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The Happiest Place on Earth

October 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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This was it: night one of my new job as the night watchman for Disneyland. Anywhere else, I’d be referred to as an ordinary security guard. Here, I was a cast member. Something about that label just oozed sophistication and privilege. It was now 12:00 AM. All the cleaners and maintenance workers had done their jobs and gone off to their own homes. My shift started now. I was, admittedly, pretty nervous.

“How many times was it again, kid?” my manager said as he walked me through the entrance.

“Hmm?” I asked nervously.

“How many times have you been to the park?” he clarified.

“Well… pretty much every year since I was 8, sir,” I answered.

“Then you’ll do perfectly,” he said, his tone confident. “Someone who knows the park from head to toe. Just what we need.”

“It’s an honor,” I said with a nod. “And it’ll be a nice paycheck for college.”

“As long as you’re not scared of spending long, lonely hours in a security office and surrounded by areas filled with deactivated animatronic characters, you’ll be fine,” the manager, whose name was Travis, jokingly said as if trying to scare me out of my new job.

What’s the worst that could happen? The answer to that question would only exist in my darkest nightmares and nowhere else. I was never the kind of guy to believe in ghosts, demons, or the supernatural in general. I’d be fine, just a little bored on occasion.

Travis led me to a gray door with a sign reading, “Authorized Personnel Only.” He handed me a key and said, “Do the honors.”

A couple of clockwise twists and the door’s locks seized to be a problem. A long and wide hallway shrouded by darkness greeted me on entrance. Travis urged me in, following closely behind and flicking up a light switch on the wall. The hallway lit up like a kid’s face upon meeting his favorite character for the first time, giving me a clear image of what was found at the end: a blue door reading “Security” with two large glass windows on either side of it. The hallway itself was covered by large boxes which I assumed contained equipment.

Travis walked ahead and led me to the door. He handed me another key and said, “Again, do the honors.”

I smirked at him and unlocked the door, making my way into the spacious office and analyzing the surroundings. It consisted of 4 large desks, each with a ton of screens on the tall wall above it. The first desk’s screens showed the main entrance as well as the park’s famous Main Street USA area. Cameras were placed in many different spots (including inside the shops and restaurants) to give me a full idea of what was going on. The screens on the second desk showed a larger amount of security cameras placed all over the park within Adventureland, Discoveryland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Mickey’s Toontown. The photo spots, the shops, the restaurants… every nook and cranny in these areas was now under my surveillance. The third and final desk’s cameras were placed… inside the rides. Yeah. Each of them showed me the darkened, lifeless nighttime insides of these beloved attractions. All of a sudden, Splash Mountain was no longer a jolly ride through Br-er Rabbit’s world. It was a dark cave of chilling silence filled with dead-eyed animatronic characters staring in different directions. The first areas in Pirates of the Caribbean went from dark, eerie, skeleton-infested caves to… dark, eerie, skeleton-infested caves. Idiot.

“What do you think?” Travis asked, roughly patting my back. “Beautiful isn’t it?”

I nodded silently before saying, “It’s… impressive.”

“Your new office,” he said. “Never thought you’d wind up here when you were twisting through Space Mountain as a kid, right?”

“No one would,” I jokingly scoffed, getting a drink from a sizable water cooler right next to the third desk. I took a sip and switched on the oscillating desk fan.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Travis said as my eyes went back to the third set of screens. “Don’t even try it.”

I stared at him, confused.

“I know nostalgia can be a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “But don’t go trying to switch on the rides and take them for a solo drive.” He chuckled, letting me know he was just kidding.

I laughed along and said, “I’d get fired on the spot. I know my place.” I sat down on the rotating desk chair and said, “I’m not leaving this office until you get back in the morning.”

“No need to go overboard,” Travis said. “ You can leave the office for a bathroom break.”

“Right,” I said with a nod.

Travis stared at the cameras for a second and said. “Any questions or you all set for now?”

“All set,” I confidently said, feeling surprisingly excited for the job.

“Okay,” Travis said with a proud nod. He took a card out of his pocket and put it on the desk beside me. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give me a call, especially in the case of an emergency, though I seriously doubt it’ll ever come to that.”

I took the card and put it in my pocket. “I will. Thanks.”

“Good luck, kid,” he said, opening the office door. “ He looked back and added, “Check those cameras,
be wary of anything, and… try not to doze off.”

Not a chance. I spent all afternoon sleeping soundly in my apartment for a reason.

The door creaked… then clicked. Travis was gone, and I was now all alone at Disney. Maybe I should give the rides a go…

I’d never do something like that, even if the temptation was brutal. What can I say? I was broke. I needed the money for college. Messing with the rides would be a one way ticket back to my college dorm empty-handed. So I sat down on my little desk chair… waiting… and waiting… and keeping my eyes on those cameras.

For the most part, nothing happened. The only thing I could see? Slightly grainy footage of the park’s deserted whereabouts. The only thing I could hear? The low hum of the desk fan as its cool breeze kept me from breaking a sweat. Truth be told, if I shut off that fan things would get ugly for me fast. I was never the kind of guy to enjoy total (and I mean TOTAL) silence. It’s the kind of thing that would allow my mind to play cruel tricks on me.

With that in mind, I turned up the fan from 1 to 3 and pulled out my phone to check my music library. I swiped my finger across the screen back and forth repeatedly, trying to decide on what to listen to. Ryan Farish was the answer to that question. His uplifting tracks would surely keep the mood from going straight into the realm of the unsettling. I put the phone on full blast, set it down on the table, and turned my attention to the cameras.

I’d be lying if I said the sight wasn’t strangely unsettling in its own way. It’s not that anything out of place was going on; absolutely nothing was, actually. But that was just it… nothing was happening. The park was deserted. In here, Ryan Farish’s tracks were keeping the mood upbeat and lively. Out there, the park itself… nothing. As I sat there, the park’s streets were silent and dark, save for a few lights scattered in different places. The night vision cameras gave me the full picture of what was going on in all areas of the park, though my attention was mostly saved for the main gates. My eyes wandered to other cameras as well, but the gates were the primary focus.

The interiors of the attractions on the other hand…

Yeah, I tried to keep my eyes of them most of the time. It was in my job description to check those too, but something just felt… off. Again, nothing was happening. I could only thank my over-active imagination for what I felt whenever my eyes moved over those cameras. Just seeing all the animatronic characters like this, in total darkness and silence with their dead eyes staring off into the distance and their mouths in unnatural positions, sent chills down my spine. Call me childish if you want, but I just really wasn’t used to seeing them like this. It was the polar opposite of what you’d get in the daytime while actually giving these attractions a go.

“You’ve been watching too many horror movies, man,” I told myself with a wry chuckle. “Remember, it’s all part of the job.”

I sat up from my desk to stretch my legs. It was now 1:10 am. One hour of doing nothing but sitting and staring at cameras was already giving me some physical discomfort. I did a few calisthenics and jogged in place for a moment, stopping only to get a couple drinks of water from the cooler… which added up to a total of 3 drinks taken since I got here.

It was about time for a quick bathroom break.

I took one last look at all the cameras (including the ride interiors) before fetching my key from the desk. I was taken aback as soon as I unlocked the second door, my eyes and senses taking in the sight and feel of the abandoned park. Just total silence and darkness. The only illumination in the immediate area came from the small lights marking the, thankfully, nearby bathroom. I calmly walked over, ignoring the feel of the dead park, and did my business.

I washed my hands and rinsed my face, taking a brief look at myself in the mirror before heading for the door. I was just going past the exit when the sharp sound of something bursting and shattering startled me. I looked up through the darkness at the bathroom’s outer lights… or at least what was left of them. Faint sparks of electricity emanated from the sockets, casting an even fainter glow on the space around it.

“Damn it,” I mumbled, looking down at the glass shards on the floor. “Better get rid of these…”

But not with my hands. There was always the risk of accidentally cutting myself with the sharp edges, but the way the bulbs exploded from the apparent overcharge… yeah, I could imagine how hot the pieces could be. Thankfully, there was a broom and basket in my office ready for the job. I calmly walked over to the nearby office, my ears taking in the abundance of silence, and opened the gray door to the hallway. Except it didn’t open. Confused, I jiggled the door handle only for it to stall each time and emanate a clicking sound.

It locked itself…?

As strange as it was, I didn’t see it as a cause for alarm. Maybe they designed the door to automatically lock itself when closed. It did sound like a sensible security measure to keep any unwanted guests out of the restricted area. I nonchalantly shrugged and pulled out the key to unlock it. No trouble there. The blue office door, to my surprise, remained unlocked. I grabbed the broom, along with the trash basket, and headed back to the restrooms for a quick sweep-up.

“You’d make a hell of a janitor,” I muttered, alleviating the lonely feeling of being here all by myself.

I brushed the shards into the basket and took it back to the security office, unlocking the hallway door again and locking it behind me. The office door, which I had left open, was now shut. However, I didn’t give it much thought. I just wanted to take the basket back in, take a seat in front of the cameras, turn up my music, and unwind. For some reason, the two trips outside the office made me uneasy. It was probably my overactive imagination acting up again, but I could feel… something. As if someone was watching me. Then again, I always felt that. As a kid, as a teenager, and now as a young adult; I always had a certain fear of the dark… or, more accurately, a fear of being left alone in it. I learned to control it as life went on, but never truly got rid of it.

I set the broom and basket down against the wall and jiggled the door handle… only to find it was now locked too. What?

Maybe the same security measure for the hallway door was also applied to this one? If so, how come it was unlocked the first time I came back? Maybe the mechanism just malfunctioned the first time?

Well, whatever it was, I didn’t give it much thought. I used the key and went in with a clear mind. Setting down the broom and trash basket, I went for the chair, reclining on it a bit and massaging my temples before laying eyes on the cameras. Scrolling through each of them for a short period of time, I really didn’t see anything happening. Everything seemed to be in order. Good.

I switched my music back on and bopped my head to the beat. A few minutes of doing so while checking the cameras gave me the chance to clear my head. And then… silence. The music stopped. The phone’s screen went black. My mind shot back into the dark realm of suspicion. What the hell…?

I tried turning the phone back on. Nothing. I pulled the charger out of the bag I’d brought with me and plugged it in. Still nothing. Not even the “Low Battery” icon would show on the screen. The phone was completely dead… Great. I’d never heard of something like this happening, but seeing as the phone was about 4 years old, it really didn’t have to come off as a shock to me. Probably had a fatal hardware error from age or something…

Whatever it was, the result wasn’t pretty: my office being plunged headfirst back into total silence. “Great.” Well… hopefully I could get the phone repaired somehow. For now, though, I’d have to contend with boredom. Moving along to the music was the only thing keeping me entertained. It kept my nerves in check too. As the minutes passed, boredom and nerves created an unholy mix within me. With the exception of the fan’s low sound, the office was silent enough to hear a pin drop.

