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Ohran’s Eye

May 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Legends. Such strange yet fascinating things they are. These intricate weavings of fantasy and imagination have always existed among us, usually bringing hope, caution or fear in one form or another. Some tell the tale of a brave adventurer forging his way to glory and fame through some metaphorical method or another while others recount an individual’s encounter with some awful being or monster. These legends, these stories we pass from father to son, mother to daughter, town to town, they vary quite wildly in all sorts of ways. The emotions they stir within us vary just as wildly, too. There is one thing, however, that all legends have in common: a message.

Sometimes the message is a warning; stay away from a specific place lest you be devoured by some foul beast. Simple. Other times the message comes as a lesson; adopt these morals, practice these methods and you will surely find success. Simple. A legend does not exist purely as a work of fiction. The necessity of the message, the value of the message, this is what defines a legend. Even today, in a world overflowing with tradition, culture, technology and all sorts of things that are rich with knowledge and understanding, we still cling to our legends. We must, after all, for they are the purest and most genuine form of a true message.

It is only now, after so much torment and madness, that I have come to understand the real weight behind legends. In particular, the fabled place of Ohran’s Eye.

It would not surprise me to learn that you have not heard of it, whoever you may be. It is a legend that is widely known to very specific circles. Circles in which I counted myself amongst, once upon a time. The story itself has changed much over the years, so much so that its exact origins have been lost to time. If you were to ask thirty people who knew of the place known as Ohran’s Eye, you would heard a minimum of twenty different tales. Some would only be slightly different while others would seem almost to be completely opposite. Throughout all recounting, however, a similar thread has persisted; that which truly made the legend a legend.

There is a place, one which has existed since the beginning of mankind, which contains a secret capable of changing the world. It lies within a stone tower in the shape of a diamond, which stands erect in a perfectly circular lake. No one knows quite where it is or what exactly lies within it, thus it has laid untouched for years untold, waiting for someone to find it. This place is known as Ohran’s Eye. The details revolving it are variable, as I said before, but this is the core, the backbone. Among many others, I was once obsessed with this legend. I still am to some extent, I suppose. And once I have finished saying what I need to say, recounting the events which occurred mere years ago, you too will understand the message of Ohran’s Eye.

It began late into the evening only a couple years ago. It must have been around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when I was suddenly disturbed by a light knocking at my door. So light and easy was it that I could barely hear those quick, hollow booms. Yet, despite this, they roused me from my sleep quite effectively. In retrospect, I find it peculiar that such a soft noise could wake me from such a deep slumber. Cursing and stumbling the whole way for being woken so late into night, I made my way to my front door. I readied a baseball bat by my side, just in case.

I opened the door in a cautious yet angry fashion, prepared for whatever awaited me. What stood before me was not something I could ever have anticipated. It was a man, taller than most, dressed in a deep gray suit with a white undershirt and a black tie. He wore a fedora, which matched his attire, and a pair of archaic-looking, articulate black sunglasses sat upon the ridge of his nose, completely concealing his eyes. He almost seemed to have stepped directly out of the 1950’s. His lips were spread wide in a smile which can, in the clarity of retrospect, only be compared to that of a wolf. His face was smooth, lacking any hair while also appearing grizzled.

“Greetings! A fine a night to you!” He said after a moment of examination, his accent was clearly German and he bowed slightly upon finishing his sentence. I stammered for a second, taken off guard by his cheerful demeanor. “I know, I know,” he said, “it is oh so very late in the night. I am so sorry to trouble you, Sir. What I have to-” I found my voice then, my frustration boiling to ther surface. “Do I know you?” I asked crisply. He chuckled a bit at that. “Of course you don’t! How could you?” He broke off into his crackling laugh once again. I was beginning to reach new heights of irritation.

“What do you want?!” I demanded, cutting his humor short. He looked at me straight then, still wearing his wolf-like grin. He spoke again then, his voice completely serious now. “I have something you would like to possess,” he motioned toward a briefcase sitting against his leg. “I have come to give it to you.” I had no time to react for he turned away and proceeded to walk back towards the sidewalk bordering my own house with a sudden burst of haste. “You will appreciate its contents, I feel certain.” Was all he said as he disappeared into the darkness of that cold, winter night.

At first, I was apprehensive about even touching the case. I brought it inside my home none the less, however, for I was genuinely curious. Curiosity, in general, is something I have always felt quite strongly since I was a child. I tried to resist temptation, I really did. I have always proven myself to be a victim of my own desires, however, and so it did not take long for me to finally open the case. I will forever consider that moment to be the most regrettable one in my life. Yet I know, deep down, that it was an unavoidable one.

What I found within took my breath away. To anyone else, it would have been nothing more than a pile of papers with pure nonsense written across them. I knew right then and there that this was not the case though. It was a map, instructions and evidence all pointing to the location, the true location, of Ohran’s Eye. A place of legend that was not meant to be anything more than just that: a legend. I spent the rest of that night poring over those documents, absorbing every detail like it was holy communion. Sleep was no longer a need during those hours but rather an irritable pulling that I ignored with utter commitment.

By the time morning rolled around, I knew it all. Where to find Ohran’s Eye, how to get there, what I would need for the journey, everything. It was not an adventure I could undertake alone and I would not have, even if I had a choice. My dear colleague and friend, Edward Wright, was who I turned to then. He was just as fascinated with the legend as I was. We had, in fact, spent many sleepless nights discussing the it’s potential existence. And now the time had come, we would be the first to find Ohran’s Eye in untold years.

He was, of course, more than willing. Ecstatic, even. We set to work immediately, purchasing the supplies we would need for the long hike to Ohran’s Eye. It took us a couple weeks, but we did eventually reach the point of being ready to undertake the journey. And so, during the early hours, we departed to find a place shrouded in mystery and wonder. I know now that it should have remained that way, untouched by the hands of mankind.

I will not disclose the location of Ohran’s Eye. My reasons for doing so will be revealed once you have finished reading what I have to say. I will, however, say that it was located among the great forests of North America. The trip involved a lot of driving at first. That was the easier part. We spent much of that time theorizing and chatting with one another. We were both so full of excitement then, so eager to discover the object of our obsession for so many years. After a couple days, I parked my car and we started a long hike. We were both fairly tired at the end of those days, but we still possessed an unburdened cheerfulness.

I often think back to those few days of travel, that time of eagerness. Everything was so simple, we never considered that anything could go wrong. I only wish it hadn’t gone by so fast.

Eventually we did reach that fated place, no matter how badly I wish we hadn’t. We had been following a nearly non-existent trail for a day or so when it finally led out into a large clearing. At the center sat a small lake, perfectly circular in proportion, and from its center stood a diamond shaped tower of strange, dark stone at about fifteen feet tall. It was a scene which, despite not being particularly marvelous, inspired pure awe in Edward and I. We shouted and screamed in joy, in satisfaction, for we had made it; we had made it to Ohran’s Eye. This overwhelming joy was short lived, however, for it was then that we noticed the silence.

Ironic, isn’t it? That silence would be so obviously noticeable, that silence would cut through our cheers of triumph. The complete lack of noise and life, beside our own, silenced us. We grew quiet very quickly as we began to understand. There were no birds, no wind, nothing; not even a whisper from the forest. We might as well have been on the moon. Even there we would see the stars shining though, offering some degree of hope. As we stared at that lonesome tower of faded, deep, stone, however, we felt no hope. The world was still there. Frozen in time. It was something only a curious human would dare intrude upon.

For a while we did nothing but just stand there, taking in every sight. The lake was still, much like everything else in the clearing; it was a pure blue color. Even from the edge of the clearing we could tell that it was very deep. Grass faded to dirt the closer it got to the lake and the dirt to that strange, deep, dark, stone. The stone appeared to be… Warped. Much like the texture of obsidian but with a dull brown-gray tint to it. Where we stood, vegetation stood erect and proud, living. Near the shore, however, no life could be seen. Only that stone and still water.

We managed to push ourselves into motion eventually, though it did take considerable effort. We walked across the grass, then the dirt, and finally the stone to the water’s surface. We had brought an inflatable raft just so we could cross this lake to the diamond shaped tower which brooded quietly at the center of the lake. We crossed the water rather slowly to the tower only to find that there was no way in. No door, window or orifice of any kind that would permit us entry. The surface was smooth and unclimbable. We found ourselves at an impasse.

Fortunately this obstacle proved to be short lived for as we continued to circle the diamond tower we soon found an odd looking iron chain dangling from the top of the structure on one of the faces of the tower. From where we were standing, it appeared to be tied to a D-shaped loop of some kind of metal attached to the top of the structure. We were hesitant at first, the chain appeared to be quite old and the metal seemed equally worn. After a few tests, however, we found it safe. So, our steps full of caution, we climbed the rope to the top.

I was up first. I found myself standing on a flat surface composed of the odd-colored stone. To my right, however, it became a set of stairs which went down into the dark depths of the tower, following the diamond shape of the structure. The stairs were made out of what appeared to be iron while the inner walls of the structure were composed of the same strange stone that the outside was. When Edward made it to the top beside me he gasped for he too was in awe at the oppressive looking hole which lay before us. Judging by how deep it was, we could only assume that a significant part of the tower on which we stood lay beneath the ever-still waters of that lake.

Glow sticks were not on the list of items we thought we would need; else we would have dropped one down to gauge the depth of the descent. We searched our bags and soon found an empty tin can which only served to take up space since its contents had been used up that morning. We dropped it and watched as it quickly disappeared into the bowels of the tower. It must have been a minute or two before we finally heard the echo of it crashing at the bottom. We looked at each other, a mix of fear and wonderment in our eyes.

We talked for a bit after that, figuring out what to do. We considered going back to shore and making the long trip home to tell our colleagues and friends that we had actually found Ohran’s Eye. We would come back and properly explore what lay at the bottom of the tower in the safety and efficiency of a real expedition. We could have turned our backs then, at that crucial moment, we could have left and returned in what could very well have been months upon months. Or we could press on. We could continue by ourselves into that gaping pit of darkness and discover what lay at the bottom right then and there.

I don’t think I need to tell you what we chose to do. We thought we knew the risks, we thought we could handle it by ourselves. I know now that no one, no matter how many people they brought along, could have managed it. No one would really know the risk of that place until it was too late to turn back. And so we descended into what I am now convinced must have been hell itself.

The flashlights we brought with us had little trouble piercing the choking dark of that silent stairwell. Edward and I barely spoke to each other as we climbed further and further into the tower. Our moods were almost directly contradictory to the way we had been over the course of the entire journey. There was no excitement, no joy, just anticipation as to what we would find when we reached the bottom. Anticipation and an ever growing fear, the source of which we could not identify. We continued our descent for a good forty-five minutes or so with a couple breaks here and there before finally reaching the bottom.

