The Vault of Humanity

July 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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In the year 2005, the Humanity Archival Storage Project was commenced by leading government officials, scientists and academic alumni across the world due to the fear that humanity’s treasures were increasingly threatened by war and natural disasters. The project was one of the most complex undertaking in our species history: the creation of an archive of humanity’s knowledge and culture. The Archival Symplexical Computer was designed in the early days of the project. The device was composed of iron, the most stable of elements, and built to stand as a testament to our species for millennia.

After the construction of the ASC, I was assigned to the HASP team. We were a diverse bunch, consisting of representatives from the fields of science, history, the arts, and every other possible area of human study. Our task was to program the device with the information and artifacts worth preserving. Our group started off cordially enough, but we quickly broke down into sects and factions as we started fought viciously over what would be saved. The artists wanted musical samples and paintings saved, the historians wanted their nations’ prized documents included and the scientists wanted their formulas and theories preserved. Eventually, through a series of backroom deals and shifting alliances between disparate groups, a compromise of sorts was reached and onto the device went the formulas of Newton and Einstein, the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the paintings of Picasso and many of the other great discoveries and creations of humanity.

In 2012, it was finally time to store the device. Locations around the world were scouted out, ranging from the Himalayas to the bottom of the Atlantic. Eventually, a decision was made to place the ASC beneath the Sweeney Mountains in Antarctica. The location was free from war and fault lines. The frigid code would even slow down wear and tear on the machine, extending its lifespan for another millennia or so. It was the perfect place to station the device.

Construction of the ASC vault started in 2013. The process took another year, but eventually the construction team reached suitable depths. I was there for the opening ceremony, as a drill team dug through the last twenty or so feet to reach appropriate levels for the ASC vault. At around noon, I heard the drilling stop. I thought they had finally reached acceptable levels, but the loud screaming that quickly filled the air freed me from this thought. A rescue team was sent in, but they reported that the drillers had hit a cavern hundreds of feet deep.

A rescue operation was quickly launched, but all that was left of the team was corpses and smashed machinery. They had simply fallen from too great a height for there to be any survivors. During clean-up, the body recovery team discovered something rather unusual: an ASC-like device wedged into the corner of the cavern. The device was nearly five-thousand years old.

Credit To – E.

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Toter’s Maze

July 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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There aren’t a lot of advantages to being the sole teaching assistant in a small computer science department, except that once in a while the professors are nice enough to unload a bunch of old tech on you for free. Maybe they’re cleaning out their offices for the first time in decades, and have a few Macintosh Classics that would otherwise end up in a dumpster. Sometimes the department gives them new tablets, and their old ones need a new home. Or else someone retires, and everything not absconded with for nostalgia’s sake becomes fair game for scavenging. Courtesy of the faculty’s generosity, I have a bunch of old computers, disk drives, motherboards — and virtually any other computer parts or accessories you can imagine — kicking around my apartment.

Tinkering with dated machines can be a great deal of fun. You can practice soldering without having to worry about flushing a bunch of money down the drain if you accidentally brick your machine. When you pull them apart, you might find so-called “upgrades” from years past that seem genuinely laughable now, like the 32 KB “deluxe memory expansion” card I once yanked from a 1995 laptop. And let’s not forget the charm of obsolete archival media! Remember the Zip Disk? …No? Figures.

Well. Even if you’re not a tech geek like me, you can at least appreciate the best part of my perks system: discovering ancient computer games that nobody else remembers, and actually having the wherewithal to play them. Cleaning out offices or browsing through forgotten hard drives, I’ve stumbled upon games that I’ve never seen archived anywhere on the Internet. Some of them even existed before my parents did. And I’ve been able to play every last one. You can’t pretend to know gaming until you’ve played something on a legitimately floppy floppy disk!

Anyway, since I’m given first dibs on any abandoned tech, the department let me raid the office of some adjunct — whose name I never quite learned, not having interacted with him all that much — who must have followed through at last with his vows to quit his overworked and underpaid position. I didn’t blame him; I heard he made less than I did, and I don’t hold a degree nearly as advanced as his! Whatever the reason, Sussman — or was it Hausmann? I can’t remember — didn’t return for the spring semester, and didn’t leave us any way of reaching him. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, after the faculty felt reasonably sure he wasn’t coming back, they provided me with a key to his office, and granted me free reign to swipe whatever I wanted.

I let myself in the second I had a free moment one night after classes, when my teaching assignment was taken care of for the day, and the rest of the department had long since headed home. The building was dark by the time I arrived, but the motion-sensor lights fired up once I set foot inside, flickering into existence one by one as I made my way down the hallway. The adjunct’s office didn’t have a nameplate on it; I’m told few adjuncts even have offices, for that matter. Consequently, I found the correct room only after I’d tried — and failed — to open an unmarked broom closet with my new key.

The adjunct’s office might as well have been a broom closet, though. It was barely larger than a bathroom stall. On top of that, it didn’t have any windows, and the only light came from a single, dingy incandescent bulb dangling from the ceiling. It didn’t have a lightswitch, either, so I had to fumble around in the darkness until I could find and tug its pull-cord. No wonder the poor guy quit — who could be expected to work well under such conditions?

Once the dirty light washed over the place, I could see everything that Professor What’s-His-Name left behind. It looked pretty unremarkable to me, at first glance. He’d somehow coerced a desk into the cramped space, and found a chair to join it. Both of them wobbled at the slightest touch. A bulky cathode monitor occupied most of the desk’s surface, while a keyboard and mouse perched on what space was left in front of it. Shoved into a corner, a stack of coding textbooks had begun to gather a thin layer of dust. One sight struck me as pretty odd, though: a cup of coffee, still almost entirely full, had been set beside the chair and evidently forgotten.

Nothing interested me right away, so I rifled through the desk’s drawers in search of something worth taking. Pens and pencils clattered inside, rolling off piles of coffee-stained lecture notes and small hoards of secondhand office supplies. In short, nothing worth the effort. Which came as no great surprise. I had expected that, if I were to find any prize here, it would be the desktop tower the adjunct had neglected to take with him.

So that’s exactly what I went after. The monitor’s cord trailed behind the desk, leading me to a grimy but sturdy-looking Dell that still had a 3.5-inch floppy drive installed. I didn’t have a shortage of floppy drives or anything, but I decided to swipe the machine anyway. You can never have enough spare hardware, after all. Besides, I wanted to scope out what kinds of files the adjunct kept on that computer. Sometimes that’s where the real treasure lies.

The hour had grown late by the time I returned home, but I couldn’t resist staying up a bit longer to peruse my new acquisition’s contents. I hooked the computer up to one of my flatscreen monitors, introduced a keyboard and mouse, plugged it into a power outlet, and went to the fridge to retrieve a high-caffeine soda while I waited for the machine to boot up. Once I came back, a green glow had saturated the screen, dousing my keyboard and desk in sickly colors. The usual boot dialogues for a late-80s OS appeared, written in green, low-pixel characters.

That’s strange, I thought. Most early operating systems and programs only looked green because of the monitors they used. The visuals themselves, under ideal circumstances, were simply black and white. And my current monitor was pretty close to ideal. I figured it was probably a custom OS, coded to look green for nostalgia’s sake, like that word processor DarkRoom.

I also found it strange that the adjunct hadn’t locked his computer with a password, but I was too excited by my new toy to think too much about it.

The OS had a GUI comparable to the oldest Apple offerings, so I had no trouble navigating it. To my astonishment, the icon for the floppy drive indicated that a disk had been inserted. How had I missed that when I first inspected the computer? Sure enough, the ejector button on the tower protruded like something had been placed inside. I poked it, and out popped a deep red floppy disk. I slid it into my hand. A label on the disk’s front side, written in black marker with the most compact penmanship I’d ever seen, read simply: “TOTER’S MAZE.”

Was it a game? If it was, I’d never heard of it, but then again, I was always unearthing titles I’d never heard of before in my office excavations. Maybe it was a personal project the adjunct had been developing. But whence that title? Programmers named things after themselves all the time, but this one seemed foreign to me — I couldn’t have told you the adjunct’s name, but I felt confident it wasn’t Toter.

By that point, my curiosity couldn’t be restrained. I slid the disk into its drive, and ran the single executable file it contained. The mouse cursor turned into an hourglass as the computer processed my command. Then, for no more than a millisecond, it transformed into a completely different shape. I could have sworn it looked like a terribly distended face, but I didn’t catch a close enough glimpse, because shortly thereafter the screen went black.

A second or two later, blocky green text, cleverly arranged ASCII-style to look as if it were dripping or melting, filled the screen. “TOTER’S MAZE” appeared in gigantic font, with a single red dot punctuating the center of the O, resembling a pupil caught in a camera flash. Beneath the title, a substantially smaller font presented me a binary command: “BEGIN? [Y/N].” Messing with the arrow keys, I found I could move the red dot around, but that it couldn’t maneuver beyond the letter that ringed it. I appreciated this simple diversion that the programmer had thought to include — it showed some consideration for the player. Wondering what the rest of the game entailed, I hit the Y key.

