The Pastel Man

January 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Consider this a warning. In the event it ever comes to you during a moment of weakness, as it did me all those years ago, say no to the Pastel Man. It doesn’t matter how much you love the person that it promises to help, nothing is worth what it wants in return. I tell you this in hopes that you don’t make the same mistake I did that cold winter night, kneeling beside my father’s writhing body on the living room floor.

It was 1997 when I first encountered the creature and ever since not a day has gone by where its awful face hasn’t haunted my thoughts. I was a teenager then, but I look at that evening as the night my childhood died – corrupted and violated by a callous hell beast with pale blue skin.

Even though it happened years ago, I still remember the events of that fateful first encounter vividly. I could tell you what my father and I were wearing, the toppings on the pizza we were eating, even the score of the football game playing on the TV. It was around half time when my father’s speech started to become slurred, which I found odd since he had been nursing the same bottle of beer since kickoff. Stranger even, I had seen him drink a six-pack to himself in the past without even appearing tipsy so I was having trouble understanding how a single drink could have such an effect on him. I realized it wasn’t the alcohol when half his body went limp and he slid off the couch. I asked him if he was all right, but his words had now become incomprehensible. I grabbed the phone off the coffee table and dialed 911.

“911 what’s your emergency?”

“I think my Dad’s having a stroke.” The thought had only crossed my mind a second before the operator answered the phone.

“Ok, we have your address. An ambulance is on its way. It should be there soon. Is he conscious?”

“Yes. He is, but I can’t understand him.” Nonsensical jumbled sounds were rambling out my father’s mouth. I was afraid. He was all I had. My mother passed away when I was a baby so I never got the chance to know her, but my dad was always there for me – doing the job of two parents. If I lost him then I would be alone.

“That’s normal with strokes. It’s good that he’s awake – “ And I didn’t hear the rest because that’s when I dropped the phone.

I was having one of those moments where everything faded into the background while my world fell silent. The football game playing on the television, the operator giving me instructions over the phone, even the sound of my father’s voice as he wailed in agony on the carpet became white noise – dissolving into the air as I lost all awareness of my surroundings. All of my attention and focus was now on one thing. The horrible abomination that was standing in my kitchen watching my father and I with a twisted smile across its disgusting face.

Its head narrowly missed scraping against our kitchen’s 9ft. ceiling as it shifted from side to side, fidgeting with anticipation like a giddy child in class on the last day of school waiting for that final bell to signal summer vacation. The pastel blue skin that covered its entire body, from the creature’s head all the way down to its feet horrible grimy feet, looked weathered and wrinkled like leather that had been left out in the sun for days. Hanging off its long, lanky frame was a plain brown satchel with black stitching. It lightly caressed the strap of its pouch with a long finger while it looked on with an eager expression on its face.

At first I thought I had gone mad from the sight of seeing my father have a stroke, but the closer the monstrosity slinked towards us, the more I realized it was no hallucination. It ducked its head under the light fixture in the living room and stepped a spindly leg over the couch. Though the monstrous freak of nature was clearly bipedal, it had moved down to all fours and appeared to be stalking us like some wild animal hunting its prey. I should have been terrified, but the horrible smile on its god-awful face made me feel more anger towards the thing than fear. It was as if it was taking pleasure in my father’s misery. Closer still it crept and I grabbed my father’s hand out of desperation in some veiled attempt to protect him. The creature stopped its face mere inches from mine before shifting its attention down to my father.

“I can save him, if you’d like?” I was taken back. I had prepared for the terrible thing to take a chunk of flesh out of my neck with its teeth or slash me across the face with its black crusty nails, but speaking to me was the last thing I expected. “He’s dying, but I can save him. If you’d like?”

I sat there, mouth agape, cradling my father’s head in my arm and staring into the two pink bulbous eyes that took up more than a third of the foul thing’s face. I remember thinking that they reminded me of Easter Eggs – a bizarre connection for my mind to make given the situation. It stood back up on two feet and once again I was reminded just how imposing the creature really was. It told me its name, which I dare not repeat because it also explained that speaking it is the best way to summon the beast. For the remainder of my story I will refer to this entity as the Pastel Man – just a name I came up with due to the pigment of its skin and the light shade of pink that was the color of its eyes. That and for some reason giving the creature a silly name always helped to make me feel less afraid of it. Not much less though.

Finally, my mind had recovered enough from shock to allow me to stutter out a few words, “What do you mean you could save him?”

“What I do is make deals, young man.” Its voice was surprisingly angelic – like a thousand choirs all singing in unison. If one were to close their eyes while the creature spoke to them, they might imagine they were listening to a seraph, not the hideous monster that was sporting a depraved grin in my living room. However, its extraordinary voice only managed to make me feel more uneasy. It wasn’t right that something so beautiful would belong to such a repulsive creature. The Pastel Man gestured to its satchel. “I have the ability to save your father’s life, but you have to agree to a deal with me.”

“What kind of a deal?”

“Everything happens for a reason, even death.” Its mischievous smile widened just a bit as if the creature was getting to the punch line of a joke. “It’s true that I can save your father’s life, but someone must die in his place. One shall die, so another may live. That’s the deal.” I clutched my chest. “Not you, what would be the point? No, I’m giving you the option to choose the person who will be replacing your father this evening.”

I was stunned by what I was hearing. “Are you death?”

The Pastel Man threw its head back and let out terrible howl. It was only later that I would come to realize that was how the wretched thing laughed. “No, I’m certainly not The Grim Reaper, although you aren’t the first person to ask me that. I’m not the devil either, nor do I work for him. Let’s just say I’m an independent contractor, shall we?” Two tiny holes that lied on the center of its face in the absence of a nose flared in satisfaction of its explanation.

“I can choose anyone?”

“Well, not anyone. That wouldn’t be very fun would it?” I could see a row of shark like teeth hiding in its mouth as it separated its lips to speak. “Your father’s replacement must be someone else in your life.”

“I’m not a murderer.” My voice was tiny. It barely escaped my mouth. I looked back down to my father. He had lost consciousness and his skin was becoming pale. “And I don’t think I could kill anyone I know.”

“You don’t have to murder anyone, young man.” The sly creature was moving into its final pitch. “All you have to do is tell me who it is you want dead and I will do the rest. Surely there must be someone you wouldn’t mind out of your life? A teacher, an ex girlfriend, a rival at school perhaps?”

There was. I had fantasized about it many times, but never in my wildest dreams would I have ever acted on it. Everyone has that person in their life who is toxic. Someone who makes getting up in the morning more difficult and I was certainly no exception. “Walter Flannigan,” I muttered under my breath.

“Who?”

“Walter Flannigan. He’s the guy at school who gave me this.” I lifted my shirt and showed it the handprint shaped bruise on my chest that Walter had given me during one of his infamous “hazing sessions” in the locker room earlier that week. “He’s been shoving me into lockers, and beating me up since I was a freshman. The faculty doesn’t do anything since he’s the best football player in the history of our school. He’s a five star recruit going to a huge college next year. ESPN even did a piece on him.”

“Ahhh,” The Pastel Man began to snicker to itself. It somehow widened its already enormous pink eyes even more then crouched back down to get face to face with me again. “What fun is being a king, without serfs to torment, eh?”

“Well I’m tired of being tormented so just go and kill him before I change my mind!”

The Pastel Man shot a massive hand out and wrapped its long fingers around my face. The grin that it was wearing since I first laid eyes on it had now been replaced by a scowl. “YOU DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO! ARE WE CLEAR!?” I nodded sheepishly. The grip it had on my face was so tight. I understood then and there that if it wanted to, the creature could easily snap my neck or crush my skull like an egg. “Good, because it’s not so simple, young man. There are steps that must be taken.”

“Steps?”

“Yes,” A playful smirk once again returned to the Pastel Man’s face. “You will have to be present when this Walter Flannigan dies. In fact, I need you to summon me or else I can’t complete my end of the bargain. Get the boy alone and speak my name. You must watch him die by sunrise or else you will be violating the terms of our agreement. So do we have a deal?” I nodded again and the monster released its hold of my face before snatching my hand. Its giant paws swallowed my palm as we shook to cement the deal. “Excellent. With this handshake our deal is binding, young man.”

I watched curiously as the Pastel Man reached into its satchel and fumbled around until it found what it was looking for. In between its repugnant fingers it held a strange looking insect about the size of a quarter. The bug buzzed its wings in attempt to flutter away, but could not escape the Pastel Man’s grasp. With its other hand, it pushed down on my father’s jaw in order to open his mouth.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but the Pastel Man didn’t answer. It then violently stuffed the insect in my father’s mouth jamming it down his esophagus with its filthy fingers.

