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October 2015 Halloween Discussion Post + Creepy Funko Pop Pack Giveaway

October 1, 2015 at 5:11 PM

As some of you have already noticed, the ratings stars have once again turned to pumpkins. This means that it’s finally October again, and thus time for our annual Halloween discussion post and giveaway!

Just like in 2014 and 2013, the October discussion post will serve as a sort of catch-all for any Halloween chatter. What are your Halloween costume plans? Will you be trick-or-treating, throwing a party, or otherwise celebrating the spooky season? Which pastas are your favorite to re-read around Halloween? You can even tell us what your favorite Halloween candy is, if you’d like. The only rules are as follows: no stalking/harassment, no offensive speech, no outright bullying/rudeness, and do try to stay on the topic of Halloween and the giveaway. In other words, keep it relevant and keep it civil. Be excellent to each other!

Now, as for the contest…

This year I’ve purchased a little “paranormal pack” of Funko Pop figures. I tried to get a decent mix of fandoms, so hopefully my choices will appeal to most of you!

ONE winner will receive the three following Funko POP! figures, brand new and in box:

Ash from the Evil Dead series:

Dana Scully from the X-Files series:

Weeping Angel from the Doctor Who series:

You may enter through this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules & Legal Stuff:
The contest will run from October 2nd to midnight on November 1st. Note that you can repeat the Twitter entry once per day for more entries, however you must send the tweet with the link to this post included for it to be a valid entry! Seriously, guys, this applies to the other bonus entry methods: follow the rules, because I do actually, manually, really, truly double-check that the winner has done everything correctly before I contact them. Even if the RNG machine spits out your entry, if I look and see that you’ve somehow cheated, I’ll just disqualify your entry and pick a new winner. Cheating/lazy entries do nothing but waste your time and mine.

Please pay attention to the terms and conditions. For legal reasons, this giveaway is only open to legal residents of USA & Canada who are 18 years of age or older. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. No exceptions.

There are affiliate codes included in the links to the Funko POP! figures. This means that if you visit the site through my link and purchase anything, I’ll get paid back a tiny kickback which then gets funneled back into site expenses and funding more giveaways. Thanks to anyone who uses my affiliate links, I appreciate it!

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Submissions Re-Opening… Finally. [August 15, 2015 -November 15, 2015]

August 15, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Hey everyone!

First off, I just want to thank you all for being patient and understanding while I sorted out the issue with the submission form. I know that many of you have been holding on to hopeful submissions for months now, and I’m sure it was disappointing when I wasn’t able to open submissions back in July as per my original plan. However, after testing a new submission plugin and monitoring how it affected our database while acting as the Contact Form only, I think that – knock on wood – we have a solid replacement and I now feel comfortable re-opening submissions.

Due to the extremely long ‘dead zone’ without any new submissions, this open period will be much longer than usual – three full months, as a matter of fact. It starts tonight, August 15th, 2015, and will end on November 15th, 2015.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • We currently have pastas scheduled up until September 23rd; this means that pastas submitted starting now will not be published until at LEAST late September, possibly far later depending on where you end up in the queue. We were extremely lucky that the submission form shenanigans happened to coincide with my having an unusually large amount of stories in my ‘to publish’ pile; so much so that we’ve been able to bump up to two stories a day for July, August, and September!
  • If your story is specifically tailored to be posted around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other specific timeframe, please make sure to tag it as ‘Seasonally Spooky’ – I do try to schedule those posts when they’re thematically appropriate.
  • I’ve added a new option in the tag field called “Historical Horror” – if your story is inspired by or set in a specific time period or tied to a historic event, please select this tag!
  • There is now a field on the submission form for people with ALREADY EXISTING author tags to enter their tag. If you don’t have a tag at the time of submission, leave this field blank. I will of course be double-checking and if I can’t verify that you are the ‘owner’ of that author tag, the story will not be placed in the tag. If you fill out the author tag field with anything but a valid author tag, it will just be ignored. This means that even if you’re eligible for a new author tag, you still need to use the correct form to request yours (and yes, that form is back and functioning again, too)!
  • The new submission form has a WYSIWYG text entry option; this means you can format your pastas exactly as intended without having to know html. I will do my best to honor your formatting – but if you do anything silly like try to submit a pasta entirely in massive lime green text… not going to happen, sorry. For those of you who prefer to enter your html manually (or have no formatting needs at all), you can still enter your pasta in the ‘Text’ tag without having to mess with the visual editor at all. This feature has been removed. I seem to have grossly overestimated the community’s familiarity with visual text editors. I was getting submissions so full of contradictory junk html code (for example: attempting to apply 5 different fonts to the same sentence, repeated on every single sentence in the story; or massive stacks of the italics tag being opened and closed 30 times without any actual characters in between the tags) that I was actually having trouble finding the story buried beneath all the lines and lines of extraneous html. I had assumed that most online writers would have at least cursory experience with visual text editors – I was clearly wrong. For the sake of my own ability to read submissions, I am removing the visual editor. To those of you who used the editor as intended, thank you, and my apologies that we’re having another episode of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Creepypasta Edition.

As always, this post is EXPLICIT CONFIRMATION that all submissions from the prior open period have been processed. Please do check your email (including your spam filter – but of course, if you read the FAQ before submitting, you already whitelisted ‘creepypasta’ in your spam filter, right?) to make sure that you didn’t get any last-minute messages from me before you submit any edited pastas. If your story was accepted and you’ve made rewrites in the interim, please follow the steps outlined in the FAQ to make sure we get your newest version posted instead. If you’ve rewritten a story that was rejected entirely (you received no response from me whatsoever) or was placed on Crappypasta, you can resubmit it as normal.

Remember: if your submission did not receive a response, it was rejected. Please do not resubmit the exact same pasta simply because you didn’t receive a response; this is a complete waste of both your time and mine. However, if you rework your rejected story, you are more than welcome to resubmit.

That’s all for this announcement! I’m excited to see what you have all been working on for the past few months, so get to submitting!

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The Montford Experiment

October 8, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Rating: 9.4/10 (60 votes cast)

My name is Jim Hutchison. Most people call me Hutch, even in my professional life. My family-owned business is as a concrete contractor, and we perform work for a variety of private and federal clients. One such client is the Texas State Department of Corrections. It was work at one of their detention centers that got me interested in volunteering at a facility.

About five years back, we were installing a parking lot at the Montford Adult Correctional Institute in Lubbock. It is also known by its more appropriate name, the Montford Psychiatric Unit, as all of the inmates have been diagnosed with some type of mental disorder or other. As my men were doing the preparation, concrete placement, and finishing over a number of weeks, I used to watch people walking in and out of the front doors of the facility. It was depressing.

Always the same scene. There would be inmates in orange and white striped jumpsuits – trustees – outside the doors sweeping the front steps and picking up trash: cigarette butts, gum wrappers, etc. But mostly sweeping, always sweeping. All day long. Must have been the cleanest set of stairs in all of Texas. I supposed that it was a treat for them, though. After exhibiting good behavior for a while, they were actually allowed outside the unit. I have seen the conditions inside, and boy, I would not want to be locked up in there for too long.

Still, the looks on their faces. Blank stares, slack jaws, sweating in the one hundred degree sun. As I said, very depressing.

I had a lot of experience with mental disorders, being diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and being a recovering alcoholic. I had found help and comfort through proper medical care and support groups, and I wished that there were some way I could pass that on to these poor men. Then, one day, I discovered how I could.

The guards at the front desk came to know me and some of my supervisory crew. They didn’t mind if we occasionally came inside the lobby to get out of the summer sun and use the rest rooms or buy soda from one of the machines in the waiting room. I was sitting in a chair one day, holding a cold bottle of Big Red to my forehead, when I overheard two women talking nearby. They were well dressed and obviously not there as visitors. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but the few words I heard caught my attention. Apparently, they were volunteers at the prison, “bringing the Word of the Lord” to the inmates confined inside. I told them how much I admired their work, and how I had a desire to help in a similar way. And so, they suggested that I apply for a position as a pastoral counselor in the unit.

Long story short, I did just that. I had to go through some training – what I could and could not bring into the facility, what I could and could not say to the inmates (never share personal information or build friendships), and how to act when inside general population walking and talking amongst the convicts. It was all pretty much common sense.

For the first eight weeks or so, I had to be escorted in and out of the unit proper. I would arrive, place my boots, keys, wallet, and such on a conveyor belt, turn over my briefcase for inspection, and walk through a metal detector. Then one of the guards at the entrance to general population would call up to the counselors’ office and someone would come down to get me. During the eight weeks, I was fingerprinted, interviewed, and a federal background check was run on me. Eventually, I was given a badge of my own and no longer needed an escort.

I learned many things in my first few months of volunteering. Bibles were like currency to the inmates (reading material to overcome boredom). Pencils were not allowed in the cellblocks, so the men loved meeting with me to write journals. They spent most of their time doodling ideas for tattoos. The really sick ones – the “mentals,” as the guards cruelly referred to them – were not allowed into general pop and looked forward to my visits. Most of all, I learned how easy it was to get in and out of the prison. Not that I would ever have done it but I marveled at the fact that, given the right inclination, a body could make a mint smuggling in cigarettes or booze stuffed into their socks.

I followed the same ritual every evening that I visited. I would park in the lot, walk past the trustees who swept the front steps (wow, did they ever stink), and enter the facility. The guards got to know me and grew comfortable with my visits. They began by waving me through the detector without having to remove my boots or open my briefcase, and eventually started letting me avoid the security check altogether.

Next, I was allowed to bypass the desk and go directly behind to a filing cabinet, where I could retrieve my badge – I wasn’t permitted to take it outside the prison. Then I’d get buzzed through an unremarkable metal door and walk down a long, unadorned hallway. At the end of the hall was where the genuine security measures began.

The hallway terminated at another door, this one made of double layers of thick, cloudy bulletproof glass supported within a frame of four-inch by four-inch square steel tubes. I would approach and stand under a camera mounted above the door, lifting both my face and the badge toward the camera in order for the guards inside to verify my identity. Once done, the door would slide open, allowing me to step inside an “airlock,” of sorts. Then the door would slide shut behind me.

