Return to Sender

March 21, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Another bouquet of flowers showed up today. That’s the third this week.

They’re beautiful flowers, they really are. Roses, and lilies, bursts of color and baby’s breath. Lovely arrangements that would make anyone happy to receive.

Yet every time they arrive, I can’t help but feel a stab of fear.

I guess I should explain.

This all started back in college, when I started dating this guy – we’ll call him Mike. He was a nice enough guy, we just…weren’t really compatible. I don’t know. It didn’t work out, for the same reason a lot of things in college don’t work out, and I never would have given it a second thought or even really remember him at all if it weren’t for the flowers.

The first bouquet showed up the week after our last date, after I’d texted him to say “this isn’t working out.” They were vibrant blue chrysanthemums and white roses and they came with no note or explanation – they merely appeared on the welcome mat in front of my apartment door.

I waited for him to try and follow up, to get back together with me, but he never did. I even texted him to thank him for the flowers and he insisted he didn’t send them, but of course he’d say that.

But then, in a few weeks, another bouquet arrived.

And then another. And the week after that, a third.

And pretty soon, the flowers were coming every week. When I moved out of my apartment, they were waiting for me at my new address. When I got a job in a different state, they arrived at my workplace, placed cheerfully on my desk.

I called and texted Mike, trying to get him to stop, but I kept getting a “message failed” or “this number has been disconnected.” I guess he changed his number. Maybe he didn’t want me calling to harass him.

The flowers kept coming, and I started to get creeped out. How did he know where I lived? How did he keep finding me?

I changed my phone number. I moved. I became meticulous about hiding my identity online. I called the florists and begged them to put me on a “no-deliver” list. I even called the police and tried to file a report that I was being stalked. Let me tell you – trying to get the police to do something about a guy delivering you flowers? Not an easy task.

But nothing I did could keep the flowers from coming. They just kept showing up, every week, and then twice a week – for nearly three years now. No matter where I live or where I work, somehow, the flowers just keep coming.

Which brings us to today, and the newest bouquet. Usually, when I get them, I’m exasperated or a little uneasy or just plain mad. But lately, I’ve been getting more and more scared.

Because I was on Facebook the other day, prowling through friends-of-friends and old classmates, snooping around the way you do when you’ve had a couple drinks and a free evening.

And I found Mike’s Facebook page.

It was covered in messages of mourning and memorial. Because Mike’s been dead for nearly three years.

Credit: T.L. Bodine


March 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Top Secret; United States of America Navy – July 11th, 1980

The contents of this report are for A Level security status only; no portion of this document may be reproduced for any reason. Lower level security status personnel are not to be made aware of this document; nor is the public. This document may not be transferred into digital format and cannot be transmitted by electronic means. Failure to comply will be seen as an act of treason, punishable by death without standing trial in any form.

Submarine, codename: SCORPION

Statement: Johnny Davidson, Ensign

Captain Ritter ordered us to turn north to the Arctic Ocean near Greenland to run cold-water tests. We were to spend seven days under the ice before returning to warmer waters in the Atlantic. The purpose of these tests was not revealed to the crew before or after the voyage.
At approximately 0400 hours, 07-7-1980, the alarm sounded that a large unknown object was in the vicinity of the Scorpion. On radar, it appeared larger than any submarine currently in existence anywhere in the world. Captain Ritter order us to run-silently as we observed the anomaly. It became clear that the anomaly was approaching us. At approximately 0600 hours we made physical contact.
Radar reported that the anomaly had enveloped the Scorpion, gauges indicated that we descending deeper under the water. We reached and passed crush-depth minutes after we lost control of the submarine but the submarine showed no effects common with increased pressure on the hull. It appeared in the same condition as the day we departed from port.
Radar reported strange objects in the water, nothing that appeared dangerous to us. Ritter cancelled the silence; he saw no importance in it. Gauges indicated then that we were ascending to surface level. Once we reached periscope depth, Captain Ritter used the scope to look around. He did not say what he saw, but it was clear that we had surfaced.
With the Captain’s permission, several crew members exited the submarine to explore the area. I did not leave the submarine during this time.
Only two of the twelve man exploring team returned, they would not speak of their experiences. Soon after we were pulled back under the water in the reverse of what had happened. When we were finally released we were alone in our previous position in the arctic with no trace of the anomaly. Three days had passed.
We returned to port immediately.

Statement: Brian Cox, Petty Officer

We went into the arctic ocean and under the ice on 07-06-1980 without any issue. The following day, at approximately 0500 hours radar saw an unidentified underwater object in the vicinity of the Ghost. The UUO made contact with the Scorpion at approximately 0600 hours and dragged the submarine deep. Captain Ritter ordered silent running but the events prevented the men from carrying-out that order. Ritter cancelled the order before the submarine reached crush-depth.
When we began ascending, engineering reported that they weren’t able to power the propellers. Once we reached periscope depth Captain Ritter looked around. He didn’t say what exactly he saw, though he did say “Jesus Christ, what is this place?” With permission from the captain, a party including myself was able to explore the area around the submarine.
The unknown place had breathable air, though it was thin and sometimes hard to breath. Samuels, who had asthma, couldn’t do much. It was a humid place, reminiscent of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a place unlike anything I have ever seen; there was foliage that I did not recognize and the very landscape appeared alien to me. The sky was odd; it did not look like the same space seen from the surface of Earth.
I stayed with Samuels when his asthma slowed him down. I spent my time looking at the surrounding foliage as Samuels hid himself in a small cave. The plants were unlike anything I’d ever seen before, though I admit my experiences in the town of Moros didn’t make me very worldly. Still, I read National Geographic whenever I could and none of the green that surrounded our small camp was ever in those pages. What looked almost like a rose bush had the head of a Venus flytrap, which watched us like a snake hunting its prey before finally striking. And the vines that crawled up the rock wall behind me, around Samuels, shook as if nervous. It all seemed strange to me.
After what seemed like an eternity I saw Fielding running towards me; he was coming down a hill and from my position I could see him stumble as he ran, but he always kept his feet under him. I do not know what the others experienced. He was in a panic and ushered me to flee. My regret, Samuels was still alive when I left him, though those vines had moved closer to his hiding hole as though they intended to strangle him.
After we returned to the Scorpion, the submarine was dragged back under the water. It was much more violent than our original trip, and when we sunk deep I could feel the pressure building as if we’d really gone below crush depth. Once released, we were able to return to port. Three days had passed, though I can’t fathom where they had gone.