The Pastel Man rose once more to its feet. “There, the deed is done. Your father will recover in full. Now it’s your turn. Remember, the boy dies by sunrise or the deal is off.”

It turned its back to me and began to slither away.

“What if I change my mind?” I asked.

The creature stopped almost mid stride and twisted around. Again its smile had been supplanted by an awful sneer. I felt even less safe then when it was holding my face in a vice grip earlier. “Your father’s health has already been restored so someone must replace him. One must die so another shall live. That was the deal. If you fail to complete your end of the bargain then that someone will be you. Believe me when I say this young man, I don’t need to be summoned once our deal has been broken. I will come for you. That is a promise. And when I do you’re going to wish you never crossed me.” With that it continued out the kitchen and through the backdoor. I chased after it, but by the time I got outside into the back yard, the thing had disappeared. It was then that I spotted the lights of the ambulance as it pulled up across the street from my house. I flagged down the EMT’s and led them to my father.

It wasn’t difficult to find Walter. I knew exactly where he was going to be, but I had completely lost track of time while waiting to hear from my father’s doctors in the ICU. I had to hurry to Eddie Gillen’s house. Eddie’s parents were out of town and he had been talking all week at school about the “Rager” he planned on throwing. There were two things I knew about Walter:

1) Eddie was his best friend

2) He never missed a party.

It was somewhere around 3:30 AM when I pulled my car up to Eddie’s. I parked a little ways down the street so I wouldn’t be spotted. Because I had gotten held up at the hospital, I feared that I had missed my chance to catch Walter. My concerns were alleviated when I saw his raised pick-up truck still parked in the driveway. Another thought crossed my mind. What if Walter had gotten too drunk and passed out. I tried to think of away to get into Eddie’s and get Walter alone long enough for the Pastel Man to do whatever it was it had planned. Luckily for me, it wasn’t too long before Walter stumbled out of Eddie’s front door and climbed into his truck. I let out a sigh, having just escaped a potentially challenging problem.

He pulled out and I followed behind, staying far enough away so that I wouldn’t tip him off. He was drunk. Even from the distance I was tailing him, I could see his truck swerving in and out of its lane. The Pastel man’s otherworldly voice played itself over and over like a heavenly broken record in my mind.

“You must watch him die by sunrise…”

I wondered if I even had the courage to summon the creature again. Seeing it once that night was traumatic enough. Could I really handle looking into its horrible face for a second time? And what about Walter? Even though he was a huge ass, he didn’t deserve to die and certainly not at the hands of that thing.

It will kill you if you don’t let it kill him. Just remember, you’re doing this for Dad.

I’m not sure if it was the little angel on my shoulder or the little devil that was whispering in my ear. I looked out my driver side window. A pink ribbon lined the horizon – the very first signs of sunlight making its presence known in the dark evening sky. In a couple hours morning would arrive, and I would be too late to complete my end of the bargain. I would see the Pastel Man again one way or another.

Walter lived up in the foothills outside of town where some of the wealthier people owned homes. I had been there once for a school project – one where I did all the work and he ended up taking the credit. We had come to a part of the road leading towards his house that cut through a wooded area. I knew there would be no houses for a stretch so I decided that was where I would make my move. I sped up until I was tailgating the truck then started flashing my brights and honking my horn. I was prepared to rear end him in order to get him to stop driving, but it didn’t even take that to get the job done. He must have been panicking. His truck started to swerve violently across the street before running off road, sideswiping a tree, and coming to a complete stop.

I pulled up behind him then hesitated for a moment. A glimpse of the creatures grin flashed through my mind causing me to shutter. I got out of my car, but left the engine running and my headlights on. “Hey Walter!” I shouted.

Walter’s door jerked open and he jumped out the truck to the ground below. “Sean The Shithead?” he was confused, but clearly annoyed. Sean The Shithead was the nickname he had affectionately given me on my second week of school. Within a month he had my entire class calling me it. “You think that was funny? I am gonna fuck you up you little bitch!”

He stormed towards me with both fists clenched. Again doubts crossed my mind about whether or not I could pull the trigger. Guilt began to pump through my veins. Walter’s life was about to end and it was going to be because of me. Memories darted through my consciousness: All the afterschool beatings I took at the hands of Walter, the Pastel Man’s wicked smile, the look on my father’s face as he kicked and screamed on the living room floor. Finally those words, spoken through that unnervingly angelic voice of that terrible monster.

One must die so another shall live

Walter was moving closer. It was now or never. I had to choose whether or not I would summon the beast before the decision was out of my hands. I shouted the Pastel Man’s real name out in a burst of emotion aimed directly at the star football player. Walter paused for a moment, looking at me in confusion then recollected himself and proceeded towards me again – The Pastel Man was nowhere to be seen. For the second time that evening I wondered if I had gone insane. Could everything that had happened to me that night been in my head? What was real? Was my father even sick? Again I repeated the thing’s name in an effort to summon it, but this time it did nothing to hinder Walter’s pursuit of me.

He violently shoved me against the hood of my car, grabbed hold of my shirt collar and spun me around. Walter raised his fist to hit me. I winced and put my hands up in order to prepare for impact, but he never struck me. It only when I opened my eyes that I realized I wasn’t crazy. Walter’s face was white. His mouth hung open just as mine had when I first caught sight of the Pastel Man earlier that evening. I turned my head to see that unmistakable, long, lanky body slink out of the shadows and in front of my car’s headlights. Its face still wore that warped smile and I knew just beyond those thin lips was a mouth full of tiny daggers capable of tearing muscle from bone. Neither Walter nor I said a word. I think I might have been almost as terrified as him. My stomach began to feel sick as the Pastel Man stalked ever closer. I didn’t look at Walter’s face. How could I? The boy was about to die at the hands of this horrible monster and it was my fault. I didn’t have to summon it. I didn’t have to shake its hand.

“I’m sorry.” I truly was and I still am.

I hadn’t taken my eyes off the Pastel Man, but I think it had more to do with not being able to look Walter in the face than fear for my life. Walter said nothing. My car’s headlights fell on the creature’s face and now we could both see it clearly. The Pastel Man’s large pink eyes seemed to glow bright in the light of the headlamps.

Walter let go of me and made a break for his truck, but the hell beast pounced on him with a surprising amount of speed and agility that I had not yet seen it demonstrate. His screams were met with only apathy from the creature as it dug those filthy black fingernails into Walter’s abdomen. I tried to look away, but the Pastel Man made sure I remembered our agreement.

“YOU MUST WATCH, YOUNG MAN! DON’T FORGET WE HAD A DEAL!”

I forced myself to look back at the massacre. The creature’s smile had mutated from mischievous to depraved. It looked as if it was deriving some sort of sick sexual pleasure out of the torture it was putting Walter through. Deeper still, it burrowed its long bony fingers into Walter’s stomach. With a jerk the heinous thing yanked out a hand full of his intestines and dragged them across the ground as it approached me, flaring those holes on its face that filled in for a nose and clearly pleased with its handiwork.

“It’s over then?” I’m not sure if I was asking or begging the creature as the two of us faced each other in the empty street that night.

The Pastel Man threw his head back and once again let out that revolting howl. “Over? We’re just getting started.” It headed back over towards Walter, who at this point was crawling along the ground still trying to get to his truck while his innards trailed behind him. The Pastel Man cut him off and snatched him off the asphalt, easily lifting him by the head with one hand. It toyed with him for a bit, forcing Walter to look into its hideous face. With its free hand the creature reached into its satchel and pulled out a much bigger insect this time. It was different than the one my father had unknowingly ingested, both in size and in appearance. If the bug that the creature jammed down my father’s mouth was the size of a quarter then this one must have been as large as a golf ball. It was slimy – the mucous like membrane that encased its body glistened in my cars headlights. The Pastel Man dangled the nasty bug in front of Walter’s face for a few seconds.

“Now be a good boy and open your mouth.”

Walter screamed. That gave the blue beast the opening it needed. It thrust the slimy insect in his mouth and past his tonsils with its filthy fingers. I watched on as Walter gagged, presumably on the oversized maggot as it made its way down his throat. Soon he began to turn blue. I could tell he was choking to death and even though I wanted to save him, there was nothing I could do. A minute later and the Pastel Man dropped his lifeless body to the ground.

