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The Vampiress

June 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The first account – it was in a warm September
A month still haunted by the saddening winter.
If well I remember, the winds still lashed
The village where, upon dusk, dogs barked
The place where, until dawn, no soul wandered.
That dame, I first saw her in a mere instant
When I uttered, abruptly, my fearful shout of horror:
Blue the irises of the visage whose lips in scarlet
Bled my own bare neck in a silent hot ardour.

The nights gelid were born with that silhouette
Only the naïve moonlight touched the parapet
When under the Victorian garb came that brunette.
It was a beautiful cadaver, of a hair so flourished
Of a woman whose beautiful face, though dead,
Whose vibrant death, almost plainly alive,
On my pulsing blood relentlessly fed.

The last night – it was a pure October of warmth.
Cloudy was my gaze, bohemian of those cold lips
That anaemic turned my heart that burned – of love.
And so the last kiss my lips profoundly touched
And she did not bring death – distinct was my fate.
The death, so vivid, came as a cursed blessing
Which I have, my dead God, accepted so straight.

Ever since then, damned and accursed I observe
The fine thread of the sin which is life post-death.
Even if from the shallow graves, quiet and inert
We surge – us both – after each passing sunset
And even if then death equally us embrace
If our diseased life only lives after twilight
Each October to the village we return for more.
Life more than enough to keep the flesh alive
And death always dead, but that dies no more.

Credit: Fernando N.

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The Grinning Man

June 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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February 20th, 1979.

“August 15th, 1975. That was the first time. You ever heard of cryptozoology? “The study of hidden animals” as it is officially defined, but often mixed up with talk of UFOs and aliens and other such crap. I must admit I’ve always been fascinated by urban legends; the Mothman of West Virginia, the Chupacabra in the south, hell even those old timey reports of freaks like Spring-Heeled Jack who was clearly just some madman in a costume. But I don’t go for the big ones, those sensationalised glory hounds like ‘the Loch Ness Monster’ or ‘Bigfoot’. Please. No, I’m fascinated more by those that are localised, you know, the ones that are first mentioned by some nut in some pissy little town as you get lost on the way to nowhere and that don’t suddenly have appearances all over the country. They always seem to have a kernel of truth hidden in them, and are most of the time far harder to explain away. Anyway, one in particular caught my eye that night as I trawled through old newspaper reports that my father had squirrelled away in the attic. He too had lived with a fascination for the inexplicable and had heavily researched legends and mysteries in the years leading up to his death. The paper I found was a yellowing copy of the Daily Journal of Elizabeth, New Jersey, dated October 12th, 1966. Highlighted by my father was a small paragraph, almost as an afterthought, reporting that two boys, Martin Munov and James Yanchitis had been harassed by a strange figure on their way home the night before. There was no real description, just a warning for anyone who had seen anyone strange in the area to report it to police. The article was titled “Who is the Grinning Man?’”

Mr Dennell pauses to take a sip of water from the decanter between us. My dictaphone whirrs softly in the silence.

“I wouldn’t have taken much notice, I mean, the ‘Grinning Man’? That’s got to be the worst name for a mysterious being since the Melon Heads of Michigan. But I found it odd that my father had been interested enough to keep the report. So I dug. It took me almost a month after his death to clear that attic of old newspapers and half completed scrapbooks, and in that time I found only one other mention of the Grinning Man, this time in a clipping from another ‘66 newspaper. It mentioned a fellow who claimed to have been stopped on the road by a tall man with a wide grin who conversed without moving his lips. Interesting as it sounded, it wasn’t exactly a lot to go on. Nevertheless, when we sold his house I kept both the clippings along with a few other mystery filled scrapbooks found buried in the mess. In the weeks that followed, I began to notice a nagging feeling, that same itch I get whenever something feels unfinished. Carol used to call it my ‘busy radar’ and used to complain that I was never happy unless I was working.”

He smiles, apparently lost in thought.

“Eventually it was pure coincidence that I truly started investigating the question of the Grinning Man. I was reporting on Hurricane Eloise for the New York Times in September 1975 and had been sent to New Jersey City to compare the damages to those suffered in New York. Fucking waste of time that was, sent to report on light floods that caused little to no property damage while my own city was smashed by the torrent. My busy radar hadn’t stopped itching. Finding myself with free time I recalled that the first sighting of the Grinning Man had been in Elizabeth, not ten miles from the city centre. On a whim I went in search of the two boys mentioned in the first of my fathers articles, doubting that they’d still live in the area but intrigued, or bored enough to find out. It took a while, but eventually I made contact with James Yanchitis, now in his early twenties, who agreed to meet with me. As I shook his hand outside a café that evening my first thought was how withdrawn he looked, as though he hadn’t slept a full night in a very long time. The story he told me was far more informative than the article had suggested. And far more chilling.”

Mr Dennell falls silent. After an extended pause he reaches into his pocket and places a little cassette player on the table next to my dictaphone and thumbs the play button. It is a poor quality recording, and the voice that crackles out of it is quite young. Throughout, Mr Dennell doesn’t say a word.

”We were walking home. It was dark, but the streetlights lit enough for us to see you know? I was nervous. Ms. Lloyd claimed to have been chased by a strange man in the area earlier that night and while Martin teased me about it I could see he was pretty freaked too. But I was the first to see him. Across the road and behind a fence was a tall hill that led up to the turnpike, and it was steep you know? Like, real steep. At the bottom on the other side of the fence was just scrubland, and in it was a figure. I remember hitting Martin and pointing at it. From what I could see it was a man, standing mostly in shadow, turned so that we were looking half at his back, half at his side. He was staring straight ahead, like at a house across the road or something. He didn’t move when I stopped Martin, but when I pointed at him… He turned. Slowly. As his bald head swivelled to face us I noticed one thing immediately. He was grinning. Leering. Like, really wide. He pivoted on the spot and stared straight at us, but his eyes were messed, massive and black. Fuck man we were frozen, it was terrifying. Martin was the first to move, he took a step backwards. The man didn’t move, just stared, arms limply by his sides. That was all we needed, we bolted, not waiting for him to climb the fence and come after us. I glanced over my shoulder once as we ran. It was like he hadn’t moved, but he was now on our side of the fence. Nor had his eyes strayed, staring at us. Or his grin. Wide. Terrifying.”

The cassette crackles for a few seconds more before falling silent with a click. Mr Dennell slowly reaches out and picks it up, placing it back in his pocket.

“Yanchitis struggled to say much more, but he did give me a basic description. Tall, well over six feet, wearing a dark green overcoat. But it was the face that was the most defining feature, the insane grin on a pale face that stuck into his memory and haunted him every night.”

As Mr Dennell pauses again I can’t help glancing around furtively myself. The room is empty, nobody but my interviewee and myself. The table between us is strewn with papers, all blank. The door behind is still closed and the light above illuminates the room brightly, almost harshly despite the late hour. Mr Dennell continues.

“I didn’t sleep much that night. My imagination was running rampant; all I could picture was the man Yanchitis had described. When I closed my eyes his grin followed me and in all my dreams he haunted me. But that was before I really knew what haunted meant. It happened two days later, as I pulled up to a gas station on the road out of New Jersey.”

By this point Mr Dennell is becoming increasingly agitated, his hands are twitching and his voice is increasingly strained, even frightened.

“It was dark, probably nine-ish, maybe closer to ten. I had just filled up and was climbing back into my car when I noticed something in the laneway beside the station. The lane was dark, but a streetlight at the other end illuminated enough for me to catch sight of a figure near the other side. It had its back to me, but I could make out that it was tall, taller than me and wearing a dark grey suit over a thin frame. It was bald, and even from behind I could tell that something was off, as though proportions were slightly wrong, or it held itself strangely. Even with a sense of fear growing in me I called out. I regret that probably more than any other decision I’ve made in my life. It swivelled, so suddenly and so quickly that I shouted out loud. Its face. Its face was wrong. White, long, with deep black holes where the eyes should be. But its mouth. It was grinning, a locked grin that was far too wide, far too big. No human could make that expression. Hands by its sides it grinned at me down the laneway, but made no further move. After a few seconds I glanced away, to look inside the station, see if there was anyone who could help. When I turned back, it had moved closer. I hadn’t seen it walk. I didn’t see it take a single step. In the second or so I had glanced away it had advanced at least ten feet, and now stood halfway down the lane in the darkness. Only its face could be seen, split in half by the blackness of the alley, and it was unchanged. Still staring, still grinning. I have never seen anything more subtly threatening. Or more unquestionably. I crouched, never taking my eyes off it, and fumbled for the handgun under the seat of my car. I couldn’t find it, and in my fear I glanced away again. When I stood, pistol in hand it was closer still. It stood, grinning, not twenty feet from me at the entrance of the laneway, face in total darkness but for the eyes boring into mine, the grin fixed and horrifying. I couldn’t help it, I yelled and fired my gun, the bullet hitting it straight bang in the stomach. The damn thing didn’t react, didn’t make a sound, didn’t even twitch as the bullet hit it. In terror I unloaded the clip straight in its chest. It was like nothing had happened. I lost it, I freaked out. Screaming and crying I leapt into my car, rammed in the keys and gunned the engine, tearing off down the road without even closing my door. I got one glance through the rear-view mirror. It was on the road, watching my car fading into the distance, its eyes unmoving and its grin frozen. I didn’t stop the car again until the sun rose.”

