Too Bright

July 31, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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My older brother is a cop. Naturally, he has a protective instinct over me, his little, only, sister. The cop factor does not help. I was always babied by my family, but me and Greg, my brother, always had a closer bond. Whenever one of my other brothers picked on me, he would get super mad at them. When I was about 12 years old, he met his fiancé and got serious with her. I was so worried she would steal my brother away, and I would never see him anymore. He quickly reassured me, and I soon began to think of his fiancé as the sister I never had.

Anyway, as I said, he is a cop. He worked crazy hours, normally coming home around 3-4 in the morning. Every night, upon arrival, he would shine his too bright flashlight into my room. My bed is against the same wall as my door, so I never saw him, but I always knew it was him. He did it just to check up on me, I was sure. I didn’t mind being woken up, and appreciated the comfort it gave me. Oddly enough, I don’t think any of my other family members being woken with beams of light at strange hours. I chalked it up to the fact that I was the only one who left my door open at night. For a while, I enjoyed the nightly ritual.

However, towards mid January of my senior year I was stressed. College was a looming monolith that I could not handle, my boss had me working 6 days a week, requiring me to wake up at 7 am even on the days I didn’t have school, and I needed the sleep I could get. What was once a small, almost funny comfort to me was now one of the biggest nuisances of my life. When I was awoken by the small beam of light, I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, and my frustration only grew as I brooded into the early hours of morning. One night, I snapped at my brother to stop as the light appeared. He didn’t answer, and I was worried I hurt his feelings.
“Oh well” I thought. At least he would get the hint.

But it didn’t stop. Finally, after a few more nights, once I saw the beam, I got up to confront my brother. When I walked into the hallway, it was empty. I ran to my window only to find that my brother’s car wasn’t there, meaning he wasn’t even home from work yet.
I confronted my brother the next day. He said he stopped shining the light in on me months ago, because my mother hinted at him that I needed the sleep.

We never figured out where the light was from, and I started sleeping with my door shut.

This is a Crappypasta Success Story – a story that was rewritten with the feedback received on Crappypasta and accepted for the main site. You can see the Crappypasta posting for this story here.

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The Uninvited Guest

July 31, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Paolo fed me one last strawberry from the painted clay bowl. He let the juice drip down my chin and then kissed away every last trace. For a moment I was lost in the beauty of his herculean bronzed skin and the sound of the ocean crashing on the shore. A warm breeze blew into our gossamer paradise as Paolo began to remove his white linen shirt…

The sudden darkness shocked me as I awoke from my dream to sweat drenched sheets. I was alone in my bed and my heart was pounding. I threw off my heated blanket and slid closer to the frosted window to cool off. The glowing red clock on my husband’s side of the bed read 3:04am. Charley was not in bed sleeping next to me as he should have on this wintery Tuesday night.

I strained to hear the sound of his Playstation in the living room. Sometimes he would play in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep.

I could hear no sounds and could see no trace of light glowing from the crack under the bedroom door. The only light source I could see was from the red alarm clock shining against the closed closet door.

I climbed out of bed to search, checking the bathroom, living room and kitchen. Charley was not on the first floor.

That left only the basement if he was indeed in the house. I ascertained that his car was in the driveway and that all of the doors were locked.
Standing at the top of the basement stairs, I was still disoriented and only half awake when I realized that all of the lights were off in the basement. That was truly odd because Charley always insisted that we keep one of the lights on down there.

“Charley?” I meekly called out into the darkness below.

“Charley?”

I received no response and my panic was growing. Where could he have gone? He would never have left without telling me.

We had just moved into this house about six months ago and I was still nervous about being in it alone. And I never went into the basement at night.

Taking a deep breath and pretending not to be scared, I started down the
basement stairs. As soon as I made it to the arid bottom, I flipped the light switch on.

The sudden surge of bright light blinded me for a few seconds. Once my eyes adjusted, I immediately saw Charley, asleep in his recliner. I exhaled deeply and chuckled.

“What are you doing down here?” I asked as I shook him awake.

Charley opened his kind eyes and smiled at me. “It was too hot and you would not stop talking in your sleep. I just needed some…” The sudden sound of creaking from upstairs stopped his train of thought and made us both look up in alarm.

“What the hell?” I asked. Charley jumped up from his chair and leaned toward the stairs to hear for more sounds.

Slowly we began the ascent from the basement to the kitchen. The lights were still off as Charley pulled a kitchen knife and began to survey each room in the house. I followed along behind until I noticed cold air coming from the front room.

My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach when I saw the front door open.

Cautiously, I looked outside and saw only one set of snowy footprints leading away from the door and disappearing into the clear streets.

Unable to speak, I pointed the footprints out to Charley. He grabbed his cell phone and called 911 as he shut and dead bolted the door.

I could hear him speaking with the operator as I slowly made my way back to my bed to sit down, still stunned, knowing someone had been in the house. But why? And where? That’s when I noticed the red glow of the clock alarm was no longer shining on the closet door. The closet door.

The closet door was wide open.

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The Oath

July 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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A solitary wooden cabin hid itself deep within the rustling forest. Enclosed all around by towers of gnarled ancient trees, the thick black of night helped the cabin to completely disappear from sight. A glowing fire crackled in the hearth within the cabin, casting its dim red and gold light all about. Iron pots and pans hung from the mantelpiece as a thin boiled stew boiled in a pot over the fire. The wooden floor boards creaked as Agitha lightly padded across the room to mix the stew.

