Too long at the cliff

June 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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-I-

For too long have I been standing here on top of this cliff. Days turn to nights and back. I have asked myself so many times what I’ve been doing here. I told myself I was thinking. Thinking about a lot of things. There have been so many things that have kept my mind occupied for such a long time. My hands are placed firmly on the cold metal railing.

For some reason I can’t let go of the railing, though it’s not that I want to. Down below me stretches an ocean, filling the entire horizon. The sound of the waves hitting the rocks should calm me down, but it doesn’t. The light breeze that blows through my hair should cool me off during the day, but it doesn’t. The same breeze should give me chills during the night, but it doesn’t. I feel nothing.

Nothing but worry and anger.

I feel no need to go back home. I prefer the nights over the days, although it is always calm and quiet here regardless of the time of day. During the time that I’ve been standing here, I’ve only spoken with one person. Well, I didn’t actually speak with him. He spoke to me.

A man approached me earlier this evening. He was walking his dog. It was a young man who needed someone to talk to. Or at least he needed someone to listen to his story. The man told me that he wanted to die. He felt that life had abandoned him and didn’t see the purpose to live anymore. His name was John.

John was a young man in his 20s who grew up with a loving family. He had a longtime girlfriend of the same age. And even though he had always loved them so much, lately he felt nothing anymore. He was on a moral crossroad. So many times had he contemplated taking his own life. But then he reminded himself of what he would leave behind if he carried out what he wanted to do so badly.

I didn’t say much to the man. I nodded at the right moment and looked in his eyes that were tearing while he was talking. His story would’ve been depressing to any person in a normal state of mind. But not to me. I turned my eyes away from him and looked down at the ocean again. He continued talking.

I’m not listening anymore. I used to be a compassionate person before, always ready to help someone who needed it. Now, not so much. I don’t have any idea why he thought I was the right person to talk to about his problems. He keeps talking, he keeps asking me if I’m listening to him, but I don’t respond.

Disappointed, he leaves. From the corner of my eye I watch him turn around, taking his dog with him. I can hear the sound of his footsteps gradually getting further away from me. Until the sound stops.

It’s silent for a moment, save for the sounds of the waves and the wind. Until I hear footsteps return. Footsteps moving at an increasing pace towards me. A dog barking. I close my eyes, sigh and listen to the sound of John jumping over the railing off the cliff.

-II-

It’s late September now. The trees that are spread around each side of the cliff are letting go of their brown leaves. The wind catches the leaves and blows them into my direction, some of them stick to my coat before another gust of wind takes them away, into the ocean that still lies calmly in front of me.

It’s been a short while since I saw this guy John. I’m still not sure what he was thinking. It is a strange feeling. Was he trying to make me feel guilty? He probably came here to end his life, but wasn’t expecting to see anyone. Perhaps I was the final hope that could help him get his life back on track, even if it was just by listening to his story. Maybe he felt that he couldn’t talk to anyone close and dear to him and I was that one person that he thought he could confide in so he could be convinced not to do what he was planning to do in the first place.

Guilt. I still feel none of it.

I look up to the sky and notice that grey clouds have formed above my head. The area is gradually getting darker and the wind stops blowing. I assume there will be rain soon. Maybe a storm. It hasn’t rained in a while. If it’s going to rain, I better find some shelter. Perhaps the trees on the side of the cliff will keep me dry, or at least keep me from becoming completely soaked.

I turn around and slowly walk to one of the bigger trees situated at the start of the cliff. I sit down underneath the big arms and make myself comfortable. From here I can see the railing of the cliff. The clouds in the sky and the slowly lurking darkness in the area resemble the darkness I have in my head. I try to remind myself of the beauty of this place.

It starts raining now. I can hear small drops falling on the deck of leaves above my head. I listen to the sound and close my eyes. The relaxing music of the rain goes on uninterrupted for a few minutes until it mixes with the sound of an engine roaring, tires screeching and a woman talking on the phone.

I open my eyes and look at the source of the noise that suddenly arose in the otherwise calm and relaxing area.
The raindrops reflect the red and blue flashing lights on top of the police car. A woman, shielding her head with a hat exits the car and starts what looks like a search for something or someone. I don’t get up. I merely sit there, watching what is happening. The police officer walks along the railing of the cliff. She doesn’t seem to notice me. At least, not instantly. She’s inspecting the railing, the ground and the ocean below. The way she stands at the railing reminds me of myself not that long ago, when I saw the man.

She turns around and notices me staring at her. The young woman approaches me, she looks pretty for as far as I can see by the flashing lights of the car.

-III-

‘What are you doing here? It’s raining, shouldn’t you go home or something?’

I don’t want to reply to her. I turn my gaze away from her and look back at the railing where she was standing before.

‘Hey? I asked you a question.’

I look back at her and reply with a question of my own.

‘Are you looking for John?’

The young woman, obviously surprised by my sudden question hesitates to answer.

‘Do you know him?’ she replies.

‘No. I don’t.’

‘Alright, I would like you to come with me to the station. I have a few questions that I would like you to answer.’

Once again, I turn my gaze away from her as a sign of unwillingness. Without looking at her, I reply.

‘I told you I don’t know this John. But if you’re looking for him, he’s down there somewhere, in the ocean. He jumped down a little while ago.’

The woman moves away from me and thinks for a while. She then puts her hand on her belt and replies to me.

‘I’m going to have to ask you again to come with me. Either voluntarily or involuntarily, the choice is yours.’

I look at her face for a few seconds.

‘Fine, I’ll go with you. I don’t know what you expect from me, but okay.’

‘Just step in the car please.’

As I step into the back of the car, the woman uses the car’s communication system to call for backup to inspect the cliff and its surroundings for the missing person called John.

-IV-

‘Something tells me that you know more about this missing person than you are telling me,’ she says as she sits down in front of me in the interrogation chamber.

I don’t look at her. I’m sitting in front of her with my hands folded. I don’t want to reply to her. It was a bad idea to reply to her the way I did. If only I didn’t say this guy’s name. John. Fuck you John. If it wasn’t because of you, I wouldn’t be here right now.

‘What do you know about John, a man who went missing not too long ago?’

‘I told you already that I don’t know this John you’re talking about.’

‘Then tell me what you were doing at the place he wrote about in the last communication to his family?’

I sighed.

‘I was just standing there, thinking about things, alright? Then all of a sudden he showed up out of nowhere with his dog and started talking to me. I didn’t respond to him, all I did was look at him.’

‘Okay, and then what happened?’

‘He left.’

‘And…?’

‘He ran towards the railing where I was standing and he jumped off.’

‘You saw him jump?’

‘No. I had my eyes closed. I could just hear his footsteps and the sound of something or someone going over the railing.’

‘And you didn’t think it was something you should report to the police?’

‘I told you, I didn’t see anything. And I wasn’t thinking straight.’

It’s not any of my business anyway. She starts writing in her notebook, writing down everything that I’m saying. I can see her concentrate while she’s flipping through her notes. She can’t keep me here. There’s nothing that links me to this John figure, except my vague story.

‘Can I go now?’

She looks up from her notes and looks into my eyes.

‘Fill in this form with your contact details so I can contact you when I have more questions for you.’
Reluctantly, I take the piece of paper from her and start filling in my details. Name… phone number… I don’t have my phone with me. So there’s no way she can contact me. I hand the paper back to her after filling in all the required fields and get up from my seat. She gets up as well and walks to the door to open it for me. Without thanking her I leave the interrogation room.

She proceeds to escort me to the reception desk.

‘Process this form for me, please. Put it in the John case file,’ she says to the file clerk.

The file clerk looks at the form and back at Sandra, which is her name I picked up from her notebook in the interrogation room. He frowns and puts the paper on his desk.

‘You’re free to go for now,’ she says when she turns towards me.

‘But don’t stray too far away from here. And stay away from that cliff.’

I don’t reply to her and walk away. I’ve had enough interaction for one day. I just want to return to the one place where I can think quietly. The one place where I can focus on myself without getting bothered by other people’s problems.

-V-

I walk along the gloomy forest road. The road that lies in front of me is very familiar. It feels like ages since I first walked here. The sound rising from under my feet is that of cracking sticks and crunchy leaves. The last time I passed through this road was by car. Escorted in a police car for doing what? Nothing is what. Sitting under a tree shielding myself from the rain. Now I can finally walk and think clearly again. Or at least… I try to do so.

The worry that clouded my own mind before the John incident has faded and has taken the form of thoughts about what is going to happen to me in this situation. But it’s not something I want to think about. I walked this road before to clear my head. I want that feeling back.

I remember why I went for a walk here in the first place. At first it was unclear to me. I thought I was going here to commit suicide. But that wasn’t it. I had no reason whatsoever to kill myself.
That place. The cliff, and the forest road heading up to it have been part of my life for a long time. They hold very good memories. During the time that I was standing at the cliff I was attempting to let memories resurface. Memories of my good life.

But I was waiting for something else the last time I was there. Waiting for a revelation or a certain clarity to drive away the worry and the emptiness.

It hadn’t been raining much the evening I got picked up by her. Not enough to make the sand and dust road soggy, but just enough to reinforce the smell of leaves and nature. It was an enjoyable smell. I let the wind blow through my hair and listen to the vague sound of birds singing in the distance. It’s around midday now and I walked straight from the police station back to this place.

My eyes don’t deceive me. There are multiple cars parked in front of the cliff, yellow tape is wrapped around two trees, creating the idea of a blocked path. There are multiple men and women walking around the area. I approach the tape and try to see what’s going on around the cliff area.
I lift the tape and walk underneath. Most of the police offers are distracted with their private conversations, except for one.

‘Didn’t I tell you not to go here anymore?’

Sandra approaches me and grabs me firmly by the arm.

‘What the hell do you think you are doing? This is an official crime scene and you can’t cross the tape.’

‘I just want to go the place I feel comfortable,’ I tell her.

‘And I told you that you should stay away from here. But in any case, I’m glad you came here. I’ve been trying to call you to ask you to come to the police station to answer a few more of my questions, but you haven’t been picking up your phone.’

‘I’m not obliged to have my phone with me. Can’t you just leave me alone? I don’t want to have anything more to do with this situation.’

‘Well that’s a bit too late I’m afraid. Get in the car, we’re going back to the station.’

Damn it! Just leave me the fuck alone already, I’m getting so tired of it! I pull my arm out of her grip and walk away from her, towards the railing of the cliff. Yet I don’t get too far because Sandra grabs both my arms this time and drags me back towards one of the cars.

‘Get in there and shut up,’ she says before she slams the door shut and gets in the front seat. While we drive off down the road, she continues talking to me. I look at her eyes through the rear view mirror. She keeps her eyes focused front.

