The Mail Man

March 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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It all started as a message in my mailbox one morning. Having my morning coffee and cigarette, I decided to walk out to the mailbox and check my mail. I had bought this house from an auction for a very low price. It was out in the quiet country. I, being a city kid, had no idea what country life was like until I had made a few friends around the area. With the purchase of the house came 100 acres of crop land that, in the autumn, blossomed into golden produce that swayed beautifully in the wind.

I put on my shoes and headed out to the road, still slightly groggy. Upon opening the mailbox, I found a dead bird inside; at first, I thought it was some stupid kids playing pranks again – last week, they decided to toilet paper my lawn. I pulled the dead bird out and threw it on the ground; it was mangled to a pulp, almost as if a dog had gotten ahold of it.

Besides the bird, there was nothing inside of the mailbox. I started to think that maybe the kids had stolen my mail, but eventually I brushed it off and told myself I’d get up early in the morning and watch the mail come so I could catch the jerks in the act. The next morning arrived and the mailman came as usual. I walked out and got my mail, not thinking anything of it. The next morning was the same.

The next week came and I walked out to get my mail once again. This time, I was horrified at the sight; my white mailbox had blood smeared all over it. I opened the mailbox cautiously. Inside was a mangled cat. I gasped and covered my mouth, quickly choking back the vomit raising to my throat. I rushed to my garage, put on a pair of gloves, and pulled the poor animal out. Stapled to it was a note, fairly legible, but crude nonetheless. On the note was a simple smiley face. I was disgusted at that; whoever did it thought it was funny. I gave the cat a proper burial and continued with my day. The next morning, I woke up around 5:00 AM, walked out, and checked my mailbox again to see if it had been tampered with. The cat I had just buried in my backyard was stuffed inside yet again, this time another note attached to it. This one had a frowning face and under it, which read “You don’t like my present?”

Pissed off and finally fed up, I decided to bury it yet again and to stay up all night to watch my mailbox to find out who was doing this. The time rolled by – 12:00 am, 1:00 am, 2:00 am, nothing at all….then, at 3:00 am, I finally saw movement across the road, and out of the cornfield there came a figure into my yard. I watched it until it finally came under the security light I have in the middle of my yard. What I saw, I cannot begin to explain. It was a man…or at least I think it was. It was hunched over like an old man with long gangly arms that went farther than the average human, and its head bent downwards as if it was looking for something it had dropped on the ground.

The man, or rather thing, looked frail and weak, but it moved with great speed. I quickly and quietly moved to the back window and peered out as I saw it dig up the cat once again and hold it in its arms. It stroked the cat as if it were alive and quickly hurried around to the front of my house. I scurried back to the front window again and watched as it made its way to my mailbox, and once more put the cat inside, before disappearing into the darkness. That day I didn’t leave my house; I was too shocked of what happened. I slept a bit then decided to take a trip to the store; when I came back, I checked the mailbox again and there it was, the same cat I just buried. I went to take the dead cat out of my mailbox once again and bury it in a different spot, then decided to stay up again that night so as to see what happened.

With a flashlight in hand, I watched out of my front window and saw the long, spindly man come out of the field and jog into my yard, to the spot where I just buried the cat that day and started to dig it up with his hands. I slid open the sliding glass door and stepped outside, turning on the flashlight. I aimed it at the man, and yelled “What the heck are you doing?!” The man turned around to face me, and that’s when I saw the thing for the first time, in plain sight. Its body looked like it had been mauled by a bear, its clothes ripped, rotting skin showing through, its teeth completely exposed and jagged, and the eyes sunken in. I quickly ran back inside as it gave a shrieking
sound and hopped over in my direction.

I slid the glass door shut and locked it, and grabbed the pistol I had bought for self-defense from under my couch. Loading a bullet into the chamber, I shined the light at the door and waited. A glob of something hid the glass door, and I instinctively shot a bullet, which found its mark inside of my wall. I walked to the glass door and shined the light down to see what it was: a mess of entrails were scattered across the bottom and blood smeared across the glass. Sick to my stomach, I choked back the vomit that was rising from my stomach.

I quickly rushed back to the couch that was against the wall and sat there with my eyes fixed upon the glass door, my flashlight off. Outside, I could see the moonlight through the gruesome mess that was plastered upon the glass. I saw a figure approach the door, and stared in awe as its hands smeared the blood across the window. I was frozen with fear, waiting for it to break the glass and try to take my life from me.

After smearing the blood, it turned around and walked away. I swear I could hear a faint chuckle, like a smoker’s lungs laugh, but in a way that emphasized the rasp of deteriorating breaths. I sat in the sofa and didn’t budge; I don’t know how long I waited, but after a while the room became light as the sun rose in the sky. I looked around the house – everything was so quiet – then fixed my eyes on the glass door. Smeared across it were hand prints with unusually long fingers and a smiley, the same one on the letter. I sighed and tried to make myself comfortable, laying down and resting my eyes, but still remaining as alert as possible. A few hours later, I awoke from a nightmare and propped myself up on the couch.

After a short while, I got up and prepared to clean away the aftermath of last night’s encounter. I was, apparently, pissing whatever it was off, and I was getting more scared by the second just thinking of whatever was out there, lurking. I cleaned the entrails off the ground and went out to check my mail, then I came across a plain letter. Curious, I opened it up and felt a chill shoot up my spine.

The letter had no words – only a smile, the same, crude smile that was on the letter stapled to the cat and on my sliding glass door.

I quickly crumbled it up and tossed it on the ground. I left that night; I went to stay with my parents up in the city for a few weeks. Not explaining my situation to them, I simply told them that I had been sick of country life and needed a change for a few weeks. They happily let me in. When I returned to my home three weeks later, horror was stricken across my face, for my house was not as I left it. As soon as I walked in, the stench of rotting carcass hit my nostrils and I vomited on the floor. Covering my nose with my shirt, I proceeded to the light switch.

Turning on the light made me shriek in terror. Scattered throughout my house were entrails and carcasses of dead animals; some were propped up like humans on my couch, and all were staring at me as I stood, horrified, in the doorway. All over the white walls were smiley faces and the same writing over and over, “I’m very angry with you,” written in blood. I lifted up the couch seat to look for my pistol, but it was gone.
Just then, I saw something in the hallway moving steadily back and forth. Flipping on the hall light, there it was again: the creature who had tried to kill me the night before I had left. It snapped its gaze to me and moved its mouth into a sickening smile. It jumped up and started to walk in my direction. I quickly turned around and ran outside, slamming the door behind me. I got into my car, started it up, and proceeded to back out of the driveway and onto the road as fast as I could. Behind me, I saw a figure in my rear-view mirror running up to my car; its arms slammed into the trunk and it proceeded to hop onto the roof of my car.

I shifted into drive and slammed on the gas. I drove all night as far as I could away from the house, those dead animals, that thing. As soon as I was in the city limits, I decided to buy some gas, seeing as I was almost on empty. I pulled into a gas station and got out of my car. My eyes widened as I saw the trunk had been completely bashed in. I quickly pumped the gas and left for my parents’ house. Four months later, I am living in my apartment, dealing with occasional nightmares at times, but could never be happier to get away from that house and that monster that lives there.

I just checked my mail this morning and received a letter with no return address. Inside, written on crumpled up paper, was a crudely draw smiley face and the words, “You can’t hide.”

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The Lawman (or) A Silver Running Thread

March 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I knew Susie since she was about three years old.

Me and Emma had been what you might have called childhood sweethearts (even though it never went past holdin’ hands and a peck on the cheek one evenin’ whilst we were sat on her doorstep), and even when we both went our separate ways in our lives, we stayed firm friends, so naturally, when her younger sister said she was havin’ a baby, I was almost as excited as Emma was. Emma’s sister was called Charlie- truth be told, she was never much to look at when she was growin’ up, but by the time she hit about 22, maybe 23, there wasn’t an eye in town that wasn’t lookin’ her way. I can’t even deny it myself. She fell for a local boy, Lou, and they got married the summer after they first met. Whole town turned out to see it, me included. Both of ‘em beautiful and both of ‘em real happy. And they announced they were havin’ a baby a month or two later, and went and called her Susie. But then I guess life plays some pretty mean hands, cos Lou went out in his car one day to watch the game and never came home. Found him in the wreckage of his car after hittin’ a truck on the highway. Nobody saw Charlie for three weeks straight after that- last thing anyone round here saw of her, she was gettin’ in her car with Susie and drivin’ as far away from town as she could.

Anyway, Emma went out looking for her, for days on end, but she never found her. Then, a couple years later, some lady from the adoption agency turns up on Emma’s doorstep with a three year old kid- a three year old kid named Susie. Turns out, Charlie moved to Albuquerque. She started drinkin’, then she started on the drugs, then… I don’t know. Apparently she used to hit Susie. I don’t know why she did it, but I know it makes me sad.

But, from all that, I think Susie got a good deal- Emma didn’t want a husband and she didn’t wanna birth a kid herself, so Susie was everythin’ she ever wanted without a catch. And she loved her. Oh, she loved that girl. It showed, too- you’d think a person would come away from such a bad start with a lot of screws loose, but Susie was never anythin’ other than the nicest kid I ever met. She grew up smilin’, laughin’ with folk when others were just laughin’ at them, always callin’ me ‘sir’ or ‘Sheriff’, even when I told her to just call me Thomas. She didn’t think there was a person alive that didn’t have some good in them, somewhere, wherever it might be.

I used to see a lot of her, cos Emma would often go away to far flung places to work, so I would sit in with her and look after her whenever I could. I guess in a way she started seein’ the world the way I did- I used to listen to music with her, cook food for her (and when she got older, and so did I, she used to make pie and cake for me, and then for everyone else at the station) watch the television with her, and all those things I’m sure a real Daddy does with his real daughter. But she used to like it best when we went and sat out on the front porch when the sun was just beginnin’ to set, and I’d sit in an old rockin’ chair and she’d sit on the bench next to me and I’d tell her a story, then she’d tell me a story, and so on and so forth. “Tale for a tale”, she would call it. She used to wear my hat (for she loved that hat and seemed to have taxed it years before I was planning to hang it up) and I’d tell her about who we’d arrested that day- and sometimes she’d laugh, sometimes she’d say ‘how awful’ and sometimes she’d say nothin’ at all- and she used to tell me about school or about her dreams, or about Franki Valli and the Four Seasons (I used to call her Franki Valli’s Fifth Season, cos she loved them so damn much, even if they were years old even by my standards) and we’d stay like that till the sun properly went down. One high Summer, Emma was away, and we stayed out on that porch the whole damned night, telling her as many stories as I could recall- when I woke up, Susie was sleepin’ on the bench, the sun was up and I was still sat in that same old chair but with a blanket over me and my hat back on my head.

