Advice From a Friend

March 10, 2017 at 12:00 AM

7:00pm Friday – At the Bar

“One little drink won’t hurt” said Kylie, sealing her fate and condemning herself to the worst night of her life.

10:00pm Friday – In the Car of a Stranger

“I think you passed my street.” She was very sure in fact that her street had been passed. She’d been looking for it in between the waves of nausea and had seen the sign. She had some doubt, after all, her vision was swimming in and out so she wasn’t sure she had read it correctly, but then again she had been rather close to it, her head being pressed to the window the way it was.

“Hey, uh, sir? Did you hear me I think you passed my-“ but then she was interrupted by his large hand, smacking her hard across the face. Kylie hadn’t noticed in the bar with all those people standing around just how big this guy was. She might not have accepted his offer of a ride if she had noticed.

She sat back in her seat in stunned silence, unable to process what was happening.

10:26pm – Driving Further into Nowhere

“Where are you taking me?” She asked after marshaling up her courage. She was rewarded with another smack, harder than the first. Before she could think of how to talk her way out of the situation or to escape, her entire world had faded to black, perhaps because of the harsh slap or the drugs she’d been unwittingly fighting off all night, she’d never know. When she woke up again, she’d be unable to remember the ride at all.

1:00am Saturday – Waking up Chained to a Bed

“Hello?” Kylie called out, softly.

Her head was spinning and she didn’t know where she was. Even the thought of sitting up made her want to be sick. She knew she wasn’t home – but she couldn’t think of anywhere else she could possibly be. Unless…

She’d been having a terrible dream about being abducted, but that couldn’t be true, could it? The last thing she could clearly recall she’d been supposed to meet up with a friend at a bar. Everything after that was hazy. Surely, if she wasn’t in her own bed, she must be on someone else’s bed, a friend or, worst case scenario she’d gotten a little tipsy and was at the home of a one night stand. In either case, someone would be around.

“Hello?” She called again, a little louder.

“Hello,” someone responded this time.

There were too many things about that one word for her to process in the state she was in. It was a deep male voice, and it was warm, welcoming. It was also not coming from beside her in the bed, but from the other side of what sounded like a rather large room.

Kylie tried to open her eyes, not sure why she hadn’t started with that. Then she realized they had been open, everything was just dark.

“Who are you?” She asked, trying to sound braver than she felt.

“A friend.”

3:30am – Talking to a Friend

“I wish I could see you.”

Her friend had taught her a lot. In the couple hours they had known one another, they had bonded. Dire situations have a way of forcing people who might ordinarily have nothing in common to become the best of allies when facing an enemy. At the end of the day, friendships were all about survival and Kylie’s new friend had taught her a lot about surviving in her new prison.

He’d been there for her when she had been sick, and when she had first discovered the chain around her ankle. He’d calmed her down and answered her questions to the best of his ability. He told her about their situation.

There was one man and one woman. He wasn’t sure what their relationship was. He’d thought once that they were brother and sister what with them looking alike, but he’d seen them do things to one another that no siblings should be doing. The man hit harder, but the woman kept a person longer – which was crueler in its own way. As Kylie listened to him describe in only the faintest detail the sorts of things he’d seen in his time there, she felt like being sick all over again and once or twice – she had been.

She was scared. She’d never been a tough person and judging from her friend’s assessment of the situation, she didn’t think that she’d last very long at all. All things considered, she wasn’t sure that she’d want to. Dying would be preferable to her. She didn’t want to linger during years of torture like her new friend must have, seeing others come and go. He sounded weak, tired, and in great pain. She never wanted that to be her.

The one small thing she would have asked, was that she could see her new friend’s face. With all the discussion she felt like she knew him and she’d rather his face be the last one she saw than the face of her captor. Her eyes had adjusted to the dark somewhat and she was now sitting on the bed facing the direction his voice came from, but even squinting she could see no more than a vaguely human-like shape in the dark.

“Maybe someday you will,” he answered sadly.

4:00 – In the Dark

“How long do we have?” She asked.

“It varies” he said. “But usually they don’t come until morning.”

5:00 – Not Long Before Sunrise

“I have to ask, is there any way out?” Kylie had dreaded asking this question, because she had a feeling she would not like the answer. If there was a way out, surely he’d have taken it.

Silence greeted her.

“Hello?” She called out.

“You could try to fight but…” his voice trailed off.

“But what?” She asked.

Instead of answering that he replied with: “Let me give you a piece of advice. If you fight, do it now. When they come for you.” His voice sounded very tired then. “If not, you’ll be waiting a long time. For as weak as you feel now, you’re not likely to get any stronger. Not here.”

6:30am – Waiting

In her hand she held a key. It was the spare key to her friend’s apartment, and it hadn’t been on her keyring yet. If it had been, it would be in her purse – wherever that creep had taken it. Luckily he hadn’t checked her pockets before chaining her to the filthy bed. It made for a poor weapon, but it was sharp at the end and was better than nothing.

She’d take her friend’s advice. The captors had keys on them at all times. If she could bring him down, she’d be free. If she could at least hurt him, he’d probably kill her quickly out of rage – and maybe that was the best she could hope for. She’d make her move now and go for the eyes.

She laid on her side, pretending to be asleep, waiting for the footsteps to get closer. She tensed as she felt his weight on the bed, but then she lunged.

6:47am – Laying in Blood

“Kylie” said a voice. She was too tired to answer. The voice came back, louder and more persistent. “Kylie, you need to get up. You need to unchain yourself. It’s now or never. You took down the bigger one, but if his woman comes down here before you’ve moved you’re not strong enough to fight again. Get up, Kylie.”

She had won the fight, but only barely. The initial shock and the blood loss from losing the first eye had been enough to weaken him – but that was only a relative term. He’s still been strong enough to beat her bloody, which he had continued to do until his last breath – even as she’d been stabbing away at him with her sad little key.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I can’t.” She had tried to tell him, she wasn’t a good fighter. She wasn’t strong. She let the blackness take her again.

11:00am – Standing Behind Her New Friend

Coming to she’d been relieved. The woman hadn’t found her yet, she’d thought there would still be time to unlock the two of them and escape together. He hadn’t spoken to her though, not since the sun had risen. She stood behind the other bed, looking at the shape under it.

“I’m going to get you out, okay?” She pulled the sheet back from the form and screamed. She jumped away from the frail body with its discolored, pale flesh, causing the lifeless head to fall to one side. She watched with horror as his eyeball fell out and rolled across the floor.

She rushed up the stairs, more eager than ever to be home. It wasn’t just that her friend was dead; it was that he had obviously been dead for a long time.

