The Grim One

August 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I remember when I was about eight years old I had an imaginary friend. I never saw it, I only talked to it. I wouldn’t remember what, but I know we would have conversations about games and end up playing them. I soon realized that I was speaking to another girl and she shared my room with me, I just never knew about it until she mentioned it.

Around that time, small things around our house would move – cups, figurines, sometimes plates. I even remember my entire bookcase had been emptied and the books laid in stacks on my floor, only one picture book open to the middle page. My imaginary friend was reading, I recall.

One night, I had woken up from sleep and decided to get a glass of water. I went down the hall to the bathroom and turned on the light. I reached for our plastic cups in the corner before something in the mirror caught my eye.

It was me – or, really not me I should say. My reflection was another person – a girl. She was weary red pajamas that looked splotched and wet. She had dirty blonde hair and black eyes. It didn’t bother me for some reason. I was intrigued. I turned my head to the side, the girl that was my reflection followed. I raised my arms, touched my knees, and poked my face. The reflection did the same. Then she smiled, and faded until my own sleepy reflection was once again as it always had been.

I had always watched horror movies and ghost hunting shows. I had read scary stories and listened when my dad tried to scare me. It never really worked. I was a pretty naïve child, I barely got scared. The supernatural wasn’t really something I was afraid of, more of losing my family and bring all alone.

I had dreams for about two weeks. They weren’t bad or scary. I was looking out eyes that surely weren’t my own and walking through our house. At first, I thought I had been sleepwalking, but I realized that the rooms in my dreams weren’t the same. They were the rooms, but they had different decorations and add-ons. I would sometimes look down, but all I saw were my hands, the rest just a nonexistent nothingness.

I didn’t tell my mom what I was experiencing, but I did ask her questions.

“Mom,” I asked. “Who lived in our house before us?”

She gave me a surprised look. “Who? Why?”

I shrugged. “I was just curious.”

“Well,” she said. “A man lived here.”

“Just a man?”

“Yes, he had committed suicide in 1968.”

“Why?” I asked.

She pursed her lips. “Well, he had kidnapped a girl for about two months before the police finally decided to search his house. They found him, but they never found the girl.”

“A girl?”

“Yes,” My mom said, looking uncomfortable. “She was about your age, I believe.”

“Ten?”

“Yes.” My mom’s voice had become tight, and she didn’t look away from the road, only glared at the cars in front of us.

“I don’t think she left the house,” I said.

My mom didn’t say anything after that. I had a suspicion that she got what I was hinting. If she thought I was crazy, she didn’t say or do anything. She used to ask me about my imaginary friend when she first showed up, but she had always assumed it was my child mind making her up.

But my mom did take precautions. She tried to act nonchalant, like they were normal. She would tuck me in and make sure I said my prayers before she left and I went to sleep. She wanted me to text her every time I got home walking from school every day. At first, I thought I was ridiculous; I was in the sixth graded and walked with my friends to the end of my street, but I could see where she was coming from with strangers and kidnappers. It was something that every mother worried about, and she worried even more than others when my dad had passed away when I was six years old.

I didn’t see the girl in the mirror after that one time. When I got into the seventh grade, she seemed to drift away. I didn’t talk to her because she wasn’t around. I wasn’t really upset because my mom had actually convinced me that the girl was just a figment of my imagination, even when she acted strange that one day I had brought up the previous owner.

One night, I was doing homework in my bedroom on my bed. I had my textbook out along with unfinished papers and my calculator. I remember I had heard a knocking on my wall. I thought nothing of it since it stopped. Then it started again a few minutes later, only louder. I assumed it was my mom messing with me and I called out to her to stop so I could concentrate on schoolwork. The knocking stopped, but my bed made a deep creaking noise, like the springs were shifting slowly. But I hadn’t felt anything, and the bed didn’t sink. I ignored it and it stopped.
Then there were icy fingertips threading through my hair. My heart jumped into my throat and I turned around only to see nothing, just my white wall. At this point, I thought I was just going crazy or I was extremely stressed out.

The knocking started again, only on the wall behind me. I felt irritated, cursing my mom under my breath. But then I realized my mom was working late at her office. I was home alone.

I didn’t dare turn around. I stayed calm and closed my textbook, stuffing all my homework into my backpack and slinging it over my shoulder. I walked calmly out of my room and into the hallway. But something happened. My backpack felt ten times heavier and the air around my seemed to get thicker. A feeling of complete dread pooled in my stomach. Something bad was going to happen.

I ran, grabbing my phone off the counter on the way. I got out of the house as fast as I could, my feet sprinting on autopilot to my friend’s house across the street. I hadn’t gone home until I saw my mom’s car pull into the driveway.

I slept in my own room that night, not wanting to worry my mom. I told her that I just needed some help on my homework and that’s why I went over to my friend’s house. She believed me.

My room seemed eerie. I had a feeling I wasn’t supposed to be in there. I had a nightmare, but this time I was watching from afar. I saw a pale man, his features haggard and tired. And I saw a girl, the same girl I saw in the mirror. The same girl I had been talking to when I was nine and suddenly disappeared. I saw the man kill the girl in the basement. He slit her throat with a kitchen knife and let her bleed out, writhing on the floor, choking on red.

When I woke up, my room was freezing. I looked to the corner and saw a black shadow. It was tall and lanky, just like stature of the man in my dream. But the shadow was holding another shadow by a puff of swirling black hair. I realized it was the girl. I screamed and ran into my mom’s room, hoping to God that the shadow wouldn’t follow me.

I jumped onto my mom’s bed, shaking her shoulders. She immediately woke up, looking startled and concerned and downright scared at my behavior.

“He didn’t leave, mom!” I screamed. “He never left the house!”

My mom tried to get me to calm down, but I was not going to listen, not while that being was still hovering in the corner of my room. I was not going to calm down while that thing was still in the house.
I managed to scream and sob so much that my mom let me drag her out of the house. She obviously knew something was wrong. I never got scared, I barely cried, even when I was a child.

My mom drove to her office. It was about five minutes away and I cried silently all the way there. I had to of been three in the morning, but the security guard let us in because he knew my mom. We slept there in chairs using extra blankets from the car.

My mom asked me what had happened the next morning and I said, “He was coming for me, too, just like the girl. She never left the house, either.”

I had never seen her looked so spooked. She said we could sleep at a hotel, but I didn’t bother. We would’ve had to go back at some point anyway.
I slept in my mom’s bed, not feeling shameful in the slightest. I didn’t have any dreams, any nightmares. I didn’t see any shadows of dead people in the corner of the room. The house didn’t feel as heavy, but I could still tell they were there.

I realized the girl was trying to warn me.

Weeks went by and nothing happened. It wasn’t until one night I woke up and a face was hovering only centimeters above mine. I was paralyzed with fear. The face disappeared not even a second later. I didn’t see it entirely, but I remember the blank, dead stare of the eyes.
If I was in my house, I always felt eyes on me, following me everywhere. Who eyes? – I’m not sure. It could have been the man who was out to get me, or it could have been the girl. If it was the latter, I wouldn’t have felt so scared inside.

I spent more time at friends’ houses. They didn’t mind. I didn’t tell anyone about the face above mine that night. The only person who knew anything that was going on in the house was my mom, and I only shouted at her about the man never leaving. I knew she got what I meant and I had a feeling she had seen him as well from the way her face turned pale and she looked uncomfortable. She wasn’t one to get scared either; I had inherited that from her.

Sometimes I would see a creeping shadow in my peripheral vision, but, if I looked at all, there would be nothing there, though I knew what I had seen. Objects continued moving, even more than the years before. My diary was taken for a few weeks and I found it on top of the fridge. My mom and I are too short to reach up there and my mom was that obtrusive of my privacy and she had no reason to hide my own diary from me.

Doors started slamming and cupboards would open right in front of us. At first, we tried to avoid it, but it became a regular occurrence and we got used to it. We didn’t want to piss off whatever was in our house.
Light bulbs would flicker on and off and the TV would turn channels right in the middle of shows. It wasn’t us, the remote could be five feet or sixteen feet away from my mom, and I never saw her do it. I sure as hell didn’t and my own mother isn’t that cruel to mess with me like that.

I never invited anyone over, which seemed odd to them because I did it all the time when I was little. I just told them it was either messy or my mom just said no.

Most nights I would wake up to unnatural shadows during the night. I started dreaming again, but they were the same dreams I had when I was nine, which weren’t disturbing to me at all. Feeling a presence in the corner of the room or in my closet was.

I soon was graduating high school, somehow managing to keep my sanity. I moved out of state after I convinced my mom to move as well. I wasn’t comfortable leaving my mom in that hell. She moved a few miles away from my college campus and life seemed normal.

Not even two months into my freshman year of college past before my dorm started to feel a bit heavier. I lived with four people. They didn’t seem to notice, probably because they lived normal teenage years without a dead girl and a homicidal spirit living in their home.

My room was the worst; it felt like my room back at home; eerie and unnerving. I saw the shadows again and I would walk in after a class to find all my drawers open. The pictures of me and my friends on shelves would begin to move. They would just change their placement or be set face down. One had my face scratched out.

One night I woke up to see the man in my corner again. I was terrified and ran out, shaking. I spent the night in one of my roommate’s room. She didn’t question it when she saw my expression. She probably thought I had a nightmare or something.

The year kept moving by. I saw the man everywhere in the dorm. If I was watching a movie with my friend’s, he was there standing where no one except me could see him. If I was studying, he would hover over my shoulder, his cold fingertips brushing my hair away from my neck. I usually swung my arm back, trying to knock away nothingness.

I visited my mom for a night during spring break. I had extra-curricular activities scheduled and couldn’t stay the entire night. That night, she and I were sitting, half watching a movie and half lost in thought.

“Is everything going okay in school?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said immediately. Then added, “Mostly.”

“Oh? Is it a boy?”

“No,” I said, not feeling embarrassed at all. “It something different.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“He left,” I said lowly. “She stayed. He left the house. He’s living in my dorm.”

My mom went white as a sheet and looked sick. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “But he’s getting closer and closer to my bed when I wake up and see him.”

My mom started crying. She wanted me to stay at her house, for spring break at least. She didn’t want to know what would happen when he finally got to me, and I didn’t want to know either, ever.

“I’ll be fine, mom,” I said. “He’ll die down after a while like in the old house.”

It didn’t die down. It got worse and worse. Last night, I woke up to his face above mine, just like that night at my old house. I had screamed in horror and woke up the entire dorm.

“It’s nothing,” I told them, starring at the shadow in the corner. “Just a bad dream.”

One of my roommates’s looked back to where my eyes were trained on, and she looked perplexed for a moment. She shuddered, and then shook her head, as if she was seeing things. She was seeing things; she just thought it was her mind playing tricks.

So now I write this. I’m in my room. Since he was above my face last night; I don’t know what will happen tonight. I called my mom and told her what happened. She’s visiting me tomorrow.

I can see him now. He’s standing in the corner. His eyes are brighter than usual; a deep black abyss that only seemed alight with malicious intent. His long, gnarled fingers are twitching.

He’s smiling now. His teeth are as sharp as kitchen knives.

In fact, he’s holding one in his hand.

Credit To – Gabby Roberts

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The Pit

August 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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It seems strange, now, to recall that place. Almost as if it were a dream, or some imaginary tale I once heard as a child. But the evidence is damning, As much as I like to think it did not, It happened.
I was a private investigator at the time, nothing big, we just tracked down missing people, caught cheating spouses that type of thing. Nothing too grand, but it made us a living. I say “us” because, of course, I had entered a partnership with another investigator, and my longtime friend George Wiles. I suppose really I should have introduced myself earlier, but my mind is trying to blurt forth too much at once, I fear.
My name is Henry Scott, and by this point, I had been in my field for little over half a decade. Our shared establishment held a “Wiles & Scott Investigations” sign painted across the door and window. (We had played cards to decide whose name would go first on the sign)

As is wont with such stories, the case started like any other. A middle aged man who’s name I can’t, or won’t give on both agreement and out of respect asked us to track down his wife and daughter. They had gone out of town for a few weeks, planning to stop over at a few towns on their way on a round trip journey that would bring them back here, to their home. The client originally had accompanied them on the trip but had been called back to work at a local car part manufacturers and had been forced to leave them. “They were gonna come back with me, But I told ’em no, you keep on goin’ an’ I’ll meet up with you soon as this is sorted out.” He had done what he had said, the clocking cards and employee stories told of how he had planned a two week vacation but had been called back after only three days, Two days later he had headed out again on the train to meet them at an agreed station, and arrived promptly if not a little early. His family’s train wasn’t due for another thirty minutes or so yet and having just recently travelled through the vicious weather himself was not at all surprised when the train appeared late.
Neither his wife or daughter arrived on the first train, And so he simply assumed they had arrived late at the departure station and missed it, When they did not show on the next train either is when he began to slightly panic and called the hotel he knew they had been staying at, the clerk that answered informed him (And later, myself and partner) That they had signed out at the front desk and handed over the keys at 9:34am, leaving plenty of time to reach the station at the next town and catch the train at 11:25.

He next called the departure station to find out if their tickets had been used, only to find they had not, He quickly booked himself a ticket on the opposite train to that he had been waiting for and waited rather anxiously for it to arrive.
He detailed the journey back as half full of fear and half of expected embarrassment when he would arrive at the station within moments of his family only to find their car had stopped with a flat tire and, As the road they had travelled was infrequently used, were forced to wait for a rescuer to aid them, and find all his worries were for naught.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. His arrival at the station did not spur any sudden relief, or let fate have his family suddenly appear at the station desk. Nor, once he had hired a car, did the drive to their hotel reveal any flat tired vehicle and stranded family awaiting a passerby. Their car was not at the hotel, and their keys were, as said, at the front desk.
It was as if they had all but vanished.

While it was true we could not discount our client as a suspect, neither could we prove any guilt on his part.
Our course of action was simple and obvious: To thoroughly retrace and investigate the steps our client and his family had taken, then continue along the route his family would have undergone.

It was no later than Mid-Afternoon when my partner excitedly bounded into the office clutching the two train tickets he’d acquired with a set destination of our clients first stop ready to leave the following Morning.
That afternoon we closed up the offices early to give ourselves the appropriate time to pack whatever we deemed necessary and make ourselves presentable come the morning. We had always found there was a certain amount of authority attached to an appropriate presentation and should we need to ask anyone questions they were usually a little more willing to answer.

Terrible, Foreboding dreams plagued me that night, Dreams of troubles long past and yet to come. Of Innocence and horrible nightmare things.
That these dreams were perhaps a warning or precursor of the events that were to follow, I still wonder to this very day.
It was not uncommon to have bad dreams for me back then. Not as common as it is now, but not at all uncommon.
I had spent several years as a police officer and a further two as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, which even then saw its share of terrible and violent crimes that haunted more than just myself.
However, those dreams ended that night. I can squarely mark that night as the point my old demons faded into normality and timidity whilst being eclipsed by the new current masters of my sub-conscious fears.

I awoke, hardly five hours later and despite my obvious fatigue found myself too restless to sleep.
With it still the early hours of the morning I decided to double-check my packed case and review the information we had at hand so far. A few brief phone calls the day before had confirmed that our client had returned to his place of work on the date we were informed, this was further proven by the clipped train tickets the client had provided.
The second call confirmed that both the clients daughter and wife had spent the night at the hotel marked as their last known location and that our client had turned up at the reception lobby later that day in some distress and confusion. When pressed a little more on the wife and child, the receptionist on the line stated that nothing truly seemed amiss between the pair, they had been courteous in handing over the room key and complimentary of the services on hand.
Although, she did recall that the child had seemed oddly distracted, quiet and sullen, spending much of her time standing near and staring out of the lobby window, twice ignoring her mother’s call in favor of watching the woods outside.
Whereas it isn’t uncommon for a child’s attention to be easily caught, I thought it best to run it by the father before leaving that morning.
I then called the train station and as luck would have it managed to talk to the same attendant that had been on duty that morning, I asked if he had seen anyone of the description our client had given me but he couldn’t be sure, he’d worked several shifts since then and had seen so many faces it would have been nigh on impossible to pick out one face from all the others. I also asked if a car had ever turned up at the station, or had been towed away from unpaid fee’s, and after checking the records for that week he told me that no, no vehicle had ever turned up or been towed.
After a final brief phone call to our client I went over what the clerk on duty had told me, and the father in turn told me that it wasn’t at all unusual for his daughter to wander off from time to time, she had quite an adventurous streak in her. What concerned him more was that she had been quiet as in his own words “I ain’t never known ‘er to be quiet for long. She’s such a chatty kid, y’know?”
I thought that this may just be a child’s behavior, which could mean just about anything, so I left it there and thought no more of it.