The compartment was a triangular room with three doors, all similar, and a window set into the side. The guards in control of the doors sat behind the window, and would control the doors, opening only one at a time. I came to call them “doors number one, two, and three,” sort of like the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” I always entered through door number one, and then was allowed to pass through door number two into the prison’s general population. From the start, I would always gaze at door number three and wonder what was behind it, as it was the only door with darkened glass. Since no more than one door was ever open at a time, I never got a peek inside. During my orientation, I was told that the prison’s infirmary was back there.

When door number two opened, the stench was overpowering. No matter how many times you would enter the block, you never did get used to it. Mostly, it was the reek of urine, but was accompanied by an underlying sweet citrus smell, as the result of the cleaning fluid that they ineffectively used to mop down the halls. Inmates ambled up and down the halls, always giving you the once-over with their eyes. Occasionally, they would lock eyes with you and try to stare you down. During orientation, we were told never to look away – to stare them down as you would a stray dog. Looking away would be a sign of weakness.

It may seem cruel, but you had to keep them beat down. You had to constantly remind them that you were in charge, that they were nothing. Anything less could lead to unrest and rebellion, and you couldn’t have that.

The “mentals” were up on the ninth floor. The elevators, like the doorways, were controlled by the guards and monitored by cameras. I would press the single wall button, and eventually the doors would open. I’d step inside, look at the camera, and speak my destination into the camera microphone. Sometimes, there would be an inmate or two in the elevator. I never stood with my back to them. I would always stand facing them, my back to the door, staring them down, and for the most part, they would lower their eyes to the floor and try not to look at me. I was instructed never to enter an elevator if it was occupied by an inmate that intimidated me, but I never backed down. At first, I acted brave because I was unsettled but didn’t want to show it. After a while, I felt sympathy for the men more so than fear of them.

The ninth floor was divided up into five “pods,” each containing five double-occupancy cells. My habit was to rotate which pod I would visit on a daily basis, taking the weekends off. Even though I was educated not to make friends with the prisoners, I have to admit that I looked forward to the visits as much as they did. Sometimes heavily medicated, and by far the calmest group of men in the facility, they were (save for a few odd ducks) among the nicest people I’d ever met.

So it was day after day, week after week, month after month that I would follow the same routine. There were occasional variances, on some days due to fights or unrest among the inmates in general population, but one thing never changed. Every day as I entered the block, I would look over at door number three and wonder what lay behind it. I asked a few times, and was always told “the infirmary,” and after a while stopped asking for fear that someone might become suspicious about why I cared so much. Truth was, I’m just a curious person. Once, I even asked another volunteer if there was a chance that I could get a tour of the infirmary – perhaps visit the men back there – but was told (with great firmness) that my request would be impossible to fulfill, and that I should let the issue drop. I could almost hear the implied “or else.” That just piqued my curiosity even more.

My interest grew and grew until I one day decided that I was going to visit the “infirmary” one way or another. Although my decision was made on a Tuesday, I didn’t act immediately. I became more attentive to which guards were working on each day and at each time. Certain ones were more lax, or friendlier. It took two weeks of studying them, and building my confidence, until I decided that it was time to act.

Exactly two weeks and one day from the Tuesday that I made my decision, I finally got up the courage to say, “I’m visiting the infirmary today.” In my mind, I thought, let’s see what’s behind door number three, Monty!

The guard never even batted an eye. “Alright Hutch. Have fun,” he said, twinkling his fingers as his eyes dropped back to the video screens in front of him.

That easily, the door slid open. Boy, if the stench in general pop was bad, the odor wafting through door number three must have been quite literally a hundred times worse. In the hot Texas sun, and with all of the turkey vultures, road kill never lasted very long in Lubbock. Every once and a while, though, you’d come across a “fresh” one. That’s the closest thing I could think of to describe the smell behind door number three. It was as if you picked up a day-old dead armadillo, buried your nose in its crushed belly, and took a deep breath. Well, what I imagine it would smell like. I had never actually done that. Definitely the smell of rotting meat and gangrene, though.

The doors slid shut and another long hall was revealed. Dimly lit, with flickering fluorescents, it was like something straight out of a horror movie. I soon found out that was an extremely appropriate description. Another door at the end of the hall hung loosely from its frame, allowing light to leak out around it. I could hear alternating moaning, crying, and the worst – screaming coming from behind the door. I could have… should have turned around and headed back for the exit, but I had gotten too far. The only way to go was forward. Forward and through that door.

Although I knew it would seem suspicious, I opened the door slowly and stuck my head around the corner. The best way to seem as if you belong somewhere is to stride right in with confidence, but I couldn’t. I was afraid of what might be behind the door. Heck, I thought, it most likely was just a prison hospital. Moaning, crying, screaming – all normal noises for men in pain.

It was most definitely not a normal hospital ward.

There were at least a dozen men strapped to steel tables. Some naked, some in orange prison jumpsuits, and some wearing the striped suits like the trustees that I passed every day outside on the stairs. All of them had IV’s inserted into their arms, the drip bags containing a fluid that looked like antifreeze. Vitals signs monitors (VSMs) were attached to most of them, and I could see by the displays that two of the men were clearly dead.

There were two men and a woman, all wearing lab coats, standing amongst the tables. One of the male doctors (?) looked up in surprise, and then beckoned over “Come in, come in.” They must have noticed the look of confusion, quickly turning to panic, in my eyes. The female doctor began explaining in a soothing voice.

“Don’t worry. You’re not the first outsider to stumble his way into our infirmary, and I’m certain that you won’t be the last. As you’ve probably already guessed, what we have here is more of a lab than a hospital. We’ve just become so used to calling it the infirmary that it’s simpler that way.” She drew a breath and was about to continue when another of the doctors shouted, “It’s happening!”

Everyone, myself included, turned toward one of the tables that held a dead man. Well, previously held a dead man, to be exact. His VSM had jumped to life, and seemingly so had he. He began twitching, and then thrashing, then he began to scream. I had seen a man being burned alive once, when a barrel of hot tar accidently spilled on him, and the screaming was the same. It was gut wrenching and made my skin crawl. You could hear the pain and sorrow in it.

The female doctor scrambled to inject a syringe of some milky liquid into the man’s IV port and after what seemed like an eternity (although it was probably mere seconds) he calmed, and his breathing steadied itself.

Here’s the thing: They had not been performing CPR on the man when I walked in. There was no defibrillator to be seen. The man was unmistakably dead when I arrived and during the few minutes we had been talking. Yet, here he was alive once again, as if he had spontaneously resurrected. Disturbingly, though, his eyes were still clouded over as if he had cataracts. An uneasy and sick feeling crept its way into my belly. The doctors had not told me anything yet, but on some level, I already knew what was happening – or at least part of it.

I was incredulous. “Wha- what’s going on?”

So, while two of the doctors tended to the resurrected man, the third explained the experiment to me.

“You see, we were tasked to find out whether or not so called ‘evil’ men have souls or not,” he began. “Of course, I personally do not think that there is any such thing as true evil, but I do wonder if these malcontents have the same sort of spiritual makeup as normal people. After all, why do they do what they do?

“In 1907, a Haverhill, Massachusetts, doctor by the name of Duncan MacDougall managed, apparently overcoming any ethical reservations over human experimentation, to put six dying people on a bed equipped with sensitive springs, and claimed to have observed a sudden loss of weight – about three quarters of an ounce – at the exact moment of their death. Having reasoned that such loss could not be explained by bowel movements or evaporation, he concluded he must have measured the weight of the soul. A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs didn’t seem to suffer the same sort of loss, therefore they didn’t have souls.

“I’m not implying that these inmates are on the equivalent of dogs, but one must wonder exactly how they compare to normal, healthy human beings. We obviously do not have much control data, but we have recycled these men as much as possible for our research.”

It was there that I stopped him. “Recycled?”

“Oh yes,” he brightened. “We don’t just throw them away. You see, as a pleasing consequence of our intended experiment, we found that we were able to revive our test subjects.”

“Revive them?”

“Yes. Revive, resurrect, bring them back… whatever you wish to call it. This way, we are able to take measurements and observe through a variety of different conditions. It’s quite ingenious.”

I really did not know what to say at that point. To question who authorized the experiment, what the ramifications were, how it worked. So I asked the first question that popped into my head.

“So, do they have souls?”

He removed a pencil from his breast pocket and tapped the side of his head, as if thinking it over. “You know, I’m quite certain that they do. As I said, we lack enough data to use as a control. However, it seems that each time we bring them back, they lose a little until – it seems – it’s all gone. After a certain point, we can no longer observe any differences.”

“And how long does that take?”

“Usually four or five cycles.”

I cocked my head, still in disbelief over the casual way he was talking about the atrocities they were committing. “And what happens then?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t follow you.”

“After you’re done with them. What happens to them then?”

“Whoo,” he blew air through pursed lips. “Yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s currently the little ‘snag’ we’ve run into. You see, eventually they just stop dying.”

He must have seen the look on my face.

“I mean, it’s not as if we haven’t tried. We usually put them down in a most humane way. Sedation, paralysis, and eventually with an injection of enough potassium to stop their hearts. Then we revive them and do it again. And again. And again. Each time, it gets a little more difficult to put them down, until… well, until we just can’t do it anymore.”

“What?” I was just about screaming.

“In simpler terms, they are basically incapable of dying. Quite a problem. And they really start to stink,” he said, as if that were the chief problem.

“Can’t you burn them, cremate the bodies?”

It was his turn to look at me in disgust. “Oh, now that would be cruel.”

I held my head in my hands and began to hyperventilate. “So where are they?”

“Well,” he said, “Outside. Sweeping the steps.”

With that, I began to feel lightheaded. What caused me to faint, though, was his next question.

“Mister, um…” he looked at my badge, then into my eyes, “Hutchison, would you consider yourself to be a good person? Do you believe that you have a soul?”

