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The Duxbury Chronicles: The Dumpster

December 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Please visit the The Duxbury Chronicles series tag for more!

“The Dumpster”

August 6th, 1982 was a day that no one in Duxbury liked to talk about. No one who is still around who remembers it anyway. It had been a hot one. Hot, humid, and most of all, wet. It had been that way all summer.

“Unnatural,” The old timers were wont to say.

By mid-summer rainfall all along the East coast had hit records not seen since the 20’s. The nearby swamps and bogs had deepened, dark, murky water encroaching onto lands normally dry. The Duxbury Bogs and the North Hill Marsh Sanctuary in particular had been cause for concern.

By mid-July (Courtesy of the Bogs), Pilgrim’s Highway had been flooded over, blocking Mayflower Street all the way down passed East Street. Island Creek Pond and the North Hill Sanctuary had joined forces, turning the lands that divided them into one giant wilderness of muck and water.

And by the end of July it looked like Cranberry Bog and Pine Lake were on the verge of rising up high enough to join the other two and submerge the whole damn area. It had been an ugly business already.

Homes in and around Pettibush Lane, Maple Pond Lane, and Evergreen Street had already been lost to flooding. And there had even been talk during the Duxbury Town Hall Council Meeting the previous weekend of the possible necessary evacuation of Tinker’s Ledge Road if the rains kept up.

That had gotten people buggin’. Markus McDuff had leapt up and shouted with the vigor of a man half his age, declaring, “They’ll have to drag my dead body,” off his Apple Farm if they came to evacuate him.

There had been a grasshopper boom as well. Everyone said it was because of all the rain. The population thickened as one got further from the busier streets. Certain sections of the Whiton Woods were so thick with the little green bugs that it was hard to describe it in words.

One had to “see it, to believe it.” On some of the trails every step one took would literally be accompanied by a multitude of tiny springy noises as the brainless bugs leapt away from whatever giant passed them by.

They hadn’t been the only insects to flourish in the unusually wet weather. The cicadas had come out in force for the season as well. And they sang their summer songs with an unprecedented fervor. Every evening around dusk, they’d alight in the branches of the trees and chirp up at the brilliant, shifting purple and orange canvas in the sky.

In the trees all along Island Creek, the insects seemed to be especially prevalent. There were certain sections of the creek where one would have to practically shout to be heard over the buzzing cacophony. It was, needless to say, not a good season for insectophobes.

Despite all the climate issues, the “tourist” season (small as it was) did not seem to really suffer. Which had been quite a relief to the local business owners. And ever since August started it hadn’t rained. As a result, the general mood around town was brighter than it had been.

But on this early afternoon, one resident’s mood was especially chipper. Officer Robert Maxwell was walking down Harrison Street with a particular “pep” in his step. That was because Bob had just scored a dyno date with the town Betty!

She was a bodacious babe by the name of Mary Barbadino. She’d been the morning waitress at Alice’s Restaurant for going on three years now. Bob had grown up in Duxbury and had always liked Alice’s. But it had been Bob’s pre-shift breakfast spot pretty much every day since he’d first laid eyes on Mary in that tight-fitting waitress uniform. Even on his days off.

He still couldn’t believe his luck! Bob, at the ripe old age of thirty seven, was not exactly known for being a lady’s man. He wasn’t some hoser or anything, but he was no primo stud either.

And she’d approached him! Bob had known that Mary had broken up with her boyfriend Marcus Greene four months prior. But he had never had the cahones to do anything about it.

The situation between Mary and Marcus had been like a badly written movie. Marcus and his posse were the local tough guys. He and his crew seemed to always be getting into trouble. Be it a fight at the local bar, or a “domestic dispute” at one of their biker parties.

If it was true that in life everyone had a role to play, then it was Marcus’s destiny to be an asshole. That’s not what had stopped Bob from making a move on Mary, however. Bob was a Roller after all. He’d just been too chicken.

So this morning when Mary had come over with a cup of coffee in hand, and slid into the empty booth across the table from him, he’d been struck speechless for a few seconds. The conversation had been quick and direct. Mary talking, and Bob mostly nodding while trying to keep his mouth from hanging open.

She’d wanted to know if he was interested in catching a movie after her shift. Bob would have watched the bunkest movie in the world with Mary. He’d quickly agreed, and the two had made plans to meet when she got off at five.

Bob made it to the corner, and took a right onto Washington Street. He was headed to Barry’s Meats, the local butcher shop. Barry was legendary in the region for his kielbasa. And tonight after whatever movie they ended up seeing, he was going to surprise Mary with a better meal than Alice’s had ever put on a plate!

He walked briskly, passing Beaver Brook Lane and making a mental note to stop at Snug Harbor Wine on his way back home. It was nearly 12:30, which gave Bob approximately four and a half hours to get dinner made, get dressed, and be back at Alice’s.

He had been originally scheduled to be on duty until six and had agreed to meet Mary without giving it a second thought. After realizing it, he’d been worried that the “boss man” wouldn’t be accommodating to his sudden plans. But after he’d made it back to the station, Sheriff Copper had been all too happy to give Bob the night off.

In truth Copper had at first been as incredulous as Bob had initially been. But the Sheriff was a good (if not gruff) man., and had granted his request with a hearty laugh. He gave him a hard pat on the back and left him with the wise words, “Happy hunting son!” as Bob had walked out of the Station doors.

He swiftly passed by a group of children playing in Washington Park. Off in the distance a baseball game was going on. He vaguely remembered seeing a flyer earlier in the week stating that the Duxbury Dragons would be playing their first game of the season today.

On the other side of the street loomed the Saint John’s Evangelist Church. The ancient stone structure cast a long shadow across the asphalt. Bob only gave it a cursory glance as he passed it by.

He was not a religious man, though his Mother regularly attended. In truth, the place had always kind of creeped Bob out.

He looked around. He didn’t see the local Pastor, Father John, anywhere. Which he ironically thanked God for. The short, fat man was always lurking about somewhere in town. Always looking to “add to the flock” as he put it.

“Lurking.” No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts, Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact. He felt like a dick for having the thought in the first place, and quickly pushed it out of his mind.

By the time he’d crossed Freeman Place and was walking alongside the monolithic structure of the Hudson Bank, his thoughts had once again returned to Mary and what exactly he’d done to make this morning so different than all the countless others. He glanced to the left. Looking at his wavy reflection as he passed by the floor-to-ceiling windows of the massive building.

Well, he had started working out. In fact in the last two months he’d lost almost twenty pounds! A big part of it was the change up in his diet.

Egg whites and coffee for breakfast, instead of pancakes. Salad for lunch, instead of a burger. Come to think of it, hadn’t Mary been the one to first suggest his change- up in breakfast?

Or maybe it was his fresh new ‘stache. At first he’d been hesitant to try and grow one. Never being one for stylized facial hair. But he quickly realized that it was totally choice. His mom said he looked like Tom Selleck.

Bob was enwrapped in these thoughts as he reached the corner. He wasn’t looking in any particular direction, and only half heard the quick, panicked steps just as someone came sprinting around the other side of the building and collided straight into him.

Bob was knocked off his feet. Landing hard on his back, he managed to keep his head from bouncing off the pavement. But for a few seconds he saw stars anyway.

“Bab!” He recognized Boston George’s voice. He sat up, and attempted to bring the man into focus.

“Oh, Babby, thank Gad it’s you!”

Bob began to slowly climb to his feet, but the skinny forty-something man was faster. He practically leapt up and dashed over to the deputy. Offering him a hand, the man helped him up.

“We got a real situation here, Babby!” the man said, his eyes darting around frantically.

Georgey McCabe, or “Boston George” as he was known by the locals, had gotten his name because of his heavy accent. And because, well…he was from Boston. Which could be quite a big deal in some circles within such a small town.

He was a “born, and bred Irishman of the Big City on a Hill”, as he was wont to say. Bob had never been, but he imagined that Georgey was a pretty accurate representation of the average Bostonian.

Boston George had moved to Duxbury from Beantown three years prior. He always seemed to have a lot of money, though no one knew exactly what it was that he did. He drove a candy apple red BMW M1. Anywhere he went with it he drove like a man on his way to save the world.

Georgey had accumulated quite an impressive pile of tickets and citations since coming to Duxbury. But he always had the money to pay off his fines, and so had remained on the road.

“For now,” Sheriff Copper had said to Bob one night at the Station.

Copper didn’t like Boston George, though Georgey seemed oblivious to the fact. He kept speeding, and the Duxbury Police Department kept profiting off his “stuntman” antics.

Bob had never ticketed Georgey personally, however. He and the Irishman had become some-time poker buddies shortly after his arrival. Bob liked to gamble once in a while. Georgey loved it. And the man had one hell of a poker face.

Over the last two years, he’d taken far more of Bob’s money than Bob had his. That was for sure. The man also liked to sometimes go out “day drinking” as he put it. And as Bob took in George’s disheveled appearance, he began to suspect that was exactly what the man’s afternoon activities had consisted of thus far.

The thinning hair on his head stuck out in tufts, pointing in all directions. His Aloha shirt was only half tucked into his trouser shorts. Bob realized that the man was also missing one of his flip-flops.

But there was a distinct panic in Georgey’s eyes. A sort of wild terror that gave Bob pause. The man was talking, Bob realized. Thickly accented words flowing out of his mouth a mile a minute. Though he had no idea what he’d been saying.

“Take a red, Georgey!” Bob shouted, raising his hand in a silencing gesture as he did.

George fell quiet. For a few seconds all that could be heard was the birds chirping, and George’s ragged breathing.

“What is the problem?” He didn’t have time for this.

“There’s…” George gulped in a lungful of air, trying to steady his voice. “-There’s some kind of mahnstah in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket. And I think it got Old Man Pete!”

“What?” Bob asked. Truly at a loss.

“Oh for Gad’s sake, Bab! I’m tellin’ you that there’s something in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket, and I think it got Pete!” The man was quickly becoming hysterical.

“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hand once again in a placating gesture. “So tell me what happened.”

“I was sittin’ outside Lux Cafe. Out in one of the chairs on the patio. Just having a drink ya’know?”

At this Bob quirked an eyebrow. Georgey didn’t seem to notice.

“Anyways, so I’m sittin’ there out on the patio when I see Old Man Pete come out of his store, and go around to the back alley with a bag full of trash.”

Peter Barne’s was the elderly owner of Barne’s Market, the local grocery co-op. Pete was in his seventies, but had moved like a man half is age up until his wife Edna had passed last winter.

Since then Pete had developed a noticeable stoop in his stance. Now he walked with slow, pained movements. These days he seemed to look at the ground more than anything else.

In truth it pained the Deputy to see the old man slowly fall apart. Bob had known Pete since he’d been just a boy. He’d been known as “Old Man Pete” even back then. But in those days he’d sported a full head of gray hair.

“So like after five minutes go by,” Boston George was saying, “I notice that Petey hasn’t come back out from the alleyway yet. So I staht worrying that the poor old bugger’s hurt himself or something ya’know? So I get up, and I go across the street to go check on him.”

Bob knew the area George was referring to well. It was called East Cove Plaza, and was consequently the only spot on Surplus Road that had any businesses on it. Four to be exact.

All located around the same two square blocks. Barnes Market and the Red Herring Diner on one side of the street. East Bay Salon and Lux Lounge on the other.

Up until a year, and a half ago there had only been three businesses. But Lux had opened up next to East Bay. It was this “new age” hippie cafe/bar. And was owned by this unbelievably sexy red-headed fox named Gretta Thompson.

She’d moved to Duxbury about two years ago and after about six months had opened up shop. That was all he really knew about her. He’d never been in the bar, though it had simultaneously become a hit with the younger locals and an endless source of gossip for the elders.

“So what did you find when you went to go check on him?” Bob asked, feeling a faint sense of apprehension as he did so.

“That’s the thing, Bab,” George said in a hushed tone. “There wasn’t no one back there when I got up there. Just an empty alleyway with the dampstah in the back.”

“But I got this real weird feelin’, Bab. This real weird feelin’ that Old Man Pete was in that dampstah,” Georgey continued.

Bob already did not like where this was headed. Though admittedly he had absolutely no fucking idea where this was headed.

“So I get to like about ten feet away from the dampstah, and somethin’s telling me—somethin’s telling me not to get any closer. So I call out Pete’s name. Feeling a bit silly as I do, mind you.”

Bob smirked despite himself. Yes. Silly was one word for it.

“And just as I say his name there comes the sound of trash slammin’ around. And I mean a loud sound! And the dampstah…” George trailed off as he gave a shudder. “The dampstah, Bab… it jerked towards me!”

Bob raised an eyebrow.

“The dumpster jerked towards you?” The words just didn’t sound right.

“Yeah, Bab. And I mean like three freakin’ feet!”

“So what did you do?”

At this George looked incredulous.

“What did I do? I fackin’ ran for my Gad damn life! That’s what I did Bab!”

“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hands once again. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“Back to Barnes Market.”

“Back?”

“Yes,” He said,pinching his nose. “Back to the Market.”

“But-.”

“Come on, Georgey,” Bob cut him off and started walking.

Five minutes later they were moving down Surplus Road, almost halfway to their destination. Up ahead loomed the wooden bridge that went over Bluefish River. The raging waters echoed off the surrounding trees that bordered the street on both sides.

Bob had kept up a brisk pace. Partly because he was worried for Old Man Pete, and partly because of his rapidly shrinking timetable. George, to his credit, had kept up.

“Are you sure you don’t want to call for backup, Babby?” he half shouted over the thundering river, just as their feet met weather worn wood.

Bob glanced down at the rushing waters of the Bluefish as they clunked along. The river was normally more than a dozen feet below the bridge. On this day however, it was half that. If it got any higher, the city would have to close it off.

“Not quite yet, George,” he shouted back. “I think I’d like to check things out for myself before I go and do that.”

After another moment they were across the river and back on asphalt. With each step the thundering of the Bluefish faded.

The pair looked up at the looming trees on either side of them. The White Pines had grown fuller, and lusher than ever before, it seemed. Bob gazed off into the shadows of the surrounding forest.

There was pretty much nothing in the remaining half mile. Nothing but trees and encroaching swamp water that is. Pretty much everything West of Tremont Street was flooded.

But thankfully the four business that made up East Cove Plaza had thus far been spared from the weather thanks to their location about a half mile East of Tremont, on the corner where Reynolds Way crossed Surplus.

As they walked, Bob reflected on the dumpster in question. It was a fifteen yarder, if he recalled correctly, situated between Barne’s Market and the Red Herring for the convenience of both businesses. With all the flooding, it really wouldn’t be too outlandish if a bear or some other critter had made its way down and jumped in looking for food.

They came to a flooded part in the road just as they hit the intersection of South Station Street. The water stretched all the way to the woods on both the right and left. They wordlessly walked to the right.

Entering the edge of the woods, they used the rocks and roots to keep their feet as dry as possible, as they made their way. The water stretched on down the street for a good twenty feet before relinquishing its hold on the road.

Soon the surrounding forest gave way once again to a suburban sprawl. Up ahead in the distance stood East Cove Plaza. He felt an inexplicable twinge of apprehension at the sight of the buildings. And for about a second, he really did want to call for back up.

But what would he tell dispatch? Boston George thinks that there’s a monster in the dumpster behind Barne’s Market? Yeah, that would go over well. Then he realized he didn’t have his radio on him anyway. So the point was moot.

After another moment of walking they had reached the front entrance of Barne’s. The “Now Open” sign still hung in the window. Bob opened the door and stepped inside. They were greeted by the refreshing coolness of the air-conditioned store.

“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out.

No answer, save for the soft hum of the air-conditioning unit. Bob walked deeper into the store, swiveling his head this way and that as he continued moving down one of the aisles.

“Pete?”

Again no answer. This wasn’t good. Something was up.

“I’m tellin’ you, he’s not in here, Babby,” Boston George said in a hushed tone from behind.

“Officer Maxwell?” Came a voice from the back of the store.

Both men turned to see Pete’s nephew Doug Jenkins emerge from the back storage room. Doug was in his forties. He seemed to possess an endless supply of plaid shirts and blue jeans that he wore no matter how high the temperature was. A nice guy, though a bit slow.

“Hey, Doug,” Bob said, with a wave. “I was just looking for Pete. Have you seen him?”

At this Doug shook his head.

“I was supposed to meet him here. We’re going down to the dinner at Saint John’s tonight. But I can’t find him, Bob.”

That last part carried with it a tone of worry.

“Don’t worry, Dougy.” Bob managed a smile. “We’ll find him. I’m going to take a look around outside. Why don’t you stay here in case he shows back up?”

Doug nodded.

“Okay,” he said.

“Cool beans. Alright, me and Georgey here are gonna take a look around back. We’ll meet you back here in ten minutes if we don’t find him.”

And with that George and Bob turned and walked back out. The sticky summer heat practically slammed into them as they stepped back outside. Together they walked in silence to the entrance of the alleyway.

They rounded the corner and just stood there for a moment. The area was empty, save for the hulking form of the dumpster that stood in the back. It was a big, ugly thing, standing about six feet high. And, yeah, it was a fifteen yarder.

“There’s no way Pete fell in there,” Bob thought to himself as he scrutinized the hunk of metal.

There was something off about it though. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on what. At first glance it appeared the same as it always had.

It was just as rusty and weather worn as ever. Still the same dirty green color, with the words “Patterson Waste Disposal” written in big white letters on its beat up exterior. He was pretty sure that Boston George was right though. The dumpster seemed like it was farther from the back wall than normal.

Maybe George had been partially correct. Perhaps some bear or something had wandered down and climbed in looking for food. Again, considering the flooding, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility. After all, the wildlife was known to wander into town from time to time.

Bob moved cautiously forward, and then stopped when he was about fifteen feet away. Some vague, primal instinct warned him not to get any closer.

He stood there in silence for a moment, listening for any sign of movement from within the rusty metal structure. Nothing. Not a sound. He straightened, and let out a sigh. Jesus. He was being ridiculous.