A few hours later my partner met me at the station, He’d run a little late but we still had plenty of time so I went over what I’d learned, as little as it was, and brought him up to speed.
‘Hm… So they left the hotel, but never arrived at the station? I guess that narrows down our search a little, if we go from the station to the hotel we’re probably gonna use the same roads as she would have. We should go slow and see if there’s anything noticeable along the way.’
I nodded my agreement as the speaker announced the arrival of our train, we grabbed our cases and climbed aboard.

The train journey itself was uneventful, but I did manage to use it to catch up on the sleep I’d lost that night. I must have sorely needed it too, the first thing I knew about our destination was my partner giving me a firm elbow to the ribs for a wakeup call.
‘Hey, this is our stop. Wake up.’
‘Jeez, be careful’ I yawned ‘How many times have I told you, you don’t know your own strength.’
‘I only gave you a nudge’ he mumbled, taking down our cases from the overhead shelf.
‘Yeah? Last time someone got nudged with that kind of force, a bus parked on them’ I rubbed at my sore ribs. He really didn’t know his own strength, He was strong as an ox, but he at least had some wits about him too.
We left the train and the station behind, my colleague’s frown bringing a slight smile to my face, he always took chastisement straight to heart.
We promptly hired a car, grabbed a bite to eat and a few bottles of cola to take with us and began the reverse journey of what our client’s family should have taken. As George said, we went slow and kept our eyes open for anything unusual.
It was only by chance we found it.

We pulled over for a brief rest stop and cracked open one of the few bottles we’d brought with us, by this point the sun had climbed high into the clear blue sky and by my reckoning it was around two.
‘Looks like a beautiful day, huh?’ remarked George
‘Yup, too bad we’re stuck in a tin can for most of it though’ I replied
‘At least we aren’t in the city, Henry. Can’t beat the fresh country air on a good day’ to emphasize the point he tilted his head to the open window and took a deep breath through his nose.
‘I guess, can’t really argue with that bud’’ I took a sip from my bottle and savored the sweet taste on my tongue.
We sat for a little while longer talking over menial things, before we got ready to set off again.
‘I’ve got to take a leak before we go anywhere’ George said as he opened up the passenger door and headed into the bushes.
I looked out the window and into the sky at the faintest wisps of cloud had started to form and slowly drifted in the breeze, and started thinking that maybe we were on a wild goose chase, maybe the wife had left the husband and taken the kid with her.
George came back with a rap on the window that made me jump right out of my train of thought and almost out of my damned skin.
I opened my door and stepped out ‘What?’
George smiled back at me ‘I think I’ve found something, Henry.’
He turned about and walked back a little way leaving me no explanation, so I followed his lead. All I could see from where I stood was more bushes and trees.

‘I was looking for a break in the tree’s or something so I wouldn’t just be taking a whiz on the side of the road, and I found this.’
It was so overgrown that without George pulling back the branches at the front, I’d never have noticed the dirt road that led off of this one.
‘Hm, Maybe, but surely if anyone came this way George, these branches at the front would have been broken off?’
‘I thought so too, until I stepped inside, here’ He waved me on in.
I took a step into what seemed another world, shifting from the bright warm afternoon outside the line of tree’s into the cool, damp, darker air beyond. The trees were so thick that looking up all I could see was the faintest trickle of light filtering through, the sun itself almost obscured.
The track beyond was clear, looking closer the branches that should have covered the road like the ones out front had been broken off.
‘And look here’ George bent down beside me ‘the dirt here is still a little soft from where the sun can’t quite dry it out, and there’s tire tracks heading down.’
‘I don’t remember seeing anything like this on the map though…’ I tilted my hat slightly and scratched at my forehead.
‘Worth checking out though?’ George could tell my curiosity had been peaked, he already knew we were going to be coming down here to check it out, even if it amounted to nothing and so he stood there smiling at me, just waiting for my word.
‘Alright, let’s go get the car.’

Fifteen minutes later we were creeping our way down the narrow track, I bent over the steering wheel trying to keep an eye out for anything that could cause damage to the car, George leaning over the dashboard to keep an eye on the tracks.
‘Hey, look’ George pointed ahead of us, nailed to a tree was an old rotten wooden sign that had clearly not been maintained. The front half was nothing but splinters, the second half read “ille”
‘Something-ville? Still nothing on the map about that?’
George pulled the unfolded map from the back seat and took a hard look at it.
‘Nope… Just… empty land on this…’
‘Well, at least we’ve found something, fingers crossed if there’s a town there’s people, and if there’s people we can ask a few questions. It could be nothing but since we started on this dirt road I’ve had a bad feeling.’
George left my last words hanging in the air, which told me he felt it too, like the whole world is pressing in on you from all sides and you’re trapped.
I eased my foot down and we crept on along the path.
It wasn’t much longer than that we came into the clear, the trees became better tendered and the sky gradually became visible again.
Perhaps it had just been the dark closeness of the path’s start, but our feelings of uneasiness faded as the sky opened up before us again and the road itself began to look more normal, even so far as eventually having asphalt.
Maybe twenty minutes later we eased into a small town square.
‘Well, I think we found something-ville’ George remarked.
The place looked deserted at first glance, there was no one wandering the streets as would be expected for the middle of the day, although the few stores on the street all displayed an “open” sign somewhere out front.
‘Well, it’s worth us taking a look around.’
George nodded his agreement and we pulled up and parked the car just a little way off the main street.
‘Hit the stores first? If they came through here, if they came through here they may have bought something to eat or drink.’ I suggested.
‘Okay, I’ll go check over at that place’ George nodded to a huge beaten down house with an old sign out front “Rooms for rent”
‘Good thinking, worth a shot’
We arranged to meet up at the car in a few hours and set off our separate ways.

I headed back to where I could remember seeing a diner, following the road in the reverse path of what I’d already taken.
On my right stood a row of houses, some with curtains open, some closed, one with a for sale sign, It seemed normal enough.
Except I’d still not seen a soul anywhere.
As I came to the end of the street, the first sign that this wasn’t just some ghost town finally drifted to me from afar.
The low steady hum of a motor engine grew steadily nearer until I could see it round a corner on the street I was about to enter.
I crossed as it passed and began to make my way toward it, maybe the driver could give me a few places to check out but mostly I think I just wanted to actually see another human in this town.
Children had begun stepping off and heading in their own separate ways, a few passed me and I noted they all had the same pale, sallow complexion and their lack of enthusiasm that the school day had ended and they were home free. There was no jostling, no jeering, no chattering, those that passed me did so without uttering a word and gave me no more than a passing glance.
I got to the door of the bus and put my hand around the frame to lean in.
‘Excuse m-‘
I got no further, the driver whipped about in his seat and wiped the words from my mouth with a look of utmost horror, as if I were holding him at gun point. The man had the same pale skin as that of the children, with dark circles around his eyes and light growth of facial hair, looking like he’d missed two or three shaves more than grown a beard.
He turned and slammed his foot to the floor, the bus lurched forward, and I, still dumbstruck at the driver’s reaction to my appearance almost sent me hurtling over.
I stumbled and recovered as quickly as I could, standing straight and running alongside the bus for a few steps, reaching up and giving the side a good whack with the palm of my hand. ‘Hey!’
The bus steadily increased its speed before it outstripped me completely, I slowed and frowned after it, left clueless as to what had just happened.
The sound of a door slam brought my back to my senses as I turned about, all those children that had gotten off of the bus were already gone.

Already my feelings of unease were steadily coming back and I began to wish George and I had gone about this together, as a team.
I tried to shrug off my feelings and go about my work, again making my way to where I remembered a diner to be.
It was a pretty small place, beaten down looking from outside and with one of those “Open” signs I mentioned on the door.
I pushed against it and found myself quite surprised that it was locked. I tried tapping on the glass and calling out, but got no reply.
It was only then that I got an answer. A woman who must have been in her mid-forties to fifties, pale as everyone else I’d seen in this town and with a few bald patches amongst her wiry auburn hair came into the main store from a back door and looked to me looking in through the window.
There had been some light in her face at first, but as soon as she saw me it quickly faded and by the time she opened the door it was an out-right grimace.
The door swung inward sending the bell above jingling.

‘Can I help you, Mister?’ I had been guessing that this town was a pretty poor place to live from the lack of activity on the streets and the complexion of everyone I’d come across, but being able to see this woman confirmed it to me.
Her t-shirt hung from her shoulders as if it were still resting on its hanger, her stick thin arms protruding from the sleeves ended with hands that were damn near skeletal.
In my mind, clearly, this was a place where money for food was scarce and the people were malnourished and struggling to get by.
‘Well, I hope so Ma’am’ I said reaching into my jacket pocket and pulling out my notebook and pencil ‘I’m detective Henry Scott. I’m looking for a woman and a young girl who went missing not far from here, I was wondering if you could answer a few questions that might help us out.’
She looked back at me for a few seconds as if I’d just started talking French.
‘I suppose I can.’ She said begrudgingly.
‘Thank you, we really appreciate it.’ I pulled the picture of the family I’d been given out of my notebook and held it up. ‘These are the two we’re looking for, do you recognize any of the people in this picture?’
She glanced at it for about half a second before shaking her head.
‘Right… Well, have you seen anything unusual? Any automobiles come through lately that you didn’t recognize?’
‘Mister, does this look like a town that gets many visitors?’
I looked down the deserted street ‘I can’t say that it does, Ma’am.’
‘Then I’ll stop you there and let you know you’re wasting your time, you’re not gonna find anything here.’
‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, I’m just-‘
‘Get out of here, Detective, You’re wasting everyone’s time.’ And with that she stepped back inside, closed and locked the door and went back to her back room.

I stood outside the store feeling more than a little insulted by the woman’s rudeness. Turning about, I marched back toward the car, passed it and toward the hotel where I knew George had gone, playing the conversation out in my mind again and again.
I got onto the street with the hotel when something clicked in my mind.
The woman at the store had acted suspiciously, that was obvious, but her wording only just dawned on me. ‘You’re not gonna find anything here’
Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but it seemed… odd to me.
I’d been so busy storming off, I hadn’t even put my notebook away. I opened it again and took note of the store name and what I presumed to be the owner’s words.
I put the notebook away and carried on my way, I mulled it over in my mind as I went on into the carpark of the hotel, and saw the first signs of life outside that day. Two cars were parked outside the hotel.
Again, I presumed George must be having better luck than me.

I checked my watch, He could well still be inside, there was over an hour before our agreed ‘meet-up’ time.
I mulled over going inside and seeing how he was getting on, but at the same time wondered if I was just giving up too easily. I opted against it and took a look around the hotel itself.
At this point, my luck in regards to our investigation began to change.
Leading around the hotel was a lane that went on into a secondary car park, and it was there I found our biggest piece of evidence. A broken license plate lay against the fence, the two halves placed atop one another. The top half was clearly visible to me though, and it struck a chord in my memory instantly.
It was the plate from the rental car that had gone missing with our client’s family.
I picked up the plates and took them back to our car, popped the trunk and left them inside.
My mind felt clearer, this was all I needed, the smallest piece of evidence had sent my doubts packing and I felt back on top form.
I looked back at the street that lead to the stores and thought to myself that maybe I’d have better luck going door to door.

Unfortunately I was met with almost the same level of luck as I had been with the stores, No answer from most of the houses, two young women, probably in their late teens and a young man answered. All of them saw nothing.
One encounter that sticks out in my mind most of all is knocking a door and seeing a small figure making its way to answer the door, it looked like a young child through the frosted glass of the front door, although its features were both obscured and warped by said glass.
The kid walked right up to the door then just stopped and stared at me.
I tried knocking again, no reaction. The kid just stayed stock still, staring at me through the glass.
So, I did the only thing that came to mind, I waved at the indistinct figure on the other side of the glass.
It garnered me a reaction alright but not the one I was hoping for.

The child moved right up against the glass, pressing its face against it and doing nothing more, keeping the same blank expression.
At this point, I’d decided that perhaps I wasn’t going to get much out of this house.
As a matter of fact, At this point I’d decided I wanted to get the hell away from this frosted glass door with the gormless, staring kid as quickly as I possibly could.
I think it would be quite accurate to say that that’s exactly what I did, too. As I moved down the street and away from that creepy child, I tried going over everything in my mind.
This town just seemed to make no sense. The locals here truly threw me off at every turn with their weirdness.

‘You’re asking questions in the wrong place’

I was so busy grappling with making sense of this town that I hadn’t even noticed the adolescent girl leaning over the railings of a house that was raised up from the street slightly and the sudden sentence may as well have been a sudden right hook for the effect it had on me.
I startled and stumbled sideways, tripping off of the curb and losing my balance even more.
I must have looked like a damned comedy sketch.

I tried to regain my composure and turned to face the girl.
She couldn’t have been much older than sixteen, maybe seventeen from the looks of her. She was pale like the rest of the people I’d encountered so far yet her eyes lacked the dark circles the bus driver and shop owner had carried and what threw me off the most was she was the first person I’d seen with even a hint of a smile since me and George had split up.

‘What was that?’ I asked, stepping back up onto the sidewalk.
‘You’re asking questions in the wrong place, no one here is going to answer their doors to you, and no one is going to answer your questions if they do.’
‘Oh really? What makes you think no one’s going to talk to me?’
‘Because no one here likes people turning up. What they like even less is people turning up and asking questions.’
‘You don’t seem so tight lipped, if you don’t mind me saying Miss.’
the young girls hint of a smile grew into a little more of a grin. ‘I’m not from around here, my mom moved here about fifteen years ago and I came with her’
‘Huh, so you’re mom had more manners than everyone else here.’
‘They weren’t always so bad. They used to be a lot friendlier here. Things just changed over time.’
‘I don’t suppose your mom would be around to be of any help?’
I nodded toward the house behind her, assuming that was where she lived.
‘No, she’s away, sorry.’
‘Well, would you be willing to help me?’
She looked up toward the sky and shrugged her shoulders. ‘Maybe.’ Her eyes fell back onto me and I could see a sparkle of playfulness in them, she was clearly reveling in the being able to give me such a vague answer.

I wasn’t sure if she was just going to give me the run around, but I felt like not asking anything would have been a betrayal of our clients trust.
I know what you’re thinking, my sense of duty didn’t seem so strong when I ran away from a kid practically licking a window and I have no real explanation there. The kid freaked me out, that’s it really.

I drew out my notebook and pencil and got ready to write anything I could get from the only willing person I’d met.
‘Have you seen anyone over the past few weeks come into the town?’
‘Yes, a woman and a young girl came into town a little while ago.’
I paused, my pencil still forming the “e” in “Yes”. I hadn’t expected that. I looked up at the girl with a raised brow and my mouth slightly agape. I pulled out the picture and offered it out to her.
‘Do you recognize these people?’
She took the photo and barely looked at it before offering it back to me ‘Yeah, that’s them.’

