The Fear Experiment

June 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Introduction

In over ten years of continuous travel, I have encountered many peculiar and fascinating individuals. Usually the most interesting encounters are those with other travellers: men and women with no particular destination; or at least no destination they care to share. I like the idea that one can spend a fleeting evening with a stranger in the middle of a foreign metropolis, only to wave goodbye the following day and never hear from them again. We are merely ships that pass in the night.
As I contemplate modern technology–social media and the like–I fear the ships are becoming all too visible. The subtle nuances, silent expressions and secrets that define us are now exposed to the prying spotlight of a lethargic civilisation.
So I look to places where secrets still exist: hidden nooks and passageways; the world beneath the disembodied voice of the many; the past. And there–by chance–a friend and I encountered an individual so out of touch with the modern world that he could have passed for a ghost. In what could very well have been his last year on this earth, he told us of a strange and profound experiment he was party to in his youth.

A Cold Winter’s Morning

February 2008
Keleti Train Station
Budapest, Hungary

The train bound for Sighisoara, Romania rolled in at around 11am. If memory serves its final destination was Bucharest. The journey time was estimated at eight hours so we were pretty sure we’d be spending the whole day on board. As well as the two of us, several others boarded. We located an empty compartment and stowed our luggage.
Within ten minutes the train was ready to depart. Upon doing so, the ticket lady approached us almost immediately. I’ll never forget the vacant look on her face as she studied my ticket.
Some five or so minutes into the journey, an elderly gentlemen clutching a brown leather briefcase opened the door to our compartment. He hovered in the doorway for several seconds before finally choosing to enter. Nodding in our direction as he entered, we responded in kind as he sat opposite us. His weathered face was chock-full of gorge-deep lines.
My first thought was how unusual it was for an elderly gentleman to choose to join a pair of twenty-somethings on a train that was practically empty. It would soon be revealed however, that we were precisely the kind of company he was looking for.
The man–who I came to refer as _Mr. Grey_–sat in silence as he watched the world go by outside. My friend and I were idly gossiping, mostly about the things we had seen in Hungary and would undoubtedly see in Transylvania. Towards the end of our conversation, the man carefully opened the brown leather briefcase atop his lap and began to inspect the contents. Among a bundle of papers–written in more than one language–were a number of Soviet Military Orders: all of which looked weathered and tarnished, rather like the man himself. He looked down at the Orders, and then back up at us whispering in a thick Russian accent, “Tell me what you know of fear.”

The Man from Tbilisi

1920s
Tbilisi, Georgia

Mr. Grey grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia in the 1920s. His father was a military figure and a great admirer of Joseph Stalin. He claimed to have been heavily brainwashed in his formative years: becoming a strong believer in the Soviet regime and communism in general. So, when he approached adulthood, his heart was inevitably set on military service.
Upon reaching the age of 18, he relocated to the Soviet Union, specifically Moscow. He rose to prominence as a young and dedicated officer with an increasing interest in the human condition. This he attributed to his commanding officer’s interest in experimental psychology.
Throughout the Second World War, Mr. Grey worked as a practicing psychologist in a Russian laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow. There, he and his commanding officer – a man whom he referred to as Mr. Red – conducted a variety of experiments on unwitting subjects: often prisoners of war, although it wasn’t unusual for volunteers to arrive at the laboratory, including would-be soldiers unfit for frontline warfare.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Grey’s interest in this field grew exponentially after the end of the Second World War, and almost a decade later during the height of the Cold War, he was conducting his own experiments.

1955
Gabala, Azerbaijan

For reasons undisclosed, Mr. Grey relocated to Gabala, Azerbaijan and established a psychological research facility with a team of seven medical practitioners. The team was assembled to conduct a highly controversial and secret experiment dubbed _Project Sleep_. But for those of whom were involved, it would later come to be known as _Project Fear_.
In their search for willing subjects, villages in the neighbouring countries of Armenia, Russia and Mr. Grey’s native Georgia were systematically searched. Vague but intriguing advertisements were posted in strategic locations throughout small and often poor communities. Mr. Grey was carrying one of the advertisements in his briefcase. Written in Georgian, he read the text aloud in broken English which, if translated, would have looked something like this on paper:

_VOLUNTEERS REQUIRED_
_CIVIL SERVANTS_
_MEDICAL RESEARCH_
_WELL PAID_
_SUPPORT MEDICAL SCIENCE_

The applications poured in. Twelve candidates were selected and subsequently invited to eligibility hearings. Of the twelve initially selected, seven were formally invited to participate in Project Sleep. The experiment was to be conducted in two stages, though candidates would only be made aware of the first.

Project Sleep: Stage One

Candidates were to be kept awake for a period of 72 hours in solitary confinement. To ensure their consciousness, candidates were under constant supervision. Alarms were triggered remotely and repeatedly if candidates appeared to be falling asleep.
Periodically, at the 24th, 48th and 72nd hours, candidates were asked to describe their worst fear. As each period passed, three out of the seven candidates exaggerated the fear they had initially described. For example, Candidate #2 had initially described a generic fear of crustaceans, specifically woodlice. Upon questioning at the 72nd hour, his fear was not only of woodlice, but of the possibility his closest friends and family members would eventually mutate into woodlice.
The 48th hour brought about strange, dark fears for candidates #3 and #5. Fears that greatly worried the practitioners. Unsurprisingly though, the 72nd hour instilled a heightened sense of anxiety and paranoia in all seven candidates, though it was specifically noted that Candidate #5 was said to be experiencing severe, apathetic gloom.
And then it was on to Stage Two.

Intermission: Train Compartment

Even the notion of describing Stage Two filled Mr. Grey with visible unease. He was sweating and clutching haphazardly at tattered bits of paper.
I recall with perfect clarity the moment Mr. Grey withdrew a handkerchief and slowly wiped his brow. His motion was pained and unsteady. But in that instant I could have sworn his obscured mouth was grinning.

Project Sleep: Stage Two

Upon completion of the 72nd hour, each candidate was permitted to sleep. In fact, they were given a sleeping agent which ensured they wouldn’t be aware of what was to follow.
All candidates were driven to a secret facility in the mountains somewhere outside Gabala, the team referred to it secretly as _The Mansion_. The sleeping candidates were strategically placed in various locations throughout the complex and were left to awaken naturally. The team allotted 24 hours for them to remain inside. The facility was locked from the outside and metal panels were used to seal the windows. No surveillance equipment was used. They would rely purely upon the candidate’s statements upon release at the end of the time period.
It is interesting to note that according to Mr. Grey there was nothing particularly unusual about the facility, other than its convenient, isolated location.

Results

Upon completion of the 24th hour, The Mansion’s heavy doors were opened. There Mr. Grey and his team discovered two emaciated candidates: numbers #5 and #7. Following the first sweep of the facility, the remaining candidates were nowhere to be found, though bizarre evidence to suggest they encountered unspeakable things was everywhere.
Candidate #5 was comatose and as such was placed under supervision. Candidate #7 however was surprisingly calm and coherent. He described an experience unlike anything any member of the team had heard of before. It began with him waking in a quiet room–one eerily similar to his bedroom at home in Armenia–and hearing strange sounds, including the fearful cries of unfamiliar voices.
Approximately ten minutes elapsed before a stranger burst into his room shouting maniacally, alluding to an insect of giant proportions pursuing him throughout dilapidated, maze-like corridors. Ready to dismiss the stranger’s story as nonsense, he became aware of a distant humming – or buzzing – sound. Some inexplicable, winged creature was on the prowl, tirelessly searching for a victim to fulfill its unknowable desires. The stranger left the room amid uncontainable shrieks and disappeared into the darkness of a gloomy corridor. The buzzing sound continued for a while until #7 heard what he could only describe as a bloodcurdling scream.
#7 exited the room, only to discover thick, coarse hairs strewn about the corridor, accompanied by sporadic pools of an unidentifiable viscous fluid.
Mr. Grey and his team referred to the notes made during Stage One with Candidate #7. He had repeatedly described a fear of helplessness, a fear that had remained consistent even after sleep deprivation. And so throughout Stage Two, as he wandered throughout The Mansion, he continued to experience circumstances beyond his control. He described labyrinthine corridors surrounding him that seemed to grow in height as he explored them. Doors seemed to move away from him, and his attempts to open them failed. He repeatedly came upon dead ends beyond which he heard manic voices, giving rise to the notion that the owners of those voices were being pursued.
In the end it was nothing more than blind luck that led candidate #7 to the exit. And up until the moment the doors were opened, he had believed he was slouched against a cold, brick wall rather that a set of perfectly ordinary oak doors.
Mr Grey’s discoveries within the facility were both fascinating and horrifying. In what appeared to be confirmation of the presence of a large crustacean, the team discovered a giant exoskeleton complete with a number of jointed limbs. And although it was retrieved for further analysis, it inexplicably disappeared from safe storage several days later.
Puddles of coagulated blood were also discovered, supporting the idea that something malevolent had been wandering the halls, and furthermore, that something or someone had been injured.

Intermission: Train Compartment

Mr. Grey looked at my friend and me with cold, vacant eyes. “The experiment was a success,” he said in that thick, Russian accent. “Although now I wish it hadn’t been so.” Once again he reached into his briefcase and produced a bundle of papers.

Further Results

1956
Undisclosed location, Azerbaijan

Candidate #5 spent almost six months in a coma, and had been under constant medical supervision in an undisclosed location, where the team hoped he would eventually recover. Much to their relief, he awoke on February 23rd, 1956. Several days passed before he felt well enough to discuss the events leading up to his coma.
The middle-aged Azerbaijani librarian disturbed Mr. Grey and his team of practitioners with his account, so much so, that all plans for subsequent experiments were abandoned.
Mr. Grey recalled the librarian’s unique fear as described in Stage One: the fear that human beings were vessels for a single, greater entity; a being with one desire: to compartmentalise itself into a theoretically infinite number of finite individuals. The fear intensified as the time periods passed, with #5 describing the entity as present in mammals, birds and fish, but more worryingly present in all human beings, living and dead. An entity that took the form of absolutely everything capable of breath in an endless attempt to escape the truth of itself as an impossibly lonely, omnipotent being.
Candidate #5’s conclusion and ultimate fear was that he too was an aspect of this faceless, mass of a thing, and that in a universe of infinite possibilities, he would be forced to live every single inconceivably horrible life imaginable from start to finish, over and over again, forever. In line with Project Sleep, deep within the walls of The Mansion, this all-consuming fear came alive. And as it did, almost instantaneously, candidate #5 saw through the eyes of the other candidates. He saw their fears, and lived them. He watched as they fled from untold horrors, and screamed each of their screams. His mind wandered further still, deep into the strange, half-imagined minds of the creatures made flesh by the candidates and their fears. He felt things only monsters were supposed to feel, and merged them with emotions unthinkable to man. And as this hapless wandering consumed him, his mind began to collapse, almost as though the matter in which he was made was coming apart, torn asunder by the unseen forces of an exotic dimension, a place where only fear, pain and agonising confusion could exist. And there he stayed for almost six months.
Candidate #5 addressed Mr. Grey and his team, telling them of their fates, explaining the intricate, invisible tapestry binding each and every one of them together, regurgitating memories, thoughts, hopes and dreams from the deepest and darkest recesses of their minds.
After what Mr. Grey described as _almost an eternity_ of outpouring, the Azerbaijani librarian returned to that deep, dark coma the team had found him in following the experiment.

Train Compartment

And so Mr. Grey’s conclusion was ironic. In what was supposed to be an experiment designed to study the depths of fear, he and his team of practitioners summoned what can only be described as man’s deepest fear: the fear that he one day may know himself.
I asked what he meant by that. He said simply, “Your question is proof that we aren’t quite there yet.” Mr. Grey closed his eyes and slept.
As the Carpathian Mountains rolled by the compartment window. I thought about the being, and the frightening possibility that Mr. Grey himself, and even my friend and I on a quiet train rolling through Eastern Europe could be nothing more than aspects of an unknowable, omnipotent creature.
We reached our destination. Mr. Grey remained asleep. I took his photograph. A part of me wants to visit Gabala, Azerbaijan to seek out the old facility in the mountains nearby. Will it be there?
If the experiment truly was a success, shouldn’t whatever was summoned still be there?

