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Thump!

April 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I have no idea whether or not this story will be seen as “creepy” by anyone reading it, but I can honestly say these events will stay with me until I die.

Living in England, I grew up on a healthy diet of ghost stories, myths and legends. The county I live in has many of it’s own supernatural stories, ranging from witchcraft, faceless monks and grey ladies to the supposed ghost of Boris Karloff! My story involves none of these.

Before I start, I want to say that I won’t be using names of places or “people” as I don’t want to exploit and/or cause trouble for anyone, myself included. Any ages or dates will be swapped out for false ones.

It begins innocent enough, a drink with an old friend. It was early December 2012 and I wanted to celebrate my birthday with a friend I’ve had since childhood. She was going to be moving to Spain that week, which meant she would be gone by my actual birthday at the end of the month.

I had intended on leaving her place quite early so I could catch a bus home. I didn’t know the area too well and I didn’t want to be out in the dark. Up until that night, I had always relied on her giving me lifts back and forth, so I never took time to really take notice of the neighbourhood.

I ended up not leaving until around midnight but in my somewhat drunken haze, I had managed to convince myself, and my friend, that taking a bus back home was still a good idea. The problem was, I had missed the last bus hours ago. Never the less, I put my coat on, stumbled out the door with some general directions to the nearest bus stop and I promised to return should I run into any trouble.

Now, sober me has no problem admitting to being scared of the dark and sober me probably would have seen spending the night at my friend’s place as a viable and probably the better option. But I was drunk and while under the influence, I tend to display out of character bravery and an unusual level of stupidity. I had set my mind to do something, I was going to do it.

Finding my way to the bus stop was going to be easy as it was at the bottom of a street who’s name was the same as my last name. As I turned into the street, I felt safe enough as it was a well-lit residential road that was packed with blocks of flats and council houses down one side and a primary school on the other.

It was quite a short road and I could just about make out the bus stop at the end under a street lamp. I was singing something, I don’t remember what, but a short distance from the school gate, I was stopped in my tracks when I heard what I thought was a scream.

You know when you hear something and you remain silent for what seems like ages, straining your ears for the slightest sound to figure out where it’s coming from? That’s what I was doing right then. For a short time, I heard no sound other than the general ambiance and a few cars at the bottom of the street and I thought about carrying on.

Just as I had plucked up enough courage to start walking again, from the direction of the primary school, I heard crying and a series of strange thumping sounds. Thump! Over and over! It was like nothing I had ever heard before, or since. I mean, obviously I know what a thump sounds like but these were different. I can’t explain how!

When I thought what ever it was had finally finished, I heard another, more choked scream followed soon after by one last thump. My blood felt like it had turned to ice and my brain started to “whoosh” after straining my ears for so long.

I thought “fuck this!” and I turned back around, ran as fast as my legs would go to the top of the street and back to my friend’s house. What ever it was that had just happened, I was NOT waiting around to find out!

I got to her door and though every bone in my body was urging me to bang on the door and scream, I slowed my breath as much as I could and knocked calmly. “I knew you would come back!” my friend yelled as she yanked the door open. “I think I missed the last bus” I replied quietly. I went right to the sofa, took off my shoes, lay down, coat still on and I slept, heavily. To this day, I don’t know why I never said anything.

When I woke up, I wasn’t hungover like you’d expect. I felt fine and I had slept really well. I was still a little shaken from the scare but sober me piped up and put the whole incident down to drunken hallucinations and my fear of the dark.

I wanted to go home right away but my friend didn’t want to drive until she was sure the alcohol was out of her system and I did NOT want to catch a bloody bus! She dropped me off home around 6 that evening and for the next couple of weeks, life kinda just carried on. She left for Spain, Christmas and my birthday came and went and I hoped to celebrate the New Year with my family.

On the morning of New Years Eve, I got a call from my Mum, confirming our plans. “Dad says you can have a few drinks and he’ll be the designated driver” she almost sang over the phone. It was then, after trying to forget, the screams and scary thumps weedled their way back into my head. I told her I wasn’t going to touch a drop!

After the call ended, I started to think about everything that had happened that night. What if I had heard someone being attacked? What if I had just run off when I could have helped? I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get past it as I had hoped. That’s when I realised that I could look up any possible incidents on the internet, duh!

I typed the date, area and “attacks” into the search engine and to my horror, something came up. I clicked on the link and was taken to a news report about the murder of a young woman. I was kinda relieved when I saw that even though it was a story about a murder from that date, it was 6 years before.

I was about to quit the page when I saw a name. It was the name of the primary school I was about to pass that night. I read on and I started to feel sick.

“Police have re-opened the investigation into the death of _____ ____ who was murdered in __________ back in ____. _____ was 22 when she was sexually assaulted and murdered behind _____ Primary School, in the early hours of _____. She was found partially-clothed later that morning by a caretaker. The crime is thought to be linked to a series of rapes that happened in the area around the time of the murder and locals now fear the assailant may be someone close”

I carried on reading and found out that she had taken the same street, the street with my name, on her way to the same bus stop after visiting a friend from the same road mine lived in. She never made it past the school.

The post mortem determined her cause of death as asphyxiation. The back of her skull was crushed and so was her spine. She had been stamped on.

By now, I was in tears. I still half believed the whole affair to be a drunken dream but in the end, I couldn’t deny the dates, times and places lined up perfectly. Even those horrible screams and thumps started to make sense.

The part that scared me the most? The reason it was back in the news as recently as a few months before. The guy who had spent the last 6 years in prison had just been cleared of the crime. In the time he was locked up, a few sporadic rapes and the disappearance of another young woman have happened in the area. No arrests have been made in connection with any of them and the real killer of _____ ____ has never been caught.

I can’t help but think that the events from 6 years before were somehow playing out again that night. Like a recording. Maybe if had I attempted to carry on to the bus stop, I would never had made it past the school either.

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Knock-off

April 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I once knew a guy who looked almost exactly like me. He had the same curly brown hair, only slightly darker. He had the same crooked nose, only a bit smaller. Even our eyes were similar; both almond-shaped, but his irises were a slightly lighter shade of brown.

He didn’t just look like me either. We acted similarly; talked similarly; walked similarly; the list goes on. We only had slight variations in almost every aspect of our being. It was scary, at first. But soon, that fear developed into anger.

I absolutely hated that lousy, good-for-nothing faker.

Thomas Blake was his name. I met him in my junior year of high school; he transferred toward the beginning of the school year, since apparently his father was with the army and thus had to move around often. And yes – my mother was in the army as well, and this was the third high school I had attended thus far. It was his fourth. That was a recurring theme with the variations between Thomas and I: he always seemed one step further. Not ahead, just further.

When he was first introduced to the class, everybody made a huge deal about how similar we looked. Even the teacher was confused for a moment, thinking I was pulling some kind of prank. However, when they noticed me sitting in my seat at the back of the class as usual, eyes shifted between the two of us in astonishment as whispers were exchanged. In a similar state of surprise, my gaze was firmly fixed on Thomas, meeting his. Unlike me, however, he didn’t appear surprised at all. He just looked at me with a slight smile as he went to take the seat the teacher pointed out for him. Said teacher always had a bit of a sense of humor – so of course, since Thomas needed a ‘Study Buddy’ to get him caught up on the class’s lesson content, I was the man for the job.

