Dream-Jaunt

February 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Unsent email found in a fifth floor office of the Morpheus-Delta Research Facility. Account belonged to Cal Rooker, Security Chief.

*

– Subject: RE: back from vacation! –

Sorry I haven’t got back to you in so long. Been real busy over here.

Glad you had fun in Jamaica. We got your card all right. Ginny was tickled pink. She’s not used to people remembering her birthday (I’m a forgetful ass myself). I gave her a kiss for you. I think I’ll have to take a rain check on our golf game this weekend though.

How’ve I been? Oh, not so good. Things have pretty much fallen apart over here. I got promoted to Security Chief last week, which means I got to see more of the project than the other grunts on my team, which means I had to keep my lips shut tighter than everyone else. Pay was great, but it meant watching more than my fair share of the volunteers’ violent reactions to taking dream-jaunts. The paperwork always said “fatal seizure,” but if you ever saw one you’d know it was bullshit. They gave sweet ol’ Gary a dream-jaunt on Tuesday and he took a pair of scissors to his eyes and died of shock. “Fatal Seizure.” Sometimes it’s like they’re trying to crawl inside themselves to escape something horrible. Turns out that’s not far off.

Dr. Eddings and Dr. Pearson are dead now, so confidentiality is out the window. Better take notes ‘cause this’ll definitely help you with your writer’s block.

I don’t remember the proper name for the thing, but the docs called it the Dreamcatcher. It’s a prototype machine that translates brainwaves into images, like how you plug a VCR into your television so you can see what’s on the tape: you plug yourself into this gizmo and watch your subconscious mind like you’re watching home movies. Dr. Hayworth invented it — that yahoo in charge of the Morpheus-Alpha medical colony. Hayworth wanted to find a sure-fire way to treat and even CURE all mental illnesses. If his Dreamcatcher worked as well as ours did, then it’s no surprise why they carpet-bombed his facility last year. But I’ll get to that, don’t worry.

As the security chief I sometimes got to accompany the docs to the lab in the back of the facility. At the far end of a poorly lit corridor screaming “Nazi bunker” is a pneumatic door that requires a six-digit code and a security card to open. On the other side is a small gray room wall-to-wall with electronics equipment and glowing white and red buttons. On the furthest wall of the room another security door and a big glass pane look into a small, brightly lit, white-tiled room where the ‘Catcher itself sits.

It’s crude and scary-looking: a reclined dentist’s chair sits beneath a round, silvery screen suspended from the ceiling. The screen is framed by a ten-foot metal ring lined with wires and glass tubes. Subjects are strapped into the chair with a dozen wires pasted to their heads and chests — during dream-jaunts they look like they’re about to be executed by the state.

The most common problem with the ‘Catcher is after a single dream-jaunt most subjects die from shock or suicidal mania, and the docs couldn’t figure why. That’s why the Morpheus-Delta team drafted AIDS and cancer patients for their project: their philosophy was that these people are all going to die anyway, so what difference will it make? The “volunteers” were never told about the deaths, of course. And the docs were real pieces of work. I kill one guy during the war and ten years later I’m still drinking it out of my memory; Eddings and Pearson must’ve killed two people a week and didn’t bat a fucking eye.

Their favorite subject was Nikki, an eleven-year-old albino girl. Real cute, real smart, real creative. She played violin and piano and composed the prettiest tunes you ever heard. Nikki had bad dreams just about every night: I’d see her walking around the halls when she should’ve been in bed, whispering she was afraid to be alone. The nurse would give her something to help her sleep and stay with her in her room ‘til she konked out. Always figured it was typical for overly creative kids. I always wanted kids, so I had a soft spot for Nikki.

I shared some ice cream with her in the cafeteria once and she told me about the dream. She was in another world where the sky was always red and yellow like at dawn. She scrambled as fast as she could across an earthy landscape full of black pits and chasms of sky as if the world was broken into floating fragments. She was always frantic and never knew why, and always inches away from falling into the sky, or into one of the hundreds of black pits. The pits were the scariest part of the dream, she said, ‘cause they made these ungodly gibbering sounds and sometimes she could see things moving around in them. The dream was so vivid she’d usually wake up screaming.

The docs were fascinated by her insomnia. They’d never met a guinea pig with recurring nightmares so potent and so consistent, so they gave her special treatment. She was the prize cow they wanted nice and fat for her trip to the slaughterhouse. They figured if the ‘Catcher could help them figure out what underlying trauma caused the dream (without driving her insane, of course) it would be a major breakthrough.

Now, you ever hear about Madison LeBroche? She was an army ranger they shipped here a couple weeks ago that knocked out two of my guys and had to be sedated and locked in a clean room. Turns out she was a security officer at Morpheus-Alpha, and the only survivor of the bombing. They’d found her sleeping like celery in the woods six miles from the colony. Eddings had her shipped here for interrogation and kept her like a prisoner until she decided to talk. I took down everything they said for Eddings’s records and saved part of the transcript for you. I think LeBroche sums up the ‘Catcher’s effect on people better than I could.

*

EDDINGS: “It’s my understanding you were the only survivor of the epidemic at the Morpheus-Alpha Medical Colony managed by Dr. Harding and Dr. Hayworth. Can you tell me what happened? Just in summary for now, if you like.”

LEBROCHE: “That’s what you’re calling it? An epidemic?”

EDDINGS: “Miss Lebroche—“

LEBROCHE: “Dr. Hayworth told me I was gonna help him cure cancer. He fed me sentimental bullshit about DYING CHILDREN. Then he strapped me into a dentist’s chair and dunked my head into an ocean of nightmares.”

EDDINGS: “Taking a dream-jaunt is a naturally harrowing experience, but Hayworth’s purpose was always the advancement of medical science and psych—“

LEBROCHE: “No, no, no, don’t. Don’t. No. Medical science does not use stories about suffering children to lure people into dentist chairs of horror. Did Hayworth tell you why he always strapped them down? You’re fine at first. Scared shitless, but fine. But then you start to s…you SEE things…and when it’s all over, sometimes you STILL see ‘em and you realize they can see you, too…And the first rational thing you want to do when you come back is gouge your eyes out.”

EDDINGS: “You were one of only three test subjects who survived the process. You must know if the problem was a technical failure or human error—”

LEBROCHE: “The PROCESS was the problem. The human brain can’t handle the experience. And it opens a gateway to places that were meant to stay hidden, REAL PLACES that some of us got better connections to than others. Hayworth shoulda figured that out after the first ten people lost their fuckin’ minds. Shoulda figured it out before the ‘epidemic’.”

EDDINGS: “That’s why we’re trying to improve it.”

*

Shit hit the fan right there. In the next moment Lebroche was on top of him screaming, “Let me outta here! Let me outta here!” and me and Greg almost needed the Jaws of Life to pry her ass off. Another shot of morphine and she was out for the night.

