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The Little Wooden Box

November 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.8/10 (218 votes cast)

It was your standard blue collar work day—in at 9, work for eight hours, out by 5. My dad was on his way home to have a standard blue collar evening when something not-so-standard happened. Driving home from work, his car was hit by some douchebag pickup truck driver on the freeway trying to merge into the fast lane—he merged into my dad, instead. My dad’s car was sandwiched between this big-ass pickup truck and the concrete divider—it came out of the accident looking like a Picasso rendering of a meat grinder. My dad fared only slightly better: he broke several ribs, and his left arm looked like it had been run through said cubist meat grinder—the surgeons couldn’t save it. The doctor said my dad was lucky to have lost his left arm, since he’s right-handed. Lucky, the doctor said. How is it they all have such God-awful bedside manner?
My dad had to stay in the hospital a good two months—long enough to rack up a breathtaking amount of debt in the form of medical bills. When my dad finally got out, he was nowhere close to functional—he had a long road of physical therapy and routine hospital visits ahead of him before he could go back to work, assuming there’d even be a job left for him when he’d recovered. He was next to useless around the house; you’d never guess how much you have to use your off hand for, well, damn near everything. What this amounted to was a giant crock of shit for me, my mom, and my sister to deal with on a daily basis, to say nothing of how my dad must have felt: useless. Powerless. A burden to our family.
I’m not telling you all this to get sympathy—my family and I have had our fill of that, and it doesn’t do much for anyone. I’m telling you this so you understand why we were so grateful for it at first—the little wooden box.

My dad started seeing a psychiatrist about a month after being released from the hospital. He’s not much for getting mental help—one of those guys that seems to think people get fixed the same way cars do, and doesn’t understand why someone can’t just take a look under the hood and fix it themselves. But as he put it, he’d felt too shitty for too long, and had to do something about it. His doctor recommended the psychiatrist to him—about the only useful thing that doctor did. The psychiatrist, this dweeby guy with an equally dweeby Dr. Freud goatee, diagnosed my dad with “post-operative depression.” Not that terms like that tell you jack shit about what the person’s going through.
After a couple unproductive sessions, the psychiatrist decides to try something “unorthodox.” The psychiatrist takes out this little box made of cedar, pine, or some other light wood. It’s small—you could fit a dime-store book in there, but not much else—and mostly plain: some modest scrollwork in the corners, but little else in the way of decoration.
“Whenever you feel angry, or sad, or frustrated,” the psychiatrist says, “I want you to take some time to yourself, all right? What you’re going to do then is take this box, open it up, and stuff all the bad feelings inside. You keep doing that until you get all that icky stuff out, and when you’ve done that, you’re going to close that box, put it away, and you’re going to focus on getting better until you need the box again.”
My dad spent a good hour stomping and swearing when he got home from that session—lots of talk about pretentious medical professionals, wasted money, and some creative ideas for alternate places the psychiatrist could put his little wooden box. I half-expected my dad to take out his frustration on the box, and break it in two; once he was done ranting and raving, however, he just set it on a shelf in my parents’ room.

A week and a half after my dad got the little wooden box, my dad’s boss called the house. He told my dad that he had to let my dad go, and replace him—in plain terms, my dad was fired. Time is money, as the saying goes, and my dad was taking too much of both to recover. There was no screaming and cursing this time—getting fired took the fight right out of him.
After hanging up the phone, my dad locked himself in my parents’ room. My mom and sister tried to get him to come out and talk, but he was having none of it. I almost decided to help, but I figured my dad might have needed a little time to himself. It turns out I was right—after three hours, my dad comes out of there with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, and starts making mac and cheese for dinner. It was an absolute mess—he got flour and dry pasta on every flat surface of the kitchen, and the sauce was full of cheese chunks that he hadn’t been able to cut properly—but that smile never once left his face. And I’ll tell you what, that shitty mac and cheese was the best dinner I’ve ever had.
It was all thanks to that box—my dad sat down with that thing for three hours, dumped all his frustration into it, and came out of my parents’ room a changed man. After using the box, he wouldn’t get discouraged when his missing arm stopped him from doing something—he’d just come back at it with twice the effort, and eventually he’d get done what he wanted to get done. He went to therapy with a smile, and came back exhausted, but still smiling. When things got rough—when his job search wasn’t going well, or the medical bills got too expensive, even if he just had a hard time brushing his teeth—he locked himself in my parents’ room with that little box, and came out a couple hours later ready to take on the world again.
My family and I were grateful for that little wooden box. It was a godsend, when we needed one most. It’s not the nature of things to just magically get better, though—miracle wooden boxes aside.

It started with little bumps in the middle of the night a week or two after my dad used his little box for the first time. Unsettling, but not too worrisome; my sister and I talked about it a little, but when you’re talking about it in the middle of the day, you find easy explanations. Older houses crack and pop as they cool off with changes in the weather; these explanations seemed thin when I sat in bed listening to noises that sounded not at all like “cracks” and “pops,” but I hung in there, and soon they were more of an annoyance than anything else. If it had stopped there, I might have contented myself with that easy explanation.
It did not stop there, however. Bits of our house would go from warm to freezing in seconds; I’d never known our house to be drafty, so when my mom and sister chalked it up to seams in the house causing drafts, I had a harder time buying it.
Now, a little about me: I’m a curious person. I see something I don’t understand, I stare at it, think about it, poke it and prod it, until I do. I’m not going to start jumping at shadows for no goddamn reason. But if it walks and talks like a duck…
So, I did a little research. Our house was around a long time before we moved in, so I figured there might be an unpleasant bit of history that could shed some light on what was going on. I went the whole nine—went to the courthouse to get the original permit, asked around at the city planning department, checked newspapers. I expected to find an old owner who died tragically, or maybe a dysfunctional family that might have left some bad blood in the house.
Instead, I found nothing. Nothing especially dark, at least, or even out of the ordinary; just a list of previous tenants, and an old article about my neighborhood’s construction. Skeptic that I am, I found myself a little disappointed. Everyone loves a good ghost story.

I let the matter sit for another week or two. My curiosity had not been satisfied, however—and the bumps in the night, the footsteps where there shouldn’t have been any, didn’t let up. I was forced to consider a possibility I would have preferred to ignore—the little wooden box. I was sure it had nothing to do with anything, but I had a hard time convincing myself that it was a coincidence that everything started happening after my dad brought it home.
I called up my dad’s psychologist. Hearing that my dad was putting the box to good use put him right over the moon; after he settled down a little, I asked him about the box. I half expected to hear that he bought it off some seedy vendor, or found it in the basement of an old mansion; I was disappointed to hear the profoundly mundane explanation that it was a woodworking project given to him by his nephew.
Before I called it quits on my little investigation, I wanted to take a look at the box itself. I doubted I’d find anything, but if I didn’t take a look, it would eat at me until I did. My sister said I shouldn’t—it was an invasion of my dad’s privacy, she said—but I figured what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. So when my mom took my dad to therapy one day, I decided to check the little box out.
The box wasn’t hidden, or anywhere out of reach—just sitting on my dad’s bedside table. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, exactly; I just wanted to look at it, if nothing else. Hold it in my hands, see if I felt any kind of vibe coming off of it.
I picked it up, and was immediately struck by its weight. The wood wasn’t heavy—I remembered my dad waving it around after he first brought it home like it was nothing—but the box felt dense, somehow. I tilted the box in my hands—nothing inside shifted or rolled around as the box moved, though. Attempting to curb my curiosity a little—I couldn’t completely deny that I was snooping on something personal of my dad’s—I ran my hands over the scrollwork on the edges of the box, feeling the uneven finish along the sides. There’s only so much you can do with an empty box, however, so I decided to indulge my curiosity a little more, and open it.
I had barely managed to open it a crack before I heard car doors closing—my parents were home. I hurried to close it and set it back on its table, and threw it into the wall by accident; it seemed half as heavy as it had before, though I had probably just adjusted to its weight. Setting the box down more carefully, I noticed an odd odor in the air—whatever was in the box smelled like burnt motor oil. I turned on the fan in my parents’ room, hoping it would take care of the smell. I dashed into my room as the front door opened, flopped on my bed, and opened up a book. My parents said hi as they headed back to their room, and closed their door. Fifteen minutes passed without incident—I decided I was probably in the clear, and breathed a sigh of relief.

That night—maybe early the next morning—I was awakened by an odd noise. These were not new at this point, but I felt especially uneasy for some reason. I listened for a moment, hoping I could identify it as something 100% normal. I was somewhat relieved when I recognized it: TV static. Not wanting to add a high electric bill to my parents’ long list of worries, I willed myself to shake off my lingering anxiousness, and get up to go to the family room and turn it off.
Walking into the living room, I saw a figure sitting in a chair in front of the TV—my dad, silhouetted by the static the TV was playing. I asked my dad what he’s doing watching static in the middle of the night. For a moment, he didn’t answer; then, in a tired voice I recognized from the first days after he came home from the hospital, he told me to go back to sleep, and stop bothering him. He picked the remote up off the end table to the left of the chair, and turned down the TV a little.
I was more than a little curious about the sudden change in his mood from the past few days, but decided it would be best not to push the issue, and went back to my room. As I got into bed, something bizarre occurred to me—when my dad grabbed the remote, I didn’t see his shoulders move to reach across to his left. I dismissed it as my half-sleeping brain playing tricks on me, and tried to go back to sleep.