During lunch break, people swarmed us.

“Are you two related?” one person asked.

“Are you like, long lost twins or something?” another hypothesized.

My school had a fair amount of silly people among its student body, so all sorts of theories were thrown around. Maybe we were clones who’d escaped from a secret laboratory and gotten separated. Maybe we were the twin product of a steamy military love affair between his father and my mother, who then decided to split the two of us before leaving each other. Maybe we were even the same person from two different timelines that had somehow intersected – the theories just kept getting more convoluted as the class had a field day with it.

Now, I didn’t hate Thomas from the very start. In fact, we were something akin to friends at first. Our various similarities made that easy for us, plus the fact that everyone else was already calling us ‘The twins’ a few hours after we’d met. Since I was his study buddy, the two of us spent a fair amount of time together, and I soon introduced him to my little clique of friends. That was when he began to creep me out a little.

My four friends and I were sitting at a lunch table eating as usual when he walked up.

“Hey, mind if I join you?” He pointed to one of us before shifting his finger to another. “And you?” Yet again, he shifted his finger, and repeated the question until he pointed to me. He paused for a moment, then went, “And me?”

Everybody except for me laughed at the odd little greeting. I just looked up at him with a half-assed grin like I was attempting to find it funny, but blatantly failing. What caught me off-guard was that, apart from that last bit, this was exactly how I’d first approached a group of kids in one of my last schools – word for word.

Of course, we invited him to sit with us, and I tried to shake off the feeling of unease that the event had left me with. I was able to forget about it for a while, but it wasn’t long before it returned.

Sure enough, as the days went on, he continued acting like me. He said things I would’ve said and did things I would’ve done. Not that he did this all the time; the variations between us made it so that it was relatively infrequent. However, it happened often enough for me to take notice and begin to get freaked out by it. Surely it wasn’t normal for someone this similar to me to suddenly appear in my life – the odds were astronomical. But no matter how I tried to rationalize the impossibility of the fact, it never made it any less true.

Although Thomas hung out with my group a lot those first few weeks, he soon began to hang out with other people as well. Our school was relatively small, so it was something all of us naturally did. Most people were at least acquainted with each other, whether in a good or bad way. However, people usually stuck to their particular groups of friends, having only one or two closer associates from other groups. There were a minority of people who had no particular clique, and instead had friends in many different cliques, or just fit in well with everyone – chameleons, we called them. I myself was somewhat of a chameleon, and had many friends from other groups, but I had a specific group that I liked to hang with the most, composed of my four closest friends. Thomas, however, was different.

When he began to hang out with other people and get along quite nicely with them, my friends and I determined he would probably end up becoming a chameleon too, if only partly. But we were surprised to find that he became something more. Something our school had rarely ever seen, and something that I personally hadn’t seen very often either: universally popular.

Now, being universally popular wasn’t some kind of superpower or anything, but it was quite an achievement nonetheless. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but Thomas was essentially a friend to everyone in the school. He had even befriended the loner and unpopular kids, who had initially hated him out of spite.

‘He just has this charisma,’ some said.

‘He’s a really nice guy, I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t like him,’ said others.

To them it seemed perfectly natural to like a guy like Thomas. But it didn’t make sense to me, because I had long since picked up on our similarities. If we were so similar, why was he so popular while I wasn’t?

Jealousy began to boil within me. What did he have that I didn’t? I just couldn’t understand it. But as I observed him and spent time with him, I realized I had been so focused on the similarities between us I had failed to notice the variations. They ended up making all the difference.

Thomas was more confident. He was slightly more handsome, had higher grades, and had a bit of an accent since he had lived in England for a time. Whatever we had in common, his variation was almost always better. That was when jealousy gave way to hatred. Not of Thomas, however; of myself. For a while, I hated myself for not being as good as Thomas. The feeling of insecurity ate away at me for over two months, causing my grades to drop and my health to go down as I spent most of my time isolated.

Friends tried to comfort me to no avail. My family tried to get me to see a psychiatrist or a therapist, but I refused. I looked to the internet for help with what I had come to believe was probably some form of depression, but despite all the good and bad advice, none of it seemed to change anything. Imagine my surprise, then, when all that it took to solve my problem was a trip to the dollar store.

I had gone there with my father to buy something or other. As my dad looked for it, I got bored and wandered off to the toy section, where I gazed absent-mindedly at the cheap crap that passed for toys here. If you’ve ever been to a dollar store, you know that the merchandise they sell isn’t exactly top-notch, and the kids’ items are no exception. Countless rip-offs of famous toys littered the section: Roboformers, Action Rangers, Barbara Girls, that kind of near-copyright infringement thing. As I looked at them, I began to realize the case wasn’t so different for my own situation. The Roboformers were almost exactly like Transformers, but there were a few minor differences to keep some small-time Chinese company from getting sued. And that’s exactly what Thomas was. He was just a cheap rip-off version of me.

It wasn’t evident at first. I mean, Thomas was better than me, wasn’t he? When I re-evaluated him with this in mind, however, I found him to be quite different. His confidence was obnoxious, bordering on outright overconfidence. His grades were only higher than mine because I and many others had helped him study. His English accent was only faint, and most likely somewhat forced. No matter how I looked at it, he was just nothing but a faker. And so, my hatred shifted from me onto him.

With the problem of my insecurity gone, I returned to school and gradually returned to normal. I felt much better knowing that I was the original, and he was just a bad imitation masquerading as something better. I could easily fake who I was and become like him as well, but I wasn’t that pathetic – I would stay true to who I was.

Still, the problem wasn’t entirely gone.

Thomas and I still talked fairly often, and the more I saw him around, the more annoyed I got. It got to the point where simply hearing him speak would immediately flip my mood, regardless of what it was before. I knew that I couldn’t keep being friendly for long, so I gradually tried to drift away from him, even if it meant staying away from a few of my other friends as well. It didn’t work. Even when I didn’t approach him, he approached me. Whenever I would try to leave him, he would flash that small smile that looked sickeningly similar to mine and try to convince me to stay.

I hated him. I hated him so much that words could not even describe it. Everything he did only served to fuel the fire within me. Whenever I got the chance, I began to daydream about calling him out on his fakery and beating him up as a suitable punishment. These daydreams soon evolved into hypothetical plans of increasing complexity, as I mulled over ways to get him expelled from school and out of my life forever.

Then, my mom made an unprecedented announcement: we were leaving. Her work required her to be stationed in New York, so I couldn’t stay in my school. At first, I rejoiced – finally, Thomas Blake would be out of my life forever! A couple of months passed and the week of the move came, so I said my goodbyes to all of my friends and acquaintances – and unfortunately, Thomas – before leaving my school. But I didn’t feel as good as I thought I would.

Initially I believed that getting away from Thomas was what I needed, but he just stayed on my mind. I was confused; why couldn’t I stop hating him, even after I’d never have to see him again? He was irrelevant now, after all. I could just leave him behind and start a new life somewhere else, where I was the only me.

But no. I soon realized that no matter where I was on this planet, I simply could not condone a cheap rip-off of myself still existing out there, acting like he was better than me. Even if I never had to see him again, I’d know he still existed, and that would eat away at me forever. There was only one way I could solve the problem. I had to stop him from existing.

