The Crawlspace

July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Um… hi there. I guess you could say I’m writing this as a cautionary tale to those who plan on studying abroad in future. I don’t mean to discourage you from going in the first place, it’s more like I just want you to be aware of this so that something like this doesn’t happen to you too.
I guess I should explain a little bit. Last summer I was selected to participate in the study abroad program that would be centered in Rome for several months. Like anyone would be, I was elated. I had never been out of the states before, so this was going to be a real adventure for me.

In the weeks that followed I happily packed anything and everything I could fit into my suitcase. (I will be the first to admit that I had way over packed for this trip.) I was nervous about leaving my parents for the first time but I was also excited for the newfound freedom I would have while in Europe. Before I knew it my parents were dropping me off at the airport, and I was boarding a 19 hour flight to Rome.

Despite being long and tedious, the flight wasn’t all that bad. When I exited the airport I was greeted by the program supervisor and several other students who would be studying with me. They were about the same age and all looked just as excited as me. From there we went to our mandatory orientation meeting, and afterwards we went to pick up our apartment keys.

In the months that preceded the trip, we were responsible for getting to know our would be roommates as well as finding a place to stay that we could all afford. There were three girls I would be staying with. They were all nice enough and made an effort to make me feel welcome, though I will admit it’s a bit hard to get close to the group of preformed friends. But despite my slight alienation, it seemed that things were all going to work out well. All of us were on a similar budget plan, and by that I mean none of us really had much money to spend. Because of this we were all on the same page while searching for the cheapest apartment we could find.

After several days of searching we stumbled across an ad for an ancient apartment located above the Campo di Fiori. That was a prime location and we couldn’t believe it that it was still available, no less listed for an unbelievably low price. This immediately sent alarm bells off in my head. The place was enormous yet the rent was cheaper than the much smaller apartments in a far less desirable part of town. However reason never really wins out in a group of excited young women. They had already made up their minds and if I would be staying with them this was my only option.

We each received our own set of keys as well as a map with walking directions. Because of its prime location it really didn’t take us long to get there. The Campo was amazing. During the daytime it was filled with a vibrant market, while during the evening it was lined with lively street performers. All of the apartments surrounding it looked to be ancient, so ours really didn’t stand out all that much. After circling the square three or four times we finally noticed the number nailed to the front of a massive old wooden door. This would be our home for the next three months.

I fought with my keys for a moment until there was an audible click of the heavy old lock. The thick old door swung forward with a screech. We were then met with a long winding staircase. We all looked at one another and groaned. None of us had accounted for the fact that the building had been constructed before elevators were common. So three sets of stairs and countless complaints later, all four of us, with luggage in hand stood outside our new front door. Once again I reached for my set of keys and fought with the stubborn lock. As soon as the front door was opened there was a stampede of young women trying to claim the best rooms. Being a three-bedroom apartment, it meant that two of us would have to share. I personally didn’t really care so I let the others battle it out. When the dust had settled, I found that I would be sharing a room with a girl called Stephanie. That was fine with me. Stephanie was nice enough and she was also very quiet, my ideal feature in a roommate.

Over the course of the rest of the day we ran around exploring our new home. There were two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with an ancient TV. Once again I began to feel uneasy. Just how was it that we were able to get all of this for such a low price? But before I could finish the thought I was interrupted by a fit of loud squealing. My initial reaction was to panic, however I soon learned that all the noise was from excitement. Down at the other end of the apartment near the front door, apparently there was another part of the flat we had missed. I followed the noise until it led me to a long dark hallway. There at the end, behind the group of squealing women was a washing and drying machine. For those of you thinking “what’s the big deal?”, I should explain that these things are incredibly rare in Rome. Generally exchange students have to wash their clothes by hand in the sink before hanging them up to dry. What was a luxury item like this doing in such a cheap apartment?

Just as the screaming quelled it picked right back up again as the girls noticed a door adjacent to the washing machine. Beyond that door was a master bathroom. It had a balcony, a claw-foot tub, and even a bidet. The girls immediately started fighting over “who’s bathroom this was going to be”. I didn’t really see why we couldn’t share, but apparently the others were dead set on having ownership. As it turned out it ended up being my bathroom. Stephanie had made a logical argument that because she and I had to share a bedroom, while the other two each got their own, it was only fair that she and I got share the master bath. And I’ll admit that at first I was actually kind of excited, it was after all, a really nice room. However over the course of the next several weeks I began to grow more and more wary of the room. I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s like every time I went into that room I could feel something’s eyes on me. And the voyeuristic element wasn’t really what had me so unnerved. It felt like whatever was watching me was angry, that it didn’t want me there and that it wanted to hurt me.

I began doing everything in my power to avoid the room. I asked Alisha if she would mind if I were to use her restroom occasionally. I made up a lame excuse about how it was far more convenient since her room was so close while my bathroom was at the other end of the flat at the end of the very long hallway. She happily agreed though, when I told her that she could use my bathroom anytime she liked. This worked well for a while. For about the first two months of my trip I was able to completely avoid the eerie room. It wasn’t until the final month that everything began to unravel. One night as I prepared to brush my teeth, I found that Alisha was already occupying her bathroom. I could hear giggles coming from down the hallway, it was clear both Stephanie and our other roommate were both getting ready for bed in the master bath. I decided that since there was strength in numbers, it would be all right just for tonight.

So I made my way down to the large bathroom where I joined the boisterous girls in brushing my teeth. They were in the midst of some conversation when Lindsay, our other roommate, had broken into such a furious fit of laughter that she had to lean on the wall for support. But suddenly she jolted upright as if she had been shocked. We all looked at what had been the cause of her reaction: there on the wall, about the same level as the bathtub was a tiny door. None of us had noticed it because it was the same color as walls. The landlord had even painted over it. Naturally this made me a bit nervous. Whatever it was, the landlord clearly didn’t want anyone opening it. But as usual, throwing all caution to the wind Lindsay reached for the handle and began tugging with all her might. Stephanie clucked her tongue in disapproval before pulling out a small pocket knife. She began delicately carving along the seam of the door. I wanted to beg her to stop, but I really didn’t have the energy to argue that night. So within a few minutes, Lindsay had yanked the little door open with a loud crack.

It was… a crawlspace. It was fairly large. My guess would’ve been you could have fit at least three or four people in there. I was rather curious as to why the landlord would’ve sealed up an empty little room. While I thought about this, Stephanie and Lindsay began calling for Alisha to come see their new discovery. She was just as excited as they were when they first discovered it. However, as could be expected, this excitement waned over time and eventually the crawlspace was just turned into storage for a few towels and laundry baskets.

In the following days after the unsealing of the crawlspace, things started to go from eerie to downright terrifying. Annoyingly, Alisha had changed her nightly routine so that I could no longer use her bathroom in the evenings. Once again I was back in the large bathroom, all the while, the feeling that I was being watched growing worse and worse. I began to get so paranoid each time I went into that room that I would literally jump at the slightest noise of pipes settling, and as soon as I was finished I would run at full speed down the hallway and close the door behind me. For some reason I seemed to be the only one feeling this way. It’s not like I could’ve told the other girls either. I was already enough of an outcast as it was. So I just kept to myself and hoped it would go away eventually.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. One night as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself alone in the bathroom. As I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth something set the hairs on the back of my neck straight up. There was a faint rustling noise. Not the kind that could’ve been caused from my roommates at the other end of the flat. Any noises caused by them would have had to have been quite loud to reach me all the way at the end of the long hallway. No this noise was very faint, the sound of someone gingerly shuffling things around. I stood completely silent, terror filling me. The soft rustling noise was coming from inside the crawlspace. I turned on my heels and ran down the hallway to grab the attention of my roommates. I tried to explain to them what happened, but all that came out were incoherent murmurs.

Eventually I managed to stutter “S-Something. Something’s inside the crawlspace!”

They looked at me with fear and confusion in their eyes. As a pack we moved together down the hallway into the bathroom. I nearly fainted when I saw the tiny door hanging fully ajar. Though this discovery filled me with horror, Alisha immediately pointed to the balcony’s sliding door. Stephanie had left it open to air out the bathroom after having taken a shower several hours ago. She peeked her head out the door and pointed to the slanted rooftop adjacent to ours. There was a pigeons nest occupied by few birds. The girls surmised that a pigeon must have found its way in and was the cause of the disturbance. They all had a good laugh as we made our way back to the living room. I pretended to shake it off but I knew it was not a pigeon that caused the rustling noise. First off, the tiny door had been shut tight all day. None of us really cared to leave it open because it smelled quite musty inside. And secondly, the door had been shut when I left the bathroom, I am certain of this, yet there it was wide open when I returned. You’re not going to tell me that a pigeon knows how to and is capable of opening and closing a door all by itself.

It was at this point that I began to suspect that something was terribly wrong with this apartment. When I got back to my room I pulled out my laptop and called my best friend via Skype. She had always been the skeptical and methodical type, however she also kept an open mind towards things that were hard to explain. I decided that out of anyone she was probably the best to talk to about my situation. As I expected, she was initially quite doubtful. Though she also agreed with me that a pigeon was quite likely not the source. She asked me if I had any photos of the crawlspace. She said that if she could see it, that would help her to understand a little more clearly, and possibly help her to come up with a more logical explanation.

Relieved at her willingness to at least hear me out, I reached for my camera and made my way back down the eerie hallway. When I arrived I found, to my relief, that the door was still closed. I stood in front of it for a moment, gathering my nerve before finally pulling the little door open. Despite the clutter left inside by my roommates, it was empty. I snapped a quick photo before closing the door once more and running back to my room. I immediately plugged my camera into my computer and uploaded the photo. When I finally opened the image, I was petrified by what I saw. There in the upper right-hand corner was a face, baring its teeth at me. My whole body began violently shaking.

“Dear God. That thing is in our home!” I muttered to myself.

Fear began to overtake me. Someone had sealed whatever it was inside of that crawlspace, and we had let it out. I was so absorbed in my panic I didn’t even notice when my roommate returned. She was so blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we were in, yet even if I tried to warn her she would not believe me. I was at a loss of what to do, and finally decided that I would deal with it in the morning. Though not by a large amount, I did feel braver in the sunlight. From there I attempted to get some sleep. Though for the first time ever since being there I closed and bolted my door before getting into bed. Stephanie eyed me suspiciously while doing so, but I just told her jokingly that Lindsay had been sneaking into our room the previous nights and had been stealing my nutella. She laughed heartily, shaking her head before settling down for the night. I will admit that the only reason I was able to find any sleep that night was because of her presence. Something about not being alone can give one a sense of false security.

It was about two o’clock in the morning when the sound woke me. I had always been a light sleeper so the faint noise was enough to stir me. It sounded like a door being pushed open at the other end of the flat followed by footsteps. But these weren’t just normal footsteps. They were far too fast. It sounded like someone was running at full speed from the foyer to the living room and all about the apartment. But these weren’t heavy footfalls like the kind you would expect from a running person. They were very light, almost unnaturally so. My initial reaction was to assume it was either Alisha or Lindsay, so I got up and stuck my ear to the wall behind me that separated Lindsay’s room from mine. I could hear her faint but steady breathing. She was clearly asleep, it wasn’t her. I then crossed over to the other side of my room near the door and once again stuck my ear to the wall. Alisha’s snoring was quite audible, there’s no way it was her. I slowly began to grow fearful as I turned in a last resort to see if Stephanie had perhaps gotten up, but I could plainly see her resting form silently rising up and down. A shiver went down my spine and I nearly screamed when I realized that the footsteps had come to a stop outside of my door. Despite all the lights being out, I could clearly see the looming dark shadow of a form through the tiny crack at the foot of my door.

