Old Man

March 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I don’t know how scary you will find this, but I can tell you that I was horrified.

When I was around 12 years old, my parents rented an old shingled house in Massachusetts, about a mile from the beach. We were staying there for the summer, and we were all pumped for 3 months in historic New England.

The house was previously owned by a woman named Virginia. She was unmarried and lived there for many years with her elderly father, whom I don’t know the name of. She was a perfectly normal woman who rode horses and kept a beautiful garden across the street. My parents never met her father, and we only talked to her a few times, as the rent transaction was done mostly through a realtor.

The house was quite nice. It looked small from the outside, but once you went inside, there were countless small rooms. There were many cupboards and closets and two slender spiral staircases leading up to one of four tiny rooms upstairs. One of these rooms was mine.

Being twelve years old and having an overly active imagination, I was terrified of staying upstairs by myself at night. My parents slept downstairs in a room that was a new addition to the house, and I hated the idea that they were so far away. Finally, after a few sleepless nights and plenty of power tears, my parents agreed to let me sleep downstairs in the old living room, which had a fireplace and two doors:one leading to the kitchen and one to the new living room.

I was extremely happy with this arrangement and I felt sure I would finally be able to fall asleep that night.

That night, after saying goodnight to my parents, I lay down on the pull-out sofa, contented. But not for long. Immediately after closing my eyes, I felt the weirdest sensation. I felt I was being watched, or like someone was just over my shoulder. I opened my eyes, fearing the worst, but no one was there. The room was silent. I was completely alone. A little unnerved, I shut my eyes again, and once again felt the presence. It’s hard to explain, but you know how blind people are more able with their senses? It was like that. Even when I opened my eyes a second time and saw no one, I knew there was a man in the room. I can’t really explain, but I felt certain that there was a man watching me sleep. However, since I had no evidence, I just shut my eyes, curled in a ball, and fell into an uneasy sleep.

Fast forward a few weeks. One of my friends was sleeping over and we were, of course, staying at the house. Despite her protests that we should sleep upstairs, I insisted we stay downstairs. Even though nothing ever happened upstairs, I was still a little wary.

That night, after gossiping for a few hours the way only two 12 year old girls can, we fell asleep. I should mention that I never said anything about the man in the living room (that’s where we were staying). I didn’t want my friend to panic.

I slept soundly that night. I guess it was probably because I had someone with me.

The next morning, when I woke up, my friend was already awake and staring at me. Katie, she said, I’m like not crazy. But like last night in the middle of the night I woke up and I felt like-

Oh my God, I said. Did you feel like there was a man watching you sleep?

At first, she said, her voice quavering. But when I opened my eyes, there was an old man standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He smiled at me and then he left.

Our eyes grew wide as we stared at each other in terror, and then slowly turned to the door. We had shut it the night before. Now it was open just a crack.

I told my parents about about this after my friend left and they disregarded it, thinking I was letting my imagination get the better of me. But at the end of the summer, when I went home and had internet service again, I searched the history of the house. Virginia lived there for almost 20 years with her elderly father, a registered sex offender who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 83. He returned to the house with his daughter and died a few months later in the house.

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The Piano

March 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The eerie house on the corner of the street isn't a place where I'd ever consider going. However, as the downpour that begun seconds ago intensifies I make a short sprint for the verandah of the creepy residence.

I look down the street, shivering a little because of the unpleasant temperature that’s come down with the water. I can see my house from here, but the violent rainfall prevents me from making any attempt to go there without getting completely soaked and, on top of that, likely catching a cold, so I stay put.

The woodwork of the house looks shoddy. It seems like it’s never really been maintained or properly cherished. It is how the rest of the house looks, as well. There are cracks in a lot of places and the paintwork is crumbly. This house is a wreck.

The sound of raindrops finding the roof above me in their way is deafening, but through the noise I can hear a few musical notes; the hint of a melody enters my brain and frustrates me beyond belief because I can’t hear more of it. As I put my ear to the shutters I realize I have no idea who lives here. I’ve never seen anyone; much less even heard about any potential inhabitants, yet it’s never been for sale.

I can hear the music better now. The sound above my head still partly drowns it out but I can make out the melody and most of the tones. There it is; a haunting piano tune enters my ears. It sounds dark, emotional, driving. It makes me feel sad. I push myself to the wall, curling up, trying to make myself somewhat comfortable while listening.

Some time has passed when I catch myself in a mesmerized state. It can’t have been more than a few minutes, but the music is captivating. I get up and shiver again. Maybe I should get out of the cold, I decide. It’s unhealthy. The door is a few feet to my left, so I walk over and use the knocker while trying to stay dry. The sound echoes through the house. Trying to imagine who could play such beautiful music, my brain paints me nothing less than a dark angel, gently stroking the keys to elicit the inspired tune from the fragile instrument.

The music builds up to a sudden stop which one might expect to end again after a few seconds, used to highlight the music even more. It however only highlights the opening of the front door. It creaks, but the figure behind it seems untouched by the state of disrepair into which the house has fallen. The man is in his thirties, it would seem, and dressed mostly in dark colors.

“Come in,” he says and steps aside. No ‘Why are you here’ or ‘What can I do for you’; I have to assume the violent precipitation hasn’t escaped even his attention. He leads me to the lounge. It’s mostly a large open space with a single coffee table, a couch and some chairs. Next to the fireplace is the grand piano.

Intrigued, I listen as he seats himself and continues playing. It’s as if he never stopped; as if it’s all part of the same musical score. Yet, all traces of such a score remain to be seen. The rack on top of the piano is empty; is he doing this from memory, I wonder? I can barely imagine this is improvised.

The music slowly dies away as my host carefully strokes the last few keys, leaving me on the edge of my seat. Only as soon as the faint hum of the last note has disappeared, do I dare raise my voice. “Impressive,” I say. The pianist gets up and smiles. “Welcome to my house,” he says. “I am Regar Fornley.”

Raising one eyebrow and leaning ever so slightly forwards, it’s clear that he expects me to introduce myself. “I am Jake Daniels,” I say. “I live at 209, just down the street.” I make a faint gesture with my hand. Regar walks towards me and sits down on the opposite side of the table, on the couch. “Jake.” He weighs the name on his tongue. “I don’t often get visitors. Why don’t you stay a while?” He grins.

He pours me a drink after I nod. It’s tea; that’ll do me some good after sitting outside in the cold. “I haven’t seen you before,” I say, “even though we’re practically neighbors. How long have you lived here for?” “Oh, years. I don’t really go out much.” He takes a sip from his own cup and smiles. I look down at my drink. Something about the man makes me feel uncomfortable, as if it doesn’t quite add up. “The music,” I try. “Is it from memory or improvised?”

Regar’s grin widens. “Improvised. My, you’re observant.” His behavior scares me. This is not the man who was playing the piano just then; I can tell. The grin seems to be glued to Regar’s face as if it’s a mask, worn to conceal what horrors lie beneath. His eyes, however, tell the truth.

I have to get out. I rise from my chair. “I’m terribly sorry, Regar-” “Sit.” His voice is stern and his command doesn’t brook refusal. His smile is gone; he frowns. I fall back. “Yes, you’re very observant,” he repeats. “Maybe you’re too observant.” A sensation of panic begins to come over me. What is he on about? “You’re not foolish,” he says. His voice takes a turn for the hostile. “Why don’t you just trust your gut and run away? Why don’t you RUN!” he snarls. “What’s going on?” I ask, scared by his sudden mood-shift.

He jumps up from the couch and violently paces back to the piano. He doesn’t sit down; instead he begins mashing keys. It sounds frightening, for amidst all the chaos I can almost make out a melody – almost, but not quite. The sound of it all deeply terrifies me; he’s not playing something random. It all sounds perfectly calculated and planned but it’s pure mayhem.