The stairs evened out into flat ground. We stood in a diamond shaped room which extended all the way to the top of the tower where we entered with the stairs obstructing any light that may have entered. We seemed to be underground. The only way forward was a tall, perfectly rectangular tunnel which spanned onwards for a bit before taking a sharp right. From around the corner emanated a very soft, yet noticeable, orange light. Edward and I exchanged nervous looks for neither of us knew what to expect or where we currently found ourselves. We were afraid. Very afraid. Fear would not stop us, however, and so we pushed on.

Cautiously, we began to move our way towards the strange tunnel and the even stranger orange glow coming from it. No words were spoken; no sounds broke the silence save our soft footsteps, as we grew nearer and nearer the bend. I cannot speak on Edwards’s behalf, but my heart was beating hard enough that I thought it audible to the darkness around me, though I am certain that this was merely a deception of the mind.

Finally, we both rounded the bend, slowly and with hesitation, but we did it. Ahead of us the tunnel continued on for a bit before widening out into a large cavern with a ceiling so far up we could not see. Strange strands of what appeared to be chains dangled from the dark above, silhouetted by the orange glow. At the far back wall of the cavern were two enormous, diamond shaped, window-like surfaces which were the source of the odd, orange glow, though we could not tell how or why. And standing tall on the flat stone ground between us and the windows was what appeared to be the silhouetted shape of a giant throne with its back facing us.

We froze at the sight before us. How could we not? Awe and fear coursed through our blood like some kind of paralyzing venom. We looked at each other in that orange glow, analyzing each other’s faces, trying to judge whether or not we truly had the courage to push forward and discover what lay in this giant cavern. To discover the source of the legend of Ohran’s Eye. We had come too far to turn back now, we knew that, yet still did we stare and wonder if we should return to the surface, even though we knew we would not. And so, with a confident first step, I moved forward, prompting Edward to follow.

We emerged from the tunnel and into the cavern only to be greeted by the sound of silence, once again. But this… This silence was unlike any I had ever experienced. It weighed on us, choking the air from our lungs and tightening our lips so that we could not speak. To disturb that silence was to wake hell itself, in our minds. Yet we pressed on, drawing closer and closer to the shaded throne that lie ahead of us.

We were about fifteen feet away when we felt it; the air became electric and the silence gave way to madness. We could hear chains rattling above us and the several thuds as things began to land behind us. We turned to see several shadowy shapes moving towards us, the sound of chains rattling all the while. In those brief moments we saw the things for what they were. They were human, or used to be, for their skin was charred black and they all appeared to be extremely emaciated. Their eyes were a milky white and their lower jaws seemed to be completely missing. From their exposed throats came chains which extended all the way up into the darkness.

At first there were only a few of them but they soon became a swarm of darkness as a symphony of chains began to emanate throughout the cavern. Edward and I were grabbed within seconds of their descent, our arms held behind our backs and our heads twisted so that they had to look at the throne. The strange… Creatures circled us, their milky white eyes burning into my friend and I. They would softly touch our skin and bring their own faces mere centimeters from ours, as if this was the first time they had ever seen a human. It may sound strange but I swear that I could almost see envy and lust in the way they examined us.

But the worst was still to come. It was then that we saw something rise from the throne. It was tall at about fifteen feet in height, also appearing to be some sort of humanoid being. And as it drew closer we began to see it more and more clearly for our flashlights, which had fallen to the ground, illuminated it in its entirety.

It dragged a cape of chains behind it, which were connected to a thick collar around its neck. Its actual body was grotesque; the skin was loose and saggy and several strange growths such as extra fingers and feet protruded from its disgusting form. All of which cringed and grasped at something only that awful… Thing could understand. Upon its head sat a large iron mask, which resembled a face stuck in a completely indifferent expression. Several large spikes stood erect from the mask, forming a sort of arc which started where its ears should have been and connecting at the top, central area on its head.

It grew closer and closer with each gigantic step of its misshapen feet, the creatures all parting way like the sea so that their master could get through to us. When he finally did reach us the rattling chains fell completely silent and every single one of those awful, tortured things stared at him as a priest would his god. The enormous being stood before us for a long while, its head tilted downward toward Edward and I. We were frozen in place by the beings awful presence. So much so that I doubt those things would have even needed to restrain us. After what must have been a short eternity, however, the silence was shattered into an infinite amount of pieces.

The giant reached one massive hand outwards so quickly that I hardly saw it. It grabbed Edward by the neck, lifting him up at arm’s length. The frozen terror was gone then, having given way to frantic screaming and struggling. I watched him writhe and twist in an attempt to free himself while that grotesque giants mutant limbs wriggled and twitched in what I can only assume to have been anticipation. The creatures began to shake their heads wildly at the roof of darkness that loomed above us, rattling their chains in a second awful symphony of torment.

The giant then took his free hand and stabbed two of its fingers into Edwards’s mouth, yanking them down and completely severing his lower jaw. My friend… My poor friend… He cried and shouted so loudly and savagely that I could almost feel the pain radiating from him. The giant grabbed one of the many chains in his cloak of iron and brought it to Edwards’s mouth. I watched as it slithered its way into him like a snake, as if it had a mind of it’s own. Edward continued to struggle and resist for a few minutes more before finally going still.

He was not dead though, much as he would have wished it. I could see life in his eyes; however corrupted it may have been, just as I could see it in all the strange creatures that surrounded me. I do not know how much time passed before the giant stopped the chain, yanking it free of his collar and tossing its exposed end directly up into the shadows. With a disgusting, bone breaking crack, Edward was jerked and dragged up into that dark abyss. The other creatures followed him almost immediately after in a similar way, though I cannot say why. And so I was left alone with that demonic giant, that King of Chains.

He turned his massive, helmed head towards me then, but did not otherwise move. I had been released by the creature which had restrained me, yet I did not move. What madman would dare to flee in the presence of such unstoppable and abhorrent evil? I had no option other than to stay and wait for whatever fate this… Monster had in store for me.

More time passed as we simply stared at one another. It kneeled sometime between the silence, making his head level with mine. The being leaned it’s iron mask in close to my face, bringing itself mere inches from mine. “Know me”, a deep, ethereal, genderless voice boomed through the cavern, “Know what I am.” I could do nothing but be motionless. The last thing I remember is that orange glow and that awful iron face staring through me. I can’t say what exactly happened, but merciful unconsciousness found me then.

I awoke sometime near midnight lying in the middle of a road, the same in which Edward and I had parked my car before embarking on the trails and mountains that concealed Ohran’s Eye. I did not try to find my way back to that pit of fear and misery, no. I got in my car and drove home.

This is the truth of Ohran’s Eye, regardless of what you may or may not have heard. It’s message has been corrupted, you see. Made to appear as if treasure or scientific significance lies in wait, as if what sleeps there will benefit mankind. The message, I believe, has always been the opposite of an invitation; it is a warning.

For years I have carried the weight of what I experienced in that place. Nightmares plague me like death when I sleep while my memories torment me constantly during my waking hours. I told Edward’s family and the police that he perished while climbing a mountain and that we never found Ohran’s Eye. To this day I tell people that it does not exist, that it’s not worth the trouble or thought. I tell them of my quest to find it and how my friend fell to his death. I tell them how I found nothing in the end. I lie.

I am dishonest, yes. Of course I am. Sometimes a merciful lie is better than a mortal truth. They would understand if they knew, just as you would.

To this day, I do not know who exactly the man with the wolf like grin and german accent was. He disappeard as quickly as he arrived and left no trace in his wake. Similarily, I have found no answers as to what it is that lies within the depths of Ohran’s Eye. It is a mystery which should remain unsolved, I believe. Which is why I will not disclose the location of that awful place. It is for your own benefit, trust me.

I do not care if you believe me or not, I really don’t. You can keep your opinions and judgements to yourselves. I know what happened, I know my mind. And I know that Edward’s fate was much worse than anyone will ever know. I accept full responsibility for what happened to him. Sometimes when I close my eyes I swear I can almost see him, suspended in the darkness, existing as another one of those awful creatures, doomed to an eternity of torment. I do not like to dwell on this.

So listen to me when I say that Ohran’s Eye is a place to be avoided, heed the message of the legend.

Credit: Zyon J.

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May 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The perfume haunted me. It fluttered through the air, teasing me, leading me towards an obscured end. I ran down hallways bathed in red tapestries, my night gown shuddering in the cold. Moonlight showed me the way as I searched for the perfume’s source. Around blind corners, through doorways of solid oak, into rooms once filled with laughter and terrible deeds. With each step the scent grew stronger. Roses. A sting of ginger and citrus. Never quite putting my finger on the familiarity of it all.

And then I entered a chamber. An old room which differed from the rest. One solitary candle sat by a large four poster bed. The light cascaded out, revealing a room dark and brooding. The floor was cold, the wood warped slightly, my bare feet losing what little heat they once held. A huge fireplace lay opposite the bed, unlit, devoid of life. And above it, a large portrait dominated the room. In the painting a woman sat, wearing a dark green dress of many decades past. Her hair was pulled tightly in a bun, her pale skin like languid pearl, and her eyes cold and cruel with dispassion.

Those eyes seemed to watch, following me as I wandered around the bed until I stood at its foot. A once rich, now faded crimson blanket covered the mattress, and as the candlelight struggled against an unseen draft, it became clear that someone lay in the bed.

I could not see the face of this person, the body was covered from head to foot by the red blanket, shrouded by it. The sight of that cloth outline struck fear into my heart – I dared not remove the blanket, uncertain that my nerves could endure the shock. Again, I was stung by the familiarity of it all, a memory hiding in the shadows just out of sight, refusing to reveal itself. The pungent rose perfume was stronger than it had been before, as I could feel the spiteful gaze of the portrait behind me, watching proceedings. Then I noticed another scent. Something which had festered in that room for years, obscured by the sweetness of the perfume; a foul underbelly.

As I stared at the outline of head and body beneath the blanket, the stench grew. With each breath I was treated to a mixture of roses and something humid; murky; like soil after a downpour. There was something rotten in that room with me. The rancid smell became so thick that I could taste it. The hidden memory threatened to break loose from its chains. I had to flee. Run. Be away from that room, that house, out into the open where I could breathe again.

I walked quickly to the door where I had entered. It was locked. I twisted at the metal handle, its spherical body covered in dark brown paint. The locked mechanism entombed in oak echoed out into distant recesses which taunted me and resisted; I was a prisoner confined to a solitary room, to a place where the sweet air of flowers was mixed with that of death.