Mr Dennell’s glass hits the floor. He is frozen, breathing deeply, shuddering occasionally. I suggest that we take a break, continue our interview tomorrow, but he waves the suggestion away. He doesn’t seem to notice the glass shattered at his feet.

“Over the coming days and weeks sleep became a fantasy beyond my grasp. Every time I closed my eyes it was there, a ghastly spectre that inhabited my dreams and haunted my every waking moment. I began to see it everywhere I went. Never clearly, never for more than a moment, but it was there. A silhouette on my wall. A figure at the end of a dark street. A face glimpsed in every crowd. I wasn’t eating, I couldn’t concentrate on my work, so sure was I that if I let my guard down for a second it’d be there. The fear that it was following me became too much; I found myself hunting for it, desperate to catch sight of it for more than a second, to prove that it was real, to make sure I wasn’t mad. I became… obsessed, simultaneously frantic to find and terrified to encounter it. Carol could only watch helplessly as my terror consumed me. This continued for far too long, until eventually I found it again.”

A soft clinking can be heard as Mr Dennell shifts in his seat, his dark glasses hiding pain filled eyes from my sight.

“Three years had passed since my encounter with the Grinning Man. Three long years of insomnia and terror, of paranoia and isolation. I had long since lost my job, I would rarely leave my study, working feverishly into the night to uncover further clues on the spectre that haunted me. Only Carol stood by me, worried but faithful. Loving; more than I reciprocated and far more than I deserved. It was late, I was in the study; Carol was downstairs in the living room. I could hear the muffled sounds of the television leaking through the floorboard under my feet. A tapping at my window snapped me from my work. Three slow beats, too rhythmic to be natural. Tap, tap, tap.”

Mr Dennell beats the table with his knuckles for emphasis.

“I would have no doubt ignored it if it weren’t for one factor; I was on the second floor, with no trees near this side of the house. The blinds were down, I couldn’t see out. My heart began hammering as I edged towards the windowsill, pen still in hand, reaching slowly for the string to raise the blinds. Tap, tap, tap. I leapt back as it repeated, and it was a long minute before I steeled the nerve to approach it again. With a deep breath I grabbed the string and heaved the blinds open. Nothing. No bald face, no staring eyes, no fixed grin. Nothing. I fell back into my chair, unsure whether to laugh or cry with relief. What had I expected really? I seem to recall I laughed, chuckling to myself as my heart rate slowed. Until there came a piercing scream from downstairs. Adrenaline fired into my veins and I leapt to my feet as the scream came again. Carol. Without hesitation I wrenched the door wide and charged downstairs, calling out, shouting her name, wielding my pen like a dagger. Through the living room; empty. Down the hall; silent. Into the kitchen; into a scene of nightmare. The lights were on, bright, too bright, illuminating everything in perfect detail. The back door was open wide, the kitchen light spilling out onto the porch, cutlery was strewn all over the floor and Carol lay in the middle of the tiles. She was lying on her stomach, but she was face up. Her head had been turned until it faced fully backwards, her wide eyes staring straight at me and a grin on her face. A locked grin that was far too wide, far too big. She was dead, yet her eyes pierced me, the grin taunted me, haunted me and I screamed. I screamed and I screamed and fell to my knees, unable to move, to breathe, to think. Her face was burned into my eyes, merging with the mask of horror that already plagued my every living moment. I couldn’t approach her, didn’t dare touch the corpse that had once been my wife, my beacon of support. I turned and stumbled into the hall, crashing through the living room door where the television was still playing, filling the room with laughter. The sound consumed everything, laughter, constant, unchanging, driving me into a fit of blind panic. With a roar I leapt up, intent on smashing the infernal machine into a million pieces, but something stopped me. It was off. The television was black, dead. Yet the laughter still echoed through the room, growing louder and more unnatural with every second. I lifted the box and slammed it into the floor again and again, shattering the glass, splintering the wood and yet still the laughter did not stop. Hands bloodied, tears steaming down my face I plunged back into the hallway, tearing up the staircase to my study for the phone, desperate to call someone, anyone for help. The room was as I’d left it, desk messy, lights dim, blinds raised. Except that a face now stared through the glass. White, long, with gaping black eyes too far apart that locked into mine and didn’t waver. It was grinning, a fixed grin that was far too wide, far too big. No human could make that expression.”

Mr Dennell is in a frenzy, he strains and tears at the handcuffs that bind him to his seat. I grab my Dictaphone and leap to my feet as he manages to upturn the table, sending papers flying across the white floor of his cell, some fluttering into the two-way glass window behind me. Still locked into the chair bolted into the floor, it’s a long while before he calms down enough to continue, his voice exhausted, his tone dead.

“I couldn’t look away. It was there. He was there. As he’d always been. Watching me. His face was seared into my eyes, Carol’s face was seared into my eyes, denying me escape from the nightmare I had been plunged into. I would never be free of his torment. Unless I… I stood up again, locked my gaze with the demon. The pen was still in my hand… and I plunged it into my eye. First one, then the other. Agony raged as an inferno as I fell to the floor, succumbing to the blackness. But now I was free. Now I am free of ever seeing the creature again.”

Mr Dennell’s head slumps in exhaustion and his sunglasses drop to the floor. Then he begins to laugh. Slowly, quietly, growing louder and louder until he raises his head and stares at me with eyes that are no longer there. Black holes in a pale face twisted into a mask of insane laughter. I back away from the chair, from the man chained to the centre of the room, turning for the door. As I slam my fist into it I glance down at one of the blank pages that had been thrown to the floor. Not blank, just upside down. The other side was now revealed; a charcoal sketch of a face. It was grinning; a demonic visage; no human could make that expression. As the door was opened from the outside I stumbled out, throwing one last look into the cell I had just left. Mr. Dennell was still laughing manically, the chains holding him to his chair, the floor littered with hundreds upon hundreds of blank pages which were now revealed to be drawings, all drawings, all of one thing. A face. With a locked grin that was far too wide, far too big. I shuddered and slammed the door closed.

Credit: N. Harley

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And Mira Part 7: War

June 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Note: Please visit the And Mira series tag to read all prior installments!

And Mira Part 7: War

Hoa Lo. 1970

I can barely see through the steam. The jungle is thick with fog and filth, and ultimately enemy soldiers looking to capture, torture, and kill us. We can barely see the target, and I must be sure we can complete our objective through the haze and daze.

“Travel should take you places!” Seems I heard that one time in an advertisement for some hotel. I look over at Pinball, my good friend, my brother in war, and his gaze of assertion gives me the courage to signal. “Go!” Pinball is our surveillance expert. He can bounce in and out of a target village, unseen and unnoticed, and have it sized up in under ten minutes.

We move slowly but stealthily, efficiently through the deep grass and mud. Quiet, ever so aware of the cost of a single mistake. Pinball, along with our capable information man Downlow, have scoped out our goal perfectly. Oh, certainly the village is protected. We know this small, unassuming village is well connected to our enemy, and effective speed is the key. The guards are small, but well armed.

Our solution is well armed as well. But he is not small. He is our enforcer, Goliath, large and strong. And fearless. Downlow, his good friend, would do whatever it takes to bring the best information to keep him safe, and give him the best chance of achieving his goal. Downlow has identified the strongest fortifications at the weakest point. He is the best at making casual conversation with the locals, and extracting critical information from those conversations.

While Pinball and I create a distraction, Goliath will do his work. His work is to kill many people. Quickly.

Quietly, he does his work.

Quickly and quietly we dispose of the guards at the gate. After that, it is all Goliath. Like a man possessed, he mows through no less than 9 enemy soldiers on his own. No weapons and no death. He simply overcomes them with his size and strength. NA, Dei Jaih, Downlow, Pinball and I take the rear, and quickly overcome the forces that protect this village, the keystone to the current battle plan..

We are quickly in control. The villagers that are not soldiers immediately attend to our needs, shuffling us to homes to shower, rest, and eat. The women, eerily calm, there, in the huts, ensure that every empty stomach is full. They allow us to rest after many months of uncertainly in battle. It is good.

Until suddenly, it is not. NA is the first to notice something is wrong. NA does not mean non-applicable, as you will see in much of the vernacular.

