Brach’s Candy Factory

October 10, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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((Author Note: The following explanation of how to get to Brach’s is true; I’ve been that way. Go if you dare, but don’t enter. Seriously. If you would like to skip to the inside of the factory, simply search for *****))

The train sped down the elevated tracks. I saw the Brach’s Candy Factory from several blocks away. Such was the enormity of the buildings, a reminder of more prosperous times. It had been the American Dream made tangible in the early 1900s all the way up to the ‘80s. The great red fortress had once produced tons of candy, the most in the country in its heyday. More than anything, it had once made Chicago the Candy Capital of the World. The sheer scope of the building was enough to make the first rivulet of doubt stream down my forehead since Ella and I had agreed to record a video about the factory.

From the pictures, I had not expected this. The neighborhood in which Brach’s was located, Austin, was once a hub of all manner of factories. Now the shells of departed industry made the neighborhood look like a sad shadow of its former self. Urban decay had set in to some areas, while small business sat here and there. An enormous mural of tropical orange frogs adorned one building. It made me smile, despite my creeping fear.

“This is going to be amazing. Urban Explorers of America is going to flip over our adventure,” said Ella, clutching her camera equipment. A studious looking older gentleman with a short grey afro and black plastic frames looked at us incredulously. Ella frowned. “What?”

“Are you all going to Brach’s?” he asked.

Ella looked excited. “Yeah. We are.”

The man shook his head.

“I’mma say this, then I’m gonna shut up: It’s not a good idea. I teach Chicago History. You all don’t need to be goin’ in there. Homeless people live in there. It’s probably ghosts in there from that sugar explosion. And worse? Probably it’s the damn animals. I saw coyotes around here recently on the tracks. The whole damn thing coming down sooner or later. With or without the construction crew.”

I was about to inquire about the coyotes (the other things I’d already researched or guessed) when Ella cut me short. “We’re urban explorers. We didn’t come unprepared. We have cell phones, respirators, climbing equipment, knee pads, helmets, utility gloves, duct tape…”

The man looked impressed, but he still shook his head at the same time. “Yeah, well, also it was a motherfuckin’ junkie around here with a knife that killed some folks, so I hope you have a gun or bat or somethin’ cause ain’t no respirator gon’ stop him from cuttin’ ya’ll asses up.”

Despite his claim that he was going to shut up, I could feel my eyes widen. In our research, that story never came up…and Ella knew the area pretty well. But both of us lived in San Francisco now, and it had been a while since she’d been back home.
“But whatever. Ain’t even none of my business, so…” the man trailed off.

Ella’s frown deepened. “You right. It’s not any of your damn business.”

“Ella! Chill. He was just trying to help,” I said.

“Trying to help us get scared. We’ve been planning this trip for a long time. We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time for somebody to make you get cold feet. You already knew all this stuff he’s saying. We have permission to go in from the owners, we have permits for our equipment, and we talked to the local authorities and heard their spiel or whatever. This is it. This is make it or break it time.”

“Look, I was jus’ tryin’ to help. Ya’ll can go in there if you want, but if you get hurt that’s on you. Plus it’s getting late and everything.”

“Yeah, well thanks but no thanks. We’re set. Thank you,” Ella retorted sweetly, turning back to me.

“Maybe we shoulda come earlier.”

“Maybe,” Ella admitted. “But it’s not earlier right now. Honestly, it’s just 12:00 pm. We have plenty of time.”

“But time flies. Really fast.”

“This is Cicero,” announced the CTA train. Ella looked at me.

“This is us Loren.” She stood, shooting a disgusted look at the old man. He rolled his eyes. “Ya’ll gon’ learn tonight. Ya’ll stupid,” he said. The man snapped a Tribune paper dramatically in front of his face, putting an end to any and all communication with him.

We exited the train onto the platform, Ella excitedly, me with uncertainty. A second bead of sweat marked a second feeling of doubt permeating my body to the core. Shit. Shit and double freaking shit.
_____________

I followed Ella, staring intently ahead as we walked down Lake Street. Ella took a left on an intersection. I looked up as a few sparks showered down onto the streets from the tracks above. We walked next to what amounted to a large hill strewn with trash. We saw a solid looking elevated track held up by a viaduct crossed with a tunnel about ten or fifteen feet in length. I followed her as she walked under it, only to be met with a second set of multiple tracks running perpendicular to the bridged-tunnel, but on the ground. They sat about two feet below; we stood on another grassy hill. Lots of angular stones about an inch to two inches in diameter surrounded the tracks, so a couple clicked and clacked in the wind.

I looked up from the tracks at Brach’s, which was right across from us. It loomed bigger and more ominous than it had from the street. Every missing window revealed a world of graffitied walls and rusty, asbestos corridors. Large tanks and things were on the roof, covered in graffiti. I whistled, disbelieving artists would, or could, go to such heights for their craft. The largest piece was enormous, spanning several several feet high and wide, it seemed. AOM. Commanding attention, cementing his place as the king.

Elsewhere on the building showed signs of habitation. Pieces of outer wall were missing from some places, and patched with standard sized sheets of plasterboard like from Menards. I was kind of baffled at this hidden area. You couldn’t really see it from the street unless you were looking for it. Ella snapped me out of my spell.

“Come on. We have to change.” She moved down to the tracks and started to cross them, hopping over the sturdy beams. I followed her. About halfway across, the rocks started vibrating. I kept moving, but I looked down the tracks at a coming freight train.

(*****)

I was well out of the way when the freight train passed by. There was no end in sight. I turned, spotting a No Trespassing sign on a chainlink fence. Pfft.

Brach's Candy Factory

We put on our protective gear. Respirators, knee pads, elbow pads, gloves, bandanas, and goggles. We put our braids into ponytails and tucked them safely away. Then we sat a moment and watched the train for a while, it’s wheels rumbling along, each car covered in yet more graffiti. We eventually made our way to a side entrance hidden between Brach’s itself and another trashy hill. A small portal sat on the side, boarded up with plywood and covered in colorful script.

Brach's Candy Factory 2

The entire area was covered in different letters, all by different artists. AOM, Spok, Spor1, THC, KID, Snacki… and countless others.

From the corner of my eye, I saw movement a bit above. I snapped my head up to see a fast moving figure disappearing in a large opening on the side of the building. I shook my head. “Hell. No. Hell no. I saw something. I saw something move up there!”

“Like what?”

“Like… a big thing. I don’t know! It moved up there.”

I pointed to the opening. Ella looked up, shielding her eyes from the midday sun. She shook her head. “I don’t see nothin’, Loren,” she said. “Are you sure?”

I nodded. She studied me for a moment, then sighed. “We’ll watch our backs. I got my knife, you got yours. So let’s get in and stay away from that room. At least try not to let dude ruin your visit.” I didn’t feel a bit better, but it was clear she was not turning back.

A lone door sat at the back of the path, ajar. Ella didn’t hesitate. She disappeared inside of it. I looked back at the endless train, up at the hole, and down at my shaking hands. I knew that I was just as stupid as the man on the train had said. And yet I was still going along with it. I moved the door aside. The hinges screeched, echoing in the void beyond. I took a deep breath, and entered the darkness.
__________________

To say that every single square inch of the structure was covered in graffiti would be an understatement. Artists had obviously been frequenting this place with alarming vigor. It was as if they were competing with the dinosaurs for most layers of history on top of each others. Tags, pieces, burners… they all were plastered on the walls beneath flaking crumbling ceilings and broken fluorescent light fixtures. I swung around a crank flashlight into dark rooms. Really, The place was quite something. At intervals, motivational signs championing good hygiene and work ethic still stuck to the walls. Flashes issued from Ella’s camera every once in a while. I myself had a tiny video camera strapped to my helmet in a seriously amazing rig. So I freely looked around. The ceiling had paint flaking in one foot pieces, hanging by mere shreds. A sweet-smelling dusty fog permeating every inch of the space. Our respirators were definitely a welcome boon.

Ella looked at her phone for directions to the best locations. She’d gotten dozens of in-depth testimonials from brave explorers, so they were really our lifeline. She led us to a large area turned art gallery, with great columns one foot in diameter every couple feet.

[Click to view this pasta's related Flickr gallery]

The floor was annoyingly sticky! Large windows overlooked other buildings and a parking lot overgrown with grasses and trees even! In the middle of the vast lot, I saw construction vehicles, including one large wrecking ball. I asked Ella if she’d known the building was supposed to be demolished soon; Ella wasn’t paying me any attention, however, as she walked away. She snapped away greedily with her camera, but I walked around the columns in wonder. My ears latched onto a distant noise. At first I thought it was a truck, but I realized we were far in and couldn’t hear anything on the streets from there. I thought it sounded like a steady mechanical sound, but maybe it was simply the servo motors in Ella’s camera…

We left that area. Ella really wanted to get to the roof to check out that graffiti we’d seen from the train, and so began our ascent up the stairs. They were covered in thick layers of paint chips and dust and other debris. Light spilled through windows coated in dust and a sticky yellow substance. Ella bravely touched it and then smelled it. I wrinkled my nose in disgust, but she announced that it was a healthy coating of corn syrup. I told her not to taste it.

We climbed so many stairs that I almost forgot about the sound I’d heard. I actually couldn’t hear it anymore. The fogginess began to clear the closer we got to the top. I stashed that fact away in my mind for safekeeping as we neared a little white wooden door at the top of the landing. It was so old that the edges were rounded from overuse. The hinges swung easily, which surprised me. I guessed that artists were up here a lot. As Ella went through the portal, I heard a disturbance below us. It sounded like a guttural sort of sound, and buckets falling. My heart thumped. Ella spun around with a questioning look on her face. “The hell was that shit?” she asked. I shook my head. “I don’t know-”

CRASH!!! The sounds of something large colliding shook the entire staircase. We nearly jumped out of our skin. “What was THAT?” Ella said. I shut my mouth grabbing my knife. We both strained to listen. Thump. Thump. The sound of heavy steps far below us. They were getting gradually louder, ascending. I closed the door quietly and found a bit of rope in my bag. I didn’t bother with the logistics of how we were gonna get back down. I tied the rope to the doorknob and then to a nearby pipe behind the little square of a landing. Ella’s mouth was open, her head wagging back and forth meekly.