Credit: Cat Voleur

Myriad Boardwalk

February 28, 2017 at 12:00 AM

As I walk down the familiar venue of Myriad Boardwalk, I realize that this shoreline amusement park is different from it once was. I remember the bright, rich colors of the tents as vibrant displays of red and white. Colorful flags always flapped in the cool ocean air. At its prime, this popular retreat hosted locals and travelers nearly every weekend since its opening in the summer months of 1945. Now, with its dwindling number of guests and lack of ambiance, the Myriad is quite literally dead.

I continue forward, only passing a few others every now and then. None of them look familiar. Today is unlike most; the sky is gray and spotted with shadowy clouds that block the sunshine rather than welcoming it onto the beach. Most of the concession stands and games are closed. Only a few offer a moment’s amusement for a hefty price and a high chance of failure. To be quite honest, it is sad. The staff that now patrols the boardwalk reeks of oil and the sick stench of bitterness. The rides are useless in their mechanics. Nobody rides them anymore. With the passing times, the Ferris wheel became the symbol of amusement parks across the globe. At the Myriad, it is the symbol of a faded era.

When I was a little girl, I loved Myriad. As a small girl bouncing around in a yellow sundress, I went from stand to stand and begged the cheerful men to slip me a free treat. The first stop on my routine Myriad run was the cotton candy stand. The man who operated the machine, Pops, as I called him, always patted my bouncy curls and handed me a large swirl of pink cotton. I would thank him in my own girlish way and go off to bother someone else. Then I made my way to one of the numerous games. The staff all looked the same in their white suite jackets lined with red stripes, but that did not stop me from creating personal nicknames for each one.

I can remember this place as being grand and filled with life. I sometimes wonder both how and why I end up back here even when I know the memories I’ve made have died. Back then, my parents were young, jubilant, and in love. They took me to Myriad nearly every weekend. My mother always wore her high-waisted denim shorts with a polka dot bikini top. My father, the business man, wore a stunning brown suit with sleek pinstripes. I would later come to know that my father played a large role in the organized crime ring upon which Myriad was, more or less, founded. When he wasn’t placing loving pecks on my mother’s rosy cheeks, he was usually somewhere inconspicuous with his colleagues. Too young to thoroughly enjoy most of the rides at Myriad, my parents were sure to take me on the giant Ferris wheel. If we happened to get conveniently stuck at the very top, I squealed with delight. Then, against the setting sun, my parents would share a loving kiss that always made me feel as if I was the luckiest girl in the world. I knew heaven had to be real, because the Myriad Boardwalk was nothing short of paradise.

Even though the ocean was only a few feet away from the Boardwalk, I cannot say that I spent much time in the water. Sure, on the hotter days, my parents and I would splash around in the cool water, but most of the fun occurred on the Boardwalk itself. It was something that had become a part of me. The Myriad was a part of my life, and when I wasn’t dancing down the Boardwalk in my yellow dress, I didn’t feel like myself.
I haven’t since. It has been a good number of years since I have been back on these very same sandy planks. And like I previously mentioned, nothing is quite the same. It is depressing, really, to see such a vital part of my childhood eroded away by time.

Still wandering around, I spot off in the distance a couple holding hands and strolling down the shoreline. They look familiar to me, but I cannot see their faces. From behind, the couple seems old, but their love is still obvious as they share warm smiles and hands. I quicken my pace to have a better view. As I finally recognize who they are, my breath hitches in my throat. I start to jog, thinking that the faster I reach them, the better of a reunion it will be. It warms my heart to see their faces again.

I reach out to them, to place a hand on the older woman’s shoulder. Before I touch her, the woman stops and looks back at me. She studies me for a second as I say, “Momma?”, but she turns away. My father asks her what is wrong. Her brow furrows, and she says, “I thought I felt something, but it was nothing.” They continue their stroll down the beach. I jump to grab my father, to beg him to stop and turn around, but my hand grabs air.

Some time ago, I strayed too far from my parents’ watchful eyes. Not because I disobeyed, but because I was a teenager. I thought boys were cute, but my father made boys nervous, so I often wandered off to meet my friends during our routine weekend trips to the boardwalk. My parents were particularly preoccupied with my father’s business affairs. He and his colleagues had gone too far in their quest for complete control of the city. It was around this time that my father had struck up a lucrative deal with the local police. In exchange for some exaggerated information about a rival family and a good amount of cash, the police effectively eliminated my father’s rivals from the city, killing some and jailing the others. My father and his associates walked away from the deal completely satisfied and with no blood on their hands.

The rival family’s remaining immature members raged at the news. Suddenly their fathers, uncles, and friends were behind bars or buried underground. Cash stopped flowing; instead it was rerouted into the pockets of my father’s fine-tailored suits. The struggling rival gang formulated a plan for retaliation, ensuring it would be painful, effective, and yet extremely personal. They decided on a course of action. When the time was right, they planned to load a car with weaponry and men and drive until my father lay dead in the streets. My father caught wind of this plan but chose to ignore it. He scoffed at the idea of such a public retaliation. He refused when my mother persuaded him to alert the authorities. Instead, he insisted my mother and I get into the car for another weekend trip to the ocean.

I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. What my father’s source failed to tell him, because his source was a rat, was the intended target was not my father or his friends.

It was me.

On a warm sunny afternoon, I stopped believing the Myriad Boardwalk was heaven. I died with a pink swirl of cotton candy in my hand. For now, I aimlessly wander here, stuck in this wasteland of memories, transparently observing life from the other side.

Credit: Ali

The Carnival of Lights

February 22, 2017 at 12:00 AM

It has been years since I left my hometown, and I don’t think I’ll ever return.

I do miss the timeless idyll of the country, the sultry, gently undulating hills and the cool, quiet sanctuary of the woods. I can still picture the night sky in my mind’s eye—the endless black canvas speckled with glittering stars, so vivid and clear they seemed within easy reach of your hand. Even now, the remembrance of the lonesome, poignant howls that would sometimes emerge at night from within the darkened grove stirs within me a deep desire to return.

But I have sworn never to step foot within that cursed town again. Not after what happened.

Travelling circuses or carnivals are a common sight if you live in a town like mine—too small to warrant a permanent establishment of its own, but too big to pass up as a business opportunity, especially in the summer months. Large, colorful banners in the town center, usually put up weeks in advance, would herald the coming of a new attraction; smaller black-and-white posters, sometimes so poorly photocopied that you could barely make out the words, much less the images, festooned the streets, a constant reminder that FUN and LAUGHTER would soon grace the prosaic place we called home.

To be honest, I think the adults were often just as excited as the kids. Living in a small town has its perks, but having interesting preoccupations isn’t usually one of them. Most of the townsfolk were poorly educated farmers fortunate enough to inherit a piece of fertile farmland (or a healthy herd of cattle) from their forebears. Life was a constant drudgery of chores and backbreaking labor with little in the way of entertainment. The television had only a handful channels (assuming you had a TV set to begin with), and the one social event that happened with any regularity was church on Sunday. The pub enjoyed a booming business though.

