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In The Darkness

July 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The water seemed to breathe. That was how Marc thought of it, that faint suggestion of air from the depths. Now that the moment had arrived, Marc wasn’t sure he wanted to plunge into that still water. He adjusted his head lamp, checked his gear again.

Félicité never understood why he had to go creeping into abandoned buildings. Why he had to go there and ‘look into the dark’ as she put it.

“Why can’t you take pictures of things in the daylight, hmm?”

“Mon coeur, I have to do it. It’s my art, my life. And sometimes, sweet, the dark looks back.”

It was true. That feeling in utter darkness of a presence. Being watched when there was no one. It was his constant desire to capture it, to make the viewer feel it too, that drove him to those places.

He had an installation opening in a small gallery tomorrow. It was his Eastern European trip hung up and framed in quiet black plastic. Félicité wanted to know why he couldn’t make art in France, if he insisted on doing it. Truth be told, he hadn’t considered France to be that interesting. He’d always lived there and so, as people do, he’d stopped really looking at it. But as she talked, he became excited. There was one place he’d heard about, one place he’d always thought he’d like to see.

When Charles Garnier built the Paris Opera in 1861, it was discovered that they were digging the extraordinarily deep foundations into an underground lake. After attempts to drain it failed, Garnier instead constructed a huge subterranean cistern to contain it. This, of course, later inspired the famous Phantom of the Opera, but there had always been a mysteriousness associated with the idea that, while glittering gentleman and ladies laughed and savored the music, beneath their feet lay deep and silent water.

Proper permits were, of course, out of the question. For one thing, Marc’s persona was built in large part on the idea of a man outside the usual bounds of society. No trespassing signs didn’t apply to him. Permits were not his style. But mostly because they wouldn’t have given him one anyway.

Now-a-days the lake was used for training firemen to dive in the dark and it was never included on tours of the Opera. Marc had scoured the internet for information, but he’d actually found very little. So, finally, he’d simply thrown some basic diving gear in a duffle and bribed a shady janitor to let him in after midnight.

It was now or never. He breathed deep, preparing himself for the cold that would seep in regardless of his wet suit. And he took a moment to feel the weight of the massive old place, all those many, many levels piling on top of him, before he put his foot on the top rung of the ladder.

Oh, it was cold, alright. Bone chilling. But the visibility was better than he’d thought. Algae grew across the bottom and sides of the tunnel, giving the water a green cast. The tunnel was about ten feet wide and an indeterminate length, with a curved ceiling coming down to meet the water’s surface. The depth about eight feet or so.

Marc snapped a few pictures before biting down on his diving regulator, dipping under and swimming farther. At the end the passage branched to right and left, though the left hand way looked like a dead end. Before long, the water deepened, grew murkier. At the same time the tunnel widened out to become a kind of chamber ringed with a little dry walkway. Marc heaved himself out to examine the walls. There, sure enough, was graffiti scratched by a long dead builder.

Herbert Duguay, 1862.

Marc photographed it, and a few other scratches he was unable to make out, probably worn away by rising water. Back into the murk, through another opening into a central hub of arched niches. The room was apparently vast and pillared. Light from his headlamp barely reached the ceiling and failed entirely to penetrate to the farther walls, but after swimming all the way around, it became apparent that this was it. There was no outlet.

This was a disappointing end to his adventure. According to legend, there were miles of of winding passages. He’d expected vaults and caverns at least. This was…boring. No wonder they used it for diving exercises.

Well. There was no reason he had to dash back to the surface. He might as well examine the walls for more graffiti; make the night worthwhile.

After a twenty minute search there was nothing. Not a scratch that looked anything other than natural faults in the stone. He was on the verge of taking what he had and going back, when he saw something moving.

It was bobbing under the water, disturbed by his swimming; a woman’s dress caught on some sort of grate several feet below water level. This was what Marc had hoped for. Something interesting at last.

The weight of the waterlogged fabric threatened to drag him under, but, though he struggled, he was able to get a look at it clearly enough to realize it wasn’t a dress – it was a ballerina’s tutu, complete with beaded bodice.

That made sense – the building being an opera house – though how it got down here was a mystery. Must have been recent or the delicate fabric would have rotted away entirely. The process had already started. He let it drift a little, then got a quick picture. That grate was more intriguing.

Rust and algae coated the surface in thick sheets; this was obviously an original installation. Marc suspected one good kick would get him to the other side, but he didn’t know where it led. There could be an entire maze through there. Félicité would be screaming if she knew he was contemplating going through. It was reckless. He could get hopelessly lost.

But…

The dark on the other side called to him.

He kicked.

It was immediately deeper. How he knew wasn’t entirely clear, since he hadn’t been able to see the bottom for some time, but he knew it all the same. Breaking the surface, Marc realized he had swum into another single chamber, not a series of tunnels as he had hoped.

There was a bright spot, however. This pillared room was considerably smaller, but more carefully constructed. The tops of the columns had been rudimentarily carved, even connected up with arches. Swinging round, flashing his light in the darkness, he bumped hard against something in the water. Cursing the rough stone and nursing a scraped hand, he investigated.

It appeared to be a column, broken a few inches under the water, and piled haphazardly with heaps of detritus. Branches, scraps of things too moldy to tell what they’d been. There was probably some good stuff in there. The makings of a few creepy photographs at last. Marc clipped his diving regulator to his shoulder for easy access and, gingerly, mindful not to bring the whole thing tumbling down, hoisted himself up onto the top.

They weren’t branches.

His first clue was the unnatural whiteness. Second, was the skull staring blankly up at him out of its cradle of little fish bones and curving vertebrae.

They were all bones.

Marc froze, unable to decide if there was a reasonable explanation why the bones should be there. Maybe…maybe this underground lake was connected, somewhere deep, to the extensive catacombs that ran under Paris. Nobody had ever fully explored them. It was possible heavy rains and flooding could have washed bones down here. They’d piled up on this column because…because it was the only high ground.

It wasn’t the sturdiest of arguments, but the other explanation was that some person or animal had deliberately woven them together, and, as Marc was well aware, he was the only one here. That grate hadn’t been opened since the place was built, that was clear. When he’d kicked it it’d come out of its frame entirely and was now resting on the bottom. And there was no other way out. The tunnel led here, and only here.

