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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Doors Are Made For Opening

January 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I cannot tell you when it all began. I have always been plagued by sleep paralysis. I have somewhat learned to deal with it, to recognise it for what it is and wait it out. It always begins with the need to yawn or speak, but my mouth is shut tight. I then try to sit bolt upright, but my arms and body are clamped down to the bed. Sometimes my eyes are open. Sometimes I see things.

Seeing things is always frightening. Tall, inhuman shadows that glare at me, grinning, slender clawed hands stretching until I fully wake up. Then there are the times when I awake underneath my bed sheets. I feel the weight of the things, as they kneel on my chest atop the sheets, pinning me down until I fully wake up and can move again.

This is normal sleep paralysis. I have read that people from around the world have similar experiences – the horrific sights, the pressure on the chest of the ‘victim’ – it’s all in the mind of the sleeper. All a more intense version of a nightmare. Although terrifying, I have learned to deal with them. The only thing is, I couldn’t find anything written about voices. The things talk to me.

Doors are made for opening.

When they whisper to me, it’s all they say.

I’d never thought too much about it. They were just my nightmares. In hindsight I wish I had paid more attention to the things. They did not always kneel on me. They did not always talk to me. But they did not always open my wardrobes and cupboards either.

The first few times that I awoke normally to find my wardrobes and cupboards open, I assumed I’d left them that way when I went to bed. The past four days however, I have hardly slept. Fighting insomnia the first night, I lay in the semi-darkness. That night the wardrobe doors swung violently in front of me, and I remained frozen in fear until the sun came up. The second night, I had tried – and failed – to sleep downstairs. Lying there I heard the wardrobe doors fly open once more above me. I had flicked the lights on and stood in my living room, images of ghosts or draughts or poltergeists or minor earthquakes wrestling for my attention.

You must realise, over the years I have learned to separate my sleep paralysis episodes and understand them to be nightmares and nothing more. You mustn’t judge me. But as I stood there in my living room, awake, I understood more than I ever wished to.

“Doors are made for opening”. The harsh whisper, so close to me.

It was only when I reached my hotel room later that night after running from the house that I discovered it. I’ve no idea when it was drawn, just a few lines – unmistakably a door – marked in charcoal on my chest. I tried to wash it off, but the stain remained. And it’s still there. I have been in the hotel room for two days now. Always with the lights on and always awake, except for whenever it was I must have succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep. I’m awake now, but I this whole ordeal is going to be over soon. How do I know? Because I can’t scream. Because I can’t move my body. And because the grinning things with clawed hands are now looming over me, whispering to me.

Credit To – Carrot

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Comfort in Numbers

January 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Ever since I was young, I have lived thinking in numbers. I was brilliant with numbers, so that was what I stuck to doing. I excelled in my math classes all throughout my childhood, so much so that many of my math teachers gave me advanced lessons to keep me on my toes. But it was never a problem with me. I could fix the errors and solve the problems, but that was only a small part of how my brain worked.

I am always counting things. Everything, to be exact. I can’t go throughout the day without numbers rolling through my head. When I wake up, I count my fingers and toes. In the shower, I count the square floor tiles. At breakfast, I count how many pieces of cereal are on my spoon before placing it into my mouth. On the way to town, I count the amount of cars I pass.

Some of you may think that this little habit is strange, but it has always been a part of who I am.
I always remember these numbers as well. In fact, I can tell you right now that there are exactly thirty socks in my drawer; fifteen pairs if you want to count them that way. I know that there are eight eggs left in the carton in my fridge. Six pieces of bread in the box, eleven icons on my computer desktop, three freckles on my hand… This list could go on and on.

Remembering all of it is a curse and a blessing. It helps me keep track of where everything is and how I manage most of it, but the downside is that it comes with very acute paranoia. While I can obviously remember all of these numbers, I constantly worry about them changing without my knowledge.

I once kicked my old high school friend out of my house when she didn’t tell me that she had taken one of the seven pieces of gum I had left in the packet. Seeing that there was only six, knowing that one of my life variables had changed without my permission, made me tense.
There wasn’t much social interaction in my life. People were too hard to count and keep track of. They moved too much, changed too much. They made my numbers unstable and I could never keep track of all of them. So, for the sake of my sanity, I worked from home and lived in complete isolation. Some of my family said that I wasted my talent away by picking a safe job, but I didn’t need them in my life. Cutting contact with them reduced an equation that had too many changing variables.

I live in the country, way off the road surrounded by field. I would’ve secluded myself further by living in the forest, but I feared that I would go nuts trying to count all the trees. It was hard enough to prevent myself from counting the blades of grass in my lawn; I didn’t need the additional distraction.

When I needed food or anything else, I paid the couple that lived five miles down to go to town and get my groceries for me. They had three children and two dogs.

Very rarely did I ever venture into town myself, and when I did it was very brief and hastily done. Trying to distract myself from all the things to count nearly drives me insane, but I managed. I’ve always managed.

The solitude helps. It keeps my habit in line. I have my things to count, I am aware when they change, and I don’t have constantly unreliable variables in my life. Everything is normal.

Until that one day.

I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t true, that I was miscounting, but that was impossible.

I never miscounted, ever.

When I went to pour my cereal that morning, I noticed something horribly wrong. I had exactly eight of each piece of silverware in my drawer. Eight forks, eight spoon, eight butter knives, eight, eight, eight, eight! But when I was counting my spoons, I was one short.

Immediately perturbed, I combed the entire house for the missing spoon. Within my search, I also found that one of the five beads on my curtain drawstring was missing, one of my thirty socks gone, and two pieces of the six pieces of bread I had had mysteriously disappeared.

I felt heat rising to my head and my vision hazing. My numbers were wrong, someone changed them. Someone had gotten into my house and changed them.

Many people would not jump to conclusions at losing such small, easy to misplace or forgettable things; people lost things all the time, but not me. I never lost my numbers. They were what kept me in order. I had control over my numbers, no one else. I did not like anyone messing up my numbers and changing them. They were mine.

I searched for hours trying to find these missing things. I checked every single place in my home, even the most unbelievable ones. I even called up that family five miles down and asked if one of their three children had touched anything the last time they had been delivering my groceries, though I knew I had counted these things after that. They hadn’t, or at least the parents didn’t believe so.

I had been searching so fiercely that I had almost skipped my time for working. Though I didn’t want to give up on looking for these lost numbers, I forced myself to sit down and start working at my computer. Though whole time I edited reports, I thought of my missing numbers. Usually I would keep track of word count and add up all the errors I corrected, but I couldn’t pull my thoughts away from my disturbing findings.

Not only was I completely off-balance, I was worried for my safety. It was obvious that someone had come in and taken these things. Why or how, I did not know. But my house was no longer safe. I was no longer safe. And, apparently, neither were the numbers that made up my life.

After my work was finished, I resumed looking for these missing pieces of my life. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, had skipped my lunch, and I skipped right over dinner to look for my numbers. I checked the same places over and over again, hoping that I had skipped something.

When midnight hit, I had searched my house exactly thirty-seven times. The last twenty-one times included a full sweep around the front porch of my house. All of those times had come up completely blank. My numbers were gone, stolen.

Shaken, I fell into my bed, exhausted, at one twenty-six in the morning. The weather outside had turned from a decently cold day, to a windy turmoil constantly howling in the background. I curled up beneath my covers in discontent. I closed my eyes and began counting in my head to try and lull myself into sleep. My numbers popped into my head, I was discontent thinking over how they’d changed.

