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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.

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

4.

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.

5.

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.

“Mutiny”.

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 (http://tinyurl.com/oa8z6nl) 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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Jason Loved to Read

August 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Jason loved to read. Every day he would take a walk to a nice place, like the park or the beach, and sit down to read for hours. It didn’t matter what the story was about, or who the author was, because Jason just loved to read.

One weekend, his usual places were a little crowded due to the gorgeous weather. He decided to take a walk in the woods to see if he could find a clearing, or an interesting log, where he could relax and lose himself in a book.

Jason walked through the forest for quite some time. These particular woods weren’t good for hiking and had no trails, so he was sure to have some solitude. He wasn’t sure how far he had walked before he came upon the mysterious building. It looked somewhat like an old bank, and was covered in moss and vines. The doors were open and falling off the hinges, and the windows were filthy and broken. Jason figured this strangely placed building might be just what he was looking for.

As he entered through the crumbling doorway, he saw dozens of shelves lined with books. What was a library doing in the middle of the woods? It didn’t matter to Jason. All that mattered was that he was staring at what might possibly be a treasure trove of unread narratives.

He wasted no time grabbing a random book off the closest shelf as he dropped his book bag without care for its contents. Jason inspected the book and it was surely something he had never heard of. He returned it to the shelf and went to further investigate the library. The whole place was filthy, but there wasn’t any random clutter like one might except from an abandoned building. But why was it abandoned? Who could just leave all these books to rot? Jason only thought about it for a moment, as he was too engaged in reading the names of all the books, wondering if he’d find something he recognized. He didn’t find anything remotely familiar.

Books were meant to be read, and Jason felt like these books weren’t fulfilling their purpose, and for a long time it seemed. It was time to start reading. He picked one called ‘Black Wing Adventures’ and sat Indian-style on the floor. The story was incredible! It had everything anyone could want in a good book: adventure, romance, action, even philosophy. But it wasn’t just that it had so many good qualities, it was that those qualities shined so much brighter than anything he had ever read. If this book was this amazing, what treasures did the other books hold? Jason was excited in a way he never felt before.

It was getting late and Jason knew that his girlfriend, Melissa, would be pissed that he wasn’t answering her texts. Normally she understood that this was Jason’s ‘me’ time, but he usually came home hours ago. He took the book with him so he could finish it later and started his journey home. He wasn’t sure if he would find the library again, so he marked trees along the way with a sharpie he had in his book bag.

The next morning, Jason got up a little early so he could read. He grabbed his book bag and took out what he expected to be ‘Black Wing Adventures’. The book now had a different title, ‘Love Without a Friend’. More rummaging through the bag produced only his other boring books that he had previously been excited to read. Did he grab the wrong book? No, that wasn’t possible. He hadn’t let go of the book before putting it in his bag. It was obviously from the same library because it was covered in thick dust. He must have taken the wrong book. It was the only explanation.

He decided that he would read ‘Love Without A Friend’ even though the title didn’t really seem anywhere near as cool as ‘Black Wing Adventures’. Boy, was he wrong. It was just as good. It didn’t have adventure or action, but it had a strikingly human quality to it. Jason had never felt the kinds of emotions the story was invoking. Turning each page was like opening a Christmas present. He couldn’t wait to receive each word, each thought, each feeling. It was late, and Jason began to nod off. He didn’t want to stop reading, but eventually he passed out.

The next morning he was still holding the book in his hands. It was still opened to the page he left off on, and he started to read again. He had no idea what he was reading. The story had completely changed. There were different characters, different thoughts, different feelings. He closed the book and looked at the title. It was ‘Men and Monsters’. Jason was even more shocked than the first time. This book hadn’t left his hands. He hadn’t returned to the library to exchange it for another book. None of this was possible, and Jason was getting understandably freaked out.

All he could think of doing was going back to the library. Maybe he could find one of the other books he was reading. Upon his arrival, Jason received a text message from Melissa that read, “Are you ignoring me?” He responded, telling her he had found a new spot in the woods to read. He left out the part about a mysterious library with curious books, figuring it would only lead to more questions. Once Melissa’s concern had diminished, Jason shut off his phone.

