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Rose – Part 1

October 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 9.1. From 373 votes.
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“Okay Father, we need you to cooperate with us here. If you’re honest from the beginning, things will be a lot better for you.” Officer Green sipped his coffee, a little too weak for this time of the night. Things like this didn’t happen very often in his small town so he wasn’t used to having to stay up all night. But when there’s a homicide investigation, it’s all hands on deck.

“Are you a God-fearing man, officer?” Father McKenzie held his hands together, nervously rubbing his knuckles.

“Not sure what that has to do with anything, but no, not particularly.” Officer Green leaned back in his chair, his spine aching. We’re not going to get anywhere with this guy, he thought.

“Then you’ll never believe me. But I’m not worried. God knows that I’m a good man and I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Officer Green took another sip of his coffee; longer this time. He needed some time to think about what to say next. He hadn’t done many interrogations during his time on the force and most of them ended with a confession in about 5 minutes. This one, he could tell, was going to be a bit more difficult. “Well if you’ve done nothing wrong, why don’t you just tell me what happened? What time did you arrive at Mr. Young’s house?”

“I arrived at his house around 6 pm.”

“And did he invite you over?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” This is going to take all night if I’m only getting one word answers from this guy, he thought, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table.

“It would probably be best if you heard it from Eric Young himself.”

“Alright smart ass, what are you talking about? That guy is dead.”

“I received a letter in the mail from him a few days ago. It’s in my car. I think it would be best if you just read that.”

Officer Green paused for a moment. He wasn’t totally thrilled with the idea of following orders from a suspected murderer. But what else was he supposed to do? This interrogation was going nowhere. Nowhere fast at least. He put his palms down on the table, hitting it with more force than he intended, obviously a little exasperated from the events of the night. He pushed his tired body up and left the room.

About an hour had passed before Officer Green returned with the letter. Four pages all sealed in individual plastic baggies. It was really the only hard evidence they had so far. He returned to his seat, across from the Father, not saying a word to him. With another sip of his now-cold coffee, he settled in for a read.

“Dear Father McKenzie,

It’s been a while since I last went to church. About 20 years or so, probably. But I need your help now. I’m not proud of what I’ve done but it really didn’t seem to hurt anyone in the beginning. I was really doing more good than harm. I should explain.

I’ve been a ghost hunter for about 10 years now. But I don’t really hunt ghosts. I just go into people’s houses, use my fancy equipment to look legitimate and tell them there’s nothing to worry about; no ghosts here. They thank me, they pay me, I leave. If they continue to insist, then I burn some stuff, put some crosses up, yell some bullshit like, ‘Whatever spirits are here, please leave.’ Then they thank me, they pay me, I leave. Simple. I know I’m a fake but at least people minds are put at ease and they just go on with their lives. I know there’s no such thing as ghosts but some people’s imaginations just run wild and they need someone to calm them down. That’s my job. For 10 years now I’ve been doing this job without incident.

I got a phone call from a woman named Penny Hutchins a few weeks ago. She told me there’s an evil spirit in her house and she hears that I’m the best ghost hunter around. She seemed very spooked – as most people are when they’re convinced they’re being haunted. I assured her that I would help her and that the ghost would be gone in no time. I told her I’d fit her in in the next week or so. Her voice trembling, she replied, “Please hurry.”

When I arrived at her house, I unloaded my equipment and headed in. This appointment started out just like any other. I discussed my rates with her and she was eager to pay any amount if I could just help her. She had $1000 cash in hand, telling me to take it all. I did my usual spiel about how it depends on the severity of the haunting and the stubbornness of the spirit, blah, blah, blah. I fully intended on taking the full $1000 at the end.

I got out my fake EMF meter and started walking around the house with her, pressing the button under my index finger that makes the meter move. She tells me to go into her bathroom because that’s where the ghost usually is. Father, as soon as I walked into that bathroom, my blood went cold. Partially from fear, and partially due to the actual temperature of the room. I could see my breath; that’s how cold it was. At first I thought there must just be something wrong with her furnace. I should just tell her to call someone else. But then I turned around. Penny was standing behind me, staring right through me. The door slammed shut behind her. Her eyes started to roll into the back of her head and her mouth slowly fell open. Her head then tilted ever so slightly to the side. Her pupils were no longer visible but I knew that she wasn’t looking through me anymore, she was looking in me.

I carry a cross necklace around with me, just for added effect, but at that moment, I felt like that cross was the only thing that could save me. I dropped my EMF meter, grabbed the chain out of my pocket and swung it around at her as I slowly backed away, further into the room. I started screaming at her, telling whatever evil spirit that was there to leave Penny alone. My heels hit the bathtub. I had nowhere else to go. She lunged towards me, arms outstretched. Her skin was turning grey; her body looked lifeless the way her limbs flailed. I ducked down and dove for the door, escaping her grasp. The handle was frozen; the skin on my hand stuck to it instantly. I thrust my shoulder into the door as hard as I could but it wouldn’t budge. Penny, or whatever Penny had turned into, starting come towards me. I started banging on the door, yelling for help. She reached for me. I tried to slap her hand away from me but she grabbed my wrist. The cold went straight up my arm; I could feel it in my neck. I screamed like a little girl, pulling and tugging, but her grip was too strong. Finally, I kicked her right in the gut and she flew back into the bathtub, taking the shower curtain down with her. I looked at my hand. My skin was completely white from the tips of my fingers to about my elbow. I started to feel dizzy and that’s the point where I blacked out.

When I came to, Penny was sitting beside me, her face right over top of mine. “Eric?” she said. “Eric, talk to me! Are you alright?”

Everything came back in a flash and I jolted up to my feet and backed up to the door. Penny looked like Penny again. My arm was back to its normal colour.

“What happened?” I asked.

“What happened is that you’ve cured me!” She exclaimed, slowly moving towards me. Her eyes were glossy as she held back tears of joy. Tears of relief.

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t fully wrap my brain around what had happened. “I… I don’t understand,” I sputtered.

“Come. Come to the kitchen, I’ll fix you up a cup of tea. Do you like tea?” She opened the bathroom door with ease. This seemed to be an entirely different woman than the one I had met minutes ago. Or was it hours? I had no idea how long I had been out for. I followed her down the hallway and sat at the kitchen table. I started putting my equipment back in their individual cases. I had to compose myself. I couldn’t let her know that this wasn’t just another day in the life of a ghost hunter. I didn’t want to lose out on that $1000 if she found me out.

“So this ghost…” I began, selecting my words carefully. “What has it been doing to you?”

Penny filled up the kettle, not looking at me as she spoke. “Oh, it was terrible. That room has been getting colder and colder by the minute. I haven’t really slept at all in days. This spirit, she haunts my mind, mostly. Just yesterday, I blacked out for what seemed like hours. She’s been showing me horrifying images. Thank God you showed up today or I might not have been able to bear it any longer. She is a very restless, malevolent soul. I did a lot of research on spirits when this whole thing first started. I’m sure you know all about it though. You’ve dealt with this kind of thing before, I’m sure.”

“Oh yeah, all the time. I had a very similar case just last month.” It was a good thing I’m a good liar. But lying is why I’m in this mess now.

Penny fixed my cup of tea and she made pleasant small talk with me. I tried to respond as normally as possible but my mind was elsewhere. I tried to bring the topic back to her haunting. “So, what kind of things would this spirit show you?” I asked.

Penny sipped her tea, looking deep into her cup. “I really… I don’t want to relive that horribleness. I’m sorry. It was just too much for me.”

“I understand.” I looked at my teacup. Still half full. We continued the small talk as I tried to drink my tea faster. Turns out Penny had three kids, all of whom are grown up and moved away now. She downsized by moving into this house and started having issues with this ghost a few days in. Her kids all thought she was going mad and started making comments about nursing homes. Penny couldn’t have been older than sixty.

