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The Dead Zone

July 21, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I’ve lived in Central Florida my whole life. Disney World, mosquitos, the beach and flip flops are a way of life. I’m used to the sticky hot humidity, the gator filled swamps and the tea stained water of the St. Johns river. This is where my tale takes place; horrifying and unbelievable, yet true …

I don’t know when I first heard tale of the Dead Zone, a stretch of interstate four between Sanford and Debary Florida. Legend has it that the founders who settled in the area became ill of Yellow Fever residing in the mosquito infested lagoons and scrub of palmettos, which is where they succumbed to the abyss named Death and found their final resting place. For over a century, their plots were marked with wooden crosses and they owned their own place amongst the moss draped oaks. There’s lots of tales surrounding these graves; some say a man tried to remove the fencing that was at some point placed around the markers and that very night his house burned down. Another account alleges that a curious young boy tried to dig up one of the graves and was killed by a drunk driver shortly after. Myth or truth, i’m not sure. Many years later, when the developers came in and wanted to build what us Floridians call I4, they were sworn to build the road around the graves of the settlers, as to not disturb them. They agreed with a handshake and a smile, but as we all know, their intentions were set before the empty promise was made. Instead, they opted for what was easy and logical, disturbing and paving overtop of the burial site. The tale goes to tell of ghostly sightings, travelers dealing with late night car troubles and more accidents on that stretch of road than you can imagine, all at the consequence of the deceitful agreement that disturbed the dead.

Now, I’ve never been one to really buy in to the paranormal and I’ve driven this stretch of road hundreds of times. I’ve witnessed several accidents and broken down vehicles on the shoulder but never did I feed into the “Dead Zone” theory. If every disturbed grave became a ghost story, we’d have more tales to tell than we could keep up with. But, what I witnessed with my own eyes, driving that stretch of busy road, peering over the St. Johns River bridge, is something I will never forget, something I cannot shake and something that has forever changed me and my view of the paranormal.

It began over a year ago when I had just started a new job. I had to drive past the Dead Zone, exiting right across the bridge at the Sanford exit. I4 can be a white knuckle experience, especially if you have to drive it daily, but the part I always enjoyed was approaching my exit, breathing a sigh of relief that I had not been victim of any road rage or accidents and peering off the bridge into the murky brown waters below. Something about the way the sun shone down, reflecting itself in sparkling ribbons across the gator infested stretch, lily pads dancing with every swirl and breeze across the water, boats drifting lazily while fishermen cast another line, made me feel at peace. It was early on that I noticed the two houseboats floating aside the lily pads. I had seen them before, many times in fact, but it was after starting the job and having it be a part of my daily drive that I began to wonder how long the boats had been there. They looked abandoned, old and decaying. I remember thinking “who comes to rescue deserted vessels or do they float along until they sink?” …

The houseboats troubled me, for no apparent reason other than the fact that they had become a stationary landmark on the waters that upset my peaceful feeling with a darker and more foreboding impression. I could imagine what horrors lay behind the surface and in my mind’s eye I saw a mummified corpse, jaw locked open, forever staring into eternity. Abandoned. Forgotten. Surely the owners of the boats hadn’t jumped into the waters and swam to shore and left their boats cast off into the lily pads to sit until … Until what? I could only imagine the poor soul who decided to one day board the craft to discover my dreamed-up corpse. Perhaps, more than one corpse.

And then just like that, one day, one of my sinister houseboats were no longer there. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I was sure it had been there for as long as I could remember and there was no way the motor on the boat would still run. It had been there the previous morning, though I couldn’t be certain that it had been there on my way home as I was going in the opposite direction and could not see to that side of the bridge. I tried to imagine what had gone down as I made my way to the office and parked my car. A coworker of mine was exiting her car as I pulled up and I decided to ask her if she had ever noticed the boats, since she drove the same stretch of road that I did. I made my inquiry and to my surprise she informed me that she had noticed the boats and she had also seen a tenant of one of the boats out on his deck, sweeping. I was shocked. Never, in all the years I had seen the boats, had I ever witnessed a living soul on or around them, but she swore to seeing what appeared to be an older gentlemen on it’s deck.

“He was definitely there” she stated. “I know what you mean about the boats looking abandoned but there was for sure a man on board, sweeping off the deck. Have you noticed how the lily pads have gotten thicker around them and are almost vining up the boat?”.

