The Eye of Ra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“How do you know my name?” Jay asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know a little.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonight?”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“The Eye of Ra,” Jay whispered.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

The voice stopped Jay dead in his tracks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

The old man scoffed.

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

“Listen-”

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

“Dr. Wilkins?” asked Jay.

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

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

The old man smirked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Listen I don’t care about-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old man laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re fucking insane!” shouted Jay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 2005 marine blue Dodge Neon drove past his car.

Credit To – Vincent Vena Cava

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I found a dead girl’s diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

There was stuff in there that was just plain wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

five went up four came down

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

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

#

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

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

“Mrs Paige?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you report it to the Police?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Five went up, four came down.”

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

“Five went up, four came down.”

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

FIND ME

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

#

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

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

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

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

#

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

“I know why you’re out here, Emma.”

“Emm.” I said, instinctively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Emm,” I said again.

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

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

Cliff took a step towards me.

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Emm.

Credit To – straydog1980

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Knock Knock

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

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

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

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

Credit To – TinyBear

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Express

January 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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By the time Kevin made his way down into the subway station, there was no one else there but a solitary old man, sitting on a bench, using his cane to help him sit up straight. Kevin squinted at the schedule on the wall. From behind, he heard a grizzled voice say, “Whichever one you’re waiting for, you’re at the right station. They all stop here.”

Kevin turned to see the old man watching him. “Even the A6?” he asked.

“They ALL stop here,” repeated the stranger, who appeared to be dressed far too warmly for the season.

“I can’t believe the A6 stops here this late on a Tuesday.”

“Young man, this station is a major transfer point, and I’ve been taking these trains for many years. Believe me when I tell you, all the trains stop here.”

As if in answer, the sound of an approaching train came from deep within the tunnel. It sounded like it was coming too fast to stop. In fact, it sounded like it was running faster than subways usually do. It was only a moment before it went rushing past. But that wasn’t the shocking part. All the cars were jet black, but it didn’t look like they were painted, just…made that way. Every car was covered in the most indescribably horrific graffiti. Wild splashes of red paint decorated the windows. It was paint, wasn’t it? The lighting inside was very dim. All the passengers were shadowy figures who stood, unmoving. None of them were seated. Kevin couldn’t make out any of their features. So why did he feel like they were watching him?

“What the hell was that?” Kevin demanded as the mysterious black train disappeared into the opposite tunnel.

The old man hung his head, almost in shame. “I’m sorry I wasn’t completely honest with you. There is actually one train that doesn’t stop here. Only one.”

“Where does it go?”

“Pray you never find out.”

Kevin stood in stunned silence before the old man added, “By the way, if you’re taking the A6 you need to be on Platform 3.”

Kevin could barely gasp the word, “Thanks,” before walking quickly away.

As he was leaving, he heard the man call after him, “Also…”

He turned to see the man fixing him with a steely gaze that let Kevin know the stranger was about to give him the most important warning he would ever hear in his life.

“The next time you see that train. It WILL stop. Don’t get on.”

Credit To: E. Alan Rahn

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Crimson Fangs

December 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“I’m so cold.”

This was the first thought that entered into Amber’s dazed consciousness. Her eyelids flickered open to see nothing but hazy darkness around her. Moaning softly, she struggled to raise her body from the prone position she lay in, wrapping her bare arms around herself in response to the strange chill that permeated the air. She blinked several times and brushed a wisp of dark hair from her face as her eyes began to adjust to the ethereal aura that filled the cold, empty room.

“What… Where am I? How did I get here?”

She pushed herself up on one knee and shuddered. The room was cold… so cold. She had no memory of how she had gotten here; no memory of the past few hours.

Slowly, Amber stood and looked around. “He-hello? Where am I? Is anyone here?” she called out, her tremulous voice echoing slightly in the bare room. Her normally active mind was in a blur she attempted to discern what was happening to her, and in her confusion, an icy fear began to grip her. “What’s going on?” She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself again. “Come on Amber, think; what’s the last thing you remember?” She rubbed her eyes. “Eric… A bookstore… No, I can’t remember!”

Amber peered around again. A strange, faintly luminescent mist writhed about her, giving off just barely enough light to see the shapes of her surroundings. It was by this cold light that she noticed the door and a chill ran down her spine, although whether for excitement or dread she did not know. Amber walked cautiously over to the door and reached out to grasp the cold doorknob. Her mind burned with a strange fear that absorbed her thoughts as she held the handle. “What’s behind this door? What if it’s locked and I’m trapped here? Why am I even here? This room is so cold.”