Anyway, I’m rambling now. I’m writing to you, Father, because this ghost is now with me. Something happened when Penny grabbed my arm. I can feel this spirit’s presence all the time. I black out frequently throughout the day and she shows me horrible things. I’ve done research but I can’t figure out who she is. But she’s shown me what happened to her.

I see these images as if I’m floating above her, watching the scenes unfold. Based on her attire, she must have lived in the late 1800s. She is in her house with her father. He begins to yell at her. He yells at her for not coming home before dark. She looked to be about 16 years old. She yells back at him. He grabs her and throws her against the wall. She cries. She sobs uncontrollably. He picks her up off the floor by the arm and throws her into a bathroom, shutting the door with immense force.

Another scene. Days later, her father opens the door. The girl looks sickly, slouched against the wall. Painted in blood around her are little pictures. Pictures of the girl, eating her father. Her father is terrified. He backs out of the room as she laughs. Her eyes pierce through him – into him. He slams the door as he leaves.

Every time I black out, I wake up in another part of the house. Things around me will be broken. My house is a disaster now but I can’t will myself to do much about it. This spirit has consumed my life. The scenes get worse from here.

The father has a doctor come in to try to find out what is wrong with his daughter. The doctor opens the door. The girl’s hair is matted. She’s removed almost all of her clothes and is crouching in an animalistic manner. The walls are covered with more and more drawings of the girl killing the father and eating him. The girl looks up at the doctor and screeches. She lunges for him. The doctor retreats and slams the door. The doctor and the father stand there, awestruck. They hear the faucet turn on. The water is the only thing keeping her alive.

After she showed me that vision, my faucet began to turn on and off intermittently. I thought about calling a plumber at first. But no plumber can help me now.

The next time the father opens the door, the girl is completely naked. Her foot has been severed at the ankle but her foot is nowhere in the room. She looks up at her father. Her eyes look dead – completely devoid of life. “Daddy,” she says, her voice toneless. “Help me.” She reaches her hand out to him for a moment then puts it down on the bloody floor. She begins to pull herself across the tiles towards him, her head held tilted up the whole time. The father stands his ground for a moment but can’t take it. He slams the door again. The girl screams in agony.

When I came to after that vision, I found myself with bite marks around my ankle. Some points were deep enough to break the skin. All I do now is sit in my room, waiting for the faucet to turn on. Waiting to black out again. I can hear her voice in my head sometimes. “Help me,” she says. I’m worried I’m starting to go mad. I’m worried she’s going to bite my foot off. Or that I’ll bite my own foot off. I need your help, Father. I don’t want to get anyone else involved. I know Penny passed the spirit on to me when she touched me and I don’t want anyone else to suffer the same fate. I would have called but during one of my black outs, I broke the phone. I can’t go out because I’m afraid that I’ll touch somebody and pass her spirit on to them.

I know I’m a bad person, I know I’ve done wrong but I don’t think I deserve this torment. If this is God’s way of punishing me for stealing people’s money, then I want to apologize. I need you to come to my house so that I can confess my sins. Before it is too late. Please hurry.

Sincerely,

Eric Young

Officer Green placed the last page back in its bag. Father McKenzie had been staring at him the entire time as he read. Officer Green met his gaze. “You expect me to believe… that this guy was being haunted? By a ghost?”

“No. I never expected you to believe it. But that is the true story.”

Officer Green shook his head. “This is ridiculous,” he proclaimed. He gathered up the papers in the bags and left the room.

“Are you hearing this bullshit?” Officer Green asked his partner, Warren, who had been behind the two way mirror.

“Just got a call from Tony. He says we should come down to the crime scene.” Warren, Officer Perry, had been on the force for about 20 years – 10 or so years longer than Officer Green – but even he had never had a case like this.

Eric Young’s house was a disaster zone. Picture frames shattered, the couch was overturned, and the smell of rotting food was almost unbearable. The smell of rotting flesh had not yet kicked in but it wouldn’t be long.

Eric was still fairly young. No older than 35 years. He had no wife and no children. His mother had died when he was young and his father lived across the country. No siblings, nor did he make many friends in the ghost hunting profession.

Officer Green and Officer Perry entered the crime scene for the second time that night. They had been the first ones to respond to Father McKenzie’s 911 call. The body had not been moved yet. The poor guy still lay there on the floor of his bathroom, mouth wide open, surrounded by blood. The most disturbing part of the scene was his eyes – or lack thereof. His eyeballs had been ripped from their sockets and were just hanging off his face, resting on his cheek bones.

“Over here guys, come take a look.” Tony Walker, the medical examiner, sat in the pool of blood, dressed in a plastic suit.

“We can’t just look from here?” Office Green asked. He wasn’t overly squeamish but he also had never seen anything this gruesome before.

“Green, come on, man up.” Warren bumped his shoulder against Officer Green’s as he strode past. Green soon followed.

Tony lifted Eric’s pant leg, nice and gently. “Oh my God,” Warren breathed, bringing his hand to his mouth.

“Both feet, completely frost bitten. But this one…” Tony rolled up the other pant leg. “This one has almost been severed off.”

“W… With what?” Green stuttered. He was fairly certain he knew the answer but felt the need to ask anyway. He still held on to a shred of hope that Tony would say a knife or even a spoon.

“Teeth. The guy was gnawing his leg off with his own teeth. Weird, eh? “

The three men shared some awkward glances amongst themselves, no one certain what the next move should be. The half severed ankle was surely odd and the frost bite would have been much less odd had it not been August.

“Maybe we should call someone in about this. Someone from the state?” Green suggested.

“No, it’s fine. He obviously just went crazy and died from blood loss. End of story. No murder,” Warren concluded.

Green had to look away. He turned and started walking through the house, carefully stepping over the broken glass. He stood in the middle of the living room. A small desk sat in the corner. It was the only thing in the house that seemed to be in order. Upon further inspection, Green found some papers on the desk. Whoever was supposed to be searching for evidence here was not doing a great job. Green sat down at the desk and started reading.

“Dear Father McKenzie,

It’s been a few days since I sent my letter and I haven’t heard from you yet. Things are getting worse. I need you to help me as soon as possible. I have less and less time that I’m in control of my body.

The visions are getting worse. I’m beginning to have trouble separating the visions from reality and now, rather than a bystander viewing the scene, I’m beginning to view the scenes as if I am the girl. That poor girl. I don’t understand why she is doing this to me. I don’t understand what she wants. But she needs help. I need help. I’ve had two more visions since I wrote you last. Two more that I remember vividly, that is.

The father has given up on saving his daughter. But he can’t have anyone know about her. It would ruin him. He opens the bathroom door. The girl hasn’t gotten much worse. Her bones are protruding through her skin. She’s obviously starving. She reaches for him, mouth wide open. “Daddy,” she whispers, her voice raspy and tired from screaming. He takes a deep breath and reaches out for her. She bites his hand, drawing blood; he lets out a shriek. He grabs a fistful of her hair with his free hand and pulls her off of him. He drags her through the house, kicking and screaming, scratching and fighting to hold onto something. He takes her out the back door, continuing to drag her on the ground, a trail of blood seeping into the fresh white blanket of snow. They come to an outhouse at the very back of the property. He opens the door and throws her in. The girl looks up at him.

It is at this point that my view of the scene begins to shift and I am now seeing it through her eyes.

“Daddy?” Her voice has a tone of panic, much different from the way she sounded before. “Daddy, what’s happening? What’s going on?” She begins to yell, tears beginning to stream down her bloody face.

“Rose?” He says. “Sweetheart, are you alright?” He begins to cry as well. He kneels down towards her, reluctantly pressing his palm to her cheek.

Her eyes roll into the back of her head. Before the father has time to react, she… I… bite his thumb clean off. He screams. He slams the door shut. I’m in darkness, laughing. Just laughing.