It examined the carnage for a moment, pondering over it as if it was a masterpiece in an art gallery. Then the demon turned away, retreating back towards the shadows and disappeared into the night without saying word. I stood there in the road, looking at the scene and still feeling sick to my stomach from what I just witnessed. I don’t know what I expected, to happen after the deed was done. There was no explosion, no brilliant light show where I would watch Walter’s soul either dragged down to hell or ascend upwards towards the heavens – just a dead boy in the road. A dead boy and his murderer. The Pastel Man was the gun, but I pulled the trigger. In a way there were two dead boys in the road that evening.

I knew that I didn’t have time to dawdle. At any moment a car could have come driving down the street and find me standing in the middle of that massacre. I sprinted back to my car and sped down the street towards town.

The coroner attributed Walter’s death to a drinking and driving accident, although there was understandably a lot of suspicion regarding the odd circumstances surrounding his demise. The autopsy revealed no evidence of the slimy bug that the Pastel Man had placed in Walter’s throat. The town was devastated. I remember a candle light vigil was held in his honor. A couple of big news outlets covered his death because of Walter’s status as an elite college football recruit. My father made a full recovery and just a couple of days after his stroke was released from the hospital. I would go on to graduate high school and meet the love of my life the very first semester at my university. Her name was Diana and she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. We married shortly after college, settled down and had a wonderful boy named Mathew. However, I never forgot the hand I played in Walter’s death. I have carried that guilt with me since the events of that night. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t forget. The Pastel Man wouldn’t let me.

It must have seen me as an easy patsy because the creature has come to me again and again every time a loved one has been on the brink of death, offering me the same deal I accepted that first shameful night. Though the creature had been persistent in its pursuit of blood lust, the image of Walter’s gruesome death never left my mind and gave me the strength to say no to its propositions. Even years later, on the eve of my father’s passing, I was able to refuse it’s proposal when the Pastel Man visited me in his hospital room.

I’ve been cursed to have my soul tested till the day that I die by the Pastel Man. A test that for years I was able to persevere through, until one evening where my life began crumbling down and once more the creature took advantage of me in a moment of weakness.

Diana and Mathew were on their way back from the airport after visiting my in-laws. I was swamped at work and had to pull an all-nighter in order to finish a project by its deadline so my wife hailed a taxi rather than ask me to pick them up.

It was around midnight and I was alone in the office when I got a call from the police department. They told me a drunk driver had collided with their cab on the highway coming back from the airport. My wife and the cabbie were killed on impact and my son was in critical condition. I sat there at my desk, unable to move or formulate a coherent thought. It was then that I realized I wasn’t by myself in the office anymore. Perched atop my boss’ desk was The Pastel Man, that abhorrent smile still painted across its nasty wrinkled face. It didn’t need to make an offer. This I believe the creature already knew.

“Can you save them?” I asked.

“Yes and no.”

“What do you mean!? Just spit it out!”

The Pastel man’s smirk disappeared and I could tell that it was not pleased with my tone of voice. Memories of the vice grip it had on my face the last time I demanded something from the creature bled into my consciousness. Perhaps it realized I was past the point of threats because instead of lunging at me as the creature had done in the past, it decided to clarify its cryptic response. “I cannot pull someone back from death’s clutches, only save them before it gets its hold of them. Your wife is dead. Now make your peace with that. Your son’s life on the other hand can be salvaged. For a price of course.”

I racked my mind. I couldn’t think of a single person in my life who deserved to die at the hands of that pale blue monstrosity. Even someone as awful as Walter didn’t deserve the gruesome fate he received that night due to my poor decision. But my son was all I had now, and he didn’t deserve to die either. Not because someone else had made a poor decision that evening and got behind the wheel of a car they were too intoxicated to drive.

The Pastel Man’s glorious voice filled the room again. I seemed to be hearing it from all directions. “The drunk driver that crashed into your family’s cab is still alive and in the very same hospital as your son. Why not him?”

For the first time that evening I looked into the large pink eyes of the creature. “You said it has to be someone I know?”

“Semantics. It just needs to be someone who has directly impacted your life. The moment he drove his car into your wife and son’s taxi he became a candidate.” The Pastel Man flared the tiny holes on its face with glee the way it always did when it was content with itself.

“Fine. Let’s do it,” I said. I shook its giant hand to make the arrangement official. And with that the Pastel Man gave me the instructions to complete our deal.

When I met with the doctors at the hospital they updated me on the condition of my son. “We’ve done all that we can, but he’s a fighter,” The doctors feigned optimism, but I could see in their eyes that they didn’t expect him to make it through the night.

They led me to his room and gave me some time alone with him. The Pastel Man was already there when I entered, smiling down on his broken body. Quickly I shut the door behind me and nodded to the creature. It reached a gangly arm into its satchel and pulled out the same type of strange looking insect it had shoved down my father’s throat. I opened Mathew’s mouth and with two grubby fingers the creature crammed the bug deep into his oral cavity.

“He will make a full recovery. Now it’s your turn.” The Pastel Man waltzed behind the hospital curtain in my son’s room. I knew I didn’t have to check to see if it had disappeared. If it were to make another appearance at the hospital that evening, then it would be because I spoke its name.

When I agreed to the bargain at my office The Pastel Man had told me what room the driver was being kept in. His injuries were far less severe than Mathew’s so he was in a different wing of the facility. I could feel my heart pounding as I made my way towards his room. With each step the beating in my chest grew louder. Already that same feeling of guilt I had felt while I looked down at Walter’s corpse lying in the middle of the road washed over me. I was about to take another person’s life. Who was I to decide whether someone deserved to live or die? I felt just as ugly and horrible as the Pastel Man looked. Maybe I didn’t have pointed teeth or wrinkly blue skin, but if I knew that if I went through with our deal, then I was just as big of a monster as it was.

I stepped as stealthily as possible through the door, hoping no one would notice me sneak in. As I looked down at the face of the driver lying unconscious in his bed, I instantly felt that familiar sickness in my stomach. He was a boy, no older than Walter the night The Pastel Man and myself unfairly snuffed out his life before it truly had a chance to shine. Walter could have become someone different when he matured, someone capable of doing real good in this world, but he was never given the opportunity. This driver was just a stupid teenager who made a mistake, one that he’d never get the chance to atone for. I saw Walter in the boy’s face and my stomach began to churn more. I tried to call out the Pastel Man’s name, but couldn’t. Perhaps that little angel on my shoulder wouldn’t allow me. I would not be responsible for the death of another boy. Not this time. I refused to pull that trigger.

I walked out of his room and didn’t look back. I spent the rest of the evening sitting next to my son’s bed. The first few rays of morning sunlight snuck into Mathew’s hospital room and caught my attention. I peeked out through the blinds and watched the sun rise for the first time since the night Walter died. It was beautiful. The pink ribbon that lined the horizon had bled into the sky creating a dazzling purple hue. I had my light show, and it was spectacular.

I broke my deal with the Pastel Man and in doing so my fate now rests in its filthy hands. Hands that it likely plans on burying into my abdomen. On the plus side, my son will recover in full. It will be hard for him growing up without his parents, but he’s always been close with his Aunt. My wife’s sister is a wonderful woman with a caring family. She’s his legal godmother and promised us the day he was born that she would always be there for him. Her husband does well for himself and they’ve never had a problem with money. The life insurance policy Diana and I took out combined with the money we had been putting away for Mathew to go to college will insure that there should be no financial issues while he’s under their care.

It’s only a matter of time before the Pastel Man comes for me. I have accepted that my death is near, but I’m not scared. In a way I look forward to it. It’s almost as if the boy that died within me on that terrible night has been given another chance. When I die all the guilt and hate that I’ve had for myself dies with me – wiped away so that my soul can cross over to a new plain of existence pure and innocent. The way it was before I ever met that monster.

One must die so another shall live.

That’s what the Pastel Man said.

Credit To – Vincent VenaCava

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The Nice Guy

January 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Frank, Thomas and Kirby enter the office break room at approximately 12:25pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Each man holds various containers designed for holding food and drink, and as they lazily slump into the fiberglass chairs that were haphazardly pushed under the table after their previous uses, the room echos of violent thwop-pops and elongated scraw-jips as tupperware lids fly open and velcro bags release their treasures.
“God Dammit!” Thomas rolls his eyes.

Frank, with a mouth full of cold pizza, mumbles in empathy, “Wife packed ya tuna-salad again, huh.”

Thomas tosses the soggy sandwich down onto the table with a resounding glop.

“She knows I hate this stuff! I swear, I’ve almost reached my breaking point with this shit!”

