Jozsa’s Grove

January 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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You’re twisting my words again. As I’ve already said a hundred times, I have no simple answers for your questions. You can’t expect me to respond “yes” or “no” to questions about complex matters that I haven’t begun to recover from. Jerry, you know better than any of these assholes that I’m not the kind of guy who rattles easily. I don’t belong in this loony bin!

Yes, I did agree to cooperate. If I have to answer you straight, then I will, but only if you’ll let me explain the details. I admit to spending the previous weekend with Arthur and Samantha Duncan at the old Schall estate on Riley’s Rock, and I confess to the property’s hasty demolition. The Duncans’ murders are thankfully not on my conscience, but my inability to prevent them is. The bullet was mine, but I didn’t kill Sam: she was already dead. I just killed the bitch that stole her body. Not sure what that adds up to in court. And I didn’t do it all in a raving mania. You got to believe me, through this whole incident I was perfectly sound in mind until I uprooted that damned tree. It was that final horror that sent me off the deep end and ultimately landed me here.

I really don’t expect any of you to believe what I’m about to disclose, but I’ve got the right to explain myself. I need another whiskey before I start, Jerry, if you don’t mind.

*

The Duncans wanted to turn the estate into a vacation resort. God knows the place had more rooms than anyone knew what to do with. Art never told me how he got his hands on the property, just that he wanted me in charge of hotel security. I needed the money and hadn’t had a steady income since the war. Art had better luck in that area, the rich bastard. Besides that, he felt like he owed me one for that bullet I caught in his stead.

He and the wife had to bring their own hired help — four foreigners who didn’t speak a word of English — because they couldn’t find any in town. The locals weren’t crazy about the place. We were told that centuries ago a tribe of druids tainted the Rock with ritual blood-spilling, which none of us considered very seriously at all, though it still almost turned Sam off of the place. Sweetest lady I ever knew, but a little too sensitive sometimes, even for a Catholic. I have to cut her a little slack, though. After her last stillbirth she stopped taking her meds and her neurotic lapses got more frequent.

Efram and Jozsa Schall were Jewish immigrants who migrated to the ‘States a century ago and built the hotel on the Rock with the same dream as the Duncans of running a vacation resort and raising a family. And like the Duncans, the Schalls had trouble birthing children. They tried as hard as they could to have a baby, but nothing seemed to work and by the time they moved to that little hick town by Riley’s Rock they’d all but given up. Some of the locals said Jozsa wasn’t meant to spawn — even now they always say it quietly like they’re afraid Jozsa will overhear.

Yet shortly after they arrived Jozsa became pregnant, and for a while the Schalls had more spring in their step than usual. Explains how Efram managed to get the hotel built so quickly. Jozsa spent her pregnancy planting and nursing a garden on the west end of the property, and surrounded it with a beautiful cherry grove. A nice way to celebrate the new life she would soon bring into the world, if you ask me. But the baby never got a name. Stillbirth, you see.

The Schalls buried the baby in the grove near a young sapling, and Jozsa let it all grow out of control until the Rock had itself a nice toupee of greenery. Efram tried to forget they ever had the baby, but Jozsa must’ve felt like she’d been robbed of her motherhood because she visited the grave every day to keep the poor kid’s spirit company. For the next ten years tenants heard her singing out there for hours at a time.

One day Jozsa led Efram into the grove and neither of them ever came back. Then the Schalls’ tenants started disappearing, rumor has it the same way Jozsa did: one by one, like in a trance, they walked into the grove and ceased to exist. The locals shunned the property for fear they’d disappear, too. They closed off the roads to Riley’s Rock until the trees and foliage covered them up. The grove withered and decayed and the house degenerated into a mausoleum for the Schalls and their nameless baby.

In spite of its history, the Duncans loved the place. It was a fixer-upper for sure: everything was caked in dust, the furniture had all but fallen apart, and the ceiling had collapsed in two rooms and let the spring drizzles damage everything inside. But they loved it and they couldn’t wait to get started. I’ll admit I was just as excited: eight bedrooms, four bathrooms, dining hall with an ocean view, the sweet smell of the sea in the air. A little polish and it would’ve been a beautiful place.

We set to work right away, dusting the countertops, polishing the windows, clearing the busted furniture out to make way for the new due to arrive that weekend. The carpenters were supposed to show up today, actually. We spent the rest of Friday cleaning, then drove into town for dinner and beds at the local inn.

The dream changed everything.

God, I remember it perfectly. I walked through an endless void of white mist, like I was standing on the ocean surface on the coldest night of winter. I walked on and on for what seemed like days until suddenly the fog lifted to reveal a blood red sky and an ancient, crooked tree towering over a field of shriveled greenery and sterile earth, with eight or nine limp bodies dangling from its naked branches like trophies. Not from nooses, Jerry: that damned tree gripped their broken necks like a child would his playthings. And there was a woman in a tattered house dress with long, tangled locks of black hair. She stood ahead of me, facing the tree, singing to it in some foreign language.

She stopped abruptly, looked over her shoulder and shot me the meanest glare I’d ever seen. She had no color in her face, just a sickly stone gray. And Jesus, her eyes: solid white like golf balls, yet somehow expressing hatred and malignance rivaling hell’s. She didn’t want me there, but I couldn’t turn away. My feet had grown roots. The dream was vivid to all the senses: I smelled damp earth eons old and the cold of the fog bit my flesh like mosquitoes.

Those horrible eyes were suddenly inches away from mine, piercing me like gunshots. I woke up in a cold sweat, so badly shaken I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.

We all must’ve had the same dream, because everyone started acting weird the following morning. The workers kept whispering to each other, and whenever I asked them what the problem was they clammed up and went on about their business. Sam was particularly jumpy, and the first to lose it. We hadn’t been working more than two hours when we heard her scream. Everyone rushed to the source and found her shivering in her husband’s arms on the ladies’ room floor. She’d gone in there to wash her face, looked in the mirror and saw someone else looking back.

Sam just wasn’t the same after that. All day Saturday she wasn’t much use to anyone — a nervous wreck keeping mostly to herself, incapable of sitting still for more than two seconds like she was constipated. Twice I caught her staring out the dining hall windows toward Jozsa Schall’s grove of dead trees. She just stood there, staring. And when I said her name she’d snap out of it and go about her day like it’d never happened. She didn’t even remember walking into the room.

Art wasn’t happy, let me tell you. Sam’s neurotic behavior had been grating on him for months, but this was the worst she’d ever been. He started losing his temper at the drop of a hat. Shouted at her a lot. Smacked the workers around from time to time, which didn’t improve their odd behavior much.

The new furniture arrived late in the evening and none of us had the strength to bother with it, but Art and Sam were set on staying the night at the hotel this time and I wasn’t willing to leave them alone at night in an eerie house with no electricity. So we dragged the Duncans’ bed into their room, and I put one of the new lobby couches in the hall just outside their door and parked myself on it. Said goodnight, cleaned my sidearm, then read Arthur Conan Doyle until I passed out.

The damned dream haunted my sleep again that very night — the fog, the tree, the hanging bodies. I woke up with a sissy yelp this time, catapulting off the couch and onto the floor. I sat panting in the corridor for a long time, blind as a bat because the place had no electricity, like I told you. I took in a deep breath to calm my nerves, and held it fast when I heard another set of lungs breathing only a few steps away.

Someone was standing there in the dark, watching me. Sam’s voice asked if I was all right, and for a few minutes I just stammered like a fool while she blindly felt around my face to see where I was, then took my hands and helped me to my feet.

That’s when I noticed how dirty her hands were. My fingers came away caked in soil like she’d been out digging holes with her hands all day. I asked her about it while searching my pockets for my flashlight.

