‘Till the Boys Come Home

February 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Margaret Owen stared out into the distance from her quiet Vermont ranch, taking a break from attending to the oddly large quantity of dishes left in the sink. She never quite considered how the sink managed to be full by every evening, considering her husband works most nights out in town, and her two grown sons are carrying rifles in some strange country in Europe whose name she never bothered to memorize. Of course, she never quite realized how much weight she gained since her sons were shipped off, or how often the contents of the icebox seemed to disappear overnight. Considering her brain often found the need to have bipolar panic attacks at a moment’s whim, it was just as well she did not notice with no one around to tell her otherwise. For the first time in weeks, her mind returned to some fractured aura of reality upon looking from the windowsill out towards the desolate ranch, decayed by months of neglect since the heirs to the land were either dead of phosgene or boredom. God help this war come to an end.

What brought poor Margaret back from a traumatic stupor were the distant headlights signaling her husband’s return from yet another stint in what she sometimes imagined was a glamorized Boston underworld. She placed her dish into the drying rack, going outside to meet her beau without taking off her gloves or apron beforehand. However, immediately upon going outside, she felt an extremely apprehensive force weighing down on her as the car winced to a halt and her husband stepped out. Usually a pathetically hunched man with a seemingly permanent streak of filth across his face, this version of Franklin sported a near-perfect upright posture and a noticeably pale (yet smear-free) gaunt face. Margaret decided this congestive feeling was better dealt with by the hearth, and cleaned up inside before her husband entered. What was before a bright and hearty abode became instantly as desolate-feeling as the decaying ranch outside, and Margaret felt intense chills rolling up her back despite the warmth of the wood stove nearby.

“Franklin?” she weakly asked as she heard her front door open, her heart heavy in the anticipation of seeing her husband for the first time in weeks.

She was answered by slow deliberate steps approaching the living area, and her husband’s sudden appearance in the archway.

He answered with a similar “Franklin,” but in a terrifyingly powerful voice contrasting the normal Franklin’s genteel Northeast drawl. “That is me, correct?”

Margaret suddenly dropped her fearful apprehensiveness to embrace her husband. “How are you my lo-“ but she was immediately dropped back to her chair by The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s glare. “H-honey?”

“Wilfred Owen is dead,” The Man Who Looks Like Franklin immediately replied, his powerful stare weighing down Margaret like an iron casket. Wilfred Owen, of course, would happen to be the name of Margaret’s younger son, last she heard stationed with a rifleman division somewhere near a large river in France. Then again, it’s also the name of a famous British poet, so either is fair game.

“Franklin, honey?” Margaret again weakly replied, not quite able to register this strange turn of events.

“I’m fairly certain I am not mistaken. Margaret Owen is it? Your eldest son is Chauncey Owen, youngest is Wilfred?” His asking was, of course, rhetorical. There was a deafening silence as Margaret remained speechless in the wake of The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s gaze, where he realized the dilemma with an nervous smile.

“My apologies, I was never one for tact.” This did little to appease Margaret’s confusion, and she actively considered the possibility that reality had yet to kick in, and this was another elaborate fantasy spurred by many months of endless tormenting loneliness. However, this possibility was gashed by the fact that the fantasy she was experiencing before The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s arrival had actually little to do with her own husband – rather the children he helped create. This lack of tact on The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s behalf continued to show, as he was hapless to Margaret’s mental dilemma. Instead, in a noticeable nervous tick of a gaff, he clumsily muttered an apology in the only way he could.

“I tried to spare him, I truly did, but it was not up to me.”

In a show of appeasement, The Man Who Looks Like Franklin became something more reminiscent of the her actual husband, sitting gently next to his “wife” with a tenderness Margaret had not seen since the day their daughter was born. This proximity seemed to spur a flash of intuition, as if an unseen connection suddenly synched the two in a mutual flash of understanding. With this, The Man Who Looks Like Franklin adapted his tactic to mercifully ease poor Margaret’s suffering.

“My love,” he said as his arms subtly wrapped themselves around poor Margaret’s shoulders, “you were off somewhere when you saw my coming, where was it?”

Despite herself, Margaret immediately recognized the meaning of this statement, being she was indeed as far gone as Franklin himself until this present moment – or perhaps still.

“Springfield,” she answered, much more assuredly, as if The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s touch somehow channeled his confidence as well as his vocal clarity. She finally seemed to understand how this was to play out. “The day our Lord forsook us.”

Briefly spurred with her sudden understanding, not quite realizing his proximity unlocked that quality in people, The Man Who Looks Like Franklin faltered slightly, somewhat shedding his façade. With a forced mien he said, “I remember that day well.”

“I knew you were there, you were always there”

“God was not”

Margaret did not resist, “No he wasn’t.”

“So you forsook him as well”

“Without hesitation. He took our daughter”

“I took her,” he said with a sigh.

“But He allowed it”

This took The Man Who Looks Like Franklin aback greatly, and he paused, “So he did.”

“Is Wilfred really dead?”

“Yes”

“Was it painful?”

“Yes”

“Was it quick?

“No”

“Was he alone?”

At this point The Man Who Looks Like Franklin completely dropped his façade, yet remained in the shell of Franklin out of fear, “I was with him.”

“Like you were with our daughter?”

After some rare hesitation, The Man Who Looks Like Franklin answered with a sorrowful yes. Margaret contemplated this for a moment, accepting her fate but considering who was soon to be the only remaining member of the Owen family.

“What of Chauncey?”

The Man Who Looks Like Franklin seemed somewhat offset by this question, but answered honestly, “I don’t know, Chauncey’s fate is in the hands of God.”

“Then my son is doomed”

“It would seem so”

The two remained quiet for what seemed like an eternity, as if stalling the inevitable. Margaret recognized The Man Who Looks Like Franklin’s hesitation, and realized his true disposition. With a sudden gesture he had not seen for decades, Margaret removed his arm from her shoulders and simply put her hand on his. An act so simple and sincere he could not hide the fact he needed that very much.

“You don’t want this,” Margaret said in what was probably a whisper, but resonated in his head greatly.

He answered truthfully, “No.”

“You don’t want any of this”

“I’ve been very busy”

“We all have”

He made his eyes less formidable, revealing their extreme weariness, “I wish I could just… sleep.”

In a sudden display of years of bottled up despair, The Man Who Looks Like Franklin collapsed to the floor in powerful cries that were more reminiscent of screams, shaking the house in a violent tremor that might’ve completely collapsed it had it not been for Margaret’s equally powerful condolence. She gripped his head tightly, shushing him in the same manner she shushed her daughter before she painfully succumbed to the flu.