You could swear on anybody’s grave that life will follow a road and never deviate, and maybe that’ll carry you through till your hair turns grey. Maybe it’ll even carry you through till you die. But if I could line the road it really took with flower petals, then I would. But I can’t. So I won’t.

~~~

I imagine it all began when Dale O’Neill and I (that’s Dale O’Neill the younger, course; his Daddy is still quite dead) went to check in on Susie midweek sometime- think it was a Tuesday- whilst Emma was away. Dale was Deputy and he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (come to think of it, he wasn’t even the sharpest of the blunt tools neither) but he was a good man and Susie was fond of his company so I often took him with me when I’d go to check up on her. So we went in and Susie was making a blueberry pie in the kitchen (and she really knew how to cook- s’pose cos Emma did too) and me and Dale went and watched the television for a while whilst she cooked. She served it up about a half hour later and it was as good as anythin’ she’d ever made before- she even made custard to go with it too, which Dale seemed to like.

“I dunno if I ever said,” he announced, to no-one in particular, “but I like custard. I mean, I really like custard. Hell, I’d go as far to say I love custard. Hot, cold, with puddin’, without puddin’, s’all good to me. Y’know sometimes I ask Momma to make a pan o’ custard, and I just let it sit overnight till its stone cold and I take it to work with me the next day in a plastic tub.”

“Deputy O’Neill,” I said, “you are a strange, strange man.” But Susie seemed to find it pretty funny- Dale used to make her laugh real easy. I don’t think he ever intended to (come to think of it, I don’t think he ever intended to make anybody laugh, they’d just start as soon as he opened his mouth) but she always liked him bein’ there and I guess Dale knew that and liked bein’ wanted around.

“How ‘bout you Susie? You a fan o’ custard?” Dale asked. Susie just looked down at her plate of blueberry pie- which was, incredibly, covered in custard- and started laughin’. Dale started laughin’ a few moments later too, when he finally caught on.

“I like custard,” she said, “but I prefer Jell-o.”

“You gonna have Jell-o on your birthday party or are you too old for that now?” I asked her.

“Well course I’ll have it on my birthday. Jus’ not at the party. I’ll have it at home.” She replied.

“Gotta save face now you’re nearly fifteen, don’t ya?”

“Course.”

“I see… so is it heroin or coke you’d prefer now you’re too old for Jell-o?”

She smiled, and so did I. Then:

“Coke. I already got enough heroin. What with Aunt Emma bein’ the local kingpin n’all.”

“Course, silly me. I’ll have to remember to arrest her for that someday. If I get a moment.”

“Say, Susie,” Dale piped up, “d’ya wanna hear about this feller we picked up by the liquor store earlier today? Well he was runnin’ around town in just his underwear…”

And then, from upstairs, somebody knocked on the ceiling. Three times, distinct as anythin’. We all stopped talkin’ and looked straight up. A couple of seconds of silence passed.

“I didn’t know there was anyone else in the house?” I said.

“There ain’t.” I looked at her, and then at Dale, who seemed just as confused as I was.

“Susie, can you stay down here for me?” I said, and Dale and I reached for our guns. I didn’t think Susie would say a thing, but then:

“No.”
I turned round real slow.

“I don’t want you to go upstairs, Sheriff. You or Dale. Please. I’m gonna take these dishes back to the sink and then we can go watch TV, if you like, or we can go out for a walk. But please don’t go upstairs. Just don’t.”
It struck me then that I’d watch that girl grow up and I ain’t never seen her look truly, truly afraid before.

~~~

The next day, when I was headin’ to check up on Susie, I saw her talkin’ to some young feller outside her house. He was around Susie’s age and he was kinda handsome lookin’, I s’pose. All tousled hair and shirt sleeves, which I suppose cuts it for some people. I came over, and they shelled up.

“Evenin’,” then, to the young feller, “I don’t think we’ve been introduced?”
And he offered his hand and said:

“Hey, Sheriff. My name’s Evan. I’m in Math with Susie. She’s told me a lot about you.”

“That ain’t a sentence that bodes well for a feller.”

Then we all just stood about in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, till Evan said:

“I ought to go back. I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow Susie. It was nice meeting you, Sheriff.”

“Jus’ call me Thomas.”

“Okay. Well, goodnight.”

Then Susie went kinda red and said:

“Goodnight, Evan.” And we watched him walk on back down the street.

“He seems polite.”

“He is.”

“He a new friend of yours?”

“Yeah. He’s a friend.”

“Yeah. I’ve had friends like that too. C’mon- let’s go to the hill.” So we took a walk up to the hill overlookin’ town and sat a while under the old tree there and watched the day turn into evenin’.

“So… you had a good day at school?”

“Yeah.”

“No problems?”

“No.”

“Anything particularly interestin’ happen?”

“No.”
Neither of us said a thing for about a minute or so.

“So school was good?” She looked back a little confused and scowlin’ a tiny bit, but then she realised I was only messin’ with her, and smiled, just a little.

“I been meanin’ to ask you about last night. ‘bout that noise.”

“Sheriff… please.”

“Y’know… I been lookin’ after you for a lotta years now. I guess you could say I’ve been tryin’ to be somethin’ of a Daddy to you, even if I ain’t your real one. So I guess a part of me always knew I’d have to have some kinda… talk with you, I s’pose.” I said, gettin’ a little uncomfortable.

“How’d ya mean, Sheriff?”

“Well, I ain’t gonna beat around the bush… but I just wanna say that I ain’t accusin’ you of nothin’ neither. I was young once. I s’pose.”

“What’re you tryin’ to say?”

“I guess I’m tryin’a ask… well, that noise- it weren’t- Susie, were you keepin’ a boy upstairs?” Susie looked round, kinda horrified. That feeling of being uncomfortable got twice as bad.

“Y’know, I thought, perhaps it might have been that Evan feller knockin’ on the ceilin’ for ya so you’d… y’know… get back upstairs with him an’… well, I s’pose that’s fairly obvious.” I dunno who looked more uncomfortable there, me or her.

“Sheriff, it weren’t a boy,” she stood up, lookin’ kinda angry, “I wasn’t keepin’ a boy upstairs!”

“Alright, a girl then.”

“Or a girl!”

“Okay, okay, I believe ya. Just as long as it weren’t a horse,” I said, “but you get why I had to ask? You know what I’m talkin’ about? The kinda… concerns I might have, that you might be gettin’ into trouble.”
Susie looked at me all annoyed and stroppy and then she relented and came and sat back down.

“No, I know. I understand. But it weren’t nobody. There weren’t nobody upstairs.” She started looking off towards the town, quiet and still.

“So who do you reckon was makin’ that noise?” Susie stayed lookin’ out over town, totally silent for a few moments. Then she looked back at me, and said:

“Sheriff… do you believe in God?” I breathed out, kinda struck by the question.

“I dunno,” I said, “I really don’t. When I was growin’ up, it was always taken as a given that a person did, so I guess I just never questioned it. Never thought too much into it, neither, course. Never sat and thought what no God might be, what that might look like, or feel like. But I made Sheriff without God. Met my wife without God. Looked after you without God. So maybe a world without Him is just the same as one with Him. But then again… I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll go about my business and feel like I’m followin’ a thread. Like a big silver thread, runnin’ through every moment I ever known. And maybe it’s God, maybe it’s Karma, maybe it’s just destiny. But I don’t think somethin’ happens just for nothin’ to come of it. So if that’s God, then I guess that means I believe. And if it ain’t, I guess that means I don’t. Does that answer your question?”

“No, but I like hearin’ you talk.”

“S’pose you’re about the only one that does,” I said, and she nudged a tiny bit further away, “Susie, why’d you ask me if I believe in God?”

“Cos if you believe in God then I figure you believe in the Devil too.”

“I think, given my age, he’s more my problem than yours.”

I ain’t never heard Susie stay quiet so many times in a conversation. I tried to bring her round:

“Susie-”

“I feel like there’s somethin’ that ain’t friendly in my house.”

That came as somethin’ of a surprise.

“What do you mean, not friendly?”

“Like there’s somethin’ in my house that don’t want me there. Or that wants me there, but only so it can hurt me.”

“Susie, there ain’t no-one in your house-“

“I didn’t say someone, I said something!”

“What, you ain’t seen nobody there with you in the house?”

“No, nobody.”

“Okay, well, there ain’t no thing in your house neither.”

“But I can feel it. I can feel it watchin’ me when I sleep, when Aunt Emma ain’t there. I can feel it when I walk about the house. It’s like there’s another set of footsteps, always just trailin’ a little bit behind me.”
I shifted forward so I was sat right beside her, and looked into her eyes- a little bloodshot, a little teary. A little bit scared.

“You ain’t been sleepin’, have ya?”

“Not proper. Not for the past few days. I just… can’t get that feelin’ to leave me alone.”

“Susie- have you thought about seein’ a Doctor or… I dunno, a therapist?”

“No. No way, Sheriff. I ain’t goin’ to see a Doctor, I ain’t crazy, I swear I ain’t crazy.”

“I’m not sayin’ that you’re crazy, Susie: maybe you need a little help is
all. Help seein’ the world the right way again.”

“What if I am seein’ it right, Sheriff?”

“Then I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

~~~

That night, I had dreams.

I was runnin’ through some great valley in the night time, some place devoid from stars. Nothin’ but the dim blue of the sky and the solid black of the mountains. And behind me I heard somethin’ runnin’ towards me- it was far away at first but it was gettin’ closer and however fast I ran it never stopped gettin’ closer. I grew too tired to carry and I stopped and stood in the middle of the path, waitin’ for whatever it was that was comin’ my way. I shut my eyes out there in the blackness and I heard its cry. Then it ran right on past.

I couldn’t see a thing but I could hear it runnin’ beyond me, and I could hear the savage beating’ of its footsteps on the ground and its cry echoing through the night.

Then from the same direction, I heard Susie scream.