Her heart pounding, Amber braced herself and gripped the doorknob tighter, slowly twisting it and pushing the door open. To her relief, it gave way; and yet, to her surprise, it made no sound. No squeaking of the hinges, no soft jingle as the doorknob turned in its socket. Just silence.
She swallowed the lump of anxiety in her throat and bit her lip as she pushed the silent door wide open and peered outside. She stepped out of the doorway and looked around. It was a hallway, stretching for many yards on both ends. It reminded her of the halls in those old Victorian mansions, except this one was totally bare. No pictures, no statues, no houseplants, not even wallpaper; just dark, cold walls and doors. Dozens of doors lined either side of the hallway, each one identical and each one as dark and silent as the one she had just stepped through.

Amber shuddered and ventured again, her voice still shaky, “Um… hello? Is… is anyone there?”

There was no answer except her voice reverberating along the dank walls. She clutched at her arms and hugged herself tighter, her heart racing. “Should I try to open one of those doors?”

Taking a cautious step further out, she reached towards the doorknob opposite her. However before she could grab hold of the handle, she froze, and a chill of pure terror rippled down her spine.

A sound had emanated from behind her in the room that she had just exited: a low, sibilant hiss.

A small whine of apprehension trickled from her throat and she turned, her eyes widening and her face turning pale. She began to shiver uncontrollably as she stared into the dark room. At first she saw nothing, nothing but the same cold blackness that had surrounded her. She continued to stare ahead, not daring to turn her eyes away as she waited.

Then it was there.

A tall, lithe form stood, almost as dark as the room it occupied, vaguely humanoid in shape, but otherwise indiscernible in the darkness. Amber slowly backed away from the door, every instinct in her body telling her to flee, and yet she could not. She stood transfixed, gazing back at the shadowy creature in the room.

The low, hissing breath wreathed out from the murky chamber… and it smiled. The darkness smiled, with two rows of long, glistening, crimson fangs.

Amber’s senses were suddenly awakened as a scream tore from her throat and she ran. Her mind became numb with fright, her body bent on survival as she raced down the hollow passageway. She could feel it behind her; it was so cold. Rows upon rows of doors flew by her as she ran, not caring or thinking about anything but flight… and the fangs. Her vision began to blur as her mind raced frantically. “There’s got to be a way out, there has to be some way to escape…”

She could hear the serpentine hiss echo around the halls. It was following her.

The hallway ended abruptly, bending sharply to her right. With no time to slow her acceleration, Amber slammed into the wall and staggered back, not even daring to look behind her as she turned down the other passageway.

Still the hissing followed.

Sweat had begun to drip down her forehead, mingling with tears of terror as she felt the overwhelming sensation of hope and energy draining from her. Her run slowed to a stagger, her mind blazing with a strange, hazy pain. Still she continued on, driven by fear. As she rounded another corner, she saw the unexpected.

A single, desperate ounce of hope sprung up within her at the sight of the small but bright light at the end of the dark hallway; she felt as though it were the first light she had seen in ages. Amber didn’t care where it led, as long as it took her away from here; away from the cold hissing, and from those glistening crimson fangs. With renewed energy Amber began to sprint towards the light.

The hissing continued.

Before she knew it the window of light stood before her, glowing brightly and proving a stark contrast to the dank, gray walls around it. Mustering every last bit of energy within her, Amber leaped, hoping to pass through the light and into freedom… but her hands slammed into a wall of glass.

She gasped and hit the window again, but it did not budge.

The hissing drew nearer.

She pounded at the window, murmuring frantically under her breath. “What’s going on? What is this?!”

It was so cold.

Her brain cleared long enough to notice something behind the window. It was a man, and he was looking at her. Her heart leaped for joy when she recognized him.

“Eric!” she screamed. “Eric, it’s me! Please open the window! Help me!”

But there came no response. Her fiancé simply sat staring at her, his expression one of grief, his eyes slightly misted with tears.
Amber smashed her fists against the window, pleading desperately, “Please, Eric, help me! It’s coming! Please… please help me!”
Still he made no reply.

The hissing…

Amber slumped to the floor, her fingernails scraping against the glass as she slid down the window. Tears streamed down her face and her heart raced like a locomotive as she curled up and wept. “Please, Eric… Save me…”