“I’ve been in the grove,” she said.

“The grove?” I said. I started to ask what she was doing out there in the cold so late at night as I fished out the flashlight and flicked it on. Instead of Sam’s pretty face I saw that hateful white-eyed scowl from my nightmares and I dropped the light and screamed and screamed.

You should’ve seen me, tripping over my own feet, crashing headlong into walls. I about threw myself into the car and pressed the gas pedal to the floor all the way to town. Damn my cowardly ass to hell. I left poor Art alone with that…with that God-knows-what.

*

Would I be telling you this if I’d killed them all and burnt the place down to cover my tracks? Would I make up a story if I knew full well you wouldn’t buy it? That would be pointless, wouldn’t it? Besides, one little ghost isn’t what made me liberate that place. Yeah, that’s right, I said “liberate” because that’s exactly what I did: I liberated Riley’s Rock from an ancient, unspeakable taint. A fluke of the natural world that I still can’t wrap my head around.

*

When the workers set off for the hotel Sunday morning I didn’t go with them. Scared too far out of my wits. But eventually guilt kicked in and I started thinking about how good the Duncans had been to me all these years, and ditching them seemed a lousy way to pay them back. Mind you, at the time I still wasn’t sure what I saw. At the time I was beginning to think my imagination was just having a little fun with me. So I drove back, composing and rehearsing an elaborate apology in my head.

Riley’s Rock had put on a biting cold while I was gone, like winter had hit early. The minute I walked into the hotel lobby Art greeted me in hysterics: his eyes rolled around in his head like marbles and he kept saying, “Something’s got my Sammy, Brad. Something’s got her.” I didn’t understand until I saw it for myself.

Art had been organizing his new office when he suddenly noticed how quiet the old house had gotten. He searched the hotel from top to bottom and couldn’t find a trace of his hired help. Instead he found Sam standing at the dining hall window, staring out at the dead grove, singing a sullen lullaby to nobody at all.

She was different. I can’t say how. Sam just wasn’t Sam anymore. When we came in she turned and glanced at us with disinterest, like we were strangers to her. She gave us a tiny smile with no heart in it, the kind of routine smile you give someone when you’ve had a really bad day and don’t want to talk about it; but while the pretty smile was unmistakably Sam Duncan’s, the eyes behind it belonged to another person, like someone was wearing Sam’s face as a mask — one that didn’t fit quite right.

All I knew for sure was that the frigid air enveloping Riley’s Rock emanated from her.

After watching the woman sing stupidly to the window for several minutes, Art and I decided one of us had to approach her and ask her who she was. I didn’t have the courage, and Art was married to her anyway, possessed or not. Up close she seemed to finally recognize her husband, smiled warmly and held his hand like they were high school sweethearts all over again. Goose-bumps swept up his arm like she was icy to the touch.

“Come with me to the grove,” she said. “Come and see our baby.”

He kept at Sam’s heels in a dog-like trance as she went out the door, maybe enslaved by that dreadful urge to see what horror was yet to come. The same urge that goaded me into following them. God help me, I followed them, Jerry. I followed them into that sea of shriveled trunks and crooked branches to the barren garden in its belly. I followed them to that horrid black tree — the one that’d tortured me in my sleep for two nights, the only still-living thing in the entire garden — whose bald boughs perked up when it felt the three of us approaching. Sam kept singing those damned lullabies while the tree somehow swayed in-time.

A terrible unseen force beckoned us. Art walked right up to the ugly thing and put his hand on its trunk. He suddenly jerked his hand away in horror and looked at me with a dismayed expression I’ll never forget, his mouth opening fish-like as if trying to find the words to share an awful revelation with me.

Our eyes instinctively fell to the ground. One of us screamed, but I don’t know which.

The Duncans’ missing servants hadn’t wandered far: four pale, shriveled faces peeked up from the soil at our feet like sprouting cabbages, their dead eyes gazing blindly toward the stars. As the great tree twitched, one of them shifted slightly and sank another inch.

Jesus, it was like a nightmare. Art’s feet vanished. Something took hold of him and pulled him down into the earth. He clawed at the air for something to hold on to, unable to tear his eyes away from that hideous crop of human heads. He was gone in moments, consumed by the garden. Nothing left of him but his endless earth-smothered screams.

The tree stood still for a moment, as if surprised. Sam continued singing.

Something brushed my feet — something alive, a barracuda taste-testing its prey. Suddenly my limbs thawed and I turned and ran. I ran through the house and into the woods. Thorny bushes and sharp branches thrashed me bloody and I didn’t care. I ran and I didn’t stop for breath until I made it to a telephone.

*

You’re giving me those funny looks again, but I’m telling you if you’d only been there with me your hands would be shaking as badly as mine. Hell, you probably wouldn’t have the guts to talk about it again, let alone make the return trip to do what I did. To do what had to be done.

Jerry, give me another whiskey or I’m not going to make it through this.

*

I came back with the oil later that evening. More than anything I wanted to get Sam out of there in one piece, but if I went back to that hotel and found somebody else in her skin I was going to shoot her right between the eyes. Judging by the charred remains you recovered from the ruins I think you know how things turned out.

She tried to lead me into the grove, Jerry. She would’ve done it to me, too. You know I loved Sam. I couldn’t let that thing parade around in her body. Just the thought of it turns my stomach.

I cremated her with the rest of the house. I burned the grove, too, and boy all that dead foliage just lit right up like tissue paper. That nightmare tree was the last to go when all the others had turned to ash. It crackled and blazed and snapped back and forth like a hooked fish. As it wilted in the fire something cried out from beneath the ground — a piercing, child-like wail that nearly shook Riley’s Rock out of its seat!

The next morning, when the flames finally died, I rented the crane to tear that monster up by the roots and make sure it was dead, and had only just finished the job when you all arrived at the scene and found me raving and cackling in the courtyard. Judging by the way you’ve treated me not one of you must’ve laid eyes on that abomination. But the forensic team is combing the ruins as we speak, right? They’re bound to find it right where I left it. I can’t wait to see the photos. You’ll believe those, I bet. You’ll take one look at those roots and my guess is you’ll all be raving and cackling, too.

I counted around fourteen bodies tangled in them, dry and black and shriveled like prunes, every drop of fluid sapped out of ‘em. There might be as many as twenty or even thirty, but I stopped counting when I found the husk that used to be Jozsa Schall. She was easy to identify because her baby — that monstrous infant-thing the roots sprout and slither out from like a sea anemone — was hugging her close like a crusty old teddy bear. Kinda precious when you think about it.

Credit To – Mike MacDee

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The Devil’s Chamber

January 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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This is such a stupid idea. Why are we even doing this?

Those were the thoughts that arose in my mind on that chilly, eerie evening. Sitting in the passenger seat of the dimly-lit car which belonged to my best friend Matt, I peered out the window and glanced up at the beautiful, yet ominous, night sky. The moon was huge and luminous. I looked at my watch. It was just about midnight, a time when most normal people would already be in bed.

I glanced over at Matt, who was gleefully driving to our destination, seemingly unaware of how stupid this whole thing was. “Why are we doing this, Matt? You know nothing’s gonna happen,” I said, slightly annoyed at the entire situation.
Matt looked at me with aggravation.
“You agreed to come, so stop being a little bitch and try to have some fun,” he snapped.

After about five more minutes of driving, Matt stopped the car abruptly. “Here we are,” he proclaimed with genuine excitement. He then turned to me and corrected himself. “Well, almost. We have to do a little walking.”