But could I really go through with killing him? Coming up with a plan wasn’t too hard, since I knew where he lived as well as the layout of his house. As much as my hatred compelled me, however, fear of the potential consequences halted me.

In the end, I didn’t even need to take the initiative. About a week before the scheduled time for the move, I got a call from none other than my would-be doppelganger.

“Hey Travis, wanna hang out?” Thomas asked nonchalantly. “I know you’re leaving soon, so I was thinking we should go somewhere one last time. I asked James and Sarah, but neither of them are available, so I guess it’s just us.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the opportunity. Maybe if I could get him all alone and make sure nobody found his body for a while, it could work. I was moving away soon anyway. “Alright, where’d you wanna go?”

“How ‘bout we head to the mall?” Thomas suggested. “There’s some stuff I need to pick up there anyway.”

“Alright,” I replied, “how’s tomorrow?”

And with that, the deal was sealed.

That night, I went out to set things up for my grand plan.

The following day I met Thomas at the mall just like we arranged, my mom’s switchblade stuffed into my pocket for later use. All I needed to do was lead him to some secluded part of town on our way back home; I knew the town’s layout better than he did, so I could just tell him I knew a shortcut. I kept telling myself it’d be easy, but my heart raced the entire time we were at the mall. We acted all buddy-buddy as we usually did, despite the fact that I was just itching to jab my knife into his stomach every second of the day. There he was, right in front of me – that stinking copycat, talking and acting just like me even though he wasn’t. Yet I couldn’t do anything. Not until that evening.

The time eventually came, and the two of us decided to walk back to my house. I told him of the supposed shortcut, and I led him to a relatively small park by the river that ran through the town. I had been thorough in my preparations: the previous night, I’d buried a weight and a rope in a thicket of trees nearby, so that I could eventually tie him up and throw him into the river after killing him. There were some rowboats tied to the docks a little ways away from the park, so I could simply steal one of those, row a little further up the river, and dump the body. Lastly, actually killing him wouldn’t be a problem either – I’d received a little hand-to-hand combat training from my mom, so I knew the quickest and most effective ways to end a life.

As the cool autumn breeze stung our faces, we walked up into the park. I expected Thomas to be surprised and presume we had gotten lost or something, but he did nothing. He just stopped at the riverbank and stared into the river.

“Heh, I always did like rivers,” Thomas spoke out, as I stood behind him. Slowly, cautiously, I withdrew my switchblade.

“You never know what’s underneath that ever-flowing surface of theirs,” he continued. “What someone could have… hidden.”

I wasn’t going to wait any longer – I held the knife backhand and went for a stab, aiming for his jugular. I was surprised, however, when he ducked right on time, and it was only then that I noticed a shiny object in his hand: another knife.

Thomas immediately tried to slash me, but I jumped back in time to avoid him. He stood up straight, his face somewhat obscured by shadow as the sun set behind him. Yet, I was sure I could make out a slight smile on his expression.

“I’m really hoping you were smart enough to come prepared for this,” he said, taking a step forward as he got into an attacking position. “I mean, I know you’re not as intelligent as I am, but surely even a knock-off like you has watched enough movies to know how to plan a murder.”

In retrospect, I think I should have felt surprise, or at least fear that my plan had gone awry. However, the only emotion I could register was anger – my hatred flared as I listened to his words.

“You think I’m the knock-off here?!” I exclaimed, gripping my switchblade tighter and preparing for his attack. “Sorry to break it to you, but you’re the only faker. And I can’t let you prance around thinking you’re better than me any longer.”

Thomas scoffed. “Of course. That’s the only way you can justify your existence, isn’t it? Accusing me of being the rip-off, thinking you’re the improved, original version. But you’re wrong,” he boasted. “I am the original. I am me, and you are just a lowly, imperfect copy trying to be me. Maybe, if you were a complete clone, I could condone it – but the fact that a piece of trash like you, who is inferior in every way, is out there; that’s something I can’t allow.”

He stepped forward, taking a jab at me with his knife – I swiped it to the left with mine before taking the opening and sidestepping to the right, slashing once again at his throat. He tried to jump back, but my knife still managed to cut deep into his shoulder. Blood spat out onto my clothes, and Thomas roared as it continued to leak down his arm.

“Fuck!” he exclaimed as he gripped his shoulder with his free hand. His smile had deteriorated into a look of disgust and anger as he eyed me. Meanwhile, I had gained some confidence. With his right shoulder damaged, it would be more painful to swing his knife – I had gained the advantage.

“You fucking trash, how dare you?!” Thomas growled. I gave a slight smile.

“Isn’t it obvious? Because you’re nothing but a second-rate imitation. I’m the real one here,” I informed him. “It stands to reason that a piece of shit like you wouldn’t even be able to touch me.”

Yes. I could see it now. Why was I even angry in the first place? This pathetic copy with delusions of grandeur couldn’t touch me: his better counterpart.

“Yeah, keep talking, I’ve heard it all before,” Thomas spat. “But surely even you see it. You’re just worse than me in every way. Unlike you, I proved myself! I’ve gotten rid of trash like you before, and I’m not afraid to do it again.”

I scoffed; he was just talking nonsense now, probably trying in vain to convince himself that he was real. Deciding to go on the attack this time, I reached down and grabbed a handful of the rocks lying on the riverbank. I threw all of them at Thomas, and he instinctively used his arm to shield his eyes – that was when I lunged, aiming for his right arm in order to incapacitate him.

I wasn’t fast enough, and he was able to parry my slash before quickly grabbing my wrist with his free hand. Holding it in place, he lifted his knife up, but as it came down to strike my trapped arm, I grabbed his wrist just in time. With the two of us now locked this way, we began to push each other back and forth, struggling to hold our footing on the rocks beneath us.

“You’ll see,” Thomas grunted as he pushed. “I am… the original. I waited this long… so I could prove it again.”

He pushed against me, knocking me onto the ground. He was now on top of me, and pushing his knife ever closer to my chest. But still, for some reason, I felt no fear. I had nothing to worry about from him, I knew it. Thomas, however, looked far more agitated than when we had begun this little duel.

“Only the original… survives,” he said through bared teeth as he struggled against me. “I knew you’d delude yourself… into thinking you could win. I wanted… to see you fail. To see the look in your eyes… when I kill you… and you see that I’m—“

His final words were cut short as my blade pierced his chest, and his eyes widened in utter shock. I guessed this must be that look he was talking about. Indeed, it was quite an amusing sight – the look of a worthless imitator finally being put in his place. I liked it very much.

Luckily, the hand he had been holding my knife back with was still covered in blood from his shoulder injury, which had caused it to slip and my knife to be the first one in. I could feel the strength leaving his body as I pushed him off of me and sat up. I looked over to his convulsing form on the ground; that expression never leaving his face as he slowly struggled to look at the knife that had pierced his heart. Taking it out would only make more of a bloody mess, so I left it where it was.

I smirked triumphantly as I waited for the life to fade from his eyes. Blood sputtered from his mouth as he tried to speak, but failed. The last words he would ever hear were but the simple truth: “You never even stood a chance, you cheap knock-off.”