Toter's Maze - Title Screen

The screen again went black, save for the O with the red dot. Small green letters began to appear one after the other with seconds-long intervals between them, as if they simulated someone making a tentative remark. Eventually, they finished spelling their message. “ARE YOU SURE? [Y/N].”

What a bizarre feature, I thought. Usually you saved something like that for quit functions, so that a user doesn’t accidentally lose all their progress from a botched keystroke. The unexpected dialogue only made me more curious. I pressed Y. At that, the small letters erased themselves one by one, saving my Y for last. Then the large O disappeared. The red dot stayed for a moment before it, too, disappeared. I was left with another black screen.

Soon some text seemed to float up from the blackness, like bubbles rising from a deep pond. “LEVEL ONE.” Then the text seemed to sink out of view. After it disappeared, a bunch of angular green lines drew themselves into existence, forming a kind of labyrinth that looked like a simplified view of an intestinal tract. It wasn’t much of a maze, though. There was only one route available — no branching paths, no dead ends. The red dot from the title screen waited at one end, and a blue dot of slightly smaller size resided at the other. I presumed that I controlled the red one, and I was right. I could navigate the red dot with the arrow keys. It moved at a much brisker pace than I had expected. If I drove it into one of the green lines, it stopped moving. The game imposed no penalty if I did. I supposed there was no objective other than to reach the blue dot, so I started guiding the red dot toward it.

When the two dots finally touched, the blue one simply faded away. The rest of the level followed suit, and the red dot disappeared last. Text reading “LEVEL TWO” emerged from the blackness as if rising from liquid, exactly like what I’d seen for the previous level. It seemed anticlimactic to me, but then, nobody plays games like this for cutscenes and stories. I figured the difficulty would amp up, at least, and perhaps make for a more entertaining experience.

The second level proved no more challenging. It drew a square that took up half the screen. The red and blue dots both appeared inside, on opposite corners. There were no obstacles. By no stretch of the imagination could it be called a maze. It seemed Toter had used up all of his or her imagination on the title screen! Needless to say, the level didn’t take me long. Curiously, the “victory animation” was a little different this time. Instead of fading outright when I touched it, the blue dot disappeared line by line, each successive section seemingly absorbed into the red dot as it vanished. It seemed weirdly fluid compared to everything else in the level.

The next few stages began as usual, and had designs equally as insipid as the first two. A basic, featureless rectangle. A longer rectangle, bland as the first. A straight line, barely wider than the red dot I controlled, leaving me no option but to move in one direction toward the blue dot. All that changed was the animation at the end. Sometimes the blue dot seemed to dissolve. Others, it cleaved in two before disappearing. In one particularly arresting instance, the top quarter of the blue dot seemed to be lopped off, landing beside the dot’s remains, then vanishing like the rest of the stage.

Before long, I’d arrived at “LEVEL TEN.” That’s when things became genuinely disconcerting.

Toter's Maze - Level Ten

See, the tenth level was nothing like the others. It was rectangular, with a bunch of smaller rectangles inscribed within, lining the top and bottom while the center remained empty. The blue dot was somewhere near the dead center of the map. My red dot began in a corner. I started directing it toward its usual target, but then the blue dot did something unexpected.

It moved.

That’s not even the right word. It ran. As my dot drew closer, it inched over by a pixel, as if it had heard something and turned to check out the noise. When the red dot was only a few pixels away, the blue dot took off at incredible speed. It hurled itself against one of the small rectangles until its wall seemed to yield. Then the blue dot moved inside, cramped by the tight quarters, and the wall reappeared.

What the heck had I witnessed? And how was I supposed to clear the level now?

My only idea was to try ramming into the small rectangle’s side like the blue dot had done. As I did, I swear that the blue dot quivered. Eventually the wall collapsed, and the dots touched — resulting the blue one splitting into many tiny pieces that coated the inner walls of the small rectangle. They didn’t fade away like the rest. The red dot disappeared first, and the level and the remnants of the blue dot lingered there for a while, burning the image into my retinas before cutting all at once to blackness.

Somehow, I felt as if I’d done something awful.

Then came “LEVEL ELEVEN.”

This one featured comparatively sophisticated cartography: rectangles within rectangles, and liberal use of walls, although it still didn’t look much like a maze. The path to the blue dot was pretty obvious, and most of the space in the level seemed entirely superfluous. As I moved the red dot along, however, something about the stage began to make me feel uncomfortable. Insane though it sounds to say this about a bunch of green wires, it struck me as dimly familiar. I felt as though I had been there before. I blamed the feeling on the late hour, suspecting that a lack of sleep had started to toy with my senses.

When I reached the blue dot, its shape didn’t change. The color drained from it, top to bottom, until — I don’t know why these were the first words to enter my mind — a gray husk remained. I told myself I sounded crazy, but I couldn’t reason away the dread I had begun to feel. It weighed upon my chest, constricting my lungs, adding to my panic with each breath.

Somewhere in my fight for air, I realized why the the eleventh level seemed so familiar: it looked uncannily like the floor plan to my stepfather’s house.

How many levels were left in this bizarre game? Even one was too many. I didn’t want to play any longer. I pressed every key on the keyboard, but none of them — nor any combination of them I could think to try — let me exit the program. I tried to force the computer to shut down by holding its power button, but even after two consecutive minutes of pinning it, the screen still showed that hateful game. All the same, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the plug on the machine. I somehow believed everything would stay on even if I did yank the tower’s plug from its socket, and I doubted I would react well to the sight.

As if reading my mind, the level finally began to change. Instead of the entire thing fading to black, however, the red dot grew in size, expanding until the whole screen shone red. If migraines can be said to have a color, that red would be it. It seared my eyes, and when I held them shut to guard against the scorching pain, the imprint of a horribly distended face glowed against my eyelids. Reflexively, my glance darted from it, but the thing reappeared wherever my eyes settled. Unlike most residual images that soften and fade over time, this one seemed to grow more detailed by the second. Its skull was deformed, stretched into an oblong shape like pulled putty. Its jaw seemed detached, one side hanging much lower than the other. Where its eyes should have been, I saw only empty sockets that nonetheless seemed to watch me with malevolence. There was no way for me to avert my gaze from its frightening, hollow stare except to open my eyes again. Once I did, the screen had at last turned black.

Toter's Maze - Migraine

I felt far more afraid of not finishing than finishing.

So on I went to “LEVEL TWELVE.”

I recognized this level, too. It clearly matched the floor plan of the computer science department, being almost an exact replica of the fire escape diagrams I’d seen posted on the walls there. The level’s blue dot ambled about the stage, pausing at certain points while swaying back and forth over them. The red dot lingered in a small room that corresponded to the location of the adjunct’s office.

It’s only a game, I chanted to myself like a mantra. It’s only a game.

My ritual almost restored my calm until my cell phone buzzed, stridently vibrating atop my desk. I yelped at the sound — I couldn’t help it. A text message had arrived. I felt reluctant to pick it up, expecting some correspondence worthy of The Ring. But it was only something from my mother. Even so, that put me on edge. She was far from a night owl, so for her to need to contact me at such a late hour did not bode well.

“Something’s happened to Ron,” the message read. Ron was my stepfather. “I don’t know what. Blood everywhere. I don’t understand. Have called police. Too shaken to talk right now. Call me soon. Please.”

My stomach had knotted so tightly that I nearly vomited. I felt responsible. I almost certainly was responsible. What the hell kind of game was I playing? Who would make a game like this? And why?

I couldn’t finish the thought before I ended up disgorging my soda onto the floor. I slumped forward, the sting of stomach acid hot in my throat. As I pulled myself upright, I glimpsed the slow, deliberate movements of the blue dot on the screen. Based on its patterns, it probably indicated a member of the custodial staff. The poor fool had no idea what horrible fate awaited. For that matter, neither did I. I could only imagine — but didn’t much want to imagine — what the red dot signified; my creative powers couldn’t begin to fathom what it would do to its next victim.

It was too much. I couldn’t knowingly kill somebody. I would never forgive myself for the deaths I had accidentally caused, but I didn’t have to allow any more to happen. I was better than that. I would not be an accomplice to murder. I pushed my keyboard aside, and stared at the screen with defiance as I pondered what to do next.

The game, however, thought farther ahead than I had. Within moments, a timer appeared in the corner of the screen. I barely registered that it showed 30 seconds before it rapidly began counting down. What would happen if the timer hit zero? Twenty seconds. Then fifteen. I felt my resolve crumbling. If the game had proven this horrible when I did what it wanted, what kind of retribution would it visit on me if I went against its will?