The pungent aroma filled the cabin as Agitha did a taste check, savoring the concoction from her rusty ladle in hand. She stirred in more salt as the wind outside tore viciously throughout the forest. Chill air whistled through the holes of the cabin as the howls of wind rose ever louder outside. She resumed her seat in a rickety wooden chair in the corner of the room. Spread out across the table before her was an assortment of small corked glass bottles and viles.

Agitha’s mother had practiced the art of witchcraft all her life. Since Agitha had grown old enough to walk, her mother had taught her all she knew with the aid of multiple incantations and spell books. When her mother had passed away years ago, Agitha had continued mastering the craft. It was how they made a living. Behind the small cabin was Agitha’s garden. It was divided in two parts. The left all herbs and spices needed for spells, the right all vegetables grown with magic to produce such flavors that no townspeople could duplicate it within their own crops.

Determined locals from the village would risk traveling thirty miles through the forest over fallen moss covered logs just to seek her assistance. Millions of spindly branches ripping at them with every step, and skittish yellow eyes peering out at them through the fog all the while. Desperate young women begging for love spells, older gentlemen after fame and power in town politics, jilted lovers demanding revenge, middle aged women longing for a child. They all brought large baskets laden with offerings upon each visitation. Fine black lace dresses, ruby rings, pearl necklaces, perfumes or the standard pouches of gold coins were her favorites. However, fire cast loaves of bread still powdery and warm or, the most expensive cuts of meat from the butcher’s shop sufficed.

The most desperate people would spare no lavish expense upon Agitha in the hopes of attaining her help. As secluded as her home may have been from the outside world, she still managed to receive an extensive amount of these urgent visitors. Earlier that day she had had a knock at her door. A shy young woman had stood on her doorstep, misty eyed as she had extended a wicker basket towards Agitha. The witch had looked upon the girl pensively for a moment before she sharply threw the handkerchief covering the basket aside to check the contents.

A dark bottle of red wine, a block of cheese, seasoned almonds, a thin bottle of narcissus petals in fragrant oil, and a pair of silver earrings. The earrings were shaped like two dangling snakes, their emerald eyes glinted as if they were truly alive. Agitha had thrown the cloth back atop the items and instantly knew the desperation for help in this girl was great. “Your desire?” Agitha had questioned. The young woman’s unkempt black bun of frizzing hair and teary eyes lead Agitha to guess this woman had been plagued by some form of tragedy. It turned out that the young woman’s brother of nine years was on his death bed. She sought out his full recovery.

It was nearly midnight now as Agitha’s bony white fingers set to work with the ingredients before her. With a small pair of metal pinchers, she extracted two dragonfly wings from a small vile-for a swift recovery-and dropped them into the clay bowl in front of her. She uncorked another bottle and added five drops of sparrow’s blood for life force. Half a cup of rejuvenating river water, three drops of honey for sweetness of life, half a vile of jasmine for soothing, frog’s legs to spring life back into the boy, and a hair from his head that had been carefully concealed in a napkin. All these were mixed together with great care in the silence of her small cabin.

Now she needed to await the glow of the moon to show in the night into the bowl to complete the potion. The glow would help restore the glow into his youthful cheeks as the final touch. Next, she would boil it all and then pour the steaming potion at the base of one of her pink roses outside. The rose would then be dug up by the roots, a small cloth would be tied round the roots to keep them intact, and then the entire flower would be ground down and swallowed by the spoonful. After just one spoonful of the enchanted flower, the boy’s health was guaranteed to improve immediately.

Agitha would have her pet raven deliver the rose to the young woman’s pillow that night. She had specifically instructed the woman to sleep with her window left open that night to ensure the delivery of the rose. Agitha cleared away all of the viles and bottles to their respective shelves, removed the stew from the fire, and peered out her front door at the night sky. The wind had blown through the sky and the moon had begun to show from behind the purple swirls of clouds above. Grabbing the smooth clay bowl, she walked out of her front door into the night.

Carefully, she raised the bowl and its contents before her at shoulder level. Gazing up, she gently sighed over the bowl and then blew an intentional soft puff of air over it. Instantly, the clouds cleared and the moon cast its soft light down upon her. “Perfect,” she thought to herself as she gently smiled. The milky illumination of the moon lit up her form. Her dark brown hair had been secured atop her head and covered with the hood of her cloak. Her fair skin beneath the light of the moon seemed to emit light in the middle of the dark forest as if magic was radiating from her very person.

Agitha peered down into the bowl as she turned to open the door to her home. But wait! What was this? She let out a startled yell, nearly dropping the bowl but caught it just in time. She was sure she had seen the face of a man in the reflection of the bowl. With one hand on the door knob, she put her back to the door and looked about her in confusion.

The trees continued to rustle as the wind blew back her hood. Loose strands of her wavy hair danced about her face as she continued to look around. But she saw no one. Turning around, she slammed the door behind her. What was that? Who had she seen? Shaking her head, she busily set her focus on the potion now boiling in a small black cauldron. Maybe it had just been her eyes playing tricks on her.

She allowed her hair to cascade down her back in a waterfall of wavy brown tresses as sipped at some chamomile tea to calm her nerves. Her pet raven Cunningham watched her silently with one eye from his suspended cage near the cupboards. Once the potion had boiled and she had properly prepared the rose, she opened Cunningham’s cage. Perched on her finger, she opened a window. She inserted the stem of the rose into Cunningham’s beak and let him take flight as she promptly shut the window behind him.