“Why don’t you just pack your own lunch.” Kirby attempts to speak through teeth caked with salad. A drip of ranch dressing falls from Kirby’s lip and collides with the table. Thomas just glares at Kirby in disdain.

“You don’t get it, man. I’ve told her, like, fifty times. ‘I don’t like tuna-salad’, but does she listen? Nooooooo!”

Thomas raises his right hand to his forehead.

“I swear, I’m up to here with this!”

“Well, at least you’re not like that one guy.” Frank wipes his mouth of the residual pepperoni grease with a cheap paper napkin.

“What one guy?” Thomas looks at Frank in slight confusion.

“You talking about that guy from CompuTools? I heard about on the news last week.” Kirby chimes in, he has already begun digging into his pudding cup.

Thomas spins around to Kirby, “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

Frank, wipes off his hands with another napkin, folds his hands in front of him and leans in quietly. Thomas and Kirby follow suit.

“Y’see, there was this guy over at CompuTools. Nice guy, I hear. What was his name?” Frank concentrates in the ceiling, search for a name. Suddenly Frank snaps his fingers, “Phil Kerbson. Anyway, He was one of those diligent workers, never complained, always got his work done before deadline. Hell, he would even stay late to make sure that his perfect record was never tarnished.”

Thomas chimed in, “Ugh, I hate those guys!”

“Well, supposedly, CompuTools hired this new hotshot manager. Basic ROTC’d up from corporate, y’know… never lifted a finger in his life and get to skip right to the front?”

Thomas shook his head.

“Exactly. So this guy was brought in to,” Frank raised his finger quotations, “help. And since this douche really didn’t know anything about CompuTools products, he would just bark orders and micromanage everyone. Everyone in the office was buzzing, ‘We’re gonna quit’, ‘Let’s get HR involved’, ‘This guy is completely heartless’, the usual empty water cooler promises. Everyone was in a tiff… except Phil.”

“Phil would mind his own business and do his work with a silent smile. He would even go as far as asking this new manager, ‘Anything else I can do to help?’ Well, I don’t know if that manager deliberately planned to be this malicious or if it was just common nature for him, but he got this notion in his head… to see how far he could bend Phil, until he broke.”

“Starting the very next day, the manager threw the biggest workflow onto Phil’s desk and barked out, ‘I need this done by 5 O’clock today or you can just pack your shit now!’ or something to that effect. Phil quietly turned to face the manager, smiled his calm innocent smile and said ‘Sure thing, boss.’ 5 O’clock rolls around and Phil walks into the manager’s office and proudly places the completed report onto the man’s desk. ‘Here ya go, boss.’”

“The manager looked up from polishing and buffing his prized six-hundred pound marble desk to the completed pile of papers with a look of complete shock. How could one man complete that report in only 7 1/2 short hours? His eyes then shifted from the report to glare viciously to look upon Phil’s calm, lucid face. “Anything else I can do to help?” smiled Phil. The manager simply shook his head in disbelief. “OK, well I’m going to head out for the day, sir. You have yourself a great evening.””

“The manager was flabbergasted. He steeled his motives and vowed that he would try harder to break this man’s spirit by the end of the week.”

“Well, the end of the week came and went and still Phil was as cheerful as ever. Always responding to every outrageous task with a happy, “Sure thing.” And then turning in the completed work to the manager at the end of the day with a pleasant, “Anything else I can do to help?” Well this went on for a few weeks and the manager, now seeing that current efforts were fruitless, now decided that maybe he needed to up the ante. The manager would now bombard Phil with major accounts and lengthy business trips and tedious conferences all to quell his passion that Phil must be broken. But with every new and more difficult task, Phil would embrace it with a ‘Sure thing, boss’ and come back for more with a sunny ‘Anything else I can do to help?’”

“The manager, now at his wits end had one more trick up his sleeve. Although, his lack of concentration on the job he was hired for was beginning to come under fire, he wanted to give it one more shot before, he himself had to face the firing squad. He got it in his head that it was the breaks in-between each eight hour day that was allowing Phil to wind down regain his bearings, get a good night’s sleep and come back the next day ready for more.

So, with that in mind, he gave Phil the budget report for the following year and told him, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, but you cannot leave your desk until we trim at least five million dollars off of next year’s budget.’ As always, Phil replied with his trademark ‘Sure thing, boss.’ The manager turned away knowing that this task would be Phil’s breaking point. And, like clockwork, Phil came into the manager’s office with the completed budget and handed it to him. ‘Anything else I can do to help?’ The manager looked over the budget, ‘Eh, I really don’t’ like these numbers.’ The manager threw the report back at Phil. ‘Do it all over, and this time… do it right!’ Phil’s smile sagged a little, but soon rebounded and turned around and headed back to his desk.”

“The manager saw Phil’s smile buckle for just a moment and he chuckled to himself that his plan is finally working. Eight O’clock rolls around and Phil returns back to the manager’s office. But Phil looks a bit different. His hair a bit disheveled. His horn rimmed glasses are now on his forehead. one corner of his shirt has become untucked from his pants. Phil’s stride isn’t as carefree. Phil hands the report to the manager and exasperatedly utters, ‘Anything else I can do to help, sir?’ The manager, now seeing victory close at hand looks at the report, ‘Uh, Phil. I think you made some miscalculations here.’ The manager hands the report back to Phil, ‘Do it again, and remember what I said! You stay until it’s complete!’”

“Phil, dejected, defeated, disappointed, looks at the report in his hands, wiped the sweat from his brow, and scratched the back of his neck. The nearly broken man headed back to his desk to correct his errors. As soon as Phil left his office, the manager closed the door and danced a twisted victory dance. Phil was nearly gone. The manager was going to sleep good that night.”

“At 11 O’clock, Phil trudged back into the manager’s office and handed him the completed and corrected report. Exhausted, Phil asked ‘Is there anything else I can do to help, sir?’ The manager, now a shining example of pure arrogance, threw the report on the floor and exclaimed, ‘Why did you do the budget for next year? I asked you to do the budget for THIS year. Can’t you even follow simple instructions? I want you to march back to your pathetic little cube and you are going to stay all night in your have to until you do exactly what I ask you to do, or so help me God, I will find someone else who CAN do it!’”

“Now, no one knows exactly what happened next. But some of the late night stragglers who heard the manager’s tirade claim that as soon as he was finished. Phil took off his glasses, cleaned them off with the corner of his shirt that was still untucked, put his glasses back on and closed all of the blinds in the manager’s office that faced the rest of the room. What came from the room after that was a thunderous crash, and a high pitched shriek.

The door flew open and the manager bolted out of the room with glass shards in his hair, bleeding profusely from his face screaming, ‘CALL SECURITY! CALL SECURITY!’ Witnesses then claim that they saw Phil calmly walk out of the office, blood spattered about his shirt and hands. He held a letter opener in his right hand, now stained with blood. Phil calm and happy expression was lost to a visage one person could only describe as berserk. Phil brow furrowed, scrunching his eyebrows into a wide arches.

His teeth gnarled and, according to one person, appeared sharp and pointed. His skin, once pale and fair, now red and scaly. His slick hair now flailed wildly about his head and danced of its own accord. Phil marched towards the cowering manager, ‘sure thing, Sure Thing, SURE THING!’ Phil continued to chant these two words over and over and the volume of his voice continued to climb until he was shrieking.

Phil destroyed everything in his path to get to the manager, who was now scrambling for the elevator. He turned over cubicle walls, hurled the office printer, overturned desks but was still marching at a steady pace. Not once did Phil’s gate increase in speed. The elevator doors finally opened and the manager quickly darted inside. And as he was frantically pounding on the ‘door close’ button, Phil’s arm thrust inside the cabin as the doors were closing. The manager let out a girlish cry for help, and then…”

Thomas, now sitting on the edge of his seat, blinked “Yeah?”

“Well,” Frank continued, “Security hauled him away. The folks that stuck around for the whole ordeal say that they’ve never heard Phil use any profanity, ever. But on that day, they heard curse words so vile, that they almost sounded like they were in some form of ancient tongue, some demonic language. Only be the grace of God was Security able to restrain Phil. As the paddywagon rolled up into the office building drive, witnesses noticed three things. First, that Phil was kicking and screaming the entire time, and was hardly recognizable. Second, that the manager couldn’t stop crying. And thirdly, and the most bizarre, was they realized what made the thunderous crash in the manager’s office. The six-hundred pound marble desk, the manager’s prize possession, now lay in pieces outside the office window.”

“So that’s it? What happened after that? There had to have been a trial?” Thomas exclaimed.