Just as I had begun to fall asleep, I heard my old house groan against the wind pushing outside.

My eyes snapped open, and I began to count the amount of creeks it made.

One…
Two…
Three…

When daylight shined through the window, I was still staring at ceiling. The wind died down after an hour, but I had kept counting. I could hear it in my head and I had to keep counting. Everything needed to be counted. How many times I blinked, breathed, moved. It needed counted. Everything needed counting.

Fifty-six…
Fifty-seven…
Fifty-eight…
My alarm clock suddenly went off, but I didn’t even blink. The numbers in my head started over, counting the amount of beeps going off in the background.

I got up, but I didn’t turn off the alarm. I kept on counting as I collected clothes for the day. My whole face twitched when I saw that one of my shirts was missing, along with one shoe from a pair. It was becoming harder to breathe, I was seeing red. But, I was still counting.

One…
Two…
Three…

I walked into the bathroom, my arms clenching violently after seeing the fake plant in the hallway suddenly had thirty-five leaves instead of thirty-six. I slipped into the shower, starting over once again to start counting shower tiles as I ran shampoo and conditioner through my hair.

Eleven…
Fourteen…

When I had finished my shower and had clothed myself, I was drying my hair in front of the mirror when I saw him. He looked just like me. Made of twos and fives, just like me. Two eyes, arms, legs, ears, feet, hands… Five fingers, toes… His face was like mine.

Leaning closer to the mirror, I saw him lean in as well. I watched as he grinned at me, twenty-eight adult teeth gleaming in the mirror light. He winked, and plucked one of the two toothbrushes I had sitting on the counter, stuffing it into his pocket and disappearing.

Hissing in disbelief, I looked down to see that brush gone. My head was spinning, and I quickly started counting the light bulbs in the hallway lamps as I stalked my way through the house. The more I walked around, the more I saw missing. Each missing item made my mind spin, and I had to start counting again.

Sixteen…
One…
Two…
Three…

I saw him again the kitchen, but he was different. He was no longer made up of twos and fives. A third arm from the shoulder, four fingered hands, one hand, and one grinning mouth.

Hands clenching, I swung for him, only to smash my hand right into the reflective surface of my refrigerator. Howling in agony, I spun around to look for where he’d gone. He was quick I had to give him that. Quick and a changing variable. I hate him.
When I saw that he was nowhere to be found, I decided to just fix myself some breakfast in peace. I counted out my granola bars, which were in a basket where that man had been standing. I was furious to see that two of the fourteen bars were gone. I left the kitchen after that, too disgusted to eat and besides, I wasn’t even that hungry.

I saw him again when I sat at my computer, staring at me from within the blank monitor. He didn’t have a mouth this time, or a nose. Just two wide eyes staring at me. I could see the smugness in their depths. He liked what he was doing to me.

Giving an angry yell, I picked up the monitor and threw it across the room. It gave so easily, I was surprised. Only to become more outraged when I saw that the chords that connected the monitor to the tower were gone anyway, stolen just like the rest of my numbers.
Trying to quell my pent up fury, I began to count items sitting on my desk.

Five…
Ten…
Some were gone.

I tried four different hiding places in my house. I needed to hide from him, hide somewhere he couldn’t steal my numbers anymore. I just wanted to count. I needed to count, but he wouldn’t let me finish! I needed to finish counting, something needed to be stable.

I barricaded myself into my small, cramped spare bedroom closet. I had nothing in there, nothing he could steal. The only thing it had aside from the walls keeping it together was the single mirror built into the wall. I leaned against it, wrapping my arms around my knees.

Rocking myself slowly, trying to breathe again, trying to keep my head clear, I began to count the number of wood planks making up the floor.

Twelve…
Thirteen…
When I ran out of planks to count, I began to count my fingers and toes.
Eight…
Nine…
Nine. My ring finger on my left hand was gone. Not severed, just gone.
Sixteen…
Seventeen..
Some toes were missing, as well. I was not constant, I was losing more of my numbers. Losing myself.

I turned towards the mirror and saw him again. He had no eyes, no limbs. Just one, single, large grin. He was smiling at me, knowing what I was thinking. I craned my head back slowly, watching him do the same. Once I was back far enough, I rammed myself straight forward, smashing my head against the glass of the mirror.

One…
Two…
Three…

I could feel five glass shards in my face. I felt my head throb four times before I began to slip under. The three crashes of shattering glasses played in loop through my head. Two times my vision blurred before going black. And only once did I smile, knowing that I had finally solved the biggest equation of all.

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A Demon’s Game

December 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Come to me, children, and follow my way,
Into the world of Darkness and Magic.
With all my power, I’ll show you the way,
To all your dreams, hopes, and illusions.

– DHT, “Magic Melody”

[This is a loose follow-up to “The Devil Game”]

With quiet reverence, you ease open the delicate wrought-iron gate and step into the moonlit night garden. The faint fragrance of roses pleases your senses, and a soft breeze lightly tousles your hair to and fro. A fountain stands immediately in front of you, its centerpiece a dreamlike, abstract bronze sculpture whose twists and turns form the vague and distorted shape of a woman. Water flows in melodious, burbling streams from the tips of what seem like the statue’s beckoning fingers. Otherwise, the place is deathly silent. A brick path circles the fountain and splits off in several directions into the tangles of semi-wild foliage that represent the garden proper. Moonlight shines through gaps between broad, tropical leaves, amongst which bloom flowers of bright blue, garnet red, velvety purple, and inky black. It is a beautiful place, and yet its surreal atmosphere is, on a subconscious level, vaguely disturbing. The atmosphere seems charged as if with faint electricity, and the whole place carries a distinct aura of waiting.

This doesn’t deter you, however. In fact, it is in large part what attracts you. The darkness, the mystery, the dreamlike atmosphere, even the shadowy undercurrent of fear and menace… these things just add to the excitement and magnificence of the garden, bewitching your senses and drawing you almost hypnotically further in along the brick path betwixt the trees, hedges, and vines. As you pass about the fountain, marveling at the clear, sparkling water, you hear the iron gate creak shut behind you of its own accord. A strangely pleasant shiver of apprehension courses down your spine as your heartbeat picks up speed. Some small, rational part of your mind wants to leave, to get out right now… but most of it still wants to go further in, to explore, regardless of what dangers might or might not be involved. For most of your largely ordinary life, you’ve wished for something… magical… to happen to you, and that’s exactly what this place is. Magical. Even if it seems to be a dark sort of magic, you can’t simply walk away and leave it behind. So, nerves abuzz, heart fluttering like a little songbird, you slowly venture down one fork of the brick path, underneath a shadowy canopy of lush foliage, deeper into the garden…

Have you ever wondered why fears exist?

For those with even the roughest background in the sciences, an immediate answer would seem to present itself. Fear is our mind’s way of preparing and prompting us to respond to danger. You know, like the “fight or flight” response. What happens when you become afraid? You instantly become more attentive to your environment, senses honing in on any potential threat. Your heartbeat speeds up, readying for strenuous physical exertion. Your muscles clench and you begin to sweat, accomplishing much the same thing. Your hair stands on end – a remnant from ancestors many millennia past, whose hair grew thick enough that this might actually make them look larger and more threatening. You become both physically and mentally prepared to either defend yourself as best you can, or run away as fast as you can. It’s a survival mechanism, giving you the best possible chance against whatever threat caused the fear response in the first place.