She walked across the room and pulled out a large fur skin rug from atop a shelf and unfurled it luxuriously over the floor boards near the fire place. She rested her head against a red satin pillow as she burrowed herself into silk lined fur blankets of black panther skins. A sailor who had traveled abroad had purchased the furs from Amazonian tribesmen in the jungles of South America long ago. He had paid Agitha his most precious and exotic furs in exchange for the hand of the woman of his desire. After he had swirled three drops of his blood into the love potion to complete the spell, he had managed to somehow trick the woman into drinking the enchantment.

To his delight, they had wed one week later. It was too bad that not three weeks into their marriage, the wife had flown into a fit of jealous rage and hacked him to pieces in his sleep. Magic spells guaranteed the specific desire was obtained, but overall long term outcomes after the magic had done its work, well that was always unpredictable. The flames from her fireplace flickered in the reflection of Agitha’s large eyes as she lay there motionless amongst the soft furs. Shadows lingered all about the room watching over her silently from the corners of her home.

The front door suddenly burst open causing Agitha to shoot up at once. Heart pounding, she laughed to herself as she realized a particularly strong gust of wind had blown the door open. Parchment papers fluttered and spell books flapped open on the table as she went to shut the door against the wind. Dragging a large chest full of precious garments and jewelry she had come to acquire over the years, she set it against the door to ensure it did not open again. As Agitha turned around to face the room, a hand seized her by the throat.

She was violently thrown back against the wall as she clasped at the hand wrapped around her neck. Gasping for air, she gazed up to see the strong hand currently choking her belonged to a man. “Do you know who I am?” he whispered menacingly at her. She shook her head no, still gasping for air as she clawed away at his hand. His furrowed eyebrows rested above large, completely black, ferocious eyes. As she looked into his eyes, a flood of terror came over her.

His lips parted into a demented smile that made the blood in her veins stand still. She began to feel weak from lack of oxygen, but just as she nearly fell faint, he released his grip from around her throat. Gagging and coughing, she sank to the floor trying to regain her breath. He looked down at her silently, the evil grin still fixed across his face. Agitha finally managed to splutter, “Who are you? What do you want?” He tilted his head back as he maliciously laughed without resignation. The laughter boomed through the cabin and made her head pound.

Abruptly, his laughter ceased and he stooped down to meet her gaze, his nose nearly touching hers. His black hair was slicked back and glistened in the fire light. He chattered his sharp, perfectly white teeth at her slowly; reminiscent of a wolf preparing to feast on its prey. “If it’s riches you want, I have plenty,” offered Agitha in alarm. “Take it all.” She hoped her offer would suffice and that he would soon leave. “I don’t want any of your things,” he replied in a tone slightly above a whisper. Slowly he went on, “I’ve come here to collect,” and here he paused as he raised his eyebrows with a look of amusement. “What? What do you want?” she persisted growing angry at this lunatic who had broken into her home.

She was becoming more furious by the second. If this stranger thought he could enter her home, harass and rob her as a thief in the night, with no consequences…Well she would be sure to use one of her most heinous spells to make him suffer one-thousand different ways. She would leave him begging for death by the time she was finished repaying him for all of this. He continued to watch her as he backed a few inches away from her face as he let out a snicker of laughter.

“This is why I like you. That fire you have within,” the man said with a small chuckle as he waged a finger at her condescendingly. “I know what you are thinking,” he continued. “No amount of Egyptian’s alligator tears, bat’s blood, or ground stoned powder from mountains at the ends of the earth will even slightly affect me. You cannot so much as lay harm to the smallest fingernail on my hand,” he sneered as he raised a wiggling pinky finger in mockery.

His crisp white suit was unblemished from head to toe. She wondered how he had traveled out so far through the woods without the faintest trace of his journey showing on his attire. Even his polished black shoes were immaculate. Her bosom rose and fell as she breathed heavily in anger. Her hair was in disarray and had fallen over now covering half of her face. “Oh, don’t be that way,” he teased vindictively as he cleared the hair from her face. She dodged his hand as she glared at him with contempt, yet remained silent.

Now at the mercy of this powerful stranger, she was unsure of what to do next, so she sat and waited. “Why do you think you and your mother have been so skilled at witchcraft?” he abruptly questioned. What an absurd question she thought to herself. How did he know anything about her or her mother? Who was this man? The fire had begun to dwindle down. The room went black, but they remained where they were.

His eyes began to radiate a red light and suddenly flames burst from the hearth. The fire was crackling loudly in the hearth once more. “Your mother, when she was a young woman, she desired to be a highly skilled witch.” The man now stood over Agitha as she looked up at him. He went on, “She made the devil a promise in blood. If her wishes were granted to her and she obtained the skills she so dearly desired, she vowed to give her only daughter to him in marriage.” Agitha remained frozen, eyes widening as she came to the realization of what he was revealing to her. “So now,” he said as he eyed Agitha’s delicate form clothed in her silk and lace maroon dress, “I have come to collect.”

“No,” whispered Agitha as one of her hands clasped her neck in alarm. “Oh yes,” retorted the man. The smile had gone from his face, and the greedy blank stare of a vicious animal was facing her now. He grabbed her left hand with his left hand and held them up intertwined together. A dark voice rumbled all about them, “A life begun in an oath of blood, now sealed to end in an oath of blood!” A green flame enveloped their hands as Agitha screamed and fought to break away. The nails of his right hand grew into claws as the house shook all around them.

