Jack

July 10, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Deacon sighed as he browsed through yet another cafeteria sized table crowded with junk. He’d always loved rummage sales, estate sales, flea markets and thrift shops, so when he spotted the blindingly yellow flyer on the way home from work he just couldn’t resist. With its bold headline claiming hundreds of long forgotten treasures from dozens of families, and all gathered in one cul de sac, it has sounded like the perfect way to start the weekend. Within a few minutes he was parking his car and making his way towards the surprisingly crowded street. There were dozens and dozens of tables, carts, racks and plastic bins full of wonderous wares. But his excitement quickly dwindled when he found that most of the ‘treasures’ were nothing more then mismatched tea sets, outdated clothing, worn out stuffed animals, cheap jewelry, yellowed books and hundreds of useless baubles and trinkets. It was the type of things old women and children ooo’d and aww’d over, but nothing that he just had to have.

Disappointed, but glad he’d stopped and checked it out anyway, Deacon turned away from the table he’d been going through and tripped over something at his feet. With a few ungraceful steps and a hop he managed to keep himself upright, and looked to see what he had stumbled over, at the same time choosing to ignore the amused looks and snickers of his fellow treasure seekers. Acting as though nothing had happened he bent over and picked up the object that had been carelessly left behind him.

It was a simple box; covered in a thin, tight layer of old dark leather, approximately 18” x 18” x 18” with a brass latch and pin, securing a circular lid in its top, as well as brass trimming, and a crank on the right side. The design was clearly that of a Jack-in-the-Box. A common child’s toy that when turning the crank produced a tinny song and a cheap scare as a overly made up clown or jester popped out upon the songs completion. This though was not your average Jack-in-the-Box. Typically the toy, now mass produced in various warehouses across the world, was made out of pressed tin, was feather light, and about half the size. Also Deacon could not recall ever seeing one that latched shut. What was the purpose in that? It would ruin the scare if the clown couldn’t ‘pop’ out at the appropriate time. He tried to pull the brass pin out, but it was stuck, and refused to budge even a hair. The result was the same with the crank as well and despite his efforts he couldn’t get it to produce even a single musical note.

Even though the toy didn’t work it intrigued Deacon. It was clearly old, and probably needed some repairs, but he was willing to bet, that even in its current state it was worth some money. He turned the heavy box over and around looking for a price sticker, but could find none. Someone here must be selling it, perhaps a kid had taken the sticker off in hopes of playing with it. He carried the Jack-in-the-Box to the only table with someone sitting at it. A rail thin, middle aged woman, with long red, extremely frazzled hair and tired blue eyes, sat with a clipboard and a metal box, exchanging various odds n’ ends for cash. He waited patiently behind three young boys who were debating the value of a box of sports cards, and when they finally agreed on a price, paid for their cards and moved on. The woman at the table looked at him with such exasperation he was sure she was going to demand to know what he wanted. He was surprised though when her expression softened, “Those boys have been here four times, and have argued the price of everything, their parents must be car salesman”. She smiled weakly.

Deacon laughed politely, and asked, “I cant seem to find a price on this thing. Do you know how much it is”? he held the Jack-in-the-Box out for her to see, but not for enough for her to take it from him. He did not want to let it out of his possession, afraid she might guess its potential value.

“What is it”? She tilted her head, but saw nothing but an old box.

“A broken Jack-in-the-Box”, he turned the box enough to let her see the crank on the side.

“You want to buy a broken toy? And a dirty one at that”? She sneered at the box in his hands, mistaking the aged leather for stains.

Deacon shrugged, eager to make the purchase, but not wanting to let his excitement apparent. No need in letting on that he thought it might be worth more then a few dollars. “A project really, I like to repair things in my spare time”.

“Oh a handyman”, she smiled delightedly. “Well I’ll tell you what, its not marked as to who brought it, so I wouldn’t know who to give the money too, and seeing that its broken I couldn’t rightfully charge you anyway. You just go ahead and take it”.

“I couldn’t do that”, he shook his head. He wanted the toy, but knowing he could make some money off of it, he felt bad not paying anything for it. “It must be worth at least a few dollars”. He insisted, propping the Jack-in-the-Box in one arm and reaching for his wallet.

The red haired woman leaned forward and placed a halting hand on his arm. “Listen, it cant possibly be worth much, especially broken. How ’bout this, I have been sitting at this table for seven hours, and I would love nothing more then a ginger ale and some M & M’s, but I cant leave while the sale is going. You run to the gas station down the road and grab them for me, we’ll call it even”.

Deacon laughed, a genuine laugh this time, and nodded. “You got it”, he started to set down the toy, not wanting to let it out of his sight, but certain that it would be safe with the woman until he got back.

Again she stopped him, “I trust you hon, take it with you”.
“Thank you ma’am”, he smiled. “I’ll be back in just a few minutes”.

*

The woman at the rummage sale had laughed with genuine amusement when he returned to her table with a two liter of ginger ale, a cup of ice, and a three pound bag of M & M’s, as well as his insistence that it was a fair trade. A brief exchanges of thanks and a few pleasantries later he was on his way home, and after a shower, and a piece of cold pizza he sat down with the Jack-in-the-Box and his laptop to begin his research.

An hour later he had yet to locate any information on his particular Jack-in-the-Box. There was no manufacturers stamp, no signature or initialing of any kind to indicate who might have made the toy. He was surprised though when examining the box for the at least the fourth time since brining it home, to find a pentagram surrounded by a Latin on the bottom. The sinister star, and Latin were burned into the otherwise soft leather covering. He hadn’t noticed it earlier, and wasn’t sure how he could have missed it, but it was clear as day now. In his excitement over its age and potential profit he must have overlooked it.

The pentagram certainly added to the mystery of the toy, and he had hoped that the Jack-in-the-Box’s uniqueness would make it easy to locate information about it, but it was quickly becoming apparent that maybe its uniqueness was the very thing holding up his search. Frustrated, but not discouraged he began yet another search when he heard the front door open.

“Hi honey”, he called out to the only other person who had a key to his home; his girlfriend of two years, Melanie.

“Hey baby”, she answered from the hallway as she stripped out of her jacket and shoes, and dropped her purse before joining him on the couch, and planting a kiss on his cheek.

Deacon set his laptop aside, turned his head and eagerly returned her kiss. “How was your day”? he asked.

“Oh you know, long, drawn out, and uneventful, until five minutes before its time to leave”. She laughed, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder, and cuddling up to Deacon.

“Typical”. he agreed. “What happened”?

“This woman, wearing more make up then the entire fall line up in an Avon catalog, comes busting in practically hyperventilating, screaming that her Shitzu is curled up in her car dying. So I follow her out, cause she’s afraid to touch the dog, says he is so sick he’s growling and trying to bite her. Well we get to her car and I can see with just a single glance that this poor dog is in labor”.