“Uh uh…I can’t believe this. If that’s that fucking junkie I’m stabbing his ass,” said Ella. “Please. Don’t start that I told you so shit.”

“Well…” I challenged, defiant. She sneered at me, her nose twitching, her figure coming toward me. I looked away. I felt totally ashamed that her expression made me falter.

[Click for another Flickr image]

We moved across the roof among the water tanks and pipes. It was like a colorful maze of metal junk. Then Ella flew, tripped over a pile of rusty spray cans, landing just shy of the edge of the roof. Her fingers hung in the open air as a few cans rolled right off the edge. We did not hear the sound of metal hitting pavement for a long time. Time enough for us to realized how high we were. How close Ella had come to traveling just as far. Ella shuddered, visibly shaken. I helped her up. She backed away from the edge, saying a quick “Thank you God” before we proceeded.

We saw no other ways down that didn’t involve fantastic acrobatics. We had no choice but to sit and wait. From so high, we heard faint traffic, and a whistling wind flying through crevices in dilapidated equipment. Other than that, silence. Not a soul was here but us, we had assumed. Ella’s hands were shaking as she put her camera to her face, zooming in to the door. I had good vision, so I kept my eyes trained on it as well.

My eyes wandered a couple times though. I caught a glimpse at something shiny nearby, behind a discarded air conditioner. I tapped Ella, but she waved me off and shushed me. I side-eyed her and crept closer to see what the object was. It looked like a large tree bough, only it was made of a semi-opaque yellowish material, really the color of snot. It was crystalline and jagged, and it had a red center. It smelled horrible, ugh. A nasty looking candy reject is what it was. I removed my gloves, and reached out to touch it. It was sticky. It reminded me of when my nephew left half-eaten candy on the table. All wet and sticky. Disgusting.

I retreated back to Ella to report what I’d seen. She flared her nostrils and went to shoot pictures of it. She was just as disgusted as I was. “Looks like a candy arm,” she said. I almost threw up. Over the edge of the building, damn the height.

After that business was over, we sat there for a long time. My phone read 3:00 pm. There was no one we could call in Chicago for help. The police had warned us that, although we had permission to be in the building, it was a plan wrought with folly. They were no use unless we were in a real emergency. By their standards, not ours.

Eventually Ella got tired of waiting, and we elected to go back the way we came and leave as soon as possible. We had enough footage of old candy wrappers and graffiti and posters and disembodied candied arms for a good collection. We’d had enough.

We crept back to the door. I listened hard, but heard nothing. So I collected my rope and quietly opened the door. I placed my foot on the first stair, and the sound of crumbling paint chips and old plastic wrappers and pop cans sounded to me like an air horn in front of a megaphone. We struggled to make as little noise as possible. Our descent was slow and careful. Every landing we glanced around the walls and checked the hallways. We were halfway down when we heard something. A scratching, rusty sound. We froze for five minutes as the sound faded into the distance. Ella’s lip trembled a bit, but her eyes remained steely.

I gestured toward the stairs. She nodded. We left that landing as quickly as we dared on the slippery paint chips.

[Click for another Flickr image]

The sound of machinery filled my ears again. I was about to stop on the stairs, but I ran into Ella’s back. She was holding onto the railing. “What? Why you stop?” I whispered, feeling like a hypocrite.

“The stairs are out,” Ella said. “Like something fell through.”

I looked down into the hole. The hole went down so far all we could see was broken wood surrounding a black circle. Even if we jumped the gap, we would be jumping gaps for a long time. And there was no guarantee we would always make it…

“We just fucking came up these stairs. What the actual hell fell through here?” Ella whispered.

We turned back and entered the corridor. We were on floor 5! So close. This floor was very dark. The only window was at the far end of the hallway, and the corridor had no doors. They were all gone. I had no idea how we were going to get out. Ella tapped her chin. “I guess we have to climb down, right? That’s what our equipment was for,” she said, removing her pack.

“I really don’t want to. It’s dark down there, and plus, do you know how heavy something had to be to make this hole? Or how strong something had to be to apply enough force to throw-”

“We don’t have much of a choice at this point,” Ella retorted, cutting me off.

“We don’t know what’s down there…”

“WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UP HERE!” Ella’s voice reverberated off the walls, echoing. Each repetition lost its steam until it was nothing more than a whimper. My eyes grew wide, my mouth open. “Shut the fuck up unless you want us to get killed!” I whispered harshly. I was tired of her berating me. Ella glared at me. “I should have just brought Jace and left your ass at home. You’re so scary, you let that man mess with your head. I bet it wasn’t anything but a raccoon, or coyote or something.” She strapped her climbing gear on and stalked off toward the stairs. “You can STAY up here. I’m going home. Grow some balls.”

She hooked her rope up to a balustrade and checked its strength. Then she really and truly left me. Bitch.

I swung my flashlight around the floor, fuming. I walked away from the hole, figuring that another set of stairs had to be on the other side of the floor like in any building of this magnitude. I saw a small patch of light at the other end of the hall. Otherwise, there was hardly any light, especially now that I was alone. The hall stretched before me for several dozen feet. Rooms had been stripped of valuable equipment and metals. But every chamber was a gallery. I smiled in spite of my situation. There was graffiti on every inch of this place.

When I reach a window at the far end of the hall, I noticed something really clever, but strange. First of all, the window was painted in some kind of thick translucent material, not quite blocking out all the sun; It looked like the piece we’d seen on the roof. I felt it. It was really sticky and hard, like plastic. It smelled sweet, too. This window had some five or six extension cords sticking out of it, trailing down the hall. They seemed to be lodged inside the weird yellow corn syrup substance.

Down the left corridor was a ceiling cave in. I could hear the creaks of the building, groaning under its own weight. Suddenly, I realized just how fragile this building’s innards really were. The lack of human presence was telling. Twisted metal and hunks of stone lay forlornly in that passageway.

I looked to my right down that corridor. Several of the cords disappeared into the darkness; that hall was pitch black with closed doors and cork boards on the walls between them. I shone my light down the hall. Planks of wood were nailed to the doors, and the entire wall was covered in strange graffiti, all in white. From what I could see, there were pyramids with eyes at the top, ankhs, and strange words. I couldn’t make heads or tales of the gibberish. But there were no useable stairs that way; they had long since rusted away. I could have climbed to the next landing, but the railing, too, was rusted through. I decided it would be my last resort. I went back to the window.

The rest of the cords literally disappeared through a lightless rough hole in the floor. I tried looking down it, but it was too dark to tell where they went or why there was a hole in the floor, even with my light. But I guessed the homeless guys were mooching electricity from the CTA. I looked out to see the surrounding area when I caught a glimpse of a fire escape nearby! It was not very rusty, had a rope or two attached, and was extended all the way down. To my delight, I spotted a neon colored spray can on one of its landings. The escape was used recently enough. A small rooftop was just below. If I could land on it, I could run over to that ladder. I’d be home-free!

Before I could feel guilty about leaving Ella, I began to climb out the window. I swung one leg out and over the sill. A scream nearly caused me to fall out of it! It was the kind of scream that makes your heart stop. My entire body shuddered violently at the sound! I hastily pulled myself back inside, glancing wistfully at my escape, and I ran down the long hallway. That single scream turned into several more frightening screams. I heard sobbing interspersed with them, once at the hole. I also heard a wild thrashing noise, like waves or swimmers. But I will always remember the smell. The smell of something sickly sweet wafted up from the hole. But a strange odor mingled with it. It was a wrong kind of smell. Like dead things or rotting. I recoiled from it.

“Ella?” I called down, covering my nose. I heard nothing but thrashing below and woeful cries. I frowned, terrified. “Ella!” I called. There was no answer. I reached for my cell phone, because surely this counted as an emergency now. I pressed the Call button to wake my phone. Against all the logic I knew in my life, the battery icon in the corner steadily lost percentage until the goodbye message played across the screen. My mouth hung open as the little jingle played, but even that was cut short to a black screen. I noted that my phone was very hot. For a second, I had thought that it was ghosts. But it was simply a defect.

To make matters much worse, the thrashing below grew fainter, farther away. I was losing her. My entire frame slumped, the pit of my core became wracked with an anxiety the likes of which I’d never felt before. It felt worse than the time I locked my keys in the car. Much worse. My hands were shaking. I had finally almost gotten home. What kind of cruelty was this?

It took me a moment to collect myself. If I wanted to get out, I had to do what I had to do, and fast. I took off my pack and put my climbing gear together. I hooked my self to a sturdy part of the railing, and then I began my descent without a hesitation. Because even though I was still angry, and now possibly having a panic attack, I wasn’t a heartless fool. Well… given what happened later, I wasn’t heartless at least…

I lowered myself slowly and carefully. The lower I got the louder things got. The foggier the air became. I was too scared to lower my respirator at that moment; I did not want to fall. At least I had on my bandana. I was getting closer to that generator-noise all the time, it seemed. But it was more than that. I heard water below, and loud motors. I heard moaning, and groaning of metal. Wracking sobs floated up toward me and continued upward. I felt goosebumps prickling my skin. My face tingled, my leg were tense, my hands shook…

Before I knew it, I felt and heard plastic wrappings beneath my feet. I lowered myself carefully, testing the ground. However, my foot nearly slipped. Apparently, I was above a large piece of broken wood, which dipped and penetrated the surface of some kind of liquid. I pulled my light from the side of my pack and swung its beam round. The room I was in was vast. Nothing but a red emergency light illuminated the space. It was almost completely flooded with water, and something else. The smell told me that there was corn syrup in this water. I moved my bandana, and put on my respirator.

I lowered myself carefully onto the makeshift raft and looked around from my new vantage point. I saw an enormous piece of machinery just inches from me. It looked about the right size and shape to have went through the hole in the stairs. But for what purpose did someone toss it from floor 6? It had to be more than one person. I couldn’t see any other way it could have gotten there unless we were talking multiple people. I chewed on the possibilities for just a moment, then continued my survey.