He pierced her left wrist in the flames and caught some of the crimson drops in his mouth. Smashing his open mouth into hers, his sharp teeth ripped into her lips as blood smeared across their mouths. Her silver snake earrings had come to life and bit at her neck repeatedly with their piercing fangs. Releasing her from the kiss, he hauled Agitha across the room to the fireplace where the violent red flames were now shooting out twelve feet tall. Releasing their clasped hands, he raised both arms and shouted over the rumbling of the house and the roaring of the fire, “We are sealed together as one forever now my love!”

She stood hunched over in pain from her left hand crying and screaming repeatedly in anguish, “No!” He grabbed her by the left wrist and smirked as he admired the small diamond skull with ruby eyes that had been permanently welded into the flesh of her wedding finger. The ring’s band was made completely of piercing black thorns secured tightly to her flesh, and blood oozed down her hand as she ran for her front door. She let out a final scream of terror as he caught her by the waist just inches from the door. With a final twisted smile, he flung her into the flames.

The fire instantly enveloped her and she disappeared. He took one last look about the room and then followed her into the eternal flames of the nether world. The fire instantly died, the rumbling of the cabin ceased, and darkness fell upon the silent cabin. The next morning, the faint light emitting from behind the gray clouds shone through the window shutters that had blown open the night before. A few drops of blood stained the floorboards near the smoldering hearth. It was at this time that Cunningham had returned and perched himself atop the windowsill. Seeing that his home was now devoid of his master, his long wings flapped as he took flight and disappeared into the surrounding forest mist.

Credit To – miss ivory

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The Dumfries

July 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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“Don’t let them have anything to eat,” Mrs Dumfries said, rummaging through her handbag that weighed down her shoulder.

“I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to give a reassuring smile.

“Of course you will. Nothing will go wrong, I’m sure,” Mr Dumfries nodded.

“And they have to be in bed by seven, not a second later.”

“Yes, Mrs Dumfries,” I said, trying to not sound impatient. She looked around the room one more time before looking at me again. “And don’t let them watch TV. They got nightmares from last time you let them. Having to console two terrified children for weeks was–”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Dumfries.” I remembered the last time I’d babysat her children. I let them watch Saw right before going to bed – never let two seven year-olds watch Saw.

“We’ll be late, honey,” Mr Dumfries said, tapping his Rolex. “He’ll be fine.”

He was wrong. As you’ll find out, I wouldn’t be fine.

I was fifteen and Mr and Mrs Dumfries had asked me to look after their two kids whilst they went out for the night. After the last time’s Saw debacle, I didn’t think I’d get another chance. So when they asked me out of the blue, I jumped at the opportunity to earn £20 for sitting in their living room whilst occasionally checking up on the children.

The door slammed shut and the requests started to fly.

“Mummy said we could have ice-cream,” said the blonde-haired child.

“No, she didn’t, Harry,” I told him, lying back in the sofa. I turned on the TV, being careful not to land on any scary programs.

“But we want it!” screamed the brunette child, stomping her feet.

“Tough, Sarah,” I said, sighing and turning the TV off. “Let’s do something else instead, then.”

The house in which the Dumfries lived was from the late 19th century, and was very large. The kids liked to play hide-and-seek, but the house’s endless labyrinth of corridors and its nooks and crannies meant it was almost impossible for me to find them. That night, we decided to play.

“…Nineteen, twenty. Ready or not, here I come!” My voice boomed. Looking around, I was greeted by absolute stillness. It was just dark outside, and the only lights on in the house were the ones in room I was in. As I walked into the next room, I felt something brush past me. “Gotcha!” I screamed, turning round to see what had touched me. Nothing. I paused for a moment. I blamed it on a draught from the old, rickety front door and continued deeper into the house.

The shrilled, terrified cry of Sarah startled me. “Help!” she bawled. I started to run towards her voice, the old floorboards creaking below my feet.

“Sarah, where are you?” I shouted, opening the door to a cupboard. In it, Sarah was standing on her tiptoes, her hands covering her eyes. “What is it?” I asked, trying to see the source of her horror. She pointed to a large, black dot on the floor. “A spider? Seriously, Sarah?”

“Its teeth are humongous!”
I remember laughing, and with one quick movement I crushed the spider under my shoe. “There.”

“No!” she said as she began to cry again. “That’s a bad omen.”

Harry walked into the cupboard, jumping up and down triumphantly. “I win, I win!”

“That’s enough of that game,” I said, turning the cupboard light off and rubbing his hair.

“No, let’s play again!”

“No,” I said adamantly.

You can’t win with children, so we played again. This time Sarah was the seeker. I decided to hide in a small wardrobe in the spare bedroom upstairs. I shut the door behind me and I was plunged into darkness. I sat down on the cramped floor and took out my phone. No battery – great. I stood back up to find somewhere else to hide, perhaps with a little light. I pushed on the door, only to find it didn’t budge. I pushed again, fumbling in the blackness for a handle of some sort. Shit, I thought.

“Harry? Sarah? Could you come here please?” I called out, knocking on the wood. Nothing. “Hello?”

“Yes?” a quiet voice replied.

“Harry? Open the door?” I knocked once again. This time, something knocked back.

“Harry, this isn’t funny! Open the fucking door!” I was pushing hard against the wood now. “I swear to God, I’ll kill you, Harry, once I get out. Let me out!”

I could hear cackling now. A deep, throaty chuckle resonated around the room. The door to the room opened. I stopped tapping on the wardrobe now, and instead I had covered my face with my hands, and scrunched my eyes up tightly, blocking out what little light was seeping into the cupboard. The cupboard door opened, and a cold hand touched my arm.