I had not noticed, Not really. I knew the boats were in the thicket of lily pads but I hadn’t noticed them getting thicker. No, my attention seemed to be on the boats and only the boats anymore. I no longer watched the sun dappled waters and the fishermen’s lines. Now, I watched the boats, searching for signs of life, imagining horrors that I had drummed up in my mind. And now that there was just one boat, I couldn’t fathom where the other boat went. Perhaps, whoever comes for old abandoned boats had finally come and taken it away and would be back for the remaining boat another day.

Weeks went by. The houseboat didn’t occupy all of my thoughts but I did perk up when approaching the bridge and I did make sure to be in the far right lane for the full length of the bridge till my exit. I wanted to see the boat. I had to see the boat. I wanted to see if there were signs of life or movement or anything to prove that it actually had someone aboard. The lily pads did seem to thicken and the words “vining up the boat” seemed fitting. They appeared to be growing right up the side. I didn’t think that lily pads could do that. I thought they grew on top of the water but did not have the ability to vine out or attach themselves to a boat. Some days I thought surely my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Then one day, there was a man! Yes, a man aboard the boat with what appeared to be a broom pushing the lily pads off the side of the boat back towards the water. I tried to slow a bit before reaching my exit. I was in shock that for one, there was actually a person who must have been living inside of the boat, yet I had never before seen and two, that the lily pads seemed to be infesting the waters by the boat and overtaking its side. The man continued to push at the lily pads and I watched until I had to turn into my exit and could no longer see him or the boat.

Day by day I grew more uneasy when reaching the bridge. I never saw signs of life near the boat again but I still continued to watch it. I guess you could say I was fascinated by it and my mind worked up horror tales that gently rocked the waters of my mind, although I supposed it was just a dilapidated home on the water for some lonely old man. It did seem that the lily pads were making themselves even more of a nuisance and eventually they reached the front railing of the boat and were tangled all around it. Each day they seemed to claim another inch of it’s surface.

My horrors came to life one humid August morning. There were very few cars on the road at this early of an hour and the only reason I was coming in to work so early was to make up for some hours missed earlier in the week. The sun had barely breached the horizon, leaving shadows in the corners where the predawn light still couldn’t reach. I approached the bridge with sudden apprehension, as if my mind knew there was something sinister going on before my eyes could bear witness. As soon as I could see the water, I saw the mass of lily pads that had grown up over the top of the boat. The entire boat seemed to be covered by them and they were seething, writhing and wrapping themselves tightly around the vessel. In a matter of seconds, the boat appeared to give in and with a screech of twisted metal and a loud crack it was crushed as though it were nothing more than an aluminum soda can pulled down into the murky waters. The last thing I saw before reaching my exit was a bubbling, rippling mass and a few gentle waves that rocked the surface where the boat had been just moments before.

In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t stop my car right there in the middle of the bridge’s right lane because my mind was racing and my heart was pounding and I felt sick and uncertain all at the same time.

Did I just witness a mass of seemingly alive lily pads eat a houseboat?

The thought swarmed my mind, echoing itself over and over again as I drove down the exit ramp. As I reached the light at the bottom of my exit, instead of heading to work, I turned toward the boat ramp near where the houseboat had been anchored, driving with reckless abandon and throwing dust and gravel in my wake before coming to a halt. I don’t remember getting out of the car but I remember running toward the water. I saw no sign of the boat nor the man who lived on the boat and by now the sun’s rays were starting to peek over the treetops and land in the dark places. The tree line most likely prevented my view of where the houseboat had once been and there was no way I was going to enter the water to wade out until I could see something. The world seemed to stop for a moment and I thought I was going to faint. I could hear the rush of blood in my ears and my heart throbbing in my head but the outer world was quiet. In one rush, it all came back; the noise of the cars on the bridge, the water lapping at the shore and birds singing and chirping. I leaned forward and vomited.

I called the police once I was able to form a coherent thought. I told them what I had witnessed. I told them it was unbelievable but true. I stayed at the boat ramp until they came and took a statement from me but I could see the way the officer’s looked at each other and by the tone of their voice and the way they spoke to me that they didn’t believe a word of what I was saying. They asked if I was on any medications or had a history of mental disorders. I disputed both and pleaded with them to have divers search the water. They assured me they would look into it. I felt like I was speaking in slow motion and watching the two officers constantly exchange sideways glances made me want to punch them in the face. They didn’t believe me and it was obvious. In their defense, I probably wouldn’t have believed me either had I not been the one to witness it. Eventually, they left but not after asking if I had someone who could pick me up since I seemed shaken. I told them no, I didn’t, but I would be fine. I sat in my car and turned the air conditioning on as high as it would go and leaned my seat back. I guess I fell asleep.