And then… a knock on a door. Yes… the gray hallway door. It was a single, jarring knock breaking the silence in the worst way possible. I tensed up in my chair, not daring to look behind me. I kept my eyes on the cameras instead, mainly the ones in Main Street USA and the one right outside the main security door.

There was no one. Not even the slightest sign of a person. Everything seemed normal…

/knock knock/

Heart starting to race, I quickly turned in my chair to face the doors. That second knock? It sounded closer… as in, unlike the first, it came from the door to my office. I stood up from my chair and just remained still for a moment, cautiously staring at the door and contemplating whether to check it or not. Eventually, I decided to take that step forward. I carefully opened the door and stepped out, looking around in the hallway. Everything looked perfectly normal. There were no signs of activity whatsoever. Even the boxes were in the exact same places and positions as when I first arrived.

Maybe it was just my imagination… I seriously need to calm down.

With that thought, I shrugged and went for the door back into my office… when a startlingly loud thud coming from outside the hallway door caught my attention. A second bang on the door made me nearly jump out of my skin. It left me virtually paralyzed, standing there with my eyes locked on the door. What’s going on…?

This time I didn’t remain as calm. I ran back into the office and grabbed a broomstick. I removed the actual broom from the tip and took the stick alone with me. I was going out. Cautiously… slowly but surely, I was going out. Whatever it was, I was going to get to the bottom of it. The cameras close to the office showed me nothing, but they could probably be glitching. I took a deep breath and slowly approached the door with the broomstick in hand. A chillingly faint scraping noise came from it just as I was about to lay a hand on the handle. It stopped me dead in my tracks for a second, my mind trying its best to make sense of it all.

Do it.

I slowly opened the door and peeked outside.


“Hello?” I said, silence being the only one to respond. Of course even if there was an intruder the last thing he’d do would be answer the security guard’s calls. I looked around some more and shrugged, my eyes catching nothing. I chuckled nervously and said, “I really am going crazy.”

I rolled my eyes at myself and walked back to the office, unlocking both doors and once again sitting in front of the cameras. I positioned the fan so its wind would go straight to my face and exhaled, relieving stress. As much as I wanted to believe my mind was to blame… deep down, I couldn’t. I heard the knocks. I didn’t imagine them. I heard them. Whether it was some obscure auditory phenomenon I didn’t know about… or something else entirely… I could tell it wasn’t my imagination.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden ring tone coming from… my dead phone. I stared down at it, bewildered, and noticed the words “Unknown Caller” flashing on the screen. I reluctantly picked it up and waited a few uneasy seconds before answering. “Talk to me.”

“Hello?!” my manager’s voice came blaring through the speaker, its tone distressingly frantic. “Is everything all right?”

I didn’t know how to answer him; I was momentarily frozen by his tone.

“Never mind,” Travis breathlessly said. “You need to leave the park now!”

“Why what’s going o…?”

“Just do it!” he yelled, forcing me to bite my tongue. “I’ll explain later. Right now, there’s no ti…”

“Travis?” I nervously said, my voice barely going above a whisper. “What’s wrong?”

A blood-curdling mess of terrified, painful screams suddenly pierced the silence. I was helpless, having no other choice but to keep the phone pressed against my ear and invite hyperventilation in.

“Travis!” I yelled.

And then… silence.

“Travis…?” I softly said, terrified beyond description. Slow, thumping footsteps broke through the silence, the sound growing nearer and nearer to the phone’s speaker by the second. The closer the sounds approached, the more unnerved I became. It almost sounded like they were coming from the security office. From… behind me…

The footsteps stopped to give way to a raspy, labored breathing coming directly from the phone.
“S… s… see… you… soooon…” the voice quiveringly said in a way so disturbingly unnatural it chilled me to the core.

Petrified with fear, my entire body seized up. My hand lost its grip on the phone, letting it drop to the floor. I started shaking uncontrollably and backed up against the wall, shutting my eyes and hoping I would wake up from the nightmare. Opening them only let me know I was still in the office. This was no nightmare. I had really just heard Travis being murdered through the phone… and now his killer was coming for me. But… what did he want? What did any of this have to do with me? Better yet, how did he know of my whereabouts?

A loud bang on the hallway door snapped me out of my thoughts yet again, my scream emanating through the office. I stood up and fixed my eyes on the door, waiting to see what would happen if anything did.


Suddenly, the lights went out. The security cameras switched off. Both the office and the hallway became caves. A thick blanket of darkness blinded me and pushed me over the edge of unmitigated terror. I scrambled to find the light switch on the wall to no avail. My fingers could only scratch the walls in a desperate, fruitless search. My phone was the other option. Its flashlight would light up the room like a night club. I pulled it out of my pocket and started pressing buttons… only to find it was dead once again.

“Come on, come on!” I growled in fearful desperation. “Work, you piece of…”


What was that…?


If my ears weren’t deceiving me, I had just heard the door to my office slowly opening by itself. The darkness wouldn’t allow me to get even the slightest look of what was going on… a handicap which allowed my mind to do its worst. The creaking sound slowed to a crawl before being succeeded by the door’s closing click. Creeping footsteps echoed through the darkness, inching closer to me by the second.

My heart raced in my chest. The sweat dripped from my forehead. My entire body quaked with fear. As the footsteps drew closer, I was entirely helpless. I could do nothing but keep myself pressed against the wall and await the result.

Except there was none.

The footsteps stopped. Whether the source was standing right in front of me or halfway across the room was unknown to me. The question was answered when… the lights switched back on. They were tweaking out and flickering, but they were back on. I couldn’t complain, except… I was all alone in the room. Not even a shadow in sight other than mine. I took a deep breath, my hand wiping across my forehead to take care of the sweat, and looked back at the cameras. Unlike the lights, they remained dead and displayed nothing other than my reflection. I tapped one of them out of curiosity… only for the reflection to show something (or someone) else occupying my working space. A shadowy figure with indistinct features stood right behind me, its head slowly tilting to one side. I darted back from the screen and turned in place. Nothing.

The lights went out once again, forcing me to groan in equal parts of frustration and fear. The sound of the office door slamming shut pushed me back against the wall in fearful submission. It was slammed open, the loud thud accompanied by the shattering of the glass windows on either side of it. The door to the hallway, supposedly “locked” by a safety mechanism, was harshly opened as well.

Whatever I was dealing with, it had just taken care of the only things separating me from… it.

I didn’t want to leave the office. No one would. Nevertheless, I knew I had to do it and find a good hiding spot. Escaping the park would be impossible with the gates locked. “It” knew I was here. “It” was challenging me. I could almost feel it. I was unsure of this thing’s purpose. But the one thing I was sure of? “It” wasn’t human. And it wanted to either drive me insane… or kill me.

Or both.

“You can do this…” I said in a vain attempt to console myself. “You’re g… you’re gonna get through this…”

I repeated those words in my mind and proceeded to slowly walk through the darkened hallway toward the main door. The lights above me flickered in an erratic pattern with every step I took, causing me to slow down from sheer nervousness. Once again, I had that strange feeling: eyes… eyes on me. I could feel something watching my every move. I slowly looked over my shoulder, only to reassure myself there was nothing there, and continued my cautious walk down the seemingly never-ending hallway. Every step felt like a mile as my mind was flooded with thoughts about the unknown force putting me through all this. The same “thing” that apparently took Travis’s life.

What is it?
What does it want with me?
Why bring Travis into it?
Is there some history to all of this?

Four questions, zero answers, but it didn’t matter to me now. The only thing that mattered was finding a good place to hide. Was I being tormented by a paranormal force? The kind I never believed in? Definitely. I had no doubts whatsoever. But I did doubt it was an all-knowing force capable of seeking me out no matter where I hid.

My feet ceased to move forward upon reaching the opened hallway door. One more step was all I needed, but the fear was simply too much. The idea of leaving the office, fully exposing myself to this entity, wasn’t exactly pleasant.

You’re a sitting duck here. Move!
Where am I supposed to go? Somewhere this thing can’t find me? It’s probably watching me already…
Don’t hide! Run for the main gates.
That would be a good idea… if they weren’t locked.
You’ll figure it out. Travis said to leave the park. Hiding won’t work. You know it’ll find you.
It’ll find me… no matter where I hide…

My instincts where saying “run and hide,” but my mind was yelling “get out of the park.” There had to be some way to escape…

I slowly cleared the open door, my eyes looking to both sides to make sure nothing was waiting for me.


I looked back to find that the main door had roughly shut itself, the loud noise accompanied by the low clicks of the locks. A low exhale channeled my stress as I slowly walked away from the door, keeping my eyes on it for a moment, before letting my fear get the better of me and sprinting off straight for the main gates.

“Don’t look back, don’t look b…”

My body hit something, stopping me dead in my tracks. Except… there was nothing. I stared in the direction of whatever blocked my escape, my eyes catching nothing. My senses, however, told an entirely different story. I felt the eyes on me once again. Those cold, piercing eyes… inhuman.

“Y… you’re not going… anywhere…” the same unnaturally guttural voice from the phone said after a brief moment of silence. “You’re staying right here… with us… all.. of us…”


“If I were you… I would run…” the voice menacingly seethed. “I’ve brought some… friends… to meet you…”

The voice faded away on the last word, leaving my now unattended attention free to drift over to a nearby thicket of tall decorative bushes… which began to madly rustle. A vicious gurgling sound came from them as the rustling intensified.

“Oh my God…” I nervously mumbled.

A long, thin, almost skeletal arm with disgustingly pinkish, raw-looking flesh stretched out from the foliage, trembling grotesquely. The clawed hand with unnaturally long, bony fingers scratched the ground it reached for. My instincts once again urged me to run, but the sight of this… this “thing” froze me in place. Whether it was from fear, amazement, or diabolical concoction of the two, I simply couldn’t move. My body quaked as the rest of the creature surfaced from the hiding spot. The darkness wouldn’t let me make out the specific details of its appearance, but it did give me a disturbing enough idea of what I was dealing with. It was a tall humanoid figure with a body lanky to the point of deformity. Its bony shoulders stretched up to the midway point of its neck. Its legs seemed like they could snap at any moment. Its chest was sunken in, the bones almost emerging from the thin layer of flesh. How this being was even able to stand and walk was beyond my comprehension, but it was doing just that. Much to my terror, its movements were as hideously otherworldly as could be: erratic, twitchy, stiff shambling that looked anything but human.

Then, in a split-second, its neck twisted toward me, giving me a clear view of its wretched face. The features were deformed and rotten. The eye sockets lacked the eyes; two chillingly dark voids bereft of any emotion. The mouth was stretched out to the point where the skin was tearing at either sides. Black bile pooled from its open mouth. It shambled towards me slowly for a moment, making me finally snap out of the spell and walk backwards a bit. It stayed like that for a few seconds: me walking backwards while cautiously keeping my eyes on the creature’s steady approach. I started walking faster, facing away and looking back every few seconds to make sure it wasn’t closing in.

