A Mile Above Hell

April 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first thing I always remember is the heat.

Even when I could see nothing, hear nothing, even when my brain was trying bury itself in the comfy, dark recesses of unconsciousness, my body was slowly being cooked sunny side down. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I didn’t want to anyway. I was tired, I had been unconscious, the heat was tolerable when I was asleep, and I really wanted to go back to sleep, like a tired kid burying his head into the pillow moaning “I don’t want to go to school”.

My body however was slowly waking up on it’s own. I began to grow conscious of other stimuli, the lightweight cotton green uniform, the heavy combat boots, the open ended gloves that protected my palms but left my fingers to saute on the melted asphalt. Something was missing though…

Finally, I slowly opened my eyes, and the light and heat quickly slammed the doors again. I tried again after several minutes, but slower this time, and this time it was bearable.

I was laying on something hot, a stretch of rough, black surface turned into a warped, bubbly skillet by heat. Some of it stuck to the black, pocketed vest that covered my torso, to the knee pads, and the toes of my boots.

As my vision cleared further, I noticed more and more of the area beyond the black road. Dust swirled about me in dust devils. The heat was not just coming from the ground, the wind was like a dragon’s breath, and it smelled of something burning… a bit of everything burning.
Then came the pain.

I say the pain because there was no one area of it, I felt as if I had been run over by a steamroller from head to foot. My hands were charred from lying on the ground. My body was a little better off, protected from direct heat by a couple layers of cotton, and tactical vest pockets, but my skin was drenched with sweat, the inside of my clothes was a swamp. And my head…

Oh… Jesus Christ, my head. Only way to describe it is to imagine your head being put in a maraca with ten pounds of buckshot lead, and going to Mexican New Year celebrations. It was terrible, and I wasn’t even moving yet. There seemed to be a big blackness on the right side of my vision. It came to me that I had only been seeing out of my left eye, the right side had not opened… or it wasn’t there.

I realized now that little could be done lying on my face like a dead turtle, so I decided to attempt rolling onto my back, and getting a somewhat better look about me. I knew already that this was going to hurt. Some of the melted asphalt had cooled with my face touching it, it would be like ripping off duct tape… only a lot worse. I prepared for blood, knowing that the oily tar would not come off on it’s own, and I could not lie here on my face all day.

At first my arms didn’t seem to work, just laying there like dry docked eels. Then, as they got more blood in them, the pain flowed in. They felt like they had been stretched, balled up, jack-hammered, then mixed with water and spread out alongside the asphalt. However my arms are rather muscular and recovered quickly. Planting my hands against the ground, my elbows reaching above my spine like a spider’s legs, I braced for the pain, and pushed, arching my spine. At first my face resisted parting with the ground, and the pulling my skin caused a sharp discomfort.

This was bliss compared with what happened next. Setting my neck and jaw, I yanked my head backwards and pushed up. There was a most nasty peeling noise, like the pulling apart of two pieces of meat (which is not too far off), a tear or two, and warm, red blood began to spurt onto the smoking tar, My face seized up from the utter agony of several layers of my skin being yanked off. It made me glad I hadn’t grown a beard or long hair, I might have lost my whole face. At least I was able to move, but the pain was making my vision flutter.

Stabilizing myself, I rocked myself backwards, so I was kneeling upright. Now the steady tide of blood streaked down my neck to soak into my thick, green spattered coat. I knew now that before I could look around I needed to find something to cover the wound. Something was falling out of the sky into my hair, building up on my shoulders and gear. It looked like dirty snow. Whatever it was, I needed to clean and dress my disfigured cheek immediately.

I looked around me for some spare cloth, a medkit or… a backpack. I had a large backpack on my shoulders, it matched my forest pattern uniform, probably my helmet too… wherever that thing was. It was held across my chest by several buckles to keep it on my back, so I proceeded to undo them. I then noticed a name tag on the left shoulder strap. Specialist Four, Austin Carver. It wasn’t a name I recognized.

My fingers were so blistered and sore it was slow and hellish undoing the three clasps, but click by click I was able to shrug the gear off. It fell with a thud into the dust, and I felt lighter, the strain on my back lessened. A couple more clamps and it lay open like a little cave.
It was chock-full of gear. Pouches on the outside held a canteen filled with lukewarm water, a couple tube-like grenades, more ammunition for my rifle, which also seemed to be missing like most of my hardware, and a radio, but the materials inside were enough for three men, and it was all mine. I quickly found ample medical supplies in a small red box.

More pain was to come. I would have to dab some disinfectant onto my cheek before I patched it up. I stared at the dreaded brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide before gritting my teeth, biting down on a piece of gauze before applying some to a cloth. I poised it over my cheek, bit the bullet,, and pressed it to my face.

Some pain is so bad it makes you lose control of some other parts of your body. I felt my fingers numb a bit and shake like an electrical current was going through them, but my jaw dropped into a soundless scream as my face squeezed tight. Through it all the offending cloth stayed over the wound. Finally, satisfied that the disinfectant had done it’s work, I threw the blood stained item as far from me as possible, gasping for breath, and grabbed a clean gauze, folded it into a wad, and taped it onto the wound. Before sweat and blood could remove the adhesive, I wrapped a bandage around my head, encompassing my mouth, ears, and the back of my head. I can only imagine it looked like makeshift balaclava for someone in a mental institution, especially when I had to cut a hole for my mouth to breath through. Then I remembered my right eye.

When applying the bandage I had felt a scaly surface over the right side of my head, along with an acute pain. Feeling it again, I rubbed it with my finger, and it came off dusted with something like rust. Dried blood. Somehow my head had been injured and blood had poured over my eye and hardened like a seal of wax. Taking a little more cloth, I dampened it with water and rubbed at my eye. It came away red, but soon my right eye was opened.

Then I turned my attention to my aforementioned head wound, gingerly my hand crept up my skull to the nexus of pain jolts. Suddenly I found the problem.

It was as if my hand were a car and it had suddenly driven off a cliff. A massive dent, more like a bomb crater, shaped like a spear head running about four inches along the dome of my head. It was no wonder I wasn’t remembering much, there was serious damage up there.

My stomach rumbled most audibly, and it felt shrunken. I patted my belly, and noticed that there were some ribs showing. Before I shouldered the pack again, I found some containers near the bottom of the bag, reading Case 4 MRE. Were I in a more comfortable situation I’m sure the rations inside would’ve been left where they were, but as I was I inhaled the food quicker than you would think possible.

More of the dirty snow was falling as I shouldered my gear again, pushing my curiosity more. I needed to examine the environment beyond where I was. At the moment, I had slowly pieced together my surroundings. I seemed to be in a large hole, a foxhole perhaps, but there was asphalt at the bottom. My thought was that maybe an earthquake had caused this part of the road to fall several feet into a fault. The sides were a steep mix of gravel, sand, and several huge fragments of metal beams. I could climb out, but it would be on all fours.

Now that all my immediate issues had been cared for, it hit me like a thunderbolt, so sudden and profound that I nearly rocked back on my heels. Who am I? I hadn’t recognized the name tag, was it my own name? How did I get here? What’s been happening? A thousand questions swarmed through my head so fast my knees buckled, and I ended up back where I had started ten minutes ago.

Suddenly the slopes of the crater I was in became like walls, and they began to close in. A deep seated panic set in and my heart began to race. Blood oozed through my cheek and down my forehead as I clawed into the sand hiding me from the rest of the world. I dug in my toes, and climbed furiously up the slope. Then, like a drowning man breaking the surface of the water, I emerged from the hole, gasping for air.

I lay prone on the lip of the crater for a minute, my stress induced claustrophobia bleeding away with all my head wounds. My hand gripped the scorched sand like a lifeline. My head slowly came up again. I felt serious deja vu from an hour ago when I had awoken in the crater. Mostly because I, again, was lying my face, feeling like death. And, looking up, the area I had now discovered was not much different from the smoking hole from which I had emerged.

It was larger, more open, and set on a softly sloped hillside leading to a peak. A road ran the length of it, disappearing over the top. Many structures lined both sides of the road, a lot of them on fire, some of them unrecognizable, reduced to splintered wood, crushed plaster and scattered tiles. Everything had been sprawled in one direction, like a huge sledgehammer had hit the block and sent everything flying. What an ungodly mess. Some cars were lying on their backs like dead spiders, some twisted or smelted into shapeless masses of steel and rubber. License plates had melted and cooled into shiny green stained icicles on the rear ends of the now dead machines.

I tried to crawl forward, but a tinkling noise and a sharp pain in my fingertips forced me to stop again. Shattered glass carpeted the ground in every direction, you could spit and not miss a shard. Now blood oozed from my fingers, and I was forced to dig into the bag again, fresh warm blood smearing the green material. Soon my hands matched my rather grotesque head bandage. I must have looked quite a sight, my charred green uniform, all my gear, and then these blaring white bandages smeared with red stains turning a deep rusty brown.

I stood up this time, very shakily, to save my fingers more damage and to let my tough boots deal with the glass. Now my head was brushing against a layer of smoke that was flowing parallel to the spread of wreckage that encompassed me. I became conscious of the smell again, only now it was much stronger, a witch’s cauldron of pongs, I could not find one word for it.

The clouds split for a moment, and the light poured onto the smoldering landscape. Something shone into my dazed right eye, which was still adjusting, and I raised my bandaged hands to ease the flash. The sun was reflecting off a large piece of shiny metal, flat, protected from damage by a pile of rubble. It caught my attention firmly, and I felt the irrepressible need to investigate it, to touch it. I stumbled across the street, not bothering to look both ways, it hardly seemed the time to worry about the old common courtesies of times that seemed to have changed dramatically.

I stood over the pile of concrete crumbles and jagged miniature palisades of steel rebar, carefully putting one foot in front of the other in my little quest. While I shambled gently like a colt taking it’s first steps, my eyes took in thousands of images from the endless stimuli of this foreign seeming landscape.

The cars all looked like corpses, some of them were burnt to charcoal. Once charming houses making up a suburb now were piles of splinters and glass shards, like the cremated remains of the dead tossed to the wind.

I finally reached the pile of wreckage underneath which the piece of metal shone like a beacon. I now saw it lay beneath an gutted couch, with bits of stuffing catching in the wind like cottonwood seeds. I even saw some broken picture frames, empty, shattered reminders of a healthy, safe world long gone, bulldozed by un unforeseen event.

The metal was now within my reach, and I grabbed it with both hands, pulling with my back, legs and shoulders. Even with the glove protecting my palms, I could feel the heat of the metal on my exposed fingers, like a cookie sheet taken out of the oven. A screeching of concrete scraping steel, and I felt it slowly releasing, bit by bit, for it was huge, about the size of a plane’s wing.

It was bent into the shape of a dinner plate by the rubble that imprisoned it, it was battered into a surprisingly fetching mix of silver scrapes and turquoise splashes. I now could see what it was, one of those signs in a city that directs you somewhere. It was upside down, and a lot of the lettering had been battered away, so I couldn’t read it yet. Oh how I wanted to read it.

Now I could feel the pain in my muscles, my shoulders especially, it just seemed to keep feeding itself out like a scroll. Finally, after having dragged nearly ten feet of metal from the rubble, it gave, I fell backwards onto the fiercely hot ground, the huge sign clattering at my feet.

I got up shakily, stretching the tensility from my aching muscles. I could feel my face bleed again from my elevated heart rate, and I knew I had lost a dangerous amount of my blood. I would probably find a trail of it like bread crumbs going back to the pit where I had woken up.

I fumbled into the backpack for my canteen of warm water as I stood the sign on it’s side so as to read it. I twisted the cap off, some blood streaking on the edges, making it a bit slippery. I tilted it to my mouth to drink… until I saw what was on the sign.

From what little I could read behind the damage, it read:

Welcome to Denver. Population 554,363. Elevation: 5280 Feet.

It brought back a ton of memories I didn’t think I had, as I looked around I saw flashes of bustling streets, busy sidewalks, windows with faces looking out, and thousands, tens of thousands of people. All of that, the skyscrapers, the bridges, and over half a million souls, all gone in an flash because of some unknown catastrophe.

The hot wind suddenly kicked up with a heavy gust, and the sign fell onto its front, showing the backside. I saw writing, from another author. It was in spray paint, hastily scrawled, with the most atrocious grammar I’ve ever seen. Welcum 2 the Wastland. Populashun: All ded. Elevashun: 1 mile abuv Hell.

The canteen sat on my lips, frozen in place, and my mouth was now very dry. In the reflection of the steel sign, I saw something enormous behind me. I turned around slowly, not out of pain or aching, but out of sheer awe and terror.

There, on the middle of the horizon, towered a rising ball of fire and smoke, looming like a lumbering giant of destruction. It grew and grew, mushrooming into the sky, and clouds of ash blocked out the sun.

The area where I had awakened had fared relatively well, some buildings were still intact, sheltered from the thermonuclear blast by sturdier buildings which took the full force of the missile strike. I looked out into the skyline, the city center about four miles east of my position, and saw nothing but a huge sinkhole of buildings, machines, and bodies, all molten into a vile smelling mix.

I shook my head, my jaw slack in wonder. How had I alone survived? This was a ten second massacre, who knows how many innocent people were turned to ash before they even had a chance to scream for some God to save them.

Then my heart jumped higher than it was made to do, and I ran for cover, before I knew what I was doing I was hiding behind a massive chunk of concrete from a parking garage. I had heard someone moving out there.

It was human, nothing else walks with slow sounding footsteps or is heavy enough to dislodge rubble. It grew closer and closer, I could hear a guttural grunting from a damaged or dry throat. It had to be a survivor. I cleared my throat quietly, and called out in a timid voice.

“Hello? Is there someone out there?”

The footsteps immediately stopped. The world had become silent again. But there was a new smell in the stench. It smelled like burning meat, like bad food, it was a scent that makes any sensible human nervous.

It was the stench of death, and it was here.

I shook off my anxiety, and strode out to the street again. I looked around, seeing no one, but there was too much cover for them to hide in. I planted my feet and called out again, stronger this time.

“Is somebody out there? Are there any survivors?”

There it was again, the grunting. But it had taken on a new tone, less a benign grunting like a pig slopping around. It now sounded more like a dog, giving out the quiet order to move in.

I suddenly became aware of multiple sources, now several unseen assailants were responding to the call of the first like a wolf pack. I could sense the approach of many more footsteps, the sound of gravel dislodged underfoot, it was all around me.

I began to panic, and looked around for a weapon. I could now see shell casings lying everywhere, evidence of a huge but futile struggle against an enemy I had yet to face. There, leaning on the open door on a burnt out husk of a car, was an M4A1 assault rifle.

It had all the attachments and specs of the rifle standard to the United States Army, but I would’ve taken it if it were an age old musket if it meant I had something to defend myself with. I rushed for it, as the sounds were so near I swear I could’ve touched them. I reached the car, and grabbed the gun, ready to level it on the attackers.

I couldn’t move the gun very far, there was a charred, bony hand reaching out of the car like a creepy decoration, clutching the barrel with an iron death grip. I yanked, and pulled, until with a sickening, dry tearing noise like the uprooting of a sapling the arm gave way, leaving the hand still attached to the barrel. I grabbed it, and broke it off, the brittle fingers snapping like twigs and I pulled back the slide, cocking the weapon. I whirled around, ready to fight back, only to find myself dumbfounded again.

