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The Dripping

November 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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As I lay awake tossing and turning in my bed I kept thinking about how stupid my co-workers were. Thanks to a few choice idiots screwing up a report I had to stay past time and consequently couldn’t get to the pharmacy to collect my sleeping pills, plus since it was a Friday I could look forward to a long weekend without rest. I took a large gulp of water from the pint glass on my nightstand and wondered if it was ironic that one could have dry mouth and need to go to the bathroom at the same time.

With a grunt, I hauled my exhausted lump of a body out of the bed. As I made my way down the hall, I experienced something like a head rush that left a metallic taste in my mouth. Looking up groggily as I recovered, I noticed a light coming from under the bathroom door. I thought for sure I’d left the door open, and had I left the switch on? I didn’t think so, but then again it had been a long day.

Smacking my chops to get that weird taste out of my mouth, I turned the handle and was met with a wall of steam. As I was waving my arms in front of my face in an effort to disperse it I noticed something strange- the toilet was on the opposite wall. I took a puzzled step forward and looked to my right to find a foggy mirror over the sink, just like…
“Just like Grandma’s bathroom…” I finished aloud to no one in particular.
What in the Hell-
I felt the slightest of bumps against my right big toe. At the same time I heard a noise that sounded simultaneously real and imagined. It was the voice of a child, calling out my name; no louder than a whisper but sounding panicked all the same. I peered down and saw what looked like a toy car on the floral tile pattern, and bending down to pick it up I saw that it was indeed a toy car, specifically the blue one I’d bought for my nephew a few weeks back. Rising to my feet, I didn’t notice anything had changed until I looked left and realised that I had to stand on my tip toes to get a look into the pink bathtub. My vision seemed to swirl along with the water silently flowing down the drain. I rubbed my eyes, and as I peeled them away they seemed to me to be the hands of a child.
“I don’t understand…” was all my dumbstruck mouth could muster; then I heard the dripping.

Looking towards the small space between the tub and the toilet I saw a small puddle of black liquid, as black as black can be. My gut told me there was something terribly Off about this puddle; I experienced this incredible, primordial kind of fear the likes of which I’d never felt before. Every instinct I had was telling me to run but I couldn’t. Couldn’t take my eyes off it much less my legs. As I watched transfixed, a series of drops from above splashed onto the puddle, except there was no splash, each drop simply disappeared without so much as a ripple on the surface.

Soon the dripping began to slow, until finally the last drop fell, somehow making a sound louder than a prison cell door being slammed. The liquid then slowly bulged in the middle, and began to rise for what could only have been a minute but felt like hours. It then finally solidified into something like an egg shape with a series of bumps down the middle. When I saw another black shape rise up from the top of the egg it dawned on me that those bumps were vertebrae. The creature sat at a height of no more than two feet with it’s back to me, glossy black skin gleaming under the fluorescent lights.

I felt like a deer with a broken leg watching a lion in the distance, knowing that if it noticed me there would be no way to fight back. As impossible as the creature was there was also a sickening familiarity to it, like I’d seen it a hundred times before and never took any notice. My breath caught in my throat as this, Thing, raised an improbably long arm onto the edge of the toilet bowl. It slowly wiped it’s hand down, leaving an ugly smear of viscous, jet black oil on the porcelain.
“I’m not supposed to see this.” was the odd thought which ran through my head, and as soon as it did the creature’s neck stiffened to attention.
“Dear Christ it’s heard me! And it’s watching me!” I exploded internally.
It’s eyes could not be seen but somehow it’s gaze was felt, burning into the very soul. Soon there came a sound like the whistling of a tea kettle, rising to an unbearable level. Vision blurred as the room itself seemed to twist around the hideous creature’s back. The taste and smell of copper grew to be painfully overpowering. Skin bristled, tingled and began to spasm as though a voltage were passing through it. Every sense was being pushed beyond normal limits. Time lost all meaning as the mind overloaded.
Just before the point of no return, it finally shut down; head hitting tile as everything slowly faded…

I awoke with a start. After a series of terrified moans I registered the fact that I was lying on a bathroom floor, my bathroom floor, and that the sun had come up. I was still very shaken as I made my way over to the sink. Splashing water on my face, I heard my phone ringing from my bedroom.
“No.” I whispered to my reflection.
I ran to my room, all the while screeching “No, No, No, No!” as I dashed for my phone, barely registering the fact that it was my mother before answering.
“Yes?”
“Derek honey it’s me. I have some bad news.”
“What’s happened?” I asked, even though I already knew.
“It’s your Grandma, She’s had a fall in the bathroom-“
The phone slipped from my fingers as I sat on the edge of my bed and put my face in my hands.

After regaining my composure, my mother told me that Grandma had been found dead that morning. I listened in a daze before agreeing to meet mom at the morgue. It took me about twenty minutes to get ready. I took a T-shirt and pants out of the closet in an automatic movement before laying them out on the bed, then stood staring at nothing in particular. How was this possible? You hear about this type of stuff around a campfire as a kid but pretty soon you learn that it’s all just make believe, something parents tell their kids to give them a little scare before bedtime. I’d always believed the world was somewhat logical, or at least rational, and this just didn’t make sense. I needed some answers, but who the hell to ask? I walk to the bathroom, suddenly I’m five years old and then-
“David.” I breathed aloud, snapping out of my trance. I looked again at my clothes and briefly considered having a shower before putting them on but then thought better of it. In a rush, I slipped them all on, grabbed my things and left the house.

As I sat in my car, I fumbled for my phone and found my sister’s number. It rang six or seven times (me cursing all the while) before she answered.
“Hello?” She sounded exhausted.
“Sarah! Where are you?” My tone was sharp, but I couldn’t care less.
“At Mom’s. Did you-“
“Is David with you?”
“Yeah, of course but-“
“I’ll be there in twenty.” I finished, hanging up before I heard her response.

In reality it took me around fifteen minutes to reach my Mother’s house. In retrospect I drove like a maniac, but by some miracle I made it there in one piece. I pulled into Mom’s driveway and scrambled out of the car, nearly tripping on the way out. This caused me finally to pause and take a breath before heading to the house. The front door opened before I got a chance to knock and my sister came out, understandably looking worse for wear. She pulled me into a hug before I could say anything.
“Oh Derek, have you heard? It’s so awful!” She sobbed.
“Yeah I heard, mom told me. Are you okay?” I asked in what I hoped was a soothing tone. “It was you who found her wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” She replied, wiping away tears. “Oh Derek it was awful. We went to visit Nana in the morning to see if she wanted to go to the park but she didn’t answer when we were downstairs then David went up to the bathroom and he screamed and then, then…” She couldn’t finish, but buried her face into my chest.
“Shh shh it’s okay” I said, rubbing the back of her head, eyes all the while on the house.
“Did David see?” I asked calmly, although I felt anything but calm. “How is he?”
“Oh he’s completely shut down, hasn’t said a word since; oh God Derek it’s so horrible!” She finished, voice cracking.
“Where’s David?” I asked while trying to hide my irritability.
“In the living room. I’m really worried about him, a kid his age can’t process something like this, shouldn’t have to, not again-“
“Can I have a moment alone with him?” I enquired, cutting her off in the process.
“Yeah” She said through a shuddering breath to compose herself. “Yes of course; there’s a pot of coffee in the kitchen, you want some?” She asked with an almost business-like air.
“Later, thanks.” I replied with a brief smile before walking into the house ahead of her.

After a few deep and deliberate breaths in the hall I turned the handle of the door to the living room. Sitting in the opposite corner by the fireplace was a small boy playing with a little blue car. His sandy haired head did not rise from the task of moving his little toy back and forth along the oak floor with his left hand.
“David?” I broached. He gave no sign that he heard me. Under any other circumstances this wouldn’t have bothered me. Even before losing his Dad, David had always been an extremely quiet boy, possibly even bordering on the spectrum. He never said much and even more rarely did he establish eye contact. Since the accident he and I had grown close as I’d found we had a lot in common when it came to people; right then however, I didn’t have much in the way of patience.
“David? David look at me.” I held a firm tone as I crossed the room.
“David, Look at me. Look at me. Hey!” I clapped my hands in frustration and the boy visibly flinched. This sight brought me some ways back to the realm of reason as I decided to try again. Sighing, I hunkered down beside him and tried my best to seem calm.
“I’m sorry David, I didn’t mean to snap…how are you?”
No response.
“David, your Mom told me that you were the one who found Nana” I stated as plainly as I could. “Could you…could you tell me what you saw?”
David mumbled something unintelligible.
“I’m sorry?” I said lightly, craning my neck.
“I Didn’t see anything.” He mumbled more clearly, eyes still fixed on his toy car.
“But, David your Mom said you screamed when you saw her- do you remember that?”
“I didn’t see.” He stopped moving the car. “I tasted.”
“You tasted? wh…” I trailed off before it hit me. “Was it metallic!?” He didn’t answer.
“Pennies, you tasted pennies?” I said, nodding my head.
“…yeah.”
“So, you tasted pennies and knew that Nana was inside. That’s when you called for your Mom right?” I asked excitedly, trying my best to edge him on.
“No…” He began, almost guiltily. “I called mom after the door was closed.”
I was perplexed. “You mean you went in and then closed the door yourself?”
“…Uh uh.”
“So the door was already closed?” I knew what he meant now, just like I knew I had left my bathroom door open the previous night. “David?” I began carefully. “When did you taste the pennies? Was it last night?”
“Uh huh…”
I sucked on my teeth unconsciously. “And when you did, you saw the door was closed didn’t you?”
For a moment he didn’t say anything. I was about to ask again when I saw the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I’m really sorry Delly!” He blubbered. “I tasted pennies just like last time with Daddy and I closed my eyes and I asked for you and I couldn’t look I just couldn’t cause you’re not supposed to look and I didn’t mean to and, and…” My nephew dissolved into tears and held me tight.

Any other time I would have returned the favour, only something he said struck a chord so deep I was frozen solid. It jogged the memory of his Father’s funeral, where David wouldn’t even look at the corpse. When pressed he just kept saying “You’re not supposed to look.” over and over again. At the time I put it down to him being scared to look at a dead body, a feeling I could relate to, and I didn’t have the heart to make him open his eyes. Now however, I could see that it had a much darker significance.
After a few moments, I licked my dry lips and tried to sound it out in a shaky voice.
“D-David…you said…you said you’re not supposed to look, what did you…” I trailed off.
David couldn’t hear me over the sound of his own sobs so I placed my hands lightly upon his shoulders and gently straightened him up.
“David…What happens when you look?” I finished with little more than a whisper. David quietened completely at the question.
“What happens when you look David?” I repeated. The boy began to whimper ever so slightly, so I put my hands either side of his face to steady him.
“David?” I enquired pleasantly. “Come on David. David tell me; what happens when you look?”
He began audibly moaning, so I shook him once to shut him up.
“David? David! David stop-“
The child tried his best to pull away, I responded by tightening my grip and shaking him properly twice before finally raising my voice.
“WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOOK!?”
There was a perfect moment of pure silence as I stared directly into the little boy’s face. I watched his small blue eyes flutter for an instant before finally meeting my own.

With a sharp intake of breath, David released a tremendously powerful scream more harrowing than any sound I had ever heard. My nephew’s face was contorted into such a sheet white expression of terror it was almost comical. Every ounce of strength I had remaining drained completely as little David fell backwards hard onto the floor, somehow still screaming all the while. He was struggling to crawl backwards away from me when Sarah burst through the door.
“DAVID!?” She yelled before even seeing the scene. She knocked me over on her way to her son and scooped him up still screaming.
“Shh shh shh baby it’s alright.” She placated through her panic before turning on me.
“Derek what the HELL did you do!?” She roared.
“I…” I couldn’t think. I raised myself clumsily from the floor before taking a single step forwards, arms outstretched to offer some kind of apology. As soon as I did so, David reacted with a fresh scream of an even higher pitch. Sarah turned her son away from me protectively and eyeballed me fiercely.
“Get out.” She commanded darkly.
“But-“
“NOW!” She boomed.
I blinked stupidly, then slowly turned around and exited the room.

The front door was left open; the car keys were found in the front left trouser pocket without looking at them. The key turned in the ignition before the car slowly backed out of the driveway. The car then drove at a leisurely pace, taking the usual directions back to the place where it started that morning. The front door to this house had been left unlocked. The blackout blinds in the living room were rotated using a beech wood pulley at the side of the front window, leaving the room in a good amount of sun light from the bright day outside whilst leaving only thin, intermittent lines of shadow. From the glass faced cabinet over the kitchen counter next to the fridge, a highball tumbler was taken. A bag of ice was removed from the freezer and a bottle of scotch from the cabinet by the sink. All were placed onto a small glass table by the black leather armchair in the living room.

Slowly, after maybe seven or eight glasses, I began to remember who I was and why I was here. I came from my Mother’s house, probably hours ago judging by the thickness of the shadows cast by the blinds. I talked to my nephew, David, about my Grandmother dying. She slipped getting out of the bath and hit her head on the toilet bowl. Then she bled out. I knew because I was there, instead of David, who shut his eyes because he knew he wasn’t supposed to look. I wasn’t supposed to look, but I looked, and I wasn’t supposed to. I wasn’t supposed to see that.
I wasn’t supposed to see that.
I wasn’t supposed to see that.
I wasn’t supposed to see that.
I wasn’t supposed to-
“Ow!” I cried aloud. I wasn’t even aware that I’d been chewing on ice cubes until I’d bitten through a large chunk of my cheek, flooding my mouth with blood. The taste of scotch and copper made me wince as I used my tongue to push a cube into my wound to sooth it.
As my eyes were shut, something hit my forehead. I raised my hand to it before opening my eyes to look. On my hand was a smear of viscous, jet black oil.

Credit: Beefnuts

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Personally Leonid Ilyitch

November 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The early 80’s. A military outpost in a small northern town surrounded by endless snow-covered flatlands. In the summer, the white nights would start, the snow would thaw, and the flatland would turn into a mossy slough where you couldn’t make a step without a pair of rubber boots. Even tractors could get stuck in it so hard that you had to use two other tractors to get them out – I saw that happen myself. Mosquitoes flew in swarms so thick that they literally covered the sun. I remember that as I went outside in the first summer days, I itched like crazy, and my skin looked like I had eczema or something worse. However, I would quickly get used to that and I’d only lazily wave my hand seeing another little bastard trying to bite me.

But that was the summer, and the thing I want to tell you about happened in the winter, when everything turned into a lifeless white wasteland. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can even tell the precise day – 15 November 1982. I was 5 years old back then. My family lived in a ramshackle barrack on the edge of the outpost. There was no district heating, and we heated our home with black coal its large heap sitting near the house. My father spent the whole days at the service, and my mother worked as a teacher in a local school, so six days a week my parents would leave me home alone for the whole morning. During the winter? I wasn’t allowed to go outside on my own – they were afraid that I’d go away to tundra (it happened to the local kids sometimes) or that predators would turn up nearby (it also happened). As my choirs I had to close the chimney once the coals burned out to keep the heat in the house and to get the fresh warm bread from the bakery delivered to the servicemen’s families and left in small boxes near the houses. I was a calm kid who never sought troubles on his ass, so my parents were not afraid to leave me alone.

That day there was a rough snowstorm. Wind howled in an almost human voice, and snowflakes were covering our windows. I looked through the clearances as the wind pinned smoke from our chimney to the ground. We often had such a weather in our place, and I felt no fear. I knew that there could be a blackout any moment which would also happen quite often. I was just riding a tricycle that my parents had given me the last New Year, played with my toy soldier and threw a ball at the wall to catch it myself – I had as much fun as I could. My mother left our TV on before leaving, so I wouldn’t be lonely. That day both central channels were broadcasting the most important news – the funeral of Secretary General of CPSU Central Committee Leonid Iliytch Brezhnev. The government announced the mourning, but it didn’t concern the military, and my mother had to take part in a school event dedicated to the elderly secretary’s death, thus I was left alone just like always.

At first, I didn’t understand what was on TV instead of usual morning entertainment shows, and I didn’t care. But the broadcast gradually caught my attention. The whole solemnity filled me with a thought that it was something important, tragic and possibly fatal. By that time I already knew Brezhnev – he was “a grandpa from the TV“, a part of my life as usual, as mom’s borsch at Sunday. As I looked at his huge portraits carried by soldiers in the head of the procession, I thought that the old man would start reading something on a paper as he always did. But I actually saw him just lying in the coffin, his eyes closed. It seemed like he was just sleeping, but the gloomy orchestra playing Chopin’s March made me think that something terrible had happened. I didn’t know yet what death is, since no one I knew had died yet. That cold day, sitting before a TV-set with a small screen, I encountered death for the first time.

I remember standing on my knees in front of the TV and cried. I felt sorry for Brezhnev who would never again climb the tribune and read his paper, but I was even more sorry for myself and my parents. I understood through an inconceivable childish intuition what the thing that had happened to Brezhnev concerned everyone, and sooner or later I would also lay senseless and motionless/ People would carry my portraits, and this slow unsettling music would play again. One day the same thing would happen to my parents. I was filled with a razorsharp terror of realization of my own mortality. When they started to put the coffin into a grave, I almost got mad with fear. Why did they do that? First, they praised the man and then they put him in the hole and covered him with dirt. It was beyond my comprehension. I was weeping drying my wet cheeks with my hands and the snowstorm outside was echoing my crying.