I couldn’t have been asleep long but I did dream. I dreamt I was sitting at the water’s edge with people I had never met. The river’s embankment allowed my feet to dangle over the dark brown water and the smell in the air was stagnant with undertones of rotting vegetation. The world seemed muted as if in tones of sepia and my heart was beating fast. I felt nervous but I didn’t know why. No one was talking, just staring out at the water. Everything was still and silent other than the buzzing I heard from mosquitoes. The buzzing seemed intolerable as if it were coming from the inside of my head. I could feel the mosquitoes swarming and lighting on me. I slapped one from my legs and it exploded in a burst of dark red blood. I felt a trickle of sweat from behind my knees. It was all so very real. Other than being able to move my hands and slightly turn my head, I felt frozen in place. I knew I couldn’t stand up, let alone move or run. The heat was getting unbearable and the air was so thick I thought I would suffocate. I looked beside me and there was a man leaning against a tree. He was obviously not from this era as his clothes were old fashioned and dingier than anything anyone these days would wear. There were some children and a woman sitting by the water’s edge as well. They never looked my way or spoke a word, just stared blankly toward the water. Finally, the man looked straight at me with a bone chilling stare and spoke with a voice both cold and hollow, “The road to hell has been paved with lies and deceit. We no longer sleep. It never ends.” Before I even realized what was happening, he had grabbed me by the hair and pushed me forward toward the water. My hands grabbed at the dirt and leaves but the struggle was futile. I felt myself falling and hit the water, breaking the surface like crashing through a dirty window, sinking, unable to breathe, being drug deeper into the depths of water and muck …

I awoke with a start, sweating profusely, my car no longer running. No more than thirty minutes had passed since I had gotten in and cranked it up. As I set my seat back in the upright position and started to turn the key, I looked down to see a smudge of blood right where I had slapped the mosquito in my dream.

A few weeks later, while watching the news, I heard a body was found in Lake Monroe, which is fed by the St. Johns River right across the bridge I drove over daily. The body appeared to have been gnawed on by alligators which is creepy enough but what was worse was that no one had been reported missing, the body had no ID and no one could figure out who it was. He was a nobody that nobody missed. I wondered if it was my older guy from the houseboat. I guess I’ll never know.

I eventually quit the job I was working, not for any related reason, although the drive to work now brought much stress and trepidation and nausea swept over me every time I reached the bridge. I would find my eyes locked on the spot where the houseboat had once been and more than once, I came close to rear ending another car. I could hear the words, “It never ends …”, the gravel and furry in his voice as he spit them at me. Part of me thought that one day the bridge would just disintegrate as I was crossing it and I would plummet downwards to be swallowed whole into a watery grave. I now avoid this stretch of road at all cost. I’ve always heard we should face our fears but in this case, I find I can’t.

I never found out if the houseboat was recovered. I don’t think anyone ever looked for it. I called the Sanford PD once to check on the status of the report I filed. The lady I spoke with put me on hold and when she came back on the line she told me it was pending investigation then threw in a “You alright, Doll?”. I told her I was fantastic and figured I was probably the butt of a good joke to them and decided not to call back.

Aside from recounting my story to two people close to me, I’ve never uttered a word about it to a soul. Am I crazy? Did I witness something beyond the realm of reality? Or did the Dead Zone come alive and claim a few more victims? Because even though I wasn’t physically harmed, I consider myself a victim of it’s lore. I know my dream was of the early settlers. I know I witnessed a mass of lily pads come alive and swallow a boat. I know I’m not crazy. But I will never be the same.

So, if you’re ever in Central Florida and you drive the stretch of interstate four, somewhere between Orlando and Daytona Beach, know that there is more than meets the eye. There is a tale that keeps telling itself, in more ways than one and it wants to be heard. The road to hell was paved with lies and deceit. And just a word of advice: stay out of those waters … there are things more dangerous than the mosquitoes, snakes and alligators. I’ve seen for myself.

Credit: F. Maven

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Mistress Of The Sea

July 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The Sea raged as the waves crashed into each other like lightning and the skies thundered in anger. It was a night for shipwrecks and mysterious creatures to roam the waters. That’s when she surfaced, leaving the depths of the ocean, her hair as violent as the water. She knew she would find him here. And all she had to do was sing…

His eyes opened to blue skies with orange and purple starting to fill the cracks, spreading like a disease. It was odd for him to be up at this time. He rolled onto his back, kicked around under the covers and shut his eyes, determined to go back to sleep. He could hear the ocean, the waves caressing the shore over and over again, declaring their everlasting love. The constant swooshing of the sea, like music, slowly lulled him back to sleep. There was a whistle in the wind as if someone was singing to him. A soft, sweet melody, almost like a whisper.