“Oh there was a trial, but Phil was deemed mentally unstable to serve trial, so he was committed to the State Hospital over in Brookfield. And everything died down and returned to normal. The manager was brought into see corporate and he was actually let go because not only did the security cameras record what Phil did to the manager and the office, but they also recorded the manager’s outburst on Phil that caused him to snap in the first place.”

“Just desserts. I say!” Thomas commented. Kirby just shook his head as he started to clean up his empty containers.

“Well here’s real punchline. And this I got from Sally Boyd over there at CompuTools, she used to be the manager’s admin. After the manager was let go, he was cleaning out his, temporary desk, and to pass the time he had the radio on. The manager left his office for a moment to get some more boxes. As he returned back to his office, she heard on the radio announce ‘Phil Kerbson, committed to Brookfield State Hospital on Monday was discovered missing from his cell earlier today’. The manager froze in horror. And as Sally turned around to see the manager’s expression, the door violently slammed in her face, knocking her backwards onto the ground.

As she recovered from her fall, she told me that she could clearly hear the manager pleading for his life. She distinctly heard, ‘Please! Don’t! I’ll Do anything you want!’ And then, a familiar calm and soothing voice came from behind the door, ‘Anything I can do to help!’ Sally pounced for the door, but it was locked, she tried to look through the window, but the blinds were mostly drawn so she only see the flailing of arms and legs. Sally kicked at the door repeatedly and shouted, ‘SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP!’ But it was too late. As soon as the commotion ceased from inside the office, Sally heard the knob ‘click’ to signal that it had been unlocked. With tears in her eyes she slowly reached for the knob and opened to door to reveal a gruesome scene.”

“The manager, splayed open from his throat to his pelvis, rib cage and organs exposed. His hands twisted into contorted knots of flesh and knuckle. His face, warped into an expression of unrelenting anguish and fear, eyes wide, jaw locked nose broken and twisted. In his left hand, its last cadence drawing to a close, was the manager’s own heart. Sally and some of the onlookers who had finally gained access to the room then looked up to see the following message scrawled on the bare dingily yellow office wall, ‘We were wrong. He had a heart after all.’”

“Jesus!” Thomas had to hold back the vomit by covering his mouth.

“After that, CompuTools shut down that office, I think they turned it into a… a MegaBuy.” Frank finished his tale with a solemn sip of coffee.

Thomas rubbed his eyes, “Whoa! Wait a minute. What ever happened to Phil?”

“This is when I’ve supposed to say ‘That’s the strange thing…’ but it’s not really that strange. When they finally opened up the office, the only person in there was the manager. Sally even said she never actually saw Phil, she only heard his voice… or at least what sounded like his voice. And he hasn’t been seen since.”

“That story’s completely bullshit!” Kirby exclaimed.

Frank and Thomas spun around to glare at Kirby for breaking the mood.

“What,” Thomas inquired “Like you know exactly what happened.”

“I just know that that’s not how it happened.” Kirby calmly stated as he adjusted his horn rimmed glasses.

“OK, hotshot. How do you know?” Frank jested

“Because…” Kirby leaned in close. Frank and Thomas match Kirby’s movement. “the hospital doesn’t know I’m gone, yet.”

Just then, Kirby’s manager leans into the break room. “Hey Kirb, I need you to do something for me.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

As Kirby stands up to leave the now still break room, Frank and Thomas glance down at Kirby’s security badge for his full name, Kirby Phillips.

Credit To – Murphy1976 of WellHey Productions

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A Christmas Feast

December 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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He first suspected that they were going to eat him when he noticed the distinct lack of Yuletide smells. It wasn’t perhaps a conscious thought, at least not one which had been fully realised, but there was a clear growing uneasiness within him. Somehow he just knew.

Surely if a family invited you for Christmas dinner, the house would be filled with the wonderful aromas associated with that annual feast; succulent roast turkey, honey glazed vegetables, perhaps the fumes of mulled wine or a brandy covered Christmas pudding, but no, all of these were absent.

Yet the table was set.

It was a particularly bleak Christmas, and while snow was often welcome at that festive time of the year, the penetrating cold and frost which seemed to sabotage both homes and their residents’ bodies was not. The temperature had plummeted on the 7th, and there had been little sign of any forthcoming reprieve.

Families attempted as best they could to reach one another, but for many it was to be a lonely Christmas day. Travel, especially for the elderly, was almost impossible for fear of slipping on the ice. One fall was all it would take for a broken hip or shoulder, and for the more fragile individuals amongst them, recovering from such an injury was not an easy task. Certainly not as easy as it would be for those of a younger vintage.

The Cardinal family had taken pity on an elderly gentleman who had recently moved into the neighbourhood only a few streets away. They were of an upstanding stock and took part in a local home-help initiative spending time with the old and vulnerable. Everyone knew and loved them.

Timmy was the youngest, a boy of only 5 or 6. He was a child whom all looked upon with great adoration – never complaining, never causing trouble, always adorable – and his ten year old sister, Camilla, was equally as admired.

They were both a testament to the caring and nurturing parenting skills of Ben and Lucy Cardinal.

Each year as the cold winter drew in, the Cardinal family were admired for their dedication and commitment to those around them; their passion, almost zeal for helping those who were less fortunate. But behind the smiles and the skin-deep façade of that of a loving family, lurked a far more sinister purpose.

They had a tradition each year. A way to reward themselves for their kindness and generosity; one which stemmed back through many previous generations of the Cardinal family. Each Christmas they would invite a guest for dinner who would be welcomed with open arms into their home, sat down at a beautifully set table, provided with humorous and enjoyable Christmas conversation, and then by the light of the roaring fire, the guest would be stabbed to death and eaten gratefully.

They all reveled in the old tradition, with Timmy looking forward to it the most – he had a ferocious appetite and a waistline to match it – but children do get so wrapped up in the anticipation of a family Christmas and his parents were delighted to see a growing boy fill his belly.

Camilla was of a more quiet disposition than her stout little brother, slight of figure with a pallid complexion which reminded all of her mother, but make no mistake; she adored eating with the family and could render anyone silent with a sharp, cold insult.

Ben was the local police chief for the area, so covering up their annual feast was quite the cinch, while Lucy was, shall we say, a relation of sorts and was entirely enthusiastic about maintaining the Christmas tradition.

Their guests were invariably those without family, and often of a ripe old age. Forgotten by society, left to wither in their isolated little houses. Ben explained to the children yearly that it was almost a kindness to put the victims out of their slowly increasing misery, and besides, when they did eventually die they would be shoved into a box in the ground or roasted into ashes; what a waste of good meat!

This year Timmy and Camilla were especially excited. It was all their mother could do to calm their nerves, but on that Christmas eve it was nearly impossible, for they knew the special treat they were in for the following day. The cardinals were hosting a most special guest.

His name was Sergiu Moraru and he hailed from Eastern Europe. They had never had foreign meat before and the very idea of tearing into some delicious exotic muscle and fat, made this years feast something to really look forward to.

They had met old man Moraru just a few weeks earlier when Ben had noticed the unusual name on his home-help list. Each year as Christmas approached, the volunteers at the local church would be given names and addresses of pensioners in the area who had no family and would be left quite alone over the holiday season. At that festive time of year, and worried that many of the frailer residents might succumb to the biting cold, church committee members would visit each of these lonely individuals and offer a friendly ear, a helping hand, and often some hearty food to the poorest of those on the list.

The names would rarely change, but at least one person on that list would sadly pass away that year. Being an upstanding member of the community and a high ranking police officer in the area, Ben would often inform the church that one of their flock had sadly passed away, and with no friends or family known, he would concoct a lie which usually involved a long lost son or daughter, appearing to take their sadly departed parent somewhere far away to be buried. That or he would say that they had simply moved, having a bit of a deal with a local estate agent and solicitors firm to throw the proceeds from any property sales their way.

The family were not without influence.

It was incredible how little people questioned this, but as the Cardinals ensured that each Christmas meal was not an active member in the church or community, people just assumed that Ben knew best.

This year the Cardinals had been hoping to invite Lucy Rindridge around for her Christmas swan song, but unfortunately she had died during the summer. Ben had investigated and he suspected that an intruder had been inside the house with her at the time of her death, but it seemed as though the causes were natural.

No, the family would just have to have someone different for dinner. Then the name appeared on the list:

‘Sergiu Moraru – 86. Slight Emphysema, no family. Knows no one in the area as he has only recently moved here.’

Perfect.