The rest of the procedure went smoothly. Under the cover of darkness, I brought the body over to the boat before retrieving my weight and rope from the thicket of trees. My jacket had been bloodied during the fight, so I removed it and buried it in the hole. My face and hair were a little bloody as well, but that was easily taken care of with a quick rinse in the river water. With the knife also thrown into the water with the body, all that was left was the bloodstain he’d left on the rocks, which was cleaned up quickly by the tide.

Seeing the blood get washed away, it occurred to me that Thomas had probably gone there intentionally to make sure that when he killed me, he wouldn’t have to bother cleaning up the blood himself. It seemed he had planned my murder by counting on me to plan his, which made me wonder how he knew. He said he’d proven himself before, but I had no idea what that meant at the time. I didn’t wonder about it for very long either, as I was too caught up in my victory to care much.

The last few days passed like the breeze. The police came to question me about the disappearance of Thomas a couple of days after he’d been reported missing, since I was the last person he’d been seen with. I just told them that the last time I saw him was when he and I went separate ways to get to our houses, and this answer seemed to satisfy them. They probably assumed he had run away or something, like most missing kids. It didn’t really matter, because two days later, I was out of there and off to New York. Only then did I feel truly successful; uncaught and untouched, I was now indisputably the one and only Travis Burke.

That summer was probably one of the best of my life. With my identity now to myself, I felt far better than I ever had before, and it showed. I began attending a youth group at my new local church and made friends with the people there. It was surprisingly easy; far less awkward than it had been before. Of particular interest was one girl, Leslie, who would later even become my girlfriend after I worked up the nerve to ask her out. The people from the youth group quickly introduced me to their other friends, and it wasn’t long before I was well acquainted with everyone in most of their social circles. Things were going better than they ever had before.

The entire time, though, a lot of the people kept saying something odd. “I swear I’ve seen your face somewhere before,” they would always tell me upon meeting me. It troubled me, because I thought news of Thomas Blake’s disappearance might have gotten widespread enough to reach the next state over. Of course, this wasn’t the case. In hindsight, I probably should’ve known what the real cause was.

And so, I stand here today. As I enter my new classroom today at the beginning of my senior year, my eyes scan the roomful of students. I take in the faces of those I don’t recognize, making a mental note to talk to them later. Then I look over the ones I do know from last summer, and my eyes rest on one particular young man, who’s looking back at me with a surprised expression.

I glossed over him earlier, having recognized him all too well despite never having met him. He has slightly lighter brown, curly hair; a slightly larger crooked nose; and even almond-shaped eyes, with a darker tint to the iris’s chocolate brown. It isn’t long before the rest of the class notices, and eyes begin to shift between the two of us as whispers are exchanged.

I’m less surprised about this than I think I should be, really. Realizing what Thomas must have been talking about the day I killed him, I can’t help but smile slightly. It doesn’t matter what he said, though. Unlike him, I am the original, and I know it. I couldn’t be killed by Thomas, and I certainly can’t be beaten by this guy either.

He’s just another knock-off that I’ll have to put in his place.

Credit: Mark Lannin

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Burning Sage

April 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“OK,” the woman screeched, her eyes the size of plates, a grin the size of a banana strained to provoke some kind of reaction from her client. “So, that’s the house, I know it’s listed at 275,” she lowered her head a little and dropped her tone, “which is a little out of your price range,” her voice shot up in enthusiasm in the same manner that an over eager phone salesman, (who is way too old to be working at Verizon), would when he tells you about the new iPhone’s features, “but I think you loved it and I KNOW you want to buy it, riiiiight?”

Andy, or Andrea as her boss called her, was quietly irritated by the real estate agent, but she knew that she could expect a subpar salesperson from the cheapest real estate agency in the tristate area. She also didn’t like that the woman’s name was Peggy. It seemed cliché to her on some level, as if it were the perfect saleswoman name. Regardless of this irritation, she was interested in the house. The house had been on the market for over 14 months, which in real estate time might as well have been six millennia, so, through what her boss sarcastically called her ‘acute deductive powers’, she determined that in order for house to be on the market that long there could be two reasons. Reason one: mold and water damage, of which there was none. Reason two: something unpleasant occurred at this house and it left lasting repercussions.

Andy reopened the dialogue, “275 you said?”

“Yeeeeessssss that’s right!” Peggy so eagerly responded.

“Uh huh. So how long has the house been on the market?”

“Ohhhhh, not too looooong…” Peggy’s insistent drawing out of words was becoming more irritating to Andy.

“Uh huh. And how long would that be?”

“…fourteen months.” She pursed her lips.

“Ok. What happened here to leave the house on the market that long?”

Peggy sighed. She obviously knew, and even more obviously didn’t want to say.

“Peggy, you know what happened here, and I would very much like to know.” Andy was fairly certain that Peggy wasn’t actually under any obligation to tell her what happened, but she also, over the last two hours, determined that Peggy was not a particularly intelligent woman and would most likely tell her because she probably simply didn’t remember, or didn’t know, that she had no obligation.

“I’m not supposed to tell you.”

“Ok, first, you just admitted that something happened here. Second, I’m not going to buy this thing if I don’t get a little history.”

Peggy was excited to see that she might actually close a deal, and that broke her.

“Ok, a little over a year ago a boy shot himself in the house. He was only 16 I think.” Andy raised her eyebrows. “The mother went a little crazy afterwards. It was just her and her son, so it makes sense I think… it’s kinda sad really.”
Andy felt marginally shitty for what she did next.

“Ok, I’ll take the house. Drop the price to 253.”

Peggy was not pleased by this. Really, she was more sad than anything else. Not getting full price meant a reduced commission on the sale, but if she didn’t close, she would get no commission at all. She pursed her lips again and held up her finger to Andy. Then she whipped out her phone so she could get confirmation from her boss. She did.

“Alright you have the house. Let’s go back to the office and sign some paperwork.”

***

Three weeks later Andy had moved into her house. It was a rather hectic day, but she had managed to get most of her things unpacked in the last couple weeks so today was just box removal. By the end of the day she was markedly tired. Luckily for her she had taken the next day off work to finish up her move in process. Around 11:45 in the evening she went to bed.

At 2:34 in the morning the house was very quiet. Andy’s blinds were shut. The lights were off. Her door began to open, slowly. The movement was almost imperceptible. Andy woke up and sat straight up in bed and looked over at her door. She didn’t know why she was suddenly awakened. She noticed the door opening very slightly.

“Is anyone there?”

The door flew open and more darkness leaked into the room and a sub zero blast of air coursed past her body.

Then from behind her a whisper hissed into her ear, “I love you mom,” and the door slammed shut.

Andy did not fall asleep for the rest of the night. She laid down in her bed and shook violently for the rest of the night, her mind was totally blank.

The next day she got out of bed, completely sleep deprived, and looked up the previous owner of the house. The owner was a woman in her mid forties who was committed to a mental asylum against her own will about two months ago. She called the mental hospital and asked for a meeting with the woman. It was scheduled for two pm.

On the drive over to the hospital Andy couldn’t honestly say what was going through her head. For some reason she thought speaking with the woman who had owned the house would bring her some kind of explanation.

