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A Madman’s Guide to the Unrecommended

April 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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AN INTRODUCTION
First and foremost, a few matters of introduction have to be placed down. You are probably wondering who I am. What am I called? What does the barista misspell on my steaming paper cup? Well, this is my first lesson to you, and I promise we will get into much more detail soon.
Your name is a very precious thing, you see. And unless you are suicidal, a fool, or think you have what it takes to face the consequences; don’t ever give out your real name willy-nilly. I’m fairly positive you wouldn’t want to take that risk. That being said, I still must give you some way of acknowledging my existence. You may call me The Madman. Am I mad? Am I a man? Well you will just have to wait and see, dear reader.
For your sake I’m going to assume that you had some idea of what you were getting into when you picked up this guide. And if you didn’t? Well, by all means keep reading; just put your back to a door, and cover every window and mirror in your room. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, now would we? Shall we begin?

YOUR BIRTH NAME
This is as good a place to start as any. It’s a vital piece of knowledge if you want to have absolutely anything to do with the supernatural world. When you are dragged out of refuse and muck, screaming and kicking into the world, you are vulnerable. Your fragile little mortal soul has only just begun its unavoidably ticking clock. Your name is essentially your shield; it is the most symbolic representation of your inner self that can exist. It carries great, great power over you. Never forget this.
Although I’ve already made it perfectly clear, I’ll say this again. Do not bandy about your birth name. If someone –or something– has access to your soul, I guarantee you won’t enjoy what happens next. In every interaction you have with the supernatural, guard your name. If you must give an answer, lie through your teeth. Don’t use anyone else’s name, either. Well, unless you really hate them. But allow me to continue…

A BASIC DESCRIPTION OF THE SUPERNATURAL
Have you ever felt like you were being watched when you are perfectly alone? As if a pair of eyes is fixated on the back of your head, yet when you turn there is nothing there. Have you ever heard your name being spoken by nobody at all? Chances are you have experienced these things, and chances are they aren’t just figments of your imagination.
Bordering the lovely world you call home is another, rather different place. Some call it Hell, and they’re not wrong. But the name isn’t important; what comes from it is. And what comes from Hell, you ask? Why, demons of course. Ghosts, phantoms, spirits, poltergeists, haunts and apparitions. These are all one and the same.
Take a moment to clear your mind of that image of a red-horned beast or a classic white ghost. It’s true that over time, demons have picked up on humans’ fears and tend to manifest themselves in such forms. However, what’s actually out there is much more sinister than these ridiculous tropes. A demon is infinitely smarter than you can ever hope to be. They want nothing more than to trick your feeble mind into allowing them to cause great harm. It’s your job as a practitioner to prevent this from happening. Good luck.
Demons can be called into this world through a summoning. Unfortunately, this isn’t very hard to do. Why would you do such a thing, you ask? Well, you shouldn’t. But I’m not your mother- do what you want. Demons can give you knowledge or carry out tasks for you. If you have a question you want answered, a demon can most likely help you with that. You just have to be sure it’s worth the risk –and it is quite a risk.

THE FIRST LESSON
THE GAME
Every budding practitioner must learn about “The Game” if they want to get anywhere. This is the most common and basic level of advanced interaction with the supernatural world. The principle is simple: you conjure up a demon and then play with it. You try to get the knowledge you seek while avoiding the traps being set out for you. But when you actually get into it, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Preparation is key: you need protection. By all means, grab your firearms and use those to fend off the evil spirits. You will end up killed in a horrible way but hey, at least you tried. Our art requires a more acquired set of tools; tools that have been proved effective throughout history. I’ve got to say, someone must have paid a very heavy price to discover just what is effective to use.
Some of these will probably sound familiar, as old folklore and urban legends often have a handle in reality.

Salt- An excellent general-purpose ‘Demon B Gone.’ A closed circle of this stuff will hold enough power to keep minor intrusions at bay. The same principle applies to large bodies of saltwater. You’ll rarely find supernatural influences around them. Demons don’t like the beach.
Iron- This simple element has a tendency to repel the supernatural. In most cases, it’s used in candlesticks or worn on the practitioner’s person. Invest in a necklace or something. You’ll thank yourself later.
Vinegar- While this doesn’t keep anything out per se, it does have a violent affect upon beings from the other world. When thrown or sprayed, it can act as a sort of weapon against a demon. However, don’t rely on it. There have been too many instances of someone attempting to save themselves with a little spray bottle of vinegar. Dear me, what a bunch.
Candles- Wax candles may appear ordinary enough, but they are very important. Any seal or circle you create to trap a demon needs candles to act as support. While the color doesn’t matter too much, it’s useful to note that red candles are the most effective. Blood-red works best.
Mistletoe- Ah mistletoe, the classic parasitic weed that symbolizes love and merriment. Keep this handy in little bunches or piles around the area in which you work.
An item of power- Everyone has something they hold dear, and this bond holds power. It is a sort of life-vest to your soul, and your soul is something you want to keep close to yourself. It could range from a picture of your mother to the knife you used to murder your first victim, any such item will do. Thus, hang onto something that you have a special connection while practicing.
Your voice- What a silly item, you may think. And you wouldn’t be wrong- the human voice has no power over any supernatural entity unless you use it in just the right way. If you think you will be able to save yourself if you mess up a summoning by shouting, you’re wrong. However, if the being is in a limited position of power, your voice can dismiss it. Just don’t wait too long if you plan to do this.

At the moment, these seven things are enough to keep you safe (relatively speaking). It’s time to get into the fun stuff. The first step of The Game is to decide what exactly you want from the experience. Do you want to know some greater knowledge? Perhaps you would like to know if your significant other is being disloyal, or how to earn a million dollars by the year’s end. Whatever it is, know what you want so you don’t make a fool of yourself and die.
Now, you can’t interact with the other world in any old place. I wouldn’t recommend using your home in any capacity, unless you want to ruin the rest of your life. No, it’s much more effective to find a place where the wall between this world and the next is worn thin. Places with some sacred value, like religious buildings or hospitals. People die in hospitals, you see, and this constant crossing from one world to the next makes it perfect for any summoning you’d want to do.
Wherever you choose to practice, make sure you are alone. It won’t do anyone any good to walk into a demonic summoning, and it may stuff up your process. Not good. I also recommend against bringing any electronics into a summoning. Not that it’s dangerous or anything, but because any device will most likely be fried by the presence of a demon. Smartphones are extremely expensive these days; don’t just throw yours away.
Now you’ve got your protection and locations set, it’s time to summon a demon. Before we go on, I’m obliged to tell you to stop right here. Don’t go on, it isn’t a very smart thing to do. But, once again, I really couldn’t care less. Shall we proceed?
Begin with a salt circle. Don’t make a square or hexagon or anything stupid like that. Circles are equal no matter where you are inside of one -it’s what makes them powerful. Lay out five to seven candles around the outside of the circle. Do not put them inside the circle. This is a one-way ticket to disaster.
Prepare any other protective measures you may have brought: place mistletoe in little piles next to the candles and prepare some iron and vinegar just in case. Keep your item of power close. I’m now going to tell you a little story about someone carrying out their very first summoning. I want you to pay close attention.
Not too long ago a young girl wanted to commune with the other world. She was rather rebellious, so she chose to practice in the church she attended every week. She broke in at night, set up her circle, and began The Game. This is how she did it:
The girl sat outside her salt circle. She put down her object of power in front of her and closed her eyes. The dark church was cold and silent. Creaks and groans permeated the blackness all around her. She took a breath and whispered “I’m ready” three times. As soon as she did so, a host of new noises came. Frightening noises: moans and cackles, squelches and shrieks. They were accompanied with sensations as well; as if there were a host of malevolent eyes on the back of her neck, and something was breathing heavily just behind her. But the girl was prepared for this. She did not turn around.
At this stage, the girl had merely gotten a demon’s attention. There was still more to be done before The Game could be played. “Stand back,” she whispered. Immediately, the noises died down. There was silence in the church once again. However, she could still feel that evil gaze burning into her neck. She ignored this and continued.
Her next step was to invite the demon into her circle. Be very, very careful with this step. If you invite the demon past the circle and into your world, the demon will appear to leave. There will be no more noises or unseen eyes. After a while, you will invariably look around to see what is happening. That is when you will be dealt with in any manner the demon sees fit. There is no way to avoid this fate if you invite the demon outside the circle. Calmly the girl addressed the demon: “You may come into my salt circle,” she said. Note that her wording left no room for interpretation. The Game was ready to be played.
“Who are you?” The girl asked. It’s a good idea to start the game first. Asking any basic question will do.
“I am your final executioner,” the demon replied. Demons often enjoy a bit of melodrama. This doesn’t mean their words don’t hold true, however.
“Do you want to play?” The girl asked. The demon nodded once. It’s now that I should tell you about the appearance of demons. If you’re expecting some disgusting creature, you may be correct. It all depends on which demon you summon. Some may look like attractive young models and others may exemplify the term “hell beast.” In the girl’s case, an impossibly tall and thin creature sat in her circle. It had pale skin and enormous eyes. Its mouth stretched from ear to ear, grinning with red-stained fangs.
“What is your name?” The demon asked. The girl didn’t fall for it.
“I’m Peaches,” she lied. It was her turn. “What is the time?” She asked.
“It is half past two,” the demon replied. This was a lie, the girl knew. She had arrived at the church at 1 o’ clock in the morning and it hadn’t been more than twenty minutes. This is the foremost rule of The Game. The demon will lie to you. However, it may only lie three times. It’s up to you to figure out which responses are lies, and they won’t always be so easy to determine.
The Game is a matter of call and response. You ask the demon a question, and it asks you one in return. This will go on for exactly half an hour. After this time has elapsed, the demon will leave. You just have to last that long.
“Are you doing well in school?” The demon asked the girl innocently.
“Yes,” the girl replied, but the truth of the matter that she was lying to herself. She was struggling in school, but her ego kept her from saying so. You may lie to a demon, but there are consequences.
The girl was able to lie about her name because she was expected to. The demon didn’t actually believe she would be foolish enough to give the information up. He was simply testing the waters. But this lie was different. Lying during The Game allows the demon to do the same. Now, the demon had four chances to tell a mistruth.
“Does anybody love me?” The girl asked. The demon looked at her with those massive, malevolent eyes.
“No.” It said simply. This was surely a lie, the girl thought. Her parents loved her, at the very least. She paused in her thoughts. Or did they? You see, this is exactly what a demon will do to you. It will mess with your mind in ways that you have no defense against. The girl shook this answer off. It was the demon’s turn.
“Would you do something for me?” it asked. The girl had a moment of hesitation. She didn’t want to risk anything, but she also hasn’t gotten all the information she wanted.
“Yes,” she said quickly, confident she could counter any trick the demon played on her. It was a rather foolish mistake. The demon stood, rising to a terrifying height of nine feet. It leered down at the girl.
“Your turn,” the demon said, smiling wider than the girl would have guessed possible.
“How do achieve success in life?” The girl had nothing to toy with anymore; she desperately got to the point. The demon answered truthfully. He told her exact steps to on how to climb ladder of success in her life and thrive. But at this point, he was just playing with her. He had complete control.
“Come here,” the demon told the girl. The girl began to scoff. How ridiculous to think she’d actually break her guard and step inside the circle. But she stood against her will. Her heart dropped to her toes as she stepped towards the salt circle. The demon smiled. No amount of vinegar or iron could have prevented what happened to the girl next. For your sake, I won’t get into it. All you have to know is it was quite horrible.
The girl had given the demon power over her: the one thing you must never do. She had said she would grant the demon a favor, and he had capitalized on her offer. He had asked her to come into the circle. She had no choice but to obey.
Let’s learn from this girl’s mistakes, shall we? Never give a demon an advantage, and always choose your words very carefully. Be honest with yourself, even if it hurts you to do so. The demon seeks to harm you, and if that’s the worst it can do then you have played The Game correctly.