Ben found Mr Moraru to be an absolute delight. While he was obviously very frail, his mind was still sharp and he regaled Ben with numerous colourful stories about ‘the old country’ and the adventures he had while in the full bloom of youth. Of particular interest were his war stories, and Ben was thrilled to know that their main course would be that of an intelligent, well-traveled man.

He even looked unlike any of the previous victims. He was quite tall, although slightly hunched with age, and with a long crooked nose and intense stare Ben fancied that in his youth Moraru would have been quite intimidating. His kind smile and obvious fragile frame, however, left Ben in no doubt that the kids would love him. They enjoyed eating those with character and a gentle disposition.

He always enjoyed the meat more if it had a keen mind and was out of the ordinary, as the family religion (one which had managed to stay unseen yet influential throughout the centuries) stated that the eating of another human being would transmit some of its strengths to those whom devoured it.

As with many of those who can only look into the past rather than into the future, Sergiu Moraru enjoyed the company greatly, and was touched when Ben invited him to sit at his family’s Christmas table.

The old man was extremely frail and required the assistance of both Ben and Camilla to help him in and out of Ben’s car and then into the house. His emphysema was particularly bad that day as each step was accompanied by the wheezing, fluid-filled sounds of struggling lungs.

Each room of the Cardinal home was draped in a multicoloured selection of rather crass Christmas decorations, with numerous cards adorning every visible table and mantelpiece showcasing just how popular Ben and his family really were.

The table was beautifully laid with a red cotton cloth resting underneath an elegant creme dining set. The old man found that the rest of Ben’s family were just as pleasant and congenial as he was. Timmy and Camilla were kind and very well behaved for their age, helping the frail old man to his chair carefully and then waiting on him, topping up his drink as their mother and father busied themselves in the kitchen.

Finally, Lucy appeared carrying a huge centrepiece plate. It was unusually large and as she sat it in the middle of the table, empty and devoid of food, old man Moraru caught a look on Lucy’s face. It was brief, and he immediately attempted to disregard it as a product of his imagination, but it unsettled him deeply. It was as if a private joke had passed between the eyes of Lucy and her children, a flicker of a grin, and not one of kindness or of Christmas spirit, but rather one resembling that of a conspiratorial bully. As if Sergiu was the unwitting recipient of some unwholesome prank, waiting to be ridiculed.

Just as the unease began to diminish, Ben appeared with a large jagged carving knife and a long, two-pronged fork which reminded Sergiu more of a butchers’ implement than that required to cut a decent sized turkey.

A turkey which became increasingly conspicuous by its absence.

There they sat for over an hour, each member of the Cardinal family replenishing the old man’s drink with enthusiasm and showing concern for every and each cough or moment of uncomfortable breathing experienced by their guest. But it was a strange concern.

There they sat gleefully, asking Moraru questions and then listening to the stories and answers which came about his life, where he had lived, how many battles he had fought in. But the interest and concern seemed to be distant somehow. It was only skin-deep. Each time their guest mentioned the old country, those same conspiracy-laden glances were traded across the table, as if excited, not by the content of the stories, but rather by the simple fact that Moraru was a foreigner.

The absence of not only food, but that of the mere mention of it was unsettling enough, but what was more perplexing was that Ben repeatedly stole looks towards an antique clock which sat on a mantelpiece above the fire. Looks which were poorly hidden, and betrayed their purpose: He was counting down the minutes to some event. While the old man had no idea what that event was, the certainty was apparent that it was not connected to anything cooking in the kitchen oven.

Moraru knew that there was simply no food being roasted, grilled, or even cooled on a window ledge nearby. Whatever was being planned it was not going to involve him eating a Christmas meal.

It was Camilla who stopped smiling first at his anecdotes and historical observations. She had ceased listening. No longer was she politely laughing at obvious jokes and the endearing sight of an old man repeating himself through forgetfulness. Camilla was simply staring. Staring with those pin point cold dark eyes. As a snake before a strike.

Timmy was next to abandon the act as he began to grin menacingly at Sergiu, as his hands gripped a small serrated steak knife intensely. The most alarming thing was that the focus of Timmy’s stare was not the old man’s face, but his wrinkled neck.

With one last glance at the clock, Ben ceased being the jovial, attentive host and began to run his fingers along the huge carving knife in front of him, with an a mixture of anger and lust upon his face.

Sergiu had seen many things in his time, but nothing as surprisingly strange and unnerving as this.

Finally, when the clock began to chime, Lucy relinquished her false, endearing shell, and exposed the cold hearted and twisted personality which lay beneath.

As the chimes slowly rang throughout the house, one by one, echoing and lonely and piercing in their symbolism, each of the Cardinals rose up from their chairs, sharp, jagged knives in hand, and waited.

The chime rang once and they uttered an indecipherable phrase in unison.

The chime rang twice and they increased their cult-like chorus in ferocity and volume.

The chime rang three times and then they stopped.

All were silent, the house devoid of sound, Christmas spirit, and that of hope. The old man’s wheezing grew in intensity as the uniquely bizarre sight of the twisted family about to dine dawned upon Sergiu.

The family then quietly, and efficiently, walked around the dining table and stood motionless, surrounding their guest. Just as the old man was about to inquire what was to become of him, the clock on the mantelpiece burst into life one final time. The chime was different from the others. It was sharper, somehow fouler, and echoed once and once only throughout the Cardinal home.

From behind, Lucy slit the old man’s throat from ear to ear as Ben thrust his carving knife deep into Sergiu’s stomach. Both parents then removed their knives and stood back watching with pride as Camilla cut and stabbed repeatedly, while Timmy thrust his steak knife in and out of Moraru’s legs, neck and arms.

After a a few minutes, the frenzy diminished as both children grew tired, and with one last downward thrust, Timmy drove his steak knife so deeply into the old man’s hand that it skewered it completely, embedding itself into the table on which the hand rested.

The children now ran to their parents’ collective embrace. They hugged and rejoiced in what was a fantastic Christmas game, and now could look forward with delight to some succulent exotic meat.

Arms wrapped around one another, they stared at their victim and began to laugh loudly commenting on the old fool’s stories of times gone by, the war, and the old country.

As they turned to each other once more, the laughter diminished and they looked into each other’s rosy, blood covered faces and shared a family moment. This had been one of Ben’s favourite sacrifices.

But the laughter had not completely ceased. One person was still laughing loudly. Confusion turned to abject horror as the bizarre truth revealed itself: It was Mr Moraru.

Sitting covered in blood, his head tilted back and the deep cut in his throat wide open, the dinner guest laughed loud and strong. A laugh which was both young and old.

His head arched forward as he pulled Timmy’s steak knife out of his hand, dropping it on the floor. Camilla screamed, as Lucy hid behind Ben. What they thought to be a corpse now stared at them all, as they had stared at it with a singular purpose.

Timmy began to pee himself and cry as two previously retracted fangs cracked through the old man’s upper gum revealing a serrated and terrifying grin. As he rose to his feet Lucy fainted, and with both hunch and age now gone, the Cardinals’ guest loomed tall and dark before them, his eyes piercing, telling tales of countries, and decades, and of centuries of existence.

Sergiu Moraru ate well that Christmas.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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Hearts of the Young

December 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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There have been few parts of my life that I remember in specific, lifelike detail. I’m not sure of this to be a blessing or a curse, as there are moments of my life I wish to forget completely. The most significant of which was the play.

I’m being quite vague when I say, “the” play, as I’ve seen plenty of stage shows in my lifetime. Presentations in the form of movies usually bored me, but there was something about the stage that just made a show different. Live actors (so long as they were good) made the experience much more real to me, and ever since I saw my first stage play as a young boy, I was hooked. I move to the city, and saw shows whenever I could.

Some stage plays can be quite expensive, but money was never an issue for something I loved. However, I was especially drawn in when I saw the poster for “The Hearts of the Young”. I had seen the poster for the show on the streets, not too far from the popular stage theater in my city. What attracted many to this performance was that it was free. Sure, this brought on assumptions that it would be terrible, but who doesn’t enjoy free entertainment?

The show was being presented by the Masked Midnight Players, who I had never heard of. I had done some research on them prior to the show, but I couldn’t find any information, which gave me the notion that they were a rather new group.

Something I should mention before I go on is that the posters for the show became quite numerous. As the night of the show grew closer, it seemed as if I couldn’t stroll down a single block without seeing an ad stating “The Hearts of the Young! Free Show! This Saturday!”. I know that a group should have the right to make themselves known, but it got a bit ridiculous in my eyes. They placed ads on cars, put flyers in every mailbox possible, and even put poster up on visible, but private property. This started to become a nuisance to some, until the day of the show finally came.