And so we all rubbed our hands in glee when one late spring morning we awoke to see workmen putting up a giant cloth banner that screamed, in crimson letters, “THE CARNIVAL OF LIGHTS AWAITS YOU”. My family owned a small shop in the town center selling provisions and we lived in the quarters directly above, so we were among the first to witness the thrilling sight. Word spread, and soon some of the workmen were accosted by eager teenagers wanting to find out more about the carnival. You see, the roving funfairs that had visited us in the past were well known operators. Not the big-timers perhaps, but their names were not unfamiliar. But no one had heard of the Carnival of Lights. What the workers could tell us was that they had been contracted by some company in a nearby city, a company they themselves were working with for the first time. And no, they weren’t told when exactly the carnival would be setting up in our town.

The air of mystery about the whole affair only heightened our anticipation. We told ourselves that it had to be a new entrant to the carnival scene, a hitherto-unheard player making its debut. Possibly from the continent, a few of the older folks ventured, nodding sagely. The words “debut” and “the continent” were incomprehensible to us kids, but the exoticism they connoted and promised were not lost on us. There were a few quiet utterances of skepticism among the adults as to why any newcomer would choose, of all places, this humble backwater, but they were soon shushed with indignant admonitions not to rain on the town’s parade.

The days lengthened and summer drifted in like a warm breeze, bringing with it the joyous cries of children freed from the shackles of school. Impatient for the carnival to arrive, my friends and I would sprint, every morning, to the open field near the outskirts where any funfair, circus or carnival would customarily set up shop. Disappointment met us each day, until one morning a marvelous scene greeted us.

They must have started during the night, for the frames of the rides could already be seen peeking through the scaffolding that enveloped them. The whole place was a hive of activity, and before our awe-struck eyes we saw the carnival slowly take form. There was a roller-coaster, the biggest we had ever seen, and in our hearts we immediately knew where we’d be making our first stop once the gates opened.

As we ran, madly whooping at the top of our lungs, back into town, a different banner awaited our goggling eyes. “OPEN TONIGHT!” it triumphantly declared, and we high-fived one another, drunk with happiness. The rest of the day seemed to drag on interminably, so much so that by late afternoon we were each unceremoniously booted from our homes on account of our incessant whining, our pockets jingling with coins that our harried parents had gladly parted with in order to buy some peace and quiet.

We reached our destination well before dusk had fallen, but already a thick, bustling crowd was thronging the unopened entrance. “Oh, man!” complained my friend Henry, a tall, spindly boy whom puberty had caught early, and rather awkwardly. “Well, perhaps they’ll have VIP tickets for sale,” he said, jiggling his bulging pockets, which were clearly fuller than any of ours. His father owned the pub, which meant he was always the one with the new bike or shoes, but not the modesty to refrain from rubbing it in our faces. Still, he was not ungenerous when it came to sharing, possibly the sole reason we grudgingly accepted him as one of the gang, though there were many times I felt like kicking him in the shin.

Of the three, I considered Gregory my best friend. He was a rather quiet boy, unwilling to proffer any view unless pressed, though often his remarks turned out to be the most intelligent of the lot. Having never fully shed his baby fat from his face and body, he was a frequent target of snide remarks from the rest of the class. No one ever laid a finger on him though. James, the brash leader of our little quartet with outsized arms, saw to that.

As twilight fell, it soon became apparent why the carnival was so named. Lanterns, hundreds and hundreds of them, each giving off a lurid red, came to life with the dying of the day. The scarlet spots of light did little to brighten up the area, instead casting a bloody sheen on every angle they caught.

“Fantastic!” cried Henry appreciatively, clapping his knee enthusiastically. A murmur of approval rustled through the crowd, which had fallen silent at the arresting sight.

“It looks kinda creepy,” squeaked Greg as he sidled up to me, trying not to let Henry hear him. “I didn’t know it was supposed to be horror-themed.”

“I didn’t either.” A certain repulsion had risen within me, driving out all the earlier excitement. If it had been just Greg and I, we surely would have turned around and left, but some of Henry’s enthusiasm seemed to have spilt over to James.

“Come on, you guys.” I felt his strong arms pushing me into the surging crowd. The gates had opened. “If we don’t hurry, there’ll be a line at the roller coaster for sure.”

Herded in like a pair of clueless calves, Greg and I glanced around wildly at our surroundings. Loud music, somewhat cheerfully discordant, blared from speakers. It was difficult to see where we were going, for the shadows clung on stubbornly to every corner like cobwebs. It was a horror theme park all right. The staff all wore white, expressionless masks, the kind that evokes a visceral, unexplainable discomfort from the pits of your psyche. Blood splattered signs promised horrifying experiences: the Boat Ride to Nowhere, the Silent Hall of Mirrors, etc. All the clichéd stuff.

“There! The Guillotine Coaster!” Henry jabbed a finger excitedly at a sign composed of letters with wickedly jagged edges. Without turning to see if we were following, he dashed off in the direction the sign pointed. We stumbled behind him reluctantly, practically being pulled along by an eager James, who had an iron grip on our wrists.

As expected, there was already a long queue ahead of us. Mr Moneybags craned his neck to see if there was an express line for those willing to pay for a VIP ticket, only to settle back down with a crestfallen frown on his face. As the queue crawled along, the two ebullient boys each expertly gave his prediction on how stomach-churning the ride was going to be, based on what they could observe of the tracks from where we stood. My buddy and I could only exchange glum glances as the air was punctuated by screams every now and then, screams that sounded way more terrified than exhilarated. We both loved rollercoaster rides, but the eerie atmosphere of the park had diminished our appetite.

As our turn drew closer, a safety warning came into view.

ATTENTION: You must be this tall—to ride DIE!

A red, bloody gash on the sign marked the minimum height required to take the ride. We stared at it, mouths agape. None of us had ever seen such a sign before. You must remember that this took place decades ago, back when common sense was thought to be a lot more common, and safety regulations existed only for the most dangerous of activities.

I was suddenly aware of the looks my friends were giving me. I had always known myself to be the shortest among my friends, and even when I took rollercoaster rides previously my head barely poked through the harness; but never had I thought it to be a problem. I ran towards the sign, refusing to believe it. The closer I came, the further the blood-red line floated up defiantly. At last the truth was staring me in the face—I was too short to ride.

It’s strange, how human psychology works. The moment something is off limits, it instantly becomes desirable. All the dread and reluctance I had harbored towards the ride vanished the moment I realized I wouldn’t be allowed to ride it.

“Hide me,” I begged my friends, elbowing my way into the middle of the group. Greg stared at me in surprise.