Credit To – Muted Vocal

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One Piece of Lead

May 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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With seconds left to live, my life flashes before my eyes. His hands slowly close around my throat, choking off the precious air that my lungs yearn for. I can feel his dry, scratchy skin against the tender flesh of my neck. I know who he is but even now, I realize that I have never seen his face.

It’s as if, in this split-second, everything is moving in slow motion and all of my childhood memories rush back through my mind. It’s as if my subconscious is desperately searching for a way out; a way to remove myself from the danger.

Or maybe, it’s like the preacher said. My guardian angel has kept a record of every action and spoken word in my life, and is now playing it back for me to reflect on, reminding me that I will be judged on every word and deed, and that it’s only through the blood of Christ and turning away from sin that I can have that record cleansed. Then I will be given a second chance at life.

Only, for me there will be no second chance. He will make certain of that.

My name is Jake Sumner. I am fifteen years old. I met my personal demon around two weeks ago. It was a day just like any other. Early September, and the air was already turning crisp and cool in the evenings. I had finished up my chores early and Pa let me go off to “do whatever it is that fifteen year old boys do nowadays,” in his words. Fact is, I didn’t know what fifteen year old boys did on late summer evenings when they had no friends.

The closest thing I had to a friend was my older brother, Jeb. He was seventeen and had recently taken up with that Finley girl from two farms over. She was pretty, I’ll give him that. I guess if any girl like that showed an interest in me, I wouldn’t be wanting for something to occupy my time. I’d have spent every spare minute by her side. More’s the pity, that will never happen now.

So it was that I took Jeb’s rifle from under his bed and went up the hill to play make-believe with it. I wouldn’t actually fire it. Pa would hear, and after the last time, he said that he would beat my behind if he ever caught me with a firearm again. He said that I was “irresponsible.” So I snuck out with Jeb’s rifle any time that I knew he wouldn’t catch me. Even if I couldn’t shoot, it was satisfying to hold it in my hands. You probably wouldn’t understand if you’re not a man. Boys are drawn to guns just like bees are drawn to flowers. Pa says that guns are an extension of your manhood. Ma says “Well, they won’t make your pee-pee grow longer.” I think that I sort of understand.

Like I said, I took Jeb’s rifle up on the hill to play around with it. At first, I just stroked it. I liked the feel of the weathered stock and the oiled steel barrel. I pretended to run the bolt a few times and yank it up in the air like I was going to shoot someone. Practicing, I guess, because I just knew that someday I would have to protect my family. Just a young boy’s fantasy. Then I saw him.

I spotted a lone rider across the field. He must have been a half mile away. I drew a bead on him, to practice my aim. “Pow!” I said, pretending that I’d shot him. “Pow! Pow!” My finger must have actually squeezed the trigger, because Jeb’s old rifle went off in my hand. A shot rang out, louder than anything I’d ever heard before, echoing throughout the valley. The horse took off running, but the rider slumped and hung dead in the saddle.

I became dizzy. My vision got all fuzzy and it felt like I had left my own body for just a second. It was like all at once, I was nauseous, sweating, twitching. My arms and legs went tingly and numb. I felt like I needed to escape, but escape from what? Such fear. I knew… knew that if I stayed where I was, I would die.

I threw my brother’s rifle into the weeds and took off running down the hill and into the south fields. I found my way to a stand of scrub trees, an island in the middle of the dry grain, where I used to play when I was younger. That’s where they found me the next morning, rocking on my haunches and crying and cradling my head in my hands.

The sheriff asked me why I had run. The weight of what I had done came to me all at once. Until then, it had been only senseless fear. Why did Jeb leave a cartridge in the rifle? Why had I taken it from under his bed? A man – a real human being – was now dead. All for no reason.

Just one piece of lead.

The sheriff could see that I was rattled. He took me to the jail and put me in a cell all by myself. He gave me a blanket to cover up with, but I hadn’t been shivering because I was cold. I was still in shock. One of the deputies had fetched Ma and Pa, and they showed up later with Jeb. They were just glad to see that I was okay. They had been worried when I hadn’t come home the previous night. Jeb was all sniffles and apologizing, as if it had been his fault. I wanted to tell Ma and Pa not to worry. I wanted to console Jeb and tell him that he was not responsible. I couldn’t, though. I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t even bring myself to speak. I felt so selfish.

I stayed in that cell for a week, barely eating or drinking. I got out of bed only to relieve myself, and even then, I would wait until the urge to go got so bad that I had no choice. I could not sleep, but I suppose that I passed out from exhaustion a few times. Then he started coming to visit. The sheriff said that I was hallucinating because I wasn’t getting enough sleep, but I know that he was wrong.

During the night, the deputy stationed to remain at the jail would turn all of the lamps down. At first, I began seeing him in the shadows – just a flitting shape of a man appearing darker than the rest of the shadows. Then, the shadows started coming closer and closer to my cell door, although his face was never fully revealed in the light. I was thankful for that. I knew who he was. I did not want to look at him. Especially not after what the deputy had told me. Apparently, I had almost missed the rider. The bullet hit the top of his head. Another fraction of an inch and it would have been a flesh wound. Regrettably, though, it had taken off the top of his skull. The thought that I had killed him was awful enough. The injury that I had inflicted was something I did not want to see.

As the shadows drew closer, I began hearing whispering. I knew that he was addressing me, but I didn’t know what he was saying. Once again, I did not really want to know. He was most likely admonishing me for what I had done to him, or worse yet, telling me that I was forgiven.

I knew that he had not forgiven me when the torture started. Several times a day, I would shift in my bed and feel a sharp piercing sensation; sometimes in my thigh, sometimes in my back. I would instinctively touch the area and draw back a hand smeared with blood. Each time, I would search the mattress for a thorn and shake out the blanket, but I never found anything. In my feverish mind, I became convinced that it was him. That he was scratching at me with thick and goatish nails. That he had begun taking his revenge, and it would quickly grow worse. I remembered one of the preacher’s sermons where he told about how the dead could take vengeance on the guilty.

There was a date set for a trial. The circuit judge would be making an appearance in town at the beginning of the following week. The unknown future that lay ahead of me made me antsier than ever, so the sheriff asked the preacher to come talk to me – to try to bring some peace to my soul.

Preacher Carey did just the opposite of comforting me. When I spoke of the stabbing, scratching, and blood, he confirmed that it could, indeed, be the spirit of the dead man taking his revenge upon me. He said that there were four physical signs of possession: pricking, headaches, paralysis, and finally strangulation. I expressed my conviction that the pricking of my skin, along with my visions in the shadows, established the fact that I was, to be sure, experiencing a haunting.

When I asked what I could do to relieve my suffering, the preacher quoted the bible. “James 4:7 ‘Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.’” Pitiable comfort in my current situation. It wasn’t the Devil haunting me. It was the rider.

The headaches started the day after the preacher’s visit. I must have fallen asleep, or more likely passed out, and was startled awake by the sound of screaming. Once the fog of sleep wore off, I realized that the sound was actually coming from the bell of the old town church. I thought that to be odd, since it seemed to be the middle of the night. The bells never stopped, though. The sound alternated from bells to screams and back again constantly for the next two days. I gnashed my teeth, I wailed, I wept. I felt as though my head would explode. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the bells stopped. My head echoed with the sound for a while, but I was relieved when it finally started to subside. Sheer exhaustion helped me to sleep that night – actually sleep. I thought that perhaps the haunting was finally over. Perhaps I had paid my penance, and the Lord would have mercy on me.

I was wrong.

I awoke during the night once again. Alarmed to see the familiar shadow, not outside my cell door, but looming above me, I tried to jerk up from my bed, intending to run into the corner of the cell to hide my head. I found that I could not, though. It was as if the shadow was holding me down, pressing on my chest and holding my arms at my sides. I could not even kick my legs. I imagined myself as a butterfly wrapped in a cocoon that was ready to burst, but I did not have the strength to break free. With the hope that the deputy would find me soon, I cried myself to sleep that night.

When the deputy did wake me in the morning he was surprised to find that my blanket had been tucked under the mattress on all sides, swaddling me like a baby and leaving me helpless. He, nor I, could understand how I had come to be that way. I certainly couldn’t have done it myself. As far as he knew, no one else had been in the cell during the night.

The anxiety quickly built all through the week. I could only dread what would come next. Before the ensuing torment that I feared would come next, I was informed that the judge had arrived in town, and my trial would be held the following day. No shadow came during the night, but my sense of panic had grown so great that it did not matter. I was a wreck. I looked forward to going in front of the judge and a jury of my peers, so that I could be exonerated or sentenced to hang. I did not care which, as long as it meant that I would be leaving the confines of the torture chamber that was my jail cell.

I stood behind the bar in the courthouse the next day, hands tied behind my back. It seemed like the whole town was there to watch. The judge sat impossibly high up in his chair, and asked me to explain my depravity to the jury. What went through my mind? My life was now in the hands of the jury. Just as I had played God with the life of the rider, so now my own fate would be decided with their verdict.

It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of life over death. I had widowed the man’s wife. I had made orphans of his children. I begged for their forgiveness but, although they agreed to pray for my soul, mercy was not something they were willing to give.

Early the next morning, they took me from my cell and led me outside. I gazed up and saw the gallows on top of the hill. Out in the distance, surely a trick of the light, I could swear that I saw a lone rider silhouetted against the horizon. I suppose that he’d come to fetch me, so that we could ride together to kingdom come.

The ride up the hill was all too short. I walked the stairs up the platform and felt them slide the noose around my neck. The snap as the platform dropped out from beneath me was barely audible.

His hands slowly close around my throat, choking off the precious air that my lungs yearn for. I can feel his dry, scratchy skin against the tender flesh of my neck. I know who he is but even now, I realize that I have never seen his face.

Author’s Note: “One Piece of Lead” was inspired by the song “I Hung My Head,” written by the singer-songwriter Sting and released on the 1996 album Mercury Falling. It reflects Sting’s childhood fondness for TV Westerns, as well as his avowed interest in Country music. In 2002, Johnny Cash covered the song in the album American IV: The Man Comes Around. These wonderful lyrics have also been covered by Bruce Springsteen and countless others, which attest to the deep emotional response that they invoke.

It tells the story of a boy who accidentally kills someone, the resulting shame, and the consequences he faces. Many credit the song to Cash, but personally, I think that his cover is an abomination to the original. My story goes a few steps beyond – perhaps too far, and if so, I apologize in advance.

I have great respect for Gordon Sumner, and his work, as a whole, has provided a great deal of motivation in recovery from my disease. Any references to the original lyrics are intentional and used utterly out of deference for their original author.

Credit To – Kenneth Kohl

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The Run

April 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Let me begin by saying that I absolutely hate running. It’s not so much the grueling, physical aspect but it is just so boring to me. It’s a pointless activity, unless you do it for sport or you’re trying to lose weight or something like that.

A lot of people have been asking what exactly happened to me. It’s been quite a number of months now but what I remember from this experience is honestly pretty fresh and vivid in my mind, given the circumstances. Sorry it’s so long, but you people wanted details. You can choose to believe me or not, but this is what happened.

It was about halfway through the track season of my junior year and I was just ready for it be over. Like I said earlier, I hate running. My intentions at the start of the season were to drop a few pounds and hang out with friends but I had already lost almost 15 pounds and most of my friends at this point.

The first week that track began, my two closest friends along with the girl I loved and two of her friends were in the car on the highway when they had a head on collision with a drunk driver. Her two friends both survived, along with my best friend who I hear is just now able to walk again. My other good friend and my girlfriend (we’ll call her Nicole) weren’t as lucky. This might sound selfish or heartless, but dammit, I wish her friends were taken instead of her. I refuse to go into detail about their deaths, but that’s all you need to know for now.

After they passed away, I was completely devastated, as you would expect. Nicole and I were very serious, or as serious as a high school relationship could be. We had been together for a little over two years and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would marry her after we graduated. I was utterly in love with her.

I never sunk to a state of insanity but I entered a massive state of depression and I pretty much cut off all communication with any of my other friends and even my friend that was in the hospital from the crash. I feel horrible for never visiting him but I just didn’t want to accept what had happened. I still don’t.

I don’t want you to think I’m insane, because I’m not. Obviously I’m sane enough to write this and I’m sane enough to come to the realization that I was depressed, which is normal behavior for what I experienced. The way things happened are confusing and the way that I present this story is the best way I know how to, showing you all exactly what was running through my mind.

I swear to God I’m not insane.