Statement: Cory Fielding, Petty Officer

Captain Ritter ordered us under the arctic ice to run drills, though he wasn’t specific. He armed the torpedoes, which I thought were dummies though he seemed confident that they were live. We made wide turns around the same area, as if circling something we couldn’t see. Ritter kept a keen eye on us, never retiring to his cabin as would be expected of him. At approximately 0300 hours on 07-07-1980, the Scorpion entered the vicinity of an unknown object. I say that we entered the vicinity because it remained stationary throughout the observation; the Scorpion moved into the object’s path. Ritter directed us towards it; I feared an imminent collision but nobody else on the crew appeared to share my nerves.
Whatever it was, it dragged the submarine deeper until we passed crush-depth. Despite several attempts, we were unable to get free of the object, like it wrapped itself around us in a tight hold; only later did I learn the truth. When we rose, it was not in the same place we had been. Captain Ritter used the periscope once we were at the appropriate depth, mumbling under his breath. I don’t wish to know what he saw, or what looked back at him through the scope. With the captain’s permission, a small group was formed to explore the unknown area around the Scorpion.
The first fact, we could breathe although the air was thinner like we were at a high altitude. It was also hot, though I would not say humid. I was joined by Cox, Samuels, Nero, O’Conner, Warden, Westbrook, Saluki, Mahoney, Ryder, Yaks, and Bishop. Cox and Samuels stopped halfway through our trip, Samuels complained of asthma though I’ve never seen him show any sign of asthma before; I think he feared climbing the hill before us.
It was like walking through a wild forest, with only a small path to follow. The submarine had risen in what looked like a pond, though oddly the water was frozen into ice. We’d brought the arctic with us, or so it seemed. I saw several large tentacles wrapped around the hull, holding it in place. It was like an octopus holding a fish, right before consuming it. At the time, I couldn’t see anything else of the object holding the submarine.
The ten of us followed the path until we came to a ruined city, like those built by the Mayans. It looked long abandoned, some humanoid skeletons were visible. I don’t want to say human because they weren’t, over seven feet tall with thick brows and long limbs; they were some twisted artist’s imagination of what we were beneath skin and muscle. We headed toward a high pyramid that seemed to be the center of the city. Like the rest of the city it looked abandoned, with those strange vines like those where Cox and Samuels had stopped growing up it, reclaiming it for the horrid jungle. We had to climb the steps to a small temple on the apex; it wasn’t easy. By the time we finally reached the temple we were covered in sweat, the walk took us several minutes.
Waiting inside was an elderly man. He had wild eyes and was covered in more tattoos than clothing. He spoke some language that I’ve never heard before and pointed to a balcony. He was in the act of performing an odd dance around a pit of fire, roasting a humanoid being. I was too disgusted to stay in the man’s presence, so willingly I followed my comrades onto the balcony. From it we could see the submarine in the pool, far in the distance more than ten miles I don’t recall walking. I noticed that the Scorpion seemed free, though the land just east of the pond was destroyed as if something large had passed through that way. The man started saying one word repeatedly loud and clear so we could understand. I never imagined that he was summoning something.
An indescribable horror wrapped itself around the pyramid, opening its jaws near the balcony. Those same octopus tentacles took hold of the stone structure as the wild man poured sand on the flaming pit. In some strange sense of ecstasy he heaved the corpse before the creature. Its tongue rolled from the gaping abyss like an anaconda, taking the offering though it was small compared to its girth. I don’t think that it was satisfied because the tongue lashed out at Warden, pulling him to the balcony’s edge. Before we could react, it pulled him in and swallowed him whole. While the man kept saying Leviathan, the abomination was eating the seamen one at a time. It bit down on Nero and O’Conner with a large hawkish beak and tossed them into the air before snatching them on their descent. It tried the same trick with Saluki but missed; the doomed man’s body crashed to the temple’s vine-cover stone surface and exploded. I can’t describe it any other way. We didn’t have weapons so our only chance was to escape.
Yaks was grabbed by one of the thing’s tentacles, its hooked suckers impaled him and dropped the dead body in the creature’s expectant mouth. When we’d run from the temple, it turned its attention to the old man. The crazed man cried out gleefully as the creature’s long tongue pulled him in. I wasn’t going to stay around any longer to see what else it would do; it let out a roar of anger once we’d passed from its immediate reach; though I imagine it still could’ve caught us with one of its larger tentacles. For some reason it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t hungry anymore.
At the bottom of the temple waited more humanoids; uncivilized monkeys wielding wooden spears. They attacked us, maiming several of the men. As the seamen fell to their wounds, which were by no means fatal, the humanoids descended on them and beat them with clubs made from stone. As the grass turned the color of blood they began crying out “Leviathan,” which made the unspeakable horror turn to them. It swallowed the sacrifices, as well as a few of the humanoids. But it spit their bones back out, knocking a couple of the warriors unconscious. The creature, which I’ve taken to be Leviathan, had a large head which was mostly a mouth with eyes; it had a snake-like body and the lower portion of it was split into more than a dozen tentacles longer than the Scorpion.
Four of us survived the initial attack by the monkeys, but three were taken down by the uncivilized brutal attacks before we’d reached the relative isolation of the forest. I couldn’t see the creature, though in my nightmares I think it chased us. When I reached Cox I pulled him back to the Scorpion; Samuels appeared alive but decayed like a skeleton; a few vines had grabbed hold of him and were leeching the life from the man. I never looked back to see if we were pursued, though I heard the crashing sound of something large breaking through the trees. I was stunned to see the monster already sliding back into the pond and grabbing the Scorpion, it had finished its meal and was returning the cold cylinder to the arctic. When we reached the submarine, it was pulled back under the water violently and returned to the arctic sea.
After we had control of the Scorpion, Ritter turned us back to port. Three days had passed during the incident.

