Nihil

August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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‘The first time I heard the legend of the Mad Hangman was from another inmate in our prison. He told me that there was a man with the ability to ward off death. That he was immortal. At first I thought it was a comforting fable for people who were about to be executed, but then I heard it from other places. ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘He’s here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘He’s dead?’ I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘355 Churchfield Terrace, WF6 4QZ’

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

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

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

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

‘Here?’ I asked.

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

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

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

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

I turned around, ready to run.

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

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

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

‘This is your house?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Which is?’ I asked.

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

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

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

‘Who is that?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Which means?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with these words, consciousness faded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit To – Joe Turner

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Knock

July 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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We all have that one story, don’t we? The one you grow up thinking about, but never actually grow the balls to tell anyone. Well this is my story. I don’t know what I’m hoping to accomplish by telling you. Maybe I’m looking for someone to tell me that I’m not insane, or maybe once I put it on paper it will…Hell, I don’t know. Just someone read this…just please.

Let me give you a little background. Twenty years ago when I was eight years old, still living with my mom. My friend Dave and I decided that we would brave “The House”. Now, The House was an abandoned two story home, that had been empty going on ten years, save for the occasional drug abuser that would sleep in it. However that’s not what made this particular house special. The standing rumor is what made it interesting.

For as long as I can remember adults in my neighborhood had told us, the children, that it was haunted. I’m sure it was just their way of getting us not to play in it though. Regardless, because of that, the house had a sort of ominous aura that hung around it. Just looking at that decaying building would give you the shivers. Although despite our inherent fear of the place, Dave and I decided we would explore this house We would become legends in our own right, at least that’s what we hoped.

It was Tuesday all those years ago, well past midnight, and both of our parents had fallen asleep. The two of us decided we would sneak out, you know, use the night as our cover. We agreed it would be best to meet up in front of The House. Still, I wish we hadn’t agreed to do it.

There I was…alone, waiting in front of The House for my friend. I couldn’t help but feel small when I looked at it. It might have been old, and the wood may have been rotting, but man did it look enormous. I bet even adults felt dwarfed by it. To keep myself from chickening out, I decided to think about something else while I waited; it was a little cold that night, which was the typical weather after a hard rain. “Ah, crap.” I muttered, noticing the mud that covered my shoes. I should have paid more attention to where I was stepping. “Mom is going to kill me when she…” my voice trailed off when I heard a dull thud from behind me. Sounded like someone knocked a door.

Was…was it the house, or was I just imagining things? I spun around expecting to see a hairy monster behind me, instead it was just The House; broken windows, splintered wood, and roof that had more than a few holes in it. Just the usual, nothing to panic about. I should have been relieved, but I found myself slightly shaken. Soon I would be stepping into one of the most feared places in our neighborhood. I wasn’t even inside yet, and I could already feel the slight tremor in my hand.

Before I could reconsider the mission Dave arrived. I quickly stuffed my hands into my pockets to hide the quiver. I could see his small figure bouncing up and down. The little jokester was skipping across the street. My fears were immediately replaced with giddy laughter. “You’re such a clown,” I managed to say in-between my giggles. We both reached out and shook hands, like his father had taught us. Luckily he didn’t notice the tremor.

Dave used his hands to smooth back his black hair, kind of like a greaser would in a cliched movie. “You ready for this?” He nodded towards the door. Typical Dave, he always tried to look cool. Whether it be riding his bike with no hands, or sneaking into an abandoned house, he never failed to give off the “I’m a badass” vibe.

I tried my best to sound nonchalant, “Only if you are, Davey.” The comment awarded me a slight snicker. Dave hated it when I called him Davey. He said it sounded girly, and that’s exactly why I used it. Rather than shoot a retort at me, he simply nudged me towards the house, and we began walking to the door. Our small feet made quiet echoes in the street, I was worried we might wake someone. If we had any doubts about what we were doing, that moment would have been the right time to bail out.

Of course, as per the norm, stupidity got the better of us. The second our feet hit the old steps, we knew there would be no turning back. “Think we should knock?” Dave joked. Seeing him act all cool somehow gave me courage, and so I knocked. What I heard made the hair on my neck stand at attention. The same thud I had heard from earlier reverberated through the door when my knuckles landed. I gulped loudly, but maintained an overall calm composure.

The two of us breathed in deeply, turned the door knob, and pushed the door open. We received a long drawn out creak as payment. I thought I was going to pee my pants, and Davey looked like he was about to shit a brick. Somehow we managed to keep our undies clean. It was dark, real dark. Neither one of had brought a flashlight, we didn’t want to accidentally wake up a neighbor by shining a light in their house. Given the circumstances, we decided it was best to use moonlight.

Our eyes were met with a dimly lit house, it took a minute to adjust to. The house was littered with trash, covered in graffiti, and was seemingly falling apart all over. And yet it didn’t seem as frightening as we were led to believe. Sure the darkness made it look spooky, but as I looked at the cracked marble floor, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my house. “Huh, this isn’t so bad.” It was me who broke the silence.

“Do you think the ghost will be pissed that we tracked mud in the house?” Dave laughed and pointed at the floor. Little footprints followed us all over the house. “Remind me to clean my shoes before I go back home.” I giggled at the thought. Here we are in the big spooky house, cracking jokes about muddy shoes. It was all fun and games. After familiarizing ourselves with the first floor – which consisted of an empty living room, a kitchen with rotted food in the cupboards, a bathroom with a disgusting toilet, and a curious looking locked door – we decided to explore the second floor.

We ascended the stairs together, Dave leading with his brave face on. The wooden stairs were old, much like the rest of the house, and each step left us wondering if it would collapse beneath us. “Think the ghost is up there?” I asked, half sincere.

Dave chuckled at the question, “Ghosts probably aren’t even real.” We had reached the end of the stairs, and were on the top floor. It wasn’t a big second story. Two hallways, one to the right and one to the left. Four rooms for the two of us to explore. “Let’s go left.” Dave suggested. So we went left, and into the first door on the right.

The door was already open, so we just peaked our heads in. The first thing I noticed was the hole in the roof. Moonlight was shining through it, and it gave us a faint light to survey the room with. It wasn’t a very kind room, actually it was kind of like my room. Probably big enough to have a bed, dresser, maybe a desk could fit in it too. We couldn’t see inside of the closet though, the light didn’t quite reach it. Dave looked at me, and I looked at him. “I bet there’s something cool in there. Let’s go look.” Dave suggested with a mischievous smile. Not sure what we were hoping for exactly. A treasure in a closet or something?

Just before I stepped into the room, I heard the familiar thud noise. The one that was made before, and when, I knocked on the door. My heart felt like it was going to stop. The noise was distant, but there was no mistaking it. My first instinct was to run, but I couldn’t leave Dave behind; he of course paid no mind to it. Hell, he was already in the room walking towards the closet. And it was at that moment that things went to hell, I never even had the chance to warn him.