His eyes snapped open again and he exhaled in frustration. He threw his sheets aside. There was no way he was going to fall back asleep. It was a cool sea-side morning, too early to be bright. The light had barely touched the ocean. People were still dreaming, still lost in their own head. It felt odd to be up at this time. And there it was again, that music in the air. An alluring brush of sound in the wind.

Without really knowing how, he found himself down at the beach, walking along the water. The sand felt cool and dry under his feet. Minutes passed, hours maybe, he wasn’t sure. Somewhere along the way the morning fog had rolled in, with the rumbling of thunder in the distance promising a storm. Without a sense of direction, he followed the melody that had enchanted his heart.

That’s when he saw her standing by the shore. A woman, wearing a dress the colour of seaweed, staring longingly at the ocean. The bottom of her dress was wet from where the waves kept creeping up to kiss her feet as if she was royalty. The wind kicked up a storm in her hair, blowing her red curls every which way. The singing grew louder, as if it was right in his ear. He could swear it was coming from her. He was mesmerized, caught up in her beauty and in the wistful music that seemed to surround her. The way her eyes glared into the infinite, the way her skin shimmered, tinted blue. He wanted to run his fingers through her soft hair that burned like hellfire. He longed for her to sing to him. Her beautiful song of lust and agony, her melody so haunting and seducing, calling him, asking him to come with her. Swearing to him her body, her soul, her voice, with words from another world. Promising him the softness of her breast but also that beneath them, even if it was cold and full of bad intentions. But something felt wrong. Deep inside he was trying to fight her, resist her.
“You want me,” she whispered, her voice echoing in his head.
“Come with me,” and she reached out to him with hands that were ready to drag him to the bottom of the ocean. He wanted it all, to love her, hold her. He wanted to wrap his hands around her pretty little neck and squeeze until her charm was broken, feel the magic be crushed under his fingertips.
“No,” he choked, barely being able to get the word out.
Her head snapped around to look at him, her eyes stormy with rage, the sea raging with her. The skies grayed as her face turned into a sinister smile, her eyes locking him in a gaze and when she sang it was almost painful. He wanted her to stop. But her voice cast a spell, like giant hands wrapping themselves around him, pulling him closer. His resistance left with the wind. He wanted to belong to her story. A story of magic and mystery as deep and dark as the sea. He wanted to be free. But her voice captured him, and her filthy lies entranced him. She belonged to the water and now he belonged to her. When she reached out her hand, he took it. He knew her song ended in death, but what a small price to pay for an eternity with her.

Credit: Natasha Maria Rajendram

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Pale and Afraid

July 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Quick, grab some drinks and some seats, let’s go!” I yelled to Dominic as he fumbled through my uncle’s fridge. The night of the Super Bowl, I always like my drink on hand and a bag of chips before the game starts. Likewise, I prefer to send my best friend Dominic into the kitchen to do it for me. As a result, I was left sitting on the couch waiting for him to get back with the stash. That is, the snacks.

I heard the toilet from across the room, and the sink followed it. My Uncle Nate emerged from the restroom refreshed and ready for the game.

“Let’s go boys; time for some football!”

As my uncle declined from standing and flopped onto the couch, Dominic emerged with our drinks and tossed one to me. At fifteen, Dom and I probably shouldn’t have been drinking beers, but my uncle is just that cool. He did warn us that pairing the chips with beer and the various chocolate snacks he had laid out in front of us would give us vivid nightmares, but he didn’t know the science to prove it.

Dominic popped open his can of beer, and I opened my own. Oddly, Uncle Nate was sipping on a cola instead, but there was no reason to complain.

Three guys, drinking soda and beer, eating chips, watching the Super Bowl in a cardboard box of an apartment; it’s the American dream. This guy knows how to live.

“Alright, here we go!” My uncle grabbed some chips from the bag as the Super Bowl started.

****

“Shitty game, huh?” I yawned to Uncle Nathan. I turned to see him cleaning up the mess we had left; soda, chips, candy wrappers, and vomit. Don’t ask how the vomit got there.

“Yeah Jeff, but at least our team won.”

Dominic just laughed, “Uncle Nathan, the Browns versus the Bears isn’t exactly a great match up anyways. The Browns are the best in the league; the Bears are the worst.”

