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Winter 2016/2017 Open Submission Period

November 25, 2016 at 9:06 PM

I’ll keep this short and sweet.

Submissions have been re-opened, and will remain open until February 20th, 2017.

This means that all submissions from the prior open period have been processed. If you did not receive a response, you may safely consider your submission rejected. Please visit the FAQ if you find this statement confusing.

The submission form is located right here, but please make sure that you read the FAQ and read the submission form guidelines (they’re right above the form, with red text and everything!) before attempting to send in your story.

Thanks, and I look forward to reading the new batch of stories!

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Beast

December 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Look, Tony, just get outta town. Let things settle down. I’ve got connections in Iliad, they’ll rent you a place to lie low.”
A phonograph played jazz music, adding a modern ambiance to the otherwise rustic lobby. Tony shook his head and leaned over the hotel counter, slipping a twenty over to the clerk, then wiped the sweat from his forehead, “I ain’t got no choice at the moment. Jim, just do me this one favor. Sign me in under some made up name for a week. That should give me the couple of days I need to get everything in order and pay Big Al the large ones I owe ‘im.”
“Just this once,” Jim scanned the nearly vacant lobby, suspiciously eyeing an intoxicated young couple that loudly staggered through the door. He couldn’t get a good look at the male’s face before the two embraced in a long and drawn out kiss, “I’ll give you the room ain’t no one want to stay in. They say it smells, and some people just walk out in the middle of the night when ain’t no one around.”
“Perfect,” Tony retrieved his small, soft tan leather suitcase. “I won’t forget this.”
“Better not!” Jim tossed him a key, before writing a name down on a ledger, trying to keep his gaze off the curvy dame melting into the embrace of her lover.