It is now that I have a little task for you, my reader. At this point you should have a basic grasp on the supernatural world and how to deal with its infinite dangers. Would you like to put your skills to the test?
Find a mirror. It could be large or small, round or square. It does not matter. Wait till the deepest hours of the night. Go out to a quiet place with the mirror. Let yourself be surrounded by the darkness. Observe the shadows reaching slowly towards you. Do not dare to be afraid.
I want you to place the mirror on the ground, so that it reflects the moon or stars. If the moon or stars aren’t showing, then just reflect the sky. Look into the reflection deeply. Soon you’ll notice something… off about the image. You’re looking at another world. Don’t touch the mirror. Whatever you do, do not touch the mirror.
The image will have a sort of shimmer to it, an unnatural gleam. While this is apparent, you must remain still. Eventually, the mirror will return to normal. It’ll clearly reflect the sky again. Once this happens, bury the mirror. After it is underground, say these words: “You may open the door.” Then go home, your task is done. It’s time for the next lesson.

THE SECOND LESSON
THE “GO AND FETCH” CLAUSE
Despite the title of this lesson, demons are not dogs. Although they may appear as dogs. Hairless, skinless, grinning dogs that eye you with the intensity of, well, a hungry wolf. But that’s beside the point. The Game won’t always give you what you want. Sometimes the demon simply won’t know the answer to the question you want answered.
If you want a different type of knowledge (something that’s currently happening, for example), you’ll want to use the “Go and Fetch” clause. This is quite literally a command you give that lets the demon venture out into the world and find what you’re looking for. What can go wrong?
A “Go and Fetch” clause has three parts: the instruction, the binding, and the sending. Each is as important as the other.

Instruction- Here is where you tell your furry demon friend what it has to do. I’m warning you now, prepare your speech beforehand. If you leave any loophole, it will be pounced on. Don’t make stupid mistakes.
An example is in order here. If you tell a demon to “go tell me what my friend is doing” you have just made a very large mistake. Why? You were so ambiguous that the demon can leave its circle, hang you by your ankles, grab an ice cream, and then spy on your friend. Then, it will return and tell you what your friend is doing while licking its chocolate cone. You will then be disposed of gruesomely.
Be sure to outline every step of the demon’s journey into the world, lest it strays and ends up possessing some poor child –unless, of course, that’s your goal. But that’s for another lesson.
Binding- This is the step in which you bind the demon to your instruction. This is very simple: use your voice. Act quickly, as the longer the demon is in the world, the less power your voice has.
You could make yourself look like an idiot and babble in Latin or something, but any language works fine. Chances are the demon’s knowledge of ancient language is a bit rusty, and it will appreciate you using a more up-to-date tongue. Binding can be as simple as “follow my instructions to the letter,” but it depends on your instructions. Once again, don’t leave a loophole.
Sending- Time to say au revoir to your temporary servant and pray that you didn’t mess anything up. You won’t know if you did, of course. Enjoy the wait.

I now recall a rather memorable use of the “Go and Fetch” clause. This happened a while ago, perhaps a couple hundred years or so. But that’s not important…
Somewhere in the world, in a dark and dreary city lived a man. He, like most humans, had a rather dismal life. He was full of hatred, anger, and frustration. Such a mix of emotions made for a volatile cocktail. You see, his wife had ran off with another man, leaving him alone and desperate. One night, he had had enough.
He packed his bag full of the necessary safeguards and found an old crypt to practice in. It was a most atmospheric choice of location. He laid out the salt, candles, and mistletoe. He grabbed his item of power tightly.
“I’m ready,” he whispered, closing his eyes. A dead breeze crept into the crypt.
“I’m ready,” he repeated. The breeze swirled into a tugging, hot wind that reminded the man of the breath of some great beast. He took a breath and completed the calling: “I’m ready.”
The man waited a few seconds before opening his eyes. In the circle stood a demon. It wasn’t vile or terrifying, no. It took the appearance of a handsome young man. Demons will often pull tricks like this, you see. They try to gain your trust by appearing friendly or attractive.
The man ran through his clause in his head. He had memorized it to the letter, and spent hours making sure there was no room for error. He began with the instruction. He told the demon exactly what it had to do: find his wife and her new lover and cause them harm in any way the demon saw fit. There was no room for misinterpretation.
And off the demon went, slinking towards its destination. When it was released into the world, it had broken its guise of a handsome man and instead taken the appearance of a hairless dog-like creature that walked on its hind legs. This is where most urban legends about things that go bump in the night come from, you see. Demons out in the world often tend to frighten and kill people whenever they can.
The demon found its prey with an inhuman sense. It stood outside the apartment building in which the doomed man and woman resided. At this time, both were asleep, the demon sensed. It broke the lock easily and slunk into the building. Its enormous feet made no sound on the floorboards as it stepped slowly, slowly towards the stairs. Up it went, its thick gray tongue lolling hungrily.
The bedroom door opened silently, the demon crouched into the bedroom and to the foot of the bed where two still figures lay cocooned in a swathe of blankets. Isn’t it funny how you feel so safe when you’re under your covers?
It crept onto the bed, leaning its head right up to the headboard, so it looked down on the sleeping figures. It waited there, letting its breath cascade down like a smothering cloud of poison. Eventually, the woman opened her eyes. She didn’t react at first, but in a split second, her eyes had adjusted.
The scream –had it been allowed to make it past a horrified squeak– would have woken the block. Instead, the demon bit down on the woman’s throat. The man awoke to the sight, and was similarly dispatched. The demon had done its duty –it returned to the man in the crypt.
“Did you do as I asked?” The man queried.
“Yes,” the demon growled. The man, despite everything, felt guilty. He shook this feeling from his mind and dismissed the demon. He did this by saying “return from whence you came.” This is the most common dismissal, and it usually can’t go wrong. This, from start to finish, is an example of a successful “Go and Fetch” interaction. The poor man ended up killing himself out of guilt for what he had done, but he made his choice.

Now that you’ve got this juicy tidbit of knowledge down, it’s time to continue the practice I set out for you after the first lesson. Following your burial of the mirror, a package will appear to you. It won’t come in your mailbox, or be plopped on your doorstep by a bored and careless delivery driver. It’ll be placed somewhere you wouldn’t expect a package to appear. It could be in your bedroom, or your locker at school or work. It may even appear in your morning cereal –I really couldn’t predict the location for you.
Regardless, keep the package safe. Only open it when you know you will be alone. Inside you will find a little pendant – a black stone set into a gold chain. Don’t put it on for goodness’ sake. Take it in your hand, close your eyes, and focus. You’ll feel something like a heartbeat. Don’t panic, just keep focusing. If your mind is clear, you’ll hear a dull roar in your head. Once you hear this, say “find what you seek,” while concentrating on the noise as hard as you can. The roar will fade and the heartbeat will stop. That night, return to where you buried the mirror and dig it up. Place the pendant on the mirror, and then cover it back up. Let’s continue your instruction…

THE THIRD LESSON
POSSESSION
The possibility of having your body occupied by a demon is a very real and horrifying prospect. Don’t you worry; there are ways to avoid it. While very difficult to do, a soul may still be salvaged in certain cases. Nobody just gets up and walks away from a possession, however, so it’s best to avoid the ordeal altogether. But what happens to you when you’re possessed? Well I’m glad you asked.
When a person is possessed, their soul is consumed by a demon. A bit like a worm inside of an apple; except replace the worm with a beast of pure malevolence from Hell, and the apple with your tiny and vulnerable human soul. Have you got the image down?
Being possessed will likely cause you the greatest pain you can ever experience. Imagine your body being taken from you inch by inch in a brutal battle that you have no chance of winning. A foreign spirit will, in layman’s terms, become you. Sounds like a bad day, no?
‘Mr. Madman, how do I avoid this?’ you ask. First rule of thumb is the same as any other area of practicing: don’t be an idiot. No matter how many times I reiterate this, you bunch always find a way to make stupid mistakes. I’m not complaining, though. Some of your fates are often quite amusing.
Use your safeguards wisely; don’t let the demon into your mind (figuratively or literally). This is just what you should be doing normally. A demon will try its very hardest to get inside your defense and either kill you, possess you, or wreak havoc on anything in the vicinity.
Do not have mirrors in the room where you are summoning. Mirrors often act as little doorways to the other world. Demons will often use them to their advantage in a little phenomenon called Philocrate’s Mirror. One minute your reflection will be sitting in its normal setting, depending on where you’re practicing. Suddenly, you’ll find an altogether different world reflected in the mirror. You won’t be able to feel anything except a tiny seedling of agony and fear that will grow and grow the longer you are in this place. Unfortunately, you’re stuck there forever.
If you take your eyes off a demon and look into a mirror, it can quite literally switch places with you. While you’re sent into its dimension, it’s brought out into the real world. Barring the fact you’re in the closest approximation of Hell that exists, you just let a demon loose on the world. Shame on you.
Along with pseudo-possessions such as Philocrate’s Mirror, you can also be possessed completely during a summoning. Most notable examples of this are probably ones you’ve heard of. You know, a group of cultists calling the spirit of an evil entity into some poor girl or something ridiculous of the like. This is most likely a true story. If you were so inclined, you could trap someone in a salt circle and call a demon into their body. Next time someone cuts you in line at the grocery store, you know what to do.
It can also happen accidentally, believe it or not. Ambiguous wording can lead the demon to interpret your question or command as an invitation into your snuggly flesh. I’m afraid you can’t do much to save yourself if you mess up in this manner. Have you ever heard of Jack the Ripper?