However, if you look a little further, this explanation still leaves many questions unanswered. For instance… Being afraid of real and immediate threats makes sense from a survival standpoint, but what possible benefit is there to being afraid of things that, based on the best information available to us, do not and probably could not exist? Be honest now, how many of you actually believe that things like Slenderman, the Rake, and Smile Dog really exist and are capable of harming you? And how many of you have still been kept up late at night, filling comment boxes with almost religious litanies of “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE,” racked with anxiety by the mere thought of them?

Where do such irrational fears come from? Where do our monsters come from?

Walking under the shadowy canopy of dark trees, surrounded by oppressive silence, you suddenly become aware of a strange but familiar feeling… the omnipresent, horror-story cliché feeling of being watched. You look about you with some anxiety, goosebumps rising across your exposed flesh, but you can’t see anything that might be watching you. Not that this means much with so many shadows and convenient hiding places at every angle. The full moonlight is brighter than on most nights, but still barely enough to see by – especially with so much of it blocked out by the tunnel of branches and leaves overarching most of the path.

You are getting more uneasy now, but you are not truly afraid yet. You wrestle briefly with whether or not to head back to the gate, but in the end decide to forge onward for a while longer. This is partially due to the same morbid fascination that drew you in in the first place, but there is another reason… since the feeling of being watched came to your attention, the dark passage behind you suddenly seems filled with a waiting menace, more so than the path in front of you. Even the easily explicable sound of leaves rustling in the breeze behind you now carries sinister implications.

A strange part of you is enjoying it – the adrenaline starting to trickle into your veins, the increasing acuity of your senses, the odd feeling in your heart and the pit of your stomach, like that of falling or flying… even the shivers now going down your spine seem to vaguely mimic those of ecstasy. These are some of the same reasons it’s fun to be at a horror movie or in a haunted house… but you’re not safe here like you are there. In a way, that edge almost makes it better, but in other ways, it makes it a whole lot worse. There have been a lot of forks in the path since you came in, and you decide to take the next one that leads off in the general direction of the entrance. Time to start heading for home.

One explanation for the existence of irrational fears – why we dream up and fear monsters that really don’t exist to threaten us – is just the overgeneralization of the fear response in the face of an uncertain situation. Consider… a hypothetical bunch of cavemen huddled around a fire, who suddenly hear a rustling in the bushes behind them. One guy freaks out and grabs his spear, one guy shrugs it off as just the wind, and one guy decides to go give their new visitor a hug. Obviously, if there’s a tiger in that bush, some guys are going to be more likely to survive the encounter than others. We’re hardwired to respond to ambiguous situations not with optimism or indifference, but with… well, with something along the lines of:

“ohshit, ohshit, OHSHIT, NOPE NOPE NOPE…”

In other words, fear. And in the absence of a concrete stimulus to evoke that fear, our minds just fill in the blanks with some of the freakiest shit they can come up with.

It only takes a little push to turn what should be a completely safe situation into an ambiguous one in our mind’s eye. You may have no problems walking down the dark hallway to your bedroom most of the time, but all it takes is a couple of hours browsing Creepypasta to turn that shadowed passage into a potential threat, one that makes your heart race and your hair stand on end. Or say someone sends you one of those dumb chain letters, one that says you’ll be murdered if you don’t re-post it five times in the next hour. Everyone knows those things are stupid, those things are STEREOTYPICALLY stupid, but somehow they still manage to spark a sense of unease, create that feeling of an ambiguous threat. It’s certainly enough to make some people forward them, even with the threat of social backlash from angry recipients.

But if the fear of monsters and demons is just an overgeneralized response, a maladaptive but unavoidable consequence of retaining the fear response to rational threats… why do we seek out and propagate stories of monsters? Shouldn’t we be doing our best to minimize the useless byproducts of our survival instincts? Ditching them the same way we ditch wisdom teeth that don’t fit in our mouths, or an appendix that’s about to burst?

What makes us want to seek out fear?

Your footsteps start to quicken as you continue down the dark path. You’d turned in what you thought was the direction of the entrance several minutes ago, but your surroundings just keep looking more and more unfamiliar. You now seem to be in the middle of what looks like a giant hedge maze, with thick, monolithic bushes rising up on either side of you. Deep, garnet red roses bloom from the hedges, bristling with wicked-looking black thorns, and their sweet scent in this enclosed space is becoming strong enough to be sickening. The path winds and forks, twists and turns too many times for you to count, and with dismay you have to admit that you are now completely lost.

Not to mention, on top of all that, your apprehensive feeling of being watched has been growing steadily worse with each passing moment. You’re seeing odd shadows, hearing out-of-place rustles and branches cracking in the foliage behind you. It’s not just paranoia, now; you suspect that you are actually hearing some…THING following you.

This is no longer fun.

You’re working hard to control your breathing, viciously trying to suppress the initial tendrils of panic now worming their way into your chest. You glance nervously behind you for about the umpteenth time since you got here… and this time, you see strange, luminescent yellow eyes staring intently back at you. You reflexively jerk back in terror and shock, jumping several inches off the ground and drawing in such a sharp gasp that it’s almost painful. You lose sight of the eyes for a moment due to your violent reaction, and when you look back… they’re gone.

But the damage has already been done. Your heart is now pounding like you just ran a triathlon. Panic is clawing at your mind like a wild beast, and it’s all you can do not shriek or collapse on the spot. For a moment you just stand there like a statue, rooted to the spot by helpless terror. Then, something seems to snap back into place inside your mind, and you turn and sprint blindly in the opposite direction, stumbling and scraping your arm against the rose-covered hedgerow on your right side. The sharp thorns cut deep, bloody gashes in your exposed flesh.

But you don’t care. All that matters is that… THING… behind you. You know it’s there now. You know it’s following you, and although you can’t be certain, you think you have a fairly good idea of what it wants. Instinct is telling you that those were a predator’s eyes. And your subconscious – or perhaps just your overactive imagination – is telling you that this predator is not just hungry for your flesh. It has been basking in your fear. It wishes to revel in your suffering and terror. The malice seething from it is like a palpable miasma pressing against your back, driving you to run faster than you ever have before.

And even if all of that is simply your imagination, even if the only things you can trust are the concrete facts you saw with your own eyes, you know one thing for certain. This thing is not human. Nor is it any animal you have ever encountered. Because… its eyes… those huge, piercing, bright yellow eyes…

It had SIX OF THEM.

There are actually a lot of reasons why one might go looking to be scared, some better than others. One good reason to seek out irrational fears is to better prepare oneself for dealing with rational ones. There is a prominent hypothesis which postulates that nightmares serve as a sort of mental “training,” allowing us to experience dangerous situations similar to those we might encounter in real life and practice different ways of handling them. Children often tend to have nightmares about being chased by animals or monsters, hearkening back to the days when people really did have to worry about being attacked by wolves or other wild beasts in the night. As we grow up, we tend to have more nightmares about situations that cause us fear and worry in our own lives: getting lost amidst school hallways, being late or unprepared for a test, etc. The monsters never really go away, however… after all, even modern life carries the distinct possibilities of, say, an intruder entering the house in the middle of the night, or wild animals attacking a group of campers.