The hissing drew nearer.

~~~

….beep……beep……beep……

Eric sat in the bright hospital room, listening to the never-ending heart monitor and staring solemnly at the still and quiet body of his fiancée Amber. She lay on the bed, her once beautiful and intelligent blue eyes glazed over in a state of comatose.

It had been nearly four hours since they had found her lying unconscious on the floor in the back room of the old Eldridge Bookshop, her eyes wide open in shock, and a small book resting in her hand. No one had any idea of what had happened to her. The shopkeeper said that she seemed perfectly all right when she had entered, and that she had been perusing through a collection of antique books that they had just received before she suddenly just dropped without a sound.

Of course, there was that book that she had been clutching; that small, strange book simply titled “Crimson Fangs”. What was so strange was that no author or publishing year was listed anywhere on it, not to mention the fact that the pages were totally blank. But then again, Amber liked those kinds of oddities. She was always collecting those rare misprints and old books that were only published for one month back in the 18th century. She was funny in that way. Eric sighed and once again grasped her hand. It was so cold.

For all of the past four hours he had sat patiently by her bedside, staring into her blank eyes and often talking to her, reminiscing about their times together or about her favorite stories; anything to wake her from her state. But nothing helped. The doctors were puzzled about the fact that, other than being in a coma, her body was healthy. Her breathing and heart-rate were normal and there were no signs of a concussion, cardiac arrest, a stroke; anything.

Eric reached out and tenderly brushed a strand of dark, silky hair from her face. She was so beautiful, even with her face frozen in a still, emotionless stare. He wanted to see her smile again.

His thoughts were interrupted when the door opened. The doctor walked over and placed a gentle hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You’ve been in here for a long time. Perhaps you would like a break?”

Eric swallowed back the dryness in his throat and stroked Amber’s cold hand. “Y-yes, of course. I just can’t stand for her to be like this, all pale and…” He closed his eyes and shuddered before standing up. “You’ll let me know if anything happens to her, right?”

The doctor smiled warmly. “Certainly; now go get some rest.”

Eric nodded and turned, with one last long gaze at the motionless form of his beloved Amber before walking out the door.

~~~

Amber sat by the window, staring up into the despondent face of her fiancé. She sobbed and reached up to weakly grasp at the sheet of glass that separated her from the one person that she loved and trusted most. So near, and yet so far.

“This has to be a dream. Wake up, Amber… Please wake up!”

Then he moved. She whipped her head up and stared with wide, desperate eyes as Eric stood and looked at her sadly before-

“No. No, it can’t be! He’s leaving me! He’s walking away!” She leaped up and screamed frantically, slamming her fists against the window, trying to get his attention, for him to finally notice her and save her. “No… No, please! Eric, don’t leave me! Please, don’t leave me!”

But he was gone. The window was empty.

Her breath heavy and her eyes hazy with tears, Amber once again slumped to the floor. Eric, her closest and dearest friend, the one person she could always count on to keep her safe, had abandoned her. Every last bit of hope had deserted her. She was alone; all alone in this cold, dark hallway. It was then that she noticed something was different about her surroundings. The hissing was gone. That horrible, chilling sound… there was nothing. Nothing but cold silence.