Georgey was just buzzed. Pete Barnes had just gone out on some sudden errand and forgotten to lock up. Yeah, that was it. He started to turn back to George. That’s when he noticed the shoe…

It was just lying there about three feet in front of the dumpster. It was black. That was about all he could tell from this distance.

But he knew. He just \*knew\*, that it was a black penny loafer. And there was only one guy around here who sported those kind of kicks.

“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out toward the dumpster, knowing full well how ridiculous he would look to his peers in that moment. He received no reply.

He took a few more cautious steps forward, calling out again and once again being answered with silence.

God, what if he had fallen in? As impossible as it seemed. What if Pete had fallen in and was lying broken and bleeding right now as he stood there like an idiot?

“What’s goin’ on fellas?”

A voice suddenly asked from behind, causing both men to jump. Bob turned around only to see Christie Villarmarin’s pug-like face. Christie was the “owner” of East Bay Salon.

What that really meant was that her husband, District Circuit Court Judge, Troy Villarmarin, had bought his incredibly unpleasant wife a business so as to keep her out of his hair. And quite literally in someone else’s.

“Everything alright, Officer Maxwell?” she asked innocently.

Bob didn’t really dislike people as a rule of thumb. It was not in his nature. But God Damn if Christie just didn’t naturally piss him off.

She was one of the town gossip “ring leaders,” as his mother always put it. Christie had an affinity for other people’s business. Her Salon only amplified her powers. Bob noticed a few of Christie’s customers/cronies had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Salon and were watching their conversation with rapt attention.

And God Dammit if he didn’t have time for this! It was going on 1:15 and he hadn’t even made it down to Barry’s yet! Christie was a shark circling a piece of meat on a hook. But he wasn’t going to give her one bite.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bob said, beaming. “We’re just looking for Old Ma- Mister Barnes. I think he may have stepped out, and forgotten to lock up.”

“Oh,.” was all Christie said, mirroring the Deputy’s smile right back at him.

She knew that he wasn’t telling her something. And she was determined to find out what. As a member of the upper echelon of the community it was her duty to. After all there were very few police officers in Duxbury who were truly mentally adequate to do their job. But what could you expect from a profession that literally accepted anyone who applied?

For a moment the two just stood there, beaming their smiles at one another. Boston George looked back, and forth between the two of them. Lifting a brow in confusion at their “smile duel.”

“Why, good afternoon everyone!”

The three turned to see Father John standing in the mouth of the alleyway with Sheriff Copper and Deputy David Quimby. The Priest was dressed in his usual black underwrap. He was carrying a cake with pink frosting in a big tupperware. The short, balding, round man wore his usual warm, toothy grin.

“Bobby!” the Sheriff said in greeting, and began walking up.

“Great,” Bob thought.

Copper nodded at Christie.

“Ma’am.”

“Sheriff,” Christie smiled. This time the expression was genuine though.

Copper reached Bob and gave him a clap on the back.

“Don’t tell me you got stood up?!” He said. Letting out a great bellowing laugh as he did.

“No, Sheriff. I-

“I’m just teasin’ you Bobby,” Copper cut him off. “Ol’ Dougy told me about Mister Barnes.”

Bob noticed Doug poking his head around the corner.

“I told the Sheriff you was looking for Pete,” he said.

“Thanks Doug,” Bob replied.

“Me and the boys here were just on our way down to get ready for the Church Cookout tonight,” Copper said with a grin as he turned to face the others.

“Now this right here is a shining example of an outstanding Officer of the Law. Even off duty, right before a big date no less, we find Bobby here still ensuring the safety of the good citizens of Duxbury.” He laughed once again. His big belly bouncing up and down.

“A date?” Christie quirked an eyebrow at this.

“Shit,” Bob thought.

“Yes, Deputy Maxwell,” Father John cut in, smiling up at Bob, who stood a full head taller than him.

“You truly are a good man, aren’t you? You know you are always welcome in God’s house, my son. Perhaps tonight you and your lady friend might stop by and partake in the festivities?”

“Th-— Thank you Father. We just might do that,” Bob lied.

“Tell ya’ what Bobby,” Copper said, “why don’t you go run along, and let me handle finding Mister Barnes?”

Bob let out a sigh of relief.

“Thanks, Sheriff. I owe you one.”

The Sheriff waved this off with a grin.

“Don’t mention it, Bobby. But before you go, do you have any leads?”

“Leads?” Bob asked, not understanding.

Copper laughed.

“Yeah, ya’know? Like any idea where Barnes might have got off to?”

Just then there came a brief, faint echo of shifting trash from within the depths of the big, green dumpster behind them. Everyone turned.

“I don’t know. But I noticed a shoe that looks like one of his beside the dumpster.”

“Um, so did you check it out?” Quimby asked.

Deputy David Quimby could have passed for Larry Wilcox’s twin. He acted like it to. The all American high school football hero turned cop. Every day on the job you’d think that Quimby was acting out an episode of Chip’s Patrol.

The man was wearing his pump-action Mossberg 590 strapped to his back. Despite the fact that he didn’t need it, the Deputy almost always had the weapon on him. He thought in made him look tough. And in truth it really did help him get laid.

“I actually just got here a minute before you did,” he answered. “I was about to look. But George said that he thought there was some kind of animal in the dumpster. So I was… assessing the situation before approaching.”

“Hah!” Quimby exclaimed in a clearly fake laugh, slapping a hand across one knee. “Ya’ll are scared of a raccoon in a dumpster?!”

“It ain’t no raccoon, Officer Quimby,” Boston George replied in a foreboding tone.

Christie Ackerman huffed.

Bob just ground his teeth. Partly because he couldn’t think of an adequate retort, but mostly because the answer might very well be “yes.”

That’s when Bob realized how quiet it had gotten. The near constant chirping of chickadees was suddenly absent. He tried to remember if he’d heard any birds when he’d first gotten to the neighborhood.

“Don’t none of ya’ll worry your pretty little heads off ,” Sheriff Copper said as he began walking down the alleyway. “The Sheriff’s on the jo– Oh, what in the Hell?”

The Sheriff looked over the other’s shoulders. Bob turned. The small group of onlookers from the salon had been joined by a group of curious younger folks from the cafe. They were now gathered in the middle of the road watching them.

“Alright!” the Sheriff shouted toward the street, “There ain’t nothin’ to see here people! We’re just havin’ a conversation, and ya’ll are wastin’ your time if you’re hoping for some action.”

“And since ya’ll are grownups, I don’t think that I have to lecture you on how dangerous it is to bestanding in the middle of the road. Now I suggest that ya’ll git!”

A couple people shuffled their feet. But no one really moved. The Sheriff huffed and turned back around to face the dumpster.

“Fine,” he said and began walking.

“Sheriff,” Father John said. And Copper paused.

“I’d be careful. The woods and swamps are not far away. And there’s no telling what may have crawled out of the bogs this time of year. Keene’s Road is flooded over you know.”

The Sheriff smiled.

“Aw Father, your concern for my well being is truly touching. But I’m a big strong man, and I think I can handle some little woodland critter.”

“Besides, Keene’s Road and all its ghost and goblin stories are a long ways off.” He winked, and continued moving forward.

“It’s never really that far,” Bob heard the Priest say under his breath. It was a peculiar statement.

Copper walked up to the dumpster while the others watched with trepidation. Everyone except Quimby. He was standing there with his hands on his hips, smiling ear to ear. No doubt thinking about how he was going to tell everyone at the station of Bob’s newfound dumpster phobia.

The Sheriff made it to within a foot of the dumpster and looked in. Nothing happened. He turned around to face the others, a big shit-eating “I’m better than you grin” plastered on his face.

“Ya’ see, fellas,” he said, “there ain’t nothing to be afraid of.”

“Are ya’ sure sheriff?” Boston George asked hesitantly.

Copper shrugged and turned back around. Stepping up to the lip of the dumpster, he stood on his tip-toes to get a better look.

“Whatever animal it was prob-” The Sheriff’s words caught in his throat, and his body froze up like a dear in headlights.

“Jesus, Mary, and Jose-!” Copper’s words were cut short as the two hundred and thirty pound man was violently ripped off his feet. Simultaneously there came a small explosion of trash. Garbage whizzed by and Copper’s uniform billowed as if caught in a strong gust of wind.

The big man went up, and over the edge, disappearing in a blur. He didn’t even have time to scream. Everyone instinctively back-pedaled.

The group of onlookers that had gathered in the street quickly herded themselves back across to the sidewalk on the other side. The smaller group that had been near the Dumpster practically leapt backward to the lip of the alleyway.

Deputy Quimby shouted in surprise.

Christie screamed, and Bob joined her. To the passerby it might have sounded like the two were having a “damsel in distress ” screaming contest. If they had been, Deputy Maxwell, to his credit, would have won.

“Oh my Gad! Oh my Gad!” Boston George was shrieking over and over as he back-pedaled into the street. His hysterics were abruptly cut short as he was struck by Henry McDuff’s truck.

Marcus’s son hadn’t even noticed Georgey until the man was rolling up onto his hood. The farmer panicked as George smashed into his windshield, simultaneously jerking the wheel hard to the left, while slamming on the breaks.

A split second later the rusty, red pickup smashed into a car parked in front of East Bay Salon. George went rolling off and over the hood of the other vehicle, falling over the other side and disappearing from McDuff’s view as quickly as he’d appeared.

The open bed of the truck had been literally overflowing with freshly harvested apples. Upon impact, the fruit erupted out of the bed like a volcano, creating a small apple tsunami that rolled across the street.

The screeching of tires forced Bob’s horrified gaze from the spot where Sheriff Copper had recently occupied to the street behind him. But only for a moment. Once he realized that it was just a car accident, he quickly snapped his gaze back down the alleyway, pulling out his service revolver as he did so. Carnivorous dumpsters took precedence over car accidents.

For a moment everybody just stood there in silence. Then there came a great rumble from within the Dumpster that sounded like a giant belching to Bob. A small explosion of assorted trash shot up high into the air.

The crowd took another collective step backward as the assorted debris came raining down, clattering and clanking to the ground between them and the alleyway. Glass shattered. Empty metal cans went bouncing across the pavement.

The smaller group at the edge of the alley raised their hands over their heads protectively as debris rained down upon them. A big aluminum can bounced off Bob’s shoulder. It didn’t really hurt, but it did make him jump.

The last thing to land was the Sheriff’s hat. The brim had a jagged tear that looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it. The sight of the hat was apparently Quimby’s breaking point, for a second later, the man let out a howl that was one part terror and one part war cry.

He raised the Pump Action (which Bob only now realized the Deputy had unslung from his back), and the weapon boomed deafeningly. It happened so fast that Bob didn’t even have time to shout at him to stop or he could hit the Sheriff.

The buckshot struck the side of the Dumpster, sending out a shower of sparks. But as far as Bob could tell, it failed to penetrate the thick metal.

Quimby continued moving forward. Pumping his shotgun and firing over and over, howling all the while.

One. Two. Three.

Each shot that hit the rusty metal sent out another shower of sparks. Every round ricocheted off. Bob saw a chunk of the red brick wall of Barne’s Market disintegrate beneath the weight of buckshot.

Everyone but Quimby seemed to be aware of the danger, the crowd collectively panicking as the Deputy continued to unload the contents of his weapon.

Another shot rang out.

Just then one of Quimby’s shots finally did manage to penetrate the damaged metal. And that’s when the proverbial shit truly hit the fan. The Dumpster suddenly exploded into motion.

It came rocketing forward in a blur. Its wheels screamed maddeningly as the rusty behemoth attained a speed it had never been meant to. Quimby, who had only been about ten feet in front of the nightmarish Thing, had no hope of getting out of its way.

It smashed into him with bone crushing force. Bob was sure that, had it not been for the screeching tires and the shrieking people, he would have surely heard Quimby’s bones shattering.

Several things happened in the next three seconds. The unfortunate Deputy Quimby was violently dragged beneath the rusty behemoth. Except no part of him really fit between the five, or so inches of space between the bottom of the Dumpster and the pavement.

What quickly followed reminded Bob of what he compulsively did every morning with his toothpaste at home. Everything inside the Deputy’s body was forced forward, rocketing up under his skin until the bottom of the Dumpster met with Quimby’s head. Then his head exploded as it was crushed beneath the weight of the monstrous Thing.

In some grotesque feet of physics, most of what had made Quimby tick blew out of the top of the man’s head like a cannon. There came a loud “thwop” that sounded a lot like the noise a balloon might make if one jumped up and landed down on it with both feet.

Bone, entrails, and other less identifiable things quite literally erupted out into the street, blood and bone mixing with the apples and broken glass.

That was all in the first second. Bob and Father John were the next people standing in the monstrous hunk of metal’s deadly path. There was no time for words. Bob prepared to leap for his life, but everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.

The rusty monstrosity was practically already on top of them. That’s when Bob felt Father John shove him with a strength that seemed impossible for a man so small. It felt like Conan the Barbarian had steam rolled into him with all his fictional might. The Deputy went flying off his feet, hitting the ground and tumbling out of the way just on time.

For one split second, just before his mad rolling forced his eyes away from the passing monstrosity, Bob thought he caught sight of Father John standing calmly on the other side. And as insane as it was, he could have sworn that the man wore a look of mild amusement.

Bob felt the wind of the massive Thing on his face as it passed. He caught the scent of trash, and blood, and…something else…. Some ungodly stench that made his eyes water and his stomach lurch.

Then the Dumpster was rocketing across the street. It kept going on its straight path. People shrieked as they tried to get out of the behemoth’s way, slipping and falling over each other and the apples. There came the near defending crash of metal hitting concrete as the Dumpster went up and over the curb.

The Thing (to the great misfortune of those still in its path) barely slowed as its nightmarish momentum took it onto the sidewalk. There was a fire hydrant in its way, but it offered up little resistance as it steam rolled over it and into the shrieking crowd.

The hydrant was ripped from its base. Water instantly began to geyser up into the air from where it had been. But the Dumpster paid it no mind as it continued on its deadly path. Several people who had failed to get out of its way were struck and carried along with it.

It then slammed into the front of East Bay Salon with a deafening boom that was followed by a chorus of shattering glass. The Thing bounced off the brick building, and slowly rolled backward and back off the sidewalk before coming to a stop.

Bob dazedly climbed to his feet. The front of the Salon was painted red. He didn’t have to see the other side of the Dumpster to know that it was covered in something akin to what you’d see on a conveyor belt in a meat packing plant.

Most of the crowd had finally decided to take the late Sheriff’s advice and “git”. People were shrieking and running down the street in both directions. Bob for his part just stood there in a shock as the icy water from the broken hydrant rapidly flooded the street.

The water reached where he was standing and soon his socks were soaked. But he paid it no mind as his gaze roamed slowly around the scene. There were still about a half dozen or so people stumbling about in a shell-shocked daze that mirrored his own.

“Christ! Robert, are you okay son?” Henry McDuff’s panic etched voice brought the Deputy out of his stupor.

Bob turned to face the farmer. The grizzled forty-something man was holding a double barrel Remington in hands that weren’t shaking quite as badly as his.

Bob managed a nod.

“Babby!” Boston George came running and limping up, huffing all the while. “Oh, Bab, thank Gad you’re okay!”

Bob turned and met the man’s concerned eyes, thinking in that moment that George was a lot nicer of a guy than he’d ever given him credit for. He’d just been hit by a truck and was asking if he was okay!

“We gotta get outta here, Bab!”

The Deputy nodded, and just as he did the Dumpster turned. Not at blinding speed, but not slowly either, wheels squealing shrilly into the air. As ridiculous as the thought was, Bob swore that the rusty, blood stained hunk of metal had turned to look at them.

“Oh shit,” McDuff said under his breath.

Without another word the trio took off toward the row of cars parked in front of Lux. They all sensed what was coming next.

Like a dog giving chase to a rabbit, the unholy Thing came for them. Everyone who’d been wandering around after the initial impact had been brought out of their stupor when the Dumpster once again began moving. But at that moment Christie Villarmarin was awful close to it.

She shrieked and began running. Her massive blubbery form bobbing up and down so violently that for one insane second Bob half expected her to start bouncing away. She did bounce once though. Just before the speeding Nightmare struck her she gave one last panicked leap into the air.

The woman attained an astonishing altitude. As impossible as it seemed, her tennis shoes had to be at least three feet off the ground when the Dumpster struck her. She bounced off the frame and even higher into the air, cartwheeling round and round before falling directly into the Thing’s open maw. She made a sort of gurgling shriek as she fell away from sight.

A split second later Bob, George, and McDuff were busy trying to scramble over the hood of a big gray Buick Century in front of them. The cars lining the sidewalk, having been parked nearly bumper to bumper, seemed to offer up as good a defense as any.

McDuff was the first to make it over. The farmer was surprisingly quick on his feet. He turned to help Bob, who was right on his heels. He made it to the other side just as McDuff was once again saying, “Oh shit!”

Bob whipped around. Boston George was about halfway across the hood, the un-athletic man doing his best to move quickly. But the Dumpster was a second away from plowing into the car.

Bob and McDuff instinctively stumbled backward. The Dumpster blasted into the Buick. The side of the car crumpled like an accordion as the vehicle was forced up onto and over the curb.

All the windows exploded at once. The sheer force of the impact was so powerful that it shattered the floor to ceiling windows in the entrance of Lux and knocked both men on their asses. And for the second time that day, Boston George was sent hurtling off the top of a vehicle. He landed on Bob and McDuff, who were blindly scrambling (and failing) to get out of the sliding vehicle’s way.

Miraculously the Buick slid to a stop mere inches from the three men. They only had a second’s reprieve though. For as they began climbing to their feet, a massive tentacle came shooting through the broken passenger side window.

The Thing was terrible to behold. Rippling with corded muscle, at its thickest it was the circumference of a hubcap. The flesh that covered it was the color of bile. And the smell. Oh God, the smell!

It thrashed around madly over their heads, the entire frame of the Buick rocking back, and forth with the Thing’s movements. Bob reached for his gun.

Only it wasn’t in its holster. Where the fuck was his gun?! That’s when he remembered that he’d taken it out before the monstrosity’s initial charge.