I spotted stacks and stacks of paper bags. Most of them were slit open. One was spilling out powdery corn starch or powdered sugar into the water and into the air. The ceiling had rubber hoses and pipes coming out of its holes and cracks. Electrical wires hung uselessly, as did steel structural parts and debris. The water was viscous. I saw a 2×4 nearby. I grabbed it, and started rowing. Just a little. I tried to see deeper into the room. There was a large slab of broken concrete ahead erupting from the syrup. I looked above it; the ceiling had collapsed long ago. Ahead of that was a large sort of industrial area. I had no idea if it was boilers or generators. They just looked large and imposing.

I did a double take. The machines were vibrating. They were actually on. I strained to see, and realizes a light or two blinked lazily in the fog. Worse, I saw a trail of water on the ground near the machines. I breathed, said a prayer, and rowed that way.

When I finally reached the cement shore, I stood timidly, looking ahead. What looked like enormous washing machines sat in irregular intervals on the floor. I walked ahead to examine one when I stepped on something that shattered beneath my feet. A smoke from the object. I looked down, swing my flashlight to see it better. I almost vomited when I realized it really and truly resembled an arm. Because beneath the translucent yellow I saw brown. And dark red. A congealed mass of red clung to my boots. I scraped my foot on the ground and looked closer. Inside the crystalline object, I could just make out a piece of gingham cloth. I covered my mouth.

I stepped away and looked back at the industrial sized washing-machine. Something large tumbled around and around inside of it. I stepped closer. My God! There was a person inside! I put my hands to the glass, which was hot. There was a large amount of bright blue liquid and corn syrup tumbling right along with them. I stepped away, shaking my head. Somebody was using an actual industrial-washer as a candy-coating tumbler. That much I gathered. I moved my respirator and actually did retch. A sob tore through my chest. I began to cry ugly wracking tears. I was so done with this place. I ran desperately back to the machine to try and turn it off. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the console. My nerves were too shot to try and comprehend. So I tried to get behind it to turn it off with brute force.

I ran behind the machine to unplug the washer when a monstrous hand grabbed my torso and violently threw me across the room right into a metal storage cabinet. Every bit of air exploded out of my lungs and mouth, along with spittle into my respirator mask. I began to hyperventilate, my head whipping every which way, searching for my aggressor. Then I saw him: a haggard, large pale man towered next to the machine. He wore an old pair of shredded coveralls with a name tag sewn on to it. “Robert” is read. A strange, dreamy smile spread across his face. All of his teeth were either gone or were falling out from periodontitis. He had thin stringy light hair, and a long beard festooned with yellow corn syrup chips and bits.

“I will get this factory back to its glory,” he uttered. His voice was even and light, if rusty from disuse. The contrast between it and his body was jarring, disturbing. Robert moved his frame swiftly, picking me up from the ground. I fought, futilely, as he produced a rope from his pocket. He threw me down, and tied me up, poorly. But enough that I couldn’t reach for anything. He had the nerve to place me on a low shelf behind the storage cabinet like a book. “You’ll be a nice piece of candy soon…” he said. He walked away slowly. I sat there, afraid to move. It took him long enough that I regretted not moving. I could have left.

He returned, carrying what appeared to be a life-sized piece of bright pink candy. “This one is coated in chocolate…” he muttered, his ghastly smile widening. He stood it up, and brought out several more of his creations. All appeared to be humans he had thrown into his homemade candy coating machine.

Robert brought out a series of sacks and turned them over all at once. I looked on in horror. It was filled with crystallized eyeballs, spleens, hearts, kidneys… “Halloween is coming up. Got to pass out candy this year. Just like we used to…” he said. “Just like… before…”

Then, his expression shifted. He suddenly looked terrified. No. Incensed. He bellowed and screamed, hitting his head. “NO! NO! Don’t close it down! You can’t! I have KIDS!” he screamed. “I NEED this JOB!” His rampage lasted for a long time. He threw things in my general direction. I had to duck and bob to avoid being hit.

Eventually, Robert stopped. Just like that. He breathed a moment, then turned back to me. “Oh. You will be candy soon,” he said again, as if he forgot I was there. “But first, the other one. Yes…”

My breath caught. Robert went and arranged a couple bags of powder and buckets of water. Then he began to mix candy coating and syrup. I screamed at him to stop, but he threw a metal bucket at my face. My nose bled. When he was finished preparing, he opened a washer, and tossed a bucket full of bright magenta liquid inside, and then a bucket of corn syrup. I caught a glimpse of Ella’s braids. I screamed for him to stop, but he didn’t listen. Instead, he hit a red button, and moved on.

He walked over to the washer that sat in front of me, and opened its front. He leaned over it. I looked below. The cabinet he’d thrown me into was leaning toward him. I gritted my teeth, pissed. If he wanted candy so bad, I was going to turn his stupid ass into candy, a la Hansel and Gretel. It was all I could think to do in my position. So I kicked the shelf over as hard as I could. It hit him square in the backside, causing him to lose his balance. He tumbled right inside it. I all but threw myself off the shelf and ran headlong into the door, closing it. I wasted no time. I pushed the biggest button on the machine console. The light flashed. The tumbler beeped a confirmation.

I was content when suddenly, the whole machine shook. Robert rammed his considerable mass against the door. I heard a crack! I stopped looking at him, and found a sharp piece of broken steel. I worked at cutting through the rope as Robert continued trying to force the door. The circular portal bent. The force of his hits pulled one of the cords, shredding its rubber. I feared he would create sparks.

Finally, the rope fell free. A deep cry rumbled from behind me. Roberts bulk began to rotate in the drum as the machine found its groove. I looked all around for Ella. I searched each drum. I finally found her inside one of the four industrial washers. After I shut off the power, I was able to release the door with a bright red emergency release on the side. She was not unharmed by any stretch of the imagination. Her clothes were all but destroyed, either burned or ripped. Her exposed skin was bloodied. She was covered in hot, magenta syrup from head to toe. Her leg was twisted at a strange angle. I couldn’t tell what else was broken from just looking. But I knew she was in a bad way.

I dragged her moaning form out to the raft. I knew I was hurting her, but it was better than staying behind; I’d spotted a short in one of the cables. With the amount of powder Robert had swung around, we had no time to waste getting out of there. I grabbed the oar. I rowed away from the area back to the rope. Amazingly, Ella found the strength to put her bloodied arms around me as I climbed the rope. Thank God, we only had one floor to climb. But it was horrible. Her pained cries filled me with despair. I had to carry her out of the door we came in through. Back across the tracks, and all the way to another factory next door.

The factory workers there had promptly begun to call the police when an earth-shattering explosion sent shockwaves through the neighborhood. A series of dust explosions ripped through the entire factory. Each explosion set off a chain reaction, no doubt igniting the wafting powdered sugar that permeated the entire building. History repeats itself. Again and again and again…

———–

The authorities and news could not believe Robert Moreston, missing father and apparently disgruntled factory worker, had stayed behind at the factory since 2003 when the juggernaut had closed its doors. His wife had reported him missing, but to no avail. They reported the horrors of what he had done, for my account was proven by Ella’s appearance. Ella’s body was riddled with broken bones, just as I feared. Multiple rib fractures, spinal column broken, shoulder dislocated, leg mangled… She sustained extensive burns to her entire body, not to mention the countless lacerations. It was a wonder she held on to me as I climbed. I marvel at that. The pink candy coating did nothing but add fuel to the already horrifying story.

It was the darkest nightmare that had ever been manufactured at Brach’s. To think that the closing of its doors in 2003 would be the beginning of such a gruesome campaign to put the Candy Capital back on the map. What a sad, repugnant end to one of the biggest symbols of the American Dream. And now it festers, dead, beneath a pile of candied rubble.

Credit To – Lakija

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My Grandfather Knew Why We Run from the Dark

October 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I always admired my grandfather’s courage. He had fought in the war on what we nowadays think of as the wrong side, but he had never been a believer in the cause. Sometimes a rifle is pressed in your hand and your choice is either to fire and worry about being shot from the front, or not to fire and be sure that you’ll be shot from behind.

He was young when he was drafted, barely 16. Before he left he gave his first kiss and a promise to a girl. She waited five years until the end of the war, surviving on just five or six letters that she kept as treasure.

The war ended but even the defeat was celebrated. Not openly, but in the hearts and eyes of the people. People never wage war, it is politicians that wage war. No soldier that ever stood in the line of a rifle believes that war is heroic, only those divorced from reality, those that sit in tidy offices, those dream of war.

Soldiers came home with thin bodies and bandaged limbs. They hugged their wives and women before they fell onto beds and relived the front in dreams that made them toss and turn and wake up from their own screams.

His girl watched with tears in her eyes while her sister and mother each welcomed their men home. She heard the men scream at night and each scream lodged a stone in her throat. She prayed that the man she had kissed did not have to scream and then she prayed that the man she had kissed was alive enough to scream. Then she prayed for forgiveness for her selfishness.

The other men, when they came, were often so thin that their women, when they welcomed them, were scared of hugging them too tightly for their spines or ribs might break. Especially those that came from the East were thin, the skin of their faces sunken into their cheeks.

Two years after the war a scarecrow knocked on her door. An old man, forty at least, the arms thin like bare bones, a hard and dirty beard that had long stopped growing for want of nutrition and his skin a gray with blue and black patches. His lips stretched into a black-toothed smile. She stepped back into the house. The door was closing fast.

“Wait,” he said. “It’s me.”

Even after hot meal and shower and shave she still recognized nothing except his eyes and the shape of his nose. It took two weeks before she thought that he was true and another two before she was sure.

Sometimes, on those days where she took him along to the market, the sellers called him her father. The man in the leather chair had to ask her twice and then demand another witness to make sure that he was the man he claimed to be and not his father or uncle or another older relative.

The war had stolen his youth.

When my grandfather spoke about the war he never spoke about his experiences. He spoke in the abstract, the way you speak about a movie or a book, not even the way you speak about history.

“They were overrun. Hundreds of kilometers, there was no resistance at all. Then General Winter, as the Russians call it, attacked.”

“The troops still got further. There were villages, poor people. It wasn’t a choice; the supplies weren’t coming. Everything was taken. All those that didn’t run were shot.”

Sometimes he talked about the early phases of the war, when everybody was hopeful, when things were going far too well and easy. He always said, not with pride but in a matter-of-fact way, that the war would have been won if it had been against one or two or five countries, rather than against half the civilized world.