I followed Matt as we walked down a steep grassy hill and ended up in the woods. Pitch black. “I can’t see a fucking thing,” I exclaimed. “Don’t worry dude, I brought a flashlight.” He pulled a small flashlight out of his jeans pocket. “Of course,” I muttered under my breath. We continued through the woods for what seemed like an hour. Finally, we arrived in front of a vast, deep tunnel.

I looked at Matt. “What the hell is this thing?”

“The Devil’s Chamber. Here we are. Let’s go.” Matt said, dangerously eager to go inside the death trap.

I stopped him. “Woah, woah, woah, we’re not going in there, are we? We’re gonna kill ourselves. What if the flashlight dies? What if there’s someone else in there? What if there’s–”
“What if you stopped being such a pussy and just walked in?” my friend interrupted in a half-joking tone. “Come on, let’s go.”

I reluctantly followed him into the tunnel. It was cold, dark and damp. Insects were everywhere, not to mention all the dead rats, mice, and of course the occasional decaying cat. There were all sorts of graffiti covering the walls. I instantly felt something very strange throughout my body. It felt as if a bubble of negative energy was trying to push itself into me. I was overwhelmed with a sense of dread. However, I remembered how damn excited Matt was to be here, so I kept my mouth shut and continued to follow behind him.

As we reached the middle of the tunnel, Matt pulled out his camera and decided to take a few pictures. For the next couple of minutes all I heard was the loud snap of Matt’s camera, paired with a flash that nearly blinded me. Suddenly, I felt a small hand on my shoulder. I quickly turned around, but of course, nobody was behind me. I shrugged it off and kept walking. “Maybe it was a bug,” I thought, in an attempt to calm my nerves.

The tunnel became colder and darker the further we walked. “How long is this tunnel?” I asked Matt. He turned to me and smirked. “Would you relax? We’ll turn back in a minute.” I noticed that he was beginning to feel a bit nervous. “You’re right though, we have been walking for a while. Let’s turn around.”

We began to walk back to the entrance. I couldn’t wait to get out. As we were walking, I abruptly heard something that sounded like a young girl’s laughter. Then, I felt it again. The hand on my shoulder. The same small, child-like hand. This time, it was more assertive, like something was really trying to get my attention. Again, I tried to tell myself that it was probably just a bug or something. I just wanted to get the hell out of this place.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, we reached the entrance and quickly walked outside. We hurried through the woods and up the hill, glancing over our shoulders every so often to make sure nothing was … “following” us.

At last, we arrived at Matt’s car. I wasted no time opening the passenger door and hopping in. Matt then got inside after me and started the car. He pulled his camera out of his backpack. “Alright, let’s see what we got,” he said with a radiant grin.

The two of us looked carefully at every picture. Nothing. Just a bunch of concrete, dirt and spiders. Then, we came across a picture of me standing in front of Matt. We both looked closely and gasped.

There was a small child-like hand, gently resting on my shoulder.

Credit To – Jake Grogan

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The Fugavi Incident: A Drake Blackwood Case File

January 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I won’t bore you all with the details of my work, that can be for another time. What is important is that I have made the decision to share my case files with the general public. Most of the cases I’ve been involved in have revealed themselves to be distinctly ordinary, or tangled up in lies, hoaxes, and even mental illness. But there are a few instances which I continually come back to. In the quiet hours of the early morning, these are the facts which weigh down on me and keep me from sleep.

I don’t know if this is just a form of self therapy (I definitely could use some) but perhaps some of you who are fascinated by the bizarre, and are compelled like myself to discover what’s truly out there beyond the humdrum world we seem to live in, that you might find the following case studies of some use. I know it gets said here a lot, but names have been altered and all sensitive information has been redacted. Please also be aware that these are my personal notes and as such are not written in story format. They are for educational purposes only.

Case 34: The Fugavi Incident

I travelled to Somerset in the South of the country last Saturday, May 3rd. Having been contacted by a friend in the local authorities down there, I was brought in to consult due to the similarities with the Whitman case. Two local boys, James Carney (15 yrs old) and Donald Lewis (16 yrs old) had stayed out later than allowed by their parents on Wednesday the 30th of April. At approximately 11:04pm both boys found themselves on the outskirts of the town and, in realising the time and worrying about how angry their parents would be with them, they decided to take a short cut on the way back.

To make it home as quickly as possible, James suggested cutting across a large field known as The Fugavi Patch. Donald was hesitant in doing so as the large patch of grass was often avoided by locals as it had picked up a reputation for being unsafe, especially at night. Interviews with the families of both boys, neighbours, and the local school headmaster, revealed several second-hand accounts of alleged experiences there including strange dim lights, whispering, and an unpleasant smell associated with The Fugavi Patch.

Despite Donald’s hesitancy, both he and James climbed over a metal gate 5 feet in height and proceeded to cross the 298 metres of grass to the other side. As both boys approached the middle of the ground, James began to complain to Donald about feeling nauseous along with a warm stabbing pain in his stomach. As they continued on, James became increasingly disorientated and began to sweat profusely, while retching and then vomiting several times. Donald panicked and, believing that James required medical assistance, phoned for an ambulance from his mobile phone. James grew delirious, collapsing to the ground, asking Donald several times: ‘Who is that man standing over there? What does he want?’. James pointed repeatedly to a row of tall hedges on the other side of the field, lit by a nearby street light, but Donald could see no one.

As they waited on the ambulance, James grew frantic with fear, pointing and screaming across The Fugavi Patch in the direction of the hedgerows, yelling about a man walking towards them. Donald tried to calm James’ fears by telling him that there was no one there, but James screamed and thrashed around on the ground clutching his stomach in agony, crying out for help. Finally, he lost consciousness just as the ambulance arrived.

James was rushed to hospital, but was unfortunately Dead on Arrival. The autopsy recorded the cause of death as being a ‘cardiac arrest brought about by a violent allergic reaction to trace chemical waste, still present in the soil from a metalworks factory which occupied the field twenty years previous.’ I was able to contact the owner of the land, a Mr Adams who was very upset about the whole ordeal as the locals blamed him for the tragic events. He produced papers clearly showing that the entire area had been decontaminated and was supposedly quite safe.

The death of James Carney has left the small town community shocked and traumatized, but the official explanation seems to have been well accepted. I cannot, however, dismiss the strange events surrounding the boy’s death. The sickness and excruciating stabbing pain he experienced before collapsing, the man he screamed about walking across The Fugavi Patch towards him, and the horrific marks and sores on the poor boy’s body; one in particular which stretched out across his abdomen and looked uncannily like the imprint of a human hand.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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Bonfire

January 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Murder is an incredibly human concept, when you think of it. All species kill; to protect their young, to cull those unfit, most often in order to stay alive- everyone needs to eat.
And yet, in nature, all causes of death are natural. We exist simply for existence’ sake. All victories, large and small, all worlds we build- everything we do, will die. Of course, it might be remembered, for a little while, by other, equally perishable beings. But, in the end, existence will cease to exist. That is the way of the world. All things come to an end. Eventually.
All ways of life die. Usually, of natural causes, so to speak. Occasionally, then, they die of something other than natural causes. And what is the word we have created, a stand-in for “other than natural causes”?
Murder.
A stupid word, when you think of it.
But an appropriate one.