I pounded on the door. Shouted. Screamed. But my pleas went unanswered. They simply faded into that lonely house, my family home which I had not visited since I was seven. A place which hid dark recollections, and wounds which ran deep, covered thinly by the proceeding decades. At last I gave in. I stopped my protests, rested my forehead on the cold wooden surface of the locked door, and tried to compose myself.

Then I heard a sound.

One at first, followed by three others. It was a clicking, creaking noise. I turned around slowly to see what was there, but the room was as it had been. The body in the bed lay still, the blanket forming a perfect impression of it. The bedside candle flickered but remained, and as it did so shadows danced around the room. They created the illusion of movement, and for a moment I stared at the portrait, the woman’s eyes peering out at me from above the darkened fireplace, and it was as if a flicker of recognition fell across the face.

I shuddered, believing that it was merely a trick of the light, but still, the face looked on. Then I heard the creaking sound again. A series of quick clicks, like an aching door which had not been opened for an age, slowly moving in the night. But I could not see the source. My heart raced as I looked around, and for the first time I noticed that in the dim light there lay an old wooden wardrobe on the other side of the room.

The creaking sounded once more; a frightful unease began to take over as each click sounded; it both puzzled and repulsed me. I turned to the door and twisted the handle as hard as I could, but the reality had not changed. I was locked in that room with a body rotting under the sheets, and a clicking noise coming from inside a wardrobe. A noise which felt organic, alive somehow, differing itself from the shifting contractions of the wooden floor and beams of the old house. It at once sounded natural, and yet felt unnatural.

Another creaking, clicking, and I knew that I had to look at the wardrobe across the room. I was terrified by what I might find, but the anticipation of waiting, just waiting until something threatening emerged from its wooden tomb, was too much to bear. I wanted this torturous night to be over, to return to my adult life. Something had compelled me to visit my ancestral home, but I was sure that if I ever felt the cool breeze of the outside world again, I would curse that place and never return.

Obscured memories flickered in front of my eyes once more. The familiarity of the perfume stinging my senses. The room… A dreadful window into my past. I would not be tortured like this, played with; I had to know what was inside that wardrobe.

I stepped forward, moving around and then to the foot of the bed. I was certain that the portrait stared on menacingly, but I dared not catch its eye, and so my gaze remained fixed on the wardrobe as I neared. The clicking, creaking noise sounded intermittently. With each step I listened intently, sometimes being greeted by that horrid sound, other times being welcomed by the silence, an equally unappealing night time noise.

As I reached my hand out to the wardrobe door, my blood ran cold. The door moved, if ever so slightly. But it did move. I could see an inch of the darkness inside, a small slither of black air, and I felt as though a watchful eye was glaring at me from within it.

A creak replied to my proximity, this time louder than before. But it took on a new characteristic, like knuckles being clicked; bone and ligament snapping in place, limbs which had not moved for an age breaking free of time’s relentless hold. I reached my hand out slowly and pulled the door open with force. For a moment, I thought I saw two eyes in the dark of the wardrobe peering at me, but as the light from the room’s solitary candle reached that dark place, I saw nothing. No clothes, no belongings, no creeping eyes, just the emptiness of a life now vacant.

I sighed with relief, but when I turned to the room I froze to the spot. Something was different. Something had changed. It wasn’t the portrait on the wall. The bitter face of the woman in the painting stared onward. It wasn’t the fireplace either, remaining as it did unlit, its mouth bathed in night. It wasn’t the door on the other side of the room, my only avenue for escape, standing still closed, no doubt locked by some unseen jailor.

No, none of these things had changed. But what had frightened me, tore at any composure I still had within me, was the figure lying under the covers in the bed. That dead, silent corpse which filled the air with perfume and macabre aura.

It was gone.

The red blanket had been pulled aside revealing white silk sheets, and the only evidence that someone had been lying there was an impression in the mattress, an outline of a now missing body.

I gasped as the creaking sounded once more, this time from the bed, but there was no sight of the body. The room was unoccupied, and yet the air did not feel absent of company. Something was there. I looked around, and it was then that I entertained a thought. One which otherwise would have been preposterous to me. Perhaps it was an invisible spectre which had been lying under the red blanket. An apparition with the body of a person, but transparent to the naked eye.


The noise drew closer.


This time from the foot of the bed. Whatever it was, it was slowly walking towards me, the warped floorboards shifting under its weight the only sign that I wasn’t alone.

If only I could see the cadaverous thing before it placed its rotten hands on me. At that thought I leapt to the bed, and as the spectre stepped forward, I pulled the sheets off the mattress, throwing them into the air like a net. They fluttered with movement, bringing with them that sweet, rancid perfume with it. And then they came to rest, but not on the floor, instead they covered the walking corpse, showing me its outline. A shrouded dress of white sheets, resting over something hideous beneath.

Perhaps I should have allowed the thing to walk unseen. For the sight of a long draped sheet stepping towards me almost stopped my heart. Creak. Creak. Each invisible footfall brought with it pangs of dread the likes of which I had never experienced before. And then came the rustling, as something else moved underneath the sheets. A prodding motion, as what I could only assume were two hands outstretched beneath their shroud reaching out towards me.

I stumbled backwards. I cried out, and as I did so the room dimmed. My retreat had led me into the wardrobe. The arms of the shrouded figure were now almost upon me, and my only recourse was to pull the wooden door of the wardrobe towards me, to shelter me from that thing.

My new found sanctuary shook violently as the shrouded spectre heaved and pulled at the door. I held on with all my might, my fingers poking out into the room, grasping onto that piece of wood, the only barrier between me and that rotten apparition.

Memories began to flood back, the dark wardrobe a trigger to painful events I had managed to bury deep within me; of a little girl locked in dark places. Cellars, attics, wardrobes… A girl put upon. Beaten. Mocked. Emotionally tortured by her one and only carer. My body convulsed and shivered as the reality of my early childhood filtered through.

The attack ceased, silence became my world. And then I heard two whispered words.

Little… Sophie…

The words were more breath than voice, and in them I recognised the speaker. My grandmother. That horrid woman who had abused her duty.

“I was only a child!” I screamed at the top of my voice. “How could you?”

Still, I held on tightly to the door, sure that the spirit of my grandmother stood in front of it. This was confirmed to me, when I felt a warm, sticky breath on my fingers. A mouth, seen or unseen, must have hovered over them for a moment, exhaling foul air. Then something wet licked the length of my fingers. A rotten tongue from beyond. But I dared not open the door. There was little I could do. I held onto it tightly, while the ghost of my twisted grandmother licked at my exposed flesh.

Then nothing. Again silence. No breath. No shaking of the doors. Nothing.

Teeth dripping with saliva then bit hard down onto my fingers. I screamed in agony as they delved deep through skin and then crunching into bone. And under my screams of pain I heard a sly smirk, a laugh of delight.

History had repeated itself as more memories flooded through the torture. She had done awful things in the past. Malevolent, twisted things. Locking me in the darkness, beating, prodding, and more. The pain of memory mixed with the pain of the moment as those dreaded teeth ground deeper.

No more!

I screamed in rage and pushed the wardrobe door, knocking the shrouded figure to the ground. My fingers gushed blood, but they were free, as was I. Leaping onto the bed, I charged for the locked door once more. I yelled and cried and fought as the door remained tightly closed. It would not budge. I pounded and railed against my imprisonment. Then two hands reached from behind, wrapping sheet covered fingers around my neck.

We struggled, the grip around my throat tightening, choking the breath from me. And in a moment’s rage, a moment of pure survival, I reached for the solitary candle which sat by the bed and cast it to the feet of my grandmother, catching the shroud of sheets. The room burned. The bed. The painting. The wardrobe… And my last memory was looking beside me, to see my grandmother’s corpse burning on the floor.

I was found standing in the garden of my family home, dazed, watching it collapse in on itself, consumed by flames. And in the years since I have wondered about that spectre in the room, the corpse in the bed. I had returned to my childhood home to oversee my grandmother’s things after she was done with this mortal world. But it appears she was not done with me. After that night, at long last, I was certainly done with her.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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Is There Life After Death?

May 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve told this story many times, and without exception it has provoked the same reaction – disbelief. No matter how difficult it is for people to process, and no matter how many conventional explanations have been offered, this did happen and it’s an experience I will never forget.

It started with a friend of mine, Stewart, who had always been interested in the supernatural. I, on the other hand, had no more interest in it than the next person. Of course I’m curious about whether there is life after death — and for selfish reasons — but I prefer to leave these things to themselves, as I find the entire subject morbid. I’m sure I’ll learn the truth in the end, but until that day I’d rather not ask the question for fear of the answer, either way.

Stewart was captivated by the paranormal, he lived and breathed it, but our friendship had developed through another of his passions – film – and although he often asked me to go on one of his ‘investigations’, I always replied that I preferred such things to remain on the cinema screen, and to stay there.

We’d go for a few beers regularly at Farlan’s bar on the main street or catch a film at the local cinema with some mutual friends. Then, suddenly, I didn’t see or hear from him for a couple of weeks, which was peculiar, but I assumed he was simply busy and so I left it at that.

It was 3:04AM when he called. I was angry at first that he’d woken me, but when I heard the sound of his voice, anger quickly bled into concern. Stewart was always such an upbeat guy, but that night his voice sounded distant, and there was a new uncertainty I had never sensed before which quivered underneath each word, unsettling me.

‘I need you to come and get me’ he said in a low whisper.

‘What’s wrong? Where are you?’, I asked.

‘I can’t talk for long, just come to the old botanical gardens at the edge of town’. His breath became increasingly laboured and agitated as he spoke.

‘Stewart, if you’re in trouble, call the police…’

‘No!’, he exclaimed in a unique mix of whisper and shout. I’m not meant to be here, they’ll arrest me. Just come to the botanical gardens and send me a text when you’re waiting outside. I have to go’.

And with that, he hung up.

Ten minutes later I was in my car and driving to the edge of Windarm town. It was an autumn night, and as I passed landmarks which were usually familiar to me during the day, each twisted tree branch and leaf covered garden took on a more threatening nature than I was used to; the night revealing an unapparent side to the town I loved.

It seemed strange to me that Stewart would be in the botanical gardens at night. He quite regularly went away on nocturnal investigations of abandoned hospitals and other supposedly haunted locations, but that place didn’t seem like an obvious choice for such things. In the past the gardens housed beautiful exotic trees, plants, and wildlife under a massive green house which must have been over 200 feet in length, but it had been shut down for a few decades. I guess the townsfolk didn’t frequent it often enough to keep it afloat. Even when I was a kid the place was just fodder for a rock or two, shattering many of its countless panes of glass, each held in place by a rusted frame — although admittedly my throw fell short more often than not. I know my dad talked about going there when he was a kid, amazed by the place, a self contained tropical landscape even during Windarm’s bleakest winters.

