We found heaven, and it was empty.

January 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM
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Nearly three decades ago, work had begun on a machine that could punch a hole through the fabric of reality. A hole straight through to another reality and beyond.

The idea was that, with the right circumstances, we could find a universe with limitless energy. This would make up for the unimaginable amounts of power that the machine took up, and the irreparable damage it would likely do to Earth and the surrounding solar system. But if we found a universe at the very beginning of it’s creation, we’d have unfathomable amounts of raw undefined energy that’d last for a couple billion years. And at the same time, scientists would be able to study universes that followed entirely different laws of physics from our own.

A few years before I was born, this was accomplished. With this limitless energy expanding technology beyond anything possible before it and solving most of the world’s problems… War and struggle had been at an all time low.

Until a group of religious extremists tried to use the machine, to prove the existence of god.

This started a war, one of the largest uproars in history. Nearly every single religion turned on this small group of 30 people, protected by the United States government.

Some were scared that their god would be proven false, and some thought it wrong to try and prove their god real rather than simply having faith.

But in the end, there was no war. World leaders would not attack the U.S., which supplied their power. And the countries who did were often far too small to do any major damage.

The machine was set to search for a universe with the coordinates of various holy numbers from the christian bible. For weeks it searched, finding nothing. Different combinations inputted every time a search failed.

Until a little over four months ago, January 19th, 2234.

We found heaven. There was nothing else it could be. It was a reality of endless sky. Nothing but clouds and blue as far as the eye could see. As far any creature, machine, or natural entity, could go. The air was breathable, fresh and sweet even. And the light was dim, but not too dark to see.

And it was entirely empty. The only thing of note were red lakes.

Every cloud had them, and they were incredibly fresh. They were still rippling, upon entering the universe. Some, in fact, hadn’t even fallen to the ground yet. The first three in even claimed they looked humanoid for a second.

The damage to our world upon opening a portal is irreparable and devastating. But we now know the damage to the other world is a thousand times worse.

Credit: dogman_35

It Followed Me Home

December 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It was no later than 3 am when I heard Chris knocking at the door again. Stumbling out of my sheets, I fought the urge to lay back down and just let Chris figure it out. This was the fourth time he’d come to my house in the dead of night, and as my eyes searched for a light switch through my 2-ton eyelids, I remember deciding this was the last time I’d be so willing to help him.

If you make me waste one more second of my goddam break after this, I muttered beneath my breath. I want to go just one night without thinking about my entry exam or your creepy family. Failing to find the switch, I gave up on lighting my way and made for the door at a crawl; the blue haze of our living room tv coated my path, pouring in around the end of the stairway.

On turning the corner I passed last year’s christmas tree, which was never taken down, a testament to my parents’ home that they left in mild disarray. I found my dad dead asleep on the sofa. I didn’t bother trying not to wake him, an effort which would have been betrayed anyway by more knocking from the front door. In nights prior I’d taken more care to be quiet; after the same routine three (now four) nights in a row, I threw open the lock, tossed the glass door aside, and cut straight to the chase.

“Where is she?” It seemed like Chris wanted to respond, but he noticed my expression and turned silently, walking with me to his porch.

“She’s getting better, I think,” Chris noted carefully as we went up his front steps. “She’s started laying down sooner. It shouldn’t take too long this time, I swear.”

“I need to sleep, Chris,” I commented. “This better be quick.” Sitting upright on the porch in her pajamas, her eyes closed as usual, was Chris’ younger sister. She was sleepwalking again; at the very least, Chris managed to keep her propped up in a chair long enough to come get me. “Remind me why you can’t take care of her yourself?”

“I mean, I don’t need you here, I just–” Once again my deadpan eye cut him off, and he continued. “Look, it’s really weirding me out, okay? I told you, she’s never done this before. I don’t want to be alone with her like this.”

“She really just started that earlier this week?”

“Yeah! It’s freaking me out.”

“Just take her to a doctor or something.”

“My dad doesn’t want to go through the hassle of an appointment just for a sleepwalking spell.”

“Christ.”

“What?”

“Nothing, just…” the 17-year-old girl was still upright, seemingly unconscious, and her brother was waiting anxiously for my decision. “…Just bring her inside.”

“Bradley, you’re my hero. Thanks man.”

Without another word we helped sleeping beauty to her feet and corralled her towards my house. Barely a few dozen feet separated our two homes, a walking distance that made us ideal childhood friends. The walk felt less like a friendship gap and more like a favor line these days.

Within a minute or two we’d already gotten the girl through my front door; with practice, we were practically expert sleepwalker shepherds. As if the ominous, closed-eye shamble wasn’t unsettling enough, the static wash of the local news channel added an eerie glow to her shape. We sat her down on a kitchen stool with the weather forecast as provided ambience.

“Are you sure we should wake her up?” Chris asked. His eyes were still locked in a nervous gaze. “I don’t know if that’s healthy. I read something about that online, I think. Something about waking them up being bad.”

“WebMD isn’t going to help,” I pointed out. “it’s just going to give you random symptoms to worry about. We might as well try something other than sitting and watching her all night. Besides–she’s in my house, we try my solution.”

“Yeah, sorry about bringing her over here, by the way. I don’t want to wake my parents.” I glanced at my dad, still unconscious on the couch.

“Ah. Your parents. Right.”

“Okay, I’m gonna to try and get her up. I don’t think talking to her will work though. See if you can find something of use.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, just something to try if I can’t get her awake.”

Abandoning Chris to his useless wake-up plan for the moment, I left him with his sister and went upstairs. I didn’t bother checking any bedrooms, and went straight to the bathroom. Water might work, I considered, feeling devious. I’d need a cup or something though. There was nothing in the bathroom, and the hall closet was equally fruitless, save a whistle which I thought might work. I collected the whistle and returned downstairs.

At first glance it seemed Chris and our patient were just as I left them; as I got closer, I found that Chris’ nervous watch had morphed into startled alarm.

“Bradley?” he called.

“Hm? What?”

“Her eyes are open.”