Regar stops and looks at me, breathing heavily. “What was that?” I ask. He walks back towards me, slowly, but something about the pianist’s movements makes me want to cower in a corner. He steps behind my chair and grabs my shoulders. “That was me you just listened to;” he whispers. “A window into my soul.” He tightens his grip and his fingernails dig into my skin. “Stop that, it hurts,” I say, shivering.

“It HURTS?” Regar grabs my collar and pulls me out of my chair, spraying spittle around as he yells at me. “Shall I tell you what hurts? Living every fucking day with a mind that’s been ripped to shreds!” He throws me on the floor. “Being unable to maintain a train of thought for longer than a few minutes is what fucking hurts!” he screams, kicking at the chair I just sat in. One of the legs breaks. I pick myself up but Regar pushes me to the wall. I hit my head and his face spins in front of me.

“Do you know what hurts most, though?” he says, holding me firmly against the wallpaper. “I want to mutilate your body,” he hisses. “I want to break your spine; I want to maim you until nothing recognizable is left!” He grabs my chin, squeezing my cheeks. “Do you know why that hurts me?” “Why?” I ask with a small voice. “Because somewhere, deep down I know it’s sick to want to do that to someone,” he whispers.

Letting go of me and sinking to the floor, Regar suddenly has an incredibly distorted look on his face, as if he feels many contradicting emotions and can’t decide what he should feel . I rub the back of my skull. There’s no blood. I shake my head a little to get rid of the wooziness. The pianist looks at me. “Run, Jake.” he says. “Just… fucking run away and don’t come near me ever again.”

I consider doing just that; it’s tempting. However, my compassion and curiosity make me decide to go against my better judgment and sit next to him. I rest my arm on his shoulder. “What happened to you?” I ask. “You can’t always have been like this.” Regar laughs. It’s the laugh of a madman; it doesn’t sound pretty. “If only I knew,” he says.

There’s a pause. “You should really go now, before I suddenly decide it’s a good idea to kill you for no clear reason,” he says. I slowly get up. “And that’s the worst thing,” he continues. “Asking myself why but coming up empty-handed.” I glance at the piano next to the fireplace. “Why do you make music?” I ask.

Regar gazes at me with a surprised look on his face. “Because it’s beautiful,” he says. “I never thought about that; I suppose that’s one question I now know the answer to.” He gets up and drags himself back to the instrument. He rests his fingers on the keys, but then he reconsiders and looks at me from over his shoulder. “Is the answer to one question enough to live for?” he asks. I remain silent; I don’t know.

Regar resumes playing. It sounds different this time. It sounds sad, with a touch of the anarchy I heard earlier. But there’s a bright thread of positivity woven through the music, hopeful, as if it’s all worth it in the end. It seems like he’s made up his mind.

I leave him like that. It has stopped raining and I walk through the puddles of water, escorted by Regar’s music until I suddenly realize that I can’t hear it anymore. It’s still playing in my head, not losing its grip on me, but my ears only pick up the rustle of leaves and city sounds. I look back. Over my shoulder, the house erects itself as if nothing had happened. I think Regar knows perfectly well how scary it looks, like he knows his music.

I wonder what will happen to him. One thing I do know is that his haunting melodies have anchored themselves into my soul, and every time I pass the street corner I’ll take a listen to see if I can hear any of them. Even a madman needs an audience sometimes.

Credit To – Kay

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To Dr. Henriksen

March 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I’m going to have to ask you to take a deep breath. By now, the orderlies have told you that my room is empty and I can only imagine how you reacted to that. The fact is, I’m gone. You can search to the ends of the Earth, turn over every stone and peer into every corner, but you’ll never find me. If you haven’t already, pour yourself a drink from the bottle you hide in the bottom drawer of your desk. Of course I know about it. After a lifetime spent under analysis, you acquire some basic skills in the trade. However, this letter wasn’t written to get you fired by the Board who will most certainly read it (even though there are many “secrets” of yours that would suffice to do so). I’ve decided that I’d let you have a peek into the skull you spent 6 long years trying to crack open. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a real bastard, and it gives me great pleasure to know that you’ll be driven insane by the fact that I’ve eluded you. But you weren’t like the others. You didn’t try to glaze my eyes and slur my speech with a mouthful of pills, and you only had me restrained when I truly deserved it. I know you saw something in me, and even though the others scorned you and said I was just a lunatic, you persevered (much to my dismay). What I’m about to say will sound crazy, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard the ramblings of a mad man before. The only thing you’ve ever done to earn any respect from me was trying so hard to break my will. You put up a good fight, and though this might not answer all of your questions, here’s your reward.

Try and recall your earliest memory. Go ahead, this letter isn’t going anywhere. How old were you? My best guess would be two or three, right? Anyways, it was probably pretty brief, wasn’t it? Maybe it’s just a few moments, or perhaps several memories glued together by the fabric of whatever goes on in a child’s brain. I’m guessing, for the most part, you don’t remember your own birth. It would be insane to even ask if you recall what the inside of your mother’s womb was like. So why don’t we have those memories, hmm? I’m sure you would say that the early brain isn’t developed enough to process that information yet. But do we really know? Of course not! Everything you think you may know about the brain, regardless of all of the hours you poured into unlocking its mysteries, is essentially nothing compared to what’s left to discover. The truth is, we haven’t got a clue of what we’re truly up against. I’m sure you’re well aware of this fact, it being your life’s work and all.
But I digress. Where were we, your earliest memory, right? So, try to recall what happened between your first memory and your second. Not what physically happened to you, I mean. Like, what you experienced. Something like a slip back into the ether, or what it must feel like to drift in and out of consciousness after a long night in Tijuana. You’ll hear a different answer from everybody, and some just straight out don’t know. But let me tell you something. That empty area, or oblivion if you will, is where you go when you die. I know you’re probably becoming pretty confused by now, so get used to it. We’re talking about the greatest mystery of life itself, and even though I may appear to be informed on the subject, I’ll be blunt with you: I’m as clueless as the next person. What I do have, however, is a perspective that most people will never experience. You see, I’m not a normal individual, or even a normal lunatic for that matter. But more on that later. Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to make a point here.
You might have picked up on the connection between that strange, empty place and the fact that it occurs both in between the earliest memories of your life and after you have ceased to exist. This isn’t to be confused with dreamless sleep, but it is similar. This area, simply put, is where your soul or spirit remains when away from a living body. For some reason or another, I hold one end of a tether between this realm and ours. This is what you spent the better part of a decade trying to find, Dr. Henriksen. It’s also the reason I killed that man in Lillehammer.

My earliest instance of consciousness was inside of a uterus. Even now, as I sit at my desk and write this letter, I can hear a unanimous murmur of “bullshit” from you and your superiors. Go ahead and believe what you will, because I know that’s what it was. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a memory. If you think about it, there isn’t much to be had for stimuli within the womb. All of the things you would expect to experience: warmth, comfort, weightlessness and an overall feeling of love, well, I didn’t notice them. I mean, I had never experienced anything else, so it was just kind of a feeling of being there, nothing more than realizing the fact that I was alive. The only distinctive thing I remember were two steady pulses, which of course were my mother’s and my own heartbeat. It only lasted about the time it will take you to read this sentence, but it was and still is the defining moment of my life. But even when I was pulled back into the void, I could still sense my mother’s pulse. I had no body to feel it, but my mind was aware of a sort of impression of it.
Fortunately, I don’t remember being born. I’m sure that must have been an unpleasant experience on all levels imaginable. My second memory must have been around the age of one, one and-a-half maybe. This time, my consciousness was pulled back to it’s perch with a stronger feeling of urgency, as if the forces attracting us were becoming more stable. I opened my eyes to a world of sensory overload. You have to understand that the transition from being suspended in amniotic fluid in a world of pure darkness, to an infinitely bigger space filled with lights, sound, smells, emotions and the like, it’s about as huge of a shock that a fresh soul can handle. That feeling of awareness, of being alive was now amplified tenfold. My ears were filled with overly loud, grating noise. My eyes, completely blinded by the ceiling light of what I would eventually learn was my bedroom. I also realized that I had a body. This sensation in particular overwhelmed me completely, and before too long I noticed that this incessant, piercing wail was in fact coming from me. Suddenly the light overhead was darkened, and a woman’s face came into focus. Even though I had never seen her face before, and I had yet no concept of language, I knew this woman above me was my mother. This dawned on me in the most innate and primal way, the same way that I felt her heartbeat even though I was nowhere near.

