The Truth about London

March 25, 2017 at 12:00 AM

If you’re reading this, then congratulations! You’ll soon be one of the few that know the truth, and by then I’ll likely be gone. Not dead. Just, gone. Vanished. Erased. Snubbed out. Mark my words, it will happen. But before that day comes, I’m determined to share the information I have, information that many would prefer to remain out of reach. But information the public deserves to know.

I’ll start with how I managed to get myself into this mess, right in the centre of the spider’s web. Apologies in advance for the hazy details, but I’m going to have to be vague to keep them off my trail for much longer. Anyway, to put it simply, I had hit rock bottom when they found me. Homeless on the streets of Her Majesty’s London, without a single helping hand in sight. At the time, their offer seemed too good to be true. “One-Hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling”, I was told, with private healthcare, house and car thrown in too. In hindsight, I should’ve realised it was.

If you’re not from the UK, but have ever visited London, you’ll understand what I’m about to say perfectly. Doesn’t it all seem a bit… magical? The gold of the crown sprinkled on every street corner, post-box and lamppost? The palaces and towers that everyone visits eventually, with their guards, gates and the presence of royalty only metres away? The Houses of Parliament and the London Underground, mundane and boring to those familiar with them, yet quirky and alluring to those from outside? One of my co-workers once described London as the “Disney of Capital Cities”, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly what they want.

Simply put, it is all a front for something much greater.

When you visit London, they want you to make fools of yourselves trying to make the Queen’s Guard smile. They want you to buy into the excitement of Royal Weddings, and to shake your heads at the Parliamentary debates. They want you to read conspiracy theories about what happened to Princess Diana, and they want you to believe them. What is the truth? I don’t know, and neither will any of you. The point is that you’ll sit there and ponder. Ponder and ponder and never, for one moment, look deeper than that thin layer of magic.

Because if you do, you may just find another London entirely.

Whatever I had expected when I first signed the contract, it was nothing compared to the truth. My job was nothing special: I was a glorified cleaner, responsible for cleaning up after the All-Stars, picking up the trash and keeping my head down and mouth shut. If I recall correctly, the official term used was “disposable employee”, but I digress. When you work in UnLondon, things are never that easy.

UnLondon is an enigma, something that hides in plain sight and yet remains concealed to a near-perfect degree. It is also worth mentioning that UnLondon is only a nickname, used by those with no official business or importance there, and only spoken publicly by those with nothing to lose. Unfortunately, I am a member of both groups. Official names include “SC Templar”, “SC One” and “SC Crowne”, with the “SC” standing for Sub-City and the rest standing for god-knows what. I have reason to believe similar facilities exist in many cities worldwide, with rumoured locations including the Paris Catacombs, The Vatican and the City of Moscow to name a few, but I have no solid evidence to support these claims. Then again, procuring evidence against a secret of this magnitude is a near-impossible task, so you’ll just have to trust my word.

Over roughly nine-months of my employment in UnLondon, I stumbled across my fair share of sensitive information, not entirely by accident, but not outright deliberately either. Of course, it wasn’t easy. What other cleaning jobs do you know that force you through two months of psychological examination, interrogation and conditioning before they let you near the place? And that isn’t even including the security measures underground.

Practically every door is magnetically sealed, openable only with the correct key-card and fingerprints that change daily. When on the job, there is never a moment when you aren’t in the immediate vicinity of an armed guard, security camera or narrow-eyed supervisor. When you aren’t working, you’re confined to your accommodation, with every blind spot covered, every mirror two-way and absolutely no phone service to speak of. Some call the UK the “most watched country on Earth”, and they’d be right. Because the secrets of UnLondon are that valuable.

Moving on to the facility itself, UnLondon isn’t a single, fortified location but a labyrinth of disused chambers, passages and bunkers stretching beneath the City of London, particularly under and around the River Thames. You won’t find them on any map, and they aren’t accessible through any of the known areas available to the public, only through a handful of very specific entry points within the river itself and several mining-standard elevator shafts in choice locations around the city. Don’t bother asking where any of these entrances are, because I was unconscious and blindfolded during the journey for obvious security reasons.

Believe it or not, the history of the facility is one of the few scraps of information they willingly give up to new employees, likely to create a false sense of lawfulness and security in a profession that is neither secure nor lawful. UnLondon was first founded immediately following World War Two in an effort to capitalise on the existing infrastructure of subterranean London. While everyone else was hopeful and looking to the light, they took it upon themselves to sink to new lows. Since then, the tunnels have expanded exponentially, as have the range of their functions, with the depravity and secrecy only growing with each passing decade.

Let’s just say that during my stint as a disposable, I saw the remnants of some mind boggling, revolting and disturbing things. I won’t go into all the details to spare your stomach, but I’ll give you enough for your mind to fill in the rest. A few other disposables and I were once sent in to clean up after a round of “afternoon tea”: tea, cakes and substances too rare and secret to populate the Government’s banned substances register, not to mention the meat of animals on the endangered species list. Another cleaning session consisted of emptying an office following its occupant’s “suicide”. “Marked for incineration”, the order had said.

I suppose by now you’re wondering how I know all I do, and for that, I don’t blame you. The life of a disposable is mostly just following orders from a faceless superior, trudging from one day to the next in silence and staying in the dark. For me, it was much of the same. Until they chose to promote me. To understand my second job, you first need to understand the single biggest source of paranoia for the bigwigs behind UnLondon: the internet. A single cyber-attack or incursion could expose the truth behind their actions, so within UnLondon no communication over the internet, via phones or any equipment, modern or otherwise, is permitted. Good ol’ fashioned letters make up the vast majority of communication within the city, which are favoured exactly for their primitive, unhackable nature. Coupled with the near-zero chance of any physical material escaping the city, and you can see the appeal. This brings me on to my second job within UnLondon: a “courier”.

Hundreds of couriers are employed within the tunnels, scurrying back and forth and providing a never ending stream of orders, data and documents, the vast majority of which are marked classified, read once and then promptly sent to one of several huge furnaces somewhere in the complex. But in secret, as time trickled by and hundreds upon hundreds of letters came under my supervision, I gradually built up my knowledge of the city. And it terrified me. I learnt that the “level” I had been employed on was only the highest of five, each more mysterious and secure than the last. I learnt that many of the unseen figures we had heard whispers of were well known celebrities, politicians and intellectuals. And worst of all, I learnt about The Fleming Protocol. What began as three words mentioned inconspicuously on an itinerary soon spiralled into a predicament that has me trapped to this day.

Remember the term: “disposable employee”? I first assumed it was intended to demean and frighten us, but in hindsight I suppose it was naïve to ever assume anything in my situation. Like I said, security is their single greatest concern, and it turns out someone like me: a nobody, salvaged from the bottom and trapped between the lines, is too great a threat for them to tolerate. Whether it’s simply the cold nature of UnLondon or the fear that “my kind” has nothing left to lose, the fact is that I don’t have long left. When I first began my conditioning, I was given a “medical examination” that included several different injections disguised as vaccinations. More naivety on my part, I suppose. Whatever they gave me, I can feel it growing stronger by the day, seething, throbbing and sapping what little strength I have left.

I know now that they’ll be no happy endings for me, no meal-tickets to easy street and no way out. They want their secrets to stay buried, trapped in legend and myth, never to see the light of day. I won’t give them that luxury. So whatever the cost, I’m making my knowledge known by using my short debriefing period to do the right thing. To serve the public after so long serving the men in their high towers. Like I said, by the time you’re reading this, I’ll likely be gone, so I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice. Next time you hear of a sensational conspiracy, or a scandal too shocking to be true, or something you may immediately dismiss as improbable in the modern world, think of my story. Think of how much you really know about the backstreets and dark cellars of the world around you. And most of all think about what you can do to bring those places into the light. After all, all rumours start somewhere.

Credit: Jack Roland

Revelations (Sequel to The Fort and Survival)

March 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM

As noted in the title, this is a sequel to The Fort and Survival.

