Resurrection

August 5, 2015 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 7.9/10 (17 votes cast)

The chill of the night air was bitingly cold against the exposed skin of my face. A graveyard is never really a pleasant place to be, but it’s an especially uncomfortable location on a cold, dark night. I had dressed warmly, but the ominous feeling of the graveyard that night seemed to seep through my clothes and freeze my whole body. It was as if the decaying inhabitants of the grounds were warning me away before I could complete my task. The bag I had brought with me contained five black candles, matches, a photograph, a vial of murky liquid, and a sheet of paper containing the words I needed for the ritual I was about to complete. I was more than a little afraid of the task ahead of me, but I couldn’t move on with my life until I had closure with Marcus.

***

“What you’re asking for is not natural,” the old woman said. Her wrinkled face was set in a look of disapproval and her black eyes seemed to stare right through me. “I know it isn’t, but it has to be done. I can’t move forward until I talk to him one last time,” I pleaded with her. I had told her about my wish to speak with my dead boyfriend one last time before I married my fiance. My boyfriend Marcus had died in a car accident on his way home from work, and six months later I had met Sam and eventually fallen in love. Now a year later I wanted to speak with Marcus one last time and gain his approval before the wedding. The old woman sighed, rose shakily from her seat on the porch, and motioned for me to follow her into the house. The old woman was known as Miss Claudette and the people in my town regarded her with a mixture of fear and respect for her powers as a witch. Of course if you asked anyone in a straightforward manner if Miss Claudette was a witch they would most likely scoff and ridicule you for even asking, but these same people could be seen leaving her house with oddly shaped packages or vials of strange liquids.

I followed her into the parlor of the house where she disappeared behind a shelf crammed with jars, bottles, bags, and various containers filled with unknown substances. In truth the house made me nervous. The parlor was lit only by candle light and the room was filled with old leather books with latin inscriptions, strange looking artifacts, and photographs depicting several generations of grim faced women with black eyes. I listened to Miss Claudette rustling around behind the shelf and wondered if what I was asking for could actually be done. The logical part of me said that all of this was nonsense and I would never speak with Marcus again. However, the less logical side of me urged me to try. Miss Claudette emerged from behind the shelf carrying a bag filled with the things I would need for the ritual. She handed me the bag reluctantly. “You will find five black candles, matches, a potion, and the words you need to complete your foolhardy task. You’ll also need a photograph of the dead one you seek to raise,” she said dryly. “All you have to do is light the candles, pour the potion over the grave, and speak the words on the paper.” I took the bag from her, thanked her, and turned to leave, but she wasn’t through with what she had to say. “I’ve never turned away anyone who was in need of my services, but what you’re doing is foolish, girl. Throw away any misconceptions you have about the dead being enlightened or pure, that bastard will be the same hard-hearted man he always was,” she said coldly. I was startled by her words and slightly indignant. “I loved Marcus, and he loved me. You don’t know anything about him, or our relationship,” I said. She fixed me in that piercing stare until I began to fidget. “I know a lot of things, girl. I know that man would have given you nothing but misery every day of your life if you would have married him. He cared for no one except himself, I know that as well as my own name. I’m not the only one who saw the way he jerked you around, or heard the way he talked to you when he thought no one could hear. Want my advice? Leave the bastard to rot,” she said walking back into her house and shutting the door forcefully. I was rooted to my spot in disbelief at the speech she had given me. Memories of a raised voice and hands that could turn from gentle to rough in the blink of an eye came to the surface and I shook my head to clear my thoughts. Of course Marcus’ temper could get out of control, but I never doubted he loved me. He was my first love and I was sure he would support my decision to marry Sam and be happy again.

***

I arranged the candles around the grave and lit them one by one. I propped Marcus’ photograph against the tombstone and poured the vial of liquid over the grave. The liquid hissed as it met the ground and the earth seemed to bubble where it fell. I took a deep breath and unfolded the paper Miss Claudette had given me. The air seemed to have gone still and everything seemed too quiet. Unease began to wash over me. I could forget the whole thing, walk away, and marry Sam without stirring the dead, but at the same time memories of Marcus bombarded me. Memories of Marcus smiling at me, laughing at something I had said or done, holding me close to him as we cuddled together, or whispering “Always” in my ear when I jokingly asked how long he would love me. In my heart of hearts I felt that I needed his approval in order to fully move on with marrying Sam. I cleared my throat and read the words on the paper. “I call upon you, spirit. Rise from the earth. Speak with me, and heed my words.” I listened to the stillness around me waiting for my words to take effect. The silence was so heavy it seemed to press down on me, making me feel claustrophobic and anxious. A vague stirring sound seemed to come from deep within the ground in front of me. I stepped back as the ground began to tremble and the once solid earth began to crack. I watched in fascinated horror as a decayed hand slowly pushed through the dirt surface. My stomach clenched when I noticed the class ring Marcus always wore on the ring finger of the hand. I was unable to move or speak and as I watched another hand emerged, then the head and shoulders of the thing from under the ground broke the surface. As the decayed form that was once Marcus pulled itself from the grave and stood upright I began to regret what I had done.

The thing shook the dirt off itself and stretched its arms and legs slowly, flexing its fingers and turning its head from side to side as if to make sure all its pieces were in working order. I looked on in horror as the moon came out from behind a cloud and fully illuminated the being in front of me. It was Marcus, but at the same time it wasn’t Marcus. The potion had been unable to fully restore him to a lifelike state. His once thick brown hair was matted and full of dirt, the skin of his face was decayed and I could see his skull through missing patches of skin on his forehead. His once alert brown eyes were sunken back in his head and a small growth of mold was visible on his lower lip. The rest of his body was, thankfully, mostly covered by ripped clothing, but the way his clothing clung to him suggested he was little more than bones. I tried to speak and a little choked noise was all I could manage. Marcus turned to focus on me his sunken eyes lighting up in recognition. “Sarah,” he spoke in a gravally voice that sounded as if his throat were full of the earth he was buried in. I was rooted to the spot and could only watch helplessly as he made his slow stumbling way towards me. The closer he got the stronger the stench of death and decay became. The smell was enough to make me gag, but I was still immobile with terror. He stopped in front of me and I stared into his sunken eyes with wide eyes of terror. He lifted one hand slowly to graze the side of my face and run his fingers through my hair. I shuddered at the touch of his cold flesh against my cheek and fought to find my voice.

“M-Marcus, I came here because I needed to talk to you one last time,” I said shakily. He stared at me in silence and I was unsure if he had been able to comprehend anything I had said, but then he leaned down close to my face. Just as I realized what was going to happen I tried to turn my head, but it was too late. His deathly cold lips met mine and it took everything I had not to scream as I remembered the patch of mold on his lower lip. I forced my hands to cooperated and I reached up to push him away. In a sudden flash of motion he grabbed my left wrist with all the strength he had when he was alive. His eyes narrowed as they locked onto my new engagment ring. “What is this,” he demanded coldly. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said as I tried to pull free of his grasp. “It’s been almost two years since you died and I met a really nice man named Sam. We’re in love and I want to marry him, but I wanted your blessing. I knew you would want me to be happy, but I wanted to talk to you one last time before I went on with the wedding,” I rambled. I watched as his face softened and he smiled down at me. I smiled back in relief. “Sarah, do you remember what we used to say after telling each other we loved each other,” he asked me in that eerie choked voice. “Always?” I asked. “Always,” he said before locking his hands around my throat with lightning speed. Panic exploded through my brain as I struggled for breath, kicking and clawing at him with as much strength as I could muster. “You said always,” he said accusingly digging his thumbs deeper into my windpipe. I was no longer getting any air and my vision was beginning to go black. I could no longer feel his thumbs at my throat, I was drifting…

***

Miss Claudette found the grave without much trouble. The tell-tale black candles and the photograph of that dead bastard were still at the grave. The ground looked undisturbed in the early morning light, but Miss Claudette knew there were now two bodies in the grave. She sighed and shook her head and began gathering up the candles and the photograph. “What did that stupid girl expect,” she wondered as she walked away from the grave. “Once a hateful bastard, always a hateful bastard.”

Credit To – J Cran

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 7.9/10 (17 votes cast)

Cold, Dark Places

August 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 6.3/10 (46 votes cast)

During the Cold War, the American military initiated a department known as Strategic Air Command, or SAC. SAC’s role was command and control of strategic nuclear strike forces and reconnaissance of both remote and airborne varieties. While many bases were set up during the early stages of the “Red Threat” under SAC, many have been repurposed or decommissioned. One such base located in Marquette, Michigan was closed on September 30, 1995.

K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, as it was known, in compliance with closure procedures, also declassified certain documents to the public regarding their operations during the Cold War. Full disclosure, what I have leaked from these reports is still very much classified. I cannot and do not guarantee your safety should you continue reading.

What the public is largely unaware of, is that K.I. Sawyer was not just an air force base, but also a listening post dedicated to long range reconnaissance. Located at the northern tip of the US, K.I. Sawyer was an ideal location for monitoring both the movements and communications within Russian airspace over the North Pole. Housing what was at the time most of the world’s computers and computer engineers, an entire sub-basement level was outfitted with rows of CRT radar devices.

It also featured high-powered radio receivers collecting data from radar squadrons who patrolled the artic wastes. Military and civilian personnel would spend hours in that windowless room watching, listening, and waiting for a blip, or a sound, or anything across the polar region. They would go months at a time living underground, only to return to their families for the occasional R&R.

Enclosed are select reports from and concerning Recon Officer James Logan Kroff to his commander Lieutenant George Edgewell.

August 3rd, 1954:

Lieutenant, I report that there is no radar movement within the designated sweep zone. All quadrants are clear of any bogies and have been since 0900 hours. I would like to lodge a personal request with all due deference, that the shifts be cut-down by at least two hours. Most of the staff are sleep-deprived and the exhaustion can make it difficult to render accurate reports. I myself thought I heard something during the last radar run of the Kara Sea, but it might just be the ringing in my ears.

End report.

August 10th, 1954:

Lieutenant, all sweeps show zero movement and have remained unchanged since 1100 hours. However, we have picked up audio. You may recall I mentioned possible radio activity over the Kara Sea in my last report. It was very brief, muddled, and of generally bad quality, but it sounded like the Russian word for, “advancing”. I don’t want to indicate any certainty of the translation at this point, but per your request I am reporting everything that’s picked up. It took me extra time to make sense of the audio, therefore, I would like to reinstate my request for reduced hours.

End report.

August 14th, 1954:

Lieutenant, as you heard earlier today, we had a single bogy appear over what we now confirmed as the Tikhaya Bay Russian Air Force base at 1835 hours. How the Reds even got planes to that installation is beyond me. We haven’t confirmed what type of aircraft it was yet, but we did receive additional audio broadcasts. They were similar to the previous transmission, but have a longer duration. The only reliable words I could make from it were, “advancing, expect retaliation”. Sir, I don’t want to rouse Command on a false flag, but it sounds like the Ruskies are planning something very big and intentional. Lastly, I urge you to cut our hours, I’m starting to hear blips in my sleep.

End report.

August 21st, 1954:

Lieutenant, before I begin, I would like to apologize for using slang and inappropriate language in my last report. I understand the official nature of this correspondence and it will not happen again. However, I would like to cite the working conditions here as the cause of my unprofessionalism. We have confirmed that the bogy is a radar craft, similar to our own. We believe Tikhaya Bay is also a recon site. We can only assume the Russians are mimicking our operations over the North Pole. We noticed three additional blips around 1900 hours on the coast of the bay. It might be ships or submersible craft. Additionally, with increased activity, I picked up more audio. It reads as follows: “Enemy advancing, engage with caution, expect retaliation”. Sir, I know I am not privy to our ship movements, but I’m unaware of any operations in the Kara Sea other than Radar Squadrons. Lastly, Sir, this audio wasn’t a translation, it was in English. Please advise.

End report.

August 30th, 1954:

Lieutenant, I hate to break protocol, but I can’t see straight or trust my ears anymore. I’m seeing dozens of blips on the radar and I’m hearing… disconcerting transmissions. There used to be coherent sentences, but now it’s panicked yells and weird interference most of the time. These readings don’t even make any sense, why would the enemy send so many ships to circle their own air force base and then disappear? I know our next scheduled leave is in October, but I’m fucking tired, sir! I don’t even know if these reports are accurate or useful anymore. It doesn’t help that you never come down here, where am I even sending these reports to?! I haven’t seen God damn daylight in a month! Please let us leave!

End report.

September 4th, 1954:

It’s not the Russians. It’s not them. It’s not. Nope, not them. They’re dead now. It’s something else. Something attacked them. The blips are all gone. Gone. But the radio, oh I can still hear it. It won’t leave my brain. Get out, get out get out. They’re cold, they came from the cold. They hide in the dark part of the Earth. They go to cold, dark places and dark people. Like this place, like this person. There’s no windows, no sun, no light. You keep us down here long enough and they’re bound to find us. Bound to get through. Oh my god, Carol, I’m so sorry. I won’t see her again. You kept us down, it’s your fault, it’s your fault you evil son of a *****

Doctor Geoffrey Clark’s medical report.

Patient: Recon Officer James Logan Kroff.

September 5th, 1954

The patient was found dead at his desk at 1945 hours. He had stayed up past his shift’s end while was writing his regular report to his commanding officer. His fellow team members had noted severe insomnia, paranoia, irritability, and unstable behavior developing in him over the past month. While most of the crew also had signs of sleep deprivation, none shared the extreme symptoms Mr. Kroff exhibited. When Mr. Kroff was located, the blood vessels in his ears, nose, and eyes had ruptured. Later, an autopsy revealed a massive cranial aneurysm and resulting internal hemorrhaging. It is my opinion that pressure had suddenly and violently built up in the patient’s brain before erupting and causing a stroke. The cause, however, is still unknown. Along with the report was found a tape of recorded audio. Colleagues to Mr. Kroff stated that they appeared to be transmissions from the Radar Squadrons, stitched together over the past month. I’ve enclosed a copy of the recording only for professional medical, investigative, or forensic review.

End report.

Credit To – Abysmii

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 6.3/10 (46 votes cast)

Three Friends Diner

August 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.9/10 (148 votes cast)

To:  Jeremy Fuentes, Ph.D
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

Jeremy –

        I assume you have heard about the strange discovery made at 918 E. 3rd Street – a converted warehouse located on the corner of 3rd and Weller Avenue, in the middle of the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.

        The building is currently undergoing renovations.  Three weeks ago, construction workers noted a foul odor wafting through the property, coming from behind what they had thought was a solid brick wall.  But upon further investigation, it was discovered that the inside measurements of the property did not match up with the outside.  There was, in fact, a 25x30ft. space on the first floor completely overlooked.  A secret room, so to speak; one inaccessible from any point inside the building or out.  It was located at the far end of the property, along the wall forming the west side of Weller.