My uncle just snickered in attentiveness to the obvious mistruth of this statement. The Browns aren’t exactly a very talented bunch of athletes. That’s not to say the Bears are though. Let’s just say it was a sloppy, unexciting Super Bowl.

It took about ten minutes to relocate the disarray of the living room to the garbage can in the kitchen. We all pitched in, but all I had to do was wash the barf off the boring, brown and dingy carpet. Eventually though, we all retreated to our bedrooms for the night.

“I get the bed, Jeff!” Dominic shouted tossing his bag of clothes and video games onto my bed.

“I give you the bed every weekend Dom, you gotta let me sleep there this time!”

“Jeff, I’m the guest!”

“I am too!”

I picked up my pillow and whipped it across the room at Dominic, making contact with his face. It was just a pillow, so all it did was make him smirk and leap across the half-made bed to knock me over. It was a very unfair fight, as usual. Every weekend, we come over my uncle Nathan’s apartment, play games, watch sports, and when we get to bed, we find something to argue about and we wrestle. I can never manage to win, since Dom’s a beast. He’s not on any sports teams or anything at school, but I think he lifts weights. That’s enough to trump my nonexistent fighting abilities and lanky body.

The fight ended with me tapping out of a triangle choke, just as my Uncle shouted from the other room to “Go to sleep!”

“You really need to start working out, Jeff.” Dominic laughed matter-of-factly as he set up my bed and hopped into it.

“You need to stop working out.” I mumbled as I tossed some blankets and a pillow onto the floor.

It took about five minutes for Dominic to start snoring, but I was awake well into the morning. I checked my watch with a click of the glow button; one thirty. My left ankle itched a little bit so I scratched it with the sock on my right foot. I sighed and fluffed my pillow up against the leg of the bedpost. I figured if I curled up comfortable enough, and spaced out, I could lull myself to sleep soundly. It came as a surprise.

I didn’t remember falling asleep, but I shot awake out of nowhere. My eyes were blurry so I rubbed them in a startled search for some clarity. When they came to, I stood up and looked around the room. I didn’t know why, but I knew something was up. I kicked the blankets away from my ankles, as they were twisted haphazardly around me. The carpet felt rough against my bare feet. The sound of the wall clock was ticking sadistically against the silent environments. My ears began to pound. I was so preoccupied by the darkly vibrant room that I didn’t even react when the door to my room slammed shut. It took a moment, and then I panicked. I leaped across the room and ripped Dom’s pillow away from him.

“Wake up!” I shouted in a whisper.

“What the hell?” he moaned, “Are you insane? I was just getting the key to the city!”

“Quiet, you can get it later! Someone broke into the apartment!”

“Whoa, your dream was worse than mine,” he yawned, “Well, forget about it. I’m going back to sleep.”

I pulled the blankets off his body to assure he wasn’t going to do just that.

“Jeff, what’s wrong with y-”

The sound of some objects falling in the kitchen shaved the end off his sentence down a bit. He also appeared to come to his senses. He stood up in one whoosh of the bed sheets.

“I heard that,” he whispered, “does this room have a lock? Is that screen up in your window? We could make the jump; we’re only on the third floor!”

“Shut-up Dominic!” I hissed.

A quiet whistle-like, buzzing noise began to pick up all around us. There was now a darker hue to the room, only pierced by the streetlights pointing in from across the street. Everything looked almost grey, though, it’s hard to explain. It was like a dark grey veil was tossed over our room. The sound began to get louder. It escalated to the point where Dom and I had to cover our ears.

“What is that? Jeff, are we under a lock down? Why are you grey?!”

For a tough guy like Dom, this sort of annoyance was really pathetic.

“Dominic, calm down. We could just bang on Uncle Nathan’s wall to see if he’s alright.”

“What if whoever broke in hears us, and finds out we’re in here?”

“The door’s locked, and do you really have a better idea right now?”

Dominic just stared at me. He shook his head and dipped away from the wall to let me pass. I lined up my fist with where the headboard of Uncle Nathan’s bed was and gave it a rap. We waited. No answer. The buzzing began to numb my ears.

“Did he knock back?” Dominic asked.

I didn’t answer him. I knocked on the wall again with the same negative results.

“Shit!” I shouted, “Uncle Nathan, you in there? Uncle Na-”

Dominic curled his hand around my mouth, so I spit on it, seething a growl into his palm.

“You sick bastard!” he shouted, wiping his hand onto his flannel pants, “Are you crazy? Honestly dude, are you suddenly just insane?”

I just shook my head and frowned at him. Then, my face softened a bit and I sat down onto the bed, defeated and confused. Dominic continued.