“Baby, come on! We need to go!” Ryan yelled as he slammed the trunk of their Hyundai sedan.
“I’m coming!” Carla called from inside the house, appearing seconds later carrying a gym bag. “I just got some clothes for Kyle.”
She jogged down the steps to Ryan, and he took the bag from her, tossing it on the pile of other stuff on the back seat.
He turned to look at her, fear and trepidation in her eyes.
“Have we got everything?” he asked and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Everything on the list and a couple of extra things I thought of.” she replied, glancing up at the intersection as a siren screamed past. A bang in the distance made her jerk, and he squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.
“Come one.”
He quickly ran up to the house and collected his rifle and ammunition from the table on which he had placed them earlier. Quickly locking the door behind him, he returned to the car and put the Remington on the backseat and threw a blanket over it.
Carla got in the passenger side and Ryan started up the car, backed out of the driveway and headed down the street.
“So when you spoke to him, you made sure he understood that he was to wait for us, right?” Ryan asked, as he slowed at the intersection, before turning right.
“Yes. He understood. He said Graham’s parents weren’t planning on going anywhere and that he was welcome to stay until we got there. But I haven’t been able to get hold of him or them since this morning. Network’s down or something. We should’ve gone straight away.”
Ryan glanced at her, a flash of annoyance running through him.
“We’ve been through this. We don’t really know what’s going on, or how long it’ll last. We can’t just blow out of here without some kind of plan. Look around you Carla, does it look like we’ll be able to stop at the grocery store for food and water and a chocolate?”
She looked as though she wanted to argue, but she slumped back into her seat and said nothing.
The streets were eerily quiet, but Ryan spotted people frantically packing cars, running up the street or speeding past in cars and on bikes.
Reaching another intersection, Ryan slammed on the brakes just in time as a fire truck flew past, sirens blaring.
He took a deep breath and then started forward again, heading to his son’s friend’s house, where he had spent the previous two nights.
The plan was simple. Pick Kyle up and get to Carla’s father’s house. He had a large house in Saxonwold – an up market suburb of Johannesburg where they would stay for a while, waiting for whatever this was to blow over – or to make another plan. Ryan’s older brother Matt stayed in Pretoria, and Ryan had tried to convince him to join them, but Matt had been stubborn. He had insisted that everything was under control and that panic wasn’t necessary. After arguing for a time, Ryan had finally relented and insisted that if he changed his mind they come and join them. He had also been unable to get hold of him since then.
He had seen the reports about children becoming violent – even killing. But so far the authorities had no real explanation. Carla maintained that it had something to do with the asteroid crashing in Texas, but she had always been a bit paranoid. And she loved her space stories way too much in his opinion.
It had been two days since the first big attack in an informal settlement close to the airport. That evening they had agreed that Kyle could spend a couple of nights at his friend’s house, as it was the weekend and the single attack had not concerned them too much. But the next day the attacks had been a consistently growing occurrence and each incident appeared to be getting closer to their area.
Finally, they had started hearing an inordinate amount of sirens and bangs – neither would just come out and say gunshots – and this had prompted Carla to suggest getting to a safer haven. She had argued that their single story house was right on the street in a heavily populated area. At first Ryan had balked. He had said she was overreacting, and that they were perfectly safe, but the next morning footage of children sprinting through the night, attacking every living thing in sight helped change his mind. The news had called it some kind of virus that only affected children, causing them to become extremely violent. They did not know if it was infectious, but all indications seemed to support that assumption. They could however, not guess as to how it was spreading or if it was curable. Adults remained unaffected.
They had phoned her father and he had urged them to hurry. Calling Kyle next, he had assured his mother that he was safe and that he would wait for them.
Carla had wanted to leave immediately, but Ryan had convinced her that they needed to be prepared. So they had made a list of supplies they thought they would need: water, food, clothes, medicine, flashlights. They basically packed everything they would take on a rugged outdoor camping trip – even tents. Soon they had run out of space however, and they had unpacked a lot of lesser essentials, eventually giving up on taking the tents too.
It had taken much longer than planned, and three hours later, when they were ready to leave, Carla was unable to reach her father or son by phone. The radio and TV still worked, giving updates on attacks and emergency numbers, and asking people to stay inside their homes.
“Ryan! Oh my god, oh my god, Ryan!”
Ryan looked to where Carla was pointing and slowed the car.
Three people had exited a house and were running toward them. They were followed by a group of about six teens, who slowly shambled after them. The last of the three was a middle aged man who seemed to be limping, and Ryan saw dark red stains on his shirt and pants.
“Help! Help us!” the first person shouted as the car slowed to a stop. It was a woman of about the same age as the limping man and she was hysterical.
Ryan hit a button and the doors of the car locked.
“What are you doing? We have to help them!” Carla cried and moved as if to unlock her door.
“Stop!” Ryan ordered. “We don’t know what the hell is going on here! What if it’s just a trick to get our car?”
Carla stopped mid movement and sat back.
“How can we be sure?”
“We can’t, but we have to assume the worst. We have other priorities right now. We have to go get our son.”
She seemed to accept this, but she didn’t look happy about it.
“Help, please! They attacked us!” the woman shrieked as Ryan slowly started forward again.
The woman banged on the windows and tried to pry open the doors. She was joined by the second in their group, a young man in his early twenties.
“Come on, man! Let us in!” he cried, tears of desperation streaming down his face.
Ryan picked up a little more speed, and at the same time the group of teens caught up to the injured man.
They pulled him to the ground, and Ryan watched transfixed as one of the teens sank his teeth into the man’s throat, ripping back in a slow, determined motion.
Carla screamed.
The other teens piled onto the man, biting where they could, or punching and kicking in the same slow, methodical way. They looked drunk or high. Dazed somehow, as if they were unaware of where they were and what they were doing.
The young man jumped onto the hood of the car, looking Ryan in the eyes.
“Let us in, man!” he screamed again. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”
Ryan only shook his head.
“Ryan!” Carla exclaimed through tears. “We have to help them!”
Ryan looked at her pleading face, the tears causing her face to shine. He slowed, and was about to stop when a gunshot shook the inside of the car. A hole appeared in the windscreen, and Ryan heard the round exiting through the back window.
The young man had drawn a pistol, and was now pointing it at Ryan.
“Stop the car!” he screamed.
Without thinking, Ryan floored the pedal and jerked the wheel to the side, even as another shot rang out. Carla screamed again, and Ryan jerked the car from side to side, keeping his foot mashed to the floor.
Finally the man lost his grip and tumbled off the side and Ryan straightened the car and kept the speed up until they had put three kilometres behind them.
Carla was sobbing softly in the seat next to him, and he tried to comfort her by putting his hand on her leg, but he kept his attention on the road.
What the fuck is going on? Is everyone going crazy? he thought angrily.
They saw more and more of the dazed children wandering the streets, and a few more people tried to wave them down for assistance or a lift.
Ryan kept going. They saw many cars, fully loaded with people and supplies heading in the direction of the highway and a few near misses with other vehicles eventually forced Ryan to slow down even more, lest they have an accident.
After what felt like hours, but was in reality only twenty minutes, they pulled into Graham’s street. Ryan realised he didn’t even know what his parent’s names were.
He slowed down to a crawl, slowly scanning the street and neighbouring houses. Except for a family hastily loading a mini bus three houses down, the street looked deserted.
Ryan’s eyes were drawn to the family busily packing their bus. The father and mother were running back and forth between the house, returning with boxes and bags, while their young daughter sat on the grass next to the bus. Ryan guessed her at about nine, and she hardly seemed to move. She sat cross legged and stared vacantly down the street, but as Ryan’s car passed, the girl’s head suddenly jerked up and she looked straight into Ryan’s eyes. They looked yellow, and a chill ran up Ryan’s spine. The girl’s face was expressionless, and it looked as if she was covered in sweat.
“The next one. With the black gate.” Carla said beside him and his attention was brought back to his driving.
As he pulled up to the house, he glanced in the rear view mirror, but the girl and her parents were gone. The bus was still parked outside, so they must’ve gone inside.
Carla got out of the car and he followed, nervously looking up and down the street. It was still empty.
Carla trotted through the gate and up to the front door and knocked sharply three times.
A few moments went by and then the door was opened by Graham’s father. His face flooded with relief.
“Kyle, your parents are here!” he called back into the house.
“Thank god. We didn’t want to wait any longer. We’ve decided on leaving as well. We couldn’t get hold of you, so you know… we assumed the worst.”
He nervously wrung his hands.
“My sister… she stays in Jeffrey’s Bay… small town. We’re leaving shortly. We figure as soon as we get out of the city it should get better. We hope.”
Kyle came running out of the house and embraced Carla. She crouched and looked him in the eyes. Ryan felt himself relax a bit. His son was safe.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, mom, I’m ok.”
He hugged Ryan fiercely.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go.”
They thanked Graham’s dad and headed over to the car.
Ryan turned the car around and headed in the direction of his father-in-law’s house, about a thirty minute drive on a normal day.
As they passed the house where the bus was still parked, they heard a scream and glass breaking. Ryan stopped and looked at the house.
“Ryan?”
“Dad, what are you doing?”
Ryan needed to see the girl again. He needed to see if she had changed into… whatever it was they were turning into.
“That bus is stocked to the max with supplies. I’m just going to check it out.”
“You’re going to steal it?” Carla asked, shocked.
“What? No! I’m just going to… check if they’re ok.”
Carla was about to protest, but Ryan spoke before she could.
“Get behind the wheel when I get out and leave the car running. Wait ten minutes, then go – no matter what.”
“Ryan-”
“No. Matter. What.” he repeated.
She opened her mouth then closed it again. She licked her lips.
“Ok.”
He quickly reached back and took up his rifle. Taking a handful of rounds, he opened the door.
“Lock the doors.” he said and quickly got out. Standing next to the car he loaded his rifle. Slowly, he started forward.
He looked into the bus as he passed, and saw large containers of water, boxes of food and other supplies. He couldn’t see the keys.
Approaching the front door, he saw that it was open and he heard noises from inside. He heard a thud and then something fall and break.
Gently, he pushed the door open and raised his rifle. He took a step forward and then another, and moments later he was inside the house. There was ample natural light and he took another few steps when he heard a shuffling coming from a doorway ahead of him.
Taking a deep breath, he spun into the doorway with his rifle at the ready.
The girl was standing in the center of the living room. Her mother and father lay next to her, the father jerking sporadically. The amount of blood made Ryan nauseous, and a steady stream was still spurting from a wound in the man’s cheek. It looked like a bite mark.
Ryan fought to keep his stomach under control and he started shaking. He couldn’t tell if it was the nausea or the almost crippling fear he suddenly felt.
The girl stood motionless, looking down at the floor, blood dripping from her face and hair.
“What have you done?” Ryan whispered without realising he was going to and the girl looked up.
She started forward toward Ryan, her face still as expressionless as before and he pointed the rifle at her chest. Her eyes were a feral yellow, and her skin was very pale – gray, like ash. Ryan thought he saw thick, black veins running down from her neck.
“Stay back!” he cried, but the girl only trudged forward, as if she didn’t hear Ryan speak at all.
Ryan took a step back, and then another.
“Stay back, goddamnit! I will fire!”
He took another step back and his foot caught on something. He tumbled over backwards and landed flat on his ass, the rifle spilling from his hands. He had backed into another room and had tripped over more supplies waiting to be loaded.
The girl came a little faster now and she opened her mouth in a low, almost mournful groan. Ryan scrambled to where his rifle lay and scooped it up. Turning to face the girl again, she lunged forward and sunk her teeth into his forearm holding the rifle. He cried out in surprise and pain and ripped his arm back, shoving her back forcefully with his other hand. She stumbled back, falling over backwards. He was bleeding, but it wasn’t serious. Shock and horror almost engulfed him, his eyes wide and his mouth open. Looking up from his wound, he saw the girl getting up again and he realised he was trapped. The room had only one entrance.
He raised the rifle again, his hands now shaking so badly that he was almost unable to keep the rifle pointed at the girl’s chest.
“Please,” Ryan pleaded, choking up, his voice a whimper. “Please don’t make me do this.”
A scream from outside made the girl lift her head and turn. Ryan saw it as an opportunity and lunged forward, knocking the girl aside. He tore down the hallway and out of the house.
A woman was stumbling up the road, headed to where the car was parked. She was bleeding from a wound in her side and she was crying hysterically. Two young boys – twins – of about fourteen were shambling after her.
Ryan reached the car and ripped the door open. He waited for Carla to move to the passenger seat, then jumped inside and handed the rifle to Kyle.
“Ryan – what ha-”
“Kyle, the rifle is loaded, please take out the rounds.” Ryan said crisply, slammed the car into gear and took off down the street.
“Ryan? What happened?” Carla asked, unable to keep the panic out of her voice.
“It’s ok. It’s fine. Let’s just get to your dad.” And he could hear his voice shaking and cracking.
Carla put her hand on his leg and squeezed, and she looked at his bloody forearm questioningly. To her credit she said nothing.
They made it to her father’s house without anymore incidents. They saw more children shambling around, more people begging for help, more injured people and even a few car accidents. Emergency personnel were few and far in between and at the places they were, it was crowded beyond belief by people needing assistance.
They made it to Paul’s house a few hours before sundown, and the feeling of relief when the tall, thick, iron gate rolled shut behind them was immense.
The walls were high and thick, with spikes and electric fencing on top. The inside perimeter walls all had motion sensors in the ground and video camera’s covered almost every inch of the property. The house itself was not as secure, as large windows and glass doors made up most of the ground floor.
I guess the plan is to stop anyone before they get to the glass house, Ryan thought for the hundredth time.
Paul was very wealthy. He was a senior partner for a powerful law firm representing dozens of hugely successful companies. He also had a private pilot’s licence and was an avid hunter and firearm collector. Ryan loved going hunting with his father in law, because of his wide variety of weapons.
They might just come in handy sooner rather than later, Ryan thought as they unloaded the car.
Carla’s mother had died many years before from lung cancer, and since then Paul had enjoyed buying and learning exotic things to pass his free time. He was not the type of man who would marry again and when he wasn’t working, he was usually flying or hunting or diving.
When they had unloaded the car and were all inside the house, Carla cleaned and bandaged Ryan’s arm while he told her what had happened. Paul was busy setting Kyle up with the Xbox he had bought for when he came to visit. When he returned, Ryan told the story again. They were horrified and disbelieving, but the clearly human tooth marks on his arm were difficult to argue with. Paul activated the perimeter alarm system and switched the television in the kitchen to show the feeds of the security cameras.
“You think your security company would actually respond to the alarm with all the shit going on out there?” Ryan asked and nodded his head in the direction of the gate.
“I don’t know, but at least the system can warn us if we get an unwelcome visitor.”
Ryan nodded, hoping that it wouldn’t come to that.
Carla and Paul prepared a simple dinner of sandwiches and crackers as the sun set, but Ryan could not stomach even the lightest meal.
The scene with the girl kept replaying over and over again in his head. He would see the blood and become nauseous and then he would again see the girl slowly walking toward him and he would start to shake and break out in a cold sweat.
They were all huddled around the television watching the news, with a second smaller one set to the camera feeds.
The news was a collection of disturbing images: car accidents, mass attacks by children and police gunning people down. Most news channels were reporting that sources had confirmed that it was somehow linked to the asteroid. They were calling the asteroid Revelations. A press release was planned for later that evening out of the United States, which would disclose all the information they had on the virus.
“Ryan.” Carla whispered and he looked at her.
Kyle was asleep on her lap. She motioned for him to take him to the bedroom.
He got up and gently lifted him. He looked peaceful, and his sleep untroubled. Ryan was relieved that his son could sleep. He had been worried that he might have nightmares, given everything that had happened over the last couple of days. He took him down the hall and into the second guest bedroom and gently laid him down. He took off his shoes and pulled the covers over him. Switching off the light, he was about to close the door, when Kyle stopped him.
“Dad?”
“Yeah, champ, I’m here.” He walked over to the bed and sat down.
“Are we going to be okay? You know, with everything that’s going on?”
Ryan sighed quietly. “Sure, buddy. I know it’s a little crazy right now, but it’ll get better soon, you’ll see. All this has just taken everyone by surprise. It’ll take a couple of days before they get a handle on everything. But for the time being, rest assured that we’re safe and sound.” Ryan smiled reassuringly in the light pouring in from the hallway, but Kyle did not look comforted.
“Why didn’t we help that woman? The one on Graham’s street. The crying one.”
Ryan didn’t respond immediately. He was unsure of how to proceed.
“Well, the thing is, like you’ve seen, things are a little crazy right now,” he started. “And not everyone out there is a good person, or is honest when they say they need help. Some people will try and take advantage of others that are trying to help, and you have to be careful who you try to help and who you accept help from.”
Kyle seemed to ponder this for a moment.
“But how can you be sure someone doesn’t really need help? How can you be sure we couldn’t help that lady?” he asked earnestly, his eyes welling up with tears.
“You can’t, buddy. Not really. These are decisions a person has to make for himself. I decided not to help, because I had you and your mom with me in the car, and I decided that I didn’t want to take the risk – that I didn’t want there to be even a small chance of either one of you getting hurt.”
Kyle thought for a moment longer and then seemed to give a small nod, as if he understood and accepted this explanation.
“Get some sleep, champ.” Ryan said and put his hand on Kyle’s forehead.
Kyle was burning up and his forehead was moist with sweat.
Alarm bells chimed in Ryan’s head.
“You feeling ok, buddy?” Ryan asked gently, pulling back the covers.
“Just a little hot and I’ve got a headache, but I’m okay.”
Ryan quickly got up and switched on the light.
“Dad?”
“Stay here, I’ll go get you something for your headache.”
Ryan left the room and trotted to the kitchen. Carla followed him.
“What’s wrong?”
“He’s got a fever, just getting him something to help.”
“Is he okay?”
He didn’t answer. He opened the cabinet where Paul kept his medicine and pulled out three aspirin and poured some water.
He headed back to the room, dropping in the aspirin to dissolve.
Kyle was sitting upright in bed. He had taken off his shirt.
Ryan handed him the glass, and Kyle waited for it to dissolve completely before downing it.
He handed the glass back. “Thanks dad.”
“No problem, champ. Now get some sleep.”
Kyle lay back and Ryan pulled the covers over him.
He exited the room and switched off the light, pulling the door closed behind him.
Carla was waiting for him in the hallway.
“Is he okay?” she asked.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He drank the aspirin and he’s trying to get some sleep.”
Carla looked worried.
“Come on, baby. Sleep would do us some good too.”
They headed to their room, calling goodnight to Paul.