Its footsteps grew closer. The sounds became rapid. I looked back in a flash to see the being closing in on me. It was no longer shambling. It wasn’t even walking at a brisk pace. It was sprinting, with its erratic and unnatural movements more disconcerting than ever. My heart raced. My palms sweat. My legs did their work. I raced away from the being in a terrified sprint of my own.

The park was a canvas covered in black paint. The few lights Travis had left on in select spots had all been switched off. Decorative buildings, shops, and restaurants were now caverns. I did have a flashlight with me, but right now, in my mad dash away from the being, the last thing on my mind was to use it. My mind was singularly focused on getting away… which was proving to be more difficult a task than previously thought.

For such a weak-looking creature, it could really keep pace. No matter how fast my movement was, it managed to stay right behind me.

I ran down Main Street USA, my path a direct beeline to Cinderella castle. From there, I planned to make a sharp left turn straight into Adventureland. My mind was already cooking up a great escape plan. Adventureland was home to the famous Jungle Cruise attraction. If I could get out of sight for just one second, I would have a good chance to dive into the water and hide under the queue area. It would be perfect, as long as the creature didn’t spot me making my escape.

The stakes were high; my life was on the line. It would be tiring, but I knew I had to be faster. I put everything I had into it. Every last ounce of energy in me went straight to my legs. I ran at speeds I had never reached before in my life, the gap between me and the creature increasing with every passing second. Sadly… I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. Not overweight, but definitely not in the kind of shape desirable for a life or death situation. Nevertheless, I was doing exactly what needed to be done.

The creature screeched savagely as I darted out of sight into Adventureland. I picked up the pace as its distant footsteps seemed to be coming closer at an even faster rate.

Catching sight of the entrance to the Jungle Cruise made me speed up even more. It was the best, and probably only, chance of staying alive. I ran inside, darted through the queue as fast as I could, and jumped into the water without a second thought. I swam underneath the queue line as planned and grabbed on to one of the large wooden poles holding the attraction’s building up over the water. Now… waiting. I closed my eyes and held my breath, my ears perceiving the creature’s frenzied footsteps approaching the ride building.

I tensely looked up when the footsteps started to come from directly above me. The creature had arrived. I could hear it lowly hissing and sniffing. It knew I was here. It just didn’t know where exactly and I was going to keep it that way. The game was cat and mouse. Under no circumstances was I going to let this thing catch me…

The footsteps went further away until the creature was standing at the very edge of the loading docks. My eyes caught a chilling glimpse of its bone-like fingers stretching down to swat at the water in an apparent search for its prey. The hand movements got more impatient, signaling its owner’s frustration.

Just leave already…

Whether the creature had the ability to read thoughts was a question I couldn’t answer. Its actions did raise suspicion on that matter though. Both its hands grabbed on to the loading dock’s edge and its shadow let me know just what it was about to do: take a peek under the queue area straight into my hiding spot.

Oh, hell…

Without even thinking, I took a deep, but silent, breath and allowed myself to drift under the waterline. My figure was engulfed by the darkness of the deep water and remained there… motionless. I made sure of it. I knew so much as the slightest movement could give me away and put the creature on the attack once more. There was one problem however…

I was quickly running out of breath.

My head was starting to spin. My eyes were going backwards into my skull. My lungs cried out for air. These things persisted to the point where I simply couldn’t bear with it any longer. I let my head surface and gasped for air, quickly looking in front of me as soon as my lungs were satisfied. Much to my repressed joy, the creature was gone. I could still hear its movements, but they were getting distant instead of approaching. It didn’t appear to be in the queue building any more from what I could hear. From the sound of it, it seemed to be heading further into Adventureland in direction of New Orleans Square. If that was the case then I’d have the perfect chance to get out of the water, quietly sneak in the opposite direction, and find a good hiding place while the creature searched for me elsewhere.

Okay… you can do this. So far so good.

My inner voice was my only friend and greatest encourager. I had no choice but to heed its words, slowly swimming out from under the queue building and grabbing on to the wooden ledge of the loading dock. I cautiously raised my head a bit to take a steady peek of my surroundings.

No visual sign of the creature. I could still hear the noises it made (hissing, growling, grunting) in the distance, but no sign of it actually being close to my position. It was the perfect opportunity to bolt. I lifted myself up to the dock, placing my chest on it, and raised one of my legs as well. I was about to lift up my other leg, but… I couldn’t.


Something grabbed my foot and gave me a jolting tug back, almost forcing me to let go of the ledge. Panic set in immediately. The leg I’d already raised up to the ledge fell back into the water as I madly flailed in place, trying to get loose of whatever had seized me. I kicked the water with my free leg. Nothing happened. I squirmed and shook as manically as I could. Nothing.

Suddenly, the force pulled on my leg with full strength. My hands painfully scraped the wood as I was violently pulled back into the water with a loud splash. I swam back to the surface and gasped for air before trying to grab hold of the ledge again. Unfortunately for me, this unidentified entity wasn’t finished with me. I was pulled under the waterline once again, both my legs being held together and making it impossible for me to escape. Panic intensifying, I shut my eyes and held my breath. Whatever this new entity was, I didn’t want to lay eyes on it.

Except… I had no choice. Once my head was above the waterline again, I felt two pairs of fingers set themselves on both my eyes… while my legs remained held in place.

There’s two of them?!

The fingers on my eyelids pushed in opposite directions, forcing the eyes open… to the sight of the deformed, skeletal creature shambling toward the edge of the dock. Apparently, the sounds of commotion had drawn it back to my position and now… my cover was blown.

The unexpected, and unwelcome, sight forced a piercing shriek of pure, unadulterated terror out of me. I began wildly thrashing around like a patient at a mental asylum, fearful desperation now risen to an unbearable degree. This time, it actually worked. I felt my legs go loose and the fingers removed from my pressured eyelids. Unfortunately… it was too late. Before I knew it, the bony creature ran and pounced into the water with its arms stretched out towards me and the claws seemingly aimed at my neck.

In a gut response, I speedily dove under the water and miraculously avoided the creature’s lunge. It splashed down a few feet behind me and began thrashing around to the symphony of its own frenzied grunts and hisses. I didn’t even look back. I couldn’t; it would be a waste of the few precious seconds I had to escape with my life. I swam away. I swam as fast as I possibly could and latched on to the loading dock’s edge for the second time. Raising both legs to the dock at record speed, I got out just in time to avoid the creature’s second grab at me. It’s claws missed my leg by that much; I actually felt the wind from its swipe. As the creature made quick, spastic movements to get up to my level, I wasted no time in making a run for dear life. I cleared the queue and was out of Adventureland before I even knew it.

The creature’s frustrated, ear-piercing screams became more distant as I ran into Discoveryland and dove into a thick thicket of bushes, catching my breath from the sprint and giving myself a chance to regain my energy for what would be a full night of running and hiding… if I didn’t get… killed… that is…

The thought alone brought me closer to breaking down into a quivering pile of anxiety-stricken uselessness. I hadn’t lived a full life. Not even close. I didn’t want to die now… especially not like this. All alone… terrified… with no one to turn to… pursued by a threat I didn’t understand… mercilessly slaughtered by demonic beings.

You can do this…. you’re going to make it… don’t give up…
You aren’t going to die like this…

As much as I wanted to believe my inner voice’s motivational words, it was too tough a task. I wanted nothing more than to make it out of this alive and never return, but what I had just been through made me realize just how hard that was going to be. I was under constant surveillance by these… things. The bony demon was visible and could be avoided if I sharpened my senses to the necessary degree. But invisible entities that seized me in the water? I had a sick feeling in my stomach telling me there were others like them all throughout the park.

They were probably watching me right now as I lay hidden in the thick brush…


The skeletal demon was back, madly shambling around close to my position. I backed up against the wall, not daring to create a crack in the bush for a quick peek. This time, it wasn’t making any sounds other than footsteps. It was entirely silent, which made its presence all the more unnerving. Once the footsteps were in close proximity, passing by directly in front of the thicket I hid in, I decided to take no chances. I held my breath, the sound of my breathing being the only one I was producing.

Eventually, the sounds of its feet subsided, becoming more faint as they seemed to head back in the direction of Adventureland. Curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to take a quick look through the bush. I slowly stretched out both hands and silently pushed open a clearing on the foliage.

Nobody. Not a sign of life nearby. I couldn’t even hear the creature’s footsteps anymore. Until…

The bushes right next to me rustled, catching my attention and causing me to run out in a dash. A low giggle came from them as well, something which was anything but charming. And then… the footsteps again.

I quickly turned to the direction the sound came from and saw… something. It wasn’t the skeletal demon. It was something else: a man. Or at least it looked like a man.. except it had no eye sockets, hair, clothes, or facial features in general… with the exception of a bloody mouth with the lips and the skin around it nothing more than a shredded mess exposing the jagged teeth and rotten gums. This new entity occupied the space right in front of the Discoveryland entrance. It just stood there… silently. Staring me down as if challenging me.

Footsteps. Rapid footsteps coming from behind me.

I turned in place and saw… her. A woman in a white dress sprinting straight for me. Except this was no ordinary woman. It was one of… them. Her skin was gray and wrinkled. Her eyes were pupil-less. Just two white, emotionless orbs held in place by the sockets. There were no eyebrows above them. Her teeth? There weren’t any. Her mouth was a stiff wide grin, showing off the ghastly toothless wasteland that was the inside.

Not more than a couple of seconds passed before I was running for my life yet again. Thankfully, this female entity wasn’t too fast. I found it easy to outrun her. Unfortunately…

The eyeless, silent entity appeared in front of me. Just like that, out of thin air. I looked back to make sure I’d lost the woman and found myself staring the eyeless creature in the face. It grabbed on to me and threw me to the ground, a low hiss escaping through its jagged teeth. The impact with the pavement scraped my arm, drawing a small amount of blood. I scrambled to get away and found myself leaving the creature to eat my dust. My heart pounding my chest cavity with full force, I ran into Fantasyland and looked behind me. The eyeless demon was gone, but the rapidly approaching footsteps of the woman let me know I was still in trouble.

Unfortunately for me, there were no bushes nearby. I couldn’t just jump into a thicket this time around. I would have to go into one of the attractions. Even more unfortunate… the closest one right now… as in right beside me… was “It’s a Small World.”

No choice… she’s getting closer…

I took a deep breath, gathering up the courage, and sprinted over the bridge straight into the entrance. Wasting no precious time, I ran down the stairs and went right into the darkened attraction on foot.

My back was placed against a wall inside the attraction, my ears paying careful attention to the female demon’s sounds. I could hear her grunting and running around out there. If she was searching for me, she was out of luck. Under no circumstances would I leave my hiding spot.

