The Estate

November 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Every town has its own set of urban legends, or “ghost stories,” if you will; alligators in the sewers, crop circles, cave spirits, the like. I, personally, never believed them. They all seemed highly unrealistic. They were just myths created by adults to scare kids away from certain areas, or created by teens for the fun of it, I told myself. My town, like any other, has its own myths and stories. But the tales surrounding the local forest preserve (the ones I shall now relate to you) seem pretty far out there. Looking back, however, I can’t help thinking how stupid I was not to believe the old stories.
The myths really started to grow only recently, mainly when the Forest Preserve District took over the house of Old Man Peabody. However, the real history of the house has been known around the area for much longer. The true history (the accurate, non-supernatural history) of Peabody Estate goes something like this…
Old Man Peabody (as the locals call him now) was in the coal business. He was a rich man, and rich men need somewhere to live. So, of course, in the early 1920’s he built himself a nice house near a forest and a pond. It was a large house, with many rooms and big gardens and yards for his kids and family to use.
However, his “kids” (or at least one of them) were dead, as was his wife, and they were both named May. No one really knows how they died, but they were dead before Peabody moved in. It was sad for him, to lose his daughter and his wife. Anyway, he named his estate in honor of them; Mayslake.
However, only a year or so after the coal baron built his mansion, he died of a heart attack while foxhunting. He was only 63. Foul play? Greedy relatives? Not likely. His family moved out soon after, and didn’t even keep the house. They sold it.
Of course, the fact that his family didn’t want to stay in thirty-nine room mansion on an estate of over 800 acres is suspicious, but I’ll ignore that for the sake of accuracy. So, anyway, his family left, and they sold the estate to a Franciscan order of monks; the monks used it as a retreat. Now, here’s the interesting part; the monks made quite a few additions to the house once they owned it. They added other wings, away from the main building, which were connected to the house by a labyrinth of underground passages. They also added a memorial chapel for Peabody, which was erected on the other side of the lake.
Now, all these additions gave the monks quite a bit of space. Interesting as the new architecture was, the monks decided to put it to use. As religious men, they chose to use the extra space to help the less fortunate. The main house became an orphanage, and the monks moved into the outer wings.
Over the years, the monks had to sell off acres of the land, eventually leaving them with only eighty-seven of the original 800 or so acres. This was disappointing to everybody, especially because in 1991 the monks finally had to sell the final acres to a contracting and landscaping company, who were planning to tear it down and build a new neighborhood. The townsfolk, hearing about this, decided to band together in order to save the historic house. Together, they got enough support that the village hall granted the Forest Preserve District the money to buy the house from the monks. And so the house passed from another hand to a new one. The monks had certainly left their marks, and now it was the Forest Preserve’s turn.
Things slowed down, now. No big changes, no big improvements, no suspicious deaths or chapels. The house and the 87 acres became Mayslake Forest Preserve, and Peabody Estate remained as it was, per the wishes of the townsfolk. But now the myths started rolling in, full force.
Quite a few of the myths has been in the area for many years, but the change of hands brought the tales back to life. The Rangers working at the preserve especially began to report odd sightings.
There were four main tales surrounding the estate of Old Man Peabody. The oldest tale had to do with Peabody’s memorial chapel. The legend went that anyone who touched the glass of Peabody’s coffin (yes, it was a glass coffin) would have immense luck and fortune for years to come. This tale was actually far older than the Forest Preserve’s ownership of the land; it extended even into the early time of the monks’ ownership. Of course, the promise of luck attracted many teenagers and ne’er-do-wells to property, so this ties right in to the next myth.
The monks were not happy to have a bunch of teens sneaking around and eventually vandalizing their prized chapel, so they hired guards to protect it. At night, as the legend goes, these big, burly guards would prowl the grounds of the estate, looking for teenagers and anyone else who shouldn’t have been there. The thing was, though, the guards wore monk habits, so they were very hard to see at night, and very hard to distinguish as guards. Furthermore, they had dogs. Big, vicious dogs. One encounter with a hooded man and a snapping, snarling, dog, and the crowd heads for the hills. The monks were satisfied, but the guards were not. Legend states that the ghosts of the guards still walk the grounds at night, waiting for their next victim…
But what about the big, hulking, Tudor Revival-style house? Well, of course there are stories about that, too. Stories I still didn’t believe. The tales surrounding the house involved the orphanage era and the monks themselves, but they sounded about as accurate and true as the last few.
The myth about the orphanage went something like this. During the time of the orphanage, the children slept on the uppermost floor of the house. The stairs leading downward had no railing, and dropped off about thirty feet to the floor of the main room. So, predictably, one night a young boy was bouncing a ball down the hall of the sleeping quarters, when the ball started to roll down the stairs. The boy chased after the ball, but he tripped, fell thirty feet off the stairs, broke his neck, and died. Although there are actual records of the event, the legend is that, on some nights, one can hear a ball bouncing down the stairs, and the laughter of children.
The final big story of Mayslake Estate is one about the tunnels under the ground. You remember the tunnels, right? They connect the house to the outlying wings where the monks slept. They’re cement, bare-wire-lighting tunnels, with single bulbs every thirty feet or so. It is said that if you go down into the tunnels alone, you can hear the monks walking around, or even see apparitions and other strange sights.
Interesting tales, huh? Creepy to think about, but not really scary. Like I’ve said many times now, I never believed them. And that was my mistake.

I rode my bike up the road to Mayslake Forest Preserve. The forest on either side of the road was dark, and cars only drove by once in a while. It was past midnight, and there was no visible moon out. I wasn’t scared, though. It was just an old house with a pond and a chapel. No biggie.
Earlier that day, our Social Studies teacher had brought up the topic of local legends in class. I knew about Old Man Peabody and his estate, and although I didn’t believe the stories, I brought it up anyway. My teacher was rather impressed with my knowledge on the subject, but then a few other kids brought up other topics, and I was forgotten. C’est la vie.
But my friends didn’t forget. Later at lunch, one of the jokingly said,
“I bet I could get to Peabody’s coffin and touch it without freaking!”
“Nuh uh!” I exclaimed, laughing. “You couldn’t if you tried!”
The conversation slowly turned from joking to angry, after a while. We almost had a row, but we decided to settle it with a bet in order to avoid trouble from the teachers. I bet my friend that I could go to Peabody Estate, get into the house, use the tunnels, and make it to Peabody’s coffin, taking pictures all the way. If I failed (I was fairly certain I wouldn’t), I had to pay up and give my friend my snack money for a week, and then my friend could take a shot at the same challenge. If he succeeded at the bet, he got my snack money for two weeks. If I won, I got his for a week. It was no big challenge, really. I was fairly certain I could succeed with flying colors.
And that lead me to the Forest Preserve at one in the morning. I noticed that as I entered the parking lot, there was a sign that read, “No entrance after dark.” Too bad for them, because I just did.
I parked my bike in the lot closest to the house. Off to one side, I could see the chapel across the lake. On the other side, there was one of the wings that the monks had slept in. The mansion stood in front of me. I took a deep breath, readied my camera, and walked towards the house.
The field surrounding the house was dark, all the windows of the house were dark, and the parking lot was dark. The only light came from the stars overhead, and the streetlights back by the road, but those were farther away. If I had brought a flashlight, however, I probably could have been seen by the neighbors across the road. I couldn’t risk that. I crossed the field to the house’s entrance.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity of walking, I reached the door. I had never realized how far apart the buildings on the estate were. I grabbed for the handle, but I stopped short. I got the odd feeling that I was being watched. I turned to my left and my right, but saw nothing. I steeled my nerves, and turned around. But there was nothing. The field was empty.
I could hear, though, faint footsteps, like a man in heavy boots walking over pavement. It was probably a man back by the road where I had come from. I shivered, though. The walking continued, but slowly faded away.
I reached again for the door, and grabbed the handle. It was locked. Why wasn’t I surprised? Well, I should take a picture now, I thought to myself. Might as well. So, I raised my camera to the door, and snapped a shot.
Click!
Damn it! I had left the flash on! I was temporarily blinded, and I feared that someone might have seen me, but I still heard nothing. Once I got my sight back, I checked the camera. Everything seemed in place. Wait, what was that in the window? Better zoom in…
I nearly screamed. In the picture, in the window next to the door, I could clearly see a child’s face. It was lit up by the flash. But that was impossible! The house was deserted once the preserve closed for the night! It must have been a trick of the light. I shuddered again, and put the camera in my pocket. There was no one at the window.
“Trick of the light, trick of the light…” I muttered to myself. I began to walk around to the back of the house. I knew there was a large backdoor that opened to the huge, main room of the mansion. The house was sometimes used to host parties, but more often than not the backdoor was the one used. I figured that might be open.
When I got around to the back, I saw that there was, in fact, a door, just as I knew there would be. It was mostly glass, and it allowed me to see into the large, main room of the house. Off to one side of the room was a set of stairs leading up, still without railings. Gee, that had to be a liability!
I reached for the doorknob on the back door, and to my surprise, it swung open easily. Almost as if I was expected. Nah, that’s insane! I thought to myself. Who would be here to expect me? It’s completely emp-
I stopped mid-thought. I could clearly hear a bouncing sound from inside the house, like a toy ball falling down stairs. I wasn’t even in the house yet, and I was already hearing things! At least, that was what I wanted to believe. Come on, ghosts don’t exist! I thought. They can’t! Right?
I snapped a quick picture of the door I used, with the flash off, but I refused to look at the image. I was still a bit jittery after the first time. It couldn’t possibly have been a kid, but it sure looked close enough. I would look over my camera later.
I walked into the house, quiet as possible. The bouncing had stopped now. I looked around the mansion’s interior.
“This isn’t so bad!” I said aloud. It was certainly nicer in daytime, but still. It really wasn’t too bad.
“You sure?”
I whirled around as fast as possible, but there was no one there. It was a very faint whisper, almost like it was said at the top of the stairs in a quiet voice, but I distinctly heard it. It was so quiet, so airy, though, that it could have come from just about anywhere. I was sure I heard it! I mean, hearing bouncing is understandable, but hearing voices? This was getting freaky.
I snapped some images of the inside, but one particular picture I decided to look at. It was a picture I had taken of the stairs. Nothing is going to show up! It’s just stairs! That was where I was wrong. Again. And I wish I had never taken the picture.
In the picture, on the floor in front of me, was a kid, with his neck at an odd, twisted angle. I quickly looked up from the camera, but the floor in front of me was empty. The dead kid was only in the photo. It was clear he had snapped his neck when he fell from the top of the stairs. In the corner of the photo at the bottom of the stairs was a blue, toy ball. This couldn’t possibly have been a trick of the light. Now there was something seriously wrong.
“What a sad way to go,” I said aloud, not even thinking. It was a waste of life, the kid, but I had to find the tunnels now. So I moved on, trying to erase the image of the young boy’s lifeless body from my mind. It was all in my imagination, after all. It had to be.
I should have left then. But I was stubborn. I had to win the bet.