Further Recommendations:
The crew of the Scorpion saw things they weren’t authorized to witness, violating the code of clearance; forfeiting their lives. The Scorpion is to be decommissioned and destroyed, pieces are NOT to be sold or reused in the construction of future submarines or any other vessel. The crew of the Scorpion will be separated and they will be terminated in whichever ways are most convenient. No US vessel is to enter the region that the Scorpion reported the incident having occurred.

Credit: Michael Bertolini

The Lights

March 18, 2017 at 12:00 AM

On the southern edge of the small town of Rhanville there is a wide unlit road that separates the town from a wild and thick forest. Three houses adorn the northern edge of the road – they are the homes of the Peters’ family, old Mrs Abernathy, and Joshua Daniels, respectively – and they look out across the road upon the forest that the sun can scarcely pierce. Many travellers who have taken the road late in the evening have confessed to feeling a peculiar sense of uneasiness as they passed the trees in the darkness. There are stories shared in hushed whispers amongst the children of the town that speak of an evil presence lurking within the woods. Apart from the occasional incident of missing cattle, no apparition of maliciousness has ever befell Rhanville, and so the town slumbers peacefully beside the gargantuan labyrinth of ancient oaks.

It was in the early days of autumn that the men came and installed lights up and down the road that cast their luminous light into the trees. It was a welcome change to the residents of the road, who hoped that this would ease any feelings of insecurity in the darkness. Any wrongdoers who had previously made mischievous plans for the road would surely be exposed and foiled, and so the residents hoped for a good night’s rest. While the additional light took a little getting used to they all slept easy that night, except for Adam Peters – the son of the Peters family – who had horribly unpleasant dreams, but that is often the case for children when confronted with any sort of change. The next morning the residents all agreed that the lights were a blessing sent from above.

On the third night after the arrival of the lights Mrs Abernathy sat in her chair by the window, reading from her book. She was always of restless spirit, so it was not an uncommon occurrence for her to stay up until the first rays of sun peeked up from the horizon. On this particular evening the clock had just passed one and her mind had begun to drift from her literature. She looked out of her window upon the illuminated street, everything seemed much clearer to her and she took some small pleasure in watching the trees creak ever so slightly in the wind. The leaves engaged in subtle, ritualistic dances and the branches swayed unsteadily. Then something caught her eye, some bushes that didn’t match the natural rhythm the others seemed to share. It could have easily been some nocturnal animal of the wild attending to its business and yet Mrs Abernathy felt uneasy. Perhaps it was the result of her imagination captivated by late night reading but she could swear she felt that the more she watched the disturbance, the more she felt that she was being watched herself. Slightly disturbed by the ordeal she drew the blinds and returned to her book in an effort to take her mind elsewhere. By the time morning came, she had forgotten all about her late night observations.

As the sun was beginning to set the following evening, Adam Peters was playing alone on the road. The lights had not yet came on and so he found himself in the ill-illuminated haze of dusk. The wind was of mild temperament, but still possessed a bitter and icy bite. It was not the ideal situation as he would have much preferred to find entertainment indoors, but his mother’s insistence had driven him out in to the cold autumn air. He was eagerly anticipating the moment that the lights would spring to life and his mother would fetch him to return indoors. The hours of play had been almost entirely devoid of fun and were replaced by a mysterious sense of uncertainty. He was without an inkling of doubt that something was not as it should be and yet he could not fathom what it could be. His dreams of late had been terrible in nature and he suspected that this was influencing his mood. As he sat in reflection he began to feel the hairs on his neck stand up. Adam felt the all too familiar sensation of someone standing directly behind him. He immediately turned himself around to discover there was nobody there. This was perplexing to Adam as he was certain he could sense the presence of another person. He scanned the neighbouring houses and there was no visible signs of any other residents going about their business outdoors. Just as he was beginning to doubt himself he heard the voice of his mother, calling for him. He was relieved that he would be able to return to the comfort of his home and stood up at once. He ran up the front steps, crossed the porch and entered the house. As he was closing the door he made one more attempt to identify the mystery presence and was once again unsuccessful, the road was completely deserted.
Later that night Joshua Daniels awoke from a peaceful slumber by the unpleasant sensation of dryness of the throat. His thirstiness evicted him from his bed and carried him downstairs to the kitchen where he fetched a glass tumbler and filled it with water directly from the tap. The clock in his kitchen told him that it was nearing three, which irritated him immensely as he knew his remaining hours of precious sleep would be insufficient for the day ahead. Just as he was switching off the kitchen light he heard a faint yet distinguishable tapping noise coming from the road outside. He was intrigued and unsettled by the noise coming at such a late hour. In his freshly awakened state it took him a little time before he came to a realisation about the nature of the noise. He was hearing the sound of footsteps crossing the road as they got increasingly closer to the side of his home. A looming sense of dread grasped him and held in place as it was an almost unheard of occurrence for someone to be taking the road at this hour. The footsteps stopped and Joshua remained petrified in his kitchen for several minutes until he was able to muster the courage to approach the window. It took a great deal of bravery to pull back the blind and peer out into the newly lightened road, however, his bravery offered him little in the way of answers. There was not a single person that Joshua could see anywhere in the gardens or the road or the forest. He hastily made his way to his door to ensure that it was locked. He then made his way upstairs to spend the hours until the sun rose with the light on, convincing himself that he had been imagining the whole event.