As my sister and I got ready for school the next morning, my dad emerged from my parents’ room sleepy-eyed and yawning. My sister asked him if he slept well; he said no, he’d had trouble sleeping. I told him that looking at TV static in the middle of the night wasn’t likely to help a bout of insomnia—maybe not the greatest thing to joke about, but I get pissy when I don’t get enough sleep.
My dad looked at me all confused. He asked what the hell I was talking about; I asked him what the hell he was talking about. Again, tact is not my strong suit when I’m tired. This carried on for a minute or two before my mom told us both to knock it off. When I’d cooled off a little, it occurred to me that my dad had seemed genuinely confused by my question—he didn’t remember me finding him in front of the TV last night. Maybe it was a weird side effect of the billion-and-one meds he was on.

I thought nothing more of it until the week afterward, when I came home to find my sister having an argument with my dad. She was complaining that he had yelled at her from our parents’ room to stop making so much noise when she got home; my dad insisted he’d been napping for hours, and she was imagining things. When I walked into the family room, my dad stormed out, complaining about having to deal with this shit after his box broke.
I asked him what was wrong with the box. I tried not to appear nervous, remembering my clumsy handling of it while my mom and dad were away the previous week. My dad said one of the hinges on it was broken, and it wouldn’t close all the way. I offered to try to fix the hinge; my dad just about lost his shit, threatening to ground me for half a year if I touched his box.
We all stood glaring at each other for a minute before my dad sighed and left the room. He shut himself in my parents’ room, probably to use the box. My sister and I decided to focus on our homework until our dad came out. A couple hours later, he emerged from my parents’ room shuffling his feet and acting sorry. He apologized for yelling at us; he still didn’t remember hollering at my sister about making noise, but he apologized for it, anyway. We said it was okay, and went back to our homework.

Not wanting to add to the increasing amount of eerie shit going on at our house, we tried again to find easy explanations. People sometimes get forgetful as they age—hell, I can barely keep my own schedule straight, and I’m supposed to be in the prime of my life. A guy in his mid-forties, with all kinds of drugs with unpronounceable names pumping through him all day? Things will get forgotten, and that’s likely to make a person a little frustrated—perfectly natural. Perfectly normal.
This is what my mom told me and my sister when we talked to her about dad forgetting things we’d all seen or heard him doing. Neither of us believed it, and our mom knew it; our mom didn’t believe it, and we knew it. But that little box was what kept our dad going; none of us wanted things to go back to the days before the box, so none of us called anyone else out on our little merry-go-round of denial.
These slips of memory got increasingly hard to ignore, and were never pleasant—it was always my dad yelling at someone, or stomping around upstairs while the rest of us were cooking dinner, or watching TV. We did our best not to point out these strange things—we talked about it amongst ourselves, but never in front of our dad.
My dad isn’t stupid, though. He could tell that we were keeping things from him—try as we might, it was too difficult to know what he would and wouldn’t remember, and we might occasionally let something slip. When this happened—when any of us received that blank stare that meant we’d just mentioned something he didn’t remember—we did our best to change the subject, and keep from bringing it up again.
My dad noticed when this happened, and that pissed him off royal—I guess that’s where I get my aggressive curiosity. This meant more and more time spent alone with the box to calm himself down. As my dad used the box more and more, however, his memory slips became more and more frequent—he would forget things more and more often, and his mood during these slips would get worse and worse. What started as irritability turned into rage—and eventually, violence.
Late one night, my sister woke up to get herself a midnight snack, and found our dad standing in the middle of the kitchen with all the lights out, staring out the window into the backyard. She asked him what he was doing; he didn’t say anything. She told him to stop scaring her, and go back to bed. My dad still didn’t say anything; instead, he took a pan from the sink, and threw it at her. Thankfully, my sister was able to dodge it and run back to her room, where she cried herself to sleep. Naturally, my dad remembered nothing in the morning.
That’s where I drew the line. I understood wanting to be considerate, and giving my dad some leeway on his road to recovery. But that shit was inexcusable, and my family deserved better than this Jekyll and Hyde bullshit—the next time my dad got into one of his moods, I’d call him on it. It would get ugly, but it needed to be done.

I figured I wouldn’t have to wait long—I figured right. The night after I decided I needed to level with my dad about everything, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of static from the TV. This would be the third time this month I’d find my dad sitting in the dark in the living room, staring at a dead channel on TV. Fighting a growing sense of unease at having to confront my dad, I got up and went downstairs to the family room.
I found him just as I had before: sitting in darkness and silence apart from the static from the TV. By way of greeting, I told him he would have trouble getting sleep staring at the TV all night. He told me to mind my own goddamn business and go back to bed; that sent my politeness right out the window. I told him he had to cut this shit out—he was scaring the hell out of my mom and sister with his behavior, and it was tearing our family apart. He wasn’t doing himself any favors, either—he just ended up angrier, and was relying on that little box more and more. I told him he had to end the vicious circle here, and talk about what was bothering him, like an adult.
My dad was silent for a moment. I nearly yelled at him to just say something—anything—when I noticed his shoulders heaving. I thought he might’ve started crying before I heard it—he was laughing. The old bastard was laughing at me.
I told him that of all the reactions he should have to what I’d told him, laughter was the least appropriate. My dad got ahold of himself and said I should go get his box for him—we could talk after he spent a little time with it. I figured he was probably stalling, but I went to grab the box anyway. That laugh had severely unnerved me, and I wanted to get out of the room as soon as possible.
I walked back up the stairs, and opened my parents’ door as quietly as I could. My mom is a pretty heavy sleeper—so is my dad, when he’s actually sleeping—but I didn’t want to be careless and wake her up on accident. My eyes hadn’t quite adjusted to the dark; not wanting to bash my toes on the furniture in my parents’ room, I turned on my phone and used the screen for minimal light. I aimed the weak light at the nightstand, and was surprised to see the box with its lid wide open. I walked closer and was hit with a strong odor—burnt motor oil. I moved to cover my mouth, and accidentally shined the phone light on my mom—and my dad.
They are both in bed, sleeping. My dad stirs, and mutters something as he rolls over. I stare at my sleeping parents, uncomprehending. I start backing out of the room, shaking my head as if I can make sense of this mess with mindless denial.
Backing out of the room, I bump into something behind me. I turn around and I’m greeted with a nightmare version of my dad. His eyes are bloodshot and glaring at me in abject rage, but they are also watery, leaking tears down his contorted face. His mouth is twisted in a grimace of pain—no, of anguish. I feel feverish heat rolling off of him, and I’m overwhelmed with waves of horrible feelings—anger, depression, pain, exhaustion, it all washes over me and I am paralyzed by it all and I can do nothing but gape at this warped twin of my dad.
Before I can begin to process the horror standing in front of me, the thing wearing my dad’s face pushes me. I fall down the stairs as it looks at me with that horrible mixture of everything awful that a human being can feel. I hit the bottom of the stairs hard enough to knock the wind out of me; I try to yell for my parents, but I can’t get anything louder than a wheeze out.
I look around to find something to grab onto and pull myself up. Before I can find anything, I feel myself being lifted by the throat. Already short of breath, I see dark spots appear before my eyes; before my vision fades completely, I see my nightmare-dad’s twisted face leering at me as he lifts me in the air with his left arm.
His left arm. I look again at the arm that shouldn’t be there, and see blackened, shriveled skin—what little flesh it had was hanging off in decaying chunks, and bone showed through gaps in the skin. My stomach heaves to no avail as my throat is crushed, and my lungs burn.
As I lose consciousness, a final disturbing thought fires through my dying mind. The thing holding me by the throat—this vision of rage and agony and misery that’s been haunting my family—I set it free. You don’t need to die to leave a ghost—you cram enough suffering into one place, force it from your head and into a plain wooden box for someone to open and unleash on the world, and you’ll get a tormented spirit as surely as if you’d died a tragic death. Looking at the thing one last time, its face contorted into a mask of misery as it holds me by the throat, I have just enough time to pray that my mom and sister don’t have to learn this the hard way.

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Grandpa’s Hand

November 19, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I remember the first time I ever saw Grandpa’s hand…I was a little kid at the time, and I didn’t know the story behind it. Nobody did, as I found out. It was…just a skeleton hand he’d picked up somewhere.

When I first saw it, of course, I was frightened. I’d never seen a skeleton before, at least not in person. And this was a human hand, just sitting in a box among all of our old stuff. When I’d asked my mom about it, she told me it was Grandpa’s. I, of course, being a little kid, was horrified, assuming she meant it had actually been part of Grandpa’s body. Why would we keep part of Grandpa?

Grandpa Brown…he was on my mom’s side of the family. He died long before I was even born. I’d been told this before, so it was easy for me to think it was actually his bony old hand sitting in that box.

“No, no, honey,” my mom exclaimed, as I panicked like any ordinary child would. “It’s not actually his hand. He just found it someplace and brought it home with him.”

Naturally, I was confused. Why would anybody just…pick up an old hand and take it home? I asked this, and my mom shrugged.