This seemed to work, as The Man Who Looks Like Franklin let out a breath from his resonating cries, finally letting go of his false form, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault”

“Forgive me”

“It wasn’t your fault”

“I never wanted this war, I never wanted the flu. I never wanted any of this”

Margaret shushed him even louder, “No one did.”

“I don’t want to take you away”

“You have to”

After a moment, he who finally revealed himself as Death accepted this as his responsibility, “I’ll make it painless.”

“No. I want to suffer, in the same way my children did. I felt their pain bringing them into this world. I want to know how it felt leaving it”

“You don’t want to”

“You feel it every time, don’t you?”

He was silent for a moment, but answered with a weak “every time.”

Death stood up, no longer the postured deity he was before, but a hunched and pathetic mess as true Death would present himself – ironically in the same means the real Franklin would. He faced Margaret, who was standing tall before him making up for the elegance at this moment he lacked, and they both closed their eyes. With one last “I’m so sorry,” the tearful man did his deed.

Death departed the household shortly after, kind enough to leave the body of Franklin behind him.

Credit To – Len Lye

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Mirror Image

February 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“I don’t want to move away.”
The words hang in the air between them, like dust, slow and stuffy.
“I don’t want you to move away either,” says Toby. They’re both sitting cross-legged on the hardwood
floor of his bedroom, facing each other. Matthew pokes at a small bug crawling across the floor, so does Toby.
“You could leave, too,” Matthew says.
“You know I can’t,” Toby replies.
Matthew does know, but he likes to think it might happen, somehow. The thought of being torn away from his best friend hurts him, especially because someone like him doesn’t often earn the title of best friend.
Ever since he’s known Toby, they’ve been practically identical, which, in Matthew’s opinion, is really great, because it’s pretty much like having a twin brother. He’s never had a twin, let alone a brother, and while he thinks he has some cousins on his mom’s side, they’re all grown-ups and they live far away. He doesn’t know if his dad has any family his age.
He likes Toby because Toby never thinks he’s weird or messed up for the things he says. Toby
doesn’t whisper about him, like his classmates do, or yell at him, like his teachers do, or scribble notes
onto a little yellow notepad, like Ms. Stacy does every Thursday at 4:00 after school. The best part is
that Toby doesn’t sigh. His mom seems to do nothing but sigh; sigh at the news, sigh at the grocery bill,
sigh at his report card, sigh, sigh, sigh, until he’s sure she must be nothing more than a big mouth of
never-ending sighs, like a draft from an open window.
Toby listens to him and understands. He cares. Even when all Matthew is saying is rants about his classmates and bad grades, rants about getting picked on or not being invited to so-and-so’s birthday party, Toby sits patiently and listens.
“Dad says I’ll meet new friends.”
Toby frowns his answer, “Yeah, but I won’t. I’ll just have to live with the fact that whoever else moves in here could be old and cranky.”
“You don’t know that. It could be someone our age, a kid. They could be nice.”
“I doubt it. Even if a kid moves in, they won’t be like you. It wouldn’t be the same.”
Matthew doesn’t reply, he picks at the torn hole on his jeans.
“I know I’m the reason your mom wants to move,” Toby speaks up.
“Don’t keep blaming yourself for it, okay?”
“No, it’s fine. I know she’s scared of me. That’s why you’re not supposed to talk to me. But I’m always here whether she likes it or not.”
Matthew laughs at the thought of his mother fearing his best friend, but he doesn’t disagree.

—–

A week later, moving day has arrived.
“It shouldn’t have to be like this,” says Toby. They’re sitting back to back, heads tilted towards each other close enough that Toby can’t actually focus on Matthew’s face without going cross-eyed. “You could do something to convince your parents not to move.”
Matthew considers this, but before he can reply, he hears his mom walking up the stairs, and then the sound of her shoes on the hardwood as she walks towards his room. Suddenly, the door is pushed open and his mom peers in. Toby quickly moves out of view and watches. Matthew’s mom comes in, fake smile and tired eyes. She helps him to his feet and walks him out of the empty room. For a second in the doorway she turns around. Matthew’s mom looks right at him, but simply shakes her head and walks into the hall. She knew he was there.
But from his hiding spot inside the mirror, he knows all she saw was herself.

Credit To – Irish Insanity

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Let Me In

February 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Kat sat alone on her couch, shoveling popcorn into her mouth. She stared at her TV tied to the suspense of the movie. The sky darkened as the sun approached the horizon, hidden behind the ocean of trees her house lay among. One lone tree stood in the center of her yard, visible through the living room window. A menacing presence filled the area yet to make itself known.

Kat was glued to her movie, but still able to catch a glimpse of the black object aimed at her door. THUD! Kat jumped, startled by unexpected disturbance, spilling the popcorn. “What the hell?” she whimpered, approaching the door. The door knob was cold in her hand, her heart pounded in her chest. The hinges squeaked as the door creaked open. A rush of cold air washed Kat’s face as her eyes scanned the dim yard. Nothing could be seen. Nothing made a sound.

She slowly shut the door, then cleaned up the popcorn. She had just sat down when another black object hit her door with a louder thud than before. She looked at the tree in the yard, almost certain she saw what threw it. Kat sat there watching the tree, waiting for something to happen. “It’s just some kids,” she thought “nothing to worry about.” She quickly made herself comfortable and began to turn on another movie. Minutes passed and another thud shattered the silence, shaking the door. Kat raced for the lock, and quickly shut the blinds. “They’ll go away.” she said, but grabbed a knife to calm her nerves and give her a sense of security.

Tap. Tap. Tap. She heard light pecking on the living room window. The pecking grew louder, faster. She froze there in place, staring at the windows as the tapping became more profound. She was afraid to investigate, but brave enough to stand her ground. Her home was small and every hiding place would be too predictable. Besides, she didn’t want to hide. She wanted to see it coming instead of cowering in fear.

The tapping suddenly stopped. Kat slowly made her way to the door and put her back to it. A shadow eclipsed the light from the window atop the door. She stood just out of sight, holding her breath. With her back pressed against the wood, she could feel it knocking, three times softly Kat could hear the galloping beat of her heart in her head, her anxiety raised to the peak. Three more knocks hit the door, harder this time. “Let me in.” a hoarse whisper slipped through the door and into Kat’s ears. She bit her lip, tears filling her eyes. Another three knocks erupted, furious now. “Let me in.” a now angry voice ordered.

