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The Tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Weren’t you curious at all?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alex! Are you in here, Alex?”

“Tom? Is that you? Why are you…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitch blackness.

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

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

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

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

A public library card.

Casey J. Potter.

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

Credit: moonlit_cove

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Instant Messaging

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

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

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

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

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

A minute before the very first text.

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Jeff The Killer Goes To Sleep

April 1, 2016 at 6:00 AM
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Jeff crawled silently through the bedroom window of his latest victim and gradually crept over the the foot of his bed. His last encounter hadn’t gone so well; the kid’s father had intervened and Jeff had lost one of his favorite knives when he threw it at the old man whom had startled Jeff when he brandished his shotgun at him (so it was his fault, really).The knife had missed its intended target and embedded itself into the David Bowie poster that hung on the boy’s bedroom wall. Just one of life’s little ironies Jeff thought, chuckling to himself.

Luckily, he had remembered to bring a spare with him this night and, hiding behind a bush, he applied his hourly eye-drops, which were the only way for him to keep his eyes moist since that night when he had removed the lids with a craving knife (it seemed like a good idea at the time). He applied a few extra drops this time as the last struggle, followed by the long hard run that it took to flee the scene had dried up his eyes significantly, to the point where he had almost gone blind.

“I’ll get them latter.” He muttered to himself shortly after the escape. After all, his father had always told him to finish what he had started; then again, ol’ dad gotten himself carved into coleslaw, so how smart could he have been?

Jeff was feeling hopeful about this next venture though and he raised the knife high above his head, taking a moment to savor the murder he was about to commit as he liked to treat every slaying like a Thanksgiving dinner, but as he was about to plunge the knife into his helpless victim, revel in the sensation of his hands submerging themselves in a freshly opened stomach and giggle at the pitiful gasps of shock and pain that usually followed, he heard a voice that made him stop in his tracks, “Hi there, Smiley,” the voice said, “It sure took you long enough to get here.”

It was the voice of the man in the bed. It spook in a soft but level tone, without a hint of fear. “Go to sleep!” Jeff demand, in his own grainy and intimidating voice; the voice that stuck helpless terror into the hearts of victims all over town, but this man just chuckled casually. “I’m afraid you’re in no position to give orders, son.” He said, reveling a very subtle southern draw that Jeff had not noticed a moment ago.

Jeff remained frozen. Now he wanted more then anything to kill this man and get it over with, but he could not move; for the first time since acquiring his deformity and finding employment as the local homicidal maniac, Jeff had felt the icy grip of fear clutch at his spine.

“I-I said, go to sleep!” He bellowed. His voice was shaking as was his entire body. He was shaking so violently that he couldn’t hold onto the knife and it dropped from his hand.

Suddenly, the man sat up. The movement was so sudden that it startled Jeff and he stumbled back a couple paces. Jeff still could not make out any of the man’s features, only a vague outline of his upper body. It was as if the man was deliberately shrouding himself in darkness. The figure turned to face Jeff and, although he could not see them, he could feel the man’s eyes staring directly at him, penetrating into the deepest regions of his being. “You may not know who I am, but I’ve been waiting for you for quite sometime.” The figure said, “You see, I’ve known about your little reign of terror for quite a while now and I intend to put a stop to it tonight, but before you die, perhaps I should take a moment to introduce myself. My name is…” A cold shiver ran through Jeff’s entire body upon hearing the man’s name; a name consisting of what Jeff immediately recognized as the last two words he would ever hear, “…Chuck Norris.”

Credit To – Matthew Thompson Dalldorf

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The Guide

March 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I never knew you existed before, but now you’re all I can think about.

From the moment I saw you, something within me said “That’s it! That’s the one!” I was nervous because I have never been a guide before, but I know I am ready for this moment. The last thing I remember before dying was reading a small card, then looking up and seeing terrible red eyes peering into mine. Since this is my first time, I decided to do what my guide did for me.

