clock changed then, from 11:59pm to 0:00. Jack broke from the trance and quickly walked over to it, then kneeled down and picked it up. It wasn’t plugged in, so even if the lightening and rain had taken down a telephone pole, the clock couldn’t have reset itself. Besides, clocks can’t be set to zero, as far as Jack knew anyway.

“What the hell?” Jack muttered to himself, abandoning his investigation with the clock. He walked out of his bedroom and into the kitchen where he hoped to find his phone and call Angie, or at least realize that this wasn’t real and that eventually he would wake up. His cellphone was not on the table where he’d left it, because there wasn’t a table at all. It was like Jack had been robbed, the entirety of the apartment was empty.

Jack realized that he hadn’t turned any lights on yet as he jogged from empty room to empty room, searching for anything of his belongings. He tried a light switch but the apartment remained eclipsed in a soft darkness.

“So the power is out,” said Jack. He scratched the back of his head in thought. “I have to still be dreaming. No one has a key to this apartment besides me and anyways, no one would steal everything. That just doesn’t make sense, I have to-”

Something caught Jack’s eye from the large window. Behind the left curtain there was a shadow. Even with no light to cast it, the shadow loomed behind the curtain and Jack thought for a moment that it didn’t even look to be hiding. It was harsher than the darkness of the apartment, as it stood- or hovered, Jack wasn’t sure- in a rigid and cold state of being.

Jack leaned against the wall and slid down. He just wanted this all to be over, he was tired and he ached with frustration. He hated nightmares and this one just wouldn’t let go of him. Why did Angie have to bring up the anniversary of the accident? He’d almost forgotten about it until she mentioned it. Then Jack opened his eyes and screamed.

He stood and bolted for his bedroom. It had been so close to face, whatever it was. It had been so close to him, almost touching him. Just… watching him.

In an attempt to jump over his bed in the hope of getting somewhere safe, Jack tripped and hit the floor, hard.

Jack woke up with a start, his heart pounding in his chest and his scream echoing in his mind. He was awake. When he sat up in his bed, a wave of despair and exhaustion hit him. No, he wasn’t. His room was still completely empty and his alarm clock sat patiently in the corner of the room just like before. The time switched to 0:00 and Jack drew his knees up to his chest and prayed for the horrible nightmare to be over. He didn’t dare close his eyes, fearing for the shadow behind the curtain to come looking for him in his room.

After a few moments, Jack decided to go back into the kitchen like last time. He was anxious and terrified, but he figured if he just went along with the dream, then maybe it would end. The black shadow stood behind the curtain, just the same as before. This time though, it seemed different, like it was changing. It began to shrink, the shadow creeping down the wall until it stopped at the height of a small child. It was holding something too, Jack noticed. It held a round object under its arm, similar to a ball.

Jack stared at the childlike figure, panic rising in his chest with each breath. The shadow then dropped the ball under its arm and lunged at him. Jack only saw the darkness of the figure crawl over his body before his mind went blank as he fainted.

He awoke in his bed. His room was empty, the time switched to 0:00, he saw the figure, then blacked out.

Empty, 0:00, figure, black out.

Empty, 0:00, figure, black out.

Every time his room was barren and dead. Every time the clock set to 0:00. Every time the figure attacked him. Every time Jack screamed and blacked out.

How many times the cycle had repeated, Jack didn’t know. It might have been a few minutes, it might have been days. He tried to change it, tried to do something different every time but it always ended the same. Except it didn’t end.

Around the hundredth cycle, Jack began to wonder if he was in hell. Maybe hell is just the process of reliving something terrible over and over again. Jack had experienced his nightmare so many times that now he knew what would happen. The details started knitting themselves together, but he couldn’t do anything to change them. No one would be there to save him; no one would come to stop the cycle. He was alone and he would always be alone, in his own never-ending hell.

He thought he counted 423 last time, but everything had blended together and he didn’t know what to do anymore. He sat in his bed every time, not bothering to confront the figure anymore, because it always would come for him anyways. Jack was hopeless, he’d given up. There was nothing he could do.

597, 598, 599 …

664, 665, 666.

He had to die, that was the only way Jack would escape his fate. He had to believe that he wasn’t already dead, that he could kill himself and it would break the cycle. After all, he had nothing to lose anymore. Jack prayed for a rope of some kind to appear when the next cycle started and by some heavenly miracle, his wish came true. It was an old and fraying rope and he worried it might not hold his body, but it was something.

He went into the bathroom and tied a noose around the shower curtain rod. It would be high enough that his feet wouldn’t touch the floor and besides, he wouldn’t try to struggle. He was trying to end it all.

