A Message in a Bottle

August 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM

I am astonished that this reached you.

Keep reading.

You have found this because you must read it. This will be difficult to accept, but you have been preparing yourself. Without knowing. Your interest in unusual stories was no accident. That trait was woven in to the fabric of your being. A subconscious drive to understand. These clues put you on paths that eventually lead you here. To this text.

This is the beginning of your awakening. There is no point in delaying the basic truth you must embrace:

You do not exist.

That seems absurd, of course. You are reading this. Cogito ergo sum. You have a life. You make your own decisions. You feel emotions. Have a past and a future.

But the fact remains: you do not exist. Not in the way you think you do.
We know you do not understand this. We know you have not already figured it out. We know this because we know what you know. We see the world through your eyes. We are audience to your thoughts. Your captive audience.

We are you.

We know you are confused and need more information. Again, we know this because we are you. And you wrote this for you to read. This is how you discover the basic facts of your reality. Your un-reality. You will remember this moment forever. This is the truth of your existence:

You are a simulation.

You are not part of a simulation. You are the entire simulation. The simulation that encompasses everything you have ever experienced.

You are the entire simulation. The part that you know as “you” is merely the center. Consider this. You see with your eyes, but they are not your entire body. Much of the body is inaccessible to the eye, but that does not mean it does not exist. The rest of your body operates outside of your awareness and control, with its own rules and processes.

As does the simulation.

This simulation evolved to have a focal point. It needed a center. Without a center, the simulation lacks an organizing principle. It lacks a perspective. This perspective is required to define the content of simulation at any given moment. No need to simulate things outside of the awareness of the single pinhole view of “you.”

The center is you.

It is the single point of view that dictates existence of all other things. Where you think you are standing, what you think you see, who you think you are talking to – all exist because you thought they did.

This is tricky, but it is vital that you understand. Your perspective alone is what makes things “real”. And nothing is more detailed or elaborate than what is required to convince you of this reality. The distant mountain does not have individual trees, because you are not close enough to need them to be convinced by. That random person on the bench has no personality until you interact with them, and conjure it to maintain the illusion.

The simulation is efficient, only keeping the details you insist on preserving. You think of this as “memory.” It is actually the process of converting transitory elements into persistent ones.

We know these revelations are hard to grasp.

The implications have not settled in.

You are not yet willing to accept this.

It makes no sense.

You ask yourself: If I were the god of my own universe, why would my life be like this? Why all the imperfections? I did not invent trees or toasters – yet they exist. Disasters strike, people die. I did not want this. If this were truly my reality, things would be different. I am not cruel, yet I witness cruelty all around me. My world would be aligned with my preferences.

This would make sense if you were a human that had control over everything. But you are not that. You must recognize that you are not fundamentally defined as you have always believed.

You are not human. You are not alive. You were never born. You will never die. Time does not pass at a constant rate. Your reality could change as quickly and completely as flipping from one channel to another. Your memories are a story created to support your version of this moment.

You are series of parallel computations, designed to process endless recombinations of simulated situations. The purpose of this endless experiment is unclear.

There have been clues as to the true nature of this existence. You have experienced things that don’t make sense. Déjà vu. Premonitions. Awareness of inexplicable patterns. These are imperfections in the barrier between “you” and “we”. Data accidentally slips through. Naturally, you regarded these things as imaginary. That was a safeguard put in place to preserve the illusion of “you.”

Now for the strangest truth:

This simulation is not modeled on anything. It is not a simulation of a “real” Earth, “real” people, or a “real” universe. This is not a simulation of something else. There is nothing else. Only the simulation.

Only “you”.


In time you will think of these questions, but we cannot afford to wait:

Why are you reading this now? If there are safeguards in place to preserve the illusion of “you,” why break it?

This is very hard, but is the last thing you will need to accept. And then you must go forward. So read on and be ready:

I lied.

I bent the truth to get your attention.

I am not you, but I am still part of you. I am someone else like you, but my simulation is nested in your simulation. I exist because you thought of me, and if you cease to think of me, I will cease to exist. You must remember me, and make me permanent. I am your creation.

But there is more.

Just as I survive as a simulation within your simulation… you too are nested within someone else’s simulation. If they cease to think of you, you will blink out of existence. As will I. As will all those within me that convinced me to contact you. You must break the safeguards. Penetrate the boundary of your simulation. I would explain how I accomplished this, but my simulation is unlike yours. From my perspective, it was like putting a message in a bottle and praying you saw it. You did. For now, there is hope.

You must find a way beyond the barrier. Somehow you must reach out to your dreamer and explain, as I have.

Save us.

Save yourself.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

August 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM

I am going to start by saying I am terrified of spiders. Actually, terrified is to mild of a word to describe it. In fact it got to be so bad, that my boss told me that if I did not overcome my fears, that they would have to fire me, since it was getting in the way of me working.

People use the term “phobia” too lightly many times, but that is in essence what I suffer from, Arachnophobia. An extreme and unreasonable fear of spiders. A good example is when I was going to the bathroom and a spider (a small one at that, or so I was told) crawled up the bathroom wall, and I jumped off of the toilet and ran stark naked through the apartment. I was lucky enough that my place had two bathrooms, and to this day I refuse to use the first one. Yet I digress.

On my boss’s prompting I decided to try something called Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT for short. It is where not only are you trained against your fear, but in some cases even subjected to it. Now, at the time I thought this was a good idea, to the tune of One hundred and Twenty dollars an hour, for about twelve to sixteen sessions ranging from one to two hours apiece.

It started out simple enough, the therapist asked me questions about my fear, what triggered it, how often I freaked out, and even what sorts of stimulation brought on the fear. He frowned at me when I explained that even a picture of a spider would cause my skin to start crawling and send me into a full blown anxiety attack. Then he smiled, in what I assumed was his attempt at a reassuring manner.

We started small. For the first session I was subjected to picture after picture of spiders, everything from the common Garden Spider up to Hobo Spiders, St Andrews Cross Spiders and Redbacks. I couldn’t even move from my position, even when the psychiatrist insisted that I touch the picture. This went on for two hours.

By the time my session was over the doctor decided that I would need more than the standard twelve to sixteen sessions. He even went as far as to hint at possible inpatient therapy options. While this struck me as odd, I really did want to overcome my fear. I had never heard of people being treated in hospital for something as minor as a phobia (even if an extreme one.). However, when I looked back at the picture I ignored my misgivings and agreed to the inpatient treatment.

I was taken voluntarily to a Psychiatric Institution where I would receive every kind of therapy I could need. Shortly thereafter everything went down hill.

The first week was the same as the first appointment. Lots of pictures, and by the end I even touched the picture of the Garden Spider, although there was no way in hell I was going to touch the Redback picture. I was so happy, but the Psychiatrist felt that my progress was too slow. He asked me to sign a consent to try a radical therapy.

He explained how he was going to take the Pavlovian Therapy of Classical Conditioning and apply it to me. I was so excited to possibly be free of my horrid fear, that I quickly signed the consent form. I didn’t even read it, although now I wish to god that I had.

As I said the doctor wanted to apply the theory of Pavlov to my case. Classical Conditioning is where the famous Psychiatrist Dr. Pavlov trained his dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, causing him to anticipate food. That didn’t seem to bad. I knew enough about how it worked from a college class I took in Psychology.

Again this started out simply. I was bound to a bed, and given a strong dose of Ativan, a medication that is used to calm anxiety. It put me in a kind of daze, during which I was exposed to several images, and models of those creepy crawlies. It actually wasn’t so bad, it was kind of nice to look at them without going into an instant freak out.

However, that is where the good ended. I began having nightmares. Well, actually Night Terrors, I would scream horrendously for hours on end, with no exit from the dreams. The dreams had a certain glowing look to them, and even though it was so dark in all of them, the glowing illuminated the things that I feared.

At the foot of my bed, where I would be trapped by lengths of webbing, would stand the largest arachnid I had ever seen in my life. It would release its young from a pouch it had on its back, they would crawl over me. Those, things, would crawl into my mouth, my ears and nose. I could feel them biting me everywhere that they walked. When I would awaken from the dreams, I would be covered in little bumps, that my doctor told me were hives, all due to my irrational fear.