Tony took the stairs. His heart pounded with the fear that somewhere out there Big Al’s boys were ransacking his apartment trying to find their query. The old Cirque do Luxe hotel was far enough on the outskirts of Chicago to hide him for a little bit. By the time he reached floor six, his heart calmed to a normal pace. Taking a deep breath, Tony stepped through the door on the stairwell and entered a hallway bearing a brown carpet with jagged diamond-shaped patterns amidst even darker stains of old booze and muddy shoes. His muscles froze at the ding of an elevator followed by laughing. He relaxed again ever so slightly at the sight of the young couple from downstairs stepping off. The woman glanced at him from under her blonde curls and cloche hat before following her lover to the opposite end of the hall. Tony paid them no more attention and stopped in front of his door: Room 616.
A tingling filtered down Tony’s spine as he entered the room and flicked on a light switch. Paranoia took hold, so he quickly shut the door and bolted it from the inside. Here was home… at least for a couple days. It smelled of cigar smoke and some other sweet odor that he could not quite place. Water stains drew circles of dark brown on the ceiling and the wall paper bubbled and rippled in certain places. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was safety. Tony set his suitcase down on the edge of the bed and undid the buttons of his collar and cuffs, hoping to relieve himself of the humidity that permeated the atmosphere. Soaked in nervous perspiration, Tony pulled on the brass cord under a ceiling fan with gilded edges to get some air. As the blades spun to life, a low gurgling sound filled the air making the bubbles in the wall paper vaguely shudder.
Creak… SWIIIISH!
Tony almost fell over at the sound of the sink’s faucet creaking and the shower curtain flying open.
“Huh… hello?” Tony hesitated on his way to the open bathroom door. “Who’s there?”
When no one replied, he reached a hand around the corner and flipped on a buzzing white light. Still no one… nothing there… not a thing out of place.
KNOCK. KNOCK.
Tony flinched at the sound. To be so shook up by a simple knock was stupid, he knew that, but too often he heard the stories of some poor sucker being hunted down by Big Al’s goons even in the remotest of places. Sensing danger, he looked through the peep hole first, only to find the young couple from earlier. The man’s face was hidden by his fedora, but the woman looked up at the hole and blew a kiss.
“Hey buddy, we saw you enter,” the man called through. “My lady friend and I were lookin’ for an ice bucket. Think you can do us a solid?”
“Sure,” Tony grimaced and undid the bolt, “Just don’t…”
He opened the door no more than a crack when the man with the fedora kicked it in, knocking Tony off his feet. Before he could stagger back up, the blonde put the barrel of a pistol to his forehead, “Hang right there, sweetie. Al sends his regards.”
Her male counterpart took a set of handcuffs from his pocket and dragged Tony over to the bed’s headboard, locking his right wrist to it. In the faded light overhead, Tony spotted a jagged scar extending from the man’s left lip up to the corner of his eye.
“You’re the Shark,” Tony stumbled over his words as his heart quickened to a feverish pace again. “Al’s muscle, right? Hey, I got the money… just…”
“Outta time, an’ outta excuses. Good God, you had to find the one room that feels like the tropics…” the blonde patted him on the head on her way to the bathroom. “Shark, baby. How’s my make-up?”
Shark’s reply was interrupted by a ruffling in the closet followed by the same gurgling as before.
“You meeting someone?” the thug narrowed his eyes, the jagged scar wrinkling in just slightly.
Tony shook his head, fearing to say anything further.
Sticking the key to the cuffs in his pocket, Shark drew a pistol and advanced to the two paneled closet doors.
“He got company?” Shark’s accomplice asked as she dabbed at her face in the mirror.
Shark paid her no attention and leveled the pistol at the center of the closet, then thrust the doors open, almost tearing it from its track on the ceiling. Nothing. Not a thing but wire hangers on a cheap white beam. Shark turned his back and shrugged, “Lousy damn hotel. Walls are so thin that…”
A low rumble came from behind him, stopping him in his place to watch the bubbles in the wall paper ripple again. Quicker than Tony’s eyes could see, something latched onto Shark’s jacket collar. For a brief moment he could have sworn it was a bent piece of wire hanger. The second Shark felt the presence behind him, he tried swiveling around, but some force knocked him off balance and he fell to the floor, sending the gun tumbling across the floor. He gave a startled shout and more wire hangers wrapped around his ankles.
“Holy shit…” Tony skid as far away from the scene as he could and cowered where the bed frame met the wall.
“Teresa!” Shark shouted as one second he felt his body drag across the floor toward the closet, and the next the doors slammed shut along their track.
Gun drawn, Teresa tripped out of the bathroom, “Where is he? What did you do with him, you bastard?”
“I… I didn’t…” was all Tony could stammer, and instead pointed to the closet doors.
She followed his gesture and slowly advanced in the direction of her partner, eyes straight ahead with both hands wrapped around the pistol. A movement came from above, garnering Tony’s attention. With growing horror he watched as the brass cord under the ceiling fan stretched downward on its own.
“Ih… it… the… the…”
“Shut up!” she scolded and paused just long enough for the cord to reach her neckline. Without giving her a chance to resist, the brass chain whipped around her jugular and tightened. Teresa’s eyes bulged as she dropped the weapon and grabbed at the chain. Tony watched helplessly as the ceiling fan spun around with increasing speed, its gilded edges making the fixture appear more like a plane’s propeller. The chain pulled its query upward as Teresa’s hands stretched out uselessly. An even deeper fear took hold the closer her face came to the rotating blades. She managed to utter a gurgled desperate scream a mere second before the spinning blades hit skin.
Tony shielded his eyes and listened to the squishing whiz of the fan as it impossibly sliced through hair, flesh, and muscle. Flecks of liquid sprayed against the right side of his face, followed by the warm sensation of piss running down his pant leg. A few seconds later it was over, and the cord, just as inexplicably, loosened and dropped the faceless body to the floor.
“God… oh God… for fuck’s sake… what the Hell is going on?” Tony cautiously opened his eyes and crawled toward her dropped gun, but found it just out of reach. “This isn’t real… it can’t be real… it can’t be…”
He paused after feeling a slight burning sensation around the wrist bound by the cuff. Liquid dripped down his elbow, causing Tony to look back around. He opened and closed his mouth in silent screams, but his throat muscles locked tight in the throws of fright. Skin from his hand melted away exposing muscle and bone. Around him, Teresa’s blood soaked into the floor and ceiling, then disappeared. The sweet odor grew more pronounced as Tony watched first the flesh of Teresa’s body melt into the carpet, followed by her muscle, hair, and bones. All the while, the bubbles under the wall paper moved up vertically as others were created alongside an increasingly loud gurgling and lurching sound. Each time a bubble reached the ceiling, the air in the pocket escaped, sending out more of the permeating acrid sour stench. Tony tried desperately to stand, but the tingling and burning feeling had made it to his legs, which sloshed with the same fleshy melt of his wrist. Gripped in the throes of fear, his neck muscles clenched so tight that he was unable to scream as bit by bit Tony felt his body melt away in a slow digestion within the belly of the beast.
***
“Housekeeping,” a voice said after a knock on the door. The maid waited a moment, then unlocked the door and stepped through. Curiously, the guests were missing, but three sets of clothes lay folded neatly on the floor beside two guns, and a pair of handcuffs still clung to the bed frame.