“Brad?” Harry asked, tapping me. I opened my eyes, shaking like a madman, to the sight of Harry standing over me. His face was a mixture of perplexed amusement. “Are you okay?” he said, a smile creeping over his lips.

“Yeah… I, did you…?”

“Did I what? Sarah found me.”

“No, I… where’s Sarah?”

Harry shrugged, and hopped out of the room happily. I slowly got up out of the cupboard, taking one last look around the room.

Later that night, after the children were asleep, the phone rang.

“Hello?” I said, putting the phone to my ear.

“Hide the kids,” replied a throaty voice.

“Excuse me?” I said with a small catch in my throat.

“Look out the window.”

I dropped the phone, not daring to look out the window. Instead, I went into the corner and curled up into a ball. I don’t know what I thought was there. I felt a presence, and a stream of cold air hit me as the front door burst open. I was crying at this point, bracing myself for something to grab or hurt me.

“Leave me alone!” I screamed, tears streaming down my face. Instead of the icy grip of a murderer or whatever I thought was there, there was laughing.

“You stupid prat!” sniggered a voice: Mrs Dumfries. “What are you – five?”

“I can’t believe you fell for it,” said Mr Dumfries, his face red from amusement.

I couldn’t believe it. The Dumfries had done everything.

“That’s what you get for showing our kids horror movies, Brad,” smiled Mr Dumfries, “Karma.”

“You…” I couldn’t spit out the words. I fell for everything they did. I believed I was going to die. “How could you…?”

“It’s called payback, Brad. Our children were in pieces for months. Harry wet the bed every single fucking night. Sarah woke up with night terrors, screaming about her arm getting sawn off. And you’re asking how we could do this?” Mrs Dumfries ranted.

“I was sorry! I didn’t mean to harm them.”

“But you did,” Mrs Dumfries spat back.

“And we don’t mean to harm you,” Mr Dumfries said coldly.

“W-what?” I stuttered.

“Sarah had dreams of her arm being cut off. Every night we’d have to console her. She swore that her pain was real. Imagine feeling that pain, Brad.”

“I don’t–”

“You will,” smiled Mr Dumfries. He slowly opened his bag, not losing eye contact with me. He pulled out a saw.

“What the fuck?!” I screamed, trying to push past him. Mrs Dumfries kicked me in the groin with her heel and I fell to my knees, as if begging for mercy. “Get off me, you crazy psychos!”

Mr Dumfries placed the saw against the pale flesh on my arm, and began to push down hard. “No!” I cried, blood spurting from my arm. I tried lashing out, thrashing with all my strength, but Mrs Dumfries seemed to be superhuman. I started to feel dizzy. The pain became unbearable, and the last thing I remember seeing before I blacked-out is the crazed face of Mr Dumfries burst out laughing as he waved my mutilated arm in front of me.

Credit To – MrG

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Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene

July 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Jolene is dead.

She was the greatest thing in my life.

And I loved her.

I went through quite a lonely spell as a younger child. It is possible that I never grew out of it.

When I was much younger I used to be constantly transfixed by the birds that took residence near my home. I was the type of child who enjoyed being by myself in the woods or sitting on a back porch watching the birds. When the weather was sour, I gazed through the window to the edge of the wood line outside the back of our home. When I did happen to turn on the television, I was held captive by the nature channels. It was an utter obsession, and the birds took the center stage of my life. Meditating on those years, I would have to say that they were the most emotionally fulfilling of my life.

I was birthed by a single mother and she chose to raise me with a rather absentminded parental approach. A child should never be the source of strength in a relationship between the child and the mother, but that was very much the dynamic my mother and I had. I would not have traded it for the world, but I do sometimes wonder if being forced into maturity so early was the proper path for me.

The times I would be allowed to spend with my mother were very precious and we always were able to enjoy each other and our laughter. My mother was the one who introduced me to the knowledge of birds. She would spend hours telling stories about each type of bird and why they were all significant. Then she would be off to work again, and it would be several days before we were able to spend more time together.

There were no surrogate fathers in my life. My mother appeared to have been celibate, save for one night. I had few friends throughout my schooling and never maintained contact very well, especially as I grew older. I was never picked on or tussled with. I was simply the child who was there. Recesses involved sitting and observing.

The beauty of birds is that they are always present. There are very few places on this Earth that do not have some form of bird attempting to remind us to look up into the expanse.

The thought of flying was extraordinary. I yearn to know what people must have thought before human flight was feasible. I still often wonder if even then humanity took for granted the gifts of the birds. While I was in constant awe of the miracles birds could perform, it was their fraternity that most attracted me to them. Several species of birds mate for life, just like dolphins, or the way we like to think of humans as doing.

The most beautiful times of the year were when the migrations would occur. I once read a story saying that when a goose is worn down with age, the dying goose would be accompanied by two of its friends on the journey to the ground—even mid-migration. The dying goose would lay down, and while it died its friends would remain for comfort and protection. Whenever the migrational season would come, I always looked for the geese flying in small groups. If I saw three, I would always wonder if that was a final flight, and if I saw two, I knew that there was a goose somewhere on the ground that would never raise its wings to the sky again.

The thought of a goose never dying alone touched me. Often, when I was lonely, I would visit the story in my mind. A final flight seemed romantic in many ways. I would always wonder what feelings had to go through an animal’s mind when it knew its moment had come to fall asleep for the final time.