I pulled up in front of a large metal fence. It had been erected years previous, encircling what was left of the botanical gardens and its grounds; no doubt to dissuade new generations of rock throwers. On its gate hung a mud smeared sign displaying the words “No Trespassing” in no uncertain terms. Stewart obviously hadn’t bothered with the warning, no doubt more interested on catching a glimpse of something otherworldly inside. I left the engine running, as it was a little cold out, but just as I unlocked my phone I received a text message.

*Kill your lights!*

And so I did. Then another message quickly followed.

*Don’t call me, whatever you do.*

I began to develop the distinct impression that Stewart and I were not the only ones present out there in the night. A nervousness crept into my breath, and as I sat there looking into the darkness of the gardens, partially obscured by a web of fencing, I felt as though something was staring back.

For a moment I was unsure how to proceed, but was then startled by another text message, and, frightened by the thought that Stewart was in there somewhere and about to be grabbed by a burly security guard, a local gang, or worse, I adhered to his instructions:

*Follow my light and get me the hell out of here.*

And there it was, Stewart’s torch flickering for a brief moment before being engulfed by the darkness once more.

I opened the car door, the night uncomfortably cold as it washed over me. Just 30 minutes earlier I had been cosy, sleeping in my bed, and now this, climbing over a fence and walking into God knows what.

The fence rattled as I pulled myself up, and as I reached the top I looked across the pitch night and seriously reconsidered going any further. Then, Stewart’s torch light flashed again and I knew I couldn’t leave him, possibly injured or trapped, with the chilled October air threatening worse.

I jumped down from the fence as quietly as I could, my feet muffled by the whispering grass below. The ground was wet, and the unattended grass and bushes which surrounded the main building made progress difficult.

The light flashed again. Three times in fact before Stewart turned it off once more. I was sure now that he was growing more agitated, and so I continued in the direction of the once-glass building to reach my friend as quickly as possible. But my footsteps were uncertain, and my eyes struggled to pierce the dark. I took out my phone and used the LED light on its back to see where I was going.

As I walked towards the large shadowed outline of the garden building, I grew increasingly apprehensive. There were only three possible reasons why Stewart turned on his torch intermittently. One was that it had broken somehow, perhaps he could only get it to flicker into life every few minutes. Another explanation would be that the battery was low. Perhaps he was lost and switched it off to conserve what little juice it had left. The last explanation was a less appealing one. I switched off my light at thought of it.

Perhaps he didn’t want to draw too much attention to his location. Maybe he was frightened that someone else would find him first.

The darkness stood before me, a wall of black which blanketed all. It was hopeless, I was going to have to switch the light on to see where I was going. I remembered when I was 14 and had nearly fallen down an old drainage shaft when I was camping at night with friends. I always shuddered thinking about that, about how bad that fall could have been.

I needed to see where I was going. If a security guard came and found me, then that was a better outcome than falling into the darkness somewhere, unseen.

And yet, the thought of a night guard seemed far-fetched. The old building had been derelict for years, and it seemed unlikely that the town would waste money on wages for someone to patrol the area at night.

Finally, I reached the building, its base made of red brick which had held up surprisingly well for all its years of neglect. The same could not be said of the frame. Large metal struts reached up to the sky, forming a huge domed roof. I could see pieces of the frame lying on the floor, and in the dim light from my phone I thought I saw strands of it hanging from the roof, just waiting to break off and impale any unwelcome trespassers.

I cringed at the thought of my friend lying somewhere inside, perhaps impaled or trapped by falling metal and masonry.

Stewart’s light flickered again, and then disappeared. It was indeed coming from inside, and as I ducked under and then through one of the countless empty metal frames, I realised that he was somewhere in the middle of the building.

Despite having no solid walls, there was an echo of sorts to the place, subtle, my footsteps ricocheting gently off the concrete floor and then filtering out into the bleakness of the night.

That was when I first noticed it. The cold. Sure, it was always cold in October, but as I slowly proceeded, shards of broken glass cracking occasionally under my weight, a chill in the air grew more pronounced. It bit at my exposed face, and I was convinced that if I looked in a mirror my nose would have been bright red.


Stewart’s light.

It was closer now, and for the first time I saw the light reflect upwards for a moment and illuminate Stewart’s outline. As I drew nearer the night closed in and the cold was now becoming almost unbearable. My hands ached from the bones outward, and the air froze my insides with each breath.

I was now only a few metres away from the centre of that old glassless dome and my friend. Then light flickered again, but it seemed obscured somehow, as if Stewart had turned his back on me, the light from his torch bathing him in illumination for only the briefest of seconds.

‘Stewart, it’s Mike. Are you okay?’ I said softly.

‘Yes, let’s get the hell out of here!’ he replied nervously.

Then a new noise joined us. Just as I opened my mouth to whisper across to Stewart and ask him if he was hurt, the sound of broken glass breaking under weight echoed from behind. It came from somewhere behind us and was subtle at first, but there was no doubt: I could hear movement. Yes, footsteps, more pronounced. They were moving towards us. Then, they stopped.

All I could hear was my heart thumping, the adrenaline of apprehension coursing through my veins. Quickly, I switched off the light from my phone hoping to obscure our location.

‘Someone else is here’, I said.

‘I know’, whispered Stewart. ‘They’ve been wandering around me for hours’.

Then the footsteps moved again, this time circling, prowling under cover of night. I knew then why Stewart had called me. Someone was taunting him, they had been in that broken glass dome all along, terrifying my friend and me in the process.

No doubt he had been terrified. But now there were two of us, and whoever was circling, they were surely but one. I decided we would act, pick a direction and stick to it. I moved close to my friend and whispered.

‘Follow me’.


That word still haunts me. The light from Stewart’s torch came on once more. But, you see, it wasn’t a torch. And whoever I was standing right in front of was not my friend Stewart. A strange light emanated from inside the throat of what I can only describe as the figure of a woman. The light bled out through translucent skin which seemed to take on the appearance of night, and the light forced its way up and out of her gaping mouth.

At that moment, Stewart appeared from the darkness, grabbed my arm, and before I knew it we were running. Our feet scrambled over broken glass, pummelling it further into smaller shards. I looked over my shoulder, and the horrid figure, light source and all, was chasing us. The light from her throat and mouth seemed to pulse with intermittent fury, and as we reached the metal frame of the building, she screamed words of hate and anguish, a rasping anger filled with nothing but contempt for the living.

Before I knew it, we had escaped the gardens, that screeching creature seemingly constrained to the boundaries of that derelict building. We reached the fence, then the car, and then home; where I fixed both Stewart and myself a large whiskey as we tried to calm our nerves.

As it turned out, Stewart had been on one of his investigations as I’d thought. He’d heard stories of strange lights coming from the old botanical gardens building at night, and thought he would check it out. He got more than he bargained for, that’s for sure. At first the old building seemed empty, but as the night drew in he felt as though he was being watched. Suddenly, the batteries from his torch drained. The spare batteries he always carried with him were equally unresponsive, and so he was left in darkness, alone.

It was then that he heard the footsteps, and a woman’s voice who simply kept saying ‘I know you’re hear. I know you’re watching me’. To Stewart it sounded like she was pacing up and down, occasionally standing over him as he hid on the floor. God knows what would have happened if she’d found him.

I’m sure you have realised by now that Stewart claims he never called me on his phone, or sent any text messages. Indeed, he dropped it in the darkness and still hasn’t found it to this day.

We talk about that night occasionally, and Stewart hasn’t been on an investigation since. He lost the stomach for it, and who can blame him. My unease with the memory of that night, however, doesn’t revolve around the fear of meeting some spectral creature in the night — I intend to stay as far away from any ‘haunted’ place as I can. It’s more a fear which grabs me occasionally when I really think about what that night meant. If that horrid apparition is in any way what happens to us all when we die, that we are filled with such hatred for the living, I’d prefer to believe that there is no life after death; for what we encountered that night was a twisted reflection of all that is good in each of us, and if no good can remain, I would rather not exist at all.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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Idle Hands

April 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Alex leans in to examine the wall closer. Alex and her partner, Rebecca, had been driving for the last four hours and Rebecca had a tendency to fill the silence with her trademark “stream of consciousness” chatter. As soon as Alex heard the final cough from her engine after she twisted the key and yanked it free, she eagerly escaped the confines of her temporary prison and began working.

“It really isn’t much to look at, kind of boring really.” Rebecca sighed, her earlier excitement deflating.

Alex rolls her eyes, “Yeah well I guess when your experiment is an entire town you want to keep costs down. Extravagance probably wasn’t something they were concerned with.” Rebecca had just spent four hours sharing her opinion and Alex was tired of listening.

When they first drove into Rogers town Alex was struck by how similar the buildings were. Each was the same dull beige color, roughly equal height and the same rectangular shape. They resembled rows of teeth protruding from the gaping mouth of an enormous giant waiting to swallow the town whole. In Alex’s opinion that would have been a better fate for the people of this town than reality, at least it would have been quick.

The familiar mechanical clicks from Rebecca’s camera accompany Alex’s thoughts. Glancing toward Rebecca, Alex sees her taking a picture of the center piece of the town square. A large gold-painted sphere the size of a small vehicle with JUPITER slanted across its surface. The ostentatious logo of the Jupiter Corporation placed tastelessly in the center of a town owned by the same company responsible for ruining its residents’ lives. A constant reminder to the inhabitants that Jupiter owned them and their families. The thought causes Alex’s teeth to grind.

Alex looks up to a sign with the words “Town Hall” gently creaking in breezy empty street. Sliding her hand down the wall’s façade she’s surprised at the smooth texture, nearing a mirror finish, despite its porous surface. Alex had to admit, begrudgingly, Jupiter developed an impressive technology.

“What’s this gunk?” Rebecca must have lost interest in the logo. Attention span of a rodent that one, Alex smirks. She catches Rebecca in time, reaching out a pale hand to touch some yellow goo on the far side of the wall. Earlier Alex had thought it was just a yellow stain from age but from this angle she notices it swelling from the wall.

“What is the matter with you?” Alex leaps the distance between them and grabs Rebecca’s hand before it could connect with the wall yanking it down. The motion causes Rebecca’s hand to strike her bare thigh making Rebecca cry out.

“Jeez, what the hell is the matter with YOU?” Rebecca rubs her sore thigh.

“You were about to touch a mysterious substance seeping from a wall whose materials were cooked up in a lab, in a town which has been abandoned for a little more than a decade. It could be toxic! It could make you sterile for all you know!” Alex yanks her jacket open, reaches inside and produces a small plastic bag. Using it as a glove, she plucks a piece of the substance, hesitating only a moment to pray that it isn’t caustic. She squeezes it between her fingers.