—————————–

The rain was beating heavily against the already muddy ground, transforming the dirt path into a massive slide. I had to be careful with every step as I stomped down the momentarily steep slope. My feet were sliding in every direction with each forward motion. It was what seemed to be a horrible day for a run. But not for me. I only enjoyed running when it was in the rain. It was exhilarating.

I was stumbling quite uncontrollably down the trail, following the rest of the runners I was with. My momentum combined with inertia and the poor weather created an unstoppable force that couldn’t be slowed down. Unless, of course, I were to trip and face-plant into the mud.

I did.

I lay motionless for a few moments before I realized that I needed to get up and keep close to the group. These woods were incredibly dense and the trail parted many different ways more than once throughout. This was certainly not an ideal time to be lost. My focus instantly switched from getting all the mud off my face to catching up with the rest of the runners. I ran distance and on this day in particular, we were running through the massive forrest and trail system right behind our school. We technically weren’t permitted to run back there, but it was our only option when we need to run a lot of hills in our workout. Nothing could really go wrong, anyway.

I sprinted forward for a minute or so when I came to a part where the trail continued to go straight or you could make a sharp left.

Of course, I thought, there had to be a turn right now.

I stopped and thought which way I would go if I were a group of teenage boys, so I chose to go straight.

I picked up my sprint again and held it for no longer than 90 seconds before I had to catch my breath. I slowed down enough to breathe but my survival instincts told me I needed to find my group. I couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t turned around to come back and look for me. They had to have noticed I was gone by now. They weren’t leaving me on purpose, were they? No, I told myself they weren’t. That’s insane, they wouldn’t do that.

The rain was pouring harder and harder as I frantically searched for my team. Time was passing and I knew the run would be over soon. I kept searching long after I knew they were gone and there was no hope of finding them. I had lost track of time and I didn’t bring a watch or phone or anything. I couldn’t use the sun to judge the time because I had no idea where it was hidden behind the ominous clouds. I wasn’t familiar with these trails at all and the panic really set in when I realized how lost I was.

I continued running for what seemed like hours on end. Brutal exhaustion possessed my body by now and the temperature seemed to drop at least 20 degrees. I had to get out of here. The trail was never-ending, I swear to God I ran down that trail for 20 miles.

Haven’t I been here already?

This is the 4th time I’ve seen that tree.

I’m starving. I need rest.

It’s at least 10. My mom is gonna kill me.

This is the 5th time I’ve seen that fucking tree.

Why is no one searching for me?

My legs couldn’t take anymore. I had to stop. I collapsed into the soft, yet freezing embrace of the mud. In that moment, I was ready to die. I was losing my mind. There was no way that someone hadn’t come searching for me already. How had I not found the edge of the forrest by now?

I had given myself to nature. If I had died right there, I would have been just fine. As I was drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard a noise that was getting increasingly louder. Not louder, exactly, but closer.

Someone is coming for me! They found me!

“Hey, I’m over here! Help me, I’m right here!” I mustered up enough energy to yell.

I quickly realized that no one was there. No one was going to help me. It was just a dog. It was a big dog. Seriously, it was the biggest fucking dog I had ever seen in my entire life. You know those terrifying dogs that are as big as horses? This was bigger than those.

The dog’s incessant barking was muffled by the rain pounding in my ear, which had made me numb to most noise at this point. I knew that I was in danger as I heard the barking draw nearer and nearer. I jumped to my feet as the dog approached me, ready to fight for my life. To my surprise, the dog simply stopped about 10 feet from me and began barking even more rapidly. It didn’t appear to want to attack me but I knew that this was a very clear and present danger. I needed to make my move.

I knew I didn’t have nearly enough energy to out-run this horse/dog creature, so I scanned the ground for any sort of tree limb or weapon. The ground was pretty clear other than the inch-thick mud covering all of the green grass and the dirt path. I was standing in the middle of a forrest and there weren’t any sticks on the ground. This just was not my day. I looked up and the rain drilled into my eyeballs as I stared into the night sky. The moon was almost full and it illuminated the area surprisingly well through the looming trees overhead.

I wiped my eyes clear of the rain and faced the dog. Its blurred visage began creeping towards me slowly and I knew I had to attack. I lunged at it with whatever force I had within me and elbowed it right in the neck. I gave it a couple of quick blows to the head and jumped off to begin running away. It barked and whimpered furiously from behind me as I headed deeper into the forrest.

My running continued for a few minutes but I had no energy. I hadn’t eaten in about 8 hours and I knew it must have been close to midnight by now. The running had taken its toll on my body and I needed rest. I would have done anything to be home in bed. Fortunately, the rain was calming down quite significantly at this point. There was only a slight drizzle coming from the calm sky.

I came to a clearing in the forrest.

I haven’t been here before, I thought.

The clearing was empty except for a big tree stump in the middle. There were no trees inside of the massive, empty circle of land but trees surrounded the whole area. The moonlight reflected perfectly through the sky onto the stump in the very center. Words can’t explain how beautiful this sight was; it was truly a majestic scene. It was exactly how you would imagine, like something in a movie. I walked towards the center slowly but I stopped because I knew I must be hallucinating. There was no way this was real, it was all too perfect. I heard something shuffle around in the trees.

A bright red bird emerged and landed delicately on the tree stump.

I felt a lump in my throat. Instantly, memories came flooding back to me.

—————————–

“Oh, so you’re saying you could beat me?”

“I know I could beat you. Don’t you remember that time on New Years? We didn’t get to finish the game but I was beating you so bad!”

“Oh, whatever! That doesn’t count, I hardly even remember it. I was too occupied by your drunk grandmother!”

“Don’t bring that sweet lady into this. I don’t wanna hear your excuses.”

We were always bickering about stupid stuff. It was never entirely serious and the conversation always contained laughter and playful flirtation. That’s what I loved about Nicole: she could take a joke. I could say something slightly insulting to her and she would return with something twice as mean. She was even more sarcastic than myself, which is difficult to find.
The air was fresh and the sun had just begun to set. It was the end to a perfect day together at the park where we had a picnic and made each other play on the children’s playground that was much too small for teenagers. There was a big hill that overlooked the entire area and that’s where we were to watch the sunset. A single, large oak tree rested above us as we hoarded its shade.

Nicole was leaned up against me, resting softly as our breathing patterns seemed to match to each other. A rustle was heard in the tree above us and a flash of red darted towards the ground a couple feet from us.

“Ooo, don’t scare it!” Nicole said in a somewhat hushed tone. “Look how beautiful it is!”

It was a little red bird with black wings and tail.

“It’s a scarlet tanager!” she exclaimed.

I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Why do you even know that? You nerd!” I replied playfully.

She hit me. I guess I deserved that. She laughed too, though, reassuring me that her feelings weren’t hurt.

“Shut up! You know I got put in that nature class this year on accident,” she said defensively. “It’s a beautiful creature and I’ve actually found a new appreciation for nature recently.”

“Gosh, Nicole, sorry! I never knew you were such a hippie.”

She laughed even harder at that one and hit me again. I love that girl.

—————————–

I snapped back into reality and my moment of happiness was instantly washed away. I had been stuck in the forrest for hours now with no sign of help. The tanager flew away and I was only left with the memory. I was destroyed, physically and emotionally.

I saw something on the other side of the clearing.

It was barely moving between some trees, slowly. My first thought was that it was just an animal and I almost shrugged it off, but it seemed to be wearing some sort of robe. I walked even closer and I stopped beside the tree stump and I began to make out the image of a person. They were wearing what appeared to be a white dress and I was taken back by why someone was in the forrest wearing a dress. My heart jumped at the sight of another human being though and I began to rush forward.

I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized it was Nicole. She turned around and her long brown hair glistened down over the white of her dress. I recognized those bright green eyes instantly. She stared at me for a second and smiled but then she started walking away. I couldn’t let her get away.

My bewilderment and excitement turned my dead energy into pure adrenaline. My only goal was to catch up to her. I wanted to hold her and never let her go. I used whatever energy remained to sprint back into the trees after her. Why was she running away? Didn’t she want to be with me, too? Maybe she hated me.

Maybe she hated me.

No, she couldn’t hate me.

She loves me.

She loves me, right?

“Nicole!” I yelled as I ran. She didn’t stop.

I couldn’t give up. She couldn’t get away. She was so fast. She was outrunning me. She was barely in my sight enough for me to continue following her. My legs were just about to give out when I could feel my body ready to collapse again. Maybe I was already dead. I died long ago when I fell down and this was my Hell. I was trapped here forever.

I could see something bright in the distance. It was shining through the trees and around Nicole’s body until I couldn’t see her anymore because the lights were making me so dizzy. I was running as fast as I could until I broke through that last line of trees.

Cop cars. Bright lights. Dark figures.

There were 3 police cars and a couple other cars along with an ambulance scattered around the lot. I recognized the place as my school parking lot. I was on the very edge where it met part of the forrest.

“There he is!” someone yelled.

My vision was still slightly blurred as I tried to make out their faces. It was my mom! My mom and two other police officers were rushing toward me.

“My baby! My baby! I’m so glad you’re safe!” my mom muttered through tears as she embraced me. Her embrace was the only thing keeping me from hitting the ground. One of the police officers called into his radio that they found me and the search was off.

“Let’s get you to the paramedics,” the taller officer said.

They helped me over to the back of the ambulance where another officer was standing. He had bandages and bruises on his face.

“Well look who it is,” he said to me in a sarcastic tone. “You sure knocked me good.”

“What do you mean?” I managed to ask.

“You got a couple good hits on my face when I found you out there yesterday. Almost knocked me clear out.”

My heart skipped a beat.

Yesterday? I thought. My mind was racing.

“I never saw anyone out there. I didn’t hit anyone.”

“Yeah, I found you and told you to come with me but you attacked me. I didn’t mean to scare ya, I was just tryna bring you to safety,” he told me.

The dog! I must have been hallucinating.

“What did you mean by yesterday? I was only lost for a couple hours. During practice, I was running with the rest of the team out there when I got separated” I told them, confused.

My mom and the officers all looked at each other, bewildered. My mom spoke up.

“Sweetheart, you were missing for over 2 days. The track season ended last month… You weren’t running with anyone.”

2 days?! There’s no way I was gone for that long. I know the track season wasn’t over, I even talked to the guys before we ran.

My heart was beating very frantically and as I understand, I had a really bad panic attack and my body shut down. I was starving and exhausted from apparently being without food and rest for 2 days. I passed out.

The next morning, I woke up in my own bed. My sight was still blurry and it took a moment to readjust. I looked at the clock and it made out 11 something through my blurry vision. After my eyes focused, I glanced over at my windowsill, refreshed to see some sunlight.

A red tanager was looking at me through my window.

Credit To – Eli Lucas

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Fear Is An Open Door

April 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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(October 12, 2014. Summerville Psychiatric Hospital for Extended Stay Patients. Interview of Elizabeth Hope Porter, age 17, admitted on September 27, 2013 by force via parental signature and doctor recommendation, currently undergoing treatment for acute delusional disorder and schizophrenia. Dictated by Porter, recorded, and transcribed for records and training purposes.)

Hello. Can you hear me? The doctor told me to talk into this little tape recorder. Sorry if it’s a little hard to hear me – I can’t move very far in my jacket, and my feet and chair are strapped to the floor. I’m kind of stretching to reach the microphone. Well, the doctors behind the window are giving me the thumbs-up, so I guess that means everything’s fine. High quality mic. I should probably start now, right? Yep, they’re nodding.

The doctor told me to talk about what we discussed when I first came here. I had been ranting on about how I wasn’t afraid anymore, that the thing that I feared was finally gone. He asked me what I was afraid of – or what I had been afraid of.

That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? I mean, humans fear a lot of things, don’t we? We’re scared of bugs, the ocean, a paper cut – normal things, silly things, things we see on a daily basis and yet tremble at the sight of for one reason or another. I can’t really relate to that. I mean, bugs are kind of ugly, but there’s nothing to be afraid of in something you can remove from existence just by smashing it with your dad’s size twelve shoe. And the ocean is indeed full of dangers like sharks and drowning, but why fear it when the answer is perfectly simple – learn to swim or don’t get in the water? As for paper cuts, they only hurt for a second and then are forgotten, no more lethal than stubbing your toe or bumping your elbow. What’s so scary about seeing the fluid that makes you alive bubbling up on the outside? It astounds me, really, the things people are scared of. I understand being cautious of things that will kill you, but stuff like this? Geez, get your priorities straight, humanity.