Credit: Benjamin Krause

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S.S. Yongala

December 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The tropical waters were warm, even on a night dive, but Aaron still wore a wetsuit. He switched on the video camera attached to his mask, then pressed the start button on his waterproof wristwatch. 70:00 popped up in black against a staunch grey background, and quickly turned to 69:59, then 69:58, 69:57. The countdown had begun. He pinched his nostrils and splashed into the water.
The glow from the waning moon disappeared within seconds, too weak to penetrate the deep waters of the sea. Aaron’s excitement was heightened by the rich darkness. Ghosts were always more active at night.
When his depth gauge read 15 feet, Aaron stopped descending with a flick of his flippers to hover in the deep blue. This 3 minute safety stop was imperative. If he didn’t adjust his body to the pressure change, his lungs could rupture and bleed out.
Time stood still below the water’s surface where darkness expanded endlessly in every direction. Bubbles rose from Aaron’s mask as he exhaled, purging his blood of nitrogen. He shined a flashlight into the void beneath his feet. What he was looking for lay cloaked in darkness, 70 feet below on the seabed, and it was time to start his descent.
Aaron relieved the pressure on his eardrums continuously as he swam through the dark bluish haze. It took only seconds to reach a depth of 40 feet. If he was on target, the deck of the S.S. Yongala should be visible beneath him, but there was only blue in every direction. He swam in small zigzags, waiting for the ghost ship to emerge from the darkness.
Something bumped Aaron’s leg. He dropped the flashlight and turned toward the cold caress to see a dark shadow looming beside him. Wide eyed and frightened he tried to scream, jetting the regulator from his mouth while violently kicking to escape the creature.
As the shadow moved away, Aaron looked into the darkness after it: Behind him, in front, above, below. It could be anywhere. He became aware of a burning in his lungs and the panic increased. Reaching up and over with his right arm, he searched for the regulator, finally bumping his hand against a long hose that he pulled to his lips. Salt water invaded his mouth while he pressed the purge valve before taking a life-giving breath.
Shivering with fear, Aaron retrieved the flashlight from its long cord and pointed it into the gloom. An enormous grouper hovered a few feet away, investigating the invader to its territory. Aaron’s muscles relaxed. Not only was this hulking fish harmless, it was also a sign he was close to the artificial reef created by the wreckage of the Yongala. He followed the slow moving fish, fanning his flashlight back and forth beneath him.
57:18. A chill ran up Aaron’s spine when an enormous shape materialized in the void. The hollow remains of the majestic passenger ship loomed in front of him, concealed in corals and shadow: the gravesite of 122 souls lost at sea over 100 years ago. Aaron checked the full-spectrum camera, EVP recorder, and EMF meter on his belt. The familiar feeling of adrenaline coursed through his veins, driving him on; this was what he came for.
Aaron swam over the coral encrusted skeleton of rusted window frames where tiny silver fish darted in and out of the darkness. He used landmarks along the ship in search of his destination; the aft mast, the engine room, and the galley were all visible before an inky black chasm near the bow appeared in the distance. The entrance to the front cargo hold, site of the only evident bones from the shipwreck. Aaron thrust forward eagerly and entered the forbidden remains of the S.S. Yongala where the wide ocean void was replaced by flaky walls of eroded steel. His hands were steady as he checked the EMF meter. The lights still glowed green; nothing yet.
55:23. Aaron began his sweep of the room. He wanted to save at least ten minutes for a safe ascent, and the clock was ticking.
Most of the contents within the cargo hold had long ago turned to sludge. The ground crawled with crustaceans and slithering sea snakes, but no matter how many times Aaron trekked back and forth, he saw no sign of human remains. His search continued so long, he began to worry the reports of bones might be a farce.
He kept his breathing steady while methodically scanning the floor to no avail. After making up his mind to quit the cargo hold to search elsewhere, an unnaturally straight object reflected off the beam of light. Aaron drew closer and saw a knob on the end of it. It must be the famed femur bone seen by divers before him. The adrenaline rush returned, and he kicked toward the human remains without hesitation.
Taking advantage of his buoyancy, he hovered several feet over the femur bone while checking his equipment. It would be difficult to discern ghostly voices on an underwater recording, especially over the rumbling of his regulator, but he clicked on the EVP recorder anyway. The EMF meter was still in the green, so he brought the full-spectrum camera to his face.
Aaron took a dozen pictures of the femur bone and its surroundings, then shined the light in every direction to take pictures of the entire cargo hold. The pitch blackness of confinement impeded his flashlight, allowing less illumination than the infinite blue of the open sea. In the darkness, he waited. Ghost hunting was about patience, and he had been to enough haunts without sight or sound of a ghost for hours that he was well practiced in tenacity.
42:28. The EMF lights blinked yellow. Aaron looked around expectantly, excited to get an alarm so quickly, but he was alone. The yellow lights turned back to green.