So, we read through campfire tales and Creepypastas, all the while thinking things like “What would I do in this situation?” or “What should that stupid protagonist have done instead of investigating that weird noise alone?” (seriously, name me one horror story where you haven’t mentally bemoaned the main character’s stupidity at one point or another). And this, allegedly, better prepares us to deal with dangerous situations in real life. But, be honest, we aren’t all purely logical beings, seeking out scary stories for the express purpose of bettering ourselves. If anything, this reason is mostly subconscious. What actually draws us to such stories, creates our enjoyment on a conscious level, is something different.

When you think about it, the physiological response to fear… it can be almost like a high in a certain way, can’t it? It’s not just external substances that can alter one’s mental state, after all; one’s own hormones and neurotransmitters can do it too. Think of things like the so-called “runner’s high,” where intense exercise can make some people experience feelings of euphoria. Fear obviously creates more of a negative, uncomfortable feeling than a positive, euphoric one – it is, after all, meant to drive us away from danger – but there’s no denying that the adrenaline rush can make you feel more alert, more alive. It puts you in the moment. The feelings that fear arouses in you have the allure of novelty, even if prolonged or uncontrolled exposure is unpleasant. As long as you feel in control, as long as you are logically convinced you are in no real danger, scaring yourself can be… well, fun.

This is especially true for people who have grown up in privileged environments, people who have had little reason to experience true fear or the painful consequences that sometimes follow from it. People who feel a general sense of security and can shrug off the effects of a scary experience before they become truly uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, the modern lifestyle as a whole can make scaring oneself more alluring. Nowadays, anxiety is more of a prevalent problem than fear. Chronic low-grade anxiety over academic performance, jobs, relationships… the sort of stress known to increase one’s risk of heart disease… Fear can temporarily erase these worries, wipe one’s mind clean of everything except the here and now.

And it’s so easy to get oneself the right kind of scared: scared of things you’re pretty sure can’t actually hurt you. Of the unknown, rather than a concrete threat. The natural dangers that our ancestors used to indoctrinate themselves with knowledge of – a dark forest, wild animals, harsh storms – are now largely mysterious to us, buffered from our everyday lives by the trappings of modern convenience. We’re surrounded by technology whose workings might as well be magic for all that we understand about them, rendering any unusual activity – television static, a hacked video game, a strange camera – potentially terrifying. The unknown, the ambiguous, is all around us. Anyone with Internet access has a thousand tales of terror at their fingertips. It is so easy, so potentially gratifying, to scare yourself. And that’s what they count on.

The monsters, I mean.

Your breath comes in short bursts and gasps, now practically reduced to hyperventilation. Your thighs and calves are burning, feet throbbing, every footfall throwing another painful jolt of impact through your overexerted body. You’re not sure how long you can keep running, but every time you even think about slowing down, you hear IT behind you – leaves rustling, heavy breathing, branches cracking, teeth or claws clicking – and another burst of adrenaline forces you onward. Every time you turn a corner, you fear from the bottom of your heart that you will hit a dead end, wind up cornered, trapped like a rat by that… unnatural THING following on your heels.

But in that respect, at least, your luck holds. You might as well be running on a treadmill for all that you can tell from your surroundings. Every turn, every step leads you down an identical bushy corridor, and while IT does not seem to be catching up with you (yet), you feel as though you are making no progress at all. The only thing that seems to be changing is the sickly sweet fragrance of the roses, which grows more and more cloying with every step. Even drawing breath is becoming more of a challenge; you feel as though the scent is smothering you.

Finally, you turn a corner into new surroundings: a huge, circular courtyard that is likely the center of the maze. The full moonlight illuminates the open area more brightly than anywhere else you’ve been since you came here. As you continue to sprint towards the middle of the courtyard, you vaguely notice that its circumference is lined with statues, each pair flanking a gap in the hedges leading back into the maze. There is also a large statue/fountain in the middle, reminiscent of the one at the garden entrance. You scan wildly around the courtyard, trying to regain some sense of direction and determine which maze entrance leads back towards the gate… but your efforts are futile. You’ve completely lost all notion of where you are. Desperate, you glance up at the sky, thinking that perhaps you can recover some bearing using the stars. But there are no stars. Aside from the moon, the sky is a flat and featureless black.

You’re nearing the central fountain. You need to make a decision, NOW. Should you continue straight forward? Left? Right? Your life could very well depend on making the right choice, and you have nothing to give you even the slightest hint. You look back towards the fountain as you draw ever closer to it… then something in your head seems to click into place, and you actually SEE the sculpture for the first time. The image spotlighted by the pale moonbeams is enough to make you grind to a halt even in your panicked state, drawing back with an instinctive gasp of terror and revulsion.

Like the fountain at the entrance, this one seems to take the abstract shape of a human being… but this one’s distortions are far more terrible. Too-long limbs wind and bend into painful, impossible conformations, tipped with sharp, spindly fingers that look more like claws. The neck and spine twist at unnatural angles. Large portions of the sculpture seem to be… melting… bronze flesh sloughing and dripping off the frame. And the face… oh God, that FACE… the mouth is a wide, gaping rictus of pure agony, the eyes a pair of deep, asymmetrical black pits, empty yet still managing to convey an intense feeling of terror. The face seems to be melting worse than any other part of the body, warping into eerie funhouse mirror shapes like some horrid, deranged Dali painting. The fountain’s water, rather than streaming from the fingers as at the entrance, pours haphazardly from the figure’s eyes and mouth, falling with a dull splat into the dark pool below. And… is it just the light playing tricks, or is that water… tinted RED?

The final thing that you notice about the fountain is the dark iron figure half-submerged in the pool behind the bronze statue, resembling nothing more so than a giant insect, with its wicked front pincers gripped tightly around the poor ghoulish statue’s chest. You don’t get to investigate this second figure more thoroughly, however… because it is then that you hear IT. The harsh, predatory hiss echoing across the courtyard behind you. You turn around slowly, half-paralyzed with dread, and finally see the creature full-on for the first time.

Now, wait a minute, you’re likely thinking. Didn’t we just predicate that entire discussion on the basis that monsters aren’t real? What the hell is this “that’s what they count on” nonsense? Well, the conventional wisdom is certainly that monsters and demons don’t exist, and enough evidence is available that there’s very little reason to doubt this… but can you really be SURE? Can you really disprove the existence of something? After all, even the human race as a whole can’t look everywhere, investigate every possibility. Unexplained things happen all the time. Unsolved murders and disappearances crop up in almost every major city. People in small towns and on Internet chatboards the world over not only have stories of the paranormal, but will swear up and down that they are true. And let’s not even try to estimate the number of religious people in the world who believe in demons or the Devil as real entities capable of interacting with our world.

If this (admittedly paltry) evidence of the supernatural doesn’t convince you, think of it another way… does it really matter whether the monsters are real or not? There are plenty of things which don’t technically exist and still make huge impacts on our world. Consider religion… if even one of the world’s religions is true, it means that all of the other religions, all of the other gods which have ever existed, are not real. And yet, multiple extremely diverse religions have all had enormous influence over the course of human history. It’s the belief in something that is really important… the ability of that thing to get inside your mind and influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions. For instance, if you’re convinced that some otherworldly entity that no one else can see is torturing you – does it really matter, then, whether this entity really exists, or whether you’re simply experiencing intense psychosomatic pain, hallucinations, and delusions? Will it really change anything for you when all the treatments fail, when you’re dragged off raving and screaming by the men in white coats, whether you were ultimately “right” or not?