You finally step outside your car and walk inside, stumbling a little on the icy sidewalk and peering tentatively at the icicles above. If I was able, I would laugh at the memory of my mother… or perhaps it was my grandmother… so long ago warning me of the deadly danger that icicles pose, but now I know better; that isn’t how death works at all. You slam the door behind you, but I glide through confidently, for I know I am still invisible to your eyes.

You turn toward the bathroom, and I blush and choose not to follow. Instead, I explore your house and ponder on what sort of person you must be. I wonder if you will take this gracefully or filled with terror; I wonder if you are ready. I self consciously pull at my long black robe and glance again at the card I hurriedly wrote, making sure my writing is legible. As you exit the bathroom and head to the kitchen, I take my opportunity and lay the card gently on your table, where I know you must sooner or later notice it. Take your time, though, we are in no rush.

You hum “Bohemian Rhapsody” to yourself as you pull a frozen dinner from the freezer and pop it in the microwave. I consider starting a fire to make my first guiding experience more grand, but I think you would prefer it my way. I could almost feel an echo of my long-stilled heart as you turn around and fixate on my note. Peering around anxiously, you bend down to pick it up and read it. I get into place, because I know as soon as you read my name, you will be able to see me, and I must make myself terrifyingly presentable.

This is so exciting!

My name is Death.
I am not the only Death, but one of many. See, most people think of death as falling asleep and waking up on another side, but that’s not right at all. Death is like being pulled by your ankle deep into the depths of the oceans- sudden, inexplicable, and suffocating. I am here to drag you there, for none can achieve death on their own.

You shudder in confusion, and look up to see me. A guttural and unearthly scream escapes your lips (really, am I that terrible?) as I reach out for your hand and pull you through your dimension into mine. As the mortals see it… to your death.

Credit: Amanda Lloyd

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The Beetle Man

March 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Some background information:

This happened way back in 1983, the year after I graduated high school. I’d hitchhiked south to Florida with the goal of becoming a beach bum-ette until I got tired of it. Anyway, I had shacked up with several guys until I ended up with BJ. BJ was in his thirties, was drunk all the time, and was a huge asshole. He would constantly try to start fights with people and it followed the exact same progression each time:

1) He’d piss off someone by generally being a drunk asshole.
2) If the person stood up to him, he’d bait them by calling them some variation of “ motherfucker”. Fat motherfucker, skinny motherfucker, ugly motherfucker, *insert racist slur here* motherfucker, etc.
3) He’d tell them they didn’t want to get hurt and/or they didn’t know who they were messing with.
4) He’d call their penis a “little wee-wee.”

He did this literally every day I was with him, sometimes more than once. No one ever rose to his bait, though. They all just walked away from him without a word, except some of them would call him out for being a drunk. I guess he thought he was intimidating even though he was only about five-foot-seven and didn’t have big muscles or look tough in any way. He just looked like a guy who was drunk all the time. He also hadn’t been in the military or anything that I knew of to get training or experience, so I never knew why he thought he could win any of the fights he tried to start.

You might be asking why I had ever hooked up with this guy. Well, looking back, I don’t know. He was nice at first until he “had” me, then he showed his true colors. I could have left then, so why didn’t I? All I can figure is that he let me stay at his house and gave me alcohol, so that was good enough. I guess I was too naive at the time to realize how bad of a situation I was in. And maybe, well, maybe I was arrogant. Maybe I needed to prove to myself that a man like that couldn’t get the better of me. Maybe I was just a stupid teenager.

Now that you know the particulars of my situation, this is the story:

After a while, I decided I was tired of Florida and it was time to go home. BJ wanted to drive me. I told him no because I didn’t want him to know where I was from. All that he knew was that I was from Knoxville, Tennessee and I thought even that was too much. I was going to take a bus, and had managed to scrape up and hide just enough money for a ticket. BJ didn’t like that but what could he do? Well, turns out he knew where I was hiding the money and had stolen it. He pulled it out of his wallet and waved it in my face, laughing. He left to go buy booze with my money and I just laid on the couch, crying. He got back late in the evening with several cases of beer and some bottles of Jack for the “road trip”.