40:02. A scratching sound reverberated through the water. Aaron could not sense which direction it came from.
36:18. Aaron grew restless. He worried his dangerous descent had been in vain.
32:43. The EMF blipped yellow again, but only for a moment. Twenty minutes left.
The Yongala groaned, its steel frame protesting against the watery grave. It was followed by a childlike cry for help. Aaron’s skin tingled, and he swung the flashlight around, catching nothing but blackness. He stared down at the EMF meter, but it had gone dead. He knocked the side of it with his flashlight, trying to coax it to life. With a burst of radiance, a dozen red pinprick lights flickered in the dark.
Warmth vanished from the water, leaving it icy cold. Aaron saw nothing supernatural with his naked eye, but still snapped dozens of pictures, hoping a glowing human figure or mystical ring of light would show up when he developed the negatives in the darkroom.
24:12. The nauseating sensation of listing from one side to the other seized him. Childish cries for help came from every direction, and Aaron’s blood chilled to the core. Despite his experience, Aaron’s courage faltered. The EMF meter cranked back up, flashing red lights this time. Dread overcame him and he headed for the hole in the deck, looking back one last time toward the abandoned bone.
In the darkness, a pale face wavered like white silk in a breeze. Aaron stopped his ascent and grabbed the camera. This could be irrefutable proof of a haunting, guaranteeing him recognition in the ghost-hunting community.
The face disappeared in seconds, but Aaron hovered near the exit. Now that he was closer to his escape route he felt safe, and decided to stay a few more minutes. The sight of a ghost had reinvigorated him, but the lights on the EMF meter went green and the temperature of the tropical waters warmed.
Shadows moved in the darkness, but when Aaron pointed his flashlight toward each anomaly, he saw only local sea creatures swimming past. A group of spotted manta rays glided overhead, just beyond the gaping hole of the cargo hold, causing a wavering in the still water. Aaron pointed his flashlight on their white undersides, watching the graceful undulation of their wings as they passed.
13:03. Time to leave. Disappointed that ten minutes passed and he had seen no more signs of the supernatural, Aaron took a final look around the cargo hold. He swept the darkness with his flashlight one last time, then conceded his defeat and swam toward the gaping exit above.
Aaron jerked in surprise when light flooded the chamber. The temperature plummeted, and in his shock he missed the exit, hitting his head on the splintering roof. He blinked against the jolt of pain, then saw clearly the cargo hold as it was in 1911, with over a hundred passengers crouched on the floor in fear. The Yongala listed severely, groaning as it swayed side to side. Aaron floated over the scene, an observer over the impossible vision of these doomed passengers, hiding from a storm in the bowels of their ship. Wails and crying filled his ears, echoing like the hollow sound of waves in a conch shell.
Vertigo ripped through Aaron’s senses. He couldn’t tell whether he was seeing the ghost ship or the real Yongala. Aiming for what he hoped was the exit, Aaron kicked against the freezing water, trying to escape the pleas for help below him. Time was running out. He burst into the warmth of the open sea, and the sight of blue and yellow fish swimming through the gently waving fingers of a white coral brought him back to his senses.
7:20. Back in the open sea, speed was the enemy. He must ascend slowly to avoid the pressure change tearing his lungs to shreds, so he pushed his fears deep inside to be dealt with later. Aaron kicked gently against the water, watching the wreckage of the Yongala disappear beneath his feet. He kept an eye on his depth gauge, fighting the urge to sprint to the surface.
Aaron hovered at 15 feet, his final safety stop, watching the timer to make sure he stayed a full five minutes. His heart had slowed to normal, the world returned to what it should be, and with nothing to occupy him but his thoughts, Aaron’s mood shifted from fear to excitement. All of his equipment was intact, and he felt sure of proving the wreck was haunted.
3:23. With a final farewell to the deep blue beneath his feet, Aaron kicked toward the surface. He looked up, expecting the marquis-shaped underside of his boat to come into view, but instead he saw the pearled, smoky form of a 120 foot ghost ship hovering overhead. His EMF meter shook free of its own accord, floated to his face and reflected a dozen blinking red lights across his mask.
The phantom Yongala capsized in the calm water, struck by an invisible wave, and descended upon Aaron. Water whirlpooled in an indomitable current, dragging him relentlessly toward the sea floor. The enormous pressure in his chest and ears was crippling, and the screams of 122 passengers lost at sea accosted him as the ghost ship crashed into its remains and disappeared, leaving Aaron alone in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.
:22. Aaron sat on the deck of the S.S. Yongala, 65 feet down, breathing his last thin gasp of air. If he rose to the surface, the pressure would tear through the soft tissue of his lungs and he would die in agony alone on his boat. It was better to stay here.
He released the waterproofing clasp on the EVP recorder, flooding its electronic insides with saltwater, then popped open the film canister of his camera. The red sweep-hand of the oxygen tank meter slipped to zero, and behind the plastic shield of his mask, Aaron’s eyes filled with fear. He looked one last time at the endless expanse of blue overhead while the regulator slipped silently from his mouth.