“He just thought it was cool,” she replied casually. I wrinkled up my little nose, put off by the thought of somebody thinking it would be cool to keep someone else’s bones around their house.

As I grew, I stopped worrying about the hand so much. It became a distant thought in the back of my head, and as the days and months and years went by, I actually started to think it was kind of cool, too. Just something that comes with age, I guess.

After a while, we started showing it off. We kept it in a safe place, of course – it was old, and only held together by wires, and it was already missing a thumb bone. I’d always wondered why that one bone was missing, but nobody else seemed to know, either. My parents always told me it was just missing when Grandpa had found it. I would think sometimes, about what would cause someone to lose just one little bone from their hand. I eventually stopped worrying about it; it probably just got separated from the rest of the bones in the hand at some point. Washed away by water or blown off into the distance by wind, probably. Or maybe it was still buried, deep in the ground around where Grandpa had originally found the hand. In any case, it wasn’t here. It was part of what made the hand cool, though. It gave it character, and made it different and interesting.

As I began to find it cool, I started getting the same weird kick out of telling people who asked about it that it was my grandpa’s hand. I finally understood, as a teenager, why my parents and sister always said it that way when company would see it and ask about it. It was silly, but it was a fun, harmless way to mess with people the first time they’d come over and see the hand hanging up on a wall or sitting on a shelf.

“Ugh…where’d that hand come from?” They’d ask. And one of us would always grin and say…

“Oh, that? That’s our Grandpa’s hand.”

Of course, that would get weird looks, and startled “are you serious??” responses. Then the family would share a laugh and one of us would explain that it was just one he’d discovered one day and decided to keep. Everyone else started thinking it was cool, too.

There was one thing, though…I always got a weird feeling around the hand. It was kind of creepy, having a human hand around, and I’d think back to when I was a kid and I first saw it. I didn’t like that it was always out in the open, which was why I was secretly glad when my older sister decided to make a shadow box for us to keep it in. It was a nice box, too – black, velveteen fabric lining the back, clear, sturdy glass, nice, dark-stained wood, and even a little golden latch to keep it closed up so the hand wouldn’t get dusty. I especially liked the fact that it had a latch; something about being able to make sure the box stayed closed made me feel…more comfortable. My only regret, especially after what would happen down the road, is that it never had a lock on it.

You see, I started…noticing things, a few months back. Things that probably should have raised more questions than they did at the time.

I began noticing odd noises, first off. Subtle things, really. Light scratchings and taps that most people would write off as normal, background house sounds. Things shifting and settling. It helped that we had dogs, too; of course someone with dogs in their home would think of random taps and scratching sounds as simply being the dogs’ nails as they walked around the house. I usually did, too. But sometimes, late at night, when I knew all of our dogs were asleep, curled up next to my dad in his bed, I’d hear the noises, and they’d seem much too close to me. I’d look around, and of course see nothing.

As time passed, though…the noises started changing. I’d hear a sort of grating sound, like someone pushing on something that wasn’t willing to move. Sometimes I’d hear something like wood splintering, but there was never any sign of anything being broken, no little shards of busted wood around any of the furniture or doors. I figured it was my imagination; I had a habit of playing horror games or listening to readings of scary stories late at night, even though I should have known better. But what fun are those kinds of things if you don’t do them in the right atmosphere? So I ignored most of it, occasionally getting a little freaked out, but otherwise knowing it was probably nothing.

Every once in a while, I’d be helping with cleaning, and feel compelled to clean the shadow box. I’d wipe the glass off with a paper towel soaked in some window cleaner, rub down the wooden outsides with furniture polish, all that good stuff. And sometimes, after I was done…I’d look at the hand, inside the box. I’d appreciate the structure of it, the cool, clean white bones held together by sturdy metal wires. It still kinda creeped me out, knowing it was just some poor person’s disembodied hand hanging on our wall, but I knew it was just a hand.

I started working nights, which meant I had to stay up on my nights off, so I wouldn’t mess up my sleeping schedule. This usually meant sitting up in a comfy chair, messing around online until the break of dawn, then going downstairs to the basement, where I slept during that time so that the light and noise of the daytime wouldn’t disturb my rest.

That was when things started getting really weird. Everyone knows basements are already inherently creepy. The darkness, the cool, insulated air, the dull, gray walls…and the unnatural feeling of being underground, in a silent room. I got used to it, for the most part, but it sure made the odd noises stand out more. Sometimes I’d get so creeped out by them that I’d be unable to sleep anymore and I’d just move upstairs, even at the risk of not sleeping as well. As though I’d get any decent sleep feeling creeped out, anyway…

Sometimes, when I was lying in my bed down there, just thinking as I tried to fall asleep – or go back to sleep, after getting some water or going to the bathroom – I’d hear the tapping again. It sounded louder, down in that eerily quiet basement room. Of course with my habit of doing late-night creepypasta binges, or playing survival horror games for hours before bed, I would get the absolute worst pictures in my mind when hearing the soft scratching sounds around me. But it always turned out to be innocent noises. At least, at first, it did.

Then came the times when I’d feel something pulling at my blankets. Of course I’d tug on them lightly, and they’d come unstuck from the bed frame easily. But sometimes, I could swear they would stick for a moment, hanging down below the frame and going tight as I jerked at them, like someone was holding the other end.

“It’s just my imagination,” I’d tell myself, finally pulling the covers free and adjusting them over myself as I lay back down. “I’ve been listening to too many scary stories. I need to calm down.”

But every so often, after I’d free my covers, things would be different. Instead of simply curling up, giggling at my own silly imaginings, I’d start to drift off…and suddenly, I would feel something. It felt vaguely like something was touching me. Usually on my arm, sometimes one of my feet. It was never a grabbing sensation, just an odd, light touch. Like something just barely making contact, lightly, on my body. After I would notice it and shift the offended body part a bit, the feeling would usually subside. This went on for months, and I never minded it that much, aside from getting chills now and then.

But then, it would start coming back every so often. I’d feel that light touch, shift my arm, and feel fine. Then, just as sleep started to claim me again…the feeling would return. Sometimes, I’d even glance at the part of myself that felt the touch, but for the most part there was never anything there. I did catch, once in a great while, a small streak of white as I glanced away, though. But then again, my blankets had white on them. There was one that was even fluffy, so it had a textured look to it even in the dark of the basement. So I wasn’t too concerned.

Not until the noises and the touching feelings started happening together, anyway. I’d lie in my bed, cozy and secure, when suddenly…

Tap…tap tap tap tap…scrrrsh…scrrrsh…

Then a cold, light pressure on my arm or leg. I’d look…and see nothing.

Scrrrrrrsh…there it would go again…the sound of something small dragging across the carpet. I’d glance hesitantly to the floor near my bed…still no sign of anything unusual.

And so it would go until I got too anxious and moved upstairs. Tap, scrrrrsh, touch, glance…nothing… This would happen so rarely that I never thought much of it until the next time it happened. I’d catch those little, moving glimpses of whiteness in the corners of my eyes each time, but there never seemed to be anything there. It’d happen while I was up late, too, on my nights off. Sitting in my chair, I’d hear the noises, but strangely, the feeling of being touched never showed up when I was sitting up alert in my chair. But still, that ever-present tapping, that eerie scooting, dragging sound…These things persisted, stopping anytime I would pause to look around. But I couldn’t see anything. Every time, a quiet, innocent house around me, and nothing more.

Until one night. I got up to get something to snack on, on a night off. I’d been on another horror game binge, and thus was feeling pretty tense. I got my snack and hurried back to my chair. As I sat down, I caught a small glint in the other room. Looking over, I saw what looked like…the door to the shadow box…hanging open… Reflecting the light from the nearby computer screen, it cast an odd light as it hung there. I of course went over, and reflexively closed it. I turned back toward my seat, ready to resume gaming, and froze.

Where was the hand…? I looked back inside the box, and for a moment my blood ran cold. It wasn’t there…and it was nowhere else to be seen. I looked around, just in case, thinking maybe it had fallen out somehow. The door was open, after all, and the latch wasn’t locked because it had never had a lock. Maybe, I thought, the hand came loose from the backing, fell, and knocked the door open.

But there was no spooky skeletal hand on the floor. Nor anywhere else in the room. I took a deep breath, convincing myself that I was just psyching myself out.

“Too many scary games in one night…” I told myself. As if a bony hand with no muscles or nerves would be able to move. I was being so silly. I convinced myself that it was nothing, that one of my parents had taken it out to clean it or fix something on it. It was old, after all. We didn’t even know how long Grandpa had it before we’d gotten it. It may have started breaking up after an unknown number of years hanging on a wall. I went back to my chair and settled in, content in the explanation I’d given myself.

That was when I heard it.

Scrrrrsh…scrrrrrrsh…scrrrrsh…tap…tap tap…tap…tap…scrrrrsh…

I shivered, not daring to look around this time. I saved my game file on Dead Space 2 and closed it, feeling it was clearly time for a break if I was hearing noises. It was just the tension of having been immersed in the game, after all. Nothing a good dose of funny videos wouldn’t cure. I opened up Youtube, and typed in a search for one of my favorite funny Let’s Play-ers. I’d finally started relaxing, when I felt that cold, light touch…right on the edge of my right forearm. All that was beside my chair was a small end table, where I usually set my laptop when I was up doing something. There couldn’t be anything there, and the dogs would be barking up a storm if someone had broken in.