“What does it feel like?” Rebecca whispers in Alex’s ear.

“Like a booger.” She snaps, sealing the bag and replacing it in her jacket.
Rebecca’s face grows red, “Hey! I don’t understand your hostility right now. If you value me as a partner and a friend, let’s have some mutual respect. If you have a problem with me, you can address it to me directly.” Her eyes narrow slightly, daring Alex to take her challenge.

Alex is taken aback for a moment at Rebecca’s reproach. She stares back at Rebecca, a twig of a woman, young, still in her twenties, her red hair in a wild mess from the car ride and her usual bubbly attitude turned bitter.

They’d been partners for two years but Alex felt like they knew each other for decades. Rebecca annoyed Alex quite a bit, she was young, and still did childish things. In fact, she was the architect of the ridiculous couple name “Lex and Becks” circulating their office the last year. However, Rebecca had more integrity and honesty than any person Alex had ever known in her 38 years. Those qualities were shockingly hard to come by in the journalistic world and even more so within Alex’s circle of friends. Actually, Alex reflects, she might be my only friend.

A few seconds pass without either party speaking; Rebecca’s integrity might be overshadowed by her stubbornness Alex considers. After staring at her partner’s pouty face for another few seconds Alex finally concedes, “Fine, fine. You’re right. I’m old, cranky, and I have a short fuse. We were in that car for a long time and I just want to leave as soon as we have enough material for the story. I’m sorry.”

Rebecca’s face twists as if she’s eaten something sour then a smirk creeps along her cheeks, “Wow, a real apology. I thought you’d spontaneously combust if you ever said one!”

“You ungrateful, loathsome child!” Alex exasperates.

“Old goat!” Shouts Rebecca, she breaks out into raucous laughter and Alex can barely contain the wide smile pulling at her lips.

“If you’re finished may we proceed?” Alex raises her eyebrows at her companion and places her hand on the doorknob.

Rebecca wipes an invisible tear from her eye, “Sure Lex, lead the way.” Alex faces the door in order to hide another eye roll from Rebecca’s sight at the use of that nickname. Twisting the knob Alex is surprised it isn’t locked. The door creaks from years of neglect as she pushes it open. She half expects dust to wheeze from the door filling her lungs but pleasantly there is none. Poking her head inside, she notices the faint outline of bleacher seats adorning either side of the room in the dim light provided by the late afternoon sunlight glancing off the milky floor. Entering into the hall with her partner close behind, Alex pulls a flashlight from her front pocket and turns it on to illuminate the rest of the darkness in the room. The Jupiter logo glints on the wall opposite the front door, yet another looming reminder of Jupiter’s dominance. Making her way toward the center of the room Alex bumps into a long plain wooden table with a handful of chairs scattered around it, some toppled over.

“Looks like they left in a hurry,” Alex passes her light over the chairs laying on the floor.

“Perhaps a coyote got in?” Rebecca offers over Alex’s shoulder.

“Into a room with a latched door and no visible windows? Unlikely.” Alex moves around the table to look through its drawers. “Now look for documents with the Jupiter letterhead. Preferably anything dated the last few years the town was operational so 2061 and on. Any local newspapers mentioning the Jupiter Corporation et cetera.”

“Hold on, first off my top priority is providing you with exquisite pictures for your terribly written articles. Most of my energies will go toward that, once again you’ve forgotten that I am not your lackey,” Alex sighs with exasperation. “Second,” Rebecca continues pretending not to notice Alex’s outburst, “what is with the emphasis on the Jupiter Corporation? Isn’t it our job to investigate Mid-west ghost towns? I fail to see how Jupiter Corp is relevant to the story.”

“As I’ve stated before, no you’re not my lackey I just need a second set of eyes, preferably young to notice things I don’t. To your question, no, I refuse to pursue that story. It’s a ridiculous puff piece, you know its true. And the only reason we were asked to do it was because our coward of a boss doesn’t want me sabotaging his chances for that shiny promotion with another politically charged article while the President is visiting the office.” Alex feels her anger begin to rise remembering her editor sitting on her desk and having the audacity to say he had the perfect story for her to write about.

“Well you did call the CEO of our competitor a ‘terrorist’ and said all his subordinates resembled ‘journalism’s jihadists.’ Nice alliteration by the way.” Rebecca looks at Alex sideways.

“And if our boss actually performed his duties as editor properly, that version of the story wouldn’t have made it to print. I wrote it to prove a point. He doesn’t deserve that promotion!” Anger heats her skin.

“You could have been fired, in fact I’m surprised you didn’t.”

“Whatever, I retracted that part of the story later and had I been fired he would have had to admit fault. Besides, I wouldn’t have cared. I plan on resigning once I hand this new story to print.” Alex sighs.

Rebecca visibly recoils, “you’re leaving? What will I do without you?”

Alex feels touched by the genuine concern in Rebecca’s voice. She smiles warmly, “you’ll be fine. You’ve always had a remarkable talent. It’s time I moved on. I’ve worked at the Detroit Daily for far too long.” Alex reflects on her time at the newspaper and realizes she never truly liked her job until Rebecca became her partner.

A slight hesitation, “what if I went with you?” The question hangs in the air untouched for a moment.

“Rebecca─” Alex pauses, about to tell her what a ridiculous idea it was but rethinks it. She wasn’t lying when she said Rebecca had talent. “Let’s talk about this later.”

Rebecca attempts to rush through her explanation, “but I could be a big asset to you. I could –“

“Becca!” Alex interrupts, “Later! It isn’t a ‘no’ but just not right now.”

“Fine! But know this, I want a raise!” Alex lets out a soft chuckle, she can hear the pout on her partner’s lips. “So,” Rebecca draws out the word, “about this new story. Why is the Jupiter Corporation the focus?”

“You know what the Jupiter Corporation is right?” Alex opens another drawer, empty.

“Yeah they’re the biggest green technologies developer and they built this town, as if they couldn’t make it more obvious.” She lazily gestured in the direction of the monument outside and to the insignia hidden by darkness above Alex’s head.

“Correct. In addition, they employed everyone who lived in this town as they were all jobless prior to getting hired.”

Alex shines her light on Rebecca’s face. Rebecca reflexively holds a hand over her eyes, “That’s a good thing isn’t it? Lower the light would you?”

Alex complies, “That really depends. Jupiter was responsible for causing all of the townsfolk to lose their jobs in the first place.” In the dim glow Alex saw Rebecca’s head tilt in confusion, “Ever heard of the material NeL15?”

“I’ve seen advertisements for building complexes made from it but that’s it.” Rebecca’s silhouette shrugs its shoulders.

“It premiered 20 something years ago, probably before you were born. Anyway, it’s a substance developed by Jupiter, originally for individual commercial buildings. Over a short period, they expanded their market to residential buildings even going so far as to build entire towns using the stuff. This town, as well as a few others, served as “proof of concept” to show investors that NeL15 could be used in larger applications for urban developments. Despite the town being abandoned 11 years ago the “experiment” proved to be a success and cost millions of people their jobs.”

“Wait a minute, how does one material do that much damage? What is so special about NeL15?”

“Well NeL15 is a material which builds and maintains itself. No need for human crews when your material can do the same job better and at low to no cost.” Alex shifts her light back to Rebecca’s face but her hand doesn’t shield her eyes, instead Rebecca’s eyes are wide staring through the light.

“How is that possible?” Her face tenses trying to rack her brain for an answer.

“Jupiter labs made quite the breakthrough in biotechnology all those years ago. The material is actually a living organism, a genetically modified flesh eating virus if you can believe it.” Alex pauses for dramatic effect and for the first time since meeting her, Rebecca is speechless.

Waiting a few seconds to allow her partner to process the information Alex continues, “Perhaps what I said earlier wasn’t entirely accurate. NeL15 constructs itself sure but it still needs some maintenance. It’s more of a catalyst added to base materials to initiate the assembly process. The people who lived in this town mined nearby limestone which was broken down by NeL15 and reformed into simple geometric structures like walls, ceilings, etc. On top of that, the buildings needed further human intervention in the form of electric lines and plumbing so Jupiter thought they could hire out the people they displaced cheaply making this a lucrative-”

“How did anyone agree to this? Surely politicians were against it!” Rebecca’s voice rises.

Her silence was short-lived; Alex thinks to herself. “How couldn’t they agree? Imagine what a perilous industry is construction. How many people are crippled or killed on the job? Who wants to debate when the topic is saving lives? So millions lost their jobs in a heartbeat and unable to find other work. And with the world’s population reaching, what, 9.5 billion now, their situation is made much worse.”

Rebecca releases a deep sigh, most likely trying to reconcile the cost of human life and the cost of living, “you seem to know a lot about this whole situation.”

“When NeL15 premiered it was big news. One of the biggest stories in history. It was my job to keep up with everything.” Alex responds, feeling a twinge of regret as she was only an observer rather than a participant in history those many years ago. Being fresh out of university she didn’t want to rock the boat attempting to cover one of the most influential events in human history.

Rebecca cuts into her thoughts, “then what’s left? It seems like everything was covered in the past. It’s been over a decade since this town closed, what leads are we hoping to find?” She asks almost pleading Alex for the answer.

“Picture it, Jupiter just released this revolutionary industry shaking product. There are press releases from the company, lawsuits from unions bombarding the front pages, update after update of the evolution of the product and political debates about the resulting jobless masses. You envision copious amounts of coverage correct?” Rebecca nods her head, “but then all of a sudden these towns shut down with a handful of news stories from obscure papers claiming the mines dried out. Is it not strange that the news was so enamored with Jupiter & NeL15 but completely ignore its failure? My theory is Jupiter tried to bury something and they went through a lot of trouble to keep everyone quiet. I guess I’m hoping someone left something behind. Some kind of clue which will point to Jupiter’s corruption.” Satisfied with catching up her colleague, Alex continues down the desk opening drawers, one after the other.

“Okay! Will you consider my work on this project as my application for our next move career-wise?”

“Becca! What did I just say?” Alex cries while slamming the fourth drawer shut in in part due to her frustration with Rebecca but also to finding nothing but a few penciles within.

“Fine! Doesn’t hurt to ask, you old goat!” She flashes her camera in Alex’s direction temporarily blinding her in the dim light.

Rebecca continues clicking away and after a few moments of erasing thoughts of strangling her companion, Alex continues excavating drawers. While moving along the table one of chairs bars her path. As she bends to move the obstruction she notices the corner of a lone piece of paper beneath a neighboring downed chair. Another flash illuminates the white sheet briefly as Alex snatches it from its hiding place. As she brings it closer to her eyes for scrutiny she can’t help but think it odd that this is the only document left behind. Perhaps there was a struggle and someone cleaned everything up? But if that were the case then why leave all the chairs overturned? She reasons.