I knew by heart where the entrance to the monks’ tunnels was. I had taken countless tours around the house with my dad (he’s a bit of a history buff). It was in the basement, around the corner. Down the dark stairs, in the dark cellar. Thankfully, I knew where the light switches were. I could turn them on in the mansion, and turn them off in the monks’ wing.
Once I had turned the basement lights on, I worked my way through the network of old storage and pipes until I found the door leading to the tunnels. I reached for the door, and stopped, because I half expected there to be something terrifying behind the door. But that’s when I heard the rustling of robes. Like a monk walking towards me, through the basement.
That sound, even if I convinced myself it was my imagination, forced my hand. I turned the handle of the door, and shut it behind me. I breathed a sigh of relief when nothing tried to open the door behind me. But now I had the tunnels to face.
Ahead of me was a straight, narrow cement tunnel. It was completely bare of anything except for light bulbs and wires hanging from the ceiling. It was dark in some spots, and light in others. It was quite terrifying to look upon, really. But there was nothing in this old house! Nothing! There couldn’t be!
I walked along quickly, taking a few pictures along the way, and I was nearly to the end of the tunnel when I heard a sound that chilled me to the core. It was the sound of a pop can being kicked over.
Now, I know that sounds really stupid. But that sound singlehandedly convinced me that there was something wrong with this place. I turned around, and saw nothing, once again. Until I looked down. About halfway back to the basement of the house, there was a pop can, knocked over. I was positive it hadn’t been there when I first entered the tunnel. And what’s worse was that it was a really old pop can, too. It was rusted, and the design that I could make out was practically ancient in style. My brain worked fast, and to my dismay, it concluded that these ghosts (if they exist! I countered) could, one, interact with objects, and therefore people, and two, they were following me.
I ran down the rest of the tunnel. I barely stopped to turn the light switch off, and I snapped a very hurried picture of the monks’ quarters. I didn’t bother to see what it looked like, because I could have sworn I heard a group of people praying as I left the building.
I should really head home! I thought. I was either really tired, or I had passed out completely in some corner, and this was all just a dream. Well, I sure hoped it was a dream. It all seemed very, very real, though. I could feel the earth beneath my feet, and if I reached my arm out I could feel the wall of the monks’ quarters as I leaned against it, catching my breath.
But I was so close to winning the bet! But does the bet matter that much? I asked myself. Well, no, not really. What, so I lose cookies for a week or two. So? If this is all real, I got some pretty good trick-of-the-light photos. Those would easily make up for the cookies.
Then I heard growling. Deep-throated, animalistic growling. But there was a wall behind me! Where could it be coming from? I turned to my left, and saw nothing. I turned to my right, and saw noth- no. There was something, way out by the woods. I saw a figure move, I swear! I could feel my heart beat faster as the shadow returned to darkness. I would have to run over that way eventually to reach my bike, though.
No! There was nothing there! This was crazy! Now I really was seeing things! I could still finish this, though. I just have to visit Old Man Peabody! I thought. If I touched his coffin, maybe it will all go away! So, thinking this, I ran towards the chapel at the far end of the lake, away from the house and the monks’ quarters. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me.
It was a good one-hundred yard sprint at least, maybe more, to the chapel. I had never run so fast in my life. Now, though, as I calmed down, I wasn’t even sure why I was running. Sure, I heard some things, and saw a shadow move, snapped some pictures, but that was all part of my imagination! Right? RIGHT?
I sprinted to the chapel. I was right there! RIGHT THERE! I was by the door when I decided to take a breather. I was running from nothing. There was nothing here at all except for an old house and a pond. I was sure of it now; there was nothing scary about this place. But then I heard the footsteps.
They were quiet, treading silently, much quieter than they should have been, for a man that big. I turned, half knowing what I would see, but dreading it all the same. My fear overcame me as the dog leapt at my throat. I tried to scream, but the weight of the dog on my chest as it knocked me over cut out the sound. Then it bit into my throat, cutting my windpipe and spilling my blood on the ground. I felt nothing. I said nothing. I did nothing. The last thing I saw, though, before everything went dark, was a very large man in a monk’s habit, with the hood pulled over his head. But there were no guards on the Estate! Not anymore! There hadn’t been for over twenty-five years! This was… This was… imp… imposs…

I don’t quite recall what happened after that. I know I woke up, exactly where the dog had pushed me over, but now the sun was shining and someone was telling me “In God’s name, get up or I’ll call the cops!” My eye flickered open, and I saw a forest preserve ranger standing over me, a scowl on his face. He offered me his hand, and then yanked me up forcefully. He had short, black curly hair on his head, but very little facial hair. He was easily half a foot taller than me, maybe more.
“Do you know how much trouble you should be in? I know why you’re here. Try to spot some ghosts, would you? Pf, haven’t seen ghosts here in a long time. Not since… Well, not for ten years, now. But that’s none of your business. Ghosts don’t exist. But you know what does exist? Cops. And your parents. And let me tell you…” The park ranger rambled on for a bit about how my parents ought to chew me out over this and he could report me to the authorities. I zoned out while he talked, mostly, but finally he said, “Well? You have anything to say for yourself?”
I did, actually. “Will you let me off the hook if I show you some real ghosts?”
The man took a step back. “Are you crazy? Did you not hear what I just said? Ghosts aren’t real! What, you’re trying to convince me that you had a right to be here after hours?”
I shrugged. “My friends made me come here on a bet. They bet I couldn’t stay here overnight, but if I did, I had to get pictures to prove it.” I widened my eyes for effect. “But boy, did I get some great pictures! I’ve got proof of ghosts!”
The ranger rubbed his stubble in thought. “You’re either delusional from thirst or you’re just seeing things.” He seemed to change his mind, then, and he stopped rubbing his face. “You know what? Let me see these pictures. Then I’ll make up my mind.”
I gleefully, maybe a little too gleefully, pulled my camera out of my pocket and hurriedly flipped to the pictures I had taken. The man looked at them and sighed.
“You got yourself a faulty camera, man,” he said to me with a hint of disdain. My eyebrow twitched quietly at what I saw, and I nearly dropped my camera. All my pictures were white.
Not like the white you get from overexposure or too much flash or something, but white as in photographed-some-paper white. Blank. Not a change anywhere to be found. Of every picture I took of the house.
I knew for a fact that those pictures had turned out perfectly fine when I took them. Heck, I checked half of them over myself after I took them! How could they possibly be whi-
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the child’s laughter. I looked past the park ranger, towards Peabody’s house, and saw, through the glass door, a small child, waving at me. He smiled a ridiculously large grin, and then turned away, into the house. Was it just coincidence, or could it have been…
“Hey, what time does the park open?” I asked.
“Nine o’clock. Why?” the ranger responded.
“What time is it now?” I asked.
The ranger checked his watch. “Seven thirty. What, you got a hot date or something?”
Great. So all my pictures were crap, I would lose the bet, and to top it off, even if I told the truth, nobody, absolutely nobody, would believe. Except that kid in the window.
I almost swore aloud.

Credit To – Andrew Sova

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The Brimstone Conspiracy

October 24, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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“Through me you go into a city of weeping;
Through me you go into eternal pain;
Through me you go amongst the lost people.”

– Dante’s Inferno

“Okay, you’re not driving if you keep that shit up.”

Mark snatched the keys from Scott’s hand, who couldn’t even bother to protest while shot gunning down his second twenty ounce can of beer. He belched loudly, wiping foam from his lips with the sleeve of his black trench coat.
“Yeah, why do you think I’m doing this? It’s been your turn to drive for at least thirty miles now.” He said, washing down the malt liquor with a sip from his flask, as an extra assurance that he was well past the legal limit. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to stock up on cheap vodka and poptarts. Back in a minute.”
From the gas pump, Josh checked his phone for the time. “Make it quick Scott, I’d like to get to Ashville before noon.” The fourth member of the group, Chloe, was tuned out of the conversation by her headphones. To her, this trip was about padding her portfolio with black and white photographs of crumbling buildings. The sort of thing that would make her look well rounded without requiring any real effort. They all had their reasoning for traveling to Ashville, Kentucky.

Mark wanted to have a kind of fun, kind of spooky adventure, and maybe get a little closer to Chloe. Josh wanted to show people how coal mining destroys homes, ecosystems, and natural beauty. And Scott, well he wanted to check up on his childhood home. And drink, heavily of course. Together, they were legend tripping, the age old practice of visiting strange locations of urban myths. Places such as the Baird chair monument, the Screaming Beaches, or the Spider Gates Cemetery. Popular sites frequently visited by tour groups or rowdy teenagers, locations with a history of the tragic, the horrific, or just plain old supernatural acclaim. Anyone with an authentic sense of skepticism who has visited those places knows that a haunting is nothing more than psychological priming. Stories that are just that; scary words that mean nothing but still manage to trick the lizard brain into pricking up neck hairs. And for the most part this was the working assumption of Ashville. The only discernable difference was the scale, Ashville being an entire town rather than a bridge or farmhouse.

“Let’s a go-go!” Scott shouted as he tossed his alcohol into the backseat of his 2003 piece of shit Saturn. Josh hung the gas pump and Mark turned the ignition, and they were off to the hills. Approximately nine minutes later, Mark had a thought.
“You didn’t pay for those, did you?” He asked Scott, now irritated with his increasingly erratic behavior.
“Of course not idiot,” he replied, beginning to open his toaster pastry with his teeth. “You guys didn’t want to cover an even split of the gas. Now I gotta steal stuff. Really it’s more your fault than mine.” Scott took a bite of the crumbling frosted deliciousness without concern.
“You’re a goddamn asshole, you know that right?” Scott just chuckled to himself. At this point in the journey, there wasn’t anything any of them could realistically do to get back at him. It was Scott’s car, and he was the only one of the four who knew how to get into Ashville. In the fifteen years since it was abandoned, no new road maps had any of the town printed within a ten mile radius. GPS wouldn’t register the place, and the two bridges that lead into the town had been demolished and marked up with roadblocks just in case someone ended up going in the wrong direction. Plus, the county sheriff patrol was under the orders to arrest anyone trespassing within the city limits. Scott knew how to get around these barriers, having lived in the town until the age of ten, committing large portions of the geography to his long term memory.

After a few minutes of silence, Josh decided to start working on his environmental project, asking Scott to talk about what he remembered about his family’s forced removal from their property. He held up a digital audio recorder close to Scott.

“It was October 2nd, 1999, at approximately 8:13 a.m. on a Thursday, when the National Guard banged on our front door. There was overcast, a slight rain with a temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit. The school had been closed the previous day due to its close proximity to the fires.” Scott narrated as coherently as he could. It helped that his memory was better than most, even while drunk. It didn’t hurt either that he had practiced his speech earlier with Josh at the motel. “They told us that the sulfur that had been ignited by the anthracite coal was oxidizing in the clouds to produce sulfurous and sulfuric acid rain. The governor had declared eminent domain over everyone’s properties while the EPA tried to clean up the mess. We were given twenty four hours to vacate before the rising carbon monoxide levels reached lethal concentration, but suggested we leave as soon as possible. My dad threw a fit, swearing at the soldiers about a conspiracy to steal his land and mineral rights. They tried to assure him that he would be compensated and given a new home in Frankfort. He and my mom had been fighting all night about leaving. She wanted to go, he wanted to stay, but there was no convincing him. He had always been a delusional man, always ranting about chemtrails, black helicopters, the illuminati and whatever else managed to catch his attention. I doubt he ever met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, but he never acted as irrational as he did that day. I think he just snapped when he saw those jeeps pull into his driveway. I mean, it wasn’t even close to being debatable that there was legitimate emergency. Just the day before a coal vein caught fire beneath Chucks Gas N’ Go. We all heard the explosion, saw the smoke. But he wouldn’t listen. My mom left right then and there, threw me and our luggage into one of the guardsman’s armored jeeps. The last I saw of my dad was him loading a shotgun on our porch, face red and sweaty with rage as the soldiers just shrugged and left him.”