I dared not move. Whatever it was, it was just standing there. Waiting. Then to my horror, my doorknob slowly began to jiggle. Gently at first but then growing violent at the realization of it being locked. The noise of it eventually woke my roommate. She sat up, blinking in confusion. That instant the jiggling of the doorknob stopped. She asked me just what the hell I was doing and if I knew what time it was. I told her it wasn’t me! I told her that whatever had opened the door to the crawlspace the previous day had come back. But she just furrowed her brow at me and said that I needed to get more sleep.

The next day I made an appointment with my programs supervisor. I told him that I just needed to go home. He tried to tell me that I was just homesick and that it would pass, but I insisted. He eventually gave up and let me call my parents. They were confused but understanding. They were able to change the date of my return flight to the following morning. I really wanted to get out of there that day, but understandably that was the soonest they could manage. Unfortunately this meant that I would have to stay one more night in the apartment.

When I returned I tried to tell the others about what had been going on. I knew I was going to be getting out of there and would be out of danger, but I was still immensely worried for their safety. But none of them took me seriously, they looked at me as if I was a mad woman. They didn’t say anything but I was sure they all thought I was going home because of some sort of mental breakdown.

At that point there was nothing I could say that would convince them. So that night I locked my door and hesitantly went to bed. And right on cue, once again around two o’clock in the morning I was awoken by the rapid footsteps scampering around the apartment. I could hear the door to the bathroom begin to creak open, followed by the door at the end of the hallway. The footsteps grew louder and faster as they moved through the apartment. And finally, once more they came to a pause outside of my door. I could hear breathing this time, slow and heavy. I sat up in panic, and to my horror I saw that Stephanie had forgotten to lock the door behind her after getting up to use the restroom.

It was right outside my door and I did not know if I had time to jump up and try to lock it before the thing realized there was nothing blocking its way. I hesitated a moment too long and by the time I had sat up straight in my bed, the handle slowly began to turn. I froze in terror as the door cracked open revealing my tormentor. It stood there ominously in the doorway, staring me down. It’s eyes protruded slightly from its skull and gave off a very faint bluish light. It didn’t appear to have a nose, only slits where the nostril should have been. It had the teeth of a man, but had no lips, giving it the impression of an eternally toothy snarl. It’s grayish white skin was waxy and stretched tight over its bony face. The rest of its skeletal form was hard to make out as it was almost entirely enveloped in shadows.

After pausing for a moment in the doorway, it began to head toward me. As it moved, its body let out sickening cracks. I sat there, still petrified by fear until it had made its way to the foot of my bed. It’s heavy breaths were deafeningly loud. I don’t know how Stephanie slept through it. The air had begun to smell sour and stagnant.

With frightening speed, it jolted to the other end of the bed, mere feet from me. I gagged at the smell of it, like sulfur and rotting flesh. Slowly it unfurled one of its along the gnarly hands and proceeded to reach for me. Not until it was several inches away did I finally find my voice. I screamed as loud as I possibly could and it halted in its tracks. Stephanie shot up from her bed, visibly frightened. The creature hunched over on all fours and fled from the room with unsettling movements that recalled those of the spider. A moment later Stephanie switched the light on and looked at me furiously. She demanded to know what the fuss was all about. I told her exactly what had happened, but she just called me a nutcase.

The taxi came to pick me up very early the next morning. The sun had not even risen by the time it arrived. None of the girls came to see me off, but I expected this. After loading my luggage into the trunk I climbed into the back seat of the old cab. It had driven right through the square and was sitting at the base of my apartment. When I leaned to look out the window I could see where my room had been. My face contorted into a mixture of panic and concern. There, looking out of my old window was the creature. It’s unblinking eyes bore into me and it’s lipless mouth curled into a snarling grin. Before I could say anything, the cab driver had taken off, leaving that hell house far behind.

I tried to warn them. I really did. I did everything in my power to try to warn them of the danger that they were in, but none of them listen to me. There was no way I could’ve stopped what happened after I returned home. You see, several weeks after returning to the United States I received a phone call from the program director. He informed me that a day before the program ended, all three of my past roommates had been reported missing. The authorities had no idea just how long they had actually been gone for, as they were only recently discovered to be missing when the program director went to check on them after none of them made it to the end of the program wrap up meeting. They assumed it had been at least a week or two, since all the food in the apartment was expired. There was no sign of forced entry, and no valuables were missing. The only notable detail mentioned in the report was that when they arrived on the scene, there was a strange little door hanging ajar in the bathroom. And when they approached it, they were met with a powerful odor coming from no visible source. The official report has them declared as missing, but I know that they’re all dead.

I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have made it out with my life. I think the only reason I’m still alive today is because I fled thousands of miles and across an ocean. Despite their unwillingness to listen, I still feel an unimaginable amount of guilt over what happened to those girls. That’s why I’m writing this now. I may not be able to go back in time and save them, but maybe I can prevent this from happening to you. Please, PLEASE heed my warning. If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, keep this in mind: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And WHATEVER you do, don’t stay on the third floor of the ancient yellow apartment complex above the Campo di Fiori. There’s something there. Something evil.

The Crawlspace

Credit To – Kaitie H.

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Best Friends

July 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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When I was a kid, my family and I lived in a modest house in West Virginia. As I said, it was quite small and there was a large forest behind my house. I was pretty curious, as any small child is and so I’d always find myself asking to go into the woods. My parents would consent but I was never allowed to go near the river that was located deep in the forest. At first, I was slightly disappointed but I never gave it a second thought and decided not to question what they said. Being an only child at 8-years-old, things could get pretty lonely. I was a recluse of sorts but had a big imagination so I always created a multitude of friends to play with me in the woods but they never left the wilderness so I ended up going back home to discuss the adventures I had with my parents over dinner.

One day, after my dad left for his classes at the seminary (he wanted to be a pastor at our local church), I decided to go on a short walk in the woods considering it was an Act 80 Day and I was off from school. I put on my jacket and found my shoes with the help of my mom and quickly rushed out into my imaginary kingdom within the confines of the forest. When I reached the point of the woods that I never went past, my mind became particularly curious. I got tired of limiting myself to just having a small amount woods to play in so I slowly made my way past gnarled tree roots and low hanging branches, thorny underbrush and overgrown weeds until I finally ended up finding the oh-so-infamous river my parents told me to stay away from. It had a strong current. Looked like pretty rough waters. I peered across the river to where the forest seemed to thicken substantially. Through the thin trunks and massive amount of branches, I saw something moving. A shadow of some sort? Whatever it was seemed to be advancing closer and closer to the other side of the river until finally, the shadow came out into the clearing. It was a man. Emaciated, lanky, and over 6 feet tall, he silently watched me from across the river. Being a lonely little girl, my first thought was that he could be a friend. I smiled and waved but I got no reaction. On closer inspection, I realized that the man had a small grin on his face. For some reason, the grin scared me a little but I was intrigued so I decided to leave. The next day after school, I went back. Then it became a daily thing. I didn’t mind his grin after a while. I thought it was cute. He never crossed the river but we still found a way to play and somehow, we created a bond with each other. One day my father asked me what I actually did in the woods. I mean, I guess it did seem a little weird; a little girl going into the woods by herself on a daily basis…there can’t be that much to do. I told him I had made a friend. He laughed.

“Oh, really? What’s his name?”

“Well, he can’t talk. Or, at least I don’t think he can.”

Thinking nothing of it, he let it go and I visited my friend everyday, per usual.

One day, he finally told me his name.

I ran to the river, smiling out of anticipation. It was like any other day; he was on the other side of the river but instead of his normal half grin, he was smiling. Teeth showing. It wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal except for the fact that his teeth were pointed. All of them. Every once in a while, a forked tongue would sniff the air through his slimy yellow fangs. I gasped. My friend once again became a figure of slight terror. I wanted to turn and run but my feet were stuck. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t avert my eyes. After I collected myself a little, I turned to run. As soon as I took my first step back however, he spoke for the first time.

“What is your name, child?”

“…C-cassie. My name is..my name is Cassie Littman.”

His smile widened.

“My name is Levi.”

I ran. The way he said it. His voice. I knew I never wanted to visit him ever again. It was awful. It was like he was whispering in my ear even though the river was crashing loudly against itself and even though he was standing across the river. It wasn’t like any voice I’ve ever heard before. It was unearthly. As I turned and started to run I heard him call to me.

“Please don’t leave me, Cassie.”

But I couldn’t stay. I had to get out of there. I think I might’ve been crying. I can’t remember. I ran home and practically attacked my father.

“Gosh, sweetheart. What’s the matter?”

“My friend. My friend in the woods, he has pointy teeth! He’s scary!”

“Oh sweetie, it’s just your imagination. Don’t get too worked up over it. If your “friend” bothers you that much, don’t go in the woods anymore.”

It made sense. And I never wanted to see that…thing again. So I didn’t go back for months. I actually became kind of a recluse. I was scared to leave my house. I felt like he’d be there…waiting for me.

I was sleeping when I heard it. Crying. I jumped a little and tiptoed to my window. I got a clear view of the woods but I didn’t see anything. I heard someone speak through the tears but I couldn’t put a face to the muffled, contorted voice and I didn’t know where the voice was coming from so I went downstairs to try to get away from it but it just got louder.

“I miss you. Please come to me Cassie. I love you. I miss you so much.”

I didn’t want to follow the voice. I really didn’t. But something told me to follow it. Something in me told me to console whatever or whoever was in pain because of me. So I went outside. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew exactly where to go. I headed toward the woods. I walked a while until I got to the river and then everything clicked. I panicked. I started to cry and I looked around watching out for Levithis or whatever the hell his name was. I heard rustling. The talking was now replaced with horrid, inhuman screams of agony and pain.

I couldn’t see him but I heard him speak.

“WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME. I NEEDED YOU. YOU WERE MY ONLY FRIEND AND YOU ABANDONED ME.”

He appeared at the other side of the river a few minutes later. I was too terrified to speak. He wiped his tears away.

“I’m sorry Cassie. I just love you so much. You’re my only friend. Please come play with me across the river. Please, cross the river for me.”

I considered it. He was lonely…like me.

Then I remembered what my mother had told me during the months that I wouldn’t leave the house.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the fact that you don’t go outside anymore but I am glad that you’re steering clear of the woods. That river has a notorious reputation. So many children have drown. It’s…odd.”

I made the connection. I screamed. I wouldn’t let him into my head. I had to get out. I told him I had to go but he kept coaxing me. He promised me happiness and games and fruit and a nice long life forever, with him. All I had to do was cross the river. All I had to do was take the plunge.

Despite what my mother had said, I took a step closer. I was so incredibly lonely. I just wanted a friend…

In June of 2004, Cassie Littman’s body was found lying gutted on the far side of the Shaver’s Fork River. There were bite marks covering almost every inch of her body.

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The Chirp

July 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Another chirp drifted into the room from outside. The window was open again. It hadn’t been ten minutes since Jacob had slammed it closed. He stared at it, into the front yard beyond where the grass had become an ugly orange-brown, and thought of how exposed he was. Anything could get in once the latch and been swiveled open. The thought made his bones tighten. Sniffling and hacking, he got up from his chair to close it again. He was getting sick.

It was the tail end of Fall, and all of the leaves that had been in the trees were on the ground; golden and deceased. In the mornings, frost had started to form on the roofs and hoods of cars and the grass had become brittle. It crunched underfoot at every step; the only sound Jacob focused on as he tramped across his back yard, checking for signs of the intruder.

But he hadn’t been outside to check in three days. For him, it was no longer safe to do so.

Two weeks earlier, he had been a normal high school kid. He did everything one would expect of a lively senior: weekend boozing, class skipping, and the occasional after-school slice at Yucca Steve’s Pizza Palace. Everything seemed to be just as it should have been on a perfectly sunny Wednesday morning.

That day, Jacob had slept through his alarm and lay in bed as his parents engaged in their usual coffee ritual in the kitchen. They poured it, steaming and black, into their enamel mugs and grimaced as they took it in. Shrugging on their coats, they roared off in their respective vehicles, leaving the boy alone in the house.