A bloodthirsty lunatic? Sure. A master of his craft? Without a doubt. Completely human? Guess again. Jack wasn’t always a crazed psychopath, believe it or not. He was rather normal –that is, until he turned to the supernatural. He practiced here and there as many people did in the Victorian Era. Something about the depressing and dark atmosphere of the entire era gave spurt to a whole host of demonic activity.
One day Jack, as many practitioners are predisposed to do, stuffed up. As you may have guessed, he was possessed. The demon that did it felt like having a little fun, so Jack wasn’t killed on the spot. Instead, the demon went out into the world wearing Jack’s skin while the poor man was in extreme agony, conscious of every movement.
As you may recall, I told you there are worse fates than being killed or dragged to the other world by a demon. Jack’s fate was arguably among those. I want you to imagine having no control over your body as someone else pretended to be you. Jack went home that night and watched as he killed his wife and children. He went out onto the street and began his bloody legend. For your sake, I hope you don’t fall prey to a possession…

Remember that pendant I had you bury? It’s time for some more fun. If you haven’t already, allow twenty-four hours to elapse before digging up the mirror and pendant. Going over this time is fine; just do not uncover them prematurely. The pendant should be gone and there should be a little note in its place. Read it. There will be a location written on it. I can’t tell you what this is because it’ll depend on who and where you are. Go there in the dead of night when you know you won’t be disturbed. Bring something with iron in it; believe me, you’ll want it.
This time, timing does matter. You’ll want to get to the location well before half past two in the morning. I suggest visiting the place beforehand in order to determine how to get in. Unless, of course, you want to risk it and play by ear. Some people live for the thrill; whatever. Just get it done.
No doubt you’ll feel an inkling of apprehension as you enter this mysterious place I’ve brought you to, but don’t worry. Besides, I told you not to show fear, did I not? You’ll just have to trust me. Ooh, I laughed at that one: ‘trust me.’
The next bit is going to require you to understand the first three lessons, namely the “Go and Fetch” clause and how possession works. Now, don’t panic, but I’m about to ask you to summon something. Although, if you’re panicking about a simple summoning at this point, you’re really not cut out for this sort of thing. Don’t feel bad, most people are cowards too.
You don’t need a salt circle for this summoning –you’ll be safe without one. All you need is the note and some iron. Stand as close to the center of your location as possible. Tear the note in half. It doesn’t have to be perfectly in half, if you were wondering. Hell, shred the thing and make confetti. Just destroy the note and make sure you don’t waste any time. You have to get this all done before two-thirty.
Unlike a normal summoning, you aren’t going to say “I’m ready” three times. Instead, I want you to lie down on your back. If your location’s floor is muddy or covered with broken glass, I’m sorry but you’ll just have to be strong. Close your eyes. Relax. You don’t have to do anything now except wait. Don’t fall asleep. You won’t wake up.
Soon, the same dull roar as before will return. You’ll hear it faintly at first, but it’ll get stronger. Just as fast, the noise will stop. At this point, you can sit up and open your eyes. There is now an entity with you. This part varies from person to person. Some people see the entity, some don’t. In any case, it won’t be trying to terrorize you so don’t worry –you’re perfectly safe.
“Did you find what you sought after?” You will ask. The entity will give one of two responses: “yes” or “no.” The voice it uses will most likely unsettle you. It won’t sound human in the least bit (well, what did you expect?). It’ll sound as if some animal is attempting to speak, barely choking the words out. This is good, do not worry.
If you received the negative response, then say “find what you seek” again and allow the entity to leave. Go home and return the following night. Do this until you get an affirmative response.
If you got a “yes” from the demon, then you may proceed. Open your arms as if you’re about to give a big old hug and say “come in.” It’s important to note that you may not like this next part, but it will be fine. Well, how to put this lightly… The entity will go into you. But it won’t hurt, or have any negative side effects whatsoever. In fact, you’ll be in complete control… mostly.
You’ll have control over your body and mind, and the only way you’ll know you’re hosting a demon is by a little urging sensation in your gut. Follow the urge out into the world. Take this time to enjoy yourself. It isn’t every day you get to be a demon’s personal chauffeur. I’m sure you will be rewarded with a very pleasant sense of euphoria. It’s like taking copious amounts of drugs minus the health risks.
Don’t interact with anybody you come across, just let your body do the walking. You will complete a set of simple tasks: delivering a package from one place to another, writing something in strange runes on a wall somewhere, buying a bag of chips at the gas station, whatever the urge tells you to do. When your little adventure is done, you will return to the location and lie down. After a nice second of shut-eye, the entity will be gone. Go home now.

THE FOURTH LESSON
IMBUING
The first three lessons have been mostly concerning human-spirit interactions. This lesson is a little different in the sense that, while you are still summoning a demon, it isn’t going to be doing much interacting. As far as you know, at least.
There are countless stories of various relics and items that apparently exhibit extraordinary powers: charms that bring luck, dice that always land fortunately, teapots that always brew a perfect cup of tea. I’m not saying every old lucky penny off the street is magical (in fact, they can be rather unsanitary– I suggest avoiding picking them up), but it is possible to imbue an item with a demon’s soul.
To carry out such an imbuing is a particularly tricky task. It, as most supernatural affairs, tends to be dangerous. You will need a few things beforehand.

The usual summoning safeguards- Self explanatory. Refer back to Lesson One for a refresher.
Your item- This can be almost anything you can think of. There is a sort of tradition surrounding what you can enchant with supernatural power. For example: the amulet I had you meddle with. Just try not to do something stupid, like shove a demon into a used sock. It’s rude.
A release- This is a piece of paper with a written dismissal on it. To release a demon from an item, you destroy the release.

The process for an enchantment summoning is a little different than usual. Begin with the usual sacred location, at the usual ungodly hour of the night. Create your salt circle and lay out the candles and other items. Place the item you want to imbue in the center of the circle. If you haven’t already, create your release. Write the words “go back to where you belong” on a piece of paper and keep it handy.
Let me interject here to crush your dreams. You can’t control an imbuing –you don’t know what exactly your item will do. There are as many stories of cursed items as there are about lucky ones. But there is a glimmer of hope. There is a higher chance of a good enchantment if you are careful about your summoning. If you’re crazy enough to do this sort of thing, then you may as well do it right.
With your setup complete, it’s time to begin. Focus on the item in your salt circle. Attempt to clear your mind of anything else. Call the demon into the circle, but this time don’t use the usual “I’m ready” method. The demons that can be used in an imbuing are of a particular sort. The sort you really do not want to meddle with.
Close your eyes and wipe every trace of fear from your mind. Ask if there is anybody listening. More likely than not, you will get a response. This could be a breeze or a noise –whispering or something. If you don’t get any response, repeat the question or leave and try again another time. If you get a response, ask the entity to enter the item in the circle. Here comes the tricky part.
You will have to convince the demon to get into your item. This isn’t dissimilar to “The Game” in that you will barter back and forth with the demon. It will ask you why you want it to go into the object, and you must give it a good reply. Demons will often willingly place themselves in items for the sole purpose of causing mischief, so it usually isn’t hard to get one to agree. This in itself should be a solemn warning to you.
It’s impossible to give you a walkthrough of exactly what to say, as it isn’t a ritual. You must be ready to think on your toes and not do something of utmost stupidity, like possess yourself. Believe me, I’ve seen this done. But, as I said, imbuing is extremely dangerous. Allow me to tell you a story about enchantment and what happens thereafter.