Amber held her breath, slowly turned her head…

And stared into the crimson-fanged grin.

~~~

A calm silence filled the bright hospital room, only broken by the steady beat of the heart monitor.

….beep……beep……beep……

Amber’s body lay, staring ahead blankly just as she had for the past four hours.

….beep……beep……beep…..

She blinked. Her eyes slowly shifted to look at the monitor.

….beep……beep……beep…………beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

She sat up, her black silky hair draping around her head like a nest of dead snakes. With one quick, stilted motion, she pried the oxygen mask from her face before her gaze turned to the door. There were the sounds of voices and footsteps outside. The light in the room flickered as a dark, ethereal mist began to writhe up from the floor. The doorknob rattled as it opened.

A low, sibilant hiss rasped out from Amber’s throat… and she smiled, with two rows of long, glistening, crimson fangs.

Credit To – Josh

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The Advent Calendar

December 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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It was the Christmas of 1965, before man had landed on the moon, before the wall had fallen, before many things good and bad. For me it was the last time that I knew innocence, before the creeping shadow which engulfed my family, before the madness, before death; before. It was the advent calendar, that damned thing which I had to have. Each door a promise of Christmas, and each window a misted reminder of the warmth and kindness of the festive season.

I was nine years old, and while the parents in my neighbourhood would have had no fears for their children in the past, allowing them to play freely in the icy December streets, those days were lost like breath on a mirror. If snow had fallen, there would have been no joy; no snowball fights in the darkened evenings, no sledges sliding carefree down the fields nearby – children could not be children. Though the young may have felt apprehension in the dark, it was the parents who were the most fearful; terrified of the ultimate loss, a pain they could never extinguish.

For the previous three Christmases, without fail, the worst had happened: a child had went missing. While I was very young, I remember it all as though it were yesterday. The suburb where we lived had become the most sombre of places. Such a tragedy can do that, slowly draining away any hope or happiness from a community like blood from an open wound. No Christmas tree nor carol sang could stem the flow.

The first to disappear was Tommy Graham. He was 11 years old and although I had seen him around, I didn’t really know him personally. I remember my mother crying about it. Just the thought of something terrible happening to a child distressed her greatly, and the pain that the parents must have been going through was often on her lips. That Christmas my dad held on to me tighter than he had ever done before, and I could tell that they were affected terribly by the disappearance just as the rest of the community had been. The following year, another Christmas came and another child was taken. Her name was Cheryl, and she was only four years old; tiny and fragile. Tears were shed, misplaced rage vented towards the police who were unable to find her, and by New Year it was the commonly held view that, like Tommy the year before, little Cheryl would never be found.

I, like many of my friends, had been scared by the vanishing children. It was the first time that I became aware that adults could do harm, even to the most vulnerable of us – that children were not always safe, and that those bigger and stronger than us could have unspeakable things on their minds. Yes, I had heard the fairy tales and frightening stories of the pied piper and the bogeyman, but what was going on in our suburb was far more gut wrenching, far more real, than any tall tale.

Despite this impact, it was not until the third child disappeared that I was truly heartbroken. His name was Fin, and he was one of my friends, a close one at that. We lived on the same street, playing football in a field by his house and walking to and from school together each day. My dad used to take us to the cinema most Sundays, buying us each a hotdog, and, when we got home, mum would serve us a beautiful Sunday roast. Fin was like part of the family, and I still think about him to this day. Where would he have been now? What would he have done with his life? How diminished have we been not knowing that boy or the adult he would have become. No laughs, no tears together, just an empty seat in the cinema, a vacant desk in the classroom. I remember his blue eyes and blond hair more than anything for some reason, that and his happy-go-lucky nature. I missed him then, and even now I wish that it were not true.

Like the others, Fin had been snatched from his bed as he slept on that most peaceful of nights – Christmas Eve. His parents had tucked him in, hanging his stocking over the fireplace, kissing his forehead, whispering a Merry Christmas as he fell asleep. They woke expecting to hear the excited scampering footsteps of their son rushing down the stairs to see what Santa had brought, what wrapped secret boxes he had left by the tree; and instead were confronted with an empty bed, the loss of their only child, and an open window sucking in the biting frost of Christmas day.

The parents of all three children would not let go – could not – nor would they assume the worst. Search parties were organised, flyers were continually posted through letterboxes, pasted onto bulletin boards and shop windows across the city, and the hope was always there that somehow, somewhere, the three children would be found, unharmed, and ready to come home. That year, on the 28th of November 1965, all hope was extinguished. In an old sewage pipe across town, the crumpled fragile bodies of Tommy, Cheryl, and dear Fin, were found stuffed unceremoniously into a corroded pipe in an old sewer, rotting in the waters below. The pain was palpable, the families inconsolable, and for all of us who new any of the victims, it was to be a bleak and shadow-ridden Christmas.

