Poisoned Oak

December 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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That’s the problem with cutting down a tree.  No one tells you how dangerous it might be.  Sure they’ll warn you about falling branches, and staying out of the way while the job is being done, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about how the tree you are about to cut down might be the only thing standing between you and something very bad.  Maybe that’s the reason trees have been the object of worship throughout history.  Could it be because they are extremely good at keeping things out of our world that we don’t want in it?  Or it could be that it wasn’t the tree that was being worshiped, but rather whatever it was that the tree was keeping at bay?

Unfortunately for me, the reason our ancestors started worshiping trees in the first place is something that most of us have long forgotten.  Until now.

I bought the house in the spring of 2009.    It was on the Old King’s Highway that cuts through Connecticut between New York and Boston. While it no longer qualifies as a highway by today’s standards, it is still a fairly busy road.  There is a nice historical marker in the front yard of the house claiming that it had been built in 1700.  Of course the previous owners (of which there were many!) had made many improvements to the original house over the years so it had an updated kitchen and bathrooms.  It also has a lot of old growth oak trees in the yard.  I believe they are black oaks, but I’ve never been one to care that much about this oak or that oak.

There was one particular oak tree in the back yard was bigger and more majestic than any of the other trees in the yard.  Its trunk must have measured 6 feet around.  Occupying the center of the back yard, all the other trees seemed to defer to it.  A tree house or a swing would have seemed right at home in this tree, but it had neither.  There was a nice spotlight at its base that pointed up and illuminated the tree at night.  Day or night, the oak was really nice to look at and best of all it provided excellent shade for the back deck on hot summer days.

And then it started to die.

I can’t really pinpoint exactly when it started to die, but in the spring of 2010, when the leaves began to come out, I noticed that a couple of the top branches stayed bare.  I didn’t think it was cause for any immediate alarm.  If they stayed bare, I’d just have them removed.  So when they were still leafless in the middle of June I hired an honest tradesman to come over and take those branches down.  He and his team made quick work of it, and I didn’t think anything about the fact that they broke one of their buzz saws on the first branch they tried to cut off.  I figured it was a tough old tree, and a broken buzz saw was one of the hazards of the job.

A couple of weeks later I noticed that on some of the other branches on the top of the tree the leaves had started to wilt and turn brown.  As the wilting and dying began to spread to additional branches I became more concerned.  By the end of July the bark on the branches where the leaves had first died began to slough off and accumulate at the base of the tree.  It was time to seek professional help so I called in an arborist.  She examined the tree and quickly came to the conclusion that it was suffering from something called hypoxylon canker.  And the really bad news was that there is no known cure for hypoxylon canker once the symptoms have appeared.  The disease is internal and kills the sapwood of the tree.  The mighty oak was going to die within months.

It was shortly after getting this grim diagnosis that I noticed something else.  My wired-haired dachshund Baxter had a habit of lying down at the base of the trees in my back yard.  In the dog version of “hope springs eternal”, he was convinced that a squirrel would one day be stupid enough to climb down the tree into his waiting paws, and barring that, perhaps fall out of the tree.  He spent his days this way under every oak in the back yard at one time or another.  Except the one that was dying.  At first I imagined that he could sense impending death in the dying oak.  But that wasn’t it.

After some observation I realized that he didn’t bother lying under that tree because there were never any squirrels in it.  I could see squirrels in every other tree in my backyard.  But not in the dying oak.  Not only that, there were no birds in the tree either.  Not a single bird on any branch, regardless of whether the branch still had leaves or not.  That hadn’t always been the case with the dying oak.  It had formerly been full of squirrels and birds.  I considered it strange, but didn’t really give it too much thought.  There wasn’t really any logical reason why animals would avoid a particular tree.   Little did I know at the time that I was right about there being no logical reason the animals would avoid a certain tree.  It wasn’t the dying tree the squirrels and birds were avoiding.  It was something else entirely.  And as the tree died, it was getting closer to getting out.

Through the rest of that summer and into the fall the tree continued to lose leaves and bark.  It was apparent to anyone looking at it that it was dying.  It occurred to me to have it taken down and be done with it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  I had the weird sense that the oak was fighting back, and not simply bowing to the inevitable.  If that was the case, I was going to give it every opportunity to succeed.   But branch by branch the tree continued to die until only the lowest ones had any leaves on them.  By now it was October and all the oaks began to lose their leaves, so by the time all the trees were bare I couldn’t be sure whether the dying oak was gone, or it would once again sprout some leaves the following spring.

The footprints appeared in March.  We’d had a late winter snowfall of about 6 inches of snow, which had tapered off in the early evening of the 20th.  I remember the date only because the next day was the vernal equinox–the first day of spring.  When I woke up on the morning of the 21st and looked out the back window of my bedroom I noticed several pairs of footprints in the backyard leading up to the dying oak.  The footprints then spread out around the tree in a circle at the base.   I threw on some clothes and a coat and then, accompanied by Baxter, went out to investigate.  I gave Baxter a brief look of reproach as we left the house and his expression seemed to say “Well apparently you didn’t hear anything either”.  It wasn’t easy to determine exactly how many people had been in the back yard, but my guess was around six.  By the look of things they had formed a circle around the tree.

I didn’t have any idea who they were or why they had come.  It occurred to me that this may have not been the first time they had been there.  The only reason I knew about this visit was the footprints in the snow.  There was no other evidence that people had been there.  I followed the footprints out of the back yard to see where they had originated.  They dead-ended at the street in front of my house, which had been plowed earlier in the morning.  So all I really knew was that a group of people had come into my backyard sometime during the night and gathered around the dying (or maybe dead) oak tree.   Their purpose for the visit was a mystery to me.  I decided that the best thing to do was to start leaving the spotlight at the base of the tree on all night.  If they intended to make another visit, that might act as a deterrent.

Soon the weather started getting warmer and the trees in the yard began to sprout buds of new leaves.  I waited anxiously to see what would happen to the dying oak.  Was it dead, or did it have some life left in it yet?  As the days went by it eventually became clear to me that there would be no new leaves on the tree.  It was gone.  It saddened me more than I expected to see the dead tree surrounded by new life in the backyard.  The sooner I had it removed, I decided, the better.  In early June I contacted the honest tradesman who had earlier removed the dead branches and asked him to come back and remove the entire tree, including the stump.

I was still on the phone with the tree service looking out the back window at the tree when I first noticed what appeared to be a symbol carved into the trunk.  Making the appointment for later that week, I hung up and went out into the yard to take a closer look.  Sure enough, something was carved into the tree’s trunk.  It was plus sign with a circle or ring surrounding the intersection of the lines.  The intersecting lines measured about six inches each, and the diameter of the circle was around four inches.  I had no idea who had carved it there, though I suspected it was related to the footprints I had seen in the snow back in March.

I took a picture of the carving with my phone and uploaded it to Facebook to see if any of my friends recognized what it was.  Within an hour one of them posted that it resembled a Celtic cross.  Sure enough, when I compared my picture to images of other Celtic crosses I found on the web, that’s exactly what it was.  Specifically the pre-christian version before the cross morphed into the christian cross.  Now that I knew what it was, it was time to figure out why it was carved into the tree in the first place.  A little research was all it took to learn that the symbol was used by the pagan Celts as protection against evil spirits and spiritual dangers.

Armed with this new knowledge, things began to fall into place (or so I thought).  I came to the conclusion that some local wiccans/druids/whatever you want to call them had zeroed in on my dying oak and come to the conclusion that it represented a threat in some way.  That would explain the visit on the spring equinox–the oak tree played a central role in the druid rites associated with it (you can learn a lot very quickly with the Internet!).  And the same folks had likely been the ones to carve the Celtic cross into the trunk.  I guessed that both of these actions were efforts to remove whatever threat they supposed the tree represented.  My plans were a bit more modern–cut it down.

Over the next couple of days I noticed that the dead oak started to lean to the right.  Each morning its lean was a little more pronounced.  It was as if someone or something was pushing it out of the way.  Baxter started to avoid going anywhere near the tree.  Which was interesting because I had assumed the digging at the base of the tree was his work.  Most of ithe digging was on the side of the tree opposite from the direction in which it leaned.  My mistake was to assume that something was digging into the ground at the base of the tree rather than digging out.  Frankly, it would have been difficult to tell the difference.  In any case, with the lean getting worse, I grew more anxious to get the tree down.

As planned, on Friday morning the tree crew showed up ready to take it down.  If any of the team noticed the Celtic cross carved into the tree they didn’t mention it.  They went right to work starting with removing the top branches first.  As they worked their way down the tree I tried to ignore the growing unease I felt.  It seemed irrational, but nevertheless the feeling lingered.  Around midday the tree seemed to give a slight lurch further to the right, knocking one of the men cutting the branches off balance and causing the branch he was working on to suddenly break off.  It fell to the ground and delivered a glancing blow to one of the other men.  It hit him hard enough to knock him to the ground, and when he stood back up it was obvious he had dislocated his shoulder.