No. NA stands for Nasty Ass, which this guy is. He does not shower, does not present himself in any kind of a culturally acceptable way, even so far as the depressed culture of the lower Eastern lands. NA Is a fighter through and through. He hates the enemy, whoever the enemy may be. He is dirty, and he fights dirty.

Dei Jaih on the other hand is mild. It is nearly pronounced “DJ” so I will refer to him that way moving forward. He, at one time, was considered the enemy, and defected as our unit was being put together. DJ is our communications expert. He is able to connect with help no matter the circumstances, and is a master of military radios. He also understands the enemy language,

But it is NA who first notices something is not right. He is naturally hateful and paranoid, and refuses to accept that all is well when it seems to be. It’s easy to notice with NA. Despite the friendly gestures of the villagers, he scowls at them all, while sniffing the air like some grotesque smelly bloodhound. He is absolutely insane. Unfortunately, his senses are very good. And, in this case, his senses prove to be completely correct.

The enemy has succeeded in splitting us up. Pinball and I in one home, Goliath and Downlow in another. DJ and NA are in separate homes as well. While our surveillance of the village and immediate area has been perfect, this village is a key military target. Knowing that, the town had very effective plans in place, well practiced and automatic for the day they certainly would be invaded by American forces. The backup soldiers are quickly notified, and in reach to spoil our apparent success in merely hours. It took no time whatsoever for them to relieve us of our control, one or two at a time.

Then suddenly, we are no longer victors. We are prisoners in a very dangerous place, and any laws or rules governing the treatment of prisoners are not recognized here.

The next month is fraught with filth and torture. Rao Chu is the commanding officer in this village, a key location in this war for one reason only. It is where soldiers go to die. Rao Chu is well reputed for his glee in creative death, and lack of restraint. He likes to personally kill his prisoners and watch them die. We all knew of Rao Chu before even being drafted.

It is likely we will die here, unless help comes for us.

We are immediately beaten by the soldiers. Our hands, feet and faces are broken and opened under vicious pummeling. Even the guards whose lives Goliath spared took part in breaking our bodies, one at a time, as the others watched. Then for the first week we were each placed, two at a time, in Tiger Cages, and left to drown as they were placed in water with only inches at the top to breathe.

We manage, each of us, to survive these cages of death by holding each other up for periods while the other slept. An entire week is spent taking turns with short naps. And the best result that can be expected from this will be the dysentery we certainly contract from the disease-infested waters in which we now live, seeping into our open wounds. It is also the only water we have to drink, to wash down the occasional insect that is our only food.

But we survive the first week. All of us. After that, Goliath and Downlow are taken from their cages and marched away to some unknown location. We are never given any update on their conditions, or whether they are still alive. With such uncertainty, the human mind can only assume they have been tortured and killed in the cruelest manner. The human mind can only wait in certainly that one of us will be next, and eventually that one will be me. My mind spends many uncomfortable hours in that dire certainty.

Of course, the Nasty Ass has to speak his mind any time the enemy is around. He is paranoid, but also fearless. He is also careless and stupid. He harasses the guards when they come to see which of us may have died overnight. He insults their appearance, their military, their country and their mothers. The last part seems senseless, as these bastards could not possibly have mothers.

It is no surprise when, a week later, NA is taken. I can’t imagine we will ever see him again. They couldn’t possibly tolerate his mouth for long. Certainly they will mute him with a quick death even before being brought to torture. With him, DJ is also taken away. At this I am sad, because he is a defector. They will not let him live.

But for nearly a month, Pinball and I are left to wait, to hold each other up, to wonder of our comrades, and wait to be taken. We wait to die. I am grateful that at the end of my life, it is my good friend that I spend my last days with. I do miss my wife though. And my daughter.

Nearly a month.

And then. It is time. They come for us.

We are taken from our watery prison, emaciated and gaunt, and led to a hut in the center of the village. It is larger than all of the other huts, clearly the cornerstone building of the town. It is where American soldiers are taken to die. I expect to find all manner of torture there, and finally death. I expect an empty room with a firing squad or a single executioner standing over a chopping block. And I find all of those things, but yet more.

Our unit, our friends, are all there, alive. Not well. But alive.

DJ is most prominent. He has been positioned at a table in the center of the room. He is face down, and shackled by the wrists to each corner. He has clearly been tortured, and at first I am not sure if he is alive at all, but soon note the quick jerking of his shoulders from his heavy breaths. I mourn immediately for DJ. He is surely close to death.

Less prominent, but starkly apparent, is Goliath. His large body has been chained to the ceiling over a pit in the far corner. As Goliath is the strongest of us all, it is clear they intend to make an example of him. He is hung upside down, in nothing but his drawers. His sigh, heaving downward rather than up, a bizarre picture in contrast to his enormous strength. And, in the pit below, are fire ants, crawling up and down his body, biting and poisoning him by every inch. He attempts to raise his hands, to avoid giving a bridge to the ants, but it has been weeks, and his body tires, too weak to hold. It has become less painful to allow the ants access to his organs and nerves, than to hold himself up even another second. His body, red with welts, demonstrates his resignation.

NA is pinioned to the floor, spread eagled, also down to his drawers. He has a large rock positioned in his mouth. While Rao has not yet decided to kill him, our captors clearly became weary of his mouth. As we view the brutal scene, NA is doused with water. Clearly the time in the Tiger Cages did not wash off enough of the filth, and they see fit to rinse his profane body with both disdain and vigor. Even with the rock in his mouth, and the pain from the damage being done to his remaining teeth, you can see in the eyes of the Nasty Ass the hatred he has for his captors. No amount of torture or water will quell him.

Downlow is chained to the wall farthest from the entrance. He has not been stripped to his birthday suit, but is still adorned in the fatigues of his country’s military. To his right are two more sets of chains. It is to these, also within our uniforms, that Pinball and I are attached, myself in the middle and Pinball to my right. We are to watch the horrors to come, to beg for mercy or a quick death, for the small privilege of any information we may have of our Army’s strategy.

Then, enters Rao Chu, a killer of the magnitude of Nathaniel Mirras, but alive and real. He slowly strides into the hut, considering briefly the hung form of Goliath, then moving toward DJ at the table in the center of the room. From his central location, he views the three of us directly, myself, Downlow and Pinball. We are in the front row, and Rao is center stage. He looks over at NA and sneers, while placing his left hand atop the dark hair of DJ chained to the table. He briefly lifts DJ’s head, no longer able to communicate with either our forces or the enemy. He will share no more secrets, because when he lifts DJ up from his lounging position, we can see, the three of us, that his face has been brutalized, and his tongue removed. DJ is already dead, except only that he still barely breathes.

Rao, looking at us with an evil, smileless gaze, slowly lowers DJ’s head. We have seen the horror presented to him, which was Rao’s first goal. His second is to kill, to make an example of the defector. The traitor. To that end, he lifts up a machete positioned conveniently beside the table. He makes eye contact with each of us three, to ensure we are watching what comes next. Thankfully, the end is quick for DJ, as Rao Chu separates his head from his shoulders with a quick downward motion. Blood pours from the table to the floor, and when Rao is satisfied with the grisly display exiting his neck, he proceeds to chop his left hand at the cuff. Then his right, and DJ’s body falls from the table to the floor, at an angle, with each blow.

Dogtag: DJ. Dei Jaih. No Rank. No Religion. Blood Type AB

Goliath, facing the corner, hears the sound of DJ’s body hit the floor. He gurgles a sound, a request to see if any of us are near. If any of us are still alive. His body shudders, covered in blood and rash, then lays still. From across the room, Downlow sees his struggle, and from his chained position calls to him, to comfort him. To let him know he is safe. Goliath tenses at the sound of his friend’s voice, lifts his arms up barely inches and holds them in place for what seems like an hour but is barely half a minute. His sounds are guttural, but he is fighting.

Not to be disrespected, Rao Chu goes to Downlow and stands before him. He stares for a time, sizing him up to determine if the crime warrants death. Upon consideration, he strikes him with the handle of the machete, breaking his jaw. Downlow’s brief scream is heard by Goliath, who then relaxes his tense muscles in defeat, and allows his body to be consumed by hundreds of red ants, and to die. As Goliath screams a slight guttural scream, his body jerks and goes limp, Downlow sobs through a slack jaw and missing teeth.

Dogtag: Goliath. Leonard, “Len” Caster. Lance Corporal. Catholic. Blood Type O Positive

NA begins to struggle at his bonds, writhing along the floor like piranha in a school in a pool. He has, over time, managed to unwedge the rock in his mouth, though it had been tightly lodged, at the expense of the integrity of his jaw and many teeth. NA is angry, and no longer cares of his eventual future. NA is a bastard, but a loyal one, and the death of two of his unit, his friends, is more than he’ll allow to pass before he himself passes along.