Fear can be fun, for a while, when you have control of it. But the things you fear don’t like to be controlled. They don’t want to be fun. All they want is a window, a way to get to you. A way to get you under their power. It doesn’t matter if they’re real or not… if this wasn’t what you believed that they wanted, then they wouldn’t be scary, now, would they? They’ll lure you in with the little thrills, the double-edged pleasures of goosebumps on your skin and adrenaline in your veins. They’ll fascinate you, hypnotize you, drive you to ever greater extremes seeking that dark satiation.

Instead of trading scary stories in the company of friends, you’ll start reading them alone, in the dark. Same with listening to narrations, playing scary games, watching horror movies… the ones that actually manage to create a sense of dread and paranoia in you will be your favorites. You’ll stay up later and later, convincing yourself that it’s just an irresponsible indulgence on your part, not that you’re afraid to go to bed. Eventually, the experience will start to lose its fun, wear on your nerves, and you’ll decide enough is enough. You’ll turn off your computer monitor and take a deep breath to calm and center yourself… but the paranoia will refuse to fade. You’ll go through your bedtime routine on edge, jumping at shadows; and when you finally climb into bed and crawl under the covers, sleep will elude you. You’ll hear sounds in the darkness and be unable to convince yourself that they’re just normal household background noise. You’ll catch flickering movement in your peripheral vision, find yourself unable to identify certain dark shapes on the floor and along the walls.

Finally, you’ll snap and give up on sleep, run around turning on every light in the house… but the paranoia still won’t leave you. What was that you just saw out of the corner of your eye? Did something just make a thumping sound behind that door? You’ll turn on loud, upbeat music, trying to drown out the fear, but it won’t work. In the end, you’ll simply huddle up against the wall, shaking, holding back tears, waiting in terror for morning to come and free you from this nightmare. The need to use the restroom may hit you before then, driving you away from the wall, down the hallway, and into the mirrored bathroom. As you look up into the eyes of your sick, terrified reflection, you’ll sense something… vaguely wrong with the familiar image before you. You’ll lean closer to the mirror, scrutinizing your reflection more carefully – and suddenly, a pale, ghostly visage will seem to swim into existence, translucently overlaying your own face like a hologram. As its mouth gapes and its empty, staring eyes bore into yours, a piercing scream will echo in your head, and you’ll stumble back from the mirror in terror. Suddenly, you’ll hit something behind you that wasn’t there before… a cold grip will close on your shoulder, and a terrible pain will pierce your stomach like a knife. When your family or roommates find you the next morning… who can say whether you will be lying murdered in a sticky pool of your own blood, or simply curled up on the floor in a catatonic state, insensible and shivering on the cold, sterile tile?

Or perhaps you’re too thick-skinned to be reduced to such a state by mere media exposure and isolation in the dark. Perhaps you’ll go even further seeking fear or trying to prove your bravery: take a walk alone at night, try an occult ritual you found online, travel to some supposedly “haunted” location. There’s always that one abandoned house in or near every town, the one everybody tells rumors about… maybe you’ll go there for a little exploring late at night. You’ll hop the fence, blatantly ignoring the “Keep Out” sign on the front gate, and slowly approach the house, jumping a bit as the front step creaks under your weight. The lock on the door will be broken, evidence of past teenage “explorers”… or, more troublingly, perhaps squatters utilizing the house. This thought will make your hand hesitate on the doorknob, realizing that there is a very real possibility of somebody, possibly unfriendly, possibly unhinged, residing inside the house at this very moment. But you’ve already come all the way out here, psyched yourself up for some paranormal investigation… you’ll decide to go in anyway, keeping quiet and palming your cell phone in case you need emergency assistance.

The house will be pitch dark, the weak beam of your cheap flashlight revealing peeling wallpaper, mildewy ceilings, a few pieces of dusty, rotting furniture, and wispy cobwebs strung across every surface. Despite the intense tension gripping your heart with every step you take through the house, your investigation of the bottom floor will reveal nothing of particular interest. So, slowly and carefully, you’ll ascend the creaky staircase to the second floor, worrying in the back of your mind that the unstable structure might collapse underneath you. You’ll emerge into a long hallway lined with closed doors, and your heart will begin to race even faster at the sight. Despite your trepidation, you’ll approach the first door on the right, turning the knob cautiously and easing the door open with a faint creaking of hinges… revealing only a small bathroom, empty save for a dirty sink, a cracked wall mirror, and a rusty old claw-footed tub. You’ll withdraw from the room after only a quick glance, but as you pull your head out from under the doorway, you’ll hear a sound off to your left that thrusts an icy spike of terror down your spine… the sound of faintly creaking hinges at the end of the hallway. Slowly, slowly, you’ll turn to face the noise, and the door at the end of the hall, which you could’ve sworn was closed before, will be ajar.

Gazing intently into the dark void between the solid oak and the rotting drywall, you will suddenly perceive the faint outline of a shadowy figure in the breach, dark eyes glittering as they stare you down mercilessly. A pale hand will curl around the edge of the door, throwing you into a full-blown panic and causing you to whirl about and bolt recklessly for the staircase behind you. In your haste, your foot will fall at an awkward angle across the top step, and you will be seized with a sudden feeling of weightlessness as you fall forward, then crash painfully onto the hard wooden steps, bumping and sliding about halfway down the staircase before your momentum is exhausted and you come to a halt. Lying broken across the splintered stairs, head swimming, body screaming with intense pain, you’ll hear footsteps crossing the hall towards you, echoing hollowly across the floorboards and onto the stairs. You’ll want to go back. You’ll want more than anything to go back. But it will be too late. As you gaze helplessly up at the shadowy figure approaching you, you’ll wonder whether this is the fabled monster that haunts the house, or a human being, a killer or a rapist… and you’ll wonder which is worse…

Somehow, some way, if you let yourself sink too far into the world of fear, THEY will worm their way into your life, into your mind. Enjoy yourself while you can, for as time passes, you’ll get more and more tangled up in their web, and when you finally begin to realize that you’ve gone too far – it will be too late. You’ll be nothing but the demons’ prey, hopelessly caught and unable to free yourself.

Can you feel them now? Can you feel their eyes on the back of your neck? They are watching you. They are watching you read this. Even if they’re not, they are watching you. If your heart is beating fast, if your mouth is dry, if you’re afraid to look behind you right now… they are watching you.

And they are hungry.

The creature stands in the opening between the enormous hedges, glaring at you with those six malevolent yellow eyes. You note dimly that the statues flanking it represent similar monstrosities: the entire courtyard is, in fact, lined with statues of vicious demons of every type and description. Some resemble enormous insects, wolves, reptiles… some are patchwork collections of animal parts, one resembling a cross between a wasp and a buzzard, another that seems to be part dragon, part goat… some look like horribly twisted human beings… and some bear no resemblances you can put a name to.

Of course, nothing inspires nearly as much terror as the LIVE abomination currently staring you down. At first glance, it looks somewhat like a giant centipede, with hundreds of jointed legs and thick armored plates running all down its back. It must be at least twenty feet long. As you look on, it raises the first few segments of its body into a vertical position, positioning its head nearly seven feet above the ground. You notice that its front six pairs of legs are much larger and more muscular than the others, equipped with enormous, razor-sharp pincers. You can see its mouthparts scissoring back and forth, clicking in anticipation. Huge mandibles slide horizontally together and apart, and below them protrude a pair of wicked-looking retractable fangs, pulsing in and out in a slow rhythm. Its eyes pierce you like icy needles; you can hear it breathing heavily.

