Remember Smith

August 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Hours have gone by, with nothing. I’ve typed the same shit over and over, which is getting me nowhere. It’s time to get something done…

Smith, before I go further with this, I want to establish how much I hate you. Although, in a sense, I’m proud of you. This trap is rather elaborate, and even uses my own idea against me. You’ve thought around every corner to ensure my suicidal demise in the end, and for that, I commend you.

How long you’ll go on is lost to me. I’m not sure how, but perhaps this log will be recovered, and someone else will want to dent your face in. You may have gone years without being caught, but you won’t continue much longer, not like this. I’ll try to be sure of it.

Now, with my personal message out of the way, I’m not sure where to begin. I have what feels to be all the time in the world, yet that’s not something I can be sure of. For some time, I’ve been oblivious to the loss of blood from my wrist. It wasn’t apparent until the pain began to set in, but its been slow. I’m hoping I can at least keep alive until this is finished, wherever it may be going. I apologize for any blatant typos or unfixed errors. A perfect paper isn’t my highest objective at the moment.

I’ll start by talking about him, I suppose. Smith. We worked for a time, but we never shared a friendship. Our relationship was strictly business. We never met outside our work, and left much of our personal lives undisclosed. Knowing of his past could’ve surely prevented this, at least this outcome.

I work(ed) at Massachusetts General Hospital, by the way. My occupation is a general researcher, but I had a bit of a side interest, which Smith apparently shared. As I delved into the medical research field, I began a fascination with technological enhancements. It was more of a fantasy to me, a strange world that I dreamed of and sketched throughout the day. For Smith, it was essential, to say the least. It was his pursuit.

It was his obsession.

The first day Smith confronted me was while I was on break. At the time, I believed he was actually working at Mass. General. However he sneaks about, he must be good at it.

Smith was drawn in by a sketch of mine. It was a undeveloped, spur-of-the-moment idea: a wrist device, similar to a watch, that could regulate areas of the body by injecting various chemicals into the bloodstream. In theory, it could adjust body heat, maintain blood sugar levels, keep its user alert and awake, or vice versa. It was another fantasy to me, as I would never have the time or resources to construct such a piece. Smith, on the other hand, saw potential in it.

Him and I chatted for a while, about are similar views on the concept. Its hard for me to say this now, but at the time, I found him to be quite an engaging man to speak with. His insights into this world of technology were beyond any that I had heard. He’s the only individual I’ve ever spoken to who looks at tech enhancements as a real use and possibility.

From that day, we scheduled various dates in which we worked on the prototype device. Smith was rather paranoid of ideas being stolen, so we kept our location and progress quiet from other researchers. We worked at his apartment, which was secluded enough.

Throughout the project, Smith never stopped encouraging me, if “encouraging” would be an appropriate word. It appeared to be the only matter he focused on, annoyed that I didn’t feel the same. Yes, I thought the project had potential, but I still had a job to keep, at the very least. This frustrated him, for sure.

It was clear that Smith knew far more on the subject than myself. He constantly spoke about how he’s worked with tech for years. After only a week’s worth of collaborating, I wanted out, but was unsure of how to go about telling him. After all, he grew angry if I even questioned him. Abandoning him wouldn’t be much more promising.

Goddamn. The pain’s worse now, for sure. Maybe the wound’s worse than I thoughtt.

I’ll state that I had one major interest outside of tech enhancements. Over the years, I’ve developed an interest for writing. When I think about it, my interest in the latter came from my writing, as the ideas started out just story notes. I never explained this to Smith, for reasons that I hope I’ve made apparent.

Naturally, the project with Smith had taken up most (if not all) of my time outside work. Smith practically forced me to meet with him whenever I could. If I began to refuse, he would interrogate me, asking me about my life, what I could possibly be doing in place of our progress. I’ll admit, he frightened me. I’m not sure what exactly about him was unsettling, but he seemed capable of pushing to the end, meeting his goals at whatever costs.

I’ll leave out the time in between, but before I left the project, we had made progress. Though we still were nowhere close in finishing the prototype device, we had made much ground in getting its basic functions working. The only reason I stayed was because of the device itself, that my fantasy sketch might just become a real, working tool.

Then, all our progress was shattered.

Unsurprisingly, Smith grew impatient. Despite our progress, he wasn’t yet satisfied. He wanted the device fully operational, right away. He began to tamper with at the delicate piece. His hands were shaking, jolting with various screws and micro-sized vials. He began screwing with the device’s code, ultimately erasing hours of work, and rendering the technology near useless.

He blamed me for our failure, of course. I tried to argue how it was his own fault, but this only sent him off more.

“What have you fucking done?!”, he screamed. “You’ve never cared about this from the start, have you?! This was just some fucking drawing that you made, that I wanted to see for real! THIS is the stuff I live for! I’ve done this before! I’ve created my own inventions, and tested them! What have you done?!”

He grew violent, making threats and throwing objects about. Needless to say, I didn’t want any part of him anymore. I left on the spot.

I continued with my regular job, and found a peace of mind again. Smith’s threats continued to echo in memory, however, as they were too sinister to be passed off.

Four days after I abandoned the project, I was approached by two men. Where they came from, I didn’t know, but they were investigators. They asked if I’d see Smith, as they’d been tracking him for a long time. I told them a bit of what I knew, and what followed was a long, tedious interrogation.

Eventually, when they knew they’d been told everything, they told me the truth about Smith.

Smith Alexander wasn’t lying when he said he’d “done this before”. Despite meeting me in the hospital, and describing his job, he’s never worked there in his life. He’s never worked in any hospital, or any medical or science profession. He’s slid and faked his way about the systems for years, with almost no one catching on. As unsettling as it is for an impersonator to be creeping his way about a medical facility, it was his reasons for being there that set me off.

He was looking for live subjects; injured individuals for him to test his “designs”. He’s scanned businesses, schools, and public areas to find a wide array of experimental material.

In short, he used people as human test dummies.

What he did with his captives ranged from lethal to vomit-inducing. The investigators told me some reports, as well as showed me some photos. He loved to tamper with the heart, resulting with some of his less-brutal murders. However, his psychotic designs had no limits. Some of the photos showed a man with both his arms sawed off, with metal rods replacing the limbs. Another photo showed a woman with her back flayed open, syringes lining her spine, which had turned a sickly black color. He didn’t discriminate when it came to his victims. I stopped looking at the photos when they started included children.

I’m getting drowsy now….fuck. I should at least get to my own predicament, before I end.

Last night, I was working on a novel of mine, right inside my apartment. It was still unfinished, but I was closing in on its conclusion. Despite the confidence, a lack of rest got the better of me, and I drifted into sleep right at the desk.

Fuck. I just realized that I may’ve been knocked out by the water I was drinking at the desk. It had an interesting taste to it, but my focus was devoted to writing. Smith must’ve slipped in here before and drugged the glasses.

I need to keep on subject. I awoke this morning, right in my apartment, at my desk. The computer screen blared in front of my eyes, which showed a blank page. My ears were greeted with two words:
“Start typing.”

A cold, narrow shaft bumped against my head. The voice was familiar, but given that I woke up seconds before, my mind was still dazed and unfocused.

“Start typing, dammit!”, the voice shouted, with a cold surface being pressed against me.

The voice was Smith, and he was holding a pistol to my skull.

“Smith”, I said, beginning to wake. “What the hell ar-“

“Type, or your face will be smeared on the monitor”.

I listened, despite my confusion. Slews of letters appeared on the screen, as I was only complying for my life.

“There”, he said. “This is what you wanted, correct? You wanted to write? I knew it was your hobby. I’ve seen you work like this a number of times. Now that you’re out of the project, you have all the time in the world write.”

Smith reached over my shoulder, towards my right arm. He pressed a small button on a watch, which was secured on my wrist. I hadn’t noticed it until he reached for it.

“Don’t stop now”, he said. “I’ll explain your situation: That’s it, by the way. Your design. I made it possible, all without your help. It’s a prototype, as it only has one feature. It’s connected to the keyboard that you’re using now. More importantly, its needle is connected to your bloodstream. Fiddle with it, or stop typing for more than ten seconds, then it will send a small dose of lethal poison into your system. Your heart, along with everything else, will die in less than a minute. All you have to do to prevent that, is just keep typing. Keep typing to your heart’s desire….”

“You’re fucking crazy!”, I screamed, smashing the keyboard with a fist.

“Don’t type too aggressive, now. That keyboard breaks, then so do you. Before you get any clever exploits in mind, I’ve wired the keyboard to the watch in specific ways. Tricks such as weighing down the keys or holding down one letter won’t work. Don’t bother with trying to get up, either. I’ve removed all the phones from this room, and there’s no inhabited room nearby in the building. Help is unreachable, unless you run out of this room. If you wish to attempt a suicidal escape, by all means, go ahead.”

“You won’t get away with this, you sick fuck. Someone will come for me eventually, and I’ll tell them everything.”

“Perhaps they will, but will you go on that long? I guess that’s up for you to find out. Now please, continue to write. I won’t distract you any longer. Enjoy your session, David.”

And with that, the bastard walked out. If I had to guess, he’s still been uncaught

That was about six hours ago, if I’ve been keeping track of time right. He’s right when he said there’s no way out of this. I’ve been here continuously writing and deleting the same shit, trying to think of a plan. He’s left every crack sealed, as far as escape goes. Despite his warning, I actually did try screaming for help earlier, and no one’s shown since then.

After hours of useless plans, I knew the best (and only) course of action would be to write my own, final chronicle. I’ve explained a story, and the trap, so I suppose the only part left is the warning. God DAmmit! My wrist is fucking killing me at this point, and the pain’s moved up towards my shoulder. It’s painful to lift my right fingers, let alone my arm. Smith’s rushed most of his prototypes, and this oen was no exception. Even if I keep going, I’m sure I’ll die from blood loss soon.

Over the course of typing this, I’ve found the best loophole available:

The computer’s locked on this text program, but I can still send out the document directly from it. I’m going to think of every address I can remember, even one’s of those I don’t know personally.

My name is David Mallory. Smith Alexander is most likely still out there, wherever he may be. He probably skipped this town right after trapping me here. He’s dangerous, to say the least. He uses random people as test material in his terrible, rush “ideas”.. He’s created devices to kill, like the one clasped to my wrist right now. I don’t know what his end goal is, but he’s had no problem murdering so far.

End goal…that needds to be said. He must be stoppped.

Despite Smith’s impatience, arrogance, and outright insanity, he has a plan. Over the course of working with him, he’s made hints to something bigger, morE significant than his regular, brutal enhancements. He talked about how he planned to “bless society” with a grand technology, a modification that would be to all, for all.

He even talked about how he would sneak it into circulation.

Whether it’s a virus, nano-sized tech, a fucked up drug, I don’t know. But whatever twisted vision it is, Smith’s capable of it. He’s been capable of all the violence he’s committed so far, and he’s a danger to aNyone at this point. If he’s got away with his crimes so far, what’s to stop him now?

That’s it,, for me. I’ve gotten out all I can in this little time. Fuck you, Smith. Goddammit, fuckk you…

6he pain’s moving towards my chest now, my heaart. I guess this watch didn’tt work as well as SMith thought. By the time I put in the addresses and send this out, I’ll be close to keeling over. I’ll let the poison take me, then. SHouljd be less painful, I hoep.

Forget about mE, my lifee. Remember Smith, though. Remember his atrocities that I’ve detailed, that he’s still out there…

…and he’s still working.

Credit To – Emeryy (Richard S.)

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The Sleeping Town of Saluzar

August 17, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The town of Saluzar, Arizona existed in its own world, and its citizens liked it that way. The town was accessible only by way of a little dirt path, and if anyone had ever stumbled upon it by accident, they probably would have turned back, unaware that anything lurked behind the row of elm trees. And had anyone somehow come across the town, they probably would have felt uneasy, as if they were disrupting some sort of enchanted burial ground. They would have felt unwelcome. This isn’t to say that the people of Saluzar, Arizona weren’t friendly. It’s just that everyone in the small town knew each other, and their ancestors knew everyone else’s ancestors too. And in a town like that, where you know everything, when someone or something comes along that people know nothing about, it can be unsettling. But the people of Saluzar were as nice as you’d find any other place— they were just shy to the idea of any change visiting their humble town

The town, it was readily accepted, started at the giant church building, which doubled as a town hall, and which was the very first building built in Saluzar. And, fittingly, the town’s boundaries ended at the cemetery in the fields beyond the schoolhouse. Every person who’d ever lived in Saluzar was buried in the cemetery, as there was no other area in which to bury them. And while cremations sometimes occurred, it was uncommon. Even after death, the citizens of Saluzar wanted to be a part of their town. Why, they wondered, would anyone want to end up in an urn? The burials were always conducted by the Thade family, who ran the Saluzar funeral home. The current chief undertaker, Evan Thade, had learned all the secrets of embalming that had been passed down from father to son for generations. Evan Thade looked like an undertaker. He had a brow that was permanently furrowed, and his spine was perpetually in the shape of a question mark, the result of years of hunching. His hair was brown, but anyone would have sworn it was black; not because the hair was dark, but simply because it felt like it should be black. His eyes, likewise, were overshadowed by the blackness of his pupils, although if one were to look closely, they would have noticed that his eyes were actually a piercing, vibrant green. It was among Evan’s duties as town undertaker to conduct the autopsies on the dead, since the town did not possess a licensed mortician, but Evan had never been trained in that practice. Embarrassed, Evan had never told anyone, and so the cause of death was always listed as “natural causes.” But, whatever skill he may have lacked in performing autopsies, Evan made up for in terms of embalming. Evan Thade was a true master of preservation. The Thade’s were artists, and their canvas was the dead.

Between the church and the cemetery, were a variety of small homes, and enough shops to keep people occupied. Mildred Snipes, now 82 years old, had a clothing business which she ran out of her little cottage– the same house she’d grown up in as a little girl. Mildred, despite, several strokes, and a healthy dose of arthritis, had managed to maintain her good looks. She aged as one with wisdom might, not as one who had given up. A gifted seamstress, Mildred had spent since the age of 16 sewing clothes for the various townspeople. Be it socks, hats, shirts, dresses– whatever someone needed, they went to Mildred and she’d make it for them. Her favorite garment to make was suits. Something about the fitting of suits exhilarated Mildred. She felt alive when making them. The smooth lines of the pinstripe as they run down the jacket or the pant leg, the crisp formation of the collar. Her father had been a button maker, and so each suit had a different custom set of buttons. Some were metal, some were wood, some bone. As she had studied violin as a young girl, she was the only member of the town who could read music, and therefore had been chosen as the town organist each Sunday. When not playing, she’d stare out at all the men sitting in the pews, admiring her handiwork on each of their Sunday suits.

The church was the closest thing to a town hall. Despite Saluzar’s intimate setting, those Sunday church sessions were the only times the whole town would gather together. Although most members of the town were religious, even those who did not consider themselves so would go weekly, in an attempt to fulfill their social obligations to the town. For two years now, Father Todd Luger had been the town’s only priest. And while serving an entire town of parishioners alone seems a daunting task, Father Luger hadn’t given a sermon for the past ten months. He accomplished this through a program where he’d invite the members of the town to be what he called “guest priests.” It was an attempt to make church a more interactive and enriching experience, he said. Some of the older generation, such as old Mildred at the organ, though, felt that Father Luger was simply shirking off his priestly duties, and longed for the days of Luger’s predecessor, who had staunchly followed all of the parochial rules to the very letter. But, the “guest priest” sermons did at least serve to enhance that social feeling that church seemed to provide the people of Saluzar.

“These days, you can be ordained in an instant. On these computers. Why can’t ordinary folks be allowed to give sermons as well?” thought Father Luger one Sunday morning, as he slept through Egan Ammon’s impassioned speech concerning the Gospel of John.