I’ve tried to do more research and find out who Rose was but nothing has come up. My computer is now shattered so I guess I’ll never know. I thought that maybe if I knew more about her, I would be able to help her but that hope is lost.

It is getting more and more difficult to write. I can feel Rose in my mind, beginning to take over my thoughts. She is taking over my actions. She has shown me another vision – I hope this is the last one. I can’t bear to explain it. I have more bite marks all around my fingers and more around my ankle. My bones are cold. I haven’t eaten in days. Please Father. Please help me. I don’t know if I can bear to see any more of what she is showing me. I need you to get her out of me. Please hurry.”

This letter wasn’t signed at the bottom. He never really got a chance to finish it. Green took a deep breath.

“What is that?” Warren peered over his shoulder.

“It’s another letter, more gibberish about a ghost. I guess you’re right, he did go crazy.”

Officer Green and Officer Perry returned to the station. Officer Perry immediately went to the coffee pot to get another one started. Officer Green went to his desk first. He searched for all open cases between 1850 and 1920. There were two about a girl named Rose but he knew exactly which case he was looking for. It was difficult to read as the document he found was a police report that had been scanned into the computer. The writing was messy and the ink was uneven. From what he could decipher, a girl named Rose Walker disappeared December 17th, 1897, never to be seen again. What struck him as odd was that she was reported missing by her teacher, not her father.

Green grabbed another coffee before returning to the interrogation room with Father McKenzie. Neither of them said a word for about a minute. Officer Green just stared at him and he stared right back.

“Tell me what happened when you got to Eric Young’s house.” Officer Green said, trying to keep his tone even and not stutter.

“I’ve already told you, you won’t believe me.”

“I believe you. I believe you now.” He looked Father McKenzie dead in the eyes in an attempt to convey how serious he was.

“Alright… Here’s the truth. When I arrived at Eric’s house, he never came to the door. It was unlocked so I went inside. Everything was a mess, as you’ve seen. I could hear groaning and mumbling mixed in with occasional screaming coming from the bathroom. I knew I didn’t have much time so I rushed over there and flung open the door. Eric was lying on the ground, gnawing on his own ankle. I could tell that the spirit had taken full control of him now and I had to act quickly. I got out my bible, my cross and my holy water. I had to hold him down with one arm while I held my bible with the other hand. Eric started to come back but he was utterly petrified. I tried to calm him down but he just kept screaming. ‘What have you done to me?’ He kept saying. That’s when he began to scratch at his eyes. I had to look away. I immediately called 911. I didn’t think there was anything else I could do for him.”

Officer Green leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “You’re free to go,” He stated blankly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You’re no longer a suspect. It’s been concluded that Eric Young went mad and killed himself.”

“But you know that’s not entirely what happened.”

“I know. And you know. But as far as anyone else is concerned, he went mad and killed himself. I don’t think anyone else will believe the story even if they read the letters. Even if someone does, no one in their right mind would blame a death on ghosts in a police report.”

“That is true.” Both men began to stand up and head for the door, Officer Green leading the way. “Officer?”

Officer Green turned around to face him, turning the knob and pulling the door open a few inches. “Yes, Father?”

Father McKenzie extended his hand to Officer Green. Officer Green smiled slightly, pressing his lips together. He reached out to shake his hand.

“I’m sorry, Officer.”

Green’s eyes widened as Father McKenzie quickly grabbed onto his hand. He tried to pry his hand off of him, finger by finger, but his grip was too tight. Father McKenzie stared right into Green’s eyes, tears beginning to well up. Green’s hand began to get cold, his fingers started to turn white, numbness began to creep up to his wrist.

“I’m so sorry.”

Credit: LAKK

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Hun, I’m Home

October 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.0. From 411 votes.
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“Hun, I’m home,” Dylan said as he walked into the house, shutting the door behind him. The apartment was beautiful, for a building that was built in 1812. The old schoolhouse now was home to 4 apartments.

The apartment itself was beyond perfect for just the two of them. The ceiling was a good fifteen feet high. The giant nine foot tall windows gave the home a very ‘high class’ atmosphere, and the kitchen certainly met up with the standards.

Even though the apartment was perfect, the building itself gave off an eerie look, as expected with any building that was over two hundred years old.

“Hey hun,” his wife, Jasmine, said smiling as she walked out from the guest room.
“How was work,” she said hugging him and giving him a kiss.
Her hazel eyes looked up at him. She was just 5’2 and he was 6’3.
“It was alright, nothing to horrible today. How’s unpacking coming along,” Dylan asked looking around the house. There were a few boxes still packed, but nothing compared to just three days ago.

“That’s good, and it’s getting there. It’s almost done!”
“I see that! Oh, I forgot my bag in the car,” Dylan said kissing her again, “I love you!”

He grabbed his bag and shut the door. The three story building looked gloomy, almost haunting, in the little sun that was left.

He opened the main doors and stepped in the hallway, which was more of a large conference room with dull blue carpet plopped in the center. There were two doors side by side on the right wall. Apartments Three and Four. His was Four.

Two doors sat on the other wall as well as a staircase. One of the doors lead into an old classroom that the landlord was renovating to what Dylan assumed would be a new apartment. The staircase led to the two smaller upper apartments. The other door, led to the basement. Dylan had never had any reason to go down there. The apartment itself was plenty big enough for the little furniture and belongings him and his wife had.

Being as curious as he was, Dylan decided to open the basement door and go down. Light from the setting sun shone through the ground windows which lined the top of the walls.

The stairs were relatively new. He got to the base of the stairs and took a deep breath. It was chilly within the stone walls.

There were open rooms throughout the basement. It seemed that these were all once classrooms, now just storage rooms for the landlord and past tenants.

Walls between rooms were old and dusty, some spots even had bricks laying beside them as if they were torn or smashed out of the walls.

There was a hallway behind the first two rooms. As he got further from the stairs, he noticed there were no more windows. The only light was the small glimmer of light from the windows across the basement.

Each step kicked up a tiny cloud of dust. Clearly no one came down here recently. There was an open doorway to his right, a small light shining from it, into the hall. He went in and immediately noticed that the back of the room indeed had windows. They had just all been painted black, and the light was coming from a partially shattered window.

In the room sat several dressers, a few boxes, and a bed frame. Plenty of bugs that crawled through the window, lied dead on the floor. Dust covered the boxes and furniture. The room had a deep red haze to it from the glistening sun.

Behind one of the bed frames sat a quite large… Thing. It was about eight feet tall, leaning along the wall. Several blankets were wrapped around it and taped, protecting whatever was within the bundles.

Dylan got closer and was puzzled at the fact that if something was so special to wrap up in several blankets, why would someone leave it here?

Nothing else was wrapped up. In the first rooms there were plenty of lamps, mirrors, and other breakable items just laying around. Why was this item so special?

Dylan’s curiosity got ahold of him. He moved the bed frame and began carefully taking off the tape. One by one he unraveled the blankets, revealing a very old wooden framed mirror. The frame was stained a dark brown, giving the mirror a very nice aurora.

He wiped the dust off the frame, running his fingers slowly along engravings in the wood. It was one line of symbols, which looked foreign, that wrapped completely around the mirror.

Even behind the layer of dust, the mirror gave off a slight glimmer. Dylan wiped it off with his hand. One single stroke, enough to reveal his face in the glass.

His brown eyes stared back at him. There was something in which intrigued him about his own reflection. Something didn’t seem right, but at the same time it looked like every other reflection he had seen.

He placed his hand on the glass and looked closer. Maybe his eyes were irritated or he had bags under his eyes, it was a longer work day than usually. No. No bags under his eyes, and his eyes were fine.

“You shouldn’t be down here,” James said, causing Dylan to jump.
“You scared the hell out of me man.”
James stayed silent. He lived upstairs in one of the apartments with his wife and daughter.

“You shouldn’t be down here,” he said again.
“Just looking around, Is it yours,” Dylan asked pointing to the mirror.