Swallowing his distaste, Marc began poking around. Most of the bones were fish and rodent; their skulls made that obvious. Comparatively few were human. There was only the one skull, but he noted several long bones that were undoubtedly once legs and arms. Slowly, as he crouched there, he began to see a progression. Like strata on a rock formation, he could trace the age; bones still with flakes of scale or scraps of hair clinging to them, giving way to yellowed, mottled pieces, then down under the water, where, lowering himself so he could see, the bones were so old and damaged they’d fused to the stone. That didn’t look good for his theory.

Another odd thing. The more he looked, the less random the arrangement appeared. In fact, he thought he could see a depression in the center, surrounded by a uniform lip.

Like a nest.

A soft ripple of water, coupled with a suggestion of something pale at the edge of the light made him look round. He hadn’t noticed how silent it was until that moment. He froze, searching the water. Nothing. He realized, suddenly, that this room was unknown to anyone but himself. If he went missing, no one would look here.

It occurred to Marc that what he’d seen was only one of the white catfish said to live in the underground lake. The staff even claimed to feed them on occasion. He breathed a little easier.

This was ridiculous. He returned his attention to the bones. Something was shining deep in the tangle. He’d see if he could get it out, take a picture, and then maybe it would be better to leave, get back to the main cistern, if he was going to be so jumpy. Reaching in, elbow deep, Marc fished around, fingers scraping against slime. Whatever it was eluded his grasp. He turned his head, trying to avoid smelling any more of the musty, fishy scent than he had to, when he saw it.

A white hand, like a pale spider, resting on a leg bone. The rest of the body was hidden by the lip of the nest, but it was moving, rising, pulling itself up in one strong, accustomed movement.

The creature was sickly pale; a creamy gray color like the underbelly of a dead fish. Marc could see its ribs pushing against the skin, all its joints unnaturally prominent. It was human-shaped, but grotesque. Webbed fingers, and where legs should have been, a long, supple tail, thick as a man’s waist and covered in raspy skin like a shark. But the face…the face was the worst. Hollow cheeks, hairless, a wide, lipless mouth. Too wide, really, for a person. And the eyes… Huge and round, ringed in silvery bronze with an enormous black pupil.

Fish eyes.

It stared at him. Motionless.

Marc felt like screaming. He felt like running, tearing at the walls, throwing bones at the creature, clawing his way out onto the street. But he knew, in the way a man knows in the presence of a tiger, not to move. Slowly, millimeter by millimeter, he drew his arm up through the bones, reaching for his camera. If he could distract it…

It was hopeless. The distance of dead water between him and the grate opening was too large. And even if he made it, what was to prevent the creature following him through? There was no getting out. Marc knew that too.

A little piece of his brain broke off and ran, childlike, along a trail of curiosity. What was it? How was it here? Maybe Herbert Duguay knew. Maybe Herbert Duguay was in this pile of bones. Right at the bottom.

The other part of Marc’s brain could only think one thing, and the thinking of it terrified him.

Don’t eat me. Please don’t eat me. I don’t want to be eaten.

He said this over and over to himself as he inched toward his camera. A mantra to keep the beast at bay. It would hear him. It would understand.

It moved.

Mouth open, showing teeth, so many, many teeth jammed together every which way. White and sharp, they sank into his shoulder; cold fingers digging into his arm. He was dragged across the bones into the water and down, down.

The regulator was still clipped to his shoulder. If he could turn his head… His arm was going numb, and he could see the streams of blood from his punctured shoulder in the light from the headlamp, but at least he could breathe. As long as he had air, there was a chance. He’d fight the creature, swim for his life.

The water was deeper even than he’d thought. The bottom rose to meet them, covered in strange lumps and mounds that revealed themselves to be twisted metal rods too damaged to be recognizable, rotted chests, discarded waste of the opera above. All carefully piled up and hidden away.

Bodies, too. Complete this time. Arm and hand bones sprouted from the rock bed like bleached water lilies. Skulls, glued to their spines by all those flesh eating organisms that spread in the darkness. Marc began to struggle.

The thing turned on him – those eyes – biting and dragging him down, pinning him to the bottom, wedging him under something, he couldn’t tell what it was. He started to scream, the water and his diving regulator muffling the sound to barely more than a vibration in his chest.

No! No…

He thrashed, gashing his free arm on something sharp, blood clouding the water. It was storing him here, down in in its cool larder, keeping him fresh, waiting for him to die. Marc knew. He knew his struggle was hopeless. That every gasp drained his air tank. But he no longer had control; the animal part of him desperately craved life. He clawed at the stone and rotted wood and at his own body, trying to rip himself free.

There, at the edge of the light, the creature hovered, arms outstretched, relaxed; the blank fish’s eyes watching with almost human interest. Then it receded, but he could feel it, even as he felt the ache in his lungs, telling him his air was running out.

Marc stared into the dark that was so full now of something looking back, waiting for him to breath water. Waiting to feed.