Jack blacked out right away, probably from how exhausted his mind and body had become. He’d felt the pain of rope burn around his neck, felt the throbbing in his head as his body tried to keep the oxygen flowing through his blood, but it hadn’t been enough to keep him alive.

Jack died in a cloudy fog of peace, hanging in his bathroom with his arms limp at his sides. Just before his body finally let go, he thanked whatever mercy the universe had spared him to allow him to end his nightmares. Then all he felt was bliss.

Everything was spinning and when Jack opened his eyes, black dots ran past his vision. He blinked a few times, confusion sweeping over his mind. Jack was lying down, so he sat up slowly to take in his surroundings. A wave of relief washed over him and Jack felt warm tears fall down his cheeks. He was free.

Immediately, Jack stumbled to the no longer empty kitchen and found his phone.

“Angie!” Jack yelled into the phone as soon as he heard the click of someone pick up on the other line.

“Jack?” Angie mumbled. He’d woken her from sleep, but he didn’t care.

“Oh my god, I’m so happy to hear your voice, Angie,” said Jack, crying again.

“Are you ok? What’s wrong?” said Angie, more urgently and awake this time.

“I had a nightmare, well- it was like a bunch of nightmares over and over because they were all the same-”

“Slow down Jack-o,” Angie said.

“Right, sorry,” said Jack. “I just had a bad nap, that’s all. Probably from the anniversary with Rachael-” Jack dry heaved at the name. “Sorry I woke you up I just needed to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming anymore.”

“I’m always here for you with that stuff. You’re ok now though?” Angie asked. She still sounded concerned, but not as agitated as before.

“Yeah I’m good,” said Jack. “I’ll call you tomorrow ok?”

“Ok, night Jack,” said Angie. “Hope you can fix your alarm clock soon.”

“Thanks, night Angie.” A voice in the back of Jack’s mind whispered about something she’d said, but he brushed it off.

He hung up and walked to the window, looking down on the streets as he’d done before. The people didn’t look vulnerable and fragile as they had looked before. They looked strong and determined, which Jack concluded was probably from him breaking the cycle and proving his own perseverance to himself.

Jack was terrified to go to sleep that night so he held out for as long as possible until his body shut down his mind for him. He didn’t dream at all and he was thankful for that. Maybe he’d finally paid his dues.

The next morning came with ease. The sunshine passed through the window in Jack’s room, covering the floor in an elegant golden blanket. When it reached high enough in the morning sky to pass over Jack’s sleeping face, he awoke slowly. The best way to wake up is with a big stretch that loosens all of your muscles and joints from the paralysis of sleep and that was exactly what Jack had the privilege of experiencing.

There is no greater feeling than waking up after a restless night of nightmares to the beauty of a Saturday morning.

Jack first made his way into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes to get rid of the last traces of sleep. He felt sick when he looked at his coffee pot, so he grabbed some orange juice from the fridge instead. He made eggs and toast with all the fixings, just how he liked it.

As he wolfed down his breakfast, Jack had the sudden urge like he needed to make the most of his day. It was the kind of feeling one gets after watching and inspirational movie or hearing a speech about changing your life for the better. Jack mentally started making a plan for the rest of his day so that he could live like it was his last day on earth.

He called his friend Abraham from school first to see if he wanted a break from studying like Jack did.

“Hey dude, what’s going on?” Abraham answered.

“Nothing actually, I woke up like an hour ago,” said Jack, laughing a little at himself.

“No way, I’ve been up for hours studying,” Abraham said with a jealous sigh.

“Perfect, do you want a break?” Jack asked.

Abraham laughed and Jack pictured him looking through all of the work he probably still had to do. “Sure, why the hell not?”

“Great! I’ll meet you at the café near the university in hour?”

“See you there bud!” Abraham exclaimed. Jack laughed again and ran his fingers through his hair. He knew he could get ready in ten minutes and he could catch a taxi that would get him to the café in thirty, so like the mostly responsible young man he was, Jack decided he’d try and finish the paper he’d been working on last night.

Jack had thought he would’ve been rid of writing essays and papers when he finished English in high school, but as it turns out, both were great ways of summarizing units. He hated it, but it was just something that needed to be done. So Jack wandered over to his laptop and plopped down in his seat, a little giddy with excitement about actually getting out the apartment later.

Jack had one last paragraph to do, with plenty of time to spare before getting ready to meet Abraham, when he heard a knock on the door to the apartment. No one ever knocked, the doorbell was right there.