After the most recent “fatal seizure” I went to ask LeBroche a few questions, but she was gone. Tom was unconscious in her room wearing nothing but his briefs. I don’t know how she got out, but we couldn’t find Tom’s uniform or his security card. Brady thought she was hiding and wanted every available man sweeping the place for her, but I knew better. She must’ve slipped out during the security shift change.

This afternoon Pearson got an urgent call from Eddings that the experiment “goddamn works” and was “absolutely incredible,” and I wanted to see for myself. But when we got to the lab door, just when Pearson had her card in hand, Eddings’s voice exploded over the intercom.

“Pearson, stay out!” he screamed; then over his shoulder, “Pull the plug, goddammit! Pull the plug!”; then back to the intercom, “Stay out, do you hear me? Do NOT come in here!”

Pearson was frozen in position with her card over the swiper. She looked at me, then the intercom, then back at me. I yanked the card out of her hand and swiped it, opening the door. Five people were scrambling around in there, flinging brainscan printings like confetti, vomiting techno-jargon I didn’t understand with shrill, panicky voices. Strapped into the ‘Catcher with eight wires pasted to her head was Nikki. Her limbs trembled and twitched and her eyes bulged wide open. I couldn’t tell if she was conscious or not — they probably started drugging their subjects, hoping it’d keep them sane — but if Eddings had been in my sights the first moment I saw her I mighta planted my fist in his head.

Eddings didn’t seem to notice I was there. He saw Pearson and stuttered like an idiot for a minute and a half before anything came out what sounded like words. He couldn’t seem to keep his hands still and his face was colorless and dripping with sweat.

“We saw…saw something in the ‘Catcher…”

Pearson got excited. “She had a vision? The ‘Catcher finally caught a vision? Did you—?”

Eddings cut her off. “We SAW SOMETHING. It wasn’t…The thing’s supposed to transmit abstract imagery, dream visions. This was REAL. This was like looking through a window onto…Oh god, and something was alive in that black pit! It SAW us, Pearson! It SAW us and—”

One of the control panels on the left wall sparked and caught fire. Something started humming real loud like a guitar amp on the fritz. The big round screen flickered. One of the techies screamed that their toy was turning itself on without a power source.

The screen went pitch black and the entire lab came alive with a chorus of murmuring voices not of this earth. Something putrid and pink like raw flesh oozed out of the blackness, taking up the entire screen, and split at the middle into a pair of dribbling infant lips big enough to swallow a man whole. They opened wide to let out a long, awful howl like a hippopotamus would howl if it had no bones. A giant pink worm of a tongue lolled around inside, slapping against I don’t know how many sets of yellow, spade-like teeth.

I couldn’t tell if Nikki knew what was going on. She didn’t struggle to get free or anything. She just kept lying there, staring up at the abomination and not even flinching at the ropes of drool it dribbled on her face. Eddings ran in and tried to pull her out of the machine, but the wall of flesh came out of the screen like water bursting through a dam and filled the little white room in an instant. Eddings and Nikki were gone.

Some of the other doctors muttered prayers or cried like three-year-olds. None of us moved a muscle at first: we just stood staring as half a dozen slobbering mouths pressed against the glass, licking it with their worm-tongues and fogging it with their breath, as though the thing knew we were there and didn’t know how to get at us. When the windows flexed and cracked, we ran.

So we’re not doing so good over here right now. The volunteers lost their minds with fear, killed themselves, fell into catatonic trances. My security team was useless. We had about thirty seconds to evacuate over two thousand volunteers before the thing flooded through the lab doors, mouths foaming and dripping with spit and letting out all these noises that make me shudder in remembrance. Half of my guys took one look and froze like statues and let the thing swallow them. Jesus Christ, it’s like running from an avalanche. I can’t tell if it’s endless in size or if there’s an army of them running amok here. And the sounds it makes are worse than any of the screams. The way it gibbers and slobbers and snorts.

It overran the lower floors and trapped everyone inside; if anyone made it out, good for them. I think I’m the only one left now, hiding like a coward in Eddings’s office on the fifth floor. There’s no more screaming below and the air vents belch a nasty stench medley I can’t apply metaphors to. It’ll find me soon, and when it busts its way out and slithers into the city, God help everyone.

Please get Ginny out of the country as soon as possible. It’d mean a lot to me. Maybe you can take her to Ja

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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The Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should sit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Janet? Are you almost done up there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit To – M.L. Zane

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Sauin

February 4, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I find myself speeding down a road that is, for some reason, both familiar and unfamiliar. The sky arches above me like an ancient and angry sea, grey and melancholy, reaching down to the horizon to kiss the earth. I’m going to fall into the sky, I think to myself. My car will sink down into the clouds like a stone and that will be the end of me. I smile at the absurdity, but grip my steering wheel tighter. The trees, what few there are that I see upon the road, are gnarled ugly things, bereft now of even their autumn foliage in the early November frost. My car is the sole occupant of a lonely stretch of highway, silently bringing me to my destination. “It’s a good day for a wake,” I say to no one, breaking the stillness of the day. My voice startles me and I retreat into my head. I let the yellow lines of the road and the monotony of the scenery hypnotize me, and soon my mind is wandering down familiar corridors. For what must be the thousandth time, I think of him.

Seamus Hagan could pass for a good man when sober. He was boisterous and affable and could talk to strangers as if he had known them their entire life. He would tell bawdy stories that could make men laugh well into the evening, and tell sweet lies that could make women swoon. At parties, he was the center of attention, surrounding himself with members of all social strata. They gathered in their revelry to hear of his outrageous stories and antics, but still, they did not know him. Beneath the thin veneer of personality Seamus Hagan was unhappy. He harbored within himself an unending sadness that always threatened to peak above the surface if he was left too long alone in his own mind.

When I was young, my father looked up to Seamus, I feel like he idolized him in his own way. They had grown up together and Seamus, who could never hold onto a wife for very long, was always traipsing through our home, an unwelcome guest to all but my father. I remember clearly the day I solved the riddle of his being. It was a crisp autumn day, the last of October, and I for my part was dressed as a cowboy. Seamus, who had been drinking again, looked me up and down and said

“What sort of a get-up is that?”

“I’m a cowboy,” I replied

“Are you stupid or something lad?” he said. “You’re supposed to be a monster on Halloween, something scary.”

I grew silent and looked away from him.

“Come here and sit down I’m gonna tell you a story about why you look
ridiculous.”

Seamus was never parted from his drink for long and I could smell the beer on his breath as I approached him. His eyes had grown dim from the alcohol but his voice was as melodious and commanding as ever. His breaths were steady and his pale grey eyes were fixed on me. Obediently, I sat next to his chair at his feet unsure of what to expect from the old drunk. I was at his mercy and he began his tale.

