Drewer’s Inn

August 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Drewer’s Inn
By Allison Miller

The rain poured down in thick, roaring sheets from a sky as black as tar. Jack Adams leaned forward in the seat of the old sedan, pressing his chest against the steering wheel and squinting through the windshield as the wipers frantically swished back and forth. The road was barely visible in the dim headlights, and every minute or so there would erupt a massive gust of wind that shook the sides of the car. He briefly considered pulling over and waiting for the rain to stop, but one glance at the large duffel bag and blood stained denim jacket in the passenger seat quickly dispelled that notion. Frankly, he considered himself lucky that he had made it this far without so much as hearing a siren.

Suddenly the car thumped and jostled as it struck a large pothole. Jack cursed under his breath and swerved to miss a few more. This highway was rarely used, which was why he chose it. However, that also meant it wasn’t often maintained. What with the storm and how rarely the lines were painted on the blacktop, Jack couldn’t even say for certain which side of the road he was on. But it will all be worth it, he thought to himself with a smile. All he had to do was withstand the storm and this sorry excuse of a road for a few more miles till Elm Springs. There, he would rendezvous with Mack Mason to barter a phony passport and by tomorrow morning he’d be sitting in a cushy airline seat heading straight for Costa Rica to commence his life of luxury. Four million dollars’ worth of luxury, to be precise. And all it took was a few minutes and the life of one dumb bank teller, whose blood currently stained his jacket. Not bad for a day’s work.

Despite these happy musings, the road didn’t become any easier and the storm never lessened. Up till now Jack never dared go over fifty-five miles an hour in this weather, but his patience was running thinner by the second.

“Screw this,” He muttered to himself, pressing down on the gas and shooting the sedan up to sixty…then seventy… then finally eighty miles an hour before he decided to keep it there. The hissing from the rain as the car surfed over the asphalt intensified, puddles splashed up over the sides like ocean waves, and up ahead, unknown to Jack, was a faint curve in the road.

If Jack had still been going his previous fifty-five miles an hour he might have been able to see it in time, even with the storm. At eighty miles, however, the turn was there in a split second.

“SHIT!” Jack cried, wrenching the wheel to adjust for the curve, only to have the tires hydroplane out of control and skid off the road into the ditch.
The sedan fell into a mad roll. Glass shattered and flew like crystal snow as Jack was tossed and shaken; his arms flying up, then down, his head flung back and forth, all the while screaming to a deity he had long since stopped believing in. Then, just as quickly as it started, the rolling stopped. Jack’s head hung barely an inch above the sedan’s roof, suspended by the lifesaving miracle that was his seat belt.

“DAMN!” he swore to himself, shaking off the daze. Groaning, he undid his seat belt and tumbled into the debris and mud that was seeping in through the smashed windows. He then wrapped his hands in his denim jacket and pulled himself through the driver’s side window, dragging the duffel bag with him.
The storm continued to rage, the torrents of rain washing most of the mud and blood away from Jack’s bruised and cut face. It was only with the help of the still functioning headlights that he managed to climb up out of the ditch and back on to the road. What the hell am I going to do now? He thought to himself, looking up and down the deserted highway. Elm Springs was still at least sixty miles away, there was little to no chance another car would be coming anytime soon, and God knows he couldn’t call the police. I am up the metaphorical shit creek without a single damn paddle!

Resigning himself to a very long, cold, and wet evening, Jack began slogging down the road. Gonna catch pneumonia, tuberculosis, or strep, He grumbled to himself. Gonna die in this friggin’ downpour, then where’ll I be? All this money, my hard work, all down the…

It showed up so suddenly that Jack figured at first it had to be some sort of optical illusion. But sure enough, as he stumbled down the road and passed through the watery veil there could be no mistaking it. Squares of light, stacked neatly one on top of the other, seemed to grow out of the ground, only faintly encompassed within the black profile of a tall building. It stood nine stories high and was perfectly rectangular with a pointed roof, looking, Jack thought, like a giant’s mausoleum. Just under the roof he could see what must have been a sign. Squinting against the rain and darkness he read “Drewer’s Inn.”

Who would be stupid enough to build a hotel way out here, Jack thought to himself. Most hotels, even small cheap ones out in the country, are usually accompanied by gas stations or a series of restaurants and diners to entice travelers, but this one stood alone; a solitary structure in the middle of Nowhere, USA. They couldn’t be getting good business, but whether or not the owner was Rain Man himself, the place was a welcome sight to Jack.
A cracked and ill maintained drive circled off the road and ended at a barren patch of asphalt in front of the hotel that had to be the parking lot, though the lines separating the spaces were no longer visible. Jack sprinted across the lot towards the thick double doors and threw himself inside. The light was blinding after the dark of the storm and he had to pause in the entrance while his eyes adjusted.

The lobby was much more elaborately furnished than Jack would have expected for an out-of-the-way highway hotel. On the right hand side stood a welcoming cobblestone fireplace, bordered with cushy leather couches and chairs and a large moose head hanging over the mantle. From the door, a spotless maroon rug lead up to the front desk, where a tall, thin man in a business suit stood gaping.

“Welcome to Drewer’s Inn!” he cried, his gape bursting into a wide smile. “How may I help y…” the smile melted as he noticed the state of Jack, covered with mud and scratches. “Good lord, man! Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah I’ll be alright.” Jack panted. “I just need to use your phone.”
“Of course, of course!” the man immediately swiveled the phone around to face him. Jack fished a moist slip of paper from his jeans pocket and dialed the number scribbled on it. It went straight to voicemail without a single ring. You have reached the voicemail of…Mack Mason…please leave a message…
“Damn it.” Jack muttered, hanging up the phone a little more harshly than necessary. The man in the suit raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “I don’t suppose,” Jack continued, trying his best to sound cordial, “you know of any taxi services?”
“None operating this late. Also, there is the storm to consider.”
Jack took a deep breath and slapped on his best grin. “Well then, I guess I’m going to need a room for the night.”
“Wonderful! Happy to serve!” The wide smile once again split the man’s face.
“But here’s the thing,” Jack dropped his voice a few octaves and leaned forward conspiratorially. “I’m afraid I lost my wallet with all of my credit cards and my ID, but I have plenty of cash…”
“Ah, I see. Well…” the man folded his hands on the counter, pondering. “Such a thing is normally against hotel policy these days. But seeing as how you seem to be in a bit of a bind…I guess I can accept just cash. On one condition, however.”
“That is?”
“You sign the guest book!” and he slapped a dusty leather ledger down on the counter.
“Uh, sure.” The man handed Jack a fountain pen and flipped the book open to a page marked with a maroon ribbon. Half the page was covered with signatures in illegible cursive and all were written in the same red ink. Jack unscrewed the cap and swiftly scrawled “James Swanson” beneath the others.
“Wonderful to have you here, Mister Swanson! A real pleasure! I am Mr. Drewer. Harry Drewer. Old Harry to my friends.” Mr. Drewer snatched Jack’s hand and shook it heartily.
“Drewer, huh?” Jack said. “You must be the owner, then?”
“Indeed I am.” Drewer’s chest puffed slightly with pride. “This hotel has been in my family for…many generations.”
“Don’t suppose you get much business way out here, though?”
“No, sadly. We used to do a thriving business in better days, but a competitor managed to slow things down for us. That’s all ancient history, however, and you’ve obviously had a trying night. Here, let’s get you a room, shall we?” Mr. Drewer paused and regarded Jack for a second, seemingly glancing from the duffel bag to the denim jacket he had rolled up under his arm. “hmmm…I think the fourth floor would suit your needs best.” Turning around, Mr. Drewer pulled a shining brass key off a hook and handed it to Jack. A plastic tag showed it to belong to room 401. “Have a good night, and…pleasant dreams.”

“Sure, thanks.” Jack took the key and made his way over to the elevators on the left. From his peripheral vision he could see Drewer watching him all across the lobby. As soon as the doors slid shut behind him, Jack shuddered. Something didn’t feel right about that, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it was his suit, so tediously overdressed for a hotel that looked like it saw two to three guests a week. Or maybe it was his overly polite way of speaking. Either way, Mr. Drewer and the hotel just didn’t seem to belong, somehow. Oh well, what do I care, huh? Jack thought to himself as the elevator slowly lurched to the fourth floor. First sign of daylight and I’m outta here.

The doors slid open with a hollow ding to reveal a small landing where he was faced with a pathetic assortment of dusty paper flowers on a coffee table under a tarnished mirror. The corridor ran perpendicular to the landing, stretching left and right under dim wall lamps and ending with curtained windows on either end. The carpet kept with the maroon color scheme of the rest of the hotel, but was pale and worn in the middle where countless feet had once trod.

Jack turned towards his room, but was distracted by an odd shape at the far left end of the hallway. It looked to be a maid’s cart, still pushed up against the wall near a room. But what maid would still be working at this time of night? Would a hotel like this even need a regular maid? Jack figured it must have just been left there from this afternoon, but then, shockingly, a dark silhouette seemed to glide out from a room and go towards the cart. Slowly, mechanically, it bent down and pulled out what could only have been folded towels, and then paused. It rose and appeared to turn and stare down the hallway at Jack. He stared back, expecting some sort of response; a greeting, a waving hand, anything. But the strange silhouette did nothing. It just stood there and stared. Jack shivered and hurried to his room, practically slamming the door behind him before turning the latch.

He leaned against the door. The room, he could see, was clean but painfully old fashioned. The only signs of technology, the TV and the phone, looked to be from the 1970s (with the TV still having a rabbit ear antenna and the phone being a turn dial) and there was a faint smell of mothballs. I guess without any regular guests they never bothered to upgrade to the twenty-first century. Jack thought as he tossed the denim jacket and duffel bag onto an armchair in the corner. Looking at himself in a mirror over the desk, he could see that he desperately needed a shower. The rain had washed off most of the mud, but his hair still bore traces of it and his arms and face had thin patches of smeared grime that shown like bruises. Before walking into the bathroom, Jack unconsciously double-checked the latch. Then, just to be sure, he set the chain.

Like the rest of the room, the bathroom was spotless but seemingly from a different decade. The tub was colored off-white and stood at the opposite end on clawed feet, blinding white towels hung above the toilet, and the floor squeaked under Jack’s shoes as he walked in. The only miniscule sign of imperfection was a tiny circle of rust around the drain in the tub. Jack peeled off his filthy clothes and threw them carelessly on the floor, then twisted the shower knobs to a comfortable heat.