‘Listen, let’s talk reasonably. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but obviously you’re not in a very good state of mind. However things don’t look too good for you. We just managed to fish our missing person John out of the water a couple of hours ago. Now there aren’t any suspects so far except for you, who happened to know the deceased’s name, his exact location of death and on top of that there’s your appearance on the scene. Twice.’

‘What do you want me to say? I’ve already said everything I wanted to say to you. Do you want me to repeat it again? I don’t know this John. He started talking to me and then one minute after he disappeared from my view. Why do you want to pin this on me so badly?’
She fell silent. She didn’t speak another word during the trip to the police station.

-VI-

The evidence box she put in front of me on the table was almost overflowing with items. Sandra stands next to the box, looking at me for a little while. She opens the box and starts taking out some items, looking for one specific item so it seems.

‘John was carrying a note on him, similar to the one we found at his house. He had it packed in an airtight plastic bag. It was addressed to his girlfriend. Let’s read through it.’

————————————————————————————

Dear Linda,

I shouldn’t have done what I did.
I blame the alcohol and the pills.
Never have I felt so bad.
I want to take back the things I said and did.
But it’s too late now.
I want to see you again.
I want to talk to you.

-John

————————————————————————————

‘So?’

‘Come on. We find this note, addressed from John to a certain Linda. And then we find you next to the place where he died. And which name did you write on the contact form? First name: Linda. Coincidence?’

‘What are you implying? That I threw him off the cliff because of something he supposedly did to me?’

‘I’m not implying anything. I simply want you to tell me the truth about John and how you two are connected.’

‘We aren’t connected. He threw himself off the cliff, I keep telling you that.’

‘Very well, next item. What I have here is a picture of him and of someone who looks very similar to you, which we also found in that plastic bag. Take a look.’

I take the picture that she’s holding in front of me and look at it. The picture looks very familiar. It’s one of the memories I tried to resurface during my days and nights at the cliff. One of the good memories that I was hoping would temporarily drive away the anger, coldness and detachment. Something that would keep me patient. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t resurface it then.

But now, looking at this picture… I remember the day well. It was the day I brought John to the cliff for the first time. I wanted to show it to him, because the place was very valuable to me.

‘What are you not telling me, Linda?’

I sigh.

‘I’ve told you nothing but the truth so far. The John that jumped off the cliff was not the John I knew. The John I knew had his life in order, the one that jumped I didn’t recognize anymore. He turned into an entirely different person, one that I don’t know. I didn’t do anything to him.’

She looks up from her notebook and I see that she’s about to ask another question. But I want to ask her a question of my own. She opens her mouth and I quickly start talking before she can bring out a word.

‘I would like to ask you a question if I may.’

‘Be my guest,’ she replies with a frown.

‘What I’m curious about is: how many bodies did you discover at the cliff?’

Sandra looks at me, suppressing a surprised look caused by my question.

‘We found one. Are you saying that there are more?’

‘What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure that John is not the only one who found his end on the bottom of the cliff.’

She continues looking at me for a few seconds and hesitates to write in her notebook. She then gets out of her seat and walks out the room. Before she closes the door, she says:

‘You stay right there.’

I don’t respond to what she says. I’m done here.

-VII-

‘Don’t let her leave,’ she says to the guard on the other side of the door.

Sandra walks out of the room with a pace faster than normal. She runs to several co-workers to tell them that they should immediately check out the bottom of the cliff again for more bodies. While she is instructing the group, the file clerk at the registrations desk gets out of his work area. The man started only 2 weeks ago and wasn’t very experienced. He looks a bit nervous as he tries to get Sandra’s attention, who is only focused on rallying some troops to swipe the cliff for more bodies.
He decides to wait until she finishes her short briefing before tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention.

‘What is it?’ she says.

The man hesitates to speak, because he realizes that now might not be the best time to come with something that would seem so insignificant compared to the briefing that Sandra just gave. He speaks up anyway.

‘Yesterday you came to me and asked me to file this contact form for you.’

‘Yes, what of it?’

‘Well the thing is that… well of course I’m new here and you guys know things better than the new guys usually, but uhm…’

‘Come on, what is it?’

‘Yeah, alright. You gave me this empty form and I don’t really know what to do with it. It didn’t make sense to me to put it in a high profile missing person’s case file, but I didn’t want to throw it away either. I mean you filled in your own details and all, but…’

Perplexed she looks at the man. She grabs the form from his hand before he finishes his sentence and looks at it. Empty.

She turns around without replying to the clerk and runs back to the interrogation room, where the guard is still guarding the door. She opens the door and looks around the room where the table and the evidence box are placed. But there’s no girl to be found in the room.

‘Where’s the girl?’

‘What girl?’ the guard replies.

She looks at the man with a confused look on her face.

‘Sandra, you’ve been all alone in that room with your box of evidence. Are you feeling alright?’

‘No… I don’t think I am. But I think I know whose body we are going to find at the bottom of that cliff.’

-VIII-

A man approached me earlier that evening. He was walking his dog. It was a young man who needed someone to talk to. Or at least he needed someone to listen to his story. The man told me that he wanted to die. He felt that life had abandoned him and didn’t see the purpose to live anymore. His name was John.

John was a young man in his 20s who grew up with a loving family. He had a longtime girlfriend of the same age. And even though he had always loved them so much, lately he felt nothing anymore. He was on a moral crossroad. So many times had he contemplated taking his own life. But then he reminded himself of what he would leave behind if he carried out what he wanted to do so badly.

I didn’t say much to the man. I nodded at the right moment and looked in his eyes that were tearing while he was talking. His story would’ve been depressing to any person in a normal state of mind. But not to me. I turned my eyes away from him and looked down at the ocean again. He continued talking.

‘It wasn’t my intention to kill you. It was just the alcohol I think. And the pills. It was an accident. You know I always loved you, right? I don’t know what came over me that night. I… I think I need someone to help me. Help me figure out my problems please.’

I wasn’t listening anymore. I used to be a compassionate person before, always ready to help someone who needed it. Then, not so much. I didn’t have any idea why he thought I was the right person to talk to about his problems. He kept talking, he kept asking me if I was listening to him, but I didn’t respond.

‘Please, Linda. Respond to me. I know you can hear me, what are those pills doing to me? But you can’t be real. I saw you fall off the cliff. I pushed you off. Damn, what have I done?.. Please talk to me. Linda?..

Linda?..

…Linda…’

Disappointed, he left. From the corner of my eye I watched him turn around, taking his dog with him. I could hear the sound of his footsteps gradually getting further away from me. Until the sound stopped.

It was silent for a moment, save for the sounds of the waves and the wind. Until I heard footsteps return. Footsteps moving at an increasing pace towards me. A dog barking. I closed my eyes, sighed and listened to the sound of John jumping over the railing off the cliff.

I knew he would eventually come back here.

I had been waiting for him to show up. And I was hoping that he could see me, just so I could be the final one he would see before taking his own life. I suppose that in the end it wasn’t such a bad idea to talk to Sandra either. At least there’s a chance that my own body will be recovered and I can have a proper burial.

Oh that cliff… For too long have I stood on top of that cliff.

Credit To – TvanK

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Black Fortune

June 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The trading ships had arrived in Venice from Kaffa only two days ago. The summer solstice had come and past and now the days were hot and heavy with humidity. The piers were alive with the sound of activity and excitement. I could smell the tang of varnished wood , the stale odor of stagnating water, the enticing aroma of goods being unloaded from the ships, exotic spices from the Far East, their scent hinting at the strange and wondrous places of their origin. I was on my way to the market place. Usually, I did not have the money to purchase anything of value, but I still enjoyed the experience. I would sit near the outskirts and watch, a detached spectator, and imagine the luxury goods I would one day be affluent enough to buy. Then no longer would I be merely a spectator, but an open contender in the commerce. A childish daydream, but one that gave me a welcoming reprieve from the daily grind of life.

However, today was different. I was here to buy a gift for my sister’s wedding with a small sum of money I had saved for the occasion. And a splendid occasion it was going to be. Her fiancé was an upper middleclass man, a well-known merchant . This was an opportunity for my family , and, in times such as these, opportunities were not to be squandered.

The marketplace was crowded, too much so to be entirely comfortable. I could hear the irritated voices of the customers, berating the merchants, attempting to bargain down the exorbitant prices. In one vendor’s stall, I saw the drying, blackening carcasses of three pigs, their strong smell mingling with that of exquisite perfumes and spices, meshing to create something disconcerting, almost nauseating.

Finding the perfect gift was going to be difficult. The merchandise was either much too costly or simply raw materials, which would be laughably crude for such an occasion. Then I saw it, an irridescent silken scarf from the far off Orient, elegantly emblazoned with a red and black flower, one foreign to this land. As I started to haggle with the merchant over price, I became distracted by two men at a neighboring stall, heatedly arguing over some outrageous rumor percolating through the market place. “I tell you, the devil was aboard that ship,” said one with an uncomfortable and superstitious fervency. “They said that two men died, their flesh rotting off as they still lived”. “It was six that died,” countered the other, “but it was the spice. It gave them fever and black spots. They are calling it black death. They have thrown away the entire cargo.” “No, the sailors saw the devil, three went overboard.” And so it went. The market place was, generally, rife with such stories, which I found were invariably traceable to the effects of long voyages and the imagination of bored sailors. In my opinion such fanciful devil stories were nothing short of preposterous. I finished bargaining with the merchant, concluded my purchase, and started on my way home.

The day was coming to an end. The sun hung low on the horizon, a bloated sanguinary tinged disk, filling the evening sky with its dull red glow. I was well on my way back. As I walked along the piers, I heard the sound of children laughing. I noticed a group of three boys who looked no older than ten, gathered in a circle. As I got closer I was able to make out words, threats of obscene violence, “stab its eyes out”, “break its bones”, “tear its ears off”. And then I saw it, a small kitten with jet black fur. The boys were tormenting it with the disturbing and unwarranted cruelty of which young boys are so often capable. It almost made sense, the animal had most likely been thrown off a ship due to the recent rumors and prevailing superstitions.

I felt a hot flash of anger. I had once had a cat, a large male with silky black fur which I had named Zitto. He had brought me nothing but fortune. My father had been a merchant at the time. He had found him on a ship and he was a fine mouser. When my father would leave on long voyages, Zitto would keep me company. He would sit on my bed, while I watched the ships from the window, hoping my father was returning with them. Then one day my father left and never returned. Reports later confirmed, he had died in a shipwreck. I was devastated. Zitto sat with me, comforting me through this time of despair and grief, a last link to my father. Those times were long past now, and, Zitto, like my father, was merely a memory.

I angrily strode into the group of boys and grabbed one of their sticks and broke it. “Get out of here !” I shouted and roughly pushed the nearest one. They scattered, running off, laughing senselessly. I picked the kitten up. It was trembling, every muscle tensed. I thought of Zitto and stroked it till it calmed. “You will be just like Zitto,” I whispered, “you will be a great mouser and a loving companion and you will bring me fortune,” but, I noted wryly, scratching my arm, “you will not be sleeping in my bed until we get rid of these fleas.” I put the kitten in my coat pocket and continued home.

