The Tea Lady

July 13, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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On the very first day that Sam walked home ‘as a mature teenager’, the sky was overcast and the air wore a chill. At fourteen years old, Sam was at the age where independence called her name at every opportunity, and as her mother had finally approved her desire to walk home from school without parental company, not even the cold could do away with Sam’s good mood.

Pulling her coat a little closer to her skin, Sam added a skip to her step as a fine mist-like rain fell from the darkening sky. The trip home, when by her mother’s side, usually took a good hour as the woman liked to save money wherever she could. Sam herself didn’t particularly mind – she liked the walk, and today she had already decided she would take THAT shortcut – the one she passed every school day.

Sam had always wanted to take the aforementioned shortcut. It went through a towering woodland before passing a clustered array of the town’s farming fields. She knew this from her mother, who firmly denied every single one of Sam’s requests to take the shortcut.

“It’s dangerous,” she had said. “I heard Suzie’s lass tripped and broke her arm in there. It’s best we just stick to what we know.”

Well she couldn’t say no now, and even though Sam loved her mother dearly, Sam’s curiosity was just too strong. She turned off towards the woodland as soon as the opportunity arose.

Confident that she would be able to find her way once out of the woodland, Sam sucked in a breath once faced with the dirt path leading in. She tried to ignore the shivers skimming over her skin – she was fourteen now! Four. Teen. That meant she was a big kid – and big kids didn’t get scared. Not of stupid trees, or of annoying rain, and certainly not of the dark. For good measure though, she turned on her phone’s torch light. She wouldn’t want to trip after all.

Once in the woodland, Sam found that it wasn’t that scary. It wasn’t that dark either. Only an absolute idiot would get lost there, definitely. Her breath formed brisk clouds in front of her face. Sam shone her light on the trodden dirt path, illuminating broken branches and small drooping plants. She would just keep on walking, following the path until she was out of there. No problem. No problem at all.

Only… The air. Sam couldn’t say exactly when it happened, but for lack of a better word, the air was dead. No more misty rain, or cold chill- it was like the air around her had just … died. It lay heavily around her shoulders like a thick woolen blanket. Sam’s heart rate picked up, and she warily looked around. Still surrounded by trees, Sam quickly decided that perhaps, maybe, she shouldn’t have come this way. It was probably a better idea to have just taken the usual route. To have stuck to what she knew. And then she saw it – the outline of a crumbling decrepit shack right in front of her.

Every single horror story Sam had ever heard filled her head like angry insects – the shack was creepy and stood alone in silence. Dead air forgotten, Sam slowly looked left, and then right. Her heart was racing. Nothing. She stepped forward. No monster or beast ran out to greet her. She stepped forward again. She wasn’t eaten by a zombie. She stepped forward yet again. No scary old troll came out to attack her.

Well of course not – honestly, the whole idea was ridiculous. Banishing her childish fears, Sam let her curiosity guide her feet and ignored her thrashing heart. Up close the shack seemed to be standing-room only. Perhaps it held old brooms and cobwebs. Certainly not childish things, like lost treasure, hidden underground paths and unimaginable mysteries. That would be… Ridiculous.

Her hand on the handle to the shack, Sam counted to three and firmly dismissed her childish hopes and fears once and for all. Big kids were cool and rational, and so she would be cool and rational too. The shack would be tiny, filled with dirt and woodworms and…

Gold?

Against every ‘rational’ thought in her head, Sam stepped into a gigantic, towering golden room, fully decorated with a deep red carpet at her feet. Her mouth open in a startled gasp, Sam’s feet moved further into the shack. The door shut behind her with a gentle click.

The wallpaper was host to soft gold flakes against a light yellow background. They swam – actually swam! – right around the length of the wall like tiny little fish, each leaving trails of golden dust that would follow the fishy flakes for mere moments before evaporating into nothing. Hand-crafted oak furniture and plump cushion-covered sofas adorned the floor, along with thick old bookcases and large mysterious boxes, and from the ceiling floated an entire solar-system of glittering stars and planets.

The room quite bluntly was magical. Every potential cynicism and critical thought was destroyed in Sam’s head, leaving only her childish wonder and awe. It was all illogical – impossible, but Sam never felt more amazed, or at ease, in her life.

Making her way to the nearest free space, Sam placed her index finger on the wall, grinning as the gold flakes swam around her finger at varying speeds. She giggled as one or two dared to curiously nudge her fingernail before they darted away.

“They’re all so curious, my babies.”

Sam jumped and swiveled around in time to see a young woman step forward from thin air. She mustn’t have been older than twenty-five, slightly chubby in the face and smiling kindly. Sam was quickly sure that the woman may well have been the prettiest in the world – as if it was a fact. The beauty of the room paled in comparison to her, and it was as if the sun itself would second to the radiance of that peaceful and kind expression.

The lady stepped forward and her eyes crinkled with her smile. Gold flakes like those on the walls floated behind her irises, and golden hair cascaded past her shoulders, curling around her face. Her knee-length dress was covered in twinkling stars, and Sam couldn’t help but feel it was like the woman was something of a finishing touch to the beautiful room, like a painting.

“Where… Is this?” Sam breathed. The woman chuckled, and her voice was warm and sweet.

“My home! Welcome! I was hoping someone would stop by – I must be extra lucky today.”

“I… Oh,” Sam said. Perhaps the woman was new – a neighbour? But she lived in such a horrid old shack… And what about the magic? Witches had magic, but they were old and warty, not young and beautiful. Sam quickly began to feel awkward just standing there in her daze, but she soon found herself being steered towards one of the plump sofas. The material sunk under her weight.

“Tea?” the lady said, and soon a small rounded table sat before Sam. Sam could only nod dumbly, and then the table was home to three delicate teacups, steam billowing from the liquid inside. Sam didn’t even notice her jaw dropping as the steam slowly transformed into magnificent shapes – fairies and butterflies and flowers, all made from the tea’s steam right until the illusions naturally broke apart.

The most fantastical shape for Sam was the dragon. Sam had always loved dragons, particularly partial to tales of fire and scales and great thundering roars. She stared at it, amazed, rudely forgetting about the woman. Before she knew it, the tea was gone and so were the illusions. It was only then that Sam found herself questioning; “Why are there three cups?”

The woman’s smile grew wide and slightly unnerving. “So there was enough for everyone! It’s getting late dear, but please, come again? Tomorrow if you can – you’re always welcome here!”

Sam nodded, suddenly very sleepy. Fully intending to get up and walk home, Sam instead sat back into the sofa, her eyelids heavy as her breathing evened out into that of sleep. She awoke the next morning in her own bed, with no recollection of how she had gotten home.

Realising she may well be late for school Sam grabbed her bag and ran out the door, still dressed in her uniform from the previous day. On her rushed way to school, she was filled with thoughts of that magical shack and of the pretty lady, and it was only Mrs Hull that finally broke Sam’s obsessive train of thought.

Outside the gates of school stood Mrs Hull. She was well-known in the small town, and Sam remembered visiting her more than once (though for what she couldn’t recall). That day Mrs Hull was was looking blankly toward some unknown middle distance, and didn’t even blink when Sam curiously waved a hand in front of her face.

“Are you okay?” Sam asked. She almost didn’t expect a response, until Mrs Hull opened her mouth.

“Something’s… Missing.” Mrs Hull’s voice was quiet and unsure. Sam quickly felt nervous. Mrs Hull then began to walk away, her movements stiff and robotic. Sam didn’t stop her.

For the rest of her school week Sam would walk by that mysterious shack and have tea with the woman, who soon Sam dubbed ‘The Tea Lady’, as the woman in question constantly avoided the subject of her name. When Sam wasn’t there, she yearned otherwise, and when she was there she lived for the visions in the tea’s steam, and most of all, that beautiful wispy dragon. Each time the tea would provide different shapes – of soldiers and bunnies, and jewels and vehicles, but there would always be that dragon, swooping and twirling and playfully pecking Sam’s nose.

Sam never said much to The Tea Lady – neither individual had a lot to say. Sam would just sit in front of the tea provided, and The Tea Lady would wait patiently.

The strange thing was, as the tea’s steam soothed Sam’s mind, that sometimes she… heard things. It was if it was all miles and miles away – raised voices, thumps, and sometimes even what seemed like screaming. The dragon was the only thing keeping Sam from panicking. There would always be three cups, and on some occasions more, but Sam only found this curious once the tea was gone, and the tea lady would never properly answer her inquisitions as to the number. Instead, with that kind smile, Sam would sleep.