The second Dave stepped foot in the center of the room, there was a frightening crack. He didn’t have time to react. The wood splintered, the ground beneath him gave way, and he fell through the floor. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Everything in front of me was crashing down. The wood was so old and decayed that it couldn’t even support Davey. Dust and dirt flew everywhere, by the time it was over, it was hard to breathe. Wait…Dave didn’t make a sound. Did he die on impact? Was he okay? My mind had never asked raced so faced. “Dave!” I shouted in-between coughs. “Dave are you okay?!” I repeated the question a few more times, and waited. After an agonizing minute I got my response.

“I’m okay,” he answered weakly. “Not a scratch on me.” I peered down the large hole that was now in front of me. Dust was everywhere, but as it cleared I could see him more clearly; there was Dave and he was completely intact. “And guess where I am?” I sighed deeply, glad that he hadn’t lot his sense of adventure. “I’m in the locked room, get down here, I’ll open the door for you.” He wiped the dirt off of his forehead and motioned for me to come down. I obediently turned around and headed for the stairs, preferring to take the safe route down.

As I reached the bottom of the stairs I noticed something odd. Were those big footprints always there? Two frighteningly large footprints had been left on the floor. There was something odd about them though…they didn’t look human. Too big, four toes, and they were round. My imagination quickly got the better of me, and I could feel the panic rising quickly. I was starting to feel nauseous, even more so when I realized the footsteps were leading to the room that Dave was in. I glanced at the front door, it was open. I could leave right now, run home, and tell my parents to call the police; we didn’t have cell phones back then. But I didn’t do any of that, I just kept walking towards the locked room.

The door was open, and I could see shadows dancing on the door frame. There were two shadows, one big one small. The larger shadow was pounding into the smaller one. I could hear the blows landing. Thump…thump, thump thump. Each time it hit, Dave would whimper. I was frozen in place. The door was only a few feet away, but I couldn’t bring myself to take another step. I wanted to save my friend, but I just couldn’t move. I could only stand there and watch the shadows. “Please..sto-” Smash. The last hit was harder than any of the others ones, I could hear the bones break from where I was standing. Dave’s shadow stopped moving. The larger shadow picked up the frail little body, and began slashing into it with what looked like a blade. A dark liquid splashed onto the door, and started oozing towards the floor. I wanted to puke.

I could feel hot liquid running down my pants. Must have been scared enough to piss myself. I looked at the floor and saw the puddle that I had made. It was time to leave. I took one last glance at the door, and what I saw when I looked up still haunts me today. A large humanoid figure stood in the door way holding Dave’s body. It was too dark to see it clearly, but I got a peak at its eyes; its big blue eyes. Big and blue like the ocean, and the waves were rippling with rage.

I wanted to leave. No, I needed to leave but my legs refused to move. They were anchored to the floor, fear had stopped them completely. My heart on the other hand was moving, it was moving very fast. Reluctantly I stood there…staring at the monster that was holding my dead friend. It didn’t take long for our eyes to meet. We stood there in a eternal staring contest, I was too afraid to blink. I remember thinking that if I closed my eyes I would never open them again.

It was only after two long minutes that I could finally feel my legs again, so I slowly took a step back. The monster mimicked my movements by stepping forward each time I took a step back. My heart sunk when I realized what it was doing. Every molecule in my body was telling me to turn around and sprint, but could I really outrun this monstrosity? No, there was no way. I decided to keep my pace, buy myself time until I got to the door.

Once we reached the living room it dropped Dave, outstretched its arms towards me, and grinned. It was the single most wicked thing I had experienced in my life. The monster’s grin, from corner to corner, reached both of its eyes. His teeth were long, white, like a shark. We were almost at the door, but he was no longer mimicking my steps.

For each step I took, he took two. Step by step he was closing the gap. The moonlight from the window shined on his outstretched arm. Its hand was human-like, only there was something off about it. The nails were long, the skin was rotted, and some of the flesh looked like it had scratched off. It was enough to make me dizzy. Soon I could hear it breathing. Each breath was labored, it was almost wheezing. One more step and I would see its entire body in the moonlight. I didn’t want that.

The thought alone was enough to make me turn, grab the door knob, throw it open, and rush out of the house. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder until there was some distance between the two of us. I expected to turn around and see the monster lumbering after me, but surprisingly it wasn’t. The monster never came out of the house. It didn’t chase me down the street. It didn’t rip me to pieces. It just stood there, on the porch, waving goodbye. Its malformed hand slowly rocking back and forth, with the same deranged smile on its face.

A few days later, when the police report was made public, my parents told me that the monster was, “Just a hobo on drugs.” The police had found Dave’s body next to a dead homeless man. Apparently he had overdosed shortly after I had left. I try to tell myself that I was just imagining things, and that there was no monster, but I don’t know what to believe. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, I can’t get that fucking smile out of my head. I’m done with this, if I write anymore I’ll start having nightmares again. Food’s here anyway, I just heard a knock at the door.

Credit To – I_Own_Cows

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“New Growth”

July 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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“It’s nice,” said Phil, “I still can’t believe you own a house.”

“Me neither, bro,” said Howard, “I mean, not at all.”

The two were standing in the mostly undecorated living room. The walls were recently painted a deep Marsala color (“Color of the year 2015, bro. Get on that.”) and there was a massive cream colored leather couch that dominated the majority of the space. A TV played a football game neither really watched where large men hurled their bodies at one another, causing irreparable long term cognitive damages.

“I thought buying a house was something old people did,” said Howard. “I’m only twenty fucking five, bruh. I can’t believe Colin’s company is working out like this.”

“For you,” Phil said, awkwardly. “Colin’s company is working out really well for you.”

“Oh, dude, whatever. Fuck him. He’ll rehire you. Whenever he comes to his senses. Is that what they call it? What’s the term for when you fire someone from your sweet start up because you find out he slept with your girlfriend in college and straight up lied to your face about it but then you forgive him and hire him back? Is that called a rehire?”

“I don’t know if —”

“There actually is no word for that, Phil, because that has never happened in the history of the world.
Come on, let’s go upstairs. I want you to check out this view.”

The view was nice, Phil thought. Howard’s place was in Candle Hill, a micro neighborhood of the city which was rapidly acquiring a reputation as an exclusive, monied neighborhood due to the sudden, unexpected blossoming biotech scene. Twenty four year olds were buying mansions on hills, driving strange exotic luxury cars, drinking wine older than most states in America. Until six months ago, Phil had been on track to be one of them. Then, after a brief, scarily cold conversation with Colin, he wasn’t.

After he was fired, he had had grabbed a job as a research tech for the university. It provided a salary and health care, but no dental and all of his friends were buying houses.

Howard’s house was fantastic, he had to admit. A refurbished row home with gorgeous crown molding in every room, bright gleaming modern appliances, marble countertops. The street was quiet and tree lined, one of those city neighborhoods you never know about unless you live there. The secret world of the rich. Or maybe just the lucky.

“So, how’s Janus Industries? Are you just as busy as ever?”

“Ugh,” Howard frowned, “worse, if possible. This is the first night I’ve been home before eight in a month. Not complaining. We’ve all been swamped.”

“Are you guys still working on stem cell stuff?”

“Like I can tell you,” grinned Howard. “But the stuff we’re doing is pretty great recently. It’s exciting.”

An hour or so later, Phil was getting ready to leave. They were back in the living room and he noticed a door with a chain lock across the hall from the half bath.