Credit: Kenneth Kohl

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Rating: 9.4/10 (60 votes cast)
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October 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.7/10 (101 votes cast)

“Bobby! Pay attention!” he heard his teacher say. He snapped out of his reverie and looked up to see her glaring at him. “Did you hear anything I’ve been saying?” she continued.

Bobby shrugged his shoulders. Prior to being disrupted, he was daydreaming that he could freeze time, and before that he was imagining himself navigating the classroom if he was only 5 inches tall.

The teacher continued to rant at him, just as they all did, then she placed him on detention Friday night after school.

Why is it that schools are so intent on crushing a child’s imagination? What is it about creative kids that piss so many teachers off? They punished him for sketching or writing stories in class. They punished him whenever he slipped into a daydream. His artwork wasn’t the right style for his art teacher; his music was too modern for his music teacher, and he was even forbidden from using mnemonic techniques to revise for exams. Whenever he strayed from their formula and their methods, he was punished and told he would never amount to anything.

At the end of the school day the kids rushed towards the gates, saying goodbye to all their friends and classmates. Nobody said goodbye to Bobby though. They barely noticed him unchaining his bike for the lonely ride home.

As he approached his teens, he was finding it hard to connect with other kids and was used to being excluded. Bobby’s only companion was his diary, in which he confided his thoughts and feelings. Every night before bed, he would make an entry…

Dear Diary,

Another shit day at school. Wandered the playground alone. Picked up another detention Friday night.

On the plus side, there are some great Xbox games coming out this month.


The following day transpired much the same…

Dear Diary,

I hung around the boys in my class today, watching them play football. I thought they were going to ask me to join in, but they just wanted me to fetch the ball. I decided to spend my break time in the library instead.

Got into an argument with mum and dad again. I told them I’m on detention tomorrow night and they threatened to take away my books and Xbox. If they did that my life wouldn’t have much point.


The following day at school Bobby made an effort to focus on his classes. Every time he caught his mind drifting away, he’d try to snap his attention back to the words of the teacher. That lasted all of 15 minutes before he slipped into another daydream.

When the school bell signalled home time for the kids, he made his way to the detention hall. At least here nobody was telling him what to think about. The supervising teacher read a book while Bobby and two other boys stared at the walls until their hour was up. When he was done, he headed outside to unchain his bike. It had started to rain and dark clouds hung in the sky making it feel much later than it was.

Bobby rode his bike along his usual route home, over the wet deserted roads, but before he could reach the home stretch, he noticed a gang of older boys lurking in one of the streets. They looked like trouble so he chose to circumvent them via a patch of wasteland behind the houses. The pavement gave way to a rocky and uneven dirt track at the foot of a tall grass bank. He steered onto the grass to avoid some broken bottles, but it was soft and slippery from the rain. The front wheel slid out of control, throwing Bobby over the handlebars. He landed on his back, knocking the wind out of him.

He appeared not to be seriously hurt, but sat on the ground for a while as he attempted to catch his breath. He was wet and his bike lay in a heap in front of him.

“Are you ok?”

Bobby looked round trying to locate the source of the voice. It sounded like a young girl.

“Is your bike damaged,” she asked. It was coming from the top of the bank, but he couldn’t see who was speaking.

He pulled himself to his feet and started to clamber up towards the unidentified voice. A line of houses backed onto the bank, overlooking the wasteland below. In one of the gardens stood a girl, peering through a wire fence.

“I saw you fall and just wanted to check you were all right,” she said.

“I’m ok…thanks,” Bobby puffed, gasping for breath.

The girl opened the gate and gestured for Bobby to enter. The lawn was overgrown and the house looked run down, but that barely registered in his mind as he laid eyes on the girl in front of him. She had brown hair tied into a pony tail with a red bow that matched her dress; a pale and flawless complexion with pink cheeks, and eyes like droplets of sky. She was beautiful.

Bobby didn’t know what to say. He was out of practice when it came to talking to girls…or to kids in general.

“I left my bike,” he said, standing on the threshold.

“We can bring it up to my garden if you like. We can check it over, make sure it’s safe to ride,” offered the girl. “Come on, I’ll help you.”

The two of them made their way down the grassy bank and wheeled the bike back up to the girl’s garden.

“Err…thanks,” said Bobby.

“That’s fine.”

They checked over the bike, though Bobby was thinking only of the girl he was with. He’d never experienced such kindness from a stranger before.

“I’m Lucy,” she said.

“I’m Bobby.”

“So are we meant to shake hands or something?” she said, reaching out.

Bobby smiled and gently shook her delicate hand.

“Do you have to rush home or do you want to hang out for a while?” she asked. “I can’t invite you in because mother’s asleep, but I know somewhere we can shelter from the rain.”

Bobby checked his watch. “Ok. I have to be home by eight though.”

“Great! Follow me.”

Bobby picked up his bike and wheeled it along as Lucy led the way. They exchanged small talk and he found himself more at ease than he had felt for a long time. They came across a small cove of trees where the branches intertwined to form an overhead canopy.

“It’s not much, but it’ll keep the rain off us. We can sit here,” said Lucy, taking a seat on a log and motioning for Bobby to join her.

He leaned his bike against a tree and sat next to her. “So, do you hang out here a lot?”

“Yes. Sometimes I need to get out of the house. Mother sleeps a lot, you see. She gets really annoyed when I make noise, so I try to keep out of her way.”

“I understand,” Bobby replied, sympathetically. “I have arguments with my parents too.”

“Really? Over what?”

Bobby looked down before saying, “I disappoint them.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“I’m no good at anything and I’m always in trouble at school.”

“Are you one of those bad kids?”

“No, I’m really not. I just can’t concentrate on the classes. They bore me.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“My parents wish they had a normal son who was into sports and did well at school. When I try talking to them about the stuff I’m into or the stories I’m writing, they just roll their eyes,” he said. “Most people just avoid me.”

“I didn’t avoid you, Bobby.” Lucy placed her hand on his as she spoke. He flinched slightly at her touch. She looked at him until he raised his head and their eyes met. “I would love a friend like you,” she added.

Bobby couldn’t repress the smile that stretched across his face. “Do you want to hang out tomorrow?”

“I’d like that. Meet me in my garden around three?”

“Ok,” he agreed.

They continued chatting a bit longer before deciding to head home. Bobby gave Lucy a lift on his bike, dropping her off at her garden before making his way home for the night.

Dear Diary,

I’ve had an amazing day and I think I’ve made a new friend! Her name is Lucy. She’s beautiful and sweet. We really clicked and she gets me. We’re meeting again tomorrow afternoon. I’ll keep you updated.


As arranged, Bobby met Lucy in her garden. She was wearing that same bow and red dress. He noticed it was torn and frayed in a few places, but she looked even more beautiful in the clear daylight. They went for a ride on his bike and he showed off some stunts. She appeared impressed and gave him a round of applause. She explained that she’d never learned to ride a bike, so he decided to teach her, gently guiding her to make sure she didn’t fall. As he placed his hand on her back, he noticed that her dress was damp. Had she not dried it from the rain yesterday? Did she not have any other clothes? he wondered, but he kept his thoughts to himself.


Bobby turned around to see a bunch of on-looking kids. They were shouting out and laughing amongst themselves.

“Freeeak!” they yelled again.

Lucy pulled Bobby aside. “Take no notice. I get it all the time.”

“But, why?”

“It’s because I’m poor and my house is a dump,” she said. “Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed.”

“Freeeeaaaak!” the kids continued.

Bobby had always shrunk away from confrontation, but he found himself tapping into courage he never knew he had. He puffed up his chest and pulled back his shoulders, ready to face them. The kids scurried away nervously.

“Forget about it. They’re just idiots,” she said, tugging at his arm.

Bobby and Lucy returned to their little den in the trees where he allowed his temper to settle. He couldn’t understand why they called her a freak. Aside from the frays and tears on her dress, she didn’t look poor, especially from a distance. He started to wonder if they knew something about her that he didn’t.

They continued talking and discovered a number of interests in common. Lucy loved reading too, but confessed that she didn’t go to school much. When Bobby asked why, she said it was complicated and offered no more. He figured it had something to do with her mother, but decided to drop the subject. They spent the entire afternoon laughing and playing together and forgot all about the incident.

Bobby dropped her off at her garden. He looked up at the house. She was right: it was a dump. He felt so sorry for her. Despite the arguments with his parents, he was always well fed and well dressed and had nice presents at Christmas and birthdays. Maybe one day he could whisk her away.

They stood facing each other for a moment. Their eyes met, but Bobby broke his gaze to check his watch. “Well, it’s getting late. I guess I should get going.”

Lucy leaned in and wrapped her arms around him. “This has been one of the best days of my life,” she whispered into his ear.

“Mine too,” he replied, sincerely.

Bobby peddled his bike home, a smile stretched across his face and a fluttering in his chest.

He met with Lucy again the following day and every night after school.

Dear Diary,

I’m sorry I’ve not written any updates this week. I have been spending a lot of time with my new friend, Lucy. I’ve never met anyone like her before and I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s so caring and when I talk, she actually listens to me. I stop myself sometimes when I think I’m rambling, but she always asks me to carry on and says she finds me fascinating.

I think about her as more than just a friend sometimes. She hugs me and compliments me a lot and it makes me wonder. She had a big argument with her mum last night and cried on my shoulder. We held each other so tightly and just stood there for ages in the rain. She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and I wanted to kiss her so much. I think she wants me to, but I’m scared to ruin what we have.

Something really bothers me though. All the kids keep calling her a freak. It happens whenever they see us together and I don’t understand why. She says it doesn’t bother her, but it must. Why are people so cruel? I notice she wears the same tatty dress every day and I worry that her mom is neglecting her. But I’ve planned a nice surprise for tomorrow.


When they met the next day, Lucy joined Bobby on his bike and they took off along the main road towards town.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“It’s a surprise!”

“I don’t get to go into town any more,” she said. “This is so exciting!”

They arrived at a shopping mall and Lucy seemed overjoyed, mesmerised by the wonders in front of her. They walked round, admiring things in the shop windows and when Lucy pointed out a dress she really liked, Bobby offered to buy it for her.

“That’s the surprise,” he told her. He’d been saving his pocket money for some new games, but the past week he hadn’t even turned on his Xbox.