His shock was broken by the sudden retort of McDuff’s Remington going off deafeningly over his head as the weapon unloaded both rounds into the Thing. The nightmarish appendage jerked violently as both shots found their mark.

The flesh about four feet down from the tip exploded like a watermelon. A sizzling, purplish fluid came out in a spray as the top part of the tentacle struck the ground with a heavy thud. The severed appendage began violently thrashing about.

There came a hellish shriek that shook the very air around them, and the stumpy tentacle violently snapped back through the ruined car as the Dumpster quite literally jerked backward. The metal behemoth rocketed back across the street, attaining a speed that defied reason.

It grated deafeningly along the sides of several parked cars in front of East Bay before abruptly changing direction. It flew across the street, slamming into a sedan parked in front of the Red Herring. The frame of the vehicle folded inward, metal shrieked deafeningly.

Bob quickly leapt to his feet. Stumbling to avoid the thrashing tentacle, he looked down. The sizzling purplish blood (if it could be called blood) was burning holes in the concrete, making a patch of the sidewalk look like smoldering Swiss cheese.

He turned to help McDuff up, realizing at the same time that it wasn’t the farmer who had fired the weapon. In front of the gated entrance of Lux stood their savior.

It took Bob a moment to recognize the woman. It was Gretta Thompson. She was standing there in a blue and white dress, holding the smoking Remington, her face a mixture of rage and terror.

“My fucking windows!” she shrieked at the Dumpster, as it rocketed back across Surplus and smashed into a Volkswagen van with a giant “Peace” sign painted in bright yellow on the sliding door.

The three men stood and looked at her with dumbfounded expressions. Gretta fixed her green eyes on McDuff.

“You have any more bullets for this thing?”

“Uh, yeah, back in the truck.”

“Well that’s just fu-” her breath suddenly caught in her throat as her gaze shifted over their shoulders and her body stiffened.

“Come on!” she shouted a darted back through the entrance of her cafe.

There came another deafening roar from behind. The three instinctively began sprinting for the entrance. Bob was the last one in and, just as he entered, he turned to see the Dumpster once again rocketing toward them.

This time, though, it had clearly given itself room for a running start. It plowed once again into the accordioned Buick with a deafening crash. The car was lifted up off the ground and sent tumbling toward the front entrance of Lux.

It smashed through the little iron gate that bordered the patio. Bob saw the “No Alcohol Past This Point!” sign blast off the gate and come rocketing toward the cafe. A second later, both the rolling vehicle and mangeled gate slammed into the main entrance.

The frame of the building shook with the impact. The double doors were blasted off the hinges and sent clattering to the floor. More glass shattered somewhere in the background.

The Buick had rolled and slammed into the Cafe while on it’s side, wobbled back and forth for a moment before finally tipping backward, and hitting the pavementan impact that shook the ground.

The roof collided with the pavement and instantly flattened. The mangled metal fencing clanged to the ground a second later.

Gretta gave a primal shriek from behind Bob. “My windows!”

The Dumpster began to slowly roll backward, lazily twirling round and round as it did so. In the distance could be heard the faint but distinct sound of approaching sirens.

“Alright, ya’ Gad damn trash manstah!” Boston George cried out to Bob’s right.

The Deputy turned, and watched in disbelief as Georgey pulled out an entire bottle of moonshine from his trousers as if he were a magician and this was really just some elaborate performance. Then to Bob’s further disbelief he watched as George unscrewed the cap and began stuffing a handkerchief into the open top.

“George what are you—” The Deputy’s words were cut short, as his attention was drawn to another deafening crash. The Dumpster slammed into another car in front of East Bay Salon.

“Let me show you a city folk trick, ya’ unholy bastad!”

Bob turned once again to look at George just as the man was stepping back out onto the ruined patio. To his disbelief he saw that the he’d ignited the handkerchief and was drawing his arm back.

“Oh, Christ,” He heard McDuff say.

“George what are you—” the Deputy attempted to ask the question once again, but his words were cut short as Georgey hurled the flaming bottle in the direction of the Dumpster.

Whether it was blind luck or the fact that Georgey’d been an accomplished pitcher at some point in his youth back in Boston, Bob did not know. But the makeshift Molotov cocktail flew nearly seven yards, and hit the erratically moving target right on the mark.

“Yeah!” Gretta cried her approval. “That was totally flange baby!”

Georgey blushed despite himself.

Bob gave a cursory thought to poor Christie Villarmarin just as the flaming bottle of liquor disappeared behind the rusty, blood stained walls. He assumed that she had to already be dead. At least he hoped she was. Because a second later there came the shattering of glass, followed by a small explosion of flames.

It was as if every piece of garbage inside had been bone dry. Within seconds the interior of the Dumpster became a raging inferno. At least the top layer of trash had.

God only knew what occupied the depths of the behemoth. Flames shot out in a pyre, adding to the nightmarish quality of the Thing.

An unholy howl that all who were present would remember for the rest of their days erupted from the bowels of the Dumpster. Then the Thing took off once again, this time rocketing straight down the street, moving East.

“Oh, God,” Bob thought, “it’s headed into town!”

Just then Bob caught a glimpse of how the Thing propelled itself for the first time. Jutting out from the bottom of the Dumpster were at least a dozen of the sickly yellow tentacles, each of them thicker and more muscular than the first one they’d seen.

The tentacles were moving in a blurred frenzy, all of them swiping at the ground and tearing up chunks of asphalt as they propelled the monstrosity down the road with incredible strength. The way they moved somehow reminded him of the frantic, spasmodic way a centipede’s legs moved when the insect was suddenly flipped onto its back.

The Dumpster continued to roar as it rocketed down the street, its unearthly howl echoing off the sides of the buildings. The sheer volume of the sound vibrated the windows of the glass that still remained intact.

For a moment the four companions just stood there in the shattered remnants of Lux’s entryway watching the rapidly shrinking form of the Dumpster. It was moving faster than ever. Whatever passed for the Thing’s adrenaline had clearly kicked in.

The sound of approaching sirens was growing louder, though they were still a long way off. Much to Bob’s dismay, they were coming somewhere from the East. The crunching of a pair of shoes on broken glass drew everyone’s attention to the door. It was Father John! He rounded the overturned Buick and greeted them with a smile.

Bob looked at the Priest incredulously. For all the horror that had so recently transpired, the man looked no worse for the wear. He realized that he was still holding the cake in one hand; the bright pink frosting appeared to be completely unharmed.

“My children,” he began as if addressing a congregation, “it is truly the Lord’s will that has put us all here today. And I think that he would want us to see this adventure through.”

McDuff grunted in agreement.

“What makes you think God’s a man, Father?” Gretta sneered.

At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then smiled.

“Freudian Slip my dear. But I digress… The Lord has willed us to survive thus far. And I believe that the Divine Creator would want us to drive this beast from our lands.

“I’m all for that!” Gretta exclaimed. “Let’s kill the shit out of that Thing!”

Father John cleared his throat at this, and Gretta looked over at him, pushing a lock of curly red hair out of her eyes as she did so.

“You know, I’d say I’m sorry. Father, but I’m not.”

“That fackin’ Manstah messed up my new favorite bah!“ Boston George added, his voice carrying with it an unnatural tone of wrath. ”Let’s finish that Fackah!“

Bob looked incredulously at the others, especially at Boston George. Until about two minutes ago, the man had been practically pissing himself. Now he and everyone was juiced up all of a sudden. Bob looked around at the unexpectedly determined faces with confusion.

Then his eyes were drawn to the cake in Father John’s hand. The bright pink frosting shining clearly through the container, practically glowing.This was insane. Go chasing after a two-ton carnivorous Dumpster that could move upwards of fifty miles per hour?

“Are all of you out of your fu—” He stopped mid-sentence, suddenly realizing his position. Realizing that this was his town! And thatthere was a living nightmare headed straight into the heart of it!

Bob nodded in affirmation. “Judging from the sound of the sirens, I’d say someone’s already called in the cavalry. And God help me if I ever walk around off duty without my radio again McDuff, go get your ammo out of your truck. If you can still get into it that is,.” he added.

“Ms. Thompson?”

“Gretta,.” she said flatly.

“Gretta then. Ms. Gretta, I like where George is headed with this Molotov cocktail idea. Would you mind if we bor—”

“On it,” Gretta cut him off as she turned and raced toward her bar.

Boston George suddenly let out a hoot.

“Alright! Let’s do this!” he exclaimed and took off running out across the decimated patio.

“I’ll get ol’ Lassie!” he shouted.

“Get what?” Bob asked, staring after the man in confusion.

Georgey paused and looked back at Bob with an incredulous look on his face.

“My cah Bab. My cah. It’s paked right around the corner.”

“You call your car Lassie? he asked, despite the fact that time was of the essence.

Yes Bab. Lassie’s my baby. Jesus Gad, do you even know me?” And at that he took off running.

With everyone in motion, Bob turned his thoughts to the fact that he didn’t have a weapon. He patted himself down frantically. The clinking and clanking of glass bottles echoed throughout the bar as Gretta presumably pulled down her higher proof booze.

Shit! All he had was his baton and mace. He slapped an open palm to his head. There came the sound of Lassie’s engine roaring to life somewhere down the street, followed by the screeching of tires.

He’d forgotten his spare sidearm at home! It was a Beretta M9 that his Mother had “uncharacteristically” gotten him as a gift for Christmas last year. He almost always carried it on him! Not that 9mm rounds were going to be much use against a two ton Dumpster from Hell.

“Could you perhaps put this to good use son?” Father John asked.

Bob turned and gave a start. In one hand the short, bald man still held the pink cake. In the other, he held Quimby’s blood spattered Mossberg 590. Bob stared at the little, chubby man in disbelief. The Priest beamed.

“I thought that it might come in handy. And that the unfortunate recently departed Deputy Quimby would have no objections to it being used as a tool to avenge his death.”

“F-Father I-”

“I took the liberty of reloading the weapon for you, Officer Maxwell.” Father John smiled. “Also it appears that the late Deputy Quimby had been carrying a copious amount of ammunition on him.”

Father John held out the pump-action, and Bob hesitantly (though he didn’t quite know why) took the weapon, feeling Quimby’s blood smear on his hands. It was still warm.

Then the Priest reached into his garments and produced a box of shotgun shells. At this Bob’s incredulousness increased two-fold. For in Father John’s hand was an opened box of Brenneke Shotgun Slugs.

Brenneke were top of the line. The closest thing to armor piercers that you could get for a shotgun in this day and age. They were damned expensive, too. What further perplexed the Deputy was that he was almost one hundred percent positive that the late David Quimby kept his weapon loaded with the cheaper, standard 00 Buckshot.

And to have been carrying a box of twenty-five slugs? Why in God’s name would Quimby have had all that ammo on him? With these questions echoing through his mind, he accepted the bright orange box, Father John smiling up at him as he did so.

“Th-Thank you, Father.”

Just as Gretta was rounding the corner of the bar with an armload of bottles, the sound of screeching tires echoed in through the shattered windows.

“Let’s go!” Bob shouted, and everyone ran for the door.

Thirty seconds later they were practically flying down Surplus Street in the candy apple red BMW, Boston George at the wheel. The trees whizzed by in a blur. Bob was in the front, while Gretta, McDuff, and Father John rode in the back.

They passed Christmas Tree Way so fast he couldn’t even make out the sign. George took the bend in the road ahead at a death-defying sixty-five. Bob realized he was subconsciously stomping on the floor as if he were going to magically find a brake pedal there.

For the first minute, all they did was follow the trail of black smoke the flaming nightmare had left in its wake. Lassie took another turn with speed and precision that would make Steve McQueen jealous. George really did know what he was doing, Bob realized.

Just as the racing vehicle passed South Station Street, they hit the flooded section. Bob remembered the water hazard only a second before they hit it. The BMW instantly began hydroplaning dangerously. George (much to Bob’s relief) slowed down a fraction.

The patch of water must have given the Dumpster some trouble too, because just as they cleared the mini-lake and hit asphalt again, the flaming behemoth came into view. It was racing over the wooden bridge of the Bluefish.

For a second Bob was sure that the bridge would collapse beneath the weight of the Thing. And had it lingered longer upon the aging wooden planks it just may have. As it was, the Thing was moving so fast that the bridge remained upright.

A split-second later, Lassie was crossing the Bluefish and gaining on the speeding nightmare. Now that they were on a straightaway of sorts, Bob was sure they’d be able to catch up to the Thing. But the billowing plume of smoke became blinding as they closed in.

The wind from the Dumpster’s momentum only added strength to the fire. The flames leapt up high and bent backward against the wind. The top was down on the BMW, and as they got closer Bob, could literally feel the heat from the Thing on his face.

Within the flames could be seen huge sickly yellow tentacles thrashing madly about and flinging pieces of trash high up into the air. Bob silently thanked God for how wet everything was as he watched some large, unidentifiable piece of flaming debris disappear into the shadows of the nearby forest.

And that wasn’t the only obstacle. The thick tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the Dumpster were literally tearing up the road as they propelled the Thing forward. The car swerved this way and that, bouncing and bumping along ruined asphalt.

“Holy Moses!” McDuff cried out from the back seat. “Maybe we should just let it burn itself out!”

At this Bob shook his head.

“Who knows if the fire will be enough to kill it?” Bob asked. Then turned to George.

“Georgey,” he shouted over the wind, “try and get up alongside the thing! Me and Henry will try and shoot out the wheels!”

“Ten-Four, Bab!” The man answered and took the BMW into the left lane. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic.

Boston George put the pedal to the metal, and Lassie’s engine roared mightily. The vehicle began to rapidly close the distance now that they were out of the plume and away from the ruined asphalt. When they were about eighteen feet away, McDuff’s Remington suddenly boomed deafeningly over his head.

The buckshot struck the lower right side of the speeding Dumpster. There came a brief shower of sparks about eight inches above the wheels. Close but no cigar. Bob turned to find that the Farmer had climbed to his feet, balancing precariously on the seat of the speeding car as he aimed with his weapon.

“Hold up, Henry!” Bob shouted. “Let’s get a little closer first!”

“Alright!” Henry shouted back, as he bent to the task of reloading.

“Here, use these,” Bob said, handing him the open box of Brenneke. “They’ve got a way better chance of doing some damage.”

McDuff’s eyes widened. He gingerly took a handful of slugs, placing them in one of the pockets of his blue jeans.

“En’ how they do!” McDuff exclaimed. “Where’d you get these?!”

Bob nodded to Father John, just as McDuff finished reloading. He snapped the Remington back into place. The Farmer looked down at the smiling Priest in disbelief.

The next few seconds saw Lassie and her “stuntman driver” managing to nearly pull up alongside the Dumpster. The Thing was no more than a half dozen feet ahead and twice that to the right. At this distance, Bob had a chance to get a good look at the blood stained Thing, and he took in its nightmarish details for a brief second that seemed to stretch on for an eternity.

The flailing bile colored tentacles, thick with corded muscle, looked like they could crush the life out of a buffalo. He saw one of the tentacles below the frame of the Dumpster smack the ground. As it pushed off the street, adding to the momentum of the Thing. A few sizeable chunks of asphalt tore off and up into the air.

There were rows of…bone? Cartilage? He couldn’t even begin to guess at what they were made of. At any rate there were these rows of triangular shaped objects that lined the bottoms of the tentacles.

They looked terribly sharp and were clearly incredibly strong, considering what they were currently doing to Surplus Street. Bob shuddered at the thought of what it must feel like to be dragged deep down into the stinking, darkness of the garbage by those things.

Suddenly, a flaming bottle of liquor went flying over his head, snapping him out of his trance. Gretta having stood up in the backseat, and hurled it at the rusty Beast. He had no idea how she’d managed to get the thing lit amidst the howling wind. The bottle burst just on the lip of the bloody frame, exploding on impact and adding to the inferno.

“Yeah, motherfucker!” she exclaimed, apparently pleased with the damage she’d done.

The action had startled George as well, and he reflexively jerked the wheel to the left. The car swerved back and forth perilously for a few seconds. Finally the BMW straightened back out, as George regained control of the vehicle.

“Jesus, woman!” Bob said breathless, turning back to look at her.

In that moment, to Bob, she looked like something out of a comic book, her blue and white dress billowing in the wind, her curly, red hair flying all around her face.

“What?” she answered back in a perturbed voice.

In those green eyes Bob saw a madness that made him turn back around in his seat. He instead busied himself with preparing his own attack on the metal monstrosity. Bob propped himself up on one knee as best he could, leaning into the seat for balance.

“Alright, Henry,” Bob shouted, “let’s do this!”

Henry said something Bob couldn’t quite make out. George took Lassie as close to the Dumpster as he dared. Both men took aim. And that was about as far as they got, for a second later the flashing lights of an ambulance turning off of Washington Street suddenly appeared up ahead.

The ambulance was followed by two police cruisers. George hit the brakes. The wheels of the BMW locked up, and Bob flew forward, smashing the side of his face on the windshield as Lassie’s tires cried out in protest.

The three oncoming vehicles swerved erratically to avoid the flaming Behemoth. One of the cruisers went off the side of the road. The Dumpster whizzed by the other two, missing the ambulance by mere inches.

Then the worst happened. A half second before the Dumpster crossed Washington a fire truck came racing around the corner, intending to turn onto Surplus. The Dumpster, which had been veering slightly to the left, T-boned the emergency vehicle almost dead center.

Glass shattered. Metal bent and shrieked. Flaming garbage erupted into the air.

Upon impact three of the fire truck’s wheels were blown off the frame and sent bouncing down the road. Bob saw all this as Lassie skidded across the road, nearly turning completely parallel to her original position.

The Dumpster bounced off the emergency vehicle and rolled back lazily, whatever was inside of it seemingly dazed from the impact. Lassie finally skidded to a halt.

Firemen stumbled out of the ruined fire truck in a daze, and water spewed out from the broken water tanks. For a moment the men just stood there, watching dumbfounded as the Dumpster slowly spun round and round, flailing tentacles frantically hurling out flaming pieces of trash.

Then almost as one, they snapped out of their trance, springing into actions that had been drilled into them. A man unhooked a hose from the disabled truck. Two others joined him and together they began running for the nearby fire hydrant.

