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No Rhyme, No Reason, No Explanation

December 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Back when we were six, my brother developed a notorious sleepwalking habit among his various other disorders. So much so that dad child proofed the doors to our room and closet (after an unfortunate pissing incident involving a soiled pile of clothes) so that when we were awake, we could leave, but asleep, no dice. It was one of those plastic coverings that you had to squeeze and turn simultaneously, y’know, the ones that are impossible for anybody under the age of 18 to possibly hope to open due to the sheer amount of pressure it took to turn the damn knob. I’m being facetious now, but I really hated that damn child proof bullshit.

But, due to his sleepwalking, he was kept on the bottom bunk.

Some nights, he’d wake up and try to leave the room, tugging on the door and only succeeding in making an unnecessary amount of racket, only to fall back asleep at the foot of the door after his failure. Before the child proof door, there were only a select few places he’d go, but it became a game of hide and seek with him. I found him inside the toy box once, and I just remember thinking… “how did he even fit himself in there?”

When these incidents happened – and that was at least three times a week – I took it upon myself to get him safely back in his bed when I actually caught him, so long as he didn’t wander past the stairs, which thankfully now wasn’t very possible.

I hated the stairs. Well, not so much the stairs as the hallway that my room was at the end of leading to the stairs around the corner. That place was hellish at night.

Yes, I was terrified of the dark. More so of my own wild imagination spurring the darkness to life with monstrous intents. I was sure we were plagued with a closet residing boogie man or a homicidal shadow dweller, maybe even the neighborhood serial killer. My father, God bless the man, every night before bed, he’d open the closet door, reach up and pull the dangling string to turn the light bulb on, – the switch had shorted on our sixth birthday- and search the closet for my own reassurance. Sometimes, he’d even make a show of it and enter with a baseball bat or a plastic gun, threatening the monster hiding in there. Every time he did it, there was nothing in that closet.

There never was.

My brother wasn’t afraid of the closet like I was. On the lower bunk, sometimes he’d climb the ladder and sleep with me after I’d been sitting up and staring at the closet for what seemed like hours. It was like my fear woke him up.

They say twins have inexplicable bonds.

I always had this strange sensation like I was being watched, or perhaps the feeling of knowing someone’s talking about you… I knew I held something’s attention. And that thought kept me up in such discomfort for what seemed like hours. In reality I probably had the attention span to stay up thinking for half an hour before succumbing to sleep. And stranger still, it wasn’t every night.

In hindsight, that made me feel uneasy. If a child is afraid of the dark, weren’t they afraid of it every night? Don’t get me wrong, I feared the dark, but obviously I was safe under the covers. Most nights, it was merely a childish fear. And some nights, that fear evolved into uneasiness I can’t explain… like violation of my privacy. And no amount of blankets made me feel better.

Something was there. And it was watching. I knew it was. I always expected to see a pair of glowing eyes behind the blinds of the closet door. But I never did.

One night in particular stayed in my memory all the way into adulthood.

The first detail that’s strange in hindsight is that I was already asleep. Something woke me up, not violently, but suddenly. And I still have no idea what.

There was this cold that had settled on the room. And not like a winter cold that could freeze water, but this stale, stiff cold – like an abandoned house.

The same stillness and cold I would feel several years later when grandmother died in her hospital bed and how her skin felt just minutes afterward.

Lifeless.

And a smell wafted through the air like really burnt steaks and rotten trash cans.

I grimaced and said groggily “Geeze, did you fart?” Waving my hand in front of my face.

There was no reply, so I dangled my head over the edge to peer at the lower bunk. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t in his bed.

Illuminated dinosaurs chasing each other endlessly around our room projected from our spinning night lamp was the only source of light – a disco ball of dinosaurs if you will. I traced them around the room to find it empty with the exception of me.

I knew that wasn’t true.

Climbing down the ladder, my feet slapped against the wood floor sending an uncomfortable shock of cold up my legs.

As I turned, the room seemed to widen. It was the moment that makes children gulp in uncertainty. The sudden loss of familiarity. I was in my room, but I felt uncomfortable, the same discomfort when you stare off of a cliff, knowing that one false step and you will die. Completely exposed.

But I trudged on, searching for my misplaced sibling.

He wasn’t on the floor in front of the door, he wasn’t on top or inside of our toy box… I dropped to my knees to find the space under the bed empty. Was it possible he somehow got out of the room?

When he used to leave the room, there were three places he typically was. The hallway bathroom – notably curled up in the corner between the vanity and toilet, in dad’s old red chair in the upstairs living room right down the hall and to the left, or somewhere downstairs, a place I dare not tread in the darkness alone.

I padded to the door and squeezed the plastic covered door knob with both hands, struggled with the damn thing for a moment and pulled it open. I was greeted with pitch blackness. The dark hallway now looming ominously in front of me. There were no windows, the only source of moonlight would be around the corner where a window was beside the staircase.

The hallway wasn’t just dark, of course not. It was never that easy. No, it had to be pitch black.

It made me even more uncomfortable, staring out into that blackness with my pulse steadily rising, I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Anything could be out in that darkness.

I felt like I’d see a pair of eyes staring back at me.

Whatever was in that darkness had no eyes, or at least, they didn’t glow like in the movies.

But I jumped at the sight of a long, black shadow cast from behind me, freezing in terror as it disappeared.

It happened again, casting my shadow across the hallway’s floor.

The nightlight on our dresser that cast dinosaurs the walls of our room, and now out in the hallway.

On the bright side, I had a source of light now.

I was transfixed, staring out into the dark hallway as it lit up with the distorted dinosaur.

I looked down, my toes were barely behind the baseboard that separated the wood flooring from the carpeted hallway. Before I crossed that line, I needed to make sure there was nothing hiding in that darkness.

Anything could hide in shadows that black.

The dim light flashed from behind me

My eyes caught something unnatural… I could’ve sworn someone was pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway to the right, like they wanted to plaster their back to the wall. It didn’t really register until the light had already passed.

I gulped, my body tensed uncomfortably, eyes locked on the darkness where that person had been standing. In this darkness, they could’ve moved wherever it saw fit to move. It could be five feet in front of me for all I knew.

With that thought I was dreading the next pass of light. Did I really want to see this thing?

Before I could even answer myself, the light passed over again, and the shadowy figure remained, unmoved.

Because it was the shadow of the open bathroom door resting door knob length away from the wall.

Just my imagination.

I released a shaky breath, satisfied that the hallway was empty, and lifted my foot, slowly, unsteadily crossing my perceived line of safety out into the unprotected blackness of my house made foreign by the nighttime.

My toes curled into the carpet, tensed like the rest of my body like I was holding onto the railing on a roller coaster.

The light passed by again, and I kept my eyes peeled, stopping my movement completely as it did, just for safety. If I could just get to the bathroom, I could turn on the light.

The hallway light was beyond the bathroom, so that was out of the question.

I had to be brave. I traversed the darkness, taking long steps on my tippy toes just to stay quiet in case something were actually in that darkness. My whole body would stiffen when the light passed behind my back only to continue and try and cover as much distance as possible while I was still hidden by the shadows.

The whole time I had that feeling of being completely exposed in this hallway, as if I were actually being hunted. I kept thinking; what if I’d missed something and now whatever it was was in the hallway moved behind me.

I dare not turn. I pictured a vile creature staring right into the back of my head, breathing down the back of my neck. If I turned, I’d only be greeted by sickly, glowing eyes and a wicked smile.

So I didn’t.

But finally, I made it to the bathroom without incident, but my joy was short lived as I peered into the pitch blackness that was the bathroom. And this time, there was no dim light to chase away the shadows. If only for the brief moment.

The light switch was on the left inside, right above the counter and under the medicine cabinet. I had to tippie toe to reach it.

I gulped down my fear. Now or never. I strode inside with purpose and ignored the chill of having my back exposed yet again but to a completely unknown abyss.

Even then, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.

The light flicked on.

And my worst fear was realized in full. Just like I had pictured, it was behind me. A black mass I barely caught a glimpse of in the mirror because I jumped and spun almost immediately.

I was being watched by a dark colored towel hanging on the rack behind me.

My breath slowed as my near heart attack was avoided. Just my stupid imagination.

There was nothing in here. I had peeked my head behind the shower curtain just to be safe.

Disappointingly, the bathroom was empty, which meant I was still alone in the night.

One place left to look outside of my room.

Dad’s chair. Which meant a trek further into the unknown worse than that, this journey involved a corner.

That might not seem significant, but something could easily hide around a corner and jump out without warning. Corners at night time were terrifying.

I peeked out into the hallway, looking both ways and seeing only what I saw during the day thanks to the bathroom light.

My fears were unwarranted, the hallway was empty. Thankfully, I didn’t even feel like I was being watched anymore.

Just my imagination. Just like always.

But my heart stopped in the next moment.

There was a sound, like a light thump coming from my room, as if somebody was knocking on the walls.

My face warmed uncomfortably as my head turned slowly back toward my room.

All those other times I only felt watched or was afraid of seemingly nothing.

This was a sound! This was a tangible sense!

