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The Last Laugh

July 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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In a nearby town, there lives a clown
whose laughter fills the air,
and in crowded places, with his painted faces
he shocks with skill and flair.

Through a comic fall, and tales grown tall,
those watching delight with glee,
to forget their worries, of bills and moneys,
as the clown performs for free.

For ten short days he had shared his ways,
from the square of that known town,
and the sisters and mothers and fathers and brothers
applauded each time he fell down.

And as waning light, gave way to night
the clown concluded his act,
with a dance and a song, and a story not long,
it was time to fulfil their contract.

For each time he sang or fell with a bang,
he’d given the people such joy.
And it was only right that they reward, in light,
of his efforts which thrilled girl and boy.

So the clown lay his hat, near where he sat,
hoping the townsfolk would show
their kindness and thanks, for all foolish pranks,
are worth more than many can know.

But as the folk passed, including the last,
few pennies fell in the hat.
And the clown looked on, with a sad little song,
knowing that that, was that.

The following day, so many say,
was the darkest the town ever knew,
for many of those who’d watched the clown’s shows
had vanished, and left only few.

In warm bedrooms where, the missing took care
to sleep and dream and be still,
there was found something strange, a sort of exchange,
for body, and mind, and for will.

On each empty bed, where once rested head,
a piece of torn cloth could be seen,
the colours were rich, yet raggedly stitched,
and one prankster it could only have been

And while townsfolk grieve, without reprieve
at their loss of loved ones gone,
the clown packs his things, of tricks, jokes and strings,
and to your town, he now moves on.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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The Naera

July 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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‘Tis a fine house, lad, to be sure, and well built. And ’tis sure I am that you and young Maglyn will be more than happy here till the end of your days. But I’ve said it afore and I’ll say it again—I wish I knew what possessed you to build so close to the cairn of Draugs Teigh and so far from me and your ma.

Now, calm yourself, lad! Calm yourself! I meant no harm! But you are my son and I am your father. You can’t blame your old da for worrying now, can ye? You know as well as I the stories about those old stones and the darkness that lives there. And with that evil place being home to no less a nightmare than the Naera himself, well…

What’s that you say? You, twenty years of age last winter, and I never told you the tale of the Naera? Well, I suppose there’s no surprise there. Sure, ’tis a dark tale of twisted magic and betrayal—and one I am loath to tell. Wise folk make a point of avoiding it for fear of attracting his attention. ‘Tis said even the saying of his name will bring the fiend who stalks that hill to knocking.

You want to hear it, do ye? Well, I suppose ’tis best to be forewarned or so ’tis said. Go on, then, and bring your da some fresh ale afore I get to the telling. There’s a good lad.

Now, let’s see… ‘Twas some time back when Faeral committed the deed that cursed that place—almost three hundred year ago now, or so the story goes. Took the lives of many of the townsfolk, he did. Aye, Faeral was a wicked man to be sure—a summoner of the dead. No one knew from whence he came, really. Come here from some land far away where such things are more commonplace, I suppose. The folk here in the valley never took too well to his dark ways. Feared him, they did. All over the countryside, they avoided him as if he were the grim specter of Dathruk himself. ‘Course there were no denying that he resembled one of the death god’s harbingers with his thin, hawkish face and boney limbs.

Indeed, it weren’t far from here that he practiced his terrible arts—built a great tower of stone deep in the forest not more than three leagues from this very spot. Oh, a monstrous place it was, with great stone faces glowering down at passers-by from a parapet that ringed the uppermost floor, their eyes aglow with unhallowed light that froze your blood right in your veins. ‘Tis said they were watchers of some sort, guardians who alerted their master of any foolish enough to get too close. That tower has long since crumbled to ruin, no longer held together by the arcane forces that built it, but folks say they can still hear the ghosts of Faeral’s victims a-crying and a-wailing through the hills.

Now, the first one to come upon that eyesore were the miller. Out looking for one of his mules run off from the mill, he was. ‘Course chasing green fairies was probably more like it, if you take my meaning. He was known to be a bit too fond of the drink. Still there he was, tramping through the brush, brambles tearing his britches and ripping at his legs as he stumbled into the clearing. Run straight into the tower, he did!

‘Twas then that a strange cry above him caught his ear, a sound unlike any bird he’d ever heard. Glancing upward, his eyes caught a line of foreign symbols etched into the stone before his gaze settled on one of those ghastly faces. Sure as I live and breathe, there it was scowling down at him, its eyes shimmering with malice. Afore the full realization of what he was seeing could set in, the thing let loose another cry like a cat being murdered. Scared the living daylight out of the miller! What could he do but shite himself and run?

Straight to the tavern he went, legs aquiver and naught but gibberish pouring from his pallid gob. Took a full four pints afore they could calm him down enough to understand what he were saying…and even then not a soul believed him. They laughed at his crazy story, figured he’d had a bit too much of that barley brew he was so fond of… But they didn’t scoff for long. The necromancer would soon make his way to the village.

In the beginning, Faeral kept to himself mostly. A homely, disagreeable man he was and rarely seen—which was all right by the townsfolk. Once in a great while, he came to town and spent a bit of coin at one of the merchants but the rest of the time, he remained locked away in his tower. What he did up there was anybody’s guess, though everyone had a good idea. You see, shortly after his arrival, folks started noticing great gaping holes in the cemetery—graves with nothing left in them but a broken pine box!

One evening as the sun slipped into its bed, the temple priest set out to perform his nightly duty to Dathruk—the pouring of libations on his shrine and asking the Lord of the Grave to look after the souls in his care. As he walked down the path to the shrine at the cemetery’s center, he noticed something strange in the distance. From where he stood, it looked as though someone had piled a heap of broken wood and earth near one of the graves. As he got closer, though, he could see that was not the case at all. The grave was fully opened, the dirt thrown roundabout as though the perpetrator were in a great hurry! The wood he’d seen were really the broken planks of the coffin laying littered about the place.

The body, buried only days before, was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, the priest stared in disbelief, not knowing what to think. He’d performed the service that laid the poor bugger to rest himself! As he stood there scratching his head, he noticed another pile several graves over, and then another further on still. Shaken, he began slowly to turn about, looking around in all directions and seeing more and more of the telltale mounds—a full score, at least!

Well, everyone knew who were responsible, didn’t they? Faeral the Necromancer! How he’d managed to steal so many bodies in but one night no one could figure. And ‘course that weren’t the most exasperating part of the whole ordeal. The people were outraged that he’d desecrated the remains of their kin but none had the courage to stop him. Not a one wanted to end up on his butcher’s block, that’s for certain. So they let him be, grudgingly allowing him to carry on whatever gruesome endeavors he got up to. At least he were only taking the dead, they reasoned, and not the living. If only they’d known what horror was to come, they’d have burnt him up in his tower as soon as the first sign of grave robbing occurred. But as things were, he hadn’t harmed a living soul and so they left him to himself.

Things went on this way for some time until the day that Faeral met young Maeve. Hair the color of summer wheat, eyes like emeralds, and skin the color of fresh milk. Oh, a beautiful lass, she was, but wild! Nary a drop of modesty nor honor in her at all!

Maeve came from good, solid stock, she did. Her parents were honest, hardworking folk. Her da was the town blacksmith and her ma…her ma was a master weaver. I tell ye, lad, you never saw such things as came from that woman’s loom! Her skill, a gift straight from the goddess of the arts herself, was widely celebrated. Many a prince and noble house commissioned her services to weave wonders for their estates. Aye, and they paid her well for it, too. Magical things, she made—the characters in her tapestries were so real they moved of their own accord, playing out their scenes over and over to the delight of all who laid eyes on them. She tried to pass her knowledge on to Maeve but the girl had no interest in the art of weaving. Her interest lay solely in the art of seduction. ‘Tis true she spent her days doing chores for her ma as any dutiful daughter does but her nights… oh, her nights were another matter altogether.

To the shame of her parents, Maeve prowled the tavern at night, taking a new lover as often as a man takes a breath. Discretion was never her concern. Husband or bachelor, it mattered not to Maeve. She flitted from man to man as a hummingbird darts from flower to flower, taking a sip of each but landing on none, if you take my meaning. She left many a suitor in shambles, promising eternal love to one even as she slipped into the bed of another.

Her folks tried to reel her in, to tame the wild streak in her, but she’d have none of it. And when she caught sight of Faeral in the shops, saw how the townspeople recoiled from him… well, there was no stopping her. They tried to convince her, to warn her of what often comes of those who share the bed of evil but she wouldn’t listen. They reminded her how ugly he was, how much like a gargoyle he looked, but nothing mattered to Maeve. True, a handsome man Faeral was not—he was too thin of body and his face was pinched—but Maeve didn’t want him for his looks. ‘Twas his sinister reputation that enticed her.

Maeve cared not a whit that everyone despised the foul necromancer or that he’d defiled the graves of her friends and ancestors. She reveled in the scandal it caused and her beauty wove a spell of lust over the lanky mage. Oh, he resisted at first, turned his nose up and snorted derisively at her brazen attempts to seduce him but she soon wore him down. No matter how warped his nature was, Faeral was a man still! With each passing meeting, Maeve’s charm snaked its way into his blackened heart and sank its fangs in deep. Aye, caught in her web, he was—enthralled and in love.

What’s that? Did he not know of her reputation? I suppose he did—gossip traveled just as fast and as far in those days as it does now and she made no bones about what she got up to in the wee hours. Maybe it were his own arrogance made him believe she’d not cross him as she had the others, but who can guess? A body in love can convince themselves of any number of fictions and Faeral was a man obsessed. What I do know is that as his love for her grew stronger, his desire for her grew in a most twisted way.

He lavished her with expensive gifts, some clearly from the corpses he stole and others from lands unknown. She accepted all with squeal of glee, smothering him with kisses and other favors. But no matter what promises she made him, no matter what gifts he brought, her dalliances continued. Day by day, he became more covetous, more jealous of her not-so-secret trysts until one night he caught her in the arms of yet another man.

‘Twas the night of a dark moon. The sun had set with a bloody hue. The townsfolk, taking it as an ill omen, had locked themselves in their homes and barred their shutters. Only two people took no heed. Maeve and her newest plaything, a traveling peddler, lay tucked away in a tavern room, delighting in each other’s caresses. Outside in the darkness stood an indignant Faeral, his eyes locked on an open second-story window from which slithered the soft sounds of lovemaking. As he listened, every oath of fidelity she’d taken, every time she’d sworn that she’d never again take another lover but him came flooding to the fore of his mind. Each moan of betrayal from above drove a nail through his withered heart.

His very soul aching, he whispered a few strange words and the tavern doors swung open before him without making a sound. Silently, he slipped inside and made his way to the room where his inconstant love and her latest conquest lay spent and covered in sweat. With a wave of his hand, the door splintered and burst afore an enraged Faeral stepped across the threshold.

The room was lit by a single lamp—its small flame guttering in the breeze from the open window. Without a word, Faeral crossed the floor and gutted Maeve’s stunned lover like a trout before he was even free of the coverlet. Turning on Maeve, Faeral demanded that she be loyal to himself alone from that night forward on pain of death. Yet, as he stood there recounting to her the many oaths she’d sworn to him, the steam of the peddler’s newly liberated entrails rising at his feet, what do you think the stupid girl did? Why, she laughed at him! And a cold, callous sound it was. The gods never made a woman of colder stuff than Maeve! Why, said she as she clutched the bed sheets to her chest, would he think that she could love a wretch such as him? Did he think he was the first she’d made such promises to? He was naught more than a passing fancy, a frivolity that brought her pretty baubles. As she mocked him, his anger built with each scathing word. Finally, her venom spent, she glared at him haughty as a queen, contempt written on her face.

Faeral stared at Maeve in agonized silence, an inferno of pain and treachery raging in his belly. “You and I shall be one, Maeve, one way or another,” he vowed, a malicious grin spreading across his face as he took his leave amidst her ringing laughter.

For several weeks after, no one saw nor heard from Faeral. He did not come to visit the merchants; he did not come to see Maeve. A few of the braver sort tried to organize a search for him in his tower, intent on hanging him for the murder of the peddler, but fear of the necromancer’s power quelled their fervor. The townsfolk hoped he had died of a broken heart or had gone back in disgrace to the place of his birth. Most were just relieved that he was gone. For her part, Maeve thought that it would be only a matter of time afore he returned as all the others had, bearing gifts and begging her forgiveness. By the gods, how wrong she was. How wrong they all were.

You see, ’tis not a love of death that consumes a necromancer but a love of life! He lusts for mastery over death to prolong his own existence! ‘Twas this search for immortality that kept Faeral going and he had come very close to this aim through his grisly work. For years, he had worked toward his goal of unending life and god-like powers… but a gift demands a gift. To obtain the boons he sought, Faeral willingly had to give of the one thing he held most dear. All his life, the only thing that held that place in his heart was his necromantic endeavors but that had changed when he met Maeve. Until that fateful night in the tavern, the love burning in his breast had kept him from sacrificing her to his thirst for eternal life but now…now that she had rejected him, and in so humiliating a manner, what reason had he to stay his hand? He would complete his great work, he reasoned, and keep Maeve with him forever through this final act.

‘Twas in short order that the townsfolk found their hopes of Faeral’s departure dashed. Rumors of missing travelers began trickling in from around the countryside. Tales were whispered through trembling lips of a demonic figure ambushing groups of grown men in the dark and dragging them screaming into the shadows. Hunters would return from the wild shaken and pale, terrified by horrific cries heard echoing through the wood in every direction. Folks walking home from the tavern at night vanished. Everyone knew it to be the handiwork of Faeral but not one of them was brave enough to hunt him down.

Finally, it happened one morning that young Maeve did not return home. As I said, ’twas no secret that she often shared a late night with whatever man had caught her fancy. But when the sun had reached its mid-point in the sky and there had been no sign of Maeve still, her mother began to worry. From home to home, from tavern to shop she went, searching in vain for her daughter.

Immediately, the townsfolk’s thoughts ran to the necromancer Faeral and the tale Maeve had told of their last encounter. The final straw had broken. Fear gave way to fury. Grabbing whatever they could to arm themselves, the men of the village marched to the tower, intent on bringing the girl home if indeed she was captive there. Long and hard, they searched but found nothing. By all appearances, it seemed as though Faeral’s tower had been abandoned for some time so they fanned out, searching the surrounding hills.

And that, my boy, is where they found them; there, where the cairn now stands. Through dark magic, the power-mad wizard had set up a circle of stones. In the center stood a great stone altar, black and slick with the blood of his many victims. The stench of decaying flesh rose from piles of half-eaten corpses—some still recognizable as the missing men from the village. Upon the altar, Faeral crouched over the lifeless body of Maeve, her throat torn. The gathered men were stunned at his transformation. His skin was taut and pale, his eyes sunken into his skull—so much so that his face resembled a death’s head! In his hands hung bloody strips of flesh, wrenched from Maeve’s body with his own clawed fingers. Turning to the sickened crowd, he grimaced and then, as if in defiance, he gobbled it down in a frenzy before tearing even more meat from her corpse.

It took several moments for the shock of this horrific scene to wear off the menfolk, but wear off it did. Clubs and plowshares held high, they rushed at the lunatic. The fear they had felt for so long came spilling forth in a wave of primal fury. Like men possessed, they attacked him. Oh, he fought back all right, and with an unnatural strength at that, but I don’t think any force in the Heavens or the Hells could’ve saved him from the wrath of those men. It weren’t long afore he was overcome.

When their rage finally abated, they looked down on the vanquished body of Faeral, bashed and broken on that vile altar. Figuring him not deserving of proper burial rites, they interred him with the very stones of his accursed circle. Pulled them down, they did. They got ropes and horses and leveled the place right on top of him!

He’s up there still… but the old villain doesn’t rest in peace, oh no! How could the townsfolk have known that that their actions served to consummate a pact made between the necromancer and the dark god Faruk? By killing him, they brought about the beginning of a terrible curse. Faruk the Corrupt, son of the death god Dathruk and the goddess Isenea, he who sowed the first seeds of corruption into the world, gave Faeral forbidden knowledge, promising him eternal life in return for his devotion and sacrifice. The murder of Maeve, Faeral’s only-ever love, sealed this pact and remanded her broken soul to unending slavery in Faruk’s realm. As for the necromancer, the foul god kept his promise and gave him eternal life through undeath. But Faeral did not rise as the lich he had hoped to become. Instead, he was transformed into a ravening ghoul—the Naera, or Night Caller, as they’ve come to name him—driven by an insatiable appetite for living flesh. To this very day, when hunger or some other force calls him forth from his tomb, he pulls himself free of the rocks and roams the countryside peeking through windows and knocking on doors trying to flush out a bit of fresh meat.

Now, my boy, pay special heed to what I’m about to tell ye. I’ve spoken his name enough times in the telling of this story so as to wake the creature ten times over. That in mind, you listen to your ol’ da and you listen well. If you wake from sleep to the sound of rapping at the door, let it be. He always comes a-calling in the darkest hours of night. The wind may blow, the snow may fall, and still he’ll come a-banging on the doors and a-tapping on the shutters. But don’t you make a sound—not a peep! And he hears but a pin drop, you and all your house will be lost! Family and friends who call on ye next morning will find naught but gnawed bone and blood. He leaves no flesh behind, the hellish glutton. ‘Course, that’s not all…

Oh, he’s a sly one, that old ghoul, and he’s got a bag of tricks as can help him gratify his bedeviling hunger. He can mimic the very voices of the gods themselves, or so they say. Many a man has lost his life and loved ones to Faeral’s trickery, thinking ’twas his own children crying for help outside in the darkness. No matter what you hear, even if ’tis my own voice calling ye out from your bed pleading with ye to save me life, you just lay yourself back down and cover your ears.