When he got inside the library, he searched long and hard for ‘Black Wing Adventures’ or ‘Love Without a Friend’, but he was unsuccessful. In fact, none of the titles he remembered from before were anywhere to be found. Every book was different. Could this be another abandoned library? How many could there possibly be? Even one seemed strange. Jason just wanted to experience what these books were capable of, so he didn’t want to think about how strange the whole situation had become. He just wanted to read.

He knew he didn’t have much time, so he quickly grabbed a book called ‘Our Nation’s Last Hero’. It was a political drama with as many twists and turns as a great mystery. Jason had never read anything like it. He rarely thought about politics, but it was suddenly the most interesting subject in the world. It started getting dark, so once again, Jason left the library and took the book he had been reading. He hoped it would still be the same book when he woke up the next morning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Jason didn’t know what to do. These books were amazing, but apparently he wasn’t going to be able to finish one unless he read it in less than twenty-four hours. He was going to have to stay awake for a long time, so he packed his book bag with caffeinated energy drinks and a few deli sandwiches in case he got hungry. Jason knew Melissa would be looking for him, but he didn’t care. He cared so little that he left his phone at home on purpose.

And so it began. Jason was on a mission to finish one of the magical changing books. What else could they be but magical? A book that changes every day? What an incredible thing! Though Jason had been upset about not being able to finish one, he was thrilled at the fact that he was reading books that no one else would ever read. If he managed to finish one, he would be as satisfied as he could ever be in his whole life.

He chose a book called ‘The Lion’s Tears’, and began reading. As he read, he would periodically take a few swigs of energy drink and take a bite of a sandwich. Eventually he ran out of drinks and began crashing from all the caffeine. It was too soon! He hadn’t finished the book! There were just a few chapters left, but he couldn’t stay awake any longer. He hoped that he would wake up again before the book changed. When he awoke, it seemed as though the next day had not yet come, but the book had still transformed into something new. Jason decided he was wrong about when the change occurred. It wasn’t when the day changed, it was whenever he fell asleep.

Jason stopped leaving the library. He had no time to walk back and forth, or spend time with his girlfriend, or do anything other than read the magical books. He tried to stay awake long enough to finish one, but it was no use. He just kept falling asleep. Jason was getting angry now. This wasn’t a treasure trove of beautiful works of fiction, it was a curse. He was obsessed with finishing one of the books, and it was eating away at his sanity.

No food, no water, no contact with other human beings. When Jason would begin to fall asleep, he would take a piece of broken glass from one of the windows and cut himself to stay awake. After several cuts, he began to feel weak from blood loss. His mind was becoming warped as he sucked every word into his now crippled consciousness. The books he chose became more and more macabre. Titles like ‘Making Love to Murder’ and ‘The Man Who Ate Himself’ were overtaking the other, more gentle ones. If Jason was going to finish one of these books, it had to be something that interested him, and gentle things were no longer in his interest.

There was no telling how long Jason had been in the library. He wasn’t eating or drinking, but somehow he wasn’t hungry or thirsty anymore. It was as if the books were keeping him alive. They wanted him to read. They wanted him to finish. He kept getting closer and closer to finishing one of the books. He was sleeping less and less, and his dream was going to soon come true. But which book would be the lucky one? Which one would be read from front to back by a willing participant? He picked up a book off the shelf and looked at the title. It was called ‘Jason Loved to Read’.

His eyes widened. His mind raced. What an amazing coincidence! A book with his name in the title! And it’s about someone who loves to read! Adrenaline raced through Jason’s body as he opened the book and began the first chapter. He read of a teenage boy who found an abandoned library in the woods. He read about books that magically changed their content whenever the protagonist fell asleep. He read about himself. This was the book that he would finish. This was the book that he HAD to finish. Jason’s heart pounded like mad as he reached the final chapter, when suddenly he was interrupted by a shouting female.

“What the hell, Jason?! THIS is where you’ve been?! I’ve been calling! I’ve been texting! Everyone is looking for you! I only found this place because I happened to see those marks on the trees and thought that maybe you made them! Hello?! Jason?! Are you deaf?!” Just then, she noticed the cuts all over Jason’s body. She fell silent, and took a step back. Here was her boyfriend, cut up and bloody, buried in a book, paying no attention to her tirade.

“Jason… what’s going on? Are you alright? Why won’t you look at me? Jason?” Her voice was concerned but hesitant. Jason just sat there Indian-style, reading his book. Melissa lost her temper.