Throughout my life, I’ve been able to travel back and forth from this area at will. I could always feel my mom’s presence there with me, and the older I got the more distinct the feeling. Eventually, I learned that I could peer into her mind without her knowing. Her emotions, thoughts, and desires were laid out before me to be observed; all the while she thought I was a quiet and neurotic child. By the time I became an adolescent, however, I realized there were others lurking about in the fog. My neighbors, my peers from school, and even the counselor I saw once a week to discuss my “social temperament” were all under my microscope to be examined. There were some that were more accessible to my ability, and others whose mind remained a wall I could not breach (to this day, I still haven’t the slightest on why this occurs).

One day, I made a breakthrough. I must’ve been about 19 at the time, as I was still in the process of turning the small cottage I’d rented in Lillehammer into my home. From the moment my car had pulled into the driveway, I could tell that someone nearby had a mind open for the taking. Luckily enough, it was my equally reclusive next door neighbor. After several nights of leeching off of his thoughts and memories (which came through in vivid clarity), I decided that I wanted to see how deep into his subconscious I could go. On February 15, 1992, I watched the dreams of that man as he slept. I’d always suspected this was possible, given the right subject. Eventually, it dawned on me that I was no longer just a voyeur, but was gradually becoming an active participant. I was having the dream of another person, essentially taking a stroll through the deepest parts of his mind. This was a level of control I had never even imagined, and as exhilarated as I was by my discovery, a nagging question burned at the back of my mind: “What would happen if I woke him up?”

Doctor, I think it’s important that I tell you something before I go on. While I had always considered the possibility that there were others out there like me, I made the assumption that I would be able to detect such a person had I ever encountered one. At this point, I’d never even found evidence that anyone I observed was aware of me doing so, much less looking back into my mind. I now know that the quiet man who lived next door was much more than he appeared to be. There was no way of me realizing it at the time, but I was not an intruder in that man’s subconscious. He was inviting me in.

When I finally decided to wake him, I received the shock of my life. I opened my eyes to the inside of someone else’s bedroom. At first I wondered if it was just a continuation of the dream, but in the same way I realized I had a body at the beginning of my life, it became certain I’d assumed control of my neighbor’s. It dawned on me that my body was still next door, and there was no telling what could’ve happened to it by now. Panic welled up from within, and before I knew it I was running outside. When I reached my cottage, the door was hanging open, my bed empty. The rest of the night was spent searching; my house, my car, back to my neighbor’s house and eventually the entire town of Lillehammer itself, but to no avail. With no other choice, I retired back to my neighbor’s bed, hoping to God I could take my body back through the void.

My hands were tied behind me, as were my legs. I struggled through two broken cheekbones to open my eyes, only to discover a potato sack over my head. The sack was removed hours later by a grief stricken father. From the bandages wrapped around his broken hands, I had a fairly good idea as to what happened to my face.

“This is him,” he stated coldly, “this is the man who killed my brother.”

You know the story from here Dr. Henriksen, at least what you heard from the court proceedings. I was dragged from the barn into a police car, brought to the station and charged with murder. There was nothing I could I say, nothing I could do. Blood from the farmer’s brother covered my shirt, and there were several witnesses who identified me as the attacker. I remained completely silent until I was able to talk to a lawyer, and when I tried to explain what had happened he grew disgusted with me.

“You have two options here. You either plead guilty to second-degree murder, or you can use your rather shoddy background as basis for an insanity plea. The latter will at least give you the possibility of release in the future, but your mind will picked apart by the State.”

He was right. I’ll never be able to forget the time I spent in court as the lawyer detailed psych evaluations I had been given in the past, my former counselor’s giving testimonies on my “mental instability”, and even my mother professing that I “needed help.” In the end, I was charged not only for the murder of the farmer’s brother, but for my neighbor as well, as he had disappeared mysteriously on the same night. With the drop of a mallet I was deemed a threat to society, and was discarded to an institution to be examined by you. Six long years later, and here we are. You’ve tried your damndest to untangle the mess inside of my head, and I’ve tried to rid myself of this ability. We haven’t done very well, have we?

But despite trying my hardest to explain this all to you, there is one thing that remains unresolved. Why did my neighbor do it? I dwelt on this everyday I spent here, and I don’t think I’ve found the answer yet. However, I might have a theory. I believe that man also holds a tether to this realm, and he had let me into his mind for the purpose of getting into mine. I also believe he’s been observing me ever since the incident. While it isn’t definitive proof, there’s been many times when I’ve had the feeling of someone else being inside of my head. I don’t know why he would kill that man, and I’m even more clueless as to why he’s still watching me, but the only way I’ll ever answer these questions is by going out and finding him again.

So, Dr. Henriksen, take this story as you will. I’m sure most will find it nothing more than a psychotic delusion, but I have a feeling that you won’t. Looking back, I’m just glad that I got it out. Don’t waste your time looking for me. We both know that I have what’s inside of your head within my hands.
-Yours truly
Mikael

Credit To – Will Waddington

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Clockworks

March 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I had a knack for fixing things. Trinkets, houses, and buildings, anything that needed fixing in my miniscule town. It wasn’t very ambitious, but at least my parents approved. It made me a modest amount of money that kept me ahead of my bills, but to me it was more than just a way to make a living. Tinkering, making something better with a few twists of my wrench, gave me a satisfaction incomparable to anything else.

Like all young people, I got bored of having it good. My life was broken sink after leaky toilet, and the monotony of it turned my thoughts outward, toward bigger rewards, and the hidden risks that accompanied them.

One Friday in April, 7 years ago, as I dragged myself home, ready for the weekend, something in the mail caught my eye. There was a letter resting on top of the pile, crisp and white. Written on it in looping calligraphy, my name and address.

I raised an eyebrow.

Nobody I knew sent letters anymore, and any family Christmas cards were long overdue. I opened it, and the letter inside perplexed and excited me.

Dear John,
Here at Mentona on Isilad Island, we have heard about your excellent craftsmanship and quality work. The historic Mentona clock tower has been malfunctioning for months. We have called every handyman in the region, but none have the necessary skills, so we have begun reaching out all over the country. If you agree to attempt to fix the tower, we will provide you with a temporary place to stay along with a payment of $10,000. Inside is a check for $5,000 and a plane ticket. You will receive the rest upon fixing the tower.
We will be waiting,
Edward, the Mentona mayor

The check was inside, just as the letter said it would be.

“It must be a scam,” I muttered to myself, but the words tasted bitter in my mouth. Suddenly, the idea of living off a tiny salary for the rest of my days didn’t sound so inviting. Just with five thousand I could do so much: take a vacation to the Caribbean, adopt a dog, maybe buy myself that nice massage chair I had been pining after. With the full amount that was promised to me, the possibilities were endless.