Credit To – Milo DeOlivares

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Our Secret Pond

June 12, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Our Secret Pond
By: Isaac Cook

The bright light of the sun flickered over us through the foliage above, as we excitedly ran along the trail that led to our secret swimming pond. Both of us had been through this path many times, so our speed didn’t arise any concern of us getting lost. Coming to the familiar fork in the trail, we stopped. The left path was longer and through the trees we could see boy scouts, about our age, coming in our direction. The right path was a shorter distance to the pond, so it seemed like the obvious option. As we were about to launch into a sprint, we stopped and glared down the path. An old man came into our view, tucking an unseen object into a dark, long trench coat, hastily walked towards us. Lifting his head up from his task, he stared at us. His pace quickened. His eyes looked dark and unforgiving, with a glint to them that could drive you mad. Shooting a nervous glance at each other, a crooked smile crept up the old man’s thin cheek bones. As we were both uneased by this, we quietly decided to take the longer path. We’d both rather endure a group of boy scouts on the small trail, than that man.

Releasing ourselves from the man’s gaze, as the forest was too dense to see through the divide of bush to the other trail, I felt a sense of relief. We passed the boy scouts, recognising some of them from school, it wasn’t as awkward as we had previously thought. Now being past the situation of the old man and the boy scouts, we both instantly launched ourselves into a sprint.

Quickly reaching the pond, without saying a word we both stripped off our shirts, shorts and socks. Wearing only our boxers, we jumped in. The water was satisfyingly cool. I ran out of the pond and towards the rope swing, for I had never actually swung off it, but this time, I was determined to push away my fear. Firmly holding the thick rope in both hands, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. As I opened them, I launched myself into the air, suspended by the rope. Everything felt like it was in slow motion as I let go of the rope and soared through the air. Looking down at my target area, which was the deepest part of the pond, I felt a sense of pride. I had done it perfectly, and not gone too far and into the shallower parts.

All my feelings of success vanished as bubbles started to arise from the ponds depths, and a dark figure drifted to the surface amongst my target area. In a split second I made out a human body and face. It’s eye sockets lay open and empty; a pale expression of pain and remorse draped on its face.

I let out a sharp scream as I collided with the body.

—-

Word of this incident spread around our small town like a wild fire. The police had been at our secret pond for days trying to find evidence to pin this on someone, to no avail. The body belonged to a woman who was extremely involved within the borders of our town. Everyone was devastated.

The next day, our small community took another blow. Crying families and missing persons posters littered the town, bearing seven pictures of the boys we passed on the trail. I’ve told the police about the old man. That spark in his eyes is burnt into my mind. That crooked smile painfully echos through my thoughts every time I picture it. The police sketch of the man is posted all over town as well; and no one seems to even slightly recognise him.

I don’t know where those boys have gone, or even if they are alive. But I do know one thing. That old man — that monster — wasn’t simply just out for a walk on that horrible, horrible summer day.

Credit To – Isaac Cook

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The starvation of angels

June 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Soft beeping from my alarm work me that morning. The same sound as always, a pulsing of noise that was like a heartbeat. Over the years, I’d grown used to the noise signifying another day at the station. I was positive about my lack of work, but I could just feel some new and horrific case would be looming over me soon. Turning my clock off to prevent it waking my slumbering wife, I pulled myself out of bed and got dressed. I had breakfast and read the news; old cases printed on the cover. Almost in sync with my need to get up and head over to the station, a knock came at my door.

“Back to the grind,” I hummed as I kicked my shoes on.

On opening the door I found my work partner, a spry woman in her late thirties with curly red hair pulled back into a pony tail. She wore a light brown coat and a sweet smile.

“Morning Harrison,” she chirped before pushing a coffee into my hands. “Boys want you over at Saints Lane apartment block. Seems they’ve found a body.”

I took the coffee from her, same one she gave me every day, and sipped it. “About time we got some more work.” Smiling, I closed the front door and headed to her car. Sharon Wittingham, to give her full name, was a detective like me. I trained her and was expecting her to move to a new city once she was trained, since she had the skills to go far – but she, like most people who live here, stayed.

Within half an hour we’d arrived. The complex we found ourselves at was the kind people tell of in ghost stories; old, damp and half empty. It was once a low-cost housing ideal from about fifty years ago, but the only thing it kept after countless contractors had pulled out was the low cost. A few squad cars where already outside, their lights flicking on and off rhythmically.

From what Sharon had told me, we knew the body was that of a young male, about twenty-three years old. We were trying to hunt for his family, but as yet didn’t have many leads. I ran through the notes in my head as we ascended the four flights of stairs, up to room 307. Yellow and black tape was hung about the place, stopping the other dozen residents of the complex from getting in. The door had been broken in by our own forces in an attempt to see what the source of the foul smell in the complex was. Little had been disturbed in the apartment itself; a few things like pillows were on the floor but nothing to suggest a struggle. Sharon headed into the bedroom of the apartment and nodded her head towards the body.

Grimly I followed her in. There, lying naked on the bed was a young man, with black hair, green eyes and a few studs. His body was a mess. Most of his chest had been pulled open and the lungs and heart partially removed, clawed out by long nails. Though his death looked horrific the young man had a peaceful look on his face.

“What a sorry sight” I commented, walking over to the body to take a closer look at the gaping wound in his chest.

“That’s what I said” Sharon nodded, looking around the bedroom. “This case looks like an odd one, I mean just look at this room. It’s immaculate, not a thing out of place. It doesn’t look like there was a struggle to me.”

I nodded in agreement before looking at the man’s side table to inspect it for clues. I pulled some gloves on and started to leaf through his possessions.

“Has anyone reported hearing a disturbance here in the past few weeks?”

“No, the kid hardly made any noise, it seemed. He moved in a few years ago. Didn’t go out much or have many people over.”

“Do we have a name?”

“Um…yeah, I think so. He called himself Joshua Brown. He was working near here, at a restaurant as a waiter.”

“I see.” I moved back from the small bedside cabinet, making note of a framed photo by the lamp. The image was of the boy, Joshua, in his late teens with another boy with long white hair, snowy skin, and a pink jumper. They looked happy together. Just as I was about to stand I noticed a few empty packets of contraceptives on the floor. I picked them up carefully and placed them into a clear plastic bag before showing them to Sharon. “Do you think he knew his killer?”

Sharon eyed me for a moment; she always said I had an odd way with words. “Well, he could have done it with his killer before he met his maker, so to speak.” She pondered for a moment before spotting the photograph. “If we look at it from that angle it’s totally plausible. We should try to see who he knew, who his friends and lovers were. Unless it was a one night stand, of course.”

I nodded and wandered around the room some more. “Get someone to look into his mobile phone records, computer and whatever other communication device he has. That’ll be a good first lead. We should also be able to get some DNA from this place, if we need to identify.”

“You talk like such an old man sometimes.” Sharon smiled. “If we get this to court we should be able to prove who did it – we just need to find the one who did the deed.”

I stifled a chuckle. “You talk like a teenager sometimes, Sharon.” I knew full well my come-back had no effect. “Let’s hope we can get whoever did this.”

“As if we ever let them get away.”

I smiled at her optimism and continued my search.

As expected, a good number of DNA samples were recovered and sent off to the lab while Sharon and I spoke to his neighbours to see if anyone knew Joshua. They all said the same thing; as far as they knew, he was a very quiet lad, though his appearance may have suggested otherwise. He was kind, didn’t talk about himself or his family much.

We were still finding it hard to get in contact with his parents – or the boy in the photo, whoever he was. The few photos around Joshua’s flat where almost all of the albino teenager and we guessed they’d probably been partners at some point. Working on that assumption, we’d started to construct a story that the two had probably split up or moved apart but had met up again recently and the albino had, after intercourse, killed Joshua. It was a little flimsy but we had to start somewhere.

It was long after eleven that night that I finally took a taxi home. In the heat of the moment I’d lost myself in work and I’d lost all track of time. Only when I saw it was so late did I at last leave. I arrived home and was met by my darling wife. Even now, forty-three years after first meeting her at college, she hasn’t lost her looks in my eyes. Even after she had her first stroke, I still loved her looks. They do say love is blind after all.

“Good evening love” I said with a soft voice. You could say that me and my wife, Annabelle, were the ideal model of what an old married couple should be – still as close as ever. Though I now had a full head of silver hair, I hadn’t retired. After my wife’s first stroke she’d wanted our lives to stay the same. She stayed at home and rested while I went to work. I loved my work and the money it brought in helped to pay the medical bills.

“Evening” my wife replied after a short pause. “How was work today?”

I embraced her and smiled, not giving her an answer other than a happy moan. Annabelle hugged me back, smiling. I hated telling her about my work – the death I saw – so I hid it from her.

For the rest of the evening we simply ate dinner and watched TV, before falling asleep at about one am.

The next day started the same. My alarm started softly to raise me from slumber and then I left to greet Sharon. She filled me in on some of the developments that had happened since we spoke last. The body had been moved from the apartment and we were now free to do a deep search. Joshua’s laptop had been found and was in the lab, being pulled apart for information. I needed confirmation that nothing had been missed, so I rode with Sharon to the apartment. The place was quiet as we went in, the smell of damp stronger than ever now.

On entering the apartment we found that little was out of place, thanks to the hands of our experienced team. I started to look about, first going through the kitchen and then the living room, followed by the bathroom then the bedroom, looking in more detail than I had done before. I made a note that the kitchen was poorly stocked to feed two people and that the only clothes belonged Joshua. Sharon and I quickly came to the same conclusion – that he was living alone at the time of his death.

My gaze turned back to the bed; most of the covers had been taken away but there was still some dried blood on the mattress, outlined by tape to show where the body once lay. I looked at Sharon who was rummaging through the dresser to the right of the small window that gave light to the room. On top of the dresser there were a number of small trinkets including a photograph of the albino boy, a free-standing cross with a rosary hung about it and a copy of the Bible. “See anything Sharon?” I asked, slowly walking over to look over her shoulder.

“Well, he was into his religion, but it looks normal enough.” She pondered, tapping the side of her neck in thought.

I nodded in agreement, coupling this with a small noise to signify I thought she was indeed correct. “I’d like to know who the albino boy is, he looks to be a bit of a theme here.”

“Possible suspect?”

“I can’t be sure until we find him, but it’s within reason.”

I picked up the photograph and removed it from its frame. For a moment I studied the image before noticing something as I held it to the light. Dark patches. Careful to not damage the deceased’s possessions, I turned the image over to see writing on the back. It read like a love letter, short sweet and simple. “It was sunny that day, like the sun, you light up my day, my angel.” I quoted aloud.