I assumed he was trying to tell me his efforts had not been in vain, until I walked around to see her face. The girl was just sitting there. Staring. Unblinking. Not moving. Was she still asleep?

“Did…” I began, “…did you wake her up?”

“I don’t know,” Chris answered. “I looked away and…” Several minutes passed. Naturally confused and, for some unexplainable reason, afraid to act, we stood quietly and watched, waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what we were expecting, but it never came. Then, we tried clapping; we tried shaking her; we even tried the whistle–nothing worked. For what felt like a lifetime, she simply sat there, watching the window.

* * * * *

About two days had passed when Chris’ sister went missing. The police came, but they couldn’t find anything. No evidence, no story, no sign of the teenager. Chris didn’t leave his house for almost a week; he locked himself in his room and only left for food or anything he needed. I could see him at his window, thinking, probably hoping that somehow and someway his sister would be found. But she never was. She never was, until the night before the storm hit us.

“I don’t trust anyone in here, man,” Chris attempted through wavering cracks in his voice and the cell phone static. He was practically on the verge of a breakdown. “Something’s not right. Something’s going on–”

“Chris, you’re hysterical,” I interrupted. If it weren’t for what had happened with his sister, I’d have assumed he was simply overreacting. “Shouldn’t you be worried more about your sister? You know where the rest of your family is, they should be the least of your concerns.”

“Dude, I’m telling you, there is something wrong with them. No one in my family has ever been sleepwalking before!” An unseen weight seemed to sink in my stomach. I sat up in my bed, making out the shape of Chris’ house in the dark. His light was on, the only light in his home.

“Wasn’t your sister the one sleepwalking?” I dared to ask.

“She was. She isn’t anymore, now they’re all doing it.” I didn’t understand. I needed someone to say something, anything to explain away what was happening. Maybe you just never noticed it before, or, it could be normal, maybe we haven’t seen this ourselves. Once that word entered my mind it kept repeating, and repeating, and repeating, normal, normal, normal, normal–

“There’s someone at my door,” Chris’ voice shot through the line, throwing me from my daze.

“What?”

“There’s someone at the door, I just heard knocking.” Peeking across the street, I could see Chris facing me through the window. His eyes were pleading for me to do something.

“Chris?”

“Yeah?”

“When’s the last time you talked to someone in your family?”

“I don’t remember… three days… I think it’s been three days since–” This time I heard the knocking as Chris stopped in his tracks, and turned to face what I assumed was his doorway. Several minutes trudged by, and Chris remained fixed, silently, in an ominous stare; through the phone I could make out more knocking, ringing under his quickening gasps. His eyes were locked on something.

“Chris?” No response. “Chris?”

“Bradley?”

“What, what is it?”

“My door is open.” Before I could respond my mind was already replaying the sight of his sister upright in her chair, eyes open, yet unable to wake as though she were dead. “Someone’s just standing there, knocking on the door. It’s open, Bradley.” His words kept my sights glued to his window. “I can’t tell who it is.”

Then the light went out.

“Chris?”

The call ended.

I waited a few minutes. Then an hour. Then a few hours. No matter how hard I looked at his house or how many times I tried to call him, I couldn’t make out Chris’ shape or get a hold of him. My phone history recorded my paranoia: nine outgoing calls, twelve unread text messages. What the hell happened? I don’t remember what I was feeling, or if I was even scared–I just needed to know what was going on.

Eventually, my exhaustion caught up to me. I tried to stay awake, to see what came next, but before I knew it I’d drifted off to sleep. How long I was out for is beyond me. All I know is that it was still dark out when my sister heard something shatter.

* * * * *

By the time I’d woken up, the police were already gone. Apparently I’d slept through most of the morning; when my sibling Carly got me out of bed, my phone read 2:38 pm.

“I don’t believe for a second you’ve been in this bed all day, what with all that’s happened,” she berated. “Where have you been, Bradley?” Clueless, I rubbed at my eyes to wear off the sleep, trying to make out the fuzzy shape of my older sister. I attempted a response.

“I… don’t know?” Apparently she didn’t like that answer.

“You need to go to the kitchen right now. Something happened last night, and there’s a detective who wants to speak to you. Dad does too.”

“A detective?” Before I got confirmation, Carly left the room. On entering the kitchen, however, I found my dad and an investigator waiting for me just as she’d said. Over the next hour or so I was made aware of what was, surprisingly, the strangest thing that had happened among recent events.

Carly had been awakened the night before by a series of startling events; a thunderous boom, a flash of light, and then a crash. on checking the commotion, she found that one of our downstairs windows had been smashed open. Not long after, someone else had called the police. It seemed that the body of a young girl had been found–I immediately understood who it was. What I didn’t understand though, was why Chris’ sister was found right by our house, next to the broken window.

According to the investigator, the incident was being identified as a shooting. I told the man everything I knew about the girl: her family, the sleepwalking, the disappearance–he didn’t seem interested in the sleepwalking part. I knew nothing about the body, but if it’s possible to know less than nothing, I sure did when he asked if I knew where it went. At some point before the police arrived the body had, from what this report the investigator read noted, ‘disappeared without a trace.’

My dad and sister left us alone while they went to examine the broken window. The man asked if I knew what happened to the window and, like Carly, didn’t really appreciate “I don’t know” as a response. At least, I think he didn’t, I couldn’t really tell; I was still trying to rub sleep out of my eyes. Eventually it became clear he couldn’t get anything out of me (I didn’t have anything to give, after all), but before the detective could make his exit I got in a question of my own.

“Have you asked Chris anything about this?” The man turned, a puzzled gleam in his gaze.

“Who’s Chris?” he questioned. “Is he related to the girl?”

“Yeah, he’s the girl’s brother.” The puzzle in his eye was clearly missing some pieces, and he seemed lost. “They all live at that house right across the street.”

“We knocked at the door, son. No one was home. If they’re out, we’ll check with them when they return.” With that, the private eye thanked my family for their time and went on his way. My dad left the house too, muttering something about not missing work. Though I felt alone, I could still sense Carly’s presence behind me, the two of us stuck in place by an awkward static. Finally, she broke the silence.