There is a little house in a quaint town somewhere. A more peaceful and pleasant place you’d be hard pressed to find. The people are friendly, the birds love to sing. As in all things, you should never judge a book by its cover.
Long ago in the town’s ancient history, someone desired a prize that was beyond this world. They wanted an object that would bring good luck and health to the people. You see, they weren’t doing too well. A new sickness had come and already many families were caring for bedridden loved ones. The fields grew sallow and overgrown with a lack of care. A quiet, sickly pallor lay over the entire place.
An individual –a young man– decided he had to take matters into his own hands. His mother and sister were growing weaker by the day with the illness, and he couldn’t stand seeing his town decay. He delved into the religious texts stored in the church, and, when he found nothing that could help, he searched deeper. In the church cellar was an altogether different collection of literature. Texts depicting the supernatural world and how to handle the entities found wherein (although I can guarantee that they were nowhere near as interesting as this guide).
The youth found a possible solution in one of these texts: enchantment. With fervor, he collected as many books as he could and brought them home. There, he spent long nights poring over the words under a sputtering candle. Coughs and moans from his mother and sister permeated his concentration. This spurred his determination.
He soon had accrued the knowledge he needed to enchant an item with a so-called “healing power” that the texts had promised. One night, when the moon was new and a thick fog lay over the land, the young man went out into the woods until he found a forlorn clearing. He laid out his circle and placed a gilded candlestick from the church in the center. He prayed for a quick second before proceeding.
“Are you listening to me?” The youth asked. An unnatural giggle sounded from the woods behind him. An icy grip clutched his heart, but memories of his ailing family gave him new strength. “Come into the candlestick,” the youth said loudly.
“Why?” The demon replied in an insane approximation of a little girl’s voice. It remained unseen.
“I am summoning you, I am your master. You will do as I say,” the youth attempted a tone of authority. The demon giggled again, sending shivers down the young man’s spine.
“Your candlestick is awfully shiny. Did you steal it?” The boy blanched. Honestly, he had stolen it. But he knew it was for a good cause. He did not back down.
“Come into the candlestick,” he repeated. “Do you not want to? Look how pretty it is.” The boy dared not move. There was a moment of silence, and then a chill breeze swept past the boy and into the circle. The candlestick rattled with a faint giggle. The air was still once more.
Keen readers will note that the youth was missing something. Would you like to guess? No? Oh, alright. He didn’t make a release. There was no way to release the demon, and I’m fairly sure the demon knew it. Why else would it comply so quickly?
The young man dared not dwell on what he had just done. He brought the candlestick home and set it in the bedroom where his sister and mother lay. There was nothing more to be done, so he waited.
Days passed before the candlestick showed any sign of power. In a moment of desperation, the boy had thrust the gilded item into the clammy hands of his mother. Immediately, her breathing eased and a rush of color returned to his face. Ecstatic, he did the same with his sister with similar results. He couldn’t believe it: he had saved his town.
Without hesitation the young man went from house to house, healing the townspeople. Cries of joy rang out, banishing the evil atmosphere that had plagued the air. Cries of “healer!” and “bless you!” followed the boy as he touched each sick person with the candlestick. Soon, he was stopped. The town reverend apprehended the boy in disbelief.
“How are you doing this?” he asked. The boy raised the candlestick in joy.
“God’s will saved us!” The reverend, who had tried everything in his power to aid his town, was skeptical. How could this boy brandish a metal ornament and claim a miracle? But the reverend soon forgot about it. God worked in mysterious ways, and besides, the people were indeed saved.
A year passed and the town flourished. The fields were brought back to their usual healthy productivity and all was well. The candlestick had been set in the young man’s home, and people often stopped by to give thanks and pray over it. And then things went wrong.
There was barely any change at first. The sun seemed to dim one day, and clouds hung over the sky menacingly. However, it was mid-autumn, so this wasn’t anything unusual. Then the flowers began to die. Every flower in the town wilted overnight. The crops followed soon after. Children began to go missing a few days later, and a figure was seen skipping through the trees bordering the town. Upon closer inspection, the figure turned out to be a little girl. Her laugh haunted the village at night.
Immediately, the young man knew what was happening. The demon in the candlestick was haunting his town. He tried desperately to reverse the enchantment, but he couldn’t. Eventually, the missing children were found in the woods. They were malnourished and terrified, but relatively unharmed. As they were led back to the town, the demon’s giggle bounced among the trees.
To this day, the demon haunts the town. It is permanently bound to the little gilded candlestick in the little house. The people of the town attempt to hide their dark secret under a façade of happiness, but every night the giggle comes. Sometimes, children go missing. Sometimes, they are found again. Often, they vanish forever. But the important thing is that the boy cured the sickness… right?

These four lessons are the very basics of what you can do with entities from another world. I hope you read the stories tied to each one carefully, and learned what you could from them. Now I’m going to ask you to continue the tasks you have been doing in between each lesson.
The next step after your little possession will come to you. It may take as little as a day or it may take a few weeks. However long, you’ll know when to proceed. The urge will return to you, and when it does you’ll follow it. I do hope it’s sometime convenient.
You’ll return to the location that was written in the note and sit down. Your eyes will close and you’ll fall asleep. When you wake up, you won’t be in the same place. In fact, you won’t even be in your world. Think of it as a field-trip.
Look around you, take it in. You’re not in danger yet, so do take a good look. It’s not every day that you get to be in between worlds. The imagery around you may be unsettling. All around you will be an interminable field of what can best be described as shadows. They will meld and shift and flash with a myriad of dull colors.
Eventually a figure will appear. It will appraise you, but you won’t be able to make out its features, no matter how hard you try. This is the entity you’ve been communicating with throughout your instruction. It will greet you.
“Hello,” it will say, addressing you by name in a friendly yet unsettling manner. “I have just a few more tasks for you,” it will continue. “Thank you for helping me so far, you have been simply wonderful.” It will then beckon and walk away. Follow the figure until the world around you calms and brightens into an almost pure-white color.
Soon, you’ll be able to make out shapes that will harden in definition until you will realize that they’re normal objects: houses, trees, rocks, and people. They’ll have a ghostly, translucent quality. A hushed whisper will sound all around you. The figure will lead you through this world until you reach a little old house with an overgrown lawn and an ancient willow tree. You will enter the house and enter a room with a large painting hung on the far wall.
The painting will depict a man sitting in an ornate chair in a well-decorated and comfortable room. The man will be very handsome, with piercing eyes and a devilish grin. The figure will stop and turn to you.
“Touch the painting,” it will tell you. Do so. As your fingers brush the canvas, you will feel yourself waking up. Before you return to consciousness, you will see the figure looking at you with a devilish grin. “Thank you,” I will say, stepping through the painting as you slip away.

Credit: Daniel Zed

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The Road to Happiness

March 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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She had traveled down this road more times than she was willing to count. Surrounded by forest and wild life, the long, narrow, dusty road offered a safe route from Tara’s home to the grocery store where she worked. Under paid and overworked, Tara had been there for years with no end in sight. Five, sometimes six days a week, Tara made the forty-five minute walk to her dead-end job, only to return home to her unemployed husband every night. At 16, Tara left her abusive father into the arms of an abusive boyfriend. His words were unkind, his touch was not gentle, yet without a diploma, Tara was left without many options. He promised her stability and a home, and her fear and naivety let her believe him.

On her long walks to and from work, she often thought about the last ten years and the events that resulted in her broken life. The mistakes, the lies, the desperation; all of it lead her to him. Tara hated her husband in a way she never knew was possible. The mere thought of him sent nauseated pangs to the pit of her stomach. When the thought of returning home to his drunken embrace became too much, Tara would fantasize about what she felt was her only escape; his death. An electrical fuse short-circuits engulfing the sleeping drunk to ash. An earthquake demolishes the rundown home crushing all within. He always died of an accident through no fault of her own and in the end, she would gracefully be whisked away in the embrace of a kind hearted rescuer. When her journey came to an end, still smiling she would turn the door knob to reality and endure the nightmare that awaited inside.

Tara had no idea how profound her seemingly harmless fantasies were, but she was destined to find out. On that long stretch of road, damp from the midday showers, Tara walked along the muddied path. She was exceptionally lost in a fantasy involving a hurricane and a sympathetic firefighter, as she tried to ignore the throbbing of her bruised ribs. While she floated in the arms of her fantasized hero, Tara suddenly realized she didn’t recognize her surroundings. The road stretched for miles in either direction and there were no road signs in sight to help pinpoint her location. She pulled out her phone only to see there was no cell phone service. The sun was beginning to pass the tree’s skyline, and with the dusk, Tara began to panic. He would never believe she had gotten lost, and the last time she was late she was punished in a way she tried to forget.

As she began frantically darting back and forth with her phone in the air, hopeful for a connection, a soft voice called out to her from behind a tree. Tara froze from fear, not knowing what the voices intent could be. “I’ve been waiting for you child,” the voice said again.

Tara watched as a shadowed figure emerged from the darkness. A crippled, hunched over elderly woman hobbled towards where Tara remained still. Despite her decrepit and unappealing appearance, the old woman seemed fragile and harmless, and so she decided to speak to her. “Uh, hi. My name is Tara. I live off of 70th street, but I think I made a mistake somewhere on my walk home. I’m kind of lost. Any way you can point me in the right direction?”

The elderly woman smiled exposing the few rotted teeth she had left. “I assure you child, it is no mistake you are here. You see, you know what you want most in life, but you are unable to obtain it. You came here because I can give you what you desire.” The old woman’s voice was icy which caused Tara to shiver. She couldn’t justify it to herself, but she felt uneasy in her presence. Confused by the old woman’s response, Tara sought an explanation; “I’m sorry miss, I don’t know what you mean.”

Shrill and raspy, the old woman explained, “I can see inside your heart, child. I hear your pain everyday you walk this road. I have listened to the stories you create inside your head to pretend you have a chance at happiness. I can feel your hatred for who you feel is to blame for your misery. You are here because you can’t possibly want something more, and I’m here to give it to you. All you have to do is decide if you are willing to pay the price.”

Tara’s curiosity began to pique, and so she humored the old, daft woman. “And what exactly is it that you think I want? And how much is this going to cost me? I don’t have a lot of money so I don’t really see where you’re headed with this.”

“You want freedom,” the old woman hissed. “You need money, you long for happiness. You desire him dead.” Tara stared with an open mouth, dumbfounded by the woman’s accuracy. Surly this is all a trick, Tara thought to herself. All general statements. Who wouldn’t desire money and happiness? But wanting to believe, she continued to listen.

“I can give you everything you’ve fantasized about. All I ask in return, is in one years time, you allow me permission to enter your body for two hours.” At this Tara scoffed. Why had she been nervous about this woman? She was obviously crazy. “OK,” she antagonized, “but how do I know you’re telling the truth and can really give me these things?”

At that, the woman materialized a goblet full of liquid. She motioned for Tara to come closer. As Tara looked into the goblet, she saw her husband asleep in front of the T.V., an empty whisky bottle at his side. Frightened and intrigued, Tara gazed at the old woman. “You really can change my life? And all I have to do is allow you two hours inside my body one year from now?”

“That is all, child. Permit me to use your body as a vessel for two hours in one year, and everything you’ve ever wanted will come true.” Tears filled Tara’s eyes as the visions of a better life filled her mind. The concept of relinquishing her body was odd but after a life of constant disappointment and sorrow, she was willing to agree to more than she was willing to admit. She feared if she questioned the old woman’s intent that the offer would be tarnished or taken away. And so, without much consideration, Tara blurted “yes!”

A smile began to creep across the old woman’s face as she hissed, “and so it is done.”

Tara turned around to find her door right in front of her. The road had disappeared along with the elderly woman. She began to think she had gotten lost in her imagination, that the whole interaction was a fantasy. She stood at the door breathing deeply as her heart pounded. Still In a haze, she turned the door knob and stepped lightly through the dark house. Her blood grew colder with each step towards where her husband sat. And then, in the glow of the T.V., there he was. Peaceful, motionless, and not breathing. Tara touched him and jolted at his cold skin. Tears began to flood her eyes as she looked up and thanked the mysterious woman from the road. Finally, Tara was free.