******

The sky was a horribly dull grey-and-navy. The car loomed out of the shadows like some shiny, dusty monster. It was just a little way across the yard. It was the same car it had always been, but tonight it was dangerous. Even worse, it was unavoidable.
This was bad.
This was really, really bad.
And it was a sure thing.
A few months ago, crisis had been far away- horribly frightening, yes, but just another news item – but as the days turned to weeks it had edged closer, first on the news, (‘scenes some viewers may find disturbing’, though it was impossible to look away) – but the scenes of carnage had disappeared from screens once they realised that no solution was forthcoming -, then in rumours, rumours that had travelled, rumours distorted, then in real stories, of cousins and friends who had met their end. Then, it had been scary. It had been lock-your-doors-at-night, don’t-speak-about-it scary. That was because it was real, getting realer. The Internet is a liar, the news too, but what about Sue down the street who bawled in school thinking about her cousins, hoping they weren’t gone? Was she a liar? Were your own eyes deceiving you when you saw a boy little more than a child lose his grip on this life, gone before he could see the deaths all around him?
Oh, this was bad.
Oh, was it ever bad.
And it was happening. Tonight, it was happening.
They couldn’t help what they were about to do. They weren’t given a choice. They were trying to protect their family. They were trying to follow instruction, to do as asked, even if the instructions were coming from the other side.
But were there sides? No, she realised, there weren’t. It was the fire and they were the kindling.
Her uncle, her aunt, her godparents, they were trying to do their job. To protect their kids. They loved her, sure. But in this situation they were like game-show judges, the biggest phonies of them all. They would hate to see her go, but it was something that had to be done. They couldn’t help it.
They couldn’t help it.
She could see the look of desperation in those eyes, could understand it. They hardly believed that, if they did as told, everything would be OK. The villain never plays fair; the mastermind always finds the loophole. Everyone knew that. If comic books and action movies have taught us anything, it’s that the bad guy never plays by the rules. It’s common knowledge, that.
But, in all fairness, what choice did they have? This was no game, this was no movie. And they couldn’t help it. A thing like this, it had to be done.
We are the kindling, the voice in her head whispered.
But, no. They weren’t just the kindling. They were the weapon, too.
Oh, God, is this happening? Can this really happen? Am I dreaming? Am I in a coma?
But dreams scared her, so she pushed the thought away.
Scared of dreams, really? With all I’ve got to be afraid of?
“Ester, honey?” The voice was tentative, apologetic.
Oh, I hope you’re sorry. I hope you’re scared. I bet one’ll get you when you try to leave it’ll serve you-
But, no. That wasn’t fair.
Do you think what he’s planning is fair? What do you think about that?
No, it wasn’t fair, but none of this was.
Get out and run, girl. Take your chances in the wild.
And there would be chances in the wild. She was a strong girl, full of instinct, and the enemy kept to the towns. Oh, there’d be chances. And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t contemplated it, sure she had. It would be simple, easy, even.
But she couldn’t. Leaving would mean sure death for the family. She didn’t really care about the parents, they were mostly dead anyway, just walking shells. But the kids?
They were young, they had a life ahead – an uncertain one, but they had a chance of survival if she did as told.
Oh, she was going to miss them. Luckily they weren’t old enough for her treatment.
Casting call: Ages 13-25. Preferably, doomed.
They probably didn’t even know what was happening. Out here in the country, life continued as usual. They had enough canned goods stockpiled to last them years. It was true, the enemy kept to the towns. It was the threat of their approach that kept everyone subdued.
“Ester, honey?” Tentative, apologetic, irritating.
I hope he gets close enough to think he’ll make it. I hope his head comes clean off in their hands-
No. No, dammit! The thought wasn’t her own, and she knew it. In the last few days she had felt it in her head, her thoughts twisting and sifting. They were bad thoughts. They were angry thoughts, contemptuous thoughts. Worst of all, they were inviting thoughts. Whatever it was, it was in her head, and it wasn’t human. She had realised this, but had never spoken it aloud. Even in these times, the very idea was ridiculous. It was imperative that they maintain a sense of normalcy. If she told her aunt or her uncle, it might be the final straw, they might snap under the strain, and their kids needed them. At least one of them probably wouldn’t come back alive. They could drop her outside the city, but they had to be sure; they had to be positive that she wouldn’t run away-
that their sacrifice is received
Sacrifice? No. It was wrong to think that, but think it she did, and whether it was her own or not was immaterial; it was in there, it was not to be moved.
“Ester?”
She felt her feet shuffle across the rain-sodden yard toward the instrument of her destruction. She swung open the door and threw herself inside. Searched for the belt buckle. Found it. Pulled it across. Clicked it in.
This is the last time I’ll ever do this.
The action seemed to confirm in her head the truth of her imminent death. In belting herself in she seemed to, also, be sealing her fate. She was doomed, and she knew it.
This was bad. This was so, so bad.
The rain was night-time rain, not a fine mist all around, but heavy, separate, definite drops that dive-bombed the car as it pulled out the gate.
The same car, the same gate. All things as they should be.
Tears sprung fresh in her eyes. She didn’t care if he saw her upset anymore. She had been choking emotion down for weeks. She was about to die. She didn’t care if he was slightly uncomfortable. He didn’t seem it, anyway.
His eyes were bright, wide, awake, his grip on the steering wheel tight. In fact, everything about him seemed tight, wound-up,
Excited?
She wouldn’t allow herself to believe it, and the voice in her head was little more than a hiss, but it was soft and it was seductive; even more than that, even worse than that, it sounded right.
He didn’t look scared, not even upset, and, though he bore no smile, she somehow felt as though the absence of one was little more than formality. Somehow, he had convinced himself that this was simply an evening drive, a trip out for milk or teabags. Maybe he had to, to retain a grip on reality. That was alright; she had convinced herself it was aliens.
The raindrops attacked the sunroof and the night closed in as the small car skittered over the narrow and potholed back road. As they got closer to town, the road widened out, and the bumps became few.
It was disguisting how people continued as normal. Stockpiling food as though there was a severe weather warning. Chatting and gossiping.
They wouldn’t let their children leave the house, but the price of vegetables in Aldi was still the biggest piece of news.
People moving to the country to be nearer relatives that didn’t even exist.
It was all a cover story. It was all a lie.
There was silence in the car. She imagined herself saying something like “Can you believe this weather? In June?” and striking up a hearty conversation.
If I don’t talk now, I’ll never talk again.
But of course she wouldn’t talk. She couldn’t talk. Did it matter? She was about to find out what dying felt like. Another thought came to her, of her screaming “I’m too young to die!” and rattling the door lock. But it wasn’t funny. Under the circumstances, it felt completely horrible.
Then it occurred to her that perhaps it was in his head too. As she thought about it, it began to seem more and more like the logical conclusion. That maybe her uncle was driving along on auto pilot, seeing rainbows and ponies, not in control of himself but not aware of that either. It was nigh-certain that he had lost it. What happened when he got it back? Would he ever feel shame? Would he be plagued by nightmares perhaps? Believing that it was his fault that she would be gone?
That’s because it is his fault
The voice was back, and maybe the voice was right. All this talk of it being nobody’s fault, it was all over-the-top, soft-serve bullshit, anyway. It’s nobody’s fault if the world ends, sure. The ritual sacrifice of your niece? That’s another thing.
He’s weak. He always has been. They all are. Weak. When the cards are down, they’ll show their true colours. Good for nothing. Weak. Maybe the world’ll be better off without them.
Not them, us, she reminded herself. Not them, us. And it won’t be better. Mass murder leaves a stain on the world. Things are never better. Things only get worse.
Things only get worse.