There were five of them, all in plain sight now. They, at first glance, looked like humans, standing upright, two arms and legs, and a head above their shoulders. But as I stared at them with horror, I saw they were not human, not anymore.

All of them were charred like burnt steaks, some of them steamed as their flesh boiled. One of them looked like a burnt puppet, all carbon black, moving with creaking joints. All of them were torn apart. There was a woman figure, most of her clothes were burnt off, and her entire front, chest, stomach, and throat, were torn to shreds as if by the teeth of a wild animal. A man crawled on the ground, both legs gone, dragging itself on a trail of it’s own blood and trailing guts. The others, a mix of women and men, looked more intact, but all bore signs of horrific wounds. All had flesh missing, one had the side of her neck gaping open, oozing a black gel of some kind. And worst of all, they all had strings of meat, fat and tendons stuck between their teeth, and drips of blood coming from their mouths.

And in spite of their horrific mutilations, they all were moving towards me. Their eyes were blank, those that still had eyes, they had turned a milky white, unseeing, dead eyes.
The gun trembled in my hand, and I found I could not aim at the pitiful sights. I screamed in horror at the creatures shambling towards me. “Jesus H Christ! What’s happened? What the hell happened?!”
My words seemed to stir them up, and with louder growls, they all raised their arms towards me with the intent of grabbing me. I could only sicken myself imagining what they would do to me. I steeled my nerves, and took aim with the rifle.
My finger acted of it’s own accord, and gunfire ripped the silence. I saw little spurts of black ooze burst from impact wounds on their chests, legs, stomachs. The weapon roared like a cornered lion, and I jammed the trigger as hard as I could, a hail of bullets tore into the abominations.

I saw one take a hit right in the heart and go flailing onto his back. As I started to shoot another, out of the corner of my vision I saw him getting right back up as if I hadn’t shot him at all. I was panicking, and fighting for my life, slowly retreating backwards down the leveled street.

The gun finally clicked empty, and still all five were following me, and now several more had emerged from alleyways and from under cars to join the assault. It was a pack, slowly growing into a horde. I quickly switched the dry magazine for a fresh one from my vest, and began firing again.

This time I was firing semi auto, careful not to miss or waste ammo. I knew I was hitting them, I knew I was supposed to be wasting them, yet they shrugged off everything I gave them. They were unstoppable, and now two more had arrived. I was faced with a wall of the creatures, and I was running out of room, backing into a cul-de-sac with no where to run.

Another mag empty, I was down to two full ones. I was desperate, and I decided on a different measure, I had to take out the heads. It’s a difficult shot, and my training revolved around aiming for the widest, biggest target on the human body, the chest. But there was no other way.
Reloading the rifle, looking up to see more than twenty assorted attackers, I dropped to one knee to steady my aim. I placed the red dot between the white, moonlike eyes of the closest attacker. It was the torn woman, and she looked right back at me down the sight. Why weren’t these things afraid of dying? Maybe they couldn’t feel fear. They weren’t human anymore.

I chanted this to myself as I fired, watching as the bullet flew right into the face of the woman. I saw a tidy blue hole appear in her forehead, and black, grey, and blueish matter blast out the back of the skull. She collapsed, not even twitching. She fell flat onto her back, her fellow attackers took no notice, stepping over her as they continued to shamble in my direction.

That’s all it took, my dander was up, and I felt my nerves turn to steel, and I placed the next target. It was easier this time, by now I had convinced myself, these things were monsters, and I needed to kill them. They needed to die, they had to die!

One by one, I popped their heads like water balloons, watching them fall back onto their own mess of bone and brains. The time blurred, I was winning, and I knew it. Finally, I dropped the 20th and last target, and I didn’t even flinch as I saw it crumple to the ground, it’s head blown clean of it’s brain. I was in hunter mode, I was no longer the hunted. Twenty shots, twenty kills. I felt the adrenaline surging through my once lethargic body. I was so focused on my blood pumping victory, I did not hear something behind me.

It must have crawled from under the wrecked Chevy that lay on it’s back behind me. I first heard it when it began to drag itself across a patch of shattered glass. Before I could turn around, I felt a grip of iron clasp around my ankle.

It’s legs were shredded tatters of cloth and tendons trailing behind it, and the arms were atrophied, but it was like a strongman’s arm, and my legs were thrown out from beneath me. My knuckles banged against the blacktop, and my rifle went clattering to the ground beyond my reach. My head also hit the ground, and everything fogged up for a moment.

I was brought back by high pressure to my toe. It felt like something was squeezing my boot with a vice. I brought my head up and looked at the afflicted foot. The crawler was still there, trying furiously to bite through the reinforced material of my left combat boot like a dog chewing a rubber ball, and it growled angrily, the material resisted its broken teeth.

I jolted back into action, and tried to free my boot, but this creature had a grip like steel. I brought up my free foot, the righthand one, and pumped the heel into the thing’s face. I felt a satisfying crunch as I connected with the jaw, dislocating it completely, rendering the teeth useless. I then swung back my right leg and soccer kicked my attacker full in the head.

I heard a sound like breaking a thick carrot in half, and it’s head snapped to a certainly unnatural angle. It twitched it’s hands for a moment, and then went limp. It’s hands relaxed their grip, and I kicked my left foot free again.

Once I was on my feet, I cast my eye around for my weapon. It had gone about ten feet from me, and I ran to grab it. Before I could get it, something wrapped itself around my waist in a tackle, and I was on the ground again. I felt fists pound my face, jolting my head back and forth.
It was small, a teenager I think, and it weighed so little it was a wonder it had knocked me down at all. I returned the blow, feeling it slam into a thin cheek, and my attacker leapt away, cursing in some language I didn’t understand.

This got my attention, those things I had just fought and killed, they didn’t talk, and they certainly didn’t back down. I looked up and saw my latest assailant in full light.

Goodness, T thought, it can’t have been more than 16 years old. She, for it was in fact a girl, wore a torn hoodie, and fingerless gloves and slim jeans, along with muddied converse shoes. She now had sat down against a wall, crying her eyes out, murmuring in what, years later, I could tell was Spanish.

I immediately felt terrible, although I wasn’t sure why. I edged my way towards her, slowly offering my hand in peace. She wouldn’t look up at me, she was still bawling like a little child. I gained the courage to lay my hand on her shoulder, and to my surprise she didn’t fight me. I kneeled down, and she lifted her tear soaked face.

She was easily young enough to my daughter. She looked me right in the eye, and I again felt miserable when I saw the growing bruise on her left cheek.

“Hey uh, sorry about that” I said sheepishly.

She brushed her black hair out of her eyes back into her hood and sniffled. “It’s ok.”

I was shocked by this, I had heard her curse me in clear Spanish, and now she spoke forgivingly in English. However I didn’t mind the change, I knew no Spanish at the time.

“Why’d you attack me?”

She lowered her eyes at this, as if embarrassed. “I heard gunfire, and thought perhaps some soldiers were here. I ran this way, hoping to get rescued, and I saw you. Your face, it spooked me, all those bandages and all that blood. I panicked, and blindly attacked. I’m very sorry.”

I nodded, touching a new tender spot on my previously undamaged left cheek. “I don’t imagine you’ll be the last.” I tried a weak smile, but the torn side of my face didn’t like it. I pulled her to her feet, and having grabbed the rifle, I began walking. She followed me, staying behind me like one would behind a parent. I began to feel nervous, we were out of the cul-de-sac, and she hadn’t said a word. So, clearing my dry throat, I tried to strike conversation. “What’s your name?”

“Ruby.”

It was a nice name, and I nodded. But she didn’t say anything more beyond the clipped answer, so I continued.
“How’re you still alive?”

“I was hiding in a subway tunnel from the firebomb, and waited till the flames died down. I stayed far away from the area of the missile strike. I didn’t want to get sick from radiation poisoning.”

“You seem to know a lot about all this.”

She nodded nervously, and wiped her face on her sleeve. “Yeah. My dad, he’s a soldier in the U.S. Army, and we all lived here. We had a nice house, just down the hill.”

Ruby pointed down the road to our left, towards where I had woken up. From here I could see a blazing crater, and many smoldering wrecks of houses. I turned my eye away when I saw three burning corpses lying in the street. They looked like dead beetles.

“…And then it all hit the fan.” She finished, putting her hands in her pockets.

I looked around, and agreed that it certainly had.

We had been walking for about five minutes, when I finally asked her the biggest question on my mind. “So, what the hell happened here?”
She looked at me in shock. “What? How could you not know, the military’s been on the front lines of this whole thing since it happened.”
I reached up, tapping my bandaged skull with the rifle barrel. She looked confused, then seemed to have put two and two together. “Are you one of those guys? I thought that only happened in movies.”

I grinned. “Nope. Must’ve took one big hit to the noggin.”

“Yet you know how to use that?” she gestured to the rifle slung across my chest. ”And how to talk?”

I shrugged at this. “Dunno about the talking thing, maybe that’s built in no matter what. And the gun… it’s all been instinctual. Plus, I think I’m remembering stuff again.”

She nodded. “That’s good.”

After another five minutes, the girl pointed to a large green vehicle parked carelessly in the middle of the road. It was untouched by the firebombing, as was most of this area. She ran up to it, smiled, and patted the armored skin like one does a horse.

It was bigger than a car. I saw a big, mean looking gun on top, and the front, hood and windshield were spattered with blood. I swear I saw some fingers stuck in the grill. Without taking time to look, I yanked open the door.

I was bombarded by the fierce smell that one gets when they return from vacation to find rotten food in their fridge, and I recoiled, covering my mouth and shutting my eyes. Over the intense droning of flies, I could barely hear a frenzied growl. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I felt two bony hands, creaky and putrid, lock onto my shoulders and I felt someone pushing me onto my back.

I heard Ruby scream as we tumbled. It was on me, I smelt the vile breath, and knew that if I opened my eyes I’d be greeted by something very unpleasant. So I wrestled blindly, pushing with all my might, but his hands were like handcuffs, in spite of being half claimed by rot and maggots. How were these things so strong?

I had dropped my gun, so I could use both my hands. I gave up pushing it away, and now got it around the throat, trying to break it’s atrophied neck. I heard it growling, it wasn’t a choked noise, just angry. Suddenly, a loud bang numbed my eardrums. I heard a loud splat, and my attacker went limp, falling on top of me like a puppet, almost kissing me. I felt it expel a cloud a vile cloud of defiled air out it’s mouth right into mine.

For the first time I could remember, I wanted to vomit, and, kicking the creature off of me, I rolled over and pasted the pavement with Case 4 MRE. My stomach emptied, I kinda laughed at the stuff as it congealed in the heat. It sure looked worse than I remembered it.

I turned about, to see Ruby, shaking like a leaf, holding the gun that seemed to dwarf her. She held it like I did, across the chest, barrel pointing safely downward.

She looked at me, then at the dead creature who’s head was oozing what little was left in the skull, and at the gun. “I’m… I’m sorry.”
I waved her concern away, and stood up, shaking even worse than her. “No… no you… you did good kiddo.”

I took the gun back, and draped the strap over the back of my neck. “You used this like a pro.”

She nodded, and smiled a bit. “Yeah, my dad taught me. He also taught me how to use his service pistol. He said ‘they’ll never expect a girl to be looking back at them behind the gun.’”

“Smart man your dad.” I gave the creature a soft kick, just to see if it would try to move. It certainly didn’t. I saw it had a uniform like mine, but without all the gear, just a driver I guess.

Before I could pat her on the shoulder, I heard another growl, and looked around in terror.

In the minutes after the gunshot, a ring of the monsters had emerged from all directions, some of them from the undamaged houses, I saw one crawl from a ditch, two more crawled out of the back of a red pickup. We were ringed in.

Ruby gulped, knowing that her shot had gotten a lot of unwanted attention. “Oh God.. I’m so sorry!”

I took a head count, had to be thirty of them, all groaning and growling like sick dogs. Ruby put her back to mine, and I fumbled at the side of my pant leg. Undoing a strap, I pulled a pistol from it’s holster and jammed it into her wrist.

“Here, more your size.”

Over the echoing chorus of growling and moaning, came a clattering roar from a machine gun, and a huge armored vehicle swung into sight, careening towards us. The creatures began to fall like wheat before a scythe, and those that endured the hail of bullets were splattered on the vehicle’s front end. It came to a stop not five yards from us.

The back end opened, and about ten men in uniforms leapt out. Two of them went to the still wriggling corpses and began began dispatching them with head shots, but the other eight circled us, training their weapons on me. They all wore ominous gas masks, wore thick green uniforms like mine, and were armed to the teeth.

“On the ground!” One of them scream through his mask. I looked down the barrels of eight assault rifles, and felt laser pointers dancing across my chest. I put myself between them and the girl.

“Don’t hurt her.” I said calmly, slowly laying my gun on the asphalt. I kneeled down, my head held high, my hands held palms open. Two men shouldered their firearms and dashed forward to seize me. I lowered my head, and prepared to be roughhoused by the men in masks.

Then we all were stopped by a loud gasp from behind me. The soldiers froze in place, not alerted or scared, just paused in surprise. I turned, and the girl’s face had paled with shock. She pointed to my face, the left side which wasn’t obscured by bandages, and reached out to touch it. She looked into my eyes, and began crying anew. And then she did something that caught me off guard. She threw her arms around me, weeping, but happily so this time.

Over her sobbing, and sniffling, I heard her squeak one word. “Daddy.”

I was floored, and hugged her back. She saw me as her dad, and yet I did not know her. Two soldiers gently pulled her off me, and, holding me by the arms, escorted us into the back of their vehicle. It reminded me of the inside of a ribcage, with heavy cloth covering the frame. It was like a cage, yet it felt safe. It was nice and cold inside.

My daughter sat across from me, between two huge soldiers with their gas masks, her eyes down as if horrified to look at me. I’m sure that, if there were a vanity mirror in the back of these armor plated truck, I would have been too. I tried to smile, but it felt like someone stabbing thumb tacks into the bandages. All we could do was look at each other, before I was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the transport.

When I awoke, I wondered if I had again woken up in a different world. The truck had just stopped, and I opened my eyes as the soldiers filed out the open back end of the vehicle. My daughter went first, and then me, and I almost fell down.

Overhead swept a deep, blue sky, floored on the horizon by what at first looked like clouds, all towards what remained of Denver. All around me I could see everything bursting with life. Thousands of people filed about, a quarter of them in uniforms of all kinds, a lot them like mine. I saw men and women in work suits, in casual clothes, some of them only had bed clothes and emergency blankets. And children of all ages, many of them had backpacks, they must’ve been in school only days ago.

And the herd wasn’t just made up of humans, I saw dogs zipping about, birds in cages, a lot of cows and horses. A few cats perched lazily or hunted quietly, and I swear I even saw an ox.

I looked beyond the crowd, and saw a high wall made of huge metal cargo containers, soldier and citizen alike wandered the top with guns, firing out beyond the wall occasionally. And beyond the wall stretched mountains and ridges, endless trees, and even some waterfalls. I grabbed the shirt sleeve of a man walking by. He was in a suit, like he had just come back from the office.