The only person in Saluzar who was never in attendance at Sunday services was Martin Glinser. From the time Martin had shown up for the first day of kindergarten wearing aviator goggles, he had been pegged as the weird kid. Perhaps because of that label, Martin’s readily apparent genius was ignored. By the age of seven, he’d constructed blueprints to create a flying bicycle. At ten, he’d developed a unique and, to his knowledge, undiscovered fungus culture. And by the time he was twelve, he’d created an effective and non-toxic deer repellant for folks to spray on their gardens. But even if someone had recognized the brilliance that Martin Glinser possessed, it would have been greeted with the same response.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

As such, the days where Martin should have been at MIT were spent huddled in a small broom closet which he referred to as his lab. His hair had gone grey early in his twenties, a trait he inherited from his father, and he felt so cheated by this fact, that he’d allowed his hair to go into complete disrepair. Never combed, it had gone past the point of being unruly, and was now permanently matted to the spot. The aviator goggles he wore in his youth had now been replaced by thick glasses. They were much thicker than he actually needed, but he liked the feel of the extra weight the lenses provided, and so he’d worn the overlarge glasses for some time until he got used to it. He had denounced God completely, and so found church unnecessary. So, despite the distinct impression he inevitably left on those he met, there was no one in the town who he ever considered a friend. The one person Martin had gotten to know well of late was Evan Thade, the reclusive undertaker. Martin had recently seemed to have developed a profound curiosity for Evan’s line of work, and the ordinarily shy undertaker had been more than happy to talk about the subject he was so familiar with, and which no one else seemed eager to talk about. And while they could never prove anything, some of the older schoolchildren had even mockingly commented on the relationship between the two bachelors, upon seeing them walking in the cemetery during school hours. When they shared this with their parents, the response was generally quietly encouraging.

“Good for them. Everyone deserves to have someone in their lives,” people would say. It was indicative of the overall mentality of Saluzar. The town liked to think of itself as open-minded, and filled with open-minded and good people.

Aside from menial errands and his daily walks and conversations with Evan, the only other times Martin emerged were when he came to present one of his inventions to the town council. The council was made up of the most prominent citizens of Saluzar, Arizona, and were in charge of allocating the small budget the town had. Despite having meetings in the church every Tuesday from 3:00-4:15, no one ever attended. The only time the council had anything to actually do at the meetings was when Martin had an invention, hoping to get funding to mass produce it. And while Martin’s inventions ranged from good to not so good, the town’s response was always the same.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

But, whether through obliviousness or blind optimism, Martin was feeling assured on this day as he approached the altar to begin the presentation on his latest invention. It was a good one, he was sure of it. With any invention, Martin brought it to the council with the confidence of a child whose watercolor is hung on the refrigerator, sure that one day they’ll be a great painter and that the work will sell for hundreds of dollars. This time, however, was different. The product simply called out, ringing like a siren in Martin’s ears, and there was no way it could be ignored. Surely the town council would hear the importance of this one, surely they too would hear that ringing.

“Hello, everyone. I’ve um…I’m glad you could all make it.” Martin paused to carefully wipe the sweat from his knuckles. His palms, amazingly, were dry, but his knuckles were the ones glistening under the bright lights. “It should only take a minute.”

“Yes, well, weekly meeting. Meetings are open for all to come. Share ideas,” said Saul Moon, mayor of Saluzar. Mayor Moon had always been a fair man. He felt strongly that the town should be able to weigh in on all of the town’s decisions, even if they weren’t part of the esteemed council. It was level thinking like this which made him so popular amongst his constituents, and which had allowed him to run unopposed for the past thirty odd years.

“No one comes anyway,” laughed Egan Ammon, hitting Moon in the side. Ammon, a retired traveling string salesman, was the most recent member of the council. When not in the surrounding towns, pitching various strands of twine to housewives, he had claimed his own bench outside the barber shop, where he would wax poetic about the world. His job meant that he’d seen the whole state, and so was among the more cultured members of the town. Each day, Egan would sit on his bench and talk. Even if no one was there to listen, his voice kept himself company, reciting and inventing proverbs and mantras by which he’d live out his coming week. And if anyone felt that he was an unbearable bore, those opinions were never shared.

“Well, Martin’s here, right? That’s someone,” replied the mayor.

“Yes, and when Martin’s here, it’s the only time we have anything to talk about!”

“So, we should give him a chance, shouldn’t we, Egan?” said Mildred Snipes, nodding to Martin with grandmotherly eyes. “What do you have for us today, Martin?”

“Well, I think this is a big one. I think that this could, well, change the way that we live.”

“Hrrumph,” snorted R.C. Goose, a local businessman and the richest man in all of Saluzar.

“What was that?” asked the startled inventor.

“I said Hrrumph!”

“Hrrumph?”

“Yes. Hrrumph. I mean, really Martin, this whole ‘changing the way we live’ thing. You say this each time.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“It’s a charade!” growled Goose. “Every new invention, you claim it’ll be the biggest thing since non-iron shirts. It never is. What was that last one- a solar powered lamp.”

“Well, yes, I…that was energy efficient.”

“But, if you need sunlight to power it, then why would you need the lamp?” asked Goose. The portly man checked the time (he had a pocket watch, of course) and, once again, let out a resounding “Hrrumph!”

“I know you’re a busy man, R.C., but I can’t see the harm in letting him speak,” said Father Luger. Luger and Goose had never really seen eye to eye. Luger was constantly looking for more money to be allotted for the church. Goose felt that, since he owned the only lucrative business in the town, and brought in most of the town’s revenue, it should be his business which received a bigger share. And yet, both found common ground in that neither felt that Martin Glinser or any of his inventions should get anything.

“Thank you, Father.” Martin wiped his knuckles on his pant leg. “Um, well…I was thinking that for every disease, there is a cure. For every ailment. You have a headache, we can cure that. You have the flu, we can cure that. I mean, you have a broken bone, we can even fix that. Anything that our bodies do to us, we can, well, we can fix it.”

“So, is this some sort of medicine?” asked Mildred. R.C. Goose yawned.

“Not, well, not exactly. See, we can’t actually fix everything. There’s one thing we can’t ever fix, we can’t ever reverse. Once it happens, there’s no way of treating it.” A small bead of perspiration fell from his right knuckle, hit the stone floor and melted under the hot, orange light coming in from the stained glass window. “The one thing we cannot ever treat, we cannot ever fix…this one thing that our body does to us, is, well…we cannot fix death.” The council’s eyes were blank. “But, now, well, I’ve fixed death. I’ve cured death. This potion, it can bring the dead back to life.”

Everyone instinctively stared at Cameron Ward, the final member of the town council, who sat at the end of the pew. Ward had been a soldier in the Vietnam War, where he lost three of his toes at the age of seventeen. Once back in Saluzar, he’d cared for his mother, Cecilia Ward. Mrs. Ward had raised Cameron alone, as her husband Oliver had died when Cameron was two. Upon Cameron being drafted, Cecilia had descended into insanity, fearing she’d lose her son as she’d lost her husband. The past forty years, Cameron had kept her inside as much as he could, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. Every Sunday, he and his mother would carefully go into the church, sit in the back row, and leave. Cameron was the perfectly dedicated son. And Martin’s news was especially welcoming to Cameron. Cecilia Ward had died only a month ago, making her Saluzar’s most recent casualty, and still fresh on everyone’s mind. Cameron felt the gazes of his council members, and chose to be silent. After a while, Mayor Moon felt the need to respond.

“You can fix death?”

“Revive the dead, yes.” Martin stared at them. “I mean, I really…I think, and I don’t believe I’m mistaken, but I think it will change the way we live.” The silence echoed through the church, bouncing off the organ pipes, the stained glass windows, the high ceilings. Finally, it was Egan Ammon who spoke.

“Any dead person?”

“Any recently dead person,” corrected Martin. “As long as they were properly embalmed and are still preserved, this potion will bring them back.” There was silence. “And Evan Thade ensures me that all of the dead have been properly embalmed,” he added. It was Egan Ammon who spoke first.

“You mean, with this potion, I would be able to bring Chloe back?” Chloe Ammon had died the previous year, just one week after her and Egan’s fifteenth anniversary.

“Well, this is preposterous!” exclaimed R.C. Goose. “You don’t really expect us to believe that you can revive the dead. That you’ve CURED death?”

“But, I have. It’s this potion right here,” said Martin, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a little glass vial, filled with a viscous vermillion liquid.

“That, why that looks exactly like cherry cough syrup!” cried Goose.

“I know it doesn’t look like much, but it truly is a miracle potion,” insisted Martin.

“It’s black magic. Witchcraft!” hissed Father Luger. “I’ll have no part in it!”

“If it even works at all,” scoffed R.C. Goose.

“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” reasoned the mayor. “If what Martin tells us is true, this would certainly be a remarkable invention, one that we shouldn’t just discount.

“The devil’s work,” crowed Father Luger.

“But, perhaps, perhaps we should see if it works. Just see. We don’t have to use it, but just see if it works,” said Mildred. Cameron Ward cleared his throat, and then nodded in agreement.

“I’m with Mildred,” said Egan Ammon. “We don’t have to use it, just see. What do you say, mister mayor?” The five other town council members immediately turned to stare at Mayor Moon. He looked at Martin.

“You, uh, you say this works? This potion as you call it, it revives the dead?”

“It does.”

“Do, you mind if we, well, if we experiment before we attempt this?” asked the Mayor. Martin shook his head.

“I promise, you won’t be disappointed.” said Martin. “I believe, if you want proof, I know where we can go.”

***

“Yes, do come in. All of you, all of you. My, there are a lot of you, aren’t there? Watch for that!” Evan Thade jumped to stop the fall of a glass jar. The jar, containing a hand suspended in green liquid, had been disrupted when the rotund frame of Egan Ammon bumped into a cupboard.

“Formaldehyde,” continued Thade “you can never get it out.” Ammon mumbled something in apology. “Besides,” lamented Thade “this hand has sentimental value to me.”

“Please forgive us for barging in like this, Evan. We know you’re probably busy. This should only take a minute” said Mayor Moon, eyeing an unenbalmed corpse lying on the table. It was not anyone from the town. “Might I ask who…”

“It’s for practice,” interrupted Thade, hurriedly covering the corpse with a sheet. Thade’s lab was situated in a dimly lit stone cellar. The space had been used by the Thades to brew their own ale during prohibition. From that time, two large copper vats remained, pushed into the corner. For several years, the Thade family had tried to remove the now useless vats, but they were too large to get out of any of the doors or windows in the space. Which raised the question of how the vats were first brought to the basement in the first place. Thade had built two crude wooden cabinets. In one he kept his various chemicals, sorted by color and purpose. All the preservatives on one shelf, the sanitizers on another. In the second, he kept his utensils. Various syringes, pumps, and a treasured Mary Kay makeup kit, used to dress up the bodies for open casket funerals. Lining the cabinet tops were various morbid objects: books on death, assorted dark wooden boxes, mummy figurines, and the stuffed body of a raccoon. With the town council distracted by these objects, only Cameron Ward noticed what appeared to be a pile of small mouse bones piled up in the far corner of the room.

“Yes, thank you, Evan, for letting me, um, use your space.” Martin Glinser shook Evan Thade’s hand. “Could you please get me the specimen.” Evan Thade went atop one of his cabinets, and removed a small mahogany-paneled box. Evan put the box on the table. The six council members peered to view the box, as if by arching their necks, they would see what was inside. The box, however, was closed, and all they could see was the lid. On the lid, written in Evan’s scraggled handwriting, was the name “Edgar.”

“Open the box, Mr. Thade” said Martin, smiling with the feeling of someone who had practiced the line countless times in front of the mirror. Evan Thade did so. The box was lined with a rippling dark blue velvet. On the inside lay the lifeless body of a rat. The sleek fur was impossibly white, as if it had been completely untouched by anything. As if fingerprints would leave a blemish. It’s eyes were closed, peacefully, but the red cornea was peeking through an almost imperceptible slit– a tiny, morbid sliver of ruby.

“Mr. Thade, is this rat dead?”

“Yes, Martin. He’s most dead.” At this point, the ceremony had to pause. Egan Ammon insisted on testing the rat’s heartbeat for himself, and he ultimately concurred with Evan Thade’s assessment.

“All good. That’s one dead mouse,” announced Ammon, after his examination.

“His name is Edgar,” muttered the undertaker.

“Yes, so, as we have determined, the rat is dead,” chirped Martin. “But, as you can see…” he picked up the vial, and inserted into it an eye dropper. With Evan’s assistance, they opened up the dead rodent’s mouth, and carefully applied three drops of the potion.

“Now that we’ve applied the medicine, you wait just one second…” said Martin. The rat was still. Then, after a moment, the nose twitched slightly. Then its right hind leg. In almost no time, the rat had turned over and scampered over to Evan, as he always used to do before his passing. Evan reached into his pocket and gave the rat a piece of cheese. Edgar, happily and harmlessly, nibbled on the square of cheddar. Evan stroked its head with his pinky finger.

The council was silent, the exception being Egan Ammon who gasped.

“Chloe…Chloe can come back,” Egan gaped.

“It’s a miracle,” whispered Mildred Snipes. Cameron Ward was speechless. R.C. Goose looked at Father Todd Luger.

“I don’t believe it,” said Goose. “I just don’t believe it. Is it witchcraft, father?”

“Well, I…hmmm…” Father Todd Luger knew deep down that such a thing went against God’s plan. You live, you die, and then you were supposed to go into the afterlife. To bring people back would go against everything God had planned. And yet, there was no denying this curiosity. A potion to bring back the dead was, no doubt, remarkable. And Father Todd Luger felt that perhaps it would be best if the church remained silent on this specific issue. “It is intriguing,” he finally concluded.

“And you believe this same potion can be used on people?” asked the mayor.

“Absolutely. It’s the same process. A life is a life. If it works for a rat, why not a human?” replied Martin, who looked at his shoes.

“Well, could we, say, test this out?” The mayor eyed the corpse under the sheet.

“You don’t want to bring this one back,” warned Thade with a grim chuckle. “He killed four people a few counties over. Death penalty. I’m…well, I use him for practice.”

“I see,” said the mayor, quickly looking away from the sheet. “No, we wouldn’t want to bring him back.”

“Perhaps,” chimed Martin, “well, perhaps…perhaps if we were to bring just a few people back. A few that we would want to bring back. If it works on them, on this, well, this test sample, then we can always do more.”

“But, who are these few people? Who would they be?” asked the mayor.

“Well, we have all of you. All of you here. The town council.” said Thade. Martin Glinser agreed.

“Each of you could bring someone back. And, Mayor Moon, you could decide if it’s a success.” Martin glanced at the townspeople. The mayor considered this.

“Yes, yes, we could. Egan, you would bring back Chloe I’m guessing.

“And Cameron’ll bring back his crazy old mother,” exclaimed Ammon. Cameron Ward said nothing.

“I could bring back Father Shanley,” piped in Luger, referring to his predecessor at the church. R.C. Goose stared at the priest in amazement.

“You’re on board with this?”

“Well, it is intriguing, R.C. And, when one thinks of it, is it really so terrible? If God has given Martin this potion, then perhaps he intends for us to use it. And, besides, wouldn’t you like to see Mark again? You were such a good team.”

R.C. Goose considered it. For years, he and Mark Leyman had been partners. Goose & Leyman was the most lucrative business to have come out of Saluzar in its entire history. The town’s only export, coal, had been outdated for some time, being replaced by fancier forms of fuel. Yet Goose & Leyman had a near monopoly on all of the coal in the state, so while business was slow, the pair did well enough to make by. Goose dealt with the personnel part of it. Making sure they had willing customers, figuring out what was the lowest they could charge and still make a profit (then he’d double that number.) Leyman dealt with the books. The two would split the profit 50/50, until Mark’s untimely death last July. The business partners had been inseparable, each owing their success to the other. The sign on the door still read “Goose & Leyman,” and not a church service went by where R.C. Goose did not at some point think of Mark.

“But, I have nobody. Who could I bring back?” asked Mildred. Mildred Snipes had never been married, although there had been offers. For one reason or another, none of the offers had ever come to fruition. Mildred, instead of a husband, kept cats. Many cats. She used to always take in the strays, care for them. Whenever anyone had a sick animal, they took it to Mildred. She was the closest the town came to having a veterinarian. Mayor Moon pointed out that if the potion could bring back a rat or, as Martin claimed, a human, why not a cat? And so it was decided that Mildred would bring back her most recently deceased pet, a tabby named William.

“Tomorrow, then. We will meet in the cemetery and bring back our friends and family,” said the mayor.

“Even my Chloe?” offered Egan.

“Yes, Egan, of course. Your Chloe.”