A coroner’s report ruled Tara’s husband’s cause of death a heart attack. The paramedic who answered Tara’s emergency call turned out to be an old friend from high school that she had forgotten. It wasn’t long before the two began dating. While receiving two weeks off from the grocery store to mourn, Tara was approached by a lawyer who informed her that her husband had a life insurance policy which left her with two million dollars. Because the death was deemed natural, Tara received the money within a month of her husband’s funeral. It all happened so fast, and none of the good fortune made any sense, but she didn’t care how surreal it all was. Tara finally had the life she always wanted, the life she felt she deserved. The joy empowered her so much that she soon lost track of time. It seemed like only a blink had passed when the old woman came knocking on her door.

Tara was alone the day the old woman returned for her payment. She was so happy from the life she was now living that she greeted the old woman as she would a long lost friend, embracing her in a warm and genuine hug. “You know, you are a miracle maker,” Tara gloated. “I never knew a person could be this happy. And I have you to thank.”

The old woman looked Tara in the eye, and through her rotted grin she asked, “then are you ready to repay me, child?”

Lost in her own happiness, Tara smiled back and shook her head yes. She trusted the old woman who had brought her such amazingly good fortune. “Well then, it’s time,” the old woman hissed as she grabbed Tara’s face and brought it to her own.

Tara saw a blinding white flash, and then it was as if nothing had happened. The old woman was no longer in front of her and it seemed like she had dreamed the entire encounter. That is, until she tried to move.

Trapped inside her own body Tara cried out “what is this? I thought you would use me as a vessel, that I wouldn’t remember any of this.” “Oh no, child. You will remember every moment I have with you, I can assure you of that,” the old woman responded out loud in Tara’s voice. Feeling Tara’s fear and confusion, the old woman began to explain.

“For centuries I have been plagued with the thoughts and emotions of the broken hearted. Always tormented, always crying out for help, never making a single effort towards helping themselves. Until I come along and offer a solution. A solution that only requires an agreement. Two hours of their time to receive all of the desires and dreams the bleeding hearts were too lazy to achieve themselves. Not once has any of the disgustingly entitled brats inquired as to how I do what I do, or even why I need to use their body as a vessel. The offer is just blindly accepted and they greedily enter their new lives unappreciative. Well, these two agreed upon hours are used for harvest. You think you were so tormented and your life was so tragic? Lets see how you fare after this.”

Tara watched helplessly as her body approached the festively decorated house. Entering the sleeping home, Tara felt as her fingers gripped the handle of the knife taken from the kitchen. The home was dark and quiet but the old woman glided Tara’s body effortlessly to her intended destination. Without making a sound, Tara’s body positioned over the woman asleep in her bed. And with a swift motion, Tara’s hand slid the knife into the woman’s stomach. Piercing screams filled the home, pain and terror emanating from the victim’s eyes. And with a flick of the knife to the helpless woman’s throat, Tara listened as the wails began to gurgle. The warmth of life faded to cold in Tara’s arms as her mouth wrapped around the gaping slit in the woman’s throat. She tasted copper as the blood slid down and coated her stomach. Tara’s cries and screams of horror could only be heard by one, and in response, she felt her blood soaked lips curl into a smile.

Standing over the mauled woman, shrill and cruel, the old woman began to speak; “For every soul I take before it’s time, I must sacrifice an innocent soul to appease the disregard of deaths plan. A soul not promised to him, one destined to a greater eternity.”

From a darkened corner came a child’s whimper. The old woman turned Tara’s head so she could see the terrified girl violently crying as she stared at the grotesque figure that was once her mother. “You thought you were in hell but oh how wrong you were. Your laziness to wait for rescue and your selfishness to ignore consequence has cost the life of this young, widowed mother. Look into the eyes of this child and see what real tragedy is. This orphan will live tormented for the rest of her life and there is nothing that will remove her misery. Although unlike you, she will try. Remember, you did this. Enjoy your reward, because the cost was immense.”

And with a flash of white and a searing pain, Tara collapsed to the ground. Tears streamed down her face as she began to scream, clenching her blood drenched hands, finally able to express her shock of what she had been forced to do.

Tara never heard the police sirens, never felt them as they put her hands in restraints. And she would never remember being taken away from the sacrificed woman and the child she had damned. After a short trial, it wasn’t long before she was committed to a mental institution. Despite desperate attempts from people trying to understand why she had committed such an awful act, Tara never spoke to anyone again. It was as if she were trapped inside her mind. But late at night, when the halls were quite from sleep, Tara could be heard whispering, “I just wanted to be happy.”

Credit: Taylorg

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The Holder of the End of the Story

January 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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This pasta is yet another entry in The Holders series, a loose grouping of stories by countless different authors based on a specific premise.

If this series is new to you, you may wish to visit this website dedicated specifically to archiving Holders stories; although we have a tag for the series and have posted several new entries over the year, the Holders wiki is much more complete.

To reach the Holder of the End of the Story, go to the place that you feel the strongest connection to. What that place is will depend on you. It might be the house you live in. It might be your childhood home. For some, it means going to that magical little creek-side place where you and your friends used to play, or to the coffee shop that you stopped in every morning before work.

When you reach the place, find the part of it that means the most to you. It might be your old room, or that spot on the side of the creek where you would always build your fort, or the table where you wrote your first novel. Step to within a few feet of that spot, facing it, and then stop. At this point, you should consider very carefully whether you really want to continue. You don’t need to stand there considering it for a particular amount of time. A millisecond will suffice. Or if you really want to, you can skip this step entirely. There won’t be any consequences. You won’t be dragged off by some unspeakable horror, or tormented by eternal madness, or torn apart by ravenous bees, or some such silliness. That’s not how this one works. Depending on how your previous trials have affected you, you’ll probably end up wishing that it was.

It’s up to you, but I would strongly, strongly recommend that you take your time to consider whether or not to go on. At this point, you can still walk away without any consequences.

Think about it – if you’ve recovered other Objects already, and you probably have, then your experiences may have… well, it’s only a certain sort of person who can maintain any real sense of connection to the world after all the horrors that you’ve undoubtedly gone through. By now you might feel completely numb to everything, or be so haunted by visions of unspeakable things that your heart just doesn’t have room for anything but pain and terror. Your mind might be so frayed that you can barely remember the past, much less which places were the ones you loved. Or your connection to reality might be so tenuous that you can’t for the life of you tell which of your memories are real, and which ones are just the mad whispers of your own (probably-demented) unconscious mind. Maybe all of the above.

Do not, I repeat, do not continue to Seek this Object if you no longer have the capacity to love the place in front of you. Walk away. There are plenty of other Objects out there. Who knows, maybe one of Them will restore the parts of you that you’ve lost. That’s not generally the way They work, but hey, you never know.

If you honestly think that you’re still capable of loving this ‘precious place,’ then say aloud “I Seek to secure the story’s end” and then step forward. This might mean crossing the threshold into your old room. It might mean stepping into that one special spot on the side of the creek. Maybe your ‘precious place’ is something that you can’t step into, like a wall that used to have a whiteboard that you and your sister would draw on, or something like that. Even so, step forward anyway.

In the very likely event that your experiences have already damaged your soul beyond repair, destroying or dementing every emotional connection to the world that you ever had, then this is where your journey ends. I warned you, didn’t I? I won’t say what happens to you at this point. Don’t worry though, you won’t be torn apart, or go mad, or suffer terrible agonies for eternity, or anything like that. You won’t even die – not for a long, long time. That’s not how this one works. You’ll wish it was.

Still curious? If you absolutely can’t stand not knowing what happens to the ones that fail, then by all means go to your ‘precious place’ and try it for yourself. You’ll probably find your answer. Just don’t blame me when you wish you hadn’t.

If by some unlikely miracle you’re actually still intact enough to feel a real connection to this place, then in an instant the environment around you will change. You’ll find yourself in a nice, moderately sized room. There may be furniture scattered around, there may be paintings on the walls. It’s different for everyone. The room will always be laid out in a way that reminds you of some of your happiest memories. There might be a couch that reminds you of the one at your best friend’s house where you always used to have movie nights. Or a painting of someone you love, at the age when they meant the most to you. The only constant is that at the center of the room, you’ll always find two comfortable chairs that are facing each other. The chair closest to you will remind you of the place that feels most like home. I will be sitting in the other chair.

Don’t worry; there aren’t any special rules here. You won’t be attacked if you look away from me, or go mad if you look into my eyes. That’s not how this one works. Go ahead and sit in the empty chair. Once you’re comfortable, I’ll welcome you to my sanctum, and tell you what you’ve probably already guessed – that I am the Holder of the End of the Story. Congratulations – very, very few Seekers have ever reached me.

I’ll then offer you a choice. There’s no trick to it. You won’t be punished for choosing one way or the other. Well, you won’t be punished beyond the natural consequences of your choice, anyway. That’s not how this one works. The choice I’ll offer you is this: if you want, I’ll give you the Object you’ve come for. No strings attached, no tricks. It won’t suddenly burrow into your eye and gobble up your brain, or make you hear the endless screams of the damned in your head, or kill a puppy, or some such nonsense. That’s not how this one works.

Or you can make the other choice: You can go home. That’s right, home. I don’t mean leave this place and go off Seeking the next Object. I mean really, truly, go home. Back to before all of this started. I can make that happen. That, and not the Object I Hold, is the real reward you’ve proven yourself worthy of by reaching me. That’s how this one works. Or of course, you can choose to go on.

Take as much time as you need. I recommend thinking long and hard on this one. It’s not a choice to make lightly. When you’re ready, go ahead and tell me your decision.

If you take me up on my offer, then all of the Objects you’ve acquired will return to where you found them. Any damage that’s happened to your body, mind, soul, and all that – will be healed. Everyone and everything that you’ve sacrificed to reach this point will be restored as if your quest never happened at all. Anyone you’ve hurt or killed or damaged in other ways will be completely restored. All the knowledge that you’ve gained and the secrets that you’ve learned will be erased from your memory, as well as any notes or recordings you’ve made in any form. It will still be possible for you act as a Seeker again, but you’ll have to discover everything all over again, and you’ll believe that it’s your first time doing it. The Holders will also lose all memory of you. Well, except for me – I’ll remember. Who knows, maybe this isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation.