His slurs to Rao are made uglier only by the fact that his mouth no longer works properly. If you taught a 12 month old to drop F Bombs all day, you would have a more coherent tirade than the filth pouring from NA’s bubbling maw. And yet, I love him for it. We all do, because even though the certainty of death looms near for NA, he has the fortitude to say precisely what we all think of Rao Chu, and his minions, and their mothers, many of whom were apparently farm animals, and the droppings of same.

I will miss him.

And Rao remains calm throughout. He seems to understand at times, and others not. His brow furrows when NA suggests that Rao is not better than “the left nut of your bitch sister’s honey badger lover.” Yet, his response is not anger, but still calm. And he approaches NA, tied to the floor, giving all his life is worth to demean his captors, and slowly, gently, replaces the rock into his mouth. NA struggles, but no longer has strength to continue. All in the room sense the end must be near for NA.

But instead, Rao speaks. In English. “You. You invade our home. Our village. You speak of honor and friendship and camaraderie. But you are here only to kill us, those of us not your comrades. And that I will not allow. You seek to disrespect with your tongue, but your disrespect will only cause death. Yours of course. In time.

And with that, he takes his Type 56 assault rifle, and raises it slightly to just above NA’s eyebrows. He gives a slight twitch to his left lip, almost a grin. Mostly a sneer. While no one on the planet would twist their features this way to indicate joy, it is clear that Rao gains pure enjoyment from playing with his prey before the kill. He then turns his rifle toward Downlow, and shoots him in the stomach, not killing him instantly. Downlow grimaces for minutes, keeping still. He is brave, and daring Rao to further disrespect the memory of his dead friend still hung in the corner, his body covered in ants. But Downlow’s features soften. His body slumps, as blood from the wide maw of his gut continues to pour.

Then, slowly, eventually, he is gone.

Dogtag: Downlow. Finn Alberts. Lance Corporal. Protestant. Blood Type O Negative

I expect Rao to address NA again, to let him know his folly in challenging him in front of his troops, and before us. But that was not his intention at all. He intended to deliver a message, not to NA, but to me. They spent the entire month learning about us, our ranks and personalities, what our strengths and who our friends are. Who would we die for? This message was meant to let me know that they knew I was in charge, and would not hesitate to mutilate Pinball if I should step the smallest bit outside of the circle of their control.

And to prove the point, Rao himself, walked over to where Downlow’s body now lifeless hung, and chose a large stone from the area where Downlow was chained, lifted it with both hands, and dropped it suddenly downward onto NA, splitting his skull where the rock had been lodged in his mouth. Despite his struggles and curses, he dies instantly. And yet, it has been said that a beheaded head can still process and see, as the body involuntarily convulses. I’m quite sure that despite his lifelessness, that I continued to hear NA bravely curse Rao and his troops for long minutes after his actual death.

Dogtag: NA. The Nasty Ass. Gabor. Private First Class. Jewish. Blood Type B Positive

And now, it is just Pinball. And me. And we are in the hands of Rao Chu.

And he is a killer.

Rao approaches us. Pinball and I are still upright and chained, with the hanging corpse of Downlow beside us. Rao unholsters his Walther P38, rarely found here, and slowly brings it up to Pinball’s temple, all the while staring deeply into my eyes. There is no pity, certainly no remorse in the dim eyes of Rao Chu. Only hatred, and a deep love of killing. I try to stay strong. There is no future in struggle and I will not risk Pinball’s life for the sake of a meaningless insult. His only hope is my resolve, I believe.

Yet I flinch…

Rao Chu becomes suddenly amused. He laughs heartily. It isn’t an unpleasant laugh at all, but one you might hear from an uncle telling you your first dirty joke. It’s as though we are in on the gag! Then, he calms, collects, and looks quickly at the remaining five soldiers in the hut with us. At his quick glance they all unholster their Type 59 pistols and train them on Pinball and myself…

Rao Chu then removes my limbs from their chains. What happens next takes only seconds.

Though unshackled, I stand still, hands at my side. Pinball and I do our best not to notice that Downlow has lost the contents of his bowels as blood and vomit pours from his mouth and nose. We stare straight ahead, fully anticipating our immediate execution while I am expected to stand and take it, unbound. And we are soldiers. That is how we will face our fate. And on cue, Rao steps to the side, leaving us to our personal space to die. Yet the shots do not come.

Instead, Rao walks over to the machete, upright, standing guard over the beheaded form of DJ. He picks it up, and returns to stand just before Pinball. While keeping his eye on me, he slowly raises the blade to the side of Pinball’s face, and with a quick, expert cut, slices off the ear closest to me. Pinball staggers, briefly, as blood pours down his side, then rights himself, and looks ahead. He stands with honor as I watch in horror. I cannot stand by and allow any more, as Rao places the blade below his chin. I will risk both our deaths to avoid any more humiliation and torture for my good friend and brother in war.

Yet I cannot move. Though unchained, an unseen force prevents me from raising a hand, a leg, or even to move my head. And this reality, familiar to me, and the events of the past month, begin to become clear. I am suddenly more afraid. We are not just prisoners of this war, meant to succumb to the torture of a living enemy madman. This is much much more. And I should have seen it coming.

Rao senses my recognition, but, keeping his eyes on me, does not smile. He presses the hilt of the machete into my hand, without a single fear that I will use it on him. I am able to move my head, as I’m meant to watch this, and glance, panicked and ashamed, at my friend. I cannot speak, so my sunken look will have to convey my silent apology.

I am no longer in control, as Rao places the blade again, perfectly, under Pinball’s chin. And as the soldiers, weapons drawn, look on in both wonder and sick merriment, giggling at the scene, the unseen force that held me still now forces me to move.

I shove the blade up into the skull of my good friend, ending his life. My hands then fall, leaving the blade sticking out the top of his head, and my senses retreat.

Nothing else that will happen from now on will make sense. I have killed Pinball. Rather, Nathaniel has.

Dogtag: Pinball. Nick Olson. Corporal. Protestant. Type O Negative.

Friend.

Damn you Nathaniel…

Finally, Rao’s features take on their true visage. That of the ghost, the killer, Nathaniel Mirras. He is no longer a war monger, but a pale, chalky being without hair, eyes or nose, only one ear, and a sunken leathery mouth without teeth. It’s true, Nathaniel could not kill me. But, like Mira, my wife, he now has control over all that I know and love. And he has control over me. He was able to possess me still, and compel me to kill my very best friend in this world.

And it occurs to me that he may be able to compel others to kill me. I wish I knew all that Mira knows, and had her experience with this monster.

And Rao smiles with glee at my recognition and my fear. He tilts his head backward and laughs the bestial laugh of the chalky child. As much a cry of pain as a laugh, my stomach releases its contents at the sight and sound of the pale killer. I mentally prepare for what must come next. I’ve lost my very good friend and brother, and my whole unit. It’s my fault they are gone.

And while I welcome my due for my stupidity, I still have Mira, and our daughter, that I desperately wish to see again, and hold. Yet Nathaniel is stronger than I am. I am too weak. He may compel me to kill our child, as he did Pinball. Perhaps this is better. They will both be safer if Nathaniel ends this now.

It seems that I will get my wish. The soldiers stand to attention as the chalky Chu ends his maniacal laughter. They each take their revolvers and point them at me. It appears that Nathaniel can coerce others to kill me. Not that they need coercion. But no noise emits from the multitude of arms. They do not fire. Then, Nathaniel-as-Rao does something unexpected.

He hands me his pistol, which my hand readily receives. He then stands back with a look of both humor and wonder on his face. The soldiers all have their arms trained on me, yet my arm is free to rise, taking aim at the possessed body of Rao Chu. Yet my finger is unable to place pressure on the trigger. The world stands still for a long moment with multiple guns trained on me yet without a shot being fired.

Suddenly, though my weapon remains trained on Rao, the soldiers each shift their aim, from me, to Rao, and to each other. As though a bizarre game of “Musical Munitions”, the weapons of all Rao’s men, stiffly switch targets, then shift again. They suddenly stop, together, each trained on a different target. I wonder which of the soldier’s bullets is trained on me.

There is little time to wonder as the guns all go off simultaneously. I feel my body being flung back onto the wall. The bodies of Rao and each soldier drop in unison, as if some bloody synchronized swim team, each with a gaping hole between the eyes. And I have no time to consider my fate as I am able to utter only one word before darkness overtakes me.

“Smoke…”

Dogtag: Geist. Andrew Rose. Sergeant. Killer. Agnostic. Type O negative…

East Coast America, 1970 (just prior to the events detailed above):

After decades of uncertainty, the years have finally been kind. Andrew and I, safe from the murderous intentions of Nathaniel, are married. We have a child, Maddisyn.

I was absolutely terrified of having twins.

But we have a single, beautiful baby girl. Andrew is completely smitten, and she completely owns him! In so many ways I am jealous of the love he has for our daughter, and yet I know it is but an extension of the love he has for me. It is as it should be. My life, marred from the beginning, became perfect.