As if caught up in the same spell, everyone leapt out of Lassie and began running toward the firetruck, Gretta already attempting to light another Molotov cocktail.

“Don’t put it out!” they were shouting.

Flaming trash of assorted size fell out of the sky. The firefighters looked on at the small group with perplexed expressions, but only stopped when they saw McDuff’s Remington and Bob’s uniform.

“Don’t put it out?!” A frazzled looking Firefighter with the name “Gacy” emblazoned on his uniform stepped up to the approaching group. “What the Hell are yo—”

His words were cut short as a deafening roar shook the air. Everyone turned to see the Dumpster rocketing backward, the Beast within seemingly have regained its senses.

It slammed into a telephone pole, snapping the wood like a toothpick. Slowly it fell over, the upper half landing on the roof of the Fire Truck with a loud crash. A second later the power lines hit the street and the rapidly growing pool of water from the leaking tanks.

Two of the Firefighters standing in the water realized the danger too late, and Bob watched their demise with a mixture of disbelief and horror. For a brief second Bob swore he saw the two men’s skeletons beneath their uniforms, outlined in blinding blue light.

A second later they were no more than blackened husks smoldering in the shallow water. Everyone ran in a blind panic from the spreading pool.

McDuff was the first to reach the relative safety of the sidewalk. He turned and unloaded both rounds of his Remington into the Dumpster. Bob quickly followed suit.

Their shots were joined by a few others, the cops who had been in the squad cars instinctively following the actions of their fellow police officer.

Amidst the shower of sparks Bob knew that at least one of the rounds had penetrated the rusty metal hide, because a second later the Dumpster jerked like an animal being shot.

It roared again, but Bob was reasonably sure that he was partially deaf by now because the volume of the sound wasn’t as painful as before. The Dumpster took off once again, this time South down Washington.

A split second later Lassie was roaring up to Bob and McDuff, George behind the wheel and Gretta riding shotgun. Bob wasn’t sure when the two had run back to the car. But Father John, and his pink cake were nowhere to be seen. Wordlessly the pair leapt into the back, and the BMW took off.

As Bob reloaded, he saw his fellow officers running back toward their vehicles, but he didn’t have time to see how long it took them to get their squad cars moving. His attention was focused on the task at hand.

The task at hand? What exactly was he doing? Did he really just allow a group of citizens to help him chase down a literal monster? Is that something a Roller should do?

Bob suddenly found himself doubting his actions. How had he been convinced to go about this the way he had? Father John? Had a Priest really so easily riled them up? Bob turned to look at George.

Boston George had apparently learned from his previous pursuit of the Beast. He kept Lassie to the Thing’s right, avoiding the paths of ruined asphalt that he knew would be there. They were caught up to it by the time the Thing was passing Josselyn Avenue.

Bob and McDuff both took shots at the wheels, but only succeeded in further damaging the rusty beast’s hide. The Dumpster seemingly took no notice of them as it flew down the road, pushing sixty.

Then unexpectedly, the Thing suddenly took a hard left onto Wadesworth Lane, bouncing off the side of the Eagle’s Nest Grocer’s as it did so. George for all his driving skills could not take the turn quite so well.

He stomped on the brakes as he spun the wheel. The car slid. Mimicking the motions of the Dumpster, Lassie struck the side of Eagle’s Nest, but maintained her forward momentum.

“Lassie!” George cried out in horror.

“Where the Hell’s it going?!” McDuff shouted over the wind. His voice had lost its determined timbre.

Bob already thought that he knew the answer to that. After all, about a mile up the road was Eagle’s Nest Bay. But first there was a hill to climb, not that the Dumpster seemed to care. In fact it looked like it actually picked up speed as it went up the slope.

It was a steep one. Steep and tall, offering up a beautiful view of the Bay below. It was also a favorite for fitness freaks, but fortunately none of them were currently jogging or cycling up it.

No wait, there was someone on the sidewalk! Bob couldn’t tell who it was at this distance, but he saw them turn and run away from the street, kicking rocks as fast as they could across the unused field to the left.

The Dumpster seemed to have no appetite at the moment, and it continued to rocket up the hill. And Bob thanked God for that, because it surely could have easily caught the would-be jogger if it had wanted.

“Bab, what are we doing?” George asked in a voice that sounded much more like himself and not the super hero persona he’d put on for the last ten minutes.

Bob turned. Much like McDuff, the man had clearly lost that steely edge. It was as if scraping his beloved BMW against the side of Eagle’s Nest Grocer had sobered him up. Though he was still keeping the pedal down.

“Just back off a bit,” he heard himself saying. It was as if his reasoning abilities were returning to him one by one.

George did just that. No one offered any objections, as he eased off the gas slightly, putting about thirty feet between themselves and the Beast. They watched in awe as it reached the crest of the hill and launched itself over the other side and soared. through the air like the General Lee. For a moment time seemed to slow down. And in that brief time lapse Bob took it all in.

The roaring flames. The billowing plume of black smoke. The monstrous tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the rusty frame. Any second now, he was going to wake up. He was sure of it.

This had to all he a dream. It had to be! After all, he’d scored a date with Mary Barbadino! Which in retrospect had definitely been a sure sign that this was all in his head.

But then the Dumpster slammed into the ground on the other side with another deafening crash. The impact was so strong that it shook the car. And in that moment Bob knew that all this had to be real, since nothing could sound that loud in a dream.

Now on the downward slope of the steep hill, the Dumpster began rapidly picking up speed. The tentacles hardly had to do any work at all as it flew down the hill toward the bay, putting more distance between them.

“Jesus,.” Gretta said breathlessly from the front passenger seat. . “Why the fuck were we chasing that thing?”

The Dumpster became a blur of speed and flickering flame as it rolled downward. The Thing’s sheer weight, in combination with the wheels, allowed it to accelerate to incredible speed.

It cleared the remaining distance between itself and the entrance to the bay in a heartbeat, smashing through the chain link fence like papier-mâché. There was no heavy equipment in its path. And as they rolled down the hill, Bob could see the dock workers scattering.

Bob honestly couldn’t tell if the Dumpster had hit anyone on account of that God Damned plume of smoke. By the time Lassie was crossing over the ruined fence, the Dumpster had reached the edge of the land.

It raced across a dock, fortunately a far more sturdy construction than the bridge over Bluefish. Then it went off the edge, soaring out over the water.

The unbelievable momentum the monstrosity had gained on its mad race down the hill caused it to launch more than twenty feet out over the water before the rusty wheels touched the surface.

Then, as if to further defy reality, the Dumpster skipped across the water like a stone, bouncing once, twice. Then on the third time it hit the water, physics kicked in, and it went tumbling.

Flaming trash exploded outward in an awe striking display as the Dumpster flipped end over end. Bob couldn’t be sure, but between the flames and the white spray of water, he could swear that he saw the dark outline of some massive Thing fall out.

A second later the Dumpster lost its momentum and sank like a stone. A two ton stone that is. A great plume of bubbles and roiling water rose up to mark its final resting place.

The group pulled up close to the dock and got out. Behind them came the sounds of men shouting, and behind that were the sounds of rapidly approaching sirens.

The four just stood there in silence for a while, staring out at the water. The afternoon sun was reaching its zenith, casting the bay in its golden light.

It looked picturesque. Though Bob guessed that it would be a long time before anyone went swimming in the Bay again.

“Good work, Deputy!”

Father John’s words startled Bob out of his trance. He turned to see the Priest approaching with several police officers and other emergency responders. Bob noticed that the Priest no longer had his pink cake.

“You got here awful fast,” Bob heard himself saying, an accusatory tone in his voice, though he didn’t know why.

At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then he let out a laugh and clapped a hand on the Deputy’s shoulder, having to reach somewhat upward to do so.

“Your actions and quick thinking drove the beast from this land,” Father John said, addressing the four companions. “Had it not been for your bravery I am sure that this foul creature would surely have done much more damage.”

Bob just looked at the little man. He felt like he was seeing the Priest in a new light. That smile that seemed perpetually plastered to his chubby face suddenly appeared more forced than genuine.

It was as if… As if…

“Officer Maxwell!” Bob turned to see Lieutenant Dan George, who he assumed was now his current ranking Commanding Officer, fast approaching. “What the hell happened here?! Where is the Sheriff?!”

The line of questioning was not intended to be intimidating. There was panic in the Lieutenant’s voice. The young man was not used to being in charge.

Bob began to explain all the events leading up to the Docks. He told him about Sheriff Copper being attacked. About the chase down Surplus Street and then Washington. As he did, Bob watched Father John slink off and out of sight.

Slink. No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact…

The End

Special Thanks to Katherine C for editing this story!

Credit: Lebooski

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December 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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My first job was at a 24-hour restaurant called Flavi’s, on Third and Burlington in Westlake. It was a real hole-in-the-wall place, the type where patrons line up beneath the menu board; specializing in burgers, gyros, and all-day, grease-heavy breakfast.

I worked graveyard shifts. So did most of my customers – the medical crowd (there were two middle-sized hospitals nearby), cops, firefighters, and the assorted civil servants that filtered in and out of the neighborhood.

A middle-aged LAPD officer used to come by, sometimes with a partner, sometimes alone. Let’s call him Officer Carlos Nunez. Officer Nunez didn’t look like a cop. If I’d seen him at the grocery store, I’d have thought he were a professor or an attorney or a realtor. He had a square jaw and high forehead, curly brown hair, an endearing bald spot and the friendly, diplomatic face of a sitcom dad.

Officer Nunez had stories. On lazy nights he could entertain his audience for hours, that “audience” consisting of eagle scout-looking fire babies, bored security guards, and nursing students off clinical shifts. Thirty years with a badge and a car had given him plenty of material.

When there were no kiddies to impress he talked to me. Some of his stories were pretty dark. He saved those stories for the coldest, windiest nights when Flavi’s was empty, save for him and me and the cooks.

Though it was nearly a decade ago, what he told me on one of those nights still lingers in the back of my mind.

“There’s a building,” he’d started, “less than a mile from here. Near Sixth and Alvarado. It was abandoned, repossessed by the bank. They should have bulldozed the dump.”

It had been low-income housing. The Primrose Apartments. Originally office space, the building was bought at auction in 1999, gutted, and divided into cheap little white-walled units where the roofs leaked and the air conditioning never worked.

In the early 2000’s, Nunez was dispatched to The Primrose every couple weeks, for the reasons one would expect. Domestic disturbances. Possession with intent to sell. Drunken brawls in the parking lot, solicitation, truancy, noise complaints. Nothing out of the ordinary for a public housing complex lodged within the bowels of a major city. Yet somehow, embarrassingly, the building played on his nerves.

“I never liked the place,” he told me. “It was creepy. No building erected in the 70’s has the right to be as creepy as that one.”

If he’d been asked to put a finger on the epicenter of this innate creepiness, he’d have pointed to a little closet on the first floor. The way he described it was, coming from the back entrance (which only employees and cops ever used), a left turn would take you to a set of double doors, through which the elevator lobby and the leasing office were accessible. A right turn lead down a narrow hallway, past the janitor’s storage, to a dead end.

The little closet in question was opposite the janitor’s. The door was unlabeled, innocuous, and should have functioned as glorified wallpaper. But for Nunez, who’d stumbled upon the closet while looking for a restroom, even a glance towards it filled him with irrational dread. A funny smell lingered about the door; he’d catch a faint tendril of the stench every time he walked through the back door.

One night, Nunez and his partner, a lady cop who went by Rusty, were dispatched to The Primrose to investigate a domestic disturbance – a man threatening his girlfriend with a butcher knife. They found the woman locked in the bathroom and the boyfriend pounding on the door.

Let’s call the woman Marisol and the man Modesto.

Nunez and Rusty managed to cajole the pair into cooperating. Rusty stayed in the bathroom with Marisol, Nunez sat in the kitchen with Modesto. Modesto claimed that Marisol was cheating on him with her ex-husband. He’d seen the ex hanging around the elevator lobby.

When quizzed on the subject, Marisol insisted Modesto was crazy. Yes, she was still friendly with her ex-husband, but it was solely for the sake of their son. She had no desire to sleep with him. And besides, the ex-husband lived in Washington.

It was suggested that Modesto had seen a man who resembled Marisol’s ex. He got defensive. He strode into Marisol’s son’s room and came out with a framed picture – the son, with his arm around a (taller, better-looking) man.

“I gotta see this shit every day,” he ranted to Nunez. “You don’t think I’d recognize this asshole if I saw him?”

It took awhile, but Modesto calmed down and admitted he may have been mistaken. Marisol didn’t want to press charges, and the couple was left in peace.

Two weeks later, Nunez and Rusty were called to the same apartment, for the same reason. This time, Marisol was barricaded in the master bedroom and Modesto was brandishing a tire iron, insisting he’d had an enraging conversation with her ex-husband in the lobby.

“You fucked him!” he screamed. “He told me! He said you fucked him on our fucking bed!”

Backup was called. Thirty minutes later, Modesto was cuffed, sobbing, to a chair, while Marisol tearfully paced, on the phone with the ex-husband, trying to prove he hadn’t been hanging out in the lobby of The Primrose.

“There!” She cried finally.

Triumphantly, she’d pulled up a picture on her phone and shoved it in Modesto’s face. She handed the phone to Nunez. It was of the man from the picture – her ex-husband – standing by a City of Wenatchee street sign, holding a copy of The Wenatchee World with the day’s date.

“No way he flew here, fucked me, then flew back to Washington in time to take this picture.”

Modesto was asked to elaborate. Maybe he was the butt of a cruel trick. He said he’d been alone in the elevator lobby, checking his mail. The ex-husband stealthily came up beside him, and had described – in graphic, excruciating detail – what he and Marisol had done while Modesto was at work.

This time, Modesto was more difficult to pacify. He’d been suspicious for months, he told the cops. He knew the ex-husband had attempted to reconcile with Marisol. He was uncomfortable with their amicable relationship. And it didn’t help that Marisol used her ex to stroke Modesto’s jealousy – she’d call him whenever the two of them got into a fight, and constantly talked about how good a father and provider he was.

Finally, they came to a resolution. Modesto went to stay with his brother, Marisol agreed to lock the doors, and a police car was dispatched to the neighborhood in case the ex-husband reappeared (or Modesto got cute).

Nunez didn’t know what to make of the two of them.

Modesto was obviously paranoid, but his fury and grief had been sincere. Marisol may have used her ex-husband to make her current beau jealous, but she’d seemed legitimately mystified by his accusations of infidelity. And Nunez highly doubted the ex-husband would have hopped a plane to Los Angeles just to fuck his ex-wife and stick it to her new boyfriend.

And then, there was the man in the elevator lobby. The man whom might have been in the elevator lobby.

Nunez and Rusty passed him on the way back to their squad car – a man, leaning against the wall, face buried in a newspaper. Nunez saw the man and registered what he was seeing, but it took his subconscious a minute to process the information.

Then realization of what he’d seen – and its implications – hit him like a ton of bricks and he’d ran, back through the back entrance, back through the double doors. But the man was gone, and Nunez was left to wonder whether or not it had all been his imagination.

Because he could swear the man had been reading a copy of The Wenatchee World.

*****

Next, Nunez detailed an incident involving a middle-aged bible-thumper he called Dolores.

Dolores lived on the second floor of the Primrose Apartments. She was a sweet lady, but painfully high-strung. At least once a week the cops were summoned to her humble abode. She heard a noise after midnight? Call the cops. Two “suspicious looking” men talking in the parking lot? Call the cops. Her son’s out five minutes past curfew? Call the cops. It had gotten to the point where the dispatchers recognized her voice.

Nunez had been sent to calm her down more than once. He believed that, truly, Dolores just needed someone to talk to. And she talked a lot. She talked about her blackout-drunk past. About her husband who had fled, in the dead of night, with the shoebox full of cash she’d been saving for her kids to go to college, never to be seen or heard from again.

She told him about how she’d found Jesus, and how she wished her meth-addicted daughter would come home. The daughter had been in Bakersfield last she’d heard, shacking up with the boyfriend du jour and three months’ pregnant. But that had been two years ago, and now her number was disconnected and her mail got sent back, and all Dolores could do was pray for her grandchild.

She talked about her son, Michael. He was seventeen and a senior in high school. Michael was a good boy, she insisted. But she didn’t like his friends. They were a bad influence on him. And lately, he’d been avoiding her calls and coming home late. He was surlier, angrier, and his clothes smelled like marijuana. He swore the pot smell had come from his friend’s car. But Dolores was scared. She thought he was doing drugs.

“I can’t lose him,” she’d sobbed to Nunez, as he’d tried to convince her that the car stalling in the parking lot wasn’t indicative of a drug deal. “Mikey is all I have left.”

One September day, Nunez and Rusty were, yet again, dispatched to Dolores’ apartment. He was more frustrated than concerned – they’d had a rough morning, and he wasn’t in the mood to take notes on the “explosion” (read: upstairs neighbor dropped a pot and lid) Dolores had heard, or nod and “uh-huh” through one of her long-winded tales of motherly woe.

But, according to the dispatcher, this time was different. Dolores, who usually took an assertive and condescending tone, had been screaming and crying. It was her son. He was hurt. The paramedics were fifteen minutes away.

Dolores answered the door howling.

Her prematurely-wrinkled face was streaked with tears. Her eyes were bloodshot, her hair stuck out where she’d pulled at it, and she was sobbing so violently she could barely speak.

“Michael…” she panted, pointing towards a closed door. “Michael he’s… he’s…”

She screamed. Primal, animalistic, she cried out to the sky and collapsed on the floor, burying her tear-stained face in her knees. Even thinking about it, Nunez told me, was enough to make him tear up. All the pain and despair in the world was captured in that scream.

Rusty tried to comfort Dolores. Nunez, hand on his gun, opened the door.

The smell hit him immediately. Musty, like a basement after a rainstorm, mixed with something sweeter – the potpourri his mother had kept in a bowl. He breathed through is mouth. He flipped the light switch.