Three days later the month turned. Eyes moved towards Christmas and the shaking fear that something cruel and callous lived amongst us all. Three children in three years, now into the fourth. What would happen that Christmas Eve? Which family would be broken? Which child torn from its comfy warm bed, dreaming of Santa, only to be killed and discarded like a piece of fetid waste?

My parents were nervous, and who could blame them. I sensed the change in atmosphere around the streets where I usually played; families pulling their children in earlier and earlier before the dark came. At night, on more than one occasion, I heard hammering echoing out from an unseen source; no doubt windows being nailed shut to prevent any more children being snatched as they slept.

On the 1st of December my dad hung our Christmas lights outside along the gutter of our roof; little beads of glowing colour piercing through each cold winter night. We tried to continue on as normal and think of happier times. As always, he asked me to help.

‘You’re my wingman, kiddo’, he’d say from behind his bright red scarf, clambering up a set of wooden ladders to the roof above. He had flown for the air-force before I was born and still used the lexicon of those days in the military, but I didn’t mind, it made me feel special.

In previous years I had been too small, too young to be of any real use in decorating the outside of our home. But my dad always included me. I think he just liked to do things with me, to have some father son time. Standing at the bottom of the ladders looking up at him whistling Christmas songs out loud made me feel part of the accomplishment, part of the yearly celebrations. That December was different, however; it was the first time I was big enough to go up the ladders with him, to look out at the old street below and see the occasional blink from a weathered set of lights clinging to a neighbour’s fence or home.

My mum was terrified – she had visions of us both falling to our death – but my dad always seemed sure of himself. Not arrogant, just confident, and cheerfully reminding us all that things would be okay. Looking back, I think that’s what I loved about him the most when I was a kid, the fact that he had it all in hand, and did everything to reassure his family and friends. I never felt in danger up those ladders, always loved, always safe; always. Before we came down I remember looking at the rooftops poking out in regimented lines from the streets around. I noticed that the world seemed different from up there, and that to me, there appeared to be fewer Christmas lights than ever before.

That night, I knew what was coming. My mum tucked me into my bed, as my dad finished hanging some paper ring decorations from my bedroom ceiling. I always felt that those decorations protected me somehow. I’d stir in the night, scared of the dark, and yet at Christmas time I believed that somehow those pieces of coloured paper, that blinking Christmas tree in the other room; that those symbols, those pieces of good will would keep whatever monstrosities hid in the dark at bay. My mum kissed me on the forehead and left the room, and there was my dad, standing in the corner with his hands behind his back, smiling.

‘Well, wingman, you know what time it is?’ he said as we both began to chuckle.

‘Let me see, dad, please!’ I yelled, excited.

From behind his back he produced an advent calendar. I leapt for joy across the room and hugged him before snatching it from his hands and diving back under the covers. Sitting down on the bed, dad ruffled my hair with his fingers, watching me curiously. He knew I loved getting an advent calendar each Christmas, and I had worried that I wouldn’t get one that year as he’d told me that most of the shops were sold out of them. But, dad being dad, he’d spent hours driving around until he found one, and made sure that on the night of December the 1st, the first night of advent, there it was.

The calendar was beautiful, handmade with carefully crafted drawings on its front and back. The lines and sketched colours lovingly showed a Christmas street full of lights, with houses covered in snow, and the windows beaming with a warm yellow glow waiting for the night Santa would arrive. What I loved about each year’s advent calendar, the good ones at least, was that they told a story. They showed something wonderful happening. Each door or window would be opened night upon night revealing a picture, building until that magical climax of Christmas. I loved the anticipation of the holidays, and the advent calendar symbolised the hopes that Christmas held; not just presents, although as a child that was a big part of it, but spending time with my family, seeing my grandparents who usually lived in another part of the country, and getting to eat all the chocolates and turkey I could cram into my mouth. Getting to be away from the boredom of school, getting to play with new toys, getting to have fun with my friends…
It was the thought of friends which brought me down for a moment. There I was holding an advent calendar, each cardboard door numbered from 1-24; from the 1st of December until Christmas Eve. The same night that one year previous, my dear friend Fin had been taken, murdered, and left to rot down a sewer.

I began to cry, and almost instinctively my dad seemed to know what was upsetting me. He asked about Fin, and when he mentioned his name I sobbed deeper than I had since his death. My poor friend who would never again go on those carefree days out with me and dad, or walk alongside me to school laughing and playing. It was then that my father explained to me something about death, words which have always stayed with me:

‘You know something,kiddo? As long as you keep the memory of the people you’ve lost in your mind and in your heart, they’ll always be alive. They’ll always be with you; so Fin is right here’, he said, pointing to my chest gently.

With those words I felt a soothing comfort wash over me, and, all cried out, my dad tucked me into bed, kissed me on the head and said goodnight – knowing to leave my bedroom door open slightly, to let some light from the hall keep my room from the dark.

He had left the advent calendar sitting nearby, its closed windows facing me from my nightstand. And yet I was exhausted, and so my thoughts drifted from what lay behind those cardboard doors to sleep, and hopefully to a more rested state of mind; but that did not occur. I woke in the night from an horrendous dream about my friend Fin, little four year old Cheryl, and 11 year old Tommy Graham, crushed down a sewer pipe; the water running over their bodies into mouths which once spoke and laughed and smiled, only then to be rendered silent by an unseen brutal hand. In the darkness Fin’s voice cried out, garbled and drowned. A word came forth and clung to me like no other: ‘run’.