Her attention is brought back to the sheet in her hand by the words, “Town Meeting Agenda” dated around the time the town was evacuated. The topics discussed included; ‘population retention policies & ideas, union proposal, forming clean-up crews for the Ooze.’

“Apparently the gunk on the walls has been around for a while. The townspeople called it ‘the Ooze.'” Alex draws out the last word with vibrato to fake a ghostly moan only to find absolute silence from her partner. “Rebecca?” Alex puts a spotlight over where her partner stood, finding the space empty.

“Rebecca?” She repeats louder with a little more urgency in her voice. She feels a hand grab onto her shoulder. She spins around too quickly and loses her balance knocking against the table, “Christ! Don’t do that! You know I have a bum ticker!” Alex says clutching her racing chest.

“Calm down, I want to show you something.” Rebecca holds the camera so Alex can peer over her shoulder. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the bright screen but what’s revealed causes her to pull the camera from Rebecca’s grasp gently strangling the owner with the strap.

Hands; amorphous but still distinguishable and dozens of them, desperately reaching out from one of the walls, “what the hell?”

“My reaction exactly. They’re over there.” Rebecca points a finger to the wall left of the entrance. It was mostly in shadow but Alex could discern numerous objects protruding from its surface. She absentmindedly drops the camera and shuffles cautiously to the wall so as not to stumble. Reaching out she feels the frigid smooth palm of one of the hands.

“I think it’s made from the same building material.” She runs her hand along the forearm, “strange, there was never any mention that NeL15 could create complex shapes like these.”

“As fascinating as that may be can we go? Despite the depressing welcoming committee here,” Rebecca gestures to the wall, “I don’t feel like we belong in here.”

“We haven’t looked in the back yet. Don’t chicken out now.” Alex turns back to the direction of the council table and to the door behind it. After crossing the room again, more confidently this time, she calls over her shoulder, “are you coming?”

“My captain, my captain, I may already regret my promise to follow you anywhere.” Rebecca sighs and trails after her friend.

They spend the next hour investigating every corner of the offices in the town hall. Fortunately, these rooms had windows so there was no need to rely on flashlights. Each room was the same at first glance, no papers, no books, zero documentation, but the desks were still full of keepsakes and miscellaneous things one would keep on a desk such as office supplies and photographs.

Alex points out the commonality in the offices, “isn’t it odd that they wouldn’t take photographs?”

“Hmm?” Rebecca is preoccupied rifling through trinkets in another drawer.

“Don’t you take photos of family and friends wherever you go? If you leave, never to return, why would you leave those behind?”

Rebecca pauses in her search, ” you said it was an evacuation right? Perhaps they were suddenly frightened away?”

“If that were the case wouldn’t we see useless crap left like garbage? Why wouldn’t they leave all that behind too?” Alex furrows her brow, “this is beginning to look like someone came in to ‘clean house’ after everyone left.”

Rebecca purses her lips, “that still doesn’t explain the pictures being here if the townspeople left of their own free will.” She looks into Alex’s eyes, realization finally hitting her. Something happened to the people of Rogers Town and Jupiter was most likely responsible.

Alex takes a final look into the drawer then hurries outside, Rebecca clumsily following after her. With Alex leading the way they walk along the main artery of the town passing by the local grocery store, library, elementary school quickly investigating each but finding nothing. Frustration prickles Alex’s nerves, ‘the cleaners’ were thorough. With nothing turning up no one would listen to her empty claims when she returned to the office.

After reaching the edge of town Alex spins on her heels and with a huff stomps her way back to the car. Rebecca, accustomed to her partner’s temper, simply spins with her and plods along behind Alex. Briefly interrupting her strides to take more photos of the depressing landscape.

Alex barrels toward the cigarettes she keeps in her glove box to calm her down when she notices a sign across the street from the Town Hall which reads, “Physician.” She stops suddenly. Rebecca, who had been following closely, navigates the momentum in her body to the side in order to avoid a painful collision with Alex. Instead she loses her balance and has a painful collision with the road.

“God dammit Alex, warn a girl first! I’ve got $500 hanging on my neck!” Rebecca sits up, one hand rubbing her elbow the other inspecting her camera.

“Sorry,” Alex replies absentmindedly helping her fallen friend. “We should check this place out.”

Rebecca follows her gaze to the Physician’s office, “come on Alex we’ve been searching for hours and found squat! Whoever cleaned up did an impeccable job. Let’s just go, we’ll lick our wounds at the nearest bar, my treat. Then we can look at other leads.”

“Just one more and then we’ll leave.” Alex says halfheartedly to her partner. Without waiting for agreement Alex proceeds forward and barges through the front door. She enters the waiting room; it sports the same bleak walls made only bleaker by a single lonely chair. She glances to her right to peer behind the receptionist window only to be greeted by the same bare surfaces. Sighing she presses ahead to a narrow corridor leading from the waiting room. The white walls are perforated with a few doorways and a widening crack cuts along the floor. She couldn’t help following it with her eyes as it comes to an end in tendrils before a door at the end of the hallway.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” Alex whispers to herself weaving her steps on either side of the fissure. She peeks through the open doors while she passes. Each is an empty observation room save for the sad stock photo images of puppies and wildlife pasted on the walls, the only “living” things left.

She reaches the door at the end of the hallway reading, “office of Abel Carmichael M.D.” on the frosted glass window. She places her hand on the knob and turns. Marveling at Jupiter’s poor security against vandals, Alex passes through the threshold. She stands before a large captain’s desk surrounded by barren bookshelves along the walls. She notices the same yellow ooze from outside behind the desk, sliding down the walls in the corner of the room forming a coagulated puddle on the floor.

Upon first glance she thinks this room will be fruitless like all the others; however, she pushes her thoughts aside, lets out a sigh, and begins inspecting the bookshelves. She slides her hand across the top shelves in hopes of finding scraps of paper left behind but the only thing she finds is empty space. She moves to the desk and focuses her attention to the rug turning the corners back but again finds nothing. She feels her temper rising again and a familiar heat fills her extremities. Alex moves around the desk but when she stubs her toe she loses any composure. She grabs onto the wooden chair behind the desk and hurls it toward the wall leaving behind a deep gash.

Distantly Rebecca’s voice calls out to her, “I don’t even need to call out for you. I just need to listen for the destruction of private property!”

Ignoring her partner and the throb in her foot, Alex yanks each drawer open rattling their contents. Sifting through the drawers and finding the same office junk she’s about to finally give up when she notices scratches worn at the bottom corner of one of the drawers. Eagerly she tugs the drawer from the desk and dumps the trinkets contained within onto the floor scattering them in every direction. In addition, the false bottom of the drawer slides out and a small leather book falls after it.

“Bingo!” Alex says aloud, her eyes fixed on what she assumes is the Doctor’s private journal. The cleaners weren’t thorough enough; she smirks triumphantly to herself.

“Seriously, the ‘bull in china shop’ thing needs to stop.” Rebecca’s voice reverberates from the hallway. Appearing in the doorway she asks, “and what do you have there?”

“Check it out. I think it’s a private journal.” Excitedly and without further explanation she begins to read through her finding. She flips to one of the most recent entries and reads:

February 16th, 2065
As the only medical examiner in the town I was certain to have job security. However, now with the quarry running dry many of the laborers are beginning to pack up and leave. Not much use for a Doctor in a place with no people. I worry about how the town will survive now that its major income has vanished. Jupiter deems importing limestone to be too expensive. This whole venture was for them to illustrate how effective their product was; they didn’t give a shit about creating jobs. It was just a smoke screen to give politicians the excuse to support the project. I’m afraid I may have to leave also.

February 21st, 2065
Limestone additions to the buildings ceased a few weeks ago and some kind of sludge is appearing on the walls. There must be some correlation. I’m definitely not qualified to analyze it but my attempts to contact Jupiter for information on the sludge were fruitless. The company is refusing to answer our questions so I’m resorting to taking samples myself and trying to figure out what it could be. I’m afraid the bacteria might be reacting to something in the environment due to lack of limestone supply. I worry the buildings may become unstable. Hopefully I’ll know more after a few tests.

Rebecca casually walks through the office and right up to yellow mess in the corner behind Alex. Leaning closer she squints at the wall, “Oh that gives me the heeby jeebies. It looks like there is a face in the wall.” Alex notices her friend exaggerate a shiver from the corner of her eye as Rebecca walks back to the open doorway, “can we please leave?”

Without looking up Alex hushes her and continues:

February 24th, 2065
It’s the strangest thing. After looking at the samples under the microscope they have a familiar cluster structure. After a few tests I’ve concluded that the Ooze is triglycerides. Somehow fat is being expelled from the buildings. It’s quite the phenomenon. I’ve sent my findings to the company to see if they’ve seen similar cases in other towns, they tell me they will be in touch soon, my eye.

March 1st, 2065
More people have left town. Every day there are fewer and fewer people. In fact, my assistant Dominic didn’t come in these last few days. No notice at all. I don’t blame him. I’m looking for work elsewhere. There’s no way the town can be salvaged but that doesn’t stop the town council from wishing to try. They’ve scheduled a mandatory town meeting for next week. I doubt there will be anyone left to go. Even if I’m still here by then I don’t think I’ll attend.

Alex begins reading the final entry of the journal. Her eyes widen and her hands begin to perspire smearing some of the incoherent words on the page. Her anxiety rockets and the elation she felt only moments ago vanishes as a new feeling fills the vacuum; fear.

The journal explains everything; the evacuated town, the cover-up, Jupiter’s involvement. The journal is extremely incriminating but Alex knew, more importantly, it meant they were in immediate danger. “Rebecca, we have to leave, NOW! I was right, Jupiter–” she lifts her eyes from the page and her voice catches in a hitch from fear in her throat.

“What?” Rebecca asks nervously. Alarmed she stands straight from leaning against the doorway but nearly loses balance. She looks down and the same fear in Alex’s eyes is mirrored in Rebecca’s.

March 10th, 2065
Town hall meeting, massacred
There were children
They melted
Oh God, their screams

NeL15 needs Calcium & Carbon
Bacteria is looking for new supply
Elements are in our bones, skin, organs
The Ooze
It’s human fat
Bacteria can’t process fat

Don’t trust them
JUPITER LIES, they knew
If journal found, reveal these monsters

Rebecca shrieks looking at her feet. A hand. Dozens of hands. The same blobby appendages they saw earlier reaching for her. Both women stand frozen in fear, Rebecca still shrieking as the hands completely envelope her feet; she’s sinking. “Alex! HELP ME! IT’S BURNING!” Rebecca begins to cry out from pain as well as fear while struggling to pull her feet from the muck.