If you choose to go on, then for the briefest instant you’ll think that you see a look of deep, deep sadness pass over my face. You’ll wonder if I haven’t stood exactly where you’re standing now, and made the exact same choice. It’ll be so brief, in fact, that you won’t be sure if it was really there at all. Without warning, you’ll find yourself back in the ‘precious place’ where you started. It will now be a charred ruin. Anyone who was in it when you crossed into my sanctum will be dead – their bodies as burned as the walls. If your memories of this place include sharing it with anyone, then you should pray, for their sake, that they died before this moment.

Reach down and scoop up a handful of ashes. Don’t worry, you won’t have trouble finding some – they’ll be all around you. As you hold them in your hand, you’ll be filled with the knowledge that no matter what happens in the future, no matter what you do, you will never again have an opportunity to give up your quest – not for long. Touching this Object has changed you. You now have an irresistible compulsion to seek the Objects. The longer you go without fulfilling that compulsion, the more you’ll feel compelled to – until you can’t resist it anymore.

The pile of ashes in your hand is Object # 1467. There’s only one way left for the story to end.

Credit: Josias Gibbs

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Norstu Desert

December 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The flawless white of the perfect snow stretched ambitiously towards the amber horizon. The immense glass walls seemed to amplify the majesty of the Norstu desert. I’d have been struck down by awe if perfection were not now a staple aspect of everyday life. The ochre support panels of the place of worship were delicately adorned in an array of winter flowers; Blue Bells, Snow Drops and Christmas roses alike had all joined together on this special day. Sometimes it felt like an exhibit; an artificial display of humanity designed to delight a higher power who could point and laugh at us and rub their face on the smudgy glass of our enclosure. However, today it was the chosen venue for a triumph of modern genetics. A few mumbled words and a week of feasting later and I’d be the father-to-be of a genetically ideal child. And yet the feelings that gripped my heart were a world away from joy.

Please don’t misunderstand my reservations; Cade was my complete ideal. She was warm, resilient, intelligent, laid back… she is quite literally, my biological match. On paper. It is not that I felt in anyway unworthy of her; I could easily provide her with a happy life that would allow for the furthering of our society- that is if it were possible to improve upon perfection. But as I stood there in my formal fur Konskt looking down the idyllic aisle across the glacial plane, the sterility of the whole charade hit me right between the eyes. I took a few quick strides into the bathroom under the guise of wanting to go over my vows once more. When hidden from prying eyes I set my own gaze on my unchanged reflection. I wondered at the peculiarity that my mind could go through such a vital transition and not a modicum of it would be expressed on my face. My miss-matched eyes provided the same unsettling stare the designers had decided upon when selecting my parents. One green iris, one black; the summer and the night. Well, at least that was what my mother had whispered into my ear on one of her fleeting visits to the GenTech Building.

When in doubt, rationalise; the party tag line played in my mind. I closed my inharmonious eyes and attempted to do just that. This marriage would only last a year; enough time to provide offspring then I’d be free of the restrictions of monogamy and the child would be rushed off to the GenTech Building to receive the highest standard of education and upbringing. A light knock on the door called my attention. Cade didn’t wait for a response before slinking in. She delicately patted her immaculate silver blond hair back into its intricate braid. It was a mechanical gesture.

‘I do not recall seeing tardiness as a listed aspect on your genetic profile.’ Her soft voice was inflectionless. She fixed me with her pale, nearly colourless eyes. They seemed almost reptilian when showered in the fluoro lights of the rest room. I raised the left side of my mouth up by way of response. She tilted her head to the left, her face impassive. ‘You know, Tevje, I have had 4 children by 4 different men so far, yet you are undoubtedly my most interesting pairing.’ A wave of something close to compassion lapped over my frontal lobe while I wondered at having 4 children before the age of 22. This child would be her fifth and my first. Everyone from the local area had gathered to view this important, yet routine event. It appeared that I was the only one experiencing a sense of crazed unwillingness. Cade read my face with laser-like precision. She changed her conversational track, her hand once again finding its way to smooth back her hair.

‘I wonder, Tevje, do you hesitate before stepping into the shower? Do you pause before drinking a glass of Gohne?’ She continued in my silence, logic spouting from her perfect face, she was the epitome of genetic perfection, a lovely little party clone. My blushing bride. Her eyelids fluttered down and back up again in a carefully planned blink. ‘I was wondering about the name Idun for a girl; it means…’

‘…To renew nature.’ I cut in, ending her sentence. She nodded, walking towards me in slow measured steps. I could almost see her put on her seductive persona like a well-fitting sweater. She smoothed my shoulder-length, corn blond hair behind my ear and whispering intimately. ‘You know that this is the natural way; it’s how our species survives in this… hostile environment.’ I turned my neck slightly to really look at her exquisite face, a muscle in her cheek twitched, no doubt from the effort of holding that smile in place. I could see the contempt so close to the surface, it was then that I realised; she didn’t want this anymore than I did. The geneticists were walking her down the aisle just as surely as they had trapped me.

‘Cade,’ My voice was softer. She covered my mouth with her hand, fear breaking her façade. ‘You’re going to get us killed,’ She directed the words into my ear in a malicious whisper. All off a sudden she broke away, feigning a girly laugh and hitting me lightly on the arm; ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for tonight to do that with me Tevje!’ I read the fearful warning in her eyes. It all clicked. We were being watched, that’s why the church was entirely glass. Every cell in my body urged me to lean back and look through the transparent roof to see if I could locate the drone. Leave. My brain was pushing me towards the door; out of it; out of the church; out of my allotted life. I couldn’t resist the pull for long. I walked big, loping steps past Cade, out of the bathroom and under the arch of winter flowers. The door handles felt cold on my hands when opened them.

My Konskt fluffed up as I exited the splendid church. It was only charged for 7 hours of warmth, then it would shrink back down to thin indoor material and the shivering would start. Why on earth would anyone want to go into the desert for more than 7 hours anyway? I walked out into the vast expanse of snow realising that I had outgrown my wilful ignorance and gilded cage. I would not, could not, subject an innocent child to a parentless falsity of an existence. The rhythmic sound of my steps crunching on the ice brought my GenTech education to the forefront of my mind. Never go out onto the frozen tundra. Nothing survives out there, including you. How are you going to further our elite society if you’re dead? I could still smell my sexless GenTech teacher’s herbal cigarette. The pressure of her hand on the top of my head was almost unbearable as she patronisingly ruffled my hair. She laughed at my suggestion that I would be an explorer when I grew up; from that moment onwards I was a sullen, quiet student.

Stage One: Uncontrollable Shivering.

Five beads of sweat made a gallant attempt to cross my forehead before being welded to my face. There they remained like a glacial crown. All hail the king of this wasteland of humanity. My Konskt had run out of charge 15 minutes and 21 seconds ago, my fingers trembled, unbidden, a constant reminder of that fact. The wind howled maddeningly in my ears, as if a thousand voices were screaming at me in a language I couldn’t understand. My feet strode dutifully forwards, always striving for me to return to my kingdom.

Stage two: Numbness

My blinks became increasingly inefficient, only occasionally managing to remove the build-up of snow from my eyes. I watched a snow flake fall slowly down, it’s perfect individuality being lost amongst the homogenised snowfield. What did it matter anyway; are we not all going to fade out of existence eventually; as separate as we are, are we not all united in our inevitable end? My mind was slow, spinning off on tangents, floating and soaring with the gentle snowdrift. Only one thought had clarity; I regretted that there was not a single individual to hold me down to this Earth. No ties to keep my soul housed in my body. I was unbound. I was free.

Stage Three: A feeling of warmth spreads through your body

I was alone.

Stage Four: You enter a period of semi-consciousness

I smiled a sardonic smile on frozen lips as my lethargic mind jammed the puzzle pieces together; I had, through some horrendous genetic accident, developed my own brain. Worse still; it was untainted by the party bullshit. The desolate expanse of the Norstu Desert had never felt more like home; for it was as alone as I. For just as the frozen expanse was unequipped to sustain life, I was unequipped to live out a foolish lie. I suppose there’s a grim glory in being a martyr for your cause.

Stage Five: Unconsciousness

The snow was piling up on me, a comforting blanket pressing me into sleep. Ice had cemented my eyes shut. When in doubt rationalise. Never mind, there was nothing more I wished to see anyway.

Stage Six: Death

Credit: Lydia Marshall

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The Ashwood Kids Aren’t Allowed Outside

November 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The whole thing started with Davey Stein. His mother, already on her morning chores, had told him that if he was insistent on going outside, to take care, so he was just playing ball and jacks on the front lawn when it happened. Suddenly, a big, green truck drove right through the street, slow enough that everybody in the neighborhood saw it, but too fast for anyone to really know what their business was. Old Mrs. Ellison saw it; she was outside tending her garden as usual when the noise of it drove her back in. Mitchell Keene was taking his morning walk up and down the neighborhood, striding down the sidewalk like a man with a purpose, and lowering his hat to keep out the glare of the May sun. He saw the truck, watching as it sloped down the hill at the end of the street and out of sight.

And that was when Davey Stein spotted the Ashwood kids. It was a brief glimpse, to be sure- just a flash of two little figures behind the fence, two small pale children ducking down right quick, but he was sure that they had peered out to see the truck, too. They didn’t get many people passing through. It was a close-knit community; a rural community, one without much prosperity these days, but one where they took care of their own. And so the scrawny, bespectacled Davey ran back inside his little yellow house, as the heat was oppressive even this early in the day, and frankly, he had finally seen all he needed to see.

The boy was dutiful, his voice laden with concern. “I think the Ashwood kids are home, Ma,” he told his mother as she was folding sheets on the parlor sofa. “And not just that, they seem… scared. And weak, real weak. Like they’d been… hiding from everybody.” She brushed her hair back and looked intently at her son, her eyes begging him to go on. “I think I even saw some- bruises, Ma.” She sighed and set the laundry aside, imploring him to sit beside her, and Davey obliged.

In spite of himself, his voice became faint, even a bit choked up. “There has to be SOMEthing you can do about it, Mom… you could intervene, I know you could. You’re in the Red Cross, that has to count for something!”