It was waiting in my room! It must’ve snuck passed me while I was in the bathroom.

But… could I have possibly imagined that? Maybe just a pipe or something?

Another thump that caused my legs to stop working.

I definitely hadn’t imagined it.

I stared down the hallway into my open room intently, my eyes must’ve been the size of the bathroom doorknob that my hand squeezed so tightly.

I was unable to move. Even a little bit.

I knew it was waiting. I just didn’t know what was waiting…

The silence was defending, I could only hear my own heart beat faster and faster, and a buzzing in my head that got louder and louder the longer I stared.

There it was again.

Thump.

I jumped into action, quickly spinning around searching frantically for some sort of weapon. I took the head off of my electric toothbrush leaving only a small metal tip that I could jab into the monster.

Now that I knew where it was, I didn’t mind shutting the bathroom light off and walking back toward the room. In fact, I thought I’d be able to surprise the fiend.

I made it to the baseboard once more, reluctant to pass back into my room. I stared inside, waiting with bated breath for any signs of movement. Surely it would try and take me, right?

The cartoon illuminated dinosaurs dancing on the walls suddenly seemed to more feral with jagged teeth that threatened to eat me. They were no longer comforting as they were meant to be. And the shadows they left took shapes of horrifying creatures of the night just waiting for me to step inside so they could pounce on me. Inanimate objects now seemed to move ever so slightly on their own accord.

The heater sounded like a monster in the vents, the breeze pushing tree branches against the windows looked like clawed monsters scraping to get inside.

And then there was a sound that took all of my attention away from everything else.

A long scratching, as if this monster dragged the tip of its claw along the walls. It came from the closet. The one door that freezes every child in fear. Fear of the unknown, of what could be behind that door. Of what your imagination puts behind that door. The boogie man, and I knew he was in there. I knew it. I stepped inside of the room and stood in front of the closet, both hands gripping my toothbrush so tight that my knuckles were white.

That shuddered, white door seemed to stare back at me. It has to be standing behind that door, which meant that it was only a few short feet away from me. This thin piece of wood was all that separated me from my nightmare.

“I promise there’s nothing in the closet.”

My dad’s voice rang in my head. There never was. Every time he checked the closet, nothing was in there.

But this was different. I was alone now.

I felt as though the boogie man was daring me to open the door. To see what would happen if I did.

Heart pounding like a machine gun, face hot like the stove, throat scratchy and dry like dirt… I found it hard to move my limbs like they had all fallen asleep.

And then my heart froze over as dread descended down on me like a bucket of water. There was a soft click and light flooded from the shudders of the door.

Something was in there, and it turned on the light!

I needed to get dad! That was the only thought in my mind.

I wanted to scream for him but my voice didn’t work. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from that closet, but my feet were glued to the floor. .

I heard a light shuffling on the other side of that door, and my body stiffened even more if at all possible. My eyes must’ve been popping out of their sockets. This was it! It was gonna take me!

Suddenly my legs were working again, stepping backward, feet clumsily stumbling over themselves. I landed on my rear, my toothbrush clattering along the floor. Was that… self preservation kicking in?

Was this what fearing for you life felt like?

“Luke?” I heard my name spoken in a small, muffled whimper that accompanied the shuffling.

I blinked.

“Luca, i-is that you?”

It was my brother!

Oh God it was only him!

Just Tyler! I thought I was gonna cry from the relief. I pushed myself up very quickly and struggled with the child lock, pulling the door open. He was sitting in the back of the closet hugging his knees beside some clothes that had fallen. Queue the hangars scraping the wall, and my brother thumping around.

Oh thank god! He looked just as terrified as I had. I ran in the closet and hauled him to his feet as he asked me how he got in there.

“Sleepwalking you doofus. I thought you were a monster!” My hand stayed clamped on his as if I’d lose him if I let go, still shaking from residual adrenaline.

He had a look of uneasiness, trepidation and pure confusion. “I… opened the door?”

I had to pause.

How did he get in the closet? I had to squeeze the plastic with both hands and actively try to turn the knob. No way he did it in his sleep.

Well, he had to have. How else would he have gotten in…

Though at that moment, I didn’t really care.

I just shrugged.

This little night of horrors was done and I just wanted to sleep.

I helped him back to his bed before turning back to the closet. I stood on my toes to flick the switch down.

Only… it was already down.

I gazed up to see the cord dad always pulled to turn the light on dangling, swinging lightly back and forth.

The tingle at the crown of my head shot through my entire body as cold realization struck me.

“How did you turn on the light?” I shakily asked.

“…I didn’t.”

Credit: In Me Lies Divinity

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A Vision of Hell

December 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I saw Heaven. In my dream, I was sitting on a bank of a snaking river. On the other side were houses made from large stone blocks. They resembled medieval castles. They had crenellations, too, but they had never been besieged. The Gods were frolicking there. It was an enchanting scene. I sat alone, with a wide open field behind me.

My hand rested on the grass. In Heaven, they eat the grass, along with a variety of flowers and other flora. The soil can also be eaten, and tastes something like a buttery chocolate. All the Gods are vegetarian. They never eat meat. The grass has, in all its various shades, different subtle flavours. Even the sunshine in heaven has a delicious taste to it, too.

In the distance, a golden trumpet sounded out across this utopia, growing louder and louder until my head rang full of its clarion call.

I awoke to the droning of my alarm clock, and fumbled around to turn it off. There was, after all, no trumpet, no idyll, and no Gods whose skin radiated a golden light. My mind was back in the earthly reality of the everyday world. I showered, shaved, ate breakfast, and went to work.

The day passed uneventfully, but I was in luck again at night. As I lay asleep, the dream continued. I saw that the Gods had a game they liked to play. One of them would climb a tree, and some other Gods would wait below, with their hands outstretched. The God at the top of the tree would gather some leaves from the branches, and drop them. The Gods at the bottom would try to catch them.

It was, of course, a banal game by an adult’s standards, but the Gods found their own innocent amusement in it. Most of the Gods had garlands of flowers around their neck. There was one God, Surti, who gathered up some of the leaves that had fallen to the ground. He had spotted something unusual.

One of the petals from his garland had shaken loose, and fallen to the ground along with the leaves. This seemed to cause him considerable anxiety. When the other Gods left to play another game, Surti remained behind. Secretively, he gathered up his petal, put it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed it. It tasted bitter. When he inspected his sarong, he saw that the white garment had a patch of mud on it. He wiped it frantically until the stain was gone. This seemed to be a deepening cause of concern for him.

That was all I recall from the night. The dream seemed more vivid this time. When I woke up I went about my usual daily activities: morning ablutions, commute to work, and so on. Now that I had seen heaven, or at least what my imagination told me was heaven, I had a mounting sense of dissatisfaction with my normal everyday life. I longed to re-experience the heavenly world.

A couple of days passed, and I had no dreams that I could recall. I was beginning to think that that was the end of the matter until, once again, I had a dream of that heavenly world. It was about Surti again. As is the way of dreams, I identified with him as if he were me. The flowers on his garland had withered visibly. The stain on his sarong had returned, and was a little larger this time.

Intuitively, I understood why: although Gods appear as being eternally youthful, none of them actually live forever. There still exist marks and signs that they are ageing. The Gods do not count their age in years the way we humans do, but count through a succession of “stages” of their lives. Surti was, in fact an elder God. He had even begun sweating, something that deities generally never do. His time was drawing near.

Surti went to the Akkhana. It was a circular shallow pool, almost as wide as a God is tall. It was only an inch deep, and filled with magical water. Gods have many supernatural abilities; being able to hear sounds far away, walk through walls, fly, to name a few. Surti peered into the Akkhana. It enhanced his divine sight.

He wished to know where he would be reborn after he died. As he stared into the pool, the water’s reflection warped and swirled. The water became inky. Momentarily, an image crystallised on its surface. Surti saw his fate, and wailed in anguish. The horror of the hell that he would eventually encounter was plain for him to see.

I awoke from the dream, troubled deeply. It was still the small hours of the morning, and I needed to get some sleep for the day ahead, for it was still a workday.

I sat glum-faced at the office that day. As I plodded through my paperwork, I glanced out the window. There was a tree outside, and the winter sun shone through the leaves, dappling the light. I looked at the sun, and a strange waking dream overtook me.

In heaven, there is a special garden for the dying Gods. Gandharvas, celestial musicians, play sweet harmonies continuously, and the garden is particularly beautiful, even by heaven’s standards. It distracts the ageing Gods from the distress they feel at the prospect of their own demise.

Surti’s halo flickered, like the sun through the leaves in the tree that I saw outside, or a light bulb that is about to burn out. In an instant, Surti’s body disappeared from the heavens, like a ghost vanishing before one’s eyes. None of the other Gods noticed, for heaven is a place of revelry, not for the contemplation of mortality.

Surti felt a giant mist surround him, and cosmic winds howled all around. His senses were stripped from him, his mind faded, and all that he had been, no longer was. Up ahead was a light, which pulled him in as a magnet to steel. It was a portal to the next world. He crossed its threshold, and then … nothing.