*****

“Ryan! Ryan, wake up!”
Ryan opened his eyes and lifted his head, blinking into the light. Carla was standing next to him, her face contorted in barely controlled panic.
“What is it?” he mumbled, trying to come awake fully.
“It’s Kyle.”
That did it. He sat up and shook his head.
“What about him?”
“His fever is worse and…” she trailed off.
He stood up. “What is it Carla?”
She motioned for him to follow her and he did.
Paul was sitting on Kyle’s bed and the light was on. He moved aside when he saw Ryan enter and he moved toward Kyle.
His son was soaked with sweat. Thin, black veins, were visible on his neck, running down to his shoulders, arms and torso.
“He’s unconscious. We can’t get him awake.” Paul said softly.
Ryan sat on the bed and leaned down to Kyle’s face. He muttered a quick prayer and then gently opened his son’s eye lids.
They were almost yellow – feral, like a cat’s.
He sat upright and sighed.
“This may be a pointless question, but did you try a doctor?” he asked.
Paul nodded. “I tried with my landline. Some of the emergency numbers ring, but no one answers.”
“What do we do?” Carla asked, her voice cracking.
Ryan didn’t answer and after a couple of moments Paul spoke. “We can only try to bring the fever down.”
They drew a bath of lukewarm water and gently submerged him in it for a couple of minutes. When it felt as if the fever let up, they took him out and dried him off, putting him under clean, dry covers again.
His breathing had become raspy, and the dark veins were becoming darker and thicker at an alarming rate.
All through that day, they watched over him, dabbing his head with a damp cloth and dipping him in a bath when they felt his fever spiked too high.
Kyle regained consciousness once during the late afternoon, but he stared blankly around the room, looking at each in turn as if he didn’t recognize them. His eyes were a deep yellow now, and his skin was pale. After clumsily trying to get up, but held down by Ryan, he drifted off again.
It was around eight o’clock that evening, when all three of them were forcing down some food and drink in the kitchen, that they heard a thud coming from down the hall.
They looked at each other for a moment, and then they hurried down the hall to Kyle’s room, Ryan in the lead. He burst into the room, and found Kyle standing on the opposite side of the bed, with his back to him.
A moment of relief burst through him, but then he noted how still his son stood and it was replaced by dread.
“Kyle? Champ?” Ryan ventured, taking a step into the room.
Kyle’s head snapped around, and Ryan recoiled. His face was contorted in anger and what Ryan thought was hate. His eyes were a deep, wild yellow and his skin was gray like ash. He noticed that the black veins criss-crossing his body looked like they had multiplied and were much darker and thicker.
“Kyle?” Carla asked behind Ryan, stepping into the room and around him.
Kyle lunged. He took one step, planted his other foot on the bed and flew at Carla. Ryan grabbed her by the waist instinctively and shoved her aside, and Kyle tackled him to the ground. He shot his hands up and grabbed Kyle by the chin to keep his mouth away from his face, the image of the bite mark on the dead man’s cheek flashing through his mind.
“Kyle, what are you doing?” Carla shrieked hysterically, but he paid her no mind. His teeth was gnashing as he tried to bite his father, saliva dripping from his mouth like a rabid dog. His arms flailed around him, as if he was unsure what to do with them, but a moment later he started hitting his father, landing fists and open palms against Ryan’s face and neck.
A moment later, Kyle floated into the air off of Ryan, flailing and screaming like a maddened ape. Paul had grabbed him by the waist and had lifted him off, but Kyle fought and resisted with such ferocity that he was battling to keep hold.
Ryan jumped to his feet. He stole a glance at Carla to make sure she was alright. “Get out of the room!” he yelled, but didn’t wait to see if she’d comply.
He started forward to try and assist Paul, but Kyle’s elbow connected Paul’s temple, causing a loud thud. Paul staggered back two steps and then Kyle was free. As soon as he hit the ground, he lunged at Ryan again, but his time Ryan was a little more prepared. He quickly moved low and to the side as his son attacked, and Kyle missed, landing harmlessly a few feet from the door. At first Ryan thought he would turn and attack again, but Kyle’s attention was drawn to Carla standing by the door, looking indecisive about staying or going.
Kyle flung himself forward with a high pitched scream and Carla’s eyes widened.
“Run!” Ryan yelled and Carla hesitated for an instant longer before taking off down the hall. Kyle followed and Ryan took off after him. As he rushed through the door of the room, he heard Paul follow.
“Carla, get to the garage!” Ryan yelled. The garage had a thick, sturdy door and he was sure if she could get through it she would be safe.
He saw Kyle ahead of him, running hunched over. He was extremely quick and he was gaining on Carla.
She wouldn’t make it.
“Carla, left!” he screamed, hoping she would understand that he meant for her to duck into the kitchen.
She had always mixed up her rights and lefts. When she gave directions to him in the car, she would say “Turn at the next one on my side” or “Your side”. He found it endearing and it was one of the many things he loved about her.
So when he said left, she went right – into the living room. The kitchen had a narrow doorway, and he had hoped Kyle would miss the exit, so to speak, and she would have had a few extra moments. But it was not to be.
The living room was a large open space, with comfortable couches and a large, glass coffee table. She ran around a couch, and was out of his sight as the wall obscured his view.
Kyle hardly slowed down. He changed direction and slammed his leg into the couch, causing him to fly forward, right into the coffee table. It shattered with a resounding crash. Ryan winced as Kyle went tumbling over the ground and broken glass, but Kyle had hardly come to a stop, before he was up again, looking around wildly.
“Kyle?” Ryan said, having come to a stop a few feet away. Kyle whipped around to face him and Ryan saw glass shards protruding from his arms and torso. A large piece had impaled his cheek and Ryan gasped, but it seemed as if Kyle hardly noticed, even as the blood streamed down his face.
Ryan was about to speak again, when Kyle opened his mouth and let loose a bloodcurdling shriek. The hair on Ryan’s arms stood on end, and he took a step back involuntarily.
Kyle lunged at him once more, and Ryan had a moment to think Well, shit, before his son tackled him to the ground for the second time that night.
This time he was too late to get his hands up, and Kyle sunk his teeth into his shoulder. Ryan screamed in pain and with all his strength he bucked and shoved and Kyle went flying. He fell against a couch, his head cracking against the wooden leg of the sofa, but it did not seem to slow him down. He was up in a flash, and was poised to lunge at Ryan again when a sofa cushion struck him in the face.
Kyle blinked, and turned to look at Carla, standing on the opposite side of the living room in front of an open door. Before Ryan could say or do anything Kyle charged his mother, but at the last second she fell down onto her stomach and he stumbled over her and through the open door. She quickly jumped up and pulled the large glass door shut and locked it.
She retreated deeper into the house as Kyle turned and ran at her, slamming into the glass door, causing it to shake in its frame.
Paul came to a stop next to Ryan, a pistol in his hands. Ryan looked at the pistol and then at Paul questioningly, but he avoided his gaze. Carla had reached Ryan’s side, and standing in line, they watched Kyle’s insanity. He kept running into the door, headfirst, until fresh blood gushed from his forehead.
Every time he struck the door, he gave a shrill cry, almost as if in frustration.
“What do we do?” Carla whimpered.
They stood in horrified silence, watching their son and grandson continuously run headfirst into a glass door.
Paul was the one who noticed the cracks first.
“The door’s not gonna hold.” he said quietly.
Ryan noticed the hairline cracks appearing around the impact zone. Frankly he was surprised the door hadn’t broken yet.
“Load the car.” Ryan said. Paul and Carla both looked at him, but said nothing.
“We have to get him help. We have to find a doctor, or … or someone.” He could hear the whine in his own voice, but he was powerless to do anything about it.
“A doctor? Haven’t you been paying attention to the news? No one knows what’s going on, or why this is happening, or how to stop it. A doctor won’t help.” Paul countered, actually sounding a bit angry.
“I don’t care, we need to get him to a doctor. Maybe a doctor can do something… anything!”
Paul sighed audibly. “How? How do you want to get him to a doctor? The streets are insane! You saw what is happening out there. And even if you get to a hospital or clinic, there’s no guarantee anyone will be there. And that’s assuming we can somehow get him in the car in the first pl-“
Ryan rounded on him, rage and grief boiling beneath the surface. His voice had taken on an ominous buzz. “What do you want me to say? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to abandon him? Do you want me to kill him? What? Tell me?”
Paul looked down. “That is not your son anymore.” He said quietly.
All the fight went out of Ryan and his shoulders sagged.
The door cracked audibly as Kyle ran into it again.
Kyle suddenly looked to his right, toward the gate, as if something there had grabbed his attention. Shrieking again, he ran out of sight.
Moments later, an alarm screamed shrilly through the quiet house.
“It’s the perimeter alarm. He must’ve set it off.” Paul said.
They moved toward a window looking out at the gate and they saw Kyle pausing. He turned back to the house, the alarm obviously recalling his attention back from what had drawn him first. A moment later Ryan thought he saw the large front gate shudder. Paul moved off to silence the alarm and a few seconds later it was quiet again. Ryan kept his eyes on the gate, even as Kyle slammed into a different door, trying to gain entry into the house.
The gate shuddered again and with the alarm now silent, Ryan could this time hear that something had slammed into it.
“What- what was that?” Carla asked softly.
No one answered.
Another thud. And then another.
The frequency increased, until a constant banging rattled the large gate. A moment later they saw what looked like a teen boy climbing over the gate – the spikes and electric fence having seemingly no affect. He tumbled over the gate, landing on his back. He tried to get up, but his legs appeared to have stopped working.
As they watched, they saw the gate swaying ominously, the rail holding it at the top, severely bent.
“Load the car.” Paul said. “Take only the most important stuff you can think of, we have to get out of here.”
No one moved for a second, until they saw two more clambering over the gate, this time landing on their feet and sprinting at the house.
Carla and Paul moved off toward the kitchen, but Ryan lingered at the window a moment longer. He feared for Kyle, even as he saw him running into the door again. The two newcomers paid Kyle no mind however and immediately joined him in ramming themselves into the door.
Ryan swallowed, looked down and then moved off. He firstly grabbed his rifle and ammunition and then his hiking pack. It was filled with emergency supplies and food and he jammed his ammunition inside.
Carla and Paul had already loaded several items into Paul’s Audi Q7, and Ryan ran back and forth a couple of times, loading more food and water.
Ryan was about to ask Paul about his weapons, when they heard the front gate crash down.
“Come on, we have to go!” Paul cried as he tossed in a final bag, filled with food.
As Carla clambered into the back seat, they heard the front door shatter. Ryan quickly shut the door connecting to the house and got into the passenger side.
“What about Kyle?” Carla asked from the backseat and Paul looked at Ryan.
“We have to leave him.” Paul said softly.
Ryan somehow knew he was right. That Kyle was no longer his son. That whatever he had become, could not be reasoned or bargained with. But it was almost impossible to accept. To know for sure that he couldn’t be helped. He wanted to run into the house. He wanted to find his son. To hug him and to comfort him. To take him with them and to promise him everything was going to be ok.
But that wasn’t going to happen. He knew it in his heart.
“We can’t just leave him here!” Carla said, her voice rising.
“What do you want to do, Butterball?” Paul asked gently. “You saw them, we can’t go after him they’d rip us apart. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“But that’s my son! Do you just expect me to leave him here?”
“We don’t have a choice.” Paul replied.
Ryan had been silent.
“Ryan! We can’t leave him here!” Carla pleaded.
He was silent for a moment longer.
“When the others that jumped over the gate got to him, they didn’t even look at him. They just attacked the door like he was doing. He’s one of them.”
“No.” Cara said firmly. “We have to go get him.”
“Did you bring any of your guns?” Ryan asked, ignoring Carla’s statement.
“No!” Carla said again, louder. “I won’t leave him here.”
“Just my pistol and my shotgun, I didn’t have time to get the rest.”
“Ammo?” Ryan asked.
“A lot.” Paul nodded.
“NO!” Carla screamed hysterically, grabbing Ryan’s seat and shaking it violently. She went for the door to get out, but Paul quickly locked them.
Carla was going berserk. She was banging on the windows and hitting the seats in front of her, shrieking maniacally.
“Chances are there’ll probably be some in the way when the garage door opens…” Ryan said, ignoring Carla. He left the fact that they might have to run some of them over, unsaid.
Paul nodded. “I know. I’ll get us out.”
Ryan stared at his father in law for a few moments.
“Where are we going?” Ryan asked.
“I think we need to get out of the city. We could take my plane to the farm.”
Ryan nodded.
“Then let’s go.”
Paul started the SUV and pressed a button hanging from his keychain. Carla had subsided a little, but she was sobbing uncontrollably. As the door opened however, she quieted down.
The large wooden door rolled up, and as it rose, they saw dozens of children running erratically across the lawn.
Upon seeing the garage door opening and hearing the sound of the engine, a few sprinted toward them. Paul put the SUV in gear and started forward slowly, looking at the front door of his house as they moved.
The children’s attention inside the house was drawn to the moving vehicle and they came charging out.
“There’s too many, we need to go.” Ryan urged, but Paul did not increase his speed.
Two of the children came running from the front door, hunched over. It looks like they’re trying not to be seen. As if they’re lurking, Ryan thought randomly.
Two of the children slammed into the SUV, banging on the doors and windows.
“Go for fuck sake!” Ryan yelled, but still Paul crept along.
Kyle jumped onto the hood of the car and Carla screamed. Blood from his many cuts and wounds spattered onto the windscreen and he screamed crazily before slamming his head into the window. He did it again and again, screaming and shrieking constantly.
Paul had come to a stop, and appeared frozen – it all suddenly becoming too much for him.
“Daddy.” Carla said softly from the backseat. “Just go. Get us out of here. Please.”
This seemed to bring Paul back and after glancing at Carla, he gunned the engine. They shot forward and Kyle lost his balance, falling face first onto the windscreen. As they reached the street, they hit one or two of the crazed children, sending them flying. Paul jerked the wheel left. The SUV turned onto the street and Kyle tumbled off of the hood – and straight under the wheels of the large vehicle.
Carla shrieked and Ryan went cold. Paul’s face had become as white as a sheet. Looking out the back window, Ryan could see Kyle lying in the road, unmoving.
“Stop! We have to see if he’s ok!” Carla screamed, again trying to open the door. Neither Paul nor Ryan answered her, and Paul kept his foot flat on the pedal.