They worked in the city, and wouldn’t be home until late, so when he finally woke up and found that it was past noon, he decided to shirk school and take his time getting ready to cruise out to the strip mall.

He slipped out of bed and walked over the cold wood floor to his bathroom where he brushed his teeth for nearly ten minutes. As he did so, he stared at his eyes. They looked vapid, like a twin set of opaque swamps with swirling bog bubbles at their centers. He spat a bloody soup of toothpaste and plaque into the sink and dried his mouth with a towel.

There were no clean shirts in his closet, so he plunged a hand into a mountain of worn clothes next to the footboard of his bed and retrieved a shirt and his favorite pair of jeans. Once dressed, he proceeded through the hallway and the living room into the kitchen and whipped the freezer door open.

Raspberry tarts were his favorite, and he was in luck. There were five, so he took them all out and stood in front of the toaster, heating them in cycles until they were in a steaming stack on his plate. He filled a glass of milk to compliment them and brought his bounty, teetering, to the coffee table in the living room. With a latent finger, he pressed the power button on a remote sitting on the table. The television crackled to life, howling sports. He was disheartened to learn that his favorite football team had lost.

It was a very important thing to him. Like most sports fans, he didn’t realize that he was volunteering his heart to be torn in two with each ignoble defeat his idols encountered.

Jacob sneered, flipped to the music channel, and wolfed down his tarts. If he had been more aware, he might have heard the tap that occurred at each window in the room, one after the other, every two seconds. And the chirp.

Thirty minutes later, his stomach was full. He slipped into his shoes, grabbed his board, and left through the front door, kicking it closed behind him. It was only two-fifteen, but it seemed unusually dark. The few shredded-cotton-ball clouds didn’t account for the deepness of it.

He jogged out into his front yard and almost threw his board down to roll away, but some dark crouching thing at the far end of the street caught his eye as he neared the curb. It was standing behind a sycamore in the Jamesons’ yard. It looked like pure shadow, head indeterminable. A light wind was ruffling a row of hedges just behind it, which appeared to agitate the figure. When it wasn’t looking over its shoulders or back down its side of the street, it seemed to be focused on Jacob.

“Hey!”, he said.

The shadow didn’t react, but he thought he could hear a chattering rasp coming from somewhere deep in the thing’s throat. He didn’t like the sound one bit.

“The fuck’re you looking at?”

His question went unanswered. The dark creature started moving back and forth as if it were the native inhabitant of some far flung island, doing a dance to invoke its gods. Jacob could feel sweat slick on his temples and the hollow throb of his heart. He was getting the jim-jams in a serious way. Suddenly, he wanted to beat it. To kill it before it could do something horrible to him. He took a few quick steps off of the curb and started yelling.

“Answer me, you little bastard, or I swear to god I’ll—“

But suddenly, the shadow was gone. It was like it had melted into the grass. Spilled like a towering column of India ink.

Utterly perplexed, Jacob could think of nothing else to do but jump onto his skateboard and light off down the street, leaving the shadow behind, odd and unexplained. He’d always thought better of following the whims of curiosity. He had seen too many scenes in horror movies end badly because of such indulgences.

The wind blew his hair back into a rippling raven flag. He kick-flipped up onto a stairway railing on his way through the neighborhood park and grinded down into a manual at the bottom, screeching to a stop after landing it and yanking his fist down to his chest in celebration. A nearby kid whose face had been invaded by a spore-like smattering acne gave him a thumbs-up. He returned it graciously, beaming, and sped off down another hill.

The whole time he rode through the streets, he consistently peered over his shoulder, just in case there was some black gaping nightmare sprinting at his heels. He had the distinct sensation of being followed. The feeling was leaching the joy from his bones.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at the strip mall. Leaves were drifting around lazily in the parking lot, skidding against the concrete, rasping out a symphony. The air had grown slightly colder, and there was no one to be seen mulling about the storefronts or cars. In fact, every store appeared deserted. Jake felt uneasy, and approached his final destination: Ceekiante Arcade.

Dropping his skateboard by the door, he shielded his eyes to counteract the obscuring reflection of the parking lot and peered in through the glass. He couldn’t see any of his friends tapping furiously at plastic keys or yanking on joysticks. There was no cashier at the counter. All that he saw was an inky dimness and a few specks of complacent dust that hung immobile in the air. Something was wrong. The arcade was always bustling with activity.

He tried the handle. At first it wouldn’t budge, but on his fifth tug, Jake wrenched it open with unexpected ease. It swung past him and smacked into the adjacent wall. He stepped inside, peering cautiously down aisles of game cabinets and growing all the more anxious as he worked his way toward the back. He figured he might at least find Mid-day Fred, the day janitor. He was always in the back, afternoons, chewing on his dirty beard as he toiled betwixt slimy, desperate teens.

But to Jake’s surprise, there was not a single sweep of a broom or rustle of a garbage bag when he neared the rear corner. Even after pushing on the lever to the maintenance room door, he encountered nothing but a continuation of solitude. He was utterly alone and each step he took became louder than its prior as the seconds of realization passed. It was unnatural for it to be that quiet at the strip mall, where everyone came to skip school and enjoy the days of their youth to the last drop.

In a panic, he called out, “Hello?! Is anyone here? At all?” But silence was his only answer.

He felt the sudden urge to leave. To go straight back home, to his warm room. His safe, comfortable bed, thronged with comic books and stiff socks. He started back toward the front door at a quickened pace, but after passing the restrooms halfway to the exit, he heard a squeaking and stopped, supposing that he had stepped in water. The noise continued, though. It wasn’t quite a squeak.

It was fundamentally different, but recognizable to him. Images were conjured in his mind of childhood, chasing butterflies through a park.

Chirp.

“Blue jays? Definitely not in here”, he said to the darkness. “Where do I recognize that sound from?”

Chirp…

Dread was coiling up in the pit of his stomach like a lead boa constrictor. He knew, suddenly, that something had been stalking him from the moment he’d walked in. Whatever it was, it continued to emit the queer chirp, just a row over from where he stood.

“That’s fuckin’ it”, he said, and sprinted for the door.

He refused to look back, but he could hear the sound of hard, narrow feet beating against the threadbare carpet, mere feet behind him. Broomsticks on ceramic tile. His stalker’s chirp had turned into a low whirring whistle that might have sounded like a cat purring after having eaten one of those small, plastic Casio pianos he used to play with when he was younger. The thing, whatever it was, was closing the distance between them. He could feel something like whiskers or antennae lightly grazing his shirt.

When he reached the door handle, he jammed it forward, burst out into the open parking lot, and continued to run for several yards. He could no longer hear the thing’s horrifying tone at his back, so he slowed to a jog and then walked in circles for a few moments. He stopped and doubled over, panting. It had gotten even darker outside and great viscous clouds, pregnant with rain and winking lightning had come rolling in from the South.

He didn’t see any cars in the road. The parking lot was still bereft of any sign of life. He scanned the broad, black street from end to end, rubbing his neck and sniffing snot back into his nostrils. It had grown quite cold. Freezing specks of rain began to stipple his scalp. He turned around to face the buildings.

Horrified, Jake remembered that his skateboard was still on the sidewalk. He’d have to go back and retrieve it before he could leave (and sure as shit, I’m getting the fuck out of here, he thought to himself), but the cost of such a feat caused his heart to quicken. He wasn’t sure he could make himself do it.

Keeping low, he slinked toward a nearby car and stared over its hood at the arcade. Everything seemed lethally still. It was a trap, waiting just for him. He stayed frozen, observing the prospect of returning for nearly fifteen minutes before deciding that he just couldn’t do it. Sighing deeply, he turned his back on his board and left. His lips were trembling.

Hardly able to take a step without surveying his entire panorama, he traversed the streets back to his house, but avoided the park. It seemed to him that passing through there was a death wish; that it was the perfect place to become prey. He didn’t allow himself to blink until he stepped foot on the wilted grass of his lawn.

Once inside, he locked every window and bolted every door. He didn’t grasp the entire gravity of his situation then and there, but that would be the last time he left the boundaries of his home.

The following weeks were a nightmare. The horror wasn’t caused by being constantly under siege, but because nothing happened though the threat remained palpable. He could feel aerated poison sinking into his lungs.

The furthest he would travel from his refuge was the curb at the street and the boundaries of his yard. His parents never came home. Even though he rarely saw his neighbors to begin with, they were most definitely out of the picture after the chirping had started. He wanted desperately to know what was happening to him, but the simple fact was, if he left in search of answers, he would surely die.

Sometimes, just as he was falling asleep, one of his favorite CDs playing silently through the stereo by his bed, he would hear a rising chorus of chirps in the distance. The din wasn’t loud enough to bring him out of his hypnagogic state, but his skin grew lousy with goose bumps. It sounded like a continuous, muffled shriek. Like a beautiful by-product of mass torture.

Then, one day, it came for him.

He woke up, and the window was ajar. Cold wind was funneled into his room and rushing across his body. It was six in the morning, during that strange interim between night and day where the entire world is a flat wash of gray and, if a person hasn’t slept, horribly alien thoughts come to mind.

Chirp…

Jacob heard it unmistakably, just outside of his room under the window sill. Something was there and all that kept them apart was half a foot of sheetrock, wood, and vinyl siding. He couldn’t breathe. The follicles of his scalp were tightening. It seemed like the external world was being sucked away through the hole in his wall.

Getting up slowly, he slid his legs across the sheets and placed them carefully on the floor. He rose and, every three seconds, stepped closer to the noise. There was no retreating into the hallway or the bathroom. He knew that to turn his back on the thing outside was to perish without knowing.

The gusts of wind that spewed in at him as he drew closer caused his nipples to harden and shrink. He held himself tightly in his bare arms, his teeth chattering, and squinted against the cold. It took him five minutes to reach the window.

The suspense was pulling his skin taut over his bones as if it were a civil war drum hide. He stuck his head out and there was nothing there.

Ducking back inside, he whirled around to make sure nothing was standing at his back and slammed the window closed. With the whisper of the lock sliding back on its groove into the clasp, the portal was closed.

He had a coughing fit. He was in a tomb.

Jacob stormed into the living room, lashing the walls of the hallway with the belt of his robe as he went. The chirp was becoming more frequent. He couldn’t escape it and the fact was beginning to eat away at him.

He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was nearly empty. He had expended the last of the sandwich supplies two days before. Staring at the barren, chilled shelves, he wished that his parents had gone to the grocery store before blinking out of existence. He would have liked a couple of tasty snacks before facing his doom.

He settled for a meal of six frozen “Nuggie Kids” chicken nuggets.

And he knew that it was only a matter of time before his end came to him. Whatever was outside had started to follow him around the house, no matter where he went. It would chirp sometimes in the midst of absolute silence, just to make him jump. He hadn’t taken a shower in a week for fear that the stalker might take such an opportunity to waltz inside and get a peek at him before sinking its teeth into his supple flesh and making a meal of him.

The dining room table was gleaming from the overhead chandelier as Jacob sat at its head and stared at a dated newspaper from the morning of The Sixteenth. There was a tap on the window. Just behind him. He turned dubiously in the chair, rolling his eyes and shifting his body so that he could see what had made the noise. As soon as the wooden frame entered his peripheral vision, however, there was an implosion of glass shards. The thing was upon him.

It had Jacob pinned onto the table. He stared into its crystalline black eyes. They were lidless orbs set deep into a doughy white head, if a head it could even be considered. More like a malformed sculpture from a kindergarten art class. A scripture, direct from Hell. It had seven appendages: six of them seemed to be its legs. The seventh extruded from its back through a crop of fungal air sacs (they inflated and deflated intermittently to no obvious rhythm). It was tipped with a terrifically sharp barb that seemed to be leaking a dark purple liquid down its shaft.