When she walked into the meeting room she took good long look at the woman in front of her. She didn’t look good. Her nails were long and yellowed, the bags under her eyes were deep and violet. Her hair had turned completely gray and was notably disheveled.

Andy sat down and began to speak, “Hello ma’am, you don’t know me but I asked to see you because I wanted to ask you about something.”

The woman sat and stared at the floor in front of her. Andy assumed she was heavily medicated.

“Ma’am, I bought your old house-“

Before Andy could finish her thought she glanced up and noticed the woman had suddenly moved and was now on all fours on the table staring at her intensely.

“He’s still there.” She said. Her voice was shaky. “He’s still in the house.” She was getting louder.

“He’s still in the house. He’s still in the house. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE.” She started laughing hysterically and tears began to stream down her face.

“HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE.” She screamed.

She continued to scream it as the orderlies dragged her out of the room and down the hall, her gnarled hands grasping at the air trying to reach Andy and she clenched her hands so hard that her long nails dug into her palms and she began to bleed as she was dragged away.

***

At 2:34am two weeks later Andy was asleep. The lights were off, the entire house was silent and dark. Not even the street lights were managing to slip through the cracks in her windows. The door of her bathroom opened slowly, arcing inwards towards the blackness that was her bathroom and from the bathroom tile emerged a black smoke that curled along to floor into her bedroom. Andrea awoke suddenly but she didn’t move hardly at all. She felt like something was wrong. She rolled over in her bed as quietly as she could and turned her eyes towards the open bathroom. It took her a moment to notice the smoke, and as her eyes trailed down the inner edge of the door she noticed something in the darkness shift. There was something in the bathroom, it was alive. She could hear it breathe.

The room temperature began to lower. As the temperature lowered she could see steam blowing out of an invisible open mouth. Andrea breathed visible steam out of her open mouth, her eyes wide, but she didn’t feel the cold. She was staring at the pale human foot that had just emerged from the blackness of the tiled chamber. Then a second foot. Moving silently across the creaky floor. It was a boy. He was wearing a t-shirt with a nondescript logo on it, shaggy hair, and a pair of flannel pants. HIs eyes were open. He had beautiful blue eyes. Andrea couldn’t move. She was paralyzed.

The boy moved across the room and paid her no mind. He walked up to the door and it opened without him touching it. Then he walked out of the room and across the hall into the guest bedroom where Andrea had set up a small bed and nightstand for when her sister came into town.

Andrea suddenly found the will in herself to get out of the bed, she placed her feet on the ground into a thick layer of ice cold black smoke and she began to stand up, her eyes glued to the open doorway where the boy had exited the room. She craned her neck around the doorway only to see that nothing was there. The boy was gone. The mist on the ground was sinking into the floor, being absorbed as though the house itself was inhaling the black smoke into its concrete lungs.

***

It had been two weeks since she last saw the boy. His visage was locked into her mind. His beautiful eyes were stained upon her thoughts as though they had been branded onto the back of her eyelids.

It was 2:34 in the morning.

Andy was not asleep, but she was not awake either. Her consciousness had drifted into the realm between sleep and lucidity. Her mind was on the precipice of losing itself to dreams when she heard something in the background.

The sound seemed distant, as if it had come from outside her window… a branch scraping against the siding of her domicile, perhaps a stray leaf grazing upon her window pane. She thought nothing of the occurrence for a moment.

Yet, suddenly she found herself uncomfortable in her position. She was resting on her side, facing away from the door. And, as is with entering the dream world, with even waking second of discomfort she found herself growing more and more awake, and so, she rolled to her other side.

Her eyes were only open for a moment, but there, standing next to her dresser was a hunched figure.

She closed her eyes involuntarily.

Then with only a short interlude of darkness she reopened them only to see a being on the ground by her door. Its arms were in front of it, gently placing something on the ground. It was the boy, Andy could feel his presence. The black mist was leeching from her hallway under her closed door into her room.

The boy noticed her shift in the bed. He began to stir. He pulled his arms back to his torso, clutching something in his hands. His head then began to pivot. It moved in small jerks, as though powered by misaligned gears. With every jerk his face got closer to being revealed. With every tiny jerk his icy eyes would grow closer to meeting hers.

Andy could hear him breathing. He was breathing slowly, out his mouth. They were deep, wet, breaths, more heaving of air than anything else. In and out. In and out.

Then he was facing her. His face was obscured by his hair. It hung in waves before his facade. With one hand he reached up to touch his hair. HIs breathing got louder and more ragged.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

Andy clenched her eyes closed, afraid to watch him anymore.

His breathing got louder. It got closer.

With each breath she could feel him getting closer to her.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

Then she could feel his breath on her face. She clenched her eyes shut even more. She could not see anything. She could just feel his frigid breath piercing into her skin, flecks of spit landing on her cheek.

She opened her eyes.

He was gone.

He was not in the room. She did not see him. She did not feel him. Her cheek was still icy with his breath.

She felt her eyes drawn to the floor in front of her door. Sitting on the mist covered ground was a piece of paper. It was a piece of of folded notebook paper. From her bed she could see that something was written on that piece of paper.

Andy found herself standing, drawn to the note. She did not remember standing up, she didn’t know she had even sat up in her bed.

From outside her door she heard a creak. It was the creak of a footstep. They were pacing slowly in the other bedroom. They moved back and forth across the room. Someone was pacing back and forth.

Andy took a step towards the note.

Creak.

She took another step.

Creak.

She took another step. This time not noticing the creak. She was focused on the note. She stepped again, never hearing the footstep from the other room. The black mist was congregating on the note. In one more step she was standing over the note.

Then she bent slowly at the waist and touched the piece of paper. She grasped it gently in between her fingers and raised it up to her face. She moved her hand to the other side to open the note.

Creeeeeeeeeak.

The sound was from right outside her bedroom. The being was standing less than a foot away from her, separated by a two inch thick door. His breathing was audible and heavy.

Andy opened the note and read its message. In the scrawl of a teenaged hand it read, “I love you mommy.” From outside her door there was a snarl, more like a beast than a boy, and the breathing stopped. It was silent.

Andy began to reach for the doorknob when the silence was broken.

BANG

BANG

BANG

BANG

Four gunshots.

Andy stopped in her tracks, eyes wide, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go into the other room. Her fear almost outweighed her instinct to find out what happened, although she was already certain of what she’d find. Then with a force of will unparalleled she made herself walk into the hallway. The hallway was colder than her bedroom, there was a slight air current being sucked into the spare bedroom. Then she saw inside the room. There were three bullet holes in the ceiling above the corner of the bed, and in the corner was the boy. He was sitting int he corner, his arms laying still on the ground, his legs splayed in front of him. There were small driblets of black liquid leaking from between his slightly open lips, and there was a spatter of the black liquid behind him on the wall. His striking blue eyes were open, but lifeless. Andrea couldn’t help but feel incredibly sad about what just happened. She walked over to the boy, forgetting for a moment what he was. She was thinking about calling the police. There was no gun with him.

Then from behind her there was a crack and the sound of crumbling drywall. She turned to see the the ceiling was sagging. A water spot was appearing where the bullet holes were. Then black ooze began to fall from the ceiling and it shattered, drywall pieces bouncing off the bed, and on the corner of the bed fell a snub-nosed revolver. She stood and walked over to the gun and picked it up. The tip was covered in a dried black liquid, there were two bullets still waiting to be fired.