I don’t remember how my mother reacted to seeing me crying – perhaps, when she came hope, I had already taken hold of myself. Children often overreact to things, but in the same time they can easily forget them. I think I also forgot my grief for the buried secretary and the primal fear I had felt that snowy day. For some time.

It happened the next year, two months after the funeral. After another day – dad went to the caserne, mom made a pilaf – I went to bed. I quickly fell asleep, but in two hours I woke up in tears. I dreamed about seeing the funeral again, but this time I was on the other side of the screen. I walked along with the procession somewhere in the second line. The orchestra played Chaupin, people were silent and the red walls of Kremlin looked like blood. At first, there was nothing to fear, as it usually happens in the dreams, I didn’t feel like it happened to me. But then they started to put the coffin into the grave, and I suddenly appeared right in front of it. The casket wasn’t closed… and Brezhnev was looking right at me. It was a look not of a man, but of some otherworldly creature, maybe, the death itself. As the coffin was being put deep into the grave, the dead man moved his orbs fixing this terrible look on me. My horror reached the peak, and I woke up screaming and weeping. The lights turned on, my mother ran to me and started to calm me down, and I was still shaking, unable to get a hold of myself after that piercing inhuman sight.

My father didn’t come home. At work, he suddenly felt dizziness, sat down on a nearest box, grabbed at his temples and collapsed on the floor. He had cerebral aneurysm. The scariest nightmare of my childhood became reality – I had to come to the real funeral, to see someone close to me in the coffin and to see him taken to the graveyard people carrying his portrait at the procession.

After my father’s death, me and my mother moved to her native Yekaterinburg. Three years later she got married again. My stepfather drunk a lot, but he wasn’t a bad man, and he didn’t abuse me. However, we didn’t become friends. I went to a normal school, played with boys outside, pulled girls by their pigtails, cheated at the tails – in other words had a vivid school life. I got some friends who were really important to me, and I would fight against anyone for them. One of my best friend was the red-haired Seryoga who lived in two houses from me. We would go to school and back together. He was better in school than me, and often helped me then I couldn’t (or didn’t want) to do the homework. His parents were high-ranking officials, so Seryoga oftentimes had some rare sweets which he would generously share with me.

In the spring when I was finishing the third grade, the familiar dream repeated again. I’ve seen one more time the walls of Kremlin, the solemn faces of the members of the government (most of them had already kicked the bucket by then), shoulder straps and caps, heard the mournful music. And again, I turned out to be near the former ruler’s casket. I was even closer to him than the previous time. Just like before, Brezhnev raised his old eyelids and stared at me with a look of a creature from the undiscovered country. I woke up again shaking and sweating, but this time with no screams. For the rest of the night I was tossing and turning, but couldn’t fall asleep.

The following day Seryoga got hit by a car on his way to the art school…

So it became a tradition – I would see the childhood nightmare every time on the eve of a tragedy with my friends or relatives. Thank God, it didn’t happen too often: for all years after Seryoga’s death I’d see that dream only three times. The first time a good friend of mine died (he got mugged on the street in the lawless nineties. He tried to stand back for himself, and the thugs shot him in the face.) The second time it was my girlfriend (the infamous plane crash near Irkutsk in 2001), the third time it was my mother. That wasn’t unexpected: she had a cirrhosis and ended up in a hospital, but I’ve seen the dream precisely on the eve of her death. It’s impossible to tell what I felt when I woke up knowing that a tragedy was going to happen soon, but had no idea how, where and to whom of my loved ones. Plus, it seems that their deaths were predestined and inevitable, even if I tried to warn everyone. The creature that stared on me had its own ways, inconceivable for a mere mortal.

But the weirdest thing is that each time I would end up closer and closer to the coffin. The night before my mother’s death I stood right on the edge of the grave, in about 20 centimetres from the hole. I think I know what’s going to happen when I’ll into the grave in my dream.

That was my story. To be honest, I can’t find any sense or moral in it. I can only assume that that snowy day in the far north when I was watching the secretary’s funeral, my childish terror before the inevitability of death somehow made a connection between that memory and a supernatural feeling of Grim Reaper standing at the door. So it happened that for me, a harbinger of the approaching tragedy was “personally Leonid Ilyitch“.

Credit: Anonymous

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The Night of July 13

November 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The night of July 13 is one I will never forget.
I was seated by the campfire, staring into the bright dancing flames surrounded by darkness. My two friends, Dave and Chris, were sitting across from me, all of us sitting in those cheap fold-up chairs that you get at one of those knock-off camping stores.
Dave and Chris were chatting on and on about life, school, getting their driver’s licenses, et cetera. In the back of my mind, I could hear them talking, although I could not necessarily make out anything they were saying in particular. My mind had wandered off into a distant place that apparently did not belong in that conversation.
I didn’t really know why I hadn’t joined that conversation. I suppose I was just out of it at the time, but I suspected that I had a feeling deep down that something wasn’t right. Right then, I didn’t realize exactly what it was, but I just felt there was something wrong about the campsite, if not the whole campground.
On that day, which happened to be a Friday, my buddies and I had driven up to the great Colorado Rockies to host our annual camping trip. We had done this for the past few years, and had come to know each other to quite an extent. You could call us best friends. Only this year, our parents had trusted us enough to go on our own, now that I had acquired my own license, and the ability to drive my friends up (they didn’t have theirs yet).
After the long and tedious drive up into the high country, we had arrived at this small, quaint little campground located deep within the woods, nestled in a valley positioned next to a small stream. We had planned out the trip weeks in advance, and this just seemed like the perfect little place to set up camp and relax from the business of the city for a few days or so.
But when we got to the campground that morning, I felt something. Maybe it was simply my imagination, and I am not saying that it couldn’t be, but at the moment, I had sensed something deep down in my gut that something was wrong with the place. Was it the thick pine woods? I was never a fan of thickly wooded places. Was it the fact that it was so isolated? No, I liked remote places, far away from bustling civilization.
I didn’t know what it was. Dave and Chris seemed perfectly fine on the ride in, and it appeared as if they had absolutely no problem with the place, so I decided to put off the feeling. And I didn’t pay attention to it basically for the rest of the day.
We had spent the entirety day setting up camp, getting ready for the days ahead full of exciting and refreshing activities such as hiking Colorado’s great fourteen-thousand foot peaks, and swimming in the nearby lake. We had brought tents, which we set up for spending the night in, and some extra utensils and cooking supplies in order to prepare our own meals. Until I sat by that campfire that night, I hadn’t given a thought about that strange gut feeling I had felt earlier.
“Hey Jake, what’s wrong?” inquired Dave, at last breaking the conversation in order to address me. “You haven’t said a word since we got this fire going, what’s wrong?” I looked up from the fire, it’s image burned into my eyes. I stared right at Dave. He was correct, I was normally the blabber-mouth of the trio. As a matter of fact, I considered myself an expert at initiating conversation.
“Oh, nothing,” I responded bleakly, “I am just…just tired.”
“Tired? Seriously dude? It’s only what, 9:45? You stay up later than that on school nights.” Dave was notorious for staying up late, so 9:45 was like dinnertime for him. And 2:00 was his early morning on weekends.
“Why don’t we get some more marshmallows to roast over the fire?” Chris asked. “Maybe it’ll cheer things up.” Chris heaved his bulky self out of the blue cloth chair and out into the darkness where the picnic table was set up with all of the late-night camping arrangements.
After he was gone, sorting through bags and bags of our plethora of supplies, I said to Dave, “I’m gonna go to the bathroom, OK? Be back in a minute.” Maybe all I needed to do was take a break from the chitter-chatter of the campfire and take a little restroom break by myself.
I got up out of the chair, grasped the flashlight from my cupholder, and flicked the switch. I stretched my legs, and began my walk away from the campsite, out into the cold darkness of the mountain night.
As I walked, I clutched the flashlight, and shone it out in front of me, the beam illuminating the dirt path ahead of me. Occasionally the beam would shine upon a pine tree, or a seldom aspen as I walked around the loop towards the front entrance of the campground, in which the little bathroom house was located.
As I walked farther away from our site, I looked around. There were a few people that I could make out through the thick of the forest that had burning campfires, although as I said, this was a small place, with maybe ten or fifteen sites, so there weren’t many people around to light fires in the first place.
Despite the smoke that one would find at any campground, the view of the stars was absolutely amazing. Nobody could ever see anything that came close to the amount of stars I could see in the sky that night. The view I get in the city pales in comparison the beautiful dome of stars overhead, the milky stream of the center of the galaxy pouring out across the sky above. It was a truly black sky with no interference from city lights with thousands of visible little white specks, from stars trillions of miles away.
I was about halfway to the restrooms or so, although it was hard to tell due to my stargazing, when the flashlight went out. It just stopped shining. I was plunged into complete darkness for a couple of seconds, until my eyes adjusted to the faint, distant glow of campfires, casting dancing shadows over the nearby trees, interspersed with yellow and orange.
I peered down at my flashlight, questioningly. Why did it go out? The switch was still switched in the ‘on’ position. I attempted to slide the switch down, then back up again. Nothing. I did it again. Nothing. I even tried unscrewing the back, extracting the batteries, then placing them in again to no avail. I looked back. I could no longer see my campsite, and I debated heading back there. However, as I considered my options, and the fact that I really did have to go to the bathroom, I decided to continue on my journey to the bathroom hut. This was possibly the worst decision of my life.
I huddled my arms closer to my body as I walked, now submerged in near-complete darkness. The temperature had plummeted once the sun had gone down, and now that it was dark, it left me shivering in the t-shirt and shorts I wore. I should have brought a hoodie or something. I didn’t expect it to feel this cold.
And suddenly it struck me. That feeling of dread that had overcome me earlier that day, it returned. I stopped dead in my tracks. What was it? Was it truly just my imagination? It must be, I thought. After contemplating my situation for a little while longer, logic overtook me, I decided to continue walking. It was just a feeling, nothing real, or so I thought.
I had only made it a few more steps into darkness, guided only by the meek campfire light, before I heard something in the bushes to my right, away from the main campground. Again, I stopped dead in my tracks. All was silent, except for the faint rustle of leaves from the wind. I conceded it must be an animal or something such as the wind, so I continued.
As soon as I started walking, I heard it again. I stopped once more. The sound abruptly stopped once again. I took another step forward, and heard the sound. Was I going mad? Was the sound only there when I moved? Why did the sound always sound like it was in the same place, as if it was following me? These were all questions that I had no answer for, at that moment.
The feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach was becoming increasingly stronger. I didn’t know what to do. Fear was quickly taking over my senses, my rationality. I had a strong hunch that whatever I was experiencing had to do with what was making the sound, that it had everything to do with what was making the sound. I was paralyzed with fear, standing erect in the midst of a silent breeze.
I sensed something behind me. At first I thought it was maybe an itch or something, but a feeling began to build up behind me, as if someone was watching me. A feeling of an energy, possibly, of some sort. It is difficult to describe, but I just knew there was something behind me, I didn’t dare look.
Yes, there was definitely something behind me. I could feel it breathing on the back of my neck. I slowly turned around, carefully turning my head, to witness whatever it was that was behind me. At that point, I was so paralyzed by fear, that I just knew that whatever I saw would mean impending doom for me. As I turned my head, I realized I had never felt anything close to the kind of fear I was feeling at that moment, and yet, I still hadn’t even caught a glimpse at what was causing it.
At last, I saw it. Nothing. There was nothing there. I stared off into the space where I absolutely swore there was something in that very place, but yet, I saw nothing. Just nothing. Nothing. I laughed. I laughed some more. I laughed so hard out of the pure feeling of relief. I laughed until I realized there was something that I missed. All of the campfires at the campground were out, as if they were extinguished simultaneously, and I hadn’t noticed it. It was completely dark. I turned around again.
Then I noticed a light, coming from behind me, where I was just looking, but also somewhat off to the side, to the right. It wasn’t the soft, glowing orange that would indicate a fire’s combustion, but it was piercing, white light, the kind you would find being emitted from a lantern. A lantern?
A spun around on my heel in the dirt, and then I saw it. A man, standing up ahead on the dirt road, holding a lantern in his left hand, with a red handle. The lantern was all rusted, with the remnants of green paint on it’s surface. He was completely dressed in a long, flowing black cloak, the hood covering his face. Or should I say, it’s face. I stood still, in shock. It was staring right at me, motionless. My eyes drifted down to it’s right hand. What was in its right hand sent chills down my spine. In it, I saw a long knife, grasped by a pale hand, covered in blood.
It started toward me.
The light of its lantern bobbing up and down, its knife poised to attack in the other hand. I screamed, not knowing of anything else to do. Immediately, I turned and bolted off into the night.
I continued to yell, scream, do whatever I could to attract the attention of others at or around the campground. The thing was still following me as I sprinted down the slope, in the direction of the bathrooms. I rounded a corner, slipping on the gravel underneath me as I did so. I quickly recovered from the fall, the thing getting closer and closer. The only light I had to navigate by was the dim glow of the lantern bobbing up and down in back of me. I could hear its footsteps crunching on the ground, along with mine, getting louder.
The bathrooms. Up ahead, I saw the small bathroom hut. I immediately turned, slipping and sliding along the dirt as a did so, gripped the handle of one of the doors, opened it, and flung myself inside. The door slammed with a loud BANG! I scrambled to my knees to lock the door.
I sat on the floor, huddled into a ball, protecting myself not only from the biting cold, but from my own terror. The crunching footsteps from beyond the thick steel door stopped. Silence. Terror.
The scratching sound started, and it didn’t stop. Somebody was scratching the door from the outside. It got louder, and louder, and louder, until the sound was completely filling my ears. An immense terror overtook me as it kept getting louder, to the point it sounded like pounding. My heart was racing faster than it had ever before. The scratching and pounding continued to the point where I could simply not take it anymore, and I screamed. I screamed louder than I had ever screamed before in my life. The experience that I was encountering was more formidable than I had ever thought was possible.
And then it abruptly stopped.
I heard shouts and voices from outside, and rapping on the door of the bathroom. I was still huddled on the floor. I heard a muffled voice sourced from the outside. “Hey, Jake! What happened? Let us in! What’s wrong?” I took me a moment to recover and gain back my senses. After a few moments, I lifted myself off of the ground, composed myself, and unlocked the door. I opened it.
“Jake! Are you alright? What happened?” They must have seen my pale face, it contorted with the residual of fear. “Jake?”
“Uh…yeah…” I responded, not really knowing what to say. What could I say? “Did you see him?”
My friends looked confused. “Did we see who?” Dave said.
I was angry now, “Did you see him? Him! That guy! He was chasing me! He was in a black cloak, with a knife and a lantern, you must have-”
“I have now idea what you are talking about. Did we see who?”
“You must have seen him! You must have! He was at the door! Scratching, scratching…”
“I think you need some rest or something,” Chris interjected, “You seem a bit wacko right right now. Come on, let’s go back to the tent. Apparently, it’s time for you to go to bed.”
“But-”
“Let’s go.” They practically were forced to drag me back to the campsite. It was as if all of the energy had been drained out of me, sucked right into space by the sheer force of horror. As we walked back, with a fresh new, working flashlight, I kept looking over my shoulder, around, making sure nobody, no thing was there. I was scared out of my mind that we would be attacked by whatever I previously witnessed.
By the time we had made it back to the campground, I had fallen into a pure state of exhaustion. All I wanted to was sleep. I barely remember walking up to the campsite, heading off in the direction of my tent, laying down in my sleeping bag, and setting my head upon the pillow, under the flickering light of the dying fire. My eyes closed, and I fell into a deep slumber…
I awoke the next day feeling refreshed, and ready for another day of camping. What had happened the night before will forever haunt me, even if I try to put it off. That morning, I did just that. I put it off. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, Saturday, July 14. We would be camping until Tuesday, when we would head back. There was no use in pondering over something that happened in the past.
But my mind could not stop wandering, reliving the images that had played out that last night. Well, I suppose it could have been a figment of my imagination! Oh sure, it could’ve been. It could have been a dream, for all I know. But if it was, it was so real, that I will never forget it.
The rest of the days on our camping trip went by in a blur of fun and excitement. At times, I didn’t even think back to the night for hours at a time, as we were so incredibly busy with hiking, swimming, walking around the campground. We would sit by the fire once the sun had dropped below the horizon, telling stories of ghosts, of funny moments, roasting marshmallows over the blazing fire.
We would busy ourselves with activities that one would expect to do on a camping trip. As a matter of fact, we had very little down time, which probably helped divert my thoughts from the events that happened that night. And I was glad, indeed. Glad to have a break. Glad to just put it off, and ignore it, dismiss it as a dream, as a false event that never actually occurred in reality.
And it worked. I felt none of that clenching fear that I had felt before, no suspicion that something was wrong. I spent time talking with Chris and Dave, as if nothing happened. As if we could just carry on with our lives, no problem.
As we were finalizing the packing-up process that Tuesday, making sure that we possessed everything that we brought, I stared aimlessly back at the site. It had served us well. Regardless of what happened, it was a nice, cozy little campground, with a nicely positioned campsite in which we had stayed on. It was the place we had called home for the past days.
“I think that’s everything!” Chris said, “Come on Jake, get in the car.” Dave and Chris were both in the car waiting for me to climb into the driver’s seat, and whisk us back to civilization. But I just stood there, staring at one thing, one object, left in the center of the campsite, that surely wasn’t ours.
A lantern, with a red handle, and a rusted surface, with remnants of green paint on it.