“Were you still asking your friends to come see you today?” It took me a moment to remember: I’d asked a few old friends to come by, friends I hadn’t seen since I started college. One of them, of course, had been Chris. Some part of me got a feeling he might not show up that afternoon.

“I’m still thinking about it, yes,” I answered.

“Well, tell them to be careful driving. A storm’s coming in, and they’re saying the roads might flood. If they do drop by, they might have to stay for a while.” She started to leave the room, but stopped to complete her thought. “I’m not going to be home tonight, I have to head to the airport. Dad should be home in the morning.”

* * * * *

It was around 7 pm when the guests arrived. They had called earlier, wondering if they should wait for calmer weather, but the drive isn’t far and I insisted against rescheduling. Through the maelstrom of sleet and pouring rain their car jumped onto the driveway. I watched from the door as they threw up an umbrella and made a dash for the house.

“Oh my god, Bradley!” Dan shouted, hardly letting me open the door. I called them in as cheerfully as I could.

“Dan, Maria! How are you guys?”

“What the hell, it’s been so long!” Maria added. “Come on, you have to tell us everything. What have you been doing all this time?”

“I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it,” I replied, narrowly surviving Dan’s bear hug. “Now get in here, before it starts hailing or something.”

While the night’s dinner baked in the oven, Dan, Maria and I went about sharing all the things we’d missed getting to be a part of in each other’s lives. A flood warning had been issued, and the guests were going to have to stay the night. The two of them got cozy nuzzling on the sofa, warming their hands in each other’s laps; I found a seat from where I could face them and the doorway.

At one point, Dan went to find the bathroom. Maria waited for him to leave, then leaned in to interrogate me.

“Alright,” she began. “When did you and Sylvia go out? You’re going to be trapped in this house with me and you’re not getting away until I know.”

“You know what,” I answered with a sigh, “fine. It happened over the summer, just after graduation.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I mean, I guess I hadn’t thought about it? I don’t know.” I scratched my eye while trying to remember. “It still doesn’t feel like it really happened.”

“How long were you together for?”

“Um… four months? Yeah, four I think.”

“Only four?”

“We weren’t exactly a match made in heaven, I guess.”

It was almost 8 pm at this point, and Dan returned from the bathroom.

“Holy hell,” he started.

“What?” Maria asked. “What is it?”

“Okay–wow–Bradley, your sister really scared me in the hallway. I thought she wasn’t home!”

Maria smiled. Dan smiled too. I smiled as well, even though I didn’t understand; my sister had already left for the airport. I tried to form some sort of an explanation, but got interrupted when the first bang shook the walls.

“Woah,” Dan stammered. “What was that?” The room fell silent for a moment.

“It wasn’t a gunshot, was it?” I interjected.

“Was it?” Maria worried. “It sounded close–” She’d barely finished her thought when a second shot boomed out, then a third. Another two went off in quick, shocking succession, as if whoever fired them was in a panic. Then, silence, save for the substantial rain battering the walls and windows; as if on cue, the storm was starting to really hit.

“Guys?” Dan broke into the ambience. I started to get up, but Dan gestured for me to stay put. “Bradley! You should stay away from the window.”

“Why?” I asked.

“What if there’s something going on, like a shooting?”

“I think Dan’s right,” Maria noted, “it could be serious.”

We sat still, listening. After what felt like a lifetime, our senses on full alert, we weren’t able to hear anymore gunfire. I got on my feet to peer out the window; Dan didn’t stop me this time. It seemed as though time itself held still while I opened the blind, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever awaited us in the rain. I couldn’t see anything through the downpour, and I was about to close the blinds when I noticed a shape lying on the driveway.

We leapt out of our skin when a knock came at the door from across the house. it came suddenly, without warning. I looked at Dan, then Maria, who was watching towards the entrance.

“Is it your dad?” she wondered aloud. No one answered as I made my way around the couch. Taking hold of the wall, I would lean into the hall through one of the doorways to see who was knocking; I feared it was whoever had been shooting, but some part of me was more afraid of what might have caused it.

Before I identified our guest, I checked one more time on the group behind me. Maria hadn’t moved from the couch; Dan was standing next to me, where he was when the shots went off. Another deep breath, and I was ready to find out who was at the door. I wasn’t sure what I was so afraid of. What if we were just overreacting?

It was clear we weren’t overreacting when I discovered the front door was open. Whoever’d been knocking was now in the house.

“Who is it?” Dan whispered from beside me. I tried to formulate a reply.

“…I’m not sure…” became my response. As I watched the door, something caught my eye. “Dan, did you leave the light on upstairs?”

“The light?” he repeated, unraveling. Walking over to see what I meant, he noticed the open door as well. It became clear he was getting nervous. At last, I decided I’d had enough, and went off towards the stairs. Dan called to me from the doorway, hardly at a whisper.

“Bradley, where are you going?”

“I’m going to figure out what the hell is going on,” I answered brashly, not stopping to face him. Instead, I rounded the corner and took to the stairs. Dashing up, I was ready to get some answers–I halted at the landing, realizing I might be running into danger with reckless abandon. The hallway, including the doors to my dad’s room and my own room, was just visible around the corner.

The bathroom door was ajar, and an orange ray poured into the unlit hall. Ah, ominous, I contemplated. Why not? Taking the final step onto the second floor, the doorway was now in full sight. I’d been hoping this whole thing was a strange coincidence, but my hopes were suspended when a shape in the cracked opening caught my eye. After everything that’d happened that night, I was a little unsettled; it was when I opened the door that I really became concerned.

“…Chris?” The words escaped my mouth as though they weren’t mine. Leaning against the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror, Chris had appeared for the first time in almost twenty-four hours. At my exclamation, he turned to face me–there was a look in his eye I couldn’t quite place. We stood in a long beat of silence, until I broke from my trance to start getting some answers.