Feeling like I didn’t have a choice now, I let BJ drive us in his old Nova. It actually did have cool paint with one of those flame-jobs people used to do all the time. He talked about the thing like it was some awesome muscle car but it wasn’t. I’m not even sure it was a V8, I remember it didn’t sound like one. I know for sure the power steering didn’t work because he told me it ran out of fluid and he was so drunk when he tried to fix it, he filled the reservoir with beer and ruined the whole steering system. BJ thought that was hilarious.

Anyway, we left a little before dark and he drank non-stop from the moment we left his house. He’d finish a beer, toss the bottle out the window, and tell me to grab him another one from one of the cases in the back. Sparingly at first, then before long in-between every beer, he gulped from one of the whiskey bottles. It was pretty heavy drinking, even for him. After a couple of hours, he was so drunk his eyeballs weren’t even both pointing in the same direction. Keep in mind the bastard was driving, and fast! I begged him to pull over or he was going to kill us. He told me no, the only way he’d stop was if I agreed to go back to his house, otherwise he was going non-stop to my parents’ front door. He couldn’t wait to meet my parents and show them just what kind of man their little girl was with.

It was too much for me. I couldn’t believe I’d ever taken up with this man and gotten myself in this situation. It was late, I was tired, I was scared and crying, and I generally felt like a little girl who was lost and needed her Mommy and Daddy. It was too much for me and I fell asleep, I guess because I couldn’t cope with it any other way.

I woke up when he wrecked. I remember getting that falling feeling like you sometimes get when you’re about to fall asleep, then there was a lot of noise and I hit my head hard. I don’t think I blacked out but I can’t really be sure. All I remember was that my vision was too blurry for me to even think about trying to do anything for a few seconds. Once my head cleared, I saw that I was face-down in a puddle of blood on the dash. The windshield in front of me was cracked all to hell from where my head hit it and it was a wonder I hadn’t been flung through it. My nose was bleeding.

I opened the door and kind of fell out. I saw two things: the Nova was nose-down in a deep ditch and we were in the middle of nowhere. I’m talking a long, straight road lined with trees on both sides as far as I could see in the dark. BJ was already out of the car, sitting on the side of the road. More like, he had fallen on his ass because he was too drunk to stand up straight.

I asked him where we were and he said he didn’t know, maybe somewhere in Alabama. If you don’t know, unless you start from the panhandle, there is no reason to get anywhere near Alabama to go from Florida to East Tennessee. He said he got confused and thought we were going to Memphis to see Graceland. It was his idea of a joke, I think.

We ended up just walking down the road, hoping to get picked up by someone. BJ made sure to retrieve a bottle of Jack from the car before we set off, of course. I was actually kind of relieved at him having wrecked. Now that I wasn’t being held prisoner in his car, I could probably split from him. Maybe we could stop at a motel or a gas station and I could get a ride from someone while BJ was in the bathroom, or paying for a room, or something. BJ was mostly quiet, trying to keep walking straight, occasionally taking sips from his precious bottle when he was in danger of getting a little sober.

After what seemed like a long time, so long that I was afraid we really were nowhere and nobody would ever come along, we heard a car, coming up behind us. I told BJ to hide his bottle while I tried to flag down the driver. It was a VW Beetle. The driver was a pudgy little man, older, with glasses. There was a necklace of Christ on the cross hung from the rearview mirror. The man with his Jesus necklace and little car looked about as harmless as a kitten. He let me in the back seat and BJ took the passenger seat. The Beetle man told us he would take us to an all-night gas station up the road where we could call for a wrecker. I thanked him so much. I planned, once BJ got out to call for the wrecker, that I would ask the friendly man to leave him behind and take me somewhere else.