A hand grabbed her ponytail and yanked her head back. Then a chin thrust itself upon her shoulder. Then, in a voice octaves lower than anything a 16 year old could produce spat, “That belongs to ME!”

Black flecks of licking misted her face. She yelped and pulled away from the malevolent being and turned to see the boy standing behind her. He was smiling and staring at her, his blue irises had turned blacker than the void. Then he leaned back his head, his mouth opened to be eight inches wide and he began to laugh hysterically, his voice deepening with every bone shaking utterance. Andrea stood totally still, she could see the unobstructed hole leading from the roof of his mouth to the back of his skull and through to the wall. She ran out of the room and shut her bedroom door, pointing the gun at the wooden frame for the rest of the night.

The next day she called a psychic. The psychic arrived at a quarter past ten the next morning. Andrea had not slept, showered, or eaten in two and a half days. In her right hand she was still gripping the revolver. Before the psychic walked into the house she put the gun in her bedside table.

The psychic was a woman in her mid forties, although she looked about a decade older than that because of the experiences she had. Her name was Cheryl. When she stepped into the house she jerked back, like someone had lightly pushed her back.

“There’s something in this house,” said Cheryl.

“I know,” Andy responded, “what is going on here? I haven’t slept in two days, and I don’t even know what to think.”

Cheryl walked into the foyer. She looked around for a moment and seemed to become chilled by the air in the room. “There is a spirit that lives in this house. It has not passed on…” She was very quiet while she spoke. “Do you know how long it has been here?”

“I don’t know for sure. I think maybe a year and a half or so,” her voice was shaky.

“Mmmmhmm.” Cheryl was an elderly black woman who seemed to have a bit of attitude when it came to these issues.

“So what do we do know? Do we do like a seance or something? Like toss rice in the air or speak latin?” Andy inquired.

Cheryl raised her left eyebrow at Andy. “No hon, no we won’t be doing that. Aside from what you may have seen in the movies there isn’t much we can do if this ghost doesn’t want to communicate with you. I think that it does want to do things to you, but communicate, I’m not sure. The best we can do is ask it right now if it wants something.”

Andy was quiet. She didn’t know really what to do, she especially didn’t want to be the first one to speak.

“Do you know the spirits name?”

“No. I don’t.”

Cheryl sighed and went on with her business, “Spirit, hear me call you, is there anything you want of us? What would you have us do to put you at ease?”

Cheryl waited for a moment and surveyed the room, waiting for some sort of sign that the spirit wanted to communicate with them. She turned to see Andy watching her very closely, whilst also occasionally flicking her eyes around the room, watching for the boy. She was waiting earnestly.

Cheryl blinked. And when her lids raised she saw two white hands reaching around Andy’s neck, blackened fingertips and grown out nails were reaching to strangle her. In an instant she grabbed Andy and yanked her away form the hands, only to reveal that there was nothing behind her. She stood for a moment looking at the empty space, failing to note Andy’s confusion, before realizing that she forgot something.

“Andy. There is something I forgot to ask you… How did this boy die?”

Andy paused for a moment, considering the inquiry, “Why does it matter?”

“Some spirits who died in violent ways have trouble leaving this world… things can go wrong.”

Andy started to shake slightly, “He shot himself.” Her eyes were as big as plates and she searched Cheryl’s face for some comforting sign. Cheryl did not give her this. Her face was stone.

“Andrea,” she said, suddenly using her full name, “sometimes when a spirit dies in a violent way it can become corrupt. The longer it exists in this world the more corrupt it can become. They lose who they used to be. They become no more human than a rabid dog. This ghost hasn’t been here long, but for some spirits the corruption can be sudden, and move very quickly. The more corrupt it becomes, the more powerful it becomes. As it grows in strength it will become more tangible. It will be able to act on the physical world more and more. It may even try to make physical contact with you.”

Andy remembered the ceiling and was visibly shaken by it.

“What can you do?” Andy asked.

Cheryl pulled out a small pouch from her purse. There were branches of seem kind of herb in there. It had small leaves on it and through the bag she could smell it. It had a pungent but not unpleasant odor, it was something commonly used in Italian food she thought.

“What’re those?” Andy asked.

“These are just a couple of herbs. Some sage, a mix of a few others. They are cleansing herbs. We put them in the four corners of the house and that should protect the house from any malevolent spirits. As long as you don’t remove them or somehow destroy them you should be safe. They should protect you and your home from this boy.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

It took about fifteen minutes to get the herbs into the best spots in the house. Andy didn’t feel any change once they were in place, but Cheryl looked more relaxed. Then Cheryl left, reminding Andy to call if there was anything at all that she needed, and on that note, Cheryl was gone.

Andy spent the next few days on alert, but nothing happened. She didn’t see anything. Nothing was out of place, no voices, no breathing, no chills, no nothing. Everything in the house seemed normal. In fact, things stayed normal for four months. Andy had all but forgotten her experiences. Her only reminders were the herbs in the corners of the house and the still loaded gun in her nightstand drawer.

Then on one morning she woke up to a somewhat muted sunrise. Light was edging its way through the clouds in beams, shining through like it was illuminating just a few special spots. There was a dense layer of cloud in the sky. It was very dark outside. She looked at her clock, it read 8:30 in the morning. She fretted for a moment before realizing that it was Saturday, and she need not go to work the particular morning. Then, as she usually did she went to her front door to pick up the paper. She was one of the few people in the city who still actually bought a paper, not that she was a luddite, but she did enjoy the printed word over the pixelated. She opened the door to find that the tip of her paper appeared blackened. Like it had been burned. she stepped outside for a moment and observed her surroundings. The sky was particularly ominous, it looks like it was going to rain. She picked up her paper and turned around to see the severed head of a crow sitting off to the left of her door. Her initial reaction was irritation, ‘just a stupid neighborhood cat’ she thought. Then she walked back inside and resumed her day.

She ate breakfast slower than usual, reading her paper leisurely and accidentally cracking off bits of the singed paper. Behind her one of the cabinet doors managed to loosen itself and it slowly creaked open. Andy paid it no mind. It had begun to do that more frequently. she figured its hinges just had to be replaced.

After breakfast she rose form her seat and retreated to her bedroom. Halfway down the hall she stopped at the thermostat and cranked up the heat a couple degrees. While she was in the kitchen she felt a slight draft coming from behind her.

Then she walked into her bedroom and grabbed some clothes from her closet before exiting to the bathroom to take her morning shower. Her nightstand drawer was opened slightly, and it was empty. She didn’t notice.

Andy took her shower, right as she turned off the water there was a crack of thunder and the lights in the house went out. Andy sighed and felt her way into the bedroom, grabbed her phone, and turned on the flashlight before returning to her bathroom to finish her morning routine.

She stood in front of the mirror and brushed her hair out for a moment before tying it back into a ponytail. Then she went down to the sink and splashed some water on her face before rising again and noticing a strange odor was emanating from somewhere in the house. It was leaking into the bathroom through the open door. It smelled sort of good, but also like something was burning. Specifically it smelled like someone was seriously burning Italian food in the oven or over a stove.