I was rather young when I realized the wisdom of birds in relation to death. I watched birds all of my young life, and I had never seen one simply fall out of the sky. They would glide back down to Earth every time. I realized that birds must always recognize the moment when death is upon them. They face that moment with dignity and grace. They know when the final descent is, and they don’t attempt a last flight when their time has arrived. I respected that stoicism.

In the window of my youth, there was always a beautiful white pigeon that would dance in my yard. Of all the birds I had ever admired, she was my favorite. Pigeons and geese have always been glorious in their own right. Often overlooked, and ever graceful.

If you take the time to observe nature, you will eventually be given the gift of photographic moments. Birds defending their nests in my backyard. Birds discovering their mates for the first time. I was privy to a front row seat in the circle of life. My window was open to everything I would ever need to understand about Creation. I learned about sex at that window. I experienced my first death through that glass. I had gone into a trance and been sitting there for hours. I remember that I felt as if I could almost feel something leaving when the bird fell down off that branch in the backyard. The bird did not appear to be about to fall. But it did. My favorite white pigeon.

I thought of the story of the geese, and I ran to be with the pigeon so it wouldn’t die alone. I had often daydreamed of actually touching the white pigeon, but in that moment, when I was finally able to hold her, I wished I had never felt those desires. I had nightmares about the eyes of the bird. After thirty minutes, the eyes glossed over and the twitching stopped. Sometimes I can still vividly recall her flying.

She was the greatest thing in my life.

And I loved her.

Holding a loved one in their final moments is the most tragic sensation I have ever experienced. Years after holding the white pigeon, I was present during the death of my mother. We had been arguing about something trivial. She was lecturing and I had allowed myself to fall into a trance of indifference, as if I was staring her down from my mental perch, high in the trees. The regret I’ve held from those moments can at times be overwhelming.

My mother started shaking and screaming and she let go of me with a push when I tried to see what was wrong. She was looking into my eyes, unable to blink. Her knees caved forward and her body twisted while she fell to the ground.

I attempted to be closer to her to help. Anger passed, and the moment between me being angry and becoming scared was the swiftest change in emotions I had ever experienced. Every time I tried moving closer to her she pushed herself back further.

My mother continued shaking and screaming, crouching down on the floor, her gnarled hands moving over her ears. I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew of life were stupid stories about birds.

At some point my mother stopped shaking and there was a moment between her and I. When you’re the child you never have to be the source of strength. You’re not supposed to be. But you do have to be from time to time when it’s just the two of you. I squeezed her hand while we both cried. Hopefully she knew I loved her, but in the moment the words weren’t there.

The doctors later said it was something with her brain, something about a cavity and pressure and extraordinary circumstances.

The longer I considered everything, the longer I realized that there was another possibility.

Today is when all of the events of my life came full circle. Jolene and I have been living together for years. Today, Jolene was being a little more frustrating than I was used to and I had hit my wits’ end with her. She kept repeating herself and repeating herself and I could not stop myself from simply staring at her.

I tuned myself out until Jolene started shaking. She fell down in her cage and I had to scoop her out so I could be there for her. I did not realize what I had done until after it was too late.

It had always been me.

I’ve sat with Jolene all day. And I think I have found a way to escape everything. Maybe my gift won’t just work on animals and people. Maybe it will work in a mirror, and I will not have to be alone. I will take with me my memories of Jolene, my mother, and the days when I knew the joys of companionship.

Credit To – Ashley Franz Holzmann

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“New Growth”

July 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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“It’s nice,” said Phil, “I still can’t believe you own a house.”

“Me neither, bro,” said Howard, “I mean, not at all.”

The two were standing in the mostly undecorated living room. The walls were recently painted a deep Marsala color (“Color of the year 2015, bro. Get on that.”) and there was a massive cream colored leather couch that dominated the majority of the space. A TV played a football game neither really watched where large men hurled their bodies at one another, causing irreparable long term cognitive damages.

“I thought buying a house was something old people did,” said Howard. “I’m only twenty fucking five, bruh. I can’t believe Colin’s company is working out like this.”

“For you,” Phil said, awkwardly. “Colin’s company is working out really well for you.”

“Oh, dude, whatever. Fuck him. He’ll rehire you. Whenever he comes to his senses. Is that what they call it? What’s the term for when you fire someone from your sweet start up because you find out he slept with your girlfriend in college and straight up lied to your face about it but then you forgive him and hire him back? Is that called a rehire?”

“I don’t know if —”

“There actually is no word for that, Phil, because that has never happened in the history of the world.
Come on, let’s go upstairs. I want you to check out this view.”

The view was nice, Phil thought. Howard’s place was in Candle Hill, a micro neighborhood of the city which was rapidly acquiring a reputation as an exclusive, monied neighborhood due to the sudden, unexpected blossoming biotech scene. Twenty four year olds were buying mansions on hills, driving strange exotic luxury cars, drinking wine older than most states in America. Until six months ago, Phil had been on track to be one of them. Then, after a brief, scarily cold conversation with Colin, he wasn’t.

After he was fired, he had had grabbed a job as a research tech for the university. It provided a salary and health care, but no dental and all of his friends were buying houses.

Howard’s house was fantastic, he had to admit. A refurbished row home with gorgeous crown molding in every room, bright gleaming modern appliances, marble countertops. The street was quiet and tree lined, one of those city neighborhoods you never know about unless you live there. The secret world of the rich. Or maybe just the lucky.

“So, how’s Janus Industries? Are you just as busy as ever?”

“Ugh,” Howard frowned, “worse, if possible. This is the first night I’ve been home before eight in a month. Not complaining. We’ve all been swamped.”