But, of course, the only voice in his head was his own.
As he took the car over the road, he found himself surprisingly calm. Well, not really surprisingly. It was the most calm he’d been in weeks. And not without good reason, either. Finally, there was something he could do about his family’s situation. The weeks spent idle, fearing but being unable to do a thing, feeling like the worst damn excuse for a man ever created, they had been hell. Whatever they were headed into now had got to be some improvement. If he died, at least he could say he had tried to do something. He hadn’t given much thought to the girl. She had never been the most pleasant of people, and, given the circumstances, she was a small price to pay. She wasn’t his side of the family, anyway. Blood is thicker than water, his mother had always said, protect those you love. That was what he was doing. He was doing his job, the job he’d vowed to do. He had no choice. Now he could do something, and that was a good thing. Maybe, by Christmas, it would all be over. He felt good.

She felt ill. Waves of fear rushed over her. It was the way they walked, lurching, stumbling. Not looking where they went.
Like zombies.
The look on each ones face. The look in each one’s eyes.
Not zombies, worse.
Because they had no human master. Because they hadn’t risen – they had never fallen in the first place. As out of control as they were, they were certainly in control. Intelligent. And, most definitely, alive.
As they neared the town, they began to see the first signs of it. The first time, it looked like road kill. Several close-together instances of it. For a while that was all there was. Death. Everywhere along the road. Some still whole by the hedges. Some run over by the influx of traffic tonight. Some-
“They’re not human.”
What do you know, she can talk!
There was no reply from the driver’s seat.
“They’re not human” Her eyes were wide and round, her face pale. She sat bolt upright, paralysed with fear.
Jesus Christ you said that already
She was starting to become annoying. He was glad that they were close to the finishing line.
“ Humans… they don’t.. they don’t”
Fuck sake spit it out
“They… they don’t rip, they don’t.. chew
“You don’t know that anyone is chewing anything” He laughed light-heartedly.
It broke her from her stupor.
“I do know! I know, you self-centred shit!”
“Well,” he glanced at her, a cruel grin playing on his lips, “to be honest, it doesn’t really matter how you die, does it?”
He turned back to face the road, full of satisfaction.
That shut the little bitch up.

She thought she might be sick.
This is happening. This is really happening. But why should it happen? Kill the bastard! It’s easy, I swear!
And the thought appealed to her, it really did. But, what if she killed him, and then died herself, of starvation?
There will be chances in the wild. Chances upon chances.
She didn’t want her final act to be murder. No surer way to get to hell.
Do you really still believe in God?
Well, if there was anything to convince her of the unknown, this was it.
And what if she couldn’t live with herself after what she had done?
You’re running out of time, honey.
She envisioned herself grabbing something- what? She could try and injure him with the belt buckle, or steer the car into a ditch and run away while he either bled to death or tried to figure out what had happened. Under normal circumstances it would be hard for a teenage girl to fight a grown man and win, but these weren’t normal circumstances. She had a feeling her little friend could keep him pacified. Now she imagined herself clobbering him to death while he sat there with a dopey grin on his face, and, while the idea was somewhat revolting, it wasn’t entirely unattractive.

Now they passed the large and dusty-brown sign reading, “Welcome to our town!”, and, in smaller font, “Keep it beautiful!” An illustration beneath showed a cartoon rabbit beside a bin and a smiling child.

And then they came, out of the darkness, delirious smiles painted on their faces, some lurching, wounded and bleeding, but happy nonetheless, some running, leaping, laughing. She saw a pair dancing a stumbling waltz.
They had almost reached their destination.
The packs ignored their car, something she didn’t understand at first; she had expected to be devoured before she ever reached the square. Then she understood.
They recognise one of their own.
They weren’t leaving every car alone, however. She saw a man and a woman cautiously pull out of a driveway, ready to flee if they saw anything. They didn’t see anything. The girls and the boys were on them, wrestling them out of the car (with surprising force for their bony pubescent arms), their eyes alight with glee, looking more ecstatic than ever. What they did next didn’t bear thinking about. The pair didn’t suffer for long.
As they got closer to the square, the fear started to ebb away, perhaps because of the certainty that there was nothing she could do to save herself. That, in its own, strange way, was a comforting thought. And the anger she felt wasn’t so painful, either. It was, actually, rather nice.
He’s never going to make it. Once I’m gone, he’ll never make it.
In spite of herself, she smiled.
The raindrops plummeted to earth still, but the night opened up. In the distance, a large bonfire burned. With it came the smell of burning hair. It emitted a bright orange glow on the horizon.
It’s beautiful.
So, she was going to die. This was the way to do it, wasn’t it? By the fire, surrounded by family and friends? She laughed.

He jumped. The good feeling was gone. His stomach felt sick and full of fear. He was a bag of nerves.
Oh, God, what if I don’t make it, what if I don’t get out alive? The girl’s lost it, she’s lost it, I’m in the car with a maniac, surrounded by maniacs, I’ll never make it, I’ll never make it did you see what they did to them, they’re roasting them, they’re burning them, they’re burning them alive she’s crazy she’ll kill me this isn’t right they promised, they promised I’d
The car came to a halt. He looked down. Everything seemed to be ok with the car, but the car would not go. Then he noticed the keys in his outstretched hand. Out the window. His hand stretched out the window. He made himself bring his hand back in, then whipped it out and flung the keys out the window.
Oh, God, what have you done?
Then he noticed the cars lined neatly beside him. On one side sat a woman. Her eyes had a deranged look about them. Identical triplets who looked about 14 and bore a dazed and drugged look were strapped to the back seat. Clearly, they hadn’t come so easily.
On the other side, he was shocked to find, was a girl about 17 who sat in the driver’s seat and gazed vacantly up at the fire. The cars stretched out in a line, then the line turned at both ends at a right angle, the completed formation being a square. In the centre, the bonfire blazed. In the centre, the bonfire screamed.
This is it. This is the end.
He looked at the girl, Ester. She smiled at him, a pained, human, knowing smile.

She felt pain. Terrible, horrible, pain. It burned, oh, God, in her bones, in her blood, it burned. The world was all in dull soft-focus. It had taken on an orange-yellow colour. Beside her, the man felt fear. She didn’t have to look at him to know. It was obvious when humans felt fear. You could taste it in the air. They were, by nature, an obvious race. A fearful race, too. She turned; she showed him the look he needed to see. It was small comfort to him, that she knew. Ah, well. Small comfort was better than no comfort in one’s final moments.
He saw the look change, and the fear overtook him. His mind wouldn’t stand the strain much longer.

A new civilisation. A young civilisation. They would raze this town to the ground. They would raze every city and build anew. Build up out of the ashes.
Ashes of the people who messed the world up so badly that there could be no reprieve, no return.
Someone had to intervene.
Earth’s future was in the hands of the young. The young had to learn.
Learn they would. And they would teach their children a new way.

The fire warmed her, and the fire was good, the fire made her strong. She could fight the pain; she could fight anything. She felt happy, happier than she had felt in weeks, and to feel happy was good. To feel strong was good. To escape was good.

The new world would be free of man’s imperfections. Unified as one body, there would be no wars. Every young brain educated to fully harness the people’s potential. Man was disloyal. The new people were not. There would be no betrayal, because the disloyal had shown their true colours. Had sent their own young to what they believed to be certain death.
They would be punished for their sins.

Not the kindling, the weapon.
She grinned at the man, but he didn’t grin back. It was a shame, it was a crying shame.
This is good.
This is really, really good
.

The bodies of the delivery men and women burned in the centre of town.
They had been punished.

At 9.08 that night in June, Ester lost her grip on this life.
He didn’t have time to think that he was going to make it.
His head came clean off in her hands.

The sky was a horribly dull grey-and-navy.
She was the same girl she had always been, but, tonight, she was dangerous.

Credit To – Sarah Denbrough

*This story was successfully rewritten after receiving feedback on Crappypasta – click here to read the original version.