***

Cameron Ward sat at home and stared at his vial of potion. He ran a freckled hand through his straw-blonde hair. He sighed.

“Here, take this, watch after it, it’s yours, and be sure to bring it with you tomorrow,” Martin had said down in the Thade cellar. Cameron removed his left sock and applied some topical ointment to the stumps where his three toes used to be. Blown off by a shotgun. The wound had mostly healed after all these years, but Cameron didn’t care. He was still fearful of contracting gangrene on the foot, and besides, the ointment felt nice. It soothed any pain, massaged all of the tension out. The vial was on the table.

“Oh, ma,” he said to the empty room.

According to Martin, each body that came back had full memory of its past life. In fact, memories would be more vivid. It would be as if the body came back reborn, refreshed, a brand new mind full of the same old memories. Cameron’s heart had seized. His mother, if the potion worked, might no longer be insane.

Cameron went to the refrigerator and took out a beer. He always kept beer in the house in case there was company, as he himself rarely drank. He had always felt that if he were to drink, he’d become an alcoholic like his father, Oliver. All Cameron had ever known about his father was his name (he could never forget it, his father’s first name was his own middle one) and that his dad had drunk himself to death, as his mother put it. When Cameron was a boy, his mother had instilled in him that even a drop of alcohol would eventually lead to an untimely death. But, as he grew up, he learned this to not be true, that alcohol in moderation would not kill you, but he still felt an obligation to his mother not to drink.

“Such a dutiful son,” everyone always said about Cameron Ward. And, it was true, Cameron Ward had cared for his mother well after the breakdown. And while he gladly would have continued, the vial which held the magical potion to bring her back seemed to be taunting him. What if his mother came back and was not insane? And what if she remembered what had caused her mental breakdown? And what if she told people? Cameron felt his neck go clammy. He couldn’t let this happen.

Perhaps it was growing up with no father figure, as his mother had often reasoned, but Cameron had never been strong. And when he received the notice that his lottery number had come up in the draft, Cameron didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go to war. The draft was an all-consuming entity, swarming through Cameron’s life in his peaceful childhood town. But more importantly, there was his mother. With his father having died, he was the only man in his mother’s life. Were he to die in the war, she’d have no one at all. It was with this reasoning that he had gone out back, picked up his dad’s old shotgun, said a prayer, and blew off three of his own toes.

When his mother heard the gunshot, she ran out into the yard, weeping. She screamed and hugged her son. Cameron did not cry.

“It’s okay, mom. It’s going to be okay. They can’t make me go to war now.”

Cecilia Ward looked down. She saw the smoke still trailing out of the wound, saw the shotgun in her son’s hand, and Cameron’s ever stoic expression.

“I see,” she finally said.

Cameron expected relief, perhaps even praise. After all, by sacrificing three toes, toes he didn’t even use anyway, he had insured his own perfect safety. He would not abandon his mother as his father had done. But, he could not have anticipated the look of shame and anguish in her eyes. A fly flew towards her and she twitched to avoid it. And in that twitch, Cameron could see something within his mother snap.

“No son of mine’s a coward!” she calmly seethed, and then walked into the house.

Cecilia locked herself in her room, refusing all of the food and water Cameron attempted to bring her. Despite his best efforts, Cameron couldn’t save his mother. He watched her wither away. Her mind, deprived of nourishment, shut down. Cameron found her one night, violently writhing on the bed, near to death. He phoned the doctor, then fled, vowing not to return until the war had ended.

When he finally did return to Saluzar, he was surprised to find that he was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Cecilia Ward told everyone her son had been dutifully serving in Vietnam. The doctors claimed she’d been so worried about him that she’d stopped eating causing her to lose her mind. And so, she’d told everyone that her son was in the war, bravely fighting for the cause. She had forgotten the incident, and it was Cameron’s belief that the story she had concocted was her mind protecting itself, her one solace once her mind had shut down. From what the doctors said, it would be best not to upset her, and so Cameron shyly went along, always shrugging off the praise, agreeing to his mother’s story. In that way, he felt he could perhaps meet her expectations.

And yet, Cameron Ward still felt guilty. Guilty enough to care for her for nearly forty years. When she’d died, he’d thought he could breathe easy, his secret would never be out. But, if she were to come back…what if she were to tell everyone? If she were to reveal Cameron’s secret shame? This town, the people that Cameron had come to know, would they shun him as his own mother had? If the whole town rose up against him, Cameron even feared for his life. The vial taunted him. The red liquid looked just like the color of the lipstick Cecilia used to wear every Sunday when they went to church.

Cameron took a sip of beer. In less than a minute, he’d finished the whole can.

***

R.C. Goose, meanwhile, sat in the office of Goose & Leyman. Business was done for the day, and had been for a while, but the stout businessman felt like it was where he needed to be at the moment. It had only been a year ago that R.C. Goose last sat in the same office with Mark Leyman. The men had been business partners for fifteen years at that point. It was evening, the curtains were drawn, and the only phone in the building was situated on the table in front of them. Leyman yawned and glanced at his partner.

“You’re welcome to go home, you know,” he told Goose, smiling wearily.

“Not at all. You probably get lonely sitting here all alone each night.”

“True. But I’m used to it at this point. You never stay this late.”

“I thought that my company would be a welcome change,” Goose taunted, using his index finger to pick some stray chicken breast from between his bottom teeth.

“Not at all! You know I enjoy your company.” Leyman nibbled on his fingernail. Goose stared at him for awhile, then let out a guffaw.

“I know, I’m just teasing you, Mark. Are they normally this late?”

“No, no. I don’t know what’s happened. The shipment normally gets in an hour ago.”

The pair certainly made a strange picture. Compared to Goose’s plump figure, Leyman’s figure was incredibly gawky and angular. His gaunt face was accentuated by a pair of copper wire glasses which framed his eyes to look irate at any moment, and which harshly left red footsteps on the trunk of his nose. The Arizona humidity chapped his slender lips, and so his mouth was constantly covered in bits of dead skin. It was Leyman’s unofficial job to sit and wait for their customers to call and say the shipments had arrived. It required very little attention, simply the ability to pick up a phone. The train would get in, the distributor would pick up the coal, and call the office. Leyman would warmly thank them for their business, and go home for the night. Most shipments got in at around six. This one was nearly an hour late.

“It’s bad weather I suspect,” croaked Leyman.

“What was that?”

“Sometimes, if there’s bad weather, then the shipment is delayed slightly.”

“Hm. Is there bad weather often?” asked Goose.

“Sometimes. Sometimes the tracks get icy, the train can’t get there in time.”

“Does that affect it? Ice on the tracks. It can make the train go slower?”

“Yeah, it happens sometimes.”

“Mmh. Maybe that’s what happened, then.”

“Yes, maybe.” Leyman seemed to be willing the phone to ring with his mind. His partner got up, strode to the pantry and got two pieces of shortbread. He wolfed one down, and gave the other to Leyman, who tried to wave it away. Goose put it on the table anyway.

“Eat it. You like shortbread.”

“No thank you. Really, I’m fine.” The truth was that Leyman was hungry. And he did like shortbread. He just didn’t like eating in front of people. And he was very conscious of Goose’s eyes. Leyman shook slightly. He picked up the shortbread and began to eat it.

“You know, Mark, I don’t know if it’s ice on the tracks,” said Goose, after Leyman had finished.

“Why not?”

“Well, it just seems odd for there to be ice on the tracks in the middle of July is all. And this being Arizona, where we don’t even get ice in winter usually. It doesn’t seem like there’d be too much ice present, on train tracks of otherwise. Seems to me.”

“But, the shipment was heading to Pennsylvania. And they do get ice on the track there sometimes.”

“It’s possible, Mark, but, it’s still July. I don’t think Pennsylvania gets ice on the track in July.”

“I guess not, R.C.”

“No. And, since the shipment’s so late, and it couldn’t have been delayed because of ice on the track, it seems to me more likely that the order was never going to arrive. As if someone may have cancelled the order.” Leyman was quiet for a moment, refusing to meet Goose’s glare.

“What? R.C., you…you cancelled the order? R.C. you should’ve…”

“No, no, I don’t think you understand me. I didn’t cancel the order, Mark. But it seems to me that one partner would make more of a profit than two. That if someone cancelled the order and then shipped it off independently, they would keep all the profit. Not have to split it. You see what I mean?”

“Not really, R.C.”

“Did you cancel the order, Mark?” Mark Leyman wiped some crumbs from the side of his mouth.

“R.C., I don’t know what you’re talking about. Really, I don’t. It’s just delayed for some reason, there’s…”

“Because it seems odd to me that they’ve not called yet, unless they’re calling a different number. Like your home number. Like you told them to.” Goose had gotten up and walked to the fireplace.

“R.C., where is this coming from? You know I’d never…”

“I don’t like it when people double cross me. The profits have been a bit light this month.”

“Times are hard, R.C.”

“Which is the reason someone might try to do something like this.” He grabbed a fire poker and walked towards Leyman.

“No, R.C., I can explain. They’ll call! I know they’ll call!” Leyman put his hands out to stop his advancing partner. “I’ve never cancelled any order. Granted, it had occurred to me, but I’d never…never for more than a second did I think about it. Never more than just one second.”

“But, I can’t believe that, Mark.”

“No, please, I didn’t…please let me explain!” The blunt end of the poker collided with Leyman’s temple. He dropped impossibly fast, slumped over the coffee table, shortbread crumbs just barely visible on his unshaven face. Right in the spot, his head began to swell.

Goose returned the poker to the fireplace, dragged his partner up the staircase, not an easy task to do given that neither of the businessmen were in the best of shape. Once at the top, Goose let his partner fall. And that would be how R.C. Goose would tell everyone he found the lifeless body of Mark Leyman the next day when he came in for work.

But, that night, as he was about to leave the building, the phone began to ring. He picked it up, listened to the voice on the other line, and then thanked them confirming that the coal order had come in. The man on the other end apologized for the delay. Goose put the phone down, uttered an apology of his own to the man at the bottom of the stairs, went home, and made a cup of tea.

Now, Goose sipped his cup of tea in that office, the vial in his pocket. He grasped it, angrily. Tomorrow, he was supposed to bring Mark back. His grasp tightened, willing the glass to disintegrate at his touch. It did not.

***

The next morning, Father Luger walked to the cemetery, glass vial in hand. He hadn’t slept, thinking about the potion had kept him up.

The potion left him more than a little confused. He had no idea how he was meant to respond to the whole thing. The whole thing was so biblical. The walking dead, who wouldn’t think of Jesus Christ? And how he would respond worried him. He knew himself to not be a smart man. He liked his routines, his unchanging habits of daily life.

He had never been the most steadfast priest. In truth, he had his doubts about the whole Catholicism thing. As a boy, being a priest had felt natural to him. He loved the church building itself. The way the light was refracted by the stained glass windows, how the organ echoed in your eardrums. But, as Todd Luger had become more vested in his occupation, he found more and more inconsistencies. When he’d mentioned this to Father Shanley, he’d been told that all priests experienced doubts, but that one day, they’d pass. Todd Luger was still waiting for them to.

And now Martin Glinser’s potion concerned him. Sure, he’d been intrigued at first, who wouldn’t have been? But what if these corpses came back and said that there was nothing? Nothing in the afterlife. That would cement his doubts. It would be proof that his whole life, not to mention his livelihood, was a sham. This would be bad enough. But, even more worrying than that was the possibility that the dead would come back and say that God did exist. And that there was a heaven. Or a hell.

It was the hell part that worried the priest. If this potion proved that hell existed, he knew he would end up there. Certain things, he felt, cannot be atoned, and stealing periodically from the church’s collection plate was one of those things. At first, it had been just a couple of dollars here and there, and only when he needed the money to get by. But as Father Luger’s frustration with his religion grew, he began stealing larger and larger sums. It became a compulsion, and while he never kept track of the full amount taken, taking money from an entire town of people, every week, for two years…he couldn’t bring himself to imagine how much he had amassed. The only way he could live with himself was in trusting his doubts. Trusting that he’d not end up in damnation for his crimes. But, if those dead bodies came back and confirmed everything he’d once believed, then what would he do? It was weighing him down.

“Morning, Father,” called the jovial voice of Egan Ammon “I’m guessing you’re going to the same place I am.”

“Yes, Egan. I would imagine we are.” Father Luger let the rose-cheeked man catch up. Ammon was slightly out of breath.

“I’m glad I caught you, Father. I was wanting to say…this potion, it would be something, wouldn’t it?” The priest grunted in agreement. “Yes, well, last night, as wonderful as it would be to see my Chloe again, and it would of course be wonderful, I kept thinking that maybe the dead should be dead after all. Would it be so much harm to let Chloe rest?” Ammon looked at Father Luger hopefully. The priest stopped walking and stared at the retired string salesman.

“You won’t give her the potion?”

“No. I mean, if this works, I suppose that someone would get the potion to her eventually, and I don’t want to hurt Martin’s feelings. That poor kid hasn’t a friend in the world, and he worked hard on his potion and, well, I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t grateful for the favor.” Ammon reached into his pocket and took out his vial. “So, last night, I switched my potion out for some cough syrup in the medicine cabinet. The color, it’s almost identical.” Ammon smiled broadly. He’d had the idea the night before, and had immediately poured his actual potion on some dead plants he’d not gotten around to throwing away (the plants looked lovely now). It had not been a difficult decision to make. Although maintaining good public appearances, the Ammon’s had had a tumultuous and abusive relationship. Egan Ammon felt constantly berated. Chloe had called him a “boorish git,” “bland as toast pig,” and much worse. Chloe’s death had been the greatest thing to have ever happened to the retired string salesman.

Father Luger held Egan’s vial. The color and texture inside were the same as his own. This is because that night, when Father Luger couldn’t get to sleep, he too had gone to his medicine chest and replaced the potion with cherry cough syrup. As had Cameron Ward, and R.C. Goose. And as too had Mildred Snipes, who realized that bringing back one of her cats might show what Evan Thade had missed in his poorly conducted autopsy: that pieces of each of her cats’ fur and bone were missing, used to make yarn and buttons for her thriving clothing business.

“I doubt the potion would have worked anyway,” Todd Luger finally said as he and Egan approached the top of the hill.

***

“I don’t…I don’t understand why.” Martin Glinser heaved as his shovel scattered another pile of dirt into the ground. It had only been an hour ago when he had finally conceded that the townsfolk could all go home, that none of the dead of Saluzar would be reawakened that day. Now, Martin was helping Evan Thade put the coffins back in the ground. Taking the coffins out had been an ordeal, but Evan was adamant that all the dead be returned to their resting places before nightfall. The last thing he wanted was for someone to unwittingly fall into an open grave. Safety first; that had always been rule number one in the undertaker’s household.

“No one will mind, Martin. They’ll all forget about it in time. These are good people. Simple townsfolk.” Evan took a break from shoveling and wiped some sweat from his brow. Mayor Moon had denied Martin the funding needed to mass produce the potion, citing that no one would want a potion that could only resurrect rats. At first, Martin had been distraught, pleading, but he had calmed down now. Standing over the open grave, listening to the rustling of dirt as it collided with the coffin top was peaceful– almost therapeutic.

“Well, maybe you could sell it to science labs. Bring their rats back from the dead,” Evan offered. “Or market it as fertilizer.”

“But it works. We know it works.”

“I know, Martin.”

Martin Glinser absently brought his hand to his head and felt the sore wound. He winced, and looked at his shovel. The shovel was caked in dirt, but the specks of burgundy were still more than visible on the metal spade. Evan had mentioned that the blood never had fully come out. ‘You owe me a new shovel,’ he’d said, but Martin had not realized the full extent of the stain. It wasn’t even that the stain was massive, it was just that the color was so intoxicating, so hypnotic, that one could not help but look at it. He stared at the red flecks, amazed to be staring at his own blood. To test the potion, he’d known he’d need to revive a human being. But he didn’t want to endanger anyone’s life, in case the potion didn’t work. So, one week earlier, he’d had Evan Thade kill him, hit him on the head with shovel, then feed him the potion.

“But, why, Evan? I mean, why didn’t it work? It worked on the rat. Every time, it worked on the rat. And, I mean, it, it worked on me.”

“A good thing too.”