Sharon looked back at me in puzzlement for a moment before realising I was reading something. “Is there something on the back of the photograph?”

With a nod, I handed over the image. “No name sadly.”

Like me, Sharon studied the writing. “At least we know now that the two of them were dating. A bit tacky if you ask me.”

I chuckled. “When you find love you’ll learn that there is no such thing as tacky.”

“You know full well I have no intention of finding love.” Sharon responded flatly. She’d explained to me before that she wasn’t interested in any kind of relationship that wasn’t work of friend based; she enjoyed her solitude.

“We’ll see.” I smiled back before going to inspect the other images. “Let’s try and find the name of the albino boy, that’s our first task.”

Sharon agreed before hunting about for more photos to see if any others had messages on the back. Sadly, we were out of luck.

After collecting a few more of the young man’s possessions, we headed back to the station to try fit the links together and to wait on the labs to give up more information. It was past four when I got a call from the station’s pathologist, a towering blond haired man we all lovingly called R. He was from Russia and had one of those very tricky names with a great number of K’s and V’s in it. He told us he had news about the body and asked us to come over as soon as we could make it. I told Sharon and we headed over to his lab, on the other side of town. R was a workaholic like myself, and often pulled all-nighters, against his better judgment.

We headed into the small clinic and were buzzed into the main lab by R’s young receptionist. R greeted us at the entrance to his lab. His long blond hair was pulled back into a pony tail that often sat on his shoulder; his eyes were a soft blue and he wore a long white lab coat. On his right wrist he had a small gold bangle which I’d never seen him remove. His skin was very white, and he often wore a somewhat blank expression; the kind you see on the face of someone who’s lived with death for many years. I saw myself in R sometimes.

“Harrison, Sharon, glad you could make it over here so quickly.”

R smiled, holding out a hand. I took his hand and shook it. “Well, you know what we’re like, eager to get things done. Good to see you again.”

R had worked for us for about a year now. Before that he was a GP; a very good and caring one too, but after a tragedy struck his family he started to work here.

Sharon also shook R’s hand before heading towards his lab. R smiled in my direction to thank me for the pleasantries. I knew he wasn’t a talker. I followed and looked over to a metal table that presented the body of the victim, covered with a thin white sheet.

“What I found was pretty interesting really. A bit of a sick case though” the doctor commented, before pulling the cover down to reveal the upper half of body, folding the cover just under the wound in his chest.

“What do you mean?” Sharon asked, walking over to look, while I admired from a far.

“As I see it, his ribcage was pulled open and then most of the ribs removed followed by the consumption of the lungs and heart.”

There was a dumbfounded silence.

“You mean someone’s eaten him!?” Sharon shouted, a little too loudly for R’s liking as he was very sensitive to sound.

“Yes, eaten.” R responded, a little agitated to have had Sharon shout at him. “There are both large claw and bite marks on the remaining tissue.” He signaled to a mouth-sized bite mark, consisting of many needle-like holes that was uncovered at the bottom of the ribcage.

I felt a little ill just thinking about the notion of one human eating another.

“Those aren’t human though, I mean look at them!” Sharon exclaimed, as shocked as I was.

“Well, these bites come in sets of two and they’re the right proportion to be human. Say the one doing the eating had possession of some kind of adapted weapon? Humans are strange creatures, you know.” R’s eyes, peering over his glasses, remained on the body.

I paused, he did have a point after all. Maybe this was a far more twisted story than I’d first imagined. For the rest of the meeting, R filled us in on what else he’d worked out about the body and gave us his full report.

After reading through the case notes, Sharon and I both headed home. Annabelle met me at the door and we chatted about our day, though I made sure to cut out as much of the gore as I could. I picked at my dinner and avoided mention of food for the most of the evening. Honestly, I was shaken by what R had told me, so much so that I could hardly respond to my wife. Around ten, I went to bed although I couldn’t sleep. With the case on my mind, it was hard to think of anything else; ideas rattled around my head.

I arrived at the station by seven; a little early for me but I felt like walking. There’s something about walking, to arrive before anyone else, that’s strangely enjoyable. By lunch-time Joshua’s journal was released from the labs, with every page copied and recorded. Sharon went out again to ask around about the young man while I stayed put to read the journal. It was a few years old, but I thought it would still be in the right time span to possibly include information about the albino. I was right to assume it would.

The journal was nothing special; it went from the teen’s fifteenth birthday and stopped at his sixteenth. It started with the boy describing what he got for his birthday – a phone, the book he was writing in and a few trinkets from one of his friends. He spoke highly of his friend who I gather was known as Lyet. If Lyet was the name of the albino boy, then it should be easy enough to find him; after all, there can’t be too many kids called Lyet in the US. For the next few hours or so I focused on nothing but the journal, making sure to take notes on pretty much everything about the teen’s life that he wrote about. To my disappointment, there wasn’t much of interest apart from a few briefly mentioned cases of bulling, some underage sex between the young Joshua and Lyet and a few small social events that he and Lyet had attended. Joshua seemed to be very close to Lyet; he seemed to love him deeply, although it was mentioned that the boys never told their parents. The journal told of how Lyet was badly bullied at school and suffered depression as well as some other health problems. He took a lot of medications; an amount I’d consider to be unsafe. As the journal went on things remained the same, the two lads to date in secret and they kept their heads down at school to avoid attention.

Slowly, I closed the journal with care before noticing that Sharon had come in.

“Hey Harrison, how’s tricks?” she inquired, coming over with some lunch.

Gladly, I took it from her. “Well, it looks like we have a name to match a face now. It seems from the journal that Joshua was dating a boy named Lyet, around the age of sixteen, and it looks like a long term relationship to me.”

Sharon picked up the book and started to skim it, along with my notes.

“Reckon we’ve got our suspect’s name?”

“Seems so.”

“Well then, let’s put it into the computer.”

Triumphantly Sharon collected the notes from the desk before heading over to the computer.

Though my old legs had fallen asleep from the long time sitting, I raised myself and headed after her. By the time I arrived Sharon had sat herself down at a computer and was punching in her login. Before long our files were open and the hunt was on. As expected, it didn’t take long at all, although what I saw filled me with disappointment.

“Lyet Penheart, a white haired male from a small town in Texas, was found guilty today of Murder-Suicide. The youngster, aged seventeen, shot dead his father, the town’s resident priest on Monday 17th of February. The verdict of the court can now bring answers to those effected by the event.”

Sharon sighed deeply, reading aloud the article that was before her. “Looks like we went down the rabbit hole on this one chief.”

I nodded, although I remained transfixed by the article. It was simple, with little detail, but there was a mention of three older brothers, a mother in her forties and the cause of death for both Lyet and his father. His father was shot in the chest and later died at hospital while Lyet shot himself in the head. “Poor thing.”

“Yup… back to square one it seems.” Sharon commented.

“We’ll find other leads you know, we can do this.” I smiled, knowing this had probably knocked the wind out of Sharon’s sails. She has this habit of sticking to one idea in a case, and only gives up on it if she is proven wrong.

“I know.”

For a moment she just pretended to read the article before stopping herself, leaning close to the screen.

“You reckon Joshua would have known Lyet’s brothers?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Joshua’s boss told me he was a bit of an introvert. He never really went out and hardly ever talked to anyone. Since the other residents in Joshua’s complex never saw him with anyone, is it safe to assume that he knew the killer, since he wouldn’t really invite a random stranger in. Say one of Lyet’s brothers came to town, Joshua offers them a place to stay, and then the rest is history.”

Sharon knew herself this could be a little bit far-fetched but I knew she’d look into it.

“Find the family then, see if we can get more information” I suggested.

“Got it.”

On that, Sharon started to dig into our computers for more information about the family while I simply went to work organising the files for this case, hopping to see a fresh trail.

I arrived home at seven again that night; I greeted my lovely wife and sat with her at the dining table. Though her mind was sometimes muddled and she wasn’t always entirely there, I could see she was pretty excited today. Interested as to why this was, I slipped it into conversation over our beef stew.

“How was your day then Annabelle?” I smiled, happy in the knowledge that she seemed better today than she’d been in a long time. The doctors had warned of another stroke if she became stressed or was too active, so she often confined herself to the house, doing very little at all. It was as if she’d been prescribed loneliness – but some days she was happy, happy to live like this.

“Oh, my day was lovely.” She smiled, looking up from her meal. “A very nice boy came over today, he was collecting for charity.”

“Did you give them anything?” I asked back, knowing my wife was a very generous person.

“Well….” she said after a little pause, “he was looking to collect clothes so I gave him some of the shirts that are too small for you now, as well as some change. I tried to invite him in for cake and sandwiches….”

Her mind trailed off for a moment before she smiled. “I invited him in for tea, but when he came in, he didn’t eat anything, though he did say he was hungry… odd boy.”

Often my wife would repeat her sentences, forgetting what she’d just said.

“That’s nice. I’ve been meaning to get rid of thought shirts for a while now.”

I smiled. There was something about talking like this that always helped me get my mind off work. I allowed the conversation to continue until we’d finished dinner then we watched TV and went to bed, just like most nights. It was a simple life style but I wouldn’t ask for any other.

For the next few days nothing happened of much note. All three Penheart brothers had alibis for the night of the murder and so did the now single mother. Joshua’s parents told us that their son hardly ever spoke to them, but they would come and collect his body soon. We found a few more leads, though they all ran cold sooner or later. The IT department was still working on the computer and the phone of the deceased.

****************

It was late, few lights were on in the city but I still burned the midnight oil, working through statement after statement about the young man. Every one of them said the same thing; Joshua never talked to anyone, never had anyone over and pretty much never left his apartment, apart from when he went to work or went shopping. I was at a loss.

“Knock, knock.” hummed a familiar voice, baritone and tinted with accent.

I looked up and saw R in the door way, holding a few files. Like me, he was burning the midnight oil, though it was a little odd to see him in my office. I welcomed him in.

“Evening doctor.”

R came in, sitting across from me at my desk, before taking my notes to read over them. “Shouldn’t you be at home with your wife now?”

“Though I’d love to, I’m at a loss here R, I’m not the man I was thirty years ago.” He smiled.

I watching him read over my notes before taking a look at the file he’d brought with him.

“Didn’t expect to see you here so late.”

“I wanted to hand over these notes. I’ve found some bits and bobs.” He paused. “Where are you with the case?”

I knew full well that R would not be willing to tell me anything about his finds unless I told him mine; he liked to trade information, it was one of his many odd tricks.

“Well, we’ve closed the case on trying to find the albino kid. Turns out our top suspect has been dead for years. We can’t find any new leads, this job looks like it was done professionally R, and I’m starting to wonder if we can solve it.”

I knew full well I was putting it on thick, being a pessimist, but I wanted to go over the top.

“The albino kid? Sharon mentioned him over some drinks, she was so hyped up about finding the supposed killer so quickly, I didn’t want to tell her.”