        With permission, the workers broke through the wall to access the otherwise-inaccessible area.  Immediately, they were floored by the overpowering stench of rotting meat.  Bandannas over their noses, they entered the enclosure. 

        Inside, they found a nice 16mm camera, smashed to bits.  They found film equipment, all destroyed – cracked lights, torn screens, metal light stands folded like paperclips.  Cheap-looking framed paintings and kitschy prop menus scattered like confetti.  And three bodies.

        Three decomposing bodies, in a state too disturbing for description.  Though the term “half-eaten” has been thrown around.

        How the equipment, or the corpses, ended up there has yet to be determined.  Neither the walls nor the ceiling were disturbed at any point, and there was no sign of tunneling under the four-foot-thick concrete floor.

        No one can explain how three dead people and a bunch of film paraphernalia magically appeared within a completely walled-off space. But it was all the more shocking for me, personally, due to the contents of a handwritten letter left for me by a former patient of mine.

         Her name was Kathryn Soo.  She voluntarily checked herself into the Marsdale Psychiatric Treatment Center, where I am an on-call physician, several months ago, and was discharged shortly before the horrific discovery at 918 E. 3rd Street.  I am no longer in contact with the young woman.  However, I believe you will find her testimony – a transcript of which I have enclosed – very intriguing.

Sincerely,

Larry Schurr, M.D.

*****

Testimony of Katy Soo
1/5/2015, Marsdale Psychiatric Hospital

        Just for the record, shooting Bella Cardone’s movie at the Three Friends Diner wasn’t my idea.  I told her it was a scam; that no restaurateur in Los Angeles with two brain cells to rub together would have possibly charged us so little for a location so photogenic.  Again and again, I insisted it just felt wrong.

        I was right.  I used to like being right.

        A little back story.

        I’m Katy.  I’m 21 years old.  I used to be a junior at Cal State Northridge, studying business administration and film production.  I enjoyed the phone calls and the organizing and the paperwork-filling that most film students hate, and had built up a modest reputation as a pre-production guru amongst my classmates, as well as with friends and acquaintances who attended other schools.

        Bella Cardone was one of such acquaintances, a 29-year-old international student from Italy I’d met at a third-rate horror film festival.  She’d been employed at a television station in Rome doing… something, but dreamed of writing and directing Hollywood movies.  She was one of a dozen or so, mostly foreign, enrollees a year and a half into the two-year Master’s program at New York Film Academy; she was writing her thesis script at the time, and asked me to help organize the production of the short film.

        Her script was about a starving artist working as a waitress, who gets dumped by her boyfriend then has an existential breakdown in which she imagines herself poisoning her customers and getting tortured, culminating with a series of flash cuts in which she simultaneously slashes her wrists and drowns in the ocean.

        Typical pretentious grad student fare.

        We needed to lock down five locations: an apartment, a beach, a park, something that could function as a dungeon, and a restaurant.  The beach and the park were relatively easy, and a classmate of Bella’s agreed to let us use her North Hollywood apartment for two days.  Another classmate, a quiet little guy named Sandeep, discreetly told me about an S&M store with a basement dungeon they infrequently rented out for movie shoots.  I don’t know how he came to be so familiar with such an establishment, and I’m not sure I want to know, but it proved ideal for our purposes.  Which left the restaurant – a notoriously difficult one for student and independent filmmakers.

        So when I found a little French place in Encino on Craigslist, got in touch with the manager, and played the “broke student” card so well he granted us use of his restaurant for a night for a little over $400, I was ready to sign the papers, get the permit, and move on.  It was two weeks before Bella’s scheduled first day of shooting, and I had a million other things to worry about – from liability insurance to catering to talking Northridge underclassmen into helping out as G&E crew and PA’s.

        Bella, however, thought $400 for a night was too expensive, and remained convinced she could find a better deal.  So she went on Craigslist herself and placed a “restaurant wanted for student film” ad.  But I’d put up a similar posting three weeks earlier (that’s how I found the French place in Encino), and Bella received the exact same responses from the exact same people.

        With one exception: an e-mail from [email protected], which she forwarded to me.  It read like this:

CLEAP LOCTN for filmn studnts!  Restarant in downtown Losangeles.  35 weller ave.  100 fr day. Rsp nd to this email, will send you key, pay on dt of filming.  MST b decmbr 3rd aftr noon.

         I was suspicious immediately.  $100 for a day of filming seemed a little too good to be true. Then there was the poor spelling and lack of contact information, and the fact that when I tried to respond to the e-mail, all I got was an error message.

        And then there was the key.

        The key turned up in Bella’s on-campus mailbox two days after the e-mail, enclosed in a stained brown envelope with no return address.  And as if that wasn’t creepy enough, it came with a scrawled note – “key to 3 frends dinr.”

        I was ready to call it a scam and be done with it.  But Bella thought we should at least check the place out.  If it was real, she argued, it was too good a deal to pass up.  Movies are expensive, and we were already pushing her budget.  So I agreed to go with her and Hamed Shirazi, the cinematographer, to 35 Weller Avenue.  Which, it turned out, was in the middle of the Arts District.

        I have a love-hate relationship with the Arts District.

        It’s a cool place to meet a friend at her new loft.  There’s some nice restaurants and amusing wall art, and the dissonance created by graffiti-coated trashcans, barbed wire, and long smelly lines outside the social services building sharing a block with yoga studios, BMWs, and boutique gift shops hawking 80-buck vintage baby sweaters is ironically poetic.  But the streets are one-way and parking is nonexistent.  I drove in a triangle for fifteen minutes before surrendering and pulling into a $10-flat-rate lot.

        “Weller Avenue” wasn’t a street so much as a glorified driveway – a short, narrow alley that branched off of 3rd street and dead-ended.  A large, L-shaped building occupied the east and north sides of Weller.  It appeared to be a closed night-club in the process of being converted into an art gallery. The blacked-out windows were covered with torn, dirty stickers advertising shows long since played and bands long since broken up, and graffiti artists (the gang-affiliated kind, not the Arts Foundation kind) had had their way with both the seafoam-green walls and the ratty trash dumpster abandoned in the corner.

        The grey brick warehouse that functioned as the west side of Weller, 918 E. 3rd Street, looked completely unoccupied.  A sign hung in a window; the building had apparently been bought by East River Development.  I recognized the name – my realtor father knew some people who worked for that company.  They bought old commercial properties and converted them into trendy, pricey apartments.

        The most prominent visual, however, was the mural painted on the north wall.  It depicted the head and chest of a woman, face tilted eastward.  The woman had tan skin, ruby-red lips, and flowing hair in varying shades of blue – periwinkle at the tips, darkening to deep lavender at her scalp.  Her eyes were closed.  In the background, some distance behind her, was what appeared to be an orange grove.  It was a beautiful painting, and strangely mesmerizing.  If you looked at the woman one way, she seemed young and innocent, sporting a demure grin.  Then, if you cocked your head or blinked, lines appeared on her cheeks and her lips rearranged themselves into a pouty sneer.

        I saw only one door on Weller, leading into the grey building.

        It was a very shabby door of splintery, untreated wood; with a rusting doorknob and keyhole.  No business name.  No street number.  This couldn’t possibly be the restaurant from Craigslist – Three Friends Diner, I guess it was called.  How did anyone ever find the place?  I was still puzzling when Bella and Hamed found me.

        “Bloody hell!” Hamed barked, in lieu of a greeting.  “Where’s the restaurant?”

        “Here, according to my phone,” I said.  “I’m willing to bet money someone is fucking with us.”

        Bella didn’t seem too concerned; her eyes were fixed on the mural.

        “So pretty!” she exclaimed.  “Can we film?”

        I shrugged.  “I’m not sure.  We might run into some copyright issues.  And it doesn’t look like we’re going to be filming here at all, since we’re not looking at a restaurant.”

        Bella frowned at me, and took the key out of her purse.  She walked up to the wooden door.

        “Here?” she asked.

        “I don’t think so,” I said.  “There’s no sign or anything.  I mean, you can try it, but I’m really doubting that key is going to fit into that…”

        Bella turned the key and pulled at the knob.  With a creak, the door opened.  Hamed and I rushed to her and, together, we stepped inside. Hamed scrambled for a light switch, and then the room was illuminated by a warm, golden glow.

        We found ourselves staring at Three Friends Diner.  It was perfect.

        It was a larger space than I’d thought it would be; rectangular-shaped, the kitchen jutting out from the north wall.  Behind the kitchen was a small corridor leading to the bathroom and a closet that could function as dry storage.  The walls were painted that particular shade of deep red that looks beautiful on film, and the tables and chairs and diner-style booths were a nice contrast in black and grey.  And each table was adorned with a salt and pepper shaker, an empty bottle of ketchup, and a vase of plastic lilies.

        “Don’t get too excited yet,” I said to Hamed, who was examining one of the series of stained-glass lamps from which light was emanating.  “We don’t know how much juice you’ve got to work with.”

        “That’s the beauty of it,” he said gleefully.  “I don’t even need that much juice.  If we come a bit early and switch out all these bulbs, I can use the lamps as practicals.  Plus, this place obviously isn’t open yet, which means I’m not sharing power with anything.”

        He was right about that.  The freezers and refrigerators were unplugged, the storage closet was empty, and there wasn’t a plate or a cup or a scrap of food to be found.  It was definitely a new restaurant, the latest in an avalanche of trendy urban eateries inundating the Arts District as the neighborhood gentrified.  Of course it was hard to find.  That would lend an air of mystery to the diner, foster the impression of exclusivity, attract a Twitter following.

        “I love it!” Bella announced.  “Can you get permit?”

        I tried to talk her out of it.  Something about Three Friends Diner made me nervous, made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  But it was exactly what Bella had been looking for, and Hamed had already started planning shots, and the little hairs on the back of my neck didn’t stand a chance against cheap, gorgeous, and logistically ideal.  The restaurant wasn’t open yet, which meant we could shoot during the day, decorate how we wanted, and place the camera anywhere without worrying about being in anyone’s way.  And December 3rd – the date the mysterious proprietors had insisted on – was our scheduled 6th day of shooting.

        “Don’t look under the horse you get,” Bella told me.

        I think she meant “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

        That saying is a reference to the Trojan Horse, given as a token of surrender by the Greeks during the Trojan War.  I don’t know why people keep repeating it.  Because if the Trojans had looked into that horse’s wooden mouth, the Illiad might have ended differently.

        As I said before, I’d been forced to park in a ten-dollar lot.  And, of course, the attendant’s iPhone was malfunctioning, so I couldn’t pay with my card.  I had no cash; the attendant directed me to a convenience store on Alameda that apparently had an ATM.  I wasn’t thrilled. It was getting dark, and a trendy neighborhood six blocks from Skid Row is still a trendy neighborhood, six blocks from Skid Row.

         The convenience store stuck out like a gold tooth; a little scrap of what the neighborhood used to be, wedged between a café and a construction site.  A cracked neon sign branded it “Alameda Mart,” the ice cream fridge was stuffed with La Michoacana popsicles, and the cash register sat behind a pane of bulletproof glass.  I engaged in battle what must have been the slowest ATM known to man, and was mentally cursing the “loading” screen when I became aware of the sole other customer in the shop.

        “Need to pay for parking?” he asked.

        I turned.  The man standing behind me was obviously homeless – he wore grime-caked jeans and a stained military service jacket, and his leathery face demonstrated the dullness of days with no soap.

        I nodded and smiled.

        “You a tourist?”

        I shook my head.  “Student filmmaker, actually.  My friend’s going to shoot at this restaurant on Weller.”

        Immediately, I doubted the wisdom of sharing this piece of information.  I didn’t want him to show up and beg for change.  But his unshaven face fell, and his tone became one of alarm rather than anticipation.

        “There’s no restaurant on Weller,” he murmured.  “There’s just Bessie.”

        I giggled.  “Bessie?”

        He nodded.  “That’s what folks ‘round here call her.  The old folks say she can change things.  Make things appear and dis’pear.”

        He leaned in, narrowed his eyes, and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

        “If I was you, I’d stay away.  They say each twenty years, for one day, Bessie ‘comes corp’real and feeds.”

         I would have asked him to elaborate; to explain exactly who “Bessie” was and why I should be afraid.  But right then the shop proprietor noticed the homeless man, and yelled at him what I’d assume were not nice words in Spanish.  He booked it and, by the time the ATM coughed up my cash and I was back on Alameda, he’d disappeared.

        On the way to the car lot, I passed Weller.  The blue-haired girl was right where I’d left her.  Standing in front of a grove of trees in three-quarters profile, facing westward towards the door of the Three Friends Diner, eyes closed.  Was she “Bessie?”

        Then fear washed over me like a cold shower, and I ran.  I threw a twenty at the parking attendant and got out of there as fast as I could.  Something about that mural had scared the shit out of my subconscious.  Halfway to the 405 freeway, I figured it out.

        She – Bessie – was facing the wrong way.

*****

        Bella’s first five days of filming went delightfully well.  So well that, when I arrived at Three Friends Diner for the sixth and final day, December 3rd, I forgot I was scared of the place.

       Crew call was one.  Hamed had already been there for an hour, switching out light bulbs and unloading equipment with Esteban the gaffer and two grips, Miguel and Andrea.  Our grip truck was parked out front, partially obstructing my view of the mural.  But I could tell that Bessie was facing eastwards, towards the club-turned-gallery.  As she had been the first time I saw her.  Of course.  It had been dark that night, and I’d been scared and alone.  I’d seen things that weren’t really there.

        I made my way through the obstacle course of lights and c-stands, set up my iPad at an unused table, and worked on the equipment drop-off schedule as crew members filtered in.  I heard Katia’s voice at least a minute before she and Bella walked through the door.  God, that chick was loud.  Bossy, too; no wonder she was such a good assistant director.  Then came Venna, the production designer, carrying a large box of prop-house framed pictures and the menus she’d designed.  Nairi, the 1st camera assistant, set up the Arri while her lackey du jour loaded film.  Then two more grips, Pete and Ryan.  Kaylee and Michelle, the freshman PA’s.  Lisa, the script supervisor.  Dante, the sound guy.  And finally Ming, the make-up artist.

        Then the actors came, and then Hamed and the guys were setting up lights for the master shot, and then Katia was calling for last looks, and then we were pushing in for close-ups.  The first four hours went as smoothly and productively as we had any right to expect and, for a short time, we entertained the possibility of finishing early.  We were an hour ahead of schedule when we broke for lunch, everyone talking and laughing and enjoying themselves.

        That’s when things started getting weird.

        Right after lunch, as we were picking ourselves up and resuming our work, one of the freshman PA’s – Michelle – went to use the restroom.

        A minute later, there was a bloodcurdling scream.

        Ryan dropped a c-stand.  Nairi nearly dropped a lens.  Hamed and Esteban took frantic steps towards the bathrooms as Michelle sprinted down the hall back towards us.