Alex snaps from her trance. She shoves the journal into her jacket and hurries to her friend. Peering behind her partner she feels ill. The entire hallways is traversed by grasping hands, all along the crack in the floor. She grabs hold of Rebecca’s thigh, careful not to touch the goo herself and yanks. Another shrill shriek from Rebecca as her foot comes free but not attached to her body. Alex holds back the sudden urge to vomit. Her grip loosens on her friend’s leg and it’s enough for Rebecca to lose balance on her one leg and fall backwards. Alex reaches for her terrified friend but is helpless as Rebecca falls into the embrace of the sloshing hands.

“Alex! ALEX! HELP! HELP ME PLEASE!” Rebecca pleads pathetically. The hands close around her arms, her torso, and grab at the newly formed stump of her leg. Rebecca’s screams intensify cutting through Alex’s now fragile senses. She slumps to the ground looking in horror as her friend continues struggling but to no avail, still sinking into the floor, dissolving slowly.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” Alex weeps and closes the door to the office not wanting to witness her friend disappear forever.

“Alex please! Don’t abandon me! ALEX!” Her screams continue to pierce through the door until they come to a gurgling stop a few moments later. She isn’t sure for how long but Alex stays on the floor crying over her lost friend and cursing herself for getting Rebecca involved. The girl had been one of Alex’s only friend and she would carry the weight of her death forever. Alex knew she would never forgive herself after this was over.

Using her sleeve, she wipes the tears and snot from her face. She gathers herself together, knowing she can mourn later, and looks up at the door reluctantly as an exit option. She stands up and reaches for the door knob and hesitates, not wanting to see what became of Rebecca. Slowly she turns the knob and opens the door a crack. There’s no sign of Rebecca left but the hands are still flailing in the hallway. There’s no way out, except- she spins around, remembering a window behind the desk but her heart sinks as she sees the wall bubble beneath it from the damage she inflicted on the wall earlier with the chair. Fear turns to panic as she realizes all of her escapes are cut off. This time as she whimpers it’s for her own situation.

After another few minutes pass she realizes darkness is quickly approaching and sitting around feeling sorry for herself and her lost friend won’t save her from this place. Looking around the room for ideas to help her escape she glances at the rug. With renewed determination, she rushes over and moves the desk off it. After rolling it up she drags the textile to the doorway. She breathes in heavily and breathes out knowing she’ll see those squirming hands again. She opens the door and the hallway is barely lit as the sun is close to setting. Alex questions if maybe she should stay till morning but she can’t bear to stay any longer. She can still see shifting space, definitely the hands moving around. She also sees the same yellow secretion discharging from the floor at the foot of the door. She feels like someone punched her in the stomach thinking about Rebecca again. Ignoring the tears in her eyes she heaves the rug as far as she can which is about halfway out the door. It lands with a big plop. She pushes it farther into the hallway, but the hands prevent it from moving completely out the door.

The rug isn’t long enough to reach the end of the hallway. There’s about eight or so feet left between the edge of the rug and freedom and to her horror the rug is sinking. Frantically she looks around, with time running out she fixes on the chair. Running over to grab the chair Alex turns back to the hallway. She takes a quick breath and dashes toward the door.

In three long strides she crosses her makeshift bridge and plants the chair another two feet away. She hops onto it, briefly remembering her time as a kid when all the children played “the floor is lava” and she estimates the distance she needs to leap. Rearing back, she hurdles herself forward with as much force as she can muster. She panics as her landing is short about two strides. Immediately her feet adhere to the floor and the hands close in.

Her anxiety explodes and she’s in a full panic while she fumbles to pull her shoe laces free. She can’t really see the hands very well but she can sense them grabbing for her, coming closer, anxious to pull her down to the depths of nowhere. With hands only seconds from catching her she frees her feet and jumps again, over the squirming shadows and into the safety of the waiting room. She spins around looking at her accomplishment, clutching the journal to her chest. She closes her eyes for a moment letting her panic settle a bit. “The old girl’s still got it.” She smiles to herself. She opens her eyes to take one last look at Rebecca’s final resting place. Gripping the journal tight she swears to herself that she’ll make Jupiter pay for their crimes.

In a swift jaunt she passes through the waiting room, exits the building and launches herself into her car. Without taking much pause Alex jabs the key into the ignition and turns; nothing happens. A few more twists before Alex slams her hands against the steering wheel and shouts as many expletives as her vocabulary allowed. Her only wish was to escape this town as fast as she could and as the night finally settled over the secluded town she wanted to expedite the process. Popping the trunk, Alex hops out of the car to inspect the vehicle. She yanks the hood open and instantly she recognizes the problem. Her battery has been disconnected. One heartbeat later and she hears the cocking of a gun next to her. Pivoting to face her assailant she meets the gaze of woman dressed in a suit. The stranger says nothing and neither does Alex. Even in the darkness Alex can see cold detachment in the woman’s eyes and before Alex can move the woman pulls the trigger. Alex dies instantly.

**Three days later**

Elizabeth waits patiently as the elevator finishes its ascent to the top floor of the office building. A sharp ding signals her stop and she steps out onto the red plush carpet. Silently she approaches the large double doors and knocks only once. A muffled voice responds, “Come in.” She turns the handle and enters. Her heels clack on the hardwood of the office as she strides gracefully toward the CEO’s desk, an unwelcome sound after the silence of the lobby. Behind the desk is a wall composed completely of windows creating a dizzying view of Chicago below, a view Elizabeth always admires while in her boss’s office.

Her employer, Beatrice Alvarez, is an older woman, her hair long since went gray and frown lines carved deep into her face. Despite her short stature she has an imposing presence which keeps Elizabeth rooted and quiet, waiting patiently for Beatrice to finish reading and signing a document on her desk.

When finished Beatrice simply flicks her almond eyes up to peek under her brow. Keeping her head down she asks, “Do you have it?”

“Right here ma’am.” Elizabeth opens her briefcase and pulls a small leather bound book from within, moving to Beatrice’s side she hands it to her. Beatrice stands and stretches her hand out to take it. When in her grasp she flips through the pages rapidly, barely glancing at the details within.

“You’ve done excellently Beth. Had this gotten into the wrong hands, our initiative could have been set back decades.” Gripping it tightly, Beatrice waddles passed Elizabeth to her crackling fireplace, and tosses the book into its depths. She watches the pages blacken from the heat. Satisfied she turns to face her subordinate, “That was a shrewd decision to continue keeping surveillance on the towns,” she looks at Elizabeth with cold approval, her eyes, like dark black pits. “We shall continue to do so to prevent other evidence of this nature from emerging.” Marching her tiny frame back to her desk she asks, “And what is the status of the reporter?”

“She was assimilated with the NeL15 compound. According to protocol I’ve abandoned her car in the woods outside of a 100-mile radius from the town and slashed a tire. Anyone coming across it will think the owner had car trouble and got out to walk. She can’t be tied to us.” Elizabeth recited in an indifferent tone. How many times had she given this report over the years? She never expected “clean-up crew” would be part of her job description.

“Very good.” She glances down and picks up the only photo she keeps on her desk. Without looking, Elizabeth already knew it was a group photo shot outside on a cloudless day with Beatrice sitting in the middle, a wide grin on her face and her very large extended family, numbering around three dozen, crowds around her. Elizabeth didn’t know what was the occasion for the family. She never inquired and Beatrice never offered the information. Only seeing Beatrice’s profile, Elizabeth notices a soft smile tug at the visible edge of her boss’s mouth. Her eyes crinkle with a distant memory, however; that look is swiftly replaced by something dark. Beatrice plants the photo precariously on the edge of her desk. She wheels around to gaze out her window down on the vast cement jungle below, “The next phase of this operation is going to be delicate.”

Elizabeth clasps her hands behind her back as if awaiting orders from her Sergeant, old habits. Beatrice continues while still observing the streets below, “We’re going to move ahead with our new marketing plan. I want the compound to reach international markets. It should do well in most developing nations as well as those with burgeoning impoverished populations, primarily China, India, and parts of Central Africa.” Beatrice looks up now as if envisioning the future.

“We’ve taken great strides to get the majority of both houses of congress on our side,” Elizabeth interjected. “However, there are some like that Senator from Massachusetts, who can’t be bought. Unfortunately, she’s known to get a lot of support. She could pull together a very loud opposition which could hinder the rest of our efforts.”

“That’s a minor concern. With overpopulation becoming an ever increasing problem and the people having to support more and more of the unemployed population, their constituents are demanding answers. We will need to do little convincing to prove our product is exactly what the doctor ordered,” Beatrice snorts to herself glancing over her shoulder briefly to look at the smoldering remains of the journal behind her.

“We must ensure the infrastructure for our Conscious Mending Material Acquisitions unit is fully operational before we expand to the global market. We’ve done great work in the suburbs, now we need to begin trials in the populated areas. I want to test the acquisition teams within the month to gather material. Each team is to gather 20 subjects or so from ten major cities. Let’s start cleaning up the streets. But remember discretion is key right now so make sure they have no family and won’t be missed. Until Jupiter labs comes up with a more permanent solution for the repair problem we can’t risk the lives of our clients so this is top priority.

“Now those who are a drain on society, who contribute absolutely nothing toward improving our society, can finally make a noble sacrifice to help repair our crumbling infrastructure. They can die with dignity rather than purposeless in the gutters.” Her lip curls in disgust at the thought.

Beatrice now stares emotionless at the people scurrying like insects on the streets below. “Besides Beth, humans are a renewable resource; it would be irresponsible for a sustainable technologies firm not to exploit it.” She leans against her desk causing the picture frame to tumble over. Elizabeth ignores the familiar sound of tinkling broken glass is heard, watching her boss intently. Beatrice Alvarez didn’t flinch at the sound; she didn’t even turn around to rescue the frame from the floor.

Credit: BloodEmpress

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The Argentinian Incident

April 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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In the winter of 1998, there was an undocumented wave of brutal murders that nearly wiped out the entire population of a small fishing village in Argentina.

All evidence of the incident was swiftly swept under the rug by the local authorities, which then proceeded to set up massive roadblocks around Tamacun, preventing anyone from getting near the site of the murders. Media coverage of the police’s suspicious actions was minimal, with most newspapers and local news channels labeling it as a large-scale evacuation on account of a fictitious fire hazard.

The most bizarre part of the whole affair however, was that after gathering the village’s handful of survivors, government officials decided to unceremoniously institutionalize them in different high-security psychiatric wards scattered throughout the country. The reasoning behind these seemingly unwarranted institutionalizations was never made public knowledge, but despite the Argentinian government’s best efforts, rumors of the murders spread like wildfire across all of South America.