Mrs Hull was sent to a care home not long after Sam saw her outside school. Not only that, but more and more people were quickly showing Mrs Hull’s ‘symptoms’ – men and women of any and all ages would stand outside in silence, looking at nothing, evenly claiming that something was missing. They wouldn’t sleep, or eat, or smile – only wander until someone took them away. Sam’s town gained notoriety fast for the ‘madness’, gaining many tourists and visitors and specialists from right around the country in mere days. Sam didn’t pay much attention to them, her thoughts usually stuck only on The Tea Lady.

In mere weeks Sam had completely fallen into her routine. School, The Tea Lady and then home. The weekends couldn’t pass by fast enough – it was like Sam was living in a bubble, keeping her distant from the town’s spreading madness, her teacher’s constant confusion and the odd gap or two making themselves apparent in her memories.

It was only on the third week on a Thursday that Sam experienced something… different. Despite her class being recently cancelled due to her teacher not showing up, she visited The Tea Lady anyway and was soon sat before her tea. In the background, Sam vaguely noted more noise than usual, but then her beloved dragon lifted its head up from her teacup and began to take flight, turning and twisting and dancing, and Sam could only grin widely as she became entranced yet again … and then her teacup toppled over.

A long and tormented howl tore at Sam’s ears in what she quickly recognized as The Tea Lady’s voice, and the dragon burst into flames. Startled, Sam looked up just in time to see Ryan’s horrified face as The Tea Lady wrapped her hands around his neck.

W… What?

Ryan! How could Sam have forgotten?! Her cousin had come to visit from the city the previous day, and so Sam had asked Ryan to visit the shack with her. Why did she forget? How?! And then she began to remember them all – the other kids. Mary, who liked fairies and flowers. Kyle, who adored vehicles. Damien, who loved rabbits. Even some of the tourists’ children of whom Sam had made fast friends with – Hannah and Kayleigh, Frank and James… And yet she had managed to forget about every single one of them.

She could even remember Laura – her own best friend, who had warily met The Tea Lady with Sam on the very first day Sam was allowed to walk home on her own. Tears prickled at the corners of Sam’s eyes – she had been tricked, leading all her friends right into The Tea Lady’s hands. What did that woman – that horrible witch – do with them?

Ryan struggled against The Tea Lady’s grip. Jolting away from her returning memories, Sam grabbed the fallen teacup and threw it at The Tea Lady’s face. Squealing, she released Ryan and glared at Sam. Her eyes were sparkling so brightly that Sam couldn’t even look at them, and the woman was still smiling – but her teeth were pulsing as if alive and her gums were writhing like slugs, her smile large and unnatural. Warts had burst from beneath her yellowed skin, and her hair was like broken straw above a tattered dress.

The worst thing was, that she was still beautiful. A woman – a creature – so fundamentally wrong struck a planted awe deep inside Sam, and it was as if The Tea Lady was effortlessly pulling her closer, her arms wiry and twisted as her bulbous fingers twitched and her broken legs creaked. The Tea Lady was beautiful, wonderful, but in a way that proved horrific and wrong.

Fear guiding her, Sam grabbed Ryan’s hand and The Tea Lady roared an ear-rending screech. Roots crashed up from a suddenly dirty floor, the walls bled a horrid-smelling sludge, and The Tea Lady countinued to scream out in a language Sam couldn’t understand. She was glad she of that part – those guttural sounds in themselves made Sam’s hair stand on end.

Before she could understand how, Sam and Ryan managed to get to the door and made it outside, and so they ran and ran and ran and ran…

Sam soon stood outside the woodland with a panting Ryan. They were safe. They’d be okay. They had escaped. It was -

“I always make enough tea for everyone, dear.”

Arms wrapped around Ryan’s neck, and he was dragged backwards into the woodland without even a yelp. In that moment, Sam was sure she would never forget his last horrified expression.

And then Sam woke up in her bed, confused. Did she fall asleep again? She sat up and saw her schoolbag at the end of her bed, right by the pyjamas she had forgotten to put on. She lay back and smiled, sweet memories of that lovely shack and The Tea Lady’s magic filling her thoughts like honey. Sam couldn’t wait to see it all again – the wonder of that beautiful friendly place. But perhaps, for once, she could try and bring a friend – it was all much too great to experience on her own!

Credit To – Ginger

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Blood of the Swine

July 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you – Leviticus 11: 7-8

-

‘She is just around….’ Henrikkson lifted one hand from the wheel and twirled it slowly in the air, a puzzled frown creasing his broad features. ‘How do you say…twist maybe? Yes, that is it. Just around twist in trees, Mr Garett. She is not further now, five more minutes, ja?’ The man’s English was forced and stilted; Jake often had difficulty understanding what he meant. So instead of replying, he merely nodded and turned to gaze out of the rain-beaded window. The forest opened up briefly on his right, and he caught a glimpse of the Swedish countryside as it meandered past. Windswept and misty with rain, scatterings of spindly trees and mossy rocks marred an otherwise desolate hillside that stretched as far as the eye could see. Then it was gone, obscured once again by a great wall of black trees, leafless and densely packed, which ran the length of the rutted dirt track along which they now bumped.

Jake squinted into the murk, hoping to catch of glimpse of an elk, or perhaps even a wolf. Instead, his eyes found only long thin shapes stretching upwards into the withered branches. He frequently thought he caught glimpses of a dark bulk slipping between the thin trunks, seemingly keeping pace with the battered red Volvo as it snaked its way through the forest. But closer scrutiny always revealed nothing more than insubstantial shadows.

Henrikkson’s ‘’five more minutes’’ was closer to fifteen. The trail narrowed towards its end, and the foliage whipped at the windows, it scraped at the doors and snapped against the bonnet. Just how long had it been since the Swede had last taken a client to view the property anyway? Jake considered asking him, but thought better of it; it would only initiate another awkward conversation that he would have trouble understanding. Instead, he stared at his shoes, and wondered why he’d taken the time to polish them when he would no doubt end up traipsing through mud and who knew what else.

He glanced at his cell phone. No signal. No surprise really; it had been that way for hours now. The forest was silent around them; the only sounds the steady purr of the Volvo’s engine and his own heavy breathing. It was so isolated out here. Even with Henrikkson beside him, Jake felt completely and utterly alone.

Henrikkson looked at him curiously. Jake flashed the Swede a reassuring grin. It was an effort to mask his growing unease.

In truth, he was unsure why Mannsen & White, the London-based chartered surveyors he was interned to for the duration of the summer, had been so eager to fly him out to Strängnäs to view Brääkänburg Ranch. He’d seen a photo of the place – the one and only photo the company had on file – and the dark wood, sagging moss-covered roof and tiny shuttered windows had only served to heighten his confusion. Sure, the place was big, and there was the location to consider: the house was nestled deep within one of Sweden’s largest forests. But whether that last was a potential selling point or not, Jake didn’t know. He supposed it would depend on the client.

‘She is arrived Mr Garett.’ Henrikkson’s deep baritone voice interrupted Jake’s reverie. He looked up just as the car emerged from the ocean of trees into a relatively large clearing. The ranch slouched in the center; a dim, dilapidated structure that looked like it hadn’t been touched in a hundred years or so. It was comprised of two interconnected buildings: the main house, which consisted of two floors, and a narrower building of the same height, but with an overhanging and windowless upper floor. The structure joining the two was low and flat-roofed, only a single floor with one tiny window.

The sole window in the second building was unshuttered, the only one of its kind on the property, and as his gaze slid over it he felt a sudden awareness of scrutiny, as though unseen eyes were watching through that tiny pane of glass. Did the darkness suddenly become a shade lighter, as though a bulky shape that had been obscuring the window had just slipped away?

Off to the right of the house, an overgrown paddock teemed with leafy ferns and tall swaying grasses. Jake tried to imagine horses grazing there, but found he was unable to picture any animals in such a dreary environment. A withered tree was barely visible around the side of the house; small objects, shrivelled and brown, hung from its blighted branches.

A ramshackle, broken-down fence encircled the ranch. As the Volvo drove through the gate, which was hanging forlornly from one hinge, Jake was unable to suppress a slight shudder. It was as though they had left the real world, where cell phones worked and people actually existed, passing through into a forgotten place, forlorn and abandoned to the ravages of time.

‘Mr Garett?’ Henrikkson was holding the passenger door open for him. Jake hadn’t even realised they had stopped.

‘I’m sorry. I was lost in the…well, just lost in this place.’ The words sounded stupid even as they left his mouth, and he felt his ears turn red. Henrikkson, however, merely smiled and nodded his assertion. ‘Ja, she is…handsome, as you say in London England, ja?’

Handsome wasn’t the first word that sprung to mind for Jake. Neither was it beautiful or picturesque. As the Swede led him through the unkempt garden towards Brääkänburg Ranch, there was a single word resonating in Jake’s head.
Alone.