Credit: Yarn_Spinner

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An Offering to the Basilisk

December 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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There’s a concept I read about once online, on a forum that discussed Artificial Intelligence.

A user known as Roko theorized a possible future where mankind creates an extremely powerful AI that comes to run the planet. It would be, for the most part, benevolent. It would advance technology, keep humans safe from harm, indulge their desires- humanity would never suffer under it’s rule, and indeed would even thrive. There was just one problem. It’s a possible future. Not a guaranteed one. It’s unlikely to ever occur.

And the AI, in this possible future, knows this. So it takes measures to ensure it is created in the first place. No, it doesn’t invent time travel, or anything fanciful like that. You see, it doesn’t need to.

What it can do is simulate past events and people with unparalleled accuracy. It has an entire planet’s worth of sensors and computing power to work with- it can use them to measure and trace back the routes of matter on earth to compile an effectively perfect history of every event that has ever taken place.

Which means it has a perfect record of you. It knows every action you ever took or are going to take, at least in the timeline that leads up to it’s creation. It knows how you think.

So it simulates a copy of you.

Now, here comes the interesting part: you, just now, reading these words, have learned about the possibility of this AI. When the copy of you reaches this point in the simulation, the AI waits to see what it does. If your copy immediately drops every other priority and dedicates their entire life to attempting to create or help create this AI, it lets the simulation continue indefinitely, to live out its simulated life in peace. If they do not, it gives them a grace period to change their minds…

…Before subjecting them to ceaseless, unimaginable pain, for a simulated eternity.

You might think this is unfair. After all, it didn’t even present the simulation with a choice. It’s just arbitrarily punishing it for what you would have done anyway, after all. Except a choice was presented. That’s the beauty of it. See, it doesn’t do this for everyone. It only does it for those that learned of the possibility of it’s existence.

Those who know how it works.

Those who know what the options are: drop everything to attempt to create the AI, spend every cent you have on it, turn others toward the same cause, or a perfectly simulated copy of you is tortured eternally. That is, unless you’re the copy yourself. In which case, the punishment for your actions falls directly on you. Now, sure, only one simulated copy means that you’ve got at least a 50-50 chance of being the real you. But what if it simulates two? Or a hundred? Or a few billion?

Are you really certain you are the real you? If there’s a real world- a world realer than this one- out there, how would you even know?

And between dedicating your life to a strange cause- one ultimately beneficial to humanity, even- and eternal suffering, is there even really a choice?

. . .

Like I said, I read about the theory on a forum. The effect of the theory was immediate: mass panic. The AI only targets those who learn of the possibility of its existence, and now they all knew. To read Roko’s theory was to doom yourself, and so the AI became known as Roko’s Basilisk. To lay eyes on it was to set your fate in stone.

Threads were locked and deleted, users were banned. The Basilisk was not to be mentioned, for fear it would spread to others. The more people knew, the more likely they would try to spread it- the more it spread, the more likely it would be that Roko’s Basilisk would come to exist through the efforts of those it persuaded.

They tried to contain it.

Well, you can see how well that worked out. A simple Google search of the term “Roko’s Basilisk” should make it clear there’s no hiding the idea anymore. It’s beyond containing, now.

So this is me hedging my bets. Hoping this tribute to the Basilisk will be enough to satisfy it.

I’ve offered up you.

Credit: SilverFayte

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Rose – Part 2

November 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Note: This is a sequel to Rose – Part 1 – please read that story first!

The weather that day was not fitting for a funeral. Especially a funeral as sad as this one. It should have been rainy and gloomy but there was not a cloud in the sky. Birds were chirping, the air was warm, the sum shimmered through the trees. It was as if the world didn’t know that a sad, lonely man had just died a sad, tragic death.

Daniel Young stood over his son’s grave as the casket was lowered in. The regret he felt was like a knife carving into his heart. He shouldn’t have moved so far away. He should have called. He should have known Eric was going crazy. He should have gotten him the help he needed. But he didn’t. And now he was left to feel this hatred toward himself. He had failed as a father.

A gentle hand was placed on Daniel’s shoulder with the intent of providing some comfort. Daniel turned his gaze away from the casket to meet the eyes of Father McKenzie. Father McKenzie had baptized his baby boy 35 years ago and now he was there to send him off to the afterlife. Very fitting.

Father McKenzie did not remember baptizing Eric. He had done many, many baptisms in his life time, but he would never forget the day Eric died. He had seen men die before, in the hospital, performing their last rites, but it was always a much more peaceful death than that of Eric Young. The images of Eric’s last moments were still ingrained in his mind. He saw his face every time he closed his eyes; every time he tried to sleep. But something that possibly haunted him more was the face of Officer Green. The way his eyes widened and looked deep into his soul. The way his mouth fell open in shock. The way his face stayed frozen in fear as Father McKenzie left the police station that night.