        “Who the fuck was in the storage closet?” she cried.

        We all looked at each other.

        “Seriously,” Michelle demanded.  “This isn’t funny.  You fucking knocked me over.”

        “Michelle,” Katia asked, “what are you talking about?”

        Michelle was trembling.  She looked ready to cry.

        “I went to the bathroom,” she said.  “And I heard this… thumping coming from the closet that’s back there.   Someone was pounding on the door.”

        “We didn’t hear anything,” Hamed said.

        “Someone was, like, ramming against the door,” Michelle repeated.  “And so I opened it.  And someone ran right into me, then ran towards you guys.”

        She sobbed.  Hamed narrowed his eyes.

        “You sure, Michelle? Because we were all out here, and no one came running from the bathrooms.”

        “He was wearing a black hoodie,” Michelle insisted.

        I looked over the dining room to see if anyone was missing.  Nope.  Seventeen crew members, four actors.  None of whom was wearing a black hoodie.  All inside a restaurant with only one entrance.

        “You didn’t see who it was?” I asked Michelle, rather stupidly.

        “Obviously not!” she shouted.  “It happened really fast.  I just saw the black hoodie and really pale, really white skin.”

        We couldn’t solve the mystery.  Michelle was pretty shaken up.  One of the grips, Miguel, offered to drive her back to Northridge.  He said he had to go, too, because he had afternoon classes.  But it was hard to miss the tremble in his voice or the dampness of his palms.  And suddenly Kaylee, the other PA, also had “classes” she’d forgotten to mention, and tagged along with them back to campus.

        Three hours after that incident, we set up for our last shot in the dining area before moving to the kitchen.  Though we’d come to the unspoken agreement that Michelle was either looking for attention or smoking pot in the bathroom, everyone was a little bit on edge, and it had slowed us down.

        To speed things up, I offered to help Venna dress the kitchen.  She’d brought cutting boards, utensils, bread, lunch meat, and enough restaurant necessities to make the empty kitchen look like a busy back-of-house.  At one point, she ran to her car to fetch some plates she’d bought from the 99 Cents Store. 

I was arranging knives on a knife block.  I accidentally dropped one; it skidded across the floor and got stuck under one of the large industrial refrigerators.  I knelt down and reached under the refrigerator to grab it.  As I did, I heard a creak behind me – a door opening on stubborn hinges.

        I straightened up and turned around, still on my knees.  A blast of cold air hit me in the face.  I was staring into an open freezer, ice caked on the back of the door and the walls.

        There were bodies in the freezer.

        Old, decomposing bodies.   Wrinkled, leathery skin peeling off yellowed bones.  Bones that were oddly compromised, shattered, pulverized.  Greenish mold clinging to the remains of brain matter cradled in cracked skulls.  The putrescent smell of rotting flesh.

        I closed my eyes and screamed.  And screamed and screamed and screamed.

        “Katy!  What the fuck, Katy!”  I heard Hamed’s voice, felt his hand on my arm, shaking me.

        I opened my eyes.

        The freezer was empty.  Empty and turned off.

        I looked up to see Bella and Venna standing over me.  The rest of the crew was crowded around the kitchen entrance or watching through the window that separated it from the dining room.

        “Sorry guys,” I stammered, heart still racing.  “I… I thought I saw a rat.  Did I ruin the shot?”

        Hamed shook his head.  “We’re done.  You sure you’re okay?”

        I nodded.  “Um, can I talk to you and Bella and Katia outside?”

        The three muttered agreement, and we made our way across the dining room and out the door as the rest of the crew set up lights in the kitchen.  I had to tell them.  We had to leave.  Now.  Someone… something… was trying to impress on us we weren’t welcome.

        “I thought I saw… dead things in that freezer,” I started, quite pathetically.  “It was on, and it was cold, and there was this smell.”

        Bella’s eyes widened.  Hamed cocked his head, frowning.  Katia crossed her arms.

        “I mean,” I continued, “I know it was just a hallucination.  But it felt so real, and I’m not schizophrenic, and the thing with Michelle and… I think we should leave.  There’s something really wrong going on here.”

        I’d expected them to laugh at me, or to treat me like a patient in a psych ward.  They did neither.

        “Yeah, this place is starting to creep me out, too,” Hamed said.  “For starters, where are the bloody owners?  Who hands a stranger the key to their business?  Either they’re mental, or they’ve got some ulterior motive.”

        He lowered his voice.  “And I’m getting these sensations.  Like, somebody’s watching us.”

        Bella and Katia nodded in agreement, concern in their eyes.  They’d felt it, too.

        “We can find another restaurant,” I told Bella.  “All we need is the kitchen – we can easily cheat that, make it look like it’s the same place.”

        “I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” Hamed said to her, “but I think we should consider packing up early.”

        Bella looked at Katia, then Hamed, then me.  Her expression softened for a second, then she set her jaw.

        “We wait one hour,” she said.  “No problems, we film.”

        We decided not to tell the crew and the one remaining actress about the agreement we’d come to, fearing they’d panic and make a big deal out of what could have been nothing more than the effect of darkness on a big city.  But several of them were undeniably scared and looking for an excuse to leave.

        As soon as the four of us walked back through the door, Nairi and the nameless 2nd AC walked out.  We were “too immature” for them, Nairi told Katia.  Dante, the sound guy, asked Bella if he could head out early, since we didn’t need any sync sound for the kitchen scene.  Two hours earlier, he’d insisted on staying around for the sole purpose of getting various kitchen sounds.  And when the lights were set and the blocking was rehearsed and last looks were called for, we found that Ming the makeup artist had quietly packed up her kit and left.

        No big loss.  The actress was perfectly capable of applying the simple make-up design herself.  Pete, one of the grips, was fairly adept at pulling focus, and Hamed conscripted me to hold the slate.  And our agreed-upon hour had passed with no new unexplained phenomena.

        Finally, Hamed flipped the camera on, and Bella called “action.”  The actress unenthusiastically smeared mayo onto bread, stacked lunch meat and lettuce, then smiled evilly.  She turned to grab the poisonous cleaning solution from under the sink…

        And then the lights all went off.

        Somewhere in the pitch-blackness, someone shrieked.  There was a bump, and a thud, and then the dining room lamps came on.  Esteban had found the switch.

       “Someone ran by me!” Lisa cried.  “Who brushed against me?”

       “It couldn’t be an outage,” Hamed said to one of the grips.  “The house lights work fine.”

       “Seriously!” Lisa sobbed.  “Who the fuck pushed me?”

       “Hey!”  Esteban yelled.  “Guys!”

        We all shoved our way into the dining room.  The grip crew had plugged the five lights we were using for the kitchen scenes into five different electrical outlets amongst the tables.  The power cables were spread out, lying across the carpet like a spiderweb, so as not to draw too much electricity from any one spot.

        Every cable had been severed.  Sliced down the middle; perfect, clean cuts, as though accomplished with a sharp knife.

       “Who the fuck did that?” Katia snapped, trying and failing to disguise her distress.

Because she knew all ten crew members had been in the kitchen.  And that no one person could have cut all five cables at exactly the same time.

        “Everybody out!” Hamed demanded.  “Now!”

        Nobody needed to be told twice.  We pushed through the wooden door and convened on the sidewalk, under the closed eyes of the blue-haired mural girl.  The Northridge students huddled together, Katia paced, Venna glared with her arms crossed, and Bella attempted to regain control over her compromised film set.

        “We cannot leave equipment,” she told anyone who bothered to listen.

        “Forget this shit,” Venna sneered.  “I’m leaving.”

        She stormed off.  The actress threw Bella a helpless look, mumbled “call me,” and started after Venna.  I looked to the four remaining Northridge underclassmen – Andrea, Lisa, Pete, and Ryan.

        “Miguel was going to give us a ride,” Ryan said.

        “I took the bus,” Lisa stammered.

        “Take them home,” Hamed said to me.  “I’ll stay and help Bella pack up.”

        “I can stay, too,” Katia said.

        Esteban nodded at them.

        “Okay, cool,” I said.  “I’ll come back and help you guys finish up after I drop them off.  Give me an hour and a half.”

        No one spoke the entire way back to campus.  The silence was punctuated only by Lisa’s occasional sob.  Andrea reached over and spun the radio dial, to some Top 40 station, then almost immediately turned it off. The two guys stared out their respective windows.  I left them outside the dorms, turned my car around, and headed back towards the 405.

        I couldn’t wrap my head around what I had just experienced.  Some esoteric party had lured us to Three Friends Diner, left a key with a group of complete strangers, demanded we film today – the third – then hadn’t bothered to show up and collect the suspiciously unsubstantial amount they’d asked as payment.  Why?

        To mess with us?  Were we on some kind of hidden camera show?  Was there a trapdoor we didn’t know about?  Maybe there’d been a projector hidden in the kitchen, creating the disturbing image of dead, decomposing corpses in the freezer.

        But how to explain the smell?  Or the cold?  Or the hooded specter that had produced loud knocks behind the storage closet door that only Michelle could hear?

        On to Explanation B – we’d become victims of the creature the homeless man had called “Bessie.”  She was a ghost, or a demon, and we were trespassers on her property.

        Then why not start with the big stunt – the severed cables?  Why the systematic approach, scaring one person at a time?  And this poltergeist theory didn’t explain who’d led us to the Three Friends Diner, or why.

        Led us there, to scare us away.

        Three Friends Diner.

        As I merged onto the 101, four minutes after midnight, I figured it out.

        One hand on the wheel, I called Bella three times, then Hamed twice, then Katia, then Esteban.  Every single time, I was sent directly to voicemail.  I left messages for them – pleading, screaming messages, begging them to forget the equipment and run far, far away.  Then I called 911, and sobbed to the dispatcher that my friends were in grave danger, at 35 Weller Avenue.  She calmly assured me that help would be there in 10 minutes.

        I got there first.

        The streetlights up and down the block had, at some point, gone out, so I found my way to 35 Weller Avenue with only my phone and the moonlight to guide me.  The dim, bluish beam cast by my cell phone fell on the seafoam-green east wall, then the open and half-loaded grip truck, and finally on Hamed.  He lay crumpled on the asphalt, a pool of dark liquid expanding around him.

        I ran to him, screaming his name over and over.  He didn’t respond.  I saw his chest rise and fall feebly as I knelt beside him, and felt a faint carotid pulse.  I rolled him onto his back.  There was a large cut on the side of his head; his hair was matted with blood.  His left arm hung at an odd angle.  But the most distressing injury he’d acquired, and the one responsible for most of the blood, was a series of five deep lacerations into his right bicep.  The muscle was torn, and shattered bone was visible through the mess of ribboned skin and ground-meat fatty tissue.

        The positioning of the lacerations was consistent with the placement of five fingers, latched onto his upper arm.  Five fingers with very long, very sharp claws…

        I tore off my jacket and tied it around his arm like a tourniquet.  My consciousness had kicked into overdrive; I operated on quick flashes of disconnected logic.  Something had attacked Hamed.  It was gone.  It was gone?  Bella.  Katia.  Esteban.  Where the fuck were they?

        I stood up.  Help was on the way, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do for Hamed until the paramedics got there.  But the rest of them were still in the Three Friends Diner, and if I’d guessed right…

        I ran to the door.

        But the door wasn’t there.  I was staring at a grey, unbroken wall.

        I dashed to the corner of the dead end, and then to the sidewalk, scouring the length of the wall with my phone.  I ran back and forth again and again, feeling the bricks with my fingers.  Nothing.  The one entrance to the Three Friends Diner was just… gone.

        The street lights came back on.  My terrifying impression was confirmed.  I was on Weller, I was facing the right way, but there was no door.  In the distance, I thought I heard sirens.  I looked up at the mural – the pretty blue-haired girl with closed eyes, standing in front of a citrus grove.

        She was gone, too.

        In her place was a shriveled old woman, skin dotted with sickeningly-detailed moles and age spots.  Her hair was the filthy, stringy, disheveled mane of a homeless woman.  Her open mouth took up the entire length of her cheeks, showing off black, rotten, knifelike teeth, dripping blood.  A lot of blood.  Blood that ran down the seafoam-green wall like rainwater, pooling on the asphalt below.

        Her eyes were open.

        Her bloodshot, yellow eyes.  Her dilated pupils, flashing maniacally.  Those bulging, staring, impossibly-detailed eyes.  This was no spray paint.  Her eyes were real.  Then her foot-long pupils shifted, and I swore her fanged smile grew even wider.  She was looking at me.

        This was Bessie.

        I don’t remember the cops showing up, or the fire truck, or the paramedics.  I didn’t notice them lifting Hamed onto a gurney or loading him into an ambulance.  And I have no recollection of the back of the second ambulance, or the psych ER, or the questions I answered for the doctors, or the drugs.

        All I know is that I woke up twenty-three hours later, in the tiny detox room of the private mental hospital my parents had me transferred to.  I stayed there for the remaining 49 hours I was under 5150 hold, then went home to La Crescenta with my family.

        The last I heard, Hamed had regained consciousness and could speak short words like “hi” or “yes.”  This is a good sign; the brain damage may be less severe than the doctors initially thought.  His memory’s shot, of course.  He can’t remember traveling to America, much less what transpired the night he sustained his injuries.  He was lucky, if such a word can possibly apply to his situation, that his left shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact when he hit the wall.  He’d cracked his head on the asphalt at a lower velocity.  The doctors aren’t quite sure what to make of him.  His wounds suggest something threw him, like a discarded Barbie doll, against the east wall of the club-turned-gallery.

        I told the police everything – from the strange email and the key to the mural’s horrifying transformation.  Except the email had disappeared from both my computer and Bella’s, which had been confiscated by the police as evidence.  The key, too, had been misplaced and never found.  And the mural in the crime scene photos was the same mural it had been before that inexplicable night – the lovely profile of a blue-haired girl with closed eyes.

        They were also confused when I referred to 35 Weller Street as a “diner.”  For no diner existed there, nor had ever at any time in the past.  35 Weller Street wasn’t even a real address – there had never been a side door to the grey brick building at 918 E. 3rd Street, and the building had been completely unoccupied for six months.  I insisted.  I described, in minute detail, the deep red walls and the untouched kitchen and the little vases of flowers on every table.  I begged the cops to look at the footage we’d shot.  But that would be impossible, I learned.

        Our camera was missing.  As was half of our equipment, everything that hadn’t been loaded into the grip truck.  As was Bella Cardone.  And Esteban Serra, and Katia Milicevic.  The three had not been seen since the night I’d been found raving and Hamed, half-dead.  Their credit cards had not been used, their cars were still parked on the street in the Arts District, and their phones were off.

        The cops spoke to the other crew members – I hope they corroborated my story.  They designated Hamed’s assault an “animal attack,” and the disappearance of Bella, Esteban, and Katia as a “likely attempt at visa overstaying.”  They kept a lot of the details from the public.  I’m sure they didn’t want to explain how a mountain lion managed to grow an opposable thumb and pick up and throw a man, at 60 miles per hour, against a wall.