I leapt out from my bed, soaked in sweat, ready to cry out for my mum and dad, but then something strange caught my attention, shaking me to the core. I looked to the advent calendar, to the drawings of cosy houses covered in snow, their windows beaming out into the cold December night; sitting there waiting almost as I had left it. Yet something was amiss, something which I had no memory of – the first advent door had been opened, the cardboard left ajar like the one to my room. Stepping forward, the sweat dripped from my hand as I pulled the door back to reveal what secrets the calendar had in store for me.

In what little light there was, I squinted, my mind slowly piecing together the picture behind door number one. As my eyes adjusted, I recoiled in horror at the sight, and screamed for my family. Within seconds the light was on and my dad appeared, picking me up, consoling me as he put me back into bed. I pointed feverishly over to the calendar, telling him that something awful hid behind the door. Of course he looked, then smiled reassuringly: ‘It’s just a happy Christmas scene, kiddo’, he said handing it to me.

Looking closely I could see that the picture had changed slightly. It depicted an old stone bridge covered in snow. Children played on top of it happily. Yes, it appeared quite harmless, quite serene. My father left and soon I was drifting back to sleep. Yet my mind hazed over with two thoughts: of Fin screaming ‘run’ in my dream, and of what I could have sworn I’d seen in that first little calendar door. The bridge was there, but underneath in the dark, eyes looked out to the children playing gleefully above; eyes which seemed wracked with rage and hate.

The next day at school went quickly, but on my way home I dragged my feet over the bitter frozen concrete paths and pavements, thinking of Fin and how he had always walked with me. As my house came into view, I smiled for a moment at the lights dad and I had hung on the roof. They warmed my spirits, but when I entered my room, my soul was chilled stagnant once more – the next advent calendar door had been opened. This time I knew, I hadn’t been there to do such a thing in my sleep as I had assumed must have happened the night before. No, someone had opened it. I touched the yellow number 2 of the cardboard door, a number which should have promised a treat or a happy picture reminding me that Christmas was near. I hesitated and then looked behind it. Another street scene played out before me. This time a small boy pulled a red sledge behind him as other children threw snowballs at each other, grinning wide and happy. At first I sighed with relief that the picture had no hidden intruder, no eyes staring out of the darkness in contempt; but just as I sat the calendar back down onto my nightstand, I saw it. The faint outline of a person looking out towards me, almost invisible, yet hiding within that Christmas scene in plain view, sitting there on the boy’s red sledge.

I closed my eyes and rubbed them, fearful that they might reaffirm the figure’s presence once more when opened. But just as the darkened eyes had disappeared from under the bridge on the 1st of December, the faint outline of the unseen pretender had moved on from the picture. I knew that no one would believe me, and even worse I barely believed it myself. My nine year old mind could not comprehend such strange and ominous occurrences, yet I was not so removed from the idea of horrid things scuttling around in the dark; creatures which even parents could not protect you from. The figure had moved on, I was certain of it, and I knew that it must have travelled and hid behind the door for the 3rd of December.

The next morning, I told myself that I would not open any of the closed doors from the advent calendar. I promised myself. Yet someone, something, was doing it for me. That night I awoke in the darkness once more. The same dream playing out, poor Fin muffled and drowned by the putrid sewage water. Crying out in the dark. Crying out, and yet warning, pleading. ‘Run’, he said. ‘Run’. Again, I leapt from my bed, and once more the calendar door for that day had been opened by an unseen force. There in the dark I looked, compelled by the fear of not looking. The terror of not knowing what was to come. For in that 3rd picture it became clear to me, something was on its way. Something unspeakable was plotting and slowly but surely drawing closer. Behind that door lay another Christmas scene, families skating on a beautiful iced lake, and under that transparent barrier between the cold air and the icy water, there was a shape. Darkened, indefinite, but malevolent, a blurred form under the ice, eyes staring up in disgust at the families who happily skated above.

I screamed again, and yet the results were all too familiar. My mum and dad arrived tired, yet never annoyed at their child for waking them in the night. Mum put me into bed, and as she did so I explained frantically to them both that something was appearing in the advent calendar, that each door held proof of something which meant to do me harm. Yet there was no evidence of it, only three open doors showing happiness and fun at Christmas. Dad said I was having bad dreams, and that he and mum would sit with me for a while until I fell asleep. I heard them whispering about work in the morning, but they were more concerned about me than losing a few hours of rest.

The next day, again, I tried to ignore the advent calendar; tried desperately to avoid its doors. And again, I failed. In the night I awoke from the same hideous dream, and yet this time, the calendar was not open. The door with a yellow number four remained closed. I hoped that whatever strange thing was in those pictures had left, that I could forget the hateful haunting eyes, and that I could return to simply enjoying the anticipation of Christmas; but just as I nodded pack to sleep, happier than I had been since they had first found Fin’s body, I heard something – the sound of a thumb or finger pulling at cardboard. I opened my eyes and stared in utter disbelief as the fourth door was pulled open by an invisible hand in the dark.