The posters clearly had an effect, because word of the show had clearly got out. Despite the fact that the show started at a late time of 10:30 P.M., the theater was still rather crowded. Not as packed as I’ve seen it at other shows, but certainly more so than the average night. Since the show was free, it had no problem attracting it’s crowd. Even still, I wasn’t at the highest of expectations for the production’s quality.

The time was 10:30, and the lights dimmed throughout the theater. Normally, a show would have a form of introduction at this point, but this show skipped it, as the curtains immediately opened to a lit stage.

The set for this scene was just a woman character, sitting on a chair in center stage. The woman wore a bright yellow dress, white gloves, and black high-heels. This would all appear to be normal aside from what she was wearing on her face: a pink mask that presented the face of a woman with a repulsing amount of makeup. The mask didn’t look professionally made, as in its makeup details were poorly smeared across, like it had been done in five minutes. The actress just sat in the chair on stage for about 10 seconds, staring at the audience, and then began to softly sob.

Throughout the scene, the woman would appear to quickly glance to the left, off-stage, looking at something (or someone). It didn’t look like it was intended for the show, as she would turn back quickly as if she had done something wrong. This all happened for about 30 seconds, with the sobbing growing louder at random intervals. I was about to leave the theater right there, until the curtains closed, abruptly, for the next scene.

The audience looked around in confusion. This was clearly going to be a poorly done play, but it was also going to be a rather strange one, which caught the attention of most. I had half a mind to not waste my time, but I thought I might as well see what else the production had to offer.

The curtains opened again to reveal a scene very similar to the last. The same masked woman was sitting in a chair, crying. There was another actor though, who appeared to be male, so I’ll address him as such. He wore a black formal suit, with a red and yellow tie that appeared very out of place for the rest of his outfit. He was masked too, but he wore a large gas mask as opposed to the female in the chair. He was just standing behind the woman and the chair, with his arms in front of him. Because of the mask, one obviously couldn’t see his face, but I could sense a sort of expression on it regardless. It felt like he was anticipating something, occasionally looking down at the woman with intent. The stage was like this for about 20 seconds, then the curtains closed once again.

At that moment, I had decided I was done. The show was different, sure, but I had better places I could waste my time. I was making my way to the exit, when the curtains opened to a completely different scene. The set change seemed way too fast, for the curtain was only closed for a few seconds before opening again.

Everyone gasped at the sight. The same woman was on the stage, still in the chair, except she wasn’t sobbing anymore. She was screaming.

Her dress that the woman had been wearing was torn, with some visible cuts to her skin on her legs and torso. She was tied to the chair, and her screams sounded muffled, as if something was covering her mouth behind the mask. Around her were more actors and actresses, eleven in total, though it was hard to distinguish which ones were male or female. They all wore formal attire, similar to the gas mask man, who was now sitting at a piano near the left side of the stage.

The characters around the girl also wore masks, ranging from strange to downright hideous. The best way to describe them would be greatly disfigured faces, not torn apart, but arranged in completely inconceivable ways. Some had noses placed on the forehead, with large, bloodshot eyes placed where a mouth should be. Others didn’t have certain facial features at all, with just mouths or eyes scattered about. Their heads were all turned to the girl in the chair, in a manner of eager anticipation, if I had to guess.

The gas mask actor looked at each one of the men and woman surrounding the girl, and then looked into the audience. Then, he began to play the piano. He played an overly upbeat and obnoxious jingle tune. I haven’t heard it before in my life, but it sounded very similar to a sort of annoying christmas melody one would hear on the radio constantly. I only heard the specifics of the song for a moment, as the curtains closed a few seconds after.

As the curtains were shut, the music still played, but it was drowned out by a series of stomps…then sounds of struggle. It was a barrageof noises that all happened in a short time, so sorry if I’m not being very specific, but the woman’s screams were more louder than anytime before. There were sounds of the chair breaking to pieces, then the ambience of a crowd pushing and shoving each other. The audience began to gasp and scream themselves as there were very faint sounds of ripping, gnawing, and an occasional, aggressive growl from somebody behind the curtain. The woman’s screams stopped after only a minute, perhaps less.

Everybody in the theater was completely silent. Nobody knew what to think, of what the point of this production was, or if it was even an actual production at all. I was only hoping that it was some sort of organized joke, or a startlingly good show designed to make a sort of sadistic point.

The piano tune still played before the next scene opened up, or what was left of it. The curtain opened to an empty stage, with the gas mask actor still at the piano. There were bloodied pieces of the chair on the center of the stage, with more red smears all around it. Aside from what appeared to be blood, there was no trace of the woman who was sitting there before. The gas mask man finished playing, and then walked towards center stage. He then looked at the stunned audience, bowed formally, and exited to the right of the stage. The curtains closed, and everybody was left silent.

I suppose everyone was just as hopeful as I was to see some sort of conclusion to this so-called “show”, but there was none. Once the gas mask man left, that was it. The theater was filled with panicked whispers and calls to family and police. The police arrived quickly, did a quick investigation, and evacuated the theater. The theater was closed for more than a month after the incident. I had no intentions of seeing another show for a while, anyway.

Following the night of the show, I of course had nightmares, as I imagine the entire audience did. I still clung to speculations that the show was still some sort of set-up, made to scare it’s audience in the most realistic way possible. I almost fully believed this, until the authorities finally released a report on the incident.

The crying and screaming woman, the one in the chair, was no actor. She was a woman who had gone missing shortly before the show. She had only been missing for a few hours, so there had been no reports of her missing. Nobody was able to identify her because of the mask she was wearing on stage, and her muffled voice was assumed to be because of a sort of mouth gag. The blood left on the stage was confirmed to be her own

The “actors” involved with the production have not been identified. When the police searched backstage after the show, no trace of the suspects was found, aside from a single note placed the the exit:

“The hearts of the young always taste best.”

Credit To – Emeryy (Richard S.)

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The End of All Hallows’ Eve

December 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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It was All Hallows Eve as the old ones called it, but to us it was simply Halloween. A time for darkened skies, for fallen leaves golden and brown and the feet of children kicking with verve through them; for sweets and treats, for frightening films and spooky tales, for friendship, for the fear and love of the unknown, and for wide grinning turnip heads glowing in the clouded night. And costumes, yes costumes! Some dressed as comical characters, super heroes, and popular toys, others following the traditions of old, dressed as the dead and embracing the macabre delight of it all. Most kids had Christmas, which I loved too, but for us Halloween was the most important night of the year. That one time where we could truly be what we dreamed, falling into characters, creatures, and people far removed from the fragility of our childhood selves.

Stewart was an undead pirate who had risen up from his watery grave, and if we didn’t take part in some lootin’ and pillagin’ we’d surely of found ourselves walking the plank. Andy was a Terminator, complete with leather jacket, a metallic cheek created with tinfoil, slicked back hair and sunglasses which hid a glowing red left eye behind. I was Van Helsing, armed to the teeth with wooden stakes, crosses, garlic and a vial of water I assumed was holy because I had filled it from a tap in the local church’s bathroom; even back then my mind was permanently stuck in the hokey sets and thick smoke of the old Hammer horror Dracula films. Mac, he was dressed as an injured football hooligan complete with torn football strip, blooded and bandaged head, and his arm in a sling – all the more ironic as he would in fact grow up to be a footballer. The other Andy, who we affectionately called squire, was decked in luminous skeleton bones, and with his wiry frame, and hooded skull mask, put the fear of God into quite a few of the younger kids in the neighbourhood.

We were twelve years old at the time, and while none of us had openly spoke of it, we seemed to sense that it would be our last year ‘guising’ – a word which in itself would soon be replaced by the now deep rooted ‘Trick Or Treat’. I remember feeling a sadness in the pit of my stomach as my parents helped me prepare my costume. The others seemed a little more reluctant to go out that Halloween, and by the following year their delight for the entire celebration would be diminished for many subsequent years – and who could blame them? I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to those fun-filled happy nights, wandering the leaf covered streets of my local neighbourhood laughing with my friends, carrying bags of sweets and chocolate and toffee apples accumulated from our Halloween rounds. It’s rare that you recognise something is coming to its end, mourning for it before it has slipped away.