Credit: Rosemary Hamend

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A Well-Lit Place

June 21, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I think you misunderstand what I mean when I say dark. I don’t mean the night time, when the sun goes beyond the horizon, with the light fading into bruised decay. I don’t mean when the electricity goes out and you’re in the shower, soap in your eyes, frantically searching for a towel.
When I say that monsters find you in the dark, I mean an empty, lifeless place. An abyss. A place well-lit can be filled with despair. Empty and lifeless.
I remember meeting a monster, face-to-face, for the first time. It was a warm fall afternoon, with the sun shining bright as could be. I’d just finished working early and went for a walk in the park, wrapping my fingers around a paper cup of coffee. Just cream, no sugar. It had just finished its swirl when I looked up in time to receive a shoulder to my face.
My nose was spilling blood everywhere, on my clothes, on her clothes, and mixed in with the brown liquid. The pain was excruciating and my ears had been filled with a sharp ringing. My nose wasn’t broken, but the pain hadn’t still pretty bad. Holding my hand up to my bleeding nose, I finally looked up.
She was beautiful, my monster. Her hair was long and red, much like the leaves falling around us. Her eyes were green and dancing, and I thought I could see a merry soul in her. Her black coat was wet, and her face was aghast.
“I’m so sorry!” she had said. Her hands were digging in her purse, looking for tissues. “I’m so careless.” I watched her, my eyes wide. She was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. I could barely manage a thank you when she handed me a few tissues with her small, gentle hands.
Shaking her head, the monster had taken my other hand in hers, eyes wide. “Do you need me to take you to a hospital?” She seemed desperate to help me. I shook my head. I was thinking of two things at that moment: how fast had she been walking to do that much harm, and how I could just stare at her forever. Clearing my throat, I finally spoke.
“Please, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t paying that much attention either, really.” I fake laughed, trying to make it seem like everything was fine. My clothes had been perfectly ruined. She was dissatisfied with that answer, pulling out a small wallet. “At least let me buy you coffee. Are you free?”
Again I was stunned. I nodded before my mind comprehended what I had just done. Smiling suddenly, she had grabbed my hand gently and pulled me behind her, back to the coffee shop I had just come from.
A few minutes later, I was sat across from this woman with a fresh cup of coffee, with both cream and sugar in it. I had no idea what to say. I thanked her, thinking she’d leave right after. But she stayed. I found it quite odd, but as she’d already had such an effect on me already, I hadn’t minded all that much. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” she said all the sudden, startling me.
“W-what?” I managed, picking up the coffee. “What do you mean?”
Running her light fingers over a stray length of red hair, she said, “Well, you look very familiar. I don’t know too many people, even for living in this place for as long as I have.” Mid-sip I looked at her, confused. I had wondered what she was getting at.
“Well, perhaps a name would help,” she said finally, looking at me expectantly. Her lips tugged into a sincere smile, her hand holding up her head. I was slightly reluctant, but I complied. “I’m Bri,” I said, placing the cup on the table. “Bri Leeds.”
“Bri!” she exclaimed, looking excited for whatever reason. “What a beautiful name! Do you work at Greta’s?” Greta’s Stop was a design boutique. My friends convinced me to apply after graduating two years ago, so I had more time to spend with them. I nodded again. “Yep, I work there full time. You shop there regularly?”
“Oh, yes!” she said, sitting up straight. “I buy most of my clothes there, actually!” I had noticed some of her clothes looked familiar when she said that. But I realized she hadn’t offered up her name. “What’s your name, then?” I asked, looking her in the eye. I wasn’t letting it slide by.
She paused, her green eyes darting. The monster, now that I think about it, looked a bit trapped. “Melanie,” she replied, her voice now low, more serious. “Not as lovely as your name, that’s for sure.” I managed a small smile. “Nice to meet you, Melanie.” I felt my nose had stopped bleeding at that point and took the tissues away from my face. The pain had subsided too.
“My, what a beautiful face you have,” she said, twirling her hair now. “I do so apologize for walking so fast. But, perhaps, it’s fate, as I get to meet a beautiful girl such as you.” Despite the weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, my face had turned slightly pink at the compliment. My heart skipped a beat, watching those gentle fingers twisting, turning that long red hair. “T-thank you,” I stammered, “but really you are much prettier than me.”
Leaning forward, her green eyes had widened. “Oh, no! It’s rare to find one with eyes like yours, or hair so dark, like the night sky!” Referring to my brown eyes, which many had told me changed colors in the light and with my moods, I blushed even more. “They are nothing compared to yours.” And it was true. No one could have hair that red without dying it. Or at least in my experience. I looked down, staring into my cold cup of coffee. The light and dark had mellowed out, settling into a murky tan. Bland and boring.
And it was then the monster’s hand touched mine. I lost then. I should have realized my misfortune in those green eyes, in the lips that whispered that I should take a walk with her, in the way she knitted her fingers between mine. But I was enamored from that moment, and I remember when I had unlocked the door to my apartment and led her inside. I can still feel those fingers running through my hair as her lips touched mine. They were ruby red, pressing desperately. And her scent entered my blood as I touched her skin, entwined in her hair like a web that I still can’t escape. Her soft voice and gasping breath were the only things that I heard. Her trembling body under mine, above mine, nearby as we lay there was no different from my own.
But most monsters hide in sheep’s clothing.
It was another bright day when I opened my eyes. The only thing covering me was the comforter and her arms, wrapped around my waist. Crème walls intensified the sunlight. I heard her groan, pulling closer.
I felt odd, at best. My body didn’t feel quite right. No, it was my soul. It felt so… empty. I remember when I held my hand in front of my face, staring at it in the light, I could see every detail, but not understand it. I had wondered if it was my body that I was looking at, or a stranger’s. I felt her stir, the monster from last night, whispering for me. Bri, right? Yeah, of course. Why would I question my own name?
That’s when I realized just how cold her hands were.
Her hands held tighter and tighter, and I wondered if I could remove them without waking her. She was already awake, though, looking up at me. But her eyes were not the same. They were still the same shade of green, the ones that had peering at me in the darkness of my room, searching me for all of my vulnerabilities. Except they were deep and hollow, with no end to them. They were an abyss. They were dark.
I froze. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. This woman had been so beautiful and bright and cheerful, like the fall leaves. She was the same person, but there were the holes, the crinkling shape and curling edges, browning. I pushed myself out of bed, pulling her hands away from my waist. Mirrors hold many truths, and the one mine showed me was terrifying. I was me. I was the one I’d always been. But I looked desaturated, like all the blood had been drained out of me.
The light and dark had mellowed out, settling into a murky tan. Bland and boring.
Her red lips had been next to my ear, whispering again. “Bright eyes, such as yours, are odd for hair so dark.” Her fingers laced themselves into my hair, more like talons now. Her lips trailed from my ear to my collar bone, and I felt the sensation, but tinged with fear.
“I’ve searched for a feeling such as this for many years,” she said, her fingers trailing. I gasped, my body growing colder and dimmer. “It’s hard to find many so willing at just the touch of a hand.”
I remember, as her hands cupped and fondled my fading self, detaching and looking back, and seeing her. It was the same woman, the woman with the long red hair. But she was different. In the light, she seemed to adjust. And by adjust, I mean her body shifted, like a chameleon camouflaging.
She was definitely a monster, with eyes dark, and she knew that I saw.
Today, her eyes are brown, changing color in the light. Today, her hair is black like mine used to be. Today, I have counted 543 wounds on my arm. She puts them there, the monster. Her long nails cut into me every hour, counting down the hours before I surely bleed to death. But the feeling of her touch takes the pain away, for sure….