“What? Really?” Lucy was jubilant. “But I can’t, Bobby. That’s your money…I can’t.”

Bobby insisted and assured her it was what he wanted, so they went inside and bought the dress.

“I’ll wear this for you tomorrow,” she said, and gave him a big hug. “I can’t wait!”

Bobby treated her to something to eat and drink in a fast food place, but the stares they got from the people in there made them very uncomfortable, so they decided to finish their food outside. In fact, they endured a lot of stares in the mall that day, as well as a few giggles and Bobby was sure he heard the word “freak” a few times too. But it wasn’t enough to ruin their day or snap him out of the bliss he felt when they were together. Besides, Bobby secretly hoped that the new dress he’d bought for her would put an end to the name-calling.

When he met her the following day she was wearing the new dress as promised. It was dark purple with lace frills. She had untied her hair too, and it hung freely just below her chin. Bobby was taken aback.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“I love it!” he replied.

That evening they decided to leave the bike behind and go for a stroll over the local park.

“Do you ever dream about your ideal future?” she asked.

“All the time.”

“Do you ever picture yourself falling in love? Or walking hand in hand, taking the dog for a run over the park on a Sunday afternoon then snuggling up on the sofa in the evening, watching movies?”

“I guess so,” Bobby said. The truth is, he’d thought about it a lot, especially since meeting Lucy.

“A girl can dream,” she sighed.

The following ten minutes passed in silence as they walked through the park, taking in the autumnal colours and kicking through leaves. Then he felt Lucy reaching for his hand. He held onto it and they continued walking hand in hand. He felt butterflies in his stomach and in that moment he couldn’t have been happier.

Unfortunately, it was soon to be interrupted.

Three boys, a few years older than Bobby, stood in their path. “Look, it’s the freak!” one of them said.

Bobby released Lucy’s hand and positioned himself between her and the boys. “Leave her alone,” he warned them.

“Is that your girlfriend?” one of them laughed.

“Mind your own business.”

“How about I steal her from you?” the biggest of the boys threatened. “I’ll snap off her head off and use it as a football!” At this point, the boy reached out and grabbed Lucy’s arm. As he pulled her towards him, she fell over.

Bobby snapped. He threw a punch into the larger boy’s jaw, who dropped to the floor in an instant. He then swung at the other boy, catching him on the nose. He felt it crunch on impact and blood spurted out. The remaining boy saw his opportunity and punched Bobby under his eye, but it wasn’t enough to knock him down. Adrenaline rushed through Bobby’s veins as he grabbed him in a headlock and tightened his grip until he screamed for mercy.

“Bobby! Stop!” he heard Lucy say. He looked down to see she was still lying on the floor. He released his grip and all three boys staggered away, defeated and humiliated.

“Fuckin’ freak!” one of them muttered.

Bobby ignored the parting shot and attended to Lucy.

“Are you hurt?” he asked her as he lifted her onto her feet.

“No, I’m fine,” she said. “But your eye…it’s all swollen.” She ran her fingers lightly over Bobby’s face, where he’d caught a punch.

“It’s nothing,” he replied.

Lucy leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you Bobby. Nobody has ever done anything like that for me. You were so brave.”

He blushed.

“By the way, you dropped something,” she said, handing Bobby his watch.

“It must’ve come off in the fight. It’s a good thing you found it! My granddad left it to me when he died and my parents would go crazy if I lost it.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never had a watch before.”

“Want to try it on?” he offered. “You can wear it until we get back.” He adjusted the strap and fastened it onto her narrow wrist. She held it in the air and flaunted it as though it was some valuable treasure. It was endearing how much she appreciated the little things. Everything about Bobby seemed to impress her.

They continued walking and he noticed she was limping. “I just twisted my ankle a bit, that’s all.”

“I’ll give you a piggy back,” said Bobby, crouching slightly so she could jump on his back. He was surprised at how light she was. He walked her all the way home, right to her door.

“You’ll have a black eye tomorrow,” said Lucy, touching his face again. “What will you tell your mum and dad?”

“I’ll make something up. I’m good at that.”

They lingered for a moment. Their eyes met, only this time neither of them turned away. Bobby glanced down at her tender lips, brushed back her hair and leaned in closely. He kissed her and she reciprocated. He felt his heart pounding.

They gently pulled apart and gazed into each other’s eyes. She started to giggle nervously. “I’ve been waiting for you to do that,” she told him.

Bobby beamed at her. “See you tomorrow,” he said, as he retrieved his bike.

“I can’t wait!” she replied.

He couldn’t stop thinking about her on the way home, about their kiss. He was overcome with euphoria and wanted to greet everyone he passed and announce his happiness to the world. Just over a week ago, he’d meant nothing to anyone and was just some lonely failure. Now he was a hero who had taken on three older bullies and got the girl. Life couldn’t be better.

Her reached the front of his house and went to check the time. “Damn!” Bobby exclaimed, realising he’d forgotten his watch. He trusted Lucy and considered leaving it with her until tomorrow, but he started to imagine his parents stressing out, before marching him to her house and demanding it back. He couldn’t face the embarrassment.

Bobby turned his bike around and headed back to Lucy’s house. By the time he got there, the sun was going down and darkness was falling over the streets. He noticed there were no lights on at the front of the house. Afraid of aggravating her mother, he decided to head round to the back garden where they usually met, hoping he could attract her attention.

No lights on in the back of the house either.

“Lucy!” he called out, in a half whisper. He made his way through the overgrown grass and weeds, drawing towards the house. He called out again, but no response.

He walked up to one of the windows and peered inside. He could see what looked to be a dilapidated kitchen. The walls were streaked with peeled wallpaper, the surfaces were covered in plaster and dust, and broken tiles lay on the floor. Bobby felt his heart sink on seeing the deprived conditions in which Lucy was living.

He moved round to the next window. A dirty net curtain obscured his view, but in an otherwise empty and undecorated room, he could make out the figure of a girl. Her back was turned to the window and she was gazing into a mirror.

“Lucy?” he called out. No response.

He knocked the window. She didn’t move. He knocked again, a little harder, but she remained perfectly still. A sense of foreboding loomed over him. He knocked again.

“Lucy! It’s me, Bobby.” His pulse started to race and he struggled to swallow. Something wasn’t right.

He headed to the back door and found it unlocked. The house looked even worse on the inside. There was plaster over the floors, holes in the ceiling and no carpet or wallpaper. It looked abandoned. He crept slowly through the shadowy hall towards the room in which he had seen the girl. Floorboards creaked underfoot and he remembered Lucy telling him how annoyed her mother would get when disturbed. He could feel himself trembling. It wasn’t about the watch now; he just needed to check she was ok.

Slowly, he opened the door and an icy shiver ran over his body. He felt his knees buckle and his stomach churn at the sight before him: a pale mannequin with rosy cheeks and brown chin length hair. It was wearing the purple dress that he’d bought from the mall. Its glassy blue eyes stared blankly into a dirty mirror.

Fear gripped his body, but he needed to know the truth. He drew closer and gently pushed the mannequin. It toppled to the floor and lay there stiff and lifeless. That’s when he noticed his watch fastened around the mannequin’s narrow wrist.

Bobby could feel his head spinning and his heart pounding as repressed memories came flooding back and his fantasy started to give way to reality. He ran outside and jumped on his bike. Tears streamed down his face as he peddled furiously away from that house…forever.

Credit: Daniel Hammonds

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The Reserve

October 7, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Until recently, I had considered the reserve near my home just another quiet, if slightly unnerving, relic of pre-suburban life. With sub-divisions and commercial sectors rising steadily around it, the knot of thick trees, greenery and long, straw-like grass had been cast aside by time; a mottled green and brown fortress among the ever-expanding web of houses and streets.

Nothing about the area seemed inviting. Entirely unkempt, the reserve, which stretched out over a square mile, was visibly overgrown. It was near impossible to make out any detail amongst the trees. As a natural wall, the old branches and predatory vines weaved together on the outskirts to truly reinforce the isolated, island-like nature of this heavily shadowed place.

During my childhood, I remembered that the area had been popular with trekkers and runners. A long tourist trail wound from one corner of the park to the other, providing a nature walk for visitors to what, at the time, was a very tourism-oriented area. The walk would take the best part of an hour, with the trail weaving through patches of woodland and large open areas of tall, pale-coloured grass at the centre of the reserve. Considering the lack of anything truly spectacular about the place, it is no wonder that after several years the local Council abandoned consistent maintenance of the park. They had quoted a lack of public use for the decision, and had then planned to sell the area to commercial developers.

Through my research, I discovered that it was around this time the disappearances started. Although the authorities had abandoned the reserve to the elements, some runners insisted on continuing to use the area. The Council had made no efforts to actually fence off the area, instead choosing to erect several temporary signs at the track entrances indicating the impending sell-off of the land. As such, it was easy enough to simply enter the area. The thick masses of foliage had already begun to press into the path, narrowing the already small trail. It was somewhere along this isolated track that runners begin to vanish. Over the course of six months, 3 different people had entered into one end of the path, never to emerge from the other.

Police invested significant resources on all three occasions, searching the reserve with dozens of volunteers, but no bodies were ever discovered. This deepening mystery had an immediate ripple effect, with the company expected to purchase and make use of the reserve withdrawing their application. With no other serious offers, the Council then left the land to itself, listing it officially as a ‘nature reserve’. To my knowledge, they have never again attempted to sell the land.

As the years passed, the local homeless population began slowly migrating into the area. Makeshift shelters and camps sprung up deep into the wilderness during my teenage years. I clearly remember seeing dishevelled, untidy hermits plunging into the, then, entirely overgrown track entrances, as if the woods themselves had reached out for them and consumed them whole. In recent years, the park has been as good as forgotten by the greater society. It still looms over the homes of those families it borders, but to some, having evidence of more untouched nature at their doorstep must be a blessing rather than a curse. But, it is a curse. The whole area is cursed, and it was almost enough to ensure that I never wrote this story down.