“Y-y-ou know, I can stay here with you if you don’t want to wait alone.” His plump face shone at me hopefully.

I shook my head vigorously. “No way. I’m coming along.” Ignoring his obvious chagrin, I shuffled my feet to maintain my inconspicuous—or so I hoped—position between my friends as the queue hustled forward. The rollercoaster was back, its seats empty.

“What?” cried Henry in surprise. “Where’re the passengers?”

The employee at the turnstile turned towards us, his eyes looking oddly alive behind the stiff white mask. “You alight on the other side,” he informed us gruffly, pointing to the further end of the ride, where the tracks disappeared ominously into a dark cavern.

I wanted to kick the big-mouth, hard. He just had to draw attention to us—no, me. Keeping my head down and fingers crossed, I tried to scurry through the turnstile as unsuspiciously as possible. With my back foot nearly clearing the threshold, the hallelujahs were already on the tip of my tongue—

“HOLD IT.” I nearly jumped out of my skin as the behemoth of a voice struck my ears like a sledgehammer. Mr Gruff White Mask had my shoulder in a painful, vice-like grip. “You’re too short to go on this ride, pal,” he growled, sounding anything but pally.

“Oh come on, mister,” I pleaded, “I’ve sat on other rollercoasters before. I’ll be okay, I tell you.” I met his flinty gaze beseechingly, hoping his hard brown eyes would soften.

“Out.” The verdict announced, the unsympathetic carnival-goers behind me began prodding me aside with sharp elbows, heedless of the gross injustice that had befallen me.

Dejected, I looked on sadly as my friends scrambled for the best seats—well, Henry and James did, anyway. Greg wandered around like a lost child before reluctantly sitting down beside a fat, sweaty dude who was alone. As the machinery hummed and creaked and the cars began to inch forward, he threw me a look of desolation, tinged with fear, as if he were a ghost fresh on his way to Hades.

As it turned out, that was the last time I ever saw them alive.

The rollercoaster disappeared with a loud whoosh, and remembering what the turnstile employee had said about the ride ending on the other side, I left the boarding platform and trudged alongside the tracks across the grassy field. Strident screaming followed by the low rumble of wheels on tracks would greet my ears every time before the screeching train of terror and its captive passengers hurtled past me for yet another round. Torn between relief and petulant anger at being left out, I kicked up divots of dirt as I made my way towards the gaping cavern at the far end.

Something about the large, maw-like opening stirred up a deep sense of unease within me, though, especially the way it seemed to swallow up the screaming humans each time they plummeted helplessly into its inky void. Nearing my destination, I stopped to observe the rollercoaster looming towards me, seemingly slowing, as it began to make that steep ascent that preceded the plunge into the waiting jaws of the man-made grotto. The hullaballoo had somewhat subsided, no doubt because the hoarse throats on board were taking a much needed rest.

I gasped. As the first car crested the peak, the hollow of the cavern came alit with a red, hungry glow. The riders must have seen it too, for the hollering—almost appreciative—returned in a sharp crescendo. I felt a desperate, despairing horror grip my heart—something felt distinctly wrong. Without knowing why, I started sprinting. The train, nearing full throttle by now, was streaking further and further away. That was when I heard it: the screams turned up several pitches, now possessing a tenor of genuine fear—

Silence. A deep, empty silence.

My lungs nearly bursting, I raced into the cave, which was still awash in that eerie red glow I will never forget for as long as I live. Bedazzled by my sudden dive into the light, I squinted around in confusion. The passengers were sitting stock-still in their seats, mute and frozen. The ground was strewn with balloons, or so I thought. What a weird way to end the ride, was the only thought my dazed mind could sputter out.

A sudden movement behind the stationary rollercoaster caught my eye. A plank of some sort was being lifted up towards the roof. I rubbed my eyes, urging the stars in my eyes to go away. No, not a plank—far thinner, and sharper. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the light, a sickening realization ripped through my shuddering body. It was a blade, a monstrous three-yard-long blade.

That had passed through each sobbing, throbbing throat like a hot knife through butter…

I turned and ran. And ran. All sense had been shot clean from my head, leaving only a primal fear that powered my legs beyond endurance, and consciousness. One moment I was dashing blindly through the darkness, the very next I was out like a light.

They had assumed I was dead, one of the many to have been senselessly slaughtered in the accursed carnival, until they found me in the bordering woods. I was told it was the work of some demented cult, seeking to sacrifice as many as they could before they did themselves in. I never got round to hearing the details, though, mainly because my mouth would widen into a scream anytime someone spoke of it.

It’s been years and years since, and I’ve been through countless therapists, to little effect. Even now, I hardly make it through a night without recalling the blood-red scene in the cavern, and worst of all, the abominable sign that had, ironically, saved my life.

ATTENTION: You must be this tall—to ride DIE!

Credit: prolix

The Sunday Special

February 21, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Dan was sick of rural America. He wanted nothing more than to be back in Chicago, far away from anything resembling a cornfield. Instead, he was driving through an Iowa winter with huge, white fields stretching into the distance on every side. Every five minutes a lonely farmhouse would appear off in the distance, a long, snow-paved driveway between it and the highway. The road felt like it was cut off from the rest of humanity, a single dark line through an otherwise pale, lonely world. It had been half an hour since he’d seen another car. Then there was the cold. Even with the car heater on full blast, the bitter cold seeped in through the windows.

Dan looked into his rear view mirror and saw a large, dark mass of clouds rolling across the sky behind him. He couldn’t tell which direction they were heading, but he hoped it was away from his destination. Looking back in front of him, Dan saw a road sign to the right. He only caught a glimpse as he went by, hoping to see that the town he was heading for was nearby. Unfortunately, ice and snow clung to the front of the sign, preventing him from seeing anything other than a C or an O. Dan was looking for a town that started with an O. As the turn approached, Dan decided that he needed a break from driving on the god-forsaken highway for a bit anyways. Even if it wasn’t the town he was looking for, maybe he could get something to eat and at least talk to someone. Eight hours of icy roads had taken its toll. Dan turned right down the smaller, but thankfully plowed and salted, country road.

Five minutes down the road, Dan saw a large sign saying “Welcome to Campsong”. He had never heard of the place and it definitely was not where he wanted to be. Checking his watch, he saw that it was nearly 7 o’ clock. He had time to get some food and still make it before midnight.