“Now all this business of Halloween that you children get on about is a sanitized, Christianized version of the festival of Sauin celebrated by our heathen ancestors before St. Patrick taught us to fear wrath of Jesus Christ. Now my mother, gone these thirty years God rest her soul, she was something of an expert on Sauin and while she was a God fearing woman she knew rightly that it isn’t wise to completely forget the old ways. You see the Druids knew on Sauin certain doors were opened, temporarily, and the dead could come back for a night. To keep themselves safe, the Druids appeased the dead with certain rituals, some of which have trickled down to us. They’d carve lanterns out of turnips to light the path of the way back to the underworld. They’d dig up the corpses of the newly dead and arrange them at a grotesque feast so that they won’t be hungry on their way. They’d go around through the town and find a little child. Then in the fields that had been left fallow that year they would construct a gigantic wicker man with the help of all the townspeople. When it was complete, the child would be shut up in the head and then the wicker man would be set alight while all the people joined hands round it and chanted to the gods and the dead; one living soul given as an offering to the dead, to ensure their prosperity and leave ‘em alone for one more year. No one went out on Sauin for fear of encountering the dead in their grim procession and being dragged into the nether world. Those travelers that could not help but be on the road would rub chalk on their faces and charcoal under their eyes, or maybe wear some ugly mask so that if they should be questioned by a dead man they met, they could say ‘no sir I am already dead, I am already among the dead.”

Seamus looked around and stood up from the chair. Somehow I knew intuitively not to move yet. He returned in a minute with two beers, one of which he offered to me but I declined. He drained one right then and there and then took to nursing the second. He swirled and churned the lager in his mouth taking in the full breadth of its flavor, trying to decide what to do next. After a moment the alcohol began to affect him and he continued his story.

“Now my mother, God rest her soul, was always beating me senseless when I got to sneaking out at night but that only encouraged me to do it all the more because, fuck her, right? So one night, I was about your age, she says to me ‘Seamus, you have the devil in you and you don’t care one lick for your mother but I’m telling you don’t be sneaking about at night tonight. Tonight is the feast of Sauin where the dead come up from their graves and follow grim Morrigan in procession in search of some living child to drag back into the underworld, for the dead despise the living. For the sake of your mother, stay in your bed tonight.’ So naturally that night when she was asleep I got my clothes on and prepared to sneak out and see what mischief I could get myself into. Now my mother’s stories were rattling around in my head and I must have believed some of ‘em because before I went out I whited my face and blackened my eyes and snuck out a window and set out upon the road.”

Now I recall Seamus paused here again and shifted his glaze uneasily around the room as if checking its dark corners for some unseen stranger. His breathing became deeper and his mind seemed in turmoil. Seamus’s skin turned ashen and for a moment I thought he would vomit. The words he meant to speak next seemed stuck in his throat and he feared to spit them up. He looked down at the beer in his hand, quickly finished it, and grabbed another. Filled with the courage that one often finds at the bottom of a beer glass, he cleared his throat and began again.

“So I went through the town looking for what mischief I could get into but I found no one about and no shop open. I was about to start vandalizing houses when I looked into the distance beyond town and saw a pale orange light flickering in the distance. I thought it must be some bonfire lit by likeminded children and so resolved to make my way towards it. In no time at all I was in the woods outside of town on a narrow dirt path that passed for a road in Ireland in those days. I looked down the road and saw the light moving toward me slowly. I realized what I thought was a bonfire in the extreme distance was actually just some old codger in a car. Determined as ever to make the best of a bad situation I gathered up some good sized stones to throw at the car as it passed by and hid in brush on the side of the road.”

Seamus paused here for the last time though the pause was the longest. He didn’t say anything or move just continued staring off into the space beyond him reliving events in his own mind. Minutes passed and I began to feel uneasy. He began to rock in his chair a bit, and I thought for a moment he was going to have a seizure like someone I had once seen on TV. All at once he began speaking again, as if in a trance, as if no time had passed at all.

“I waited for that damn car to come. Five minutes became ten minutes became twenty. It was moving so fucking slowly I should have known I was no car. I was just about to get up I was just about to leave when I saw this big bird fly over me, it looked like a raven or a crow, but it was the size of a house cat. It perched on a tree just beyond me and let out a screeching cackle that chilled my bones. I saw the road light up and thought that the car had come at last. I crouched down and readied my stones but instead of a car I saw people, lots of people. It was some parade I thought, but as my eyes adjusted realized they were all dead. At the head of the procession was a gaunt man, naked and bone white, carrying a scepter of polished bone. On his head he wore the skull of horse and he urged on the mass of corpses behind him with his hideous gesticulations. Behind him came in no particular order the mob of the dead. Old, young, women, men, it made no matter. Some looked nearly whole and could pass for the living if not for their unearthly paleness. Still others looked as rotted corpses, blood and maggots dripping out of every orifice. Still others were little more than skeletons who wore their flesh like a beggar wears rags on a hot summer day. They shambled along held together by an unseen force. All of them carried small lanterns, some carved from pumpkins, others form turnips, and still others from things I didn’t want to recognize. The parade lasted minutes, hours, years, millennia. Time stood still and yet jumped ahead of itself. It was over before it started, and yet lasted forever, all the while presided over by that grim bird who watched it all with dead and lidless eyes. Eventually the shambling corpses and their unearthly light moved past me. The bird took to the air once again and I was left alone in the brush, gasping for breath as my heart threatened to beat its way out of my chest.”

“I emerged from the brush and looked down the road. I saw the lights of the phantom parade safely in the distance and tried to collect my thoughts, when I heard a twig break behind me. I turned slowly and acted unsurprised, and maybe that’s the only reason I’m still here today. In front of me was a young boy, pale and in tattered clothing. Pieces of his flesh and his face were missing and his throat was cut from ear to ear causing the blood to dribble down his shirt like a bib. In one hand he held a small pumpkin lantern, and in the other a knife. I took only small breaths least he realize I was still breathing and looked deep into his cloudy eyes. He spoke to me in a gurgling voice that seemed more to escape from the bleeding slit in his throat than his mouth.

‘Are you alive who walks among the dead? I’ll carve you up and drag you piece by piece to my home beneath the earth and you shall never see another sunrise. That is a promise I make to you living boy.’ I stood glued to the spot. I thought this was the end of old Seamus, but then I remembered my mother’s stories and I looked at the dead boy and said

‘No sir, I am already dead; I am already among the dead.’

‘Liar,’ said the dead boy, ‘I can hear the pitter patter of your heart it sings to me through the night.’

Again I replied in a steady voice, ‘No sir, I am already dead, I am already among the dead.’

‘I see your chest moving living boy though you try to hide it will you deny that?’

‘No sir I am already dead; I am already among the dead.’ It stared at me for a good long while after that toying with its knife but I matched its gaze as best I could. After a while the dead boy seemed to fade into the shadows around him and then was gone. No long after the sun came up.”