“Hey, where the hell are we?”

He put his hand on my should softly, and gave me a sorrowed look. “Glenwood. Everything farther east is gone man, The Eastern Seaboard, the Plains, everything east of the Rockies.”

I had no time to ask more questions before two military officers came and asked me to come with them to be “decontaminated”.

After intensive showers and tests, details were provided to fill the blanks. Some disease had hit the country, coming from the east coast ports and spreading inland. By the time we recognized it, it had hit half the country. Those who got the disease died, and became, apparently, the creatures that now stumbled about. Pretty sad if you ask me, the most intelligent creatures on the planet down to the two legged equal of a bacteria.

Funny statement that, they were carriers of the disease even after death, in all essence a two legged bacteria, a bipedal virus, a mobile sickness.

We had been lucky, it could’ve spread through the airlines, as it can only be spread by contact with infected blood. We had been able to fence it off at the mountains, to save the rest of the country. What little was left to save.

Apparently, my men were deployed to Denver, where everyone was told to just stay indoors, that they’d be ok once the army arrived. But it was far worse there than the higher-ups could’ve guessed. I had abandoned my unit to go find my family, instead of fleeing the incoming bombs, and that had put me in the immediate area of a bomb strike.

Over the course of the story, I heard words like the Denver outbreak, containment failure, and decontamination. They meant nothing to me, not that I didn’t understand them, I just didn’t care. I was still tired and drained from my battle for survival.

I paid attention when I was told that my family… they all died when a napalm strike hit our neighborhood. Except my daughter Ruby, who hadn’t been home when the bombing commenced. Yet I didn’t feel anger, not at first. How cruel is it that you don’t cry for your lost loved ones because you forgot them? My injury caused me to not remember them, not my wife, sons, sisters, brothers, not even my daughter. That thought is what provoked me to cry, I cried because I did not remember them.

I looked out the door, seeing Ruby sitting nervously in the hall, probably waiting for me. I did smile to myself a bit. At least I had her still, I still had a chance to know my family again, to know her again. Finally I was told that, once I recovered, me and my daughter would be moved to a safe zone in Grand Junction.

But before we left, I chanced to ask the doctors what had happened to me. Again, I heard a lot of terms that were meaningless, but then I heard amnesia, damage to the cerebral cortex. It was a miracle that I had survived the wound, never mind the nuclear blast.

You see, one of the soldiers who had picked us up came in with my old helmet. I almost didn’t recognize it. It was bent in half, with a huge crater in the side deep enough to hide a cake. It had been impaled on a steel beam hurled by the explosion, and had not the chin strap broken it would’ve taken my head clean off. I remember running my hand along the helmet, watching my hand disappear into the massive dent. I looked from the helmet to my daughter, sitting in a chair just outside the examination room, and chuckled to myself.

A miracle indeed.

Credit To – Evan Dollarhide

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My Trip to Canada

April 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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There are so many things that I wish could be buried in the deepest parts of my mind. There are things that I pray could be locked away forever. The truth though is that once something like that happens, there really is no way to get away from it. I guess that is why I felt the need to share my story with everyone. The only way to stop it from eating away at my mind might be to let others know what happened to my friends and I that weekend. You see, school had just gotten out and I wanted to do something noteworthy to start off summer break. I was always a sucker for the outdoors so I talked to my best friend Michael about going camping in the forest. He was a little sketchy at first but we had been on these types of trips before; during those times things always turned out great so he agreed and from that point we got others to join us. In the end it was me, Michael, Jessie, and Samantha all packed into a single car driving down the highway. Our trunk was stuffed to the brim with food, tents and all the gear we were going to need. Of all the places we could have gone to in Canada we chose the Aspen Parkland.

I can’t remember what it was that made me choose that place; when it came down to it I remember pointing to the closest place on Google maps and we started our journey. It took us about three hours to drive up there but when we stepped out of that car and felt the breeze push against our skin we knew that it was well worth the wait. I hopped onto the hood of my car immediately and closed my eyes as the wind blew through my hair. Jessie and Michael were out running through the field of grass trying to race each other and Samantha of course had gone to the one spot upwind and lit up a cigarette. The smoke made me open my eyes immediately just to see her sitting in the grass like a Native with her legs crossed. I was planning to yell at her but I didn’t see the point so I slid off the hood and unlocked up the trunk. All of our bags had been packed before we got there so I grabbed mine and jimmied it over my shoulders. Samantha bolted up from the ground and ran over to get hers on “We’re heading out already?”

“Might as well” I said back to her. And with that she got her pack on and we both called out to Michael and Jessie who got theirs on. The four of us felt like explorers of some kind when we set off into the wilderness. The weather was a bit chilly but the adventure in our hearts was far beyond that of any child. Maybe that is pulling threads a little to thin but I am just being honest with the way I felt. We must have walked for a good mile before we reached the forest line that we had spotted earlier. I was the first to enter the brush and I beckoned the others after me. They followed close behind since I was the only one with any real outdoor experience.

More than once a few of them jumped back in fright at the sight of a squirrel, or anything that moved for that matter. When we had reached an opening in the trees we had found a small creek to fill up our canteens. As I filled my canteen they all stopped dead in their tracks to look up. My head rose to meet their gaze and the four of us saw it. There was a beautiful Canadian moose just a few feet away from the creek we were resting at. We watched as it drank from the creek, completely ignoring us. Samantha struggled to get her phone out to take a picture while Michael tried to get closer to so that I could whisper out some moose trivia. It stayed there at the creek for only about five minutes before leaving but it made an impression on all of us. I wish that could have been where we headed back to the car and set up our tents but fate had other things planned for us.

Just as the moose was out of our view, we saw something else emerge from the forest. On the other side of the creek, at the top of a small hill was a completely naked man. He was tall and muscular with hair covering his chest and legs like a wild beast. His sideburns were like delicious lamb chops of fury; his eyebrows were angled strongly enough to invoke fear into all of us. We were scared the second we saw him; we became petrified when we saw the hand axe clutched in his right palm. None of us dared speak but he saw the four of us there at the creek with our canteens in our hands. And he called out to us in his thick Canadian accent.

“Aye you youngsters. What are you doing around these parts? Don’t ya know there is a serial killer round here trying to kill people?”

Michael locked eyes with the man and shook his head in despair. None of us dared to look away from his naked body for even a second; we kept our vision dead square upon him. He would occasionally scratch his junk while the soft wind blew against our faces and in that moment it felt like we were in a swamp filled thick with maple syrup. I tried to stay calm but I knew that he was seriously messed up when he procured a stack of pancakes from out of nowhere and then began to eat them right in front of us. I tried to resist the urge to go and join him and luckily my willpower was strong enough to hold me back; Jessie’s willpower was not. He removed his pack and began stepping towards the naked Canadian; we tried to warn him but he was in a trance. He stood beside the crazed Canadian “Mind if I have some?” Jessie asked. The Canadian raised his knife and brought it down into the stack of pancakes, cutting them dead in half and then handing the other half to Jessie.

“Sure thing aye, have as much as you like, I got plenty with me”

Just when we though the horror was over, the Canadian lowered his hands again and pulled up several more plates loaded with pancakes. I tried to be polite about it when he offered them to me “No thank you sir, I’m not very hungry” but every time I rejected his offers I felt a knot tie inside my heart. I knew the polite thing to do would be to accept the pancakes but doing so would mean my doom. It was already happening to Jessie; the Canadian man was talking to him and making him feel nice and at home. But I could never trust a fully nude man since the incident at summer camp, maybe a semi-nude man but definitely not a completely naked one. So there Jessie and the man sat, right at the top of the ridge by the creek. The two of them sat there eating those fluffy light pancakes with sweet sticky syrup topping and it made the rest of us water at the mouth. But our pre-assumptions were broken and we learned how bitter the syrup could be.

The Canadian stood up after finishing his plate of pancakes and he pulled out a large pot (once again I have no idea where he was getting these things). He lifted the pot above his head and we could see steam rising through the top; before we could warn him, we watched as boiling hot syrup was poured all over his body. Jessie screamed out so loudly that it seemed his mouth was about to break.
“Sorry about that aye, my hand slipped” those words swept through us like fire and we knew he was still the sadistic and polite Canadian we had known him to be. But what could we do? He apologized and because of that it would be rude if we ran away, and so we stood still and gave him some common courtesy, Jessie included. I was shocked to find that although Jessie was in agonizing pain he stood still and tried to finish the pancakes; there was not much else he could do in the presence of such a polite man. I took my eyes off of him for one second and found him again with his hand upon his knife and his knife inside of Mike.

Mike’s body twitched with the blade deep in his belly and uttered out the words: “W…Why?”

The Canadian smiled and placed one hand against the back of his head and said “Geez aye, I just seem to be a klutz today. Sorry about all that, didn’t mean to stab you.”
“DAMN IT” I thought to myself; with all of this politeness he might just get the best of us. Sam and I clutched our hands together and closed our eyes. The last thing we saw was the Canadian walking towards us with his knife waiting to accidentally run into us with it. We waited for the blade to pierce us but it never did; instead, we heard nothing but silence. Then we smelt it; the fresh aroma of maple leaves. When we finally had the courage to open our eyes we saw our red clothed savior standing between the killer and us.

It was a Canadian trooper in full apparel with his entire body in the Master of Manners position.

“Don’t worry kids, you’re safe now”. My soul flew back into the realm of existence when I heard him say that to me. I doubted his power at first but the two Canadians were locked in battle of politeness and every second that they fought was a second Samantha and I would be alive. Nothing happened for the longest time, it was just the wind blowing and a few hand signals between the two; occasionally they would bow. But our hero was turned into a monster when the naked Canadian said to the trooper “Would you please kill that girl behind you?”

Shit, he did it again, he asked politely and now the Canadian trooper had his hands around Samantha. Tears rolled down his eyes as life left her body and the blood disappeared from her anguished face. She collapsed and the knife was now deep inside the trooper with the naked Canadian behind him whispering into his ear “Sorry about that aye. I was just trying to murder you.”

“No problem aye” said the trooper as he fell to the floor with the knife still firm in his back. I know for certain I would have been next if it weren’t for my quick thinking.

“Excuse me sir, would you mind if I ran back to my car and escaped your murderous rampage?” the words came blurting out of my mouth and I ended up having to say the phrase twice, but it worked. The naked man grew tired in his eyes as he waited patiently for me to escape his bloodlust, so I did just that.

I ran at a steady pace all the way to my car and when the keys met the ignition my foot met the pedal and my memories left that place behind. I told the police about it several days later but they never went to search for him because doing so would be “impolite” by Canadian police standards. They did however find the dead bodies of my friends in that forest; the polite and murderous Canadian had properly buried them. It was a nice gesture but only I know the truth about his intentions, only I know the true shades of his swelling predatorial nature. To this day the scars of my psyche remain apparent in my life.

No longer can I eat pancakes; the smell of syrup makes me nauseous. My hands begin to shake whenever I turn on the hockey channel. Even though I know he is gone I never know for how long, even now I still have haunting of his presence. I have found Maple leaves in my mailbox and sometimes when I go shopping there is someone politely holding the door for me. But most of all I still hear his animalistic call.
“Aye” it says, “Aaaaaaaayeeeeeeee” the voice calls across the distance between us.

The words themselves bring chills to my spine and to this day I wait for him to return and finish me off.

…Damn Canadians.

Credit To – Brandon Puff

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The Cold Man

March 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I moved to London in 2011.
The reason for my move to London is very simple, but holds a legend so shocking that I’m not even sure of its truth: only its impact.
Up until three years ago, I lived in the town of Wickford, Essex. For those of you who are not well-versed in the geography of south-east England, Wickford is, by definition, a shit hole. Made up of a high-street with nothing bigger than a small WH Smiths, a Co-operative, and a 99p Store. It is a boring and scuzzy place, an urban cesspit.
I didn’t leave because of these factors.
Running through Wickford is the River Crouch. Whilst parts of the Crouch in Wickford are slightly nice-looking, the town centre’s section of the Crouch is banked by concrete, a provision put into place following two floods back in the late 1950s. The result of this is a complex, and very ugly, tunnel system, interlocking with the sewers.
Now that I have provided sufficient context for the, perhaps true, myth, I will begin.
*
In 1979, a pupil at a local secondary school (the name of which I genuinely don’t know, adding to the idea that this legend is make belief) was feared. His name was Jack Kayden, and whilst a popular womanizer, his mean streak bordered on sadism. He relished in putting his other peers in pain, so much so that he made your average playground bully seem generous. Kayden’s good looks were unmatched, even though his grin was apparently wolf-like and deeply unsettling. On a fateful, stormy night in the middle of winter 1979, a group of the more commonly targeted of Kayden’s antics felt that they had finally taken enough grief from him. They attacked him as he strolled down London Road. The group of six boys and two girls bagged him. They lugged the powerless Kayden to underneath the London Road bridge, and to the partially-concealed concrete Crouch bank.
I’m not totally sure what those eight people precisely did to Kayden, but I do know that his face was mutilated to the point that he was unrecognizable. They then left him for dead. His body, however, was never found, and the police ceased their search for him three years later.
*
In 1986, one of the girls was found naked at the same place that Kayden had been mutilated. Her neck had been snapped, and her entrails were littered on the concrete of the bank. Pinned to her forehead was a note.
“Cold.”
The police struggled to find a motive. The unmarried girl had just given birth to a daughter, but the confrontational father, who was not in a relationship with the girl any more, had an alibi. Unable to find a convincing perpetrator, the case went unsolved. Six months later, a young sewage maintenance officer was discovered by a co-worker. There were clear signs of a struggle: he had been grabbed from behind and drowned in the water. Again, he was one of those who had attacked Kayden.
*
For a time just prior to my move to London, I attempted to research these murders. Unfortunately, the records for Wickford’s local newspaper, the Weekly Echo, only exist from 1968-74, and then from 1995 onwards.
The atmosphere that the supposed murders left was toxic, and that was evidence enough for me to want to leave.
I did find one article that worked as a kind of evidence. From June 1999 was the report of a twelve year old girl’s disappearance near the River Crouch. The author mentioned in passing that the girl’s mother had died “in 1986, under similar circumstances to [the girl’s] disappearance”. I still wander today if this means that Kayden was also after the children of his original victims.
*
A further four of the boys that had played a part in the attack on Kayden were gruesomely murdered in the late 1980s. Because I am unsure of these four men’s names, I will refer to them as B1, B2, B3 and B4. B1’s decapitated body was left on the road, and his head just under a sewer grate. B2 was stabbed to death, with the word “cold” carved into his forehead. B3 and B4 were found sewn together, and had clearly starved to death, stuck in the middle of a sewage pipe, clogging the waste.
The girl that had not been killed back in ’86 was abducted in March 1991, aged around 27. She was childless, just as all of the other victims had been (bar the first girl). This girl was never murdered. Instead, she was sighted at the High Street three months after she was taken, with a blank expression. She jumped in front of a car.
There was now only one of Jack Kayden’s attackers left alive. This boy, now a man, became a father in April 1992. I am his son.
*
Allow me to clarify a few details here. I am now 22 years old. I was 19 when I left Wickford. The fact that the first girl’s daughter was killed by Kayden haunts me to the core. After all, my dad was himself killed and skinned by Jack Kayden in 1994. My mother hesitantly told me the story in 2008, after which I went on my researching spree. As I asked around and filled in holes in the story, I likewise talked to people who claimed that my father had died in a car accident, or drowned. I have absolutely no idea why these people would want to actively protect Kayden. Maybe they were in denial.
One night in 2010, I simply sat down and thought about incidents in my life that I had no explanation for. The more that I looked back through my memories, the more that I believed in the legend of Jack Kayden. I noted that when I started at the Bromfords senior school in the Grange area of Wickford, my mother had specifically ordered me to take a longer route than the more convenient London Road way. Obviously, she was worried for my safety that close to Kayden’s lair. I remembered an afternoon in the summer holidays, when I was around eight years old. An ugly, bald man that I had assumed to be wearing a very realistic Halloween mask walked up to me as I rode my bike up and down my street. He asked me if I wanted to meet my dad. I told the man that my father was dead, to which he pulled a very sinister expression – strangely visible through the mask, I had thought – and remarked,
“I know.”
I was totally creeped out, and biked home faster than ever before.
*
So why did I abruptly drop everything and make the move in 2011?
My mother died of cancer in late-2010. I inherited her house. This heightened my sense of fear day-to-day.
Every time I heard the wind, I jumped. Every time I saw my reflection, my heart skipped a beat.
In November 2011, more than three decades after Kayden’s mutilation, I failed to sleep on a stormy night. I kept hearing noises around the house, but whenever I went to investigate, I found no intruder. I was driven so sick by this, that I packed up a small bag, and caught the train to London Liverpool Street station, to stay with my mother’s family there (they had previously offered to host me routinely since my mother’s death).
I have never gone back to Wickford.
Instead, I asked my friends to collect my possessions into a moving van, and I instructed real estate agents to put my house on the market.
Like I said before, the reason for my move to London is simple, but holds a very shocking legend.
The reason that I moved to London is that the police called me on my first afternoon at my aunt and uncle’s house. They informed me that there had been a break-in at my Wickford residence, but that nothing had been taken. Instead, one word had been scrawled on walls all over the house.
“Cold”.