“Were you knocking on the front door?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he responded. “I was hoping you were home, but no one answered, so I came in to make sure you were okay.” Something about Chris was different, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Why are you in the bathroom?”

“I came upstairs to see if you were–”

“Why are you in the bathroom?”

“Alright, I know this seems weird Bradley, but I swear I have a reason–” I stopped him again with more questions, no longer able to contain my curiosity.

“What happened last night? Where did you go?”
“Bradley, if you’d give me a second to explain…”

I hadn’t interrupted him, but he trailed off anyway. It took me a moment to realize he wasn’t looking at me. You know that feeling you get when even though you can’t see it, you know something’s behind you? However you describe it, that’s what hit me just before the bathroom light went off.

The next few seconds were a blur. There was a scream–I assume Chris–and I saw him holding something in the dark. On impulse I ran, and before I knew it my feet had carried me to the stairs; I practically tumbled to the bottom as I scurried towards the living room. At some point during my flight a series of ear-splitting booms shook the house, and I hadn’t even noticed the flashing light before I got back to the others.

“Holy shit!” Dan called down the hall as I fell through the living room doorway.

“Oh my god,” Maria cried while helping me to my feet. “What the hell just happened?”

“Someone attacked us,” I gasped, hardly believing my own words.

“What?” Dan shouted. “What do you mean someone–”

“I don’t know, the lights went–”

“Was that a gun?” Maria cried.

“That was a gun, Bradley,” Dan started yelling. “Did you–?”

It was chaos. Dan was almost screaming, and Maria was panicking, and I couldn’t finish a sentence, and someone walked past the room, and the rain was getting heavier; there was no calm in sight when we heard footsteps charging down the stairs. Chris halted at the top of the staircase–he brandished a handgun, pointed right at us. The panic got worse.

“Everyone shut up!” Chris exploded. We froze, encased in fear. “Nobody move!”

“Chris?” I dared a question. He watched me, letting me speak, but he was definitely on edge. I got the feeling he wouldn’t hesitate to gun me down the moment I made a wrong move. “Chris, what the hell is happening?”

* * * * *

We managed to calm everyone down enough to come together in the living room. Chris was still eyeing us, his gun at the ready; we all eyed him back, and he began to speak.

“Alright,” he started, “I don’t know what’s going on, but no one is leaving this room until we’ve figured something out.”

“Chris,” I interjected, “you’re hysterical.”

“Quiet, Bradley!” He kept the barrel leveled right with my head.

“Chris,” Dan spoke up. “Were you the one firing those shots earlier?”

“Outside?” Chris elaborated. Dan nodded. “Yeah… Yes, that was me.”

“Why?” Maria asked. She looked shaken, but she was holding together.

“…It was trying to escape.”

There was an uncomfortable pause at the word. For a moment, looks of terror turned to looks of bewilderment; we all exchanged glances, and I asked for clarity.

“It?” I repeated.

“Yeah,” Dan added in, “what is-, what is ‘it?'”

“I don’t know what it is,” Chris began to answer, “but it–”

“This is ridiculous,” I interrupted. “Do you realize how–”

“Bradley, I swear to God!” His grip on the weapon tightened. “Look, I’m telling you. Whatever got to my family, it’s probably trying to–”

“Your family?” Maria stopped him. Suddenly, Chris’ nervous fury melted a bit, and he was lost in thought; his grip loosened on the pistol.

“Chris,” Dan questioned, “Who were you shooting at outside?”

“It was my brother,” Chris admitted after a moment. Dan looked utterly confused. “Wait, no, it wasn’t him, but it-, it looked like him… but it was walking towards your house–”
“Chris?” Maria stopped him again. “What’s going on?”

It took Chris a few moments before he’d adequately come out of his trance. He spoke slowly, as if choosing his words carefully.

“Over the past few weeks,” he began, “I noticed something… was wrong with my sister.” Dan and Maria looked at each other, then at me as though expecting some kind of explanation–I had no words. Chris continued. “Soon enough, my dad was acting weird too, and then my mom, and my brother as well. I locked myself in my room and avoided them, and it might be the only reason I’m okay.”

“How do we know you’re okay?” I asked, sitting up in my chair. Chris, it seemed, had no idea how to respond; the longer he waited, the more Dan and Maria began to shift around. Finally, he thought of a reply.

“Would I want to kill it, whatever it is, if I wasn’t?” This seemed to satisfy the three of us.

“What happened to your family?” Maria inquired, not handling the suspense very well. Chris took an uncomfortably long time to answer.

“I… I killed them.”

Maria fainted. Dan jumped to his feet, not happy at all about his current situation.

“What the fuck do you mean you killed them?” He bellowed. Chris snapped to attention, readying his weapon.

“Jesus,” I remarked. As quickly as she’d gone out, Maria started coming to; Dan calmed as he tended to his girlfriend.

“Listen to me!” Chris tried to reason. “They weren’t human anymore!”

Any sane person would have thought Chris had lost his mind; we must have been crazy ourselves, because we started to listen intently. “After I… killed them… I took the bodies outside to bury them. That’s when I grabbed the gun.” I wasn’t sure what Chris had used before the gun, but the thought bothered me and I kept listening. “As I was taking them around the house, my… my sister showed up.”

“Last night?” I asked.

“Yeah. She was the first to act out so I knew she wasn’t herself anymore. I couldn’t trust her–so I shot her. After that I buried her body with the others.”

Maria wasn’t taking the story very well, and she was shaking all over; Dan didn’t take his eyes off of her.

“So why don’t you trust us?” I remarked. “I mean, if it was just your family, why would we–”

“Because after I killed her–before I got the body–something… something came out of her corpse.” Chris looked as though he no longer believed himself, as though the uncanny nature of his testimony was just starting to hit him. “I… I didn’t see it, but I heard it break through your window.”

All at once, everything added up.

“Oh my god,” I stammered. I was trying to process this, but it wasn’t long before Chris explained it to all of us.

“Bradley, either it’s in your house, or… or it’s already inside one of you.” Maria sat up; so did Dan; so did I.