Outside my office, the tree shook in the wind, leaves were blown from their branches, and they danced in the breeze. There was no God at the top of the tree dropping them down, however, nor expectant Gods at the bottom waiting excitedly to catch them.

Then it dawned on me. The dreams of mine were a vestigial memory, a glimpse of my past. I returned to the paperwork in front of me, now understanding the vision of hell that Surti has seen in the Akkhana.

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Blackout

December 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Have you ever awaken in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm? And has the power ever gone out in your house? Well this time, both happened.

I made this short film for a horror film festival and took home “Scariest film award”.

Blackout

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

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Crippling Debt

November 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first phone call came as we sat down to dinner.

I had been expecting calls from potential employers or recruitment offices, so I was excited when I heard the ring tone. I was nine months into the job search and our savings were running dry. Though it was six in the evening where we lived, it was only three on the west coast and I had sent my resume everywhere. My stomach gave a small lurch as I looked at my phone and read the word UNKNOWN across the screen. The only phone calls I had gotten from unknown numbers over the past months had been bill collectors or people trying to sell me solutions to debt or upgrades to my internet service.

“Should I take this? It’s an unknown number, but maybe it’s important,” I asked my wife, Caroline.

“Two minutes, Tom. I’m serious,” she said.

I touched the accept button.

“Hello?” I said.

For a moment, the line was almost quiet. There was some distant sound, like a record player or a crackling fire, but I blamed poor reception.

I looked at my phone to make sure it was connected, which it was, and almost tapped the End Call button at my wife’s insistence, until a voice came through the speaker, high in pitch and business like.

“Hello, Mr. Hanshaw,” said the voice.

“This is he. Not much time to talk. Who is this?” I said into the receiver, admittedly coming off as impatient.

“Oh, this isn’t that kind of phone call, my good sir. There was no question mark at the end of that sentence,” the voice replied.

“Well, there was one at the end of mine. Dinner is getting cold, the wife’s stare is colder, you understand. I’ll ask again. Who is this?” I tried to sound firm, but I was tired and I sounded it.

“It may be best to have your wife eat without you. We have a few things to discuss. Cold supper should be the least of your worries,” said the voice.

“If I owe you money, I’m doing my best. If this is a prank, you need to do better than that. Have a great night,” I said.

I touched the End Call button on my phone sat down to eat so my wife would stop rattling her finger nails on the table.

“Obviously that wasn’t a job offer,” she asked.

“Unless the job is sniffing out bullshit, no. I’m afraid not,” I replied, deadpan. I couldn’t even be disappointed anymore. It had become the status quo.

“Tom, we are going to be alright, aren’t we?” Caroline said.

“Of course we are. This is just poor timing. I just got my master’s degree. I’m stuck between overqualified and under experienced and I just need to meet with the right people,” I repeated for what had to be the hundredth time that month alone. Her eyes rolled the same way they had every time I said it.

“I hope you find them before the bank sends a moving van and locks us out of our own house,” she said.

She spooned peas into her mouth, her face contorting to one of hatred (though hatred of me or another leftover meal, I didn’t know). It amazed me how quickly love didn’t matter when everything else went to hell. Happily ever after wasn’t a real thing, but in my case, tolerable for a while was pushing it. The problem wasn’t that we hated each other. It was that we didn’t want to, and neither of us knew how to prevent it from constantly poisoning every fucking discussion we had.

The phone rang again. I had set it next to me on the table. My wife gave me a look that said she would be happy to throw the fork across the table and eat with her hands if I delivered any more bad news. The screen said UNKNOWN again, so I didn’t answer.

The ensuing silence lasted long enough for each of us to take a bite of the leftover chicken ziti her sister had given us the night before. It had become a habit to accept any offer of a free meal, served with a side of sarcasm and dirty glances from her sister for not taking care of her sister.

Before my wife could swallow her first bite, my phone rang again. The volume grew with each ring until the sound was deafening in the small dining room. Caroline’s hands flew to her ears as she screamed something I barely heard. I tried tapping the decline button enough times to make my finger numb, but it wouldn’t stop ringing. My wife ran across the room. I was able to make out her words as she passed.

“I’m not even hungry anymore. The last thing you need is a broken fucking phone when we can’t even make a car payment, Tom, so fix it or shove it up your ass so I can’t hear it!,” my wife screamed, approaching the stairs.

I stuffed the in my pocket to dull the noise. I had kept my voice mail empty, paranoid I would miss a message about a job lead or offer, so I knew that it should have clicked over at some point. The ringtone kept getting louder.

Grumbling to myself, I separated the back plate from the face of the phone and removed the battery. At last, the ringing stopped, though there was a ringing in my ear that wouldn’t go away. I put everything in my pocket to leave the table technology free, the way Caroline had insisted it should always be before the credit collectors had started ruining every second of our lives with phone calls and endless e-mails. Just in case she came back into the room. No need for another fight over something stupid.

I kept eating the now-cold dinner, lulled into a mechanical dance of scooping cold ziti into my mouth as I reveled in the silence, until the phone ring again, not bothering to slowly build to full volume this time. The sound was deafening in the small dining room. I inhaled and nearly choked, but was able to cough up the pasta. It took a moment to realize that the phone in my pocket, sans battery, wasn’t the one ringing. I crossed the room to my wife’s small purse, which was dancing across the kitchen counter with the power of the vibrations, and pulled out her phone.

The screen said UNKNOWN.

I clicked accept, ready to yell at whoever was on the other line, my last straw reached.

The voice didn’t wait for me.

“Hello, Mr. Hanshaw. It was very rude of you to hang up on me without hearing what I have to say. I abhor rude people, so I will say this just the once. If you hang up or otherwise find a way to interrupt this call again, I will take something from you,” said the voice.

“What do you want? I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with prank calls. Have some empathy. Please, save it until I have a job again before I end up sleeping on the couch,” I said

“Mr. Hanshaw, what on earth makes you think this is a prank?” the voice said, half laughing.

I started to take Caroline’s phone apart to remove the battery, same as I had done with mine. Like my wife, I no longer wanted food. Just five minutes of peace. I planned to call the phone company to figure out how to block unknown numbers the next morning.

“If you do that, I will have to take something from you, Mr. Hanshaw. I would highly advise against…” the voice cut off as I removed the battery and tossed it and the dead phone on the kitchen table. Frustrated and ready for the day to end, I tasted none of the food as I shoveled it into my mouth.

Whoever was trying to contact me was out of phone numbers. There were plenty of people who knew how to reaching us both it wasn’t hard to hide a phone number from caller ID, but whoever was doing this was in for some advice on their people skills and an evaluation of our friendship. Every person who mattered in our lives knew what we had been dealing with. I didn’t recognize the voice. The harassment was unnecessary. When our shit was in order, I would find out who was responsible, and one day, they would regret it. One day, I would…

The phone began vibrating on the table. I froze, colder than the remnants of the food stuck to my fork. There was no ringing, but the way the table shook made the phone seem…I don’t know…angry.

All the anger that had been building up drained away. When the phone started vibrating without a battery, I became scared. When the phone answered the call without my assistance and put itself on speaker, I could barely breathe.

“I warned you,” said the voice, much deeper than it had been the previous two times.

I wanted to speak. I truly did. The food in my mouth, half chewed, might as well have been cement. I couldn’t open my mouth at all. My eyes, however, were wide open.

“I don’t know why it is you people find it so hard to answer a simple instruction. You are all entirely too rude. And now, I have to take something from you, Mr. Hanshaw. I really don’t want to. I sincerely mean that. But you must take me seriously or this is all for naught. So, which bitch will it be? Zelda or Caroline?” the voice asked.

That broke the spell. I kicked the chair backward and stood, sweeping my head around and looking for an intruder, a face in the window, something…anything…to lead me to whoever was taking this sick joke one step too far.

“If you wait too long to make a decision, I will be happy to make it for you, Mr. Hanshaw,” the voice warned. “Just think about who you love the most. Everybody else in a person’s life is usually expendable. How about thirty seconds? Thirty. Twenty-Nine.”

“You think I’m a naive asshole?” I screamed, regaining both my anger and the use of my mouth. “Oh, big man, you know the name of my wife and dog. As soon as I found out who this is, you won’t have a job, either. Then we’ll see who is laughing!” I screamed.

“Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen.” The voice continued to count down.

Scary stories weren’t like real life. Even at that moment, as I ran to the front door and threw it open with a shout, hoping to find some past co-worker or a close friend trying to take my mind off of the terrible situation I was in and the crippling debt that was destroying my family from within, I had no notions that this was something beyond an elaborate, albeit convincing and offensive, prank.

Until the voice reached zero and the lights went out.

Until, in the darkness, I heard a crash from upstairs and a light laugh from the phone on the kitchen table.

I ran towards where I knew the stairs to be, knocking the knick-knacks and paintings we had wasted so much of our depleted earnings on to the floor as I rushed my way through the blackness, all the while screaming for my wife and my dog. I heard Zelda bark and it calmed me down enough to stop screaming. I heard some other sound too, something muffled and frantic. Probably Caroline wanting the dog to shut up while she drank away her sorrows.