“Not mine, it’s theirs,” James replied as he stepped closer into the light, revealing an old hatchet.

“James? Are you okay?”
“I haven’t been okay for a long, long time,” he replied walking closer.

With no expression James raised the hatchet and struck Dylan’s head. The blade jamming five inches right in his forehead killing him instantly.

James ripped out the hatchet and turned to the mirror, a soft grin spreading across his face. He dragged Dylan’s body and propped it against the mirror and stepped back.

A few minutes past, and a long thin hand slowly came out of the mirror’s glass, grasping Dylan’s head and pulling his corpse slowly into the mirror.

Several minutes past, with nothing in the mirror except what should be. James impatiently began tapping his foot. The air grew cold and, somehow, felt as if the oxygen was gradually being drained from the room.

One foot emerged from the glass. Then a leg. Until an entire being stood before James. It looked like Dylan. Same clothes and even the same hair style Dylan had just moments before.

But, it was not Dylan. Whatever it was stood there, it’s legs twisted and bent backwards. His arms and hands twisted in positions that should be impossible.

The sounds of cracking pierced the air as the, thing, began twisting it’s body. Within a minute there it stood, perfectly upright. Now in every aspect, it looked like Dylan.

The creature gave a sinister grin as the last bit of light faded from the room.

The creature opened the door to Apartment 4 and stepped inside.
It sounded just like Dylan as it said, “Hun, I’m back.”

Credit: Dylan Broussard

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The Magician

October 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 8.7. From 398 votes.
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The only thing this magician couldn’t pull out of his hat was the money he needed to make his child support payment, and so, with a degree of reluctance, his venue of choice changed from making coins appear behind the ears of delighted children to making wallets and jewelry boxes disappear from homes in the middle of the night. With the skill that only a practiced magician could possess he slipped into a life of crime, picking locks, disabling alarms, and moving silently, in complete control of his body. He knew he made an excellent thief, and soon his initial distaste turned into a lust for the excitement that breaking and entering provided. The last time he had felt excitement like that was during his previous career as an escape artist, which had almost ended in disaster when he was nearly buried alive during a stunt.
It was once again nearing the time of the month to make his child support payment for the daughter he didn’t care to see, and so the thief began to scout around the small North Carolina town he currently was staying at. After some debate he decided to rob a small place at the edge of town. The house was well isolated behind a dense forest that the thief could use to mask his escape. The owner, a large older man, would be easy to avoid, and the thief foresaw few obstacles to his inevitable success. The man didn’t seem to be married or have any family, which made the thief’s only concern the various guests that the man sometimes brought to his house. After weeks of observation he had seen the man return with a younger man and a girl. The thief had been concerned that they may be staying at the house, since he hadn’t seen them leave, but after another week passed he assumed they had left when he had been away from the house.
The thief decided to make his move late one night, when he knew the man would be away. Likely visiting a strip club, or a prostitute he thought, with a degree on contempt. Donning his black mask, and clutching a crowbar and a small knife he skulked across the field between the line of trees and his target house. With ease he climbed up to the second floor, and slipped through an open window.
The thief was disappointed. The upper floor of the man’s house was sparsely decorated and covered in a layer of grime. He saw no watches, no jewelry from a wife or lover, no safe, no wads of cash, no expensive TV. The only thing that greeted him, apart from a cockroach scuttling under the bed at the sound of the window opening, was a slightly unpleasant odor. The thief hoped the lower floor would prove to be more fruitful.
Carefully moving down the stairs the thief kept an ear out, listening for any sign of the man’s return. The ground floor proved to be as disappointing as the first. Little furniture, no TV, and once again a layer of grime and now a stronger odor. The odor was very unpleasant, and at this point the thief was left wondering how the man lived there. He was again disappointed, but was unwilling to give up on his escapade so soon. He decided to check the house for a basement, hoping to make some money off this night.
As the thief found the door to the basement he heard the sound of a car on the gravel driveway. The man was home, a situation the thief was woefully unprepared for. He heard the car door slam, and a girl ask if she could see the puppy. Must be his daughter, the thief thought. He thought of bolting for the steps to the second floor, but the door to the outside was between him and the steps. The thief didn’t want to risk it. What if the man saw him? What if he had a gun? Never before had the thief robbed a home with the homeowner there. Never before had the thief been faced with the prospect of getting caught. The thrill of this turn of events was unparalleled, even by his time as an escape artist. Keys rattled in the door, and as the door began to open, the thief stepped into the basement to hide, confident he could soon make his escape.
The stench was overpowering. The thief gagged, and then retched. He stumbled down the stairs, suddenly afraid that he would be caught, suddenly afraid that the man had heard him.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he entered hell.
A furnace. Meat hooks. A fire hose, chains, and a stack of large wooden boxes. Concrete walls covered in a brown stain that no amount of water could clean. By the furnace, neatly arrayed in a tub, piles of bones. Small bones. The thief did not believe in God, but he found himself praying. He prayed that they were animal bones. He saw that they weren’t. He saw a pile of clothes neatly stacked in a corner. Clothes from men and women, of various sizes. A man’s plaid shirt. A girl’s flowered dress. The smell of iron and fear and despair. The thrill was gone. All that was left were his cold, shaking hands, his crowbar, the cold sweat on his forehead, and the small knife in his pocket.
A scream echoed down the steps, followed by the sound of tape. The door to the basement swung open, and the man began to descend, dragging his latest prize. Another young girl, no more than eleven, kidnapped from a playground, now bruised, bloody, and wrapped in duct tape. The girl was crying out for her parents, struggling to escape. She stopped struggling when the man hit her again, hard, across her face. She didn’t struggle when the man chained her to the wall. She didn’t even struggle when he ripped off her dress. The thief was silent, crouched behind the pile of wooden boxes. He didn’t want to know what was in those boxes.
The man knew he wasn’t alone in the basement with his new prize. He had heard the thief retch, and after glancing around he knew the thief was hiding in the only spot available, behind the boxes. This did not worry the man at all. Rather, he relished the idea of having another plaything. The only thought that gave him pause was the difficulty that came with dealing with an adults struggles. They always fought harder than the kids. Maybe it’s because the kids thought there was some hope, and the adults knew there wasn’t. The man decided that he should soften his new company up. Some time in a box should do it. Maybe he would just let his new company stay in the box overnight. After all, he already had one live one. After chaining the girl to the wall, the man charged at the pile of boxes, and threw his body at them, pushing the boxes against the wall and trapping the thief. He walked around the corner, looked into the panicking eyes, and slammed his knee into the thief’s head, knocking the thief unconscious.
The thief awoke in darkness. He was chained in fetal position in a dark, claustrophobic place. He could hardly breathe.
He knew where he was.
He remembered the trick that almost killed him.
He was buried alive.
The thief began to panic, and as he hyper ventilated, the low amount of oxygen present in his tomb decreased even further. He began to feel lethargic. He knew he had to do something. He did. With practiced ease the magician slipped his hands out of his chains. Using the small knife, still in his back pocket, he unlocked the shackles around his ankles, but he was still buried alive. He could do no more.
The magician thought back to his family, to the wife he had failed and the girl he had neglected. He thought about the young girl chained to a wall, terrified. He thought of the little girl’s father, who may be like him, who may never get a chance to see his daughter again.
The thief died. The magician died. The father survived. Still crouched in the claustrophobic box, he braced his back against the top and began to push. Boards creaked, muscles tore, tendons reached their breaking point, and earth began to move. He stood up, forcing wooden planks and earth aside, and let out a scream. It was not a sound that prey makes.
The man heard the scream, and for the first time in his life, felt afraid. He grabbed a sawed off shotgun from inside his nightstand, and went outside to inspect the shallow grave. As the man passed through his back door he saw the beast emerging from the ground, hunched over, and covered in dirt, with a predatory glint in its eye. The man lowered his shotgun and fired both barrels. The man missed. He wouldn’t get another chance.
The little girl was woken up by the sounds of screams and a gunshot. She was still chained to the wall, but apart from the bruises had been left unharmed while the bad man had dealt with the other one. Now though, she was trembling. The first scream had possessed a quality that scared her. It had sounded angry. The ones that followed the gunshot were those of desperation and pain. The little girl heard the basement door open. She heard someone coming down the steps, and began to cry at the thought of what the bad man might do to her.
A man was crouched before her, wiping her tears away. Practiced hands were unchaining her. A coat was draped over her. A dress was placed in her lap. When she looked up she saw kind eyes. The father picked her up, and carried her out of the basement, into the rest of her life.