“Look, we don’t want whoever is out there, to know we’re in here. They probably know by now man – shit! What are we going to do now?”

I looked toward the door. I spoke slowly but surely.

“We’re going to open the door, and get into Uncle Nathan’s room.”

Dominic chortled a bit, scathingly, “Jeff, how about you don’t call the shots anymore. I have an idea. I’ll go turn the light on first.”

He walked across the room and kept speaking on his way to the switch.

“This is why we need phones man; we would’ve had the cops on their way by now.”

He flicked the switch to the on position. Nothing. He flicked the switch off and on a few times as if it was on a fixed-ratio timer; still, no light. He turned around and laughed a little bit.

“I don’t know Jeff, I don’t know.” He said with his hands on his hips, while biting his lip, and shaking his head wistfully.

I humored him and responded, “Don’t know what Dom?”

He cut me off and screamed, “What the fuck is going on, dude?”

He sat down next to me, sweating and exhausted.

“Dominic, I’m going to open the door.” I picked my ear to no avail, trying to relieve the numbness that the buzzing had tattooed to my ear drum.

“Go ahead Jeff, I’m staying here-”

I pulled him up by his arm as I stood up as well.

“Stop being stupid, we’re gonna get Uncle Nathan, and we’re going to get out of this okay?”

He hung his head in defeat. We approached the door, frightened together.

We stopped just short of the door because I noticed something quite peculiar. A sound, emanating from the living room like a low rumble or a growl, caused my heart to skip a few beats.

“Holy…? Jeff, did you hear that?” Dom whispered to me.

He put his finger up for no other reason but to point out the silence that followed the sound.

“Dom, it’s nothing. It’s probably just the floors settling or something. Let’s go!”

I didn’t even think twice; I just swung the door open with hasty abandon.

“What?” Dominic gasped.

“What?” I mimicked.

“I thought you said that was locked?” Dom uttered in confusion.

“Sssh, let’s keep moving!”

We made an immediate shuffle toward the epicenter of our mission; Uncle Nathan’s room. The door was shut, which aggravated me highly. I tugged on the doorknob and of course it was locked. The doorknob appeared to chip away its gold paint beneath my determined fingers.

“Dammit Jeff, just knock on it,” Dominic shouted harshly in a sore whisper.

He began calling out my uncle’s name and slamming the agitated knobs of his fists against the wooden barrier between the bedroom and us. Amidst Dominic’s solo driven chaos, I began to hear something else. It was a quiet sound; breathy and heavy though and it seemed to pass back and forth. It startled me, because it was behind me. Then it stopped, but I could feel as if whatever it was still lingered behind us.

I grabbed his arms out from the flurry and shut him up.

“Dominic, on the count of three we turn around.”

“Huh?”

“I don’t know what it is, but there’s something behind us. On the slow count of three, okay?”

He nodded. I started the count.

“One…”

I felt the hair on my neck stand up, and tickle with the breath behind me.

“Two…”

Dominic took a premature breath.

“Three!”

We turned around.

From the perspective of Uncle Nathan:

I yawned through the early morning muck in my mouth and shuffled into the kitchen. I had a strange urge for a PB & J sandwich, which left me hungry and eager. I sifted through the fridge for the jelly but there was none left. Damn, I thought, Jeff told me there was some left. I laughed to myself. He did that on purpose. I switched my hand direction toward the bowl of salad in the front, but a wrong flick of the wrist sent it sailing to the floor along with the unopened gallon of soda.

“Shit!” I fumed, “Not in the mood.”

Though tired and groggy, I still managed to clean up the newly opened soda pop and now inedible salad. Satisfied with the spotless job I’d done, I decided watching some early morning TV was a better idea. I trotted contently into the living room and threw myself onto the cushiony couch with a plop. The remote, as usual, rested on the coffee table as so I didn’t have to get up to grab it. I pushed the power button. A low, irritating buzzing noise was all that I received. The screen had popped on but escaped speedily from the box leaving the strange noise.

“What now?” I mumbled.

Standing up was a chore, and walking over to the TV was overkill for my stubby, pasty legs. I checked the back of the box but nothing pointed to an issue. The sound got increasingly louder so I just unplugged the TV and stepped away after only a few minutes of investigation. The sound rang in my ears even after, if only as an aftershock on my eardrums.

As I walked back toward my bedroom, my stomach growled in hunger but I chose to ignore it. I looked toward my nephew’s bedroom. The dark of the apartment did not conceal the door’s closed position. I had shut it before going into the kitchen to block out Dominic’s loud, monstrous snoring. The snoring had ceased. I stood expressionless in front of the door, wondering if they were awake.