Seamus didn’t say another word; he just stared into the space ahead of him looking like a corpse himself. After a few minutes I got up, and approached the doorway. He shouted at me then “But you don’t understand that wasn’t the worst of it, you don’t understand what I saw in that parade that night, you don’t know who was there,”

“Who was there?” I said

“Everyone”

Seamus never spoke of that day again. Perhaps he drank away the memory. When I was a few years older he and my father had a falling out, I never asked about what, and I never saw him again.

What I partly realized that day and elaborated on upon reflection was that Seamus believed that the fate of all men saint, sinner, and everything in between, was to join that hideous parade. It was their fate to be called down to a gloomy sunless netherworld where an eternity of languished sighs robs them of their minds and their sanities and they die a second death. Their jealousy of the living morphs into a deep well of hatred and every Sauin night they comb the land searching for someone to drag down with them and share in their unending misery. The dread of one day joining that parade haunted Seamus and molded him into a man filled with fear, who tried all manner of diversions to hide from the truth that dogged his footsteps his entire life, that hell was the destination of all men.

I am driving down a road that is becoming more and more familiar. I see before me, just ahead on the dirt path that passes for a road in Ireland these days, the funeral home, not a mile from the house where I grew up. Outside my father waits, beckoning me to come in, it’s a marvel how well death can mend fences. For what must be the thousandth time I think of him. I tell myself he was just an old drunken fool trying to scare me. I say to myself, no man knows what becomes of us when we die, and perhaps that is for the best, for if we knew the truth of the lurking horrors awaiting us on the other side of the horizon line it would drive us mad. This thought too I push from my mind. No living man knows what becomes of us. No one can say to a certainty what, if anything Seamus saw that night, and no one can say what it meant. Whatever demons haunted Seamus in life he’s beyond them now. Whatever waits for us on the other side no man can say but one thing at least is true, whatever waits for us, now Seamus knows.

Credit To – John Fitzgerald

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A Funny Thing Happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Donny, where are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did – when he mentioned it.

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

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

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

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

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

“Close your eyes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did he do it?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it didn’t have to be over yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Credit To – ARScroggins

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The Rift of R’lyeh

February 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“So long as man is protected by madness, he functions and flourishes.”
-Emile M. Cioran

Move it, now! I shouted as everyone reached the staircase, their ragged breathing and obvious exhaustion did nothing to stop the water that was flooding the lower levels of the building we had taken shelter in nor was it going to give any of us the rest our burning legs and thumping hearts ached for.

Being the thinnest and possibly the youngest of the group I charged my way up the stairs first as fast as I could while the others screamed looking down the hallway as we all ascended the salvation of our watery hell; the walls of the corridor were slapped violently by the water that was surging its way toward us.

Stair after stair the concrete walls were met with the echoes of severe clanging and thumping of exhausted hands meeting metal and the desperate panting of a small group of people trying to reach homeostasis on higher ground.

A few floors higher up I decided to look down the center of the railing, my eyes glaring wide at what my sight was met with I turned facing forward and continued the climb with haste.

It has to stop soon, it has to stop soon I repeated over and over again in my most urgent of thoughts, my legs burned and my rib cage ached, my ears throbbed from the screams of terror that seemed to follow us like a creeping stench up the staircase.

Suddenly something went wrong and one of the younger women fell flailing down the staircase right past me, she must have fallen two floors in a square pattern down the steps before she met the dense concrete wall with a loud thud.

I raced back down after her alone while the others made for the top; obviously no one was related to this girl. My very instincts themselves demanded I leave her for dead and worry about myself but I couldn’t ignore my sympathy for her pain or tears as I pounded down the stair way.

I grabbed her hand and yanked her as hard as I could “HURRY UP” I yelled impatiently, she looked up at me crying and it was then obvious she had broken her pelvis and twisted her ankle at an obscene angle. Being your average skinny nerd I wasn’t big or strong enough to carry her, so I tried to drag her by the hand I originally grabbed. She wailed in agony as I tugged her up stair by stair but after a few minutes it was no use, the water’s stalking presence closed in around us.

I refused to give up on this girl; I began to hear the splashes of the water around her feet every time I made progress elevating her higher but it just fueled my adrenaline more; without warning the mammoth jaws of a great white burst from the water! Its enormous mouth of red and hollow struck down on her torso with a nightmarish crunch, ravaging her back and forth. Until leaving only her top remains and a ‘clank’ to echo through the concrete tower as its giant head banged the staircase upon exit.

I screamed with every vocal cord present in my throat as I was splashed with blood and recoiled violently as the shark left her top half to sit lifelessly against the wall with a look of twisted horror on her face; she was still attached to my hand and as a consequence dangled and squirmed around like a rag doll until I finally shook her death grip free.

I ran up the staircase as fast as I could, my legs no longer burned as my terror driven body and mind realized they made the wrong choice going back for the girl, I was struck with the realization I had been left behind.

“Hey! HEY!” I called out terrified covered in blood and tears as I ascended the staircase faster than I had before. I was met in response by the loud flicking of a metal door opening and was greeted by the reassuring voice of an older man “we’re in here!” he yelled, his voice only sounded two floors up so I followed accordingly.

Upon entering the room I was met with the sight of a near empty office block, water coolers, desk cubicles and the faces of everyone that had accompanied me up the staircase moments before, including some fresh ones. There were twenty two of us now in total; about fifteen of us had made our way up the stairs.

“Look…” a man said pointing towards the window, still out of breath from before, I approached it with him, meeting five others that were already taking in the sight of shock I was about to witness.

As I stood in front of the window I was greeted by one hellish scene of an apocalypse. The sky was illuminated by a sinister orange, which seemed to set the clouds themselves on fire, the surrounding buildings were set ablaze and in crumbling ruins as if some asteroid had smashed into the very heart of the city itself. The heavens were full of strange looking monsters with wings that slithered in the sky like serpents, meeting helicopters in confrontation and coiling around them as if they were prey.

Down below the screams of terrified citizens and hail fire of desperate soldiers and police weapons could be heard ricocheting through the streets that were not yet flooded. Black and dark green crustaceous monsters ran through the streets and over cars like gorillas as man met monster for the first time and battle ensued. The parts of the city that were flooded contained an eerie silence as sharks of every kind dominated the streets they swam in, because it was ever clear that where they were, life was not. A haunting “splash, pop, splash” could even be heard through the thickness of the glass we looked through, as colossal tentacled limbs from unseen monsters bursted from the inside of buildings, exploding the bodies of the victims in their grasp, dropping their limbs into the waters below.

And there… in the very middle of Sydney’s darling harbor sat the very source of the invasion. A giant tear in the fabric of reality itself hovered over the pacific waters, illuminating the matter in and around it in a horrifying bright purple as water, sharks, monsters from the deep and other strange looking, things, spilled out of it. The sound of our city’s emergency horn rang through the streets in long drawn out whines, all hope was gone.