“Well…” Dan pondered aloud, “…Well then it can’t be me or Maria. I mean, we just got here tonight. I–” He noticed Maria, who was watching me cautiously. Chris saw this too, and suddenly four pairs of eyes were locked on me.

“Whatever it is,” I stuttered quickly, “you and I were just attacked by it upstairs. It’s still on the loose!”

“If it’s been here since last night,” Chris calculated, “it could have gotten to anyone in this house. Has anyone been away from the group tonight?” The eyes all shifted to Dan, who had been in the bathroom.

“What?” Dan protested. “I was just peeing, okay? I was gone for like, three minutes, tops! But–” he turned to Maria. “–you were alone with him!” He pointed to me with his exclamation. Maria, shocked, defended herself.

“Well, something attacked Chris and Bradley!” she retaliated. “What if whatever it was got you while you were in the bathroom?” The couple was farther apart, physically speaking, than I’d seen them in years. While the group threw accusations left and right, a shadow caught the corner of my eye; I looked behind me, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

“I was gone for three! Minutes! What could have happened?” Dan railed on.

“That could have been enough time for it to copy you,” I noted.

“Copy?” Chris halted the witch trial to take notice of my comment.

“Yeah,” I explained. “You said it looked like your brother, right?”
“…Yes?” Chris confirmed.

“Did you bury your brother before you saw him near my house?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Then I think whatever you shot wasn’t your brother.” I only saw Chris’ puzzled stare for a moment before the whole room went dark. Something turned the lights off.

Dan and Maria screamed as Chris fumbled for a source of light. He yanked out his phone and flipped the flashlight on, just in time to illuminate an unusual figure making its way out of the room.

“There it is!” He called, alerting the rest of us. “Don’t lose it!” The chase was on as Chris bolted into the dark. Dan and Maria went after him, and I followed. Chris flew up the stairs after the intruder, but our adrenaline ran out in the second floor hallway–as if by magic, the figure had disappeared.

“Shit,” Chris gasped. “Bradley, did you see where it went?”

“Huh?” I replied.

“Bradley, you were right behind me.”

“No, I didn’t see it.”

“Damnit.” Chris scratched his head, then began peeking into the rooms with his light. He checked my dads’ room: nothing. He checked my room: empty. He checked the bathroom: vacant. “Well… it looks like we lost it.”

* * * * *

“Here’s the plan,” Chris announced. We were in the living room again, and were devising a way to get out of our mess–preferably alive and unaltered. On a coffee table we’d laid out an assortment of tools to defend ourselves with. We had a kitchen knife, a hammer, a taser (from Maria’s purse), and the gun; Chris set it down to insist he could be trusted.

“Bradley, have you locked all the doors?”

“Yep,” I reported. “The key is outside. Someone will have to let us out once we’ve tracked down our intruder.”

“Locked the windows too?”

“Nailed shut. They can’t be opened without breaking them; I moved a cabinet in front of the one that broke last night.”

“Good, if we hear one shatter we’ll know where it’s at.” With that, Chris went about deciding how to divvy out armaments. We weren’t so worried about three of the weapons; the one we couldn’t decide on was Chris’ handgun. Eventually, we decided Dan was the least conspicuous and most capable of handling it, so the trust fell on him. With the firepower in his control, Dan was now in charge.

“Alright,” Dan began. “Like Chris said, whoever–or god forbid whatever–is in this house, it’s probably trying to get out by now. No one try the doors, no one sneak off, and no one check your phones. Got it?” We all nodded, and Dan seemed satisfied. “Okay, good. Now: let’s go find our guest.”

We searched the bottom floor thoroughly, before deciding to move on with no trace of it on the level. Upstairs, we split up–Dan with Maria, and Chris with me–and room by room we went; no matter where we looked, no nook, cranny, nor corner turned up a sign of the figure. By the time we convened at the stairs again, only my dad’s bedroom remained.

“Maria?” Dan addressed the girl, who was clutching her taser as though it were her child.

“Yeah?” She replied.

“I’m going to check the bedroom with Chris.” Chris looked just as confused as I was by this. “If the intruder is in there, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Well what should I do then?”

“Wait downstairs with Bradley.” Maria didn’t seem convinced by the idea, and watched me with suspicion.

“What if something happens down there?”

“Then take this.” Letting go of his own security, Dan offered the gun to Maria. “It’s much safer than a taser.”

“Dan, are you sure–?”

“I’m sure, darling. You watch Bradley, and I’ll keep an eye on Chris.”

“How do you know she’s safe to trust with that?” I pointed out, noticing a potential folly in the plan.

“Bradley,” Dan replied without hesitation, “she’s my girlfriend. I’d know if she wasn’t herself.”

Having no counter for that, I reluctantly agreed to follow Maria downstairs while the other men checked the bedroom. Maria made me walk ahead of her as we descended the steps; I had no doubts that she wouldn’t take any chances with me. We set foot in the living room once again and, after double-checking that we were alone, took a seat on the sofas.

“Maria,” I spoke, to break the silence. “Why am I the one you’re targeting?” She didn’t waiver, but held the firearm weakly. Unlike Chris, I could tell she didn’t want to use it.

“You’ve been here for weeks,” she reminded me. “Why should I trust you? Whatever’s going on, you’ve been around it this whole time.”

“Chris is the one you should be watching, not me. He was living with those-, those things! There’s no way that isn’t at least a little off to you.”

“He wants to stop it, Bradley. He had a point when he told us that. Why would he help track it down if it was him he was hunting for?”

“To avert suspicion, maybe? And besides, what if he’s really just trying to trap us all in here with him?”

“Well hey, he’s your friend, Bradley. Shouldn’t you trust him?”

“I trusted him when he wasn’t pointing a gun at my head.”

We waited there in silence. I thought about making another remark, but decided against it. A new thought had just come to mind when Dan came running through the doorway.

“Bradley, Maria,” he called, grabbing our attention. As he entered the room, I noticed he was carrying two weapons; moments later, I could just make out the sounds of banging and shouting from upstairs.