Are you feeling all right, lad? It’s that you’re looking a bit pale is all. Oh, now don’t you go fretting about old Faeral. You just remember what I’ve said and you’ll be fine. As for me, I’d best be getting on. Your ma will be looking for me and I’ll not keep her waiting much longer. Besides, night will be falling shortly and I don’t like the look of that fog settling up on the cairn.

Credit To: Tara Grímravn

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Family of Three Plus One

July 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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They follow the same neat routine every day. The boy wakes up to the sound of that unpleasant alarm at 6 AM every morning, Monday through Friday. I listen carefully to the sheets rustling above me as he tosses, turns, shifts in his bed struggling to force himself awake. On the occasion that he falls back asleep in the safe warm embrace of his bedding, face nuzzled sweetly against his puffy down pillow, his mother will come in.

Now, his mother often wakes up at 5 in the morning, a beautiful time when the light of the morning sun is still waking with the rest of Earth’s creatures. I can move more freely at this time, though risky as it may be. I watch her arise; her husband lies silent, still consumed by a world of dreams. I follow her to the bathroom and watch while she cleans her face, brushes her teeth and prepares for the day. Sometimes she sees me, but never thinks anything of it; how exhilarating those days are, to make eye contact with the people who house me. As she wanders down stairs to prepare breakfast, we part ways and visit the boy. As I mentioned earlier, on occasion he will sleep in, much like today. I stretched out and relaxed, awaiting the mothers’ arrival; it was always pleasant to be in the company of my family.

She arrived on schedule. With breakfast ready she wouldn’t be letting him sleep any longer. I have watched this week after week and in my humble opinion it is this behavior that makes the child feel he can sleep as he pleases; this routine is what gives me strength, what gives me confidence. My eyes follow the door as it opens and I watch her fuzzy slippers step closer. Her skin smells so sweet. For a woman of her age, her soft flesh is so tightly wrapped around her legs, it is all I can do to stay put and not act on instinct. I let the aroma fill my nostrils and allow her voice to dance along my ears. She walks out of the room and soon my vision is obscured by cartoon character pajamas and bare feet. His toes are so small, so delectable, little treats on little feet. I reach out to touch them, my claws leaving the safe haven of darkness that conceals all that go bump in the night. The light burns my flesh as my claws sprout from under the bed; they brush against his clothes, so very close to that youthful perfection. The pain surges through my hand, my arm, it’s almost more than I can handle. I reach forward to grab his ankle and he steps away. I pulled my hand back under the bed, nursing the burns, but the thrill of the hunt filled me with glee. I am so proud of how good she is to him and how much he is growing into a little man. I fade into the shadows and vanish from his room.

The father was still asleep. It’s 7 AM now, the bus should be arriving for the little one soon and how I will miss him. I contemplate following him to school, but risk outweighs reward. Exciting as the thought is; to be left stranded in a school yard, even though I would be blessed with tender morsels left and right, I may not make it home. Last thing I would want is to leave my home unguarded, to come back and find it claimed by another. No, I must defend my home; defend my people, till their bitter end. From their closet I watched the father sleep. The door was left cracked open this morning. He disgusts me; he is by no means a pleasant person. His flesh is coated in filth and only does he bathe when forced by the wife. I find myself all too often eagerly awaiting his departure to work. Ever since he changed his schedule to a later shift, I have found my routine has been shattered. Oh, how I miss the days that he would be out the door before his wife rose so that I would have her all to myself; how I could be there for the child and admire the beauty in his ignorance. Now, I’m afraid I must tiptoe from the morning to the afternoon, my time alone with the woman is no longer so. Yes, I can watch her from the mirrors, brush against her as she sinks into the couch, but no longer do I posses the luxury of freedom. The father will leave shortly before the boy returns, with this I find solace. The sun will begin to dip down below the horizon while he slaves away the hours at his job.

As night dominates the sky I can move as I wish, inside and outside of my home. Well, I used to go outside. Lately I have noticed prying eyes gazing at my family from the windows, concealed by darkness. I am tempted to get rid of them, but I don’t know how many wait, and I can’t risk leaving my people exposed. My kind grows very envious of those of us with homes and families of our own, they seek to destroy our success and ruin everything we worked so hard to accomplish. I’ve found myself staring out the window, watching as shadows jump from street light to street light, contemplating if the less fortunate can be of use to me. I may have a decision soon; perhaps tomorrow night I can have a chat with a little one.

They call today, Saturday, and I share mixed feelings for this one. I have my humans all day, but this also means the foul one lounges on the couch, shoveling filth down his gullet and barking at my people like a savage beast. Today was a true test of my self control. Today he hit my boy.

The little one was running around, talking about his school week and what simple things his brain consumed. He was so excited; I was so excited, I wanted to embrace him and share my pride, but to do so would be disastrous for us both. I watched as he spread his joy across the house, but anxiety and fear grabbed hold of me when he approached his father. I could see what was going to happen as the boy tugged on his father’s sleeve and talked louder than the television in feeble hopes of gaining his parent’s attention. I saw the disdain on the large one’s face. I felt the rumble of his growl as the boy continued. My claws dug into my hands as I waited, helplessly. Then it happened, he struck my boy while shouting profanity. The child ran to his room, holding back tears, refusing to show his pain. I was conflicted by the need to follow him, and the need to gut this beast and hang him by his entrails. Saturday is the day I decided he had to go.

Night fell quickly, and once they were in their beds I sneaked outside. I could see the hungry eyes staring from the bushes, trees, rooftops, they were so eager to claim my home. “I only need one of you,” I snarled, my well fed form towering over the lesser creatures of the night. “I am looking for a little Lust,” I called out, and not a moment later several starved demons scurried before me. They snapped and slashed at one another, until I snatched a smaller one up and held it up by its leathery tail; the others quickly disappeared into the night. “I have a deal to make with you,” my voice rumbled in dominance at the tiny creature that stared fearfully into my massive eyes. “I will share my wealth with you in exchange for the removal of the alpha-male in this home. I need it done discreetly and I grow angrier every day I can’t maim or massacre him. Will you assist me?” I asked it, giving not a hint of room for refusal. The creature seemed compliant so I closed my hands over it and returned to the safety of my home. I scaled the stairs in strides and soon was looking down the gaping maw of the monster, snoring away beside the beautiful woman I cared so much for. Once more I held my new weapon by its tail and dropped it into the man’s mouth, it slid effortlessly down his throat without invoking so much as a stir in his sleep. It was the perfect match. I felt better.

As the days went by, the father grew more distant from his family. He earned a promotion at work, had increased hours, and was often away on business. My life was improving exponentially, but this was only the beginning.

Peacefully I watched my boy sleep. I wanted to move in closer, but if I did, he wouldn’t be the same. As I lost myself in happy thoughts, they were interrupted by shouting in the parent’s room. The father came home intoxicated tonight; this isn’t a strange occurrence, but he slipped up. The father was supposed to be on a business trip this weekend. Not only was he home a day early, but there was lipstick on his neck. My heart filled, swelled with joy as the wife began striking him with a lamp and driving him out of the house. She found the strength to get rid of that dead weight and I was so proud of her for that. We were finally all going to be one big happy family.

My family has been doing well, but things have changed. They seem complacent; they seem content with their lives and genuinely happy. I want to be happy for them, but I feel strange. When the father was around, I was so upset, so disturbed, but I was powerful and a force to be reckoned with. The mother has taken to new habits; she admits when she is wrong, she replaces punishment with a teachable moment, she has become so humble. If they are so happy, why can’t I be?

I feel so weak, I feel sick and I think I have been losing weight. I hadn’t thought about what I was doing and now I am going to die for it. They will never know I existed, they will not miss me and I will rot away in the shadows. I only hope the boy can fight off the demons that will nest and make this their home. He will have to forgive his father or invite in Wrath. He must stay active in school and avoid Sloth. He cannot fall to the influences that consumed his father; I hope that the mother will stay strong as well, and look out for him. When Lust took their father, she didn’t have to deal with the abuse any longer; she could move on and be content… She didn’t have to be proud any more, but I will always be Proud.

Credit: Irrelevant

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Tick Tock Goes the Clock

July 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Can you send me the outline over email? That would be way easier,” said Jack, already searching for a taxi as he pushed his way out of the City University of New York’s doors.

“Sure bud, I’ll do that as soon as I get home,” said Abraham, walking beside Jack.

“Cool, I’ll catch you later,” said Jack. Abraham nodded and they parted ways.

Jack waved down a taxi after a few minutes and climbed into the back seat. The musky smell of the taxi made Jack question why he would take his car into the shop in the first place. He hated taxis. Nonetheless, he told the driver his address, then turned on his music and relaxed back in the seat.

“How’s school, son?’

“Sorry?” said Jack, taking out an earphone.

“How’s school going for you?” the taxi driver asked gruffly. He scratched his moustache with the hand he wasn’t using to steer with.

“Uh, good I guess. School is school you know?” Jack said.

The man chuckled, “What classes are you taking?”

Jack desperately wanted to forget about school for at least a few minutes and just listen to his music, but he replied politely anyways. “I’m just taking a few classes for accounting.”

“Accounting eh?” said the man. Jack didn’t say anything. “Are you from here by chance?”

Jack sighed, “No, I’m from Milwaukee.”

“I knew you didn’t look like the usual ‘Yorker. So, you came here to earn a degree in accounting?”

Jack ruffled his brown hair with his fingers. “Yes sir.”

“Huh, that’s something different. Let me tell you a story about one of my accountant friends, he …”

Jack had already tuned out, both of his earphones back in place and the beats of the song playing vibrating in his head. He stared out the window and watched the grey clouds in the sky roll over the city. A few drops of rain were already falling, splattering along the pavement and running down the taxi’s window that Jack stared out of. In the nearly stand-still traffic, Jack watched all the people of New York City bustling along the sidewalks in a mad rush to get home.

Before he’d officially decided to come to the city that never sleeps, Jack had considered riding a bike to and from his classes when he got there. After all, it was environmentally friendly and might even get him from point A to point B faster than anything else would. Now, as he sat in the stuffiness of the taxi with the driver droning on, Jack watched the business men and women on their bicycles groan in frustration as they attempted to weave around the clumps of people walking. In that moment he was grateful for not buying a bike. Anyway, he would get his car back in a few days and then he could be a part of the traffic problem again.

Moving to a new city, especially one as large and crammed with people as New York City, was a daunting task. Jack had always wanted to live there at some point in his life, but it had surprised him when his parents had allowed him to go so soon. It wasn’t like he was totally alone, since an old family friend had let him stay in his apartment for free. No rent meant Jack had the ability to save up for his car, even if it was a little beat up. The family friend had decided to stay in Phoenix at his vacation home until Jack had finished his stay in the apartment, but promised he would continue to pay the bills, which Jack would be forever grateful for.

Jack blinked and shook his head, the fog of daydreaming fading away. He pulled out his earphones as the taxi driver pulled over to the street outside of the apartment building he lived in.

“There you go, have a nice night now,” said the driver as Jack paid him and climbed out of the taxi.

“You too,” Jack mumbled, distracted by keeping his textbooks dry from the rain. He scrambled into the building, hair dripping and shirt slightly hugging his torso. After finally getting into the apartment, Jack slung his overstuffed backpack off of his shoulder and tossed it onto the floor along with the other books that he held in his arms.

“Jesus, I need some dry clothes,” Jack sighed, glancing down at the damp clothing that clung to his shivering body.

A dry pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt later and Jack was all ready to get started on his homework. He sat down at the kitchen table with a beer and opened his laptop. Jack opened the document Abraham had sent him with a sigh. The last thing he wanted to do was work from school and with everything he had to finish, Jack knew he’d be ordering Chinese food again for the third time this week.

A little while later, Jack heard the doorbell ring and went to get the door.

“Hey man,” said Jack as he opened the door.

“Hello sir,” said the delivery man. He handed the Chinese food to Jack who set the food on the floor beside him. “That will be $25.”

“There you go,” said Jack, handing him the cash.

“Thank you, good evening,” said the delivery man. He stepped away from the door and towards the elevator at the end of the hallway.

“You too,” Jack called down the hallway. Just before he closed the door though, something caught his eye. He swore, for only a second, that the man had changed from a man into … something else. Something black and what had looked like it was hovering above the ground. Jack shook his head and blinked a few times, he just needed some food and then he’d be ok.

Nonetheless, after Jack had closed the door, making a point to lock it, he peered out through the peephole. The man was already gone, having taken the elevator Jack supposed. Except he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being stared right back at, like something was looking directly through the peephole back at him.

Jack stumbled back and shivered as a tingle of nerves ran down his spine. Whatever, it was late and he was alone, that stuff happens. Right?

Four hours later, Jack was just about falling asleep as he stared blankly at his laptop. He sat back in his chair, his back cracking with a series of satisfying pops as it released some of the tension built up there over the past few hours.

Beside Jack’s laptop, a half-filled coffee mug that had been refilled twice already, sat staring at him. The coffee seemed to be mocking him, as if all the caffeine in the world wouldn’t help Jack stay awake to finish his assignments.

Jack’s phone buzzed, snapping him back to reality and he glanced down at the screen that illuminated the tiny kitchen he sat in. He picked up the phone and cleared his throat before answering.

“Hey Angie, what’s up?” said Jack.

“Were you sleeping, Jack? I’m sorry if I woke you,” said the voice on the other end. Angie was Jack’s best friend since elementary school and he had learned long ago that Angela Perkins knew everything, so he decided to tell half the truth instead.

“Not sleeping, exactly …” said Jack. He heard Angie giggle through the phone. “I’m doing homework so yeah actually, I am basically asleep.”

“That sucks, Jack-o,” said Angie. When they were 10, Jack had gotten scared while trick-or-treating and tripped over a pumpkin, face planting into the ground which gave him a bloody nose. Angie had called him that ever since, even though he hated it.

“I was just calling since it’s-“

“The anniversary,” said Jack firmly.

“Yeah,” Angie paused. “You know I care about you, that’s why I always check in.”

“I know, but really it’s ok,” said Jack. He scrubbed his hand down his face and cleared his throat so his voice didn’t shake. “It happened a long time ago.”

“Like that matters,” Angie scoffed. “I know you Jack. You’ll always think it was your fault.”

“Maybe that means it was,” Jack stated half-heartedly.

“You know I don’t think that.”

“Yeah,” said Jack. He sighed and switched the phone from one hand to the other. “Anyways, I don’t want to be rude, you know I love talking to you, but I really got to get this work done.”

“Of course, I’ll let you go. Miss you Jack-o,” said Angie.

“You too, Angie, you too.” Jack hung up and interlocked his fingers behind his head. He was never going to finish his work if he was on the verge of falling asleep. What was he going to do? Walk around, that’s it, that’ll get the blood flowing to his brain again.

Jack stood up from his chair and stretched so that all different parts of his body loosened up, then made his way over to the large window that overlooked the streets of the city.

New York City was the destination for dreamers who wanted to stick it to the man and make something great of themselves. It was not the ultimate place to go if you wanted to become an accountant, yet that was the profession Jack had set his sights on when he’d moved there all the way from Milwaukee.

Jack watched the people on the streets from his high up perch as they wove in between each other, like ants. It was almost in the AM, yet people and cars were still crammed together in massive crowds of frustration and impatience.

From up there in the apartment, an individual’s fragility was so apparent that it was a little disorientating to Jack. The late night thoughts of humankind’s vulnerability would inevitably lead to a small existential crisis or two and Jack really didn’t need that just then. He was way too exhausted for that kind of thinking.

Jack stumbled back from the window and into his bedroom. His head had started to throb, the pain focused right in his temples as the blood surged through his head.

“I’m never drinking coffee again,” Jack muttered.

Another particularly sharp throb pierced his head as he shook it in annoyance. “Damn it- bad idea, bad idea.”

Jack shuffled into the bathroom for a couple of painkillers before going back into his bedroom and laying down on his bed. It was so peaceful there, like a warm embrace wrapping around his body as the mist of sleep washed over him. Just a few minutes, just a few …

The sun was bright and warm. It burned the back of Jack’s arms and legs as he ran around the playground with Angie. Her pigtails danced in the wind, exactly like how she used to wear them when they were little. He could hear his mother calling him in the distance so he spun around and ran in her direction.

Next, Jack was standing in the grass that stretched a little ways out from the front of his house. Rachael, the neighbour’s kid who he went to elementary school with, was playing catch with him. He was only seven and many years had passed since that day, but Jack remembered it vividly from all the times he dreamed of it.

“Hey,” Jack said and passed the ball to Rachael. “Want to see who can throw the farthest?”

“Ok!” Rachael exclaimed, catching the ball and hugging it close to her chest.

“You throw first,” Jack said. He walked to the closed door of the garage while Rachael made her way to the end of the driveway.

“Ready?” Rachael smiled and winded up her arm.

Jack suddenly remembered that he wasn’t supposed play catch near the road. Oh well. Rachael threw the ball with more force than Jack had expected and he ran for the ball that had bounced off of the garage door behind him.