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The Caul

March 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Content warning: this pasta contains some gore.

He was born with a caul. That was all we knew, and that was all we needed to know. It was a hideous deformity, an extra layer of skin that covered at birth his face at birth and marked him for what he was. I never even learned his name, and I am not sure he had one. He was simply the boy with the caul.

In some places it was seen as a sign of good luck. People would say it predestined wealth, or ensured long life. Old cowls were sold to sailors to protect from downing. They were a blessing, outsiders would say.

But we knew better.

It was the sign of the devil. It was a sign of a creature so hideous, God himself would cover his face. His eyes would be sharp and mesmerizing, they would draw you in like magnets and hypnotize you. They would peer into your soul to see your secrets and possess you. His speech would be luring and tantalizing, it would demand your attention then bend words to trick and control you. His mind was clever, not with the wisdom of man but with the cunning of a fox, designed to outwit and trap you. A thousand times people like him had come into the world, and a thousand times they had used these traits to kill and destroy the lives of innocent people. And for these reasons our God had chosen to hide him from us, and mark him as evil.

When he was born they said he should be killed. The Pastor demanded it, calling the town to arms to take him into the forest and bury him alive. This, he said, was the only way to ensure he’d be taken back to Hell. Many agreed, and surrounded his parent’s house. They lit torches and shouted for the child, demanding he be handed over. They chanted and chanted, calling for his blood. They would not allow such a creature into their village, and would kill anyone who tried to get in their way. If need be, they would burn down the house with him inside then bury the ashes. The mother cried and cried, but knew it was what was best. They all did, and accepted that it must happen. The boy had to die.

For me the story began on a hot Sunday in August. Church had just ended, and most of the families had gathered for a small festival in the center of the village. The several dozen houses and buildings in the town formed a circle around a large field, separating the forest from where we were standing. The Church with its high steeple stood at one end, and the only road in or out was directly opposite of it. Along the road were the farms and lumber mills where the people nearby made their living.

The day in question was an annual celebration. Its date wasn’t set in stone, it just needed good weather and was always on a Sunday when strawberries would be fresh. Piles and piles of them were brought into the central field and shared among anyone who came by.

I was eleven at the time, and was eager to celebrate. I dressed in my best, a brown coat and matching pants, and was lead around by my mother’s hand. I already had a bag full of the berries attached to my belt, and I ate them slowly with my free hand. The red juice dripping down my face and hands, as we walked through the gathered crowds. I suppose there weren’t really that many people there, but to me it seemed like a huge event. I thought anyone who was anyone would be there.

However, when I was there I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. By chance I had glanced toward a house at the edge of the village. It was a house I knew well, but had never gone in. It was the only one outside the circle, standing at the very edge of the forest and half consumed by it. Many times at night I had heard cries and moans coming from it, sounds that every child heard but every adult seemed to deny existed. I had never seen anyone enter or leave it in the eleven years I was alive.

Today was different. I looked at the highest window of the house. It was shuttered, but a crack in the shutter let me see into it. There I saw seen a face I had never seen before. It seemed to be the same age as me, with a thin face but thick, dark brown hair. It stared wishfully toward the celebration, a look of sadness and desire that comes from seeing something you desperately want but will never have.

I tugged on my mother’s hand. She was a pretty woman, with light brown hair, blue eyes and a face that was used to smiling.

“Momma,” I asked “who is that boy?”

She looked at me with a smile. “Who do you mean, John?”

“The young boy in that window over there.” I pointed towards the window I had seen him.

A look of dread came into my mother’s eyes, and she went pale. “That was… that was no one. Don’t ask about it.”

“But there was someone there! See…” I looked back, but the window was empty. “Well there was someone.”

“Well even if there is he’s gone. Forget about it.”

“But I was sure I…”

“No,” she said sternly. “No more of this. I don’t want to hear any more!” By the end she was almost shouting, and people had turned to look. Embarrassed, she took my by the hand and led my back to our house. I protested, wanting to get back to the party and not understanding what I had done wrong, but she dragged me into my room.

My father was right behind her. He was perhaps the largest man in the village, and was broad shouldered and muscular. His look of anger was enough to terrify anyone, especially me. He grabbed me by the shoulder and pointed a finger at my face. “Look boy,” he said “you better forget what you think you saw. Whether there was something there or not there was no person there. Get it out of your head.” He left and shut the door behind himself.

But I couldn’t get the face out of my mind. It was burned into it, etched into my thoughts. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his. My parents both told me there was nothing there, and ordered me to stay away. Sometimes I wish I had listened, or even could have listened. But I knew I had seen something. I wanted, needed to know what it was I was willing to do anything to see it.

That night I paced back and forth in my room. I had tried to sleep, but couldn’t get it out of my mind. The thought was possessing me, luring me toward the window and the boy who may or may not have been inside.

I made up my mind. Though I consciously decided against it, my unconscious mind that demanded I go, and after hours of fighting it I relented.

I opened the door to my room and stuck my head out, listening. I didn’t hear any movement, and assumed my parents were both asleep. I snuck out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door.

Once I was out I was running. It was dangerous to be out at night, especially near the forest. Wild animals filled it and could attack you at any moment, tear you to pieces and consume you before anyone could come to help. There were even rumours of things worse than animals, things that God could not look at, and we all knew to stay away. However, tonight I had to go through.

I ran outside the circle of houses and towards the edge of the forest. My heart raced faster and faster as I ran, warning me of the danger I could be in. The shadows of the trees blocked the moonlight, leaving me in near pitch darkness. The branches reached towards me like claws, waiting for any slip or trip to grab a hold of me and pull me inside. Every sound and movement seemed like a creature waiting for a chance to pounce on me.

I ran and ran, and finally reached the house. I looked up at it. There, at the top of the house, was the shuttered window. I knew I needed to find a way inside.

I looked around me. One of the branches of the nearest tree came very close to the window. I ran to the trunk and climbed it. I climbed along the branch and peered through the crack of the shutter. Inside it was pitch black. I tried the latch on the window. The metal on the latch was bent into place and wouldn’t budge, and the hinges were worn and rusted. I climbed down the tree again, grabbed a rock, and climbed back up.

Everything I knew warned against it. I had seen the fear in my mother’s face, and the anger in my father’s at the suggestion I may come here. Even the room itself seemed to scream danger. The darkness inside could conceal anything, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what it hid. My parents insisted I hadn’t seen another human, and I didn’t want to know what that implied.

However, I had seen something, and had to know what it truly was. I rammed the stone against the latch, bending it slightly back to how it should be. I rammed it again and again, until it was strait and I could open it. I did so, and yanked at the shutters, only to find they were tied with rope as well. I tore at the string, breaking it piece by piece until it fell down toward the ground. I paused a moment. It was clear that someone didn’t want the shutters open. They must truly have feared whatever was inside. I sat in the tree, shaking with fear for what seemed like an eternity. Every ounce of reason I had warned me against what I was doing, but the desire to see was overwhelming. While my dread pushed me away, the face and my curiosity of it drew me in. I looked back through the forest. The idea of going back was almost as terrifying as going forward. In the end, I simply couldn’t resist it. I pulled at the shutters, causing them to squeak and moan. I looked in.

The blackness inside was impenetrable. The only illumination was a small square of moonlight which came from the window, partially blocked by my own head. The rest of the room was impossible to see. With a gulp of fear, I stepped in.

Instantly I regretted the decision. I stumbled and feel as I stepped, my face landing on wooden floor boards covered in dust. The panic inside me rose dramatically, and I tried to gain my feet but tripped over an unseen object in the darkness. I hit my head against a wall, and remained on the floor for a moment, dizzy.

I became aware of another being inside the room. I could not see it, and had no idea what it was. At first there was only the indescribable sense of something being there, and the knowledge that it was watching me. Though I couldn’t identify it, I feared it, and everything inside me told it was dangerous. I didn’t know what, but there was something wrong with it.

I heard footsteps, light ones which were difficult to hear and impossible to place. My breath caught, and I looked around in the darkness, trying to find out where the footsteps where coming from. However, there was no sign of who, or what, made them. I was left immobile from fear.
“You shouldn’t have come here” a voice said. It was deep and low, with a hard edge that conveyed hate despite being little more than a whisper.

Instantly I scrambled toward the window of light. However, I heard the tell-tale creak of the rusted shutters. As I reached toward it in vain, the light was cut off from me, and I heard the latch go into place. I was left in complete darkness.

I squeezed my eyes shut, praying for something to save me. I begged for forgiveness for my sins, and desperately wished it was a dream. However, I knew nothing would come to save me from my mistakes.

A light flashed in front of me. For a second it was blinding, and my eyes stung from trying to look at it. Slowly it settled into the light of a single candle.

The light focused on the outline of a body holding a club, raised high in the air above me. The face was the one I had seen earlier, and it snarled at me. I cowered, holding my hands up and looking away.

“Please don’t hurt me!” I said “I only came to see who you were!”

“LIAR!” he said. “This is another trick! What were you planning to do while I slept? What would have happened if I didn’t get you first?”

“Nothing! I… I swear!”

“No! You’re a thief and a murderer! You were here for me, but I’ll get you first!” He kicked at my stomach, and I groaned from the impact.

“No, please! I swear I’m not! I’m a friend!” I cried desperately.

I lay still, waiting for the club to come down. I briefly wondered if I would even feel it, or if it would crack my skull on the first blow. I whimpered, wishing I hadn’t come.

But the club never came. I looked up to see him still standing above me holding the club, but he looked confused.

“Friend?” he asked. “Why?”

“I…. I don’t know. I just saw you earlier and wondered who you were.” I replied.

He lowered the club slightly, but still held onto it. As my eyes grew accustomed to the light I saw that it was really the broken leg of a chair. The object I had tripped over was the edge of a cot which was on the floor.

“How do I know this isn’t some kind of trick?” He asked.

“Why would I trick you?” I had suddenly remembered the bag of strawberries that was still at my belt. I took one out and handed it to him. “Here! Have a strawberry” I said.

He reached for it and looked at it curiously. Suddenly he snarled again. “Liar! This is a trick again!” He threw the strawberry at me, and raised the club.

“No! I swear! Here look.” I took one out of the bag and began eating it, then handed him another.
He looked at it for a moment, then took a tentative bite. His eyes went wide, and he said “It’s good!”

I nodded, and he kept eating. For a moment I saw the same look of sad wish fullness I had seen earlier, of longing for something beyond his reach.

We were interrupted by the opening of the door. A grey haired and old but still hard looking man stood in the doorway. He glared at us and pointed his finger toward the boy.

“YOU! What are you doing?” he started to walk towards us.

The other boy, clearly frightened, through away the club and the strawberry and tried to stammer a response. “I… I don’t kn-know! He j-j-just came in! I don’t know who he is!”

The man ignored his words and picked him up roughly by the shoulder.

“You stay right here. We are going to have some words with your little visitor.” With that, he grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me out the door. I tried to protest, but stopped when I saw my father standing behind him. My father took me to another room as the man walked back into the boy’s. I heard more of the moans and cries I had heard before. He returned a minute later.
“What’s going on? I just wanted to talk to him!” I said.

“That’s not the sort of boy you should be talking to,” he said, sounding as much genuinely concerned as angry.

I looked around the room. The old and frail Pastor was there, as was my mother and a blond woman I had seen before but didn’t know.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“He’s… he’s my son,” the grey haired man said, sounding guilty.

“Yes he is! He is my baby boy and yours too!” the blond woman said, on the verge of tears. “And you should remember it! He doesn’t deserve this!”

“I do remember it! God I think about it every day! But there is nothing I can do about it, is there!?” the man replied in a hurt voice.

“Now now, calm down,” the Pastor said “There is no need to be upset, or to blame yourself. It could have happened to anyone, and you have done your best.” He put a hand on the man’s shoulder, calming him. “And ma’am, you know it is for the best in the end. It may be hard, but you have to be strong.” He repeated the gesture on the woman’s shoulder, and it seemed to have the same effect.

“Now, we have another problem. Little Johnny here decided to meet the… other boy… and caused a bit of mischief.”

“Yes, and after I distinctly told him not to,” my father said angrily. “Didn’t you know how dangerous that was? You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt!”

The grey haired man reacted as if he was visibly struck at the mention of my being hurt. “You could have been, and it just isn’t right that you would be. I’ve done everything I can to makes sure nothing would…”

The Pastor interrupted him. “Alright, its fine. We know you work hard to avoid this scenario, and nothing bad came of it.”

I was getting more and less patient. “Alright, I won’t do it again, but who is he!?”

They all looked at me, then exchanged glances. Then the Pastor spoke. “When he was born, he had a caul. That is an extra flap of skin that covers the face like a mask. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, I do” I replied in quiet voice. I had heard the stories of what people who were born with cowls could do. “What happened?”

The Pastor continued. “Well…”

After he was born, the families had gathered to destroy him. It wasn’t something they wanted to do, but they knew it had to be done.

However, they were stopped. The child’s mother, a woman named Margaret, pleaded with her husband Tom to spare him. She knew of the legends, but could not bear to part with her son. She claimed they could keep him apart from others to contain his demented nature. She pleaded and pleaded.