“Look at me, Jason! What the fuck?!” She began to cry. All she wanted was to find her boyfriend and find out why he had been missing. She expected him to embrace her and tell her that they were together again and that everything was going to be alright. She ran to him, bent down, grabbed his arm and shouted, “Jason!”

In a split second, Jason grabbed a piece of broken glass, already covered in blood from using it to cut himself, and jammed it firmly into Melissa’s neck. Her eyes became wild with fear as she gurgled and jiggled, eventually falling to the floor with the glass still in her neck. Jason’s face had no expression as he continued reading his book; his legacy.

It was about to happen. The last page. Jason couldn’t believe it. He had finally stayed awake long enough to finish one of the magical books from the mysterious abandoned library in the middle of the woods. His hands shook as he turned the page and saw the words ‘The End’ towards the bottom, below the final paragraphs. It was then that he became horrified for the first time in his entire life. The book ended with the protagonist, Jason, stabbing his girlfriend in the neck with a shard of broken glass.

Jason didn’t move, didn’t blink, or even think. He just sat there in absolute shock. Was this really happening? Why did the book say that he killed his girlfriend?! That was impossible! Jason was no killer, he just loved to read! He stood up and screamed a desperate, primal scream, throwing the book on the floor next to Melissa’s body. He looked at her as if noticing her for the first time. There was blood all over the floor. Melissa was surely dead, and Jason must have been the murderer. He walked home in a daze, and called 911 to turn himself in.

According to Jason’s story, the police expected to find Melissa’s body in an abandoned building in the woods. When they arrived at the proper location, they found only her body amid the blood stained leaves and branches. Nothing that resembled a library was anywhere in sight.

The details of the trial and conviction aren’t extraordinary, but what you may find interesting is what happened when Jason arrived at prison. His cellmate offered him a book to pass the time. Jason politely replied, “No thanks. I hate to read.”

Credit To – Umbrello

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Nihil

August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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‘The first time I heard the legend of the Mad Hangman was from another inmate in our prison. He told me that there was a man with the ability to ward off death. That he was immortal. At first I thought it was a comforting fable for people who were about to be executed, but then I heard it from other places. ’

‘His name was August Atherstone. A master executioner in Britain in the 1800s.’

‘He hanged a countless number of criminals. There were rumours that the only way August could get so effective at killing was that he performed ‘unofficial’ executions. Favours for prisons who quickly wanted rid of an inmate.’

‘August said he had seen ‘reflections of the afterlife’ in dead eyes so many times that death and life became one. He was Death’s Messenger, and through this, entered into a pact with Death Himself.’

‘Some people say he was afflicted with eternal life. Some say Death rewarded him.’

‘He walks the earth now. Waiting by the graves of his loved ones for Death to finally come for him. But he never does.’

‘They say that some cults worship August as a God. They offer him sacrifices so that they too can live forever. I tried to find them. I couldn’t. That’s why I ended up here.’

The legend of the Mad Hangman, pieced together by various letters found in an abandoned apartment.

Death Himself is a mystery; the milestone to which we measure life. We wait for him like we await an old friend, often attempting to delay his intervention, but never to defy him entirely.

He was my obsession. I longed to see the world through Death’s gaze. By the time monotony and routine had become the foundations of my existence, I had learned that life held no discernible meaning. Death would come for me, and I would be a name carved into stone, long forgotten before high winds prevented graveyard visits and overgrown wilderness masked the details of the dead on my colorless headstone. Through some divine inspiration; perhaps driven by the stale nothingness of reality, I unknowingly embarked upon a journey into the realms of the unreal.

I began contacting murderers, serial killers, terrorists, cult followers, cult leaders, mental patients, grave robbers, necrophiliacs, cannibals; any type of deranged mind I could locate the whereabouts of. Within a few months I had contacted notorious inmates such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It seems that I had a natural talent for eliciting a response from such people. I would study their victimology and work backwards, often posing as a woman, or a gay man, or a devotee of their interpretation of art. On the night Ted wrote his last letter to me, he had signed off with ‘your friend’, and it was no coincidence that he was executed the following morning. I always found it humorous how the prospect of death reveals true intentions, even from someone as experienced in the art of death as Ted was.