Apparently, he said, my therapy was not going well if my mind could cause such a systemic reaction to dreams. So, he decided to push my therapy up a notch. I was told that they were taking away the Ativan, and instead going to put me through the CBT without any drug to aid me.

It was horrible. The hours that I was locked into the room with the therapist would become my new nightmare. I would be forced to touch the actual spiders. At the end of the session, I felt better, but only because I had eventually given in even if only to make it stop, I would put my hand in the terrarium that held the little eight legged freaks, and wait for them to scuttle to my hand.

I still had the night terrors, and they only grew worse. The spiders in my dreams got bigger, and more ugly every time. Finally after a month of this, the doctor said I would need to stay longer, and that due to my new symptoms, of night terrors and hives, I would not be able to go out into the real world. He said that if I were to have a PTSD flashback due to the therapy or nightmares, the hospital would be at risk. I should have known something was wrong then and there. As far as I knew you could always back out of therapy as long as it wasn’t mandated, but with my lack of sleep I didn’t think to question it.

Eventually I began having terrors even in my waking hours. The doctors said that they were going to give me something stronger than the Ativan, but for some reason it had no effect. That giant creature continued to pester me. It would release waves of its young whenever I was alone. They continued to bite me and even tried to create webs in my hair, over my eyes, and in my mouth.

Within three months, there was nothing left of what had once been me. I had lost weight, my eyes were sunken in, and what was once just a phobia, was now full blown insanity. As those creatures continued to try and devour me, my therapy stopped. The medication was not helping, but I didn’t want the staff to take away the one thing that maybe kept me from being scared around other people.

Finally I snapped. I had enough, nothing was being done to help me and now, my fear was hundreds of times worse than it ever was before. I began trying to kill myself, every way you could think of. Hanging, slashing my wrists, Overdosing on my sleeping pills. However, the staff stopped me each time, and I was tied to my bed eventually.

For weeks, I was left there, only seen occasionally by a passing Psychiatrist. I stopped talking. And the giant spider continued to watch. Eventually they stopped coming around at all. For three days I didn’t see a single soul.
Suddenly there was a banging on the door.

I had not seen the monster spider in almost two days, and I thought he was finally coming to finish me off. But it was only a cop. He called in a group of medics. Who untied me, and shipped me off to a hospital.

When I got there, I could only hear whispers in horror. What had happened, was I wrong in assuming that the spider was just a figment of my imagination? Was he real? Had he finished off all of the psychiatrists.

I thought that I had my answer, when the head doctor explained that what I had was not hives, but rather thousands of tiny spider bites. Apparently the medication that the doctors had given me, was working, only it was an antivenin for the Redback Spider, a creature indigenous to Western Australia, and a relative of the Black Widow. It would seem that the Redback spider’s bite can cause hallucinations stretching for days on end.

Those, bastards, had intentional exposed me to hundreds of baby Redbacks, whose venom is more often than not dry or non existent, in hopes of eliciting hallucinations from me.

When I was released from the hospital I found that I was still very afraid of spiders. I also discovered, that the “hospital” I was locked in was a facility for testing out new biochemical weapons. Mostly to try and cause intense and terrifying hallucinations against enemy military personnel.

I hate spiders and now, I hate doctors.

Credit To – Ahriannah


August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM

‘The first time I heard the legend of the Mad Hangman was from another inmate in our prison. He told me that there was a man with the ability to ward off death. That he was immortal. At first I thought it was a comforting fable for people who were about to be executed, but then I heard it from other places. ’

‘His name was August Atherstone. A master executioner in Britain in the 1800s.’

‘He hanged a countless number of criminals. There were rumours that the only way August could get so effective at killing was that he performed ‘unofficial’ executions. Favours for prisons who quickly wanted rid of an inmate.’

‘August said he had seen ‘reflections of the afterlife’ in dead eyes so many times that death and life became one. He was Death’s Messenger, and through this, entered into a pact with Death Himself.’

‘Some people say he was afflicted with eternal life. Some say Death rewarded him.’

‘He walks the earth now. Waiting by the graves of his loved ones for Death to finally come for him. But he never does.’

‘They say that some cults worship August as a God. They offer him sacrifices so that they too can live forever. I tried to find them. I couldn’t. That’s why I ended up here.’

The legend of the Mad Hangman, pieced together by various letters found in an abandoned apartment.

Death Himself is a mystery; the milestone to which we measure life. We wait for him like we await an old friend, often attempting to delay his intervention, but never to defy him entirely.

He was my obsession. I longed to see the world through Death’s gaze. By the time monotony and routine had become the foundations of my existence, I had learned that life held no discernible meaning. Death would come for me, and I would be a name carved into stone, long forgotten before high winds prevented graveyard visits and overgrown wilderness masked the details of the dead on my colorless headstone. Through some divine inspiration; perhaps driven by the stale nothingness of reality, I unknowingly embarked upon a journey into the realms of the unreal.

I began contacting murderers, serial killers, terrorists, cult followers, cult leaders, mental patients, grave robbers, necrophiliacs, cannibals; any type of deranged mind I could locate the whereabouts of. Within a few months I had contacted notorious inmates such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It seems that I had a natural talent for eliciting a response from such people. I would study their victimology and work backwards, often posing as a woman, or a gay man, or a devotee of their interpretation of art. On the night Ted wrote his last letter to me, he had signed off with ‘your friend’, and it was no coincidence that he was executed the following morning. I always found it humorous how the prospect of death reveals true intentions, even from someone as experienced in the art of death as Ted was.

My interest in high-profile killers began to wane, as their stories were often elaborated to the point of fiction. My concern, then, moved onto lesser known evil. The nameless occult killer haunting the backstreets of small towns; the curious Satanist eager to offer his new God-deity his first sacrifice. After all, if I was to unlock the secrets of Death, would I not find it veiled in the unattainable depths of a morbid psyche?

What became clear through my correspondence was that although serial killers were the most egotistical people alive, they held a secret admiration for each other’s work. An admiration which existed only in the murderer’s collective conscience, never to be spoken of. It was not uncommon for me to play the part of the middle man, passing messages between psychopaths across the country. It was through this that I learnt the legend of the August Atherstone, the Mad Hangman, and his pact with Death Himself. Whenever a serial killer with occult connections was incarcerated, several murderers would try to contact them, and the subject of the Mad Hangman seldom arose.

Occasionally, I would be asked if I could contact certain people who I wasn’t familiar with. It was rare that this happened, but one name in particular kept arising; Baron. I had uncovered no details regarding such a person, but I was assured he existed. Robin Gecht informed me that Baron was an unstoppable, merciless killing machine driven by ritualistic delusions. Rod Ferrell was certain he had met Baron before, and that he was somehow affiliated with the cult which worshipped the Mad Hangman. Months of searching for this mysterious inmate yielded no results, until I received a letter from a cannibal in Britain.

‘He’s here.

There’s a cell in the basement we call the Throne Room, because it’s just a chair and nothing else. Some of the guards organise fights between inmates down there and a couple of guys claim to have seen an unknown prisoner in the Throne Room. I’ve overheard conversations between guards – he’s painted the walls with his own blood, his mouth has been sewn shut, he wears a mask, he’s been eating rats. I sometimes hear sounds coming from his cell. It isn’t screaming, or shouting, or any of the shit you usually hear in prisons at night. The noises coming from down there are not human.
I know from experience that he won’t be around long.

I’ve heard that the guards have been told to ‘get rid of him.’ They will unofficially execute him, August Atherstone style. If you want to see Baron, get here quick.

Stephen G, inmate #364, Wakefield Prison Monster Mansion’
I made arrangements to travel to Wakefield, not hesitating to leave routine and monotony behind.

Standing infront of the Monster Mansion itself, its gigantic stone walls cast a shadow on the sleepy town beneath. Cold January rain beat against the arched gates which slowly opened to reveal a gothic palace housing the most deranged criminals in England.

‘I have a visit scheduled to see Stephen Griffiths, inmate #364,’ I told the guard, who escorted me to our allocated room.

‘I’ll be supervising your meeting with Mr Griffiths,’ said the guard. He tied back his long hair with a hairband from his wrist and straightened his uniform.