After the hurt worker was loaded into one of the trucks and driven to the ER to get his arm looked it, the remaining men went back to work on the tree.  By early afternoon the only thing left was the stump.  The smaller branches had been loaded into the wood chipper and chopped into small pieces.  The larger branches and trunk were cut into small logs and loaded on the back of one of the trucks.  They now brought in the stump grinder and turned what remained of the trunk and visible roots  into a pile of wood chips that were then shoveled into the back of one of the trucks. After that there was nothing left to do but to pack up, and as they prepared to leave I thanked them for their work.  Then it was just me and Baxter in the backyard.  I walked over to where the tree had once stood.  I would need to put sod over the area.  It was now just a few scattered wood chips and loose dirt.

That was three days ago.  A lot has happened since then.  The first morning after the oak was cut down I noticed there was a hole in the ground where it had stood.  It wasn’t very large, but it looked impossibly deep.  Even if Baxter had the nerve to go near the spot, it wasn’t a hole he could possibly have dug.  The second morning the hole was bigger and still impossibly deep.  Around the edges of it was bits of fur and pieces of bone of some unidentified animal.  There were also markings in the dirt that looked like it had been clawed by a very large animal.  The claw marks radiated outward from the hole.  I spent the rest of that day getting bags of dirt from the Home Depot and filling in the hole.  Only it never quite filled up

That was yesterday.  This morning I woke up and found the hole was back and bigger than ever.  There were footprints of several different people in the dirt around the hole.   It wasn’t like the time they had appeared in the snow, rather it looked as if there had been some kind of struggle.  The only other thing I found in the dirt with a necklace with a Celtic cross hung from it.  The necklace was broken, but I put it in my pocket anyway.  That was 12 hours ago.  As it got dark I started to hear noises coming from the backyard.  Baxter didn’t come back from his after dinner trip outside, and didn’t come when I called him.  I did eventually hear him start barking.  And it wasn’t a confident sounding bark. Baxter sounded terrified.

I’m beginning to suspect that it was never the tree that was the danger.  The ceremony on the spring equinox, the Celtic cross carved into the tree were both designed to give it the ability to continue its job as jailer even if it died.  Cutting it down was likely the last thing I should have done.  And now something has come up from underneath where the oak once stood imprisoning it.  I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what it wants, but I hear it outside the house’s back door.  Baxter’s barking stopped long ago with a strangled yelp.  Maybe between the broken buzz saw and the dislocated shoulder the oak had been trying to tell me even a dead tree is better than no tree.  I don’t think I will ever know the answer to that.  That’s the problem with cutting down a tree.  No one tells your how dangerous it might be.

Credit To – LumaKing

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Just Another Midnight

December 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM
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 “I couldn’t exist in a world devoid of marvels…
even if they frighten me to consider them.”
-       Catlin R. Kiernan

12:09 a.m.

There’s got to be something wrong with me. Seriously, I’m twenty two years old and still afraid of the dark.  I’m not a little kid anymore, but I can’t work up the courage to just turn off the lights and go to sleep. Okay, let me explain how I came to this. One minute I was enjoying myself, writing a paper on Paleolithic cave paintings for my art history class, and then without warning I imagined that there was something spooky waiting for me in the hallway of my apartment, effectively   trapping myself in my own bedroom. You see, I did more than just creep myself out, because with me, fear has a tendency to spiral out of control into levels of mind boggling stupidity.

At first I just ignored it, going on with my work in the hopes that the feeling of being stalked would go away on its own. It didn’t, and I was starting to worry that some shrieking terror was about to burst through the door, so I had to double check to make sure that it was securely locked. After that I couldn’t concentrate on getting my paper written, as every other minute I’d have to look away from my monitor to see if the door was still closed. “This is getting retarded,” I said out loud to no one in particular, “it’s just my imagination fucking with me.” Which is honestly the truth here. I know that if I were to open that door and look into the hall, nothing would happen. One single action and “poof,” sanity becomes restored. The problem of course is the actual opening part. That’s always when the anxiety reaches its high point.

This bullshit started about thirty minutes ago, just before midnight, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up anytime soon. So yeah, I’m stuck in my bedroom for what seems like the hundredth time, alone with my computer and thoughts of strange boogeymen. Actually, this whole thing got me wondering where these irrational, paranoid delusions first started. That’s an interesting story actually, and it happened long before anyone could call me crazy.

There’s Something in the Basement.

This story happened in the spring of 1998 in the old house on Erie Street that my parents were renting (Erie as in “Lake Erie,” but yeah, weird coincidence right?) I was six years old at the time, so I was at a point in my life where sleeping with a night-light was still considered normal. I think that we had only been living there for a few weeks, it’s kind of hard to remember for sure exactly, but I do remember the first time my dad took me and my brother to check out the basement. Now the house itself was well over a hundred years old, and in a previous lifetime it served as a train station. The basement as it turned out, was used as a temporary jail cell where the town sheriff would keep the criminals he caught trying to catch a ride out to Chicago, and in the time between then and when my family moved in, no one had thought to updated the basement.

Basically, it was dungeon. The walls were made out of carved rocks or something, with certain areas bricked over from where ground water had been leaking through. Also the whole place was coated in layers of spider webs and dead insects. That’s not even the creepiest part. In the way back around a narrow corner was a heavy door labeled, “Milker Room,” whatever that meant. In any case my dad couldn’t get it open, even with a crowbar. The hinges were so rusted and caked in calcium that nothing short of a jackhammer was going to get through it.

During the daylight hours, I didn’t worry about the basement or the cryptic Milker Room, I just avoided going down there. But at night I couldn’t help thinking about it, and invariably I’d end up hiding under my sheets until I could eventually fall asleep. Of course, I wasn’t always able to fall asleep. Sometimes the voices would keep me wide eyed and alert. And when I say “voices,” I mean what I thought constituted the sound of a man’s muffled speech coming from the cellar. To me it sounded like someone under the floor boards was mumbling incoherently.  The reality here of course was that sounds were bouncing around the air vents in such a way as to trick my little kid brain into thinking that there really was someone down there, trapped behind that huge immovable door, trying to get out in order to… I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps I thought he wanted to eat me I guess. Who knows, I was six remember? It doesn’t matter what I thought this made up man wanted, all I knew at the time was that it was bad. And it got worse when my older brother Joshua keep telling me that he knew what was really in the basement. He was a sadistic asshole, and he thought it was just so damn funny to tell me that a monster with a woman’s face and a body covered in tufts of fur was trying to escape from the Milker Room. Let me repeat that: A woman’s face, and a body covered in tufts of fur. It was weeks before I could sleep a full night without yelling for my parents to rush to my room.

Let’s move forward a few years. When I was nine, my parents had decided to move to a better house for commuting reasons. I was helping my dad move some boxes out of the basement, and at this point the place had been cleaned up a great deal and being three years older, I didn’t find the basement all that scary. Until I found myself alone down there while my dad ran off to talk to my mom about something. At first I was fine, but then out of nowhere I started to hear this weird tapping noise. I remember looking around for what was causing it, more annoyed than frightened, when I looked around the corner towards the Milker Room.
It started getting louder, and it was coming from behind the huge black door. I didn’t move for what felt like hours, petrified, when all of a sudden I heard a crashing bang come from where the tapping used to be. I shrieked and started running back towards the stairs, nearly knocking over my dad in process. When he asked me what was wrong I told him about the noises coming from the Milker Room. He laughed. I swear he laughed and told me to follow him.

Going around the corner, my dad walked right towards the Milker Room door, opened it, flicked on the lights, and showed me the loudest water softener in world. He told me that he had it installed two years ago because he was sick of drinking rust flavored water, and the Milker Room was the best place in the house to put it. How’d he get it open in the first place? Well, a lot of hardware stores sell solvents designed specifically for rust and calcium.  I had nothing to be afraid of, never really did, but to this day I can remember with perfect clarity that one single moment of pure terror, where I was absolutely sure that something terrible lurked behind a few inches of wood and shadows.

12: 42 a.m.

So the point of that story was to remind myself that there’s nothing evil waiting for me outside of my bedroom. I don’t think it worked. I tried to open it about a minute ago to use the bathroom, but the second I placed my hand around the doorknob my heart started racing like I had just pounded six shots of espresso.  Images of a writhing mass of rot and flies filled my mind, or a black hound waiting to pounce from the darkness. I’m freaking out a little inside, because not only do I have a feeling that there’s something out there, but also the sense that whatever it is, it knows that I’m scared. I keep telling myself that it’s all in my head, that I’m just projecting my fears onto the environment. But it’s not working, which is a shame, because I know firsthand how frightening one’s own imagination can be. So here’s what I’m going to do: First, I’m going to pee in the beer bottle I found in my trashcan, and second: I’m going to write down another story, one where I had to go toe-to-toe with my own nocturnal demons.

