A Girl at Vale Station

September 22, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Michael ran.

He ran towards the subway, desperately hoping it won’t leave before he gets there. The next one won’t be around for another 10 minutes; such is the case with these late night trains. It has been a long day for him, and there was nothing more Michael want than release by sleep right now.

He made it in just before the doors closed and he managed a smile: a small victory amongst a lost day. He dumped his backpack on the chair beside him and took another seat himself. There were very few people in the train: some late night businessmen and workers rushing to get back to the welcoming comfort of their own respective beds. Michael’s eyelids did not agree with his brain to sleep when he gets home as he nodded off as soon as the train began to move, with the steady nod and hum of the train cradling Michael to dreamland.

He woke up to an empty train. Michael was puzzled: even this late in the night, there are people getting on and off at each station in this busy city. As he scanned around, however, he realized that there was indeed no one left on the subway in this carriage or the others. He glanced at the map of stations that showed which station they were approaching with a light. To his surprise, none of the lights were on. The train was speeding along even faster now. The world outside was a complete darkness. Only the occasional jerk told Michael the train was still moving forward. Michael tried his cell, but got no signals. He remembered that it was underground and felt slightly foolish. The train was just in a really dark tunnel that had one or two unfortunate bulbs blown out. There was nothing to fret over. Already, the forward jerk that signaled the train stopping began and Michael stood up to wait for the doors to open.

Yet they never did.

He waited, but the doors simply remained closed. There was no one on this abnormally small station platform. Some time ago the train must’ve re-surfaced, for he could see the city light in the distance, yet Michael knew the last station was underground. ‘Perhaps the train pulled away into a maintenance area’ he thought, until he saw the name ‘Vale’ station imprinted in bold letters on the far wall, like they have at every other station. But ‘Vale’ was not on the map. Before Michael could get a better look around, the train jerked again and it began to move forward once more.

A girl sat down in the next carriage.

Michael didn’t notice her at first, for he was embroiled in trying to find out where he was. Even though they were outside now, the location system did not seem to work; his phone still had no signal and it was already 11 p.m. Fatigue was about to overtake him when he noticed her. She was dressed in a shabby grey dress, her straight obsidian hair obscuring her face. She faced downwards, as if the cure of cancer was growing between her toenails. He could have sworn there was no one in the carriages around him when he looked through the glass doors on either side of his carriage, but maybe the tiredness clouded his vision. Then the girl tilted her head, paused, and then turned completely upright to stare right at him. Michael worked as a camp director on a really remote place before and felt crept out before, but this stare truly chilled him to the bones. The stare was vacant, not at all helped by her abnormally large, grey eyes and her large pale face. Her mouth was either so small that Michael couldn’t see it or it didn’t exist at all. Even though she was at the far end of the other carriage and the train was moving at breakneck speed, Michael felt an imminent sense of danger. He shrugged it off as paranoia at night.

He shouldn’t have.

The train was pulling into another stop after what seemed to be an eternity. Michael made the mistake of looking outside and there she was. Standing on the platform, beneath the big words ‘Vale’ station, was the girl with the shabby dress. He tried to avoid eye contact, but noticed through his peripheral vision she was still staring right at him. He quickly turned around as the train moved again, and there she was sitting there staring, now just a few feet away in his carriage.The train began to speed up again. There was simply no way. She couldn’t have moved so fast. The doors never opened. She looked up and stared at him blankly.

“What the fuck do you want?” Michael’s voice was smaller than he’d anticipated.

She stared.

Then she stood up, and Michael almost fell: where her mouth should be, there was nothing. It was just smooth, pale skin. Her face twisted into what would be a smile if she had a mouth, and Michael watched in fear as she strode towards him. ‘She must have been in some sort of accident; maybe she just wants help’. Michael thought, trying to comfort himself as he back away ever so slightly. ‘It’s just a dream.’ He thought, ‘She doesn’t want to hurt me; we don’t even know each other. She must-‘

The train rode silently on.