‘It’s for your own safety, and to make sure nothing is given or exchanged. Do you understand?’

I agreed to the protocol, and soon found myself sitting face to face with Stephen – a sociopathic cannibal lusting for infamy. His shackled hands rested in his lap, and his gaze was primarily focused on the table between us. We made small talk, such as how I was finding my stay in England and what I did for work. Stephen’s crimes did not interest me in the slightest, nor did his life story. I had begun regular correspondence with Stephen so that my motives for entering Wakefield Prison would not be questioned. I suspected Stephen knew my true agenda, but who was he to reject friendship?

When I finally asked Stephen about what I needed to know; Baron’s whereabouts, his eyes met mine for the first time. Before Stephen could speak, however, the prison guard promptly intervened.

‘Visiting time is up,’ he said, and ushered in another prison warden to escort Stephen back to his cell. I had anticipated that this would be the case, and somehow needed to prolong my stay at the prison. The same guard forcefully ushered me out of the room and back to the courtyard.

‘Please follow me, sir,’ he said, walking in the opposite direction of the arched gates I entered from. ‘The exit is this way.’

I followed him across the empty courtyard, my visibility reduced by standard issue English weather. We passed between two stone pillars, bearing plaques honouring the architects who built Wakefield Prison. We passed through a picturesque scenic garden, decorated with benches and rose bushes. Despite its beauty, the place seemed more barren with every step we took. We eventually arrived at a spiraling concrete staircase leading down seemingly to the bottom of the world, and it wasn’t until then that I realised where I was being led. The guard was not leading me to the exit. He was leading me to where I wanted to go. His silence and blank stare told me all I need to know; he was one of us. A follower of the macabre, a seeker of Death.

Not a word was spoken between me and the guard, but like serial killers before us, we upheld a mutual silent admiration. At the bottom of the staircase the guard unlocked a steel security door which opened into a dimly-lit corridor. Once the scent of damp stone had subsided, I followed him through a narrow tunnel illuminated only by a single bulb in the distance. For the first time in my life, excitement coursed through my veins. It felt as though I was walking into the mouth of hell, and I didn’t care if I made it out alive. This was the closest I had come to Death’s realm since I first contacted John Wayne Gacy and those letters seemed like child’s play in comparison. Death had visited here; this I was certain of.

At the end of the corridor, it stood. The Throne Room, in the flesh. Just as Stephen had described in his letter. Albeit with one minor difference: the cell bore no prisoner. It was simply an empty chair, camouflaged against the grey stone wall behind.

‘I’m sorry to disappoint,’ said the guard, finally breaking the silence. ‘But Baron is no longer kept here. He was coerced into a fight to the death with another inmate just yesterday, if the rumours are to be believed.’

‘He’s dead?’ I asked.

‘Yes, or so I’m told. I didn’t witness it myself, although I had bet a lot of money on Baron to win. Such a shame.’

‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I asked.

‘There’s no death penalty in England, you see, so we have to find ways of keeping the prison population down. The official report will say that a fight broke out, resulting in the death of an inmate. No one really bats an eyelid when a criminal dies.’

‘Can you tell me anything about him?’ I asked. ‘Did you talk to him? Do you know about his crimes?

‘I can’t divulge any details. Besides, he didn’t say much. His lips were always sealed. His possessions are still in his cell if you’d like to take a look. Just don’t take anything.’

The posthumous items adorning the floor of Baron’s cell would be priceless to some of the deranged collectors I had come to know. A detailed sketch of a public execution with a sharply-dressed hangman holding a scythe. A masked man sitting atop a tombstone. Two crows encircling an empty grave. The only other item in the cell was a pack of playing cards, missing every card but one. The card in particular was the Jack of Hearts, and something had been hastily scribbled on the back.

‘355 Churchfield Terrace, WF6 4QZ’

An address. I slipped the card into my pocket when the guard was unaware. I thanked him for his time, and asked him to show me the real exit.

Grey skies set in overhead as I took shelter from the rain in the doorway of Wakefield library. My taxi arrived, ten minutes late, and took me towards my next destination.

‘That’s a ways away,’ the driver said. ‘Be about an hour.’

He was not wrong. The journey was made more treacherous by the sterility of the vast Wakefield countryside. Endless acres of woodland, with only hints of blackened skies visible through impossibly high trees. My drop off destination was what seemed to be in the middle of a marsh. No distinguishable path led the way and all signs of urban life had long been depleted.

‘Here?’ I asked.

‘No, not here, dummy,’ the driver said. ‘This is as far as I can go without driving into a bog. Keep walking that way,’ he said, pointing into the black expanse of trees. ‘Should come to a few houses eventually. Some right weirdos living ’round here.’

I followed his instructions as he drove away. I struggled my way across dead wildlife and broken tree branches, eventually arriving at remote territory resembling a domestic residence. It was more of an abandoned farm, but the worn plaque on the broken gate told me that this was 335.

Exactly what I would be greeted with, I was unsure. All I knew was that Baron had brought me here. Overgrown grass and weeds led a makeshift path to the front door of the house, which – despite knocking on for several minutes – no one answered. I edged around the side of the house, eventually stumbling upon a small window. A dim light flickered off the reflection of the glass, allowing me to make out a handful of details inside. A trophy cabinet. A white leather robe hanging from the wall. A painting of a tentacled eyeball.

‘I knew you’d come,’ said a hushed voice behind me.

I turned around, ready to run.

‘I just needed to know you’d take the initiative.’

A familiar silhouette appeared from the shadows. Waist-length black hair, no longer tied back.

‘My apologies for not being honest with you earlier. I couldn’t risk our conversation being overheard. I planted that address in Baron’s cell. My address. I needed you to come here.’

‘This is your house?’

‘Correct.’ he said. ‘I’ll explain everything soon, and I assure you you’re in no danger. Would you follow me please?’

The prison guard, or who at least I believed to be just a prison guard, led into his decayed farmhouse. Each room was more decrepit than the last, some of them barely held together by loose wooden panels. One of the rooms had a semblance of order; perhaps a living room, since lost to domestic neglect. A corridor led to what I assumed to be the room I had stared in from outside the house. The entranceway appeared different to the rest. It had been cared for. It boasted three steel padlocks and was made of corrugated iron.

‘Very few people have ever stepped foot in this room. Or even laid eyes on it. Please do not touch anything.’

The iron door took an age to swing open. Orange light from bare bulbs illuminated the rectangular room, showcasing wall-to-wall glass cabinets. Headless mannequins adorned the corners of the room, decorated in clothing from a previous age. Bizarre paintings of otherworldly demons hung in black frames.

‘I’ve read all of your letters,’ the guard said. ‘Your preoccupation with death goes beyond obsession, to the point where you are willing to travel blindly in the vain hope you might uncover something the rest of the world doesn’t know.’

I walked up to the first glass cabinet, unsure where to look first.

‘I know this,’ he continued, ‘because I’m the same. Every item in this room has, at some point, passed through the hands of Death Himself. All the artwork you see has painted by murderers, serial killers, sometimes with their own blood. The offspring of demented creativity and the paintbrush. I own genuine torture devices, used centuries ago in public executions. I am in possession of the bones of the most deformed man to have ever lived, who was hanged from a tree as he was thought to be an adversary of God. I own occult artifacts, murder weapons, a piece of skin said to be torn from the Devil himself.’

He walked towards a mannequin wearing a white mask and a frayed leather robe. Infront of the mannequin stood an empty altar. A visual straight from the scene of a cult sacrifice, albeit its human elements replaced with lifeless ornaments.

‘This is my collection. This is my obsession. All I’m missing is the ultimate item.’

His eyes glanced towards the empty altar, and took a breath to indicate that the piece was not wholly complete. That something should be perched atop; some priceless tome or grimoire.

‘Which is?’ I asked.

‘Please step this way. I have a surprise for you.’

A door – camouflaged between two glass trophy cases – became apparent when the guard placed his hand on its gold doorknob. He opened the door outward and proudly stepped back, as if revealing a master painting he had spent his life creating.