It was the unfamiliar coldness of her house that awoke Anna Peters the next morning. Immediately she sprung from her bed to investigate why her house felt so alien to her. She walked down the stairs and was at once struck by the alarming sight of the front door wide open to the elements. The feeling of her security being so harshly violated was enough to bring her to tears. Making her way over to the door she began to notice strange marks on the floor. They were violent indents in to the wood, as if someone had attempted to maintain a grip to the floor while resisting some pulling force. In an instant of pure fear Anna knew exactly what had happened, and she let out a deafening scream that woke most of the town. Her husband appeared to her aid within moments and through uncontrollable bursts of tears she pleaded him to check on Adam’s room. When he entered his son’s room he confirmed the darkest fears of his wife, their son was nowhere to be seen. He sprinted out into the middle of the road, desperately calling his son’s name, but to no avail. Perhaps if he had not been so distressed he would not have overlooked a torn piece of his son’s shirt that hung nonchalantly on the edge of a bush at the mouth of the forest.

The rest of that day was a tempest of confusion, anger and fear for the residents of the road. Many of the men of the town were called upon to search for the young boy, but hours upon hours of searching offered no clues to his fate or whereabouts. Joshua didn’t speak of the events that had befallen him the night before – due to some combination of fear, denial and guilt – but it did motivate him to take some sort of action. He emerged from his home with his toolset and set about deactivating each and every light that had made them feel so safe. Joshua knew now, as did the other residents, that sometimes it is best for the darker places of the world to remain unilluminated.

Credit: Steven Trotter

The Mummers

March 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

When I was a child, the mummers came to town.

It was not quite Solstice’s Eve yet. The nights were long and dark, and most nights a thin, jagged coat of haw frost would top the trees in glistening frigidity. What few horses the rich owned would stamp and whinny at their posts, billowing clouds of icy fog filling the air from their nostrils. The windows in the village had flickering tallow candles in the window, and the stores continued the custom of handing out sweets and cakes to the half-starved children. A thick, smoky fire was always lit in our house.

My father took me one night to the tavern. I myself was young, not yet a man but old enough to be trusted to drink without the barkeep watering the beer down. As we crossed the threshold, the thick wave of village chatter washed over me, and I remember feeling the rich acceptance that only a homely community can extend to you. In one corner of the squat, one-storey building, a performer strummed his instrument carefully, leaning against the black, ancient oak beam that supported the white plaster wall. Although he had a half-finished cup of strong liquor within arm’s reach, his fingers were not dulled by the alcohol, and the fast rhythms and leaping melodies comfortable backed up the incessant murmur of the village gossips.

I remember standing at my father’s side, sipping gently at the drink in my little hands as he talked to Arem, the local farmer who owned the barely fields up on the crest of the hill. He often did business with the next village across, set deep into the rolling chalk valleys, and it was gossip from the next village over which he was talking to my father about.

“You know, Gure, there have been whispers of strange folk around.”

“From beyond the valleys?”

He shook his head. “More foreign still than that. They apparently hail from across the sea, came over on strange filigreed boats from the Silk Isles. They don’t even follow the Great One.”

My father gulped down another mouthful of beer, his eyes widening in shock. “What? Dear One, what is upon us? What faith do these foreigners have?”

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s something stranger, something…” the farmer dropped his voice to a coarse whisper, years of dusty farm work evident in its low harshness, “older.”

My father hurried me away, rushing me off. I found a couple of similarly aged children to play with, dancing around between the legs of our elders, getting yelled at and cuffed on the ear more than once as we collided with people’s pints and knocked their drinks to the floor. Soon though, we were brought still by the hush that descended over the townsfolk. Quietly, I snaked my way through the crowd and found myself at my father’s side. I tried to advance forwards, but my father caught me, and held me tight at his side.

The door of the tavern opened, and a troop of men and women came through. They wore thick, dark cloaks, dusted on the top with a thin patchwork of fresh fallen snow that melted as they came into the warm room. They had on cowls of thin, near translucent silky material that shifted over their forms as they moved, thin golden threads in the fabric casting long shadows on their features. As they trod in a thin column into the pub, they gently removed their cloaks, and people gasped at their clothes. You have to understand, we were country folk, simple people whose aspirations didn’t extend beyond the next village over. To see the rich, imported vermillions, purples, blues, and golds that were daubed liberally over their gay costumes left us dumbfounded. Outside of the pretty birds that the Great One had made for us, we never thought to have seen such colours, much less shaped by the hands of man.

The leader of the troupe was a vaguely androgynous character, the hood dangling limply around his neck like a slack noose. He approached Stryor, the barman, and produced a thin purse. From this, he drew curiously imprinted gold leafs, hexagonal in shape, and wordlessly gave them over to him. Stryor examined them briefly, testing their weight in his hand, and then nodded, finding them acceptable. He disappeared into a back room, leaving us alone with the Mummers.