“Oh Davey,” she said softly. The woman was emotionally drained and exhausted from working all day with no husband beside her. “Come here.” She hugged her son to her tightly, stroking his dark matted hair. “I know you care about those kids… anybody would. And you never got to have a brother or sister of your own.”

“Exactly!” he protested. “That’s a good thing. So maybe one of them could come live with us or… or something like that.”

She couldn’t help but faintly laugh. “Under this roof? With what food and clothing- does it just come out of thin air?” She rubbed his arm affectionately. “I feel for those children, I really do. And you did the right thing telling me. But you KNOW I haven’t heard back from the Red Cross headquarters yet…” Her tired eyes went over to the two-way radio on the stand.

Davey tried once more. “Couldn’t we- go into town? Maybe somebody…”

“You know it’s hard these days, especially walking all that way when it’s so hot. Maybe when Mr. Shuster finally repairs the car, alright?” He finally smiled back, his big, round eyes still gazing out the window and at the small, plain white house at the end of the street. The Ashwood house.

Mrs. Ashwood was inside that very moment, looking blankly at the curtains over the windows as she, too, had heard the truck. Her children darted back in the house only to withdraw to their bedroom, and she barely noticed. These days she didn’t notice much. She considered cursing them for having wandered out again, for DISOBEYING her, but she was too tired. More often than not she spent her days inside just listening to the radio, staring off into space as the broadcast droned on, cutting in and out until eventually she fell asleep to the comforting dull of static.

Their little blue fridge was nearly empty, but the children were too frightened to say a word, let alone show her tears. She’d grown angry, hard, like a statue of a mother instead of a loving, caring hand to calm them. And so they stayed in their rooms, rocking quietly and clutching one another while the world outside went on without them.

Mrs. Ellison lived next door, and stood where she did most days, shaking her head and mumbling over the pitiful crops this month- another lousy harvest. She was the neighborhood gossip, and so naturally when she’d realized how seldom those kids were seen or heard, she had started to grow concerned. It was lonely for Mrs. Ellison these days- especially after Iggy, her beloved tabby, had died the week prior, so she went to her usual source for chat- Mrs. Stein, just across the street.

The old woman knocked, sighing and fanning herself on their porch, until Mrs. Stein appeared behind a worn mesh screen, a smile stretched across her thin face. They exchanged pleasantries, and she told Mrs. Ellison how sorry she was about Iggy- at this, they both went quiet. Then the older lady piped back up, saying how she’d like to get some books, but can’t drive anymore. Just then, their neighbor and farmer emerged from his field behind the houses, good old Jim Van Horne, beads of sweat dripping down his tanned visage.

“Hello ladies,” he said with a hospitable grin, and they greeted him back. “Oh Mr. Van Horne… I’ve been thinking of going to the library,” Mrs. Ellison said wistfully, “but I’m just not sure. Are you heading into town with crops this week? Have you heard any news?”

He wiped his face with a rag and shook his head. “I’m awful sorry to say, but it doesn’t matter ‘bout the library. Old place finally shut down for good. I reckon I’d better have a drink then get back to the seedlings… it’s mighty tough this time of year.” They said their goodbyes, and at first the old woman was crestfallen, but Mrs. Stein took her hand and told her, “Don’t worry now- I have just the thing.” She disappeared for a moment back into her parlor and Mrs. Ellison waited as the lady hastily picked up a couple of paperbacks. “Here,” she said, and cheerily handed them over. “Hope they’ll do for now. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

With a nervous glance, Mrs. Ellison handed back the book she’d borrowed last week- and with it, a note slipped delicately in the cover, the way they always did. Mrs. Stein looked at it covertly, and sighed. She’d knew it all this time… she just didn’t want to face it. “Poor children,” she murmured, and Mrs. Ellison simply shook her head before thanking the woman and tottering home, past the vegetable garden that just wouldn’t grow, and looked over the Ashwood family’s fence before she went inside.

Mitchell Keene watched her leave before tipping his brim at Mrs. Stein, who nodded politely and went in. His stroll complete, he walked across the street to Charlie Shuster, hard at work on the Stein family car. “Hello, Mr. Keene!” Charlie called jovially, wiping his face with the back of his hand.

“How goes the repairs, then?” Mitchell asked with a smile.

Charlie was grim. “Ahh, not too darn well… gonna be hard to find the parts I need, that’s for sure.”

“Well, then you’re in luck.” Mr. Keene leaned in closer. “I happen to be planning a trip into town, real soon, too. And I’ll be able to get resources. You know how we are here, Charlie.” He put his hand warmly on Mr. Shuster’s. “Good times or bad, we always stick together. Speaking of which…”

Now his voice was low and stern. Mitchell Keene had a hard face, made rough beyond its years by the sun, and he was a no-nonsense man that made sure everything would be taken care of in its due time. So when he spoke- people listened. “Now Charlie,” he said, “I’m worried that I haven’t seen the Ashwood girl or boy in a while… have you?”

Shuster shook his head. “Sorry, can’t say I have.”

“It’s just that Mrs. Ashwood… well, I’m not sure I trust their mother or what things she might get up to, if you catch my meaning.” Mitchell stood upright and sighed, eyes scanning around his neighborhood. “Call me old-fashioned, Charlie, but when I look at my boy Henry- well, I just long for the way things were back in the days you could trust a mother with her own children. You know?”

Charlie nodded. “Oh I do sir, I do. Seein’ kids hurt like that… it’s enough to make a fella sick.”

Mr. Keene turned to face him squarely. “We’ll be having a little meeting tonight at my house, say around seven. Do you think you could rally some of the folks together? It’d sure be swell if we could talk things out- I’m going out hunting with a few of the boys.” He glanced down at his watch. “In fact, I’d better hop to it. Could ya do that for me, Charlie?”

“Well sure.” He shook his hand amicably. “Seven it is. Best of luck on the hunt- it’s tricky ‘round these woods nowadays, ain’t it?”

Mitchell laughed and waved as he started home. “It sure is, Charlie. See you later, then!” And with their gear and rifles at the ready, the local men set off into the forest, Mr. Keene patting his son on the head and telling him to be the big man- keep an eye out for any trouble while his father’s away. Little Henry nodded, then went looking for a playmate.

He finally had gathered up Davey Stein, still restless from earlier, and young Laura Prewitt, a precious little thing who was thrilled to play baseball. With Henry donning his mitt, the three took to the open street and began idly tossing the ball around, all a bit tired what with chores and that scorching sun. But they still laughed and chased the ball back just to throw it again, the way kids do. That is, until it landed behind a fence- right in the middle of the Ashwood’s yard.

Laura pouted, and Henry hung his head in disappointment, until at once they heard rustling bushes. There was quick but definite movement behind the slats of the fence. At first all three children began to near the backyard, but that was when Davey noticed newspaper hastily put up, blocking the bedroom windows, that wasn’t there before. He held the two younger kids back with a wave of his hand, brow furrowed in worry, before gingerly approaching the fence.

When Davey got close enough he could make out two small figures hiding in what little shadow remained of the day- a gangly little boy of about 7, clutching the baseball like a prize in his two little hands, skinny arms visibly bruised right up until they disappeared under a shirt far too big. It was even worse than anyone had thought. Silently the boy (Danny was his name, Davey remembered, Danny Ashwood) handed the ball to his sister, aged nine, who was in a dirty parka with stuffing exposed on one side, wearing sunglasses that contrasted against her pale skin, which reminded Davey of a porcelain doll.

The girl’s, Susie’s, cracked lips gave him a weak smile as she handed the ball back over the fence, and then brother and sister slowly backed behind their house again, and Davey likewise retreated, a sick uneasy feeling in his stomach. “Here now, I’ve got the ball,” he told his two young playmates, trying to act cheery and hoping they hadn’t just seen what he had. “C’mon, Henry, I’ll run back and you catch next, yeah?”

Henry looked down at his mitt and shrugged. “I dunno, Davey… it’s too dang hot out here. And mother wants me home soon anyway for supper. Just one more, alright?” The older boy agreed, and Henry ran a ways and caught it right in his glove, smiling a bit before heading home. Laura Prewitt listlessly chewed her nails and half-heartedly tossed the ball with Davey, but soon they, too, went back to their respective homes, not before Laura gave a sideways glance at that quiet, plain white house on the corner before vanishing inside.

That evening a group convened around Mitchell Keene’s dining table- he and his wife Norma, Charlie Shuster, Mrs. Prewitt with little Laura in tow, and a couple of the hunters from the end of the block. They were all grateful as Norma put out a plate of crackers and some old, hard cheese, and each began chewing even as they spoke.

“I have seen those poor children DUCKING down when I pass by,” Mrs. Prewitt said, appalled. “I mean, my Laura never got that thin no matter how tough times were.” Some of the others nodded in agreement.

Charlie chimed in, “And I haven’t seen them playing with no other kids, neither. It isn’t right.” At that moment there was a knock, and Davey’s mother entered late with an apology, greeting the hosts before she got down to things.

“I know we’re all concerned for the children. I… I have plenty of medical supplies still at my house, you know.” She looked around the room but didn’t find many faces open to her suggestion, and felt desperate. “I may just be one woman, but… well, Mrs. Ellison is coming behind me. And she would know- they live just next door. So ask her… please.”

Mitchell Keene stood and splayed his hands out on the table like a pastor addressing his flock. “Look- I’m not one to be stingy but let’s talk facts. We only have so many resources, even with yours, Mrs. Stein.” The woman looked down, almost regretting her attendance. “Everybody here has had to pull TOGETHER, and that doesn’t make this any easier. Months now without help. How much more can we take?” His wife put a hand on his arm and her lip trembled with the threat of tears, but he steadied her. It was no way for children to live. No way at all. A single drop ran down onto her blouse as she imagined her Henry suffering that way.

Mrs. Ellison had finally arrived. “Yes, those little children,” she said thoughtfully. “Now, I’m not one to pry-“

“Hang on just a second,” interrupted Charlie with a hint of frustration. “Just because you’re next door we hang our plans on your say-so?”