My pencil began jotting down whatever I could get from the girl. Yes, she’d seen them. No, she didn’t know where they went. Yes, she’d seen their car at the hotel. No, she didn’t know what happened to the car. Yes, she’d spoken to the mother when they arrived.
‘What did you talk about?’
‘I asked her how she’d found the pathway down here, I walk up there sometimes and unless you really look for it it’s almost impossible to find.’
‘You’re telling me, what did she say when you asked?’
‘She said her little girl hadn’t been feeling well and asked her to pull over, when she did the girl pointed out the lane and said they should go down there for some food, it would help her feel better. So she checked her map and saw our town-‘
‘This place isn’t on a map, we checked it before we came down the lane.’
‘Did you buy your map local, Detective?’
We hadn’t.
‘Because only the local maps have us down.’
‘I see… please continue.’
‘Well, that’s about it, they followed the path and ended up here, that’s pretty much all I know. I saw their car around for a few days, but then I guess they just moved on.’
‘I don’t suppose you know how many days they were around for?’
‘Not an exact number, no, but it couldn’t have been more than three I’d say.’
‘Great, Thanks for all of this. Is there anything else you can tell me?’
She was silent for a few moments and when I looked up she seemed to be mulling it over in her mind as to whether she should actually tell me or not. ‘Actually, the kid did mention something, asked about the woods, there’s a few old paths around there but it’s too dangerous for kids on their own so I told her mother about the lanes and mentioned that if they were around for a little while, they should enjoy the walk.’
‘Do you know if they took up that idea?’
‘Not really, the mother seemed to think about it a little, but like I said, I didn’t see them after that to ask.’
‘Okay, was there anything else?’
‘No, that’s pretty much all I know.’
‘Well, thanks for all your help anyway, Miss…?’
‘Vance, Lodette Vance.’
I frowned slightly at the unusual name, but jotted it down anyway. I took down the address of the house we were outside and said my goodbyes.

I made my way back to the car, elated to finally have some leads. I met up with George and we exchanged what we’d learned over a bite to eat at the hotel, he’d picked up a little more than I had and between us we managed to piece a few things together.
The mother and child had definitely arrived at the town, they had gotten to the hotel and eaten there, as noted by the hotel clerk on duty and the hotel register that they’d signed in to stay overnight.
I asked George if they had any pay phones at the hotel and he nodded, clearly having thought the same thing as me ‘Why hadn’t she contacted her husband?’ when he asked the clerk if she had tried the phones, he explained George that the night before there’d been a bit of a storm and the phone lines had gone down and that’s what he’d told our missing person too.
They’d made to leave later in the day, but had car trouble. They then waited a few days for their car to be fixed up before heading on their way.

None of it really seemed all that suspicious except for the fact that what had seemed to be a perfectly happy woman had up and left her husband for no reason we could find.
We decided to take a room at the hotel and stop over the night, continue our investigation in the morning and perhaps go on to look into where our missing people could have possibly gone from here.
Exhausted after our inquiries and our early start, it took me no time at all to fall asleep.

A second night of horrible dreams plagued me.
I dreamt of a dirt path, thick with bushes and tree’s either side. Running along this path while the light faded from the sky.
Something was chasing me, a pale, dog-like creature. I’d see it shuffling through the brush alongside me, then lose sight of it.
Its long face, human eyes, snarling muzzle and sloping forehead glaring at me with every step.
I’d run but no matter where I looked, there it was keeping pace with me. Toying with me.
I tripped and rolled and stumbled and as I turned and looked around through the leaves and the mud, there it was, slowly stalking toward me.
It’s long human face with its pale dog muzzle staring at me, it’s bony, thin body and limbs stretching up as it stood on its back legs.
I rolled over and tried to scrabble away, it lifted up its three toed paw-like foot and pressed it into my chest, pinning me to the ground with ease.
It’s long, skeleton-like body leaned in, doubling over until the face came down to within inches of mine.
The maw opened and milky white canines flashed before me.
“You’re asking questions in the wrong place, Detective…”

I leapt out of bed, my chest heaving, the spot where the creature’s foot had been felt like a great weight had just been removed.
I looked over at the clock, it had just gone ten past three. I ran a hand over my clammy face, tried to slow my breath as my eyes darted about the unfamiliar room, my brain trying to make sense of why I wasn’t in my home.
The past day’s events came back to me then, the trip to this middle of nowhere town, interviewing the shop owner, the girl.
I sat at the foot of the hotel bed and pressed the tip of my thumb and forefinger into my closed eyes.
I remember sitting there and thinking to myself ‘Really, God? Nightmares two nights in a row?’
If only it had been just two.

I made my way to the small kitchen and poured myself a glass of water.
The sink sat right in front of a window that overlooked the forest beyond, it was a beautiful night from what I could see.
No full moon or anything like that, it was about three quarters full but still wonderfully bright, enough to give me a decent view of the hotel rear parking area.
I stood there and looked up to the stars, I’d always been a little fascinated by space and the stars, etc., not enough to learn the constellations or anything like that, but on a clear night, ever since I was a kid, I’d go out and just stare up at them and wonder.

That’s when movement out beyond the parking area, near to the tree line, caught my eye.
Something white flickering as it passed behind trees and outside my view. I narrowed my eyes, straining them to see what was out there.
A person. I leaned over the sink and pressed a hand against the glass, my curiosity peaked.
It was a woman, her white dress had caught my attention, reflecting the moonlight and seeming to glow in stark comparison to the backdrop that was the night.
That’s when I noticed another shape moving, this one in darker clothes but now my eyesight had adjusted I could just make them out moving amongst the tree’s.
Then another.
And another.
As my eyes fully adjusted, I could see them all. The tree line was alive with shifting shapes, like a writhing mass amongst solidity, like maggots amongst a corpse was the impression that came to my head but being creeped out enough by my dream I tried to dismiss that image as quickly as possible.

What was going on out there? It looked like the whole town had gone out for a midnight treasure hunt.
I made my way across to the suit case at the base of my bed, my curiosity was peaked and everyone I’d come across in this town had made me more and more suspicious, I retrieved the clothes I’d put there but a few hours before and got dressed.
I left the room I’d been staying in and crossed the hallway to George’s door and knocked as hard as I could to try to rouse him, I’d stayed overnight before with George and knew full well how hard it was to wake him up. The problem being not that he’d sleep through the alarm so much as that he couldn’t hear it in the first place over his own snoring.
As a matter of fact, I was pretty certain I could hear his distinctive low grumble through the door.
I knocked again and called through the door until I finally got a response, George opened the door half asleep and half dressed.
‘Henry, what’s going on? Do you know what time it is?’
‘Yeah, Sorry buddy. Look, get dressed, we’ve got investigating to do.’
He stood there for a moment, looking at me with his half lidded eyes. ‘Henry, it’s three am.’
‘George, did you find the people around here odd earlier? A little bit suspicious?’
He yawned and nodded.
‘Well, how suspicious would you be if I just told you that from my room I just saw half the town wandering about the woods?’
He frowned then, his eyes unglazed a little more as my words kick started his brain.
‘They’re what?’
‘Yeah, you can come right over and take a look if you like, or you can shift your butt, get dressed and we can take a look ourselves.’
He sobered up completely over the course of that sentence and nodded. ‘Alright, give me a minute.’

Ten minutes later and we were heading out over the back parking area toward the tree’s, pistols in one hand and a torch in mine and George’s free hands.
‘Any idea’s how many people you saw?’ George whispered to me.
‘No, there were too many and it was too dark to count.’
We’d made our way out of the hotel with the hall lighting on and so our eyes took a little while to adjust again as we leapt the low wall at the back of the parking lot and landed on the grass.
The air had cooled since this evening and the night had gotten a little chilly, the hairs on my neck were already raised with my nerves on edge as we entered the tree line.
George clicked on his flashlight and shone it across the ground. ‘Look, you can see the footsteps leading in.’ he looked up to me and I could see a hint of a smile playing across his features. ‘Looks like you weren’t dreaming after all.’
I gave him a look and he let out a quiet chuckle. I’m glad he could still manage to laugh, I won’t lie, my dream had come back to me after we’d entered the trees and I was scared.
George must have sensed my mood, he clicked off the flashlight and said ‘I’ll leave it off for now so we don’t give ourselves away.’
We began following the tracks we could still make out in the moonlight, they converged and cross crossed in some places but kept the same general direction.
I tried to remember if there was anything out this way on the map, but it wasn’t until our path began to grow steeper we realised we were at the base of one of the mountains nearby.
We’d made good progress I thought, mentally working out the distance from the town the mountains had been from what I could recall of our map.

The trees began to thin out as the ground grew steeper, and the path became more dry dirt than mud. I wiped a light sweat from my brow that the exertion had brought up and looked back at George.
The difference between the two of us was clear as I watched him come up over the last rise not even breathing heavy and I wished I’d kept myself fit after quitting the LAPD.
I also wished God had graced me with the ridiculous strength and stamina that George had, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about that.
We followed the path on, it hit another thicket of tree’s a little way on and as we once again passed from the open air to darkness I began to get nervous.
The people I’d seen out inside the window had maybe had a ten minute head start on us and we’d been going pretty hard at this trail. Unless they ran the whole way, I would have thought we’d come across someone by now.

Doubts crept into my mind and I began to wonder if I had just been dreaming when I looked out my window, or if my imagination had gone nuts after the dream I had had.
‘Henry… Do you hear that?’ George whispered from just beyond my left shoulder.
I paused and listened. Silence. ‘No? What do you hear, big guy?’
‘Nothing, that’s the point… No animals, nothing…’
I worked my mouth slightly and chewed at the inside of my cheek, frowning around us.

Snap.

I froze, my eyes began to roam around what I could see without turning my head.
Just in the corner of my eye I could see George stock still, too.

Snap.

The right. I turned and drew my gun level.

Lodette stood there, her white dress trailing to the ground, looking much the same as she had when I’d seen her last. Right down to the playful smile.
Then my head exploded with light and all I could feel was a dull throbbing just above my ear.
Everything felt slow, my body went limp. It felt like an age for me to hit the ground, and when I did I barely felt it.
I could hear a scuffling and scraping behind me, then a thump thump.
Then everything went dark.

The darkness that engulfed me lasted for what felt like hours, I don’t know how long I was out or how far I’d been dragged by the time I came to, I recall my vision fading in after I first opened my eyes.
I was looking down toward the ground, grass and fallen leaves passed by as I was dragged along by the back of my shirt, I tried to raise my head a little but as I did my vision swam again, so I resigned myself to a limp, lifeless hanging while my head cleared. Everything I could hear around me sounded like it came to me from a long way off and muffled, like being underwater.

The world suddenly came rushing back to me.
I kicked and bucked, struggling to get free, quickly realizing my arms had been bound behind me, that earned me a blow to the back of the head that sent my body limp once again.
Slowly, I raised my head, managing to keep my vision this time, and looked ahead of me.
Lodette, maybe four feet away was walking through the forest.
Thinking back on it, it almost seems like she was gliding ahead of us but I know it’s just my memory fading.
Craning my neck back further, I could see through the branches ahead, the three quarter moon making its descent partially hidden by a cliff face ahead of us.

Finally, I turned my head to the side to look at what was carrying me.
Surprisingly, a man. His shiny bald head reflected in the moonlight, the skin of his face and arms as pale as anyone else’s in the damned town. I could just make out the checkered pattern on his shirt by the moonlight, sleeves rolled up and thin pale arms poking out from them.
Regardless of how fragile those arms looked, he was still carrying with one hand like I was nothing more than a bag of groceries.
Looking to the opposite side, another man, his hair receding with patches through the back and beard.
Over his shoulder was a gun, either or a rifle or a shotgun from the length, I couldn’t make out which properly though. In his hands he was carrying a baseball bat, probably what had been used to down me so easily.
I tried to look around behind me, but I couldn’t turn enough to see if anyone else was dragging George up behind me.

I looked ahead again as we left the tree line and approached the cliff face, before us was the entrance to a disused mine set into the cliff.
That dark hole growing wider and nearer, for some reason struck a deep fear in me.
Not the fact I was being dragged along by a bunch of crazy townsfolk, that scared me yes, but this was different. It wasn’t the dark either, it’s only since that night I’ve feared the dark and enclosed spaces.

But again, that was different. This was deeper, a primal fear, a fear of something I had no idea about, just the voice in my head telling me to get away, I had to get away.
Lodette disappeared into the black hole that was the mouth of the mine, her white dress staying visible for a few drawn out moments before she was entirely enveloped in the darkness.
The man dragging me hesitated, then stopped at the cave mouth, I managed to steal a look at baldy’s face and could tell that clearly he was almost as uncomfortable going in to the mine as I was.

There was a few moments of uneasy pause before there was a small orange flicker appeared far off darkness, then grew closer to us.
The flickering light grew until it lit up the entrance, another man carrying an oil lamp appeared before us.
At this point I feel it’s somewhat redundant to mention that this third man was also pale, the only defining features was that his chest was bare, his pale skin was blotted with patches of dirt and dust giving his skin a cow-hide kind of look.

Oil lamp looked down at me then up at baldy and spoke, it was the first time any of my captors had spoken, and it was nothing like what I expected.
I’ve tried writing down the words Oil lamp said that night, but they never seem to match up to what I remember. The ungodly sounds dragged from that throat sounded something like this:
‘glaf’ac k’ullac fug’akar, ia’gfar’asun’
Baldy nodded and gave what must have been an adequate reply because oil lamp began to smile then looked down at me once again before turning around and heading back into the mine, Baldy quickly began to follow him with baseball bat at the rear.

I don’t know how long I was dragged through the mine, it felt like hours, my mind racing through ways to try to get away, to get out of this mine.
The deeper we went, the more uneasy baldy looked in the flickering light ahead.
His eyes darting about in the deep set sockets, his nerves hitting a whole new level when the way the mine had been dug began to change, becoming more cave-like and rougher, with additional tunnels branching off into different parts of the mountain.

Time seemed different in those darkened halls. Some periods felt longer, others shorter, leaving me with no idea how long I’d been dragged down, my surroundings all seemed the same, dripping walls, sudden black spaces that were additional tunnels and old cart tracks beneath my.
The only true constant were the tracks and my feet bumping off of them.

Sometimes, when I think back on it I could swear there were faces in dark passageways, pale faces staring out at me.
Some not altogether human.
Some elongated and canine-skulled in appearance.
Sharp teeth, bright in the lamp-light.

Then our surroundings changed abruptly, the close-in walls fell away and I was dragged out into a huge cavern.
It stunned me, the walls being there, rough, wet and dripping, then suddenly all that’s around us is the darkness. I looked around, upwards, it was everywhere and felt like it pressed in more than the cave/mine walls had.
What the hell was going on? I begged that this was another dream, something I’d snap awake from any second now.

I looked up and beyond the flickering light ahead I could see one thing.
Lodette. Standing there, smiling, wider than I’d seen her smiling before.

‘Hello again, Detective.’
I glared up at her, I was scared, scared of what might happen, scared of how powerless I was.
I was scared of this fifteen year old girl and how she seemed to be the one in charge of all this.
But I was sure as hell going to do my best not to show it.
She nodded over my shoulder and baldy let me drop to the ground chest first, winding me a little. I lay there and gasped trying to catch my breath.
Face down in the dirt I could hear something in the distance, something out there in the darkness.

I lay there for a moment, my eyes closed, listening to the sounds that echoed about that cavernous chamber.
I could hear movement and footsteps, all around me.
Or were they just echoes? I couldn’t tell.
There was something else, too. Water and a lot of it.
I could hear it sloshing and splashing around nearby, but I couldn’t pinpoint where.

I felt a presence over me and held my breath waiting for the blow to come down.
Instead, I was untied. I rolled over and sat up, scuttling back.
The oil lamp had been left on the ground, Lodette stood near it but I couldn’t see anyone else.
I couldn’t see anything else. The small wavering circle of the oil lamp was a bubble of light in the ocean of darkness around me.
‘Sorry detective, I didn’t want them to be too rough with you’
I shuffled back, feeling out behind me.
‘You should be careful, there’s an awful drop nearby.’
I stopped and looked to her left, there, just beyond her was a difference in the darkness.

I kept looking around, trying to get my bearings, which way had I come from? Which way was out?
As I looked into the darkness I saw small pinpoints of light all around.
I narrowed my eyes.
No… Not lights, reflections, reflections of the oil lamp.
Eyes. There were hundreds of them. All around. Watching, staring, never blinking or wavering.
‘I’d not stare too long, detective, they’re only keeping back because the light burns them, but then again… they are very hungry.’
My head snapped back to look at Lodette, still she stood there, smiling all the same.
‘What are they?’
Her smile grew the faintest bit. ‘They’re the people of the town. They’re not as chatty as those that are left, but they’re still residents all the same.’