That never happened, because after a few minutes, BJ decided it would be a good time to pick a fight.

“You’re a fat motherfucker, ain’t ya?”

My jaw just about dropped off. I could not believe he was doing that. We had been walking for at least an hour, and we hadn’t been in the car but five or ten minutes, and he was going to get us thrown right back out on the road.

“What?” the Beetle man asked.

BJ leaned over right into his face and shouted, “I said you’re a fat motherfucker!”

The Beetle man calmly pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the car.

“You’re a drunk,” he said. “I saw your car in the ditch. Figured you were a drunk.”

BJ didn’t respond, he just pulled the bottle of Jack out of his pants. He shook it in the man’s face and laughed before he took a big sip.

“I don’t like drunks,” the Beetle man said, suddenly not sounding so friendly.

“This is not the time to be messing with me, little man” BJ said.

“Stop it!” I said, smacking BJ upside the head.

“This fat motherfucker thinks he’s somebody,” BJ said. “He doesn’t know who he’s messing with. I’ll show him who’s somebody.”

“BJ, shut up!” I said, more forcefully. “I’m sorry, mister, there’s no excuse for this,” I said to the Beetle man. “BJ, get out. We’ll walk.”

“I’m not walking anywhere. This piece of shit can drive,” BJ said. A dumb, drunk grin was all over his face.

“Let me show you what I do with drunks,” the Beetle man said.

Right when he said that, I almost got sick to my stomach. There was going to be violence. It was unavoidable, now. I just put up my hands to signal I was out of it and leaned as far back in the seat as I could.

“Man, I don’t give a shit!” BJ shouted. “You don’t want to get hurt tonight, so you better shut up and drive.”

The man took the keys out of the ignition and got out. A Beetle has a pocket on the door panel for storing things and I saw him reach into it as he stood up. I thought he was putting the keys in it. He walked around to BJ’s side.

“Oh, it’s on!” BJ said, more excited than I’d ever seen him.

He fumbled the door open and stood up, still holding the bottle. I was hoping he was so drunk he wouldn’t be able to fight. I didn’t think BJ was very tough but the Beetle man was a little shorter, fatter, and older, so I was afraid he would get hurt. BJ would probably club him with the bottle.

Instead of fighting, the Beetle man pointed a gun right at BJ. That must have been what he reached into the door pocket for. I don’t know anything about guns, so all I can say was that it was a big revolver. It looked huge to me at that moment. BJ was startled but, unbelievably, kept trying to play it tough.

“Man, you better put that away before you shoot off your little wee-wee,” he said.

“Get on the ground!” the man shouted.

BJ just laughed and started to lift the bottle to his lips. The Beetle man fired off a shot. It was incredibly loud. BJ’s bottle exploded and he fell back against the car. I couldn’t really see his face but, from his body language, I could tell he was scared shitless.

“Get on the ground or I’ll kill you!” the Beetle man shouted.

BJ clumsily got to his knees and put his hands behind his head.

“You better be glad you’ve got that gun, or I’d –“ BJ started.

The man stepped forward and I thought that was it, he was going to put his gun to BJ’s head and blow his brains out. Instead, Beetle the man raised the gun high and slammed it against BJ’s temple, so hard BJ’s head bounced off the car body, then he fell. The Beetle man climbed on top of him and started bashing his head with the revolver, over and over. I didn’t really see much because I somehow got myself scrunched up into the tiny floor space between the front seats and the back seat. All I saw was the gun raising up and going back down, and I heard the impacts. I thought BJ must be dead but I heard him making noise. I think he was trying to say “please stop” or something. Then I heard two more gunshots, then an awful noise like halfway between someone choking and snoring.

The Beetle man came back around to the drive’s side, opened the door, flipped his seat forward, and dragged me out of the floor. You might think I was screaming my head off but I wasn’t. I only made little sounds, almost like dog whimpers. I read somewhere once that in life-or-death situations, some people just shut down. That’s what I was doing then, or maybe I was afraid if I made noise it would enrage the man further and he’d kill me. I don’t know. He shoved his gun barrel almost up my nose.