So I packed a change of clothes and headed to the airport to the town of Mentona, following the trail of money like a starved fool.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the forcefully cheery atmosphere. The buildings were trim and well kept, plastered with lively child-like paintings on the sides. The people were much the same, overly polite and maintaining constant smiles on their faces.

With the overly enthusiastic help of a few shopkeepers, I headed over to the town hall. There, I was lead to a waiting room, where I sat watching a janitor whistle to himself as he watered a plastic fern.

At last, a stout man with balding grey hair opened an office door and ushered me in. “Welcome to my lovely home town, Mentona.” He grinned. “My name is Edward, the mayor. I am so pleased you decided to visit here in pursuit of fixing the clock tower.” I nodded impatiently, eager to get to the payment options. “How and when will I…be paid?” I attempted to slide in nonchalantly. Edward’s eyebrows raised and he chuckled. “Oh course! If you manage to get the clock running again, you will receive another five grand, as stated in my letter.”

My heart soared. In the back of my mind, I felt a tiny pinch of suspicion tug at me– ten grand, for a clock tower? But my call to riches overpowered it.

“Here is the address of the hotel; it’s not too far, and it’s four star as well. Have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you working away tomorrow, yes?” He smiled ecstatically, handing me a small piece of paper with his number and the hotel address on it. Frowning, I nodded slowly and exited the building, ready to walk to my hotel.

At last I arrived, checked in, settled down, and fell asleep immediately.

The next morning, I awoke with a small note near my bed. It was the address of the clock tower. Gathering my tools, I exited the hotel and was greeted by a tall, lithe woman with straight black hair hanging stiffly to her shoulders. She wore a long black dress that trailed to the ground, with thick sleeves covering her hands. Confusion blotted my mind; the weather was hot and sunny. A name tag pinned to her chest stated, “Mariyah.” Her eyes seemed to detached from the movement of her body, following me coldly even as the rest of her talked and laughed.

“Thank you for agreeing to do this for us,” she bubbled, her eyes piercing me with their hatred, “we were beginning to lose hope!”

I smiled and hurried to the tower, forcing a small wave over my shoulder and walked out the building as fast as I could. I could feel her stare burning into my neck as I sped away.

When I arrived, I met Edward again and led me inside, wishing me good luck.

“Be careful.” He hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, then smiled grimly and ushered me away. Chilled by the strange behavior of the people, I nervously walked up to inspect the tower gears. The stale air washed over me, the smell was dank and overly metallic. I let out a sigh, already questioning my decision to travel here. Frowning in concentration, I began my work.

I touched the main gear, prepared for the worst. This didn’t stop me from recoiling in disgust when the metal pulsated gently under my fingers. It had been quite a while since I had dealt with something this bad. As I glanced around the rest of the tower, I noticed all the gears were pulsating, deformed, with only a few places being rigid and metallic as metal should be. I couldn’t help but let the unusual mood of the town to get to me- maybe this wasn’t just a wrecked clock tower, that there was more to it. But my logic begged otherwise. It’s just the bad gears, I reasoned. Nothing else to it.

So I struggled through the day, checking gears, oiling, screwing in loose parts and replacing the destroyed.

My experience that day, to say the very least, was a downward spiral of madness. When I pushed any gear at all, a faint wailing noise echoed through the hollow tower. It was piercing, as though something was scratching its nails on a chalkboard. The distressed noises echoed throughout the day until they were desperately blasting in my ears. The sounds swirled around me, every corner of my mentality filled with the horrible cries. My mind was an incomprehensible mess by the end of the day and my ears thrummed with pain. Unable to continue, I raced out the tower, leaving the horrible siren noises behind. I stumbled through the main hall on the bottom floor, the tower around me a blur. Tears blinded me as I slammed the glass doors open, nearly crashing into another person. Breathing frantically, I passed out, faintly recalling black hair brushing my forehead as I cracked my head on the sidewalk.

When I awoke, I was greeted by the strange lady I met at the hotel, still wearing her oversized dress. She ecstatically waved at me.

“Oh good! You are awake.” She cocked her head with an eerie smile. I began to prop myself up onto my elbow, then froze in my spot, nearly choking with my mouth open. Her blank eyes stared into my soul, swirling aimlessly. “I-what happened?” I broke contact with her dead gaze and glanced around the blindingly white hospital room.

With a chirpy laugh, she said, “You passed out in front of me when your work was finished. The nurse deemed it fine that you leave, she said it was just a minor panic attack.” I spotted a flash of grey in the corner of my eye.

“How-I mean, why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t the nurse herself be letting me go?”

Her dead eyes hardened and seethed. “She said its fine. Now go finish your work. We need those gears to get to work again.” Her voice had suddenly changed. It was tinted with a rough screech, becoming demanding and forceful. Panicked, I stumbled off the bed and walked towards the front doors.

“Make sure those awful noises stop.” She called out, the suddenly sweet voice curling around my ears as I raced out the hospital.

When I arrived at the gears again, I tried to work, but the piercing screeches were always there, their mournful wails shaking me to the core.

As the day wore on, I could feel myself losing my sanity. Every time I blinked, I began to see faces in the gears, fighting to be free of the metal. The gears turning felt like quivering muscles of effort. I heard voices, terrified, pleading voices. “Work.” They seemed to say. “Push.”

What was wrong with this place? I thought dazedly to myself, what kind of horror had I let myself into?

Fingers trembling, I dialed up Edward on my phone.

“I-I can’t do this anymore.” I cried. “I won’t be fixing your tower anymore. I have to leave. I’m sorry.”

There was some crackling on the line, then: “Mariyah will be with you momentarily.” Confusion swarmed over the hot mess of emotions clouding my brain. Mariyah? Who was Mariyah?
Then I remembered. It was the woman, the one at the hotel and the hospital.

I dropped my phone and began to lift my hands to cover my ears. The wailing was ever so persistent, so filled with pain…

As I looked at my hands, I noticed were drenched in grey
slime and a red substance. Had I cut myself while working?

The faces, drenched in grey and specks of metal, were constantly appearing and disappearing. I saw them everywhere, always on the top of the gears, accompanied by the wailing, which had gained intensity. Huddled in a corner, I sobbed, my body quivering with every heave.

A mere few minutes passed before I heard the menacing clop of shoes coming to the gear tower. The wailing stopped at once, and the gears began to turn. There was an occasional screech of metal, but for the most part, it ran smoothly.

It was Mariyah. Her long, thin shape stood ominously at the end of the hall, rigid, with one arm behind her back and another holding a bucket of metal scrap. I whimpered, looking into her eyes. They were springing, dashing and swirling with excitement.

“Ah, you got them to work again– it’s been a while since someone’s been able to do it. Ed was right– you truly are special.” She cocked her head, her face devoid of a smile for the first time. She began to walk towards me slowly. I twisted and tripped over the wet floor in my feeble attempts to get away. “Oh, John, why are you afraid? You’re so perfect for this tower…”

“Leave me– I mean, how, I, why…?! What do you want? Please, please just let me leave! I dont underst-wha, whats wrong with this place? What is wrong with you?!” I screamed unintelligently, babbling nonsense. Mariyah’s strange behavior and the horrible situation surrounding had driven me onto the brink of insanity.

Her eyes flamed at my last remark and she snarled, “Wrong with me? I am the foundation of this damned town! This clock keeps us running.” She took a deep breath and twirled around once, gesturing to the straining gears and the ever so prominent faces. “And I keep the gears running.” She breathed shakily, the tone laced with an insane happiness.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I whispered. Oh why, why had I accepted this job?