“Tell her what?” I asked in response.

“Don’t you know? I thought you looked into the Penheart incident?”

“No, I thought it was an open shut cased. Was it not?”

R smiled knowingly; he always revelled in knowing things that others didn’t.

“Not totally. The trial was a shambles, evidence was lost, statements pulled out and reports rejected. Originally it was going to be presented as a case of retaliation – an act of self-defence -with the remaining parent standing trial for domestic abuse, but it was not to be.”

Closing the files he was reading, I watched a rather smug smile creep across the tall doctor’s face. “Lyet’s body went missing.”

I paused, half annoyed that I hadn’t been told, but then also confused.

“Went missing?” It sounded foolish, but R didn’t usually lie.

“Yep, I knew the pathologist who was going to make an assessment of Lyet’s body before laying him to rest but the night before she was going to make the report, the body just vanished; gone without a trace.”

“That’s total fiction!” I exclaimed. “A body can’t simply get up and walk away.”

R nodded then opened the file he was going to deliver to me.

“Up to you whether you believe me or not. Me and some work friends called it the body snatcher.”

When opened the file I saw some of the latest DNA traces found of Joshua’s body, along with long strands of pure white hair. I couldn’t think of what to say, I just sat silently, looking at the report. The hair was about the right length and colour to belong to the albino’s, but how could that possibly be?

“Your welcome” R hummed, standing up before leaving my office.

Left alone with my thoughts, I felt my stomach turn over. I’d seen the reports from the other crime scene; the boy lying in a pool of his own blood and brain tissue, clasping a small revolver in one hand. It could have been the lack of sleep … things no longer added up in that case; nothing made any sense to me. Theories buzzed and nagged at me. What if the death was faked, what if the body was stolen, what if ………….

I stood up quickly, holding my head before groaning. “The dead don’t walk around Harrison, get a grip.” My lack of sleep was clearly apparent now. Pushing the files into my desk drawer, I headed home, annoyed at R but also deeply puzzled.

My alarm did little to wake me the next morning, although the pounding at my door did.

Sharon, who was far too peppy for this time of day, had just gotten news that the laptops files had now been copied and were free to read. I hurriedly got myself dressed then left to join her. On the way in, she told me that they had found a full electronic journal, with the last entry being the day of Joshua’s death. She was hopeful that this could be our route to finishing the case; even if it was lacking detail it could shine some light on the story leading up to the young man’s death.

Sharon pretty much sprinted to my office where a hard copy of the journal had been placed. Instantly she fumbled for the last entry. I – slower at my age – arrived just as she found the page. Sitting down in my own chair, I took out a note pad and waited for Sharon to read what it said.

“OK, March 26th…” she paused to find her words before a very puzzled look crossed her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“…. Nothing …. Let me just read it.”

I could tell she was composing herself. Taking a breath, she started to read.

“I know God must be smiling upon me, my prayers have been answered and I have him back. Robbed from me, I’d given up hope that we could be one again, but we will be; he doesn’t know what he is now, but I don’t care. He’s an angel now, the moonlight shows his true form. It scared me at first, but I know this was meant to be; I’ll become part of him. I lie with him now as I type this, his skin is so cold and pure, like snow. He’s yet to wake up from last night. He bit him pretty badly from animal instinct, but he’s starving, my angel is starving. Tonight I’m not going to fight him. We can make a thing of it before his mind is taken by the moonlight. If anyone finds this … finds me …. just know that I wanted this, I wanted to save my angel from his hunger.”

There was just silence left between Sharon and me as she finished reading. Slowly she placed the papers down, looking a little ill.

“He let this person kill him? What in the world was he going on about ….. an angel?”

Pulling my gaze away, I stumbled upon the file I recognised from last night. I bit my tongue then struggled to form a sentence, “I want to know everything – who Joshua knew and who his friends were, those who went missing and those he moved apart from.”

In reality I felt numb; this couldn’t be real, could it?

Sharon was as confused and disturbed as I was.

“Yes Harrison, but what do you think he’s talking about? He doesn’t seem to be stable, I mean, the way he talks here is ….. well, it’s odd to say the least. What in the hell was going on!?”

I remained silent for a while, “I don’t know… I’m going to ask around town and see if I can learn anything….” I paused, “…. alone.”

Sharon just nodded, knowing I was as perplexed as she was about the whole business.

Taking my coat I left, planning on walking over to R’s place to chat with him, to see if he could talk some sense into me. The walk across town was long and laborious and I held my head down for most of the way. Moving my way through the waves of people, I drew closer to the building where R worked. The sense of dread that had hung over me ever since last night, which had strengthened after reading the journal, felt so much greater now. The face and form of the young white haired man was etched into my mind. I quickened my step onwards.

Pushing the door of the clinic open, I started to head over to the front desk to call for R, but that was when I saw him. Alone and sitting on the furthest most chair from the door sat a young boy. His clothes where tattered; his hair long and white; he looked like a ghost. His skin was marble. I felt a sharp inhale of air enter my chest.

“Harrison, what are you doing here?” R called, walking around the corner.

I snapped from my trance and grabbed his arms, trying to get him to listen.

“There, look there, I ….”

As I turned to point to the boy, I saw that the chair was empty, as though I’d simply imagined him.

R gave me a puzzled look, “a chair?” His accent sounded a little stronger than normal as he muttered, “are you OK?”

No words came out of my mouth, but I nodded, letting go of R.

“Let’s get you some coffee and give you a place to sit down, OK?”

Without waiting for a response, R led me into a small conference room and got me to sit, before walking off to get some coffee for both of us.

Taking long breaths, I tried to control myself.

“Don’t let the stresses get to you.”

I tried to breathe slowly. Perhaps this was just a stress-related episode, but the only thing I could think about was Joshua and his killer, who in my mind was the white-haired teen.

Before long R came back, a folder under his arms, along with two steaming hot cups of coffee. I knew the man had an addiction to coffee and would offer or accept it at any opportunity. Passing me my mug, I felt myself start to relax even before I started to drink. R sat across from me, placed his work down then also started to drink.

“What happened out there?” he asked after a short pause.

“I don’t know, I think the stress is getting to me” I responded flatly, hardly concentrating.

R sighed then smiled.

“How old are you Harrison? You’re in your sixties now, shouldn’t you be living at home with your wife, retired?”

I glared at him for a moment.

“Doctors’ orders, you need to rest Harrison. Look, I know you enjoy this and your wife likes you to keep busy but this job, this style of life, really isn’t too good for you, considering ………”

My face softened and I nodded a little.

“This case in particular, why don’t you leave it to Sharon and the other boys at the station? They’re all up to solving it. I just don’t think you should be working with a case like this, not after….. well, you know.”

“I’ve accepted what happened R and I don’t want to retire, this job keeps my mind working.”

“No it doesn’t Harrison; I can see it in your eyes. I’m saying this not as a doctor but as your friend. You should stay with your wife and rest for a few weeks.”

R’s voice had gotten softer; he knew my wife’s time was short now.

Finally, I nodded and agreed.

For hours I just chatted with R about life. Looking back, I guess I did need to cut down my work hours and spend more time with my lovely wife. Night was falling as I started to walk home. People were buzzing around, migrating back to their homes from their long work days. I felt better about life, more relaxed. Passing by shop fronts and restaurants, I started to instinctively look at people, blocking out the bad images with nicer ones.

A couple were courting in the park under the old oak tree; one of the town’s resident homeless was sitting at a bus stop with his large headphones on, tapping his foot in time with an unknown song; a proud giant of a man was walking home with his young son, carrying a bag of football kit; a young woman in a blue dress was exiting a small store named ‘Transformer’ – I reassessed her gender shortly after.

I found myself smiling, feeling the tensions of the case melt away. A girl selling roses, a man going to work at a restaurant, a white haired teen in a light purple jumper looking over at me with dead blue eyes.

I stopped abruptly and looked back, the teen had gone again, vanished into the crowds. My mouth felt dry. This was just stress, right? I quickened my steps, feeling my body pump with adrenaline.

A cab sitting at red lights; a scruffy man walking down back streets; the white haired boy again, his neck purple like it was bruised. I walked faster still; the sky was orange as the sun set; the building to my right had five floors; the dumpster around the corner house three bin bags; the white haired boy again, his face wet from tears and pure white hair stained crimson. My eyes darted forward, away from the crowds and fell on him again. One eye was golden and seemed to be ruptured while the other was soft blue, his body looked so cold. I staggered back, but he’d vanished again, in the blink of an eye.

Panicked, I started to run to the warmth of my home, my whole body shaking now.

Breathless, I flew down my small street and fumbled for my keys before pushing the door open. Inside I tried to catch my breath, taking lung full after lung full of air. Exhaling heavily and looked around; the money pot that stood on a small table by the doorway to the living room was smashed on the floor. So too was one of the lamps, a picture frame, keys.

I felt as if time had stopped as I became aware of the sound of erratic breathing and gasping. I ran around the corner into my living room where I saw my wife convulsing on the floor. Her eyes were unfocused, one half of her face slumped to the side, her mouth half open. She was having another stroke. Lunging forward I went to take her into my arms, but that was then I saw it.

“So …. hungry”, he murmured, one soft blue eye locked on my wife. He was thin, pale, cold. Moonlight poked its head out from behind the clouds for a moment, showing his true nature; vast wings of pure light and a halo; bloody white claws on both his hands and feet; bloody neck, head and mouth, adorned with hundreds of sharp teeth. As soon as the clouds covered the moon again, he reverted back to the corpse he was.

My eyes were locked on it, the angel of death that sat and watched as my wife died. It was as if something had taken over the body of a young man and now wore his skin, like a well-fitting glove.

“What are you!?” I screamed.

Its eyes remained fixed on my wife, stiller now, “hungry ….. starving …..”

I turned to my wife, taking her in my arms.

This seemed to confuse the angel, puppeteering the body it called home. It moved towards me and my wife. The moon shone on it again; the smell of rot was stagnant in the room.

“Get back!”

It didn’t listen, simply moved closer, licking its long claws. “…..I want it..” For a split second it vanished out of sight and my world went dark.

*********************

I awoke to a pounding pain in the back of my head. I forced myself upright, before promptly clasping a hand over my mouth at what I saw. The starving angel was crouched over my wife’s body, or what was left of it, pulling away at the chest mindlessly, pushing flesh and muscle into its mouth. I thought I would vomit but grabbing for my hand gun I took aim. His dead eyes looked at me through bloody white hair, not seeming to know or care what I was doing.

“Get off her!” I screamed, before shooting all five round into its head. To my horror, the angel took every single one, reaction-less. Every bullet fell back out the hole it had made, bringing a pungent smell of rot with it, before closing up. Though it was futile I continued to click the trigger of my gun, though nothing came out. I shouted and screamed but it just continued to eat.