Scott paused, cracking open another beer and lighting a cigarette before continuing.

“On our way out of town, I got a firsthand look at the chaos. Somebody’s house had been partially collapsed into a flaming sinkhole. I saw families throwing trash bags full of cloths into their cars, police and National Guard directing traffic towards the southern bridge out of town while hazard trucks and ambulance rushed in the other direction. Smoke rose in thick black streaks into the gray sky, emergency sirens blared loud enough to almost mask the sounds of scarce gunfire. Apparently my dad wasn’t the only paranoid libertarian in Chesterton. Oh yeah, this was all of course before the town got its nickname. Before Ashville it was just Chesterton. You can guess why it changed.”

“What do you think happened to your father?” Josh asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to get something recorded.
“He’s dead.” Replied Scott without any hesitation. The next half hour was mostly quiet aside from the stereo, until at last Scott spoke up with the directions to get off of the interstate onto a smaller highway, and then again onto a county road. From there it was a straight shot until they crossed the Levisa Fork and from there it was east until they were on the western side of the Blue Ridge Forrest.

“Damn, this forest is beautiful.” Said Mark, commenting on the temperate deciduous topography.
“Yeah it’s a real land of mirth and merriment.” Said Scott sarcastically. “See that dirt trail coming up ahead to the right? Turn there and follow it up the mountain. When you see the cabin just park somewhere.” After fifteen minutes of a zigzagged ascent, they had reached a moss covered cabin in the middle of the woods. Everyone exited the vehicle, stretching their backs and taking a look around.

“What is this place?” Asked Chloe, speaking up for the first time that day.
“My dad’s old hunting shack. He took me up here a few times.” Scott threw an empty beer can at the cabin, startling a bobcat that had been sleeping under the porch.
“We could probably camp out here if we spend too much time hiking to and from Ashville. If we try leaving after dark the cops might see our headlights and give us shit.” He continued. Chloe took a picture of the cabin.
“How far until Ashville?” Asked Josh, not very pleased at the idea of having to spend the night in such a place.
“This is literally as close as we can get to it by driving. It’s about a fourteen mile hike down the other side of this mountain-hill thing, so we should probably start like, right now. Actually, wait a minute.” Scott walked towards the cabin, kicking in the door with a hard stomp from his boot.

While he was rummaging around in the hunting shack, Chloe changed into her hiking boots while Mark and Josh unloaded the rest of their gear from the trunk. The items they needed of course were canteens, a compass, a pair of binoculars, Josh’s digital camera, and the rest of Chloe’s stuff. Also included was four sets of full-faced air-purifying respirators, with clear eyepieces that reduced the restriction to peripheral vision. Once they reached Ashville proper it would likely be necessary to protect their lungs from soot and other lingering contaminates. Scott returned from the cabin with a large hunting rifle slung across his shoulder.

“For bobcats.” He said before anyone questioned him. “Also feral dogs, if we run into any. Not everyone managed to evacuate their pets. So uh, right. Follow me.” Scott stumbled himself into some bushes, having trouble using his legs after consuming such ridiculous quantities of booze. The others looked at each other with uncertain grimaces. It wasn’t much of a secret that Scott was an alcoholic, but until now he refrained from becoming completely intoxicated before noon. Mark wanted to say something, but Josh shot down the idea before anything could be spoken. He didn’t think it was a good idea to piss off the only guide they had, especially when said guide was carrying a loaded gun. So they marched on, following Scott across the small mountain.
Besides the random yelling of Scott, the path was quite peaceful for the first leg of the journey. Chloe got some decent pictures of trees being trees, as so did Josh in his attempt to show the slow decaying health of the local flora as they approached the ash cloud that hung permanently over the town. After perhaps two hours of walking, the four managed to find a rock that ejected itself horizontally from the now descending mountain side, granting their first clear view of the valley below: A red haze that seemed almost a lake maybe a half mile down the slope. Peaking from the top of this cloud was the upper portion of a water tower and the tip of a church. Besides that, a few lines of smoke snaked from the sea of red. Everything else laid beneath the thick smog. From this vantage it was possible to see the transition of trees going from perfectly fine, to sickly to finally dead husks of skeletal wood. Josh and Chloe both captured images of the vista, while Mark sniffed the air.

“It smells like fireworks and rotten eggs.” He said with an unpleasant look on his face. Scott lit another cigarette for himself.
“The shape of the valley makes its own weather. Most of those heavier fumes just stay in that one place, while the rest hang around until a breeze from between the hills manage to carry away the excess. Some of it of course wafts all the way up here, hence the smell of sulfur and coal. By the way, those fires burning beneath the town have enough fuel to keep going for another three hundred years, so that cloud isn’t going anywhere for a while.” Scott stated all of these facts nonchalantly, hopping down from the angular rock and proceeding with the path ahead. The other followed, partially excited, partially nervous. After fifty or so meters of walking, the air began to smell foul enough that the group thought it best to put on the masks. It was at this point the trees looked diseased enough to warrant the precaution. Scott had rigged his mask with a small, one-way hose that led from a funnel directly to his mouth. He tested his contraption with a long pour from a bottle of vodka.

“I’m thirsty!” He yelled just before the decent into the cloud.
“Well you shouldn’t be so damn drunk this early in the day!” Mark yelled back to him through his respirator. Chloe rolled her eyes and poured some water into Scotts funnel.
“Thank you sweet pea.” Said Scott in gratitude. “Now everyone listen the fuck *belch* up. We’re gonna go down into that cloud. You guys are gonna take some fancy-done pictures, and I’m going to throw up in my old house. Then we leave ‘n shit. Got it?” The group nodded in agreement. “Okay, let’s do it.”

The four walked into the cloud.

The first thing they noticed was the road. They had managed to reach Main Street, and the sight of the road set an example for the state the rest of the town. A deep, winding fissure ran the length of the road, with what looked to be steam rising periodically from the crack. Josh recorded everything he saw. Scott pulled out a single match.

“Watch this.” He said, tossing it to the pavement. A few seconds later the head burst into flames. “The ground is hot enough to ignite match heads. Careful standing here. A few more minutes and those boots of yours are going to be a puddle of melted rubber.”
“Yeah let’s not do that.” Said Mark, moving to the sidewalk. He touched the concrete and found it cool enough to stand on safely. Looking up, he saw the sign. “Warning!” It read. “Ground may suddenly collapse.”
“What the hell? How dangerous is this place really?” He asked in an angered tone. Josh and Scott both laughed.
“Dude, did you seriously do no research on this place? Why the hell do you think we’re wearing gas masks and trying to avoid the police? Of course it’s dangerous.” Said Josh, filming Mark’s reaction to the sign. “Come on. Scott said the first sinkhole appeared near the cemetery. Let’s check that out first.”

The four walked side by side down the main road into Ashville. They passed cars with melted tires and burnt frames, and piles of ash that collected like snow along the road. One car in particular had an odd symbol scratched into the passenger door. It was a double cross with a figure eight at the base.

“Brimstone.” Said Scott, eyeing the etching suspiciously. “As it was sulfur once called by the alchemists. Later it was adopted as the satanic cross by that guy from the sixties. Here, check it out.” Scott rolled the sleeve of his trench coat to show his tattoo of the same symbol on his forearm.
“Why the hell do you have that?” Asked Mark. Being the only religious member of the group he was somewhat alarmed at the sight. He also thought it was weird that he had known Scott for three years without until now seeing his arm. Scott didn’t answer though, and kept walking.

They walked past a playground where the paint from the recreational structures had been stripped by acid, the metal beneath partially warped into disfigured hunks of steel. Chloe of course had to get a picture of a clown’s head that had been almost melted to an unrecognizable, borderline demonic state. Eventually, they found themselves walking through the “downtown” portion, where taller buildings stood parallel to one another: some collapsed under their own weight, other managing to stand upright after all these years. In both cases, the red-orange haze gave the structures an appearance of being ghostly monoliths instead of pie shops and dollar stores. The first sense of creepiness began to set in with the understanding of how truly abandoned the town was. Mark looked around at some of dark rectangles that used to be windows.

“Anyone else get the feeling they’re being watched?” He asked, sincerely.
“Boo!” Yelled the other three in unison.
“Don’t try and ruin this for us Mark.” Shouted Chloe.
“Yeah fuck you douchebag!” Yelled Scott. He followed his insult by throwing a rock at Marks head. It bounced from his skull with an audible clunk. Looking up after sheltering his face, Mark saw Scott and Chloe share a high five. Anger started to swell within him, and the next thing he knew, he was throwing a swift punch into Scott’s gut. A second later, Mark was on the ground, having been rammed in the ribcage by the butt of Scott’s rifle.
“Knock it off both of you!” Shouted Josh, forcing himself between the two. “You’ve been getting on each other’s nerves since first thing in the god damn morning. Scott, quit being a dick, you could have broken his mask, it wasn’t funny. And Mark, get your shit together.”

Mark was just about to say something, when a faraway noise stopped him. Everyone was silent for a moment, listening intently to what sounded like a vicious animal attacking a smaller one. Snarling, screeching sounds, not unlike a dog shaking a rabbit between its clenched jaws. The sounds echoed along the length of the abandoned street between buildings, amplifying to an ominous frequency. And then, as fast as it appeared, it was gone. All four stood motionless and quiet until the sound faded into the dead weather.

“Okay, that was actually kind of spooky.” Said Chloe, being the first to speak up.
“I told you there might be a few dogs scampering around.” Responded Scott, loading a shell into the rifle’s chamber.
“Yeah but how could anything even live in this place?” Asked Josh. Scott pointed at a patch of weeds sprouting from a crack in the pavement.
“Life finds a way. Come on, let’s cut through this alley. My old neighborhood should be just on the other side.” The other three followed him.

Houses with broken windows and collapsing roofs littered the former residencies, paint streaked down the outer walls from years of corrosion. Chloe stopped for a couple of shots, while Josh filmed video of a sinkhole with small flames rising from the inner edges, a sinkhole that once somebody’s front yard. Ash fell like snowflakes onto his camera. Suddenly, Scott started shouting and dancing a drunken dance.
“Look, there it is! 156 Peachtree Lane!” Scott pointed a particularly aged house with a rusting pickup truck in the warped driveway. He took another victory shot through his mask. “After all these years that piece of shit still stands. Can’t believe it.”
“Wanna look inside?” Chloe asked, starting to match Scott’s energy. Mark made an expression of concern under his gas mask.
“That thing looks about ready to collapse. You really want to add extra weight to those floorboards?” Mark didn’t want to look like a coward again in front of Chloe, but he couldn’t help but be the rational one. While Scott was charismatic, reckless, and amoral, Mark was the opposite in all ways.
“Tell you what Mark.” Said Scott in a condescending tone, “Why don’t you wait out here and be the lookout for ghouls and goblins?” He laughed, tossing the rifle to Mark. “It’ll just be a minute.” With that, Josh, Chloe and Scott entered the house, leaving Mark to stand alone on the weeded lawn.