I crouch-walked deeper into the attraction, paying close attention to my surroundings. My deeply unsettling surroundings. The overwhelming silence was an entity on its own. The Small World dolls almost seemed to surround me and gaze at every step I took. Their lifeless eyes stared off in aimless directions. Some had their mouths wide open as if screaming in terror.

I knew I was doing just that deep down inside.

After a few minutes of sneaking through the attraction, I decided to take a little rest. I sat down against a wall and shut my eyes momentarily.

How will I make it through this? I’ve been attacked by 5 of these things already. How many more could there possibly be? If I’m lucky, the answer is “none.” But judging from my situation, I’d say I’m not very lucky. And if I’m not… I probably won’t make it to sunrise. Not alive and well. How did I get myself into this mess? Why did it have to be me? What did I do to des…

/It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…/

Oh no…

/It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears, there’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware it’s a small world after all/

The animatronics began to move on their own. The attraction remained in total darkness, but the music began to play.

/It’s a small world after all…/

The voices were a cacophony of madness. Some were normal. Some were in reverse. Others sounded distorted beyond belief. The one thing they had in common: they were all slowed down to ominous effect. I looked around to see… all the animatronic dolls had turned their heads and fixed their dead eyes on me.

“It’s a small world after all,” they sang as a demonic cackling sound joined the unholy combination and looped endlessly.

The terror within pushed me to run. I suspected they couldn’t hurt me, but the sound would surely attract the physically visible demons hunting me down. I ran along the sides of the attraction’s river… when something grabbed my arm and twisted it, dropping me to the ground. I was shoved into the water and pushed in face-first. They were already here…

I scrambled to regain my footing and got out of the river only to find myself face to face with a group of cackling dolls staring directly into my eyes as the others pressed on with their warped, depraved singing.

I trembled in place. My legs gave out for a moment. I was now on my knees. I looked around me as the maddeningly distorted sounds incessantly pierced my eardrums and pushed me to the brink of insanity. The Small World I knew from my childhood was a calm boat ride through a fantasy world brimming with saccharine sentimentality. This Small World was instead a horrifying exercise in frightening flustering madness.

“Stop it!!” I painfully screamed, my mind breaking “Stop it!!!”

No matter where I ran or where I looked, I felt stalked. Each and every one of these animatronics was now under the control of evil spirits keeping watchful eyes on me without a second wasted. The thought alone was causing my mind to stop working properly. I became increasingly disoriented by the insanity surrounding me.

However, my eye-sight remained perfectly functional. And what I saw made things even worse. On the other end of the room were the skeletal demon and the female both moving around and searching the area. My defensive instincts kicked in and I was hard on my heels. I looked around and saw the door to a supply closet just out of sight, behind a large pillar covered with those wretched cackling dolls. I ran for the door and was pleasantly surprised to find it was open.

“Y-y-you’re gonna make it,” I said to myself, shakily chuckling. “T-t- they’re not going to find you h-here…”

Except they already had…

A single hand grabbed my shoulder, getting a horrified scream out of me and causing me to start blindly swatting around.

“No!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Leave me alone!!”

The hand joined another as both grabbed my arms, turned me around, clutched the back of my head, and smashed me face-first against the wall. My vision blurred, I looked up as the single light bulb on the room’s roof lit up… showing me who had just assaulted me: the female demon. How she got in the room was a question I couldn’t answer. She looked over me, her toothless grin on full display, and stomped her foot down on my face. From there… silence.

Chaotic cackling. Cartoony voices. Foreboding music. Running water.

All these sounds joined together within my ears as I slowly came out of unconsciousness to find myself… in a log running down a river with cartoon animal animatronics all around me.

“W-what?” I muttered before realizing I had been locked down in a log on the darkened Splash Mountain. “How?”

How I got to be in this position was the least of my worries now. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well. A feeling that was hastily confirmed as soon as I saw what awaited me at the top of the climb for the ride’s final drop. A slobbering hunch-backed creature stood on the right side of the lift hill’s top, incoherently mumbling to itself while moving around in an unnatural manner and menacingly staring down at me.

My mind was no longer working correctly at this point. All I wanted was to get out, no matter the cost. I grabbed the safety harness pressed down on my lap and began to push up on it. I wanted out of the log. I didn’t care what I would do afterward… I just wanted out. I pushed up on it violently while grunting and thrashing around in my seat. When I’d reached the top of the hill and began to bowl over for the drop… the harness snapped open on its own. But by then… it was too late. I went over the drop without anything to hold me down and was promptly launched out of the log. An unseen force pushed me through the air and higher up, making the fall twice as hard. I landed on the the bridge in front of the attraction… legs-first. Both of them were painfully snapped out of place on impact, rendering me a groaning, broken mess. I clutched at them, which only worsened the searing pain, and screamed in response.

The pain was so severe I actually began sobbing pathetically, feeling out of breath from the constant gasps.

Then… there they were.

Standing at the end of the bridge were the 5 demons who had made themselves physically known throughout the entire ordeal. My hunters. My oppressors… all grouped together.

“What do you want with me?!” I furiously screamed as fear mixed with anger inside me. The scream descended into more pathetic tears as the pain in my legs slowly got worse.

None of them responded in words, but the skeletal demon began shambling towards me. I tried to crawl away, but it was no use. It only served to further intensify the pain. The bony monstrosity fell on its knees and began crawling slitheringly towards me, its pitch black eyes fixed on me and its facial expressions serious. Once it was a few inches away from my face, it grimly smiled. Then… it was over. The creature lunged at my throat, putting and end to my nightmare once and for all.


Yes, my friend. I died that night. So why I am still talking? Well… let’s just say I have a new group of friends. The same beings who relentlessly hunted me down that night I now call friends.

I died, but I didn’t leave. As a matter of fact… I could be right behind you as of this moment.

Just a little joke. You’re alone. Well… to my knowledge at least. Some of my kind could be lurking in your humble abode without you even realizing it. As for me, I’ve made a nice home in the place of my death: “the happiest place on earth” itself. Just remember this: next time you pay a fun visit to this park… I could be participating in your vacation photos. And who knows? Me and my… friends… we might just pay you a visit once you leave…

Just… a thought.

Credit: JG Cross

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The Montford Experiment

October 8, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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My name is Jim Hutchison. Most people call me Hutch, even in my professional life. My family-owned business is as a concrete contractor, and we perform work for a variety of private and federal clients. One such client is the Texas State Department of Corrections. It was work at one of their detention centers that got me interested in volunteering at a facility.

About five years back, we were installing a parking lot at the Montford Adult Correctional Institute in Lubbock. It is also known by its more appropriate name, the Montford Psychiatric Unit, as all of the inmates have been diagnosed with some type of mental disorder or other. As my men were doing the preparation, concrete placement, and finishing over a number of weeks, I used to watch people walking in and out of the front doors of the facility. It was depressing.

Always the same scene. There would be inmates in orange and white striped jumpsuits – trustees – outside the doors sweeping the front steps and picking up trash: cigarette butts, gum wrappers, etc. But mostly sweeping, always sweeping. All day long. Must have been the cleanest set of stairs in all of Texas. I supposed that it was a treat for them, though. After exhibiting good behavior for a while, they were actually allowed outside the unit. I have seen the conditions inside, and boy, I would not want to be locked up in there for too long.

Still, the looks on their faces. Blank stares, slack jaws, sweating in the one hundred degree sun. As I said, very depressing.

I had a lot of experience with mental disorders, being diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and being a recovering alcoholic. I had found help and comfort through proper medical care and support groups, and I wished that there were some way I could pass that on to these poor men. Then, one day, I discovered how I could.

The guards at the front desk came to know me and some of my supervisory crew. They didn’t mind if we occasionally came inside the lobby to get out of the summer sun and use the rest rooms or buy soda from one of the machines in the waiting room. I was sitting in a chair one day, holding a cold bottle of Big Red to my forehead, when I overheard two women talking nearby. They were well dressed and obviously not there as visitors. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but the few words I heard caught my attention. Apparently, they were volunteers at the prison, “bringing the Word of the Lord” to the inmates confined inside. I told them how much I admired their work, and how I had a desire to help in a similar way. And so, they suggested that I apply for a position as a pastoral counselor in the unit.

Long story short, I did just that. I had to go through some training – what I could and could not bring into the facility, what I could and could not say to the inmates (never share personal information or build friendships), and how to act when inside general population walking and talking amongst the convicts. It was all pretty much common sense.

For the first eight weeks or so, I had to be escorted in and out of the unit proper. I would arrive, place my boots, keys, wallet, and such on a conveyor belt, turn over my briefcase for inspection, and walk through a metal detector. Then one of the guards at the entrance to general population would call up to the counselors’ office and someone would come down to get me. During the eight weeks, I was fingerprinted, interviewed, and a federal background check was run on me. Eventually, I was given a badge of my own and no longer needed an escort.

I learned many things in my first few months of volunteering. Bibles were like currency to the inmates (reading material to overcome boredom). Pencils were not allowed in the cellblocks, so the men loved meeting with me to write journals. They spent most of their time doodling ideas for tattoos. The really sick ones – the “mentals,” as the guards cruelly referred to them – were not allowed into general pop and looked forward to my visits. Most of all, I learned how easy it was to get in and out of the prison. Not that I would ever have done it but I marveled at the fact that, given the right inclination, a body could make a mint smuggling in cigarettes or booze stuffed into their socks.

I followed the same ritual every evening that I visited. I would park in the lot, walk past the trustees who swept the front steps (wow, did they ever stink), and enter the facility. The guards got to know me and grew comfortable with my visits. They began by waving me through the detector without having to remove my boots or open my briefcase, and eventually started letting me avoid the security check altogether.

Next, I was allowed to bypass the desk and go directly behind to a filing cabinet, where I could retrieve my badge – I wasn’t permitted to take it outside the prison. Then I’d get buzzed through an unremarkable metal door and walk down a long, unadorned hallway. At the end of the hall was where the genuine security measures began.

The hallway terminated at another door, this one made of double layers of thick, cloudy bulletproof glass supported within a frame of four-inch by four-inch square steel tubes. I would approach and stand under a camera mounted above the door, lifting both my face and the badge toward the camera in order for the guards inside to verify my identity. Once done, the door would slide open, allowing me to step inside an “airlock,” of sorts. Then the door would slide shut behind me.

The compartment was a triangular room with three doors, all similar, and a window set into the side. The guards in control of the doors sat behind the window, and would control the doors, opening only one at a time. I came to call them “doors number one, two, and three,” sort of like the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” I always entered through door number one, and then was allowed to pass through door number two into the prison’s general population. From the start, I would always gaze at door number three and wonder what was behind it, as it was the only door with darkened glass. Since no more than one door was ever open at a time, I never got a peek inside. During my orientation, I was told that the prison’s infirmary was back there.