“Dominic, Jeffrey? You awake?”

No response. I opened the door and shut off the moving fan by the door. Dominic likes the fan on even in the cold of February. I turned on the light and looked around the room. I gasped in horror.

Jeff and Dominic were white as ghosts; bleached by fear. Their faces were shaped by fright; eyes and mouths open wide. Expert’s judgment: They died of fear, in their sleep.

Credit: Mike Maxim

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The Old School Night Nurse

July 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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This all happened when I was 13. Things weren’t great at home, And I drifted into the habit of going out very late most nights and just walking aimlessly around, exploring the pretty dull town in which I grew up.

My parents went to bed early since they had actual responsibilities, so it was pretty easy to say I was going to watch TV at a friends house, and stay out til the small hours, creeping into bed well after midnight.

There was a girl in my classes called Janet, who I didn’t think had ever even noticed me previously; she was stunningly attractive and witty and warm and generally perfect, and I was very much invisible to girls, invisible to most people in fact. Don’t ask me how this came about as I am unsure myself, but we began to meet up on some of these nocturnal excursions, though we were never more than friends. I guess she must’ve been a fellow night-owl, or maybe she was just bored like I was.

I had no idea how to talk to girls, but I must have done something right as somehow she seemed to like me, though I am hardly what you would call a ladies man. I sure as hell liked her. We got into a routine whereby she’d slip me a note in school with something scribbled like “meet me by the shop at nine o’ clock” and we’d hang around in the dark and talk about dumb things.

It was the sort of town where everything shut down at night and so we had the roads, parks and cemetery to ourselves; she’d show me the house she grew up in and I’d tell her about some local ghosts and legends that I’d half invented myself. We’d usually gravitate towards our school, which is surrounded now by a seven-foot chain-link fence like a concentration camp, but in those days anyone could wander around the paths & grounds, with a big playing field and forest at the rear. There were benches and bike-sheds if we needed to rest or shelter. We were still just about young enough to have a good time without cigarettes and alcohol.

So one night we had arranged to meet as normal, and I I stood over the road from the corner shop that was the only place in town still open so late, sorta watching from the shadows as sometimes one of the staff would see me, and storm outside to tell me to get lost. But Janet never showed, which was the first time. I gave her another hour and left pretty hurt & angry, which in hindsight was an over-reaction; In all probability she’d wanted to come meet me, but maybe her parents had stopped her, or something had come up. Neither of us could afford a mobile phone which were still for the rich kids back then.

I couldn’t really hang around waiting any longer anyway as it was October, and cold enough so that even an indestructible teen like me could feel the chill. I wandered aimlessly until about midnight, when I wound up sat on an old bench overlooking our school, at the top of some long, gradual steps which led down to one of several entrances to the sprawling school structures.

I was miserable and dejected and could see my own breath, for like an idiot I was always under-dressed for the cold British weather, with only a thin sports jacket over a t-shirt. I was one of those kids who never needed much of a shove to sulk and strop, so I sat and shivered and felt sorry for myself. Thoughts flashed through my head of suicide or self-harm, until I noticed there was a light on, at the bottom of the steps, which, strangely, I hadn’t noticed earlier.

The dim light shone through a small window in a door which led into the school science block. This was bizarre; no-one should’ve been inside the school at this hour. I sometimes stayed late with a detention and even a couple of hours after the students left for the day, there were no cleaners or teachers left around, the place was eerily deserted and as quiet as the grave.

I decided to go and have a closer look, I don’t think I would have done if I wasn’t in such a lousy mood; I guess I figured that the evening could not get any worse. So I made my way down the steps to the pale yellow glow which seemed comforting, like a sanctuary from everything wrong with the world. My curiosity was “off the scale” too; Maybe this something exciting like a robbery in progress, or some older kids who’d broke in looking for someplace warm to get high.

The door to the school wasn’t locked, and I saw the light was coming from another door leading to a room beneath some stairs, which I hadn’t ever really noticed before. I cautiously entered into a nurse’s station of sorts, a small room with a couple of old battered school chairs and a mirror on the walk over a sink. It was stiflingly warm inside, though I saw no radiator and heard no heater. There were a couple of ancient yellowing posters on the walls about not passing on flu germs or something similar.

Just before I announced my presence, a lady appeared in a small alcove and asked how she could help.

I told her I had seen the light and followed my feet. I realised my thoughts of death and dismemberment were draining, and felt too foolish to tell her of such things. She had a manner about her which screamed that the only love she give was of the tough variety. So I said I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and politely enquired about her presence.