*****

Francois Pienaar Airfield was n small airfield between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It was mainly used for training and for wealthy pilots to store their personal planes. Paul had bought his plane ten years before, and had stored it there ever since.
Reaching the airfield had been difficult, but easier than Ryan had expected.
The city had been in chaos. Crazed children were everywhere. People were driving recklessly to try and escape and time and again they had to swerve to avoid accidents and wreckage.
They had first tried the highway, but it had been completely deadlocked. The most disturbing of this had been the children running between the stationary cars on the highway, attacking cars and breaking windows, trying to get to the people inside. Paul had quickly driven over a low embankment to get to a secondary road and although the going was slow, they had at least been going.
Two hours and many U-turns because of dead ends later, they had reached the airfield.
It was located in a fairly empty area, with almost no businesses or houses close by.
Paul had parked beneath a large tree some distance from the gate, and using Ryan’s binoculars they had scouted out the airport. There had been some movement, but Ryan couldn’t see who – or what it was.
After waiting for half an hour, they had decided to attempt the escape.
“I haven’t flown in a while,” Paul said, as they approached the gate. “So I’ll have to do all the pre-flight checks before we can go.”
“Okay,” Ryan replied. “You do that while Carla loads the supplies. I’ll make sure no one bothers us.”
Paul nodded, but Carla had no reaction. She was slumped in her seat, her head resting against the window – a vacant expression on her face.
The gate was closed, but unlocked and Ryan quickly pushed it open and closed it again after Paul drove through. The security booth was empty, and Ryan saw no one else, except for a few cars and what looked like a small school bus. Ryan swallowed hard at the sight of the bus, but he saw no movement.
The small hangar where Paul’s plane was stored was one of the last in the row, but it was close to the runway.
Pulling up outside the hangar, Paul quickly went inside after unlocking the door.
Ryan opened the back door and looked at Carla.
“Baby, we have to go. We have to get out of here.”
She looked at him blankly, but didn’t respond. Ryan opened his mouth to speak again when his phone rang. He at first didn’t register what the sound was, having already become so used to the fact that cell phones hadn’t worked over the last few days.
He pulled it from his pocket – a habit of putting it there even when it hadn’t been working – and saw that it was his brother.
Matt.
“Hello?” he said uncertainly.
“Ryan! Thank god! I’ve been trying to get hold of you for two days!” Matt sounded out of breath and scared.
“Matt? What’s going on? How did you get through?” he asked, concerned.
“I don’t know, maybe fewer people are trying to call as things go from bad to fucking terrible. I don’t know, but I need your help.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the Protea Hotel in Centurion. A couple of hours after I spoke to you, somebody tossed a petrol bomb through our window. I got everyone out safe and sound and headed to the hotel, but now we’re trapped. I went down this morning to get the car ready so we could get out of here, but somebody stole it. We can’t leave on foot!”
Ryan grunted in agreement. Matt had two young children, one hardly even a toddler.
Ryan thought for a moment. He looked at Carla, still staring blankly past him.
He turned and walked out of earshot of Carla.
“Ryan, you there?” Matt asked.
“I’m here. Okay, I’m going to get Carla and Paul on the plane and safely in the air – then I’ll come for you. Stay exactly where you are.”
Matt thanked him a hundred times. He gave him his room number and then hung up.
He walked back to the car just as Paul exited.
“Okay, we’ll be able to go in about half an hour.” He said, then ducked inside and started opening the hangar doors.
Ryan was about to try to talk to Carla again, when he heard a shriek behind him. He whirled around, and saw a single teen running straight at them.
“Carla, start loading the plane, now!” he yelled, and he was a little surprised to see her jump out, grab two bags and run to the plane. He quickly reached into the back and pulled out his rifle. Reaching into his pack which he had made sure was easily accessible he took out four rounds and loaded his rifle.
He raised the rifle and took aim, the teen about forty meters away. He held his breath and put his finger on the trigger. Hesitating for a second more, he steeled himself and squeezed the trigger.
As the teen fell, a thin red mist hanging in the air, Carla exited the building again. She looked over at where the teen lay and then stared at Ryan. She said nothing, but only grabbed more parcels to take to the plane.
Ryan ejected the spent cartridge, just as shrieks and screams erupted in the night air.
He took his ammunition and clambered onto the roof of the Audi. He crouched down onto one knee and waited.
About two-hundred meters away, a dozen children came tearing around the corner, bearing down on them. The youngest looked to be about Kyle’s age, and something tugged at Ryan’s heart.
He took a deep breath and lifted the rifle. He got the closest one in his sights, held his breath and squeezed the trigger. Ejecting the cartridge, he aimed at the one behind the one he had dropped. Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject. Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject. Reload. Again.
He found a disturbingly comfortable rhythm in the act of bringing down the crazed children, though some part of him still objected every time he pulled the trigger and one of them fell. Every time he squeezed the trigger however, that objection became less pronounced.
Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject.
When he had killed the twelfth one, there seemed to be a lull. They had all come from the same area, which he thought was lucky. It gave him time to aim and shoot and reload.
He was reloading the rifle, when he heard another shriek. This time it was much closer.
A boy of about twelve tore around a building only twenty meters from Ryan. He lifted the rifle, surprised, and fired. The round slammed into the ground next to the boy’s feet and he kept coming.
Ejecting the spent cartridge, Ryan fired again, hitting the boy in the arm.
He kept coming.
Ryan ejected the round and was about to fire again when the boy jumped. He smashed against the SUV, his arms just reaching the roof of the vehicle and grabbed hold of Ryan’s ankle.
As the boy fell back, Ryan’s leg was pulled from underneath him and he fell too. He landed on his ass, and the rifle went clattering onto the ground. He felt a powerful tug as the boy pulled him from the roof and he landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He tried to suck in a breath, but the boy was on him. He managed to get his hand around the boy’s neck, keeping him from biting him, but seconds later the boy started raining punches and slaps down on him, just as Kyle had done.
Ryan was suddenly angry. No, not angry – furious.
Why was this happening? How did this happen? The world had gone to shit in less than a week and they didn’t even know why or how. His son was dead. His wife was more than likely mentally and emotionally broken. And nobody knew why.
He got a better grip around the boy’s neck and started squeezing – firmly at first, but then with all of his strength. The boy was still hitting him and screaming, but they came out as wheezes and the strength was fading from his blows.
Soon the boy went limp, but Ryan kept squeezing. He rolled the boy off of him easily, the boy’s eyes closed, but Ryan kept squeezing. He changed his position so that he was sitting on the boy’s chest, and he kept squeezing. He tried to squeeze the fear and pain of the last couple of days out of the boy. The uncertainty. The grief.
He squeezed until rough hands pulled him from the boy and he found that he was sobbing. Paul pulled him into a hug, and he transferred him into Carla’s embrace. Together they cried, sobbing at the loss of their world – of their son.
“The plane’s ready.” Paul said quietly behind them. They pulled apart. Neither had any idea how long they had held each other.
The three of them quickly loaded the rest of the supplies into the plane and Ryan loaded his pack with food and supplies when the others weren’t around.
“Ok, let’s get going.” Paul said and was about to climb into the pilot’s seat when Ryan spoke.
“I can’t go with you.”
Paul stopped. Carla had been tying her hair in a ponytail, but she froze.
“Matt got through to me. I don’t know how, but he did. He needs my help. He needs me to go get them.”
This was greeted by silence.
“No.” Carla said firmly. “Fuck, no. We’re not splitting up. That is not happening. I just lost my son, you are not leaving.”
Ryan stepped closer to her and reached for her, but she recoiled, slapping his hands away.
“No!” she cried.
“Baby, I have to. They’re trapped. They have no car and they can’t leave on foot. You saw yourself what it’s like out there. I have to.”
“No.” she said simply, tears streaming down her face. Paul said nothing and stared at the floor.
“We’ll go with you.” she said.
“No, it’s too dangerous. I need you to be safe. I need you to go with your dad. I need to know that you’re safe.”
“Then we’ll wait for you.” Carla said simply.
Ryan shook his head. “You can’t stay here. You don’t know who’ll come along – or what. You have to get out of here while you still can. I’ll go get Matt and Teresa and then we’ll drive up to the farm. We’ll meet you there.”
She shook her head again, but said nothing.
“The only thing that will make me feel better, that will keep me going – is knowing that you’re safe.”
He pulled her into an embrace, and this time she didn’t fight. “I’ll find Matt, and then we’ll meet you at your dad’s farm. Just go with him. Get there. Make it safe. It will be ok. I will find you. I will make it.”
He kissed her, long and deep and with all the love he felt for her. When he pulled back he nodded at Paul and he stepped forward, gently taking Carla’s arm. At his touch, she ripped her arm away, and threw her arms around Ryan.
“No!” she screamed.
Ryan took hold of her, gently putting his arms around her.
“Baby, I love you. Please don’t fight, I need you to be safe.” She struggled meekly, and Paul helped Ryan get him out of her embrace and into the plane. When she was inside and the door was closed, she slumped back weakly into her chair, staring at him through the window.
“Have you got food, water?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, I loaded my pack while you loaded the plane.”
Paul nodded.
“Be safe out there, son.” Paul said simply, and shook his hand.
“I will. Keep her safe.” Ryan said.
Paul nodded and clambered into the plane.
Minutes later, Ryan watched from the Audi as the plane took off and turned away, out of sight.