When door number two opened, the stench was overpowering. No matter how many times you would enter the block, you never did get used to it. Mostly, it was the reek of urine, but was accompanied by an underlying sweet citrus smell, as the result of the cleaning fluid that they ineffectively used to mop down the halls. Inmates ambled up and down the halls, always giving you the once-over with their eyes. Occasionally, they would lock eyes with you and try to stare you down. During orientation, we were told never to look away – to stare them down as you would a stray dog. Looking away would be a sign of weakness.

It may seem cruel, but you had to keep them beat down. You had to constantly remind them that you were in charge, that they were nothing. Anything less could lead to unrest and rebellion, and you couldn’t have that.

The “mentals” were up on the ninth floor. The elevators, like the doorways, were controlled by the guards and monitored by cameras. I would press the single wall button, and eventually the doors would open. I’d step inside, look at the camera, and speak my destination into the camera microphone. Sometimes, there would be an inmate or two in the elevator. I never stood with my back to them. I would always stand facing them, my back to the door, staring them down, and for the most part, they would lower their eyes to the floor and try not to look at me. I was instructed never to enter an elevator if it was occupied by an inmate that intimidated me, but I never backed down. At first, I acted brave because I was unsettled but didn’t want to show it. After a while, I felt sympathy for the men more so than fear of them.

The ninth floor was divided up into five “pods,” each containing five double-occupancy cells. My habit was to rotate which pod I would visit on a daily basis, taking the weekends off. Even though I was educated not to make friends with the prisoners, I have to admit that I looked forward to the visits as much as they did. Sometimes heavily medicated, and by far the calmest group of men in the facility, they were (save for a few odd ducks) among the nicest people I’d ever met.

So it was day after day, week after week, month after month that I would follow the same routine. There were occasional variances, on some days due to fights or unrest among the inmates in general population, but one thing never changed. Every day as I entered the block, I would look over at door number three and wonder what lay behind it. I asked a few times, and was always told “the infirmary,” and after a while stopped asking for fear that someone might become suspicious about why I cared so much. Truth was, I’m just a curious person. Once, I even asked another volunteer if there was a chance that I could get a tour of the infirmary – perhaps visit the men back there – but was told (with great firmness) that my request would be impossible to fulfill, and that I should let the issue drop. I could almost hear the implied “or else.” That just piqued my curiosity even more.

My interest grew and grew until I one day decided that I was going to visit the “infirmary” one way or another. Although my decision was made on a Tuesday, I didn’t act immediately. I became more attentive to which guards were working on each day and at each time. Certain ones were more lax, or friendlier. It took two weeks of studying them, and building my confidence, until I decided that it was time to act.

Exactly two weeks and one day from the Tuesday that I made my decision, I finally got up the courage to say, “I’m visiting the infirmary today.” In my mind, I thought, let’s see what’s behind door number three, Monty!

The guard never even batted an eye. “Alright Hutch. Have fun,” he said, twinkling his fingers as his eyes dropped back to the video screens in front of him.

That easily, the door slid open. Boy, if the stench in general pop was bad, the odor wafting through door number three must have been quite literally a hundred times worse. In the hot Texas sun, and with all of the turkey vultures, road kill never lasted very long in Lubbock. Every once and a while, though, you’d come across a “fresh” one. That’s the closest thing I could think of to describe the smell behind door number three. It was as if you picked up a day-old dead armadillo, buried your nose in its crushed belly, and took a deep breath. Well, what I imagine it would smell like. I had never actually done that. Definitely the smell of rotting meat and gangrene, though.

The doors slid shut and another long hall was revealed. Dimly lit, with flickering fluorescents, it was like something straight out of a horror movie. I soon found out that was an extremely appropriate description. Another door at the end of the hall hung loosely from its frame, allowing light to leak out around it. I could hear alternating moaning, crying, and the worst – screaming coming from behind the door. I could have… should have turned around and headed back for the exit, but I had gotten too far. The only way to go was forward. Forward and through that door.

Although I knew it would seem suspicious, I opened the door slowly and stuck my head around the corner. The best way to seem as if you belong somewhere is to stride right in with confidence, but I couldn’t. I was afraid of what might be behind the door. Heck, I thought, it most likely was just a prison hospital. Moaning, crying, screaming – all normal noises for men in pain.

It was most definitely not a normal hospital ward.

There were at least a dozen men strapped to steel tables. Some naked, some in orange prison jumpsuits, and some wearing the striped suits like the trustees that I passed every day outside on the stairs. All of them had IV’s inserted into their arms, the drip bags containing a fluid that looked like antifreeze. Vitals signs monitors (VSMs) were attached to most of them, and I could see by the displays that two of the men were clearly dead.

There were two men and a woman, all wearing lab coats, standing amongst the tables. One of the male doctors (?) looked up in surprise, and then beckoned over “Come in, come in.” They must have noticed the look of confusion, quickly turning to panic, in my eyes. The female doctor began explaining in a soothing voice.

“Don’t worry. You’re not the first outsider to stumble his way into our infirmary, and I’m certain that you won’t be the last. As you’ve probably already guessed, what we have here is more of a lab than a hospital. We’ve just become so used to calling it the infirmary that it’s simpler that way.” She drew a breath and was about to continue when another of the doctors shouted, “It’s happening!”

Everyone, myself included, turned toward one of the tables that held a dead man. Well, previously held a dead man, to be exact. His VSM had jumped to life, and seemingly so had he. He began twitching, and then thrashing, then he began to scream. I had seen a man being burned alive once, when a barrel of hot tar accidently spilled on him, and the screaming was the same. It was gut wrenching and made my skin crawl. You could hear the pain and sorrow in it.

The female doctor scrambled to inject a syringe of some milky liquid into the man’s IV port and after what seemed like an eternity (although it was probably mere seconds) he calmed, and his breathing steadied itself.

Here’s the thing: They had not been performing CPR on the man when I walked in. There was no defibrillator to be seen. The man was unmistakably dead when I arrived and during the few minutes we had been talking. Yet, here he was alive once again, as if he had spontaneously resurrected. Disturbingly, though, his eyes were still clouded over as if he had cataracts. An uneasy and sick feeling crept its way into my belly. The doctors had not told me anything yet, but on some level, I already knew what was happening – or at least part of it.

I was incredulous. “Wha- what’s going on?”

So, while two of the doctors tended to the resurrected man, the third explained the experiment to me.

“You see, we were tasked to find out whether or not so called ‘evil’ men have souls or not,” he began. “Of course, I personally do not think that there is any such thing as true evil, but I do wonder if these malcontents have the same sort of spiritual makeup as normal people. After all, why do they do what they do?

“In 1907, a Haverhill, Massachusetts, doctor by the name of Duncan MacDougall managed, apparently overcoming any ethical reservations over human experimentation, to put six dying people on a bed equipped with sensitive springs, and claimed to have observed a sudden loss of weight – about three quarters of an ounce – at the exact moment of their death. Having reasoned that such loss could not be explained by bowel movements or evaporation, he concluded he must have measured the weight of the soul. A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs didn’t seem to suffer the same sort of loss, therefore they didn’t have souls.

“I’m not implying that these inmates are on the equivalent of dogs, but one must wonder exactly how they compare to normal, healthy human beings. We obviously do not have much control data, but we have recycled these men as much as possible for our research.”

It was there that I stopped him. “Recycled?”

“Oh yes,” he brightened. “We don’t just throw them away. You see, as a pleasing consequence of our intended experiment, we found that we were able to revive our test subjects.”

“Revive them?”

“Yes. Revive, resurrect, bring them back… whatever you wish to call it. This way, we are able to take measurements and observe through a variety of different conditions. It’s quite ingenious.”

I really did not know what to say at that point. To question who authorized the experiment, what the ramifications were, how it worked. So I asked the first question that popped into my head.

“So, do they have souls?”

He removed a pencil from his breast pocket and tapped the side of his head, as if thinking it over. “You know, I’m quite certain that they do. As I said, we lack enough data to use as a control. However, it seems that each time we bring them back, they lose a little until – it seems – it’s all gone. After a certain point, we can no longer observe any differences.”

“And how long does that take?”

“Usually four or five cycles.”

I cocked my head, still in disbelief over the casual way he was talking about the atrocities they were committing. “And what happens then?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t follow you.”

“After you’re done with them. What happens to them then?”

“Whoo,” he blew air through pursed lips. “Yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s currently the little ‘snag’ we’ve run into. You see, eventually they just stop dying.”

He must have seen the look on my face.

“I mean, it’s not as if we haven’t tried. We usually put them down in a most humane way. Sedation, paralysis, and eventually with an injection of enough potassium to stop their hearts. Then we revive them and do it again. And again. And again. Each time, it gets a little more difficult to put them down, until… well, until we just can’t do it anymore.”

“What?” I was just about screaming.

“In simpler terms, they are basically incapable of dying. Quite a problem. And they really start to stink,” he said, as if that were the chief problem.

“Can’t you burn them, cremate the bodies?”

It was his turn to look at me in disgust. “Oh, now that would be cruel.”

I held my head in my hands and began to hyperventilate. “So where are they?”

“Well,” he said, “Outside. Sweeping the steps.”

With that, I began to feel lightheaded. What caused me to faint, though, was his next question.

“Mister, um…” he looked at my badge, then into my eyes, “Hutchison, would you consider yourself to be a good person? Do you believe that you have a soul?”

Credit: Kenneth Kohl

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The Reserve

October 7, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Until recently, I had considered the reserve near my home just another quiet, if slightly unnerving, relic of pre-suburban life. With sub-divisions and commercial sectors rising steadily around it, the knot of thick trees, greenery and long, straw-like grass had been cast aside by time; a mottled green and brown fortress among the ever-expanding web of houses and streets.

Nothing about the area seemed inviting. Entirely unkempt, the reserve, which stretched out over a square mile, was visibly overgrown. It was near impossible to make out any detail amongst the trees. As a natural wall, the old branches and predatory vines weaved together on the outskirts to truly reinforce the isolated, island-like nature of this heavily shadowed place.

During my childhood, I remembered that the area had been popular with trekkers and runners. A long tourist trail wound from one corner of the park to the other, providing a nature walk for visitors to what, at the time, was a very tourism-oriented area. The walk would take the best part of an hour, with the trail weaving through patches of woodland and large open areas of tall, pale-coloured grass at the centre of the reserve. Considering the lack of anything truly spectacular about the place, it is no wonder that after several years the local Council abandoned consistent maintenance of the park. They had quoted a lack of public use for the decision, and had then planned to sell the area to commercial developers.

Through my research, I discovered that it was around this time the disappearances started. Although the authorities had abandoned the reserve to the elements, some runners insisted on continuing to use the area. The Council had made no efforts to actually fence off the area, instead choosing to erect several temporary signs at the track entrances indicating the impending sell-off of the land. As such, it was easy enough to simply enter the area. The thick masses of foliage had already begun to press into the path, narrowing the already small trail. It was somewhere along this isolated track that runners begin to vanish. Over the course of six months, 3 different people had entered into one end of the path, never to emerge from the other.