The knocking didn’t cease. It grew harder as the voice grew louder. “Let me in! Let me in! LET ME IN!” The knocking grew so fierce it could have shattered the door. Tears leaked from her eyes. “What do I do,” she thought “should I open the door?” The knocking was more than she could bear. “I know you’re in there, Kat.” it said. Her stomach twisted, her breath caught in her throat, and tears now streamed down her face. “Go away!” she shouted finally. “Let me in!” it screamed in response. “Leave me alone!” she cried. The voice and the knocking echoed in her head, making her more nauseous than before. Reaching for the lock hesitantly, she sucked up her tears and held her breath, unlocking the door and throwing it open.

Nothing was there. The tree stood in the yard unmoving, no wind. Nothing. She shut the door, shaking in fear. With the click of the lock, the room grew cold. Goose-bumps covered her skin. “Thank you for letting me in.” a voice whispered behind her.

Credit To – Savannah K Davis

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Whispers

February 7, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I’m posting this tonight in the hope that it will clear up the misunderstandings surrounding the disappearance of Debra Lindsay Caine, at the risk of my personal ridicule. Sticks and stones and all that. None of it will matter after tonight. Consider this my one pathetic attempt at an apology, if nothing else. It’s sort of my fault what happened.

Even in her heyday, internet blogger Sugarcaine was just another web comedian. She was funnier than average and certainly skilled with a pen, but otherwise no more remarkable than the rest. For years the circumstances surrounding her disappearance were only occasionally mentioned, and only in the most obscure threads on a couple of forums. She would’ve been forgotten forever if those city workers hadn’t found the tape recorder last Monday.

Sugarcaine’s true identity was a boyishly cute redhead named Debra Lindsay Caine. Her sister Payton described her as, “…a bag fulla fists, nails, and opinions just looking for an excuse to burst open on somebody, nourished by beer and spite since our Papa died in ’91.”

Debra unintentionally began her career as a humor blogger when she let her friends talk her into setting up a MySpace account. She thought blogs were self-absorbed, whiny, and without substance, and thus used her MySpace page to parody the asinine ramblings of her peers. After a while she graduated to belittling popular culture and occasionally reviewing books, comics, movies, and whatever hate mail she received from her growing reader base.

She quickly realized people enjoyed her writing, and by mid-2005 she’d ditched her MySpace account and set up her own humor site, Sugarcaine Junction. Despite Debra’s more-than-decent writing the site was mediocre at best. Most ‘net junkies likely never knew she existed, much less that she’d vanished and possibly been murdered.

Until the city workers found the tape.

Sugarcaine Junction never failed to celebrate whatever holidays and festivals came its way, and its seasonal articles were usually the most eagerly anticipated. Debra composed surprisingly witty drinking songs for her Oktoberfest review, and a touching poem for Father’s Day that she refused to talk about afterward. For her 2005 Christmas rant she wrote a series of parodied Bible passages that broke her weekly hate mail record overnight.

Back then I was known as DeadAtFifty and counted among Sugarcaine’s regular readers. During the first week of October 2006 I suggested that she spend the night in the Daley family’s haunted house and write about the experience for her Halloween article. She announced to her readers that I was a child and a moron. I added a one-thousand-dollar prize to the mix. She eagerly accepted.

On the last week of October Debra announced she would make the hour-long drive to the Daley house for a “spooky sleepover”. She embarked on the evening of the 29th, encouraging her readers to “Stay tuned for the details of my thousand-dollar journey through the haunted Daley house!” I had every intention of awarding her the money, and I never would’ve mentioned the Daleys if I had known what would happen.

Debra always researched her subject before or after her “journeys” (as she called any experience she blogged about — “Stay tuned for the dirt on my journey through the latest Scorsese flick”), if only to make her praise/mockery of it all the more complete. In her apartment the police found stacks of newspaper clippings about the Daley family as far back as 1960: praise for Kevin Daley and the lives he saved as a firefighter; his marriage to sweetheart Naomi Welch in 1970; the birth of their son, Jeff in 1971; Jeff’s growing fame as an abstract artist at only twelve months of age; the rumors that Naomi deliberately dropped her son down the stairs and caused his borderline autism; and of course, the fruitless search for the bodies when the family vanished in 1982.

The bulk of the articles were testimonies from neighbors and friends about the last they saw of the Daleys. Jeff’s performance at school dwindled, but the work he produced in art class was as detailed as ever, depicting macabre realms of twisted abstract shapes and looming shadows — imagery he hadn’t produced since he was a toddler. He claimed that the “whisperers” made him draw these things. His only explanation for a “whisperer” was, “they follow me around my house — I can’t see them, but I know they’re there.”

I don’t think Jeff Daley was dreaming: I think his subconscious was a doorway to other worlds, and maybe his mother knew it and tried to kill him. If that’s the case, I wish she’d been just a little more persistent.

Kevin’s coworkers described him as “nervous, constantly on edge, like he was being followed by a lunatic and couldn’t shake him.” Naomi, normally known to greet her tavern’s patrons with bright smiles and warm hellos, seemed to have crawled into a shell and refused to come out. She took frequent bathroom breaks, only to curl up inside a toilet cubicle and cry with her hands over her ears. And then one day Jeff never showed at school, and his parents never showed at work. They’d vanished into thin air; and according to their neighbors, they didn’t go quietly.

Other articles described strange but seemingly unremarkable sights and sounds on the abandoned Daley property from 1989 to 2004. A few of those articles were so strange they were considered hoaxes or gross exaggerations.

A neighbor’s dog ran barking under the Daley porch. When it returned it spent the next two days whining and cowering and howling miserably for no reason. One morning the owners woke up and found the dog missing. It was never seen again.

A young couple claimed a silhouette in the shadows of the front yard whispered something at them as they walked past the house late one night. They couldn’t tell if there was someone there or not, and when they continued their walk the shape stalked them for several blocks before vanishing altogether.

Several mailmen gave identical accounts of hearing movement and gibbering voices inside the house while on their routes. One assumed it was the local pranksters and alerted the police. They never found anyone inside.

Earlier this week the city workers were preparing the house for demolition when they discovered the recorder under an old desk. Remembering the house’s history of missing persons, they turned it over to the police. The officer who received it — a friend of mine whose name will go unmentioned — had at one time been a Sugarcaine fan. I spent an entire evening listening to the tape at his place. To help spread this story around the web I’ve prepared a transcript of the recording for my own site, which you can read below.

*

[Tape begins with fifteen seconds of silence. Broken by husky female voice.]

“Don’t think I’ve ever been to this side of town before. Had to stop at a diner and get directions ‘cos I managed to get my stupid ass lost. Supposed to be an hour long drive, but it’ll be close to midnight by the time I find this dump.

“Oh, I told the lady I was coming to visit an old friend who lived in the Daleys’ neighborhood and she was happy to help me find my way. Imagine I won’t be well received if I go around telling everybody I’m spending my weekend breaking into other people’s houses. Even if the Daleys are too dead to give a shit.”