But my grandfather refused to speak about the things that happened at the end and after the war. When he was asked he didn’t reply. He only shook his head and looked away.

My grandmother said that she heard strange things when he was asleep. She heard him begging for food and water, for a blanket. She heard him beg that someone stop. She heard him beg that someone let him go. She heard him beg for forgiveness.

As long as I can remember I asked my grandfather about the war. Despite his warnings, for me those were stories of adventure and courage. I only heard when he spoke about trenches and gunfire, not when he spoke about catching rats for food and drying puddle water and trousers so soiled that it was better to rub them clean with mud and dry them in the rare moments of sun than to leave them as they were.

I didn’t understand that my questions hurt him, that I forced him to relieve a time that he would have given an arm to forget.

And yet, all those times when I made him tell stories in his odd unemotional and descriptive way, he refused to speak about the end. Once I baited him enough to say that he did not remember how he got home; sometimes riding on trains and sometimes by foot, but always just following the direction of the setting sun until he stumbled upon street signs that he finally could read.

He came from far in the East. Places he either did not remember or did not want to remember. And every time I asked his stories ended with the village that they pillaged, where they condemned men and women and children to death because they themselves did not know how else to survive.

As said, I always admired my grandfather for his courage. He paid that war with his youth and on his return decided that, for this heavy price, he at least wanted to be a good man.

I could recount countless times when I saw him, an old man by then, chase down young rascals that had egged a house or stolen a handbag. He jumped in when neighbors needed help. He passed a burning house and thought he heard a child caught still inside. He told me to stay where I was and without a thought slammed his shoulder into the door until it broke from its hinges and he himself disappeared in black smoke. In the end there was no child that needed to be saved. My mother called him a fool for breaking his shoulder like that. For me he was a hero.

My grandfather taught me that we all dream of being courageous but that very few of us take our chance to be a hero when it is offered to us. In our lives we pass countless times where we could save, but we drive past and look for excuses. “I have to hurry home.” “It didn’t look that bad.” “Others were helping already.”

Being scared and comfortable is easier than being courageous. And to make ourselves feel good we imagine the heroic acts we would have done if we had had the time or if it had been that bad or if others hadn’t been there.

There was only one thing my grandfather was scared of. Dark rooms.

Their house had a basement but they rarely, if ever, used it. There were strong lights installed and the light switch was outside the basement door, but there was nothing inside except for old furniture never to be used again and a few old tires that should someday have made a swing.

My grandmother did not mind entering the basement, but he forbade her to use it.

“There are things,” he said. “That live in such darkness.”

At night he made sure that everyone else was upstairs and in their rooms. He turned the flashlight on and the living room lights off and, faster than he should have moved in his age, hastened up the stairs.

The guest room was right next to their bedroom. So many times and years I heard him run up those stairs, slam the door and breathe heavy air into his lungs. My grandmother never complained. She never told him that he had to stop or that he was risking his life.

She understood. She knew. He had told her.

My father’s parents had died in a car accident when I was young. For me they are a hazy memory, more photos than people. That might be why my mother’s parents were so important for me. They were my personal grandparents, the ones I had and the ones I loved.

They had always been very healthy. When I was young my grandfather still ran and played soccer with me. But in the last few years their age was beginning to take its toll. I noticed that they lost their ability to focus, then their ability to remember recent events, then their ability to remember me.

My grandmother and grandfather still followed their routine. They cared for themselves and didn’t need our help except for tax matters and other administrative duties that some government official had decided needed to be complicated. My parents visited often to make sure that the house was in order and food in the fridge. They kept me updated on my grandparents’ health and happiness.

For Christmas I finally managed to visit. It’s not a nice thing to admit but my parents and I – with my mother as her parents’ only child and me as my parents’ only child – made sure to be there and not have any other plans because we thought it might be the last Christmas that we would have together as a family. I was happy to see them and hug them again. I felt guilty, in a way, that I hadn’t provided any great-grandchildren yet and had not even a girlfriend or wife to present.

I was surprised how confused they were; that they did not remember who I was. My grandparents did not seem to remember my parents’ names either, but they still recognized their faces. I was a stranger, face and name alike and during the meals and songs and conversations I felt as if I was an intruder in bygone lives that they were reliving with glassy eyes.

It was the 26th of December. My parents and grandmother went to see the Christmas market. I stayed home with my grandfather and his aching knee to drink tee and play scrabble.

I was in the kitchen when he called out.

“Son!”

With the teapot I walked back into the living room. He sat in his armchair, upright, his eyes suddenly clear and right on me.

“Son!” he said again, loud and forceful.

“Yes?”

“Make sure the lights are on.”

“Sure, grandpa.”

I walked towards the light switch. His eyes followed me.

“They come when the lights are off,” he said. “You know that, right?”

“I’m not sure who comes, but I’ll keep the lights on for you.”

“They!”

His voice was not frail anymore; it thundered through the room.

“They come! Those things! I told you about them!”

I turned the light on.

“I don’t think you told me,” I said. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Don’t fool me, boy!”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, I told you. I know I told you. I taught you to keep the lights on.”

“You told me to keep the lights on, but you never told me why.”

There was anger in his face.

“Why? Why? I saw them and I saw what they do to us and you doubt me?”

“You saw things in the dark?”

“Three years I saw them. Three years they held me and the others.”

“I never heard about that.”

“Oh,” he said. “Then you should.”

That evening, in less than twenty minutes, my grandfather told me about his last years at the front.

One year before the war ended they were ordered to retreat. They fled in small groups through the countryside they had pillaged and burned just weeks before, past houses with the frozen dead still inside.

There was a church, he said, a large old church made of stone. It was the only building still intact in the village, the only place to seek shelter from the wind and cold.

They made a fire with old church benches and sank to their sleep right next to it. Seven men in total, two injured and moaning and the other five just scared and weak.

My grandfather said he woke up from screams all around him. The room was pitch black. The stone floor was moving under his body. He struggled to get on his feet – and only then realized that his feet were being held. The floor was still; his feet were being pulled.

Then he too screamed.

He said they were pulled down stairs. His weapon and knife were gone. Then he heard more people, moaning and screaming. A suffocating stench punched into his lungs.

He was thrown onto a heap of warm bodies. Something bit his leg and he kicked and a man screamed in pain.

The room was pitch black. Another man was thrown on him. A door fell shut and was locked.

He said they moved away from the heap of bodies, but the cold soon drove them to get closer. Every few minutes somebody screamed. He could hear flesh ripping and teeth grinding.

He said there must have been hundreds of people. He said they tried to hammer against the metal door and scream for help and the voice of an old man laughed at them from behind. He said in broken German that the door was thick and nobody there that could hear them.

But once every while the door opened. Something dark moved inside and when it came inside the room grew cold and the humans moved closer to one another. My grandfather said he felt the energy being drained from his body and a panic and dread rise in his soul.

Soon the dread started even before the door opened.

They all adapted. There was no problem with water. It ran occasionally down the walls and if it was not licked off it accumulated on the floor to join with the layers of excrement and sweat. He said that he tried to hold out, but that after days of hunger you choose desperate measures. He said that he never killed one there, that he only took pieces from those that had died or at least those that he thought had died.

Every few days more were thrown into the room. Every few days there was a struggle, some of the old against some of the new.

They tried to stay together, the brothers in arms that had fought together, but soon that too broke apart.

He said that some day the number of new people started decreasing. There were only a rare few and the numbers in the room dwindled. He sat for most of the time on a higher stone, one that the others seemed to not have found. He only climbed down when he knew that a struggle had ended, that one was dead, that something could be eaten.

But no matter the struggles, every time when the dread came and the door opened, they all huddled together. They all felt the same exhaustion and cold and panic in their souls.

And then, one day, long after no more new people arrived, when only three or four or five were left, there were footsteps outside. He was scared because he didn’t feel dread. The door opened and a man with a torch stood there. A gun fell from his hand and his mouth opened and he ran and scrambled up the stairs and he threw up while running.

The door was open. There was a glimmer of light from upstairs. That was how my grandfather left. He said he didn’t turn to look who or what he left behind. Something behind him scrambled up the stairs too, but he was the first to get out and he was the first to reach the forest and eat grass and bugs and other things that he found close to the ground.

He found a piece of cloth first, then a rotten uniform on a corpse and later, when he had scrambled far enough and when his strength returned, he found a village and stole a dry uniform from a laundry line and a bag of potatoes from the same place.

“I don’t know what they are,” he said. “But they live from the warmth and spirit we leave behind.”

I nodded.

“They live off us,” he said. “Do you understand? They need you to exist. They want to catch you. They want to drain you. They want that you forget about the light.”

“The light?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The light. They held us in the darkness. Three years they drained me and lived off me and made me do things I don’t even want to think again.”

He cleared his throat.

“And,” he said. “I know what that dread feels like. It is not like any other. It is at the core of your being, you feel it in your spine and back and gut. Three years I felt it and after that it never went away.”

“It never went away?”

“Of course it didn’t,” he said. “Because they always stay. They always wait. They will always be there, consuming what spirit you leave behind, and hoping that one day you become careless, that you forget about the light. And then they strike.”

I glimpsed outside, where the world was slowly turning gray.

“They are here, right now?”

My grandfather nodded.

“They wait,” he said. “They come and consume what we leave. But they hope for more. They hope that one of us grows careless and ignores the dread. They wait until one of us stays when the room is dark.”

We sat quietly, his eyes meeting mine.

“Okay,” I finally said.

“Good,” he said.

He nodded silently, then looked outside. A moment later his eyes seemed glassy again.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He turned to me and frowned.

“Who are you?” he asked.

It was the last conversation that I truly had with him. Since January his condition got worse, he talked about dead men. He spoke about hunger and fear. He asked for the girl that he had kissed when he was 16 and neither he nor she noticed that the girl sat right next to him, patting his hand.

I loved my grandfather. I miss him. I wish I had been there rather than a six hour drive away and that I could have taken care of him rather than leave him alone. I wish that it had been me or my parents and not the girl that waited seven years for his return that had to find him.