Ten seconds. Nine. Eight.

I had to make my decision.

Seven. Six. Five…

The decision came quickly, more instinct than conscious choice. I pounded the arrow keys. The red dot flew at unfathomable speed. The blue dot had no time to react. As soon as the red touched it, it collapsed in a pile, scattering like a handful of dust.

The stage turned to water and fell from my eyes.

By the time I had dried them, the hateful green font had risen. “FINAL LEVEL.” Stage thirteen. How auspicious. At least it couldn’t torture me — nor anyone else — after one last death. I felt almost grateful that there would be only one more, and tried to think of his or her demise as a sacrifice to the well-being of everybody else. It would almost be a good thing, ending this horror once and for all…

I had a moment of panic as it occurred to me that the game might try to pull a fast one on me. What if the final level featured an abundance of blue dots, like a crowded shopping mall on the other side of the world, or something? I couldn’t do that. At least, I didn’t think I could…

The text gradually disappeared. The level’s blue and red dots appeared first: one of each, with almost no distance separating them. I began to heave a sigh of relief.

Until I saw the map.

It was my apartment, rendered in harsh green pixels.

I whirled around in my seat. I couldn’t see anything in the darkness, for my eyes had adapted to the brightness of my monitor. I thought I detected a faint red glow on the walls around me, even though the only light source in the room was emitting green.

I felt my body begin to lock up, starting with my legs. The tension worked its way up my body until it settled in my jaw. My mandibular muscles clenched so tightly that I thought I’d drive my teeth into my skull. But I couldn’t help it. I’d never known fear so intense.

There were no sounds but the pulse in my ears, no movement around me but the flicker of shadows in the burgeoning red light. I wheeled myself back to the computer screen. It was completely awash in blinding, migraine red. I clenched shut my eyes. Deep in my own darkness, I spotted a flicker of red. It drew closer and closer. I didn’t even need to see it to know what it was. That face — that thing I had unleashed — had returned. It came so near that I thought I could feel it breathing on my face.

I opened my eyes. The face had overtaken the screen. It glowered at me for a moment. Then its maw widened, revealing a dark, cavernous hole. It swallowed every pixel, plunging my room into blackness.

And something hard as bone, warm, and sharp cut a deep gash across my throat.

Toter's Maze - Final

Credit To – Lex Joy

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Sonnet of the Deep

July 19, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Kevin found it in his grandparent’s scummy old pond. He’d been chaining a pack of ten and watching the butts drift across the nebulous waters when he spotted it; dark and flat, floating motionlessly on the surface. Had it been there a moment ago? He must have missed it. Either way, it certainly wasn’t a piece of broken fence or a branch. There was no telling what that crazy bitch had thrown into the pond before she went AWOL. It could be something valuable.

He snatched up a long-handled net leaning against the nearby fence and fished the object out of the water. It was a box.

The surface was slick with slime and algae and the keyhole was clogged with silt and dirt, but he thought the craftsmanship looked fine nonetheless and decided to work on opening it later, providing the hinges weren’t rusted shut. He would have asked the old woman about it, but obviously that wasn’t possible: his grandmother was gone, most likely dead. He thought her only neighbour probably was too, judging by the dilapidated state of the only other house he’d passed on his way here. The damn roof had collapsed in on itself, for fuck sake.

Running the pads of his fingers across the box’s surface, he thought: I’ll ask granddad next time I visit, if I can get a sane word out of the old relic.

But he only visited the Blackwood Home, with its grimy walls, grim faced orderlies and iodoform scented corridors once a year – and only then if he could help it.

He hoped the old man would die soon; thirty miles was a hell of a trip to make every July. More to the point, he supposed, was that he was scared. Scared that one year, he would arrive with his customary cheap card and even cheaper present, only to find the old sailor lucid enough to ask him about that night. About the break in, and the masked intruder who had beaten an old woman unconscious before stomping on an old man’s head until it cracked like a rotten egg, until pieces of brain were splattered all over the linoleum like yesterday’s porridge.

Or ask him how the intruder had known to look for their jewellery and cash in the nook beneath the kitchen sink.

His grandmother had disappeared shortly afterwards, vanishing without even a single goodbye. Only now, seven years on, had she finally been declared dead in absentia.

He stowed the box in his backpack alongside the few odds and ends he’d found that looked remotely valuable: a gold (he didn’t know if it was real, though) plated fountain pen engraved with a date – 13-07-83 – that was meaningless to him; a pale-skinned porcelain doll in a frilled baby-blue dress with dirty golden ringlets, which he’d wrapped in an old t-shirt to hide its unerring grin; an elaborate silver frame containing a photograph of all the grandchildren and the smiling grandparents – he’d thrown the photograph away. There were other things, as well, but he wasn’t sure if they would be worth anything, and as such hadn’t bothered with them.

Mostly the house had been crammed with junk, sentimental shit acquired during his granddad’s naval career: boxes and boxes of washed-out photographs; amateur oil paintings of ships and lighthouses and anchors; pieces of driftwood lashed together and mounted on the walls; coils of rope thicker than Kevin’s leg; an enormous rusted anchor in the basement. How the latter had found its way through the narrow doorway and down the rickety flight of stairs, he didn’t know. His Nikes were still damp from slogging around up to his ankles in water while he was down there. Fucking foundations were probably subsiding by now.

A bird cawed overhead, snapping Kevin from his thoughts. He ran a tattooed hand across his shaved head, which was dripping with sweat. There was nothing else out here. He headed inside to dry out his shoes and eat. As he crossed the threshold, he thought he saw a drape in the hall twitch, and the scent of iodine seemed to linger in the air. But of course, that wasn’t possible, and seconds later the smell was gone.

~

Kevin was slouched in his granddad’s high-backed chair next to the patio doors with his muddy boots – he’d changed out of his Nikes – propped on the once-pristine coffee table and a greasy slice of pizza dripping between his fingers. Old sea charts and framed navigational maps, cracked and yellowing with faint blue ink barely visible, adorned every wall. A brazen brass telescope was mounted above the empty fireplace, and a score of wooden ships dotted the mantle. Pieces of rigging hung from the low ceiling, and fat black spiders made their homes amidst the dark wooden joists.

The whole place stank of salt and damp wood, and the wooden fishermen in every room, with their pointed beards and jovial eyes, were downright spooky. He’d turned three of them around to face the wall already, but there were dozens he’d missed. Mildew ran rampant in the corners and dark places of the house. He hadn’t expected to find any medals; he knew they’d all been revoked following the old man’s dishonourable discharge. Kevin didn’t really know all the details, nor did he care to. A bound man thrown into the Atlantic, another drowned just off the coast of China and a third keel hauled halfway across the Baltic Sea. His granddad had been implicated in all three, alongside six other men, although none of them had ever been formally charged. The whole thing had been swiftly hushed over.

Probably the old man got what he deserved. Unlike me, Kevin thought. So far, I’ve got shit all.

And that was when he remembered the box. He rummaged through the backpack with his free hand, upturning a nearby vase filled with wilted daffodils with his elbow before his fingers closed around the slimy surface.

He was still scraping the last of the muck from the lid using a blunted knitting needle some time later, when the last rays of the setting sun reflected off the pond’s surface, staining the garden an ominous reddish-bronze. The box was much more detailed than he’d first thought; it was definitely worth something. The sides were etched with waves and whirlpools of the minutest detail, from which vague suggestions of great serpents and other beasts emerged. And once the lid was fully uncovered, it proved equally breathtaking.

A raging tempest, painfully detailed, littered with hundreds of shattered galleons. In the centre, blackness: a perfectly circular piece of dark stone set into the wood. Kevin ran his fingers across it – it was cool to the touch, surprisingly so.

Still, there remained the problem of opening it. Kevin knew that he could force it, but that risked damaging the box and its contents. Because the box was heavy; it had real weight to it. There was something in there. He’d get some rest for half hour or so, and then have a look around for the key. Tilting his head back, he shut his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

~

Kevin dreamed of waves. He was adrift in a tiny rowboat on a black ocean that extended as far as he could see in every direction. Dark clouds scudded across the sky, and thunderheads the colour of bruises grumbled ominously. But wait, that was wrong. The ocean wasn’t black. There was something moving beneath his boat, an unimaginable mass that darkened the water and roiled the surface.

He felt the boat rise beneath him, and he was pitched backwards into the abyssal waters. He was sinking, sinking, sinking to the depths. And something was moving down there, rushing through the darkness towards him. He opened his mouth to scream and the water poured in.

~

The bright, white light hurt his eyes. Kevin blinked like a mole dazzled by a torch, and then the world swam into focus. He was hunched over in front of the tiny window in the attic, affording him a perfect view of the moonlit garden and the mirrored surface of the pond. Strange, how it looked so much bigger from up here; so much more…oceanic.

What the fuck was he doing up here anyway? And what was that noise?