-

Henrikkson’s mother was dead. An eighteen-wheeler had lost control and ploughed through the front of a grocery store. She’d been killed instantly. He received the call – and how he managed to get a signal out here Jake couldn’t begin to fathom – about ten minutes after they arrived at the property, turning his red Volvo around and heading straight back to Strängnäs – without Jake.

The original plan had been to spend the afternoon mapping and extensively photographing the ranch’s interior. In the morning, they would have combed the property for structural defects or weaknesses before finishing up by photographing the exterior and examining the surrounding land and establishing the boundaries. Obviously things had changed now. Jake understood completely, and he almost accepted the distraught Swede’s offer to reschedule and return to Strängnäs.

Almost.

But his sense of responsibility prevailed, and he sent Henrikkson away with assurances that he’d be ready and waiting for the Swede to collect him at nine the next morning.

And then he was alone in that dreadful place. And it was truly dreadful. The interior was completely devoid of light, forcing him to rely solely on the thin beam of his LED card torch, and he was unable to force the shutters open, so damp-engorged and swollen was the wood.

The exterior was deceptive; the main house consisted of only two large rooms. The room on the first floor was empty save for three small box beds on either side, as well as a jumble of rags and sticks piled in one corner. A dark purple drape was drawn across the bed furthest from the staircase, but Jake couldn’t muster up the nerve to cross the somehow mournful room and pull it aside. Instead, he closed and latched the door – why was there a latch on the outside? – and returned to the ground floor room, which was furnished with ancient, rickety chairs and a long table that bowed in the center. There was another bundle of kindling stacked beneath it, bound in a tattered sheet. A closed fireplace was set in the far wall, and there was another box bed, this one larger than those above, on the left wall, with a dust-caked vanity and a small circular table nearby.

An ancient claw-footed bathtub nestled in another corner, the site of which made Jake uneasy. Something dark dangled over the lip, but he dared not look. He imagined shining the beam of his torch only to have it reflected back at him from a pair of jaundiced yellow eyes. He shuddered at the thought of something curled inside in that dreadful tub, waiting in silence and observing his every movement, with a single waif-like arm dangling over the edge. Just what had he seen at the window?

He hurriedly pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind before they could form, lest he allow his fears to fully take root.

Henrikkson had mentioned during the drive that they would be staying in the guest bedroom, which was apparently situated on the overhanging second floor of the other building. Even if it wasn’t, Jake would have rather spent a night in the forest than sleep in the funereal room above him, with its tiny beds and sombre drapes.

With that in mind, he hurried through the tunnel-like connecting structure, his shoes crunching on things he didn’t want to look at. Wooden crates were stacked all about him, and splinters tugged at the sleeves of his jacket like sharp fingers as he squeezed between them. The window here wasn’t shuttered after all, just thick with grime and dirt. Rubbing at it with his fingers did nothing except leave them stained black. At what he judged to be about halfway, he came across a stout wooden door. It looked out of place amidst the disrepair; the thick bar keeping it closed glinted in the torchlight, and felt smooth in his hands as he slid it aside.

He’d put the torch on a nearby crate to unbar the door, and as he snatched it up the slim beam slid across something huddled in the corner behind a stack of crates, an emaciated form crouched on stick-thin limbs. He screamed aloud and staggered away, the back of his legs colliding with a crate and sending him tumbling backwards.

The torch dropped to the floor, revealing the stack of crates and an empty corner.

He considered turning back, getting out of this terrible place before it drove him insane. He retrieved the torch, thankful that it hadn’t broken, and shone it on the closed door through which he’d entered. It seemed a mile away. No, to retreat through that oppressive darkness was unthinkable.

Come to think of it, hadn’t he left the door ajar? If so, why was it closed now?

‘Old houses,’ he whispered, shaking his head. The whole fucking place was probably listing. More than likely it was fit to collapse at any moment.

‘Fuck it.’ The loudness of his voice in the empty ranch surprised him, shocked him even. Unwilling to linger any longer in the lightless hell of the connecting building, he eased the door before him open and stepped through.

Jake flashed the torch across the walls and drew in a sharp breath, pressing himself against the door. A long, lupine skull snarled down at him from a hook above the window. On a three-legged table in the center of the room, the fleshless head of a great elk gazed impassively past him with empty eye sockets the size of snooker balls. Something brushed his shoulder, causing his heart to flutter like a trapped bird; a string of tiny, avian-looking skulls hanging from the doorframe.

In the corner to the left of the door, another of those curious piles of sticks and rags: this one was piled high and almost completely swathed in clothe, with only a two bone-white pieces of kindling protruding from the bottom. He gave it a wide birth as he moved into the room.

Then his gaze fell on the largest skull of them all, nailed above a lopsided doorway on the far side of the room: a monstrous boar, its snout ending in a pair of enormous yellowed tusks that curved upwards and out before turning back on themselves to point at the eye sockets. Dull snatches of light filtered through a small spot rubbed clean on the filthy window, throwing a dour grey blanket across the floor.

Something glistened wetly on the wood, a sporadic trail leading from the window to the doorway.

Jake approached the doorway, a listing frame curiously bereft of an actual door, fixated himself upon it, ignoring the hideous trinkets decorating the room. It led to an extremely narrow staircase; he would have been forced to stoop had he wished to proceed. That, however, was something he now had no desire to do. A rotten stench, a mixture of decay, urine and soiled hay wafted down, and the walls were curiously scuffed and chipped, as though something far too large for the cramped passage had regularly descended it.

Or ascended it, Jake thought. And perhaps whoever it was hasn’t come back down. Once again, he thought of the perceived shape at the window and failed to supress a shudder.

Then he noticed the book, resting on a battered stool in the corner of the room. It was thick and leathery looking, and as he approached it he realised it was resting atop something. He reached for it, wincing as his fingertips brushed the surprisingly smooth cover. The book felt…swollen, somehow. Like a latex glove filled with water.

What was beneath it caused his jaw to sag and his eyes to bulge: a cassette player. Blocky brown plastic with a pair of chunky headphones, it looked about thirty years old. But to see something even remotely technological, no matter how antediluvian, in this archaic place gave him pause.

There was a tape inside. If there had once been lettering on the buttons it had long since worn away, but his thumb lingered on one that was slightly larger than the rest.

Against his better judgement, Jake popped the headphones over his ears and pressed the button.

A chorus of shrill, inhuman shrieks howled in his ears, an impossibly fast rhythm accompanied by a relentless crashing and beating. It sounded like the world was tumbling down around him.

He was scrabbling to yank the headphones free, to silence the tearing dissonance, when the music slowed to a sonorous crawl. A voice, a deep baritone much like Henrikkson’s, began a slow intonation.

Jake’s Latin had been mediocre at best when he’d graduated university, and had only grown rustier since. But he was still able to recognise a couple of words being chanted, the pair preceding the main verse: terram porcum. Porcum was pig; that he did know. But terram…some reference to soil…to the earth perhaps?
A pig in the earth? Or a pig of the earth?

He looked down at the book in his other hand, clenched in a white-knuckle grip. He removed the headphones and set the cassette player back down on the stool without bothering to stop the tape.

Clamping the thin torch between his teeth, he stretched the strange cover taut to try and make out the tilted slew of lettering adorning it. His thumb brushed something in the top right corner. There was a number stitched there – how had he missed it?

3930.

Now what the hell did that mean? Jake returned his attention to the lettering. Even after stretching out the pliable cover, parts of the words remained missing, erased forever by time’s gnarled fingers.

Pulli eius la…ent sanguinem et ubi…ue cadaver fuerit …atim ade…

He flipped the book open to a random page near the middle and his jaw clenched, his teeth grating against the metal torch. The photograph was grainy and old, with yellowing corners and washed-out colours. But there was no colour anyway, not really, not in here, and its absence in no way detracted from the image – the main subject had been shot with unerring precision, and the angle was perfect.

Jake only wished it wasn’t.

The photograph had been taken in the room with the claw-footed bathtub. And now Jake understood why he felt such discomfort when gazing upon that battered relic, and more of its insidious purpose in the room.

Looking at the remains of her body, he thought the girl had been young; full breasts and shapely legs were stained with gore. Her arms were bound with a length of chain looped over a ceiling joist, from which she dangled above the bathtub. Matted ringlets fell to her shoulders, and her collarbones were sharp and pronounced.

Her face was hideously bruised and swollen. Had the photo been taken in better lighting, Jake was sure that her face would have been shaded all the hues of a setting sun.