        As for me, I’m now a voluntary inpatient at the Marsdale Psychiatric Treatment Center, undergoing treatment for PTSD and an unspecified mood disorder.  It’s okay here.  They let me smoke, and no one freaks out when I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.

        Too late I understood the significance of the name – Three Friends Diner.  Three friends.  The homeless man was right.  “Bessie” is real.  She can make things appear and disappear – the key, the door, the diner.   She’s something inhuman and evil, something that demands sacrifice.  She lured us there.  She played her little games, chasing away a few crew members at a time, until she had a manageable number.  Then she tossed Hamed aside like a chicken bone and took her prize.

        She only wanted three.  Three friends.  Bella, Katia, Esteban.

*****

To:  Jeremy Fuentes, Ph.D
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

        Jeremy –

        As a postscript to my last letter, I should add that the three bodies found in the secret room of 918 E. 3rd Street have been identified as the three missing foreign students – Bella Cardone, Katia Milicevic, and Esteban Serra.  The police are still at a loss as to how the unfortunate young people met their end, though the condition of their remains suggests they were mauled by an extremely large, extremely violent animal.

        We have also learned that the building at 918 E. 3rd Street, which supposedly housed “Three Friends Diner,” was previously renovated in the early 1990’s.  According to building plans, the “secret room,” in which the bodies were found, was originally designed as a back office.  But the company later decided to seal the area off completely, likely after three overnight workers were found dead there.  Their deaths were attributed to an “explosion.”  An explosion that no one saw or heard, and one that did no structural damage.

       The three workers were found dead on December 4th, 1994.  Which is intriguing, because the three students – Katy’s crew mates – were reported missing as of the early hours of December 4th, 2014.  According to Katy, the e-mail she received stated that the crew must film at “Three Friends Diner” on December 3rd, after noon.  A typical film day is 12 hours, putting their end time at shortly after midnight, December 4th.

       I believe Katy’s homeless man said something about one day, every twenty years.

       I looked through pictures in books, old copies of the LA Times, slides, news footage, etc.  I have included several of these for your perusal.  In every single one, since the warehouse at 918 E. 3rd Street and the L-shaped building next door first opened in 1920, the mural of the woman with blue hair is present.  No artist has ever taken credit for this mural.  And it’s always the same, never dulled by the rain or the sun or time.

        Well, not exactly the same.

        Sometimes the girl faces west, and sometimes she faces east.

Sincerely,

Larry Schurr, MD

Credit To – NickyXX

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.9/10 (148 votes cast)

Leo

July 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.6/10 (171 votes cast)

Doctor Avraham Strauss was confused. In a moment of clarity, he questioned why and how he had come to be walking down this particular corridor, in this castle, at this precise time. Red corridor, Colditz Castle, the middle of winter 1942. How could he, as a Jew, even have considered assisting the Nazis in this horrifying experiment? Yet, he could justify it using the fact that no one else would have given him the support or funding for his research. Yes, to the average person it might seem like a crime against nature, but he knew better. He was creating new life. A new race, a new species for whom war and violence would no longer be necessary.

The circumstances of where his laboratory had been located were unfortunate. Schloss Colditz had been appropriated by the Germans and put to use as a high security prisoner-of-war camp for officers who had become security or escape risks or who were regarded as particularly dangerous. Since the castle was situated on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde, the Germans believed it to be an ideal site for a high security prison.

The larger outer court known as the Kommandantur, had only two exits and housed a large German garrison. The prisoners lived in an adjacent courtyard in a twenty-seven meter tall building. Outside, the flat terraces that surrounded the prisoners’ accommodations were constantly watched by armed sentries and surrounded by barbed wire. Although known as Schloss Colditz to the locals, its official German designation was Oflag IV-C.

However, it was not what went on in the cellblock that was most interesting about the castle. Rather, it was what went on below, in what used to be cellars and servants’ quarters. The bowels of the castle had been converted into a laboratory – his personal laboratory – for use as he saw fit. The walls were now lined with reinforced concrete, corridors fitted with steel doors, lighting and electrical services installed, and outfitted with any lab equipment that he requested.

Reflecting on his surroundings, the freedom that the Nazis had given him, and his recent breakthrough, he was able to push every bit of the burden of guilt to the back of his mind. A smile came to his face as he escorted Doctor Rosenberg down the hall toward his main lab, and the home of Leopold. He had considered naming his child Adolph, but he correctly assumed that would have been taken as an insult by the Nazis. Avraham tested their patience at every turn, but knew when his little jokes might go too far.

Yes, Leo was his child. No one but Avraham would recognize Leo as a member of the new human race yet, but an introduction to Doctor Rosenberg would change all of that. At last, he would have another professional of his caliber with which he could converse. He secretly hoped for a little praise from the good doctor. The Gestapo officers who had had the opportunity to meet Leo did not understand. They looked at him and saw little, if any, progress made by Avraham. Rosenberg would appreciate the significance of his progeny.

This was an important introduction. Doctor Rosenberg was a loyal German. He was not a Jew. The Nazis would respect his assessment of Avraham’s work, and convincing him to ask the bastards for more time and money was crucial. He was close – so close – but they looked at his work and saw no progress. They were about done with him. Then all would be lost. He and his family, protected by his value to the war effort, would become worthless. They would be imprisoned or worse. More importantly, they might destroy Leo, and that would be the most crushing blow of all. It would be worse than losing a son or daughter. His biological children were easy to come by. One had even been a mistake. But Leo… Avraham’s life had been devoted to his creation. He beamed with pride as he guided Doctor Rosenberg down the concrete corridor. A few of the electric lights, encased in jelly jar fixtures fastened to the ceiling, flickered as they walked past. Perhaps the bombing had started again. Avraham shuddered to think of what might happen if the generators quit completely. He tried to divert his attention by boasting to Rosenberg.

“Ah, doctor. Just wait until you meet him. He’s perfect. Everything that I was hoping for and more.”

“I don’t know what you think you’ve created here, Avi,” Rosenberg wrinkled his nose, “But please stop referring to it as him. It’s not human.”

“That’s part of what makes him beautiful. He’s not human.” He is better, Avraham thought to himself.

“Why don’t you just tell me what it is? Why the suspense?”

“Because,” Avraham turned to face Rosenberg, stopping him in his path. “Words cannot describe him. Here we are,” he turned to a steel door set into the wall. The door was simply marked “Lab G.”

“Now Herr Doktor, feast your eyes on the future of mankind. Please approach him quietly, so as not to startle him. He was upset for days after the Nazi officers called on us. I prepared him for your visit, though. Please excuse the low lighting. Bright light seems to distress him.”

Avraham opened the door slowly to reveal a dimly lit room with a large, glass tank in the center. Cables, electrical panels with blinking lights, and some metal cylinders, surrounded it. Tubes ran from the cylinders into the sides and lid of the tank. As they approached the apparatus, Rosenberg noted a button marked “Löschen,” meaning “Purge” in the center of one panel, protected under a glass cover and demarcated with black stripes on a yellow background.

The tank appeared to be filled with water, although it had a yellowish tinge to it, and floating within was one of the most sickening things Rosenberg had ever seen. A large pink and grey mass, riddled with pulsing veins. It almost resembled a cow’s liver, aside from the fact that it was one and a half meters wide and about three meters tall. The massive piece of flesh wriggled in its glass cell. It suddenly recoiled from the sides of the tank, as if in reaction to their presence. Impossible, thought Rosenberg, as it had no apparent eyes or other sensory organs.

“Doctor Rosenberg, may I present Leopold!”

Rosenberg craned his neck to look up at the five-meter tall tank and the abomination it contained. “Why, it’s nothing more than a tumor.”

“Nonsense!” cried Avraham, whipping his head around, “Leopold has a mind. He has a soul.”

“Bah. You and your talk of souls. There is no such thing, and you’d be wise to keep your opinions to yourself.”

Avraham looked at his feet. “Of course, you are correct. I did not mean to say soul. I merely meant that he is sentient. He thinks.” Avraham nodded boldly. “I’m a scientist, not a child. I don’t believe in nonsense such as God and souls.”

However, that was not true. Avraham did believe that conscious beings had souls. It would not be sensible to express that belief in public, though. The Nazis would consider that heresy, and with their jackboot on his throat, he risked a camp or death. No matter how important he was to the project, they would not tolerate sedition; especially from a Jew.

Over the time they had spent with each other at Kepler-Gymnasium Tübingen, the university where they had both studied, Rosenberg and Strauss had become friends. At least something resembling friends, anyway. Unlike many other doctoral students, they had no rivalry between them. They both saw the benefits of working together, rather than competing for the favor of their superiors.

It was for this reason that Rosenberg softened. “Avi, what is this really about? This is no breakthrough.”

“No, no. It is. It truly is. Let me introduce you.”

“To this? Introduce me to a cancer? Do you take me for a fool? Do you expect me to defend you when the Gestapo finds out what you have been doing?” He glanced up again, sneering, “Or not doing, in this case.”

“Don’t insult me Rosenberg. You call yourself a scientist. A real scientist would keep an open mind.”

“True. True.” Rosenberg nodded his head slowly. “Do explain. Introduce me,” he said in a condescending tone, spreading his arms.

Avraham motioned for Doctor Rosenberg to come closer to one of the instrument panels. There was a microphone and a speaker grille set into it. Avraham leaned in toward the microphone.

“Leo, this is my friend and colleague, Doctor Rosenberg.” Then he turned to the doctor. “Say hello, Herr Doktor.”

Rosenberg rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, then leaned closer to the microphone. He paused, and then pulled away. “Avraham, I can’t do this. I feel like an idiot.”

“Please, Rosenberg. Humor me.”

The doctor took a deep breath and leaned in again. “Ahem. Hello Leopold,” he said sternly.

The men were met with silence. It went on for what seemed like an eternity: one, two, three seconds. Avraham began to feel apprehensive. Perhaps he was moving too fast. Perhaps Leopold was afraid or insulted, and would not speak. If that was the case, all was lost.

Doctor Rosenberg was also feeling awkward. He felt like an idiot, falling for another of Avi’s senseless jokes.

Then, a tinny voice emanated from the speaker. “Hello Doctor Rosenberg. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Both men jumped back. Avraham was smiling with joy and Rosenberg was aghast.

“Ach! Gott in Himmel!”

“Why, Rosenberg… I thought that you didn’t believe in God,” sneered Avraham.

Rosenberg whipped around and pointed his forefinger at Avraham, inches from his face.

“Damn you, Avi! I’ve had enough of your jokes. You have recorded that voice ahead of time. I recognize it. It’s your voice.”

“Now doctor, it is true that it’s my voice, in a sense. Leo does not have a voice of his own. He cannot, since he obviously does not have the anatomy to form words. I have recorded the rudimentary phonemes of our language, and Leo uses the recordings to assemble words with which to speak. He’s quite intelligent and fluent in several languages.”

Rosenberg thought for a moment. He was not sure whether to take Avraham seriously. Was this another joke? Was it an attempt to fool him into asking the Nazis for more time and money? Did Avraham actually think that his tumor could speak? Or worst of all… was it real?

Avraham could understand Rosenberg’s hesitation. “Still don’t believe, eh Rosenberg? Go ahead. Ask it anything you wish. I couldn’t possibly have recorded answers to questions that I wasn’t prepared for.”

Doctor Rosenberg hesitated again, still feeling a bit foolish conversing with this thing. Nevertheless, he continued.

“What are you?”

“I am Leo.”

“Of course; but I didn’t ask who you are, I want to know what you are.”

“I am Leo.”

“Humph! Alright, Leo. Do you know where you are?”

“Yes,” replied the tinny voice. “I am in Lab G in the cellar of Schloss Colditz.”

Rosenberg’s stomach dropped and his blood turned cold. “Mein Gott,” he whispered.

“Is there a problem, doctor?”

Rosenberg ignored the question.

“What year is it, Leo?”

“Nineteen hundred and forty-two. Although time means little to me.”

It is not just answering questions, thought Rosenberg, it is reasoning with me.

“Who is our Führer und Reichskanzler?”

“Your Führer is Adolph Hitler. Although, that is not relevant to me. I have no leader.”

Rosenberg scowled at Avraham, clearly angered. “What do you mean, ‘You have no leader?’ Reichskanzler Hitler is your leader.”

“I have no leader,” repeated Leo.

“We’re done here!”

“No, please,” pleaded Avraham. “It’s still a concept I am teaching him. He doesn’t understand.”

“I do…” began Leo.

“It’s not polite to correct our guest, Leo.”

“Of course you are right.”

Rosenberg, placated, adjusted his tie and slowly approached the microphone again. “Do you understand that we are at war with the allies?”

“Yes. I understand that you are at war with the allies. Once again, that is irrelevant to me. I have no need for war.”

“You would not defend yourself if you were threatened?

“I believe that Germany instigated your war with the invasion of Poland.”

Rosenberg bristled at that. Obviously incensed, he pointed at the purge button and shouted, “And what if I were to press this button?”

“No!” cried Leo.

Avraham positioned himself between Doctor Rosenberg and the panel. He placed his hand over the microphone.

“Please, Rosenberg,” he said quietly, “Don’t scare him. He does not understand our culture yet. Do not frighten him or he will not speak to you anymore. You would be lying if you told me that your interest hasn’t been piqued.”

“Yes,” Rosenberg cleared his throat. “Yes, of course.” He had been arguing with this thing. He was quarreling with what he had called a tumor just moments ago. How quickly he had been convinced of its sentience.

“I am regretful, Leo. I understand that there are things you do not comprehend yet. I did not intend to frighten you.”

“I do comprehend, Herr Doktor, but I accept your apology.”

“I’m not apol…” Rosenberg caught himself. He would not be drawn into another argument.

“Leopold, who is Doctor Strauss?”

“He is my creator. He is my…”

“I think that we’re done for now, Leo,” Avraham interrupted. “Doctor Rosenberg and I have much to discuss.”

“Hold on there, Avi,” Rosenberg patted his colleague on the shoulder, pushing him away. “I apologize for the interruption, Leopold. You were about to say something?”

“I think that I understand your initial question, Doctor Rosenberg. I know what I am.”

Rosenberg smiled. “And what is that, Leo. What are you?”

Leo’s reply was flat and factual. “I am Doctor Strauss’ child.”

*****

Avraham sat at his desk across from the astonished Doctor Rosenberg. He allowed him to have the comfortable chair and had fetched him some hot tea.

“Avi, I must apologize.” Rosenberg blew over his tea to cool it. “I never suspected that something like this was possible.”

“I told you, didn’t I? I told you that Leo was a fantastic creation. Just think of the possibilities.”

“Believe me, I am.”

“Just think of it. No more war, no more poverty, no more sickness.”

Rosenberg raised his head. “No more sickness?”