“Dude, what’s up with that door? Is someone locked in the basement?”

He meant it as a joke, but Howard’s face went pale. Phil froze. Was his friend keeping someone locked up in the basement? Was he going to be killed for discovering it? Why had he even come over? Is this how he dies?

Howard ran his hand through his hair.

“Sit down, man. There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Do you have anyone locked in the basement,” asked Phil as he sat down, looking for any objects he could improvise into weapons.

“No. I don’t have anyone locked in the basement,” Howard said with disgust, “I mean, come on, bro.”

“Well done, man.”

“Second, I think something is in the basement. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. The guy I bought this house from was in a super hurry to move, which is how I got it at such a good price, I guess. When I moved in, I found a note he had left in the bedroom. It said I should always keep that door closed. And one day would find out why.”

“What was his deal? Was he crazy?”

“That’s what I thought,” said Howard, “but he seemed like a normal dude through the whole process. He taught bioethics at the university. Did some consults at Janus, too. Dwyer? Did you ever hear of him?”

Phil shook his head.

“He gets good comments online. Colin took a bunch of classes with him, actually. Loved him. Said he had fascinating ideas for regenerative tech and how to monetize it. Girls on his Rate my Professor page say he was kind of sleazy,”

“When I found the note,” Howard continued, “I thought he was nuts. My realtor told me his wife had just died. She figured it messed him up or whatever. So, I decided to not worry about it. Then, I heard it.”

He shuddered.

“It was the first night here. I was just hanging out, quasi celebrating with champagne. I was by myself. Right here. In this room. And I hear someone walking up the basement stairs.”

“Do you know how quiet a place can feel when it isn’t just you? I had read his note that night. Now, the footsteps. Then the doorknob rattled. It opened, a tiny bit, just a crack, but the lock held it closed.”

“Holy shit,” phil leaned up on the couch. He was staring at Howard, watching his hands grab and twist the couch cushions. “So what happened?”

“The door closed. I heard the footsteps go back down. I didn’t leave the couch. I couldn’t. I didn’t even sleep. Spent all night here, staring at the stupid door.”

“Has it happened again?”

“It has. Every third night. At 10:50. And Phil?”

“Yeah?”

“Tonight’s a third night.”

“Well then,” Phil stood up, “I’m going to find out what’s going on down there.”

And with that, he walked over to the locked door.

“What?”

“You heard me,” Phil said, “I’m going into the basement,”

“Dude, that’s a bad idea? That is definitely an awful idea. I would like to ask you to reconsider —”

“Reconsider what?” asked Phil. His hand was on the doorknob and he had turned around completely to face Howard. “I don’t have anything, bro. I work in a lab getting paid nine dollars and eighty cents an hour. All my friends are millionaires. I eat ramen for dinner. Not by choice.”

“So you’re ok with being eaten by a monster in my basement? Because I assure you there is a monster in my basement and I suspect the monster will try to eat you and you’re my friend and —”

“Howard. You worry. Way. Too. Much.”

He unlatched the heavy chain.

“If I don’t come back, you can have my bike.”

And he opened the door and walked downstairs.

Howard spent the night on the couch. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t move. He watched the door. But it didn’t open. And at ten fifty on the third night, the door didn’t rattle and they weren’t any footsteps.

The next morning he went to work. There was a meeting with four other project managers that Colin unexpectedly showed up at.

Colin terrified Howard. He had ever since he started Janus Industries. Before that, Colin was nice. Thin and probably too into sushi and anime, but nice. After the company started, the niceness migrated from him and was replaced by something colder. Pressure, Howard told himself, Colin must be under a ton of pressure with the company. You have to be cold to do what he did. It was business.

At the meeting’s end, as they started to rise, Colin touched his shoulder.

“Talk to you for a minute?”

The other four shuffled out. The room felt too big. Colin stared at him.

“You ok? You look sick.”

“I’m fine. Just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“Really?” Colin frowned. “I thought you left early yesterday. I was here for hours after you drove off.”

Howard winced.

“Yeah, bro, I met someone for dinner for last night and bailed a little early. Sorry. I’ll check up on stuff tonight.”

“I’m sure you will,” Colin peered at him, his pale skin showing an architecture of blue veins below the surface. “Are you sick?”

“No. Not sick. Just couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh, just insomnia? You should take medication. No reason to let your biological system get in the way of your responsibilities, right?”

“Right,” Howard said, then added, in a desperate attempt to sound normal, “broseph.”

“Speaking of your responsibilities, your project isn’t going as well as I expected. We need that to improve. Quickly. Understand?”

“Yes, of course and I’m sorry I just —”

“Remember: results, not apologies. Right?” Colin smiled, briefly, for the first time in the conversation. His lips were thin. “Hey, you bought a house, didn’t you? A belated congratulations!”

“Oh, yeah thanks. I love it. Still decorating.”

“It’s Dyer’s old house, right? I miss him. He was always such a help to me. Well, take care.”

Howard began to walk out of the room.

“Oh, Howard?”

He turned around.

“Yeah?”

“Who were you having dinner with? Last night? Anyone I know?”

Howard stood, semi frozen.

“No, I don’t think so. Bro.”

“Oh. Ok. Take care.”

*****

Howard made it home that night by nine. Colin was still there when he left. He could see his office light burning from the parking lot.

Outside his house, where he always parked his car, Phil’s bike was still chained to the tree.

He went in. His footsteps echoed in the tall winding home. The lack of furniture made everything sound empty and full of echoes.

The door was still chained. There was no noise from the basement.

He barely slept. The next day at Janus it was the same: pacing the hallways, drinking too much coffee, sending off emails obsessively. At some point, waking through the office he suddenly stopped. At the far end of the open office, he saw an older woman entering Colin’s office. She walked in after Colin but before he closed the door she turned and surveyed the office. She had s small pinched face with a hawklike nose, small, deeply set eyes. She locked eyes with Howard. Did she smile?

And then the door closed.

That night, he fell asleep at his desk. Upon waking, he grabbed his phone and accessed his home security cams. They showed the same thing they had before: a locked basement. A locked bike.

He walked out into the hallway. The lights were already on. It was five fifteen in the morning. He could smell coffee already brewing. Lynn was at the machine. She looked up and smiled.

“Long night?”

“For sure.”

After they had been talking for a few minutes about nothing in particular, he looked around. Upon not noticing anyone beside the two of them, he dropped his voice.

“Lynn, your team is working on stem cell stuff right now.”

“Like everyone else here, yeah.” She looked amused. Lynn always looked amused, especially when people weren’t being that funny.

“But you aren’t doing the same kind of stuff as everyone else on your team.”

“What do you mean,” she asked. She didn’t look as amused.

“I talk to everyone here. I know Colin doesn’t like any of us to talk to each other, but I do. And I talk your team. And they say you’re working on some something they aren’t being kept in the loop on.”

“If they aren’t being kept in the loop why would you be kept in the loop?” She had gone back to amused. But not that amused.

Tell her about Phil, tell her about the house, the door, he thought, but he didn’t. He was watching the way her eyes all of the sudden widened at something behind him.

“Good morning,” he heard Colin’s voice. “Another day, another chance to do it all again.”