Until the war…

It seems that all the men in my family are killers. Like my father, Nathaniel Rauch, Andrew is to become a hero in war. In Andrew’s defense, however, he was drafted. Like many of Andrew’s friends, Uncle Sam came knocking on the door for him.

Of all people, I should have known better than to open the door for a relative.

If only I could replace my beloved Andrew with my ghost, Nathaniel, I could not only keep him safe, but also ensure certain victory for our side. But the odds of Nathaniel finding his way so far east are slim.

I wish I could say that Andrew was disappointed in being drafted. But, he is a boy of our times, loves GI Joe, wants to go be a protector of freedom, and anti-communism everywhere. He also deeply cares for the lives of innocents, having lost so many friends and even his own sister because of me. Because of Smoke. Nathaniel Mirras is…was…a killer.

So, Andrew went to war. And I am afraid.

But Nathaniel no longer has the ability to kill Andrew, because Andrew and I are now one. And Nathaniel, Smoke, cannot kill me. So while I am afraid for Andrew, I know the worst in our lives has already come and gone, and Andrew’s fate is no different than any other soldier at risk. And our army is strong. I have faith.

I soon fall into slumber with these thoughts. My dreams each night are of course fraught with fear over Andrew’s possible demise in war. But each week I get a letter and know all is well. He is going deep this week, I know. But he is a good soldier. And Nathaniel cannot harm Andrew.

Something in my dreams tonight, however, feels off. Andrew is tortured and killed as in all of my dreams, but tonight the killer has Nathaniel’s face. I wake in the same sweat as always, and prepare for my day caring for Maddisyn. I can’t shake how different this feels though.

Something…

I begin to wonder why Nathaniel has not been in our lives these many years, torturing me. He can’t kill me, of course, or Andrew. But he couldn’t kill me before, and yet made my years unbearable. Perhaps he has this control over Andrew now! My dream, where Smoke has total control over Andrew’s environment, mirrors most of my life. Then suddenly I feel it. I sense Nathaniel.

I begin to see a small room, with a distorted Vietnamese soldier standing before me. Andrew. I’m seeing through Andrew’s eyes. The face of the soIdier slowly shifts from one of distortion to crystal clear reality. Damn it. Damn it, it’s Nathaniel! I see the mutilated and broken bodies of American soldiers scattered around the room, and a room full of enemies with their guns trained on me. On Andrew.

No.

No!

There is a sudden flurry, and everything goes black. Including my senses. Andrew is gone.

Credit: MeGoMike/MeGoMirras

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It Comes at Night

June 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Maybe you’ve seen what I’ve seen… Probably, you haven’t, but just maybe you have. Either way, I know what I’ve seen, and that’s what matters most, as far as I’m concerned. Believe what you will, I’ve never cared about that part of things before. I know it’s out there, and you should too, in case it decides you’re next.

I have no recollection of when the first time I saw it was… as far as I can remember, it was always there. I do know that it first started while living with my grandparents, but actually nailing down when its first appearance was is a bit difficult. We (my little sister and I) were taken into state custody when I was 4 and were finally returned to our mother a month after my 10th birthday. I can honestly say, those years where probably the best of my childhood. But everything has a price, and the price for those years of bliss always came at night.

I remember the first time I saw it. I was woken out of a dead sleep one night. I couldn’t figure out what woke me, and I sort of laid there in a groggy stupor, trying to gain my bearings. I quickly noticed the urge to pee, so I got up, walked the 5 steps or so it took to go from my bedroom to the bathroom and did my business.

As I returned to my bedroom, I froze in the doorway. I scanned my room, a feeling a dread slowly welling up inside my small, child frame. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I shrugged it off and climbed back into bed. See, I’ve always had the habit of falling asleep to horror movies or scary shows (usually Tales from the Crypt), so I chalked it up to a vividly wild imagination and that damned Crypt-Keeper.

As the toilet ceased filling it’s tank and the hissing of running water died out and eventually went mute, I noticed a distinct tapping noise. It sounded like a dog’s nails on hardwood floor… Except the dogs were all asleep, in the front yard, and our floors were carpeted. I was shaken by the noise for a second, but quickly tried to reason in my young mind that I was hearing things, all fueled by my addiction to scary shit. So I pulled my pillow over my head and tried to go back to sleep. That’s when the tapping got louder, and it’s tone changed. It no longer sounded like dog nails on hardwood. It sounded like fingernails tapping on glass. And it sounded like it was coming from above me. Coming from my bedroom window.

Tentatively, I pulled the pillow from my head and slowly shifted my gaze to the window. What I saw chilled me to the bone. Red eyes glared at me from the other side of the window, malevolence bleeding from them like a stuck pig. Sharp fangs lined a pair of lips that were pulled back like a snarling tiger. It’s face was covered with short black fur and it had a pair of twisted horns sprouting from its forehead. I could make out the shadow of huge, leathery wings, coming off its back. When it caught my stare, it’s snarl quickly shifted to the most evil grin I could possibly fathom.

I was paralyzed as soon as I made eye contact, and in my head I could hear a strange, deep, gravelly voice speaking to me, but the language I didn’t and still don’t know. All I know is it sounded ancient and felt cruel. I don’t know how long we stayed that way, but all of a sudden, I was able to break my stare and immediately screamed like a little girl.

“Jon, Jon! What’s wrong???” my grandmother pleaded with me when she entered my room. I just sat there, blubbering like a baby, pointing at my window, and occasionally letting out an indecipherable squeak as I struggled to regain my composure and remember how to speak.

“The devil is on the roof,” I was finally able to say.

Now, before I continue, I must explain. I have always been agnostic. I absolutely believe there is a higher power, though I refuse to label it/him/her/they with any conventional names. A name is simply a way to identify someone, and we should be able to identify the higher power on a spiritual level. Just my belief. I DO NOT believe in the devil. Just a scapegoat for the ugly side of humanity. Again, just my belief.

“The devil is on the roof.” I repeated after Grandma gave me a quizzical look.

“Jon, you were dreaming. I keep telling you to stop watching those stories before bed. This is why… You just had a very vivid nightmare is all.”

I wanted so badly to believe Grandma, but I knew what I had seen. Still, I laid back down and Grandma sat in there with me until I was asleep again. I woke up to a bright morning and no more incidents…

The next night, I’m lying in bed, watching, you guessed it, Tales from the Crypt, when I hear the tapping again. This time I know it’s not a nightmare, as I still haven’t fallen asleep yet. I tried to ignore it, but the tapping got increasingly louder the longer I resisted. I was afraid the damn thing was going to break the window, and in my fear, I quickly glanced toward the window.

As soon as my eyes landed upon its horrible visage, I was frozen in place again. This time, the voice either spoke in English, or it gave me some way to understand it, but I clearly heard it say, “Come with me. You have been forsaken. We will never forsake you.”

“We? Who the heck is we?” I thought to myself.

“We are many. We are one. We are here for you. And we aren’t leaving without you.” It responded, and that’s when I realized it could hear my thoughts. “We can do more than just hear your thoughts. We can watch your memories. We can taste your fear.”

And with that, I felt a horrid pain in my head, my vision flared stark white, shifted to bright crimson, and finally faded to black as I lost consciousness.

I awoke lying on my floor in the fetal position, although the last I could remember I had been laying on my back in my bed, having a telepathic conversation with what I truly believed to be a demon. I was soaked in sweat and was shivering uncontrollably. I pulled myself off the floor and wobbled to the bathroom. I stripped out of my sweat-drenched clothes, climbed in a shower and just let the hot water run over me, warming my still chilled flesh and bones.

I didn’t feel like me… It’s hard to explain, but I was an energetic, happy, exuberant little boy… That morning, however, I felt a dark, brooding energy hanging over me. I didn’t want to be around people, and even though it was starting to terrify me at night, I didn’t want to leave my bedroom all that day.

This continued nightly. Every night I would either be awoken, or summoned to look, by a persistent tapping on my window. And when I finally would look, I’d get locked into the trance like state that instigated our mental exchanges. And every day I’d become more and more introverted.

One particularly hot summer night, I woke up to an entirely new sound. The tapping had been replaced by a scratching sound. As I slowly opened my eyes, I felt a draft come through my open window.

WHO OPENED MY WINDOW?!? And then I remembered… I remembered my Grandma coming into my room and saying how hot it was. I remembered begging her not to open the window. And her begrudgingly agreeing to leave it closed.

She must have opened it when I fell asleep… And the scratching continued, louder, closer to my head.

“Come with me.” The gravelly voice, but this time it was audible. I hadn’t looked toward my window, using every ounce of willpower I could muster in the hopes of avoiding that trance like state. But the shock of actually hearing that voice with my own ears was enough to snap my head around out of surprise, my eyes immediately fixating upon this beast that tormented me nightly.