But most of all, and I know that sounds cruel and wrong and selfish, I wish that he would have died in his bed or in the hospital, during the day.

I wish so much that she didn’t have to find him in the morning, on the living room floor, with the flashlight off and his mouth wide open.

Credit To – Anton Scheller

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Aokigahara

September 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Within the tree lines of Aokigahara lies a dark and brooding history. For many years this place has been a key location for the people of Japan and even tourists from around the world to come throughout time going as far back as the nineteenth century with a common goal… the ending of their own lives within the Sea of Trees. Because of this history that on this day, March 28 2012, I’ve come here to do the same. I didn’t come to this decision lightly, I gave it some thought for a long time now and have wondered for even longer how I would go about doing it.

I considered hanging myself but then I thought, “What if my neck doesn’t break and I just hang there, choking for minutes or maybe hours?” Drug overdose was another option but I couldn’t come to a conclusion on what kind of drug I would use, and worse, what if I under dosed and I didn’t die? Then I’d be forced to face my friends and family and have to explain to them why I would do such a thing.

Eventually I decided that I would simply mortally wound myself with some form of serrated edged weaponry, which lead me to the purchase of the razor I have brought with me today. However, the things that have happened within the past few hours have caused my plans to fall apart before my eyes and now I find myself attempting to hide to save my own life rather than taking it. If that isn’t dramatic irony, I don’t know what is.

You see, when I arrived here in the Sea of Trees known as Aokigahara it was nearly sundown, I had decided to wait until this point in time in order to avoid the wandering eyes of any hikers or explorers that might be in the area during the daylight hours.

When I arrived I had a feeling that I was not alone, even though I couldn’t see anyone else within what felt like miles of treeline around me. This feeling unsettled me, but I wouldn’t allow a mere hunch that someone may possibly be nearby unnerve me and force me back into the depressing reality of my life that awaited me should I return unsuccessful to the “real world”. In fact it could be said that the idea of a witness being nearby may have even steeled my efforts.

As I continued on into the Sea of Trees, I saw the remains of those who had come before me earlier this year on the same mission. It pleased me to know that success was not as impossible as it seemed. However as I passed by the dead bodies that hung from the trees around me, I once again felt as if others were watching me progress further into the forest. In fact I could swear that I saw one of the hung men turn his head to watch me pass but it couldn’t have been real…they’re all dead, just as I will soon be. Regardless of this fact, I could not shake the feeling of ethereal eyes gazing at me from every direction.

By now the sun had set and the light had long surpassed the tops of the trees, the pitch darkness of the forest seeming to be never ending. This same darkness is what caused me to fall off of the beaten path that I had been following in hopes that I would arrive somewhere close to the Wind Cave so that I may see one last glimpse of what little beauty this world had to offer before I finally made the step to move on to the emptiness of death.

Now I found myself stumbling around in the dark forest, unable to find any way to return to any of the paths within the forest. As I got further and further from the path it seemed that I passed by more and more corpses. One of the bodies that I passed by was like something akin to a scene from a horror movie I saw once. He was sprawled along the ground as though he was trying to crawl away from something. The even more disturbing part of this discovery was the condition of the body. It seemed as if he hadn’t died more than a few days ago, and worse something seemed to have either cut him at the waist or devoured his lower half. All that remained before me were the shattered remains of a torso and a look of pure anguish frozen on his face. Needless to say the discovery of this body was a little more than I could handle and I attempted to find my way out of the forest, now fearful of a fate worse than what I thought would be the sweet, silent embrace of death.

As I turned to exit, I tried to retrace my steps, using landmarks I had seen up to now to find my way back to the long lost path I had started on. However, I noticed something was amiss, it seemed as though a few of the bodies that were visibly hanging from the trees before were now missing. I brushed this off assuming that it was just the mania from being lost setting in, until I heard something that resembled the sound of bones creaking from the sudden movement of joints that had been stationary for some time, not to mention the horrible smell that came with it…It smelled like a hundred years of decomposition and oddly enough, despair. I was frozen in place and had felt terror that overwhelmed my every nerve. I stood silently, making sure I had heard the sound at all or if it was a figment of my imagination.

When I heard it again I felt my legs move before I was even aware of what was happening. I found myself sprinting through the tree lines in an attempt to get away from whatever it was that might be behind me. As I ran I could see what I thought to be shadowy figures standing between the trees all around me, and once again I felt as though I was being watched. This was when I began to panic, my every muscle twitching and jerking from fear as I ran through the trees at speeds that would impress Usain Bolt himself.

Off in the distance I saw what looked like a person shambling towards the direction I was running and turned to avoid that thing before getting close enough for it to take notice of me. I tripped over a root that was jutting out of the ground and fell head over foot down onto a pile of rocks, compact fracturing my leg just above the knee.

I’ve been here for hours now and it’s been just as long since I heard the creaking sound that lead me into this horrible and painful situation that has befallen me since. I’m currently trying to scribble out my story in this journal before I pass out from the blood loss or worse… A warning to anyone who may find me or this book against making the same mistake that I made please, turn back. DO NOT go into Aokigahara after nightfall, I can’t explain whatever it is that’s happening to me here in the Sea of Trees but I fear it will be something worse than I could have ever had imagined before this day.

My breathing has become labored and the pain from…the shattered bones in my leg is so excruciating that writing becomes harder… and harder by the minute but I know that if I don’t finish out my warning that the same thing… or possibly worse may happen to the next ignorant person attempting to seek refuge in Sea of Trees after nightfall…

I hear leaves rustling and the sound of the creaking of bones and the smell of rot all around me, I expect that whatever I was running from has now caught up to me. Hopefully, I’ll die before whatever it is gets to me first. As I look around I can see the shape of a massive amount of bodies shambling towards me and I now realize what happened to the man I saw on the ground earlier tonight… these “things” got to him before he could get away from them and I’m more than likely going to suffer the same fate he did. I can only hope that my agony will be short-lived as the shambling corpses of the dead descend upon me. I have the razor that I brought handy, and will fight back with all that’s in me. May God have mercy on my soul for ever having decided to come to this forsaken place.

– Last excerpt from a blood spattered journal found near a tree within Aokigahara next to a dried puddle of blood on March 31 2012, not far from the journal’s location was the head of a man that seemed to have passed within the past three days, no connections have been found to indicate whether it belonged to the author of this excerpt. –

Credit To – Lee M

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The Lights in the House Below

September 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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All great writers claim to suffer from insomnia at least once in their lives, although I’m sure a bulk of them misuse the term and glorify the disorder. After all, all artists “struggle” and it seems that lack of sleep runs common among those who strive to hammer out the next big thing.

I wasn’t immune to this, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I simply worked better in the wee hours of the morning, unless I happened to be suffering from writer’s block, which also seems to plague those of us who starve for our art.

I recently moved to my home, which is perched neatly up on a hill. It’s a ranch home, so there’s not much around. Sometimes when my fingers are tired from typing and my brain feels like it will explode, I’ll go into the kitchen, make a cup of tea, and look out into the night. Below me there is another ranch home that I could see from my window, although it had been empty for quite some time.
The house below me wasn’t unlike my own. Sitting alone atop of dried grass and dirt, it was two stories, white, with a wrap-around porch. For being empty, it was well kept, although there were weeds sprouting everywhere and one of the windows (I had guessed the kitchen’s, assuming the home’s layout was anything like my own) was broken.

I hadn’t noticed it until a few months after my move, but on one of those nights where I was pushing 4:00 AM, I noticed the lights on in that house. Immediately my brow creased into a curious expression, knowing that the house had been abandoned and it didn’t seem like anyone would be moving into it anytime soon. I leaned over the sink and put my face as close to the window without touching it, but could see no movement from within the house.
A few days passed until I noticed it again, although looking back now, I can confidently say it had been happening every night since the moment I moved in. The second time I noticed it, I took a quick glance at the clock sitting over my dining room table. It was 3:30 AM, and again, I could see nothing out of the ordinary other than the fact that the lights were on.

The next night it happened again, and on the night after that, although I probably would have been awake otherwise, I forced myself into the kitchen at 3:25 AM, stirring my tea and staring intently at the window. I began to feel anxious even though the notion of the lights turning on shouldn’t be strange, but given the fact that it was occurring nightly in an empty house around 3:30 AM was a bit unsettling.

I watched the minute hand on my clock swipe to thirty after, and I turned my head towards my window. Sure enough, the lights flicked on, just like they had the other three nights. I leaned over the sink once again, this time pressing my forehead all the way up against the glass (as if doing so would give me a better view), but still couldn’t see anyone moving about. I leaned back, frowned, and shrugged. Logically it could be anything, ranging from squatters to a rare electrical issue, but at the time I figured I would just let it go, because I couldn’t be bothered to worry about something so seemingly insignificant. I had a writing deadline and needed to make that my top priority.

Two weeks passed, and although I tried my hardest not to stroll into the kitchen every morning at 3:30 AM, I failed miserably and observed the same thing every night. It even got to the point where I would stay in the kitchen for hours before and after the lights would flick on, simply to spot traffic either in or out of the house, but as far as I could tell, nobody ever entered or exited, even during the day. The lights would eventually turn off around dawn and wouldn’t turn back on until 3:30 AM.

During the third week I ventured over to the home, looking for cars or anything hinting at human life, but the closest thing I found was a bike tire leaning against the back porch steps. Given the weeds growing around it, it had probably been there for a while. The house sat empty as a recently dug grave, and in that moment I couldn’t help but feel a little sorrowful. It really was a beautiful home, but the lack of anyone living in it made it exude a sense of nothingness and despair.

I went around to the broken window, and my assumption that it belonged to the kitchen was correct. I peered in, although from what I could tell, nobody had been in that room for quite some time. A thin, visible layer of dust covered both the counters and floor, and cobwebs had made their way across the sink faucet, as well as the ceiling corners. Although I’m no detective, I noticed the dust-covered floor had no footprints, and this disturbed me for obvious reasons. In order to alleviate my fears, I told myself the lights turning on had to be some type of electrical anomaly and I stepped down from the porch. I walked backwards until I could see the entire house in my view, shielded my eyes from the sun, and took one last look. I scanned from left to right, hoping to see any hint of anyone or anything living there, but just as before, there was nothing but emptiness.