Credit: Anthony D.

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The Duxbury Chronicles: The Students

November 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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E/N: To read the prior installments in this series, please visit The Duxbury Chronicles tag. Thank you!

THE DUXBURY CHRONICLES

“THE STUDENTS”

PHASE ONE

“WAXING CRESCENT”

CHAPTER 1

“NIGHTTIME ROAD CONSTRUCTION”

Duxbury MA, September 22nd, 2017, 10:05 PM.

“Me an lil’ shorty in the back (back)! Talkn’ ’bout dis (dis)! Talkn’ ’bout dat (dat)! Talkn’ ’bout ah-!”

“Aargh!” Brooks Parker emitted a primal sound somewhere between a shout and a growl.

He ripped his I-Phone 6 from his pocket. Struggling to stop the God awful song that was his current ringtone from playing. Sarah Howard his “ex” girlfriend as of six hours ago had insisted relentlessly that he put her “like, totally favorite song” on his phone as a ringtone.

He’d been barely tolerating it for the last four months of his life. Finding himself unconsciously grinding his teeth every time his phone rang. Sarah loved this kind of music. In Brooks’s opinion “Pop” in all it’s generic, evil forms, was one of the major contributors to the steady decline of American Society today. And also a genuine reason why they as a couple would “never” work out.

After another twenty seconds of frustrated button pushing and The Dream polluting the night air with IQ dropping lyrics, he finally managed to silence the damn thing. The phone continued to vibrate in his hand as he looked at who was calling. Well speak of the Devil! He pushed “ignore”, one of the buttons he actually did know how to find.

He felt a small boost in his ego ignoring Sarah’s call. After all she was the one who’d dumped him. He’d seen it coming a mile away. The steady decline in affection. The distant timbre in her voice when they talked.

He felt that all too familiar lump form in the back of his throat. If Brooks was being honest with himself (which he rarely was) he would have acknowledged that he was in love with Sarah. Despite his denial, the long drawn out death of their relationship had been agonizing. Especially toward the end…

Pushing the painful jumble of thoughts to the back of his mind he continued down Mayflower Street. His destination the East Bay Pub. Where he planned to drown his sorrows in cheap whiskey. Off in the distance to his right could be seen the dark beginnings of the Knapp Town Forest.

This section of Mayflower was pretty poorly lit on account of the surrounding area being rural as fuck. Over the years more than a few pedestrians had lost their lives to careless (oftentimes drunk) drivers on this particular stretch of road. Brooks knew this of course, but at the moment he was filled with that youth fueled “I ain’t scared of shit!’’ mentality.

Strolling down the middle of the dark street he listened to the sound of crickets singing their faint, end of the season songs as he fished the silver metal flask from inside his jacket. His breath coming out in white puffs.

It wasn’t cold really. The temperature was hovering just around sixty. But the Autumn New England humidity had already rolled in at the beginning of September. Blanketing the land and marking the true end of summer.

He was already pretty buzzed, and it took him a frustratingly long time to get the flask out. Once freed he instantly dropped the damned thing. The metal clinked loudly off the asphalt. The sound disturbing the peaceful quiet of the night. He cursed. Bending in the dark and groping around.

Even though it was a clear night the Moon had begun a new cycle only two days ago. The Waxing Crescent was little more than a sliver in the sky. It’s faint yellow glow offering up little in the way of illumination. After a few angry moments of fumbling around he finally spotted the small shadow of the flask, and wrapped his hand around it.

He practically ripped the cap off, and soon fiery liquid was rolling down his throat. After more than a few healthy swigs he pulled the flask back from his lips. Coughing as he screwed the cap back on. He tucked it back in it’s place, and went for his pack of American Spirits. A task that went somewhat smoother than the retrieval of the booze.

He lit a smoke with his Zippo and inhaled deeply. Exhaling slowly through his nose. The distant swishing of grass drew his attention to the field between the street and the woods. His eyes roamed lazily over the dark land.

The field was large, and it’s shadows deep, but he could still make out the general shape of the landscape. He thought that he caught the distant swaying of grass way out near where the field met the edge of the Knapp.

Something flew by in the darkness overhead. He didn’t look up, but a moment later he heard the distant hoot of an Owl. In all his buzz fueled anger he’d forgotten how creepy this area was after dark. He started walking again.

Faster this time. His shoes crunching on the dead leaves. It was the first round of foliage to succumb to the season. And as such still had their bright autumn yellows, and reds. Soon though there would be more dead leaves. Many more. And they would blanket the streets in varying shades of drab wet brown.

East Bay Pub was about a mile South from where he was. The neighborhood the business resided in marked where civilization began once again. For about two miles both East and West was nothing but marshland.

To the South was Island Creek Pond, and beyond that the muddy waters of Cranberry Bog. About a mile to the North situated between Knapp Town Forest, and North Hill Pond was Henry McDuff’s Apple Farm, but that was pretty much about it. A lot of space. A lot of darkness.

Brooks was afraid of the dark. Even his raging, drug induced haze was not enough to dampen that fact. He picked up his pace even more.

“Well at least she had the fucking decency to dump me on a Friday.” He muttered to himself.

Brooks had been working for the State doing Road Construction for going on a little more than a year now. It was hard work. But the money sure beat the shit out of cooking in a kitchen. And unless there was an emergency they always had the weekends off.

He was twenty-six years old and all things considered, was doing pretty well for himself financially. It hadn’t come easily though. After high school he’d sort of blundered his way through life for a length of time that lasted far longer than his four years of schooling.

He’d gone through a series of dead end jobs. And two failed attempts at Community College. Finances were definitely a major reason for his “two” College dropout moments. But not the sole cause. Brooks by nature (much like his Father) was a lazy American. But all that had changed when Bartlett Consolidated Inc. had offered him a job.

He’d started off as a Flag Waver. A job for some reason he’d thought only women were given. He’d quickly learned his ignorance. His Foreman, after all, was a Woman. Helen Jives was her name. When it came to Hard Labor the Woman was a literal force of nature.

She possessed the same vulgar language skills of her male counterparts. But ran a tighter ship than most of the other Crews. Strict, but fair. The safety of her Crew was paramount in her eyes. And so she was a true zealot when it came to organization, and code adherence.

He’d gotten the customary jibes that came with the territory of being a newbie. But in his work Brooks had found a motivation he’d never known before. And after only a month he’d been promoted to shoveling and hauling. A promotion that had come with a dollar an hour raise.

The Hard Labor had been a boon for his flabby physique as well. Brooks had never been fit, even as a teen. And the healthy drinking habit he’d developed after high school had nearly turned him into a sloth. But after the first eight weeks of work he’d started to notice his body changing.

Fat started being replaced with lean muscle. Amy even noticed. And for a little while their sex life had improved dramatically. By the eighth month he was looking pretty shredded, and getting quite a bit of “friendly” attention from the ladies.

More so than he’d ever imagined possible. But he never cheated. Not once. Even as their sex life inevitably died back down he was never tempted. Not really.

And then just three weeks ago he’d started operating some of the heavy equipment. That’s what he didn’t get! For as long as he could remember Sarah had been harping on him to get a “decent” job. As she so reverently, ambiguously called it.

He suddenly found himself fumbling for the flask as his thoughts turned sour once more. This time retrieving it with little trouble. A few seconds later and the rest of the liquor had been drained. He choked and coughed on the last bit as it went down.

“Fuck!” He shouted at the darkness. His childish fears momentarily forgotten once again. “Fuuuck!”

He thought about flinging the flask out into the night. But that wouldn’t do. His Grandfather had given it to him before he’d passed away. And besides he figured that it would come in handy later.

He threw the half smoked cigarette instead. The orange cherry bouncing a few times through the darkness before rolling to a stop. A few seconds later he lit up another one as he continued down Mayflower…

….

Twenty minutes later and Brooks was on a stool in front of the bar at the East Bay Pub. With two shots of Jack already down, and another on the counter. Nursing a Guinness in his hands.

He was getting pretty wobbly. His vision having hit that telltale mark of periodically going in and out of focus. Already he’d had two close calls with knocking his glass off the table.

The atmosphere of the Pub was typical for a Friday night. A mixed crowd. Both young and old. Country music playing on the jukebox. The occasional “Crack!” of pool balls striking one another echoing out from the back room.

He was grateful for the background noise. For as he grew progressively intoxicated his mood only darkened. And he’d started swearing to himself under his breath.

“What’s goin’ on bro?”

A voice to his right cut through his drunken brooding. Despite his growing inebriation he instantly recognized who it belonged to. He didn’t turn to look.

Eric Stalvei. The local “Whiteboy” Gangster of Duxbury. Brooks had unfortunately known him since high school. At the ripe old age of fifteen they’d met, and Brooks had instantly become one of Eric’s objects of torment.

For four years it had been the typical shit you’d see in a movie. Wedgies. Sudden shoves into lockers. And the occasional man handling in the Boys Locker Room after Gym Class. Those had always been the worst.

Getting surrounded by Eric and his thugs behind closed doors. Away from the watchful eyes of any adults. That was the truly shitty thing about it. It hadn’t ended like a movie where the “Good Guy” wins, and gets his vindication.

Life had just played out in all it’s mediocre, unscripted glory. They’d all just graduated. Eric like Brooks had never left Duxbury. And they’d occasionally see one another at the local watering holes. Now Eric wasn’t a high school bully though.

Now he was a broad chested, muscle bound wannabe Thug. And all his loser friends had likewise grown in stature since they were teens.

“I said hey bro! What’s goin’ on?” Eric said again. A little more forcefully this time.

Brooks hadn’t even seen him come into the bar. Maybe he’d been in the back playing pool. At any rate it didn’t seem like he was going to be able to avoid his former classmate’s company.

He turned. Burping as he did so. Eric was facing him from the stool to his right. One arm leaning lazily on the bar counter. His Yankees hat on sideways, and a shit eating grin on his face. Four of his “homies” were standing behind him.

Brooks had always been mortally afraid of Eric. And for good reason. He’d gotten his ass kicked a few times by his Crew, Who thought it was “manly” to jump a person when it was five on one.

Strangely though, in that moment the only emotion he felt was the boiling anger in him quiet down to a simmer. Like that calm moment before a geyser explodes scalding water high up into the air. He just stared blankly at Eric’s ugly face.

“What’s up hombre?” He asked. Still wearing a smug grin.

“Just hanging out Eric.” Brooks answered. “Having a few drinks.”

“Yeah? Where’s your bitch?”

In a daze, Brooks pondered his answer for a moment. Finally. He settled on throwing the remainder of his glass into Eric’s unsuspecting face.

Then in one fluid motion of drunken luck that could never again be replicated, he leapt from his stool, and threw a perfect Isshinryu Yellow Belt level front kick. Catching Eric squarely in the solar plexus just as he was staggering to his feet.

Eric flew back. Landing at the feet of his shocked Posse. It was amazing. Not that Brooks had any time to admire his handiwork. Almost instantly the Bartender started cursing, and shouting for the Bouncer.

“Butch! Butch!” She screamed.

Three heartbeats later and the Bouncer was bellowing and barreling toward them from across the room. Butch was a great Ogre of a Man. Clad in leather, complete with matching fingerless gloves. His large cueball head gleaming beneath the dim lighting. The disparity between the Bouncer and the Group was the stark contrast between man and boy.

Butch looked like a character straight out of Mad Max. Eric and his Crew looked like just what they were, spoiled children playing pretend. In this case most of them were playing “Gangster”. Butch clearly wasn’t impressed.

At any rate Brook’s wasn’t waiting around to see how the Road Warrior was planning on addressing the crowd. He spun on his heels (somewhat less gracefully than his previous motions) and high tailed it for the exit.

Shouts from behind. Breaking glass. The sound of bar stools grating across linoleum. He burst out the door and onto the unpaved parking lot. His sneakers crunching across gravel.

He ran passed the last row of cars in the parking lot and out into the middle of South Street. Then turned right and sprinted East. He was already running out of steam by the time his drunken half-run took him across the last fifty feet to the intersection of Parkers Grove Lane.

Upon reaching the dimly lit crossroads, he doubled over. Gasping for air. Jesus he really needed to quit smoking. Despite a year of full time hard labor his endurance still sucked. From this vantage point the East Bay Pub could not be seen.

It was just as well. Whatever was going down back there couldn’t be pretty. He was no doubt eighty-sixed from the Establishment.

He stood there in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the night. Had he really just taken a cheap shot at Eric Stalvei?! He laughed. God he really needed to stop drinking.

The distant squeal of tires suddenly broke the tranquility. Accompanied by an angry shout made unintelligible by distance. Brooks knew without even having to see it. Eric, and his goon squad were packed into one of their vehicles like a clown car. Jonesing for some retribution.

“Oh fuck that.” He said. Willing himself into motion again.

Even in so inebriated a state, Brooks had an escape route in mind. After all, he’d grown up in Duxbury. He took a right onto Parker’s Grove Lane, and then veered quickly to the left. Running across the front yard, and then around the side of the first house on the street.

Halfway across the backyard a porch light flicked on. Casting him in it’s golden glow. The sudden illumination spurring him to greater feets of speed. Brooks had no desire to see if the source of the light was automated, or an overzealous homeowner with a gun.

He clambered over the five foot chain link fence that divided the home from the adjacent property. Everything was going smoothly until he reached the apex of the barrier. As he shifted his weight to make his descent over the other side, the damned thing began to wobble.

Brooks completely unprepared for the sudden unexpected motion lost his battle with gravity, and rolled over the side. He landed flat on his back. The impact knocking the wind out of him. A dog began barking from within the darkened home in front of him.

“Where are you, you fucker?!” He heard the distant, but enraged voice of Eric as he peeled around somewhere nearby.

Brooks rolled onto his chest and slowly rose. Struggling to regain his breath, he climbed to his knees.

How the fuck did these assholes know which direction he went? He wondered to himself as he began to move toward the side of the house with the barking dog.

Another squeal of tires in the distance. This time noticeably farther away. Brooks let out a heavy breath. Maybe those idiots weren’t so sure which direction he’d gone after all. Either way he wasn’t going to wait around to find out.

He reached the side of the house and his destination came into view up ahead. Elm Street. The last road before Old Meeting House Swamp. From there he’d use the swampland as cover until he reached Pilgrim’s Highway. And then he’d be home free.

He crouched in the darkness by the corner of the house for a moment. Surveying the quiet road, and the dark tree line that stood beyond that. The dog in the house was barking up a storm now. Brooks guessed the owner’s must not be home.

He listened hard for the telltale signs of his would-be pursuers. Jesus this night had really gone from zero to crazy in a short time. He saw no sign of headlights in either direction. But the infernal barking was keeping from effectively listening for any signs of danger.

Finally he decided to make a move. He sprung into motion. Bolting across the driveway of the home and out into the street. Moving notably slower than before. He’d regained his breath, but was hurting all over from the fall.

He was just crossing the center line when off in the distance a car came squealing around the corner of Stagecoach Road, and onto Elm. The engine roared as the driver pounded the gas. Brooks bolted the rest of the way. Practically diving headlong into the tree line.

He ran straight. Stumbling through the darkness as fast as his legs could carry him. Heart pounding, as adrenaline surged throughout his body. He heard the rumble of the racing car as it drew closer.

“Oh fuck!! Oh fuck!!” Suddenly he didn’t feel like such a bad ass. Confronting the Thug Life Posse in Public was one thing. But out on a dark road…

Brooks stumbled, and fell. The dampness of the ground making itself known as it quickly soaked through the knees of his pants. Then the roaring car was in the street behind him. Then it was passing by.

Brooks remained there on all fours for a moment. Trying to steady his breath. Listening to the Car roar down the road. The tires squealed loudly as the driver took another corner at breakneck speed.

He let out a deep sigh. Fuck that was close! Eventually he staggered to his feet. He needed to get home. And he needed to stay off the streets until he got there.

He didn’t know how this was going to resolve itself later on. But for right now he just needed to get back to home base. Fortunately Eric didn’t know where Brooks lived. He ran over his half thought out escape root as he started walking.

“Trudge through this bullshit right here. Get to Pilgrim’s Highway, then head East to Pine Lake Road. Take Pine to Tinker’s Ledge Road. Get home. Smoke a bowl. Perfect…”

Except he had to do that without getting caught out on the road and receiving a beat down. He was going to have to be careful. Brooks patted himself on the back for his ability to think so rationally in such an inebriated state. Sarah had always said he was an idiot when he got drunk.

“Fuck does she know?” He asked the darkness.