It is strange that I did not scream, but since then I have heard people say that when you are as scared as you can possibly be, that you cannot move, nor can you cry out for help. I opened my mouth, and no noise came, a paralysis of fear which was overpowering. There I lay in the night, staring wide-eyed at the fourth door, wondering what disturbing depiction it would reveal, and even more so, terrified that whatever had opened it still lurked nearby.

I wish I could say that it stopped, that the horrid revelations ceased, but I cannot. Some nights the dreams of Fin yelling at me to run came, but on others they did not. The only constant was that at some point a calendar door would be opened, whether in the morning or at night. Each door would show a happy scene, and each time something hideous, which only I could see, would be momentarily present. One door showed a group of carolers cheerfully singing at night, warmed by the glow of an open window, and at the rear there stood an outline, something watching, something waiting, something moving on relentlessly to Christmas Eve – the last door. Another picture showed a small girl, no older than poor Cheryl who had been killed, placing presents into a stocking, and yet for a moment there was the faintest impression of a hand, reaching out from the stocking towards the girl.

By the 20th the horrific pictures had intensified, as too had the dreams. Fin now screamed my name, his voice echoing up through a drain, pleading with me to ‘get away’. And as those nightly terrors revealed themselves, the pictures had taken on more weight, more immediacy, for I was certain that they now showed the street where I lived. My dad found me crying that night and when asked what was wrong, I told him. I believed that there was something evil coming. Something horrendous which had snatched a child each of the previous three Christmas Eves. The same evil which had taken my friend. That hidden horror which on Christmas Eve would come for me.

Dad reassured me that this was not the case, that I was imagining things. When he looked at the pictures on the calendar he just saw nondescript streets, anonymous faces, nothing which suggested the place where we lived. But I saw differently; the drawings clearly showed house by house, inch-by-inch, that something was drawing nearer each day, fleeting glimpses of a faint figure waiting to gorge itself once more. My dad offered to throw the advent calendar away if it was upsetting me so much, but I pleaded with him not to. I needed to know. I had to see what was coming, what was on its way to snatch me from my family as it had done the other children.

The 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of December were torturous. While I should have been excited for Christmas day, I was not – I was terrified, for I knew that I would never live to see it. The calendar door on the 21st, opened by something unseen while I slept, showed a house come into view, one with glowing lights hung around the roof gutter, and the faint outline of something terrible approaching nearby. I was certain that the house was mine, and that the light which beamed outward onto the snowy landscape was from my family. Though as I peered out into the night from my window, there was no snow in reality, just a biting wind and a frost which covered everything like a shroud. I could not see a figure out there, but I felt it, somewhere close, just waiting for Christmas Eve.

On the 22nd, the figure drew closer to our home as the snow fell around it in the advent calendar, and on the 23rd the prowler had reached the gate to our garden. That night I had such a terrible vision. In my dream I found myself lying in the dark. I could not see, and all that surrounded me was the empty coldness of winter. Pain coursed through my body and the sound of running water pushed over it, forcing me deeper into an abandoned drain. Putting out my hand instinctively, my fingers touched the frozen mouth of another child. Slowly it moved against my hand, and its stagnant lips whispered as if weakened. ‘Run. Get away.’

I did not wake screaming, nor did I leap from my bed as I had the other nights like an animal fleeing from a predator. There I lay in the silence of the night, and in that stillness, I cried. The paper chains and decorations my family had hung from my room’s ceiling proved no protection from the pain or from the thoughts of the three children, how they had been taken, and how I would be next.

And then the day had come: Christmas Eve. I was frightened, but a distance took me, one which slowed my words and left me dispassionate about the festive season, about my family. I wish I had not been that way and had savoured every moment I had left, but I was drained, numbed by the lurking fear which had haunted me for weeks. Tired of it all. A strain which no nine year old should have had to bear.

My dad knew that I wasn’t my usual self, as I normally relished Christmas Eve like most children, excited and completely enthused for what would come. But there I was outside in the cold, helping him fix part of the lights which had come unhooked in the wind. I watched my dad on the ladders once more, the wind rattling everything around – the slates on the roof, the trees, the gutter. I thought about how Fin’s family, or little Cheryl’s or even Tommy Graham’s, would have been preparing for Christmas day like we were, happily unaware of the loss they were about to undergo. At least I knew, I had foresight, each hideous picture hinting at that faint figure coming closer and closer to my home; to open my window as I slept waiting for Christmas morning. To snatch me from my bed, to slaughter me, discarding my body down a sewer pipe, used and forgotten. As the wind howled and the lights chinked and jingled together, I looked back at the gate to our garden, to where I had last seen my future attacker. I could see nothing, just an empty street on the quietest night of the year, but in that absence I could feel eyes bearing into me.