Mariyah eased closer, her movements stiff and jerk. As I took in her full body, I was terrified by what I saw. She was no longer wearing the lengthy black dress as it was before, rather, the sleeves and most of the bottom had been savagely ripped off. Just like my palms, her legs and visible arm were doused in the strange grey substance. Her bare feet had rough, long scabs of past burns, and her arm was lined with rough bumps and something sold protruded at random location, hidden under the thick sleeves before. Her hair was stiffer than ever, snapping as easily as twigs as she brushed the tangled mess from her face.

She drew out the arm behind her back– what she held was a tool, unlike any other I had seen before. It was s sort of wrench-screwdriver melded combination, with a long, sharp handle and a rigid spiked edge, obviously meant for some serious metal working. My burning eyes streamed with tears again as the horrible stench hit me; the tool was covered in the grey liquid everything else in this damned place was.

I could barely breath as the pounding realization reached me: the giant tool, the metal scraps, the faces melted into the gears…

She watched me taking it in and laughed. “You like it? I made it all by myself.” Her body quivered, and her voice was rushed and cracked.

She smiled and bent down over me. Her eyes burned into me, those wild, crazy spinning eyes, so dark now they were nearly black. My body went stiff as I looked at them, frozen in their trance. Her crooked hand grabbed me with a deathly cold grip and settled the wrench piece of the tool upon my arm.

With a quick flick of her wrist, the tool snapped my arm in half, allowing the blood to spurt around me and the bone to stick out, glowing pale in the darkness of the tower. The pain was unlike any other, it completely overtook all my senses and broke my stare with her lifeless eyes. It was like a stampede of buffalo trampling my entire arm, jabbing their sharp hooves in the same spot over and over. I began to writhe and pound at her back, kicking and screeching fruitlessly. Mariyah wiped a spatter of blood off her face gently, then delicately picked a few pieces of the metal and eased them towards my lifeless arm.

“Someone has to work these gears.”

Now, it’s just darkness. And pain. So much pain. This body isn’t mine anymore, it doesn’t feel the same. I’ve been distorted, changed, no longer fully human, and it hurts, it hurts so badly. My mind is set to only one thing: push. work. Turn the gears.

I hear her now, she’s coming for me.

I can’t believe I didn’t see it earlier. The tower, it was lined with plans. Blue prints. How did I miss it? How was I so ignorant? I ask myself every minute: were all those signs not enough? But it’s too late to care. Just work the gears. Don’t scream. Whatever you do, don’t show your pain.

Someone’s got to do it.

Someone’s got to work the clock.

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My Grandfather Suffered from Dementia

February 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Grandpa was 97 years old when he passed away.

He lived far from where his three children had settled. Grandma died when I was a small child, and he ended up remarrying another woman a few years later who demanded that he move out west so that she could be nearer to her sons. She was a piece of work, was Grandma Hester. We all wondered how Grandpa could stand her. It turns out that perhaps he could not.

We’re not precisely sure when he developed dementia, but it was probably years before we noticed it. He’d tell us about people he was speaking to, or visiting with, or a trip he took. Years later, after we learned he was suffering from dementia, we’d learn that conversation, that visit or that trip never actually happened. For all we really know, any story he told us from the last decade and a half leading up to his coming back east could be a false memory. We would have no way of knowing. Hester rarely communicated with us herself.

Probably our first clue that Grandpa wasn’t himself anymore happened a few weeks after he came back east to live with my parents. Most of the family had settled in one area; my wife and I lived in the south end of our city, as did one set of cousins, but my father and his two sisters all lived in the north, within driving distance of each other. A few of my aunts’ children had moved out of town, and my brother had as well, but there were still enough of us around that Grandpa could visit with. We would often have gatherings at my parents’ house where Grandpa would either hold court with some story or would go to sleep.

One afternoon, my daughter Breanne, who was in her late teens at the time, came in from playing with my cousin’s kids and sat down at the table, where Grandpa had been napping. He suddenly woke and smiled at her.

“Well, hello, Claudia!” he said, brightly. Claudia was my aunt; Dad’s youngest sister.

“I’m Breanne, Grandpa,” said my daughter.

“No,” said Grandpa, almost sounding offended. “You’re my daughter, Claudia.”

Later that same month, he told my aunts and uncles the story of how he came out east after living with Hester got to be too much. “I prayed to the Lord,” said Grandpa. “And the next thing I knew, Martin was there.” Martin was my father. I remembered him driving out to the tiny, cold house on a hill in Colorado to get Grandpa. He had not come due to any divine intervention. He had come because Grandpa called him in the night and pleaded with him to come get him.

We all loved Grandpa, but caring for him was not easy. For one thing, Grandpa had gotten it into his head that he was a young, single man with many years ahead of him, and the only thing missing was a young woman at his side. If he spoke for any length of time with a younger woman, he became convinced that she was in love with him, and that perhaps she should be his new bride. Hester was even still alive at this point. He had forgotten her utterly.

The women he made advances on included my mother, two of my cousins and my own wife. Thankfully, he couldn’t do much more than talk, so it was just a matter of politely changing the subject whenever he would start with that, but it got worse when he decided he could do things like take walks on his own or try to drive my father’s car.

Dad and Mom didn’t let him go on walks by himself, but that didn’t mean he didn’t sneak away sometimes when Dad was away and Mom was in the basement. He had to use a walker to get around, and simply couldn’t do stairs, but refused to admit this to anyone, including himself, leading to a lot of falls. He would also get confused as to where he was, or where he lived. At times, during his walks, he would attempt to find the old family home that he raised my father and aunts in, despite it having been long gone since before I was born. Dad picked him up from a police station, where he had been taken after some patrol officers saw him wandering around, clearly lost.

The time he tried to drive Dad’s car was after that. He decided that the reason he got lost is because he had to walk. He managed to get the E-break off and rolled right down the fairly steep incline outside my parents’ house, crashing into a fence. The damage was minimal, but after that incident, my parents realized he needed to be in a full time care facility.

He got worse after that.

My father visited him three times a week. I have no idea how often my aunts went, or if they even did. I tended to only go when there was a family gathering, and increasingly I began to realize that he had no clue who I was. He’d smile and greet me as though I was someone he had just met. He’d tell me about his children, describing them as “little kids”, and even going as far as to invent a friend who was looking after them while he was in this home with “all these old people.” Grandpa was 93 at the time. He was much older than many of the others who lived there. But somehow, they were the “old people”, while he was not.

But when I say he got worse, I mean he changed. The false memories, the refusal to acknowledge that he was elderly, the attempts to chat up ladies and inability to remember that his children were grown and that he had grandchildren and great-grandchildren had been a part of who he was for years, ever since his early 80’s.

But he had never been violent before. That changed one night when Dad was called to come to the facility quickly. Grandpa had wandered into the wrong room, and had come out screaming, raising his walker up in the air and slamming it into the ground, taking a few swings at people who tried to calm him down. He began accusing the staff of stealing his things. He was bellowing as loud as he could: “Give them back! Give them back!”

I wasn’t there for it, and I still have a hard time picturing it. Grandpa barely raised his voice above normal volume during the last decade of his life, except to laugh.

When Dad got there, they had gotten him into his room, and he was somewhat appeased. Somewhat. He had a can of Ensure in a tube sock, and almost hit my father in the head with it when he came in. He apologized (Dad was one of the few people he always recognized), and said he had been waiting for “the thief” to come back. “A man who’d steal from me’d just as soon kill me,” he explained. The Ensure-in-a-sock was his weapon to fend off the thief. He told Dad about the men who had come to give him all his things back. “They put it all back, just like it was,” he said. “Didn’t take ’em long.”

Later that night, he told Dad about how much it had scared Florence. He hated that she’d had to go through that. Florence was my grandmother; the one who died when I was six.