A couple of men and women beside me began to cry, I fell to my knees in shock, leaning my head and hands against the giant window. Why was this happening to us, it was only this morning I awoke in my hotel room ready to attend a supernova convention with my best friend. Now he and apparently everyone I know are dead.

We all just looked on as the world around us crumbled; the whining of the emergency horn was continuously being carried through the wind and stabbing our stomachs with dread and fear. As I knelt against the window with tears welling in my eyes someone behind us began to laugh. My focus shifted to the voice behind me and suddenly everyone started to scream.

I jumped to my feet without a moment’s notice at the screeches that rang through my ears. What sounded like paper crunching and tearing I turned to see what the commotion was. My entire line of sight was met with a third of the group stabbing everyone with knives! The laughter and screaming began to escalate; some reacted quickly and violently, defending others and themselves from the attackers. It wasn’t until a man’s throat was slit right in front of me, splashing blood onto my face that I reacted myself and bolted for the door.

I sprinted with urgency towards the door we had entered not moments before and slammed it open for everyone “RUN!” The men and women that were still alive exited the room as fast as they could while some of the bigger men punched their way out of being circled by these freaks and barged me out of the way as they escaped.

Everybody split once they were out of the room, “idiots! Stay together!” I heard another male voice boom behind me; I chose to follow him up the stairs as he made eye contact with me, not needing to explain what was expected of me. As we climbed the staircase once again we heard the metal door slam open from below as our attackers gave chase for their prey. I’m sure the tough guy I was following felt the noise assault his spine too and we both ran even faster.

We paced another five floors but hesitated going any higher as we heard the screeching and hissing of evil unknown things that were probably waiting for us at the top. “In here” the tough guy said, he opened the door going in first, we were once again met by an empty office block with paper and water coolers strewn about the floor.

The tough guy flicked off the office light and we could hear our pursuers footsteps ascending the staircase swiftly, suddenly the foot falls slowed down, it became apparent there was only one. They began trotting lazily up the concrete steps while whistling some random tune.

“It’s only one and they know we’re here…” the tough guy whispered, the footfalls were getting closer and closer “I’ll grab him, you grab the blade” he again whispered to me, I complied with a nod in response.

Closer and closer the steps came, we both stood against the wall waiting. Closer and closer the pursuer’s feet fell, until two adjacent shadows greeted the bottom light shining under the door. The whistling stopped, the door’s horizontal handle snapped and clacked as somewhere inside it metal met metal, creaking open slowly until the entrance way was illuminated by the long shadow of a man.

Our predator stepped inside, the silence was nerve racking, my heart thundered in my chest waiting for the fight to begin, he didn’t seem to see us with his peripheral vision and without any hesitation the tough guy charged at him knocking our stalker to the floor. They fumbled around in the dark briefly before I flicked the light switch on. The tough guy was immensely stronger and thicker, while our attacker was nothing more than a common office worker.

My defender had hold of our assailant’s wrist as they struggled and grunted while I started punching the man in the face as hard as I could. He seemed to be getting weak very quickly from both our efforts against him; as soon as I found the chance I wrestled the knife from his grasp, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest viciously. It felt strange, like cutting into a watermelon, the skin gave little resistance yet if I happened to puncture a boned area it gave the blade a swift little bounce, while with every strike warm blood splashed all three of us as the man screamed out for his life.

After no more than a minute or two of struggle our pursuer laid dead and the tough guy laid on the floor catching his breath while I looked down at the blade. It was a dagger of some sort, the hilt was long and covered in leather, while the next section of the weapon had a dirty green and rusted over crest of some squid looking thing with tentacles. The blade itself was nightmarishly twisted in a way that made it look like a snake, whatever this thing was, it was old.

I helped my savior to his feet, both of us catching our breath while he himself inspected the dagger, “you need it more than me, keep it” he said, our rest was cut short as we heard others approaching from below. I walked cautiously over to the stairway and peeked at what was below, I gasped in fright as I was met with the staring gaze of at least ten other people already looking up at me. There was one that stood out. He was wearing a dark purple, almost black robe that had a hood covering his hairline. His face was pale and covered in tiny black veins; he had glowing purple eyes that were just not human. He smiled at me with a filthy grin and I backed away from the railing, I looked at the tough guy and ran, he followed me with haste.

We pelted yet again up the agonizing flight of stairs while the maniacal laughter of these cultists echoed through what was now a concrete dungeon. Every floor we scaled we were able to hear their taunts; some doors of higher floors were already open as both of us ran past. Some had monsters flying around outside if there was a window, some had more cultists practicing with candles or sawing the limbs off of cadavers, others were just a black empty hell that made us run faster. We were accompanied by the screams of victims, laughter of maniacs and roars of unknown monsters which caused the lights to flicker above us, while the climb itself, carried us higher into our ascent of madness.

—-

We finally reached the top exhausted but un-resisted. I practically kicked the door open and the pair of us were met with a sight that just made us both want to give up and die.

Right before us a storm raged outside the confines of our doorway and at least thirty people with sticks, brooms and other useless weapons were trying to fight off some gigantic ungodly thing with mutagenic claws, it had a mandible full of serrated teeth and a giant eye at the back of its mouth. Its body was black and un-proportionally thin compared to its head and hands that cleaved and maimed through its victims. There were body parts everywhere, people running around with no idea what to do; others were losing their minds cackling on the ground with insanity while a small minority decided to take their chances with the shark’s forty stories below.

I began to feel dizzy, everything moved in slow motion and my stomach churned like a rogue wave. This was it, it’s over, the top and bottom floors were feeding frenzies, the middle was occupied by madmen, we were fucked three ways instead of the usual two. The tough guy helping me from before pulled me outside as I looked back to see some strange candle light, dancing its way up through the flickering hallway.

Just as I turned forward to meet the black creature only yards away that awaited my demise it shifted its toying gaze away from its victims toward my new friend and I. It looked right at me, fixating on me with that strange eye at the back of its throat. Its silent focus was un-phased by the chaos of the smashing rain and gale winds that surrounded all of us, lowering its lethal extensions before it rose in its place. I raised my dagger with melancholy enthusiasm, ready to die.

It began walking forward towards me as my eyes scanned for a weak point on its oddly shaped body, I couldn’t see anything, and this thing’s skin was a type of dense exoskeleton, sort of like a lobster or crab, but smooth and black. When it got within a few feet of me, ignoring its mob of puny attackers it just stood there looking down at me. My new friend came out of nowhere and swung a fire axe into the side of its thorax, a loud ‘crunch’ was carried away by the winds. When he landed the failed blow he looked up at it expecting retaliation, it did nothing, just staring at me while others threw large rocks and debris at it.