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It Comes at Night

June 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Maybe you’ve seen what I’ve seen… Probably, you haven’t, but just maybe you have. Either way, I know what I’ve seen, and that’s what matters most, as far as I’m concerned. Believe what you will, I’ve never cared about that part of things before. I know it’s out there, and you should too, in case it decides you’re next.

I have no recollection of when the first time I saw it was… as far as I can remember, it was always there. I do know that it first started while living with my grandparents, but actually nailing down when its first appearance was is a bit difficult. We (my little sister and I) were taken into state custody when I was 4 and were finally returned to our mother a month after my 10th birthday. I can honestly say, those years where probably the best of my childhood. But everything has a price, and the price for those years of bliss always came at night.

I remember the first time I saw it. I was woken out of a dead sleep one night. I couldn’t figure out what woke me, and I sort of laid there in a groggy stupor, trying to gain my bearings. I quickly noticed the urge to pee, so I got up, walked the 5 steps or so it took to go from my bedroom to the bathroom and did my business.

As I returned to my bedroom, I froze in the doorway. I scanned my room, a feeling a dread slowly welling up inside my small, child frame. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I shrugged it off and climbed back into bed. See, I’ve always had the habit of falling asleep to horror movies or scary shows (usually Tales from the Crypt), so I chalked it up to a vividly wild imagination and that damned Crypt-Keeper.

As the toilet ceased filling it’s tank and the hissing of running water died out and eventually went mute, I noticed a distinct tapping noise. It sounded like a dog’s nails on hardwood floor… Except the dogs were all asleep, in the front yard, and our floors were carpeted. I was shaken by the noise for a second, but quickly tried to reason in my young mind that I was hearing things, all fueled by my addiction to scary shit. So I pulled my pillow over my head and tried to go back to sleep. That’s when the tapping got louder, and it’s tone changed. It no longer sounded like dog nails on hardwood. It sounded like fingernails tapping on glass. And it sounded like it was coming from above me. Coming from my bedroom window.

Tentatively, I pulled the pillow from my head and slowly shifted my gaze to the window. What I saw chilled me to the bone. Red eyes glared at me from the other side of the window, malevolence bleeding from them like a stuck pig. Sharp fangs lined a pair of lips that were pulled back like a snarling tiger. It’s face was covered with short black fur and it had a pair of twisted horns sprouting from its forehead. I could make out the shadow of huge, leathery wings, coming off its back. When it caught my stare, it’s snarl quickly shifted to the most evil grin I could possibly fathom.

I was paralyzed as soon as I made eye contact, and in my head I could hear a strange, deep, gravelly voice speaking to me, but the language I didn’t and still don’t know. All I know is it sounded ancient and felt cruel. I don’t know how long we stayed that way, but all of a sudden, I was able to break my stare and immediately screamed like a little girl.

“Jon, Jon! What’s wrong???” my grandmother pleaded with me when she entered my room. I just sat there, blubbering like a baby, pointing at my window, and occasionally letting out an indecipherable squeak as I struggled to regain my composure and remember how to speak.

“The devil is on the roof,” I was finally able to say.

Now, before I continue, I must explain. I have always been agnostic. I absolutely believe there is a higher power, though I refuse to label it/him/her/they with any conventional names. A name is simply a way to identify someone, and we should be able to identify the higher power on a spiritual level. Just my belief. I DO NOT believe in the devil. Just a scapegoat for the ugly side of humanity. Again, just my belief.

“The devil is on the roof.” I repeated after Grandma gave me a quizzical look.

“Jon, you were dreaming. I keep telling you to stop watching those stories before bed. This is why… You just had a very vivid nightmare is all.”

I wanted so badly to believe Grandma, but I knew what I had seen. Still, I laid back down and Grandma sat in there with me until I was asleep again. I woke up to a bright morning and no more incidents…

The next night, I’m lying in bed, watching, you guessed it, Tales from the Crypt, when I hear the tapping again. This time I know it’s not a nightmare, as I still haven’t fallen asleep yet. I tried to ignore it, but the tapping got increasingly louder the longer I resisted. I was afraid the damn thing was going to break the window, and in my fear, I quickly glanced toward the window.

As soon as my eyes landed upon its horrible visage, I was frozen in place again. This time, the voice either spoke in English, or it gave me some way to understand it, but I clearly heard it say, “Come with me. You have been forsaken. We will never forsake you.”

“We? Who the heck is we?” I thought to myself.

“We are many. We are one. We are here for you. And we aren’t leaving without you.” It responded, and that’s when I realized it could hear my thoughts. “We can do more than just hear your thoughts. We can watch your memories. We can taste your fear.”

And with that, I felt a horrid pain in my head, my vision flared stark white, shifted to bright crimson, and finally faded to black as I lost consciousness.

I awoke lying on my floor in the fetal position, although the last I could remember I had been laying on my back in my bed, having a telepathic conversation with what I truly believed to be a demon. I was soaked in sweat and was shivering uncontrollably. I pulled myself off the floor and wobbled to the bathroom. I stripped out of my sweat-drenched clothes, climbed in a shower and just let the hot water run over me, warming my still chilled flesh and bones.

I didn’t feel like me… It’s hard to explain, but I was an energetic, happy, exuberant little boy… That morning, however, I felt a dark, brooding energy hanging over me. I didn’t want to be around people, and even though it was starting to terrify me at night, I didn’t want to leave my bedroom all that day.

This continued nightly. Every night I would either be awoken, or summoned to look, by a persistent tapping on my window. And when I finally would look, I’d get locked into the trance like state that instigated our mental exchanges. And every day I’d become more and more introverted.

One particularly hot summer night, I woke up to an entirely new sound. The tapping had been replaced by a scratching sound. As I slowly opened my eyes, I felt a draft come through my open window.

WHO OPENED MY WINDOW?!? And then I remembered… I remembered my Grandma coming into my room and saying how hot it was. I remembered begging her not to open the window. And her begrudgingly agreeing to leave it closed.

She must have opened it when I fell asleep… And the scratching continued, louder, closer to my head.

“Come with me.” The gravelly voice, but this time it was audible. I hadn’t looked toward my window, using every ounce of willpower I could muster in the hopes of avoiding that trance like state. But the shock of actually hearing that voice with my own ears was enough to snap my head around out of surprise, my eyes immediately fixating upon this beast that tormented me nightly.