He finished by saying that Florence had gone somewhere, and when he went looking for her: “They told me she was dead. One day, they’re gonna come looking for me, and they’re gonna find me dead.” That was a jolt to my father. Grandpa had never, at any point before that, acknowledged his mortality, his advanced age, or the fact that he had probably no more than a handful of years left at best. Aging, and death, was something that happened to other people. But here he was, accepting that death was near.

That wasn’t the last night he mentioned the thief. He even gave the thief a name; Charlie Rosen. It was strange that he would invent a whole person, name included. He didn’t even name the friend who was looking after his kids. In fact, that person ceased to exist; Charlie Rosen had stolen his kids. Had killed Florence. Had come to his home in Colorado and routinely taunted him, beat him, and he even declared that Hester had been sleeping with him. He remembered her now, and was certain that she and Charlie were ganging up on him to make his life a living hell.

In the last six months of his life, he would become increasingly agitated. Dad could not have a single visit wherein Grandpa would not mention Charlie. And then the violence started up again.

In one visit, Grandpa accused Dad of being Charlie, and attacked him. After that, Dad’s visits dropped to once a week, and he didn’t stay long. Once, I went with him. It was the last time I saw my grandfather alive, and I will never forget it.

“Charlie was here again today,” Grandpa told us as soon as we arrived. “He told me I couldn’t leave this room anymore. He’s trapped me here.”

“Dad, this is where you live,” my father tried to explain. “See, here’s a picture of Mother. Why would Charlie let you keep that?”

“He killed your mother, you know,” said Grandpa. “Murdered her in her sleep.”

“Mother had an aneurysm,” said Dad. “You and I decided together to unplug the machine. She died in her sleep, but no one killed her.”

“No, no, it was Charlie.” Grandpa’s voice was not agitated. It was solid, like he knew for a fact what he was saying. “He poisoned her. Made something go wrong in her head. I didn’t know it then, but I realized it later, after he introduced me to Hester. Conned me into marrying her. He’s my personal demon, that Charlie.”

Dad finally had had enough. “There is no Charlie!” he said, nearly shouting. You aren’t supposed to correct people who have dementia; it just confuses them more and makes them upset. But my father forgot this in that moment. “Charlie is someone you made up! Mother died naturally, you met Hester at a coffee shop years after Mother died, and while she was not a nice woman, she was not unfaithful to you! Please, stop talking about Charlie!”

“Dear Lord in Heaven,” said Grandpa. “He got to you. He told you to say these things. You’re part of it too!”

“Uh, Grandpa,” I said. “Why don’t we start a game of checkers?” Usually he loved checkers.

“I don’t want to play any fucking checkers!” screamed Grandpa. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d hit me. Grandpa had never used profanity in his life. “By-words”, as he called them, were only used by bad men, as far as he was concerned. “Not with you! Not with him! Charlie Rosen’s pet demons! He comes to me every day. He talks to me about Florence. He taunts me. He reads my mind and he takes thoughts away and puts in new ones, worse ones. He tells me about how he rapes my little ones. How he and Hester keep them half-starved and chained in their basement. I can’t stop him! He can go inside my mind! He’s controlling me!”

We left after that, without saying goodbye.

Driving home, I almost wanted to cry. This kind, loving man was ending his days as a raving, violent lunatic. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. What kind of monster was this Charlie?

That thought stopped me cold. For an instant, I had accepted that Charlie was real. Giving my head a shake, I resolved to think about something else. But an image of Charlie had been forming in my mind, beginning a few months back, when Grandpa had first started talking about him. I only now realized that when Grandpa spoke of this demonic man, I was picturing him in my mind, and I could see him as clearly as I could memories of real people.

I thought of the last time I had visited Grandpa in that tiny house in the mountains of Colorado, when I was a teenager, sitting at that little round table while Hester served us some of her inedible glop, and I would see a man standing in the corner of the kitchen, watching us eat. A tall, gangly man with leathery skin stretched over sharp-looking bone and corded muscle. Shaggy grey hair hanging down, obscuring the upper part of his face, his smile stretching like a knife-slash across his jaw.

I thought of the wedding. I was twelve years old. I met Hester for the first time. And standing a ways behind her was that same man. I remember a family gathering at the facility Grandpa was concurrently staying at. Didn’t we pass that man in the hall once?

No, of course not. These were just images my mind had cooked up the more Grandpa talked about this shady character that never existed. The brain can do that; insert false people in your memory just because you decide, subconsciously, to remember them. It doesn’t mean you’re insane; it’s just another way for your brain to play tricks on you. Grandpa had invented a person who he talked about with such conviction, as though Charlie was real. So my mind had conjured up a Charlie Rosen. But there was no Charlie Rosen.

Grandpa died two months later. I remember the funeral like it was yesterday. I still wake up at night in a cold sweat, remembering.

Everything was normal at the start. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my wife and I, and our children, my brother and his wife, and their son, my cousins, their spouses and their children, we all gathered under the same roof for the first time in years. No one was missing. No one was out of town and couldn’t make it. Two of my cousins I hadn’t seen since they were children. It was nice to catch up with them.

The service was nice, as well. The pastor who served the spiritual needs at Grandpa’s facility was the officiator. Grandpa looked calm and peaceful, whole, so unlike what he had been in the last few months of life. I started to feel calm myself; Grandpa was where he belonged now, where the devils of his own fevered, decaying brain couldn’t get to him anymore.

And then we drove to the cemetery. The coffin was lowered. We all sprinkled a handful of dirt on the coffin and began our walk back to the cars. And then the gravedigger came out of the shadows to start shoveling the rest of the dirt. I could barely read the embroidered name tag on his coveralls. It looked like “C. Rose” or “C. Risen”. Or…no. It couldn’t be.

He was tall, gangly, with leathery skin, sharp-looking bones, corded muscle, long grey hair. And that smile. That smile that haunts my nightmares to this day.

I watched as this phantom dumped shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt on my grandfather’s coffin. He was laughing, softly, under his breath, but I have never heard such cruel laughter.

Today, I felt like I had to write all this down. To make sure I remember it all, before things get worse. Because today, my father called me to complain that Charlie was driving past his house and staring in his windows.

Credit To – WriterJosh

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Six Pretty Petals

February 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. I kept a fan on myself while I slept during the warmer seasons, but the fan was packed deep in my closet during the heart of winter.

I wiped my eyes and looked towards the source of the breeze. A yellow blur blocked some of the blinding light that broke through the sheer curtains. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into a lovely flower with six large, yellow petals.

Before college, I would have been terrified of waking up to a strange flower on my chest, but maturity left me more curious than scared. After meeting my best friend, Chelsea, a female sleight-of-hand magician, I had grown more willing to accept the unexpected. The flower was part of some intricate trick she would surprise me with later in the week. It was the only explanation that made sense, therefore I assumed it to be the correct one.

I made it through high school without uttering the ‘love’ word to any of my boyfriends, as my friends were so hasty to brag about doing. When it came to romance, it wasn’t something I let take over my life. My reputation around campus as an ice queen wasn’t entirely accurate, but it didn’t bother me. It helped me avoid the dating scene and keep focus on my G.P.A. My plan was set, and I was the only one responsible for executing it.

I was not a prude, but I was a realist. No spontaneous college guy would waste random romantic gestures on the control freak. Even if there was interest, a warm fire or a heated blanket were more romantic than any flower this far north. Winter wasn’t for color, it was for comfort. Still, it was a pretty flower.

The flower seemed healthy, but I could smell nothing. My nose was ice cold, and a fresh gust of air made me very aware of the liquid that was dripping from it. The breeze was coming from the window, open about an inch. I closed the window and touched my nose. My hands, warm from being tucked under my pillow, recoiled from the touch of my cold nose. It was no wonder I couldn’t smell the flower.