But it wasn’t water that flowed from the showerhead. A red liquid, reeking of iron, gushed forth and splattered against the clean white of the tub. Jack screamed and fell backwards, tripping over his discarded jeans and hitting his head against the door. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the red liquid ceased and was replaced by clear water. Jack stood up, massaging his head. Rust, Jack reasoned to himself. It’s gotta be rust. An old place like this that hasn’t been visited regular has gotta have rust in the pipes. Jack chuckled as he stepped under the steaming water. You’re letting your imagination get the better of you, Jacky boy.

Jack sat and soaked under the hot water for almost twenty minutes before getting out. The towel he used to dry himself took the place of his clothes on the floor, which he hung over the curtain rod to dry for tomorrow. His boxer shorts were slightly damp where the rain had soaked through his jeans, but made adequate pajamas.

Throwing back the bedspread and the sheets, Jack crawled into the king size bed with a sigh. This place was old and freaky as hell, but at least they got the beds right. Reaching up, he pulled the chain on the lamp and plunged the room into darkness. His eyelids grew heavy and he could feel himself drifting into sleep…then SQUREEEAAAAAKKKKK…..SQUREEEEAAAAKKKK.

Jack shot up in bed. That horrible sound pierced the silence in regular intervals, getting louder; the shriek of an unoiled wheel. With horrid screams, it came closer and closer down the hallway before it seemed to stop right next to Jack’s room. Through the crack under the door, Jack noticed the twin shadows of feet stand just outside. For a whole minute they stood there, silent and unpredictable, before shuffling away. The shrieks sounded again, only this time receding down the hallway before silencing altogether. Jack flicked on the light and checked the door. The latch was still secure and the chain still in place, but he still felt uneasy. Tearing off a wad of toilet paper in the bathroom, he stuffed it into the peephole before going back to bed.

Jack was reluctant to turn off the light. He lay there, staring at the chain, before finally swearing at himself and tugging it so hard the lamp nearly tipped over. But the exhaustion he had felt before was gone, replaced by a subtle yet unrelenting fear. The hours seemed to tick by slowly in the darkness. There was no real way for Jack to tell the time; he had no watch and the room didn’t have a clock. At some point Jack drifted into a half-sleep, the kind of sleep where the body shuts down only out of necessity but the brain remains fully aware and ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.
No dreams come to a man in half-sleep, only darkness as he waits for the sun to rise, but Jack could swear he heard noises. The squeak…squeak of the maid’s cartwheel came back to him. Jack assured his unconscious self that it was just his imagination and kept on sleeping. Eventually the noise ceased and he thought no more of it. He drifted on through oblivion a bit longer…then, for some reason, the oblivion grew darker. He felt like he was being watched and forced himself to resurface. His eyes flickered in the darkness…and registered a dark silhouette standing at the end of his bed. Jack cried out as he grabbed the bedside lamp and flung it at the silhouette, only to have it smash against the opposite wall. He jumped out of bed and slapped on the switch.

The room was empty, not a soul to be seen. Breathing heavily, Jack checked the door and saw that all the locks were still set. Even the toilet paper was still in the peephole. He threw open the bathroom door, the closet, and even checked under the bed; nothing. Nervous laughter escaped him as he wiped the sweat off his brow. There was no one here, it was just his imagination. Just his own…There, on the armchair! His denim jacket and the duffel bag containing the four million dollars were gone!

“SON OF A…!” he cried, running into the bathroom and pulling on his clothes. She took it, the psycho maid! It had to be her. He had no idea how, but it had to be. Maybe she didn’t know what was inside, maybe she was just some kind of freaky klepto, in which case all he had to do was find Drewer, get it back, then get the hell out of there. But if she did know, if she looked inside that duffel…then he would have to kill them, the maid and Mr. Drewer. He had already killed one person for that money; two more wouldn’t make much of a difference. But first he had to find it.

He ran out of the room and down the hallway towards the elevator…or, at least where the elevators used to be. Where the hallway used to cut off into the elevator landing, it now continued on with more rooms. Jack continued down the hallway all the way to the opposite end, frantically looking left and right.

“Shit!” he cried. He ran back down the way he came, making it all the way back to his room with still no sign of the elevator. He cursed again, slamming his fist against the wall. Then he noticed something he hadn’t before. The door opposite his room…before, he would have sworn it was just another room, but now he saw it was an emergency door leading to a stairway! He slammed through the door and dashed down the stairway all the way to the bottom, passing three other floors with their numbers painted on the thick iron doors. He threw open the bottom door…and was in another hallway just like the one he left. The number on the room across from him was 901.

“Wha…how the hell did I get up to the ninth floor?” Confused, he walked quickly down the hallway. Halfway down he encountered an elevator landing identical to the one that was, or rather supposed to be, on his floor. Frantically, he leaped forward and slapped the only button. The doors opened with the familiar hollow ding, and Jack ran inside, pushing the level one button. The elevator lowered down to eight…then nine…slowly but surely making its way to the bottom. Eventually it came to three…then two…then one…but it refused to open.

“WHAT! Come on!” Jack frantically jabbed at the level one button, but it refused to relent. Instead, it continued on to the basement level. The doors slid open with a rattle.
“Good evening, Mr. Adams!” chimed Mr. Drewer, his arms behind his back and the familiar smile upon his face. He was standing in a small concrete room, pipes spider-webbing across the walls and ceiling and what appeared to be a large furnace hissing behind him. The grate to the furnace was thrown wide, revealing a roaring inferno inside. But all that was nothing compared to the creatures standing next to Drewer. They stood hunched and crooked, tattered and stained maid uniforms hanging off of emaciated forms with grey skin. Their faces were sharp and bony with pointed teeth that gnashed and grinned at the sight of Jack. One was digging a clawed hand into Jack’s duffel bag, throwing wads of money into the furnace to heat it. “I hope you are enjoying your stay. You’ll be glad to know we have your more permanent residence finally prepared.”
“Wha… What the hell?!”
“Oh, Hell indeed, sir.” Mr. Drewer snapped his fingers and the creatures surged forward, grabbing Jack by the arms and legs and effortlessly lifting him off the ground. He screamed and writhed as they carried him over to the furnace.
“N-no! P-please, no, I…” his screams cut off with the final slam of the furnace door.

Inspector Stewart watched languidly from the roadside as the firemen doused the flaming sedan. Eventually one fireman climbed out of the ditch holding a charred license plate.
“This that Adams guy’s car?” the fireman asked, showing the plate.
Inspector Stewart flipped through his notebook and checked the numbers. “Yep, sure looks like it. We won’t know for sure if the corpse inside was Adams until the dental records come back, though.”
“A real shame.” The fireman said, taking off his helmet and shaking his head. “It looks like the fuel line got cut in the roll and started the fire, cooking the guy inside while he was maybe unconscious. Heck of a way to go.”
“Well, if it was Adams,” said Inspector Stewart. “Then he’s facing a higher judgment now.”

Credit To – Allison L. Miller

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Stomping Grounds

August 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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No one knew the secret spot
where we as children played at night.
The ashen moon, our only light,
would greet us painted on the pond.
The placid water, cool and black,
would wash away the summer heat.
The silty ground, cooler still,
was soft and lumpy underfoot.
Seaweed danced and grazed our legs
below the surface as we trod.
We romped and splashed and swam and laughed
until we tired in the dark.
But then one night, on way to pond,
we spied unwelcome guests afar!
One shape was small, one shape was large,
and large bent down by small,
Then made a quiet splashing sound
and walked away alone.
We returned in light of day –
a first for each of us.
And there at last I gazed into
the clouded waters where we played.
To mind came mantra terrible
which echoes still today:
Seaweed doesn’t grow in ponds.
Seaweed doesn’t grow in ponds.

For we’d been treading children’s heads,
and laughed as hair had tickled legs.

Credit To – alapanamo

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The Stain of Margaret Schilling

July 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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The Ridges – previously known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum – is famous among Ohio University students. The other week, I ran into a friend who recently graduated from OU, and when the conversation turned to spooky things (summer is a classic time to tell ghost stories, after all) he told me about a particularly creepy part of The Ridges’ lore.

Margaret's Outline @ The Ridges

 

This seemingly-human outline is permanently emblazoned on the top floor of wars N20. That’s right, it’s not spray-painted on – it’s been there for decades.

The story goes that in 1978, back when the facility was still active as a mental asylum, a patient named Margaret Schilling abruptly disappeared. The hospital employees searched for weeks, but it wasn’t until over a month later – on January 12, 1979 – that she was discovered. Strangely, she was found in one of the closed-off, abandoned wards – N20 had previously been used to house extremely infectious patients and was no longer in use.

There are claims that she was either already completely decomposed or simply that she had clearly been dead for weeks, but the main point remains the same: she had apparently, soon after her disappearance, somehow ended up in Ward N20, where she completely disrobed before lying down on the floor and dying. The official cause was determined to be heart failure, and some people assume that as Ward N20 was unheated, she could have frozen to death in Ohio’s bitter winter. Why she chose to lie down in such an orderly fashion before her death – and why she initially went to the abandoned ward, or why she stayed there until her death – these are all, of course, questions with answers unknown.

As for the stain, it’s explained best by Jessica Castle:

“…it is more of a photograph negative than a stain. As you can see in my photos, there are windows in front of the stain. As her body decomposed, the fluids were constantly passed over and over again by the sunlight from the windows, developing a photograph of sorts.”

The story has been featured on TV programs – notably FOX’s Scariest Places on Earth, but unfortunately I can’t find the episode online anywhere – and these programs have added what is most likely nothing more than and embellishment: supposedly, a girl went on one of the ghost tours of The Ridges, where she touched Margaret’s stain. The rumour goes that she was then “claimed” by Margaret’s spirit and was eventually driven to suicide over the possession. This part of the story is at best unsubstantiated and at worst simply fluff created by FOX, but it’s still creepy enough to include here!

For specific reading on this particular story (as well as photos and personal accounts!) you should visit the following links:
Jessica Castle’s Haunted Ohio University blog
Forgotten Ohio’s Margeret Schilling Haunting page

For more general information about The Ridges (they are absolutely packed with creepy history and rumours, so in the interest of simply whetting your appetite, I’m only including Margaret’s story here today):
Athens Lunatic Asylum on Wikipedia
The Ridges Mental Health Institution and The Ridges Cemetary @ Haunted Athens Ohio
The Ridges @ Forgotten Ohio
Official information and map from Ohio University
Souls of the Asylum – a collection of “channeled stories” from Athens Lunatic Asylum patients buried at The Ridges cemetery in Athens, OH by Doug & Berta Lockhart (full disclosure: our Amazon affiliate link is included here).