It opened its mouth and a barbed, forked tongue slithered out and flicked the air like a snake. It reached an unproportioned, sinewy arm covered in short, black bristles through my window, and tried to grab at me. In the process, it broke our stare, and I was able to look from the window and move my body again. As I lunged off my bed and toward the door, one of its razor sharp (who knew?) claws sunk deep into the meat of my shoulder. I screamed out in sheer agony as its claw tore through skin and muscle, splashing blood across my bedding and one of the walls.

Grandma came running to my room, opened the door, and froze. I don’t know if it was the blood, the beast, a combination of the two, or something else entirely, but she too let out a scream. I heard the hard flap of leathery wings and felt a hard breeze push against my back from the window. Grandpa arrived at my bedroom door, glanced around the room, saw the gore on the bed and wall and immediately had me up in his arms, rushing me to the truck and then rushing to the hospital.

The doctor said I must have snagged my shoulder on a nail in my sleep, but couldn’t understand how I could get cut so long, deep and with such a “clean” cut from a nail. 14 stitches in my shoulder, a tetanus shot, and we were sent home with a preventative antibiotic to keep my shoulder from getting infected.

That was the last time I ever saw that thing. I know it exists. What it is, I don’t know. What it wanted though, seems clear. It wanted me.

Occasionally, I’ll still here a tapping on my window, like fingernails on glass, despite it being over 20 years since the incident I just wrote about. My skin crawls and my blood runs cold when I hear it. But I keep not only the window closed, but the blinds stay closed at night too, just to be sure that I’ll never get caught by its hypnotic stare again, never hear that horrible voice playing around inside my brain again.

It’s out there, right now, looking for victims. This much I know for sure… Because, some nights, after I’ve fallen asleep, I’ll dream things. I’ll be gliding over houses, and land on the roof of one. I’ll lean over the edge of the roof and tap on the window with claws that are clearly not mine. And then I’ll hear, clear as day, MY voice purring, “Come with me.” before my eyes snap open and I wake up…

Credit: Jon P.

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Triumphus de Immaculata

June 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Shit” I said to myself, as I poured out the last bit of water in my three liter Poland Spring jug into the pot above my portable gas range. I tossed the empty tube of plastic aside and it clattered against a mess of garbage in a corner, making a hell of a racket when it hit the floor. The amount of water filled the pot barely over a quarter of the way, very much under the least amount necessary to cook most things. I opened the cabinets of my recently new home’s kitchen in desperate search for food, finding only the empty wrappers and boxes of morsels previously ingested in the dusty compartments.

Buried among old plastic cracker sleeves and rat shit was a box of pasta. I feverishly pulled it to me and embraced it as if it were my own child. I returned to my pot, only to see that there was still almost no water in it. I dejectedly put the box of pasta next to the pot’s lid on the kitchen counter, and sighed deeply; staring at me from the floor where I threw it upon first moving into this home, that wasn’t my own, was a can of old dog food, the label scratched off over the months or years it’s been in this home before I. Feeling the pangs of hunger in my gut, I took my hunting knife and cleaved the can in twain, voraciously yet reluctantly eating the contents to get something in my stomach.

After finishing my impromptu meal, I curled up in a ball on the floor. I looked up at the front door just a few feet in front of me, still boarded up to hell and back as I left it, and began to let my mind wander. ‘You’ll have to go out there sometime’ I told myself. I shuddered at the thought, letting my own case of sudden agoraphobia prevent me from once again entering the Outside World. Since the world was engulfed in the flames of nuclear war, I found myself inside the home of a no-doubt doomed family that was on vacation when the bombs fell. The terrified screams of mothers clutching their children as the bombs falling in the distance grew ever closer bolstered a nail in my psyche and a nail in the door of this home, to prevent me from going Outside ever again. There was nothing out there for me. But now, against all of the notions I believe in, there was- survival.

Before the bombs, I lived for many years as a drifter, knowing how to survive by rendering garbage and the little I found into sustainable nourishment to keep my twenty seven year old body going. But now that the world has ended, finding what was once everywhere would be nearly impossible. Markets and small stores would have been cleared out by my fellow tribesmen in a desperate attempt to cling to existence. Worse yet, I fear that those that survived and are now, like myself, without food have turned to a… different, form of sustenance. The slim prospect of survival has driven others in better situations than I to the forbidden territory of human flesh, so I fear who, or what I suppose, may lay Out in the world beyond my door.

But as my stomach growled, not sated by the lackluster meal of various processed animals meats pressed into a can, I knew that I soon would have to leave my comfort zone. While being homeless for a long time has made me quite resilient, I am nothing more than a skeleton without proper nutrition. I worried that I would bumble into a much stronger survivor and be easy prey, or perhaps worse yet, have someone break into my sanctuary whilst I am away. ‘You can do without what lies on the other side’ I said aloud to myself, clutching my stomach, now in knots. I can do it. I can. I must.

These positive thoughts were cut short when the bile in my gut manifested as a pile of putrid regurgitation on the wood floor. Now completely empty and slightly dehydrated, I had no choice. I dug through my satchel next to the range for my hammer, and started yanking out nails, one by one, from the boards pounded against the door.

All of my love, all of my kissin’
You don’t know what you’ve been missin’, oh boy
When you’re with me, oh boy.

The song I had heard many years ago escaped my lips as I toiled to get the door open. The name of the singer faded from my memory, all I remember were the glasses. I get the last nail off the last plank in the door, and stack them next to the entrance, now only inches of wood shielding me from the Outside. I took a deep breath, and opened the door. The hazy sky was a dark green, ash and small debris dancing in the wind. The temperature was both warm and cold at the same time, and I was immediately sick to my stomach. Clenching my teeth and my fists, I stepped out, eyes shuttered intensely as I lurched forward, one very deliberate step at a time.