“Wait ball!” Jack cried and he stumbled down the driveway after it. Jack lunged forward, falling onto his stomach and scraping his knees, but the ball slipped out of his tiny fingers. It rolled quickly past Rachael, out onto the road and she immediately ran after it.

It all happened so fast. Jack choked out a warning for Rachael as he saw the truck tear around the corner but she was already in the street. Jack tried to stand to wave at her but her back was turned and she already had the ball in hand. Jack squeezed his eyes shut when he heard the blaring horn of the truck and a dull thump only seconds afterwards.

There was screaming coming from everywhere and Jack covered his eyes with his hands, feeling warm tears fall down his cheeks. It was his fault, all his fault, no matter what his parents had told him afterwards. He couldn’t save her. He didn’t save Rachael.

Then everything changed.

Like whiplash, Jack was surrounded by a whirl of darkness until it suddenly settled. Jack stuck his hands in front of his face but the inky black of his surroundings blinded him. A lump grew steadily in Jack’s throat and his stomach felt like it was contracting in on itself.

The warm gust of a person’s breath brushed past Jack’s ear and he spun around, reaching into the darkness. Nothing. Another few moments passed and Jack felt a hot flash on his arm like he’d been scratched. Still unable to see anything, Jack just held his burning arm and prayed for whatever was screwing with him to get lost.

When Jack turned back around he saw, finally, a small light. A candle sat on a windowsill only a few feet from him. Jack tripped and nearly fell on his way over but finally he reached the candle and breathed a sigh of relief. He held the flame up and took in his surroundings. The orange glow brought comfort back into the room Jack was standing in and his heartbeat slowed down as he relaxed.

The room looked like his own bedroom, in the apartment, but it was completely barren, all the furniture and posters Jack had taped to the walls were gone. The room felt almost dead, like it had been so long since it had felt a human’s presence and it was slowly decaying.

Jack blinked and when he opened his eyes he was back in his bedroom, sprawled on his bed.

“No sleeping beauty am I?” Jack laughed to himself as he wiped the small amount of drool from the side of his mouth. He sat up and realized mid-stretch that he was not in his bedroom at all. Well, it was his bedroom, but there was no sign that anyone was living there except for the bed Jack was sitting on. His posters were stripped from the walls; the shelving that was once pushed up against the far corner of his room was gone. Jack shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. He just wasn’t awake yet, that’s all. When he opened them again he swore loudly in frustration. The room remained the same, empty, drained of life. Exactly like his dream.

Jack drew his attention to the alarm clock that was sitting on the floor where the shelves for his clothes used to be. It was the only thing besides the bed that he recognized as his own. As he watched the digital clock, he became perplexed by it. As the minutes ticked by aimlessly, Jack felt almost as if he was entering a trance. He simply couldn’t look away from it.

The clock changed then, from 11:59pm to 0:00. Jack broke from the trance and quickly walked over to it, then kneeled down and picked it up. It wasn’t plugged in, so even if the lightening and rain had taken down a telephone pole, the clock couldn’t have reset itself. Besides, clocks can’t be set to zero, as far as Jack knew anyway.

“What the hell?” Jack muttered to himself, abandoning his investigation with the clock. He walked out of his bedroom and into the kitchen where he hoped to find his phone and call Angie, or at least realize that this wasn’t real and that eventually he would wake up. His cellphone was not on the table where he’d left it, because there wasn’t a table at all. It was like Jack had been robbed, the entirety of the apartment was empty.

Jack realized that he hadn’t turned any lights on yet as he jogged from empty room to empty room, searching for anything of his belongings. He tried a light switch but the apartment remained eclipsed in a soft darkness.

“So the power is out,” said Jack. He scratched the back of his head in thought. “I have to still be dreaming. No one has a key to this apartment besides me and anyways, no one would steal everything. That just doesn’t make sense, I have to-”

Something caught Jack’s eye from the large window. Behind the left curtain there was a shadow. Even with no light to cast it, the shadow loomed behind the curtain and Jack thought for a moment that it didn’t even look to be hiding. It was harsher than the darkness of the apartment, as it stood- or hovered, Jack wasn’t sure- in a rigid and cold state of being.

Jack leaned against the wall and slid down. He just wanted this all to be over, he was tired and he ached with frustration. He hated nightmares and this one just wouldn’t let go of him. Why did Angie have to bring up the anniversary of the accident? He’d almost forgotten about it until she mentioned it. Then Jack opened his eyes and screamed.

He stood and bolted for his bedroom. It had been so close to face, whatever it was. It had been so close to him, almost touching him. Just… watching him.

In an attempt to jump over his bed in the hope of getting somewhere safe, Jack tripped and hit the floor, hard.

Jack woke up with a start, his heart pounding in his chest and his scream echoing in his mind. He was awake. When he sat up in his bed, a wave of despair and exhaustion hit him. No, he wasn’t. His room was still completely empty and his alarm clock sat patiently in the corner of the room just like before. The time switched to 0:00 and Jack drew his knees up to his chest and prayed for the horrible nightmare to be over. He didn’t dare close his eyes, fearing for the shadow behind the curtain to come looking for him in his room.

After a few moments, Jack decided to go back into the kitchen like last time. He was anxious and terrified, but he figured if he just went along with the dream, then maybe it would end. The black shadow stood behind the curtain, just the same as before. This time though, it seemed different, like it was changing. It began to shrink, the shadow creeping down the wall until it stopped at the height of a small child. It was holding something too, Jack noticed. It held a round object under its arm, similar to a ball.

Jack stared at the childlike figure, panic rising in his chest with each breath. The shadow then dropped the ball under its arm and lunged at him. Jack only saw the darkness of the figure crawl over his body before his mind went blank as he fainted.

He awoke in his bed. His room was empty, the time switched to 0:00, he saw the figure, then blacked out.

Empty, 0:00, figure, black out.

Empty, 0:00, figure, black out.

Every time his room was barren and dead. Every time the clock set to 0:00. Every time the figure attacked him. Every time Jack screamed and blacked out.

How many times the cycle had repeated, Jack didn’t know. It might have been a few minutes, it might have been days. He tried to change it, tried to do something different every time but it always ended the same. Except it didn’t end.

Around the hundredth cycle, Jack began to wonder if he was in hell. Maybe hell is just the process of reliving something terrible over and over again. Jack had experienced his nightmare so many times that now he knew what would happen. The details started knitting themselves together, but he couldn’t do anything to change them. No one would be there to save him; no one would come to stop the cycle. He was alone and he would always be alone, in his own never-ending hell.

He thought he counted 423 last time, but everything had blended together and he didn’t know what to do anymore. He sat in his bed every time, not bothering to confront the figure anymore, because it always would come for him anyways. Jack was hopeless, he’d given up. There was nothing he could do.

597, 598, 599 …

664, 665, 666.

He had to die, that was the only way Jack would escape his fate. He had to believe that he wasn’t already dead, that he could kill himself and it would break the cycle. After all, he had nothing to lose anymore. Jack prayed for a rope of some kind to appear when the next cycle started and by some heavenly miracle, his wish came true. It was an old and fraying rope and he worried it might not hold his body, but it was something.

He went into the bathroom and tied a noose around the shower curtain rod. It would be high enough that his feet wouldn’t touch the floor and besides, he wouldn’t try to struggle. He was trying to end it all.

Jack blacked out right away, probably from how exhausted his mind and body had become. He’d felt the pain of rope burn around his neck, felt the throbbing in his head as his body tried to keep the oxygen flowing through his blood, but it hadn’t been enough to keep him alive.

Jack died in a cloudy fog of peace, hanging in his bathroom with his arms limp at his sides. Just before his body finally let go, he thanked whatever mercy the universe had spared him to allow him to end his nightmares. Then all he felt was bliss.

Everything was spinning and when Jack opened his eyes, black dots ran past his vision. He blinked a few times, confusion sweeping over his mind. Jack was lying down, so he sat up slowly to take in his surroundings. A wave of relief washed over him and Jack felt warm tears fall down his cheeks. He was free.

Immediately, Jack stumbled to the no longer empty kitchen and found his phone.

“Angie!” Jack yelled into the phone as soon as he heard the click of someone pick up on the other line.

“Jack?” Angie mumbled. He’d woken her from sleep, but he didn’t care.

“Oh my god, I’m so happy to hear your voice, Angie,” said Jack, crying again.

“Are you ok? What’s wrong?” said Angie, more urgently and awake this time.

“I had a nightmare, well- it was like a bunch of nightmares over and over because they were all the same-”

“Slow down Jack-o,” Angie said.

“Right, sorry,” said Jack. “I just had a bad nap, that’s all. Probably from the anniversary with Rachael-” Jack dry heaved at the name. “Sorry I woke you up I just needed to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming anymore.”

“I’m always here for you with that stuff. You’re ok now though?” Angie asked. She still sounded concerned, but not as agitated as before.

“Yeah I’m good,” said Jack. “I’ll call you tomorrow ok?”

“Ok, night Jack,” said Angie. “Hope you can fix your alarm clock soon.”

“Thanks, night Angie.” A voice in the back of Jack’s mind whispered about something she’d said, but he brushed it off.

He hung up and walked to the window, looking down on the streets as he’d done before. The people didn’t look vulnerable and fragile as they had looked before. They looked strong and determined, which Jack concluded was probably from him breaking the cycle and proving his own perseverance to himself.

Jack was terrified to go to sleep that night so he held out for as long as possible until his body shut down his mind for him. He didn’t dream at all and he was thankful for that. Maybe he’d finally paid his dues.

The next morning came with ease. The sunshine passed through the window in Jack’s room, covering the floor in an elegant golden blanket. When it reached high enough in the morning sky to pass over Jack’s sleeping face, he awoke slowly. The best way to wake up is with a big stretch that loosens all of your muscles and joints from the paralysis of sleep and that was exactly what Jack had the privilege of experiencing.

There is no greater feeling than waking up after a restless night of nightmares to the beauty of a Saturday morning.

Jack first made his way into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes to get rid of the last traces of sleep. He felt sick when he looked at his coffee pot, so he grabbed some orange juice from the fridge instead. He made eggs and toast with all the fixings, just how he liked it.

As he wolfed down his breakfast, Jack had the sudden urge like he needed to make the most of his day. It was the kind of feeling one gets after watching and inspirational movie or hearing a speech about changing your life for the better. Jack mentally started making a plan for the rest of his day so that he could live like it was his last day on earth.

He called his friend Abraham from school first to see if he wanted a break from studying like Jack did.

“Hey dude, what’s going on?” Abraham answered.

“Nothing actually, I woke up like an hour ago,” said Jack, laughing a little at himself.

“No way, I’ve been up for hours studying,” Abraham said with a jealous sigh.

“Perfect, do you want a break?” Jack asked.

Abraham laughed and Jack pictured him looking through all of the work he probably still had to do. “Sure, why the hell not?”

“Great! I’ll meet you at the café near the university in hour?”

“See you there bud!” Abraham exclaimed. Jack laughed again and ran his fingers through his hair. He knew he could get ready in ten minutes and he could catch a taxi that would get him to the café in thirty, so like the mostly responsible young man he was, Jack decided he’d try and finish the paper he’d been working on last night.

Jack had thought he would’ve been rid of writing essays and papers when he finished English in high school, but as it turns out, both were great ways of summarizing units. He hated it, but it was just something that needed to be done. So Jack wandered over to his laptop and plopped down in his seat, a little giddy with excitement about actually getting out the apartment later.

Jack had one last paragraph to do, with plenty of time to spare before getting ready to meet Abraham, when he heard a knock on the door to the apartment. No one ever knocked, the doorbell was right there.

He stood from his seat and made his way over the door, brows knitting together in the middle of his forehead. Jack opened the door slowly, only a crack, before peering out at the person standing there. It was the Chinese delivery man from last night, holding a full order of Chinese food in his arms.

“Hello,” Jack said, his voice rising at the end of the word in confusion.

“Hello sir,” said the delivery man. He shoved the food inside the door and Jack had to grab it to keep it from falling. “That will be $25.”

“I’m sorry this isn’t mine … I don’t think,” said Jack as he tried to hand the delivery man the food back. “I ordered some last night but you must have me mistaken for someone else.”

“Thank you, good evening,” said the delivery man. He seemed almost mechanical, like a puppet, like someone was whispering what to say in his ear.

The man turned and walked down the hallway towards the elevator, leaving Jack feeling uneasy and a little speechless.

“What the hell?” Jack muttered, closing and locking the door to the apartment behind him. He set the Chinese food down on the kitchen table and stared at it, his hands on his hips. He shivered at how strange his encounter was, how eerily similar it had been to previous night.

Jack went to the bathroom, hoping to bring himself back to reality a little more. Jack ran some cold water from the faucet and rinsed his face, wiping any remaining exhaustion from it. It felt good to physically wash away all the pain he had endured and start to move on.

“I need a shower,” he mumbled to himself as he dried his face on a hand towel. The towel brushed past his neck and a tender pain bloomed where it had touched him. Confused, Jack went back to the mirror above the sink and stared at himself. A red circle wrapped itself around his neck, blotchy with purple and blue bruises that hurt to touch when he pressed his fingers against them.

As Jack stared at his reflection, a panic rose in his chest as he realized what the circle forming around his neck reminded him of. The injury looked like it had been made by the toughness of rope.

Jack shot straight up in his bed just as the clock across his room switched to zero.

Credit: Taylin

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Bodyshock

July 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Some people just don’t understand. What is right in front of you is almost never the whole picture. Behind every photo, every setting, every face, is an entire world yet to be discovered. My friends and I now know this to our disdain. We now understand why our parents always told us to stay away from the cranberry bogs on the west side. As a matter of fact, we now know why everybody avoided those bogs.

I never had a plan on my 21st birthday. I just figured I’d invite all my friends to my backyard, have some drinks by the fire, camp out, and wake up regretting the hangover. Only problem is, we all still had that teenaged yearning. Our youthful anxiousness for adventure fueled our minds with this reckless abandon.

It wasn’t even my idea to leave the confines of my quaint little yard. My friend Charlie had to point out how bored he was, even as we tipped back beers and debated over music genres with enjoyment. Charlie had a habit of zoning out, and he had a tendency of changing the course of every night we all spent together.

“So how about those cranberry bogs?” He chimed into our game of verbal pong.

We all turned to him, as I stopped mid comment. I opened my mouth to respond, but his impatience was a swift son of a gun.

“Come on guys, sitting around this fire just isn’t doing it for me. I don’t care whose birthday it is.”

“Charlie-” I started, to no avail.

“No. I was just sitting here thinking, we’re all 21 now. We’ve grown up hearing this story about those damned bogs being taboo – off limits. What do you say? Let’s throw our intoxicated caution to the wind. Let’s camp on the bogs for tonight!”

Charlie closed his suggestion with a smirk of buzzed hopefulness and mischief. I barely knew what to say. Looking around at the other’s faces, I didn’t find much more to go off of. Stacy and Henry kinda just stared at the fire, their eyes glossed over from shots and speechlessness. Jay sat to my right, gripping his beer and giving me half a glance with the corners of his eyes. The crackling of the fire seemed to pierce our silence with nothing but an awkward snap, that only background noise could administer. Jay finally stole the fire’s thunder, by interlining a response with throat clearance.

“Charles, my friend, didn’t you hear that story last week? The two young kids with the dog? Nobody has yet heard from them. That only adds to what our parents have always told us. There’s something wrong, something dark about the whole wooded area. Those bogs aren’t safe.”

“Why, Jay?” Charlie chuckled, while throwing his beer bottle into the fire. The glass broke with a muffled shatter, sending sparks up in front of our faces, revealing Charlie’s now sinister expression.

“Why what?” Jay shrugged.

“Why are the bogs so evil? Because a couple dumb kids had some careless parents? Because that old man turned up dead by the water? Because they found a girl murdered at midnight in the sand pit?”

“Unsolved mysteries, man.” Jay shook his head and grabbed another beer, not yet opening it.

Charlie lit up a smoke, and leaned forward to scan us all with his squinting eyes, beady and disgusted by our cautious rejection. He spoke slowly, and carefully now. His voice calm, but to the point.

“Jay, all I have to say is, shit happens. People die everyday, sometimes in one place more than others. The bogs are overgrown, dark, and the paths winding. It’s easy to get lost, but it’s also easy to hide. Anyone could be out there. Tonight, we’ll be anyone, celebrating our friend’s 21st year and having a good time.” He put out half a smoke, and tossed it into the fire pit.

He looked up at me, as if knowing that he had gotten through to someone. Maybe me? Maybe. He had a point. I spent 21 years in this part of town, and yet I never set foot on the mysterious roads of those bogs. How do I know my parents didn’t just do a good job of instilling fear into my mind to keep me safe? Stacy finally chimed in, standing up out of her chair slowly.

“Charlie’s right, why go to our graves never knowing what’s really out there? Who knows? It could be fun!”

Henry grabbed her hand sternly, shaking his head.

“Babe, you’re drunk. Sit down.”

“Shut up, Henry. I’ve only had a few shots. Drink your beer.”

She turned back to us and continued.

“It’s a time of celebration, guys. Let’s do something exciting. If you’re waiting for a vote, you have mine.”

Charlie smiled in satisfaction. His point has made its slow roundabout. Henry finally replied with an “okay, whatever”, and I just nodded and grinned nervously. Jay, on the other hand frowned with a stoic set of eyes, and wouldn’t give a yes or a no. His disagreement could have went on forever, but so could his silence.