Sleep Paralysis.

About four years ago I was trapped in a state of almost near total depression. I had just graduated from high school, but my grades where so low that my choices for college were very much limited to the “first place that accepts me,” category. Add to this that I was unemployed, my best friend had already left the state, and my parents were in the process of getting a divorce. In hindsight, I handled the whole situation in an extremely immature way by smoking a ridiculous amount of weed and barricading myself into my room to play video games all damn day. In other words, I was starting to turn into a complete loser.

Now, some schools of thought suggest that nightmares serve as a subconscious mechanism to resolve perceived stressors. If this is true, then I was lucky that things hadn’t started to get strange earlier.

One night after a long hard day of bong hits and masturbation, I fell asleep just as I always had. Except this time I woke up right in the middle of things. And by that I mean my brain woke up while the rest of me kept right on sleeping. I would later discover that this phenomenon was called “sleep paralysis,” which occurs when a person wakes up during the middle of the R.E.M. cycle and cannot move his or her limbs due to the sympathetic nervous system having shut down muscle control, in order to keep the person from hurting themselves while they dream. The experience is known to cause feelings of being choked or a sense of panic, and is often accompanied by hypnogogic hallucinations. Needless to say, I didn’t like it one damn bit.

I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t move my arms, and I started to feel a sort of presence enter my room. I wanted to scream but couldn’t and the entity was surrounding me, observing me, judging me. I didn’t know what it was, but somehow the thought got into my head that it wanted to hurt me. I struggled to break free, yelling at myself internally to wake up before it got any closer, but I couldn’t move so much as a finger. Then I felt a pressure, or tightness on my chest, like the life was being crushed out of me by something huge and angry. If someone were to try to read my thoughts at this point, all they would hear would be the sounds of a wild animal backed into a corner: Vicious and scared, border lining madness.

Right when I thought that I was about to die, I heard myself scream, “WAKE UP!” Whether from inside or out I don’t know, but suddenly I bolted upright in bed, feeling very dazed and tired. I looked around my room, looking for whatever it was that was trying to kill me, but everything seemed fine, so I decided to get a glass of water. Almost immediately after getting out from beneath the covers, I started to hear a very deep, almost painful moan coming from the hallway outside of my bedroom, followed by a thud and footsteps. At this point I was more angry than scared, so I grabbed a baseball bat and moved towards the door. I didn’t rush out into the hall immediately, because by now it was slamming itself against my door, trying to get in, all the while its moans sounding more and more like it was in a state of constant agony. Eventually I heard it start to shuffle away, so fast as lightening I threw open the door a rushed into the hall. That’s when I saw it.

It was very, very tall. So tall that it had to crouch a little to avoid the ceiling. Also it was thin, more bone than flesh. It didn’t have arms, or skin, or even a face really. I suppose that the best description here would be that it was an elongated skeleton wearing a straitjacket made of bacon. Whatever it was, it had turned around and was beginning to shuffle towards me, so I ran forward swinging my bat like a madman until it had stopped moving, gurgling in a puddle of its own blood.

I woke up the next morning around dawn, lying face down on the hallway carpet next to my bat. Apparently I had dreamed the whole encounter, and now there was a hole in the wall from where my bat had punched out a chunk. I haven’t had a case of sleep paralysis since, nor did I ever witness the bacon monster again, but it just goes to show what sort of nightmares my own brain is able to conjure.

1: 38 a.m.

Well that clearly didn’t help. No, I’m not worried about the bacon demon hiding out there (I already stomped his bitch ass into the ground), but I’m still unable to just open the door. I can’t sleep if I think there’s something out there. I can’t force myself to stay awake until sunrise either. I really don’t have a clue here.

Shit, I just pulled a neck muscle from turning my head to fast. I thought I saw something moving in the corner of my eye. It was just a shoe. An unmoving, unlaced, dirty whore of a shoe. Okay, enough screwing around, I just found a hammer. Wish I had a shotgun, but I guess a hammer will have to do. I’m going try opening the door again, I’ll be back in a minute.

1: 39 a.m.

Nope, not going to happen. I started sweating before I could even touch the handle. I tried, I really tried, but it was too much. Even worse, now I’m hearing noises coming from outside of my window. Good thing the blinds are closed. I wish my roommate would just come back. He works a late shift, so he usually doesn’t get home until around five in the morning. Wait, hold on, that’s only like another three and a half hours or so. Yeah, I’ll just wait from him to get off work and then I can finally put this nonsense behind me. Then again, It’s not such a great idea to have too much faith in your friends. Especially when they know just how easily you can be startled. Like my friend Stephanie, who decided to tell me one of her own horror stories just as I was about to head home for the night.

The Union Street Cemetery

The Union Street Cemetery is the oldest graveyard in town. It’s also the shitiest. Over the years a combination of vandalism, poor upkeep, and harsh weather have made the headstones virtually unreadable, and the surrounding patches of grass that haven’t been overrun by weeds are a sickly yellow color, similar to bile. The cemetery itself sits squarely on top of a slight hill, and despite the fact that it’s been there for ages, most people in town don’t even know where it is, if they even know that it exists at all. This might have something to do with the fact that the entire area surrounding the Union Street Cemetery has been unofficially designated as the town ghetto. In other words, the houses in that area are made homes by the lower income families. My friend Stephanie was one of them for a while.

When Stephanie was in her early twenties, she led the glorious life of a single mother working as many hours as possible as a diner waitress, and in order to survive she had to move herself and her four year old son into a house on Union Street with two roommates. Or maybe she wasn’t single at this point, I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, but I do know that she lived in one of the Union Street houses with her son.

So the story as told by Stephanie, was that one night while her husband/ boyfriend/ roommates were all out of the house, Stephanie was in the kitchen trying to make some diner while her son played in the living room. Now her son Tyler (at least I think his name was Tyler) was being loud as usual, banging toy trucks into each other like little boys are known to do, so naturally Stephanie became worried when everything got quiet. When she walked into the living room to see if Tyler was doing alright, she saw him looking out of the front window from in between the curtains and the glass pane. Keep in mind that their house was right across the street from the cemetery.

“Whatcha looking at Tyler?” She asked.
“They’re coming over.” He responded, still looking out of the window.
“Who’s coming over Tyler?”
“The people from across the street.” He said.

It was here that Stephanie looked out of the front window expecting to see actual people, but instead saw only gates to the graveyard. Now Stephanie isn’t some dumb bimbo from a cheesy zombie movie, she’s a real person, and like most people in real life she’s seen her fair share of horror films. She wasn’t going shrug this off as just another child saying strange things, she was going to get the hell out of there, which she did. Stephanie grabbed Tyler, an overnight bag, and spent the night at her mother’s house. She returned the next morning after whoever else lived there had told her that everything was fine, that the walls weren’t bleeding or anything else even remotely supernatural. Even still, Stephanie moved out of that house within a year.

She told me this story one night just before I was about to leave my ex-girlfriend’s house (Stephanie was a good friend of my ex’s, that was how I came to know her.) so I was more than a little nervous to walk home alone in the dark. Actually, it really wasn’t a big deal until her story ran through my head when I was about half way home, which got me wondering just where I was exactly in position to the Union Street Cemetery, so that I could plan my walk in order to avoid it. I remember thinking that I was pretty close to Union Street, so I stopped walking briefly to try and locate any notable landmarks. I was trying to look over a hill when it happened.

At the worst possible moment, the clouds parted enough so that some faint moon light outlined the silhouettes of several headstones resting on top of the hill. As it would turn out, I was facing the back side of the graveyard, standing so close that I could have thrown a rock over the fence without even trying. Of course I freaked out, I honestly didn’t realize just how close I was to the cemetery. It was just that dark. I turned and ran without looking back. I didn’t stop running until I had reached the highway.

2: 57 a.m.

I’m not going to get out of this room tonight. I just can’t do it. There’s something terrible out there. Not just in the hall, but also outside my window, staring from behind the blinds, waiting for me to let it in. I’ve been griping the handle of my hammer so hard for so long that I know every grove in the carved wood better than I know my own face.

The light bulb of my desk lamp blew out about fifteen minutes ago, so now the only source of light is what little comes from this screen. I’m starting to think that it’s already gotten in here. Yes, yes it is. It’s definitely in here, maybe it’s always been in here, with me. I can’t face the darkness, that’s how it gets you. It only becomes real if you look at it, if even for just a moment. It will flicker to life, like a movie reel that skips a frame. There for a heartbeat, and then gone. But that’s all it wants, all it’s ever wanted. It will blink into existence for only a fraction of a second, but the damage will last forever. Where do you think these stories come from? They’re just the fallout of what I’m trying to forget: Something that doesn’t want to be forgotten.

I’m not going to let it get to me again. It only becomes real if you look at it, so I won’t. I’ll just keep my eyes on the screen, and I’ll try to ignore the shapes moving around the edges of my vision. I’ll be fine as long as I’m looking at the screen, because it only becomes real if you look at it. It’s only real when it looks back.