He stood from his seat and made his way over the door, brows knitting together in the middle of his forehead. Jack opened the door slowly, only a crack, before peering out at the person standing there. It was the Chinese delivery man from last night, holding a full order of Chinese food in his arms.

“Hello,” Jack said, his voice rising at the end of the word in confusion.

“Hello sir,” said the delivery man. He shoved the food inside the door and Jack had to grab it to keep it from falling. “That will be $25.”

“I’m sorry this isn’t mine … I don’t think,” said Jack as he tried to hand the delivery man the food back. “I ordered some last night but you must have me mistaken for someone else.”

“Thank you, good evening,” said the delivery man. He seemed almost mechanical, like a puppet, like someone was whispering what to say in his ear.

The man turned and walked down the hallway towards the elevator, leaving Jack feeling uneasy and a little speechless.

“What the hell?” Jack muttered, closing and locking the door to the apartment behind him. He set the Chinese food down on the kitchen table and stared at it, his hands on his hips. He shivered at how strange his encounter was, how eerily similar it had been to previous night.

Jack went to the bathroom, hoping to bring himself back to reality a little more. Jack ran some cold water from the faucet and rinsed his face, wiping any remaining exhaustion from it. It felt good to physically wash away all the pain he had endured and start to move on.

“I need a shower,” he mumbled to himself as he dried his face on a hand towel. The towel brushed past his neck and a tender pain bloomed where it had touched him. Confused, Jack went back to the mirror above the sink and stared at himself. A red circle wrapped itself around his neck, blotchy with purple and blue bruises that hurt to touch when he pressed his fingers against them.

As Jack stared at his reflection, a panic rose in his chest as he realized what the circle forming around his neck reminded him of. The injury looked like it had been made by the toughness of rope.

Jack shot straight up in his bed just as the clock across his room switched to zero.

Credit: Taylin

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The Lost Chord

July 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 7.2/10 (139 votes cast)

Cora ran home from school that day with a knapsack full of half-nibbled biscuits and more questions than her mother had answers. It had started with a music lesson- she took piano from Mrs. Morris, twice weekly and once on Sundays after church. Old lady Morris was given to flights of fancy and known to tell tales, but this- oh, this! This topped them all.

The young girl straightened her uniform before sitting at the kitchen table and plopping down her school bag. “Mrs. Morris,” she said breathlessly as her mother approached with an unsure eye, “has told me something amazing!”

“Is that so,” was Mother’s disinterested reply. She opened up the strings of the knapsack and examined the barely-touched tin of biscuits with dismay. “Why haven’t you eaten? I thought these were your favourite.”

“Couldn’t,” Cora said, her blue eyes big and dramatic. “Just couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING else today. Oh, do you have time? Let me tell you! Or maybe you’ve heard! PLEASE!”

Mother was bemused at the child’s impatience. “Calm yourself, Cora.” She took a seat across from her daughter. “What story did Mrs. Morris tell you?”

“It’s a fantastic mystery!” The girl could hardly contain herself, but her stomach growled as if to say with Mother’s voice in her head, ‘People are hungry all over, you know.’ And so she bit her lip and resigned herself to eat at least one biscuit before beginning. Once finished she started, “It’s about a Kingdom. A big, grand Kingdom- like the ones from the storybooks.”

Mother read one each night before returning it to the well-worn cupboard and sending her off to dreamland, not knowing how Cora’s brain raced a thousand kilometers an hour before she could even CONSIDER sleep. With this it would be the same- the woman smiled and playfully entertained her daughter’s enthusiastic re-telling.

“This Kingdom had everything, really, I mean, a prince and a princess and all of that. And there were many people in it.”

Mother smiled. “I’d imagine so.”

“But then one day, well…” Cora screwed her face up into a frown. “I’m not sure. I think it was a girl that did it, a young girl. Yes- that’s what Mrs. Morris said. A little girl like me!”

“And what did she do?” Even Mother was intrigued now.

“She didn’t mean to, but she- she made the entire Kingdom vanish, just like that!”
The girl waved her hands emphatically as though onstage making a rabbit disappear. “It was the CHORD. The lost chord. And if you find it- and, and you play it, you see, on the piano- then it would bring the Kingdom BACK.”

Mother leaned back onto her elbows, a bit impressed. The old bird still had some new ones in her yet- she’d never heard of that story. “I didn’t know,” she told Cora slowly. But this didn’t quiet the girl’s mind at all. No, it only served to feed it more ideas that bounced around like whirling dervishes in her mind.

“You… you haven’t heard of this Kingdom?”

“No, not at all, I’m afraid,” Mother replied with a smile. “And anyway, it sounds like a fairy-tale. Or maybe an instruction for you to practice your chords more.”