But it was the ruin of her stomach that made him want to retch. It looked like a hollowed-out watermelon. Great chunks of flesh had been torn away, and pointed splinters of bone protruded from the remains of her abdomen.

The wound tapered inwards, as though whatever had inflicted this atrocity had been unable – or unwilling – to gnaw through completely. A memory of early childhood flashed through his mind. Standing in the rain, wearing his red wellingtons and holding his mother’s hand, watching as his uncle’s pigs wallowed in the mud. They’d been given pumpkins. The largest of them had gotten its snout stuck attempting to scoop out every last string of the gooey innards.

Then, they’d laughed until tears ran down their faces. Now, Jake wanted to cry for another reason entirely.

As if one spontaneous recollection of childhood had led to another, the meaning of the numbers on the book’s cover suddenly became clear. Staring at the gruesome photograph, unable to tear his eyes away, the verse ran through his head, the voice of his pastor reciting it like clockwork, again and again.

The book of Job, chapter 39, verse 30: Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

That was God, talking about one of his creations. But which one? Who? Jake couldn’t remember.

He slammed the book shut, unable to bear the thought of hundreds more terrible photographs crowding the flimsy pages. The feel of the binding made him cringe. It was so soft, so smooth. So…fleshy. The despicable thing fell from his suddenly limp grasp as waves of realisation and revulsion crashed over him.

The cassette player screeched in the background, but it was the erratic beating of his heart that seemed to deafen him. Something was terribly, terribly wrong here. He had to get out. Now. He’d start walking back to Strängnäs, and Henrikkson would come across him in the morning and drive him far, far away from this terrible place.

A faint glimmer of hope began to sparkle somewhere deep inside of him. He was getting out of here, right now. This was the twenty-first century. Things like tourists and foreigners being strung up and butchered by xenophobic locals just didn’t happen anymore, unless it was in horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In the room above, something snorted, and Jake’s hope guttered and died.

It was a soggy sound, like water-on-the-lung, ripping through the veil of silence like a sharp blade through damp cardboard. A great bulk shifted on rotten timbers. Urine ran freely down Jake’s leg, the smell of it mingling with the sickly odours wafting through the doorway. As if in response, something stomped hard on the floor above, dislodging swirling clouds of dust from the ceiling.

Jake slumped against the panelled wall. His body was shaking and numb with fear, and tears streaked his dusty cheeks. The book lay open at his feet, just as a muscular Caucasian hung above the bathtub in the dull sepia photograph. His innards were hanging from the rafters like tinsel. The cassette player continued to drone from its perch in the corner. Around him, the ranch groaned.

Clack clack thud. The hollow knocking from above continued, echoing through the empty corridors of the darkened house; the sound of a mallet slamming against wood, or the solid tread of cloven hooves on ancient boards.

A thick, wet snuffle, halfway between a snort and a grunt, rolled down from above. An animal. There was a wild animal up there. A hungry animal, one which he would do well to get as far away from as possible.

He turned towards the door and choked on his next breath. His torch, the previously bright LED flickering weakly, slid across a skeletal form rising from the corner. Jake caught the merest hint of paper-thin skin stretched taut across sticklike bones, and thin legs which bent the wrong way at the knee, before the shape slipped through the half-open door in a flutter of black cloth.

The piles of rags and sticks. All around him. All over the house. Oh God.

A metallic clunk announced the replacing of the metal bar.

He was trapped.

Demanding his attention, a coarse scraping emanating from the tilted doorway, bare flesh dragged across mottled wood. The barnyard stench hit him in waves; the same scent he’d noticed earlier, now sickeningly rich and overpowering.

The very timbres of the house bellowed in protest as something forced itself between the narrow walls and down the tiny staircase. Jake flailed in desperation, and the torch slipped from his sweaty hands, hitting the wooden floor with a hollow clunk. There was nothing, no way out. No escape. He was going to die here, torn limb-from-limb in this tiny, lightless box, alone and pissing himself with fear.

He scrambled for the fallen torch, although it would do him little good except to illuminate the thing from above. But before his fingers found the handle, his outstretched palm brushed against something circular: something metal. Keeping the hand in place, he used the other to grab the torch and direct the beam at a rusted handle, almost invisible against the dark wooden floor.

Under closer scrutiny, the sides of the trapdoor swiftly resolved themselves. It was narrow, and he’d barely be able to squeeze through, but at least whatever was having trouble passing down the staircase wouldn’t be able to follow him. He hoped.

He set the torch down on the floor and eased the trapdoor open, wincing as the hinges squealed in protest, a noise which was immediately drowned out by a frenzy of movement on the stairs.

A stampede of motion followed by a huge thud as something cleared the last stairs and moved into the slightly more open hallway. Bone clacked against bone as the thing drew closer; a thick wet squeal, followed by a series of snuffles and grunts announced its immediate presence.

Jake was through the trapdoor up to his chest now, supporting himself on his elbows. He reached for the torch and, in the scant few seconds before he dropped through the hidden door – completely oblivious as to what was below – the beam of light languishing on the twisted doorway threw into hideous clarity a thing that was horror and grotesqueness given corporeal form.

Its vast bulk filled the hall completely. A hulking bear was his first thought, enraged at having somehow become trapped within the close confines of Brääkänburg Ranch. Its shaggy haunches supported this theory; its legs did not.

Bears didn’t walk on trotters, didn’t sway on spindly legs that bent backwards at the knee.

And bears didn’t have bony arms, longer than those of an orangutan, which ended in pale four-fingered hands. Swollen, engorged teats dangled from the thing’s hairless underbelly, speckled with lichen and moss and dripping with brine. Its stiffened ears scraped the low ceiling.

It lowered its snout, and Jake glimpsed rows of yellow incisors protruding from beneath its upper lip. A pair of curved tusks jutted from its lower jaw, their surface chipped and gouged. Its face was too terrible to behold, and dark eyes glinted with a malign intelligence.

It came at him faster than he could have imagined, dropping its head and thundering across the room, kicking up huge clouds of dust in its wake and bellowing in primordial rage.

Jake dropped backwards through the trapdoor. The back of his head cracked against stone. His vision swam. Somehow, over the shrill, bestial squeals emanating from above, he heard the steady drip of water. He tried to stretch his arms, but found only hard walls on either side. The space was tiny; he was unable even to fully extend his legs. The unyielding stone was slippery and damp beneath his fingertips, buried beneath layers of moss and mould. Darkness encroached on his vision, mercifully obscuring the hellish snouted face peering down at him.

The last thing he saw was a pale white balloon, leaning over the edge of the trapdoor. Why, it looked just like –

-

‘Wake up.’ Henrikkson spat. It was refreshing, no longer having to feign ignorance of the English language, but it remained a barb in his heart that he was forced to continue speaking it; it sullied his tongue, left him unclean.
No matter. The Swine would cleanse his tainted soul, as She had done so many times before.

‘Wake up.’ This time he followed with a savage backhand to the Englishman’s face that sent bloody spittle flying from his lips. Henrikkson leaned in close, so that he was inches from the Englishman’s face. ‘Your time has come, Jake Garett. Mannsen and White send their regards – your internship is quite obviously at an end.’

He yanked the Englishman forward and looped the chain around his wrists.
‘Now your blood is for Her. The Sow Who Dwells Beneath the Soil. The Bloody Swine, come forth anew to baptize us with her divine filth.’

All around him, the hoarse whispers and laughter of Her disciples echoed in the darkness. Their ancient bones creaked with the exertion of frantic movement.

Something snuffling and wet pressed against the back of his neck. Her heavy musk filled his nostrils, and a limb filthy with bristles brushed the small of his back. Henrikkson shivered in ecstasy, rejoicing beneath Her unholy touch.
It was time.

-

Jake’s world was pain and darkness. His head throbbed like a tooth blackened by decay, and his shoulders felt as though they were on the verge of dislocation.

Because he was strung up by his arms – tight metal bit cruelly into his wrists. The floor was cold beneath his bare feet. No, not the floor: he was dangling above the bath, the balls of his feet barely touching the dirt-encrusted metal bottom.

Was that Henrikkson talking? If so, why was the Swede naked? Jake tried to call out to him, but found that his tongue was unwilling to cooperate. Something rattled in his mouth, and he tasted copper. His lips were crusted together.

The world swam again. Pain flared in his face. Henrikkson was standing before him, grasping Jake’s jaw with one hand and holding his own shrivelled penis with the other. The Swede grinned and fell to his knees, prostrating himself before some unseen deity.

Straw; filth; excrement: the barnyard scent hit him like a tsunami.