“In labor”? Deacon asked in confusion, “He”?

Melanie laughed, a sound that Deacon always found pleasant, flipped back the persistent strand of hair and continued. “Yeah well, her precious ‘Marvin’ was clearly a girl and on the verge of dropping a litter of puppies in her minivan”.

“What did she think of that”? He asked in amusement.

“Oh she refused to believe me, said there was NO WAY she could have had her dog for two years and not know that it was a girl. Even after I wrapped her up and took her inside the woman insisted I was mistaken. Marvin must’ve eaten something that he shouldn’t have”, Melanie shook her head and smiled. “It wasn’t until the first puppy was born that she admitted I ‘might’ be right”.

Deacon laughed out loud, “Well at least your day wasn’t a total bore”.

“Nope”, she agreed, “but I am glad its over”. Melanie wrapped her arms around Deacon’s neck and was pulling him close for another kiss when she spotted the object on the table. “What’s that”?

Deacon reached over and picked up the toy, “Oh I picked this up on the way home from work, pretty sure it’s a Jack-in-the-Box”.

“Pretty sure”? She asked quizzically, looking at it she couldn’t think of anything else with that type of setup.

“Well the crank wont turn, and I cant get the pin out of the latch”, he shrugged and handed the box to Melanie. “But its obviously old, so even if I gotta get some work done to it to get in working order, I think I can make some money off of it. I’ve been searching online ever since I got home”.

Melanie turned the box over to examine it, noting the pentagram and Latin before setting the heavy box on her knees and rubbing her fingers together, surprised, and a little disgusted by the soft texture of its surface.

“Weird huh? Its covered in some type of leather, but that’s gotta make it even rarer, never seen one like that before”. Deacon grinned hopefully.

Melanie nodded in agreement, “What does the Latin say”?

“Oh, I looked that up too and roughly it says; Music wakes the sleeper who seeks a successor”.

“What does that mean”?

“I have no idea, who knows what the person that made this thing was thinking. People believed all sorts of weird things way back when”.

“Did you see these”? She asked, barely acknowledging his explanation as she explored the box further.

“What”?

“The caps on the corners”, she pointed to one but didn’t touch it.

Deacon leaned in closer and noted that every three sided cap had engraved on each of its flat surfaces the number six, so that each corner read 666. He stared for a moment in disbelief, how could he have missed that as well as the pentagram? Maybe it was time to go have his eyes examined he thought ruefully.

“I’ve never seen a toy with that on it before”, Melanie frowned distastefully.

“Well, it kinda makes sense”, Deacon said straightening up. “The original toy has been traced back to a sixteenth century German clock maker, who got the idea from a thirteenth century churchman who was said to have protected the city of Buckinghamshire by casting a devil into a boot. The clock maker took this legend and created the ‘Devil-in-a-Box’, for the son of a local prince. When he turned the crank a simple tune played, and at the end a comically painted devil popped out and surprised everyone. It was instantly popular, all the nobles wanted their own ‘Devil-in-the-Box’. Sometime during the Renaissance the devil was replaced with a jester and the toy became known as a ‘Jack-in-the-Box’. Jack, was an old nickname for the devil, so it still meant the same thing, but it seemed to have more appeal to people by that way”. Deacon explained.

“Well thanks for the history lesson honey, but it doesn’t make this thing any less creepy”, Melanie sneered as she picked it up off her knees to hand it back to him. In her attempt to touch as little of it as possible she misjudged its heaviness and her hands slipped, nearly dropping it. Her reflexes were quick though and she caught it by the crank causing the old brass handle to move forward. When it did the first few beats of, Pop Goes the Weasel, rang out in clear tinny notes. “I thought it didn’t work”?

Deacon excitedly grabbed the Jack-in-the-Box and set it on his own lap, “It didn’t, I couldn’t get it to turn at all. Must’ve just been stuck, guess you loosened it”. He tried pulling the pin out once again, but still it refused to budge. He could see nothing that was preventing the pin from moving, no substance clogging up the latch, but still it would not move. Shrugging off the disappointment he grabbed the handle and gave it a gentle push. Effortlessly the crank moved forward and the room filled with an eerily slow rendition of the children’s rhyme. Deacon tried to hurry it along, turning the crank faster, but it refused to speed up. As the climax of the song approached, Deacon felt his stomach tighten in anticipation even though he knew the scare wouldn’t come, because of the stuck pin.

Melanie was tensed as well, mesmerized by the languid tune. When the ‘POP’ rang out, the single note did not disappoint, the lid of the toy jumping in its frame. Melanie gasped and grabbed Deacons arm who started in surprise himself; the vibration of the boxes movement still ringing through his hand. A second later the couple looked at each other and laughed.

“Well, clearly Jack is ready to come out and play”. Deacon chuckled, pulling at the pin again.

Melanie sighed loudly, shaking off the scare. “Well I am ready to eat”, she informed him, taking the Jack-in-the-Box from his lap, still touching it as little as possible, and setting it on the coffee table next to his laptop. “I am craving burgers from May’s”. In truth she didn’t really care where they went, she just wanted to be out of the house and away from the creepy toy.

“You got it”. He agreed.

*
Dinner at May’s had turned out to be an excellent idea. For nearly two hours they sat in a corner booth sharing food, and stealing kisses while discussing their anniversary plans for the following weekend. After dinner they went for a long walk in the botanical garden near Deacons house, and by the time they got home the Jack-in-the-Box had been all but forgotten.

They were barely through the front door when Melanie leaned in close and began to whisper enticing promises in Deacons ear. He grinned at her lasciviously, “I’ll grab the wine”. He kissed her, and watched her shimmy down the hall before making his way through the living room to the kitchen where he grabbed the promised wine, and two glasses. On his way back through the living room he glanced down at the Jack-in-the-Box and stopped abruptly. The pin; stuck all day despite his best efforts, lay neatly next to the antique toy.

Deacon sat the wine and glasses down on the couch and picked up the brass pin, and stared at it in confusion, unable to reasonably explain how the pin had come loose and landed so neatly next to the Jack-in-the-Box. His confusion was interrupted when Melanie spoke from behind him. “Deacon, what’s taking so long”? She asked in her best pouty voice.

“The pin”, he turned to show her the brass latch pin held between his fingers, and noted the tiny blue bathrobe she’d slipped into, “it came out”.

“And”? Her arms were crossed over her chest, and the look on her face clearly stated that if he wanted to proceed with her earlier enticement then he’d better leave the Jack-in-the-Box alone.

Despite his desire though, his curiosity won out, he turned back towards the toy, and sat on the couch in front of it. “I didn’t take it out”, he told her. “It was laying on the table next to it”.