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Dead Man’s Rights

September 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 8.9. From 277 votes.
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Mr. Cadson had been sitting up at the bar for some time. The lights and the music were both very low, casting a sort of malaise over the entire half-empty room. A group of men in the corner were watching a baseball game on the television on the wall. A few small groups of people murmured among themselves at the tables. Cadson had been staring into several glasses of bourbon for the past two hours, the room around him slowly fading into a dull blur of colors and sounds. The girl tending bar just replaced his glass when it ran dry and the cycle continued. It was around midnight when the stranger approached him.

Cadson turned to see a middle aged man sitting in the stool to the left of him. The man seemed to be the only thing in the room not covered in the haze of inebriation. He didn’t wave to the bartender, nor did the bartender seem to see him. He merely turned and looked directly into Cadson’s eyes. The stranger was nondescript for the most part, except for the eyes. They were bright gold, shining in the dim light. Cadson had never seen anything quite like them. When the man talked, his voice was low and smooth, like a storm in the distance.

“Hello, Mr. Cadson,” said the man. “I’m Death.” Cadson believed him. No amount of liquor led him to that belief. It was more of an instinct, that a man should know Death when it stood before him.

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Cadson, deciding that being polite was the correct option. “Can I buy you a round?” Death laughed. It was a fake laugh, although a very good one. It sounded like someone that has already heard every joke in the world a thousand times, but is still trying to be polite.

“I don’t drink, I’m afraid,” said Death. “I’m just here to tell you that you’ll be throwing in the towel somewhat earlier that you would expect.”

“And why do I get the head’s up?” asked Cadson. He grabbed several nuts out of a bowl in front of him. They had been the only things he’d eaten in half a day. Death leaned up onto the bar, folding his hands under his chin. Death sighed deeply, as if he didn’t want to hear that question.

“Because, Mr. Cadson,” said Death. “I’ve begun doing contract work.”

“Successful guy like you?” asked Cadson. “Didn’t think you’d need the extra cash.” He looked over at Death, only to find the seat empty. He considered for the first time that he was merely hallucinating. Someone to his right coughed lightly. Cadson turned to find an old woman looking at him with the same pair of gold eyes.

“I merely take a small something from the people that require my services,” said the more elderly Death. “Although I can’t say it’s all for that. What do I need with a memory or a sliver of a man’s soul? After sticking to the script for millions of years, it’s mainly about the thrill. And I enjoy the conversation.” Death smiled, showing a mouthful of yellowed dentures.

“You still didn’t really answer the question,” said Cadson. Death stopped smiling quite so broadly.

“Very perceptive for someone on their sixth drink,” said Death. “Which makes this all the more fun.” Death disappeared from the seat. Cadson swung around to find an athletic looking young man to his left. The gold eyes seemed to pierce him even deeper. “A question is an amazing thing, Mr. Cadson. The first thing a mortal does upon being born is wonder. Upon waking up, entering a room, meeting someone, or even looking up into the sky, the first thing you do is wonder. Immortals don’t wonder. They know.” The longing in Death’s voice was half heartbreaking and half terrifying.

“If you’re going off the script, they don’t know, do they?” asked Cadson. His head was beginning to clear, as adrenaline and fear began to sweep away the haze. Death chuckled.

“No, they don’t,” said Death. “And that terrifies them.”

“Who’s ‘them’?”

“That’s something I can’t answer,” said Death. “There are rules, you see. I can do this as long as everyone follows the rules. The rules you have to worry about say that dead men have certain rights. Most come by them naturally, but when I take a more active role, I’m required to tell you those rights. Hence, my presence here.” Death gestured back at the darkened, half-empty bar.

“What rights do I have?” Death vanished again and reappeared as a young boy on the other side of Cadson. The eon-old eyes were much more disturbing on a ten year old face.

“The first is the right of knowledge,” said Death in a high pitched voice. “All men are entitled to know the manner of their death prior to its occurrence.”

“You’re saying everyone knows how they’re going to die?”

“If anyone pays close enough attention to their life,” said Death. “They’ll know. Slow and painful or short and violent, they can all see it coming if they try. I’ve never seen anyone really try though. You though, Mr. Cadson, are going to die choking on one of those peanuts you’ve been eating.” Cadson stopped his hand as he was about to put another nut into his mouth. He placed it back into the bowl and pushed it away. “That won’t change anything, but if it makes you feel better, I suppose.”

“And why do you have to tell me?”

“Rules,” said Death. “If someone isn’t given full rights, shit happens.” Cadson almost laughed hearing the kid version of Death say that, but stifled it. “Which brings us to your second right. The right of choice. There are many, many things that can happen after you die. And people always choose for themselves what happens to them. They don’t even know they’re doing it, but they do it.”

“And I get to choose?” asked Cadson. “Do I get to know what the choices are?”

“Believe me, Mr. Cadson.” The child disappeared. Cadson turned to see a beautiful woman to his left. In fact, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He hoped Death would stay that way for a while. “My job would be so much simpler if I could tell people the options. But don’t worry. You’ll choose before you die. Which brings me to your last right, and the main reason I’m here: the right of experience.”

“I’ve got plenty of experience,” said Cadson, taking another swig of bourbon. “Believe me.”

“But not enough,” said Death. The woman’s voice was light and sensual, with a hint of an unknown accent. Cadson tried to keep from looking at Death while it spoke. He worried that he might get distracted. “A mortal’s experiences are why it knows its death and why it makes its choices. Without those experiences, the system falls apart. So I’m here to impart knowledge to make up for what you’re going to lose.”

“We having a Q and A session now?” asked Cadson.

“More or less,” said Death. “Starting now, you will have four questions. I will have to tell you the complete truth about anything you ask, but there are certain things I can’t talk about. If you ask about those, you forfeit one question.”

“And what are those?” asked Cadson. It took him less than a second to realize what he had done. He looked up into Death’s eyes and saw a slight triumph there.

“One question down,” said Death. “Don’t feel bad. They all do that. I had one man that used all four in about ten seconds, so you’re still ahead of the game. In any case, you can’t ask about what happens after you die, anything that will happen in the future, or how to live forever. That’s it.” Cadson realized something that he hadn’t up until this point. This was a game to Death. A game that it very thoroughly enjoyed. That was its payout. “So I assume you’ll be thinking more carefully about the next three.” Death gave him a coy look that would have made any man fall in love. He realized exactly why it had waited until that point to take that form. But any alcohol in his system had been dissolved by pure fear at that point. These were perhaps his final chances to do anything with his pathetic life.

“Who sent you to kill me?” asked Cadson, slowly and deliberately. Death smiled.

“Mr. Holland, your business partner,” said Death. Cadson began to ask ‘why’, but slapped a hand over his mouth before the sound came out. Death laughed.

“You know what?” it asked. “You caught that so well, I’m going to tell you why just for the hell of it. He found those certain files you didn’t want him to. The ones about the offshore accounts and the shady practices. He was most interested in the files you were planning to frame and blackmail him with.” Cadson stared down into his glass, but said nothing. “People don’t actually hire me consciously. It’s more a matter of mindset. How much they want someone dead and how much they’re willing to sacrifice. Mr. Holland, for instance, can no longer remember 1991, the happiest year of his life. That’s the year he got his master’s degree, met his wife, and had the best steak he’d ever eaten. To you it may not seem like much, but trust me, if he knew, he would not have agreed. So what next?”