As the first streetlights from Campsong came into view, a building appeared along the left side of the road. There was something off about it that made Dan want to take a closer look. Slowing down the car, he could see the structure illuminated by a single streetlight that seemed to be placed there just for it. It was an old, abandoned shop with a large, battered sign that read ‘Mallock’s Meats’ in faded letters. Most of the windows were shattered. Dan assumed kids had thrown rocks at them. There was the usually spattering of graffiti, some of it half artistic. And then there was something else painted on the front of the store, much larger than the other graffiti. It took Dan a few moments to realize that it was a skeletal eagle. The artwork was rough, but not bad. The skeleton’s head was rolled back, screeching up into the sky. Ragged patches of shadowy feathers hung beneath the arm bones. Dan stared at the painting for almost a minute before realizing that he had brought the car to a full stop in the middle of the highway. He took one last glance at Mallock’s Meats and drove on into Campsong.
More village than town, Campsong appeared to be about thirty buildings in the middle of nowhere. As Dan rolled to a stop at an intersection in the middle of town, an old pickup puttered through the road in front of him and pulled into a parking lot filled with two cars, three pickups, and a tow truck. Dan assumed that that must be the place to go in this town. Turning into the lot, Dan saw a sign above the door that read “M’s Tavern” in red, blocky letters. Dan parked the car in one of the few empty spots. Before getting out of the car, he pulled the zipper on his coat up to his throat. He’d paid a couple hundred dollars for the insulated coat and on that night it was worth every penny. He hopped out of the car onto the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. Making his way towards the rough, wooden door, Dan had to swerve around a pile of cigarette butts in the middle of the lot. A small paper sign hung on the outside of the door reading ‘Saturday Special: Tenderloin Sandwich’. Dan didn’t think that sounded too bad as he swung open the door, hoping he didn’t get a splinter off of it.

As soon as Dan entered, the smell of tobacco smoke hit him. Apparently the law against smoking in bars was taken as a suggestion here. The hazy interior looked almost exactly as Dan had pictured it. The walls were all fake wood panels with random sports teams’ logos plastered to them. Several cheap looking tables were surrounded by at least two different styles of chairs. Four patrons circled a pool table in the back. They appeared to be the source of most of the smoke in the building. The bar itself was to his left. It ran the length of the building and looked as though it might fall apart at any time. Four men sat at the right end of the bar, occasionally yelling at a TV showing a football game. Dan took a seat in the middle of the bar, not wanting to sit next to the other customers, but not wanting to make it look like he didn’t. He didn’t care about the football game. Dan was more of a baseball fan.

Almost as soon as he sat down, a man came in from the back of the room and slipped behind the bar. After making sure the men in front of the TV were okay, he walked down to where Dan was sitting.

“M, I presume?” asked Dan. The bartender chuckled. He was a nice looking guy that Dan assumed was in his mid-30’s.

“The name’s Mike,” the man said in a calm, measured voice. “But yes, this is my place. Just getting into town?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Dan. “Can I get a rum and coke and one of those tenderloins?”

“The cook just left for the night, actually,” said Mike, grabbing a bottle of rum and a glass. “But I can get you that drink.” Dan was annoyed that he couldn’t get his sandwich, but he wasn’t keen on making a scene in the middle of a dive bar. “Stopping here or going to Arbormill like everyone else?”

“Um…neither,” said Dan. “I’m heading to Odela.”

“Ah,” said Mike. “Then you came down the wrong road.” He sat the finished drink down in front of Dan. “Nothing this way but Campsong and Arbormill.”

“What kind of a name is Campsong?” asked Dan, taking a sip.

“Well, it used to be something French,” said Mike. “Then they changed it.”


“To make it less French,” said Mike, walking back down the bar to grab a few of the guys some more beers out of the cooler.

“What’s in Arbormill?” asked Dan as Mike walked over to the cash register in front of him.

“You haven’t heard?” asked Mike as he rang up the drinks. “Arbormill is the new ghost capitol of the world.” He finished ringing them up and turned back around to Dan. “All sorts of stories started coming out of there a few months back and now every ghost hunter and their sister wants to go there.”

“And you’re making bank off the tourists?” asked Dan, taking a larger swig of his drink.

“Let’s just say I’m getting plenty out of it,” said Mike. “So what’s a city boy like you doing in Odela?”

“That obvious?” asked Dan. Mike just shrugged. Dan figured there was no harm in telling the bartender his business. He didn’t plan to be back in Campsong ever again. “My great aunt just died. I’m heading to the funeral.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mike.

“Don’t be,” said Dan. “We weren’t what you’d call close. And I’m pretty sure she moved back to the old family home in the middle of nowhere just so people would have to drive all the way out here.” There was more than a hint of spite in Dan’s voice that he was sure was not lost on the bartender. The customer closest to Dan had his head tilted just enough that Dan suspected he was listening in as well.

“Not a family man, eh?” asked Mike. Dan laughed a bit too loudly. He sucked down the last of his drink before answering. He could feel the alcohol barely starting to hit him.

“My family has a tradition when someone dies,” said Dan. “They get there as soon as possible, pretend to be sad, and then loot everything they can.”

“Sounds fun,” said Mike. “I’m sure your family reunions are a blast.” Dan sighed and glanced over at the group in front of the TV. A couple of them quickly looked away. It seemed like the out-of-towner was entertainment for the night. When he turned back to Mike, he found a fresh drink sitting in front of him.

“Thanks,” said Dan, not asking how he got that out so quickly. He took a sip from the new drink and then went back to talking. “The last time there was a family cash grab, the old lady grabbed something that was one hundred percent mine out of my parents’ house. I’ll be damned if anyone else is going to get it.”

“Well, good luck,” said Mike, avoiding the obvious question of what the item was. “And watch out in Odela.”

“Why’s that?”

“Arbormill has ghosts and Odela has monsters,” said Mike, half grinning. “Most of them are in the state prison there, though.”

“And what does Campsong have?” asked Dan, making a note to vacate the county as quickly as he could.

“We have a dive bar,” said Mike, breaking into a loud laugh. Dan heard a chortle from the group at the end of the bar.

“And apparently a quality butcher shop,” muttered Dan. Something changed in the room as soon as the words left his mouth. Everything suddenly got quieter. Even the men playing pool in the back had one eye firmly on Dan. Dan had already felt awkward, but for the first time that night, he felt a twinge of fear go down his spine. Mike leaned onto the bar towards Mike and looked him in the eye.

“Yeah, Mallock’s,” said Mike, his voice lowering. “That’s an interesting story.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Dan, checking his watch. The numbers were slightly blurry. Mike must have been making the things strong. Mike stood back up and looked around the bar with slight trepidation. Dan assumed he was just adding suspense, but there was something about the change in the other customers that gave him a sliver of doubt.

“It was back in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. A man called Walton Mallock came to Campsong and opened his butcher shop,” began Mike. His voice took on a strange edge as he told the story. It sounded like how someone would tell a ghost story around a campfire. “He came from Arbormill back when people didn’t trust anyone that came from there all that easily. There and Odela were the last couple of towns that had Malcaw blood left in them.”