She looked to her left and over the ledge.
The water below sounding more turbulent than it had a few minutes ago.
‘Where… Where are we?’ I ventured, my prospects were looking pretty grim but if nothing else, maybe some answers would console me.
She didn’t turn her head, but continued to stare off of the ledge and into the deep darkness.
‘It’s one of the old mines… You know, the ones I mentioned earlier today.’ She then looked back over to me ‘I don’t even remember what it was exactly they were mining for anymore, but what they found was much greater…’ She held out her arms and gestured to the darkness around us. ‘This magnificent hall, they had no idea what they stumbled into when they broke that wall. We have since learned.’
She bent down to one knee and picked something up from beside the oil lamp, I hadn’t noticed it before but my mind had been slightly preoccupied.

‘What do you mean? It’s just a cave, isn’t it?’ keep her talking, I thought. Keep her talking and maybe you can think of something.
I had no way of knowing how far this ledge was, or how deep the water at the bottom was but I was beginning to think maybe throwing myself off would give me a better chance of living than up here.

‘Oh no, not at all. That’s how it looked at first, of course.’ There was a faint click and her face was suddenly illuminated.
My torch, I hadn’t even thought about it since I’d come to. Obviously they’d picked it up from beside me when I’d been knocked out.
‘Why, this is a chapel, Detective.’ She held the torch out over the ledge. ‘And this, is the alter… atop it…’ she dropped the torch, it spun away further and further into the abyss, my eyes trailing after it.
‘Is our God.’
The light flashed, for an instant, over something.
An instant was all it needed to seal its image in my mind.
Dozens of eyes reflected from a gargantuan head, horns sprouting from the temples and sprouting back up and over.
Its circular maw, filled with rows upon rows of blade like fangs.
Thin, spider-like arms extended from its rounded body, webbed claws feeling away at the edges of the great pool of water it sat in.

My body froze, my mind blank. The torch hit the water and went out.
I continued to stare.
‘We are changed here, detective. We are… evolved.’
I turned back and looked around, the eyes around me now had faces. Pale, elongated faces.
Then, slowly, they all moved away.

I looked back at Lodette, She had picked up the oil lamp and took a step closer.
Her body grew with each step, her arms lengthening at the forearm, the fingers curling around the handle as they grew longer.
I looked at her face, No longer her face, the space above her eyebrows split and bled as they opened and a second set of eyes revealed themselves.
Her nose and jaw grew longer as they became a dog-like maw.

‘The mother… the child…’ I don’t know why those words came from my mouth, I couldn’t move for fear had rooted me to the spot. Some part of my mind must still have begged for answers and with the rest of it being blank that came to the forefront.

The creature that now stood before me paused and tilted it’s head, the long black hair fallen over its face as it’s elongated body hunched over and one clawed hand touched the ground.
‘The mother, for me’ it still had her voice, the voice of a young girl from such a creature unsettled me all the more. ‘The child…’ it nodded its head to the side, over the cliff ‘… Youth… helps to sustain him.’

It took another step.
Light burst out from our right, I and the creature both turned toward it.
The creature hissed, I covered my eyes, dazzled by the light,
Bang-Bang. Two shots. A gun. A sound like glass shattering and a sudden roar followed by a shriek.
I open my eyes again, the dress the creature before me was wearing had caught fire, it swatted at it with its elongated arms, stepping back from the light.
Instinct took over, I kicked out at its stick thin knee hard and heard a crack. I pushed myself up and grabbed it’s free arm, the skin cold and clammy, I hauled with all my strength and dragged the creature over my body and over the ledge.

Away it spun into the darkness, the flames flickering with the wind, its howl echoing out from the pit it continued to fall down.
Something grabbed my collar, I twisted and swung, snarling and spitting.
A strong arm grabbed my wrist and pulled me away from the edge.
The howl from the deep pit suddenly stopped, its echoes carrying on, up into the cavern around us and continuing on.
Then other howls began to ring out from the darkness, other inhuman voices echoing the pain.
The hand around my wrist tightened and dragged me up.
I opened my eyes and prepared myself to go down fighting with anything I could.

‘You’d better still be able to fucking run, Henry.’
George threw me ahead of him, his torch shining out before us.
‘That way! Fucking go!’

The next few moments are a complete blur, I recall a deep, resonating howl of pain coming from the pit and so, so loud the ceiling began to shake.
Chunks of the mine fell down around us.
I remember we broke out into the early morning sun.
The forest before us quiet. We looked at each other and fell to the ground, we were both covered in scrapes, cuts, bruises and dust.

We made our way back to the town, our car had been moved but not far.
It sat just outside the hotel, still running, the front seat covered in a strange yellow ash.
We climbed in, and drove away. Neither of us spoke a word to one another until we brought the car back to the rental place.

George explained to me what had happened when I’d been knocked out, they’d come up behind us and hit me first, underestimating George’s speed for his size. He’d managed to turn and fend off the second attacker before making a run for it, he’d then circled back to where we’d last been and followed the trail to the mine where he could see the lamp light in the distance.
He’d followed it at a distance, keeping as quiet as he could until he got into the cavern and used it as a marker. He’d been taking his time, he said he felt other things in the darkness, and could even see them against the oil lamp, but they were all so focused on me that they’d not even noticed him.
He’d shot the lamp when he’d caught the creature by surprise and set it ablaze.

It took some time for me to tell George what I had seen down there, what had happened to me. What I had seen.
I’m not sure he believed me, but he listened, and that’s all I needed. I think.
All I am certain of now, is I am glad we got out of that place alive.
And, that creature beneath the mountain, remains buried in the pit it sat in.

Credit To – S. Meek

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Little Fingers

August 24, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Tiny goosebumps. Ice tingling up the spine. These sensations lingered; the only means of knowing that someone was watching. No, not watching… stalking. For how long? He didn’t really know, but he became aware of this presence not a few hours ago.

In that little cafe, with the clever wooden sign that hung above the door, Desmond had picked out a spot at a table by the window. Lazily flipping through his copy of the latest Digital Arts magazine, he absently grabbed for the latte beside him, and was just about to take another sip, when he spotted a hair… landing in the foam. Lately it was becoming a sort of ongoing joke that perhaps his hair thought he wasn’t getting enough protein. At least that’s how it appeared, since fending off the short, auburn strands from getting into food seemed now a familiar nuisance. Still, mild irritation quickly subsided when he came across the article he’d been searching for.

The article in question was a spotlight piece the magazine had published on his art career. Throughout the whole interview, he was surprised – sceptical even – that they would want to write about him but, well, there it was before him between vibrant and glossy pages! He even groaned a little at the accompanying artist photo. Having been torn between two photos, at the time, he now wished he had chosen the latter. Regardless, the finished article was still beautifully written and complete with several of his works. He was proud to see that most of his favourite pieces were there but, upon turning the page, his heart quickly froze. For taking up the entire following page was a picture that he had not recognized…

“They made a mistake,” he cursed quietly under his breath and inspected the image carefully.

Anyone would agree that his art had always been more on the darker side of things. He was the one who people came to when they needed macabre or monsters for their projects. Yet, try as he might, Desmond could not recall ever painting this piece, which was comparatively more creepy than anything he had ever attempted. However, the striking similarities between the artist’s style and his own made the piece nearly indistinguishable, except for the fact that the content was far more minimal. Within the painting, the viewer stood in a plain, dreary room, looking at the only other thing there: a large, cracked, and soil-smeared window framing a pitch black night outside. Desmond noted out-loud the artist’s skilful and pragmatic use of black, grey, and earthy tones that created an almost photo-realistic quality.

He searched for the title and quickly found it on the opposite page, in small italicized font: Nightmare by Desmond Freeman.

Clearly it was a mistake but it somehow still felt eerie. It was at that moment, though, that he spotted something else. Something tucked away in the darkness of the brush strokes. Something on the other side of the glass. It peeked through the bottom corner in a colour of pale white: a face – or at least a small fraction of what looked to be a face. Only a single eye could be seen peering in, bulging intently through matted, rain-soaked hair, as black as the night outside. Each strand clung to its clammy skin limply. Its stare, penetrating. A sense of maddened fear hung in the tension of long, dirtied nails of little fingers, paused in the act of slowly prying open the window pane.

He closed the magazine, perhaps in disgust.

The creepy nature of the article seemed to have thrown Desmond off, causing him to hesitate and momentarily dismiss the sensation of eyes fixated upon him as being all in his head. Still, with each passing moment, the unease steadily grew. Committing to the conclusion that the culprit was likely someone in the cafe and, upon quickly raising his head, Desmond scanned the almost vacant venue. The few people around didn’t appear to be paying him any mind, though. A group of three teenagers sat in a booth at the back, chatting loudly amongst themselves. Otherwise the only other patrons were an elderly couple quietly drinking their coffees and sharing a scone. Even the people on the bustling city street outside treated him with the same distracted disinterest as usual. Yet, the unsettling feeling stayed… it lingered. Lingered to the point where Desmond decidedly packed up his belongings into his bag and headed towards the park.

So, it was here, on the park’s weathered bench, that Desmond presently sat; patiently waiting in the hope that his suspicions be confirmed. Hunched over and shifting around on uncomfortable wooden slats, with steely blue eyes focused downward towards the pavement. He quietly watched as an ant made its way up the cup of unfinished latte, which sat on the ground beside his pair of beaten up Converse shoes and a few tufts of stubborn grass, before clumsily falling in. The path was in dire need of repair, he had determined some time ago, but was apparently still in use. Occasional echoed footsteps of joggers announced their approach, but would always pass by uneventfully. Mostly, though, the park was silent and empty. Not a soul around, save for the birds.

He paused for a moment to pull out his cell phone and glance down at the clock. He hadn’t been aware of the time and, though it didn’t feel like long, he had definitely been sitting there for at least an hour. No doubt this is what reminded him that Melanie had reserved a table for them at a new restaurant they had been meaning to try. If he left now he’d still have time to head home and shake off his nerves.

“Last chance to come out before I leave”, he tried – just in case – but, as expected, there came no reply. He sucked his tongue loudly in frustration and tugged at a loose shoelace before rising to his feet. The parking lot was not too far but, along the way, he made sure each step was deliberately slow and dampened, in an effort to listen close for footsteps following him. Yet, much to his relief, no one appeared and he even slightly chuckled at himself for allowing such silly paranoia to get under his skin. Confidence renewed, he reached into his jeans for the keys and groaned when the metal teeth caught on the fabric lining. They slipped in slow motion and hit the pavement with a loud, metallic thud. He bent down swiftly and scooped them up, but it was upon standing up that Desmond dared to glance back towards the bench once more and, for the second time that day, froze in place…

Shadows of the dense thickets made it hard to see at first, but his eyes had managed to pick out the chalky paleness of sallow flesh that reflected off the setting sun and little fingers – barely distinguishable from twigs – that parted leaves, to reveal my smiling face.

Credit To – Nuzzlebunny

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“You Asked Me For My Name” – Tales of Lilith

August 22, 2015 at 12:10 AM
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It was darkening, the end of the day. I walked a suburban artery that fed the middle class neighborhoods of Castle Rock. I quickened my pace, anxious to arrive at my girlfriend’s parents’ house. I walked purposefully, looking down to my remembered path.
Suddenly, I was compelled to look up, and there she was.
She was beautiful. The fading light fell upon the window where she stood, perfectly framing her in the wide white sash around the window. I looked up, finding her eyes as they looked down, directly into mine. The window was of a single pane of glass, large enough to show her from below her waist to her enchanting face, with no obstructions.
I slowed down, never taking my eyes away from her.
She reached to a place below her neck and released a button on what I could see was an oversized white shirt, a man’s shirt, and it fell from her, sliding down her body, catching only slightly as it exposed her breasts and again as it cleared her hips. She was unbelievably lovely, a dream. Her eyes held mine. I took her in, the whole sight of her, lost in the vision framed in the window. She seemed to absorb what light remained and my eyes drank it. I slowed my pace further, intent on the sight of her but afraid to stop and stare. In an instant, she was only an outline and I passed the angle as the light fell completely.
My body shook, I walked in a daze. Her house was at the corner where I would turn toward the cul de sac for my girlfriend’s parents’ house. As I rounded that corner and came to pass the front yard of the dark house, a light burst forth, illuminating a porch and a door, the front door to the house where she had let me see her. A curtain parted in the middle of a large paned window to the side of the illuminated door. I could not see behind the parted curtain but I could feel her looking at me. I could feel her naked body, perfect in the darkness of the house.
I did not stop.
As I passed the house the shadows cast by the light from her porch blinked out, absorbed into the darkness. That darkness passed into me, a dark longing quickened inside, the image of her framed in white and gray light burned into my consciousness.
Lea and I sat on the floor at the foot of her bed, listening to music and texting friends, looking for something to do, somewhere to go. It was Friday night. I was distracted but so was Lea, as she always was, absorbed into the screen of her iPhone, searching for some reason to be awake. I absently held her as she leaned against me and I thought about the girl in the house at the corner.
“Who lives down on the corner? On the side of the street as I turn coming from my house.”
Lea looked at me with an odd questioning expression. She set her iPhone down on the floor beside her and sat facing me.
“Nobody. That house has been empty for a long time. I used to hang out there a lot. The daughter of the couple was my best friend, Jorney. The parents got a divorce. The father was having sex with a high school girl, one of his students. It was really gross. Jorney cried and cried. My parents wouldn’t let me go over anymore. Then they were gone. No one knew where, or at least no one would tell me anything.”
A chill pasted through me and the hair on my arms stood.
“Why do you ask?”
“I never really noticed the place, but there was a light there tonight. It startled me when it came on.”
I did not tell Lea about seeing the beautiful woman.
“Really?” Lea said in an enthused conspiracy whisper. “What happened?”
“Nothing really. I thought I saw someone in a window as I walked by and then when I turned the corner the porch light came on. It kind of freaked me out.”
“Someone in the window? What did they look like? Man or woman?”
This line of questioning was getting dangerous. Lea was possessed of a terrible jealousy I tried never to excite.
“No one. I don’t know. I, I couldn’t tell.” I was stammering. “It was kinda dark.”
Lea cocked her head to the side and looked at me.
Oh man, she’s pissed.
“You fucking liar! Who did you see? It was a girl, right? And now you’re asking me who she is! You piece of shit!”
“Come on! You’re crazy! How do you come up with this stuff?”
“Crazy?” She lowered her voice and leaned in close to me. “I’m crazy?” She sat up straight and held her finger up in front of her. “Get the fuck out of my house asshole!” And she pointed to the door.
I left Lea’s house with her crying in her bedroom. I said quick goodbyes to her parents who were watching television. They waved, long used to my comings and goings.

Outside the house I breathed deeply. The early spring air was colder now. I knew I was in for a few days of hysterical texts and some screaming voice mails. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I placed it to the side.

The girl was omnipresent in my thoughts. I could not erase the image of her in that window. And I could not erase the memory of her eyes, following me, looking into my own. The memory played over and over. Her eyes. I stood there in the front yard of Lea’s parents’ house playing this vision over and over again. Her eyes.

I tried to focus back, back to her naked body in the window, framed in white. I tried to recall the image of her shirt dropping, revealing so much beauty, but there were only glimpses. Her eyes were there, always before me, looking into me.

I needed a drink. I felt like I should light a cigarette. I didn’t smoke. I looked up behind closed eyes, into the night sky. She said to come to her, and her eyes closed.

Almost in a trance I walked into the street and turned out of the cul de sac. I could see the porch light come on at the house on the corner.

She opened the door to let me in. The house was dark. The dusty hardwood floor was visible in the faint light cast inward from the porch light. There was nothing in the large front room. Her feet were bare. I followed her bare legs up to the hem of the man’s white shirt loosely draped from her shoulders. I looked at her and drank in her beauty. She smiled. The porch light went out. The door closed. She took my hand without a word and started up the stairs. Her hand was warm. Halfway up she turned to me, smiling.

“Thank you for this. I have waited a long time.”

I woke alone, naked on the floor of an upstairs bedroom. Sunlight filled the empty room, flooding through the open door. I squinted into the light and made out the form of the large, single pane window where I had seen her from the street below.