Josh held his flashlight at shoulder level, scanning the interior of the living room from left to right. Surprisingly little of the smog had managed to make its way into the house, and for the most part the air was clear. Scott took the chance to lift his mask for a cigarette.
“Ah gross, it’s like sucking on a sack of burnt hair.” He said, tasting the air. He lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply. “That’s better. So, what do you guys think?”
Chloe took a picture of Scott’s former living room with a flash, angling it to capture as much of it as possible. “I’d say I’ll be getting my B.A. this year for sure.” She said, taking another of a cracked television.
The three scattered about the house, checking every room they found. From the looks of it, it appeared as though Scott’s father had continued to rampage for a while after the evacuation, judging by holes punched into the plaster and flipped over furniture. The master bedroom was in a state of rather severe trauma. Scott took a sip from his flask, handing it to Chloe and Josh, each partaking. After a few more minutes of rummaging through closets, draws and whatnot, Chloe found a family photo. A pleasant looking woman, a ten year old Scott with that same angry look on his face, and a tall, barrel chested man with a thick beard. Chloe handed the framed picture to Josh before Scott noticed what they were looking at.
“Damn dude.” Called Josh to Scott. “Your dad looks like a lumberjack.” Scott walked across the bedroom to inspect the picture. He slipped it from the glass that had protected it for all these years. “Wonder what happened to him.” He continued, as Scott folded the photo into his jacket.
“Like I said before, he died.” Replied Scott. “Probably somewhere in this very house. It’s not like he drove anywhere. Pickup’s still in the driveway.” Josh and Chloe looked at each other with the same idea on their minds.
“Want to find the body?” They both asked, knowing the one place in the house that they haven’t searched.
“Absolutely.” Said Scott, swallowing another shot from his flask before re-sealing his mask. “The basement’s this way.”

***

Outside, Mark paced back and forth across the lawn in anger. His expectations for this trip were basically the exact opposite of what he had hoped for. Scott was probably going to fuck Chloe in a motel on the way back home, while Josh, his best friend, was more concerned with his stupid project than defending him. On top of all this, he was left outside in the creepy haze of a condemned town that sat on top a burning chasm. He made up his mind: when the others were done screwing around in the house, he was leaving. He would walk back to the car all by himself if he had to, but he wasn’t going to spend another minute in this hellhole. He leaned against the back bumper of the paint stripped pickup, letting out a sigh that briefly fogged his eye plate. As he leaned there, just staring off into the middle distance, something across the street caught his attention.

A light wind had blown into the valley, just enough to make vaguely clear objects at thirty feet or less. In this case, it was the house across the street. A sound, like someone dropping a metal hammer onto hollow wood, resonated from within the building. Mark looked up from his thoughts, and a second latter, tightened his grip around the rifle. The breeze that had rolled in a moment previous caused the drapes of the house’s front smashed windows to softly move, revealing some of what hide behind them. Following the origins of the noise, what he saw, if only for a split second, was a pale figure standing in the window frame, blurred by the returning haze, and staring a straight line towards were Mark stood. He blinked, and it was gone.

“The fuck?” He said to himself, now incredibly tense with a lingering fear of what he had just witnessed. He looked around his immediate surroundings, unsure of what to do and so backing slowly towards Scott’s house. Another beat passed, when he heard the growling. A vicious growl that echoed through the fog.

“Guys?” He yelled, as loud as he could through his mask. He broke into a run.

***

“What’s with the scratches? Did you guys have a dog or something?” Chloe asked while looking at the door to the basement. Large chucks of paint and wood seemed to have been violently ripped out of it.
“Nope.” Said Scott, trying the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge. Taking a step back, he proceeded to break open the door with one forceful kick. Part of the frame splintered as three separate deadbolts tore through the wood. “Light please.” Josh illuminated the darkness with his flashlight, showing the descending steps.

The staircase creaked with each step, but still it held the weight of all three as they continued downwards. At the base, plastic tarps hung from the ceiling, sectioning off the staircase from the rest of the basement. Scott cut a slit in it with his pocket knife, and noticed the dry heat wafting in.
“The lower we go, the closer we are to those underground fires. Watch your shoes.” The three wandered into the basement proper, Chloe and Josh lighting the place with the new addition of Scott’s lantern. The ground was indeed warm to the touch, but not as much as was expected. Looking around, it was a normal basement, with stores of expired canned food, cardboard boxes filled with Christmas ornaments, and a couple of gun cabinets. The first thing to be genuinely noticed however, was the fissure that ran across the bare concrete floor up the length of the western wall. The other was a skeleton wrapped in dried hair and tissue propped up in the corner.

“Oh shit!” Cried Josh, almost dropping his flashlight. Scott patted him on the shoulder.
“Yup. There’s dad. Stupid bastard just wouldn’t let go.” Scott walked up to the carcass, inspecting it from every angle. A shotgun was held between its arms, slumped casually to one side. Scott noticed the spent shell on the floor to its side, and traced the angle of the hole in its skull to the dark stain on the wall behind it. “Or maybe he did.” Scott shrugged to himself before attempting to pry the gun from the dead hands. Josh raised his flashlight to the right side of remains, noticing the alchemical symbol for brimstone drawn onto the wall with motor oil. Beneath it, words were written.

“Demons are everywhere.” It spelled out.

“Uh, Scott, um, what the hell?” Josh asked. At this point, he was justifiably disturbed, having witnessed both the dried leathery remains of a human corpse and a cryptic message of alluding to something clearly sinister.

Scott walked over to the sigil. He looked at it almost without any concern whatsoever, being far more preoccupied with picking fingers from the shotgun’s hilt. “Yeah, that’s weird or whatever. You guys wanna grab anything? It’s not looting if it’s technically my stuff.”
“How the hell are you this calm?” Even Chloe was nervous, more so by Scott’s drunken attitude than anything else. Scott was about to say something when a muffled yell managed to penetrate through to the basement. All three heard it.

“I guess Mark wants us to finish up.” Scott said while looking back towards the stairs. “Come on, he’s been out there long enough.”

The sense of true fear arose after the three made their way back into the haze. Mark was nowhere to been found. Josh slide his mask just enough to get out a few good calls, but nothing was heard in reply.
“Oh god damn it!” Scott growled. “That dickhole still has my keys! If he pussied out and ran back to the car I swear I’ll murder him.” Scott proceeded to curse to himself incoherently while Chloe and Josh tried their best to figure out what to do next.
“He probably just got spooked or something and left without saying anything. He’s passive aggressive like that and I don’t think wanted to confront anyone.” Chloe rationalized.
“True, but he doesn’t know this place at all. He’s dumb, but not that dumb to wander around all by himself.” Josh grew apprehensive by the second. Scott kicked the side of the rusting pickup hard enough to knock off the passenger door just as more animal noises were heard in the distance.
“Okay fine!” He yelled at no one in particular. “The creepy noises scared Mark, and like a bitch he ran back to the shack without telling us. That’s about a three hour walk, so if we hurry and provided he doesn’t get lost and fall into a sinkhole, then we should be able catch up to him just in time to kick his ass. Good plan? Great fucking plan!” Scott took an exceptionally long drink from his flask, running it dry in the process. “Kay let’s go!”
Chloe and Josh followed him into the carmine mist.

***

“There, just keep it like that.” Josh said as he tied part of the torn dress into a proper sling. He was shaking, but still managed to make the knot tight. Chloe thanked him with her eyes, but was still having trouble finding her words. Scott peeked through the drapes of the wedding boutique, scanning what little he could of the street outside.
“That… was the scariest fucking thing I have ever seen in my entire god damn life…” He spoke quietly, backing away from the window slowly. He poured some water into his funnel, feeling the dehydrating effects of alcohol yet expressing absolutely no desire to become sober anytime soon. He rolled one of his unopened vodka bottles over to Josh and Chloe, who were hiding behind the cashiers counter. The three would have moved further back into the building, except that the posterior half of the storage room had fallen into a fissure, with the rest of it being too hot to dwell in for very long. Even here, in the showroom, some of the mannequins were partially melted figures stuck in their bridesmaid dresses, faces deformed, arms raised at wrong angles.

Josh splashed some vodka onto his leg where the cut had been made, tying some frilly thing around his thigh to help with the bleeding. Chloe took a drink with her good hand. They had run into this shop just after the attack, giving that… thing the slip as they turned a few corners. Scott was the only one left uninjured, but then again, he was the only one who fought back. Of course, in the chaos of the moment, it didn’t work out as well as intended.

“I’m sorry I broke your arm.” Scott apologized for the missed kick.
“Better than blowing off my head.” Chloe replied. No one was really mad at each other, not anymore. It was probably their bickering that lured the thing to them in the first place. A rotting, putrid thing. A wadded mass of skin and flies that lurked in the crimson haze, waiting, stalking, and angry.
“Listen,” Scott began to think clearly of the situation. “We have about three hours left before our filters will need to be changed. Around that time the sun will be setting behind those mountains. If that happens while we’re still under the cloud then there won’t be any getting out of it.” The other two nodded in agreement. What was also left out was the fact that any wet, exposed skin was beginning to inflame and sting from the myriad pollutants. Scott loaded a few more shells into his gun, Josh checked that his camcorder still worked, and Chloe slung her pack across her back.

“Ready?” He asked rhetorically, standing to the side of the front door. Once again, the others nodded. Scott threw open the door, and they burst into a sprint.

***

Mark climbed the hill as fast as he could. His legs were weak, barely able to hold him upright against the slope, but he pushed on, knowing that if he stopped he would rest too long, and whatever it was that was following him would catch up. He couldn’t see it, but he could hear it, maybe twenty meters behind, maybe closer. He had been running for so long that he had hardly any time to address the guilt of abandoning his friend. Perspiration and tears mixed on their path down his face. Prayers were muttered under the effort of his breath.

At last, after hours of panicked scampering, hiding, yells of terror and running for his life, Mark had made his way to the other side of the mountain. It would only be a short descent until he would reach the car, and a few minutes later, he could even see it. Except that something caused Mark to hesitate, the sight of two county police cars waiting patiently next to the Saturn. It took a moment to collect himself, brought on by the continued noise of snapping twigs and footsteps coming over the peak, reminding him that the police were the best possible people to run into. He threw the hunting rifle and his mask to the ground, and found enough inner strength to sprint the rest of the way to the hunting shack.