Martin looked at the undertaker beside him. The inventor had never had many friends, and certainly not any close ones. But the bond that he and Evan had was unlike any other. Certainly Evan felt it too. Their friendship had grown considerably since that day when Martin had first approached Evan, telling him about the potion. And when Martin had him conduct that final experiment, the first thing Martin had felt when he’d been revived and looked into Evan Thade’s face was that they had just shared the experience of Martin’s death. And a connection like that couldn’t be broken.

“Maybe they weren’t meant to come back. You, it wasn’t your time, so the potion worked on you. But, the others…maybe, Martin, there’s a reason they needed to stay dead.”

The two men were silent for a moment.

“The corpses were perfect, Evan. Really, even after so much time, they looked as if they could have gotten up and walked around.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re an artist, you know that.”

The undertaker thanked Martin and shoveled another heap of dirt into the grave.

“Everyone was so nice about it. Told me it was okay, that they didn’t mind,” Martin continued. “‘Mistakes are made, chap,’ Egan said.” Evan laughed. Martin did a spot on impression of Egan Ammon

“Like I said, these are good, simple townsfolk. You can’t find any better people.”

“Salt of the earth,” agreed Martin.

They continued filling the hole with dirt, the sun slowly setting over Saluzar, as the church bell struck eleven. And when they were done, the simple country folk rested easy, comfortable in the fact that the dead would remain buried.

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A Walk in the Dark

July 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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Anna Hamilton didn’t see herself as a suspicious person but when someone’s been following her for quite awhile she gets a queasy feeling in her stomach. Guaranteed she was out late but she was strong and from taking the new karate classes she knew she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be defeated. Anna picked up the pace, her legs and arms pumping as she turned her walk into a brisk one, looking back to see that the dark silhouette was still following her.
Anna had the strongest urge to spin around and smack the strangers face and demand them to answer why the hell they are following her at this time of night. But her mind argued with her, saying how just maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe the stranger was just going the same way as her. A few more minutes and she had came to the entrance of her cookie-cutter home. She hated it but she wanted to humor her mother and to make it seem as if she actually cared about the presence of the house so she had put flower pots randomly. This neighborhood had no history of crimes but Anna has seen th news and people seem to get crazier by the second. She turned at a ninety degree angle up her drive way and what now seemed to look like a man, slowed his step, making Anna grow even more concerned.
“Look, can I help you with something? Are you lost or did you just want to follow me for the hell of it?” Anna finally confronted the man but all the man did was look up at her with haunted eyes and moved his head forward once again. It was almost robotic, “Well, I’m going inside now,” Anna unlocked the door and with suspicions she locked it up quickly behind her, watching as the man walked into the foggy night.

The next day and Anna had almost forgotten about the whole ordeal. But looking out her bedroom window she could see the shape of a man standing right outside her property, toes barely touching the curb of her yard. Turning around, she turned on the light and to make sure she wasn’t crazy she turned back to her window, only to see the mysterious man had gone.
Walking with her purse across of her shoulder she headed to her place of work, which so happened to be the library. If someone would ask she would say she loved her job, the smell of books and the hushed laughter of the school kids. Everyone loved Anna too, she was known to be the ‘cool librarian’, as she let the kids sneak in food and drinks or let them be a little too rambunctious.
As always her fellow librarian and friend, Katy, sat on one of the desks behind the tall counter. But instead of the latest Cosmo issue, she had a newspaper in hand, “My dear Katy! Is that actually a newspaper in your hands? I never knew I would be alive the day that Katy Pryce would read it,” Anna joked and Katy stuck her tongue out in response. Anna put her bag in the crew room and went to sit next to her friend. Peeking over her shoulder, Anna’s eyes furrowed and she pointed to a picture of a man that looked very similar, “Hey, I know him!”
Katy looked interested and set the newspaper down an inch, “You do? How?”
Anna shrugged, “He’s weird, he followed me home yesterday and I think I saw him outside my lawn this morning.”
“Are you sure Anna?”
Anna looked at her friend in confusion, “Yes of course, why?”
“He was murdered two weeks ago.”

Credit To – Kiah Johnson

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West Lakeview Lane

July 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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There were no words to describe how excited I was when I was told that I could go live at my grandmother’s house while I finished the last couple years of high school. My father was strict and had mentally abused me since I was old enough to remember and now I had the opportunity to break free from his chains of oppression.

My grandmother lived right on the outskirts of the city on Lake Sinclair. Her house was a 1970s raised ranch-style house that was built on a hill facing the lake. The house contained many traditional features of a rancher including: lowered roof line, open floor plans, and a separate living area that was located on the foundation of the house. This is where I would be staying.

It was a fifteen minute drive from my house to my grandmother’s house. Even though I lived nearby, my mother didn’t let me come out here by myself too often and I never understood why. Just before I veered onto her road, I noticed a girl walking with a yellow summer dress. She appeared to have just taken a swim, seeing as she was wet from head to toe. As I passed her, I tried to get a good look at her face, perhaps recognizing her as there were a few girls in the area I was familiar with. I was unable to see any features of her face but her arms and legs seemed deteriorated, like she had a sickening flesh disease. I thought nothing more of it and continued down West Lakeview Lane.

“Daniel! I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages! It feels so good to see you.” I had not seen her this excited to see me in quite some time.

“It’s good to see you, too.”

I brought all of my belongings inside and headed downstairs to set them up in my room. The downstairs was a completely separate living area from the rest of the house. It had a refrigerator, a stove, a living room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. There were pictures of my mother when she was young adorning the walls, as well as pictures of me. They were arranged side-by-side down the corridor leading to my room and the eyes seemed to pursue me as I made my way there.

My room was quite old, containing Victorian paintings and elaborate, hand-crafted furniture. There was a vanity mirror in front of the bed against the wall that hinted that the room was designed for a girl. The dresses in the closet seemed to confirm my suspicion. The windows were lined with ethereal white curtains that seemed to radiate in the early afternoon when the sun was at its strongest. The window panes started from the ground and extended to the ceiling. The bed frame was embellished with multiple hand-carved sections and had pillars reaching to the ceiling on each side of the frame.

I looked out the window and into the backyard and marveled at how beautiful it was. I decided to walk around back there since it had been quite some time since I had seen it last. There were dogwood trees and stone steps leading down towards the dock. There was a boathouse that extended off the right side of the dock. It was in quite a dilapidated state and in need of a roof repair but it seemed to be holding its own. The dock itself extended about 30 ft out to the water and had a small boat docked off to the side.

That night I decided to hit the sack early because I wanted to get a head start to the weekend and because I was exhausted from unpacking. I awoke a few hours later to a burst of luminescent light flowing into my room and rebounding off the walls, casting dancing shadows on my face. The window was open and the curtains were waving from brief gusts of wind entering through it. Before I could close the window, I noticed a silhouette standing at the edge of the dock. I stared at it for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. I was frozen, like I had looked into the eyes of a gorgon. Finally, the silhouette fell backwards into the water. Panicking, I quickly rushed out the back patio door, down the hill, and approached the dock. I looked over the edge where the figure had fallen in and was unable to notice any ripples or indications that something large had entered. Confused and unable to ascertain what happened, I decided to retreat back to bed, confused and mildy startled.

My grandma was up early as was I, since I didn’t sleep well after the “encounter.” I decided to tell her what happened.

“Grandma, something weird happened last night. There was a figure standing on the dock. I don’t know what it was doing but it gave me the creeps. Then it fell in the water. I raced down to the dock and didn’t find anything. Not even a ripple. I feel like I am losing my mind.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t the moonlight creating an illusion? The reflection it casts off the water sometimes plays tricks,” she replied, confidently. I still wasn’t sure what I saw, but what she said seemed to make sense so I passed it off as an illusion.

I decided to go swimming that afternoon in the lake since it was a warm, sunny day and I hadn’t been swimming at my grandmother’s house in years. The water was slightly murky, yet warm and inviting. I waded around near the seawall for a few minutes, thinking about the specter I thought I saw on the dock the previous night.

I swam over to the dock and dove down, swimming along the bottom and grabbing handfuls of sand. That’s when I encountered something that nothing in the future could ever rival in sheer terror. The girl I had seen prior to arriving was standing on the lake floor, staring away from me into the murky depth. Her yellow sundress was battered and much more weathered than I could recall earlier. Her skin still maintained that diseased look and I was about to find out why. Her head slowly turned towards me to reveal pure terror incarnate. The left side of her face was ultimately non-existent, the flesh rotting off, revealing a bony a jawline. Her left eye was missing. I watched in horror as maggots slowly poured out of the socket, writhing in agony as the water claimed them. Then, just as her mouth was starting to open, I turned around and swam as swiftly as my body would allow, choking on water with every thrust. I managed to swim back to the surface and get to the seawall before my strength gave out.

I needed to tell someone. I needed to tell my grandmother what I found beneath the lake, but I couldn’t. She wouldn’t believe me. I was petrified from fear but managed to drag myself back to my room. I curled up, hyperventilating for a minute before calming down and falling asleep.

I slept for hours, waking up before sunset. I raced out of bed and found my grandma in the kitchen. I had to tell her about the body, even if she wouldn’t believe me.

“G-grandma…,” I cried out, apprehensive about telling her. “There is a body in the lake. There is a GIRL’S BODY IN THE LAKE.” I started to panic again and became inconsolable. My grandmother jumped up, looking just as startled as I was.

“Oh my God! Show me, Daniel!”

I led her down to the dock and I, reluctantly, dove underwater to the spot where I found the girl.

I found nothing. There was nothing there.

Had imagined it again? Was I losing my mind? No, I saw a body down there. But the scariest part was that she was just standing on the lake floor, nothing holding her down.

“Uhh…grandma I can’t find it. But I swear to you there was a body here. This doesn’t make any sense,” I said to her, in disbelief..

My grandmother was wearing a skeptical look. “Honey, you can’t just fabricate stuff like this. A dead body? If there was really a body here it wouldn’t have just disappeared on its own. I blame your father for this; all those years of abuse are starting to take a toll on you.”

This is madness. There is no way that body was a figment of my imagination. No way.

I spent the rest of the day watching TV in my living room and trying to forget that frightening image of the girl’s mangled carcass, looking at me from the bottom of the dismal depth. Then I had an epiphany. The silhouette I saw that night on the dock. It fell into the water right where I saw that body. It couldn’t have been a coincidence, there was no way. That girl wanted me to find her that day, I was sure of it.

Sleep didn’t come easy that night. And when it did come, it didn’t last long. I awoke again to my curtains rustling in the wind. I got up and peered out the window. The moonlight was gorgeous that night and it caused light to ricochet across the water and light up the shore. That is when I suddenly noticed yet another figure in the moonlight. It was standing in the woods off to the right of the dock and appeared to be facing me, but I couldn’t tell.

I kept my eyes on the phantom, expecting it to do something like the previous one. Slowly, it extended its hand out and pointed to the ground in front of one of the dogwood trees. I grabbed a flashlight and darted outside to discover what it was pointing at.

When I arrived in front of the tree, I noticed there was a mound of dirt that appeared to have been recently unearthed. I went to the side of the house and grabbed a shovel out of the tool shack. Whoever concealed this hole didn’t dig deep because within fifteen minutes I had found something.
I sifted through the dirt and located multiple strands of hair. I followed the hairs down to find the skull of what seemed like a child. I fell backwards, violently shaking and wanting to run away. But something told me I needed to stay. I knew I wasn’t hallucinating. Now another question burned into my skull. This body was too small to belong to the girl I saw. This…was someone else.

“Ah, I see you found him.”

Flabbergasted, I turned around to see my grandmother walking towards me with a large chef’s knife in her hand.

“He was a bothersome child. I caught him and his sister trying to steal from me. NO ONE STEALS FROM ME!”She shrieked.

My grandmother was maniacal. I have known her my whole life and not one second did I think she was capable of this.

Like a fool, I allowed myself to get cornered in front of the seawall and the only direction I could go was the end of the dock. She continued to question me as I walked backwards.

“Now answer me this.” She was calm now, in a psychotic, twisted way.

“How did you know? How did you know there was a body here? ANSWER ME!” She bellowed with an unnatural ferocity.

“A girl did…it was a girl with a yellow sundress…” At this point, I was in tears. If she was capable of killing two children than even her grandson was fair game.

“You dare mock me? Who told you?!” Paralyzed in fear, I couldn’t answer.

“WHO WAS IT, GODDAMN IT!” The force at which she bellowed at me deafened my ears.

My heart was racing, I knew the silhouette was the girl but my grandma wasn’t going to believe that. She would have to see it for herself, which would not be at all impossible because the dreadful corpse of that girl began climbing up the seawall behind her. I pointed at her, causing my grandma to reverse.

The girl stood at the foot of the dock, standing motionless. Her dress gleamed in the moonlight, causing my grandmother to see the monstrosity she was responsible for.

“What the – what is this, Daniel? Is this one of your tricks?!”

I said nothing. I couldn’t take my eyes off the cadaver approaching us. The girl slowly began lifting her head, revealing a malicious grin on her face. Half of her smile was rotting flesh while the other side of her face was bone. My grandma was paralyzed. She just stood there with a look on her face like she was staring at Death himself.

“Wh-what do you want from me?” My grandmother managed to mumble out in between sobs.

The girl stopped smiling and struck an everlasting fear into my soul as she muttered to her.

“Retribution.”

The girl lunged at my grandmother, knocking them both into the lake. I peered over the edge of the dock and saw nothing. No sign of a struggle, no bubbles, and no ripples. Then an ear-piercing scream echoed out across the lake. I took off, running as fast as I could to my car and I left that place without looking back.

The police searched the lake for hours the next day. I told them about my grandmother trying to kill me and of the location of the child’s body but I knew I could not tell them what transpired with my grandma and the girl. I simply told them that I defended myself and pushed her in. However, I did tell them that my grandma confessed to murdering the girl.

Eventually, one of the divers signaled he had found something. They drove back to shore with the body of the girl.

“We found no trace of your grandmother. Are you sure she couldn’t have come back up?” The diver asked me.

The girl’s corpse maintained that petrifying grimace. This time, it was aimed for me.

I replied to the diver.

“I’m sure.”

Credit To – The-Heretic

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Vae Victis

July 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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17-MAY-2008 Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Just like the old marching cadence, it’s the“Same old shit again” indeed. And now here I am marching my own Soldiers off to one of several pre-deployment briefings being held today. Most of it’s just the usual mandatory stuff, what to do in combat situations we might not actually get to see, thank God. Our unit is comprised of mostly Signal geeks and I.T guys, at least a third of them are fresh out of A.I.T and they’re pretty easy to pick out of the crowd: They all have this terrified look on their face like they think they’re about to die as soon as they get off the plane, and I have to laugh because that’s exactly how I felt right before my first deployment to Iraq. I feel bad for most of them, T.R.A.D.O.C fills their heads with all kinds of bullshit about kicking down doors and pretty much duct-taping their buddies back together while they’re screaming for Mommy. It’s mostly intended to remind them that while they’re being trained in a technical capacity, they’re still Soldiers in the United States Army and very well may wind up in combat nevertheless. I understand why they do it, but they rattle off about it so much to these kids that it almost becomes counter-productive: Instead of learning how to just do their damn jobs, they lose sleep over nightmares about explosions and gore.

I remember being that scared before my first trip to the Sand-Box, now as an NCO myself it’s my job to set them straight well before this one officially kicks off. This will be my second trip to Iraq, for most of these guys it’ll be their first. Hell, for a few of the senior members of leadership and Command, this will be their second or third. Serves ‘em right for voting Republican, but of course, it’s not like I’m going to be caught saying that out loud. These scared kids are having a Hell of a time with a very simple cadence that they should damn well know from day one, a few of them are too scared to even open their mouths. They just march, lost in their own minds. And I’m fine with this, so long as they hear me order Mark-Time and Halt when we arrive.

I’ve got my own shit to do, I’m only leading these guys to their briefings because I had to fill in for Sergeant First Class Parvis when he showed up drunk again. This isn’t anything new for him, sadly. If he weren’t such a sadistic, sexist piece of shit I just might consider feeling bad for the guy because he has such severe PTSD, but after the last time he staggered past me and asked if my “carpet matched the drapes,” he’s damn lucky I left the building when I did. Parvis is one of those senior NCOs who really shouldn’t be wearing the uniform anymore. Sure, I made my complaints and reports, just like policy tells us to, but it almost never amounts to anything. The best I can really do is try to stay the Hell away from him.