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The Silent Film Museum

January 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve always liked old horror movies, but I never really was a silent film enthusiast. I just found them too artsy and strange to really enjoy. It’s like watching a talkies era movie where everybody has been replaced by mimes and with awful camera quality. Though you have to respect movies like Nosferatu and The Golem for still being so iconic and getting Blu-ray releases, and thanks to internet forums I do have some knowledge on the matter.

Anyway, have you ever heard stories of those obscure Eastern-European museums that supposedly house all kinds of long lost prints? I did. And I thought it was unlikely too.

I was on vacation in Budapest to visit some distant relatives, which I hadn’t seen in years. My family has lived in the US since the 1910’s, so I had never even been in Hungary before, though my third cousin and his wife had come over to the US a couple of times. It was my first night in Budapest, and I was staying in a low-budget hotel just outside the inner city. When I woke up, the first thing I saw was the snow that gently covered everything outside. After getting up, I decided that I’d check out some famous landmarks first, since my appointment with my third cousin wasn’t until tomorrow

After seeing some famous landmarks and watching western-influenced buildings and Soviet concrete slabs make way for each other many times, I decided it was time go back to my hotel room. I was already nearing the area when I stumbled upon an advertisement.

It was a faded poster that drew my attention because of the strange black-and-white images on it, depicting a sad, mime-like face surrounded by what must have been stills from old movies. Above it there was some Cyrillic writing I couldn’t understand. Not very inviting. I was about to move on when I saw that there was a small English translation below, which said:

“Budapest Institute for Silent Film: Miracles of Modern Age!”

I chuckled. Didn’t seem very impressive. So I went on to my apartment and texted a bit with my colleagues, until I dropped myself on the bed, bored shitless. I studied the patterns on my bed sheets as I thought of everything I had seen today. But eventually even that didn’t save me from boredom, until the image of the old poster popped up in my head again. What was that thing for anyway?

Probably just some old movies, what else could it be? Books? Racing cars? The poster was obvious enough. Not that I’d would get to see any of that anyway, those prints had to be nearly dead. Or maybe I would, and it would be one of those crazy German flicks. I started to get curious. Maybe there would be some exclusives that were never put online.

“Screw it.” I thought. It couldn’t be worse than just sitting on my ass here the entire time, could it? So at about 3 o’clock I went back outside to where I saw the poster. The sad mime’s eyes greeted me from the distance and I could barely make out the address under all the stills. I will not display it here. I want nobody else to go through this, not even those who are morbidly curious to the point of stupidity.

After some research I finally found the location of the street on the map. The only thing I’ll say about it is that it was far out of Budapest itself. I took a bus ride through the snowy streets, beautiful fields and eventually the bus dropped me off at what looked like an old warehouse in quarter filled with old, featureless concrete buildings. This really didn’t seem like the place for an art museum. For a moment I considered just waiting for the next bus to pick me up again, but I was too curious now. I didn’t come all this way for nothing.

As I looked around a bit, I noticed that this part of the city seemed to quiet. I saw barely any people on the street, and when I did it was usually a homeless person quietly walking by, treating me as if I didn’t exist. The buildings looked faded, either out of use or just straight out abandoned.

A couple of empty streets later, I stood before what had to be the museum. With all the concrete architecture, it looked just like the other buildings. The windows were faded and scratched, there was graffiti on the walls and tiny cracks in the concrete walls, but it looked like it was still in use. Above the double doors there was a sign with Cyrillic text, probably with the title of the museum. After taking a deep breath, I opened one of the doors and stepped inside.

Inside, there was what looked like a receptionist’s lobby, but there was no one around. The walls were white, dirty and completely empty. Once again, I considered leaving now because this whole place was probably abandoned, but then I saw the lobby desk had a bell I could ring. I did, and the echo sent a chill down my spine. Who knew if this building was even inhabited? My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps grower louder. I turned around and saw a bearded man in an old business suit step into the room from the hallway.

He frowned at me with his coal black eyes with an emotion that was impossible to determine. After an awkward silence, he started talking rapidly in a Hungarian, wildly pointing his hands to the hallway and back at me. I tried to tell him that I couldn’t understand, but he was getting wilder by the second, shouting at me and forcing me near the door. Finally, I hastily grabbed some Forint bills from my pocket and showed it to him, and he seemed to calm down. After raising 5 fingers to determine how many bills he wanted, I was allowed to go inside.

I was led into a white hallway, which led to a room of silent film stills, one of which I recognized as Bela Lugosi, the man who played the iconic version of Dracula. However the text below (which was in Latin letters, for some reason) merely said Arisztid Olt – Az Élet királya. There were some other stills of more well-known movies, such as The Golem. One particularly strange still was of Orlok, the vampire from Nosferatu, gazing at the camera from and empty village. I did not recall seeing this in the original film, and I felt deeply unnerved by it, but I was about to discover that this was but the least strange of what this museum had to offer.

As I walked back into the hallway, I found that the receptionist was still on the other side of the hall, staring at me with his unblinking eyes, as if he wanted something from me. I waved at him, but nothing I did seemed to affect him. For a moment I considered walking up to him, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. After an awkward silence, I moved on to the next room.

A huge still of a man with jagged teeth and a top hat immediately caught my eye. It felt familiar, but I couldn’t bring myself to remember it.

“London after Midnight.” Spoke a creaking voice from behind me. I turned around and I saw and elderly man with a cane, smiling at me.

“Yes.” I said back to him. “I remember now. But it’s a lost film, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I thought.” He replied. “Until now.” He pointed to an encased film print below the still.

“That’s impossible. The last print burned down years ago!”

“Apparently not.”

“How would you know?”

“I am here on behalf of the NFPF, specifically to find to find this print. We had long giving up on recovering a film as searched for as this one, until last month I got a tip from an anonymous contributor that we might have overlooked some places.”

We were silent for a while, as I felt the weight of this matter sink in.

“So what happens next? I asked.”

“I’ve been trying to bargain with the…” He swallowed.

“…person running this place, but he doesn’t seem very responsive. I don’t know whether he even understands how valuable it is, how valuable anything in this museum is, really. He’s a rather eccentric man, I believe. He even played around with some cameras himself.”

He pointed towards an encased film roll in the corner of the room.

“Nothing I propose to him seems to get through his skull, I’m not sure to what extent he can even understand English. I’ve been arguing with him for days within this strange, isolated place, without progress…”

He fell silent. “One has to catch his breath now and then. You wait here, I’ll see if I can knock some sense into him.”

And so the old man left me in the company of the old, unnerving stills. After wandering some more around the museum, I discovered some more stills from famous films I had considered lost, such as Saved from the Titanic and Dracula’s Death. I quickly grew tired of this sterile, white environment with nothing but unnerving stills and walls of Cyrillic text to keep me company. I was already considering leaving when I heard a voice from directly behind me.

“We broadcast film now.”

Slowly turning around, I gazed directly into the receptionist’s emotionless face. How could I not have heard him coming?

“Jesus man, you scared me.” I whispered. The man frowned.

“We broadcast now.” He told me, slower and heavier this time. I should have ran right there right then, but being the idiot I was, I felt intimidated and followed him. He led me to what looked like some sort of mini-cinema. A small film projector with about 20 chairs, and no windows. He gestured that I should sit down, while he put a film in the projector. I squinted. It was the film that the old man had pointed to. What would he be up to now, anyway? But my thoughts were interrupted by the rattling of the projector, and the film started. There was a stylized title card which simply said:

“Baldrs Draumar”

Then the real movie began. I saw black-and-white shots of vast, abandoned cities, way more modern than could have been filmed at the time. Massive skyscrapers, cracked, decaying and covered in clay and dust. Immense suburbs flooded with sand, riddled with human skeletons. The sun shone brighter than I had ever seen, revealing every gruesome detail. My eyes were glued to the screen, this was unreal.