As we all stood up to clean and begin our little walk down the street, I began to think about where we were going. I turned a mental eye to my nerves as they touched upon memory lane. I’ve heard a lot about the bogs. A lot.

For example, ten years ago. I was only eleven. Young, innocent, maybe a bit over anxious about life. Still, my mother was able to sit me down in the kitchen for something this serious.

I knew what murder meant, I just never had to be subjected to it. My neighbor used to stroll down by the river that ran behind the bogs. He would never set foot anywhere else near the bog land, he stayed on the other side of the water. That summer was different though.

Mr. Frasier was a nice man. My dad knew him on a first name basis, I remember him calling him ‘my friend Jim” a lot. Jim was a few decades older than my father, but they’d easily bonded over fishing, cars, and sports. Ol’ Jim would even buy us all gifts. He only lived near us for a couple years, but we felt like we knew him for much longer.

When my mother told me that he was found sprawled out by the inner edge of the river, I was confused. He used to talk to my parents all the time about how he would only stroll on the outside. He was educated about the mysterious land, even in the short time he lived here. What changed that day?

We hit the road around 8:00 PM. The uneasiness had finally let up, and we all started joking about how old we felt. My legs ached, and Stacy kept saying her lower back was a bit uncomfortable as Henry placed his hand there to comfort her.

“Henry, guess you gotta let her be on top more often. You’re killing her back.” Charlie snickered.

“Shut the hell up!” Henry sneered back.

“Hey hey, it’s my birthday guys. Let’s not tear each other’s throats out.”

We shared a laugh about it anyway.

We arrived at the bogs around 8:30. As we stepped up to the borders of the shifty land, I realized it looked different than I remembered. From what I could see at least.

The street lamps were off for some reason. Even though I’d driven by it many times before, noticing how lit up it was. Tonight, something was different. The bogs were all overgrown, tangled in a mess of leaves, vines, and weeds. The trees hung menacingly over the footpaths, like hungry bullies waiting for a payout.

Charlie faced away from us, pulled a cigarette out of his pack, and lit it up nonchalantly. He took a drag, and then smiled as he exhaled. His face was beaming with excitement.

“Okay!” He started. “Who wants to be the first one in?”

My stomach jumped. I’d almost forgotten we were actually going to step foot on the property.

Jay shook his head and begun mumbling about something incoherent.

“Jay my brave friend, how nice of you to volunteer!” Charlie flicked his unfinished butt across the street, and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

Jay shook his head again, but spoke calmly.

“I think we should all line up and walk in together. We stay close, and keep as quiet as possible.”

Charlie’s smile turned instantly to an eye rolling sneer.

“Fine Jay, but you can lead the way.”

“Sure. Follow me, guys.”

Stacy and Henry scurried to the back of the line, holding hands and pressing close together. I stood next to Charlie, and let him pressure on to a position behind Jay.

Jay wasted no time entering the dark, shadowy mouth of the tree laden path. The sound of our feet shuffling behind him echoed ominously through the night. We were unsure, nervous, and not far from scared. We were buzzed, and looking for nothing but a good time. Well, all of us except for Jay.

I could tell at this point he had only taken charge to mediate the dangerous fun. He lead us through the trees, as the vines reached their inanimate fingers toward our feet, and we stepped and stomped our way to the sandy clearing.

We were suddenly out of clear sight. Civilization had been buried behind us through leaves and pine. I could hear the slight hum of traffic in the distance, but I knew now we had reached the belly of an unknown beast.

I took a look around us once we stopped moving. All of us lit up cigarettes, after we dropped our equipment on the ground. Henry and Stacy cracked a bottle of booze open, and Charlie made himself comfortable on a log.

I observed the bogs like an alien planet. The old cranberry plants were discolored. Pieces of machinery lay around a little watershed on the opposite side of the plot. Several old looking, run down cars were parked by a big warehouse ahead of us. I felt a chill in the air all of a sudden. I couldn’t tell if I was only cold from fear, but I wrapped my arms around myself a bit anyway.

“Welcome to the scariest place on Earth, my friends!” Charlie celebrated as he cracked open a beer.

“It’s not that bad. It’s just getting dark is all.” I pointed out.

“Who packed the flashlight?” Stacy wondered out loud.

We all looked at each other, all waiting for an answer.

Jay started to laugh a bit, “Are you kidding me?”

He reached into the tent bag and felt around a bit.

“Damn, nobody thought of it?”

Charlie snickered as well, “Wow. Oh well. We can start a fire. Utilize your surroundings, right?”

“Yeah, plus we can use my phone light until the battery dies.” Stacy offered.

“Oh – almost forgot! Take out your phones!” Charlie pulled out his phone and shut it off.

We all blinked at him for a moment.

Henry took out his phone and waited for a reason. The rest of us did not follow suit.

Charlie added in, “No phones tonight, ladies and gentlemen.”

Wide eyed and silent, I grabbed at my phone in my right pocket.

“Why? We need at least one, in case of emergency.” I left mine away, not complying.

“There won’t be an emergency. We’re grown adults with a survival instinct and we’re only five minutes from society. We’ll be okay.” Charlie was serious.

Jay surprisingly agreed and asked us to just turn them off. We could always turn them on if we really needed them after all.

We spent about a half hour just chatting it up by a nice warm fire, and telling quick little scary stories we’ve heard throughout the years. The thing was, nobody was uncomfortable anymore. We were having a pretty good time.

CRACK.

We all stopped talking.

SNAP. CRACK.

Loud noises, distinct and nearby, echoed around us. Charlie went stoic.

“Were those branches?” he asked.

We shrugged at him, and stared at the trees.

Jay stood up next to Charlie, and looked down at him.

“Wanna go take a look, man?”

Charlie was starting to look less sure of himself. His shoulders held a defensive attention, and his neck showing signs of tenseness. He eased up after a minute of peace, and stood up at a ready.

“Yeah, we’re gonna go see what’s happening. Probably some coyotes or deer.”

“Giant ones.” Henry joked, half serious about it.

“Eat a giant one.” Charlie retorted.

We all laughed again, but Jay and Charlie were starting toward the trees.

Almost immediately, before they could get to the tree line, the brightest lights you could imagine popped on deep in the woods. Countless beams of sparkling luminescence careened and shot straight out between tree trunks. Jay and Charlie were so shocked that they couldn’t help but bounce back on their heels a bit.

“What the hell?!” Charlie exclaimed, shielding his eyes from the strange lights.

I stood in awe of the sight. Nothing but bewilderment occupied our faces. Henry spilled his booze and dropped his cup. Stacy drank her booze and started pouring another drink. I was never much of a drinker, but I suddenly needed a smoke and a drink myself.

“Where is that coming from?” I asked to nobody in particular.

“I don’t know.” Jay was confused, but he threw his hand across his forehead and peered through the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of a rational answer. Nothing revealed itself, but lights and questions.

“Are we just gonna stand around and wonder about it? Let’s go check out the source!” Charlie demanded.

“No, Charlie.” Jay threw his arm out, stopping Charlie in his tracks.

“Ya know Jay, I’ve had enough of your rejection. I’m so sick of you trying to take charge, and acting like you know what’s best. I really don’t care anymore. If you, or none of you want to follow, that’s fine. Just have a tent set up for me when I find out what this light is.”

He grabbed Jay’s arm and flung it aside. Jay wasn’t phased a bit. He just watched as Charlie walked into a section of lit woods.

“We can’t just let him go wandering off alone!” Stacy insisted.

“Sure we can Stacy,” Jay was unmoved, “It’s his own choice. There’s no sense in the rest of us getting hurt with him. Because then, who would save us?”

Stacy looked drunk with disgust.

“Jay! He’s your friend! We should be saving him. It was our choice to come here, so we are responsible for what happens!”

Jay just shook his head. Funny thing is, even through her scolding, nobody, not even Stacy followed Charlie as he disappeared into the unknown. We were all simply too tired, or too buzzed.

Or too scared.

A half hour or so passed by with no event. Stacy had fallen asleep in a bliss-less drunken coma. Henry sat silently by her, and I chained smoked my last few cigarettes like never before, lighting each one with the cherry of the last. Finally, Jay spoke up.

“He did ask us to make the tent. Anybody wanna help me?” I volunteered and grabbed the bag.

“AAAAH!” A searing scream of agony ripped through the tree line. I jumped so much, that I accidentally smacked Jay in the face with one of the tent poles.

“SHIT!” Jay grabbed his face and glared at me.

“Sorry…” I mumbled.

Stacy woke up from her intoxicated cat nap, and Henry stirred to his feet.

“What? What’s going on?” Stacy yawned, clearly not shaken and maybe clueless to what we all heard.

“Did that sound like Charlie?” Henry asked.

Jay nodded in confirmation.

“He has to be messing with us. He’s probably on his way back.” I pointed out.

I wasn’t so sure though.

The sudden sound of a buzzing, electric pulse then shook me to my core. We all watched as a streak of colorless light, zig zagged it’s way through the forest.

“NO, AAAAH, PLEASE!!” Charlie screamed from somewhere deep inside the woods.

“J-Jay…” I stuttered, “What do we do?”

“I don’t know, but…what is that?” He pointed above the trees.

My jaw dropped. There, beyond his finger, above the trees and beneath the sky, was something I’d only ever seen in movies and books. A disc, larger than an airplane, hovered soundless in the air. It’s round characteristics weren’t too threatening, but out from underneath its bottom surface came a cylindrical beam of light, swirling with sparkling heat. I was in awe.

Frozen, and shocked.

Stacy and Henry came to our side, eyes widened and jaws lower than mine.

“Holy crap…is that what I think it is?” Henry asked, practically laughing in bewilderment.

Jay and I nodded.

It appeared to be alien. It didn’t look like any aircraft I had ever laid eyes on, at least not in real life. I wasn’t about to jump to conclusions, but it was shooting lights. I felt permitted to assume.

BZZZZT. The light clicked off.

We all jumped back, and didn’t have much time to react. The strange disc sped away into the night. My eyes and brain couldn’t explain.

One blink. Still didn’t know what happened.

Two blinks. I was more confused than ever before.

I scratched at my head, hoping somebody would speak up. They were as silent as the dark night before us.

“I don’t hear Charlie anymore.” Jay pointed out.

He was right. Not only did I not hear him, I didn’t feel like he was out there either. A wave of fearful emotion crawled into my veins. I didn’t want to feel the truth, anymore than I wanted to hear it.

“Is he dead?” Henry asked dumbfounded.

Jay shook his head.

“I don’t know, man.”

We all decided it was probably best to sit for a moment and collect ourselves. We gathered around our little fire, and half heartedly prodded at conversation, but nothing was interesting. I kept peeking at the trees, hoping to see Charlie. Jay kept twiddling his thumbs, and scratching his neck. He was a nervous wreck.

I couldn’t take the waiting anymore. I finally came to my senses.I stopped Stacy from pouring a shot, and spoke my mind shortly.

“We have to go look for him.”

Jay stood up, nodding in agreement.

“Yeah. I can’t handle this, guys. We can’t just sit here and hope.”

Henry and Stacy looked at each other. Stacy agreed with us as well, but Henry was clearly exhausted.

Henry is a great guy, don’t get me wrong. He would walk to the ends of the earth for his friends. He actually drove to Colorado to pick up Jay when his Uncle had kicked him out. He lent Charlie three hundred dollars when he missed a car payment last year as well. So his qualities in friendship are not in question when I tell you, he refused to help us find Charlie.

“I can’t even keep my eyes open, guys. I don’t think I can walk who knows how many miles, through trees and darkness. I’m drunk and tired.”

Stacy grabbed his arm, “Babe, me too, but that’s our friend out there. He could be hurt and scared.”

“It’s his fault. He wanted to come out here. Everybody warned him it wasn’t safe.”

“Yeah? Yeah? Well we came here with him too. You knew something weird could happen. Now, we face the consequences. Get your drunk ass up, and come with us!”

Henry stared, waited, and glared at her for a few moments. The gloss in his eyes reflected Stacy’s sassy smirk. They really loved each other; you could see it in their body language. So, not unwillingly, Henry took her hand with a ‘you’re right’ shrug. They stood up together, and faced Jay and I.

We were all in this together now, for sure.

Approaching the tree line this time was a bit more unnerving than when we originally entered the bogs. There was now a weathered fear involved, as well as a missing member. I couldn’t imagine what lay beyond the tangled webs of vines and creaking wood. After that disc in the sky, I now saw the landscape surrounding us as an actual alien land. I felt watched, observed, and weak. I was helpless and under dressed. I actually felt disarmed.

“Hey, you okay?” I felt Jay nudge me with concern.

I then realized I had been staring into the distance. My thoughts must have stopped me, cause Stacy and Henry were looking back at Jay and I beyond the trees. They had started walking already.

“Yeah, I uh, I was just making sure we had something to defend ourselves with. Jay, did you bring your knives?”

He reached into his hoodie pocket, and pulled out two of the blades he had bought at the mall last year.

“Are you good now?”

No, I thought to myself.

“Yes.” I lied.

We continued walking. The crunch of fallen leaves and spare gravel alerted me, and who knows what else, to the path we were following. My sense of sound was heightened by my lack of clear eyesight. Henry had clicked his phone back on to make use of his flashlight app, but all it did was give an eerie glow up ahead.

“Wait.” I stopped dead in my tracks.

Everyone else stopped ahead of me, noticing the absence of my crunching footsteps.

“What?” Stacy seethed back to me.

Up ahead of Henry and Stacy, through some bunches of trees, a strange ball of light flickered a bit. It didn’t sit still either. It seemed to be circling a possible clearing. I pointed to it. Once I did, it immediately caught Jay’s attention. He turned Stacy and Henry to it and stuck his finger out so they could see it too.

They did.

I put my finger to my lips and joined their party of confusion. I shushed their muffled muttering so they could hear what I was hearing.

Bzzt. Bzzt.

That on and off zap of energy reminded me of the burst of electricity from earlier.

“You hear that?” I asked.

They nodded in unison. None of us were too certain on moving after that either, but we couldn’t stop now. Henry took the first steps toward it, Stacy close in tow. Jay now had his hand wrapped tight around a knife in his pocket. I scurried after them with hesitation.

I felt my heart pound against my chest the closer we got. I could see structures up ahead now. A garage type building sat behind a gate. Inside that gate, tall poles stood to the left and right. We were getting closer. A wire was strung up between the two poles, and it continued into the building through an opening. We were not even ten steps from the gate now.

BZZT. A surge shot through the wire. Sparks flew up around the pole, stopping us from nearing the gate any closer. I watched as a blue ball of light circulated on the outside of the wire and moved its way to the left, making a corner, and into the opening of the structure.

“What the hell is that?” Stacy whispered.

Nobody answered. None of us knew what we were looking at exactly. Some sort of electrical building? Where was the electricity coming from? Who was running the equipment? The chills in my body were starting to bug me more and more.

“This is unbelievable…” Jay muttered .

“Do we try and get inside?” I couldn’t believe I asked that one.

Everybody turned and looked at me, realizing I had asked a damned good question.

“Well,” Jay started, “we came all this way to look for Charlie. I think we should at least take a look.”

Still, we remained standing without further action. After all, what would we find behind those doors besides Charlie? All we’ve experienced from these bogs were unexplained phenomena. Things could potentially be dangerous. Or worse, deadly.

Jay observed that we should test the gate first. He had to make sure it wasn’t electrified. He picked up a stick from the ground, and gestured for us to stand back. He wrapped his fingers around the stick tensely, sighed, and tossed it at the gate. The stick bounced stiffly off of it, and fell to the ground. We looked at each other with confirmation, and approached the gate side by side.

Jay did not hesitate, reaching for the gate latch with confidence. He flipped it open, and pushed. It made a loud screeching sound, which scared me half to death. I peeked around, paranoid that we had alerted someone, or something to our presence. Gladly, there was still no sign of life besides us.

The next obstacle was easily cleared as well. The strange wire surrounding the front premises of the lot was high enough off the ground that we could step right beneath it safely. The ball of light hadn’t shown itself in recent moments either, so we weren’t concerned. However, the concerning issue was to soon arise.

We arrived at a small front door, shuffling into a close knit huddle behind our unspoken designated leader, Jay. At this point, he was subconsciously leading the way, with concentration masking a focused fear factor beneath. He peered carefully into the window through the door, to no avail. A thickly settled dust sat on the inside of the pane. Beyond that, the generic white shade dangled plainly, yet effectively concealing what lay on the other side. Jay turned to us, his eyes scanning our faces. Then, back to the window. He shook the doorknob to check and see if it was locked.

“I think it’s unlocked.” He stated breathlessly.

“Open it!” Henry seethed, squeezing Stacy’s hand and looking around us frantically, just praying nobody would notice us.

“No!” I intervened quietly, but with urgency.

“Why not?” Jay and Henry asked in unison.

“Because! What if whoever took Charlie is right behind the door?”

“Then chances are, we’ll be snuffed out on the spot. But we don’t really have time to come up with a break in plan, put it into action, and assume all of us are going to pull it off. No, let’s just take our chances with plan A; walk through the front door.” Jay grinned, and patted me on the shoulder. I knew he didn’t mean to be a jerk about it. But, even though his reassuring little shoulder tap was meant to relax me, I could just sense he was fuming with anxiety. His face was expressing an exhausted fear. His eyes were glossy, drooling tears of anxious terror. He too must be scanning his thoughts, remembering the strange disc and anomalous lights.