But, against my better judgement…I took a quick glance at the table next to me, expecting to see, as usual, nothing.

There, resting against the arm of the chair, leaning with the bottom of its palm against the cold, wooden end table…was Grandpa’s hand. Its bony little fingers sat on my skin, chilling me down to my bones. I don’t know how long I sat there, just staring in horror at the pale, twitching hand. I felt like it was testing me…waiting to see if I would panic.

All I remember after that is a clatter, as my laptop was tossed off my lap and hit the floor. My arm swung up, and a crack resounded from the far wall, where the hand must have hit after I sent it flying across the room. I curled up on my chair, pulling every body part that would fit on the chair as close as possible, trying to keep myself out of reach. I looked around frantically, trying to see where the hand had landed. It was nowhere in sight.

I didn’t sleep well that week…or the rest of the month. I’d stay awake until daylight, and curl up in a tight ball on my bed when I finally had to sleep. The sounds changed again. There was clicking, now. The odd, hollow clicking of bones bumping against each other. Strange, rusty creaking, like old metal trying to bend. I knew what it was…It was Grandpa’s hand. The cracking and clicking were from it clenching itself, tapping angrily and impatiently on things as it moved. The creaking was the old, metal wire that bound the bones together, squealing in protest when the hand moved.

If I’d only known what it was that hand wanted…I would have tried to find the hand, would have done my best to get rid of it. I’d have smashed it, sold it, thrown it into the road where it would be run over, anything to make it go away before it could hurt someone.

It was months later, when something finally happened again. By then, I’d almost forgotten the hand. The noises had even stopped, something for which I was extremely grateful. I’d moved on to another job by then – surprisingly, not due to being fired for falling asleep at work, as you might think. No, it was just life, moving forward.

Anyway…There was one night, after things had calmed down, that I started hearing something again. The fear and panic flared up, and I immediately curled close in my chair, pressing myself against the back of it. I looked around frantically…and saw one of my dogs, Zoey, walking out from my dad’s bedroom. I relaxed, laughing at myself a little. I’d actually thought- no, that would be silly.

See, it had been so long, that I’d actually convinced myself the whole thing with the hand finally letting me see it…finally…grabbing me…had all been a really vivid dream, or a creepypasta I’d gotten a little too immersed in. I guess I just really didn’t want to believe it had been real. It was too unnatural. Too freaky.

Assured that it was just my dog going out to the yard, I settled back down. I had just gotten back into the video I’d been watching, when Zoey started barking. Sighing, annoyed, I went outside to see what had her bothered. I figured it was nothing; it was probably a far-off sound only she could hear, or our neighbors being up way too late making noise, like they sometimes did. And Zoey always had a habit of barking non-stop at things, once she got going. So I wasn’t surprised that even as I called out to her to stop and come inside, she didn’t. I went out to where she was, looking around with a flashlight to see if anything was there.

Something was there, all right.

The hand was back. It had a hold of Zoey, trying to pull her closer. Its long, sharp fingertips dug into the material of her collar, jerking every few seconds, fighting her for control. I shook myself free of the initial shock of seeing it again, of realizing it was real. I kicked it, as hard as I could, careful not to hit Zoey by mistake. I tried to grab Zoey, to carry her inside and lock everything that led to the outside world.

She bit me. Hard. She’d been really, really scared by that hand, and I didn’t blame her. All the same, it freaked me out when I realized that she’d taken off the end piece of my thumb. I tried to get it back, ignoring the pain and shock, ignoring the blood coming out in sharp little spurts from my now-severed fingertip. But she ran off into the darkness of the backyard, still terrified.

I tried to find her. But she’d hidden somewhere, and I was too freaked out to worry about it. I ran inside, woke up my dad, told him Zoey had been scared by…something…I wouldn’t tell him what it was. I showed him my hand, and we went immediately to the hospital to get it looked at and fixed up as much as possible. I ended up having to get used to being a little less handy – please pardon the pun – because we never found the thumb.

We did find Zoey, though. In the yard, the next morning. But she wasn’t alive.

It was horrible…I had always been closest to Zoey, out of all the dogs we’d had. So of course the sight gave me a horrible reaction. I got sick, I cried hysterically, I even fell to my knees next to what was left of her.

Her stomach had been…clawed open. It looked like something had ripped her belly open in a frenzy, looking for something inside her.

We took Zoey’s body to the vet. He did an autopsy, looking in through the ready-made opening in her gut. It was really bad, and I had to stay home to avoid freaking out again. There wasn’t anything inside, and some part of me knew there wouldn’t be. After all, I knew what had done it. I knew what it wanted, now…All the vet found were weird, dull claw marks inside the stomach lining, inside her skin around her organs…even in her throat. Her stomach and esophagus had been shredded, but nothing else was able to tell us what exactly had happened. When my parents came home with the news, it took all I had not to burst into tears. Especially later, when I was outside and saw something I hadn’t noticed before…a pile of skin and a little blood, and a fingernail with little scratches in it.

I’d had enough. Scaring me was one thing. Touching me was bad enough. But that hand had killed my dog…the one I’d bonded most with out of all of our dogs. I hated that hand, now. And I vowed that if I ever found it, I was going to crush it. I started keeping heavy objects under my bed, on my side table, on the end table near my bed. I was determined to smash the bones on that evil thing if it ever came near me again.

I did see it again, after a long time. It was when I woke up, one night, feeling something near me. I opened my eyes slowly and looked straight ahead.

It was right there…on the table next to my bed, right next to my pillow. And it looked different, now…

It had a smooth, clean new thumb bone, where the missing one would have been. It wasn’t entirely clean; there were traces of pink where the blood had dried on, and dirt from the hand moving around outside in the lawn. As soon as I saw it, I reached for the hammer I’d hidden under my pillow, moving slowly so I wouldn’t alert the hand. Zoey would have vengeance tonight. I’d make sure of it…

I remember thinking one other thing, as I pulled out the hammer and took aim.

I remember wondering…if maybe a replacement for its missing thumb wasn’t all Grandpa’s hand wanted, after all…

Credit: Alicia Hawkins

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The Old Man on the Tape

October 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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In autumn 2003, my first year studying at Cambridge University, a rumour began circulating about a VHS tape that was causing students to go insane. Nobody knew who had first found the tape, or where they had found it, but the stories started in October, when a history student allegedly stopped talking altogether after watching it. Her roommate claims that she came into the dorm room one evening to find her sitting on her bed pointing at the VHS player, her eyes wide and her lips stretched into an unnatural smile. When the girl didn’t respond to her even after half an hour, the roommate was sufficiently unnerved to call the police. The history student had apparently suffered intense mental trauma, and had lost her ability to speak.

Following this incident, the tape was passed around among students. I never actually knew the history student or the roommate who found the tape. Actually I never heard of the incident reported in any official newspapers. But I have a feeling the tape was real. I heard the stories, and I knew other people who had watched it. Some of it, at least.

Those who watched it always gave the same description of what was on it. The tape contained a video that was about an hour long. The footage would begin inside a dimly-lit room, perhaps a cellar. It showed a man sitting on a wooden chair in the centre of the room, facing away from the camera so that you could only see his back and the back of his head, which was covered by a hood. He appeared to be wearing dark robes, like a priest, and looked thin and frail. A mirror was placed against the wall he was facing, and angled so that his face could be seen in the video. It was an old man’s face, perhaps around seventy years old, and it wore a coldly serious expression.

Quite a few people turned it off at this point. They claimed it already made them feel uneasy. The recording was monochromatic, grainy, and appeared to be old, judging by the style of the mirror and chair, the dark stone walls of the room, and the fact that the lighting was flickering – as if the room were lit by candles. Some people said it looked like it was from the fifties, some said it looked older, and others said it was more recent but was recorded so that it looked old.

Anyway, shortly after the beginning of the video, the old man would begin to speak. The strange thing was that nobody was sure what language he was speaking. The audio was distorted, but occasionally you could hear clearly. Some people thought he was speaking a dialect of English, or an archaic form of English, because they could make out some words. They also described him as having a croaky voice, and an unusual accent.

A lot of people who watched that far into it got the impression that he was giving a sermon, or a lecture. One student I spoke to said that he felt convinced by the man’s words, even though he had no idea what he was talking about. It was as if it had some kind of hypnotic effect on him. More disturbingly, most who watched it reported hearing laughter in the background. Some described hearing noises like a baby crying. The noises ranged from being faint, to sounding as though they were in the same room.

At the thirteenth minute of the video the man would stop talking, as if he had finished saying what he had to say, and for the first time, his expression would change. He would smile – a broad-lipped, wide-eyed, emotionless smile. Very few people continued to watch beyond this. This moment in the video was reported to be extremely disturbing, for some unknown reason. Many of the viewers feared that they would be scarred for life by the image of the old man smiling into the mirror.

After a few seconds, the man, still smiling, begins to slowly turn his head to face the camera – that’s as much as I know of what follows. Nobody who carried on watching ever went into further detail.