That said, there is one fear that I can understand, one that, I suppose, you can call irrational, even if it isn’t to me.

You know how, in movies, the character is walking down a dark hall or through some abandoned building at night, and suddenly a door to their right starts to rattle? Or they hear breathing or scratching or downright screams coming from behind it? You know how they move towards it so damn slowly, dreading every step closer, wanting to open it but so incredibly scared to do so?

I’ve always hated that. I’d watch a scene like that and think, “That’s not scary. Why the hell is she so scared of a closed door?”

Most people, I’m sure, would say something like, “Because there’s something terrible on the other side. Because, when she opens it, she might see something awful or get a faceful of straight-up monster-murderer death.”

To that, I say… I don’t disagree. Anything could be hiding behind a closed door, anything at all. A vile monster, a portal to another world, your parents having five minutes’ worth of quick-while-the-kids-are-outside sex – there’s no telling what’s behind a piece of two-inch-thick hardwood in the average house, haunted or otherwise.

But that’s the kicker. It’s behind a door, a closed door. There’s a barrier between you and the potential danger. If there is something on the other side, something sinister and unsightly, it can’t get to you unless the door is opened. That’s why scenes like the ones in bad horror movies always piss me off. If you don’t like the look of that suspicious door in front of you or don’t appreciate the unhealthy sounds coming from behind it, they why don’t you just turn around and walk away from the goddamn door? You don’t have to open it and face a fate worse than death. You can just leave it be, ignore it, maybe even lock it for good measure. Doors have locks for a reason. Better still, how about you just barricade it further? Put up some planks of wood, drag a dresser in front of it, even your own two hands would work if you’re strong enough.

See, to me, a closed door is the most comforting sight in the whole wide world.

Now an opened door… that’s another story.

The doctors just gave each other this look. I can tell this is what they’ve wanted me to talk about this whole time. Sorry, I tend to get ranty about stuff like this. My brain has set paths it likes to go on, and I kind of have to follow them. Not my fault.

Okay, where was I? Oh, right. Open doors. I used to hate open doors. Hate them with a capital H-A-T-E. There’s just something so… unsettling about them. A passageway, left ajar by a careless hand, allowing access to anything and everything that lay on the other side. It’s even worse when the lights are off in the room, and I can’t see what’s inside. Oh, but it can see me, though. Even if I’m all the way down the hall or even around the corner, I knows it’s there, wanting to cross the threshold but unable to, completely aware of my presence on the other side. At least, when a door’s closed, it can’t see me. It’s trapped behind a barrier it can’t physically move on its own, silenced and banished to whatever realm it lives in when it’s not trying to break into my world. Behind the door, it can’t whisper to me, can’t tempt me to close its only entrance, can’t snatch me up and drag me through into some dark and horrid place. It can only get me if someone leaves the door open, like an invitation, you might say.

I bet I know what you’re thinking. What am I talking about? What’s “it”? Well… I don’t really know. I’ve never been one hundred percent on what exactly the… let’s call it the thing in the doorway… is.

I just know that open doors have always frightened me. Since I was in diapers. A doorway wasn’t safe unless I was the one who opened the door. Only I could do it fast enough to trick the thing inside from seizing the opportunity to catch me between rooms. My record is less than two seconds to open, get in, and close, though I think five is probably the longest I have to get the door closed again. I learned over the years exactly how to trick it.

No one else ever seemed to care about this problem. Doors were always left open wherever I went – at school, at the mall, at home, everywhere. Gaping maws filled with something that apparently only I could see. I got mad at people who didn’t close doors behind them, mad enough to throw tantrums and cause some pretty bad scenes out in public. I cried when my parents tucked me in and forgot to close my bedroom door at night, unable to sleep until they did. I even refused to go to the bathroom in my own home if someone left the door open after using it.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy living like this. I lost friends faster than I made them, I missed a lot of days at school, and I passed up many opportunities because something (or a lack thereof) stood in my way. I went to a lot of therapists as a child. Both they always asked me why I did this, why I couldn’t be around open doors. To this day, I still can’t give them a better answer than… because I just couldn’t. I knew from the bottom of my heart that something lay in wait inside every doorway I saw, something evil and hungry and waiting for me to finally slip up and fall into its clutches.

Here at the hospital, they make me take little orange pills to calm me down, but, before I came here, I never accepted medication, despite advice from therapists. I’m okay with it now, but back then I was sure that taking anything at all would give the thing in the doorway an advantage over me. Can’t trick a monster when you’re addlebrained, you know? So, instead, my family had to reconstruct their lives to fit around, what they called, “my condition.” Doors were always closed at home, and every knob had a lock on it inside and out, even the closets. I even had a nanny for a while who came to school with me to make sure I wasn’t bothered by carelessly opened lockers or lunchroom doors.

Everything went smoothly for a good sixteen years. It wasn’t perfect – I had many panic attacks and public outbursts, I suffered some pretty bad bouts of depressions, and there was never a moment where I felt truly safe, where I wasn’t thinking of that thing every time a hinge creaked or a lock clicked. But I learned to live with it. I had my routines, my rituals, my coping mechanisms. I had my family’s cooperation and unconditional support. And I had a key for every door in my house.

Sixteen tense but stable years. Then the bad night came.

Ah, that got their attention. All the doctors are looking at me now, a wall of bright, glittering eyes. I think they’re all interns or something, people who haven’t heard this story yet, the reason everyone thinks I belong here. The only one who’s not ogling me is my personal doctor. He’s the only one who knows the whole thing already. Well, I guess I should get around to telling it, right? Maybe they’ll understand better than the doctor did. Maybe they’ll actually be on my side.

Oh, I just realized. I haven’t mentioned Tyler yet, have I? Well, Tyler’s my… little brother. Hmm, how do I put this? He… got a kick out of “my condition.” He just loved to tease me about it. He purposely left doors open around the house, jiggled the locks late at night, and made me chase him to doorways, where I would freeze and glare at him while he made stupid faces and dared me to cross the threshold. God, I despised him for it. He never understood how much panic and terror he caused me every time a door flew open followed by his dorky little laugh. It was a miracle I didn’t have gray hair by the time I was a teenager.

He was getting better, though. When I was thirteen, I’d smashed his face into a doorframe as he was trying to pull me through it into the other room. The doctor said I’d broken his nose and part of his left eye socket. After that, he didn’t tease me as much. I guess pain was the only way to get it through to little brats like him that tormenting me was a no-no. That said, I couldn’t do it all the time. My parents freaked after that first incident, and, any time I was tempted to do it again, they threatened me with trips to the psych ward. That calmed me a little. After all, psych ward meant pills, and pills meant addlebrained, and addlebrained meant the thing in the doorway would have no trouble getting its wicked claws on me.

So, last year, on a warm night in September, my parents were going out to a party and asked me to babysit Tyler. This wasn’t unusual. I was doing much better in terms of handling “my condition,” so they trusted me with watching my brother for short periods of time. They left around five and promised to be home after one in the morning. I made some mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner, and, at the table, I warned Tyler not to cause trouble for the rest of the night. I even promised to let him stay up until midnight if he behaved. He obliged with a mouth full of gooey cheese, but I saw that little gleam in his eye, that impish gleam of mischief yet to come. Pfft. Once a brat, always a brat.

But the night wore on, and everything seemed okay. We kept our distance from each other, I watching TV in the living room on one side of the house, Tyler playing in his room (the door shut) on the other. By eleven o’ clock, I was contently munching on popcorn and getting lost in a marathon of NCIS, my mind the farthest from doorways it had ever been. I even forgot that Tyler was in the house until, during a commercial, I heard his bedroom door open.

Immediately, I hit Mute on the remote and listened. See, I knew the sound of every door in that house. Each creak and squeak was unique in my ears. I counted how many times the hinges pealed open and groaned closed on my brother’s particularly squeaky bedroom door. Open, close, followed by footsteps, then open, close again. That was the bathroom door. I could tell by the wooden erk sound it made when he shut it. Now I just had to wait for him to finish his business and go back to his room. I wouldn’t be able to sit still until I knew all the door sounds were cycled through. Tyler knew this. He also knew that he wouldn’t hear the end of it if I heard an off number of door clicks.

I watched the muted screen and listened carefully.

Toilet flush. Bathroom door, smooth open, erk close.

Footsteps down the hall.

Bedroom door, squeak open and…

And…

I listened, but there was no second squeak that signified he closed the door. The house remained perfectly, painfully silent. My heart was already starting to pound in my chest, a-gong, a-gong, a-gong, liquid in my ears. I pressed back into the couch and waited a moment longer. He’s just messing with me, I thought. He’s just making me paranoid. Hell, he’s probably about to burst out laughing any second now and slam the door shut.

I waited. But there was still nothing. Just silence.

Now the panic kicked in. A door was open. A door was open in the house. Even though it was on the other side of the house, I could practically feel it like a scab on the bottom of my foot. The thing was there now, it was in that open space between my brother’s room and the hallway, gathering itself up, becoming solid, searching for me, waiting for me. I didn’t want to move, but I couldn’t sit still. My body was sweaty and trembling, my legs tapping restlessly, my fingers digging into the sofa cushions. I was shaking so hard that I could’ve bitten my tongue in two.

“Tyler, close the damn door!” I screamed, my voice high and terrified. It echoed back at me and made me flinch. Again, I expected laughter, wanted the laughter, but the house was so quiet that not even the supports creaked. God, why was he being so quiet?

I thought of something. What if the thing had Tyler? I didn’t think it was possible. It never bothered my parents or my little brother before, hence how they could walk past an open door with no problem. It only ever wanted me. But what if it’d changed its mind? What if it’d gotten tired of waiting for me to come to it and decided to go for the easier prey?

Or, maybe… it was holding Tyler captive, using him as bait to lure me out. I could just imagine him trapped in that dark, rotten place inside the doorway, held in a pair of large, monstrous claws. Perhaps he was so quiet because he could not cry out for me to save him. Perhaps he knew the thing would use his cries to drawn me to it and catch me as well.

I clasped the sides of my head, rocking back and forth on the couch, starting to whine. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just let it take Tyler. Even if I hated him, my parents would get so mad at me for letting him die. They’d yell at me and make me take medication and let the thing get me when I couldn’t control myself. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t. But what should I do? What should I do? What should I do?

Then, in the silence, I heard a small, cheeky snicker.

I froze, my hands leaving my head and curling into fists. It was laughing at me now? Laughing at all the pain it’d caused me, all the torment it’d brought? How dare it. How dare it! I wouldn’t stand for it. Sixteen years, I’d submitted. Sixteen goddamn years, I let it dictate how I lived my life. Well, I was sick of living in fear all the time. I was sick of shaking at the sight of doors, sick of peeing my pants when a bathroom was right in front of me, sick of crying myself to sleep at night because I couldn’t stop dreaming about the thing in the doorway. No more. I’d show it. I’d show it once and for all.

I took the deepest breath I could, stood up from the couch, and started walking towards the bedroom hallway. As I passed through the kitchen, I pulled a boning knife from the block on the counter. It felt much better than going in alone.

There were four doors in the hallway: my parents’ room, the bathroom, my room, and my brother’s room. His was the only open door. Even from the end of the hall, I could see the darkness in the doorway. It wasn’t just that the lights in the room were off; the darkness was thick, coalesced, moving like a black curtain, hiding something sinister in its folds. It was in there, waiting for me. It could hear my heartbeat, I knew it could, it was so damn loud and fast like a machine gun. I bet it wanted to rip it out in front of my face and swallow it whole. I wanted to run back to the living room and crawl under the couch until my parents got home, but I knew I couldn’t. The thing would kill Tyler if I ignored it. Then I’d have to go to the psych ward. Then it would kill me.

So I squeezed the knife and walked slowly towards the doorway, telling myself that I was not afraid.

“T-Tuh-Tyler?” I said, my voice bouncing all over the walls.

No response, but I did hear that laugh again, that tiny, impish snicker. You know what? It sounded an awful lot like my brother’s laugh. That monster… How dare it imitate my brother! It was trying to trick me, trying to make me think this really was just a little game he was playing, trying to get me to let my guard down. But I knew better. I wasn’t about to fall for its game. I was done playing. I was going to make it pay.

I stepped towards the doorway, standing a good five feet away at first. I saw nothing inside, not even the outlines of my brother’s bed or dresser, just a rectangle of solid black. I held the knife flat against my thigh, inching my way closer and closer. The snickering was a little louder now, trying to be quiet, still imitating my brother. I was so angry that my teeth ground together.