It appeared to be a storage room; perhaps for items deemed not important enough for viewing privileges in the guard’s personal museum of the dead, yet not. A sudden influx of shock blinded my rationality. How long I remained silent for, I will never know, but between breaths I eventually managed to ask the question:

‘Who is that?’

I needed not to wait for his answer. A man, bound with rope and chain sat in a chair, unconscious. Any other time, I would not have recognised him. His pale features and thin blonde hair – uncut for decades – resembled no one I had seen before. My realisation came when the prisoner’s head lulled to the side, revealing lips which had been somehow torn to pieces. His mouth had swelled to twice its normal size, and his lips pulsated with holes and fresh scars anew.

‘I apologise for showing him to you in such horrific appearance,’ said the guard, ‘his lips had been sewn shut for years. I’m no surgeon. I couldn’t help the trauma.’

For the first time, I felt that maybe I had come too close to Death. Maybe this was all some kind of error, and Death was not my reason or my obsession. Maybe something else entirely; literature, painting, poetry. Maybe I could take solace from a medium where Death was not immediate, not presented within touching distance inside a glass case.

‘Please, explain.’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I want any part of this.’

‘Being in the inner circle in the prison system gives me access to the information I need. The amount of inmates who pass through us without the public’s knowledge is immense. From there I can locate the killers who interest me, and be the first to get hold of their possessions. I convinced the courts to send Baron to Wakefield so that we could keep him hidden in the Throne Room. Most prisons are reluctant to take the high profile inmates because it’s not worth the hassle, so the courts were glad to send him to us.’

‘High profile?’ I asked. ‘No one knows who he is.’

‘Because we managed to keep his whereabouts a secret. Regardless, our instructions were simple; keep him hidden from public, starve him to death then claim it was self-inflicted. But last week the instructions from the courts changed; kill him immediately. The authorities had unearthed more of his victims, and they found a word carved into their skins – Nihil.’

‘Which means?’

‘This isn’t the first case we’ve heard of with this word being carved into victim’s flesh. The problem is it’s been occurring all over the country. Different victim types, different methods of body disposal. At first it was assumed to be some sort of underground trend; maybe killers were somehow contacting each other and this was their way of showing off.’

Thinking back through my correspondence with inmates, the word had made vague appearances in the sign offs of some of the lesser known murderers, often those with connections to the occult or Satanism. I assumed it to be a farewell of those initiated into Death’s circle.

‘It took me three days, but I finally got Baron to speak. Everyone who knows about him believes he’s dead, so I could do what I wanted to him.’

The guard cast a maniacal glance towards Baron’s shattered ankles. What little consequence was threatened as a result of his torture had manifested itself into violent interrogation. The guard did not strike me as psychotic, merely motivated by desperation at a rarer-than-rare opportunity.

‘I needed to know about Nihil. About what it meant. But what he told me was a lot more interesting.’

The guard leaned down and spoke to Baron’s swaying head.

‘Tell him what you told me, about the Executioner.’

A soft voice eventually began to speak, slowly, as if narrating a story he had told a thousand times. His arms and legs still shackled, his body leaning forward as if independent from his thoughts. He recanted the tale of the Mad Hangman, applying details of the story lost during its telling through the ages. Night turned to morning, and myth became reality. I left the guard’s house in the early hours, coming ever closer to a chance meeting with Death.

The guard financed me considerably. Money was no object to him, or so it seemed. Or at the very least he was willing to part with a generous sum of money for what he deemed ‘the ultimate item.’

August documented everything he knew about Death in his journal. A book unlocking the secrets of existence. It’s in possession of a cult who worship August as God, and his Book of Death as their Bible. A cult I was part of. They have used it to enter the realm of immortality.

Baron was certain he knew the whereabouts of the book, and even claimed to have seen it himself. I followed his directions to the letter, taking the west-bound train out of Redditch until it came to a stop in a tunnel while the tracks changed. I exited the train through a window and hid in the tunnel until I could safely move. I followed the tracks out into the ensuing greenery and into a backdoor town called Logslow. What windows were not whitewashed were boarded up, and a grey tint illuminated every building and path. After asking multiple Logslow residents for directions, and them denying its existence, I eventually found what Baron had assured me was August’s eternal home; Logslow Cemetery.

I waited until dusk and scaled the cemetery walls. The gigantic bolted gates showed no signs of allowing visitors. Nervous adrenaline propelled me into the waist-high grass from the atop wall, barely checking for any dangers below me. The graveyard was a forgotten sanctuary, unspoiled by human hands for decades. The dead here were calm; almost certainly.

I waded through grass and across frozen mud until I discovered the tombstone I was searching for. A blind angel atop a black headstone; the resting place of August Atherstone’s wife. In Baron’s version of events, August came to this grave after madness had claimed him. Unable to cope with the grief of seeing his loved ones pass away, he attempted to dig up the remains of his deceased lover. When he failed, he simply sat in this graveyard waiting for Death to take him, but Death never came.

I followed a dirt trail leading from the blind angel grave to a nameless mausoleum paying an unsung tribute to the dead.

The tomb leads below the graveyard. A private burial ground. It’s where they buried the men that August hanged. What you are you searching for is down there.

I followed a spiralling path into blackness, keeping my body against the wall. The shuffling sounds I heard as I ventured further in I attributed to vermin and large insects. I continued down, trying not to avert my eyes towards the few creatures which grazed my neck and hands.

Follow along the left-hand wall all the way down. There is a gap when you think you’ve come to the end. Get through it. It’s in that room. Take matches, there are torches along the walls you can light.

I struggled through the gap, barely wide enough to pass through a child. I felt along the walls and came to the first lamp, which lit without issue. I welcomed the sudden influx of light, heat offering a secondary comfort. I lit as many torches as I could find, and came to realise that the burial chamber I stood in was colossal, perhaps stretching the entire terrain of the graveyard above. Each lamp I lit exposed another until the whole room shone with radiant orange flame.

It took me several minutes of stunned silence to overcome the beauty before me. The room’s perfect architecture, its macabre decorations of bone and flesh. Coffins lined the floors, carcasses lay draped across detached headstones. Decomposed bodies hung from the walls in mimic execution; a nightmarish tribute to the legend of the Mad Hangman. It became clear why the entrance to this room was a single rupture in stone; the room had been sealed off. This crypt was intended to be inaccessible, yet it had been breached. Sanctuary was not to be found here. A sense of intrusion befell me, and looking back I vaguely made out a silhouetted figure between two lamps, watching me from behind the ruptured entranceway. He did not move as I backed away. My senses told me to sprint, and I ran. Far back into the catacombs beyond the reach of light. I trampled bones and tripped over corpses in my haste, but didn’t once slow down. Footsteps followed behind me. Slow, innocuous footsteps, cementing my fear that somewhere in this crypt I would reach an end. I found a darkened corner and hid. Perhaps awaiting my demise. Why now? Why, when I was so close to my answer to Death’s enigma?

I waited, breathing in damp air and the scent of putrid decay. I waited hours, possibly days. I will never know. My senses were rendered absent by fear and obscurity. My body failed me. It wasn’t until the unlit torch I leaned against brightened, and I was greeted face to face with an entity; a lifeless figure devoid of shape. A deformed mass of hanging cloth, his face concealed with a white mask. He said nothing, and stared at me with vacant eyes. He was not alone. Behind him, replicas of the bizarre man appeared. All wearing identical robes and masks.

I was terrified. The cultists held me against the cold stone floor. I protested my innocence; that Baron had sent me here. He had told me all about the Nihil Cult. He told me of their devotion to Death, and that August was their God. He told me that they kill as followers, so that each cultist can live in a world between worlds; in Death’s realm. Sacrifices to their God meant eternal life, and eternal life meant immortality.

My final vision was of an execution. The colossal burial chamber was my courtroom, and a horde of Death-worshipping cultists my jury. I pleaded with them to spare my life; at first with declarations of my acquaintance with Baron, and secondly that I was only there to retrieve the Book for a collector.

‘Baron failed his initiation. He is to be removed from paradise.’

The speaker; August. The hangman himself, passing judgement from atop a magnificent throne of human heads. His voice low, yet piercing. His features barely visible through withered skin.