A teen-aged boy’s room. In the far corner, a mattress with bedding kicked aside. On the mattress, a young man, no older than eighteen, was propped up against the wall. His head hung down, jaundiced blue eyes still open. Skinny, anorexic, purple blood pooling under waxen skin. Stringy red hair. Blotched, infected track marks, oozing pus. Joints stiff and contracted. Swollen tongue lolling.

Nunez buckled. He might have cried out.

Trembling like a dog, he knelt by the boy. Given the dullness of the sunken cheeks and the violet hue of the flaccid limbs, he hypothesized the kid had been dead for hours, if not a day. Overdose.

Slipping on a pair of latex gloves, holding his breath, he reached for the corpse’s face. The glassy doll’s eyes were too much to bear. If he closed them, his head would stop spinning and his hands would stop shaking and he could function like an officer of the law as opposed to a squeamish little…

A hand clasped his arm.

An icy, vice-strong claw grasped his arm.

It took him a twisting, maddening second to realize what was happening.

Michael’s – cold, dead, decomposing Michael’s – cyanotic fingers were wrapped around his wrist.

Nunez fell backwards. Michael sat up straight, folded, turned his torso. His stiff, angular joints jerked mechanically, grotesquely. His tarnished plastic eyes stared lifelessly ahead. Then the jaw moved, jostling the swollen, languid tongue. And, with no respect for mechanics or anatomy, he spoke.

“Officer Nunez.” A monotonous, alien mockery of a human voice. “This will all burn. You will burn with it.”

Nunez grunted, kicked, tugged, broke free of the creature’s grip. He twisted onto his hands and knees. He stumbled to the door, turned the knob, and fell into the living room, slamming the door behind him.

Dolores was curled on the couch, sobbing quietly. Rusty stood in the doorway, waving to the paramedics, who were making their way down the hallway with their gurney.

“The boy… he’s not…” Nunez stammered. Rusty turned to him, then snapped her head back towards the hallway.

“What the fuck?”

A paramedic pushed past her into the apartment. On his heels was a teen-aged boy with longish red hair and blue eyes, dressed in khakis and a NWA sweatshirt, looking quite confused.

It was Michael. Michael, very much alive.

Dolores screamed. In one movement she threw herself onto her son, collapsing with him to the dirty shag carpet, clutching him in a suffocating embrace. Rusty gave Nunez a look. The paramedic rolled his eyes.

“Dying boy found walking up stairs to his mother’s apartment,” he said sarcastically. “Please tell me he’s got an identical twin.”

It was a miracle Nunez held onto his shit. Looking at Michael – healthy, breathing Michael, cradled in his mother’s arms – he had never been so scared of a human being in his entire life.

“There’s a corpse,” he managed to force out.

Eager to establish some context to the zombie-movie jump scare he’d just experienced, Nunez grasped the doorknob with his right hand to pull himself up. Searing pain tore down his arm. He fell to his knees, groaning.

The paramedic pushed past him, opened the door, looked in, and snorted.

“There’s nothing here.”

Nunez managed to rise to his feet. He and Rusty peered into Michael’s room. There was nothing. The mattress, save a bunched-up comforter and sheets, was unoccupied. No blood. No excrements. Just an empty teenager’s bedroom.

He did a lap of the room just to make sure. He shook out the comforter, dug through a hamper of dirty clothes, threw open the closet door. Nothing. No remnants of the atrophied, decomposing corpse that had threatened Nunez with fire. He sniffed the air. The musty, potpourri smell still hung in the air, but it was fainter now, dissipated, despite the tightly-closed window.

Dolores, giddily happy, concluded she must have imagined seeing her son’s dead body. She didn’t do any drugs – no, sir! Clean for twelve years! – but had been under a lot of psychological stress, and lay awake nights haunted by visions of her only remaining child repeating her youthful mistakes. That, with the heat, and the smog… it was enough to make anyone hallucinate.

“I saw the same thing she did,” Nunez remembered saying. “Michael, sprawled dead on his mattress.”

At that, Dolores had frowned.

“What are you talking about, sprawled? I found him hanging in his closet.”

Nunez couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It was weird, Rusty said, but not completely inconceivable. Dolores was delusional. Nunez had been overly susceptible to the power of suggestion, and had imagined seeing a corpse because Dolores said there was a corpse – induced psychotic disorder.

“I don’t know,” she told him. “If you’re really seeing things, maybe you should take some time off. Go see the department shrink.”

Nunez had passed on the shrink – no use having someone else tell him he was crazy. But, as it turned out, the time off was involuntary. He woke up the next morning with his right wrist ballooning. Dislocation fracture.

“I must have fallen on it,” he lied.

No attention was paid to the five purple bruises around his wrist, so much like the prints of five strong, clutching fingers.

*****

Nunez told his final tragic tale of the Primrose Apartments as though it had been a dream, testimony knotted together with conjecture and hearsay.

He was on medical leave for two months while his arm healed. When he returned to the station, he was greeted with whispers and pitying stares. Rusty – bless her heart – had stood up for him, telling their superiors the incident with Michael and Dolores was a non-issue, a side effect of overwork. But he guessed the paramedic team had told everyone he was losing it.

Luckily for him, he wasn’t the only guy on the force rubbed the wrong way by the Primrose Apartments. In fact, even the tenants of the Primrose Apartments seemed put off by the place. According to Officer Otanon, a desk cop that knew everything about everyone, families were jumping ship like rats before a storm.

“They can’t keep it filled,” he’d said to Nunez over the water cooler. “They’re at about half-capacity now, and that’s with subsidies from the county. No one can stay there for long, save the druggies who’ve already fried their brains. There’s a rumor the building’s haunted.”

Others sought him out as well, usually in secluded spaces, always requiring multiple assurances that, as far as top brass was concerned, the conversation did not happen. They’d been to the Primrose Apartments. They’d seen stuff.

“It’s always the users and the drunks,” Officer Anderson murmured excitedly. “Always the same thing. They call us flipping shit because they see some dead family member in the kitchen. Or the fucking elevator, or staring down at them from the ceiling. If it were one, I wouldn’t be too worried. But it’s one every week. Always at that god-forsaken dump.”

“I think I’m going crazy,” Officer Liu told him late one night, after everyone else had left. “Some old lady called us down there because she was convinced her neighbor was stealing from her. Total bullshit, we found her missing antique vase in the closet, right where she’d hid it from the home care nurse, who she also thought was stealing. You know the type.

“Anyways, I finished up with her, and my partner said she was going to the car. But when I stepped out into the hallway, she was waiting there. We took the elevator down. On the first floor I stepped out. She didn’t follow me. I looked back, and she wasn’t in the elevator at all. She’d just disappeared.

“This… chill came over me, and I ran like a rabbit. I ran back to the car. And guess who I found sitting shotgun, talking on the phone to dispatch? My partner. I asked her how she got there so fast. She looked at me weird. She said she’d never gone back into the building. Dispatch had requested a landline. She’d been in the car, on the phone, the whole time.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Nunez said, “what did the two of you talk about on the elevator?”

“That’s the thing,” Officer Liu replied. “On the elevator, she’d asked me what I thought the point of life was. We’re never really fulfilled, and then we die and it’s like we never existed. It was the most depressing conversation I’ve ever had. I swear, it messed me up for weeks. And I noticed this weird smell…”

“Like a wet basement mixed with potpourri?”

“Yeah,” Officer Liu said. “I’d say weed and mold, but that works too.”

Then Nunez learned about little Thaddeus Wheeler.

Thad was twelve years old. He lived on the fourth floor of The Primrose Apartments with his mom, two little brothers, half-sister, and niece. Sad story. His mother worked as a CNA at St. Vincent, nights. Thad’s father had been in the ground for three years, shot in the driveway of the house where the family had once lived. Likely the victim of a gang initiation. There were photos of him with the kids all over the apartment.

Little Thad had been a good student. A good kid. A talented artist – talented enough to make a difference. Had been. Lately, his teacher had reported that Thad was falling asleep in class and falling behind on his work. He ignored his friends and family; while his brothers played video games or rode bikes in the parking lot, Thad would lock himself in his room. His drawings, once of animals and fantasy creatures, had become much darker; scary things with sharp claws and teeth.

Once, a month before, Lydia Wheeler – the mother – called 911 in a panic. When she’d arrived home at 5:30am, Thad was missing. Three sets of cops were dispatched to search the premises. They found the boy an hour later, fast asleep in a little closet.

“Right across from the janitor’s closet?” Nunez asked, dreading the answer.

“Yeah,” the other officer said, frowning. “How’d you know?”

When asked why he did it, Thad responded that he simply liked it there. Sleep-walking, everyone thought. But the police had been called to Lydia Wheeler’s apartment twice more since then. Once, by Lydia, because Thad was hitting his head against the wall and wouldn’t stop. And once, by a neighbor, because Thad was wandering aimlessly through the halls, clutching a serrated steak knife.

Lydia told the cops that Thad’s nighttime sojourns to the little closet on the first floor had become a recurring incident. Three times a week, she would find him there, asleep on the dirty linoleum floor. She was looking for a therapist.

The next time Thaddeus Wheeler inspired a 911 call – by the sister, Rochelle, this time – Nunez and Rusty were one of the two pairs sent.

“Twelve-year-old African-American male,” the dispatcher had said. “Locked in a bedroom. Armed with a knife. Possibly a second person with him.”

Nunez and Rusty met Rochelle, a chubby girl of about nineteen, in the hallway outside of the apartment. A toddler and two school-aged boys huddled at her feet.

“There’s a man in there!” Rochelle cried. “I went to the door to call Thad for dinner, and I heard him talking to someone. This deep, man’s voice responded. Then Thad started screaming NO! NO! NO! and something slammed against the wall! I tried to force the door, but it’s locked and I think there’s something pushed against it.”

“Did you hear what the man said to Thad?” Rusty asked calmly.

Rochelle shook her head. “I think I’m going crazy. I couldn’t make out what he said, but it sounded like… I don’t know. It’s bullshit.”

“What?” Rusty asked.

“I thought he sounded like my stepfather. But my stepfather’s been dead for years.”

Rusty herded Rochelle and the children towards the elevator. Guns drawn, Nunez and the other two officers entered the apartment.

From one of the rooms, they heard a child crying.

Coming up on the closed door, Nunez and the second cop positioned themselves. The burliest of the three turned his shoulder, took a running start, and rammed the door.

BANG!

The door slid open; a nightstand had been placed against it. Nunez nearly dropped his gun in shock. The must-and-potpourri smell hit him in the face like a wave.

Little Thad sat on the floor between two sets of bunkbeds, clad in a wife-beater and boxer shorts, holding a steak knife. Up and down his arms and legs were deep, jagged, self-inflicted cuts. His face was swollen and snotty.

Upon seeing the two guns pointed at him, he dropped the knife and let out a small cry.

“We’re not going to hurt you, kid,” Nunez heard himself say.

The room was completely trashed. There were pictures on the walls. Horrible demons, mutilated humans and animals, flames, torture implements. Upon closer inspection, the drawings were determined to have been completed with both marker and Thad’s blood.

The paramedics and the Department of Mental Health were called. The apartment was thoroughly searched for the esoteric second party – the man with the deep voice. No one was found.

Nunez and Rusty approached little Thad as he sat, shivering, on a gurney, the paramedic bandaging his arms.

“Hey, buddy,” Nunez said amicably. “I’m Officer Carlos. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”

Thad shrugged.

“Okay. Your sister told us she heard you talking to someone in your room. Can you tell us who?”

Thad stared.

“You’re not going to get them in trouble, buddy. We just want to talk to them, make sure they’re okay. We’re not going to arrest them or anything.”

“You can’t arrest him,” Thad said. “He’s not human.”

“Oh?” Nunez responded. “Is he a ghost?”

“He’s my dad. He’s dead. He died, and the angels sent him to Hell. He comes and sees me at night. He tells me what to do so me and my family don’t have to go to Hell with him when we die.”

“Oh. What does he tell you to do?”

Thad shook his head. “He says I have to draw demons every day. And, whenever I have a bad thought, I have to hurt myself.”

The DMH lady came back then, handing a 5585 detainment form to the paramedics. The paramedics lifted the gurney into the ambulance. Rusty stayed back to talk to them; Nunez, brain buzzing, went to start his report.

The druggies see their dead family members. That’s what Officer Anderson had said. Officer Liu had spoken to his partner, while his partner was in the squad car talking to dispatch. He’d seen Michael’s corpse reanimate and assault him, Dolores had seen Michael’s corpse hanging in the closet, Michael was alive. Modesto had seen Marisol’s ex-husband, the ex-husband was in Washington. Rochelle had heard Thad’s father’s voice. Thad said his dead father came and visited him.

What the heck was going on in that apartment building?

*****

The next time Nunez was dispatched to The Primrose was the last.

It was some old neighbor lady. He couldn’t have said which one; there weren’t many tenants left. Of the seventeen units that comprised The Primrose, only ten were filled. This lady had heard yelling coming from the apartment across the hall, a man with a deep voice and either a woman or a young child. The dispatchers immediately recognized the apartment number. Thaddeus Wheeler.

Nunez and Rusty used the back entrance. Immediately, Nunez was overtaken by the smell – musty basement and potpourri. Rusty didn’t notice; she headed straight for the elevators. Nunez looked to his right.

Thaddeus Wheeler stood in the hallway, between the janitor’s storage and the underused little closet where he liked to sleep.

Rusty had already disappeared through the double-doors. Nunez knew he should have gone after her, but he didn’t want to give the kid the opportunity to sneak away. Thaddeus Wheeler was a very troubled little boy. He needed to be institutionalized. Not for 72 hours under 5585 hold. Long-term. Until his bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or whatever drove him to argue with himself and paint in his own blood, was sufficiently tamed by medication.

Slowly, outstretched hands in full view of the boy, Nunez started down the hallway.

Thaddeus smiled at him when he got close.

“Hi, Officer Carlos,” Thad said. “Have you figured it out yet?”

“Figured what out?” Nunez asked conversationally.

“What I am.”

Thad’s smile grew wider, toothed and maniacal. The musty-sweet stench was suffocating.

“Lemme give you a hint,” Thad said.

Then his voice changed. It became monotonous, an alien mockery of a human voice.

“This will all burn,” Thad said, in red-headed corpse Michael’s voice. “You will burn with it.”

Nunez backpedaled. The smell was intoxicating him, drowning him. Then he noticed Thad’s bare arms – the arms that had been violently slashed up, several weeks before, with a serrated steak knife.

There were no scars on those arms.

“Wha…what…” Nunez sputtered.

Thaddeus Wheeler – the thing that looked like Thaddeus Wheeler – laughed.

“Bzzzt! Wrong answer!” he boomed, in a grown man’s voice. “I am whatever the fuck I want to be.”

Then, lightning-fast, he pulled open the closet door and vanished within. Burning adrenaline, Nunez followed.

He found himself alone in an empty storage closet.

The closet was… well, it wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He didn’t know what he had been expecting. It was a little room, maybe ten feet by twelve, with exposed concrete walls and two rickety shelves. A rusted lawnmower sat in one corner, and a pile of molding boxes filled with fluorescent light bulbs rested beside one of the shelves. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and the stained linoleum floor was curling. He held his breath. He couldn’t bear the smell.

Where had Thaddeus gotten to? There was nowhere to hide.

Behind him, he heard the door slam shut. He whirled, right hand instinctively reaching for his gun.

Standing in front of him, between him and the door, was his grinning doppelganger.

The man wore his uniform. Nunez recognized his own pointed nose, unshaven cheeks, and receding hairline. His deep brown eyes and untamed brows. He even stood the same way – feet apart, shoulders hunching forward, leaning on his right leg. The man was Officer Carlos Nunez. And he, like the real Nunez, was reaching for his gun.

Not thinking, not feeling, operating solely on instinct, Nunez shot. Three times. He heard the bullets hit. POP! POP! POP! Then ringing in his ears, and then silence.

He stood frozen, sweat-drenched hands threatening to drop his loaded weapon, trembling and drawing deep, ragged breaths, as the dust settled.

He’d blown three holes through the flimsy wooden door. But again, he found himself alone. He was a middle-aged officer of the law with years of experience, abandoning his partner and hiding in closets, shooting at figments of his imagination.

Then there was a mighty CRACK! Then a BANG! Then a scream. Then more screams.

He exited the room to the hallway, and immediately found himself swept up in a minor exodus. Wild-eyed residents – scantily-clad moms with kids, old couples in sweats – piled out of the stairways, fleeing for the exits. Nostrils now clear of the musty, sweet closet stench, Nunez smelled smoke. Then the alarms began blaring.

“FIRE!” screamed an emaciated middle-aged man, running from the stairwell.

Nunez screamed into his radio, insisting that dispatch send every available fire unit to The Primrose Apartments, now. He ran up the stairs, crying the alarm, assisting old women with walkers, scooping up toddlers, herding the residents towards the safety of the evening air.

When the last stragglers had been evacuated, Nunez surveyed the scene. In the distance, he heard sirens. Then he noticed the residents were all clustered around he same spot in the parking lot, too close to the burning building. A woman screamed. Nunez pushed his way through the throng.

A body lay there, sprawled facedown, blood pooling around what had been its head. The small, dark form was obviously dead – spongy grey tissue had been splattered across the asphalt. He fell, someone said. Or he jumped. Poor little boy.

His broken arms were extended, as though he’d embraced the sky. Then Nunez saw the scars on the shattered extremities, and he knew.

It took until the early hours of the morning to extinguish the flames, and weeks to even begin cleaning up the mess. Ambulances came and left. Fourteen injuries in all; the burn unit at the county hospital must have had an interesting night. The uninjured residents, barred from returning to their apartments by the police and fire barricade, trudged to the bus stop or the waiting cars of sympathetic friends. Those with nowhere else to go milled around for hours; finally, a church down the street agreed to take them in. Nunez saw Marisol and her sobbing son; shaking Dolores and stone-faced Michael. Then came the coroner’s vans.

When the ash had dissipated and the ruined building finally cooled, nine bodies were recovered. One of them was Rusty. Another, Lydia Wheeler. Lydia had died of smoke inhalation in her room. It was never confirmed or denied, but whispered amongst the firefighters that she’d been locked in.