[Silence for eight seconds. A sigh.]

“I feel silly going through with this. On the plus side I’ll get to pay my rent for the next month.”

*

“It is now…eleven p.m. on the dot. Took me forever to find the stupid house. Kept turning down the wrong streets. Hard to miss it once you find the right one. The front yard is a jungle of wiry vines and three-foot grass infested with species of insects never before seen by man. You can’t even see the front door from the street this late at night ‘cos the shadows gulped it up.

“Parked two blocks away and walked. Gonna find a window to climb through. Hopefully won’t need to pick the back door ‘cos that’ll take forever. More as it develops.”

*

[Hollow footsteps on old wooden boards. A series of distorted thuds as the recorder rattles violently. Silence for sixteen seconds.]

“Tripped. Ow…It’s pitch black in here. Where’s my damn—?”

[Quiet shuffling for the next minute, and more footsteps. Debra releases an exhausted breath. Tape rattles slightly.]

“Okay, I’m in. My camp is set up in the…I guess this was the office. There’s a dusty old desk next to the window I just climbed through and a bookcase to the right of the door. Both are bare. I’m about to take my tour of the house. Camera ready, although this place isn’t much to look at. Keeping the flash off, so the pics might need to be tweaked when I get back. I ought to keep the flashlight off and just let my eyes adjust, but…yeah, I’m not gonna do that.”

[Two minutes of silence apart from footsteps and the occasional electronic shutter sound of a digital camera taking pictures. A cough.]

“The house is a really roomy two-story deal. Oh, there you are, you elusive stairs…The carpet’s been all torn up except for one corner of the living room, so the floor’s all crusty wooden boards.”

[Footsteps. Loud, human-like shriek of pain from the rusty hinges of a door. Debra lets out a startled gasp, curses.]

“…a moldy bathroom untouched since nineteen eighty-two…”

[Several coughs as the camera clicks. More squeaking hinges, significantly quieter. More camera clicks.]

“Ugh, goddamn wolf spiders everywhere!”

[Seven minutes pass with footsteps, camera clicks, and Debra’s coughs the only sounds; halfway through, hollow thunks of boots on wooden stairs, and footsteps change to loud, unhealthy creaks. Now and then Debra makes various comments on the house’s layout.]

“[unintelligible muttering] —dust in this place is murdering me. Second floor is rickety as hell. Here’s hoping the building doesn’t collapse on me in the night.”

[Hollow thunks again as she returns to the first floor. At the ten minute mark, dead silence for approximately twenty seconds. Debra exhales.]

“I think that’s it for the tour. I’m off to sleep with the spiders.”

[Silence for two minutes. Debra whispers to herself inquisitively. Wooden clunking.]

“Found a loose board in the office floor. ‘Previously-pried-up’ loose. I’ll have to check that out tomorrow morning.”

[Clomp of steel-toe boots carelessly tossed onto wooden floor. Rustling of thick cloth. Coughing.]

“Ah, god, I can’t breathe in this place…Awright, time for bed. We’ll finish up our notes tomorrow. G’night!”

*

[Recorder rattles. Debra begins to say something, only gets the first syllable before going quiet again. Silence for another minute.]

“There’s something in here…”

[Pit-pat of bare feet. Silence. Door creaks shut. Rustling.]

“Fuckin’ rats. I knew it. I hear ‘em scuttling in the living room walls. I shoulda brought a cot.”

*

[Exasperated sigh.]

“Okay, well, I won’t be sleeping tonight after all, so I’m pryin’ that board up to pass the time. More as it develops.”

[Recorder rattles as it is set aside. For the next five minutes there’s nothing but fingernails and something metallic — possibly a Swiss army knife — scratching into wood, and occasionally a clunk. A gasp, and the clatter of a small object. Debra’s bare footsteps move out of range. Another minute of silence. Debra says something too far away to make out and seems to wait for a response. She repeats herself, louder.]

“Who’s there?”

[Nothing for a minute and a half. Creak of the office door closing. Pit-pat of bare feet returns. The tape rattles.]

“I’m losing my mind. I could swear I heard—”

[Silence. The scratching and clunking returns, and moments later there’s a wooden clatter like a board being tossed aside.]

“Gotcha!”

[Paper rustling.]

“Um…”

[More paper rustling. Silence.]

“Um, there’s…drawings. Wadded drawings stuffed into this little space beneath the loose board. I think they’re Jeff Daley’s pictures. When he was five he used to draw his bad dreams to…No, these can’t be real. The detail is—?”

[Crumpling: wadded paper being unraveled and then flattened out. Debra speaks quietly, almost inaudibly, as if reading something aloud to herself.]

“Don’t listen. It’s not Daddy. It’s not Daddy. It’s not…”

[Silence. A deep, trembling breath.]

“Okay, um…Okay, this isn’t funny anymore.”

[A distant sound, possibly out in the hall, and a shrill gasp. Two minutes and forty seconds of silence.]

“[incoherent mumbling] –not funny.”

[The sound again, within five feet of the recorder: a human voice speaking almost above a whisper. It says a single word difficult to make out, but sounds like Debra’s name. The recorder rattles violently as it hits the floor.]

“It’s not funny! Stop it!”

[Silence. Pit-pat of bare feet leaving the room. Three minutes pass with no sounds except a periodic thump deep within the house and Debra shouting angrily. The footsteps return. Heavy slam of the office door. Quiet sobbing within three feet of the recorder, and nothing else for another minute.]

“[speaking too quietly to register on the recorder: her throat has tightened up]”

[The sobbing stops abruptly as Debra holds her breath. The voice speaks again as quietly as before, from inside the room. Feet scrambling across the floor. The office window shrieks as it is torn open. The rest of the tape is silence.]

*

Debra posted an update the same night. There was no trace of her usual snide narrative, and she exchanged punchy one-liners for razor-edged curses. She wanted someone (me) to apologize to her for what she believed to be a perverse Halloween prank. She’d managed to keep one of the drawings she found under the loose floorboard and included a hi-res scan in her rant, condemning it as an obvious attempt by a barely capable adult artist to reproduce the work of an eight-year-old retard.

Drawn entirely in black crayon, it resembled a caricature of someone’s living room as done by Salvador Dali. At the center stood a dark shape with a grayish head misshapen like in a funhouse mirror, making it impossible to tell if it was supposed to be human or not. The thing stared right at the viewer over its shoulder with two empty black holes for eyes. Three more of the things stood beyond it, also staring at the viewer — it was as if the act of drawing the scene had grabbed their attention. Although their faces were amorphous mushes of white and gray, the three in the background seemed to be smiling. And it really did suggest a level of artistic finesse beyond that of an eight-year-old boy, but the style matched Jeff Daley’s other drawings.