When I asked one student why she wouldn’t tell me what came after, she went so pale that it was frightening just to look at her.

What I do know is that one student who did watch further, previously a grounded atheist, stopped attending his lectures. They found him a week later, curled up, hiding in a church, shivering with fever and crying that he didn’t want to go to hell.

The old man in the footage was never identified. Nor was the language he was speaking recognised by any of the professors of languages and linguistics at the university. But it was definitely not any form of English. The room with the mirror could have been anywhere in the world.

It’s still a mystery what happened to the tape in the end. Just as it appeared out of nowhere, it disappeared. After a few months the hype died down. I haven’t spoken to anyone about it since I finished university.

Perhaps it’s still there right now, hidden somewhere in the archives of a college library, or under a bed in an empty dorm room. Perhaps it’s in a landfill site somewhere faraway.
Perhaps someone destroyed it a long time ago.

I hope someone destroyed it.

I think there was something on that tape that doesn’t belong in this world.

Something frightening.

Something evil.

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The Haunted Game Boy Camera

October 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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“I’ll never ask for anything else again, I swear, Mom!”

As kids, we’ve all said it at one point. We find something that seems the most amazing item in the world and we just have to have it, no matter what. For me, it was the newest handheld, a Game Boy Color. It was the most beautiful thing to a six year old, especially when all my friends were getting theirs. Growing up with four brothers and sisters and not especially well off, my parents did their best, but we struggled to get by most of the time. They did their best to give us comforts and toys, but new electronics were out of the question. Hell, we were still working off an old television that still used rabbit ears. I was the youngest of the five of us, so that meant a lot of hand me downs as well. I was used to it, but still held some resentment to my siblings and of course, still begged for the Game Boy Color. They said they would do their best, bless their hearts.

Shortly after my birthday, my mom and dad presented me with a box. I was surprised, but they said they had found something they knew I wanted very badly and I had been good. My heart raced with excitement as I tore into the box, but sank into the pit of my stomach. It was not a Game Boy Color. This poor excuse for a handheld was a badly abused original Game Boy. It looked like it had been bitten and melted by something in the corners, as well as stained. Up on top, a strange camera stuck out of the cartridge inserted inside. When I picked it up, it read Game Boy Camera. They’d somehow managed to find it with the crappy little printer as well, complete with fading printer paper.

“You see? Daddy and I found it at a garage sale, it’s exactly the kind you wanted. It even has a cool little camera to take pictures!” They said, far more excited than I was.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that this was the first thing that had ever been given to me first and it still was someone’s used piece of junk, or that they had no actual idea what I had wanted, or maybe they had and just decided it was too much so a replacement would suffice and I’d never know the difference, but in my utter disappointment, I threw the worst tantrum I’d had since I was a toddler. I tossed the box on the ground and cried my eyes out, screaming how they were awful and I didn’t want this and I wanted my Game Boy Color. Well, you can imagine how that turned out. I got a good whooping from my father in front of all my siblings and a long lecture on gratefulness and how hard they work. In punishment for my selfishness, they gave my gift to my brother Ryan, only a couple years older than me. I was so angry, I didn’t care though and was happy to be rid of the thing. Ryan, being the jerk he was, teased me about it endlessly.

It was a few days after that that he figured out the camera and printing on it. He would tease me from his room, talk about how he got to play with the cool system and I was too little and bratty to ever touch it. I would either yell back at him or slam the door to my room and ignore it. Shortly after though, I heard him leave his room and call out to our mom, claiming the printer was acting weird. She was busy making lunch and told him it was probably due to being used, and to keep trying and see if it would fix itself. I heard him go back into his room, then go back out a little while later, saying it was probably busted and that he was going to go to his friend’s house.

Wondering what was wrong with it, I snuck into his room and found the papers lying on his bed. He’d taken photos of himself, making weird faces into the camera. The game system had been turned off, as expected. The first few pictures were normal, then they changed into those strange faces that everyone knew about. The way the printer paper was stained, they looked even weirder. As I looked down at the later pictures though, they looked…different.

Obviously, the camera in the game was not the greatest, so it was sometimes hard to see details of someone’s face or it would look blocky or blurry. The later pictures however…seemed to change. It wasn’t just scribbles or silly words written on his face. His features seemed to change, and there were dark spots around his eyes and mouth. His expression didn’t look goofy anymore; instead it looked scared. Each picture seemed to change it more and more. Eventually, the pictures changed to where it didn’t even look like he was holding the camera anymore, but that…someone was taking the picture of him. He got farther and farther away and what seemed to be a horrible story unfolded. It was showing Ryan running from the camera. The last picture was showing Ryan’s face half missing, dark pixels spilled out from the side of his head, and lying on the ground.

I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even know the little camera was capable of things like this. It frightened me immensely and I jumped from the bed and ran to my mom, telling her about the pictures. She didn’t believe me and got angry I was playing with it after my behavior. She scolded me and sent me back to my room. I was too nervous to be angry though. I wondered what was wrong with that Game Boy. Why did it print those pictures?

I was immensely relieved when Ryan came back home that night for dinner. He seemed fine and after that night, I convinced myself it must have been a problem with the system since it was so beaten up, some kind of error. At some point later in the week, Ryan tried again to take pictures. I heard him call it a piece of junk and then chuck it into a drawer. He threw all the pictures he had taken in the trash can.

I didn’t think much of the Game Boy and the camera until the week after. I had been coloring in my room when I heard a terrible scream from outside and the sound of brakes squealing to a stop. Immediately, we all jumped up and ran outside to find out what had happened, along with our neighbors. The sight that greeted us all still is burned into my memory.

Ryan had gone to walk across the street to his friend’s house, just as he would any other day. A man had come speeding down the street and hit him. He’d been pulled under the car and his head half crushed under the tires as the man hit the breaks. My older brother’s brain and skull were splattered under, a pool of blood soaking into the street. I still remember the cry of agony and horror my mother let out, and the rage and grief in my father’s eyes as he pulled the man from the car and shouted at him, asking him what in the hell he had been doing to hit a child. My sisters pulled me back inside, trying to comfort me and shield me from the sight, but the damage was done. I’d seen exactly what the picture had showed me and I knew that Game Boy had been the cause. In my naivete, I tried to tell them, hoping they would believe me. They didn’t believe me at all and it made one of my sisters fall apart.

The next few weeks were miserable. My parents were inconsolable and my mother could barely take care of the house and us. My eldest sister Andrea took over her role and struggled with it, angry with us and dealing with her own grief. She also took over cleaning out Ryan’s side of the room that he shared with my other brother. At some point, she found the Game Boy and the Game Boy Camera and asked if I wanted it. I told her it was cursed, that it had killed Ryan. She said that I was being cruel to our parents by turning their gift that was meant for me into a guilt trip and that I needed to stop being so selfish. The funeral for Ryan caused even more money stress on the family and slowly, even at the young age I was, I could see they were not able to handle any of it well. I did my best at that point to keep out of trouble and didn’t say anything more about the Game Boy Camera.

I don’t know when she took them, but at some point, I guess she’d needed a distraction from trying to hold up the house. I went into my sisters’ room to find a missing sock and thought maybe it had landed into their clothing. Her trashcan had the same printer paper in it. An ice cold sweat came over my body when I realized. I couldn’t stop myself. I reached in and looked at the pictures. They were the same. Andrea’s face was slowly transformed into looks of horror and fear before showing her in a grotesque and terrifying position that I could only assume was a clue to how she would die. In the ending pictures, her face was barely recognizable and her skin was black.

I was definitely sure now. This thing had to be destroyed. I thought to myself that maybe if I could destroy it, I could save my sister from the same fate. I tore her room apart searching for the Game Boy. Eventually, I found it and the printer. As I held it in my hand, something chilling happened.

It turned on.

The screen flashed the logo before it began to make noises and music. The sound was wrong, as though it were being played backwards. I had been looking straight at it and suddenly, my face appeared on the screen. It began to print. In my panicked state, I went to shut it off, but found the button was down already. It should not have been running. I then proceeded to rip the printer paper out and the game out of the system. The Game Boy began to spark and error while the printer spewed out ink all over my Andrea’s bed. I felt it heat up in my hands and dropped it, watching the screen begin to smoke and the sparks fly out from both the Game Boy and the printer. After a minute or two, it seemed to die.

Needless to say, I got in major trouble when my sister came home and found her bed sheets stained with ink and the system broken. My parents were furious and forbid me from going out with friends at all, as well as no tv. I was now considered very irresponsible and not allowed to touch any of my siblings’ things. It didn’t matter though. I had saved her from a horrible fate and the cursed system was gone.

Or so I thought.

I think back and realize that of everything I did, the thing that may have saved me was not letting the printer finish. Six months later, my sister was killed when she was driving home and slipped on something in the road, crashing her car and being trapped inside as it caught fire. When the police came to my parents, they had told them that she was burned beyond recognition and the only reason they knew it was her was because she was driving my dad’s car. I couldn’t save her. I didn’t dare tell my parents about the pictures. I don’t think they would have believed me anyway.

Years have passed and we’ve grown up. My parents never really recovered from Ryan and Andrea’s deaths and they have struggled immensely. The three of us take care of them now, though we still have the old rabbit ears television for comfort’s sake.

