Lost iPhones

May 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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James said he found the iPhone in the lawn as he was leaving the party. Afterward, we wondered what had really happened, how he had actually found it. But then, when he told us, we had no reason to not believe his story. He was walking out, he explained, completely hammered, and there it was: a pink 5C covered with dew from being out all night.

“You stole someone’s phone? Not cool, James,” said Hayley. We were standing it in our apartment’s small kitchen, lit quite brightly by the early afternoon sun. James had just come over, but in his defense, it was probably much more like morning for him. I had only been up for a couple of hours, anyway. Spring semester had finished a few days ago and all the dandelions were coming out, yellow headed and alive in the few green spots in the city. Hailey’s internship at the museum wasn’t starting for another two weeks and my work in Professor Isle’s lab was on hold until he came back from vacation, which meant we had nothing to do except talk too much and drink too much and sleep in too much and way, way too late.

James lived in our apartment building, on the bottom floor. I knew him from my fiction workshop. He had gone to boarding schools and wrote a lot of stories about the sadness of being rich. He DJ’d Monday nights at the college station, playing hipper than thou indie rock and dub reggae. I’m making him sound a lot worse than he is. He always had good hair.

In a plot twist that didn’t surprise me at all, Hayley had slept with him (“I don’t regret it Ariel. All great lives feature things some would call failures, but we libertines call them the forge that tempers our personal steel.”) but only a couple of times. He had initiated extremely awkward hugs with me, but that hadn’t evolved into anything more physical. Thankfully.

“I didn’t steal a phone. I’m not, like, a thief.”

“And yet here you are,” Hayley said, “with that phone you didn’t buy.”

“You act like I’m breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Are you?”

“No, Ariel. I am not breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Thank god. Don’t think we weren’t worried,” said Hayley.

“Do you guys want to know why this phone is weird?”

“Sure,” I said, “show me.”

He slide the phone on and punched in the security code.

“Hey,” said Hayley, “how do you know the code.”

“I didn’t,” he said, tapping at the screen, “but this morning I just put in some random numbers and it, boom. It worked.”

“What numbers?”

“4444.”

“What a crappy pin,” I breathed. “that person’s email password must be password.”

“Maybe it is, but it’s not on their phone,” said James, “they don’t have an email set up, or any apps, or contacts.”

“What the fuck do they even do with their phone then,” demanded Hayley, “only make phone calls?”

“No. No calls in the history. Received or outgoing.”

“So there’s nothing on it?” asked Hayley, “maybe it’s a new phone or something?”

“It’s not a new phone,” he flipped it over. The back of the phone was covered in scratches, tiny spider web cracks running in and out. “See? Somebody has had this forever.”

“So, there’s nothing on it and it’s got a shitty password. James I hate to complain about your attempts to bring mystery and excitement into our lives and our, you know, our kitchen,” Hayley gestured at the tiny room we were all packed into , “but this isn’t exactly Cicada 3301.”

“There’s not nothing,” he said, indignant, “there’s a video. you want to see?”

“Not nothing is a double negative,” I said, “you would say “there isn’t anything” or, maybe, “there’s something on it” instead. Does that make sense?”

“I hated your pedantic criticisms in workshop, Ariel, and I dislike them in real life too. People sometimes talk because they like how words sound with each other. They aren’t always in blind thrall to the completely imaginary, class-centric, often internally contradictory rules referred to as “grammar.” Now, did you want to watch this? Because, it’s a little, umm, fucked up. To be honest.”

Hayley and I looked at each other. She shrugged.

“Obviously we want to watch,” Hayley said, “right? Why wouldn’t we?”

“Right,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

The video started to play.

Images of the ground appeared: rocks, dirt, leaves. The camera was shaky. Shoes appeared in and out of the frame, just the uppermost tops of shoes. They looked like chucks. You could hear footsteps, breathing. It was obviously someone filming themselves walking.

“Did you already watch this?” Hayley was staring at the screen, her brow furrowed.

“Yeah, I did, be quiet though.”

The walking stopped. The camera panned up and swung left, revealing a heavily forested landscape with the same path the person had previously been walking on running out into the distance, and then the camera swung to the right. There was a hill’s edge there, swelling out over a precipice, overlooking a not insignificant drop off.

“I recognize this,” I said, “where is this? Have you guys see this before?”

“Me too,” said Hayley, “it’s out in Machen park. I’ve gone jogging out there.”

“Watch,” said James, his voice tense.

We did.

The screen shook as whomever was holding it lowered it again. The breathing rasped. Then, there was another noise. Something that sounded like running. The camera swung up, there was a blur, a shadowy motion, some kind of noise, and then the person and the phone were moving. They went over the cliff, together. Then there was an awful noise and something far away, a weird familiar screaming.

The screen went black.

I looked at Hayley, who wasn’t saying a word, biting her chipped florescent green nails instead. James looked up.

“I told you,” he said, “it’s a little fucked up.”

****

Three hours later, we were in the woods.

“Bad idea, Hayley,” I murmured, walking on the path. “You’ve had bad ideas, but this is the worst.”

“Really? The worst?” She frowned. Mosquitos were starting to appear in the near dim. One bite me and I slapped it, leaving a long smear of bright red blood on my left forearm. “Ok. Maybe the worst. But don’t you want to see?”

“For sure. But I wished we had waited. Or asked James if he wanted to go.”

“He had to work,” she shrugged, “so I ain’t trying to hear that. I want to see what’s happening.”

We kept walking down the dirt trail. Most days there were joggers or other hikers, but we hadn’t seen anyone else. Everything felt static, like we were looking at a screenshot instead of real life.

“Do you think we’ll find a body?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Do you want to? It’ll be like “Stand by Me.” I’ll be River Phoenix,” she kicked a stick, “unless you want to be River Phoenix.”

“No, I’m ok. I don’t like people who die pretty and young. It makes me self conscious about aging.”

“I don’t know why people romanticize youth anyway,” she said, “it’s a hella temporary state.”

“People like to think things can last forever,” I said, then, “almost there.”

We walked ahead, toward the twist in the path where the video had been filmed. I don’t know why we were going there. It was dumb and we were young. What did we think we’d find? And why did we want to find anything?

“What did you see, when we stopped the tape for a second, right before the person holding the camera got pushed, or whatever?”

“Nothing, really,” I said, “we are almost there right?”

“I know it was just a shadow,” she said, “but I felt like I saw something.”

“Is it here?”

“Like — you know when an image gets messed up on a website? It’s just a digital scramble? Then it’s normal? It was like that — the glitch before it goes normal. But I know there wasn’t anything there.”

“Here,” I said. We turned the corner. We were at the little break in the park where the video had been shot. To the left, woods. To the right, the precipice. And there, standing in front of the cliff, was James.

He was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing in our kitchen: tight jeans, a black t shirt, black chucks. His back was to us, but I know immediately who it was. You can recognize someone without seeing a face.

In his hand, I saw a phone. He pointed it at his left, then his right.

I should had been screaming. I thought I would. And maybe some part of me believed I was. I looked at Hayley. Her mouth was open: veins popped out on her neck as her lips stretched wide and her eyes grew wider and larger. But no sound.

Something was coming.

I could feel it, in the woods, something was rushing moving towards us. To James. I wanted to scream, I felt like I was but I knew I wasn’t. It was coming.

James lowered the camera. The wind came and went by the two of us and into him. It looked like colors and decaying images, like a pixilated drawing of a tornado. It was a cartoon. It was t real. It ripped into his shoulder. I saw blood fly up and into the dead sky. He stumbled to the edge of the cliff. Then over. Then there was only the nothing of our screaming, suddenly audible and hysterical.

Everything after that turned into the slow, sick time, where events feel delayed, as if it was happening from a great distance. We ran down the path that looped down the hill, loose dirt and rocks slipping under our feet. My chest hurt, I remembered thinking as I ran; it felt tight and full of breaths I couldn’t believe I was still taking.

At the bottom of the path we jumped into the clearing where James had just fallen. But there was no James. There was no blood. Just a space where a body should have been and, in that area, a brilliant blue iphone.

*****

We got back to our apartment after eight, exhausted and suddenly cold in the night air. Cars were backing up at the traffic light, the city starting to sound louder, different, as the streetlights flooded corners. I could hear music blaring from one of the cars as I unlocked the door, Hayley following me.

Once we were inside, Hayley put the phone on the kitchen table and walked out of the room.

“Where are you —”

“I need to take a shower,” she said. “Don’t touch the phone.”

Within moments, I heard the rattle of pipes, the rushing of water. I walked over to the fridge and poured a glass of the cheap American pink wine we drank too much of. It tasted like headaches.

I finished a glass. Then poured another. Then I pulled out my phone and texted James.

“Hey. How are you.”

Then,

“What happened inthe parf”

“*park. stupid phone. what was thet?”

My phone buzzed back. A little green circle.

“who is this”

“this is Ariel is this James?”

“sorry. wrong number”

“Is this a new phone? Did you just get this number”

“No had it forever sorrry. Have a nice nightZ”

Hayley came out of her room, her hair still damp, almost a half hour later. I was finishing my third glass of wine. She said hey and I said hey back and she grabbed the wine from the fridge and walked out into the living room and I followed her. She sat on the muted grey couch her parents had let her take when we moved in and I sat on the floor, leaning against the cold wall. Another kid lived in the apartment next to us, on whose wall I leaned. I had a semi whatever crush on him. He worked nights at a gas station and smoked so much I could taste the cigarettes sometimes through the walls. Was he there, I thought. Would he still be there?

“I looked James up on Facebook,” Hayley said. Her voice sounded numb. “I couldn’t find his profile. His tumblr’s gone too. So his Twitter.”

“I texted him. Somebody sent a text back saying I had a wrong number.”

“He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.”

“We’re going crazy. People don’t just stop existing.”

“He did.”

“You’re right,” I sighed, “he did.”

“So,” she took a swig off the bottle, “now what?”

“I don’t think there’s really a manual for this sort of thing.”

“There should be,” then, hesitatingly, “what is this sort of thing?”

“Whatever it is, it’s not real. Like, this isn’t happening. I don’t think this is real.”

“It is happening, though,” Hayley murmured, holding the wine. “It’s happening.”

“I’ve been sitting here,” I started, “trying to figure out what we know, like for a fact. I thought it might help.”

“Did it?”

“Fuck no,” I laughed and she almost did. “But this is what happened: James found the phone, leaving a party. He never told us what party—”

“We didn’t ask.”

“I know. But on television shows they reconstruct these things. So, he finds the phone, figures out the password —”

“All fours,” said Hayley, “four means death in Japan.”

“— right? Watches the video, doesn’t recognize his feet in the video? Shows it to us instead of investigating, goes to work? That’s crazy: James doesn’t fucking care about his barista gig,” I said.

“But he went.”

“He went.”

It was silent for a minute or two, the sounds of traffic and night slipping the window, as both of us sat, not saying anything. Finally, Hayley took a swig, then:

“I think I know what happened. Maybe. Wait here,” she said and she left the living room and walked off to her living room. She came back, carrying her laptop.

“Did James ever tell you about that time his school bus crashed,” she said, as she sat down and started to typing.

“He did,” I nodded, “he was like ten and it skidded on black ice. He wrote a story about it. He seemed really freaked out by it.”

She opened up the laptop and passed it over.

“Look.”

The screen was opened to an archived article from a Connecticut newspaper. James’ home state. About a bus crash. One fatality. A ten year old boy. James Han.

“What is this? Did you make this up? Hayley if you made this up I swear to god I swear —”

“I didn’t make it up. I searched for him forever and there was nothing. Like he didn’t exist. Then I found that. It just appeared in a search like it had always been there. Read it if you want. Or don’t. It’s the story he told us. But in this one he dies.”

“Just like he did in the park”

“…yeah, like that.”

“What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I think he was dead when we met him. And maybe the James we met was a glitch.”

“So if James was a glitch, are we? Because when I was eleven I —”

“No, Ariel,” she said, calmly, “stop. I don’t want to hear about you almost dying when you were a kid, because I almost died when I was a kid. So what does that make us?”

Neither of us said anything for a moment. Finally, I coughed.

“…do we want to look at the phone?”

“No,” she said, “not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to go take an ambien and go to bed. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. Ok?”

“Ok.”

An hour later, when I was sure she was asleep, I walked out into the kitchen. I didn’t turn on the lights. The traffic signal from the visible intersection outside the apartment glowed green through the slats of the blinds. I picked up the phone. I punched in 4444. It opened.

It was the same as the other: no information, no apps, no photos. One video.

I stared at it until I couldn’t anymore. I hit play.

Whoever was filming was running, causing the camera to bounce up and down nauseously. They were on Sigmund Street which, as one of the major streets near me, I recognized almost immediately. I had the volume down but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anything. The figure ran, desperate and moving from one side of the street to the other, coming to a sudden stop as they reached Eddelstein Bridge. I saw their shoes, briefly, then there was a long pause. The feet moved from one side to the other, transferring weight, tapping. And then there was something else in the frame. The screen shook, the image growing wildly pixilated, and then the riots colored turned abruptly, mechanical black.

It only took a few minutes to get to the bridge. No one was really out, since the area was mostly retail storefronts which had all been closed for at least a couple of hours at that point. My steps sounded echoey.

I could see her from far away, standing motionless in the blank night. The sky was void of clouds, letting the moonlight translate everything. Especially her.

I didn’t think she was going to move. I thought she’d be like James, but once I was almost twenty feet away, she turned.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey” I answered, “I’m sorry I watched the tape.”

“Don’t worry,” she waved me off, “I would have if you hadn’t.”

“What do we do now?”

“That’s easy. We tell each other how we died. You go first.”

“Okay,” I said, “I was eleven. It was at school. Sixth grade. I was climbing the rope.”

“I hated the rope.”

“Me too. Before this happened, even. I got to the top and — you know how it was secured to the ceiling? On that latch?”

“Uh huh?”

“It came off the latch.”

“Oh my god.”

“I fell like fifteen feet. Completely fine. No injuries. Everybody told me how lucky I was. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like something had fucked up.”

“Like you should have died?”

“Yeah, like there was a mistake.” A car drive by with a missing headlight, an urban cyclops, “what about you?”