The creature had a ragged maw, just below its eyes. It imposed its putrid breath all over his face. He tried to speak to it, but before his words could amount to much more than a weak rattle in his throat, a shrill chirp blasted out of it and slammed his skull down onto the wood. Its legs began to rattle in their joints. The barb jutting out of its back was curling around its neck and arching. The creature was deciding whether or not to impale him with it.

Jacob tilted his head to look around for something to beat it off of him. Just inches from his head was a fallen jag of crystal from the chandelier that had hung above the table minutes before. The thing was leaning in close for some sort of death kiss when Jacob snatched the glimmering fragment and sank it deep into the nape of its neck.

It belched a screech that made Jacob’s head feel smaller, as if it had begun fold in on itself like possessed origami. He was close to passing out, but the survivalist in him realized the momentary reprieve for what it was: a chance to wriggle free and fortify himself in his bedroom. He had a solid pine Louisville slugger propped in the corner just to the left of his door. He was imagining just how good it would be for pulverizing the gooey bastard’s skull.

He slid out from beneath the trilling horror and rolled off the side of the table. Even as he slammed against the dining room hardwood, he could sense a tension at his rear. The thing was regaining its poise and reacquainting itself with its target. Jacob pawed at the floor while pushing himself forward with a few clumsy lunges. He was deafened with the buzzing din of insect wings. The creature was already at his heels.

Within a few horribly distorted seconds (the million threads of each second forming a weave which pulsated and churned back and forth), Jacob crossed the threshold of his bedroom. He swiveled on his heels and rammed the door into its jamb with his shoulder. Shortly after, he could hear a solid, violent impact on the other side. The thing had flown headlong into a sudden dead end and was likely dazed. Taking a chance on it, Jacob grabbed the baseball bat and whipped the door open.

The creature’s legs had given out and splayed at its sides. The shrill tones it had been emitting were replaced by a confused whirring coming from deep inside of its body. It was a writhing black mass of twitches, its white play-dough head bobbing merrily. Jacob took no time to study its ghastly form, however. He simply brought the bat down onto it. Repeatedly.

Fifty swings later, there wasn’t much of the thing left for him to observe. He released the bat and knelt, panting. Immediately, the smell of the thing’s fluids assaulted his nostrils and made him fall dumbly back into his room on his ass. He scrambled up onto his feet, enraged, and skirted the abomination to make his way to the kitchen.

Digging around under the sink, he found a box of scouring powder. He rejoined the deceased creature and dumped a crystalline white mountain on top of it, then edged his way back into his room and collapsed onto his bed, letting out a shuddering, horrified sigh.

Exhausted, drained, Jacob prayed in garbled whispers, anointing the ceiling with wasted breath. The air draped the scent of extraterrestrial decay over every surface. Sleep found him.

It was hours later when he awoke. The world beyond his window had become orange with the cant of the sun. He noticed with disquieted clarity that he could no longer hear the blue jays singing as he had only a week before. When he sat up, he heard a sickly squelch and, looking down, observed lengthening tendrils of clear slime oozing off of his back.

Panicked, he leapt up and ran into his bathroom. At the mirror, he beheld the worst image of his short, miserable life. There were colonies of pustules expanding and collapsing rhythmically on his cheeks and forehead. He opened his mouth to scream, but the moment his lips parted, a green, chunky mess delivered itself from the captor cavity into the porcelain. With a dawning delirium, Jacob recognized the fetid gruel as his tongue, disintegrated and sedimentary in his head. It had rotted while he slept.

Instead of a screaming himself hoarse, he had a sneezing fit, but with each violent “ah-CHOO”, a bold crimson jet misted the porcelain bowl. The blood that hadn’t evacuated itself was running down his throat and when vomited it out, most of his teeth wrenched free in the downpour. They were floating in the piss-smelling water of the toilet among chunks of the chicken nuggets that he had nuked and eaten that very morning.

“Oh god!” he screamed. “Why?! What made me sick?”

Five hours later, Jacob was cringing like a shrimp on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. His skin was a gruesome shade of green, glinting with ichor as some inner slime pushed its way through his pores. He was rotting, alive.

He had staggered around the house during those hours, searching for medicine. There was nothing that he thought might help him, but even so, he swallowed six different kinds of vitamins and every cold & flu capsule he could find.

After the doom settled in, he contented himself with moaning and beating his fists on the walls. The skin on the sides of his hands had been flayed, revealing the hamburger meat gristle beneath.

Entering one room, his eyes flickered over the furniture with gut-wrenching familiarity. He’d run a circuit of the place at least twenty times before stumbling into his parents’ room and collapsing. The muscle fibers in his legs began to liquefy.

There were jagged puddles of dark green and orange fluids crowded around his laboring form, soaked into the carpet. His body spewed them out of various newly formed holes in his chest and back. His mental faculties were beginning to slip away when the door to the hallway opened.

A dark humanoid midget stepped in. Dark, actually, wasn’t quite precise. It was beyond darkness. It was like a howling body-shaped hole in mid-air that was sucking light into it; a walking singularity. It chattered to itself, taking infinitesimal steps toward Jacob as he stared up at it.

A vague thought rose to the top of his brain like a bubble in a glass of water. That was the thing hiding behind the sycamore in the Jamesons’ yard the day this all started. Ever so slightly his eyes began to widen. He tried to wrench his body across the carpet, to create distance between himself and the whistling anomaly from beyond, but the moment he squirmed he could feel his spinal cord separate from itself like a saturated strand of toilet paper. He screamed, and literally coughed up part of his lung.

The dark being approached him and crouched, tilting its head in an almost loving way, as if it cared. Then Jacob saw one of the last and most horrifying sights of his life: multiple tentacles leered out of its back and began to form balloon-like spheres at their tips. The spheres then began morphing into recognizable faces – all of his friends, his parents. They gaped down at him and moved their mouths open and closed, but produced no words.

Tears were spilling down his cheeks as he looked on. The thing bent over him, planted its hands on Jacob’s head and pulled him closer. He could feel the skin on his face loosening itself from his skull and fluttering away in sail-like flaps.
His scalp was splitting and the bone beneath was criss-crossed with jaunty, scribbling cracks as it ruptured from the force. He was all but gone. A goofy smile crossed his face. He began to slobber, but tears still welled in his lower eyelids.

What a strange way to die, he thought, giving the thing a humorous wink. When he reopened his eye, it burst, and its insides sluiced out of the socket onto his collarbone.

The being embraced Jacob and sucked his skeleton clean with its vacuum skin. Moments later, his face sprouted out of its back on another one of its black, writhing stalks. It had a wan but jubilant expression as it bobbed.

The Jacob simulation’s eyes gazed out of a window on the west wall and watched as the sun disappeared below the horizon, leaving the sky with a shimmer of bloody dusk-shine. A few chirps sounded out, then many more, rising into a shrill opera in the distance.

Credit To – Charlie T. Smith

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The Creep

July 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Do you hear it? The Creep upon my cellar stairs? I lie awake tonight with fright in my heart and a creep upon my cellar stairs,” the young girl muttered into the belly of her teddy bear.
A fearful groan erupted as she heard it once again, “Do you hear it? The creep is upon my kitchen floor!” Woe was her to have this fear, to hear the creep beyond her door. Juliette was twelve, modest and kind, however cowardly as a mouse, and not inclined, to investigate bumps in the deep, dark night.
No daddy to call on, a mother that worked, Juliette sat listening for that which lurked. Only for a moment, as the silence fell again, she heard the creeeeeeeeeeak, an obvious strain .”Do you hear it?!” She roared. “The creep is upon my living room floor!”
Slipping from the safety of the warm, snug bed, she crept ever so slowly, but felt only dread. As beyond the door, and down the hall, she knew what awaited and up it would crawl through the deep, dark night.

Minutes passed without a breath, until the girl fell to her knees and whimpered, for she feared her death as from her place upon the floor she heard the creak as before. “Do you hear it? The creep is upon my very hall, no doubt to pounce upon us all!” The girl did cry, fear rising within. She clutched her bear and listened for the thing . Silence.
The trembling figure sat upon her floor, unable to move, to think, to breathe. Until at last she shook her head, “I cannot hear it. The creep upon my cellar stairs must have been but the wind, the living room a playful mouse and in my hall a house did creak, but no bear, not the Creep.”
Standing without fear she strode up to her bedroom door, placed her hand upon the knob and began to turn, she knew the score. Creeeeeeeeeeak. Leaping back she knew without a doubt, something was without. Not wind, nor mouse and not a creak. It was a creep beyond the door, she knew this now, like before.

She fell unto her bedroom floor so scared that her tears did pour in the deep, dark night. She stared at her bedroom door, she thought of all the heartless gore to be visited upon her when she opened that door. Silence.
Without another thought she rose, strode to the door, pulled it and froze. Expecting the worst, she saw only her bedroom light, casting two shadows in the deep, dark night. With a deep sigh she closed the door and turned back, to her bed, seeing one shadow and hearing not creak, croak or crack.

“Do you hear it? The creep was all in my head, I woke from my bed and feared what’s not there. Am I not the silliest girl ever bear?” Teddy the Bear watched the world with unseeing eyes that reflected the room and could not disguise. As within them Juliette saw the most horrifying sight, and suddenly the creaking was heard in the night.
“Oh Teddy, why could you not say? How foolish I have been this day. The Creep is real, and here right now. I see it there below your brow. What I thought to be upon my floor was by my side, and watched as I cried. The light in the hall should have been my warning, I shant live to see the morning.”

The Creep was real, that is for sure. The creaking and cracking was simply a lure. For reflected in the little bear’s eyes, nothing was seen but the evil Creep’s lies. For the Creep was not upon her floor, at her door nor in her drawer. The Creep was here, in her hands, to strike at her, to fulfill its plan. Teddy the Bear such an innocent sight, took Juliette in the deep, dark night, for no matter how much she dared to fight, the Creep had gotten her, his grasp too tight.

A tale of caution and of fright, but do you think of what bumps in the night? Juliette did, and behold and see, what doom awaited her that eve. But can she be blamed for what did occur? It all did happen in such a blur. Evil comes in all different sizes, big and small it takes on all guises.

So sleep well and God bless for surely you know, if the Creep comes for you, your death will be slow.

Credit To – AjCassells

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The Curling Flames

July 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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This is the fourth entry in the By the Fire’s Light series.

“So,” Jared said, a sneer on his face. “I suppose you’ve come to find out why I did it.”

Connor looked into Jared’s face, at the sneer, the hate. He looked into Jared’s eyes, and saw, just for a moment, a flame flicker in them. “No,” Connor said, surprising himself and Jared. “No,” he said again, wonderingly. He put the phone down for a moment and looked around them. The guards were alert for any wrong-doing but they weren’t really paying attention to what he was saying. He picked the phone up again and turned to Jared. “I want to know why you took the blame.” — By the Fire’s Light

Jared Holloway was a solitary man. He was not anti-social by any means. But he did not feel the need to constantly be in the presence of his fellow man. The equivalent of a night on the town for Jared was a hike in the nearby state park. As he would tromp through the woods, listening to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, the scampering of small creatures in the undergrowth, and the occasional crashing of much bigger things, a tiny spring of tension in him would release. There was no one to judge him out here. There was no one to demand he produce four thousand new lines of code in a single day after some idiot deleted the BIOS systems at work.

Which was exactly what had happened three days prior before Jared’s latest trip into the woods. Some moron in tech support had walked away from his work station without logging out. He was a high level tech with high level access. Well, had been anyway. Some other moron had messed around on the computer in his office. Jared wasn’t sure how he had done it, but he had managed to delete the BIOS of every computer on the network. It was either a work of great genius or astounding stupidity, and Jared was leaning towards the latter.