“Malcaw?” asked Dan.

“Old Native tribe that used to live around here in Eldona County.”

“And people around here weren’t particularly fond of Indians?” asked Dan. Mike gave him a look that had the tiniest bit of anger in it. Dan shut up and took another drink.

“The Malcaw were a really old tribe that believed in really old ways,” said Mike. “Every other tribe around here was terrified of them. They used to say that dark gods walked in Malcaw villages. They said bone eagles flew overhead.” Dan thought back to the unnerving image painted onto the side of Mallock’s Meats. Looking around, he saw that everyone else in the bar was listening to the bartender. They’d probably heard it a hundred times, but they still had to listen to the obviously well practiced story. “So no, they didn’t like the Malcaw. And most of them had what they called the Malcaw eyes; pale blue. Mallock had them too. So he was on the outs already with most of the town; until he actually started selling meat.”

“Then they liked him fine,” asked Dan, taking another swig of his drink.

“Oh yes, they did,” said Mike. “Cheapest meat in the state, courtesy of his brother’s farm back in Odela. And every Sunday he’d put up a sign for the Sunday Special. People would come here from miles around for the barbeque pork on Sundays.” Dan thought he knew where the story was heading. “And so everyone in Campsong was happy. Then, one day, a guy goes to see his sister in Odela. As he’s leaving, he decides he wants to go see Mallock’s brother and thank him for giving him the meat so cheap.”

“Let me guess,” said Dan. “There was no Mallock farm?” Mike scoffed as if he had planned on him asking that.

“Oh no, there was a farm all right,” said Mike. “And the man tells Mallock’s brother that the cows and chickens are all well and good, but where were the pigs for the Sunday Special? The brother tells him that he hasn’t had pigs in years. So he asks if there’s another Mallock farm in Arbormill. His brother says no, the only other Mallock in Odela is his other brother, the sheriff in at the jail.”

“And there it is,” said Dan, slurring his words slightly. “So he was sending him prisoners to cook?”

“Saw that coming, did you?” asked Mike, looking Dan straight in the eye.

“Kind of hard not to,” said Dan. Mike grinned, not looking as pissed as Dan thought he might for blowing the big finale. As Dan went to take another drink, he noticed that the group at the end of the bar was still watching Mike intently.

“That’s not the end,” said Mike. “After the man got back to Campsong, he riled up a mob and they headed out to Mallock’s to bring him to justice.”

“To lynch him, in other words,” said Dan.

“More or less,” said Mike. “So they drag Mallock out of his shop and he stands there in front of the mob and asks them ‘Is this how you treat me after I’ve fed you all for a year? You all still have money in your pockets because I saw a different way. We can still go back to that way if we stop this right now and nobody outside Campsong ever has to know.” Mike paused.

“What happened then?” asked Dan.

“They took a vote. The whole mob of fifty people decided right there whether to hang Mallock or let him keep doing his thing.”


“You saw the butcher shop,” said Mike, bending down to where his eyes were inches away from Dan’s. “What do you think?” Mike whispered in a strange, eerie tone. Dan lowered his eyes to the bar while he considered. Mike suddenly slammed one hand onto the bar. Dan leapt back in shock and fell straight out of the chair onto the damp wood floor. A moment later, every other customer in the bar was laughing their ass off. Dan dusted himself off and got back into the seat. Although Mike wasn’t laughing, he was smiling very broadly.

“I couldn’t resist,” said Mike. “Yes, they lynched his ass. No more Sunday Special for them.”

Dan finished his drink with a long gulp and slammed the glass onto the bar.

“That a true story?” he asked, leaning back into the chair.

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone even knows anymore,” said Mike. Dan chuckled and looked down at the other customers. Apparently after they got to see Mike scare the new guy, they had lost interest. Looking down at his watch, he saw that it was almost 9 o’ clock.

“Wow,” said Dan. “I have really got to get going. How do I get to Odela from here?”

“It’s easy enough,” said Mike. “Just go back to the highway, turn right, and it’s going to be the first left after you go over the river.”

“Great,” said Dan, getting to his feet. “How much do I owe you?”

“Not so fast,” said Mike. Dan froze in place. “How about a shot on the house to remember Campsong by?” Dan had never heard a bartender offer free booze right before a guy was about to drive off.

“No thanks,” said Dan. “I don’t do shots. They’re the main reason I have an ex-wife.”

“Oh come on,” said Mike with a broad grin. “I have a very good house shot here.” He pulled a clear bottle of dark red liquid out from underneath the bar. “I call it the Mallock.” He poured a small amount into a shot glass and pushed it towards Dan. Perhaps it was because of the story, or maybe because of how much it looked like blood, but Dan wanted no part of that shot.

“It’s a very pretty shot,” said Dan. “But I still have to pass. I have a fair way to drive on some bad roads, you know.”

“I understand,” said Mike. The bartender picked up the shot and drank it in one gulp. “Your loss.” Dan grabbed a $20 bill out of his wallet and laid it on the counter.

“Keep the change,” said Dan. “For the entertainment.” Mike laughed and grabbed the money off the bar.

“You’re very welcome, good sir,” said the bartender. “You’d better get a move on though. Pretty sure I just heard them talking over there about a winter storm coming in.” Dan looked out the window and saw a spattering of snowflakes on the window. He let out a burst of profanity and ran for the door, hoping to some higher power that the storm didn’t get bad. Moments later his car sputtered to life and skidded out of the parking lot just as the snow really began to fall. Dan could feel the bartender’s eyes following him through the window.

Dan couldn’t believe how quickly the storm had rolled in. As he made his way through the intersection, he already had his wipers on full speed. As he sped past the last buildings in the town proper, the wind was howling around the vehicle, trying like crazy to blow it off the road. At his best, Dan would have had an issue driving in this weather, but with the strong drinks in him, he knew he had no business driving through that night. He had to make it to Odela, though. And he wasn’t going to stay in Campsong all night. Dan stared through the windshield as the wipers did their best to keep the snow off of it. He kept hoping the exit to the highway was closer than he thought it was.

As Dan moved slowly down the road, expecting his traction to go out at any moment, he began to hear something beneath the wind. A thump. A rattle. Sounds that he shouldn’t have been able to hear above the howling wind. He forced himself to pay full attention to the road, knowing that his drunk ass was just hallucinating sounds. It was at that moment that the sound came louder than before and from directly above his car hood. It was the sound of massive wings beating the air above him. As outright terror began to creep into Dan’s mind, a blast of wind hit the side of the car. Dan tried to straighten the car, but it was no use. The car veered to the right and off of the highway. Dan’s head began to swim and he was only aware of two things: a large object right in front of him and the sound of giant, bony wings.