Then I saw a flicker of movement in the darkness. I gasped, and the snickers stopped. It was waiting, ready to strike. So was I. Taking one long step, I placed myself directly in front of the doorway.

I’d never been this close to it before, close enough to almost touch the impenetrable blackness within. I finally saw it, the thing, the nightmare that had haunted me all my life. It revealed itself to me at last. It pushed through the darkness with arms outstretched, fingers clawed and reaching, eyes gleaming a dull red and mouth grinning in a crooked, gap-toothed way. It even made a sound, still imitating Tyler with a high, mocking, “Boo!” I’m sure it thought it finally had me, that it was going to grab me and drag me down into whatever hell it had crawled up from.

But I was ready for it. Without even the slightest bit of hesitation, I drove the knife into the darkness.

Oh, God, the relief. You don’t understand how wonderful it felt to plunge that knife into its throat. Blood burst over my hand like a warm bubble, but I didn’t even care. I listened to the thing gurgle, felt its hands reaching up and grabbing at the knife, at my own hand locked tight around the handle. And I didn’t stop there. I yanked the knife back and forth, sawing into the skin and sending more blood splattering across the floor and the front of my shirt. It wasn’t long before the thing dropped to its knees. I followed it down, pushing it to the floor, ripping the knife from its throat. It flapped its lips like it was trying to speak, but only gurgled whistles of air leaked out of its mutilated windpipe. I was so happy to see it bleed, to know I was finally hurting it instead of it hurting me. Exhilarated, I lifted the knife and jabbed it into its mouth, bringing it down again and again and again until its face resembled nothing more than a shapeless red mass on the carpet.

When it had stopped moving, I left the knife lodged in what was once its right eye and sat back against the wall, panting harder than I ever had in my life. Everything was hazy and tinted red. I rubbed my eyes until I could see clearly again, and you know what I saw? The doorway. I was sitting in his bedroom, and I could see the hallway beyond the doorway. No darkness, no sense of menace, nothing. Hardly able to believe it, I reached out with my bloodstained hand and was elated to see it pass through without trouble. Nothing grabbed it, nothing pulled me in. There was nothing in the doorway.

I let out the biggest sigh of relief. I did it. I killed it. I killed the thing that had haunted me for years. I could go through open doors now and not worry about what was on the other side. I was finally free.

“But, wait,” I bet you’re asking. “What about Tyler?”

Well, I couldn’t find him after I killed the thing in the doorway. I checked under his bed, inside his toy box, even inside his closet, but he was nowhere to be found. I called out to him, thinking he’d somehow left the room while I was fighting the monster. No luck there either. I realized a little later that he must still be trapped in the space inside the doorframe, the dark world the thing had come from. Without someone to open the door between its world and mine, the portal was sealed shut, meaning Tyler was still in there, locked away from his home and his family forever. If the monster didn’t eat him before I got to it, that is.

It frustrated me when no one believed this story. When my parents got home later that night, I eagerly began to tell them how I’d conquered my fears at last, but they wouldn’t stop screaming about all the blood in the house. My mother even cradled the corpse of the thing in her arms and begged me to tell her why I had killed my baby brother. In hindsight, I understand their confusion. Even in death, the thing was still masquerading as Tyler, from his clothes to his hair right down to the little V-shaped freckle on the back of his left hand. They were convinced that it really was Tyler, so were the police and the doctors as well, but I knew they were wrong. That bloody mess was a monster, my own personal demon, my mountain finally climbed and conquered. I did not kill my little brother.

Still, my parents were furious that I had lost Tyler. They treated me like I had a disease all my life and had not known about it until now. At the behest of the doctors, they had me put here, in the dreaded psych ward, where I am monitored, fed little orange pills in a cup, and kept in a soft room so I don’t hurt myself or anyone else.

I will say, it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I kind of like it here, all bright and clean and with so many closed doors. It’s so comforting to see them locked tight with keycards and surrounded by big bodyguards. Not that I’m worried about stuff like that anymore. Open doors don’t scare me now. There’s nothing in them. Nothing except Tyler, of course, but he only seems to be there, a hazy, not-quite-there outline in the back of my eyes. Sometimes, if I forget to take my pills, he stands by my bed at night, leaning over me, his face all red and pulpy and dripping onto my pajamas. I don’t know if he’s dead or not, but, even if he is, it’s not like his ghost could come back here. He can’t ever really come back, though, not from where he is. Good riddance, if you ask me. He was so annoying and mean. I think my parents are better off without him. I know I am. If the thing hadn’t taken him away, I’d still be trapped in my own hellish hallway of gaping doorways. I should be thanking him for helping me remove my greatest fear.

Guess he was good for something after all.

Oh. The doctors don’t seem to agree with me. They’re all giving me this look like I’ve just done something terrible to their pets. That’s too bad. I really hoped someone would hear me out. Maybe I shouldn’t blame them. After all, it’s hard for others to see a monster that only scares you. It’s harder still when they’re tricked into thinking you are the monster instead.

Credit To – MercuryCoatedVeins

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They Who Have Gone

April 1, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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I try to not think of it. But it haunts me. We’ve all heard stories about this place, about all those who go are never the same. There a few words in school about it, mainly of how much of a terrible place it is. I’ve heard of one story where a girl went in there for only 5 minutes and saw all sorts of abysmal things. Of Men who linger there, still, for hours, sitting patiently and looking for easy prey and of images that are so nerve-wracking, so perverse and so grotesque that all who see them cannot forget them. And even stories of people who go there and instantly become addicted.

They say it’s the “Prison in the Sea of Knowledge”.

I have only been there once. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was only 15 and at that age the stories I heard from that place were so macabre that my curiosity was just too great. I needed to know where this place was and how I could get there. After all, I had never heard of anything physically harmful there (other than the addiction).

I was so young and naïve then. I went seeking for those that have gone.

I heard online that there is three sure ways of finding someone that has been there: One: They must have a wicked sense of humor; Two: they must never be serious and Three: they must always seem unscathed from the place.

That’s when I met John.

John had always laughed at someone getting hurt or somebody throwing up; he practically lived off of the pain of others. He also seemed a bit jubilant; he must have been on “there” for hours. But he seemed strangely “normal” in a way.

I soon found that to be false. In fact, He was far from normal.

John told me stories of this place.

Some of the god-awful images and a number of stories pertaining to what he called “Creeps”.

He told me of the men just like the girl had seen; he told me he knew those men.

“John where is this place?” I questioned.

“4Chan.”

Credit To – Chris Locke

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Long Way Down

March 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Long Way Down: Part 1

Recommended Listening: Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy

I don’t quite know why I chose to drink my coffee black. I suppose the sweetness of sugar or its substitutes didn’t suit me, nor did I find that creamy beige colour that coffee turned once mixed with milk or cream appealing. Bitterness was my dark passenger, one I kept trying to shrug off like a heavy coat.

My throat tasted like melancholy, the caffeine doing absolutely nothing to wake me up. I felt nowhere near as alert as I needed to be. I wondered if I could wash away the feelings of fatigue and lethargy with another cup of the dark brown liquid that had left a thin film of regret on the inside of my favourite mug.

I stared down at the empty ceramic mug that lay on the small table in front of me, my vision blurring as I let my eyes focus on something off in the corner of the room. There wasn’t anything there, just shadow and wood walls, but I’d grown weary of watching the embers of the fire in my hearth die out.

The ancient, leather armchair I sat in groaned every few seconds, even though I myself remained as still as they dry, winter air outside. The pale blue fabric of my shirt was dyed bronze and gold in the light of the weak fire, making me feel warmer than I actually felt.

My cabin, my home, may have been tiny, but it was all I needed to keep myself content. Solitude was acting as my solace, but today, I’d decided to give my solitude a break.

I stood up from my chair, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket as I rose. I approached the fireplace while dialing a number with my thumb, my opposite hand working on dousing the faint, amber glow that still burned on within the fireplace’s stone confines.

The phone presented me with a dial tone that rang only twice before the agitated voice of a woman replaced the harsh sound.

“Lieutenant Moser, Homicide Department,” said the woman.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” I said, clenching my jaw shut to contain the yawn I felt bubbling up from within my throat. “It’s Detective Vikas. You’re aware that I’m not going to be in for the next few days?” I asked with a cough as a small puff of ash rose into my face from below.

“Indeed, Detective,” she responded. Her tone was clipped with supressed annoyance, so I quickly decided to end the call before she chose to vent her anger out on me.

“All right then,” I said, walking towards the door, “that’ll be all. Have a good day, Lieutenant.”

I hung up, and pocketed my phone as I pulled my coat off of the hook by the door. I pulled the thick, fur lined jacket around my shoulders, shoving my feet into my boots at the same time. Within minutes, I’d grabbed my car keys, and was out the door.

The front yard of my home was layered with grey snow and dry leaves, the driveway speckled with a galaxy of salt stones. It was brisk outside, not so much as frigid. My lungs burned with the sudden chill of going from the stifling interior of my cabin to the near frozen wilderness that surrounded it. I watched, stunned, as my breath formed a cloud in front of my face, one that dissipated only seconds later. The moment soon passed, and I trudged my way towards my simple, black car.

I disliked driving to the city, much less so in the winter months. The sides of my car got coated with a thick mass of blackened slush, and my boots never went more than a day without being painted white with the stains of melting road salt. I never noticed how much those small things bothered me. I suppose I was bound to notice. It’s not like I had all that much to keep me occupied anyway.

It took me just under half an hour to reach the hospital district of my city. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, but the roads were packed and icy, forcing me to take a few side routes into the city.

I parked across the street from the hospital to avoid paying those ridiculous parking lot fees.

I sat in my car for a few minutes, my left leg bouncing in mild anxiety. I shouldn’t have been having second thoughts, not at that point. I’d had this appointment booked for over a month. I’d known the day would come. I’d awaited it. I’d longed for it, and now, it was here.

I volunteered for this experience because they’d told me it would help me move on. I didn’t want to forget, that would be wrong, but moving on was something I needed. I could achieve true peace. I could be free of all of the things that refused to release my fractured mind from its grasp. Traditional therapy never worked, and I was just tired of feeling this way. I wanted to be whole again, and this study was giving me the opportunity to become so.

I exited my car, slamming the door behind me with a dull thud. I hunched my shoulders as a sudden gust of glacial wind rushed past me, whipping my grey and chestnut hair across my forehead as the air dragged across my cheeks. I exhaled in the gale, scowling faintly as I headed towards the hospital.

It was refreshingly warm within the hospital’s lobby. Everything was white and blue, the floors stained with the partial muddy boot prints of each and every patron. It was loud, as to be expected, with the sharp trilling of landlines ringing, and the hacking, wheezing coughs of the physically ill. I heard children wailing, and smelled a sickly-sweet blend of cleaning fluids and body odor.

I fought the urge to scowl in distaste, and instead turned to my right, following an overhead sign that directed me towards the psychiatric wing.

Tan carpets and felt sofas is what greeted me in the waiting room of the psych ward. The walls were covered with an olive and beige striped wall paper, the colours faded and dusty. It smelled of stale air freshener and perfume, and was unnervingly quiet, though that could’ve very well been because I was the sole occupant in the waiting room.

The second I sat down in one of the green, padded chairs, a woman’s voice abruptly called out to me, causing my heart to seize momentarily in surprise.

“Mr. Vikas?”

I rose from my seat, turning towards a petite female nurse in long, white skirt, and a startlingly red cardigan. Her expression was soft, caring even, her hair long and the same colour as milk chocolate, tied into a ponytail at the base of her head. Though she appeared kind, there was something about her eyes that struck me the wrong way. They seemed too blank, too empty, for it to be considered completely natural. I realized all too quickly that dwelling on every oddity would only succeed in causing me stress.

I disregarded my thoughts immediately as I stepped towards the nurse, allowing her to lead me beyond a pair of sea green doors, and down a long hallway lined with offices that appeared to be vacant.

She knocked thrice upon the wooden door with a single, curtained window that lay at the far end of the hall, never once turning to look at me. I stared straight ahead, making eye contact with my reflection, consciously trying to work the semi-fearful expression I wore out of my features.