His hand gripped the doorknob so hard, I could hear a crack in his knuckles. He twisted it swiftly. The steel door scraped the cement beneath it, as Jay pushed it slowly open. I took a deep breath as it finally swung far enough for us to look inside.

I was surprised. There beyond the doorway lay an empty looking hallway, dimly lit by a single dusty bulb. My hands still shook with nervous adrenaline, though. Jay stepped inside for a second, before gesturing us to follow him.

“Jay, should I shut the door behind me?” I questioned quietly.

“No, keep it open in case we need to run.”

I gulped. I never thought of that. What if what we’re dealing with is that dangerous. Are we going to be running for our lives any time soon? The hairs on my neck were standing alert now, chills marching through my body bloodhounds on parade.

As we creeped Mystery Inc. style through the hall, I noticed to the right of the dim light was another door, this one solid grey with a black door knob. Stepping closer, I saw a white sign with red lettering to the left of the doorway.

Jay saw it too. He read aloud in a hushed voice:

WARNING! HIGH VOLTAGE PROCEED!

“What?” Stacy scoffed, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Proceed?” I said dumbly.

“I think it means nothing tonight is going to make sense.” Jay replied, already reaching for the black door knob.

“Wait!” I practically shouted.

Jay turned to me confused.

“What?”

“Um, I don’t know. I’m just not sure if we’re ready for this.”

“I’m more ready now than I’ll be in five minutes, when I’ve had enough time to second guess it.” He swung the door open sharply.

CLANG. BANG. CLICK.

Suddenly, we were welcomed by an overwhelming pool of light. It washed through the room like nothing I’ve seen before. All four of us shielded our eyes with our arms and hands. Then, as quickly as it happened, it dimmed back to a tolerable level. We were at the brightness of a normal living room lamp now.

Cautiously, we all adjusted back to normal and began observing our surroundings. It was like a plain old hangar of some sort. Military like. Only difference was, it was empty. The walls and floor were bare. Except…

On the opposite side of the large garage, was a table. What I noticed from there, paralyzed me.

It wasn’t a table, it was a hospital bed. Strapped electric chair style to the arched bed was a figure that I recognized all to well.

“Ch-Charlie?” I whispered.

Jay, Stacy, and Henry breathed heavy sighs of relief when they brought their attention to him too.

“Charlie!” Stacy cried out in excitement.

Henry through his hand over her mouth urgently, looking around us as the echo of her voice surrounded the hangar.

“Babe, you can’t do that. Remember where we are.” Henry let go of Stacy, as she blushed and hung her head in embarrassment.

“Sorry…” She mumbled.

We walked slowly, but steadily toward Charlie, never breaking our close huddle. As we got closer to Charlie, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I looked to the right of Charlie’s bed. A box with wires circulated underneath the legs of the bed. Something was wrong, and I was soon to realize why my instincts were acting up.

Jay stepped up to Charlie first.

“Hey ,bud – it’s us. We came and found you.”

Charlie never spoke, never stirred. He looked alive, but unconscious as all hell.

“Charlie, we’re here. Wake up.” Jay continued.

A clang from an upper level inside the building startled us. Jay looked concerned, his eyes watering with impatience.

“Charlie, you idiot. Wake up. We have to get you out of here!”

Jay snapped, and pulled out a knife. He unsheathed it, sending Henry, Stacy, and I stumbling back.

“Whoa, Jay!” I gasped.

“What?” He asked, “I’m going to cut him free.”

I blinked a couple times., and sighed with relief. I thought he was just so mad that he was gonna put the knife in Charlie. I shook my head, as Jay began carefully cutting at the ties. To our surprise, Charlie’s eyes were starting to open.

“Charlie!” I whispered with a smile.

He blinked. He started to eye us a bit. I noticed his face was covered in dirt and his mouth seemed stressed as if he hadn’t used it in a while, or maybe his jaw was just tense from screaming for help. Suddenly, his eyes went wide. He moved his head from side to side.

“No Charlie, don’t move.” Jay ordered him, “I’m cutting your ties. I don’t wanna cut you.”

“Hmm, uggh” He grumbled, still shaking his head.

Finally, he started using real words.

“No, Jay!” he cried, clear as day, “My limbs are paralyzed. You can’t save me. You all need to leave.”

“Wh..what?” I stuttered.

Henry and Stacy grabbed each other tightly. Jay pulled his knife away.

“Dude, I’ll carry you. We’re not leaving you behind.”

“No, it’s not worth it. They’ve taken all of my strength already. I’m screwed. Just leave me here. Get home safely. Just go!”

“They – who’s they?” Stacy whimpered, startled by Charlie’s stubborn desperation.

“Those things. They have a leader. The town cops are all a part of it, or at least Officer Hendricks is. It’s all so screwed up. I couldn’t believe it.”

We all stood frozen in silence. Charlie continued.

“There’s…people here. Some not of Earth. Officer Hendricks has partnered up with them, for some…experiments on humans. He already killed a girl that was here today. She was young, with a bossy little attitude. Hendricks said she had some inner leadership aura, that if sapped out, would give him and the other things some sort of paranormal powers. I don’t know guys, but they’re doing the same thing to me. They already took my motor skills. I can’t even think as fast I used to.”

I was choked up with sadness and fear. I could tell my friends were too. We couldn’t believe it.

“Whatever,” Jay snorted, “I’m getting you out of here anyway.”

Jay started cutting away at the ties again.

“Jay, stop. Go before-”

Charlie’s desperate worry was cut off by the sound of a metal door opening to our right. I turned and looked. It was Officer Hendricks, in a long blue lab coat, and needle in hand.

“Well, well, well.” He sneered, “The neighborhood punks I pulled over all last summer, all in one room together. This is too perfect.”

“Hendricks…” Stacy stammered, “…wh-what are you doing here?”

“Sweetheart, this is my home. So, I’m going to ask you all – what are you doing on the bogs this late at night? I heard these woods can be murder.”

His words followed by a loud buzzing noise caused us all to jump.

“Oh my! It’s time!” Hendricks started stepping toward Charlie.

Jay threw himself in front of Charlie, denying passage to him.

“Don’t take another step, asshole. Get away from him.”

Hendricks chuckled a bit, clearly unmoved by Jay’s heroic efforts.

“Oh Jay Levox, so brave, so young. So-” He paused, “naive.”

We all just watched, as Hendricks pulled up a chair and sat down. Jay straightened out a bit, completely uncomfortable, and unnerved by the dirty cop’s nonchalant behavior.

“I suppose,” Hendricks trailed off a bit, “I suppose I should explain myself before we kill you all.”

Stacy burst into tears in Henry’s arms, emotional and hurt by the cold, cruel behavior of her Uncle. That’s right, this psycho is part of Stacy’s family. Until that night, none of us ever knew he was like this. He just seemed like a normal, douchebag cop.

“Stacy, it’s okay. Your father will get a much less bizarre answer when he asks what happened to you. I promise.”

“Why are you doing this!?” She sniffle and sobbed, glaring through teardrops.

“Well if you’d shut up for a moment, maybe I’ll get to that!” Hendricks slammed his hands on the arms of his chair, sending another loud echoing noise through the whole room. Stacy shut up abruptly.

“Now, who’s ready?”

“Yes Hendricks; tell us.” Jay demanded.

“Please, Jay. Call me Tim.”

“Bur your name is Hubert…” Stacy mumbled.

“Excuse me little missy, that was the name my dirt bag mother gave me. I changed it years later, and for good reason!” He slammed his hands on the chair again. I was getting tired of this by now.

“Please just tell us.” I sighed in annoyance.

“Okay!”

He smiled and put the needle in his coat pocket. He rubbed is hands together, and adjusted his sleeves. This guy was a real nutcase.

“Okay,” He repeated, “Who believes in power?”

We all didn’t answer.

“Hello, anybody home? That’s okay, I know you’re all shaking in your boots at the sight of me. I’m too much, right?”

We remained silent.

“Power. It sits inside all of us, some more than others. My friends and I have developed a way to convert that power into an energy one can harness, and place inside a new host. Guess who that host is these days?”

He turned his thumbs on himself, and mouthed ‘This guy’. Again, nutcase.

“What friends?” Jay asked confidently.

“My wonderful, technologically advanced friends from out of town.” He laughed at his own awful sense of humor.

“Again, Tim, what friends?” Jay insisted.

“Have you not figured that out yet, really? God dammit, they’re aliens.”

Even though I had already silently confirmed this, it still chilled my bones again. To hear it from him was just a whole new monster in itself.

“Aliens aren’t real.” Jay stated plainly.

“Of course they are, I assure you. Only these ones have lived on this planet for longer than we have. They’ve been among us for centuries. Almighty master, bless them!” Tim clasped his hands together.

Almighty master? Centuries of aliens walking among us? I became flustered all of a sudden.

“Almighty master?” Jay shook his head.

“Never mind that, let’s get down to business.”

We gasped and spread ourselves out a bit.

“Business?” Henry gulped.

“Out of my way kids, I’m already late in taking care of this. Be quiet, and step aside.”

“No!” Jay lunged at Tim shoulder first.

The psychopathic cop grabbed Jay effortlessly, disarming him of motion and holding him in place.

“Hmm, poor Jay. You try so hard. You have leadership abilities, but it’s simply not backed up by any real strength to follow through with. Well, maybe a nap will get you back up to standards.” Tim pulled the needle out of his pocket, as Jay squirmed and we all screamed out loud. The needle entered Jay’s neck without further ado. Jay’s squirms rapidly turned into flailing, and then his eyes drooped and he fell limp. Tim then tossed him aside. He looked at us with a relaxed grin, no affection behind his cold eyes.

“Oh. I almost forgot you were all watching. No worries – it’s a safe new drug. It actually makes sure his brain has nice, calm dreams to keep his aura clean while he sleeps. It’s a very peaceful thing really.”

“You crazy mother-” Stacy started pulling away from Henry to get at Tim, but henry held her back firmly.

“Crazy? Ha, my beautiful, spunky niece. I’m not crazy, I’ve just been enlightened by a better race of beings. They know me and I know them. I know all. The power they’ve bestowed upon me, has made me the most powerful man in the world. I can do anything I want. My friends work for me and build for me. It’s flattering, actually.” He smirked again, and looked off into nothing, eyes smiling with the rest of his face.

“You’re a lunatic, just let us go!” I screamed.

“Oh. I almost forgot again!” He reached into his pocket, ignoring my desperate cries.

He pulled out another needle, and approached Charlie. All we could do was hopelessly watch as he approached him with a sinister look on his face. I was speechless now. The needle entered our friend’s neck, and he instantly closed his eyes. Poor Charlie couldn’t fight at all; he had lost too much strength already.

Tim Hendricks wasted no time, reaching down and pressing a button on the box below him. The wires around Charlie’s chair began glowing and vibrating.

“I’m so thankful for this knockout drug,” Tim stated, “I got so sick of him screaming for help. Such an annoying, desperate scream. For what? Nobody is going to save any of you.”

So cold, so unaffected by his surrounding peers. He’s in his own alien world. I turned to Henry and Stacy. They were looking at me, probably expecting me to get us out of this mess. I looked toward the door to the right of us that Hendricks had emerged from. No, that’s no way out. I turned to the door we had entered from. Maybe, if we ran fast enough, we’d be able to make it out in time. But what about Jay? There’s no telling how long it would take him to wake up.

I saw Henry sneakily check his phone for service. He looked at me, and lightly shook his head, confirming to me that we were truly alone out here. Surely, I was feeling helpless.

“So!” Tim called out excitedly, “Who’s going to be next?”

I thought quickly, then I surprised myself.

“Nobody.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, and tossed it at Tim’s head with great force. It hit him between the eyes with a thud.”

“AAAAH, owwww! Fuck! You little shit!” He screamed with his hand over the spot of impact.

During this free moment, I gestured to Henry and Stacy to run. They obliged with a quick start, hand in hand. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the door. A burst of light shot from the ceiling over head. It illuminated the room all around, and sparks shot from Charlie’s bed. Wait, no…they shot from Charlie’s body!

“Noooo!” I strained out a cry of denial, shielding my eyes from the light as I watched the hairs burn off of Charlie. His skin began to droop practically off his body. I now noticed that Charlie had wires going under his clothes. As his skin shriveled, I saw that they were under his skin too. I puked abruptly, all over the floor in front of me.

Henry and Stacy had stopped and saw this too. They were both crying. Then, just as quickly as it had started, the lights disappeared and the sparks ceased. Tim clicked the box off next to Charlie, still holding his forehead. Blood dripped around his fingers and down his face. He looked up at us, frowning but eyes gleaming with satisfaction.

“Well, that one is fried.”

I puked again. Tim scoffed down at me with disgust.

“Gross,” He said, “All over my living room floor.”

I sat up and started crawling back away from him.

“You…you bastard. You killed him!” I started sobbing.

“I didn’t kill him. You don’t understand. None of you do. Don’t get me wrong, he is very dead. Still, I can’t get over the feeling that I’m actually saving you all. I’m saving you from your pointless existence. None of you will amount to anything. You will never be as great as me. So, why live?” He snickered and smiled again.

“You’re sick Hendricks, very sick.”

“Yes, I’m just throwing up power everywhere I go.”

Suddenly, the door to the left swung open with a banging abruptness. We all turned to see who had entered.

There, in front of Stacy and Henry, stood a man, about 6 feet tall. It was a man, but of a different kind. He lacked a nose or ears. He wore a blue lab coat and high brown boots. His limbs were skinny. Most strange of all? His hair was made of wires. I gasped, voice trapped deep within my body. I could never find the words to speak in front of this unusual being.

“Doctor!” Tim perked up when he realized who had entered the hangar.

“Hello, Tim. I just wanted to let you know…”

The creature stopped speaking when he saw Charlie’s charred, drooping corpse. It’s eyes went wide, and then squinty with fury. He turned to Hendricks.

“I thought I asked you not to go too far with this one!”

“I’m sorry Doctor, I just can’t help myself. I hunger for the rush, the resulting energy, and the power!”

Hendricks shoulders dropped, like he was punished. I think this ‘Doctor’ might be Hendricks’ superior…

“Mr. Tim, I understand. Still, we need the specimens for research. I’ll cut your funding if you keep it up.”

It turned toward me with beady, cold, emotionless eyes. He observed me on the floor, and Stacy and Henry as if he just noticed that we were there.

“Oh Doctor, these three just crawled in from the woods. I have good plans for them. You won’t be disappointed again.”

Hendricks smiled faintly. He seemed worried that he would be harmed in some way. If not by the doctor’s words, by some use of force.

“You’re using my equipment. If you abuse your position…well, let’s just say I know how to use these machines better than you do. Dispose of that body in the pit, and I better not see another one any time soon!”

With that, he flipped his coat with a turning start, and stormed out the door without another comment. He slammed the door with a crashing clang. Everyone was silent for a good minute, but Hendricks couldn’t hold his tongue.

“One of you rats are gonna have to cooperate for me. Production is slow, I need results!”

“That’s your own damned fault, asshole!” I screamed, “You got yourself into this mess. Let us go before it gets any worse!”

“You don’t understand. You really don’t.”

I shook my head, as I watched Tim begin unhooking Charlie’s remains from the bed. I couldn’t keep my eyes on him though, as I felt choked up and helpless. Instead, I looked at Jay’s motionless body on the floor and started brainstorming a way out of the building. All I could think of was the hallway, from where we entered the hangar. Jay started to stir. My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe it. That was quick.

“Psst…” Stacy directed at me.

I turned to her. She pointed at Jay. I nodded, confirming that I was aware of his awakening. I eyed him, as he slowly began regaining consciousness. I had to think fast.

Hendricks began tucking Charlie’s corpse into his arms, and I wondered where he would go with it. To my dismay, he started carrying him toward the hallway I was planning on dipping out of. He carefully opened the door, and shuffled on out, leaving the door clanging shut.

“Jay!” I seethed to my friend.

He looked up at me, eyes still glossed over from the drug in his blood.

“Wha-what happened?” He stammered.

We all got up and approached him on the floor. Henry and Stacy helped him to his feet. I was not going to begin explaining what had just happened.

“We’ll tell you everything when we get the hell out of here, Jay.”

“How are we going to do that?” He asked me, dusting himself off from his time out on the floor.

“I don’t know. That psychopath just left out of the hallway we came in. I don’t wanna chance a close quarters encounter that way.”

I looked around some more. The upper levels of the room lead to a steel bridge with a doorway at the end. I didn’t want to be fearful, but I wanted to take a guess. The only thing holding me back was not wanting to lead my friends into danger. I couldn’t handle the thought of anyone else ending up like Charlie…

“Hey, snap out of it!” Stacy snapped her fingers in my face.

I came to, realizing I had spaced out yet again, trapped in tantalizing thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I…”

“It’s okay,” Jay placed his hand on my shoulder, I think to reassure me, “I understand. This is not an ideal situation. I’m feeling weak in the mind right now, but… I also know we have to get out of here.”

I stared at him, eyes wide and scanning his face. He didn’t need to say anymore. I’ve been designated to make the next choice, to get us out of this mess. To save my friends.

“What if I make a choice, and it’s the wrong one? I’ll feel like a murderer if I lead you all to your deaths…”

“I’m telling you now, none of us will blame you.” Jay was serious, and final with his words. It was time to move…

Stacy and Henry took each other’s hand, and Jay and stood shoulder to shoulder with them as I began walking to the staircase. We were going to take the upper level. The clanging of the steps stresses me out, but Jay’s words rang through me head. It kept me pressing on. I was leading the way, ready to find us a way out.