*****

“So, what do you think?” Tim asked.
Ryan lowered the binoculars. The house looked quiet and still. Ryan could see no movement, but all of the pot plants were alive and he thought he saw the faintest wisp of smoke rising from the chimney.
“I’m not seeing any movement, but in my experience that doesn’t mean much.”
“So…” Tim said.
“Oh, we’re going. We are definitely going. I’ve been trying to get to this fucking farm for three years. Nothing’s stopping me now. It looks like it’s inhabited. Whether by my wife and her dad or someone else, I’m going to find out.”
He walked back to the Land Rover. He checked that the pistol was loaded and then stuffed in the back of his pants. Picking up the AK-47, he did the same and slung it over his shoulder.
“Stay with the car and keep watch. Check through the binoculars every now and then. If it’s safe, I’ll signal for you to come down.”
Tim nodded. “What if it’s not safe? What if something happens? What do I do?”
Ryan sighed. “If you don’t see or hear from me in an hour, I think it would be safe to assume that I’m dead. Then you’re on your own, buddy.”
Tim nodded again, but he looked as if he was about to throw up.
Ryan thought about comforting him and decided against it. He needed to become stronger if he was going to survive. Ryan had been surprised at how weak Tim was. Especially since he had been an EMT. He had gotten to know him fairly well in the time they had spent together, and he had realised that Tim was probably only alive because of his dead friend Jeremy.
“Chin up, Tim, you’ll figure it out.” Ryan smiled. It was a dry, humourless smile.
“And if you don’t, well… then it won’t matter for long.” Ryan winked at him and turned, starting down the low hill toward the farmhouse.

Credit: Pablo Dickens

Die Teufelsbrücke

March 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM

People always get the wrong end of the stick when I tell them that my grandad was a Nazi. I mean, of course he was in the Leipzig branch of the Hitler Youth as a teen, joined the party when old enough and, in December of 1943, was drafted into the army to fight in the dying years of the war. That said though, he was never really committed to all the anti-Semitic, fascist ideology. In fact, just three years after the war, he married my grandmother Rokhl, a Polish Jew, in the same church hall that years earlier had hosted the Hitler Youth meetings, before crossing the border into British Germany and, then, across the sea to a new life in London. That said, he did have some great stories from what I grew up thinking of as “the other side”.

He fought on the Eastern Front mainly. Though never sent to the worst conflicts of the region, battles like those at Stalingrad, Kursk, and Kharkov, he met many soldiers both in the standard army and the Waffen-SS who had fought there, who told him their stories. Years later, he would tell these stories to an impressionable young child on his knee who would listen, enrapt in the story, sitting on the floor of the little apartment that smelled of wood smoke and cigarettes.

Grandad passed away early last year, surrounded by his closest family. I’ll always miss him. In memory, I’m going to pass on a story he himself passed on from a wounded soldier, who himself heard it from a Waffen-SS friend of him. The story of Die Teufelsbrücke.

~~~~~~~~~~

The camp lay quiet as the snows fell that night. The canvas of the tent bulged inwards, pregnant, as four men talked angrily over a table smothered in sepia brown maps and charts, pins marking the path they should have taken days ago. The only heat and light in the room came from a spitting naphtha lamp in the corner that cast long, dark shadows over everything. One of the men was talking with ice in his voice.
“Look! I don’t care about the fucking mission right now! If we don’t move on tomorrow, we are all going to die. We need help!”

The officer was young, too young perhaps to have been promoted to Scharführer. Exasperated, he ripped off his hat and ran a hand through his blonde hair. The older men noticed this lapse in discipline.

“We have our orders,” one of them replied, his voice a flat monotone. “We are to hold the bridge until further orders are given. We cannot give in to the Bolsheviks!” As he spoke the pasty skin of his jowls quivered. One lock of the greying hair stuck out from under the brim of his cap.

“What bridge?” the Scharführer cried, ignoring the man’s higher rank of Standartenjunker. “Look at it!”

He strode across the tent and threw the flap open. A blast of horrifyingly cold air forced its way into the room, but the officers did not react. The snow had paused for the moment, and through the thinning clouds a half moon shone fiercely. The undisturbed snow reflected the light into a pale blue sheen across the land.

Just beyond the perimeter of the camp, the once lazy river was now frozen, a thin crust of ice and snow separating the air from the rushing waters beneath. Jutting up from the bright expanse were shattered pieces of masonry, charred and humbled.

“For three hundred years that bridge stood tall, but all it took was one Petlyakov to flatten it and kill half our god-damn section as well! Look, we can’t cross here, but there’s another bridge just a day’s travel south of here, day and a night tops in this weather.”

“When they know of our situation, they will send engineers to rebuild the bridge,” another man said, his skin pale white from the days of cold, and the oncoming illness that would be his death. He was also higher rank than the youth.

“And just when will they know of our situation, Sturmführer? We haven’t had radio contact in days, have we? We are on our own here! It is time to take action!”

“Steurmannsmatt, how long will our provisions last?” the pasty-skinned Standartenjunker asked, ignoring the Scharführer. The timid, diminutive quartermaster looked up from the corner where he had been sitting quietly. He spoke with a mild, stuttering shiver.

“We have food for four days, six if we start seriously rationing. Ammunition is fine, we haven’t fired a single shot in weeks. The petrol is frozen solid in the trucks, though, and as for the naphtha,” he gestured at the spitting flame, “the tanks ran dry this evening. What is currently in the furnaces is all we have.”

“What about water?” the pale Sturmführer asked.

The Steurmannsmatt shrugged, his unornamented lapels lifting and dropping with a futile little rustle of fabric. “I couldn’t say. Until now we’ve been melting snow with the naphtha, but I guess we’ll have to start drawing dirty water from the river. We have no chance of digging a well in these conditions.”

The Scharführer quietly looked out of the flap at the heap on the camp’s edge. Wells weren’t the only thing that they were having difficulty with digging into the frozen, hard ground, and the pile of preserved, ice-white bodies had been steadily growing over the past few weeks. Unable to rot in the cold, their gleaming pale skin was naked where people had harvested their clothes in an attempt to stay warm. As the steadily increasing mortality rates showed, it was a tactic that seldom worked.

“We have enough to survive for at least a week then. Make sure we do, Steurmannsmatt. Oh, and Scharführer?” the Standartenjunker called. The Scharführer turned to face him.

“You’re dismissed. Be sure to close the tent on your way out, won’t you?” he said mockingly, tossing the cap to the youth. Glaring at the older man, he firmly forced it onto his head and stamped out into the snow, purposefully leaving the door open.

With each step, his leather boots crunched knee-deep into the icy crust. The clouds had gone now, blown away by the same fierce wind that now rattled the tent poles and sucked at the canvas, bringing a thousand diamonds of ice stinging into his cheek with each raging gust.

“Scharführer, the officers are arschlochs, no?”

The youth stopped walking, glancing up from the snow-bound path ahead of him, searching for the source of the voice. He didn’t recognise it. Most of his men were from bigger cities, harsh in voice and temperament. The voice he had heard, though, was sophisticated, cultured. Carefully, the officer readied his pistol.

“Behind you, Scharführer.”

He turned and saw a dark form standing in the shadow of a tent. Slowly, he walked towards the figure.

“Identify yourself, soldier.

The man stepped forwards into the light of the moon and, for a second, the young officer was unable to believe his eyes. With shaking, numb fingers he struck a match and, by the wavering, long yellow flame, looked upon the face of a dead man.

“Rottenführer Pfeiffer? I saw the bombs fall! I saw them drag you out of the water, lungs full of water and a belly full of shrapnel! You’re dead! You can’t be here!”

“A temporary setback,” the man drawled in his aristocratic tongue. “Touch me, Scharführer, and you will see that I am here.”

The dead man held out one hand and, tentatively, the officer took it.

The corpse was warm. Not just warm, really, but hot, near painfully so. His skin felt like as if fires were raging beneath the surface, only just held at bay by the Scaphian Bull of the man’s skin. Terrified, the youth tore his hand away from the cadaver’s grip, and noticed that the ground around the two of them was steaming, snow melting and leaving the floor a shiny quagmire of new, saturated mud.

“You… you’re not real!” the officer exclaimed.

“And yet I am,” the dead man replied. His eyes still looked glassy and blind, on the edge of rotting.

The Scharführer looked over to the towering pyramid of unburied bodies. Was it his imagination? Or did it look like a couple were missing? The glassy, dead eyes followed his gaze.

“I am flesh, like you, Scharführer. If you look at the heap, you will not find me there.”

“What… what are you?” he gasped out, terror clutching about his heart like the icy, asphyxiating mantle of snow that enveloped the heap of dead men, men his leadership had killed. The corpse shrugged.
“We are Legion, Scharführer.”

“Dear Christ, are you the devil?”

The man laughed, a dry, croaking sort of laugh that sounded airless and gasped out of his mouth. On the breath, the faintest odour of dry rot was carried. The officer wrapped his hand around the well-worn grip of the automatic pistol in the holster at his hip.

“We may not be the Devil, Scharführer, but we’re closely related enough to Him that that peashooter you’re clutching will do nothing but anger us, and we are not a group you want to anger. Now, we have a proposal for you, one that will not cost the lives of a single man in your service.”

“Make your offer, demon,” the Scharführer said. Normally, he would have wanted to talk inside, but the snow that had started to fall again now melted into a thin mist of drizzle as it approached the two of them. The officer didn’t take his hand off of his pistol.

“Let’s take this inside, shall we? We don’t feel the cold, so much,” he said, reaching out of the circle of warmth and plunging his bare hand down into the deep snow up to his elbow, the ground frozen from days before, at his side. He never broke eye contact. “But you do,” he continued.

The two men entered the tent.