*As a sidenote, this post marks the divergence of the Real-World Creepy tag from the Based on a True Story tag. The explicit differences (plus examples) are better detailed on the submission page, but the summary is that from now on, Real-World Creepy will be the tag housing my write-ups of “true” paranormal places and stories. Based on a True Story has been changed to be more true to its name – pastas more loosely based on experiences, locations, etc, will now be placed in this category.
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Dirty Paper Machines

July 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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This is the final entry in Stephan D. Harris’ Harlequin series.

“Sometimes I wonder; what exactly is a monster? Is it really something to be feared, or is it something to be respected? Is that frightening, hideous thing that stalks your nightmares trying to tell you something, something important? Maybe the monster isn’t there to scare you at all. Have you ever wondered about this? Have you ever wondered if the monsters that hide under your bed are actually just there to protect you? To protect you from something so much worse?”

 

-          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

 

At this moment, at this serene and terrible moment in the outer edge of the Union Street Cemetery, I’m wondering whether or not my thoughts are truly my own, or if they have been constructed by artificial means. By artificial I mean to say externally, unwillingly, or unconsciously; the kind of definition one should consider at the tail end of a mushroom trip just as things start to seem normal again, but not quite. The drug analogy is not what I had in mind, but who knows what I have in mind. Maybe it wants me rattle away like this, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know.

 

What I do know is that with each thrust of the shovel, a little part of the Earth has been displaced. I do this while my right hand throbs in pain under the bandages. I don’t even care. After enough soil has been removed, the hole will be ready for the lye. I brought a few bags with me for just this reason. The idea is that even an isolated place like Union Street won’t be able to guarantee safety, so the hole needs to be filled with something that will burn hot enough to get the job done the next time it rains. I can already see the storm blotting out the horizon. Attention is a dangerous thing, this fact I know well. Nobody knows I’m here. The distant thunderclaps remind me. There’s another fresh grave next to the one I’ve already started. I made that one too, only a few days ago. By now the body of Reverend Proust has disintegrated into a carrion wad of filth, a sickening blob of putrefied mucus that not even maggots would find tasteful.

 

“And you don’t even know why he deserved it, do you?”

 

I stop digging for a smoke. The thing about habits, they always become the strongest when you know you’re going to quit. The time’s as good as any for a moment of self-reflection though, may as well use it.

 

Billie left yesterday on her motorcycle, to where I don’t know or don’t want to. She left with a duffle bag full of cloths and food, her bass strapped to her back and a gun or two strapped somewhere else. There were no goodbyes; two people who know each other well enough don’t need words or petty sentiments. Just a silent exchange of nods acknowledging that things will never be okay. I’m not worried for her though, she knows how to survive the chaos. Terry’s ending is a little different. After the wedding was called off, after the smoke settled, he finally gave up holding on to this miserable town.  He sold his half of the Broken Window last week, and as soon as he gets a bank or an agency or anyone to handle the house he’ll be leaving for New Orleans. I thought it was kind of funny actually, knowing how the poor bastard doesn’t stand a chance yet still possessing enough human compassion to lie to his face. It’s hard not feel bad about it, but sometimes honesty is the cruelest option. Besides, I could be wrong. The knowledge could be fabricated.

 

But I digress. The outcome means nothing if the means to the ends are ignored.

 

By now, the story should be obvious: the Harlequin, the mortuary, the stranger and the willow. I thought I knew what I was doing, we both did. Billie and me, fighting side by side against something we barely understood. We thought we knew how it worked, and we thought it was something we could stop. It sickens me how wrong we were.

 

“You are always wrong.”

 

As far as final chapters go, the ending began were the beginning had ended. By this I mean, I may as well recall the appropriate backstories the each of us, me the dark eyed mortician and the pierce studded Billie-Joe Kimble. Oh who to pick first? Let’s go with Billie, she is and always has been the real hero of this fucked up little nightmare of a fairy tale.

 

Billie was born just outside of Richmond, which is known to be less of a city than it is more of the world’s largest Civil War museum. She never told me much about her childhood, mostly because it seemed irrelevant to her and also because Billie isn’t much for dwelling on the past, but what I do know is that she was named after her father, who was apparently a heavier drinker than she is, but not for a lack of effort on her part. They didn’t get along so well, which makes me suspect that he’s the reason for how Billie learned to keep fighting long after her knuckles split.

 

“He wanted a boy, but got me instead.” She used to say. Billie, the dainty flower, the girl next door. Short and sweet like a pulled tooth.

 

Billie never finished high school. When she was seventeen she dropped out in her senior year to start a band in D.C. leaving Richmond in the very same manner she left Charlottesville, no goodbyes. For three years she drifted around the streets of our capitol looking for the perfect sound to compose the soundtrack for the endless anarchy that she felt summed up her existence. A new tattoo there, another piercing here, a week goes by without eating but the next doesn’t sleep. From the way she told it, it seemed like it should have been her very own slice of paradise, but of course even chaos can become boring. What she really wanted was adventure. Obviously the dozens of post punk bands she founded or joined weren’t able to provide this for her, otherwise she might have stayed there instead of making her way back south. She skipped Richmond two years ago, parking her uninsured motorcycle outside of a dinky bar in North Carolina, and there it stayed parked for eight and a half seasons worth of restlessness. Terry gave her a job and a place to live. She met four guys who called themselves musicians, fell in love with the blues, fell in love with Terry not long after. That’s the way it was for just over a year. That’s the way it was until I showed up.

 

I smoke the cigarette down to the filter and toss it into the growing hole just as the wind starts to pick up. It blows my tie around to the back of my neck and I can’t help but think of it as a noose. I’m wearing the red one today. It’s my favorite.

 

My story is somewhat dull compared to Billie’s. I grew up in a town called Baily Meadow, a place about an hour’s drive east of Charlottesville. The house I lived in was nice, my parents, a pediatrician and a financial accountant, were also nice. The neighborhood was nice, the school system was nice. The people were nice. I graduated at the top of my class, got a full academic scholarship to the university of my choice and promptly enrolled myself into a mortuary science course at a college in Raleigh, obtaining a bachelor’s degree along with a minor study in decomposition anatomy while simultaneously working through my funeral service apprenticeship. This resulted in my current position as professional embalmer of the Burnswick Funeral Home in the lovely town of Charlottesville, NC; population 943, unincorporated. This was about a year ago by now, and really that’s what my entire life has been working towards, at least the interesting parts. I doubt that anyone would be interested in the dead raccoon that I tried to keep in my parent’s freezer when I was eight, or the dumpster fire that I started when I was fourteen. No one wants to hear about the summer I spent in the juvenile detention center for stabbing a classmate with a broken pencil or the six months I stopped speaking. Those stories are irrelevant to who I am as a person. It’s not like I was a particularly disturbed child just because of a few antisocial interests, I was just different. It’s why I’m so good at what I do. I can ignore the sort of things that would make other choke or gag. Just because I’m callous doesn’t make me some kind of monster either.

 

“Real monsters don’t hide under the bed.”

 

By now, Billie must be at least halfway to California, but I try not to think about it.

 

The final chapter of this little anthology began the day after the butchering of a young hitchhiker in Terry’s bathtub. The following daylight hours included several instances of what would latter amount to something over and above what Billie and I had assumed to be a known truth. From my point of view, the morning went as according to plan with the incineration of the severed limbs of the unfortunate traveler in the Burnswick crematorium furnace as a much needed disposal method of his body, because neither Billie, Terry or I were in any position to explain to the authorities as to why we felt the need to murder a vagrant with a hammer in the middle of the night. “He was possessed by alien brain monsters,” probably would raise more questions than answer. Not to mention that Billie and I were also responsible for burning a farmhouse to the ground earlier in the evening. Cutting the body into pieces at the joints and draining it of blood for easier transportation to a crematorium was by far the best option for the three of us. It helped that my employer had one of those En-V 127 Heat Crushers that does a full incineration in under ninety minutes with a built in pulverizer to take care of the hardened calcium deposits. I had the whole thing done and gone by the time anyone else showed up for work, no one even asked why I was already there in the first place. A funeral home requires constant cleaning; the simple excuse of sanitation was enough to avoid suspicion.

 

Aside from the sleep deprivation headache, the rest of my day went along as normal as ever, with two embalming’s and eight cups of coffee. Nobody bothered me or my work until after Burnswick and Madelyn left for the day.

 

They left me alone to lock up shop.

 

Not that this was an abnormal occurrence in itself. Often I would be the last one to leave, it was just the nature of my work to keep track of how much of what supplies had been used and when more would be required, because running out of formalin halfway through a procedure would be very very bad.

 

No, what was out of the ordinary was the visitor who walked through the front door just as I was on my way out. Not to my own surprise, I didn’t recognize this man. Because of my long held beliefs, (or more accurately, lack thereof) not once in my entire stay in Charlottesville had I ever joined the ceremonial burial of any of my clients, or more importantly, entered the Trinity Baptist Church.

 

“I apologize, but we’re closed for business until tomorrow morning.” I told the man. He was wearing a black collared shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, with a head full of perfectly combed salt and pepper hair. Something about him immediately caused a feeling of pure and total contempt.

 

“But if you’d like, I could pencil you in to meet with Mr. Burnswick first thing when we reopen tomorrow.” I continued, jingling my keys in the most apparent way possible. He stared at me for a beat too long before speaking.

 

“I don’t believe we’ve met.” He said through a smile. “Reverend Joseph Proust pleased to meet you.” He extended his hand toward mine. I ignored it.

 

“I’m Stephan D. Harris, head embalmer. Like I said, Burnswick left already and I’m on my out as well.”

 

“That’s a shame; I guess I’ll have to find him later. But tell me, Stephan is it? How long have you been in Charlottesville?”

 

“Going on a year by now.” I tried to say without letting the growing frustration show through.

 

“A year! My word, how is it that I’ve yet to see you in the pews on Sundays? Don’t tell me you’ve been going to that Presbyterian goliath out on the interstate. They may be big, but they won’t give you the same sense of family that I try to cultivate.” The way he spoke his words made me want to grind my teeth down to stubs, but I managed to collect myself.

 

“I’m not much for taking anything on faith.” I responded in the most polite manner possible. The reverend’s face lost its smile almost instantly.

 

“Well, that’s disappointing.” His tone was that of a disapproving parent. The kind who think they know what’s best even when they don’t, or at least that’s the way I heard it. “I believe there’s quite a bit you could gain by joining our flock. The world is full of evil, and it gets worse every day, it may be wise to seek the protection we offer. If you change your mind though, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” Nothing he said sounded like a welcome.