I heard whispers from my own folk, growing in aggression as they stood there, looking blankly at us from their hidden eyes in perfect silence. Another member, a woman, moved over to the fireplace and gazed into it quietly. She reached deep into a pocket and drew out a strange, patterned pouch that stunk pungently of mysterious herbs and spices. She held it to her nose, inhaling deeply of the scent, before tossing it into the flames, watching the fire spit teal and violet hues. As she returned to her own people, the leader gave a simple hand gesture, and what few Mummers had kept their cloaks on threw them off, revealing wind instruments and stringed implements that left the poor old lutenist in the corner wide-mouthed in envy. Then, without even looking at each other, they began to play.

The melody was mournful and slow. High, descant drones were complimented with chromatic bass scales and chords, terrible, important notes. My father gasped and gripped my shoulder tighter as we saw things come from the fire. The colours and sounds became more vivid in hue and pitch, the emotions of fear we all felt more powerful. I watched fearfully as things stalked forwards out of the flames. They were not human in shape, nor form, for they were purely shadow, dark creatures that flickered over us all. What they were human in, though, was the careful thoughtfulness with which they scanned over everyone, seeking something, someone. All too soon, the Mummers were finished with their song, and the fire had died out, leaving us in stony, dark silence as they trooped out, donning their thickly layered cloaks as they dissolved into the night.

For a little while afterwards, I searched for the children I had played with earlier, desperately searching for people whose names I now cannot remember. The screams of their parents filled up the nights, for no one knew what had happened to them. I wonder if anyone other than me counted the Mummers in and out. There were nine who entered, and eleven who left.

Credit: HulloThere

The Unfamiliar

March 8, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The darkness is insurmountable here. The air reeks of saltwater, decaying fish, and other human stenches that I cannot even begin to imagine even if I felt the desire to. An unearthly black fog has settled over the city, as it does every night, and I yearn for a daylight that feels as though it may never come. The night in Malaveara is oppressive, almost as though it were not night at all, but rather the natural state of the world around the city. Of course, there is hardly a problem with the town itself.

The problem is what inhabits the town.

Beneath the cover of darkness that invades the streets every night, I can hear the sounds of shuffling, weary feet drunkenly stumbling toward some unknowable destination, if one actually exists. From outside, I can hear the sharp words of ghouls wandering around, starting fights and wreaking havoc. The one place that they never venture is Port Luna, for all of Malaveara knows never to descend to the seaside before the sun had broke over the horizon; stories of disappearances and unexplained occurrences led to the superstitions and urban legends of deceiving demons and malevolent spirits haunting the area. Instead, these creatures (for they could never be called human) roam the streets throughout the rest of the city, a nightly disease that infects the city once dusk falls that is purged as soon as the sun rises. Life here is almost unthinkably dangerous.

And yet, I call Malaveara home.

The grim undertakings of the nocturnal do not consist of life in Malaveara, rather as a mere part of life. During the day, the city is an entirely different place. The oceanside air carries a scent of tranquility and freshness through the streets. The people who fill the roads with the daily hustle and bustle are polite and kind, and I used to have friends among them. The sun overhead shines down, and when I look out to sea from the port and behold the glistening waters shimmering beneath the warm sunlight, I think that there is no jewel upon this Earth that can rival its beauty.

If the city truly is cursed, it only reveals itself at night. When the sky takes on that dark blue hue, the clouds fade under the cover of night, families retreat into their homes and lock the doors, and the sea loses that glimmering beauty, I too barricade myself in my quarters to wait out another night. It has been that way for as long as I can remember, and it will be this way until the ocean itself rises, seizes the city in its wet grip, and drags Malaveara down to the briny depths.

I would be content with this crude system, were it not for a particular night that I spent outside the safety of my home. I am a man who has survived a Malavearan night, but at the unexpected cost of my very sanity. Whatever still dwindles within my head presents you with what I can recollect of that terrible night, but with this dire warning.

Never go outside in Malaveara at night.

I was a young man of about twenty four years when it happened, and, I am ashamed to admit, I was not of an agreeable reputation. Indeed, I had made mistakes in my life regarding my career choices, though were it not so damned easy, I would not have been bothered. At my side was a fellow whom I had long revered and called a friend. His name was Amicus, and together we managed to successfully swindle many sailors out of their money.

Our original scam was a relatively simple one: in addition to docks holding large ships from faraway places, Port Luna also held a thriving market that began at dawn and ended shortly before dusk. Sailors would come to trade with the local merchants, and Amicus and I would disguise ourselves as such in order to fool the sailors into buying our goods. The items in question, such as fruit or spices, were actually purchased from other stalls. We would then sell them to eager sailors for twice the price, which meant that we would purchase a dozen apples or oranges for six pieces, and then sell them to sailors for twelve or thirteen on days that we felt particularly bold. On one occasion, we sold a dozen oranges to a group for thirty pieces. They were outraged, but begrudgingly paid the thirty pieces after we informed them that, due to a drought, it had been a difficult season for harvest. The sailors, who had been out to sea for so long that they had become desperately in need of fruit, were pitifully easy to fool.

Over time, our scams became more elaborate. We would take simple balls and paint them to resemble fruit before filling a crate with them, stacking real fruit on top in order to conceal the deceit. We would then deliver the crate to a newly-arrived ship for the ludicrous price of fifty pieces, and the captain, upon inspecting the fruit on the top, would pay us. Soon, we realized that painting all of the balls was unnecessary effort, and instead wedged a large piece of cardboard halfway into the box, filling the bottom part beneath it with sand to make up for the difference of weight and give the illusion of it being full of fruit.