I thought to call out for her. I realized then I did not know her name. Somehow I knew I was alone in the house. I could not remember from the night, but she was incredible. So perfect. I remember she felt very warm, almost hot. It could have been me but she felt like she had a high fever. Once the lovemaking began, I was lost in it. Now I only remembered entering her and the heat of her body.

My phone gave off a single chirp

Shit! I’m out of battery.

I dug it out of my jeans. Before it went dead I saw the long list of missed calls and messages from Lea.

I got dressed, thinking to leave the house from the back door. I was uncomfortable being seen exiting an empty house and there was also the possibility of Lea passing by on her way to school.

The house backed up to a narrow strip of green belt with a low, split rail fence at the end of the backyard. I had to leave the house through the den which was very dark, being at the back of the house with no windows save the black out curtained, sliding glass door, through which I would exit. I reached for the light switch as I stepped down into the den and flipped it, nothing. I flipped it up and down a couple of times challenging the fates. I frowned, leaned back into the kitchen and found the light switch on the kitchen side of the same wall. Nothing. There was no electricity.

A queer chill passed over my shoulders. I looked around me and quickly stepped across the dark den, pulling the drapes away from the sliding glass door and flooding the room with morning light. I looked around me nervously. There was no one and nothing in the room. The hair of my arms stood. I fumbled with the lock mechanism, releasing it and pulling hard. The door slid but an inch and slammed against something low, stopping cold, my fingers ripping out of the slot to pull it open.

I became frantic. Fear climbed up my spine. I looked down to the track guiding the path of the door. There was a man’s head with the base of the glass door embedded. Dried blood lay in the track and on the floor. I screamed and jumped back from the impossible sight, peddling frantically in reverse. I caught one foot with the other and fell hard on my back facing the hideous sight.

But it was not there.

I stared wildly at a metal bar resting in the track, blocking the path of the sliding glass door.

I jumped to my feet, pulled out the metal bar and threw the sliding glass door against the end of its track, stumbling out onto a small concrete porch. I turned, facing back into the house and quickly pulled the door closed, stopping when I realized I could not lock the door from outside. I ran for the split rail fence and cleared it with a bound, falling to my hands and knees in the wild grass beyond the fence. I had to compose myself. I stayed there on all fours, breathing hard. After just a few moments I rose to my feet and turned toward the road, and the corner of the backyard I just fled. I held close to the fence and looked carefully around the corner, hoping not to find someone out walking the dog, or a familiar car driving by. There was no one on the sidewalk. I stepped out from behind the fence. A car drove by. Lea flipped me off as she gunned her car to speed away from me.

I looked up at the house.

She was in the window, her white shirt unbuttoned, hanging from her shoulders.

She smiled at me.

For the next five days I went to the house. I entered though the back yard, easily scaling the low fence. I went when I knew Lea would be at school and I went again late at night. At first my lover would be standing in the den when I pulled back the sliding door. Each time I could not help but look down for the head. It never returned. She would take my hand and walk me upstairs to the same bedroom.

After our fourth or fifth time together, she waited for me upstairs, as if waiting for a meal. She became more direct, taking me and pulling me to the floor, pulling my clothes off, touching me and putting her mouth on me everywhere. It was amazingly thrilling, but somehow oppressive, consuming.

I was exhausted. My normal vitality reduced to a crawling lethargy, literally crawling up the stairs to the room where she waited, where I went to be consumed.

Last night, after she fed, she looked at me coldly. Other times she would roll to her side, sated, breathing in deep rhythmic pulses, leaving me on my back staring into the empty ceiling. I would fall asleep and wake with her gone.

But last night she rose from her feast and looked down on me. I saw her there on the edge of my vision, and then scanned over to find her ever-present eyes looking into mine. Her face screwed into a scowl, then she smiled.

“Really, I should thank you, but I won’t.”

I looked at her dumbly, not breathing, anticipating.

“You were nice, but really, you should have been more.”

I lifted myself onto my elbows to protest, to offer more.

“Goodbye boy. This is over for me, but for you, it has only just begun. I’m going to let you live. I won’t take that last piece from you. Someday maybe you will thank me for letting you live, but I doubt it. You will never be satisfied, you will always be hungry.”

She turned away.

“What is your name?” I blurted it out. Many times I had wanted to ask her this simple question but did not for fear, of knowing perhaps, or for fear of what would change.

She turned back to face me, thoughtful, considering what she would say.

“This,” she said as she drew her open hand down the length of her beautiful torso, presenting it, “is Reina.”

She paused, smiling at me with her secret.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of her. She’s that naughty, little girl from your school that was caught fucking her math teacher.”

She looked up to the ceiling, appearing to contemplate something.

“I have forgotten his name.” She gave a small laugh. “But I remember his little girl, Jorney, and her little friend, Lea, your girlfriend.”

She smiled, still looking into the ceiling.

“They would both be wonderful right now.”

She looked down at me; her eyes open full, hate lucent.

“But Reina, she’s hiding in here somewhere.” She waved her hands up and down across her body, searching in disgust for her cohabitant. “The little slut!”

I recoiled from her, scrambling backwards on my hands and feet until I hit my head on the wall. She took a step toward me.

“What? What are you?” I stammered, bile and fear pushing up into my throat.

She moved closer, crouching down to the level of my eyes, turning her head to examine me. I pressed myself into the wall, turning my face away from hers, cowering under my upheld hands.

“You asked me for my name.” She held her eyes over me, smothering me in hate. “My name is Lilith. It’s a very old name, older than your bible, the Old Testament part. I missed the cut in Constantinople so you won’t find me in that book. But I’m in older, even scarier books. Priests call me a succubus. The priests, the ones who really believe, they fear me the most”

She rose to her full height. Under my hands I saw her look up. She sighed resignation, or disappointment.

Her body, the body, Reina’s body, arched back against its spine and issued a horrible cry of pain and anguish. Her upper abdomen and chest began to bulge, pushing her shoulders back further with each horrible pulse. She lifted her head to stare at what was happening to her body. She found me cowering against the wall. Her eyes were full of fear and her mouth open in a silent scream of astonishment. She reached for me and then it happened.

Her chest cavity split open. A terrible, putrid essence flowed from the rent in her chest. She did not fall, suspended there, staring at her torn body. The stuff coming from her took form in the air between us.

Reina let loose a final, terrible scream. The substance pouring from her body disbursed into a billion particles, filling the room and pushing me hard, almost into the wall, unable, or afraid, to breath.

Before Lilith disappeared I heard Reina’s body fall to the floor. Lilith spoke to me silently.

“We will meet again.”

Credit To – JamesWayneKing

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And Mira, Part 5: Find Your Father

August 21, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Note: Please read Parts 1-3 here and Part 4 here before this story, to avoid confusion. Any further updates will be posted in the And Mira series tag.

And Mira

It has taken three years to get here. When Mother was killed, she had only time to leave me one final message:

“Find your father”.

Of course, my father, Nathaniel Mirras, is dead. Well, Nathaniel is dead. Mirras is not his last name. Mirras is my adopted name, so I don’t actually know Nathaniel’s last name. Or mine, for that matter. But I know him as Nathaniel Mirras. He has haunted me since I was 18 months old. He has also been killing that long, maybe longer. Since my earliest memories, he has been killing my friends, their friends, and their families.

He killed Mother.

The vaporous bastard possessed her, destroyed her, and left her mutilated shell for me to find. Until then he had only possessed the morally weak. He “improved” those he possessed, but left them for dead. But that wasn’t enough this time. Mother had no faults, no flaws. The game we play took an unforgivable turn when he mutilated her to look like him in his miserable corporeal form. He removed her head, and her hands. When they found them her mouth and fingers had been stitched together using her own hair, ripped from her scalp. Her own hair! One ear was removed, and her nose. Her teeth were shattered. They found her head and hands in a field close to where he, Nathaniel, also killed the boy that gave me my first kiss. Nathaniel was sending a message to me, that no one was safe.

Nathaniel claims to live in a spirit world of sorts, tormented somehow by other beings that know him and hate him. His only escape is to inhabit a body here in the real world. And, for a time, those he possesses experience a better life. They become better people. They become good friends, fall in love, or even are healed of terminal illnesses. But the cost is great. When Nathaniel leaves them, they die. For years, I thought it was unintentional, his killing of those he possesses. But the deaths have evolved now where there is no doubt that Nathaniel Mirras intends harm to all he appears to help. Even worse, it is only those that are close to me that are in jeopardy. I am the harbinger of death to all I love. And I don’t know why.

But, after many years of searching, I now have a clue. A name. A place. Mother would not want me to find my biological father, since he died so many years ago. There is also a very real possiblility that Smoke himself is the ghost of my real father. So, clearly, her intention was for me to find my stepfather, my adoptive father. The man named Mirras. It’s taken me three years since her death to get to this point, on my birthday, standing mere yards from my goal. I take a deep breath and reflect on the events leading me to my only living relative, and possibly my only hope of survival, and saving those I love.

Year One:

The months after Mother died were…cold. Nathaniel tried to possess me, to force me to kill Andrew, and possibly myself. He failed. I don’t think he could control me now. My spirit is certainly gone, dead with Mother. My only comfort, my driving force these past years has been to follow her instructions, and find the man that loved her, and presumably me. Mirras. I don’t know what answers he holds, but I do know that Mother thought it important for me to connect with him. Perhaps he is the only person that can protect me from Nathaniel.

To this point Ellie, and the boy I’ve loved since nursery school, Andrew, are still alive. Mother is dead, and died a horrible death, which means that anyone close to me may be at the mercy of Nathaniel Mirras. I would give my life for Ellie. I would give all of my lives for Andrew. Even though both relationships are strained, I need them alive. I need to know that people who love me are still in my world, and that I can protect them, and they can bring me joy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I am committed to keeping everyone else alive that still lives. Most of my other childhood friends are already gone. Bing. Kelly. Frank. Even Andrew’s sister Laverne, not a close friend, but someone close. Gone. Knowing that Smoke can take any of them at any moment drives me.

Ellie and I are best friends. The first year after Mother died she stayed close to me. She held onto me and loved on me for all that she could. That eventually faded, as I needed to distance myself from everyone I cared about yet again. I briefly reconnected with Andrew, and it only ended up getting his sister killed. I long for those moments still, but I can’t keep them safe that way, loving me. Over the next few years Ellie simply stopped coming by, stopped seeing me in the hallways, stopped telling me about her latest crushes. She just stopped. But there was more. She had been in love with Frank, the boy who first kissed me, and died for the privelege.

Well. She was in love with him to the extent that anyone can be at twelve. I don’t know if she knows about Frank and me. Nathaniel threatened to tell her about it. I’ve often imagined just telling her and getting it off of my chest. But. No. In many ways, we have drifted apart naturally, what with her being the constant socialite. I am definitely not that. Yet I can’t help but feel as though she knows. She knows I betrayed her with Frank. She really shouldn’t. But I’m afraid that she does. She probably knows that I’m not safe to love at any rate. So she stays away. And I let her.

And this is how I keep Ellie safe.

Cooper James is the little boy that survived Nathaniel’s second murder. He was there when Frank’s twin sister Kelly was possessed and met her untimely end. He went into shock for years, and truly has never fully recovered. But he has been able to start high school on time, and begin a fairly normal life. Unfortunately, you can hardly call any life that includes me normal. Ellie speaks to him. She trusts him. She occasionally lets him know she is still thinking of me, and misses me. She lets him know that she still cares about me.

In this way, Cooper, not really ever a close friend, is able to relate to me. He knows, and has often said, that he and I share a kinship, because our true loves both perished in unimaginable ways. I wish I could say that Frank was my true love, and that his death had a mystical romantic meaning. But it isn’t true. It was a foolish fling that cost Frank his life, and I doubt I was in any way worth it. Andrew was and is the only true owner of my heart. Andrew asks about me too, even though he knows that Cooper will spill. In many ways, I stay close to Cooper, because Cooper allows Andrew and me to be truly together without the risk of Andrew losing his life over me. I tell myself that Cooper is safe, because he has already survived Nathaniel’s murderous mania.
Andrew. The first year after Mother died was difficult with Andrew. He clearly, and rightfully, blames me for the death of his sister. He couldn’t possibly know that Nathaniel existed, nor that he was responsible for her death by possessing her. He couldn’t know that Nathaniel’s possession was the reason for his sister’s temporary cancer remission. The only reason. Andrew couldn’t know that when Smoke left Laverne, her body was devoid of spirit and subject to the total ragings of the cancer in its final stages. That rage came through so violently, it would undoubtedly be the subject of Andrew’s nightmares for years to come.
Andrew changed after that. He became quiet. Sad. Broken. We didn’t speak much for a few years before his sister died. There had been a rift created when I started spending time with Frank. I allowed the rift, however. His was a relationship I intentionally withdrew from in order to protect him. Few are as important to me as Andrew. He doesn’t hate me, I know that. But he can barely make eye contact even in casual contact, as thought he were…ashamed. Maybe afraid. Andrew has been closest to my heart since childhood, and it hurts for us to be in this broken place. But I let us remain there.

This is how I keep Andrew safe.

I speak to Nathaniel. I answer him when he speaks to me. I’m not nice when I speak to him, but I know better than to anger him further. I don’t know if he is simply seeks my attention, my favor, or my approval. Or simply my fear. I try very hard not to give any of those things. But he killed my Mother, and I don’t want it going any further.
“Mira.”

There is no kindness nor frivolity in his voice when he speaks with me. Nor is there in mine. We are no longer secret friends. He is my mother’s killer. And I hate and fear him.

“Smoke…”

“That isn’t my name. You mustn’t call me that. You know it makes me very angry. My name is Nathaniel.”

“No,” I say blandly, “Nathaniel was a hero. You are just a murderous bastard. You are not Nathaniel.”

I stay calm with him. I allow myself to make little insults because it makes me feel better. But I will not allow him to see my true emotions. Nathaniel enjoys the game however, and will never allow me to see how he feels either. His emotions come through when he kills. So I must choose my intentions very carefully. In this moment, I can tell I’m amusing him.

“Ah,” challenges the ghost, “You are upset about your mother?”

“Yes,” I say plainly. It is all I can do to control the hatred and grief. If only I knew how to kill a ghost!

“You assume she didn’t deserve what happened. You assume she was good, and nothing I could do for her in possession would improve her morality?”

Again. “Yes.”

He actually sounds sad. “That is not true, I’m afraid. She was very good to you, but her lapse in morality goes far back. We had a very healing discussion before she went. She was fully aware of her crime, and welcomed the payment, when the time came.”

“I don’t believe you. I know of no such crime, and neither does anyone else. She had no fault deserving the hideous way you mutilated her” I feel myself getting angry, and I must get control. Quickly.

“Perhaps,” he whispers. Then nothing.

With that I sense that he is gone. If there is truth to his claim I will find it. I will find the answer to Nathaniel Mirras. Soon.

Year Two:

Determining the identity of my stepfather is of utmost importance. I interview the immediate neighbors first. They are no help. My stepfather was only with us a short time, so many of them simply never met him. I am amazed at how many people never knew that Mother had been married at all, let alone to two men! So I broaden my search to neighborhoods outside of mine. I have time. I am being looked after by our former boarder, now caretaker, Herr Doppelmacher, and by Andrew’s two living sisters. I have no financial needs, and very little accountability through my teenage years. I don’t engage in any school activities, and can simply walk the town.after school, run into whomever I might run into, and ask. Who was Mirras?

More importantly, who IS Mirras.

Nearly every day, I am met with blank stares. Pity. Everyone knew what had happened to Mother, and are uncomfortable talking to me of course. Often they look at me as though I’m mad, after all I must be under the circumstances, but so very few know anything about my stepfather. So they become afraid, that somehow speaking with me will guarantee them a similar fate. Sadly, that could be true. Children, outside playing with hula hoops and skateboards, are quickly rushed inside by suddenly frightened parents to avoid the lunatic girl looking for her father.