Dan didn’t know how long it was before he woke up, but he immediately felt the bitter cold and a shooting pain in his shoulder. Looking around, Dan realized he was still in the battered shell of what used to be his car. It must have slid sideways into whatever he had hit because the passenger side door had been ripped off. A frigid wind blew in through the gaping hole in the vehicle, testing the limits of his heavy, insulated coat. Dan unfastened his seatbelt, which he assumed was the cause of the pain in his shoulder and also the reason he was alive. Wanting to get a better view of the situation, he shoved the driver’s side door open. Dan fell out of the car into foot-deep snow. He brushed the snow off his coat as he stumbled to his feet and found himself in a halo of light. He looked up through the still-falling snow to see a single streetlight that was now bent at an angle. He knew where he was. Dan looked past the light and saw the ruined façade of Mallock’s Meats.

The butcher shop looked almost ethereal through the gusting snow. It was there one moment and gone the next, obscured by the storm. Dan quickly decided that there was only one thing to do. He had to get inside the building before he froze to death. He could think up a more extensive plan once he was out of the blizzard. As he made his way past the front end of his car, he saw that most of the passenger side of the hood was crushed in. He was unsure whether his insurance was going to cover any of this mess. He stumbled through the mound of snow in the center of the abandoned parking lot and found himself standing before the painting of the bone eagle. He began to shiver as he looked up into the dark skeletal eye of the mural. It wasn’t entirely the cold that made him do so. Dan had to tear his eyes away from it once again as he went for the still-intact door to his left.

Dan was at least relieved to be out of the wind. The frigid air still creeped in through the broken windows, but at least the wind was at the other side of the shop. That was the only relief he found in the ruins of Mallock’s Meats. The main room of the store had a strange feeling. The pale light from the bent streetlight outside illuminated a room that felt as though time had stopped in it years ago. While it was true that the windows were broken and piles of snow lay around Dan’s feet, the rest of the shop looked as though it had not been touched by the last several decades. The tile floor was largely intact, as were three rows of shelves in the middle of the room. A long meat counter on the other side of the room was empty, but looked entirely functional beneath a thick layer of dust. The only signs of degradation were in the walls and ceiling, which were full of cracks and peeled areas of paint.

Dan moved carefully through the store and away from the windows. He saw a door behind the meat counter and thought he might be able to make it through the night in the back of the store. As he walked around the end of the counter and by three abandoned cooler doors, he took out his phone and turned on its flashlight. He considered calling someone for help, but after a moment of thought, Dan came to the conclusion that even if anyone knew where he was, they wouldn’t be able to get there until the next morning. He was on his own for the night. He reached the door behind an antique cash register that still rested on the counter. As Dan reached for the door, for the second time that night, he heard a sound that should not have been there. A low buzz emanated from behind the door. It reminded Dan of the sounds he had heard coming from meat counters while they were carving up slabs of meat. All he could imagine was a blade sawing through flesh and bone. Dan stood there staring at the door, trying to rationalize what he was hearing. It had to be the liquor making him hear things, like before in the car. He couldn’t have heard wings in the air. Dan ignored the sound, pushed open the door, and delved into the back room.

The buzz didn’t get any louder, but it didn’t go away. Dan shone his phone’s light around the room, illuminating the abandoned cutting room. He could make out a rusted metal sink, a long counter, and two doors which he supposed were the meat freezer and cooler. It had the same timeless look as the main shop room, but it at least it was slightly warmer. Dan sat down on the antique tile floor as a wave of nausea washed over him. The only thing he wanted was to pass out and figure out a way to get into Odela in the morning. He shut off his phone light and lowered his body onto the ground. He was seconds from unconsciousness when he rolled over and felt something cold and wet on his cheek.

Dan wiped the liquid off his cheek with a groan. He turned his phone light back on, expecting to see half melted snow on his fingers. Instead, they were streaked with crimson. Dan slowly moved his eyes to the floor and saw a small puddle of blood where his head had been. He quickly began to feel around his head, searching for what he was sure would be a gushing head wound. Finding nothing but a matted area of hair, he rose to his feet and pointed his light at the counter above him. A gleaming meat cleaver lay on the counter, a small puddle of blood beneath it was running off and onto the floor below.

Dan jumped away from the blade and felt the antique sink dig into his back, a rusted edge jabbing into his back through his coat. The cleaver just lay there ominously. Dan struggled to remember whether he saw it when he came into the room. Was it another thing that wasn’t really there? As he stood there obsessing with his back against the sink, a loud cracking noise came from his right. This time, Dan could not suppress a frightened whimper from coming out of his mouth as he dropped shuddering to the floor. Something from earlier in the night came back to Dan: the state prison less than an hour away. It suddenly made more sense than anything that he had just found the lair of an escaped prisoner. Summoning what was left of his composure, Dan crept forward and grabbed the bloody cleaver off of the counter. The blade was as cold as ice. Drawing himself up to his full height and readying the cleaver, Dan spun into the doorway to face whatever was there. He instantly froze as he found himself staring into the empty eye socket of a skeletal eagle.

It stood atop the weathered meat counter, one claw perched upon the old cash register. The thing was massive, blocking his view of anything else through the doorway. Tatters of flesh and down clung to its skeletal frame. Its wings were barely cohesive masses of rotting ebon feathers. Its head bobbed back and forth, the dark socket fixed on Dan. He heard its claws scratching at the counter beneath it. Snapping out of his stupor, Dan did the only thing he could think of. He raised his arm and hurled the cleaver directly at the massive eagle. It was an awkward throw, but its aim was true. It flew directly into the eagle’s skull and passed through it. Dan could hear the cleaver land on the floor behind it with a loud thud. Dan collapsed to his knees as the vision in front of him began to fade. A moment later, the eagle was gone. It had been a hallucination after all. Everything had been. Dan was about to break into hysterical laughter when the loud cracking noise came again from behind him. Dan’s heart skipped a beat as he realized where he had heard it before. It was the sound of a freezer defrosting. He still heard the buzzing sound from before as well. It was the sound of electricity running through the building. The freezer directly behind him in the abandoned butcher shop was completely functional.

Dan took a deep breath and turned towards the freezer door. He had had enough of this night. Summoning all that remained of his composure, he began to move slowly towards the door. As he approached it, Dan could see light gleam off of the steel door; a door that looked strangely modern in the middle of the antique site. His innards felt like they had turned to ice as Dan grasped the handle on the door and pulled it open. The pale light from the streetlight outside shone just bright enough to illuminate the nightmare lurking within, where large, dark bags hung from the ceiling. The shapes inside the bags were not from any animals.