We garnered a notorious reputation around Port Luna, though our tricks continued to prove effective for many months, as sailors would not fathom our treachery until they had long departed out onto the sea, at which point it was far too late to voyage back to Malaveara. Of those who were so infuriated that they returned to the port to seek us out, we would simply leave the port and not return until we were absolutely sure that it was safe.

It was in this fashion that we operated for months, until the day came that I had never anticipated would find me trapped on the streets of Malaveara after dark. Amicus and I were convincing the captain of a crew of newly arrived sailors of the quality of “our” product (which, for the curious, was a simple crate containing a dozen or so oranges, our carefully made fakes, and the sand) when a delivery boy happened to pass from the same stall that had sold us the oranges a week prior. He caught on to our trick once he spotted the oranges and loudly informed the captain of our attempted trickery and stated that the oranges were not only soon to be overripe, but were no longer fresh. However, the captain still seemed uncertain, and we may have still salvaged the scam with our pride intact had the delivery boy not gestured to Amicus’s face and declared it a “dishonest face”. This short remark irritated Amicus so fiercely that he, holding the crate with one arm, made to grab the boy with the other hand and was so careless as to let the crate fall from his grip. Upon hitting the dock, the crate broke in half, spilling ripe fruit, balls, and sand at the captain’s feet. He must have been warned of our scams by other sailors, for at the revelation of our deception, his face became quite red and he reached for the cutlass at his belt. The first few raindrops of a seaside storm fell as Amicus and I hurried away, leaving the crate where it lie like a monument of our shameful falsehoods on the dock.

Amicus and I were forced to flee from the wrath of not only the sailors, but the police overseeing the market when the delivery boy alerted them to our tricks. Amicus and I tore out of Port Luna into the streets, spurred onward by that fabled adrenaline rush of fear as the sailors yelled profanity as they pursued us, and the policemen blew their whistles as they attempted to maintain order. I remember roughly bumping into a woman on the street as I hastened to keep pace with my friend, knocking her to the ground and sending the foods that she had been carrying in a basket into the air, though I hardly noticed at the time. Instead, all that mattered was our escape.

Fortunately, at that moment, the clouds opened and a downpour of rain fell. Seaside storms are hazardous, and in the chaos as people fought for shelter, Amicus and I believed that we would make our getaway down an alleyway until we heard the captain’s boots still clamoring after us in a determined hunt. I could feel the polished blade of his cutlass whistle through the wind behind me. At that very moment, much to my relief, his foot landed on a recently made puddle of rainwater and he slipped and fell onto the cobblestone. Amicus and I were free to make our getaway, but at that moment some fool pulled a large horse carriage at the end of the alley and stopped, blocking our route of escape.

Behind us, I could hear the captain rising to his feet to resume his chase. Our time to escape was limited, and I began to panic. The driver had stopped his carriage with the wheel blocking any hope that we had of climbing beneath it. Amicus did not hesitate; with his superior height, he leapt into the air and seized hold of the carriage’s roof. His boots kicked the side of the carriage as he pulled himself atop it, and he looked back to cast me one last pitying look before he disappeared over the other side of the carriage, leaving me to my fate.

The captain advanced upon me, but at that moment, a policeman appeared at the far end of the alleyway, loudly blowing his whistle. The captain lowered his cutlass in confusion, and turned away from me to face back to the policeman. Behind me, the door to the carriage opened and a man in a black hood, a man whom I presumed to be the carriage driver, peered out at the scene in the alleyway.

I wasted no time in pushing the man out of my way and climbing into his carriage before opening the door on the other side and tumbling out, falling to the ground in the process and dirtying the sleeve of my jacket with flecks of mud. Behind me, the man in the black hood closed the doors to the carriage and whipped the reins, spurring the horses onward. I fought to climb to my feet, and I fled, leaving the encounter with the captain behind me.

I wandered through the streets of Malaveara, but there was no sign of Amicus. The rain fell like a veil, cloaking the figures on the street from my view, making it even more difficult to find my friend. The storm was overpowering me now; a screaming gale nearly forced me off my feet. I knew at once that I should seek shelter. Unfortunately, or through some cruel karmic retribution by the will of an angry God, my residence was on the other side of Malaveara. The storm was growing in intensity, so much so that debris was beginning to fly amongst the fierce winds. Water was flooding the streets as puddles formed, overflowed, and grew to consume the bricks.

I was desperately in need of a place to wait out the storm, so I began searching the shops that adorned the sides of the street for one that was open, to no avail. It was getting far too late for any respectable establishment to have its doors open to customers. Rather unwillingly, I found myself huddled deep in an alleyway. The rain soaked my clothes and chilled me down to the bone. It was there that I suffered for an unknowable amount of time, though the buildings around me weakened the wind to a slight, frigid breeze, and the downpour was barely tolerable.

By the time the rain stopped, I was shivering. My clothes were damp, and each movement that I made sent droplets of water flying from my body. My shoes were nearly ruined from being submerged for so long in the growing ocean that had once been the street, and my toes were numb from the icy temperature. When I exhaled, a cloud of white mist emerged from my mouth and my spine would quiver. I was shaking, though I know not if it was from the unbearable cold, or the sudden realization of my predicament.

Even from where I was hidden in an alleyway, I could see the sky above, though even though I already knew what would be waiting for me, my stomach sunk deeper and deeper as I slowly left my refuge for the Malavearan streets, my gaze still fixated on the sky.

A waning gibbous moon, cloaked behind clouds of stone, hung within an abyss of black that sparkled with white stars.