Dee-dum-di-dum-dum-dee

A soft, mournful tinkling, like putting your ear to a seashell or standing on the deck of a fishing boat in a light autumn rain; it was beautiful, yet it chilled him to his very core.

Dee-dum-di-dum-dum-dee

The box lay open at his feet, illuminated in a small pool of moonlight. The inside was a single compartment of plain wood, completely devoid of any carvings or images. Something silver was rotating slowly in the center. He reached for it with a shaking hand, and that was when the surface of the pond began to move.

A score of ripples spread across the still waters. A huge mass began to coalesce, moving sluggishly beneath the surface. Something sleek and dark broke the surface, lashing out and decapitating a nearby stone cherub.

Kevin watched transfixed as a smaller shape crawled forth from the water, moving with hunched deliberation across the lawn. The moonlight threw too many details into stark clarity; blackened skin like worn leather, bedraggled wisps of hair; sagging, lichen-covered breasts and arthritic hands curled into claws.

His grandmother stopped next to the headless cherub and looked up at the window, her eyes flaring with a hellish intensity, and smiled. Her teeth were mossy gravestone nubs. The wrinkled grey flesh of her thighs gave way to yellowing bone. Long silvery worms slithered through the hollow places of her body, and something many-legged and glistening emerged from a hole in the side of her skull and skittered sideways across her chest. Something that looked like a starfish clung to the side of her neck. But starfish didn’t have mouths bulging with razor sharp fangs.

She crooked a gnarled finger at him. Come on down, sonny. Let’s have us a little chit-chat by the water’s edge.

Dee-dum-di-dum-dum-dee

Behind her, the pond had swollen to monstrous proportions, the banks having long since fallen away. Water was spilling across the grass and onto the patio, jetting forth in geysers from the rapidly collapsing lawn. The sort of fish he’d seen on Discovery’s deep sea programs were floundering on the grass: phosphorescent and eyeless, utterly hideous. A crab the size of an Alsatian scuttled across the lawn and disappeared into the shrubbery.

The night itself seemed to take a deep breath, and the stars were snuffed out like so many tiny candles. Something gargantuan beyond comprehension broke the water’s surface. Piscine and loathsome, it bellowed in atavistic rage. The sound was deafening, like a blast from a ship’s horn. He had the sense of something crossed between an octopus and a dinosaur. No, that wasn’t right. The anatomy was all wrong.

He felt his mind slipping away like an eel between his fingers. This couldn’t be happening. He was dreaming. That was it. Of tentacles thicker than tree trunks and long spindly arms, at least three times the length of a stallion’s foreleg and ending in webbed claws the size of car bonnets.

Then the poignant tang of iodine once more filled his nostrils, and he knew he wasn’t dreaming. Something shuffled across the floorboards behind him. Wet breathing, coming in short shallow gulps like a fish out of water, and the squeak of rusty casters across rough wood.

The horror outside seemed to grow dim as Kevin turned to face his granddad. The old man’s piss stained hospital johnny fluttered in the draft from the window, exposing the wrinkled flesh of his thighs and buttocks. An IV pole trailed behind him, the bags deflated and crumpled. Tubes hung like transparent veins from his forearms.

Despite everything that was happening – and just how the hell had the old man gotten out? – Kevin found his eyes immediately drawn to the side of his granddad’s head: the side that was misshapen and crumpled, like a trodden on tin can. There was no guilt: only remorse.

He should have done things properly. He should have hit him harder. He should have fucking killed him.

Kevin stumbled to his feet as his granddad advanced across the cramped attic. And the old man was grinning, his saturnine features more animated than Kevin had seen them in all the years he’d visited him at the Blackwood Home. There he’d merely lain motionless and slack-jawed, drooling into a pillow that Kevin longed to hold over his face and shitting himself on an hourly basis.

There was water dripping through cracks in the roof now, and Kevin became aware not only of a sudden sense of scrutiny, but of an enormous pressure bearing down upon him, a tidal wave crashing over a coastal city, a force of incomprehensible enormity.

The grinning spectre before him fell to its knees with a sickening crack, sending the IV pole clattering across the floor. Splinters of bright white bone jutted from the old man’s kneecaps.

Somewhere in the gloom, the music box continued to sing its funereal song.

Dee-dum-di-dum-dum-dee

For a second, Kevin could have sworn he heard waves crashing against the side of the house.

And then the light disappeared. The room was engulfed in darkness, total and complete, and he found himself unable to see further than the tip of his nose. He could hear the old man’s laboured breathing, moving closer now. The sickly sweet stench of rotten gums and decaying teeth filled his nostrils, accompanied by the grate of bone against wood.

In desperation he whirled towards the window. And discovered why the world had gone dark.

The thing from the deep opened a cyclopean eye, and the attic was bathed in ultramarine.

His granddad, from the darkness, a rasp more like a rusted chain being lowered than a human voice: ‘…et akhlish… Nisroch… chtulzra dhrazgh et Nisroch boolusch…’ This was followed by a wheezy chuckling, a sound like water on the lung.

Then the roof exploded in a shower of tiles and wood, drowning out the guttural intonation, and an unimaginable pressure seized Kevin about the waist. His ribs snapped like matchsticks as he was lifted into the air. Red water spread across his vision. Only it wasn’t water, it was blood.

Through a haze of scarlet, he beheld a maw dripping with brine that was large enough to swallow an estate car and change. The stench was almost as overpowering as the pain crushing his torso, a thousand dead gulls rotting beneath the summer sun.

There was water everywhere, gushing from the pond at an impossible rate, and the garden now looked more like a small lake. Through a curtain of pain he could vaguely discern his grandmother scaling the thing’s vast body like a withered brown spider.

Kevin understood, in his final moments, that there was truly a God. But He didn’t love, and He certainly didn’t forgive. He was an old God. A God of the deep, whose fury against those above would be both beautiful and terrible to behold.

He was death.

Kevin’s shoulders dislocated with twin pops, and waves of searing agony rushed over him. Then he was gone, lost in pain and darkness. He died slowly. He died without hope.

~

Nisroch dropped the shattered human into the rushing water, threw back its head and roared with the wind. Rain poured from the sky, a hammering deluge that would, in the weeks to come, become a global catastrophe. One of the Seven walked the earth once more, and it would bring with it an ocean unending and suffering unbound.

Rain poured through the space where the attic roof had been, beating a relentless tattoo against the wooden floor. A torrent of water smashed through the patio doors, flooding the lower floor of the house and gushing out into the road. And amidst it all, the music box continued to sing.

Dee-dum-di-dum-dum-dee

Credit To – Tom Farr

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Bound

July 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Thunder crackles loudly outside, as lightning flashes, each burst briefly illuminating the library in a shocking, intense light. The archaic structure is pelted by wave after wave of torrential rain. Winds bellow against the building, threatening to tear the entire structure down. No sane person would dare brave this weather just to read some old, musty books.

But here I am.

The metal doorbell clangs as I enter the library, alerting my presence to absolutely no one. The place is empty, just as expected. I assume it will remain that way for the rest of my shift. I don’t even know why the administrators bother to keep the library up and running this late into the night. The only person here this late at night is the librarian, and tonight that librarian is me.

I make my way to the main desk. The librarian’s counter is stationed at the far end of the library. Every step I take causes creaks in the hardwood floor that reverberates throughout the entire building.

Creak. Creak. Creak. Creeaaaaaak.

I stop in my tracks, and the noise continues echoing along in the cavernous library. It’s strange, but the sound is not in tune with my steps. I take time to check the aisles and the reading areas, wary of the steps I take, but no one is here. Not a single soul reading books, using the computers or otherwise lurking about. I guess it is just the wood swelling from the rain or some squeaky, old, floorboards. I can’t help but laugh at my bewilderment.

The short walk serves to confirm my isolation in the library, though. Even Alex isn’t here, I guess he left his shift early. I can’t really blame him. Between the gothic construction, the dim lighting and the emptiness, the library is the perfect mix of haunted mansion and horror movie set. No amount of funding or high tech workstations can erase this ancient vibe.

Coupled with the storm, there is absolutely no good reason to stay and supervise this empty, cavernous library. But I can’t let a little spooky ambiance scare me away from a paycheck; that’d be irrational. The job isn’t so bad. Once I finish all my work, I can always study for my classes the next day. The computers here are lot faster than my laptop, making this very convenient.

The desk is a mess. I know Alex is a lazy slob, but I figure he would at least make an attempt to do his job properly before leaving early. Books are scattered all over the desk and counter. Some are even on the floor, facedown, spines wrinkled and pages folded. A few minutes later, the books are all stacked on the table, ready to be put back in their respective aisles.

I take a moment to marvel at my work.

Creak. Creak. Creak.