He smiled at the two of them and poured scalding hot coffee into his tan colored mug.

That night, Howard got home at ten forty three. He unlocked his door and walked across the grandly echoing hardwood to his kitchen. He poured a glass of wine (red, Chilean, not that bad at all) and he stood, staring at the door.

The noises started on the stair, the dragging, shaking walk. He listened to it as it grew closer, closer. He flung upon the door. And there was Phil, looking skinny and pale and horrified.

***
They sat together on the couch. He had grabbed Phil a blanket and he had wrapped himself up in it. His teeth were chattering. His eyes had huge dark circles.

“I don’t know, man,” he said, pushing his fingers into the bone colored couch, “I don’t know what happened.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Opening the door? I kind of remembering walking down the stairs. That’s all. Maybe I heard voices? But holy fuck I was down there for three nights? What the hell happened to me?”

“I don’t know,” Howard said thickly, “I don’t know at all. But this has something to do with Janus, I think.”

“Why would this have anything to do with Janus? This is just a horrible weird thing that happened to me!”

“No, I — things have been a lot weirder there after you left than I told you. There’s a lot of secret projects going on. We can’t talk to each other there anymore. And the shit he has us doing with stem cells…it’s weird. I think Colin is trying to do something.”

“Like what?” Phil had slumped against the back of the couch and was rubbing his temples.

“I don’t know. But you know Dwyer’s wife? The one who I said died?”

“Yeah?”

“A saw a photograph of her when I moved in here. And I think I saw her at Janus the other day.”

Phil sat upright.

“You saw her?”

“Or someone who looked a lot like her. It was from far away.”

“Jesus,” said Phil and he was quiet for a moment. “What the hell do you think is happening?”

“I don’t know and I’m starting to lose — where are you going? Don’t you want to go to the hospital? I’ll take you.”

Phil had stood up.

“No, no. I have to get home. I’ve been gone for three days. I have to red my cat. I’m terrified Admiral Flufferson is going to be starving. I’ll go to the hospital tomorrow, I guess,” he paused. “I’m not really sure what I’m going to tell them. But look: you should come with me. Whatever is happening here? Man, you don’t want any part of it.”

“Oh god. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to my mom’s tonight. Fuck, bro, what is this?”

“I don’t know but we’re going to figure this out. Somehow. Together. Right?”

“Right. Right.”

Phil left. Howard stayed on the couch, his head spinning. He was trying to put everything together but he couldn’t. When he was growing up, he remembered trying to put together puzzles but never being able to get all the right pieces and just giving up. His older brother admitted a few years ago he would his puzzle pieces when Howard wasn’t looking, just to mess with him. That’s what he felt like now. Here was the puzzle. But something wasn’t there that he needed and he had no idea how to fix it.

And then he heard something

Footsteps.

Moving slowly up the stairs.

The basement door, he realized, wasn’t fully closed after he got phil out. The door was wide open. The footsteps got closer and closer and then, into the light stepped Phil.

He didn’t look ok. He could barely walk, taking only a few steps and before he fell. There was drool in the corner of his mouth. Howard ran to him, trying to help him sit up, leaving him against the wall in the pallid light of the hallway.

“Oh my god, Howard. Oh god. I can’t. Oh my god. There’s something horrible happening. They’re making things down there. They call them extras. Oh god, I don’t know what —”

There was a banging on the front door.

“Howard!” called Phil from outside, “there’s something I need to talk to you about! Open the door!”

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

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The Underpass

July 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Leo had mixed feelings about moving to the other side of the motorway. On the one hand, the new house was closer to where his friends lived; at least, closer than he had been when he was in Cowdenridge. He was also closer to the school, even though he was now on the opposite side of the road. However, the walk there and back would take just as long.

When it came to the walk to and from school, he had two choices. Either go through the Knightsmount Underpass, up to Park Brae, or through the woods on his side of the motorway and across the Woodlands Bridge. On the morning after his first night in the new house, Leo decided that the underpass would be the quick morning option and the Bridge the scenic afternoon option.

It was the middle of September. Fast-fading autumn. Leo crossed the main Ecclesburn road and walked towards the Knightsmount Underpass. The road was a cul-de-sac; it ended suddenly and did not seem to have much purpose. It was as if they had wanted the road to go on, and had meant to build houses at either side. As it was, on either side of Leo were plantations of bone thin pine trees, and on the right side they gave way to real woods, those woods he would walk home through.

A tarmac path brought him within the early morning roar of the motorway and the north side of the Knightsmount Underpass. He had not been through the underpass in a while, mainly because he had had no reason to cross to the outskirts of the town. As he approached the tunnel, memories of this place came back to him. When he was a child, walking the dog in the woods by the motorway with his father and brothers, Leo had never liked going through the underpass. Standing at the north end now, he remembered how slow and uncertain the walk through that long, dark place had seemed. He would stay close to his father, too old to hold his hand but too frightened and too apprehensive to stray very far. His brothers would deepen their voices and send eerie echoes along that open-ended concrete casket, putting on a sinister show for him. He had to clutch the dog’s lead and close his eyes and walk sightless, as fast as he could, out of that place.

He stood, just looking into the underpass, which had a distant but reassuring square of light at the other end; he could laugh at his childish terror. But it was an unsettling place. He walked.

The sickly orange lights which used to cast a fuzzy glow through the tunnel were long gone. It was dark from opening to opening and, because of its length, the very centre the underpass was a few degrees away from pitch-black. The floor was gnarled tarmac with suspicious stains. The walls were grey concrete, with large, square indents in some brutal pattern which must have been fresh and modern in 1968.

As he neared the centre of the tunnel, a fragmented memory came back to him; the memory of a feeling. He remembered exactly why he did not like that place. It was clear now. When he was five or six he could not understand that sense, but, as he stopped in the dead centre of the underpass, he recognised that sickly, uncertain feeling that he was being watched. No, not watched. Stared at, at close quarters.

There was no one in front of him. He wheeled round. No one behind. Everything was dark, musty and unnatural. The sound of the traffic above was muted by layers of concrete. The cars made soft noises on the tarmac, like silk skimming over velvet. Leo thought, as he hurried out of the underpass, that he could hear another sound; like scratching.

That night, Leo had a dream. He could not remember it all, only that it felt very real. He smelled petrol and oil and cigarette smoke. There was a pale man with greasy hair, looking at him as if he were looking down a microscope. And the man was listening. Listening very, very hard. There was some noise, but it was only scratching.

***

For almost two weeks after this, Leo walked across the Woodlands Bridge. That was an altogether more pleasant experience, strolling across the gleaming white bridge and looking out over the motorway, straight on its way to Glasgow. It was better than creeping underground. However, the bridge was not the fastest way home. This did not matter usually, but it did matter on that Friday night.

Leo had been out with friends and had just said goodbye to the group. They lived close by, but on the other side from him. He was lighter than air, content, and full of just enough drink. Nothing could scare him; not even that bloody underpass. It was an unpleasant place, sure enough, but it was nothing to be scared of. Nothing evil. Dreams were bizarre things, anyway. It was an underpass going under the M8 leading to and from Anderton, gateway to sunny Central Scotland. It was not Glamis with its monsters and secret rooms or Mary King’s Close with its immured plague-ridden Edinburghers. It was shabby and dull, and normal. Like the town itself.