Then the movie abruptly cut to black, which awoke me from my trance. I looked around, and saw that the receptionist was gone. I heard that the projector was still running and sure enough, the film continued.

This time, the camera was slowly moving forward in a round hallway full of windows. It puzzled me, before I realized that it was an airplane, something else that was far too new for a silent film. As the camera kept moving forward and slowly swung up and down, I realized that it was meant to be in first person. I saw the camera pan down and focus on a watch…

…That looked exactly like mine. I didn’t know what to think of this. After a while, the camera went to the side and lowered itself, as if the person it was meant to represent was sitting down in one of the seats. Over time, I noticed that more and more of the person’s possessions were identical to mine. His briefcase, his clothes, and his wallet, which he opened, revealing a picture of my wife. I was paralyzed. For a moment, I considered that this whole experience had been some strange dream, but I knew, I knew that it couldn’t be. It felt too real.

I saw the plane take off, and for a time, nothing significant happened onscreen, but I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to see what was going to happen to me.

Suddenly, I noticed that the pattern of the clouds had changed. The plane was moving downwards. At first it was barely noticeable, but soon enough I saw small objects falling to the front of the plane. Slowly, I saw the people on the plane get more and more nervous, until they started to freak out, myself included. The camera started shaking wildly and speeding towards no particular place, faster and faster, until the light of the plane dimmed, and the screen went black in an instant.

I noticed that I was sweating as I slowly came out of my trance. I needed to get out of this place, right now. I ran out of the cinema like a cornered animal, through the halls with black and white stills until I reached the receptionist’s lobby, where I paused for a second to catch my breath.

I was about to open the door when I saw an abandoned walking stick, lying on the floor like it had been thrown away. The old man. When I realized what this meant, I sped out of the door. I never wanted to be near this place again, ever. After waiting anxiously at the bus stop, I took the bus back to the inner city. As I was walking back to my hotel, I noticed that the poster that led me to the museum was gone, vanished as if it never existed.

I’m at my third cousin’s house now. I’ve been staying here for a few weeks, trying to forget what happened. He and his family have been very hospitable and nice, but I feel that they are slowly getting tired of my presence. Eventually, I’ll have to take the plane back home. I have trouble sleeping at night because of what happened at the museum, and even with my family I don’t feel safe. Still, I’m trying to enjoy the days I spend here, because I know, that they will be my last.

Credit To – ArcticWolf

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Placidity Row

December 30, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve often thought it likely, though have no way to really prove, that in every sizable town in America there is at least one area that feels a bit strange somehow. Maybe it’s a single building that was witness to a grisly murder or maybe it’s a slum full of forgotten people with forgotten dreams. Either way, those who set foot in the area will often describe an overhanging sense of sadness or malaise or even evil. This is, of course, far from a rational feeling and yet when even animals seem to avoid the area or cars consistently break down there, it makes even the most skeptical observer start to wonder. In our town, the most well known of these areas is called Placidity Row.

It’s not some old wealthy area filled with haunted Victorian mansions, nor is it a rundown urban redline. Though, this damn city has quite enough of both. Placidity Row is a product of the construction boom of the prosperous 80s. It was the sort of green little enclave that songs like Pleasant Valley Sunday were written about- full of smiling neighbors, idyllic little picnic areas, and soccer moms driving SUVs. Within a couple of years of its construction, it was already garnering accolades as one of the best places for thirty something yuppies making it big in the city to move with their families. Easy access, good schools, Placidity Row had it all. Note how I said, “was” and “had.”

Somewhere around 2005, Placidity Row changed. Despite being less than 200 yards from a cell phone tower, phones in the area completely died. At most they would display zero bars but usually they wouldn’t turn on at all. Days with the power out began to outnumber days with power. Wi-fi access was out of the question even for the communications companies. GPS was completely nonfunctional and even newer model cars would stall out in the middle of the street.

If that had been the only issue, we might have blamed signal blocking lead deposits in the ground or something. It was only the beginning of Placidity Row’s strangeness, though. Even on those rare days when the power came on, refrigeration began to malfunction. No, not malfunction. A better term would be, “cease to have any physical effect.” Meat bought new and kept in the fridge would rot like it had been set out at room temperature. Milk would curdle the same way.

Even the open air seemed to be almost soaked with death. Bananas would go from lush green to brown in only half a day. An open can of soda would be flat within an hour.

In the 90s, EMTs and police began responding to an increasingly bizarre array of 911 calls. A housewife, Susan Kimura murders her two year-old cousin in an oven because the knocks on her walls “told her to.” Residents claimed that strange lights in the sky would lurk outside their windows until viewed and then fly off at seemingly impossible speeds. An old man was nearly beaten to death by neighborhood teenagers and one middle-aged woman because they were convinced that he was a sorcerer. City workers reported finding a flock of geese dead on the outskirts of the development. Animal control is still completely baffled as to what could possibly have killed them.

One year ago the entire city was in a panic as a seemingly healthy 20 year old woman from the Row turned up dead on the playground from what all signs pointed to as being a strain of the Ebola virus. Yet, just as mysteriously as she turned up, there were no other infections reported. Furthermore, when the poor woman’s body was delivered up for autopsy later that day, she seemed to have aged 70 years.

The most common unexplained incident at Placidity Row, though, has to have been reports of a team of phantom horsemen. They would race through the streets of the Row at incredible speed either in the afternoon or the middle of the night. Both people who were outside at the time and those indoors reported hearing the hoof beats and snorts of the horses but most often seeing nothing even when it sounded as though the horses were passing within feat of them. A minority reported a loud human voice uttering monosyllabic commands to the invisible beasts. Only five residents, however, reported actually seeing the phenomenon.

The five witnesses; an elderly couple, a single man in his mid thirties, and two siblings aged ten and eighteen, are all for the most part consistent in their description of the “apparition.” The witnesses all agree that the horses passed in such a blur that it is hard for them believe that they even saw anything at all. The woman, one Maria Knudsen, apparently something of a mystic, offered the suggestion to police that the witnesses in fact perceived the horses only with their mind’s eyes and recommends full psychic examinations on each witness. The department is “taking the suggestion under advisement.”

They also all describe a team of four horses, ranging from dark brown to black in color with a light grey horse in the lead. All the witnesses differ on the question of riders. The Knudsen’s claimed to see five separate riders for five separate horses, each of them seeming to be bald men of indeterminate race clothed in loose fitting fur robes (ranging from splendid and colorful to faded greyish brown) with brass circlets on their heads and long swords at their sides.

The other witnesses give a similar general description but only report seeing one to four riders, though all mention the lead rider. The thirty-five year-old man, Victor Kimura (a distant cousin of the Mrs. Susan Kimura who murdered her child), claimed that two or three identical riders seemed to motionlessly phase in and out between the horses before vanishing. Mr. Kimura admits that he was highly intoxicated at the time of his sighting, however.

Eight years after the first recorded anomaly at Placidity Row, all residents have moved elsewhere. The city prepared to demolish the subdivision before the houses became unsafe, having finally despaired of attracting new residents to the area. My sister, Sophie, and I are insurance investigators with World Farms. Ours was one of several companies that rushed to clear out the remaining Placidity Row accounts on its books. On August 19, 2013, our particular task was to investigate three houses on the south side of the Row and assess the losses they pose to the company.

We arrived at Sunshine Street, Placidity Row at 9 AM. Although the drive in from downtown had been pleasant and sunny, when we arrived at the Row (we parked outside of it and walked in) everything in the atmosphere of the place felt as odd as the various reports made it out to be. The air hung still and not a sound could be heard. Everywhere, there was a strong odor of burnt rubber that neither of us could place.