Several thoughts went through Cadson’s head at that moment. He wondered where his life went wrong. He wondered if there was any chance at all he was getting into any sort of heaven. He wondered if he really had known it was going to end this way.

“I know this is important, Mr. Cadson, but I have places to be.” There was a hint of impatience in Death’s voice that made a single thought arise in Cadson’s head. It was almost like Death was worried. Cadson thought about it a bit more, making sure his question was perfect, and praying that he was right. Death stared in rapt attention as he opened his lips.

“You have places to be. I have rights.”

“Is…that a question?” asked Death, a look of confusion appearing on its face. Hope surged into Cadson.

“Not at all,” he said. “If I don’t ask you the last question and my rights are not fulfilled, that means you can’t kill me early because shit happens. Right?”

Death cocked its head to the side, a calculating expression on its face. Its golden eyes stared right through Cadson as it sat there in thought. Finally, a wide grin spread over Death’s face. It let out the lightest, most wonderful laugh that Cadson had ever heard.

“That is correct, Mr. Cadson,” said Death, leaning in close. “But have you weighed the possibilities? You may be scheduled to die tomorrow. Isn’t there some answer you would be willing to give up one day for? Can you live knowing that you traded away the chance?” Death paused a moment. “And won’t Mr. Holland be very much trouble for you shortly?”

“I’ll deal with it,” said Cadson. He turned away from Death and went back to sipping his bourbon. “Good night, Miss.” Death sighed and got up from the bar stool. It laid one hand on Cadson’s shoulder and lowered its lips to his ear, despite Cadson’s suspicion that no one else could hear it.

“Not many have made it this far into the game, Mr. Cadson. Congratulations. But I want you to know that I always get my man. I’ve gotten every one of them in human history in fact. I’ll see you soon.”

Death smiled once more and walked towards the door. As Cadson watched from the corner of his eye, the figure disappeared halfway across the room. He made a silent toast and drained the remainder of his glass. As he slammed it back onto the bar top, the bartender walked over to him.

“Can I get another bourbon?” asked Cadson. The bartender looked at his watch.

“I think you’ve got time for one more,” said the bartender. While the bartender poured the drink, Cadson looked back at the room and wondered if the people knew what had just happened, if it had, in fact, happened. The bartender put the drink down in front of him.

“On the house, in fact,” he said with a smile before walking away.

“Thank you,” muttered Cadson, his mind elsewhere. As he took the first sip of his drink, he absentmindedly reached for the bowl of nuts.

Credit: Alex Taylor

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Graveyard Lottery

September 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 9.1. From 285 votes.
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I saw that the Waller family dug up another grave today. Yet again, they’ve sunk thousands of dollars into the hope that they’ll find their son, Alex. Hope has proven to be a costly endeavor for them. As I’ve been told, they’ve spent well over a hundred thousand dollars on digging services alone. The story is nothing new. It keeps repeating itself like a broken record.

It’s such an odd sight to say the least. Every once in a blue moon, Nickolas and Judy Waller return to our town with a team of highly paid professionals. A backhoe is unloaded from the back of a truck. It creeps across the hallowed ground to the area where a concrete statue of Saint Lawrence stands before 36 graves like a lonely sentinel. Through the wind and rain, his facial expression never changes. With a crucifix in the crook of one arm and the other raised to the heavens, he stares solemnly upwards as if to offer the souls below him to the Lord. Saint Lawrence shouldn’t be there. Those 36 graves shouldn’t be there. That theatre fire should have never happened.

The beastly machine revs up its motor and fills the air with cloud of diesel exhaust that’s as dark as coal. Scoop by scoop, the machine slowly claws away at the earth like a tired animal desperately trying to escape the trap. First the sod is ripped from the ground and tossed to the side. Soon after, a few bucketful’s of top soil is piled up alongside the grave before another pile is made for the caramel-brown clay.

While the digging happens, Nick and Judy stand close to each other while quietly praying and singing Hallelujah in hopes that this hole will be the last they will ever have to excavate. Suddenly, the machine pulls up a unique mixture of earth; one that is composed of clay and soil that is black as pitch, and rich with decay. The hired men now know that their work with the machine is done for the time being as they send it crawling away from the grave.

From there, the men put on pairs of rubber overalls and gloves; and respirators on their faces. They then descend into the hole with their shovels. Like a volcanic eruption, scoops of soil spew from the hole until the dull, yet loud sound of metal sticking wood is heard. At a slower pace, dirt continues to fling from the open grave. In time, one of the men climbs out of the hole and retrieves a bundle of rope from the truck. He tosses the rope down and within minutes, the backhoe roars back to life. The rope is then attached to the machine’s arm. With the utmost care and skill by the operator, the old rotting casket is hoisted out of the ground.

The old wooden box is placed off to the side of the hole and is quickly covered by a sheet of tarpaulin to conceal it from curious eyes. Once more, the men descend back down into the hole and continue to carefully dig for several hours. Just like all the other times, the men run out of black soil and find only clay the deeper they go; indicating that what they are looking for isn’t there. Judy in a desperate plea yells to them, “Please keep digging! I know my baby is in there! You just have to go a little deeper!” Just to satisfy her, the men keep on with their work until the sun begins to descend. But as the sun fades away, so too does the spark of hope in both Judy and Nickolas.

When the hole has been dug far below a reasonable depth, it is deemed as a failed venture. The men climb out of the grave and replace the casket and soil in the same order they removed it. The backhoe is loaded onto the truck, the men hand the Wallers a business card, say their condolences, and then drive away. Yet, Nickolas and Judy remain at the graveyard until it is too dark for comfort. They do not gaze upon the grave they have dug that day, rather, they stare with a strange mixture of sorrow and hope at the grave that lies next to it, just waiting to be exhumed. They walk away from the matter for now, while Saint Lawrence remains just as still as before.

The grave that was dug up today was that of Jack Davidson. As I’ve been told, his mother and father finally gave in when the Wallers offered them 400,000 dollars. Now that I think about it, they were actually going to settle for 350,000, but that changed. Just before Paul Davidson was about to sign the papers, Judy made the comment that there was a silver-lining to the loss of his son. When Paul asked her to explain, she said that Paul and the others were lucky that she and her husband had to pay to search the graves of their loved ones. She went on to say that it was better than winning the lottery.

The price immediately jumped to 400,000 dollars.

I’m actually surprised that the Davidsons gave in. They always said that they weren’t going to play the Waller’s little game. They said that the way the Wallers had it set up was so callus and disgraceful, that it bordered on insults. You see, the Davidsons may have been offered 400,000 dollars, but that doesn’t mean they would actually receive 400,000 dollars. The Wallers have their contracts set up in a way where they would only have to pay if their son is found in the questioned grave. Now that I think about, Judy’s comparison to a lottery is actually quite fitting. The only gambit that the unwilling players had to wager was a son, brother, father, mother, or daughter.

I’ve paid close attention to this game over the last two decades. The first family that played the game were the Jacksons. Ever since Harold Jackson died, the family struggled to make ends meet. They sold out for 2,000 dollars, if I remember correctly. I don’t think they would have done it if they weren’t so desperate for money at the time. Of course, Alex wasn’t found in Harold’s grave, and the Jacksons never received any sort of prize. As the laws of probability dictated, the original odds were 1 in 36, but after Harold was exhumed, they became 1 in 35. Henceforth, the cash prize went up slightly when the people around here realized that the graves of their respective loved ones could be the lucky one. As the years went by and the odds increased, so too did the price.