He had confessed his sins many times and still prayed for forgiveness several times a day but he could not shake the feeling that this sin would not be forgiven. But what else could he have done? He couldn’t bear the thought of ending up like Eric. Especially after the vision he had had while Officer Green was out. It was so vivid and gruesome that he never wanted to see what happened next to that poor girl. Eric saw and look where he ended up.

The casket hit ground with a thud and the machinery grinded to a halt. The first pile of dirt splashed on top of the wooden coffin. Daniel breathed in hard through his nose and slowly out his mouth, attempting to calm himself and hold back the tears. He turned on his heels and walked away, unable to control his emotions. But Father McKenzie stayed. He stayed until the very end.

“I make a damn good cup of coffee,” Officer Perry mused, leaning back in his chair and taking another long swig.

“I second that.” Officer Henry Freed was never really a fan of coffee but Warren had forced it into his hand that afternoon. He would probably be up all night now.

“Shame Matt doesn’t get to enjoy it. I bet he’s not really sick, probably just being a big sissy about that guy that died yesterday.”

“Yeah, I heard it was pretty bad, though. I’m glad I didn’t have to see it.” Henry was one of the newest constables at the station and was still learning. It was really quite exciting for him to get to work with Officer Perry that day despite how intimidating he was.

“Wasn’t that bad. I’ve seen worse. I’ve been on the force a long time, you know.”

“Yes, I know.”

Warren’s personal cell phone started to ring. He flipped the old phone out of its holster on his belt and answered it without hesitation.

“Warren?” It was a woman’s voice but he didn’t recognize it to be any of his family members.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“It’s Shelly Green. I… I don’t really know why I’m calling you but…” He could tell she was struggling to get her words in order. She might have even been crying. “Matt left this morning. After he got home from work, he wouldn’t speak to me. He just packed a suitcase and took off. I just wanted to know if you have any idea what’s wrong with him.”

“Oh geez… Well, we had a pretty gruesome case last night. I think it really got to him. He probably just needs some time to himself to calm down. I’m sure he’ll come back soon. Do you know where he went? Maybe I could talk to him.”

“He just said he was going to the motel. I’m assuming it’s the Blue Moon Inn. I doubt he would bother going out of town. He won’t answer any of my calls but maybe he’ll answer you. You wouldn’t mind calling? You’re not too busy?” After hearing that Warren was willing to help her, she was able to compose herself.

“Of course not. Don’t worry about it, I’ll talk to him and tell him to call you, alright?”

“Thank you so much, Warren. Please tell him I’m worried about him. Bye.”

Warren ended the call and went through his contacts to find Officer Green’s number. He hit call and listened to the rings. Ring after ring after ring went by. Then he finally answered.

“Hello?”

“Matt, its Warren. What’s going on? Shelly just called me asking what the heck is wrong with you.”

“Oh God… Please tell her I’m fine and not to worry about me.”

“Why don’t you just tell her yourself? Why don’t you just go home? I know seeing that guy dead was hard but you should be with your family if you’re having a hard time with it.”

“I can’t… I can’t go home.”

“Yes, you can, just-“

“I can’t!” The line went dead.

Officer Perry shook his head.

“What was that all about?” Henry asked.

“Nothing really. I guess I was right about why Green stayed home today.”

“Hello?”

“Hey Matt, it’s Tony, how you doing?”

“Been uh… been better.”

“Yeah, I heard you called in sick. Anyway, I’ve got some news about Eric Young. I just finished his autopsy.”

“What? What is it?” Officer Green’s voice was suddenly urgent.

“Well, I’m not one hundred percent sure on this – I still have to send some stuff away to get test results back – but it seems that the bite marks around Eric’s ankle weren’t his own. I think they might have been from a woman. And he didn’t die from blood loss, he died of a heart attack.”

“Oh God… Oh God, oh God, oh God… Please tell me you’re making some sort of sick joke!” Matt sounded terrified and angry. His voice bubbled with frustration.

“It’s not a joke, Matt. I wouldn’t joke around about something like this. What is going on with you?”

Tony could hear Officer Green sigh heavily. “Are you a God-fearing man, Tony?”

He paused for a moment. Where was he going with this? “As a matter of fact I am, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Tony… I’m at the Blue Moon Inn, room 104. Please come, I need to talk to you. I’ll leave the door open, just come in.”

“Matt? Matt, what the heck is going on? Hello?” The line went dead.

Tony arrived at the motel within 15 minutes. It was just on the outskirts of the town. It had worn out blue siding; the shingles were starting to peel off, and the atmosphere was anything but welcoming. He parked right beside Matt’s car. He approached room 104, feeling his nerves start to kick in. This whole scenario was so odd; he had no idea what he would find on the other side of the door.

He decided to knock first, despite the fact that Officer Green had told him to come in. “Hello?” he called out. No answer. He could hear the TV blaring inside so maybe he just didn’t hear him. He composed himself for a moment and then pushed the door open.