It opened its mouth and a barbed, forked tongue slithered out and flicked the air like a snake. It reached an unproportioned, sinewy arm covered in short, black bristles through my window, and tried to grab at me. In the process, it broke our stare, and I was able to look from the window and move my body again. As I lunged off my bed and toward the door, one of its razor sharp (who knew?) claws sunk deep into the meat of my shoulder. I screamed out in sheer agony as its claw tore through skin and muscle, splashing blood across my bedding and one of the walls.

Grandma came running to my room, opened the door, and froze. I don’t know if it was the blood, the beast, a combination of the two, or something else entirely, but she too let out a scream. I heard the hard flap of leathery wings and felt a hard breeze push against my back from the window. Grandpa arrived at my bedroom door, glanced around the room, saw the gore on the bed and wall and immediately had me up in his arms, rushing me to the truck and then rushing to the hospital.

The doctor said I must have snagged my shoulder on a nail in my sleep, but couldn’t understand how I could get cut so long, deep and with such a “clean” cut from a nail. 14 stitches in my shoulder, a tetanus shot, and we were sent home with a preventative antibiotic to keep my shoulder from getting infected.

That was the last time I ever saw that thing. I know it exists. What it is, I don’t know. What it wanted though, seems clear. It wanted me.

Occasionally, I’ll still here a tapping on my window, like fingernails on glass, despite it being over 20 years since the incident I just wrote about. My skin crawls and my blood runs cold when I hear it. But I keep not only the window closed, but the blinds stay closed at night too, just to be sure that I’ll never get caught by its hypnotic stare again, never hear that horrible voice playing around inside my brain again.

It’s out there, right now, looking for victims. This much I know for sure… Because, some nights, after I’ve fallen asleep, I’ll dream things. I’ll be gliding over houses, and land on the roof of one. I’ll lean over the edge of the roof and tap on the window with claws that are clearly not mine. And then I’ll hear, clear as day, MY voice purring, “Come with me.” before my eyes snap open and I wake up…

Credit: Jon P.

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The Fallen

June 16, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The first thing Courtney noticed as he pulled his beat up old Ford into Rod’s driveway was the massive gash in the field just east of the farmhouse. It was early January and the ground sat frozen under a thick blanket of snow, yet despite this something had torn a small gorge twenty yards long across the length of the field. It looked as though God, with a great sweeping gesture of his arm, had scooped up a handful of dirt and snow and thrown it away, like a child scooping sand from a sandbox. Courtney couldn’t imagine what could have caused such destruction, but he figured it had something to do with the call he had received begging him to come over as fast as he could. The last words of that call still rang in his head as he pulled up to the house, leaving a sour taste in his dry mouth—make sure nobody follows you.

As Courtney climbed the rickety staircase that led to Rod’s door each board creaked noisily beneath his heavy boots, as if moaning out in pain. Just as he was about to knock he heard a cry from behind him. He spun around to see Rod slipping out of the barn, moving so urgently that he was nearly tripping in the snow. He waved his arms in a come-to-me gesture and Courtney descended the steps, making his way toward the barn, stepping carefully in the footprints which already littered the snowy ground before him.

“What the hell is going on, Rod?” Courtney asked, smiling despite the steadily sinking feeling in his gut.

“You weren’t followed, were you?” Rod’s eyes shifted nervously over Courtney’s shoulder, scanning the road beyond.

“Jesus Rod, who’d want to follow me out here?” The smile slipped from Courtney’s face. For the first time he noticed the dark bags under his friend’s eyes, the nervous grinding of his teeth.

“You see the wreck?” Rod asked, his eyes shifting to the field Courtney had noticed driving in.

“Yeah, what the hell was—”

“I found something, Court. Something fell out of the sky and into my field last night.”

Courtney shifted nervously in the snow, looking first at the field and then at his friend’s face. There was no doubt in his words, no lying in his eyes. Courtney slipped his hands into his pockets, suddenly very cold.

“What do you mean? Like, a plane?”

Rod shook his head slowly, a mixture of certainty and fear on his tired face. He glanced around once more, checking for a final time to make sure nobody had followed Courtney out.

“If I show you this, you need to promise never to tell anyone.”

“Yeah, of course Rod.”

“I’m not fucking around here, Court. I need you to fucking promise.” Rod’s voice was now so shaken that Courtney considered dropping the whole thing and walking away. Only the absolute fear in his friend’s eyes kept him from leaving.

“I promise,” he said, and once more a powerful chill ran through his body. Rod nodded, and rested his hand on the barn door. Before slipping into the building he turned back, locking eyes with Courtney.

“I’m sorry for bringing you into this, but I can’t face it alone,” he said, disappearing into the shadows of the barn, the heavy door swinging shut behind him.

Courtney was left staring at the door, an old chunk of splintered wood and chipping red paint, not unlike the rest of the structure. He’d been in the barn a thousand times over the years, but never had the building seemed so foreboding as it did now. Every fiber of his being told him to turn tail and never look back, but the depths of the old barn called to him like a siren in the night. He found himself wishing desperately that this was some elaborate joke Rod was pulling, but the pit in his stomach said otherwise. Rod’s eyes had told him otherwise. Slowly, as if he was sleepwalking, Courtney moved to the old barn and pulled open the door, slipping into the shadows and leaving the light of the low winter sun behind him.

The air in the barn was still and heavy, smelling of old hay and cow pies, and Courtney felt as if he could choke on it if he were to breathe too much too quickly. A few stray rays of light shone through the cracks in the barn’s ceiling and walls, offering a welcome reminder that something existed beyond the slowly decaying walls of the place, which seemed as if they could close in on the men at any moment, swallowing them whole. An ancient gas lantern glowed lazily on a crate near the center of the barn, and Courtney was surprised to find that its light was not needed to see the thing which Rod had chained to the far wall, a thing which knocked the breath out of Courtney faster than the dank air of the barn ever could.

Courtney hadn’t known what to expect, but the feeling in his gut and the shiver down his back had prepared him for something horrendous. What he saw chained to the wall now was not horrible, but beautiful beyond all words. It looked like a man, but to call it such seemed to degrade the flawlessness of its design. Every curve of its body seemed deliberate and graceful, every ounce of pale flesh seemed pure and smooth. It sat on its knees with its arms chained behind it, hanging its head before the men, its long locks of hair falling like golden thread before its face. Most striking were the massive feathered wings which sprung from its bent back, and drooped now as if pulled down by weights. The being’s entire body was surrounded by a powerful and striking light which appeared to come from no source and lit the far wall of the barn with a white light, as if the thing was hiding a small sun behind its back.

Courtney stood, mouth agape, staring dumbly at the creature as Rod nodded his head in agreement.

“Yep, I felt the same way first time I laid eyes on it,” he said, a note of disbelief still hanging on his voice.

“How…What is it?” Courtney heard himself ask, though he couldn’t recall his mouth moving.

“Well hell, seems obvious enough to me. It’s an angel,” Rod answered, and for the first time Courtney was able to draw his eyes away from Rod’s captive.

“But how is that possible? How did you get it in here?” Words were spilling out of him now, questions hitting him like bullets.

“I don’t know why it came here or how, but it landed out in that field last night. I saw a flash and heard a bang, thought the barn had been hit by lightning. I ran out to see what was wrong and found him in the field, just lying face down in the dirt. Thought he was dead at first, but I guess he proved me wrong. I didn’t know what to do so I drug him up here and locked him up for good measure.” As Rod recounted his night, his eyes never left the wall where the angel hung.

“Does Wendy know?”

“Naw, she’s at her mom’s place, thank God. I wouldn’t want her mixed up in this mess.”

“Yeah, that’s true I suppose. Has it said anything to you?”

“Not a word. I don’t even know if it can. It just sits there and stares at the ground.”

Suddenly, as if on command, the angel raised its head and looked directly into Courtney’s eyes. Its eyes were as golden as its hair, and in them Courtney saw more fear and anguish than he had thought a creature capable of. As he stared into the angel’s eyes, unable to tear himself from its gaze, he heard a whisper in his ears, as if the thing was standing right next to him.

This man plans to kill me. Look behind him.

Courtney looked at Rod, whose eyes were still locked on the creature. Just as he himself broke away from its golden gaze, Courtney noticed the shotgun laying against the wall of the old barn.

“I swear to God that the thing hasn’t moved all night.” Rod sounded more excited than he had all morning. It became apparent to Courtney that he alone had heard the angel’s whispers. His heart was racing now, threatening to burst out of his chest at any moment. He looked back at the angel, whose eyes hadn’t moved an inch.

Please help me. I shouldn’t be here.

“Rod,” Courtney said, turning once more away from the angel’s piercing stare, “what exactly do you plan to do with this thing?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it.” Rod said, his own gaze growing shifty again. “I was sort of hoping you’d have an idea, seeing as you were always the smart one.”