“If I didn’t have Jesus with me tonight, I’d have killed you both! God-damn drunks!”

He threw me to the ground, got in his car, and drove off. I looked up to watch him go. All I could focus on was that Jesus necklace on his mirror, swinging back and forth.

After a minute, it occurred to me that I should check on BJ. He was on his stomach, still breathing. There was a big hole in the dirt next to his head, which I guess was where the man had fired those two shots. I rolled him over and about screamed. His face wasn’t really a face anymore. If you looked hard enough, you could tell it used to be a face. Nothing looked like it was in the right place and his eyes were so swelled they looked like eggplants growing on his head.

I left him. That’s right, I just got up, started walking, and left him.

It took me a while but I finally got to that gas station the Beetle man had told us about. I hitched a ride with an old lady who was on her way to Chattanooga, luckily enough. She was a nice lady, said she used to get in “trouble” when she was young, too. Once we got to Chattanooga, she gave me a little money for food and told me to take care of myself. I called my parents from a bus station. They wired me some money for a ticket and, a few hours later, I was home.

So, that’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me. There was nothing paranormal, no ghosts or monsters, just a young girl getting caught between a stupid, drunk asshole and a half-crazed guy with a gun in the middle of nowhere.

I never found out if BJ lived or died and, frankly, I don’t care. As for the Beetle man, I’d almost have thanked him. But, he said he would have killed me and I didn’t do a thing to him. If you’re ever broken down or wrecked on a lonely road in Alabama, and a little man in an old Beetle stops to give you a ride, check his rearview mirror and make sure Jesus is with him before you get in.

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Old Man Werther

February 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I lived next door to Old Man Werther for the first seven years of my life, but I only ever saw him twice. No-one in the neighbourhood knew much about him or ever saw him leave his house, which stood dark and silent all year round. His back garden was always a mess, with dying flowers and brown scratchy shrubs growing out of control. But the grass and the bushes never became quite so badly overgrown that you knew it was entirely neglected. My dad used to joke that Mr. Werther must tend to his garden in the dead of night.

My best friend, N, lived next-door-but-one, with Old Man Werther in-between. N was mad about football, and all we ever seemed to do after school was boot the ball around one of our back yards, and of course, every five minutes the ball would be over the fence onto our reclusive neighbour’s property. We’d learnt that knocking on his door was no use, so whoever kicked it had to clamber over the fence and retrieve it themselves. I dreaded going and rooting through the tall bushes for the ball. Sometimes I thought I saw the curtains twitch in the gloom.

N was always bolder than I was, and he’d tease me as he knew I was afraid. Hanging over the fence watching, he’d shout that Old Man Werther was looking out of an upstairs window, then a downstairs window, then he was opening his back door. I wasn’t quite gullible enough to believe him but still I couldn’t breathe until I had chucked the ball back and flung myself to safety.

N wasn’t a bad kid, he was just cocky and a piss-taker. When it was his turn to fetch the football he’d pee in a bush, stomp on as many decaying flowers as he could and creep right up to those black windows to peek inside. He’d tell me he saw the curtains snap shut but I always thought he was just winding me up. A thin kitchen window was always open a crack, and he’d suggest we try to open it further and climb inside to see if the old man had secretly croaked years ago, as was widely assumed.

One afternoon after school I was aimlessly kicking the ball about, alone as N hadn’t called round even though he’d said he would. Inevitably, the ball soon went over; in horror, I watched it bounce against a knackered old oak tree and sail straight down to Old Man Werther’s house, much closer than I’d ever been before. My heart still, it took an eternity to creep along through the long yellowed grass, before finally lifting the ball and feeling like Indiana Jones when he held aloft that little golden statue. Emboldened, I was compelled to have a quick look through the nearest window.
Nothing. Just a pure black hole, with tattered brown curtains on either side. I was about to turn and stride away when I saw movement. A face appeared.