Michael woke with a start. He looked around, puzzled as to why there was no one else left on the train. He felt the train began to slow down and he stood up to wait for the doors to open.

They never did.

Credit To – Bill Yang

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Father Lucie

September 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Hello. I’m Father Lucie and I’m a man of faith. I’m a man of the clergy and I believe in right and wrong, and nothing in between. I believe that a man’s soul is a precious thing; a fragile thing; and I’m self-employed in upholding that belief. I work in a private sector of the church; a sector founded and run solely by myself. The work I do is not unlike a legal conciliation service. I’m an arbitrator; I settle disputes of the soul.
I’m a SOUL man. And I’ve got a passion that burns for the job.

I’m here to share Jake Avery’s story with you, my most recent subject, for educational purposes. Everyone at some point in their life will cross paths with me or my work so it’s best learn about it now and save yourself the trouble of asking who I am, or what I’m doing barging in on your life at such an unexpected moment.
I’ll be there to help you, so remember to shut up and listen to what I have to say.
It’s probably going to be important.

Mine and Jake Avery’s story begins a while back in Jake’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. What happened was that Jake Avery killed somebody.
That’s the short version.
It was an accident, we all understand that, but honestly, it’s irrelevant. Jake avoided all consequences related to the accident, and this bothered people; important people. They were upset by how it all played out. And I’m not talking about the families torn up and destroyed by his mistake, God no, people a lot more important than that. When I say that Jake avoided all consequences related to the accident, I don’t mean he was found innocent in a court of law.
No, nothing that official.
Jake ran. He was scared, granted, but the upset parties I deal with weren’t concerned with his reasons, or personal qualms. They wanted justice. That’s where I came in. It was my job to help Jake to help himself. It was my job to smooth things out between him and the upset parties, as best as I could.

I’ll skip ahead a bit. Jake Avery eventually found himself in a 5×5 windowless concrete room, orange glowing in around the door, sat at a metal table on a metal chair. There’s a stink that wafts in when the letter box slot on the door slides open to deliver his food.
But we don’t talk about that.
On the metal table was a wax-sealed envelope, which he had opened, and in that envelope was a note. On the note, in decorative script, someone had written:
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
I should tell you: I knew who wrote that note, but I can’t tell you why I couldn’t tell Jake that just yet. There were also two photographs that accompanied the envelope, but I’ll get into that in a moment too. It was my job to speak with Jake Avery every so often, to ask him why he was there in that room; to ask him why he was taken. He was angry at first that I couldn’t give him any clues; very angry, and would refuse to speak to me at all. He knew why he was there, he just didn’t want to admit it. Understandable, I suppose. He hadn’t even been given the chance to change out of his torn up clothes.

The first of the two photographs found in the envelope was a Mr Eric Luf’s passport photo. He was a Norwegian student living in Richmond with friends.
Jake killed him.
He was driving home from his parents’ house one misty night when he swerved to miss a Rottweiler standing in the middle of the road. The Rottweiler seemed to appear at the last moment and showed no signs of moving. Eric Luf was cycling in the opposite direction and was hit by Jake’s car; an unfortunate event no doubt.
Jake got out of his car to check on Eric only to find that Eric had been killed on impact. He was scared, understandably. Who wouldn’t have been?
The morticians report even shocked me.
What Jake did next though, is extremely vital to our story. He got back in his car and drove away. Now, Jake Avery was never caught for what he did; he hadn’t even known Eric’s name until he saw it written on the bottom of the passport photo in the envelope. The man honestly hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep since it happened.
Those terrible dreams. The ones that throw us out of our bed sticky with sweat and piss.
Eric’s shattered face with brain showing in the eye sockets visits Jake every night. But once again, my associates aren’t interested.