I moved forward until I hit the street, and I slowly opened my eyes. Not another soul in sight as far as the eye could see. I gradually opened my eyes until they were fully revealed. The house I was in sat right in front of the remnants of the Grand Central Parkway- or was it the Jackie Robinson? Below on the roadway were dozens of immobilized, abandoned cars, rusted and depressing. I stared down at them for a long moment, leaning on the chainlink fence that kept me from plunging over, before my growling stomach prodded me to keep going. The hellish sky was a baroque nightmare; no gods or angels, as the dark air was the perfect embodiment of harm and evil itself. I clutched my hunting knife in my waistband as I moved forward, the world feeling as if it were a thick sheet enveloping and suffocating me as I strolled. In the distance, I saw what looked like a crashed car. Intrigued, I began moving slightly faster toward it, hoping someone else’s tragic loss was my tragic gain.

All of my life, I’ve been a-waitin’
Tonight there’ll be no, hesitatin’ oh boy,
when you’re with me, oh boy.

Upon reaching it, I could see the fender of the sedan wrapped partway around a light pole, the partially decayed corpse of the unfortunate driver wrapped in a deflated air bag, the trunk popped slightly open from the sheer force of the impact. I looked at the deceased motorist for a moment before I opened the trunk, hoping to find something good, or, at the very least, something. As it had been stuck in this position for an unknown period of time, the boot took some effort to open. Upon doing so, I squealed with glee: the back was filled with bags of food and water, almost all of the former in bags and cans. I took my satchel and emptied all I had in it: my favorite book, a baseball cap, a pair of sunglasses, and an old locket my mother had given me when I was but a child. I began stuffing my now empty bag with as much as I could stuff into it, which was about 60% of what was there in the trunk. I put the satchel back on, and carried the rest in the plastic bags they came in back to my new home. I stepped on the book as I turned, smudging the second word in the title with dirt and grime, leaving only ‘Dante’s’ visible as I began my walk back.

Stars appear and shadows a-falling
You can hear my heart a-calling.
A little bit a-lovin’ makes everything right,
And I’m gonna see my baby tonight.

I slowed my singing to a hum as I opened my door, closing it behind me. I piled the wood up in front of it, to board it back up after I had ate. I unpacked everything, and a few Poland Spring bottles among the groceries, that I used to fill the pot up the rest of the way for the pasta. I happily tapped the top of the box of rigatoni as I passed it, organizing the food into a corner. Finishing that, I turned the range on to let the water boil, pulling my knife from my waist and laying it across the top of the pot, an old trick I learned to avoid water boiling over. I went upstairs to the bedroom to put on a robe I found in the closet, gleefully eating a chocolate bar as I did so. When I got the comfortable garment on, I finished my bar and crumpled the wrapper in my hand. I heard a noise from downstairs, and thought the knife slipped off and into the pot, because I didn’t properly position it.

I went down the stairs and entered the kitchen, to see the knife gone, but nowhere to be found, much less in the pot. But, it turned out, the noise I had heard before was actually the pot lid from earlier, spinning on its handle gently against the hard plastic countertop, combined with the sound of a slight breeze coming in from the wide open door.

Credit: Elias D. Tavarez

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My Old Stomping Grounds

May 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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When I was young, we were left unattended. My friends and I rode our bikes deep into the fields and returned at our leisure. We rarely played in the same location and often ditched it after a few days. With each new adventure, we drifted further from civilization, and one day, we struck gold, figuratively speaking of course.

We came across a massive field which seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. It appeared to be abandoned farmland, and the grasses and weeds had grown past our waists. The entire area was completely silent as if we had broken the sound barrier, and to some degree, our voices seemed several octaves higher than normal. Whenever we went there, we lifted our bikes over a rotted, wooden fence, and then, we pedaled through the field. It quickly became one of our favorite locations.

Our last excursion stuck with me the most. It was the day we discovered the farmhouse.

I have no idea how we never noticed it before. It was just there, but somehow, we overlooked it. We rode over to the house to observe it up close, and it appeared more beautiful from a distance. The age was clear in the peeling paint, the shoddy shutters, and the broken windows. The farmhouse was two stories tall, possibly three, and had a large veranda, smudged with grime. The porch extended around the house, and we noticed a rickety porch swing, creaking back and forth on a rusted chain. There was no wind.

While I was left pondering this, my friends abandoned their bikes by the wayside and dashed across the dirt road. I abandoned my bike as well and followed them hesitantly. I turned to my left and right. Just like the field, the dirt road extended into oblivion.

“Guys, what if somebody lives here?” I asked. My main concern was disturbing the homeowner and getting kicked off the property.

“Oh c’mon! There’s nobody here!” George called back. George was the most adventurous of the three of us. His confidence usually got us all in trouble.

I decided to trust him and crossed to the other side of the dirt road. Both of my friends were already standing on the porch. “Can you see inside?”

Ryan, my other friend, shook his head. “There’s a thick curtain in the way. It smells really musty over here.”

I had to agree with him. It smelled old and decrepit. The porch above all else seemed to be in the worst state of decay, but somehow, it held our weight. Curiously, we wandered all the way around the house. If anyone lived there, they would have heard us because the wood squeaked terribly. Each step made me cringe, but when nobody confronted us, I eventually relaxed.

None of us voiced it, but we all wanted to break into the house. It seemed too soon for that; we’d have to wait a week or so. We had to be absolutely sure that the farmhouse was vacant.

The backyard was nothing spectacular. It was overgrown like the rest of the land. There was a crumpled shed several yards away along with a rusted pick-up. We put off exploring them and continued around the house until we reached the front once more. We scurried off to collect our bikes, but we became sidetracked when George discovered an opening in the lattice which led underneath the porch.

Naturally, we were beyond excited. I inched myself halfway through the opening and confirmed that we could easily fit. That’s when I noticed the look in George’s eyes. He was about to make a bet.

“I bet that I can crawl through there faster than you!” he insisted with crossed arms.

I lost our previous bet, so I needed to redeem myself. Betting was our thing, and it often involved races whether on our bikes or on foot. Because of this, Ryan always kept a stopwatch handy.

“Fine.” I didn’t bother creating ultimatums. Nothing scared us.

“I’ll go first,” I offered. I wanted the lay of the land, so George couldn’t rig anything. I crouched down beside the opening and waited for Ryan to retrieve the stopwatch from his bike. The dirt was clammy beneath my hands, and I noticed lichens growing along the foundation of the house. I tried not to think of spiders or snakes. We had done worse things than this. “Wait a second. I want my eyes to adjust,” I told my friends. I didn’t want to risk bumping my head against anything.