~~~~~~~~~~

“So, you will build me a bridge?”

The dead man nodded. “We will. You have dozens of ready hosts out there that we can use. It can be done by morning.”

“Where will the materials come from?”
The cadaver shrugged. “It won’t be a problem.”

“And what payment do you require? My grandfather always said that when you deal with the devil, you have to pay the price.”

“A wise man. We require a soul.”

The man shivered at the way the corpse uttered the word. What business do you have with souls, when you yourself lack one? he thought. As the man was warming up, the smell of rot was becoming far, far stronger than previously, to the point where the Scharführer began to feel a gag coming on.

“Any soul?”

“Any will do. We will harvest the soul of the first man to cross the bridge.”

“But you said that this did not require the deaths of a single man in my service!”

“And that is true. I believe there are three officers at this camp?”

“Four.”

The two sat in silence for a couple of minutes. The Scharführer wondered whether the smell of Pfeiffer’s reanimated body would linger in the tent after he was gone.

“Do I have your agreement, Scharführer?”

The man nodded. The officer wondered whether it was just a clever trick or true, evil magic that the corpse used to produce a pre-written contract and a quill pen, tipped with a single ruby drop of fresh blood.

~~~~~~~~~~

The officer did not sleep that night, the sounds of the dead labouring away at the edge of the river keeping him away from what would have been, he had no doubt, uneasy dreams. Eventually, a rosy finger of dawn light broke through the seam of his tent and, not bothering to clothe himself, he walked out and into the snow.

More snow had fallen, and the deep whiteness reached up to his thighs, soaking his thin pyjamas through. The heap was gone, a little rough rectangle of bare ground with footsteps leading away. The man faltered and tripped, plunging whole body into the snow.

It sure was a fine bridge ahead of him.

Three long, Roman arches crossed the water. A few broken spires from the previous structure still poked out of the ice, though the red bricks of the new construction seemed entirely unrelated from the older, late-medieval structure. Strangely, the ice seemed entirely smooth, unbroken and treacherously clear. Underneath the frosty glass the Scharführer could see the supports, where algae seemed already to have been growing for years, despite the youth of the bridge.

The officer had been dreading seeing the dead on this final walk but, mercifully, they weren’t there. He reached the perimeter gate and saw that the guards were still asleep. Just as well. He didn’t want there to be any witnesses to what happened next.

The smooth paving of the bridge had just the barest dusting of snow, the newly laid tarmac modern and high-quality. The man whispered one final prayer and, eyes closed, stepped onto the bridge.

When his eyes opened, he was looking into the eyes of the dead- not just the eyes of Pfeiffer, but the eyes of all the dead at the camp, their flesh now sloughing off as the skin discoloured and their faces drooping heavy with death. The thing controlling Pfeiffer’s form smiled and, plunging a hand into the soft flesh of the Scharführer’s stomach, shrieked with all the ancient anger of the thousand demons that made up Legion.

The dead fell upon the officer, fingers grasping and claws tearing.

~~~~~~~~~~

Officially, the Scharführer died of suicide by hanging. What the officers left out of the report was that the young officer had been hanged from the bridge by his own intestines, his belly torn open with savage force and his scalp ripped off. His face was left intact, save for his lower jaw which, by the account of the camp medic, had been bitten clean in half by human teeth. The upper mandible was missing all its teeth, and it looked as if they’d been pulled out while the officer was still alive and, worse, conscious.

As it happened, his self-sacrifice was in vain. Just two days after, as the men trudged to what they were told was safety, two Petlyakov dive-bombers attacked the soldiers, one of which was flown by the same pilot who had bombed the bridge days earlier, killing all but two men- the pasty-skinned Standartenjunker, and a junior soldier. The Standartenjunker ended up killing the man to survive in the cold, planning to cannibalise him, when he was captured, tortured, and executed by Soviet forces.

To this day, the Teufelsbrücke still stands, reaching between the banks of the Taseyeva River.

Credit: HulloThere

The Pea Farm

February 26, 2017 at 12:00 AM

“I really don’t think this is so smart,” a young woman, no older than twenty-one said. The fear and anxiety rang clear in her voice.

“I’ll be fine,” a male voice responded. He took her soft, delicate hand in his and kissed it gingerly.

“It’s nothing more than some locals who want to scare an out-of-towner. I’ll do this tonight, and I’ll be back at the dorm by tomorrow afternoon.” His voice was self-assured and confident. He knew he had nothing to worry about.

Sadness filled her eyes. “I’m local, remember? I grew up hearing about this place. It scares the hell out of me. Clay, please don’t go.” Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes.

“I have to, Courtney.” He dropped her hand, feeling himself becoming annoyed. “If I don’t I’ll be ridiculed until graduation. I don’t believe in any of this crap anyway.”

“You don’t have to. This place… it’s… it’s just evil.”

“Are you going or not?” another male asked. He and his two counterparts sat, leaning against the trunk of his car.

“Shut up, Dale,” Courtney snapped at him. Her curly brown hair fell into her eyes and she blew it aside. “I’m trying to talk him out of it.”

“Do what you want,” Dale replied. He smiled wide, baring his crooked teeth, and spit. A small brown trickle of tobacco juice slid down his chin. “But we’re about to leave. You can come back to campus with us, take Clay’s car and leave him stranded, or take that walk through the woods and stay with him. The choice is yours.”

Courtney turned back to Clay. Her green eyes were pleading with him, begging him to call off this bet. “There’s no changing your mind then?”

Clay merely shook his head.

She nodded in understanding. Taking his face in her hands, she kissed him passionately. “I expect you to call me as soon as you’re back in your car and on your way home.”

Clay smiled. “Yes ma’am.” He looked up at Dale. “Where is this place?”

Dale stood, followed silently by his lackeys, walked to his car door and opened it. Pointing over the roof of his car, into the darkening woods, he said, “Walk straight that way. You’ll see it.” He sat in the driver’s seat. A moment later his engine roared to life, the exhaust forming a cloud on the dusty road.

Courtney walked to the car. Taking one last distressed look at Clay, she got in the car. From the rear window, she watched as they pulled away.

Clay forced himself to turn away and looked into the forest ahead. The setting sun cast eerie shadows throughout. The last hints of the autumn sun low in the sky peeked through the near-empty branches and seemed to set the trees aflame. Fallen leaves rustled and cracked on the ground as some unseen animal scurried about.

A chill went up his spine. With a deep breath, he stepped into the thick of trees. He listened to the leaves crunch as he stepped closer to his destination. The forest was silent, void of any bird or insect calls. From above, a wind rose, howling through the branches high above. As the last rays of light began to falter, he pulled out his flashlight and switched it on. The howling wind continued, adding fuel to the ominous settings.

“Calm down, Clay,” he said aloud as he felt his nerves begin to rattle. “It’s just a series of creepy events, fueled by those hicks and their ghost stories. Nothing more.”

After walking for almost twenty minutes, the building finally began to come into view. The Pea Farm, an old, abandoned prison just outside of Shreveport. Supposedly, according to Dale, at least, this place had housed violent criminals back in the early 1900s, and had been closed in the 60s or so. The lesser offenders worked fields during the day and stayed in smaller buildings by the side, leaving only the most disturbed and violent to the main building. Dale had went on to say that the basement contained an old electric chair; one that was powered by a hand crank. He had dismissed this last fact as pure fiction. One of Dale’s underlings, Mac or Mike or Max, he couldn’t remember the kid’s name, said that the owners of the land couldn’t sell it because of the large number of bodies that had been buried throughout the yard. This he had also dismissed as a fallacy. What he saw now, he didn’t find impressive.

He lifted the camcorder in his hand, a small Sony with a built-in hard drive and a battery that claimed to last a few days, and switched it on. This was his means of proof that he had stayed the night (No one, including Dale, was willing to stay with him as a means of verification.). The red light flicked on and the small LCD screen jumped to life, casting a pale light on Clay and his surrounding area.

He passed the lens over the dilapidated building, and then turned it to himself. “Is this it?” he said into the camera. “Seriously? I thought you said this place was scary. I’m going to walk around outside a bit. Maybe explore the smaller buildings. Then I’m going into the main one.” He smiled. “So come along as I take this trip,” he said, giving his best version of a television narrator voice.

Walking around the main building, camera in hand, the smaller housing quarters came into view almost immediately. They were small and unimpressive, more like boarding houses than prisons. He supposed that was why the lesser criminals were kept there. They were the trustees of sorts. The buildings were overgrown with vines and other foliage, now dying as autumn pushed on. A tree had fallen through the roof of one of the houses, bringing down two of its walls with it, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble, broken brick, and twisted, rusted metal.

Clay walked up the steps to the other, intact building. The windows were covered by a frame that once held bars, long since cut away for some unknown reason. Placing a hand on the door, he pushed it open. He winced as the door screeched and whined as the rust on the hinges scraped against metal. The scent of stale air and dust struck him as he walked inside.

What little moonlight there was outside was absent within the building. The darkness pushed against his flashlight, threatening to envelop and consume him. Dust flitted upon the air, then wafted back towards its resting place. Vines hung from above, almost threatening to wrap him up and strangle him should he become entangled within. Broken pieces of plaster covered the floor, while some hung precariously from the ceiling above.