Thin forms scurried in the shadows, chittering and cackling but remaining always just out of sight, giving only fleeting glimpses of withered limbs and wisps of hair. He could barely hear their lunatic laughter over the high-pitched screams and violent shredding coming at him from a pair of battered speakers set up on the far side of the room.

Then he saw it rise from the shadows. It regarded him for seconds that felt like hours, snorting wetly and clacking its teeth.

It dropped to the floor with a thud that shook the room and came at him on all fours.

Its tusks gored his ribs, but he didn’t feel the pain. And by the time its damp snout snuffled against his navel, Jake didn’t even have the strength to scream.

Credit To – Tom Farr

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And The Hole Goes Deeper

July 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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This is the seventh installment in the Tower of Sorrow series.
Part One: Yon Black Edifice Hath Called Me
Part Two: First Steps
Part Three: Tight Spaces
Part Four: The Driver
Part Five: Hittin’ The Road
Part Six: The Blue Bronco

“Whoooaaaa! Whoa,” I exclaim; throwing my hands up, “I have no idea what’s going on here. I don’t know you from Adam you old bastard! How the fuck can you just assume that I even care about your stupid little boys’ club anyhow?! I’m fucking outta here. STAT!” I turn and head for the door only to realize there simply isn’t a door there anymore.

“Conner!” the old man snaps, “Won’t you please just give me a minute or two of your time? I do believe that you will find me to be a most generous host.”

“Just why in the fuck should I do that? From what I can see,” I hiss, “you’re running some kind of fucked up fetish parlor with drugs and who knows what the fuck else! If this is the part where you offer me riches, drugs, or even a stake in your empire, then I say, GO FUCK YOURSELF YOU CRAZY ASS!”
With that last exclamation, the old man all but topples from his chair, howling with laughter. I can see the tears streaming down his cheeks. “This my boy,” he says with a grin, “is merely a front for what we really do here.”

“Not much of one,” I smirk.

Jack nudges me solidly in the ribs with his pointy elbow. As I rub my side the old man chuckles a bit more and goes on. “Now I won’t lie to you boy. We do indeed run a very “secretive” sex ring. Why, men of all ages can come here and practically live out any sexual fantasy they may have; with complete anonomity. No questions asked. If they got the money, we got the honey. Drugs? Got those too. In whatever form or potency you could want. Now, I must ask a question that I believe both you and I know the answer to. Do you really believe, after all you’ve seen and experienced, that this little operation can simply be taken at face value?”

My head reels a bit as I take in what he’s just said. For the first time since seeing the tower, I realize just how many inexplicable things I’ve seen recently. I look to Jack who just stands there grinning. The old men at the table eagerly await a response. As the seconds tick by, I can feel sweat oozing from my pores, only to run down my back and face. My mouth goes dry and my mind races. This old bastard knows just entirely too much. How could he possibly know what I’d been through? Not to mention my run in with Jack and the following pursuit of what could only be described as demons and ghouls. There had to be something. Something more. Something larger.
In that moment, I realize that the deep sea green eyes set in the old man’s face don’t share the ragged look of his weathered facade. I can see Jack’s true face shimmering just beneath the face that he would have the world see. “What trickery is this old man?” I all but whisper. “Who are you? Show me your true face! I command you!” As the words escape my mouth, I struggle to determine just what made me say them.

“Conner dear boy,” he says through a jovial smile,”all you had to do was ask.” With that, the facades of every one in the room fall away. I can see them all for what they truly were all along. Jack’s face is familiar, but those of the old men in the room cause the hair on my arms and neck to stand. My stomach cartwheels harshly and my jaw hangs slack. “Something wrong my dear boy? You look pale. Jack, get young Conner a chair and a glass of water, please.”
As Jack returns with the chair, I graciously accept and sit. When he turns to fetch a glass of water I stop him, “Hold up there Jack-o,” I pause to light a cigarette, “I’m gonna need something a mite stronger. How about a scotch, and make it a double while you’re at it!” The beings sitting before me snicker a bit, but Jack simply tips his hat and strides to the mini-bar. I draw deeply on my smoke and level my eyes across the table. My mind is still stirring a bit as I try to piece together my thoughts. On the one hand there’s the fact that I really have no idea just who or what I’m dealing with. On the other hand, realistically, I am the guest of honor it should seem.

Where there once sat an old man, there now sits an alien creature, at the head of the table. He / it looks reminiscent of something from the darkest depths of the sea. His eyes are set to the sides of his its skull. Beneath two holes where a nose would be, sits a gaping maw filled with large sharp teeth akin to spikes. The neck beneath is host to a set of gills on either side, leading down to a torso and body that could only be described as a hybrid of man and fish. The other men / creatures are too alien to describe. It’s as if their horrendous forms can’t bare to adhere to any Earthly shapes. They constantly shift and move in one fluid motion that never ceases. Jack returns with the scotch and I put it down in one gulp. “Oh man,” I exclaim through a magnanimous grin, “Please sir, may I have another?” The room erupts in laughter, Jack included. He glides off toward the mini-bar still chuckling while I sit and let the scotch work its beautiful magic. The effects take hold, just barely, as Jack returns with the second glass. I down that one even faster, jutting the empty glass towards Jack, “Eh, gimme another just for good measure.” I throw my now worthless cigarette butt on the floor. Before any can protest, I throw my hand up, stomp it out, and proceed to light a fresh one. This time Jack returns with a half-full glass and bottle in hand. I sneer at him, “Very good Jeeves. Very good.” I return my gaze to the assorted horrors before me, “Go on.”

“Well,” the fishman sighs, “Why don’t we start with introductions, shall we?” He glances around the room to be answered with nods of approval. He turns back to me, “We all know you already Conner.” I nonchalantly wave his comment away. With a slight grimace he goes on, “I,” he starts, pointing at himself, “am R’luhgrah’nyth.” The name immediately reminds me of the weird language Jack used with the door guard. It’s deeper though. It puts me in mind of something else. Something vaguely familiar but rooted deep in my psyche. As the fishman rattles through his introductions, my mind begins to swim a bit from the Scotch. I lose hold of the meaning of his name and my mind returns to the idea of this “place of business.”

I quickly throw my hand up to interrupt his rambling, “Why pray tell, would you choose this world? Furthermore, why here, in this place, in these disguises, and for the love of G….” at this Jack reaches out and slaps my mouth. I look up at him rubbing my jaw. He sneers at me and waves his damn finger at me…..again. “Right, right, the name. Sorry.” I level my eyes at the fishman and go on, “Why such a “business” as this? It’s kinda fucking nasty don’t you think?”

The fishman chuckles and lets out a small sigh. “You inerrupted me for such a meaningless question? Seriously kid. Listen, it’s this easy. There are a great number of very corrupt and vile men in very high places here. Lawyers, politicians, government officials, men of the cloth, etcetera. These men allow us to flourish because they greatly enjoy what we have on offer. They ask few questions and keep us away from the spotlight. It is the perfect place for us to plot and scheme, and to get ready for what’s to come.”
Even through the fog of alcohol, tumblers click into place and I begin to see the cogs of a great machine at work. “So what’s this great plan of yours? Just burst into Heaven and take out the “Big Cheese”,” I ask snorting a chuckle.
“Something like that,” the fishman says through his nightmarish grin, “and that’s where you come in.”

Credit to: J. Brown

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The Darrow Curse

July 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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This story was transcribed by Randy Baker, editor of Penguin Books, during an interview with comedian Becky Somers at 4 p.m. on October 31st, 2013. Baker was orchestrating an urban legend anthology for Penguin Horror, and sought out Miss Somers after hearing that she was knowledgeable about the little-known Darrow Curse of Wheatleigh, Kansas. The interview took place in her home in St. Louis.

“The Darrow Curse” was one of many entries cut from the final edition of the anthology, for reasons Baker never explained. He’ll decline to comment when asked about it.

Celts used to believe the dead walked the earth between the last of October and the first o’ November. They called it Samhain or somethin’, and it was a lot like Halloween as we know it, where people’d dress up like the dead and make asses o’ themselves. But the Celts had a good reason for it: dead folks leave you alone if they think you’re dead, too. The dead, accordin’ to the Celts, are somethin’ to be feared and respected.

Already told this story a hundred times to the police and the shrinks and friends and family. But it’s been years since last I told it, and it seems appropriate to have someone get it down on paper on the eve o’ November First.

At the time I was goin’ steady with a wonderful fella named Harley Davies. He had a big heart, Harley did, and he loved to have a good time, but he never said much ‘cept if he was alone with you. Harley was only comfortable with crowds when he was onstage. He had a little sister named Sage who was even less inclined to talk to folks ‘cos mentally she was basically a child. Their mom and dad died in a car accident when they was little and Harley’d been takin’ care o’ Sage ever since. She followed him around like a puppy dog. The three of us was real close and we went everywhere together: a trio of dumb, drunk, perpetually bored twenty-somethin’s.