He made a complete inebriated ass of himself in from of the entire Company this morning though, and this was a rare performance indeed coming from him: Instead of the usual nasty remarks and barely intelligible swearing, I could swear I heard him choke on a string of desperate apologizing and frantic groveling for forgiveness from every Soldier standing in formation. There were a few audible snickers, I tried not to laugh at him myself, Parvis is known within the whole unit for his completely non-sober tirades about this-that-and-everything. They almost always end with the usual screaming at all of us over one person’s mistake, his way of mass punishment over trivial stuff as a way of asserting power over the rest of us knowing full well he barely had any real power of his own. Gee, I wonder why… This time was a bit of a spectacle, sure. I grew up with alcoholic relatives, the public sobbing and endless train of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I swear I’ll change blah blah blah” has long since lost it’s effect on me, but now I can only stand by and watch.

This is the end for SFC Parvis, finally. Command can’t cover for him anymore after this and they know it, at least I hope so. He did his time in Iraq just like I did, and it broke him. It happens, that’s what war does to people. The ones with any brain cells in their skulls go talk to a shrink or a chaplain, Parvis came home and went balls-deep into a bottle. No more family, no more friends, just drinking buddies and an undeserved rank-patch that’s been begging to be torn off his faded uniform ever since. Eventually, two other NCOs “escorted” him behind the back parking lot to our Commanding Officer, there were a few awkward murmurs from the Company but nothing out of control. Parvis was still losing his shit, all I could make out was some frightened gibberish over finding a weird little photo inside his truck after the Flag went down yesterday.

He was crying so hard about this stupid picture he was hysterical. Eventually the MPs had to get him, hopefully dragging his ass to therapy this time. The rest of the senior NCOs put me in charge of my platoon for a day, I bet nothing would have pissed Parvis off more than seeing a female NCO taking charge. Not long after the morning melt-down, we were given marching orders to attend our required briefings.

Something tells me “Pervy-Parvis” won’t be joining us on our little vacation this time around, or ever again, for that matter.

This can only be a good thing for the rest of us.

2-JULY-2008 Joint Base Balad, Iraq

See, guys? It may be hotter than the Devil’s undying cunt in the shade out here, but it’s not really so bad, is it? Compared to other bases and F.O.Bs here in Iraq, J.B.B is practically a country-club. A giant Post Exchange complex, at least two DFACs, there’s even a movie theater.

The last time I was out here, I could barely walk fifteen feet on the sidewalk before alarms went off left-and-right over incoming mortars and rockets. One time I had to take a roaring piss inside the very concrete bunker I had been stuck in for 2 or 3 hours, I wasn’t permitted to leave until we finally stopped taking fire from whatever the Iraqis decided to throw at us for the time being. That’s kinda their thing, aside from road-side bombs: They launch things over the fence at seemingly random times for indeterminate amounts of time. Sometimes it’s just one rocket landing in a ditch and then we resume business as usual, sometimes it’s two or three days before we get to see our beds because it’s just non-stop.

Things seem to be winding down this trip, supposedly there’s a big exit strategy in play and this sad chapter of American military history is going to actually end soon, but this won’t exactly happen overnight. Things have to be repaired, restored, reclaimed or straight-up handed back to the people of Iraq with a great big smile on our faces. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I may be a card-carrying Democrat but I fucking get it, okay? Arguably, we probably never should have come here, but it’s not as easy as just packing up and leaving immediately.

A few of the new kids seem to be getting used to this kind of life, none of them have been called on to go kick down any doors or dismantle any bombs like their well-meaning Drill Sergeants warned them about.

We got word from back home that SFC Parvis has been in the hospital ever since we left the States. It could have been the daily intake of gin and tonic taking it’s toll on his already war-ravaged brain, but it looks like the poor bastard finally lost his fucking mind and won’t be “Being All that He Can’t Be” anymore. He’s in a heavy lock-up because supposedly, after two doctors came into his room to try and treat him, one male and one female, he attacked them both at once. Funny, whatever stupid prank picture that someone put in his car that day, it really set him off this time.

True, he should have just hung up that uniform the first time he came home instead of being such a relentless dick for the rest of his career, but goddamn… Now I really do feel bad for him, a little. I never liked him, not from the start, but he’s still just a person in the end.

A couple of us were chatting about it on a smoke-break outside, a couple of the other guys that knew him were having a bit of a laugh about it. I casually asked if the picture he was so worked up about was one of them fucking his ex-wife or something, received with the usual sarcastic laughter, except for two of them. Not one blink, not one word, not one single peep.

“Yeesh, guys, what’s YOUR problem? Parvis was an asshole, whoever set him off was doing the entire Army a favor.” One of the other guys barked.

One dude just kinda took a nervous breath and shrugged, then another drag from a cigarette. The other kid was much younger than that dude, a Private Gerard according to his name-patch, he threw his to the ground and walked off.

What the fuck?

I’ve seen young Soldiers behave oddly under stress before, usually much worse than a quiet little tantrum like this, but something about this guy and his tense demeanor caught me a bit off guard. Maybe he doesn’t like other military women very much, which is entirely his fucking problem and VERY MUCH not mine, but those guys I can usually tell right away. Misogynistic little shits usually won’t even look me in they eye when I’m talking to them. But THIS kid… the look he gave me before he took off behind the concrete t-wall… made my heart stop. It’s the middle of summer out here in Iraq, suddenly it feels like February in Maine.

I have been shot at, multiple times on many occasions. I have seen combat, in all it’s horrible glory, up close and personal.

But THIS genuinely scared me.

23-SEPTEMBER-2008 Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Our Commanding Officer is dead!

We haven’t done anything outside the wire aside from minor equipment maintenance, and he never came with us on a single one of those trips. He never went out and about much, the only times I ever saw him was either at the DFAC or in his office. Nothing like this ever happened the last time I deployed, when guys died it was either because of the local anger catching them in the form of a bomb or an ambush, or just a dumb-ass accident. We’re just Fobbits for fuck’s sake, none of us have seen any actual combat since our boots hit the ground out here!

The morning rotation found him on the floor behind his desk, like he fell out of his chair and just fucking died. No one was allowed near his office while investigators were working, some of them were asking us questions about him and how he got along with us. I barely ever spoke to him, on the few occasions I did it was just business. I knew he was from Indiana, I heard he had a wife and a little girl, but we were always so busy I barely ever saw the guy most of the time. I was on the night crew, my shift ended at 0100 hours and when our relief showed up we always walked back to our rooms as a group: This place is even more dangerous at night because there are almost no outside lights to speak of. Anything can happen out here.

It must have happened after we were relieved, but the graveyard shift swears up and down that they didn’t see or hear anything strange. The floor was sticky outside his door, which was unlocked when his body was found, but that was about it.

Sometimes guys lose their minds out here for seemingly no reason, a Soldier is technically more likely to kill themselves than die in combat. While Officers aren’t completely immune from the seemingly never-ending plague of suicide within the military, it’s very rare that Brass actually end their own lives.

After a few brief questions, I asked a CID guy if I could at least step into the building to go pee, and he let me. I had to hold my breath walking past that office door, dead bodies stink something fierce right from the get-go: Within hours after dying, your muscles release and you shit yourself. It’s not an urban legend, I’ve seen it happen before. After my first deployment, I just kinda learned to… well, “expect” death. It’s a cold, inhuman thing to think and feel, and I know it. I feel horrible about it sometimes, but I accepted it the moment I signed that enlistment contract. There’s nothing I can do now except hold my breath and hope to God I don’t catch a whiff of my C.O’s last “Commanding action.”

But I don’t. I don’t smell… shit.

I skulk past his door on my way to the ladies’ room with my lungs filled and my entire face scrunched up, I’m suddenly slapped upside the nostrils with the stench of burning garbage.

It’s not uncommon here in Iraq, sometimes that’s how the locals dispose of their trash. There’s a burn-pit here on J.B.B, but it’s way the Hell on the other side of the base. And J.B.B is HUGE! It’s practically two separate bases that are bisected by a large collective of air-strips and runways where C-130s and C-17s take-off and land constantly.

It smells like a burn-pit, and… something else.

10-OCTOBER-2008 Joint Base Balad, Iraq

We have a new C.O. on the way, but we don’t know much about him. Supposedly, some green-horned jack-off fresh out of West Point who wants to tell the entire Army what’s up. Yay, I just love barely competent and inexperienced fresh meat telling me how to do my job, but considering the circumstances of how he got the “promotion,” I’m not really in a position to complain.

I had to give the whole lot a sexual harassment briefing in the conference room, again. Sure, put that awkward burden on the only NCO in the building who so happened to have been born with a vagina… I’d like to think that they don’t MEAN to be insulting by appointing me for stuff like this, because these things have to be discussed and I understand why. I just can’t help but get this fucked up feeling that they’re not even taking this seriously at all, even though in the Army a male Soldier is just as likely, if not more-so, as a female, to be assaulted or harassed, none of them give a shit. Neither does the entire Department of Defense, for all anyone can rightly tell. “Same old shit again…” for the most part. I’m starting to think that the only real reason I’m actually subjecting everyone to Death-By-Powerpoint about a subject we all know and love is an attempt to distract everyone from walking in on our old Commander’s still unresolved death.

If that’s the case, then I get it. I could use a distraction, too.

We all could.

Throughout the entire briefing, however, I noticed that Gerard never once glanced up at the Powerpoint slides. He stared off into space like he was high off his ass on something, lost in wherever he happened to be in his own mind. I was nearly done anyway, but that didn’t stop the NCO sitting next to him from giving a swift little kick to his ankle, nothing hard just enough to force him to “wake the fuck up” as that NCO so delicately put it. Gerard jolted in his seat with an embarrassing little squeak of alarm, looked around at the others, then at me.

Poor kid, he belongs in some comic book store playing table-top games with his hygienically-challenged Cheeto-eating friends. Not on the other side of the planet, certainly not like this.

“Fuck it.” I sighed, waved the signature sheet in front of the whole room, and told them to sign it and get the fuck out. The NCO who woke Gerard wanted to take him outside for a little corrective PT, but I told him I can take care of it.

Everyone left the room, probably thinking I was going to do the something mean to Gerard, but really I just wanted to talk to him.

“What’s your problem?” I asked him.

He took breath, hesitated. I was about to ask him again when he cut me off before I could speak, but I don’t think he did it on purpose.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” His voice cracked, he was turning white before my eyes, “I … don’t usually believe in that kind of thing, but I felt like…” His jaw wagged open and closed a few times, like that of a fish, “I just had to try.”

“Try what, Gerard?” Whatever he was afraid of, I could feel it. It was thickening the air all around me and in my own lungs as well. I don’t want to over-do it with this kid, but I’m starting to feel sick inside, “Do we need to have a chat with the First-Sergeant?” He shook his head, with lips flapping side to side from shaking so fervently.

“Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” As an NCO, I have to ask. It’s my job, and if HE DOES hurt himself, it’s my ass.

He shook his head one more time and scrunched up his face, like he was fighting to keep something the Hell out.

Oh Jesus Christ on crystal meth… He knows something.

“Gerard, please look at me.” I took a deep breath and tried to give him a reassuring nod, he looked like he was about ready to shit himself. He’s probably not used to NCOs actually being somewhat civil with him, which is unfortunately common among lower enlisted.

“Gerard,” I asked calmly, concerned, “Can you tell me what happened?”

His face went from white to red in about two seconds and his eyes widened like he was choking to death, I quickly took a step back because I wasn’t sure if he was about ready to hit me or have a seizure. What the fuck is eating him? No sooner did I yell out for help than Private Gerard hit the floor: Sure enough, he was actually having a fucking seizure.

Two other Soldiers ran into the conference room, tried to stabilize Gerard and stop him from accidentally injuring himself while I ran to Top’s office for the phone to call the Medics. I shoved past his opened door to discover him talking to the CID investigators before they noticed me coming in, just in time to hear one particular word so happen to slip from their mouths.

“Homicide.”

I can only assume they were following up regarding the Commander’s sudden death, seems a little fast if you ask me. I didn’t mean to interrupt them, I had no idea they were even here, but as soon as I alerted them to the matter of Gerard’s seizure they took off into the conference room for help.

When I reached across First-Sergeant’s desk for the phone, that’s when I saw the crime scene photos underhand. I’m no stranger to death, so the sight of his corpse in the pictures didn’t shock me all that much. There are politicians who think that women can’t handle the rigors and horrors of battle, yet they have no issue with sending us anyway.

There were holes in his uniform when they found him, but nothing to indicate what actually made them. Another photo had a note at the bottom of it, an investigator noticed that there wasn’t a whole lot of blood on the floor around the body. The third photo…

… Fucking Hell, man…

THAT was the photo that burned itself forever into my mind, THAT was when I knew that this wasn’t just someone getting pissed at him and beating him to death, or even having a stupid heart attack… that third photo was just an object found in his desk drawer with an evidence marker next to it.

“Found in victim’s desk: One Tarot card,” the notation read, “The Lovers, a major arcana card not usually interpreted as threatening. Only identifiable set of fingerprints on it belong to the victim.” I flipped the photo over for a second, just long enough to see something else written on the back, but that’s when Top came back into the office with the CID guys.

I snatched up the phone and kept slamming the buttons trying desperately to pretend it wasn’t working, but I don’t think they were buying it. They kicked me out of the office and grabbed the phone from me, but thankfully nobody noticed me tuck the photo up into the sleeve of my ACUs, I ran out just in time to catch a glimpse of Gerard. He wasn’t on the floor seizing anymore, but he was still visibly unwell.

He wouldn’t even look at me, but at least the medics were on it and looking after him. I guess someone else called from one of the other offices while I was fumbling through the murder photos of my dead boss, but one less corpse in here nevertheless, though, right?

Most of us were relived of duty for the rest of the day, they only kept a minimum crew of necessary personnel to continue operations. Top was pissed at me, I could see it in his face. I’m totally going to get an ear-full about it later, but at least Gerard was alive and being taken care of. The whole lot of us walked back toward our rooms quietly, no one really spoke to each other. I stopped at a road-side bunker telling everyone I needed a smoke-break, no one came to smoke with me. I guess this was their way of trying to show their disapproval of the situation, maybe a few of them even blamed me for Gerard’s mishap, but I was actually kinda hoping to have a moment alone.

I pulled out a smoke from my pocket, lit it, breathed it in deep. Goddamn, this is NOT how a deployment is supposed to work, especially not for a Company of tech-geeks with nothing better to do that stare at screens and code things! We’re just here to make sure the shit works, maybe turn it off and on again when it DOESN’T work, that’s it! Soldiers like US are where the term “Fobbit” comes from, we’re so sheltered and non-lethal that we almost never leave the proverbial “Shire” that is the main base. If we ever do wind up in combat, REAL combat, some shit has hit a really big fan! I re-enlisted into the Army Signal Corps because I was sick of being an MP that no one took seriously the first time I was here in 2005, boy was I misled.

Time to find out what is going on here, so I slid the now-bent photo out from inside my sleeve and had another look-over: I’ve seen Tarot cards before, every new age nerd brings a deck to a party to show off or to impress people with them. Some people have Bibles, others have Korans, then there are people with crystals and cards. I think they’re all bullshit, really, but this obviously meant something to SOMEONE, otherwise it wouldn’t have been left behind at the scene. The note was right, The Lovers card doesn’t usually have so-called bad-vibes in it.

There were two sentences on the back, each obviously written by two different people:

The first line read, “Why are their faces burnt out?” And upon re-examining the photo, I saw that there were in fact two neat little blackened circles where their faces were printed, any cigarette could have done this. They burns were precise, intentional, definitely not by accident. Someone MEANT to do this.

I flipped it back over to read the second line.

Upon reading it, though… my brain felt like it caught fire.

“Not this again! Secure the burn-pit site A.S.A.P.”

This has happened BEFORE?

13-OCTOBER-2008, Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Private Gerard is still in the hospital. He’s conscious, but he won’t eat or talk to anyone. CID has their eye on him, if he really does know something I’m pretty sure they’re going to find out about it. There’s talk of sending him back home, supposedly he has epilepsy. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that no one up and “catches” epilepsy while being deployed. It’s more likely that he’s always had it, but something probably set it off.