I would visit his 5×5 concrete room once a day. He sat at the desk with his back to the door and he always held Eric Luf’s photo in one hand, the note in the other; eyes flitting between them. My job was to approach him, and ask him the same thing every day:
“Why are you here Jake?”
He’d throw down the photo and note and respond something along the lines of “I don’t know goddammit, I already told you I don’t know! You tell me!”
At that point I’d leave the room and wait to ask him again the next day. My job wasn’t to force it out of him.
He had to figure it out on his own. He had to admit it.
‘Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.’
On the fourth day however, when I visited Jake Avery’s stinking 5×5 cell, he was holding the second photograph in his hand; the one I haven’t explained to you yet. I had not yet seen him pay any attention to it. I’ll go through it quickly so I can get back to telling you what he said to me on that fourth day.

The second photograph was of a man called Eli Curf, a Romanian they think. The name was written below his face on the photo, just like Eric’s. Nobody really knows who he was, to be honest, and the body was never claimed.
I however, did know who he was.
It was on that same road that Eric died that Eli followed Jake to one cold Sunday night. Eli had bad intentions.
Very bad intentions.
Eli had been tailing Jake for about twenty minutes when Jake pulled into a gas station. Eli didn’t follow him and kept driving. He did a U-turn further up along the road and stopped under a street light on the shoulder.
Eli sat in his car facing towards the gas station and waited for the headlights of Jakes car to appear coming towards him. When they did he floored it and took off back down the road directly for Jake. Jake had no room to avoid the crash once he realized he was in trouble.
And so they crashed; man to man.
Metal to metal.
Face to pavement.
Jake survived and Eli died. It’s kind of funny when you think about it; in a tragic sort of way. Jake again, suffered little to no injury, except for a bad concussion, while Eli lay dead on the concrete at the end of a trail of his own face. Jake was lucky to be alive, really.
He stuck around for emergency services that time. I guess it was because it wasn’t his fault, technically. The men took him into the back of the ambulance, but he knew immediately that they weren’t doctors. I can tell you personally that that was obvious. I think it goes without saying that they didn’t bring him to a hospital; they brought him to me.

And now we’re back to the 5×5 concrete room that smelled like charred bodies, and back to Jake looking at the second photo; Eli’s photo; and me about to ask him the same question I’ve asked him once a day for the past four days:
“Why are you here, Jake”. But this time was different.
He dropped the photo and looked up at me, “Who are you?”
Really he wasn’t allowed to ask questions, but I decided to humour him in hope of getting an answer for my own question to come.
“I can’t tell you who we are.”
Jake brought his fist down on the desk in anger. I told him politely that if he did it again I wouldn’t hold myself back from slapping him. He regained his composure.“No. I meant who are you?”
“My name is Fr. Lucie. I’ve told you that before, Jake,” I replied. I knew that Jake knew my name; he had asked me before when he first arrived; he was asking because he thought I’d have a different answer, but I didn’t. Not right now.
With that out of the way I asked him:
“Why are you here, Jake?”
He seemed to have come to the end, and I was glad.
“Why do you want me to admit it? You know I know why I’m here, I wouldn’t be here otherwise, so why do I have to admit it to YOU!?”
I was getting somewhere now. I could feel it.
“You see Jake; your soul is in trouble. I’m here to help you. What you did to Eric Luf is inexcusable, and your confession is required by some very powerful people for you to be able to return home.”
I pointed to the note that read “Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.” He looked at it for a moment and considered his options.
I wished he’d hurry up, to be honest. I wasn’t expecting him to take so long and I had others to visit.
After processing the note for a moment he came to a crossroad in his own head. He asked me:
“What do I have to do to go home?”
So I told him what he had to do.
I told him, “Jake, you need to let me into your soul to save you. I’m here to help you, I’m here to make things right for you, and the only way to do that is for you to grant me permission to your soul so I can mend what’s been broken.”
It’s mostly bullshit, but it sounds convincing and if I had told him that he needed to eat my shit he’d be lying under me — mouth open wide — before I could even squat.
All he could think about was getting out of that place at that point, and so he said without a second thought:
“Of course, just tell me what to say.”
So I told him, and he repeated almost word for word: “Fr. Lucie I killed Eric Luf. I grant you permission to my soul; to make me better and to make me a good person again.”
That was all I needed to hear. It was about time too. The hard part was over and done with and it was time to have some fun. I’d been waiting for that moment for four whole days, and boy had I been waiting. It was some good work I did on Jake too, some of my best. I deserved some leisure time.
A sort of ‘work hard; play hard’ kind of thing.
It’s what I live for.