Around these parts, the excavation and the desecration of the grave is viewed as one and the same despite the good intentions behind it; but that’s not to say the people around here won’t go against their morals when a big wad of cash is waved under their noses. I think it’s a dirty rotten shame that the Davidsons sold out. Their son Jack was far more deserving of a peaceful slumber than having his corpse pulled out of the ground. He was a fine young man. As a matter of fact, there was once a time when I looked forward to calling him my son-in-law. But that fire burned away the pages of the story that had yet to be written.

I can still recall that fire now as I saw it over twenty years ago. It was an average night and I was just about to fall asleep when I heard the sirens wailing past my house. Out of panic and curiosity, I went to the kitchen window and saw that the theater down the street was engulfed in flames. I quickly put on my shoes and sprinted towards the blaze. All I could do was watch helplessly as the flames climbed higher into the night.
The firemen wasted no time in connecting their hoses to the hydrants. Despite their loud shouts, I could hear the sound of screaming coming from inside of the theatre. As the water began to spray onto the fire, a team of the firemen sprinted into the building with their axes in hand.

After a few minutes, they pulled the first person out of the building. His name was Derek Svenold. He was caked in soot; and burns covered a large portion of his body. He looked lifeless as they laid him down on the grass across the street. All I could do was watch with shock. Until then, I’d never seen a dead body, but the horror of it all only became worse as the firemen laid more people next to him. The others had not faired to so well. Unlike Derek, their bodies where charred black and were unidentifiable in the darkness.

The smell was the worse. Never before had I smelled burnt flesh. The smell in and of itself wasn’t what bothered me. It was the idea that my nose was inhaling the essence of a dead body. I held my nightshirt over my nose to block it out while the people around me fled away from the scene feeling too sick to take much more.

Before the ambulance arrived, they had 25 bodies laid out on the grass. It was then I saw something that I can only describe as a miracle. Derek, the man that I assumed was dead, suddenly sat up in a fit of violent coughing. His eyes first locked onto the fire across the street. I saw the way they became wider and wider as the refection of the flames glinted off of them. He put his hands on his face, then his chest, and finally his legs. Without words, I knew he was in disbelief as to how he got away from the fire, and how he could be alive. He then turned his head and looked down at one of the charred corpses next to him.

He touched the flaky skin, pressed his fingers into it, and said, “Hey, ‘you alright?” When his question went unanswered, he began to gently shake the body. “Hey, wake up.” He said. I could see the realization starting to sink in just as the ambulance arrived. The paramedics quickly noticed him and helped him to his feet. Derek fought against them. He screamed while pointing his finger at the corpses, “What about them? What about my friends? What about my sister?”

As they put Derek in the back of the vehicle, the firemen carried even more bodies out, all 36 of them.

The sights and sounds of that night severely damaged Derek. Not only were parts of his skin disfigured, so too was his soul. He was prescribed pain killers for his recovery and quickly became addicted to them. I supposed the chemicals helped to fill a void that was burned away, if only temporary.

I wanted to help Derek anyway I could in the months that followed. I’m not a specialist in mental health, but I know that lending an ear can make a world of difference. With a great deal of compassion and respect, I asked him what it was like. I asked him how he felt about it all. Oddly enough, he told me a story that seemingly had nothing to do with fire at all, but after telling me I realized it had everything to do with it.

When he was only a child, one of his chores was to empty the mouse trap in his father’s garage. It was one of those live-traps; the kind that is made from galvanized steel and has little air holes punched into it. The idea behind these traps is to catch multiple mice without having to constantly reset it. Eventually, the mice could be taken out into the wild and humanely let go. At least, that’s what the advertisers sell it as. Instead, most people like Derek’s father have a rope tied to the trap so that it can easily be recovered from a body of water.

That was Derek’s duty. Once a week he would take the trap down to the river and toss it into the water. He said that he remembered the way the mice would squeal and thrash around as the trap sank into the river. Their little claws would scratch against the metal as every single one of them fought to keep their mouths in the disappearing air pocket. He said it would take about ten minutes before the air bubbles would stop coming up. When the job was done, he’d pull the trap out of the water, dump the dead mice, and put it back in the garage.

At the end of this little story, Derek said, “That’s what it was like to be stuck in that fire. Everyone in there was trying to claw their way out. People were being stepped over. Bodies were washed in flames. All I could do was watch as the people around dropped, one, by, one.”

Trying to be helpful, I told him, “There’s a reason why you survived Derek.”

He then gave me a look that bordered on annoyance and anger, “That’s what everyone tells me. I don’t know why in the hell I should have lived while the others died. I’ve talked to therapists, preachers, old folks, and people like you. You all tell me that I have a purpose in life. You all tell me that there’s a reason I lived, but none of you can tell me why.

“I’m surrounded by blind people. They tell me that I need to find the light switch, but the damned light switch isn’t even there. Maybe I’ve been given the gift of life. If I had it my way, I’d give it to someone else. I sure as hell don’t know what to do with it.”

It was only a couple of months after our conversation that Derek overdosed on pain meds. Unlike the others that died in the fire, Derek’s passing went quietly. The last victim of a disaster is rarely mentioned after all?

I don’t think that he would have wanted any recognition either. I remember how much it tore him up to see the aftermath of the fire being played over and over again on the news. Indeed our little town had its fifteen minutes of fame. Albeit the notoriety was neither asked for nor desired. Especially when our fifteen minutes turned to an hour, a day, a week, a month, and finally, a year.

It wasn’t the fire that gripped the attention of the newsmen. Oh no. They focused on the one person that didn’t die in the fire; and that person certainly wasn’t Derek. I suppose it’s noteworthy when the son of a wealthy family goes missing without a trace. That son was Alex; son of Nickolas and Judy Waller. And a son of a bitch if you listen closely to the hushed whispers around town.

There really isn’t much to say about Alex. He was a college kid that took up residence in our town for two summers. It seemed like his favorite past-time was to indulge in the fiery burn of whiskey, as his favorite haunt was the local bar. As sure as a dew covered flower finds the morning sun, nighttime would find Alex wasting away in a corner booth.

You could almost set your watch by his routine. At around 8 o’clock every night, he’d leave his apartment above Nix’s Garage. He’d venture past the Old Catholic church, the graveyard, two blocks of homes, the theater, and would finally end up at the bar. When last call came at two in the morning, he’d make the same journey back, only in reverse; while stumbling and staggering the entire way.

This fact was well known and was quietly talked of as gossip amongst ourselves when he was out of earshot. Normally, this type of behavior is overlooked by us townsfolk. After all, we already have our fair share of bottle dwelling persons. Like the Bremar brothers; the proud veterans that proudly show their battle scars from the war, even if the wounds are in places where no one wants to look. Even our mayor keeps himself in good spirits. An outsider might see this as a problem, but we actually get a sense of safely from it. I mean, the man can hardly find the wallet in his own pocket, let alone someone else’s.

The complaints made about Alex’s drinking habits were not the main issue. It was just another thing to talk about with the spicy indulgence of gossip. There were other things about Alex we did not take kindly to. For the sake of politeness, I will not say where Alex hailed from, but I will say that his upbringing did not correlate with our own.

As I remember Alex, all I can recall is a snide young man that refused to adapt to the long standing traditions of our little social order. These arbitrary social laws have never been formally written, bear no legal standing, but are heavily instilled by the wrath of a father’s belt. I’m led to believe that the Waller’s idea of normalcy finds ours backwards and barbaric.

These are the three basic laws of our little culture:

Never touch another man’s money.
Never touch another man’s tools.
And never touch another man’s woman; whether it be his wife or his daughter.

Alex was the worst offender of the third. As the way it is seen around here, the best way to deal with a feral dog like Alex is to drag it into the back alley and thrash it around until it scurries away with its tail between its legs. The method behind the madness usually works. I say usually because it certainly had no effect on Alex. As I recall, there was more than a few times that Alex made a lewd pass towards one of the local girls, only to have it met with the fury of the lady’s brother, father, or the like.