You see, I made the mistake of discovering the secret of the reserve. I didn’t even do it intentionally. It started purely by chance, from an unlikely source. One afternoon, several weeks ago, I had planned on walking several miles to a party someone from my college was hosting. I had never been to their house before, so I had punched their address, and my own, into the maps website to check for the fastest route. The program had returned three alternatives, two of which would take me almost two and a half hours. The third option, however, showed as less than one and a half. The blue line on the map worked it’s way from my house the two blocks to the edge of the reserve, then traced the original tourist trail before emerging out the other side, only several streets from my destination. Despite the almost instant apprehension about crossing that place at night, I think I had already decided I would risk it to shave an hour off the trek.

It wasn’t long before I was standing at edge of the green, imposing mass. After checking my phone one last time and wishing, fruitlessly, that it now showed a different path, I plunged into the undergrowth. The sensation of walking on human-constructed ground wasn’t instant, as over time, foliage had even grown over the gravel trail. But soon, the earth hardened, the trees parted, ever so slightly, and the thin, shadowy trail was revealed. After 15 minutes or more of manoeuvring through low-hanging branches, guided by the impressively powerful light on my phone, I pushed through a net of thick vines and shrubbery to emerge at the mouth of the grassed section of the park. The pale blades stretched upward, easily towering over me. Some fell lazily over the path, bending at their middle, but the trail was still defined enough to push onward.

About halfway across the reserve, still engulfed in the imposing grass, I came across by a small clearing. The grass parted to reveal a loosely-circular bare patch, no bigger than a basketball court. I slowly swept my light across the clearing, and at it’s centre, stopped on what appeared to be the silhouette of another person. As my eyes adjusted, I quickly realised that it wasn’t a another human at all, but a grass giant. Long strands of the surrounding grass had been cut, or pulled out, and intricately woven into a human effigy. It was secured in place with a gnarled tree limb which had been embedded in the earth. The figure loomed, standing at least eight feet tall, it’s arms hanging downward almost to the ground below. It’s head was rectangular, featureless, a knot of grass blades rising above the figure’s low, drooping shoulders.

I cautiously approached the bizarre creation, refusing to let my light leave it. As I reached the grass-man, I tentatively reached out to touch it. I’m still not sure why. As my arm extended forward, I heard a rustling directly to my right. I paused, arm outstretched, listening. The sound came again; a clear movement in the grass. For the first time since arriving at the clearing, I shifted my light, as I begun to scan the grass encircling me. As I swept my light to the right it revealed a man, standing quietly at the clearings edge. He wore a large overcoat, and appeared to be covered in dirt and dust. Even with the light shining directly on him, I couldn’t make out any of the details of his face, his long, matted hair hanging down below his chin. The grass beside him rustled, and several more figures emerged, none too dissimilar from the first. I was obviously terrified, but knew almost instantly who they were. I quickly rationalised that they were members of the homeless community in the park, and that I had walked into one of their areas.

As that moment seemed to stretch into eternity, I finally found the courage to act. I ran, diving forward under the overhanging grass figure and towards the opposite side of the clearing. From behind me I heard only a single sound. A male voice, quiet and rough, said ‘they won’t like this’.

I powered forward along the trail, breathing heavily, my light sweeping wildly in the dark. Without ever looking back I made it to the edge of the reserve and emerged triumphant from the trees. I was shaken by the encounter, but refused to let it rule my thoughts. Trying to understand why these hermits had constructed a grass man, or what they used it for, both seemed fruitless thoughts. I had a party to go to and wasn’t going to let any of this ruin my night.

As with most college parties in my town, it was a pretty big let down. I drank to overcome the dullness of the people I spent the night navigating my way around, both physically and socially. I drank too much, it seemed, because on leaving the party somewhere around two in the morning, I had entirely forgotten the encounter earlier in the night. My brain, however, did choose to remember that I had taken the wooded shortcut to the party, and mobilised my feet back in that direction. I shuffled into the trees almost robotically, guided by that inbuilt GPS we all seem to have for home while we can somehow consciously construct little else. The next thing I clearly remember, having apparently already made it back to the clearing, was facing the tall, woven figure again. It dominated my perspective, hunched over in the thin beams of moonlight. I fumbled for my phone in my pocket, having seemingly given up on using my light sometime earlier.

The memories of my previous run-in with the clearing quickly flooded back, and I anxiously glanced at the clearing boundaries, searching for any signs of movement. Almost instantly, I again heard a shuffling noise. A rustling, indistinct. This time I couldn’t exactly tell where it was coming from. I finally pried my phone from my jeans pocket and fumbling, switched on the light. As I raised it forward and revealed the grass figure, the source of the sound became apparently. The effigy lurched, a staccato jerking motion, as it’s arms raised their hanging grass knuckles from the earth. The legs each shuffled slowly forward, each moving as if seen through a strobe light. The branch securing the creature to the ground fell loose to the earth. With the short, sharp movements, the grass man, with arms now stretching onward in my direct, moved closer at a frighteningly fast rate.

I think I screamed, I’m not sure any more, and ran to my right, plunging straight into the tall grass. Sharp blades whipped against my face and hands, causing small cuts, but that was the least of my concerns at the time as I ran on. I felt almost instantly sober, my senses working overtime as I continued to run. I could hear the creaking, shuffling sound of the figure behind me, unsure how far back it was. As if on queue, my foot caught in a tight knot of dead grass, and I tripped forward as the grass in front of me parted. As I regained my balance I quickly became still as another clearing appeared in front of me. Far larger than the previous one. As my light pierced the darkness, dozens of grass figures were spread across the glade. Each of them, almost in unison, turned at the waist, their torsos bending to face me. Their featureless, shapeless heads twisting around to acknowledge my arrival. As I turned to run, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the homeless people from earlier in the night. They were huddled at the other edge of the clearing, kneeling down over what looked like a large pile of loose grass. They raised their heads, and I could feel their gaze upon me.

I dived back into the long grass, ploughing forward blindly through the dense expanse. I could hear the sounds of my pursuer, or pursuers, but they quickly began to fade into the distance. Struggling to breath, my lungs burning in my chest, I reached the tree-line and stumbled back out into the world. I somehow found the strength to continue to run all the way home, bursting inside and securing every door and window in every room within minutes. I collapsed onto my bed, the lights left on, and waited. I’m not sure for what, but it didn’t feel like the events of the night were over. Despite this, the tiredness must have overcome me because I somehow slept. I slept almost the whole following day. When I awoke, it all truly felt like a bad dream. A nightmare more twisted, more real, than any I had experienced before.

I doubted my own thoughts, my fears. It didn’t take long after I awoke to convince myself, through the haze of a fairly heavy hangover, that it all had been some sort of bad waking hallucination. After the amount of alcohol I had consumed, I quickly came to believe that I’d scared myself into jumping at shadows the whole way home. Emerging from bed, I noticed that I still had my shoes on. Dirt was spread through my bed, and my room. I cursed at myself for the stupid mistake, and removed the shoes. Carrying them to the front door, I opened it to place the shoes outside. Sitting on the doorstep was a doll. Well, not exactly a doll. It was a small figure, made from pale, woven grass.

Credit: disque

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Project Icarus

October 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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If there was any doubt by the turn of the twenty-first century, by the dawn of the twenty-second, it was an unmistakable reality: technological civilization was unsustainable. In 2130, with the global population nearing eleven billion, Earth was Hell. We all but exhausted our reserves of conventional petroleum, and the limited coal deposits left were deep, incredibly expensive to extract. Uranium deposits were also depleted, and we could no longer rely on fission power. The days of cheap energy were long over. Developed nations used shale oil, natural gas, and tar sands, but these resources had terrible EROI and were therefore incredibly expensive to exploit. Solar energy and (later) fusion power required expensive technological components and enormous capital costs, and only the wealthiest economies could afford them. As the decades ticked by, ever more economic output flowed towards building and maintaining energy infrastructure, and economic growth faltered. Worldwide recessions fueled immense debt crises, and international finance collapsed. The world was in turmoil.

At least the “developed” world, although racked by recession, unemployment, and wars abroad, had the infrastructure to feed its population. In the crowded cities of India, Nigeria, and China, the food production and distribution infrastructure, depending on an input of cheap energy, collapsed. Climate change triggered great droughts that exacerbated these food shortages, producing mass famines that killed billions. Nonetheless, the upward trend of overpopulation continued, as industrial development ended in the majority of the world’s nations. Coastal cities were flooded, outbreaks of disease killed hundreds of millions, and refugee crises and migration were the nail in the coffin, causing great swaths of the planet to descend into disorder and anarchy. The United States and the Northern Confederation fought great wars in the Arctic to secure increasingly rare deposits of metals and minerals, including Yttrium, used in high-temperature superconductors. Even an individual lucky enough to be born in a wealthy country like the U.S. could expect themselves either to live in the vast urban slums, or become “grunts” to serve in overseas wars. We had made great technological advances, but these were available only for an elite few.

Project Icarus was the last hope for a species doomed, not for extinction, but for the painful continuation of a hellish state of survival. Back in the late 2090s, a group of theoretical physicists discovered hypothetical particle “states” that would be produced in conditions of high energy (in particle accelerators, for example). Somehow, this was based on a “non-unitary generalization of quantum physics”; I’m only a technician, so I don’t understand all the arcane details of the theory. This group of physicists discovered that particles, in addition to mass and charge, possessed a property called “qase”; although most particles we see around us have a qase close to zero, a nonzero qase allows conservation of energy to be violated. By accelerating particles close to the speed of light, as the idea went, we could trigger a change in their “qase”, producing “qasons”, which violated conservation of energy. By harvesting these qasons and placing them in special “energy cells”, we could, in principle, produce virtually limitless quantities of cheap, clean, renewable power. A perpetual motion machine, as it were, grounded in cutting-edge discoveries of particle physics.