Mrs. Ellison held her own. “I may be old, Charlie Shuster, but I have brought plenty to the table when it comes to keeping our little group together. And if you think that makes me soft, you think AGAIN, son.” He averted his eyes like a scolded schoolboy. “Now something HAS to be done about those kids. Just wasting away in that house while their mother is up to God-knows-what, and the father nowhere to be seen…”

“I can’t take it,” Mrs. Prewitt blurted out, the tension in the room almost tangible. “I, I’m sorry. But I just can’t. I’ve had enough and… and so has my little girl, for God’s sakes!” She scooped up the child in her arms, eyes scouring all their faces wildly. “Now whatever you decide, I won’t be a part of it. Come on, dear.” And with that, she stormed out and back across the street. The rest of the people in the room exchanged dark, heavy glances.

Davey Stein was back in his yellow house, reading an old Boy Scout manual by candlelight as his mother slipped back in, having left the meeting unsatisfied. Mrs. Prewitt, too, was home, forcing a smile as she rolled the dice on the Monopoly board Laura’d got for her birthday last year, on the front porch; she quickly ushered the girl inside, careful to keep the board straight so they didn’t lose their houses, when she saw the group emerging from Mitchell Keene’s house. Mrs. Ashwood was clutching her husband’s pillow to her cheek as her dark, bleary eyes looked out into the moonlit floor.

And finally, just outside, in the relative safety of night, Susie Ashwood knelt by the fence and idly tugged at the tape patching her jeans, straining to listen for the sound of anything- a barking dog, the local train, the forest that grew stiller each day. But none of those things caught her ear anymore. She straightened up to hear Mrs. Prewitt’s slamming door when suddenly she was caught by the wrist, albeit gently, by Mrs. Ellison, who led her to the front door of the Ashwood house.

The rest of the neighbors ushered over her brother Danny, who was pulling at blades of dead, brown grass. He followed them with the same blank stare he’d had for months- as if he was looking into nothing, and yet seeing so much. Susie grasped for his hand as they backed toward their front door, and she shifted her sunglasses nervously, shying away from the neighbors and their flashlights.

Mrs. Ashwood was startled by a loud knock, and pried the door open a few inches, her eyes fierce and angry behind the chain. “I don’t believe the nerve of you-“ Mitchell Keene stepped forward and that made her fall dead silent, his wife Norma cowering behind him. Suddenly Mrs. Ashwood realized. “Susie? Danny? Oh God, my Susie!” She knew at once that they’d snuck out again, and that they had finally been seen- she looked down and surely enough, there were her children, the adults forming a protective circle around them.

“Now just calm down, Mrs. Ashwood,” said Charlie Shuster in a steely voice. “If you had just followed the rules, like everybody else here…” There were murmurs within the crowd. “Then it wouldn’t have come to this.”

Little Danny Ashwood wanted to speak, but fear had shut him up and all he could manage was to hide behind his big sister, away from the harsh, bright lights the neighbors carried.

Mr. Keene cleared his throat. “He’s right. We have ALL had to make… sacrifices.” At this, Norma became weepy and choked out, “You weren’t the only house with more than one child!” before she broke into sobs and buried herself in her husband’s shoulder. But Mitchell just put on a hard, strict manner and said, “Mrs. Ashwood, you should be thinking about EVERYone. There are other children in this community, not just yours.”

“I know I’m a senior woman,” Mrs. Ellison rasped, “but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to die yet. And nobody else should have to if we can just make it through- nobody else that can work. I garden. I’ve sacrificed my own. MANY of us have.” She seized the children and brought them forth even as their mother screamed and struggled to unchain the door, Susie and Danny trying to break away as they were thrust into a sea of ragged people, hands worn to the bone and twitching in anticipation of the resources the Ashwoods had been holding back all this time. At the thought of their TWO children, unlike so many other families that had just one…

Finally Mrs. Ashwood burst out onto the grass and her children grabbed frantically at her skirts as they were forced into the light, her shift dress having long since lost its flowery pattern. It was burned clean of its hue and now lay like a white, shapeless robe around her, and she spat out her words as she put a scarred hand over each child, the dress draped about her thin frame like a ghost. “You cannot… have… MY CHILDREN!” Her screech rang out into the night, and that was when the neighbors, the POSSE, saw the two of them and fell silent.

Danny, his head bulging out at an angle where hair didn’t grow, and his legs curved in slightly at the knee, eyes looking up at all of the adults red-rimmed as he left out a rattly cough, making them to take a step back. Wanting so much to protect him, brave little Susie removed her sunglasses to reveal wet blue eyes turned milky white by the blast, her blonde hair thin and missing in patches. At last their mother found her courage and her voice, telling them hoarsely, “Do you want the truth? Because I can TELL you that much.”

Even Mitchell Keene looked down at his feet. There was a slow, poorly feeling settling into all of them, and Mrs. Ashwood was at her breaking point. “My husband took a new job down in the city. We were visiting him the 23rd. Do you see, then? DO YOU SEE?” She thrust out her arms as if to show the world. “We tried to run when we heard sirens but… we got caught in the wave and, well, all the rest.” Her arms came back down to hold her children close. “Eventually we made it back home, back before the buses stopped running. But if you try… if you even TRY to lay a finger on one of my children…” Her entire body shook furiously. “Well, then you’ll have to take me first.”

Charlie Shuster shook his head and walked off in disgrace. The Keenes backed away, Mitchell speechless for once in his life, before dismissing everybody back home with a wave of his hand. As the rest began to disperse, Mrs. Keene slowly kneeled down to the children’s level, cautious not to get too close, in order to meet Susie’s pearly white gaze. Norma whispered to them both, “I’m so… so sorry. Forgive us.” She unsteadily wandered away, the shameful tears once again promising to devour her. Sacrifice meant something… very real to her. And while little Henry lay in bed back home, in the still of the dark, he didn’t sleep. Not facing the empty bed opposite his. Not anymore.

Once inside, Mrs. Ashwood bolted the door and sank to the ground as she held her children close to her, breathing hard with relief. The exhausted, hungry crowd begrudgingly went back to their porches, sat back on their sofas, realizing with defeat that there was nothing they could get from the Ashwoods. They had been in the city zone that fateful September day, and couldn’t yield a thing for the increasingly desperate neighborhood, exposed and infected the way they were. Like tainted meat.

Credit: TheJinx

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Halloween 2.0

October 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Hannah pressed the button of her digital recorder.

“New World Podcast, number one. October 31st.” She shook her head and cleared her throat. “Happy Halloween, my new listeners. I started this podcast to let others know you can survive. We are here. And you can find us.

The calendar says twelve months to the date since the first outbreak of the virus. Seems like forever ago. I didn’t understand how big this thing was at the beginning. I’m sure you didn’t either. Life imitating art…or our nightmares, right? My parents knew right away we needed to leave. They moved us all to our cabin until things settled down. My little sister whined about leaving but they said they couldn’t have us listening to the gunshots night and day. We escaped just as the barricades went up. Like one of those cop shows, my dad weaved in and around the blockades. And we have the snowball size bullet holes in the back of our car to prove how close we came to not leaving. Dead Control has managed the hordes that crop up now and then. Hm, DC has a new meaning now, doesn’t it? Not to be confused with the old center of government. But around here, we haven’t seen a horde in two weeks and DC has done a darn good job no matter what the conspiracy theorists say.”

Hannah covered the kitchen floor in newspaper and placed everything else on top.

“Halloween seems to have changed its meaning too. One ritual is still popular, though. It goes back hundreds of years and the first part still makes my stomach churn: opening the top and scooping the slimy inside out. It has to be cleaned out well or it starts to smell quickly.”

The pile grew on the newspaper. Hannah’s dog found it interesting. “Get lost, Jasper. It will make you sick.”

She continued. “After ten months we returned home. Home is odd somehow…out of place. Change takes getting used to. My school holds classes as usual and stores are open for business. I don’t know about where you are. If DC spots a pack of wandering dead, our school goes into lockdown until they pass. Or, if there’s enough time, we’re dismissed. Home is safer. Stores roll down their gates and wait it out. We made adjustments. And finally, we feel safe letting our guard down just for a bit to have some fun and celebrate. Like we used to.”

Hannah took her Sharpie and drew a design. “As you’ve guessed, I’m talking while I’m carving, so bear with me, listeners. This one’s tougher than I expected. I gotta work with what I have and this one limits my options for creativity. Right now, I’m carving the eyes. I love doing the eyes; they’re the most expressive. Round and hollow…Now the nose, and the triangle is easy enough.”

She wiped off the knife and decided what to do with the mouth. The teeth are a cinch but tedious, and she cut and carved as she recorded.

“In ancient times, I was told this ritual would keep away the evil spirits. Now it just keeps away evil.

What else has changed? Oh, if someone dies at home, the procedure is to call DC hotline or fill out the Request for Pickup form online. They take care of the disposal and a remembrance service is held at the house. But our neighbor’s wife died and her husband, who shall remain nameless for security reasons, didn’t call. We found out because we heard the growling and snarling from his basement window. My dad said he wouldn’t call as long as he kept the chains in good order. This neighbor had a pit-bull when we were little. Before. My dad said the same thing about the pit-bull. You can email me and tell me and other listeners what your procedures are. That’s if your infrastructure is up.”

Hannah notched the top as a vent for the candle. She twisted and twisted the top so that it sat on the bottom like a puzzle piece.

“Trick or treating. Now that was fun. Free candy, dressing up as superheroes. It’s too dangerous now to go out. Not so much because of the hordes. It’s more because of the lone, missed strays. People have house parties instead. You’re one of the lucky ones to be invited. Social out-casting hasn’t gone away. Some things haven’t changed. Our family was intact when we returned from the cabin. Many families weren’t so fortunate, and now whispers that we had some kind of secret cure or unfair immunity keeps us from being included. We just left before it got to us. Mo magic there.”

Hannah rolled up the newspaper and admired her work. “I’m done. Not bad, kiddies. I’ll post a picture when it’s sitting in front of my house. When the candle is inside, it will glow on our porch and remind others of Halloween’s new meaning.”

Hannah clicked the recorder just as her sister Tasha entered the kitchen. “Hey, nice! Particularly gruesome this year, Hannah.”

Hannah smiled and nodded. “I have to agree.”

Tasha struggled with a large, orange pumpkin as big as her own head.

“You’re going to give yourself a hernia, Tash.”

Tasha set it down on the floor and said, “How ‘bout this time you use a pumpkin?”

Credit: RB Frank

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