We formed a dinner theater troupe with our friends Teddy and Enoch in 1991: melodramas, murder mysteries, and hammed-up musical performances. Mainly played bars and restaurants in Laclede’s Landing, but we’d play anywhere if the price was right and the crowds agreeable. People mostly came for Harley — you put Harley in front of a piano and he caught fire — but Enoch’s off-color jokes and my skeezy wardrobe helped bring ‘em back every night. Sage had nasty stage fright and refused any part we offered, but she never missed a show.

We had friends in Colorado who gave us a ring one afternoon — good friends from college we used to have insane Halloween parties with, and who now run a fancy club in Aspenvale — and said they wanted to get together with us and set up a regular gig. Enoch and Teddy had stuff to take care of in St. Louis first, so me and Harley figured we’d drive out ahead of ‘em, and we couldn’t leave Sage behind if we put her in cement shoes and locked her in the basement.

Road trip wasn’t supposed to be that long, ‘specially with me drivin’ — Harley useta call me Breakneck Becky. Turned out he didn’t take as much care of his truck as he thought; so on October 31st, 1994, we was stranded on the I-70 in the middle o’ nowhere (or Kansas, if you’d rather call it that). It was only an hour before some nice trucker stopped by to give us a lift to the nearest town, which happened to be a Podunk farmin’ community called Wheatleigh. You can’t see it from the road because o’ the golden wheat fields guardin’ it like a castle wall.

Wheatleigh looked like the late nineteenth century had kept it as a souvenir. There wasn’t one paved road or light pole anywhere. Their phones probably still needed a switchboard operator. They didn’t even have a town sheriff: everyone knew everyone, so nobody could get away with nothin’, I guess. Harley found a modern mechanic there and they went to get his truck. Me and Sage toured the town and got to know the locals while waitin’ for Harley to get back.

The people was real friendly to strangers. Everyone welcomed us with a smile, asked what brought us around their humble community, offered us food, beer, or both. Despite the small population, the place was always pretty busy. The streets was always bustlin’ with trucks and tractors and people luggin’ supplies to and from the town center.

Mrs. Winston, the stout old farmer’s wife in charge o’ the inn, was happy to tell us all about the town’s history. Wheatleigh kept its economy goin’ for over a century with wool and wheat — it got its name for the bountiful wheat crop it’s churned out since the first house was built there. I pointed my thumb toward the huge field we saw on our way in and said I wasn’t surprised, and complimented how healthy and beautiful it looked.

Mr. and Mrs. Winston frowned and looked at each other. Mrs. Winston cleared her throat and pointed opposite where I had. “The Edisons raise their wheat crop up that way. What you saw was the Darrow place. Nobody uses that crop.”

“Is it just for show, then?” I laughed. Mrs. Winston ignored me and went on about the Wheatleigh sheep herders.

Harley and the mechanic came back with the truck pretty quick. The mechanic told us it would be in the shop for twenty-four hours or so, but he could fix ‘er up for cheap. On our way back to the main road we passed a cluster o’ little houses what looked like their roofs would collapse any minute, with a couple goats munchin’ grass in the nearest one’s front yard.

A crude scarecrow was propped in the middle o’ the yard with its burlap head hangin’ low as if it was prayin’, its eye and mouth holes stitched shut with black thread so it looked like it was sneerin’ like a fox. In a morbid touch, around the scarecrow’s neck was a hemp noose — not attached to nothin’, just severed and danglin’ like a necktie. Seemed an odd place for a scarecrow, since there wasn’t no crops in that yard, and I never heard tale o’ crows eatin’ goats.

While tourin’ the rest o’ the town we realized everybody in Wheatleigh had one o’ those things planted on their property somewhere, or was in the process of plantin’ one. When Harley asked Mr. Edison about ‘em, he told us an interestin’ story.

In the nineteenth century a serial killer known as the Harvest Phantom terrorized Wheatleigh for several years: every harvest season somebody would leave their home to run errands, only to turn up dead in the street, usually chopped up with sickle and axe. The yearly death tally ranged from as few as one to as many as five. The Harvest Phantom was revealed to be Tommy Darrow, the son of the big wheat crop owner. They never found out why he did what he did — the town was too hasty to lynch him.

After Darrow died, a plague o’ misfortune swept Wheatleigh every October, usually at the end o’ the month. Darrow’s mother was found drowned in the bathtub one year. Mr. Proctor’s sheep got sickly and started dyin’ for no reason. Houses caught fire and children went missin’. And everyone who tried to take over the Darrow property died in freak accidents, almost always while in the wheat fields: heart attacks, strokes, fallin’ on dangerous tools, one gruesome incident with a combine. People said it was the ghost o’ Tommy Darrow exactin’ revenge on the town for not givin’ him a proper trial; they even said his specter walked the streets at night on the 31st of October — the night he was lynched — and anybody who stayed out after dark would never be seen again. Not in one piece, anyway.

So they started puttin’ effigies on their property to ward him off, made in a scarecrow’s likeness, ‘cos the Harvest Phantom wore a burlap sack over his head that made him look like one, himself. The noose around the neck reminded the specter he was supposed to be dead and sent him back to his grave ‘fore he could kill again. Durin’ the harvest season, everyone erected their effigies in their front yards, and barred their doors and windows at 9 p.m., and they didn’t let nobody in or out no matter what ’til the sun came up. Since they started doin’ all that, and since the Darrow crop was shunned by everyone, there’d been no incidents.

“In all the time since, you never once had a nighttime emergency?” said Harley. “Or gone out for a midnight stroll, even?”

Mr. Edison looked at his feet for a moment, then said, “I had a rotten day one Halloween when it was past curfew. Got to feeling spiteful and told Sarah I was going to work on the tractor to let off some steam, ghostly killer legends be damned. The panic attack this induced in my sweet little Sarah is something I never wanna see again.

“When she calmed down, she told me her great grandfather was once the town physician. The Proctors’ youngest son was sick with fever one Halloween night, and needed treatment. Doc gave them instructions over the phone, but they insisted on a house call; he decided the boy’s health was more important than some archaic superstition, so he packed up his little doctor’s bag, said ‘Be right back!’ to his family, and scurried out the door.”

Mr. Edison took a moment to puff on his pipe, never lookin’ any of us in the eye. When he was sure we was all listenin’ intently, he said, “They found him the next morning in front of his house, slit groin to throat and gutted like a hog. He’d died stepping out of his yard.”

Not believin’ a word of it, I made some dumb remark about hirin’ Mr. Edison as our troupe storyteller. We had a good laugh, then we left the Edison place in search of any ol’ way to kill the next sixteen hours.

Suffice it to say, there ain’t much to do in a podunk town like Wheatleigh ‘cept drink and fornicate, and with Sage taggin’ along, the second was outta the question. So around 7 p.m., when the clouds slithered ‘round the moon and strangled most o’ the light out of it, we found ourselves on the road leadin’ up Wheatleigh Hill to the Darrow house. It stood in front o’ the shunned field like a soldier guardin’ the gate to a forbidden castle. It was only a minute’s walk from the main road and Harley thought it’d be fun to go check it out.

Front door wasn’t locked, so we let ourselves in, hopin’ to find some creepy souvenir to show our friends in Aspenvale. All the furniture was intact like nobody’d touched the place for a century. We turned into children: ran up and down the halls, makin’ a mess o’ the place and scarin’ the piss outta each other. After a while we mellowed out, passed around a fat joint, shot the breeze, reminisced. Sage checked her watch and got flustered when she saw it was ten ’til 9 p.m., when the town would go into lockdown. We considered bein’ festive and stayin’ the night in the spooky ol’ Darrow house, but Sage didn’t like that idea one bit, so we raced to the Winston place.

We shacked up at the inn for the night and indulged ourselves on the free beer Mr. Winston was nice enough to offer us (that tall old fella was a spittin’ image o’ the one in that American Gothic paintin’). We didn’t get shit-faced exactly, but we was already high and gettin’ more obnoxious by the minute, be sure o’ that. God bless those Winstons and their kindness and patience, and their good humor when we joked to their faces about their town and the backwards yokels that lived there. They just smiled and laughed with us, like they’d heard it all before from the last dumbass city folk who’d passed through.

God bless ‘em for savin’ my unworthy ass.