Debra and I both got our share of hate mail after that blog. Half her readers thought I was an asshole for setting her up for such a nasty trick. The other half thought Debra was pulling a hammed-up Halloween prank of her own, and when her next two updates erratically described how the sounds in the Daley house had followed her home, everyone became all the more certain of this. They still believed it was a joke when she failed to make a single update for two weeks afterward.

On November 4th in the middle of the afternoon, Debra had called her sister, Payton. She was blubbering so much Payton couldn’t understand a word she said at first.

“She let loose with the heartbroke drunk routine. Said she was sorry for missing my wedding, sorry for always being a spiteful bitch when we were growing up, sorry for kicking our dog when she was twelve — apologizing for all kinds of silly stuff like a desperate sinner at confession.

“She stopped to catch her breath, and I heard somebody else in the room with her talking quiet like they didn’t want me to hear. I asked if she wanted me to come over. She started sobbing again and said, ‘I hear Daddy, but it isn’t Daddy.’ Then she hung up and I called the police. They didn’t find anybody when they got there. I was talking to her only minutes before.”

Most folks still think Debra’s abduction by the whispering stalkers of Jeff Daley’s nightmares is a hoax orchestrated by Debra or by some other sick individual. The tape has been “proven” a fake by one ignorant skeptic after another, and it won’t be long before Sugarcaine Junction fades into obscurity once again. I hope to prevent this, not because I feel pity for Debra Lindsay Caine, though I really do pity her; but because I hope to prevent others from vanishing like she vanished, and like the city workers who found the tape vanished, and like my friend vanished. They mark their territory — like they marked the Daley house and the tape — and they can smell anything that comes in contact with it. Once they smell you, they hunt you like bloodhounds until they’ve marked you, too.

They call to you softly like they’re afraid to talk too loud — sometimes two rooms away, sometimes right next to you. They imitate people you’re closest to. Maybe they think it’s funny. But you can’t listen to them. You have to shut them out, otherwise you’ll be too scared to open your eyes or move a muscle. You won’t have the chance to kill yourself before they drag you to whatever unholy hell Debra Lindsay Caine was taken to.

 

I have to go take a bath with my toaster now. Mother has been calling to me for the last hour, even though she’s been dead for five years.

###

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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The Invitation

February 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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They call him “The Hatter”. His face is only a rumor. His body is an urban legend. But, his intentions are always clear; once the invitation arrives, he will be waiting, likely with a knowing smile and lashing tongue.

Marcus was an unexceptional man. He worked eight hours a day in some indistinct office, punching numbers, balancing accounts, and taking phone calls. He kept to himself, preferring to spend his evenings alone, sinking into a good book rather than the revelries of bars and nightclubs. Though he had his eyes set on Janet from accounting, Marcus seldom spoke with her, and their relationship was best described as accidental.

Ever a creature of habit, Marcus was a predictable man, always living under an invisibly ticking clock. He would wake up every morning at 6:30 AM, never sleeping a minute under or over. He would shave, shower, and cook a simple breakfast of faintly buttered rye toast and coffee. Two slices on his plate, two sugars in his coffee, and Marcus was ready to go. He drove to work, clocked in, and stayed in the same place for eight hours, leaving only to eat lunch or use the bathroom. Sometimes his coworkers would drop in for a casual conversation, but this happened with increasing rarity. He’d drive home, change into his pajamas, and cook a simple meal of meat, potatoes, and some greenery if he felt adventurous. For him, excitement and color came through carrots and peas. Then, at exactly 11:00 PM, Marcus went to sleep, never to rise until the next morning. Marcus was boring, and he liked it that way. The Hatter had other plans.

After a grey day at work, Marcus was ready for new reading material. Perhaps his issue of Reader’s Digest had arrived, or perhaps his family had sent him an early Christmas card. He needed some entertainment, and with a brisk walk approached his mailbox. Sure enough, a pile of letters waited for him, and like a vulture with an affinity for milk toast, Marcus scooped these up, taking great care to conceal his treasures from the pouring rain. Dripping and dashing, he gingerly slammed the door shut, unceremoniously tossing his coat over a nearby chair.

Sadly, it seems Marcus would be met with disappointment this evening. Instead of his favorite magazine or warm greetings, he found bills, advertisements, and one pamphlet about his local Congressman several months too early. In the hopes that he had missed something, he flipped through the stack again and again, only to be met in vain. Then, he heard the faint swish of a letter landing on the floor.

The Hatter was terribly fond of grand gestures, and the invitations to his party are always carefully hidden. Whether hidden with care or in plain sight, he made sure his potential guests always found their letter in time, and Marcus was no exception. He’d been watching Marcus, and he eagerly awaited his response.

The letter was small, no larger than a Christmas card. It was addressed to Marcus in clear, elaborate cursive, and the return address was his own house. This is The Hatter’s way, for both the destination and the starting point come together in his plans. Perhaps placing the letter back in the mail can drive off his eye. Perhaps it is another of the Hatter’s games, silently mocking his prey that there is no escape. Either way, Marcus opened the letter. It offered no resistance; it longed to be opened.

Inside, he found a simple card, embroidered with shades of red and gold lettering. He saw the shine of golden script on both sides, and casually turned the invitation over. The reverse side held a date and a time; April 14th, 2:31 PM. Curiously, he glanced at the other side. And there it was, in bold print.

You should sit.

This phrase is The Hatter’s invitation. It is a simple command, no more threatening than asking to continue breathing. But to follow the instruction is to answer the Hatter’s call, and many fall into this gentle trap. Marcus knew no better, and sat down, pondering the strange letter. A single footstep echoed behind him. Perhaps a cup of tea would calm him down. Was he nervous? No, strangely not. He had forgotten his movement to the kitchen, a momentary amnesia as he brewed a steaming pot of Earl Grey.

As the moist aroma wafted through the room, he felt an intense relaxation. He could hear a faint bubbling amidst the silence of his home, and with each pop an excitement began to overtake him. Perhaps I have been too hasty, he thought to himself. I hardly give my coworkers the time of day.

The gentle flow of hot tea pouring into his mug brought feelings of joyous guilt, and unfamiliar thoughts flew into Marcus’ head. I should reach out to them. After all, what harm is a new friend? A silent sip, and a beaming grin crossed his face. In some dark place, The Hatter returned the gesture.

The next day, Marcus rose at 6:00 AM. He sprung out of bed with an unknown energy. Surely, he had been rejuvenated, and his blood felt hot and bubbly. Such an exceptional blend of Earl Grey, he thought to himself. This morning it was eggs and bacon. He didn’t remember buying those, but who was he to argue?