I set the flower on my nightstand, hoping a long hot shower would clear my head and warm up my nose enough to smell it. I saw a notification for a few unanswered texts from Chelsea, but I needed to wake up first.

Chelsea was the sober sorority sister of Phi Sigma Sigma, and my best friend. She had never touched a drop of alcohol in her life and never planned to, though she had a sense of humor about it. “Why?” was a question she heard often and used as a way to challenge her ability to think quick. She claimed various rules of various religions at first before moving on to secret societies cult tenants forcing her to keep clean for her Master. For the past month, she has used that question as a study aid for her Death and Society class. She would claim that the victims of Insert Serial Killer’s Name Here were drunk and that she didn’t want to make herself an easy target. After recounting some of the more gruesome details from memory, even the most practiced partiers would spend more time eyeing their drinks and fellow party guests with suspicion than imbibing. She was passing the class with flying colors.

Chelsea was a sleight-of-hand magician, and Penn and Teller were her idols. Neither had ever taken a drink of alcohol, and neither ever would, for no reason other than they didn’t want to. She liked the idea and spent her time practicing sleight-of-hand by herself while other kids her age practiced the handsy stuff on each other. I was the control freak, she was the perfectionist, and both of us avoided deep relationships in lieu of our own personal interests and hobbies. We were best friends a week into English 301.

Chelsea was the designated driver, cock blocker and general care taker when the Phi Sigma Six went to parties. She asked for three things as payment: gas money, permission to perform magic tricks for the guys who struck out with us, and allowance to film any embarrassing shit we did (with a clause that none of it ended up on YouTube). I never got drunk enough to go viral, but New Year’s Eve was the one night of the year I caged the control freak completely. That Saturday was January 1st. I assumed Chelsea was the reason I woke up with a cracked window and a strange flower instead of a cracking headache and a strange frat boy. None of the normal signs of a hangover dragged me down and silently praised Chelsea for whichever of her magic tricks had prevented the normal symptoms. I remembered nothing.

The hot shower was fantastic. The hair on my legs was longer than I expected considering I had shaved prior to party the night before. An ex-boyfriend used to swear that his facial hair always seemed to grow in thicker and quicker after a night of heavy drinking. Not caring much about the cause, I recycled the diagnosis and slathered conditioner on my legs. After I washed and conditioned my hair, I turned the shower head to pulse and stood under the water, enjoying the sensation of water massaging the back of my neck while my hair draped over my face like a hot towel. One of the perks of a private dorm room: no roommate, no sharing the hot water.

After I brushed my hair and teeth, I returned to my bed to check my missed messages when three loud, rapid knocks pounded at my door. After the third knock, a sheet of paper slid through the gap at the bottom of my door. This was how the sorority passed along warnings about secret dorm inspections or frivolous gossip we didn’t trust texting. It was quick and anonymous. No one ever knew who was knocking. For secretive note passing, those three knocks were obnoxious in volume and left a feeling of creeping dread clinging to each and every goose bump that ran up my spine. That cold cape of unease never stayed with me until the end. Much later, I realized what was so unsettling about the situation:

One, my door was the only one that had been knocked on.

Two, I had heard no footsteps approaching (or leaving, for that matter), even though the floors in our building creaked if somebody so much as coughed.

I left the note on the floor, as if to punish it for ruining my calm. I checked that the padlock was in the locked position (a useless, but helpful symbol of safety) before I picked up my phone to check the text messages from Chelsea. The knocking returned most of the pre-shower tension. My subconscious would expect more knocking for hours just to avoid surprise if it happened again. The stress made it impossible to relax.

I paced around the room as I checked my phone. First I caught up on e-mails, the last of which was also from Chelsea. It contained an image that failed to download no matter how many times I touched the retry button. I let it be and scrolled through the text messages instead. These were the last few messages on my phone.

Me: see u in 5, doll! (Dec. 31, 2014 08:29 p.m.)
Chelsea: Who is that guy? Why is he trying to give you a flower? Can I do a trick on him or does he have potential? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:42 p.m.)
Me: says his name is ray! never seen him before, but Ana thinks he’s cute so no tricks yet! (Dec. 31, 2014 09:44 p.m.)
Chelsea: Do his eyes look strange to you, or are you too drunk to notice? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:45 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit? Where the hell did you go? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:59 p.m.)
Chelsea: Hello? Are you in the bathroom? You need to practice so you aren’t puking drunk after one Angry Orchard! Just tell me if you find a ride or not. This party is L-A-M-E! (Dec. 31, 2014 10:49 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit, seriously, where are you? I can’t find Melody or Sara. Ray keeps looking at me and his eyes are seriously fucked up. I’m getting creeped out. (Jan. 01, 2015 01:11 a.m.)
Chelsea: Holy fvk BRt I jus foudn melody, shes passd out or smthng. Wher are u?!?!?!?! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:42 a.m.)
Chelsea: BRIT! ANSWR ME!!! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:56 a.m.)
Chelsea:sixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenot (Jan. 01, 2015 4:03 a.m.)

By the time I read the last message, the chills in my back had returned ten-fold. My frantic pacing caused my thighs to ache. I made a mental note to call Melody later and make sure she was feeling better, but I needed to see Chelsea.

Chelsea didn’t just lose her cool. Ever. Getting us safely back to our rooms, passed out or otherwise, was what Chelsea did. She didn’t freak out over it, especially not to the point of it silencing her inner grammar Nazi. She had grown used to me shortening a couple of words and not using capital letters, but anything beyond that meant repercussions.

More terrifying than those three knocks were the last three text messages.
The first, broken and misspelled, like a drunk text sent to an ex booty call. She would have ignored me for a weekend on principle had I sent it to her.

The second, all capital letters with exclamation points for emphasis. That would have earned me a public conversation where she yelled at me just so my ears and shame could be uncomfortable as her eyes had been reading it.

And the third message. One long string of lower case letters. Gibberish at first, but after reading it back a few times it repeats the same message six times. ‘Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not.’ I had no idea what the fuck that was supposed to mean, or why Chelsea would have sent it.

My phone beeped and I had a fear spasm, as if I’d run into an invisible wall. A small arrow appeared at the top of my cell phone screen signifying a successful download. I forced myself to stand still and calm down before I opened it. The morning was spiraling into some sort of hell thanks to my inner control freak. I hoped a cricket chirping wouldn’t cause me to piss myself at the rate I was going.

The download was the image Chelsea had sent me, called NYE15-6Petals. I don’t know how long I sat with my thumb hovering over that text, unsure whether or not I had the guts left to open that image. I had to talk myself into thinking that it was some elaborate prank on Chelsea’s part to get back at me for disappearing on her last night. It took me longer to open it than I’m comfortable admitting.

The picture proved that Chelsea was not responsible for the flower. It was a picture of the six of us, the Phi Sigma Six. From left to right, we were Melody, Sara, Jolene, Anastasia, Chelsea, and me. All of us had yellow flowers behind our ears, and each one of those yellow bastards had six petals. I glanced at the flower on my night stand for a moment. Perhaps it was the fear, or seeing that all six of us had received one, but it no longer seemed beautiful or special. I sure as hell didn’t have the urge to smell it anymore.

Unable to keep still, I began pacing again. I glanced at the piece of paper on the floor. I wanted to look at that piece of paper about as much as I wanted to smell the flower, though I knew I would eventually look.

I had to look. To take control.

I looked back to the picture. Six of us smiling, unsure of the shenanigans the night still held. My eyes moved past our flower framed faces to the mirror behind us. In it, I saw the man who had taken the picture. He held Chelsea’s phone level with his chin. The flash in the mirror left little of his face recognizable and made his hand look thin, almost skeletal. His eyes, unaffected by the flash, were completely visible.