There have been a few intermittent rounds of indirect fire over the last day or so, but so far I don’t think anyone has been killed or injured. Even without the incoming mortars, though, I haven’t exactly been able to sleep very well. I have to force myself to shut my eyes at night, but it doesn’t help. I was never really that much of a drinker, but I could sure go for a beer right about now. No one has been talking to each other outside of duty since the murder, Gerard’s seizure only made things worse.

I can’t stop combing over this photo, either.

“Burn-pit site…”

“Not this again…”

I’ve been here on J.B.B before, back in 2005. It was an even bigger mess back then, wasn’t fixed up as nicely, comparatively speaking, as it is now. A few things have changed around a bit, some of the buildings have since been destroyed by mortars, on the whole I think I know how to get from one end of J.B.B to the other. I’ve been here long enough already, this is driving me nuts.

My shift always ends at 0100, without a flash-light at night I’m pretty-much blind.

I’m required to have at least two 30-round magazines and my M-16 with me at all times, just in case something does happen.

After I’m relieved for the night, tonight I’m doing to “get lost.”

Oh I’m going to catch SO MUCH SHIT for doing this if I get caught, but I feel like I have to.

“Burn-pit site…”

I can’t help myself.

15-OCTOBER-2008 Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Apparently, wandering off into the darkness all alone in a war zone wasn’t one of my better ideas. To be fair, there was no way for me to know a sand-storm was coming in the middle of the night because no one could see it until it was right on top of us. A sand-storm whipping up seemingly out of nowhere in Iraq. Gee, who’d have thought…

It was a VERY long hike from the fenced-off housing paddock to the area surrounding the burn pit. I didn’t exactly NEED my flashlight for the rest of the trip, I could smell my way over there in the dark just fine. They don’t really burn stuff at night if they can help it, the light of the fire attracts too much attention from the Iraqis. It was easy to creep behind t-walls and buildings once I was able to get away from the main roads. I snuck a cigarette or two along the way, periodically checking that I had my M-16 and both magazines close at hand, damn I was tense.

I accidentally disturbed a couple making out in a bunker. She looked scared, he looked pissed, I looked pretty stupid right about then and I knew it.

I smiled nervously, “Um… I won’t say anything if you won’t.”

They didn’t say anything at all, just stared at me looking extremely annoyed.

“Okay then, enjoy yourselves.” I left and didn’t look back, hearing only their gasps and groans.

That stuff happens out here all the time, it’s really not a big deal unless the wrong people start to notice it. More often than not, the Soldiers that hook up in a combat theater are actually married, but not to each other. I always found it a little fucked up that we have to have briefings about rape and sexual harassment practically every other week because Soldiers can’t figure out that it’s not okay to hurt one other, but somehow consensual sex between two men in uniform is so taboo that people actually get in trouble over it. And y’know, cheating on your spouse who’s waiting for you back home is perfectly fine too… Bastards.

Welcome to the Army: If it makes sense, it’s probably wrong.

Ultimately, though, that just means I need to be all the more careful out here in where I know I’m not supposed to be. I was an MP long enough to know the difference between someone who was lost and someone who was “lost.” And by lost, I of course mean trespassing. I continued into the void of the night, looking over my shoulder periodically. After a long, flat clearing of rock and gravel that seemed to make an awful lot of noise with every step, I came upon a chain link fence skirted by rusty concertina wire.

Well fuck, there’s only one way over this stuff.

I stripped the patches off my ACU jacket, took it off and threw it over the wire. Without the patches, I can’t be identified as it’s owner if someone finds it, but it also means the jacket itself is ruined. Whatever, Soldier: Stick to the mission. Climbing and hopping the fence, I proceeded exploring the area as quietly as possible until I noticed something odd straight off the bat.

The gravel under my boots didn’t crack as loudly when I stepped on it here and I couldn’t hear the whirring of the generators. I could see headlights of vehicles driving on base in the distance, but I couldn’t hear their engines anymore. Oh this feels SO WRONG right now, my instincts are telling me to go back but I kept telling myself that I had come too far and that I had to at least LOOK for something relevant. I had no idea what, but I’d probably know about it when I saw it.

And then, I did see it: A narrow circle of concrete t-walls, the very tall ones usually reserved for the base exterior walls or dividers meant to protect something from blast debris. The walls are covered in a patchy black coating of something, it could have been accumulating soot from being so close tot he burn-pit, but there’s no logical reason for this structure to be here all by itself in such an obscure location. People take things to the burn-pit to destroy them, not to protect them.

The t-walls were sticky to the touch and arranged very tightly together to form a sort of column, I began walking in a brisk circle around it’s circumference and not seeing any gaps between them. Well, there was one, about large enough to maybe fit my head through and look. I stared into the middle of the enclosure, raised my flashlight above my head and scanned the interior: There was only a pile of burnt garbage in the middle of the enclosure, that was it.

No, hold on, that CAN’T be it.

THIS is what needed to be secured “A.S.A.P?” A pile of burnt trash among an even BIGGER pile of burnt trash?

That’s when I noticed two things: Unlike the filth-coated exterior walls, which had already stained parts of my skin and clothes on contact, the inside walls were almost spotless. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this concrete structure was brand new.

Then the second thing.

The unscathed flash-drive atop the pile.

I couldn’t quite reach it.

I took the magazine out of my M-16 and attempted to knock it toward me with the butt-stock of the weapon. It’s a damn good thing no one can see me doing this, because the muzzle of the weapon is right at the base of my wrist, and it’s heavier than it looks. After two or three bumps without blowing my hand off, it comes tumbling close enough for me to reach down and pick it up, when some of the trash I jostled about fell from the top of the pile…

… to reveal a section of untouched cloth from some discontinued desert-cammo uniforms.

No one, literally NO ONE out here wears these anymore. How long has this pile been here and how come this flash-drive looks undamaged? Something IS fucked up about this place, but now that I got SOMETHING out of this trip I can finally leave now, and the sooner the better.

And no sooner did I stash the drive into the pocket of my ACU cap and re-sling my weapon, when I felt the wall of sand hit my face. It damn near knocked me flat on my ass, I reached for my cap to make sure it stayed on my head, and thankfully it did. I ran into the storm, but not very far before I made out the shape of my ACU jacket fluttering against the fence. I accidentally tore it in a few places trying to get it free, at this point I don’t even care about getting caught anymore. After the unsettling scene at the burn-pit, I just wanted to get back to my room and throw these ruined ACUs away. Getting caught might be a blessing in disguise, given the circumstances. There is no way in Hell I am going to be able to make my way back in this sandstorm alone.

This was a terrible idea.

I stumbled upon the road-side and found a concrete bunker I could duck into, hardly perfect cover but it sure beats being exposed out in the open. Once inside, I took the flash-drive out from my cap and took a quick look at the outer cover: It was sticky, but not like the t-walls. There was at one point a label affixed to one side that had since come off, but despite having sat out there for who knows how many years, the glue was still tacky to the touch. On the other side of the flash-drive, there were two words written hastily with a shaprie:

VaE viCtIs

Sounds Latin, and kinda familiar. I know I’ve heard this phrase somewhere before, but right now it escapes me. I’ll have plenty of time to check out the drive’s contents when I get back to my room, but for now I just need to lie low until this storm passes and hope that no one noticed me. The wind wasn’t beating quite so hard on the inside of the bunker as the outside, I took the opportunity to pull out a smoke and try to light it. I need some good-ol’ “Vitamin N” before I lose my fucking mind.

It took two or three clicks of the lighter before I finally got a workable flame, I was well into getting a well-earned cherry on head of my cigarette … that I noticed the flame had illuminated something in my peripheral vision. Not just on one entrance of the bunker, but from both sides.

It wasn’t the storm playing tricks on my eyes.

I haven’t been drinking, either.

And no, there’s nothing “special” about my favorite brand of smokes.

I don’t care WHAT my personnel file says.

Those discontinued desert-cammo uniforms from the pile…

…were now wearing their discontinued boots.

I don’t remember what was going on or how long I was there, I don’t even remember getting into the back of an MP vehicle. But that’s where I woke up, with plastic zip-ties around my wrists and a huge cigarette burn on my shirt.

20-OCTOBER-2008 Joint Base Balad, Iraq

I’m not allowed to give briefings anymore, not for a while. On his way out of the hospital, Private Gerard sobbingly admitted that he was the one who put the picture in SFC Parvis’s truck. He had stumbled across some online forum, maybe a Facebook page, about bullshit urban legends like Slenderman, something with a really long title about “Normal Porn,” and a story about a psycho kid named Jeff… Come on, no one in their right mind thinks any of that shit is real, right? He said he got the idea from reading some discussions on the page, some of the members claiming to be current and former military obviously told him a screwed up kind of war story and maybe, in his desperation, he thought it was real. Whatever Parvis must have done to this kid, it must have been pretty serious for him to resort to actually trying out something he read about on the Internet somewhere, hoping that it would work.

Maybe in a weird way, it did. But it doesn’t matter for Gerard now, he’s on his way back to Arizona and being chaptered out of the Army for medical reasons. People are pissed off at me over it, even though there was no way for me to know he had this issue. All I did was ask him a question, there was no way for me to know that other NCOs had been pushing him as far as they did. I thought back to the note on the photo, “Not this again…” I guess Gerard isn’t alone in his desperation.

As for me, well, Top was already pretty on-edge about Gerard. So when the MPs carted my happy-ass to his doorstep at 0500 or so… the look on his face was almost kinda funny. I was forbidden from re-entering the office until “the smell was gone,” I assume he meant from my adventure in the burn-pit. I had to throw away that entire uniform ensemble, even my socks. I’ve been showering 3 times a day ever since the MPs released me, I still can’t get the stink of burning garbage out of my hair. I’m giving serious consideration to going all Demi Moore from GI Jane, but it’s technically against the rules for women to shave their heads according to Regulation AR 670-1.

But, y’know, trespassing and possible theft of government property are both fine.

I’m going to be under a very big microscope for the rest of my time in Iraq, I’m probably going to be on the roster for every single “random” piss-test for the rest of my military career after this. Top asked me if being an NCO was getting to me… I know what that means, I’m not stupid. As if by some miracle, there hasn’t been any official paperwork thrown at me, yet. The Army doesn’t exactly WANT female Soldiers, they’ve made that perfectly clear, but deep down they know that they need us. Especially female NCOs, there are too few of us and we’re too far in between. I think that’s the only thing saving me from getting shit-canned right now, and I’m in no position to complain, really.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to examine the contents of the flash-drive, I stashed it in my computer case as soon as I could and I can barely stand the thought of opening it. I stopped keeping the case under my bed and moved in into my locker. I know I’m being ridiculous, but the events of that night have me THAT freaked out about it. I don’t give a shit what that counselor says, bits of old cloth might fly around in a storm but they sure as shit don’t stand upright. ESPECIALLY with boots that no one has worn in-theater almost since the war began in ’03!

I want to let this all go, I really and truly do. I want nothing more than to forget this ever happened, go about the rest of the deployment without fucking up again, and move on with my life. Will that be possible as long as I’m in possession of this flash-drive, though?

1-DECEMBER-2008, F.O.B Warhorse, Iraq

I’ve managed to stay under the radar for a bit, but Top had me transferred to this hole-in-the-fucking-dirt Forward Observing Base. The food isn’t as nice, facilities for females are sketchy to the point of being non-existent, but he hasn’t yanked my rank, soooo… again, I can’t complain. I’m not here by myself, at least. One of the usual smoke-break crew is out here with me, Gerard’s friend, the new guy who didn’t say anything after we all found out about Parvis. He was a little stand-offish at first, but it turns out he’s a decent guy. This is also his second deployment, as well. I’m glad I’m not stuck out here with a bunch of noobs fresh out of A.I.T, the few young Soldiers who came out here with us seem to be adjusting well, for the most part. Sure, things get scary when indirect fire comes in, but they’ve been pretty lucky here in that there hasn’t been a whole lot of serious action at Warhorse.

It may be dull, but it may be just the reprieve I need to figure all of this out.

It took me a fair bit, but I finally worked up the nerve to dig out that flash-drive I found. It’s still sticky on the surface, still smells bad, too. My computer is an old piece-of-shit Compaq laptop, so if a virus fried it, I wouldn’t have been too bummed out about having to replace it like I’ve been meaning to do anyway. Every time I read the lettering on this thing, I swear it feels like it knows I’m holding it.

Fuck it, time to get this over with. What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? Is a creepy Japanese bitch going to crawl out of my screen and attack me?

I plugged it into my computer, it read the drive just fine.

I ran quick virus-scan on it just to be sure, didn’t find anything.

Hmm, so far so good. No blue-screens or tentacles popping out.

Just three folders: Two with people’s names, probably personnel files, and a folder just marked with the Roman numerals signifying the number 6, a big bold VI.

The name on the first folder was Giles. It belonged to a Warrant Officer, an ordinary looking dude from somewhere on the coast of Massachusetts. Impressive record, for the most part: Time in Iraq and Afghanistan, did some consulting in Kuwait not long after 9/11, he had a Master’s degree and a super-ridiculously high security clearance. Should I be reading this or even talking about this guy? Damn, better not show this to CID…

The name on the second folder was Leveau. Another female Soldier, a rank of Specialist. Her record said she was from the outlying areas of New Orleans, but hadn’t lived there since Katrina. Her record mentioned something about her interest in the arts, she had some previous years of college but never finished. Nothing extraordinary or particularly attention-grabbing, and from the look of it not really a trouble-maker either, so what do the two have in common?

Are there some details in the third folder? The one designated VI?

Am I absolutely sure I want to open this?

Click.

There was one file in the folder, and ordinary .pdf document. Sure enough, it was an incident report dated from 2003. Apparently, these two were caught together in a rather… shall I just say, embarrassing manner. According to the report, no one is sure how long they were seeing each other, but Officers and Enlisted aren’t supposed to be that involved with each other according to the rules. Sure, this kind of thing happens sometimes, but was this really worth throwing into a pile of trash to be burned? The file said they they were both in the process of being officially legally processed, they were both detained and being held at…

…Joint Base Balad. Wait, what?

The file also said that before official proceedings could begin, they both escaped and committed suicide somewhere in an isolated area of J.B.B… near the burn-pit. The report was signed by Leveau’s Commanding Officer, an man named Major Summerfield.

Okay, THIS is what the fuss was about? A couple of lonely grown adults were caught fucking and killed themselves? The report didn’t explain any details about their alleged escape, nor the method used in their mutual self-termination. I can’t imagine that two people who had just been hailed off to jail would have access to their firearms so easily, so I’m pretty sure they didn’t shoot themselves.

Something’s not right about this, any of it.

As soon as I closed the report, another document emerged. I guess you have to read the first one before the other becomes active, but… that seems really silly. There was no visible icon, just the usual highlighted blue field and the text bearing only it’s name:

vae_victis

The second I saw it’s title, every nerve, muscle and instinct in my body was begging me, almost PLEADING WITH ME not to open it the file. The floor felt like it fell out from under me and I could have fallen into the depths of the Earth itself, and yet here it was plain as day right in front of my face. I became so tense that I was struggling to swallow, and nothing had even happened yet! I swear I could almost hear my brain yelling at me, “Don’t do it, don’t you dare fucking do it!”

Something else, though, despite my own best efforts to fight the urge, was compelling me. I held my breath for a second, closed my eyes and tried to gather myself. Surely, this is no more dangerous than anything else I’ve done out here so far, yes? As long as I’m in my room by myself, not out roaming around in the middle of the night making trouble… What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? I’ve gone through too much to just give up now.

Click.

There’s no sound, just a series of papers falling down flat in front of the camera. Like someone is dropping them within the frame on purpose, maybe someone wants me to read them. They look real enough, the sound of ruffled stacks of paper seemed authentic. The first paper that I could make out clearly read “Autopsy Report” at the top, it bore an Army insignia stamp at the top right-hand side. The smaller text was indecipherable, but the camera crept a bit closer. The next paper, presumably the next page, showed a few marginal comments and notes written on it. I couldn’t make out all of it, but some sections of the report were underlined with a thick pen with a small note next to it on the side, all ending with a giant question mark. The next page, the same thing, more notations and more question marks. The NEXT page, one big note scrawled at the bottom of it, “Suicide?”