For a moment you just stare at each other, as if in a trance. Then the panic hits you like a jolt of electricity, breaking your paralysis, and you turn and sprint blindly back towards the maze. For some reason, perhaps irrationally, you feel that the maze is safer. You spent so long in the warren of hedges before now without being caught, after all. Out of the corner of your eye you see the beast dart forward, accelerating at an impossible rate. It is moving more quickly now than it was before, armor clinking as it moves, hissing like a broken teakettle. You had a head start, but it is rapidly closing the distance.

You want to go back. You want more than anything to go back. But it is too late. You’re a demon’s game now, and you’ve ventured far too deep into the hunter’s snare to escape. Just before you reach the threshold of the maze, its pincers grab you about the chest, slicing deeply into your flesh and crushing up against your rib cage. Through the blinding pain, you can tell it has more strength left in it; it could snap you in half like a twig without much more effort. But it doesn’t. That wouldn’t be any fun. It wants to ENJOY this, for as long as possible. You shriek in helpless agony as its mandibles crush down on your arm, rending flesh and breaking bone. You close your eyes, unable to bear looking at the resulting carnage as you scream your throat raw. Pain erupts across various other parts of your body; you feel your left leg being ripped off at the knee. Tortured beyond belief, you wish desperately for death. Funny that pain, evolved to help fend off death by alerting us to damage, has become capable of growing so intense that it constitutes a worse fate than death itself. Even through the agony, you are afraid to open your eyes, to see the mangled wreck your body has become… but somehow, you can’t help yourself. As a particularly sharp burst of pain hits your abdomen, your eyes reflexively snap open. You get a brief glimpse of your body, a nauseatingly twisted mass of flesh pouring with bright red blood, before catching sight of something… even more horrifying.

A fang… a long, sharp, curved, dripping fang… moving straight towards your eye.

… Did I get you with that one? Are you scared? I bet you’re not, not really. A bit of clumsy gore, some clichéd “Big Brother is watching you” implications… none of it is anything you haven’t seen before, right? I’m pretty good at scaring the shit out of myself in my own mind, but conveying that feeling to other people is a horse of a different color. He says I’ll get better with practice, though, and I’m sure to get in plenty of that.

This whole story has been a long stream of logical-sounding, pseudo-scientific nonsense, of course. There are no real monsters – well, unless you count really disturbed humans as monsters – and you can’t go insane just from getting too involved in scary stories. So go ahead, turn out all the lights and read more of this stuff; watch a horror movie alone at night. Hell, go on a tour of a haunted penitentiary if you’d like, or grab an Ouija board and have a séance with your friends. Nothing will happen.

Even ritual pastas are totally safe nonsense. If you play hide-and-seek with a Japanese doll, it won’t come to life and chase after you. If you go to a gas station and ask the attendant for the “Holder of Fuel,” he or she will probably just stare at you like you’ve sprouted a third eye and ask what the hell you’re talking about. If you go to a church at midnight, perform a ritual, and look into a mirror, you won’t see anything except your own reflection staring back at you. At least, I know that I didn’t. There was no question-and-answer session, no rules violated, no mirror entrapment, and most definitely no soul-selling. No way I’d wind up serving someone who probably doesn’t even exist in the first place…working to lure others into the dark maze of the demons. That was all just a made-up story, and made-up stories can’t hurt you.

Although… I’d probably be saying that either way, wouldn’t I?

You awaken in a cold sweat, bolting immediately upright in bed. Your body still aches with the dull echoes of your nightmare, and it takes you a moment to get your bearings. When you finally realize you are safe in your own room, you sigh with profound relief and slump back into bed. The dream is still sharp and vivid in your mind. Dear God, it was so REAL. You didn’t think it was possible to experience that much pain in a dream. Did you REALLY feel that much pain, or is it just your memory playing tricks on you, skewing your perceptions of what happened?

Well, either way, it’s over now; and although you don’t think you’ll be getting back to sleep anytime soon, you can at least relax under the warm covers until morning. You adjust your pillow and draw the blankets closer up around your shoulders, snuggling into a more comfortable position. Upon settling down, you get the feeling that something is a little bit… off, and lie still for a moment trying to figure out what it is. Probably just the remnants of anxiety from your nightmare, you think. You draw in a deep breath through your nose… and suddenly freeze, sniffing at the air more vigorously.

In your room floats the faint, sickly sweet aroma of roses.

Suddenly terrified anew, you pull the covers up over your head and whimper. Outside, the wind howls. Something that may or may not be a tree branch knocks up against the window. You hear a thump in the hallway outside, a skittering in the vent across the room. Muffled breathing seems to issue from under your bed.

Helpless, hopeless, you curl up into the fetal position and begin to silently cry. You want to go back. You want more than anything to go back.

But it is too late.

Credit To – InfernalNightmare333

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The Book

December 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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It’s so dark I can’t breathe, it’s filling my lungs I’m going to choke on it
He’s there I can feel him watching me, I wish I could see him
but I know he’s there he’s laughing at me just waiting for me to close my eyes
Someone please turn on the light.

I set the book down, it was getting late. The only thing illuminating my room was the cracked bedside lamp that occasionally flickered, casting my room into impenetrable darkness for a split second at a time.

I laughed nervously to myself. I knew there was nothing there. Of course I did, I had grown out of the tales of ghosts and ghouls and monsters that had been my favourite as a kid. At least I thought I had, until I got the email.

It was from an address I didn’t recognise, and it came to me one night as I was staying up late to finish my homework. I probably should have questioned its source before I clicked on it (I’ve never been very good at keeping my laptop virus-free), nevertheless curiosity won me over.
It had been sent to a large number of emails, and the subject line read, rather simply:

it’s here

What was here? It all became clear when I clicked – a single hyperlink directed me to an eBay page advertising an archaic-looking book. It wasn’t a title I’d ever heard of, and it didn’t even include the author’s name, but the curious design of it intrigued me. It was on sale for a single penny, someone’s obviously keen to get it sold, I thought to myself. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, or the way the find had rekindled the mystery-seeking child in me, but I started to giggle with excitement. Had I just found lost treasure? Grinning, I pulled open the drawer in my bedside table to reveal my dusty debit card, which had laid abandoned for weeks on account of the pitiful sum contained in my account, a little over a few pence. My fingers flew across the keyboard as I tapped in my details to purchase the book, which promised to be delivered within 3 to 4 working days. ‘Thank you for your order; we hope you enjoy your purchase.’ I felt exhilarated, but the feeling was a little odd, it was just a book after all. Yet as I sat there, the clock ticking 3am, I couldn’t help but feel sick with anticipation.

The days passed slowly after that. I found it difficult to get the book off my mind, and I couldn’t sleep at night, as if I were a small child with Christmas just around the corner. It finally came on Thursday, 5 days after I had received the email.