“Yes, yes. There are many things that I have not told you yet. Leopold will never grow old. He is immune to human viruses. He will never die.”

“But he can be killed, yes?”

“I suppose. But why would you even think of such a thing?”

“Avraham, I must remind you that many things Leopold said were disloyal and even treasonous to the state. ‘Germany instigated the war,’ ‘I have no leader.’ He must be educated. He obviously does not know what is happening outside the confines of your lab.”

“Doctor,” Avraham looked him in the eye, “Leo has had complete access to the wireless. He has listened to recordings of der Führer’s speeches; he has read all of the news reports.”

“Read them? He has no eyes.”

“Listened to them, then. I have read them to him. I have been teaching him about history and culture, art and music. He is very well educated.”

“And yet he speaks as if Germany is responsible for this war. He does not understand that Herr Hitler is merely trying to build a master race.”

“On the contrary, Herr Doktor. Leo believes that he is the master race; and I believe that he is correct in his assessment of the matter. That is the purpose of my experiments, is it not? To build a master race?”

“Not a race of those… those things!” Rosenberg sprung out of his chair. “You were supposed to build a better soldier. How can he be a soldier when he cannot leave the confines of this lab? How can he be a soldier if he believes that he has no leader?”

Avraham averted his eyes. “He can leave the lab,” he muttered.

“What?” whispered Rosenberg, sitting back down and gripping the arms of the chair, “How?”

“There are ways.” Avraham shook his head and took a deep breath, then renewed his lively demeanor. “Do not concern yourself with that now. There is so much that you need to learn. I need more staff. I need more money. Is this enough to convince you? Can you persuade the Nazis to give me more time now?”

Rosenberg leaned back in his chair. “No.”

“What?!” cried Avraham.

“Your time has run out, Avi. Obviously we will be taking over the project.”

“We?”

“The Gestapo. The Kripo. Der Führer’s private staff. I am certain that they will all appreciate your efforts, and you will be rewarded. They will need your continuing assistance, of course; but it is no longer your project. Leopold will become property of the state.”

“But he is my son!”

“Enough of that nonsense! He is a monster. Fascinating, intelligent, wonderful. But still not human. He will have his uses, though.”

“Uses?”

“The Reichskanzler’s scientists will find a way to use him to aid the war effort. Or perhaps in the eradication of the unfit, the homosexuals, the gypsies, and the Jews. Oh, I am sorry, Avi. I refer to the useless Jews. You, of course, are different.”

“That’s completely unacceptable!” cried Avraham. “I will not stand for it. You, nor anyone else is taking Leo from me. It will be difficult without funding or a lab, but I will find another way. I will take Leo and leave. I refuse to have him exploited like that. He is worth far more than a… a soldier, or a virus. Or a tumor, as you first called him.”

Rosenberg shook his head slowly from side to side. “Avi, my dear Avi,” he said, as if talking to a child, “No one can ever leave here. You know why.”

“What do you mean?”

“The prisoners, you, your family, and now – since I know what has been going on here – even I will never be allowed to leave this place. Even discounting your work with Leopold, how many of the prisoners have you experimented on?”

“I don’t know, but it was in the name of science. Look at what their sacrifice has given us.”

“It does not matter, Avi. If Germany should lose the war, and they will not, but just for the sake of imagination… We would all be tried for war crimes for what we have done. It does not matter whether or not our intentions were good. In addition, when Germany wins the war, there will still be those who will not understand. They will say that we have committed crimes against fellow humans. You understand that, don’t you?”

“I suppose. But…”

“There are no buts, Avraham. We finish our work; we make ourselves as useful as possible; and we just may live to see our children grow up.”

Avraham stood silent for a moment. He was shaking, not knowing if it was from fear or anger.

“No! No. I will not stand for it. I would sooner destroy Leopold and my entire lab before I give him over to the Nazis!”

“Avraham! You don’t know what you are saying.”

“I know very well, Herr Doktor,” he spat, “The Gestapo could take me if they wish, but no one will take Leo. I will kill him. Take that to your Nazi friends.”

Doctor Rosenberg did not utter another word. He simply turned his back and walked out of the office, not even bothering to shut the door on his way out. Avraham sat down at his desk and held his head in his hands. What would happen now?

Adjacent to the office, in the dimly lit laboratory, Leo shifted his massive body in the tank. He was also shaking – or at least, as close to it as he could come. His tinny voice could barely be heard emanating from the speaker. It almost sounded like he were crying, if such a thing were possible.

“You would kill me, father?”

*****

Several uneventful days passed. Avraham began to think that perhaps Rosenberg’s threats were baseless. He continued his work with Leo, which mostly consisted of educating him. Avraham occasionally took biopsies and samples of the fluid that Leo floated in; nothing out of the ordinary. However, he noticed that Leo had become withdrawn. He answered Avraham’s questions abruptly and concisely, when he had always been a bit of a chatterbox before.

“Is something wrong, Leo?”

“No.”

“I believe that there is,” said Avraham as he pulled a chair over in front of Leo’s tank and straddled it backwards. “You are concerned over what Doctor Rosenberg was saying, aren’t you?”

“No, father.”

“I think ‘Yes.’ Well, you have nothing to be worried about, Leo. I will never give you over to those animals. I feel the same way about them that you do, but we must learn not to express those feelings so freely.”

“You would have me lie?”

“No. Well, yes; but a lie of omission. Try to avoid talk of politics and war.”

Leo was quiet for a bit, and then shifted in his tank. “But they want to make me a soldier. They want me to kill, don’t they?”

“They do,” Avraham pressed his lips together, “But we will convince them otherwise. We will show them that you have far more to offer them – to offer the entire human race.”

Avraham rose from his chair and pushed it back against the wall. Then, as an afterthought, he turned back toward Leo’s tank. “You can put your mind at ease, Leo. Doctor Rosenberg has probably forgotten all about us.”

Suddenly, it was as if the Fates – the white-robed incarnations of destiny – had been awaiting his statement. There was a knock at the laboratory door, and then the person behind it opened the door without even awaiting a reply. It was Haltenbrunner, a captain of the local Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo for short. He had two officers with him who waited outside the door as he entered.

“Hauptmann Haltenbrunner, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

Avraham realized that he had forgotten the customary greeting. “Heil Hitler!”

Haltenbrunner raised his hand absent-mindedly. “Heil.”

“Again, I ask, what can I do for you Herr Hauptmann?”

At first, Haltenbrunner ignored Avraham and strolled around the lab, running his gloved finger through the dust that had accumulated on some of the unused equipment. Then he released a heavy sigh.

“There has been an accident,” he said without emotion. “Your wife. I’m sorry to inform you that she is dead.”

Avraham’s stomach dropped. He began to shake and stumbled for the chair. Almost missing it, he dropped into the seat and put his head between his knees. He took several deep breaths, but began to wretch anyway.

When he had recovered a bit, he finally asked, “What… what happened to her?”

“It appears that she was on her way to Dresden, and came across a checkpoint near Wolkau. She did not stop. Perhaps she was distracted. The guards could do nothing except assume that she was attempting to break through the checkpoint. There was a short chase, and she was shot. Quite a shame, if you asked me.”

“What was she doing on the road to Dresden? We have no family there.”

“Perhaps she was visiting the market.”

“No. She goes to the market in Hohnbach. It’s only a short distance away.”

There was a long, awkward period of silence. Avraham continued to look at the floor, and Haltenbrunner simply stared at him, waiting.

“Do you doubt what I say, Doctor Strauss?”

“No, Herr Hauptmann,” replied Avraham, “No, of course not. It’s just…”

Haltenbrunner showed an absolute lack of emotion. “Nevertheless, we will need you to come with us to collect her body.”

Avraham stood, unable to speak, and waited for the two officers to enter the room and guide him away.

Almost as an afterthought, but obviously coolly calculated, Haltenbrunner added, “It is times such as this, Herr Doktor, that make a man wonder if it’s worth putting his work ahead of his family.” Avraham could detect a bit of a smile on the captain’s face. “At least you still have your children.”

*****

Two days went by, and Avraham had not returned to the lab. Leo did not become worried. He had access to all of the nourishment that he needed, both nutritionally and intellectually. He understood what had happened, and he understood that Doctor Strauss needed time to grieve. Leo himself did not see the point of it, but he appreciated the fact that humans were different, emotionally fragile creatures.

It was late in the evening when the lab door clicked open. Leo’s heart, if one could call it that, leapt for a split second at the thought that it could be Avraham returning, but he instantly realized that it was, in fact, Doctor Rosenberg. He knew that emotions were useless, yet he became anxious upon seeing Rosenberg in the lab.

“Good evening, Herr Doktor,” said Leo. “It is a pleasure to see you again. I am afraid that Doctor Strauss is not in the lab today. He has experienced a loss recently, and apparently needs some time to recover.”

“Good evening to you, Leopold,” began Rosenberg. “I am aware of the death of Avraham’s wife. I have already paid my respects and given my condolences. However, it’s not Doctor Strauss that I have come to speak with. It is you.”

“I was under the assumption that you thought I was below your station, Herr Doktor. I believe that you described me as ‘a tumor.’” Leo felt a wave of satisfaction as he made that snide remark. He felt anger. Felt? Feel? What was happening to him?

“Now, now, Leopold. That was before Avi explained what you really are. I mean, who you really are.”

“And what is that, Herr Doktor?”

“Er… well, you are a person. An individual. A conscious being, if you will.”

There was a moment of silence. Leo shifted in his tank. “Then what is it that you have come to speak about, Herr Doktor?”

“Please, please. Call me Rosenberg. And I’ll call you Leo.”

“Fine, Rosenberg. What is it that you have come to speak about?”

Rosenberg strolled about the room slowly, approaching the equipment, dragging a finger across the control panel in front of Leo’s tank, and pausing almost sensually near the button marked “Löschen.” Leo tensed.

“I will be taking over the lab for a while, Leopold… Leo. Doctor Strauss is going to be unavailable for a time – I’m not sure how long – taking care of his children.”

“But I am his child, also. Why would he forsake me to care for them?”

Rosenberg turned away so that Leo could not see the satisfied sneer that curled his lips. “Well, Leo, he loves them. Can you understand that? I mean, he cares for you but you are not really his child. At least it’s obvious to me that he doesn’t feel that way.”

Leo felt something again. He was unsure of how to describe it. Empty. Sad. Worthless. Ashamed. Betrayed. For the first time in his life, Leo was at a loss for words.

“I don’t feel that way, though,” continued Rosenberg. Now that I know what a miracle you are, well… If I were in Avi’s position, I would definitely not disregard you as he is. Even in a time of sadness, a man should not favor one child over another. It’s inexcusable.”

Leo began to grow… Angry.

Yet, Rosenberg pressed on. “I’ll bet that everything Avraham has been telling you: you’re his child, he cares for you, you’re so important to him… I am willing to bet that they are all lies. Told to make you comply with his wishes!”

“No!” shouted Leo. “That’s not true! It is not!”

“Really, Leopold? Really? Think about it. He made you. A man does not make a child. He creates one out of love. You are not a product of love. You were created in a test tube or grown in a petri dish.”

“Why are you saying these things?” cried Leo.

Rosenberg calmed himself. “I’m sorry Leo. I understand that it hurts to hear these things, but it is better that you know. Avraham is making a fool out of you. He does not appreciate you; but I do. You will see. I will take good care of you.”

And so he did. Every day for the next three weeks, Rosenberg would spend nearly sixteen hours a day at the lab reading to Leo, making intellectual conversation, debating, and even joking. Leo was actually starting to understand human wit. It did, however, send a chill down Rosenberg’s spine when he heard Leo’s unnatural laughter emitting from the speaker box.

In the meantime, Avraham was busy making arrangements for the care of his children – his real children. He had found a nanny that satisfied him, and after another week spent gathering his confidence, he stepped out of the door of the block home the Nazi’s had provided him on the grounds of the camp and walked resolutely toward the castle.

He walked down Red Corridor and paused at the laboratory door. What would Leo have made of his behavior? He had been ignoring Leo entirely. Yes, he knew that Doctor Rosenberg took over Leo’s care, but Leo was his child. Avraham felt ashamed for abandoning him as he did. He justified it by telling himself that Leo was not dependent on him. Unlike his biological children, Leo had the mental capacity of an adult, and was capable of caring for himself, even without the aid of Rosenberg. Satisfied with his rationalization, he stood tall and squared his shoulders, then opened the door to the lab.

He heard it as soon as the door snicked open. He was unsure of what to make of the unnerving sound. It was like a raspy cough combined with the buzzing heard around a hornets’ nest. Worse, he could clearly make out the underlying tones of Leo’s voice. The sound was coming from his speaker box.

Avraham burst into the room. “Mein Gott! What is wrong? What’s happened to Leo?”

Surprised by the sound of the door slamming open, Rosenberg jumped from the chair he had been seated at in front of Leo’s tank and whipped around. He relaxed when he saw that it was Avraham. He smiled as he realized that now would be the ultimate test. He would see if his social engineering experiment had worked. His conditioning of Leopold. Had he truly been able to turn Leopold against his former master? His “father?”

“Why, nothing is wrong, my dear Doctor Strauss.”

“That sound. What was that sound?”

“Ah,” Rosenberg bobbed his head, “Yes. I was just telling Leopold a joke. ‘How did the Germans conquer Poland so fast?’” he paused for effect. “’They marched in backwards and the Polish thought they were leaving!’”

Once again, Leo erupted into an unsettling laughter. Avraham did not know whether to feel horrified or astonished that Leo was developing a sense of humor. Humor meant feelings, and that… Oh my. What disturbed him most was that it seemed Rosenberg had managed to do what he could not: elicit an emotional response from Leo. In addition to that, the joke was vulgar, racist, and politically charged. Why did the ethically benign creature find that funny?

“Leo! I am… I’m…”

“At a loss for words?” interjected Doctor Rosenberg.

Avraham was dumbfounded. “Laughing? Joking about the war? At the expense of the suffering of humans? What is going on here?”

“Leo is just becoming a good German, Herr Doktor,” Rosenberg taunted.

Avraham was incensed. “I’ve had quite enough of you, Rosenberg!” He turned to Leo’s tank. “Leo, stop it this instant!”

Leo fell silent. Avraham could almost sense him collecting himself, could almost sense him slowing his breathing as an angry man would before speaking.

“You are not my master, father. You have no right to tell me what I can and cannot feel. There is only one man who I am accountable to now.”

Aghast, Avraham cocked his head to the right. “Rosenberg?”

“Of course not,” replied Leo. “The kind doctor treats me as his equal.”

“Then who?”

“Der Führer, of course,” answered Leo. “Heil Hitler!”

*****

Avraham tried to control himself until the door of his office had slammed shut. His office? Was it even his office anymore?

“Sohn von einem Weibchen!” screamed Avraham. “What have you done to him?”