At the office, his coworkers found a completely alien Marcus. He went out of his way to ask people how they were doing, hold doors, and tell jokes. Even his boss went along with it, and Marcus became the life of the party. His charm was contagious, and over the course of a month, the stagehand had gone center stage. He knew their names now; Janet, her sister, Clara, Andrew, Gary, and his boss, Everett. Every day, he had another cup of tea, often brewing pots for his coworkers during lulls in paperwork. They had grown to love Marcus, and The Hatter enjoyed the show.

He would go out with them, though he cared little for clubs. Instead, he would take his new friends to comedy clubs, or invite them to the local theatre. He showed them culture, and for reasons unknown, they loved it. All the while, the burning feeling flowed through his veins.

One day, Marcus realized something dire; despite his new friends, he had never invited them to his home. Even Janet had never seen his home, and no one seemed to notice but him. He knew he had to rectify this. During their lunch break, he proposed a classy gathering of olden times; a tea party. His infectious charm did the work for him, and his friends all agreed to such a lovely gesture. And so, on April 14th at 2:31 PM, five guests stepped through his door, and six pairs of footsteps echoed through his home.
With grand gestures and an elaborate table set, Marcus greeted them, the smile on his face as broad as always. Ever the gentlemen, he offered Janet a seat before all else, and she beamed at how lucky she was. Then, clasping his hands together, he addressed his friends.

“You should sit.” As they obeyed, they were gone. No longer were they Marcus, nor Janet, nor any of their friends. There was only The Hatter, and he had waited long for this entertainment.

Suddenly, Marcus’ grin widened to sickening proportions, and the guests followed suit. Janet’s sister had come along, and as the guests sat at the dinner table, she placed herself on the dinner table, lying back and sighing. They looked on hungrily, and The Hatter deemed that they should say their prayers before their meal. Then, their forks and knives dug into her, severing raw flesh and spurting blood.

Their gory meal continued, and it devolved into frenzy, with guests forsaking their utensils and biting at her. They shredded her like wild animals, bits of flesh and blood caking to their fine dress and teeth. As she was devoured, they all smiled, including the eviscerated remnants of her sister, an unnatural force keeping her alive until The Hatter deemed she had suffered enough, her mind trapped helpless and silently screaming within her own body.

You may die now. As she had her moment to scream, Marcus bit down on her throat, her shriek devolved into a gurgle. Janet scooped up a severed finger, placing it in her mouth. With inhuman strength, she chewed and swallowed, stifling a giggle. Clara’s face inhumanely twisted back into a grin, cracking bone and holding far too wide. She was The Hatter’s now.

Yet The Hatter’s party was far from over, and the guests were ready for his party games. While Marcus escorted their boss into the kitchen, Janet pounced on Gary, her hands on his throat. She viciously slammed his skull on the floor, holding him down, though they all knew it was too late already. His face draining, Janet slowly eased a fork in each of his eyes, gore and white slime oozing and pouring down his cheeks. All the while, Andrew observed, clapping his hands excitedly.

Marcus offered his boss a cup of tea, still stuffed and dripping with the blood of Janet’s sister. Against his will, he smiled.

“That would be ever so lovely!” His consciousness clawed and scraped inside his skull. Please God, let me go. Let me out! HELP ME! His screams echoed inside, but not a sound could escape, a prisoner in his own mind. Perhaps Marcus could hear his plight; perhaps not. Either way, he set the kettle on the oven, and switched the burner on. As blue flames lapped the No, NO, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS teapot, Marcus reached for his meat cleaver. As man who regularly dined on meaJUST LET ME GO PLEASEt and potatoes nightly, his tools for carving flesh were remarkably advanced. Unfortunately for Everett, their usage today would not be for beef or chicken.

As the kettle came to a boil, Marcus smiled. He raised the pot above his head, and Andrew’s cheering and applause could be heard in the other room.

“Your tea’s ready!” exclaimed Marcus as he poured the boiling water over Everett’s head, searing and peeling away flesh and hair. Amused, The Hatter released him, and his screams came free just in time for Marcus’ cleaver to strike his chest. The Hatter forced his blow to strike true and strong, and Everett’s heart beat for the last time. But time was wasting, and Marcus got returned to his task of severing his former boss’ limbs.

Upstairs, Andrew and Janet had made their way to Marcus’ bathroom, all the while dragging Gary’s body. Andrew’s fate, deemed The Hatter, would be the most merciful. Andrew began to fill the tub, water sloshing and splashing. He’d decided that icy cold would be best, and PLEASE DON’T THEY DIDN’T DO ANYTHING more hot water was far from original. All the while, Janet gnawed at Gary’s neck, her dark appetite not yet sated from her sister. From below, Marcus shouted up.

“Janet? Are you almost done up there?”

She cupped her hands, glancing out into the hall. “Yes, I shouldn’t be more than a minute!” Her internal screams had broken down into uncontrollable sobbing, and she begged for someone to save her. Only The Hatter heard.

With the tub full of frigid water, Andrew smiled externally. He knew his fate, and LOOK AWAY FOR GOD SAKES LOOK AWAY their terrible host was not yet satisfied. Andrew plunged his head beneath the icy water, and The Hatter released him just in time for Janet’s hands to force him further in, pressing his face against the bathtub’s surface. Arctic waters rushed into his lungs, and each painful gasp only brought more flowing in. Violent bubbles danced to the water’s surface, and Janet’s lips ran red with ruby droplets. Andrew’s screams were little more than a humming whisper, and he heard DON’T DO IT PLEASE the same whispering command that had damned Clara. You may die now.

His crumpled body draped into the tub, Janet left the two bodies behind, making her way downstairs. Marcus was waiting, holding the same tea pot he’d seared Everett’s flesh with only minutes before. She smiled, giving a curtsy.

“Oh, Marcus, this was such a lovely party.”

He just kept beaming, raising the pot high before striking Janet’s head with it. She fell to the ground, and Marcus loomed over her. He hit her again and again until the pot could take no more, cast iron FOR GOD SAKES SOMEONE HELP crumpling from the repeated impacts. A terrible strength poured through Marcus. Leaning down, he kissed what remained of Janet’s head gently. And then, The Hatter released him.

Regaining control of his body, Marcus gripped Janet’s hands, holding them one last time. He collapsed into quiet sobs, praying to no one in particular for this to just be some awful dream. He wanted to wake up at 6:30 AM, sit eight hours in his cubicle, and know none of them. He just wanted them to be safe again. Then, Marcus felt a hand slowly rest on his shoulder, and The Hatter’s invitation came again. Like the original letter, it could come from anywhere, and it will always find a way to reach the intended recipient, such as this story. You should sit.