My mum had taken it, probably suspicious about what it was as I rarely ordered anything for myself. But I was 17, and she was being a nosy bitch. I wasted no time in snatching it from her grip, yelling something over my shoulder about how she should mind her own business. She shouted something back but I had already slammed my bedroom door, eager to finally get my hands on the book.
The package was plain, wrapped in brown paper with my address scrawled sloppily across the front. I flipped it, and scratched at the tape holding it together. Even when my fingers started to bleed after days of nervous nail biting I didn’t stop, and after what felt like hours the brown tape gave way, and the book tumbled to the floor, landing with a heavy thud. I gingerly picked it up and sat on my bed. It was bound in some sort of animal skin that looked like leather but felt softer, and smelt somewhat revolting. It wasn’t a strong smell, but it was distinctive and certainly wasn’t leather.

Opening the book after the long wait felt somehow daunting, and I was hesitant. The sound of my mum weeping softly in the kitchen snapped me out of my daze and I suddenly felt disgusted at myself for giving her a hard time. I placed the book in my drawer and looked in the mirror at my pale reflection. I ran my hand through my greasy hair and sighed, the lack of sleep showing in the dark purple circles under my sunken eyes. Exiting my room, I saw my mum sitting with her back to me, her head buried in her hands, her shoulder blades rising and falling irregularly to the tune of her cry. I slumped towards her, my movements slow and heavy as if I was physically weighed down by my guilt. Reaching her, I placed my hand on her back and muttered an apology. She continued to face the floor, seemingly ignoring my words.
It was then that I bent down and noticed the red liquid that was seeping from between her fingers and trailing down her arms. My breath caught in my throat and I grabbed her arms, pulling them away from her face.

Her eyes were missing. Blood was pouring from the black, empty sockets. They were so dark, so dark. Her mouth was a thin, straight slit yet I could still hear the sound of her sobbing. How was she doing that, how was she making that noise? Was it her or was it the sound of my own cries I was hearing, as my mouth had opened and tears were dripping from my chin onto the floor, mixing with the congealing blood. I felt my whole body spasm – whether from terror or nausea I couldn’t tell. I crumpled to the floor and my mum’s eyeless gaze followed me. From this position I could see the scalpel that was lying under the kitchen table, its handle streaked with gore and more blood, the tip poking from a lump of white flesh… Oh my God her eyeball. It was looking at me! It was looking right at me! As tears pooled in my eyes I looked back up to her, and she smiled. The corners of her mouth lifted and she tilted her head to the side in unison, transforming her face into a grotesque doll-like image. The crying turned to maniacal laughter and the light above our heads blew, scattering shards of glass around the room. I sobbed harder realising I was unable to run, my muscles paralysed with fear. But then something descended on me, like a dense fog, smothering my face until the only sound I could hear was the pounding of my racing heart in my ears. I tried to break free, my arms having found strength flailed around desperately, but it was futile…

Ah! The phone! I can hear the phone! I jolted awake and sat bolt upright. My face was drenched in sweat and my shirt clung to my back. I burst into tears. It was a nightmare, just a nightmare, but it felt so vividly real. Down the hall, I heard my mum answer the ringing phone. Relief washed over me, taking the uneasy feeling with it, but I wondered how I had managed to fall asleep. I didn’t remember going to bed. Still shaking slightly, I levered myself off the bed and into the bathroom to wash my face. I passed my mum who was chattering away to my aunt, and she smiled at me. I smiled back, a genuine grin that felt unfamiliar to my tired facial muscles. I hadn’t smiled like that in days.

The book! I had almost forgotten the book! In all that excitement, my mind had wandered off the book. Maybe now I’d finally get a chance to read it. Dashing back to my room, I called to my mum saying I wasn’t hungry and that I was doing homework so to not disturb me. With my racing thoughts, I had no idea if she heard me.

I read and read until my eyes started to go blurry with fatigue. Every page I turned I expected it to be better than the previous, but I was thoroughly disappointed. I sighed heavily. The book seemed to be nothing more than the ramblings of a madman, as if I’d just purchased some crazy guy’s diary.

That was, until I reached about half way through. I flipped the page, about to set it down and call it a night when I saw that it was the last entry. The ink was imprinted deep into the paper from the weight of the writer’s hand and it was shaky, like you might write if you had your eyes closed.

I read, and carefully put the book down.

I put it down because it was late, not because I was afraid, I told myself. Yet I couldn’t help glance nervously around my room, cast in shadow. The pathetic lamp that was supposed to be keeping it light was getting old and failing, and oh man, I hadn’t even closed the curtains.

I got up to close them when I suddenly found myself terrified. Remembering the dream I had experienced earlier, how could I be sure I was awake? Paranoia wasn’t something I usually felt, but now it swallowed me up whole. The eyes. They were so dark, so black. They were drawing me in, grabbing at me. What if I was back in that nightmare world? I shuddered at the thought, but I got up.

I wish I had never gone to the window.

Looking out, I saw the man that was standing just beyond the pool of yellow that was cast by the streetlight. His malformed outline was barely visible, but it was there. Arms that were far too long for his body hung limply by his sides, and his pale flesh reflected the moonlight ever so slightly, mottled with brown lumps that looked rotten. His continuous stare was only broken when a wailing police car sped down the road between him and me, momentarily blocking my view. When it passed, he had vanished. With a fizzle my bedside lamp died, plunging much of my room into complete darkness, save for the square of light coming from the window. I froze. I had to stay out of the dark; the book was trying to warn me. Panicking, I dashed to the door and flung it wide, desperate to bathe myself in the unnatural glow of the hallway.

The lights were off! What time is it? I had never experienced darkness so intense. It was so black it flooded my whole body and weighed me down, as if it were alive and trapping me.
It’s here, I thought, it’s here.

I turned around to find the man standing in the doorway. I went cold as I felt all the blood drain from my face. Even in the near pitch black I could see he was hideous, gangrenous flesh dripped from his frame. The stench was unbearable – I recognised the smell from the book cover. Revulsion overcame me as I realised. It was his skin. Nausea overpowered me as I bent over and deposited what was left of my lunch at his feet. I could’ve sworn I heard him laugh, the same maniacal laugh that had emitted from my mother’s mouth. Don’t close your eyes, I whispered to myself. Don’t let him inside you.

Just when it was becoming excruciating to keep my eyes open, and I was sure he was about to descend on me, the light above my head abruptly flickered to life and he vanished. I turned to see my mum looking extremely concerned. I was twitching, and my bloodshot eyes with tears splashing from them looked desperately at her, a puddle of vomit at my feet. Nightmares, I whimpered.

I turned around and shut my bedroom door gently.

I logged onto my eBay account.
I put up a photo.
And I got rid of it.

But I still get the nightmares. And I never, ever turn the light off.

Credit To – Amanda G

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Patricia

December 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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My house is so quiet. Except for the pattering of the rain on the window, and the scribble of my pen as I frantically write in order to get a good night’s sleep tonight, and the grandfather clock ticking. When I’m alone, I seem to pick up every little sound. To sleep without first recording what has happened would be the worst thing I could do. I must record everything. Every last detail. I cannot forget. I-

I woke up with a sudden sense of dread, though of what I did not know, could not explain, and ultimately forgot as my senses came to me. I realized my family was already up and engaged in their morning routine. A glance at the clock radio on my nightstand and my customary verification by the clock on my wall told me that I had overslept by fifteen minutes.

Jumping out of bed, I hurriedly dressed, brushed my teeth, and was on my way down the stairs pulling my hair into a ponytail when there was a knock on the door. It was uncommon to have a visitor this early in the morning, but being the closest to the door, I answered it.