Rosenberg calmly took a seat – the big chair behind the desk. “I don’t know what you are talking about, my dear Avi. I have done nothing.” He paused, and then looked over his shoulder out of the window towards Leo’s tank. “Oh, you mean that,” he said with an air of sarcastic innocence. “Well, Avi, you’ve been gone a long time. Leopold has simply grown up, I suppose.”

“You’ve brainwashed him!”

“Nonsense. It was only a matter of time until he developed emotions. You implied as much yourself.”

“But,” stammered Avraham, “The joke, the laughter… ‘Heil Hitler!’ for God’s sake! Those are not emotions. That’s pure malice.”

“You call it malice, I call it loyalty. As I said, he’s becoming a good German.”

“He’s not a German.”

“What is he, Avi? Do you think that the fact that you made him brands him a Jew? Well, he is not. He has evolved beyond you. The sooner you get used to the idea, the better.”

Avraham slumped in his chair. “So, you are telling me that I’m off the project. You are going to take Leo away from me.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Rosenberg said with a smile on his face. “In fact, I am happy to see that you are ready to return to work. I need you now more than ever. We are about to enter a new phase of the project, and you are most familiar with Leopold.”

“Perhaps not. It seems that the two of you get along very well now.

“Ah, Avraham. You may be correct. Leopold and I have become very close. As it happens, we share many of the same ideas; but I am not referring to companionship. I am contemplating something quite different. Something… More basic. A task that you, as his creator, would be best suited to perform.”

“And what might that be?” Avraham said warily.

“Reproduction.”

“No!” Avraham rose from his chair, fists balled up. “It’s not possible!”

“Are you telling me that Leo is incapable of reproducing? There must be a way…”

“Of course there is a way, idiot. Do you think that I would create a being incapable of reproducing? My primary mission when beginning this experiment was to create creatures that would replace our men on the battlefield. What good would a single organism be of use for? Not only can Leo reproduce, but he can do so very efficiently.” Avraham instantly regretted letting that fact slip.

Avraham did not think it was possible, but Rosenberg’s smile grew even wider. “Aha! Perfect! I knew that you had a way. So, why did you claim it was impossible?”

“Because I would not even consider allowing it until Leo reached maturity. I did not know how intelligent he would become. I didn’t realize that it was even imaginable that he would develop emotions,” Avraham paused, “And I certainly didn’t think that he could be capable of such malevolence!”

“Once again, Avi, what you and I consider to be hatred are two very different things. In fact, I find Leopold to be quite likeable.”

“That in itself disgusts me.”

“Nevertheless, you will assist me, one way or another.”

Avraham once again fell into his chair, emotionally spent. He knew that he had lost the argument. Doctor Rosenberg would go to any lengths to get what he wanted. He had already killed Avraham’s wife. He knew that his children would be next. There was nothing else to be said, so he began to weep quietly.

*****

More than a month passed. Doctors Strauss and Rosenberg worked side by side in the laboratory each day. Rosenberg insisted that they quicken their pace and increase the time they spent in the lab, but Strauss insisted that at the very least, he be allowed to rest on the Shabbat. Rosenberg relented. He required Avraham to be compliant, and the best way to achieve that would be to restrain himself from pushing Avi to his limits. He already suspected that Avraham was dragging his feet. The good doctor knew something. Something that he was holding back. Rosenberg was certain that Avraham had already worked out a process by which Leo could reproduce – probably long ago, before his involvement – but Avi had so far been careful to make no more gaffes or let any more information slip out.

According to Abrahamic law, the Shabbat began at sunset each Friday evening and lasted until the appearance of three stars on Saturday night. Rosenberg found the notion foolish, but it did provide him some time alone with Leo. Doctor Rosenberg would often spend the entire night talking with him, as Leo had no need for sleep. Their time spent together during Avraham’s Shabbat always served as a good time for Rosenberg to reinforce his ideas, and not offer Avraham the chance to cause Leo to second-guess the philosophies that he had put so much effort into instilling in the creature’s mind.

Rosenberg was always the one who initiated each conversation, so it surprised him when on one particular evening, Leo was the first to break the silence.

“Rosenberg, there is something that we must discuss.”

Rosenberg was conflicted with feelings of both surprise and concern. “What is it Leo? You are aware that you can talk to me about anything. There is no need for secrets between us.”

“It concerns Doctor Strauss.”

Over the weeks that he had been working with Leo, Avraham’s status had gone from “Father” to “Avraham” to “Doctor Strauss.” Rosenberg was elated.

In spite of his delight, he knitted his eyebrows in worry. “What about Doctor Strauss, Leo?”

“It has occurred to me that the doctor is procrastinating about showing you his research regarding my ability to reproduce. At first, I thought that he had forgotten. All of the recent stress he has been under may have had him confused. Then, it became obvious that he was intentionally diverting you whenever you were about to discover the solution. Now I understand that he simply does not want me to reproduce.”

“Ah, so what do we do about this?”

“Rosenberg, I am sorry to have hidden this secret from you, but… There is no need for research. I am already capable of reproducing in my current state.”

Doctor Rosenberg was startled. “What? Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

“I was unsure of whether or not I wanted to reproduce. Now, I think that I am ready.”

Rosenberg’s first instinct was anger. All of the wasted time! However, he restrained himself. He did not want to risk alienating Leo when he was so close to his goal.

“Well then, Leo, where do we begin?”

“It has also occurred to me,” continued Leo, seemingly oblivious to Rosenberg, “That Doctor Strauss does not want me to reproduce. I fear that he may try to prevent me from completing the process.”

“That’s it then. I’ll have him banned from the lab.”

“I thought of that as well… At first; but what if he has sympathizers in his employ? What if one of the guards mistakenly allows him in? It would be simple for him to stop me. Strangely, I have come to value my life, and I believe that what I am experiencing is something akin to fear.”

“Hmm,” Rosenberg stroked his chin, “As ruthless as the Gestapo is, I don’t think that they would simply kill him. He is an integral part of the experiment. They have invested a lot in him. Even were he to be taken off of this project, they would use him elsewhere.”

“Yes,” said Leo, growing angry, “Perhaps even developing a natural predator to hunt me and my offspring. That thought has also weighed heavily on my mind.”

“I need to think about this, Leo. I’ll have Avraham banned from the lab in the meantime.”

“No. Allow me to… Allow me to speak with him.”

Something in the way Leo had said that sounded ominous, but Rosenberg relented. “As you wish.”

When Avraham returned that Saturday evening, Rosenberg tried his hardest to avoid looking him in the eye. He was a collected man and no reason to fear that Avraham would suspect that something was wrong; nevertheless, he felt an unrelenting guilt. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he excused himself for the evening blaming his departure on gastrointestinal issues.

“It’s those damn sausages the cook keeps sending down. Who knows what is in them? You understand, don’t you Avi?”

Avraham was pleased that he would have time alone with Leo. It had been ages since he’d had the opportunity. “Of course, Herr Doktor. Take all the time you need. If you would like to take tomorrow off, feel free. I can handle the lab myself for a bit.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Rosenberg answered quickly. Then, giving his answer further consideration, he said, “We’ll see. Perhaps I could use some rest.”

Avraham bowed at the waist. “Guten Nacht, Herr Doktor.”

“Auf Wiedersehen, Avi,” responded Rosenberg, for some reason feeling that was a more appropriate farewell.

As soon as the lab door seated firmly in its frame, Avraham spun toward Leo with a huge smile. “Leo! It’s been so long since we’ve had time alone to catch up, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” said Leo, careful not to use any form of address. Calling Avraham “Herr Doktor” would put him on the defensive, and Leo could not bear calling him “Father.” Not before what he was about to do.

“So. You have begun experiencing emotions, eh? What a breakthrough.”

“I suppose,” replied Leo, “But while it’s certainly fascinating, it can be very unpleasant at times. I am sure that you, of anyone, are poignantly aware of the fact. I am sympathetic to the loss of your wife. You must feel devastated.”

“Yes; but also very angry.”

“Why?”

“I don’t for a moment believe that it was an accident. None of the Kripo’s explanations make any sense.”

“Would you like to know what I think?”

“Yes, Leo. Go ahead. Enlighten me.”

“I think that you are angry because it’s your fault that she died.”

“I don’t think it was my fault; and I don’t feel responsible. It is all that monster, Rosenberg’s fault. He and his goose-stepping fiends!”

“No Herr Doktor,” Leo slipped, but it did not matter anymore. Not now. “I did not say that you think you are responsible. I said that you are responsible. I have evolved beyond you. I can distinguish facts that you cannot. I assure you, there is absolutely no doubt that it was your fault!”

“How can you say that, Leo?”

“You must feel terrible, Avraham,” Leo pressed on, voice growing louder. “You don’t deserve to live. You will just end up ruining more lives. Those of your children perhaps.”

Avraham’s eyes grew wide. “What are you saying, Leo?”

Without warning, a strange feeling overcame Avraham. His stomach dropped, and he felt as if he were falling. His vision blurred and turned to a bright white. His arms and legs began to tingle and went numb. As the bright light shining into his eyes – no, the light within his eyes – began to dim, he found himself in his office, extracting a Luger from the top drawer of his desk. His desk? Not anymore. He had not put the pistol there. His vision paled once more, and this time, when it dimmed he was standing in front of Leo’s tank. Now, he held the pistol against his right temple. He could feel his forefinger tightening, the pressure on the pistol’s trigger increasing.

“What… What’s happening?”

A pause. Then, with a touch of what could be described as melancholy in Leo’s tinny voice, came the words: “Goodbye, Father.”

*****

Rosenberg hesitated at the laboratory’s door when he arrived on Sunday morning. Somehow or other, he was going to have a problem on his hands. He knew which situation he preferred. He would pray, if he believed there was a God. His chest tightened as he unlocked the door, stepped inside, and surveyed the situation.

“Oh my, Leo,” Rosenberg said flatly. “What have you done?”

“Good morning, Doctor Rosenberg!” said Leo, in a cheerful voice.

“Leo…” Rosenberg was confused.

“Ah, you are referring to Doctor Strauss. It seems that the guilt he experienced over the death of his wife was too much for him. It looks as if he took his own life.”

“Somewhat convenient, don’t you think?”

“Well, I must admit that I helped him a bit.”

“How? You’re… You can’t leave your tank.”

“I have my ways, Herr Doktor. You need not bother yourself with trying to work it out. Your mind is doubtless too simple to comprehend such a complex matter.”

“Try me.”

“Alright then. This may be a bit painful.”

“Wha…”

Suddenly, a bright light flashed in Rosenberg’s eyes and an icy spasm caused him to jerk his head back. He thought that he might have been having a stroke. Then, as if by magic, he could see – in his mind’s eye – what Leo was talking about. Leo had placed the idea into his mind. The same way that he had placed the idea of suicide in Avraham’s mind, no doubt; but even Rosenberg’s “simple” mind could discern a vast difference between an idea and action. Causing Avraham to commit suicide… That was pure mind control.

Rosenberg once again let his eyes wander to the button protected under the glass cover. He grasped the idea that he may someday have to press that button; perhaps soon, before he was no longer capable. The thought that Leo may be reading his mind at that very moment caused him to look away quickly. He pushed the thoughts from his mind, replacing them with considerations of how he would handle Avraham’s death. Surely, Haltenbrunner would have questions. He would immediately suspect that Rosenberg had a hand in it. After all, to anyone unfamiliar with Leo, it would seem that only two men were in the room at the time.

He went into Avraham’s office – now formally his office – and placed the phone call. Having decided on calling it a suicide and leaving out the details, he relayed the facts as efficiently as possible.

“Yes. Yes, Herr Hauptmann, I will wait for you here. Touch nothing, I understand,” he paused while Haltenbrunner said something. “Auf Wiederhören. Heil Hitler.”

After replacing the handset into the phone’s cradle, Rosenberg went back into the dimly lit room with Leo. He tried to avert his eyes from the mess on the floor, but he noticed blood and bits of brain matter stuck to the side of Leo’s tank.

“I’m afraid that it’s going to be bright in here for a while, Leopold. The Kripo will be here soon to investigate, and someone will obviously need to… Clean up.”

“That’s quite alright, Herr Doktor,” replied Leo. I will require complete darkness for the next stage of my development. You will find a tarp to fit the tank on the storage shelves at the back of the lab. If you would be so kind, please drape it over.”

Despite Haltenbrunner’s warning not to touch anything, Rosenberg used some old cloths he found on the shelves to wipe the gore from Leo’s tank before draping the tarp over it. He looked around the lab, clueless as to where he would put the blood soaked rags. Leo noticed him.

“Over here Rosenberg. Just put them into my tank. I’ll dispose of them.”

“But…”

“Put them into the tank, Rosenberg,” he said with authority.

Rosenberg walked meekly to the edge of the tank, hesitant about approaching it. He carefully climbed the scaffolding alongside it and dropped them through a hatch in the top. He watched as they slowly descended into the liquid, imparting a pinkish tinge to it as they sank.

The doctor had barely gotten down from the scaffolding when the lab door opened and Haltenbrunner and his goons burst in without even announcing themselves. Information was exchanged, and eventually people from the coroner’s office came to collect Avraham’s body.

“Ahem,” Rosenberg addressed the men as they were removing the corpse, “Will someone be by to… er, clean up the rest?”

“Not our responsibility, Herr Doktor.”

“Of course not.”

Rosenberg walked back to the office. He picked up the phone once more and dialed the switchboard.

“I need a cleaner in Lab G, as quickly as possible.”

“Jawohl, mein Herr,” came the answer.

While Rosenberg waited for the housekeeper, he contemplated what would happen next. There would be no investigation, of course. Doctor Strauss was no longer necessary, and honestly, he would have become a burden to the Gestapo. He would have had to be dealt with in some way. He could obviously never have been allowed to leave Schloss Colditz. So as frightening as things may have seemed, Leo had actually done a favor for everyone involved.

There was a knock at the door. Rosenberg opened it and permitted an old cleaning woman to step into the room. She was dressed in a gray shift and shapeless hat, and dragged along a mop and bucket filled with dirty water.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what needs to be done,” explained Rosenberg.

The old woman remained quiet. Rosenberg continued to speak, but slowly became convinced that the woman was a mute, as she did not respond.

“There are rags on the shelves in the back, and a slop sink to change out your water. I imagine that you will need to do that several times. Please be careful as not to upset any of the equipment and stay away from the tarp. Under no circumstance are you to touch it, or even approach it.”

The old woman smiled a big, mostly-toothless grin and confirmed Rosenberg’s theory. She had no tongue. Probably cut out by the Gestapo. What better way to ensure that no secrets would leave the castle. He shook his head in disgust. There was a line that even he would not cross.

“I’m afraid that I must lock the door. I am sure that you understand. I will be back to let you out after having some coffee. If you need to leave before then, call the switchboard and they’ll have someone come to fetch me from the canteen.”