 

I wasn’t in the mood for this nonsense, not then, not ever. I shuffled through the last two days without sleep, the night before being an exceptional case of overwhelming violence. Drained and tired, the last thing in the world I wanted to deal with was the leader of what Billie has been calling a cult. The Trinity Baptists have been aware of the same sort of phenomena that the rest of us have. Everyone has seen the lights in the sky, everyone knew about aneurism epidemic. The difference being I knew the cause, but they thought it to be a divine message proclaiming the end of days. Most importantly, I’m a sunny day asshole who just doesn’t enjoy meeting new people.

 

“Listen, it was nice meeting you,” I lied, “but I’ve really got to be going now.” Proust nodded his head as I led him out of building, locking the door behind us. The sun had already begun its descent towards the western sky, stretching the shadows of houses and tress across the ground like they do. I turned right, Proust walked to the left. Just before I was out of the range of ear though, I heard him call out once more over his shoulder.

 

“Don’t burn any bridges Mr. Harris. You never know what you’ll need to cross.” The side of my face that had had the stubble burned away from the night before began to itch. Just a little, as a reminder.

 

The walk home was quite, and oddly enough the ten minutes of pedestrian travel wasn’t accompanied by the sense of being followed. Lately, the creeping linger of paranoia had been a problem for myself while walking the streets of Charlottesville alone, but not this evening. In fact, I’d say it was enjoyable for the portions where I could forget about the unexpected meeting with the reverend. Until I reached my front door.

 

I bought a house last year. Because of the shit economy and the constant fall of property value that started when the Charlottesville Paper Mill caught fire and killed a third of the town’s income, I was able to get a place of my own for a ridiculously low price. I filled it with thrift store furniture and an ever growing collection of books until it eventually resembled the inner dwellings of a reclusive psychopath. I never cleaned the place; medical books lay open and scattered across the floors, empty mason jars and animal bones sat indefinitely on every table, blankets and cigarette butts a permanent fixture of the sofa. In other words, my home was the living embodiment of static entropy. One thing I would always be sure of though was that I would never, ever, under any circumstances, leave my front door unlocked.

 

When my key refused to make an audible click of a moving tumbler, I knew something was out of place. Stepping cautiously into the living room, I stood still a moment to listen to a faint noise of… something echoing from the bathroom. Mildly alarmed, more annoyed than anything, remembering that I kept a .357 snub nose in a drawer next to the television and so moved to retrieve it. At this point I wasn’t even surprised that something had broken into that house, it was only a matter of time before “they” caught on enough to try something. I call them the Abominations only because I don’t know what the correct terminology would be for a mutated-as-all-hell host body that smiles and giggles as it crawls across the ceiling reaching its absurdly long fingers towards your face to rip out your eyeballs or whatever. It’s what I think happens when a Harlequin worm decides that it wants take direct control of the body that it’s been hiding in, as opposed to quietly causing the victim to slowly loose its sanity. Maybe I’m right about this, maybe I’m wrong. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

 

“More than you know.”

 

So there I was, with a loaded single action revolver ready to blow as many holes in something’s face as fast as the trigger could be pulled. I tiptoed my way to the bathroom door, placing one hand on the door knob while the other held Stubs the Gun. Noticing the crack of light coming from beneath the door frame and another shuffling noise, I took a brief inhale, and kicked in the door to my bathroom. It screamed at me the way an animal does, it screamed and scratched and foamed at the mouth as I fired five shots into the legs and once more through the far side of its jaw, the mirror and the sink and the walls dusted with specks of red as I finished the job with a straight razor, my fingers slipping over the blood of its pathetic whimpering throat as a sharp edge ran across the eyes. So glorious, so violent, so beautiful and so vicious, the sound of skin as it peels from bone filling my ears like a thousand symphonies playing all at once over dissonant laughter. My laughter. The kind of laughter that follows the abandonment of all hope, where you laugh….

 

“The way you would at a sick joke.”

Except that’s not the way it happened, I’m remembering things wrong again. There were no shots fired, there was no blood or symphonies either. But there was screaming, the screaming of a startled girl.

 

“Check your damn voice mail for once!” Billie yelled as she spat a wad of toothpaste from her lips. “I called you like, two freaking hours ago to tell you that I’d be here.”

 

This turned out to be true, in fact the message Billie had left me was oddly specific about how I should avoid shooting her when I got home. “Hey Stephan,” it said, “Terry and I had a fight about that crap that happened last night and now he’s all butt hurt about it. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to crash at your place until he stops bitching about how we’re going to get ourselves killed or whatever. I’m heading over there now, don’t worry I still have a key, but call me back so I’ll know that you won’t freak out and try to shoot me or something with that snub nose I gave you, because that would suck. Kay, bye!”

 

“So, is it cool that I hang around here for a while?” She asked me after I had finished listening to her message. Billie had just finished taking a shower by the time I noticed the front door unlocked. She still had a wet towel wrapped around her boney little torso. Catching a glance of the hand grenade tattooed just above where her cleavage should have been, I promptly made my decision.

 

“Yeah you can stay.” I passed out on the sofa without taking off my suit twenty seconds later.

 

Waking up I became worried that I had slept through an entire workday, almost falling off the couch as the panic set in. It was dark outside; the feeling was understandable until a look at my wristwatch convinced me that it was four in the morning. An unpleasant way to awaken for sure, but at least the headaches were gone, so I decided to crack the kinks out of my neck and smoke a cigarette before the weight of the world inevitably came crashing down. This is what it feels like to be rested enough to sit quietly in the dark and listen to your own thoughts in peace; temporary.

 

The first drifts of the cognitive sea lead to Proust so I tried to sail the other way. Some efforts are futile however, and so acceptance must be so. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the good reverend had gotten the drop on me somehow. I mean, I had lived in Charlottesville for going on about a year, and not once had he ever so much as noticed me, or I him. Part of me thought his was strange. No, the word is improbable. It was improbable that for a year I had been working in an industry that is almost codependent with that of the church, and so one would assume that Proust and I would have met at an earlier time. Funerals are primarily of a religious concern are they not?  Yes it is true that I am basically an atheist, an atheist that considers the very concept of faith to be a blasphemy against the human condition to search for meaning in an inherently meaningless universe, and so of course I would have done everything within my power to avoid the Trinity Baptists, but just by pure chance we should have been made aware of each other sometime before. Why yesterday of all days? Yesterday at a time when I was the only possible person he could have talked to at the funeral home, the very day after Billie and I had seen the lights of the Trinity Baptist Church at two in the morning, just before we killed those Abominations at the farmhouse?

 

I knew that he knew something but I didn’t know what he knew. Had I figured out what it was earlier, I would have murdered him right there in the Burnswick lobby.

 

Sitting in the dark alone with my thoughts started to become tiresome, so I stood up to crack my back before shuffling my disheveled ass to the bedroom. I wanted to take a look at a few things that I’d been sleeping on. Billie was lying face down on the floor of my room surrounded by empty bottles of what used to be my beer stash, I assumed that she must have found some way to make her own fun without my help. Tiptoeing around her, I began searching through a desk where I’d been keeping important tidbits of information, or at least the things that seemed even remotely relevant. Things like photocopies of old newspaper articles about the paper mill fire, notes about who had died around the Charlottesville area from unexplained brain aneurisms, the video of the first autopsy (which I had yet to mail out to anyone who might have found it useful, I hadn’t even considered doing so until just before I decided to end everything at the Union Street Cemetery.) Nothing seemed to connect. If I organized the notes into any sort of coherent narratives, it still looked like a game of connect the dots made by a low functioning mental patient. The paper mill was central to this madness, but the how was the real question. What did a twenty odd year old industrial accident have to do with parasitic brain worms? Where did Proust fit in, if at all?

 

“They heard the noises, they all knew what it meant. Every. Last. One.”

 

It didn’t really come from anywhere, or maybe it was everywhere. Maybe it was something I had forgotten about intentionally because the thought itself carried with it a sense of ominous dread so overwhelming that feigning ignorance seemed a better alternative.

 

Suddenly it seemed very important to put on a pot of coffee. And to take a shower. And to iron my suit, to dump out the ashtrays and cancel all my magazine subscriptions. Cleaning the toilet. All the little things that I did every day, the things I never wanted to do or had been putting off, it all seemed so important. Everything but the dishes but anything to keep me from thinking about what I’d have to do once Billie finished sleeping off her hangover. My memory gets a little hazy around this part, but the last thing I did before we left was phone in to Mr. Burnswick. I told him that I’d need to take a personal day.

 

“Fade to black.”

 

“I don’t like this.” Billie said. “I mean I truly, sincerely, genuinely do not like this at all.” Billie rarely displayed any emotion without even the faintest sense of bravado. It was a bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, every bird was chirping, every woodland creature in the land frolicked without a care in the world and yet the mere sight of the crumbling ruins of the old paper mill was enough to set off her alarms. What was worse was that I agreed, and with good reason. The stigma that had been put on that place had been enough to keep the crazy homeless people and drunken teenagers away for two decades.

 

“Yeah, well, we both knew it was inevitable.” I lit a new cigarette with the cherry of the old one while I said this. I think I might have even chuckled a little to myself. It was funny because neither of us had batted an eyelash at the idea of trudging through Lucid Marsh two and a half months ago to look for a cannibal man who lost his mind after being sucked under the water by a man sized worm. That was a perfectly normal occurrence compared to this.

 

“Probably, but I still don’t see what this has to do with Reverend Proust.” Billie mentioned as she checked her backpack for the third time in ten minutes, as if not kept under a watchful eye the shit load of ammunition would vanish without warning. She had packed it with nearly a dozen or so fully loaded magazines of whatever caliber her illegal-ass machine gun needed in order to explode the air into a hell storm of bullets. Probably an HK417 or 416, I can never tell the difference. As usual she duct taped a flashlight to the barrel and threw in a bunch of painted bunny rabbits to pretty it up. I chose to be a bit more conservative, bringing only the snub nose, a speed loader and a couple of road flares.

 

We started walking through the tall grass that had sprouted out of what used to be a parking lot before I collected my words.

 

“Proust knows what we did the other night.” I answered. “He knows about the farm house burning to the ground, and he knows it was us.” Billie looked at me with that type of face confused people make. I pulled a business card from my pocket and waved in front of her eyes. “I used one of these to start the fire. I’m guessing enough was left legible to put two and two together.”

 

Billie shrugged. “I guess it’s plausible, and I guess you’re right about the mill. We’ve put it off long enough already. Best learn what we can before the lynch mob comes to rape you.” I stopped a beat to try and think of a way to respond to that, but I gave it up in favor of focusing my attention on the goliath whose shadow we stood beneath… the Charlottesville Paper Mill. Fully integrated, constructed in 1958, turned inferno in 1989, killing three hundred workers in under ten minutes, no indication as to what caused the initial fire. Some say arson, others say malfunction, but anyone who survived remembers the cackling laughter heard throughout the cutting line, just before it all went to shit. For what, nearly thirty years now, the remains have sat there, enduring the harsh North Carolina seasons, sitting there, waiting, like a sleeping colossus: massive, angry, and most of all, patient. As Billie and I approached the outer wall, just past a rusted barb wire fence, the tune to “Chop the Willow” started to go through my head. It seemed fitting.