To my surprise, my good friend Patricia was standing there in the heavy, Florida morning air. I couldn’t say I expected to see anyone in particular, but her being there was very unexpected. Aside from a sleepover or two that we had kept secret from my parents, she had never come to my house before.

I asked her to come in but instead she grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me outside, closing the door as she did.

“Patricia, what are you-” I started, but she cut me off.

“Why won’t you let your family meet me?” she asked, angrily. I was completely dumbfounded by the question.

“Patri-”

“No! We’ve been friends for years and I don’t understand why-”

“Stop it!” It was my turn to cut her off.

I yanked my wrist out of her hand and took a step back staring at her in surprise. She glared back at me. I had never seen her this angry.

We stood there for a few seconds, and for a moment, all that broke the silence was her heavy breathing and the muted sounds of the waking neighborhood coming through the humid air.

In an instant, she changed, her anger dissipated, and she looked as normal as if we’d passed each other in the hallway at school.

“So, do you think you can introduce me?” she asked, this time perfectly calm, as though the last ten seconds hadn’t even occurred. Still in shock, I took a second to take in what just happened and compose myself.

“Er, Patricia,” I started, trying not to upset her again, “ we’ve talked about this before.”

“I know, I know. But I really really want to meet them now,” was her reply, insistent.

I couldn’t even remember why we decided to not have Patricia come over. But although it had happened years ago- around the beginning of our friendship- and I had all but forgotten why, there was a very strong feeling within me urging me to keep that promise.

Not knowing exactly why I felt this way, I said, “I’m just not sure that that’s such a good idea.”

Almost too quick for me to see, what looked like pure rage swept across her face and in an instant, was gone. She smiled her pretty smile that I’d seen a million times and said, “Okay, see you at school then!”

Then she was walking away. Down the sidewalk. To the four-way stop. And disappeared around the corner.

I turned and opened the door to join my family for breakfast, but as I opened the door I fell into blackness and…

Awoke with a jolt. My mind was racing with random feelings and images that I couldn’t piece together. A look at the clocks told me it was 10 minutes after I should have gotten up. I decided that the noise my family was making in the kitchen was what woke me up and quickly readied for the day. I was almost to the bottom of the stairs when I heard a knock at the door. Feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, I walked over and answered it. Patricia was standing there, and my feeling of familiarity with the situation grew. Uneasy, I stepped out of the house and closed the door behind me.

“Morning! Can I see your family?” she asked sweetly. Why do I feel like she’s asked this before?, I thought. Without any reason I could think of, I suddenly knew that I could not allow her in the house.

“No, Patricia, you can’t,” was all I could think of to say.

“But I-” as she spoke a sudden rush of fear swept over me.

“No!” I said, interrupting her.

“Now, Gabrielle,” she chided, calmly, serenely, “just let me in and we can-” Now my fear was turning into unreasonable hysteria.

“No! Get away!” I screamed, “Go away!”

At this, Patricia’s face turned to stone, emotionless, cold. I reached behind me without turning and groped for the doorknob, desperate to get inside; I felt like crying.

“Fine,” she said, and, turning, walked away.

I took a step as a turned around to face the door and tripped on the doorjamb before being consumed by an inky black…

I woke up with tears running down my face and I had no idea why I was crying. I was five minutes late in waking up and could already hear the rest of my family downstairs, in the kitchen. I was frightened for no apparent reason, I could only remember…nothing substantial…feelings. Fear. Weakness.

Eager to join my family, I quickly went about my morning routine and walked down the stairs. About halfway down I suddenly felt an expectation…of what… I did not know. Reaching the bottom of the stairs I turned to enter the kitchen and there was a sudden banging on the front door. Dread shot through my body like lightning. Everything came flooding back, and I remembered Patricia. In an instant, I didn’t know why, but I knew that I had to keep her out. I ran to the door and opened it. Patricia flew at me with a wild look in her eyes and I quickly closed the door. I heard her rebound off of the sudden resistance and took the opportunity to open the door and close it behind me as I stepped out. The morning was clear, but there were clouds on the horizon.

Patricia was picking herself up off the ground. I could hear the sound of a truck backing up in the distance. Tears were now flowing freely down my cheeks as I tried to reason with her.

“Patricia wh- why are y-” was as far as I got before her lips parted in a guttural scream and she lunged at me again, her face contorted in hate. In reflex, I ducked and protectively raised my arms. She flew over my head and slammed into the door once again. Momentarily stunned, she fell on top of me. I pushed her off, but before I was able to recover she was back on top of me, grabbing me by the throat. I tried prying her hands off but her grip was too strong. I couldn’t breath. The beeping of the truck was growing louder. I could see Patricia’s face, full of malice, over mine; but she grew dim. The beeping was louder. Grating. Inside my head. She continued to choke me. Black mist invaded my vision. Taking over. Then there was nothing but the Beep Beep BEEP BEEP….

…I woke violently to my alarm precisely when I was supposed to. The clock on the wall confirmed it. I could hear my…nothing. There was no sound coming from anywhere in the house; except for the ringing of the grandfather clock chiming the hour. Suddenly, I remembered everything vividly. Trying to keep Patricia out and being strangled as a result. I jumped out of bed, not bothering to dress or brush my teeth and ran downstairs. I threw open the front door, ready to do what it took to keep her away for good.

There was no one on the porch. Just the heavy, Florida morning humidity. And dark clouds, closer than in the dream. No Patricia.

With a sigh of relief. I turned and went inside. As I started closing the door, I looked toward the kitchen and froze. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen was Patricia. On her face was that smile I had seen on the face of my friend for years. In her hand was a carving knife I recognized from the knife block in our kitchen. I couldn’t hear anything from the kitchen. Dread filled my body as I realized what had happened. She began walking toward me with that smile and that knife. I was far too frightened to move.

As she came within striking distance, she reached out and grabbed my wrist with her free hand and placed the knife in my hand. It was all I could do to not to cry out when I felt the cold of the handle and the warm sticky of what could only be the blood of my family. She released my hand, patted me on the cheek, and walked past me out the open door.

I numbly walked to the door of the kitchen and saw what I hoped to God I wouldn’t: my family, lying dead in pools of their own blood. My knees gave way and I fell with a shallow splash, next to my parents. I stared. Unable to cry. Unable to move. Hours passed.

The rain came and I realized that I have to remember what happened. Everything. Patricia, the dreams, everything. This dream is the worst. I am alone. My house is so quiet.

 

Physician’s Note:

 

Dr. Randal Lunder

9/28/10

Patient ID: GDS1992

This document was collected at the scene of the murder of the patient’s family. Patient was found sitting at her kitchen table, surrounded by their bodies. The murder weapon (carving knife) was found at the scene covered in the patient’s prints and her family’s blood. When questioned, she showed no apparent guilt or remorse and insisted “Patricia did it” repeating the phrase ad nauseum. She was convicted of murder in the first degree on three counts and custody was remanded to the Psychological branch of the Federal Department of Corrections.

Patient exhibits signs of dementia and describes symptoms of Homicidal Bipolarism. She is currently incarcerated in the Southeastern Center for the Criminally Insane. As her treating physician, I suggest her treatment of high-dosage anti-hallucinogens be increased, and her shock therapy sessions be reduced to twice a week. Will re-evaluate patient in four weeks.

Randal Marshall Lunder Ph.D

 

Credit To – Strudeldude

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