The next page had a small photo clipped to it. The resolution on my screen wasn’t so good, but I instantly recognized what it was: Two dead Soldiers, a man and a woman.

Both wearing now out-dated, discontinued desert-cammo.

More papers, more somewhat pixelated images of the scene, the camera creeping ever slowly closer. More notes scrawled on the pages, “This can’t be correct,” more questions in the margins, this time with a red pen. The next page, a photo of the dead man. There’s so much blood soaked in through his shirt-collar I almost couldn’t make out his rank. It was the Warrant Officer, this must be Giles. A note at the bottom, “So, he bashed his OWN skull in?”

Next picture, the woman. She’s lying on her stomach with her head rolled to one side. Her hair is tied back, but very messed up like someone tried to pull it out. Her natural red hair is so matted up from dried blood and sand from the ground, it almost looks like one solid… thing, on her head. I can’t see her face clearly, there’s a huge dried-up stain from her blood soaking into the ground. Another note at the bottom, “Blunt trauma to the head from behind, no weapon found.”

The next photo, the expression on Giles’s face when they found him. Once blue eyes now clouded up to a pale grey, porcelain white skin spotted with his own dried up blood. The inside of his mouth was starting to turn blue, highlighting where a few of his teeth that had been knocked out.

The next photo, Leveau is rolled onto her back exposing the garish abrasion wound on her face: Something hit her so hard, it tore a massive section of skin right off and exposed the pulpy flesh of her entire cheek. I won’t be eating any meat for a while, not after seeing that.

Next photo, Giles’s body is covered in boot-prints, they vary in size.

Next photo, Leveau’s wrist was twisted so hard that it broke, flopped on it’s side like a dead fish.

There’s no way in Hell they did this to themselves.

The photos were coming slightly faster, there were no more notes on them. Just pictures of their battered, violated bodies. Photo after photo, details of horrific injuries and close ups of seemingly random features. Next photo, Giles’s clouded eyes framed by the darkening skin of his eye-lids. Next photo, Leveau’s mouth is propped open slightly to emphasize the extent of the wound on her face. Next photo, dried blood. Next photo, Leveau’s eyes. Next photo, Giles’s hand reaching for Leveau. Next photo…

Enough, PLEASE!

The second I went to close my lap-top, the next sequence of the video began: A conversation between six men, more Soldiers. All wearing the old desert-cammo. They were gathered around one standing in the center, a middle aged black man wearing an Officer’s rank patch. From his age and the coloration of the insignia, I’m guessing that he’s a Major. Is this Major Summerfield? The other five stood quietly while only one other spoke to him, the conversation was garbled and distorted. I could just make out a few words being said by the Soldiers, intermittent mention of “betrayal,” “Humiliating,” and the one that made my stomach tighten, but I’m all to familiar with, “SLUT!”

But what sickened me even more, was the expression on the Major’s face when that word came out of someone’s mouth. A cocked eyebrow, and then… a nod. The only words out of the Major’s mouth I could make out were “I’ve never liked doing paperwork on people.” He sighed, glancing down at the floor, “Let’s try something a bit more effective.”

I think I just realized something. I think I know what, more appropriately WHO, killed the two.

What am I still doing with this flash-drive? I should bring it to the MPs… wait, and tell them how I came about finding it? But I can’t just do nothing at all, and so I went to pull the drive from my laptop when my computer’s volume skyrocketed with anguished and panicked screaming. My screen went berserk flashing choppy footage of a man being forcibly restrained, getting kicked and stomped on. A woman, also forcibly restrained by two other men, being repeatedly punched in her face and abdomen.

I hit every key I could think of and nothing would happen, their screams were so loud that my laptop actually started to vibrate on my desk, each wet smacking sound actually made it move a little. Holy shit just stop! NO MORE! Jesus, this is fucking awful! I couldn’t power it down, I couldn’t make it stop, it just wouldn’t stop!

It didn’t want to, THEY didn’t want to.

They WANTED ME to see this.

Out of sheer panic, I started smashing my own laptop with the stock of my M-16. A few sparks and shards of plastic, but no more screams. No more fucked up photos of their corpses, no more back-room deals of vigilante violence, no… more…

I have to say something to someone. If I don’t, I’m probably going to lose my mind.

Turns out I didn’t have to, though.

The new guy, the quiet guy, had come to see me and I must not have heard him come in.

He startled me a bit, I was about to explain the situation when I noticed the tears in his eyes.

“I knew she didn’t kill herself.” He wept.

Is this shit ever going to stop?

28-DECEMBER-2008 F.O.B Warhorse, Iraq

I had been talking to the new guy, he was never exactly a new guy, he’d been in the Army for a while actually. At his highest rank, he was an E-6: Staff Sergeant. That was back in 2004. He knew SPC Leveau, they were in the same unit but in different Companies. They were classmates in A.I.T, they both arrived at their duty stations at the same time and both deployed to Iraq not long after the invasion.

They were friends.

He didn’t know Chief Giles all that well, he wasn’t officially attached to their mission but rather he would come by as something of a consultant for operations. He had no idea how Giles and Leveau met, but he knew that they were happy. Sure, Officers and Enlisted aren’t supposed to hook up… but who could blame two people for seeking some measure of warmth and comfort, some measure of sanity, in this sometimes Hellish place?

The only reason he knew about them seeing each other was because she confided in him, he said the smile on her face was enormous whenever she talked about him. New guy was married at the time, and thankfully NOT a douchebag, and so he didn’t pursue Leveau for a relationship and seemed genuinely happy that she had found someone.

Then she went off to meet him one night, and never returned.

The day she vanished, other Soldiers were looking mighty smug about something and a few were even giving each other high-fives. Leveau’s roommate, who supposedly was the one who turned them over to Major Summerfield, went on about lust and adultery being dreadful sins and that she needed to be “punished” for it. But according to the files, neither of them were married. Not to each other, not to anyone.

The military is full of Jesus-Freaks, some more zealous than others. I’d like to think that she didn’t know what she had actually done to them. In any case, Jesus doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who’d be down with murdering two people for being in love. Then again, there’s the entire Old Testament to consider…

For the rest of that deployment, Soldiers kept either dying or going nuts.

The first guy who died was ripped apart after a nasty explosion, even though he was the one standing farthest from the hidden road-side bomb when it detonated. The next guy was forcibly pulled out of a port-a-john after he had locked himself inside of it all night, and from the description he was built like Schwarzenegger. It took six MPs to drag him outside, all the while screaming “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Take it, take it YOU CAN HAVE IT!” as he had ripped off chunks of his own skin. Major Summerfield said it was drugs, he spent the rest of his life homeless before he eventually killed himself. The Jesus-Freak roommate was found face down in a pool of her own blood at the doors of the base chapel… figures. Her uniform was full of weird holes that looked like something punctured the fabric, but didn’t break her skin.

When I asked him how many, aside from the roommate, that either died or lost their minds, he hesitated for a moment.

“I think there were five.” He whimpered, “Six if you want to count the roommate, but they each went home either in straight-jackets or body bags.”

“Who was the big dude apologizing to? The one who was dragged out of the toilet?”

 He shook his head, “I had no idea at the time.”

“Had?” I asked, “Do you have one NOW?”

He nodded, the tears came back.

“Yes, Sergeant, I do.” And he pointed at the fucked up flash-drive. “Leveau had a deck of Tarot cards, I found her deck the day after she went missing. I had to grab something of hers before they guys came by and bagged her stuff up, I knew… I just knew that something awful had happened to her, but no one would say anything to me. It ate me up inside the entire time I was deployed, I eventually, well… gave Major Summerfield a piece of my mind on her disappearance and here I am now just an E-3. My wife left me after my demotion, I guess she loved the pay-grade more than she did me.”

“What did he look like?”

“Oh, black dude in his forties. Not very talkative unless he’s in the center-stage and hates doing paperwork.”

Hates doing paperwork, so it was him in the footage…

“Where is he now?”

He sighed, “Retired as a Colonel, didn’t deserve to. He lives in Florida with his second wife and step kids. After we came home from THAT shit-storm, he was transferred elsewhere. Leveau’s family kept writing him angry letters and e-mails, he never answered a single one.”

I can’t say I’m at all surprised. There are some “leaders” in the Army, Officers or NCOs, that want all of the attention and “respect” but not one ounce of responsibility. I see it every day, assholes like Parvis and probably thousands of others. This was starting to make sense now, everyone who got a card or a picture with a couple’s faces burned out of it were people in positions of authority. Had I known about this earlier in my career, I probably would have saved myself A LOT of trouble. I know, that’s not a nice thing to say, especially right now. I’m starting to not care anymore.

“Why a photo or The Lovers’ card? How did THAT start?” I asked him, hoping he wouldn’t know.

And that’s when he started choking up, his face turned red and his face began to twitch. With a gasp, he tried to regain his composure.

“Because I was the first one who did it.”

Did he really just say this? He started crying even harder.

“What… the fuck are you talking about?”

“I was just… After weeks of not seeing or hearing from Leveau, I got so upset. She loved Giles so much, she hated having to hide it but they didn’t have much of a choice. No one really CHOOSES who they love, so I can see why having to keep it a secret ate her up inside. One day I just kind of ‘accepted’ that I’d never see her again, and after all the horrifying shit I had been hearing about how their bodies were found, of course I was angry! I…”

His eyes went blank and he stared off into space for a second, after a strained gasp he regained his thoughts.

“I took out The Lovers’ card and burned out their faces, I knew they were dead. Nobody would tell me, they didn’t exactly have to at that point. I was angry, it was kinda my own way of expressing my anger about it. At first I blamed them for, well, leaving me. I blame Major Summerfield for ending their lives, ending THEM… and maybe this sounds selfish, but for taking my friend away from ME.” He stared at the floor, tears falling onto it in steady little streams. “Would it have been so hard for him to have just done his fucking job? Suck it up, write out the paperwork and send them both home? Kick them out? No, let’’s murder them instead! THAT’S PERFECTLY FINE!” He was so upset he was shouting, and starting to scare me a little.

“I have to ask,” I sank into my desk-chair a little, I was very scared, “What did you do with the card you burned?”

“Bible-bitch took it from me, snatched it right out of my hands. I told her to leave me the fuck alone, I just wanted to work this all out for myself, but… some nonsense about fortune-tellers and sin. She never gave it back to me, she never had the chance. They found her in a blood-puddle two days later. No witnesses, no fingerprints, no external wounds. Not a thing.”

He stood up, collected himself and made for the door.

“I think I have to go.”

He left.

That was the last thing he ever said to me. The last time anyone saw him was a week before Christmas at the post office, said he had a Christmas card he needed to mail out, then after he did so he went back into his room and decided to dine on his M-16.

The card he mailed out went to Major Summerfield.

The only reason we found this out is because his wife found his body in their backyard yesterday, according to an e-mail from Brigade. No strange sounds, no animal bites, no external wounds.

They found him in his favorite deck-chair in the covered porch, lying there in a bathrobe that had a bunch of holes in it, clutching a printed stock photo of a seemingly ordinary couple with both of their faces completely burned out.

7-JANUARY-2009 Camp Liberty, Iraq

Our operations at F.O.B Warhorse have been shut down until further notice, all of our personnel were given orders to leave a few days after the suicide. They rounded us up at this megaplex of a base in Baghdad, we have to report in for formations twice a day and no one is allowed to go anywhere alone. Top has gotten weird about people disappearing ever since our C.O died, but the events at Warhorse didn’t help things.

Presumably as a gesture of trust, Top put me in charge of a small group of Soldiers and told me to make sure they didn’t go anywhere they weren’t supposed to, “like the burn-pit.”

Yes, he actually said that.

Haha, First Sergeant made a funny joke.

I’ve barely slept a wink ever since I opened that flash-drive, which despite coughing up the money for a brand new laptop, I haven’t been able to re-open since. Every time I plug it in, it just comes up as being empty. I’d have the other I.T geeks take a crack at it, but… not sure if it’s worth torturing them with whatever the fuck this is. Or worse, getting them killed over it.

I’m up to a pack and a half a day, no matter what I eat it always tastes disgusting. I even tried going cold turkey for a few days to see if my cigs were messing with my sense of taste, no effect.

We’re not even a third of the way done with this deployment and everyone already seems at their wit’s end. This could very well be wishful thinking on behalf of some of the troops, but there’s talk of sending people home early, notably anyone directly affected by the recent deaths. I’m thinking of volunteering to go, but so far it’s just a rumor.

A few days ago, I went to the shoppette for some snacks and a book, some things to keep myself entertained until this whole thing blows over (assuming it ever will.) Every shoppette has an aisle or a display table full of home decor type stuff, items to give Soldiers a taste of home. This one had a few desk-top photo frames for sale, one model had token pre-printed images of a happy couple that came with them.

There were only three or four of these things left, the others barely look like anyone had touched them at all. I bought one. I haven’t done anything with it just yet, I might not do anything at all.

This may be a foolhardy assumption on my part, but I think that says something about the power of fear in a closed social system like the Army. People who feel crushed by the weight of administrative incompetence or authoritarian abuses that they reach the point of desperation. It makes perfect sense why people resort to destroying some of these top-heavy, brass-grabbing figureheads that they can’t otherwise reason with or work around, usually they wind up doing it Fort Hood style: In a closed society where everyone is presumed guilty of something, I guess the only true crime is being caught.

Just like Giles and Leveau.

I think I’m starting to understand not only why their spirits can’t seem to rest, but why they’ve taken to killing people who misuse their positions, just like Major Summerfield. However, they have to be… I can’t believe I’m about to seriously say this and believe it, but… summoned.

I get it. I understand now. And I don’t think I can blame them.

18-FEBRUARY-2009 Camp Liberty, Iraq

Word from back home is that SFC Parvis finally killed himself: After a few more incidents of attacking his team of doctors, they took to sedating him regularly. After about a week and a half of this, he took his bed-sheet and twisted it around his neck until he basically strangled himself to death. This is going to sound awful, but given my history with him as my supervising NCO, I’m having a difficult time feeling bad for the guy. Still, suicide is an agonizing death any way you slice it.

Which got me thinking, if HE got a photo and that dude who locked himself in the port-a-john… Those two both LIVED, at least for a time, so what did they do differently?

It took me a while, but I think I have an idea:

They apologized.

For the most part, nobody truly WANTS to die. I’ve seen Soldiers under fire ducking behind cars or any kind of cover they can find while pleading someone or something, anything, for forgiveness. About half the time they call out for their mothers, it’s a basic psychology thing. They realize their own mortality, so some of them feel a need to kind of… repent, beg forgiveness for mistakes made. I don’t believe in God, but I have to admit, having seen these two… beings, including what they’re capable of, my mind is open to possibilities.

I still have that cheap little photo frame, but I can’t bring myself to do anything with it.

That flash-drive still won’t work anymore, I don’t know why I bothered keeping it.

My request to be sent home with the other grieving Soldiers was denied. Either they genuinely need the power of my estrogen-infused presence, or they’re punishing me still for Gerard’s mishap and my little adventure at the Balad burn-pit. Whatever, I survived one tour in this shit-hole already, I’ll just have to find a way to survive this trip.

3-APRIL-2009 Camp Liberty, Iraq

Since when are random bands of bored NCOs not worth their rank-patches allowed to barge into random rooms and do health-and-welfare searches?!?! This cock-bite came banging on my door just as I was getting ready to leave for the next formation without saying who he is or who he’s with, then when I answer the door he just pushed right past me like I wasn’t even there! Two of his subordinates tried to grab me, I managed to Sparta-Kick one of them back out the door and then that’s when mr big-stuff FINALLY decided to tell me that my room is being searched for contraband. Hey, I’m a female Soldier with a room entirely to myself and for all I know someone with ulterior motives is trying to break in, what would YOU think?

He was searching my stuff for about an hour, ripped my room the fuck apart, all he found were my smokes and my vibrator. Hey, I’m an adult and I have needs, too… Then he stands at my doorstep looking out at me like he was disappointed that that was all he found. He wanted to confiscate my favorite toy, but I guess he didn’t care for my proposition of letting him borrow it as long as he washed it off before he gave it back.