As soon as he said the words I knew I could relax. I knew we’d worked our problem out and all parties would be happy.
“Jesus Christ, Jake, you took it out of me!”
He seemed confused, they usually do.
He said: “Do I get to go home?” Goddamn they ask the same thing every time!
“No, not just yet”, I replied; pointing at the note sitting on top of Eric Luf’s not yet collapsed face.
I dragged a chair over beside Jake; “Read it, what does it say?”
Now he seemed very confused, and he made me very angry with that stupid look on his face when he was. He picked it up with both hands, as he wouldn’t have been able to manage one, and replied.
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
“Very good Jake,” I said, standing up and throwing my chair against the wall in one swift motion, “So work it out!”
I was standing over him now watching him fumble with the photos and note on the desk.
I had scared him.
I could see he was getting very stressed.
I watched him rearranging the photos pointlessly for a moment – he was afraid I would be angry if he asked me what to do – before grabbing them off of him and rearranging them as follows: Eric Luf’s name and photo to the left, the note in the middle and Eli Curf to the right of them. I stood back and folded my arms, excited to see what he’d do next.
“Work it out, Jake.”
He sat hunched over them for a moment before looking up at me like the pathetic monkey he was.
He frantically said “I don’t know what to d-”
Before he could finish I had flipped the table and everything on it across the room.
Jake Avery stayed sitting on the chair by himself and watched me jump onto the ground in front of the overturned table and photos.
He was a piece of work, I’m telling you.
I rearranged the notes and photos again on the ground in the corner of the smelly 5×5 room.
“Jake, get over here.”

Reluctantly, a clearly terrified Jake made a noise a child would make and came over to where I was kneeling. He got down on all-fours and again, stared at the photos without a clue of what he was doing. I knelt there beside him for a minute before he went to rearrange them again for no reason; just to look like he was doing something.
I slapped his hand away and picked up the first photo; Eric Luf’s photo.
I held it up in front of us and said “Now, what does it mean, Jake. Look at the letters”
He wasn’t comfortable being so close to me, I could tell. My patience wearing thin, I thought I’d help him out a bit.
“Look at the letters!” I said, before proceeding to announce each character in Eric’s name out of order.
“See Jake, look at this: E – R – I – C – L – U – F. Now, watch: L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
He looked at me like he knew, but he didn’t.
Not yet.
I picked up the second photo, Eli the Romanian’s photo, and I did what I did with the last.
Holding it up in front of myself and Jake I started reciting the letters.
“E – L – I – C – U – R – F, see how that works Jake? Now watch what I do with them:
“L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
Jake sat back against the wall with this puzzled look on his face, scanning the two photos, as if it couldn’t be true.
“What does you mean?” he asked.
I got to my feet, delighted we’d eventually gotten past that part, and took a deep breath.
“Now, do me,” I said.
As if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