~~~

I got a phone call around two from Susie’s school. Our arrangement weren’t anythin’ official but everyone in town knew I looked after her whenever Emma was out of town, so I guess I was the next best thing to a next of kin. They called and said that Susie had gotten into trouble. She’d had a fight with some boy called Jed and they were gonna suspend her for the comin’ week, and they wanted me to come collect her. I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard it cos Susie didn’t have a violent bone in her body, so when I picked her up, I didn’t quite know what to say. Of course, neither could she, but I could pass it off as bein’ angry. When we got to the station, she sat down in a chair in front of my desk, like she was waitin’ for the scornin’ of her life. Just starin’, head down, hands in her lap, waitin’ for the inevitable.

“Y’know,” I began, “a couple years ago, I pulled over this feller on the highway, about two miles out of town. He was doin’ well over a hundred miles per hour, and on the wrong side of the road too. Pulled him over, he was so high he could barely even speak. Searched the car, and it was filled with so much heroin I almost fainted. So we pulled him in, waited till he sobered up a little, and asked him what in God’s name he was doin’- turns out he was makin’ a break for Mexico. Even if he was goin’ in the wrong direction entirely. Figured if he could drive fast enough, no one could catch up to him. Bit of a break in character when he pulled over for the cops, but still. And, funny thing was, when I was questionin’ him, I coulda sworn I’d seen his face before. So I checked the records, and I was right- used to go to your high school, fell into drugs there, and was caught doin’ some manner of ridiculous stunt about… well, I’d say about once or twice a week. Dumbest son of a bitch I ever encountered, doin’ the dumbest thing I ever witnessed. The point I’m tryin’ to make here is that I’d have expected somethin’ dumb like that off of someone like him, cos… well, cos he’s dumb. But you ain’t dumb, Susie. But what you were doin’ sure as hell was. So are you gonna gimme an explanation as to just what you thought you were doin’?”

“I was kickin’ the shit outta that asshole.”

“That ain’t an explanation. That’s a summary. And, frankly, I ain’t puttin’ up with that tone. Now I either put you in the cells or you show me a little bit of goddamn respect and tell me what I need to know.”

Susie looked down at her hands- seemed to me like everythin’ that just happened just hit her. All that posturin’, the violence- that was alien to her, and I knew that it just didn’t sit well in her head.

“Well… I was eatin’ outdoors, me and Bonnie. We were jus’ talkin’ between ourselves, I swear we weren’t makin’ troulble. But then that son-of-a-bitch Jed and his friends came along, and they’re all real assholes so we just didn’t look their way. He started chuckin’ bits of paper at Bonnie, and they found it hilarious, so when I told him to stick his paper up his ass he started shovin’ me. Don’t think he liked it when I shoved back. We was all set to just leave, I swear we was, me and Bonnie were leavin’, and then… he just shouted somethin’ after me. Somethin’ like “skank.” I can’t ever remember now. And I jus’ felt somethin’ break inside me. I ain’t never felt so mad before. So I hit that bastard right in the face. And I did it again, and again, and then they all jus’ started to run.” She was scared, and her eyes were wider and full up with tears more than I’d ever seen them before.

“Susie, this just isn’t you. Why’d you do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“No, I think you do. I just don’t think you wanna say it. So I guess I will- what we spoke about yesterday is gettin’ worse, ain’t it?” Susie just nodded,
not lookin’ me in the eyes, but still snifflin’ and weepin’.

“Last night… when I got home, I watched the TV for a while. I hadn’t had that feelin’ like I was bein’ watched all day, and I started to think that… I dunno, maybe that it had gone. But whilst I was watchin’ the TV, I heard somebody run behind me. Like the footprints on the floor, right behind me, clear as anythin’. It ran from one side of the chair to the other, then nothin’.”

“Don’t ya think it could have been your imagination?”

“Well, that’s what I tried to tell myself, but I was so spooked, I just ran up straight to bed. I got that feelin’ again, all the way up the stairs, worse than I ever felt it before. So I got into bed, and just tried to shut it out, but it was so bad. I just wanted to run away, I just wanted to get out of that house. And I sat up, and I was looking’ all around me- and y’know how, when you’re in the dark, you’ll see outlines of things, but it might just be the way the light hits a part of your room and it’s just your eyes makin’ out shapes that ain’t there? Well, I was seein’ ‘em everywhere, and I was too petrified to do anythin’, even if I kept sayin’ they weren’t there. And there was this one right by my bed, on the side closest to the door, and it was really givin’ me a nasty feelin’. So I put my hand on my light, and I was just gonna throw it on and show myself that there was nothin’ there, and just run outta the house and go stay with you an’ your wife. Only, when I put on my light, that trick of the light at the side of my bed… it weren’t no
trick. There was somethin’ watchin’ me by my bed.”

I sat forward, and she looked up, so I was lookin’ right into her eyes.

“Did you get a good look at him?”

“It weren’t a man. It was just this shape, this big black shape, on all fours, crouching, lookin’ at me. As soon as I turned the light on, it just ran out of the room. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move a single inch. I just sat there all night, watchin’ the door. As soon as the mornin’ came, I left the house. Just grabbed some clothes and a school bag and ran out, got changed down a back alley way so no one would see. All day at school, I was hearin’ things behind me, seein’ things outta the corner of my eye. I was so on edge, it was like I couldn’t think a single thought without that comin’ back into my head. And that son-of-a-bitch just got me so worked up I couldn’t keep it in.”

I sat there for a little while, not knowin’ what to say. Susie, however, broke the silence:

“What happens now?” she asked.

“Well… you got the week off. And, for the record, you’re grounded for the duration. Cos things like this… this really ain’t you. I don’t wanna have to see you in here like this again. Because, believe me, if it happens in the street, I am gonna arrest you, and I am gonna charge you. That’s a warnin’, but it’s the only one I’m gonna give.”

Susie looked so relieved- still cryin’, but relieved.

“Thank you. Really, thank you.”

“Go on. I’ll check up on you later.”

~~~

I got some feller from the town comin’ in early the next mornin’ sayin’ somethin’ peculiar was goin’ on outside Susie’s place and that I was needed. I took Dale with me and when we got there I saw a crowd of people gathered round outside, dotted all over the street, starin’ round themselves, lookin’ startled. I cut my way through them and they began to part for me.

“Anyone care to fill me in on what’s goin’ on here?”

Then I noticed the blood.

There were small pools and smatters of it on the ground, and they lead up to the house. My stomach dropped for a second, till I saw where it came from- there was a dead dog by my feet, a couple yards away at best. Its throat was cut and its mouth was lolling open. And there were more- animals, slaughtered and staged. A coyote, buzzards, more dogs, a cat, a fox, a hawk, a rabbit, the head of a horse. And I noticed they were all in a straight line like stepping stones, leadin’ up to the front porch. I have seen many a queer thing in my time, but I could not summon a single word.

“Where the hell’s Susie?”

Someone from crowd piped up:

“We ain’t seen her.” And at that, me and Dale ran into the house.

We found her in the hallway. She was sittin’, cryin’ her eyes out, absolutely petrified. I noticed that she had wet herself. I tried to get her to stand up, but she couldn’t do it.

“Susie… Susie, baby, I need you to stand up. Susie, stand up now, that’s it. I need you to stand up for me.” And as we helped her up, she looked at me like she’d lost her mind and said:

“It’s in my house.”

~~~

We took Susie to the hospital, to get her checked over. She weren’t hurt, but she was scared half to death. I asked what had happened once she’d calmed down a little and she said she woke up, found all those bodies outside and damn near had a heart attack from fright. Couldn’t call nobody nor nothin’. She jus’ couldn’t move. I asked her what she meant about it bein’ in her house, but she said she was jus’ ramblin’. Said it didn’t mean nothin’ and that I should drop it. I told her I would call Emma and she damn near shouted my head off tellin’ me not to. And I wish with all my might I had jus’ gone ahead and done it. She said she would stay with Bonnie till she got her head back in order. So all I could really do was see she got there safely. Before she went, I asked if that Evan boy had been givin’ her any trouble, or if he had been actin’ funny, but she said he had hadn’t and he had gone out of town the day before last.

Of course, I still checked at his place all the same. And just as she said, they were out of town.

~~~

Susie spent a night at Bonnie’s then went back to her place the followin’ day. I came to check up on her every night. Whenever I saw her, she didn’t wanna talk. She’d just say ‘yep’ whenever I asked if she was okay, then she’d say she wanted to be on her own. But one evenin’, she asked if I would hold her. So I did. And I thought then that maybe it didn’t matter that she weren’t my child and that I weren’t her father, because she had my heart. She had my beatin’ heart.

Couple days after that, I was sat in the station with Dale, readin’ a paper each.

“Sheriff?” Dale asked.

“Dale?”

“Is there… anythin’ you need?”

“I reckon I’d be grateful for a coffee-“

“No, I mean… do you need to talk about anythin’?”

“Dale, have you been takin’ substances you shouldn’t? You ain’t never struck me as the kind of feller who asks another feller how he’s feelin’.”

“I’m not. Well, I don’t think I am. I mean, I could be, but I ain’t really paid attention to it before. You just set my mind to wonderin’ is all cos you’ve been looking real far away these last couple days. Like you’d gotten lost somewhere in your head. So I guessed maybe… I dunno… maybe that it was what happened to Susie the other day or… maybe you’d found a lump somewhere? Or somethin’. It can happen to fellers around your age. Read that in a magazine once.”

“A lump?”

“Yeah, a lump.” I took a breath, and put down my paper.

“As in… as in a lump?”

“Yeah, a lump. Like… well, like a lump.”

“Dale- I’d say that’s a dumb question but frankly a lump would be the least of my concerns at present.”

“What is the matter then?”

“That’s the least of your concern.” Dale looked away and said sorry.

“I didn’t mean it in that way. I just mean it in the sense that you’re a young feller and you shouldn’t have to live with the weight of an old feller’s troubles on your shoulders. I appreciate it though, Dale, for all my complainin’. You’re a good man.”

“That’s a kind thing for you to- say, Sheriff, is that Susie?” He was looking to the window past me, and I turned round. Soon as I turned, Susie ran into the office. She was nude as the day she was born, completely soaked, shiverin’, huddled up in herself to try and protect some of her dignity. In spite of the water on her face, she was cryin’ her eyes out. I shot up, went to get my coat from the rack, wrappin’ it round her.

“Jesus Christ, Susie, what the hell happened? Dale, go get some spare clothes.” Dale left the room at a run, and I sat Susie down, turnin’ away so she could cover herself up. When she had buttoned up the coat, I turned again, kneeled in front of her.

“Susie? Susie, baby, can you look at me? I need you to look at me, Susie, I need you to talk to me- what happened?” She could barely speak for cryin’ and, as she convulsed and gasped with the tears, I thought, the strength with which we measure the world is in turn measured only by the strength which the world can bring down its fists.

“It’s… it’s… it’s… it’s in my house. I was showerin’. I was showerin’. It’s in my house, Sheriff.”

I told Dale to look after Susie whilst I went out. I saw him bring a fresh shirt and a fresh pair of trousers into the office with him. Then I holstered my .45 and left.