She told me she was always there at night, as a crisis nurse, without going into specifics, and I was too shy to ask any more questions. It was a small town, and the school also acted as kind of a community centre too, serving as a voting station and blood donation centre, that sort of thing. So to my naive 13-year old mind, her story sort-of checked out.

She was tiny, literally four feet tall, and dressed like someone from the Salvation army, with a khaki shirt & shorts, old-fashioned sandals and a dark crimson sash around her stocky chest. I never once saw her smile, but didn’t really see this as strange or unfriendly until I thought about it later, also reflecting on how her language was cold for a nurse; they always call you “love” or “dear”, ask nice friendly questions and seem to want to talk, enjoy it even. Her attitude was formal and businesslike.

There was an awkward silence before she suggested that I must’ve known know why I had arrived there, so I said that I guessed I lacked direction, which was a stupid thing to say, but it seemed appropriate somehow. She said she was part of a team, who people could turn to when they felt alone, or under-valued. Showing no emotion, she began to speak of pills which might help. I mumbled some vague agreement, a little bewildered as I knew nothing really of medication back then, and she disappeared back around the corner from where she had first emerged. I could hear cupboards and drawers opening and tablets rattling in plastic jars.

She told me she had just the thing to make me feel better, and spoke of doses and suchlike, but while she was talking in her low, soft and slightly gravelly voice, I began to pay attention to my growing sense of dread. It dawned on me that I did not like this woman at all. Something was very wrong with the entire situation. Worse, I sensed that I was in real danger there, and that I had to leave immediately.

So while she was still in the back, rummaging and muttering, I slipped straight out the door and hurried home to bed, not looking back once. I have no more memories of that night.

When I awoke, the whole thing seemed unreal, with my recollection rapidly disintegrating, details vague like in my dreams. I probably would’ve dismissed the whole thing as some bad nightmare if it were not for the breaking news at school that morning.

Janet had vanished in the night. She had gone out to meet someone and never returned. Everyone was talking about it. The speculation was predictably ridiculous, a smorgasbord of half-baked theories and vindictive gossip.

They held an emergency assembly for everyone in our year, with a police officer stood on the stage urging us to come forward if we knew or heard of anything even vaguely strange or suspicious. Afterwards, officers spoke privately to some of Janet’s closest friends; she had quite a few, she was always very well-liked. Of course, they didn’t bother speaking to me, as no-one had a clue about our late night rendezvous. In fact, no-one even knew I existed. I did wonder if anyone would have even believed me if I had come forward to say that I’d been meeting with Janet. I probably would’ve been dismissed as an attention-seeker.

Or maybe they’d have seen me as the prime suspect. “Weird, shambling misanthrope meets popular, pretty girl.” The thought did cross my mind. And how could I have told anybody about what had happened to me that very same night? They’d have pegged me as “insane” and thrown me to the wolves, one way or another.

Strangely enough, Janet was very rarely mentioned by anyone again afterwards. No anniversaries were marked. Her close friends quickly began to talk about other things. A couple of weeks and things were back to normal.

Except… about a year later, one of our teachers took down some old posters, and beneath one was a bright scribble in permanent marker pen about Janet, some stupid insult. The teacher froze for a few moments, then remarked quietly on how she couldn’t remember Janet’s surname. Then she dismissed the whole thing and carried on with her day. I turned around to look back at the rest of the class, but no-one else was even listening.

That was the last time I heard anyone say her name. She has seemingly ceased to exist, which is strange to say the least. The police seemed to drop the case pretty soon and an internet search throws up no record of her at all. I have no way of knowing if she got mixed up with the weird old woman I encountered that night, but the whole thing seems too bizarre to be coincidental. But for all I know, Janet ran away to join the circus. It is maddeningly vague. I did discreetly ask if the school ran some sort of late-night therapy service for troubled teens, but you can probably guess the answer.

I really should’ve gone and said something to Janet’s parents, as I considered myself at least partly responsible for her disappearance. But I was far too immature and awkward to ever have confronted them. What a total wimp. And that is the end of the story. The end of Janet, I guess.

I’ve since moved to a new town but sometimes I return to revisit the places where me and Janet would go to on those few fleeting late summer nights. The school is still there. It’s been pretty heavily redeveloped in recent years, every part seems totally different except for those long, gradual steps down to the old science block. I walk past every once in a while, and I stand above those steps and stare down at the school, and I still wonder what the hell happened.

Credit: Hack Shuck

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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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