For those two summers he was with us, this behavior did not change, but it went away immediately after he vanished without a trace. I don’t think the general public really noticed his absence at first. That theater fire clouded every mind like a morning mist looming over the harbor before the storm.

I don’t think anyone can be blamed for not noticing. It’s especially sobering to see 36 graves being dug in advance for the ones you knew. 36 may seem like a small number in and of itself, but when it comes to the matter of death, it’s a lot.

I remember watching all 36 of those graves being dug. The first two or three didn’t seem like a big deal; they were just holes. But to see so many blurred the lines of reality. There was so much dirt scattered around that each individual hole seemed to blend in with the other. In a way, it reminded me of a mass grave that was dug in the heat of war. The only things missing were the multitude of tangled, bloated corpses, and a dusting of lye.

Through all the blinding chaos the fire brought, there were still two people that noticed Alex’s disappearance even though they were a long plane ride away. Those people were his parents, Nicholas and Judy. As mothers and fathers usually do, they called and sent Alex letters on a weekly basis. When Alex failed to return either of these things for two weeks, they became suspicious. Then after a month, they dreaded the reasons why.

The Wallers sent our sheriff to check on Alex at his apartment. After several knocks on the door at several different times during the day without a reply, the sheriff had the landlord open the door. What they found of course was nothing out of the ordinary. There were no signs of Alex or any sinister hints to his whereabouts. It simply looked like Alex stepped away from his home for a while and could return at any moment, but he never came back.

Of course this was all newsworthy material and it didn’t take long for a flood of volunteers to come search for him. For weeks they walked in a line through the fields and woods with no results. These searches soon stopped when Janette Thomas revealed what she allegedly saw one night.

What Janette had to say about the matter completely trumped all the theories to Alex’s whereabouts. The story itself is shaky at best, but it’s the one the Wallers believe beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true. She supposedly saw Alex being murdered with her own eyes.

According to her, it happened two days after the theater fire. She like many others took to the bar after the horrible disaster. Many sorrows were drowned that night, including her own. You see, she lost a nephew in the fire, and the presence of alcohol and good company helped heal the wound.

She remembered going outside to have a cigarette when she saw Alex strolling along on the sidewalk. He was clearly intoxicated like usual. The sight would have been brushed off had it not been for a particularly haunting detail. She saw a figure behind Alex as he walked. Alex was completely unaware of it too. While Alex sang a happy song off-key, the person skulked ever so carefully behind him, occasionally ducking into alleyways when the opportunity presented itself.

The person followed Alex for several minutes until they passed by the graveyard. The mysterious figure than veered into the darkness of the yard where the 36 graves were dug in preparation for the next day’s massive burial.

Just when it was thought that the person had long since left Alex alone, the figure suddenly burst from the shadows of the graveyard. He or she was brandishing a shovel. There was not a word spoken between the two, save for the brief scream made by Alex before being struck across the head with the shovel. The blow knocked the young man over and he was motionless, but it didn’t end there. The assailant continued to mercilessly beat Alex with the shovel over and over again.

When at last, the killer seemed exhausted, Janette quite clearly saw Alex being drug into the darkness of the graveyard. Beyond that, no one is sure what happened. This all led to a very thrilling theory made by Janette. She assumed that Alex was buried in one of the already open graves. It made perfect sense too. All the killer would have to do was dig one of the holes a little deeper, throw the body in, and cover it up with just a little bit of dirt. Then the next day, a casket would have been laid over the body, buried, and no one would ever be the wiser.

It was a good theory. It was a perfect theory. Unfortunately, Janette’s credibility was quickly called into question. You see, Janette is one of our more colorful residents. The poor woman just hasn’t been the same ever since her husband got hit by that train back in ‘73.

Ever since then, she’s been spinning these wild yarns about the most ridiculous things. She’s gone on record that she’s been abducted and probed by aliens. She claims to have a time machine in her basement; but refuses to show anyone because she’s afraid the Military Industrial Complex of the Antarctic Elephant Corps will have her eliminated. And to top it all off, she didn’t bother to tell anyone about what she saw that night until three months after it happened.

The lawmen may not have given her account much credence, but the Wallers sure did. They believed every word Janette told them, even if the story varied slightly with every retelling. Henceforth, the Wallers became absolutely convinced that their son was buried beneath one of the caskets where Saint Lawrence stands guard. It did make perfect sense after all?

There was just one problem. Neither the Wallers, nor Janette knew which grave it was. Thus, as things go, the graveyard lottery was born. The Jackson family was the first to give in at $2,000. The casket was dug up and nothing was found. They then moved on to the plot of Jeff Thomas and his surviving family didn’t budge until they were offered $30,000. The price just kept going up from there on out. I would have never imagined that the Wallers would have ever offered a family like the Davidsons $400,000. There’s been whispers going around town as to how much the Wallers will offer to dig up that one last grave. The one that has been left untouched for the past 20 years.

Some say they will offer a million before a deal is made, and others argue that they will never make an offer considering that their finances have since gone to hell. But, that’s been said before and it’s been proven to be false. I think it’s just so strange how people are willing to donate so freely to such silly causes. Then again, Nicholas Waller is a salesman by trade and selling such a thing just comes natural.

I remember when he was interviewed on the news. He talked about how his son made the Dean’s list for three straight years. They showed a lot of pictures of Alex when was just a little boy; still wet behind the ears and shitting in diapers. You know, the usual bullshit? It makes me wonder if the Wallers would have stopped looking for their son if they knew what John Leroy knows. I’ll go out on a limb to say that they’d be ashamed of Alex if they knew his dirty little secret. John has only told this little tidbit of information to a select few people. And when I say a select few, I mean a very select few. As far as I know, maybe four people know about this, myself included.

On the night the theater burned down, John came home from work at nine like he usually does; and like usual, he gave himself a quick shower and went to bed. Sometime during the night he got out of bed to use the toilet. As he walked past his kitchen window, he saw Alex strolling along with a cigarette in his mouth, and a drunken sway in his step. When Alex passed by the theater, he tossed his cigarette butt into the dumpster next the theater. John didn’t think much of it at that point in time.

When he finished relieving himself, he walked back to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When he looked out of the window, he saw that not only was the dumpster on fire, but so too was the theater.

Yes, Alex Waller was responsible for the death of 36 people. The little shit would have gotten away with it too, but luckily someone had the good sense to smack the little bastard across the head with a shovel. If you ask me, justice was served.

Come to think of it, I’ve probably said a little too much. You can blame it all on the booze. I’ve been soaking in it ever since the fire. I tell you what, you don’t know shit until you’ve inhaled the charred flesh of the ones you loved. You don’t know how those screams still ring my ears. You don’t know a damn thing.

Am I a little upset?

No.

I’m absolutely furious.

Alex knew what he did! I could see it on his face! I could see it in his eyes! He looked like a pathetic little child fearing the belt! I know what that look is! I’ve seen it in my own child’s face for God’s sake! I saw it on her beautiful face! I saw it in her beautiful blue eyes!

And those damned Wallers had the nerve to tell us that there was a silver lining to our loss. They told us that we were lucky! We were lucky that they had to pay to dig up our own! They told us that it was better than winning the lottery! I don’t care how much money they offer, I’m not going to play their little game! And to hell with those degenerates that sold the caskets of their family! Is there no decency left in this world?

I’ve seen the way the town is looking at me! Every eye is looking at me! They whisper to themselves! They want to know what the final jackpot will be! The filthy rats! Those filthy traitors!

I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! I’ll show them like I showed Alex! I’ll show them what it’s like to have something forever taken from them! Oh God, it will be so satisfying to see the look on their faces when I turn them down! Why should their child have gotten to live when my own died?

Maybe then they’ll know what it’s like to be living in this nightmare! Maybe then they’ll know what it’s like to have a granite slab and a story that was never written!

It doesn’t matter if they have all the money in the world! I will not let them disturb my daughter’s rest!

The winner already lost it all!

Credit: G. Preeb

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