His honeyed words will spoil and rot in his mouth.

“Well, if it truly is an angel, and from the look of it that’s the case, then shouldn’t we let it go?” Courtney asked, testing the waters. The angel was practically singing in his ears now, its voice sweet and melodic, and its freedom suddenly seemed an urgent necessity.

“Let it go? What would it even do if I did? Where would it go, Court? McDonald’s? Pick up a Big Mac?” Until this point Rod had seemed nervous, but now the first edge of harshness slipped into his words, reminding Courtney of the gun only a few steps behind him.

“Jesus Rod, why’d you even ask me out here if you’re not going to listen to my suggestions?”

“I’m starting to wonder myself! Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.”

Something about what Rod said sent Courtney back in time to his boyhood, back to an event that he hadn’t thought on in years. A stray dog, a mutt Rod had found limping around the streets of the nearby town, collarless and mangy. He’d wanted to bring it home and keep it as a pet, and he’d brought Courtney in to help figure out what to do. Courtney knew no such beast would be allowed to live on a farm, especially with a father like Rod’s, and he had said as much. His advice had gone ignored and when Rod’s father found the dog three days later, it was Rod he forced to shoot the animal with his .22 rifle. Courtney had listened to the horrible details of the shooting a few days later as Rod recounted them with horror in his young eyes. A .22 is a small caliber, and when you’re a young boy shooting your pet with shaking hands and tears are clouding your vision, sometimes a single bullet might not do the job. Rod had shot the dog four times before it died, its loud death throes giving way to weak whimpers in the end as it slowly bled out behind the very barn they stood in now. All Rod had said after his story was that it was a mistake, over and over again.

Courtney was jutted from his memory by the sudden sound of the angel’s voice, more urgent than ever.

Don’t let me be that dog, Courtney.

Courtney looked into Rod’s eyes, his hand slowly moving toward the pocket knife that always sat on his belt. Rod nervously glanced at the door of the barn, a million miles away from where the men now stood.

“You could just shoot the thing,” Courtney said, his voice cold and distant as his fingers met the cold metal of the knife. “You could kill it like you did that dog back when we were boys. Make another mistake for old time’s sake.”

“Court… why would you say that.” Rod was sincerely hurt, but Courtney was too far gone to realize it. In his mind the angel revived a hundred dead memories of the times Rod had wronged him in his life, all the while whispering for the man’s death.

“What’s the gun for, Rod?”

“For God’s sake, it’s for defense Court!” Rod said, his eyes slowly falling on Courtney’s knife. “We don’t know what this thing is capable of!”

“You really think this thing would hurt you? An angel?” The being’s voice was begging, pleading that Courtney save him.

“I don’t know,” Rod’s eyes narrowed. “The Devil was an angel once too.” The words meant nothing to Courtney, whose mind had been largely made up for him.

“Let it go, Rod.” Courtney had begun to move forward, his hand resting firmly on his knife. The voice of the angel begged him to kill the man. Its voice was so sweet, so innocent, so urgent. There was a long moment of silence in which neither man moved and time seemed to freeze in the dank confines of the barn.

“I don’t think I can do that Court,” Rod said, tears filling his sunken eyes.

When it happened, it happened quickly. A break was made for the wall. The knife was pulled. Courtney stabbed his best friend over and over again as the angel screamed inside his skull, its cheering broken only by the bang of the shotgun blowing Courtney backwards across the room. Before they knew it both men were lying on the ground, bleeding out and unable to move, like that dog from so many years ago.

And as suddenly as it had popped into his head, the voice of the angel disappeared. Slowly the light began to withdraw into the being, and with the last of his dying strength Courtney managed to turn his head toward it. As he watched the golden hair fall from the being’s head in dirty matted chunks, as he watched the pale skin darken and rot, as he watched the great feathered wings grow leathery and membranous, as he watched to golden eyes turn beady and hungry and the teeth turn into jagged razors, as he watched the beast rip itself from the wall on which it was never truly trapped and crawl towards him in the lamp lit darkness, Courtney became aware of one indisputable and immediate fact: this thing was not, after all, an angel.

Credit: Nick Labath

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The Shortcut

June 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It was coming up on Thanksgiving and I wanted to go to my parents house. They lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whereas I had moved to Denver,Colorado for college. I had been meaning to visit them for some time, so it seemed the perfect opportunity. My suburban wasn’t the most fuel efficient car, but it was hardy, and it had taken me to various other destinations faithfully for three years, so I trusted it. It was a two-three day drive, so I packed a lot of snacks, just in case.

When I set off, it was early morning. I knew that if I wanted to get there in a timely fashion, I would have to drive at a steady speed and have a fast route. This meant as few detours as possible unless absolutely necessary. I, unlike many people, have no issue with back roads. They were just roads which people didn’t use very often, but were just as valid as others.

The first few hours of driving were perfect. The sky was clear and blue, and there was just the right amount of traffic so that I didn’t feel lonely, but the highway didn’t feel crowded. There was a good dispersment of gas stations and rest stops. I stopped a two times to get snacks and to go to the bathroom. The day went well, but as night fell, things starting going wrong.

After awhile, my route had me go onto a back road that looked like it hadn’t seen a car since the invention of TV. It was getting dark but I could still make out the road well enough. It was completely overgrown, with saplings and bushes growing in the road. There were tall, dark oak trees lining the street, darkening it and shedding black, dead leaves by the side of the road. A light mist hugged the ground, swirling softly as the car passed. I had some misgivings about this route, but the GPS said that it cut two hours off my trip, so I went with it. But just in case, I turned on the radio to calm myself down. The only station I could find was some country music station.

As I progressed further along the road, I noticed some odd things along the side of the road. The first thing I saw was a pile of what at first looked liked garbage. As I got closer, I saw it was a bundle of dirty, ratty clothes, empty cans, slopping over with some unknown rotting fluid, and some fleshy mounds. I can’t say for certain, but I thought that I saw something underneath them move as I drove past.

As night fell, the mist grew thicker, and some darkly ominous clouds rolled in. I worried slightly about rain, but It never came. The clouds just hovered, darkening my path even further. My radio suddenly began to cut out, changing rapidly from static to this really faint station that I didn’t recognize. It had what sounded like chanting and shrieking. I quickly turned it off, my heart thumping in my ears. Without the music to distract me from my surroundings, I began noticing more odd things on the sides of the road.

I passed heaps of garbage that looked like they had been there for centuries. They were covered with what looked like a black goo. There were overgrown offshoots of the road that no doubt led to long abandoned farmsteads. On one of these, there were objects swinging from the trees that lined the entrance. I told myself that they were just oddly shaped hanging vines, or a trick of the light. They couldn’t be bodies.

There was the rotted out carcass of an old wooden church, just off to one side of the road. The roof had collapsed, most of the remaining walls had at least a quarter of the boards missing. It was covered in vines and overgrowth. Through the gaping hole that used to be the doors, I saw that the pews were strewn around wildly like some great force had come through and swept them aside in a fit of violence. There were also piles in front of it that trailed partially onto the road. I slowed down and drove carefully around them. I couldn’t tell what they were but it didn’t seem very good.

At this point, I was thoroughly creeped out and I was seriously considering turning around and leaving, shortcut or not, when I saw that there was a massive downed tree lying across the road. I consulted the GPS, which told me that there was a side-route about half a mile back that would connect back with the road after a while. I thought it over for a while, then decided that I would try it out. I thought “ Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” If the road got too bad, I could just turn around.

It took me awhile to find it, seeing as it was so overgrown, I don’t even think it could be called a road. There was knee high grass all over the narrow road and years of nonuse had erased any tracks or ruts that may once have been. It was pretty narrow, with enough room for one car and then two ditches on either side of the road. Luckily, there weren’t too many bushes, so it was easy enough to drive on. Off to the sides of the road were what I assumed to be remnants of what used to be civilization. There were piles of decayed planks of wood. There were also quite a few rusted out hulks of old cars. Some of them looked like they had been abandoned by the side of the road, like their owners had just pulled over, gotten out and left. Other, less rusted cars looked like they had been in high speed accidents. These were bent around trees, smashed into other rusted skeletons, or just lay totalled in the slight ditch by the side of the road. There was one noticeable car that stood out because it had flipped onto its nose against a tree, so that the roof was parallel with the tree trunk.

Throughout the period where I was observing these, there was movement out in the forest. The mist obscured my view more than two feet into the forest, but I could make out shapes that swirled the mist. Whenever I thought I might make out a feature, it would dart back into the mist, leaving with nothing but swirling mist and a cold, sinking feeling in my abdomen.