“It will not harm you as long as you hold the dagger young one” an older and much matured voice rang through my ears as I turned around to see the doorway occupied by a group of wide eyed smiling people. Standing in the lead was the cloaked man I had seen down the stairwell earlier. He stood blending into the darkness of the archway with his hands outspread to his sides, smiling at me with his radiating purple eyes.

He stepped outside with his hands still outspread, “Nyth hrii hafh’drn!” he hissed viciously, making a demand in some unknown language as he approached the both of us. The creature stood upright in an instant and backed away from the three of us. The cultist hissed again “Ilyaa!” It moved back towards the edge of the building it had roosted on earlier.

The other cultists moved out of the doorway of the roof, surrounding ourselves and the other bystanders, backing our terrified mob into a circle as they stood around us. There were not just a handful of cultists now; there were at least thirty extra people that poured slowly out of the doorway. All of them in common office clothes, some of them police, others trade workers, but all each held the same dagger I did.

The leader that stood next to me and my friend turned around to give us another look; the face of evil itself smiled a wicked grin at us over his shoulder before turning back, unclicking something under his robe and holding a heavy looking tome over his head. He began chanting “Hrii hupadgh n’gha, vulgtlagln fm’latgh shugg!” The robed cultist preached again in his alien language, the crowd of followers cheered with vigor, while the victims in the circle cried in dismay. The followers all held their daggers up to the sky, they began to hum and glow a strange bright purple. I looked at my friend then down at my own dagger, it glowed as well.

The robed cultist turned around and paced forcefully past us, towards the towering black creature that waited out of time on its ledge of the roof. He stopped, standing before it. “Hafh’drn uln, hai” he hissed deeply at it. The creature again rose, turning around to face the sky in an eerily slow manner. It bent its claws over its serpent like chest facing down, before throwing its head back letting out a screeching roar that thundered throughout the rooftops and streets of Sydney. All fell silent for a few seconds, until other roars of the same kind bounced back through the city, I hadn’t taken notice before but every rooftop high or low each had one of these black creatures on it as I looked on. They all returned the same responsive roar that seemed to overpower the howling wind and emergency horn as the storm raged, creating a monstrous symphony for their attentive audience.

Almost as if it were act two of some play, the captors that encircled our mob all raised their glowing daggers cheering. The sky began to thunder… Lightning ripped across the fiery clouds and the invasive rift that sat above the harbor began to illuminate its purple essence, brighter than any day the sun had ever chose to. Everyone looked on as their attention was captured by the portals new activity.
—-
Two giant, clawed hands grasped both sides of the floating portal from the inside, a loud crackling could be heard from the explosion of the lightning and thunder that roared through the sky, and then he came through. The divine beast first showed his octopus like head, a giant monstrosity of flailing tentacles that flapped about in every direction uncontrollably, possessed as if they each had a life of their own. Oh god those eyes, if ever there was a protective layer to the soul, the one which protected mine was pierced right to the core. He looked right through me, through everyone. An on look of malice and power dominated the courage of anyone that dared to meet his forward gaze.

Next his mighty body came, shoulder by shoulder he ripped through the fabric of our reality with power that a world united, could ever hope to fight back against. Throwing himself forward aggressively he slid from the rift into the sea, as if we all stood watching the world give birth to its end.

He rose from the depths slowly; water fell from his mountainous shoulders back to whence it came. The great one stood upright, allowing those worthy enough to have survived this long to admire his otherworldly torso. He stood looking over his new world. It was perfect, defences broken, hope stolen, the earth remade and the heavens on fire. The mighty one spread his enormous wings, casting a shadow that claimed ownership over us all.

He flew up high into the air, sending a shock wave in every direction as he flapped his powerful wings; many of the bystanders were knocked down including myself and the cultists. The dread god seemed to be looking everywhere at once, creating eye contact with all of his subjugates. He let out a gargantuan roar that dethroned any sense of power or fear that his summoners had previously filled the skies with; nature itself seemed to rage in response as the storm grew more chaotic by the second. Upon completion of his right to dominance he descended swiftly, smashing into the harbor bridge, obliterating it to pieces. Some from the mob which surrounded me began to cry, our world was ending. Australians gathered here each eve to usher in the New Year; little did we know that we’d ever usher in its end.

But the dread god was not yet done; his hind legs and forefeet stood proudly atop his predecessor’s broken monument. His eyes scanning the roof tops of each and every building, before throwing one of his massive claws into the air letting out a triumphant roar.

A giant luminescent orb matching the same color of the rift began to grow in his hand, before exploding in an endless series of beams firing in every direction. Each bright purple beam made contact with the chest of every human being in the city, including the cultists. When a beam hit my chest I felt nothing, like walking into a harmless laser. However I looked at my new friend, the tough guy that had protected me before and stood vigilantly at my side this whole time. He bent over putting his hand on my shoulder, giving me a look of pain and confusion before his heart exploded out of his chest, splashing blood and chunks of organs all over my face and torso.

Everyone that surrounded me and the robed cultist of the encircled mob fell to the same fate as four by four everyone hit the ground. Screams and terror rang through the air before falling silent as death himself seemed to float through the air paying the unlucky a visit.

The robed cultist threw his hands up into the air as I felt tears pour down my face in shock, he turned to me, grabbing my hand and looking at the dagger I held. “You spilled blood to be protected by blood, a fair trade” he said grinning wickedly at me, as he walked over the fallen like some unholy priest. While all the cultists rejoiced in the red mist, it was now apparent that everyone who held a dagger and had used it was safe from the magic of the giant creature.

The divine beast roared once again, this time his roar was met in response by the howls of other monsters and the cheering of cultists. The splashing and misting of blood in the air soon came to a halt, as the magic’s effect weeded out the unworthy efficiently. The divine beast turned the luminescent beams from firing and connecting in all directions to shooting in a straight line high into the clouds. The skies once more crackled and clashed, this time, turning the rain itself red.

“Kneel you fool!” The robed leader demanded of me, I fell to my knees beside him, and apparently beside my new brothers and sisters. The red rain fell between my fingers on the concrete as I could hear the unholy ones thundering voice off in the distance.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

All hail our new god Cthulhu…

Credit To – J.D Scythe

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Jozsa’s Grove

January 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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You’re twisting my words again. As I’ve already said a hundred times, I have no simple answers for your questions. You can’t expect me to respond “yes” or “no” to questions about complex matters that I haven’t begun to recover from. Jerry, you know better than any of these assholes that I’m not the kind of guy who rattles easily. I don’t belong in this loony bin!