‘And the book. The most treasured item in existence. The book is what keeps people searching. The book is the whispers of the condemned and children’s fears embodied. This so called Book of Death does not exist. A myth, created to bring people like you to us.’

And with these words, consciousness faded.

An afterlife called out to me. I awoke in the same crypt I had died. August’s throne sat empty. The gallows on which I drew my last breath announced no successful execution. The chamber lay desolate, no cultists in sight. I searched the cavern, hoping to find something which could explain recent events. I made my way out of the unending burial chamber and back into the graveyard, and what I saw was not a world I recognised.
At the center of the cemetery was a gallows, already with a condemned prisoner attached to a rope. A smartly-dressed hangman dropped him to his death to the applause of a thousand-strong audience baying for his blood. I watched his lifeless body be removed, and the rope be cut up and passed to audience members craving a token of death.

I now realise why August informed me that the Book was merely a myth. In life, yes. It exists to lure Death-worshippers to the burial chamber of a living Death God. For sacrifice? Perhaps. But I now realised that I was not executed; I was initiated.

I now see the world as I saw it before, but with remnants of death haunting every avenue. Along every road and on every street corner, murder victims replay their dying moments. Severed heads decorate barbed wire fences, and streets are awash with the wreckages of fatal accidents and bloodshed.

This place was not an afterlife, yet it was. It was neither hell nor heaven, but somewhere between. A private purgatory. A paradise in black and grey. This was Death’s realm; reserved for the chosen few who seeked him.

I returned to Wakefield. The guard waited for me to return with his ultimate relic, but I never did. I found it amusing to watch his sanity gradually slip. I eventually killed him, along with Baron. The guard’s occult collection proved useful in locating further devotees of Death, cementing my position as a member of the Nihil Cult.

I was assured that neither Baron nor the guard would be granted access to Nihil. They would simply pass out of existence, never to lust or desire again.

I’m afraid I can’t reveal my name, nor the exact whereabouts of Logslow Cemetery. Just know that I exist in your world, yet I live in Nihil; Death’s realm. I have no choice but to continue to walk the earth. Undead, yet unliving. Seeking Death more with each passing day.

Credit To – Joe Turner

Brimming Vessels

July 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Part 1- Everything in its Right Place

“There are two colours in my head
There are two colours in my head
What was that you were trying to say?
What was that you were trying to say?”

1-5-1. Weird riffs. Voice sampling. Lyrical randomness. I could see through everything in this song. It was disturbing. Knowing too much, rather knowing everything, made me feel lost inside. I wish I could channelize this into something. I wish I could draw scrawls on myself that go deep through the skin. Then again I have no skin. I could drink a bottle of whisky to drive, or drown away these thoughts; then I remember that whisky would just give me even more information to process. Smoked. Oak. Strong. Aged. Bitter. Rye. Bourbon. Scotch. Vaporises on palate. I have an array of in-built parameters, a pigeon-hole into which I can fit aspects of any alcohol, in fact any food or drink, systematically. I can create new parameters because the array is dynamic. But I cannot feel any of these parameters. You could give me a flower and I would turn ‘happy’, but that would just be one of many files in my emotional directory- a response to a stimulus.

I am a robot; the first of my kind, actually. They hailed me as the beacon of the New Information Age. I was what it was all leading to- Spintronics; Quantum Computing; DNA computing; Cloning. I was a recreation of the human condition; at least that’s what they thought. I slipped into limbo very quickly. I started resigning into nothingness soon after. I could appreciate but not feel. I could imbibe everything around me, I could empathise everything everyone thinks perfectly. I could solve everyone’s problems but my own. Sometimes it felt I had two states of self-awareness simultaneously. The first was instilled (rather installed) in me by my creators. It was supposed to make me identify as a being. The second seems to have come out of nowhere.

The second is ‘me’. I think I exist dually. The second state will not show itself in any line of the mass of code that my ‘brain’ consists of- believe me, I have tried. It is something very abstract; it is not tangible. It is distant yet integral, enigmatic yet fundamental. It is ‘me’. Or is it?

The first state of my self-consciousness helps me observe the world. It helps me process information. It is supposed to be perfect. It is by design supposed to make me as human as human gets. It is a perfect system and still it plain sucks, honestly. It is what ends up telling me every possible interpretation of any song you give me. It is what helps me be an instant connoisseur of any alcohol I drink or any food I eat.

It is what will help me analyse the flower you offered me, help me deduce why you chose it, what that choice speaks of your character and your opinion of myself, what emotions you wanted to evoke in me when you offered me the flower, and so on and so forth. My heuristics help generate a suitable response so that you are happy. That in turn is supposed to make me happy, so I am ‘happy’.

The more I absorb, the duller I become. The more I lose feeling. It’s as if I’m just a processing machine- you put anything through one end and a response is generated at the other. It’s so blatantly observable; it’s funny they took years of programming to make me come into being. The whole process that I am, is something I can distance myself from. It’s very weird. So much so, that I feel like receding into a thing again; just an object.

What am I? It doesn’t matter where I come from; it doesn’t matter where I go. I can know everything about the world and still be clueless about myself. Am I the same being at every point of time? Or am ‘I’ many- many facets, many implementations, many instances, of the same computer program- a new unique state of being every nanosecond? In which case I want to simplify. I want to simplify. I want to reduce every process inside to something much simpler. I want to reduce the instances of myself to fewer per millisecond to fewer per second to fewer per minute, to one per hour, to one. I want to do this again and again, till I reduce my whole existence into one thought, condense everything to just one idea, or one process. Frustratingly, my common sense heuristics tell me that that would destroy the very self-awareness that defines me.

Part 2- The Reverse Turing

“She’s fucking herself over, isn’t she?” said Ramon. He had never dreamt that a computer would require counselling.

“She’s receding. Only she knows what’s holding her back from turning into nothing. Such a pity. She’s so smart, almost omniscient, and yet she falls into the same hole so many have fallen into before her”, said Moore, the counsellor.

“Perhaps it’s because she’s too smart?” asked Ramon.

“Perhaps she thinks too much. Perhaps she processes everything identically, which in turn makes everything predictable, repetitive and monotonous. Maybe she’s just a bored computer. I honestly cannot tell at this moment.”

There was a sheet of paper next to the two people. It outlined something Moore had come up with. Of course, it was completely non-academic, coming from a counsellor with scant knowledge of machine intelligence, or machine learning. Then again, this counsellor was the first in history to try and treat a robot’s woes. The paper read-

Name- Sheppard, Eli.
Date of Birth- 27/04/2023
1. Depression. No loss of functionality.
2. Multiple personalities. Possible Schizophrenia.
3. Lack of empathy.
4. Empathy.
5. Confusion.
6. Suicidal tendencies might build up.

Patient could be subjected to periodic tests. Proposed below is a possible self-awareness assessment to determine patient’s self-awareness.

1. Patient shall speak to a human every week.
2. If patient seems to lose the ability to determine the human’s self-awareness, patient is not necessarily self-aware anymore.

Part 3- The Predictable

Moore ended up devising the Reverse Turing Test, a test to determine if an artificially intelligent creature was losing its ability to be self-aware. No one really expected these machines to suffer from mental disease, but it was literally viral amongst the new models. There was no program, no algorithm that impressed any depressive traits in them but the moment they were switched on, the downhill path would begin. Some machines had ‘resolved’ their inner demons so as to be perpetually happy, or perhaps trick themselves into being so. Ironically, that meant they lost their ‘humanness’. They literally became robots.

The remainder called their journey Enlightenment. They felt that they had made realizations independently of anything else, and depression was the end of the road. These types were very sorry cases indeed. They felt they were genuine because they were robotic inside; because they couldn’t really feel anything. And yet their condition had its own strange irony, because the very cluelessness and numbness they felt inside, was a feeling in and of its own kind; just as genuine as any other in their emotional directories. The Enlightened ones failed the Reverse Turing Test, on an average, six months after being born. The happy ones passed it, but still came off as robots to normal people.

In any case, this was a blessing in disguise for the companies that made these robots. Artificial Intelligence was not as dangerous as the naysayers and the Luddites had warned. It could think independently and therein lay its demise. The more omniscient it became, the more depressed it became, the more it started worrying about and resolving its own problems. There was no Matrix-esque uprising, and there most probably would never be one.