He looked at me in bewilderment. “What do you me-”
I interrupted him before he could say something stupid again; “Do my name, like the other two.”
When he didn’t get the message I grabbed Eric’s photo from his hand and with my pen I wrote on the back my name:
‘Fr. Lucie’.
I gave it back and slowly he began reciting the letters; “F – R –”
“No,” I interrupted, “Skip that and go straight to the next part.”
I waited with my arms folded for him to begin, and then he did.
He recited my name: “L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
The look on Jake’s face was priceless; hilarious. But the best was yet to come. He still had no idea. Sure he had worked out the names, but he didn’t fully understand what it meant yet.
“Well done Jake, you got it!” I said.
Still terribly confused, but happy I was not angry with him anymore, he replied:
“Do I get to go home now?”
At this point I was in stitches! I couldn’t contain myself! Jake – still terribly confused and not knowing what to do – started laughing with me. Wiping a tear from my eye I told him:
“Of course not!”
His expression changed suddenly, he was doing that face that he does. The stupid one I was telling you about
“What’s the matter, Jake?” He looked at me for a moment, waiting for me to break character and start cracking up again.
But I didn’t.
When he realized I was serious, he scrambled for the note I had written for him four days previously. He held it out and started reading:
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
It’s good, isn’t it?
After reading it he looked up at me again; “You said I could go home.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I did say that.”
He thought very carefully about what he would say next, and then he attempted to read me the note again. I interrupted him halfway and finished the rhyme:
“… that’s right Jake, I’m a liar AND a poet!”

Exhausted by our conversation I had picked Jake’s chair up from where I’d thrown it against the wall and sat down on it facing him. I found my deck at the bottom of my pocket and lit a cigarette. Now he was shouting nonsense and insults at me from where he was sitting on the ground:
“What do you mean you’re a liar?! You said I could go home! I figured your damn puzzle out, just like you said!”
Jake had a whiney voice.
And yes, you’re dead right, the poor guy still didn’t get it!
I smiled at him throwing his little tantrum and waited for him to give me an opportunity to speak. I figured it would be better to let him get it all out of his system now; bottling up that kind of anger is bad for the soul.
I know.
When he quieted down for a second I told him:
“You can’t go home Jake. You don’t have one.”
That response didn’t go down well.
“What do you mean I don’t have a home?!” he demanded.
I thought about how I’d tell him, but I decided I’d just be completely blunt with him. I leaned back and got comfortable, getting ready to savour his reaction, and then I told him:
“You’re dead!”
In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have told him like that. It’s a hard thing for anyone to swallow.
In retrospect, maybe I should have broken it to him slowly; eased him into it a little. God, I can be so rash sometimes. People are always telling me and I’m only starting to see it!
But oh well.
What’s said was said.

Now, my dear reader; as your humble narrator I should probably explain something to you all; in case you’re as God awfully dull as Jake Avery and haven’t caught on to what’s going on yet.
There never was an Eric Luf.
He doesn’t exist.
Never did.
Although don’t get too confused; Jake did actually kill someone with his car on that fateful night, it just wasn’t Mr Luf. I created Mr Luf for our story; an anagram of my own name for dramatic effect! It did work though, didn’t it? It gave a certain ‘oomph’ to the delivery, I thought.
Anyways; on that night, Jake did swerve to miss a dog and he did mow down a man on his bike. The difference is that in the real story, Jake Avery didn’t stop.
He ploughed straight through body and bike and into a ditch. A piece of fencing splintered and broke off into his chest, and that was the end of Jake.
He died.
He’s dead.
He went somewhere else that night when reality split into what happened, and what I allowed to happen.
Just for fun!
He was carried away with a sheet over his body; dead and blood still slipping out past the fence in his chest.
But he also drove home unharmed in his car.
So, basically I allowed Jake Avery some time to think about what he had done, to see what he’d do; like a test! The past couple of weeks he’s been living in an alternate reality. Kind of like purgatory, except purgatory’s just a silly myth. During this time I was judging him; weighing his soul.
Do you see what I’m saying?
Because I can’t just take anybody’s soul, there has to be a good reason.
I like to think that taking a soul is like cooking a steak. See God, as patient as he his, likes his steaks rare. He likes his steaks pure, quick off the pan without incident.
He likes them to be as close to what they were like coming off the cow as possible.
I like mine burnt to a crisp.