And he relented.

Though he knew it would have been for the greater good, he was convinced by his wife. He gave in, and told the Pastor and gathered crowed of his decision. They agreed, on one condition. The parents must watch and control his every move. They could not forget, even for a second, what he truly was. Even acts of kindness and sweetness may only be to deceive them, and he should be met with coldness and harsh discipline. Only in this way could they ensure his true side doesn’t break out. If they fail, they would be to blame for what happens.

They agreed, and the child was allowed to live.

However, his life wouldn’t be much like any other.

It was fairly clear why I had never seen him before. He was kept apart from other children, both because of his own parents hiding him and other parents not wanting their children near him. He was never allowed to attend school, there is no telling what he would do with knowledge anyway, he was banned from Church and didn’t attend any village celebrations. When it came to work, he always worked alone. He wasn’t trusted with an axe for wood or a rifle for hunting, but he could carry heavy objects or smash boulders with a large double handed hammer when digging fields or basements. Other children were either told to avoid him or never saw him at all. When they did see him, they never allowed him to join their games, and would either ignore him completely or taunt him until he left.

Most of his life was spent in the top floor of the house he lived in. The windows were always shut and locked, and the door to his room could be locked from the outside. When he was allowed out, he was constantly watched by his father and others generally avoided him. It was by mutual consent his family moved to the outskirts of town. The parents rarely came out, as they knew they would be blamed for anything that happened if they didn’t watch him. Margaret became constantly depressed, wanting to comfort her son but knowing she couldn’t, and Tom seemed to blame himself, so they didn’t want to leave much anyway.

Discipline for him was always harsh. His parents knew that anything he said may be a trick, and behind his every action was ill will. His father kept a stick near his door at all times to use if he got too out of hand.

The Pastor was another main influence on his life. Though he took no pleasure in causing the boy harm, he saw it as his duty to keep his evil away from others. He often took part in his discipline, or came to pray over him.

After the first encounter, my father too began to see him more. He would volunteer to watch him while he worked, and would get angry at any sign of disobedience. Like the boy’s father, he carried a stick when he was near him, but it was much thicker. When I questioned him about it, he only explained that he would do what needed to be done to protect his family, and he thought he could do that by controlling the boy.

I saw him a few times after that year. I watched him on occasion, and always from a distance. Over the years he became muscular and strong, used to hard work and not much else. Every time I saw him I would pay attention to his face. We were warned against it and most people avoided looking right at him, as he may try to control or deceive you. However, I needed to see his expression. People would pass by him, glancing with nervousness or anger at him. Conversations would stop within his earshot. Every time this happened he would look hurt for a moment, then his pain would become anger, and he would glare back at them. This would confirm for whoever passed that they were right to hate him, and they would continue on.

Over time I saw his looks of anger get worse and worse, harder and harder. The hurt looks all but disappeared, and were replaced with a constant glare that he turned on anyone and everything that he saw. I saw more hate in his eyes then I had seen in every other person I ever met. By the time I was fifteen, I was sure there was nothing else inside of him.

It was that summer when I was fifteen that the worst part came. It was the anniversary of when I had first seen him, and once again we were having the celebration with strawberries.

At first the party was going well, just like any other year. The sun was warm, and people were happy.

However, I began to sense a strange feeling of unease among the people there. I saw more and more upset faces, and people glancing around each other nervously.

It took me a while to find the source of the discomfort. Walking among the crowd was a stranger. Despite the heat, he wore a long coat and had its collar turned up and a hat with a wide brim that he turned down over his eyes. The result was that it was impossible to make out his face.
People watched him suspiciously, muttering to themselves. He walked around without speaking or looking directly at anyone there. Eventually it became clear he realized people were nervous about him. His stride became awkward and unconfident, his shoulders slumped, and he kept his head down. This only made people more nervous, and a wide circle formed around him.

Finally, a black haired man I recognized as a farmer named Rick approached him.

“Excuse me, but who in the hell are you?” Rick asked.

The stranger stopped walking and began shaking, but didn’t respond.

“I said, who are you? And why the hell are you wearing that get up?” Rick asked again, more angrily.

The stranger still didn’t respond, and began to back away slowly.

“Answer me!” Rick shouted, and grabbed the stranger’s hat.

There was a gasp in the crowed as his face became clear. It was the boy, and most of the crowd recognized him. They began murmuring and backing away from him.

“YOU!” a loud, angry voice said. It was my father, and he was approaching quickly. “What they hell are you doing here?”

“I just wanted… I just wanted…” the boy’s explanation was interrupted by a loud SMACK as my father’s fist slammed into his jaw. The crowd gasped, and the boy fell down.

“I just wanted to try the strawberries! I swear I meant no harm!”

“Oh yeah? Then what was with that disguise? What were you trying to hide boy?”

He had no answer, and fumbled around with his words. “I uhhh… ummm…. I don’t…”

“I don’t care what lies you have to say. Get out, get out now!” My father shouted and pointed away from the celebration. The crowd began to shout their agreement.

“But I… I just wanted…” the boy began, but was constantly interrupted by the shouts and jeers from the crowed. As one the people of the village condemned him and demanded he leave.

Once again, his had a pained expression, but it quickly turned to one of anger. He stood up and pointed at the audience, his eyes cold with hate and a snarl on his face.

“You….. You bastards!” He shouted “Every last one of you! I’ve done nothing to any of you, and yet you condemn me every day.”

“Don’t give us that! We’ve all seen you glaring at everyone as if you’re going to kill us. Why do you think we don’t want you here?” A voice said, and most of the crowed shouted in agreement.
“You LIARS! It was all from you! I don’t just hate you all, I despise you with the depths of my heart. And how you deserve it… I will show you all! And especially you…” he swept his finger around the crowd, then settled on my own father.

He turned away and walked through the crowed which opened up in front of him. He began running, and was pelted with bad berries until he was away from the celebration. Soon he was back at the house near the forest. His parents and the pastor followed close behind him.

The celebration ended soon after. Everyone had a sour taste in their mouths from the events, and didn’t feel like celebrating. It ended early, and everyone went home for the night.

Later that night I was sitting at the wooden dinner table in my home. The room I was in served as our kitchen, dining room, and living room all at once. However, it was simple, with furniture consisting of a stove, the table, and a few chairs, along with a few shelves on the walls and plain wooden flooring. The front door was at one end, a staircase leading to the bedrooms was at the other, and a few pair of windows were on the other two side walls.

I was attempting to read by candle light, and my mother was sewing. My father was out at a meeting with other members of the village.

Suddenly he burst in the front door, and closed it quickly behind him and locked it. I could tell by the speed with which he moved and the rare fear in his eyes that something was wrong.

“Alright, listen up you two,” he said. “We’ve got to lock up the doors and windows.”

“What’s wrong?” my mother asked.

“That caul boy is gone.”

“What?! Where?!” she said. She ran to each window, closed the inner shutter, and locked them.
“We don’t know. The Pastor and his parents locked him in his room after he went down to the celebration. However, when his father checked tonight, he wasn’t there. We don’t know where he went, or what he is up to. The advice for now is to lock all doors and windows. Don’t leave for any circumstances, he may play tricks to get people out of their homes.”

“But what if he comes here?” I asked.

“If we lock the doors he won’t be able to do anything. Anyway, I have my rifle.” He pointed to the corner of the room where it was kept.

We sat for a moment in silence, looking at each other. A nervous pit formed in my stomach, making me feel almost nauseous. That boy was out there somewhere, and we didn’t know where. I kept thinking back to the celebration. He had threatened everyone, and pointed around the crowed. However, in the end it was my father he had settled on. I knew he had more hate for my father then for anyone else in town, I could see it in his eyes. All those years my father had been the roughest on him, believing it would protect his family. Now it may have condemned us.

Time passed slowly as we waited for what we all half knew was coming. Then I heard a click at the door. Not a knock, a click, like something metallic.

We glanced at each other again, wondering what it might have been. Finally I stood up and walked toward the door, put my hand on the handle, and pushed.

“Wait! Don’t open it! It may be a trap!” My mother said, panicking.

Not that it mattered if I did anyway. It took me a second to realize what it was exactly I was feeling. The nervousness I felt in my stomach was replaced with fear, then outright terror
The door had been locked from the outside.

I turned back toward my family, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. I saw my expression matched with in their faces as they realized what had happened.

“Help help help!” I screamed, but suddenly realized no one would be coming. We had all been told not to leave for anything, and that he may try to trick us out of our own homes. Any call for help, unless there was an obvious danger, would just be treated as a trick. Even if they were almost sure it was real, no one would want to risk it with him out there.

We heard footsteps running around the house. A dark shadow passed by one of the windows, and the footsteps came behind the building.

We heard scratching at the back of the house, behind the stairwell. We backed away from it, not knowing what it was he was doing, and not wanting to find out.

Soon his actions became clear. Smoke began to drift into the room, and a fire began to build until the back wall was in flame.

“GET OUT!” my father screamed, and tried to push against the door. He rammed his full body against it, but it wouldn’t budge. From the small bit we could see through the crack on the side, he had rammed a steel bar against it and wedged it in place.

We glanced around in panic. The windows were glass, but that could be broken. My father opened the shutters, grabbed a chair and threw it through one of the windows. He helped my mother through, then myself.

I turned around to help him from the outside. However, he wasn’t coming. I looked in and saw him staring toward the corner of the room where the rifle was. The entire area was covered with flame, and the rifle was invisible behind it.

“Don’t do it Dad!” I said. “You can’t!”

“I know,” he said “but I need too!”

“No! Come on!” I shouted back. The room was completely full of smoke, and it burned me to even be close to the house. The roof was creaking and could collapse at any moment.

He relented, and began climbing out the window. I helped him through, and began pulling. However, he was much larger than either of us, and struggled to fit. As he came out, his leg ran along a sharp blade of glass, cutting a long gouge on his calf and ankle. He screamed, and collapsed to the ground.

“GO! Run to the sheriff’s house and get help!” he said. My mother and I looked at each other. “GO!” He shouted.

I began to lift him up by the arm. “Run and get someone, I will help him” I said to my mother. She nodded, and began to run.

Despite his protests, I balanced his weight across my shoulders. He stumbled beside me, leaning for support whenever he used the injured leg.

We moved as quickly as we could. The darkness of the night was even starker when compared with the fire we were just in, and our eyes couldn’t adjust. Everywhere we heard more screaming and shouts for help, and people ran about us in panic. At least three other buildings that I could see were burning, one of them the church.

We walked into the center field of the field, heading toward the sheriff’s home which stood across from ours. It occurred to me he likely wasn’t even there anymore, as he would be the only one to respond to the cries for help, but my mother had run in that direction and I had nowhere else to go. I strode on, pulling half the weight of my father along with me.

“Going somewhere?” a voice asked.

I turned to see who had spoken, and screamed as loud as I could. I was instantly filled with terror. There, outlined by the moonlight, was the boy with the caul. He stood up strait and held his hammer in his hands. He raised it up into the air and came towards us.

We both began running way. Forgetting all plans of seeing the sheriff we ran and stumbled randomly into the darkness, calling for help from anyone who could give it. I turned back again and again to see him chasing us, each time getting closer and closer. The tip of his hammer seemed to be within inches of my head, and he had it raised, ready to swing the instant he could. Every door we passed was locked, and every cry for help we raised went unanswered. I kept calling, though I knew anyone who would be willing to leave the safety of their homes would already be fighting the fires. I was losing my breath from helping my father, and couldn’t run any more.

“Where are you going? No one is going to help you! You’re all mine!” he screamed.

Finally we came near a house, and found the door to be unlocked. I pushed inside and stumbled into a living room much like our own. We both slammed the door shut then locked it. Not satisfied with simply locking it we leaned against it and pressed to keep it shut. We looked around. There was no one in the room. It occurred to me that the family who lived here must have been one of the few to respond to a fire or a call for help and had left the door unlocked.

Suddenly I heard a loud banging noise and felt the entire door shudder. The noise came again, this time accompanied with a crack as some of the wood began to break. It was him, smashing the door with his hammer.

“I know you’re in there!” He shouted, almost tauntingly. He slammed the door again and again, and it cracked more and more. “I’m coming to get you! This won’t protect you for long”

Each swing of the hammer brought the door closer to breaking. I could feel the swing of the hammer get harder and harder as there was less between me and the assailant.

Finally the door gave way with a massive crack and burst into splinters. I was thrown back from the force and landed hard against the ground. My father held himself against the table and tried to charge him, but the boy swung his hammer hard against my father’s knee, splintering it like the door. I tried to get up and grab him. He saw me coming and jabbed the hammer into my gut, winding me and forcing me down. He grabbed a cabinet and pulled it down on me, pinning me to the ground.
As I lay on the ground trying desperately to breath, I saw him stand over my father, his eyes filled with hate.

“Oh how long I’ve waited,” he said “how long I’ve waited for this day.” He kicked at my father, who moaned helplessly at him and grasped his useless knee. “All those year you treated me like I was nothing… well look at us now. Now look who really is nothing.”

He began kicking my father in the gut. “You will pay for what you did to me.” He said, still kicking. He grabbed the unbroken leg, and pulled it strait. My father tried to kick him off, but was too injured to fight and overpowered. The boy took a rope and tied his foot down to a floorboard he loosened with the hammer, then repeated the process with each of his arms. This left him with one leg broken and the other three outstretched.

He raised the hammer up and brought it down on the outstretched knee. My father screamed in pain. It was an almost unnatural sound, coming from a pain beyond anything I had ever experienced.

“You wanted to fear me? I will give you a reason to fear me!” the boy said. He raised the hammer again and swung it at my father’s arm. There was a loud crack, and the bone jutted out from his skin. I watched in terror as my father’s screams turned into a horrid gurgling noise unlike any I had ever heard a human make.

“I want you to feel as I always felt. Helpless, useless, with nothing you can do to ease the pain.” The boy raised the hammer again and smashed my father’s second arm. He didn’t even scream this time, he only convulsed and made the same inhuman gurgling noise.

“And now, I am going to kill you. I will kill you for all you ever did to me,” the anger in the boy’s voice had peaked, and he stepped toward my father’s head. I tried to call out to him and beg him to stop, but I could barely breathe and he ignored everything I did.

He stood over my father for a moment, the anger in his face become a twisted, triumphant smile. He raised the hammer again. I saw my father’s eyes open, staring at the end of the hammer with fear. But there was nothing he could do. His body was ruined and he had no defence against the onslaught. He turned his head away.

The boy shouted and swung as hard as he could into the side of my father’s head. It smashed into it with a terrible gushing noise. The hammer went completely through his skull and slammed into the floor beneath. Blood splattered around the floor, along with bits of his face skull. When he lifted it again, there was nothing left recognizable as a head. The boy snarled, and swung the hammer again and again into the body, causing it to break and burst.

I was beyond tears, and tried to call for him to stop. Finally he looked over at me. The same twisted smile was on his face, mixed with an unending well of hate. He came toward me, lifting the hammer up. I tried to speak to him, beg him to stop, but I couldn’t raise my voice.

He stood over me, looking down at my face. He kicked me in the chest, and I grunted.