Yes, I did agree to cooperate. If I have to answer you straight, then I will, but only if you’ll let me explain the details. I admit to spending the previous weekend with Arthur and Samantha Duncan at the old Schall estate on Riley’s Rock, and I confess to the property’s hasty demolition. The Duncans’ murders are thankfully not on my conscience, but my inability to prevent them is. The bullet was mine, but I didn’t kill Sam: she was already dead. I just killed the bitch that stole her body. Not sure what that adds up to in court. And I didn’t do it all in a raving mania. You got to believe me, through this whole incident I was perfectly sound in mind until I uprooted that damned tree. It was that final horror that sent me off the deep end and ultimately landed me here.

I really don’t expect any of you to believe what I’m about to disclose, but I’ve got the right to explain myself. I need another whiskey before I start, Jerry, if you don’t mind.

*

The Duncans wanted to turn the estate into a vacation resort. God knows the place had more rooms than anyone knew what to do with. Art never told me how he got his hands on the property, just that he wanted me in charge of hotel security. I needed the money and hadn’t had a steady income since the war. Art had better luck in that area, the rich bastard. Besides that, he felt like he owed me one for that bullet I caught in his stead.

He and the wife had to bring their own hired help — four foreigners who didn’t speak a word of English — because they couldn’t find any in town. The locals weren’t crazy about the place. We were told that centuries ago a tribe of druids tainted the Rock with ritual blood-spilling, which none of us considered very seriously at all, though it still almost turned Sam off of the place. Sweetest lady I ever knew, but a little too sensitive sometimes, even for a Catholic. I have to cut her a little slack, though. After her last stillbirth she stopped taking her meds and her neurotic lapses got more frequent.

Efram and Jozsa Schall were Jewish immigrants who migrated to the ‘States a century ago and built the hotel on the Rock with the same dream as the Duncans of running a vacation resort and raising a family. And like the Duncans, the Schalls had trouble birthing children. They tried as hard as they could to have a baby, but nothing seemed to work and by the time they moved to that little hick town by Riley’s Rock they’d all but given up. Some of the locals said Jozsa wasn’t meant to spawn — even now they always say it quietly like they’re afraid Jozsa will overhear.

Yet shortly after they arrived Jozsa became pregnant, and for a while the Schalls had more spring in their step than usual. Explains how Efram managed to get the hotel built so quickly. Jozsa spent her pregnancy planting and nursing a garden on the west end of the property, and surrounded it with a beautiful cherry grove. A nice way to celebrate the new life she would soon bring into the world, if you ask me. But the baby never got a name. Stillbirth, you see.

The Schalls buried the baby in the grove near a young sapling, and Jozsa let it all grow out of control until the Rock had itself a nice toupee of greenery. Efram tried to forget they ever had the baby, but Jozsa must’ve felt like she’d been robbed of her motherhood because she visited the grave every day to keep the poor kid’s spirit company. For the next ten years tenants heard her singing out there for hours at a time.

One day Jozsa led Efram into the grove and neither of them ever came back. Then the Schalls’ tenants started disappearing, rumor has it the same way Jozsa did: one by one, like in a trance, they walked into the grove and ceased to exist. The locals shunned the property for fear they’d disappear, too. They closed off the roads to Riley’s Rock until the trees and foliage covered them up. The grove withered and decayed and the house degenerated into a mausoleum for the Schalls and their nameless baby.

In spite of its history, the Duncans loved the place. It was a fixer-upper for sure: everything was caked in dust, the furniture had all but fallen apart, and the ceiling had collapsed in two rooms and let the spring drizzles damage everything inside. But they loved it and they couldn’t wait to get started. I’ll admit I was just as excited: eight bedrooms, four bathrooms, dining hall with an ocean view, the sweet smell of the sea in the air. A little polish and it would’ve been a beautiful place.

We set to work right away, dusting the countertops, polishing the windows, clearing the busted furniture out to make way for the new due to arrive that weekend. The carpenters were supposed to show up today, actually. We spent the rest of Friday cleaning, then drove into town for dinner and beds at the local inn.

The dream changed everything.

God, I remember it perfectly. I walked through an endless void of white mist, like I was standing on the ocean surface on the coldest night of winter. I walked on and on for what seemed like days until suddenly the fog lifted to reveal a blood red sky and an ancient, crooked tree towering over a field of shriveled greenery and sterile earth, with eight or nine limp bodies dangling from its naked branches like trophies. Not from nooses, Jerry: that damned tree gripped their broken necks like a child would his playthings. And there was a woman in a tattered house dress with long, tangled locks of black hair. She stood ahead of me, facing the tree, singing to it in some foreign language.

She stopped abruptly, looked over her shoulder and shot me the meanest glare I’d ever seen. She had no color in her face, just a sickly stone gray. And Jesus, her eyes: solid white like golf balls, yet somehow expressing hatred and malignance rivaling hell’s. She didn’t want me there, but I couldn’t turn away. My feet had grown roots. The dream was vivid to all the senses: I smelled damp earth eons old and the cold of the fog bit my flesh like mosquitoes.

Those horrible eyes were suddenly inches away from mine, piercing me like gunshots. I woke up in a cold sweat, so badly shaken I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.

We all must’ve had the same dream, because everyone started acting weird the following morning. The workers kept whispering to each other, and whenever I asked them what the problem was they clammed up and went on about their business. Sam was particularly jumpy, and the first to lose it. We hadn’t been working more than two hours when we heard her scream. Everyone rushed to the source and found her shivering in her husband’s arms on the ladies’ room floor. She’d gone in there to wash her face, looked in the mirror and saw someone else looking back.

Sam just wasn’t the same after that. All day Saturday she wasn’t much use to anyone — a nervous wreck keeping mostly to herself, incapable of sitting still for more than two seconds like she was constipated. Twice I caught her staring out the dining hall windows toward Jozsa Schall’s grove of dead trees. She just stood there, staring. And when I said her name she’d snap out of it and go about her day like it’d never happened. She didn’t even remember walking into the room.

Art wasn’t happy, let me tell you. Sam’s neurotic behavior had been grating on him for months, but this was the worst she’d ever been. He started losing his temper at the drop of a hat. Shouted at her a lot. Smacked the workers around from time to time, which didn’t improve their odd behavior much.

The new furniture arrived late in the evening and none of us had the strength to bother with it, but Art and Sam were set on staying the night at the hotel this time and I wasn’t willing to leave them alone at night in an eerie house with no electricity. So we dragged the Duncans’ bed into their room, and I put one of the new lobby couches in the hall just outside their door and parked myself on it. Said goodnight, cleaned my sidearm, then read Arthur Conan Doyle until I passed out.

The damned dream haunted my sleep again that very night — the fog, the tree, the hanging bodies. I woke up with a sissy yelp this time, catapulting off the couch and onto the floor. I sat panting in the corridor for a long time, blind as a bat because the place had no electricity, like I told you. I took in a deep breath to calm my nerves, and held it fast when I heard another set of lungs breathing only a few steps away.