I guess I was wrong. Someone is in the library, each creaking step confirming the fact. Maybe I didn’t check hard enough. Anyway, that is signal enough to continue working or at least, look like I am. I gather up the books and place them on the cart, beginning the dull job of returning them to their shelves. As I place book after book on the shelves, I can’t help but wrinkle my nose. It’s slight, but I know my imagination can’t be so powerful as to just conjure it up. It’s the smell of fish, fish that has been rotting in stagnant water for days.

I wonder if the other guy can smell it too and feel embarrassed if he does. Still, I am a librarian, not a janitor. My job is done, and I figure I could start on the philosophy essay I have due next week. I boot up the computer and as the familiar Windows start-up tune plays, I notice the book. It’s placed on the corner of my desk, standing up on its bottom edge. Strange, I swear I didn’t leave any books behind. Stranger still, it is a stripped book; it has no cover. Technically, it is illegal to own one, as books are usually stripped to be pulped and recycled. Perhaps the guy who entered thought he could leave this here as a donation?

I can still hear creaking in the distance. He must still be here. If I run into him, I’ll be sure to ask. I grab the book. The pages are clearly old, crisp and yellowed. There is no indication whatsoever of what the book is or who wrote it. Not exactly excited to start my essay, I begin reading it.

“This book is all that remains of H.C….”

What a coincidence. My name is Harvey Cooper. I laugh.

“…who was flayed alive on the Seventeenth Day of September.”

I humor the book and check today’s date. My heart jumps, a feeling like falling when you’re just about to sleep, an involuntary twitch that jolts you awake.

“He is this book in its entirety. May you be connected with him through its touch.”

A chill runs down my spine, but I still can’t suppress a chuckle. It is just a book after all, whatever is written here is probably just sheer coincidence. I just hope the coincidences end there.

Each turn of the page dissipates whatever hope I have bit by bit. Each page I read sinks my gut a little bit deeper. The hairs on the back of my neck threaten to rip away from my skin. This is all too chilling, too coincidental. The first chapter begins with the first time I decided to work here, back when I was a freshman some three years ago.

It starts with my first day of work, exploring the library, organizing books and meeting Gertrude, the senior librarian. The book even describes what I thought of Gertrude; what I think of her overt enthusiasm, how it borderlines into a creepy neediness. I am absolutely certain I’ve told no one about that. Every chapter details a portion of my life since then, down to the smallest detail.

I don’t know what was worse, the fact that my life has been written here or the fact that this is all written in a third person perspective, that of an omniscient, ever present observer. The writing grows cryptic as the chapters progress; details irrelevant to my life are interspersed between every paragraph. Thunder continues booming outside, uncaring of my predicament. The lights start to flicker ever so slightly, making it even harder to read the chicken scratch handwriting.

What scares me most though is that this book is not more than a few hundred pages. Considering the pages I’ve read and how much of my life has already been detailed, I assume the worst. I fumble through the pages, desperately seeking how the last chapter will play out. I scan through paragraphs that detail everything up until this day, sweaty palms dampening the outermost pages of the tome.

The last pages are empty. I flip through them, making sure I didn’t miss anything. Nothing, not a single word beyond me picking this book up. I feel my heart pump in my chest and sweat bead down my temple. This must all be a cruel joke. That’s the only thing it could be, right?

I can hear the stranger’s footsteps in the distance. The stench of fish still wafts heavily in the air, seeping into every breath I take, churning my already weak stomach.

Ring.

It’s the doorbell. I don’t think anyone else would enter the library this late at night, so it could only mean one thing: the stranger is leaving. He is the only one who could explain this book. He is the one responsible for this. I run towards the entrance. My boots pound down on the hardwood, each step booming, like the thunder outside.

As I run, the doorbell continues ringing; the clanging of the bell produces a chaotic melody with the chorus of thunder. The creaking in the library gets louder and more frequent, all of the sounds blending into a cacophonic dissonance. Everything climaxes into a harsh crescendo, a terrible symphony orchestrated by storm and fear. Distracted, I don’t hear the lumbering monster creep up behind me nor expect the heavy blow that takes my consciousness.

My head throbs, waves of pain shooting throughout my body. I can still smell the all too familiar stench of rot and, strangely, musty paper. The odor only serves to exacerbate my pain. My eyes are blurred, hazy figures and indistinct objects filling my vision. I try rubbing them, but my arms are paralyzed, immobile. Thick leather belts hold them in place, old supple leather beginning to rub my skin raw. To my horror, my legs are similarly restrained. I struggle vainly against the restraints, until I realize I am not alone in the room.

He sits at the corner of the room, writing under the luminescence of a dying light bulb. His hands are a flurry of disgusting movement. They are like gnarled branches, knotted at the joints with the rigidity of bark. The cracks and groans of abused ligaments and joints are audible through the furious scratching of pen on paper. It is like the buzzing of hornets, an aggressive and foreboding white noise, made even worse knowing that he is writing in my book. The coverless pages lay flat and wrinkled on the table, squished under his forceful writing.

I try to call out to him. I plead, I beg. My throat tears at my screams. I cry out words with increasing volume and desperation until my voice begins to wane. I can taste iron on my dry tongue, as specks of blood shoot out of my mouth. I try to scream louder hoping someone might save me, but mere silence escapes my gaping mouth. There is no reaction from him. There is only the persistent sound of words being written on paper.

It is no use. He has the pen, and I am his story. His shadow, a distorted projection of his monstrous silhouette, dances against the flickering bulb. As he continues, one thought lingers:

How does he want my story to end?

Harvey screams. He cries. He pleads. It does me no pleasure to hear his voice torn raw by his anguish. He uses words to try and delay his inevitable demise, but alas, words are what bind him to his fate.

The futility of his begging causes Harvey to seek other means to survive. Bound to the table, he looks desperately around the room. He sees the multitudes of leather bound books. Hundreds and thousands of volumes fill the room, the smell of ancient pages and deteriorating binding creating an oppressive and suffocating atmosphere. He sees vats of unknown liquid, dust obscuring the contents inside. He smells smoke above the multitude of odors and sees a cauldron, black and clearly well used, hanging above glowing embers. He sees needles, spools of string and various wooden instruments, tools so mundane that it sticks out in the eerie dungeon.

Yet, these are not what catch his attention.

His eyes lock on his friend, Alex, who stares blankly into the ceiling, mouth agape, eyes frozen in a silent expression of fear. His stripped body is crumpled awkwardly atop a rack, his skin stretched and rendered of fat and flesh. It still drips with soap and water, the skin cleaner than it ever was alive. His face is now a hollow mockery of who he once was, flat and deflated, contorted in the final terrifying moments of his life.

All color drains from Harvey’s face. He does not understand. The shock is too much to handle; his psyche shatters like broken glass. His head drops in resignation, its weight hanging heavily on his neck. He does not notice me rise slowly from my chair, nor does he notice my laborious approach.

A quick and decisive flick of the wrist severs his throat, a movement perfected and well practiced. The claws cut deep and his clothes are dyed a deep shade of crimson. Harvey struggles to glance up through the pain and blood loss, taking one last glimpse of his captor. His eyes betray one final wave of terror and regret before going blank, the last vestiges of his life slowly dripping from his throat.

The creature carefully stretches the new hide on the rack, handling it like a mother placing her baby in a crib. It has been removed perfectly, artfully. The skinning done as easily as peeling a banana. The hide glistens with fat and blood, impurities and imperfections that must be cleansed. His brain boils in the cauldron, the solution to soak the soft flesh.

The corpse is left on the table, a lifeless husk left without skin. Like an anatomy chart, it displays every muscle and sinew with startling clarity, the skin so perfectly removed that whatever beneath is left intact. Its face is left in a macabre state, eyes wide in shock and mouth twisted in a toothy grin. The corpse’s limbs have stiffened, the cadaver now a grotesque mannequin.

The ancient creature then grabs an older hide, now brown and leathery. It cuts and snips the material, a procedure it has done thousands of times. It cuts the leather into practiced dimensions. Its ancient joints fold and clamp, the binding perfect, symmetrical.

The creature looks at what once was the face of the victim. Empty holes stare back at it. It takes the ghoulish mask and wraps it neatly across the front of the book, folding and gluing and clamping it in place. The edges are sewn to secure the binding. The needle dips in and out at half inch intervals, threading thin cordage made from sinew.

It places the book among countless others on the shelf. It sits and begins to write once more.

Ring.

Gertrude, enters the library, the familiar scent of old and musty books immediately filling her nose. She notices the silence in the library, the stillness. The strange odor of rotting fish creeps up, subtle and quickly dissipating. She reaches her desk and finds it organized, the books returned and filed correctly. Harvey was always a good worker.

She sighs, and knows she’ll have to find more help yet again. She’s old now. She wonders how much of her book has yet to be written.