~~~

All the lights were off in Susie’s house. I saw wet footprints all along the porch and the hall from where Susie must have run out. I stood in the doorway and drew back the hammer on the revolver and just stood a moment. The lights were still workin’ when I tried them and I made my way into the livin’ room. There was somethin’ in the air, like the house was ready to sigh. I checked the kitchen, the basement- somehow the world blinked once I stepped through the door and there was an absolute nothingness that felt like a presence within itself. Somehow the place was not a place.

Upstairs, I felt a heaviness that I had not felt before- the weight of a sorrow and a terror that felt like it was tryin’ to put its hands on my shoulders and put me on the floor the moment I stepped onto the landin’. I gripped the revolver a little tighter, held it out in front of me when I got near the bathroom- the door was wide open, and the wet footprints were still there. Inside, the shower curtain was all but torn off, hanging on by two or three rings, and there were bottles of shampoo and such all over the floor- but there was nobody there. I looked around the whole house, in every single room, and I didn’t see another soul. I punched at the wall. My knuckle was bleedin’, and there was a dent in the wall and I told myself, Thomas, these things are beyond you. And as I walked downstairs and out of the house I imagined there was something, somewhere in the world that replied, Yes- they are.

~~~

Outside, it was a lot colder than I recall. There was a streetlight by Susie’s house and I saw someone standin’ underneath it, lookin’ around ‘emselves. It was Evan. I went over to him but he didn’t seem to really register.

“’scuse me?” He turned round, a little startled.

“Sheriff?”

“You wanna tell me what you’re doin’ here?”

“Sorry?”

“You are aware that this is Susie’s house?”

“Yeah.”

“And you are aware that you are currently hangin’ around outside it?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I’m askin’ you to elaborate on the matter.”

“I’m s’posed to be meetin’ her. I was gonna ask her to come to the cinema with me.”

“She ain’t in. She’s at the station. She’s been attacked.” He looked like he was gonna speak then he kinda stumbled on the words and just opened and closed his mouth a couple times.

“Attacked? What d’ya mean, attacked? How’s she been attacked? Is she alright?”

“Well, she ain’t hurt, if that’s what you mean. She ain’t alright neither. Somebody came into her house and started… started tryin’ to touch her when she was showerin’.

“Oh my God. I… Oh my God.”

“Yeah. Kinda funny findin’ you hangin’ round here after all that jus’ happened, ain’t it?”

“What? No, Sheriff… I… I swear I ain’t…”

“Swear you ain’t what?”

“Anybody… who… who got anythin’ to do with that…”

“Why ain’t you? She’s a pretty girl, she’s young, and you’re an ugly son-of-a-bitch who ain’t got a hope in hell of gettin’ laid with consent.”

“Sheriff, I swear to God I… why would I even be here if I had done it? Why would anyone who’d done that be even hangin’ round?” And I stopped. And I thought.

“Yeah. Maybe that’s jus’ so. But I want you to know somethin’- and if it’d make you feel better to keep it a secret, do it, and if it don’t, tell ever’body in town, cos it really don’t matter to me either way. I just wanna make it clear that if I find you had anythin’ to do with this matter- and I mean anythin’- I will take off my badge and I will hand in my notice and I will come and find you and I will beat you into a coma. I will not hesitate in doin’ that. And when I find out whoever did these things to her I will do the same to them. I will kill for that girl. I will tear down the whole wide world if it means keepin’ her safe. And if I find out you’re a part of it, I will start with you.”

~~~

When I got back to the station, Susie was wearin’ an oversized spare uniform that Dale had fished out the back. She was sittin’ in my chair and Dale was sat across from her, holdin’ her hand. She always seemed to prefer that to bein’ held by someone when she was upset. Somethin’ about it gave her distance and closeness at the same time, and I think that made her feel better about herself- as though it was okay in her mind to be upset as long as she tried to be independent about it and made sure any comfortin’ was a mutual effort.

“You okay?” I asked.

“I’m feelin’ a little better.” She said.

“You think you can talk now? ‘cos you do realise that I’m pro’ly gonna have to take a statement?”

“Yeah, I can talk.” So I got a piece of paper and a pen and she started.

“Things have just been gettin’ worse and worse. I’m always bein’ followed. Every time I’m by myself at home it’s there. Somethin’s walkin’ behind me. I ain’t told nobody cos if I tell Aunt Emma she’s gonna think I’m losing my mind and get me to a Doctor, and they’re just gonna tell me that none of its real and I’m gonna wanna believe ‘em but I’ll know that I won’t cos it is real. It is real, Sheriff. And I didn’t wanna tell you cos… cos I dunno. I don’t wanna put you through that. I didn’t want you to think that I’m a coward. I really don’t. At night, it’s even worse. I don’t wanna switch on my light no more cos I know I’ll see it, just runnin’ out of view. But then in the dark I can feel it leanin’ on my bed like it’s on all fours, leanin’ just in front of me. I’m scared to open my eyes and I’m scared to close them. And sometimes when I’m driftin’ off cos I ain’t slept all the night before, it’ll clap it’s hands. Just once. Just enough to let me know it’s still there. It follows me when I leave the house too. When I go walkin’ up on the hill it’s followin’ me. It runs sometimes. Runs all around me in a circle and I can’t move cos it’s like its playin’. I ain’t had a wash in days. So I decided to take a shower and then, when I was showerin’… oh fuck. Fuck. When I was showerin’… it started touchin’ me. It was standin’ behind me and it put its hands on my shoulders. I couldn’t even see its hands. And it had its hands on my back and my stomach and it put a finger on my lip like it was tellin’ me to keep quiet and I just… oh fuck I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. Then as soon as it started it stopped and I just ran. I just ran away and came right here.”

She looked up at me and she was still chokin’ back the tears. I am not ashamed to admit that I was doin’ the same. Then after a few moments of just holdin’ her hand I stood and said:

“I‘m gonna call Emma, explain to her what’s been happenin’ and that I’m gonna take you to come stay with me and Jessica for a couple nights till she gets back. Then we’re all gonna sit down and talk about where we go with this. Talk about whether we go see or a doctor or a priest.”

Susie looked up at me and replied:

“Promise you won’t let ‘em say I’m crazy. If they don’t listen to me, promise me you’ll stick up for me.”

“I ain’t never made a promise that I didn’t keep and I don’t intend to break the habit of a lifetime any time soon. Dale, can you call Jessica for me and tell her I’ll be back early and that I’m bringin’ Susie? Tell her make some mashed potatoes or somethin’, I can’t say I really care. I need to talk with Emma.”

~~~

When we got back to mine it was nearin’ midnight. Jessica loved Susie almost as much as I did and when she was her come through the door lookin’ all worn out and weepy, she held her tighter than she ever done before. Susie told her a little of what had happened and Jessica didn’t loosen her grip once.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” she said, “you’re okay. You’re safe now.”

So Jessica went and took Susie into the front room and let her cuddle up to her in front of the TV- maybe it was cos she was one of those people whose very being just exuded care, but whenever Jessica did get the chance to give Susie a hug, Susie never wanted her to let go. So I finished off preparin’ the food and we ate, and talked about the future- talked about jobs, if she had been thinkin’ any more about college. And slowly she came back to life, piece by piece, and for a little while we all forgot the circumstances that brought her to be here.

After dinner Susie wanted to have a shower and I said I’d sit outside the bathroom door with the shotgun if that would make her feel any better- and it did, I think. Maybe that was all just idealistic thinkin’ but she felt safe and that was good enough for me. Jessica gave her some old night clothes and we all sat and watched a movie on TV. It was gettin’ on for one or two in the mornin’ but none of us were tired. We were all still too shook up by what had happened. Jessica said she’d turn in and read in bed for a while, see if she could make herself drift off, so she went off to bed. Neither me nor Susie said anything for a little while, until Susie asked somethin’.

“Sheriff?”

“Yeah?”

“D’you remember when I was little? When we used to do that Tale for a Tale thing?”

“Yeah, course I do.”

“Why’d we ever stop with that?”

“I really don’t know.” I said and, like the same thought had struck as at the same time, we both stood up and moved for the porch.

It was cold outside and the moon was high- in the distance, the cars of town made a sound like breath. I took a seat on the bench and Susie sat beside me, hat in her hand.

“See you found my hat then?” I said. She nodded as she put it on.

“What story do you wanna hear then?” I continued.

“Will you tell me about how you met Jessica?”

“You’ve heard that story plenty of times.”

“I know. But it’s a good story. It’s nice. I like thinkin’ that there’s good folks still in the world and they have good stories.”

“Okay. Well, I was about 30, goin’ on 31. I was on my day off, sat outside Jeff’s with a coffee and a book- well, it used to be Jeff’s, it’s the jeweller’s now- and there was this lady over the road with an easel and a canvas, just sat in the middle of the sidewalk, sat paintin’, gettin’ in everybody’s way. And I thought ‘hell, that’s peculiar.’ So I finished my drink and put on my hat and crossed the road, and I said to her ‘ma’am, are you aware that you’re blocking up this here sidewalk with all that equipment?’ And she never looked up once, she just said ‘Yeah, I’m perfectly aware’ and carried on painting. So I stopped for a moment and then said ‘well, are you okay to move your stuff out the way?’ And she said ‘nope.’ So I didn’t know what the hell to say to her, and she knew it. Few moments o’ silence passed and she asked if I’d go sit back down outside the diner like where I jus’ was. ‘Why?’ I said. And she took her paintin’ off the canvas and turned it round to show me- it was me, sat outside Jeff’s with my book. Well, I thought that was pretty endearin’ so I asked her why she was paintin’ me of all people and she said ‘cos you’re a handsome man who looks real good in that uniform and call me weak-willed but I like to look at handsome men.’ So I mulled that over for a secon’ or two and said ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to oblige you’ and crossed the road again. Couldn’t stop lookin’ up from the book at her for all the time she was paintin’. Seemed to me that she was beautiful in a way I’d never thought of before, like I knew that there was somethin’ in the world that would leave me without a breath but it took till that moment to see it realised. Took a walk after she’d done the paintin’, walkin’ all over town, till it was gettin’ dark. Ended up holdin’ hands on the hill over-lookin’ town at two in the AM like we were jus’ kids. Put a ring on her finger eight months down the line and I been goin’ to sleep and wakin’ up next to her every night for thirty years. I ain’t done much in particular to deserve that, but it happened all the same, so I reckon the man upstairs was lookin’ on me favourably on that matter.”

“I never told you once when I was growin’ up that you’ve always been my daddy. You’ve always been my daddy and I love you for that.”

“I wish I was your real daddy.”

“You are, Sheriff. You are. You ain’t my blood but if you ain’t my daddy neither then I never had one.”

“Then the man upstairs looked favourably on me twice.”