Someone was standing there in the dark, watching me. Sam’s voice asked if I was all right, and for a few minutes I just stammered like a fool while she blindly felt around my face to see where I was, then took my hands and helped me to my feet.

That’s when I noticed how dirty her hands were. My fingers came away caked in soil like she’d been out digging holes with her hands all day. I asked her about it while searching my pockets for my flashlight.

“I’ve been in the grove,” she said.

“The grove?” I said. I started to ask what she was doing out there in the cold so late at night as I fished out the flashlight and flicked it on. Instead of Sam’s pretty face I saw that hateful white-eyed scowl from my nightmares and I dropped the light and screamed and screamed.

You should’ve seen me, tripping over my own feet, crashing headlong into walls. I about threw myself into the car and pressed the gas pedal to the floor all the way to town. Damn my cowardly ass to hell. I left poor Art alone with that…with that God-knows-what.

*

Would I be telling you this if I’d killed them all and burnt the place down to cover my tracks? Would I make up a story if I knew full well you wouldn’t buy it? That would be pointless, wouldn’t it? Besides, one little ghost isn’t what made me liberate that place. Yeah, that’s right, I said “liberate” because that’s exactly what I did: I liberated Riley’s Rock from an ancient, unspeakable taint. A fluke of the natural world that I still can’t wrap my head around.

*

When the workers set off for the hotel Sunday morning I didn’t go with them. Scared too far out of my wits. But eventually guilt kicked in and I started thinking about how good the Duncans had been to me all these years, and ditching them seemed a lousy way to pay them back. Mind you, at the time I still wasn’t sure what I saw. At the time I was beginning to think my imagination was just having a little fun with me. So I drove back, composing and rehearsing an elaborate apology in my head.

Riley’s Rock had put on a biting cold while I was gone, like winter had hit early. The minute I walked into the hotel lobby Art greeted me in hysterics: his eyes rolled around in his head like marbles and he kept saying, “Something’s got my Sammy, Brad. Something’s got her.” I didn’t understand until I saw it for myself.

Art had been organizing his new office when he suddenly noticed how quiet the old house had gotten. He searched the hotel from top to bottom and couldn’t find a trace of his hired help. Instead he found Sam standing at the dining hall window, staring out at the dead grove, singing a sullen lullaby to nobody at all.

She was different. I can’t say how. Sam just wasn’t Sam anymore. When we came in she turned and glanced at us with disinterest, like we were strangers to her. She gave us a tiny smile with no heart in it, the kind of routine smile you give someone when you’ve had a really bad day and don’t want to talk about it; but while the pretty smile was unmistakably Sam Duncan’s, the eyes behind it belonged to another person, like someone was wearing Sam’s face as a mask — one that didn’t fit quite right.

All I knew for sure was that the frigid air enveloping Riley’s Rock emanated from her.

After watching the woman sing stupidly to the window for several minutes, Art and I decided one of us had to approach her and ask her who she was. I didn’t have the courage, and Art was married to her anyway, possessed or not. Up close she seemed to finally recognize her husband, smiled warmly and held his hand like they were high school sweethearts all over again. Goose-bumps swept up his arm like she was icy to the touch.

“Come with me to the grove,” she said. “Come and see our baby.”

He kept at Sam’s heels in a dog-like trance as she went out the door, maybe enslaved by that dreadful urge to see what horror was yet to come. The same urge that goaded me into following them. God help me, I followed them, Jerry. I followed them into that sea of shriveled trunks and crooked branches to the barren garden in its belly. I followed them to that horrid black tree — the one that’d tortured me in my sleep for two nights, the only still-living thing in the entire garden — whose bald boughs perked up when it felt the three of us approaching. Sam kept singing those damned lullabies while the tree somehow swayed in-time.

A terrible unseen force beckoned us. Art walked right up to the ugly thing and put his hand on its trunk. He suddenly jerked his hand away in horror and looked at me with a dismayed expression I’ll never forget, his mouth opening fish-like as if trying to find the words to share an awful revelation with me.

Our eyes instinctively fell to the ground. One of us screamed, but I don’t know which.

The Duncans’ missing servants hadn’t wandered far: four pale, shriveled faces peeked up from the soil at our feet like sprouting cabbages, their dead eyes gazing blindly toward the stars. As the great tree twitched, one of them shifted slightly and sank another inch.

Jesus, it was like a nightmare. Art’s feet vanished. Something took hold of him and pulled him down into the earth. He clawed at the air for something to hold on to, unable to tear his eyes away from that hideous crop of human heads. He was gone in moments, consumed by the garden. Nothing left of him but his endless earth-smothered screams.

The tree stood still for a moment, as if surprised. Sam continued singing.

Something brushed my feet — something alive, a barracuda taste-testing its prey. Suddenly my limbs thawed and I turned and ran. I ran through the house and into the woods. Thorny bushes and sharp branches thrashed me bloody and I didn’t care. I ran and I didn’t stop for breath until I made it to a telephone.

*

You’re giving me those funny looks again, but I’m telling you if you’d only been there with me your hands would be shaking as badly as mine. Hell, you probably wouldn’t have the guts to talk about it again, let alone make the return trip to do what I did. To do what had to be done.

Jerry, give me another whiskey or I’m not going to make it through this.

*

I came back with the oil later that evening. More than anything I wanted to get Sam out of there in one piece, but if I went back to that hotel and found somebody else in her skin I was going to shoot her right between the eyes. Judging by the charred remains you recovered from the ruins I think you know how things turned out.

She tried to lead me into the grove, Jerry. She would’ve done it to me, too. You know I loved Sam. I couldn’t let that thing parade around in her body. Just the thought of it turns my stomach.

I cremated her with the rest of the house. I burned the grove, too, and boy all that dead foliage just lit right up like tissue paper. That nightmare tree was the last to go when all the others had turned to ash. It crackled and blazed and snapped back and forth like a hooked fish. As it wilted in the fire something cried out from beneath the ground — a piercing, child-like wail that nearly shook Riley’s Rock out of its seat!

The next morning, when the flames finally died, I rented the crane to tear that monster up by the roots and make sure it was dead, and had only just finished the job when you all arrived at the scene and found me raving and cackling in the courtyard. Judging by the way you’ve treated me not one of you must’ve laid eyes on that abomination. But the forensic team is combing the ruins as we speak, right? They’re bound to find it right where I left it. I can’t wait to see the photos. You’ll believe those, I bet. You’ll take one look at those roots and my guess is you’ll all be raving and cackling, too.

I counted around fourteen bodies tangled in them, dry and black and shriveled like prunes, every drop of fluid sapped out of ‘em. There might be as many as twenty or even thirty, but I stopped counting when I found the husk that used to be Jozsa Schall. She was easy to identify because her baby — that monstrous infant-thing the roots sprout and slither out from like a sea anemone — was hugging her close like a crusty old teddy bear. Kinda precious when you think about it.

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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