It was 7 o’clock in the evening when we first stepped out into the street, and the winter sky blackened everything from above, the stars snuffed out by a thick shroud of cloud. My house was always the meeting point on those glorious nights, as my parents loved to decorate the house with spider webs, hanging skeletons, and mean looking banners depicting vampires, ghouls, and witches fermenting a strange brew: Not to mention all of the food! They both seemed to revel in the entire ceremony of the night, more so than anyone else I knew, and they had done since whenever I could remember for both me and my older brother, who now helped out rather than went out. Such wonderful nights as my friends arrived and we all bobbed for apples, or dropped forks from between our teeth into a bucket of water filled with fruit, hoping to skewer one to win a prize.

There we were on the street kerb, looking up the hill towards King’s Drift and the web of streets we were going to explore in search of treats – in some cases we’d even be given money if the home owners didn’t have any food, or had ran out. In more recent times the Jack O’ Lantern has become popular, with myself always carving a few pumpkins with ghoulish faces for the local kids, and their parents, who always frequent our ‘haunted’ house with its smoke machines, screaming skulls, and mountains of sweets. That night, however, I carried a tumshie-heid, to light the way. Essentially a carved out turnip with a candle inside and a horrible face glowing outward, lighting the way – a far greater and malignant sight than any pumpkin!

Holding the lantern by a thick piece of string, which my dad had attached to the side of its face with two nails, we headed out to enjoy our last night of guising. The streets were a buzz with kids, most of them a bit younger than ourselves, accompanied by their parents or older siblings, which only made me realise how close to the end of our Halloween nights we really were. I believe it was the first time that I ever felt old, no matter how preposterous such a thought appears at only twelve years of age.

Most houses opened their doors gladly; occasionally you would see a light going off as we approached signalling that the people inside didn’t want to be disturbed, but dammit we knocked and banged their doors anyway. This was our night, and the grown-ups who were too stingy to take part should have known better. After an hour we had covered three streets, each time the same social pleasantries taking place; we’d enter the house, slightly cautious at first of being in a stranger’s darkened home – but the thought of five of us being together banished those worries soon enough – each of us would then be asked to tell a joke or a riddle, and in return for the entertainment we would be rewarded with sweets and chocolate. Of course Andy would try to push the envelope a little more than the rest of us and on a few occasions delved into what could only be described as adult humour. The grimaces on the faces of those listening were plain to see.

As we passed the other children in their costumes – some great, some thrown together at the last moment – we joked and laughed and celebrated at the growing collection of food and money in our bags. Yes, even if it was going to be the last year, it was surely to be the best of hauls. As we ran through the darkened streets, lit only by the occasional spot and splash of orange hue from the lights above, it seemed as though the unspoken finality of it, the end of those nights, those years of being what we wanted to be, of being kids, of not caring about how we were seen; that it all added to the potency of the experience. We ran faster, we giggled and laughed and took shortcuts through gardens and places we were never supposed to tread. We lived and felt alive on that night of the dead.

Squire’s watch went off at 10 PM and we knew it was time to call it a night. We walked back towards my house where each year we would sit with my parents and some of my neighbours, drinking fizzy juice and stuffing our faces with the chocolate and sweets which we had been given by the bucket load. But our steps were slower than usual on the journey home, our jokes less loud, our grins less wide, and as the lantern gasped its last as we reached the gate to my garden, it was as if we sighed together, knowing that something precious was soon to be lost forever.

As we piled into my house and were greeted by the happy smiles of my parents, they too appeared to sense that things were changing, as if part of their lives would never quite be the same. I think it is hardest for parents when their youngest child reaches those thresholds, those closed chapters of their childhood, never to be opened again, knowing that they too cannot live those wonderful nights in quite the same way either.

Me, Andy, Stewart, Mac, and Squire, sat in a circle on the living room floor as an old horror film played in the background. We each in turn emptied our bags assessing the loot. It was indeed a good year, and the sheer mass of sweets was sure to last us all for one stomach turning, sugar overdosing week. Chocolate bars, crisps, boiled sweets, jelly babies, strawberry laces, toffee apples, and all manner of other treats were quickly separated from the useless bulk fillings of monkey nuts and other fruit. Only the good stuff, only the good.

We joked and laughed once more, and in that cosy house we played the parts of kids again, dressed up in costumes, telling spooky stories, and for a moment it felt as though nothing would ever change, that it would always be like that, together as friends, young, hopeful, and courageous – until I asked, almost automatically, what we would all be dressing up as the following year. The question was never answered, and it didn’t need to be.

It was then that I noticed Andy had stopped talking and hadn’t interjected with his usual jokes for at least two minutes – surely a record. No, he was staring at something. We asked if he was okay, but he wouldn’t respond, his gaze fixed, glazed over as if he were still wearing his costume sunglasses.

We followed the route of that stare, and our eyes and our heads dropped almost in unison, falling upon the source of our friend’s peculiar silence. Andy was looking at my pile of sweets which sat in front of me. My heart began to thud helplessly as I finally realised what had left the most talkative of my friends speechless. Poking out from that pile of chocolates, crisps, and lollipops was a bloodied and severed finger.

I can’t remember who screamed first, it was probably me as my cool and calm Van Helsing soon melted away revealing the shocked and fragile twelve year old boy at his core. All I know is that my parents called the police and within half an hour each of us – the undead pirate, the vampire hunter, the luminous skeleton, the football hooligan, and the killer robot from the future – were being questioned about the strange finger sitting amongst my sweets. We were asked to try and remember which houses we had visited, but we had been to so many, had been so fervent in our need to make the most of that last Halloween night, that we simply could not remember all of them.

Soon, several police cars showed up with red and blue and white lighting up the now lifeless, costume-less street outside, and without wasting a moment they began walking the neighbourhood with us and our parents, that place now torn from its disguise, moving swiftly from door to door, trying to find out where the finger had come from. Which one of those welcoming, friendly houses with smiling owners, warm fires, carved grinning turnips and buckets of sweets, had taken us into their dimly lit home and given to a child the most horrific of gifts. But it was all in vain. No one claimed ownership. There was no record of anyone at the local hospital losing a finger that night, not one shred of evidence. Just normal people concerned about the strange discovery we had made and what it might mean.

Perhaps it had been an accident, perhaps it had been cut off in some sort of bizarre mishap, as I had heard of people storing a severed finger in the freezer so that it might be reattached. Maybe it got mixed up with the food somehow, but even at that age I realised how unlikely and ridiculous such a proposal would be.

That was indeed the last night we went guising, and, in more ways than one, my friends simply did not have the stomach for the childhood charade of let’s pretend any longer. Even I did not wish to go out the following year, but for me it wasn’t about being too old for it all, I still loved Halloween and do to this day; it wasn’t about outgrowing it, and it wasn’t even about that horrible finger which had been placed silently into my treat bag. No, it wasn’t that either, what really stopped me from knocking on strangers’ doors and asking for some treats, was the bloodied thumb and three fingers carefully placed in the other boys’ bags.

Credit To – Michael Whitehouse

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Denial

December 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I waved goodbye to my friends as I stepped off the bus and headed to my house. I was super excited to get home and see my parents. They hadn’t talked much at all yesterday. As a matter of fact they just stayed in their bedroom all day. They haven’t been feeling well. I ran up the stairs of the front porch and swung the front door open with a big, cheesy grin on my face; However, when I opened the door there was no one in the den. The television was off and the house seemed to be abnormally quiet. I took a step in and started calling out.

“Mom? Dad?” I called. I knew they were supposed to be here. Dad had the day off and mom didn’t have any plans with her girlfriend’s until next week, right? I placed my backpack on the ground next to the couch and walked into the kitchen to check the calendar. October fifth. I was right. Dad took this day off so him, mom, and I could go see a movie together. “They’ve got to be here somewhere”, I thought myself.  Then it hit me. School let out early today because of a busted water pipe. I looked at the watch on my wrist. “It’s only twelve o’ clock. They may still be sleeping.” I headed back through the den and slowly opened their bedroom door. Surely enough, there they lie. A sigh of relief escaped my mouth and my grin returned. I tiptoed over to my mom’s side of the bed and pulled the covers back.

I was greeted with the same sight as the day before. She lay there motionless, eyes glazed over, mouth agate. Her skin was a pale white and her hair was beginning to thin. The soup I gave her yesterday sat on the bedside table. It was stale now and she hadn’t even touched it. I’m beginning to think they don’t want to feel better. I placed the cover back over her head, grabbed the old soup and left the room slowly closing the door behind me. I decided not to wake either of them considering they must need their sleep. I’m sure they will be up for it tomorrow. Until then, I have a ton of Psychology homework to be done. We’re doing this paper on people who have some type of disorder causing them to live in denial of even some of the most obvious things. I couldn’t imagine living like that.

Credit To – Dusty Davis

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