Credits to Nadia (for the creepypasta prompt), Noothgrush, and Ecuinach The Liar

Credit To – Urich Victorino

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What You Don’t Know Won’t Kill You

July 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Kenny, I’m so sorry. Please forgive your Erica. I made a terrible mistake and I’m sorry.

Kenny is my big brother and my best friend in the world. We have a history of exploring the Great Unknown that goes as far back as childhood. The places that terrified most kids always seemed to call out to us, demanding their secrets be uncovered by those worthy to know them. We ventured deep into the abandoned sewer tunnels of North Hill and listened to the songs of restless ghosts. In the haunted woodland burial ground near Oakland Cemetery we found unearthed human bones, which we gathered and laid to rest. We were the only ones who ever went into the basement of the abandoned house on Werther Avenue, where a child-eating demon supposedly lived; we found no demon, but we did find a thousand dollars in a satchel stashed under the boiler. We had many “expeditions”, and somehow Dad always found out about them and grounded us the moment we came home.

I suppose I believed that knowledge was a ward for fear. I explored to understand the things that scared me — to look them right in the eye and know they were harmless. My obsession eventually led me to Winterfield University’s archaeology department, and to the journal, and ultimately to the events of this past Friday which continue to drag me into tearful fits.

I don’t expect anyone will ever read these pages. I’m only writing to preserve my last ounce of sanity for a few more minutes. The sway of the boat and drumming of the rain on deck are maddening to my ears, and the cabin is so claustrophobic I think anyone would lose her mind sitting in here for two days even if she hadn’t experienced what I have.

I’ll be okay so long as it doesn’t speak again. It’s been quiet since yesterday morning.

*

The journal’s author was the late Professor Blake Deforest, a renowned archaeologist whose explorations netted him an impressive collection of Mesoamerican artifacts belonging to an unknown Indian tribe. I’d read only a little about him in my youth: an infamous thrill-seeker and opium addict better known for his eccentricity than his expertise.

The majority of his treasures are small basalt totems stylistically similar to many Olmec statues. They represent a three-armed (or three-legged?) serpentine creature resting on its coils. Its face is nothing but a titan set of jaws full of long, pointed teeth. An amber gemstone crowns each totem’s head like a crystal ball on a dais, the opaque core of which creates an omniscient eye that stares directly at you no matter where you stand. All the totems present a malicious grin as with the knowledge of some delightfully horrible secret.

Deforest built his estate on a little hill in the nameless swamp hugging the shores of Lake Hela. After stealing a certain artifact discovered on one of his expeditions — a valuable, fist-sized stone — he locked himself in the mansion and spent the last days of his life slipping into madness. On September 6th, 1889, Deforest put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger, spattering fifty years of archaeological experience all across his study walls. Police reports detailed a pathetically hurried and disinterested investigation, probably because the county politicians wanted the raving drug addict to disappear as quickly as possible. The stolen relic was never recovered.

The house has had three occupants since then, one as recent as 1976. All committed suicide.

The last of Deforest’s kin recently donated the property to the university, giving us permission to loot everything inside. When I became the head of the archaeology department the dean granted me complete access to all of Deforest’s resources — including that God-forsaken journal — and commissioned me to clean out Deforest House. If he hoped I would find the missing relic in the process, he gave no sign of it: everyone is convinced it’s on a permanent tour of the black market.

The small leather-bound book chronicles life on the Deforest property right down to the construction of the house. Deforest frequently mentions the stone, christening it the “Eye” for reasons he never explains, and goes on and on about his eagerness to study it, his theories of its pre-Olmec origin, its brilliant sheen in the sunlight, and so on and so forth.

A block of fifteen pages has been torn from the journal. The remaining pages show the rapid decline of the author’s mental health: paranoid hallucinations and dream-visions what could only result from heavy drug abuse, and other random nonsense impossible to interpret like, “Forever wandering the Red Horizon, one with the desolation, where the Cosmic Watchers stir; hungry gods of the pit! Still they call to me!” By the last ten pages nothing is even legible. Blake Deforest recorded his final thoughts in erratic scribbles only a lunatic could decipher.

Which says a lot about me. It seems strange that no one else ever tried to translate that madman’s scrawls, which I did out of nothing more than curiosity. I picked out the phrase, “it now sleeps beneath the cellar’s earthen floor,” and deduced what had happened to the missing artifact.

*

I recruited six of my friends as menial labor, including my brother Kenny because no one makes me feel safer in dark and foreboding places. We rented two trucks and emptied the house over the course of three weeks: its vintage furniture, valuable paintings, and rare books now adorn our library (those that we didn’t hock for school funds, anyway).

The swamp offered little more than murky puddles and murkier ponds, with less than a square foot of solid ground for miles, so when the weather got nasty we set up camp in the house, which was always unnerving. The marshland forest coils around the property as if trying to hide it in shame; even though it’s only an hour away from town, it feels completely isolated from the rest of the world. The house’s exterior is unremarkable except for the twenty stone steps leading up the hill to the front porch. From the bottom of these steps the manor’s outline resembles a ziggurat.

On our first visit the interior was as inviting as a quaint New England hotel; now the only decorations left are rusted wall-lamps and shadows thick enough to wrap around your shoulders on a cold night. Its empty rooms and corridors twist and flex like the innards of a creature that spent its last moments writhing in agony. The shadows knead the halls into the demented sort found in a carnival funhouse, or stretch them so they seem to go on for miles.

The air became more difficult to breathe on each visit, which I blamed on the building’s location or its advanced state of decay, though neither explanation relaxed the hairs on the back of my neck. I was always comforted to find Kenny and the others equally spooked.

Our most recent trip was to have been the last, so we took Kenny’s cabin boat to cut our travel time in half. If only we hadn’t been so eager to hold that relic in our hands we might’ve bothered to check the fuel gauge before embarking: when I fled the house I used the last drop of gas starting her up, and have sat here helplessly ever since.

The cellar was a mine tunnel, or a mass grave in waiting: an earthen floor spanning ten-by-fifteen feet, earthen walls held together with warped wooden beams. Except for the splintered pile of lumber that once served as a staircase, the room was empty. Armed with spades and an electric lamp we dropped in and set to work, twenty-minute shifts, three diggers at a time.

Two minutes later our dig came to an abrupt halt when Kenny, who’d started digging at the center of the room, struck something hard and wooden. The seven of us converged on that spot and dug like maniacs, expecting to find a treasure chest containing the Eye. What we uncovered was a four-foot-wide iron-braced trapdoor set in a stone foundation.

We paused and scratched our heads a minute. The cellar’s true floor had been curiously hidden beneath a fourteen inch layer of tightly packed marsh soil — days and days of obsessive work on Deforest’s part. It suddenly occurred to me that the journal — that is, the pages I had access to — never mentioned the construction of anything below the first floor.

We spent two hours shaving the cellar floor of its earthy coat and turned up nothing else. By then we were exhausted and figured we’d investigate the trapdoor the next day. Naturally Kenny and I were the only ones looking forward to it: oppressive gloom aside, every detail of the Deforest property tickled us with nostalgia as if it were a living synopsis of our childhood adventures.

In the meantime the weather bordered on catastrophic. Gale force winds ravaged the trees as snarling black clouds gathered over the lake — sailing would have been suicide. We unraveled our bedrolls around the electric lamp, enjoyed a modest supper of rations and hot cocoa, and after a few ghost stories my party retired for the night.

I have no idea how long I slept before the house’s unnatural stillness crept into the parlor and shook me awake. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something in the shadows was watching us. Each time I closed my eyes I saw Deforest’s totems sitting expectantly on the museum’s shelf, staring perpetually. Sitting and staring and smiling.

Dragged on a leash by some greedy curiosity I crept through the black halls and back to the cellar, keeping the lantern off until I reached the trapdoor to avoid disturbing my sleeping friends. With some effort — less than I had expected — I pulled the heavy trapdoor open, gagging as the smell of putrid water assaulted me. Beneath it a stone staircase descended into darkness.

Bile burned my throat. And I started down.

*

The stairway descended about twelve feet before it leveled off and the crushingly narrow walls opened into a sub-cellar, or what I had assumed was a sub-cellar until I took those first few steps toward the center of the room. The chamber was circular, little more than fifteen feet in diameter and crafted from muddy stone bricks the size of cinder blocks. Water covered the floor — rank seepage from the marsh above. Hieroglyphic carvings decorated the walls from floor to ceiling, all savagely defaced and impossible to read.

A large, mildew-stained creature emerged from the darkness, tearing a scream from my chest before I realized the demon was made of basalt and not flesh. Its features were perfectly intact, but rather than squat on its snakelike hindquarters like its smaller kin at the museum, it sprouted from the wall to form a chilling altar similar to those found in La Venta. With a shudder I turned my attention from the beast to the marred hieroglyphs on the wall.