“So? It fell out. You jiggled it around enough earlier. Who cares”?! Melanie cried in exasperation.

“It should open now”, Deacon almost whispered, not even hearing what she’d said as he flipped the latch back and began to turn the crank.

In spite of her anger Melanie was curious about ’Jack’ and stepped up behind the couch to look over Deacons shoulder as the song slowly progressed. This time though, when the ’POP’ came nothing happened, the box sat motionless. Not even a thud from within like earlier. Melanie laughed in nervous relief, “See, still broken”. she pointed out gladly. “Now grab the wine, and come to bed”, she said, kissing the back of his neck in hopes of drawing him away.

“Just a minute”, he pulled away from her, and began to turn the crank again. Again there was no ’Jack’ when the song reached its peak, and Melanie had, had enough.
“Deacon”! She snapped angrily.

“What”? He asked, seemingly unfazed by her anger as he leaned in and inspected the seam around the lid. “Go get me a knife, maybe I can pry it open”.

“You’ve got to be kidding”?! She cried incredulously.

“Come on honey it’ll…” his attempt at negotiating was interrupted as the crank began to turn slowly of its own volition, and the tinny song began to slowly play. “I must’ve cranked it to much”. he offered in a near whisper, as they watched in apprehensive silence.

“Deacon”, Melanie tried to say, she wanted to tell him to make it stop, to beg him not to let the song finish, but she couldn’t make her voice obey.

As the pinnacle approached Deacon was suddenly unsure whether he wanted to meet Jack or not. Before he could decide, the circular leather covered lid flipped soundlessly open and a blur of grey and white shot out of the box towards Deacon. More startled then he would ever admit, Deacon jumped and reflexively put up his hand, then cried out as a flash of white hot pain shot through his palm. “Son of a bitch”!

In a moment Melanie was kneeling at his side examining the wound in his hand. It was at least three inches across and bleeding profusely. She couldn’t believe a toy had done this, in fact it had happened so fast that she hadn’t even seen ‘Jack‘. Turning her gaze towards the table, she gasped when she saw the thing bobbing up and down on its noisy antiquated spring. “What the hell is that”? She momentarily forgot about Deacons hand as she stared in disgust at the thing that had popped out of the box.

Ten inches high, minus the spring, it looked more like a corpse then a devil. The spine appeared to grow out of the spring itself and barely supported the thin malformed skeleton draped in stringy dry flesh. The mouth hung open revealing a dozen sharp looking teeth, just below an empty hole where the nose should’ve been. Above the vacant hole, the eyes were sewn shut with thick strands of black thread. The top of its head came to a lopsided point, the skull almost entirely exposed except for a few stubborn patches of grey scalp clinging to short tufts of yellowed hair. Worst of all Melanie thought were the unnaturally long arms, and exaggerated fingers that looked more like claws, tipped red with Deacons blood and, pulled close to its desiccated ribcage. It was the sight of the blood, the brilliant crimson against the grey that brought her back to the situation at hand, and sneering balefully she back handed the toy, sending it spinning across the table and crashing to the floor.

“What’d you do that for”? Deacon asked, cradling his hand against his stomach.

“Are you serious”? She grabbed his injured hand, making him cringe but not caring. “You forget about this already”?

“Its just a scratch”, he insisted despite the rivulets of blood that spiraled down his wrist.

Melanie looked at him with big green eyes that said she couldn’t believe he’d just said that, “That is not just a scratch, you may need stitches”. She told him as she headed for the bathroom where the first aid kit was kept.

Deacon rolled his eyes and sighed, grateful she couldn’t see him, but equally grateful when she returned with the kit and began to tend to his hand in silence. For a few minutes neither of them spoke as Melanie cleaned up the blood and deftly bandaged the injury.

Finally after an internal debate with herself as to whether or not she should speak her mind, she took a deep breath and said, “I think you should get rid of that thing”.

“What? Why”? He asked in bewilderment.

“I don’t trust it”, she admitted, glancing in the direction of the fallen Jack-in-the-Box.

Deacon stared at Melanie in disbelief, “You don’t trust it”? His voice was thick with ridicule. “Its just a toy Melanie, there is nothing to trust or not trust about it”.

“There’s something wrong with it Deacon, look at what it did to you”.

“It was an accident”.

“An accident? Since when do Jack-in-the-Box’s accidentally draw blood”?

“Its an old toy, that ‘Jack’ is probably made of metal, or real bone, they weren’t exactly concerned with safety back then”. He pointed out.

Melanie shook her head as she packed up the first aid kit and garbage, talking over her shoulder as she put the kit back and disposed of the garbage. “I don’t care, it gives me the creeps, and I don’t want it in the house”.

Deacon continued to stare after her in disbelief, “You cant be serious. What exactly do you propose I do with it”?

“The garbage can at the curb would be a good place for it”, she said seriously.

“Are you nuts”? Deacon asked scornfully. He stood from the couch and walked around the coffee table. The Jack-in-the-Box lay a few feet away, it had slid further then he thought, he hoped it wasn’t damaged. Jack had toppled forward, his bony arms outstretched, as if trying to pull himself out of the box. Favoring his wounded hand he carefully scooped it up, stuffed the ugly Jack back into its hole and closed the lid. “This thing could be worth a fortune”!

Melanie crossed her arms again, “So? What’s more important? A possible fortune? Or me”?

“Melanie you’re being ridiculous, its just a toy! Its completely irrational to be afraid of it”. He held the toy out, turning it over on all sides to show her its harmlessness.

“Wrong answer”. She turned angrily away and Deacon was certain he’d been banished to the couch for the night. A few moments later though Melanie emerged from the bedroom fully dressed. Wordlessly she went to the closet, retrieved her jacket and purse, and slipped on her shoes. “I hope its worth it”, she said barely able to keep the tremble from her voice as she opened the front door and stepped out into the night.

“Melanie! Come on”! He set the Jack-in-the-Box on the coffee table once again and chased after her. “Don’t be like that”, he half-heartedly begged. “Its just a toy”! He repeated, as she started the engine.

“Good night Deacon”, she shouted through the window, and drove away, leaving him standing in the driveway staring after her.

Stunned that she’d actually left, and angry that the whole thing was over an old toy, Deacon grumbled to himself as he hurried back inside and slammed the front door. He flopped down on the couch next to the bottle of wine and thought as he picked it up, ’at least it wont go to waste’, and proceeded to pull the cork out with his teeth and begin drinking.

*

Almost an hour later, the wine bottle drained of its contents, and his head already beginning to pound Deacon decided it was time for bed. Clanking the empty bottle down loudly, he patted the top of the Jack-in-the-Box, proud of his discovery despite what Melanie thought.