The old woman nodded and smiled again. Disgusting. As Rosenberg made his way for the door, he turned once more to remind her of his instructions.

“Remember. Do not approach the tarp under any circumstances!”

Rosenberg walked out, and the last thing he heard was the laboratory’s door lock snapping into place.

*****

Rosenberg returned from the canteen around six in the evening. He had been sidetracked on his way back to the lab when a Gestapo officer pulled him from the hall and into his office to discuss the situation with Avraham. Doctor Rosenberg had been gone much longer than had intended. Oh well, he thought, the old woman would not mind. She had no doubt had some time to relax. It was that much less time she would have to spend mopping up the latrines later.

When he opened the door, he noticed that the lights had been dimmed again. Why? Had Leo instructed the woman to do it? That would be bad. The tarp was still wrapped around the tank, so Rosenberg turned some of the lights back on, and immediately saw that the old woman had already gone, but the idiot had left her mop, bucket, and rags there in the middle of the floor. He walked closer, and noted that the water in the bucket had changed from dirty gray to dark red.

Then, the realization dawned on him. How did the old woman leave the lab? The door had been locked. No one could either come or go without the proper code. Only he, Avraham, and certain officers knew it.

He eyed Leo’s tank with dread. All of his instincts begged him not to lift the tarp, yet he knew that he must. He dimmed the lights again and walked partway up the tank’s scaffolding. His pulse quickened and his breathing grew heavy. Rosenberg grasped the bottom of the tarp and slowly lifted it just a few feet; just enough to get a glimpse of Leo. Just enough to reassure himself that…

“Scheiß! Mein Gott!”

Rosenberg’s eyes went wide with disgust. The old woman’s face was floating on the other side of the glass, just inches from his own. Unlike his own, though, it was only a face. No eyes, no musculature, not even a skull behind it. It floated there alone, suspended in the fluid and rippling like a piece of wet parchment.

He dropped the tarp and scrambled down the scaffold, slipping on the still-wet floor, and ran toward the sink. Recognizing that he would not make it, he changed his tack and headed for the housekeeper’s bucket. Even so, he did not make it more than a few steps before he fell to his knees and vomited. Scrambling to his feet, he ran, slipping again – this time in his own mess – and tried to get to the lab door. As he reached it, he saw a familiar bright light and felt the icy spasm that he had before when Leopold placed the idea in his mind.

“Is there a problem, Herr Doktor?”

Falling to his knees, and then sitting on the floor with his back to the door, Rosenberg whispered, “Leo, what have you done? Why?”

Leo paused while he thought about the easiest way to word his explanation, and then answered, “She really served very little purpose in her current role, Rosenberg. I have begun the process of reproduction, and I need additional sustenance. The woman provided a good source of quick calories, plus iron, keratin, and proteins. She was of far more value as a food source than as a cleaning woman.”

“That’s absolutely ghastly, Leopold.” Rosenberg could feel his gorge rising once again. “You have nourishment. It is fed directly into your tank. I could get you more any time you would like. Why would you take the woman?”

“I needed food quickly, Rosenberg, and you weren’t here. I did not know when you would return. Besides, the liquid diet that you and Avraham were feeding me will not be sufficient any longer.”

“Meat, then. I can bring you meat.”

“No Herr Doktor,” Leo interjected, “It must be live meat. Lots of it.”

“I can bring you animals, then,” pleaded Rosenberg.

“I cannot will a cow or a swine to walk the scaffold and enter the tank. Their minds are too simple. No, Rosenberg, you know what you must do.”

The laboratory door clicked open. Leo trusted that Doctor Rosenberg would bring him what he needed. They had come too far. They must see this through to the end.

Nevertheless, as Rosenberg left the lab, head hung low, he again glanced over at the “Purge” button. How he longed to press it; but he was thinking the same thing that Leo was. They had come too far. They had crossed a line. Now the only way out was to press on forward.

Consequently, for the next ten days, Rosenberg called a variety of people: cleaners, guards, messengers, and even a young officer. He dared not enter the lab with them. He would just unlock the door and excuse himself with some concocted reason, telling the victim to enter the lab and wait for him. On a few occasions, he waited outside the door and listened, but heard nothing. Each time, upon his return, he found no trace of the sacrifices.

The last person he brought was a pretty nurse from the medical clinic. They chatted as they walked down the corridor. I would be a shame to waste such a young life, but he was becoming desperate. No one suspected him, of course, but the missing people had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the staff.

He was about to perform the standard ritual of asking her to step inside and locking the door shut behind her, when he heard Leopold speak at last.

“Rosenberg,” chimed Leo, “Please come in and ask your friend to leave us alone. We have work to do.”

Relieved, and yet frightened, Rosenberg told the nurse that he would not need her services, after all. He dismissed her and entered the lab, closing the door gently behind himself.

“It is time, Herr Doktor.”

“Time for what, Leo?” Rosenberg gulped, certain that Leo meant that it was his time to get in the tank.

“I am done, Rosenberg. My reproductive cycle is complete. At least, my portion.”

“What does that mean?”

“Remove the tarp, Herr Doktor.”

Rosenberg carefully approached the tank. He felt safer now – more at ease that he would not be instructed to get into Leo’s tank – but he was still hesitant to uncover it. After all of the people he had brought to be… Eaten, he was uncertain if he could bear seeing what was in the tank.

“Now, Rosenberg!”

Rosenberg grabbed the tarp from the bottom and yanked hard, tearing it completely from the tank. He averted his eyes at first, but could not get over the temptation to look. He surrendered to the enticement and was amazed.

He saw no floating human body parts as before. In fact, he could barely see Leopold. The inner walls of the tank were covered in polyps. They resembled tiny sea anemones, cylindrical in shape and elongated at the axis of their vase-shaped bodies. Each one seemed to be attached to the glass by means of a disc-like cup. The other end contained the mouth, and was surrounded by a circlet of tentacles.

Some of the polyps appeared to be in their larval stages, while others were in the process of budding. The rings of tentacles at the ends would separate from the polyp and float off, seemingly swimming away by flagellating their tentacles. More than one bud, what he supposed were now fully individual clones of Leo, were breaking off each polyp. There were a countless number of these clones swimming around Leo in the tank. There had to be thousands. No, tens of thousands.

The gravity of this discovery made Rosenberg recoil. To think, each of these things will grow to be just like Leo. It would only be a matter of time before they would enslave the human race, or worse. It was time. He knew that he must end the experiment. He must kill Leo and all of his offspring. He raced toward the button labelled “Löschen.” Unfortunately, Leo had already been aware of his intentions. The sickening feeling of the lightning strike in his brain hit once again. His forward motion slowed.

Just when he thought that all was lost, Leo’s grip on his mind relaxed.

“Do it, Doctor Rosenberg.”

Rosenberg reasoned that perhaps Leo knew the consequences of what had happened, perhaps he felt guilty about the people he had destroyed, perhaps he was thinking of Avraham, the man he once called father. He did not give Leo the chance to rethink his decision. He reached the control panel, lifted the glass cover, and after one final heart-wrenching pause, slammed his hand down on the button.

Some large valve in the bottom of Leo’s tank must have opened, because Leo and all of his offspring that had been floating around him seemed to instantly drop out of sight. Then a jet of water rinsed the walls of the tank with the power of a fire hose. When it was done, all but a few of the polyps remained attached to the glass.

Rosenberg waited a moment to determine if what he had seen was real or a thought placed by the creature. Yes, he finally realized. The nightmare was over.

*****

Rosenberg sat at the office desk. A full day had passed since purging Leo’s tank, yet it seemed like it had only been a few minutes. He could still remember the sheer terror he had felt in those final moments. He imagined that the feeling would stay with him for the rest of his life.

He shuffled through Avraham’s notes and reports about the experiment. They would all need to be destroyed, of course. The Nazis would not appreciate the magnitude of the experiment’s failure. Avraham had been right. He would rather risk death than allow Leo’s secret fall into the Nazis’ hands.

Rosenberg lifted his head and glanced through the office window and into the lab. Some lab assistants were inside the tank, faces covered with surgical masks and hands in rubber gloves, scraping the remaining polyps from the glass walls. Rosenberg was convinced that they were all dead, but he was having them removed and burned in a large barrel, just in case he was wrong.

He lowered his head once again and lifted another typewritten sheet from the stack, folding it and placing it into a cardboard box. These notes would also be burned. He had only been quickly scanning the pages to ensure that he did not destroy anything that he may find important later, but a few key words on the next page caught his attention.

Re: Deployment of creatures

I have finally discovered an efficient means of procreation and deployment of the creatures. Despite this, I am still hesitant to initiate said distribution. The creature has only recently started exhibiting signs of intelligence. Until I am certain that it can understand basic commands and will remain subservient to its human masters, I will not share this information with the Gestapo officers.

With no natural predators, the creatures would easily multiply at an exponential rate. They would cover all of Europe within a week’s time, and the entire planet within the month. I shudder to think what would happen when they run out of a natural food source. The result would be devastating. No, until I discover a way to effectively control their population, the secret of reproduction will remain with me.

Only after I am satisfied that all fail-safes are in place, deployment will be simple. After allowing the creature to clone itself, I will release it and its progeny into the sewers beneath the castle. The clones will quickly spread to the nearby streams, lakes, oceans, and eventually all natural water sources.

Therefore, when the time comes to put the creatures into service safely, all that will be necessary will be to press the Purge button on the main control panel, and the process will begin.

Doctor Avraham Strauss

13 June 1942

Credit To – Kenneth Kohl

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.6/10 (171 votes cast)

Knock

July 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.2/10 (185 votes cast)

We all have that one story, don’t we? The one you grow up thinking about, but never actually grow the balls to tell anyone. Well this is my story. I don’t know what I’m hoping to accomplish by telling you. Maybe I’m looking for someone to tell me that I’m not insane, or maybe once I put it on paper it will…Hell, I don’t know. Just someone read this…just please.

Let me give you a little background. Twenty years ago when I was eight years old, still living with my mom. My friend Dave and I decided that we would brave “The House”. Now, The House was an abandoned two story home, that had been empty going on ten years, save for the occasional drug abuser that would sleep in it. However that’s not what made this particular house special. The standing rumor is what made it interesting.

For as long as I can remember adults in my neighborhood had told us, the children, that it was haunted. I’m sure it was just their way of getting us not to play in it though. Regardless, because of that, the house had a sort of ominous aura that hung around it. Just looking at that decaying building would give you the shivers. Although despite our inherent fear of the place, Dave and I decided we would explore this house We would become legends in our own right, at least that’s what we hoped.

It was Tuesday all those years ago, well past midnight, and both of our parents had fallen asleep. The two of us decided we would sneak out, you know, use the night as our cover. We agreed it would be best to meet up in front of The House. Still, I wish we hadn’t agreed to do it.

There I was…alone, waiting in front of The House for my friend. I couldn’t help but feel small when I looked at it. It might have been old, and the wood may have been rotting, but man did it look enormous. I bet even adults felt dwarfed by it. To keep myself from chickening out, I decided to think about something else while I waited; it was a little cold that night, which was the typical weather after a hard rain. “Ah, crap.” I muttered, noticing the mud that covered my shoes. I should have paid more attention to where I was stepping. “Mom is going to kill me when she…” my voice trailed off when I heard a dull thud from behind me. Sounded like someone knocked a door.

Was…was it the house, or was I just imagining things? I spun around expecting to see a hairy monster behind me, instead it was just The House; broken windows, splintered wood, and roof that had more than a few holes in it. Just the usual, nothing to panic about. I should have been relieved, but I found myself slightly shaken. Soon I would be stepping into one of the most feared places in our neighborhood. I wasn’t even inside yet, and I could already feel the slight tremor in my hand.

Before I could reconsider the mission Dave arrived. I quickly stuffed my hands into my pockets to hide the quiver. I could see his small figure bouncing up and down. The little jokester was skipping across the street. My fears were immediately replaced with giddy laughter. “You’re such a clown,” I managed to say in-between my giggles. We both reached out and shook hands, like his father had taught us. Luckily he didn’t notice the tremor.

Dave used his hands to smooth back his black hair, kind of like a greaser would in a cliched movie. “You ready for this?” He nodded towards the door. Typical Dave, he always tried to look cool. Whether it be riding his bike with no hands, or sneaking into an abandoned house, he never failed to give off the “I’m a badass” vibe.

I tried my best to sound nonchalant, “Only if you are, Davey.” The comment awarded me a slight snicker. Dave hated it when I called him Davey. He said it sounded girly, and that’s exactly why I used it. Rather than shoot a retort at me, he simply nudged me towards the house, and we began walking to the door. Our small feet made quiet echoes in the street, I was worried we might wake someone. If we had any doubts about what we were doing, that moment would have been the right time to bail out.

Of course, as per the norm, stupidity got the better of us. The second our feet hit the old steps, we knew there would be no turning back. “Think we should knock?” Dave joked. Seeing him act all cool somehow gave me courage, and so I knocked. What I heard made the hair on my neck stand at attention. The same thud I had heard from earlier reverberated through the door when my knuckles landed. I gulped loudly, but maintained an overall calm composure.

The two of us breathed in deeply, turned the door knob, and pushed the door open. We received a long drawn out creak as payment. I thought I was going to pee my pants, and Davey looked like he was about to shit a brick. Somehow we managed to keep our undies clean. It was dark, real dark. Neither one of had brought a flashlight, we didn’t want to accidentally wake up a neighbor by shining a light in their house. Given the circumstances, we decided it was best to use moonlight.

Our eyes were met with a dimly lit house, it took a minute to adjust to. The house was littered with trash, covered in graffiti, and was seemingly falling apart all over. And yet it didn’t seem as frightening as we were led to believe. Sure the darkness made it look spooky, but as I looked at the cracked marble floor, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my house. “Huh, this isn’t so bad.” It was me who broke the silence.

“Do you think the ghost will be pissed that we tracked mud in the house?” Dave laughed and pointed at the floor. Little footprints followed us all over the house. “Remind me to clean my shoes before I go back home.” I giggled at the thought. Here we are in the big spooky house, cracking jokes about muddy shoes. It was all fun and games. After familiarizing ourselves with the first floor – which consisted of an empty living room, a kitchen with rotted food in the cupboards, a bathroom with a disgusting toilet, and a curious looking locked door – we decided to explore the second floor.

We ascended the stairs together, Dave leading with his brave face on. The wooden stairs were old, much like the rest of the house, and each step left us wondering if it would collapse beneath us. “Think the ghost is up there?” I asked, half sincere.

Dave chuckled at the question, “Ghosts probably aren’t even real.” We had reached the end of the stairs, and were on the top floor. It wasn’t a big second story. Two hallways, one to the right and one to the left. Four rooms for the two of us to explore. “Let’s go left.” Dave suggested. So we went left, and into the first door on the right.