Credit To – Stephan D. Harris

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Onriyu

December 30, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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I don’t think you can ever be sure how the day is going to end. Even if you’re in a nice house on the coast of Northern California when the sun rises over the hills, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be there when the sun goes back down.
This morning I was reading my copy of the Oakland Tribune, trying to focus on the news with some kind of odd buzzing in the back of my head. I never would have guessed what that meant, or that I would be here, in the SFPD headquarters this evening, telling you about the darkest secrets of my life, and the darkest depths of human nature.

Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? I suppose all men must one day face their demons, though, and I fear that I will soon be facing mine in Hell.

There’s not much I can tell you that you don’t already know. I used to work for a software firm called Benji Computing, back in the 1990s. That didn’t really do much for me, but it did get my foot in the doorway of Silicon Valley. When Benji tanked in March of 2001, I had enough cred to land myself a position working with a little start-up with a lot of potential named Tancata Systems. This is the part you want to hear about, right?

I’m sure that you’ve already been told about all of the money the government poured into Tancate after they pitched their TSS network to DARPA in 2002. The TSS probably sounded like a good idea; a Telepathic Surveillance System which could monitor everything going on anywhere on Earth. No expensive satellites, no clandestine flights around the Arctic Circle. Just one computer, in Tancata’s main office in San Francisco.

The only problem with the TSS was that all it was was a good idea. We had no way to make it workable. Even though Tancata was able to monitor and prove the existence of Telepathic waves, we still weren’t sure how to manipulate them or observe them on such an immesne scale. Contrary to the image often given to the public, the “psychics” who bent spoons, used tarot cards, and read minds were universally either frauds or just people who believed that they could do something they couldn’t. Actual telepathic ability was something subconscious, and something uncontrollable. If we could figure out how to get it under control, then we would be able to give DARPA their machine, and we’d all be set for life. If we couldn’t, though, then we would almost definitely be accused of ripping off the federal government, and they’d take their funds back out of our skin.

Our early attempts to make the TSS work were pretty harmless, but they weren’t very effective. Andrew Thatcher was in charge of those. If you have him in custody, you might as well release him now; he was just a code monkey, trying to piece psychic wavelengths together out of C++ and Java. It didn’t work, but no one got hurt because of it.

We didn’t make our progress or do anything particularly dangerous until our CEO, Marcus Pliny, replaced Thatcher with Dr. Jeanne Meracor. She was the person who proposed the bright idea that we needed to replace our computer banks with live, human ‘processors’. I was initially opposed to that concept, but I eventually decided to give it my support.

We got a few people together, and we performed tests on them to figure out how much Telepathic potential each of one of them had. Some of them were volunteers we took from off of the street; some of them were employees who worked at Tancata. We thought at first that intelligence contributed greatly to Telepathic potential, so we encouraged Tancata employees with Master’s Degree or Doctorate level education to take our Parapsychological tests. It seemed strange when not one of them scored even slightly above average.

Rather than intelligence, the most important deciders for Telepathic potential proved to be gender and ancestry. Out of the twenty seven people who tested in the ranges between ‘Slightly Above Average’ and ‘High Telepathic Potential’, twenty four were female. Way too high to be a coincidence. The three males all tested on the lower end of the spectrum, too, meaning that they were all out of the running for the later phases of the program.

Of our top ten, all of them were female, and six of them identified themselves as being ‘of Asian descent’. Only one, our top scorer, was able pinpoint exactly where in Asia her family had come from; her father had moved from Japan in the 1980s. Obviously, we didn’t have enough information to make anything out of that with any real certainty. I think that if we had done genetic testing on all of our high scorers, though, we would have found some distant link to a common progenitor living in Japan, or possibly even someone older who moved to Japan from mainland China during the Neolithic Era.

Someone at our office brought up the ancient Japanese myth of the Onriyu; vengeful ghosts, almost always female, who preyed upon those who committed injustices against them during life. The whole thing sounded really superstitious, but looking at our top scorer, it was impossible to avoid that image. She was the picture of one of those mythical beings dragged from a wood-cutting. Tall and frail, as pale as a sheet, and whenever she was in a bad mood, it was hard to go near her without feeling some dark shadow falling over you. The only thing they seemed to get wrong was that, outside of those long repeated legends, the Onriyu were still alive.

Unfortunately, or maybe very fortunately, we weren’t able to use her for the program. She was exponentially more powerful than her runner-up, but she was also emotionally unstable. When we checked into her medical records, we found a diagnosis of schizophrenia, another of borderline personality disorder, and strong indicators that she had tried to kill herself at least twice. We decided to take her out of the project for her own safety, and for ours.

We still needed ten people for the program, so we decided to call our eleventh highest scorer, another woman, also ‘of Asian descent’. She still wanted to be involved, but only the on the condition that we explain to her what she would be doing. We ended up using our twelfth highest scorer.

Over the next four months, the ten people in our program lived at the Tancata Systems office block. They were given nice rooms, good food, high pay, and anything else they might need. Twice a day, we gave the medication developed by our bio-tech lab and proven to increase Telepathic abilities in mice. Once a week, they were ‘trained’ by a researcher and taught how to funnel their mental energies. That part was really touch and go. Their telepathic brainwaves were also scanned to see if they were making progress. Within two weeks, they all began to show marked improvements.

Problems started after the middle of the third month. The scientists down in the labs said that the subjects were all complaining of headaches, and that one was reporting hearing voices outside of a laboratory setting. They were starting to see distant parts of the world through the eyes of other people, just like we had wanted, but they were seeing things in their dreams, too, and those things weren’t very pleasant. Our experts told us that it might be a good idea to terminate the program, but but Jeanne Meracor didn’t seem to agree. She told us all to continue what we were doing and not to report any ‘minor problems’ to DARPA.

When all of our subjects started going rogue, I suppose Meracor considered that to be a ‘minor problem’, too.

See, it turns out that the human brain really isn’t made to hold the equivalent energy of an electrical generator. That was why our top scorer had been so unstable, and why all ten of our test subjects lashed out one day and tore part of our office block apart.

It was my idea, when we finally managed to secure all of the test subjects, that we should keep them sedated and continue the program. We were too far by this point; we couldn’t just stop. We hooked the subjects up to brain monitors, and we pumped them full of drugs and nutrients to keep them alive. It probably wasn’t very healthy for them, but we did it anyway. Their heart rates were always elevated, and from time to time, the monitors would actually jump like the subjects were running marathons in their sleep.

We eventually managed to pull images and even videos from their minds, and with that, we should have been able to make the TSS a reality. There was just one little glitch. More often than not, their visions were of horrors we didn’t like to imagine. Nightmares, we guessed, but worse than any we could picture. Every now and then, their terror would get so bad that one of them would break through their chemically induced trance and start screaming in fear and pain. We would just sedate them again, and lower their dose of psychic enhancers slightly. Basically, we tortured them, and I’m pretty sure that they knew who was doing it.

This continued for a while, until 2005, when DARPA pulled our funding. They didn’t demand any money back, they just wanted out. Someone had decided that the TSS, if rendered functional, would be too big a potential invasion of personal privacy in the wrong hands. They had no idea. With all the opposition that the government was getting over the Iraq War, a machine that could read everyone’s thoughts didn’t exactly seem like something they wanted to be involved with.

Tancata was left with two choices then, and I can tell you, neither of them seemed too appealing. We could either level the subjects off of their enhancers and let them go, hoping that they wouldn’t remember what happened, or we could cut off their life support and terminate them.

Meracor, being the brilliant business woman she was, decided not to take either of those options. Instead, she did nothing about the TSS program. She just kept it going as always, and encouraged Tancata’s CEO to pour money into other programs to keep the company going.

Meracor had the TSS moved from the basement of the Tancata office block in the fall of 2006. It was starting to effect some of the people working above, and I think some of them were getting suspicious about what was going on. I know they talked about it at lunch; the headaches, the gnawing anxiety, the mild hallucinations they sometimes saw on their peripheral vision, moving through the hallways and cubicles like ghosts.

I’m not sure where Meracor moved the TSS. They shipped it in a huge metal crate with ‘Industrial Hazard’ written on the side. If I had to guess where it ended up, I would say Tancata’s Nevada Facility, south of Reno, but your guess is really as good as mine.

The company dragged on for a few more years, but the financial burden caused by the lack of DARPA funds, coupled with the growing national recession caused the company to file for Chapter 11 in November of 2008. I had already left by then, though. I jumped ship when I saw the chance nearly a year before. I had a good enough resume by that time to get myself a job as a high level programmer with a major company in Oakland, and I never looked back. I was hoping that all of this would be behind me forever.