After he huffed and threw it back into the room, he muttered something about having a talk with my First Sergeant, and walked off smoking MY CIGARETTES with his cronies like he owns the entire damp encampment.

Thanks for making me miss morning formation, ass-bag.

Don’t worry, Sergeant whoever-the-fuck-you-think-you-are…

I’ve SO got you.

I’ll have a little present waiting for you next time, after I finish cleaning this up I’m going to “wrap it for you” and you’d better hope to God I don’t find out where your office is before I leave it in your desk drawer.

I Googled what the phrase Vae Victis means, it is Latin after all. Basically it means “woe upon the vanquished.” Some barbarian conqueror first said it after his troops successfully sacked Rome and some of the aristocrats had the gall to come crying to him about it.

I guess that was his way of saying “Fuck you and your fucking city, you fucking lost so GET OVER IT!”

Well fuck you, too, buddy.

Vae fucking Victis!

10-APRIL-2009 Camp Liberty, Iraq

Top swears up and down that no one matching the description I gave him came to see him, but that a few other female Soldiers within the Company came to him voicing similar complaints. Unfortunately, none of them thought to get his name. I’m hoping that none of them were injured in the process, guys like that can be… dangerous. Many of the girls have requested new living arrangements because they’re scared, I don’t blame them at all. Top said he’ll look into it, but it might be a while.

I told him I could make room for one in my quarters, he said he’ll think about it.

It’s been a few days and this guy hasn’t come back, which is good because the last thing I need is one more reason to lose precious sleep, which I’m still be rely able to do still. When there aren’t bombs or rockets being thrown over the wire at us, I swear I’m still hearing those sickening screams in my head. Sergeant Douchebag who ransacked my room seemed to have completely missed the flash-drive as well as the then unused photo frame.

So yeah, I took the liberty of modifying the couple’s picture for him as a little “welcome back gift.” Or maybe I can’t just hand it to him, maybe he needs to find it? If so, I need to either find out where his Area of Operation is and make sure he gets it, or just stuff it somewhere in my room until he comes back. IF he comes back.

I feel like I’m sitting right on top of an IED, I still can’t believe I actually MADE ONE OF THESE! What am I supposed to do with it if I never see him again? Should I burn it? Maybe I should just take it outside and burn it right now… or will that just make something else happen? How do I know that they won’t just come after ME? I’m not so sure I want to encounter those two again, even though they didn’t physically hurt me the first time around, or the second, I probably should have thought about that before I burned the faces out of that stock-photo.

I was pretty pissed off when I did it, too. Maybe it needs the rage in order to work, maybe they feed of off it and use it to kill their victims.

I don’t know, I’m not sure that I WANT to know anymore.

I just want to go home.

17-MAY-2009 Camp Buehring, Kuwait

I can’t find it!

A few days after our re-deployment briefing, I was packing up my stuff to make my way out of this awful place. I’m certain that I packed it with my personal stuff, I checked on it daily! I kept it face-down with some of my books, and now I CAN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE!

What if someone else finds it and they die? Will… THEY kill an innocent person? Can they tell the difference between an asshole and an ordinary guy? I already know that they can operate outside of the Middle East when Summerfield got what he had coming, but … can they follow people? If so, I think I’ve drawn their attention plenty already.

Why do I feel like that IED I’ve been sitting on, waiting until that bastard came back, is about to go off?

I’ve been trying to keep myself distracted until it turns up. The others like to go off to the USO to play video games, but I just don’t feel like going anywhere. The last thing I want to do is play Call Of Duty with a bunch of macho meat-heads, for many of them that’s the closest they’ll ever come to seeing actual combat. Psh… then they have the nerve to go on about women not being able to hack it in the Army.

I’m too tired and too fucked up in the head right now to argue about it, I haven’t slept a wink since we got to Kuwait. It’s probably the sleep-deprivation, but I’m seeing shit out of the corners of my eyes and I swear on my life, it looks like flashes of old desert-cammo.

I’ve been trying to keep my mind occupied by reading books and playing games on my new laptop, I have a SNES emulator and some games that I used to play as a girl. I’m trying to kill the dread that keeps creeping up in my mind with cutesy shit like Mario and crappy Disney games, but it doesn’t seem to work. One minute I’m playing the old Sim City on my computer, the next, I see my old C.O on the screen, being repeatedly assailed by two pale figures, thrusting their hands… right into him. Right THROUGH his uniform… and inside his writhing body.

One time I was checking my e-mail, I was interrupted by two pairs of clouded eyes staring back at me, INTO me… followed by a blue-screen.

I have to find that picture, A.S.A.P.

20-MAY-2009 Camp Buehring, Kuwait

I still can’t find the picture.

I’ve been ordered to go to the clinic on the other side of camp. Apparently, I struck a Soldier who was trying to wake me for PT. I don’t remember doing it, and I apologized to him, he said he thought I was having a nightmare, but… so yeah, they gave me some valium.

I’m still afraid, even though I know I’m going home soon.

Valium doesn’t make you happy or sane, it just makes you not care anymore.

1-JUNE-2009 Camp Buehring, Kuwait

We’re getting on the plane tomorrow, thank God.

I can hear two people walking around the tents at night.

Everything I touch feels sticky.

I’ve gotta find that photo and get the fuck outta here!

2-JUNE-2009 Rammstein Air Force Base, Germany

I brought my assault-pack with me on the plane and took it into the bathroom during our re-fuel stop here in Germany, my pills are in there.

I went into the ladies’ room within the holding area to go take a piss followed by my meds.

You’re never going to believe what I found at the bottom of the main compartment.

Please, please whatever MP or CID guy reading this… don’t open that flash-drive! I don’t care who orders you to do it, don’t… fucking… open it. A Courts-Martial will be nothing compared to what they’ll do

CID Report: 3rd of June, 2009.

Deceased is a 28 year old caucasian female, rank of Sergeant (E-5) returning home from a particularly difficult deployment in Iraq. Other Soldiers describe the victim as bull-headed and mischievous, but an otherwise decent NCO who started showing signs of mental distress after the deaths of two people in the Company while deployed. Both deaths were ruled non-combat related, one an alleged homicide with no conclusive evidence as to what happened.

Body was found when a Soldier was sent to retrieve her well after boarding call. No screams were heard, so signs of a struggle have been observed, witnesses don’t recall anyone following her to the restroom. It should also be noted that the entire restroom surfaces, especially around the body, are sticky to the touch and there’s an almost overwhelming odor of burnt trash. Soldier’s supervising NCO told a story of a mishap at a burn-pit site in Iraq.

Victim’s uniform is full of hand-sized puncture-holes but there are no external wounds on the body itself. Bluing of the skin around the abdomen and noticeable amounts of blood emitted from her mouth, nose and ears, indicate massive internal injuries.

Found among the deceased: An assault pack full of books, a computer and some personal hygiene items. A photograph was found face down with the body, a paper image of a man and woman in an embrace, but their faces appear to have been burnt out with a lighter (victim appears to have been a heavy smoker.)

Aside from a hastily written journal entry, which has already been bagged for evidence, only one other object of interest was found among the deceased’s belongings.

A slightly damaged flash-drive with some Latin words written on it in place of a label:

“Vae Victis.”

Credit To – Egodram

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Hoarding

July 25, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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My aunt was a kind and benevolent woman. She was widowed, but never allowed her situation to get the better of her. She had a stern outlook on rules and etiquette, but a heart of platinum. She gave to charity even when she barely had enough for herself and she was loved by everyone… except for me.

My aunt wore a disguise. Her facade was so convincing I would love her for many years before.

Before.

Back in the days before I would often visit my aunts old house by the sea and would always be thrilled for the opportunity. She was an elder, but her house was never a bore. It was filled to the brim with knick-knacks and photo albums. Some in the town called her a hoarder, but she always preferred to be called a collector. A ‘collector of memories’ she would often tell me as we sat by the warmth of the fire that always bellowed in its stone cage. I would sit on the carpeted floor and listen quietly as she strung tales of the adventures of her youth. The stories of my young aunt clashed heavily with the frail figure I now saw rocking back and forth in her chair.

I was hooked on her stories and would not let her take me to my bed before hearing at least one. She also gave me free range in her home and there was plenty to explore. Her house had been built during the years of prohibition and the old place had been equipped with various nooks and crannies and the occasional hidden room or tunnel. The secret rooms were always dusty and filled with relics of years past. Whenever I asked her about a bottle cap or playbill I found littering the floors of the hidden storage spaces she would only tell me “Oh, sweetie, you know me…I never throw anything away!” then she would laugh and send me off with a sandwich or an apple in hand to go play some more.

I said before that she gave me free range of her house, but to be honest that was not completely true. There was ONE room that she forbade me from entering. “The basement is too old and dangerous, sweetie, you mustn’t ever venture down there, do you understand?” I would always smile and nod yes before going off on another adventure. Not that I forgot the room, I would often wonder what lay behind the old oak door that blocked me from my potential exploration. The door was always locked, though and I would lose interest very quickly.

That is how things went for a while until she started to show signs of mental illness. She began forgetting things. Small things at first…where she left her keys or that she had already bought eggs the day before. She still smiled through it all and would often dismiss her troubles by giving a simple “silly me, my head is full of rocks!” Although she never forgot her mantra “I never throw anything away” and would continue to tell me the stories attached to each object in her collection.

Her mental state slowly slipped away until she couldn’t even remember my name, let alone her own. I was in my early 20s by this point, but I continued to visit my beloved aunt up until the day she finally died from her illnesses. On one of the last days I spoke to her she was sitting in her chair by the fire as she had many times before and mumbling to herself. “Harold…Harold…Harold…” She was muttering my late uncle’s name over and over again. I knew little about my uncle, because he was one of the few topics she never spoke about, and to hear his name escape her lips for the first time since I could remember was shocking. “Auntie, do you want to say something about Uncle Harry?” I leaned in close and watched as a crooked smile went across her lips. Her teeth were yellow and brown in spots and obviously decaying with her age. She laughed for seemingly no reason and let out a raspy “I never throw anything away, child, never…” Then she just stared off into space and wouldn’t answer me. A few days later she died at the town’s hospital and we buried her the next day. Preparations had been in place for some time and the whole ordeal was over pretty quickly.
I learned a few weeks later that she had left the old house to me. I was very excited. This house meant the world to me and I decided to move in as soon as possible. I moved in a few days later and carried my bags up to what had once been my designated bedroom for when I visited. After all the boxes had been carried up I decided to look around my old playing ground. It was relatively the same as before, but age had withered it some. It would need some work, but I was up to the task if it was to restore my aunt home. I spent the next few weeks dusting and patching up the place and made a good amount of progress. The place was starting to look like it had 11-15 years ago. Her old knick-knacks still crowded every shelf and mantle in the house and that was just how I wanted it.

The only issue I had, though, was that at night the house made noises. I tried to tell myself they were just the sound of an old house settling and that I should ignore it. The sounds kept me awake however. I swore at time it sounded like rattling coming from the depths of the old estate. I even thought I heard grunts and voices at one point. This went on every night for weeks and I was getting less and less sleep.

One day while I was finishing up cleaning I noticed for the first time in years, the old basement door. I had grown so accustomed to it being off limits that I hadn’t even acknowledged it this entire time. However, now this was MY house and I had a right to finally see what secrets it held. Besides, I had to clean that room as well as the others. The door, however, was surely locked as it had been for years. I then caught sight of something shiny sitting atop the doorframe. I was a lot taller now than I had been as a child and assumed that is why I had not seen it before. I reached up and brought down a brass key. The key’s appearance conflicted with the rest of the house as it was shiny and polished without a speck of dust on it.

I slid the old key into the lock of the basement door and the tumblers moved with ease. The door creaked open and I was presented with wooden stairs that descended into darkness. I flicked the light switch on the wall, but a fuse must have been blown, because I was still staring at a black pit. I rushed and got a flashlight from my tool bag and was relived to find the batteries were still in working order. I shined the white ball of light into the basement and saw that the stairs themselves looked as if dust had been kicked around and the handrail was wiped clean. I descended the stairs and flicked my light from one side of the room to another. The room was filled with what seemed to be old science equipment. Beakers and test-tubes littered the tables and jars filled with various liquids and gels sat on the shelves. I wondered if my aunt had helped some old high school clean out their old science gear or something and was quite surprised to find this kind of stuff in her basement. There were other jars on the back shelves that seemed to hold organic tissue of some sort, I guess it was probably from frogs or pig fetuses as those where used in high school science classes sometimes.

Then my light landed on what appeared to be a large black box in the middle of the room. It was locked and I could see that little dust had fallen on it. I finally put together that my aunt must have been coming down here regularly when I went to sleep, hence why some of these objects had not been left alone long enough to gather dust. I walked towards the box and gave it a light kick, perhaps it was something from her travels? Or maybe it was just a bundle of old clothes she had put away for a rainy day.

As I kicked the box it moved. It moved not in the way an inanimate objects moves when force is applied to it, but as if something had moved from inside. I kicked it lightly again and it shook more violently this time. I thought I heard noises coming from the black mysterious object. The sounds seemed inhuman in nature and were mostly grunts and moans. The box was shaking more wildly now and I assumed that some animal had gotten stuck in it. My heart was pounding and my eyes were wide. I could feel my palms becoming clammy and sweat rolled down my cheek. This whole experience was so weird, so bizarre that I had no idea how to handle it. I saw that the box was locked with a sliding lock and I walked gingerly towards it. My hand was shaking but I managed to grab a hold of the latch and slide it so as to unlock the box.

The lid flung open and a black figure sprang up. I screamed. Or at least I tried and I fell backwards on my butt in the dusty ground. My flashlight fell from my hands and rolled away and I turned to bolt up the stairs that would lead me away from the horrid basement. I ran and ran until I was through the doorframe. I slammed the door behind me and locked it with the key that I had somehow managed to keep in hand. I felt a hard impact from the other side and my ears were polluted with the vile sounds of inhuman groans and the scratching of nails against wood. I ran to the phone and called the police.

By the time the authorities got to the house the noises had ceased. When they opened the door that found the thing had left long bloody scratch marks on the other side of the door. There were even some broken fingernails lodged in the wood. When they ventured further they found the body of the creature I had ran from in the dark. It had apparently died sometime between jumping out of the box and now. It was a man. His body was badly mutilated and was barely able to tell he was male. His skin was black and flaky and charred as if he had been in a fire. His eyelids and lips had been cut away and his tongue removed. One of his arms had been completely severed at the elbow and the autopsy revealed some minor organs had been removed. His genitals were horribly mangled and his bones showed signs of multiple breaks. His remaining teeth were cracked and jagged as if hit by a hammer. He had no hair as it had probably been burnt off in whatever fire had destroyed his skin. He had no toes on one foot and only half his fingers on his remaining hand. There were various chemicals found in his system that told us that he had gone through several heinous injections. He was nude except for a medical bracelet that had been fused to his wrist in the heat of the flames that had scarred him. It read ‘Harold’.
Upon hearing this I immediately remembered my aunt favorite mantra and my stomach became weak, “I never throw anything away”.

My uncle had gone missing over 15 years ago and was presumed dead. I never thought I would ever meet him. Old journals were found in the basement that revealed that my Aunts mental illness was worse than we could have ever imagined. It turns out that she thought her actions were justified under orders from God. She thought it was her duty to cleanse my uncle’s soul through continuous suffering and had trapped him down in the basement and tortured him for years. When I went down and unknowingly opened the door of his cage he wasn’t trying to chase me, but rather he was trying to escape the hell he had been confined to for 15 years…and I and locked him there. I had kept him in the basement and he died never being able to see the light of day again.

He died in the same hell he wanted nothing more than to escape from. I carry that guilt with me forever. I put her house for sale afterwards, but no one wanted to buy the house of the murderous woman who kept her husband in a box. The house burned down some years after, no one is sure if it was arson or an accident, but I didn’t care. When I heard the news I smiled.

I still have the key, though. A reminder that you can’t trust those you love the most at face value. A reminder that the person you hold in highest regard could be a devil in disguise. Besides, despite my animosity towards my aunt I cannot get myself to get rid of the key.
After all, I never throw anything away.

Credit To – Clever Boy

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