“Are you ready?” Ryan muttered, raising the stopwatch.

“Yeah.” Okay. Maybe, I was a bit nervous.

“Go!”

I forced myself through the opening and felt the lattice clawing at my clothes. I tugged my hips inside and took a hard right, crawling straight for the first turn. Once I reached it, the tunnel narrowed, and I was forced to army crawl. I felt the grime smearing into my arms and soaking into my clothes. I pressed onward and dug my shoes into the ground, practically dragging myself along. As soon as reached the second turn, I felt a draft, but I tried my best to ignore the chilly air. Even so, the air seemingly grew colder, especially from my left, until it felt like ice was pressing against my ribs. The longer stretch before me must have been the back porch, and I felt disheartened when the tunnel remained narrow. If anything, it seemed narrower than before.

As soon as I passed the halfway mark, I heard frenzied scuffling. The tunnel was too narrow for me to turn around, but I knew it was one of my friends, probably George. I felt him grab my ankle, jerking me sharply backward. I caught myself on the lattice and kicked backward angrily, hitting my friend square in the face. “You cheater!” I screamed. I army crawled faster than ever before. My friend was persistent though, and I heard him right behind me. I blocked everything out and dug my arms mercilessly into the ground, clawing myself through the tunnel until I burst out of the opening. I was breathing heavily and covered head to foot with nasty, red clay.

“What the hell is the matter with you!” I screamed at Ryan. Ryan was standing there timidly, and of course, George was nowhere to be seen. They were both cheaters! Ryan was quivering, and he extended the stopwatch to me.

“You were under there for 27 minutes!”

“What? No, I wasn’t!” I snatched the stopwatch from Ryan and stared down at 27 minutes, 32 seconds. “You guys are messed up.” Ryan clearly never reset the watch. I stopped shouting as soon as Ryan began crying.

“That’s not funny, Sam! We were worried. We were calling for you, and you weren’t responding. George went in there about ten minutes ago to search for you.”

I didn’t know what to think of this. I stomped over to the opening and began calling for George but received no response. “You guys never called for me,” I replied stubbornly, glaring at Ryan who was still sobbing.

Ryan allowed the stopwatch to keep running. When another 15 minutes passed, we were sick of waiting for George. “We’ll just go back in and find him. You can go to the right. It’s more open that way. I’ll go to the left. We’ll meet in the middle.” Ryan seemed reluctant of the plan. I convinced him to squeeze inside after me, and we split up.

This was all George’s fault. He probably threatened Ryan to go along with it. I was going to kick George’s ass when we got out of here. When I crawled beneath the back porch, I heard scuffling ahead of me. “George?” I called.

“No, it’s me!”

I narrowed my eyes in confusion when I met Ryan in the middle. “Did you find George?”

“No, did you?”

My heart skipped a few beats. “No.”

By this point, we were both unnerved, and I had to help Ryan turn around. I couldn’t go backward through the tunnel since it was so narrow. It took us several minutes, but we reached the opening without a hitch. We lingered around the front porch and wondered if we had missed George somehow. That was the irrational side of me thinking. Those tunnels barely fit one person, let alone two! It would have been impossible for George to pass us going in the opposite direction.

We waited until nightfall for George to reveal himself, but he never did. We called out to him and warned him that we were leaving. It was growing so dark. We didn’t want to linger any longer. We crossed to our bikes, covered in that foul, red clay, and warned him one final time. Reluctantly, we pedaled away from the farmhouse and followed the dirt road home.

Our parents were forced to believe us when George didn’t return that night. The cops were called, and the next morning, we led them to the field and the lonely farmhouse. We described what happened in detail and watched them knock on the front door, waiting tirelessly for someone to answer. When nobody did, they went to investigate the opening in the lattice. The cops were too big to fit. While they were searching the perimeter, I went to retrieve George’s bike from where we left it, but it was gone.

George was never found, and the case was closed.

Eleven years later, there was a development in the long forgotten case. Our city went through a period of rapid urbanization, and our county began buying up the adjacent farmland. The old farmhouse was demolished, but there was sickening discovery at its core. The entire foundation was layered in dried blood and scattered with small bones. The bones belonged to children and were covered in harsh bite marks.

Credit: Ariel Lowe

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That Damn Buzzing Sound

May 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Over the past month, I’ve been hearing this intermittent, buzzing sound. At first, I thought I’d be able to tune it out, but it just became more obnoxious over time. It transformed into a constant, vibrating noise in the back of my head. It was difficult to focus on anything. It became so bad that I had trouble sleeping, and it’s beyond me how my parents never noticed it. You know what they say though. You lose hearing with age, so I wasn’t surprised when they gave me confused looks. Tyler, my neighbor, heard it too, and I was relieved at that. It meant I wasn’t going crazy. He’s actually the one that brought it up when we were in my bedroom playing video games. So with him at my side, I was determined to find the source of this noise.

We searched my house first and placed our ears all over the walls. The buzzing sound never seemed to become stronger or weaker, so we checked outside. My original thought was that something was wrong with the air conditioning unit. If I was right, it would explain why the sound transferred throughout the entire house, but my theory was wrong. We stood beside the thrumming unit, watching the gigantic fan spin around inside. The unit was vibrating, but it wasn’t the sound we were looking for.

However, we realized the sound was louder outside than it had been in my room.

We searched my backyard up and down and stopped at the wooden fence surrounding my yard. We placed our ears to the fence and exchanged a knowing stare. The sound was coming from beyond the fence, and that was enough for the both of us. We climbed the fence and dropped easily to the other side.

The area beyond my backyard was filled with untouched forest. I had been over my fence a few times when I accidentally kicked a soccer ball over but not often enough times to explore. My parents always complained about there being poison ivy everywhere, and there was. We skirted around it and created a path without a problem. It was really bizarre though. All we could hear was this buzzing sound – nothing else. I mean, we could just barely hear the leaves and sticks cracking beneath our feet, and all other sounds seemed absent. There weren’t even birds singing.