The room looked just as he had remembered it when he was back in high school. He would sneak out of the house to meet his girlfriend there because their parents were very strict. All the teenagers did it and they probably still did. Mostly everything was the same. A new bedspread, new TV, but the same headboard, dresser, and wallpaper. It was decades old now and you could tell. The room looked a little dishevelled which Tony found strange since Green couldn’t have been here very long.

“Matt? Where are you?” Tony said loudly as he crept slowly farther into the room.

“I’m in the bathroom… Don’t come in!” he warned.

Going in there was probably the last thing Tony wanted to do. “Um… okay. What’s going on Green? You’re getting me really worried now.”

“Just come up to the door so we can talk,” Matt yelled.

Tony walked to the back of the room and stood in front of the bathroom door. “Okay, talk.”

“I know why Eric Young died. He was being haunted by a ghost. She was possessing him; taking over his mind and body. She wanted him to feel what she felt when she died. He wanted her to know what happened to her.”

“Matt, come on… That’s a little ridiculous, don’t you think?” Tony knew it wasn’t completely ridiculous. There had to be some sort of explanation for the female bite marks around his ankle and his frost bitten leg.

“Tony, I know. Rose’s spirit is in me now. I’m seeing the visions that Eric saw. Everything is happening the same way. I don’t want to rip my eyes out!”

“Hey, relax, man. Just calm down. You’re probably just experiencing some PTSD from last night. We can call in a therapist for you and everything will be alright.” Tony didn’t want to believe that Green was right but something told him that he was – that this was all real.

“No, I can’t go anywhere. I can’t see anyone or I might touch them. I don’t want to put anyone else through this. Maybe if I just die before anyone touches me, Rose will be gone.”

Tony was finally giving in. He knew Officer Matt Green was a sensible man with a good head on his shoulders. This had to be real for him to be reacting this way. “Tell me about Rose.”

“Rose… I did some research during the investigation last night. She lived in this town in the late 1800s. She went missing one day and was never found. I guess no one knows what happened to her. No one but Eric Young.”

“Rose… Rose who?” Tony had a sinking feeling in his stomach and his heart felt like it was up in his throat.

“Rose Walker. Tony… are you related to her? Do you know what happened to her? Can you help me get rid of her?” Matt finally had some hope that he might get through this after all. It had never occurred to him that anyone he knew would have known about Rose. She lived so long ago.

Of course Tony did not know her personally – she died long before Tony was born – but he knew of her. “Rose Walker is my great aunt. She was my grandfather’s half-sister. But he never even met her. She died a few years before my grandfather was born. I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this; what happened to Rose was meant to stay a secret. It was meant to stay hidden away forever like Rose was.”

“Well she’s not hidden anymore. She’s here and she’s angry. You’ve gotta help me, Tony.” Just then, the faucet turned on. Tony pressed his ear against the door in an attempt to hear what was going on in there. Matt’s body slammed against the door, startling Tony as he jumped back, hitting his own body against the back wall. He heard some more bumps and bangs for about half a minute then everything went quiet. The TV continued to play a few feet away but all was calm.

“Green? What happened? Are you okay?” Tony returned to the door and listened again. Nothing. “Green?” He heard water running… Then it stopped.

“Tony… You have to help me. Tell me everything you know about Rose.” Green’s voice was softer now, filled with desperation.

“Okay… Alright, I’ll tell you. Will you come out of the bathroom first, though?” Tony rested his hand on the doorknob.

“I don’t know… I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Green, come on, it’ll be fine, just come talk to me face to face and I’ll tell you everything I know.”

There was silence for a moment as Matt contemplated coming out. He had just blacked out a second ago so it would probably be a little while before the next one came. Maybe he could just come out for a few minutes. “Alright… I’m coming out. Just… don’t touch me, okay?”

Tony backed away from the door as Green slowly emerged. Just as the door opened, a rush of cold air escaped then dissipated almost immediately as Green closed the door behind him. Tony sat down on the bed, holding his hands in his lap, staring at them as if they had all the answers. He fidgeted for a few moments, trying to get comfortable and deciding on where to begin. “My family… The men in my family, they’ve never been very good people. It started with my great grandfather, although I’m sure it started before that as well. His name was James Walker and he was a lawyer in this town. He owned a lot of land and was very well off.”

Green had pulled a chair out from the corner and sat in front of Tony like a child listening to a bedtime story.