Some of Jared’s bosses outside ITS were under the impression he would need to write new code for the entire network, hence the demand. Fortunately, Jared had been prepared for just such a situation (perhaps not as dire as losing the BIOS directory on every computer at once, but still) and had a backup copy of the BIOS directory burned to a CD. One CD. That needed to hit hundreds of computers. After a few days of burning more copies and visiting many computers in tandem with the rest of his co-workers, they had restored relative order to the company. So, perhaps today he was feeling just a tad anti-social on top of his usual solitariness.

He stopped on the trail he was on and sat down on a large rock on the side of the path. He allowed his pack to drop next to the rock. Leaning back, he let the sun’s rays that filtered down through the leaves wash over him. He breathed in and out, shifting his shoulders as he did, trying to ease the tension out. As he did, the sound of laughter came to him from farther down the trail. He opened an eye and looked down the green path before him. It was the middle of June, so most of the schools were out. It sounded like a couple of younger men horsing around. Jared grunted to himself. He really did not feel like meeting anyone else out here.

Scooting down off the rock, he leaned over to pick up his pack. As he did, a scream rent the air. He dropped his pack and looked up. Another scream quickly followed it, this one shriller and more panicked. It was coming from the same direction as the laughter. Letting go of his pack, Jared took off down the trail. This wouldn’t be the first time inexperienced hikers hurt themselves while tromping around back here. The screaming, while growing fainter even as he ran forward, had a more terrified edge to it now. Commingled in with the screams were the yells of someone else.

Then, suddenly, it just stopped. Jared paused, leaning on a tree, his hand resting on a knothole in the rough bark, and caught his breath. He listened carefully. He heard what sounded like someone crashing through the forest. Jared knew he wouldn’t be able to follow them on sound alone though. He’d need to find where they had left the path.

Walking forward quickly but with an eye for breaks in the foliage, Jared continued on. It wasn’t long before Jared came to another abandoned pack on the path. Looking to his right, he could tell by the way the branches were bent which way the user of the pack had gone. “Hello?” Jared called as he stepped off the path. “Can you hear me? Are you injured?” He put a hand up to his forehead, trying to shade his eyes and get a better look ahead of him. The greenery was dense here and he picked his way slowly, following the trail of bent branches as best he could. A hint of red on the grass below him caught his eye and Jared stopped again. The red was shiny.

Jared bent down and lightly touched the red stain. “Blood,” he said to himself. He scanned the ground and saw a small trail of it leading forward. Holding his breath, Jared pushed his way further into the forest. “Oh my God.” Lying on the ground not ten feet from Jared was a young man. He was covered in cuts, dozens upon dozens of them, all of them a bright red. Jared quickly walked forward and bent down next to the body. Gently, he put a couple fingers on the neck of the young man where his jugular artery should be. As he did, he also watched the young man’s chest, hoping against hope to see it rise and fall even slightly. But both chest and artery were still. This young man, this boy, was dead.

As Jared stood, he remembered the laughter from earlier. There had been more than one person out here. He could tell that someone else had run away from here, and in a hurry. They had either killed this person, or were running from whoever had. Jared hesitated. Either way, there was likely a murderer at the end of this trail if he continued to follow it. He pulled out his cell phone, but he knew even before he checked it that there wouldn’t be a signal. It was part of the reason he came out here, so he couldn’t be called in. He’d have to track all the way back to the beginning of the park to get a decent signal, and that would take close to an hour.

He looked down at the young boy and noticed he had a pack on his shoulders. So, that meant the pack on the path belonged to someone else. And if someone had crashed off into the woods without their pack, it was probably because they were in mortal terror of something. With that, Jared made up his mind. He would not leave this person to their fate alone. He quickly sprinted back to his pack and unclipped his Gerber military style knife off the pack and then re-clipped it on his belt. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, not quite running, but moving as quickly as he could without losing the trail, Jared ventured into the forest. He made sure to mark his progress as he did so he could find his way back when he was done.

Jared spotted a piece of cloth in a briar patch up ahead. Jogging up to it, he bent down to observe it. There was some blood on the cloth, and it looked like it was still wet. His head snapped up and he looked around himself warily. That meant he was probably close to whoever had fallen in here. He stood up slowly. As far as he could tell, the trail continued up a tall hill ahead of him.

Looking for debris and branches on the ground as he walked, Jared made his way up the hill. He drew his knife out and held it in his right hand. He stayed crouched as he walked so that when he crested the hill he wouldn’t be a noticeable target. The sun beat down on him uncomfortably, and he rolled his shoulders again trying to release the tension in them.

Coming to the top of the hill, Jared went down on his stomach and looked over the edge. What he saw made his heart stop. There was another young man with black hair at the bottom of the hill, lying unconscious (or so Jared hoped) in the middle of a patch of mushrooms. Standing over the injured man was a tall, skinny, bald man in what looked like a business suit.

Jared quickly debated with himself whether to yell down at Mr. Business Suit or not. Opting to move in as quietly as he could, Jared started to make his way down the hill. As he did, the injured young man started to scream, just like the screams Jared had heard earlier.

Jared sprung to his feet, adrenaline coursing through his body. He had to act now. “Whatever you’re doing, just stop right there!” he shouted, bounding down the hill. As he came to the bottom of the hill, he prepared to plunge his knife into Mr. Business Suit to make him stop doing whatever he was doing to the injured party.

Then, with his knife raised, Jared realized something. Mr. Business Suit wasn’t just sorta tall. He stood a good eight feet high, at least. And he had long slender black growths waving from his back. The knife shook in Jared’s hand as the man began to turn. Two seconds later the knife fell from Jared’s hand and hit the forest floor with a small plop. “Your face, where’s your face?!” Jared screeched backing away, hands outstretched. Then one of the black things on its back whipped forward and slashed towards Jared. Jared held up his arms and felt a stinging cut and he stumbled backwards. Red blood poured from his right arm, but the physical wound barely phased him. As the thing had made contact, Jared had a brief vision of fire and screams. Small children’s screams.

The thing towered over him and slashed at him again and again, each blow that landed giving Jared a clearer picture. Fire and death that wasn’t death and so many children. Fear was replaced with anger. This thing picked on children? Not if Jared had anything to say about it.

With a mighty roar, Jared sprang forward. The thing, surprised at this outburst, took a momentary step back. Swiping his knife off the ground, Jared rushed this monster, swinging for its chest. Jared had to stretch his arm up and above his head the thing was so tall. The knife sunk in to the hilt but no blood came. As it did, Jared felt like he had been hit by an electric shock. He saw and he understood. Oh, God, he understood what this thing wanted. It was like a demented Pinocchio and this boy this this–images and sounds flashed, fire and children and screams– Connor was his chosen vessel to help it be a real boy. He looked up into its non-face and realized this meant his death, or rather fiery non-death if he let this thing take him.

“Wait!” he screamed, springing away again. A tendril struck his face and he fell to the forest floor. A panicked sob escaped him. “Wait, I can be of use!” he screamed backing away. “You killed his friend! The cops won’t believe him if he says a faceless monster killed him.” He cowered, waiting for the next blow. When it didn’t come, he looked up into its eyeless gaze. It stood tense, its tendrils whipping, but it made no move at him yet.

“Y-you need someone to take the blame,” Jared said, arms held up over his head. Blood dripped from his right arm and spattered on the the grass in front of him. His whole body shook. “I can do that.”

Then the tendrils, looking for all the world like streamers in the wind, were plunging towards him. Jared screamed and covered his head. But, the tendrils did not slice into him this time. Instead, they wound around him, holding him tight. He let out a gasp as they squeezed harder and harder. Then they stopped. Jared raised his head and found the faceless thing leaning over him. Jared was completely in its shadow, the blackness blocking off all light. One final tendril raised in the air. It quivered and shifted back and forth slightly, as if unsure of its destination. It plunged with sudden decisiveness and buried itself in Jared’s left shoulder.

Jared tried to scream, but the pain was so great it was all he could do to unlock his throat enough to breathe. He felt the tendril burrow deep within his shoulder. As it went, he could see blood dripping from where the tendril had plunged in and surrounding the blood was livid, red, inflamed flesh.

He felt the tendril wrap around the very bones in his shoulder. He shuddered, trying to pull away, but was held fast. Visions began to pour into his mind again. Only this time it was different. He wasn’t just looking into the thing’s mind this time. This time he could feel it tearing into his own thoughts, ripping through his emotions and innermost psyche, laying his most precious memories bare. It was as if it was weighing them in its tendrils. Tears rolled down Jared’s eyes and he managed to stammer a whispered, “St-stop.”

After what felt like centuries, but could only have been a few moments, the thing released him. Jared fell to the forest floor, grabbing at his left shoulder and panting. He managed to raise himself up to his knees, still clinging to his wound. The faceless thing watched impassively and under its steady gaze Jared felt a burst of adrenaline. Without knowing what he was doing, Jared was off and stumbling up the hill. He scrambled along the ground, gripping branches and slender tree trunks to help himself up.

His shoulder burned as he ran, but he ignored it. He ran as if death itself was at his heels, and for all Jared knew, it really was. He smashed into the briar patch he had found the blood-stained cloth in, falling down not far from it. With a small whimper, he ripped himself up, covered in a dozen new scratches.

Breathless, tired, and frightened, Jared finally allowed himself to collapse by the body of the first young boy he had found. Crying quietly to himself, Jared curled into a small ball. “What am I going to do?” he whispered over and over again.

After a few minutes, Jared calmed down enough to uncurl and sit up. He knew he couldn’t stay here. Promise or no promise, he wasn’t going to wait around in a forest with that thing in it. He had to get help.

As he stood, a black shadow passed over Jared. Looking up, he found himself confronted by the faceless thing again. Freezing, Jared stared up at it. It was waving something in one of its tendrils. Eyes focusing on it, Jared realized it was his knife. Jared looked at it confused. Why did it have his knife? Surely it didn’t need any other weapons. With a small toss, the thing dropped the knife by the boy’s body.

“Oh,” Jared said, quietly. He looked up at the towering thing and wondered if he ran fast enough, if he could make it to the path.

As if sensing his thought, the thing turned towards him. As it did, Jared’s shoulder lit up in a fire of agony. With a scream, he dropped to his knees. White hot pain radiated from his shoulder through the rest of his body and he felt as if he had been plunged into flames. “Okay,” he managed to scream, “I’ll do it!”

The pain stopped as quickly as it had started. Trembling, Jared crawled over to the knife. He hesitated for just a moment, and then brought his knife down into the already dead body. He traced several of the cuts with his knife and made a couple of his own. He made sure to get the boy’s blood on his hands, and for good measure, he nicked himself with the knife and allowed some of his own blood to land on the boy. “There,” he said, voice cracking, “I’ll wait nearby and when they come looking for the boy I’ll confess.” He laughed, sounding slightly unhinged. “I’ll just pretend to be mad. Okay?” He turned, wincing as he did. The thing was gone though.

Jared stood up. A slight buzz in his shoulder warned him that though he could not see the thing, it most certainly could see him. Feeling as if he was in a dream, Jared forged an obvious trail away from the body. After about half a mile he stopped and waited. He sat on the ground with his knife and rocked on his heels, back and forth. The pulsing, droning buzz of cicadas in the afternoon sun was the only sound that came to him. No searchers. Not yet. Jared’s rocking slowed as he became more and more light-headed. His gaze turned to his still bleeding arm. He was covered in cuts but that first one on his arm was the deepest. He supposed he should cover it with something.

As he watched the red blood drip away the world began to blur and swirl around him. Heat engulfed him as he lost his balance and toppled over. Not the tearing searing heat from earlier, but a fuzzy warmth that shrouded him and dulled his thoughts. And then nothing.

After an interminable time, Jared opened his eyes and froze. The landscape had changed. He was no longer in a forest. At least, not the same forest he had started in. There were a few stray trees. But they were blackened and brittle. They looked as if a strong breeze would topple them and turn them into ash. The very ground on which Jared lay was black and coarse. As he shifted up, Jared looked at his arms and realized the cuts were gone. There was still, however, the livid, red spot on his left shoulder. He probed it and winced as pain radiated from it.