“I don’t know who you are” he said “but you were one of them. All those years you rejected me, hated me, abused me… You deserve to die like the rest.” He raised the hammer again, and I cowered beneath him, holding my hands up and looking away.

The hammer didn’t come down. I looked back up at him to see him standing in shock.

“It… I-It’s you!” he said. “From that one night…” For the third time he had the look of sad wishfulness, a desire for something and a knowledge he could never have it.

He dropped the hammer, and backed away slowly. Finally he ran out the door.

I was found the next day by the owner of the house I was in and helped up. It was then I found out the extent of what had happened.

In totally he had burned down four buildings. Aside from our house it was his own, the Pastor’s, and the Church. It seemed he was targeting people who had affected him the most. Along with my father, the Pastor had been killed in the fire, and he had killed one other man who had tried to stop him. His parents, however, had managed to escape unharmed except for a few burn marks.
However, that wouldn’t last long.

The boy with the caul was soon found hiding in the forest. He was grabbed, tied up, and dragged back to the town to be charged. Along with him went his parents. They had argued for his life and refused to kill him, and were trusted to keep him in check. When they failed, they were guilty. They brought the evil into the world and failed to contain it.

I wanted no part of the events that followed but they were almost unavoidable. The crowds gathered again in the center of the village, but this time for a much more sinister purpose.

The parents, for the crime of bringing evil into the world and not controlling it, were sentenced to be burned at the stake. That way, their souls could be cleansed. The screamed and begged as they were dragged out and hoisted onto the poles of wood, but they were ignored. Sticks were piled around them, and a torch was brought. Margaret screamed and wept in fright, Tom only stared with an empty look in his face, knowing full well what he had brought into the world. Even from where I was, far away and sitting in another house, I could smell the flesh burn and hear the screams. The smell of smoke remained for days, and the sound of their screams never left my mind.

The boy, however, could not be redeemed even with fire. He was evil from birth, and nothing could save his soul. Instead, he was to be returned to the hell he came from. The method of doing this was clear. He was tied up and wrapped in thick, white cloth. A hole was dug, far deeper than any grave the village had dug before. They lowered him in, careful to ensure he didn’t die from the fall and lived through his full punishment. They began to shovel dirt on him and buried him alive. He shouted and swore, cursing those around him with his last breathes, and screamed in terror the entire time. However, he didn’t beg for mercy, as he knew there was no one there who would give him any. And that was the end of the boy with the cowl.

Many times, people asked why it happened, and how anyone could commit such horrendous acts. The people from the village always give the same answer.

He was born with a caul. That is all we knew,and all, or so they’d tell you, we needed to know.

Credit To – EricAMBM

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The House that Death Forgot

February 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Melinda hated driving at night. She did her best to avoid it. Short trips to the store if she just realized she ran out of tampons or had nothing for dinner after getting home; that sort of thing happened now and then. But she did her best not to go out after dark unless someone was coming to pick her up.

So, naturally, she found herself on the longest drive of her life tonight, with no moon, few stars, swirling clouds above her, and acres of forest on either side.

As so many unpleasant things in her life, this was her father’s fault. She hadn’t seen or spoken to the bastard in fifteen years, but just after falling asleep tonight…no, that was wrong. It would be yesterday by this time. Out of the blue, her phone rang, and his voice was on the other end.

“I need you, Mellie. Please come, now.” He’d said just that, and then the line went dead.

The old ass was probably drunk, but he’d never called her before, not since she was a child and he was still trying to convince her mother to take him back. It felt like she had been dreaming; waking up to hear his voice again after all these years. It sounded like he was crying. His voice sounded just the same as the last time she’d heard it.

As though in a dream, she had risen, dressed, and gotten in the car. She was well out of town and halfway to his old place before realizing that she had no way of knowing if he even still lived there. She received updates from her mother from time to time over the years about where he was. The last time she heard from her mother about him was seven years ago. Had he ever stayed in one place that long? Not to her recollection. She had been seven when her mother finally had enough and showed him the door. Prior to that, a move had come every few months. The house they had been living in was their longest stay in one place; a full sixteen months. It turned into two years after that, and then the next house had been the one she left when she moved out on her own. In all that time, she heard from him sporadically at best, and had finally decided it was best to simply forget about him.

Until tonight.

She had found out after a two-hour drive that she had been right to wonder if he was still in the same place. His last known address was a sketchy apartment in a low-income area of the town she had grown up in. Had he been number 24 or number 42? Maybe he was 14. It definitely had a four. It didn’t matter. His name wasn’t on any of the buzzers.

Bastard! Her drunk of a father had called her at night, all but demanding she come to him, for reasons he didn’t even feel were important enough to tell her over the phone, and then just expected that she would know where he lived now.

In a flurry of rage, she turned and marched back to her car, slamming the door and starting off in the direction she came. She was so angry she didn’t even look where she was going, and now she’d missed her turn-off.

The next thing she knew, she was on this lonely stretch of road. Cars were sparse, but she took some comfort in the fact that she would pass one every half-hour or so. Her dashboard clock now read 2:27 AM. She had been driving for more than five hours since leaving her house. At night.

Every five minutes or so she checked her cell phone. Ever since realizing she was lost, she had checked her phone and found no bars at all. She even stopped at a (closed, of course) gas station, just sure there should be some service around here somewhere, but nothing.

Take stock of your life, Mellie, she thought. You’re over thirty, you hate your job, you and your mother don’t get along, you haven’t seen or spoken to your father in just under half your life, you have no time for your friends or a relationship thanks to the aforementioned job you hate, and now here you are, trapped on a road you’ve never been on before, at night, and you can’t even so much as call AMA let alone check Google Maps. Smart lady you are.

She briefly considered stopping and flagging down the next car that passed. She quickly realized the futility of that plan. Any car on this road would also have no service. So there was nothing for it. She’d have to drive until she saw a house. She’d feel bad for waking someone up, but there was no choice. She needed to find her way back to the main highway.

But so far, all that she could see on either side was trees. Mile after mile of trees. No lights shining through the boughs. No sign that anyone had ever been here before, except that there was a road, and people were obviously still driving on it.

There weren’t even any road signs, other than the mile markers. Had she really found the middle of nowhere? She was just in the middle of this thought when her headlights illuminated something just up the road; a square, wooden sign, obviously made by someone other than the government. This wasn’t a gas/food/lodging sign, or a mile marker, or a distance-to sign. This looked like the kind of signs advertising a private business was nearby. She slowed down to read it:

Granny Royce’s Road House

Come stay the night at Granny’s!

She’ll take good care of you!

Room! Board! Low Prices!

Next Exit!

Her heart sped up. She certainly wasn’t interested in spending a night at Granny Royce’s, but every business had a phone. At the very least, she’d have a map, or know the way back to the highway. She decided she would stop there.

She almost missed the turn. Granny Royce’s Road House was buried at the back of a long, dirt driveway, secluded amid the trees. She was almost past the little dirt “road” that led back to it before realizing it was there. She skidded to a stop and turned in.

The little house lay ahead. It was two stories; looked to have about eight to ten rooms. Big for a home but small for anything announcing room and board. She got closer and looked for a vacancy sign; nothing. It wasn’t that the sign wasn’t lit; there was no sign. The porch light was on, and the front of the building was illuminated by that light, and by her headlights. No signs of any kind. She almost wondered if she’d gotten the wrong place, but she was certain that she had seen no other exits between this house and the sign announcing it.

She paused in the driveway and took out her cell again. Still no service. She did a quick search for any available wireless signals. To her complete lack of surprise, there were none. Not even any secured. There’s no one here but me, she thought. At this point, she wouldn’t be surprised to find the house empty, as well. But the light was on, and this was supposed to be a road house. Someone would be manning the front desk.

She got out of the car and headed for the front porch. As she turned around to make sure the lights flashed when she hit the lock button on her fob, she thought she could see a flash of movement in the trees. Something human-shaped. She stopped and looked again. Nothing. She decided she imagined it.

At the front door, she hesitated. If it really was a road house than she should be able to just go on in. But what if she got the wrong house? If she tried the door and just walked in, she could find herself arrested out here in Buttfuck, Nowhere.

Cautiously, she tried the knob. It turned. She pressed gently on the door. It opened. Relief flooded through her when she saw that she was in a small, but tastefully decorated foyer that had obviously been re-purposed as an admissions area. A quaint desk with an honest-to-god guest book had been placed in the far right corner, and some chairs had been set out, along with magazines on a table. She read the titles briefly–Mademoiselle, Blue Book, The New Country Life, Arts & Architecture–before turning her attention to the little desk.

There wasn’t a computer. That was a cute touch. It was like the house was from a past era. Perhaps old Granny Royce really didn’t like modern technology. There was, however, a little bell, just like there would have been in 1929. It wasn’t even the round silver kind you slapped to ring; it was a little porcelain hand-bell. This place was starting to out-cute her. Please let her have a phone, and please let it use the numberplan, not 50’s exchanges. She picked up the bell and gave it a shake.

For a while, nothing happened. Then she saw a light come on in the back room, and the shadow of an old woman sprang up on the wall. The shadow moved toward her, and within a few seconds she saw its owner; Granny Royce, who perhaps looked like every grandmother in every storybook ever.

“Well, goodness me,” she said. “My lands. Good morning deary. Pardon my tardiness but it’s been a while since we got guests at this hour. Can I take your name, honey?

Granny Royce was smallish, her grey hair tied in a neat bun behind her head, a dress that would have looked like it belonged to a senior citizen in the twenties, and a faded pink sweater. Melinda thought that she looked just like she would have wanted her own grandmother to look like, but her mother’s mother had died when she was young, and she’d never met her father’s mother. It almost hurt to deny this sweet little woman her business, but nevertheless, she had to get home.

“Actually, I’m sorry,” she began. “But the fact is I’m lost. I’m not even sure where I am in the direction of…”

“Oh, you poor thing,” said Granny Royce. “You just sit down and let me fix you some tea, or something. You must be cold.”

“Really, thank you, but I’m okay,” Melinda said, gently. “I just need to use the phone, if I could, or if you’ve got a map, even that would be lovely. I really only live a couple of hours from here…” She trailed off, not knowing if she was even right about that. She easily could have driven those five-plus hours in the wrong direction entirely.

“Oh dear,” said the little woman, sadly. “I’m sorry, honey, but the phone lines are down. As for a map, well…I used to have one, and if I look I still might, but it’s probably quite out of date by now. The highway moved since then, I know that much.”

Melinda’s heart sank. How could her luck get any worse? No phone, cell or land line, and no map. What could she do? She had to get back home. She was expected to work at 8 AM tomorrow. And why were the phone lines down? The weather was coldish but clear. Were they fixing a line nearby?

She told Granny Royce the name of her town, but Granny only said “Believe it or not, I’ve never heard of that town. What did you say the name was?” She told her again. “No, doesn’t ring a bell. I’m sorry. But I could not say which direction it’s in. Why don’t you stay the night, sweetie. I’ll give you a discount for your trouble.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. But I have work tomorrow and I need to get back home. I’m not even sure why I’m out tonight. The only reason I had doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”

“Honey, I wouldn’t advise trying to drive back that far tonight,” Granny Royce said. “Why, it’s almost three in the morning, and you’ve not had any sleep. Maybe the lines will be up in the morning, and you can call your work and let them know you’ll be late.”

“That won’t work, either,” she replied. “I’m the opener. No one will be there. No, I’m sorry, I’ve really got to leave. I’ll head in the other direction until I find the road I was on.”

At that, Granny Royce’s expression, already one of kind concern, seemed to shift somewhat, to one of fear. She paused, looking at Melinda as though she wanted to say something else to keep her inside. Finally she said, reluctantly, “Alright, honey, if you’re sure. Just you be careful, now. Don’t speak to nobody until you’re back on the road.”

That last warning seemed a little silly. After all, what was Melinda, a little girl? She thanked Granny Royce for her kindness and headed back to the car.

About halfway to the car she remembered thinking she saw something moving in the trees. Her eyes scanned both sides of the secluded little cleared area she was in, looking for anything that appeared to be moving on its own, rather than being blown by the slight wind. She saw nothing. Satisfied, she headed for her car.

All four tires were flat. Goddammit! She leaned down and saw long slash marks on each tire. Someone in this little slice of Green Acres had slashed her tires in the time it took her to find out that she had no way of contacting anyone tonight.

Kids from a local farmhouse, gotta be, she thought grimly. Nothing else to do, so you might as well go out at night and slash tires. She stopped and let the reality sink in. She wasn’t going anywhere tonight. She had no choice now; she had to stay the night here until morning, when hopefully the phone lines would be up and she could call someone from work to ask them to go in for her, and then AMA to get her tires dealt with.

She sighed, then walked back in the house. She could hear Granny Royce as she was walking back to her room. She had already turned off the lights. Resigned to her fate, Melinda rang the little bell again.

“That you, miss?” she heard Granny Royce call.

“Yes, it’s me,” she answered. “Sorry to be a bother. My name is Melinda Orton. Sorry I never mentioned it before. I guess I will take a room for the night, if the offer’s still good.”

“Oh, of course it is, deary,” said Granny Royce, re-entering the room and turning the lights back on. “Melinda. Oh, that’s such a pretty name, honey. Well. Let’s get you situated. You put your name and arrival time in the book there and I’ll get you a key. All the boarding rooms are on the second floor, and there’s only a couple left.”

“There are others here?” This was surprising. Not a single car had been in the front lawn when she pulled in.

“Oh, yes, Miss Melinda.” Granny was puttering around in the adjacent room. “Mr. Norris, young Calvin, there’s a few of us here.” She came back out with a key in her hand. “Just out of curiosity, what made you change your mind?” She seemed to brighten as she asked the question, as though relieved that Melinda would stay after all.

“Oh, it’s probably just local kids getting kicks,” she said. “But I found my tires slashed.”

Granny stopped suddenly, her face twisted with concern and worry. Then she resumed, as though nothing was wrong. “Nothing to be done for it, I suppose,” she said, with an err of sadness.

“Well, not until morning, at any rate,” said Melinda. “Then hopefully the lines will be up.”

“Oh,” said Granny Royce, distractedly. “Yes, hopefully.” She led Melinda up the darkened staircase into an empty, quiet hall.

Or perhaps not so quiet. From one end of the hall came the muffled sound of someone crying.

Whoever it was, they were crying softly, not with anger, or petulance, or fear, but with deep sadness. It sounded as if crying was something this person was used to, but they were still unable to stop.

“Who is that?” she asked, pointing in the direction the crying was coming from.

“Oh, pay that no mind, honey,” said Granny. “That’s just Mr. Norris. He’s been like that a while. Older man, you understand. Not all there.” She tapped her temple.

“I understand,” Melinda replied, but wondered privately how an old, out-of-touch man would wind up at a road house. “Has he been here long?”

“A while, I’d say,” answered Granny. “Don’t really recall how long, exactly.”

How does he pay for room and board? “I guess he doesn’t drive,” she said to the old woman. “Actually, it doesn’t look like anyone else here has a car.”

Granny started at this, looking up with an almost guilty expression. “Oh, well,” she said. “That kind of thing is the business of the guests. I don’t ask about such things.” She turned the key in the lock of the room she had led Melinda to, and opened the door. Turning on the light, she showed Melinda the quaint little room. Melinda thought it looked like stepping into the past. She could swear this room would have looked modern in the early fifties, at the earliest.