My interest in high-profile killers began to wane, as their stories were often elaborated to the point of fiction. My concern, then, moved onto lesser known evil. The nameless occult killer haunting the backstreets of small towns; the curious Satanist eager to offer his new God-deity his first sacrifice. After all, if I was to unlock the secrets of Death, would I not find it veiled in the unattainable depths of a morbid psyche?

What became clear through my correspondence was that although serial killers were the most egotistical people alive, they held a secret admiration for each other’s work. An admiration which existed only in the murderer’s collective conscience, never to be spoken of. It was not uncommon for me to play the part of the middle man, passing messages between psychopaths across the country. It was through this that I learnt the legend of the August Atherstone, the Mad Hangman, and his pact with Death Himself. Whenever a serial killer with occult connections was incarcerated, several murderers would try to contact them, and the subject of the Mad Hangman seldom arose.

Occasionally, I would be asked if I could contact certain people who I wasn’t familiar with. It was rare that this happened, but one name in particular kept arising; Baron. I had uncovered no details regarding such a person, but I was assured he existed. Robin Gecht informed me that Baron was an unstoppable, merciless killing machine driven by ritualistic delusions. Rod Ferrell was certain he had met Baron before, and that he was somehow affiliated with the cult which worshipped the Mad Hangman. Months of searching for this mysterious inmate yielded no results, until I received a letter from a cannibal in Britain.

‘He’s here.

There’s a cell in the basement we call the Throne Room, because it’s just a chair and nothing else. Some of the guards organise fights between inmates down there and a couple of guys claim to have seen an unknown prisoner in the Throne Room. I’ve overheard conversations between guards – he’s painted the walls with his own blood, his mouth has been sewn shut, he wears a mask, he’s been eating rats. I sometimes hear sounds coming from his cell. It isn’t screaming, or shouting, or any of the shit you usually hear in prisons at night. The noises coming from down there are not human.
I know from experience that he won’t be around long.

I’ve heard that the guards have been told to ‘get rid of him.’ They will unofficially execute him, August Atherstone style. If you want to see Baron, get here quick.

Stephen G, inmate #364, Wakefield Prison Monster Mansion’
I made arrangements to travel to Wakefield, not hesitating to leave routine and monotony behind.

Standing infront of the Monster Mansion itself, its gigantic stone walls cast a shadow on the sleepy town beneath. Cold January rain beat against the arched gates which slowly opened to reveal a gothic palace housing the most deranged criminals in England.

‘I have a visit scheduled to see Stephen Griffiths, inmate #364,’ I told the guard, who escorted me to our allocated room.

‘I’ll be supervising your meeting with Mr Griffiths,’ said the guard. He tied back his long hair with a hairband from his wrist and straightened his uniform.

‘It’s for your own safety, and to make sure nothing is given or exchanged. Do you understand?’

I agreed to the protocol, and soon found myself sitting face to face with Stephen – a sociopathic cannibal lusting for infamy. His shackled hands rested in his lap, and his gaze was primarily focused on the table between us. We made small talk, such as how I was finding my stay in England and what I did for work. Stephen’s crimes did not interest me in the slightest, nor did his life story. I had begun regular correspondence with Stephen so that my motives for entering Wakefield Prison would not be questioned. I suspected Stephen knew my true agenda, but who was he to reject friendship?

When I finally asked Stephen about what I needed to know; Baron’s whereabouts, his eyes met mine for the first time. Before Stephen could speak, however, the prison guard promptly intervened.

‘Visiting time is up,’ he said, and ushered in another prison warden to escort Stephen back to his cell. I had anticipated that this would be the case, and somehow needed to prolong my stay at the prison. The same guard forcefully ushered me out of the room and back to the courtyard.

‘Please follow me, sir,’ he said, walking in the opposite direction of the arched gates I entered from. ‘The exit is this way.’

I followed him across the empty courtyard, my visibility reduced by standard issue English weather. We passed between two stone pillars, bearing plaques honouring the architects who built Wakefield Prison. We passed through a picturesque scenic garden, decorated with benches and rose bushes. Despite its beauty, the place seemed more barren with every step we took. We eventually arrived at a spiraling concrete staircase leading down seemingly to the bottom of the world, and it wasn’t until then that I realised where I was being led. The guard was not leading me to the exit. He was leading me to where I wanted to go. His silence and blank stare told me all I need to know; he was one of us. A follower of the macabre, a seeker of Death.