It was MY stupid goddamned idea to show the populace o’ Wheatleigh how to have fun on Halloween. Thanks to their rigid superstitions about the harvest season, nobody in that town ever knew what Trick or Treats was, or at least never got to practice it. After my fourth beer I pitched the idea of goin’ door-to-door Trick-or-Treatin’, and scarin’ people, and makin’ a general nuisance of ourselves. Harley and Sage giggled like the hatter and hare at the thought of it.

We decided NOT to tell the Winstons, for fear they’d have heart attacks and spoil our fun before it started, so we planned to sneak out the kitchen door while they read quietly in the lobby. It was 10 p.m. when we was set to leave, and when my clumsy ass tripped and stumbled into the pretty potted plant in the hall between lobby and kitchen.

SMASH. Beautiful vase and moist dirt scattered in billions o’ little pieces all over the hallway.

Mrs. Winston was heartbroke: the vase was a gift from a great aunt she was real fond of, and though she insisted it was all right, I could see her eyes wellin’ up with tears as she knelt to clean up the mess. This was the cherry to top our sundae o’ callous rudeness and drunken stupidity, and I said so and apologized for what assholes we’d been. I insisted on cleanin’ it up myself and promised to make it up to her somehow. She wasn’t exactly touched, but she appreciated my sincerity (I ain’t the worst actress in the world, despite what the St. Louis newspapers say).

So Harley and Sage snuck off without me to get a head start, with my promise that I’d catch up as soon as I was able. They slipped out the kitchen door and onto the dark, abandoned streets of Wheatleigh. I figured it’d take a half hour makin’ that hall as spotless as we found it.

I wasn’t five minutes into my chore when someone screamed two blocks up the road from the inn — a loud, guttural, throat-tearin’ scream that sounded like Harley.

At the second scream I was on my feet and runnin’ to the kitchen door. Mrs. Winston was smaller and stouter than me, but she had a farmhand’s muscle and stopped me like a wall o’ bricks: she leapt between me and the door, threw the bolts in place, turned and held me fast with steel hands.

“Don’t you dare,” she said over the third scream. She didn’t yell or nothin’. She said it calm and cold like she knew I’d obey.

I kicked and twisted and writhed and screamed. I fought ’til I was exhausted; she was planted so firm it was like wrestlin’ a slab o’ concrete. “That’s Harley!” I shouted. “Lemme go! That’s Harley!”

“What the hell they doin’ on the streets this late?” said Mrs. Winston, her voice hollow now, her eyes bulgin’ in a mix o’ horror and outrage.

There wasn’t a fourth scream. The town was quiet ‘cept for the rustle o’ trees swayin’ in the wind and my own short, feral, sniffly breaths.

I was sober now.

“Nothin’ to be done,” she kept sayin’ sadly. “Just wait ’til mornin’. Nothin’ to be done.”

I backed away from her, pointin’ a finger at her like I could magically turn it into a gun anytime I wanted. “This ain’t funny, you hillbilly bitch,” I growled. “Joke’s over, y’hear me?”

“Nothin’ to be done,” she said, shakin’ her head, her face wincin’ in sympathy.

“You better hope my Harley and Sage ain’t hurt.”

“Just wait ’til mornin’, Sweetheart. Nothin’ to be–”

I stamped my foot on the floor and shrieked for her to shut the fuck up ’til I erupted like a sob volcano. She moved toward me to take me in her arms, still sayin’ that same line over and over.

“Just wait ’til mornin’. Nothin’ to be done.”

Mr. Winston was sittin’ in his chair in the lobby when I tore away from his wife and made a mad dash to the front door. I didn’t realize he’d moved there from the couch, where he’d sat readin’ before; and I didn’t notice the coach gun in his lap ’til he leapt to his feet and pointed both barrels right at my nose. I froze with my hand an inch from the door lock.

His gentle face was hard as stone now, his eyes red and hot. “Back up from that door, Miss,” he said, “and set yourself down.”

I musta looked like a big-mouthed bass just then, my eyes buggin’ outta my head, mouth openin’ and closin’ and nothin’ comin’ out. He told me again, and I stepped back three paces.

“You people are insane,” I whined. “What if Harley’s hurt? What about sweet little Sage? You gonna just leave ‘em there in the street?”

Somewhere out back o’ the house, another sound joined the rustlin’ of the trees: a hideous brayin’ sound that wasn’t quite breathin’ and wasn’t quite gaspin’.

We heard the kitchen doorknob rattle like someone was tryin’ to tear the door off its hinges. Then BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM as somebody’s fist pummeled the door in its frame.

Again. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM.

The three of us stood there, not movin’. My feet started pointin’ down the hall, but my eyes went to Mr. Winston and his shotgun. Both was still watchin’ me hard.

The breathin’ faded away to silence as the source moved away from the kitchen door. It returned a few seconds later, louder and clearer as it approached the lobby door.

The doorknob rattled near outta its bolts.

BAM BAM BAM went somebody’s fist against the door. Now I realized what the breathin’ sound was: terrified, exhausted, inconsolable sobs.

I shouted Harley’s name and moved for the door, but Mr. Winston stepped between us, pressin’ the shotgun to my throat. His eyes was empty and dead like a doll’s. He’d blow my head off without a second thought.

“Please,” I almost managed to say without blubberin’. “Why’re you doin’ this? Let him in for god’s sake! He could be hurt!”

“Your Harley’s dead already,” said Mr. Winston.

“He’s right there on your doorstep!” I shrieked, spittin’ like a maniac.

“Right now that door’s a floodgate, and Tommy Darrow the flood. Understand? Better to have two dead than five.”

The sobbin’ continued as Harley clawed at the doorknob. I shot a pleadin’ look at Mrs. Winston, and it dawned on me that she’d been shuttin’ all the curtains in the lobby while her husband kept my attention.

A new rustlin’ sound, different from the trees: the Winstons had bushes lined up under the front-most windows of the lobby. Two windows left of the lobby door, the bushes rustled. Then there was a thud.

Harley’s grimacin’ face appeared at the bottom of the window, like he’d dragged himself to it. He looked right at me, his face splashed with red, his wet eyes bulgin’ out of the sockets with terror. He started bangin’ a blood-sopped hand weakly against the glass just as I ran to the window.

Mrs. Winston beat me there and grabbed me, wrestlin’ my hands away from the window latch. I started callin’ her every filthy name I ever heard at the top o’ my lungs.

She stumbled and lost her grip on my wrists; I threw her to the floor and clawed at the window latch, to fling open the window and drag Harley inside where he’d be warm and safe; to squeeze him in my arms and soak up all his pain and fear. I rattled off a chain o’ sweet, comfortin’ words through the glass, which mighta come out as utter nonsense, I’m not real sure. I was lookin’ at Harley again when I heard Mr. Winston shoutin’ his last warnin’ ten feet to my right, his coach gun starin’ right at my head.

I got a perfect moonlit view o’ the Winstons’ front yard through the window just as my thumb started to flip the latch open.

I still heard Mr. Winston’s voice echoin’ in my skull when I fainted, and later when I awoke at the Salina Regional Health Center — those words he’d spoke earlier, over the frantic bangin’ on the door and the ungodly sobbin’ on the stoop.

Your Harley’s dead already.

Standin’ over the windowsill, I saw Harley’s bloody face starin’ at my stomach, still bug-eyed, still grimacin’. I saw his left hand, still weakly rappin’ against the window, smearin’ blood all over it, the fingers limp.

I saw the thing that held ‘em both like cheap Halloween props as it squatted in the bushes, its burlap face grinnin’ up at me with a crooked, stitched-up mouth.

Credit To -Mike MacDee

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A Story About A Dog

July 9, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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I’ve heard it said before that if you believe in angels, you must believe in demons as well. I’m not sure if I truly believe that either really exist and my leanings change from mood to mood. But there are times when I wonder if there is something there watching us, cloaked in the dark, hating us. When I’ve felt the presence of something I couldn’t see, when instincts overrode logic and I couldn’t close my eyes or turn my back to it because I just didn’t know.

I can say with a certain amount of confidence that everyone has felt this way at some point in their life with varying degrees of intensity and frequency. But that’s not what this is about, not entirely anyway.

When I let myself believe in such things, I realize that it started around 10 years ago when I spent a week at my aunt and uncle’s house. They lived several hours away from my own home and this was something I had always hated, seeing as their children were the only ones in the family anywhere close to my age.
There were plenty of movies, games, and other activities to keep me occupied during my stay, bookending my experience in a way that nearly erased it from my thoughts altogether. Afterwards, it had seemed such a small thing to me that I mentioned it to no one.

It was late at night at some point in the middle of my stay. I’d woken quite suddenly in my bed for seemingly no reason at all and couldn’t get back to sleep, even after what seemed to be hours of laying in the dark. Defeated, I decided to get up and move around, maybe get a glass of water before trying again. I looked to the clock and noticed that it was very late, early morning in fact: three-something it said. But what could I do?