I began to feel minute vibrations emanating from within my chest. It took me a few moments to gather that I was feeling the by-product of my heart calming itself down. I pursed my lips in self-doubt, the crease between my brows becoming more defined at my distaste. I didn’t understand why I was so afraid. I was trying to get better, to move on. I shouldn’t have felt anything but hope.

A muted, “Come in,” resonated flatly from beyond the door just as the nurse turned the knob. She opened the door, stepping aside as she motioned for me to enter.

I nodded to the nurse, and passed through the doorway.

It was dim within the room. The light was musty, an orange glow that came from fixtures along the walls, streaking into the darkness of the room.

There was a huge window on the wall opposite to where I stood. The great panes of glass were shrouded by a sheath of deep green curtains, held back at the centre by golden tassels. The walls wore the same outdated wallpaper, the floors donning oriental rugs instead of a standard carpet.

In front of the window lay a massive, wooden desk. There were papers, file folders, and ornaments scattered like broken glass along the top of the desk. In front of the desk was a long, velvety couch in the same, deep green colour as the curtains, the fabric appearing to be remarkably new in comparison to the rest of the objects within the room. To the left of the couch was an armchair angled to face the sofa, its brown leather as aged as my own. To the right of the couch was a series of machines, all of them leaking a haphazard tangle of rainbow wires, all of them faintly beeping or subtly blinking.

Behind the desk was a chair, and in that chair was a man. He looked older than I was, wearing a plain, grey suit with a nondescript, blue tie. He sat upright, his round face placid. He wore a pair of round-framed glasses, the lenses so thick they made his eyes comically large. His nose was bulbous, his chin wearing a mottled, grey and black beard. His hair was black with patches of ash and snow scattered here and there, and his face was lined the markers of spending time with other peoples’ problems.

“Please, take a seat, Mr. Vikas,” he said, gesturing with one of his thick fingered hands towards the sofa.

I nodded distantly, and shakily approached the sofa. I sat down as the man came around the desk, taking a seat in the armchair.

“Mr. Vikas, I am Dr. Philip Jacobi. I am in very grateful for your participation today,” he said, extending his hand.

I took his hand, shaking it as firmly as I could manage. “Think nothing of it,” I said, my voice sounding oddly far away.

“I suppose I should explain what it is exactly that this procedure will entail, no?” he asked, his tone as carefree as if he’d been inquiring about the weather.

I simply nodded, my mouth unable to form the necessary words of affirmation.

“I’m sure you’re at least aware that this is an experiment of the mind, one to help you come to terms with some rather…unpleasant memories? Hmm?” he posed.

I nodded once more.

“Very well, then,” he said, leaning back into his chair. “Let me begin by telling you just a small bit about your own brain.”

I felt the corner of my lip curl for just a brief second in the slightest expression of annoyance. I swallowed, trying to remain patient and focused on Dr. Jacobi.

“Your brain is an incredible, incredible specimen, as are all brains,” he began, his eyes glazed over as if reminiscing over a loved one. “The human brain is divided into several different parts: the hemispheres, left and right, the fore, hind, and midbrain, the lobes, et cetera, et cetera. The only parts that we shall be focusing on today will be that of the hippocampus, and the amygdala –” he said, until I felt my own lips moving.

“The hippo-what?” I heard myself say, my throat forcing down another thick glob of saliva.

The doctor blinked at me, as if he couldn’t possibly believe that I was questioning him, much less interrupting him. “The hippocampus,” he repeated, “and the amygdala are both parts of your limbic system. This is where your conscious mind, and your unconscious mind reside. Your emotions, memories, fears, desires, and instincts all come from this area,” he finished, his eyes locking onto mine.

“Recently, my colleagues and I have developed a most spectacular drug,” he said, his voice making me think of a proud father at a soccer game. “This drug is targeted towards amnesia victims, but not quite in the reason you’re thinking. No, this drug isn’t meant to bring back lost memories, but it is to help the brain compartmentalize and accept the ones that it already has. This can be such an onerous and painful thing to do, but this drug has the power to soothe the minds of even the most damaged patients,” he finished.

I opened my mouth to ask a question, but Dr. Jacobi spoke before I could.

“Now, this drug isn’t the traditional pill or syrup or serum that you would receive from the emergency room,” he added. “The drug is in a gaseous state that, once inhaled, stimulates the olfactory senses, more commonly known as your sense of smell. Scent is the most effective way of promoting memory recollection since all scent related information passes through the hippocampus on its way to the temporal lobe, therefore, scent should more than be able to aid in the storage of memories as well,” he stated.

At that point, any and all words I might’ve wanted to say had long abandoned me. I was alone, even in my thoughts, and all I could do was breathe a faint, “Oh.”

“Today, you will be given a controlled dose of the drug via a nasal pipe, much like what you would wear if you were being given oxygen, while being connected to a few devices,” he said, gesturing towards the noisy machines to my left. “One will monitor your brain activity, the others your heart rate and oxygen levels. There is no need for you to feel worried,” he said, his voice sounding genuinely assuring. “After all, the only fears you have are the ones you’ve created for yourself.”

I felt my lips unstick from one another as I felt a question forming on my tongue. “When do we start?” I asked softly.

Dr. Jacobi smiled. “Right now,” he answered.

“Try and relax now, Mr. Vikas,” said Dr. Jacobi as he stuck a final electrode on my right temple.

I was covered in them, electrodes. They littered my face and chest like a pox, making the machines beep and whir rhythmically beside me. I was laying on my back, my eyes staring at the plain, unblemished ceiling above me, trying to focus on my breathing.

“Your vitals seem normal, so, if we may begin?” asked Dr. Jacobi as he slowly began to untangle a long, transparent tube.

“Sure,” I responded, my voice hollow and distant.

“Excellent, excellent,” muttered the doctor.

He approached me seconds later with what appeared to be a standard oxygen tube, the kind that rests just inside your nostrils. I let him place it on my face, working to keep breathing normally.

“I haven’t begun to give you the drug just yet,” he said calmly as he lowered himself back into the armchair. “First, I need to get you under hypnosis, understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, not wanting to nod for fear of dislodging one of the electrodes.

“Very well, then,” said the doctor. “I want you to close your eyes for me, Mr. Vikas,” he instructed.

I shut my eyes, my ears scouring the air for the doctor’s next words.

“In a few moments, we are going to count backwards from ten together. I want you to tap your right leg with your right hand to indicate that you understand me,” he said, his voice now holding a sense of gravity that hadn’t been there previously.

I patted my right thigh with the specified hand, feeling the weathered material of the jeans I wore beneath my clammy palm.

“On my mark, we will begin counting. By the time you have counted down to five, you will be inhaling the drug. You will not detect any change in the air you breathe. You will not feel as if you are being given anything. Please tap your right leg once more so I that I know you understand,” he said, his voice sounding significantly softer, quieter, than it had been, as if he was standing on the opposite end of the room.

I tapped my thigh once again.

“Once you have counted from ten to one, you will lose consciousness. You will awaken within your own mind, as if in a dream, and we will have no further contact until you next gain consciousness. I strongly advise you to proceed with caution from this point on. You will be alone with your subconscious, with the memories of what has driven you to come here today. You will confront whatever it is that may be haunting you, and it will not be easy. Now, I want you to begin counting down from ten… now.”

I pulled my lips apart, trying to calm the wild fluttering of my heart within my chest.

“Ten, nine, eight…”

My breathing was growing steadily shallower, as if I were succumbing to a panic attack.

“Seven, six, five…”

I wiped my damp palms against the tops of my legs, squeezing my eyelids tighter.

“Four… three… two…”

I took a deep breath.

“One.”

It was deafeningly silent, save for the haunting creaking of old wood. I smelled rot and earth, scents I’d normally associate with a coffin.

I was on my back, lying with my right leg crossed over my left, my hands folded neatly on my stomach. Wearily, unsure of what else to do, I opened my eyes, and felt my breath hitch in my throat.

I was in a grand, old home, a mansion or a manor. It was old, ancient, and decrepit, filled with signs of time passing.

I carefully worked my way into a sitting position, looking about the room I was in. I was very surprised to see that the drug had indeed transported me somewhere else, but why to a manor? What purpose did it serve? What did it represent?

I rose off of the floor slowly, blinking in mild shock, observing my new environment. I took a deep breath, only to cough loudly as the dust polluted air suddenly filled my chest.

I was in the foyer of the mansion, the floors made of a dark wood that had been stripped of its varnish. A layer of grime coated everything, making every surface appear luminescent in the light that streamed from everywhere and nowhere at once.

There were the remains of a massive chandelier lying in the centre of the foyer, scattering a mist of light fractals and glass in all directions. To my left and to my right was a pair of identical staircases, both leading to a single, open door on the upper level.

The walls were bare, except for the few empty picture frames that were hung every few feet or so. The frames were identical, each the same large size and design, each devoid of a photograph or painting.

I turned around, expecting to see a door, only to stumble back a few steps in shock.

There was an immense painting on the wall behind me, one that was impossibly big. It rose from the mid-wall nearly to the ceiling, the frame covered in bits and pieces of pallid cobwebs. It depicted a Renaissance Plague Doctor holding a single, crimson rose, standing amidst a sea of wheat stalks, staring off into the distance.

My heart was thrashing violently, as if it were a caged beast fighting to escape by body. Something about the painting was stupendously off-putting. I had no clue as to what this entity could possibly be here to help me confront. I had never had an interest in history, and I was only aware of the Plague Doctors because of a few short novels I’d read. I doubted the image was there to alert me that I’d simply enjoyed those books.

I began to feel a faint trickle of nausea creeping up from my gut as I continued to gaze upon the painting, causing me to quickly turn away.

I gasped sharply, feeling quite confused, and much disoriented.

I was now standing on the upper level, facing the open door that I’d seen from the foyer. I hadn’t climbed the stairs, much less even considered entering the unlit room, but as I stood before it, I felt a sense of morbid curiosity urging me to proceed.

I quickly glanced behind me, only to be greeted with the same image of the foyer, the chandelier’s corpse, and the colossal painting. I was relieved that something had remained static.

I faced the doorway once again, balling my hands into fists at my sides. I looked to my left, seeing only an empty picture frame. I looked to my right, and saw the same empty frame. I had nowhere else to go except forward.

I felt my breaths escaping my parted lips, the air dry and thin. I swallowed, and passed through the doorway.

Long Way Down: Part 2

Recommended Listening: Seven Devils by Florence + The Machine

The door slammed shut behind me of its own accord, filling the still air with the dead thud of heavy wood falling into place.

Instantly, I was bathed in blackness. There wasn’t as much as a single pinprick of light before me. It appeared as if I were made of shadow, my body non-existent in this realm of pure darkness.

Aside from the absence of light, I became quite confused when I noticed the scent of lavender wafting through the air. I felt something tapping at my memory, something trying to remind me what the significance of lavender was, but I couldn’t remember what it was for the life of me.

I wondered if there was a chance of finding a lamp or a flashlight somewhere within the room, so I choose to take a single step forward in hopes of locating a light source.

My shoe clapped against the barren, wooden floor, as a single gas lamp illuminated on the opposite end of the room, followed by a pair on the walls to my left and right, and another, and another after that, until the room fully came to light.

I suddenly regretted entering the room.

I was surrounded by mirrors of all shapes and sizes. They were all pristine, all appearing brand new. They ranged in height from as tall as I was, to as small as the ones found in women’s cosmetic’s products.

The most eerie thing of all was that my reflection did not appear in a single mirror.

I turned around, only to come face to face with a floor to ceiling mirror, also devoid of my reflection.

I stepped back, a faint, startled cry escaping my lips as I turned back to the room, hoping to locate an exit somewhere within it.

I was horrendously confused. I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what my mind was trying to help me understand by showing me these, quite frankly, creepy, images. I wanted to confront my past, but what purpose did these mirrors serve? Was I to reflect on my past, on myself? But, if that was the case, where was my reflection? How could I possibly reflect on myself without seeing myself at all?

Did it signify change? But, change in what regard? Change in my home life, in my mindset, in my personality? It was all so frustratingly obtuse.

I walked forward until I reached what must’ve been the centre of the room. I saw an expanse of mirrors in all directions, none of them housing a reflection. It was unnervingly blank, and uncannily muted within the room, as if I were underwater.

I began to turn in place, trying to see a change in one of the mirrors, to see my reflection, perhaps.

I stopped, facing in some unclear direction. I shut my eyes, rubbing my face with my fingers, trying to just think about what exactly was going on.