The neighbours arrived a short time later, reporting that they found me with the body of my wife, crying and screaming at monsters. Sharon and the rest of the police force arrived shortly after and took me to hospital and my wife to the morgue. No trace of the angel was found, but I know what I saw; I saw him at the funeral, at the side of my wife’s grave, by the road side, watching the world and all its death.

*************************

Since that night, I’ve retired from the police force and live alone. Stress is causing me heart problems and R keeps warning me I could have a heart attack if I continue to live the way I do, but I know I don’t have much time left anyway, since the angel is back, and he keeps telling me he’s hungry. I lie awake at night, the glow of his wings illuminating my room. If there is a God, he is nothing more than the monsters he has created. I can feel my chest getting tight as my heart fails me. I watch as the starving angel lifts his head and watches me with hunger in its eyes.

Credit To – emthesmall

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Dark Slayer

June 3, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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The store, called Ferocious Arms and Armory, was heavy with the scent of cured leather. Standing in front of the counter Darrick eyeballed the katana, giving each square inch the attention it deserved. Among the other gleaming weapons that hung on every wall of the shop, this one stood out. The red dragon printed on the sheath gave the sword style, and it felt good when he held it in his hands, as if the cold iron was a part of him. But it was best to consider a purchase of this magnitude with care.

“Is it full tang?”

“I reckon so,” The old man behind the counter said scratching at his gray facial hair.

“Can it take edge on edge contact?”

“No… No sword can. Not for long any way. It’s only in the movies that people slap swords around like that. It’s a real good way to bend or break your weapon. Also… it’s a two hundred dollar replica.”

Darrick did his best to cut him a nasty look and said, “But it’ll chop through… like, three cows right?”

The clerk rolled his eyes and gave a labored sigh. “Yeah… It’ll cut through five or six, and it’ll really let you focus your chi to super-human levels.” The clerk rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm. “So, are you going to buy the thing or not? The mall is about to close and you’ve been looking at the sword for two hours.”

“Yep, I am.” Darrick wasn’t positive, but it seemed as if the clerk’s voice dripped with sarcasm. However, he’d resolved to let it slide for the sake of getting the sword.

He yanked out the money, and the greedy clerk snatched the bills from his hands then popped open the cash register. He stuffed the money in and said, “Cool, thanks for your business, but I got to close up shop now. I got bowling tonight, and I’ve been late two times this month. The guys in my league kind of frown on that.”

“Whatever.” Darrick grabbed the sword off the counter and walked out of the store a far more dangerous man than he had ever been. He clinched the sword with in his hands as he walked the three miles back to his place in the dark.

Once he arrived at his studio apartment, he cleared the Miller High Life cans and Monarch Vodka bottles off of the coffee table and replaced them with the sword. He brushed his fingertips over the blade, and it sent a chill racing down his spine. One of his major life goals, owning a samurai sword, was complete, but it came with unexpected strings attached.

The forces of the undead were amassing, and he seemed to be the only one that gave a crap. It’s not like the world didn’t know; they just didn’t care. However, that sounded about right for humanity. They were, and always had been, procrastinators, and they always wanted someone else to save them from their own stupidity. Darrick, as Atlas before him, would shoulder this burden and send the children of the night back into the shadows. He smiled as he assumed the lotus position on the somewhat sticky floor. He slid the sword off the coffee table and rested the blade on his lap as he said, “Dear Buddha, see that this sword is true, and guide it into the hearts of the undead. Let none stand without fear when this blade is used, and let all the girls think it’s completely awesome.” Thus the sword became his holy weapon of destruction, and in a voice as deep as his vocal cords could permit he proclaimed, “I name you…Foe Chopper.” He raised the sword into the air, and the ceremony was almost complete. All he had to do now was christen it with undead blood, and that would come soon enough.

After three hours of working out to sword practice videos he’d found on YouTube, he was sure no modern master could stop his speed, cunning and reflexes. He had an unnatural ability to learn the fighting arts. In fact, all he had to do was see a move once or twice and he was able to repeat it perfectly, so in his estimation he’d already mastered six different martial arts from YouTube and Kung fu magazines alone.

Since he’d received government funding a year ago, it allowed him to devote himself to his cause, and he would only get better and better. There was no stopping him. He cracked open a bottle of Blue Nun to celebrate, and didn’t rest until it had been drained along with a few beers and a shot or two of vodka.

When the world became too blurry from the alcohol, he crashed on top of his bed, and he couldn’t help but imagine all the ways he’d use that blade to slice through the undead. The fighting would be like a perfect, yet brutal, ballet, and the night would know him by his code name forever more. He was to become the Dark Slayer, and that name would be on the lips of every hellish being that walked the earth. The sword lay beside him as he drifted off.

***

The buzzing of the doorbell pulled him from the alcohol-induced coma that passed for sleep. Sure, he slept better than he had in years, but that didn’t mean much as he usually only got a couple of hours in. He always felt ragged, and even with the extra sleep, he still had the hangover to contend with.

Not many people came by these days, but he couldn’t blame them. They wanted to keep living in their fantasy world where bad things didn’t happen to good people, and the dead stayed dead. However, he wouldn’t do it anymore. The more he accepted the world for the way it was, the less he could relate to others, and the more he reflected reality’s harsh truths back at them the more they feared him. It was sad really. The lengths people would go to hide from what was going on never ceased to amaze him.

The doorbell belted out its thin but insistent ring once more, and he shot from his bed. It could only be Miss Halloran, his governmental contact. He snatched the sword off of the bed and shoved it into his closet so she wouldn’t see it. He didn’t need any hassle about it not being a regulation weapon, and he sure as hell didn’t need any flack about all the beer cans either. As an agent in training he was not supposed to drink. However, it was the only thing that calmed him after his workouts, and it was the only way he could get any sleep. So, he grabbed the armful of cans and bottles off the coffee table and shoved them into the trash as he yelled, “Just a second!”

He sprinted to the small mirror on his wall and slapped his hair into shape then rushed to the door. Darrick put his eye up to the peephole, and he saw Miss Halloran’s all too round face distorted by the fish eye lens of the hole. He lingered at the sight for a moment, just to make sure that no one else had followed her. Some might call it paranoid, but one could never be too careful when dealing with either the government or the undead. After a few moments of watching her pace in front of his door, he was satisfied she was still one of the good guys. His hand shot up to the dead bolt, and he unlocked the door.

“Morning,” She said walking in without waiting for an invitation. She could be forward at times, but that was one of the things he liked about her. It was also one of the things he despised.

“Morning,” He repeated as he walked over to his sofa and plopped down. She shut the door behind her and strutted further into the room.

“You haven’t been to any of the meetings in a few weeks, Darrick. Is everything ok?”

He nodded, but said nothing. She never used his code name, and he was sure she did it just to piss him off. Although, he’d never been too adept at reading the female kind. She could have been coming on to him for all he knew. It didn’t matter much to him either way. He had neither time for anger or sex. All that mattered was his first real mission, and that mission was happening tonight. Nothing would stop him from being ready. Besides, Miss Halloran, at best, could be described as frumpy. “Nope, haven’t been to one in a little while.”

“Why not?”

“We do the same shit … like, all the freaking time. I just don’t get it and I hate going,” He said.

“Well, the others manage to show up… every time. I don’t think it can be that bad. Besides, attending those meetings is one of the things that got you here,” She said swirling her hands in the air to signal the apartment. She always had to threaten his funding. It was the first place she went to get him to do as she wanted, and she knew he couldn’t say no. However, he wasn’t going to give up without at least a little fight.

“The government has billions of dollars, and the best they can do is toss to me a one room apartment in the shittiest part of town. I’m not too impressed with the way they treat their people.”

Her face scrunched into a mix of exasperation and disgust as he spoke. They’d played this game too many times, and he knew what was going to come next. She reached into her purse and pulled out a small white bag and tossed it onto the coffee table. The bag rattled as it slid across the table and came to a stop on his pack of Camels. “You got to keep up with everything if you want it to stay like this.”

“I have been.” He scratched at his stubble and continued, “Everything’s been hard lately, but I said I’d keep your rules and I’m a man of my word.”

“I know you are, so could you just come to the meetings like you promised?”

“Yeah… whatever Miss Halloran.” She hated it when he called her Miss, but that was why he did it so often.

“I’m not trying to be mean, but I feel you should use my proper title. I like you. However, we need to keep our rolls clear.” She glanced down at the floor and said, “I’ve stuck my neck out for you.”

“I know and I’m going to make you proud. I just need more time.”

She put her hands on her hips and sighed, “Ok, you can skip the next one, but you need to come to all the rest. I mean it.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Ok. I’m going to leave you alone for now. I’ll be back tomorrow so we can have a little more substantial talk,” She looked around the room and grimaced. “Also, clean this place up. It smells like feet in here.”

“Sounds good.”

“Let me know if you need any help.” She opened the door and walked out.

He spent that afternoon organizing his gear for his first mission. His nunchucks, throwing stars, wood stakes and homemade pipe bombs were either placed in his bag or on his tac vest, and when night fell he’d be ready for the gathering of the undead that was happening that night.

Because he was taking action without clearance from Halloran, he was risking everything, but there were too many traitors within the organizations ranks to trust them with any of the details of his mission. It was going to be a sticky situation no matter what, but if he could take down a nest as large as the one he found by himself, they’d be forced to make him a full agent.

He glanced down at the paper bag she’d tossed on the coffee table, and he snatched it up and stuck it in the tac vest. If something bad happened tonight he needed to be able to at least pretend he was playing by some of their rules when they pulled him in.

***

As night fell, the Dark Slayer, crouched in the trees outside the green two-story house at the end of Maple Avenue. The house itself was nice, at least, nicer than the mobile home he grew up in as a kid, but underneath it all was the stink of the undead. There were already five or six vamps in the house, and they sometimes glared out the windows looking for their comrades or checking for security threats. However, he was too well hidden in the dew soaked underbrush that grew wild on the far left side of the house.

As he crouched in the darkness, the damp and cold night air bit into him like a wild animal. It would have been more bearable if he’d wore more than his black sleeveless Metallica shirt. However, it was important that the vamps saw how ripped he was when he made his assault. His biceps were a powerful form of psychological warfare, and he needed to use every tool in his arsenal to take them down. He’d trained a long time for this, and a little cold weather couldn’t stop him.
He’d show the organization he meant business, and they’d have to let him join. Hell, he’d come so far from where he started, and he’d shown too much gumption to be turned down now. At one time he’d been just like everyone else. He’d once thought the existence of vampires to be little more than a myth, but a documentary on the history channel last Halloween showed him otherwise. At first the show just talked about boring historical stuff, but towards the end it brought on a few actual vampires. They were tall, nerdy looking things, but underneath he could tell they were pure evil. They were dressed all in black, and even the men wore fingernail polish and lipstick, as if they were girls. The thought that people knew these creatures of the night roamed the streets ground on his nerves.