Come to think of it, so could the rest of this place, she thought. No wireless service, no computer, that old bell. And those magazines, they looked new, but…

That thought was cut off as Granny put the key on the nightstand and started in with instructions. “Now, the bathroom is down the hallway there. You’ll be sharing with the whole floor, so please bare that in mind if you have to go. There’s a shower schedule on the door, as well. First come, first serve. You just add your name to the first available line and that’s the order the showers are in. I wouldn’t worry about that, if I were you, though. I’m sure you’ll be first in line. I get up at 6 AM sharp every morning and start breakfast, but you come on down whenever you’re ready and I’ll whip something up for you. Oh, and one last thing, my dear. I would strongly advise you not to leave the house until sun-up. You just never know what could happen out there. In the dark.”

“Of course,” she replied. I’d never go out there in the dark if I didn’t have to…She stopped that train of thought right out of the gate.

After a few moments, she was alone. Alone, without anything to wear to bed, and nothing to shower, brush her teeth, or hair with in the morning. She sat on the bed and looked out the window, which faced front. Her car still sat where she had left it, the only thing for miles that seemed like part of her world. And an expensive, over-large paperweight until I can get a hold of someone, she thought bitterly.

Despite the homeyness of the room, she felt an unwillingness to rise and shut off the light. Somehow the thought of going to sleep in this backward little room seemed unthinkable. So instead, she continued to sit and stare out the window.

A figure in black detached itself from the shadows of the trees and made its way to her car. The hell?! She jumped up and ran at the window. The figure was tall, and seemed to be wearing a cloak made of night. She saw as its arm extended. In its hand was a long, jagged dagger. It dragged the dagger across the side of her car, leaving a long gash-mark in the paint and metal.

“Hey!” she shouted. The figure kept dragging the dagger. She reached for the window to open it. It wouldn’t budge! She looked for a lock, but couldn’t see one. “Hey!” she yelled again. This time the figure raised its head. She could see the glint of two eyes under the hood. The figure raised the dagger, slowly, determinedly. It pointed it straight at her face.

She leaped away from the window and ran for the door. A noise on the other side stopped her. Footsteps. Dragging, shambling footsteps. And crying. The sound of a person for whom deep, longing sadness is a way of life. Mr. Norris! She waited. Somehow, she just felt that she should let the old man pass before she opened the door.

Before he got very far, however, she heard other footsteps, these much quicker and lighter, run up the stairs and stop near the door of her room. “Stop it!” hissed Granny Royce. “Go back in your room right now! You know better. She can’t see you yet. Hopefully she won’t have to at all. Now you go back in there. You’ve got no business being out at this hour anyway.”

What on Earth? How could that sweet old woman talk to another human that way, let alone an old man with a foggy mind? She almost opened the door right then, but somehow her hand stopped, and waited until the shuffling, crying man had made his way back down the hallway. She heard his door open.

She opened her own door just in time to see his foot, shod in a well-worn house-shoe, slide into his room. The door closed softly after him. That poor man, she thought. But now she was determined to find out what was going on. The punk outside in the Halloween costume slashing up her car, followed by Granny yelling at an old man, made her begin to understand that not all was well here.

She went back down to the front desk area, which was completely unlit except for the moonlight and porch light coming through the window. There was, however, a light on near the back room that Granny Royce had emerged from before. Melinda paused to take a look outside the front window. The maniac with the dagger was nowhere to be seen for the moment, but she was now determined that it was he that she had seen moving through the trees. He could have killed me!

She strode in the direction of the light, seeing that it was the light to the kitchen. She kept going, expecting to find Granny Royce still puttering about with whatever an old inn-keeper did with herself during the early hours of the morning.

Instead, she found Granny sitting with a young man of about twenty. He had dark hair, and a scruff of stubble, and was wearing a dark brown corduroy shirt and khaki’s, along with a pork-pie hat. He looked like he was ready to go sell newspapers on a street-corner in the thirties. He was quietly sipping tea while Granny was admonishing him from the other end of the table.

“Now that was a horrible thing to say!” she said. “When I was your age, young men minded their manners!”

“That’s a laugh, talking about my age,” muttered the young man with a sneer. “And just how old are you? Do you even remember?”

“Calvin Davidson, you are trouble, young man,” she hissed back. Neither had noticed Melinda yet. “One of these days you’re going to say something you’ll regret.”

“Oh, come on, Granny, what could I possibly say that will make things worse than they already are?” demanded Calvin. “I mean, look at old Mr. Norris up there! Both of us are ol…um, hullo, miss. I didn’t know we had anyone else here.” He had just seen Melinda.

“Uh, hi,” she said. She had the feeling she’d walked in on an old argument the two of them had had many times, and that did not concern her. Her fear and anger were forgotten for the moment. Calvin had been talking to Granny like a sullen kid, but something about what they were saying seemed…wrong.

“Can I help you, Melinda?” asked Granny Royce. “Is there something wrong with your room?”

That brought her back. “No,” she said. “The room is fine. But nothing else is! I mean, what on Earth do you even have a road house out here where it seems like no one ever stops? Why are most of the rooms full even though mine is the only car out there? Why did I hear you talking to Mr. Norris like he was a dog? And why would you want to make sure I didn’t see him?”

She got no further before Calvin cut her off. “Good lord, she’s not even been here a night and she can see it. Why did you even let her in, Granny? Why don’t you just bolt the door? Hell, if I could go take down that sign don’t you think I would have, by now? Lord love a duck.”

There’s something you don’t hear many young men say, thought Melinda. She decided to ignore Calvin for the moment, otherwise.

“And besides that, there’s someone out there! He’s the freak who slashed my tires and he’s been out there messing up my car since then! And you can’t even call the police! Are you gonna tell me you’ve never had vandals out here before?”

There was a long pause in the room. Neither Granny, nor Calvin, seemed willing to break it. Calvin scratched at his neck. For the first time, Melinda noticed a red slash at his throat, half-hidden by his collar. It looked like either a very fresh scar or a slightly healed wound.

“Listen, miss, I don’t know your name,” he finally said.

“Melinda,” she told him.

“Melinda,” he repeated. “Melinda, I think you should sit down. I have to tell you something that you may find…troubling.”

Melina did not like how he said that. She also didn’t like the way his tone had switched from sullen child to serious adult. He looked several years her junior, but he was talking to her like he was her uncle, or her boss.

He swallowed a sip of tea, and sighed. Then he looked her straight in the face and said: “The reason I don’t have a car out there is that when I got here, no one my age, in my line of work, would have owned a car. It would have seemed like an impossible dream.”

“What…what are you talking about?” she asked, hesitantly.

“I worked in a textile mill,” he said. “The mill was shut down by the time I got here. Most businesses were. So I struck out on my own; a drifter looking for what work I could find. And I stopped here. Forever.”

“Businesses were shut down…I don’t understand,” said Melinda. “We’re having a rough time of it right now, but businesses are mostly staying open…”

“Not then, they weren’t,” said Calvin, sadly. “I arrived here…in 1929.”

Melinda blinked. Something had exploded behind her eyes.

“This place was new, then,” said Granny. “My man and I had just opened it. And young Mr. Calvin was a sweet young lad of sixteen. I offered to take him on as hired help over my husband’s objections. Well, my husband was a well-meaning man, but he knew how to pinch a penny. T’was a year after I took Calvin on that Mr. Royce died. Calvin and I have been here ever since. And every few years or so, someone joins us.”

“Yep,” Calvin broke in. “Miss Tillie was first; she was a woman of ill repute who ran here, pregnant and scared that the man who’d run her trade up in New York was gonna find her and kill her. She and that baby…” He broke off, now seeming on the point of tears.

“And then,” said Granny. “There was Mr. Standish. He was a traveling minister. He doesn’t travel anymore.”

“Mr. Norris got here in ’69,” said Calvin. “His story is probably the worst. He was a…well, he was a bank-robber, you see. Carried a pistol. And he didn’t like learning how long we’d all been here.” He paused, stood and walked to the kitchen window. “He tried to leave on his own, you see. He ain’t the first to try it. That was me, actually. I warned him not to try, but he wouldn’t listen. But when he got outside…and he met him…”

“Calvin!” hissed Granny. “We don’t talk about this!”

“She’s gotta know,” said Calvin. “There’s no point in her finding out slowly.”

“There’s still a chance for her!” said Granny in a stage whisper. “All she has to do is wait until morning…”

“She’s not going to wait until morning,” said Calvin, with some remorse in his voice. “No one ever waits until morning. The fact that she came down here is proof enough of that. Besides, what good would that have really done her? Her car is useless. We have no phones here. There was no phone when this place went up, and there won’t never be a phone here. You know that.”

“Okay, everyone, stop!” Melinda shouted. “That’s enough! Now, you can’t keep me prisoner here, and I have no intention of staying any longer. Only that knife-wielding maniac out there is keeping me from running up the road this minute! Now, I need to know what’s really going on here and I need to know it now!”

“We’ve been telling you,” Calvin said. “Granny may not want you to know everything, but you need to. Because you won’t be leaving. Oh, we’re not trying to keep you prisoner. I don’t even care if you run out that door right now. But you’ll never leave this house again afterward.”

“Like hell I won’t!” yelled Melinda.

“Listen, child!” said Granny, rising from her spot at the table. “Listen, please! None of us mean you harm, my dear, not even Mr. Norris. There’s scant he can do anymore, and he knows it. That’s why he’s up there crying all the time. But we’re stuck here, all of us. I hoped there was a chance for you to run for it in the morning, but Calvin’s right. There’s no guarantee you’d be safe in the morning, anyhow.”

“What…the…hell…is wrong with this place!?” choked out Melinda. She was beginning to break down. she could feel the tears welling in her eyes.

“It was about a month after Mr. Royce died,” said Calvin. “When he came. He was wearing that long, black robe, and carrying that ridiculous dagger. I saw him when I was trimming the hedges in the back. I told him he needed to get out of here, because I didn’t like his look. He…he moved so fast I never saw it coming. And he got me, from here…” Calvin touched his neck. “To here.” He touched his lower abdomen on the opposite side from the neck slash. He began to undo his shirt.

Melinda almost vomited. Under his shirt was a long, ugly slash that went deep…and was still seeping blood. She could see bone, muscle and intestines wriggling within that mangled ruin.

“I died that night,” said Calvin. “But then I didn’t. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged into the house by Granny, and when I woke up I nearly scared her to death. She was sure that I was gone. The thing is, I was. But I was awake. I could talk, walk, do anything I could while alive. Well, except take any enjoyment or nourishment from food or drink anymore. I still drink that tea because it keeps my skin from turning ash-grey. I learned that about fifty years ago.”

“He didn’t go away, though,” Granny broke in. “I went out to deal with him, carrying my axe. He took my axe and buried it in my back. I won’t show you the wound, honey. Calvin shouldn’t have shown you his, either. No one should have to see it.”

“But that’s how he works, Melinda,” continued Calvin. “He’s got that knife, but if you try to use a weapon on him, he just…moves like he does and takes it from you. You never stand a chance. He’ll use whatever weapon you try to take him down with to end you. Mr. Norris learned that the hard way.”

“This…this is not happening!” Melinda was ready to break down. She had to hold it together. She had to get out of here, somehow. Nothing about this was right. Nothing about it could be real. It was all a dream; too much didn’t make sense. Her father calling her out of the blue. Her leaving to go to him without a second thought. Getting lost so quickly, and so irreversibly. No cell phone service anywhere on this road. This place, everything about it! She was dreaming; that had to be it. But if so, she was gonna survive this dream.

She turned and ran for the stairs. Her purse was still in her room, but she was going to grab it and go. She’d had enough. Protesting voices began babbling behind her; she cared not one whit.

Mr. Norris was waiting at the top of the stairs.

Contrary to Granny Royce’s description of him, he was not old at all. No more than about forty. But she saw instantly what she meant by “not all there”.

The top half of Mr. Norris’s head looked normal, like a reasonably attractive man with dark hair peppered with grey here and there. His eyes, a clear green, were moist with fresh tears.

The lower half of his face was a ruin of bone fragments, shredded muscle and blood. So much blood. His left side was similarly destroyed. His arm hung on a few hanging strings of muscle, his hip was just as much a mess of bone and blood as his face was. He kept his one good hand on the bannister as he shuffled toward her.

Behind him stood a young woman in a bra and a pair of panties. Her stomach was cut open, and looking out of the wound with bright, intelligent eyes was the mangled remains of a baby.

Melinda turned and bolted for the front door. Her hand had just closed around the knob when Calvin rushed up to her, placing his freezing cold hand over hers.

“They’re not going to hurt you,” he said quickly. “But he will. If you step out for so much as a moment, he will kill you, and it will hurt. And it will go on hurting. Forever. After a while you learn to function with the pain, but it never goes away.”

Sobbing, she asked the question she’d been afraid to ask since coming here. “Who is he?”

“We don’t know,” said Granny, from behind Calvin. “He just…came here, and he won’t go away. He likes to watch us, and do things to incite us to come out again. As soon as someone does, he hurts them more. But no matter how many times he kills us, we don’t die. Believe me when I say, we all wish we could.”

Melinda had had enough of this. She pushed Calvin away and threw open the door.

He was standing on the porch. The knife was held out in front of him, just at face-level. Melinda ran into him at a rush, the knife puncturing her right eye and its tip sliding on through, out the other side. She just managed to see the grinning, pure-white face of her killer, before everything went black.

A few hours later, the house erupted with screams from upstairs, as Melinda awoke to a world of pain, the like of which she’d never known.

Credit To – WriterJosh

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Six Pretty Petals

February 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. I kept a fan on myself while I slept during the warmer seasons, but the fan was packed deep in my closet during the heart of winter.

I wiped my eyes and looked towards the source of the breeze. A yellow blur blocked some of the blinding light that broke through the sheer curtains. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into a lovely flower with six large, yellow petals.

Before college, I would have been terrified of waking up to a strange flower on my chest, but maturity left me more curious than scared. After meeting my best friend, Chelsea, a female sleight-of-hand magician, I had grown more willing to accept the unexpected. The flower was part of some intricate trick she would surprise me with later in the week. It was the only explanation that made sense, therefore I assumed it to be the correct one.

I made it through high school without uttering the ‘love’ word to any of my boyfriends, as my friends were so hasty to brag about doing. When it came to romance, it wasn’t something I let take over my life. My reputation around campus as an ice queen wasn’t entirely accurate, but it didn’t bother me. It helped me avoid the dating scene and keep focus on my G.P.A. My plan was set, and I was the only one responsible for executing it.

I was not a prude, but I was a realist. No spontaneous college guy would waste random romantic gestures on the control freak. Even if there was interest, a warm fire or a heated blanket were more romantic than any flower this far north. Winter wasn’t for color, it was for comfort. Still, it was a pretty flower.

The flower seemed healthy, but I could smell nothing. My nose was ice cold, and a fresh gust of air made me very aware of the liquid that was dripping from it. The breeze was coming from the window, open about an inch. I closed the window and touched my nose. My hands, warm from being tucked under my pillow, recoiled from the touch of my cold nose. It was no wonder I couldn’t smell the flower.