Brooks realized something in that moment. In his haste to get out of harm’s way, he really hadn’t considered the implications of this first part in his journey. His fear of the dark temporarily forgotten in the face of more tangible dangers now came back in full force.

Ever since he was a child he’d been afraid of the dark. Granted as he’d grown into a (semi) rational adult he’d overcome this fear to a degree. But now that he was all alone in a nighted swamp, an unease he hadn’t felt since his early days came over him.

He reached down to the knife hanging on his belt. It wasn’t much. A four inch Buck. But it’s presence was reassuring nonetheless.

He moved as quietly as he could. Lest he attract the attention of some nocturnal denizen of the swamp. He continued on like that for awhile. Feeling an increasing sense of unease that he’d gotten himself turned around somehow.

He continued on in this worrisome fashion for another fifteen minutes or so. Trying his best to stay on dry land. Every sound in the darkness making him jump. His adrenaline had ebbed and his muscles felt fatigued.

Finally after what felt like an eternity he heard the telltale burbling sounds of Island Creek and knew he was still on the right track. Though he’d never been out here he, knew that the River ran through the Southern end of the swamp and had been counting on it for a landmark. As he moved closer he started to hear something else as well. An occasional rumbling, only barely audible over the babbling brook.

As he came up on the dark river, the sounds became clearer. Construction. Someone must be working out on the highway up ahead. By the time he’d reached Island Creek he could see distant lights shining through the trees.

Crossing the River whilst staying dry proved problematic. It was too dark to spot any stones to jump across. Eventually he settled on getting a running start, and leaping. After all the river was pretty narrow here.

He almost made it. His sneakers plunging into the cold water about eight inches shy of the shore. As soon as he hit the water he reflexively leapt again, making it to dry land on the second try. Successfully taking advantage of that mystical split second one gets before their submerged shoes completely soak through. Or at least in his drunken state it seemed like he’d succeeded.

He started moving forward again. Up ahead passed the edge of the treeline was a scene of light and bustling activity. A stark contrast to the cold stillness of the Swamp. As he drew nearer the lights from (what he assumed was a Road Construction Crew) began to illuminate the surrounding trees .

The telltale sounds of hard labor had grown in volume as well. He heard the grating noise of concrete grinding against steel. The whir and release of Pistons.

“Good.” He thought. He probably knew at least a few of these guys. He’d be able to get one of them to give him a lift home for sure.

He popped out of the woods on the grassy shoulder of Pilgrim’s Highway. A Backhoe Loader sitting idle about five yards directly in front of him. Blocking his view. It’s engine rumbling loudly.

He walked about eight feet forward and then turned left, giving the Machine a wide berth as he made his way around it. It was a CAT 420F, he realized as he continued to walk across the damp grass.

Brooks had driven one of these baby’s just the other day. But who were these guys? Brooks didn’t know about any night time Road Construction going on around Duxbury this month. Maybe a gas line had ruptured or something.

This part of Pilgrim’s Highway was pretty old. And had seen some pretty bad weather these past few years. Still, something seemed… Off.

He passed the frame of the CAT and got a full view of the Construction Site. The Pilgrim was pretty sizable in this area. Six lanes wide on this side. And then across the Median another four.

The Worksite itself was startlingly large. And caused Brooks to give a start when he beheld it. More than a half dozen floodlights lit a massive hole that started somewhere around the fourth lane. It’s width spanned nearly all the way to the median. And it’s length was around twenty feet!

“What the fuck?” He said out loud.

Whatever it was, it was definitely a “Big” Project. About Twenty Yards down the Highway he spotted what he assumed was the Foreman’s Truck. The bleed off from the floodlights around the dig site illuminating it in pale artificial light. There dimly illuminated, stood a tall man with his back to him. Scrutinizing a large Blueprint.

Even at this distance Brooks could tell that He was a mountain of a man. Possessing a shoulder width rivaling that of ol’ Butch. But the way his Carhartt Overalls hugged his frame clearly showed that the Man possessed a much higher muscle to body fat ratio than the Bouncer of East Bay.

He started off in the Dude’s direction. Taking in the details of the Worksite as he walked. There were two more CATS digging away in the shadows. The Floodlights struggling against the darkness that the vehicles’ bulk cast.

Several Crewmen were hard at work. Their outlines black against the intense lighting. A couple Workers had Jackhammers, and were “KLAKAKAKING!” away. Busting apart concrete.

Several others had shovels, and were manually loading up chunks of debris into wheelbarrows. That’s when Brooks noticed the three Dumpsters. Two Six’s and a Fifteen Yarder.

“Jesus three dumpsters?” He said to himself as he walked along the edge of the Construction Zone. “How deep are these guys digging?”

The night air was filled with the typical work zone cacophony. The sounds of heavy equipment moving to and fro. The hiss of air brakes. The crunching of tires over rubble. And the loud beeping of vehicles as gears were thrown into reverse.

But still, he had the strong sensation that something was missing. Though he couldn’t quite put his finger on just what it was. He felt it in his bones. Something… Something was off. He continued to move down the road. Watching the dark outlines of the Crewmen as they toiled away beneath the floodlights.

He was about six yards from the Foreman now. His back was still turned to him. The myriad of distant floodlights bathing the man in a dusk-like twilight.

“Well time to be a gigantic bitch.” He let out a sigh. As he crossed the remaining distance between them.

For a moment he considered just turning around and making his way back home. Surely he’d lost Stalvei and his Crew at this point. But a second’s more reflection and he decided to follow through with his new plan to get some help. Lest he be caught out on a deserted road and no be so lucky the next time.

He was about ten feet away from the guy when he realized what was missing. Nobody was talking! With Teams like this you almost always had a constant stream of “Cro-Magnon Speak.” Especially Night Crews.

“Wow this guy really runs a tight ship!” Brooks thought to himself as he drew nearer. But deep down He knew the thought was intended to bolster his confidence against the inexplicable sense of apprehension growing in the pit of his stomach.

As he drew closer he realized that the guy was a lot taller than he’d initially guessed,. Like a lot taller. The dude had to be any least six foot six! Even in the dim light Brooks could see that the man’s bright yellow construction jacket was stained and muddy.

Brooks admired a Boss who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with his crew. Though he was feeling anything but admiration at that moment. He couldn’t explain it. But some vague primal instinct was urging him to turn around and get the Hell out of there.

He did his best to ignore it. Chalking up his frazzled nerves to almost getting beaten down, or worse. That motherfucker… He didn’t know how. But he was going to make Stalvei pay. Him and his loser fr-.

Brooks’s mind froze in mid-thought. And he stopped dead in his tracks. It wasn’t a feeling of fear. Just utter confusion that made him pause.

He realized that the Foreman wasn’t holding a blueprint at. All. He was holding what appeared to be some kind of parchment with strange symbols drawn all over it. Even in the dim lighting it was plainly obvious that It was very old.

Stranger still was that the Paper seemed to have some sort of slight luminescence to it that was independent of the distant flood lights. He stood there in silence for a long moment. Gazing over the Tall Man’s shoulder at the portion that he could see.

Were the images drawn in red ink? It was impossible to tell in the dark. But for some undefinable reason he instinctively thought the image, if out in proper lighting would be in red.

Amongst the myriad of indiscernible shapes, two stood out that his mind could put a certain logic to. Though said logic didn’t really make much sense.

Near the center was this image of what looked like a human with a pig’s head, wearing a chef’s hat, and apron. Above and to the right of that was a crude drawing of a Waxing Crescent Moon. There were splotches on the Beast’s apron that Brooks guessed were meant to be blood.

And then the image turned and looked at him…

It happened so suddenly. So subtly that it took Brook’s mind a few seconds to register what had happened. The Pig Demon Chef Thing turned and looked directly at him from the dimly lit parchment!

Brooks blinked, and shook his head. Was the man holding some kind of gigantic Smart Tablet? Was he just fucking around with some bizarre app, and it was too dark for Brooks to see the frame of the device? That explanation of course fell way too short of making any sense, and he knew it.

The Pig Demon’s eyes widened as it continued staring at Brooks. They continued to widen, and the beast’s jaw dropped open. Not in menacing hunger. It was an odd but far more unsettling expression. And he found himself afraid to define it. Brooks found himself unconsciously stepping backward.

“This… This can’t’ be real.” The voice in his head sounding impressively calm, and rational.

The Foreman’s back straightened. Brooks found his eyes trailing upward as the man gained an astonishing height. Clearly he had been hunched over somewhat. The vague, primal instinct to get the fuck out of there was not so vague anymore.

But from what should he run from? He was in the middle of a construction site! Though the idea still seemed relatively absurd, his legs had apparently already decided for him.

Then the Bloody Pig Chef Thing lifted a gnarled hand. A four fingered hand that had been previously hidden from Brooks’s view. And it pointed. It pointed directly at him!

At that Brook’s body apparently decided that it was done waiting for his brain to get on board with the new plan. He found himself backpedaling faster than he thought humanly possible. Unfortunately, instinct without the refined guidance of the mind can oftentimes be a blundering thing.

After only three quick steps backward Brooks tripped and fell on his ass. In that same instant the Foreman whirled around in a blur. Pain shot up Brooks’s tailbone as he felt and heard the “Swoosh!” of something pass over his head.

Brooks looked up and realized that the man was now facing toward him. The guy had a large shovel in one hand. The digging tool seeming to have appeared out of thin air. The parchment paper lay discarded on the ground, fluttering in the wind.

“Jesus had the dude just taken a swing at him with a shovel?!”

The towering Foreman just stared down at him in silence for a long moment. He wore a pair of dark work goggles, and had a bandana tied around his face. Between that and his helmet he had no distinguishing facial features. Brook’s heart pounded out a drumbeat beneath his ribs.

“Hey man I didn’t mean to sn-”

His words caught in his throat as the Man suddenly began to advance on him. Brooks was quick to his feet. Faster than he would have been had he not already been warmed up from running for his life just a little while ago.

Spinning on his heels he took off back toward the tree line. Not bothering to waste another second with words. He’d seen enough horror movies to know what was going to happen if he stuck around any longer.

He flew back down the street like a Gazelle being chased by a Cougar. Passing the 420-F. The sounds of construction had not ceased. Indeed the cacophony seemed to have increased in volume. Taking on a nightmarish quality.

After another moment of frantic sprinting Brooks was rocketing through the darkness of the Old Meeting House Swamp once again. Headed back the way he’d come. Or at least in relatively the same direction. It would have been near impossible to tell even if he hadn’t been sprinting in blind panic.

After about ten yards he quickly ducked around the base of a large Red Pine, and crouched down low in the darkness. Panting as he struggled to catch his breath as quietly as possible, he listened hard for the sounds of pursuit. But all that could be heard was the chirp of crickets, and the distant rumblings of road work.

He stayed there in the darkness for what felt like hours. But in reality it was only about three minutes before he heard the distinct “Snap!” Of a branch somewhere off in the darkness between himself and the Highway.

“Oh fuck me.” He whimpered.

Brooks quietly got up on his knees and peered around the trunk of the tree. At this distance the lights from the construction site could still be seen, but did virtually nothing to illuminate the woods around him. His eyes roamed slowly across the darkness. He was sweating profusely despite the temperature.

His eyes told him that nothing was out there. But his instincts told him a different story. Something “was” searching for him. Hunting in the darkness. His legs were shaking bad. And he was still breathing hard.

He crouched even lower as he continued to scan the darkness. Pulse pounding in his ears. Shit. Shit. He needed to make a move. Needed to make it now.

Shaky thigh muscles tensed up. Preparing to spring into action. He began a mental count off. One. Two… Thr-.

“Me an lil’ shorty in the back (back)! Talkn’ ’bout dis (dis)! Talkn’ ’bout dat (dat)! Talkn’ ’bout ah-!”

“AHHH!” At the sudden sound of his blaring ringtone Brooks shrieked in terror, and exploded into motion.

Practically flying through the darkness. As he moved he ripped his IPhone from his cargo pants pocket, and flung the God Damned thing off into the darkness of the forest.

Trees whizzed by in a shadowy blur. Twice he almost ran smack dab into a gnarled trunk. That would have been the end of him. He was convinced of that.

He hit a hill and leapt off. Soaring out into the darkness like some kind of Parkour Ninja. Hitting the ground, and rolling with the momentum. In one fluid motion he rolled back to his feet, and continuing his frantic flight without missing a beat.

He was definitely off course now. Even through the darkness and terror he could tell that much. If he’d been going in relatively the same direction surely he would have crossed Island Creek by now. Not that it fucking mattered. The only thing that “did” matter was that he put as much distance between himself and that Highway as possible.

A few more minutes of frantic sprinting later and he burst into a clearing he hadn’t seen before. Under the light of the crescent moon he could tell it was a big one. A grassy field stretching North and South as far as his limited vision could see.

He was gasping for air now. God dammit if he didn’t need to quit smoking. His Adrenal Gland was still going strong, but his leg muscles were threatening to give out. Still he ran.

The tree line of the forest loomed darkly about ten yards ahead. Willing himself to cross the remaining distance, he made it to the edge in less than ten seconds. But just as he was about to re-enter the cover of the forest he slammed into something. Stifling a scream as he fell hard on the ground, his eyes shot up to the obstacle.

It was a Man! He let out a shout, and lept to his feet. Drawing his knife. Flight had failed. It was time for the alternative. But then he stopped. And just stared in horror at the obstacle before him.

“Oh Jesus…” He said to himself.

The Man was dead. It took him a few seconds to realize that he was hanging from a rope tied around his neck. And he had… He had… A plastic bag wrapped around his head!

“What in God’s name?” He asked the darkness. But no answer was forthcoming.

Brooks stood there in silence. Just watching the man slowly swing back and forth in the cool breeze. Taking in the dead Man’s details. His need for flight momentarily forgotten.

Even in the darkness he could tell that he was a big dude. His fat belly sagging over his pants where the weight of the noose had pulled his black and plaid red jacket up. Rough cut jeans swaying in the wind.

And what was that? It looked like the Man’s right arm had been removed, and then reattached. Even in the darkness he could see crude twine sewn through his jacket and into the forearm of his flesh.

Then a sound. A loud breaking of branches from somewhere off in the distance behind. Brooks whirled around. Scanning the darkness across the field. His knife gripped tightly in a shaky hand.

He stood there in silence for moment. Listening to the gentle sounds of the forest, and watching the grass sway gently. Nothing. He let out a deep breath.

Then suddenly – “FWAP!”, without warning strong arms wrapped around his chest like a Venus Fly Trap. Almost knocking the wind out of him. An instant later and Brooks was moving in an impossible direction. Upward. Rocketing through the canopy up, and up. Branches snapping, and gouging into his flesh. It was all he could to to raise his hands to shield his face from the worst of it.

He flailed. He kicked, and screamed. But to no avail. Whatever had him in it’s grasp had a terrifying strength. It was the Man! He realized. The Dead Man had him!

With near blinding speed they broke through the canopy, and flew up into the night sky. The dark outline of the Forest rapidly coming into view below. He screamed then. Shrieking against the icy wind that buffeted him. The cold belying the reality of the heights he was attaining.

A myriad of distant lights began coming into view as he rose higher, and higher over the land. Lights from homes, and the few buildings that still had people pulling late nights could be seen.

The North Hill Country Club came into view. Rich people drinking, and working on their swing in the late evening hours. And to the West of the Club, what looked like a lone Cyclist racing across the darkness of the North Hill Marsh Trail. Their headlamp bobbing up and down as the rider pedaled furiously.

Brooks had no idea why he fixated on this particular detail. Maybe it was because he’d decided that this was all a dream. He’d drank too much somewhere along the way to or from the bar. And was now sleeping on the side of the road somewhere.

He glanced up at the Hanging Man. The plastic covered face looked down upon him in terrible silence. The rushing air causing the bag to flutter wildly. Yes. This was definitely a dream.

His eyes went to the noose around the Man’s neck. The rope stretching up and up into the clouds. He looked passed the Hangman. Struggling to see what the rope could possibly be attached to.

Then, by complete happenstance the clouds above shifted slightly. A small opening in the fluffy fog opened up where the rope of the noose stretched to impossible heights. And Brooks caught a glimpse. He froze. Feeling warm liquid rolling down his legs.

Then suddenly the Hangman released him, and He was falling. Plummeting down through the darkness he’d so recently risen up through. His body cartwheeling through the air.

Down, down, down he went. The lights of the surrounding countryside disappearing from view as he fell to lower altitudes. The icy wind which had been loud on the way up, was now deafening. So much so that he couldn’t be sure if he was screaming or not.

He wasn’t falling back to his original spot on the ground however. Now he was over another desolate part Pilgrim’s Highway. A truck passed by underneath him.

Headlights piercing the darkness below. Then passing by. The driver blissfully unaware of the young man plummeting to the ground overhead.

His rational mind tried to reassure him that this was indeed a “very” lucid dream. But the ice cold wind screaming in his eardrums threatened to shatter that illusion.