 

“The clockwork points to midnight.”

 

“The sounds of metal grinding against metal, the echo of a close yet distant thing feeling its way through its own self-imposed prison, much as the absence of motion between the sway of a pendulum draws attention to the tension between opposites. Time is not relative; it is simply the most probable observable outcome, subjective and arbitrary, never any choice in the matter to begin with but open to all interpretations. The context becomes irrelevant, and we call them wrong things for a reason.”

 

-          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

The main doors were chained shut, probably had been since the fire. Yellow hazard tape tattered around in the wind like it stopped giving a shit years ago. The loader doors were too heavy to lift by hand, another problem. Billie had found a window a few feet above a concrete staircase, smashed in the glass with the butt of her gun while I threw a rubber washer mate over the remaining shards. A push and a pull later, we were in. The mill was surprisingly well lit, actually not surprising at all. A good chunk of the roof had caved in above the pressing line, little rays of sunlight peppering everything. “Where should we start?” Billie asked. I looked around for some sign of direction. “I dunno,” I said back, “Let’s just, look around.”

 

We did, finding ourselves following a hallway into what was probably the accounting office; a few burnt desks, filing cabinets lying on the ground spilling their innards about. The ash covering the melted carpet reminded me of a woman I had prepared for burial back in Raleigh. She had died in a car collision, but not on impact. Her gas tank exploded, spraying liquid fire into the drivers’ seat while the side door had been pinned closed by another car. It was a closed casket. I didn’t bring this up to Billie, who had found an intact staircase. “Down?” I asked her as she flicked her flashlight to life. “May as well.” She replied.

 

I apologize for what follows.

 

I’m not a scientist. I don’t know anything about astrophysics or quantum entanglement. I couldn’t describe how phase velocity works if my life depended on it, Planck’s constant might as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphs for all the good that it would do me.

Particle decay is confusing, and the uncertainty principle strikes me as it sounds. One thing that I do know however, is that what constitutes reality is entirely dependent on the limitations of one’s own sensory organs, the organs in charge of compiling all external stimuli into a coherent perspective. Most people forget about this, myself included. It’s hard to convince your own brain that it sucks using nothing but your own brain. Sometimes though, a certain external force is so otherworldly, so strange and uncompromising that it forces your brain to admit some humility.

 

“Why don’t you try it?”

 

I’m having some trouble remembering the order of events that took place within the basement of that mill. Billie would later have the same problem, so part of me suspects that whatever happened in that mill, whatever it was that broke open the ether to where the harlequins came from was still in effect. I’ve already considered every possibility for this, everything from wormholes, to dark energy expansion, to psychotropic frequencies. Any option is valid, even if I can’t explain it. The only concrete memories are the ones where Billie and I climbed through that broken window, and the one where we leaped out in panic. What happened in between is variable. I know this, because even without a consistent rate of time, I remember three important scenes. Interestingly enough though, Billie told me later that some of what happened didn’t, and some of what didn’t did. I both believe and disbelieve her claims because of two important facts. First of all, she says that we never found Ryan Wilcox’s journal, despite it being held in my hands while she told me this. The second falsehood was when Billie told me that she saw me die. I thought that one was pretty funny.

 

Because I saw the same thing happen to her.

 

The Wilcox Journal: I found it in a janitor’s closet that was next to a pile of paper rolls that had rotted themselves back into wood. Billie stood at the precipice of the closet to keep watch while I searched the shelves that once held cleaning supplies. It was one of those leather bound journals made to look like a real book. The fact that it was in decent condition was what drew my attention. Everything else in that mill was either burnt beyond recognition or passively falling apart, so no doubt a healthy looking book would be an object of interest. The first page told me that it belonged to Ryan Wilcox, the previous embalmer of the Burnswick Funeral Home, whose wife had been the floor manager of the Charlottesville Paper Mill. She died in the fire, and Ryan being an embalmer was the one responsible for her remains. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that his private thoughts had returned to the place of his wife’s death, especially when it was Ryan who first discovered the Harlequins, noted their number, and left enough clues for me to track the source back to that place.

 

“What does it say?” Billie asked. “Let me read it and I’ll tell you.” I said back to her, flipping through the first couple of pages. Eventually I got to a place where all the words had been written in red ink. They read as such:

 

“They come from a place outside of time, beyond space, far separated from what reason may describe. There’s something wrong with this mill, it changes itself as it needs to, shifting between possibilities as they come and go. It holds onto everything indiscriminately, I can see this place as it was the day before the fire, and decades after. I can see myself wandering the dirty paper machines as they show their faces. I can see the men and women with their candles chanting in their prayer circle around my lifeless corpse. I can even see my successor reading these pages in a closet that I had never set foot in. To him and his companion, I say only this: Do not turn your back to the comedian.”

 

“What the fuck is happening here?” Billie asked rhetorically when I finished reading the passage. I didn’t have time to respond with anything other than an open jaw, cut off mid word because it was then that I saw it, the air shimmering around the tangled mass of flailing limbs. It had eyes, more eyes than I could count, each and every one of them filled with a hatred that went far beyond sanity, far beyond even the smallest amount of compassion for human life and decency. Something slithered around Billie’s waist, ensnaring her before she could turn to face the monster. I doubt bullets would be able to do a damn thing to help, I doubt anything could have done or even thought to have done would have made even the slightest difference for her sake. Billie couldn’t find the wiggle room needed to break free, not before it started to drag her to… somewhere. I couldn’t reach her in time, even as I chased after it for as long as I could, following after her one outstretched hand, following after the sounds of her screaming. It made no difference. The bloodstains trailed off to nothing.

 

The Escape: We didn’t know what we were running from. We heard the noise, and we ran from it instinctually, maybe the same way that birds flutter away from an earthquake despite being the best suited to handle the catastrophe in the first place. And why shouldn’t we be? I’ve spent my entire adult life doing a job that would make most faint into a pool of their own vomit. I am no stranger to indifference, but the soft grinding noise faintly heard over the rusting debris made our skin crawl. Billie ascended the stairwell two steps at a time, me following after regretting that I was going to die sober.

 

“This way, just past the office.” Billie called over her shoulder. Something stopped her once she passed the first set of crapsack cubicles. “Shh.” She turned to me, placing one finger across her lips. Billie crouched under a desk littered with scraps of paper, motioning for me to join her. Instead, I pulled the snub nose from my jacket and cautiously peeked over the edge of the composite board to scan the rest of the office. I didn’t like what I saw.

 

They had followed us. From the distance and lack of light they appeared to be elongated humanoid shadows, tall and lanky things that shuffled back and forth murmuring to themselves, arms bent like mantis in perpetual prayer. Everything about them seemed wrong, unnatural in both method and manner. Billie grabbed my tie to drag me back down to her level. “What the fuck are you doing?” She asked me in an agitated whisper.

 

“Looking for a way out,” I said back, pulling a road flare from my belt loop. “Considering the options, how would you feel about making our own?” The hollow grinding noise returned to the background, and Billie’s concerned expression shifted into the standard mania that I had come to know and love; a hatful grin with the eyes of a slap-happy axe murderer, despite the fear inducing infrasound’s echoing from an unknown source. “If I die here,” She said back, “I want you to give me a Viking funeral.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

Billie went left, sprinting as fast as she could into a roundhouse kick to the chest of one of the creeps. I went right, popping the flare, placing a shot from the revolver right into one of their heads, a red mist exploding out the back of its skull. The screams that followed were barely audible over the rapid fire of Billie’s murder machine, but their faces were made perfectly clear by the orange glow of the flare that I had thrown into the mix. One crashed through a flimsy wall with its arms outstretched screaming and biting towards my face, but Billie caught it in the leg with a spray of bullets giving me the perfect opportunity to stomp my heel against its jaw. The ordeal went along those lines for who knows how long. The vicious scratching and flailing of the abominations, the vicious cracking of bones when Billie ran out of ammunition and resorted to her fists and boots, and the absurd capacity for violence at my own hands when Billie tossed me a fire axe to help her dismember the endless ocean of chucklefucks. At one point I couldn’t even tell where the psychotic laughter was coming from, it could have been Billie or the things or even myself. It was definitely my laughter when I caught one scampering across the ceiling, wrestling it down to pry open its mouth with my bare hands, filling its throat with the fire of another flare. It was just around the point where Billie had just finished bashing the everlasting shit out of one with a typewriter when we finally decide to call it quits and run back to the exit, the entire time abominations phasing in and out of our peripherals. The grinding noise had grown to a deafening level by the time we climber through the window. Interesting enough to note that the light seemed blinding while in the mill, but quickly became tolerable once we stepped back into the real world, which probably had something to with the fact that it was the middle of the night.

 

“How long were we in there?” Billie asked me between heavy breaths as we ran back to my car. I looked down at my watch, bewildered at the fact that hands said it had only been about hour. Just as I was trying to piece together a theory I collapsed to the ground clutching the sides of my head. A brain splitting headache had taken precedence over thoughts, the feeling that someone had taken a power drill to the back of my brainstem turned on high. As my vision started to blur, the last thing I remembered was Billie mouthing words to me, shaking my shoulders in futility.

 

“In a world of infinite possibilities, the only reality you can conceive is a composite of probable outcomes. And some are more probable than others.”

 

Infinite Causality: Due to the powers that be, the memory of our escape was still fresh in my mind before it had even taken place, but for whatever reason it didn’t seem to bother me as Billie and I walked down the black charred concrete hallway, following the pipes that ran across the ceiling to the sub-basement where we would be able to find the central dehumidifier, which according to all my research was where the initial fire had started the chain reaction of chemical fires that had spread to the rolling line. Machines exploded, people died, and something wrong remained long after.

 

“Wait,” Billie said stopping to face me. “Stephan, how are you still alive?” Whatever temporal issue plagued me had apparently caught up with Billie. “I saw those cultists slit your throat in front of the portal, like, ten minutes ago.”  I thought back to the massive worm that had dragged Billie off into the darkness, and suddenly the thought of my own death barely fazed me at all. Still though, Billie seemed genuinely freaked out, so I searched through my rudimentary knowledge of theoretical physics for a satisfactory answer.