I released my face, looking into the mirror immediately in front of me, and I screamed.

I finally saw my reflection, showing me in my pale blue shirt and black jeans, along with the expression of absolute horror I wore on my face due to what I saw. No, it wasn’t my own face that had gotten me so shook up.

Just beyond my right shoulder was the face of the only woman I’d loved more than my own mother: Vera.

I felt the air scraping past my lips as I inhaled, causing me to involuntarily step backwards, closer to my wife.

I remembered why lavender was so important. Vera grew lavender in our garden, and had sprigs of the plant placed all over the house. Whenever I embraced her, she smelled as if she were made of the plant itself.

I turned around, expecting to see her, standing in front of me, but instead I saw myself once more, and my wife just behind me, reflected in another mirror.

I stood still, listening to the weak rushing of the blood in my ears, the otherwise soundless room bearing heavily against the quiet noises my body made.

“Vera.”

Her name fled from my mouth like the dying breath of an elder. I stood there, staring at her, trying to see if the blank expression she donned would change.

Her soft, brown eyes remained glassy, almost as if she couldn’t see me. She blinked, once, twice, as a single tear raced down the side of her cheek.

I wanted to turn around, and wipe the moisture away, to try and be the husband I never was. I knew that if I turned once again, she’d simply be behind me again, so I chose to stay staring at her reflection in the mirror.

What good would a change of heart accomplish now? Years have gone by since the divorce. I doubted that making amends to a mental imagination of my wife would solve anything.

The second that thought crossed my mind, I watched, fear pulling my eyes wide, as my wife’s face transformed.

Her eyes filled with a thick, murky, dark liquid, as if she her eyes were being injected with a cloud of ink. The fluid pooled like tears at her lower lash line until it spilled over her cheeks, streaking her smooth skin with charred rivulets. Her jaw seemed to unhinge as a terrible, piercing cry ripped from her throat, making our reflections ripple in the mirror in front of us.

I felt my breath rush out from within me as I lunged forward into the mirror, shattering it, wanting to destroy the image of whatever I’d just seen. The moment her eyes began to grow black, I knew that the woman who I’d encountered was the farthest thing from my wife. It was a manifestation of my worst fears, embodied in one of the few people I’d managed to damage just a little bit more than myself. She was my guilt, my regret, my self-loathing, and my disgust. I needed to get away. I needed to overcome it.

I bit hard on the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from crying out in pain as I felt the shards of broken glass embed themselves into the flesh of my face, arms, and chest. I felt my blood soaking into the material of my shirt, staining it impossibly red. I tried to flee, screaming as loud as my vocal chords would let me, as the creature behind me raked her nails across my back, shredding the back of my shirt into tattered ribbons.

I lost my footing on a mirror fragment, and I felt myself falling forwards, almost in slow motion, as I collided with about seven other nearby mirrors.

The sound of breaking glass was nearly as deafening as the sound of our combined wailing. The burning sensations I felt radiated all over my body, even to places where the glass had failed to puncture.

I began to crawl forwards, using my forearms to drag the rest of my body away, towards the plain, wooden door I could see just a few feet in front of me.

I tried to ignore the thin streams of blood that I smeared along the floor as I moved, but the sharp red colour invaded my vision every time I tried to avert my gaze. The smell was too rancid to cast aside. The air reeked of sweat, metal, and bile, a combination which did my stomach no favors. I did my best to disregard the absolutely torturous feeling of something, something needle-like and acidic, pulling at the meat of my left calf. It felt like I was tugging a grand piano behind me by my leg, and the pressure did not let up.

A harsh scream erupted from my throat as the creature pulled violently against my leg, dragging me backwards, farther away from the door. I watched, my sight going blurry with unshed tears, as my fingers feebly tried to hook onto something, anything, along the floor, just to escape this nightmare. I couldn’t do anything more but watch as my fingers painted the floor beneath me in smears of my own blood.

The pain in my leg was becoming nearly unbearable, and I realized that my top priority should be to get that damn creature off of me.

I forced myself to roll onto my back, howling like a wounded child as I felt angular pieces of glass cut and dig into my back, each one breaking the skin instantly.

I felt the cup of coffee that I’d drank earlier in the morning churning within my stomach as I laid eyes on the sight in front of me.

The beast was at my leg, biting onto it. Its jaw was opened wider than any I knew possible, its teeth small, yellowed pinpricks drenched in the bloody streams that poured from the cuts on my calf. Though it couldn’t have possibly spoken, I heard it say, as clearly as rain on a sunny day, “You let me down.

I didn’t respond. I couldn’t have, but I thought to myself that no, I didn’t let anyone down, at least not that monstrosity on my leg.

I’d done wrong, I knew that. I had never been good at being there for others, but I knew, more so than anything else, how to be there for myself. When things went bad between me and Vera, I retreated, far, far away into myself, so that hopefully I’d be able to prevent myself from doing any more damage than I’d already done.

I never got to tell her how sorry I was.

My breath got caught in my throat then. I didn’t think after that. I just moved.

My free leg recoiled, and stretched out in a flash, slamming into the side of the creature’s head.

It roared in rage as its body rag-dolled away from me, its clawed hands clattering along the floor.

I blinked, and found myself on my feet. I didn’t care how, I didn’t care why. I wanted out, but there was something I needed to do first.

I stood there, watching the creature try and organize its tangled mass of spindly limbs, trying to slow the hammering of my heart.

I shut my eyes, and said aloud, “Vera, love, I’m so sorry. What happened to Christopher was hard on the both of us, not just me, and I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. I shouldn’t have hid myself from you, from us. I should’ve known that even when everything we knew fell apart, we still had each other, just like you made me promise back in college. It sounds stupid, cliché, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Vera, I loved you, and I still do, okay? I hope… I hope that one day I’ll be able to tell you this, and that you’ll forgive me. Please, I want nothing more than to make things right. Please, Vera, believe me!”

I didn’t realize that my voice was becoming louder and louder as I spoke, coming to a shout as I voiced the last sentence.

Tears slipped passed my closed eyelids, and I wiped them away before they had a chance to mix with the bloodstains on my face. I pulled back my hands, and opened my eyes.

I was staring a closed door, identical to the one I’d seen within the room of mirrors. I felt relief flood from my chest to my fingertips as I understood that I’d finally put that part of me at ease. I knew what I was supposed to do the next time I saw Vera. I knew how to make things right, not just in my mind, but hers as well.

 

Long Way Down: Part 3

Recommended Listening: What the Water Gave Me by Florence + The Machine

I turned around to see a long hallway behind me. The walls were blank, just plain white, save for the evenly spaced gas lamps that were hung every few feet or so. There was a door on the opposite end of the hall, which I took to mean that I was supposed to cross it.

I let out a deep breath, calming my body from the excessive amounts of fear that it had just experienced. I decided to sit, and take a moment to breathe before moving on.

I propped myself up against one wall, lowering myself gingerly to the floor. I then began to gently pluck any remaining glass fragments out of my skin, my face twisting into a painful grimace each time I pulled a shard free.

I went to examine my leg, where that monster had bit me, only the find the skin unblemished, and painless, as if nothing had happened.

Once I’d gotten all of the glass out of me, I leaned heavily against the wall to get back on my feet. I rubbed the back of my neck, exhaling slowly, and started forward down the hall.

I suppose I should’ve turned back the moment the gas lamps started to flicker, but I didn’t. I kept going, ignoring the almost undetectable gusts of wind that rushed past my body. I pretended that I didn’t smell the overpowering scent of stale seawater as I made it to the middle of the hall. That’s when I stopped.

The door I’d been heading towards was suddenly obscured by the presence of a shadow. It was humanoid in shape, and cast no shadow of its own, despite the numerous light sources that surrounded it.

I furrowed my brow, confused as to how I’d neglected to notice it from down the hall prior to this point. It wasn’t exactly hard to miss.

I took a step back, and saw the shadow blink out of existence.

It didn’t make sense, but despite my desire to cross the hall, I assumed it would be a wiser choice for me to just turn around.

Staring at the now clearly visible door, I began to back up, until I couldn’t. I turned around and was confronted by the sight of a wall. I didn’t know where it came from, but it was now very clear that I needed to go towards the door.

I pursed my lips, and turned back to the door.

As soon as I crossed the midpoint, the shadow reappeared again, but I kept walking. I neared it, watching as its fuzzy, black outline grew clearer and clearer, until I could make out the pale, cream coloured bird mask it wore on its face, the deep, black holes that marked its eyes, and the single, red rose it clutched in its hand.

I stopped, realizing that I was beginning to feel very, very nauseated. I was about five feet away from the Plague Doctor, watching it watch me, my vision growing increasingly blurry around the edges. The world seemed to tilt as I stared at it, unsure of what to do. It was so quiet, as if I’d jammed my fingers in my ears. My fingertips felt numb, my body shaking more and more violently as time ticked on. I couldn’t move, even though I desperately wanted to.

I could only watch, dread seeping into my gut, as it began to approach me.

The two lights to its left and right blacked out, dousing the entity in darkness. It came closer still, causing two more lights to wink out as it passed them. The mask it wore appeared to glow in the lamplight, making it appear ethereal as it continued its approach.

I felt my heart clench in my chest, my breath stop in my lungs. My legs tensed, and lunged back as I broke into a near sprint to get away from the creature.

The wall behind me was gone, but I didn’t care. I heard and felt the air scraping against the inside of my dry mouth, my palms suddenly sweat-soaked. I heard the far-away claps of the Plague Doctor’s feet as it treaded towards me, my own thundering footfalls not loud enough to drown out the sound completely.

I ran, and ran, trying not to think about the fact that the end of the hallway seemed to be just as far away as it was when I began running. The scent of seawater burned my nostrils, but I couldn’t afford to dwell on it.

I looked back over my shoulder, only to find that the Plague Doctor had disappeared. My eyes grew large in disbelief, but I didn’t stop running.

I looked forwards again, and screamed.

The Plague Doctor stood only half a foot in front of me, the rose missing from its hand. Instead, splashes of a violent red dripped down from above onto its robe, the colour almost too bright to look at.

I angled my body away from the Plague Doctor, getting ready to run the other way, when I heard the sound of rushing water.

It was a resounding roar, as if all of the feral beasts upon the Earth had chosen that precise second to cry out.

I saw it, a wave of pure red water speeding towards me, spraying blood-red foam along the walls as it passed. It was going to swallow up the Plague Doctor, but I didn’t give the idea much thought. By that time, I’d already turned and started sprinting down the hall.

I was panting heavily, though I wasn’t very tired. The thought of drowning in a bloody river was frightening enough to send my body into overdrive. Every point of sensation on my skin was alive, buzzing with my most primal desire: to survive.

I blinked rapidly, trying to keep the flecks of crimson water from getting into my eyes. It was between a few of these blinks that I noticed the Plague Doctor, once again barring me from accessing the door. I felt an enraged, frustrated sound burst from my mouth as I charged forward, not giving a damn about the Plague Doctor. I wanted out, and nothing was going to stop me from achieving that.

I wasn’t exactly surprised to find that the Plague Doctor was nothing more than a spectre, one I easily passed through in my desperate attempt to escape. I ended up barrelling into the thick wooden door, only to find the knob missing, and the door locked.

I beat and pounded upon the door, shouting out in fury to be free, as if the combined effort of my voice and my fists would manage to break down the door. The water was lapping at my waist, my blue shirt now completely reddened. It was so cold, the water. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything except try to get the door open.

No matter how hard I punched, or how strongly I bashed my shoulder against the door, it wouldn’t so much as quiver under my battery. I was going to drown in a sea of blood, and there was nothing I could do about it.

As I realized my fate, I thought, is this what Christopher felt?

Seven years old, and left unsupervised during a trip to the beach, I remember losing Christopher every second that I continue to live. Part of that inability to forget led to the destruction of my marriage, along with a severe addiction to coffee and Valium. I figured numbness was a way out, the only way to function without feeling like I’d murdered a child.

PTSD, I think the shrink had called it. It was bullshit, but they just had to label me, to make me easier to treat.

I wish I could believe that I really wasn’t at fault, but I was.