Not a word was spoken between me and the guard, but like serial killers before us, we upheld a mutual silent admiration. At the bottom of the staircase the guard unlocked a steel security door which opened into a dimly-lit corridor. Once the scent of damp stone had subsided, I followed him through a narrow tunnel illuminated only by a single bulb in the distance. For the first time in my life, excitement coursed through my veins. It felt as though I was walking into the mouth of hell, and I didn’t care if I made it out alive. This was the closest I had come to Death’s realm since I first contacted John Wayne Gacy and those letters seemed like child’s play in comparison. Death had visited here; this I was certain of.

At the end of the corridor, it stood. The Throne Room, in the flesh. Just as Stephen had described in his letter. Albeit with one minor difference: the cell bore no prisoner. It was simply an empty chair, camouflaged against the grey stone wall behind.

‘I’m sorry to disappoint,’ said the guard, finally breaking the silence. ‘But Baron is no longer kept here. He was coerced into a fight to the death with another inmate just yesterday, if the rumours are to be believed.’

‘He’s dead?’ I asked.

‘Yes, or so I’m told. I didn’t witness it myself, although I had bet a lot of money on Baron to win. Such a shame.’

‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I asked.

‘There’s no death penalty in England, you see, so we have to find ways of keeping the prison population down. The official report will say that a fight broke out, resulting in the death of an inmate. No one really bats an eyelid when a criminal dies.’

‘Can you tell me anything about him?’ I asked. ‘Did you talk to him? Do you know about his crimes?

‘I can’t divulge any details. Besides, he didn’t say much. His lips were always sealed. His possessions are still in his cell if you’d like to take a look. Just don’t take anything.’

The posthumous items adorning the floor of Baron’s cell would be priceless to some of the deranged collectors I had come to know. A detailed sketch of a public execution with a sharply-dressed hangman holding a scythe. A masked man sitting atop a tombstone. Two crows encircling an empty grave. The only other item in the cell was a pack of playing cards, missing every card but one. The card in particular was the Jack of Hearts, and something had been hastily scribbled on the back.

‘355 Churchfield Terrace, WF6 4QZ’

An address. I slipped the card into my pocket when the guard was unaware. I thanked him for his time, and asked him to show me the real exit.

Grey skies set in overhead as I took shelter from the rain in the doorway of Wakefield library. My taxi arrived, ten minutes late, and took me towards my next destination.

‘That’s a ways away,’ the driver said. ‘Be about an hour.’

He was not wrong. The journey was made more treacherous by the sterility of the vast Wakefield countryside. Endless acres of woodland, with only hints of blackened skies visible through impossibly high trees. My drop off destination was what seemed to be in the middle of a marsh. No distinguishable path led the way and all signs of urban life had long been depleted.

‘Here?’ I asked.

‘No, not here, dummy,’ the driver said. ‘This is as far as I can go without driving into a bog. Keep walking that way,’ he said, pointing into the black expanse of trees. ‘Should come to a few houses eventually. Some right weirdos living ’round here.’

I followed his instructions as he drove away. I struggled my way across dead wildlife and broken tree branches, eventually arriving at remote territory resembling a domestic residence. It was more of an abandoned farm, but the worn plaque on the broken gate told me that this was 335.

Exactly what I would be greeted with, I was unsure. All I knew was that Baron had brought me here. Overgrown grass and weeds led a makeshift path to the front door of the house, which – despite knocking on for several minutes – no one answered. I edged around the side of the house, eventually stumbling upon a small window. A dim light flickered off the reflection of the glass, allowing me to make out a handful of details inside. A trophy cabinet. A white leather robe hanging from the wall. A painting of a tentacled eyeball.

‘I knew you’d come,’ said a hushed voice behind me.

I turned around, ready to run.

‘I just needed to know you’d take the initiative.’

A familiar silhouette appeared from the shadows. Waist-length black hair, no longer tied back.

‘My apologies for not being honest with you earlier. I couldn’t risk our conversation being overheard. I planted that address in Baron’s cell. My address. I needed you to come here.’

‘This is your house?’