Yes- yes, that was it! If anyone could bring the kingdom back in all of England, Cora knew SHE could. And she WOULD find the chord, she’d just have to. And she wouldn’t rest until she did. And maybe the Kingdom would welcome her, sit her down on a gilded throne and celebrate her. Maybe it was like the Kingdom of Heaven where Father was, and all the people in it were happy, like the angels that flew on high in the hymns every Sunday.

So Cora considered all the possibilities- and then her work began. She needed more information from Mrs. Morris, but alas, there was little to be had. (It was much the same with Mother- she hadn’t even HEARD of the Kingdom!) Were they here before the war, Cora wanted to know? Mrs. Morris only shrugged her slight, bony shoulders in relative indifference and instructed her back to her melodies. But still the girl’s interrogations continued.

Not here before World War II, the one that claimed Father and most of Uncle Paul’s bad arm. No, then perhaps before the first war, then? The one Granddad fought. She played her heart out at school, she played even more frenetically the keys at home, but still she persisted in wondering the grand scale and time period of this assuredly glorious Kingdom. SURELY they were here in the time of the Renaissance, of knights of old and fair maidens.

But STILL no, Mrs. Morris insisted, and sit up straight, young lady. And not one other soul seemed to have heard of it- no Kingdom like that had ever disappeared, in fact, at least according to every last history book Cora could find in the children’s library, or even the adult’s library. No vanishing Kingdoms. Not in Cora’s 11 years, now nearly 12, nor her mother’s 34, not even her great-nan’s 92 or all of them COMBINED. Her mind raced with endless numbers, endless possibilities. A Kingdom before time was even recorded, she thought. And all that was needed- was this very special, very unknown ‘lost chord.’ To the little old piano in the parlor, then.

Days turned to weeks as Cora dutifully recorded every possible permutation of those yellowed little keys, and in turn crossed out each one with a big X of her felt pen and a disappointed sigh. Mrs. Morris kept on in her steadfast refusal to dole out more insight. Could it be a one-handed chord, or would she need to use both? And how many notes- three, four, five, six even? Cora was splendid in maths, and that meant that the possibilities could now be in the THOUSANDS. But schoolwork was slow, and she was quick to finish it.

Even Mother found herself surprised at the constant clinks and jangles of the piano echoing out of the small parlor room each day when she went to the kitchen to put on the soup or dust the fine china. Cora played until her fingers ached. Then she would take a break, only to scribble down more groupings of notes, more possible solutions. The sides of her hands blackened with ink, the pads of her fingers calloused over, and still she played.

Cora was tired, but her mind simply would not rest. She was onto lower notes now; any higher chords had been proven false, and she wanted to see the Kingdom. She NEEDED to. It was a Saturday, and afternoon light streamed between the heavy plush curtains, but it would not beckon her out to play. The royal family surely missed the sun, the world outside. She brought her buckled shoes down to the dusty bronze pedals- only now had she thought to start using THOSE. Perhaps that was the secret to the lost chord, after all.

The girl brushed her hair aside and began to play, chord after chord, depressing the pedal with a slow methodic THUNK every time she did so. The sun grew higher in the sky. Her fingers stretched to reach the keys- five in total. She pressed them down firmly, and the pedal as well. All at once there was a shaking of the floor beneath her feet- she had done it! At last!

Cora took her foot from the pedal and stood up from the little wood bench, but at the sound of further trembling, of the whole earth moving and shifting all around her, her triumph was short-lived. Suddenly the parlor, then the whole house, the whole neighbourhood in fact, was bathed in blinding light. Mother was folding laundry in the upstairs, and dropped to the carpet, fearing a bomb- yet it was something worse, something she could never in all her life have imagined. Cora was knocked to the floor by the shaking, but quickly scrambled to her feet. The foretold Kingdom had returned, and its awful sight gripped her child’s heart.

Something terrible had come to Marcy Street, and only now as her mouth fell open did Cora realize the one thing she had failed to consider all her weeks at the little piano. Once it had vanished, where had the Kingdom BEEN? For how long? And its citizens… gone was any pretense of a fairy-tale, of beautiful nobles cloaked in silk with beaming crowns to welcome her.

Cora stumbled back to the doorway of the parlor, then back further, right up against the wall, jostling her mother’s china cabinet and not even noticing. She could no longer tell if the shrill cries in the air were from her own throat or those of the- CREATURES that now came before her. They screamed without mouths, wept without eyes, and with a tangle of fused limbs and distorted claws shambled haltingly into the world.

Credit: The Jinx

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