Chelsea had been right about Ray. His eyes were as disturbing as Chelsea’s texts described. Something was wrong with them. They whole of each eye looked black. Most people would have assumed the man wore contacts, but the blackness looked like deep, empty holes; the irises floated against the blackness like the rims of buckets floating at the bottom of the well. All six of us had red eye from the flash, but Ray’s eyes were matte. The flash didn’t just not touch them, it seemed to actively avoid them.

It could have been bad Photoshop. I wish I could say that, at any point, I had believed it was bad Photoshop.

Whether it was the growing fear in my gut or a trick from staring at the screen too long, I saw the eyes move, those pale irises staring right at me, and let out a high pitched shriek as I shoved the phone deep within the depths of my pillow pile. I was done with cryptic texts and strange images.

I couldn’t stop pacing. Again, I wanted to convince myself that Chelsea was trying out a new, albeit disturbing, magic trick on me. She had a tendency to surprise me with small pieces of tricks instead of running me through the patter and show of it all.

This was the finale of a good trick. It would explain the black, hollow eyes that light avoided, how the texts set up finding the picture, how the picture seemed to download on its own when I finished the texts. It all made sense if I could accept that Chelsea, as a magician, had secrets that she just couldn’t share. Once I saw the trick pieced together, it would all make sense.

Any other truth would break me.

At some point I had stopped pacing and had picked up the piece of paper. I was staring at the blank back side of it as I left my thoughts. Confused emotions made me dizzy while fear and reason, the angel and a devil on my shoulder, fought for control of my hands; fought for control of that precious, terrifying sheet of paper. The devil on my shoulder cooed that turning it over would reveal the secret and give me the answer Chelsea could not. The angel, meek but loud, screamed that turning it over meant I could never not turn it over.

I had always thought that my controlling nature made me a rational person, if a bit distant, but I was learning that fear turns a person’s every trait into a weapon. I was as naïve and stupid as any horror movie character I had yelled at over the years, because I could not let myself remain naïve and stupid.

I had to know. To take control.

I turned the piece of paper over.

5 CONFIRMED DEAD, 1 STILL MISSING AFTER SERIAL KILLER STRIKES CAMPUS NEW YEARS EVE PARTY
By Neil Palmer

January 3rd, 2015 – It has been three days since the Acacia Fraternity New Year’s Eve Party ended and two more students have been tragically added to the list of deceased. The bodies of Anastasia Higgins and Chelsea Fogg were found in their respective dorm rooms this morning, despite campus being under 24-hour surveillance and closed to all non-police and federal authorities as of January 1st.
The rooms of all six sorority sisters have been secured and are under observation. Melody Simmons and Sarah Rowland were found on the morning of January 1st by pledges assigned to aid them after the New Year’s Eve party. Jolene Robert’s body appeared in her bed the next day. There were no signs of forced entry and no reports of suspicious activity from officers on duty.

Ms. Higgins and Ms. Fogg each had strange yellow flowers on their chests, as with the previous victims. Two of the petals on Ms. Fogg’s flower had been removed, leaving four petals. One petal had been removed from of Ms. Higgins’, leaving five. Though the flower has not yet been identified, the picture below, pulled this morning off of Ms. Fogg’s phone, show that each flower has six petals. Authorities suspect that whoever was responsible for the flowers may have information and urge anybody with information to call 911 or the provided anonymous tip line as quickly as possible.

(In the middle of the page was the picture that Chelsea had emailed me, displaying the six of us smiling with those fucking flowers behind our ears. I wouldn’t let myself look at Ray’s face again. I forced myself to read on, despite tears blurring my vision.)

Britney Davidson is the last member of the Phi Sigma Six who remains unaccounted for. If criminal profiler theories that this is the work of a serial killer can be trusted, Ms. Davidson represents one more potential victim. Finding her is paramount to both saving her life and catching the person responsible for the deaths of her five sisters.

If anybody has any information regarding the whereabouts of Britney Davidson, please call the aforementioned numbers.

A service for the Phi Sigma Six will be held as soon as the campus is re-opened to the staff and students. Until then, free grief counseling and student support is being offered at the local YMCA.

Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of all six young women and anyone else whose lives they have touched.

There was a picture of me on the bottom of the page, and some phone numbers.

I let the paper fall to the floor as my breath caught in my chest. My sisters were dead. My best friend was dead. The grief I felt for them, and the fear I should have felt knowing that I was next, both punctuated by the date at the top of the page.

It was January 3rd. I had been lost for three days, which meant that I had lost three days.

Somehow, I had ended up back in my own bed, the same as my sorority sisters. I hoped nobody had stuffed a piece of paper underneath any of their doors. I hoped that they had gone peacefully in their sleep. I hoped they had been ignorant to the fear coursing through me knowing that I was next.

Three knocks, much louder than the first, crumbled my nerves. The chills running up my spine grew hot with adrenaline. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t help myself from whimpering in short, ugly bursts. I turned towards my bed, ready to leap for the phone under my pillows and call 911.

I couldn’t take the first step. What I saw stopped the chills, the tears, the whimper, my breathing and time itself, for all I knew.

The window was cracked about an inch. The yellow flower with the six pretty petals was no longer on my night table. The yellow flower sat on my chest in a perfect spot to obstruct my vision if I were to open my eyes. Not a single petal had been removed.
The room had become claustrophobic and surrealistic in a hurry. I wasn’t sure if the version of me, who I thought of as the ‘real’ me, was asleep or dead. I wasn’t sure if I was a ghost, a dream, or having an out of body experience.

I had been vulnerable to whatever monster was responsible for the death of my friends the entire time, and I had been ignorant of that until I read that damn article. In trying to grasp control, I had broken the illusion and lost all of it. As vulnerable as the ‘real’ me lying in bed was, the part of me stuck staring at her would be the part that suffered.

I envied her, the ‘real’ me lying in that bed, relaxed and oblivious. She hadn’t spent the morning pacing around her room, slowly losing her mind. She hadn’t learned that her best friends had died. She had no idea that she would never be waking up, if she wasn’t already dead.

The door behind me creaked as it opened. My entire body felt as cold as my nose had been. The adrenaline was gone, no longer warming my limbs. Something more than fear froze me in place. All I felt was cold.

I would not move. I could not move.

Each shallow exhale turned into a thick cloud of fog in front of my face. My eyes were wide open and drying out in the intense cold. The room itself seemed to turn gray the colder I got. I heard a hiss behind me and a large cloud fog flew past my head, overtaking one of my own small breath clouds.

I could not react to whatever was behind me. Rather it was out of fear or something the thing behind me had done to me, I would never know. My bladder let loose to punctuate my lack of body control. The fresh piss felt like ice water as it flowed down my leg. It didn’t even take a cricket chirping.

A yellow blur slowly crept over my shoulder from my left peripheral. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into an ugly flower with one large, decayed yellow petal. My entire body was ice cold, but this time I could smell it; something like nail polish remover and moldy bread and sweet rot.

Holding the stem of the flower was a pale hand that looked thin and skeletal at first. I was wrong. The hand wasn’t skeletal; it was a skeleton’s hand.
A voice behind me spoke, a deep whisper louder than any of the knocks.

“Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not?”

No control.

I looked at my body one last time and offered a silent apology. I was going to be the reason we died, and I could do nothing to stop it.

I was powerless.

Powerless to resist the second skeleton hand as it grabbed my wrist and raised my hand to the flower.

Powerless to stop my fingers from pinching that last yellow petal and plucking it off.

Powerless to stop myself from saying “I love you not.”

——-

I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. Somewhere within the whoosh of the wind blowing through my window, I swear I heard a deep whisper.

“Good choice.”

Credit To – Rob E. Nichols

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