“Oh well”, he mumbled. “Her loss”, and tried to push himself up on wobbly legs, giggling drunkenly to himself when he ended up back on the couch. He was about to try again when a sound caught his ear, something faint yet distinctly familiar. Frowning and closing his eyes Deacon tried to make his alcohol addled mind focus on identifying the noise and where it had come from when it repeated, louder this time. A wet sound that made his skin crawl. He opened his eyes and looked questioningly at the Jack-in-the-Box, picking it up off the table and putting an ear up to it. Had it really come from there? As if to confirm his suspicion it came again; a slurping, slobbering sound that made Deacon picture the skeletal ’Jack’ huddled inside sucking the blood off of its ragged fingers. The thought sent a chill through him, and he dropped the box back onto the table.

He was off the couch and nearly in the hallway when he stopped suddenly and burst into laughter. “Thanks a lot Melanie”, he said to the empty room. He had let her ridiculous rants, and the excessive alcohol get to him. Of course the Jack-in-the-Box made noise, he was drunkenly rattling it around, but it was no more menacing, no more a threat then a box full of feathers. Continuing to laugh at himself Deacon slowly walked, half supported by the wall, to his room and dropped into bed.

*

Just a few hours later Deacon woke, fully dressed, half hanging off the bed, with a skull splitting headache that made him desperately long to be back asleep. Knowing that it was not going to happen anytime soon though he forced himself out of bed, popped half a dozen aspirin and climbed into the hottest shower he could handle.

He was still standing under the stream of near scalding water, attempting to rinse away the previous evenings events, when he heard a barely audible thump over the sound of the water. The front door? Had Melanie come back? Anxious to apologize, and make amends, he shut off the shower, and stepped out. He was wrapping a towel around his waist when a crash of glass broke the silence of the house.

“Melanie”? He called out, exiting the bathroom, and heading down the hall towards the living room. “Is that you”? The room was empty, and dark except for the bright blue light from his laptop battery. It flashed its low power warning off the amber colored glass of the broken wine bottle, which lay in a pile between the couch and the coffee table. It must’ve been what he’d heard just a few moments ago, but how had it happened?

As he stood there trying to think of a reasonable explanation for the wine bottle breaking he noticed the empty spot on the coffee table. Where was the Jack-in-the-Box? The brass latch pin still lay next to his laptop, but the toy was nowhere to be seen. He closed his eyes and tried to remember if he’d moved it before going to bed, but it was useless, he’d drank way to much, and couldn’t remember anything clearly after opening the bottle of wine. Sighing in contempt of himself, he decided to look for the Jack-in-the-Box first. He would clean up the glass later. Besides, despite his ruined evening with Melanie, he still hoped to make money off the old toy.

Deacon went to the kitchen first, in his drunken state of mind he very well may have done just what Melanie had wanted and thrown the toy out. He was pulling the trash can out from under the sink when ’Pop Goes the Weasel’ began to play from somewhere behind him. Dropping the can, he spun around, but he was of course still alone. The song continued to play, and to Deacon it seemed to be slowing down, almost as if it were calling to him; enticing him. He left the fallen trash can, and followed the metallic tune through the living room, past the front door alcove, and into the hallway where the song continued, past its climax only to start over again.

“Melanie”? Deacon called out tentatively, suddenly feeling vulnerable in nothing but a towel as he searched for the misplaced toy. “Melanie, is that you”? He walked slowly down the hallway, certain the music was coming from his bedroom, but pausing to check the bathroom anyway. He didn’t want to admit it, not even just to himself, but he was delaying the discovery of the toy as long as possible. “Melanie, honey I’m sorry”, he called out, hoping as he passed the empty spare room that she had snuck in and was messing with him in retaliation for his earlier behavior.

When he reached his bedroom door he could hear the music as clearly as if he were holding the toy, but even if it was over wound, the music shouldn’t still be playing. Plus he knew he hadn’t shut the bedroom door when he left to take a shower. So it had to be Melanie, it just had to be.

As soon as he twisted the door knob the music stopped. “Mel”? he pushed the door all the way open hoping to see her standing there grinning triumphantly. Instead he was greeted by an empty room. Empty except for the Jack-in-the-Box sitting squarely in the middle of his bed.

A chill ran through him, covering him head to toe in thousands of goose bumps. The Jack-in-the-Box had not been on his bed when he’d woken he was sure of it. Melanie had to be behind it. Stepping into the room he looked behind the door, in the closet, behind a large cardboard cut out of Superman, and even dropped to his knees to look under the bed. But despite his hopes, they were all empty.

He was pushing himself up off the floor when the Jack-in-the-Box began its serenade yet again. It was so startling that his hand slipped and he landed back on his knees next to the bed. “Son of a…”the music picked up speed making Deacons heart skip a beat. “Stop”. He whispered pleadingly, reaching out to halt the crank. Before he even reached it, it stopped, one note before the ’POP’.

Laughing in nervous relief, Deacon sighed, and dropped his head on the edge of the bed. He had never been so relieved, or felt so stupid. He stared at the box and couldn’t believe that he had let Melanie’s paranoia get to him, it was only a toy. Nothing but wood and metal. Nothing vicious. Nothing to be afraid of.

While he knelt there berating himself the single note announcing Jacks arrival chimed, the metallic ping was like a gunshot in the silence, and as he raised his head the monstrous toy sprang from its hiding place, its long spindly arms reaching out for him. This time Deacon screamed, and threw himself backwards, landing on his backside as Jack continued forward, the momentum carrying the toy off the bed where it landed between his legs.

“Holy shit”!, he cried angrily, not sure what he was more mad at; the toy, or himself for fearing it. It was very old, there were kinks, loose parts, things that surely needed to be repaired. Hell the spring alone, was in desperate need of an oiling. He knew it was a desperate grasp at logic, but he didn’t care, it was better then admitting Melanie may have been right.

The Jack-in-the-Box lay on its side, Jack and spring stretched out towards him, looking as though it were reaching for him. He shook his head, angry with himself for his apprehension, and forced himself forward to scoop Jack back into the box when it moved. The fingers stretching slowly as he reached for it. Deacon paused, not trusting his eyes, and in his hesitation Jack confirmed his suspicions, its claw like hands swinging viscously at his fingers.

To shocked to cry out Deacon scooted back, his now bloody fingers making the floor slippery as he tried to stand. After a fumbled attempt though he succeeded, and stared in disbelief as Jack used its unnaturally long and narrow arms to pull itself across the floor towards him.