Police invested significant resources on all three occasions, searching the reserve with dozens of volunteers, but no bodies were ever discovered. This deepening mystery had an immediate ripple effect, with the company expected to purchase and make use of the reserve withdrawing their application. With no other serious offers, the Council then left the land to itself, listing it officially as a ‘nature reserve’. To my knowledge, they have never again attempted to sell the land.

As the years passed, the local homeless population began slowly migrating into the area. Makeshift shelters and camps sprung up deep into the wilderness during my teenage years. I clearly remember seeing dishevelled, untidy hermits plunging into the, then, entirely overgrown track entrances, as if the woods themselves had reached out for them and consumed them whole. In recent years, the park has been as good as forgotten by the greater society. It still looms over the homes of those families it borders, but to some, having evidence of more untouched nature at their doorstep must be a blessing rather than a curse. But, it is a curse. The whole area is cursed, and it was almost enough to ensure that I never wrote this story down.

You see, I made the mistake of discovering the secret of the reserve. I didn’t even do it intentionally. It started purely by chance, from an unlikely source. One afternoon, several weeks ago, I had planned on walking several miles to a party someone from my college was hosting. I had never been to their house before, so I had punched their address, and my own, into the maps website to check for the fastest route. The program had returned three alternatives, two of which would take me almost two and a half hours. The third option, however, showed as less than one and a half. The blue line on the map worked it’s way from my house the two blocks to the edge of the reserve, then traced the original tourist trail before emerging out the other side, only several streets from my destination. Despite the almost instant apprehension about crossing that place at night, I think I had already decided I would risk it to shave an hour off the trek.

It wasn’t long before I was standing at edge of the green, imposing mass. After checking my phone one last time and wishing, fruitlessly, that it now showed a different path, I plunged into the undergrowth. The sensation of walking on human-constructed ground wasn’t instant, as over time, foliage had even grown over the gravel trail. But soon, the earth hardened, the trees parted, ever so slightly, and the thin, shadowy trail was revealed. After 15 minutes or more of manoeuvring through low-hanging branches, guided by the impressively powerful light on my phone, I pushed through a net of thick vines and shrubbery to emerge at the mouth of the grassed section of the park. The pale blades stretched upward, easily towering over me. Some fell lazily over the path, bending at their middle, but the trail was still defined enough to push onward.

About halfway across the reserve, still engulfed in the imposing grass, I came across by a small clearing. The grass parted to reveal a loosely-circular bare patch, no bigger than a basketball court. I slowly swept my light across the clearing, and at it’s centre, stopped on what appeared to be the silhouette of another person. As my eyes adjusted, I quickly realised that it wasn’t a another human at all, but a grass giant. Long strands of the surrounding grass had been cut, or pulled out, and intricately woven into a human effigy. It was secured in place with a gnarled tree limb which had been embedded in the earth. The figure loomed, standing at least eight feet tall, it’s arms hanging downward almost to the ground below. It’s head was rectangular, featureless, a knot of grass blades rising above the figure’s low, drooping shoulders.

I cautiously approached the bizarre creation, refusing to let my light leave it. As I reached the grass-man, I tentatively reached out to touch it. I’m still not sure why. As my arm extended forward, I heard a rustling directly to my right. I paused, arm outstretched, listening. The sound came again; a clear movement in the grass. For the first time since arriving at the clearing, I shifted my light, as I begun to scan the grass encircling me. As I swept my light to the right it revealed a man, standing quietly at the clearings edge. He wore a large overcoat, and appeared to be covered in dirt and dust. Even with the light shining directly on him, I couldn’t make out any of the details of his face, his long, matted hair hanging down below his chin. The grass beside him rustled, and several more figures emerged, none too dissimilar from the first. I was obviously terrified, but knew almost instantly who they were. I quickly rationalised that they were members of the homeless community in the park, and that I had walked into one of their areas.

As that moment seemed to stretch into eternity, I finally found the courage to act. I ran, diving forward under the overhanging grass figure and towards the opposite side of the clearing. From behind me I heard only a single sound. A male voice, quiet and rough, said ‘they won’t like this’.

I powered forward along the trail, breathing heavily, my light sweeping wildly in the dark. Without ever looking back I made it to the edge of the reserve and emerged triumphant from the trees. I was shaken by the encounter, but refused to let it rule my thoughts. Trying to understand why these hermits had constructed a grass man, or what they used it for, both seemed fruitless thoughts. I had a party to go to and wasn’t going to let any of this ruin my night.

As with most college parties in my town, it was a pretty big let down. I drank to overcome the dullness of the people I spent the night navigating my way around, both physically and socially. I drank too much, it seemed, because on leaving the party somewhere around two in the morning, I had entirely forgotten the encounter earlier in the night. My brain, however, did choose to remember that I had taken the wooded shortcut to the party, and mobilised my feet back in that direction. I shuffled into the trees almost robotically, guided by that inbuilt GPS we all seem to have for home while we can somehow consciously construct little else. The next thing I clearly remember, having apparently already made it back to the clearing, was facing the tall, woven figure again. It dominated my perspective, hunched over in the thin beams of moonlight. I fumbled for my phone in my pocket, having seemingly given up on using my light sometime earlier.

The memories of my previous run-in with the clearing quickly flooded back, and I anxiously glanced at the clearing boundaries, searching for any signs of movement. Almost instantly, I again heard a shuffling noise. A rustling, indistinct. This time I couldn’t exactly tell where it was coming from. I finally pried my phone from my jeans pocket and fumbling, switched on the light. As I raised it forward and revealed the grass figure, the source of the sound became apparently. The effigy lurched, a staccato jerking motion, as it’s arms raised their hanging grass knuckles from the earth. The legs each shuffled slowly forward, each moving as if seen through a strobe light. The branch securing the creature to the ground fell loose to the earth. With the short, sharp movements, the grass man, with arms now stretching onward in my direct, moved closer at a frighteningly fast rate.

I think I screamed, I’m not sure any more, and ran to my right, plunging straight into the tall grass. Sharp blades whipped against my face and hands, causing small cuts, but that was the least of my concerns at the time as I ran on. I felt almost instantly sober, my senses working overtime as I continued to run. I could hear the creaking, shuffling sound of the figure behind me, unsure how far back it was. As if on queue, my foot caught in a tight knot of dead grass, and I tripped forward as the grass in front of me parted. As I regained my balance I quickly became still as another clearing appeared in front of me. Far larger than the previous one. As my light pierced the darkness, dozens of grass figures were spread across the glade. Each of them, almost in unison, turned at the waist, their torsos bending to face me. Their featureless, shapeless heads twisting around to acknowledge my arrival. As I turned to run, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the homeless people from earlier in the night. They were huddled at the other edge of the clearing, kneeling down over what looked like a large pile of loose grass. They raised their heads, and I could feel their gaze upon me.

I dived back into the long grass, ploughing forward blindly through the dense expanse. I could hear the sounds of my pursuer, or pursuers, but they quickly began to fade into the distance. Struggling to breath, my lungs burning in my chest, I reached the tree-line and stumbled back out into the world. I somehow found the strength to continue to run all the way home, bursting inside and securing every door and window in every room within minutes. I collapsed onto my bed, the lights left on, and waited. I’m not sure for what, but it didn’t feel like the events of the night were over. Despite this, the tiredness must have overcome me because I somehow slept. I slept almost the whole following day. When I awoke, it all truly felt like a bad dream. A nightmare more twisted, more real, than any I had experienced before.

I doubted my own thoughts, my fears. It didn’t take long after I awoke to convince myself, through the haze of a fairly heavy hangover, that it all had been some sort of bad waking hallucination. After the amount of alcohol I had consumed, I quickly came to believe that I’d scared myself into jumping at shadows the whole way home. Emerging from bed, I noticed that I still had my shoes on. Dirt was spread through my bed, and my room. I cursed at myself for the stupid mistake, and removed the shoes. Carrying them to the front door, I opened it to place the shoes outside. Sitting on the doorstep was a doll. Well, not exactly a doll. It was a small figure, made from pale, woven grass.

Credit: disque

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A Soft White Glow

October 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I didn’t want us to move, but my parents didn’t give me a say in the matter. My father’s new job paid much better than anything he could have landed within driving distance of our home in the city, and the new company agreed to hire my mother, too. Not only would she have the chance to go back to work for the first time since I’d been born, but the two incomes would afford us the money to buy a house — an actual house, my father stressed — that even came with some land attached. They promised me it would be a welcome change from our apartment in the city. To them, our home was merely a cramped little space where we lived on top of one another, and that we didn’t even own. It rankled them to shell out more and more money every year to an unseen landlord for permission to occupy space, simply because that person had wealth and we did not. It was if we would not be granted the right to exist if we were any poorer than we currently were.

My parents didn’t much care that I liked being in the city. There, I never had to confront my fear of the dark. A light always burned somewhere in the city — the sky by day, the streets by night.

More than anything, it was the lack of light in the countryside that I wasn’t prepared for. Things weren’t so bad in the daytime, when the sunlight shone in the grass and speared between the tree branches to dapple the ground below. Come nightfall, however, our new home and its vicinity became a different world entirely. The darkness in the countryside was absolute. No matter how long you stared into it, your eyes would never adjust. Unless there were a strong moon in the sky, you would be condemned to blindness once the lights went out, and forced to rely on your ears and touch and imagination until the sunrise restored your eyesight.

I fell into the habit of leaving the blinds in my bedroom open at all times, including at night, so that the sunlight could start streaming in as soon as it breached the horizon.

* * *

We had finished with the move in the spring. The dark and seemingly endless nights in the country had me on edge within a week. I looked forward to the summer and its progressively longer days.

I came to learn that it wasn’t the dark itself I was afraid of, not quite. I hated what it did to my senses. Imagined motions — particularly flurries of static like on the screen of a broken television — rushed over my eyes when they remained open in the darkness and found nothing to draw their focus. My ears would pick up sounds that drove me crazy if I couldn’t immediately put a source to them: the creaking of the house as it settled into its foundation, the yowling calls of animals out in the distance, the lonely and sorrowful moans of the wind through the pines. Then there was the problem of my own body, and discovering that no position in bed was comfortable once I started thinking about it.

Mostly it was the feeling of abandonment I couldn’t stomach. Nothing in my life had prepared me for how isolating rural living can be. In the city, you never want for human contact; the streets are never empty, and the public venues always crowded. In our new home, hidden away among large swaths of field and forest, there was nobody around but us. Once my school day ended, I was effectively done with seeing other people. In the evenings I felt like a castaway marooned in the middle of a sea of grass, and at night, that sea seemed to swell and broaden, pulling me even further from the world I knew and loved.