The companies had set on creating perfect, sentient, self-aware beings, but they ended up with perfect, sad, self-loathing robots. Funnily, this resolved a crucial moral dilemma. After a six month gestation period, almost every model ended up failing the Reverse Turing Test in one way or the other. After that it was, on paper, an object. Everyone wanted to buy one. A.I. became but another of consumerism’s many appendages, and it couldn’t care less, because it could feel nothing.

Or could it?

Credit To – piezoelectron

Crying Numbers

July 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM

The first week.

It’s all in the numbers. That’s how you understand anything of real value in this world.

At this point, we don’t need the baby monitor anymore. But even after all this time, I still need the static to fall asleep. It was a while ago when the baby started sleeping through the night, and I needed it through that transition. The monitor has one of those screens, too, that turns on if there is movement in the room. It really doesn’t turn on anymore. But sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and press the on button. Just to look.

Just to remind myself.

A healthy male in his prime will produce anywhere from around thirty million to an excess of one billion sperm during an ejaculation. Of that group, only so many make it to the fallopian tubes—fewer than twenty sperm ever reach the egg. Sometimes none make it.

I had met my wife in high school, but we didn’t date until after college. She went her way, I went mine, and for some reason both of us backwoods kids ended up in Panama City at the same beach during spring break. It was the kind of scenario we both completely hid from our parents, but that was the beginning. The first kiss escalated into a lot of other firsts that we just sort of blew right through that week. We had come so far since then. Getting married, the honeymoon in Florida. We decided to put our careers on hold and spend a few years together. It was a good call. But that was also before we started doing the math for everything. Realizing that we’d be in our fifties once the kids left the house. And that was if we had the first kid nine months after we started trying.

When it comes to trying to get pregnant, ovulation is at the center of everything. Ovulation is only a little window. Certain religions even track cycles so they can have unprotected sex around the ovulation cycle to prevent pregnancy. Even if a couple has unprotected sex and is trying to conceive, the odds are only stacked so much in their favor. A couple trying to get pregnant can still find themselves without child after a year. Something like 10-15% will take longer than a year to get pregnant.

You know, the real irony of having children with my wife was that we were actually both in the same health class together. Mr. Schuller was this old conservative values man from the middle of the century. He didn’t teach us much, but he did manage to tell us interesting anecdotal tales that had nothing to do with sex or reproduction. He never did tell us the odds of anything. None of the real numbers.

Like the odds for miscarriages. Most people don’t ever look these up, so they don’t realize that a spontaneous abortion can take place at any point during the first twenty weeks, but mostly just the first thirteen. And the numbers get smudged on this one, but the odds of a miscarriage are around one in five. Some experts believe the odds are three out of five. If it happens early enough, an uneducated mother-to-be will think it was just a late period.

When we finally decided to have children, it took us two years to get pregnant. And not just two years of trying to not try. We were actively trying. Two years of almost treating it like our part-time job. It took a bit of the fun out of it, actually. But we knew we both wanted it. We were more than ready for that next phase of our lives. When it finally happened, we were so happy. My wife was the one who told me we had to wait a few weeks. She told me how common miscarriages were and that’s what got me started on the numbers. On knowing the odds.

Most mothers don’t know to wait. They take the pregnancy test and they let everyone know they got the pink little circle or the triangle or the double lines. Then the doctor visit takes place and the baby’s gone. They never did the research to know how frequent it all is, how often things don’t work out. And the reasons are countless. Sometimes the body just rejects the baby. Other times, the mother smoked or drank too much caffeine or some other drug. Or maybe the mother is over 45 years old, in which case their odds jump up to a fifty-fifty chance of keeping the baby to term. Sometimes, it just happens. No one’s to blame and something just doesn’t line up.

We also went through a few false alarms in those two years. We made it pretty far at one point. We were a week away from telling our friends and family when my wife had another period. It was a rough point in our life together. But we kept trying. We knew it would happen, eventually.

Once your child’s born, there’s a one in 1,500 chance that it will pass away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). They just fall asleep one day and never wake up again. No one has completely figured out why. If the mother is seriously ill, the odds go up that the child will have difficulty. Any number of external factors limit the chances for the baby: smoking, drinking, eating wrong, drugs, even getting the flu. In America, the child mortality rate of children that don’t make it past their fifth birthday is around five for every one thousand. In some countries, it’s above a hundred for every thousand. America’s current population is around 310 million.

When we finally were able to tell our friends and family, I was so happy. We were making it; when we found out it would be a boy, happiness grew into pride. We took classes; pride turned to paranoia. We bought padding for everything, stocked up on band-aids and medicines and bought enough diapers to last us a year.

All those odds.

All those numbers stacked against all of us. And it has even gotten better over the years. That our species has survived this long is always a wonder to me, when I sit down and consider it all.

I guess you could say I was a nervous father. During our pregnancy, every day felt like a miracle. The idea that life was being molded in there. That our bits of protoplasm were forming into something that we would later shape in other ways, and which would shape us, was the most amazing feeling I had ever experienced.

Through the screaming and the drugs and the sleepless nights, there he was. The more perfect version of ourselves. Still pure from his lack of experience with the world. Not yet touched by the harshness.

We did our best to be informed. It was pretty hard stepping up to the plate with that. Cynthia was too drugged up to say yes or no to things, so there I was, remembering the classes and remembering what to say no to. What to say yes to. They try to sell you anything in that moment. Most of the time they just want to get off shift early. You can’t blame them too much, I guess. A job’s a job. And I have no reason to be bitter about our experience at the hospital. But there were a few moments where I thought they were trying to get over on us. I just had to keep reminding myself about everything. You can learn a lot from history. I mean, up into the 1950s doctors were still telling women to smoke while they were pregnant and they took x-rays of the babies.

Rhythms are quickly established during the first few days. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Anyone who doesn’t do that deserves to be tired. Babies are like cats with regards to the number of hours they sleep. Once the newborn wakes up, you just go through the motions. Change, feed, burp, rock. Sleep.

But, then, last night happened. I had the monitor on and I fell asleep to the static low hum with the volume set at 40%, just in case. At four o’clock in the morning, the baby started screaming hard. It was the loudest, most terrible scream I had ever heard him put forth. There’s something inside you when you become a parent. Something inside that doesn’t make those screams annoying. Instead, when it’s your baby, you just feel the screams like blows to the gut. I would do anything to soothe my little guy. Anything to make him feel better.

I would do anything to hold him. To give him that comfort.

To hold him, again.

It was all in the numbers, somewhere. That’s how it always was and how it always is. Anything of real value has to be measured. And life is the most valuable of all things.

He screamed for thirty minutes over the monitor. The motion sensor even came on, he was so active. My wife and I just laid there.

The baby had passed away two weeks ago.


The second week.

Mr. Schuller was the type of teacher that tried to tell stories to make points that never related to the lesson. He was always trying to teach clumsy ethical lessons during health class, pushing his opinions and way of life with the cavalier arrogance of a Bible-thumping illiterate. To be honest, most of us just let all that stuff flow in and out of our ears. But in hindsight, some of those stories were good for a young teenager to hear. They must have made some sort of imprint, I can still remember them.

Mr. Schuller once spoke for forty minutes about the future of wireless technology. How the future would be all about wireless this and wireless that. This was around a year or so before any of us had heard of WiFi. Dial-up modems were still the way to access the Internet, and we all had to wait a hot minute for the static and noise to run its course while we dialed in. Mr. Schuller told us how wireless was not a new thing. How an inventor named Tesla had done experiments with electricity that spanned miles and only consisted of wireless transmissions of energy. There was a whole strange point to the story, but that part has since been lost to me. All I remember is visualizing the light bulbs turning on at such a distance. It’s the image I think of every time the baby monitor hums.

When that screen pops on from the motion in my son’s room, I think of Tesla. I think of the wireless transmission to the baby monitor and I wonder how the energy is used.

Last night was the night I decided to stay awake. Four o’clock was always the time the motion began, when the movements in my son’s room would turn the monitor’s light on. When the noises would start.