“No way”, he breathed, his stomach clenching in fear as he sidestepped towards the hallway, not wanting to turn his back on it. He glanced towards the doorway out of the corner of his eyes and as he did he heard the rusty creak of the spring, and for a brief moment he had the crazy idea that Jack was putting himself away. But when he looked back Jack was air born, launching itself towards him, using the force of the spring to push its body forward, and dragging the heavy box along. It landed just a few inches short of Deacons bare feet, and in his panic he kicked at it, intending to send the awful thing flying across the room, hoping to break it.

Before his foot even came in contact with the toy, Jack lashed out and grabbed onto his ankle, digging its sharp fingers deep into his skin. Deacon shrieked in pain, and began to kick wildly, but instead of tossing the toy off it seemed to energize it, and Jack’s clawed fingers sought purchase higher up his calf as it sank its ragged teeth into his shin.

“Get off”! He continued to thrash his leg furiously until his foot made contact with the heavy wooden box, and he felt at least two toes crush instantly. The pain was nauseating, and Deacon reached down to rip Jack off his leg. When his hands wrapped around the dry, thin body of the toy he could feel the fierce, raw strength that flowed through it despite its apparent delicacy, and Jack released his leg only to snake its way up his forearms.

“No”! Deacon screamed in horror. Blood was running in half a dozen tiny rivers down his leg, and pooling beneath his feet while he fought to get the horrible thing off of him. As he struggled desperately he lost his balance, slipping in his own blood. There was a brief moment of hope, when he thought he could remain upright, but it was quickly lost as he fumbled into even more blood. He fell backwards hitting the floor hard, first his shoulders, and then his head, bouncing off the hardwood with a crack.

The house was suddenly silent, and the pain faded away, as a heavy blackness came swimming up through the corners of his eyes. He saw Jack clawing its way up his chest, but felt nothing. “Please”, Deacon begged, as darkness enveloped him completely.

*

Deacon draped his arm over his eyes having no desire what-so-ever to open them. His head pounded ferociously, but he had never been so glad to be awake, he was giddy with relief. That had been by far, the worst, and most vivid nightmare he had ever had in his entire life. He would definitely not be drinking that much again anytime in the near future.

Sighing heavily at the thought of getting out of bed, but loving the idea of a hot shower, he put his arm down and sat up on one motion. But instead of the edge of his bed, and a sun filled room, all he saw was blackness, filled with a deafening, and heart-sinkingly familiar creak.

Deacon rubbed his eyes vigorously, trying to clear them. As he did his fingers caught something rough, something that made his heart ache with fear. He traced the roughness tentatively with his fingertips, knowing immediately what it was. Thick strands of thread bound his eyelids to the tops of his cheeks, and came together in knots at the corner of his eyes. He shook his head violently, trying to wake himself, he had to be dreaming he thought desperately, because the alternative was to terrible to concede, and he proceeded to fling himself around until he came up against a hard flat surface.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no”, he couldn’t hear his own voice, but he continued the mantra anyway as he explored the walls that confined him on all sides. With every movement he was taunted by the awful metallic creak that filled him with a sickening dread that he didn’t want to confirm, but could not ignore.

After what seemed to Deacon like an eternity of hesitation, he placed his hands on his chest, startled by the sunken spots he felt. He continued down his waist, aware of areas of pain, and a wetness he was sure was blood, but neither of which concerned him. He forced himself to explore further, past his belly button, and then; nothing. No more flesh, and bone, nothing but a cold downward spiraling ring of metal.

The Latin he’d read on the bottom of the Jack-in-the-Box suddenly came to mind; Music wakes the sleeper, who seeks a successor.

In an instant all reason abandoned him, and he began to thrash, and scream, a raspy torturous cry, drowned out by the incessant creaking of his spring.

Credit To – AbsintheRose

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How to Talk to Yourself

July 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first thing you should know about me is that I’m very faint of heart.

There’s a pamphlet I’ve been looking for for a while now. I remember coming across it a while ago while I was a child. I was at the doctor’s office, the waiting room, getting a physical. The year was 2002. I was born in 1996.

That’s when I saw it. Strewn within the other celebrity or glamor magazines, it peeked out with one, single, grey corner.
It was almost like it was looking at me. I picked it up and read the title.

“How to Talk to Yourself.” by a man named Roger Harrison. There was no graphic, just the white background and the arial font reading the title and the author.

To this day, I’ve never been able to find out who the mysterious Roger Harrison was. I’ve spent countless hours on the internet browsing for someone, anyone who remotely matched my quarry.

Last week, I found a tattered piece of paper plastered to a sewer grate, colors running from the recent rain. I picked it up, and I read the title. It was the very same pamphlet from my childhood. The one I remember so very clearly on that one day in the waiting room.

“How to Talk to Yourself”.

I quickly stuffed it in my bag. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the feeling you get when you’re being watched. I was in a crowded square in the middle of a city. Surely, it was a coincidence.

I continued home, attempting to forget the pamphlet that was lying in my bag. Perhaps I’d save it as a bit of memorabilia. Perhaps I’d trash it.
I walked a little faster now. I was on a sidewalk, near the outskirts of the city. I live in a small, yellowing apartment in what you could call the fringes of the city. The building is gray and covered in ivy.

I arrived at my building. I slid my key into the lock and opened the door with a creak. I felt the sudden urge to read this pamphlet. I brushed it off.
With every step I took up the stairs, I could feel this sensation building more and more, and more until I eventually could not take it anymore and broke into a sprint to my apartment. I opened the door, took off my backpack, and grabbed the pamphlet out.

The feeling of being watched had subsided now, me being safe in my own home. My neighbors were playing loud music in the room above me. The urge to read the pamphlet remained. My curiosity must have been getting the better of me.

I slowly put the pamphlet down, almost reconsidering my decision but instead decided to leave it on my kitchen table. I went into my bedroom and slid into my covers. The time was about 10:47 as I drifted off into a deep sleep.

That night, I had a strange dream.

I was in a large field. The sky was gray and the grass was yellow and tall. I felt cold. The surroundings were desolate and foreboding. As I inspected the surroundings I realized that this dream was incredibly vivid compared to most other dreams I have. As my eyes scanned the horizon, I spotted something out the corner of my eye, almost indistinguishable, but yet, I could see every movement from afar. In the distance, I could see someone. They were entirely draped in a sickly shade of green. Whoever it may have been, they were twitching. Almost uncontrollably. I attempted to move towards them, but it felt like my feet were stuck in something. Something soft, and something warm. Gelatin? Vaseline?

I heard a rustling behind me, a twig snapping. I whipped around and the dream went to black. The rest of the night, I had no dreams, and I woke up shivering, feeling strange. I brushed it off as a side effect of the odd dream.

I dressed myself and brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror. My skin was pale. Paler than I’ve ever seen. It looked as though all my blood had been drained from my body, leaving only the white skin.