Most days it is embarassing, but lives are at stake, so I keep walking and I keep asking. Mother was private, and her life’s woes are not known to many. The events that I need to uncover are very very old, some possibly older than I am. Very few remember who he was and even fewer know or admit to where he is. And, because I am still a child, very few are willing to share with me the information I desperately need. They can’t possibly understand that my finding my father might be critical to saving many lives. Maybe even theirs.

Meanwhile, those I love move farther and farther away from me, yet not out of danger. Ellie becomes busy. Andrew simply ignores, and pretends I don’t exist. And every night, and every day, Nathaniel tortures me with the constant threat of their lives, and by disparaging Mother’s memory. I am losing hope…

Year Three:

Now that I am nearly an adult, I find that once hidden witnesses are willing to share. Many months of humiliation are now bearing fruit.

I wish I could tell you that I haven’t lost anyone else since Mother. I cannot. Nathaniel is a killer. I’ve lost still more people close to me, even if only by association. I am afraid that if I don’t find my stepfather soon that I will have no one else in life. My only hope is to locate him before I lose too many more to my non-corporeal killer. Every year brings still more loss and tears to another family, another brother, another mother another friend, for the simple sin that they knew me. Often they are so far on the periphery that the connection to me is unfathomable.

That is what drives me after nearly three frutiless years. Can I stop that next death, and all deaths beyond? Can I? I must.

The first day of my senior year of high school, Andrew talks to me. It isn’t a complete surprise. It is impossible to go anywhere in town and not run into everyone at some point. I had seen Andrew often over the summer, just walking, running errands. We didn’t speak then, but, on occasion he would look at me. I didn’t see pity. I didn’t see anger. I didn’t see fear. He would give me an inquisitive look, as though he hadn’t met me before. Then just before school started, he smiled. I had worked so hard to keep him at a distance, but honestly this smallest connection makes me happy.

It also makes me weak. It occurred to me that he was possessed. Of course. The sudden change of heart? It could only be that Nathaniel finally decided it was Andrew’s turn, and it was too late for me to find any more answers. I went to school that first day in dread. I can only wait for the horrible death that I know Nathaniel will make of him. Ellie and he approach me, all in smiles. I want to cry. I want to vomit. I consider how my own life will end knowing that Nathaniel will finally take the last connection between my heart and my spirit. I’m ready to give up.

It’s all small talk. Naturally. Ellie seems elated to tell me all about her summer. The many boys…the many boys…Damn Ellie! Her grades have been good enough to get accepted into college! She tells me how much she is looking forward to finishing up high school, and going to college to find a real man.

Well, she certainly isn’t possessed. Same Ellie. Damn Ellie!

But that isn’t the biggest news. Ellie practically sings, “Andrew, tell her!”

Andrew speaks. It’s still tentative. Nervous. He is acting normal. He grins somewhat, but he seems normal. He opens his eyes, and they are his soft eyes. The eyes I have loved since he was a baby. Maybe I’m wrong. I can’t believe that, but I begin to hope.

He says, quietly, but firmly, so that I can hear, “We’re going to the same school next year.”
“Well, sort of,” says Ellie excitedly, “we will be going to partner colleges close to each other. I hope you will be able to come to visit us, all the way in Rhode Island, Mira! I know it’s so far. But you must! I will miss you so much next year. Or, maybe you can come with. Come with us Mira! Keep it in mind when you decide on your school.”

And with that, a subtle grin and a shake of the head from Andrew, Ellie and her entourage sweep down the hallway, and out of sight. Just in time, as Ms. Laurenne Day was scampering down the hallway looking to punish the many miscreants of our school. It was the last I would see her for a very long time. It occurs to me that Andrew and Ellie may be dating. I can’t decide whether to cry or to introduce them both to Nathaniel at the next opportunity.

I duck into a side hallway and into the garage where the bad boys work on their cars. The garage is surprisingly quiet, except for the shop radio playing “Witch Doctor”, and empty, for this time of day. Yet there is Cooper, standing up against the wall, as though waiting for me. I say that tongue in cheek, because Cooper, and I’m sure most of the rest of those boys, aren’t bad. Cooper took to cars, wanting to know how they work, how they operated, how they could be controlled, I’m sure as a result of his experience with Kelly. It is a strong thing to do, and I find I admire him for finding this outlet for his grief. I’m also sure he works to find secrets to make the cars go very fast, in case he needed to ever get away. Fast.

Cooper is no longer the small boy, traumatized by his close experience with death. He is confident, and actually has grown to be a nice looking young man. If not for his demons, he would be a good companion for any girl. Not this girl, though, I’m afraid. I know his particular demon all too well.

He approaches me, smiles, gives me a quick little hug, saying “Hi, Mira.”

“Where is everyone,” I ask. “The garage is empty!”

The teacher is sick today, and no one scheduled a substitute, so everyone else is cutting. I’m on my way out myself. It’s only the first day, so I’m sure I won’t get in trouble.”

“I see.”

“So how did I do?” he asked.

“You mean with your car? I’m sure it’s very fast. Really, how should I know?”

“No, Mira. With Ellie. With Andrew.”

I’m not quite sure what he means.

Cooper’s voice is very even. “You see they’ve been talking about you for so long, especially Andrew…well, mostly Ellie of course. I’ve been telling them they should talk to you, act like it’s old times. I told them you missed them. That you are very sad. You are very sad Mira. I know.”

He comes closer. This is starting to not feel right. He gets up very close. Too close. He is looking right in my eyes.

“You see, Mira, you can like me now. Andrew, well, he’s moved on. He’ll probably end up with Ellie, which means he will never love you. So, Mira, I’ve made your friends like you again, and you can be only mine”

Why does every boy except Andrew do this to me? This isn’t like Cooper at all.

Damn it. Of course it isn’t. I can see it in his eyes. Cooper is lost.

“Cooper,” I whisper, hoping that part of him can hear me. “No.”

He pulls out a switchblade. Those are not allowed at school, but it is not unusual for some boys to carry them. Especially in the garage. He brings it close to my face.

“Cooper! Nathaniel, please.” I use his real name. I know it is him. I don’t know if he can use another body to harm me. Cooper is already dead. I’m sorry for that, because I know that he would not in his wildest dreams ever harm me.

But, this is Smoke, the chalky child now grown. This is Nathaniel Mirras. And he is a killer.

He brings the knife up to my hair, and quickly cuts a piece off at the root. I stifle a scream. I can’t let him know how scared I am. He then takes the blade over to my ear, the same as the one he is missing, and slowly slices the smallest part of the lobe off. I feel my blood begin to run down my neck. Now I scream as he backs away, and cuts an identical piece from his own ear, and holds both pieces carefully in his palm. He considers them both a moment. And smiles. Cooper smiles Nathaniel’s smile just before he leaves a body for dead. Will that happen now?

A commercial plays on the radio, for a credit card, stating in very serious tones, “Don’t leave home without it.”

His smile fades as he puts both pieces of ear, his and mine, in the front pocket of his pants. I want to vomit, from the pain and the disgusting fact that Nathaniel has put a piece of my body, my earlobe, into his pocket. He approaches me again, gets very close, and I can feel his otherworldly breath mixed with the oil from the shop. He grabs my shirt, raises the knife, and jams it, along with the top of my shirt, into the wall. Still smiling, he backs away, this time to one of the cars in the garage, closest to the open door, and gets in.

At this moment, Mr. Robinson, one of the teachers runs into the garage. He had heard me scream, and was just in time to see Cooper drive away from the scene. Then he sees the scene. Me. On the ground, wounded and bleeding. He puts pressure on my bleeding and calls for medical help.

Another commercial plays, “Look ma, no cavities!”

The police are called, and a fantastic chase ensues. Of course, that is what Nathaniel wanted. Cooper knew how to make cars go fast. No squad car would have caught up with him if he hadn’t wanted. But, of course, he did. He wanted Cooper’s end to be spectacular, to impress me. To remind me of his power. To warn the world of his strength. The end was in fact spectacular, as I heard from my hospital bed. The investigating officers informed me that he had driven them on a wild ride through town, ending, on Cooper’s own block. He ran the car at full speed into the oldest, most solid tree on the block. At full speed.

Cooper’s skull is smashed against the wheel, barely recognizable. His hands have nearly been separated from the wrists from awkwardly holding the steering wheel at the time of the collision. Nathaniel seems intent now to maim his victims as he is maimed. I can only imagine the terror Cooper experienced when Nathaniel released him, only to see his death in front of him. Then again, maybe he was already dead. It’s hard to know.

Some of the officers on the scene thought they could hear the voice of a young girl crying in pain. No one could see her of course. It was Kelly. Cooper and Kelly were finally reunited in the past, as was Nathaniel’s intention all along. This sick reality gave me new courage, to heal, and to renew my search for Mirras. What if he decides to reunite Frank and Ellie in this way?

My ear will never heal. They were not able to recover either of the pieces from Cooper’s body. They are gone. I will always have a physical reminder of this episode with Nathaniel, in addition to the emotional scars of having myself been so close to death at his hands. The kills were becoming even closer, and even more personal. I was sure he couldn’t possess me for long against my will, and I wouldn’t die if he did. I still wasn’t sure if he could provoke a host to kill me. But I now knew that they could hurt me. And I know that Nathaniel will hurt me. I know that he wants to.

I am told I don’t need to finish school this year, after my ordeal. I can still graduate, if I want to, with my class. I laugh. I won’t be going to college. My ordeal? If only they knew. Being away from school does allow me to keep those I love safe. More importantly, it allows me the time I need to find Mirras!

A week before my birthday:

I am on an unfamiliar block. I come across an older gentleman, who mows his lawn every day rain or shine. Every day. I don’t approach him at first. He looks like Mr. Clean, bald and strong, but has a constant scowl, and in truth I am intimidated. I spend two days watching him cut his grass before I develop enough courage to speak to him. Once I approach him, however, his entire demeanor changes. A huge smile, much like that of the real Mr. Clean, spreads across his face. He acts as though he has known me for years, has been expecting me, and is disappointed I haven’t come by for a visit much much earlier!

His name is Taylor. Garner Taylor. He is the oldest remaining homeowner in our town, and he claims to know everyone that lives here, and anyone that ever lived here. And he still mows his own lawn! He knows me. He knows Andrew. He knows Ellie. He even knew Cooper. And he knew Mother, and remembers her and her struggles from years past. He remembers how difficult it was for her when my father never returned. He remembers me as a baby, and still more. He remembers the man that came into Mother’s life, that loved her, and me, and helped us through the difficult times, and then left us. He remembers Mirras!

And Mr. Taylor knows why he left us. He is hesitant to tell me, until I explain the grisly end of Mother’s life, and her wish for me to find and know that man that GarnerTaylor knew to have loved her and me at one time. After two more days of afternoon conversation and positioning, a slow, intentional dance intended to transfer the lead from him to me, he finally breaks. He can’t imagine I would ever find peace with this information, with the facts too horrible. He refuses to share all of the details with me. But, finally, I wear him down to the point where he acknowledges my right to learn directly from the man himself the reason he left Mother and me. And he gives me a name.
Giuseppe Mirras. Joseph. My stepfather is Joe Mirras.

Today:October 4. My birthday.

And so it is after many years, I find myself outside the walls of State Prison, where resides the man Mirras, my stepfather, serving time for a crime no one is willing to speak out loud. It made sense suddenly that it took this long to find him. Being a child before today, I would have been denied access to see him. But now, October 4, my eighteenth birthday, the powers that be are compelled to allow me entry. I’m mature, and dressed in classy attire, with a fine dress, hat and scarf. I simply look old enough to visit a prison. And so they are compelled to allow me to see my stepfather, incarcerated for a deed I’ve yet to learn. It has been over sixteen years, so certainly he must be a murderer.

There seems to be something about the men in my family. They are all killers.

No one can believe that Joseph Mirras has a visitor. He hasn’t had one. Ever. Not even a lawyer. They are surprised to hear that I am his daughter. Very surprised. I am ushered into a small room, with a small table and two stools. Behind the table are two very strong chains. Their purpose becomes evident as they bring in a tall man, seat him at a small stool at the other side of the table, and immediately chain both of his hands securely to the wall behind him. It is meant for my protection. They ask if I would like them to stay while we talk, and of course I tell them no. We’d both be locked up here if they were to hear what I had to say. So they leave us. Alone.

I gaze at this man. His head is lowered, so all I see is long, wild, light but graying hair covering his face. We sit in silence for a moment. It seems that Joe Mirras is able to create a loud silence that discomforts me so, so I speak first.

“Mr. Mirras. Joe?”

He lifts his head up, not expecting a girl’s voice, I imagine.

Very clumsily, I say, “I’m…Um…I’m your…”

And very suddenly his eyes brighten and moisten. A feeble but joy-filled smile spreads across his face as he breathes, “Mira!”

I didn’t see it coming. It’s been so long since I’ve had someone smile at me that way. So long since I’ve had family. I’ve spent years searching for this man. Years of failure and death and loss, and uncertainty. And he knows me. Just by looking at me, he knows me. I didn’t see it coming.

And I crumble. In tears. He can’t get to me. Can’t comfort me from his chains.

“Dad…oh dad.”

“Mira,” he says, through tears of his own, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Dad, I came to see you. I had to see you. Mom wanted me to find you, to meet you. I need to know what happened. What happened to us? What happened to you? Why are you here?”

“Hmmm…Mira that doesn’t sound like your mother. She wanted you to find me? To meet me? I can’t imagine that’s true. Has something happened?”

“Mother is…well, she died.” His face falls. “Finding you, meeting you was her last wish for me.”

“I see.” Joseph Mirras nods slightly.

“Why did you leave? I need to know what happened. I’m in some trouble, and I need to know.”

He sighs, then very calmly, and adoringly, says “Mira, you are just as beautiful as you were as a baby. Just as beautiful as your mother was when I met her.”

This time I allow the silence to bear the weight of my request. I want to know him, my father, but I need answers. And I need them quickly. Now, or sooner. So, I look him in the eyes and let the question hang, a deafening silence of my own.

“Mira, I’m so sorry for your troubles. What you need to know is that I didn’t love your mother when your father was alive. I knew her, and you to a degree, but we weren’t acquaintances. Then your father died, and you were all alone. She was beautiful, and you were a beautiful baby, and I fell in love very quickly. It wasn’t safe for your mother to keep her name at that point, so I married her, and gave her mine.”

This is an interesting piece of information, I think. I can’t imagine why mother would need to change our names. I’m tempted to interrupt, and learn more about this fact, but I don’t want to discourage him from speaking more.

“Mira, I loved you, and I loved your mother. I did not want to end up here. I wanted to stay, with you both. I wanted to be with you today when you celebrated your birthday, and every birthday up to this point. I had so little time…”

He’s stalling.

“Then what happened?” I implore, not crossly. “Dad…what happened?”

“Mira…things were not well at the house. I’m sure your mother never told you. But things were…not well. And I had to do something..and…”

At this point, tears are streaming down his face, as he looks directly on the many years he’s missed with me. With Mother. He means it!

“Mira…I did something horrible. I had to, but it was unforgivable. That’s why I’m here!”

With this, he breaks. He cannot lean forward for fear of breaking his arms, but his body slumps and shudders from the many years of guilt he has accumulated from that one act. For years, I’d assumed that Nathaniel took revenge on Mother for remarrying this man. But it seems it is much more than that. As much as I want to cry, and forgive, and just love my father in this very moment, I am sure that this one act must be the key to why Nathaniel is haunting me and killing anyone that knows me. This one unforgivable crime. And I must know.

“Dad.”

I wait. Just a moment.

“Dad. I really need you to tell me what it is. It’s important. My life…well…my life may depend on it. Dad. Please…”

And, with this, his bowed head nods, slightly, and still shaking lifts up to find my eyes. I see, briefly, in that moment, how much he always loved me.

“Mira…I…I need you to give me your scarf now.”
And with that, his eyes are gone. Nathaniel has him. Just like that, I’ve led Nathaniel and all my hopes to the only person that could help me against him. Nathaniel, the one who likely hates him most. The man I didn’t even know I’d missed my entire life, will be gone soon. I had only a moment to understand his intense love for Mother and me, and now I’ve killed him. And it will be horrible. In so many ways.