“Hey!” He yelled, waving his hands as he stumbled closer to the officers. Both looked up to see him, motioning for him to approach them.
“Is this your car?” One of them asked in an authoritative tone.
“N-no. It’s my friend’s.” He responded, trying to catch his breath.
“There are others with you? How many? And where?” Asked the second. Mark looked over his shoulder, checking to see if he was still being followed, while letting the officers implicitly know where the others were. “Did you know that you’ve been trespassing on federal property? Do you think it’s some kind of joke?” Mark paused briefly.
“No. No joke. Listen, there’s st…” Mark tried to explain, but was interrupted.
“On your knees now!” Barked the officer. “Hands behind you head.” Mark complied, still sure that this was better than the alternative, and still hoping that someone would send help for the other three still in Ashville. He was sure, that was, until both officers raised their side arms.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous it is out here?” Said the first.

***

Scott watched the specks of blood exit the back of Mark’s head through the scope of the hunting rifle. A half second later the sound of the shots reached his ears. He was on his stomach, using the ground to steady his aim. His lip curled in anger, almost reaching his nostrils. He centered one officer’s face under the sights.

One round fired, another chambered, then a second. Both bodies fell like rag dolls. He waited a beat, just be sure that there weren’t any others, and stood up, walking quickly the rest of the way to the hunting shack.

Chloe was the first to go, some flaming thing leaped through the cloud tackled her into a sinkhole. Josh was dragged off by long arms reaching through the haze, attached to a body Scott couldn’t see. He tried to chase him down, firing shot after shot at where he thought the beast to be. A half block down the street, all he found was Josh’s camcorder, and part of his jaw. He made the rest of the on his own.

When he reached the hunting shack, he took a moment to remove his keys from Mark’s corpse, smash the in-car police computers, shred apart their notebooks, and stomp their radios before entering the hunting shack. Looking around for the second time that day, he unfolded the family portrait tucked into his breast pocket. On the back were a few words. “Found it in the mines. Hid it beneath the floorboards. I know they’re working for devils, but they won’t scare me.” Under the writing was another drawing of that sign of brimstone. Scott kicked the dear skin rug, revealing a few loose boards, one marked with the symbol. Scott lifted the wood, his face shifting from fatigue and rage to a smile.

“So that’s where you put it.” He said to himself. He tucked the skull under his arm, mindful of the horns.

The Brimstone Conspiracy

Credit To – Stephan D. Harris

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The Haaf Netters

October 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Frank closed the door behind him and was alone in the cottage at last.

All dwellings have a smell, an atmosphere. You get used to the smell of your own place so that you never notice it, at least not until you first open the door after a long holiday. The house Frank had shared with his ex-wife, the back door had opened into the laundry room so after returning there was always a smell of clean linen and washing powder. He missed that. He hadn’t lived in his flat long enough to imprint his own scent identity upon it – it smelled impersonal, of polish and plastic like a motel room.

The door he had opened led into the kitchen, which was north-facing and cold. The smell here comprised of dusty old carpets, furniture polish and coalsmoke. The faintest undertone of when this had been someone’s home rather than just a holiday cottage, but almost wiped away by long empty winters and the landlady’s cleaning regime.

After finding and using the toilet in the bathroom upstairs, Frank began to explore. There were two bedroom upstairs. One double, one single, with a Z-bed under one of the singles.
The main bedroom was comfortable enough, though plainly decorated and furnished. Frank unpacked some of his things onto the dressing table.

Coming downstairs and opening the door into the lounge, he noticed a crucifix on the opposite wall. He didn’t like it, but at the same time to actually take it down would be to attach a level of importance to it with which he was not comfortable either. But to Frank it had the effect of adding a chilly austerity to the place, despite the warmth from the clicking radiator and the log fire in the grate. Reminding him that this was not his home.

Disconcerted, he looked around the rest of the room. Ah, that was more like it. A couple of old fishing prints on the wall to his left. One in particular caught his eye and he walked over to examine it more closely. It was a watercolour of three men positioned waist deep in sea water, each standing with outstretched arms holding a rectangular-framed net that protruded above the water chest height and was about four times as wide.

“Haaf Netters – Solway Firth” ran the caption underneath.

The water was skilfully painted, the way the current flowed through the nets and around the fishermen. The figures were not so well executed to Frank’s untrained eye, being somewhat indistinct which had resulted in a surely unintentional, comically sinister expression on one in particular.

Haaf netters – the unusual word intrigued him, sounded Viking or something.

Putting a log on the fire, he decided he would have a quick walk down to the river, just to get a feel of the place and check out any likely spots. No point in taking his tackle until he had the licence sorted.

Frank was glad to be setting out for the river. As he stepped out, he noticed a definite and sudden change in the atmosphere, mist was falling.

He walked downhill to the t-junction and turned left this time, leaving the church and the centre of the village behind him. He narrowly side-stepped a dead mouse and a big pile of dog mess on the pavement.Looking ahead he could see the mist already thickening into a solid bank where the road dipped down towards the river.

Through the light haze he could see a hunched figure walking ahead of him, an old man in a blue car coat, also heading in the direction of the Eden.

The man was walking so slowly that even though Frank was some fifty yards behind, he could already see that he must unavoidably catch up with him.

With any luck he’ll turn off into one of these gardens.

But he didn’t.

Frank considered crossing over to avoid the man entirely, but thought better of it. A moment’s kindness costs nothing – this will be me one day, he reasoned to himself. As he drew level with the stooping figure, he offered a friendly ‘hello’.

The old man turned. A very old man. Deeply wrinkled skin an unhealthy shade of yellow.Dark hollow eyes, hooked nose, bushy grey hair in large nostrils. Roughly shaven.

“How do!” gruffly. Then, in a sharper tone “Where’s tha going. Fishing?”

“Yes – well, just to have a look at the river…” began Frank.

“You’ve forgotten your rod. Gonna catch them with yer bare hands? Hey, yer not one of them haaf netters are you? Nowt in yer pockets? Only, couple of fellers got caught poaching salmon last week with a haaf net.”

Frank’s expression must have suggested puzzlement. In fact he was staring at what appeared to be a large wound on the old man’s neck, sewn up with a rough suture that almost looked like fishing line.

“One o’ them big sea nets they use up on the Solway, about six feet across. Collapsible frame to fit under their coats. You just set them up and the fish swim in and get themselves all caught up. They’d set it up there and was driving fish in.”

Frank was unsure whether the tone was joking or accusatory. Either way he didn’t like it, not least because the volume was embarrassingly loud. He noticed two large hearing aids in each of the man’s large, fleshy ears.

“No, no, I’m just going for a walk. I’m picking a licence up from the pub when it opens later”.

“Gamekeeper’s about you know. Folks is keeping watch.”

“OK, thank you!”

“Whereabouts are you going fishing?”

“Sorry? I – I’m not sure yet!”

“Get yerself onto Setterah Bank. You don’t need a permit there.” The man jabbed a crooked finger to the right, the direction Frank was planning to go anyway.

“OK!” said Frank and crossed the street, agitated and vaguely aware of a couple of onlookers to this awkward, noisy encounter.

The old man continued shouting after him as he went.

“I know all about the permits, ask Johnny Ressick, he’ll tell yer. There’s no permit there!
Setterah Bank’s where you need to go. You’ll need a rod though!”

Frank quickened his pace to get out of earshot, passing in front of the village’s outdoor swimming pool. So much for being friendly, wish I hadn’t bothered, the silly old sod.

The mist was thickening now, but he could already hear the sound of the river. The air was cooler still, damper. Frank pulled his coat around him, but the mist seemed to seep underneath it, as if his very bones were cold and the coat was only warming the surface of his skin.
Here though was the reason he had been drawn to this place.

The river. From the edge of the swimming pool car park he craned to soothe himself with the sight of the water as it surged and hurried along with the friendly, vibrant chatter of old friend who, no matter how long it’s been since you last saw them, instantly and easily picks up a familiar thread of conversation.

Ah the river. This at least was ever new. Every moment, every second changing, not like the stagnant pool of urban life. The heavy mist gave the Eden a Stygian aspect today- grey white smoky clouds lifting from the surface of the torrent and seemed to morph into cloaked figures, raising their arms skywards in a slow, twisting, hallowing, dissipating dance of veneration for the waters of time that rushed away beneath them.

But as a fishing spot, Frank’s current vantage point did not have much to recommend it. The stream was fast flowing here and the bank was sheer and crumbling, too many overhanging bushes and clumps of willowherb to tangle a line in. Besides, it didn’t offer the seclusion he was hoping for with the road and swimming pool just behind.

Through the mist he could just make out sheep grazing on the sandy banks on the other side.
But the Eden itself looked promising. There were sure to be some deeper, more alluring pools upstream.

Frank started to walk along the path. As he did so he saw a sign nailed to a tree, black block type on white board, lightly covered with green mould. No Fishing Without A Permit. North Yorkshire Anglers. What’s it got to do with them, thought Frank. We’re a long way from North Yorkshire here.

The smell of the swimming pool, now closed for the season, pervaded his nostrils. Disinfectant, sweaty summers, a faint hot dog smell. All he could see of it was a rear wall, grey breeze blocks and litter behind a wire mesh fence. Before the pool was here, people would have bathed in the river itself, but it would be considered foolish, even weird to do so now, he supposed.

The gravel track along the riverbank behind the pool led into a field which had been designated as a camp site, complete with standpipes and electric sockets.

Now it was quiet, just one large trailer tent pitched right next to the path in the far corner, next to the stile.

As Frank passed it, he inadvertently caught the eye of of a woman inside through the plastic window, sitting having a drink. He gave an awkward nod and smile, conscious of having his own privacy invaded while unwillingly having invaded someone else’s.

After the camp site the path dipped down and a narrow wooden footbridge crossed a small tributary of the river. Passing over its heavy, rotting planks, Frank felt a renewed sense of freedom, putting the village behind him. Just me and the country, me and the river, me in the mist. Water on one side, land on the other.

But wait. Was that figure crouching up ahead or just a tree stump? A few more paces and it was clearly a figure, hunched over a rod.

“Morning! Any luck?” said Frank cheerily.

Another ancient face turned to meet his.

“Not yet, but any time now…” crackled a well-weathered voice.

Small, dark eyes and hooded eyelids beneath an old, battered black waxed fishing hat with home-tied flies hooked in. The same deep-wrinkled sallow skin as that obstreperous old bugger in the village. And that wasn’t all. Just visible beneath the hat was a long, snaking scar sealed with the same rough stitches Frank had seen on the other man’s neck.

Remind me not to go to the doctors’ round here, thought Frank. But, observing the custom of the riverbank, he paused to take an interest as the man made a few casts.

At the third cast, the rod dipped and there was a satisfied chuckle from its master. In a display of surprising strength and dexterity, a good sized trout was smoothly and firmly ripped out of the brown depths without even a token fight, its furious thrashing on the hook rendered utterly futile.

“Pass me the priest, would you?” said the fisherman.

“Sorry?” Frank was still taken aback at the easy violence of the catch.

“The priest – yon little wooden club, hurry up man!”

Frank picked it up handed it over. A strong smell rose from the man’s open tackle box box. Damp, earthy, maggoty.

The elderly angler now lifted his rod vertically so that the thrashing hooked fish came spinning rapidly towards him, spraying slime, weed and river water. At the first attempt he assuredly grabbed the fish with one hand and in a single swift movement bashed it sharply over the top of the head with the club held in the other.