“Is that Chris?” I demanded to know, looking towards the sound.

“I, uh… I locked him in a closet.”

“What?” Maria questioned him, getting to her feet. “Why?”

“Guys, look–I do not trust him. I mean, it’s like you said earlier, Bradley, his whole family was acting weird or whatever the case was. How do we know he’s clean?”

“See, Dan agrees with me,” I quipped at Maria.

As we debated Chris’ credibility, I noticed the shouting from upstairs was beginning to stop.

“Dan, I still don’t know,” Maria said, conflicted. “He could really be on our side.”

It seemed like our argument had nowhere else to go when our trust circle was suddenly shattered by a cry for help–Chris was in danger.

“Shit,” Dan remarked.

“Why would you leave him alone?” Maria shouted. “Hurry!”

Lightly armed and hardly prepared, we took off for the second floor. We sprinted up the stairs, turned into the hall, and burst into the bedroom; to our surprise, Chris was not in the closet, but was standing in the open, breathing frantically.

“Chris?” Dan spoke, a bit confused. “How did–”

“It tried to get me!” Chris panted, trying in vain to regain his composure.

“You saw it?” Dan exclaimed. “Where did it go?”

“I locked it in there.” Chris found his footing and pointed at the closet. It seemed he’d gotten over Dan trapping him, and was now more worried about the intruder.

“Move over, Chris!” Dan gestured for him to step aside. It didn’t take long to spot Dan’s finger on the trigger, and he quickly ducked away from the closet. On Dan’s cue, I crept beside the closet, placed a hand on the handle, and flung it open.

Startled by the gunshot that followed, Maria ducked on the floor. Dan looked after her as Chris and I closer examined the closet. lurking in the dark had been the figure, who I could now identify for the first and last time–the convincing replication of Chris’ sister was crumpled on the floor. After escaping its original host, the intruder had copied her image perfectly; the only thing out of place was the hole Dan put where her eye had been.

“You were right about it making copies,” Chris noted. He seemed oddly unfazed at the sight of the corpse. “It looks just like her… Like she did, I guess.”

Dan took Maria downstairs to help her relax. Chris and I kept an eye on the body until Dan was sure the scarred girl was alright, and after a few minutes he came back up to the bedroom.

“I hate to break it to you guys,” Chris stated firmly, to our dismay, “but we still don’t know that we’re safe. If it can be that convincing, how do we possibly know for sure that none of us are one as well?”

“Chris,” Dan addressed him curiously, realizing something that didn’t add up. “How did you get out of the closet?”

“Well,” Chris replied, “I used the knife to undo the lock.” I turned to Dan, who was looking at me, a glint of uneasiness in his eye.

“But, I have the knife,” Dan informed us, exposing the lie.

The room fell deathly silent. We waited for an answer, a defense; Chris just stood there. Staring. Unblinking. Not moving. ‘Chris’ had made a mistake.

“Dan?” I stammered. “Where’s the gun?”

“Guys, hang on,” Chris spoke up, startling Dan and I. “Let’s talk about this.”

“I gave it to Maria,” Dan realized.

“We can figure this out,” Chris continued, scratching his eyes.

“Chris, don’t move a muscle, or we’ll–”

I fell to the floor as the impersonation moved its hands away, revealing empty orbs where there were eyes moments ago. It stared straight at Dan, and its jaw nearly unhinged; an inhuman, primal wailing escaped from its mouth. It took a single step towards Dan before we were all shocked by a deafening bang, and the false-Chris was no more. Standing over the lifeless creature was Maria, holding the smoking gun firmly in her hands.

* * * * *

The next morning, none of us spoke to the police. My dad arrived home to find us still awake in the living room, before discovering two ‘bizarrely disfigured human remains,’ as I would later find the report referred to them as. It took days for us to find the words to speak, let alone explain what incomprehensible events had taken place that night; none of us tried to tell the truth, and instead we agreed on an alibi, which would be broadcast on the news within a week: “The late Chris Mensworth, a 19-year-old college student from South Florida, was convicted of committing a murder-suicide, massacring his family before killing himself and his sister in the home of his childhood friend, Bradley Stokes.” Even as the newscaster read it, I still couldn’t comprehend that Chris, and his whole family, were really dead.

The rest of my holiday break was hardly festive. Christmas was quiet, and cheerful hymns were replaced with silent respects at church. Eventually, the time came for me to return to campus; After all, I told my dad, I still have an entry exam for next semester. With quiet packing and solemn goodbyes, I got in my car and drove north.

When I walked into my apartment, I was truly alone. With one friend dead and two others traumatized for life, I didn’t sleep at all my first night back on campus. It was still dark outside the window when my roommate came in.

“Hey man,” he said, taking a knee beside me. “I heard about what happened. Are you doing alright?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. He smiled, trying to comfort me.

“You sure you’re good?”

“Yeah,” I affirmed, smiling back. “Everything’s fine.”

Credit: Evan Spry

The Occupants

December 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The storm door slammed shut and blew open with an ominous repetitiveness. The wind raged, so strong you could feel the massive gusts through the weakening and weathered walls of the home. Inside, the occupants huddled within themselves, seemingly unaffected by the storm ripping through the world around them. Tearing down structures, flooding the valleys, taking with it the sense of peace the occupants had once known.

The cold had overcome the growingly smaller fire, finally diminishing it, leaving the occupants with a chill that shook their bones and chattered their teeth. The days before the storm seemed long ago, even the first fateful days filled with optimism and survival strategies could not be touched with outmost stretched of fingertips. Followed were the days of tears, rationed meals and grim acceptance. But today was different, it was the seventh day. The seventh day promised to bring the end of the storm. The storm would not go peacefully though, it would take anything and everything it could with it. The occupants being what it wanted the most.