 

“Are you aware of the quantum immortality theory?” I asked her, knowing well enough that she did not, confirmed by the puzzled look on her face. I continued to speak regardless. “Well, to sum it up without having to go into detail about quark spins, it simply states that there are an infinite number of possible universes, but you can only be aware of the ones where you’re not dead.” I felt mildly embarrassed for not really knowing what I was talking about, but Billie accepted it anyway because well, what else could she do?

 

“That’s really fucking confusing Stephan, but whatever, I guess I’ll buy it, and I guess it sort of explains that portal thing that opened up earlier. It was like some weird green lightening hole with all this tentacle shit squiggling through.” Billie paused for a moment. “Um, Reverend Proust was there. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I think I owe you an apology. I guess he was involved in all this after all.”

 

“While the alternate version of myself was having his ass murdered, did Proust and his little groupies, you know, say anything important?”

 

“Something about coming into contact with angels,” Billie said to me. “They’re delusional, and they weren’t angels. Not even close.” I noticed that Billie was holding a shotgun, and thought about what a delusion really was but said nothing.

 

We moved down the turns of the hallway in a rush because the grinding noise had started to pick up from behind. Eventually we reached a door that maybe once been labeled but had been burnt to illiteracy long ago. The doorknob was partially melted, so Billie had to kick it open like she was mad at it. Her flashlight illuminated the remains of the humidifier. Except they weren’t the remains, it was as one would expect it to be if nothing wrong had ever occurred in the first place. A second later, Billie’s light became obsolete next to the fully functional florescent bulbs that glowed and flickered against the clean cinderblock walls decorated with O.S.H.A regulation posters and coat hooks holding onto yellow hard hats. The humidifier seemed to be doing its job of pulling moist air from the ventilation ducts to be dried and recirculated back into the rest of the mill. Everything seemed to be very right and oh so very, very wrong. My ears popped for no apparent reason.

 

“Hey Stephan,” Billie said, turning to face me with a nose leaking blood. Her voice seemed off, so did her eyes. They weren’t dead, but more or less what I would normally call numb, distant somehow.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Your nose is bleeding Stephan.” I pressed a finger up against a nostril, seeing the red pulled away with my own eyes. I didn’t know what to say, but someone else’s words filled in the moment of silence.

 

“It’s nice to see you again Mr. Harris.” Said an unwelcomingly familiar voice, coming back from the entrance to the sub-basement hallway. Billie and I barely had to turn to see that the voice belonged to the good Reverend Joseph Proust, his face holding a smug look of contempt and satisfaction. His hands were holding something else. Billie raised her shotgun.

 

“Where in the fuck did you get that?” My voice made it perfectly clear how completely pissed I was. Proust rubbed one of his palms against the perspiring glass, right across the unmistakably printed letters that spelled out “Harlequin No.7.”

 

“Oh, This?” He said back through a chuckle. “I’ve had this thing for years. True, it would disappear every now and then to fulfill its duty, but it would always return to the one who knew the true plan.” A tendril whipped itself across the inside of the jar, the florescent lighting dimmed and flickered just as they had in the mortuary. Proust looked down at the jar with a slight smile crawling across his lips. “Some fools would like you to believe that our world began with a big bang, but we all know that something cannot come from nothing. Unless of course, this something were eternal.”

 

“The cosmos is not how it seems.”

 

The air around the Harlequin was beginning to shift and shimmer with a chartreuse glow spreading across the room. From a nearby intercom, a static voice called out from somewhere higher in the mill.

 

(Jenna Wilcox to loader four; Jenna Wilcox to loader four.)

 

Billie gave her shotgun a forceful pump. “I think you might want to put that thing down, like, right the fuck now.”

 

“It would be my pleasure.” He said, looking not to Billie but right into my eyes alone. “Ashes to ashes Mr. Harris, ashes to ashes.”

 

I leaped to the ground with both arms ahead trying to catch the falling jar just as Billie fired a round into the good Reverends sternum. He fell with a death rattle caught in his throat, a shotgun shell fell still smoking from the ballistic explosion, I fell with a kick of dust in my face, and the Harlequin No.7, for the second time in rational memory, shattered as it hit the cold concrete floor of the Charlottesville Paper Mill, in the sub-basement ventilation room where the dehumidifier had caught fire by alleged dust particles suspended in the air. Several bolts of chartreuse lightning splintered off into every possible direction, coupled with that all too familiar, unearthly laughter.

 

If it was a joke, it must have been on us the whole time.

 

“It’s a funny thing when you regret, the things that haven’t happened yet.”

 

“I don’t want to wake up from this nightmare, because whatever’s out there must be, no, has to be worse than anything I could scarcely imagine. I’m so sorry Jenna, I couldn’t stop it from burrowing its way into your mind, into your life, into everything you know as yourself. No one wants to die, to undergo putrefaction, to be devoured by carnivorous microbes and processed into methane and sulfur dioxide. Nobody wants that, but at least it’s a natural end, the same thing everyone has to go through eventually. The thing that happened to you, what I let happen, that could have been avoided.  I’m so sorry, so sorry. I don’t know where they come from, or what they want, but one thing these joyless harlequins have taught me is that sanity is a fragile thing, and that there was never anything to be done in the first place. Goodbye Jenna, I will always love you… unless they take that away too.”

 

-          The Wilcox Journal, 1989

 

I woke up in the passenger seat of my charger, my head half tilted out of the window in the way of a stiff North Carolinian breeze. The stars were bright, maybe they had always been bright and this was the first time I noticed. It didn’t matter, what mattered was that Billie and I had made it out alive, or at least alive enough to be aware of it. She was driving in a sensible way, a highly uncharacteristic example of her piloting skills, but still, I knew that she was the one who dragged my unconscious body across the weeded parking lot after I passed out like a frightened French  schoolgirl with skinned knee.

 

“Hey there buddy! You’re finally awake!” I was too focused on the sky to see her face, but I could tell by inflection that Billie was about to insult me. “I was worried that your ovaries were giving you lady trouble there for a moment. Glad you got over it.” There was that shitty attitude I had been expecting.

 

“Just take me back to my house. I don’t want to think about things anymore.” Billie didn’t say anything, but she slammed her foot down onto the gas pedal in agreement. My head was in a state of absolute agony, so I tried to relax and close my eyes for the rest of the drive.

 

We found ourselves back in Charlottesville proper no more than twenty minutes later, Billie easing the charger into my driveway at a time of night that didn’t synchronize with my wrist watch. Part of me was trying to forget about the conflicting memories of the paper mill, the other part was trying to drag its legs towards the front door without Billie’s help.

 

“Come on,” she said, “we can figure this shit out in the morning.” Billie went straight for the bathroom, leaving me standing alone in my living room trying to think of what problem needed to be dealt with first; checking on the Harlequins stored in my fridge or dealing with the throbbing headache with a bottle of Irish whiskey. Both things could be found in the kitchen, so that’s where my feet went, flicking the light switch on my to the liqueur cabinet as I walked across the linoleum floor. Popping the cap followed by a six second gulp, eyes watering as the burn in my throat erased the pain behind my skull, I turned towards the refrigerator. Just as before, he was standing there with a smug bastard smirk across his face, hands held behind his back. I lowered the bottle from my lips in the manner of a disgruntled postal worker, because through rain or shine, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of this asshole.

 

“Proust, what the fuck are you doing here, and why are you alive?” I thought it was a fair question. A chest full of birdshot usually keeps them down.

 

“Well, I was just going to take back the little cherubs that you stole, but it would seem that you’ve figured out how to kill the miracles.” Yeah, one man’s parasitic monstrosity is another man’s divine intervention.

 

“I dosed them in hydrogen peroxide before saturating them in a high potency formalin solution. It seemed to the job of preventing their necromorphic tendencies.”

 

“Clever boy.” He said back to me, grinning with that fake smile, more teeth than pleasantry. “Unfortunately for you, and luckily for me, there remains one more left to be freed. But you probably don’t remember receiving the gift, do you? No, you wouldn’t, because you have the heart and soul of demon, a filthy blind thing.” Proust removed his hands from behind, procuring a sawed off double barrel. “I can make this easy for you, or very, very difficult.” I took another swig of whiskey before making up my mind.

 

“Ashes to ashes reverend, ashes to ashes.” He managed to fire off a round just as the bottle smashed across his face, but it went into ceiling rather than my gut. He didn’t get a chance to try again, because I was already on him, twisting his wrist until I felt it pop under the pressure. He grunted in pain through that clenched smile as I threw his head into the sink, stabbing him in the back with a dirty fork while bubbles burst from beneath stagnant dishwater. I pulled him out just as Billie rushed to the scene. She started to say something but I couldn’t hear her, because by then I had Proust pushed up against a wall with my left forearm pressed across his windpipe.

 

“You’re the only demon here!” I screamed into his bloody face. “The difference between us is that I can actually fucking see it! I don’t know what your goddamn plan was and I don’t want to, and I don’t need to know anything to see how your pathetic miserable piece of shit life needs to end!” I punched him repeatedly, over and over regardless of the pain, breaking several fingers as the knuckles connected to teeth. I didn’t even care and I didn’t stop until his laughter ended with a cough of blood and vomit.

 

“This is how you found out. This is how it ends.”

 

I emptied my savings account and gave everything to Billie, all of my money, all of the tapes and notes and everything that remained of the harlequins. I told her to give it all to someone who would know what to do, told her to get as far away from Charlottesville as she could, to get as far away from me. That was two days ago. She left yesterday, the same day I buried Reverend Proust in the weeded over patch in the back of the Union Street Cemetery.

 

So here I am now, standing with back to the freshly dug hole that will serve as my home for rest of eternity, a home I will never know from behind the endless sea of cognitive oblivion. I don’t want to live with, knowing that it’s been there in the back of my head, controlling my mind in subtle ways since a time I can’t remember because it won’t let me.

 

As I start to raise the snub nose to my mouth, I hear it again.

 

“You know what he said right? How we choose who we want, regardless of time or place. The polyps are just a lesser form of growth, a left over breeding mechanism from eons of evolution, no longer needed but still indulged.”

 

I try to ignore it, but my hand goes numb, and the gun drops to the ground. I’m panicking now, trying to reach down for it but it won’t let me. I’m not in charge anymore.

 

“The joke is on you. It will end when I say it does.”

 

Fade to black, again.

 

Credit To: Stephan D. Harris

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The Crawlspace

July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Um… hi there. I guess you could say I’m writing this as a cautionary tale to those who plan on studying abroad in future. I don’t mean to discourage you from going in the first place, it’s more like I just want you to be aware of this so that something like this doesn’t happen to you too.
I guess I should explain a little bit. Last summer I was selected to participate in the study abroad program that would be centered in Rome for several months. Like anyone would be, I was elated. I had never been out of the states before, so this was going to be a real adventure for me.