We got to the top faster than expected. We must have rushed our way up, but it didn’t matter. Nothing was stopping us.

The central bridge was approaching. We turned onto it and followed it all the way to the end. Ahead of us now stood a double door way. It was rusty, but I could tell it used to be a deep gray color. A rectangular outline on the left door made me think there probably used to be a sign on it, but it was clearly gone now.

“Think this is our shot?” Henry whispered to me.

“I don’t know.” I couldn’t lie. I felt nothing more than fearful adrenaline. I was blindly pressing on.

I reached for the handles of the doors and wrapped my fingers tightly on them. I didn’t want to hesitate. I don’t want to wait at all. I yanked them open.

We blinked. There was a wall. A flat, gray wall.

“No.” I said dumbly.

I began to feel around, hoping to find a seam, or button or anything at all to get through it. It was no use. My heart began racing. The blood poured angrily through my veins, frustrated that I had failed to find an exit. Instead, I’ve lead my best friends to a dead end. A cold, dead, gray end.

“Pretty funny, huh?” A voice sneered from behind us.

My jaw dropped and we all swung around. There, looking mischievous as always, stood Tim Hendricks. His arms were covered in dirt, and blood. His eyes were glossy, black, and beady, staring at us with a smirk of malevolence.

“Hendricks, um uh….” I stuttered.

I was stupefied. If there was any ounce of leadership in my bones, it was now dormant. I had no idea what to do.

“Kids, I think we all know how this is going to end. If you would give up and come with me quietly, it would be much appreciated.” He gave a little muttered laugh.

There was an awkward moment of silence. We all stood and stared at each other.

“Come on!” Tim shouted.

Without thinking, all four us ran shoulder first at the corrupt cop, knocking him flat on his back. We piled past him, shoes squeaking and clanging across the steel beneath us. My eyes were frantically darting for another way out now, scanning each direction the upper level could take.

There. To the right. I didn’t notice it before, but there was a balcony within jumping distance. Behind it lay a door. It was our only real chance besides going back the way we came. Which way was the right way?

“Guys, right or down?!” I yelled.

Without waiting for a response, I turned right. To my surprise, they kept running.

I stopped.

“Guys?!” I shouted again.

Jay stopped and turned.

“I don’t wanna leave the decision on you this time, we’re all running for our lives. Just follow or go!” He turned and continued back down the staircase.

I looked to my right, as Hendricks foot steps began to clang behind me. That’s it I thought, no more chances. I’m sticking to my friends. I darted after them, Hendricks in tow.

I caught up to them as they slowed to a jog. The door we had entered through lay just ahead, practically gleaming like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Hopefully.

BANG! The door slammed open, just as Henry was reaching for it.

“OW!” He cried out, stumbling to the side and grabbing his wrist.

“Henry!” Stacy ran to his side.

Jay and I had no time to react. What stood in front of us, sent a shock right through our bodies.

It was the doctor – the very creature who had scolded Hendricks earlier. Behind him, crowding the hall, stood many other smaller humanoid beings. Some stood normal adult height, others looked like normal humans. They pushed into the room, surrounding us.

“Hello, young folks.” said the doctor in a calm voice.

We did not respond. Jay and I looked around us. I could not believe my eyes. Some of these people were familiar.

“Mrs. Carter?” Jay gasped. It was our old English teacher from sophomore year, standing directly across from us.

“Hi, kids!” She said smiling.

“This is screwed up Jay, we have to find a way out of here.” I tried shaking myself awake, but this was no nightmare. It was a living hell.

Stacy and Henry were motionless behind the circle of people, looking at Jay and I with horrified expressions. After a strange momentary silence from everyone, the doctor spoke.

“Well, this has gone on long enough.”

Hendricks approached from behind us.

“You’ve met my friends,” he snickered, “They’ve been watching our chase from the control room. You see, you’re never safe. This was always meant to end in my favor.”

“ENOUGH!” The doctor boomed, causing my heart to skip a beat.

“Sorry sir, how should we take care of these four now?”

“I don’t care. Just get me their energy. Route it right to my father’s chambers. I’m sure he’ll be very pleased.”

My face must have twisted to another deep level of fear, because the doctor looked right at me and spoke again.

“Oh child, don’t bother being scared. Your existence will no longer matter in the following moments. This is the end of the road for you and your friends.”

The circle of people began to close in. That’s when I noticed them. There, in the furthest end of the crowd were my parents.

“M…Mom? Dad?”

“Hey, sweetie.” My mom did not smile. She merely cracked a smirk that I knew as her bored expression.

The circle opened to reveal them to me some more. They were in their normal day attire, hair and faces neat and prim.

“What the fuck is going on here?!”

My tear ducts were damned, causing my face to twitch as it held back the waterworks – a mix of anger, sadness, and fear that had all built up through the night. Jay, Stacy, and Henry were all speechless. Their parents were not present, but all eyes were on me as I took in the confusing situation.

My dad stepped forward.

“I’m so sorry. We wanted you to stay away from here. We didn’t want you or your friends to end up in this…awkward position.”

“Awkward? Fucking awkward? Charlie is dead! These people want the rest of us dead too. You’re going to let this happen?”

“Listen. It’s nothing personal.” My mom stated coldly.

“You’re our blood. The Almighty Master may share your energy with us this time.”

Nothing personal. Almighty Master.

“Mom…Dad…I’m your son!”

Suddenly, my arms and hands were apprehended by some aliens from the crowd. Stacy, Henry, and Jay were all grabbed as well. They were screaming for help, but my eyes would not peel away from my parents.

“I’m your son!” I screamed again. No response.

I couldn’t help it. I pulled one of my kidnappers’ hands up to my face, and sank my teeth down into their palm.

“AAAH!” The being screeched aloud.

“Stop that one!” Hendricks seethed.

I was already headed up the stairs to the upper level. The sounds of my shoes clanging against the steel practically muffled the cries of my friends beneath me, screaming for help. Maybe from me, or maybe to no one in particular, but I couldn’t stop. Some unknown fear inside me compelled me to get away. I knew we would all end up spread out at some point. I was just leading the way, right? They would soon follow, right?

I could see it again, the balcony in jumping distance. It had to be a way out. It had to be.

I grasped the railing from where I was, and swung myself across. My body cracked against the double doors and I stumbled backwards, but I kept my footing. I wasted no time as I opened the doors in front of me.

A long winding corridor stretched out beyond me. Again, it was dimly lit, this time by many bulbs along the length of the ceiling. As I followed the walls without hesitation, taking each turn with barely a cautionary stall, I began panting.

I never realized it, but I was becoming very tired. My muscles ached and pulsated like the throats of frogs, swelling and deflating over and over. Only thing is, I didn’t plan on croaking anytime soon.

My frantic running slowed to a jog. How long was the damned hallway?

I was answered by a doorway up ahead. This one was a glistening chrome surface, smooth and twinkling as if it were freshly scrubbed, waxed, and shined.

Again, without thinking twice about it, I swung the door open.

BZZT.

“What…?!” I gasped as a gust of wind, accompanied by a furiously bright light, smacked me with a wave of surprise. I shielded my eyes quickly. It was so bright, I could feel it through my eyelids.

I waited for what felt like minutes on end to reopen my eyes, and then I finally did. The light had ceased gladly, but I kept one hand close to my face just incase. Then, I began looking around the room. Wait a second. No, not a room. I was outside! I was standing on a rooftop. My heart began to race. That means I had made it out! But, hold on…I was not alone.

“Shit!” I whispered aloud.

The large disc-like craft from earlier sat quietly whirring ahead of me. The same shiny gloss from the door behind me made up the entire surface of the alien ship. It had multiple circle windows around the top part and a few lights unlit around the bottom half.

“Unbelievable…” I mumbled.

There had to be somebody on board. It was running. It sounded like a car sitting idle. This was no earthly, personal vehicle though.

I looked around and noticed a large wooden crate off to the left of me. That would be my cover until I figure out what to do from here I thought. I quietly tip toed over and ducked down behind it. I couldn’t believe the situation at this point. Here I was, hiding behind a crate on a rooftop, of a building occupied by alien creatures, and crazy people. Officer Hendricks, my parents, my old teacher. I mean, what the hell was going on? I wondered what my friends were doing. Had they gotten away? Would I find them when I get out of this mess?

BANG! The shiny chrome colored door flew open. My heart skipped a beat. Who was it?

I could hear two voices, male and female. They were talking frantically back and forth. I had to sneak a peek, and figure out who had followed in my tracks to this alien landing zone. I took a deep breath, and stuck my head out just a bit.

“Stacy! Henry!” I whispered loudly, my voice rasping, straining to still keep quiet.

They turned to look at me, eyes widening with smiling surprise.

“There you are!” Stacy cried out, also straining her voice with a hushed hoarseness.

Her and Henry shuffled over hurriedly, stooping down to join me.

“I ran as far as I could to escape those things, but I don’t know where to go from here.” I explained.

“I don’t know either, but I’ve had it up to here with this bullshit.” Henry shook his head and put his hand on his forehead, displaying stress and discomfort.

“Well, there has to be a way off this roof. We’re gonna find out. Where’s Jay?” I looked at them both, as their faces fell to a solemn lowness.

“Oh…” Stacy turned away a bit, “I’m sorry he…”

“They got him.” I said. It was a statement, not a question.

They both nodded.

“No…no.” I stood up, hands and head shaking, “No! Shit, it’s my fault!”

“No it’s not!” Stacy shouted, “Don’t say that! And sit down, they’re gonna find us.”

“I should’ve been there, I should’ve…” My voice trailed off.

My devastation finally took its toll. The waterworks were brewing like a pot of bad coffee. My body was rejecting my own feelings. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was bitter – toward myself.

“Stop crying, it’s not gonna help matters. Not to degrade him post-mortem…but this was Charlie’s idea.” Henry tried sounding final, but I wouldn’t take it.

“Henry, we all decided to follow…”

Stacy cut me off, “Then it’s everybody’s fault. Get over yourself!”

My jaw dropped. She was probably right. I was taking it to heart. Jay and Charlie were gone. This isn’t about me. It was about everybody. I kneeled back down.

“You guys are right. I’m sorry. Let’s just get out of here.”

“How?” Henry asked.

I looked around us. Besides the giant craft, the crate, and us, this roof was empty. I turned my attention to the edge of the roof. There wasn’t a lip on the edge; the roof was flat on every side and every corner. It was concrete. But what was over the edge?

I stood up and walked to the edge and looked down. Below me was a forest floor. Trees surrounded us but they were too far to reach from the rooftop. Along the walls there wasn’t a ladder or anything else to climb down with. We were at least two stories off the ground.

“What do you see?” Stacy asked.

“Nothing. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Just then, the idle whirring from before became louder. It startled me and I turned around.

“Holy shit, the hatch is opening!” Henry yelled to me.

No way, I thought. I kneeled back down behind the crate. We all watched in astonishment as the large hatch door began to open up on the bottom surface of the alien ship.

“Oh my God, what’s gonna come outta there?!” Stacy wondered out loud.

With a loud hissing sound the hatch came down. There were no stairs or anything, no slope, so I didn’t expect anything to come walking down. Maybe it would come floating out.

Then came the vacuum sound. A loud rushing windy noise, with a suction effect like that of a vacuum cleaner. I watched as leaves, dust, and dirt began to recede up into the ship.

“You’re kidding me!” I gasped.

“What?!” Stacy and Henry said at the same time.

“Guys…grab onto something. Now!”

But, there wasn’t anything. The rooftop was bare except for the crate and The crate sat loosely atop the roof.

We latched onto the crate, and I hoped it was heavy enough not to move.

“What’s going on?!” Henry screamed.

“Don’t let go!” I shouted.

BZZT! There was a flash of light and electricity as the suction sound got louder. I could feel it now. I tightened my grip, but I could the feel the crate moving.

“It’s trying to take us in!” Stacy cried out, scared shitless.

Henry and I were just as frightened. I felt the crate sliding inches at a time, us with it.

“Hold on guys, we’re going into the craft with it. We can’t get out of this one.”

“Fuck that!” Henry rejected my advice as he let go of the crate, but he had no time to run. I watched in horror as his feet were swept out from under him, and he was dragged through the air toward the ship.

“Henry! No!” Stacy screamed in desperation.

There was no use. We watched as he was sucked straight up underneath.

“No!” Stacy’s voiced cracked as she shouted and plead for Henry.

“It’s too late. We’re gonna end up in there too Stacy, I’m sorry. This could be it. I’m so sorry I…”

With a pop, the suction got even stronger.

“Shit…” I thought out loud.

Suddenly, Stacy, the crate, and I were all viciously dragged across the roof and into the ship.

“AAAAAH!” We screamed the whole way.

Smack! My head cracked off the side of the hatch. I didn’t even see it coming. I blacked out.

I don’t know how long it was before I came to, but I woke up before my eyes opened. I heard a loud bickering from somewhere close by.

“No master, I don’t know. Three did get away, but we may have enough energy already. This planet will be all yours!”

A deep, booming, gravely voice came next.

“You weak, weak scum. There is no explaining your way out of this one. You’ve failed me again. First you killed the old man and those children before you could bring them to me. Then you nearly destroyed the equipment with that teenaged waste of space…”

“His energy level was enough to finish this…” the voice stammered.

“Do you understand me Hubert!? I am not satisfied!”

“I…I…I’m sorry master.”

“You’re no longer of use to me.”

“Please, it won’t happen again!”

“You’re right.”

There was a loud crunch, and a squishing sound. It continued into a rushing of drips and splashes. Then, there was silence.

I couldn’t see a thing. Wherever I was, only feet away from that horrendous conversation I just witnessed, it was pitch black. I reached my arms out to feel where I was. It felt like a box of some sort. A box big enough to give me room to move, but a claustrophobic space nonetheless. My head was pounding too. It took me a moment to remember I had smacked my head off the ship as it had aggressively pulled me in. I grabbed at my forehead and groaned. Yep, it was painful. I shifted myself uncomfortably.

CLANG! I jumped.

The “master” was moving around now. I wondered what was going to happen next. Was I going to die? I really didn’t know. What was he doing out there?

“It’s okay young one, keep quiet.”

“No no, please. Please! No!” Stacy begged, and cried.

Shit, he had Stacy out there!

“Stop! You useless little girl!”

SMACK! I heard the sound of a hand across a soft cheek.

“Uggh, ow!” Stacy screamed even louder.

“You’re useless to me. Weak, weak, WEAK!”

CRUNCH!

“No…” I covered my mouth.

The dripping and pouring I now recognized as blood followed the clear crunch of bones. This was it. Hendricks, and Stacy were both dead. If Henry wasn’t already dead…

This “master”, who or whatever he is, clearly finds us weak. What he seemingly does to us weaklings…I couldn’t even think about it. My stomach was turning.

I can still hear him out there. He clicked buttons, opened drawers, mumbles to himself and paces back and forth. I’ve managed to write this to you all on my phone, from inside this box. I don’t know where I am, or even if I am still on that space ship out in the woods. Last I knew, I had escaped the inside of a crazy, alien run warehouse of some sort in the middle of the woods in Wareham, MA. Don’t come find me. Don’t even go out into the bogs here. I would even suggest to you, avoid Wareham altogether.

Shit. My phone is dying.

“Are you moving in there, child?”

He heard me shift inside here. This is it. I’m about to die. Well, my parents won’t miss me. My friends are dead. So I guess I don’t care that this is it. This is the end.

The box lock clattered and clanged, I could feel the air in my lungs swirling like fire ants marching inside me. My eyes began to water. Then, click.

The box swung open.

Credit: Mike Maxim

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Ricardo’s Ghost

July 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.1/10 (152 votes cast)

“Play with me,” it said. I stirred in my bed, my eyes drowsy and heavy. A yawn blew out of my mouth. I was seconds away from falling deep into my dreams, but the voice shook me back to reality.

“Play with me,” it repeated, a child’s voice. One that I came to recognize early in my childhood. I laid with my eyes still closed, denying the fact that I woke up. I still felt exhausted and at the verge of passing out. If I just relaxed a little longer…

Play with me,” it muttered, but his tone somehow changed. It didn’t come out with anger or hostility, but somehow it snatched my attention immediately. It sounded hopeless and lost, and it felt as if those same feelings provoked me at that moment. I imagined my bed forming lips right below where I laid. For some reason this image stuck to my brain.

Play with me. Play with me. The words continued to barrage my mind, leaving me restless and frantic. Now I wanted to open my eyes, but some mystical force kept them from splitting open. The lips on my bed moved and hummed. I felt a chilling vibration under where I laid. A tongue stretched out of its lips, and licked my entire back. I tried moving my limbs, but just like my eyes, they remained paralyzed.

Play. With. Me. The lips opened wide, and released a hot steam of breath. The air below scorched my entire body. My body sank deeper inside my bed, the sheets and comforts swallowing me whole. At this point breathing became an impossible task. The oxygen surrounding me grew thin. Darkness consumed my sight.

I opened my eyes.

Everything remained still. Nothing seemed disturbed. Well…except for me, of course. From the window above my head, the moon shone its silver light through my blinds.

My heart raced a million miles per second. With the help of the moon, I managed to scan my entire room for anything suspicious. Everything appeared normal and intact, thankfully.