I tripped in my scramble to climb the stairs. Instant pain shot up my shin and stopped my ascent for a moment.

The lights returned shortly after that. They didn’t flicker or buzz as lights tend to do after a power outage. One second it was black, the next I was nearly blinded as I limped my way up the rest of the stairs.

Zelda met me at the divider gate we kept at the top of the stairs, jumping up and down and licking my hand as I reached down to pet her. As soon as I opened the latch and stepped through, she sped off towards the bedroom. I took a couple of breaths before I walked into the room, knowing how angry Caroline must have been to ignore my screaming during a blackout.

Those deep breaths are the only reason I didn’t pass out when I entered my bedroom.

Caroline lay face down on the floor. That isn’t entirely accurate. A pile of clothes at the foot of the bed must have tripped her during the black out, and her back was to the ceiling, her face wasn’t exactly on the floor. Half of the bottle had disappeared down her throat. Her mouth had been stretched so wide by the bottle that the corner of the lip I could see had torn. The blood seeping down the bottle and onto the carpet had mixed with wine and something that looked thick and snotty. Tears trickled from her bloodshot eyes. The top part of her body rested at an unnatural angle as her head balanced on the wine bottle, which rested perfectly upright on the floor save for the person choking on the upper half of it. Zelda lapped at the frothing mixture like a doggie cocktail. There was a disgusting bulge under the skin on the back of her neck.

As disturbing as all of that was, the single blink of Caroline’s visible eye was what caused me to drop to my knees and vomit. Zelda was quick to run over and begin her second barking course of the night as tears and snot streamed down my own face.

“Now, I’m sure this is something of a shock to you, Mr. Hanshaw, but I gave you a warning and told you my terms in plain English, the same as your creditors before me,” the voice said from my pocket.

The phone hadn’t bothered to ring this time.

I pulled my phone out, my voice catching on the sobs and whimpers in my throat. The screen no longer said UNKNOWN, but had instead opened up one of those video chat apps. My vision was blurred from the tears, but what silhouette I could make out made me think that was for the best.

Caroline made a coughing noise and her body jerked. I cringed.

“Don’t be such a baby. Those kind of spasms are completely normal. It’s not like you’d hear a death rattle, right? If you think that’s bad, wait for the bowels to let loose!” the voice chided.

I grabbed Zelda and ran from the room. The last memory of my wife was going to haunt me long enough. I didn’t want to be in the room while my dead wife shit herself.

I locked Zelda and myself in the bathroom. She whined some, but only because I hadn’t let her finish snacking. That thought would have made me throw up again had anything remained in my stomach.

“I’m going to give you exactly two minutes to compose yourself, Mr. Hanshaw. After that, we will resume the intended conversation. So that you know, this is an attempt to collect on a debt. I hope you realize that any further attempts to delay or avoid this conversation will result in…similar consequences. Get your shit together,” the voice said.

The next two minutes might as well have been an eternity, though looking back I wish I had just washed my face and waited for the call.

As soon as the screen went black, I reached into my pocket and grabbed the battery. I pushed it into the phone and held down the power button, waiting for it to turn on and cussing at it under my breath for wasting time. Zelda sniffed under the door and scratched to be left out, sick and tired of being cooped up.

I opened the door and let her out, not wanting to deal with the distraction. Beyond everything that happened, I regret that the most. It was the only time that night I feel I had any real control, and in my panic I reacted how I would have on any other normal day.

By the time the phone loaded, nearly a minute must have been wasted. I called 911, fulling expecting something crazy to prevent the call from going through, but they picked up after a ring.

“911, what is your emergency?” the operator asked.

“My wife is dead. Someone is attacking us,” I answered.

“Are you in any immediate danger?” the operator asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

She started to ask me to describe my assailant, but I cut her off, knowing time was short.

“He will be back in less than a minute. He killed my wife. I don’t know who he is or what he wants. He says he is a debt collector. Please send help. My address is 932…” I was cut off.

“Salvador Street, Mr. Hanshaw? Obviously, I know where you live. Technically you did nothing to prevent our conversation, so I suppose I can’t fault you for keeping your wits after such a traumatic experience. To be honest, I’m impressed you were able to think at all! Are you ready to talk?”

I was done. I had reached my limit. I had wasted whatever wits left on a failed 911 call and had nothing left to maintain my composure. I proved it by tossing the phone in the toilet and holding down the flushing handle. I thought it would just sit at the bottom of the bowl as the water flowed over it, but it was small enough to disappear from sight.

I cried then. I leaned against the wall, ignoring the painful jab of the towel rack and Zelda scratching to be let back in to comfort me, and cried in loud, heaving sobs.

I wasn’t a bad person. I hadn’t done anything illegal. I lost my job at an inopportune time and had shitty luck, but I was trying as hard as I could. I loved my wife despite her criticism and resentment. She had a hard time understanding that trying hard didn’t always equate to results. Her anger was understandable. I had insisted on going for my Master’s degree, sure that it would take us to that next level of financial stability, and every failed interview and missed opportunity I blamed on that degree was me hating myself a little more for how much of a failure I had become.

Through all the anger and resentment, Caroline had stuck by me and put up with my self-righteous bullshit. She was my best friend, and now she was dead. If the voice on the phone was to be believed, it was just as much my fault as the debt that had caused him to call in the first place. Zelda’s scratching and whimpering grew louder, so quieted my sobbing until she let a bark of boredom and moved on.

That’s when I decided to end my life. My reason for living was dead in our bedroom. Whether all of this was a bad prank mixed with worse coincidence or the act of some crazy individual out for blood, better to die by my own hand than by that of whoever that voice belonged to.

I opened the bathroom door to call for Zelda, planning on leaving her in the neighbor’s fenced in yard with my suicide note tied to her collar. She didn’t come. All it took was a downward glance to realize that she hadn’t been scratching at the door to try and comfort me.

Zelda, both halves of her, lay dead at the foot of the bathroom door. Blood had soaked so deeply into her white fur and the carper that it was hard to tell the two apart, save for the collar around the lump on my left. Much like my wife’s final blink, some part of Zelda let out a final wheeze that sounded like a weak bark.

Zelda was like our child, and though I had no illusions that we would outlive her, I cannot explain to you what seeing something so brutal done to something you love so much does to you. What happened to my wife could have been a fucked up accident. Somebody had torn Zelda in half.

I felt nothing as I walked to my bedroom, stepped over Caroline, and stepped into the closet. I unlocked the combination safe and grabbed the gun from top shelf, not bothering to close it afterwards. I stuffed the gun into the back of my pants and grabbed the blankets folded at the end of our bed. I used one to cover Caroline as best as I was able without looking, and the other to cover Zelda, hoping they would appreciate the gesture if they had been able.

I walked down the stairs, slow and deliberate, almost too carefully for a man on his way to swallow a bottle of cheap vodka and a bullet. At the foot of the stairs, the doorbell rang. I wasn’t surprised as I looked towards the door. I knew exactly what I would see through the cloudy, decorative glass of our front door.

The same silhouette that had been on my phone screen.

The voice spoke to me through the door. I pulled the gun out of my pants and walked towards it, hearing every word, defeated.

“Now that we can avoid further interruption, Mr. Hanshaw, let’s discuss business. It’s very simple. You owed money and services to some very impatient people. I am more dedicated than most when it comes to collecting on those debts, and so people of such influence tend to come to me when all else fails. Why, you ask? Because instead of waiting for a peasant like you to pay installments, I pay your debts in full. Call it pre-consolidation. Now the only person you owe is me,” the voice informed me.

“I don’t have the money. I don’t have anything left!” I cried, leaning my head against the door and placing the gun against my temple.

“I don’t need your money, Mr. Hanshaw. Money is paper. Paper can be recycled. I only require one thing to clear your debt. Something invaluable. Just one little thing, and we can both move on from this. Open the door and give it to me. Trust me when I say that the gun in your hand won’t save you. There are plenty of things left I can take from you. You just don’t have the imagination in you to know what they are,” the voice said through the door.

“Just take it! Take what you want and leave me alone! What the hell do I have left to give?” I screamed, slamming my head and fists against the door, letting every emotion hit me at once.

“Your soul,” replied the voice.

Then, a sharp pain struck me in the chest and I was on my back, with bright light blinding me and demons screaming and scratching at my arms, turning me on my stomach and whipping me, pulling on my, beating me.

Through it all, I was content, because the voice was gone.

It was over.

My debt had been repaid.

****************

The image of Tom Hanshaw’s calm, smiling face froze on the screen.

The man who had paused the video read from a sheet of paper, his voice unnaturally deep and clear.

“When this was filmed, Mr. Hanshaw was free from any drug or alcoholic influence. It was filmed three days after Officer Stevens and Officer Norman entered the home, by force, in response to Mr. Hanshaw violently banging on the door from inside. Due to the nature of the emergency call, they thought Mr. Hanshaw was being attacked. Instead, they found him holding a gun and dazed from being knocked to the ground when they entered. Nobody can be sure rather or not the 911 call was meant to lure in further victims or bring someone in to clean up the mess he left behind. Thankfully, he was restrained and taken into custody without a single bullet being fired. He had rested and eaten before filming his confession, assuring anybody who would listen that he wasn’t worried as his debt had been repaid. He requested this confession and signed forms claiming he was within his right mind while delivering his confession. He assumed he would be free to leave afterwards. That was a year and a half ago,” he said.