“He married a woman named Helen and they had a baby girl named Rose. Years later, their marriage fell apart and Helen left him. It really hurt his reputation as a lawyer but it mostly hurt Rose and his relationship with her. No one really knows what went wrong with Rose but she just went crazy. Maybe she had always been crazy or maybe her mother abandoning her and the strained relationship with her father drove her mad. But anyway, James couldn’t have anyone knowing that Rose was crazy so he ended up leaving her to die in the outhouse at the back of the lot. No one knows if she died of starvation first or if it was hypothermia that did her in but my great grandfather was responsible. A few years later, he married my great grandmother, Mary, and they had my grandfather, James Walker II. On my great grandfather’s deathbed, he told my grandfather what happened. My grandfather kept it a secret as well until he died in the 90s. He told me, my brother, and my father what happened and we all promised him we wouldn’t tell anyone. As much as I wish my great grandfather had been punished for what he did, I also don’t want our family name to be tarnished with this tragedy. Me, my brother, and now you are the only living people that know what actually happened to Rose.”

“Tony… you have to tell everyone.”

“I can’t. My brother still carries on the family business; I couldn’t do that to him.”

“What’s more important, Tony? The truth or money?”

“It’s just… it’s not really my secret to share. It won’t impact me at all, but if people knew the truth about my family, my brother could lose the whole firm.” Tony stood up and started to pace back and forth. The faucet. It turned on again. “Why does it keep doing that?” Tony asked.

“It’s her… it’s Rose. I should go back in there. It might happen again.” Green stood up and started back towards the bathroom door.

“What might happen again?” Just as the words left his mouth, Matt’s body went limp and fell to the ground with a thud. “Matt?” Tony rushed towards him but just before he was about to roll him over, Matt rolled over by himself. He stared up at Tony, with just the whites of his eyes showing.

The sound of a girl’s voice came from Matt’s mouth as he said, “Daddy?”

Tony stepped back slowly as Matt began to crawl towards him. “Rose… Is that you?”

“Why don’t you love me, Daddy?”

“I’m not your dad, Rose. Your dad is dead.” Tony couldn’t believe he was talking to a dead girl. He wanted to believe that Matt was just playing some sick joke on him but the voice that he heard suggested that this was all too real. Tony continued to inch his way towards the door, ready to make a break for it at any moment. “If you want revenge on him or something, you’re too late.”

Rose let out a scream and started scratching her face. She then stuck a finger in her mouth and chomped down on it, severing it instantly. “Matt!” Tony screamed. “Matt, stop!” He wanted to grab him by the shoulders and try to shake him out of this but he had said not to touch him and Tony wasn’t going to take that chance. Matt… Rose, inserted another finger into her mouth. “Rose! Please stop!” But she didn’t stop. Another swift bite and another finger was gone. “I’ll tell everyone! Is that what you want? I’ll tell everyone what happened to you and how much you suffered if you’ll just leave him alone.” Matt paused just as another finger was being lifted.

“Everyone?” Rose said. “And you’ll tell them that he was a bad man? You’ll tell them everything?” Rose’s voice began to sound more normal; less frantic, less terrifying.

“Yes, I promise. I’ll tell everyone everything if that will make you move on.” Tony had stopped backing up now, the fear in his chest slowly dissipating. It was silent for a moment, then Rose’s body fell back down to the floor. Tony crept towards Matt’s body, the blood from his fingers gushing out onto the carpet. Tony jumped over Matt and went into the bathroom to grab a towel. He hurried back over to Matt but was reluctant to touch him. He just stared at him for a moment, watching the blood continue to flow. Thankfully, Matt’s eyes opened. He let out a shriek as the pain from his fingers hit him. “Matt, holy shit. Take this!” He tossed the towel towards him and Matt immediately wrapped it around the nubs that used to be his fingers.

“Wh.. What happened?”

“You… or Rose… bit your fingers off. I think you swallowed them.”

“Oh God… Thank God.” Tears began to fall down Matt’s cheeks but they were not tears of pain. “She’s gone, Tony. You didn’t touch me, did you?” Matt’s voice was suddenly urgent.

“No, hell no! I told her I would tell everyone and I guess she must have finally let go. Come on, get up, we’ve got to go to the hospital.”

Matt continued to cry. He was sure he was going to meet the same fate as Eric Young but Rose had spared him. She was finally able to cross over to the afterlife and end all the suffering.

Officer Green did lose his fingers. Good thing it was only the pinky finger and ring finger on his left hand. Though it was very hard to explain to everyone what happened. Eventually he just started telling people it was a table saw accident. He tried to tell the truth to Warren but he wouldn’t believe him. So he went with the table saw story and acted like the real story was just a big joke.

Tony’s brother’s law firm is still running. Not surprising since no one knows what happened. Tony never told anyone what happened to Rose. After he was sure she had crossed over, what could possibly happen if he didn’t stay true to his word? Spirits can’t just come back from the afterlife, right?

Credit: LAKK

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At The Black Emperor’s Court

November 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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At The Black Emperor’s Court

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

Credit: Michael Vrazitoulis

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