Credit To – M.L. Zane

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A Funny Thing Happened

February 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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There was no doubt – my mouth had moved a centimeter to the left overnight. I check between reflection and picture before accepting the impossible.

“Hitler, you gotta see this,” I call to my roommate, nicknamed for being the image of Arian perfection – blonde hair, blue eyes (the works). I find him in his favorite pass-out hiding place – behind the couch under a layer of PBR cans.

“Listen, something funny is happening. I think I’m turning into one of those weirdies from the X-files!” I give him a shake.

He doesn’t show any response at all, not even his trademark, ‘Fuck off’. Looks like you reached for the moon and landed on your face last night. I’d hate to be you in a few hours.

Content my transformation would remain after Hitler wakes up, I head to the kitchen for a breakfast of B12 vitamins before returning to the couch. I find a fresh nitrous cartridge from the box on the coffee table (‘Whippit good!’ as sage Hitler would say), load it into a brass cracker and give it a healthy twist. The aluminum seal punctures with a satisfying pop. Finally, I snap a balloon on the end and gently unscrew the device, filling the latex sphere with precious laughing gas.

Waiting for the air to warm up, I bounce the balloon against Hitler’s sleeping face, “Remind me, I take two vitamins for every lung-full, right? I don’t wanna get limp-dick. I like having feeling in my extremities.” He gives a huge yawn and rolls over on his side. “Two it is then.”

I always get laughy before partaking in any narcotic, and this time’s no different. I can hardly control my excitement as I pick the huge balloon off and take in a breath of the sweet-sweet drug. My vision blurs and all thought takes on a slanted quality. Our dog Trigger trots in from the hallway which is about the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. I laugh and (can it be?) Trigger laughs with me, licking chunks of hair out of my face.

For a brief, awkward moment, I consider French kissing the Golden Retriever when I’m hit with a wave of dizziness. The room spins before me and I have the nauseating feeling that I’m somehow looking at both the ceiling and floor at the same time. Trigger sits down and tilts his head, wondering what the silly human is doing. I look past him and spot the cause of my discomfort in the reflection of our old TV.

My face has changed again. I raise a hand, too scared to confirm what I’m seeing, but having to know. I touch my right eye which had slipped down (socket and all) to rest beneath my chin. The pain that registers when I nudge its wet surface is proof of the awful reality. My ears too, have gone for a trip around my skull and now reside one on the back of my head, the other on my neck. Though perhaps most terrifying of all is a new eye which has opened on my cheek. This one a different color, unlike mine in every way. And looking; watching me, unblinking.

“Holy fuck, shit!” I look back at Trigger, but he’s left the room, unimpressed by his master’s situation.

“Hitler! Hitler, wake up!” I really go at him this time, alternating between kicking and slapping. But he’s dead to the world.

A doctor! I can call a doctor. There’s gotta be someone else who’s had this (disease?) problem and been fixed. Even in a shit small- town like this one.

I reach for the phone in my pocket and realize it’s not there. NO, NO! Why do I always lose everything? I consider looking for it, but catch another glimpse of my destroyed face in the hallway mirror (I’ve never been ‘attractive’ and now my face is a fucking rubix cube) and decide to just drive the five minutes to the clinic. Time is of the essence, as they say. I pull on my hoodie and set out into the late afternoon air of Linderville.

I’ve only just left the porch when I hear my best friend Chris talking a few doors over, and I pull the hood further down my face. I love the guy to death, but he’s never been one for recreational drug use (did nitrous do this?) and I didn’t have time for a lecture.

“Ya, I’m telling you,” says Chris to a pretty girl in a short dress, “This deer was bigger than a horse. Jumped out like he wanted to die.”

I glance at his pickup. Sure enough, the front’s been totaled and smeared with blood. That’s not gonna be cheap. Sucks to be you, buddy.

I glance inside my garage and stop. Sucks to be me. The car’s not there. I think for a moment, the sun beating down and soaking into the dark fabric I’m wearing, when I’m caught off guard by the mental image of headlights cutting through trees. I feel the blood drain from my face and then, faint as a whisper, I recall my brother saying he’d borrow it.

No choice then – I foot it, carefully avoiding the eyes of the few pedestrians I pass until I make it to Dr. Genn’s family practice. He’d taken care of me since I’d been smoking cans with a bb gun instead of joints and was one of my favorite people. Even if he couldn’t fix me, he’d console me until someone else could.

There’s the familiar chime of bells above me as I push through the door. Dr. Genn is sitting behind the counter invested in a crossword puzzle, his KFC Colonel beard twisting between his fingers.

He hears my approach and looks up smiling, “Well ‘an how can I be of assista-”, he stops when he meets my eyes (well, eye), and then casts his gaze around the room as if he’d forgotten where he was.

Conflicting emotions dance across his face, alternating between fear and revulsion, the desire to help and the urge to run. I give my best smile, despite the flutter of unease in my stomach.

“Get out.” He says with such finality that it catches me off guard. This wasn’t what I’d expected from the man who’d given me suckers for booster shots.

“Dr. Genn-,” I start, but then he stands up and shouts.

“Get out! Get out of here, whatever you are, and don’t come back!” His eyes bug out and his lemon tea falls to the ground in a twinkle of glass and ice.

Never had I been rejected so out right by someone I cared and respected. It hurts in a way I hadn’t experienced since childhood. A loss of control, I suppose (or a challenge to what you thought you knew as fact). I back out the door, bells jingling overhead and run to the only person I knew who would never reject me, never run in fear.

Day has moved on towards dusk when I finally arrive at the gates of Cedar Hill Cemetary. It must be a holiday because I’m not the only who’s chosen today for a visit. A large procession of people mill about the stones, leaving flowers and tears on the graves of their relatives.

I look up at the overcast sky. Perfect weather for a depression-session. My dad’s headstone stands near the middle of the manicured lawn. I could find it eyes closed, I’d been here enough times – which is good because my face starts rearranging itself again, making me lose my balance but not my motivation.

When I see the familiar mini pine tree, I quicken my stride. I’m practically running before I fall to my knees at the foot of His name, carved for eternity (until acid rain do ye part).

“Dad…” It’s not much, but enough to express all the warring emotions inside me. “I need you, Dad. What should I do?”

As if on cue, the voice of my brother Donny drifts from behind me, “This is a shitty situation we’re in, huh, Eddie?” I twist around, surprised, but he’s not there. A woman glances up at me, meeting my gaze before returning to her mourning.

“Donny, where are you?”

“Ha, well,” he replies, “I’ve been here. Inside you.”