That night a freak thunderstorm rolled through the area, and for once it wasn’t the writing that kept me awake. The thunder sounded like bombs falling, and before I knew it, I was up in the kitchen at 3:00 AM making tea. I finished my last sip when the lights turned on in the house below, and although it was a sight that was familiar to me then, I still got up to look out the window. I couldn’t see as well as other nights because of the rain, but sure enough, all the lights were on like usual. My hands rested on the edge of the sink, and just then a clap of thunder exploded. My hands tightened and I jumped, but calmed down rather quickly.

About thirty seconds passed, and the power went out.

I was only able to register the lights going off in the house below me for a mere second before I heard a knock at my back door. I jumped again and gripped the edge of the sink even harder. It was completely dark, and I could barely see a thing. I stood there, breathing heavily then, waiting to see if I would hear the knock again. I tried to convince myself it was just thunder, but five seconds later, another knock.

I slowly walked towards the door. Being too scared to look behind the blinds, I walked as closely to the door as possible to see if I could hear anyone outside. The rain made it difficult to hear, but I listened as hard as I could.
“Is anyone there?” a voice said from the other side.
It was a woman’s voice. It sounded shaky and troubled. I kept quiet, too confused to respond and too frightened at the aspect of someone standing outside my door this late and in a storm.
“Please, if someone is there, I need some help,” she said.
Although by that time a layer of goosebumps had covered my skin, I answered back. After all, if this woman needed help, I couldn’t just leave her outside alone.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Sandy. I live in the home below you. My power is out, and I have no lights or candles. I can’t be in the dark. Not at this time.”
I frowned. Either this woman was lying or I was going crazy, because there was no way there was a woman living in that house. But that wasn’t the most frightening thing at that moment – it was the fact that the power went out mere seconds ago, and there was no way this woman could have walked from her home to mine in that amount of time.
“That house has been empty since I moved in.” I responded.
“Please just help me. I need the lights on or else.”
I rubbed the space between my eyes. Even if this woman was real, she was making no sense.
“I’m sure the power will be back on soon. It will be okay,” I said.
She responded with a huge sigh and I could tell she was sobbing now. A few seconds went by. I calmly waited to hear if she would say anything else. After thinking she gave up and I could rest easy, I heard her say, “I saw you, you know.”
My eyes widened and my stomach dropped. I quickly thought back to my visit at the house, making sure my memories were correct in the fact that I saw nobody at the home.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I saw you looking in my home, through the kitchen window.”
A moment went by. My breathing quickened. I felt my heart beat in my head, and just then, thunder rang out again. I jumped and squeezed my eyes shut. When I opened them, she responded again.
“He saw you too.”
I paused and fear seized my heart. I was completely sure there was nobody at the home, let alone two people.
She continued talking:
“He comes at this time, and unless I get some lights on, he will take me. He’s tried before.”
At that point I was completely confused and unsure of how to respond, so I replied, “Sandy, like I said before, I’m sure the lights will be back on soon. Just go home and wait it out.”
She began crying again.
“As soon as I step into the darkness again, I won’t ever be able to come out. And when he’s done with me, he’ll be after you. He’s seen you now.”
She laughed a little, the way those who feel exhausted from crying often do.

I stepped closer to the door again, and slowly pulled the corner of the blinds away. I had to see for myself if there really was a woman out there and I wasn’t just going crazy. Just then a bolt of lightening came across the sky, lighting up everything in my immediate view. To my horror, there was nobody standing on the other side of the door. My porch was completely empty.

It wasn’t until well into the next morning that I felt any sense of calm, and decided I would go looking into the history of the house.
After a week or so of searching online and asking around with the locals, I found out the most disturbing information.

About three years earlier, a woman named Sandy Carmichael lived in the home below me. Given the fact that rumors spread like wild-fire, I’m not sure how much information was the truth, but apparently she began telling her closest friends and relatives that a being was living inside her home, and came to her around the same time every morning. Apparently this being had attacked her when she was standing in her kitchen (which lead to the broken window), although as soon as she turned on the light, it went away. Long story short, she continued turning on the lights, at the same time, every night in order to keep this being away (Why she hadn’t just moved is beyond me, although I’m sure her story would be the same for every other person who chooses to stay in an alleged haunted house: it was her home).

The story continued that after about six months (again, this is hearsay), her doctor prescribed her a sedative, and finally one night she slept through the 3:30 AM mark and never woke up. Her death was said to be a suicide, but some have come to believe whatever Sandy babbled on about may have been responsible.

I couldn’t help but think of the night of the thunderstorm with utter terror, and am quite convinced the ghost of Sandy Carmichael visited me. One may ask why I believe this, especially those who are skeptical of the supernatural, but Sandy Charmichael said that whatever was terrorizing her was going to start terrorizing me.

The lights haven’t appeared in the home below me since that night, although this hasn’t done anything to calm my fears. I’ve started to hear strange noises in my home, and I’m worried things will escalate. I’ve debated whether or not to turn on the lights in my own home at 3:30 AM, although doing so would be admitting for sure that I thought something unnatural was in my house, and I’m not quite ready to do that.

There’s another thunder storm going on right now, however, and I’ve made sure to have plenty of candles and a flashlight just in case. I keep telling myself that all rational human beings carry extra candles and flashlights in thunderstorms and that I’m not admitting anything, but the lights have already begun to flicker. Every time they do, my stomach turns over.

It’s 3:04 AM. I’m hoping the power stays on.

Credit To – Aja

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On the Bus

September 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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The streets, roads and dusty lanes of Colombia have been fertile territory for myths and legends since before the arrival of the Spaniards. Tales of ‘La Patasola’, a one-legged wailing banshee that forever sought her child, and of ‘El Duende’, a backwards-footed goblin that led travelers to their doom, nibbled at the corners of journeymen’s ease for centuries. Although these stories mainly troubled those living in or passing through rural areas, the growth of cities brought with it a new breed of urban legend rooted in the primal distrust we still harbor, somewhere deep inside, of modern technology. An example of this is the phantom bus that allegedly roams the streets of Bogota at night. Supposedly, young women who board it alone are found mutilated in overgrown outlying fields a few days later, a frozen look of abject terror illustrating the moment of their last, tormented breath.

That being said, given that you’re certainly not a young woman (at least not last time you checked) and that it’s 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, phantom buses and handicapped gremlins are the last thing on your mind. You’ve been using Bogota’s public transportation system for over two decades, and your greatest concern is that traffic levels have become all but unmanageable since the latest mayor took office. However, home is about 80 blocks away, so your only choice is to wait until the right bus comes along. Walking would certainly take longer than putting up with any traffic jam.

When a bus displaying the route sign you’re hoping for shows up, its advertised fare is 200 pesos lower than the standard going rate these days. This usually indicates that the vehicle in question is older and a bit more uncomfortable than most, but no bus rider in the history of the city has ever given a damn about that. Folks that consider themselves richer and “above” this mode of transportation pay seven times as much to get around by cab, and statistically expose themselves to a higher chance of being mugged or robbed. More power to them, right?

Never one to avoid seeking further discounts, you ask the wizened driver if he’ll let you on for a thousand. The wrinkled, musty-looking man’s eyes never leave the road as he silently takes your bill and slides it in the purse hanging from the bony gear stick. Satisfied, you turn your attention to the cabin; what would make this ride ideal would be an empty seat.

Curiously enough (considering the time of day), there aren’t enough passengers aboard for anybody to be standing. A few available spots are in sight, so you choose one on the left, towards the middle. Both the aisle and window seat are free, and you sigh contentedly as you sprawl out on one with your knee nested on the other. This particular trip should be over in no time.

The driver’s radio is off and your phone’s battery ran out an hour ago, so you pass the time staring out the window and watching vendors ply their wares and car drivers nod along to whatever music they’re listening to. Your position eventually starts taking a toll on your back, so you straighten up and take the chance to examine your fellow passengers. None of them seem to be riding together, given that everybody’s quietly facing the front of the bus. They are also all uncommonly old——not in the sense that they’re all over 100, but in the sense that nobody seems to be under 75. You find this a bit odd, and for a brief moment the idea that you don’t belong there flashes through your mind. It’s a silly thought, but combined with the bus’s particularly strong (although not necessarily atypical) smell of must and metal, it makes you look forward to the end of the trip. Nevertheless, as there are another 30 or 40 blocks left to go, you look out the window again, zone out, and let your mind go where it will for a while.

The sight of Pacho’s bakery pulls you out of your reverie twenty minutes later. You get up and make your way past your silent companions to the rear exit, where you hunt for the little silver button that will let the driver know you’ve reached your stop. As you spot it above the door, you realize that nobody’s boarded or left the vehicle since you got on, which is weird for rush hour. Shrugging it off as an unusual coincidence, you press down on the button and grab on to the

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

What… what the hell just happened? You look around and see that everybody’s still where they were a moment ago. Trying to make eye contact with them is fruitless, since they all seem to be lost wherever it is that old minds wander. The thought of saying something runs through your head, but you decide against it. What would you say, anyway? You were probably so zoned out that you simply imagined getting up to ring the driver’s bell.

That’s probably it; your daydreams are occasionally so vivid that leaving them is downright startling. Besides, you’re already two blocks past your stop. Call it a “weird thing that happened on your way home” or whatever, but for now you should just get off the bus. There’s no point in having to walk back too far. You (once again) get off your seat and head for the rear exit, somewhat unnerved by the other passengers’ stoic disinterest in everything around them.

There’s the button, right where you remember it. Except that you can’t remember it, of course, since you’ve never actually been back here; you probably saw it when you got on. After grabbing on to the guardrail (these bastards occasionally decide to stop on a dime when you ring), you look towards the driver, put your thumb on the button

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

A piercing chill runs down your spine, and instead of fading away, it spreads through every one of your extremities. It’s not a shift in body or ambient temperature, it’s the chill you feel when suddenly consumed by the level of fear that slightly precedes terror. Something really messed up is going on here. You don’t know what it is, but you want out, you don’t want to be here anymore. A feeling of bitter solitude is now gnawing at your mind; whatever these people around you are thinking, they clearly don’t give a damn about what’s happening to you.