“They call this a priest, see! Gives ‘em the last rites.”

Frank saw blood trickle from the corner of the trout’s mouth as it shuddered in its death spasms. The fisherman gave a grunt of satisfaction and stuffed it into a grubby carrier bag.
“Folks was down here with a haaf net” said the man as he turned back to the river and cast again. A definite insinuation in the tone of voice.

“Yes, an old chap in the village told me. By the way, you don’t know where Setterah Bank is do you?”

A derisive snort. “Setterah Bank?! You’re miles out! That’s up Gamblesby way – across the river man. I hope you can swim!”

Once again, the volume was embarrassingly loud. To add to his discomfort, a dog walker emerged out of the mist, an old woman, and had evidently overheard. She shared a smile with the angler and shook her head with a scornful tut at Frank. To his shock, he noticed that she also had the same sagging, yellow, wrinkled complexion as the old men. Her dog was some sort of enormous sheepdog on a heavy chain, it growled at him as he shrank out of its path.

“Maybe I misheard him,” said Frank as the woman and her dog merged into the mist.
“No, you don’t want to listen to old Geordie Whitebirk. He’s gone in the head! Everyone can tell you that. They’ll have a right laugh at you in the Midland tonight, listening to old Geordie.”

“He said something about it being somewhere you didn’t need a permit”.

The man shook his head.

“You want to get yourself to Blitterlees Gill! Get across yon bridge there.” A dismissive flap of the arm to the right, further along the bank.

Frank hesitated. “Sorry? Blitter…?”

“Blitterlees Gill!” repeated the fisherman impatiently. “Get yerself along there. No point stopping here. Where’s yer rod anyway? Sure you’re not one of them haaf netters?”

“No, I’m not. I left my rod back at the cottage, I’ll pick it up later once I’ve got my permit.”

“I thought you was looking for somewhere to fish without a permit?”

“No, I am going to get a permit, it’s just that the other chap told me…”

“Well it’s a long way back for it, but suit yourself.”

Frank turned away without saying goodbye. What was wrong with everyone round here, why was every exchange so bloody hostile? And what was the matter with their faces? He’d heard of a medical condition called Derbyshire neck, maybe this livid yellow and deep wrinkling was ‘Cumbrian face’.

He threaded his way further along the path, into the deepening gloom. It was so dense now he could hardly see further than an arms length. The path rose and fell sharply over tree roots, he experienced the peculiar sensation of stepping into space as he underestimated the slope and found his foot falling further than expected. But always there was the comforting chatter of the river to his left to guide and console.

But still smarting from the encounter with the man in the black hat, Frank did not heed the warning of the mis-step and continued at a pace that was inadvisedly hurried. At the top of the next rise in the path, his toe clipped a root at the foot of a large sycamore and he slipped over, pain in his left knee. He heard soil dislodged by his fall cascading down into the water to his left.

Falling was a shock. He couldn’t remember the last time he had fallen right over. He could feel damp from the ground soaking through his trousers, invading his comfort, piercing his fragile shell of wellbeing.

Amid the smell of disturbed earth and crushed thistles, a moment of realisation that the unremitting noise of the river would have continued regardless of whether he fell in and drowned in its depths.

As Frank sat there, trying to assess the state of his knee, a figure loomed out of the mist.

Another ancient voice. “Steady on there lad! You’ll be in’t river! What’s the rush?”
This time it was a rotund man in a fleece and green woolly hat. The same yellow, deeply wrinkled skin, a brown woollen scarf round the neck.

“Not from round here are you? You’re not one of them haaf netters?”

“No, I’m on a fishing break – I’m staying in a holiday cottage.”
“Have you got a permit?”

In spite of himself, Frank suddenly felt ridiculously flustered.

“I was going to get one later.”

“Aye, that’s what them said last week. If the gamekeeper sees you he’ll turn out your pockets”

Frank struggled painfully to his feet. He could put weight on his knee but it had lost power somehow. There was also earth and stones in his shoe.

“Where was you headed, anyway?”

“Blitterlees Gill.”

Harsh, openly mocking laughter. “Ha ha ha! What a daft caper! You’d be lucky to get there by nightfall, that’s way down t’other side of Langwathby! You’d be better off at Lacey’s Slack.”
The man seemed to study Frank for an uncomfortable moment, but then headed off into the mist, back in the direction of the village.

Unsettled, Frank decided it was time he headed back too. After allowing a pause so that he wouldn’t catch up with the rotund man, he began to gingerly retrace his steps towards the village, carefully testing his knee at every footfall, watching the path at his feet closely now for any more hazards.

He had made slow progress in this way for no more than ten yards when he was startled by a violent shout to his left.

“Got lost again have you? You’re going the wrong way! Lacey’s Slack’s back yonder!”

The words seemed to be yelled with real anger. Frank staggered back in alarm, sending more earth tumbling down the bank into the river.

It was the rotund man. Had he stopped and waited deliberately?

The man tutted. “Bloody fool!” and turned away, apparently into a field.

Frank was unsettled now, the mist no longer a protective blanket but a threatening veil.
A noise – from behind? Was someone following him? The dank atmosphere was disorientating, muffling some sounds, magnifying others. His knee prevented any rapid progress in any case.
More anxious yards passed. Now he saw an outline of a figure rising from the riverbank to his right.

It was fisherman in the black hat, priest in his hand, shouting furiously “Turned back have you? Thought I told you to get to Blitterlees Gill?”

Frank put his head down and tried to ignore him. Just focus on the path.

“Damned haaf-netters” yelled the man, manically waving the priest in the air.

Up ahead Frank could hear a dog barking. A big dog. The wrinkled woman – was she still here too?

Panicking now, he could see the outline of a public footpath sign leading back to the village, away from the river, across fields. He stumbled across long wet grass through an open field gate, his trousers soaked below the knee.

He could hear a bell tolling in the mist. The village must be to his right.

The fog blanket wasn’t quite so dense away from the river and he could make out two gnarled old shapes in the centre of the field amid the long, grey, creeping fingers. Bushes – hawthorn bushes. He set his course to the right of them, looking for a gateway that would lead him back to the village.

But now another a figure emerged ahead, blocking his intended path. It was the first old bugger in the blue coat – the deaf one. Frank noticed with alarm that the man was moving much more rapidly across the field towards him then he could have ever given credit for.

“Hey! Where are you sneaking off to? This is private land! You were told to go to Setterah Bank!”
Frank was gasping now, the cold air and the fear catching at his breath.

He looked back across the field to see a silhouette of the rotund man emerging from the left.
Now he heard a metallic clang that reverberated oddly in the clammy air. The gate closing behind him, over his shoulder a glimpse of a group advancing with purposeful menace.

“Hoy! Come back here! The gamekeeper wants a word with you!” – the throaty rasp of the black-hatted man.

Another deeper, aggressive male voice. “Get back here, you bugger!”

A dog whimpering and growling. A coarse, female voice now. “shall I let ‘im loose Johnny?”

“On my signal”.

Frank struggled on in the only direction that lay clear – between the old hawthorns.

Ignoring the pain in his knee he moved as fast as he could, a lolloping, uneven gait born of sheer terror.

They were all old – surely he could outrun them? But the dog.

He could hear its horrible, gutteral growls and whimpers, straining for its handler to release it.
Hostile shouts rang out from all sides, hallooing, harassing, hounding him onwards.

“Get the’sen to Lacey’s Slack!” “Stupid bugger!” “Will you not listen?” “What did I tell thee?” “Lacey’s Slack!” “Blitterlees Gill, man!” “Setterah Bank!”

He reached the bushes, the land between them bare. He ran on, between their twin twisted embrace of mottled lichen and mossy bark.

He ran on, straight into wispy, misty net of something suspended from the trees. Something intangible.

He was stuck fast. Desperately, he tried to turn round, but couldn’t. Every movement he made served to bind him ever more closely, to sap his strength, his vitality. With his ever-weakening struggles, panic turned into peaceful acceptance.

His feet were no longer on the ground. Unsure of the direction of north, south, east, west, earth, sky, life or death he lay suspended between two worlds. Grey, swirling mist floated before his weakening eyes, but whether it was from this realm or another he could no longer be sure. Dark shapes danced and contorted around him, blotting out the last strains of his sunlight.
The residual part of Frank’s consciousness heard a host of footsteps, heavy breathing both animal and human.

Voices. Satisfied, pleased voices.

“He’s a nice one. Good size.”

“Ay, the old haaf net still does the trick!”

“Ready with the priest – hold him still now!”

What remained of Frank felt sharp crack to his temple. A trickle of warm blood down his face.
More voices, distant now, at the mouth of the tunnel he felt himself sliding down.

“We’ll gut him and eat him tonight.”

“Hit him again Johnny, the gills are still blowing.”

“Don’t damage him though, could do with a new skin…”.

Credit To – M.L. Graham

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Blue Light

October 17, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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A bomb went off in the city.

It happened Monday. Today is Thursday. My dad was there. He hasn’t come back yet.

I’ve been sitting at the window every day waiting for him to come home. Mom says the bomb interrupted the electric grid in the city, so there’s been barely any news about it. Our neighbor’s son is a meteorologist stationed outside the city limits, and he told his father who told us.

The bomb was the biggest he’d ever seen. He saw a flash of blue light from outside the window, and threw himself to the ground. He counted to five, because it was his job to “record phenomenon”. At five the windows exploded into the room and heat like a furnace rushed over him. His father says he managed to call from an emergency line in the station. He’s wounded but okay.

Dad was supposed to come home Monday night. Mom has been very quiet for the last few days. She doesn’t say much at breakfast, and only gives me an “I love you” at bedtime on her way out of the room. I only cry then, in the dark.

This morning, I stare out the window, hoping by some miracle I’d see him walking down the street, and turn onto our walkway leading up to the house, smiling and waving at me. My heart leaps every time someone walks by.

Mom comes in behind me. “Go upstairs and get ready for school, please.”

I turn around in my chair. “But-”

“Staring out the window is not going to change anything. Now go.”

I leave the window, feeling as though he won’t come home unless I was there watching for him.

Every day it’s gotten harder and harder to sit there at the window and watch. I have a need to run outside and look for him, to ask every person in every store if they’ve seen him, anywhere at all, because I need him, I need him home to wake me up in the morning and help me with homework and tell me jokes at the dinner table and be there for me when I need advice or just to talk and not be crushed under a mountain of concrete with pulverized shoulders that used to hold me during parades and let me press my face into them when I needed to cry.

I sob while I put my books into my bag, quietly because I haven’t heard mom cry and she won’t hear me cry.

The front door swings open from downstairs. “Hello?”

For three days I dreamed of that voice.

“Dad!!” I half-scream and rush to the landing, looking down over the banister through vision that swam with tears. He was looking up at me, I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or not, but I rushed down the steps and towards him with a hysterical laugh of relief. I stopped dead when I came closer to him.

His face was a deep red and covered in blisters. His arms looked burned like they were held over a stove. His shirt was torn, and covered in soot and, and maybe, blood.

“Dad, what-”

“It’s alright,” he said. “Come give me a hug.”

I sprint to him and dive into his arms. He gives a little cry of pain.