“I was sixteen. In my house. I took a bottle of Prozac,” she shrugged, “I liked the irony. Whatever. But, yeah. A week later, I got out of the hospital. The doctor told me it was a miracle I was alive. But I don’t know. Maybe there was just a wrong line of code somewhere. Maybe —”

She didn’t finish her sentence.

Her screams didn’t sound real as the thing broke into her, her eyes flashing sudden vicious strange awareness as her body rose into the air, briefly, her brown and blue new balances twisting inches above the cement, and then she collapsed, twitching on the ground. When she landed I was able to move, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t there. Just an iPhone in the middle of the street, with a series of spider hairline cracks in the case.

Around noon the next day, I had made it to the living room, staring at the ceiling. My phone buzzed. I had been texting Raj — the guy Hayley had been dating — a few minutes ago.

“yeah for sure come on over. Doing zero rn. what’s the weird thing you wavy to show me?”

“I’ll show you whenI get there,” I typed, “can I bring Hayley?”

“*WANT not wavy :/

But yeah for sure Bring her over. Who is she? I know her”

I looked at the empty spot in the living room where there used to be a grey couch.

“oh wait,” I typed, “she isn’t here rn.”

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

Note: Crossposted from /r/nosleep with explicit permission from the original author.

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Lost Tombs and Those Lost Within Them

May 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I could barely keep from collapsing as I ran through what seemed to be the never-ending darkness of the godforsaken catacombs. When I’d first signed on to serve as Professor Nickel’s field assistant, I’d assumed that the shrunken old man and I would spend days standing over a blanket of dirt, sifting through broken vases and old bones in search of some lost relic that the old fart would be hunting for.

He was always ranting about the “lost civilizations” and “how they need to be better explored by those with vision!”

All I’d cared about was walking away with a passing grade.

Now all I cared about was living to tell the tale!

We’d gotten separated some time ago, the old loon hopping down from a leaning column to the top of what he claimed to be a Sumerian tomb, telling me to keep up. How the old man moved like he did, I had no idea, but the jump was easily a twenty-foot drop.

Yeah, not doing that. I’d thought with disdain, having thought of the horrors my knees would face from such a height had I made a similar jump.

Now I was running for my life from some ancient Sumerian creatures that had crawled from the cracked awning of some ionic pillars, great shark-like maws wide in anticipation for what I could only assume to be dinner.

Namely me.

It didn’t matter as the creatures chasing me through the utter darkness were outright terrifying. From what I’d seen, the creatures were essentially unwrapped mummies that had replaced their funerary wrappings in place of moving along the walls like spiders. Hissing in their ancient language innumerable insults at me as they chased me around the catacombs, howling with laughter like sadistic chimps as they swung from high above, their aged claws scraping away bits of ancient plaster as they hurried after me.

Running with the two satchels of archaeologist’s tools, I quickly roll under a fallen column and soldier-crawl my way beneath a toppled statue, doing my best not to hack and cough at the dust I was kicking up.

I almost hack when I feel one of them land on top of the toppled statue, the other landing on all fours some distance away, prowling just within the light of my dropped flashlight, giving me a decent look at them.

They were obviously once human, but centuries of decay had changed that, turning them into something far worse. What funerary bindings they still possessed seemed only to exist to hold the carrion beetles that crawled all about their yellowed bones held together by the lightest of pink tendrils, thin strands of decayed sinew perhaps. Their mouths were no longer even comparable to what I possessed, being cracked down the middle and held aloft by the same pink tendrils, giving them a wide, toothy maw that nevertheless looked as if it could break stone. Their arms were covered in faded tattoos, highly intricate looking dark ink work that had probably meant something at one time. Now all I could do was stare at the bare-boned hands, the sharpened finger bones…

The one on top gave a great leap, causing more dust to rain down on me, landing next to its compatriot. This one held an old sword awkwardly with its left hand, handling the cracked leather-hilt as if it were poison.

Whatever this Ghoul had been in life, it was obviously not a soldier. It held the sword awkwardly, offering it to the other with a shrug, the two speaking in their gibberish language.

Oh, good lord, they’re thinking…

I fish into my satchel, as quietly as possible, for something that I could actually use as a weapon for when I eventually bump into one of them and can’t run. One satchel is nothing but books and brushes, so I look into the other, finding my great savior!

A steel trowel.

Six inches of sharpened steel connected to a wooden handle. That was all I had to separate me from death.

I shuffle about beneath the collapsed statue, like a sleepy turtle trying to find a comfortable spot, crawling the way I came in, squatting behind several tons of rubble in hopes of keeping the creatures far enough away from me actually to make a break for it. I slink around the corner as best I can, trying to figure out where the hell I actually am in the damned ruins. Pulling a compass and a smaller flashlight, I frown as I notice North is in the exact opposite direction I wanted it to be.

The map of the supposed “Tomb of the Ubaid Princes” that Professor Nickel had traded his watch for was worth its weight in lead in my eyes, but Nickel had been hopping with joy over the idea of a set of Ubaid tombs as of yet untapped.

I’d merely rolled my eyes.

Now I could just wring his damn neck for getting me into this deathtrap.

A crumbling of mortar tumbles over my shoulder, a hissing cadaver perched atop a column just above me, wielding the ancient looking sword within its cracked leather casing, its eyeless sockets filled with an unholy green light as it opened its mouth to an unholy size. It howls at me in anger or hunger.

Or happiness?

I have no idea, so I respond by ramming the trowel up into the creature’s chest, the steel cracking through the creatures sternum with the sound of dry timber snapping. It doesn’t seem to mind as it swings its sword at me with clumsy fumbling, falling off of the pillar as I yank the creature down with me into a wrestling match, stabbing at the creature madly as it howls in agony, its weak claws scratching at my shirt feebly as I vent my frustrations out on the unholy being.

Two more come bounding around the corner, caterwauling like a pair of mated tigers after the people who stole their cubs. The creature beneath me is barely grasping at my boots as I stand, feeling a little more empowered seeing as the damn things obviously can’t fight worth a damn. I scoop up the leather ensconced sword from the creatures twitching talons. The two creatures run at me, moving more like wolves than men, hissing their greeting as they leap over the rubble. I raise the sword more like a mallet, bringing it down to the crown of one of the mad beasts, hammering its skull more than cleaving it.

The leather cracks away more than any damage I did to the screeching corpse beneath me. This one is far stronger than the other, giving me a rather painful sense of anger at myself for being made to believe I could effectively fight these things. My leather-clad sword serves some healthy justice snapping the wrist of the second howling creature as it pounces onto my back, the thin pink veins doing little to keep the fractured bone connected to the body. The creature on my back encapsulates my head within its engorged mouth, the separated lower jaws forming a tight noose around my neck as the creature beneath me grabs hold of my wrists, their unholy shrieking becoming profane laughter as, rather than the intense pressure of a bite or the serrated edges of teeth, I feel a sudden pressure against the back of my head like I’d blocked off a water pipe. The one on my back pulls up slightly, allowing room for whatever its vomiting to move over me, and thousands of scarabs and carrion beetles begin scuttling over and under my clothes, their feathered legs leaving long shallow cuts wherever they fall.

I throw my weight back, slamming my insect-filled foe into a column behind me, a disgusting squelching noise similar to the sound of rotting pumpkins being thrown from an overpass rising from its chest, along with a series of audible snaps as I cave in its torso. It falls to the ground in a heap, wheezing out a steady stream of insects that seem to have decided to turn on him rather than me.

Thank God, because I can feel a few dozen finding spots all over my body and beginning to claw through my epidermis, seeking the warmth of the womb that my body would provide. The leering undead still grasping my wrists expands his mouth out, his hollow throat beginning to bulge as it seems he feels like sharing his personal wealth of flesh-eating insects.

Bang!

Bang!

Two shots fired from Professor Nickel’s personal hunting rifle tag the creature, once in the temple and again in the right shoulder, effectively blowing it to pieces in my very hands. While old, senile and eccentric, Professor Nickels always carries two guns with him at all times, something he’d suggested I do as well, once I actually earn some money to buy something. Slinging his Sharps Buffalo Rifle back over his back, you can just barely make out the holster to his M1911 pistol, something he tells me “one should always keep loaded when on an expedition, just in case.”

I’d assumed he’d meant bandits!

“Joshua!” He calls out from half way across the rubble-strewn room, hopping to and fro like a bullfrog after a fat firefly. “Did they get any on you?”

“Yes!” I all but screech as I feel three particularly large beetles begin wriggling their way into my skin, pushing a hole through my flesh. Three red blotches begin to form over my clothes, two over my stomach and one over my right thigh.

“Quickly, drink this!” He says, shoving a glass bottle into my hand that I happily begin fumbling with the cap. After several seconds of nervous fumbling, I growl and slam the top end of the bottle across an old mosaic next to me, breaking the bottle open wide enough for me to begin guzzling the foul smelling liquor held within.

“The larvae will die quickly enough if you’re sauced to the gills,” Nickels explains, his wrinkled face crinkling further as he smiles at me as I continue to drain the bottle, a faded paper label bearing the words “Ever” before being too rubbed out to see. With my throat on fire and my insides wriggling with parasites that were continually burrowing into me, I drop to the ground gasping for air, dropping the empty bottle into the sand.

“It will hurt like hell in the morning, let me tell you,” Nickels says with a smile, patting me on the shoulder with a gnarled hand. “The alcohol will drive them out of your body, or kill them. You’ll have to pay a nice doctor to drain your infected wounds once we get back to Baghdad in a few weeks.”

I sputter at the thought, my head spinning. “A few weeks? Did you not just see what we had to deal with?”

The old man waves his hand in the air at me as if a foul odor was passing. “Merely temple guardians, looters that fell prey to the traps around here and found themselves as guards for tombs and the like. But I have a good feeling on this one lad, a good feeling!”

“However so?” I ask, moving to my feet rather shakily, leaning heavily on my newest acquisition, the sword reaching an easy four feet in length.

“Well, that sword for one thing!” Nickels says with a wide, toothless grin. “The Ubaid weren’t known for their iron-working abilities, merely their domestic advancements; I’ve long since held belief that there was a civilization here before the Ubaid, based on their legends of metal men and the like, and that sword is quite a piece of history if I do say so myself.”

“Well at the moment it’s my cane because I can feel a goddamned roach burrowing deeper into my gut!” I hiss at him, but he pays it no mind.

“The tomb I found, the one that you wandered away from, well it is just what I was hoping for when I saw it and the great seal over it!” He crows, dancing about me like a mad little leprechaun. “The seal predates the Ubaid by at least five hundred years, and it has markings similar to the ones the Sumer used to mark royalty. I think I found myself the crypt of a King of an Empire not yet recorded!”

“Bully for you…” I grumble, limping alongside him.

He looks up at me with a discouraging glare. “Don’t tell me you’re going to be this much of a whiner the whole expedition, are you? Because if you think those petty guardians were anything worth talking about than you don’t even want to know what is probably lurking down in that tomb we’re going to be breaching in the morning.”

I could barely keep from collapsing as I felt the first of my burrowing playmates begin to spasm from the strong grain alcohol I’d ingested. My head swimming with drunken vigor and mild blood loss, all I could do was glare at the old man as we settled into our campsite, twin pair of tents and several large chests scattered about the sandy cavern we’d climbed down into, our camels left at a small oasis some two miles East of here with a tribe of nomads that Nickels seemed to be on good terms with.

Drunkenly leaning back, I decide to take a solid look at my walking blade, brushing away the flaking leather to take a better gander at the iron beneath it. It was in near pristine condition, a few touches of age here and there, but no actual structural damage to the frame of the blade. I knew for a fact that the museum back in London would pay me an easy ten thousand quid for the thing more than enough to pay off any outstanding loans I have hovering about my head at the local gambling houses.

Despite the crazed dead and demented midget, this dig might not is so bad at all.

***

I awake to the sounds of scraping stone and the grinding of dried mortar, giving my sleep-addled mind a sharp spike of adrenaline, considering all that has happened to me so far. I push my way up, wincing at the numerous bruises and scratches that are littered over my thin frame. The fire we’d assembled atop the tomb still burned bright, shining slivers of starlight peering through the narrow crevice we’d climbed through to get to this hellish dig.

I find Professor Nickels crouched over the tomb’s seal, hammer and chisel in hand as he is lightly tapping away at the edges of the four-foot circular disk of stone. Hunched over in the darkness, the old man makes me think of the stories of gremlins, incomprehensible creatures that would come into your home at night and hide your shoes, or take your socks. The old man is goofy looking not because of his wild mane of hair sprouting from the side and back of his head instead of the top, nor because he wore glasses that had adjustable nobs on them to move lenses in and out of the frame, allowing him to examine things “in better detail”, while essentially looking like the King of the Insane Beetles.

He was goofy because he didn’t care what everyone else thought of him, and despite his low social standing amidst the Historical community, he churned out peer-reviewed research like clockwork every six months that furthered our knowledge of ancient cultures. So the eccentric midget was tolerated, and asked only to teach two classes a year, when the icy chill of winter would spread over England and him would remain cloistered within his quarters, writing and compiling notes in between classes.

“Professor, what are you going?” I ask tiredly, leaning heavily on my shining sword, which had taken quite a bit of work to get to this poor level of shine let me tell you. The Professor, after looking it over, had declared it to be from the same time period of the Ubaid people, but not of their make (metallurgy was beyond them), theorizing it came from a group that “displaced” the Ubaid through warfare, eventually creating the Sumerian culture some five to seven hundred years later, depending on who you were talking to.

“Joshua, my boy, come down and help me move the seal!” He calls to me, still squatting impossibly low for a man of his advanced age. “The mind is willing, but the flesh is withered and old; I need a young strong back to move the seal so that we can continue our explorations!”

I sigh and walk over next to him, dropping to my knees and taking as firm a grip as I could at this awkward angle and begin to shove with all my might, slowly moving the three to four hundred pound slab inch by inch. After moving it halfway open, he orders me to halt, giddy at the smell of the musty old air rising from the crypt below us.

“Why didn’t you just break the damn seal so we could just go down? Now my back feels like it’s been run through a sausage grinder.”

“Call it vanity on my part, but once we’ve cataloged what’s in the primitive tomb, I’ll want to bring that seal with me, as a souvenir.” He said with a grin. “Don’t worry; you won’t have to be my porter for that one. Plus, if we discover something down there that could be called ‘The Mother of All Evil,’ I’ll be wanting that seal intact to cover it back up.”