On one side of the chamber was a mural like those found in Egyptian tombs, carved rather than painted, rich with detail and still mostly intact. The mural was six-by-ten-feet and depicted — how to explain it? — two-dozen tiers stacked like the floors of a hotel, with each tier containing a world that I can’t adequately describe beyond vague, horrified summaries. Many were so alien they gave me chills: a liquid planet, a world broken into fragments floating in nothingness, and a flat, endless desert to name a few. I think the mural meant to suggest coexistence, but separated the layers for clarity’s sake.

The creatures inhabiting those realms were the stuff of childhood nightmares, drifting along without purpose or cannibalizing each other with relish as they reenacted the ghastly histories of their worlds. It’s like each was another failed attempt by God at creating indigenous life. And it baffled me: Deforest, that attention-loving explorer, had hidden away a priceless treasure trove of never-before-seen mythology with the hope that no one would ever find it.

Human shapes inhabited the pan-dimensional apartment complex’s central tier. The characters dressed in an Aztec-style (were the Mystery Indians their relatives?) and seemed to stand in for the human race as a whole, acting out each chapter of the species’s evolution: harnessing fire, building tools and houses, learning to farm and hunt, forming societies, waging war, finding God.

The final act of the story of Man stirred my insides with an icy ladle: a congregation of bald figures, priests most likely, lined up behind a more prominent bald figure who knelt beneath a round, blazing object — something reminiscent of Ra and his solar disk. This didn’t disturb me quite so much until I looked up and found the same figure in the desert world — the world placed reverently at the top of the mural — lacking the solar disk and kneeling before the serpentine triped of Deforest’s treasure trove.

From that point things took a turn for the horrific. The other worlds began to seep into Man’s realm: first only one or two curious creatures, crossing the dimensional borders, looking around, snatching up a random object or person; then the landscapes bled into each other in patches, and otherworldly fiends came in raiding parties. Humans were tormented, possessed, transformed, or dragged into the other worlds and eaten. The once barren desert realm became populated with hideous human shapes, a mockery of the ones in the human realm. Finally the tier borders melted away completely, the worlds merged and all existence was pandemonium.

I identified this as the Mystery Indians’ nightmarish rendition of Ragnarok: the tiers of existence collapse on one-another while an apathetic cyclopean god looks on and laughs. That didn’t account for the priests, though, lined up and waiting eagerly for their turn with the solar disk. Maybe it was a common thing. A ritual sacrifice to the cosmic watcher; one where the lambs couldn’t wait to throw themselves upon the knife, to spend eternity with their hideous god in a heavenly wasteland. I shuddered again at the thought.

So where had the Mystery Indians vanished to? The other Indians must have annihilated them for their blasphemous religion. I’d just begun to wonder how many had migrated to North America when my foot accidentally met with a small, hard object and sent it rolling several feet. My gaze fell to the floor and remained there for ten minutes.

I knelt and took the carelessly discarded relic in my trembling hands, holding it before my face like a dazzled child would a Christmas snow globe. It had a haunting beauty unlike any jewel I’d ever seen: three inches wide, colored like a dark Oktoberfest brew, smoother to the touch than ivory except where hieroglyphics scarred its surface. I knew by its opaque core that it was the Eye. Laughing, I returned the statue’s grin to thank it for its lovely gift.

It had changed. Its smile was broader, more elated. It seemed to lean forward eagerly.

As quickly as my euphoria had enveloped me it recoiled in horror. The Eye was translucent, but the image on the other side was wrong. I had to hold the relic to my face like a monocle just to be sure it wasn’t [rest of sentence is too scrawled to read]

Sorry for my handwriting. Keeping my pen in hand is becoming difficult. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to revisit what I saw, let alone put it into words. Many details refuse to fully surface as though I’d experienced it all in a drunken stupor, but a cruel few tower before my memory with monumental clarity.

*

Metaphors only scratch the surface. A fish torn from the sea and tossed into a dry Martian crater all in one horrible instant. I didn’t belong there. My existence in that place was a blasphemy to the natural order of the universe.

How long did I lie there? How many days curled into a trembling wad with my head buried in my arms, after realizing the Eye — my inter-dimensional doorway — had abandoned me, like the rest of the earth. Eventually I gathered my strength and stood up, if only because I didn’t know what else to do.

The nightmare landscape was cracked, mars-red, spread out over infinite space, endless in scope and perfect in flatness as far out as the horizon except for a single lonesome crag of reddish stone in the distance reaching miles into the sky. Toward this formation I walked as nihilism swallowed the last ounce of my spirit. In every other direction the word “direction” had no meaning.

My shoes left no prints: despite its brittle appearance the ground refused yielding to my weight as if every last grain were frozen in time. A khaki sky seared overhead, devoid of clouds and sun; yet everything was brightly lit with a retina-crushing amber tint. In spite of the glare I felt no heat. No heat, no cold, no wind. No atmosphere at all. I don’t recall having the need for breath except when sobbing hysteria overtook me. My loudest wail vanished shortly after leaving my diaphragm, without so much as an echo. An impossible atmospheric stillness like that in a bad dream. Even with my hands clasped over my ears the silence penetrated and induced the sort of madness that is only partly relieved by long, anguished screams.

A red stalagmite stood twelve meters to my left where once there had been nothing. Its shape twisted screw-like up from the ground, but rather than come to a point it swelled into a bulbous mass. It looked like the petrified remains of some unnamable organism.

Acknowledging the stone polyp caused more to appear. My eyes would pan to a new polyp only to notice another in their peripheral, until I found myself in the center of a disjointed circle of seven or eight. Each was twisted into a different amorphous shape, but all stood about six feet high. They didn’t burst forth from the ground, or drop from the sky, or form molecule by molecule before my eyes — they just suddenly were.

A hundred yards to the west, assuming the crag was north, something moved.

It likely appeared out of nowhere just like the stalagmites, and induced enough shuddering terror in me that I wished I hadn’t seen it at all: charred skin as black as ash, broom handle limbs carrying it with the grotesquely awkward steps of a marionette. Even from such a great distance I saw the empty holes where eyes used to be, and the face permanently shriveled and twisted in anguish. A millennium in hell couldn’t wear a human being into such a shape!

The broken man halted in mid-step and remained like a statue for several minutes. It turned its head until its empty eyes fell on me. It stood and stared and did nothing else.

I turned back toward the crag and walked faster in case the shambling thing decided to follow.

After three days of walking with no apparent need for rest, the crag now towered close enough that I could distinguish a narrow cave entrance at its base. More stone polyps had erected like carelessly scattered billboards along my path, and still more appeared whenever I blinked, or rubbed my face, or lost my grip on my emotions.

Then I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder. Only ten feet behind me, where once there had been nothing but stone polyps, a myriad of deathly thin nightmare figures stood staring at me. I never saw them take a step or even so much as twitch, yet no matter how long I walked, the distance between me and the colony of broken men remained constant. They kept a semicircular formation, curving inward toward me, herding me toward the great crag’s gaping mouth. I was too scared to think better of slipping inside to escape all those dreadful faces.

Details of the inside return to me in an earth-tone blur except for the hole cut into the ground at the center of the cave, circular and as wide as a house. The sounds from its throat commanded me to draw nearer until I stood teetering at its lip, gazing downward with streaming eyes and trembling breath.

That abysmal pit! It must have pierced right into the planet’s core! God, if you could have seen them slithering and writhing in that white magma, thousands bobbing shark-like to the surface and scaling the walls of the pit in unnatural flight! And I, the fearless explorer, just stood there and watched with stone legs. Stood and watched as the first one emerged and arched its colossal serpentine body forward to get a better look at me, its three giant talons straddling the pit’s mouth, twenty tendril-like tongues licking its fangs.

The thing spoke to me in an awful language of thunderous, droning notes I didn’t understand. The star hovering over its head reached its tainted gaze inside me and fanned through my every memory, every experience, every personal guilt like pages in a book. As it did I saw things I can barely put into words, like I’d tapped into its mind and shared its omniscience: time and space conjoined, spewing eons of existence in front of me simultaneously like so much junk on a flea market table. The universe cried out, peeled back like a scab and revealed a squirming mess of worlds overlapping like projector slides, and somewhere within that churning brew of slithering bodies and impossible landscapes I saw earth peeking out at me; glimpses of human beings going about their daily lives while oblivious to the horrors sharing their space in the universe. They walked through alien pillars as if they were illusions, across great rivers of acid as if they were asphalt, side-by-side with ungodly creatures as if they didn’t exist! A hundred coexisting worlds mortared with a thin sheet of tissue paper that could be ruptured with the tiniest glance.

The monsters can’t be accurately described with human language. Even the depictions in the mural do them no justice. I came within arm’s reach of a flying, tentacled horror the size of a bus drifting across a noxious, luminous valley of slime. It came to rest on a black stone-like protrusion that may have been a boulder or the rooftop of a sunken building. I seemed to hover over the fiend like a ghost, so close I could reach out and touch it if I dared.