“I’m telling you now, Dale,” he spoke into the camera, “if I get tetanus, poison ivy, or even rabies from some woodland creature, we’ll have a serious problem.”

He began to feel an eerie feeling of being watched. Another chill ran up his spine as he continued his trek further into the building. As the minutes ticked away, he began to feel the effects of the stories he had been told. Despite his skepticism in the supernatural, his mind reeled at the endless possibilities at what lie just beyond the scope of his light. He shook the thoughts from his head and pushed on. There was no chance in hell that he was letting those bumpkins get over on him.

Clay turned to the side, shining both the light and the camera into various cells as he passed them. Water dripped from the ceilings, which hung low under the weight, and splashed softly into puddles collected on the floor. The cell bars had rusted and oxidized, leaving them a greenish tint. Small cots, bolted to the floor and wall, held ripped mattresses, stained with water, mildew, and God-knew-what-else. Paint bubbled and peeled away in flakes from the brick walls.

A thump from above caused Clay to jump. He turned the light and camera (it was now habitual to turn them in unison) towards the ceiling. Small clouds of dust puffed from the broken plaster. Another thump. Another puff of dust and falling debris.

Clay looked to the camera. “So… you left someone here to try and scare me?”

He quickly made his way to the end of the hall and turned up the stairs. Once on the stairs, he slowed his pace, trying his best to remain silent. Switching the camera to night vision, he clicked off the flashlight and shoved it into his pocket.

Through the LCD screen, he viewed the world in shades of green and black. He had to admit to himself that he didn’t care for it. The darkness had closed in around him. He could feel its weight crushing him, threatening to squeeze the very life from him.

At the top of the stairs, he panned the camera around, trying to find the would-be prankster. The room appeared to be empty. Not satisfied with this, he began a slow trek down the hallway. The floor was full of holes, results of water rotting the interior of the building. He almost screamed as a flash crossed across his camcorder’s screen.

He quickly pulled his light from his pocket and passed it over the room. There was nothing to be seen. It had merely been his imagination, he finally decided. He inhaled deeply, trying to regain his composure. You almost lost it there, he told himself. A thump from beneath his feet caused him a small yelp to escape from his throat. He could feel himself becoming annoyed with the situation, with Dale’ and his friend’s little antics.

Had Courtney been involved? She had left with them. It would take several hours to drive to the LSU campus to drop her off and then drive back to play these games. He had only been alone an hour, maybe an hour and a half. That meant she had to be with them. He felt anger surging within him. Maybe her begging and pleading was just an act, meant to rile him up, jangle his nerves. Maybe she was just another local that liked to play tricks on the out-of-staters.

Another thump on the floor snapped him back to the present. This one so hard that he felt it in his feet.

Clay turned and ran towards the stairs. He was determined to catch whoever it was, then give them more than just a piece of his mind. Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream sounded out, freezing him in his tracks. After a moment, he continued down the stairs. He swept the light across the room, frantically searching for the mischief-maker. The room was empty.

Another scream pierced the still night air. It felt like it came from everywhere at once. Clay felt it in his bones. A third scream, this one from upstairs.

No way. I was just up there. It was empty.

He began walking towards the door, trying to think the situation through. Speakers. It had to be. Maybe wired to batteries. He looked down into the camera once more.

“The screams were a nice touch. You had me freaked out for a second. I’m still not biting though.”

He exited the building and continued to venture further around the side of the main prison complex. Behind the prison, acres of field sat open. They were wildly overgrown after years of no attendance.

This must be the farmland.

Off to the right, he noticed a stone structure. He slowly made his way towards it, trudging through almost waist-high grasses. The moon was now high in the sky, casting its wan light throughout the open area. As the structure grew near, it began to take shape. The structure was no structure at all. It was a stone wall that stood about chest high. A gap of almost three feet was towards the front, with an arching sign that read Potter’s Field in rusted, steel lettering.

Using his light, Clay walked amongst the headstones, which were crumbling and weather-beaten. Most of the names and dates were illegible, worn away by decades of wind and rain. Some of them had fallen over, a product of the constant rain and shifting earth. His mind began to conjure up images of zombies rising from the soft earth beneath his feet.

All at once, Clay decided that he didn’t want to be in the cemetery. He turned and quickly walked towards the entrance. He felt something brush against his skin. Something cold, almost icy. Goosebumps jumped to his skin immediately. He turned the light towards the direction, but saw nothing. The night had grown cold, that was all. He noticed that he could now see his breath on the air as he exhaled.

Suddenly, there was another scream. So loud that it hurt his ears. Clay knew that it had come from beside him, although he was alone. He felt the icy feeling on his skin, followed by a slight pressure. In his mind’s eye, he visualized the grip of icy fingers around his arm. Dead fingers. He screamed.

No longer able to control himself, he ran. He headed around the prison complex, sprinting as fast as he could. His panicked mind barely registered the heat rise as he fled the cemetery. He knew that he had walked straight to the prison from his car, so if he ran straight out, he would be back where he started.

Leaves crunched beneath his feet as he ran. Small branches and briars tore at his face and arms. His legs ached and his lungs burned. His body cried out for relief, for just a moment’s rest. Yet he continued to run. He dug within himself, trying to call up every ounce of reserve strength that he could muster. All around him he heard the crunching of leaves, as if some unknown assailant was in pursuit. This caused further panic within his mind, driving him forward. At several points during the exercise in panic and self-preservation, Clay could feel the icy pressure on his neck and back.

Catching his foot on a tree root, Clay collapsed to the ground. The camera and flashlight flew from his hands. The flashlight spun in the air, casting ominous shadows all around him. Exhausted, he laid there, trying to catch his breath. His palms burned from the skin that had torn away from them.

He slowly picked himself up from the ground. I have to be close to the road by now.

As he looked up, his eyes widened in horror. Before him stood the prison complex. He knew that it should have been far behind him. A small squeak escaped from his throat; it was all that he could manage in his terror. He bent and picked up the flashlight and camcorder, which was now smashed. He dropped it to the ground and turned, prepared to head towards his vehicle once more.

Another scream. This one from right behind him. Without thinking, he turned and ran inside of the prison. He doubted that running into the woods again would have accomplished anything anyway. He was trapped here.

He burst through the door, causing wind to stir up the thick layers of dust that had settled over the years. He looked around frantically. The brick walls were covered in graffiti. Paint, long since peeled away. Plaster lay on the ground, collapsed from the roof and walls. Spider webs hung from every opening, filled every corner.

He leaned against the door, desperately trying to catch his breath. The door suddenly began shaking uncontrollably behind him. The hinges rattled and the wood creaked and splintered. Clay ran down the hall, silently praying for it to end.

He ran to the stairs and stopped. The image of a person, translucent in the pale moonlight that shone through the barred windows, stood at the top, looking down on him. He blinked and it was gone. It was enough to dissuade him from taking the stairs, though. He continued through the prison, his panic causing him to turn randomly. He finally stopped. Looking around, he became acutely aware that he was now lost within the confines of the prison.

Metal began to creak and moan as the cell doors began to close, slamming shut loudly. Too scared to move, Clay waited until the activity had ceased. All was quiet within the prison once more. All except the swell of air. A breeze, very light, blew through the hallways and then returned. Clay got the distinct impression that the building was breathing. He tried to push this ridiculous thought from his mind, but it latched on and would not surrender its hold.

He walked down the halls, trying to remain calm and reasonable. Panicking would not help his situation in any way. He needed a clear head. The feeling of being watched returned in full force, or maybe it had never left him and he was merely recognizing it for what it was once more. He could feel his muscles twitching and convulsing involuntarily from the fear that coursed through his veins. Sweat dripped from his pores, soaking his shirt and causing the dust to stick to his face. The salt stung the cuts and lacerations on his face and arms. He had to get his breathing under control; he was on the verge of hyperventilating.

He placed his hand on the wall and leaned against it in an attempt to control himself. He jerked it away suddenly, pure horror washing over him at what he felt. It had to have been his imagination. It had to.

Clay tentatively placed his hand back on the wall to reassure himself. He yanked it away quickly, wiping his hands on his pants as if he had stuck it in something. The thought of what he had touched was revolting. It was definitely not his imagination; the wall was pulsing. It seemed to expand and contract in time with the breeze. Almost like lungs. The movement was slight, only really noticeable if he touched the wall, but it was there just the same.

The hall was suddenly cold. It chilled the beads of sweat on his brow and caused him to shiver uncontrollably. As he exhaled, he could see his breath in puffs of grey smoke.

Another scream echoed through the halls. He swung his flashlight around, searching for the source. To his dismay, he found it. Standing at the end of the hall was a prisoner. The top of his head was badly burned, the skin charred and flaking. Small patches of dried gore sat below each eye socket, which was empty. He clawed frantically at his face with his shackled hands. His movements were jerky and disconnected, almost like watching a film with frames missing in the reel. He continued to claw furiously at his face, then screamed once more. The metal bars rattled and dirt shook free from the ceiling in smalls clouds. As he screamed, he began to walk towards Clay. Small steps, inhibited by the shackles around his ankles. His body twitched and shook with each step in that same disconnected, strobe-light-esque fashion.

Clay ran down the hallway, frantic once more. He ran through cold spots that chilled him to the core, and back into the sticky Louisiana humidity. He searched for an exit, any possible way to escape the terror that he had been subjected to. He passed a multitude of barred windows, wishing that he could use one. Broken glass crunched underfoot as he ran. There was no exit to be found.

He continued down another hallway, stopping at something written on the wall. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped at the sight of the words:

We’ve Been Expecting You…

The wall suddenly cracked open, splitting from the roof to the floor like a giant, jagged mouth. The crack split the floor open, just as Clay began running once more. As he ran, the sounds of splintering wood, collapsing plaster, and shattering concrete followed him. Too terrified to look back, he kept running.

No longer able to breathe, legs weak and wobbly, Clay collapsed as the crack opened up beneath his feet. His head slammed into the ground, sending a bright light across his vision. Just before he lost consciousness, he saw… he saw… legs, bound in shackles.

Clay woke up momentarily as he was drug down the concrete stairs to the basement. He felt his head slam into each step as he descended. Stars flashed before his eyes with each successive blow. The darkness closed over his once more.

He groggily opened his eyes. He felt as though his head were going to explode. His face was on fire from where he had connected with the floor. He felt the warmth of his blood running down the nape of his neck from the repetitive strikes against the concrete stairway. He tried to raise his hand to check his wound, and found that he could not. The instant fear cleared the remaining cloudiness from his mind.

Looking down, Clay noticed that both of his hands were strapped down. He tried to move his legs, only to find that they, too, were strapped down. He attempted to look around, but something prevented it. He cast his eyes upward. He was just barely able to see a metal headband that circled around his forehead. Suddenly, he heard a whirring sound. It was the sound of a small lever being wound.