Placing his hand on the ground to help himself up, Jared paused. There was a reason the ground was black and coarse. It wasn’t ground, it was ash. Eyes widening, Jared dug his hands into the ashes. Deeper and deeper he reached down, trying to touch ground and failing.

Breathing heavily, Jared stood and swayed from foot to foot. “This isn’t real, it’s a dream,” he muttered, turning in place. An urge to run surged through him. But where would he run to? Raising his eyes to the horizon, he saw an orange glow. Every instinct in his being told him he did not want to see what was there. Deliberately turning his back on it, Jared ran in the opposite direction.

He slapped himself as he ran, hoping the pain would jolt him awake. He scratched at his face, pinched his arms, threw himself at the ground and twisted his ankle. Nothing worked, though, and he continued to stumble through the nightmarish landscape.

Then, suddenly, despite turning his back on it, he found himself on top of the orange glow. It wavered before him, and he heard crackling. Shaking, Jared stepped forward. The orange flickered and split around him, and he found himself in a sea of flames that oddly did not burn him. He could not say the same for the children surrounding him on every side. There were a few adults and older teenagers too, but for the most moaning and thrashing and screaming children twisted on the ground around him.

Jared put his hands to his head and fell to his knees. “Why are you doing this you sick fuck?!” he yelled. A small hand hit his leg and Jared turned to look at who had hit him. It was a young boy, no older than four with blond almost white hair. Jared reached a hand towards him and watched the flames part before his hand. He took in a small breath. Could he stop the boy from burning if he were to hold him close?

Without hesitation Jared picked up the small boy and held him close, protectively. The boy thrashed in his grip. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Jared choked. He began to run through the flames, trying to find an exit.

The boy screamed. “No, no, no!” he said. “It hurts more!”

Jared stopped. He gazed slack-jawed at the boy. The boy thrashed harder and screamed, a long drawn-out wail. Gently, Jared put him back down. Flames covered him again, burning but never claiming the boy. And though he moaned and thrashed, he calmed, as if the flames were better than Jared’s touch had been.

Small black tendrils surrounded Jared and he looked up into a pale featureless face.

A burst of white light, and Jared jolted up on the forest floor. His arm throbbed, but someone had wrapped it in a now blood-stained cloth. The white light proved to be a flashlight pointed at Jared. Shading his eyes, Jared saw two uniformed police officers. One of them was holding a plastic bag. And in the plastic bag was Jared’s knife. He giggled. “Did you see my work?” he asked.

The officer’s stiffened, and he saw one’s hand stray to his holster. Jared tried to stand, but the officers barked at him to sit down. Jared ignored them. Maybe he could get them to shoot him. Then he could get away. Away beyond its reach. He took a step forward, his whole body loose and flowing, as if his joints no longer had any interest in properly working.

Before he could do anything more, one of the officers and tackled Jared to the ground. He struggled underneath his grip. This wouldn’t do. He needed to be at threat, a clear and present danger if he wanted to be shot. He snarled and twisted, trying to bite the officer’s hand. But the events of the day had caught up with Jared and then some. It was all he could do not to pass out as he felt his arms twisted and a pair of cuffs slipped on his wrists.

Jared heard the other officer speaking into his radio as the one who had cuffed him hauled him to his feet. “–possibly caught Kurt Kent’s killer,” Jared heard him say. Jared laughed again. Was that the boy’s name, Kurt? These fools should be grateful they had not crossed Kurt’s real killer. Even as madness threatened to engulf him, Jared retained enough of himself to realize that he had no wish for these officer’s to make contact with that thing. Not even just because of what the thing would do to him if they did. No one deserved to fall into that thing’s clutches. And the only way to protect them was to be convincing.

Jared pulled against the officer holding him. “Possibly nothing,” he said. He licked his lips and and gave a short breathless laugh. “That is, if Kurt Kent was killed by several dozen slashes from which he bled so scarlet red,” he said, his voice a sing-song. Jared felt the other officer’s grip tighten on him reflexively.

“Todd,” the other officer said, glancing sharply at the one who held Jared. “Don’t.”

“Yes, Todd, don’t,” Jared agreed, looking back at him. “Police brutality will just cloud your case.”

“You shut your mouth,” Todd said through clenched teeth. Todd jerked his head back towards the path. “Let’s get him out of here.”

“Agreed,” the other officer said, following Todd as he dragged Jared back through the forest. As they walked, just for a moment, Jared though he saw one of the slender younger trees bend over. Ignoring it, he turned his eyes forward and allowed himself to be dragged along.

***

Jared sat in the interview room, hands cuffed in front of him. He stared at the mirrored window on the other side of the room. A sullen and slightly demented looking man stared back at him. He was covered in scratches and abrasions, some with stitches showing. Bandages swathed the large cut on his right arm. His eyes were narrow and they never stopped moving, as if always looking for something.

Jared rotated his left shoulder, which throbbed very slightly. It would know. It would know if he told the truth. It had been three days since Jared’s run through the woods and he had slept little since then. Every time he closed his eyes it was waiting. Always he found himself in the land of fire and ash. He did not move anymore. He laid curled on the ground, waiting for wakefulness to claim him. He was beginning to wonder, though, which part of his life was the dream, and which part was the nightmare. Or perhaps it was all nightmare. He didn’t know anymore.

The door clicked open. A man who looked to be in his early thirties walked in. He wore a dull dark blue suit with a dull dark blue tie. He seated himself at the table across from Jared. He said nothing at first, merely setting a manilla envelope on the table followed by a digital recorder. He glanced up at Jared, pulling a card from his suit jacket pocket as he did. With a flick of a finger he turned the recorder on. “This conversation will be recorded,” he said, in an official-sounding voice.

“Of course,” Jared said, head nodding, voice full of false amiability.

The man did not react. He merely maintained a steady gaze with Jared. “I am Detective Carl Rourke,” he said. “And before we begin,” he said, looking back down at the card, ” You have the right to remain silent,”

“Oh, really, Detective, really?” Jared said settling back in his chair. “Must you?”

Rourke ignored him. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while being questioned.”

Jared gave a long drawn out sigh. “No, no lawyers. They just draaag things out,” he said, gesturing with his hands as best he could. And Jared had no intention of dragging this out. None.

Rourke continued unperturbed. “If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.” Rourke locked eyes with Jared now. “Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?”

Jared nodded slowly and exaggeratedly.

Rourke pointed at the recorder. “Out loud please.”

“Yes,” Jared said, slowly and distinctly.

“Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?” Rourke asked, never letting his gaze waver from Jared’s.

“Yes, very much so,” Jared said.

Rourke put the card back in his pocket. “Very well,” he said. He folded his hands and placed them on the table. “For the record, where were you at 2:30 in the afternoon on June the sixth 20–?”

Jared leaned back in his chair. “I was at Constitutional State Park,” he said. “I believe at 2:30 I was driving a knife into Kurt Kent’s body.”

Rourke raised an eyebrow. “Believe?”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Jared said. A slight twinge in his should nearly made him gasp. He resisted the urge to try and rub it. He was overplaying it. He leaned forward. “Let me be clear. On June the sixth, at 2:30 in the afternoon, I took my knife and I killed Kurt Kent. I stabbed and slashed him and watched as he bled out. I also tried to kill Connor Russell but he was able to run from me like the pansy he was. I did this. With full knowledge and consent,” he said, glancing at the recorder.

“Hm,” Rourke said, opening his folder. “It is true, Kurt was found covered in slashes with your blood on him and his blood on you. There’s just a few discrepancies I’d like cleared up.”

“Like what?” Jared said, sweat forming on his brow. His shoulder twinged more painfully. He needed to pull this off. God help him, he needed to be found guilty of this murder.

Rourke pulled out what looked like a report from his folder. “Kurt did not die from bleeding out. He died from a singular puncture to his heart. One that was not made by the knife found on your person.”

“Is that right?” Jared said, trying to sound nonchalant. Panic was rising in him as the pain started to radiate down from his shoulder again.

“And while several slashes on the body do appear to have been made with the knife, most of them appear to be post-mortem,” Rourke continued. He looked up at Jared again. “Can you explain this?”

Jared rolled his eyes. “Easily. What makes you think there was only one weapon?”

Rourke cocked his head. “Where is the other weapon? And what was it?”

Jared thought back to the thin hole in Kurt’s chest and of the black flowing tendrils. “Oh, just a little steel affair I had specially made. Very sharp, but it came to a very thin point. ” He shrugged. “I lost it while running after the other kid. Connor. I backtracked and tried to find it, but…” he shrugged again. “It’s a dense forest.”

“It is,” Rourke conceded, still neutral. He slid the report back into the folder. “And for what reason did you attack and kill Kurt Kent and attempt to kill Connor Russell?”

Jared rotated his head on his neck, trying and trying to ease the terrible burning in his left shoulder. “Because they were there.”

Rourke regarded him evenly. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jared said with a nod.

Rourke looked down to the folder and back up again. “Mr. Holloway, you do realize you are being charged with first degree murder?”

Jared nodded and then remembered the recorder. “Yes.”

“And you realize you are pleading guilty?”

“Yes,” Jared said, sounding annoyed.

Rourke fixed him with a fierce stare. “Mr. Holloway I do not believe you are being frank with me. I believe there is more going on than you are letting on.”

Jared’s shoulder flinched involuntarily as it flared in agony. Jared saw the detective’s eyes briefly rotate to it. In his panic, Jared tried to cover. “I’m done,” he said.

Rourke looked back to his eyes. “I beg your pardon?”

“My rights, or whatever. I’m done talking.”

Rourke nodded. “Very well, this interrogation is over.” He turned off the recorder. He gazed at Jared again. “This is off the record. Nothing you say now may be used against you.”

“Okaaay?” Jared said, trying not to shift his shoulder.

“Mr. Holloway, why are you determined to be found guilty of first degree murder?” Rourke asked, putting his hands on the table and leaning forward.

“Because I am, dammit!” Jared exclaimed standing up.

Jared saw Rourke briefly wave a dismissive hand at the mirrored window. “Are you?” he asked, fiercely.

“Yes!” Jared shouted. “Why do you keep asking? What more do you want?”

“The truth,” Rourke said simply.

Jared stared at him for a moment. And then he laughed. He collapsed back into his chair. “No, no you don’t,” Jared said. He shook his head. “Take me back to my cell.”

Rourke stared at him for one more moment, and then he gestured again to the mirrored window. Two uniformed officers came in and took him to his cell.

****

The rest had been fairly straight-forward after that. If there were any niggling doubts about Jared’s “guilt” Detective Rourke had been the only one to notice. Or care. There was more than enough evidence to convict Jared and with his own confession to the murder it was something of a slam dunk.

Jared had waived both the right to counsel and the right to a jury trial. He had gone before a judge to plead guilty. There had been a lengthy question and answer session with the judge to make sure Jared wasn’t being coerced. Which of course he was, just not by the people the judge thought might be doing it.

What happened next surprised Jared. Even though he had waived the right to a jury trial, a jury was still called for the penalty phase of his sentencing. Jared had made no plea bargains with the prosecution, so the death penalty was still on the table. Which was exactly what the jury gave him after Jared made sure to act like an egomaniacal bastard in front of them.

Though his shoulder twitched now and again, Jared never properly saw the thing after the first couple of dreams. Oh, he still went to the land of fire and ash every time he slept (which was as little as possible), but he would just sit in place and wait to wake up. It was amazing what one could get used to.

Jared had worried about the the prisoners in the jail at first. These were real murderers and rapists and Jared was just… Jared. His fears turned out to be unfounded. As a murderer sentence to death, Jared found himself in a maximum security facility in a cell by himself. There was no recreation outside of occasionally getting to visit a larger cell with a television. There was no group recreation. It was just Jared, the guards, and a small but never unending burning in his shoulder. He worked hard every day, manual labor, that gnarled his hands and gave him a wiry strength that he had never had before.