I was in disbelief, though I could not tear my eyes from the sight of a night sky. I hadn’t seen one in so long, and believed that I never would so long as I lived in Malaveara, but here I was. I was so suddenly overcome with emotions of such a powerful fear that when I finally did manage to tear my gaze from the moon, my face contorted in a wide smile and I began to laugh until tears were streaming down my cheeks and my breathing had turned ragged and tired.

A memory of an event that had taken place mere months before that night had come to mind as I stood, shaking, in the frosty night. I had been in my den, taking shelter for the night, when from outside came a sudden ruckus. A panicking man was running from house to house, banging on the doors. Even now, so many years later, I can remember the sound of his screams.

“I’m not one of them! I don’t belong out here!” he was shouting, pleading to be let inside. I had the blinds pulled over the windows, yet I still ducked down in front of my desk when he came to my door and rapped his fists on the wood. “Please! Somebody! They’re coming!”

I froze in place; I did not dare to rise from my chair to cross the room. From where I was safe inside my own home, I listened to the man attempt to rush to the next house, but I never heard him knock on the door.

He began to scream, and then his screams turned to howls, and the howls to whimpers before all outside was silent. As quietly as I could, I rose from my chair and went to my bedroom before closing and locking the door and tiredly climbing into bed where I would toss and turn for the rest of the night.

The morning after, I left my home to see a tattered jacket lying in the street in the same area that the man had been shouting. People trampled on it as they made their way down the street.

Was that to be my fate? To fall victim to whatever foul nightmares prowl the streets in the darkness? It appeared that my only chance for survival would be to seek shelter in my own home on the other side of Malaveara. I feared that if I remained in place much longer, whatever unseen monstrosities that I had heard every night would soon be upon me.

I had no time to waste, and began my long trek. I strode along the streets, weary to be travelling in plain sight. I looked to the shadows of the alleyway, thinking that they would prove an invaluable hiding place, but the darkness was so absolute that I could not tell if there was anything moving within the shadows, and it was then that I caught my first glimpse of a denizen of the night.

He looked to be old, as his hair was ashen and his black eyes seemed sunken and filled with a hollowness dug through years. His crooked teeth smiled at me beneath a wide-brimmed black hat, and his black trenchcoat seemed long, almost too long. He was a tall man, so tall in fact that at first I believed he was levitating in the air.

Startled by his sudden appearance, I quickened my pace, leaving that vile alleyway behind me. I dared not look back over my shoulder, for fear that he would be following. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the street that I ventured a quick glance over my shoulder and saw- to my immense relief- that there was no one. My relief was short lived, as I looked back down the street and was met with a shock.

I was fully aware that the amount of nighttime ghouls wandering the streets of Malaveara was vast, though I was not aware of the full scope until that very moment. The street was lined with a wide array of strange creatures, and I now knew that my assumption of these nighttime stalkers not being human proved true.

The pungent stench of decay and squalor filled my nostrils as I stood paralyzed by the horrifying sight before me. Creatures sat in doorways, motionless, paced the streets, restless, or stood huddled in unsettlingly close circles, whispering in indiscernible voices. None of these nocturnal freaks seemed to pay me any attention, however, so I wondered if it might be possible to simply walk down the street. My only other option was to detour through an alleyway, but without knowing what sinister entities lurked in the shadows, I could not bring myself to enter the alley.

Trying to keep myself from shaking so harshly, I began walking down the street and past the ghouls.

As I wandered past a circle of people who had no color to them whatsoever, not on their skin or clothing, I could catch only a few select words (Catalyst, Crystal, Gates, Oblivion) before the group went silent when I approached while keeping their heads bowed in the circle, unmoving. I passed by a man in a faded gray cloak who was lying against a shop and peered at him as I passed, only to discover, to my horror, that he had no face beneath his hood, though as I stared, two eyes began to push outwards through his skin before the skin opened, pushing the eyeballs out onto his face where their brilliant blue radiance watched me. When more eyes began to appear on his cheeks, forehead, and chin, I walked a little faster and hurried away while feeling the heat of their intense gazes on my back.

It took everything that I had to not break into a sprint, though my face glistened with sweat, and I now buried my hands in my pockets to hide the shaking. My breathing was heavy, and I struggled to quiet my gasps. At this point, I hadn’t even made it halfway down the street. Nothing about this was natural. The monsters were real, and they had come.

I passed another circle of Colorless People, catching a few more words (Ends, Corsair, Syndicate), but I was almost wheezing. Finally, I reached the end of the street where a raven-haired woman wearing black clothing and holding a white umbrella was standing with her back to me. She looked around at me, and caught my eye. Her face was pale, her skin almost ghostly. The lady turned to face me, slowly reaching out a weak hand.

“Please… are you here for me…?” she asked in a voice that was little more than a whisper. “So empty… so cold…”

“N-No,” I stammered, backing away as the empty lady slowly moved closer, her hand still extended. “I’m sorry, I can’t help…”

Suddenly, a rough hand clamped down on my shoulder and pulled me so violently that I was nearly yanked off my feet. Instead, I whirled around to find that a sailor, covered completely from head to toe in a muddy grime, had grabbed me in his cold, unyielding grasp. His eyes flashed darkly, filled with a bitter malevolence, but his beard seemed to be made of something other than hair. I felt my stomach sink when I saw his beard move and realized that it was made of fingers, some twitching, others pointing toward me as if trying to grab me.