A gas explosion had occurred in the kitchen of Lydia Wheeler’s apartment. Little Thaddeus lit a match. He set his mother’s couch on fire. He turned on the stove. And before the entire floor was engulfed in flames, he jumped out a window. Motives were thrown around; finally, it was decided that the little boy was a paranoid schizophrenic, and the entire tragedy was a catastrophic side effect of his psychosis.

Nunez had expected an ass-chewing, if not a suspension, for chasing specters while his partner was trapped in an inferno. So he was much surprised to be greeted as a hero. Some of the people he’d helped out of the building credited him with saving their lives.

The “human face” of the tragedy, as presented by local newscasters, was Rochelle Crane, Thaddeus’s older sister. She was lucky; she’d been out of the apartment with her daughter and little brothers at the time, getting ice cream. Rochelle spoke kindly of Nunez, saying he and Rusty had been the only officers who’d cared about her poor, doomed sibling and mother.

They fixed up the building, but – not surprisingly – no one wanted to live there. The stubborn residents who remained until the fire had come to their senses. So The Primrose Apartments were abandoned. Repossessed by the bank. For years the building remained empty, serving only as a temporary camp for transients and junkies.

“But they sold it now,” Nunez told me, weathered eyes flashing. “They sold it to some healthcare corporation, it’s going to be a convalescent home.”

“Did you tell anyone what you saw?” I asked him.

He nodded. “The cops I worked with, they said they believed me. There was something weird about that place. Everyone knew it. But the thing with unexplainable crap is, no one wants to officially believe you. Because that would mean they’re crazy.”

He chuckled humorlessly and shook his head.

“Fuck it, I’d think I was crazy. Maybe I should show them the tapes.”

He’d stolen the security tapes from evidence storage, months and months of footage. They’d been collected by the detective in charge of investigating the fire, per procedure, but were assumed to be worth little. There had only been three security cameras installed at the Primrose Apartments – one at each entrance and one in the elevator lobby – and, of the three, only two had been functional.

The tapes monitoring the front entrance were useless. The tapes monitoring the elevator lobby left him with more questions than answers.

“I wanted to see the man with the copy of the Wenatchee World – Marisol’s ex-husband,” he told me. “The one that was, supposedly, in Washington. I thought… I thought that if I saw him in the tapes, it would prove that I wasn’t delusional.”

He shuddered. His tired eyes watered.

“But he wasn’t there. I found the tape from that day. I saw Rusty and me, coming out of the elevator. I saw myself run back into frame. I rewound the tape and saw Modesto.

“I saw a ghostly figure. A… a cloud of smoke, it looked like. Grey and translucent, like a three-dimensional shadow, roughly the shape of a human being.

“I saw this shadow-person accost Modesto. I saw Modesto try and punch it, and I saw it float away. I saw it standing there, leaning against the wall by the elevator. I stayed up all night, looking through the rest of the tapes. The shadow figure was there, again and again, with people all around. And the people interacted with it as though it were another human being. When no one was around it… faded. Disappeared into thin air.

“Then I saw little Thad. He was in several of the tapes, always in pajamas, always at night. Always the same. He’d emerge from the elevator, half asleep, with the shadowy, grey thing… guiding him. Draped around him. Leading him, like a parent. They’d walk across the lobby and out of the frame, towards that closet. I think that’s where it lives.”

Nunez snuck the tapes out of the station and took them to a friend who tested the authenticity of such footage. The friend concluded the tapes had not been tampered with, and Nunez showed the tapes to his superiors. They’d lectured him about mishandling evidence, told him they’d look into it, and let him off with a warning. It was suggested he see a therapist – Rusty’s death had obviously hit him hard.

It was getting late. Or, more correctly, getting early. Nunez looked at his watch, sighed, and crumpled his coffee cup in his hand. He had to go to work, and so did I. The black sky had blanched to periwinkle-blue, and the first of the morning customers were filtering in.

“It’s sick, evil,” Nunez said in conclusion. “The shadow-figure. It can change shape, become anyone it wants, disappear into thin air. It screws with people, makes their nightmares real. Modesto was jealous. Dolores was obsessed. And little Thad was devastated – missing his father, trying to make sense of the afterlife. It… turned itself into Marisol’s ex-husband, Michael, Thad’s father. It tortured them, emotionally. It drove Thad crazy.”

“And you?” I asked him.

He smiled at me, like I’d stumbled over an inside joke.

“I’m the guy who tells these stories,” he said. “What’s the fun of being an evil spirit if nobody talks about you?”

Credit: NickyXX

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Everest

November 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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“Everybody ready?” Our tour guide called out from the front of the bus. All of us let out a collective, “mmhm,” in agreement. “Great, because we’ll be there in ten minutes.” He said back to us. I stared out the window at the beautiful white landscape, it was like something out of a dream. A blanket of white covered the surrounding hills to the side of the road. After a few minutes of observing the beautiful atmosphere, we arrived.

I stepped outside the bus, and gazed up to see the tallest mountain in the world. Everest. Everyone else was staring at the colossal chunk of earth that stood before us, as well. Our tour guide explained to us, that this would be the most physically taxing thing thing we would do in our life, and it’s not too late to turn back now.

No one turned back.

I looked around me, and saw three men and two women. There was Karl and Lara, the young German couple. Leo, the Italian college student. Ivana, the middle aged Russian lady. Nabin, our Nepalese tour guide. And of course, myself. These people would be like my family for the next few days, we would need to support each other if we wanted to survive this experience. After Nabin made us sign a last batch of waivers, we began our ascent up the mountain.

It wasn’t bad at the beginning, but as we got higher, the air slowly grew thinner, making it harder to breathe. As we were climbing up a particularly steep surface, I remembered why I came on this expedition in the first place. All throughout my life, I’ve played my cards close to my chest, and avoided most risks. I had an ordinary nine to five office job, until something suddenly changed in me. I realized I wanted to do something extraordinary with my life. Something my wife and kids would be proud of me for. I felt like my children found me boring and uninteresting, if I come back and tell them I’ve climbed the tallest mountain in the world, it might change the way they see me. I need to do this, and if I die trying, at least I’ll die doing something brave. We climbed a bit further, until Nabin told us that it was time to set up camp.

We found a plateau on the mountain, and set up our tents. We talked for a bit, and learned each other’s purposes for partaking in such a risky expedition. Karl and Lara had been married for a year, and wanted to do something to celebrate their first year of marriage. They were major adrenaline junkies, and frequently went skydiving and bungee jumping. Leo was an art student, and thought experiencing everest for himself would put him in the right emotional mindset to paint the natural beauty. Ivana was bored of her monotonous routine back in Russia, and wanted to do something risky and dangerous. At around 10pm, we all went back to our tents to get some sleep. I was going back to my tent when I heard a scream echo across the desolate, white mountain. It wasn’t a human scream, I knew that for sure. It sounded like something was angrily yelling at the top of its lungs. My blood curled as I heard the high pitched expression of pure malice. Needless to say, I quickly walked back to my tent.

We’ve been climbing for about a month now. My ears have grown used to the faint howling of the wind. It’s often the only sound any of us will hear all day. It creates a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve done this at all. A lifetime of playing it safe hasn’t prepared me for this, but I keep going anyway. Even if I die here, at least people will remember me for something. It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.

As we climbed higher I began to think about my wife and kids, and if they could see me right now. They would be so proud.

I kept ascending.

After a few more feet of climbing, we came across an opening in the side of the mountain. The hole was extremely rough and uneven, almost like it wasn’t natural. Nabin seemed cautious about going in, but with a bit of persuasion, he led us through the jagged entrance on the side of Everest. We were surrounded by an expanse of darkness, along with the sound of water dropping from the stalactites that hung overhead. We couldn’t see a thing. We trudged through it, until we came to a wide open area, at the end of the narrow pathway. There were torches hung on the walls, so the area was mostly visible. As we entered the wide cavern, a pungent odour entered my nostrils I saw Leo run to a corner and violently throw up. It smelled like urine and rotting flesh. I looked around and my stomach sank. The room was filled with human skeletons, all brutally murdered in different fashions. One was impaled on a particularly jagged rock, another was missing its head. We continued to move through the collection of death, until we heard large footsteps moving in our general direction. Whatever this cave belonged to, was returning.

We ran in the opposite direction of it, towards the opening that we came from. As soon as we started running, the thing must’ve heard us, because it let out a terrifying yell, and started moving much faster. Adrenaline poured through our veins as we started running as fast as we could, First Nabin got to the opening, then Karl and Lara, then me, then Ivana, but not Leo. I looked behind me to see Leo sprinting towards us, but an outstretched arm reached out and grabbed him. He was desperately struggling to get loose. Tears were pouring from his eyes, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs for someone to help him, but there was nothing we could do. We watched as the creature pulled Leo back into the darkness. Agonizing screams came from Leo as we heard what sounded like limbs being ripped off. Leo suddenly burst out of the darkness. It was the most horrific sight. Leo’s arms and legs had been ripped off, exposing us to the gruesome image of the torso and head of Leo, squirming out of the darkness, desperately trying to escape whatever was following him. A large hand then reached out from the darkness, and pulled Leo back in. We heard a deafening scream, then suddenly a loud snap, and the screaming quickly ceased. We quickly re-embarked on our previous path. The wind howled as we climbed further up the mountain, no one dared to speak a word about what we’d just witnessed. Finally, Ivana broke the silence,

“Maybe we should go back.” Everyone was silent once again.

“No,” I finally said. “If we turn back now, we forget everything we’ve fought for so far. I don’t know about you people, but I won’t stop until I’m at the top.” My heart was racing. I felt empowered, like I could do anything. “Now let’s keep going, and if anyone doesn’t make it, at least they’ll be remembered as courageous. Like Leo.”

Everyone nodded their head in agreement.

We kept ascending.

We were about one day from reaching the peak at this point. The air was growing fatally thin. Everyone was in obvious discomfort, but we pushed forward. The wind was howling in our ears. The cold was numbing our faces. But we pushed forward. Our eyes have grown used to the same two colours, blue and white. The blankets of snow grew thicker the further up we went. We kept climbing until we came across an unusually large plateau. We could barely see anything in the distance because of the snowy wind that was crippling our vision. I thought I made out a tall bipedal figure in the distance, but I was probably just seeing things because of the lack of oxygen. As we trudged through the plateau, the figure seemed to become more visibly clear than before. I suddenly knew that I wasn’t imagining it. It was real. Everyone stopped when they saw it, a look of terror dawned on all of our faces. We had all realised, that this was the same creature that had mutilated Leo, earlier on our journey. I told everyone to stand their ground, maybe we could intimidate it. It suddenly started running to the side, becoming invisible in the snowy wind. Our hearts were pounding through our chests, we didn’t know when it was going to attack…until it did. It lunged out from the side, in a blur of white, and grabbed a hold of Ivana. It crushed her head with its massive mouth, and threw her to the side. It then grabbed a hold of Karl’s arm and Lara’s arm, and ripped them off. Their blood was pouring out of the stumps on their arms, painting the snow crimson red. The creature then dragged all three of them back by the legs, creating three distinct red lines in the snow. My heart was about to explode, but I couldn’t lose sight of my goal. I was going to get to the top.

It was just me and Nabin now.

“Maybe we should follow the blood, it’s possible they’re still alive. If we get there quick enough-”

“NO!” I shouted furiously. “We don’t have time for distractions.” “I don’t care who dies, as long as I reach that peak.”

“Do you have no empathy?” He said, as he gave me a disgusted, and walked away.

I continued to ascend.

As I walked up the last few kilometers of the mountain, I heard a bone-chilling scream of anguish. It was Nabin, no doubt. I kept climbing until the peak was in sight. I was immediately overwhelmed with joy. I ran to the top like it was a long lost brother. I fell down into the snow and took a moment to look down from the the top. It was the most amazing sight I’d ever seen. I was enjoying the view, when I heard something breathing behind me. My heart sank, and I knew it was over. This started as a way for me to prove myself and take risks, but turned into a deadly obsession. At least I made it to the top. Tears were streaming down my face. I knew this was the end for me, but I was so proud of myself for doing something courageous, for once in my life. I turned around to meet the face of an eight foot tall hairy humanoid creature, covered in white fur, soaked red with blood. In one swift motion, it pushed me off the edge.

The higher you are, the farther you fall.

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All Driven Into The Yearning Arms Of Amobolaa

November 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Within The Carcass Of Lunar Rot

I have been sending this distress call repeatedly, and I have been trapped on this moon for what I hope to have only been the past two sidereal days. Can anyone hear this message? Can anyone send help? I do not know what to do anymore and I do not know how much longer the emergency power of this pod will last. I have to keep recording, I have to keep sending this message. In the case that anyone can hear me but cannot respond, I must relay the horrors of this foreign moon.

My memories of before arriving here are hazy, but I remember living back on Tenlithe. I remember the general uneasiness of a coming, petty war. I remember my family.

But here, there is a greater turmoil. I cannot describe the shock of awaking inside some sort of escape pod atop a pile of putrescent and semi-unidentifiable human corpses. I can barely explain further the terror of when I heard some of them groan and their mangled limbs slowly twisted in unnatural directions. I struggled to free myself of the slimy, corporeal entanglement, every one of my senses assailed by disgust and fright, but I eventually freed myself and approached the escape hatch. The pod’s hatch appeared to be set to open on a timer. The hatch did eventually open, but the noxious fumes and the faint movements of the bodies were driving me mad.

After an unknown time, but what seemed to be hours, the hatch opened after much of my wrenching upon it and to my surprise all of the air did not escape into the vacuum of space—I could still breath, at least. I shambled out of that den of horror and slammed the hatch closed behind me. The horrors I saw afterward were even worse.

Similar pods were scattered all over the pitted, ash-like surface in the little I could see over the proximate hills and craters. What the hell is happening here? I scurried to the highest peak I could find and from the dizzying height I spied a jagged out-crop of massive rocks jutting from the otherwise desolate surface, but little else as the beetling surface obscured most of the horizon. The out-crop appeared to be artificial or crafted by some massive, fumbling hands with a shaky composition and tall, pyramid-like shape. And when I later arrived closer every compositional chunk appeared to be of some pyroxene material and was roughly hewn, covered in claw marks similar to the size of my own hands. Over the heavily arced horizon I could only spot a few similar, yet warped, constellations, but no neighboring planet.

The trek from my location to the massive megalith was long, but with no other landmark to see I had very few options. It appeared—and later felt—to be about a three-kilometer hike as I was loosely guided by the distorted Cassiopeia constellation faintly above the horizon. Along the way there were a few of the other pods slumped across the surface, none of them appearing very old, but widely varying in design and condition. The most common appearing to be stout and neutral-colored cans similar to my own.

I was still perplexed by the invisible atmosphere here. How could such a small celestial body seemingly hold an atmosphere such as this? Why was there no light refraction on the horizon? Why was the gravity so similar to Tenlithe’s?

I only peeked into one of the pods, hoping to not repeat my findings from it in the others, for what I found was another corpse-impregnated hull filled with the murmurs of the seemingly dead. The hatch was locked like mine was, but opened easily enough from the outside. This time the bodies bore little resemblance to a human, instead seeming to be limbed and snake-like beings with dark, squamous skin. The hollow chatter of the rattling that emanated from within shook my nerves more than my time within my own pod, even after I walloped the hatch shut and darted away from it into the distance.

The unsettling silence of the alien surface was beginning to perturb me gradually and an enveloping fatigue was setting in just as the shadow of the isoscelean pyramid was covering my rugged surroundings. I stopped to listen for anything, but the aether emitted nothing. The imposing structure was starting to strike more and more fear into me as I, too, was now hidden in its shadow. I noticed how cold the surface truly was without the slight warmth of the distant sun. Oh, how cold and indifferent a horizon of ever-present black and speckles of faint light can be.

I nearly circumambulated the base of the impressive edifice, looking for any sort of entrance inside, only discovering a triangular, oblique hallway a few centimeters taller than myself on the distant side of the square-ish base. Luckily, it was on the sun-lit side and the light seemed to funnel deep into the odd passage. The tunnel stretched almost indefinitely into the heart of the structure and sloped gently downward. My clambering footsteps echoed roughly inside the tight space, which worried me but I was too tired to tread any more gracefully.

The hallway seemed to shrink the deeper I plunged and I found myself having to slump slightly over as I walked. I decided to sit and rest for a while, lying down under the leaning walls. I tried to gather my thoughts, but I found my mind too exhausted to do so and I slowly fell into a frigid sleep. When I awoke, the sun was no longer illuminating the passage and I could not see the ends of either side. I struggled to remember my orientation: Had I slept with my head or feet to the entrance? I could no longer distinguish the gentle slope of the corridor either; it might have leveled out without my prior notice.

I decided to stumble towards the direction of my feet arbitrarily. The thought of waiting until the next sunrise did not please me and the crushing weight of the dark and my echoed movements instilled into me a deep worry. I groped along the wall as my balance was greatly diminished and it felt as if gravity itself was fluctuating in that lunar tomb.

A few minutes after my foot-ward walk I heard a rumbling blast of sound, but was unable to discern which end it came from, even when I turned my ears parallel to the passage. The echoing reverberation rendered it impossible to tell. I heard a series of thin popping sounds followed by a few moments of quiet. Then, the cacophony like that of hellspawn came, but it did not stop. No, this nightmare was forced to continue. I was reminded of the tired and lifeless groaning from within my casket-like pod, but of many magnitudes louder and more varied. This sound I could more easily discern to be coming from a singular direction—the direction behind me, and presumably outside the pyramid.

I froze for a few minutes in fear with my ears covered and eyes shut tightly, trying to finally compose my thoughts. I wondered if it would be better to run deeper into the abyss and hide or to seek possible survivors amongst the din of what could only be a hellish landscape. I could not be the only living one sent here, right? I decided I was too afraid to exit the specious safety of the darkness and turned to head further into the void, but when I lifted my hands from my ears I noticed the freakish groans, rattles, and yelps were louder than before. Panicked, I sprinted as best I could through the narrow hallway, my shoulders and sides rebounding off the walls and the clamor of my steps resounding madly.