It looked up, startled. It stared into my soul with forty squirming white tennis ball eyes. It saw me.

I started screaming.

I’d been screaming for several minutes before I realized I was sitting on the tomb’s wet floor with my empty hands outstretched. In my panic the relic had slipped from my earthly body’s grip and now rested on the floor just out of arm’s reach.

It was calling. The Eye commanded me to take it in my hands again. The statue sat gritting its teeth in an angry grimace, and almost imperceptibly the shadows began to move. Just outside the lantern’s failing glow the shriveled faces of six broken men glowered at me. Then the lantern went out.

Something grabbed at me in the dark that may have been real or imagined, and I scrambled up the stairs and out of the cellar, flinging the trapdoor shut behind me. Every animal in the swamp must have heard me as I dashed back to the parlor, crashing through doors and into walls, screaming Kenny’s name at the top of my lungs and growing more frantic when no one replied. All I needed was for Kenny to hug me and pat me on the head like he always did and tell me everything was all right. But when I had crept away from our camp, in the darkness I never noticed that the other six bedrolls lay open and empty — that I had awoken in that house alone.

The Eye had saved me for last.

*

It’s calling again. It’s so loud it hurts. It’s like an eel slithering inside my head and it’s furious.

stop please

The house is pulling me back like with a chain. God if you only knew what I know! The things it showed me! The things I still see! The things I saw in the swamp! I can’t go back, not through that swamp!

They’re drawn to me because I crossed the barrier. They can smell me. I saw the broken men wandering the marsh, flickering in and out of existence like the picture on a TV with bad reception. Sometimes one, sometimes ten. They see me and they try to drag me back to their masters. I always outrun them but they stay longer and longer. Maybe one of them is K–[remaining text violently scratched out]

I see other things, worse than the broken men. So much worse. They’re searching for me, too. Using me as a beacon. I locked myself in here and I haven’t moved since. I’m afraid to look out the windows and see them slithering about in the marsh. They’ll see me and they’ll come.

I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to know anymore. Deforest didn’t want to know. He didn’t want anyone to know.

get out of my head

I cant go back It’s angry that I fled and if I go back I don’t know what it will do to me I don want to go back please whoever finds this please bury that room bury it so no one can find it don let it take you to that awful place

ragnarok

put the barrel in your mouth it’s the only answer but is so heavy

put the barrel in your mouth you coward

something just crawled on deck outside

i’m so sorry for ev–[remaining text is too blood-smeared to read]

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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Support Call ID: 100156-03

July 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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SUPPORT DESK TRANSCRIPT

ID: 100156-03 Supp User: Jim_D
Call Date/Time: 08-16-201X Cust Acc: 212254674

Supervisor Notes: Customer account identified at intro – passed thru to support. FLSH case No. 83447

======================================

JIM: Hi. I’m Jim, your mobile phone support contact. This conversation may be recorded for training purposes. How can I help you today?

CUSTOMER: Hiya. Having some trouble with the speech recognition. It doesn’t seem to understand what I’m asking.

JIM: Okay. I just need to get a few additional details first before we go any further. Are the contact and billing details on your account up to date?

CUSTOMER: Yes.

JIM: And I see here your contract began a month ago.

CUSTOMER: Yes. I connected to the 3G network last week and it flashed up something about a software upgrade and that’s when the problems started.

JIM: Thanks, but I just need to confirm a few more things before we can start trying to identify the issue and resolve it for you. Your mobile is a Samsung Galaxy S2 and you have 3G internet access, is that correct?

CUSTOMER: Yes. I mentioned the 3G already…

JIM: I just needed to confirm the facts before going any further. So, what appears to be the problem.

CUSTOMER: As I mentioned BEFORE, the speech recognition is playing up.

JIM: In what way, and with as much detail as possible please.

CUSTOMER: When I try to search using Google, it keeps mishearing what I’m saying and brings back what I don’t want.

JIM: Well Sir, no voice recognition software is 100% accurate. Have you tried speaking slower and/or louder, preferably somewhere with little or no background noise?

CUSTOMER: Why didn’t I think of that! I’m being sarcastic by the way.

JIM: I have to cover all the suggested options, even the obvious ones Sir. Could you give me an example?

CUSTOMER: Yeah, sorry. Yesterday I tried a search for ‘Restaurants near where I live’, and the results were local graveyards and mortuaries! I’m not planning on booking a table for one at a location like that for another 50 years or so.

JIM: Understandable. Anything else?

CUSTOMER: A couple of days before that I tried a search for some family pictures so I could change my background, and it returned, well, a whole lot of sick images I can tell you!

JIM: What do you mean by ‘sick’?

CUSTOMER: Dead bodies. Some mutilated. Lots of blood and gore. What looked like cannibalistic rituals or something. Really sick shit. What if my kids had been using the phone!?

JIM: Could you refrain from swearing please Sir.

CUSTOMER: Sorry. What about the pictures though?

JIM: You can put parental controls on what your phone can access on the internet, which I can take you through next if you have the time, but this sounds like something we may have to escalate if these pictures break certain decency criteria.

CUSTOMER: Okay.

JIM: I believe you mentioned these problems only started occurring following a recent update to your phone?

CUSTOMER: Yeah. No idea what it was. The window just popped up and I clicked ‘Install Now’. Took about 5 minutes including the reboot.

JIM: Do you know what version of Android your phone is running?

CUSTOMER: What, you mean one of those funny food related names? Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich. That kind of thing?

JIM: There are specific numeric versions, but the codename should do as a starting point.

CUSTOMER: OK. I wrote it down somewhere, hold on.

CUSTOMER: …

CUSTOMER: …

CUSTOMER: Back. It says ‘Android 2.2.3 Flesh’

JIM: So that’s version 2.2.3 Froyo, short for Frozen Yogurt by the way.

CUSTOMER: No, no…it definitely says ‘Flesh’ here.

JIM: …

JIM: Could you hold on whilst I speak to my supervisor please.

JIM: …

JIM: …

JIM: Sorry for the wait Sir. Having spoken to my supervisor and reviewed your firmware download history, there does appear to be a problem with your recent installation. Please open the Settings on your phone and select Software Update to download the most recent version. That should resolve all your problems.

CUSTOMER: OK. Thanks for that. I’ll give it a go.

JIM: Could you try it now Sir and let me know when it’s done.

CUSTOMER: I can’t right now but I’ll contact the support desk again if it doesn’t work. Thanks for the help.

JIM: Please try it now whilst you’re on the line Sir.

CUSTOMER: As I said, I can’t. I’m calling on the land line. My daughter’s using the mobile right now, talking to her sister. The credit ran out on hers. She might be a while – you know how these teenagers are…

JIM: Please ask your daughter to end the call NOW Sir. With your recent update there is a known issue in the firmware that can also affect both incoming and outgoing calls. Some users have complained of headaches, nausea, and other unexplained side effects.

CUSTOMER: What? I thought that scare about mobiles giving you brain tumours or whatever was just that…a scare?

JIM: I am neither confirming nor denying anything Sir, and our Terms and Conditions plus liabilities are available on our web site. However, due to a recent bypass of our firewalls, an unknown update to the Android operating system was released without our knowledge over our network. We claim no liability for this software upgrade and are investigating the breach in our security. In line with the requirements of your contract and for your own safety and that of your family, please upgrade your software NOW and refrain from using your mobile for any and all calls.

CUSTOMER: Is this a joke?

JIM: Sir, please take the mobile off your daughter and end any current calls. Our company will not accept responsibility for any harm that may come to your family following this warning.

CUSTOMER: You’ve got to be kidding me! Damn small-print assholes. Hold on….Lauren….finish talking to your sister Hannah and give me the phone. I said, give me the goddamn phone! What the…….shit, are your eyes bleeding honey!?

JIM: Exit the house now please Sir.

CUSTOMER: Lauren….wha…speak to me. Put the phone down and speak to me.

JIM: Lock all doors behind you and vacate the premises.

CUSTOMER: Just…just come over here and let me take a look at…at your eyes… There’s….there’s blood coming from your ear as well. Here, let me take the phone off you….

JIM: Please refrain from interacting with your daughter and exit the building now Sir.

CUSTOMER: [yelling]….Goddamn it Lauren, you bit me! What the hell is wrong with you! Back off now! I mean it. [screaming] Jesus! My fingers….my fucking fingers! No, no, no, no……stay….stay back. [sobbing] Lauren please…..

[sounds of physical struggle and furniture damage]

JIM: Sir? Sir?

[sounds of wet coughing and of a pet, possibly a large dog, feeding]

JIM: ……..If you can still hear me Sir, thank you for calling your mobile phone help support. A specialist contractor and clean up crew has been dispatched to your address to deal with your ongoing issue. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.

[call terminated]

Credit To – Charmingly Shallow

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