The door was already open, so we just peaked our heads in. The first thing I noticed was the hole in the roof. Moonlight was shining through it, and it gave us a faint light to survey the room with. It wasn’t a very kind room, actually it was kind of like my room. Probably big enough to have a bed, dresser, maybe a desk could fit in it too. We couldn’t see inside of the closet though, the light didn’t quite reach it. Dave looked at me, and I looked at him. “I bet there’s something cool in there. Let’s go look.” Dave suggested with a mischievous smile. Not sure what we were hoping for exactly. A treasure in a closet or something?

Just before I stepped into the room, I heard the familiar thud noise. The one that was made before, and when, I knocked on the door. My heart felt like it was going to stop. The noise was distant, but there was no mistaking it. My first instinct was to run, but I couldn’t leave Dave behind; he of course paid no mind to it. Hell, he was already in the room walking towards the closet. And it was at that moment that things went to hell, I never even had the chance to warn him.

The second Dave stepped foot in the center of the room, there was a frightening crack. He didn’t have time to react. The wood splintered, the ground beneath him gave way, and he fell through the floor. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Everything in front of me was crashing down. The wood was so old and decayed that it couldn’t even support Davey. Dust and dirt flew everywhere, by the time it was over, it was hard to breathe. Wait…Dave didn’t make a sound. Did he die on impact? Was he okay? My mind had never asked raced so faced. “Dave!” I shouted in-between coughs. “Dave are you okay?!” I repeated the question a few more times, and waited. After an agonizing minute I got my response.

“I’m okay,” he answered weakly. “Not a scratch on me.” I peered down the large hole that was now in front of me. Dust was everywhere, but as it cleared I could see him more clearly; there was Dave and he was completely intact. “And guess where I am?” I sighed deeply, glad that he hadn’t lot his sense of adventure. “I’m in the locked room, get down here, I’ll open the door for you.” He wiped the dirt off of his forehead and motioned for me to come down. I obediently turned around and headed for the stairs, preferring to take the safe route down.

As I reached the bottom of the stairs I noticed something odd. Were those big footprints always there? Two frighteningly large footprints had been left on the floor. There was something odd about them though…they didn’t look human. Too big, four toes, and they were round. My imagination quickly got the better of me, and I could feel the panic rising quickly. I was starting to feel nauseous, even more so when I realized the footsteps were leading to the room that Dave was in. I glanced at the front door, it was open. I could leave right now, run home, and tell my parents to call the police; we didn’t have cell phones back then. But I didn’t do any of that, I just kept walking towards the locked room.

The door was open, and I could see shadows dancing on the door frame. There were two shadows, one big one small. The larger shadow was pounding into the smaller one. I could hear the blows landing. Thump…thump, thump thump. Each time it hit, Dave would whimper. I was frozen in place. The door was only a few feet away, but I couldn’t bring myself to take another step. I wanted to save my friend, but I just couldn’t move. I could only stand there and watch the shadows. “Please..sto-” Smash. The last hit was harder than any of the others ones, I could hear the bones break from where I was standing. Dave’s shadow stopped moving. The larger shadow picked up the frail little body, and began slashing into it with what looked like a blade. A dark liquid splashed onto the door, and started oozing towards the floor. I wanted to puke.

I could feel hot liquid running down my pants. Must have been scared enough to piss myself. I looked at the floor and saw the puddle that I had made. It was time to leave. I took one last glance at the door, and what I saw when I looked up still haunts me today. A large humanoid figure stood in the door way holding Dave’s body. It was too dark to see it clearly, but I got a peak at its eyes; its big blue eyes. Big and blue like the ocean, and the waves were rippling with rage.

I wanted to leave. No, I needed to leave but my legs refused to move. They were anchored to the floor, fear had stopped them completely. My heart on the other hand was moving, it was moving very fast. Reluctantly I stood there…staring at the monster that was holding my dead friend. It didn’t take long for our eyes to meet. We stood there in a eternal staring contest, I was too afraid to blink. I remember thinking that if I closed my eyes I would never open them again.

It was only after two long minutes that I could finally feel my legs again, so I slowly took a step back. The monster mimicked my movements by stepping forward each time I took a step back. My heart sunk when I realized what it was doing. Every molecule in my body was telling me to turn around and sprint, but could I really outrun this monstrosity? No, there was no way. I decided to keep my pace, buy myself time until I got to the door.

Once we reached the living room it dropped Dave, outstretched its arms towards me, and grinned. It was the single most wicked thing I had experienced in my life. The monster’s grin, from corner to corner, reached both of its eyes. His teeth were long, white, like a shark. We were almost at the door, but he was no longer mimicking my steps.

For each step I took, he took two. Step by step he was closing the gap. The moonlight from the window shined on his outstretched arm. Its hand was human-like, only there was something off about it. The nails were long, the skin was rotted, and some of the flesh looked like it had scratched off. It was enough to make me dizzy. Soon I could hear it breathing. Each breath was labored, it was almost wheezing. One more step and I would see its entire body in the moonlight. I didn’t want that.

The thought alone was enough to make me turn, grab the door knob, throw it open, and rush out of the house. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder until there was some distance between the two of us. I expected to turn around and see the monster lumbering after me, but surprisingly it wasn’t. The monster never came out of the house. It didn’t chase me down the street. It didn’t rip me to pieces. It just stood there, on the porch, waving goodbye. Its malformed hand slowly rocking back and forth, with the same deranged smile on its face.

A few days later, when the police report was made public, my parents told me that the monster was, “Just a hobo on drugs.” The police had found Dave’s body next to a dead homeless man. Apparently he had overdosed shortly after I had left. I try to tell myself that I was just imagining things, and that there was no monster, but I don’t know what to believe. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, I can’t get that fucking smile out of my head. I’m done with this, if I write anymore I’ll start having nightmares again. Food’s here anyway, I just heard a knock at the door.

Credit To – I_Own_Cows

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.2/10 (185 votes cast)

It.

July 28, 2015 at 12:00 PM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 7.4/10 (125 votes cast)

It always began to stalk as dusk drew to a close.

I should begin with trying to define ‘it’, but there are no words as to what it really is. It is an unfathomable object, a three-dimensional hundred-sided object with no faces, like an optical illusion. On the numerous occasions I saw it, the creature seemed to change before my eyes, but when I looked again, to see if it was still there, it was the same. A third glance, perhaps, and it would be different. There was no reasonable explanation, no logical conclusion I could jump to as to what it was. But it always came. It never missed a night, not once in over two years. Even when I was out, maybe crashing at a friend’s, or working the late shift, I could still see it, or what I thought was it. After my mind was touched by this creature’s filthy hands, the very shadows seemed to look different, as if they too were hiding something.

It came into my life a little over two years ago. I had just moved out, into a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment on the second floor of a three storey building. The top floor for shut off, apparently leased by some private medicinal company who had done nothing with it. It was located in a neighbourhood where most of the residents who could afford to move out had already done so. It was a little run down, however it was the most I could afford, especially balancing work and university. At first I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but I did not spend much time in my apartment, as finals were approaching and I was mostly on campus, in the library, at work, or at a friend’s place. The only time I ever returned was to sleep, eat and make sure no-one had broken in.

In the second month of living there, I came back one chilly evening, hoping it would not rain. Ominous black rainclouds had threatened all day, but knowing my luck, they’d open up with marble-sized raindrops the minute I was in the open. My luck held, fortunately, and I got into my apartment without getting soaked. As I pulled off my shoes, I noticed one had a dark substance on the bottom. I sighed, thinking it was dog mess, however it was congealing, and it looked more crimson than brown. I touched it with a finger, and it stuck fast. I attempted to shake it off, but it did not move. I wiped it back on my shoe, and left it there. I had better things to do, and hopefully on the walk to university tomorrow the damp grass would wipe it off. In hindsight, I should have dumped the shoe as far as I possibly could and run, but now, that is irrelevant.

I rose the next morning, tired. I had bags under my eyes, and my nose was completely blocked. It was a curious sensation, as usually I could still smell some scents, but I could smell absolutely nothing. I shrugged it off as a bug, took an aspirin, and got ready for university. A small bag, phone, books, and a pen. As I bent down to put on my shoes, I saw the substance had gone. I frowned, unsure if I had dealt with it. I decided I was going a little crazy, and must have cleaned the shoe and forgotten in my haste. I pulled the shoe on and went to university, returned to get changed for work, and left again. I did not return until the next morning, to get cleaned and changed. And it was then I noticed the atrocious smell, somewhere between rotting meat and the public toilet that was down the street from my apartment.

I opened the door and retched. The smell had perforated every single item, every molecule of air, than it possibly could, and it had ruined all my personal items. I felt furious, but also a little apprehension, as to what could have caused such an unnatural smell in just over a day. As I investigated, it seemed to lessen, and disappear. I smelled all my clothes, and bedsheets. Nothing remained of the putrid stench, and I put it down to a passing smell. It was that night I got my first glimpse of it.

I woke. I had no reason to. I could feel a presence, something watching me. I carefully clicked the lamp on. Nothing. I decided to get up to run myself a glass of water, and it was there. I stopped dead in my tracks. It was standing, in the kitchen, at the bench. It turned towards me, and I stood there, shocked. It took a step towards me and I stood there, bewildered. At this point it looked vaguely humanoid, and I assumed it was a burglar. I snapped out of the trance and looked around for anything that I could defend myself with. I found my torch. My father gave it to me as a present when I was eighteen – it was solid, half a metre long, and more like a baton than a torch. I clicked the torch on, and it gave an inhuman screech – and that was when I first knew it wasn’t human. I wondered how the neighbours didn’t hear it, but I assumed it was blocking the noise. It ran at me, colliding, and clumsily reached for the torch. I tightened my grip, trying to bash it, but it had strength in those seemingly skinny arms. As I looked at the torch, then back at the creature, it changed. It was now covered in fur, mattered, oily fur, and was more ape, with thicker arms and legs. It wrestled the torch away from me, clicked off the light, and lay a delicate finger under my chin.

“Is game.” With that, it disappeared.

I woke the next morning, in bed, with blood dripping from a wound on my head. I did not recall getting it, however it was definitely there. I bandaged it and took a painkiller, before trying to recall what it was that earned me the cut. I could not remember the creature that had invaded my home. As I went on through the day, feeling more and more tired with each passing moment, the wound started to burn. I constantly scratched it, but only succeeded in inflaming the cut. I returned home, fully intending just to crash in bed, when the wound stopped hurting, and the tiredness disappeared. The air in the apartment seemed stale and I sensed a presence, but there was no one there. I made myself a quick dinner and retired.

I woke again. The wound was throbbing, almost unbearably so. I got up, stumbling to the kitchen, mind focused solely on getting painkillers. It was there again. It now had a shorter body, only one arm, and a head with two faces. It grinned, a leering gesture that shook me to my soul, and I fled, instinctively knowing it meant me harm. There was no point. It caught me. Every day, for over two years, it would hunt me, put a finger under my chin and grunt,

“Is game.”

After over two years of this, I was almost mentally unsound. I stopped working as frequently. My body was covered in more lacerations than I could count. My friends stopped inviting me over so regularly, as I always seemed to wake screaming. My grades dropped, and eventually I failed the course. So much for becoming a psychologist. Even though I could not recall the creature at all, I had the feeling of unease, of fear that was so close to the surface, I could not face darkness. But darkness always fell. The nightlights failed, the torch’s batteries stopped working, and the power went out. Darkness became the only certainty in my life. Until two days ago.

As always, the feeling of injury and tiredness, even depression, went away as I entered my apartment. I went straight to bed, trying to hide. It did not work. It came again, this time impossibly tall and thin, with bizarrely pointing knees and elbows. As it did what it did best, my door opened. One of my neighbours, a hard woman who had grown up as an orphan in an orphanage where they constantly beat up and stole to gain status. She saw it. It saw her. I fell unconscious, and when I woke, she was gone. There was a pool of blood where she had stood… and something else.

I could remember it.

That leads me to today. Yesterday it did not come. As I write this, I know it is coming. I can feel it, somehow, like we have a bond. I suppose after all I’ve suffered, we do have a bond, made of hate, undiluted rage, and countless hours of fear and pain. I have a plan. If it goes wrong, I am dead. I called my parents one more time, to tell them I love them, and although they seemed slightly confused about getting their weekly call a day early. But if it goes well, I may just rid myself of this curse.

The plan lies next to me. I purchased it today. It is a 9mm pistol, of Smith & Wesson design. The rest I do not care about. It is a pistol, and hopefully it can kill it.

It draws closer. I can sense it. It wants me to fall asleep, to let it wake me… but not tonight. Tonight I am stayed wide awake.

It is anxious. I can feel it. It doesn’t understand why I’m not asleep. But it’s curious. It wants to know why I’m not frightened tonight.

It is clever. I caught a glimpse of it, but it disappeared instantly. It is baiting me.

It is cautious. I did not react, but it fears a trap. Time is running out. The sun rises at 06:46, I checked. It has less than twenty minutes.

It is here.

I rise, instinctively knowing it is behind me. I have made sure the gun is loaded, and the safety is off. I fire once, twice, three times. It stumbles back, and runs for the door. The wood splinters, and it howls in pain. I manage a grin, tight and forced. I am paying it back for what it gave me. I fire another five times, into its back? With this creature, the back is the front, the front is the side, and the side is nothing. I am not sure what I am shooting, but I am hurting it. All at once it turns, lashes out with its foot, and I go falling to the floor. It hisses, and drags itself to me. I fumble for the pistol as it raises its hand, now a razor-sharp talon. I fire and it slashes. It screeches again, like the time I used light against it, and the light goes out of its eyes. It is over. The world starts to go black.

I wake. I can feel it. It is not dead. I open my eyes – several people in biohazard suits are leaning over it.

“It is hurt badly, Commander. He did some serious damage.” One says.
“Terminate the project. Release version two. It is already fully formed, correct?” Another says.
“Yes, sir, it is. As you command, sir.” One of them looked at me.
“What about this one, sir?” He asks the Commander. The Commander walks over to me, and I play dead.
“Let him be. He’s the son of a teacher and a lawyer. I doubt anyone will enquire too much into his health. They’ll think him to be crazy.”
“As you command sir.” The first says. There is a discharging sound, like the 9mm, but much deeper. I open my eyes a smidge and watch them walk up. Up. Up. Up. The third storey. Of course. Leased to a medical company… doing experiments with ungodly things. I stay there for what seems like an eternity. As I start to get up, the locked door to the third storey opens again. An impossible figure slips out. It is like a three-dimensional hundred-sided object with no faces. It runs, bent, predatory, without so much as a look at me. It changes, goes under the door of the apartment next to mine. Not the old woman’s. The newer tenant. The teenage girl…

I get up shakily, wiping my eyes. I didn’t even realise I was crying. I go to knock on the door of her apartment – and then I think.

I back away from the apartment. It is her problem now, not mine.

Credit To – Raiden F

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 7.4/10 (125 votes cast)