Sweat drenched my entire body, making my pajamas and bed sheets stick to my skin like superglue. I thought about pulling away my blanket in order to cool myself down, but something told me it’d be better if I laid underneath my sheets. Maybe it was my childish mind pretending that my blankets can actually protect me from any monster or demon. Oh, how I miss the innocence of my mind as a kid.

The creepiness of what I just experienced settled on my mind. I shivered deeper into my bed, despite how hot my body felt. Some traces of my memory told me that everything was just some sick and bizarre nightmare. But I knew better than that. At that point in my childhood, I dealt with my fair share of paranormal experiences.

Play with me,” I heard the child’s tenuous voice loud and clear. As calm and as gentle as the child’s tone sounded, it somehow pierced the silence inside my room like a sharp knife slicing through human flesh. Worst of all, it stimulated whatever emotion I felt the most at the moment.

And currently, anxiety took hostage of my conscious.

I peeked at the closet door that stood across from me. The moonlight provided full clarity of the entire wooden surface. Both doors remained closed, just how I left them right before I slept.

A noise came from behind the closet doors. It sounded like someone or something shuffling in between my clothes. The first levels of trepidation kept my body at bay. I wanted nothing more than to run away, but the child’s voice already drew me in with its mystical hands, and they refused to let me go.

The door creaked opened, the rusty hinges releasing a sour hiss, and the bottom of the closet door grinding against the hardwood floor. I rattled in my bed as if I was having a seizure.

Each second that passed by stretched farther and farther. More movement occurred behind the shadows the closet door created. I struggled hard to gather my thoughts, but they scattered themselves and blew far away from my mind like pieces of paper against an autumn wind.

Play with me,” I heard the child better, now that the closet door didn’t restrict the full volume of his voice. That was worse for me, however. I tried bottling in all of my terrified emotions, but the bastard broke the glass free, and let my feelings spill out of my skin and bones like blood from an open wound. At this point I thought I’d drown in my sweat.

The child stepped forward. I heard the sound of his soft and delicate foot tap against the floor. I strained my eyes harder at the closet door, trying to catch a quick glimpse at the boy who had been disturbing my sleep for over a year now. Every time I try, however, I always failed. The child always hid himself amongst the shadows.

He took his time approaching me, as if hesitant and fearful of my own presence. When this happened, I began feeling sympathetic towards the poor child. I reminded myself that every night he paid me a visit, he never tried to hurt or harass me. Sure he sometimes scared the crap out of me, but this seemed unintentional. It was only my own head worried and paranoid about the unknown, nothing more.

The child swayed closer to where I laid. What more can I had done but just lay there and let the boy do as he pleased. Some of the nights the child crept out of my closet door, he spent most of his time gazing at my direction. Even though I couldn’t tell if he even had eyes to look at me, I still sensed his glare on my face. At first this really freaked me out. I mean who would enjoy being stared at as you try to sleep? But it almost felt as if he was guarding me from my own nightmares.

But always, no matter what, he asked the same question over and over again.

Play with me.”

I never responded back. I always just fell back to sleep, or waited until the sun rose and the boy returned back to my closet or wherever the hell he came from.

That night, however, I finally spoke back.

“Okay,” I whispered, my words leaving my lips like syrup drooling out of my mouth. “What do you want to play?”

The boy stopped walking. I knew I surprised it somehow. The nervous energy that transpired between us almost felt like something tangible. I waited with patience to see what would happen next.

The child shrilled, and let out a loud shriek. I joined in on the screaming, as if trying to compete who can shout the loudest. Immediately after this, the boy’s entire presence vanished from where he remained.

But before the boy disappeared, I spotted something weird about him. See, the moment he left, a small flash of light emerged from where he stood. This granted my eyes just one split second to finally see what the child looked like.

What I saw was far from what I expected.

The first thing that caught my eyes was the boy’s face. He looked pale as snow, and his lips appeared numb and blue. A small helmet of blonde hair rested on top of the boy’s head. Dirt and grass was smeared all over the child’s cheeks and forehead. The most distinctive feature, however, were the boy’s hollow, demented eye sockets. They looked like two endless dark tunnels. The longer you gazed at the child’s empty eyes, the more the shadows inside sucked you in.

Right in the middle of the boy’s body, just inside his intestines, remained a big blob of red and yellow light. A maze of veins glowed inside the boy’s naked stomach. It almost seemed as if the child was pregnant.

It took me a while to recognize the child. Right when I realized who he was, I yelled until my throat began bleeding from the inside.

It was Ricardo, my best-friend who died when I was only five years old.

This incident occurred when I was six years old. A lot has changed over the past eleven years, but to some extent nothing has changed at all.

Sometimes the thing you least expect end up happening after all. For instance, I never would have predicted that I would befriend the ghost that had been haunting my nights since I was five years old, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

To explain the full story, I guess I need to begin when my family and I moved to Union City around the turn of the twenty-first century. I was two at the time, still very young and naïve to the many dangers that possess this earth. The reason my family left New York, and entered New Jersey instead, was because of the death of their still-born child. I was supposed to have an older sibling, but the child died during birth. It happens often, and nobody’s to blame, really.

My parents, however, couldn’t properly deal with the shame and guilt of their first child dying. They became very unstable and reckless because of it. A month or so after the infant died, they immediately tried once more to make another child—I guess out of pure desperation. This is how I was brought into this world. I’m the result of two emotionally broken adults who relied on my birth to restore their hope in this world. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing for me, but either way I managed to survive this time.

Even after my birth, however, my folks still carried the weight of their deceased baby on their shoulders. They quickly left New York as soon as possible. They stated that the city and house they lived in constantly reminded them of their dead baby. All of my parent’s neighbors and friends looked forward to the upcoming child at the time. When my folks informed everyone that the child never made it out of the womb alive, the disappointment that crossed their lives escalated to something morbid and pitiful.

I claim myself a New Yorker even though I lived most of my life in New Jersey. My parents often took me there since my father still worked at his job in the big city. They used to always take me near where they once live, and introduce me to all of their previous neighbors. I remember very distinctively how most of them glared and studied me. They thought of me as a child from heaven itself. They always littered me with gifts and provided special privileges for whatever I desired. I was always shy around them, so I never begged for anything. And at times the attention became overwhelming.

During some of our trips, however, I began noticing the hidden depression in my parents’ hearts once they spent a little too much time around their old house. I once caught my mother crying inside one of her best-friend’s room when I was four. When I approached her and asked her what was wrong, she simply shook her head, a waterfall of tears rushing down her red eyes, and took hold of my back and shoulders with her bare arms.

My mother embraced me with a gracious hug, and whispered in my ear how much she loves me, and how lucky I am to be a part of her life. Her moist and warm face rubbed against my own cheeks. At some occasions I would’ve found this annoying, but I sensed and empathized with my mother’s pain even at such a young age. Even though I had no idea what the hell was going on, I still knew that I needed to hug my mother strongly in order to make her feel better.

Despite the setbacks my parents faced, they somehow found a way to move forward. At such a young age, I learned to be grateful at the circumstances that passed through my life. Some parents might have fought and divorce each other if something this tragic ever shot at their lives. Some parents might’ve relied on drugs and alcohol in order to mellow out the agony dwelling deep in their hearts and soul.

My parents decided to act differently. They looked at me as inspiration, and chose to dedicate their life into raising me right. They thanked God that I had survived, and took it as a sign to make the best life for me. For this, I owe them all of my regards, and I can’t be any more appreciative for what they’ve done.

But nothing could’ve prepare the three of us for what hit me when I turned five.

My close friend from kindergarten passed way around that time. His name was Ricardo Hernandez. I knew this kid since I started school at the age of four in pre-k. We met there, and that same first day we instantly became best pals. I remember we couldn’t remember our names the first few weeks, so we just called each other amigo. It was adorable.

As bashful as I was, I somehow managed to be comfortable with him only. We just clicked. I can’t seem to explain it any other way.

Ricardo died from breathing problems. I didn’t quite know the specifics back then. I just knew that he needed to remove his tonsils. Ricardo’s folks scheduled the appointment to proceed with the treatment as soon as they found out. I think a day or so before the surgery was supposed to happen, Ricardo died in his own bed while watching cartoons. The hospital told his parents that the dysfunction on his lungs wasn’t anything that serious, but I guess they must’ve overlooked something important. Fucking bastards.

Death has a way of messing with my parents. If the Grim Reaper does exist, then that son of a bitch must have some grudge against my mother and father. They reacted with devastation at the news of my best-friend’s sudden death. They knew how close Ricardo and I became, and because of this friendship, my parents ended up befriending Ricardo’s folks. Like any decent adult would do, my mother and father comforted and mourned with my best-friend’s parents together.

I guess they also understood how it felt to lose a child at such a young age. This was just what my parents freaking needed. Right when they finally overcame all odds, and learned to live with the death of their infant son, life or god or whoever the hell finds some fucked-up way to remind my parents of their most stressful and dismaying point of their lives.

When I first found about the news, the principle from my school visited our class, and delivered the awful story. The day before this happened, the other students and I caught our teacher, Ms. Ventra, crying and moping near the hallways. Out of all of her children, she cared and respected Ricardo the most. He always charmed our teacher in a way that amazed me as a young kid. His death really impacted us all.

I mostly handled the situation with apathy…and I don’t know if that makes me some emotionless monster or not. Children understand a lot despite their age, and I was fully aware of what happened to Ricardo. All of my classmates were. He died, and he was never coming back. This fact stuck to our brains, and nothing would be able to take it away.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt like shit on the inside. I lost my only friend who brought something out of me. I really didn’t get along with all of the other kids. It’s not like they bullied me or anything (that came later) but I just chose to isolate myself from them.

What got to me the most was witnessing my parents circle around a difficult depression once again. For the next month or so, the environment inside my house consisted of nothing but gloom and hopelessness. Every time I walked inside I just sensed the sadness seeping into my head and emotions. My mom and dad tried encouraging everyone to feel better, and sometimes I actually believed that we were healing from this tragic point in our lives. But at the end these futile attempts were met with everyone giving up. I felt disgusted with my parents and myself.

A year or so after Ricardo’s death, I began experiencing these unexplainable paranormal interactions.

They began around the time I was six. Late one night, I think it was Saturday, I was snuggled in my bed with the lights off. I was playing my Nintendo Gameboy Advance at the moment. I don’t remember what time it was exactly, but I’m more than certain it was past midnight. I made sure to stay quiet since at this time my parents were already sleeping.

I started to feel tired after an hour or so playing Pokémon Sapphire. My eyes kept on opening and closing, and I took this as a sign to go to sleep. Right before I could even turn off my device, I heard the faintest of sounds coming from my closet.

This aroused me instantly, and whatever sleepiness I felt before vanished. Bewilderment took over that exhaustion.

I waited for the noise to come again. After a minute or so in suspense, I didn’t realize I was holding my damn breath. I held my Gameboy above my face, the screen flashing its colorful lights on my eyes. I pressed start and saved my file, but I didn’t turn off my device—I needed it as a source of light. I aimed the device towards my closet door, and waited for something to happen, anything.

A loud bump sounded off behind the doors.

I dropped my Gameboy right on my face.

Ouch!” I winced, and rubbed my nose. A jolt of pain spread all over my face.

Play with me,” I finally heard for the first time.

I laid paralyzed with apprehension. The sting on my nose suddenly seemed less important.

For the first few seconds, I remained confused and a bit unnerved. Then that confusion evolved into frustration for not understanding what just happened. From frustration, I grew distressed and paranoid. Suddenly the shadows inside my room seemed too dark. The walls appeared too thick. My blankets choked me a little bit too much. The pillows below my face felt as if they were suffocating me. The whole world was going against me.

That paranoia fused with the worst of my fears.

I went to scream, but my throat locked in itself. The inside of my mouth grew dry. I thought about jumping out of my bed, but dismissed that idea. Like any normal child, I resorted to my blankets for comfort and safety.

I remember burying my body deep inside my sheets, and refusing to open my eyes. Nothing else happened after that, however. I stood awake most of my time there, and when I woke up I suffered from a tremendous headache. But other than that, I remained undamaged and sane.

I prevented myself from confronting my parents about this. They were already dealing with enough, and if I just told them about my weird and creepy experience, I would just bring them even more things to worry about. And besides, nothing bad happened to me. That was what mattered the most.

The next week came, and the same thing happened once more. This time, however, I maintained a bit more of my composure. I still felt my terrified thoughts crawling into my mind, but it wasn’t as unbearable as before. I mostly felt speculation. A part of me wanted to say it was a ghost, but being that young, I still knew how ridiculous that sounded. Strange things like that only happened in movies or in novels.

For the next week and on, I spent most of my time pondering about what I was dealing with. I analyzed everything, from the time the apparent “ghost” decided to sneak into my room, to the movement and sounds it made. I came to several conclusions after three months of thinking everything through.

The first thing I came up with was that it was indeed some form of a ghost, spirit, whatever you want to call it. The second thing was that it wasn’t an ‘it”, but a “he”. It took some time coming to this conclusion, but it was obvious. The voice said it all. It sounded light and ethereal, yes, but it contained a bit of roughness that only boys can pull off.

One of the most important factors I put into consideration was that it never once tried to inflict damage upon me. That stopped me from making it a problem. Not only that, but this fact alone slowly made me adapt and accept the presence of this young child. My mind still wrestled with the fear of being stalked, but this was only natural for anyone—especially a young boy like myself. No matter what, I was still talking to the dead. If that doesn’t bring chills down your spine, then you’re not a goddamn human.

The more knowledge I gained about the apparition, however, the more questions bombarded my mind. I told myself it would be a horrible idea to take physical notes about my experience. If someone were to take hold of that notebook, and read everything through, they would assume I was either a child with an amazing imagination, or some type of enigmatic maniac. And seeing how my reputation in school came to being the quiet, awkward, and slow kid, I didn’t think people would guess the former.

So at the end, I was force to remember and repeat everything I learned over and over in my head. It became arduous and onerous at first, but this helped form my expansive memory. That came in handy during school, but during that time school was the last thing I worried about.

The night finally came that after over three years of hearing but ignoring the ghost, I finally responded back. And to my amazement and shock, I ended up finding out it was my best friend Ricardo this whole time. It all made perfect sense.

This changed everything.

That night I stood up until early dawn. It wasn’t out of sheer terror, however, but out of an overwhelming sense of happiness. For once this world didn’t seem like a place where you shoved along as more shit piled up in your life, but it became something beautiful and rewarding. Somehow I reunited with my first and ever only friend, and that’s all I cared for.

The shift in my mood and attitude was unbelievable. Even my parents were astonished. I ignored the fact that my best-friend looked like he crawled right out of his grave. I mean I knew that I saw him, and I knew he looked in terrible condition, but I didn’t care. I never realized how much I missed and cared for him until he returned back into my life.

From that point on, I began contacting the ghost more often. He started visiting me in the night several times a week instead of once every weekend. We both talked, and the longer this happened, the more it seemed as if he really was Ricardo. The way he acted, and everything he said, just seemed like it fitted Ricardo’s personality. I couldn’t fucking believe it.

I never saw him in his physical form ever again, however. Every time we grouped up, he was always invisible. I couldn’t ever touch or see him like before when we were kids in preschool, but I was able to feel him. I think that was what made him special to me. It didn’t matter that we would never be able to play like before. The warm and tender presence he offered was enough to satisfy me.

I remember one night when we were together, I broke down in front of him. I just released all of my frustration and sorrow into my tears, and I couldn’t stop crying. But it was also a weird mix of happiness and sadness. For one thing, getting Ricardo back was something I appreciated every day. I don’t know what purposed it served, but I never took my friend for granted from that point on.

But at the same time, I faced the horrors of school and my social life. Nobody liked me, and I faced bullies every time I entered that damn building. I just couldn’t associate myself well with those other kids. I saw nothing in common with everyone else, and every time I attempted to speak to one of them, they glared at me with disgust and dissatisfaction. The hate on their faces was just so damn obvious. I did everything wrong in school, and for that reason everyone called me a failure and a mistake

And I kept on thinking that if Ricardo was with me, he could’ve been the person who I could’ve depended on for kindness. I wished those other kids died instead of my own best-friend. Why did Ricardo die? Why did my family and I always had to endure the grief of death, while everyone else remained untouched by the reaper’s menacing hands? It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t get along with those other damn kids. So much had happened to me that I felt the need to isolate myself. Right when I wanted to crawl out of my shell, and become one with my school, they rejected me and treated me like shit.

The best thing about Ricardo’s ghost was that he understood. That night as I drowned in my own tears, he wrapped me around a therapeutic aura, and suddenly everything felt better. My deepest sorrows washed away, and was replaced by an ocean of tranquility. All of my muscles eased up, the sting on my eyes mitigated, and my head felt relaxed.

He kept me locked around his comfortable aura even as the first rays of morning light slipped through my open curtains. This startled me. Ricardo has never stood up this late with me, and I knew he felt aversive towards any type of light. I tried wiggling away from his presence, and told him to leave now before anything bad happens to him. But he kept me secured, and whispered to my ear that he was going to be alright. Even then I wanted him to leave. My greatest fear was losing Ricardo again…

But he told me to trust him, and that trust is the true foundation to any stable relationship. Ricardo said that true love is giving someone the key to your destruction, and trusting them to not abuse you with that sacred knowledge.

So I listened and followed what he said. For the first time, I trusted someone outside of my family.

And when dawn rose up, and I saw how Ricardo remained the same, I knew then and there I didn’t need anyone else in my life. As long as I had Ricardo, my one and only true best friend, I could survive in this world.