Then she felt a cold breeze roll across the back of her neck, making all the hairs on her skin stand on edge. Suddenly a black mist covered the mirror’s surface. Tiny droplets of liquid had formed a thin black barrier on the glass. In the light of her phone’s flashlight she wiped some of the already thickening liquid away from the area where her face would appear. She stared in confusion at the glass for a moment. Her mind slowly coming to the realization of what was going on. She was frozen in place. Something behind her was heaving breaths into and out of its lungs.

Then he appeared behind her in the shower. White skin. Mostly hairless. He was wrinkled and his eyes are black. His teeth yellow and sharpened, and with his right hand he was scratching holes into his face. He smiled at her and tilted his head to the side. He was no longer a boy, he was a beast.

Andy stood motionless, staring into the pits that were his eyes. They held no light in them. They were pure darkness. Her mouth gaped open.

She was paralyzed. She could not speak. She could not scream. She could not think. All she could see were his eyes. All she could hear was his breathing. All she could feel was the freezing air that surrounded her.

His left arm slowly raised and his hand moved behind her head. She couldn’t see what he was holding.

In a whisper he spoke, “I love you mommy,” his voice dropped, “I’m never leaving you again… and you’re never leaving me.”

Then from right behind her head there was a loud bang and a red mist sprang onto the mirror in front of her eyes.

Then everything went black.

Credit: Pablo Swaurez

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The Argentinian Incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A discovery that brought her to an unsettling conclusion.

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

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

Credit: Tiago Lopes

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The Tunnel

April 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Alex Roth had already lived in the house for more than six months. He had no idea how he had failed to notice this small door before. Yet there it was in front of him. He came across the door by accident really, while he was in the process of performing the most mundane of tasks – his laundry. The landlord had been kind enough to replace the washer and dryer just before Alex began renting the house. Alex used the machines regularly and was grateful to have such top-of-the-line equipment. It was a far cry from his previous life of spending long nights in the Laundromat, even if he did have to go down into the dingy basement to use these.

On the day he discovered the door, he was attempting to screw the cap back onto his detergent bottle when it slipped from his fingers. “Crap!” he blurted out as he watched the cap roll into a small space between the dryer and the concrete wall. He stooped down and put his cheek against the cold wall in an attempt to see the cap, but it was too dark in the crevasse. Even though he couldn’t see the cap, he knew that he would inevitably have to pull the dryer away from the wall since his arm would not fit into the tight space.

After a few minutes of struggling with the machine, whose rubber feet did not readily slide against the concrete floor, the dryer was moved as far out as its power cord and vent tube would allow. The cap was there on the floor, but Alex suddenly shifted his interest when he saw the small door. It was a wooden plank door about three feet square, hinged on its left side near the corner of the basement walls. On the door’s right side was a rusty metal latch with a padlock through it.

“What in the world?” Alex mumbled to himself. He carefully worked his way behind the dryer to examine the door closer. He jiggled the padlock. The detergent cap lay unnoticed on the floor. A short-lived dilemma entered Alex’s mind: Do I retrieve the cap, push the dryer back and forget about this door? Or do I investigate further? The former was not Alex’s style at all, hence the reason the dilemma was short-lived. His only hang-up was that it wasn’t his property. He called his landlord.

“Tom, it’s Alex. Hey, did you know about the little door down in the basement behind the dryer?”

“Well, I saw it when they installed the new laundry units, but it was locked, so I didn’t mess with it,” Tom replied.

“Weren’t you curious at all?”

“No, not really. I’m pretty sure it’s just a small crawlspace for storage.”

“Do you mind if I open it and take a look? I’ll replace the padlock with a new one.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. It’s probably been closed up for a really long time.”

There was silence before Tom finally said, “Alex? You’re not really going to open it, are you?”

“Sorry, Tom, I’ve gotta go. There’s another call coming in.” And Alex hung up. That last part was a lie. He just wanted to get off of the phone before Tom told him outright not to open the door. Alex didn’t see what the harm would be, especially since he offered to replace the lock.

A few moments later he returned to the door with a hacksaw. After nearly thirty minutes of struggling with the saw blade against the hardened steel padlock, Alex cursed Hollywood for making it look so easy. Finally, the blade broke through and he was able to swivel the lock around and remove it. The latch then came free with little resistance. The door did not budge as easily. Who knows how long it had been wedged inside the tight opening in the concrete wall. With the help of a pry bar, it broke free with a pop and the door swung freely. He knelt down next to the opened door.

Alex was hit with the smell of dank, musty air. The darkness inside was absolute, the silence oppressive. He leaned forward just enough for his head to cross the threshold slightly. It was impossible to determine the dimensions of the interior without a flashlight, so Alex made another trip to his toolbox to retrieve one.

Upon returning, he knelt down once more and shone the light into the opening. Inside, it was quite a bit larger than he was expecting. Alex estimated it at about ten feet by ten feet, with a ceiling high enough to stand without crouching. The walls were not made of concrete, but rather stones that had once been carefully put into place, now covered with mold and mildew. Planks of rotted wood made up the ceiling, and the floor was compacted dirt.

A quick scan with the flashlight showed that, much to Alex’s surprise, the space was empty. The only thing that stood out to him was an area about midway down the left wall where some stones near the floor had dislodged and fallen into the room. Several small piles of dirt were on the ground next to the stones. Alex’s curiosity got the better of him, and he crawled through the doorway for a closer look at the area.

It was substantially colder inside the room, and the air was stagnant and stale. Alex made his way over to the loose stones and piles of dirt. Shining the flashlight on them, he saw that a tunnel had been dug where the wall was broken out. He moved closer, stooped down, and shone the light inside. The tunnel was about two feet in diameter, but its depth was unknown. Even with the light shining directly into the opening, all that was visible was the cylindrical earth of the sidewalls tapering off into pitch blackness.

Alex was momentarily chilled as his imagination took over. He envisioned some otherworldly creature emerging from the tunnel and attacking him – or a giant tentacle reaching out from the black depths – or a rotting corpse crawling out of the tunnel face-down at an alarming speed. He panned the empty room with his flashlight making sure he was, in fact, still alone. After gathering himself, he got on his hands and knees and looked into the empty tunnel again. Where could this possibly go? Why is it here? These were questions that could only be answered by further exploration. His mind was telling him not to enter the tunnel, but his curiosity was telling him otherwise.

Lying on his stomach, Alex used his forearms to inch himself forward in the dirt. The flashlight was in his left hand and the contrast between light and shadows bounced violently off the tunnel walls with each movement. Just a few feet in, he noticed that the tunnel began to angle slightly upward, as if heading for the surface. Even when he paused to shine the light directly into the center of the tunnel he still could not see anything but dirt walls tapering into darkness. The further he went the more he dreaded eventually having to back his way out. But when he finally reached a dead end in the dirt, that’s exactly what he had to do. He was disappointed that the tunnel just ended. No explanation. No purpose. It took him about ten minutes to wiggle his way out backwards.

Just as he reached the tunnel’s exit in reverse, he heard someone hastily coming down the basement stairs, shouting.

“Alex! Are you in here, Alex?”

“Tom? Is that you? Why are you…”

Before he could finish, the wood-plank door was slammed shut. Alex could hear the sound of a new lock being secured on the latch. Then the dryer was shoved back into place.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Alex yelled from inside the small room. He beat his fists on the door.