Days blurred into month blurred into years. Even though he offered no appeals to his sentence, it took a very long time for Jared to make his way up death row, so to speak. His state was very paranoid about accidentally executing innocent men and it took the better part of a decade, at the fastest, for most men to see execution.

As they day of his execution drew nearer, Jared grew more frightened. Not of death, he welcomed it. He was afraid the thing would not let him have it, though. Honestly, there were nights he sat up wondering why the thing had never come for him. He had surely served his purpose.

Then, one day, the guards came to his cell. Said he had a visitor. Jared was confused. There was no one on the outside to visit him. His family had disowned him and he had had no friends close enough to want to be friends with a murderer.

The guards took him to an empty room with one chair, a large thick plastic window, and a little beige phone to talk with the person on the other side. As Jared walked with the guards, he had learned whoever wanted to see him had had to pull some strings to do so. As he walked into the room, Jared understood. Sitting on the other side of the barrier was the boy Jared had found at the bottom of the hill. Connor Russell.

As he sat, his shoulder flared as it had not in ten years. Ten years of learned suppression kept Jared from crying out. The thing did not want him to talk to Connor. That was easy enough, Jared just had to refuse to pick up the phone. But as Jared stared at Connor, he thought he saw something. It was indistinct, but if he looked close enough into Connor’s eyes he could swear he could see a flame flickering in them. The thing was very close to Connor, Jared could feel it. In a moment of rebellion against the thing that had haunted him unseen for ten years, Jared reached over and picked up the phone.

“So,” he said, composing a sneer on his face, “I suppose you’ve come to find out why I did it.” His shoulder felt like it had burst into flames, but he held the phone and himself steady. Something was wrong here. It was like that day in the forest. The thing couldn’t just see into him, he could see into it. Sort of. And it was desperate that he not talk to Connor.

“No,” Connor said. Jared raised his eyebrows in surprise. “No,” Connor repeated wonderingly to himself. Connor put the phone down for a moment and stared around himself. Jared used the moment to recompose himself. Though his shoulder still hurt the pain did not increase. Instead, visions were slowly sliding into his head again, visions from the land of ash and fire he visited every night. But he had been going there for ten years now, he could hold them off. For now.

Connor picked up the phone again. “I want to know why you took the blame.”

Jared felt panic rise in his chest, and he realized in awe the panic was not entirely his. In the space of a split second, in his mind’s eyes, he saw a puppet free of all its strings save one. His eyes widened briefly and then narrowed. “What are you still crazy? Crazy as when they found you after I lost you?” He leaned forward. “It’s simple. I took a knife and sliced your friend up. His blood still dripping from my hands, I turned on you and you ran like a little pansy. You got lucky and I lost you. End of story.” The panic and the pain mingled together, but Jared knew it was not going to be enough. The facade was crashing. The thing would be coming, for him and the boy. Not right this second but…

Connor leaned forward, intense, and as he did, it was like he pushed the stink of the thing before him. “Yes, that’s what you told the cops, the court, everyone. But it’s not true, is it?” he whispered.

The pain had stopped radiating and instead was now a single sharp point in his shoulder, that ached down to his very bone. The visions increased, breaking past his barrier, flooding his mind with flames, and the screams of the forsaken, and unending agony. And, somehow, through it all, his mind pushed for one final moment of clarity. He had to warn Connor somehow. “Look,” he rasped, a drowning man’s last breath, “If I say that’s what happened, it’s what happened.” He was shaking his head, trying to shake the images out. “I may be on death row, but there are things worse than death.” And then he slammed the phone down. He turned, signalling for the guard to take him back to his cell, trembling all the while.

Once back in his cell, he sat on his cot with his head in his hands. The pain had abated and the visions had stop, but he felt a ferocious anger and hatred at the back of his mind. He briefly considered ripping his sheets apart. He could try to hang himself from the cell bars. But even as he had the thought he dismissed it. Their cells were closely monitored for suicide attempts, and the sheets were purposely flimsy because of this. It would not support his weight, and even if it did, the guards would cut him down long before he had a chance to die.

He waited. Long into the night, long after the moon had risen and then set, he sat unmoving on his cot. But nothing came. As the sun began to rise, Jared finally lay down and gave in to sleep. He fell as he always did into the land of fire and ash. He expected to find it there, waiting for him. But it was not. There was only the brittle black trees, the coarse ash of the ground, and flames in the distance. All was still. It was a watchful stillness though.

The stillness followed Jared into the waking world and clung to him over the next week. He took to checking over his shoulder every few seconds. There was never anything there. Not even a shadow that retreated as he looked.

The guards came to his cell again and took him out. They did not respond to Jared’s questions of where they were going. They stopped before what Jared recognized as a private interview room. They pushed him inside and told him to sit. They cuffed his arms and ankles to the chair. The door opened again and Jared looked up. Standing there in a dull dark blue suit, with a dull dark blue tie and holding a manilla folder was Detective Carl Rourke. Save for a few gray hairs, it could have been a replay of that interview from a over a decade ago. “It’s alright, you can go outside now,” he said, nodding at the guards.

With a final long look at Jared, the guards nodded and walked outside, closing the door behind them. Rourke took a seat next to Jared, his back to the door. “We aren’t being recorded,” he said. “And I convinced them to turn off the cameras as long as we kept guards posted at the door. We have total privacy.” Rourke took a breath. “Connor Russell is dead,” he said flatly.

Jared bowed his head and sighed. Of course he was. So why wasn’t Jared? Rourke continued. “As is the only witness to his death, his psychiatrist, and the only witness to the psychiatrist’s death.” Silence.

Jared looked up. Rourke was staring at him, sizing him up. “I know you didn’t kill Kurt Kent,” he said, steadily. “I know what did.” Silence again.

Finally, Jared cleared his throat. “You stink of it too.” He shuddered. “You’ve seen it.”

Rourke nodded. “I have.” He flipped open the manilla folder. “I need your help.”

Jared laughed. He pulled at his cuffed arms. “I don’t think there’s much I can do for you, Detective.”

Rourke was moving photographs onto the table. “You can tell me what you know about it so we can stop it.”

Staring at him, Jared didn’t know whether to laugh again or not. “Do you think I would be here if I could stop it?”

Rourke held up a hand as he finished with the photos. Then he turned to Jared again. “It was just a monster to you. I actually know a little bit about it. Anything you can tell me, well us really, we could use against it.”

Jared’s shoulder burned now, burned as it did ten years ago. He swore he could feel the tendril wrapping inside him again. He gave a small cry and leaned forward. He couldn’t go far because of the cuffs. He felt Rourke’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him, calling to him. “It’s afraid of people that know it’s real, really real,” Jared whispered. “Except me, I don’t know why.” He shuddered. “I think that’s why it takes people that aren’t children.”

Jared heard Rourke sliding the photos across the table. “Jared,” Rourke said addressing him by name and still holding his shoulder, “It is taking children. Look. These are photos of twenty children who have gone missing recently, either in wooded areas or during fires. Their bodies have not been found. There have been no ransom notes. Look!”

Jared opened his eyes and stared down at the table. He saw smiles and bright eyes and laughter before him. He could hear the laughter twisting to screams in his head. “This is just in this direct area,” Rourke was saying. “I have a friend who cast the net wider, and, Jared, it scares me a little.” He paused. “This thing is growing and fast. We have to stop it. Do you have any idea why it takes these children?”

Jared was shaking his head. “No, no,” he said, and he was crying. He could see them now before him and every word he said made their pain worse. “I can’t. It won’t even let them die.”

“Jared, I don’t care what you’ve done or what you’ve seen. No one will know what you say but me, that’s why I had them give us privacy,” Rourke was saying kneeling next to him.

Jared felt his heart stop. Rourke was right. No one could see or hear them in this room. It was just them. “Oh, God,” Jared said, a horrible realization creeping onto his face. “We’re alone.”

Rourke knitted his brows and then the same understanding dawned on him and he was whipping around towards the door.

The thing was there, so tall it should have had to bend over. Somehow it stood straight and tall. A tendril sprang forward and wrapped itself around Rourke’s throat. It picked up him and pushed him onto the table, choking him. Rourke pulled at the tendril with his hands, but it did not even flex.

Jared opened his mouth, trying to shout for the guards, to summon help. As he did, a tendril wrapped around his throat as well. He closed his eyes and waited for it to crush the breath out of him. While it wrapped tight enough so he could barely breathe, it did not crush him. Jared felt the shackles breaking on his legs and wrists, and he opened his eyes, confused. What was going on?

The thing held him in place and he saw Rourke fumbling with something in his coat pocket as his face started to take on a blue tint. Jared suddenly understood. If he was free of his shackles, he could take the blame for killing Rourke. No else needed to know the thing was here. It could fade back into the shadows, and then, then it would come for Jared and all would be well.

Rourke was pulling out his gun and the thing tilted its head. He pulled the trigger, but instead of a bang and a bullet, a spray of water emerged from the end of the gun and hit it square where its face should have been.

The thing bucked violently and Jared felt its grip loosen. He ripped himself free and fell towards the floor. Rourke was beside him and pulling him up, yelling at him to hurry.

“Did that work?” Jared asked incredulously as Rourke pulled him up. A tendril blindly struck the wall above him.

“No, I think I just pissed it off,” Rourke muttered. The door was opening and the guards were coming in. They stopped on seeing the thing.

“Go, just run!” Rourke was shouting, waving for them to move it. They did not need telling a second time and fled the room. Rourke and Jared were doing the same. As Jared passed through the door, he felt something wrap around his leg and pull him back. With a gasp he grabbed the doorpost.

Rourke stopped and turned around. He brought out his pistol again, and aimed it at the tendril holding Jared fast. Faster than he could blink a tendril whipped past and crushed the pistol in Rourke’s hand. Rourke staggered back. Jared felt another tendril wrap around his waist, pulling him backwards. He locked eyes with Rourke. “Run,” Jared said.

“No, just hang on!” Rourke yelled, grabbing hold of Jared’s arm and pulling.

Jared felt, rather than saw, the tendril moving in for Rourke. Without thinking, he leaned forward and bit Rourke’s hand as hard as he could.

With a a yelp of pain, Rourke leapt back and the tendril impacted the floor where he had been a second ago. “Run!” Jared said again. Then, taking in a breath, Jared let go of the doorpost and allowed himself to be pulled backwards.

***
Jared fell into the flames and this time they did not part before him. He had thought he had known pain before, thought he had known what the fire felt like when his shoulder had burned. He had been wrong. The flames burned him in body, soul, and mind. They flashed across him, across all he was, and they took everything except this one eternal now of pain, and the flames, and the thing. He screamed.

And then, seconds or years later, Jared felt himself deposited onto cool, damp grass. Gasping he lay still. He was back in the forest where he had first met the thing. He didn’t know how he knew this, but he knew it was true. The memory of the flames licked at him and now he understood the blonde little’s boy’s words from so long ago. It hurt worse, now, because he remembered what life was like outside the flames and he knew he would have to go back.

Jared felt the thing loom over him and press a tendril into his shoulder. Images of Rourke and another woman he did not recognize flashed through his mind. He understood this thing wanted Jared to find these two for it. That if Jared did not it would drag him back to the flames right now. Jared cried, flailing wildly. He would do anything, anything, to stay out of the flames. “Yes, yes,” he said incoherently. The thing’s tendril withdrew and Jared looked up. It was gone. But it could still see, so Jared stumbled up and walked into the night, ready to begin his quest.

Credit To – Star Kindler

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The Unbirth

July 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Introduction
I had always questioned whether or not I truly believed in the paranormal, and sometimes I wished that I would have stayed strictly to my stubborn attitude. However, that was not the case a month ago. The event that I want to inform people about has shook my grounded reality like an earthquake, and has also ruptured my former co-workers’ reality as well. This was not the first time I had experienced something odd and otherworldly, but it certainly did provide a new reality for myself, and others who have experienced the same kind of paranormal occurrences. Various occurrences had occurred in my city, as well as in the suburban areas, but now it has elevated to the point where I have to tell people about it. I have to make sure I am not alone, and that I am not going crazy. I hope that someone from my city will recognize the report. If so, then you will know where to find me. I had been at my job for about a month when the first incident had happened.