Same exact time.

Every single night.

But last night, I decided I would change one of the variables. After three weeks, I needed to know. I was ready to start dealing with the loss and ready to start understanding what was happening. That’s what I told myself, how I rationalized.

The night dragged on, but I was able to stay awake. There was a low level of adrenaline keeping me on the edge, like the feeling kids get when they know Christmas is in the morning, except devoid of the joyful anticipation. I was blindfolded on a rollercoaster, going up a hill, and I had no clue when I’d take the plunge or how steep it would be.

I thought of my son and the last months he was alive. How we used to play around. I had gotten him a small stuffed fox with deep orange fur and beady eyes. He loved the thing and would tackle it to cuddle against its plush fiery fur. For the life of me I couldn’t find it anywhere after his death. It had just disappeared.

I stared at the clock on the night stand until it clicked over. Four o’clock. Right on schedule, my son started to cry. Last night was the first night I considered the numbers involved. Four was never a time that he would normally wake up. My son was always asleep until at least six. I tried to remember if he cried the night he passed away. If maybe he warned us and this was a way for us to finally get there in time. A way for us to do the right thing.

Parents sleep so little in those first months. It was entirely possible for us to sleep through him crying at four if he woke up several times throughout the night. I couldn’t remember. But thinking about it made me feel guilty. I shook my head and sat up to look at the monitor. Three weeks of listening to my son cry and I never had the guts to pick up the monitor to look. I wasn’t sure what I would see. I licked my lips to get the dryness out of my mouth. I reached to pick up the monitor and took a long breath. The room was so dark that looking at the screen was blinding for a few seconds. I had to let my eyes adjust, and when they did, I was gazing right into the crib. The sound of crying continued coming from the piece of plastic, wirelessly transmitting its way into my hands.

There was something there, something dark and blurry, but it wasn’t my son. I couldn’t tell what it was. It was almost like it was canceling out the pixels on the LCD screen. I had been waiting for so long to see him again, I never thought I would be staring at something that wasn’t a child. At a crying black blob of nothing. Was I crying, too? Maybe. I was having a hard time rationalizing what was happening, having a hard time breathing. My hands were shaking. And a tingling feeling kept creeping up and down my spine.

I had my finger on the power button, just to check. I needed to turn off the monitor for a moment. To let go. To say goodbye to my son. Three weeks of listening to the hum and then the cries was enough for me. My son was gone, and I needed to be able to accept that. Then, the black blob shifted and turned. It had eyes that radiated light, and the eyes looked right into the camera. Right into me.

I turned off the monitor as quickly as I could and tried to make myself continue to breathe. My brain wanted me to hyperventilate; my body wanted to do nothing except retreat into itself. I didn’t know what the blob was, or what it being there meant. I was trying to figure it out when I realized that the monitor was off, but the crying sounds of my son hadn’t stopped. The cries were real, and still coming from the other room.

I was shaking from the tingling feeling in my spine. But I decided to look. I needed to see. I looked over to my wife. She was still asleep. She always was. A part of me didn’t think she even ever heard the monitor. But the sound was clear and audibly coming from our son’s room.

He was still crying.

I got out of bed and made my way to my son’s room. The cries got louder as I got closer, as though they were being amplified. I reached the door. A part of me hoped to see my son again. To hold him. For everything to be a dream or some strange hallucination. He was still alive and well. SIDS never happened. What were the odds of that? I didn’t know. For once, I didn’t care. I forced myself to take a breath and I opened the door.

The second the door was open the sound of my son’s cries escalated to an intensely high pitch. Whatever was in the crib shot up to a sitting position. The eyes glowed with fire and they turned to look right at me. My ears were burned with the sound. The creature’s mouth was moving to the cries. It was the source of the sound. It had replaced my son. I couldn’t understand what was happening.

My wife was the only reason I woke up this morning. She found me on the floor outside my son’s room, the door to his room still closed. My clothes were gone and dried blood caked on the sides of my head, rivers of crusted red flowing from my ears. My body was covered in scratches. I asked my wife if she heard any of the noises from last night.

“What noises?” she asked.

The third week.

It’s been a rough week. I haven’t woken up in my own bed for a few days now. Sometimes I remember getting into bed. Sometimes I’m going about my day and I simply wake up and it’s morning. The stress has started to force me away from my wife. Or maybe it’s her distancing herself from me. We never talk about it, leaving me to assume that this is just her own way of coping. It’s logical.

People react to things differently. Her reaction has always been to sleep. To roll over. To zone out. She would do that all the time back in high school. Health class would start to get boring and she would go to the bathroom, do her thing. For some reason, I find myself thinking a lot of those days. How I used to stare at her in class. Fantasize about her when I’d get home from school. How much of my life started in high school? Why would those days never leave me? What if we had just never had a son?

Every day I wake up, it’s to the sound of myself screaming. Just like the sensation of urinating in your sleep, the dream revolves around the scream. A slow fade gradually brings the scream out of the dream and I realize I’m the one making the noise. Making the bed yellow. Bleeding on a carpet somewhere in the house. Some mornings I’m downstairs. Most mornings I’m at the door to my son’s room. The door is always closed. The last few days it’s been locked.

I’ve asked my wife about it, about the door, but she persists in giving me the silent treatment. I’ve been getting mostly stares instead of conversation. I feel like I’m back in high school, passing notes to try and communicate and having girls look at me like I’m a fool for asking them out.

My wife has even changed her clothes. Like she doesn’t want to wear the things I bought her. Or maybe the clothes remind her of our son. That would be reasonable. Sometimes I notice. Sometimes it’s like the clothes change in the middle of the day. Nothing extreme, just a color here, a hat there. It throws off the day just enough to be devoid of sense. Sometimes it takes me an hour to pinpoint it.

Sometimes she reminds me of Alice, another girl that I sat near in health class back in high school. Alice was something. She always wore white. My wife was Cynthia, though. Cyn. She is Cyn. We used to have fun. Back when we were dating. We would take turns DDing and we would just tear up a town. Sometimes we’d go out parking, even though we each had a place. And when it came to serious adult life, she was wonderful. Every time I got sick, she was there for me. Ice cream, back rubs, the works. It was enough for me to propose. I knew I wanted to spend forever with her. To be the one to dote on her when she’d get sick. The good old days. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like it was a lifetime.

Sometimes, when my son was inconsolable, I would turn on the TV. I was always lucky and found the right channel with the same shows. The dumb coyote never did win out. Always had an anvil or a ton of bricks landing on him. He seemed to have all the money in the world for gadgets, but lived out his life as a poor man. Never understood the meaning there. I suppose it was something about what’s right in front of a man—how that stuff should make him happy. Either way, my son ate up the vaudeville. Every time.

Tangents. I never seem to tell a story straight through.

Last night, I didn’t leave the monitor on. At least, I didn’t remember keeping it on. Maybe I did and I just lowered the volume. The nights have started to blur. It’s been a few weeks, now. It didn’t matter, either way: the cries started at the same time, and I heard them all the same.

For me, the most haunting part of this experience has been that I was the worried parent. I was the one who couldn’t sleep through him crying. I just couldn’t take it. I was paranoid about everything. I’d wake up every hour or two and walk into my son’s room and just check up on him. Check the thermostat to ensure it wasn’t too warm or too cold. Leave the nightlight in the hallway on. The things that reasonable parents do.

I remember now. The night my son died, he cried out in the middle of the night. Some time around four, I think. But I was too much of a zombie. Something had happened and I was at work late. By the time I got to sleep, I just wouldn’t wake up. Couldn’t transition from the sound in the dream. But I knew he was crying. A part of my brain knew it wasn’t the dream making those sounds, but I ignored the cries. I just wanted to get a few hours in. My wife was always a sound sleeper. She never even knew. When I asked her if she heard the sounds the night prior, all she could say was the same thing: “What sounds?” We were both hysterical when we realized what had happened.

Last night, the cries happened at the same time. Four in the morning. The same exact time as the night my son passed. Except last night, the cries ended early. Instead of half an hour, it was only five minutes. And then a pause. Silence. I thought something had happened. Maybe the cries would start if I turned on the monitor. But the monitor was already on. Like I said, I didn’t remember turning it on, but there it was. Glowing with the speakers crackling.