If you can get Meracor into custody soon enough, she might be able to tell you what Tancata did with the TSS when they went under. My guess if that they tried to kill it, but it was just too powerful to die. At any rate, it’s irrelevant. I’m sure you know that the TSS is still somehow alive, and that it has grown into one entity. Something with teeth and claws, and tentacles stretching across the country. You’ve got someone from Tancata, probably the CEO, I’m guessing, who has linked the blackouts in the northeast to the false missile launches in the midwest and the nightmare that’s breaking loose along the California coastline, and then he’s tied it all back to the TSS. Either that, or DARPA figured out what we were doing too late.

Anyway, if you think that you can stop the TSS I have some bad news for you. Unless you want to channel the force of every nuclear weapon on the planet into one electromagnetic bomb, you aren’t even going to be able to slow it down. Even then, you could just interrupt its freqeuncy for an hour or so. What it wants to do, it’s going to do, and right now, it just wants to inflict pain and death until its rage is spent.

I can give you one bit of advice, though. If the lights start to flicker, then you want to get as far away from me as you can as fast as you can. You don’t want to be in here when the lights go out.

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Grimm

December 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM
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He came for me in winter. Now that I think of it, He would have never come at any other time.

You see, He likes to play; He likes to have fun with his charges. It must be awfully boring otherwise, His job that is.

I knew it was my turn, saw the warning signs. As I said, the sick bastard likes to have fun.

First signs are usually so small one might miss them, like whispers in an empty room. A flit in the corner of the eye, a shadow in a hallway. Signs so minute, it takes those experienced with Him to see.

He’ll fix your feet so you can’t walk,

He’ll fix your jaw so you can’t talk.

Then: Paranoia. Someone is watching you. It’s in the closet, He’s hiding under your bed. He’s coming for you, and there is nothing you can do.

Well, what is this that I can’t see

With ice-cold hands taking hold of me?

Paranoia is where I think He has the most fun, I personally think he just lets it do its own thing and just watches His chosen tear their own lives apart. This can stretch on for years, decades. Sanity unwinds, madness reigns supreme.

Oh- How you’re treating me,

You’ve closed my eyes so I can’t see.

Time to time, he may honor you by showing himself. Of course, he won’t just pop in and introduce Himself. Where’s the fun in that?

No, He prefers to be seen only in partial glimpses. A slim shadow in an alley, a flash of a well-trimmed suit. A hand, spider-like in its length of digits, carving your name in the steam while you relax in the shower; a wheezy sigh from the foot of your bed as you drift off to sleep.

He doesn’t care about age, laughs aloud at the offer of money. Where He takes you, neither matters.

No wealth, nor land, nor silver, nor gold.

Nothing satisfies Him but your soul.

He has existed as long as man, and by His very nature means that He will outlast us all.

He has many names, some old as language itself. He has been called the Slender Man, Thanatos, Malach HaMavet. He is El Muerte, the Reaper of the Abyss. He is Abbadon, the fallen angel.

He is the Last Horseman, the Rider on a pale horse.

When god is cold, and the devil takes hold,

He will have mercy upon your soul.

I can hear him calling for me, His cruel titter like a cross between a child’s and a fiddle. He knows where I hide, but He doesn’t mind. And why should He?

The children played, the preacher preached.

Time and mercy are out of your reach.

He stalks this place. Can’t you hear?

O Death-

Won’t you spare me another year?

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Tunnels

December 29, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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l once knew a man who was afraid of nothing. No monstrosity man made nor fictitious could subdue his spirits, and the mere mention of the word ‘supernatural’ would elicit a most cynical example of laughter. This bravery was both his greatest strength and his most profound weakness, for ignorance and heedlessness can often be mistaken for a deep and foolhardy sense of courage. He was to learn the limits of his bravery down in those oppressive tunnels, deep below the streets of Amsterdam.

His name was Henke, due mainly to his Finnish ancestry on his father’s side, and although his parents had passed away at an early age, it was clear that he believed his courageous convictions could be attributed to his father’s character.

I had met Henke four years earlier while travelling with some friends on a rather common rites of passage: Backpacking through Europe during a university break. He and a few of his friends were on a similar trip and happened to be staying at the same youth hostel as myself and my companions in Rome. We all got on well, but both Henke and I struck up an immediate rapport with one another as he was a keen musician and I was at the time still filled with the self promise, or should I say delusion, of stardom through my own musical pursuits.

This friendship continued onwards and we maintained it via email; swapping musical discoveries, talking about politics, and generally getting to know one another as best two people can through simple correspondence. I grew to enjoy our friendly debates over the years and on a few occasions we even visited one another. Henke moved around a lot and as such it gave me a good excuse to visit a number of mainland European countries, not to mention that he always knew which local pubs served the best beer and which restaurants were to be best avoided.

Last year I visited Henke in Amsterdam. The Dutch city seemed to be a good fit for him as he always liked to live in the liveliest of places, and with countless meandering canals, bridges, and walkways swamped with millions of tourists every year, Amsterdam, for Henke, felt like the very embodiment of life and vibrancy. At the time he had been recently hired to carry out some important maintenance work on the Rijksmuseum, which is one of Amsterdam’s most impressive buildings, and this seemed to have rooted him to the one place for longer than was usual.

When I met him in a small darkened corner of a local pub, well away from the burgeoning tourist trade, I was shocked at his appearance. Here was a friend I had grown to know as being larger than life, exuding bravado, and yet I was presented with a shell of a man, slight in stature and racked with self doubt.

He proceeded to impart on me the circumstances which resulted in his precarious condition, of which I will relay to you now.

Henke had been working as a civil engineer for some time and relished the challenge of renovating and maintaining the Rijksmuseum, a building with such a long and compelling history. The museum houses Amsterdam’s finest collection of historical relics, and being given access to some of its more hidden places which are inaccessible to the general public, piqued Henke’s fascination for the obscured and unique.

He had been hired most specifically to lead a maintenance crew which had been assigned to assess and repair the building’s foundations. This oldest part of the structure dated back centuries and had a most bizarre and, it must be said, quite horrific history. The Rijksmuseum itself had been constructed in 1885, but what it had been built upon possessed a much older and interesting history.

In the bowels of the building under its marble floors and deep red brickwork, lay a labyrinth of abandoned tunnels which at one time served as part of the old city’s sewer network. They had long been disused and fallen into disrepair but they were nonetheless an essential part of the building’s foundations and had to be assessed and repaired, otherwise the entire structure would be in danger of subsiding.

The ground and upper levels of the museum were beautiful and displayed many wonderful historical relics from all over the world. So welcoming and warm was the atmosphere of the building that it was difficult to imagine the darkness which festered below. After some quick words with the building manager, Henke proceeded to an old, seldom used room at the back of the museum which housed a rather antiquated, creaking, and cage-like elevator which was being used to access the lower levels and sewers underneath.

Pulling on a pair of dirt covered yellow overalls, complete with hard hat and head lamp, Henke entered the elevator for his first descent. On his trip downwards towards the abandoned sewers, Henke thought to himself that those of a nervous disposition may let such a dank and isolated place prey on their minds. This may have explained why the previous man in charge of the repairs had left so abruptly, citing nervous exhaustion and refusing to ever so much as set foot in those pitch black corridors of cold stone ever again.

The elevator winch and engine stuttered as it lowered Henke down four levels into the basement. With each passing floor he observed a slight dimming of the lights and each subterranean level appeared more sparse, and stone-like than the one before. A rusted plate attached to the elevator betrayed its age. It struck Henke that the year of its construction, 1932, must have been amongst the last periods of maintenance carried out there before the persecution of the Jewish people and the outbreak of war in Europe.

Henke knew much of the shameful history of the region as he was part Jewish and his great Grandfather had died during the holocaust. Many had fled to Amsterdam for sanctuary from the Nazi regime in the early 1930s, but the long blighting arm of Hitler’s horrific ‘final solution’ eventually reached the borders of Holland, sweeping many thousands away to those shameful and barbaric concentration camps.

The elevator shuddered to a halt and after forcing the rusted sliding door aside, Henke disembarked. The tunnels – comprising Amsterdam’s disused sewer network – were curious in construction and steeped in a history which stretched back much farther into the distant past than that of the museum itself. Having spoken to his employers, Henke had been specifically told to pay heed to the assessment and repair crews’ knowledge of the tunnel layout, as the place could be disorientating and as the lighting system required to illuminate repair work had not been fully installed yet, that he would find it all too easy to get lost.

Most importantly Henke was informed that the two-way radios normally used to communicate between team members had been playing up, and that they were very unreliable due to interference, probably produced by nearby metallic deposits in the ground. This meant that communication between his team members would have to be carried out verbally, or by using the light from their torches to convey simple messages via Morse code; this was particularly useful in the longer tunnels. In any case, it struck Henke that the catacombs below really were isolated, lonely places.

Care must be taken.

Henke was greeted by Jones, his second in command. Jones was a substantially stout fellow and was rather humorous in nature. He debriefed Henke on the current progress being made by his new team, informing him that the initial mapping and assessments of the tunnels had gone well. All in all there were 16 four man crews, each of which would be assigned a section of the sewers to repair. Henke would supervise two of the crews which were working in one of the more isolated tunnels.