The recent testimony they had all been privy too was entirely different. Tom had been frantic and weeping. Though his state appointed lawyer had adamantly warned against it, Tom Hanshaw wanted to tell his side. Anti-psychotics and trauma prevented him from saying anything helpful. The gaunt man was barely able to string a legible sentence together as he cried out that his debt had been repaid and that he should be free.

Due to the lack of witnesses and scant testimony, all they had to go on was evidence from the crime scene, expert testimony theorizing what led to the break, and Tom’s own poor excuse to defend himself. Some of them were unwilling to condemn a man so broken and driven to insanity by debts of the system when he was barely able to tell his side of the story, so they requested a review of his confession tape, filmed three days after his arrest at his own request.

The man set the paper on the table and spoke to the men and women before him.

“The man on that tape is not the man we have seen in the court room over the past few weeks. His sanity has been cleared by multiple professionals, meaning Mr. Hanshaw believes what he is saying is the truth and may be a functioning sociopath. Comparisons to Ted Bundy, while not relevant, seem accurate at this point. Now that we’ve seen the tape, I think it’s safe to say we can reach a fair, unanimous decision. We may never know whether it was an insurance ploy or an argument over finances gone wrong. What we do know is that Tom Hanshaw blamed murdering his wife and dog on calls received from two cellular phones that evidence shows had been disconnected weeks prior to the event. Difficult as it may be, we have a decision to make.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the options are as follows. Option one, the real Tom Hanshaw is the cold man we saw on that tape, and we condemn him to a guilty verdict and the death penalty. Option two, the real Tom Hanshaw is the man we saw in the court room, though still guilty, and we condemn him to a live out his life in a high security psychiatric facility. Option three, the real Tom Hanshaw is both men at different stages of grieving, is telling the truth, is not guilty, and should go free. The verdict must be unanimous. Are we ready?”

He let the question hang in the air for a moment, giving everybody a chance to digest the weight of the question with murmurs and head nods.

“Very well. Now then, all those who think Tom Hanshaw is guilty, please raise your hand.”

Moments later, the man walked to the door and informed the guard that a unanimous verdict had been reached. The jury was ready to inform Tom Hanshaw whether or not his debt had been paid after all.

Credit: Rob E. Nichols

If you enjoyed this story, please do check out the author’s book. Absolute Horror can be purchased at both Amazon and CreateSpace.

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Day of the Worm

November 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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What are dreams?
What are they really? Are they bits and pieces of memories thrown together without design or purpose? Do they whisper secrets of future days to come or hide secrets from days long passed? Perhaps our soul is expelled from our bodies each night, thrust out into the void, traveling to wondrous lands and beyond the limits of our physical form? Consider this; is it possible that our dreams are more than mere nonsense, but premonitions of adventures, not yet had? Honestly, I don’t have any answers for you. However, if I may, I would like to share with you what I do know.

Tell me; have you ever had a dream you felt was so real, your waking life felt distant and dull? Have you ever dreamt a dream that reveals glimpses of your full potential? Do you know of any dream that fills you with such sorrow upon awakening, each morning, to desire with all your might that your eyes will open to a brand new life, yet never does it come? With every rising sun, that is the burden I bare. However, such sadness does not consume me, for I know my dreams are so much more than simple desires and wishful thinking. They are much more than you could possibly imagine. For you see, my dreams are preparing me for great things to come, I know that to be the truth!

No, rolling your eyes does not offend me; you are not the first I’ve tried to tell. You are not first to have mocked my words. Most simply laugh out of amusement and others feign looks of pity towards me. Truly, in their view, only a disadvantaged child would entertain such nonsense in their heads. They are the ones to pity, for they are only capable of seeing a land of make believe, a fairy tale fabricated from the mind of a child! So sure of themselves, that a child orphaned as an infant, who never knew the embrace of a mother’s love or guidance of a father could hold his head high. Nor would they consider such a waif would earn his success with only the determination of his heart and by the strength in his hands. Yet, I hold no malice, for their conclusions are not without logic, albeit sadly shortsighted. That is all about to change for tomorrow is the day when all will be revealed! For tomorrow is my birthday and when I am gone, they will have no other choice but to admit they were wrong!

Tomorrow is the day my dreams foretold:
“Before the sun sets on your five and tenth year of life, you shall return with hope and salvation on your back and light in your hands. By your blade, you will rid the land of the Worm.”

That is what I see every night when I surrender to sleep. Close your eyes and take my hand and let me tell you about my dreams.

In my dreams, there’s a realm so close to our own that only the width of a hair separates the two. Existing side by side, together, and unaware of one another. Yet they are so far apart that traveling the distance would take a thousand years. It is a medieval realm where science and magic live next to each other as beloved friends. Machines and technology, sorcery and magic, they co-exist side by side as as one. No difference comes to mind in matters of wizarding and engineering, sorcerers and teachers, or even the healer and a doctor. This realm is ruled by six great nations, each under a king and queen of virtuous heart and noble blood. Castles and villages, farms and towns pepper the land. All live simplistic lives with a hint of technologies both natural and mystical.

In my dreams, I see a beautiful domed temple made from ivory white stone. The temple is the home to six sacred weapons made of enchanted steel, one given to each nation by a goddess. She offered these weapons in preparation for the day foretold, the day of the Worm. The weapons are wielded by a warrior from each nation; each personally chosen by the goddess herself. But in the center of the temple, in the most revered spot, sits the seventh altar. Upon this altar rests the armor and weapons of the seventh son of a seventh son. Under the darkness of an eclipse of three moons, a child’s bloodline emerged from the joining of a mortal and a god. This child’s spirit will unite the realms in their darkest hour.

The weapons are enchanted steel of silver and blue and my armor is impossibly light. My gauntlet is for my right hand and serves as my shield. It houses a disk that three blades emerge from with a snap. When flung, it obeys my will and lays waste to all of my foes. It then faithfully returns to my hand without fail every time. My sword was forged from the last remnants from Creation and cooled with the very essence of life. It is the mortal enemy of rot and decay. It can never be broken, nothing can shatter its blade, and it is impervious to impact; never will its edge be dulled. The jewel in the hilt is my symbol and banner. It is the eye that shines a light that can ignite the passion of an oppressed people when hope had seemed to be lost.

In my dreams, I see a day in which black rain falls from the sky. Viscous, ropy strands of greenish-black tar pour from the clouds. Anything it touches immediately begins to decay and corrode. The arrival of the Worm is heralded by a clap of thunder as his fortress bursts through the clouds. It pierces the land like a dagger stabbed into flesh upon impact with the land. The castle of the Worm is a jagged and pointed crystalline citadel with bulbous blister-like domes upon it. This is the throne from where the Worm will conquer and reign. The decay spreads from the dark fortress in the form of black mold and writhing masses of tentacles and tendrils, rotting everything it touches; except for one thing: the dead. Every warlord needs its pawns.

The dead are absorbed and used as vessels for the Worm’s decay to take form. They are the eyes, the foot, and the iron fist of the Worm. The Worm fills its ranks with the deceased and slain flesh of the surrounding villages with a gluttonous appetite. The blisters from the walls of its fortress are then released and its army of decayed and mindless drones carry the smelly, rotting mass into the heart of all six nations. It will plant itself into the ground and become extensions of the mind and will of the Worm. From here it will wage war against every man, woman, and child. It will fight with the decomposing faces of their neighbors, friends, brothers, and sisters

In my dreams, I see the goddess blessing the six kings from each of the nations before spiriting away the seventh set of armor and weapons from the walls of the vulnerable temple. She hides the items in a place far from the Worm’s reach where they will wait until claimed by the child foretold to come. In a final act of sacrifice, I see the goddess exhausting the last of her immortality in order to open a door of light. She places a tiny infant within the entrance and before closing the door she says with tears in her eyes, “Goodbye, my beloved. Goodbye, my son.”

It is twenty minutes to midnight, the day of my fifteenth birthday. I sit on the wooden floor and I am trembling next to a heated stove. I tremble not from the cold but from a heart-gripping fear. However, make no mistake, do not think for a moment I’m trembling out of fear of the unknown or of things to come! I am not afraid of marching against a grotesque army of a thousand rotting corpses. I don’t fear the violence I will encounter or the many battles I will fight. I am not afraid! No, none of that scares me! I want the life so much! Do you want to know what really scares me, what has me filled with such terror and dread? What scares me the most is this:

“I am so afraid that when tomorrow finally arrives, it will come and go like any other ordinary day.”

Credit: Killahawke1

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White Owl

November 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Okay, so the first thing I’m going to tell you, in the interest of full disclosure and because it’s fairly pivotal to everything that comes next is that I am a drug user.