He walked into the tunnel.

Those stains, that charming sectarian graffiti. Those smashed bottles of tonic wine. Such local colour! Yes, the ghost tour companies over in Edinburgh should try this spot. Leo’s thoughts danced. The tales they could tell! “And here,” the guide would say, pointing a trembling finger, “is the residue of Jakey Bill. No matter how much water and bleach the council uses trying to eradicate the stains, they always reappear mysteriously the next day!” Gasp!

Leo laughed out loud, and the sound echoed back and forth through the Underpass, muffled by the concrete. He was half way through. He was alright.

And then he was not.

Leo’s senses snapped to attention out of his half-cut glow. He stopped for no reason at all, like a wanderer in a strange place, and was in the dead centre of the underpass. He could smell and taste the musty air of the tunnel. He wished that he could not. All alone, he sensed that vulnerable loneliness that we feel in a dark room when we wake in a strange bed. It was worse than that, though. At least then we remember why we are there in the dark after a minute. Leo did not know why he had stopped, and why he waited.

But the worst part of it all was the sound. The scratching noise came again, thin but insistent, from the west wall. He did not want to hear this and he did not want to stay, but he had to. Something made him. Straining to hear the sound, he felt like some awful driver gazing at a crash on the road above. It was coming from a certain spot, right in the very centre of the tunnel wall.

Leo put out his hands and touched cold, dry, brutal concrete. His knees buckled. The sound was no longer a sound. He could feel the scratching, feel it as if it were inside his own skull. Then he heard the sound, the sound, unbearable, like someone screaming, shrieking with their mouth full, their mouth full of something. But now he could not move he could not move a single step forward or backward, there was no way, no way out, no way, no way out. A dead end. He felt as if his lungs were filling up, not with water, but something so heavy. He could not breathe.

A calm, hard voice said, “Let him scream. I want to hear him scream.”

Leo was on his back, and all he could hear was his own fast, deep breathing, and the cars above.

***

Two weeks later, as a car drove over the Knightsmount Underpass, the tarmac split apart and a hole opened up. Luckily the driver was relatively unharmed. However, the subsequent excavation and reinforcement work caused havoc on the M8 for weeks and weeks.

It seems that the road had been weakened by a gap in the “reinforced” concrete down below. Those distant planners of fifty years ago were not always honest, or good. We know that now. Some knew it back then. They pulled away part of the west wall of the underpass, the part in the dead centre, and found the bones of a man, skull staring at them with blank eyes and hands and feet shackled together. His hands were stretched, like he was reaching out. The tips of his fingers had been inches away from the west wall. There were no marks of violence on the bones; no breaks, no fractures. He had most likely been alive when he was put in there, apparently. Three weeks later they filled up the Knightsmount Underpass with enough concrete to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Then they built a bridge.

Credit To – Andro Lothian

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Verona

July 19, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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When I was eight, I decided that I wanted to be a ghost hunter. At that tender age, I was torn between the terrifying excitement of being alone in a haunted house at night, and the soothing reality that there was probably nothing to be afraid of.

My mother always told me spooky stories of the ghosts she had seen, or heard, or felt. And as much as I wanted to believe, I still had doubts. I wanted to get to the bottom myself and know for sure.

When I was in college, I met Saber. His real name was Marshall Bailey but people called him Saber because of the animal stripe tribal tattoos on his neck and his cat-like gait. We began talking in our Cryptozoology class- Saber had a knack for knowing more about some of the creatures than our professor. I learned that he was a paranormal photographer and after weeks of getting to know each other, he brought me onto his ghost hunting team.

There were five of us. Julie, the electronic voice phenomena expert (EVPs), Jonathan, who had all the thermal imaging equipment to monitor changes in temperature and electromagnetic fields. Sal had the connections to get us into popular haunted locations. Saber was there to film it all and then you had me, the skeptic. Saber felt that it was important to have an objective person in the group to keep a level head.

Saber had been building his team for months before he was finally ready for the first assignment that would take place during spring break.

We were headed nearly 800 miles away to a small town in Louisiana. When the flat expanse of Indiana turned into the sprawling green of the south, we knew we were almost there. We left on Friday and after 3 long days, we emerged from the van. We were here. Hotel Verona.

Hotel Verona had been abandoned since 1971. Once, a popular stop along the way to New Orleans, now was a dark stain in a quiet village.

Having done my research, I knew that the hotel had been built by the wealthy Martin Vasseur in 1948. Named after his wife, Verona was known for its aesthetic grandeur, luxurious creature comforts and some of the best Cajun cuisine in the area. During its first decade, many famous faces and well-to-do travelers made sure to spend the night at the hotel and dine within the exclusive club, Adelaide.

During the 1960’s, however, Vasseur had financial trouble and the addition of new major highways routed traffic away from the elegant Verona. After gambling heavily to try to revive some of his fortune, Vasseur lost most of his money by 1968. His wife caught pneumonia soon after and died, leaving him alone and penniless. The Hotel Verona hadn’t had a guest since June 1971 and on a quiet night in August, Martin Vasseur shot himself in the lounge of the lovely Adelaide.

Without an interested buyer, Verona’s beauty faded away. In 2008, a historical society tried to renovate the old hotel but strange noises, injuries and reports of being unable to remove artwork scared away the workers. Some believed that it was the ghost of Martin Vasseur, protecting his original masterpiece. Others thought the hotel already beheld a sinister presence, one that brought financial ruin to Vasseur and death to himself and his wife. This theory would explain why the hotel has seemed to deteriorate so much in just a few decades.

The stories and the pictures did not do the hotel justice. Through the faded design and obvious signs of years of neglect, it was easy to see the impressiveness of the Verona in its time. Saber stared at the monument with a sort of reverence. I smiled, excited for the night and ready to investigate.

Entering through the ornate French double doors into the lobby, we immediately smelled the stagnate air. It had been awhile since a breeze had penetrated this fortress. Dust covered every inch of the main floor, from the oversized concierge station to the grand ballroom. Occasionally, a critter would scurry off to safety.

We decided to first set up the equipment in the old Adelaide restaurant and nightclub, where Vasseur killed himself. It was in the basement of the hotel and since the elevators were no longer working, we had to lug the machinery down a flight of dusty, creaky stairs.

I was the first into the club. All of the intimate, clothed tables sat along one of four tiers, looking down onto a stage. You could almost hear the Louisiana jazz playing as the finely dressed waiters served French wine and spicy jambalaya and prawns.

As Julie, Jonathan and Saber set up their equipment, Sal and I passed out sandwiches. Our clocks showed that the sun would be setting anytime.
It didn’t take long before we started getting some activity. Julie’s EVP monitor started picking up some sounds very soon after dark. In that old abandoned place, it was easy to feel like we were not alone. After listening to the playback on her monitors, Julie played her audio recording for the group.

A woman’s voice was heard whispering “Trahi.”

“Trahi?” Sal asked. “What is that?”

“It means betrayed” Saber spoke up from behind his camera. “My grandmother was French.”