~~~

I got into bed and Jessica was still readin’. I told her it was gettin’ on towards three and she said she didn’t care and went and set the book down. Susie was in the room next door, and we had turned in at the same time, her a few minutes before myself, just to make sure everythin’ was locked up and secure. I climbed into bed and cosied up next to her, and she held me and stroked my head.

“Did you manage to get a hold of Emma?”

“Yeah, I called her at the station.”

“She comin’ down soon?”

“Tomorrow, probably. Late tomorrow I imagine.”

“Doesn’t bare thinkin’ about. What that phone call must have done to her.”

“It’s somethin’ of an occupational hazard in my line of work. Don’t make it feel any less like you’re shootin’ good people in the guts mind.”

“You’re too hard on yourself, Thomas.”

“You’re too easy on me.”

“Did you hurt Susie?”

“I’m assumin’ this is rhetorical.”

“There’s your answer. You didn’t hurt her, you tried to help. Worst thing you are right now is the bearer of bad news.”

“Suppose there’s a truth in that. But I can’t help wonderin’ if there’s something just as rotten in bein’ the person that tells folk about the terrible things bein’ done as bein’ the person doin’ those terrible things in the first place. I wear a badge and it’s supposed to mean somethin’ but when there are things that happen that I cannot do a thing to prevent it don’t. That gives me a nasty feelin’. Especially when it happens to people that I care about a great deal. Always imagined that there was a special place in the course o’ destiny for lawmen. Kinda saw it as though we were pulled along by a different course cos we took a stand, that we were shepherds and the path things were movin’ along went off of what we did. But what am I standin’ against now? I ain’t standin’ against nothin’. Which would be a-okay if it weren’t tied up with Susie but it is so it ain’t okay. It ain’t okay.

~~~

I woke up at 6:30 in the mornin’. I showered, then I dressed, then I cleaned my teeth and combed my hair. I went downstairs and had a coffee, and read a newspaper. Jessica got up a half hour afterwards, and kissed me on the cheek then went outside to smoke. Around 9:00, I went to check on Susie, see if she was okay, if she wanted anythin’ for breakfast. I knocked once and she didn’t reply, and when I went into her room and found the window open and Susie gone, everythin’ went real quiet and I couldn’t hear a thing except my own heart tryin’ to beat its way out my chest.

I ran downstairs and I phoned the station and got everyone to go lookin’ out in the desert for her. When I told Jessica she didn’t say a word- she just ran to get the shotgun and went to the stable and mounted up. She took the horse and headed west and told me to search north on foot. Felt to me like my very soul was screamin’ at me sayin’ that I was gonna head out and find somethin’ I did not want to find. That mercy might still remain didn’t even cross my mind. I kept wanderin’ through the dawn, and through the mornin’ light as it pooled in the desert. Seemed to me that God was in the sunlight, like He’d took a moment to watch the sunrise. All things were still.

They found Susie at 11:34. There were officers on the scene and police tape and she was dead on top of a flat rock with people walkin’ around her and lookin’ at her and takin’ photographs. I saw Dale bein’ sick on all fours a little way away. Apparently he’d been on the search and found her ‘bout a quarter of an hour beforehand. I pushed past the other men and looked at her and didn’t do nothin’ cos there was nothin’ could be done. There were bruises all round her neck that looked like hands. Little blood on her chin, and a few stains on her nightdress, which was torn. Wrists bruised like her neck. Her leg was broken too. Eyes wide open and layin’ on her back, lookin’ skywards. I leant down and kinda lost my balance and then I didn’t really know what was happenin’. Started trying to wipe the blood of her chin, looked kinda messy. Don’t really know why. Someone helped me up, sat me down on the ground, kept askin’ me if I was okay. I said “yes I am, yes I am, yeah” and they put a blanket over my shoulders. Then I just sorta forgot myself.

~~~

We buried Susie the following Monday, about noon. Me and Dale were amongst the coffin bearers. The service was real nice. Father Samuels read a couple of passages from the Bible and Evan read a poem he’d written himself which weren’t very good but it was a nice gesture. Watched ‘em lower her into the ground and I imagined that I would go to her grave and speak to her and tell her that I still believed I would go to her soon and that she was in a place better than this one, but I didn’t because there is somethin’ in the act of lyin’ to someone at their graveside that leaves behind a bitter taste in the mouth.

When we left the service, Dale told me that he wanted to retire. He smelt like whiskey and I saw that he hadn’t shaved nor slept for a few days, and lookin’ in his eyes was like lookin’ at my own in the mirror of a mornin’ which was not a pleasant thing to witness. I asked him why, out of courtesy really, but I didn’t wanna challenge him particularly. Figured if he knew his own mind and knew his own circumstances there was little point in puttin’ down my foot. Dale left a week later and he was cryin’ when he left the station, although whether it was over the job or just because all he really did now was cry, I did not know. Some new feller transferred down from Comanche County a couple days later to replace him. He worked hard and he minded his P’s and Q’s and always kept his uniform sharp but talkin’ to him was just a chore. So I started leavin’ my spirit at the door when I went to work and pickin’ it up again when I went home.

~~~

“I’m not sure I wanna talk to you, Thomas.” Emma was lookin’ pretty unkempt. She was as old as me but she tried to not show it, and it nearly always worked- she’d kept her shape, her looks, her hair. She was still a beautiful woman even after all these years and the strains they had put upon her.

“I’m not really sure I wanna talk to anyone but I guess we’re gonna have to have this conversation some time or other so it may as well be now. I was passin’ by, ya see.” I said. Emma looked me up and down for a moment and sighed, then invited me in.

We set down in the livin’ room. Couldn’t help but imagine those runnin’ footsteps Susie told me about.

“So what’s the conversation?” I looked around me, at the growin’ layer of dust on the furniture and the photographs of Susie that had not been put up the last time I was in this house.

“There’s a lot o’ things I want to talk about regardin’… well, regardin’…”

“Susie.”

I nodded. Emma continued.

“Okay. Talk about ‘em then.”

“I didn’t tell you what happened. What she told me. She knew this was gonna happen to her for days.”

“What?”

“When you’d gone away a couple weeks back- and I ain’t accusin’ you of anythin’ here, this is just what I know to be truth- she started tellin’ me about somethin’… followin’ her. Somethin’ watchin’ her, like…like she was haunted. Wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it myself, traipsin’ around upstairs. She weren’t sleepin’ cos she said there was somethin’ lookin’ at her, all night. Started fightin’ kids at school. Then things got worse. Said that whatever was givin’ her all this trouble started… I’m sorry… started touchin’ her. When she was in the shower. That’s when I called you. I shoulda told you everythin’ then. Maybe things woulda been different if I had. Just figured it all sounded too much like a joke or some old man gettin’ confused. I figured if she got away from here, she’d be okay. Didn’t think it’d come for her again. And now she’s… she’s gone.”

“She ain’t gone, Thomas, she’s dead. She’s dead. Just say it.”

“She’s gone.”

“Okay… okay, then just tell me why you came to tell me all that if she’s just gone. If tellin’ me that ain’t gonna bring her back, why did you want to tell me? If you needed to get it off your chest, why didn’t you tell Jessica and not me? You knew that I would believe you. If it was any other person in the entire world I woulda called ‘em a liar and said they killed her ‘emselves just to spite ‘em but you knew that I would believe every word you said. I always did and I always will and I do now. So now I have to know that she suffered and I did nothin’ at all to stop it. And neither did you. So just answer me this- just tell me why this happened to my Susie and not to
someone else? Just tell me why it happened to her.”

She collapsed into cryin’ and I held her whilst she wept the entire sorrows of the entire world. I wanted to tell her why, but there ain’t a point to lying in times such as these. People start to understand truth and lies when absolutes are laid before them. I wished I could have stood there and told her that there was a plan, somewhere in God’s creation, that these things were a part of. That she is in heaven now and she is golden and shining and one day we will all be golden and shining beside her. That there was a reason. But I could not tell her those things.

Nor could I tell myself the opposite. I could not answer “why her?” with “why anyone else?”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Then I left.

~~~

My Father used to take me fishin’ in the lakes up in the North when I was a boy. We would camp out for three days at a time, always by some blue lake that I still don’t think was real. There cannot be water in the world that is so blue. I was only a little boy but I remember that feelin’ that everythin’ around me was livin’ and that I was somehow more alive for being near it. My Father would take me out into the centre of the lake in an old chipped white fishing boat which he had bought very cheap. He was a big man, bearded and thick-set, and he always wore plaid and blue denim when we went out there. I recall he always smelt of whiskey, but never like an alcoholic- his was the smell of evenin’s in the winter. He was a man of few words but what ones he did say were always good and true, and I suppose he didn’t need words because he would always hold me close to him and always give me his time. And one day we were out on the lake and I asked him what he thought happened to us when we’re dying. And he said:

“What, once we’re dead?”