“Ye ain’t one of us,” he croaked in a hollow, gravelly voice that sounded as though it had come from an abyss at the end of the ocean floor. “Ye don’t belong here…”

“Let go of me!” I struggled to pull away from his hold. The empty lady was still crooning behind me. He was slowly pushing his face closer to mine, and the fingers reached out for me. At the last second, I pulled my head back and threw it forward, feeling a satisfying crack where his nose was as he stumbled back, releasing me from his powerful grip, but the clammy fingers seized hold of my face. Shrieking, I pulled away, but the fingers did not relinquish their hold. His beard stretched as though he had a long arm protruding from his face, and I could hear the gruesome sailor’s cackling in my ears. It was only when I opened my mouth and bit down on the fingers trying to climb inside that he howled in pain, and the fingers retracted. Disoriented, I scrambled to get away, my footsteps sounding like thunder on the bricks as I ran for my life.

I paid no attention to the freaks lining the streets or the circles that went silent as I neared. Instead, I was so caught up in my mad dash to even remember which direction I was going. All that mattered was getting away from the monsters, but that feat was impossible in a city filled with them.

My fearful run began to garner the attention of the creatures. Some seemed uninterested, others called after me, but some lunged to catch me. A woman with long, greasy black hair dove at me from a familiar alleyway, her lips parting sideways to reveal jagged, broken teeth, and she hissed at me. Panicking, I nearly lost my balance trying to turn in a new direction and ended up running beneath an archway into…

Port Luna.

The nocturnal forbidden area where no stalkers would dare wander after dark, for forces far more chaotic and malign than they inhabited this area. For a moment, I thought I caught sight of the ghostly sailor wandering the edge of the port with a lantern in hand, but his beard was not as proclaimed and he was wearing the garb of a captain.

The sudden howling of a wolf somewhere nearby startled me, and I reflexively tensed up at the sudden sound before it abruptly stopped. Everything seemed so quiet in the port, which I thought was odd at the time, but the reason why did not occur to me until much later. During the day, in addition to the rowdiness of the market, there was the constant crashing of waves against the docks and the squawking of seagulls. That night, the ocean was impossibly silent, and the only living things were watching from the shadows, their presence felt, but unheard.

I so desperately wanted to run from that unholy place, but my feet seemed locked in place. I was paralyzed with fear, my whole body tingling with shivers. It suddenly became very cold. When I looked out over the ocean, the moon did not illuminate the waves; instead, the water was blacker than the sky, so it more resembled an endless abyss yawning over the horizon. It felt as though my blood were turning to ice as I stared, numb, at the unnatural, unrecognizable sight before me.

Rather unexpectedly, I felt an ancient presence nearby, and all of the other malevolent entities seemed to disappear as it drew nearer. Sweat rolled down my brow as I felt it moving over the cobblestone to my side, but I did not dare to look. Instead, I stood in mute terror, trembling and squeezing my eyes shut, praying that tonight was not the night that I met an untimely demise.

When I opened my eyes, the ancient creature passed me by, and I caught my first sight of its massive form. From what little that I can remember, it had skin whiter than anything I’d ever seen, and it seemed to be twisted and pulsating while it prowled on four legs. Whether they ended in paws or claws or some other appendage, I did not see. It turned to face me with a deformed face, though I could somehow tell that it held a mildly interesting, musing expression. Its eyes were hollow, but all-seeing. Its mouth was permanently open, as though it had not finished what it had to say and it never would.

This indescribable creature surveyed me for a moment, and then it spoke in a voice unlike any human’s. This was a voice that a human would be incapable of making, for it resonated with eons of life and whispers of debilitation. It did not move its mouth to say those three words that have haunted me ever since that night, echoing in my dreams and hiding between the sentences of everything that anyone has spoken to me since.

At once, I regained control of my body and turned to flee from that repulsive port, and I have never returned. I do not recall how exactly I returned home, for my mind was a spiral of madness for many months after my encounter with the ancient entity, but despite my slow recovery, I have not remembered. Even most of the creature’s form is a blur in my memory, as the mere sight unravelled my mind for quite some time. From what I have been told, I was found in my house the next day, raving like a madman and laughing to myself. I spent many years in a recovery clinic, and I have not seen Amicus since his abandonment that night.

Now, years later, I live my life quietly in Malaveara. I’ve found honest work, and am often inside my house hours before and after night falls over the fair city. Somehow, I know that I will never be able to leave.

But those three words that the creature spoke are forever engraved in my mind. Even writing them now sends shivers down my back and a dull pain through my head. Despite my uncountable nightmares about the ancient entity saying those three words, I’ve tried to forget. I now write them, hoping that I find some solace in revealing my knowledge and praying whomever reads them will someday find that they do not remember these three words.

Welcome home, human.

Credit: Alex Sorrow


Submission Status

Submissions closed on February 21st, 2017. Please allow me time to work through the queue before I reopen submissions. PLEASE READ THE FAQ AND ANY RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO SUBMIT YOUR PASTA OR SENDING CONTACT REQUESTS.

Top Rated Pastas

  1. The Seer of Possibilities
    Rating: 9.3. From 6767 votes.
  2. Love
    Rating: 9.3. From 5049 votes.
  3. The Fairies
    Rating: 9.3. From 2040 votes.
  4. Artificial
    Rating: 9.3. From 1754 votes.
  5. Ubloo, Part Four and a Half
    Rating: 9.3. From 1046 votes.
  6. Turn It Off
    Rating: 9.3. From 766 votes.
  7. Revelations (Sequel to The Fort and Survival)
    Rating: 9.3. From 68 votes.
  8. Psychosis
    Rating: 9.2. From 18637 votes.
  9. Bedtime
    Rating: 9.2. From 10698 votes.
  10. Mr. Widemouth
    Rating: 9.2. From 8373 votes.

Random Pasta Menu