In the weeks that followed I happily packed anything and everything I could fit into my suitcase. (I will be the first to admit that I had way over packed for this trip.) I was nervous about leaving my parents for the first time but I was also excited for the newfound freedom I would have while in Europe. Before I knew it my parents were dropping me off at the airport, and I was boarding a 19 hour flight to Rome.

Despite being long and tedious, the flight wasn’t all that bad. When I exited the airport I was greeted by the program supervisor and several other students who would be studying with me. They were about the same age and all looked just as excited as me. From there we went to our mandatory orientation meeting, and afterwards we went to pick up our apartment keys.

In the months that preceded the trip, we were responsible for getting to know our would be roommates as well as finding a place to stay that we could all afford. There were three girls I would be staying with. They were all nice enough and made an effort to make me feel welcome, though I will admit it’s a bit hard to get close to the group of preformed friends. But despite my slight alienation, it seemed that things were all going to work out well. All of us were on a similar budget plan, and by that I mean none of us really had much money to spend. Because of this we were all on the same page while searching for the cheapest apartment we could find.

After several days of searching we stumbled across an ad for an ancient apartment located above the Campo di Fiori. That was a prime location and we couldn’t believe it that it was still available, no less listed for an unbelievably low price. This immediately sent alarm bells off in my head. The place was enormous yet the rent was cheaper than the much smaller apartments in a far less desirable part of town. However reason never really wins out in a group of excited young women. They had already made up their minds and if I would be staying with them this was my only option.

We each received our own set of keys as well as a map with walking directions. Because of its prime location it really didn’t take us long to get there. The Campo was amazing. During the daytime it was filled with a vibrant market, while during the evening it was lined with lively street performers. All of the apartments surrounding it looked to be ancient, so ours really didn’t stand out all that much. After circling the square three or four times we finally noticed the number nailed to the front of a massive old wooden door. This would be our home for the next three months.

I fought with my keys for a moment until there was an audible click of the heavy old lock. The thick old door swung forward with a screech. We were then met with a long winding staircase. We all looked at one another and groaned. None of us had accounted for the fact that the building had been constructed before elevators were common. So three sets of stairs and countless complaints later, all four of us, with luggage in hand stood outside our new front door. Once again I reached for my set of keys and fought with the stubborn lock. As soon as the front door was opened there was a stampede of young women trying to claim the best rooms. Being a three-bedroom apartment, it meant that two of us would have to share. I personally didn’t really care so I let the others battle it out. When the dust had settled, I found that I would be sharing a room with a girl called Stephanie. That was fine with me. Stephanie was nice enough and she was also very quiet, my ideal feature in a roommate.

Over the course of the rest of the day we ran around exploring our new home. There were two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with an ancient TV. Once again I began to feel uneasy. Just how was it that we were able to get all of this for such a low price? But before I could finish the thought I was interrupted by a fit of loud squealing. My initial reaction was to panic, however I soon learned that all the noise was from excitement. Down at the other end of the apartment near the front door, apparently there was another part of the flat we had missed. I followed the noise until it led me to a long dark hallway. There at the end, behind the group of squealing women was a washing and drying machine. For those of you thinking “what’s the big deal?”, I should explain that these things are incredibly rare in Rome. Generally exchange students have to wash their clothes by hand in the sink before hanging them up to dry. What was a luxury item like this doing in such a cheap apartment?

Just as the screaming quelled it picked right back up again as the girls noticed a door adjacent to the washing machine. Beyond that door was a master bathroom. It had a balcony, a claw-foot tub, and even a bidet. The girls immediately started fighting over “who’s bathroom this was going to be”. I didn’t really see why we couldn’t share, but apparently the others were dead set on having ownership. As it turned out it ended up being my bathroom. Stephanie had made a logical argument that because she and I had to share a bedroom, while the other two each got their own, it was only fair that she and I got share the master bath. And I’ll admit that at first I was actually kind of excited, it was after all, a really nice room. However over the course of the next several weeks I began to grow more and more wary of the room. I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s like every time I went into that room I could feel something’s eyes on me. And the voyeuristic element wasn’t really what had me so unnerved. It felt like whatever was watching me was angry, that it didn’t want me there and that it wanted to hurt me.

I began doing everything in my power to avoid the room. I asked Alisha if she would mind if I were to use her restroom occasionally. I made up a lame excuse about how it was far more convenient since her room was so close while my bathroom was at the other end of the flat at the end of the very long hallway. She happily agreed though, when I told her that she could use my bathroom anytime she liked. This worked well for a while. For about the first two months of my trip I was able to completely avoid the eerie room. It wasn’t until the final month that everything began to unravel. One night as I prepared to brush my teeth, I found that Alisha was already occupying her bathroom. I could hear giggles coming from down the hallway, it was clear both Stephanie and our other roommate were both getting ready for bed in the master bath. I decided that since there was strength in numbers, it would be all right just for tonight.

So I made my way down to the large bathroom where I joined the boisterous girls in brushing my teeth. They were in the midst of some conversation when Lindsay, our other roommate, had broken into such a furious fit of laughter that she had to lean on the wall for support. But suddenly she jolted upright as if she had been shocked. We all looked at what had been the cause of her reaction: there on the wall, about the same level as the bathtub was a tiny door. None of us had noticed it because it was the same color as walls. The landlord had even painted over it. Naturally this made me a bit nervous. Whatever it was, the landlord clearly didn’t want anyone opening it. But as usual, throwing all caution to the wind Lindsay reached for the handle and began tugging with all her might. Stephanie clucked her tongue in disapproval before pulling out a small pocket knife. She began delicately carving along the seam of the door. I wanted to beg her to stop, but I really didn’t have the energy to argue that night. So within a few minutes, Lindsay had yanked the little door open with a loud crack.

It was… a crawlspace. It was fairly large. My guess would’ve been you could have fit at least three or four people in there. I was rather curious as to why the landlord would’ve sealed up an empty little room. While I thought about this, Stephanie and Lindsay began calling for Alisha to come see their new discovery. She was just as excited as they were when they first discovered it. However, as could be expected, this excitement waned over time and eventually the crawlspace was just turned into storage for a few towels and laundry baskets.

In the following days after the unsealing of the crawlspace, things started to go from eerie to downright terrifying. Annoyingly, Alisha had changed her nightly routine so that I could no longer use her bathroom in the evenings. Once again I was back in the large bathroom, all the while, the feeling that I was being watched growing worse and worse. I began to get so paranoid each time I went into that room that I would literally jump at the slightest noise of pipes settling, and as soon as I was finished I would run at full speed down the hallway and close the door behind me. For some reason I seemed to be the only one feeling this way. It’s not like I could’ve told the other girls either. I was already enough of an outcast as it was. So I just kept to myself and hoped it would go away eventually.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. One night as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself alone in the bathroom. As I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth something set the hairs on the back of my neck straight up. There was a faint rustling noise. Not the kind that could’ve been caused from my roommates at the other end of the flat. Any noises caused by them would have had to have been quite loud to reach me all the way at the end of the long hallway. No this noise was very faint, the sound of someone gingerly shuffling things around. I stood completely silent, terror filling me. The soft rustling noise was coming from inside the crawlspace. I turned on my heels and ran down the hallway to grab the attention of my roommates. I tried to explain to them what happened, but all that came out were incoherent murmurs.

Eventually I managed to stutter “S-Something. Something’s inside the crawlspace!”

They looked at me with fear and confusion in their eyes. As a pack we moved together down the hallway into the bathroom. I nearly fainted when I saw the tiny door hanging fully ajar. Though this discovery filled me with horror, Alisha immediately pointed to the balcony’s sliding door. Stephanie had left it open to air out the bathroom after having taken a shower several hours ago. She peeked her head out the door and pointed to the slanted rooftop adjacent to ours. There was a pigeons nest occupied by few birds. The girls surmised that a pigeon must have found its way in and was the cause of the disturbance. They all had a good laugh as we made our way back to the living room. I pretended to shake it off but I knew it was not a pigeon that caused the rustling noise. First off, the tiny door had been shut tight all day. None of us really cared to leave it open because it smelled quite musty inside. And secondly, the door had been shut when I left the bathroom, I am certain of this, yet there it was wide open when I returned. You’re not going to tell me that a pigeon knows how to and is capable of opening and closing a door all by itself.

It was at this point that I began to suspect that something was terribly wrong with this apartment. When I got back to my room I pulled out my laptop and called my best friend via Skype. She had always been the skeptical and methodical type, however she also kept an open mind towards things that were hard to explain. I decided that out of anyone she was probably the best to talk to about my situation. As I expected, she was initially quite doubtful. Though she also agreed with me that a pigeon was quite likely not the source. She asked me if I had any photos of the crawlspace. She said that if she could see it, that would help her to understand a little more clearly, and possibly help her to come up with a more logical explanation.

Relieved at her willingness to at least hear me out, I reached for my camera and made my way back down the eerie hallway. When I arrived I found, to my relief, that the door was still closed. I stood in front of it for a moment, gathering my nerve before finally pulling the little door open. Despite the clutter left inside by my roommates, it was empty. I snapped a quick photo before closing the door once more and running back to my room. I immediately plugged my camera into my computer and uploaded the photo. When I finally opened the image, I was petrified by what I saw. There in the upper right-hand corner was a face, baring its teeth at me. My whole body began violently shaking.

“Dear God. That thing is in our home!” I muttered to myself.

Fear began to overtake me. Someone had sealed whatever it was inside of that crawlspace, and we had let it out. I was so absorbed in my panic I didn’t even notice when my roommate returned. She was so blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we were in, yet even if I tried to warn her she would not believe me. I was at a loss of what to do, and finally decided that I would deal with it in the morning. Though not by a large amount, I did feel braver in the sunlight. From there I attempted to get some sleep. Though for the first time ever since being there I closed and bolted my door before getting into bed. Stephanie eyed me suspiciously while doing so, but I just told her jokingly that Lindsay had been sneaking into our room the previous nights and had been stealing my nutella. She laughed heartily, shaking her head before settling down for the night. I will admit that the only reason I was able to find any sleep that night was because of her presence. Something about not being alone can give one a sense of false security.