I never could deal with the overwhelming sense of space the surrounding fields gave me. Open air was not something I had ever experienced in the city. I soon discovered I didn’t like it. What did I care about a bunch of grass? Where other kids my age might want to roam the fields and explore, I found I would much rather stay inside, surrounded by the safety of walls and floors and ceilings and the finite. Plus, there were no mosquitoes indoors.

And there was no computer outside to connect me with the friends from back home that I hadn’t yet lost in my great uprooting. I spent fewer hours basking in the sun than in the glow of my monitor, trying to maintain friendships that slowly slipped away as life happened differently to each of us, and brought my friends new excitements that I had no part in to replace our shared memories.

* * *

“You should eat some more,” said my father at the dinner table. “You’ve lost weight these last weeks.”

I tried to put down seconds.

“Try going outside tomorrow, too,” he added. “You’re looking pale.”

“If I have time, sure.”

It was obvious they worried about me — but not enough to reconsider the move.

“Why don’t you call your friends tonight?” my mother suggested. “They’d be glad to hear from you.”

“Yeah. I’ll do that.”

It was easier to tell them what they wanted to hear. I could have mentioned that the silences when I called my friends were now longer than the sentences. Yet somehow it didn’t seem right to let my mother know that my friends and I didn’t have much to talk about anymore.

* * *

In wishing for the change of season, I hadn’t accounted for the heat. We’d always had an air conditioner in our apartment in the city. The new house, however, had no means of cooling down besides opening the windows. I had thought the nights in the springtime were miserable by virtue of their length. I knew nothing of the unpleasantness of summer nights, of simmering sleepless in one’s own sweat no matter how many sheets and layers one shed. Sometimes I caught myself exhaling a low, lonely moan, like I’d heard in the trees.

One summer night, when it was too hot to sleep, I found myself staring through my dark window, wishing the pinholes of starlight above were enough to brighten the earth. They sparkled, winking at me through passing cirrus clouds as if they were teasing me. Some even seemed to descend from the sky, lighting on the fields below. It occurred to me that stars don’t really “fall” like that — despite the fears and warnings of the world’s early civilizations — and I began to wonder whether my mind was playing tricks on me again.

When the fallen stars started to shimmer and flash, I realized what I was actually seeing: fireflies!

I had never glimpsed one before, having only the fakes from movies and television for reference, but I didn’t think there was anything else the lights outside could be. They certainly moved like fireflies, tracing lazy arcs between blades of grass before disappearing into the darkness, and surfacing from the blackness again some distance away. I watched them flit and flicker until I felt tired enough to sleep through the heat.

In the morning they were gone, but the fireflies returned the next night. The soft white glow they trailed through the field’s tall grass gave me a sense of deep comfort, like what children must feel around their night-lights. With each brief flash, I felt as if the fireflies were calling me to play. Few things seemed more fun to me in those moments than chasing the little white motes around. Yet I worried about being eaten alive by the mosquitoes that surely swarmed out there — and about finding my way back to the house in the dark — so I remained indoors.

Inwardly, I was already preparing myself for the season to come, when the fireflies would pass from the field, and into memory and regret. If our abrupt move from the city taught me anything, it was that nothing lasts. It was best to inure myself to it sooner than later.

* * *

The cold season struck early that year, snowing in mid-October before the trees had the chance to drop their leaves. They couldn’t bear the extra burden, and their limbs snapped beneath the loads they were never meant to carry. Oftentimes they took power lines with them, and we spent several days without electricity. The wreckage outdoors looked to me like the world had ended — in ice rather than fire, answering an old question. I wondered how the fireflies had fared in the unseasonable cold, figuring that few of them had survived.

Imagine my surprise when I peered out my window one night at the tracts of snow, faintly blue beneath the crescent moon, and saw clusters of fireflies glittering over their favorite haunt. At first, the sight left me bewildered — how could cold-blooded insects endure the premature winter’s chill? Then again, I knew nothing of firefly ecology. Perhaps they were hardier bugs than I thought. My confusion soon gave way to joy, for the fireflies’ soft glow filled me with the same warm feelings it always had. Their playful glint seemed to promise all the pleasures I had wished for through the years, and never attained.

A thought arrived, unbidden, as if it came from outside of me: that nothing would make me happier than to stand amidst the procession of fireflies in the field, to let their glow wash over me, to reach out and touch the light I’d craved.

I resolved to venture out into the field once the moon was full. With all the fallen snow to reflect the moonlight, it would be as good as daytime; I could find my way back to the house in it easily. And surely the cold snap would have killed off all the insects out there that wanted to drink my blood.

* * *

Before the end of the month, the night came when the moon shone full like a silver sun. I waited until my parents had gone to sleep. Then I headed downstairs, put on my snowboots and bundled myself in my winter coat, and went outside. The glassy scent of the cold shocked my airways and stung my lungs as I trudged toward the firefly field. The blanketed snow muted every sound, making my footsteps seem yards away, and my breath belong to somebody beside me though I saw it cloud and disperse before my eyes. In the distance, the fireflies rose from the ground like snowfall in reverse. Even through the frigidity of the air, the sight of them warmed me. I picked up my pace.

As I neared, the fireflies drifted away from me like dandelion tufts on a breeze. I thought I had startled them, so I slowed my approach. I crept toward them, planting my every step lightly enough that the thin layer of frost over the snow made no noise as it broke beneath my weight. The fireflies retreated, but less than before. A few cautious steps later, and they hardly moved at all, floating in space as if I were not there. They allowed me to tread into their midst.

Surrounded by the little glowing sparks, I felt a happiness unlike any I had known. I giggled, delirious with pleasure. I was pricked by an urge to hurl myself onto my back and make a snow angel while the fireflies settled on my face. I threw out my arms. Several fireflies drew closer. One landed on my outstretched finger. Delighted, I brought it toward me. How thrilling it would be to see a firefly in the flesh!

It took me a moment to see the thing at the center of the soft white glow. Squinting, I could discern a few of its features. Then, as its image came into focus, I gasped as if I had been struck.

Whatever I held, it was no firefly.

I could not have told you exactly what it was. It resembled a human skull in miniature, ringed in pulsating white flame. It seemed to stare at me — into me — as I regarded it. There was a certain predatory intelligence behind its empty gaze.

My glance averted by instinct, and darted among the other glowing things. Were they the same as the one on my finger? I shook my hand, and the spectral skull drifted away. The rest of them encroached, gradually but deliberately. The low moan I had formerly ascribed to the wind soughed across the snow through the still air.

I heard a crack like a breaking bone, and my heart sank.

For I realized what I had never discovered hiding indoors: it was not a field the glowing creatures had led me to, but a bog.

The ice gave way, and I plunged into the freezing water. My boots dragged me down, dunking my head below the surface. The terrible cold forced the air from my lungs as my muscles began to quake. Above, the white lights bobbed like jellyfish, their outlines undulating in the turbulence.

The blackness under me looked darker than sleep. Small white spheres rose from it like bubbles. They skirted my cheeks, revealing bone grins inside their glow. I started to flail, but I found I could not move one leg — something grasped me by the ankle!

The shining little skulls gathered in the shape of a hand where I felt clutched. It tugged on me, and something like a white human silhouette raised itself from the depths. I thought I could see bones beneath its luminous skin. It brought its face up to mine, restraining my head between its palms. A bottomless loneliness radiated from its empty eyes, devouring, insatiable.

Then, as I fought to break free, it pressed its mouth to mine in a cold, hungry kiss that tasted like everything I had ever lost.

* * *

My parents tell me they found me in the morning, pale and emaciated, lying on the bank of the bog. They said I was shivering and unconscious, and feared I had gone into shock. At the hospital, I was supposedly treated for hypothermia. I remember none of it. The doctors discharged me with a relatively clean bill of health, advising me to pack on a few pounds in the meantime. They claim there’s nothing wrong with me.

But I know better.

I tremble beneath blankets even when the air is warm. I feel no hunger, and steadily drop in weight even if I can manage to eat anything. My skin picks up no color after hours in the sunlight.

It doesn’t matter what I lost, or where, or to what. I have no answer; nobody does. All I know — and all I need to know — is that some precious thing of mine is gone.

And I doubt it will come back to me, even if I knew where to look for it.

Credit: Lex Joy

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I Drove Out to the Desert

September 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was driving out to the desert. The panorama of distant rock, endless sand, and occasional cactus slowly blurring in my peripheral vision. Sparse cloud cover traversed the sky overhead, providing brief interludes of shade over deceptively large patches of the arid wasteland. I found my exit, an unremarkable dirt path most motorists would overlook. It led seemingly to nowhere, out into the emptiness devoid of civilization. To those in the know, however, it was a familiar avenue. The indicators were clear to me as I passed them. First the wooden signs with crude pictures of mountains carved on them, then an outcropping of small boulders with a giant arrow pointing East painted onto it. I turned my four-wheel drive on and took a sharp left past my silent navigators. As I penetrated deeper into the wilderness, my radio began to cut out, its signal fading to static.

In my trunk were the necessities: water, rope, carabiner hooks, chalk, and harness. I had everything I needed to make it up the sheer rock face. After about ten miles, I arrived the base of the towering mesa. It loomed over me and the surrounding terrain. At almost three thousand feet high, it dominated most of the adjacent landscape, its beckoning cliffs and peaks threatening to swallow everything that approached. Even the clouds struggled to graze the roof of my imposing adversary.

All that remained was to locate the starting point of the climbing route. Hundreds, maybe thousands of climbers before me had attempted to conquer Black Mountain. Some were victorious, most gave it an admirable effort. It wasn’t the most difficult climb in the world, but the heat made for a formidable obstacle. Lucky for me, clouds were gathering above, shedding precious shade as I inched closer to the base of the mesa. I spotted the stone circle and stopped my car, stepping out into the elements from my air conditioned haven. A slight breeze carried the dry, stale air over me as I walked to the trunk and equipped my physical burdens. With a loud clank I closed the hatch and ensured my car was locked properly. It was unlikely I would be robbed out here, but safety is key in the desert. As my feet shuffled to the small stone circle, the clinking of my gear echoed slightly against the rock face, reflecting the emptiness of my situation.

I’m glad no one’s here, I thought to myself. I peered down at the circle of rocks, taking in their fake petroglyphs left my previous climbers. Written in chalk, paint, or who knows what, some left them as a simple guide post to the start of the climb, others as a “I was here” type of graffiti. This sort of childish obsession never interested me, but it was interesting to see what images were left. There were even some new ones I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe this route was getting more popular than I expected.