The seventh night had now begun and a new sense of hope had begun growing within the occupants, though they dare not express it for fear of it growing too large. It began to blaze within them as the eerie creaking of the walls softened and the breezes that had been ripping through their bodies lightened. As dawn neared the faintest of smiles appeared on their lips. The occupants now swelled with hope, believing their savior had slayed the storm haunting them. They had been spared. The occupants now rose as a mother, a father, two wide-eyed children, a family. They wept with joy, tears flowing like beautiful rivers down their faces. The family hugged and kissed and continued to weep as they heard the final feeble gust of wind brush against the walls. Everything was well again.

The family stepped outside for the first time in what seemed to be a lifetime. The sun had almost fully risen and everything now appeared still and quiet. It was beautiful and wonderous although everything around them wrecked and dismembered. The occupants could see nothing but beauty though, until the oddest of phenomenons began to occur. The dust, the debris, all appeared to be floating. A deafening booming began to sound, the occupants hurriedly covered their ears and turned around to see the wave. In moments it was upon them, and then beyond them. Leaving nothing behind but a blank quiet canvas.

The occupants had now almost never existed. No sounds of weeping could be heard for miles, there was no hope to swell with and no joy to be felt. There were no last loving embraces or tearful goodbyes. There was nothing.Even the walls they had imprisoned themselves in were now gone. Not a single sign of them was left. If anyone were to ever walk by this barren road again, they would know nothing of the occupants or even the storm that had ripped through it. It would be just another road, but maybe, just maybe, when they felt a slight breeze walking through they would be stuck the strangest of sadnesses.

Credit: Brittany Daniel

U.S.S. February

December 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Radio waves have traveled through and past the Earth’s atmosphere for decades. They carried snapshots of humanity out into infinity. Music, broadcasts, TV shows, news commentary; it was all out there, racing away at the speed of light.

The antenna from the U.S.S. February’s lifeboat angled itself automatically; detecting a signal from one of the sectors within its reach. The ship’s computer extrapolated the data and converted it to an audio signal. It concluded that it was merely old data from long ago. Per protocol, it routed the signal through the ship’s comm system for its occupant to assess. The signal emerged through the distortion, and a song began to play throughout the bulkheads and corridors of the small vessel.

(“Hangin’ on.”)

(“Here until I’m gone.”)

(“Right where I belong,”)

(“Just hangin’ on”)

The tiny lifeboat drifted through space at the half the speed of light. The last survivor of the U.S.S. February watched as the small blue dot grew larger in the forward viewport. Having spent weeks to travel the distance, if it were not for thoughts of a wife and beautiful daughter, madness would have prevailed.

We were heralded as heroes and all of mankind bid us farewell when we were shot into the emptiness of space, two hundred and fifty-four days ago. Twenty men and women, chosen from all nations were ambassadors of humanity with a message of peace and goodwill.

(“Even though,”) An answer,

(“Watched you come and go.”) to the voice that called out from the void.

(“How was I to know you’d steal the show?”) An intelligent mind, telling us we were not alone.

The whole world will remember the day we heard the transmission, originating past Mars, within the asteroid belt. It came from a small dwarf planet, now glowing in the dark—the lights of Ceres brightened in anticipation.

(“One day I’ll have enough to gamble.”) I left My wife and little girl to make them proud.

(“I’ll wait to hear your final call,”) Soon, Humanity would never be the same again.

(“Bet it all.”) We were wrong! We were so wrong!

We don’t belong out here!

(“Hangin’ on.”) We found the signal’s source.

(“Here until I’m gone.”) Under the planet’s crust.

(“Right where I belong,”) Humanoids.

(“Just hangin’ on.”) A settlement, a colony; long dead and gone.

(“Even though,”) It was tens of thousands of years old.

(“Pass this time alone,”) Frozen in ice.

(“Somewhere so unknown, it heals the soul”) The remnants of a society— dead for centuries. There was no one here alive who could have sent that message.

A small portion of the alien site was exposed and free from the ice. Recent seismic activity and hot gasses from the planetoid’s core melted away a section, allowing entry into the structure. We donned our pressure suits and anxiously made our way into the depths of the cavern. We would be the first to lay eyes on the remains of an alien culture.

They weren’t much different from us. They were an artistic people and adorned the walls and buildings with pictures and imagery of a strange and far away home world. The looked so much like us.

What we found frozen in the ground was not like us.

We found an ancient, mangled machine. Lined along its structure were artistic depictions of the device displayed side by side. We deduced it was their environmental system. It was the source of their heat, air, and water. We followed the trail of beautifully rendered portraits giving hints of the machine’s functions and abilities. Each work of art was more stunning than the next. We came to the last image and stood there stunned. This final picture seemed to show them detonating an explosive and destroying this vital machine themselves.

An indentation in the smooth, frozen ground caught our attention. Through the ice, we could see a shape. It was fleshy and looked as if three to four bodies were fused into one. Each of its limbs was contorted and deformed. Arms were long and bent at odd and abnormal angles. Teeth protruded from mouths that didn’t belong. Pupils from eyes that shouldn’t be there stared back at us. It was a mockery to the harmony of nature. It was an abomination towards the symmetry and beauty of life.

The cavern was unstable from the continuous seismic activity. The only relic of true value within reach was this thing frozen in the ice. With plasma torches in hand, we raced to cut it out of the ground and carry it back to the February. With our payload safely stowed aboard, we prepared for our journey home.

The cave had been there for centuries. Maybe it was our cutting, or the ship landing on the crater’s surface, or a combination of both, but the foundation below the crater began to collapse with the cavern. We barely managed to lift off. We were so busy congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape that never bothered to check in on our new cargo. It had begun to thaw.

What we unleashed was malicious and cruel and had only one goal— to consume us and make us part of it. It picked us off one by one, in secret. It absorbed its victim, mimicking them in every way. There was no way to tell who was still human and who had been replaced. Paranoia overcame us; no one could be trusted.

Every part of this thing, all the way down to the cellular level, was sentient and could infect a viable host. The larger organisms would attack with a primal rage and captured its prey. Still alive, the victim would struggle and scream in agony as the creature absorbed them. In less than an hour, a slab of flesh would break off from its body and begin to develop in form. Soon, it would look and act exactly like the person it had devoured.