I thought the sound was spooky, but not definitive proof of anything paranormal. It was going to take more than that to make a true believer out of me. After almost an hour of dormancy, we decided to move upstairs to the ballroom on the first floor.

I was surprised at how different the lobby looked in total darkness. Without the golden sunshine bouncing through the glass, there was a much more sinister look about it. Only the light of our flashlights could distinguish color.

In the ballroom, Julie didn’t pick up anymore voices, but Jonathan was able to detect some strange temperature changes throughout the room. I chalked that up to holes in the infrastructure, or maybe some animals had taken up shelter in the walls.

We grew bored after a while and decided to explore the upper floors of the hotel. Saber suggested that we split up, to maximize time. Julie was going to record audio on the second floor, Sal would use a small, handheld camera on the third floor, Jonathan would monitor temperature on the fourth floor, and Saber and I would film the fifth floor at the top. We would all be connected with walkie-talkies.

“Everyone set up on their respective floors?” Saber asked into the walkie.

“Yes” was the resounding answer. We were to walk up and down the hallways, and try to communicate with any potential spirits in any open rooms.

As I walked next to Saber in the dark, I began to feel an electric charge.

I didn’t realize my level of attraction to him until we were alone in this creepy place. I think he felt the tension too because he inched closer to me as we walked, his arm brushing against mine occasionally.

“So, you speak French?” I asked timidly.

“Yes. My grandmother taught me when I would spend summers with her in Lyon.”

“Do you really think that was a voice we heard speaking French in the restaurant? Don’t you think it could have been the wind or something?” I was even beginning to doubt myself as the full spookiness and excitement of the moment filled me. I wanted to believe in ghosts.

“Of course. Don’t you?” He gave me an amused look. His eyes seemed really excited. I could tell this was exactly where he wanted to be. The hunt gave him some kind of high.

“I’m really not sure. But it makes it seem more real, being here with you.”

“What do you mean?” Saber asked earnestly. He moved closer, facing me.

Our faces were inches apart now. I swallowed and said, “I think that I might be getting caught up in the moment…”

I was interrupted by the sound of Julie’s walkie.

“Guys, I’ve just picked up something strange. You might want to get down here.”

We moved apart instantly, the momentary spell broken. As we head down the hallway to the stairs, another walkie crackles.

“You won’t believe what I just saw!” Said Jonathan excitedly.

“Same here!” Replied Sal.

“We can’t come to every floor! What is going on?” Saber shouted into our walkie. He and I looked at each other in disbelief. Suddenly, a low rumbling could be heard from the back of the hallway, just as a light began to grow from nowhere. Saber and I moved toward the sound and the light while he shined his camera at the source. The rumbling grew louder and the light brightened. I could tell as we got closer that they were coming from an open door at the end of the hallway.

Now there was a high pitched keening sound along with the rumble, and the bright light was not one, but many bright shapes emptying out of the room into the hallway. I backed away from the room as the human-sized shapes came closer.

“Saber!” I shouted over the noise. “Let’s go!” I pulled on his arm but he was mesmerized by the sight. It took many pulls and shoves and shouting before he snapped out of it and ran back down the hallway with me.

On the way down the stairs, we ran into Jonathan and Sal. As we raced to the second floor for Julie, the entire hotel felt as if it was shaking, the booming sounds as loud as ever. The lights from the top floor had reached the staircase and were slowly descending.

“Julie! Julie!” We yelled as we neared the second floor, into the walkie-talkie. “Meet us by the stairs. We have to get out now!”

“I’m outside by the van” Julie said, confused, as we heard Julie’s voice also say, “I’m on the second floor. Come see what I just found.” We all stared at each other in horror.

“What the HELL was that?!” yelled Julie through the first channel on the walkie. “I’m outside- that wasn’t me!”

We raced to the first floor and out the glass double doors into the night.

All sounds stopped instantly, save for our hard, hurried breathing. Looking back at the Verona, I was shocked to see stillness, and black. There were no lights moving on the floors anymore. We piled into the van and drove several miles before any of us could speak.

Julie was the first to break the silence “I was never on the second floor. I went outside to the van first to get more batteries because my walkie-talkie died. When I tried to get back in, the door was stuck. That’s when I heard you guys screaming. What was that?” She slowly shook her head.

“We heard you earlier on the walkie too. You told us to come down right before…well, whatever hell that was. And Jonathan and Sal said they saw something too.” Saber recalled.

“No, I never said anything. My walkie died right after I heard Julie.” Jonathan said as he looked fearfully at Sal.

“Mine too,” said Sal. “This is messed up. I heard loud noises upstairs and ran to find you guys. I ran into Jonathan just seconds before you two appeared.”

“Why was it impersonating us?” Asked Julie.

“It sounds like it wanted to get us to the second floor,” said Saber. It was silent for awhile after that. The trip back home was uneventful, and we made it in two days instead of three. None of us felt like stopping.

I lost contact with the group after that. I think we all just wanted to forget the experience. We were amateur ghost hunters and none of us were prepared for what happened. As it turned out, none of the equipment had worked properly and all footage and recordings were lost. It was easy to pretend that it was all a nightmare after that. I don’t know anymore, whether I believe in ghosts, but I know now that I no longer want to.

EPILOGUE:

After I submitted this story, I received messages from readers about the land that Hotel Verona stands on. It seems that it had a much darker history than I knew. Before Martin Vasseur bought the land and built the hotel, it was owned by a family in the 1800’s that acquired it during the Louisiana Purchase. The family had enslaved a number of Haitians that had just made it to freedom after the Haitian Revolution. It is believed that a voodoo princess was among those enslaved and she cursed the land.

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The Balcony

July 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I sat, staring blankly at the screen, for how long I can’t be quite sure. Desperate for something to watch, read, listen to… In search of some stimulation that might exhaust my mind to the point where going to bed seemed like a good idea. I closed my eyes and strained hard – pressing for some idea of what to type in the search bar but nothing came.

It wasn’t apparent to me how long I’d been sitting there, postponing sleep, gazing with glazed eyes at the monitor and refreshing the same social network feeds over and over again, waiting for some fuckwit I didn’t know or care about to update the world on their life happenings. Nothing changed, though – it was well past 2 am and most people were rolling over, ripping up the sheets and drooling on their pretty pillowcases.

Somewhere between the ears a sharp pain fired off and I realized I had a headache. Oh great… again. I reached for the bottle of ibuprofen sitting conveniently by my computer mouse and washed two of them down with the last mouthful of my warm beer. Refresh. Nothing happening. Couldn’t think of a song to listen to. Refresh. Same thing. No ideas for articles to read. Refresh. Nothing. They’re all sleeping, dammit. I snapped the laptop lid shut. Went to look out the window.

There was a streetlamp directly across the street from my little apartment, which I suppose was the reason I hated going to bed so much. One of the reasons, anyways. There wasn’t much to look at outside, either. Thin blanket of snow on the ground. Still cars in the neighbor’s driveway. Couldn’t see the stars… must have been cloudy. The apartment was even less interesting. A pile of half-read novels lined up on the shelf, arranged by size from biggest to smallest (dimensions, not pages). Drying rack full of dishes that were probably dry by now, but that could wait until tomorrow. Old flower-patterned couch made even more garish by the bright, blue and yellow striped blanket hanging over the back. And the walls…

The walls were the thing I hated most. Painted in that inoffensive, bland, mind-numbingly expressionless light beige that seemed to be omnipresent in every fucking apartment I’d ever been in. What I wouldn’t have given to paint those fucking walls. It would have been worth it, even if the damned landlord kept my damage deposit.