There’s still one thought that haunts me though and makes it hard to sleep at night.

I never found out what they did with the broken Game Boy, the camera and printer. I pray to God every night that the damned thing made its way into some kind of trash compactor or is tangled with the plastic floating in the ocean. I fear that they still wanted it to have use, and donated it, or sold it for parts. And someone, somewhere is repairing it and putting in new paper. And they will see what it was trying to print of me.

Credit: AMD

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Second Hand

September 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve always been curious about the histories connected to belongings. I buy many of my things second hand from charity shops, retro speciality stores – those sorts of places. You can call me cheap all you want, but for me things have feelings. The vinyl record you listened to the night you were dumped, scratches and all; the shoes you wore as you staggered home drunkenly last Birthday; that old guitar you never bothered to learn to play; all real tangible objects, all with a story to tell, all with a unique view of the world.

If something is new, it’s like a baby. A clean slate with no experience of life. A brand new car, for example, has seen very little. A sterile factory as it was brought into existence, a showroom with a gleaming floor and an insincere salesperson with an equally gleaming smile. It has no knowledge of the open road, of the horizon stretching out into the distance like a limitless promise, or boundless threat. No, it’s just a baby. Give me a car with a few thousand miles on the clock and wheels that have sucked up the dust of a summer’s day, the frozen dirt of a winter’s night, and spat it back out onto the road behind. That car has seen things, been a part of a journey, gotten to know its owner – the music she likes, the route she takes to work, that time she cried herself dry on the dashboard when she first heard the news. That car knows the world, at least part of it, it knows the people who have owned it, and it has embraced and assimilated all those raw feelings, tiny moments and life shattering times – all of them.

When I wander into a rundown charity shop I know that I am surrounded by treasures. A book for 50 pence – Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine – once read by an elderly lady peeling each page back as she reminisced achingly about her youth. The book tells two stories, one contained in the inked words, and the other of a life and time through every creased spine and yellowed piece of paper. And yet some memories, some experiences, are perhaps best left to diminish like breath on a mirror. I say this because, while I always romanticised about the stories objects could tell of their previous owners, I never for a second thought that they could truly describe a nightmare; suffocating, violent, and real.


On a bright Spring day I saw it; sticking out from a pile of old clothes at the back of a charity shop. I’d been there many times before as the place sat on a quiet street just a few minutes from my home. I always smiled when I passed it, and looking through the sun kissed window to the abandoned things inside, somehow I felt that they smiled back.

An old sports jacket, dark grey with a slight hint of pinstripe; the buttons a mix of tan and black bleeding into each other like a wearied Yin and Yang: that’s what I saw on that day. It peeked out from a torn black bin bag which itself lay crushed by an unceremonious collection of musty jackets, ties, shirts and shoes. It was clear that the lady in the shop – an amiable pensioner by the name of Sandra – hadn’t had a chance to sort through the bags, and so there was no attached price for the jacket.

Lifting it out I was instantly taken with it. Normally, clothes were not my thing. I preferred objects – bashed board games, books, and other curiosities; but there was something about that jacket. The inside was a dark rich blue and felt like silk, although I was sure it wasn’t. Instantly I approached Sandra who sat behind the counter rustling through a packet of boiled sweets. She smiled warmly at me, being one of her most trusted regulars, as I enthusiastically asked about the price. For just a few pounds the jacket was mine, and, oddly, I left immediately to return home and try it on, leaving any other unseen treasures behind which might have caught my eye.

Facing a full length mirror which hung on my bedroom wall — another pleasing bargain from a charity shop — I stood there wearing the jacket. It felt comfortable, like an old friend, and fit perfectly. Pleased with my find, I carefully placed it on a hanger inside my oak wardrobe, which sat at the end of my bed, and went about my day.

And yet, my thoughts returned continuously to my latest purchase, no matter where I was or what I was doing. I was almost giddy about it, the way a child is with a new toy. This was strange for me as I wasn’t particularly interested in clothes, and could never understand the enthused pleasure some derive from them. I had always been a scruffy type, jeans and T-shirts were my thing, but there I was after a short period of time standing, yet again, in front of the mirror, modelling an old sports jacket and feeling unnaturally pleased with myself. It made me feel formal in some way, and my thoughts while wearing it were of an elderly gentlemen in a large ballroom, wining and dining in the lap of luxury, and entertaining his companions with stories of adventures during his service.


That night I awoke to an unnerving experience. I sat up with a jolt as a loud sound tore me from a pleasant dream. Having fallen asleep while reading, my bedside lamp was still on and the dull bulb cast an increasingly diminishing light across the room. Of course there was nothing there, nothing palpable, just the silence of lifeless furniture resting in the night, but in the back of my mind that now absent noise still echoed, and with it the faintest hint of recollection. Try as I might I was unable to place anything but the familiarity of it. I wandered around my home, flicking on the lights in the hall outside my room first, then cautiously to the others until the entire house was bathed in yellow. But I could find nothing which suggested the cause of what woke me. The doors were locked and the windows all closed, and so, with confidence that the noise was merely the faceless product of a dream well forgotten, I returned to bed. And yet I still felt unnerved for some reason, keeping the bedside lamp on as I tried in vain to claw my way back to the warm comfort of sleep.

The next day I went to work, on edge due to a restless night, but again I felt my thoughts returning to the jacket in my wardrobe; how smart I looked in it, how refined. I couldn’t wait to try it back on. As soon as the office clock struck five, I rushed outside with nothing but a mumbled word to my colleagues and headed home as fast as I could.

Fumbling with the keys in the lock, I made my way into my house, abruptly dropping my bag and coat on the floor, and rushed to the oak wardrobe in my bedroom; and there it was, hanging there like an empty vessel which had to be filled. I took the sleeve between my thumb and fingers, rubbing the dark grey material soothingly. With care, I removed it from its hanger and stood in front of the mirror. I was aghast at the sight of me! All my adult life I had been unkempt, my hair ruffled and messy. Wearing that beautiful jacket, it just didn’t seem right. I felt ashamed of myself, of how I looked. Quickly, I went to the bathroom and soaked my hair, before running a comb through it forcefully.

When I returned to the mirror I looked more acceptable, my hair now shaped neatly into a side parting. Yes, I felt much more at ease, presentable even. A smile crept across my face as my mind explored the image of an elderly gentleman wearing the jacket – a man of industry, a man of experience. Yes, things do indeed tell tales. He’d seen terrible things, ordered his men resolutely. Shells and gunfire. A man of duty. Yes, I imagined the stories that jacket could tell, of an old officer dining with guests surrounding him. Did they know what the Captain had really done, as they sat there in their evening gowns and dinner suits? They could eat and laugh and drink and dance; but the Captain, he could smile, yes, yet inside the world was turning, poisoned by the cancerous artifacts of war.

The Captain had indeed seen things. But he had been more than a harmless spectator.


In the throes of a dream, I was pulled involuntarily from a serene slumber. Familiarity then broke the silence; a sound I knew but could not place, this time louder than the night before. It had juddered suddenly before ceasing fire. Slowly I rose from my bed and wandered between the rooms of the house to investigate, frightened by the prospect of a burglar climbing through a window. The house sat in the bow of silence, its walls lifeless and the shadows of night, still and unerring. I knew the sound: I knew it. But like a reticent name on the tip of my tongue, the recollection refused to reveal itself.

The following day I struggled to work, shattered by my questioning mind in the night. The noise perturbed me, it engulfed me. I was frustrated by knowing yet not knowing. Just what was that sound? Two nights in a row I had heard it, but no sign or clue to its origin. Through the irritation of sleep deprivation, forced to falsely smile at my colleagues and surround myself with meaningless paperwork, my only comfort through the long day was to think of the jacket, that warm blanket of memory which had taken me into its embrace. Of course I knew that the Captain was merely a character in my mind, the latest in a long line of stories I had created to add sentiment to the world, but I was as fond of him as I was of his belongings.

By 5:30PM I was home, and, as I had done the day before, I dropped my bag and made my way to the oak wardrobe. Gazing into the mirror I felt disappointed at what I saw. My hair was pristine, combed to perfection, but the, now off-white, shirt I wore to work was cheap and grubby. In fact it was the first time I had noticed how ordinary my work appearance really was. It wouldn’t do, no; it wouldn’t do at all.

I managed to make it just before 6 o’clock – I breathed a sigh of relief that Sandra hadn’t closed the shop. She smiled at me as I entered, but I barely noticed, and instead headed straight towards my objective, to where I had found the jacket before. I started rummaging around the bags which still sat there, untouched, filled with the discarded belongings of unseen others. Smiling as I approached the counter, sweat pooling on my brow, I made my purchase and headed home.

In amongst the bags I had found an old Burgundy shirt. I wasn’t sure of the material, but it was beautiful, expertly crafted, and I knew immediately that it was a shirt worthy of the Captain’s jacket. Further still, I had found a waistcoat which seemed to compliment both, and so there I stood, looking much more presentable. The Captain would be pleased.