“The Mother of All Evil?” I repeat, looking at the spry little dwarf of a man as he flipped between lenses on his glasses, peering into the darkness beneath the seal.

“Oh my, it looks like we’ll need some rope… perhaps a hundred or so feet of it.”

“What’s down there that’s so important that we need to go deeper into this crypt Professor?” I ask, curious to what he can see with his steam-powered headgear. He looks up at me, all of his additional lenses flipping back at once, rolling back into their separate compartments.

“What I’ve been looking for my boy, what I’ve been looking for.” He says with a grin, hopping from foot to foot gleefully at the discovery. Rolling my eyes, I climb back up to our campsite to retrieve the rope and the climbers gear. Hammering in three pitons (safety first!) I loop the knotted silk rope around them and tie as harness about myself, as well as a smaller backpack rigging that I planned on tucking the good Professor into, the twisted little bastard. He happily tucks himself into the makeshift backpack, jabbering on about how important this find was, and other such nonsense.

I just wanted to live through this now, like I said.

“Professor, mind if I take your Pistol, for the time being? I feel a little… unsafe walking around with just a sword.” I ask, trying not to sound too desperate in my plea.

“You’re a young strapping buck, Joshua,” He said from his safety harness on my back, patting my kidneys to reassure me. “A sword should be fine enough for you. I never lend anything, my boy, anything at all! That’s how you lose your favorite books or good pens, you know.”

I ignore the urge to just throw the little man down the hole and just make my final adjustments with the rope and the pitons, ensuring their driven deep into a solid section of stone and not just some piece of loose tile. Strange, there are several other holes in the stone similar to the ones I’m hammering in, almost a ring of them surrounding this pit. I pay them no mind as Professor Nickels urges me to move forward.

“The ropes seem fine Joshua, just fine! Now let’s get a move on!” Professor Nickels whined from my back.

“Hey, I’m just making sure this will work alright? Whatever’s been down there had been down there since before the pyramids, according to you, it can wait another five minutes.” I snap at him, still trying to figure out how to carry my sword (which is essentially the same size and weight as the good Professor) while shimmying down a rope into a darkened tomb. I reach in my side satchel and pull out a flare, cracking it against the stone floor to ignite the magnesium and sawdust held within it, the foot long rod now glowing as brightly as the sun.

“What’s that?” Professor Nickels asks, sounding somewhat worried. “Are we being attacked?”

I can feel him pulling his rifle closer to his chest and quickly snag the butt of it with my armpit. “No, I’m just throwing a flare down in the hole, relax.”

“What? Why on earth are you wasting a flare when I already told you it was perfectly safe?” He demands hotly, struggling to break my ironclad grip on his rifle.

“Because I can’t see in the dark as you can you old loon.” I curse and, before he can reply, tuck the flare into the rope about my waist (the fiery bright end up against a boiled strip of leather I used to protect my kidneys whenever I practice boxing in between classes) before jumping down into the hole, feeling the roughened silk rope slide through my leather clad glove as the two of us scream at our rapid descent.

I ditch my sword when I see the ground is coming too quickly and grab the rope with all my might, turning us into a swinging pendulum a good ten feet from the dusty ground. My hands sting from the sudden friction, and I thank God for the fact I’d brought along all of my fighters gear, just in case.

The palms of my gloves are forever ruined, but at least I had hands.

Professor Nickels undoes his rigging, dropping to the floor lightly with a fit of giggles. “Good God, what a rush! It’s a shame we can’t do it again, eh?”

I give him a sour look that I know he ignores and pull the flare from my belt, holding it up high to take a look at what this chamber held. It was built in the shape of a bell, the base much wide than the top, with flaring buttresses and smooth stone sloping up the walls. A surprising lack of murals for such a wide chamber, but as I approach one of the walls I can tell why: hundreds of slats running along the walls, perhaps a foot deep and a foot wide, are filled to the brim with human bones.

Professor Nickels wasn’t joking when he called this a tomb.

He hobbles up next to me, studying the architecture with glee as he jots down note after note in his small moleskin journal. “Very nice, very nice indeed!” He said happily. Looking around at the vast collection of bones. “This must be a room where those sacrificed were to be placed.”

“Wait, how do you know that?” I ask, looking around for any sign of writing or any indication that this was a religious room.

“Well the only entrance is nearly a hundred foot drop, and while you may not have noticed, the center stone directly beneath the hole is made of much more durable granite, polished to a fine shine.” He said with a carefree smile. “The bones were placed into the walls after the victim had been thrown down here. I would also like to note, just to keep you alert, that none of these skeletons, no matter how incomplete, seem to have suffered any major broken bones.”

“That means something was down here to, what, sort the dead?” I ask hesitantly, looking down at Professor Nickels.

“No, I believe this is just a hobby for whatever it is they trapped down here some few thousand years ago.” Professor Nickels replied while eyeing the varying states of decomposition between the bones. “Grab your sword Joshua… we might still have need of it.”
***

The entire room was indeed built like a bell, tapered at the top, with curving walls flowing downward in a wavy pattern that suggested the site was originally a naturally existing cavern that some primitive culture had chosen to alter. The entire room is roughly two hundred feet in diameter, with four pillars acting as support for the structure forming a square some fifty feet apart from each other, and seventy-five feet or so from the Charnel-lined walls. Everything was carved from smooth granite, with few actual etchings marring in the stone, indicating the tools used to fashion the tile, and the columns were metal, not stone.

Professor Nickels was ecstatic, having pulled an oil lantern from his prodigious satchel, creating a wreath of comforting light around us. He did this not for comfort, but to study the pillars, and the drawings ever so carefully carved into them. I chose to shoulder merely my sword and stay by the old man, watching for whatever could be down here that enjoyed sorting bones.

Scribbling furiously in his journal, Professor Nickels was blathering on about how this was supposed to be the antechamber to the “River of Continued Life,” which would either represent a belief in reincarnation or a belief in an underworld reachable only by waterway. Both of these beliefs existed in this area at a later date, the rocky hills and mountains of Iraq having played host to Roman and Hindu alike. But from what little Sanskrit and hieroglyphs I knew, damned if I could say they were similar to the writings on the pillars.

My flare, slowly dying out, left a large black mark on my leather bodice, and so I chose to use it as an exploratory tool, mostly by throwing it as far as I could.

Bouncing off the wall (and narrowly flying into a slot full of femurs), the flare drops down with a clatter and rolls for a few moments, illuminating a passage by just the barest shred of shadow. I immediately break out another flare, cracking it to life with a sizzling twist and hurl it into the gaping maw of the passage, its landing kicking up a small cloud of dust and grim as it rolls about, hissing and spitting sparks. For the briefest of moments, I thought I saw the flicker of movement within the flares fluorescent glow, but thankfully it was just a cloud of detritus that had been stirred up.

“Well now this is strange,” Professor Nickels says aloud, a phrase that I can safely say is never safe to hear when you are hundreds of feet beneath the ground. “It keeps referring to a symbol that could either mean ‘Keeper Of’ or ‘Keeper from’.”

“Those are two big distinctions Professor, and I’d rather not die fighting whatever the hell acts as a Keeper to this place, only to find your supposed ‘Mother of all Evils; down here.” I reply, eyeing the passage and the two sets of light keeping it illuminated. “Check another Pillar, see if they have a different reference, a different story.”

“That might be best, as now all I am finding are references to something that I shouldn’t be reading here of all places,” Professor Nickels said with a grunt, walking over to the next pillar, the one furthest from the passage. “The symbol… it can’t be what I think it means, as that would prove this to be a very dangerous place.”

“What symbol? Maybe I’ve seen it somewhere.” I offer, thinking it worth a shot. After all, I am an archaeologist in training.

He looks at me oddly as if not looking at the man he knew me to be but with a sudden, distrusting glint. “You’ve never studied at Miskatonic University, have you?”

“Miskatonic? No, I tried to get in but my application was rejected. Their standards are too high for me to attain for now. Why?” I ask, confused. What did the infamous Arkham University have to do with knowing an ancient symbol?

“Then thank whatever God you believe in that you can’t confirm that symbol for me.” Professor Nickels utters as he pushes past me and to the next column, dropping his bag to serve as a seat as he begins scribbling notes from the pillar, his translations slow and steady.

I chose to crack open another flare and follow along the walls to make certain I wasn’t missing any other passages, slowly running my hand along the centuries old stone as I go. Cool to the touch, yet oddly bereft of any dust, or soot. The passage has been full of such debris, but it seemed as if a maid had come through just before us, tidying everything up.

I make a discovery that nearly kills me as I stumble upon a sudden drop-off, just opposite of the passage. The wall opens and goes back about twenty feet, for about thirty feet of wall space. A small stone bridge, barely three feet in width, crosses over to an alcove on the other side, where the most bizarre statue I’ve ever seen sits atop a fountain.

A creature that looks aquatic by nature, with fins and frills sprouting from its three tentacle appendages that it is using to rise from the fountain, with carved from what I could only guess to be marble. The tentacles themselves reared up, showing off what any normal squid would have but instead revealing a row of carved eyes, each set with a small faded emerald. The tentacles connected with the main body, a bulbous center followed by a long serpentine tail that it was resting upon, like a cobra raised up.

The head of the beast was lowered and shaped like a bell, with a three-foot wide lamprey mouth slowly spewing water into the fountain beneath it. One great eye, shut for reasons I could never guess, sat atop the head, but from where I stood I could see spacing for the eyelids to move, probably if a lever were turned or something.

The rest of the fountain was nothing but a great piece of art depicting a city, embossed figures running away from the great beast while smaller versions of the creature seemed to be chasing them.

“I’d say early ninth century BC,” Professor Nickels says from my elbow, eyeing the disturbing piece as well.

“What the hell is that?” I ask, waving my flare at it. “I’ve never heard of any tales of giant sea beasts that resemble that.”

To say its name is said to garner its attention, but to ease this conversation, we shall call it by the title it earned: Darkness Given Hunger.” The Professor said with a sigh, staring at the statue with the look of a man lost in a terrible, terrible memory. “If this is this far south… what this is isn’t what I was looking for.”

“Well, you were looking for evidence of older civilizations Professor.”

“Not this kind, and certainly not here of all places.” Professor Nickels grouses, moving over to his pack in a sudden hurry.

From deep below our feet the entire complex quaked with the churning of some unwholesome howl, along with the groaning of the very stone around us. Whatever Nickels feared could be down here, it sounded as if it just now took note of us.

How that would play out, I couldn’t say.
***

Professor Nickels had decided to drop finally his mammoth backpack to the temple floor, a sudden cloud of dust bursting up from the floor in a choking miasma that left both of us coughing. Flipping over the seal of his bag, he rooted within its cavernous interior until he yanked free two cartridges of ammunition for his M1911, pulling back the safety and checking over the heavy pistol before tossing it to me.

“While the sword’s a nice touch, I’ve got a feeling that we’ll need a bit more arms than that to deal with what we’re going to find down here.” Professor Nickels says with a wry chuckle, carefully loading his Sharp’s rifle with the inch long bullets as he spoke. “A good deal of trouble should be heading our way if my guess is right.”

“Guess? What guess? And shouldn’t we be leaving if you think we’re going to be in trouble?” I ask, fumbling with the heavy pistol before getting a good feel for it, sheathing my sword in the crumbling scabbard as I watch him pull out small green orbs, a metallic sheen glinting from the flare’s bright glow.

Grenades? “What are we going to need those for? To cover our escape?”

“We stood in front of the statue lad, shed blood over the top soil of the creature’s tomb,” Professor Nickels calmly explains. “If I’d but known this was a sight where one of these blasted things dwelt, I’d never have of brought you here. For that, I’m deeply sorry.”

“What things? This Darkness Given Hunger thing?” I ask, growing slightly annoyed at how little the dear professor was sharing. I snap my head to the side, looking down the tunnel opposite of the statue leading down, down deeper into the cold womb of the earth. A distant echo was coming from the tunnel, a wet noise… like the sound of mud dropping from the hide of an elephant, plopping to the ground in great sickly splats.

“The Darkness Given Hunger is something put to sleep thousands of years ago by ancient man, and kept in a tomb under lock and key.” The Professor begins to explain, moving away from his pack with a surprising amount of speed, back straight for the first time that I’d ever seen. “Legend’s tell of creatures made from the blood and dreams of the slumbering beast, creatures that act as both its wardens and its servants.”

“Servants? What the hell are you talking about?”

“The creature and its ilk are as close to damned gods as mankind have ever seen! They ruled over the ancient civilizations as monstrous tyrants while others merely reveled in slaughtering entire empires, feasting on our flesh and drinking our blood!” Professor Nickels all but shouts, sliding the bolt of his rifle into place. “We’re going to need to do something about this… an unholy site like this must be sealed up, locked away from people who would stumble blindly into it.”

“So the grenades?” I ask, watching as he slings a smaller pack (pulled from his larger one) over his shoulder, filling it with the small cylindrical grenades and sticks of dynamite. “And the dynamite?”

“We’re going deeper, deep enough to where the tunnel is narrow and beneath several tons of earth.” The good professor replied, shouldering his rifle. “And then we’re going to coax out some of these creatures out and kill them so I can have a look at them before blowing this place back to the bowels of Hell where it belongs.”

A horrid, gurgling screech echoes from the depths of the tunnel before us, a scrabbling of steel upon stone as… something is coming up from the unknown. “Here comes the first wave… this should tell us what we’re dealing with.”

I look at him like he’s a madman (which isn’t unusual) before moving behind a pillar, putting my back to the cool stone as I pull a new flare from my satchel, cracking it to life before spinning around the pillar and throwing it into the dimly lit tunnel, my previous flare having begun to peter out.

The thrown flare collides solidly with a wet slap against the chest if you could call it that, of unholy terror torn from the brainchild of Dr. Seuss and Escher. Two legs rising from the top of the creature’s body, multiple joints visible beneath the gelatinous skin moving in tandem as the creature shuffles awkwardly towards us, my flare seemingly stuck to its hide by viscous ooze seeping from its pores.

The main torso is nothing but a lone, unblinking eye and a series of snake-like tentacles, all ending in three pronged mouths that writhe and hiss. Its feet are boneless, shapeless blobs of protoplasm that it used to balance upon, merely sliding along the ground with its leg movements rather than lifting its feet like any other creature would. The crackling flare stuck just above its eye created a corona of light that illuminated the rest of the hall, revealing another three such creatures shambling up the hall towards us.