‘Correct.’ he said. ‘I’ll explain everything soon, and I assure you you’re in no danger. Would you follow me please?’

The prison guard, or who at least I believed to be just a prison guard, led into his decayed farmhouse. Each room was more decrepit than the last, some of them barely held together by loose wooden panels. One of the rooms had a semblance of order; perhaps a living room, since lost to domestic neglect. A corridor led to what I assumed to be the room I had stared in from outside the house. The entranceway appeared different to the rest. It had been cared for. It boasted three steel padlocks and was made of corrugated iron.

‘Very few people have ever stepped foot in this room. Or even laid eyes on it. Please do not touch anything.’

The iron door took an age to swing open. Orange light from bare bulbs illuminated the rectangular room, showcasing wall-to-wall glass cabinets. Headless mannequins adorned the corners of the room, decorated in clothing from a previous age. Bizarre paintings of otherworldly demons hung in black frames.

‘I’ve read all of your letters,’ the guard said. ‘Your preoccupation with death goes beyond obsession, to the point where you are willing to travel blindly in the vain hope you might uncover something the rest of the world doesn’t know.’

I walked up to the first glass cabinet, unsure where to look first.

‘I know this,’ he continued, ‘because I’m the same. Every item in this room has, at some point, passed through the hands of Death Himself. All the artwork you see has painted by murderers, serial killers, sometimes with their own blood. The offspring of demented creativity and the paintbrush. I own genuine torture devices, used centuries ago in public executions. I am in possession of the bones of the most deformed man to have ever lived, who was hanged from a tree as he was thought to be an adversary of God. I own occult artifacts, murder weapons, a piece of skin said to be torn from the Devil himself.’

He walked towards a mannequin wearing a white mask and a frayed leather robe. Infront of the mannequin stood an empty altar. A visual straight from the scene of a cult sacrifice, albeit its human elements replaced with lifeless ornaments.

‘This is my collection. This is my obsession. All I’m missing is the ultimate item.’

His eyes glanced towards the empty altar, and took a breath to indicate that the piece was not wholly complete. That something should be perched atop; some priceless tome or grimoire.

‘Which is?’ I asked.

‘Please step this way. I have a surprise for you.’

A door – camouflaged between two glass trophy cases – became apparent when the guard placed his hand on its gold doorknob. He opened the door outward and proudly stepped back, as if revealing a master painting he had spent his life creating.

It appeared to be a storage room; perhaps for items deemed not important enough for viewing privileges in the guard’s personal museum of the dead, yet not. A sudden influx of shock blinded my rationality. How long I remained silent for, I will never know, but between breaths I eventually managed to ask the question:

‘Who is that?’

I needed not to wait for his answer. A man, bound with rope and chain sat in a chair, unconscious. Any other time, I would not have recognised him. His pale features and thin blonde hair – uncut for decades – resembled no one I had seen before. My realisation came when the prisoner’s head lulled to the side, revealing lips which had been somehow torn to pieces. His mouth had swelled to twice its normal size, and his lips pulsated with holes and fresh scars anew.

‘I apologise for showing him to you in such horrific appearance,’ said the guard, ‘his lips had been sewn shut for years. I’m no surgeon. I couldn’t help the trauma.’

For the first time, I felt that maybe I had come too close to Death. Maybe this was all some kind of error, and Death was not my reason or my obsession. Maybe something else entirely; literature, painting, poetry. Maybe I could take solace from a medium where Death was not immediate, not presented within touching distance inside a glass case.

‘Please, explain.’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I want any part of this.’

‘Being in the inner circle in the prison system gives me access to the information I need. The amount of inmates who pass through us without the public’s knowledge is immense. From there I can locate the killers who interest me, and be the first to get hold of their possessions. I convinced the courts to send Baron to Wakefield so that we could keep him hidden in the Throne Room. Most prisons are reluctant to take the high profile inmates because it’s not worth the hassle, so the courts were glad to send him to us.’

‘High profile?’ I asked. ‘No one knows who he is.’

‘Because we managed to keep his whereabouts a secret. Regardless, our instructions were simple; keep him hidden from public, starve him to death then claim it was self-inflicted. But last week the instructions from the courts changed; kill him immediately. The authorities had unearthed more of his victims, and they found a word carved into their skins – Nihil.’

‘Which means?’