“No, before we’re dead. When you know you’re gonna die. What do people do?”
And he thought for a while and then he said:

“Your grand-daddy spoke to me about something like that when I was a boy. I’ll tell you what he said some day. I ain’t gonna tell you it jus’ yet cos it won’t mean a damn thing to you now. Course, it probably won’t mean a damn thing to you then, but one day you’ll understand. Maybe you’ll be an old feller yourself when you do. Jus’ like your daddy is.”

He was dyin’ a few years after that, when I was 17. He had cancer in his lungs which spread to near enough everywhere I could name. I sat by him on his death bed and he brought up what I’d asked him when we went fishin’ and it made me remember the promise he made. He said he thought I was probably old enough to know it, and even if I weren’t, he didn’t really care cos he’d never get another time to do it. And he held my hand in his and said:

“Never is the endin’ of a man’s story worth its beginning. All he can pray is that he knows for what he must be forgiven and that he is in a position to receive it.”

~~~

A few months after the funeral, I took a drive and found myself out on a stretch of desert road with which I was not familiar. I parked on the roadside, and walked on up the road for about a half hour, and when I grew tired, I took a seat behind a rock a little way off into the desert. I was lookin’ around me, seein’ if I could see birds, when I noticed a man with a huntin’ rifle about fifty yards or so ahead of me. I don’t think he even knew I was there. He was aimin’ at a herd of Mule deer, out in the grasslands. I watched them both for a little while, waitin’ for the shot, and I saw one of them start to stray away from the herd. It looked around itself for a while, maybe looking for shrubs, maybe just idly wanderin’, but somethin’ startled it and it looked up, and I could swear for just one moment that it looked straight at that feller with the rifle. And I thought that maybe every moment of its life had been leading to the point where it was standing right there- that it was born to walk away from the herd at that moment and stand where it was standing now, that a thread was tying that man and that creature to this very second. But then I thought that maybe that man had woken up this morning and decided to hunt game, and he stood in that spot because it took his fancy. That the deer had left the herd to look for shrubs and it had caught his eye because it was the easiest one to hit. I sat there and I knew that I could ask myself those questions till the day I die and I’d never know which one was right and which one was wrong.

But either way, he shot it.

Credit To – Stefan Rasmussen

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Mr. Peterson Saw Everything

March 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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During my sophomore year of high school, my family moved from urban Knoxville to a tiny one-horse town in Alabama. My dad’s employer offered him a significant promotion in exchange for helping to rebuild a failing branch of their company, though their desire to save that particular sector is still a mystery to me. The area itself was dying out, as the younger generations would leave after high school in hopes of escaping the boredom of small town life, and it was no wonder that the business was struggling to find or keep employees. However, my parents took a leap of faith and decided to relocate anyway.

The town was so small that my new school only had a graduating class of about forty people. As I mentioned earlier, there weren’t a lot of young people around, so what few teenagers existed stuck together. It was a really tight-knit school, as well as an admittedly pretty fun change of pace for a city kid like me. Even though I didn’t always get along with my classmates, due to my awkward demeanor and out-of-date taste in clothing, I remember that we were always relatively close. Everyone knew everyone else. There weren’t really any strangers in a school that small.

In hindsight, the school was also tragically underfunded. A lot of our dances and school events were something put together entirely by students and parents, and due to budget cuts, we didn’t really have a school nurse. Parents were just sort of encouraged to leave some pill bottles and Band-Aids with each homeroom teacher at the beginning of the year. Many of the teachers also taught more than one subject, or even held more than one job on campus. The Spanish teacher taught freshman literature, the art teacher was my gym instructor and basketball coach. And, of course, there was Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson was our vice principle… and health teacher. And baseball coach. He was a really nice guy, always making jokes and telling funny stories about his players and the other coaches—he was more or less like everyone’s good-natured uncle. I remember that Mr. Peterson always wore those really dark, mirrored sunglasses; the kind that makes it nearly impossible to see the wearer’s eyes. He wore those shades everywhere, even inside, and when anyone asked about them, he would quickly explained that he had an eye condition.

“Can’t hardly get in light these days,” he would say with a chuckle. “Don’t worry though. This old man can still see enough to catch you knotheads doin’ wrong.”

And that was absolutely true. Nothing got past Mr. Peterson. He would stand in the hallways, watching for students who decided to take their merry time getting to and from the cafeteria, or trying to hang out in the bathrooms instead of going to class. He could see a dress code violation from a mile away, and he even seemed to know who had a hall pass and who didn’t, all without so much as moving from his spot in the center of the hall. Mr. Peterson saw it all.

I remember one very specific encounter that I had with his uncanny sense for trouble that even now, over a half decade later, I have no explanation for. I was in gym class, fooling around with some friends. It was Friday, our free day, so we got to choose our own activity with limited supervision. Choosing our own activity meant that we didn’t have to really do anything, as long as we were at least making the effort to look like we were, and limited supervision meant that, well… We sometimes got ideas. Ideas that were, in hindsight, honestly pretty bad. If we were outside, they usually involved finding a way back into the locker room without anyone noticing, or straying just a little too far from the track to pick blackberries. It was a miracle that we weren’t caught more than once.

On this particular Friday, however, we happened to be inside. That would normally keep us in line, but it was about a week after the snack bar started selling ice cream, and the four of us were starting to get hungry. Pretending to play basketball for nearly an hour tends to do that. I don’t remember who first suggested it, but at some point we all decided it might be fun to sneak through the back doors of the gymnasium into the hallway that passed the snack bar. We could get our ice cream and be back before our teacher even noticed our absence.

I should mention that this plan was made especially risky by the fact that Mr. Peterson’s office was directly across the hall from the gym. In fact, as soon as we exited the double doors, we faced the clear glass windows that our vice principle would stare out of as he worked during the day, his shaded gaze sometimes never once removing itself from the crowds of students outside. We could clearly see his desk, even from across the hallway, and his fortunately empty leather chair. There was no sign of Mr. Peterson at all.

“He’s probably out on the field,” whispered one of our friends, shrugging. “Season started.”

The rest of us nodded in agreement, then giddily went to buy our treats. Before we even turned around, though, we heard the click of a door opening at the end of the hall and a stern shout of our last names. There stood Mr. Peterson, sweating like a dog from the heat, red-faced and panting like he’d just about run all the way from the baseball field on the other side of the campus. There were no windows on the door he’d come in from, yet he seemed to know who we were and what we were up to before he even opened it. It was probably a coincidence, but… The purposeful way that he burst through that door, like he knew that he had someone to catch in the act of rule-breaking… It was unsettling. We were of course pretty shaken, but Mr. Peterson let us off with a warning once we promised not to do it again.

None of us ever knew much about Mr. Peterson’s family, which was unusual for such a small town. We all knew that he had a son, though. Jack Peterson was a few years older than me, a really friendly guy with a broad nose and arms the size of hams. Jack was funny and bluntly honest, like his dad, and he seemed to get along with just about everyone he met. He worked at the deli for the local grocery shop, and because my mom liked to send me on errands after I got out from school, I usually saw him at least once a week.

The Tuesday following my run-in with Mr. Peterson was a slow day, so Jack and I ended up talking for quite a while. I remembered the incident from the Friday before, and decided to bring up Jack’s dad, laughing quietly as I asked him what it was like to grow up with Mr. Peterson as a parent. His face went pale.

“Oh. Uh. Not…. Not too bad, I guess,” Jack replied, voice small.

I was confused by his sudden change in demeanor. “What do you mean by that?” Was Mr. Peterson a much different person at home than he seemed to be at school?

Jack gave a slight, nervous shrug. “I mean… It’s just…” He looked me dead in the eye with the most solemn expression I’d ever seen on his normally cheery face, then said, almost fearfully, “Dad sees everything.”

It was unsettling to see Jack so visibly uncomfortable, shaken so deeply to the core with one casual mention of his dad. I knew that there was something wrong, but Jack never brought it up again and I sure wasn’t going to. My dad’s plant failed soon after that, and we ended up going back to Knoxville towards the start of my senior year, leaving the school and Mr. Peterson behind for good.

About two weeks ago, I ran into Emma, one of my classmates from Alabama, while I was out buying some new plates for my apartment. It was such an odd coincidence that we both would be in the same town―in the same store, even―that we were both utterly shocked. We chatted for a bit, about where we’d both gone after high school, how I was working on my law degree, and how she had moved up here for a job at an accounting firm. I asked Emma how things had been at school after I left, and she suddenly got very quiet. She told me that the day before graduation, Mr. Peterson had passed away. The whole school was devastated at the loss of their beloved vice principle, dedicating the entire commencement ceremony to his memory. There was an enormous crowd at the wake, and… When she mentioned that, she got quiet. Then she told me something that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully forget.

Emma told me that there were two very strange things about the wake. First, there was no sign of the Petersons. Not even Jack. A lot of people were initially disappointed at not being able to finally meet the mysterious Mr. Peterson’s relatives, but that disappointment gradually faded into shock at the fact that none of the dead man’s family bothered to show up. Jack had apparently called the school’s front office to deliver the news, but… After that, he disappeared without a trace. He wasn’t seen at the deli again. That wasn’t so odd, though, as Jack was an outgoing young guy; he probably left for somewhere more interesting as soon as his last tie to the tired old town was gone.

The real peculiarity of the night was something that made the papers for a week afterward, something that would stick with those few who got to see it in person for a lifetime. While Mr. Peterson was all dressed up in his coffin, he still sported his signature mirrored sunglasses. Most of the attendees thought that it was funny, a sort of pleasant homage to the way that he never took them off while alive. However, two or three of the older, stiffer townspeople stormed over to the two suit-clad morticians that were standing near the casket and demanded that the shades be removed.
“It’s disrespectful!” they hissed, as their younger relatives tried unsuccessfully to keep them from making a fuss.