Professor Nickels breaks me from my horrified stupor with the loud crack of his rifle, echoing across the chamber as the high caliber round lances through the gelatinous hide of the first creature, passing through it and through another still, all without slowing them down. Cursing, he fires two more shots, blasting away large globs of their green flesh, spattering it against the walls around them as he begins firing at their legs.

But still they push on, onward into the chamber, their tentacles stretched out towards us hissing, hissing in a language that seemed too alien for me to understand, yet I understood all too well. Words of pain and suffering, of my eternal agony and of their eternal suffering flitted through my mind, images of men being torn asunder by armies of these creatures, of how the oceans would grow dark with their passing, consuming anything and everything in their path.

And of how they dreamed of doing it again.

“Focus damn it!” Professor Nickels shouts at me, reloading his Sharps as quickly as his arthritic hands can. “They get in your mind unless you focus!”

Seeing what little effect his bullets seemed to have on these gelatinous horrors before us, I move from behind the pillar, focusing on the creature with the smoldering flare charring it’s quivering mass. I fire three rounds as I calmly walk up to it, one going wide and striking the floor a few yards behind it, but the other two piercing deep into the creatures eye, a spray of writhing maggots erupting from the two holes made over the sensitive flesh. The snake-like tentacles screech in agony, growing louder in pitch as I lunge forward with my blade, hacking into the writhing mass with vigor I never knew I possessed.

The multiple maws all shriek with fury untold as I hack and tear them away from the creature’s bobbing form, firing bullets into the center of its bulbous, now deflated, eye as I slash and jab away at its tentacles as if they were mere weeds. Prof. Nickels, watching the effect of shooting them in the eye, unloads a single round into the remaining threes’ large eyes, the floor now smeared with trampled maggots and green blood.

It takes me but a moment to realize, as I’m rending into the beast, that I’m slowly growing taller than it. Looking down, I see several of the severed tendrils, now mawless but still quite flexible, wrapped around my legs and waist, lifting me high into the air above it. Confused, I drop my gun and grip my sword tightly with both hands, swinging in wide arcs to tear away the strands holding me aloft.

With mounting horror and a moment of realization, I saw the bones within the gelatinous beast, the ones that seemed to be there to grant the beast legs and a torso, begin to realign within the central mass of the blob.

Realigning into a humanoid shape.

The creature let loose a horrid squelching noise as the skeletal remains of what was once a living, breathing man burst from the gelatinous walking tomb, sharpened fingers curled into talons as it lashes out, tearing four wide strips in my jerkin with its razor sharp talons. A wet, hollow laughter fills the corridor as the maggots still spewing from the central eye began to swarm back into the creature’s feet, swimming through their host to slowly writhe and contort over the skeletal torso sticking out of the top of the stoop creature.

“Fleshlings… for the master…” The skeleton rasps with a dark voice, the maggots swarming over him, flattening out until they were bursting from the pressure to form a semi-solid paste over the skeletons body. The other three were doing the same, skeletons climbing out of the gelatinous beasts as the writhing streams of maggots fueled a horrid transformation granting them a taut skin coat as pale as the moon. “All will kneel… within his shadow…”

“Kneel to this!” I shout swinging my blade in a heavy-handed arc down into the fragile looking frame as it was climbing from its roost.

Clang!

I stare in shock as the skeleton, now more of a pasty-colored emaciated monster, writhing maggots peeking out from its empty eye sockets, stands there with both hands held high, a thin staff of green slime having jutted out from the quivering mass to block my strike, it’s hardness now equal to that of my ancient blade. As the laughing dead takes a firm grip of the staff, a wicked curved blade grows from the end of it, turning the staff into a scythe. A sickening noise akin to vomit hitting the floor echoes across the chamber as my foe tears his new weapon from his former host, his comrades creating the same weapons from their symbiotic graves.

“The Darkness… feeds… needs to awaken…” The skeletal creature rasps, limping forward towards me, dragging its heavy ended weapon along the stone floor beside it, the scratching of iron on stone grating in my ears. “Bleed… bleed for Qas!”

Bang!

Bang!

Bang!

Professor Nickels quickly begins to reload his rifle as his three shots blast away great chunks of my foes body, rending off an arm at the shoulder socket and blowing away its left lower leg from the knee down.

Undaunted, two of the other undead warriors (the third stumbling from the Professors second shot, which blew away a good portion of its upper body), scythes raised high in the air with screams on their lipless mouths’. I pull my ancient saber back, stepping to the side as a heavy ended scythe came crashing down into the stone with a heavy cracking noise. Before the creature could pull back, I swing my blade in imitation of the abominations maneuver, severing its arms at their elbows, the skeletal forearms still wriggling on the shaft of the scythe wedged into the stone floor.

“Qas… hungers for yo-urk!” The creature hisses at me before I ram the full length of my blade into its skull, the hilt shattering its aged teeth with a sickening crunch. Putting a boot to the creatures face, I hop to the left to put the wriggling undead between me and his last dangerous friend and kick him free from my blade, sending the armless body tumbling into its colleague, who mercilessly twirls its weapon and bisects its allies broken form.

“Flesh… blood… spirit…” The creature hisses as it advances on me, holding the deadly curved blade high before it, a guard flawless against anything I can do.

Bang!

… but not anything Professor Nickels can do. His rifle shot blasts the last skeletons head into disjointed fragments, a rancid green slime exploding outward from the sudden implosion caused by the .50 caliber round. The body stumbles for a moment before the eldritch energies holding it together collapse, the skeletal being falling to pieces as its composite bones are reduced to ash and grit.

The various scythes that the undead abominations had been wielding, as well as their pasty flesh that was drawn taut over their emaciated frames, began to bubble and dissolve as their evil spirits finally lose the battle to remain coherent.

“Good work,” Nickels says as he walks up behind me, reloading his rifle. He scoops up his pistol from the ground and holsters it again, giving me a wary eye. “That sword of yours better pack a wallop, because they confirmed what I feared was down here.”

“You mean…?”

“Darkness Given Hunger,” He interrupts, looking at me pointedly. “Never say his name, or his eye will be cast upon you. Even now he sleeps… hopefully.”

“Than what were those?” I ask, pointing my sword at the bubbling green muck at my feet.

“I’m no expert on the Elder Gods, but those were clearly fractured pieces of the Darkness that serve as guardians for him.” Professor Nickels says as he kneels by one of the steaming puddles, pulling a flask and a spoon from his satchel and ladling in a fair amount of the muck. “Each God has beings that serve them, which are a part of them. The followers of the Christian God call them Angels, the followers of the Yellow King have the Byakhee. If I recall, Darkness Given Hunger has the Dreamless Nightmares, or Quan-gao.”

“Yeah, I can see where they’d get that name.” I say, toeing one of the puddles with my boot. “That sounds somewhat Asiatic in nature.”

“That’s because it is,” Professor Nickels replied from his place on the goo slathered ground. “The Darkness Given Hunger was originally sealed by the Uruk, the Sumerians. How do you think they overcame the vast Ubaid empire history claims they toppled?

“I’ve never thought about it.” I admit, wincing as the Professor pulls a slicked shard of bone from the quivering mass.

“Nobody ever does. Every time a great empire fell, it was because one of these… these things awoke or arrived from beyond time and space, and undid all that man had labored so many years to create. The Sumerians buried this creature after it gorged itself upon their civilization, merely renaming themselves afterward to the Sumerians thanks to the hero who led the battles against the Quan-gao.”

“So why didn’t the Sumerians deal with all of the Quan-gao when they had the chance?” I ask, looking at the bubbling remains of the foul beasts.

“Each man slain in the Darkness’s name, or under his gaze, are pulled into his dreams and made into one of the beasts we just fought.” Professor Nickels says with a distinct shudder. “What you just did was release the souls of three men or women that had spoken his name and died by the hand of one of his agents.”

“Oh… that’s disheartening. And we’re going to go deeper into the tunnels where these things came from?” I ask a tad incredulously, pulling a pit of cloth free from my ruined shirt and wiping away the gunk from my blade.

“Just to blow the narrowest point of the tunnel closed, so that none of this can ever surface. If the Darkness awakens, the world as we know it could fade into a living nightmare.”

“Well if the world is at stake,” I say with a sigh, looking around the tunnel in search of something to plunder. “I’m going to need a shield. I can’t use a gun to save my life.”

“I know,” Professor Nickels said with a smile as he cracked his rifle into the ready position, “I saw. You do well with a blade, and if my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s a round shield just under that debris over there.”

Looking to where he was pointing, I indeed see a battered iron round shield, one that would have been used by virtually a dozen civilizations that had ruled over this area in the last thousand years, pinned beneath a large slab from the mosaic. Moving over, I wedge my blade into a crack in the detritus and heave my weight forward, breaking away the crumbling remains pinning my new prize to the ground.

Covered in verdigris and dents, the leather arm straps within the shield are surprisingly sound, with very little rot to them that I can see. The dented shields surface bears a wolf’s head symbol, perhaps linking it to one of the numerous barbarian tribes that had ravaged the lands above over the past thousand years.

How it got down here when it took the Professor and me over three days of spelunking is beyond me, but I’m thankful for it. I quickly tie the shield off on my left arm, freeing the hand to hold a flare.

While I busy myself with that, the Professor has been busy studying the remaining sections of mosaic with intense scrutiny, jotting down notes in his ever-present journal. “A group of people native to this land dedicated their entire civilization to worshiping the Darkness,” he says aloud as I’m adjusting the straps, “according to this for over five hundred years they lived in the caverns above, building this great complex to house the ancient horror while it lay dormant. Of course, they revered it as a God… and according to this it gave them blessings in return.”

“How? It’s asleep, right?”

The Professor snorts and shoots me a derisive glare. “A being like this is never fully asleep, nor fully awake. It neither lives nor is dead, it just is. Those ghouls up top we encountered were the caretakers of these sacred grounds, blessed with eternal life to serve better their God.”

“Oh…” And we’d killed them. “Then we better hurry, or the rest of them will notice those guards are missing and come looking for us.”

The Professor remains silent as he finished the mosaic, clearing his throat every few moments as he had to stoop to the pieces I had broken away to get a clearer view of what the pictographs read. From his face, they weren’t anything pleasant.

“Anything else I should know about?” I ask as I tighten the last arm brace over my bicep.

“Just that the Darkness slumbers so long as it is regularly fed warriors. If it goes too long without eating, it sends out the Quan-gao. If it goes even longer than it wakes up.”

“Lovely,” I grumble, adjusting my satchel along my hip to have a better sense of balance in the inevitable case of having another fight, “Well then let’s hurry and blow the tunnel closed so that it can’t get out.”
***

I move deeper down the dank tunnel, trying to ignore the saccharine scent of the dead that seems to pervade through the porous stone tunnel we’d begun descending about half an hour ago. The Professor has been unusually quiet as I move ahead of him, my tarnished shield and gleaming sword glinting softly in the light of the flare the good professor has dangled from an extended wooden rod from his satchel, held in place by the straps of his backpack and creating a peaceful glow that chased away the overwhelming gloom of the strange tunnels design.

“It’s like the stone wasn’t carved,” I muse as I slowly make my way down the smooth slope, the tunnel walls, and floor slick with the same green slime the Quan-gao had been comprised of.

“It wasn’t,” Professor Nickels said with authority, pulling a scroll from his side satchel as he spoke. “The Quan-gao are formed primarily of a weak mineral acid, something akin to Boric acid I believe, which allows the slumbering Darkness to guide his guardians in creating new tunnels for it to travel should it ever awaken.”

“Lovely,” I deadpan; slowly learning that the more I heard of this forgotten Elder God, the more I wished it remained forgotten.

“Look! Just up ahead, it looks like an opening!” The Professor says, a gnarled hand grasping my shoulder, shaking me excitedly. “Let’s go, we have much to do!”

“Shouldn’t we just set the charges here and blow the cavern closed?” I ask somewhat hesitantly as the good professor shuffles ahead of me. He shakes his head, sputtering on excitedly.

“No no no, that just won’t do! What if there are other tunnels?” He asked without looking back. “We need to ensure that we’re sealing the Darkness away for good, not just closing one of its many doors.”

I sigh at his usual impeccable logic, moving onward past his shuffling form to look to the edge of the darkened chamber, a sense of vertigo overcoming me as I stare into the vacuous void before me. A few moments later the dangling flare hanging above my diminutive professor allow me a greater chance to peer into the cavernous hollow, great pillars of stone lining the walls to hold the ceiling too high to see aloft. The floor of the cavern, a mere thirty feet from the tunnel they stood in, bubbled with darkened slime, the ooze shifting and swirling, moving like the slimy fried eggs, pushing and pulling against one another in an endless struggle for dominance.

“Well… this sure slows things down.” I say with a sigh, looking at my crazy Professor for an answer, one that he seems to have already ready as he is rooting through his satchel. The toothless man gives a cry of glee as he pulls a tightly wound orange rectangle from his bag, shoving it into my hands as he fishes out a pair of collapsible oars.

“You can’t be serious… we came to a dig in the desert, and you have an inflatable raft?” I nearly shout before he shushes me, looking across the cavern with concern. “What?”

“Nothing… I… I just don’t want to alert anything to our position.” Professor Nickels says, scratching at his neck idly as he set to extending the oars. “Roll out some rope and some pitons so we can have a safe drop down onto those waters, I want to make sure we don’t have anything else to worry about.”

“Are you serious?” I cry, pointing my sword out into the darkness, a low groan echoing through the cavern, waves of slime splashing against the rocks beneath us as if something titanic had just breached the surface of the small sea. “This right here is a big thing to worry about!”

“Now my young warrior, you have no reason to worry. Between your blade and shield and my gun, we’ll be fine.” Professor Nickels says with a smile as he slides the last piece of the oar into position. “I know you’re worried, but you must ask yourself: are you prepared to defend humanity from the otherworldly evil that lurks here, even if it may cost you your life?”

Taken aback by the strange question, I stare at my Professor with a measure of caution. “Well… of course, I mean… who wouldn’t be willing to save humanity?”

Professor Nickels serious demeanor melts away to his normally cheerful expression. “Well then, get to it! We need to be down there seeing what we need to do, not standing about like a couple of bumps on a log!”