“It’s too late now, Alex. I told you not to open it,” Tom yelled back. Then, as quickly as he came, he was gone, and Alex heard his footsteps as he ascended the basement stairs. Alex continued to scream and beat on the door for several more minutes, but it was of no use. Tom was long gone.

The more time Alex spent locked in the secret room, the more he realized that it may be days or, heaven forbid, weeks before anyone came to search for him. And even then, how would they get into his house? Tom had obviously had a master key. If he’d locked the door on his way out, searchers would have to break the windows. Alex wanted to take matters into his own hands, so he decided to go into tunnel and dig for the surface.

In just a few minutes he was wedged in the tunnel on his stomach and forearms, flashlight in hand, facing the wall of dirt at the dead end. Alex’s first few attempts at clawing the loose dirt away were slow as he wasn’t sure what to do with the dirt that was breaking free. Once he established an efficient method of conveying dirt past his body in the cramped space, the work progressed at a much faster pace. The more he dug, the more he realized that he was absolutely committed to this escape route. The dirt that he was moving past his body was piling up at his feet, enclosing him completely and preventing him from backing out if he so chose. Realizing that this was essentially the point of no return, he had to decide if he wanted to press onward or attempt to wiggle out now while it was still somewhat manageable. He chose to dig.

Alex checked his watch in the flashlight beam. He had been digging, following the upward incline of the tunnel, for just over an hour now – inching his way forward. His fingers ached horribly; the nails worn down to nothing. He had to periodically reassure himself along the way that he could make it – the surface had to be close. Mere moments after he checked his watch the flashlight batteries began to weaken. The light grew more and more dim over the course of several minutes until finally, it was gone entirely.

Pitch blackness.

The darkness was smothering. Alex could feel the walls of the tunnel hugging his body tightly. His mind tricked him into thinking that they were closing in even more, trying to squeeze the life out of him. He had to press on. He used the dead flashlight to break away more dirt, saving his fingers from further agony.

After a few more minutes of blindly transferring dirt behind him, a chunk about the size of a walnut fell away, leaving Alex’s fingertips to survey a small exposed segment of a smooth object of some kind barely protruding from the earth surrounding it. He worked frantically to uncover more of the object, desperately wishing he had the flashlight to see what it was. Alex continued clearing the area and evaluating it with his fingers until he had cleared away several square inches of it. He could not pry it out of the dirt. It was not a very hard object, but not entirely soft either. Even though the edges were smooth, there was a patterned texture of some kind embedded in its surface.

It was then that Alex remembered the button on his wristwatch that would light up its faceplate. He pressed it and held the watch directly in front of the object. There before Alex, embedded in the dirt, was the bottom of a tennis shoe. Using the edge of the shoe as a guide, he clawed more soil away until the lower cuff of a pant leg was revealed.

“Good Lord, I wasn’t the first one he locked in here,” Alex whispered, “This tunnel was someone’s escape attempt!” Alex worked at the dirt around the corpse, being meticulous not to disturb the remains. As he progressed, he felt the emptiness of the deceased person’s blue jean pant leg – the only exception being the hard bone wrapped inside it. Further on, he found what likely used to be a pink sweatshirt, now dark brown and saturated with caked-on mud and clinging tightly to the shape of a compressed rib cage. After this discovery, he assumed the body was female. He uncovered a dainty skeletal hand next to the torso, fingers grasping a flat object that was apparently being used as a makeshift shovel in the girl’s final attempt to claw her way to freedom. Alex was careful to keep the digits in tact next to one another as he removed the flat object. He checked it in the light of his wristwatch face.

A public library card.

Casey J. Potter.

“Oh my God!” Alex blurted out. “I’ve found her!”

Five years ago the case of a local teenager who had been kidnapped from the Spring Oaks Shopping Mall made headlines for months. It happened in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon, and the entire community was paranoid for weeks afterward. Casey Potter had become a household name locally, and was even recognized quite often on a national level. And now, Alex couldn’t believe he was lying next to her in her earthen tomb.

Alex continued digging his way forward. He did not uncover the entire skull, just the side of the jaw and one empty eye socket. He dug for what seemed like hours more before his fingers finally broke through the surface. A rush of fresh air enveloped him. Alex breathed deeply, the most refreshing breaths he’d ever taken. He had been digging for so long that it was dark outside when he finally extracted himself from the tunnel and rested his exhausted body on the lawn, staring up at the stars on that clear night.

– – – – –

In the following days, authorities exhumed the remains. Alex was hailed a hero by the media. He was interviewed by several of the local news channels, whose journalists all let out the same gasp as he described what he had been through. The Potter family received closure and was able to mourn properly for the first time in five years. Tom Drury was arrested and, initially, maintained his innocence. But after long hours of interrogation he eventually caved and confessed to the kidnapping.

Over time, the occurrences of strangers recognizing Alex in public dwindled. Hearing, “Hey, you’re the guy that found Casey Potter!” became less and less frequent. He had moved into a new rental house shortly after the incident, and everything was getting back to normal. And then he found the door. A small door in the back of a coat closet under the stairway. He debated with himself at length, but finally opened it with great trepidation. A wash of relief came over him when he realized that it was simply an extension of the storage space under the stairs, completely empty, and no tunnels.

Credit: moonlit_cove

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Instant Messaging

April 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It all started on the fourteenth night of March, the night of my parents’ 20th wedding anniversary.

It was a wonderful, sunny day, if memory serves. Surprisingly warm for before the beginning of spring. The beautiful weather was perfect for the atmosphere of the day – being married for twenty years is obviously a momentous occasion, so my parents had booked a table at our favourite Italian restaurant.

Of course, this was a formal occasion, so I had my best suit on. It was 5:33, and I was just straightening my tie when my phone went off – I’d received a message. That’s strange, I thought, that never happens. I checked the message: it was from my mum. It was quite a jumble of numbers and letters, but through the vocabulary stew I could make out one legible phrase: “Please help me.” It should go without saying that this worried me greatly, so I immediately replied, “Are you okay?” Just as instantly, I got another text which read, “Oops. Pocket text!” I sighed with all the relief I had and continued to prepare myself.

A few minutes later, I received yet another message, this time from my dad. I checked the text, and once again it was a massive mixture of letters and numbers, with the phrase “Please help me” concealed within. Creepy though this was, my dad was always a joker, so I presumed he was just joking around, until I was sent another text saying, “Oops. Pocket text!” Now this sparked panic. Pure, unmistakable panic. Exactly half a minute passed when I received the exact same two messages from my sister. This could not be coincidental. It just couldn’t.

In a state of sheer anxiety, I started to run to the restaurant. I made it about a quarter of the way before I was stopped by a police officer. “Main road’s closed,” he said, “Huge car crash.” This was the exact moment I realised just what had happened. I demanded to see the wreckage, a request which I was surprised was allowed. When I got there, it wasn’t the remnants of the car that caught my eye, nor the flames billowing from the destroyed vehicle. No. I was horrified to see the lifeless corpses of my mother, father and sister. I asked for the estimated time of their deaths – all three of them were killed instantly by the collision, at 5:32.

A minute before the very first text.

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