At sixty feet he could make out the tiny details of the street below. Even in the darkness he could see the cracks, and potholes that marred this stretch of road. He plummeted the rest of the way in the blink of an eye. The last thing that Brooks Parker ever saw was the concrete rushing up to meet him…

CHAPTER 2

“A TRIP TO REMEMBER”

“… It used to be that to speak out against the Church got you executed.” Caleb De’Marco said to the Crowd of students above him that occupied the rows of Lecture Hall C, at Bridgewater State University. “Then that changed to being excommunicated. Then that changed to being viewed as a Dissenter.”

“And now, in 2016 in America to debate the merits of the Cult of Christianity is to do so as an Equal. If not more so because Dissenters are now coming armed with logic, science, and history. So in that respect I think Society is making real Progress.”

“So this is an Atheist’s perspective then?” A student from the upper rows challenged.

Caleb looked up to see who it was. Interrupting during Lectures was considered rude. But when it came to questioning matters of faith, etiquette usually was the first thing to go out the window.
Sure enough, it was Myles Deets. The younger brother of his good friend David. David was a party animal. His brother however was a Born Again Christian. One of those pro-active types who organized public bible studies and flag pole prayer meetings.

He wasn’t alone either. Those types never seemed to be. Always needing a fellow Cultist nearby to help maintain their perpetual state of mania.

“Sweet.” Caleb thought to himself, as he pushed his glasses back up. He was hoping to get some adversity for his mid-semester dissertation. And having it be Myles was just icing on the cake.

Caleb smiled graciously. Meeting the Sophomore’s angry, indignant eyes. Then shook his head.

“No, no… I wouldn’t call myself an Atheist. Since we’re all on a little blue ball spinning through Infinity I don’t think that it’s wrong at all to speculate, or entertain the idea of their being a Higher Power. Or Powers. But to claim to know the Mind of God is absolutely ludicrous. If not outright madness.”

Myles recoiled dramatically. As if Caleb’s words had physically struck him. Rumbles came from within the ranks of the Crowd. Especially in the group around Myles.

He recognized some of them. After all, it was hard not to forget the face of a person who goes out of their way to make fervent public displays of their Religious beliefs.

“Madness?” Myles did his best to sound righteously indignant. “Is it not a fact that on their deathbeds Atheists and other non-believers have been known to repent? And accept Jesus into their hearts. How then do you then explain that?”

“Unbelievable.” Caleb thought to himself, and sighed heavily.

“If the basis of your argument concerning a sudden change of faith for those who you refer to as non-believers is predicated on it happening in their most desperate moments, then your argument is fatuous.”

At this Myles and his cohorts looked confused. Caleb sighed again.

“In other words. When a person is dying they’re understandably desperate. Most times the individual is also in incredible physical and mental pain. Be it from cancer or hemorrhaging out after a car crash.”

“When a Human Being senses the end approaching they’ll reach out to anyone or anything that could possibly help them. And honestly to take that as a preverbal point on the Biblical Scorecard is reprehensible, and amoral.”

“Amoral?” Mark Shoereman, the Cultist to Myles’s right repeated the word almost as soon as it left Caleb’s lips.

The third year Religious Philosophy Major having been feeling woefully outgunned since the moment Caleb had started using big words. The second he heard one (he sort of recognized) he pounced on it like a starving tiger running down a gazelle.

“Yes absolutely.” Caleb answered unperturbed. “And again. To claim to offer salvation through one’s personal superstitions is borderline lunacy.”

This came with a mixture of angry rumbles, and genuine amused laughter.

“Especially in the case of the Christian God.” Caleb continued on. “Native American’s and Buddhists, and Religions that actually focus on Spirituality and Harmony with Nature, not Dominance and Conformity are probably onto something. But Christianity is a Conqueror’s Religion. It is a Religion of War, and Exploitation that masquerades as a benevolent Cult. But it is not. It is the stuff of Warmongers.”

As if to prove his point Myles, Mark and the others in their group looked ready to storm the stage. Staring righteous holes through him. Apparently he wasn’t eligible for “Salvation”.

“But don’t take my word for it.” He smiled. Raising his hands up in the way a Priest might do as he emphasizes something of import to his flock. “In this miraculous Information Age one does not have to look far to see the truth of these words. You can look backward into the past, or right now at the present day. Every time a Politician tells our Troops they’re fighting for God they’re militarizing Jesus.”

“Personally, and no offense intended to anyone here, but I don’t really know how else to put it, I’ve never actually met a “real” Christian. Supposedly about seventy-one percent of the Nation claims to be Christian. Including our fearless Leaders. But they’re not.”

“If the Christian’s of this Nation actually followed the Doctrines laid down by Jesus Christ of Nazareth than the United States would be a Country of Peace and Progress. Since we’re definitely not those things. And since most of the Citizens of this Country claim to be Christian. It’s easy to see that the Christians of the United States aren’t very Christian at all.”

At these words someone in the middle rows let out a “Whoop! Whoop!”, that was followed by a brief raucous round of applause.

“But do not be dismayed my brothers and sisters.” Caleb said melodramatically.

“For there is a silver lining to all of this. A beacon of hope shining through this otherwise blinding shitstorm that the Upper Echelon has created for Humanity. And that is the miracle of the Internet.”

“Since time immemorial the self appointed political and spiritual leaders of the Human Race have relied on the People, who greatly outnumber them, being unable to unite. Unable to come together and observe, and speak objectively on how those in power choose to conduct themselves.”

“But now when a Politician breaks the law the entire World hears about it five minutes later. So many people have Cameras now that even Law Enforcement Officers in their own clumsy dim-witted way are slowly realizing that they have to be more careful about where they choose to murder people.”

That brought another round of laughter from the crowd.

“We are the first Generation to be connected like this. The Internet is the next Euphrates. Where once Humanity was all in one place, and could look out across the cool waters and behold one another, we at long last find ourselves reconvening. Seeing the rest of humanity for the first time.”

“Where distance once separated us, now we find that we can once again reconnect across these digital waters. Now we can communicate, and speak on the topic of how crooked those that rule humanity and claim to know the word of God truly are. And it is there that we will come to a tipping point.”

“A paradigm shift where the majority comes to see the terrible truth of what American Culture has conditioned us to aspire to. The reality of how our Celebrities live in lavish extravagance, while their fellow Americans sleep in the alleyways between their mansions. Whilst they pat themselves on the backs for being such good Christians.”

“A shift where we come to see that our spiritual leaders. Those that don holy robes and claim to be the mouthpiece of God, are in fact pederasts. And use their undeserved power for the purposes of amoral carnal pursuits.”

“The terrible facts are now making themselves known. More and more, every day. And to quote the Great Bob Dillon. The Times, they are a changin’… Thank you…”

Righteous applause from the hippies. Less enthused clapping from the Hipsters. Laser beams from the Cultists.

“Success!” Caleb thought with glee.

And without another word left the Podium. Walking calmly to the side exit. He opened the door and stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Holding it for a few seconds before letting it out slowly.

“Fuck.” He said in an exasperated tone to the empty corridor.

“Yo dog! That was a great speech!” Came an approaching voice from down the hall.

Caleb knew who it was before he even turned to look. David Deets.

“How about we celebrate with some Peyote?”

His eyes widened and he practically spun around on his heels.

“No… Way…”

“Yeah way bro.” David said. His grin threatening to engulf his head.

David was a small guy. Standing a full five foot six. Timid by nature, but by God did the Kid love his drugs. And they’d been talking about trying Peyote for literally years! But they’d never been able to find any…

It only took a second for Caleb to read the sincerity behind David’s thick rimmed glasses. He’d “actually” gotten ahold of the famous Cactus! What the fuck?!

“Hol-ee shit man! Where’d you get it?!”

“Doel.” David said. Beaming with pride.

“Of course.” Caleb thought to himself.

Doel Barrios was not a student of Bridgewater University. He was a drug dealer. A pretty big one actually. And as Gangster as they come, as far as Caleb could tell from the few interactions they’d had.

How Doel and David had become friends was beyond Caleb. But they were. And though David didn’t outwardly say it. He took no small measure of pride being cool with a guy like him.

“Yeah man he texted a couple hours ago. The eagle has landed bro!”

“Did you tell the gang?”

The “Gang” as it were, consisted of five people. Caleb, David, Rylan Jackson, Sarah Howard and Amy Thompson. All of them were third year students, and had been inseparable since they’d meant in their first Semester.

“Hell yeah I told them! Everyone’s free tomorrow. Are you down?

“Absolutely.” He felt giddy.

“Amy’s all about doing her seance.” David added. Still smiling.

“That’s cool with me.”

They’d all been fascinated by the concept of Native American Cultures’ use of Peyote in Spirit Journeys. Amy most of all. She was a History Major with a predisposition for partying. And after reading about some Native American Ritual a few Semesters back she’d convinced them that if they ever “did” find Peyote they totally had to try this Seance out. Caleb (having a massive crush on Amy) was up for doing anything she suggested.

“I thought you’d be.” David said. Shaking his head.

He just didn’t get what Caleb saw in Amy. Sure she was attractive. But she was weird. Like “Super” weird. And she’d never expressed any interest in Caleb. Though it wasn’t like he’d actually ever attempted to make a move.

“Where are we gonna trip?”

“My house.” David answered.

“You’re house? Why? Everyone but you has an apartment.” Caleb chided.

David smiled despite himself. It was definitely a sore subject. He felt like a kid still living with his parents. Not to mention his psychotic Born Again Brother.

“Amy says it’s the best place to do the seance. The basement that is.”

“Oh yeah.”

Caleb dimly recalled the conversation now. On one black-lit, bong filled night last Fall they’d been partying in David’s basement when his folks had been out of town. And Amy had declared that if they were ever going to do a “legitimate” Ritual on peyote it would absolutely “have” to be in David’s basement.

Truth be told it really was a pimp ass basement. David’s parents were very well to do. And like all “true Patriots” with disposable income. They’d spent it on upgrading their property.

Having re-finished the basement a few years back when David’s folks had taken out a second mortgage on the house. They’d spent a pretty penny on it. It spanned the entire frame of the large home. Wide, open, and dry.

Complete with a second living room, bathroom, fully stocked bar,and a pool table. A beautiful teal green fuzzy carpet spanned the width and breadth of the expansive room. A true testament to the self-centered use of disposable income.

But that wasn’t why Amy wanted it for tripping purposes. The reason was because of the unfinished floor on the Eastern end of the basement. While the rest of the floor was concrete there was a ten foot by ten foot space on the far end that was bare dirt.

It was there, Amy claimed that the necessary symbols could be drawn. And the Ritual performed. That was all well and good. But the problem was-…

“My folks are going out of town tomorrow. They’ll be gone for the week.” David said. Reading his friend’s thoughts.

Caleb smiled.

“What about Myles?”

“Fuck ’em.”

His smile grew wider still.

“It’s like destiny…”

…..

10 A.M. The next morning found Caleb and David sitting in Doel Giovanni’s living room, ready to procure their party supplies. They sat around for awhile making small talk over a blunt. Doel sitting on a plush couch. His Chocolate Lab “Valentina” snuggled up against her owner’s leg. The Canine clearly not yet ready for the morning, or the chill that had come with it.

Caleb and David sat in two love seats across from their host. A glass coffee table between them. As they chatted Caleb took in the decor.

Two posters hung on the wall above the couch Doel sat upon. One of Pablo Escobar. The other of Gucci Mane. Across the room on the opposite side hung an impressively large mural of the Virgin Mary.

“Of course.” Caleb thought with mild amusement.

The coffee table that sat between them was a true testament to the kind of trade that was plied here. A forty-five caliber ACP, and two extra clips rested upon the glass. Beside that stood a bong of exquisite design. Caleb guessed that it had to cost at least a grand. And near the center of the table sat a mirror with a razor, and the telltale residue of substances much harder than Ganja.

Doel didn’t look particularly gangster. To Caleb he looked like you’re average East Coast mid-twenties Puerto Rican. On the rare occasion Caleb had seen him he’d been dressed like your average joe. Jeans and a white tee shirt seemed to be his staple.

And at this particular moment he looked even more benign. Still donned in his morning attire of pajama pants and a bathrobe. Complete with fuzzy slippers in the shape of big yellow ducks. But Caleb was a guy who had his “ear to the ground” when it came to the going’s on in and around Duxbury. And he’d heard stories…

As it were the two friends could hardly contain themselves. Barely holding back the excitement that threatened to explode out of them. This had not gone unnoticed by Doel. Who purposefully took his time. Savoring the moment. Finally though, He produced a Tupperware.

“Alrighty white boys, here’s da goods.” A sharkish grin on his face. The diamond stud in his left ear glinting in the small rays of sunlight that shone through the drawn curtains of the living room windows.

Pulling the top off revealed a dozen Peyote Buttons. Their color was uncanny. Almost a Federal Standard Air Superiority Blue. A truly exotic sight to behold.

Caleb whistled loudly. And Doel beamed.

“What are you whistling for Calebs?” Doel asked, still grinning. “I told you before that I can get you anythings you needs. Especially for my homie Davids.”

David beamed. Though he tried to hide it.

It was true. The few occasions that the two had interacted had always revolved around the sale of one narcotic or another. And the Guy had never been shy about advertising his ability to obtain virtually “anythings you needs.”

“You wanna trip with us?” David asked. Genuinely meaning it.

“Hell no!’ Doel laughed. “I don’t do white people drugs. You honkey’s are crasy.”

Caleb thought about informing Him that Peyote had it’s roots in Native North American Culture, but quickly decided otherwise.

“And don’t go doing all those yourselves either.” Doel added. “That’s waaay too much for you cracker’s.”

“It won’t just be us.” Answered David. “We’re doing it with Sarah, Rylan, and Amy.”

“Rylan?!” Doel said. “Fuck that hippie white boy.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot you don’t like him.” David responded.

“It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s that Rylan is a bitch. Like an litteral bitch. On second thought, don’t be too careful with those buttons. Like you guys should each use one, and give Rylan like five.”

They all laughed.

Caleb wasn’t surprised. Rylan was a bit of a character. Well everyone in “The Gang” was really. But appreciating the company of Rylan was sort of an acquired taste.

He was one of those new age beatnik types. Not quite a Hipster. Not quite a Hippie. Sort of a unique, pretentious blend of both. A lot of flash. Not much substance.

“Right Mima da Pipa?!” Doel said. Suddenly plunging his face into his dog’s midsection.

“Oooh! Mima da Pipa Wrinkleskin Savage! Rylan’s a little hippie bitch, and those are crasy white people drugs mum mum mum mum mummm!” His words dissolving into kissing noises as he smooched the animal all over.

Valentina, appearing indignant to her Owner’s affections let out a deep sigh and farted…

A short while later when Caleb and David were walking down the street, Caleb felt the urge to ask.

“Dude. What the Hell does Mima the Pipa wrinkleskin savage even mean?’

David laughed.

“Well Mima means Grandma. And Pipa means belly.”

Caleb mulled this over for moment, as they walked. Dead leaves crunching beneath their feet. The blue sky, and the brisk air providing an invigorating ambience.

“So… When Doel calls Valentina that long ass name, he’s saying Grandma the belly wrinkleskin savage?” He asked incredulously.

David laughed.

“Yeah.”

And the two erupted into uncontrollable laughter, as they continued down the street…

…..

Thunder rumbled behind the overcast sky. Thunder but still no rain. Caleb, Rylan, Sarah and Amy were just passing Manhasset Gardens on Congress Street. The day had been brisk but comfortable, and so the four had elected to walk from Sarah’s apartment to David’s parents house.

Killing time before his folks left. Caleb and David having split up after leaving Doel’s, so that he could go and see his parents off. Caleb was grateful for the extra company. Addressing a crowd of peers with a controversial topic was one thing. But striking up a conversation with a girl he had a major crush on was entirely another.

Luckily Rylan’s propensity to make an ass out of himself greatly overshadowed Caleb’s conversational shortcomings. Plus it was just plain funny to watch. Rylan bore a striking resemblance to Tormund from Game of Thrones.

You give the Wildling a big red Afro to go with the beard. Swap out the animal pelts with tie-dye shirts two sizes too small. And exchange about twenty percent of the muscle mass with body fat, and boom. That was Rylan’s mien in a nutshell.

He was one of those “husky” types. The kind of person who’s body fat takes on the shape of pseudo muscle in great quantities around the upper torso. He had these big high shoulders that made him kind of look like he was a football player wearing shoulder pads.

After only five minutes the big hippie had already failed twice in his attempts to flirt with Sarah. Having gotten wind of her split with Brooks Parker only yesterday he (in a classy Rylan way) decided to try his luck. But to no avail.

“You ever wonder why they built this nice sidewalk all the way out here?” Amy asked.

Caleb couldn’t be sure if she was deliberately trying to ignore Rylan, or if she was just talking randomly. Which was something she often did.

Caleb shrugged. “It is kind of weird. It’s not like this area sees any kind of real foot traffic.”

“It’s the freakin’ fat cats in City Hall man.” Rylan said in a scholarly tone. Turning his attention from Sarah. “They spend all this money on these revitalization projects instead of putting that cash back where it needs to go. Into the hands of the people man.”

“Whoever did it knew what they were doing. It’s got high class marks.” Amy continued. Gazing down at the ground as they walked.