***

After we’d scaled the slick wall to the crashing waves of darkened slime beneath us, the good Professor had pulled the ripcord on the raft, unfurling the great orange life raft in an awkward moment of sheer panic as the great boat almost overtook us and comedy as we fell from our tenuous grip on sanity and into the raft, the waves rocking us back and forth as Professor Nickels fastened the collapsible oars to the raft, moving to the helm of our teetering vessel and adjusting his glasses, peering off into the darkness.

“Full steam ahead my boy!” He says with a hearty chuckle, nodding to the oars as he moved past me towards the rudder. “It’ll take more than these withered old bones are capable of to battle these raging waters.”

“That is not water…” I grumble as a jellied glob splashes over the side, seemingly trying to stretch out in search of open skin. Taking the oars, I begin rowing as best I can against the swirling currents of the underground sea as Professor Nickels steers us along. Several times my oars slide between greasy ovoid’s, pushing them apart.

We drift for what feels like hours as my arms go numb from the strain of battling the turbulent currents, sweat pouring from my lean frame in buckets as I desperately tried to keep us on the Professors desired course. The entire time he praises me, telling me we were almost there, that we were only a few dozen yards from it.

Gasping for breath, I never thought to ask what it was.

Just as I felt my arms giving out from exhaustion, I was lucky enough to see the wicked grin the cracked across my scholarly advisers face as he lunges across the raft with his rifle held firmly between his white-knuckled hands, the butt of the gun making a shuddering snap as he beat me across my brow with the butt of the gun, dropping me back from the force of the blow, my vision swimming as I struggle to understand what had just happened.

I struggle even further when he brings the butt of the rifle down onto my face, breaking my nose and shattering my front teeth in a sickening crunch, tears streaming from my eyes as I watched him slowly pull the weapon from my face, a fractured piece of one of my front incisors sticking to the butt by a thin coating of my blood. He steps over me, shucking off his heavy satchel onto my chest, I suppose to pin me in case I had any fight left within me, as he moves to stand at the bow of our miniature raft, hands held high overhead.

“Qas!” He intones, a low moan akin to the call of a whale rising up from beneath us as he lowers his arms once more, jumping from the raft and landing on something hard just out of my sight… something made of stone? “I’ve brought you the blood of a tested warrior, one who will allow you to slumber still. Come to your servant and grant me my boon and I will render unto you the supple flesh of the young and the brave!”

This can’t be good. I struggle to move the massive pack off of me, but with between my swimming vision and my numb arms I can only flail uselessly as he hops back onto the raft with the dexterity of a man a tenth his age, rolling the bag off of me and hoisting me up onto his shoulder.

Coughing up blood and a few teeth, I look at him through the one eye that can see. “No expert, eh?” I laugh, hacking up a lungful of blood onto the back of his khaki jacket. He merely pats my aching back with a gnarled hand as he jumps from the raft, landing on a large stained stone, rounded along the edges, before dumping me onto the ground with the care of a man dropping a bag of gravel.

“What can I say boy,” He says with a smile and a genial shrug, “I’m a man who figured out a way to stay young forever while keeping mankind safe from the things that go bump in the night. I’m a bloody hero!”

As he’s saying these rivulets of blackened slime are trailing up along ridges carved into the stone, seeping and searching for my spilled blood. I wince as I feel, and hear, the caustic hiss of the ooze lashing to my leg, and then my arm, pulling me taut along the rock. I let out a wail of agony as the slime begins to suffuse over my body, eating away at my clothes and skin with a sound akin to the sizzling of a slab of meat on a grill. Just as my head begins to submerge beneath the malevolent muck, I see Professor Nickels leap back to the raft, my sword in his hand, calling out to me over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry m’ boy!” He shouts cheerfully as he begins to row away, leaving me to my horrid demise. “You’ll see me again in another fifty years!”

Credit To – Nicholas Paschall

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Death’s Reflection

May 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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They say a mirror has the ability to reflect part of the soul. Some have suggested that’s why vampires can’t see their reflection; because they have no soul to reflect.

That’s what I was thinking about, when two burly looking men hauled my new floor-length mirror into my new bedroom. “New” being a subjective term, since the mirror was actually said to have been made in the late 1800’s, and the bedroom was made a little after that, along with the rest of the house of course. The mirror was found in the dusty attic when we moved in. It had an intricate golden frame and slight distortion that only an ancient mirror would have. My mother was quite taken with it, but my parents already had a mirror in their room.

It’s just me and my parents now. I use to have a little brother, but he’s gone now. We don’t talk about him much.

We were originally from Australia, but we moved to England for father’s work. More specifically, somewhere in the countryside of Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t want to move. I hate change. And something about this house just doesn’t feel right to me. My room is also way too large for my liking. It gets too cold at night, and the hardwood floors creek under my feet. But my parents don’t seem to care. In fact, they love this place.

“Is this a good place for it?” one of the movers asked, having finally positioned the mirror somewhere in the vast bedchamber, which seems a more fitting term for the place than a bedroom.

“Yes that’s fine,” I replied without glancing up. I was reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula on my antique bed, which is probably why I started thinking about vampires and mirrors.

Later that night, my parents and I had our dinner by candlelight. The electricity wasn’t set up yet in the house, since we were located in such a deserted location. My parents didn’t seem fazed by this however, they thought it was fun.

“It’s like we’re camping!” My mother cheered.

“This is how people used to live you know, India, back before electricity was even invented. Tell me who invented electricity,” my father challenged. He took responsibility for my education ever since pulling me out of school after my brother’s disappearance. He usually looks for any excuse to educate me.

“Thomas Edison, father,” I promptly replied.

“Very good, now let’s eat.”

Later that night, I decided to explore the land a little. There was a small lake right next to our backyard. I sat on the edge of the black water, creating ripples with a stick I had found as I gazed up at the moon. It was full tonight; I could hear wolves in the distant forest, and pretended like they were men whose bodies were being ripped apart as they transformed into malevolent werewolves.

The night air was starting to get a bit chilly. I was about to get up to go back inside when something in the water moved. It’s probably a frog or a fish or something I thought. But curiosity got the better of me. I peered inside the water, whose surface brightly reflected the moonlight. At first there was nothing to see.

Then something round and large slowly rose to the surface. I used my stick to poke at it, and it turned over. I shrieked and jolted up away from the lake, running back into the house as fast as my feet could carry me.

“India! What’s wrong child? You look as white as a sheet!” Mother exclaimed when I came in through the back door.

“Nothing mother, I’m just tired. I’m going to sleep now,” I said expressionless. I needed to be alone.

This was the first night in our new home. It had started pouring rain a few hours ago, and didn’t seem like it would relent anytime soon. I could never sleep when it rained.

I lay in bed for hours, eyes wide open, staring at my dusty ceiling, thinking about what I saw out in the lake…

Just then I felt like something moved inside my room. I jolted upright and looked around, half crazed by lack of sleep. My eyes wandered for a while until they rested on the mirror which the two movers had decided to place in front of my bed. I stared at my reflection for a while, made visible by the pale moonlight streaming in from my open window.

I was about to lie back down again, when I noticed something in the reflection of the mirror. There was a small picture frame hanging on the wall that I hadn’t noticed before. I quickly turned around to peer at the wall behind me, but the picture wasn’t there. Starting to panic, I looked back into the mirror and once again saw the photo. It was a little boy holding up what looked to be a fish on a fishing rod. Startled, I looked back once more, but once more I saw no photo on the wall.

That’s all I remember from that night.

That morning I woke up to a streak of sunshine on my face. Dazed, I sat up in bed and stretched my cramped muscles. That’s when I remembered the picture from last night and quickly gazed into the mirror. There was no photo on the wall. Must have been a dream I thought as I got out of bed.

I found my father in the study after I had finished my breakfast. “What are we studying today father?” I asked him as I took a seat in front of his desk.

“Today will be a history lesson. I thought it would be interesting to teach you about the origins of the house we now live in. I have been doing some research on the topic and think you will find some of it interesting,” he began.

“In 1894, a woman named Charlotte Wentworth moved in here with her 7 year old son. She was a seamstress who did most of her work at home. Her husband had died a year before, but there is no longer any record as to the cause of his death. There is however, a record of the death of her young son. Not long after they moved in, her son supposedly drowned in that very lake outside the house. Some of the townspeople in the village up the road spread nasty rumours about the mother murdering her own child. What was the reason for that particular rumour? Well, she appeared to be psychologically unstable, considering she committed suicide soon after the death of her son. There is no longer any record as to how she killed herself. Isn’t that morbid, India? I thought you might be interested in that, seeing as how you love your Gothic novels and such,” my father concluded, with a smirk.

“Yes father, that was very…interesting,” I replied and left shortly afterward.

That night I couldn’t sleep again. I stared at my own reflection in the mirror for so long my eyes went dry from lack of blinking. A bit after midnight I was staring into the mirror and I could have sworn I saw my reflection blink, although I was sure I hadn’t felt my eyes close. I crept out of bed and threw my bedsheet over the glass. Satisfied, I went back to bed.

The next morning, I woke up to something shining in my eyes. It was a reflection of the sun from the mirror. I groaned and turned over in bed. It took my groggy mind a while to realize what was amiss. I bolted out of bed and scrutinized the mirror. The bedsheet that I had thrown over the glass during the night was folded and lain out on the foot of my bed.

“Mother must have come in here earlier,” I decided. I got dressed and made my way downstairs. My parents were nowhere to be found. After searching the vast house for a while I finally found them in their bedroom. They were both still sound asleep. Feeling a bit disconcerted I decided to make breakfast myself.

I finished my piece of toast and left some for my parents before going back into my room. I took out Dracula and got lost in the world of vampires for a while. I was just at the part where Quincey is stabbing Dracula to death and he is crumbling into dust, when I heard it. It was the faintest of whispering. The source was coming from right next to my ear. I jerked my head to the side but no one was there. I slowly turned back to my book. When I flipped the page, I heard it again: I can’t breathe… a child’s voice was whispering into my ear.

I got out of bed and threw the book at the mirror. “I can’t take this anymore! Who’s there? Is someone there?!” I yelled into the mirror, feeling stupid and frustrated. My door flew open then and my parents came rushing in.

“India! What’s going on in here? Is everything alright?”

“Yes, I’m sorry I woke you,” they were about to turn away when I decided to tell them. “Would you find me crazy if I told you that I have been seeing things? And hearing noises?”

My parents glanced at each other, then my mother spoke. “Well it is an old house dear, the pipes and wooden supports are bound to make noises. But what kinds of things have you been seeing child?”

“Well, the other night I saw a picture hanging on the wall in the reflection of the mirror, but there isn’t a picture on the wall!” I exclaimed, gesturing to the wall above my bed.

“India darling, you know you have quite the imagination. This is what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. Maybe we should put you back on those pills. John, what do you think?” my mother turned away from me and started to discuss this with my father, as if I were a toddler who couldn’t understand.

I knew it was a bad idea to tell my parents. I sighed, picking up my book from where it was sprawled in the corner of the room and began to read.

That night something was different. The crickets were silent outside, and there was no moonlight. The air had a certain restlessness to it. I had decided to light a candle and keep it on my dresser next to my bed. The flickering light cast shadows in the room, and I could see the bright flame in the reflection of the mirror.

I was just closing my eyes to try and fall asleep when I heard heavy breathing coming from the opposite side of the room. I slowly turned to look and caught something in the mirror that made my heart stop.

I sat up in bed, eyes wide and heart pounding in my ears. It was a reflection of my room, but not my room. The furniture was different and there were pictures all over the wall. But the most horrifying thing of all was that I wasn’t in it. Instead, there was somebody asleep in my bed. They were breathing deeply, the kind of breathing that signified deep sleep. I could see my door opening in the reflection, although in reality it remained closed. I was too stricken with terror to do anything but watch.

A woman garbed in a long flowy dress entered the room. She crept up to the sleeping person in bed and reached over as if to kiss them. But instead, her hands grasped their throat, jerking them awake. Only then did I realize that the person in bed was a little boy, like the boy I saw in the picture. Like the boy who died here in 1894. The woman, who I could only assume was his mother, continued to choke him until he ceased thrashing around on the bed. He was dead.

I shrieked despite myself. The woman whipped her head around and glared at me through the mirror. She then stood up straight and started walking towards me.

I scrambled out of bed and threw open my bedroom door. I made it to my parents’ room and knocked frantically on their door. Nobody answered, so I barged in. My parents were lying in bed. I ran over to them and started shaking them awake. But they did not wake. Frantic, I rolled my mother over and screamed in terror as I stared at her face. Her eyes were wide open, with a look of such horror on her face I thought I would die of fright. My father was in the same state.

I fell to the floor shaking in terror. I barely noticed when the door started to open softly. I barely noticed when a pair of pure white feet crept towards me, making no sound on the rickety floorboards. I barely noticed when she touched me. The last thing I remember are how cold her hands were as they pressed against my neck.

When I opened my eyes, I was lying on the floor of my bedroom. I sat up, sighing in relief. It was all just a horrible nightmare. I stood up and turned towards the mirror. What I saw made my knees feel weak and my palms sweat. It was me, but I was lying face down on the ground. My parents were lying on either side of me. I turned around and there they were. The mother and her son, as white as death, staring at me, smiling. The boy reached out his hand for me; welcome, he whispered.

Credit To – Os

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The Eye of Ra

May 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Jay Bennett hadn’t noticed the chubby man sitting alone in the corner booth until it was nearly time to close. He had been wiping down a couple of pub tables in the bar area when he spotted him, noshing on a plate of Big Buck’s En Fuego Jalapeño Poppers and watching Division III college football highlights play on the television mounted on the wall. There was nothing particularly interesting about the chubby patron. His brown, argyle sweater vest and khaki trousers didn’t exactly command attention and his plain unassuming features did nothing to accentuate his remarkably ordinary appearance. Yet still, there was something curious about the man that Jay couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Closing time meant Jay would soon be spending the next hour and a half mopping puddles of urine off the bathroom floor and hand drying dishes in the kitchen, while Trevor, his nineteen-year-old zit-faced assistant manager, played Flappy Bird and browsed Facebook on his phone. Jay hated closing the restaurant – mostly because he despised answering to a lazy, community college washout almost half his age. From where he was standing, he could see Trevor sitting in the office at the back of the restaurant, staring into his phone and giggling away like an acid-dropping rave bunny at Burning Man.