“Are you guys still working on stem cell stuff?”

“Like I can tell you,” grinned Howard. “But the stuff we’re doing is pretty great recently. It’s exciting.”

An hour or so later, Phil was getting ready to leave. They were back in the living room and he noticed a door with a chain lock across the hall from the half bath.

“Dude, what’s up with that door? Is someone locked in the basement?”

He meant it as a joke, but Howard’s face went pale. Phil froze. Was his friend keeping someone locked up in the basement? Was he going to be killed for discovering it? Why had he even come over? Is this how he dies?

Howard ran his hand through his hair.

“Sit down, man. There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Do you have anyone locked in the basement,” asked Phil as he sat down, looking for any objects he could improvise into weapons.

“No. I don’t have anyone locked in the basement,” Howard said with disgust, “I mean, come on, bro.”

“Well done, man.”

“Second, I think something is in the basement. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. The guy I bought this house from was in a super hurry to move, which is how I got it at such a good price, I guess. When I moved in, I found a note he had left in the bedroom. It said I should always keep that door closed. And one day would find out why.”

“What was his deal? Was he crazy?”

“That’s what I thought,” said Howard, “but he seemed like a normal dude through the whole process. He taught bioethics at the university. Did some consults at Janus, too. Dwyer? Did you ever hear of him?”

Phil shook his head.

“He gets good comments online. Colin took a bunch of classes with him, actually. Loved him. Said he had fascinating ideas for regenerative tech and how to monetize it. Girls on his Rate my Professor page say he was kind of sleazy,”

“When I found the note,” Howard continued, “I thought he was nuts. My realtor told me his wife had just died. She figured it messed him up or whatever. So, I decided to not worry about it. Then, I heard it.”

He shuddered.

“It was the first night here. I was just hanging out, quasi celebrating with champagne. I was by myself. Right here. In this room. And I hear someone walking up the basement stairs.”

“Do you know how quiet a place can feel when it isn’t just you? I had read his note that night. Now, the footsteps. Then the doorknob rattled. It opened, a tiny bit, just a crack, but the lock held it closed.”

“Holy shit,” phil leaned up on the couch. He was staring at Howard, watching his hands grab and twist the couch cushions. “So what happened?”

“The door closed. I heard the footsteps go back down. I didn’t leave the couch. I couldn’t. I didn’t even sleep. Spent all night here, staring at the stupid door.”

“Has it happened again?”

“It has. Every third night. At 10:50. And Phil?”

“Yeah?”

“Tonight’s a third night.”

“Well then,” Phil stood up, “I’m going to find out what’s going on down there.”

And with that, he walked over to the locked door.

“What?”

“You heard me,” Phil said, “I’m going into the basement,”

“Dude, that’s a bad idea? That is definitely an awful idea. I would like to ask you to reconsider —”

“Reconsider what?” asked Phil. His hand was on the doorknob and he had turned around completely to face Howard. “I don’t have anything, bro. I work in a lab getting paid nine dollars and eighty cents an hour. All my friends are millionaires. I eat ramen for dinner. Not by choice.”

“So you’re ok with being eaten by a monster in my basement? Because I assure you there is a monster in my basement and I suspect the monster will try to eat you and you’re my friend and —”

“Howard. You worry. Way. Too. Much.”

He unlatched the heavy chain.

“If I don’t come back, you can have my bike.”

And he opened the door and walked downstairs.

Howard spent the night on the couch. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t move. He watched the door. But it didn’t open. And at ten fifty on the third night, the door didn’t rattle and they weren’t any footsteps.

The next morning he went to work. There was a meeting with four other project managers that Colin unexpectedly showed up at.

Colin terrified Howard. He had ever since he started Janus Industries. Before that, Colin was nice. Thin and probably too into sushi and anime, but nice. After the company started, the niceness migrated from him and was replaced by something colder. Pressure, Howard told himself, Colin must be under a ton of pressure with the company. You have to be cold to do what he did. It was business.

At the meeting’s end, as they started to rise, Colin touched his shoulder.

“Talk to you for a minute?”

The other four shuffled out. The room felt too big. Colin stared at him.

“You ok? You look sick.”

“I’m fine. Just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“Really?” Colin frowned. “I thought you left early yesterday. I was here for hours after you drove off.”

Howard winced.

“Yeah, bro, I met someone for dinner for last night and bailed a little early. Sorry. I’ll check up on stuff tonight.”

“I’m sure you will,” Colin peered at him, his pale skin showing an architecture of blue veins below the surface. “Are you sick?”

“No. Not sick. Just couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh, just insomnia? You should take medication. No reason to let your biological system get in the way of your responsibilities, right?”

“Right,” Howard said, then added, in a desperate attempt to sound normal, “broseph.”

“Speaking of your responsibilities, your project isn’t going as well as I expected. We need that to improve. Quickly. Understand?”

“Yes, of course and I’m sorry I just —”

“Remember: results, not apologies. Right?” Colin smiled, briefly, for the first time in the conversation. His lips were thin. “Hey, you bought a house, didn’t you? A belated congratulations!”

“Oh, yeah thanks. I love it. Still decorating.”

“It’s Dyer’s old house, right? I miss him. He was always such a help to me. Well, take care.”

Howard began to walk out of the room.

“Oh, Howard?”

He turned around.

“Yeah?”

“Who were you having dinner with? Last night? Anyone I know?”

Howard stood, semi frozen.

“No, I don’t think so. Bro.”