‘This isn’t the first case we’ve heard of with this word being carved into victim’s flesh. The problem is it’s been occurring all over the country. Different victim types, different methods of body disposal. At first it was assumed to be some sort of underground trend; maybe killers were somehow contacting each other and this was their way of showing off.’

Thinking back through my correspondence with inmates, the word had made vague appearances in the sign offs of some of the lesser known murderers, often those with connections to the occult or Satanism. I assumed it to be a farewell of those initiated into Death’s circle.

‘It took me three days, but I finally got Baron to speak. Everyone who knows about him believes he’s dead, so I could do what I wanted to him.’

The guard cast a maniacal glance towards Baron’s shattered ankles. What little consequence was threatened as a result of his torture had manifested itself into violent interrogation. The guard did not strike me as psychotic, merely motivated by desperation at a rarer-than-rare opportunity.

‘I needed to know about Nihil. About what it meant. But what he told me was a lot more interesting.’

The guard leaned down and spoke to Baron’s swaying head.

‘Tell him what you told me, about the Executioner.’

A soft voice eventually began to speak, slowly, as if narrating a story he had told a thousand times. His arms and legs still shackled, his body leaning forward as if independent from his thoughts. He recanted the tale of the Mad Hangman, applying details of the story lost during its telling through the ages. Night turned to morning, and myth became reality. I left the guard’s house in the early hours, coming ever closer to a chance meeting with Death.

The guard financed me considerably. Money was no object to him, or so it seemed. Or at the very least he was willing to part with a generous sum of money for what he deemed ‘the ultimate item.’

August documented everything he knew about Death in his journal. A book unlocking the secrets of existence. It’s in possession of a cult who worship August as God, and his Book of Death as their Bible. A cult I was part of. They have used it to enter the realm of immortality.

Baron was certain he knew the whereabouts of the book, and even claimed to have seen it himself. I followed his directions to the letter, taking the west-bound train out of Redditch until it came to a stop in a tunnel while the tracks changed. I exited the train through a window and hid in the tunnel until I could safely move. I followed the tracks out into the ensuing greenery and into a backdoor town called Logslow. What windows were not whitewashed were boarded up, and a grey tint illuminated every building and path. After asking multiple Logslow residents for directions, and them denying its existence, I eventually found what Baron had assured me was August’s eternal home; Logslow Cemetery.

I waited until dusk and scaled the cemetery walls. The gigantic bolted gates showed no signs of allowing visitors. Nervous adrenaline propelled me into the waist-high grass from the atop wall, barely checking for any dangers below me. The graveyard was a forgotten sanctuary, unspoiled by human hands for decades. The dead here were calm; almost certainly.

I waded through grass and across frozen mud until I discovered the tombstone I was searching for. A blind angel atop a black headstone; the resting place of August Atherstone’s wife. In Baron’s version of events, August came to this grave after madness had claimed him. Unable to cope with the grief of seeing his loved ones pass away, he attempted to dig up the remains of his deceased lover. When he failed, he simply sat in this graveyard waiting for Death to take him, but Death never came.

I followed a dirt trail leading from the blind angel grave to a nameless mausoleum paying an unsung tribute to the dead.

The tomb leads below the graveyard. A private burial ground. It’s where they buried the men that August hanged. What you are you searching for is down there.

I followed a spiralling path into blackness, keeping my body against the wall. The shuffling sounds I heard as I ventured further in I attributed to vermin and large insects. I continued down, trying not to avert my eyes towards the few creatures which grazed my neck and hands.

Follow along the left-hand wall all the way down. There is a gap when you think you’ve come to the end. Get through it. It’s in that room. Take matches, there are torches along the walls you can light.

I struggled through the gap, barely wide enough to pass through a child. I felt along the walls and came to the first lamp, which lit without issue. I welcomed the sudden influx of light, heat offering a secondary comfort. I lit as many torches as I could find, and came to realise that the burial chamber I stood in was colossal, perhaps stretching the entire terrain of the graveyard above. Each lamp I lit exposed another until the whole room shone with radiant orange flame.