User, not addict. And I realise that this may well lead you to discredit everything I’m about to say as either lies or the fantasies of some junkie but that’s a risk I’ll have to take I suppose. Everything I’m about to relate to you is true, whether you want to believe it or not is entirely your business. If you want to just walk away at the end of this and forget all about the crazy druggie and their nonsense then that will be no skin off my nose.

So, I’m a drug user. Me and most of the guys were. I know it’s painfully cliché…a bunch of Wall Street big shots who do cocaine but there you have it.

Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true and in our case it definitely fit. It wasn’t anything we were into in a big way; however you would define that, which is why I reject the label ‘Addict’. It was never something I HAD to do, just something we did.

And it really did take the edge off, though I realise that’s probably a cliché excuse as well. But after a week of looking at numbers, staring at paperwork, filling out reports, moving sums from column A to column B, it became something to make unwinding that little bit easier.

There were four of us usually, myself, Peter Creed, then there was Raymond, Jake and Blakely. We’d go out, hit up a club that we knew had a reasonably hygienic bathroom and we’d do coke.
Blakely was usually the one carrying and usually the one to get it for us too.

And he was always the one to suggest trying something new, which we always went for, because after a while cocaine had lost its thrill. The first time I’d done it I’d been terrified of getting caught. The second time I’d been exhilarated at getting away with it. But after the fifth, the sixtieth, the hundredth? Honestly all I was worried about was whether I’d have a clean tissue if my nose started bleeding.

I suppose it’s like anything, if you do it often enough it becomes monotonous.

It stops becoming a thing you do because you want to do it but rather something that you do because it’s just something that you do. It becomes part of the routine, dull and predictable.

It stops being fun and becomes just
another aspect of your daily life.

You work nine to five and then Friday night you go do cocaine. So when Blakely had something new for
us we paid attention.

Blakely was the youngest of the group and easily the wildest. He hadn’t yet lost touch with old buddies from his college the way most of us had as work got in the way, hadn’t yet lost that energy we’d had when we felt ready to take on the world. He wasn’t the sort of person you could ever be FRIENDS with but he had this certain something that still made you want to be around him, spend time with him. He had energy, an enthusiasm, and a confidence that made you want to see what he’d do next.

It was a magnetism of sorts, a charisma that drew you to him even if your better judgement told you to keep away.

He had a spark…I suppose it would be fair to say that of all of us he was the one who seemed the most alive.

This is ironic given what happened later I suppose but I’m getting ahead of myself. Excuse me.

So anyway, Blakely. It was Friday night and we were all at some horrid little club the size of a shoebox where the music was too loud, the drinks were watered down and overpriced and the crowd was made up of equal parts thugs and morons. And Blakely, over the sound of the music and the people tunelessly singing along, asked me ‘Have you ever tried White Owl?’

I had no idea what he was talking
about. He was clearly trying to be discreet though not doing a good job of it as it was impossible to have a quiet conversation, and leant closer toward me.

“White Owl! It’s some next level shit!”

“Have you got any on you?” I hollered into his ear and he shook his head, grinning that wide grin of his. That was another thing about Blakely; he would always have this big, stupid smile on his face. Most of us figured it was the coke or whatever pills he was popping at work, giving him that little boost that stopped it breaking his spirit the way it had ours.

“No man, that’s not how it goes!”

“So what is it?” I asked, a little curious as to what exactly he was talking about. He shook his head again.

“No, no this shit, it’s not something you DESCRIBE to someone. Listen…” and at that he jerked his head toward the exit, beckoning me to follow him.

Pushing through the throng of bodies we found ourselves out in the open air, our only company one or two smokers desperate enough for nicotine fix to brave the cold night air.

And he began to tell me about White Owl.

Apparently it wasn’t something that could be carried around with your even purchased from a dealer. It was something far more exclusive than that, available only by invitation at a certain time and a certain place, to a select few who were picked out to get to try it. He’d been invited in by a friend who’d been invited by a friend and so on and so on. Once you were in you were able to select others to join the select group who got to partake of it.

It all sounded like a pyramid scheme or worse, some kind of cult to me, but Blakely was so lively as he talked about it, so eager and excitable that I was a bit curious. And more than anything I was desperate for something, ANYTHING to break the cycle, the soul crushing routine that felt like it had been going on for an eternity.

I was twenty six years old for Christ’s sake and my life was going NOWHERE. I wanted something to add some kind of excitement, some sort of thrill.

Blakely pressed his sweaty palm against mine, giving me a card with a time, a date and a place. Apart from that the only other thing on the card was a large white oval on a black background, with two large dark circles like eyes on it.

“Try it out man. It’s exactly what you’re looking for”

I was honestly still debating whether I would go or not when the anointed day came. Curiosity warred with cautiousness in my mind as the part that was eager to see what exactly was so special about what Blakely was talking about argued with the part that feared that all of this was some kind of trick, that at best it would be a prank and at worst this would be some kind of operation designed to snare unwary drug users, catch us in the act.

And my parents certainly hadn’t sent me to the finest schools in the country so that I could end up with my picture in the paper having been caught in some low rent crack den.

But in the end I wound up taking a cab down to where this ‘White Owl’ stuff was supposedly available, the desire to see what was so special about it winning out over fear and paranoia. The address was for one of those ghastly little places that’s meant to look ‘run down’ or ‘Urban’ but in fact cost a ridiculous amount of money to put together and was usually occupied mainly by hipsters and ‘artists’
desperate to feel like they were seeing the city’s ‘real’ face.

Spending a lot of money to make something look cheap is probably the best way to describe the aesthetic of these places. The one I was driven out to however didn’t seem to be occupied, unless everyone had their lights off at ten of clock on a Saturday night. I got out, paid the driver and made my way to the apartment specified on the card.

A few quick knocks on the door later and I was being greeted by a sight I really hadn’t expected. The person who had yanked it open in a manner which suggested they resented being bothered by anyone was about three feet tall, and dressed like he would be at home as a performer in some kind of carnival or circus.

His face was…deformed. That’s the only way I can think of to say it politely and from the looks of it, the deformity was not one he had been born with but rather something that had been inflicted.

He nodded at me, grunted and then motioned for me to follow him down the hallway.

As I passed a few closed doors I was aware of odd noises coming from behind them but I obviously wasn’t about to go snooping around this place, especially with my ‘host’ right in front of me.

Instead I followed silently to a lounge area where various people sat staring straight ahead. And all of them were staring at laptop screens.

The laptops themselves were set up on desks and had an incredibly strange design. It was as if random bits and pieces had been bolted, welded or wired up to them, none of the additions seeming to serve any purpose or function other than to make the laptops look odd. All the laptops were displaying a blank blue screen except for those that had people sat in front of them, those screens displaying nothing but static instead.

The people had a slack jawed expression on their face, headphones on their ears preventing them from hearing anything around them. It was a very strange sight to be greeted with and I was about to ask the dwarf what exactly was going on when a voice called out to me.

“You came! I knew you would!”

I turned to see Blakely just as he came up to me, giving me a slap on the back, his grin wider than ever, his face sweaty, eyes wide. He looked like shit, in all honesty but he certainly seemed happy to see me.

“Yeah, what IS this exactly?” I asked gesturing around at the people sat at the desks, “What, do they give us a free peepshow while we take this stuff?”

“This IS the stuff. Come on”

He led me to a chair and a desk, sitting me down and handing me a pair of headphones. I looked at him with an expression of confusion and discomfort but put them on all the same at his silent urging, wondering where this was going.

“Okay, now just watch” he said.

I looked at the screen. After a few moments it began displaying static and white noise could be heard through the headphones. I was wondering just what I was meant to do here and if this whole thing was some massive waste of time, if Blakely had been pulling my leg about this ‘White Owl’ thing. But then something happened.

Through the white noise I began to be aware of what sounded like snatches of conversation. The odd word here or there, muffled and hard to make out.

And as I stared at the screen I began to think that I could see something. It was vague and indistinct, like the blurry world a guy with bad eyesight sees without his glasses, or when you try and view something or someone through frosted glass.

But it was there. And I began to think that if I just tried to focus on nothing but what I was hearing through the headphones and seeing in the static, maybe I would be able to make it out. I began to become dimly aware of a shape forming, the white dots merging together to create one huge white mass as the black dots became huge circles in it, like eyes gazing out at me.

A hand on my arm jolted me out of the trance like state I’d slipped into and Blakely was looking at me with a smile as he yanked the headphones from my head.

“C’mon, time to go”

“Time to go? I’ve only been here for…”

I began but I trailed off as I looked down at my watch. I’d been there for five hours, staring at the screen, listening to the white noise. How had I been there for five hours? How could I possibly have not noticed that length of time passing me by? I’d heard of zoning out, losing track of time, but this was ridiculous.

I hadn’t taken anything. Nothing had been snorted, injected or otherwise entered my body. Just the screen and the headphones and the sensation of being on the verge of seeing something, hearing something, to the point where everything else slipped away.

“I don’t get it…all these people just come here and do this all night?” I asked, gesturing at the few who were still there, all still staring at the screens that doped up look on their faces. Blakely nodded.

“The first time’s just a taste man.