I walked into the kitchen and I saw it. The gray paper with its running colors. Still looking at me. I was suddenly very cold. The same cold from the dream. I was intimidated. I was intimidated by a piece of paper. I don’t know why, it was just so… ominous. And strange. I had never felt this way about a piece of paper.

I decided to pick it up. I touched the pamphlet. It was ice cold. I opened it and read.

“You have a special somebody who lives in your lungs. They like you. But they are shy. They only come out when you are alone. Here is how to talk to them.

Step 1. Breathe deeply. Say hi. You are not afraid. Are you? They like you. You don’t have to be afraid. You won’t hurt, I promise.

We are smiling at you.”

I was confused. Say hi? To the person in my lungs? Why are they living in my lungs? I won’t hurt? Who is smiling at me? It was silent. Completely silent. I decided to do as the pamphlet said. I inhaled deeply and said “hi” softly. Nothing happened. I decided to put the pamphlet away and save the rest of the reading for after work.

I walked to work. My coworkers were silent, as they usually are. But instead of the typing of computers or movement of machines, there was nothing. Absolute, dead silence, the kind of silence that makes you go mad. It was… deafening. I hastily finished my work and left the building to get a cup of coffee.
I arrived home about an hour later. It was now 9:24. The pamphlet lay open on the table, tempting me to continue reading it.
I gave in to my temptations and picked it up and read.

“Step 2. Be cold. Don’t go to sleep, not yet. They want to see your eyes. Take one tablespoon of the oil. Eat it. Shut your eyes. Don’t yell. Don’t scream. DON’T”

(The rest of this section was undecipherable, the ink that it was written in was smudged.)

The second section, as expected, was equally as strange, if not stranger than the first section. Questions ran through my mind. The oil? What oil was the pamphlet talking about? This was the part that confused me the most, alongside the part that was smudged by the rain. I expected it would be some sort of brewed oil, with a recipe for it. I had no idea where to start looking for the oil. Perhaps there was explanation in the next step, I pondered.

“Step 3: HappyhappyhappyhappyhappyHAPPYHAPPPY. Be happy. Start talking. Say how you are. You want to make them happy. You are happy. We like to happy with you.”

As I thought, there wasn’t any inkling to as to what the oil could be. It seemed that the author, whoever he or she was, was almost completely losing his sanity at this point. This obsession with almost chilling happiness was starting to freak me out, and I closed the pamphlet and headed upstairs to my bedroom. I got underneath the covers and my head hit the pillow.

I had the same dream I had last night, the only difference was that the man in green was closer. He was much, much closer. I woke up promptly in a cold sweat at 3:27 AM, and couldn’t bring myself back to sleep. I had the sudden urge to go downstairs and read the pamphlet.

I saw the pamphlet on the table, but something was… off. Everything on my desk was very organized, and I saw a small envelope on my desk.

I rushed towards it and ripped it open. Inside was a napkin, with a crude smiley face scrawled hastily onto it. I remember specifically at this point the gravity of my situation. I had no recollection of making this note. There were no signs of a break-in, as far as I could tell. The beats in my heart began to move faster and faster as I approached the pamphlet. I opened it and on the first three steps, there was the same crude smiley face scribbled all over. I caught my breath and held it for a moment before breathing out with a wheeze. I was, at this point, terrified. The questions rushed through my head. Who the fuck was the man in green, and more importantly, how did all these smileys get into my apartment?
I began to read the fourth step.

“Step 4: Do you see them? LOOK.”

I was beyond scared at this point. Look at WHAT? I was confused and I was terrified of the monstrosity I had brought into my home. Hands shaking, I read the next step. There only had to be a few left, right?

“Step 5: They will say hi. You have made a friend. You are not alone. You are never alone.”

My main question at this point, was who would say hi? Nobody was inside my apartment, as far as I knew. My heart was beating at a million miles an hour. Fumbling with the pages, I turned to the next and final step, which was not really a step, but more of a statement.

“Final Step: You’re never without your happy friend in your lung. You can sleep now without waking up.”

The author’s obsession with happiness was almost cruel to the reader. It was haunting, the way whoever wrote this put it.
Somehow, my heart beat faster, and faster, and J felt woozy. I was confused, terrified and alone. The last thing I remember before blacking out was a raspy breathing behind me.

I woke up two days later in my bed. Had it been a dream? The paper was nowhere in sight. I walked down to the kitchen, and my eyes lit upon the paper. It had been real. My heart sank. The sun was setting. Rubbing my bleary eyes, I picked up the paper and turned to the back.
Scrawled on the back of the pamphlet was the following:

NEVER ALONE NEVER ALONE NEVER ALONE THEYRE HERE NEVER ALONE I DONT LIKE THIS IM NOT ALONE I LIKE YOU I LIKE YOU I CAN SEEEEEEEEE YOU YOU LITTLE FRIEND I WANT TO TOUCH YOU NOW LET ME SEE YOU I LIKE YOU IM GONNA FEEL ALL OF YOUR LITTLE INSIDES MY VERY SPECIAL FRIEND

Underneath the inscription, there was a smiley face.

And from behind me, I heard a raspy, shallow voice.

“Hi.”

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Dionaea Muscipula

June 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Martin looked somberly into the murky gold of his lukewarm scotch. He hated these kinds of functions. Not only was he not particularly good at large crowds, dancing, loud music, and general social interaction, but it only became all the more painful when you combined a room full of people with his same weaknesses and demanded that they play the roles. It was a professional conference, he bemoaned, but he was the only person with the seeming self-awareness to feel abject discomfort at the whole evening’s proceedings. He slumped glumly in the stiff reception chair, his body depending on the unsteady table to keep him upright and appearing engaged. The white table, stained with leftover dinner crumbs and a spilt half glass of red wine, had been empty for what felt like an eternity as his dinner companions—strangers in nice suits and dresses who prattled on as if they were 25 again—had given themselves over to the open bar and dance floor.

He glanced at his watch. Surely after two hours of such nonsense his dues were paid well enough to warrant sneaking back to his room for some sleep and relaxation. Others might jest that he was a stick in the mud for retiring so early, but he would not make a fool of himself as his colleagues were so wont to do.

Gathering his tired dinner jacket and room key, Martin froze. From across the room, he spotted a gorgeous woman slicing through the crowd. There was something predatory in the way she walked. An utter lack of self-consciousness as she strode through the flailing bodies in the crowd. There was a look in her eyes, evident from half a room away, which showed she knew she stood on a level above all those around her. She had the look of a sated wolf prowling amongst unguarded sheep, utterly disinterested in their bleating. Her hair flowed in sheets of shining black as deep as the moonless sky, waving with disdain as she cut her own path through the writhing masses around her. Almost instinctively, the way parted for her, bringing her directly to Martin’s table.