He had begun his search for vampires soon after he’d seen the show, and it didn’t take long to find them. They didn’t even cover their tracks. For God’s sake, they had web sites, and still no one did a thing to stop them. He didn’t read much of the sites’ contents, but they had pictures all over them. He couldn’t believe they could be so bold. But, the wicked often were, and that was the problem with the world. Evil gets right in everyone’s face and no one stands up to it, but the Dark Slayer wasn’t like everyone else. He was a man of action, and most of that action tonight would come from his razor sharp, and completely bitching, samurai sword.

This particular nest of vampires he’d found by accident while looking for research material at Wilson’s Comics. The Dark Slayer wasn’t much of a reader. He preferred to conduct his research in graphic novel form. Wilson’s was a small place packed to the brim with cardboard boxes full of old comics and other things nerds like, and the musty pages of the books made the place reek. He didn’t like the store much, but it was better than reading a Time Life book or a web page. So he’d been going for weeks just to gather information about the undead, and they had mountains of data on the subject.

He couldn’t believe his eyes as it walked into the store one dreary December night. The vamp was a little worm of a kid with thick-rimmed glasses, and his meekness made the Dark Slayer instantly aggressive. However, he contained the power within, and he let the kid be. After all, the Dark Slayer is a protector of the weak and helpless. But his gentile stance was misguided. What lurked within that boy was pure evil, and he was ashamed his keen hunter instincts didn’t pick up on it from the start.

“Hey, Wilson, you mind if I put this up on your board?” the kid asked the goofy shop owner. The kid’s voice was as high pitched as glass being chopped up in a blender, and that’s when Darrick discovered two things. One, the kid was a vampire, and two, that vampirism most likely stunts puberty.

“What is it?” Wilson’s fat lips flapped.

“A vampire L.A.R.P,” the undead monster said.

“Yeah, whatever.”

The vampire trotted over to the cluttered bulletin board and pinned up a self-printed advertisement. The poster was black except for the picture at the top of an open mouth with fangs and bright red font that appeared to be dripping blood. The flyer spelled out their diabolical agenda as clear as possible saying, “All undead are welcome to the first annual undead L.A.R.P. Come one come all and we’ll have ourselves a vampire ball. We play the gathering or other white wolf types of systems.” In smaller block letters underneath it stated, “It starts at 7pm January 14th. Call 907-347-2254 for further details or simply show up at 326 Maple Avenue. The sign will be out front by the mailbox. Just knock on the door.”

It was as if liquid nitrogen had been injected into Darrick’s veins, but he played it cool. He couldn’t let the enemy see his distress. After the vamp left, he ripped down the sheet and just glared at it for a while. When the incredible weight of all its implications rolled off of him, he marched up to the store owner with the leaflet clinched in his fists and tossed it at him.

“What the hell is this?” the Dark Slayer shouted.

“Yo, dude, what up!”

“What up? Are you one of them?”

“Hell, no, I’ve never L.A.R.P’ed a day in my life! If you ever accuse me of that again, you can just get the hell out of my store.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Dude, calm down. They’re good loyal customers, and they’re just holding their little nerd party.”

“Nerd party!”

“Yah, they just go there and have a good time. I don’t give a crap what they do. It’s weird to me, but to each his own. I mean, they spend a lot of cash in here, so I‘ll tolerate a little weirdness from them. It’s all just nerd pretend dude.” Wilson tossed the leaflet back at Darrick, and it hit him in the chest and rolled to the floor.

The question as to why vampires wanted to pretend to be nerds was a mystery to Darrick, but he’d had too much of the collaborator known as Wilson to care. He snatched the paper off the ground and stormed off.

That’s how he’d come to the house on Maple Avenue, and he’d finish what he’d started. He’d been hiding in the woods for nearly three hours, and his hand was starting to ache from the stranglehold he kept on the Foe Chopper’s hilt. Darrick didn’t like to admit it, but the cold was getting to him. He pried his hands off the hilt of the sword and shoved them into his tac vest. He wasn’t trying to warm them, just looking for his bottle of rum. When his hands found the plastic bottle, Darrick jerked it out, and along with it came the bag Miss Halloran had given him. He snatched up the bag, ripped it open and pulled out the small amber bottle that lay within. Even in the dark, he could make out the horrid black letters printed on it.

Thorazine

Dr. Halloran

Take Orally: Initial Dose: 25 mg 3 times daily.

He popped open the bottle and dropped a few of the pills to the ground. When the organization took him back in, he wanted to be able to say he’d at least taken some of them. As the pills hit the dead leaves carpeting the woods a rusted out red van pulled into the driveway, and vamps piled out, dressed as if they’d taken fashion advice from Morticia Addams. All wore black and held cases of beer, bags of chips, or bottles of wine. There were about five of them in all, and slithering among them was the same gaunt nerdy vampire he’d seen at the comic shop. The Dark Slayer slammed what was left of his rum and tossed the bottle to the ground. Clinching the hilt of his sword, he sprang from the underbrush.

The Dark Slayer sprinted across the lawn and into the yellow glow of the flood lights. One of the vampires, posing as a young teen girl, spotted him as he closed in on his target. She pointed and let out a scream. Her eyes were wide and a look of terror was slapped across her face. Darrick jumped over a flower bed and onto the driveway. The hard rubber soles of his Vietnam jungle boots clacked on the asphalt as he rushed towards the target.

Despite the girl’s screams the poor bastard never saw it coming, and with one quick strike the sword slashed into the back of the nerdy vampire. The vamp let out a low whine as the Dark Slayer brought the sword down again, and he smacked the top of his head. Blood gushed from his wounds as the vamp crashed to the ground, and cries of fright rose from the lips of every undead soul that stood there. Darrick had caught them off guard, and now they were going to be chopped into pieces, along with the rest of the vamps in the house. Miss… Dr. Halloran would be shocked at how good he was when she saw this. If she wasn’t, it just meant she was a sympathizer.

The End

Credit To – Jeremy Bennet

*Disclosure: The above Amazon link has our affiliate code included. If you buy anything using the above link, thank you!

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Lost iPhones

May 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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James said he found the iPhone in the lawn as he was leaving the party. Afterward, we wondered what had really happened, how he had actually found it. But then, when he told us, we had no reason to not believe his story. He was walking out, he explained, completely hammered, and there it was: a pink 5C covered with dew from being out all night.

“You stole someone’s phone? Not cool, James,” said Hayley. We were standing it in our apartment’s small kitchen, lit quite brightly by the early afternoon sun. James had just come over, but in his defense, it was probably much more like morning for him. I had only been up for a couple of hours, anyway. Spring semester had finished a few days ago and all the dandelions were coming out, yellow headed and alive in the few green spots in the city. Hailey’s internship at the museum wasn’t starting for another two weeks and my work in Professor Isle’s lab was on hold until he came back from vacation, which meant we had nothing to do except talk too much and drink too much and sleep in too much and way, way too late.

James lived in our apartment building, on the bottom floor. I knew him from my fiction workshop. He had gone to boarding schools and wrote a lot of stories about the sadness of being rich. He DJ’d Monday nights at the college station, playing hipper than thou indie rock and dub reggae. I’m making him sound a lot worse than he is. He always had good hair.

In a plot twist that didn’t surprise me at all, Hayley had slept with him (“I don’t regret it Ariel. All great lives feature things some would call failures, but we libertines call them the forge that tempers our personal steel.”) but only a couple of times. He had initiated extremely awkward hugs with me, but that hadn’t evolved into anything more physical. Thankfully.

“I didn’t steal a phone. I’m not, like, a thief.”

“And yet here you are,” Hayley said, “with that phone you didn’t buy.”

“You act like I’m breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Are you?”

“No, Ariel. I am not breaking windows and snatching shit.”

“Thank god. Don’t think we weren’t worried,” said Hayley.

“Do you guys want to know why this phone is weird?”

“Sure,” I said, “show me.”

He slide the phone on and punched in the security code.

“Hey,” said Hayley, “how do you know the code.”

“I didn’t,” he said, tapping at the screen, “but this morning I just put in some random numbers and it, boom. It worked.”

“What numbers?”

“4444.”

“What a crappy pin,” I breathed. “that person’s email password must be password.”

“Maybe it is, but it’s not on their phone,” said James, “they don’t have an email set up, or any apps, or contacts.”

“What the fuck do they even do with their phone then,” demanded Hayley, “only make phone calls?”

“No. No calls in the history. Received or outgoing.”

“So there’s nothing on it?” asked Hayley, “maybe it’s a new phone or something?”

“It’s not a new phone,” he flipped it over. The back of the phone was covered in scratches, tiny spider web cracks running in and out. “See? Somebody has had this forever.”

“So, there’s nothing on it and it’s got a shitty password. James I hate to complain about your attempts to bring mystery and excitement into our lives and our, you know, our kitchen,” Hayley gestured at the tiny room we were all packed into , “but this isn’t exactly Cicada 3301.”

“There’s not nothing,” he said, indignant, “there’s a video. you want to see?”

“Not nothing is a double negative,” I said, “you would say “there isn’t anything” or, maybe, “there’s something on it” instead. Does that make sense?”

“I hated your pedantic criticisms in workshop, Ariel, and I dislike them in real life too. People sometimes talk because they like how words sound with each other. They aren’t always in blind thrall to the completely imaginary, class-centric, often internally contradictory rules referred to as “grammar.” Now, did you want to watch this? Because, it’s a little, umm, fucked up. To be honest.”

Hayley and I looked at each other. She shrugged.

“Obviously we want to watch,” Hayley said, “right? Why wouldn’t we?”

“Right,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

The video started to play.

Images of the ground appeared: rocks, dirt, leaves. The camera was shaky. Shoes appeared in and out of the frame, just the uppermost tops of shoes. They looked like chucks. You could hear footsteps, breathing. It was obviously someone filming themselves walking.

“Did you already watch this?” Hayley was staring at the screen, her brow furrowed.

“Yeah, I did, be quiet though.”

The walking stopped. The camera panned up and swung left, revealing a heavily forested landscape with the same path the person had previously been walking on running out into the distance, and then the camera swung to the right. There was a hill’s edge there, swelling out over a precipice, overlooking a not insignificant drop off.

“I recognize this,” I said, “where is this? Have you guys see this before?”

“Me too,” said Hayley, “it’s out in Machen park. I’ve gone jogging out there.”

“Watch,” said James, his voice tense.

We did.

The screen shook as whomever was holding it lowered it again. The breathing rasped. Then, there was another noise. Something that sounded like running. The camera swung up, there was a blur, a shadowy motion, some kind of noise, and then the person and the phone were moving. They went over the cliff, together. Then there was an awful noise and something far away, a weird familiar screaming.

The screen went black.