She said that one of the morticians began to look… uneasy. He tried to assuage the elders with promises that this was requested by Jack himself, that Mr. Peterson surely would have wanted the glasses to be left alone and that it wasn’t their place to question the family’s wishes, but they weren’t having any of it. The man looked helplessly at his colleague, who then nervously patted at his brow with a handkerchief and went to remove the shades.

The whole room waited in silent anticipation. She described the atmosphere as so still, so quiet, that the sound of her own heartbeat pulsating in her chest seemed blaringly loud in comparison. That was because everyone in the room―students, teachers, neighbors, churchgoers, storeowners―realized that they had never seen Mr. Peterson’s eyes. Not a single person in the twenty or so years that he’d lived in town had ever once seen him without his mirrored sunglasses.

The awed silence was broken by an ear-piercing scream. Miss Becky from the cake shop had been standing near the front when the shades were first pulled, before she leapt at least two feet away from the coffin in shock. This began a chain reaction of confusion and panic as more and more people went to see what had startled her so badly, only to get spooked themselves. A few of the women all but pulled their husbands out of the funeral home while several teenagers whispered to each other anxiously about what they had seen. The feed store owner, Mr. Walker, stared at the corpse with wide eyes, crying, “Dear Lord, his face!”

Emma had been near the back when all of this first happened, so it took her a while to get to the front. When she did, however, it became devastatingly clear what Mr. Walker had been yelling about. Her face paled a bit when she described the sight to me.

“It was just skin. Like…. Like somebody had stretched it all the way up. Like those people who have surgery after their faces get blown up or something,” Emma explained. “Only it… It wasn’t that. The skin just kept going like it was always there, no dents or bumps. No scars. Nothing. Not even cheekbones, none we could see… It was just smooth, like the side of your cheek. Just smooth all the way up.”

I thanked Emma for her time and told her that it was nice seeing her again, that we would have to meet up for lunch sometime but that I really had to get going if I was to finish running errands before it got dark. That part wasn’t exactly true; I had already done everything on my to-do list and was in no hurry to get home. But… That story chilled me more than I wanted let on. I really didn’t want to believe it, and if this were anyone other than gentle, soft-spoken honor student Emma, I wouldn’t have. Or at least, not if the story had been about anyone else.

I remembered my encounter with Mr. Peterson that one fateful day when I should have been in gym, and that knowing way he opened that door, shouting our names out before he’d even had time to see us. We had all agreed that he must have installed a camera in his office and was watching us from a laptop or something out on the baseball field. But if that were true, how did he make it all the way from the other side of school in the few seconds that we were out in the hallway? It just didn’t add up. If Emma was to be believed, though, we can still definitely be sure of something.

Mr. Peterson had no eyes. But he still saw everything.

Credit To – Max Rosa

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Darkness

March 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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You open your eyes. An endless ocean of black fills your vision. You blink, trying to cast the darkness away. But the veils of blackness still loom over your body. You try to move, but a cold wall -inches away from your face- pins you to the ground. Distressed, you stare into the empty void pressing down on you. Questions start to form in your mind. Are you asleep? Have you gone blind? Are you dead?

Seconds become minutes and minutes become hours. Or so you think. You have completely lost any concept of time. You put your hands against the firm wall on top of you, trying to push yourself away from the darkness. You manage to move your body a few inches, your nails clawing at the hard wall and your legs scraping against the cold floor. But the top of your head hits another hard surface and you are forced to stop.

Suddenly, you hear a creaking noise coming from above. Something is on the other side. You can definitely hear a squeaking sound, faint but clear. But as swiftly as it started, the sound stopped. You are once again plunged into complete silence.

Then, a dreary thought sneaks into your mind. You are buried. Buried alive. It seems obvious now. The sound you just heard was your coffin groaning under the weight of the dirt above. You are trapped. A feeling of claustrophobia builds up in your heart.

A cry of utter despair and hopelessness bursts out of your lungs.

“Help!” you shout. But you know it is all in vain. Nobody can hear you. Your eyes wet. A warm tear drops on your cheek. You didn’t want it to end this way. You had dreams, family, friends. You had your life to live. But your cruel fate has stripped everything away.

You close your eyes. You pray that your torture ends quickly.

After an indefinite amount of painful minutes, you begin to drift away, your existence slowly washing off the face of earth. But then, you hear a sound. At first, you can’t determine what it is, but slowly you recognize the familiar whooshing sound of a strong breeze. You must be very close to the surface. New hope is planted in your heart. You start yelling again, hoping to catch the attention of anyone passing near you.

Suddenly, you hear a loud thump. The roof of your coffin bends inwards, the cold surface now pressing down on your face. You turn your head sideways, to allow for breathing space. Something has fallen on your coffin. Is it dirt, about to crush you? No, it can’t be. Whatever caused the bend-in is still moving.

Maybe you aren’t buried. But if that isn’t the case, then where are you? A shiver runs down your spine. A question you should have thought earlier pops into your mind. How did you end up here? You realize you have no recollection of past events. Where were you and what were you doing? Your memory is completely blank.

But you can’t give it more thought, as a creaking sound breaks the silence once more. The bend-in above you subsides, indicating that the weight on top has shifted. You can very faintly hear a whimpering sound, like someone is trying to muffle his crying. Suddenly, a flash of light blinds you. You look at your right. A little crack has appeared in the blackness that surrounds you, allowing a sliver of light to invade your world of darkness.

Your heart jumps. This is your escape. You extend your hand, your fingers touching the edge of the crack. You are surprised to find not the hard surface you imagined, but a smooth and soft cloth, that parts under your light touch. You push with your fingers the velvet-like material apart, creating a hole big enough for your hand to pass through.

With another push, your hand exits your dark prison and enters the world of light. The fresh air cools your skin, while you blindly explore your surroundings with your hand. At first your palm lands on a cold surface that seems to extend beyond your reach. But moving your hand up, you again come in contact with the soft material.

You grab onto it, trying to determine how far up it goes. You start climbing up the cloth with your hand. But almost immediately, your fingertips reach the edge of the strange fabric.

Suddenly, a high-pitched screech pierces your ears.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

After a few seconds, you hear a door opening. “What is it sweetie?”

“A monster is under my bed!”

Credit To – Antoine Dupin

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Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

March 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The sounds of sirens slowly faded in the background, I still couldn’t believe it. Dave was….gone. I made my way to my now empty and currently trashed apartment, the police tape now taken down from the entrance of my bedroom. I held the white envelope that was addressed to me, it was from….. Dave. One of the police officers had handed it to me earlier. I let my fingers roam softly on the flap that opened the letter, debating on whether or not to open it now. Opening the plain door to my bedroom, I placed the envelope on my nightstand before taking a seat on the edge of my bed and burying my face in my palms. Dave…. My best friend and roommate. The person I could trust with anything for over 10 years. How could something like this happen to him of all people? I felt warm tears begin to glide down my face and onto the shabby grey-ish purple carpet that the apartment came with. I glanced over to the wall opposite of me, where a clean silhouette of where my mirror used to be presided. As the tears continued flowing silently, I let my mind fade back to the events of the previous couple of hours.

Dave was sprawled out on the couch reading one of his cheesy romance novels, looking very focused and intrigued. Typical Dave. I thought to myself.

“Hey Dave, I’m gonna go to the bookstore; d’you need anything?” I asked as I put on my jacket, ready to go out. Dave only lifted his nose out of his book when he heard me take my apartment key out of my jacket pocket.

“The Outsiders, if you can.” He responded, finally putting his book down to hand me a twenty.

“You’re gonna run out of space in your head after reading all these books, Dave.”

Dave chuckled before retorting,

“I wouldn’t read so much if you didn’t get me a Barnes and Noble gift card every year for my birthday.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Would you rather me get something else for your birthday?”

Dave paused for a moment, his light blonde hair falling over his eyes before he quickly blew the hairs away.

“No, I like Barnes and Noble.”

“Then don’t complain.” I shot him a smile, and he chuckled while walking into the kitchen for what I assumed was a drink. I then proceeded to walk outside our flat and to the bookstore.

When I got home…. Dave was nowhere to be found, and the apartment I had grown accustomed to calling home was in shambles. There was shattered glass all over the ratty carpet and several things were knocked over and broken.

“Dave?”

Silence.

“Dave? Dave, are you here? Are you okay?”

Once again there was no response, not even the faint hum of the old refrigerator in the kitchen.

When I reached my room, I found the unspeakable. The mirror on my wall had been broken, the reflective shards all over the floor. The shards and carpet were covered in what I would later discover from the police to be Dave’s blood, as well as long red grooves in the carpet; grooves that could only be made by someone or something that was being dragged and attempting to prevent themselves from being taken away by digging their nails into the floor. I called the police soon after.

There was a thorough investigation of my apartment, and I was happy to find out that nothing had been stolen. Although, the police weren’t able to find Dave’s body. They said that it was likely whoever broke into the apartment stabbed Dave with the broken shards of the mirror. That was also when one of the officers handed me a letter that was on the kitchen floor when they were investigating. It was addressed to me. I could tell by the handwriting on the envelope that it was from Dave. After several hours of further investigation, the police finally let me into my home.

Which brought me to my current situation. I found it a bit sad actually, that Dave would be stabbed with mirror shards. He hated mirrors, was scared to death by them in fact; my mirror was the only one in the flat. Dave usually relied on looking at his reflection in the window, or in the toaster, pots, pans, anything that was reflective; with the exception of mirrors. A few of our friends and I always thought that was… exceptionally weird. So one day, when we were kids in high school, I got around to asking him what his deal with mirrors was.

“H-hey Dave,” I began somewhat awkwardly.

“Yeah, Nate?” He chirped, his head popping up its fixated stare on the paper he was doodling on.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I twiddled my thumbs, and stared down at the wooden desk in front of me.

“Yeah, sure what is it?” Dave replied nonchalantly with his award winning smile plastered on his face.

“Why are you so afraid of mirrors? I mean they can’t do anything to you, man.”