The smaller particulates of the creature would hide within the body like a microbe. It secretly absorbed and devoured the flesh and tissue from the inside; the host unaware of its presence. It would only reveal itself if threatened or given an opportunity to propagate itself. It would emerge in an explosion of flesh, blood, tentacles and tendrils, teeth and claws.

In less than twenty-four hours, there were only six of us left. We cowered on the bridge in despair. We mourned for what needed to be done. We knew it was only a matter of time before it overcame us. We knew we could not risk bringing it back with us. We knew we could never return home.

Humans were not capable of piloting a starship at the speeds obtained by the February. Complex course adjustments and corrections needed to be performed instantaneously. Interstellar navigation was under computer controlled, and we were locked into a course for Earth. In two hours, the ship’s main computer would perform a course correction to avoid one of the many uncharted asteroids in the sector. If an overload occurred in three of the auxiliary power distribution nodes, the central computer would crash, taking down the ship’s navigational controls. In time it would take for a full system reboot, the window for a course adjustment would have passed, and thirty minutes later, we would impact into the asteroid’s surface, traveling at 24,000 mph.

The Captain stood over me, handing me tools before I climbed down the air shaft and squeezed into the claustrophobic maintenance duct, barely wider than the width of my shoulders. The tube would open into a secondary airlock junction. From there I could access a service port and emerge behind the computer’s secondary cooling unit and blow the power nodes. I started to descend into the dark below.

A crash from overhead sounded, and the bridge went dark. The backup lights flashed from emergency strobes that illuminated a massive and formless shape in brief glimpses between bursts of light and dark. The thing was covered with thin, worm-like tendrils that shook and rattled with a seizure-like intensity. The tendrils shot out from its body like arrows, piercing everyone within its range. A tendril punctured the back of the captain’s head with incredible force, and emerged from her forehead, spraying me with her blood. It branched out quickly over her head and face, re-entering her flesh through her skin, eyes, and mouth.

I sealed the service hatch, putting as much distance between me and the screams of pain and agony.

Having disabled the power nodes, I made the decision—I did not need to die here. It was just me, no one else to worry about. No one to fear that they might have a monster hidden within their blood. It was safe for me to take the escape shuttle and go home.

I departed the February and watched it impact the asteroid in a magnificent flash of light. I caught sight of my reflection in the viewport glass and saw the blood on my face begin pool together and disappear under my skin. Paralyzed by terror, the realization hit me hard— I had been deceived. I waited for it to start feasting on my flesh. I waited for it to tear and shred the parts of me that make me who I am. I waited for the end.

It never came.

It screamed in my head, wanting to know what I was and how could I resist its attempts to consume me. The truth was, I didn’t know. Something about me was different and capable of hindering its ability to assimilate me. Yes, I could resist it, but I could not overcome it. My body had reacted violently to its trespassing. I had severely weakened it, but slowly it began to overwhelm whatever unique gift I had that opposed it. The fingers on my right hand began to elongate, and slits appeared on my knuckles with crimson irises peeking out from underneath.

While I slept, it disabled the communication relay preventing me from warning Antarctic Control about the coming danger I was carrying. While it slept, I disabled the ship’s wireless receiver. It wanted to know why I had done this. I buried my secret deep in my mind and thought only of my wife Melissa and my daughter Kylie.

It had complete control of my right side, and I had to restrain my right arm with a belt strap to prevent it from attacking myself.

A distorted mouth was forming on my stomach. Wet lips were emerging from my skin and separating from each other.

Open sores with the weeping faces of my crewmates screamed and let out the most frightening moans of anguish and torment from my body.

Soon the orbital docking station came into view, orbiting high above Earth. This game of “King of the Mountain” between the two of us had come to an end. It was time for us to make our final move. The shuttle began to position itself to start its approach towards the docking module. The thing surged in growth and dominance over my body. It craved and desired the new flesh it was about to encounter.

To its surprise and rage, I taunted it with the secret it was unable to scrape out of my mind. While it knew everything about me, I was starting to get images about it. I began to understand it. I could see where it came from and what its purpose was. Most of all, and most importantly, I saw its arrogance and pride. It basked in its self-perceived superiority. It was so focused and enraged at being mocked; it took no notice of the message flashing on the display.

“COMMUNICATION ERROR. INTERLOCK ALIGNMENT FAILURE. DOCKING APPROACH TERMINATED. ALERT. ABORT. ABORT.”

By disabling the wireless receiver, remote docking was not possible. It would have to be done manually.

(“You ask for walls; I’ll build them higher.”) I created a mental barrier to keep it a bay.

(“We’ll lie in shadows of them all.) It clawed and beat at the mental wall, rapidly tearing it down.

(“I’d stand, but they’re much too tall,”) I kept it distracted until it was too late.

“MANUAL CONTROLS ENGAGED”

(“And I fall.”) I took back control of my body, ignited the thrusters and sent the ship into a nose dive into the Earth’s atmosphere!

(“February Stars,”) The ship streaked across the sky,

(“Floating in the dark,) Illuminating the night.

(“Temporary scars,”) In desperation, it ripped through my skin and shattered my bones.

(“February Stars,”) The ground approached with frightening speed.

(“Floating in the dark,”) The hull was engulfed in flames.

(“Temporary scars,”) The heat was searing and blistering.

(“February Stars,”)

(“Feb..zztt..ars,”)

Melissa, you were my best friend and my soulmate. We were always meant to be with each other.

(“Fl..zzztttt in…zzttt..he dark,)

Kylie, I am sorry I won’t be there to see you grow up.

(“Temp..zzztttttt..ars,”)

But if you look up in the night and see a star burning in the dark, that will be me.

I am always with you.

(“Fe..zzzztttttt.”)

Daddy loves you.

(“Zzzzttttt……………….”)

(February Stars written by the Foo Fighters)

Credit: Killahawke1

Possible Ghosts Caught on my CCTV Cameras

December 16, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Possible Ghosts Caught on my CCTV Cameras

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Credit: Dro Simoes – @the_dro

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