When you’re doing it regularly, that’s the real shit”

I really didn’t know if I wanted to be doing this ever again, whatever this was. I was creeped out, frightened by how I’d seemingly lost five hours of my life to static. We walked towards the exit, the little man with the scars holding it open as Blakely explained that the first time was free but after that you had to pay for any future visits.

I asked how much it was, more out of curiosity than any real desire to come back. How much would people be willing to pay to look at a screen? The little man grunted something in what could have been Russian and I looked at him quizzically. In a low growl he said,
‘One thousand’ in English.

“One thousand dollars? What, a day? A week? A Month?”

“Hour”

“On thousand an hour for THIS?”

Blakely was starting to look nervous now. That smile on his face was a little too forced; his skin looking like it was stretched taut over his face. Christ he really did look awful.

“It’s worth it man. Listen, I’ll pay for the next one. Long as you need. And if you don’t like it the second time, that’s it”

He was gripping my arm tighter now, to the point where it was becoming painful. There was urgency, a need in his eyes and more than that, a fear. He looked afraid of something, though whether it was the little man or something else I didn’t know. I just mumbled something like ‘Fine man, it’s your money’ and agreed though I had doubts about whether I’d stick to it.

Blakely looked relieved and the little man gave us cards with the date, time and place of the next meeting and then slammed the door behind us. I suppose the price explained why the guy running this show was such an asshole. If they were charging their customers a thousand and hour for this shit they probably weren’t too worried about attracting new people to these little get togethers anymore.

It was while Blakely and I were walking back together that I asked the obvious question.

“Why is it called White Owl?”

Blakely looked at me confused, tilting his head like a dog looking up at its master.

“You didn’t see it man? Everybody sees it, even the first time”

It took me longer than I would have liked to work out what he was talking about. That shape in the static, a white-ish mass with two large black ovals where you’d expect to see eyes.

Like a white owl. Was that what Blakely was talking about? But that made even less sense than when I had no idea why they named it this.

“What do you mean everybody sees it?

You can’t share a hallucination”

“Everybody sees it man. I don’t know what else to tell you”

We said out goodbyes and I made my way home, thinking about what Blakely had said. It must have been something other than a hallucination that I saw I told myself, some trick they did on the screens. Or maybe even some marginally less low-tech version of those ‘Magic eye’ images you would stare at when you were a kid. It was a trick.

Though that didn’t explain the odd sensations I’d felt while it happened. It hadn’t been exactly like being high, but it was comparable to that. And the time I’d lost, how could that be?

I didn’t sleep well that night. I jerked away with a word on my lips that
I’d never spoken before and didn’t know what it meant. The covers were drenched in sweat, despite the cold of the room and I found myself feeling strangely exhilarated, like I’d been running. My heart was beating fast and my eyes darted around the room. I couldn’t get back to sleep.

I figured they had to have slipped me something or else used some kind of subliminal messaging, some fancy mind-fuck that messed you up. Why anyone would pay to feel like that was beyond me. And yet despite myself, despite every rational impulse in my body telling me to leave this alone, I wanted to go to that second meeting.

I wanted to find out what was so special about the second time that it made people want to come back again and again, pay such huge amounts of money for the privilege of being part of this little group. And I told myself that since it was going to be Blakely paying for it I didn’t really have anything to lose, except maybe a few hours of my time that I’d only spend sleeping or at some shitty bar or club anyway.

Why not try it out, a little voice in my head whispered. Why not see what makes it so special?

The night came and this time Blakely was waiting for me outside, looking anxious until he spotted me at which point he smiled happily and rushed over to meet me, like an eager little puppy.

“I was getting worried you weren’t gonna show” he said and I shrugged, brushing off his concern. Why the hell would he be worried? All me not showing up would mean is that he got to keep his money.

“Whatever. This is probably going to be the last time I do this” was all I said back, the words coming out a little more bluntly than I mean them to. But

Blakely didn’t seem to care, instead hurrying along towards the building, looking back now and then to make sure I was following him inside.

It was the same set up as last time, though a few more people were there now. The headphones went on, I sat before the screen and the static and white noise began to play.

Except this time it was different.

This time somehow the images seemed sharper, the voices more distinct. This time I began to feel more like I understood what I was seeing, what I was hearing. I began to feel immersed in it, as if the static was pouring out of the screen, flooding the room around me, surrounding me in a sea of black and white, all other noise lost in the roar of the sound from the headphones, the sound of voices, many voices.

A thousand, a million, maybe more. All speaking, in hushed whispers or perhaps loudly but infinitely far away, my skin tingling as I watched, as I felt myself being taken somewhere else.

And above it all was the shape, wings stretched wide, covering a thousand miles or more, its eyes looking into me, those black, empty eyes. The White Owl.

As before the session felt like it was over before it began. But this time I didn’t feel confused and irritable, this time I felt…different. I felt charged, energised. I felt like I was overflowing with life, like there was too much energy in me to be contained.

I felt like I could do a million things all at once and still not feel remotely tired, that I could do anything, anything at all.

I felt potent and primal, felt like a lion about to pounce upon limping prey.

That sensation of barely repressed power, ready to be unleashed upon the world. Like I could burst.

Blakely could clearly tell that this time was different. As soon as we were out the door I began to speak, hurriedly and eagerly, a grin on my face that would probably rival Blakely’s own.

“That felt INCREDIBLE!” was the first thing that came out and he nodded, evidently not surprised at this reaction.

“What’d I tell you? After the second time it’s all different”

“I feel fantastic! I feel…I feel BETTER than I’ve felt in…in ever! Like I could do anything, beat anyone, achieve any goal! I want to…I want to run! I want to run and swim and jump and…and HUNT”

The word slipped out without me even consciously meaning to say it. I had no idea why I said it. And yet it felt right, felt good. It was true, wasn’t it? I did, I wanted to hunt. I wanted to see something run before me and to give chase, to run it down, chase it until it was exhausted, until it couldn’t run anymore and then to pounce upon it, to devour it whole. To rip. To tear. To eat.

I was hungry. I was so hungry.

After that experience I started going more and more frequently. In fact pretty soon I was never missing a meeting, showing up for every single one of these little get-togethers the people selling ‘White Owl’ did. I was spending a small fortune on this every month and yet it really didn’t matter.

Because the more I went there, the more a funny thing started to happen.

Things just started falling into place for me. My job, that I’d found so taxing, so draining, became so simple.

It was if each burst of that static, each dose of that white noise had the effect of sharpening my mind, like a knife on a whetstone. As if I was being sculpted, perfected, the dull witted thing I once was being moulded into someone who could overcome any obstacle, beat any challenge.

Raises, promotions and hearty slaps on the back from those above me became a commonplace occurrence at work as I proved myself to them. As I became smarter, more focused. The imbeciles around me, unable to see the solutions
I saw, unable to work to the standard I worked, gazed at me with envy.

“What’s his secret?” I imagined them muttering to themselves.

I won’t deny that there were…side effects. The odd dream I’d had after the first dose became the norm. My dreams became increasingly bizarre. Not frightening I would say, just strange.

I would imagine myself somewhere else. Someone else. Something old and powerful and strong, in a place far from here. Wet grass beneath my bare feet, and the sound of the ocean, the smell of fresh air that had never been tainted by the pollution of man.

I would imagine myself surrounded by things, things that slithered and skittered and crawled, that chattered in a billion strange and ancient voices, in a language not meant to be heard by those unworthy of this blessing. I imagined myself stood with others like me on an island far from ‘civilisation’, in a place long forgotten by the foolish and fickle.

We would sing and dance and run and hunt. We would call up to the sky and hear an answer from somewhere far away and yet close.

I imagined a vast structure, huge and imposing, stretching up to the sky like a tower of Babel, its design utterly alien, utterly unlike anything one would dream up for people to live or work in, covered in strange writing and odd sculptures.

And I knew that there were things living inside it, vast things. I imagine shapes, things I could recall with no great clarity when I woke up, huge fleshy bulks that glistened and shimmered and moved so fast that they made everything else appear to be slow motion. And above it all, her wings stretched out to blot out the sky, her eyes looking down upon us, was the White Owl, the beautiful and terrible White Owl.

Each time I would wake up I would remember a little bit more. Never the whole thing, never the whole shape of what I was seeing but my memories would become clearer. Like they weren’t memories of a dream but memories of something that really happened, long ago. Sometimes I would imagine, just for a brief moment that I wasn’t alone in my room when I woke up. That all around me were things in the dark, chittering and hissing their eyes locked on me.

I imagined they were proud.

I was hungry all the time. I was eating more and more and yet never gaining weight, my clothes getting baggy and loose on me no matter how much food I gobbled down. It was as if the White Owl wouldn’t allow me to put on weight, as if it sculpted my body as perfectly as it sculpted my mind, not letting me get out of shape. It was the same with Blakely and some of the other guys too I noticed.

The first stray dog I killed was probably about nine months into this thing. I didn’t plan to do it or anything, I just…I saw it there. Old and limping and weak. I picked up a can from the sidewalk and threw it, made it run.