Any minute, Jay thought to himself. Any minute the little shit’s gonna stroll his pimply ass out here and force me to scrub the toilets ‘till they fucking shine. I just know it-

“Um, Excuse me?” The voice that interrupted Jay’s pity-party was soft and sophisticated. Right away he could sense an air of intelligence in its tone – something not commonly heard at Big Buck’s Wings & Beer. Jay looked up to see the man in the brown argyle sweater vest waving him over to his booth. “Yes, you sir. Excuse me, but may I speak to you for a moment?”

Jay glanced back towards the office. Trevor was busy furiously tapping away at the screen of his iPhone. He let out a sigh and sauntered over to the booth.

“You need the check? We’re closing soon.”

“Not necessary,” replied the chubby fellow. “I already cleared my tab with the pretty young thing who works behind the bar.”

Jay tossed the towel he was holding over his shoulder and folded his arms across his chest like a nightclub doorman. “Then what can I do for you, mister?”

“Well,” the man paused briefly to collect his words. “You’re Jay Bennett, correct?”

Hearing his name come out the mouth of a total stranger felt like an unexpected punch to the gut.

“I am,” Jay said, doing his best to appear unmoved by the chubby man’s inquiry. It was defense mechanism he had developed during his stint in prison. Jay found out very fast while serving his time that the best reaction to an unforeseen predicament was typically having no reaction at all. “And you are?”

“Oh yes, where are my manners?” The man in the sweater vest extended a sweaty palm out towards Jay. “My name is Robert Wilkins. Uh, Doctor Robert Wilkins.” Jay remained silent, stonewalling the doctor, causing him to retract his hand. The chubby man studied the ex-con silently before continuing on. “FYI, I’m not the kind of doctor who went to med school. My degrees are cultural anthropology and archeology – Ancient Egyptian studies to be exact. My colleague and I have published hundreds of papers on the subject. Feel free to look me up if you don’t believe me. A quick Google search should confirm my claims.”

“Honestly, I don’t really give a shit,” grunted Jay. “What is it that you want, already?”

The doctor neatly folded his napkin and used it to dab his brow – a mannerism reminiscent of a 19th century plantation owner. “Right. I suppose there’s no further need for introductions. Might as well get right down to it. Jay Bennett, I’m here tonight because I have a job for you.”

“I already have a job. And if you’re trying to hire me to do something illegal, then look elsewhere. I’m on parole and I don’t plan on going back to prison any time soon.”

Jay snatched the towel from his shoulder and started towards the bathrooms.

“Wait! Please!” the doctor desperately blurted out. “This job pays well I promise!” Jay spun around with every intent to tell him off, but froze when he spotted the sly smile that had crawled its way across the chubby man’s face. “ Besides, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than scrubbing toilets.”

***

The doctor waved a hand, inviting Jay to sit across the table from him. With two pudgy fingers he nudged his plate of Jalapeño poppers aside then bent over to retrieve a black leather briefcase that had been sitting at his feet. Jay scooted in to the other side of the booth. He swiveled his head to glance back at the office. Trevor was still gawking like an idiot into his phone.

“How do you know my name?” Jay asked.

“My associate gave me your information,” he said. “Who you are. What you do. Where to find you. He told me about your criminal record. Twelve counts of burglary, three counts of drug trafficking, and assault with a deadly weapon. He said you beat a man with a crowbar?”

“I was defending myself. The guy shot my partner.”

“Yeah, after the two of you broke into the man’s house. You’re lucky he made a full recovery or else you’d probably still be locked up. I’m surprised you even found a gig at a hole like this.”

Jay glared at the doctor, his lips twisted into a frustrated scowl.

“I’m not here to judge though. Afterall-” the chubby man popped the latches of his briefcase and lifted the lid, “I was hoping to encourage you to break the law one more time.”

He removed a red envelope from his briefcase and placed it on the table, pinning it with his index finger. “What do you know about Egyptian mythology, Jay?”

“I know a little.”

“Have you ever heard of Ra, the sun god?”

“I think so,” answered Jay. “He’s the one with the bird head, right?”

“Very good!” a proud light beamed in the doctor’s eyes. “That is correct. Ra is the most important god in Egyptian mythology. He was believed to have ruled over the sky and earth. And his head wasn’t just that of any bird. Most often, it was depicted as either a falcon or hawk. Now, this was no accident. You see, birds of prey have the keenest of eyesight and legend has it, the Eye of Ra could see all.”

He scooted the envelope across the table towards Jay then lifted his finger, releasing it before renewing his spiel.

“There’s three thousand dollars cash, a photograph, an address, and a phone number in that envelope, Jay. The money is yours whether you take the job or not. If you do accept my offer, there will be an additional $7,000 in it for you. The photograph is of an artifact I’m asking you to steal for me. It’s called the Eye of Ra. It’s a very rare gold coin with an extremely special engraving in it. It was excavated during a dig I helped oversee one year ago and I want it back.”

“And the address is where I can find it?” Jay was already thumbing through the envelope’s contents.

“Yes. It’s the home of an ex-colleague of mine. He’s the one who has taken it. It shouldn’t be too difficult for a man like yourself to retrieve. He doesn’t own a gun and I’m certain he never turns on his home security system. Plus he’s blind. I mean all you have to do is keep your mouth shut and there’s no way he could ever identify you. Call the phone number once you have the Eye of Ra in your possession. We will arrange a rendezvous point and I will gladly pay you the rest of the money when you hand it over to me.”

“This artifact is worth a lot of money?” asked Jay.

The doctor laughed. “No monetary value other than the gold it’s made from, which by the way wouldn’t get you as much as I’m willing to pay. However, for me the artifact is priceless.”

The doctor snapped his briefcase shut, quickly securing the latches before standing up from the table.

“Hold up, where are you going?” asked Jay. “I still a lot of questions. Why me?”

“Every single one of your questions will be answered soon, Jay, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to stick around right now. You’re a skilled thief. This job will be a cinch for you. Call me tonight when you have the Eye of Ra.”

“Tonight?”

The chubby man in the brown argyle sweater vest flashed him a haughty smile.

“Goodnight, Jay. Hope to hear from you soon.”

Jay tucked the envelope into the waistband of his pants as he watched the peculiar patron amble out the door. A shrill high-pitched screech suddenly broke the silence of the now empty restaurant floor.

“Bennett!” Jay twisted around in his chair to see Trevor’s lanky frame hovering in the office doorway. “Big Buck doesn’t pay you to sit on your ass! Get in the bathroom before I call your P.O! I want to be able to eat off those toilets!”

***

The rest of Jay’s shift seemed to fly by as he mulled over the doctor’s proposition. Every now and then he’d run his fingers across his waist, feeling for the contours of the envelope still stuffed inside his pants, just to make sure he hadn’t dreamed the whole conversation up. The doctor had told him the gig paid $10,000 – more money than he made in three months wiping down tables and washing dishes. He thought about how degrading it was working under Trevor. There was only four months left on his parole and he had already decided he was going to quit his humiliating court appointed job as soon as he was out from under the thumb of the justice system.

That kind of cash would go a long way until I could find a new way to make some money, he thought to himself while puffing on his after work cigarette in the parking lot of Big Buck’s.

Jay tugged the envelope from his jeans and searched through it until he found the photo of the artifact. An icy cold chill swept through him as he gazed down to the picture in his hand. The design etched into the face of the coin was breathtaking – a pattern so mesmerizing Jay didn’t even notice the cigarette fall from his mouth while he ogled it. All at once, he felt the urge to hold the coin – to grip it between his fingers.

“The Eye of Ra,” Jay whispered.

His decision had been made. Not more than a minute later he was punching the address into his GPS as he pulled his car out of the parking lot.

***

The clock on Jay’s dashboard flashed 2:00AM by the time he pulled up to the house his navigation system had directed him to. He killed the engine and stared out the window at his target for what felt like an eternity, watching for signs of life. With any luck, the doctor’s former colleague was out of town and Jay would be able to search the residence at his leisure. He slipped his hand into his sweatshirt pocket and gripped the handle of his butterfly knife – a safeguard he hoped he wouldn’t need to use.

Jay exited his vehicle and crept around the back searching for an open window. The home was in a fairly secluded area with no visible nearby houses, virtually eliminating the possibility of nosy neighbors and unexpected eyewitnesses. It was the kind of place that a cat burglar dreamed of hitting.

Jay slinked his way through the shadowy yard towards a wide arched window in the back of the house. With a gentle nudge of his hand against the glass it swung open, allowing him to slip inside.

The doc just might have been right about this being an easy job, Jay thought. This guy doesn’t even lock his windows.

He was now standing in a living room decorated with expensive looking furniture and ostentatious art. Hanging on the wall was a replica of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman. Jay examined it closely, trying to discern if it had any value, even going so far as to lift it from its hanger, before he noticed the Aaron Brother’s Art Mart sticker tag that was still attached to the back of the frame.

“No need to hang it back up, Mr. Bennett, I never liked that piece anyways. My ex-wife decorated the place.”

The voice stopped Jay dead in his tracks.

“Yes, Mr. Bennett. I know you’re down there. Won’t you please join me in my study?”
Jay leaned the painting against the wall, and scanned the room searching for the source of the voice.

“The study, Mr. Bennett! I’m in my study upstairs.”

He located the staircase in the foyer. Without a word, Jay removed the knife from his pocket and tiptoed up the steps. The voice had identified him by name. Panic shot through every inch of his body. Visions of once again donning an orange jumpsuit began swimming through his mind like deformed, mutant goldfish in the New York City sewers.

“Second door on the right,” the voice called out when he reached the top of the stairs.

The floorboards squealed under Jay’s feet as stepped down the dark hallway towards the door the voice appeared to be emanating from. He paused when he reached it and squeezed the handle of his knife tight in his fist. There was no hint of light leaking out from underneath the door. Whoever was waiting for him in the room was doing so in pitch-blackness.

“No need to knock, Mr. Bennett.” answered the voice. “I’m already expecting you.”

Jay pushed down on the handle and cracked the door. Its hinges seemed to scream as he opened it just wide enough to poke his head through. There was no visibility. With his free hand he yanked his cellphone free from his back pocket, turned on the screen, and waved it in front of him, bathing the room in a pale blue light.

Floor to ceiling bookshelves lined both sides of what looked to be an office. At the wall directly opposite Jay was an elegant cherry wood desk. Sitting behind it in a leather office chair was an elderly bearded man. Jay cringed when he looked closer to see the upper half of the man’s face completely wrapped in bandages.

He turned his head in Jay’s direction. “Come on in, Mr. Bennett. I promise I don’t bite.”

Jay pushed the door all the way open and took a couple timid steps inside the room.

“I hear you’re looking for the Eye of Ra,” said the old man – a perverse smile warped on his wrinkled face. “Well, it must be your lucky day because you’ve come to the right place.”

***

“I don’t want to hurt you,” warned Jay, “but I’m prepared to. Just give me the coin and I’ll be on my way.”

The old man scoffed.

“Ha! You don’t want to hurt me!? Unfortunately that’s not for you to decide!”

“Listen-”

“Quiet, Mr. Bennett!” the old man snapped. “You’ll be leaving with the Eye of Ra tonight. There’s no question in that, but I figured I’d at least disclose to you a little about the Hell you’re about to unleash on yourself first. My associate, Dr. Wilkins, already told you about the coin. We excavated it a year ago during a dig of an ancient unmarked tomb recently discovered 53 kilometers outside of Cairo.”

“Dr. Wilkins?” asked Jay.

“Yes, Dr. Robert Wilkins, my associate – the man who hired you to steal the artifact. Who do you think requested him to seek you out? I’m afraid you’ve been set up, friend. I know that must come as a bit of a shock.”

“I’m not shocked,” replied Jay. “I just don’t believe you.”

The old man smirked.

“Oh you will in time. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the dig. Wilkins and I were able to recover quite a bit from the tomb – most of which is currently touring the country, travelling from museum to museum. The exhibit is quite lovely and I’d advise you to give it a visit next time it stops back in town, but that won’t be necessary.”

Jay darted towards the old man and swung his knife downwards, burying it in the desk’s polished wooden face.

“That’s enough! Just give me the coin or the next time I stick this knife in anything it’s going to be your neck!”

The old man opened the drawer of his desk and extracted a small leather pouch from it. Now that he was closer, Jay could make out brown splotches speckling the bandages that covered his eyes – dry crusty blood. It looked like the wraps hadn’t been changed in ages.

“The coin is right here, Mr. Bennett, but I hope you don’t think you’ve intimidated me into giving it to you. It will be yours in time, but I will finish telling you my story first.”

“Listen I don’t care about-”

“Not all of what we recovered from the tomb made it to the exhibit though,” the old man continued. “You see, the coin in this bag conveniently went missing without anyone else even knowing it existed. I discovered it myself, in the hand of one of one of the mummified corpses we found in the tomb – a young priestess no older than sixteen when she was buried. It goes against my code of ethics to take “souvenirs” from an excavation, but the coin…well just look for yourself.”

He reached his fingers into the pouch drew out a gold coin about the same size as a fifty cent piece then placed it on the desk in front of him. Jay held his breath. The design etched into its face was hypnotic – far more captivating in person than it was in the photo.

“The Eye of Ra,” the old man whispered.

Jay reached out an arm, but the old man snatched it up before he could grab it.

“Not yet!” he shouted. “I’m not done with my story! I discovered something fascinating about this artifact very soon after taking it in my hand. It passed on to me a strange ability – a sort of clairvoyance if you will. I could sense things, Mr. Bennett. I knew what others were thinking before they said it – what things would happen before they actually occurred. Soon after, these powers took on other attributes. I learned I could read minds, anyone’s I wanted. I didn’t’ even need to be in the same room as them – hell the same continent even! That’s how I discovered my wife was having an affair.”

Jay tried to say something, but he couldn’t find the words. His eyes remained glued to the coin in the old man’s hands.

“Dr. Wilkins was the only other person I ever shared this secret with, but even he doesn’t understand what my powers would eventually become. He thinks they just drove me mad, but he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand that the Eye of Ra really does see all!”

“Give me the coin,” muttered Jay. “I…I need it.”

The old man laughed.