“Well, this still seems like a happenin’ place,” said Sophie as she swept her eyes over the line of faded-yet-identical-save-for-color houses. “I can’t imagine why nobody wants to live here anymore.”

“Well, if you’re looking for excitement, maybe you can dodge some falling roof beams in one of the condemned houses round here,” I said. “Or maybe we can get you an invisible pony ride.”

Sophie and I can be kind of brutal to one another sometimes. It’s only because we’ve seen so much weird shit over the years on this job. When I think back on all the times we’ve saved one another in the nick of time from some floor collapse in an abandoned apartment building or tweaked out squatter with a shotgun… But, I digress.

The first house on the list actually happened to be the former Lars and Maria Knudsen residence. Despite having been empty for the past seven years, the place was still remarkably neat and clean. The Knudsens were some of the last holdouts on the Row, insisting that the horsemen were only there to cleanse the land of the guilty or something like that.

Being in their 80s, the Knudsens wound up leaving many of their possessions and furniture behind them when they left for what I assume was assisted living. Oddly though, in a neighborhood where everything seemed to rot somehow, the Knudsens’ old furniture seemed like it had been recently dusted and polished.

“Think we’ve got squatters?” said Sophie.

“Unusually clean yet suicidal stalkers, maybe,” I said, half joking and half hoping that’s what it was because honestly this house was beginning to freak me out a bit.

My thumb hovered over the stun gun in my pocket as I climbed the unnaturally swept stairway. Sophie stayed behind to check the ground floor for water damage. I was relieved to find that the second floor hallway, at least, was a mess of peeled plaster and drywall chunks.

I made my way to what must have been the master bedroom, what I could tell was dried blood caked the walls. In the corner was a small altar where someone had been sacrificing what appeared from the skeletons to be pigeons and rats. It was some kind of Norse pagan ritual judging from the runes smeared above it.

In the center of the room where the bed used to be was a large blue binder. I picked it up and leafed through what appeared to be rough facsimiles of old Viking documents. I couldn’t read anything but the flat, medieval illustrations made the subject matter clear. The Knudsens were apparently Shamans of some kind desperately entreating the Norse gods to either punish the people of Placidity Row (based on the first few pages which see our horsemen friends descending on a battlefield of dismembered limbs) or to save them (based on the following pages, in which the horsemen seem to turn on the male and female Shaman figures and cause them to cower beneath what seemed to be an image of a pagan god.

As much as we needed this paycheck, Sophie and I decided not to be stereotypical horror movie victims that day and began the long, nervous walk back to our car. We took the binder with us, planning to look for where the Knudsen’s were staying.

We took the route that we thought would at least lead us to Bill Kitchener’s team from Workman’s Insurance for some safety in numbers. I gritted my teeth knowing what macho man Bill would say about us getting a little scared of an area that had reported no criminal activity in years. Sophie just smirked and pretended not to notice.

A few blocks up the road, we found Bill’s team. They were dead in middle of the street. They seemed to have aged 70 years just like that poor woman from the Row. Their bodies were covered in small cuts and lesions, but there none of them seemed to break the skin more than a little.

“I can’t imagine these cuts killing a bunch of healthy guys,” said Sophie.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man with black hair in a heavy brown overcoat lurking in the shadows beside one of the garages. He bolted as soon as I turned my head. We tried to give chase but I could have sworn he was running at 40 miles per hour. He turned a corner far ahead of us and disappeared. Loud sounds of hoof beats on asphalt accompanied by fierce yells seemed to come from all directions at once. We ran for the nearest house, not even stopping to notice that the door should have been locked.

Inside we came face to face with an Asian man looking to be in his mid thirties wearing a heavy brown overcoat and shotguning a fourth of whiskey. In the corner lay the body of an elderly Asian woman who I could tell right away was Susan Kimura.

“Victor, why did you kill your cousin?” I said on a hunch.

As he lowered the bottle to speak, I nearly recoiled at the sight of Victor’s face. He was more than just a haggard drunk. He looked like he should not even be alive. His skin was gray and blotchy. The tacks under his dull bloodshot eyes were so deep you could see red. His gums were almost black and his teeth looked ready to fall out at the slightest touch.

Victor hurled the now empty bottle aside, not even flinching as it shattered. “The bitch isn’t my cousin, she’s my damn mother. Besides, you can’t kill what was already dead.”

“Look!” said Sophie. I turned to the foot of the stairs to see a bald, yet beautiful young Asian woman in fur robes with a brass circlet on her head.

“My son and I are what in English are called Wild Hunters. We are tasked with regularly weeding out the souls of the foolish and rewarding those who show deference to the name of the old gods,” said Susan. “I came to this barren and spiritually dead city hoping to make a mortal life for my infant son away from so much carnage. But Nordic Shamans sensed our presence and sought to use us to bring revival to this place. When I resisted, they cast a spell of madness over me and I turned my only boy into… this ungrateful pup.”

“That’s right. Just blame the geezers for everything like you always do,” said Victor from the kitchen where he sat on the floor nursing a headache. “If you hadn’t just given up maybe I wouldn’t have to drink to keep the call of the so-called gods out?”

“I have accepted my inability to escape fate. You are a fool and a drunk who keeps fruitlessly trying to kill his own mother,” said Susan.

“I truly do wish you guys luck on this little family squabble,” said Sophie. “But unless you’re going to let us go, I think my sister and I have a few pounds on you with Victor being a little too hammered at the moment.”

Susan stunned us with a laugh loud as a trumpet while the hoof beats began again in the distance. “I’d kill you before you took a step. But I prefer not to get my hands dirty when I can avoid it.” Susan pointed us toward the now open front door and the sight of Bill and his two coworkers coming up the lawn in Wild Hunter dress, longswords drawn.

Sophie and I decided to take our chances on being faster than the burly guys and bolted out of the door to the side of the yard. As we sprinted down the street as hard as we could, we could hear the hoof beats getting faster and faster. Sophie screamed and fell to the ground as a hurricane force wind blasted over her and just missed me. For a split second I could see the figures of what I assumed to be the Kimuras in the wind at the reigns. Bill caught up with Sophie, who just barely dodged his inexperienced lumberjack sword swing and tased him in the gut.

I ran in a serpentine pattern, attempting to avoid the other two Wild Hunters as long as possible while hearing the horses bearing closer behind us. One of them just barely grazed my thigh as I felt myself lifted off the ground at incredible speed. As I was being hurled to the ground a yard away, I could see that there were now two other figures on the phantom horses. They seemed to be rapidly jockeying for position with the Kimuras.

Just as Bill was about to finish Sophie off, the horses bore down on him like a train. All four of us who remained watched stunned as his suddenly bleeding body was launched at least 200 hundred yards in the air, landing with a sickening thud on the roof of a nearby house. The other two drones were finished off in similar fashion just as quickly and the horsemen took off south of us. As the hoof beats died down, I suddenly realized that my cell phone had begun working.

Perhaps I should thank Odin or Thor that Sophie and I got out of there with only minor cuts. We would later find out that the Knudsens had died earlier that day within minutes of one another in two separate nursing homes.

Now that the anomalies have started to die down a bit, the demolition of Placidity Row is proceeding as scheduled. Sources are divided on whether city government plans to declare the area a wilderness preserve (for animals that still refuse to go near it, of course) or whether it is now hearing bids for shopping malls and condos. I wish the poor suckers luck. Something tells me the tradition of the Wild Hunt is going to live on.

Credit To – Cosmo Fish

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