But why did he ask for my scarf? Oh. Yes, of course, how unoriginal. And I simply won’t give it to him.

Wait. Damn it!

Nathaniel is possessing me too. This is new. I didn’t know he could control more than one person at a time. The reality of that fills me with horror, almost as much horror as watching my hands undo my scarf, the one I picked out just to meet my father. I remove it, and watch my hands tie precisely the knot he needs. How do I even know how to do this? It leaves my hands, and floats to Joseph Mirras, resting, briefly, around his neck, as it had mine only seconds before. It then tightens around his neck, and he immediately struggles for air.

He doesn’t know what’s happening, but I do. I have only one chance. I must call to my father.

Firmly, I say, “Dad! Dad I can’t stop this. I can’t help you, but you can still help me. I need you to tell me what you did! You have to tell me now!”

I see him struggle, the other end of the scarf, suddenly long enough to reach the ceiling, and I want to cry. I want so much to jump over the table but I’m held fast. In this moment, and for the first time, I do not hear the cry of the chalky child as it claims its next victim.

Instead, he is laughing!

I’m screaming desperately. Surely someone will hear. The door! It’s locked. Somehow from the inside, and no one can get in. No one can help. I stay firm.

“Dad! Please. Tell me now!”

And as my Father’s body is lifted up, I see a glint. I see a moment of recognition as he looks at me deeply, and with the last remaining strength, he finally tells me his crime, which put him here, and which has led to his death in this moment.

“Mira…I…killed a baby….Mira I lo…”

With that, his body rises to the top of the ceiling, and the end of the scarf wraps itself around a low beam. As he rises, the chains rip Joseph’s hands off at the wrists, and he continues to rise until he reaches a certain point. Then, his body stops rising, drops suddenly, and hangs. Like any prison suicide. Like any murder. Except the body hung itself, and blood is pouring out onto the floor from his wrists. And there is only me, left with his final words. And his final words left unspoken, but understood.

“I love you too, Dad,” I quietly sob.

The door suddenly opens and I’m ushered out by a throng of guards, and into custody. Nobody knows how, but I somehow killed Joe Mirras the babykiller. Hung him up. A girl of my size, and a man of his. I can tell they are frightened and unsure, and they should be. Because I did kill him. Because I’m a fool.

I am imprisoned for only a few days. Then, I am released. The only thing I can tell is that despite the fact that nobody else could have killed him but I, that evidence simply just doesn’t make sense. So I’m told firmly not to leave the state, to stay at my home. To stay out of trouble. I laugh. If only they knew.

I am then sternly brought to the main office to process out, and immediately see the reason for my sudden release. Doppelmacher. He has come to my aid, made bail, somehow convinced the authorities to let a murderer into his care. But I’m grateful, and exhausted.

The entire car ride home I sleep.

Then the car stops, back at the home I grew up in, lost two fathers in, met my ghost in, and saw my mother murdered in. Now, my father, the one that I knew, is gone too. I look at Doppelmacher, at the wheel, and he slowly turns, and returns my gaze. But it isn’t disapproval on his face. There’s no anger, or disappointment. He, too, is adoring me. Like Joseph did. For only the second time in my life, and the second time this week, I am overcome by the love of an adult. For the second time, I weep unconftrollably.

Doppelmacher also weeps, and grabs my face and says, “No, oh no Mira. Stop. Please stop. My poor baby girl.”

And I allow myself the paternal comfort for a moment, as I regain my calm and my strength. I will need it for what’s next.

“Doppelmacher,” I say. “Thank you. Thank you…”

He smiles, and grunts a short laugh. “Mira, no. You don’t have to thank me. And you don’t need to call me that any more. My name is Rauch. Not Doppelmacher. Rauch. I’ve known your mother much longer than she let on, and I have known you for your whole life.”

A pause. A quiet one, much like the only quiet silences I am capable of. Then the silence, and all reality, break with his next words.

“I think it’s time we talk about your brother.”

There is something in his smile and his gaze that feels familiar, from a memory long forgotten, long before the appearance of the chalky child.

And then, suddenly, everything makes sense.

Credit To – MeGoMike/MeGoMirras

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And Mira, Part 4: Sisters

August 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Note: Please read Parts 1-3 here before this story, to avoid confusion. Further updates will be posted in the And Mira series tag.

And Mira

You know me by now. I am Mira. It’s been three years since Frank was
killed, and I’m now 15. It’s a damned good thing, too. Being a teenager,
no one questions my moods. They think it’s a part of my age and my stage.
The people who love me, accept. Everyone else stays away, which is how I want it. That’s how I need it. I don’t know for sure that anyone I hold close will die. I’m hopeful that they won’t, as long as they stay far away from me. Because of my ghost, the chalky child. Because of Smoke.

Because of Nathaniel Mirras.

I imagine that Mother is safe. Being the very first person in my life,
surely he’d have killed her by now if that wasn’t so. It seems that my
ghost is the incarnation of my dead father, so it stands to reason that he loves her, at least enough not to kill her. Then again, she did remarry,
so…there is that.

But if that’s what he’s angry about, why would he kill my friends? Why children? Maybe he’s angry about me. Maybe he never wanted
me. Maybe. But why not kill me, then, or Mother. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe he can’t see or harm adults. Come to think of it, he never
even talks about Mother. I wish I knew how to control him. I wish I knew how to make him stop if I needed to.

Nathaniel (I’m sorry, I can’t call him “Father”), seems to enjoy my company. For about a year after Frank was murd…after Frank died…I tried not to talk to Nathaniel. He spoke to me though, nearly every evening, and often during the day. When I was younger, a baby, I thought he only visited my dreams. He was a vision of a chalky baby, underdeveloped and marred, as though a stillborn, drowned in its own fluids, or poisoned by air. I would wake to his cry, not understanding the gravity of what I was seeing. I didn’t know at the time, but that vision would be responsible for the death of a nursery school friend. Many years later he spoke to me with words, and I spoke back. I thought I had a fantastic secret in this ghost that spoke to me in my dreams. Only after the death of another friend did I realize that it wasn’t a dream, but in fact I was completely conscious as we spoke. I also began to realize a danger.

That danger became real when he killed Frank, my Junior High boyfriend. My first kiss. Frank was neither my first nor my true love. That would be Andrew. Andrew and I were at odds at the time, however, and I foolishly fell for Frank. Briefly. Foolish, and costly for Frank. Nathaniel killed Frank in the cruelest way, shortly after our kiss. And he made me watch. And he made it appear as though Andrew were there. He did this to remind me the true power he had over me, which was that he could kill anyone close to me. Maybe he could even kill me. He could kill Andrew. He will kill Andrew, if I allow it.

He can kill Andrew. So. I stay away from Andrew. It breaks my heart,
but Andrew, like seemingly anyone else in my life, was in danger if I so
much as speak to him. So I don’t. Andrew, however, also does not speak to me, and as grateful as I am for his wisdom in this decision, and his ultimate safety, it breaks my heart. In the most selfish part of my mind, I wish, even though it would be death to him, that he would just speak to me. That he would want to. But he does not.

When he sees me in school, he looks down, sadly, and walks the other direction. The sad look is the same look that I saw the night Frank was killed, when I could see him through Frank’s eyes. But Andrew wasn’t there. He was at home, I am certain, safe and nowhere near the carnage. I just saw him as one of Nathaniel Smoke’s cruel jokes. And he doesn’t know about Frank and me. He doesn’t know that I kissed Frank. He couldn’t. Nobody knew about that except Frank, and me.

And Nathaniel.

So I try to avoid speaking with Nathaniel for nearly a year. He speaks to me, though, constantly, and eventually wears me down with his greetings and questions and hauntings, and I finally decide I need to talk with Nathaniel Mirras, really talk with him. Learn about him. As much as possible. Maybe I can convince him to stop killing. If not, perhaps I can find a weakness that will allow me to exorcise him from everyone I love once and for all. It must be worth trying.

And, right now, I have no one else to talk to.

Our conversations are fascinating. He is a glutton for news of the real world. He wants to know about presidents and wars and countries and boundaries. His memories of all that has happened throughout my life is astounding! He literally remembers everything about the world that I remember, and wants to know more.

Nathaniel asks about Walt Disney, and Mickey, and whether the Dodgers have beaten the Yankees. He is fascinated by Play-Doh, and wishes he could feel it, construct with it, then tear down his constructs between his palms. Every conversation is like an episode of the $64,000 Question Quiz Show. He asks a question. I answer. But in many ways, I win, because our conversations are creating trust. In me. This allows Nathaniel Mirras to move toward telling me who he is, now at least. I am hopeful it will offer clues to the killer he really is.

And I call him Smoke. Because it makes him angry. He wants me to call him by his real name. Nathaniel. Calling him ‘Smoke’ allows me a small, daily victory.

I’ve learned a few things from him, at least to the degree I can believe him. He claims not to know why people die when he possesses them. His instinct, supposedly, has been to help those in my life struggling with unpleasant behaviors and violence, to re-make them as kinder human beings. Supposedly. He stays in them for weeks, helping create habits of kindness toward others where previously they failed. He wants hurtful people to stop hurting others, mostly me and other people I cared about. Even Frank had been a bully at one time. Nathaniel reasons that he may have even threatened Andrew
one day. He promises that he didn’t know Frank would develop feelings for me, and that he absolutely did not expect Frank to kiss me. His plan was to release the kinder Frank to Ellie. He knows that she loved him.

He says he didn’t realize that anyone would die when he left their bodies.

I accept this in the moment. What choice do I have? That does not explain the train, or the fact that Andrew appeared to be there watching. It does not explain why I was there, watching, feeling the fear and agony of Frank’s last breath through his eyes. It does not explain why Frank kissed me while supposedly possessed. That disgusts me. I fully believe that Nathaniel Mirras is evil. And he is a killer.

Nathaniel tells me he is in constant pain when not occupying a host. He
can see only through my eyes, or those of his host. He says he knows that he has only one ear intact, and he seems to feel it leaking some kind of fluid much of the time. The pain is excruciating, making him wish that like his eyes, both ears were also absent. He is grateful for the ear that is missing.

He constantly struggles for breath, without a nose or true nostrils and no real formation of a mouth. I didn’t know that ghosts could struggle for breath. Odd. That’s why, in addition to the constant cries of pain, his every breath is in powerful heaves, when he appears in corporeal form. He has no teeth. He would never be able to enjoy a meal if he were able to actually have food. He couldn’t chew. He couldn’t taste. He cannot form words.

I question this, of course, pointing out that he is talking to me, and I
hear him perfectly. He agrees that it is a mystery that he can communicate with me. Then I am reminded of how I understood the world in my youngest days, using dreams, memories and impressions to organize and share my otherwise incoherent words and thoughts. He was “speaking” to me in precisely this way, not using spoken words at all, but perceptions. Understandings. I simply understood him. In that way, I have been his only hope in an otherwise lonely, frightening, agonizing existence.

He has no idea how or why I can see him when he appears to me.

He has no memory of ever holding anyone or anything of value, with his
unseparated, webbed fingers. And he doesn’t remember ever being held. He has no memories of his life, other than the few details I have learned over the years from Mother. Even those are not memories to him. He often says he’s quite sure he was born a ghost.

I’m happy to leave him that way. My pity doesn’t extend that far, and I’m careful not to ever discuss him with Mother again. I avoid conversations with her regarding Nathaniel Mirras, to keep my advantage wherever possible.

Not long ago he made a shocking statement to me. He is not alone where he is.

There are others. Many others. But, they are mostly voices. His contact with the other voices is very much like his contact with me. He can talk with others where he is, through thoughts. Like me, he only catches an occasional glimpse of them, and it is more of a perception. Ghosts even to a ghost!

But he still feels alone and isolated, because the voices are cruel. He tells me that he often feels as though they pity him. More often, he feels as though they hate him, and they threaten him, and he is afraid. He feels compelled to quiet them with good deeds here. The voices grow ever louder, accusing him, but more quiet when he inhabits a host.

I’m pretty certain he must be in Hell. I feel sad. If he is the ghost of my father, then in life he was supposed to be a hero, a good man. What happened?

Occasionally, Nathaniel attempts to talk about my friends, but I always
deflect his questions. He certainly thinks I should try to talk with Andrew again. He says he can sense my loneliness. I simply remind him that Andrew is no longer a part of my life. We don’t talk and kindly would he move on to another topic?

He knows. He knows how I really feel about Andrew. But, I need to keep Andrew, Ellie, Cooper, and anyone possible away from Nathaniel Mirras. And the only way to do that is to keep them away from me, and from any conversation I have with Nathaniel.

That is what I’ve learned about Smoke, the grown chalky child. It’s more than I knew before, and I hope that gives me some control. Some power.

I am now in High School. I am with my friends, despite the fact that I cannot engage with them in any real way.

My only real contact with Andrew is through one of his three sisters,
Laverne. She is in school with us, and she is constantly trying to talk me
into connecting with Andrew. She knows. She knows about Andrew and me, as much as I’ve known since we were children. She knows, like everyone knows.

I talk to her, because for many reasons, she isn’t at much risk. Laverne is already sick. Cancer. She is likely to die very soon. And, whenever she is feeling well, she is simply never cross or cruel to anyone. Nathaniel clearly preys on those with questionable morals. There are none more upstanding than Laverne and surely Nathaniel the ghost would have no use of her life.

She is so sweet, that I am tempted, frequently, to set her up with Cooper James. Cooper returned to school after being out for nearly five years. He was with Kelly, Frank’s sister when she died. Nathaniel killed her when I was nine. Cooper was infatuated with Kelly. They were good friends. Smoke, Nathaniel, killed her in front of the young man.

Cooper was the only person on the planet that knew, really knew, how Kelly died. He knew that it wasn’t an automobile accident. He was
the only one that watched her flung into a tree by an unseen force. He saw her beaten body finally shudder and die, the only one to observe her final breath. And everyone thought he was crazy of course, in shock.

So he withdrew. For five years. He is now finishing Junior High and preparing to join us next year. If he can stay alive that long. Since he is in a different school I don’t have to see him, so for now he is safe. Except for the fact that he is Ellie’s new project.

Ellie, born Eleanor, continues to be my best friend…from a distance. She also knows nothing about what happened between Frank and me. Of course there is no way I would consciously tell her. She absolutely loved and adored Frank. She went into a near depression when he died. It would have been worse, but he had spurned her, and Ellie, my Ellie, is socially and emotionally strong.

Still, along with Andrew, it is important that I protect Ellie most of all. I love her as though we are sisters, and it would be easy for Nathaniel to devastate my world by harming Ellie. So, I hold her at arm’s length. Sometimes she notices, and sometimes not. She is very busy, as I said. But all of her attention now being focused on Cooper makes it almost
easy to limit conversation, and keep her safe. I’m sure it won’t last. Ellie doesn’t ever settle down, so to speak.

It’s fun to hear her talk about him, though, even in very short spurts. Ellie is energy and love in every sense of the world, and a terrible target for Nathaniel, except for what it would do to me.

I miss her terribly. And I miss Andrew. I miss all of my many friends,
most of whom simply had to let me go as I withdrew day by day. Only
Laverne was an outlet for my need to connect with someone
that wasn’t already dead, and even that was only a year or two away. I wish she would stop talking to me about Andrew. Matchmaker. Busybody. You’re going to get him and yourself killed, so knock it off!

But she never does. And on this day, her gossiping has gotten us in trouble with the Hall Monitor, Ms. Day. Ms. Laurenne Day is short, petite, old and mean. And Ms. Laurenne Day loves to yell at students. Any excuse will do, and seeing us talking so close to the period bell has her hurrying our way to give us our comeuppance. As she arrives at the ideal spot to publicly humiliate us, our Math and Business professor, Mr. Robinson, easily 20 years her junior, steps in, calmly asks her a question, and quietly excuses us to class, without fireworks.

Needless to say, Jack Robinson was everyone’s favorite teacher. And I am relieved not to have to explain another detention to Mother.