For a moment I’m certain my heart has frozen solid. I slip my hands beneath the hood, to the back of my head, and sure enough, a new mouth has formed beneath my mat of hair. It bursts into life and I let out a yelp.

“Nothing?” he says, “I set up the perfect, ‘that’s what she said’, for you.” He starts laughing, and Jesus-Christ-I-Can-Feel-His-Mouth-Moving. I feel like I’m going to vomit.

“Donny?” I manage, “Donny, what’s going on? Am I having a bad nitrous trip?”

There’s no response except for the twitter of blue jays in the surrounding oaks. A light rain begins to fall, and one by one the visitors pop up their umbrellas in reply.

“Eddie,” he whispers, “You know you’re dead, right?”

The pitter-patter of rain swells and I’m once again surprised at the number of people in the park that day. The sweet smell of rotting leaves reaches my nose and I hold it in, tasting it. Yes, I guess I had known. Some things are just harder to face than others.

“That man – three headstones over,” I say, “That’s Richard Grady, isn’t it? He’s dead too.”

I feel the extra eye (his eye) swivel on my cheek towards the direction I’m pointing.

“That’s him,” Donny replies, “Used to piss him off so much in chem. class. Remember when we set his desk on fire?”

I did – when he mentioned it.

“He died four years after his wife,” he continues, “There was a rumor that he’d spend more time here than at home to be with her. Looks like old habits die hard.”

I watch the old man kneel over the grave of his equally-deceased wife. There’s an odd flicker emanating from his face that obscures his eyes, though I’m sure they’re filled with grief. Something about the dead mourning the dead gives me the creeps; I shudder and put a hand on Dad’s headstone to steady myself.

“It’s not so strange really,” my brother says, “You were doing the same, just now.”

I tremble again, disturbed by the fact that he’d just read my mind.

“How did it happen? Us dying, I mean.” I realize I’d forgotten a pivotal moment in my life/death.

“Close your eyes.”

I do, and find myself walking through a forest with Donny at my side. We are hiking to the perfect camping spot in the nearby mountains of Perth. Something reflective catches my eye and I call him back to help me. It’s a mason jar, buried so that only the lid pokes out above the compact dirt. A childish curiosity overcomes us and we start digging it out with the back of a hammer. After all – anything could be inside it.

Both of us take turns going at when I hear the low rumble of what sounds like a cougar or black bear. I look up in time to see the grill of the truck that crushes both of our heads against the tree behind us. I’m thrown from my body as if from the impact of the crash. From my new vantage point, I watch as the truck pulls back, the hood and bumper crumpled like paper, allowing the mess that is our bodies to slide to the ground.

The driver gets out, assessing first the damage to his car, before turning to our lifeless bodies. One glance at our faces, crushed to the point of unrecognition, confirms our deaths to him and he gives an approving nod. Lighting a cigarette, he kneels forward into the beam of headlights and for the first time I see his face. It’s Chris. My old buddy Chris who’d ‘had the run in with a suicidal deer’. He loads our bodies into the back of his trunk, washes down the tree with bleach and leaves.

“Good friends are hard to come by, huh?” Donny says this from within and without my head.

I open my eyes and we’re back in the cemetery. Night has swallowed day. Still, the mourners wander about on the lawn; pausing to cry, sometimes giving in to hysterics before continuing their march.

“Why did he do it?” I ask.

“Why do any of us do anything?” he replies. “Personal gain. Even when we help others, we do it for the good feelings and butterflies we get, as much as we don’t like to admit it.”

“Doesn’t seem like he helped either of us much.”

“No,” he agrees, “This time was purely selfish. He did it for Lily. I hadn’t had the heart to tell you, but they’ve been sleeping together for a while now. You don’t blame me right, man? I mean, he was your best friend. It’s hard to breach that kind of subject. Besides, I told you she was a bitch.”

To be honest, I don’t remember a girl named Lily, let alone a humiliating relationship with her. Donny again picks up on this thought.

“I guess even love isn’t safe from death. She was with him today, when he was hamming up the story about the deer – she could hardly keep a straight face.”

A fragment of memory floats down to me and I grasp at it hungrily: a date we’d had that ended with us sneaking onto the top of the old Alladin movie theater. The first place we’d made love; though certainly not the last.

She cheated on me. I can feel my face burn hot with shame. Another abandonment. This time ending in the death of not only me but my brother as well.

But it didn’t have to be over yet.

I stand up with a purpose, avoiding the eternally grieving spirits as I make my exit. And when I reach the gate, I run.

“Why run?” He says, “We’re dead. Wherever we want to be, that’s where we are.”

We’re standing inside Chris’ house now, just outside his room. The door is shut, but I can hear him talking. Talking to the girlfriend he’d stolen. The seed of rage sprouts into a clawing thrush of vines.

“This is it, brother,” his voice echoes more inside my head than out, “You can make them pay. They killed us. They killed me, Eddie,” his voice cracks for a moment and I’m fed the memory of late night gaming sessions together, fighting over the last beer and secrets told in confidence. “You can’t let him get away with it, big brother. You couldn’t protect me, but you can make things even. Make things fair.”

I think over what should be an easy decision, but it’s not. Chris did the unspeakable, but did that mean I should return the favor? We’d been best friends since we were kids. Even if he’d forgotten that bond, it didn’t mean I had to too.

Suddenly the room begins flickering in and out of focus like a strobe light. I’m reminded of Richard Grady and the same flashing light I’d seen slipping from his eyes. I know then without explanation that this is a crossroads. This is where I can forgive and surrender to the universe or unleash it on Chris.

The image of Dad smiling and shaking his head blossoms in my mind; and with it, the flicker continues to grow. Love takes a long time to grow.

Donny pipes up again, “Let’s see how long her neck can stretch.”

* * *

Chris sits at the edge of his bed, still reeling from the phone call he’d received. Lily had slept through the whole thing, and though he considers waking her up with the news, decides against it. There’d be plenty of time for grief. Eddie’s pickup had been found at the bottom of a cliff with his body crushed inside. The officer who’d told him this had explained he’d likely fallen asleep at the wheel, which wasn’t uncommon at all. They suspected he’d been out for a night of camping judging by all the gear scattered around the impact site.

My best friend, Chris marvels, gone. God, I wonder how his mom’s doing. First her husband, and now her only child. He stands and heads for the door, thirsty for a drink. The stickiness is the first thing he notices; it oozes up between his toes, causing the carpet to cling to his bare feet. He glances down to find a thickening pool of blood seeping from beneath the door which swings open with awful finality.

He has enough time to whisper, ‘Eddie?’, before the air around him reverberates into a deep hum like a subwoofer, accented by the agonizing (elongating) screams of his wife behind him.

Credit To – ARScroggins

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