That’s why when he abandoned me the moment I entered high school, I almost killed myself.

It never made sense to me. He just left without a hint of where he would be. I told Ricardo everything, from my darkest secrets to how I truly felt about this world. And he departed off with my trust within his grasp. He disappeared, and when he left, Ricardo took a part of me with him. I felt so disconnected with myself.

We raised each other together. Throughout my whole life as a young child growing up into a teenager, he has been there for me every step of the way. Every bully I fought, every girl that denied my love, every person that refused to be my friend, Ricardo was there to witness it all.

I knew the consequence I would face if Ricardo and I tried stabilizing our friendship in this world. Nobody would believe me that I was talking to the kid who died out of lung failure in kindergarten. People would just see me as a goddamn weirdo, and to be honest I wouldn’t blame them. I mean it was pretty fucking weird. Sometimes I needed to pause from my distorted reality, and really take in the fact that the person I love the most was a goddamn ghost. It felt natural to me, but I knew that from an outside perspective, it must be the craziest shit ever.

But I thought it would be worth it, you know, separating myself from everyone else. I’d come to like the fact that I was unique, and that I had something—or better yet someone —that nobody else had. This helped rebuild my confidence, and made me a more assertive person when I entered middle-school. I still kept to myself, but I no longer felt inferior among my classmates. In fact I settled into this hubris personality that I found everyone to be pieces of shit that didn’t deserve my goddamn companionship. The only people who mattered to me was my family and Ricardo. Everyone else could rot in hell for all I care.

Ricardo helped create some of the best moments in my life. He was always the imaginary best friend who I jumped along the couch with. Ricardo and I played with our variety of toys, and we always used to act out these wild ideas in our heads. It was always a fun time with him.

My parents grew a bit worried about my mental state around the time I was eleven or twelve, and I was still “may pretending” I was talking with an imaginary best friend. They thought I was a bit too old for that. Not only that, but it didn’t help that I had no other friends, and that they never saw me with any one of my classmates. I never invited anyone over, so they knew the type of reputation I gained from school. Placing all of these factors together, I can’t blame them for thinking that I was, in some type of way, psychotic.

One time the three of us talked about it, and I gave them some of the honest truth of my situation. Of course I didn’t mention the fact that my old friend Ricardo was living with us, but I informed them that I really hated everyone in school, and that I had no friends. But I told them I didn’t mind, and that I found a way to have fun all by myself. I explained that I relied on my imagination in order to cope with the fact that nobody liked me, and that sometimes I went overboard and actually thought my characters came to life.

I made a deal that I would stop “talking to myself” if it really freaked them out. My parents agreed, and in the end they were very understanding. They had an idea that my childhood really messed me up, so it was okay if I behaved the way I did. They accepted my weirdness, and for this I loved them even more.

But they didn’t need to worry about anything. Later on, as I stated before, Ricardo left me.

In a way, this was worse than when he actually died in kindergarten. I had this idea in mind that I would enter high school, and that I would dread those god-awful four years there. I knew that I needed to prepare myself for all the harassment, all the fights, all the unwanted attention, and everything else that made my life a difficult pain in the ass. But I knew that at the end of the day, I would have Ricardo to pick me up whenever someone knocked me down.

So when that bastard left me to deal with everyone’s shit in that goddamn school, I died inside. I felt so betrayed and alone. This resulted in my worst behavior. I started the fights with the other kids, and I made sure I never backed down. Even when I almost punched a kid to death, I felt no remorse. The rational switch inside me flicked off, and I unleashed all of my frustration and pain towards anyone who had the audacity to try to ruin my day.

Ricardo leaving really fucked me over. Jesus, my brain felt as if someone completely changed every function of it. I couldn’t think right, and forget about sleeping. I became a chronic insomniac. My world became a mess yet again.

So that was my life the first three years in high school. Entering my senior year, I didn’t give a shit anymore. I didn’t know what direction my life was heading towards, but I just couldn’t care. I became this placid and dull adolescent. I wasn’t scrambling fights with bullies, but at the same time I stopped myself from starting new friendships with other people. I trusted nobody because of Ricardo.

So when that bastard introduced himself to me once again last week, it turned my entire world upside down.

What great fucking timing. Out of all the times he could’ve reenter my life, he chose now? Right when I stop giving a shit about my own existence? Right when I completely forced him out of my thoughts and emotions? He decides to whisper his signature fucking catch-phrase, and act as if he hadn’t left me for three goddamn years filled with nothing but despair and suicidal thoughts?

Why couldn’t he have come when I behaved like an asshole in high school? Where was he when I returned home from the outside world with tears flooding down my eyes, wishing that I could just change the way my life turned out? Why couldn’t he have come to help me when I had the tip of the knife just an inch away from the vein on my wrist, ready to slice my flesh open and drown in my own blood as I bathe in my tub? Where the hell was he then?!

No. He doesn’t deserve a warm-hearted homecoming. I know he plans on visiting me this upcoming weekend. As much as I should be happy, he needs to know how much I suffered. I at least deserve a goddamn apology.

I still love Ricardo, but he and I know that we need to talk this through. A lot has changed since then. I’m more than prepare for this.

All I can do now is wait and be patient. He better hope I’m in a good mood that night

Saturday night arrives. I lay on my bed with a book beside me. The small lamp next to me blares a faint and white light. I’ve spent the past three hours reading this damn novel, and wasting time on my phone. I’ve kept on checking the time, and as the hour clock moved from nine in the night to ten, then to elven, and finally to twelve, I grew anxious. It feels as if parasites infested my stomach, and are now crawling in and out of my organs. As nervous as my head and body gets, however, I know I must demonstrate nothing but temerity. I can’t shy away now. That part of my life ended a long time ago.

My parents chose the perfect weekend to leave the house for a quick get-away. That way if things start to get hectic between Ricardo and me, there are no restrictions as to how loud and aggressive I can get. I plan to handle this with maturity, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t make him feel guilty for what he’s done to me.

I place my novel on top of my night stand, and flick the lamp off. Darkness envelopes my bedroom like a pool of shadows. The moon shoots a tiny glimmer of light right at the center of my bed. This should be enough for me to feel comfortable.

“Come out,” I command. I started sensing him the moment it hit eleven thirty. For a while I fought with my nerves and fears pulsing out of my mind like a horde of bees trying to escape their hive. I knew I needed to end his influence over my feelings. I couldn’t allow him to manipulate me any longer.

I’m giving silence and nothing more. I focus my eyes better on the closet door. I feel him behind those barriers, so why does he hesitate? He must be aware of how disappointed I am towards him. I don’t blame him. If I was in his position, I would think twice about confronting me right now.

I open my mouth, but before I could say more, the closet door slides open. I choke on my distasteful words, and swallow them. They taste bitter.

I sit upright, and place my pillow against the wall behind me in order to be more comfortable. I feel his opposing force of emotions trying to break through the defensive wall I built against him. His efforts prove futile, however. All this tension passing between us actually makes me sweat. My back begins to drench itself, and the corners of my mouth grow so dry they form tiny blisters. I don’t know how long I can maintain myself.

Ricardo takes him time approaching me, his soft and almost quiet footsteps taunting me each time they land on the floor. As some people might assume, I may be a little gay for my best friend. I mean I’ve only spent my entire life with him alone, and I never went on a date before with any girl. I find both genders attractive in a way, but Ricardo obviously catches my attention the most. The way he’s always treated me with love is what finally made realize everything. If me loving a dead five year old doesn’t convince you how fucked up I am, I don’t know what will.

My ghost friend finally reaches the edge of my bed. Although I can’t see him, I feel him near. He stands still. The silence overcoming my ears becomes unbearable. I’m able to hear the quiet sound of my impulsive heartbeat, and then I start to hear a small ringing noise deep inside my eardrums. I tap on the wall behind me in order to repel against the quietness. Jesus, if I took that shit any longer, I would’ve shot my damn brains out.

Ricardo begins to climb on top of my bed. I want to say something, anything. I want to stop him, and start talking to him about what the hell he did. But the idea of the both of us sitting down face-to-face intrigues me more. There he could witness the anguish in my eyes.

The sheets on top of my bed rustle as he crawls closer to where I remain. I start to shiver. My breathing increases, and the pressure on my chest feels like a ton of bricks slammed down on my lungs. I’m sweating bullets at this point. The world surrounding me blurs, and all that remains clear is the image stretching larger and larger as the seconds drift by. I almost start to feel hypnotize by my own mind and its hallucinations.

Ricardo stops right where the moonlight hits my bed. That little line of light shines directly on his face.

Death is written all over his expression. It’s the same image that I saw back then as a kid, but this time he’s seem to have aged, oddly. Pieces of his once pale and soft flesh now dangle from his cheekbones. Some parts of his face appears rotten and deteriorated by time, the skin ruddy and infected. Black slime swirls inside his mouth, Ricardo’s devilish grin colored with waste and worms. Parts of his hair has fallen off, and I’m able to see his bony and disfigured skull. Several bumps and warts decorate the area around his forehead and chin.

And of course the worst of all, his eyes. Ricardo’s hollow and lifeless eyes that sucks the youth right out of your soul.

“What the hell happened to you?” I ask, horror-stricken. The longer I gaze at his current physical state, the more in dawns upon me how I never had my best-friend back in the first place. Or better yet, this wasn’t Ricardo at all. What the hell is going on?

“You fucking idiot,” Ricardo whispers, but this time his voice sooths out of his brusque throat with a deep and monstrous tone. Black and demonic tentacles begin to sprout out of his corpse. They drip with black blood and seem as sharp and deadly as a goddamn dagger.

Something else emerges from behind Ricardo’s dead body. Before I can pay attention to what it is, I’m distracted when those black whips slither closer to where I sit. They tangle around my limbs, neck, and body. A silent cry escapes out of my trembling lips, and before I could shout for help—for anybody to please fucking help me!—one of the vines closes around my mouth. I try yelling through the thick and moist tentacles, but all I managed to produce is a low muffling sound.

Ricardo pulls me closer to where he sits. I shove and wiggle my shoulders and legs, but the more I try to fight, the more the vines tighten. I feel the blood circulation on my bear arms and legs end. The tight knot tied around my neck begins to crush my throat. I figure I would be panicking, but at the moment I feel nothing but a loss of hope.

I won,” the ghost child says, although he no longer sounds like a little boy. His voice makes the bed and walls shake for god’s sake. “I won, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” All I can do is glare as his empty eyes, and wonder whether a piece of my friend dwells inside this demonic specie or not.

“I can’t believe I was able to out-play you like this,” the spirit screeches, and then emits a low and gurgling laughter. “You’re such an idiot. I’d thought you would notice later on, but no. I made a fool outta you.” Just what the hell is he talking about?

“Even now you have no idea what’s going on,” the demon mocks me. “But I can’t blame you. After all, you forgot about me. Just like mommy and daddy forgot about me right when they had you.”

No. No. No fucking way. This cannot be…

Ah, you realize now, huh? I see it in your eyes. You’re getting an idea of who I truly am.” Ricardo’s stomach begins to glow a tenuous, yellow and white light.

“I’m what could’ve been. I’m a rejected soul that not even God wished to bring back into heaven. Nobody cares about me, and my life means little to nothing compared to all the other fucking babies who lived. Sounds familiar, don’t it? Do you know who I am now, huh? Do you, brother?”

No. I knew it, but I didn’t wish to believe it. I don’t even know what to think right now. All I can do now is feel. I feel my dead baby-brother’s emotions, and his rage that erupts out of his heart like lava from an active volcano. The determination to hurt me burns though my skin, and I see the passion in his eyes despite there being just hollowness inside.

“Right when mommy and daddy had you, they already thought about forgetting about me,” he grumbles. “At first they still mourned my death, and that at least kept me content. But the older you grew, the more they left me out of their thoughts. You became the child they always wanted, and you stole their attention away from me. Soon they completely abandoned me, and only chose to think about you. Did my life mean nothing to them? Was I just a failure to them that they wanted to forget about? Why couldn’t I have lived? Why did it have to be you, and not me?!

I wish to speak. I want to tell him that they never forgot about him, that they use his death as inspiration to make me a better child. I need to tell him that without him, I wouldn’t be who I am now. My parents—excuse me, our parents—loves us both equally, but just that thinking about him resurrected too many dark and agonizing memories.

But I couldn’t say any of that. All I could do is listen, and feel my brother’s anger.

“I knew I couldn’t leave without making the three of you suffer. I needed my revenge. This was when I began plotting my vengeance. I wanted you all to perish. So I began visiting you little by little. I gave off subtle signs of my presence, but it wasn’t enough. As a baby, you didn’t care about me at all. I needed to wait for the perfect time to execute my plan.

“Then you entered school, and you became friends with that Ricardo kid…” The demon in front of me chuckles. “Ah! I knew I won after that. I had it all planned out.

“The doctors were right, you know… His lung condition wasn’t all that serious. He just needed minor surgery, that’s all. But you know…I have a way of interfering with other people’s lives. I guess you can say I paid Ricardo a visit while he was watching cartoons…and did what I had to do.”

This sick fucking bastard! I never felt so furious in my life before. I kick and thrash around, giving every punch and swing all of my strength, not caring if my bones begin to snap, and my muscles start to tear. Even as blood leaks out from my wounds the tighter his grip becomes, I don’t give a shit. This piece of scum murdered a child, my best fucking friend! He caused one of the greatest depressions in my life! He deserves to rot.

“Stop your efforts now, Steven,” he commands. “It’s useless. I’ve won, and you can’t overpower me. You’re weak. You’ve grown strong and confident, yes, but compared to me, you’re still a pathetic child who can’t stand up for himself. You freak, liking your own brother for god’s sake. You make me sick.”

I manage to raise my hand, and flip the fucker off.

“Childish, as always,” the demon complains. “Just like Ricardo. Anyways, I knew in order for my plan to work, I needed to gain your trust. And what better person you could trust and love than your only friend ever in your entire life. Jesus, you’re such a loser. At least I would’ve made more friends.

“I knew you’d trust me, and that you’d be so infatuated with me. I knew that you would suffer in school, and that you’d rely on me to comfort you. And I did. I made sure you fell in love with me, and that I guided you towards a better life. I fucking played you, kid. You should be humiliated by how badly I messed up your life.

“And I knew, I knew, it would be perfect to just leave you right when you enter high school. Don’t like being left alone, huh Steven? Hurts like one mean bitch, doesn’t it? Now you know my pain. It felt so great watching as you broke down, and as your life turned to shit. I kept on laughing and laughing at your own demise. Even our parent’s depression brought much amusement. I made you bitches suffer. And now, I return…”

Ricardo’s corpse begins to levitate. The blob of light inside his stomach grows brighter, and little by little the skin on his abdomen starts becoming transparent. I’m able to see the inside of his stomach, and I see-

Oh god. Oh my fucking god I’m going to be sick.

It’s a fucking fetus camped inside Ricardo’s intestines.

“I come back to finish what I started,” the demon-child informs me, and now I realize that this whole time the voice has been coming from the corpse’s stomach. The belly of the goddamn beast. “It’s been fun watching you grow up, but now your life must end here. How does it feel to just realize now that your whole life has been one giant lie? How does it feel knowing that after your death, our parents come next? How does this pain feel, Steven? Does it burn?

“Well you better get used to it. Imma send you exactly where our parents sent me.

“Straight into nothingness.”

Ricardo’s corpse floats above me. More vines crawl out of his body. They all attach to my skin, and begin to push my body deep into my mattress. I keep on fighting to free myself, but my brother is able to produce more and more of those damn tentacles. Soon my entire figure from head to toe is webbed around his colony of whips.

The figure behind Ricardo’s ghost that I saw before grows larger. I don’t know what the hell that is, but whatever it may be, it feels strong and intimidating.

Right at the center of my bed, a black hole rips open. I feel a sudden drop. My eyes open wide as I descend farther and farther away from Ricardo’s corpse. A wall of darkness surrounds me, and begins to close around my eyesight. A gush of air forces me deeper inside whatever place I’m being sent to.

I feel several hands reach up from below, and grip my shirt and pants. Those thousands of hands dig their nails deep inside my skin, past the cloth of my clothing, and drag me deeper inside this prison of shadows and calamity. More and more of those invisible arms stack on top of my body, and place more pressure on my muscles and skin. I feel like the victim of a king cobra.

At the end, I don’t feel anything anymore—well, I mean on the inside I don’t. No emotions, no fears, nothing. Just pity. I pity the fact that I had to live this life. Since birth, my life has been filled with nothing but depression and wickedness. I guess I’ve always been destine to live this way, and have it end like this. Even when I thought I had some type of profound hope to hold on to and call it my own, I end up finding out it’s all been a lie that lead to my eventual fatality.

But I’m fine if my life continues on after death, and I end up living with nothing but darkness and nothingness —as my brother stated. Hell, that’s all I know at this point. I won’t have to make that big of an adjustment.

If only my brother could’ve let me talked, however. Maybe I could’ve saved the both of us. I could’ve told him how much I love and care for him, and how I’ve always understood his pain. I could’ve told him that we can work this out, and find our own way to overcome whatever anger dwells inside the both of us. But he didn’t let me talk. And because of that, he ended up screwing himself over.

Because I could’ve told him that Ricardo’s real ghost was standing behind him the entire time, waiting for the perfect moment to attack him.

Go get em’, amigo.

Credit: TheSplitPersonality

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