“High class marks?” Caleb asked.

Amy nodded.

“See that divot right there?” She said. Pointing to the ground.

Caleb looked at the weather worn sidewalk. Even though it was only a few years old the concrete bore the unmistakeable mark of New England weather. Cracks, and pockmarks abound.

“Uh… I see a lot of divots.”

Amy heaved a sigh. Like a parent trying to be patient with a slow child. She lowered the tip of her unopened umbrella. Pointing out a particularly deep cleft in the concrete.

“This one. This isn’t just some random dent.”

Caleb chuckled.

“It’s not?”

“Nope. It’s for people to stick their umbrellas. A person can put the pointy end in a hole , and balance the umbrella on their body while they do something else without having having to worry about it falling on the ground.”

“You’re… Serious?”

“Watch.” She said. And inserted the tip of the umbrella into the hole.

From what he could tell the umbrella sank about an inch down, and seemed to almost fit… Perfectly?

Caleb laughed again. Unsure how to respond.

“It’s an umbrella divot.” Amy stated with finality.

“Jesus. She really is crazy.” Caleb thought to himself. Though it didn’t diminish his attraction to her in the least.

Sarah and Rylan seeming to not have heard Amy’s final conclusion. By that point they were just coming up on Garside Bogs, and Rylan produced a doobie. Stating that “They needed a warm up”.

This section of Congress Street was pretty heavily wooded. In fact there were only four houses on this stretch of road. So despite ganja still being illegal in Massachusetts it wasn’t really a big risk.

Once the smoke had begun filling their lungs and heads Rylan had begun his customary beat-boxing. He actually was exceptionally talented at it. Caleb was pretty sure that if he posted himself on YouTube he’d potentially do pretty well.

And Rylan like a lone hipster with an acoustic guitar, believed that his talents should be shared (whenever humanly possible) with the rest of the world. And was similarly under the false impression that every female on the planet was enamored by his abilities.

“Oonse oonse oonse pa-pa-rah! Oonse oonse-!” He went. The cadence echoing out into the gloom of the trees.

They reached King Phillip’s Path and hooked a left. Caleb turned his gaze to the tree line to the East. Catching occasional glimpses of the icy waters of the South River Reservoir through the orange, and yellow foliage.

Amy rolled her eyes as Rylan passed the joint to her. His big Afro bobbing up and down as he did so.

“… Rah BubbaRahBubba wookiewookiewookiewookie!”

“I tried calling him last night. But he didn’t pick up.” Sarah was saying to Amy.

“He’s probably just being a bitter deush.”

“Still. I thought he’d have called me back by today at least…”

“You should probably give him some space.” Rylan ceasing his beat making to offer up this deep insight.

“Yeah… I guess…”

They fell into silence for awhile after that. Well everyone except for Rylan’s “Funky Beats” that is. Each lost in their own thoughts. Wondering what Peyote was going to feel like.

After another ten minutes they reached Eric’s street. Taking another left. This time onto Indian Cove Road. Their destination coming into view as they did so.

It was a ritzy neighborhood. Every house looking like it’s own mini-estate. Eric’s Parents house being no exception. It sat at the end of the street. Overlooking the Reservoir.

“Dude I can’t believe we’re about to trip on Peyote man!” Caleb shouted out loud. Feeling giddy.

At this Rylan hooted, and the girls jumped up and down. Squealing as they did.

“So what’s the plan with this ceremony?” Sarah asked.

“Well it’s going to take a minute to prepare.” Amy answered. “I think we should dose up about a half hour before we do it.”

“Sounds good to me!” Rylan said with a toothy grin.

A few excited minutes later and they were standing on David’s doorstep.

“Velcome! To zee trip house!” David said in his best Dracula voice as he answered the door.

Everyone shouted and hooted as He bowed dramatically and bid them enter. They made their way through the massive living room to the equally excessively large kitchen. To Caleb the house was a testament to classic American wage disparity. Four people living in a gigantic home whilst people right here in this very community slept in the streets. But at that particular moment economic assholery was the farthest thing from his mind.

“Alrighty. Here’s da goods.” David said excitedly. Repeating Doel’s words as he produced the twelve Peyote Buttons.

“Holy shit.” Rylan said breathlessly. “I can’t believe you guys actually scored these.”

“Believe it.” David said. Feeling a juvenile swell of pride as he did so.

His eyes darted across the table to Sarah, her eyes glued to the Buttons. Hopeful thoughts bubbling in the back of his mind.

“So how exactly is this going down?” Rylan asked.

“I’ll get started on the Ceremony Part.” Amy said. Rising from her seat at the table. “The preparations will take a little bit.”

She opened the door to the basement. Flicking the light on and descending the stairs.

“I’ll get started on the tea.” David clapped his hands together enthusiastically.

He’d taken it upon himself to research the recipe. And was pretty confident that he could pull it off. God bless YouTube.

“So your’e going to take drugs in the house while Mom and Dad are gone?” Myles’s voice suddenly came from the doorway that led to the Living Room.

Everyone turned. The diminutive young man stood their with his arms crossed. Like a parent ready to give his children a stern lecture.

“And we’re going to hold a Pagan Ceremony!” Amy’s voice echoed up from the basement.

Everyone laughed at this. Everyone except Myle’s of course. His scowl only deepening at the words.

“What you’re planning on doing is a sin against God!”

“Yeah? Well I have my doubts about that.” Rylan said. “But I’m going to be getting so high tonight that I plan on meeting him. So I’ll be sure to ask him myself when I see him.”

More laughter at Rylan’s unexpectedly clever retort. Myle’s glowered at them for another couple seconds before turning on his heel and storming off.

The next hour passed by in an excited blur. A cooler was filled with beer and wine. And set beside the pool table. There was a refrigerator down there. But for some reason a cooler full of ice seemed more appealing.

Several trip toys from past hallucinatory excursions were brought. To name a few there was Betsy, which was a stuffed purple raccoon. Brew Dog, a lime colored, six hose porcelain hookah in the shape of a big smiling mushroom man.

And Petey the Wonder Lizard. A small rubber lizard that one could get in a bag of a hundred for a buck at the Dollar Tree. But nonetheless a trip toy of such epic significance that Caleb had a small tattoo of Petey on his right forearm.

Eventually everyone made it down and got comfortable in the basement. David having completed the tea after about thirty minutes. Now it sat cooling on the black walnut bar counter. A steaming glass pitcher, and five empty cups.

Amy had been on her knees in the dirt of the unfinished section of the basement pretty much since she’d first gone down. Busy with the drawing of the symbols deemed necessary for a “proper” ceremony.

At one point someone had plugged in their iPod to the surround sound system. It wasn’t enough to stop Rylan’s sporadic bouts of beat boxing. But It at least gave everyone a musical alternative.

“Alright this should be done in about thirty minutes.” Amy announced from her position in the dirt corner. “I think it’d be a good idea to dose up.”

Everyone hooted and hollered at this. And soon each member of the Gang had a mug full of dark Amber tea.

“Alright.” David said. “What should we toast our first peyote trip to?”

For a few moments no one responded. Then Caleb spoke up.

“How about, here’s to friendship? And new experiences?”

That sat well with the others. They all raised their glasses. Clinking them together, the friends as one took their first swigs.

It was a pleasant flavor. Milder than expected. You couldn’t really taste anything out of the ordinary at all. It really just tasted like semi-sweet tea with a hint of lemon.

“Are you sure there’s peyote in this?” Sarah asked.

“Oh yeah.” David beamed. And drained the rest of his cup.

“Yeah it really doesn’t taste bad at all.” Rylan said. “Great job dude.”

“Thanks. I think it turned out pretty good for a first try if I do say so myself.”

The group was silent for a moment as they finished their drinks.

“Oh ya’know what?” Sarah said, setting her cup back down on the counter. “I left my backpack upstairs. I brought some glow sticks!”

“Nice!” Rylan said. As Sarah skipped back across the basement toward the staircase.

“So how long does this stuff take to kick in?” Caleb asked.

“We should be already feeling the beginning stages of the trip as I’m finishing up the symbol for the ritual. So about thirty minutes.”

“And remind me what this ritual is for?” Caleb asked.

“It’s to commence the beginning of our spirit journey maaan!” Rylan laughed. “It’s going to connect us to the ethereal and open our soul’s up to forbidden knowledge!”

Amy laughed, and nodded. “Exactly.”

“Uh… Guys.” Sarah’s voice came floating down from the staircase. “The door’s locked.”

Everyone turned as one.

“What?” David asked in an incredulous tone.

The group exchanged tense looks as they listened to Sarah’s footfalls squeak back down the stairs. She got to the bottom and made her way back toward the bar. A piece of paper in her hand.

“And there’s this.” She said grimly. Holding up the sheet for them all to see.

It was a single bible verse. Printed in the center of the paper. It read-

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.” Mark 9:43.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Amy said flatly.

“What a creepy ass quote.” Said Sarah.

“Myle’s is a creepy ass dude.” Answered Caleb. Still looking at the paper.

Then the lights went out. Myles apparently planning on taking this little prank (If you could really call it that) to the extreme. Fortunately the Group had already lit several candles in perpetration for their ceremony. So it wasn’t a complete panic when the basement went dark.

In fact it was quite impressive just how well lit the basement remained as the lights were extinguished. The vast room taking on a soft flickering ambiance.

“This motherfucker.” David said through gritted teeth. His eyes staring up at the ceiling.

“Dave.” Amy said in the shadows to his right. “When we get out of here I’m going to beat your brother to death.”

“Not if I get to him first.” Rylan growled.

The big hippie sounding comical to Caleb in that moment. The role of the tough guy just didn’t fit his Muppet like appearance. The Group just stood their in tense silence. Each of them trying not to panic over the fact that they were locked in a basement after just having dosed Peyote for the first time.

Tense that is, save for Caleb. He didn’t know if he was already feeling the effects of the Cactus kicking in, but he found himself fixated on the big Hippy’s excessive hair. In that moment the shadows dancing across his massive curly beard and Afro made him look like a chunky King Leonidis.

An image flashed through Caleb’s mind of Rylan bursting through the basement door, and charging Myles with a pool cue. Shrieking “Spataaah!” As he charged the wide eyed Born Again.

He suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter. The sudden break in the silence causing everyone to jump. All eyes turning on him.

“Shit Caleb.” Sarah said grinning slightly. “Don’t tell me you’re losing it already.”

Caleb shook his head.

“Fuck it you guys.” He said, and began walking through the darkness toward the pool table. “If that’s how Myles wants to be then fine. Let him have his hollow victory. He’ll live to regret it.”

“Damn right.” Rylan growled again.

Caleb nearly doubled over with laughter at Rylan’s tough guy impression. He made it over to the pool table. He felt an incredible confidence in his motions. It “must” be the Peyote.

Bending down he retrieved a candle from one of the boxes. He lit it with his zippo, and raised the bougie to his face. The small light of the dancing flame reflecting off his pearly white teeth.

“We came here to have a Ceremony right? That’s the whole point to all this preparation isn’t it Amy?” He asked.

Amy nodded.

“We’re here. We’re about to be tripping balls. And you’re brother’s an asshole Dave. But that shouldn’t stop us from having a good time right? And besides when we really feel like getting out we can just kick the door down, and then kick the shit out of Myles.” Caleb said with a grin.

“Fuckn’ aye’ right!” Rylan shouted excitedly. Waking over to the cooler by Caleb, and fishing out a couple of bottles.

He popped a top and tilted the bottle back. Taking a few hearty swigs.

“Let’s get this party started!”

That got everyone’s spirits back up. The small Group gave a collective rallying shout. And a few minutes later music was playing from the MP3 Player, and refreshments were flowing as they prepared for the Ceremony to come.

Well really it was mostly Amy doing the preparation. Whilst the others drank, and gabbed about how they “thought they were already feeling it.”

More candles were lit and placed all about the basement. Now long shadows danced across the walls. After the group’s initial rally no one bothered trying the lights. The reason (though no one wanted to say it out loud) was because no one wanted to see if the religious zealot lurking somewhere over their heads maliciously planned on leaving them in the dark as well.

It wasn’t like they needed it anyway. The two dozen currently flickering candles, and the two battery powered lamps were a testament to that. The shadows of the basement now lingering only in the corners and remote crevices of the room. Even the Inherent creepiness of the section that comprised the dirt floor had been banished by the music and light.

Things did get progressively harder to focus on as the Peyote began to take hold though. Amy had been knelt in the dirt for what seemed like an eternity. Painstakingly making a Large intricate pattern with the copious amounts of salt she’d brought with her. An open beer, two more candles and another lamp set up around her worksite.

At one point Caleb walked over to watch her progress. And try his luck. Wondering if she was really going to be able to finish what she was doing before this Trip took hold. Once up close he saw that it was indeed quite the project.

Two books lay just outside of the workspace. The first was clearly a modern day print. The second was visibly much older. In fact it was not a book at all. But a Tome of great proportion. Both Volumes lay open. Various archaic images printed upon their respective pages.

Sarah had been replicating some of the pictures from both books. Incorporating them together into a Salt Mosaic. The Image she was creating was incredibly intricate, and unlike anything he’d ever seen before.

The perimeter of the design was in the shape of a nearly perfect circle, roughly four feet in circumference. But it was the shapes within that drew the eye. Two identical Waxing Crescent Moons hung opposite one another in the upper left and right of the Circle.

The one on the left had a spider dangling from a strand of web attached to the satellite. The insect’s eight legs stretched out wide. Under the Moon on the right was drawn a Coyote. It’s face turned upward in a howl.

Below all this was drawn a lone Mountain. It’s jagged peaks stretching up toward the twin satellites. And at the very heart of the Mountain drawn in a black sand that stood out in stark contrast to the white, was an odd looking eight pointed star. Barbed, rough arrows pointing out in all directions.

For some reason Caleb found the Star unsettling. But he chalked it up to the (not so slow) onset of the Peyote. And quickly pushed it from his mind.

“Wow! That’s amazing!” Caleb said. Genuinely meaning it. But more importantly trying to break the ice with small talk.

“Parts of it incorporate the traditional markings, and characters of the Wampanoag Spirit Hobbomock. But that is only part of what I’m making.” She said. Not looking up from her work.

“The Wampanoag’s believed that during certain parts of the lunar cycle, symbols and ceremonies, if put to use correctly and under the right circumstances could act as a direct line of sorts to the ethereal during mind altering spirit journeys.”

“Hobbomock?” Caleb gave the awkward sounding word a try. Letting it fumble about his tongue, and out into the basement air.

“Sort of a boogeyman in Wampanoag lore.”

Someone hooted in the background. But neither paid it any mind. Both were enwrapped in the evolving pattern on the floor. A floor that was starting to wave slightly…

“Almost done.” Amy said, as she completed another small circle within the eight pointed star.

“Why are there two identical moons?” He asked. The words having a peculiar wavy pattern as they left his lips.

“Some within the Wampanoag believed that a summoning of Hobbomock must be conducted when the Moon is Waxing. And when performed correctly a great, and sacred Cycle would begin. Concluding when the Moon once again enters the phase of waxing crescent.”

Caleb barely comprehended Amy’s words. Realizing that his ability for cognitive thought was rapidly dwindling.

“So you want to summon an ancient Indian Boogeyman for you first peyote trip?”

“Actually the politically correct term would be Native American.” Amy answered. A hint of annoyance in her voice.

“And the United State’s first victims of genocide were not ancient by any stretch of the imagination. But to answer your question, the reason why I would summon Hobbomock is for knowledge.”

She said that last part with an undeniable hint of excitement.

“And the Cycle takes a month to complete?”

Amy nodded.

“It is said that once Hobbomock begins his tutelage, it lasts for a full month. Concluding after a full Lunar Cycle.”

“Oh.” Was all Caleb had for a response, as he watched the wall behind them breathe. Jesus. This stuff was no joke!

He glanced around at the basement. It seemed larger than when they’d first come down those fancy wooden stairs. Shadows danced across the concrete. Morphing in and out of strange, enticing shapes. Yup. He was tripping alright.

He turned his gaze back to the large tome. Inspecting it more closely. The thing was huge. Bound in what looked like leather stained a dark admiral blue. It had to weigh nearly half as much as it’s owner. He wondered what the title of such a work of literature could be.

“You got this book out of the school library?” He asked.

Amy shook her head, as she continued her work.

“I got it from Saint John’s Evangelist Church.” She said matter-of-factly.

“The Church? Did you borrow it from the Pastor? What’s his name? Father Jim? Father James?”

“It’s Father John.” She said. Reaching over and grabbing up a small shaker of what looked to be filled with juniper green sand. “And no. I stole it.”

Behind them came more laughter, and the clink of bottles. The sounds of revelry competing for dominance over MXPX’s “Chick Magnet”.

“That’s weird that there would be this kind of book in a Church.” He said as he absently watched the walls take another breath. “It’s a Native American Book?”

Amy shook her head again.

“No. I honestly have no idea what the origins of this Tome are. It’s got some trippy guides, and references for Ceremonies that seems to span across several different Native American Tribes.