My dad climbed down the ladder whistling merrily to himself, and as I looked up at him I simply asked, matter-of-factly, if he would nail my window shut. He didn’t ask why, he knew many parents had done the same, and so we went inside as the evening rolled in, carried by the promise of frost from the outskirts of the city. Dad got his toolbox out and drove a large series of nails into the frame of the window. Once I was confident that there was no way to open it, I thanked him and asked if he would do one more thing for m; only one – to sit next to my bed all night and look over me until morning. Unlike the other nights, he did not tell me that there was no monstrosity out there, nor did he say that the world was a safe place, for that would have been a lie. He placed his hand gently on my shoulder and said: ‘If you need me, I’ll sit right here until it’s time to open the presents.’

And sit there he did. My mother came in to kiss me on the head before returning back to the kitchen where she was preparing things for the dinner next day. I so wanted to see it. Presents meant nothing to me by that night, all I cared about was being there at the family table, laughing with Gramps and Gran, and knowing that the nightmare of December, 1965, was over. I fell asleep as my dad sat by the bed, reading his book.

It must have been two or three in the morning when I woke. I was unsure of the precise time, but what I knew was that my dad was standing at my window, looking down, out to the street below. I whispered to him and asked what was wrong, but his reply was hesitant: ‘Nothing, kiddo. Go back to sleep’.

Then I heard it, certain and laboured. The sound of footsteps slowly walking up our garden path outside, shambling forward towards our home. The sound frightened me, and my thoughts immediately turned to the advent calendar, to the faint outlined figure which had haunted me. From what little light there was I could see that the door for Christmas Eve was sealed shut, yet to be opened.

The footsteps continued, one after the other, slowly, steadily. My dad stared intently outside as I asked if he could see anyone there, but he just shook his head in disbelief. The footsteps ceased and silence covered everything like the frost outside. Suddenly it was broken by three loud booming knocks. It was at our door. I cried out in terror and started sobbing.

‘It’s come to take me dad, like Fin and the others!’ I howled in utter despair as the tears slid down my cheek.

‘Nonsense. It must just be a neighbour or something’, my dad said unconvincingly.

‘No dad, it’s here to take me away!’ I screamed as I handed the calendar to him. ‘Open the last door, open it and you’ll see. Christmas Eve, each Christmas Eve it takes a child and if you open that you’ll see it, I promise, you’ll see it!’

Three more loud knocks echoed out, and for the first time in my life I saw fear flicker across my dad’s face as I could hear my mum stirring from her room, shouting through asking what was going on.
Three knocks once more, this time more pronounced.

‘Please dad, look at the door, open it and you’ll believe me. It’s here for me.’

My father’s hand trembled as it held the calendar tightly. Slowly, he opened the last door to see what was shown. ‘God no!’ he yelled out, and with that we heard the most hideous of sounds. One which was laced with dread. A click of a lock. The turning of a handle. And the front door opening to the cold. Then, footsteps climbing stairs, looking, seeking, and then slowly coming down the hall towards my room.
‘Dad please, help me!’ I pleaded as the nightmarish thing in our house drew closer.

He looked at me, trying his best to hide his fear, but I could see it etched into his face, into his soul.

‘Listen to me son, as soon as I go out there I need you to grab all your things, anything heavy, and barricade your door. Don’t let anyone in this room unless it’s me or your mother’.

I believe in that moment he saw the utter despair in my eyes, and before he left the room as the footsteps reached the room next to mine, he spoke gently, patting me on the head. ‘It’ll be okay’, he said. Then he was gone.

I did as he said, and as soon as he had left the room I moved my nightstand, my chair, my books, anything I could against the door, sobbing my eyes out, praying that my parents were safe. At first I heard nothing throughout our house. Then suddenly violent shouting erupted, a struggle quickly followed with what sounded like furniture being thrown and glass smashed, and then the worst of it – my mother screaming. She cried and yelled and agonised. And finally, I could not bear it anymore. I could not leave her alone. Clearing the things away from my door, I opened it, and wandered down the darkened hall. A cold icy air blew through the house. The front door lay open, decorations swung in the frozen breeze, and outside knelt my mother, alone, terrified, screaming into the night.

Losing a parent is hard for a child, and to do so on Christmas Eve harder still. Yet the torture of that night cuts deeper than most. Few can know my true pain. Over the years I have tried to understand it more clearly, understand what my life was before and what it is now, to little avail. I cannot give solid explanations, nor can I say that my anger will ever truly diminish. I’ve tried to live as best I can, putting the mystery out of my mind each year, each year that is, until Christmas. When the memories flood back like a comforting blanket, soon torn away by a silent hand from the dark. My own children, now grown up, have asked me why I become a little distant at this time of year, and to that I have given no real answer. All I can say is this: I do know two things, both of which haunt me to this day. The first is that no one ever saw or heard from my dad again, my mother remained tight-lipped until she died about what had come into our house that night – what took her husband – and who can blame her. I also know what the last door of the advent calendar contained, and what had frightened my dad so badly. It was a drawing like the others, a happy Christmas scene, with one horrid addition. It showed a boy sleeping soundly in his bed on Christmas Eve; a child who looked uncannily like my poor friend Fin, unaware that his life would soon be over, and that he was being watched through the frosted window by his killer – whose face looked remarkably like that of my father’s.

***
If you enjoyed this story, please consider checking out my books on Amazon. Sorry for the self-promotion but it can be difficult to get the word out there. Thanks as always, everyone.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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