After experiments in Europe confirmed the existence of qasons, world governments flocked to these discoveries. I remember well the buzz and excitement in the air, as we realized that technology could allow us to escape Hell. In 2110, the U.S. federal government announced a 350 billion USD program to research qason energy, hopefully to produce a prototype reactor. We built colossal particle accelerators out in the desert, and fashioned sophisticated laboratories to develop new forms of nanotechnology needed to harvest the qasons and produce the energy cells. I was among over ten thousand technicians who labored on constructing and maintaining a 5,000 TeV accelerator in Nevada. The government scientists, the politicians, and the corporate contractors went on the holo-networks to proclaim how Project Icarus would provide salvation for humanity. At first I, too, was caught in the excitement.

Then came the pleas for caution. A small group of theoretical physicists and cosmologists discovered that, in principle, a high concentration of qasons could trigger a “gradual collapse of spacetime from a false vacuum”. Somehow, the high density of qason particles might cause a small region of space to “tunnel” to another configuration, destroying all atomic and molecular structures; in this model, the new region of space would expand very gradually, doubling in size once every minute, eventually engulfing the surrounding region like Vonnegut’s Ice-Nine. Beginning with a Plank-sized volume, the new spacetime configuration would ultimately engulf the experimenters, the desert of Nevada, and the entire Earth. I tracked news of these scientists, as I saw them ridiculed by the media, and eventually die in a succession of “accidents”. I felt a pang of fear, whenever I checked the qason concentration in the electromagnetic storage vessels and realized that it was above the hypothetical limit needed to catastrophically alter the structure of spacetime.

I suppose, then, that I should have expected that anomaly in the Northwest containment facility. That I should not have been surprised twenty minutes later, when I saw a void of blackness surrounding one of the storage tanks. Or ten minutes after that, when I joined my fellow technicians and fled the sphere of blackness that had engulfed the control center. I suppose humanity didn’t have much time to panic, considering that a mere ten minutes later, the entire Western United States was obliterated. Most people would never have heard the news before the void consumed them at 60,000 miles per hour.

Yet, Project Icarus succeeded. Its purpose was not to save humankind from extinction, but from the continuation of a hellish existence. It was a humane decision. You see, Project Icarus was, in secret, a well-planned suicide.

Credit: Jerry Zhompson

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The Quiet Game

October 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Have you ever wondered why we see ghosts? Maybe they have a message for us. Perhaps they’re trapped somewhere between our world and theirs, oblivious to the fact that time has gone on without them. There have been tales of long-lost family members visiting us in our dreams and unexplainable coincidences that put a smile on your face. But for every heartwarming story of visits from the “other side” there is a frightening account of an unwelcome presence that can send a chill down your spine. I could share a number of instances where I felt uneasy or even frightened by what I knew was an angry or negative spirit. However, the story I’m about to share is one that has cast a dark cloud over my nightmares for over 17 years. I can just short of guarantee that this story will force even the non-believers to check that dark corner before drifting off to dreamland.

I was 11 years old the first time I saw her. My parents were away for the evening and I had ordered “Scream” on pay-per-view. I haven’t watched a PPV movie in a long time, but back then it would play the movie on a 24-hour loop once ordered. Well into the second viewing, I got up from the couch to grab a drink from the kitchen. I was headed for the stairs when I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Hesitating for a moment, I took a deep breath and continued toward the stairway.
Returning to the basement, the air seemed ominous. The room seemed darker. As I relaxed on my seat to watch the rest of my movie before bed, I saw what appeared as a strange silhouette standing near the bathroom door. I focused my full sight on what I thought was there. I blinked and it was gone. Boy, was this movie giving me the creeps. Then I heard it; the soft whisper of a young girl at first, followed by a much louder command, “Let’s play!”

Now, I have two older brothers so I flipped on the light expecting to see them playing a trick on me with a flashlight and a tape recorder or something. These are the same brothers who used to hide a toy record player in my room blaring train sounds and throw me in with the lights off, holding the doorknob so I couldn’t get out. Needless to say, teasing me during a horror movie would not have been above them. With the lights now on, I yelled, “Ben, Phil…stop it or I’m telling mom!”


I figured I was just over-tired. I curled up on the couch and felt my eyelids getting heavier as I finished watching my movie. Just before I drifted off I heard Ben’s bedroom door creak. I dismissed it, too tired to get myself worked up over nothing. I then got the sense something was watching me. I tried to shake it off, I just wanted to sleep. Finally, I heard something breathing heavily and slowly. At first I thought it was me and that I was psyching myself out, so I held my breath for a moment.


Swearing off slasher movies forever, I turned to face the back of the couch hoping that would help me get to sleep.
“Can you play now?”

The question came from lips that couldn’t have been further than a few feet from the couch. Still turned, I yelled, “I’m gonna tell mom if you guys don’t leave me alone!” Within seconds, Ben and Phil were at the landing by the back door.

“What the hell are you screechin’ about?” Ben asked, he and Phil not the least bit concerned about the panic on my face.

“If you guys don’t stop I’m telling mom when she gets home!” As I spoke I knew there was no way they could have been both places at once. The realization that my brothers were upstairs all night left me cold. I stood up from the couch and quickly marched upstairs to my room, praying I could just fall asleep and put this whole thing behind me.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky.
Thirty minutes into my restless shuffling, I was alerted to the sound of my bedroom door opening ever so gently. Jolting upward from my bed and opening my eyes, I became frozen as I saw, in the corner, a young girl with long, black hair, around the age of 6, in a once-white nightgown. She stared at me with dark, unblinking eyes and a wide smile. It was the kind of smile that you muster up for family picture day in the sense I could tell it was for show. I began to open my mouth, hoping to scream or cry; anything that might scare her away. Before I could make my decision, she pulled her boney finger up to her still smiling mouth.

“Shhh. Now it’s my turn to hide.”

I yelled louder than I had ever yelled in my life. To my surprise, my mom came running into my room. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, as I darted my eyes between her and the now empty corner of my bedroom. I couldn’t answer. Was it a nightmare? Was my mind playing tricks on me? One thing was for sure; it was over. I shrugged it off as an all-too-real bad dream and went out to sleep on the couch in the living room.

Fast-forward about three weeks. It was around 10:30 and I was out playing “spot” with Phil and nearly a dozen other neighborhood kids (for those of you wondering, “spot” is a game of hide-and-seek played at night with flashlights). The rules were simple. We had to stay within our block, we weren’t to go into backyards without permission and you couldn’t stay in one place for more than five minutes. I had been gearing up for this evening’s game all week. I had the perfect hiding spot and nobody would ever think to look there. Our next-door neighbors had a split-level house with a red deck off of the kitchen upstairs and plenty of room underneath for storage. Their yard wasn’t fenced in, so it had easy access. I made my way under the deck and positioned myself behind their lawn mower. “No way anyone will find me here,” I thought.

I had been crouched for around three minutes when I saw the beam of light coming from between the houses. My friend, Mike, was “it” and he was running with his flashlight, nearing my hiding spot. Without hesitation, he turned at the edge of the house, shined the light directly on me and yelled, “SPOT!” There’s no way he knew I was there.

“How did you do that? Did Phil tell you about my hiding spot?” As I asked the question I could tell he was paying little attention to me while he searched the area.

“Where did she go?” Mike asked, a little hesitant. “I’ve been chasing her for half a block and I just watched her duck under this deck!”

I couldn’t tell if he was trying to play a trick on me or if he was being genuine. Although I didn’t want to know the answer, I asked, “What was she wearing?” As he answered, I felt a rush of cold all the way up my back, as if someone had splashed me with ice water. “She had a long, kinda grayish pajama shirt on. It was really strange. Must be somebody’s little sister.” I leapt out from underneath the deck and stared at him for several seconds, reading his expressions.

“Mike, I’ve been under here this whole time and you’re the first person I’ve seen.”

With the small amount of light from his flashlight illuminating only a portion of his face, I watched his color fade. “Whatever, this game’s for babies anyway. I’m going home.” he stated, visibly shaken, but doing his best to keep his composure. “You’re it now.” He shoved the flashlight into my chest and walked quickly in the direction of his house.

Although Mike was gone, I had a sudden awareness that I was not alone. Doing my best to avert my eyes from my once great hiding place, I pointed my flashlight back toward the street. My legs struggled to lift my feet. It was as if hands had emerged from the soft ground and clasped their menacing fingers around my ankles. In a desperate attempt to run, my legs had a different plan as I crashed, face-first, into the wet grass. I lied on the ground, stunned for what felt like only a few seconds. Gathering my wits, I lifted my head to see bare, pale feet resting only inches from my nose. “Aahh!” I screamed, suddenly sitting but leaning back on my hands. I had no words. That girl, the same one from my room, was standing over me. What once had been a vacant grin was replaced with a disgusting, angry snarl.
“That was MY hiding spot!” Her voice now a high-pitched shriek, like thick nails on a dirty classroom chalkboard. Her shadowed eyes pierced through me like a hot blade as she began to cry. She continued with a much quieter, more sinister tone, “It’s your fault.” It was at that moment I knew she wasn’t talking about the game anymore. She lunged forward, flailing her arms while she fell on top of me. I struggled to grab at her frozen wrists and hollered for anyone close who might be able to come help me. I caught one last glimpse of those sinister eyes before everything went black.

I awoke to the sound of footsteps creeping up to me. “I’m sorry!” I proclaimed, weak and covered in sweat. Just then a hand reached down and grabbed my arm.

It was Phil. “Are you OK?” he asked. “Everyone is going home now. We didn’t know where you were and it’s getting late.” As I stood up I realized I wasn’t in our neighbor’s backyard anymore. I had somehow managed to end up in my own driveway, just a few feet from the front steps.

“Are you hurt? What happened?” My brother was beginning to show worry at my lack of response. “I…I don’t know.” I stood there, still puzzled at how I had come to be in the driveway. “Well, we’d better go in. It’s almost midnight,” Phil continued.

“Wait. What?” The words left my mouth and I began to grow more and more concerned as to what might have happened after I blacked out. I had to tell him. There was a good chance he would think I was crazy but I couldn’t keep this to myself anymore. “I saw this girl…” The front porch light came on and our dad stepped outside. He didn’t have to say anything. We knew it was time to come in.