“Oh. Ok. Take care.”

*****

Howard made it home that night by nine. Colin was still there when he left. He could see his office light burning from the parking lot.

Outside his house, where he always parked his car, Phil’s bike was still chained to the tree.

He went in. His footsteps echoed in the tall winding home. The lack of furniture made everything sound empty and full of echoes.

The door was still chained. There was no noise from the basement.

He barely slept. The next day at Janus it was the same: pacing the hallways, drinking too much coffee, sending off emails obsessively. At some point, waking through the office he suddenly stopped. At the far end of the open office, he saw an older woman entering Colin’s office. She walked in after Colin but before he closed the door she turned and surveyed the office. She had s small pinched face with a hawklike nose, small, deeply set eyes. She locked eyes with Howard. Did she smile?

And then the door closed.

That night, he fell asleep at his desk. Upon waking, he grabbed his phone and accessed his home security cams. They showed the same thing they had before: a locked basement. A locked bike.

He walked out into the hallway. The lights were already on. It was five fifteen in the morning. He could smell coffee already brewing. Lynn was at the machine. She looked up and smiled.

“Long night?”

“For sure.”

After they had been talking for a few minutes about nothing in particular, he looked around. Upon not noticing anyone beside the two of them, he dropped his voice.

“Lynn, your team is working on stem cell stuff right now.”

“Like everyone else here, yeah.” She looked amused. Lynn always looked amused, especially when people weren’t being that funny.

“But you aren’t doing the same kind of stuff as everyone else on your team.”

“What do you mean,” she asked. She didn’t look as amused.

“I talk to everyone here. I know Colin doesn’t like any of us to talk to each other, but I do. And I talk your team. And they say you’re working on some something they aren’t being kept in the loop on.”

“If they aren’t being kept in the loop why would you be kept in the loop?” She had gone back to amused. But not that amused.

Tell her about Phil, tell her about the house, the door, he thought, but he didn’t. He was watching the way her eyes all of the sudden widened at something behind him.

“Good morning,” he heard Colin’s voice. “Another day, another chance to do it all again.”

He smiled at the two of them and poured scalding hot coffee into his tan colored mug.

That night, Howard got home at ten forty three. He unlocked his door and walked across the grandly echoing hardwood to his kitchen. He poured a glass of wine (red, Chilean, not that bad at all) and he stood, staring at the door.

The noises started on the stair, the dragging, shaking walk. He listened to it as it grew closer, closer. He flung upon the door. And there was Phil, looking skinny and pale and horrified.

***
They sat together on the couch. He had grabbed Phil a blanket and he had wrapped himself up in it. His teeth were chattering. His eyes had huge dark circles.

“I don’t know, man,” he said, pushing his fingers into the bone colored couch, “I don’t know what happened.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Opening the door? I kind of remembering walking down the stairs. That’s all. Maybe I heard voices? But holy fuck I was down there for three nights? What the hell happened to me?”

“I don’t know,” Howard said thickly, “I don’t know at all. But this has something to do with Janus, I think.”

“Why would this have anything to do with Janus? This is just a horrible weird thing that happened to me!”

“No, I — things have been a lot weirder there after you left than I told you. There’s a lot of secret projects going on. We can’t talk to each other there anymore. And the shit he has us doing with stem cells…it’s weird. I think Colin is trying to do something.”

“Like what?” Phil had slumped against the back of the couch and was rubbing his temples.

“I don’t know. But you know Dwyer’s wife? The one who I said died?”

“Yeah?”

“A saw a photograph of her when I moved in here. And I think I saw her at Janus the other day.”

Phil sat upright.

“You saw her?”

“Or someone who looked a lot like her. It was from far away.”

“Jesus,” said Phil and he was quiet for a moment. “What the hell do you think is happening?”

“I don’t know and I’m starting to lose — where are you going? Don’t you want to go to the hospital? I’ll take you.”

Phil had stood up.

“No, no. I have to get home. I’ve been gone for three days. I have to red my cat. I’m terrified Admiral Flufferson is going to be starving. I’ll go to the hospital tomorrow, I guess,” he paused. “I’m not really sure what I’m going to tell them. But look: you should come with me. Whatever is happening here? Man, you don’t want any part of it.”

“Oh god. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to my mom’s tonight. Fuck, bro, what is this?”

“I don’t know but we’re going to figure this out. Somehow. Together. Right?”

“Right. Right.”

Phil left. Howard stayed on the couch, his head spinning. He was trying to put everything together but he couldn’t. When he was growing up, he remembered trying to put together puzzles but never being able to get all the right pieces and just giving up. His older brother admitted a few years ago he would his puzzle pieces when Howard wasn’t looking, just to mess with him. That’s what he felt like now. Here was the puzzle. But something wasn’t there that he needed and he had no idea how to fix it.

And then he heard something

Footsteps.

Moving slowly up the stairs.

The basement door, he realized, wasn’t fully closed after he got phil out. The door was wide open. The footsteps got closer and closer and then, into the light stepped Phil.

He didn’t look ok. He could barely walk, taking only a few steps and before he fell. There was drool in the corner of his mouth. Howard ran to him, trying to help him sit up, leaving him against the wall in the pallid light of the hallway.

“Oh my god, Howard. Oh god. I can’t. Oh my god. There’s something horrible happening. They’re making things down there. They call them extras. Oh god, I don’t know what —”

There was a banging on the front door.

“Howard!” called Phil from outside, “there’s something I need to talk to you about! Open the door!”

Credit To – Kevin Sharp

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