Moving on from the new-age vandalism, I proceeded to the cliff face. In front of me was a large crag, ideal for shimmying up with just my hands. It was a kind start to the climb, and I had a long way to go. For the first leg I hadn’t needed any clips to secure my fall, my hands finding the holds from muscle memory. Eventually, however, after a brief rest on a small cliff, the real climb began. Most beginners stopped here, calling it quits and discarding unnecessary gear. It was frowned upon by most of the community, but there wasn’t much you could do to stop it. I felt a strange pang of anger and resentment against whomever littered this place. This example of nature’s terrible cataclysm was something to be shared and respected, not used as a dumping ground. Up here, far above the cities and streets, the people and traffic, the work and responsibilities, I gazed out to the horizon. Up here, away from all the business of my mother’s estate, I sought peace. Up here, I wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from breaking up with Joel. No friends to harangue or “comfort” me. Just the wild air sweeping across the desert, and some asshole had to ruin it with their garbage.

Fuck it, I said in my head. “FUCK YOU!!!” I screamed to the vast expanse before me. Clouds covered the mesa again, as if cooling me and my temper, the wind cooing against my face. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.

I was suddenly startled by a sharp noise behind me. I quickly turned around to see small rocks falling from above the next leg of the climb. I quickly scanned the area for signs of life, or worse, disintegration. I’ve known climbers to be attacked by mountain goats, coyotes, stray bee hives, even mountain lions, but the number one killer is unstable rock formations. Time wears away at everything, even the monolith I was perched upon. One loose hold and you plummet to your death with little to no warning. Determined to conquer the route, I pressed on. I’m not going to die like that, I promised in my head.

I saw no trace of animal life nearby, so I pressed on. The climb was slow compared to my start. Fewer obvious places for me to make a safe grip meant for more and more clips to be driven into the rock face. Thankfully, there were well-established directions evidenced from previous climbers. After an hour of strenuous ascending, I could tell I was reaching the next flat portion and rest stop. My hands, calloused and chalky, dug into the harsh rock, and with my weakening strength I lifted myself ever upward. Finally, as the sun began to creepy back out from the clouds, I found the cliff edge. Then, I found bones.

Bleached from the sun but in sickly arrangement, a grotesque mixture of human and animal skeletons were splayed out in front of me. Bile began to rise in my throat. Determined to refrain from further dehydrating myself, I held the vomit down. I’m no forensic technician, but I could identify human, lion, and coyote skulls. Sinew still hung from some of the bones, nearby tracks indicated it was all dragged from some other location on the mesa. Whatever did this had killed recently, and had gathered it all together in a macabre spectacle, a trophy to its ability, a warning to the world.

I looked up the trail to the next ascent, the last leg of the climb until my journey was over. I looked to the left to an old goat trail that curves along the face of the mesa, where the dirt tracks had come from. For anyone finishing the climb, it was a simple descent back the way you came to get back down. It was impossible to climb three thousand feet and make it back down in time to return home the same day. This may be my last time, but I can make sure others don’t perish here in the future, I decided. I downed more water, held a moment of silence for the slaughtered, and began travelling along the goat path.

Mountain goats can walk incredible edges. We humans have to make do with shuffling carefully and placing fail-safes so we don’t fall to our deaths. I did what any experienced tracker would do, I followed the signs of life. To my dismay, they were mostly omens of death; more bones discarded here or there, droppings, tufts of fur and horn, teeth from human and beast alike. I made my way horizontally across the mesa for a grueling amount of time, until suddenly my hand met with too little friction. The fingers slipped abruptly from the hold, hanging uselessly on my side and bringing my body swinging. All at once an entire half of my body was dangling in the hot air, my view forced to gaze at the treacherous depths below. Dust, dirt, and rocks fell before me in a slow tumble, bouncing and shattering off the cliffs. I had trained for this and reminded myself, This is not how I die. Gaining my second wind, I swung back to face the wall and found a stronger hold. I glanced at my hand, finding a black substance coating my fingers. Resolved to make it to a rest stop and study the peculiar pigment, I continued on. Within fifteen minutes, I had found what I was searching for. A short drop into a flat patch of rock would be my salvation. I steadied myself again, slowly and carefully moving into position to properly descend. First I set my legs, pointing my heels back to the wide world. I set my right hand in a good crag. Finally, I curled by left hand onto a hold. I counted down in my head and swung slightly out with each number, Three….two…one-. My hand slips again.

The fall is quick and the injury quicker. My right ankle meets the ground at an unsafe angle, twisting and fracturing, breaking the bones and cutting deep into my body. I gasp for the air that had been forced of my lungs form the impact. Grabbing for my wounded foot, I feel a substance on my hand. At my fury I see more black substance. Furious, I scream in frustration and pain. The scream echoes in to the nearby cave.

A cave? The goats, it’s here! My mind races as I peer over at the foreboding cave leading into the bowels of the mesa. I quickly take out what little I brought with me. I wash off the blood, bandage up what I can with the basic climbers tape I had, and begin limping towards the cavern. My flashlight provide a scant amount of light, but it illuminates at least one mystery.

Coal. The black substance is coal. Native Americans used the coal centuries ago. Mining operations almost began here but they were shut down as being environmentally unstable. I limped further in the body of the mesa, my grunts and footsteps echoing in to the otherwise silent tunnel. As I progressed, I began to make out drawings. In a larger chamber where the outside light had completely faded, I was alone with the glyphs of someone unknown entity. Harsh black outlines in coal were everywhere. On every surface save the ground were depictions of animals, humans, monsters of disgusting scenes of violence and murder. I began to tremble, What have I found? What could do this and not get caught? I began to feel faint, and sat down. I expected to meet with more horrible skeletal remains, but felt only the cool rock on my skin. Whatever lived here was long gone. There was no fire pit, no remains, no droppings, nothing. My vision began to blur, I was bleeding from my wound profusely. The tape was meant to bandage hands, not fix broken bones. I reminded myself why I had come up here. I recalled why I packed so little. I never wanted to come back down.

Was it the mesa scolding me? Chiding me for planning to end my life on its sacred person? I doubt it cared. Nothing in life seemed to care anymore. After drinking the last of my water, I threw the canteen to the darkness ahead. It clanged and made a cacophonous sound reverberate off the hard walls of my makeshift tomb. Resigning myself to fate, I thought on my departed mother, my friends, family, co-workers, even Joel. “Fuck me, I guess.” I stated to the cave. I slumped further down the wall, feeling the pain numb from lack of blood. I closed my eyes and waited for the end.

Seconds later, I jolted awake from the sound of the clanging of my canteen. Accompanying it was the howl, or growl of some unseen force. I was too weak to grab my flashlight, too weak to cry out. I whimpered every so softly, straining to see in the pitch black darkness. I heard it draw closer, cold air sweeping over my body. Oh how I wish I was out in the sun again. Otherworldly footsteps echoed in the chamber, gathering speed as it gained distance on my hapless body. As I felt it stand above me, it roared in what sounded like three voices at once.

It grabbed my injured ankle, once numbed pain resurfacing and tearing through my body. I sobbed with what little strength I had left as it started dragging me towards the outside. As the last vestiges of adrenaline faded from my system, I began to drift off once more, each ping of pain less than the last. My dying thoughts filled with regret and remorse as my assailant ferried me to the horrible death pit where it left the other pitiful skeletons. I knew I would die before I saw light again. As I left from this world I could only muster, I didn’t want to die this way.

Credit: Abysmii

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Red Water

September 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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I was on a business trip about a year ago and I had to drive from Denver to LA. It was a long drive and I was growing tired of the road, so I stopped at the Holiday Inn hotel that was nearby. I walked up to the desk and rung the bell. Just seconds later, a man came out from the back room. “Hello sir, my name is John Shelby,” the man said, “How can I assist you?”

“I’m looking for a room,” I replied, “Are there any available?”

He searched in his computer to see if a room was available. To my luck, there was one more room left. He gave me a key and told me to have a nice night. I asked him to point me toward a vending machine and he did just that. When I walked to the vending machine, craving a bag of chips, I noticed a pool at the end of the hall. A lot of hotels have pools, there’s nothing strange about that. What got me confused was the fact that the water was red, blood red. I purchased my bag of chips and went back to the front desk where the man was still present.

“What’s up with that pool back there?” I asked him.

“What do you mean, sir?” He asked, a confused look grown upon his face.

“The water is red,” I said, “Why is it red?”

He took off his glasses and took a deep breath. “Well it’s kind of a freaky story,” he said, “Years ago, a woman was found brutally murdered in that pool and the water was contaminated with her blood.”

“Are you telling me that her blood is still in there?”

“No, no, of course not,” he said, “The water was removed and the pool was closed down. But many people say they see the pool filled with red water.” He put his glasses back on. “Personally, I had never seen it, but I think this hotel likes to play tricks with your mind.”

“So this place is haunted then?” He shook his head yes. I was shocked, not really scared, but just surprised because I had never had an experience like that before.

I went up to my room, took a well needed hot shower and I lay in bed. I couldn’t sleep for some reason, my mind was so curious and it had so many questions that needed answered. I got out of bed, put on a shirt and I walked out into the hallway. I walked down the hall and headed toward the pool. It was quiet out in the halls, I guess nobody else had trouble sleeping. I was laughing at myself when I realized I was in my underwear, so it was a good thing that nobody was out in the halls at that time. I did believe that I saw a woman cross from one room to the other. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I just figured it was another guest.

When I reached the floor of the pool, I was able to see the blood red water even from way down the hall. I passed the front desk, nobody was there. I then passed the vending machine and I stopped directly in front of the door that would lead to the pool. I tried the door, but it was locked. I don’t think I would’ve gone in even if it wasn’t. I looked through the large window that showed the blood contaminated pool. It looked as if the pool had been closed for a long time. I looked behind me, down the hall to the elevator. I was imagining a scene from “The Shining” when the stream of blood came shooting out of the elevator. I had a feeling that I would see something similar to that, but I didn’t. Instead, I saw a woman, standing at the edge of the pool and looking as if she was about ready to jump in. She was completely nude, not a single piece of clothing on her body. When she snapped her head my way, I jumped back in fear and I walked back to my room as fast as I could, taking the stairs next to the vending machine instead of the elevator.

Hours later, I woke up to my alarm going off. I took a shower, threw on some clothes and I walked down to the first floor for breakfast. After breakfast, I was ready to check out and get back on the road. I decided to take one last look at the pool before I leave. I walked slowly pass the front desk, pass the vending machine and to the pool. I was still freaked out by what happened the night before as I looked through the window. I was surprised to see that the pool was empty. There was no red water and there was no woman.

I walked back to the front desk where a woman was working. “Is John Shelby available?” I asked.

She gave me a confused look. “Excuse me?” She said.

“John Shelby,” I repeated. “He was working here last night.”

“John Shelby died back in 1982,” she said. “He killed himself after murdering a woman, right there in that pool.” She laughed. “Is this a joke, sir?”

“Yeah,” I said, forcing out a laugh. “It was just a joke.” I returned my key and I left the building. I got back on the road, never forgetting about what had happened that night in that hotel.

Credit: MurderHouze

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