I looked at Hayley, who wasn’t saying a word, biting her chipped florescent green nails instead. James looked up.

“I told you,” he said, “it’s a little fucked up.”

****

Three hours later, we were in the woods.

“Bad idea, Hayley,” I murmured, walking on the path. “You’ve had bad ideas, but this is the worst.”

“Really? The worst?” She frowned. Mosquitos were starting to appear in the near dim. One bite me and I slapped it, leaving a long smear of bright red blood on my left forearm. “Ok. Maybe the worst. But don’t you want to see?”

“For sure. But I wished we had waited. Or asked James if he wanted to go.”

“He had to work,” she shrugged, “so I ain’t trying to hear that. I want to see what’s happening.”

We kept walking down the dirt trail. Most days there were joggers or other hikers, but we hadn’t seen anyone else. Everything felt static, like we were looking at a screenshot instead of real life.

“Do you think we’ll find a body?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Do you want to? It’ll be like “Stand by Me.” I’ll be River Phoenix,” she kicked a stick, “unless you want to be River Phoenix.”

“No, I’m ok. I don’t like people who die pretty and young. It makes me self conscious about aging.”

“I don’t know why people romanticize youth anyway,” she said, “it’s a hella temporary state.”

“People like to think things can last forever,” I said, then, “almost there.”

We walked ahead, toward the twist in the path where the video had been filmed. I don’t know why we were going there. It was dumb and we were young. What did we think we’d find? And why did we want to find anything?

“What did you see, when we stopped the tape for a second, right before the person holding the camera got pushed, or whatever?”

“Nothing, really,” I said, “we are almost there right?”

“I know it was just a shadow,” she said, “but I felt like I saw something.”

“Is it here?”

“Like — you know when an image gets messed up on a website? It’s just a digital scramble? Then it’s normal? It was like that — the glitch before it goes normal. But I know there wasn’t anything there.”

“Here,” I said. We turned the corner. We were at the little break in the park where the video had been shot. To the left, woods. To the right, the precipice. And there, standing in front of the cliff, was James.

He was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing in our kitchen: tight jeans, a black t shirt, black chucks. His back was to us, but I know immediately who it was. You can recognize someone without seeing a face.

In his hand, I saw a phone. He pointed it at his left, then his right.

I should had been screaming. I thought I would. And maybe some part of me believed I was. I looked at Hayley. Her mouth was open: veins popped out on her neck as her lips stretched wide and her eyes grew wider and larger. But no sound.

Something was coming.

I could feel it, in the woods, something was rushing moving towards us. To James. I wanted to scream, I felt like I was but I knew I wasn’t. It was coming.

James lowered the camera. The wind came and went by the two of us and into him. It looked like colors and decaying images, like a pixilated drawing of a tornado. It was a cartoon. It was t real. It ripped into his shoulder. I saw blood fly up and into the dead sky. He stumbled to the edge of the cliff. Then over. Then there was only the nothing of our screaming, suddenly audible and hysterical.

Everything after that turned into the slow, sick time, where events feel delayed, as if it was happening from a great distance. We ran down the path that looped down the hill, loose dirt and rocks slipping under our feet. My chest hurt, I remembered thinking as I ran; it felt tight and full of breaths I couldn’t believe I was still taking.

At the bottom of the path we jumped into the clearing where James had just fallen. But there was no James. There was no blood. Just a space where a body should have been and, in that area, a brilliant blue iphone.

*****

We got back to our apartment after eight, exhausted and suddenly cold in the night air. Cars were backing up at the traffic light, the city starting to sound louder, different, as the streetlights flooded corners. I could hear music blaring from one of the cars as I unlocked the door, Hayley following me.

Once we were inside, Hayley put the phone on the kitchen table and walked out of the room.

“Where are you —”

“I need to take a shower,” she said. “Don’t touch the phone.”

Within moments, I heard the rattle of pipes, the rushing of water. I walked over to the fridge and poured a glass of the cheap American pink wine we drank too much of. It tasted like headaches.

I finished a glass. Then poured another. Then I pulled out my phone and texted James.

“Hey. How are you.”

Then,

“What happened inthe parf”

“*park. stupid phone. what was thet?”

My phone buzzed back. A little green circle.

“who is this”

“this is Ariel is this James?”

“sorry. wrong number”

“Is this a new phone? Did you just get this number”

“No had it forever sorrry. Have a nice nightZ”

Hayley came out of her room, her hair still damp, almost a half hour later. I was finishing my third glass of wine. She said hey and I said hey back and she grabbed the wine from the fridge and walked out into the living room and I followed her. She sat on the muted grey couch her parents had let her take when we moved in and I sat on the floor, leaning against the cold wall. Another kid lived in the apartment next to us, on whose wall I leaned. I had a semi whatever crush on him. He worked nights at a gas station and smoked so much I could taste the cigarettes sometimes through the walls. Was he there, I thought. Would he still be there?

“I looked James up on Facebook,” Hayley said. Her voice sounded numb. “I couldn’t find his profile. His tumblr’s gone too. So his Twitter.”

“I texted him. Somebody sent a text back saying I had a wrong number.”

“He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.”

“We’re going crazy. People don’t just stop existing.”

“He did.”

“You’re right,” I sighed, “he did.”

“So,” she took a swig off the bottle, “now what?”

“I don’t think there’s really a manual for this sort of thing.”

“There should be,” then, hesitatingly, “what is this sort of thing?”

“Whatever it is, it’s not real. Like, this isn’t happening. I don’t think this is real.”

“It is happening, though,” Hayley murmured, holding the wine. “It’s happening.”

“I’ve been sitting here,” I started, “trying to figure out what we know, like for a fact. I thought it might help.”

“Did it?”

“Fuck no,” I laughed and she almost did. “But this is what happened: James found the phone, leaving a party. He never told us what party—”

“We didn’t ask.”

“I know. But on television shows they reconstruct these things. So, he finds the phone, figures out the password —”

“All fours,” said Hayley, “four means death in Japan.”

“— right? Watches the video, doesn’t recognize his feet in the video? Shows it to us instead of investigating, goes to work? That’s crazy: James doesn’t fucking care about his barista gig,” I said.

“But he went.”

“He went.”

It was silent for a minute or two, the sounds of traffic and night slipping the window, as both of us sat, not saying anything. Finally, Hayley took a swig, then:

“I think I know what happened. Maybe. Wait here,” she said and she left the living room and walked off to her living room. She came back, carrying her laptop.

“Did James ever tell you about that time his school bus crashed,” she said, as she sat down and started to typing.

“He did,” I nodded, “he was like ten and it skidded on black ice. He wrote a story about it. He seemed really freaked out by it.”

She opened up the laptop and passed it over.

“Look.”

The screen was opened to an archived article from a Connecticut newspaper. James’ home state. About a bus crash. One fatality. A ten year old boy. James Han.

“What is this? Did you make this up? Hayley if you made this up I swear to god I swear —”

“I didn’t make it up. I searched for him forever and there was nothing. Like he didn’t exist. Then I found that. It just appeared in a search like it had always been there. Read it if you want. Or don’t. It’s the story he told us. But in this one he dies.”

“Just like he did in the park”

“…yeah, like that.”

“What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I think he was dead when we met him. And maybe the James we met was a glitch.”

“So if James was a glitch, are we? Because when I was eleven I —”

“No, Ariel,” she said, calmly, “stop. I don’t want to hear about you almost dying when you were a kid, because I almost died when I was a kid. So what does that make us?”

Neither of us said anything for a moment. Finally, I coughed.

“…do we want to look at the phone?”

“No,” she said, “not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to go take an ambien and go to bed. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. Ok?”

“Ok.”

An hour later, when I was sure she was asleep, I walked out into the kitchen. I didn’t turn on the lights. The traffic signal from the visible intersection outside the apartment glowed green through the slats of the blinds. I picked up the phone. I punched in 4444. It opened.

It was the same as the other: no information, no apps, no photos. One video.

I stared at it until I couldn’t anymore. I hit play.

Whoever was filming was running, causing the camera to bounce up and down nauseously. They were on Sigmund Street which, as one of the major streets near me, I recognized almost immediately. I had the volume down but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anything. The figure ran, desperate and moving from one side of the street to the other, coming to a sudden stop as they reached Eddelstein Bridge. I saw their shoes, briefly, then there was a long pause. The feet moved from one side to the other, transferring weight, tapping. And then there was something else in the frame. The screen shook, the image growing wildly pixilated, and then the riots colored turned abruptly, mechanical black.

It only took a few minutes to get to the bridge. No one was really out, since the area was mostly retail storefronts which had all been closed for at least a couple of hours at that point. My steps sounded echoey.

I could see her from far away, standing motionless in the blank night. The sky was void of clouds, letting the moonlight translate everything. Especially her.

I didn’t think she was going to move. I thought she’d be like James, but once I was almost twenty feet away, she turned.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey” I answered, “I’m sorry I watched the tape.”

“Don’t worry,” she waved me off, “I would have if you hadn’t.”

“What do we do now?”

“That’s easy. We tell each other how we died. You go first.”

“Okay,” I said, “I was eleven. It was at school. Sixth grade. I was climbing the rope.”

“I hated the rope.”

“Me too. Before this happened, even. I got to the top and — you know how it was secured to the ceiling? On that latch?”

“Uh huh?”

“It came off the latch.”

“Oh my god.”

“I fell like fifteen feet. Completely fine. No injuries. Everybody told me how lucky I was. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like something had fucked up.”

“Like you should have died?”

“Yeah, like there was a mistake.” A car drive by with a missing headlight, an urban cyclops, “what about you?”

“I was sixteen. In my house. I took a bottle of Prozac,” she shrugged, “I liked the irony. Whatever. But, yeah. A week later, I got out of the hospital. The doctor told me it was a miracle I was alive. But I don’t know. Maybe there was just a wrong line of code somewhere. Maybe —”

She didn’t finish her sentence.

Her screams didn’t sound real as the thing broke into her, her eyes flashing sudden vicious strange awareness as her body rose into the air, briefly, her brown and blue new balances twisting inches above the cement, and then she collapsed, twitching on the ground. When she landed I was able to move, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t there. Just an iPhone in the middle of the street, with a series of spider hairline cracks in the case.

Around noon the next day, I had made it to the living room, staring at the ceiling. My phone buzzed. I had been texting Raj — the guy Hayley had been dating — a few minutes ago.

“yeah for sure come on over. Doing zero rn. what’s the weird thing you wavy to show me?”

“I’ll show you whenI get there,” I typed, “can I bring Hayley?”

“*WANT not wavy :/

But yeah for sure Bring her over. Who is she? I know her”

I looked at the empty spot in the living room where there used to be a grey couch.

“oh wait,” I typed, “she isn’t here rn.”

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

Note: Crossposted from /r/nosleep with explicit permission from the original author.

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