The Report
Date: 4/15/13
I had just finished doing some work as staff support at a psychiatric institute in my city, and was on a dinner break making light out of some of the day’s struggles. I knew that I had a long night ahead of me, so I had packed some supplies for the night including a small book to read, a snack or two, and whatever games I had on my phone; I worked a double shift that day, and quite honestly I never got used to them. I got back to my desk and took up reading my book for a while, as most of the patients were asleep and did not need to be taken care of at the late hours.
It got to be around midnight when one of the little girls, who had suffered from an anxiety disorder (specifically post traumatic stress disorder) was dancing around in the hall laughing. I was on the fifth floor and she was supposed to be down on third; the third floor was for children with anxiety issues. I heard her laugh echo down the hall almost hauntingly, and so I got up from my desk and went over to where the laughter was coming from so she would not wake up the other patients. I walked down the long and dimly lit hallway; the silence of my footsteps clapped softly as I quickened my pace.
Seeing the girl dancing around as carelessly as she was, I would never assume that she had suffered from an anxiety disorder. She danced in front of the closed stairwell and suddenly stopped and looked around her aimlessly as if she had misplaced something. For confidentiality, her name will be the pseudonym “Claire.” My conversation with Claire went somewhat like this:
Me: “Hey there. What are you doing up here this late?”
Claire: “Have you seen my friends?”
Me: “What were you doing with your friends?”
Claire: “We was playing, but I lost them.” She continues to look around the hallway.
Me: “Can you tell me what they looked like?”
Claire: “White!” she exclaims while searching in the most remote places.
Me: “Is that all? How about their face?”
Claire: “Uhm…. Two big eyes and a small mouth. They all look the same. They got scared because they thought you were going to yell at them.”
By this time I had about enough, and walked her down back to where her room was on the third floor. I said goodnight to her and she slept fairly well, but myself I sat anxious because I had seen too many movies with little girls being an evil spirit. I spoke with the worker at the desk on the third floor who had no idea Claire had snuck out. I thought I heard laughing from the stairwell again, but I thought it was just the other children that were awake. Someone else could handle it. That was around 1:30 AM and everything from there remained normal except for the tiny white footprints marking up the floor where the girl had been dancing. The footprints were tiny, chalky white, and disappeared at the slightest gust of wind like powder. I cleaned those prints up quickly and thought someone must have been using too much foot powder. Although, no had feet that tiny in my workplace. I often wondered why I never heard Claire and the other children playing before I walked over. I should have heard them scatter.

Date: 4/17/12
On this day I was called into another night shift due to one of the other interns not wanting to work the night shift anymore. She had worked it the same night as myself, and the night after that when I was off. Tonight, I would take her place on the third floor.
I sat quietly at my desk and talked on and off with some of my other co-workers who would bring up the events of the previous nights. I was too afraid to think about paranormal occurrences because it had always freaked me out, but this time it seemed to fit the mood and be more of a joke to my co-workers. So I participated for once and talked with them about the occurrences. I asked my fellow co-worker, Nate (a pseudonym), what made the girl from last night not want a night shift again. Our conversation was very odd:
Nate: “Well it seemed to me that she didn’t want to talk. She just sat there doing nothing. I’m glad she isn’t here. She never helps us control the kids.”
Me: “Ok so what? She just sat there not doing anything?”
Nate: “Pretty much. I mean, until she began to pace up and down the halls. Then I got a bit annoyed.”
Me: “What did she say was bothering her?”
Nate: “She wouldn’t tell me. I made a slight noise once and she jumped out of her seat. She kept giving me angry looks after that. Then later, she stood absolutely still and refused to move until day break. She refused to interact with the kids then.”
Nate looked up from his seat, and saw Claire and another boy move from their rooms into the hallway. He got up from his seat quickly to talk to them, and then he kindly moved them back into their rooms. It was at that moment when I heard the sound from the night before.
Around 11:00 PM a large crash was heard down the hall, and then some children’s laughter followed it. I told Nate that I would handle it, and jogged down the hall to go see what trouble the children were causing, or if someone was hurt. I had walked around the entire hall until I reached the stairwell, but I could not find the source of the crash or the children. I peered inside each room on my floor and found nothing suspicious. Then I went over toward one of the storage rooms and tried to open the door. It would not budge; someone must have pushed the filing cabinet over, blocking the door.
Nate came over and helped me slowly shove the door open, and found the place to be a complete mess. Nate wanted to look for the children who did this, but the fact of the matter was that they would have had to done the act from the inside trapping them. The filing cabinet was so close to the door so that no one, especially a child, could slip out without injuring themselves in the process, or having themselves stuck in the room. As we had finished cleaning the room we began to hear the children laugh again from down the hall. He walked out and saw the double door to the Eastern stairwell close. I never remembered hearing footsteps outside the storage room.
I ran down the hall to the stairwell on the opposite side of the hallway and hurried down the steps. Nate went down the stairwell closest to where he was to try and catch them mid-escape. I swear I saw a figure moving down the steps, and so I went all the way down until I could not go down any further. I was now at the bottom floor and was left with only my own heart beat to listen to. There was a single door at the bottom with a small, square, and black window placed in the center of it. The door down here was locked tight, but I peered into the small glass window to try and see anything I could. It was just a black void in that room. Then a small white faced creature flew up like lightning in front of the window and I jumped back. I gasped took several deep breathes to try and hold myself together. That creature left in image of it in my head which glowed an eerie white glow and smiled at me. I could not tell what gender it was, but I still heard the muffled laughter of the children coming from that bottom room. The laughter was neither male nor female, but I mixture between the two that sounded distorted.
I made my way back upstairs and had to get some water before seeing Nate again. He asked me if I had found anything, but I told him I found nothing and lost the trail. The rest of the night I spent thinking about what I had seen. I was too scared to talk to it about anyone, and I was also too scared to speak in general. I could only remember that image in my head, and some of the odd files that had spilt over in the storage room. Some of the files were missing when I went back in the get them despite the room still a mess. I never asked Nate about the missing files.

Date: 4/19/12
Thank god I had a day-time shift this day, or else I may have had extreme anxiety about working at night again. I needed a break; I needed someone to talk to. The day before, I had heard about some of the nurses complaining about the children who were fooling around late at night, or possibly one of the adult patients. They had vandalized some furniture as well drew on some of the walls writing unreadable words and profanities.
I came into work and saw Claire again as well as a few other times on my rotation. She drew me a picture of her friends that I had asked her about earlier in the week. I thought the worry that was swelling inside of me would stop by working in the day time, but I was wrong. The picture Claire drew me was of her holding hands with a bunch of other humanoid creatures. The creatures looked similar to the being I had seen in the window of the basement floor door two days ago. A rounded face with a semi pointed head, and a tiny body; two round dark eye holes and a tiny smile on their mouth; two arms and legs that had tiny fingers and toes; the creatures were devoid of any other human features that can distinguish it from another being. She drew some in a wave-like motion that made it seem like they were drifting in the air like a feather. I took this to show some of the other workers, but they said the girl (Claire) had suffered from slight hallucinations as of lately. One worker, and middle-aged woman, said she will deal with the situation thoroughly. I thought the woman was a very nice, but apparently (from what I learned later) she treated the younger children rather poorly. She treated Claire very poorly, but never physically abused her.
I did not sleep well knowing that just a few others have seen the ghostly creatures about the building, and also that Claire was being treated poorly. I did not toss or turn in the night, but laid still, twitching at the slightest noise. I tried doing research on these creatures to ease my mind, but found nothing that would calm me. That was the first “all-nighter” I had pulled since college.

Date: 4/22/12
I came back on Monday to do my weekly night shift again. I had just eaten my dinner as usual and was just about comfortable knowing that no accounts of the creatures have been seen over the weekend. However, that comfort was ruined when Nate had told me one of the other workers (the middle aged woman) had tripped and fallen down the the eastern stairwell of the institute.
The East side was the same stairwell was where I had first seen the creature. It was believed that she had tripped down the stairwell and somehow had fallen to the basement floor. My mouth hung open while I listened to this story in disbelief. They had found her all bruised up and nearly dead at the bottom. Someone made up a rumor that she was dragged to the bottom because there were finger nail markings on the rubber flooring of the staircase as on the walls which showed signs of struggle. An investigation had already been done and no traces of foul play were seen despite her body being mangled and twisted from the fall.
It was a little bit after 8:00 PM when I heard that an older person on the fifth floor had passed away due to heart failure. I was not responsible for those incidents, but I did have to clean up the room after they had checked out the body and tried to resuscitate it. I walked up to the room after they cleared me to go in and clean and take out personal items and put them in a bag. A couple others were in the patient’s room while I was cleaning it up. That was when we saw the terrifying awe of what was in front of us.
A bright glow had appeared from behind me while I was clearing out the bottom cabinets on the other side of the room from the body. I turned around thinking that another nurse had turned a lamp on me. I never could have been more wrong. The dead man’s soul was hovering above their dead lifeless body trying to push on its chest. The scene looked like there were two of the same people in the room, and the one hovering horizontally trying to re-connect with the other. The soul did something odd to try (as I believe) and restart the body’s physiological functions. We all saw the dead body sit up straight, head toward the floating soul, and scream at the top of its lungs an ear piecing scream. Its eyes were black and its body was stiff as a board while it jerked at its torso in a way that brought tears to my eyes. The soul screamed the same ear splitting scream as the body did, and a large bang was heard while a flash of light illuminated the room, blinding everyone. When we all could see again, there stood a small creature on the bed where the soul and the dead body used to be. It was the creature from Claire’s pictures.
The creature floated there looking very solemn and lonely. It did not smile like the others. It floated like a cloud in the air from the bed onto the floor, near to where I was on the ground. I half covered my eyes with my forearm because I did not want to look at it. It floated out of the room and down the hallway. We all followed after it. It went down into the Eastern stairwell and down the steps.
I went downstairs to the very bottom and opened up the door that led to the dark room; it was now unlocked. Inside, the creatures stood floating amongst many others of their own kind. Some laughed, some moaned a small tone, others just sighed a ghostly sigh. They hovered up and down slowly and lazily. The room was entirely black and only the creatures could be seen. I closed the door and stood there holding the door shut with tears filling my eyes. A few other workers came down with one of the doctors, pushed me aside, and moved into the dark room. They just stared into the darkness for a while, and then turned the lights on. I saw very little to what was actually in the room, but I felt a rush of wind come from the room as the lights went on. That was the last time I had seen those creatures.
The doctor turned and looked at me, but I never dared to speak to him. In his arm were the same files that had been lying on the floor from the previous week. I began to walk up the stairwell, after the doctor had rushed back up them, and found a small photograph of the creature taken in an infrared light. The doctor knew something that I did not. I wish I could have seen his entire face, but I was too scared to concentrate on him.

Conclusion
I want to conclude by saying the “Unbirths,” the creatures in the report, are dangerous only when provoked like a child who has been scolded. I do feel better knowing that I am not completely alone, but I also do feel more slightly on edge. I watch my back every now and then when I am in the city. The doctor knew something more than I had known. The photograph went missing after that night, and I had not been able to trace it whereabouts. What the Unbirths truly are is not my main priority. My main priority at this time is to find out what the doctor is really up to. Some of the workers seem to be in on it as well. I have since moved on to another job that I will not disclose to the public due to my investigation. I have also found out that the doctor had moved on from his work at the institute, and transferred to one of the main hospitals in the city. Some of my old co-workers say that he is a traveling doctor.

Credit To – J.A.L

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