Mother and I are very close. I adore her. She has had the worst in life,
losing two husbands, and having to raise her daughter by herself. She works hard, and she loves me, and even though she disapproves of my interest in boys, she makes sure she knows that she approves of me. She works many jobs, many shifts, and even takes in boarders as necessary. There is always food, and despite her long hours, always time for me. She also does not know about what happened with Frank. It happened in our house, but ended with Frank miles away, so she never suspected.

Frank wouldn’t have been the only one dead that night if she had known.

“So, Mira. How is Ellie these days?” Mother casually queries.

“Well. She’s wonderful. She’s spending a lot of time with Cooper James,” I reply.

A silence. Mother has very loud silences. Very loud.

“That boy…”

“Mother, please don’t start. Poor Ellie!”

“That boy is certain death for anyone he touches. Poor Ellie, hell. She
needs to stay away from boys. Then she’ll be smart, happy Ellie!”

Blaming Cooper. Unbelievable. If only she knew.

My turn for silence. It is just quiet. And awkward. I need to work on my silences to make them louder.

“Ellie is both happy and smart,” I retort. “You know that. So tell me about the new boarder. He is quite handsome for a man your age, isn’t he?”

Mother flushes slightly, and stares a very short moment.

Too short.

“His name is Herr Doppelmacher. Mr. Doppelmacher – German. He’s very nice, but extremely quiet and private. Please try not to disturb him much with your music and the way you talk to yourself at night”.

Oh, I didn’t know she could hear that. What she must think…

“Um. We are German right?”

“Mira, please. Stop asking questions about Doppelmacher. Please just leave him be.”

Well this time her silence is actually silent. Something is obviously
wrong, but I won’t be able to squeeze it out of her this way. As I often do to get around her defenses, I bring up the most uncomfortable topic I can, which forces her back to the subject I really want to hear about. Even though I’ve committed not to talk about my father to her (to avoid the ghost getting too much new information), it’s a worthwhile gamble, and likely to be information he already has.

“Mom, you said dad was a hero. Some people think that Nathaniel Mirras was not a hero, though. Some people think he’s bad. Is this true?”

It was another of those silences. The loudest ever. And the longest. I
couldn’t hear myself think.

“Where…? How do you…? Mira where did you hear…”

Another loud damned silence.

“Oh. Oh I see the problem. The name! How funny! Your father’s name isn’t Mirras. That was your stepfather’s name. Oh, now I’m laughing! No, no, they simply do not know your father. That must be someone else.”

I was sure this was more interesting than Doppelmacher, but it occurs
to me that I may have crossed a line and given Nathaniel more than I
intended. That makes me panic.

Of course it hadn’t occurred to me that Mirras was an adopted name. Mother’s name, because she married into it. And of course I really only called Nathaniel “Nathaniel” so an easy mistake to make, and no harm done. Something still feels wrong though. I desperately wanted to ask mother what my father’s last name really was, but at that moment I realize just how much risk I have invited by being too smart. It would have to wait. I need to find a way to end the conversation immediately.

As if on cue, the phone rings. It is Laverne. She wants me to come over.
There is something wrong with Andrew.

Oh hell. That is absolutely the last thing I should be doing right now. There is a difference between ignoring Andrew, and abandoning him if he is in trouble. Maybe Nathaniel is harming him in some way. I need to help. I tell Mother that I need to go. She doesn’t want me out at night of course, but as only a Mother can, she senses urgency when it comes to Andrew. And, like the rest of the whole damn world, she knows. She would conspire to match Andrew and me, despite her
protests about boys, and even if it meant both of our deaths, if it meant my happiness. I love Mother.

But she still doesn’t want me out alone at night, so summons Herr Doppelmacher, who is ‘always to be left alone’, to the front room. She asks him if he would kindly escort me to Andrew’s home. He is not terribly old, perhaps in his late thirties, or early forties. He is a handsome man.

I can see why Mother brought him in.

He doesn’t seem a hermit at all, and easily agrees to make sure I arrive safely to Andrew and Laverne’s household. After a quick goodbye, we leave Mother in her recliner, watching Fred and Ethel. Poor tired Mother will soon be snoozing. She deserves the peace and quiet. She deserves rest.

It is a quiet walk. Doppelmacher seems unsure whether he should talk to me, outside of asking directions. I’m not surprised of course. It must be very uncomfortable for a man his age to be seen with a teenage girl late at night. There is some small talk about school, how I like it, my grades, and who Andrew is. He doesn’t ask about Laverne though. He is a little protective that way. Funny!

He also asks how Mother and I get along, and if we are happy. Before I can answer, we arrive, and the door swings open, for Laverne to usher us both in. Of course she insists that Doppelmacher stays and visits with her parents while she brings me to the kitchen. Andrew is sitting at the kitchen table. He seems distracted. I sit next to him. Laverne takes a seat across from us.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Hello Mira…” states Andrew, not at all addressing my question.

Again. “What is it?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. There’s nothing wrong, Mira. What are you doing here?”

“Laverne said you were in trouble. She called me.”

“I see,” he says plainly. “No. Everything is fine.”

Now I’m angry. If his crazy sister concocted all of this just to get me
with Andrew, we are all in trouble. Her carelessness could cost her brother his life. And her own. And mine! Damn it!

“Listen here Laverne, what is this all about? Do you have any idea how much trouble you may have caused? I came down here because you said there was something wrong with Andrew. But there is nothing wrong. If he wants to see me, he can damn well call me himself. We don’t need your meddling. You have absolutely no business manipulating us both this way!”

Laverne does not answer. Her eyes are far away.

I have gone too far. Now Andrew is angry, and comes to the aid of his ill
sister. “Say what do you mean talking to her that way. She’s just trying
to help! What do you expect? You won’t ever look at me at school or anywhere. You never come by anymore. Someone had to do something! Especially after you got involved with Frank like you did, and then you stopped talking to anyone. What happened to Frank isn’t her fault! She still thought of you, and of me, even after she had been so sick!”

This is bad. Something is off. I have the same feeling I had when I saw
Andrew’s face while playing Bloody Mary and kissing Frank. It’s the same feeling when I saw him watching.

“Andrew…I’m so very sorry. I just…I’m so sorry. You know I am.”

Silence. I don’t understand how the hell everyone else manages such loud silence.

“How did you know about Frank and me?” I ask in surrender. He knows.

Andrew nods toward Laverne. That makes sense, because she’s a gossip. Still, who could have told her?

Wait. He said ‘had been.’

“What do you mean Laverne had been sick Andrew? What does that mean?”

“It means she had been sick and now she’s not,” she responds. “She’s clean. No cancer. The doctor said it all left her body nearly a month ago. It’s a miracle.”

No.

Oh no.

I look at Laverne. Her eyes are no longer lost but focusing directly on me. She is smiling Nathaniel’s evil smile. I quickly look at Andrew because I know what’s coming, and in desperation look back in
Laverne’s eyes, now colorless. And I beg. “Please Smoke. No. Let her go please you have to let her go! Don’t do this to Andrew!”

Laverne’s eyes regain their shade, for a moment. She looks deeply into my eyes, and says with a sneer, “what a shame for
Ellie, when she finds out about you and Frank!”

Then her eyes roll back into her head, and she lurches forward. Her head and her torso seize, and pound repeatedly on the kitchen table, until she finally tenses back, a white foam exiting her mouth and nose, followed by the deepest blood. The unmistakable smell of her failing, cancer-ridden kidneys, punctuates her grisly death.

Her body, suddenly, lay still. Then, slowly, tilting just slightly to the
left, falls to the floor. The entire horrible display lasts only a few moments. But I know this visage will haunt Andrew forever.

We both make a clumsy attempt to capture her body as it falls, but succeed only in tripping over each other, allowing a graceless end to Andrew’s sister. Upon seeing her lifeless body on the floor, and seeing her lifeless eyes, where only a minute previous dwelled the love and magic of his beloved sister, cured with a new lease on life, he stands fast for the briefest of moments. Then collapses. He sobs and shakes, cradling and caressing the lifeless form of Laverne. This will wreck him. This will permanently wreck him, and seeing him this way is almost worse than seeing him die himself. Almost.

I try to comfort him. Clumsily, but it is all I can do.

“Get away from her Mira! Get out. This is your fault. Go away! Leave!” he screams. The hatred in his eyes rips my soul.

Of course he is right. He doesn’t actually know how he is right, but it is
my fault. I allowed that bastard Nathaniel Mirras into his home and family by being stupid. And I am the cause of her death. And that has broken the heart of the only human being, outside of Mother, that holds mine.

Ashamed.

I’m so ashamed and hopeless. On the table I see are place settings for a small meal for us to have shared. All of the settings, plates, forks, spoons, coffee cups, and knives.

Knives. A sharp knife…

Now. This can all be over now…

I grab the knife closest to me, and feel its sharp edge. This will do.
This will do. I can hide myself away and end all of this with two quick slices up and down my wrists. It will barely hurt. Hell, I’ve felt worse. More importantly, it will safeguard everyone I hold dear forever.

Then I see Andrew sobbing over his sister’s suddenly empty shell, and I know what I must do. Both. Now. He will never know, and it will be
a kindness after all. He won’t feel a thing, I’ll be quick. His pain over lost Laverne will end too. I can simply reach around his throat and take him quickly, or pierce his exposed back into his lungs, and stop the annoying beating of his heart. There are so many options, and they all set us free. I raise the knife, well suited to the task, and prepare to plunge it into Andrew over and over, then to end this nightmare for myself.

Wait.

Wait.

No.

I do not want to die. I don’t want to kill Andrew. Yet somehow I do. My mind is telling me yes, I do. But I know I do not.

It’s Smoke. He is possessing me. He wants me to kill Andrew. Then myself. That bastard lied. He knew. He knew! He knew all along that he was killing his hosts. He knew, and he relished each death, and will relish Andrew’s and mine right now. He’s testing his own power. He’s testing me.

Except I won’t kill Andrew. My brain knows better. I won’t. Nathaniel you are a fool! You set me against the one human being on the entire planet I could never, ever harm. And you will lose. I won’t kill him. And I won’t kill myself. And, yes, I can feel you. I can feel your possession, and I can expel you from my body, my mind. You can’t stay in me. I have just enough power.

Just enough… enough.

I drop the knife.

At that moment, time and reality return. Doppelmacher emerges, sees the scene, and summons Andrew’s family, his parents, his other two sisters, to the carnage in the family kitchen. He holds the mother, and shakes the father into coherency, so that he can take charge of his family, his wife, and his two surviving daughters. And his son. Doppelmacher then, at the precise moment, catches me as my will is gone and my strength fails. I abandon consciousness with vigor.

I wake later. I try not to. But I wake. The neighbors, the police, the ambulance, and the doctors have all come and gone. Andrew’s family is medicated and asleep. Herr Doppelmacher only remains awake and alert. He speaks to me, but I will never remember what he says. He offers coffee, which I accept gratefully, sipping and slugging, and then a second cup. I ask if Laverne is really gone. She is. Doppelmacher encourages me to go home. He doesn’t want me going alone, but at this moment he is all the family has, because I’m no use.

So I go home.

I trudge along. All the way I know I’m safe. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s a
safe town. For me. Safe except for everyone but me. That son of a bitch Nathaniel Mirras won’t kill me, no. He will torture me by hurting everyone I love. But I’m safe.

Except he tried to kill me too. He was inside of my mind, trying to control me. But he couldn’t. He can’t use me and that’s a small small victory I have to hold onto, because I may need that someday to save Andrew. Or Ellie. Or Mother. He cannot control me. And it seems he cannot kill me. I’m still alive. Everyone else he has possessed has died.

But I am still alive.

Tonight, Laverne lost, but I won.

I won.

I reach my door, desperate to collapse into my bed. It will probably take
years to resolve what has happened tonight with Andrew, but that’s probably for the best. He will hate me for a while. And all that while he will be safe. I reach for the handle of the front door of my home, coveting my bed and sleep. As I turn the handle, nothing moves, and I open my eyes fully to see the unseparated fingers of Nathaniel Mirras, the bastard chalky ghost, the nightmare, between my fingers, and I recoil. I look into his eyeless sockets, and know he sees me.

“Smoke…” I whisper, shaking.

“Do. Not. Call. Me. That.”

Now I’m angry! “Or what? Will you kill me too? Please! Please just take me now. Spare everyone and just take me. Just take me.”

He is too calm, as usual.

“I don’t know what you are talking about Mira. Laverne was so very sick. She was dying. She was dying for certain and in so much pain, and I cured her. I gave her health and happiness, until you told me to leave her. Then she died, as she would have anyway. You have absolutely no cause to be upset with me!”

“Nathaniel. You hurt Andrew. You caused her to die like that, right in
front of him. Why didn’t you just let her live out her life until the
sickness took her, instead of making him watch her go that way?”

Almost absently, he breathes, “Mira, I only enjoy the suffering of those that deserve it.”

“Liar! Never mind. It doesn’t matter. You don’t see it. You are just trying to avoid your own pain, and don’t care about the pain you cause others. Andrew’s pain. Ellie’s pain. My pain! You don’t care for anyone’s pain but your own. All you want is death. All you want is to kill. I don’t know why you are haunting me, and harming those I love. I don’t know why. But if you can’t stop, then please just take me. Spare everyone, but take me. I’ll go. I’ll die. I will do anything to protect Andrew. Please, just stop!”

Another loud silence. Even Nathaniel could muster an impressive moment of unease. But I see the evil smile creep across his face.

“No.”

With that he disappears, and I no longer hear his voice. I want to beg more for Andrew’s life, but I can’t. I want to offer my life up for Ellie, but I stagger. All I can do is turn the handle in order to take the last twenty steps to rest, to my bed. And I could hear the cry of the chalky child emanating from within. The Inhuman cry, desperately searching for its…

Oh no.

My body is spent, but I quickly stumble into the main room where
Mother is still in her recliner watching the TV. But not watching. And
not moving. And not breathing. And I gasp, choking back my disbelief.

She has no head.

Oh no. Oh no, Mother. For the sake of all that is holy. No…

I stop, unable to believe what I am seeing, but it is true. Mother is only a body. No head. No hands. Her blood has long stopped flowing,
coagulating at her neck and her wrists.

She is still beautiful. My Mother. But she is gone.

I stare at her lifeless incomplete body. Finally every breath, every nerve and every instinct finally give out and again I go to the one place Nathaniel is not. Darkness.

I am out and asleep for over two days. No surprise. I finally, stubbornly wake and hope that the last vision I’d seen was just that. A vision. If not, it means that Nathaniel has begun to operate outside of his normal pattern, and that is frightening. I know it isn’t a vision, or a dream.

I know Mother is dead.

Mother, who loved me above all things, enough to work two or more jobs, to clothe and feed me, to send me out to Andrew, my Andrew in the dead of night, was gone. She was gone. Forever. What horror could this have been for her?

Days later, assuming some sick murderer among the living, police find her head and her hands, in a field, miles away, by a set of train tracks. Of course. The same tracks that took Frank’s life.

Her hair had been ripped from her scalp. Her eyebrows were gone, torn. Her mouth had been stitched and closed, apparently using her own hair. The fingers on each hand had been stitched together as though webbed, again, using her own hair. Both eyes were removed. One ear was missing. Her nose was absent leaving only the hollow space of a skull. She was the disembodied embodiment of all of Nathaniel’s physical flaws. A monstrosity, brutalized by the killer, Nathaniel Mirras. Nathaniel the ghost. Smoke…

Yet my Mother is still beautiful.

Next to her is found a crumpled piece of paper. Doppelmacher retrieves it from her side before the authorities arrive, and gives it to me. He does not read it. A curious man.

Those adults now in charge of “things” decide to keep me in my home, given the trauma of recent events. I am to remain under the
watchful eyes of Doppelmacher, and also Andrew’s family. Andrew’s two living sisters will take turns checking in and staying over, to maintain the perception of decency. Decency…ha. So, I now have a home mostly to myself, and constant access to Andrew should I want it.

And I have need for neither.

Mother is gone. The ‘killer’ is never found, of course. Doppelmacher and I, being the most likely suspects, have the alibi of being present at Laverne’s death. The town is silent for days. Mother is gone. And all that is left is her hastily scribbled note. Her last effort of love for me.

“Find your Father!”

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