After walking for 15 minutes Henke arrived at the area which would be his workplace for the next few months. The sound of occasional drilling could be heard in the distance as the workers continued to install the still non-operational lighting system. As Henke’s men would be working further away from the other crews, it seemed logical – although not desirable – that they would have a lighting system installed last.

Each passageway seemed oddly shaped with no two tunnels being quite alike, this entire section of the sewer was in fact so antiquated that it had been built long before the careful planning of such constructions had become commonplace. One tunnel would arch onwards for over several hundred metres in a strange semi-circle, while others bisected it at right angles, carrying on in a regimented straight line into the darkness. Henke even found a passageway which seemed to dip and rise only to slither its way along in an unnatural S-shape. Some tunnels seemed to go on forever, others stopped abruptly as if the original builders had been unable to complete their work, leaving in a hurry. Jones tried to keep the conversation light and with his experience of walking through the tunnels for the past two months, Henke was glad to have a guide to show him the way.

Waiting in a large alcove were four of Henke’s team. They would work this section of the tunnels during the day, while the other shift would take over later, working through the night. Jones introduced each of them. They seemed nice enough, but Henke was surprised to find the men largely in the grips of silence. In his experience humour was normally found in abundance, with repair crews using it to slice through the monotony of working in such cramped and repetitive conditions. Here though, he found them uttering not one word, sitting in silence in that imposing alcove, removed from any consideration of camaraderie or fellowship; the only inference that they were not a collection of subterranean statues was the occasional movement of their head lamps altering the shadows around them.

They seemed wholly disconnected from, not just each other, but the very environment in which they worked.

Henke brushed this feeling of unease aside and committed himself to cultivating conversation; if these men were in some way angry or uncomfortable with one another then Henke would soon lay that to rest; a happy workforce is a productive one.

The first order of business was to survey this section of tunnels and decide where repairs were most pressing. Preliminary assessments had already been made, but Henke liked to evaluate any repair project he was involved in from the ground up. Henke walked the catacombs with his team and noticed immediately that they were still on edge, that they seemed frightened in an almost childlike way. No amount of questions casual or otherwise could elicit anything other than one word broken replies. As they toured the numerous tunnels, lighting their way with the small torches attached to their safety helmets and taking notes about failing walls, water damage, and estimations of any possible repair time, Henke pressed the men on their obvious sense of fear, asking why such an experienced crew who no doubt had worked in many tunnels before, were so apprehensive of mere bricks and mortar.

They avoided the questions, looking nervously at one another and changing the topic of conversation with mono-toned lethargy whenever it veered towards their experiences of the old sewers, or of their previous boss’s unceremonious departure from the job. It began to dawn on Henke that the men’s verbal and physical awkwardness was not the result of tensions between workers, but rather of a deep seated and worrying apprehension; of what he did not know. What was clear was that his team seemed to be counting down the minutes until their shift ended, when they could finally clamber out of the darkness into the safety of the world above.

As the beam from his head lamp trickled over the damp and crumbling brickwork of the tunnels, Henke again conceded to himself that some may find such a setting unnerving; but not him. Whatever had caused such trepidation and disquiet amongst the men working down there, was surely a simple case of idle superstition, mischief making, and the quite understandable psychological toll of working in a dark, cramped, and forgotten part of the world. Even Jones, who had through most of the catacombs been jovial and talkative, now adopted the same sullen expression and seriousness of disposition as the others.

The passages wound and meandered their way through the ground, long steady trajectories intermittently and abruptly interrupted by sharp blind corners which made it difficult for Henke to identify exactly where they were. There were so many winding corridors that Henke felt slightly disorientated and was ready to joke with his men that if they didn’t like him as a boss that they could probably leave him there and he would never find his way out.

But his men were no longer with him.

He was standing at the mouth of a tunnel and while he had continued onwards talking, trying to fill in the difficult silences, his men had stopped at the last junction. They stood motionless some twenty feet behind, staring at Henke with blank expressions occasionally betrayed by the slightest flicker of a very real and gripping emotion beneath; a look of suppressed terror.

When he asked why the men were not following, they whispered in reply that where they stood was where the last of the repair work was needed. Pulling out a map and perusing it intently by the light of his head lamp, Henke surmised that he must have wandered into the most remote part of the sewer network, at the back of the catacombs, and while the tunnels continued into the foreboding distance this must have marked the boundary of the Rijksmuseum’s foundations.

What confused him was that where he stood had been marked for repair. He was standing at the entrance to what appeared to be a rather innocuous tunnel, but on the wall next to the opening Henke could clearly see that someone had placed an identification plaque there, marking it for repair. It read ‘Tunnel 72F: Water damage & failing brickwork’.

After double checking his map, it was clear to Henke that tunnel 72F was indeed still under the Rijksmuseum foundations and had to be appraised and repaired, but when he told his men this they simply informed him that where they stood was as far as they would go.

Anger began to take over, accompanied by frustration that the team he was supposed to be supervising were being so difficult, but even raising his voice and demanding that they head into the tunnel did not seem to move them. Just as things became heated and Henke began demanding that the men do as he say, Jones interjected:

“We’ve worked down here for two months, Henke. This is a good, hard working, talented crew you have. They will do exactly as you ask, when you ask it, but you will have to accept that for them, and me, our work stops at this junction and that none of us will go near tunnel 72F. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is something in there.”

Taking a deep breath and calming himself, Henke explained to his men that he understood the stress induced by working in such an environment for an extended period of time, but that repairs in that tunnel had to be carried out. He would talk to them later about it, but for now he would carry out the survey himself.

As Henke stepped over the threshold and into the apparently forbidden tunnel, Jones and the other men protested vehemently, shouting on Henke to leave the passageway immediately, but he saw this as foolish. He was not to be swayed by unsubstantiated, superstitious nonsense. There was nothing in this tunnel to fear, and once more Henke would prove to others that they should not be so scared, by stepping up, being a man, and pushing forward into places others who are more timid in nature fear to tread. It was a point of pride for Henke, he believed in always being bold.

While the tunnel seemed fairly common in its construction at first glance, as Henke progressed deeper into the darkness it was apparent that this was unlike any sewer he had seen before. The ground was uneven; the floor dipped and rose much like some of the other tunnels, but what was peculiar was how fractured the surface felt under his feet. The ground was obscured by a thick, almost oily water which in places reached up as high as his knees. He trudged through the stagnant water slowly, not because he was scared, but simply to insure he had a sound footing. One thing was apparent, however long the water had lay there it was long enough to fester and produce an unpleasant, rotten stench.

The walls were of a different, much older composition than most of the brickwork he had seen in the sewers elsewhere. Whatever the material was which had been used, it was hundreds of years old and was obviously failing, with long penetrating cracks scarring the surface of the increasingly unstable walls and ceiling.

The light from Henke’s head lamp was enough to illuminate much of the tunnel, but as he ventured further towards what he thought was a dead-end, he realised that the passageway was narrowing and that the tunnel itself did not stop there, but rather tapered slightly before curving abruptly into a blind corner.

Henke estimated that he was around 80 feet into the sewer and while his curiosity for what could be beyond that corner urged him to move forward, he believed he had made his point to his men and would now ask them to abandon their fears and enter the tunnel with him. He unholstered the black hand held radio which all the workers had been issued with from his side, and began requesting for Jones and the others to meet him at the corner of the tunnel.

No one responded, and nothing but a quiet buzz could be heard from the radio speaker. Of course Henke now remembered that he had been warned about how unreliable the radios could be, but just as he was about to turn and shout on his men, something caught his eye.

Surely not.

There was nothing in this old tunnel but stagnant water and himself! But pushing relentlessly against Henke’s bravado and self assured disposition was the creeping reality that something was standing at the end of the tunnel. Obscured by the turn, Henke could only see a glimpse of it, but it was unmistakable. A ragged piece of cloth poked out from around the corner and although Henke’s mind was unwilling to accept it, the cloth was obviously part of a sleeve, a sleeve which contained an arm, of who’s or what’s he did not know.

Disbelief.

Stubbornness can be an effective tonic for even the most horrifying and unbelievable of situations. Henke’s belief in himself and his long history of triumphs over adversity welled up inside of him, filling his chest with pride, and with a strong confident stride Henke marched towards whatever was behind that corner.

The slush and slosh of the black water echoed throughout the tunnel as he made his way to that blind turn. Apprehension now turned to sadness and empathy, for standing there, shivering and dishevelled, was a girl who could not have seen more than 13 years. Her face and hands were blackened with grime and dirt hiding her pale and malnourished frame. A ripped shirt was all that she wore, hanging from her loosely with much of her body exposed to the cold of that dank, isolated place.