The nightmares started that night. I lied in bed, staring at the ceiling for hours and doing my best not to look anywhere else when I felt my eyelids getting heavy. With each flutter, I could picture her face, staring at me with that look of hatred and disgust. I fought the fatigue for as long as I could, finally succumbing to the night. They say you only remember bits and pieces of dreams and lose sight of what little you had as time marches on. But the horrors that plagued my subconscious for the next several nights are still as vivid and frightening as they were 17 years ago, reappearing every now and then as not to let me forget.

My first dream started out normal enough. I was with a couple of friends (who have asked to remain nameless) and we were headed to an area near our house we all called “Cherry Hill”. It spanned several blocks and housed lots of trees, trails, hills and even an old train trestle. We did all sorts of stuff there. We built forts, rode bikes, played tag; the stuff you’d expect kids to do. We were walking down the trail, boards and tools in hand, looking for just the right spot to build. Settling on an area tucked in by the trestle, we got to work. I was nailing some small boards to a tree to make a ladder leading up to a long ledge. It was to be our lookout. I could hear my friends digging some kind of hole behind me.

After a while, the sound of their shovels stopped. That same chill I had felt under the deck was inching up my legs to my back, then to my neck. I whipped around to see that they were gone. In fact, everything was gone; the shovels, the hole. It was as if they had never been there at all.

It had gotten very dark. The giant trees were blocking any trace of light shining from the evening sky. As I strained my eyes to scan the area, I locked in on a familiar nightgown across the small stream of murky water. I was panicked. Frozen in fear, I watched as she grew closer, never moving her limbs. She threw her head back in a disgusting cackle befitting a woman well her senior. I closed my eyes, hoping that would somehow slow my pounding heartbeat.


I wasn’t ready to open my eyes. My mind was racing and I couldn’t decide if I was awake or asleep. Before I had a chance to come to any conclusion, I felt a soft tug on my wrist. “They’re gone now. Will you play with me?” It was that same soft voice I had heard in my basement. It wasn’t creepy or angry. If I had to think of a word for it, I would say it almost sounded scared. No longer feeling threatened, I was ready to open my eyes. What a horrible mistake!
She stood only inches from me, covered in blood but with no visible wounds. Through the gore I could see the frills of her gown, now torn and crimson. The more frightened I became, the more pleased she seemed with herself. Turning to run, I had made it only a few steps before tripping and crashing into the cold dirt. I had to compose myself. I sat up and glanced at the object that forced me to topple over. “Oh my God, no!” the words left my mouth as I stumbled back even further. There, laid out in a heaping mess, were my friends. Next to them was a shovel covered in blood and hair. She stood over the bodies, that menacing grin returning to her face, and she slowly brought her finger up to her lips.


I awoke on the living room couch. I know I fell asleep on my own bed, but with a history of sleepwalking I wasn’t surprised. One thing was for certain, I wasn’t going back to sleep. I turned on the TV and watched infomercials until morning. I finally got up to make myself a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as the rest of the family emerged from their rooms. I wanted to tell them what was happening to me, but I was sort of famous in our house for stupid nightmares. To this day, I still catch guff about the big, green duck with a machine gun that would chase me around the neighborhood. Nobody was going to take me seriously. I had to find a way to handle this on my own.

That night, before bed, I knelt down next to my bed and I locked my hands together in prayer. “Dear Lord, I need your help. There is something evil here that won’t leave me alone. I don’t know why it would choose me. Did I do something wrong? I beg of you, Lord, please stop this. I will never ask you for anything ever again! Amen.”

I was dream-free for the next two nights. Maybe there was something to this prayer thing. It was Saturday and a few of us had gotten together for a game of street hockey. We must have played for at least two hours before someone said, “Let’s go to Cherry Hill.” As soon as I heard it that cold chill raced up my back. “I think I’m going to stay here, guys.” They weren’t having that. After lots of prodding and pleading, we hopped on our bikes.

We stayed near the entrance, making dangerous ramps out of leftover boards from our hockey goals. I wasn’t that excited about going toward the trestle, but I figured there was strength in numbers. We were pointing out spots that would be ideal for a new fort. “There’s a good spot,” I said, pointing to a wall of dirt with an area already dug out. I was quickly out-voted as it was clear someone else had already claimed that area. We ventured down the trail until we neared the old trestle. “This spot is too open.” I pled my case and hoped for the best. It must have been “Let’s Do The Opposite of What Jamey Wants to Do Day” because everyone ignored me and headed down toward the water. Not wanting to let my fears get the best of me, I followed.

I walked toward the lookout ledge from my dream. It was as if something was pulling me in that direction. Glancing at the tree I noticed letters etched out in the bark. They spelled out “Shhh.” I was done. No more fort building for me. I jumped on my bike and sped home. I was still shaking when I pulled into the driveway. I refused to come to the door when a couple of my friends stopped over to check on me. I lied in bed, sobbing and cursing the ceiling. “Why won’t you help me? I begged for your help and you didn’t listen!” I cried myself to sleep.

My next nightmare was much shorter. It was a very strange dream in that I felt like I was watching a slide show. I remember watching an old, run-down farmhouse slowly fall to a pile of junk, but it was in pictures with each one showing more age and decay. There was a tree in the front yard with a tire swing and in every image there were children running around and playing. They didn’t seem phased by the crumbling house behind them. As the house aged, fewer kids were seen running around until only one remained. I watched as the last little girl stared at the ground, sad that her friends had left her. I watched her sadness turn to anger and then into resentment. The background grew dark and her eyes met mine. The edges of her mouth turned up into that all too familiar grin. She knew I was watching her. She stood still for several minutes as the wind blew through the bare trees behind her. Suddenly everything went dark and I heard the whisper, “What should we play next?”

I avoided my room for the next several nights, finding any reason I could to stay up well past my bedtime. Although I feared coming across her while I was alone in the dark, it somehow felt safer than meeting her in a dream. She could manipulate me in my nightmares. I couldn’t look away. I tried obscene amounts of Mountain Dew, bright lights from the TV and music to avoid surrender to the night. I finally figured out that if I slept during the day she left me alone. I still wonder to this day if she was fueled by my fear. I was calmed by the light of day. It kept me safe.

I had nearly forgotten all about her by the time she visited me again. Weeks had passed and I had started sleeping in my bed again. This final encounter was, by far, the creepiest (I consider this my final encounter because I truly believe any dreams since then have been residual, albeit terrifying).

I awoke to the wind blowing my curtains across my face. This was significant because I have terrible allergies and am unable to sleep with the windows open. As soon as my eyes opened I could hear faint laughter coming from the front yard. It almost sounded like the overused laugh track that goes with any clip of children playing in movies and television. I attempted to sit up and quickly realized I had no control of my own movements. I felt paralyzed. Before long I was lifted out of bed and placed, standing on my bedroom floor. I began walking toward the window still unable to move my own limbs. At the screen, I watched as this beautiful little girl skipped and sang through the grass without notice of the world around her. This time I didn’t feel as if she knew I was there. Mesmerized for nearly a full minute, I finally snapped out of it to find I was no longer in my own room. From my surroundings I could tell that this bedroom belonged to a girl. The walls were covered in bright pinks, purples and yellows with tons of princess doll houses, Barbies and dresses scattered along the floor and in the open closet. I stood in the middle of the room, still unable to move, and watched as the door flew open and that same little girl from the front yard came running in, crying. When she dashed by me without looking I didn’t think that she could see me.

Had I become the ghost?

The girl jumped into the closet and her eyes locked onto mine. As footsteps grew louder down the hall she looked at me, put her finger up to her mouth and gave a soft, “Shhh.”

Who was she hiding from? Why was she crying?

I stood and watched as a tall man wearing a baseball cap, red t-shirt and jeans marched into the room with a menacing, “Come out, come out wherever you are!” The little girl kept her stare on me as tears rolled down her face. I tried to ask him who he was looking for, but he didn’t respond. Couldn’t HE see me?

His tone quickly changed, “Where the hell did that b***h go?” I still couldn’t tell if he knew I was there, but I knew she must be hiding for a reason so I decided to keep my mouth shut. He gave one last look around the room and left. I watched him walk down the hallway until I could no longer see him, and when I turned to the closet she was gone. In the blink of an eye all of the room’s bright colors turned to shades of gray. I heard shouts coming from another room in the house. Without hesitation, I ran toward the screams.

When I got into the living room the little girl was lying on the floor. This time she was wearing that same night gown from my earlier visions. The man in the ball cap was standing over her and I could tell that she was uncomfortable.
“Let’s play a game, sweetie. It’s called ‘the quiet game.’”

Although his words were sweet, I knew his intentions were anything but. She was terrified. Her eyes were telling a story of fear and sadness. I panicked.
“Leave her alone!” I yelled the words as loudly as I could. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen, but my shouts fell on deaf ears. It was no use. She turned again to look at me I began to feel light headed, like I was losing oxygen. Everything went dark but I could still hear the faint cries of a scared little girl. The cries were followed by wet, gurgling sounds and that’s when I heard the sound that still gives me chills as I write these words. As if he was right by my face, I heard the man whisper one last request, “Shhh.”

I woke up right after that and sobbed in my bed for what seemed like hours. Aside from the occasional nightmare, I haven’t seen the little girl since. Although I haven’t seen her, I still feel like she’s around. I’ve spent time in libraries and news archives hoping to come across a story of a familiar missing girl or maybe even something on the man in the cap. I believe my dream of the deteriorating house means the potential scene of the crime is long-gone. I suppose it’s best that I leave it be. But the question I fear will forever go unanswered is: Was I just a kid with an overactive imagination, or was a frightened little girl reaching out for help that I failed to provide?

Sweet dreams.

Credit: J. Northrop

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Spirit Bottles

October 6, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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“Will you be with me when the time comes?” Caitlyn asked.

Her voice was soft and cracking due to dehydration. Even with the saline solution being pumped through the IV she was still far too weak to talk properly. Her lips were white and cracking like the earth in Death Valley. Henry tightened his grip on her hand, not by much but to acknowledge her request.

“What happened out there?” he asked.

“I will tell you, but first I need some ice. Feed them to me as I talk so I can at least keep my mouth wet enough to let you know what I saw.”