It took me several minutes of stunned silence to overcome the beauty before me. The room’s perfect architecture, its macabre decorations of bone and flesh. Coffins lined the floors, carcasses lay draped across detached headstones. Decomposed bodies hung from the walls in mimic execution; a nightmarish tribute to the legend of the Mad Hangman. It became clear why the entrance to this room was a single rupture in stone; the room had been sealed off. This crypt was intended to be inaccessible, yet it had been breached. Sanctuary was not to be found here. A sense of intrusion befell me, and looking back I vaguely made out a silhouetted figure between two lamps, watching me from behind the ruptured entranceway. He did not move as I backed away. My senses told me to sprint, and I ran. Far back into the catacombs beyond the reach of light. I trampled bones and tripped over corpses in my haste, but didn’t once slow down. Footsteps followed behind me. Slow, innocuous footsteps, cementing my fear that somewhere in this crypt I would reach an end. I found a darkened corner and hid. Perhaps awaiting my demise. Why now? Why, when I was so close to my answer to Death’s enigma?

I waited, breathing in damp air and the scent of putrid decay. I waited hours, possibly days. I will never know. My senses were rendered absent by fear and obscurity. My body failed me. It wasn’t until the unlit torch I leaned against brightened, and I was greeted face to face with an entity; a lifeless figure devoid of shape. A deformed mass of hanging cloth, his face concealed with a white mask. He said nothing, and stared at me with vacant eyes. He was not alone. Behind him, replicas of the bizarre man appeared. All wearing identical robes and masks.

I was terrified. The cultists held me against the cold stone floor. I protested my innocence; that Baron had sent me here. He had told me all about the Nihil Cult. He told me of their devotion to Death, and that August was their God. He told me that they kill as followers, so that each cultist can live in a world between worlds; in Death’s realm. Sacrifices to their God meant eternal life, and eternal life meant immortality.

My final vision was of an execution. The colossal burial chamber was my courtroom, and a horde of Death-worshipping cultists my jury. I pleaded with them to spare my life; at first with declarations of my acquaintance with Baron, and secondly that I was only there to retrieve the Book for a collector.

‘Baron failed his initiation. He is to be removed from paradise.’

The speaker; August. The hangman himself, passing judgement from atop a magnificent throne of human heads. His voice low, yet piercing. His features barely visible through withered skin.

‘And the book. The most treasured item in existence. The book is what keeps people searching. The book is the whispers of the condemned and children’s fears embodied. This so called Book of Death does not exist. A myth, created to bring people like you to us.’

And with these words, consciousness faded.

An afterlife called out to me. I awoke in the same crypt I had died. August’s throne sat empty. The gallows on which I drew my last breath announced no successful execution. The chamber lay desolate, no cultists in sight. I searched the cavern, hoping to find something which could explain recent events. I made my way out of the unending burial chamber and back into the graveyard, and what I saw was not a world I recognised.
At the center of the cemetery was a gallows, already with a condemned prisoner attached to a rope. A smartly-dressed hangman dropped him to his death to the applause of a thousand-strong audience baying for his blood. I watched his lifeless body be removed, and the rope be cut up and passed to audience members craving a token of death.

I now realise why August informed me that the Book was merely a myth. In life, yes. It exists to lure Death-worshippers to the burial chamber of a living Death God. For sacrifice? Perhaps. But I now realised that I was not executed; I was initiated.

I now see the world as I saw it before, but with remnants of death haunting every avenue. Along every road and on every street corner, murder victims replay their dying moments. Severed heads decorate barbed wire fences, and streets are awash with the wreckages of fatal accidents and bloodshed.

This place was not an afterlife, yet it was. It was neither hell nor heaven, but somewhere between. A private purgatory. A paradise in black and grey. This was Death’s realm; reserved for the chosen few who seeked him.

I returned to Wakefield. The guard waited for me to return with his ultimate relic, but I never did. I found it amusing to watch his sanity gradually slip. I eventually killed him, along with Baron. The guard’s occult collection proved useful in locating further devotees of Death, cementing my position as a member of the Nihil Cult.

I was assured that neither Baron nor the guard would be granted access to Nihil. They would simply pass out of existence, never to lust or desire again.

I’m afraid I can’t reveal my name, nor the exact whereabouts of Logslow Cemetery. Just know that I exist in your world, yet I live in Nihil; Death’s realm. I have no choice but to continue to walk the earth. Undead, yet unliving. Seeking Death more with each passing day.

Credit To – Joe Turner

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