It was my friend N. He was only there for a second. His face was bright red; he looked me in the eyes through floods of tears. I couldn’t hear him through the dirty glass but it looked like he was screaming his little lungs out. Then an arm, so thin and pale that it looked like a bone, hooked N beneath his chin and he vanished. The curtains were thrust shut.

Three seconds later I was hammering at my back door to be let in. My mum thought I was messing about at first, then she suggested that I had imagined things; She knew I was scared of our strange neighbour. But she soon began to take me seriously, and phoned N’s mother, who was awfully surprised as N hadn’t returned from school, so she’d assumed he had gone straight round to my house. The police were called; several officers visited Old Man Werther while a nice young officer spoke to me for what seemed about four hours. But no trace of N was ever found, despite two further searches over the next few days.

The same young officer returned a week later and told me that Mr. Werther wasn’t a suspect, and that maybe my mind had been playing tricks. She pointed out that Mr. Werther was in his late eighties, and had never been in any kind of trouble before. But she seemed troubled, and unsure of her own words. Something came to light during the investigation that surprised the whole neighbourhood; Old Man Werther earnt his living as a rather brilliant children’s illustrator! The police had found literally thousands of small sketches all over his walls. He’d worked with the same prolific author for years, churning out four or five children’s novels a year.

I wasn’t a big reader but I knew I’d spotted one of their books in our school library, so I didn’t waste any time the next day, I couldn’t wait to have a look. I soon wished I hadn’t. It was a cheesy novel featuring a group of kids around my age who solved a burglary or something. There were fifteen or sixteen illustrations, breaking up the text. One picture was of three boys playing football in a suburban backyard. And they didn’t half resemble me, N and another lad we knew. Even the clothes were similar. Hands trembling, I flicked though the book. There I was again, along with more kids who all seemed to closely resemble ones who lived near me. One picture showed N creeping through an overgrown garden to peer through a dark window.

I shoved the book in my mum’s face and blabbered about the spooky similarities. But it was a drained and listless face. My mum had changed a great deal over that long week. N’s mum was a good friend, and N himself had that rambunctious cheekiness that all mums seem to love. The neighbourhood had changed forever, and we only stayed there for another few weeks before finding a new house across town. She assured me than any resemblance was a coincidence; that it was all in my little mind. I spent those last weeks in the old house terrified by the thought of Old Man Werther peering form his upstairs windows, from where he had a clear view of nine or ten local backyards, and maybe twenty local children. I didn’t like to play football there anymore.

I cycled back to the old street once or twice over the years, figuring that Old Man Werther must have died by then. I think I was seeking confirmation of some sort. But each time I returned, that one house stood out in the otherwise bright and lively road, with its dead plants and dank windows. He’d be over 100 now, but perhaps he’s still in there, I don’t know. The last time I ever went back, I saw the young family who had moved into our old house. Their five kids aged about three to ten were screaming with delight as they kicked a football around.

The second time I saw Old Man Werther was a few days before we moved away. I’d become a very troubled young man and my fitful sleep was filled with torments. Waking in a familiar panic at around midnight, I sat up in bed and peered out of the window over the backyard. Under the bright full moon I saw a figure next door.
He was just skin and bone but very tall, bald on top with long tangled silver hair down to his slender shoulders. He had terrible overbite, and several jagged teeth pointed down his lower jaw. His nose was crooked as if once broken. His white chest was bare, he wore only heavy ancient green overalls. The nails on his fingers and toes were a good two inches long. I couldn’t see his eyes behind gigantic goggles, like a World War two pilot might have worn, or a welder. Moonlight glinted in each lens, as big as a beer-mat. In his hands was a rusted watering can. But what sprinkled onto the plants didn’t look like water, it was thick and black, and it looked more like blood.

Credit: Hack Shuck

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