Credit: William Davis

Scorpion River

February 24, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I’d always been afraid of Scorpion River. Ever since I was eight, I’d gone with my aunt, uncle, and older cousin into the wilderness of southern Arizona where we’d spend two nights in their rickety, blue, camper. We weren’t alone. Around ten other families joined us for that December weekend. The adults sat around the fire, swapping stories of better days, back when the economy was stable and kids respected their elders. The seven or so of us children quickly grew bored of the talk and went exploring.
To call Scorpion River a river was an overstatement. Water only ran there once or twice a year. The rest of the time it was just an expanse of sand. Our campsite was close to the river, yet the sandy cliffs meant that one had to fight through half a mile of cat claws and ancient mesquite trees to get to it.
Yet every day without fail we’d make the trip. It was worth it to play games of tag in the flat sand or to make forts below the huge cottonwoods which lined that part of the river. Every time an adult would come with us, much to our annoyance. They made sure we kept to the stretch of cottonwoods. The only time we were allowed to leave that was when the group of adults decided to hike to what we called the Funnel.
The Funnel was a natural rock formation, a vertical tunnel cut up through the cliffs on the other side of the river. It was beautiful; a pipe of smooth, reddish stone which seemed to lead up into the sky itself. It was easily my favorite part of the trip. The only thing I didn’t like was getting there.
To reach the Funnel, we had to pass through what I called Raven Forest. Here the trees were close together, the bark blackened by some ancient fire. Every time we went through, the screeching of ravens would fill the air. The light played tricks on your eyes, making it seem as if there were figures standing in the shadows.
As I grew older, the feeling of unease grew too. I began to hear whispering in the trees, voices always too low to be understood, but distinctly unfriendly. I spoke about it to my cousin, Jade, but she dismissed it, telling me it was my imagination. Every year, more and more strange things would happen, explainable, but just strange enough to put me on edge.
Nothing stayed where we put it. Camper doors would open and close of their own accord. The campfire would sometimes flare without warning. My aunt and uncle once brought their German Shepherd, thinking he would have a fun time running with the kids. For the entire trip, he stayed close to camp, whimpering whenever we attempted to get him to come down to the river with us.
As strange as things got, nothing downright out of the ordinary happened. Not until one year, the year Jade and I turned 18, when my 16 year old cousin, Mason, decided to come camping with us. He was a tall youth, big for his age, a football player with something to prove. As there were three of us and we were older now, my aunt and uncle decided we could go out by ourselves. Every chance we got we went down to the river to explore, no longer hindered by the younger children.
Jade and Mason often got annoyed with me, as I always refused to enter Raven Forest. Jade wanted to climb the trees, as she was going through a gymnastics phase, while Mason wanted to prove he wasn’t afraid of an old, spooky forest. One evening, the two couldn’t stand it anymore and told me they were going in whether I came with them or not. I declined and the two disappeared into the woods, leaving me alone at the edge of the river.
I sat down on the little cliff and waited as the sun began to sink below the tree line. I gradually became aware of a horrible smell coming from a nearby stand of bushes. I grew curious and went over to investigate. The bushes were low and thorny, forcing me to crawl to get through.
I crawled on hands and knees over the uneven ground, finally stopping when my fingers touched something soft. I took out my phone flashlight and shone it on the ground.
Instantly I was moving backward, ignoring the thorns which tore at my hair. For, lying on the ground, was a pile of dead songbirds, heads missing, surrounded by blood and ants. I pulled myself to the edge of the river and stayed there, breathing hard, trying not to throw up.
Several minutes later my cousins returned, talking and laughing. They stopped when they saw me sitting on the cold ground, shivering.
“What happened?” Jade asked.
I numbly pointed towards the stand of trees. The two of them went over to look, returning a moment later, faces grave.
“What would do that?” I asked.
“Some kind of predator?” Jade suggested, “You know, like a fox, a coyote, something…”
“Why would it just pile them up like that? There must be fifty of them, all lined up in a circle like-”
“Let’s leave.” Mason interrupted. “It’s almost dark.”
We started towards the other side of the river, walking at first, then running.
“I really think we’re overreacting,” Jade said when we reached the other side and paused to catch our breath. “There must be some logical explanation. Maybe they just happened to be there and weren’t arranged like it seemed. Did any of us look very hard?”
“The heads were missing,” Mason said. “Explain that.”
“They might have rotted away.”
The longer we talked, the more reasonable the birds seemed. After around ten minutes of proposing theories, we were calm. Mason decided to try climbing the cliff to get to camp instead of going through the river bed, which was muddy from a recent rain. He’d just gotten a new pair of red converse and didn’t want them ruined. Jade and I, knowing how many thorn bushes were between us and camp, decided to go down the river before going up the cliff.
We split up. Once we were about halfway up the path, we heard rustling in the bushes. Thinking it was a deer, we ignored it and continued. Jade stopped to tie her shoe.
“We should go up to the funnel.” She said, bending down.
“By ourselves?” I asked, scared yet a little excited.
“Yeah.”
“That’d be-” I stopped.
Behind her, in the thorn bushes, was a dark shape. It was hunched, humanoid, though in the growing darkness it was hard to make out details. I glanced at Jade, and when I looked back it was gone.
“What is it?” Jade asked.
I pointed. “There was…something there.”
“It was probably Mason.” She stood up. “Hey! Mason! Get out here and stop trying to scare us.”
“Aw, come on.” He called.
I was relieved until he stepped out of the woods on the other side of the trail. There was no way he could have moved that fast and that quietly. I tried to explain what I’d seen to the two of them, but they just laughed it off.
We spent the night around the campfire, listening to my uncle play guitar. That night nothing strange happened and we all awoke early, eager to go on our trip.
We left just after the sun rose over the cliffs. In the daylight, the forest was decidedly less creepy. We went around half a mile down the river before climbing the cliff. This was the first time we’d done it alone, but we were confident we knew the way.
At first, everything went pretty well. We found a little trail and started towards the cliff ahead. But pretty soon I began to notice that this part of the forest wasn’t familiar. The trees were even closer together than usual, and even though the sun was by now high in the sky, it seemed dark.
Then the coyotes began howling. Though I knew they weren’t dangerous to humans, it was still eerie hearing them in the distance.
“Maybe we should go back,” I suggested.
“Nah,” Jade said. “We can still find the funnel. Let’s just get off this path. It should be like a mile west of here.”
“I’ll go first,” Mason said. “I’ve got a leather jacket and you don’t.”
When we left the path, I thought I heard the whispering, though it was hard to hear over the racket my cousin was making by breaking a path through the trees for us.
Finally, we reached a small stream bed, long since dried up yet not overgrown. A minute or two later we reached a funnel. We all knew instantly it wasn’t the one we were used to. It was smaller yet went further into the cliff face, more of a canyon than a tunnel. As we entered it I noticed something far up near the top, around two hundred feet above us. It was too far away to make out what it was, so I decided to climb a little way up the side of the other side of the canyon.
Meanwhile, Jade and Mason went farther into the canyon. I could hear them talking as I climbed as far up the wall as I could get. As I still couldn’t see what it was, I decided to take a picture with my phone. I pointed it and snapped the picture, deciding to see if my uncle, who was into photography, could somehow enhance it.
I started to climb down and tripped. I landed hard on the floor of the funnel, glad for my thick coat. I heard rustling in the bushes to my left and waited to hear the others laughing at my clumsiness. Yet no sound came.
“Guys?” I called.
“We’re up ahead,” Jade replied faintly.
I started to go after them, having to squeeze between the trees and under the bushes which clung stubbornly to the dirt floor of the funnel. Suddenly I had the feeling of being watched.
Again branches cracked. I wanted to turn and tell whoever it was to cut it out, but my body wouldn’t respond. I froze as the sounds grew closer and closer. The whispering increased in volume.
Then the spell was broken as Mason called my name. The frozen feeling disappeared and I turned, ready to confront whatever it was.
Nothing was there.
I hurried to join my cousins, who stood below the object on the funnel wall. From here it was apparent that it was a bit bigger than I was. Something dripped from it, leaving trails of dark liquid on the pale wall. Around it circled several ravens.
“Think that’s a nest?” Jade asked before I could tell them what had happened.
“Maybe,” Mason replied, shading his eyes.
We stayed there for a few moments, trying to make out what it was before growing bored.
“Race you to the entrance!” Mason called.
He ran off through the trees, ignoring the thorny bushes. Jade and I followed more slowly, knowing we couldn’t beat him.
Then, above the sound of our own footsteps, I became aware of a distant voice, rising and falling in some sort of haunting song. It sounded female, but there was something unnatural about it as if we were hearing a recording played backward.
“Do you hear that?” Jade asked.
I nodded.
We ran to the entrance of the funnel, where we met Mason.
“Did you hear singing?” I asked.
“No.” He replied. “What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you hear anything?”
She shook her head. “No. We should head back.”
We were then confronted by a problem. We didn’t know exactly how to get back to the river without having to push our way through thorn bushes. Finally, we had no choice but to start moving. Mason led the way, pushing through thorns and bushes without a care. Jade and I followed more slowly, carefully avoiding the worst of the thorns.
After a few minutes, the two of us were separated from him. We found ourselves in a circle of thorn bushes with no easy way out.
“Mason!” I called.
He didn’t respond though he couldn’t have gotten more than ten feet ahead. We sat down, deciding he’d come back eventually. My feeling of unease began to grow.
Finally Jade spoke, voice small and quavering.
“I don’t think we’re alone.” She said.
I nodded, feeling my muscles begin to lock with fear. From the direction of the funnel came the sound of something pushing through the trees. Jade’s eyes met mine and I knew she could hear it too.
“We need to get out of here,” I said, eyeing the thorns which surrounded us.
For some reason, I had no idea how we’d gotten inside the little clearing.
The sounds were growing louder, along with the whispering. All at once I realized something. The voices had never been threatening me. They’d been trying to warn me.
I got to my feet and pulled Jade up.
“We’re leaving,” I said.
I pushed through the bushes, ignoring the stinging of the cuts the thorns left on my arms and face. Jade followed and we ran through the forest. At one point I tripped and Jade pulled me to my feet. Behind us, the sounds were growing closer and more urgent. The voices weren’t whispering anymore, they were screaming.
For what seemed like a thousand years we ran through the forest. Though it was only a mile, it felt like a hundred.
Finally, we ran out into the river, nearly knocking over Mason. The voices stopped, along with the crashing of whatever was pursuing us.
“Where were you?” He asked as we tried to catch our breath. “I’ve been calling for you for hours.”
“Hours?” I asked. “We weren’t apart for more than twenty minutes.”
He shook his head. “I was just about to go get help.”
I noticed that the sun, directly overhead when we’d left the funnel, was beginning to set.
Jade laughed, the sound a little too high.
“We must have looked dumb.” She said. “Running from nothing like that.”
“Nothing?” I asked.
“We must have just imagined it.”
“Really, Jade?”
“It was probably just some animal.”
We started walking back to camp, and soon I began to believe we’d imagined whatever had happened too. I heard the sound of the singing and ignored it, deciding I was imagining it again.
Then I noticed that the other two were looking at me in horror. They could hear it too.
We began running, not stopping until we reached the camp. When we told our story, the adults just laughed, blaming it on overactive imaginations. My uncle, who had been visiting the area since he was a child, claimed there was no second funnel.
We soon packed up and drove home. As it was late by the time we reached our hometown, I decided to spend the night with Jade and go to my house the following morning. While we were there, I remembered the picture I’d taken of the thing in the funnel. I asked my uncle to enhance it and he agreed.
“It’ll probably be a nest.” He said as he worked. “You probably disturbed the ravens, who decided to chase you off.”
I didn’t agree, though I didn’t say so.
“Oh, kids.” He continued with a smile. “I used to be like you. One time I remember thinking-”
He stopped, the smile disappearing instantly. He got up and backed away from the computer. Then he turned and ran for the phone.
Jade and I looked at the now enhanced picture. The thing was not a nest.
In fact, it was a body, headless like the birds we’d seen in the tree grove. Though the picture was still blurry, the jacket the figure wore was unmistakably black leather. On his feet was a pair of bright red converse.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Girls!” My aunt called. “Mason is here!”

Credit: Roxanne Wilds

Creepypasta

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