“Oh God dad I’m sorry,” I mutter, trying to pull away.

“It’s all right,” he says, “I’m just a bit sore, that’s all.”

He looks up, behind me. Mom’s been standing there, watching us. She’s finally crying.

“Didn’t you know I’d be back?” Dad says to her, smiling.

She rushes over, and the three of us are hugging together. It was a long time before we broke up.

“What happened to you?” asks mom.

Dad looks at me, tentatively. His face is suddenly grave, pale, his eyes looked, did they look scared?

“I think it’s best if you leave while I talk to your mother. Don’t you have school in a bit? Go get ready for me.”

I nod, turning away reluctantly. As I head upstairs, I hear him say, “Let’s sit down. I need some water.”

I return to my bookbag with a different set of tears in my eyes. I knew he would be fine, I just knew it! Why would I ever think my dad could get hurt? He had to come home, and he did! That’s all there was to it.

I heard a gasping moan from downstairs. I turn towards the door, and stop when I remember that he told me to leave them alone. Another moan floats through the door. My curiosity gets the best of me.

I creep around the doorframe and down the hall to the landing. Leaning against the wall with my ear between the banisters, they couldn’t see me around the corner but their words were clear as day:

“-just got to the hospital to inspect the facilities. It was around eight in the morning. I was following the chief of staff to his office when it sounded like a cannon went off right beside me. The wall next to me exploded.”

Mom made another sound like I had heard from upstairs. I couldn’t see her but her face was plain as day. She must have been chalk-white. I was turning pale too. I found myself wondering how in the world he could have survived that.

Dad continued:

“I woke up some time later, I really have no idea how much later. It was pitch black where I was, and hot, deathly hot. I put my hands out and felt metal as hot as a grill. Three walls of metal, and one of rock. I remember asking myself if I was dead, or captured or something.

“I started scratching and clawing at the rock to get out. It looked like I was in some sort of enclosure, like a space just big enough for my body. I had yanked enough rock away to pull myself out.

“I looked back and saw I was under a steel desk that had been thrown right-side up on top of me. It was the perfect cover. My skin felt horribly sunburned, and the air was so hot it was like sitting in a sauna. I looked around and saw I was standing on what was left of the second floor as it came down on top of us. And I was alone. The hospital had fallen away, so I could see the sky, though it was so dark. It looked like a storm had come in in seconds. Rain was coming down. But it wasn’t rain. It was black, and tarry…

“I climbed over walls of the hospital, I was so thirsty, so groggy. I knew there would be no running water. But we were close to the bay, and I crossed a river to get to the hospital. So, I started making my way back there. I was so lucky to be close to the city limits, I doubt anyone in downtown survived the collapse of those huge buildings. But almost every building here was destroyed, and the ones that weren’t were burning…

“At first I didn’t see a single person. Then I came across a mother and her baby under an awning of concrete. It was…it was hellish. The woman…her skin was peeling off in sheets…her eyes were a bright gold-white. They must have been bleached from looking at the explosion. Her baby was charred black. It looked rubbery in her arms. She was staring straight ahead, the skin hanging off her arms was translucent, like the wings of a fly. The shock on her face made me nauseous. I called out to her but she didn’t hear me. I doubted that she would, she was probably deaf from being outside for the blast.”

I closed my eyes. What he was saying scared me. I didn’t want to be here, but I was frozen against the wall, helpless to hear.

“As I got closer to the riverside, I saw more and more people, some on their feet, some lying like rag dolls, some whose body parts were just barely sticking out of the rubble. The people on the ground were so burned they were swelling up. They looked like black rubber dolls. When I got to the river, I-”

He stopped, choking on his words. Mom was dead silent now. I could imagine her dread is keeping her from even moaning. My heart is hammering now. As I listen I see with clarity the ghastly sights my father had seen. The images burned into my mind’s eye.

“I saw hundreds, literally hundreds of corpses, covering the banks of the river, piled on top of one another, trying to get a last drink…there were corpses floating down the river, too. I saw a woman pass who looked like she was wearing a long white cloth belt that was billowing out behind her. I got closer and realized it was her intestines, whitened by the water.

“On the other side of the river, there were these large mounds piled up against the ruined walls facing the explosion, and people were standing around them, pulling them apart. They were looking for their loved ones, inside mounds of human beings. I saw children there, on their knees, screaming into the mounds, ‘daddy are you in there?’, ‘mommy please come out!’

“I stood there, behind the bodies bordering the river like black and red sandbags, watching people float by, watching people dig into mountains of humans, watching people collapse where they stood, watching people with burst out organs try and fit them back in, watching a man with eyes burned out of his head as he asked, ‘Is anyone there? Please, kill me.’

“I stood there under the gray sky, watching all this through smoke as black rain fell, and you know what I realized? I realized that, in all my thoughts, all my dreams of what Hell might look like, I could never have imagined anything like this. I guess I didn’t need to, though. Hell came to me. Hell came to earth.”

I stood for a long, long time after that. My back was still against the wall. The grotesque images swam in front of me, as if at the end of a black tunnel, the women writhing, the men pleading for death, the corpses grinning up at me as they floated by.

My shirt peeled off the wall as I ran to the bathroom. I bolted to the toilet and promptly vomited into the basin. My eyes felt like they would burst under the pressure of my undigested breakfast.

The monsters I picture when I swing my closet door open or look under my bed from on top-expecting to see a set of dripping white teeth over two glaring red eyes-those monsters are nothing now. Nothing compared to these horrors. These people, they’re real, and the ones who caused them this…there couldn’t be anything more evil in the world.

I kneeled, dazed, over the bowl for minutes. I came out of it only when mom knocked on the door and told me in a quiet voice that I would be late for school if I didn’t hurry. Thirty five minutes later I was sitting in class before the teacher came in.

Before I had left the house, I hugged my dad, who had fallen asleep on the couch where he sat. His face looked very lined, very tired under his blisters. He looked older. I hated thinking of him that way, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I came out of it slightly when the teacher came in at 11 o’clock, shushing the chattering class. He wrote the month and then 9th on the board before turning to us.

“Kids,” he said, “I know things have been scary these last couple days but we all need to remember to keep calm, okay? It’s especially important to obey your curfews, and not to cause ruckus of any type. I’m talking of course about the incident that happened last night. It seems someone has defaced the school sign outside. You may have seen it on your way in this morning. Now, I hope the perpetrator is not part of my class, but if he or she is here, I ask that they come forward and confess. It doesn’t have to be now, but it has to be today.”

I had seen the sign. The janitor was out there as we came in, scrubbing at the sign. It was faint, but we could still see the word “sucks”, underneath “Nagasaki Elementary School”.

Outside the windows, a blue light explodes across the sky.

Credit To – Colin’s Home for the Damned

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Grease

October 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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You stepped into the darkened house, picking through the broken pieces of glass from the shattered window you crept in through. The rest of the windows were boarded up, the electricity long cut off from the decrepit old building, rendering it as black as pitch. You don’t remember how long this house has been here, on the edge of the forest, with its long winding driveway and old crumbling pillars that made of the remnants of a gate. You don’t even remember a time where anyone had been in it, it had always been that abandoned house, sitting alone and untouched at the edge of the forest, slowly falling in on itself as time ticked by. It sat there, a time capsule, waiting for someone to enter it.

You finally had the guts to do it today.

With a flashlight and a tackle box to store things in, you crawled in through the window and shined your light about the house. It was a disaster. The floor was covered in old clothes and forgotten papers, scattered across the house wall to wall like scraggly carpeting. Old pictures hung crookedly on the walls, the glass sometimes broken, the frames covered in a thick layer of dust from all the years of just sitting there. Some show happier times, the family that was once in there, sitting around tables, standing in front of buildings and monuments, happily gazing out with permanent smiles fixed on their faces.

The couch in the living room, you noticed, had been moved, shoved up in front of a door near the stairs. The couch was actually laid sideways up along the door, as if specifically put there to hold something inside of it. You aren’t sure you want to see what is behind that door, so you avoided it, slowly climbing up the stairs to the attic above it all.

The attic was in a similar state of disarray, things scattered here and there. In the corner, there was an old, rotting crib, its white bars turning yellow with age and some strange bundle laying in the center of the crib. You shined your flashlight over it, inspecting closely what it could be inside. Something was swaddled in old, moldy blankets, moth eaten and dark with dust and age. You almost reached out to grab it, but thought otherwise. You were superstitious, nervous about trespassing into this old abandoned house. You swore you could feel eyes on you in every corner of the house, staring at you, becoming angrier and angrier with every passing moment of your stay here. Instead, you reached down and picked up a small fallen board from one of the walls, and prodded the bundle of blankets tentatively.

And it squirmed.

You leaped back, gripping the board like a sword as the pile of blankets twitched and writhed for what felt like ages, until it finally settled again, crooked and cocoon-like on the crib. You hadn’t imagined it. It had definitely moved. Your heart still pounded from the sight, but you stepped forward again, boldly using the board to try and unwrap the mass of blankets. Again, it began to squirm and writhe, almost attempting to pull those blankets tighter around it, fighting every attempt to roll it over and inspect it fully.

Finally, at last, something gave way, and the blankets fell away.

A dark, greasy stain sat heavy in the center of the blanket, and a foul smell rose from it, some strange mixture of bodily excretions and dust. The bundle had been empty. It was as if the space had been occupied with nothing but air, but the stain sat there, filling the expanse with the scent of dead flesh and sweat. You gagged, and backed away from the source, staring at the yellowish gray stain in the middle of the blankets. This had now become too strange for you to enjoy, it was certainly past time for you to go.

Abandoning the old attic with its strange contents, you went back downstairs, skipping steps as you hurried to find the window you had slipped into the house from. You could have sworn it was in the kitchen, but that was now boarded up, no sign of broken glass anywhere. You paused in there, frantic, shining your flashlight from corner to corner, looking for the sign of entry, but there was nothing. Just silence, and the sudden, approaching scent of rotting flesh and old sweat. Your nose burned, and you stumble back out of the kitchen, kicking at the front door to see if that would give. It was boarded from the outside though, and your meager little attempts to break them down were in vain. There was only one door left to try.

The basement.

The couch was still laying up against it heavily, covering up the entirety of the door. As you got closer, you could smell that disgustingly familiar scent. Decay and sweat drenched one of the cushions of the couch, the cushion itself sunken. Even the back of it was depressed back, and the dark stain left there was in the shape of a body. But how had you not noticed this as you passed it earlier? You were at loathe to touch it, as if in fear that the stain would creep over onto your hands. You could imagine the filmy grease slipping along your finger tips, gathering under your nails as you tried to wrench the couch away from the door. You stifled a shudder, and grabbed the arm of it, as far away from the dark stain as you could get, yanking with all your might.

The couch fell with a heavy thud, rattling the whole house as it hit the ground. Frankly, you were surprised that the floor didn’t crumble beneath it.. Dust flew up in every direction, and you backed away from the couch quickly, as if in fear that something, somewhere, would hear it and come to inspect what had happened. Then, you dragged the couch away from the door, breathing through your mouth heavily so as to avoid smelling the stain. It got into your mouth instead, you could practically taste the rotting, slimy grease, slipping down your throat and laying heavy on your tongue. It was good enough where it was, the door would open.