She began methodically shaking the salt shaker over the Crescent Moon with the Spider hanging over it. The dark green adding interesting highlights to the image.

“Weird.” Caleb said. It seemed to be his go to word at the moment. “You seriously stole it?”

“Yup. I snuck into the Study one day when I was doing community service for my DUI last summer. There were all kinds of weird books, and other… Things… Anyway this baby really caught my eye, so I took it.”

She finished with the shaker and returned it to it’s original place.

“I doubt Father John will ever notice that it’s even gone. I’m pretty sure he’s a one book kind of guy. If you know what I mean.”

It took Caleb’s inebriated mind a moment to catch the joke. Jesus stealing from a Priest. “God” this chick was hot…

A trippy ten minutes later, and the five of them were sitting around the completed salt pattern. Several more candles had been lit, and the music turned down low. Everyone was tripping pretty good at this point.

“Okay everyone.” Amy said. Her voice coming out in a glittery wavy pattern. “Let’s begin.”

“Before we’re tripping too hard.” Rylan laughed. Bringing a round of chuckles.

“What’s first?” David asked. To Caleb the sound of his voice had an Amber color to it.

“First I want you all to think of something that you want to know.”

“What?” Asked Rylan. His Afro and beard beginning to take on a life of their own.

“According to Wampanoag Lore Hobbomock is a Spirit that possesses great knowledge. In some lesser known accounts he is known as the Keeper of Secrets. To start off this ritual you must all think of something that you yearn to know.”

The Group exchanged looks.

“Don’t say it out loud. Just focus on it in your mind for a moment. And don’t make it some trivial bullshit either.”

Everyone was silent for a few moments. Considering Amy’s words. It was a fantastic novelty, Caleb thought to himself. That even as young adults they could get together and whole heartedly be caught up in such a fantastical moment.

So what exactly “did” he want to know if he could have any question he desired answered? He drew his knees up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around his legs. Rocking back and forth, and staring up at the wavy ceiling as he considered this. Just then the ancient furnace in the far end of the basement kicked on. The low rumble echoing gently throughout the cavernous room.
Hm. What would he want to know? He would want to know… If… If there really was any truth to the supernatural? Yes. Is there truly anything beyond the set rules of reality that Humanity has established for itself? That’s what he truly yearned to know.

“Everybody set?” Amy asked after another few moments of quiet. “Okay then. Let’s join hands and close our eyes.”

Closing his eyes was a whole different experience altogether. A myriad of colors that were somehow at once both dull and bright, danced against the back’s of his eyelids. He focused on the abyss before him. The amorphous blobs of color began to resemble the overcast sky of an alien planet.

And behind the beautiful rolling clouds… Stars… At least he was almost sure that he could see the faint, distant winking of vast celestial bodies.

“Kókkinos Pnévma.” Amy’s strange words echoed from outside the world behind Caleb’s eyes. “Kókkinos Pnévma…”

Caleb was surprised. He’d taken Greek 101 as an Elective a few semesters ago. And though he couldn’t speak a fluent sentence of it to save his life, he’d retained enough to be able to recognize the language when he heard it. This really was a Hybrid Ceremony.

“Chorígisi hmón theía gnósi.” She continued. And the prismatic clouds shifted slightly. As if an ethereal wind had begun to blow.

“We humbly ask the Great Spirit Hobbomock to hear our words. And to grant us divine knowledge beyond that of our mortal kin. With open hearts we offer up our mind’s and soul’s to your tutelage.”

“Now everyone. With your eyes closed, and your thoughts bent toward the knowledge you desire, repeat after me. Prosféroume ta myalá mas.”

“Prosféroume ta myalá mas.” The Group said in unison. Struggling to pronounce the words.

The wind in his mind’s eye grew in strength. The Clouds beginning to swirl, and twirl about.

“Prosféroume tin kardiá mas.”

The myriad overcast sky began whirling about intensely. Offering up glimpses of what lay beyond. Sure enough. There were stars…

“Prosféroume tis psychés mas.”

As the group repeated these last words the clouds parted, and the Endless Abyss revealed itself in all it’s unblinking glory. Impossibly distant stars winking out across the endless gulfs. Caleb let out an awed breath. Hearing similar sounds from his companions. But it would be crazy to think they were all having a similar vision.

Then suddenly there came the soft, melodic sound of a flute. Caleb smiled without opening his eyes. Lest he lose the amazing vision playing out behind them. Amy (who for awhile had played in the Bridgewater University Student Orchestra) was really going all out for this.

It was a song he’d never heard before. But making an educated guess he decided that it was Native American in origin. The melody was beautiful. The notes flowed out, and across the basement.

He gazed on at the twinkling stars behind his eyes. Occasionally a variegated cloud of vibrant color blew across the endless sky. As he looked, and listened the colors of the stars shifted between hues of white, yellow, and blue. And in the beautiful melancholy of the vision and music he silently wondered… Is there really anything beyond?

The minutes stretched on in this harmonious fashion. Never had Caleb felt so content to simply sit with his eyes closed, and listen. “Hobbomock.” Caleb said the name in his mind. “If there was more to this reality would you show me?”

As he gazed on, Caleb became aware of one star near the center of his vision that stood out against the rest. It took him a moment to notice the celestial body as it’s hue had started out a very faint scarlet. But as the moments ticked by, and the melody went on the glow of this Great Red Giant grew in strength.

“That’s where it is.” Caleb said to himself. “That’s where true knowledge resides. Hobbomock’s home.”

What an odd thought. But as it crossed his mind the Scarlet Star pulsed brightly once. Then twice. On the second time the Star retained a significantly brighter glow than before.

As he focused on it the rest of the Stars began to fade into the background. In the world outside of his vision Caleb was dimly aware that Amy’s song was reaching the peak of a crescendo. The Scarlet Star seemed to draw closer as the Melody increased in volume.

He began to make out the details of the burning Star. Deep red bolts of electricity arched across the vast sun. Dancing, and leaping across it’s colossal surface. And beneath the nuclear pandemonium something dark and vast shook, and undulated.

He couldn’t make out it’s details. Only that it was there. A great lightless spot in an otherwise blinding landscape.

The rest passed like a dream. The vision stretched on and on. The crimson flames leapt, and the flute played on in the background. Eventually the sun faded, and the scene once again returned to the infinite abyss.

He couldn’t even recall the scene shifting. One moment he was looking at the flames. The next he beheld an expanse of darkness that took the breath away. Way, way out across the void, stars winked and shimmered. It was at once unsettling and serene.

“This is where we came from.” He mused. “We are but visitors to this place…”

He sighed contentedly. Contemplating this newfound knowledge. Staring out into infinity. The view unobscured by an atmosphere.

“Yo homeslice you still dreaming?” David’s voice echoed across infinity.”

“Wha-?” He asked the void.

“Hey man.” David’s jovial laugh rolled across the cosmos. “Where are you?”

“I… Where… Am I?”

“Come back.”

He felt hands on his shoulders. The feeling was like an electric shock. He’d all but forgotten he possessed a corporeal form. His eyes snapped open, and he found himself once again in the dimly lit basement.

David was kneeling in front of him. Smiling.

“God damn man!” David laughed again. “You’ve been there for like… A million hours!”

Caleb laughed heartily. His senses reeling in a pleasant way.

“Holy shit dude! This shizl is amazing! You wouldn’t believe the visuals I just had!”

“Dude me too!” David said. “You wanna get down on some peyote pool?”

He asked, gesturing toward the bar. Caleb saw that the others were gathered around the widescreen. Laughing hysterically at Eric Andre as he went through his usual ceremony of destroying the set at the beginning of his show.

Time went on in a good-humored blur for awhile after that. The group staying easily entertained between the flat screen, the pool table, and themselves. It wasn’t until they all started having the same hallucination that things started getting out of hand.

The Group had been milling about the pool table. Occasionally taking shots, but no real coherent game happening, when the ground around the Salt Pattern slowly began to sink. Not much initially. It was so subtle at first that every time someone looked at it they chalked up the slight anomaly to their own individual high. Which was growing in intensity by the minute for the entire Group.

As the little party progressed everyone just sort of avoided the area. Not wanting to be the first to mention it.

Caleb was the first to investigate. He meandered over in the general direction of the dirt floor. Glancing down at the slowly sinking ground. He cocked his head to the side, and furrowed his eyebrows.

“Man this stuff is amazing.” He thought to himself.

He bent down to get a closer look. Nearly touching his nose to the ground. Scrutinizing the anomaly. He could have sworn that even as he watched, the ground sank ever so slightly.

He righted himself and shrugged. Making his way back to the group he attempted to ignore the growing sense of apprehension in his belly. But after about fifteen more minutes the growing indentation was becoming a serious “Elephant in the Room.”

“So… I don’t want to make anyone panic or anything…” Rylan started hesitantly. Bouncing a pool stick between his hands.

“But the fucking floor is sinking?” Amy asked. Looking over at the hole that had now reached a depth of a half foot. The ground around it had started to slope with the sinking Symbol.

“I… I see it too.” Amy said. A breathless, awed quality to her voice.

Everyone was quiet for a few minutes after that. The gravity of the realization that they were all seeing the same thing weighing heavily on each of their minds.

David wanted to break the tension. Say something like “Daaamn this is some good shit!” But he knew it wouldn’t alleviate the growing sense of apprehension. This wasn’t part of the trip.

The pit began to grow more quickly. As if it knew they were now watching it. The center of the dirt floor fell out of site. A dark hole taking it’s place. As one the Group wordlessly took a few steps backward. All thinking the same thing. The Basement was going to fucking eat them!

Everyone kept their eyes on the deepening hole as they continued backward toward the basement stairs. There came a strange echoing, grinding sound from all around. The noise was somehow both frightening, and sickening. They had backed up about twenty feet, and the pit had reached nearly two yards in circumference before this new spacial anomaly was noticed.

“Holy shit you guys!” Rylan said. “Look at the stairs!”

The others turned to look. The Basement had grown along with the pit! The stairs were more than ten yards away now! The opposite ends of the Cellar rapidly receding into the deepening gloom. Candles now flickering in the distance like faint beacons.

The five Friends just stood their in awed silence for a moment. Listening to the nauseating sounds of the basement as it grew, and stretched it’s corporeal limits. It was a sickening, revolting sound. It’s unnatural timbre somehow eliciting such feelings.

Caleb chanced to look up. Instantly wishing he hadn’t. Sure enough, the ceiling was getting higher. Or the ground was getting lower… Or maybe. Please God. Maybe they were all just tripping way too hard.

And then came the chanting. Very faint, it came echoing up from the deepening pit. Resonating up from a distance impossibly far away. The Group exchanged looks of horror, and disbelief. Their expressions wordlessly confirming that they were all indeed hearing it.

They stood there, frozen, listening to the voice as it drew closer. Wood, and concrete popped, and squealed. A macabre background cacophony to compliment the approaching monotone droning from the Chasm below.

The air began to vibrate with the power of the nightmare droning as it drew closer. Without warning David and Rylan lost it. Both sprung into motion as the same thought ran through both their minds. Escape! They went sprinting for the horrifically distant stairs.

Caleb tore his eyes from the Nightmare Pit to look at the rapidly shrinking forms of his two Friends.

“You guys! What the fu-?! But his words caught in his throat as Sarah let out a terrible shriek.

Caleb whirled back around. He felt a sudden warmth running down his leg. Oh God! He had to wake up! Oh please Jesus Fuck! He had to fucking wake up!

The Chanting was close now. The Source slowly rising up out of the Pit. A vast nightmare form. A Giant! Caleb’s legs felt weak, and he knew he was going to puke.

Oh God… It was ten feet tall at least! Cloaked in a great scarlet robe. The vast hood pulled up. Partially obscuring it’s mottled green countenance. The all too large head dotted with dark splotches that reminded Caleb of his alcoholic Grandfather’s liver spots before he’d died of cirrhosis.

Taking great, majestic strides the nightmarish Giant slowly stepped up, and out of the Chasm. In one gargantuan hand It bore aloft a massive, dripping Tome the same color as It’s robes. A dark, thick liquid dribbled out from between the yellowed pages.

And The Giant read from the Book. It’s terrible voice booming out in a strange nightmare language that made the skin itch, and crawl. Though the Thing didn’t look at the Caleb and the others as It spoke. But rather raised it’s voice up to the now cathedral like ceiling, and addressed the growing darkness. Like a Priest before a congregation.

And from beneath the Red Giant’s robes fell an assortment of Arthropods. Chitin clacking, and clattering onto the ground as segmented bodies struck stone. The noise competing, but failing against the cries of the growing Basement, and the chants of the Monstrosity.

For his two remaining companions the spell broke. They cried out, and ran off in two different directions. But not Caleb. He just stood there, pissing himself. Pissing and screaming that is. Pissing and screaming…

END
Phase 1

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Unwanted Room

November 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I thought it was a great house and at a price we could afford, despite being laid off after ten years of steady employment and a new baby in my wife’s arms. The area was rural, the nearest neighbors not even a sight from our kitchen window, and the previous owner had left a lot of furniture that we didn’t have. From our small one bedroom apartment in the city to this place, it was like finding a piece of Heaven. The real estate agent had been nice as she showed us several different places, all out of our price range. Then suddenly the previous owner had passed and his children didn’t want the property, so it became available. I was eager to get the house. It was modest enough for our growing family, what else could we want?

The agent had what I thought at the time a funny story to tell us. Before she could even tell us the asking price, she said that she was required by law to inform us that a paranormal research team had visited the house under the notion that the place was haunted. She assured us that the investigation happened twenty years ago and there was no evidence of a haunting, just some old family rumors that scared the residents at the time. We all had a laugh at that, especially my wife Molly. We were both skeptics of the paranormal, we didn’t believe in ghosts and vampires any more than we believed the moon landing was real. The agent didn’t have the exact details, but it was a clean house. I put a bid on it immediately, never bothering to inspect the house for damages or insect infestations; a decision I came to regret.

Our first week was uneventful; Molly and I took the upstairs master bedroom and little baby Ethan got the room next to ours. There was a third bedroom, which sparked Molly’s interest in having another child. I didn’t have a problem with that, the attempts were the best part for me; and she never knew I used a condom so that I could be with her without risking getting her pregnant. She was so beautiful with long brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her slight Asian heritage showed in the small slant of her eyes, my purely European ancestry didn’t mind at all. Her body was something I couldn’t be more proud of, with her skin soft as satin and her ample breasts there was no sign that she’d ever been pregnant.

The second Tuesday after we moved in the problems began. They were subtle things, all which could be attributed to faults in the house; though I could see why someone obsessed with the paranormal would immediately assume ghosts were at work. Molly was the first hit as she went to take a shower before leaving for work. As she stood naked under the spray of water the hot water stopped and she jumped out of the shower screaming; I comforted her with a large towel and then set myself to checking the water heater. I thought it odd that all the sinks still had hot water, but I was determined to check it out. I didn’t have any experience, though as a husband I felt qualified. It was like I was given a book on how to be a man when I married, just to do all the things a husband was expected to do.

I hadn’t been in the basement much since moving in, the movers brought all the boxes down and Molly was the one to search through them. In my inspection I noticed the strange architecture that formed the foundation to my new home. It was old, blended with cunning skill to the newer sections of the basement. I was never good with history and couldn’t place it immediately, but some of the carvings reminded me of what Molly and I had seen in an old Roman church on our honeymoon to Ireland. That had been a special place, the tour guide had explained that the Romans had no known success past Hadrian’s Wall in England and the church was evidence that the empire had spread further than previously known. They even might have made it across the Atlantic, the guide had joked. A lot of educated historians and archaeologists were in the news infrequently, talking about Europeans in New England long before Columbus arrived; though I barely paid any attention to it.

The water heater was in the corner of the basement in what appeared to be the newer section, though the entire place was dark and filled with cobwebs of spiders long gone. The cylindrical device was in a recently built cabinet to hide it from view, as if the notion of finishing the basement had come to mind before being abandoned. There wasn’t anything in the cabinet with the heater other than more webs that had been abandoned by their makers. I wondered how long it’d been since anyone actually checked the machine, I had to brush several webs aside just to get a good look at it.

I’ve already said that I’m not taken to believing in the unknown and mysterious, but I felt dread being in that place. I could feel eyes watching me though I never saw the source. I swallowed my pride and looked at the heater, expecting to know nothing. But I did, a valve dial was turned almost entirely to the right. A worn label was beside it but I risked the danger and turned it to the left, opening the valve. There were no explosions and the heater didn’t react differently; but when I checked the shower the hot water was working again. I told Molly with feigned mastery, knowing that the valve was likely closed enough that it allowed some hot water through but wasn’t reliable. I fixed it, twisting one of the knobs until it was fully open.

I stayed home, unemployed as I was. Molly appreciated it, I was able to watch our child and work on what I’ve always dreamt of, composing music. Ethan slept most of the time, waking only when hungry or after he’d soiled himself. It was good for me; the baby monitor I kept a few feet away was almost always silent. And because he couldn’t tell me what he dreamed of, I didn’t know what was going on in his head. Thinking of it made me laugh, I didn’t know what a baby could dream of other than milk and maybe Molly’s breasts; I dreamt about them all of the time.