I heard another horrific rumble, but this time structured in two specific blasts resembling speech. I could tell it came from somewhere within—or atop—or near—the pyramid, but I could not reverse my course. I continued this run for as long as I could until I could see a pale-green glow at the end of the passage. When I reached the end of the passage I paused to hear for sound inside. Thankfully for my sanity the sounds from outside had subsided enough to the point of only being heard by a careful listen, and there were no stirrings inside either.

Instead of another audible quandary, I walked into a visual one, where inside I was bathed in that green phosphorescence and greeted by the enigmatic architecture of some ancient design. The walls undulated upward in sharp peaks, valleys, and mostly-straight surfaces between, but seemed to do so forever. The room was massive as well and I could but faintly spy the four corners from my vantage from the middle of one of the sides. The emerald light seemed to be emitted from triangular channels carved into the walls in a random and puzzling pattern. Looking upward, I noticed that the aerial void had faintly glistening sparkles emulating stars to my eyes. Horizontally along the floors was a carven script of unknown language to me, it appeared to be somewhere between pictorial and phonetic with some of the characters reminding me of various inhuman creatures.

But most unsettling of all—as my eyes adjusted to the light—I saw that there were innumerable high-relief carvings of monstrous beings along all of the walls. Scarcely any of them were humanoid in shape and many of them eluded all standard description beyond the phrase ‘life-like’ or ‘realistic’. I jerked away from the nearby wall as I spotted the demons portrayed there. There was a multi-headed snake-thing with large, staring eyes topping each branch and a toothy maw at the base of its main trunk nearly twice my size arched over the doorway. There was a rotund and minotaur-like beast lumped to my left with dozens of primitive arms wielding flesh-laden spears. To my right there was a highly erect tripod-thing with a main body resembling a crown. All of these horrors had smaller, but just as grotesque, monstrosities darting between them and my dismay of the entire vista was only amplified by the dull glimmer of the green glow permeating the room.

This chamber of terror was almost too much to bear, but I thereafter kept my gaze down on the cryptic script on the floor and plodded towards the center of the room. There did not appear to be any escape from that subterranean vault other than the main entrance I had come from and I had trouble scanning the walls for another exit both due to the fright and the dark. I sat with my head firmly nuzzled within my collapsed limbs wondering what to do for most likely hours. I only tried to remember the few thoughts of home I had, losing track of whatever sense of time I had. When I lifted my head I noticed a faint glow of daylight from the entrance. It appeared that another sidereal day had come.

Yet another rumble came, but this time easily heard to be from above and of three distinct beats. A slight dusting of soot was loosed from above, leaving an acrid aroma and taste about. Then, a comatose roar came in seeming response from somewhere outside, heavily muffled by the stone walls. It would be moments later when I could muster up the courage to head outside and escape this esoteric megalith. There would be nowhere else to go and help would assuredly never find me in there. On my hours-long exit, I found the journey to be shorter than before, most likely because of the aid of sunlight during the entire walk.

I grew anxious of what I would see exiting the pyramid, and my pace slowed to mirror it, but as I approached the exit I heard absolute silence. Through the triangular aperture I could see the entrance was just as barren, save for those ghastly pods, as when I went in. Still, I felt apprehensive and I galloped somewhat hurriedly back towards my landing site. On my quiet journey back—except for the sounds of my crunching footsteps—I felt an air of peculiarity about, despite not noticing any apparent difference. About halfway back I had again grown exceedingly tired while jaunting away and could no longer stifle my reflex to look back at the towering pyramid. I breathed a sigh of relief when I did not detect neither any lunar abomination clinging to its peak nor any horrible procession scuttling about the surface. Had it all been a hallucination brought on by stress?

It was around this moment that I passed the serpent-filled pod from before, but noticed that its hatch was not in the closed position I left it. I froze. I could not hear the chatter like before and the dusty surface appeared mildly disturbed by a great many bodies other than my own distinct, but obfuscated, prints. I then glanced around to the other pods within the immediate landscape to notice that their hatches too were all open. Surely I could not have misremembered this detail on every pod? I slowly approached the serpent pod with dread.

I stole a glance over the side of its hatch to find it empty. Then, with more courage I stole another longer glance to confirm that the pod was indeed empty of the snake beings. I was not sure which state I preferred: the serpentine horrors nearby and inside the pod or outside, but possibly roaming about.

These mounting experiences began to pile up inside my mind with no clear action being apparent to me. I faintly remembered the science topic of the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, all of which seemed equally terrible to my mind at the moment.

After some tense deliberation I decided to head back to my prior vantage point on the high-cresting hill where I first saw the pyramid. The climb back up it from the steeper slope was arduous, especially with my nervous grasps of the loose stone surface. This is where I spotted the final horror.

When I reached the peak and tiredly spun towards the triangular monument, I noticed that diagonal to the pyramid, and roughly 30 degrees to the right of my outlook, was a smaller child pyramid forming. It blended into the scenery with the same cinder-colored stone and was only a mere one-fifth its parent’s size at best, but it was definitely not there before. And worst of all, a mass of unidentifiable creatures were straggling around its base.

At this sight, I ran directly away from it. I ran and I ran and I ran. Past the open pods dotting the desolate, lunar crust. Past the vaguely familiar hills I first gazed upon. Past even the pod I emerged from earlier (after further thought I am sure that my perfunctory glimpse into the side-hatch showed it vacant as well). I continued to run for a duration of time I will never be able to calculate. I ran until I stumbled upon this very pod here, with its inner lighting system still in operation and a big, recognizable “Tenlithe #106” identification in crimson on its side. The communication panel is also appearing to be in working order.

I am just sitting here now, safely inside this pod, I like to believe. I do not know how much longer the battery reserves will last and I do not know if I want to. Upon entering it, I saw my reflection for the first time in its clean glass hatch. I am not sure if this person I saw truly is me, but they look deathly ill with an extremely pallid complexion and a blood-stained jumpsuit. I suppose a close death for them is best because they must have seen some absolute horrors recently. . . .

I do not feel cold anymore. I do not feel hunger anymore. I do not feel tired anymore. I do not feel much of anything, but I do feel compelled to return to the pyramid. They need me there. Perhaps when the dark soon returns. . . .

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Tapestry

November 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Despite Clare’s advancing years, he walked with smooth confidence up the narrow, infinite steps, which should have given trouble to one as ancient as he. He was notable, if for no other reason than his youthful figure: the locals had told me that he must be at least seventy or eighty at this point, but to see his powerful body, to hear his loud commanding voice, one would never guess his age. Indeed, his mansion matched his own vibrancy: the ancient thing would look brand new if it weren’t for the painfully outdated furnishings. As he gestured and flowed widely through the rooms of the house, it was clear he took a great pride in it, and had some deep love or connection to the place unfamiliar to a travelling investigator like myself.

Clare looked back at me, finishing his description of another dull oddity. His blue eyes were piercing, and I was jolted out of my internal monologue.

“Does it really interest you, Mr. Stanley? I must admit I don’t get many visitors. The place is quite out of the way, you know.” He spoke with an almost clichéd regal British accent, but his words boomed out with a deep bass, effortlessly projecting across the room. I nodded with feigned enthusiasm.

“Certainly, Mr. Clare, the house has a quality that is rarely seen these days. Your decorations” I said, gesturing to one particularly bland pastoral, “are most interesting.”

“Ah yes. Well, I wouldn’t say that particular piece is of my own taste. My wife did many of these.”

I resisted the urge to nervously grab at my tie, and broke eye contact with Clare. “Oh, I, uh—“

“She’s no longer with us.”

His words had a tone which was bizarre, and what I assumed to be remorse. Looking back up, I said “I’m sorry, Mr. Clare.”

He waved it off, dismissive. “Come. We’re about done the tour.”

After what seemed like another hour of walking through dreary, maze-like passageways, we finally arrived at the so-called den. Clare sat in a massive, gaudy chair—presumably his usual one. He gestured for me to sit across from him, and poured me some tea, left by an unseen servant. Looking up at him, I had to stifle a laugh.

The man sat, with almost mirrored similarity, in front of a life-sized portrait of himself. Apart from a few clothing differences, he looked exactly the same as the portrait—same age, and same sitting position, which is what made the image so comical. With how closely he resembled the portrait, it must have been painted very recently. I guessed the man had some modicum of self-love for him to have such a thing done when none would see it—no visitors, or even family.

Clare didn’t notice my temporary seizure of laughter, seemingly lost in unending descriptions of his manor. In a moment he broke, and we finally came to business.

“And you, sir, would like to stay in the place?” He looked suspicious, one eyebrow firmly up.

“Rent a room for a few days, sir. If you wouldn’t mind. I have such an interest in the…pieces you’ve collected…a-art pieces I mean…and I don’t feel the tour you’ve given me is enough—thorough though it was—to give me an…ehm…appreciation, you see.”

I felt my throat tightening, and my brow beginning to drip: Clare was so obviously not convinced. He didn’t mince words. “Are you sure that’s it, Stanley? Are you sure there isn’t something more?”

“Well I, uhm, don’t see what you, uh, could mean, s-sir…”

“I know Stanley. I can see. And I don’t blame you boy. Truly I don’t.”

“R-Really, sir?”

“Of course not!” He said in a sudden yell, leaping up from his chair to gesticulate wildly. “This house has me too! It has me! I’m enchanted. Of course you can’t appreciate such rich atmosphere with such a brief tour. You have to exist here. Yes, of course!”

I didn’t know whether I should say something, or merely run away in the instant, and avoid the house for the rest of my life. The man had such a gleam in his eyes, and his sudden passion scared me deeply—you may laugh to read it, but at the time it was a real, affecting fear. But, instead of running, I remained motionless, and stared up at the raving man.

“I wouldn’t keep such an experience from anyone, dear boy! No, no! Stay here? Why of course, of course, I’ll give you a room for free!”

I just stared dumbly up at the old man for a moment. Then, not wanting to excite him any further, I quietly said “Thank you, si—”

“Don’t mention it! Just one thing.” I nodded, and clenched nervously. “Do not explore my basement. It is, uh…under construction at the moment.” The sudden fire in his eyes told me of his earnestness. I wordlessly agreed.

And so I gained unguarded access to the Clare mansion.

The basement door had a locking mechanism that would have been hard to penetrate some fifty or a hundred years ago. As it stood, my toolkit and lock-picking skills were enough to easily dislodge the door, and it swung back with a quiet smoothness.

Locating the basement had proved difficult enough thanks to the confusing, arbitrary layout of the mansion. Pile on that Clare’s insistence on accompanying me throughout the day, and talking endlessly about God only know what, and I had little opportunity to explore on my own. I was however sure that the basement was the lead I should seek, thanks to Clare’s overemphasis on it. So, after dark, when the master had gone to bed, I snuck out and spent a few hours wandering the halls, aided only by my small flashlight.

The stairs down were thin and ancient, clashing with the well-maintained central body of the house. They were also partially concealed in a blind spot between a door and a cupboard, making them almost impossible to find in the dark. The smooth cement walls produced a chill unfamiliar with the otherwise antiquated warmth of the place, and the door was thick and plain.

Inside it was dark, and I had to calm my thrashing heart with deep breathing. That adrenaline, that excitement, was all the inducement I needed to do the things I did. In frantic anticipation, I crept into the enveloping darkness.

My tiny light did little to illuminate the room. After taking a quick survey, I discovered a small sconce with a partially used torch still in it. I shined my light around the room, not wanting to reveal my presence by tampering with anything. As I directed the light upward, it seemed to reach farther and farther, like the room had no top. When it had reached the ceiling it glanced across something which to my utter horror, looked like a face. An angry, vicious, massive face.

I gasped and scrambled to the torch, hoping to illuminate the fiend. I deftly lit a match, and the torch surged with light. To my surprise, a series of further torches burst to light in sequence after the first. I made the vague assumption that this was done by some unseen mechanism, which I wasn’t particularly concerned with at the moment. I stared up at the place where the face had been, and had to laugh—not only at discovering my fears to be unnecessary, but also at the pure surreality of the scene before me.

The face I had seen belonged to a statue, and was not nearly so malevolent when fully illuminated. It was plain, with a vaguely masculine facial structure, which was the only clue to the statue’s gender thanks to its otherwise sexless form. It was monolithic, stretching to the top of the unbelievably tall ceiling of the chamber. The room itself was a large, mostly circular hall, which aside from the statue was empty. The walls were all rough stone, as though the door had simply led to a conveniently located cavern—in fact, it was like a different place entirely, and I wondered if I had somehow missed a step in the transition. The ceiling was so high above that it seemed impossible that a house lay just overtop, and the stairs I had descended didn’t seem like they should account for the height.

The statue was inexplicable, even for a noted art collector like Clare. It was placed at the far end of the room, facing the entrance like a guard. It smacked of those stereotypical Egyptian sculptures, the types one might find in the deep tomb of some Pharaoh. If it had ever held some sort of staff, it didn’t now—the left hand was missing, presumably fallen off at some point long ago. Behind where the arm should have been was a door, which looked to be made of sandstone.

Wanting to get a move on, I slinked past the statue, never taking my eyes off of it. As I went under it, I looked up at the unmoving giant, whispering “Huh, some guard.” Then I opened the sandstone door, which slid up surprisingly easily, and entered the next room.

The light from the previous chamber only illuminated a small circle, which I crept into cautiously. As soon as I passed the doorway, the sandstone slab slammed down behind me, and the room lit automatically. It was squatter but longer than the first chamber, like a grand hall. The room had walls of the same sandstone as the door, smooth and constant. Like the previous chamber it was almost entirely empty aside from a small, plain, out-of-place looking oak table and chair. On the chair sat Clare.

The moment I saw him, his eyes lit up with uncontrollable mirth. “Mister Stanley. You are simply so easy.”

I was caught with an uncomprehending confusion, mixed with a vague dread and guilt at being caught. His jovial reaction didn’t much calm me, and when he called me over, I bolted towards the closed door behind me. Unfortunately, it seemed like it couldn’t be opened from this side. As I scrabbled and dragged my hands across the smooth surface, Clare continued to laugh.

“Your efforts are really quite useless. Come, dear boy, come. Don’t be afraid. I expected such a thing, you see. Why would you think I’d mention my basement so artlessly? Did you really think I was so stupid, that I really wanted you to stay out of here? Come here, boy, I’ll explain it all to you.”

I finally moved forward, slowly and wordlessly. Clare sat casually in his night-robe, with his hair still askew from bed. I realized that his previous raving behaviour must have been an act of some sort, that he had been manipulating me the whole day.

“I know your type, Stanley. Yes, yes, sit down there. Your type, you see: curious. I get them sometimes, people that think the place is haunted.” He laughed at the notion. Laughed too hard. “Well, I know my tastes can be a bit unusual, but please.”

“There certainly are rumours, Mr. Clare.”

“Well, yes, fine. So I show those people. That it isn’t haunted, or anything of the sort, see? Look for yourself! Does it look haunted?”

I shook my head, obviously lying. “But, Mr. Clare. What about those other rumours? Rumours a…about your family?”

“Of course it doesn’t,” he said, ignoring me, “This is part of the experience, this vault of mine. To get to experience this mansion, and let it affect you, you must be here. Here is the place!” He laughed again, jumping up. “Here, here! You’ll love it here. Lots of room! See the walls here. Imported, you know. The be—”

Not an act, after all. Luckily, I was always prepared with my trusted adventurer’s backpack. I reached back, thinking I’d got the machete, but I was mistaken. Towards Clare’s turned head came my hammer, making a satisfying crunch on impact. I realized I must have mixed up the two items accidentally. I made a mental note to reorganize the pack later.

Clare quickly fell to the ground, face-first in a growing pool of blood. I looked at the hammer in dismay, seeing that it dented slightly on Clare’s thick skull. It wasn’t meant for violence, but it did the trick in any case. I wasn’t sure if Clare was alive or not, and I wasn’t particularly keen to check. Ignoring the body, I doubled back to the closed door he had trapped me with. Indeed, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t jar the thing with hands alone. I drew out a thin crowbar, intended for just such a purpose, and pried at the door’s bottom crack. After a considerable effort, I was able to lift the door fully open. Then I wedged it with a nearby rock, in case it decided to lock itself again.

I was determined, you see. I certainly wasn’t ready to give up on my “exploration,” and without hesitation I moved down the long hall towards the next sandstone slab. This, identical to the first, was just as easy to open, and I used the same method of jamming to ensure my escape route.

Thus ensued a long series of rooms and hallways, similar in style to the first but all varying in shape and composition. Each had the same lighting system which made it easy to navigate through them, and at the end of each was the same sandstone slab. The immensity of the whole construction clashed with its apparent uselessness, as no room had much of anything noteworthy within it—though some did have bizarre items on the walls, like thick shafts zigzagging everywhere, and occasional holes that looked like massive spouts. As I moved through hall after arbitrary hall, I felt my excitement grow more and more, dreading and anticipating whatever could possibly be at the end.

I travelled for what felt like a half hour, after which I came on a chamber larger than all the others, and starkly different. The entire room seemed devoted to a large construction facing the entrance. It was placed on, or perhaps composed the opposite wall, and was not made of sandstone. The backing seemed to be some sort of fabric, which was a ruddy red or plum in colour depending on how the fire-light decided to cast it. On it were thick black tendrils, what I would describe as over-sized threads though they looked more like vines of pitch. The threads all lead to a centre clump, and though they were arranged in a symmetrical, and what I might even describe as a fascinating or alluring presentation, they didn’t seem to form any picture or outline. The closest impression I got was that of some large, black flower, though this was a vague notion at best. The mass of tendrils sat above something that appeared to be an altar, with twinned free-standing torches placed by its sides. These torches, like the rest in this underground vault, burst to life in succession after I lit the first in the room.

I approached the central altar, which was placed on top of a raised platform. Climbing the few steps, I saw yet another door placed off to the side, and relished in the anticipation of even more exploration. On top of the steps I gave a brief glance at the altar itself, which was smooth and plain. Then I moved towards to mass of threads, and felt a stab of horror when I saw the thing more clearly.