With indelible grace, she swept a glass of red wine from a passing waiter, holding the delicate glass in her soft fingers. She smiled, pearly white teeth flashing between plump red lips. Her eyes were brilliant green, reflecting Martin’s dumbfounded gaze right back at him. The lovely scent of flowers encapsulated him as it rolled off her body. It was far more intoxicating than the mild drinks he had been nursing all night. Martin felt as if he were being drawn into her web, but he had no will to fight it.

“Annalise,” she breathed. For a moment, Martin was unsure what to do. All he knew were that those syllables were the most heavenly sounds he had ever heard. He would endure pain, torture, war, strife, poverty, illness, and any worldly ill if only those three syllables would replay again and again. To have those lips speak such beauty!

She smiled again and his mouth snapped shut from its gape. “M-Martin,” he stammered as he collected himself, shamed by the coarseness of his own voice.

She reached out a slender hand to touch his arm. “So nice to finally meet you.” Martin felt his heart begin to thunder. She knew of him? She wanted to meet him? What crazy fever dream had he slipped into? “I won’t keep you, as it seems you are leaving, but I just couldn’t miss the chance—”

“No, no. Not leaving,” he interjected, eagerly grabbing his chair and planting himself into it. “Just was, uh, getting a better view of things, you know.” She laughed and Martin prayed his ears would ring with that delightful sound for the rest of his life. He would go deaf to the world if only to hear her laugh.

“Then may I join you?” she asked, somewhat hesitantly, betraying the assured confidence Martin had seen so clearly moments ago. He could not imagine having such an effect on a woman, especially not one like her. Martin sat up a little straighter in his seat; keeping his dignity tonight might actually pay off for once, he mused. She must like a serious, intellectual man. Well, by God, she had found her man then.

“Where are you from, Annalise?” He was so smooth, he congratulated himself. Those words flowed like butter.

“Please, I didn’t come all the way over here to talk about me, Martin! Tell me about you,” she purred, her hand falling gently on his forearm as she moved closer. As close as he was, he felt himself absolutely adrift in her marvelous scent. She smelled of sweet flowers opened brightly to the summer sun, and Martin was content to collapse into the field.

So talk he did. Martin regaled her with stories of his groundbreaking work as she eyed him with pure wonder. He shared about his glowing academic career, the awards and showcases that had chosen to honor him and his work in his brief career. He spoke in heartfelt about his calling to the field, the passion and the reward he felt from doing such work. She played her role well, smiling at the right parts, laughing at his clumsy jokes and sighing in awe of his humble victories. Martin felt his chest swell with pride as he prattled on about his meager life, finding his own ego reflected and doubled in her searching green eyes.

After a while, she smiled and squeezed him arm softly, interrupting him mid-flow. It was amazing how easy it was to talk to her. He found himself divulging so many things to her, almost as if he had known her for half of his life. It was just her soft presence, the comforting aroma of flowers, and the focused interest pouring from her eyes. It made his tongue loose in a way no person or substance-induced state ever had. He froze in silence, suddenly feeling the ache of his throat after so much talking over the din of the music.

“I’m having trouble hearing you over all of them,” she said, rolling her eyes towards the mass of drunken hooligans who would don suits tomorrow and nurse hangovers through the scheduled sessions. “Do you think we could go somewhere more private?”

Martin was flummoxed. In all his years, he had never expected to catch the eye of such a woman—of any woman, if he wanted to be honest with himself. He had even less expected to find such a beautiful groupie for his relatively dull research. And now, this surprise of all surprises revealed another layer of amazement. She was trying to seduce him! Martin smiled. Perhaps he would let her.

“My room is just down the hall from here,” he spat out quickly, his eagerness spilling over his words. She gave him a reassuring and understanding smile.

“That sounds perfect.”

Martin stood from his seat, his legs wobbling uncertainly. He could remember college years and first dates with similar weakness of the knees, only this seemed even more extreme. A goofy smile drifted over his face; he was drunk on her presence, and there was no use in denying it. Every system he generally kept so well controlled was flying by its own rules, freed by her enchanting smile and intoxicating scent. He offered her his arm, and the two floated from the room. Martin’s legs seemed to belong to someone else, carrying him confidently out of the room. The doors swung shut behind them, effectively muffling the raucous music still pouring from the banquet hall. At this rate, his colleagues would be stumbling into the first session still decked in their party finery.

The sounds of the others faded as they walked along the hallway until Martin realized he and Annalise were shrouded by a heavy covering of silence. Anyone else in the hotel had long since gone to bed, and the music down the hall had faded quickly. He supposed it only made sense that the place would have good soundproofing for such an event. The silence was surprisingly intimate. He could hear her soft breath, the air moving over the swell of her full lips. Her feet sunk lightly in the plush carpet, whispering softly in the hall. In contrast, he heard his heart racing in his chest, listened to the uncoordinated and irregular pace of his own steps dragging through the carpet. He was a love—or perhaps more accurately lust—struck mess.

He fished the little plastic card from his wallet, and the door gave its friendly beep as the light flashed green. After shoving the door open, his arm flailed about in the darkness seeking the light switch that always seemed to be two or three inches higher or lower than he remembered. With a click, the lights hummed on and bathed the room in a harsh and artificial glow. Despite the generally terrible effects of such lighting on people, Annalise still appeared radiant as she stepped into the room. She was commanding as she entered, and he felt as if perhaps they had unwittingly entered her room rather than his, given her comfort. But no, his shirt and slacks hung pressed in the closet, his battered suitcase tossed unceremoniously on the second twin bed. She simply possessed an air of belonging wherever she went.

The smell of flowers carried him along in her wake, and he stumbled into his own room behind her, coming up short as she paused in front of him. Her eyes were smiling as she turned to him. “What a wonderful evening,” her words drifted into the silence of the room as she fell softly against the crumpled bed spread, her red dress a stark contrast with the dull white sheets.

“Uh, yes, it has been—“ magical, enchanting, impossible, miraculous?“—quite the night,” he finished weakly, standing uncomfortably in the entryway to his room looking around. He felt his eyes lingering too long in hers, drawn in by their brilliant spell. The heavy presence of flowers in the air made him feel woozy, and he nearly stumbled as he broke his gaze from hers.

“Martin, what if I told you that I have been thinking about my lips on you since I first laid eyes on you?” She whispered haltingly, her eyes betraying the innocence on her lips.

Flabbergasted, Martin sat in silence. Now he knew that this must be some kind of ruse. Or perhaps someone had spiked his drink and he was hallucinating. The drink—had he had more than he thought? Would he wake up groggily to some ancient troll in his bed? Could he have fallen asleep at the table, and now this goddess was his sweetest dream?