Gazing at him between strands of dark matted hair, Henke was struck by how beautiful the young girl was, and how afraid she must have been. At first he believed that somehow she must have made her way into the sewers and lost her way, but no matter how softly he asked her she would not answer, appearing afraid and nervous.

Henke tried his radio again, but was greeted with the same meaningless static. Regardless, he had to get her out of that tunnel, back through the sewers and into the Rijksmuseum and seen by a doctor. He did not want to shout on his men as it may have added to the girl’s disquiet, so he decided to lead her out of the passage himself. As he approached, Henke spoke gently to the girl explaining that he would take her up above to safety. She seemed terrified of him, and this made Henke feel uncomfortable as he prided himself on being someone who would do anything to protect the vulnerable, and not at all someone to be feared.

She made no sound, but as Henke neared she raised her hand, pointing one finger at the light on his helmet. He suddenly realised that the light must have been frightening her somehow, so he merely took the lamp off and held it in his hand, the torch now illuminating the girl’s shirt more starkly. The changed angle of light brought something unsettling to Henke’s attention. Pinned to the shirt was a yellow cloth star. It surprised him as it was entirely familiar but it took a moment for his mind to grasp the memory; it was exactly like the yellow stars forced upon the Jewish populations during their persecution, to allow non-Jews and members of the Nazi regime to identify them.

Henke’s mind fought against the ramifications of such a discovery. After a momentary pause, he once again was resolute, disregarding the cloth star and asserting to himself that he must take this poor girl out of such horrible surroundings.

A tremendous sense of sadness overcame Henke as he grew closer. The torch flickered unusually in his hand as he looked down at the girl, her face momentarily illuminated by the shifting light, as he prepared to carry her out of the sewers if need be. But this sense of duty, this compulsion to be brave and assertive in even the darkest of places, was now replaced with something which Henke had never felt before. Up his spine and from the very pit of his stomach fear gripped him, terror took him, and a horror so potent made him feel anxious, weak, and unsteady.

For Henke had not noticed something so subtle, yet essential to his predicament. The girl had not stopped pointing at him as he drew closer. Her arm was ridged and her finger remained outstretched, even the light which was now in his hand seemed entirely unimportant to her. Realisation swept over him like a plague of abject dread.

The girl was not pointing at the light, she was pointing behind him.

Henke did not remember much more of what happened in that tunnel, but he knew that he had indeed turned to face whatever was standing there. He thanked God (not something he was normally inclined to do) that Jones and those men who feared that dark hollow so acutely, had dispensed with this fear and ran into the passageway as soon as they heard his screams.

Henke regained his composure back at the alcove where he had met the men, but he immediately pleaded with them that they take him back out of the tunnels, which is what they did. Once back in the elevator room of the Rijksmuseum, the men sat and had a frank discussion with Henke about what had been happening down there over the past few months. Jones explained that the first survey team which had encountered that specific sewer passageway resigned from their posts after just one night down there. A week later one of their co-workers who decided to stay on, committed suicide after complaining to everyone that he could hear whispers coming from that tunnel while he worked nearby. Not long after that Jones’ previous supervisor had seen someone standing at the mouth of tunnel 72F and had followed them inside. One of the clean-up crews found him crawling out of the sewer on his hands and knees, crying hysterically like a child.

He had been heavily medicated ever since, but no one knew exactly what he had seen down there, he would not talk of it, but the men who recovered him claimed he was repeating one word over and over frantically:

“Nazi”.

Henke was a nervous wreck after his experience and ordered that no one go into tunnel 72F. He continued to work down in the sewers, day after day in the dark, but he was consumed by the notion that he had seen something so frightening that he had forced himself to forget. Over the next few weeks he lost weight, and had trouble sleeping often waking up in a disturbed state, drenched in a cold sweat, unable to recall what he had been dreaming about.

The very idea that brave Henke could be reduced to this, that he could be affected so deeply by something he could not even remember in its entirety, preyed on his pride and his sense of self worth. He first tried to combat this feeling of helplessness by increasing his knowledge of the tunnels. Knowledge, as they say, is power and Henke felt that if he knew more about that place in the dark, that he would somehow be less afraid of it. He read about the history of the museum, and while he found very little of it helpful, one local legend struck a chord with him.

It was rumoured that during the second world war a number of Jewish families took refuge in the tunnels below the Rijksmuseum. When two SS officers were tipped off as to their whereabouts, they entered the tunnels with some local volunteers hoping to arrest them down there and most probably send them off to a concentration camp. The rumours were that the families ambushed the SS officers and their Nazi sympathisers, killing them and dumping the bodies somewhere in the sewers.

This was the story Henke related to me. It was sad to see him so shaken and vulnerable; a strong powerful individual who had never shown so much as a hint of fear for, or of, anything, to be reduced to a diminished man living on his nerves.

Unfortunately the story does not end there; some men are haunted both by what they have seen, and by what they cannot understand. Ego can be a terrible burden on anyone. Once it is fractured or damaged, the lasting effects can be devastating. Henke could not let go of his pride, nor his desire to feel strong again, whole. He had never been afraid of anything before and no matter what was in that tunnel, no matter how much I attempted to dissuade him, he was determined to confront it and reclaim his self worth.

Three days later Henke’s body was found at the mouth of tunnel 72F, stuffed into an old duffel bag. It was a heart attack which had killed him, but whoever broke, twisted, and shoved his body into that morbid sack after he died was never caught.

I should mention that the bag was of particular interest to the police in case it could reveal something about Henke’s death. It was traced to Germany, army issue to be precise, and hadn’t been manufactured since 1941.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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Writer’s Block

December 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM
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The furious scribblings of an aspiring writer can be heard throughout the almost vacant library. A lone entity, in a blissful state of ink to paper, processes a masterpiece.

James was dying to finalize his thought, but he could not wrap his consciousness around the perfect ending for his story. Frustratingly, he threw his utensil to the ground – happy in the thought that no one was around to see his embarrassing reaction to a seemingly trivial predicament. He had been working on the tale for months now trying to perfect his creation, but he did not care about temporal matters. He only wanted to be proud of his accomplishment – to be content in his first effort at an original writing. He laughed at the silly thought of just never finishing his work; that he would be doomed to endlessly staring at his incomplete narrative.

Earlier in life, James was often shunned for his interest in writing. He was labeled as an outcast for dabbling in the arts, but he cared not for the opinions of others. Now that he was in college, the notion of someone devoting their life to writing was not as ridiculous – he felt pleased in that fact. He no longer had to defend his love and he could finally focus on it. Writing, however, was harder work then he was willing to admit. Every idea was taken and written in better manner than he could ever hope to achieve. That wouldn’t stop him though, he had decided long ago that he would bring forth his true passion to tangible fruit regardless of the odds against him. He had read countless books on all manner of subjects, longing to be inspired – but never held his breath when delving into a new genre. All too often, he would sigh in disapproval at his choice of material, but one category never displeased him.

Horror was an emotion James felt was neglected in modern society, it was a feeling most people wanted to forget as unnecessary to the human condition. James was saddened in the thought that he could not remember a time when he was truly terrified. What annals of his mind were untapped simply because he had not experienced the full range of natural stigmas? The question depressed James. He wanted to live these sensations and found much solace in the solution to his problem. Reading. By reading, James could react to scenarios he could never truly experience – he adjudicated that horror was the only genus of writings that would satisfy his emotional cravings. Stories of ancient artifacts, of evil entities, of rituals and murders all circled his dorm-room, but his favorite story dealt with a demon-like persona named Yendismai who prevents a scientist from discovering hidden truths about the universe. James enjoyed this particular read wholly because it made him feel like there was more to the world than just reality. These books transported him to another thread on the clothe of existence and he was enthralled in the escapist mentality of submerging oneself.

James jumped up in cognizance of his trailing thought. “Damn it! I have to focus if I ever want to finish this,” he thought to himself. He picked up his favorite pen from the ground and situated his paper to begin working again. Something bothered him though. He looked around the area he was sitting remembering that he choose a corner of the library on the third floor specifically so that he would be left alone. It was dark and the eerie silence was not completely known to James until now that he was observing his surroundings. He started to sweat, but ignored his uncomfortable state in light of the fact that he needed to finish his story. He quickly dismissed any premonitions and began to…

“What are you doing here all alone?” said the friendly voice coming from the new figure sitting across from him in the once-empty chair.

“How did you get here without me noticing?” James replied, somewhat unsteadily, fearing the response.

“I guess I have alway been quiet,” said the girl with a certain charm about her.

“What is your name?”

“Sidney.”

James pondered the surreal nature of what was happening. He didn’t know why, but he felt sick and disturbed at the occurrence presenting itself. The dark musty corner of the library thickened and he felt unable to breath steadily. James suddenly panicked inside of himself, he felt as though he wasn’t supposed to be here. As if he was breaking some unwritten code in life; he found himself unable to stare directly at Sidney and he was trying to distance himself from the situation.