Eventually, I decided to turn back. The road was getting progressively worse, my GPS was showing nothing but forest now, and I was beyond tired. The sides of the road were almost completely blocked by forest, so I drove forward, looking for a place to turn around.After about a mile, I reached what looked like a town, although I don’t think anyone had lived there for at least a century. There were a few building on either side of the road. All of them were overgrown to the point where I could barely tell what they might have been.There was a section of two or three buildings that were just burnt carcasses. The house next to these was in extremely good shape. It was still overgrown, but it looked almost entirely intact. I am a very curious person, I always have been, so this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. I decided to investigate, despite a nagging feeling of fright.

I pulled over to the side of the road and got out. I walked around to the trunk and grabbed my flashlight. As I walked toward the building, I realized that it was in even better shape that I had thought. The boards were barely rotted, and all of the windows were intact. I walked up to the door and put my hand out to open the door when a wave of apprehension and fear washed over me. I jerked my hand back and stumbled backwards a step. I decided to leave as quickly as I could and started walking to my car.

As I walked towards my car, I glanced over at the passenger’s side window and froze. In the reflection of the window, I saw my own reflection and, behind me on the porch of the house, a tall, pale figure. It had long, hollow eye sockets and its mouth was stretched in an eternal scream, with massive crooked teeth sticking out of this void. I stood there for what seemed like eternity, frozen in place. Then it dashed towards me and the spell was broken. I sprinted to the car, ripped open the passenger’s side door, dove in, and slammed it shut.

The thing rushed towards my car as I scrambled backwards into the driver’s seat. It reached my car and began clawing at the doors with what I assumed were claws. It shrieked in an unearthly howl, louder than I thought physically possible. I clapped my hands over my ears and managed to get into the driver’s seat. I fumbled with my keys and then got the car started. As it rumbled to life, the creature stepped back and shrieked even louder. A chorus of disjointed screams erupted from the surrounding forest and town. As I changed gears, I saw more of those things sprinting out of other buildings and out of the blanket of mist that surrounded me.

I jammed the gas pedal to the ground and my car jumped forward speedily. I quickly spun around and saw more of those things rushing from the building. A few of them reached the car and began gouging it, making a hellacious combination of their shrieks and the screeching of their claws on the metal of my car. I began speeding down the road, frantically trying to push the gas pedal down more, despite the fact that it was already floored. I looked down the road, seeing more of the creatures rushing down the road out of the mist.

After this, it gets a little fuzzy. My memories from this point on are like sparse beams of light in dark room. The next thing I remember is passing the car that was flipped into the tree. The front of my car was severely dented, and there was a black ooze all over the hood. My windshield was splattered with it as well and my heart was beating a thousand times a minute. I was covered with sweat, and I was panting, yes panting, for air. I could hear shrieks from not too far behind and I still had the pedal floored. The speedometer said that I was going 90 mph. I looked out the passenger’s side window and saw one of the creatures gliding alongside me. Then my memory stops again

The next thing I remember is driving full throttle around the turn and going up on one wheel and almost flipping over before managing to steady myself. I raced down the road, listening for any sign of the creatures. There were a few far off shrieks, but nothing close by. My pulse was pounding and I was drenched in sweat. I noticed in my peripheral vision two things. One, that the mist had cleared and two, that I was nearing the rotted church. As I sped towards it, time seemed to slow down. My eyes widened in horror as I came to a realization that I had forgotten the piles in the road. My foot slammed onto the brakes, but too late. I slammed into a clump of them and I was thrown forward into my airbag. As I fell into the pit of unconsciousness, the shrieks of the creatures followed me.

When I awoke some time later, the first thing I noticed was that it was light out. My head throbbed and I was covered with scratches. My body felt like it had been through an industrial wood chipper. I sat up slowly, groaning in pain, and saw that I was lying on the pavement surrounded by millions of shards of glass that used to be my windshield. I looked over and saw the smoking wreck that used to be my car. It looked like when it crashed I had been thrown out of the window. It was a miracle that I had survived

I got up and limped slowly over to my car. From the outside, the claws marks were even worse than I thought. There were three parallel lines that stretched for about three feet down and across. They were about three inches deep and many of them just slightly pierced through the door. I shuddered, realizing how close I had come to death.

I looked around me, wondering how to proceed. I was in the middle of the woods on an abandoned road with no car, injured, no shelter, and possibly being hunted by those creatures. I thought about it for a while and then started walking down the road back towards the highway. It was quite a ways away, probably about a day and a half walk, but I knew it was my only chance.

After hours of walking, my legs were nearly numb. I was dehydrated and hungry, and it seemed like salvation was still miles away. I stopped off the side of the road and collapsed onto an old rotted trunk. I leaned back against a tree and closed my eyes, wiping sweat off my feverish brow. I breathed a sigh and settled back into the tree and letting my thoughts wander.

I awoke with a start, my heart racing. I shot up, noticing that it was nighttime once more. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees. I cursed myself for falling asleep and trudged back onto the road. The stars provided a dim lighting and I had begun walking again when I heard it. It was the far off shriek of one of the creatures. My eyes widened and I stood completely still, trying to pinpoint its location. The next shriek I heard was louder and it came from the direction of my car, down the road.

I turned and sprinted in the other direction, adrenaline flooding my system. A dense fog soon materialised around me, limiting my vision to about ten feet around me. Occasionally, I would hear shrieks from behind me getting louder and louder each time. I could hear more screams coming from behind me. I was slowing down, which was something I couldn’t afford. I picked up the pace a little. I began sobbing, realising that the odds of me escaping were almost zero. I was lost in my thoughts and didn’t notice the small divot in the road. My foot slipped into it and I fell violently, hearing something in my ankle snap as I hit the ground. A bolt of pain shot up my leg and I screamed in agony.

I looked down at my ankle, wiping tears of terror and agony from my eyes as I checked my ankle. My ankle was twisted almost completely to the side, so that my toes were pointed at my arm. My vision swam for a second and I felt really lightheaded. I clamped my eyes shut and bit the inside of my cheek as hard as I could. It hurt like hell, but it helped clear my head. I glanced down at my ankle and let out a yell of frustration and pain. My yell was answered by a scream from down the road, reminding me of my current situation.

I dragged myself to the side of the road, rolling myself into a ditch. I cried out in pain as I hit my ankle. My vision swam dizzyingly as I attempted to stay conscious. I stifled my cry as I heard a scream even closer to me, maybe a quarter mile away. I scooped up leaves from around me, trying not to move my legs at all. Due to the amount of leaves I was able to almost completely bury myself in leaves. I left a small slit on my face so that I could see partially onto the road.

As the shrieking grew closer, my body started to tremble. I tried to stifle these as the creatures came closer. My eyes were glued to the wall of fog that loomed over the road.An ear deafening shriek erupted from the fog, making me flinch. Luckily I had piled tons of leaves around my ears which lessened the noise. One of the creatures glided out of the fog, it’s horrific mouth stretched into a grin. Its teeth poked out of its mouth at horrific angles. It slowed to a stop and surveyed the surrounding fog with its empty sockets. I held my breath, my pulse beating in my ears. It stayed for a while longer, then glided on, the mist swirling in its wake.

An eternity passed. An eternity filled with a procession of them, some stopping like the first, some gliding past without slowing down at all. There were so many of them and I began noticing occasional differences. Some wore nothing, while others had ragged tatters which clung to their forms like drying clothes on a clothesline. Some had ragged wounds which trailed down their elongated faces and made me feel sick.

Eventually, the flow of creatures ebbed, then stopped. After about thirty minutes of no movement, I slowly sat up and looked around. I grabbed a nearby stick and used it as a crutch. I propped myself up and began limping towards the road. I began limping on my original path, but slower this time, so as not to attract any attention.

As the night dragged on, I began feeling more confident. I hadn’t heard anything for about an hour, and I quickened my pace hoping to reach the highway by morning. And I was right. In fact, I made it to the offshoot that I had gotten on from the highway before it even started getting light. As I set foot onto the pavement, I let out an excited whoop and waved my makeshift crutch in the air. I laughed and began walking down the paved road when I suddenly stopped. The mist was clearing and so I had a better view down the road. And I saw them.

They were in a row that stretched across the street. As I stared at them in shock, they began gliding towards me slowly. I yelled and quickly turned to run when I stopped. Behind me, there was another line of them. They were gliding towards me just as slowly, advancing towards me silently. My legs felt like jello as I sank to the ground in despair. I sat down on the pavement and stared helplessly as they began sprinting towards me and the shrieks of the creatures filled the air. I cried out in agony as their claws pierced my body and ripped me apart.

A few months later, another person came down the road. He checked his GPS, because he was suspicious about this road. It was really overgrown, and there were what looked like animal bones scattered across the road. His GPS said that it was the shortcut, so he ventured forward, looking forward to surprising his friend for Christmas. He had gone to visit his friend’s parent’s house a few months ago, so he should be really surprised. He chuckled as he imagined his shocked face, driving over the bones without a second thought.

Credit: AidenBoBaiden

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