Leaving the window, I paced along the wall, dragging my hand as I had done over and over again, in moments of boredom. Around the kitchen/living room – divided by a half wall and made distinct by a clumsy architectural divider that reached off from the main wall by a couple feet – and around the corner to the short and narrow hallway that lead to my bedroom on the left and bathroom at the end. Strolled lazily into the bedroom, flicked on the light, looked around, flicked it off, and walked out again. Stopped for a quick piss in the bathroom. Frowned in the mirror. Then made my way back to the chair. I started flicking through the books on the shelf, but I couldn’t decide which one to read, so I gave up and sat down on the horrendous couch, staring out the sliding glass balcony door.

And that’s when I saw it.

At first, I thought my glasses were skewed, and I took them off, gave them a ritual wiping in my t-shirt, and put them back on again. No, it was still there. Hmph… that’s weird… It wasn’t anything shocking, nor was it one of those things that causes you to jump up in outrage – it just seemed a little bit… odd.

I had been looking at the picture frame sitting on the half wall that stretched partway across the floor between the kitchen and living room, which was perpendicular to the couch I was sitting on – and something about it didn’t look quite right. The picture frame was alright. The half wall looked right – as much as any half wall can – but there was something funny about were it joined to the outer wall of the apartment. I couldn’t be quite sure what it was, exactly, but it seemed like the outer wall was a good foot or more farther from me on the kitchen side than it was on the living room side.

I gave it a frown, then a giggle. Obviously, the landlord had done a bad job with the renovations and had done some miscalculations, and the inner paneling on the kitchen side was curved on one end. I didn’t know much about carpentry, but I had a basic understanding. Yeah, that’s it.

I got up, walked to the fridge for another beer and glanced at the wall again. My explanation didn’t convince me, as the wall looked flat as a wall could be. It was the damnedest thing, because from the kitchen side, the wall looked perfectly normal. Maybe it was the other side that was off. But I strolled back to the living room, and the wall on that side looked normal too. It didn’t make sense. I decided to forget about it, and set myself back on the couch and opened my beer – but there it was again. The wall in the kitchen looked farther than it should be, or the living room wall looked too close… it was hard to tell which was the case, but something was off, that much was certain.

I took a gulp of beer and got up again. I walked over to the corner in the kitchen and ran my hand along the wall near the floor. It certainly looked like things were joining up at right angles. I did the same on the living room side – it looked perfectly normal. I even grabbed a book and stuck it between the floor and the wall, and slid it across on both sides, and in both rooms the book fit snugly where the floor and wall met. Then I did the same, between the wall and the room divider. Perfect right angles. I sat back on the couch again, and now it seemed even more apparent.

It was as if the kitchen was longer than the living room, and impossibly so, as they both shared the same square space and outer wall of the building. It didn’t make sense. The wall to the left was definitely farther than it was on the right side of the half wall, but how could that be so? I shuffled my way around the rooms, observing the dimensions with squinting discretion, from every conceivable angle. No curve, no obvious deviations. If I could believe what my eyes were seeing – and I had no reason to doubt them before now – the kitchen should be protruding from the side of the building by about 12-15 inches.

I was flabbergasted. It just shouldn’t be. Even the thickness of the walls, which I guessed at about six inches, wouldn’t account for such an error. It wasn’t the way that geometry worked, but when I looked again from the couch the difference between the distances on the two sides was impossible to ignore. What the hell…

Surely, I thought, that there was some mistake, and the wall was joined awkwardly and I just hadn’t noticed it before. I’d have to go out on the balcony to reassure myself, and take a look at the outside wall of the building. My balcony ran the entire length of the kitchen/living room wall, placing the discontinuity about halfway down its length. Surely the exterior of the wall would reveal an outward jump. Now it made sense. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I slid open the glass door and tip toed out into the winter air, the thin snow layer crunching and squeaking under my socks.

But to my surprise, the wall was entirely flat. I flicked on the balcony light to be sure. Perfectly flat. Straight, with no visible joins or angles anywhere. I pressed my hands hard against the cold vinyl siding and ran them from the sliding glass door all the way to the railing at the end. Defeated, I made my way back inside, and slid the door shut. I peeled off my wet socks and hung them over the edge of the bathtub to dry, and retreated to the couch once more, rubbing my cold feet.

It was at this point I started to feel uncomfortable, in a way that was almost indescribable. The very image of what I was seeing didn’t make sense. It was such a departure from simple logic that my brain couldn’t concoct any sort of explanation at all. The sensation that trickled over me was something that I can only describe as the opposite of deja vu. The sheer unfamiliar and nonsensical nature of the wall was all I could think about. I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t real.

I stomped down the hall to my bedroom, bare feet slapping on the floor, snatched my belt off the dresser and brought it out. I moved the chair, slid the kitchen table out of the way, so I had a quick, clear path around the half wall. I even took the picture frames off the half wall, and laid them on the table. Nothing to get in the way.

I started on the right side. I let the belt buckle touch the outer wall, and pulled it tight. The distance from the the wall to the end of the divider was about half the length of the belt. I pinched my fingers hard on the belt, marking the length I had measured. Now… I marched around, to the kitchen, put the belt buckle against the wall and pulled the belt tight.

Impossible, I thought. It was truly impossible. The belt wouldn’t even reach from the wall the the end of the divider. I leaned against the wall, my mind whirring with thoughts, questions. The one thought that dominated my being was that the space I was standing in, leaning against that wall, should not exist! If common sense were any sense at all, I should be on the balcony right now, staring at the vinyl siding on the outside of the building. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me – I felt hot and sick and shaky. I started to wonder what might happen If i were to close my closes, but at that thought, the fear become so intense that I jumped away from the wall and ran to the bathroom where I promptly retched up my beer and what undigested remains there were of my supper.

What was happening to me? I had to sleep. Yes, that’s it. I was exhausted, and it had been a long week. Maybe it was the headache pills, I thought – I had downed them with alcohol, after all. And mixing drugs with booze can do crazy stuff, right? I closed my eyes hard, nodding my head and trying to convince myself that I had to be hallucinating. I was sleep depraved. I needed sleep.

I flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face, and turned to look down the hall. I realized then that I had left the balcony door ajar, and the cold winter air was putting a chill in the apartment. I started, but stopped again, when my peripheral vision revealed to me something which unnerved me in a way I had never known. It was at that point which I began to think I was losing my mind.

On the left side of the half wall, the kitchen stretched on, far beyond the physical limitations of my building, and filling that impossible space was – and It frightens me say it – a perfect mirror image of my own. The table, chairs, cupboards, and even the overflowing drying rack lay in perfect reverse imitation of my own, real kitchen. It was as though the wall of the kitchen had been replaced by a reflective surface, but as far as I could tell, this was not the case.