Therefore, you once again decide to avoid saying anything and simply lift yourself off the seat, not processing the fact that you did it with less agility than should’ve been the case. All you want right now is to get off the bus. Besides, it’s already advanced more than ten blocks past your street, which suddenly feels like a distastefully long distance to walk. This is all secondary to the point at hand, however; you have to get off this damn thing.

As you make your way back, an old lady in the back row looks up at you. Her expression tells you nothing, but the way it fixes on you——on your torso, to be precise——as if you were just another chunk of the vehicle further spikes the almost overpowering sense of dread now coursing through your veins. Whatever, you can’t panic, not now. You stand at the back of the bus and, instead of going for the button, yell at the driver. You yell at him to stop, to let you off, that you’ve already rung twice, but nothing comes of it. You curse at him, tell him what he will die of and wish great evil upon his kin, but the door remains unmoved. The man is not listening. Or he doesn’t care. Or he doesn’t want you to get off. But you don’t give a damn what he wants or doesn’t want, so you grab on to the bars, take a step back for momentum, and send a solid kick right into the column of hinges that

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

It takes a moment to register. Maybe more than a moment, maybe it’s a full minute. And as you realize that the bus doesn’t want you to leave, you also realize that your right knee hurts with an unnatural, piercing sharpness. It’s the same leg you used against the door, and now it feels like it’s all but broken. This quickly becomes a distant concern when you attempt to massage it, though, because that’s when you notice your hands.

These are not the hands of a 25 year-old. They are wrinkly, set with well-defined veins and even lightly patched with liver spots. As you study your hands and arms, cold terror envelops every corner your psyche. You touch your face and feel wrinkles and whiskers that didn’t previously exist upon your cheekbones. Your head is patched with a few anemic strands of hair; as your fingertip grazes your coarse scalp, a spark of electricity shoots through it and down into the most private recesses of your being. Your eyes dry up, opened wide and unbelieving, and you feel a seven-ton lump of horror coalesce in your otherwise paralyzed throat.

You must leave this evil bus, you must leave it at once before it finishes what it’s begun. You carefully make your way off your seat——no need for any further injury——and head towards the front, towards the driver. Perhaps you can reason with him, or perhaps you can club him to death with a flashlight or something, since there are always a variety of trinkets and gadgets at the front of t

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

It takes a good five or ten minutes for you to come to terms with what is happening to you, to understand that your life is vanishing before your eyes. Your hands are now like those of your grandmother, your back hurts from its base all the way to your neck, and your eyes can barely focus on the signs posted above the windows. Even your mind isn’t as sharp as it should be; it takes you a while to determine that you should make another attempt at the exit.

Perhaps violence is not the answer, perhaps you can gently pull it open. Perhaps if you treat the bus like a living, gentle being instead of like a demonic machine it will let you out, perhaps…

The old woman is looking at you again. You notice her blue jacket, which is much too big for her; if it were a blouse of the same size, it would hang loosely off her gaunt frame. A tiny, hesitant tear forms on her frail face, and then follows a meandering path down her ancient features to land on her wrist with eerie finality. There’s a red Totto watch around that wrist, the sort that is currently all the rage with kids graduating from high school.

You examine the door. Two panes joined by a vertical line of hinges, coated on the right by a rubber pad to avoid contact damage. The door is slightly bent inwards, and as you notice this a glimmer of hope runs through you. If you can just insert

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON MY HANDS THEY ARE OLD MY HANDS ARE THE HANDS OF AN OLD MAN, NOT OF MY GRANDFATHER, OF AN OLD OLD THE MAN BEHIND YOU STARTS WHEN YOU TURN TO HIM AND YELL AT HIM AND GRAB HIS FACE AND SCREAM AT HIM TO LET YOU OFF HE MOUTHS SOMETHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND HIS TEETH HIS BLOOD YOUR TEETH OH MY GOD MY TEETH ARE LIKE TINY THEY ARE DUST THEY’RE WHAT THE HELL HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN HERE FUCK THIS I’M BREAKING THE WINDOW WITH MY ELBOW EVEN IF IT BREAKS I DON’T WANT TO DIE HERE NO MORE OF

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

After a long time, you glance down at your hands. They are the gnarled, rheumatic, blood-splattered claws of a hag that’s seen more than one generation’s share of horrors.

A hag? A hag is not the right word. A hag is a woman, right? At least so it was in mother’s stories. Like those of La Patasola. Your knee still hurts, but not as much as your elbow. It feels like it is shattered. Ah, yes. This bus. You must get off it. You know you must get off it now. You do not remember why you must, but it is imperative that you do. It is urgent. It was urgent. You are so tired.

You try to lift yourself off the seat but your knee buckles under your weight; it is by chance that you fall back on the bench. You must get off the bus. You remember these buses. They used to take you to work. You steady yourself on the bench. You will try to get off the bus. But in a moment. You must rest. The bus can wait.

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

Credit To – Lucas Llinás Múnera

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Shady Wood

September 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Linda,

I’m not sure whether this letter will ever reach you, but I’m going to put it in the mailbox and hope for the best. It seems unlikely anyone’s actually going to deliver it, but this may be my last chance to contact the outside world, so I’m going to seize it anyway.

You’ve probably wondering what happened to us; it’s been a week since we were supposed to come back from our camping trip. Well… it’s been a week to us, but maybe time passes differently outside, and maybe to you it’s only been hours, or maybe it’s been years. I have no way of knowing. Okay, that probably sounds crazy, but honestly, after what we’ve been through, I don’t know that there’s much of anything I wouldn’t believe.

I should probably explain from the beginning. This is going to be a long letter, but I want to make everything clear, and I’ve got nothing but time. I think I told you where we were going, but just in case it has been years outside and you don’t remember, I may as well remind you: I’d decided to take my family camping, just for a weekend, and I found a campground online called Shady Wood. It seemed to have all the amenities we’d need and it was surprisingly cheap, so I called the number on the website and made a reservation.

Actually, that’s something I don’t think I told you about… when I called and made the reservation, the person on the other end of the line spoke really slowly. It wasn’t odd, but not odd enough to set off major alarm bells. I didn’t think much of it at the time; the only reason I bring it up is because in retrospect it may have been significant.

So, anyway, we made a reservation for the weekend, and we set out the Friday before last. I was worried the campground might be hard to find; the directions on the website included a bunch of streets I’d never heard of. The first one was off a stretch of the 144 I’d driven down lots of times before, and I never remembered seeing it, and it was a weird enough name I was pretty sure I’d remember it—the name was Badhollow Road. But when we set off for our trip, there was Badhollow Road, right where the directions said it was, and there were all the other streets, one after another. After Badhollow Road, they were all just winding tracks through the wilderness, no buildings around and no signs of habitation. But they all were right where the directions said they were, and soon enough we saw the sign, a big wooden arch above the road that read “Shady Wood”.

We checked in at the administration building just inside the gate, and they gave me a map and marked on it where our assigned campsite was. I did think it was a little strange that the woman at the desk was wearing sunglasses—she was indoors, and it wasn’t that bright a day—and, now that I think of it, she did talk pretty slow, the same way as the man on the phone. But, again, I didn’t think much of it at the time.

We didn’t have much trouble finding our campsite. And the weekend passed more or less uneventfully. I guess there are only two things that happened before we left that are worth mentioning. One was on Saturday night when something got into our food. I thought it was a raccoon at first, but when I went out and looked around with a flashlight, I caught a glimpse of something that looked like a little white monkey. About two feet tall, vaguely humanoid in shape, no tail. Running on its hind legs. That I did think was strange, but I only got a brief look at it and wasn’t sure what I saw, and after all I’ve never been much of a nature buff and didn’t know much about the local wildlife, so while I was pretty sure there no wild monkeys in Pennsylvania maybe there was something here I wasn’t aware of, or maybe it was just a trick of the shadows and I was imagining its humanoid form.

The second thing was when we went to the trading post—that’s what they called the campground store—to buy some things I’d forgotten, or hadn’t brought enough of. Chapstick, toilet paper, garbage bags. The man running the store wore sunglasses, and he talked slowly, but not so much that I was seriously disturbed at the time.

Other than those two things, though, the weekend camping went pretty much according to plan. The kids enjoyed themselves. Gail found a muddy stream that seemed to be an endless source of amusement for her. Alice just kept looking for birds and animals. Rick acted bored a lot, but he was only acting—you know how teenagers are. Anyway, everyone had a good time, and Sunday afternoon we packed up and started heading back.

The first strange thing we ran across on the way back was an empty station wagon by the side of the road. It wasn’t at a campsite; it was just parked there in the bushes. One car parked in an odd place wouldn’t be too hard to explain; it was the second car that was really strange. I think it was a Volkswagen van that may have once been blue. It looked like it had been abandoned for a long time; it was covered with rust, and the tires were rotted away, and there were weeds growing through its chassis. And I was sure that it hadn’t been there on the way in.

I think it was about then we saw a couple more of those white monkey things running through the bushes. Maybe it was before the cars. I’m not quite sure about the sequence of events.

I do know, though, that it was after the second car that we got to where the map of the campground said that the intersection should be, and the intersection wasn’t there. The road just kept going. I wondered if we’d missed the turnoff, but neither Mary nor any of the kids had seen it, either.

So we kept going. It was either that or turn around, and there didn’t seem to be much point in doing that. I watched for any landmarks; depending on which turn we made we ought to be passing either the pool on our right or the radio tower on our left. We didn’t pass either of them. We did pass more cars, though. The further we went, the more of them we saw. Different makes and models. Some of them looked like they’d been there for years, maybe decades; others looked like someone had just stepped out of them. But they were all sitting there empty on the side of the road.

I think we passed a few dozen cars before it hit me that their license plates didn’t match. I mean, they were from different states, all over the country. I know people like to travel for vacation, but it didn’t seem likely people would drive all the way across the country to stay at an obscure little campground like Shady Wood. I even saw one or two license plates that I don’t think were from the U.S. at all. I’m still not sure what was up with that.

Eventually we did get to a fork in the road, but it was much farther along than it should have been. And since we had no idea where we were, we had no idea which way to go. Since our last turn on our way to the campsite had been left, I decided it made the most sense to turn right. It didn’t bring us to any place more familiar than where we’d just been, though, and I’d say we were just getting more and more lost, except that I think we were already about as lost as it was possible to get.