It had to run, had to flee. Had to have a chance, I suppose. And then I was bounding after it, pouncing on it, teeth and nails digging, biting, and ripping into it.

I was disgusted with myself after I was done. But for the first time in months

I felt full. I felt satisfied.

After that it became something of a nightly thing for me. Stray dogs and…other things. Standing there with blood under my nails and on my teeth, licking it from my lips. I felt like I was tapping into something ancient and powerful, buried underneath all the layers of politeness and ‘society’. I felt like roaring up to the sky, howling my triumph to the stars. Sometimes I imagined that there were eyes looking back down at me, proud of my accomplishment.

Proud of the hunt.

Then came the night that changed things.

We knew that there was something different as soon as we arrived, Blakely and I. When we showed up at the time and place we’d been told to gather there were no screens set up, no headphones waiting to be comfortably fitted over our ears. Everyone was sat in a circle, a bunch of the regulars and a few of the ‘casuals’…those who either didn’t have the money or the dedication to make it to every meeting, who didn’t do White Owl every time it was available.

How we despised them. How we sneered. They would never understand the full experience, never truly be embraced by this majestic and beautiful thing we had allowed into our heads. For them this was just another buzz, another high. For us it was something transformative. Something holy.

Blakely and I sat down, no one saying a word. We all eyed each other up; all wondering what this could be about. And then the door opened and a newcomer stepped into the circle.

She was tall and dressed in a dark black suit with red gloves. One side of her mouth sported a jagged scar, giving her the appearance of a jagged grin, her short red hair a mass of curls. She held a chain in one hand, attached to a collar around the neck of a man dressed in a wifebeater that was stained a bright red, his arms and face caked in the same. He would take a few lumbering and clumsy steps with each tug on the chain, his eyes bloodshot, his pupils like pinholes.

“This is Jonas.

Jonas is my dog” the woman said, by way of introduction. She didn’t give her name. Her voice was strange and difficult to listen to. At first I was unsure of what it was but something about it sounded hollow, artificial.
Like it wasn’t a real voice at all but one that was being generated by a computer or something like that. And more than that, the voice hurt. She spoke normally and yet it felt like it was too loud, like all the noise in the room was absorbed by it so it was the only thing you were allowed to hear.

“One of you has let me down. One of you has broken my heart with your betrayal.

And Jonas is here to find the betrayer.

One of you has been talking to the police. Naively thinking there is anyone you can talk to who doesn’t belong to me. Naively thinking that they are smarter than me”

Her voice hurt so much to listen to. I could tell it wasn’t just me, the others flinched with every word, looking nervously at each other, all of them thinking the same thing. Which of you was it? And what will she do to us because of it? Every single one of us was afraid in that moment, afraid that all would be punished because of what one had done.

Myself, I was most worried that she would no longer give us the White Owl. The thought of having it taken from me, not getting my regular fix of the White Owl was the worst thing I could imagine.

The woman came to look at each of us in turn, her eyes focused on us with a frightening intensity. Her eyes looked wrong. Her face looked wrong. Not the scar, the scar was hardly the worst thing I’d seen but just something about her was off. It made my skin crawl to be near her. I saw others flinch away as she brought the tips of her fingers near to their faces.

Finally she came to a stop at a sickly looking man. He was a casual user of White Owl, not someone who showed up often but I’d noticed him there a few times. It didn’t surprise me to see that it was one of the casuals who had sold us out. In that instant I hated him, despised him, wanted to tear him apart. How DARE he try and ruin this wonderful thing for us?

He began to whimper and stammer out claims that this wasn’t true, that he would never do this thing but the woman looked like she was looking right through him, like he wasn’t even there. Like nothing he said was being heard.

“Darren

You have upset me”

The man’s face drained of all colour as if he knew that those words would be some of the last ones he would hear in what little remained of his life.

“Hold him”

Two of us stepped forward to grab his arms. He begged and cried and pleaded for us to stop this, his voice becoming higher and shriller as she beckoned for us to bring him, tugging on Jonas’s chain. The blood soaked thing on the chain turned and followed her, the rest of us accompanying them, dragging the kicking and shrieking man with us, knowing that this location was surely carefully chosen so as to make sure that no one would hear him who could help.

We stepped out into the cool night air to see a crowd had gathered. Others dressed in smart suits like us but with the crucial difference that each of them wore upon their faces a white mask, featureless but for two large dark ovals. I didn’t feel surprised to see them. I can’t speak for the others but none of them, even the casuals, looked that shocked that they were there.

Like the woman they were new to us, unfamiliar and yet at the same time it felt like we knew them. Like we had seen them before. And we all instantly knew that they were here to be a part of whatever was to follow.

Darren, the crying and screaming wreck of a man who had earlier been so composed, was hurled to the ground at the woman’s feet. She looked down at him the way one would look at a mass of maggots they had found in their dinner, a look of unrestrained and complete disgust. He got on his knees, sweaty hands clasped together as if in prayer, begging for his life, begging for her not to hurt him, insisting he had done nothing wrong.

She clearly did not care.

“Run”

He looked at her, confused.

“Run

You’ll be given a five minute head start

Then we hunt. We hunt YOU”

He looked at each of us in turn. Did he expect any of us to plead his case? Ask her not to do this? HELP him? What a stupid little man. As if any of us would cross her. As if any of us would do anything that might get us cut off from the supply of White Owl. But then that’s a casual for you. He took off running after a few moments and I looked over at the woman.

And for an instant she wasn’t the same. She wore no mask and yet for just a second, for a split second, her face was not her face at all. Her hair was gone. Her head was bald and devoid of facial features, save for two massive black circles where one would expect to see eyes. Two pitch black sockets that seemed not to merely contain darkness but an absence, an absence of anything at all.

And then it was gone and she was once more as she had been before. Her eyes lingered on me as if she knew what I had seen, and I thought for an instant

I saw a smile there.

We waited for a few minutes and then Blakely stepped forward, eager to begin.

“So do we do it now?

Do we hunt?”

There was a pause. She looked at him, her expression unreadable. Unknowable.

“The five minutes weren’t for him”

The gunshot was louder than I thought it would be. I mean I’d only heard a gun go off on TV before now. In real life it’s really much noisier.

Blakely’s expression slowly turned from that confident, cocky grin to a look of confusion and pain, as a dark red stain began to spread, seeping through his shirt. Dumbly he pressed his hands to the wound, as if not quite believing it was real, red coating his hands as he dropped to his knees, much as Darren had before him.

“I knew it was you Blakely.

I just wondered if you would confess”

I was so disappointed in him. But then Blakely had always been greedy. But to try and sell us out, to sample the delights and wonders of White Owl and then try and earn himself a quick buck by selling us out, it disgusted me. It was strange how little our former friendship meant as I looked down at him, I suppose. But suddenly he wasn’t a friend or even a man at all.

He was traitor.

“The hunt is sacred, Blakely. Do you think I would desecrate it like this?

Traitors don’t get hunted.

Traitors just get butchered”, the woman said.

And then, as one mass, we fell upon him. With nails and teeth we fell upon him, clawing, biting, scratching, gouging, ripping tearing. The sound of tearing clothes followed by the sounds of tearing flesh, as Blakely vanished into a dozen hungry, eager mouths. And he wasn’t even a traitor to me anymore. Now he was meat.

I didn’t feel hungry for weeks afterwards.

You should have seen Darren’s face when we caught up to him…forgive me for chuckling but he really thought we were going to hunt and eat HIM! Oh lord was his face a picture…we all had a good laugh about it afterwards though, once he’d calmed down and gotten himself another dose of the good stuff to calm his nerves. The woman, who I learned after was named Fenris, even gave him that nights dose for free, to compensate him for his troubles. He was a good sport about it after that.

Blakely officially took off on an ‘extended vacation’ after that, during which, as far as the boys at the office and his family members are concerned, he met a beautiful young woman who he eloped with on the spur of the moment.

I’m sure he’ll still send his family postcards though. We all share a little smile every time we ‘receive’ them at the office too.

We pin them up on the notice boards and everything, letting anyone who walks past read about what a good time Blakely’s having.

And wouldn’t you know it with him gone, guess who wound up getting picked for that cushy top job he was going to be getting? A big promotion, a big pay rise…and a MUCH nicer office. I guess I have to thank Blakely really. He introduced me to White Owl and now, with him ‘away’ I guess he’s helped me out in another way too.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re waiting for the downside, right? You’re waiting to hear how it all went wrong, so I can warn you to stay away from White Owl and the people who peddle it, waiting for the part where something horrible happens and I learn the error of my ways too late.

This isn’t that kind of story. And that sure as hell isn’t why I’m telling you it.

I’m telling you it because one day, maybe one day soon, you might just get an invitation to try White Owl.

Someone, a friend or a relative might slip a card into your pocket with a time.

A date.

And a place.

And I would strongly encourage you to go there.

Because here’s the thing. I know I made it clear at the start of this story I hate clichés but I’m going to have to end on one I feel is particularly relevant.

It really IS a jungle out there. And take it from me, it’s eat…or be EATEN

Credit: Alice Thompson

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