I breathed deep, shaking uncontrollably as I made my way slowly down the hall to the kitchen. I stopped halfway, at the linen closet which sat opposite my bedroom door, and grabbed the broom. I unscrewed the broom handle and clutched it tightly as I would a spear. It did nothing to make me feel safer.

I moved slowly – one foot at a time – holding the broom handle out in front of me and breathing heavily. As I got nearer, though, I could see that the discontinuity did not only mirror the kitchen – it was the entire apartment.

When I reached the point where the wall had been, I stopped and stretched out my hand. Nothing but empty air. This couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? No – something else was at work here. Something frighteningly real.

There was a draft moving through the air, flowing like a soft wind, and I realized that the sliding door to the balcony must also be ajar over there. I should close it. That seemed to make sense, at least.

I prepared myself to enter the space that should not be. Something about it still made me afraid to close my eyes, so I decided to try my best not to blink before walking over. Come on, you got this. I had a goal now. Simple enough, but still, that small purpose helped quiet the thoughts in my head a little. I swallowed, breathed deep, and walked into the impossible room. Made my way past the chairs, the books – even the fucking picture frames were there, but something about the pictures wasn’t right, and I averted my eyes as I passed. I turned right around the half wall and came to face the balcony door. I was right. It was open. However, what I saw beyond the door was not what I had expected. I had prepared myself – by taking into account the twisted anti-logic of the discontinuity – to encounter a second balcony. This was a whole new deviation. Nonetheless, I made my way through, back into the real living room, and slide the balcony door shut.

I sat on the couch again, picked up the half-drunk beer, and took a gulp. Spilled some on my shirt. I didn’t know what else to do but try and understand the situation as best I could. There was no balcony anymore. From where I sat, I could see the second kitchen to my left, beyond the real one, and through the sliding glass door I could see the opposing living room, couch and all – even the bloody half-drunk beer sitting on the coffee table. If I told myself that the kitchen wall and the balcony door were mirrors, I could nearly believe I was still sane. Yeah, I thought, it’s just a mirror. Just a big fucking illusion. Reflection. There’s the coffee table… my couch… my beer… all that’s missing is…

I heard a noise behind me, coming from what sounded like the bedroom. A faint “thwump”, like the sound of something soft clumsily hitting the floor. I froze. I could feel my eyes tighten. My pulse throbbed sickeningly in my neck. I could feel the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. I had to escape.

I clutched the broom handle as tightly as I could and ran for the front door. I grabbed the knob, whipped open the chain lock, and twisted it open in a frenzy. Tears filled my eyes and the scream my body had tried to produce had stopped at the dry lump on my throat. I slammed it shut again, as hard as I could have, and locked it. I pressed my back against the door and let myself slide limply down, down, down onto the floor. There was no exit. Outside the door had been just another entrance way like my own. An exact reflection.

And then I heard the noise again… thwump… coming from the bedroom. And again… thwump… louder this time. Thwump. The bedroom door opened slowly. Thwump. They were footsteps. Thwump… thwump… They were coming down the hall.

I do not know what gave me the strength to move in that instant. Some primal instinct, some basic will to survive kicked in. I would not sit sobbing in a corner, waiting for whatever cruel and impossible fate awaited me. I would not.

I launched myself from the entrance way, and made for the balcony door. I flew across the kitchen. Grappled the half wall and swung my weight as best as I could across the living room floor. I snatched the sliding door handle, heaved it open, and burst into the room that should not be. I drove it shut behind me, flicked the lock, and ran left, around the half wall to face whatever it was that had come from this impossible place – not daring to blink until I passed the boundary back into the real kitchen. I stopped short. The wall had returned. Solid. Real. I would have to go back through the balcony door again, but at least I had the upper hand – the door was locked from this side.

I clenched my fists so tightly around the broom handle that my fingernails must be drawing blood from my palms. My eyes were stinging now, but I still dared not blink. I could not let the perverse logic of the space get a chance to warp itself again. Not while I was still inside it.

Then, there was another noise. Not the muffled footsteps from before, but a clear, sharp “tick.” The sound of metal and springs and intricate precision.

The sound of the balcony door being locked from the other side.

No… I rushed to the sliding door and unlocked it, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see the lock switch on the other side – the real side – and it was engaged. I screamed. I swore. I cried. I yanked and tore and heaved and kicked and pounded the door, over and over and over. There was no use. No matter how much force I put on the damned door, it wasn’t going to move. It didn’t even shake. As long as it was locked from the other side, I would never be able to open it. I was defeated. My eyes were still open – I refused to let myself blink, and my vision had gone horribly blurry. They burned like fire from the air and my hysteria, but I couldn’t blink. I could not let that happen. I had to keep the real world in sight.

And then I saw the figure.. I watched with horror through the glass as the figure reclined on my couch. They picked up my half-drunk beer and took a long swig. They were looking in my direction. Staring out the glass of the sliding door right at me. By now my eyes were aching so badly and my vision so impaired that I could scarcely pick out any details, but I knew what it was. The realization of it was the end for me. I have not felt true, unhindered hope, or joy, or contentment since that moment, and I fear that I never shall. The figure on the other side was me.

It might have been an hour, maybe two, maybe three that I knelt there with my forehead against the glass. I never did let my eyes shut that night. I held the lids open for so long that my sight left me entirely. I do not know when it was that I finally slipped into unconsciousness, but it was not of my own free will.

When I awoke in the morning I found myself staring out onto the balcony. The sun was glowing through the trees and I could see crows flying in the distance. I slid the door open and fell out onto the snow-covered wood and stayed there for a very long time, watching the ice crystals melt in my breath. By the time the cold drove me inside, the sun was well up and cars were moving on the roads.

In the weeks and months that followed I paced in and out of that balcony door so many times a day I would lose count by noon. I didn’t want to stay in that apartment one moment longer, but the madness of the discontinuity wouldn’t let me leave. I was obsessed with finding a way back to the world from which I had come. The breaking point came sometime in March – I can’t remember when, exactly – when the landlord came pounding on my door, responding to multiple noise complaints. I had been attempting to tear down the kitchen wall with a framing hammer. There was a commotion, and I had a few very long talks with police, but eventually the landlord agreed not to press charges so long as I moved out immediately and paid an extra three months rent to cover the damages. I took the offer. I convinced the cops that I didn’t know much about renovating, but I was sick to death of that fucking paint and had to do something about it.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve distanced myself from that place. I’ve since gotten a new job, made disastrous attempts at love. I’ve made things work as best I can, going from one day to the next. I’ve come to think of this world as real – I have no other choice. I will never return to the other side. Not now. As time goes on it becomes ever harder to remember that it ever existed in the first place. To this day, I can’t bear looking in the mirror. I seems to me that behind the eyes of my reflection there is some hint of malevolence… though at times it looks to me more like gloating.

I remind myself every morning that I am real. I am here. Wherever here is. Impossible or no, this world is mine now. I’ve come to see the obscure beauty in it. There is one thing that reminds me of the world I thought I knew, though – it happens every day when I watch the sun rising. I always expect it to come up in the west, but it never does.

It never does.

Credit To – Keith Daniels

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