The door was stuck where it was. It hadn’t been opened in years, so it seemed, and the hinges were rusted with time. You yanked and pulled as hard as you could, before suddenly, with a snap and loud creak, the door swung open, and the dark expanse of the basement behind it yawned open. That smell suddenly exploded upwards, forcibly invading your nose and mouth, and you coughed and gagged terribly as the flashlight revealed a greasy door, gouges torn out of the interior, as if something had been fighting against it with all its might in order to escape. Grease was smeared along the wooden banister leading down into the darkness, and a filthy hand print had been placed at the wall. No dust touched it, there was a clearing circle around the hand print itself, as if the passage of time didn’t dare lay a finger upon it, it was so appalling. But, this way might be the only way out. With the flashlight and tackle box gripped tightly, you began to descend down into the darkness.

The terrible smell just grew more powerful with every step taken down, threatening to force you to vomit. Was it really all the grease that was making that smell? Or was it something else? You reached the bottom, shining the flashlight around the small space. Dark, cold, the walls made of stone and leaking brackish water. Old cobwebs hung from the ceiling, with dead and moldy spiders hanging from them like an assortment of arachnid gallows. Still no sign of where the smell was coming from, but there was the faintest filter of moonlight coming from a crack somewhere. You peered hard, and swept the light over, and there, you found the door to the outside, hopefully not boarded up like the rest of the main doors.

You take a step towards it, only to hear a sickening, awful squelch. Something crunches under your foot as well, as if whatever was sealed inside that sticky, oozing mess was hard and brittle. You jerk the flashlight down to see what you step in, before bile rises in your throat.

It’s a hand. Or the remains of one. Sealed inside a great, foul, yellowish grayish mass of grease. It’s an entire body, the grease translucent and in the shape of what might have once been a body. Obese and filthy, things writhe inside the grease, trapped inside of it. You don’t have the stomach to see what they are, and you yank your foot up quickly, gagging and spitting as the shattered bones of the hand stick to the underside of your shoe. You don’t want to know. You never want to find out. You dart past the body on the ground, or what you think was a body, and try to head on, but your flashlight gathers more on the ground. Another grease covered skeleton, laying propped against the wall, its eyes partially jellied and staring balefully out back at you. There’s the remains of skin on this one, purple veined and bloated, but the grease seemed to have actively eaten away at everything else. Stringy, greasy hair dangles down in limp, lifeless curls that might have once been so bouncy and vibrantly blond. You can’t hold it anymore, and you violently empty your stomach onto the ground, that smell just compounding the scent of death and decay in the basement. You have to get out.

You focused on the door, and went to shove it open. Once, twice, three times you try, the hinges groaning and the wood creaking. Finally, at the point where you were sure it was all for naught and you’d be trapped in this awful house with the corpses, the door gave way, and fresh air and moonlight streamed in through the open door. You rushed outside, and didn’t even bother to shut the basement door behind you. You left that dark, black house with its strange secrets and returned to your home, crawling into bed before falling into a restless, difficult slumber.

Weeks pass, and the house was slowly pulled out of mind, as other things came up and life in general took over. You returned home one day to your house, unlocking the door and stepping inside, and all at once, a familiar scent greeted you.

Of decaying flesh and old sweat. Your stomach instantly tightened up in knots, and you instantly turned on all the lights, desperately seeking out where the smell was coming from.

You didn’t notice the greasy hand print on the wall, or the dark, filthy footsteps leading down to the basement. But you will. Eventually.

Some secrets want to be known.

Credit To – Squid

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Room 1C

September 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I lived in unit 1B in an apartment building. It was on the second floor, at the end of a hallway that leads to the other units, and I had the whole thing to myself. And for a while, it was pretty good. Quiet building, decent rent, no problems with the landlords or other tenants. But a couple of months ago, the unit right above me–1C–started to get noisy.

It sounded like a little kid playing and stuff, running around and all that. But the weird thing is, it only happened at night, around 11pm or later. I ignored it for as long as I could, but I have to get up early for work, so eventually I had to say something. One night when the kid was really loud, probably around midnight, I went upstairs and stood at 1C’s door. Yup, he was definitely in there, running around and playing or something.

I knocked on the door, and right away, the kid stopped running. I guess it was one of those times when kids get caught doing something bad, they freeze up and play dumb. I actually smiled when I thought that, and I wasn’t mad or anything… but no one answered the door. So I knocked again, and said, “Hey, could you please keep it down? I can’t sleep.”

No one answered. But the kid had stopped running, so whatever, I went back to my flat. As I left, I could have sworn I heard something… it was like a giggle, but combined with a series of rapid, low-pitched clicks. I ignored it and went to sleep.


But a few days later, the kid was back at it. All hours of the night he was running up and down, making a Hell of a racket. I didn’t want to go and knock on the door again, so the next morning, I went to the management office in town. They gave me the paperwork to file a noise complaint, and I filled it out then and there. But as I handed it back to the lady at the front desk, she took one look at it, and said, “Umm… 1C is vacant.” I asked her what unit was above 1B, and she said 1C. And I was sure that was where the noise was coming from, but she checked her records, and sure enough, 1C was vacant. In fact, she still had the keys in a little set of cubbyholes behind her desk.

There were a couple of other people in the office, and they started to look at me like I was crazy. I didn’t want to create a scene, so I left and did my best to ignore the kid, or whatever it was, for the next couple of days.

But one night I woke up, and not because the kid was making noise. Something wet was dripping onto my face. I got up and turned the lights on, and saw that the ceiling right above my bed was leaking water… really dusty, dirty water. I called management’s emergency number and they sent a repairman over right away.

And I was pretty pissed off. My bed was soaked and filthy, I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I had work in a couple of hours. So when the repairman came over, I went with him up to 1C. He had the keys, so we didn’t have a problem getting in.

There was about an inch of dust everywhere, and the moment we went in, it started to fly all over the place. I felt it coating my lips and the inside of my mouth and nose when I breathed. And it was pretty chilly, even though it was the middle of spring and probably seventy degrees outside. So me and the repairman pulled our shirts over our noses and headed through the living room and into the bedroom, which was right above my bedroom. There was a trail of water leading from the attached bathroom, and when we followed it, we saw that a faucet was on and the sink had overflowed.

I looked back in the living room. My footprints were there, and the repairman’s, but that was it. We shut off the faucet and since the repairman didn’t seem too interested in talking to me, I let him vacuum up the water and fix the floor by himself. But I had to know what was going on. Had someone broken in? There’s a drainpipe right next to the window in the bedroom, and it faces an alley, so I opened the blinds to check it out.

But the window was locked from the inside, and it wasn’t broken or anything. The only weird thing about it was that there was a single, dusty handprint on the inside pane, but the moment I breathed on it, it vanished. It was getting pretty early by then, so I headed out to get whatever sleep I could. I didn’t see anything else in the unit, but I’m pretty sure I heard something clicking as I left. Maybe it was the floor.

I think something happened to the repairman, because we had a couple of issues in the building and management had to hire a contractor to fix them. He didn’t come back until a while later, and even then he was coughing and wheezing all over the place. But things were quiet on my end, and I didn’t have any more problems with 1C, not until a week or so after the water incident.


It was really loud that night. Like, really loud. It was like the kid was jumping up and down and stomping around. There was that weird giggling noise too, mixed with those low pitched clicks. I still have no idea what they were. Anyway, I had just about enough of it, so I stormed up to 1C and started to bang on the door. I shouted at whoever was in there to shut the fuck up and let me get some sleep, and that was when someone told me to calm down.

I must have woken up half the hallway, because they were all sticking their heads out of the doors and staring at me. I asked them if they heard anything, and they said no, 1C was vacant. I asked them if they were making any noise, and I must have cursed again, because they told me to go back to sleep or they were going to call the cops. I didn’t really have a choice, so I did what they said.


The next morning, I went to management to thank them for dealing with all of my complaints. I apologized for the night before and promised that it wouldn’t happen again, and then I gave them a box of donuts. The lady went to go and give it to the rest of the workers, and when they were picking out which ones they wanted, I reached over the desk and grabbed the keys to room 1C. I chatted with them for a few minutes and then headed to work.

I got a flashlight on my way home, and a surgical mask for the dust. I’m not sure what I meant to do, but that night, when I heard the little motherfucker stomping around again, I went up the stairs, put my mask on, unlocked room 1C, and went in. I left the door open to get in some light from the hall, but the entry to the suite is a tight turn, so it didn’t do me much good. And when I went into the living room, it slammed shut behind me anyway.

It was really dusty in there. And really dark, I wouldn’t have been able to see a thing without my flashlight. And the weird thing is, even though the windows were in the living room were closed, there was a lot of air moving around, it was making the dust fly all over the place. Even with my flashlight I couldn’t see very far, because of all the dust. But I kept going. There was nothing in the living room, nothing in the closet, nothing in the kitchen. So I went to the bedroom.

The moment I stepped in, it got freezing cold. I could see my breath in the air, and the dust was still going nuts… but I went in a little further to take a look around. My flashlight died out–and that was weird, since I got the batteries that day–so I tried to turn on the lights. But of course the electricity had been shut off. The only light was from the streetlights through the gaps around the blinds.

I was having a tough time breathing. It was because of the surgical mask, so I took it off, but it was so dusty that it didn’t make a difference one way or the other. And I was getting really, really cold, and nothing was there, so I decided to go. I turned around, and that was when I a lot of dust gather in the air in front of me. It wasn’t like when it was just floating, it was definitely collecting in the shape of something. But I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe, so I stepped aside to get some of the street light on it.

It was a face. A kid’s face. It smiled for a minute, making that weird clicking sound, and then it started to float toward me. I tried to scream, but the dust got in my mouth, so I held my breath and shoved the kid–I definitely shoved something solid away–and I ran the fuck out of the bedroom and toward the door. But it was locked, and my key didn’t work–and I heard footsteps behind me, light footsteps, and a kid giggling. When it got close, I kicked out as hard as I could, and then I managed to break the door down and get back into the hallway.

That got everyone out, and they were all looking at me like I was a freak. But I talked to an old lady about it later, and she said that when they saw how pale I was, and how hard I was struggling to breathe, they knew that something was wrong. I couldn’t talk, I was coughing so much, so I just pointed at the door.

A couple of big guys went in to check it out. They didn’t need flashlights, the lights worked just fine when they turned them on. They told me they saw footprints in the dust. Most of them were mine, but some of them were a lot smaller. And one of them said that just next to the door, there was a heavier layer of dust, and it was in the shape of a little kid.

I got an apartment down the street the next day. Management agreed to give me my security deposit back if they could rent 1B by the next month, so there were a bunch of people looking at it while I was moving my stuff out. One of them asked me if the other tenants were quiet, if there were any noisy kids or anything. I just said no. And he ended up taking the place.

I saw him at a bar yesterday. I asked him if it was still a quiet building, and he said yeah, for the most part. But some nights he hears something from the unit above him. I said, what, is it a little kid being loud or something? He said no. It’s a little kid crying.

Credit To – Alex Ross

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