It was about two o’clock in the morning when the sound woke me. I had always been a light sleeper so the faint noise was enough to stir me. It sounded like a door being pushed open at the other end of the flat followed by footsteps. But these weren’t just normal footsteps. They were far too fast. It sounded like someone was running at full speed from the foyer to the living room and all about the apartment. But these weren’t heavy footfalls like the kind you would expect from a running person. They were very light, almost unnaturally so. My initial reaction was to assume it was either Alisha or Lindsay, so I got up and stuck my ear to the wall behind me that separated Lindsay’s room from mine. I could hear her faint but steady breathing. She was clearly asleep, it wasn’t her. I then crossed over to the other side of my room near the door and once again stuck my ear to the wall. Alisha’s snoring was quite audible, there’s no way it was her. I slowly began to grow fearful as I turned in a last resort to see if Stephanie had perhaps gotten up, but I could plainly see her resting form silently rising up and down. A shiver went down my spine and I nearly screamed when I realized that the footsteps had come to a stop outside of my door. Despite all the lights being out, I could clearly see the looming dark shadow of a form through the tiny crack at the foot of my door.

I dared not move. Whatever it was, it was just standing there. Waiting. Then to my horror, my doorknob slowly began to jiggle. Gently at first but then growing violent at the realization of it being locked. The noise of it eventually woke my roommate. She sat up, blinking in confusion. That instant the jiggling of the doorknob stopped. She asked me just what the hell I was doing and if I knew what time it was. I told her it wasn’t me! I told her that whatever had opened the door to the crawlspace the previous day had come back. But she just furrowed her brow at me and said that I needed to get more sleep.

The next day I made an appointment with my programs supervisor. I told him that I just needed to go home. He tried to tell me that I was just homesick and that it would pass, but I insisted. He eventually gave up and let me call my parents. They were confused but understanding. They were able to change the date of my return flight to the following morning. I really wanted to get out of there that day, but understandably that was the soonest they could manage. Unfortunately this meant that I would have to stay one more night in the apartment.

When I returned I tried to tell the others about what had been going on. I knew I was going to be getting out of there and would be out of danger, but I was still immensely worried for their safety. But none of them took me seriously, they looked at me as if I was a mad woman. They didn’t say anything but I was sure they all thought I was going home because of some sort of mental breakdown.

At that point there was nothing I could say that would convince them. So that night I locked my door and hesitantly went to bed. And right on cue, once again around two o’clock in the morning I was awoken by the rapid footsteps scampering around the apartment. I could hear the door to the bathroom begin to creak open, followed by the door at the end of the hallway. The footsteps grew louder and faster as they moved through the apartment. And finally, once more they came to a pause outside of my door. I could hear breathing this time, slow and heavy. I sat up in panic, and to my horror I saw that Stephanie had forgotten to lock the door behind her after getting up to use the restroom.

It was right outside my door and I did not know if I had time to jump up and try to lock it before the thing realized there was nothing blocking its way. I hesitated a moment too long and by the time I had sat up straight in my bed, the handle slowly began to turn. I froze in terror as the door cracked open revealing my tormentor. It stood there ominously in the doorway, staring me down. It’s eyes protruded slightly from its skull and gave off a very faint bluish light. It didn’t appear to have a nose, only slits where the nostril should have been. It had the teeth of a man, but had no lips, giving it the impression of an eternally toothy snarl. It’s grayish white skin was waxy and stretched tight over its bony face. The rest of its skeletal form was hard to make out as it was almost entirely enveloped in shadows.

After pausing for a moment in the doorway, it began to head toward me. As it moved, its body let out sickening cracks. I sat there, still petrified by fear until it had made its way to the foot of my bed. It’s heavy breaths were deafeningly loud. I don’t know how Stephanie slept through it. The air had begun to smell sour and stagnant.

With frightening speed, it jolted to the other end of the bed, mere feet from me. I gagged at the smell of it, like sulfur and rotting flesh. Slowly it unfurled one of its along the gnarly hands and proceeded to reach for me. Not until it was several inches away did I finally find my voice. I screamed as loud as I possibly could and it halted in its tracks. Stephanie shot up from her bed, visibly frightened. The creature hunched over on all fours and fled from the room with unsettling movements that recalled those of the spider. A moment later Stephanie switched the light on and looked at me furiously. She demanded to know what the fuss was all about. I told her exactly what had happened, but she just called me a nutcase.

The taxi came to pick me up very early the next morning. The sun had not even risen by the time it arrived. None of the girls came to see me off, but I expected this. After loading my luggage into the trunk I climbed into the back seat of the old cab. It had driven right through the square and was sitting at the base of my apartment. When I leaned to look out the window I could see where my room had been. My face contorted into a mixture of panic and concern. There, looking out of my old window was the creature. It’s unblinking eyes bore into me and it’s lipless mouth curled into a snarling grin. Before I could say anything, the cab driver had taken off, leaving that hell house far behind.

I tried to warn them. I really did. I did everything in my power to try to warn them of the danger that they were in, but none of them listen to me. There was no way I could’ve stopped what happened after I returned home. You see, several weeks after returning to the United States I received a phone call from the program director. He informed me that a day before the program ended, all three of my past roommates had been reported missing. The authorities had no idea just how long they had actually been gone for, as they were only recently discovered to be missing when the program director went to check on them after none of them made it to the end of the program wrap up meeting. They assumed it had been at least a week or two, since all the food in the apartment was expired. There was no sign of forced entry, and no valuables were missing. The only notable detail mentioned in the report was that when they arrived on the scene, there was a strange little door hanging ajar in the bathroom. And when they approached it, they were met with a powerful odor coming from no visible source. The official report has them declared as missing, but I know that they’re all dead.

I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have made it out with my life. I think the only reason I’m still alive today is because I fled thousands of miles and across an ocean. Despite their unwillingness to listen, I still feel an unimaginable amount of guilt over what happened to those girls. That’s why I’m writing this now. I may not be able to go back in time and save them, but maybe I can prevent this from happening to you. Please, PLEASE heed my warning. If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, keep this in mind: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And WHATEVER you do, don’t stay on the third floor of the ancient yellow apartment complex above the Campo di Fiori. There’s something there. Something evil.

The Crawlspace

Credit To – Kaitie H.

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The Old Warehouse Hotel Down In New Orleans

July 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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When I was younger I used to work as a night auditor for a very popular hotel chain in New Orleans. This particular hotel was once an old warehouse in the Central Business District. It had a long history that dated back to the Underground Railroad where tunnels built throughout the building were used to secretly lead slaves to boats on the Mississippi River. When the hotel owners started to demo the property to convert it into a hotel, they found old distillery equipment used during the prohibition days. The building was saturated in fantastic and interesting history.

I was told that during the renovation a decision was made to keep much of the existing brick and woodwork. This gave the hotel an intriguing historic and warehouse feel to it. While it hadn’t been occupied in nearly 40 years, the guts of the building were amazingly in great shape. It had such an interesting vibe and New Orleans is known for attracting the most interesting of guests for Mardi Gras and JazzFest. I loved it there, until the night I quit.

It was close to 3:30am when one of the guests stumbled in with a woman who frequented the hotel as a “guest” of our guests. She was one of the unspoken of perks that our concierge desk would provide when requested by only the most distinguished of guests. An incredibly beautiful, tall black woman, Diamond never had a problem getting work and she tipped us at the front desk, security and the concierge incredibly well for turning a blind eye to her activities. Being a professional flirt and me being bored out of my mind most nights, we often found ourselves having conversations when she finished her “shift.” The stories she would share with me to this day still boggle my simple mind.

Being that she had “worked” in the hotel longer than I had, she would tell me these stories about a certain row of spa suites that were visible from where I stood at the front desk up to the mezzanine. She mentioned how strange things would happen in those rooms when she or one of her girlfriends would visit them at night with at client. They were strange things like shadows, moving objects, flickering lights, and voices. I always took it as her showing off her art of storytelling and the fact she knew I often worked the desk alone at night; a point she often made when failing to meet her personal quota for the night.

On the night I quit, however, she was not her usual self. Fact of the matter is I didn’t even speak with her that night or any night thereafter. The last time I saw her she was running naked and screaming right out of the front door of the hotel. I remember hearing her first, through one of the spa suite rooms on the mezzanine. When I looked up to investigate the location of the sounds, I saw her hurl open the door of room M106 and watched her haul ass down the glass-walled hallway, down the stairs, and out to the street. I just stood there watching her in the shock and awe of the moment. Here was this voluptuous woman flopping all about, screaming, petrified and covered in something and all I could do was gawk. The moment she ran out of my sight, I sobered up and immediately gazed up at the open door of room M106.

After staring up at the wide open entrance of the room on the mezzanine for about a minute, my stomach dropped every time I saw a shadow change within the room. Soon, Bill, the lone security guard on duty, whipped around the corner from the back office area where he often took naps and quickly started asking me questions. Her screams woke him up. I pointed up to the room and tried to explain to him what had happened. He immediately called the police for backup and per protocol we both started to make our way up to the mezzanine level, eyes transfixed on the open door waiting for the drunken man to stumble out of the room. As we reach the hallway, other guests started peeping their heads out of their rooms to see what the commotion was about. We quietly hushed them back into their rooms for their own safety.

As we approached the doorway, Billy pulled out his gun and called out to the guest. There was no response, but we started to hear a very audible humming sound, almost like a rapid buzzing. When we entered the suite we could see the king size bed at the end of the hallway. This was one of the smaller spa suites that had a bed, an armoire with a TV, a desk and a jet-spa bathtub cattycorner to the bed. The bed was unkempt but empty and we couldn’t see the rest of the room from the hallway. So we moved closer in and with ever step the humming began to get louder and the shadows on the walls seemed to be floating back and forth like they were waves in the ocean.

I called out again to see if we could get an answer but we did not. We moved closer to the edge of the hallway, slowly and terrified. That’s when we began to see them. The cause of the shadow was everywhere and on everything. They seemed to blanket the entire room, on the bed, on the walls, in the air. Then we turned the corner.

Under the heat lamp above the bathtub spa there it was; a huge tent-sized swarm of angry and hungry termites. In the tub laid our naked guest, covered in termites, being devoured by termites. His body was marked by broken wings and small drill holes all along his skin. His eyes partially liquefied from the incessant digging of the termites. This once portly white man was reduced to a shade of red, brown and gray of crawling skin. The sight and swarm made it unbearable to stay and Bill and I ran out of the room, tripping over each other in our haste.

When the police arrived, they turned off the lights to the room and the swarm almost vanished instantly into the old wood beams that lined the room. A blanket of dead pests covered the room and the crunch I remember hearing as we walked through the room haunts me to this day. I was told Diamond suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after the incident. She supposedly said that the man started to get very rough with her and that a shadow floated out of the cracks of the wood and startled the guest. He fell back into the tub and that’s when the swarm manifested itself. The cause of death was a traumatic brain injury, but it wasn’t from the fall, it was from the nesting of the termites.

To this day you can still rent room M106 at the old warehouse hotel down in New Orleans. It is just under a different number.

Credit To – StupidDialUp

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