Once more I awoke to darkness, a sound having wrenched me from my sleep – the same noise I had heard for the previous three nights. I shivered slightly, not at the temperature of the room, but at something inside me. A virus or bug, whatever it was had produced a mild fever. My bedsheets were soaked in sweat, and I laboured to catch a breath. Feeling too weak to investigate the sound, I lay there in the grips of a strange and skewed apprehension. The room was black, but in the hints of objects, the outlines of walls and chair and wardrobe, I looked up to see the mirror. Not vacant, no, but filled with an indistinct reflection. Like a shadow, the silent suggestion of something. The memory remains vague, but one thing has stayed with me to this day – two eyes, white and wide, opened to meet mine from the mirror. An accusatory, angered stare which swept over me; a strange icy coldness then took me to sleep, try as I did to resist.

The following day I felt remarkably well, dismissing the reflection in the mirror as a fevered hallucination; indeed I seemed to have recovered from my ordeal to a great extent. I still had a temperature, however, and so called in to take the day off work. I must admit that the idea of having a day to myself was appealing, and so, after a shower and making sure I was presentable, I ironed the burgundy shirt, adorned the silk-like waistcoat, and proudly wore the jacket once more. And there I stood – facing the mirror. Smiling and happy.

It was only when my phone rang that I realised I had been standing, rooted to the one spot for most of the day, with little or no memory of the preceding hours; only vague shapeless visions of light and dark shifting before me accompanied by strange distant knocks and thuds. This would have been a concern to anyone in their right mind, but not to me. No, I was concerned with only one thing – I still didn’t look right! I left my home, the ringing phone and an open front door, to make my way steadily, almost marching, to the charity shop.

Inside, Sandra asked if I was feeling well, as she was worried I looked a little peaked; but I abruptly told her to mind her own business as I waded through the unsorted bags yet again. Feverishly I pulled a pair of dark suit trousers from between two faded shirts, followed quickly by an old leather pair of shoes which had lost their shine many years before, and a leather belt with a similarly dulled buckle. I can’t remember if I paid for them or not, all I can recall is staggering up the stairs outside my home, and to the mirror.

Sickness had taken me. My stomach ached and turned as if fighting against the unseen waves of a turbulent sea below. Struggling on, my compulsion would not let go, and before long I stared ever deeper into my reflection. Perfectly ironed suit trousers, a gleaming belt and buckle, leather shoes now shined and restored, a burgundy shirt expertly pressed, waistcoat, and of course, the Captain’s jacket. Yes, I looked presentable. It would do nicely. Shipshape.

Breathing deeply, I gazed, and looked into the facsimile of myself which smiled back from the mirror. The sickness faded with each inhalation constraining the rhythm of my pulse. The seconds birthed minutes, and those minutes bled into hours. Moments; fragmentary slivers of consciousness seeped through like a morning haze creeping between a closed blind. Voices came to me. Mumbled, undefined, yet the tone was unmistakably one of anger. I saw flashes of light as I had before, and shapes of darkness moving nearby. My blurred vision continued to withhold the truth from me, the shapes trembling and shifting as if glimpsed through warped glass. A series of loud thuds, almost bangs, sounded; close yet distant.

As the sun set outside, the angered voices combined – voices of countless people, coalesced into one mind, one aching chant. Visions came to me. Unbearable sun, a scorched earth, and finally something finite, something tangible. Soldiers. Flags unfurled by a breathless wind. Boots, marching, a crowd of people frightened, and gunfire. Then there were bodies, countless bloodied victims strewn across a patch of dirt. The voice, now distilled, drew closer. Words forced their way between gritted teeth, ringing in my ears, still muffled as if spoken through an unseen viscous membrane.

I felt weight then, a heaviness which burdened my hands, dirtied and stained. In them, I held a rifle. And as I looked up I could see the light and dark which had shifted continuously before me. Patterns which I knew now to be the bleached sky, blocked by a tall shadowy figure. His eyes pierced my thoughts as he shouted, yelled; angered and filled with vengeance.

“Open fire!”

It was wrong, I knew it was wrong. Yet I raised the rifle up and pointed it at my target, people unarmed and afraid. The voice continued, carried high above the carnage, urging me on, commanding me to shoot. My finger began to squeeze the trigger as the man, that towering imperial figure which I had affectionately referred to as the Captain, moved closer, screaming in my ear, the heat from his breath close and palpable. I shivered. This was not me, not now, not then, not ever. My hesitancy drew condemnation from the shadowed outline of the Captain. I did not want to disappoint him, and while I felt pangs of duty and patriotism, I could not bear the looks of those people, staring up at me as they faced their final moments. I threw the gun to the ground, and as I did so I found myself staring at the mirror, my hand raised in salute. To whom or to what, I do not know.

The fever now returned, an aching pain burrowing in my stomach. I wretched as my body tried to expel something from within, yet it was not forthcoming. Collapsing to the floor I struggled to stay alert, panicking that I was in need of a doctor. I pulled at the captain’s jacket, slipping it off my shoulders and throwing it on my bed; followed quickly by waistcoat, shoes, shirt, and trousers. I lay on the floor for a time, shivering, convulsing as the sweat seeped through my skin to the floor, as if ridding me of some insipid infection.


It was not until after midnight that my strength returned. I pushed myself up from the floor and staggered to the bathroom, where I sat in the shower, cleansing myself of the horrid remnants of my hallucination. The beads of water slowly restored me, and so finally I returned to my room, looking at the clothes, jacket and all, which now lay in a crumpled heap on the bed. It wouldn’t do at all!

Picking them up, I placed them carefully on a few hangers and hung them up inside the wardrobe. As I did so, a momentary sense of dread washed over me. How I wished I had listened to it. Deep down I knew that I should have been done with those clothes, but the thought of discarding them filled me with disgust – a lack of respect. Those clothes deserved admiration; they demanded it.

Exhausted from my earlier sickness, I staggered into bed. As my eyes gave in to the weight of tiredness, I experienced a moment of clarity. My thoughts cleared through the fog, and with the briefest flicker of insight, I questioned the illness and the profound visions I had experienced staring into that mirror. Whose voice had I heard? What violent act had I become privy to? My last impulse was an uneasy one – to escape my home and seek shelter far beyond the scope of a malevolent force, which now hung in the air, corpse-like and vengeful.

The fog of an unseen influence then dulled my senses. I felt being lulled, persuaded, even bartered with, to give myself to a comforting dream of rolling green hills, quaint villages, and a peaceful life far removed from the horrors of war. A place where one could put their atrocities behind them and continue on with a normal life.

The sound. That noise which had woken me on each of the previous nights; it once more called me to consciousness. I tried to pull myself up out of bed, but to my horror the sickness had returned, potent, the nausea griping my stomach. A cold sweat whispered across my skin to an almost unbearable crescendo. Yet the noise still rang in my ear, and in the clutches of sickness, its nature, its identity finally came to me. The realisation shook me, sending panic coursing through my body. A simple sound, one I had heard each day, but in the blackness of that room it took on new meaning. A threat, covered by the night. The noise came from the wardrobe, coat hangers clinking together like glass within.

I lay there frozen, staring at the wardrobe, which now appeared to me like a tomb. A standing coffin which played host to something unseen, and which infested the world outside with a stark apprehension. Holding my breath involuntarily, I waited for a sign of movement. I imagined the door slowly creaking open and revealing what lay inside. My heart raced, pounding like an unbearable drum, and in my weakened state fear truly took hold. I felt helpless, unable to mount a defence should something unearthly climb out from the darkness.

For a moment I thought I saw a shift in the wardrobe, something moving within causing its frame to shudder almost imperceptibly. I let out a gasp, and in that admittance of fear, that announcement of my wakened state, the truth presented itself; for there was indeed something there, something ominous and intrusive. Yet it was not inside the wardrobe. It was standing in the corner of the room, hidden by shadow. A figure, tall and dominant. Staring at me under cloak of night, its eyes pinpoints of light in an otherwise stygian nightmare.

Then there was a strange moment between us. A silence which provoked more fear in me than I have ever known. We stared at each other from across the room, and it felt to me as though the intruder was sizing me up. Calculating the cost. A strategy for attack, evaluating how weakened I truly was.

Suddenly it moved towards me, arms outstretched, and as it did so I saw it in greater detail, briefly illuminated by a slither of light from a streetlamp outside. The jacket which I had been so taken with, the waistcoat, the shirt, the trousers, the shined shoes, all there, presentable, respectable, and worn by the figure of a man, indistinct and shifting; his features and hands, nothing but blackened mist. The clothes moved with precision, and as I cried out in terror the shadowed trespasser was upon me. The dark coal-like fog which approximated a hand, grabbed hold of my face, feeling more like worn skin than was suggested by its incorporeal appearance.

I instinctively fell backwards, rolling out the other side of the bed, crashing to the ground. Despite my sickness adrenaline urged me to flee towards my bedroom door; but the man was quick and grabbed me by the arm, throwing me into the mirror which shattered on the floor at my bare feet. The glass slit open my back as it fell, and the sharpened pain of countless cuts congealed with the terror. It was then that the figure wrapped its misted fingers around my shoulders, lifting me up before slamming me against the shards of glass on the floor. Countless incisions and slashes rippled across my body as each piece of glass, small and large, ripped open my skin, embedding deep in the muscle beneath.