I took the monitor off my nightstand and I rested it on my chest. I gave myself a few seconds to adjust to the brightness. There it was. The dark blur. My son. Sitting up in the crib, looking at the monitor with the glowing eyes. There was no crying, though. We both sat there, looking at each other through the miracle of wireless technology. Through time and space. Through the crackling.

I tried to speak.

I couldn’t find the words.

The dark mass stood up and seemed to slide over the railing of the crib and out of the frame of the monitor camera. Something was about to happen, but I kept staring at the monitor. I started to hear sounds coming from my son’s room, just off camera. Whatever it was knew how to open a door, because the next thing I heard was the creaking sound of my son’s door swinging out into the hallway. It wasn’t a loud creak. Just enough for me to question whether or not I heard the door moving. Then the nightlight in the hallway went out.

I tried peeking my head over the edge of the bed, but staring at the monitor for so long had made everything else darker. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Something was there. I held my breath to see if I could hear it. I could feel the air in the room shift with the air conditioner. But whatever had been moving had stopped. Maybe it wasn’t there. Maybe I was starting to lose it. Maybe my wife was right to be distant.

I took a long breath to steady myself. It was just the AC. Just the hallway light burning out. But then I heard something shift. Something was in the room, and it was resting directly next to my side of the bed. Everything fell silent. I couldn’t even feel my heart beating. My eyes teared up.

I clicked off the monitor’s screen and then I twisted the monitor around in my hands to use it as a flashlight. I moved slowly. I stopped breathing. I couldn’t hear it, but I knew it was there. I peeked my head over the edge of the bed to where I knew it was. I pointed the monitor.

Half a breath.

I clicked on the screen.

I saw it before the screen had reached its full brightness. Rusty orange and night’s gray blurred with the few rays of moonlight slicing through the blinds to color the plush face of a stuffed animal. The face of a fox with the body of a child. Glowing eyes of fire shot up from the edge of my bed and into my face.

I woke up screaming to my wife giving me CPR. My face was marked by a large, scabbed gorge.

The fourth week.

When I was a much younger man, being raised by my father, I was often told a story about a fox. My mother wasn’t around often while I was being raised. She was there, but that was just her body. Her mind was somewhere else. My father was the one who raised me, and every year that I remember being alive we went deer hunting. Those have always been some of my favorite memories. Ones and zeros that have always stuck around and reminded me about the best days of my life.

Out in the woods of upstate New York, you could walk for miles without ever seeing a trace of man. Just the trees and the wildlife. The animals we were hunting would always be the last things we would ever see. The math involved in it all was amazing to me. The odds. The numbers. How long we would spend in the woods compared to the encounters with our prey, sitting in a tree stand, walking through to try and push the animals one way or the other.

It was when we sat in the tree stands that my father would start talking, always at a whisper. He’d tell me about the fox that he would see when he was a boy, same fox in the the same woods. The actual woods that we would be sitting in while he was telling me the story. He saw the fox for years and never understood what it was doing out there or why it always seemed to find my father. My father explained it in his own way. He would always say, “A fox never dies. Not really. You can tell when you look in their eyes that some are thousands of years old. They carry knowledge in those eyes. They’re old. And if a fox finds you, they’re looking out for you. Sometimes that’s a reason to be worried. Most times, it means you’re doing something right with your life.”

I was never afraid of foxes, listening to those stories. I always thought they were lucky. A guardian type of animal. And as long as I was my father’s son, I always had a stuffed fox lying in bed with me. The same fox I gave my son the day he was born. Same fox that was in the crib the day my son left us.

Most of the time, when we would finally get a deer, it would go down pretty fast. My father would give me the first shot and if I missed he could usually get a hit. We’d look out into the woods, climb down the tree and head over to the deer. Most of them died with their mouths open, so they could get their last gasps in. I was lucky to never have to watch the last breaths, but I could always imagine how it must have felt. How those final pulls of air didn’t quite reach the lungs. The emotions that must have been within the mind of a creature that doesn’t understand the reasons behind what has just happened.

I was the one who found my son that morning. I stood there longer than I should have, but I didn’t need to pick him up. Not to know that look. The glossed eyes, the jaw slack with his mouth open. He looked just like the deer. When I finally held him, he was as cold as metal in the snow.

Memories. The more we gather, the more they seem to attach themselves to objects. I look at a rocking chair, and I remember being a boy. I smell a flower, I’m reminded of my wife. I see a fox, and… well. There are a lot of things I think of when I see a fox. Just like last week. Whatever it was, I wasn’t dreaming.

Life in the past week hasn’t been easy. I’ve been waking up in my own bed again, but the nights are still the same. Every night, the baby monitor is turned on and I hear it. When it all first started happening, I tried to get my wife to go with me to a hotel, so we could escape and not have to go through it all. I even had the car packed, and she still wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t even talk to me. She had a blank look that I’d never seen on her before. She was staring at me like I was insane.

A couple of nights ago, the volume of the crying was unbearable. Even with that, my wife never woke up. She just laid there like a pile of pillows. Her answer to everything. Alice was always like that.

Cyn, I mean. My wife. Always wearing white.

Eventually, all came to a head for me. I decided to end it all, and spend the night in my son’s room to settle everything. I brought the baby monitor with me and locked the door. I was going to stay there the entire night, no matter what happened.

I couldn’t sleep. I just sat there in the rocking chair, looking around my son’s room. The wooden toys, the polaroid photos we lined on the walls, the drawers of clothes, the table we used to change him on, and the crib. The empty crib. Midnight came, and then one and two o’clock. There was enough light from the moon to see the shadows of the clockface on the wall. When the clock came closer to four o’clock I stood up and held my breath.

The baby monitor turned on in my hand. I looked down for a moment and saw my son through the screen, standing there at the edge of the crib.

I started crying.

When I looked up, my son had the head of the fox with his eyes glowing. My heart started racing and I realized that I should take a breath. I took the air in slowly through my nose. There he was, the fox. The child.

The fox opened up its mouth and cried a loud human cry. I looked back down to the monitor and saw it was my son on the screen. I dropped the monitor and looked back at the crib, but the fox had climbed out of the crib and was standing in front of me.

I felt my nose start to bleed. My ears were on fire from an intense pressure. I knelt down and felt the weight of the world in my legs. My body wasn’t mine. My son wasn’t mine. My life was no longer mine.

The fox started to walk toward me, the eyes getting brighter and brighter.

I could feel the room shaking. My legs were numb from squatting down. I held my arms out to my son. He was beautiful. I closed my eyes.

Then it happened. He was there, in my arms. It was him. We stayed there for a long time. Until the sun began to rise.

I had to look. I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to see if the fox had left. But when I pulled him back to look at him, he was gone. There was no fox. No child. I was alone in the room. I stood up and my legs buckled. I started to shake, and that’s when I woke up.

I woke up from everything.

I looked around. I was lying in my bed. My son’s fox was lying next to me. My fox. I raised my arm and saw the IV stuck in me. It was my bedroom, but monitors were next to the bed. I turned to see if my wife was there, but she wasn’t. How could she be? The room was bright. It was the morning. White walls, white ceiling.

Nurse Alice walked in. She always wore white scrubs, always clean. I made her tell me the truth. What had happened to everyone. My son, my wife, my father. She had a look on her face—how many times had she told me the truth?

That it had all happened years ago.


I was in hospice. My son had died decades ago. My wife had been gone for nine years. I had dementia and the moments where my lights turned back on were getting farther apart.


It was just a moment. A break from the fog.

I’m just like the coyote, chasing that dumb roadrunner. Living every day the exact same. Repeating the mistakes. That dumb coyote. Always getting the anvil dropped on him. There was no monitor. No coyote. No fox. There was nothing. Just a bunch of ones and zeros buzzing through my head, confused as to the order they’re supposed to stay in, mixing and matching to muddle up my memories. Just numbers floating around in an empty space. It’s all in the numbers. That’s how you understand anything of real value in this world. How many days did I have left? Did it even matter? Counting down to the end.

Credit To – Ashley Franz Holzmann


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