Two years later, an amateur film crew from Buenos Aires travelled to Tamacun. Their objective? To shoot a found footage documentary regarding the incident.

“We wanted to film it like the Blair Witch Project” disclosed Gabriella del Carmo, the project’s director of photography “[Blair Witch] had come out the year before and everyone was still raving about it. We wanted to do something similar, but scarier. Creepier. With more blood and sinister interviews. Obviously, we had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into.”

Upon arriving at the remote fishing village, the crew wasn’t surprised to find it completely abandoned. What they weren’t expecting however was to discover that most of the buildings had been deliberately burned down.

“You could tell that it hadn’t been an accident,” said the project’s 1st assistant director Rodrigo Elias “and that really shocked us. Finding out that the cops had deliberately torched the place. Of course, once we started piecing together what really went down there, it made sense. Hell, I’m surprised it took them that long to do it.”

With most of the survivors locked away, the crew was forced to travel to the neighboring towns and hamlets in search for more information. These weren’t very successful trips.

“No one wanted to talk about it,” said Angelico de Sousa, one of the project’s executive producers “everyone was too scared to do it. The second we mentioned [Tamacun], they would shut their doors in our faces. Literally. It was as if it was illegal to talk about what happened. As if they knew someone else was listening. We never spent more than a night in those strange little towns; the townsfolk would always throw us out in the next morning. And every time they did it, it felt like they were doing us a favor. As if it was for our own good.”

After briefly returning to the ruins of Tamacun to shoot the final landscape shots for the doc, the crew spent the next few months pinpointing the psychiatric wards where the village’s survivors had been unwillingly admitted. Even though they knew these were strict institutions that wouldn’t let a camera near any of its patients, they had hoped to track down former staff members that could shed some light on the events that had transpired during the winter of 98.

Much like their previous experience, the crew had a hard time finding someone willing to talk about the murders.

“We knew it was a long shot the moment Diego suggested it,” recalled screenwriter Salvador Moreno “but we were short of any other alternatives. We had no way of reaching out to the survivors and the cops sure as hell wouldn’t talk to us. Unless we wanted to go full fiction on this film, we needed to interview someone who was either related to the murders or who had had contact with someone who was. To be honest, we actually came very close to go in a completely different direction with the entire project.”

Yet, before they had a chance to consider a different approach, the film’s unit production manager Lucas Pascal was contacted by a peculiar man with a strange accent.

“He told me that he had worked as a security guard at Santa Lucía during 98” explained Pascal “Santa Lucía was one of the nine hospitals that had come up during our investigation. Naturally we were pretty excited about interviewing this guy. At the same time, we were also prepared to be completely disappointed. We weren’t exactly sure what kind of information we’d get from him. Some suspected he was only trying to scam us. We only found out that he was for real when he demanded that his name remained anonymous and that his face be blurred out in the final cut.”

A small excerpt from the interview’s transcript reads as follows:

INTERVIEWER: How long were you a security guard at the hospital?
ANONYMOUS: I worked in Santa Lucía for nine years.
INTERVIEWER: And when did you quit?
ANONYMOUS: I didn’t. I was fired.
INTERVIEWER: May I ask why were you let go?
ANONYMOUS: They told me that I talk too much.
INTERVIEWER: About what?
ANONYMOUS: Oh, all sorts of things. Being a security guard gets pretty boring at times. Even in a loony bin. When something interesting happens, you talk about it. But if I had to guess, what really pissed them off was when I told a couple of friends about the shady stuff that happened during the winter of 98.
INTERVIEWER: Care to elaborate?
ANONYMOUS: Sure. It’s the whole point of this interview, right? I guess it all started when the police brought in this crazy old drunk from down South. The guy looked like your run of the mill nut right off the bat. Two cops had to literally drag him, kicking and screaming,
inside the hospital. I didn’t think much of it. I’d seen it a thousand times. But then, something weird happened.
ANONYMOUS: This detective showed up the following day. Not just any detective, mind you. No, this one was a yankee. I’d never seen his kind before, except maybe in the movies. Looked like a real hard-ass too, all dressed up and looking sharp. He even wore a hat. But there was something strange about his eyes, you know? Blue and hollow. I don’t think I had ever seen eyes like that before.
INTERVIEWER: What was he doing there?
ANONYMOUS: He wanted to ask the old drunk a few questions. In private. They even got a room just for them. After five minutes though, the crazy old bastard started screaming like I had never heard a grown man scream before. The doctors and the nurses rushed in and the yankee disappeared in the middle of the commotion. I never saw him again. But the drunk didn’t stop screaming until the nurses put him to sleep. Made my blood curdle. All that screaming.
ANONYMOUS: Things quieted down for a while. Obviously, there was a lot of gossip going around. Everyone had their own story about how the yankee managed to frighten the old drunk so much. Some said that he showed him a picture. Others said that he just whispered something in his ear. No one knew for sure. Not even the doctors. And a week later, no one seemed to care. That is of course, until they found the old drunk’s body lying in the garden.
ANONYMOUS: Looked like it. Officially, they labeled it as a suicide, on account that he had overdosed on antidepressants and all, but that story didn’t stick.
ANONYMOUS: Because the guy wasn’t allowed to leave his room! They kept him locked away tight. Restrained too. He couldn’t have escaped without help, let alone get his hands on prescription meds. It was all very suspicious.
INTERVIEWER: So, you’re saying that someone must have set the whole thing up?
ANONYMOUS: Exactly. At the same time, you got to ask yourself, who would do such a thing? Why go through the trouble of killing an old, defenseless drunk? What did he do to deserve it?
INTERVIEWER: Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have.
ANONYMOUS: Maybe he didn’t have a choice.

Supplied with more questions than answers, the crew’s ever growing curiosity fueled them to attempt to track down the enigmatic American detective.
“This is the part where things started getting really weird” said del Carmo “We found out that Santa Lucía wasn’t the only place where people had seen Detective Blue Eyes. That’s what we called him. Anyway, our sources confirmed that this guy had been seen all over the country. And he wasn’t alone. It turned out that a whole army of yankees in black suits had come over from the States. We knew we were definitely on to something. That’s around the time Paz Vega escaped from Coronel Martin.”

The Psychiatric Hospital of Coronel Martin was one of the most infamous military hospitals in South America. Every time a patient managed to successfully escape, the story made national headlines. Paz Vega’s flight was no different. Being the only teenager who survived the murders in Tamacun, Vega’s escape became one of the most talked about subjects in Argentina.

“The media made her look like some kind of dangerous madwoman” recalled Moreno “Like she was out for blood or something. It was all very hard to swallow. But the police sure was desperate to find her. I had never seen so many cops out on the street. We tried to track her down too, but it was useless. We didn’t have enough resources, or the manpower. After a few weeks though, the whole thing died down. The cops never found her.”

Without any more leads or cooperative interviewees, the crew decided to shift their focus towards the past history of Tamacun. What they uncovered was nothing short of disturbing.

“We found out that the place was some kind of haven for pagan rituals and devil worship” revealed de Sousa “freaks from all over the world would go there to offer sacrifices to their weird gods. There were also strange reports of a secret society of cannibals. All sorts of creepy stuff. After we found that out, a lot of the guys decided it was time to jump ship. Myself included. Money was starting to get tight too, so it seemed like the logical thing to do. But Diego wouldn’t let go. He wanted to see the whole thing through.”

Diego Silva, the project’s director, had become completely obsessed with the murders of Tamacun. So much so in fact, that not even when all of his crewmates had gone their separate ways did he put a stop to his manic research, which eventually led him to leave the country.

“The last time I heard from him, he was headed to Italy” said Pascal “something about tracking down Paz Vega’s last known relatives. I remember thinking it was a waste of time. Even if he did manage to find out where they lived, the yankees had probably been there already. But Diego didn’t care. He couldn’t be reasoned with. He was past salvation.”

After boarding a cheap flight to Naples, Diego Silva wasn’t seen again for over twelve years. His sudden disappearance did not go unnoticed: both family members and close friends alike flew to the filmmaker’s last known whereabouts in a desperate attempt to find him. Unfortunately, the twenty-six year old Argentinian from Buenos Aires left no trace.

It was only on the morning of the 22nd of March in 2015 that he would be heard from again, when Gabriella del Carmo received a strange letter in her mail. Inside it were three sheets of toilet paper covered in faded writing.

Due to the poor quality of the ink and rushed nature of the handwriting, a large portion of what was written remains undecipherable. A rough transcript of the message, with some parts added in based on logic and conjecture, reads as follows:

My Dearest Gabriella,
Men in white coats are about to do something to my brain. They say it will make me forget what I know. It’s all for the best. Leaving Argentina was a mistake.
The doctors tell me that I probably won’t be the same after the operation. They say that I’ll probably forget all about my friends and family. As much as that saddens me, I’m still glad they’re doing it. I know it sounds cliché, but I can no longer live with what I know.
I never did find the girl. But I did find out what happened at Tamacun. Not all of it, but some parts. I wish that I hadn’t. It’s so much worse than what we thought. For once they were right to hide something from us.
Please, take care of yourself and tell the others that I’m OK. Don’t try to find me.
Don’t go back to Tamacun.
They didn’t kill them all.

With no mention of a place or any other means of discerning his exact location, all that del Carmo could do was to share the contents of the message with Silva’s family and former crewmates, nimbly neglecting to mention its last sentence.

Yet, as distressing as it was to read Silva’s cryptic message, del Carmo couldn’t help but to feel a strong urge to revisit the footage they shot during their trip to the fishing village.

“After reading his letter, it felt like we missed something while we were there,” she explained “ and there was something about that last sentence that really made my skin crawl.”

Del Carmo went on to rewatch the footage several times, but it was only after she digitally enhanced some of the wide shots of the village’s waterfront that she noticed something odd.

“Back then, we were so focused on examining the burned houses for clues that we didn’t pay attention to anything else,” she confessed “especially not the seagulls.”

Upon carefully analyzing one of the shots, del Carmo noticed a large group of seagulls fighting over what appeared to be a human foot.

“Unlike digital video, which has a set number of pixels,” she explains “when you digitally enhance film, you can actually zoom in on certain areas without it affecting the level of detail. Kind of like what they do on CSI and other cop shows. When I zoomed in on the foot, I noticed that it had human bite marks all over it.”

A discovery that brought her to an unsettling conclusion.

“Whatever happened to those villagers back in 98, I think it’s safe to assume that they weren’t just murdered. They were eaten too.”

After her interview, del Carmo agreed to provide a copy of the digitally enhanced shot, so that it could be further examined by experts. Before she had a chance to do so however, our sources report that she went missing after receiving a visit from a well-dressed man with pale blue eyes and a North American accent.

Credit: Tiago Lopes

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