A silence fell across the room, broken only by the shifting weight of my attacker crushing glass under foot. It was then that I experienced physical pain which I cannot put into words. The fog-like figure, prim, proper, and presentable in the Captain’s clothes, placed its foot upon my chest, and pressed down with merciless force. Each blade, sliver, and shard of glass pushed deeper through, then under, my skin, thrusting further into my body, violently encouraged by pincers of floor and unnatural foot.

I could not yell. I could not cry. I could only let out an involuntary gasp of air, and as I did so the figure finally spoke to me.

“On your feet”, it ordered, loud, pronounced, and with command; and in those words I knew that I was face to face with the Captain. Leaning over me, his clouded hands reached out, encircling his fingers around my left arm. With ease he pulled me up off the ground. “On your feet!” he screamed again, and then battered me against the glass on the floor once more.

I wheezed and coughed as a searing pain ran up my side, the impact winding me. I felt a crack deep within as a rib gave in to the assault.

“I said, get on your feet, private!” the captain ordered, leaning over to grab me once more.

Panic and pain mixed together, coursing through my veins — I knew I could not survive another attack. The fogged darkened hands of the figure then bore down upon me, and in one last desperate plea for survival, I clawed at something close by. A loud tear cut through the night, followed by an almost inaudible gasp. I had inadvertently ripped the pocket of the Captain’s jacket. My assailant staggered backwards for a moment in response as if wounded. Quickly, I grabbed a blade of glass which lay on the floor, and with ever ounce of life I had left in me I pushed up onto my feet.

Launching forward I feverishly slashed and cut, not at the shadowed man who had attacked me, but at the clothes which were the Captain’s Achilles heel. Smog stained hands thrust up to stop me, but, now weakened, they could not prevent me from cutting through jacket, waistcoat, and shirt. Blood oozed out of my hand as the blade of glass cut deeper into my skin with each attack, but I could not relent should the Captain regain his footing.

He fell to his knees as I tore, scratched, and sliced at the clothes, giving me the high ground. Finally, exhausted, I sat on the bed. From there I watched the Captain lying on the floor, his strength slowly diminishing. The clothes rose and fell with each spectral breath, as the darkness, the fogged appendages and head of what lay within, faded away to nothing. I sat there in that silence, but it was not long before the pain of each fragment of glass stuck in my back returned, as adrenaline gave way to utter shock. In the black of night I heard a word, distant and whispered from some obscure history.


Then I was alone.


After spending several nights in hospital recovering from loss of blood, two broken ribs, and a concussion, I finally ventured back to my home. Looking at the glass broken on the floor, my blood dried and congealed, I stared at the torn jacket and other clothes which lay before me. Like the scene of a brutal murder, they outlined the figure — shoes, trousers, shirt, waistcoat, jacket — all implying the shape of a man.

I began to think that it was a damn shame. A waste. They deserved better, the Captain deserved more than that. Yearnings began to build, and for a few minutes I explored the idea of having the clothes mended. Perhaps I could have done it myself? Needle, thread, and all?

No, I came to my senses, and knew that whatever influence those belongings had, I could not yield to them. Quickly, I gathered them up, putting them into a black bin bag much like those I had seen at the charity shop. An hour’s drive later, and I was in the countryside. I got out of the car and hiked for a while across some fields and through some woods, finally coming to a clearing. I did not know entirely where I was going, but Blackwood forest seemed as good as any a place to do what had to be done.

There I set a fire, for I did not want the ashes of those things near my home. As the flames grew I felt a deep urge to turn back and take the Captain’s clothes with me. But I persevered, I resisted, and threw the wretched things in the fire. First the shoes and trousers. Then, the shirt and waistcoat. But just before I committed the jacket to the flames, something caught my eye. From inside the lining, which had been torn apart by my attacks, something now protruded.

A hand written letter of commendation for services “above and beyond the call of duty”. The writing was worn and faded, and so I could not make out the rest. What I can say is that inside the envelope lay a medal which read “Captain Everett, Amritsar, 1919”. I threw all of it in the fire, and as I did so I felt a deep sadness and sense of loss within me. As the flames consumed the jacket and other items, the crackle of each burning ember sounded remarkably like that of gunfire, distant, long ago, echoing out from the past, or from beyond.


Yes, things have more than feelings, they have memories. They soak up the thoughts and actions of the people nearby. Heartache, laughter, joy – dread. I have never forgotten those days and my brush with the Captain. Often my thoughts return to the medal, which I’m sure lies out there in the countryside, blackened with soot, yet unharmed by the fire. I think of the words and the name engraved on the metal – the pull of its memory still haunts me, goads me even. I have never researched the name of Captain Everett, the medal, or jacket, and while my dreams are often invaded by the sound of gunfire, and embittered eyes bearing down on me, I know that I must never entertain the compulsion to go searching for answers. For those clothes came from a man of varied deeds, and his sins have left their mark on the world, and by association, an uneasy burden upon me.

*If you enjoyed this story, please consider checking out one of my books ( or clicking my name below for more free tales*

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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The Scarlett Envelope

September 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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George never got sick, well, almost never. He was well into his thirties and had been working an office job for almost seven years now. It was a standard 8-5 job and he found comfort in the monotony of it. This particular Tuesday, however, George woke up from stomach pains and a massive headache.

He got out of bed and as soon as he stood up a wave of nausea washed over him and he rushed to the bathroom violently vomiting. There was no doubt about it. The man who almost never got sick was definitely going to have to call into work and let them know he wasn’t going to make it. He did just that and flopped back onto his bed.
George was a lonely man and he had the apartment all to himself, not that he was using anything but the bed at the moment. He closed his eyes and sleep for what seemed like days but had actually only been for several hours. He woke up feeling refreshed and thankfully his nausea and headache were gone.

There was a feeling of dread, depression, and hopelessness and he shook his head thinking it was just his sick state but the feelings didn’t disappear. He slowly got out of bed, no nausea attacking him this time. The despair increased as he got closer to the bathroom to relieve the pressure on his bladder. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was terrible wrong. Something was out of place. He quickly finished his business and turned to head back to his bed hoping that he just needed some more rest.

That’s when he saw her.

An old woman with tattered clothes, gray wisps of hair in patches, a cloak of some dead animal draped around her shoulders, and long slender fingers walked ever so slowly up the sidewalk of the cul-de-sac his small house was in. He shivered involuntarily.
The woman was very out of place in the upscale neighborhood and there was something unnerving about her. He watched as the woman passed by his house and stopped in front of the house right next to his.

She walked over to his neighbors mailbox and reached inside her cloak. A red envelope was produced and she placed it inside the mailbox.
Suddenly she turned her head and looked right at him. George jerked back and leaned against the wall out of site. He counted to five and then leaned to take a peak out of the window. The woman was gone.

Now, at this moment George was thinking that he was more sick than he had previously thought. He quickly rushed back to bed and fell asleep, not even realizing that the feeling of dread was gone.

The next day George was feeling much better and had completely forgotten about the old woman from yesterday. He went to work like he always did and when the day was done he headed home.

As he pulled into the cul-de-sac he could see that something was going on. There were quite a few police cars surrounding the house next to his and he slowly pulled into his driveway wondering what was going on. He was met by a police officer at his front door.

“Sir, I need to ask you a few questions about the Chavez family.”

“Oh, yes, of course.”

George furrowed his brow. Something had happened. He wondered if they were okay.

“Sir, can you tell me how many family members the Chavez family have?”

“Mother, Father, and two boys so that makes four total.”

“Thank you. And what were you doing at around 12:00pm today?”

“I was at work.”

“Do you have any way to validate that?”

George gave the officer his boss’s number and after a few minutes of talking on the phone he thanked George for his time and turned to go.

“Wait, what happened? Are they okay?”

“Sir, the Chavez family was murdered today.”

George’s mouth gaped open in shock. Murdered? That was crazy. His neighborhood had always been a pleasant out of the way one where nothing happened.

As he was laying in bed about to go to sleep, he suddenly remembered the old woman and the red envelope. He shook his head. There was no way there was any kind of connection to the murder. He didn’t sleep well that night.

The next day he went to work like normal and tried to forget about the odd woman and the murder of his next door neighbors. He got home and as per his usual habit, he went right away to his mailbox to get his mail. He lowered the cover and almost fell down in surprise.

There was only one thing in his mailbox and it was a small red envelope. It had no return address and no stamp. It was just addressed to him in scratchy red ink.
He grabbed it and rushed into the house. He was going to burn the envelope. He opened the cupboard where he kept his matches but they weren’t there. He cursed at himself and rummaged through his drawers and cupboards desperately trying to find matches or a lighter hiding somewhere.

He felt it again.

That feeling of absolute despair. It weighed down on him and he clutched the counter for support. Footsteps sounded on the floor behind him.

He hadn’t heard the door open.

He turned around quickly and saw the same old woman from before standing before him.
As soon has his eyes fell on her the feeling of despair increased tenfold and he slowly slid to the floor. He couldn’t even stand, it was like the energy was being sucked out of him. He watched as the woman stepped closer and closer to him, her footsteps unnaturally loud.

The last thing he remembered was a grin on the woman’s face. The red envelope still clutched tightly in his hand.

Credit To – jdoeko

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