Caitlyn’s breathing was labored. This and the dehydration caused her to talk much slower than she normally would.

Henry released her hand and went to get some water. He came back with the little pink bucket filled to over flowing with little square ice cubes. Caitlyn’s mouth opened slightly and he slipped one in. He noticed even her tongue was a pallid pink, almost white. Once the ice was in her mouth he reclaimed her hand, it felt like leather. Her face looked fifty.

“I decided to go into the mountains for the weekend. The sun was bright and it would be a great camping trip. I had been to the Flatirons many times, so I decided I would go more towards the Devil’s Backbone.”

Caitlyn paused here, her thin hand reaching for the little pink bucket. Henry saw what she was trying to do and fed her another ice chip. Her eyes closed with her mouth as she let the water slowly trickle down her throat.

Henry took her hand once more; this time he noticed she was still wearing her ring. It seemed like it should have fallen off long ago. The band was far too large for the little meat she had on her hand, but it still would have a little trouble getting over the knuckle, not much but enough to keep it on.

“I knew that area was known to have covens. There was a community that lived there which everyone knew was into that shit. Most people thought they were into Wicca, but a few said it was much worse than that, that some were into darker things. Things which would make the devil blush. I never believed any of that stuff would work, I told you that before. But I was wrong. I saw things which make me believe, make me know that something else can be channeled by those people.”

The heart monitor started to race, it was the first time Henry had paid it any mind. His own heart started to quicken just from the sound. His hand tightened on her withered remains. The only reason he loosened his grip was due to the weak groan she let slip from those cracked lips.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay. I don’t think I have much left in me tonight, but you need to know what happened. It all happened that first night. I set up my tent, God, I wish you would have come with me. I was so upset with you though.”

Henry looked down at her wedding band once more. The matching one he wore on his left hand felt like a sham for the past few days. Now it was even worse. Now that his wife had been through so much, and he wasn’t able to be there with her because of his stupid actions. Tears welled in his eyes, as he felt the soft touch of her dry skin enclose around the back of his hand.

“I forgive you. It was a moment of weakness, I just wish it wouldn’t have been like that. But don’t worry about it now, just let me finish.”

She pointed towards the bucket again and he slipped another piece of ice into her barely open mouth. Once she was trying desperately to get the ice to melt he had a chance to wipe his eyes. His own hands shaking more than hers.

“I had my tent up in no time. The sun was going down and I started to hear something. At first I didn’t know what it could be, but after a while I was able to make out it was people. It sounded like they were singing, which is fine, Colorado is a strange place. But I figured it may not be a bad idea to see if I could find where they were. If people were out there maybe they would want to talk. And, I have to admit, I was feeling lonely.”

Her words were broken by a cough that was dryer than some papyrus left over from ancient Egyptian times. Dryer even than her voice, but not much. Her face gnarled as she coughed, and she tried to sit up, but she was far too weak and in far too much pain to do so.

“Sit down Caitlyn,” Henry said. “You don’t need to put yourself through any more pain than you are already in.”

With his help she was able to lie back down and get comfortable, well at least as comfortable as the situation would allow. It took a few minutes before she was able to return to her story. Time in which Henry found to smooth her hair and give her a kiss on the forehead. She returned his affection with a smile that broke her lips open slightly. A thick blood started to seep from the cracks. It was so dark it looked more black than red. He wiped away the blood and no more came from the crevasses.

“It was a long walk; that should have been the first thing I noticed was wrong. They were in the woods, you know how far away the woods are from the Backbone. It took me ten minutes just to get to the tree line. It was also closer to that community, the one where the witches live. But I didn’t think anything of it, I just kept walking to see who was singing and what they were saying. There was more than one person, I could make out that much at least.

“The wind picked up and I heard a tink-tink sound. I shined the flashlight into the woods and saw bottles hanging from the trees. None of them looked like any of the others, but there was one thing they all had in common; each had a little piece of meat on a string hanging inside and were sealed with wax. There must have been a hundred bottles in all. Blue, green, clear and frosted.”

Once more she pointed to the ice bucket and Henry knew the sign well enough to feed her another chip. The rhythmic beeping had slowed again, but it still seemed a little jerky. At times it would spike with a few rapid beeps then fall to the normal rhythm. Her hands would tighten on his, not hard, Henry didn’t think she was capable of using too much energy to make the squeeze hard, which made his heart sink a little deeper in his chest.

“When I was in the woods I still couldn’t make out what they were saying. Not because it was too faint, but because they were speaking in a different language. I saw a fire, and it pulled me closer like a moth. There must have been ten people dancing around that fire, each of them singing that strange song. I couldn’t see if they were all singing, because they were wearing masks, but it sure sounded as if they were all singing.

“The masks were pure white and contrasted well with the black robes they were wearing. The only other parts that were white were the gloves they wore and their sneakers. I didn’t think any of them had seen me, so I kept moving closer. Not close enough to feel the heat from the fire, but close enough to see what they were doing. I didn’t want them to know I was there, I can’t really explain why, but I knew it would be bad if they knew I was watching.”

Henry swallowed hard, his throat was going dry. So was Caitlyn’s. This time after he had given her a piece of ice he took one as well. The heart monitor had picked up its beeping again. Although it seemed impossible Caitlyn seemed to be getting even dryer. Her hands felt like sandpaper and her eyes looked smaller than the sockets they were in, her voice had even gotten hoarser.

“They stopped singing and one of those people in the blank white faces came forward with a bottle. They put it above the fire, hanging it from some makeshift gallows which was erected above the flames. A chain held it above the flames and it wasn’t long before the glass started to have a film on the inside. I thought it was a film at least, but it was smoke. Then they popped a hole into the wax which sealed it and removed the cork. The smoke came bubbling out but didn’t drift up towards the moon, instead it fell to the ground and started to build on itself. I know it sounds crazy but that is what happened. It happened like that until it made the figure of a man.”

Caitlyn’s eyes closed, if it wasn’t for the heart monitor Henry would have thought she died. His hand gently rubbed her arm until she opened her eyes once more. When he first started to move his hand up her thin arm she was disturbed by the dry scratchy sound it had made.

“The figure stood beside the fire and the group started to ask it questions. Strange questions like ‘what do you know of the afterlife?’ Or ‘when will this trial be over?’ Things that meant nothing to me, but must have been very important to others. It dawned on me that this was a ghost they were talking to, trying to get answers that no one from the living world would be able to answer. It was frightening, but got worse when they asked the last question I stuck around to hear. ‘How long can we keep our coven a secret?’ To this the ghost replied that I was watching them and a smoky tendril pointed towards my direction. I didn’t stick around to see what they would do if they caught me.

“You know how fast I can run, or at least could until I got here. Still the people in the masks were just as quick, if not quicker. I was stumbling through the trees and down branches when I heard them coming after me. I got out of the woods and was able to run faster. It was the fastest I had ever ran, but it wasn’t fast enough. One of them was able to get a hold of my hair. I jerked free but the hand that was holding me must have come away with a handful of my hair. After that I didn’t stop until I was safe in my car and locked the doors.”

Again she closed her eyes. Henry could see how much it was taking for her to tell this story. He wished she would stop, just relax for a little, but he knew that would be the last thing she would do. Her face was thinner than before, cheekbones protruding so far, her face looked like a skull with a thin cloth over it. He gave her another ice chip.

“When I got to my car I wasn’t able to start it. I don’t know why, I didn’t care why. The only thing I wanted to do was to get out of there before that group found me. So, I did the only thing I could think of, I ran for as long as I could. But I don’t think I was able to get away. Even though I hadn’t seen any of them I could still feel their eyes on me. I was still miles from any other town than the one I wanted to get away from. But I couldn’t run any more. My lungs were burning so badly and so were my legs. And once I sat down I had fallen asleep. I couldn’t help it, a wave of tiredness crashed over me and I was out. It wasn’t until morning that I woke and was able to start running again.

“By the time someone had found me I must have looked terrible. They took me here and left me once I had gotten checked in. At least they were nice enough to stay with me until they knew I was in good hands.”

The pause was longer this time. The heart monitor had slowed so much that Henry was amazed she was still talking. The beeps were about two seconds apart, far too long for someone to live and still be able to talk.

“I know they cursed me. They must have. Haven’t you noticed that I have been getting worse, even in the short time it took me to tell you that story. I must look like I’m dead already. But there are still some things I need to tell you. I want you to live your life again. Mourn me, but don’t mourn me for long. I’m sure that girl you were sleeping with would be eager to get back with you. Sorry, that was mean and I don’t want you to remember me that way. Lilly was her name, right? Be with her if you want, but please just wait a little bit.”

Tears rolled down both of their faces. Henry couldn’t believe she was saying what she was saying. Caitlyn couldn’t believe it either, but she was more upset about dying. It wouldn’t be long now and she knew it.

“I have always loved you Henry. Even when I had walked in on you. I was hurt, but it hurt because I loved you so much. Please, do what you have to, to…”

The monitor flat-lined. Nurses rushed in and checked Caitlyn. It was clear she was dead, and there was nothing they could really do to revive her. When the nurse had pushed Henry away three of her fingers snapped off in his hand, one of which still had the wedding band on it. No blood came from the missing fingers, it had all dried up. When the nurse pushed on her chest to revive her dust came out from her cracked lips. There was nothing they could do, and everyone in the room knew it. So they did the only thing they felt they could do, give Henry a few more minutes with his dead wife.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he said over the dried corpse which had just told the story of her last days. A story of fear and pain.

“I never found Lilly attractive. We had sex because it was part of a spell we were doing.”

He reached into his blazer pocket and produced a small bottle with a piece of meat hanging in it.

“But don’t worry, you and I will be together for a long time.”

The bottle began to fill with a smoke as he chanted in that language she couldn’t understand in the woods. Once her spirit was in the bottle he pushed the cork deep in the mouth. He would have to wait to put the wax over it, but that was okay, she wouldn’t get out before then. As he left the room he gave her body one last kiss on the forehead and dropped the fingers on her chest. Leaving the ring which symbolized their vows to be together for better or worse.

Credit: Johnathan Nash

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