Other things happened, all that I was able to explain away. From the missing cordless phone to missing silverware; this could easily be my fault. Odd cold spots appeared, but always seemed to be the result of a broken vent or something else changing the air around it. Then there were the lights. When I say that, I mean the lights would turn on and off seemingly randomly, even if someone was in the room. I’d checked numerous times to see if there might’ve been bad wiring but I’m no electrician. We eventually bit the bullet and, after I admitted my ineptitude, called someone that really knew what they were doing.

The electrician was a kid barely out of school who acted as though he’d had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I led him to the basement and the circuit box, showing him the tangle of wires. He mumbled something about a long job and set to work examining the wires. I found a chair that was free of infestations and watched him work; when I was young a contractor stole things from our house when nobody was around. Since then, I always watch. I accept that people are flawed, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust them. So as the kid started his work I relaxed and pulled a worn book out of my pocket to read. I figured my presence there would be enough to deter any thoughts of theft. But not watching I didn’t see what was happening to him. I know that he was examining several wires that passed over the old part of the basement when I heard the noise. It sounded like a scraping sound, followed by a murmur of surprise and a whoosh of air. I stood to investigate and the kid ran into me.

“Burn it down, man; just get out…” He was saying as he collided with me; his skin was pale and eyes wide. I jokingly asked if he saw a ghost; his silent reaction to that question was more frightening than his appearance. I left the discarded book on the basement floor where I had dropped it and ran after the kid. The electrician nearly broke the kitchen screen door as he ran outside to his truck. When I reached the door the kid was backing down the driveway. From what I could see, he was sweating profusely with the same shocked demeanor. In moments he was gone, his tires screeched as he slammed the pedal down in his escape. I’ve never seen that happen to a person, I didn’t know what to make of it. Curiously, I returned to the basement to see if I could find what might’ve frightened the kid.

I first noticed that the book I had left, and I thought fallen on the floor, was resting peacefully on a small table beside the chair with a scrap of paper acting as a bookmark. I couldn’t remember doing it; and considering that I dog ear the pages when I take a break, the bookmark was highly unlike me. I put the small book back in my pocket and circled to the other side of the basement where the electrician had last been. It appeared as though he was at a portion of the basement where the old and new portions were blended together with artistic grace. There was white dust everywhere and I noticed that some of the wires were inside the wall, engulfed by plaster. I tugged one of the wires and made the same scraping sound I heard earlier. It wasn’t hard to figure that the electrician was pulling out some of these wires when something happened to him. I looked at the several wires that were free and noticed one that had been pulled out more, done by the electrician. I moved to inspect the area that the wire had been ripped from when I heard a sound that immediately took my focus; a baby crying.

I rushed up the stairs to find Ethan lying in his crib, wrapped in his small blanket, crying. His eyes were pinched shut and he was slightly curled in a fetus. I went to him, thinking of nothing but my son. He cried as I picked him up and as I held him close he grabbed my sweatshirt with his small hands. I circled the room, trying to calm him, but nothing worked. I decided to feed him and walked to the hall. Ethan stopped crying the very instant that I’d stepped out of the room. I looked at him strangely and stepped back into the room.

Ethan began crying again, wailing as if haunted by something I couldn’t see. I took him out of the room and once again the tears stopped. I admit to my confusion as I brought him to the kitchen where Molly kept several bottles for him. I rested him comfortably in a playpen he could grow into using as I prepared some food for him. Once I knew it wasn’t too hot or cold I went to my son. He drank some, but he wasn’t as hungry as his crying would’ve otherwise suggested. He burped a little and fell asleep in my arms. I carried him to the master bedroom and put him in a bassinet in the corner. When Molly came home, he was still sleeping.
“I’m home,” she called as always. I went to the stairs to usher her up to the bedroom. I told her about Ethan’s crying as she picked him up and carried him to his crib. He was sleeping and didn’t wake when she brought him across the threshold. She found me, smiling as she always did, and led me to the kitchen were she prepared a small dinner for us. That night we were both woken by Ethan’s screaming, which reminded me again of his awful tears earlier in the day. Molly brought him into our room and he slept in the bassinet without disturbing us once. He slept in the bassinet for two more nights, stopping us from attempting another child, before the sexual tension between us grew too strong. Molly waited for Ethan to sleep and brought him to his crib.

A two o’clock in the morning he started to cry; Molly once again told me that she’d handle the baby. Lying in bed I could hear her pacing the hallway whispering to Ethan. I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was calm and relaxing even to me. When she brought Ethan into our room, her inaudible words had put me to sleep. Three more nights we attempted to sneak Ethan into his crib, and every night he dragged Molly out of bed with his crying. By the third night I could easily see the lack of sleep taking its toll on her; her eyes were always red and the skin under them was darkening. She even dressed in more muted colors, as if the rainbow of fabrics held no appeal to her. It was bad and I resounded to solve the situation myself.

The following day I ran to Ethan’s rescue and, after comforting him, laid him to rest in the bassinet. Then I went into Ethan’s room to see if I could find anything. I checked the crib, initially thinking there was something wrong with it that upset my son, but it was fine. Then I checked the toys and even inspected the carpet, but nothing that would frighten a child. I was standing in the middle of the room, looking at the mirror on Ethan’s closet door, when I saw it. Someone else was in the room.

I spun quickly but the room was empty. I ran into the hall and quickly down the stairs, but found no evidence of another person in the place. I went back upstairs and inspected every nook and cranny in every room, but there was nobody. I went back to Ethan’s room and looked around. After no initial signs I looked back at the mirror. At first there was nothing, and then I saw him. Almost my height, he was old with a bald head and wearing a black suit with a black tie. He didn’t look at me, but I could tell from the reflection that his eyes were glowing, a soft red light like an old bulb. He turned to me, expressing no emotion, and then started to walk out of my vision. I turned to look and once again found the room empty. I walked to the crib, where the man had stopped, and looked. To my surprise, it wasn’t empty. Lying there, half buried under Ethan’s soft sheet, was that same small book I’d read in the basement.

I couldn’t figure out anything special about the book, it was just a story about a group of kids stuck on an island and how a misguided civilization grew. The place I stopped wasn’t even special; it was still early in the book. Then I noticed the scrap of paper that’d been used as a bookmark. It was a torn piece of newspaper that had yellowed with age, advertising several small businesses in the area. One was circled in a dark substance that I recognized immediately.

In my former job I saw a lot of injuries; accidents resulting in bleeding and even hospital visits. I remembered the color of blood so very well, I even imagined that it was a color necessary in a crayon box; but I also knew the color blood made when it dried on paper. It was a brownish color with just a hint of red, the longer it was there the less red there would be. It was too clumsy to be a marker, even the small grooves in the lines suggested that a finger was used to make it. It was for a psychic nearby, but I imagined that the paper was very old and the place closed. But with the way my son had been behaving, I had no choice but to try.

I dialed the number and waited as it rung. As I sat I contemplated disconnecting, but a woman answered before I could commit to such action. She sounded old, with a weak wavering voice similar to the one my mother had.

“This is Researchers of Unknown Knowledge, may I help you?” She asked. I looked at the paper and frowned, it wasn’t even the right business.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I have the wrong number.”

“Were you looking for Madam Oracle?” She asked. I wasn’t expecting the question, but that was the name on the paper.

“Yes, I was.” I told her, almost afraid of what she’d say next.

“I am Madam Oracle, or I was when I was younger,” she laughed and coughed for a moment, “My grandson works with me and we started this a few years ago.”

“Oh, well I hope you could help me, I-” I started to speak when she cut me off.

“You found this phone number and you suspect that your home may be haunted.”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess.” Something told me that she had more to say. “I also guess that you’re skeptical about the paranormal. Well, I can assure you that we act in a very thorough, scientifically unbiased way. How’s tomorrow afternoon?”

“But I didn’t say what was going on.”

“No need dear; it is better if we don’t know. And I know your address; caller ID.” She laughed and hung up. At the time that was the strangest experience in my life, second to the mysterious man I kept seeing in my son’s room. But I was determined to solve this, anything for my little boy. Hell, I was already keeping him from having a sibling just so that he’d get the attention he deserved. I was the third of six boys, there was never enough attention to go around; we competed for the spotlight. I never wanted to put Ethan through that, and I didn’t want him to suffer any torment. If the crazy bat I’d just spoken with could help, then so be it. I’d bend over backwards for him, and truthfully I hoped that he’d never remember any of this.

I didn’t tell Molly about what I’d done, it’d be better for us both if I alone had to live with the memories of this event. My only suggestion was to keep Ethan in the bassinet all night; Molly agreed with me on the count that she had less than eight hours of sleep over the past three nights, she was too tired to have to handle another one of Ethan’s mysterious nightmares. When Molly went to work the next day I put Ethan in the bassinet and waited for the woman to come. The doorbell chimed one minute after one o’clock; apprehensively I opened the door.

Her name was Bethany Warwick; she was near eighty years old and used a cane to support her hunched body. Her hair was as white as snow and thick black sunglasses hid her eyes from me. She was dressed in simple clothes, the same sort that my aging mother would wear, and bunny slippers. With her were two men. One was Theodore Warwick, Bethany’s grandson, and the other was Francis Conway. Theo, as he introduced himself, was younger than me in his late twenties, with cropped black hair and thin eyebrows over deep set eyes. His eyes were small, darting back and forth like a nervous mouse watching for the stalking cat. He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants, carrying a large suitcase. Francis was shorter than Theo but about the same age, with a brighter appearance that hinted at his bright attitude. He wore a shirt that read ‘Who you gonna call?’ on the front and on the back was the Ghostbusters symbol. He was wearing jeans cut off at the knees and carried a suitcase like Theo’s.

They set their things on the kitchen table, one of the pieces that had come to the house thanks to the previous owner, and showed me their gadgets. They had something called an EMF detector, which could detect changes in electricity in the air, and a sensitive microphone recorder so they could ask questions and hopefully catch answers in the white noise. There were several cameras, all equipped with thermal scopes and motion detectors, as well as simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers. Bethany was proud of the simple flashlights, the tool she was most familiar with. I was given a camera to use and instructed on how to use it properly. Take three pictures, in sequence, from the same spot. Bethany took the lead and guided us to the baby’s room without a hint of direction from me and stopped with her back to the mirror on the door. She had us line up opposite her so that we could see ourselves in the mirror and the room behind us.

“Gentlemen, have your devices ready; I will call him. Don’t be afraid if the cameras stop working.” She must have been talking to us, and we did as asked. As she began chanting something in a low voice, the three of us watched the mirror. I’d already seen the mysterious man; it was only a matter of time before they did too. We didn’t need to wait long; the old bald man appeared behind us, rather than walked into view the last time I’d seen him. Theo, who’d been holding the EMF detector, nearly shouted in surprise as the small gadget began getting high readings that weren’t normal for a house; readings that were lethal to humans. Francis was asking questions, holding the microphone a foot away from his mouth. I would have taken a photograph but the camera turned off in my hand and wouldn’t turn back on.

If the man’s presence wasn’t frightening enough, when he walked through me I almost fainted. Now he should’ve been visible, standing before me. But in the mirror we could see that he didn’t appear whole, we could still see through him. He was saying something, which I hoped Francis was able to record, and then lunged at Bethany. The ghost grabbed Bethany by the neck and started to squeeze, choking her words. Theo jumped to the rescue though it was hard to know what to do. Bethany looked like she was being strangled by an invisible hand, like Darth Vader in Star Wars; only when Theo attempted to save her was she able to speak again.

“Be gone, you’re not welcome here.” Her voice was raspy but the ghost responded and released her, disappearing. As she started to fall, Theo caught his grandmother. Her eyes were closed as Theo lifted her off the ground and carried her to the living room. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Francis played back the recording so that we could listen. At first it was just Bethany’s rumbling, with questions from Francis breaking in. Then there was a distinctively deeper voice that was clearer than any ghost recording the two men had ever heard.

“I (inaudible) called Peter Foster; I was the priest (inaudible). This land (inaudible) the church; this room was where I lived. I pretended to be a Christian, (inaudible); beneath my feet is the entrance to the real church (inaudible), one you will never see.” That was the point the ghost attacked Bethany and Theo shouted, forcing Francis to stop recording. I looked at the two investigators but they could make little of it. It was Bethany, who we thought unconscious, that broke the silence.

“Secret door…basement.” Was all she could say, but that clicked in my head. Theo wanted to stay with his grandmother until the paramedics arrived, so Francis and I went into the basement to where the electrician had seen something that frightened him. I showed him the wires that were being pulled out and Francis inspected the holes. He showed me that this section of wall was covering a small space. I didn’t know what to do, but Francs did; he took a hammer and smashed holes in the wall until the sheetrock was weak enough to break. It took him almost five minutes to clear it away.

What we’d thought was an alcove was actually the top of a set of stone stairs descending into the earth. Francis gave me a flashlight and we walked slowly into the darkness. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was more horrifying than I could imagine. Skeletons were suspended from the walls where once people were left to die, only their bones remained after untold years. Cobwebs and the small bones of critters filled the passage as we continued down to an octagonal room. There was a pit in the center with decaying matter that Francis identified as firewood and a floor to ceiling carving of a beast I didn’t recognize. It was over twelve feet tall and nearly the same wide, but it didn’t represent anything that existed outside the imagination. The thing had a cobra-like head that connected to a human body that’s legs had fused to become a tail twice the length of the creature’s head and body. It had six arms, thin like those of an insect, and a pair of wings that resembled those of a bat. There was an inscription, but neither Francis or I had any hope of understanding it. I found that the camera dangling from my neck still worked, so I took pictures of it like I was instructed to do. There was a crashing sound to my left and I spun towards an opening to a dark cavern. Without thinking I took three pictures and waited, taking three more before lowering the camera. I looked at Francis who was as frightened as I. When he suggested that we leave, I wasn’t going to argue.

When we got back to the living room the paramedics were just pulling into the driveway. For her credit, Bethany seemed to be improving. She looked at me through those dark glasses and smiled. “I once came to this house and decided that it wasn’t haunted,” she coughed a little, “now I know that’s because it isn’t haunted, it’s infested. So many souls are stuck here; this is no place to raise a child.” The paramedics took her away and Theo joined her in the ambulance, Francis followed in their van. Alone, I realized that they had forgotten the camera I had been carrying. With a deep breath I turned the camera on and began scrolling through the pictures; the first were just those of the wall carving, though it did almost appear to move but that could’ve been a trick of my mind.

Then there were the six photos of that cavern. Seeing these pictures changed my whole outlook on life, I’ll never doubt the existence of the paranormal again.

The first picture seemed like a photo of a cave, with an odd looking stalactite to the right. The second photo was of the same cave, but now a blur ran across the image and the stalactite was gone. In the third picture, the stalactite had moved to the left side of the picture. Nervous but needing to know, I looked at the last three. These were taken a few moments after the previous three. The first picture showed the cave, no stalactites and the walls appeared differently. In the second image, something was just beyond the camera’s focus; all I knew was that it was big. The last photo nearly made me scream, and I’d have dropped the camera if it wasn’t hanging from around my neck. Whatever had been in the second picture was closer; I could clearly see the cobra-like head and dark eyes. The cavern was changing shape on account of the thing’s large wingspan and its arms and legs. Knowing how large the opening was, I can only imagine the magnitude of the thing approaching. If Francis hadn’t suggested that we depart, we would’ve been attacked by the alien creature.

Molly came home and had to park on the street on account of the numerous fire trucks and police cars that filled the driveway and front lawn. She found me carrying an awed Ethan as our home burned to the ground. The fires ate through everything, and they reacted strangely when consuming the basement; almost as though it was a large place deep in the ground. Our nearest neighbor, who happened to be the real estate agent, joined us to watch the house burn.

“Such a shame; that house needed good memories.” She was shaking her head. Molly carried Ethan now and hardly listened, but I was curious.

“What does that mean?”

“Oh, I must’ve forgotten to tell you about the previous owner. It was a mistake, considering the circumstances around his death. The man who used to own the place was Mark Craftsman. He remodeled much of the place; did you know it used to be a church until he changed things? I should’ve told you that much, some people are superstitious when it comes to living in an old church. Up until a few years ago, everything seemed to be alright for Mr. Craftsman; then he started sleeping outside of the house. There was a camper in the driveway for the longest time; it was unused except for the bedroom and the small bathroom. Mr. Craftsman died while outside of the home, just around the corner of the house where the door to the basement was. It must’ve been a heart attack, I heard nothing different.” She spoke with a coldness I didn’t expect. But when she turned to me, I saw pity in those eyes. “I’m sorry I kept it from you.”

“It’s alright,” I wanted to assure her that. “What about that haunting investigation?”

“That’s a weird story, without the paranormal part,” she chuckled briefly. “This psychic from town… I think her name was Madam Oracle, came. She was reportedly in the basement when something happened to her and her eyes were burned out of her skull. She wears these dark sunglasses now to hide the scar tissue,” she shivered. Molly looked at her but said nothing.

“I think we’re going to sell this place, we can’t raise a child here.”

Credit: Michael Bertolini

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