Before he could reach a final conclusion—brain tumor?—her lips were on his, her body pressed against him. His shock had prevented him from seeing the speed with which she pounced from the bed, catching him in her arms and drawing him back to the bed. No matter what doubts he might have, he could not deny the reality of the experience happening in that moment. He swam in the warmth of her limbs around him, the taste of her soft lips, and the scent of her lithe body. In that moment, all he knew was that his lips and hers were dancing together now, their tongues meddling somewhere in between. She pushed him back on the bed, her lips following his steady descent down to the stiff hotel bed. Martin’s heart was a metronome in his chest, trying to keep pace with his flying thoughts. He pulled her close, kissing every inch of that beautifully pearly white neck and face that he could. She laughed and smiled as she playfully pinned his hands down on the bed.

“You know, Martin, there is something delicious about a body excited.” Her tongue snaked its way into his mouth, those brilliant red lips melding with his for a brief moment. “And our bodies tend to respond the same to excitement and fear,” she whispered, coming up for breath. Every word she spoke sent waves of excitement across Martin’s body, just to feel the gentle ebb and flow of her breath across his skin.

“Me, personally,” she smiled, leaning to kiss along his neck, “I prefer the taste of excitement.” She ended this with a soft nip at his earlobe. Martin felt a slight stir of discomfort at her choice of phrasing, but brushed it off. Just a turn of phrase, he reminded himself, finding himself again drowning in her green eyes and the soft scent of sunlit flowers.

Her fingers played with the silk knot at her waist, carefully untangling the ribbons so that flashes of marble skin slipped through. She turned her back to him, letting the dress slowly fall away to reveal her perfectly sculpted body. Martin’s eyes grew wide as she spun, but his pleasure gave way to terror all too quickly.

Her chest was a tangle of intertwined flesh, a traumatic knot of scars and blood. In the time it took Martin to make sense of it, the knot began to writhe, petals of flesh slowly unfolding to reveal a gaping maw of teeth where her stomach should have been. Her once bright green eyes were now dull and dead, any hint of life yanked from them with the reveal of this monstrosity. Where the aroma of flowers had so allured him, now he could only smell the sickly odor of rot. A scream, initially frozen in disbelief deep within his gut, slowly clawed its way up to his lips, breaking through the air with a brief cry before those yellowed, broken teeth closed around his head.

The room echoed with the muted crunch of bone, the moist sound of blood and flesh abandoning their respective domains and mingling in a blender of jagged teeth. It gulped, Annalise’s whole body quivering with the effort of ingesting the body of her momentary paramour. The sheets were stained with blood, matching the brilliant fabric of the discarded dress. However, it was not interested in waste. Most of the blood flooded its gullet, Annalise’s ivory skin warming and brightening with the fresh flood of still-warm liquid.

Sweet iron filled the room, its scent nearly overpowering. The now lifeless body of Annalise flopped about as the creature neglected grace in favor of speed. Her head lolled onto her chest, drifting dangerously near the still gaping teeth. A thick, coiled tongue snaked out of the mouth, slithering across the bed to gather whatever remained before it could fully soak in to the cheap hotel mattress. With a shake and an odorous sigh, the creature sat back on the bed. Slowly, Annalise’s eyes began to change, drifting from their brilliant green to a steely blue. Her hair fell out like leaves shaken by the wind, short cropped salt-and-pepper strands replacing it. Her arms and legs lengthened, then thickened. After a moment, the creature stood, a perfect copy of Martin, but imbued with a very different spirit.

It considered the new body, then reached into its mouth to retract a thick pair of black glasses. For a moment, it held them to its new face, considering the advantages of such eyewear. Ultimately, it discarded them and watched as they shattered at the base of the wall. Unlike Martin, the creature walked tall, shoulders back and eyes up high. It smiled charmingly as the skin of his face stretched with the unusual gesture. While Martin certainly did not have sculpted abs or a youthful body, there was at least minimal evidence that he had taken good care of himself, resulting in a relatively slender and strong physique. The creature turned Martin’s head side to side, looking itself up and down in the mirror across the room. It was far from perfect, but with a dash of charm and some newfound confidence, it would certainly do. “Nice to meet you, Martin,” he said, his voice starting with the lilting soprano of before and then taking on a confident baritone that filled the room.

After pilfering the clothes hanging in the closet, the creature looked at the mess it had made and smiled. Martin slipped into its new costume, and walked strongly towards the door. His hand hovered over the light switch, gaining one last glimpse at the bloody masterpiece now staining the cheap room. Then, he plunged it into darkness and made his way back to the festivities.

The night was still young.

Credit To – Katherine C

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Lost iPhones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you?”

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

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

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

“Sure,” I said, “show me.”

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

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

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

“What numbers?”

“4444.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayley and I looked at each other. She shrugged.

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

“Right,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

The video started to play.

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

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

“Yeah, I did, be quiet though.”

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

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

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

“Watch,” said James, his voice tense.

We did.

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

The screen went black.

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

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

****

Three hours later, we were in the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it here?”

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

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

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

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

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

Something was coming.

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

“Where are you —”

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

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

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

“Hey. How are you.”

Then,

“What happened inthe parf”

“*park. stupid phone. what was thet?”

My phone buzzed back. A little green circle.

“who is this”

“this is Ariel is this James?”

“sorry. wrong number”

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.”

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

“He did.”

“You’re right,” I sighed, “he did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did it?”

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

“We didn’t ask.”

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

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

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

“But he went.”

“He went.”

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

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

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

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

She opened up the laptop and passed it over.

“Look.”

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

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

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

“Just like he did in the park”

“…yeah, like that.”

“What do you think happened?”

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

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

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

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

“…do we want to look at the phone?”

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

“Ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” she said.

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

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

“What do we do now?”

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

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

“I hated the rope.”

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

“Uh huh?”

“It came off the latch.”

“Oh my god.”

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

“Like you should have died?”

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

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

She didn’t finish her sentence.

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

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

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

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

“*WANT not wavy :/

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

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

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

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

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

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Lost Tombs and Those Lost Within Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namely me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, good lord, they’re thinking…

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

A steel trowel.

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

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

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

I’d merely rolled my eyes.

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

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

Or happiness?

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

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

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

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

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

Bang!

Bang!

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

I’d assumed he’d meant bandits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of how they dreamed of doing it again.

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

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

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

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

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

Realigning into a humanoid shape.

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

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

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

Clang!

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

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

Bang!

Bang!

Bang!

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

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

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

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

Bang!

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

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

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

“You mean…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How? It’s asleep, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit To – Nicholas Paschall

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Death’s Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas Edison, father,” I promptly replied.

“Very good, now let’s eat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all I remember from that night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit To – Os

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