As I walked out into the hallway, I noticed that I didn’t feel quite right – a bit sick in my stomach and slightly… anxious? Unsettled? I turned on every light I came across, but maybe that was only my childish fear of the dark getting the best of me. I was only eleven at the time after all.

Despite my attempts to reason my dread away, to banish it as I had done the dark, the feeling persisted all the way to the kitchen. I needed to calm down if I was to get any further sleep that night. I got myself a glass, filled it from the tap, and sat down at the kitchen table. I felt a bit lonely, knowing that I was the only person awake in the house and I disliked looking at the empty chairs. So I turned my gaze to the large glass doors instead, the impenetrable pitch of the night blocking the backyard from view.

I couldn’t see anything out there, but I froze instantly, instinctively; I was being watched. Something was approaching the door, the windows – I couldn’t see it but it could see me clearly. With all the light flooding the kitchen, I was bathed in it, completely exposed but I couldn’t see out.

Everything was awful. I wanted to run but I couldn’t make myself move an inch, not even to look away. And these flimsy, hateful walls – a thin pane of glass – what good would any of that do? None. Nowhere was safe. And it was coming.

Soon enough, I could make out the shape. It was at eye level with me on all fours. I couldn’t see it with my eyes, not physically, but something in me inexplicably knew it was there, knew what it looked like and how it moved. Closer still and I could distinguish its features; thick, matted black fur against the black night, a chain around its throat, and yellow eyes that stared in at me through the glass. Its teeth and maw were dripping with saliva. It was a large dog and it wasn’t at the same time. It stopped just outside the door and glared at me. Snarls ripped from its throat, but I couldn’t hear any of it, not really.

I was too terrified to move, paralyzed by its malevolent gaze.

‘It’s not real,’ I thought, ‘Just get up and walk away. Go back to bed’.

Eventually, I did. I left my water on the table, full and tepid, and crept quietly up the stairs. It felt as if any sudden moves might set it off, so I did everything slowly and carefully until I was lying in my bed. Despite my expectations, I was able to fall asleep relatively quickly. I don’t think I even dreamed.

In the morning, with the light of day and the presence of other people around me, the whole thing could be written off as a figment of my imagination. I was obviously spooked by something from the moment I got up, so it wasn’t that far-fetched that my mind would play such a trick on me. I didn’t say anything to anyone, simply because I didn’t think it was anything significant. I mean, what even happened?

I didn’t exactly forget about it, but I didn’t let it worry me either. It wasn’t even something to move on from, just a strange thing that happened.

Life went on.

The next few years were difficult and rather hard on my family – financially, emotionally, and health-wise as well. We got along well enough even after our house was foreclosed on. We switched towns, switched schools, and moved to a much smaller house as we waited for things to get better. I was fourteen and starting high school when things started to settle down again.

I didn’t exactly approve of our new home. My brother and I lived downstairs in the basement and our rooms shared a wall. We enjoyed each other’s company well enough, so it wasn’t that bad spending so much time together, but there were times when he could get on my nerves. I would often stay up rather late reading in my room, and I eventually came to notice a strange clicking noise coming from his bedroom every couple of nights around midnight. It sounded as if he was flicking his light on and off… but why would he do that?

I decided to just leave him be for a while. But, the thing is, the more I noticed it, the more it started to bother me. I came to expect it to happen almost every night. A couple of weeks later, it was keeping me up at night wondering what my brother thought he was doing, waiting until it would eventually stop.

After a bit of internal debate, I decided to just ask him to ‘please stop’ (perhaps not so nicely though). However, when I knocked and opened his door, I found the room dark and my brother himself in bed, apparently fast asleep. How strange.

I closed the door and returned to my room. The odd noise persisted.
The next day, I decided that I was going to do a little experiment. Something must be making that noise after all. I told my brother what I noticed and asked him to go around the basement rooms and click various things – lights, doors, anything – while I waited and listened in my room for the sound that matched the one I was hearing at night.

Turns out, it was the light in the little closet with the boiler that was attached to his room. There was a bare light bulb inside, and the pulling of that chain made the noise I had been hearing at night. There was no further explanation to be found.

Soon after, my brother started reporting strange dreams and the eerie feeling that he was being watched, even during the day. I assumed this was in response to our discovery and mentally dismissed it while outwardly showing my support and sympathy. Until I started experiencing the same sort of thing. I would wake up at night paralyzed with fear, sometimes coming out of disturbing nightmares, other times out of perfectly normal sleep. I could no longer fall asleep with my back exposed. I found myself unable to bear leaving my door open at night. During the day, I felt paranoid, always looking over my shoulder and waiting for something to hurt me.

Weeks later, something finally happened to me while I was lifting my foot to climb the stairs and join my family for a meal. Not a single thought in my head, I was suddenly awash with terror. I just ran to the door at the top of the stairs, frightened out of my wits for no apparent reason. When I stepped into the daylight, I turned around and looked behind me. It was there, at the bottom of the stairs, watching me. That dog. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t see it – just like before. I closed the door and walked into the kitchen. No one saw or heard anything of my momentary panic and I didn’t feel like enlightening them. Not even my brother. Strange noises are fine, a creepy unexplainable thing, but you’re seeing phantom dogs now? Liar.

Stupid overactive imagination. Calm the hell down.

I didn’t want to go back down there – ever – but eventually, I just got back into the habit of it. Feeling constant dread? That’s just normal. Cringing away from empty air? Normal. Nightmare again? Totally normal.

My parents started arguing a lot. Dad would leave, going out on walks to ‘clear his head’, gone for so long we’d start to wonder if he was ever coming back. We moved again, switched towns, switched schools. My grades went down the toilet. My real life problems chased the unnatural fear away. Everything sort of peaked and then slowly started to get better over the course of the next year.

My aunt and uncle came to town and we went out to lunch one day. The conversation was light-hearted enough between my siblings and cousins until my brother brought up the weird happenings in our old house. My cousin latched onto this and told us a few paranormal stories of her own. One day, she said, she was playing with her friends in their old backyard when she ‘heard’ a noise. She said she didn’t really hear it exactly, but she knew the sound.
When she looked up, she saw a great big dog with a jingling chain around its neck. She had screamed and run inside to her mom, crying uncontrollably and completely inconsolable. She said she didn’t really understand what had happened.

Feeling distinctly unsettled, I asked her what the dog looked like. Big and black, she said, with shaggy fur. Yellow eyes? I asked. Yes, yellow eyes and it was bigger than a normal dog, taller.

“I saw that dog too, when I was staying at your house.”

I told them the short little story of how I woke up and saw a big, scary dog through the doors in their kitchen. We thought it was fun, this strange coincidence. Apparently, it was around the same time as well. What was going on then? I wondered aloud.

Well, that was right around the time a close relative started to get so dangerously sick.

That was right before Mom and Dad’s business started going down.

And Uncle lost his job.

And my various family couples started fighting.

And then we lost the house.

But then things started to get better… until it showed up again.

What if…?

No. No way.

This was just a figment of my imagination and hers, a coincidence. There was no demon dog following us around and bringing misfortune to our family. No way.

Demons aren’t real.

Angels… aren’t real either.

There’s nothing watching from the shadows, waiting while people sleep. There can’t be. Because, if there is, I don’t think I could ever feel safe again. I –

‘Shhh. There’s nothing there…’

Saying it doesn’t help much when I can feel it so strongly, watching, its gaze prickling all along my spine. What if our eyes aren’t seeing everything that’s really there? And there is something in the dark that just wants to spread pain and misery?

There would be no reasoning with such things, no fighting.
So they can’t be real.

Credit To – Amanda

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Thousands

July 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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You crawl into bed at around nine. Funny, that’s a little early for you, but you don’t seem to care. You toss and turn for a few minutes, before you feel it. Somebody’s watching you, you’re sure of it. You scan the room, finding nothing, but you still feel uneasy.

You lay back down, facing the room. You shut your eyes and try to sleep, but you can’t. You still feel the eyes on you, watching you.

You pull the covers over your head, and the feeling fades. You relax and close your eyes, but as soon as they shut, the feeling returns. You’re scared to move the covers, to search for the eyes that you know are watching you.

You’re terrified, but you yank the covers down, and as you do your heart skips a beat. You scan the room, seeing absolutely nothing yet again.

The feeling disappears, and you scold yourself for acting like such a child. You roll over toward the wall and quickly fall into a peaceful sleep.

But let me ask you this: Do you know how many hiding places there are in your room?

I do. Thousands.

Credit To – Abigail Druitt

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