Dave’s smile instantly fell, and his face held a grim expression, his lips were slightly parted as if he wanted to say something, but he remained silent. He turned his gaze away from me and ran his fingers through his stick-straight blonde hair, his dark brown eyes appearing cloudy and distant. The small interval of silence felt like hours, but was really only a few minutes. I felt bad for asking Dave about this, knowing it was probably something personal, and I was probably more than a little insensitive.

“Dave I— I’m sorry, you don’t have to—“ He cut me off promptly.

“When I look into the mirror, I don’t see myself staring back.”

I wasn’t really sure what he meant by that. I assumed it might be some sort of mental disorder he had, considering Dave was really pale and skinny; and was lacking in the strength department. Even though Dave ate a lot, he could never gain weight or muscle, despite his efforts. Leaving him to have a vampire’s complexion and the body of a twig. Which, as you can imagine, did’t make him the heartthrob or M.V.P. of the school. In fact, people would occasionally pick on him for it. He made up for all of that with though; with smarts, charm, humor, and just all around being a good guy. He wasn’t unattractive…. Just…. Wimpy, for lack of a better word. I thought maybe he was just beating on himself too much, but when I asked him what he meant he just stared at me with his big brown eyes. He inhaled deeply, and let out a shuddering breath.

“When I look into the mirror, I don’t see me. I see some sort of twisted version of me staring back. It’s got the same basic appearance of me, but the whites of it’s eyes are obsidian black, and the irises are a blinding shade of glowing bright yellow, it’s got twisted black ram’s horns coming from it’s head, and it’s ears are pointed and flare out to the side like some sort of demented elf. And every time I look in the mirror, it smiles back at me! Sometimes it’ll reach out it’s hand, hoping that I’ll take it so it can pull me in. But I won’t. Not ever. So I never look in the mirror, because, the hand looks more inviting every time I do.”

Never had Dave looked more serious than in that moment, and I could tell from his ragged breaths and watery eyes that he wasn’t lying. I decided to not bring up the subject again, realizing it was a sensitive subject, and I really didn’t want to know about whatever twisted hallucinations Dave had when he looked in the mirror. So years later, when college came around and Dave and I wanted to share a flat, I understood that if there was going to be a mirror in the small apartment, it would be in the confines of my bedroom.

I glanced to the letter on my nightstand once more. I lethargically picked up the envelope with shaking hands. I bit my quivering lip, and wiped my wet eyes forcing myself to stop crying.

“Nathan Reynolds” was written on the back of it in small blocky handwriting. I tore the flap open and pulled out the piece of paper that were Dave’s last words.

‘Dear Nate,

I looked in the mirror. I couldn’t stop myself. It’s coming to take me now. There’s no avoiding it. Nate, you’ve always been my best friend; no one else would talk to me until you came along in seventh grade. It’s broken the mirror, Nate. I can hear it’s footsteps becoming nearer. Tell my family I love them. And please, don’t’

The letter stopped there. He couldn’t even finish his last words. But, surely that thing Dave always talked about couldn’t be real. He was hallucinating, right? But where is Dave? What happened to him?

I put the letter back onto my nightstand, and sighed. Today was a long day. I got up and meandered into the kitchen, looking through the cabinets for some NyQuil to help me sleep. When I found said item, a pale hand similar to Dave’s rested on my shoulder. I froze. Every joint in my body became paralyzed.

“Dave?”

I managed to squeak out. I slowly turned around only to be met with a pair of black eyes, a ring of glowing yellow standing out in each of them. The creature looked strikingly similar to Dave and sported a pair of jet black spiral horns and big pointed ears. The thing’s straight blonde hair fell in front of it’s eyes much like it did with Dave, and it’s pale bony figure was adorned with the same hoodie and jeans Dave was wearing before I went to pick up his book. It smiled at me with glistening white teeth, a smile filled with pure malice and hatred. It was covered in several cuts and scratches, blood pouring from the wounds, but it was also covered in the blood of my best friend since seventh grade. A couple of sharp mirror shards were protruding from it’s shoulders, forearms, and back; and I noticed that the beast’s hand resting on my shoulder had turned into a vice grip. It pulled me closer, the same putrid smile plastered on the demon’s face. As our faces were mere inches apart, the creature cackled:

“Not quite.”

Credit To – M.A.Nadler

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A Voice in the Dark

March 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I was well into spending my Friday night as I typically would – staying up most of the night, playing games and looking at stupid meme sites – when the room went dark. My phone suddenly illuminated on the desk where I had just plugged it in, and I realized the power had gone out. I cursed softly as the screen went off; I knew the phone hadn’t charged nearly long enough for me to use it as a light for any length of time, and I was relatively certain we didn’t have any actual flashlights around. Just as I was wondering if it would be worth it to try to grope around in the dark for a lighter, I heard my roommate’s door open across the hall. There was a brief shuffle of movement, then I heard my own door open.
“Hey. Power’s out, huh?”
I considered giving a smartass answer to this asinine question, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it.
“Yeah, seems like it. You don’t have a flashlight, do you?”
In the near pitch darkness, I felt and heard him move farther into my room more than I watched him.
“Nah. Can you use your phone to see?”
“I had just plugged it in ‘cause it was almost dead. I should probably leave it alone, just in case we actually need to call somebody. How about yours?”
“Dead. So… What do we do?”
I sighed inwardly. Jake was a good roommate: He always had his half of the rent on time, didn’t leave messes in the common areas or use my stuff without asking, and if I told him to stop doing something (like leaving his coat on the couch instead of taking it to his room), he stopped doing it. But he was not the brightest guy, and often looked to me to explain things or figure them out for him. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him, but sometimes I started to feel more like his dad than his roommate.
“Well, I have to assume somebody in the building who doesn’t have an almost dead phone has already called the super or the power company, so now we just wait. There’s really not much else we can do.”
“Oh. Okay. Well… Can we just hang out ‘til it comes back on? It’s so dark.”
Again, it was hard not to respond flippantly to Jake stating the obvious, but it was true that there was really nothing to do until the power came back on but sit and talk. It seemed foolish to go offending him when he was to be my only companion for God knew how much time.
“Sure, why not? Go ahead and sit down.”
“I already sat down.”
I was surprised to realize that his voice had, in fact, moved to where my bed was in the room even though I had not heard any movement.
“Oh. Cool. So how did you notice the power had gone out? I thought since you’re home you must have work in the morning.”
Generally, unless he was scheduled to work Saturday morning, Jake would spend Friday nights out with his girlfriend. Like Jake, she was not terribly bright, but sweet and clearly devoted to him. I had been dreading the day he would say the two of them were moving in together, thus meaning I would have to seek out a new roommate. I hated most people on principle, so the idea of having to find another one I could stand to live with was daunting to say the least.
“I woke up ‘cause it’s so dark. It’s never been so dark in that room before.”
Naturally, this statement confused me greatly. I wondered if I’d heard him right.
“What? You woke up because it got darker?”
“Yes. Because of the dark.”
I still didn’t think he was making a bit of sense, but he had just woken up, after all. His initial response of “yes”, however, oddly unnerved me. Jake had been my roommate for over two years, and I felt very sure that in all that time he had never given an affirmative response that wasn’t “Yeah” or “Uh-huh”. Furthermore, we had had power outages before, so his assertion that it had never been so dark in his room before didn’t seem to add up. Then I remembered that he had recently gotten (or rather, his girlfriend had gotten for him) some black-out curtains for his room, to block out the sun when he needed to sleep during the daytime. If he had those pulled, they were probably blocking out any small amount of light that may have filtered in from outside before. Nonetheless, it seemed bizarre that it being especially dark had somehow woken him.
“Well, if you have work tomorrow, maybe you should try to go back to sleep. I’ll stay up until the power comes back on.”
No, I don’t want to go back to sleep. Let’s talk, Dan.”
Unnerved was steadily progressing to downright freaked out. Jake was a naturally laid-back and easygoing type of guy, so to have him suddenly use such a forceful and aggressive tone was very disturbing to me. Even worse, however, was him calling me “Dan”. One of the only habits I’d been unsuccessful in breaking Jake of was calling me “Danny”. Eventually I had just given up and allowed it. I tried to tell myself that he was probably just tired, that that was the reason for his uncharacteristic behavior. It dawned on me that I’d be much readier to accept that explanation if I could actually see him. As dark as it was in my room – even with a small amount of light coming in from a distant street lamp – I could barely make out his silhouette on my bed. Just a black, vaguely human shape in the darkness.
“Why are you calling me that, Jake?”
There was a moment’s silence before Jake’s voice responded, now in a conciliatory, decidedly more Jake-like tone, “That’s what you prefer to be called, isn’t it? You said so before.”
I can’t fully describe the thrill of horror I felt as I realized that whomever – or whatever- I was speaking to was backpedaling. I was certain now that this was not Jake, and certain that whoever it was knew he had shown his hand a bit, and was now desperately trying to return to acting like Jake. The tone was good: unsure, almost apologetic. That was very much like Jake. The wording, however, was all wrong. And there was another problem.
“I haven’t mentioned that in over a year.”
Another pause. It was taking all my willpower not to jump up from my chair. Whether to confront the impostor or run from him, I wasn’t sure. I think both the desperate, lingering hope that this really was Jake as well as a notion that if it wasn’t, it was in my best interests to keep playing along, kept me rooted to my seat.
“Oh, haven’t you? Sorry. I guess I’m kind of tired. I can call you Dan, though. If you want.”
I couldn’t take it anymore – this wasn’t Jake, I was beyond sure of it now. I jumped up from my seat, “Who the hell are you?!”
I had only a second to reconsider the wisdom of choosing confrontation over fleeing as the impostor answered quickly this time and in an appropriate tone of alarm,
“W-whaddya mean?! I’m Jake!”
“The fuck you are! Tell me who you really are!”
“I’m Jake! It’s me, Danny,really! Why don’t you believe me?!”
“Because I can’t fucking see you, and you’re not acting like Jake – you aren’t Jake! Who the fuck are you?!”
“I am Jake! I know you can’t see me… Hey, wait – you said your phone wasn’t quite dead, right? Let the screen come on just long enough to see my face. You’ll see it’s really me, Danny!”
This gave me pause. The voice in the dark was now sounding very convincingly like a frightened and confused Jake, and had quickly suggested I use my only light source to prove its identity. I was starting to feel increasingly foolish and chagrined at my paranoid freak-out. But still… I had to be sure. I turned to reach for my phone where I knew it was still sitting, plugged into the inert wall socket. I picked it up and the time appeared in white, causing a miniscule amount of illumination. As I was about to unlock it, it started ringing.
Jake calling…
I didn’t turn. I slid my finger to the little green phone icon in a kind of surreal haze of disbelief.
“Hello?”
“Hey, Danny! I forgot my key again, can you come let me in?”
“…Jake?”
“Yeah, it’s Jake. Hey, is the power out? It’s all dark-”
And the phone went dead.

Credit To – A. McKee

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