I was the one who insisted on getting Chris in the water. I was the one who told him to wait for me while I got my camera. I didn’t pay attention to the screaming beach goers as they tried to alert someone that a child was being swept away by the tide. I didn’t even run to his side as the lifeguard towed his small body out of the sea, his pale, blond hair looking as white as the flowers we chose for his funeral. I couldn’t. I couldn’t accept that I was responsible for the death of my son, not that day, and not now, many years later. It’s an agony I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

If only Christopher knew just how much I cared for him, how much I regretted my actions from that day. If I could turn back the clock, I would’ve done it already. If I could speak to the dead, I would’ve begged for his forgiveness, but, Christopher was gone, only living in the memories and photographs I carried of him. It wasn’t enough to soothe me. It wasn’t enough to help me move on.

A large wave of red water splashed over my head, finally pulling me under. I looked up, watching the light stream in through a hazy, scarlet filter. I hadn’t gotten a chance to take a deep enough breath to swim to the surface. I doubt I’d even try to if I had.

Maybe I was getting what I deserved. I didn’t deserve the live out the lonely life I’d created for myself.

As I floated there in the water, my breath escaping me in pink and magenta bubbles, my eyelids began to droop. My chest was scalding me with the desire to just inhale, and breathe, but my instincts wouldn’t let me. I just remained still, allowing the water to slowly pull me down, deeper and deeper still.

My vision blackened at the edges, and I blinked, trying to see. See what, I wasn’t sure, but I held this urge to keep my eyes open.

Blinking rapidly, I felt my heart falter like a bird with a broken wing within my chest.

In the distance, I saw a shape. It was small, humanoid, and approaching me. My lungs were screaming for air, my limbs too fatigued to move. I stared ahead, watching my dead son swim up to me.

His blond hair was floating wildly about his small, round face, his brown eyes glowing in the water. He was smiling, as if he were happy about swimming in this sickeningly red sea.

I couldn’t speak, but my mind called out to him. I said his name over and over in my head, and I watched as his eyes lit up in recognition.

He surged forwards, his tiny hands extended towards me. He reached out in what seemed like slow motion, and placed his hands on my shoulders.

If I could cry underwater, I would have been. I had no air left within me to produce any sobs, and the tears that fled from my eyes got whisked away by the bloody water that surrounded me.

Christopher wrapped his thin arms around my neck in a faint embrace. My nerves were dull, and I couldn’t make out much more than the brilliant glow of his hair, but I felt it. I felt him grab onto me, and hold me. I wanted to lift my arms, but my body wouldn’t respond. I wanted so, so badly to say sorry, to say something, but my lips were frozen, and my voice was long gone.

In my head, I screamed apologies, I wailed, rambling over and over to Christopher. I told him I was sorry, that I shouldn’t have left him alone, and that it was my fault that he was gone.

Out of nowhere, Chris lifted his head. I felt the strands of his hair brush the side of my face, the feeling not unlike encountering seaweed in the ocean, as he spoke.

“It’s okay, dad. I’m okay. You don’t need to do this anymore. Just let go, daddy,” he whispered, his voice muted by the water.

I couldn’t see him anymore, and I couldn’t feel my body. I was just a thought, strewn about somewhere in an endless expanse of red.

“Just let go, dad,” he repeated, the feeling of his arms fading away. “I forgive you, okay? Just let go.”

“Remember,” he said, his voice echoing through the chambers of my mind, “I love you.”

I felt my lips part as water rushed inside, filling me with fluid as I lost consciousness.

Long Way Down: Part 4

Recommended Listening: Lurking in the Dark by Masafumi Takada

It was because I’d tried to breathe that I woke up.

The water in my lungs burned coming up, making me cough and hack and sputter until my body was clear of the liquid. I heard it splatter against the floor as I spat it up, the spray flying onto my fingertips.

My clothes were dry, and my socks and shoes were missing, but my hair still dripped droplets of the cold water onto my forehead, cheeks, and nose.

I suppose I felt more at peace, more free of what had been haunting me about Christopher’s death. I felt shell shocked, like I couldn’t believe that I didn’t need to dwell on what could have been any longer. I know that the Christopher I’d seen wasn’t really him, but I needed to see what I did, to hear what I did. There was a heaviness that was missing from within me, and I didn’t want it back.

It wasn’t until I’d calmed my breathing, and soothed my faltering heart that I tried to look at the world around me.

It was very hard to determine just where I was. I couldn’t see very well, considering that the lights in the room, a few fluorescent panels above my head, flickered on and off every few seconds. I couldn’t see for more than two seconds at a time, the flashing lights creating almost a strobing effect. From what I could see, I was in a room made entirely of stone blocks. The room appeared to have no doors, and no windows. Just walls of stone, frigid even through the clothes I wore. It smelled of mildew and earth, like the soil in my backyard when the snow melts each winter. There was a breeze coming from somewhere, but each time I turned to find its point of origin, I felt it against my back, as if its source was simply behind me at all times.

I carefully stood up, looking around the room for a way out. I wondered if this was a transition room, one that I simply needed to pass through in order to find my way out of this giant riddle of a mansion my mind had set up for me.

I tried turning about, looking for a change in the environment, but my movement accompanied by the irregular, pulsating lights were making me feel disoriented. I couldn’t tell what side I was facing, where I was looking, or when I was blinking.

I felt a small bit of anger working its way through my chest just as a drop of water fell from my hair, and into my eye, causing it to sting harshly. I rubbed at my eye with the palm of my hand, trying to work the pain out of it, while trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

As I pulled my hand away from my face, I looked up, and felt my stomach drop straight to my feet.

The lights blinked a few times, illuminating the stark black figure of the Plague Doctor, standing just a few feet in front of me. He still casted no shadows, and was still holding that single, damn rose.

I didn’t move, and neither did he. We just stood there, staring at each other.

As the lights continued to flash on and off, I noticed something peculiar.

The Plague Doctor seemed to be standing slightly closer to me, each time the lights stayed on for long enough for me to see.

I felt my heart thudding like the hooves of an army of horses in my chest, my attempt at calming down proving to be useless.

The lights flicked off, completely this time. The room was as silent as death, my own labored breathing making no noise. It was as dark as spilled ink, with not so much as a glimmer of any light visible.

The lights suddenly blinked back on, and to my horror, the Plague Doctor had crossed half the distance between us.

I gasped in shock, my feet carrying me backwards as the lights blacked out once again.

I didn’t care that I couldn’t see. I needed to get away. I knew that I’d run right through him before, but I was getting very different impulses about the entity now. I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to bypass him the same way I had before.

I turned around and began to run as fast I was able to, which wasn’t very fast at all. My body still ached and creaked from nearly drowning, and my lungs weren’t letting me breathe as I needed to.

The lights came back on, and I stopped as quickly as I could to prevent myself from running into the Plague Doctor that had appeared in front of me.

I screamed, caught off guard by the Plague Doctor once again.

I turned and ran once again, my bare feet slapping against the floor.

“Stop.”

The word echoed around the stone walls, and I felt my legs stop pumping until I stood still in the centre of the room.

I couldn’t move, even though my fight or flight response was making it very clear that I needed to flee.

I heard footsteps from behind me, getting steadily louder and louder, as they came closer.

“You can’t run from death,” I heard a hoarse voice say from my right beside my ear. I was startled by how similar his voice sounded to my own.

The need I felt to run was more powerful than the fear I felt in that instance. I doubted I was in any real danger, but there was no mistaking the animalistic instincts I was experiencing.

I felt moisture seep over my toes, and I looked down, wondering if I’d managed to soil myself in my fear. Instead, I saw that I was standing in a large pool of a deep, brown liquid. I wouldn’t have realized what it was if it weren’t for the unmistakable scent of coffee that wafted upwards from the floor.

I felt confusion replace my unease, trying to understand what the spilled coffee meant, what the Plague Doctor meant, what this entire room what trying to get me to understand.

“You can’t run from death,” the Plague Doctor repeated.

“Alright, shut up!” I shouted as I turned around to face him, my legs finally responding to my commands.

And then, it all made sense.

I had tried to run from Christopher’s death by staying up late, pouring cup after cup of coffee. I didn’t want to sleep, I couldn’t, because I’d see Christopher in pain, crying, calling for me to help him.

I understood what the Plague Doctor was trying to tell me.

He extended his hand, offering me his red rose, the petals unnaturally vibrant in the dim, gray room.

I took the rose from the Plague Doctor, starting as I pricked my finger on one of the rose’s thorns. I watched a single droplet of my blood fall to the stone floor beneath my feet, the coffee puddle suddenly all dried up.

I looked to the Plague Doctor, only to find him gone, and to see that I was back in the foyer of the mansion.

The rose in my hand was now wilted, its petals shriveled and dead. There were no more picture frames along the walls, just plain, white wallpaper. The door on the second floor was no longer there, but a single floor to ceiling mirror hung in its place. I turned around and saw that the painting of the Plague Doctor was gone as well, leaving only a darkened patch where the painting use to hang.

I dropped the rose stem from my hand, and slowly sank to the floor. I sat, my bare feet sticking to the dusty, wooden floor, wondering what I was supposed to do next.

I can say that I felt much lighter, as if I’d shrugged off a layer of waterlogged clothing. I could sleep when I got home, and my dreams wouldn’t be clouded by the screams of a broken child. I could call Vera, and settle the mess between us.

I was free.

As I sat there, I started to feel drowsy, like I’d suddenly been drugged. My eyelids fluttered shut as my breathing evened out, my body gently falling back against the wooden floor.

The world blacked out as I started to smell moth balls and air freshener.

Long Way Down: Part 5

Recommended Listening: Long Way Down by Gary Numan

I awoke to the steady beeping of a heart monitor. My eyes blinked a few times, the tendrils of lingering slumber retreating away from me.

I looked around, and saw Dr. Jacobi going over a long sheet of graph paper with erratic, spiky lines printed on it, coming from one of the machines I was connected to. His face grew briefly displeased with what he saw, and he promptly turned to look at me.

“Ah, you’re awake!” he exclaimed, dropping the paper to the floor.

He rushed over to me, and began plucking the electrodes off of my body. Once there wasn’t a single wire left attached to me, he shut off the machines, and took his seat in the armchair across from me.

“Tell me first what you saw before I tell you what I observed,” he said, his eyes glowing with an eager thirst.

Still feeling fairly tuckered out, I groggily relayed what I’d seen, what I’d interacted with, and what I’d managed to understand from it all. By the time I finished speaking, Dr. Jacobi looked about ready to leap up, and give me a hug.

“Remarkable,” he said, awestruck, “absolutely remarkable. Well, Mr. Vikas-”

“Walter is fine,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

Dr. Jacobi smiled. “Walter, let me explain what I saw here on these papers.”

He stood up, and hurriedly returned with his arms full of paper. He rifled through the pile until he reached what appeared to be the beginning.

“See here,” he said, pointing to a line with very small peaks and valleys, “this shows you falling straight into REM sleep,” he said. “That is the deepest level of sleep, where your dreams occur. It’s very unusual for someone to bypass the other levels of lighter sleep, and go straight into the deepest.”

He pointed out a bunch more different wavelengths, and told me about how the brainwaves I displayed during my sleep were nearly identical to the ones I’d experienced while being awake. He said it was usually normal for those waves to look similar, but he had trouble discerning if I was asleep or awake for a majority of the experience.

“You didn’t move a muscle while you were under,” he said, “in case you were worried about that.”

“How long was I asleep for?” I asked, stifling a yawn with my hand.

“Two hours,” he replied, “which was half of the time I’d estimated initially.”

I nodded as I got to my feet, feeling more rested than I’d been in years. I reached out my hand, and Dr. Jacobi shook it firmly.

“It’s been a pleasure, Walter,” he said, smiling.

“Thank you, Doctor,” I said, “Have a good day.”

“Likewise,” he responded as he released my hand.

I left the hospital ten minutes later, and got back home in another twenty-five. I threw open the door to my home, locked it behind me, and leaned against the door.

I felt like I’d taken a long shower, and had washed all of my baggage away. I felt slightly hollow, like something wasn’t quite right just yet, but I didn’t think much of it.

I kicked off my boots, and hung my jacket on my coat hook, taking a seat at my kitchen table. The moment I sat down, I felt my phone buzz to life in my pocket.

I pulled out the device, and inhaled sharply when I read the caller I.D: “Vera.”

The empty feeling within me disappeared the instead I saw her name. This was my chance to make things right for good.

I looked at the vase of roses that sat in the centre of my table. An image of the Plague Doctor flashed behind my eyelids.

I knew what to do. I always did, I just didn’t realize that until now.

Pulling a single, red rose out of the vase, I answered the call.

Credit To – Sabrina S.

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