“Of course you do! I knew that the power was getting to be too much once I realized I couldn’t turn it off. The thoughts of billions of people all streaming through my mind was maddening in its own right, but that was just the tip of the iceberg really. The Eye of Ra’s true power is much more horrifying. Imagine, Mr. Bennett. Imagine being able to see everything! Everything that ever did exist and everything that ever will exist! My eyes no longer perceived the world the way that you do. My mind no longer experienced time in a linear fashion. I’ve seen it all; all the good, and yes, Mr. Bennett, all the evil as well. I witnessed Vikings rape and pillage civilizations that no longer exist. I viewed countless genocides occur throughout the course of human history. I looked through the terrified eyes of a 12-year-old Pakistani girl in the year 2087, as the heat of a nuclear bomb engulfed her and her schoolmates in flames.

The old man whipped his hand up to his face and began tearing away at his bandages.

“I couldn’t take it anymore, Mr. Bennett! I couldn’t bear to look any longer! That’s why I did something about it! That’s why I dug my eyes out of my face!”

Jay recoiled at the horrid sight now in front of him. Two gaping blood caked craters sat in place of eyes on the man’s mutilated face.

“Dr. Wilkins believed he was helping me con you into transferring the curse, but he doesn’t realize it doesn’t work like that. It won’t transfer; it will spread. Even removing my eyes has only given me temporary relief. The visions are already starting to come back to me. Soon, they’ll dominate my every thought again. The only way to be rid of it is to die.”

“You’re fucking insane!” shouted Jay.

“And you’re in denial. There’s no point trying to convince you anyways. You’ll learn the truth soon enough. You see, you’re the next man to bear the burden of this power. I’ve already seen it. That’s why I had Wilkins convince you to come here. There is no escaping time, Mr. Bennett. Tonight you will wield the Power of Ra just as I have and I…tonight I will die and finally be free of this wretched curse!”

The old man stretched an arm out and ripped Jay’s knife from the desk. Without warning, the maniac dove at him, slicing the blade wildly through the air. Jay grabbed hold of his arm knocking the blade away, but dropped his cellphone as they wrestled to the ground. With Jay’s only source of light gone, darkness once again enveloped the study. The old man was stronger than he had anticipated. Jay gagged as the blind lunatic wrapped a hand around his throat. It felt as though he was crushing his trachea. Jay reached his arm out, desperately searching in the blackness for something to strike his attacker with. A hard plastic object brushed up against his fingertips and instantly he knew what it was. Jay wrapped his hand around the handle of his knife then thrust his it upwards until he felt it penetrate flesh.

The grip began to loosen around Jay’s neck and with a thud the old man slumped to floor. Jay could feel the warmth of his blood begin to pool around both of their bodies. He pawed around on the ground for his cellphone, eventually finding it underneath the cherry wood desk. A pale blue light swam back into the room when he powered the screen back on.

The old man’s body lay motionless on the floor, the point of Jay’s butterfly knife submerged deep within the side of throat. Jay leaned against the desk and gasped for air. Under the light from his cellphone the blood still spilling from the old man’s neck took on a deep purple hue. Jay bent over, yanked the blade from his throat then wiped it down on a part of the carpet the old man hadn’t gushed on.

In the dead man’s hand Jay spotted the coin. He pried the artifact from the corpse’s fingers and stumbled out the door. An ice-cold shiver ran up his spine, causing his body to tremble when he looked down to the bewitching artifact resting his palm. There was something strangely comforting about holding it.

When he made it outside to his car, Jay searched through the red envelope the doctor had given him until he located the phone number then dialed it into his keypad.

“I’m sorry, but the number you’re trying to reach has been disconnected. Please hang up and try again.”

Jay cursed into his phone at the automated message. He had been given a fake number. He sighed and started up the engine of his car. At least he still had the doctor’s name. It wouldn’t be hard to look him up. Now that Jay had a homicide on his hands, he figured he’d pay the doctor a visit in order to tie up any loose ends. As Jay pulled away from the house he reflected on what the crazy old man had said to him.

The Eye of Ra see’s all. What a crock of shit. He thought.

A pair of headlights approached in the distance from the opposite direction. Ever so briefly, Jay felt his brain go numb as a static image appeared in his head – a picture he could see in his mind’s eye.

“It’s a blue Dodge Neon,” he unconsciously blurted out.

A 2005 marine blue Dodge Neon drove past his car.

Credit To – Vincent Vena Cava

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I found a dead girl’s diary

April 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Everybody’s looking for Malinda Paige. The entire town would sling a rope around a tree and clap and cheer as she jitterbugged her way to hell. And the Police, of course. They won’t find her.

I’ve seen her. That’s why I’m here. I need to let it out. I think back to the start of last term, when the three young men that killed themselves. You probably didn’t hear about them. Or about Malinda Paige. That’s the kind of town I live in. The 70s and 80s tore through the region like a disemboweling knife, spilling the guts of industry to dry under the summer sun. A town full of hard people, made so because of the mountains we lived in. Hard of body and hard headed. A town too stupid to know it was already dead.

Exit Malinda Paige. We last saw her in her junior year. School broke for summer and we never saw her again. That wasn’t uncommon. We bled people, year after year. The smart ones would get a one-way ticket out and never look back. We hadn’t figured Malinda for the type. But rats flee a sinking ship too.

Malinda wasn’t pretty. Her eyes had that wet poached egg look about them. The glasses didn’t help. Her cheeks a little too round to give her that hollowed cheerleader look. Her face framed by a headful of lanky, greasy brown hair. This didn’t matter much. She had more than enough jiggle under her sweats during gym class to get the boys staring.

She didn’t have friends that I knew of. The human equivalent of styrofoam package stuffing. Just filling up the space around the people that mattered. There was something a little darker about the girl. She’d walk by the little knots and cliques in the corridor and someone would say slut or whore in a stage whisper, loud enough for me to hear from twenty feet away. Malinda wouldn’t bat an eyelid. It got around that she got suspended for a week for blowing someone in one of the cleaning stores. The type of guy that was part of a supply chain all too common in the town. Adderall, Oxycontin and worse. Apparently Malinda was getting fucked in more ways than one.

That’s why it didn’t blip when she didn’t turn up for senior year. Some things were made to sink without ripples.

She wasn’t the only one that didn’t turn up on the first day of school. Shane, one of the school’s basketball players had quietly slipped away into a shed behind his house, cradling his father’s handgun. He set there for hours before painting the wall behind him with his brains. Things get out in a small town. Secrets seep and leak. Someone’s brother mentions something. An EMT at a bar may drop the worse case he’d ever attended to. Some case like Shane’s suicide, how, perhaps, the bullet didn’t quite take as much brain as poor Shane wanted. How Shane, his eye sockets filling up with blood, screamed, “She sees me!” Over and over, weeping scarlet tears till he repeated it one final time in an exhalation of spit and gore.

This all came out later of course, whispered between shocked students at the cafeteria. Back then it was just the first day of school. Everybody moving up a year, swapping classes, lockers. My new locker bore the scars of some epithet scrawled in sharpie and inexpertly scratched off. I could still make it out.

The diary was sitting in the locker. A plain thing, paper bound in faux leather. A diary was an anachronism. An oddity, just like Malinda Paige. In a world where people posted the shallowest thoughts on Facebook and snapchatted glimpses of nipple to each other, there was something ancient and archaic about putting pen to paper. Something secret. The diary came off the rusty metal of the locker with a soft ripping sound. It had been gummed to the surface by a veneer of soda, a present poured down the top of the locker by one of Malinda’s fans.

I shouldn’t have taken it. Diaries are secret things. Some secrets were meant to be buried. Like Malinda Paige.

#

Where to start when it comes to her diary? It didn’t say where she was. It left me with more questions than answers. Who was Malinda? What was Malinda?

I didn’t look at the diary. Not for a week at least. I was caught up in the rush of the start of school. I meant to hand it over to someone. The school. Her family maybe. It sat on my desk for a whole week. Curiosity is a bitch of an emotion, isn’t it. It creeps. Like a rash you can’t scratch at. One rainy Saturday, tired of daytime TV and bored of the banality of Facebook, I flipped that thing open.

How do you describe the shape of madness? Let me try. Madness isn’t a hundred pages of spidery handwriting. No punctuation. No paragraphs. Madness isn’t series of geometric scribbles, filling up every square inch of paper that didn’t have writing on it. So dense and intricate that the patterns crawled and shifted when you looked at them too close. No, madness was what Malinda wrote.

when did it start i first heard the voices after my second period i remember thinking that i was crazy because thats what crazy people do
-m

There was stuff in there that was just plain wrong.

i thought of dad for the first time in a long time mum fell down and bashed her chin it was the blood i remember when dad used to hit her so bad that she couldnt walk hes long dead why do i still hate him so much
-m

Reading the text was difficult. There were no dates, the only way you knew she’d ended a section was when she left a single monogrammed initial at the end of it.

the voices arent mine i know that now its only when i went to school when it got much worse the voices are from other people i hear other peoples voices not the ones from their mouths the ones which they lie and whisper from their hearts secret voices i know them all
-m

The girl was crazier than I thought. I think some of her words alluded to the start of high school.

i hate it here its even worse than grade school i feel their eyes on me when they look at me i hear their whispers in my head and it feels like cut glass in my tummy and needles behind my eyes i hate them all
-m

Malinda Paige kept score, that was the worst thing. The number of times she’d had sex with an entire list of guys from school. What kind of person does that?

the other girls stare at me but i can hear what theyre saying in their hearts they dont know what its like the pills help but only so much the voices always cut through its only in the afterglow that the voices are stilled if you were going crazy wouldnt you chase after a little peace
-m

There was no clue to Malinda’s disappearance in her diary. That was the strangest of all. If she ran, wouldn’t she have written something, planned something? The last thing she wrote was even crazier than everything else.

im more than a hole for these guys im more than a target for girls to spit on more than just this flesh waiting to rot away theres a bird here in this eggshell skull it needs to be free i want to fly
-m

Nothing about where she went. I put the diary away. The shadows had grown long in my room and the light streaming in from the window had darkened to a dim orange hue. Malinda’s diary set at my desk, pages upon pages of nonsense. It wouldn’t have surprised me that she was mental. There’s a lot of that in the community, broken people, broken families. We just plastered over the cracks and pretended that everything was okay. But the cracks were there and they yawned open under our lies and facades. And then Malinda Paige went missing. I stared at the diary for a long while, the orange light dimming until there was nothing in my room but shadows.

The following Monday, our town had the second of the suicides.

#

Jimmy was well liked. Pleasant looking. Did averagely well in school between band practice and running track. Not rich, but he still hung with the cooler kids. He worked at a pool cleaning company to make ends meet. Not that we had many pools up in the hills. Pools were a money thing and there was precious little of that around.
Pool cleaning means chemicals. Stuff that you need to wear gloves to handle. Not the stuff you chug. When they found him, the pool boy was spread eagled on dry land,drowned in his own blood. He didn’t die easy. He didn’t die slow. He lasted long enough to scrawl she sees me in his own blood. We spoke of this in hushed whispers in school, nobody wanting to link two tragedies.

There was something at the back of my mind, something about Jimmy and Shane. I found it when I got back after school. I found it and something else besides. Jimmy and Shane. Of course, the names were familiar. It was a small town. But I’d seen those two names together not long ago. They were both on Malinda’s scorecard.

There was something else inside that damned book when I flipped the pages. Something that I hadn’t seen when I’d read the diary cover to cover the day before. Past Malinda’s last cryptic message was a single meaningless phrase, repeated over and over.

five went up four came down

There was new writing in Malina’s diary. A book that had been in my room all this while. There was no mistaking the spaghetti scrawl of her handwriting. Or the little smudges across the paper from left to right. Malinda was left handed. Had been.
My stomach roiled at the sight of the text. Malinda Paige was missing. Maybe dead somewhere. Missing girls don’t come to good ends around here. And yet there was a fresh page of her handwriting in her diary. Had the words sprung forth from the paper, seeping out of the pristine white like an old photograph developing? Even worse was thinking that Malinda Paige had somehow been in my room, sitting at my table, penning those words herself. Impossible. I had to swallow twice and take in a huge, shuddering breath before the nausea passed.

I couldn’t help but think of Malinda Paige in the past tense. Something terrible must have happened to her. Broken though she was, she would not have left without that diary. I shivered at the sight of it, still open to that fresh page of text, the edges stained with brown cola from some cruel prank. I had to get rid of it, but it deserved more than simply being tossed into the trash. There had to be a way. Malinda was gone, but her family was still here. I had to give it back.

#

The Paige house was on the outskirts of town, where homes were within the reach of even the poorest in our town. It was better than having a home on wheels, but not by much. Paint was peeling off the walls. One of the front windows had been broken and boarded up instead of being fixed. A collection of dust and dead insects had piled up between the glass and the wood over the years.

I thumbed the doorbell twice. On the second time, the button got stuck and didn’t pop back out. I rapped on the thin wooden door hard enough to bruise my knuckles. Getting Malinda’s address hadn’t been easy. She’d not made any friends in school. In the end, I went up to the school office and said that she’d left stuff in her locker and I’d do the school a favour by bringing it straight to her home. The clerk at the office hesitated at giving me Malinda’s address but gave in eventually. It would have been easier than dealing with another piece of orphaned property.
My assault on the door was rewarded by a slow shuffle approaching. The door squealed open to reveal a stooped lady, her frizzy hair streaked through with grey.

“Mrs Paige?” I asked.

The woman gave a huge grin, revealing a set of yellowing teeth set at odd angles. “Yes, that’s me.”

“I’m Emm, I was a… friend of your daughter. I found something of hers in her locker and came over to drop it off.”

“Emm is such a lovely name. Is it short for Emma?”

I nodded and forced a smile. I hated the name. It was so old sounding. Mrs Paige stepped out of the way and gestured at the open door. “Please come in.”

I already had my fingers around the edge of the book, meaning to hand it over and for it to leave my life forever. But curiosity bit again. Mrs Paige stepped into her home, the bright light of day rendering the interior almost inky dark. I followed behind, too eager to solve the mystery of Malinda Paige. I wish that I hadn’t.

The cool of the house was a welcome change from the spring sun. It took a moment for my eyes to grow accustomed to the dim light. The home was sparsely furnished, a threadbare sofa, the arms scratched and disfigured. The TV was old, even by the modest standards of where we lived. The wallpaper curled away from the walls, revealing pocked plaster. Dust glinted as it drifted lazily in the stifling air.
It wasn’t the poverty that got to me. My family wasn’t rich. It was the fact that I wasn’t in a house. I was in a shrine. Every picture in the house was of a single subject. Malinda Paige. I felt the weight of her gaze from more than two dozen photographs, like the little footfalls of insects on my skin. Pictures hung on the walls, in frames on the tables. She was everywhere in that house. I shuddered and made my way towards the kitchen behind Mrs Paige.