Dan didn’t scream when he saw the contents of the freezer. He didn’t run away or drop to his knees. A single thought just kept repeating in his head: I knew this was coming. The very second he had woken up in front of Mallock’s Meats he had known there would be bodies in it. And they couldn’t be real. After a few strong drinks and a probable head injury during the crash, of course he was going to be seeing things. The bartender’s tale had done a number on him and this was the end result. He had seen bloody cleavers, skeletal eagles, and now a freezer full of dead bodies. He just had to prove one thing. Dan walked forward and reached a hand out towards a large black bag, fully expecting that his hand would go right through it, returning him to a reality in which the only thing to fear was the biting cold. When he felt a thin layer of plastic over what could only be a human hand, the terror finally came. And at the very same moment, a calm, measured voice came from behind him.

“You should have taken the shot,” it said. “The rum was drugged.” Dan had no time to react before a large blow struck him on the back of the head. He fell face first into the body bag in front of him and then collapsed onto the floor, reeling in pain. The world around him wavered slightly, but Dan remained conscious. He looked up and saw Mike the bartender illuminated by the pale light coming through the door.

“Mallock didn’t lose that vote, did he?” asked Dan in a low and distant tone. His hand groped around in the darkness, trying to find anything that might save him.

“No, he didn’t,” said Mike. “He won in a landslide.” The bartender pulled something out of his belt. Dan saw the shimmer of light off a blade. “He was my grandfather. And in his memory, Mallock’s Tavern still serves up the Sunday Special week after week, rain or shine.”

“Do they all know?” asked Dan in a whisper. “The whole town?”

“Some do,” said Mike. “Some of them suspect. But in the end, nobody does anything about it.” Dan was suddenly less annoyed that he hadn’t gotten his tenderloin.

Mike grabbed Dan and spun him belly up on the ground. He grabbed Dan’s two hundred dollar coat by the front and ran his blade top to bottom, shredding the front of the garment. Before he could protest, Mike had ripped the heavy coat off of him, leaving him defenseless against the cold.

“I like you, Dan,” said Mike, brandishing his knife. “So I’ll give you a choice. I can make it end nice and fast for you right here or I can lock you in and let you freeze to death if you want some time to make peace with things.”

“Fuck you,” said Dan, spitting out the words.

“Don’t say I didn’t try,” said Mike. He placed a foot on Dan’s chest and readied his knife. It was at that very moment that Dan’s hand felt a large, heavy piece of ice on the floor beside him. Finding a strength that he would not have believed he could muster, Dan gripped the chunk of ice and swung it wildly in front of him. Mike let out a loud scream as the block landed a blow directly on his kneecap. The bartender collapsed to the ground next to Dan grasping at his knee. Dan scrambled around and let out a wild kick at Mike’s face. It connected with a dull thud and Mike spat up blood. Dan’s head began to clear as he saw the open doorway with light streaming weakly through. He struggled to his feet and lurched out of the freezer. Stumbling through the cutting room and into the main store, he fell against the counter, grabbing it for support. Looking behind him, he saw Mike unsteadily rising to his feet. Looking towards the outside, Dan saw a spot of shining light on the floor. It was the cleaver he had thrown at the hallucination earlier.

Dan slid over the counter and landed roughly on the floor on the other side. Hearing footsteps behind him, he frantically crawled past the old shelves to where the cleaver lay on top of a mound of snow near the broken windows. Dan dove the last few feet and clutched the blade with both hands. He rose to one knee and was about to spin around and face Mike when he heard an engine revving from outside.

Dan froze in place, not wanting to look out the window. He forced himself to look up and through the now-dying blizzard. Two vehicles had joined his wrecked car around the lonely streetlight. The first was the tow truck from the tavern, which was in the process of towing his car away to somewhere no one would ever find it. The second was a large pickup with two men riding in the flatbed. Even with his clouded vision, Dan could see the scoped rifles they were holding. He was finished.

Dan’s arms went limp at his side. The cleaver gave a dull clang as it struck the old tile floor. Dan only had to wait a moment before the calm, measured voice came from behind him once more, albeit in a slightly more nasal tone.

“I really have to know now,” said Mike. “What were you going to get in Odela?”

Dan stared into the blizzard for a moment, and then began to laugh softly. Mike waited patiently as the laugh grew more frantic. It took a few seconds for Dan to compose himself again.

“It was an autographed baseball bat,” said Dan, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “My favorite player from the local minor league team. It was in my dad’s room when he died. The old lady just took it. I just wanted it back.”

“I understand,” said Mike, after a brief silence. “And I promise you.” Dan felt the tip of a knife against the back of his neck. “If your family stops by the tavern on their way back home, I’ll bury it next to what’s left of you.” A split second before everything went dark, Dan thought he could hear the sound of bone wings echoing through the night sky.

Credit: Alex Taylor

I’m Downstairs

February 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The clock struck midnight. I was on my laptop in my bedroom, browsing through YouTube videos. However, my browsing stopped when my phone vibrated. I saw that I received a text message from my friend, Ben.

“Hey man I’m outside by the back door. Can you let me in?”.

I knew he was lying. For the last few weekends, he had been messing with me. One weekend he told me he was parked in my cul-de-sac when in reality, he was in his bedroom. The following weekend, he told me he was coming over to hang out. When I came outside to greet him in his car, he floored it out of my neighborhood. I wasn’t going to let him get me this time. I sent a reply back.

“I know you’re just messing with me again.”

He immediately replied back.

“No I’m being serious this time, I am by the back door.”.

“Nice try, I know you’re not there.”

I placed my phone down and continued my search. About a minute later, my phone vibrated again.

“I’m downstairs.”

“Ben, you can’t troll me three weekends in a row. However, I’ll give you an A for effort.”

I placed my phone down again. I wasn’t going to play his little game. As I was about to continue my search, I started to hear something from the deafening silence of my dark house. I faced the doorway behind me and listened closely. It sounded like footsteps, silent footsteps walking around downstairs. It was nerve racking. I couldn’t believe it. Was my mind tricking with me or was Ben actually in my house? I grabbed my phone.

“Are you joking with me man?.”

I continued to listen as my phone vibrated again.

“No, I told you I was downstairs, but you didn’t believe me.”

I was quite relieved that it was him, but I was pissed off that he broke into my house. I could hear him walking around downstairs still as I waited for him to come into my bedroom. I grabbed my phone again.

“Aren’t you going to come upstairs? I can hear you walking around downstairs. Just come up here already.”

I sent the message and waited for him to respond. I was starting to get a little annoyed after a minute of waiting. I got up from my bed and went to the doorway. I proceeded to shout downstairs.

“Get your ass upstairs already! Stop fucking around!”.

I sat back on my bed as I began to hear him walk upstairs. Suddenly, my phone vibrated again. It was a text message from Ben.

“You know I was fucking with you, right?”

My heart dropped. I looked up at the doorway to see my killer smiling at me.

Credit: Matthew Stacks


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