I set the flower on my nightstand, hoping a long hot shower would clear my head and warm up my nose enough to smell it. I saw a notification for a few unanswered texts from Chelsea, but I needed to wake up first.

Chelsea was the sober sorority sister of Phi Sigma Sigma, and my best friend. She had never touched a drop of alcohol in her life and never planned to, though she had a sense of humor about it. “Why?” was a question she heard often and used as a way to challenge her ability to think quick. She claimed various rules of various religions at first before moving on to secret societies cult tenants forcing her to keep clean for her Master. For the past month, she has used that question as a study aid for her Death and Society class. She would claim that the victims of Insert Serial Killer’s Name Here were drunk and that she didn’t want to make herself an easy target. After recounting some of the more gruesome details from memory, even the most practiced partiers would spend more time eyeing their drinks and fellow party guests with suspicion than imbibing. She was passing the class with flying colors.

Chelsea was a sleight-of-hand magician, and Penn and Teller were her idols. Neither had ever taken a drink of alcohol, and neither ever would, for no reason other than they didn’t want to. She liked the idea and spent her time practicing sleight-of-hand by herself while other kids her age practiced the handsy stuff on each other. I was the control freak, she was the perfectionist, and both of us avoided deep relationships in lieu of our own personal interests and hobbies. We were best friends a week into English 301.

Chelsea was the designated driver, cock blocker and general care taker when the Phi Sigma Six went to parties. She asked for three things as payment: gas money, permission to perform magic tricks for the guys who struck out with us, and allowance to film any embarrassing shit we did (with a clause that none of it ended up on YouTube). I never got drunk enough to go viral, but New Year’s Eve was the one night of the year I caged the control freak completely. That Saturday was January 1st. I assumed Chelsea was the reason I woke up with a cracked window and a strange flower instead of a cracking headache and a strange frat boy. None of the normal signs of a hangover dragged me down and silently praised Chelsea for whichever of her magic tricks had prevented the normal symptoms. I remembered nothing.

The hot shower was fantastic. The hair on my legs was longer than I expected considering I had shaved prior to party the night before. An ex-boyfriend used to swear that his facial hair always seemed to grow in thicker and quicker after a night of heavy drinking. Not caring much about the cause, I recycled the diagnosis and slathered conditioner on my legs. After I washed and conditioned my hair, I turned the shower head to pulse and stood under the water, enjoying the sensation of water massaging the back of my neck while my hair draped over my face like a hot towel. One of the perks of a private dorm room: no roommate, no sharing the hot water.

After I brushed my hair and teeth, I returned to my bed to check my missed messages when three loud, rapid knocks pounded at my door. After the third knock, a sheet of paper slid through the gap at the bottom of my door. This was how the sorority passed along warnings about secret dorm inspections or frivolous gossip we didn’t trust texting. It was quick and anonymous. No one ever knew who was knocking. For secretive note passing, those three knocks were obnoxious in volume and left a feeling of creeping dread clinging to each and every goose bump that ran up my spine. That cold cape of unease never stayed with me until the end. Much later, I realized what was so unsettling about the situation:

One, my door was the only one that had been knocked on.

Two, I had heard no footsteps approaching (or leaving, for that matter), even though the floors in our building creaked if somebody so much as coughed.

I left the note on the floor, as if to punish it for ruining my calm. I checked that the padlock was in the locked position (a useless, but helpful symbol of safety) before I picked up my phone to check the text messages from Chelsea. The knocking returned most of the pre-shower tension. My subconscious would expect more knocking for hours just to avoid surprise if it happened again. The stress made it impossible to relax.

I paced around the room as I checked my phone. First I caught up on e-mails, the last of which was also from Chelsea. It contained an image that failed to download no matter how many times I touched the retry button. I let it be and scrolled through the text messages instead. These were the last few messages on my phone.

Me: see u in 5, doll! (Dec. 31, 2014 08:29 p.m.)
Chelsea: Who is that guy? Why is he trying to give you a flower? Can I do a trick on him or does he have potential? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:42 p.m.)
Me: says his name is ray! never seen him before, but Ana thinks he’s cute so no tricks yet! (Dec. 31, 2014 09:44 p.m.)
Chelsea: Do his eyes look strange to you, or are you too drunk to notice? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:45 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit? Where the hell did you go? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:59 p.m.)
Chelsea: Hello? Are you in the bathroom? You need to practice so you aren’t puking drunk after one Angry Orchard! Just tell me if you find a ride or not. This party is L-A-M-E! (Dec. 31, 2014 10:49 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit, seriously, where are you? I can’t find Melody or Sara. Ray keeps looking at me and his eyes are seriously fucked up. I’m getting creeped out. (Jan. 01, 2015 01:11 a.m.)
Chelsea: Holy fvk BRt I jus foudn melody, shes passd out or smthng. Wher are u?!?!?!?! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:42 a.m.)
Chelsea: BRIT! ANSWR ME!!! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:56 a.m.)
Chelsea:sixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenot (Jan. 01, 2015 4:03 a.m.)

By the time I read the last message, the chills in my back had returned ten-fold. My frantic pacing caused my thighs to ache. I made a mental note to call Melody later and make sure she was feeling better, but I needed to see Chelsea.

Chelsea didn’t just lose her cool. Ever. Getting us safely back to our rooms, passed out or otherwise, was what Chelsea did. She didn’t freak out over it, especially not to the point of it silencing her inner grammar Nazi. She had grown used to me shortening a couple of words and not using capital letters, but anything beyond that meant repercussions.

More terrifying than those three knocks were the last three text messages.
The first, broken and misspelled, like a drunk text sent to an ex booty call. She would have ignored me for a weekend on principle had I sent it to her.

The second, all capital letters with exclamation points for emphasis. That would have earned me a public conversation where she yelled at me just so my ears and shame could be uncomfortable as her eyes had been reading it.

And the third message. One long string of lower case letters. Gibberish at first, but after reading it back a few times it repeats the same message six times. ‘Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not.’ I had no idea what the fuck that was supposed to mean, or why Chelsea would have sent it.

My phone beeped and I had a fear spasm, as if I’d run into an invisible wall. A small arrow appeared at the top of my cell phone screen signifying a successful download. I forced myself to stand still and calm down before I opened it. The morning was spiraling into some sort of hell thanks to my inner control freak. I hoped a cricket chirping wouldn’t cause me to piss myself at the rate I was going.

The download was the image Chelsea had sent me, called NYE15-6Petals. I don’t know how long I sat with my thumb hovering over that text, unsure whether or not I had the guts left to open that image. I had to talk myself into thinking that it was some elaborate prank on Chelsea’s part to get back at me for disappearing on her last night. It took me longer to open it than I’m comfortable admitting.

The picture proved that Chelsea was not responsible for the flower. It was a picture of the six of us, the Phi Sigma Six. From left to right, we were Melody, Sara, Jolene, Anastasia, Chelsea, and me. All of us had yellow flowers behind our ears, and each one of those yellow bastards had six petals. I glanced at the flower on my night stand for a moment. Perhaps it was the fear, or seeing that all six of us had received one, but it no longer seemed beautiful or special. I sure as hell didn’t have the urge to smell it anymore.

Unable to keep still, I began pacing again. I glanced at the piece of paper on the floor. I wanted to look at that piece of paper about as much as I wanted to smell the flower, though I knew I would eventually look.

I had to look. To take control.

I looked back to the picture. Six of us smiling, unsure of the shenanigans the night still held. My eyes moved past our flower framed faces to the mirror behind us. In it, I saw the man who had taken the picture. He held Chelsea’s phone level with his chin. The flash in the mirror left little of his face recognizable and made his hand look thin, almost skeletal. His eyes, unaffected by the flash, were completely visible.

Chelsea had been right about Ray. His eyes were as disturbing as Chelsea’s texts described. Something was wrong with them. They whole of each eye looked black. Most people would have assumed the man wore contacts, but the blackness looked like deep, empty holes; the irises floated against the blackness like the rims of buckets floating at the bottom of the well. All six of us had red eye from the flash, but Ray’s eyes were matte. The flash didn’t just not touch them, it seemed to actively avoid them.

It could have been bad Photoshop. I wish I could say that, at any point, I had believed it was bad Photoshop.

Whether it was the growing fear in my gut or a trick from staring at the screen too long, I saw the eyes move, those pale irises staring right at me, and let out a high pitched shriek as I shoved the phone deep within the depths of my pillow pile. I was done with cryptic texts and strange images.

I couldn’t stop pacing. Again, I wanted to convince myself that Chelsea was trying out a new, albeit disturbing, magic trick on me. She had a tendency to surprise me with small pieces of tricks instead of running me through the patter and show of it all.

This was the finale of a good trick. It would explain the black, hollow eyes that light avoided, how the texts set up finding the picture, how the picture seemed to download on its own when I finished the texts. It all made sense if I could accept that Chelsea, as a magician, had secrets that she just couldn’t share. Once I saw the trick pieced together, it would all make sense.

Any other truth would break me.

At some point I had stopped pacing and had picked up the piece of paper. I was staring at the blank back side of it as I left my thoughts. Confused emotions made me dizzy while fear and reason, the angel and a devil on my shoulder, fought for control of my hands; fought for control of that precious, terrifying sheet of paper. The devil on my shoulder cooed that turning it over would reveal the secret and give me the answer Chelsea could not. The angel, meek but loud, screamed that turning it over meant I could never not turn it over.

I had always thought that my controlling nature made me a rational person, if a bit distant, but I was learning that fear turns a person’s every trait into a weapon. I was as naïve and stupid as any horror movie character I had yelled at over the years, because I could not let myself remain naïve and stupid.

I had to know. To take control.

I turned the piece of paper over.

5 CONFIRMED DEAD, 1 STILL MISSING AFTER SERIAL KILLER STRIKES CAMPUS NEW YEARS EVE PARTY
By Neil Palmer

January 3rd, 2015 – It has been three days since the Acacia Fraternity New Year’s Eve Party ended and two more students have been tragically added to the list of deceased. The bodies of Anastasia Higgins and Chelsea Fogg were found in their respective dorm rooms this morning, despite campus being under 24-hour surveillance and closed to all non-police and federal authorities as of January 1st.
The rooms of all six sorority sisters have been secured and are under observation. Melody Simmons and Sarah Rowland were found on the morning of January 1st by pledges assigned to aid them after the New Year’s Eve party. Jolene Robert’s body appeared in her bed the next day. There were no signs of forced entry and no reports of suspicious activity from officers on duty.

Ms. Higgins and Ms. Fogg each had strange yellow flowers on their chests, as with the previous victims. Two of the petals on Ms. Fogg’s flower had been removed, leaving four petals. One petal had been removed from of Ms. Higgins’, leaving five. Though the flower has not yet been identified, the picture below, pulled this morning off of Ms. Fogg’s phone, show that each flower has six petals. Authorities suspect that whoever was responsible for the flowers may have information and urge anybody with information to call 911 or the provided anonymous tip line as quickly as possible.

(In the middle of the page was the picture that Chelsea had emailed me, displaying the six of us smiling with those fucking flowers behind our ears. I wouldn’t let myself look at Ray’s face again. I forced myself to read on, despite tears blurring my vision.)

Britney Davidson is the last member of the Phi Sigma Six who remains unaccounted for. If criminal profiler theories that this is the work of a serial killer can be trusted, Ms. Davidson represents one more potential victim. Finding her is paramount to both saving her life and catching the person responsible for the deaths of her five sisters.

If anybody has any information regarding the whereabouts of Britney Davidson, please call the aforementioned numbers.

A service for the Phi Sigma Six will be held as soon as the campus is re-opened to the staff and students. Until then, free grief counseling and student support is being offered at the local YMCA.

Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of all six young women and anyone else whose lives they have touched.

There was a picture of me on the bottom of the page, and some phone numbers.

I let the paper fall to the floor as my breath caught in my chest. My sisters were dead. My best friend was dead. The grief I felt for them, and the fear I should have felt knowing that I was next, both punctuated by the date at the top of the page.

It was January 3rd. I had been lost for three days, which meant that I had lost three days.

Somehow, I had ended up back in my own bed, the same as my sorority sisters. I hoped nobody had stuffed a piece of paper underneath any of their doors. I hoped that they had gone peacefully in their sleep. I hoped they had been ignorant to the fear coursing through me knowing that I was next.

Three knocks, much louder than the first, crumbled my nerves. The chills running up my spine grew hot with adrenaline. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t help myself from whimpering in short, ugly bursts. I turned towards my bed, ready to leap for the phone under my pillows and call 911.

I couldn’t take the first step. What I saw stopped the chills, the tears, the whimper, my breathing and time itself, for all I knew.

The window was cracked about an inch. The yellow flower with the six pretty petals was no longer on my night table. The yellow flower sat on my chest in a perfect spot to obstruct my vision if I were to open my eyes. Not a single petal had been removed.
The room had become claustrophobic and surrealistic in a hurry. I wasn’t sure if the version of me, who I thought of as the ‘real’ me, was asleep or dead. I wasn’t sure if I was a ghost, a dream, or having an out of body experience.

I had been vulnerable to whatever monster was responsible for the death of my friends the entire time, and I had been ignorant of that until I read that damn article. In trying to grasp control, I had broken the illusion and lost all of it. As vulnerable as the ‘real’ me lying in bed was, the part of me stuck staring at her would be the part that suffered.

I envied her, the ‘real’ me lying in that bed, relaxed and oblivious. She hadn’t spent the morning pacing around her room, slowly losing her mind. She hadn’t learned that her best friends had died. She had no idea that she would never be waking up, if she wasn’t already dead.

The door behind me creaked as it opened. My entire body felt as cold as my nose had been. The adrenaline was gone, no longer warming my limbs. Something more than fear froze me in place. All I felt was cold.

I would not move. I could not move.

Each shallow exhale turned into a thick cloud of fog in front of my face. My eyes were wide open and drying out in the intense cold. The room itself seemed to turn gray the colder I got. I heard a hiss behind me and a large cloud fog flew past my head, overtaking one of my own small breath clouds.

I could not react to whatever was behind me. Rather it was out of fear or something the thing behind me had done to me, I would never know. My bladder let loose to punctuate my lack of body control. The fresh piss felt like ice water as it flowed down my leg. It didn’t even take a cricket chirping.

A yellow blur slowly crept over my shoulder from my left peripheral. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into an ugly flower with one large, decayed yellow petal. My entire body was ice cold, but this time I could smell it; something like nail polish remover and moldy bread and sweet rot.

Holding the stem of the flower was a pale hand that looked thin and skeletal at first. I was wrong. The hand wasn’t skeletal; it was a skeleton’s hand.
A voice behind me spoke, a deep whisper louder than any of the knocks.

“Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not?”

No control.

I looked at my body one last time and offered a silent apology. I was going to be the reason we died, and I could do nothing to stop it.

I was powerless.

Powerless to resist the second skeleton hand as it grabbed my wrist and raised my hand to the flower.

Powerless to stop my fingers from pinching that last yellow petal and plucking it off.

Powerless to stop myself from saying “I love you not.”

——-

I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. Somewhere within the whoosh of the wind blowing through my window, I swear I heard a deep whisper.

“Good choice.”

Credit To – Rob E. Nichols

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