“Have you been in contact with Malinda?” I asked the elder Paige, trying to shake my unease off by breaking the silence.

“No, but she’s not far. She’s never far from me. She’ll be back.” She gave me a lopsided grin, pulling a chair up by a dinner table in the kitchen. There were dark streaks of grease or worse down the back of the chair. I bit my lip and sat down.

“Did you report it to the Police?”

“Oh yes, had to be done. I’m sure she’s alright, she’s so clever and so strong. So hard for a little girl to grow up without a father you know. Emery, that’s the late Mr Paige, killed himself when she was only fourteen. Can’t say I missed him, he was a devil when he was a few drinks in. One day he beat me to within an inch of my life. I’m talking eyes so swollen I couldn’t even see. That day I guess all the bad just caught up with him all at once, so he sat here in the kitchen, had a beer and a cigarette and slit his throat from ear to ear.” She drew one long dirty fingernail across her throat, all the while wearing that off centre smile, delivering her monologue in flat tone, almost a recitation.

“Malinda was right in the room, too. Hiding in one of the cupboards like she always did when he started up with his fists. Poor dear. Oh, where are my manners, I need to get you a drink.”

Mrs Paige walked over to the fridge while I sat, rooted to the chair. She had related the account of her husband’s death with little more emotion that someone reading out a shopping list. It had been a mistake to come. Nothing about Malinda Paige made sense, perhaps the girl was mad, but she was also surrounded by madness. I felt the same lightness in my belly that one got on top of a roller coaster, just before the plunge.

The older lady plucked a can of Coke from the fridge and set it in front of me. The cheery red can bore a Christmas motif from two years before. It opened with a satisfying hiss. The can was warm, blood warm even though it had just come from the fridge. I took a sip. It was flat, even though I could have sworn it was fizzing a moment before. Everything about this house was wrong. Mrs Paige. The pictures. The furniture. The food.

Mrs Paige leaned in towards me, so close that I could smell her breath, sour and warm. She looked me in the eye.

“I don’t worry because I can still feel her out there. She sings me to sleep sometimes. Five went up, four came down. Five went up, four came down. Five went up, four came down.”

She repeated it over and over, an idiot litany. I had to leave. The legs of the chair scraped on the stained floor as I stood. Mrs Paige struck then, her hands as fast as snakes, fingers digging into the soft flesh of my forearm. She pulled herself closer to me, still chanting that strange couplet.

“Five went up, four came down.”

A thin trickle of blood leaked from one nostril. Her nails bit deep into my arm. I tugged backwards, but her thin frame masked a wiry strength I could not overcome. I was trapped.

“Five went up, four came down.”

Our noses were almost touching. Her eyes had a dazed look about them, as though they were focused on something far away. Her voice got louder and louder, until she was nearly screeching the same thing over and over.

“Five went up, four came down. Find me.”

With that, she let me go. I fell backwards into my chair so hard that it slid back several inches. My flailing arms had caught the can of Coke and sent a fan of the sweet drink across the table. Through it all, Mrs Paige just sat there, smiling her broken smile. I gathered my things and fled.

Find me. Not find my daughter. Find me. The Paige household was a faint outline in the distance, but words echoed in my head. Just who had I been speaking to? Malinda had grown up in a household where violence was as common and unpredictable as the storms we got in the mountains. She’d spent most of her time in school on drugs or with a growing number of young men. She was scarred, broken. Five people went up somewhere. Malinda. Shane. Jimmy. They were two of her favourites, according to her diary. There were two more above them in her list. Cliff. Lucas. Another pair of golden boys. Tall, sporty, just the way she liked them. It had to be the five of them. Things were falling together, piece by horrific piece.

But still nothing to take to the cops. Not good enough to speak to Cliff and Lucas. Mrs Paige was right. I had to find Malinda.

#

I spent that evening going through the diary over and over, until my eyes watered. Nothing. No clues could be gleaned from the mess of words. I didn’t even know how tired I was until sleep snuck up on me and stole my last waking moment. I’ll always remember that dream I had that night. I remember it better than the lunch I ate this afternoon.

I knew I was dreaming right away. I knew that from the extra weight on my hips and the extra bounce under my t-shirt. I wasn’t in my own body. There was a thundercloud in my head, dark with flashes of light. There was a desert under my tongue. I knew that I had already taken a little something to calm the voices. I was meeting Cliff today. I liked him more than the others. He had a car, maybe we could go in the woods, somewhere a little quieter than usual.

He led me to his car. There were three others there already. Lucas. Shane. Jimmy. Cliff pushed me into the car. One of the guys was on my left and the other on my right. They were already slick with sweat. Not from the weather, which was still cool. I could smell it off them. Fear? Excitement? The car filled with the musky, animal stink of it as they crowded me in. I smiled at them, the cotton wool between my ears not letting me do much else. The car was unnaturally quiet, none of the banter, none of the jokes. I wore a clown’s mask, my smile tight and unnatural. I looked to the left and the right. Lucas’ jaw was clenched tight, cords sticking out on his neck.

We were out of town, speeding up into the mountains. Rocks, trees whirred by in a blur of grey, brown and green. It could have been hours and it could have been minutes, but the car finally stopped. We were far from town, far from any other human being. They dragged me from the car and pushed me deep into the woods. I thought to run, to flee, but the pills had slowed my thoughts to a glacial pace. We were in a clearing. Strong hands gripped my arms; they didn’t need to. My limbs flailed with all the resolve of a pool noodle. I looked into Cliff’s eyes. Sweet, beautiful Cliff. Always my favourite. He had something dark in his hands. With a flick of his thumb, a bright blade sprang from its sheath.

#

It took me a full ten minutes to convince myself that I had been dreaming. My sheets were soggy with sweat and I had to rub the feeling back into my arms where Malinda had been held. She’d been taken up into the mountains. Five went up. She was still up there.

Her diary was open on my desk. Last I remembered, it had been in my lap before sleep took me.

FIND ME

It had been written in strokes so deep and savage that the paper had ripped under the pen. That familiar script, slanted and smeared in a way only a leftie would know. It couldn’t have been me, not even in my sleep. I’d been right handed all my life. She had been here. She wanted to be found. And under those bold words, a series of numbers. Coordinates. She’d given me coordinates.

#

Many things went through my mind as I searched for Malinda’s clearing. That I was stupid. That I was crazy. I’d been getting so close to the dead girl that I’d finally joined her in her madness. Did I actually believe her diary? That she was some kind of mind reader? Or something more? And yet I was trudging through the forest, halfway up the mountains surrounding the town, on nothing more a feeling in my gut and a dead girl’s diary.

But there was a clearing, just like I’d seen in my dream. In the centre of the clearing, there was a space where the rocks had been pushed aside and the grass was a little greener than the rest of the clearing. The rusted metal of my shovel bit into earth. It was softer than I expected. I’d found her.

The rich brown earth gave Malinda Paige up slowly, her pale flesh seeing the light of day for the first time in months. She should have been a worm eaten mess, a dried out husk. I wish she had been, so that I wouldn’t have had to see what the four of them had done to her. It wasn’t enough that she’d been violated. They’d done other terrible things to body as well. Her hands were gone, both lopped off at the wrist. Her face had seen the worst of it, empty pits were her eyes should have been, horrific damage done to her mouth. No dental records? Even through all that I knew her for who she was,

There was an ugly, black thing sticking out from her torso. It came free with a struggle, the dried blood giving way with a sound like a plaster coming free. This was it. I’d found Malinda Paige. Now I just had to tell the world.

#

I found Cliff leaning against my Dad’s car when I left the forest, his car just slightly behind mine. I thought to flee back into the safety of the woods, but the nights were bitterly cold and I would not have lasted.
He spoke first.

“I know why you’re out here, Emma.”

“Emm.” I said, instinctively.

He grimaced when I said that. “It’s not what you think it is. Lucas killed himself this afternoon.”

“Guilt will do that to a man. When’s your turn?” Perhaps the bravado would distract him. My heart was hammering away in my chest. There was no way past him.

“You don’t understand. We did what we had to. You know she was different, you wouldn’t be here otherwise. There wasn’t any other way to get here. Only four of us knew she came up here.”

“And you didn’t mean to kill her. Just have a little fun but it got out of hand?” I circled a little to the side, trying to judge the distance between the door and me. Cliff played defence for the football team. I couldn’t outrun him even with a fifty foot head start.

“We did what we had to. She wasn’t normal. She was sick in the head. Sometimes she’d talk about how she could hear other people’s voices in her head. You know, after we’d done it. She’d tell me about how the noise nearly drove her mad. But I think there was more to it than that. She didn’t just hear voices. She could could put whisper back. Put things in your head. Make you do things.” He pulled his t-shirt over his head, baring his toned torso. Overlayed on the smooth muscle was a network of pale scars and marks. I recognized the little circular mark of a cigarette burn.

“Look at this. She’d make us do it to ourselves, knives sometimes. Fire other times. And she’d watch and laugh while we did it. It was never enough for her. The sex. The pain. Not enough for us to do it to ourselves. She started wanting more. For us to hurt each other and worse.”

The funny thing is, for a second there, I believed him. The more he spoke, the more animated he got. I saw the fear in the whites of his eyes, the way his voice got higher and higher the more he spoke about Malinda. But he was crazy, just like she was. He was the only one of the four left, if Lucas was already dead. Nobody knew about Malinda Paige, except for him… and me. He wasn’t going to let me down the mountain. Malinda’s grave was big enough for two.

“I don’t even know if we finished the job. Shane was the one who took her eyes and he blew a hole in his head. Jimmy worked on her teeth and he swallowed bleach. Lucas took her hands so that there wouldn’t be fingerprints to work on. You know earlier today he put his arms into a woodchipper? You stand there and believe that’s a coincidence.”

I stared at him, watching the sweat roll down his neck, watching his fingers flex. He was wound up, a coiled spring twisted twisted to breaking point.

“Or it could be that the four of you were sick and crazy and a coward’s death is the only way out.”

“Don’t fuck around with me!” His shout bounced back from the surrounding trees. “She called you here too. Didn’t she? Don’t lie now. We both know it. How?”

There wasn’t a need to antagonise him. “Her diary. She’s been writing in it.”

“How can you be sure it isn’t you that’s writing? Imagine someone that could wear you like a glove. You know something, Emma?”

“Emm,” I said again.

“No. Emma. That’s how you introduced yourself last year in chemistry. You’ve never called yourself Emm. Malinda wasn’t just some girl. She’s not just that mess rotting in the ground up there. There’s something left of her. It got to three of us. It got to you. You’ve been too close to her.”

There was something in my pocket, digging against the flesh of my thigh. A slim block. Something that had been, until recently, sticking out of the chest of Malinda Paige. My fingers closed around it, found the little catch.

Cliff took a step towards me.

#

Cliff’s murder would be whispered about for years. They found him strung up in the woods, a bloody mess, ribbons of his skin dangling off him. The coroner said that the massive blood loss had killed him in the end. Which meant that he’d been alive all the way while someone methodically peeled him. There was a single suspect. A hit on the fingerprints left on the knife stuck in his chest. A girl that had gone missing the year before. Malinda Paige. Or at least that’s what the police thought they found. She’d made sure of that. She’d also made sure that Cliff had left a signed confession, telling about how five people had gone up and only four had come down.

There’s a merciful blank in my memory from that day. I came to in my own bed, clean and changed. There was only the faintest trace of blood under my fingernails. She’d been thorough but not thorough enough. Or maybe it was a reminder for me.

They searched the woods but never found Malinda’s body. If it were ever there in the first place. Her diary I buried in the dirt, without a marking. Life went on.
There are three ways the town remembers the story of Malinda Paige. They are all true. They are all lies.

Ask the Police. Malinda Paige was a normal girl. She was brought up to the mountains and raped. The four young men tried to kill her and thought they succeeded. But they didn’t. Guilt took them one by one until Malinda came back to finish the job and has been on the run ever since.

Ask the dead boys. Malinda Paige was a monster. She wormed her way into their skulls and whispered dark things in their minds until they hatched a plan to kill her. They thought they succeeded. They failed and the whispers continued and they died for it.

Ask me. Malinda Paige was something special. She found another girl, a lot like her, and told her story in the only way she knew how. I’d like to think that she would have wanted me to write everything down.

There’s another story. One which floats in the dark moments when I’m alone. Like when it’s just me and the murmur of the breeze and the thump of my heart beat at night. That the four of them couldn’t have hatched a plan without her knowing. That Malinda Paige was more than just a corpse up in the mountains that refused to rot. That she’d always had a plan, a way to get out and she’d tidied up all the loose ends. That she would never be far from me.

-Emm.

Credit To – straydog1980

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Knock Knock

February 6, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I bolted upright in the bed not sure what I expected to see, but knowing that something had startled me awake. Moonlight filtered in through the window and I shivered despite the unseasonably warm temperature. After a few moments I heard it; a soft tapping of fingers against glass. Slowly I turned my head to the window expecting to see some horrible creature lurking there with sharp fangs and terrible claws — but there was nothing. There wasn’t even wind to knock the branches against the window. Cautiously I slid out of the bed and looked out the window, feeling relieved to see there was nothing outside.

“Just hearing things.” I murmured coming back to the bed. I wasn’t used to sleeping alone but my partner was away on business. Surely it was just the change in routine startling me. Moments before getting into the bed I heard the tapping again, slightly louder this time; less hesitant. I spun around, sandy blond curls sticking to my suddenly sweaty brow. The window was clear. A still and empty sky allowed the full moon to illuminate the ground below revealing no one or thing outside.

This time a loud banging, behind me; llike fists pounding on glass trying to escape. Against my better judgement I crossed the bedroom to the bathroom, resting my hand against the warm wooden door before pushing gently. A bit of moonlight spilled into the room. Nothing different or odd, nothing jumping out but… I shivered again and leaned over to light the candle I knew would be to my left. The warm glow seemed much brighter then normal and I jumped when I caught my reflection.

“It’s just me…” I trailed off as the ‘me’ in the mirror raised it’s hand before flashing white fangs and shattering the glass.

Credit To – TinyBear

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