As we kept walking, the buzzing sound grew louder, and eventually, we couldn’t see my fence anymore. We stopped several yards from a cluster of trees covered in tumor-like growths. We just stood there, staring at it, and neither of us could explain what they were. They appeared like they were apart of the tree as if the bark had bubbled outward in these strange formations. Trees can actually develop deformed growths called burls, something I learned in hindsight. Naturally though, our first thoughts were to poke it, but both of us were too chicken to get any closer. So, we grabbed rocks instead. It only took one toss; Tyler was a baseball player. The rock collided with one of the large growths, and upon contact, the growth exploded outward which sent chunks flying.

Not even seconds later, bees, thousands of bees, swarmed out of the opening and formed into a thick, throbbing mass. Both of us screamed and ran. I had never run faster in my entire life. The bees were hot on our heels, and I felt their stingers plunging into my arms, my back, and my legs. I don’t remember hopping the fence or how I arrived in my front yard, but I must have been screaming bloody murder. I stripped down to my underwear, and my mom began spraying me and the persistent bees with the garden hose. The icy, pressurized water didn’t hurt as bad as the welts that formed instantly.

I was ushered into the kitchen, and my mom began meticulously removing the stingers with a pair of tweezers. She lost count of how many she removed from my body. I was only allowed to change into dry underwear since the stings needed to be iced. The swelling and welts had been unimaginable, and now, I understand how people can die from bee stings. I was forced onto the couch with ice packs positioned all over my body. The majority of the stings were on my back, so I laid on my stomach and must have passed out some time later.

I woke the next day in the same position, and the ice packs had been removed. My mom refused to let me change into comfortable clothing until she inspected all of the welts. Thankfully, the swelling had reduced significantly since the previous day. Over a bowl of soup, I learned that my parents called an exterminator after the incident. Apparently, there had been bees angrily flying around our yard and some of the neighbors’ yards. By that point, everyone on our street could hear the enraged buzzing.

The exterminator arrived promptly and followed the trail of chaotic bees back to the nest. The man actually told my parents that it had been the largest colony he had ever seen. He sprayed so many chemicals that he didn’t want anyone near the area, not that anyone wanted to go investigate for themselves. The whole situation made me feel like a complete idiot. How could we have been so stupid?

My only consolation was that Tyler might have suffered just as bad as me from the bee stings. I brought this up to my parents and asked how bad his injuries were. My mother gave me this petrified expression that I’ll never forget. There had been nobody behind me when I raced around the side of my house. She hadn’t even been aware that Tyler had gone back there with me. I felt guilty, beyond guilty. Horrible images of Tyler being swarmed consumed me. I swore that he had been right beside me. What made me feel worse is that the exterminator never saw anyone. If Tyler had fallen behind, the exterminator would have known because he searched the entire area for nests.

About a week after the incident, Tyler was still missing. I decided to search the area for myself, but I wasn’t going unprepared. I grabbed a can of my mother’s hairspray along with a lighter from the kitchen. If any of these bees were still kicking, then I wanted protection. I hopped the fence and moved slowly through the forest, my right hand clenched tightly on the hairspray. The distance to the nest was much further than I remembered. I knew that I had arrived when I heard a thick crunch beneath my shoes. I glanced down and felt a shiver rush through my body. The entire ground was layered with bee corpses. I couldn’t see the dirt or grass, and in some areas, the bees just piled on top of each other.

I was on my last nerve when I approached the nests, trying my best to ignore the sickening crunches underfoot. I narrowed my eyes at the nest that we destroyed, and when I rounded the tree, the rest of the nests became apparent, nearly ten times larger. I cautiously nudged one of the nests which crumbled and revealed thick wax and honeycomb. Dead bees trapped inside of the nest oozed through the opening, and it was enough to turn my stomach. I grumbled beneath my breath and began poking the nest with more confidence, watching more of the pieces fall to the ground.

That’s when I heard the buzzing return. My heart skipped several beats, and I stumbled backwards and almost landed in the disgusting ruin of dead bees. I sprinted back several feet and raised the hairspray and lighter, watching the nest from all angles. These bees could appear from anywhere. They must have formed their nests throughout this cluster of trees, and it was very possible that their nests extended into the ground and beneath the roots. I bit my lip and waited for the swarm to appear like last time, but it never did. Instead, an odd and disturbing sight took me by surprise. I left the clearing filled with dead bees and stepped through several bushes, trying to confirm what I was seeing. My whole body quivered, and I wanted to call out. My voice failed me though, and it might have saved my life.

Not even ten yards from me was Tyler. He was just standing there with his back facing me, and something was wrong. His movements were off. His body was twitching involuntarily, and when he took a step, his posture was rigid while his arms were locked in janky positions. Despite the horrible feeling in my gut, I wanted to call out to him. My concern quickly transformed into fear. Tyler turned and lolled his head to the side as if his neck were broken. He knew I was here, yet he couldn’t see me. His eyes were gone. Two dark sockets stared back at me with bees crawling out of them. Sores layered his flesh which had turned into gaping holes, and a viscous fluid was running down his chin. I was too scared to move. I only ran when Tyler began lumbering toward me, swaying back and forth and twitching.

For the second time, I screamed and ran for the hills, trying to outrun the crashes coming from behind me. When I scrambled over the fence, I felt the wood scraping my skin, but I didn’t care. I pounded on my back door crazily and slammed it shut once my mother let me inside. She didn’t understand much of what I was saying since I was hysterical, but she gathered that I had found Tyler’s body in the woods.

By the time the police arrived, they waited for me to calm down, so I could explain what I saw. I was a mess, and they must have thought that I was nuts. They searched in the area where I saw Tyler, but they didn’t find him. They found his body yards upon yards away by a creek. Tyler had been reclined on his knees with his forehead against the ground, immobile and dead. I refused to ID him. I couldn’t see those empty eye sockets again.

When I recovered from the event, I wanted to know what happened. I emailed the pathologist who performed Tyler’s autopsy and practically begged for answers. I needed a logical explanation for what I saw. He explained how they were going through routine procedure when they hit a minor roadblock. When they sliced Tyler open, dead bees poured out. His body had been literally bloated with bees. His eyes were missing. His jaw was broken, completely unhinged. His teeth were gone along with his tongue which was replaced with wax. The worst part was this. His organs were gone. All that was left was the skeleton, muscles, and tissues which seemed to be the base for the extreme amounts of honeycomb within his chest cavity. The pathologist’s only theory was that the bees devoured his organs, but bees aren’t carnivores.

Credit: Ariel Lowe

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