“What’s wrong?” The simple question lingered in the air and bellowed an aroma of confusion that permeated the stagnant positioning of the seemingly lighthearted encounter.

“Nothing, I just feel sick all of a sudden.” James was unsure of what to say next. He wanted to finish his story, but he knew that he had to deal with whatever was bothering him first.

“Okay…maybe you should put your work away? You seem rather stressed out.” Sidney was noticeably confused at James’s reactions, but she was agitated at his lack of interest more-so.

“Yeah, that is a good idea. Sorry for all of this, I just am having a bad reaction to the dust in here.” James lied, but he didn’t want to hurt the girls feelings even though he didn’t know the first thing about her. He decided that he would humor her acquaintance and would make up this awkward introduction by talking to her elsewhere. James cringed internally when he put the incomplete story into his backpack. Why did he feel like he was making a mistake?

Later, at the coffee shop just outside campus, James became increasingly intrigued at Sidney. She had explained that she could not really give him an answer for why she had ventured to the third floor of the library nor could she elaborate on the reasonings for saying hello. All that she could reveal was that she liked to do things on a whim and that James should not be concerned with things that didn’t matter. The weariness in the library was wearing off and James felt much better now that he was thrusted back into normalcy. They talked for hours about each other’s lives; James couldn’t help but feel like Sidney exaggerated on a few instances, but he was much too polite to point any inconsistencies in her tales. He was just glad that someone was taking an interest in him, he was so used to being ignored.

At the conversation’s end, James got Sidney’s number and felt quiet accomplished in the strange turn of events that occurred. Perhaps Sidney could become a possible love interest for James; the thought was surely pleasing to his mind, but he felt as though he was getting ahead of himself. Back at his dorm, James reclined and began to recount the memories made that day. He pulled out his story from his back-pack to see how much work he still needed to get done and noticed something odd. All of the corrections and ideas he had scribbled during his stay at the library were erased as if he had not altered his story at all. James’s heart stopped and he became very at-edge. There was no one in the library able to access his bag besides himself and Sidney and he had kept his back-pack on the entire time at the coffee shop. How could anyone have possibly taken it out of his person and why would anyone do such a thing? James could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead and he was getting extremely anxious. “This is impossible,” he thought to himself. James decided to take a nap, perhaps he would feel more comfortable after resting a bit.

James’s dreams were plagued by nightmarish figures pulling at him and questioning him about his knowledge. These figures eventually converged into one being with aberrant proportions; it stared directly into James’s eyes as if demanding him of something.

When he awoke, James was feeling more ill than when he had absolved to sleep. He immediately pulled his story out of his bag to find that it was still showing that he had made no alterations since the beginning of the day. James sighed and let the facts dwindle in significance until he no longer cared about the harsh reality. He rejected the disturbing thoughts and began to re-mark his story as best he could to what it looked before Sidney had made her appearance. “Sidney. Had she taken my story?” James was thinking clearer than he ever had before trying to recall each and every detail of her uncanny visit. “There is no way. Besides, what reason would she have for such an action?” James went back to working on his story, but he didn’t even have time to write a single word before his phone rang.

It was Sidney’s number. He was surprised that she had called him so soon, she must have really been interested in him. He answered without hesitation.

“Hello?”

“Hey James! Look, I have been thinking and I would love it if I could see you tomorrow. There are a few things I want to tell you.”

“Well…okay, but where?”

“Back at our spot at the library. Be there for ten ok?”

“Yeah sure, I was planning on being there late tomorrow anyways.”

“Sounds great! See you then.”

She hung up without saying goodbye and James’s phone produced that familiar tone letting him know that the conversation was over – in case it wasn’t obvious. James placed the phone on his desk and smiled to himself. He was happy that he was seeing her again because he had secretly longed for someone to care about for a long time. Maybe this would be the beginning of something beautiful. After a while of childish jubilation, James began to think once more of his story. He started to piece-together how he could conclude the story, but he felt great hesitation in his mind. James got the uncontrollable feeling that he was discovering something forbidden. He began to jerk and spasm every time he put pen to paper and was becoming enraged at himself; he wanted nothing more than to finish his story, but he could not ignore the vibrations in his skull. Tears started to form in the corners of his eyes. James was screaming in pain at the idea of firming-up his work as if he was unlocking potential in his brain that was forcibly shut-off. Revelations passed over his eyes, but he was seeing nothing as he blankly stare into another dimension. James agonizingly pushed his eyes to a closed position as if it would stop the perfected madness coursing through his veins. James was losing consciousness and his mind went void as he slammed his head on the cold hard ground of his dorm.

Luckily, when James awoke it was still time enough for him to get ready for his first class. His head was still throbbing, but he could not tell if it was from physical pain or mental adumbration. He realized that his eyes turned to tunnel-vision as they glanced over his story on the ground beside him. He quickly shoved the papers into his back-pack and reorganized his disheveled appearance because after his final class of the day was over, he would have no time to return to his dorm in preparation for meeting Sidney. He left his dwelling with the determination to keep his mind from numbing him, but he knew he would be unable to prevent another apocalypse in the machinations of his cerebral-being if the emergence was on-setting.

Throughout the classes of the day, James could not keep focus. He was constantly losing his center of attention to the night before and his story, but he made sure to not strain too hard on the subject. He laughed to himself with the notion that he did not want to be driven insane before he met Sidney again. With each passing hour, James felt less worried about his mental fits of past and more concerned about that night with Sidney. “What does she want to tell me exactly?” James thought to himself as he lost interest in his professor. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. The world seemed tilted at a wrong angle, the hue of the sky was discolored ever-so-slightly and the voices of passing students around him were all at a frequency he was not familiar with. James was unbalanced and he needed to put his paranoia to rest. As he sat up to leave his final class, James discovered he was quite tired despite having taken his nap and being knocked unconscious in close succession. All the thoughts racing inside of him were draining his lifeblood from him. James started to feel anticipation as he stepped outside feeling the cold air inviting him towards his destination. He could feel the paleness of his face even though he could not see anything in the darkness of the night.

James walked into the library with the sudden inkling that he was forgetting something. His mind was processing the facts of his life in the last day. “What am I missing?” James questioned himself rigorously as he took caution in each movement to the third floor of the library. The veins on his head were enlarging and James felt like he was absorbing the knowledge from his surroundings. He could not pinpoint the source of the discomposure in his internal being, but he could not help but feel that another apex was approaching. He turned the corner of the final book-shelf and saw that Sidney was already at the table waiting for him. She looked more beautiful than he remembered and she had a certain graceful solemnity about her.

“Hey, I came up here to finish my story so I hope you don’t mind if I work while we talk.” The words left James mouth with a newfound confidence. His aliments were no longer affecting him in a disabling manner and he was feeling much better now that he was in good company.

“I knew you were going to be working on that silly story. Just put it away for right now, I won’t be long.”

James’s heart stopped. Did he hear her correctly? Did she just say what he thought she said? There was no way Sidney could know that he was writing a story because he had never mentioned it to her. Something was not right and James instantly knew he was in danger. He quickly remembered that the library was practically empty on his way up; no one would know that he was up there and no one would be able to hear anything happening that high up from ground level. James’s pulse was deadening and he felt his clinging to the tangible world was weakening. He couldn’t bare the gnawing of his insatiable curiosity.

“Who are you?!” James screamed with a wild abandon of all decorum.

The lights in the library flickered and James realized that he had not made actual conversation with another human being besides Sidney since he had met her. The bizarre qualities of the day finally shed their cocoon of pseudo-realism to expose the truth. James’s revelation opened his eyes for the first time since the aforementioned day’s experience and he observed Sidney for what she really was. She was now contorting in a seizure-like twisting of limbs and flesh. She grew in stature and her hair receded into her skull so that she was just a gray husk of the girl James’s mind tricked him into seeing. Her arms grew five feet long each; her hands became wrinkled and her fingernails lengthened into talons. Sidney’s legs bent backwards to a beast like appearance and her clothes were absorbed in a mass of tendrils surrounding her body. Her face elongated to hold a new set of black boney protrusions and here eyes delved into her globulous visage. Her mouth was made cavernous and opened to a morbid extension that left her lower jaw hanging at about her mid-body. She was emitting no sound from her crevice other than the sickening noise of a “call-waiting” tone.

“I am Sidney,” the creature screeched. It positioned itself directly in front of James before squealing: “There are some things in this universe that are better left unfinished. We could not afford for you to complete your story lest your kind would have discovered us prematurely.”

Sidney inched its way forward as James held onto his breath, waiting for the end to encompass his being. He spent a split second planning an escape only to discern that it would be to no avail. James felt at ease knowing his mind would no longer have to strain. The search was over. He had found Sidney.

—————————————————————————-

I found the remnants of this story outside the old condemned library on campus. I was terrified reading it, but I just couldn’t put it down.

It feels like it isn’t finished though…

Credit To – taylorlanson@gmail.com

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