We drove for hours. That shouldn’t have been possible; Shady Wood shouldn’t have been that big. Of course I thought maybe we were driving in circles, but we weren’t. We used some of the cars as landmarks, taking note of a car that stood out and keeping an eye out to see if we passed it again. We never did. I swear we weren’t retracing our path. We were just driving over much more road than should have been able to fit in the campground.

The next intersection we passed, I stopped for a moment, trying the decide which way to go. Then Gail piped up, and said “Left”. So I went left. It was a long time till we got to the next intersection, and when we did she said “Right”, so I went right. You might be wondering why I was following directions from a six-year-old. Hell, I knew she didn’t know where we were going. It was probably just a game to her. But I had no idea which way to go, so whichever way Gail said to turn seemed just as good as the other.

Finally, we got to a trading post. The map had only showed one trading post, and we’d been there, and this wasn’t it. Still, this was the first thing we’d passed since we left our campsite aside from a lot of trees and empty cars, and maybe someone there could give us directions. And anyway, we’d used up our food, and we’d expected to stop by a McDonalds or something on our way home from the camp, and the kids were getting hungry.

So we pulled over, and I went into the trading post. Like I said, it wasn’t the same trading post as before, but it had the same stuff. Food, toiletries, stationery, you know, anything you’d need on a campout. I went in and bought enough food to keep us for a while—bought more than I thought we’d need, just to be safe. And when I went to pay for it, I asked the guy running the shop for directions.

I guess at this point it probably doesn’t really need to be said that he spoke very slowly, and that he was wearing sunglasses.

Anyway, I brought out the park map I’d been given at the main office, and I asked him how we could get to the exit. As I spread the map out on the counter, though, I could swear it looked different from when I’d last looked at it. It still had pretty much the same style, and it still said “Shady Wood” on the top, and it still had a blue ball-point ink X on campsite number 215, but the roads were arranged differently and had different names. So I wasn’t filled with a lot of confidence when the guy pointed out a spot on the map and said we were there, and traced the route he said we’d need to take to get out of the campground. But it’s not like I had a lot else to go on.

So we took off from the trading post, and I tried following the route I’d just been shown. But again, it was much longer than it should have been before we got to an intersection. And when we did, it was a side road meeting the one we were on on the left, instead of on the right like the map said. I did my best to follow as close to the directions as I could, but I knew I was fooling myself. There was no connection between the roads we were going down and what the map showed. We were totally lost.

And, of course, eventually we ran out of gas. That wasn’t a surprise; I knew it was getting low, and I knew it was going to run out if I kept going. But what else could I do? At least I hoped we’d make it somewhere before it happened. We didn’t. So I just pulled over to the side of the road.

It was getting kind of late by this time, so we decided to spend the night in the car. It wouldn’t be comfortable, but at least we’d be safe from the elements. We’d figure out what to do in the morning.

I think it was Mary who noticed that we were all a little shorter than we’d been when we left the campsite. I thought she was imagining it, then, even though Alice agreed with her.

It wasn’t easy to sleep, partly because of the cramped space in the car and partly, well, because of course we were all a little scared by what was going on. I managed to get to sleep eventually. I did wake up once in the middle of the night, and I almost screamed. There was a face, staring at me through the windshield. An almost human face, but maybe a third human size, white as snow. The thing looked at me for a few seconds, and then it jumped away, and I saw its pale, naked form disappear into the foliage.

I was unsettled for a while, but I managed to drift back to sleep. When I got up, I thought maybe I’d been dreaming. Now I don’t think I was, though.

Anyway, we got through the night, and then it was time to decide what to do next. We kind of got in an argument then. I was still trying to convince myself everything was okay, and I insisted that if we just waited there in the car, where we’d be safe, someone would come along and find us eventually, and we’d be able to get a ride out. Mary wanted to start walking. I told her she was just restless, that she just wanted to be doing something, even if it was useless, and she wasn’t thinking straight. But I don’t think I was really thinking straight either. Sure, walking like Mary wanted us to didn’t end up getting us anywhere, but I don’t think waiting there like I wanted to do would have ended any better. We were both wrong. I don’t think there was a right answer.

It’s not that Mary convinced me, though, or that I gave in. It was Rick who settled the matter. While Mary and I were arguing, he just grabbed his backpack and the extra supply bag, got out of the car, and started walking. Mary and I both yelled after him, told him to come back, but he didn’t listen, and finally we didn’t see any alternative but to get our stuff and go after him. He slowed down and waited for us to catch up. He hadn’t really wanted to get away from us. He’d just wanted to stop the argument.

So we walked, the five of us, along the road. I had the tent, Mary had the food, Rick had the extra supplies, and we all had our own packs. We walked all day, and didn’t see anything different from the kind of thing we’d seen the previous day.

That night we pitched the tent, right there by the road. We hadn’t gotten anywhere, and didn’t know how much longer we’d have to walk or if we’d ever get to the exit, but we were all tired and had to get some sleep. And we got up the next morning and kept going.

The food we’d bought at the training post ran out the day after that. We passed enough streams to keep off our thirst, but food was another matter. Alice was hungry enough she grabbed some berries and ate them before any of us could stop her. We were worried about her, but after an hour or two she didn’t seem the worse for wear, so the next time we passed by a similar berry bush, we all helped ourselves. We found some mushrooms, too, that I thought might be edible; I nibbled a tiny piece off the side of one to see if I got sick, and when I didn’t we ate those. It was risky, maybe, but so was starvation.

By that night it wasn’t possible any more to deny that we’d gotten shorter. Our clothes were bigger on us than they had been a few days ago; the sleeves went out past our hands, the legs of our trousers bunched at the bottom, and we all had to tighten our belts. We didn’t talk about it much. We weren’t talking much at all, really, but especially about that. I don’t think we wanted to acknowledge what was happening.

Besides being too big for us, our clothes were wearing out, too. Much faster than they should have been; it had only been a few days, but our clothes were as ragged as if we’d been walking around for weeks. And we were all getting paler. Gail had gotten a little sunburned over the weekend, but her skin was back to as light as it was, if not lighter. There were light streaks appearing in Alice’s hair, and I thought her skin was lighter too. Same with Mary. And Rick was practically blond. And my own skin, when I looked at my hands… well, I’d had a tan on Sunday, but I didn’t have one now.

I told Mary and the kids it was just sun bleaching. I made up some explanation for why the sun was making us lighter instead of tanning us—I don’t remember now exactly what it was I said. It didn’t really make sense, and I don’t think any of them believed it, but at least it let us all pretend we understood what was happening. I came up with an explanation for the shrinking, too; I blamed it on malnutrition, and said it would be reversed once we got back to civilization and got some good square meals under our belts. That isn’t how things work, of course, and we all knew it, but it kept us from having to fully face the wrongness of the situation.

Actually, I don’t think malnutrition is something we have to worry about. Over the next few days, we got pretty good at foraging for food. We found a knack for realizing what plants were edible and which were poisonous, and we were getting desperate enough we even developed a taste for grubs and bugs we could gather under rocks. We were eating almost as well as we had been while we were camping. But we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to civilization.

It was the night before last that Rick disappeared. I still don’t know why, but he’d been changing the fastest; by that evening he’d been shorter than Alice and almost as short as Gail, and he looked like an albino. Now that I think about it, he may have been shorter then than Gail had been before this all started, though he was still a little taller than Gail was by then. I’m not sure I phrased that well; I hope you get what I meant. Though if you didn’t, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Anyway, we set up the tent and got bedded down for the night, and when we all got up Rick was gone. His clothes were there by his sleeping bag—what was left of his clothes, anyway; they weren’t much more than rags by then anyway. And his pack was still there. But Rick himself was gone. We all looked around for him, of course, and it was Alice who found a footprint near the tent, the print of a bare human foot about the size of a young child’s—which is about how big Rick’s feet had been by that point, given how much he’d shrunk. We managed to follow the trail a short distance away from the tent, but we lost it before long. It was leading away from the road.

We spent the better part of that morning looking for Rick, but we couldn’t find any other sign of him. He was gone. Neither Mary nor I wanted to leave there without him, but there didn’t seem to be any way we could find him, and we finally decided that if we found our way out of the campsite we could send help back to find him later. We went on.

Yesterday and earlier today were more of the same. Walking along the road, finding enough plants and grubs to sustain ourselves, passing car after derelict car. Again last night we pitched the tent and got some sleep. Every day since we left the campsite, we were a little paler and a little smaller than the day before.

Then, this afternoon, we found a trading post. Another one. I went in and bought more food—just because we could live on foraged food doesn’t mean we didn’t want other food if we can get it. I didn’t have cash left, but my credit card still works, for now. I asked the slow-talking, sunglassed woman at the counter for directions, at this point more because it seemed like something I ought to do than because I really expected it to do any good. Anyway, I noticed as I was leaving that outside the trading post was a battered old mailbox. So I went in again and bought some paper and envelopes and stamps. I took a while to think through who I should send a letter to, but as my sister you’re my closest relative who isn’t trapped in Shady Wood with me, so I figured you ought to be the one I tried to contact.

Like I said, I don’t know if this letter’s really going to be delivered. Maybe the mailbox is just there to tantalize us. For all I know, the slot in the mailbox just leads to a giant pit with fifty years’ worth of undelivered letters in it. But if there’s even the slightest chance that this letter will get to someone outside, I figure there’s no harm in dropping it in the mailbox and hoping for the best.

I’m not writing this letter expecting you to come after us. I’m only sending this so you’ll know what happened to us, so our disappearance won’t be a mystery. In fact, don’t come after us; even if you can find us, you’ll just be trapped here with us. I don’t think there’s much that can be done for us now, but at least you won’t be left wondering why we never came back from our trip.

As for us… after I drop this letter in the mailbox we’ll go on down the road. The woman at the trading post said that there’s an intersection right around the corner, just a few hundred feet away, and that if we turn left it’ll take us straight to the exit. Based on past experience, I have little hope that it’s actually true, but there doesn’t seem to be much else we can do.

Credit To – Immutatus

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