The first and most disturbing image was that the tendrils moved. It was subtle, almost unnoticeable, but it was clear as I came closer. The mass shifted slightly at irregular intervals and in arbitrary directions, giving it the resemblance of some blind, stupid lifeform.

However, I was an adventurer extraordinaire, and I certainly wasn’t going to let a little fear halt my investigation. The mass seemed harmless enough, so I moved up to it, close enough to touch it.

I realized that the tendrils which seemed thick as vines actually were made of tiny threads. These threads clumped together in a way that made them seem like one mass, when they were really quite small. I reached out to touch a section of thread, but the very moment my fingers touched he substance, the whole mass made a brief shudder, and I heard a small gasp.

I froze, paralyzed with fear and confusion. Then, like an avalanche the epiphany came to me. Unthinking, I hurriedly started separating out great swathes of thread, unburying the surface I now felt underneath.

What I found was, of course, a human face, though much too pale. The bright eyes looked up at me, signalling an obvious intense, quiet fear. It was a child, though I couldn’t guess at an exact age: at any moment the face looked ten or fifteen. I could only see a brief section of clothing by the child’s neckline before it became covered in hair. There seemed to be a sort of white robe or gown, and indeed when I looked down to the child’s feet, I could see a trail of white fabric.

I assumed by the way the soft voice had sounded that the child was a boy, and looking at his face, one could see it as masculine, if one were to stretch every definition and understanding of “male.” The poor boy had, somehow, been restrained here and his hair—though more hair than a human should be able to produce in a lifetime—had been threaded into the wall behind him. Despite the monstrosity of the act, I must admit that the job was done with a careful, artful—what I might even call gentle—hand, threading the hair in a thoughtful, thorough manner. It was clear how disturbing it was to the boy though. You could see the fear in his eyes.

I reached down to pat his head, and though he recoiled I persisted, saying in the softest, gentlest tone I could, “Here now, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I’m going to help you,” followed by the biggest smile I could muster. The boy still looked afraid, but calmed somewhat. “So,” I said, trying to fathom how I could possibly free the lad, “what’s your name?”

He just stared up at me, either unable to talk or unfamiliar with my language. Either way, it wasn’t much use talking. I knew the only way I could free him.

I softly said “Don’t worry, I can get you out of here.” Then I grabbed the hair behind him, prodigious though it was, into a condensed handful close to his back. He gasped in surprise, but I calmed him down with pleasant sounds and words. Then I reached back, and located my machete (successfully this time). With a big wind-up, I sliced through the hair.

I didn’t think to warn the boy for some reason. I had expected the hair to take a number of chops to get through anyway, but to my surprise it all cut apart in a single stroke, and I almost fell over from all the excess forward momentum. The stuff didn’t feel like how I’d expected. It cut more like butter, or…I don’t know, something similar. As I looked down, I felt my heart drop. There was blood spilling everywhere.

The boy screamed out, a sharp, piercing, all-encompassing sound. I looked around, feeling my whole body shake violently as I stared at the river of blood pooling on the floor. The boy had slumped over, and lay in a heap. I realized that I must have cut him accidentally, very badly. In a panic, I rushed over to apply what little first aid I knew. But, on moving the still-considerable length of hair off his back, I could not locate a single wound, though his back was covered with blood.

It was then that I realized: it was his hair. His hair was bleeding.

Indeed, looking at the wall, I saw thick fountains of blood falling from the leftover mass of hair. The stuff twitched—twitched like severed body parts, and curled up like dried tentacles. Staring, uncomprehending, I looked down at the boy. He muttered and gasped, and cried horribly. I did what I could, tearing a piece of thick fabric off my clothing and using it to tie the ends of the hair up, which stopped the blood-flow somewhat.

There was another violent shake, and I realized it wasn’t just me but the whole room that vibrated. This, as I now properly sensed, was accompanied by the most horrific, brain-stabbing, blood-curdling scream I have ever heard. It was like the mix of a growl and a shriek, piercing and guttural rasping combined to an impossibly loud degree.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I picked the boy up, and held him in both my arms, so his head rested on my forearm and his legs dangled over the other side. He was light, surprisingly so—in fact, he was almost weightless. I had some base, instinctual urge to protect him—I couldn’t describe it, but I knew, just knew that I had to get him out of that place.

Before I could start moving, a sound from below stopped me. What I feared was the rasping of the unknown thing was just the door behind, opening by itself. I almost didn’t want to see what was through it, and I didn’t have to look: when it had opened a crack, dark liquid, thick like tar, flowed into the room, covering the floor with a sticky black covering. The smell was foul like rot, and I hesitated moving any farther as I descended the stairs. But the boy still shivered and cried in my arms, so I lost all my fear, and plunged in.

It was even thicker than I had expected, and clung to the bottom of my feet aggressively. I could still hear that horrid roaring at frequent intervals, each time seemingly closer, and the liquid made it difficult to move. I started into a run, which only amounted to a stumbling walk, and finally made it past the first door.

The tar was much thinner here, and I crushed the rock that had been holding the doorway open, thereby slamming it down. The mechanism to open the door seemed to be thereby broken somehow, and the ooze couldn’t pass through. Relieved, I rushed through this next room, after which (if I remembered correctly) there was another eight. As I ran, I heard a splashing sound behind me, and in outraged confusion I looked back to see the tar cascading out of the spouts in the wall. Out of hundreds of spouts.

It couldn’t reach me before I slammed the door on it, but I knew that it could enter any of the rooms through those spouts. I only ran faster, trying to outpace the liquid death, but after every room I passed, it gained on me bit by bit. By the time I had reached the room just before the hall where I’d met Clare, I only barely managed to close the door before the ooze overtook me. It was already falling when I turned to run.

This room was a thin hallway, long as the others but with a low, cramped ceiling. It was filling faster than the previous rooms, and before I was halfway through, the tar came up to my waist. It was almost impossible to move, and I had to hold the boy up high over my head, though he still got splattered by the falling streams. The walls, once bright yellow, were now covered in the black muck, and matched its colour. The torches were long put out, and the only light was the faint torchlight from the next room, which seemed to stretch farther and farther away.

The liquid was up to my neck, and I clambered wildly for the door. I didn’t want to attempt to swim through the dense sludge, and I could feel my body being pulled down where I had thought there was floor. I could feel my limbs burning and dying. I just about gave up.

With a sudden surge, the sludge burst out into the next room, carrying me with it. The larger volume of the hall gave plenty of space for the liquid to wash out, and I managed to regain my balance. I still held the boy in my arms, in an iron grip. He occasionally gasped and moaned, but seemed otherwise insensible. I rushed to the exit of the basement, sure I could make it out before the sludge got me.

I felt the vague sense of something missing as I entered the last chamber, or rather, the entrance chamber. I thought nothing of it and rushed into the room, headlong for the exit. That’s when I heard the growl, the scream again. It was so loud I was sure my eardrums would burst, and I kneeled to the ground, unable to cover my ears due to their current luggage. Then I looked up, tears streaming down my face.

The statue, that damned statue, was looking back down. As I stared its mouth opened, gapingly wide, and the scream it made was the grinding of stone-on-stone amplified from deep inside it. I stared up, and met its eyes, which were wide, deep, and black like the tar. In a slow, grinding movement, it brought up its feet to trample us.

I hurled my body in whatever direction I could, careful to land on my back and not crush the boy. The foot came down with a crash, causing a large splash of muck. I scrambled, and pushed myself up using my elbows. The colossus was readying for another attack, raising its massive leg out of the tar with a schlick, and I ran back as quickly as I could. Unfortunately I had jumped towards a side wall away from the exit, and the sludge was again building. As the powerful leg came down I became trapped between it and the stone wall, with only a few feet of space. I trembled violently in desperation and exhaustion, and held the boy close up to my chest.

The colossus shuddered, and I prepared for the extreme killing pressure. I waited, and held the boy tight, and it never came. I shook in extreme fear, and looked up. The giant was posed in its killing posture, and its eyes stared directly at mine. But it didn’t move.

I looked around, uncomprehending. The sludge was still rising, and I knew I had to move, but some deep instinct made me stay still. Then I finally noticed it: the boy’s leg lay against the stone of the statue.

I couldn’t understand it, but I took advantage all the same. I crept under the stone trunks of the monster, holding the boy out against its leg at all times. The boy’s body lolled and flopped with unconscious weight, and I made sure to hold him firmly to the stone against all my desires to flee. Once I had crossed under the giant’s legs and reached the child’s body out as far as I could, I grasped him back to my chest and ran.

As soon as the boy lost contact with the monster, the beast started grinding again, following through with his previous attack. I hurtled towards the door, focusing my sight directly on that exit. As I made it past the threshold the boy shuddered, and I felt a massive impact through the door behind me, blocking the opening with a tumble of rocks. I didn’t look back again and quickly made my way through the house, somehow finding the exit without paying much attention, and being jolted to my senses as I burst forth into fresh air.

I brought the boy some distance and laid him on the soft grass. The house burst into a geyser of filth, and sheets of sludge fell all down its sides, covering it in fountaining muck. But I didn’t pay this more than a glance, and instead looked down at the boy.

His eyes were bright and dazed. He was looking all around at the outside, which I figured he had probably never seen before. The sky was overcast, a soft bluish gray, and a cool wind blew gently. He took in all that was around him, seeming to forget the drying muck and blood on him, the torturous injury.

I grasped him by the shoulders, and he looked directly into my eyes, and his gaze was like piercing, like it went into my body and soul, and he just stared at me like that, and in the most unforgettable look he gave a soft smile.

Then, he shuddered again, and fell to dust in my arms.

Credit: Ree

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The Cottage

October 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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The Cottage
By Christina Durner

On October 1, 1957, Callie purchased the small cottage overlooking Cimmerian Bluff. She was quite alone in the world. Having just lost both her parents in a head-on collision three months ago she felt it was time to make a life for herself, to move to a new town where no one knew her, a town where she wouldn’t be accosted daily by the well-meaning people who offered their sincerest sympathies despite the fact that they had never bothered to acknowledge that she even existed before the accident. She had no other family. She had no friends. The only things that truly belonged to her were her dog, Hodge, her new job as a page at the town’s library, and the broken-down little cottage that she’d purchased on a whim.
Turning the cottage into her personal sanctuary would be a grand task. But the inheritance that she’d acquired would make that possible. From the looks of the exterior it appeared to be a shell-like ruin. But having gone inside she realized that with some initiative and a little elbow grease she could fix it up in no time.
“A diamond in the rough,” she kept telling herself. “Once I clean it up and have the water turned on Hodge and I can move right in.”
It had been uninhabited since the late 1920s, when a tragedy of heinous nature struck down the elderly woman who had lived there with her cat, and it had remained empty until Callie discovered it. According to the citizens of Cimmerian Bluff a traveling tramp had been blamed for the brutal slaying. The old woman’s throat had been viciously torn open in what the police believed to be an act of desperation when the hobo had broken in to the woman’s cottage and been caught stealing. They never did find the cat. The tramp swore ignorance, claiming to never have been near the cottage. But despite his protests he was found guilty and hung for his alleged savagery. The townspeople swore that the old cottage was unfit to live in, that it was haunted and did not want to be lived in.
But Callie detested superstition as much as she detested unwanted guests. So she bought the house despite its sordid past with the hopes that the legend of the tramp and the old woman would deter townspeople from making unwelcomed visits. Callie paid to have the water turned on and the roof and floors repaired and by the seventeenth she and Hodge had taken up residence. True, there was no electricity at this point. But Callie enjoyed the warm glow and snug atmosphere that candlelight and the stone fireplace provided.
She’d enjoyed her first two days at work. Shelving books required very little human interaction and allowed Callie to listen to her audio books which always made the time go faster. The only problem she’d experienced thus far was the spotting of a field mouse scurrying into the stacks on her way to the lunch room. Callie had always loved animals, more so than people. But rodents gave her a fright. As a child her mother had always been cruel to her, insisting that if her room was not spotless the mice would come into her room at night and bite her toes. Callie’s mother maintained that they would scamper into her room every night searching for a reason to get her. Since then the very thought of a mouse could cause her to freeze up and panic to wash over her in tidal waves.
Thinking of her mother saddened her. She’d spent most of her life trying desperately to win her approval and affections. While her father on the other hand had been the most loving person she had ever known. He was the only person that she enjoyed being around and now he was gone. She refused to upset herself any further and cuddled close to Hodge as she sipped warm cider in front of the fireplace.
“This could be a lovely little cottage,” she said out loud, talking to both herself and the dog. “We just need some new carpeting, perhaps some floral drapes, maybe I’ll put in some window boxes to really spruce it up around here.”
Hodge sneezed, bringing her back to the here and now then plopped his little head back onto her lap. She peered through the cottage windows to see the autumn leaves coming down from the trees that surrounded her new home.
“Every single one of those villagers must be the town idiot,” she chuckled to herself. “The house doesn’t want to be lived in,” she said in a mocking tone. No cottage could ever make her feel more comfortable and at home. No cottage could ever be more welcoming.
On October nineteenth the first incident occurred, though she’d taken it lightly and dismissed it at the time, it would be of great significance in relation to later events. Lying in bed that night, somewhere between the half-dreaming and half-waking world, Callie heard the familiar scratch of claws on the bedroom door. Since he’d been trained as a puppy, Hodge used this as his means of communicating that it was time for her to take him out. The electricity wouldn’t be fixed for another two weeks. So she found her way to him with help from the moonlight. Throwing the pudgy Jack Russel over her shoulder she felt her way down the hallway and made her way carefully to the tiny staircase. A loud snap jolted her upright as the dog leapt from her arms and down to the floor.
“Must’ve been one of those rat traps I set this morning,” she whispered to the dog, kneeling down to stroke his soft coat. “A place that’s been vacant this long is bound to have vermin. Glad I thought ahead.”
The thought of a rat in her beloved dwelling made her feel nauseous. What made matters worse is the thought that she would have to go look at the trap and possibly find the disgusting half-dead little pest squirming to get free. Then what would she do? Worry about that in the morning is what she would do. That vile little interloper would surely be dead by morning and she would be able to handle the matter more easily.
The following morning, she’d discovered an enormous rat dead inside the trap. Thank God she thought to herself. Hodge growled at the grotesque corpse until Callie mustered up the courage to pick up the trap and throw it in the outdoor garbage bin. It had been the size of a small trout and left her shaking as she ran back into the house to get as far away from it as she could. She set another trap that evening, hoping that they wouldn’t hear anymore loud snaps in the middle of the night. Living in a house that was supposedly haunted did not bother Callie in the least. But living in a house that was infested with rats was enough to make her skin crawl. Remembering her mother, she wore her shoes to bed that night.
Several nights passed and each morning Callie had discovered dead rats in the traps that had been placed. She phoned an exterminator while she was at the library but was disappointed to learn that he would be unable to make it to the cottage for another three days. No matter, Callie would not allow those disgusting varmints to scare her out of her own house. Not when it had become the biggest part of her new life.
Around midnight Callie had heard Hodge’s tell-tale signal scratching at her bedroom door. It was a moonless night and she had forgotten to bring a candle into the room with her. As she crawled out of bed, feeling her way through the darkness, she could just make out the shape sitting in front of the door. She lifted him onto her shoulder and started carefully toward the stares. His weight bore down on her heavier than normal.
“Whoa, buddy. You’re getting heavy! Guess we better cut back on the Milk Bones, huh?” Callie stroked his coat lovingly. Something was wrong. It felt harsh, coarse, grimy.
“Hodge?” she managed to utter through trembling lips.
She turned her head to look at him. What she saw glowering back at her sent ice through her veins. Frozen in place, Callie saw two beady red eyes and whiskers that unmistakably belonged to a rat. But this rat was larger than any she’d ever seen. It was slightly bigger than Hodge. Where was poor Hodge? As she felt its naked sinewy tail thumping against her chest and bare arm she could smell the scent of blood mingled with the rat’s own musty stench. Its whiskers brushed against her cheek, leaving streaks of blood in its wake as it inched its snarling snout closer to her neck.
What was it going to do to her? It had already eaten Hodge. Why was it perched on her shoulder so calmly, almost calculatedly? Her mother’s words popped into her mind. Scampering, she’d said. They scamper in looking for a reason to bite. But this rat had not scampered. It had waited calmly as if it were waiting for Callie to figure something out. Suddenly, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. It had not occurred to her because her own mother had been so disconnected from her. She did not wish to protect Callie from anything. But her mother did not follow the laws of nature. This monstrous rodent that lay heavy upon her now, however, did.
It’s their mother! The voice inside her rang out. She’s the mother of the rats that I caught in the traps!
Callie didn’t know if it was the rat’s reaction to the fear the seemed to pulsate from her body or if it somehow realized that she had figured out why it was there. But before Callie could find the strength within herself to try to fight it, the mother rat sank its grizzly needlelike teeth into her throat. As she fell to the floor the last thing she saw were those piercing red eyes and the blood soaked muzzle dripping all over the beautiful new flooring of her beloved cottage.
The next morning the police found her lifeless body at the top of the small staircase. They concluded that a prowler must have attacked her and ran frightened out into the night. After all, whoever it had been didn’t bother to use the door to escape. The downstairs window had been smashed to pieces and none of the wild animals in that area were big enough to do that kind of damage. They’d tried to warn her before she’d purchased the cottage. This place was haunted. It did not want to be lived in. The old lady found that out and sadly Callie had found out too.

“Oh but that’s just a silly old legend,” the real estate agent said with a halfhearted giggle. “Something cooked up by the local busy bodies because they had nothing better to do back then.”
I eyed her suspiciously. My husband’s job had just transferred him to Cimmerian Bluff and we were in desperate search of a reasonably priced home where we could start a family. A small cottage set back in the woods away from the hustle and bustle of the town. When we’d heard the story of Callie and the old woman from his new boss we’d thought it was a sick joke. The realtor’s reaction to our account of the tale calmed my nerves as she invited us to walk into the cottage. It was lovely, cozy, just the type of place that we were looking for. Not to mention the price was right. We signed the paperwork and were more than ready to move in. But it’s funny. As we made our way back to the car, I am certain that I saw a rat scamper underneath the front door of the cottage.

Credit: Christina Durner

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