Now you’re probably starting to connect the dots.
Don’t do that.
You should never do that.
You’re probably thinking that Eli Curf wasn’t real, just like Eric.
Right?
Wrong.
I was Eli Curf. When I had finished cooking Jake’s soul, and decided it was ready to take off the pan, I drove head first into Mr Avery, along that same road where he had killed ‘Eric Luf’. In the alternate reality where Jake was dead, they had lowered his body into his grave just that morning.
I didn’t really need to do that, to be honest; it wasn’t entirely necessary. I could have just come to him in the middle of the night and dragged him by his hair into hell, but where’s the fun in that?
You’ve all probably guessed by now too, that my real name isn’t Fr. Lucie, and I’m not a priest.
Sorry about that.
It’s just another anagram for my real name; it’s just for show. An interesting way to tell Jake. To add a bit of depth to our story. Because that’s all it is really, isn’t it. A story?
Was Jake real, or was he just another character? Am I real, or am I just a quirky story-telling device?
Am I just a fairy-tale?
I have sleepless nights thinking about that sort of thing; honestly! Someone once said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. But I didn’t convince anyone that I didn’t exist.
You all convinced yourselves.

I digress. When I explained all these details to Jake Avery he still didn’t believe me. Can you imagine? Jake didn’t want to believe me, but deep down I think he did. You notice when your soul is gone; it’s a feeling that’s hard to ignore. You can feel that something is missing.
I felt it. Jake felt it, even if he didn’t know it.
He was very distraught at this point in our conversation. I got up off my chair and went over to where he was sitting against the wall crying. I sat down in front of him and told him how much fun we were going to have together.
He wasn’t interested.
He spat in my face, and with that I smiled and picked him up off the floor by his throat. Two of my employees entered and I handed him over to them. They dragged him to the door, but before they left for the furnace I called to the now kicking and screaming Jake Avery.

Before I tell you what I said, I would bet your life that there was one thing that you missed; one detail you overlooked in our story.
I was so excited to tell Jake.
From the moment I met him I couldn’t wait. I could barely control myself from just blurting it out, being as rash as I am. Oh you’re going to love it too, I swear!
Eric Luf, Eli Curf, Fr Lucie, the note. It was all build-up; pawns to my joke.
Do you understand?
The build-up to the greatest punch line; the ultimate gag!
Possibly the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled? I don’t think so.
My employees held Jake at the door where I had called to him. He could feel the heat coming from the cracks now. The smell of burning flesh getting stronger. The smell of eternity.
He knew he was close.
He cried to me: “Where am I going, take me home! Who the fuck are you people!? Tell me who you are!”
He set it up perfectly! It couldn’t have been any better, not even if I had done it myself. I leaned into Jake’s ear.
I whispered to him:
“Jake, I’m the dog in the street.”

Credit To – Coffeey

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Taps

September 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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As a child, I had always thought I knew what true fear was. The fear of something hiding under your bed, or in your closet. Hell, I thought clowns were the scariest shit there was. Of course, I hadn’t known the feeling of real fear; hadn’t experienced it, until I was twelve.
They say people are most afraid of the unknown, of things they can’t quite explain, things they can’t see. Unexplainable sounds in the dark, paranoid thoughts of monsters creeping in the unoccupied spots of their bedroom. These are the things that people are most afraid of, so they say. This wasn’t exactly true for my case. Sure, sounds in the darkness were a factor, but I knew the source behind the sounds. Oh, I knew. And the knowledge of the source drove terror into me, like a mallet rhythmically driving a nail into me, over and over and over.
I don’t know how it started. It was as if a switch was flipped in her and suddenly she became an uncontrollable marionette (oh, the irony). My father tried to stop her, but she persisted and he eventually gave up trying. I suggested that he call the police, or tell the neighbours, but he dismissed twelve year-old me, and told me he didn’t trust “those corrupt government lackeys” and sure as hell didn’t want the neighbours finding out. They’d have immediately called “that wretched three number hotline”. Besides, he told me, she isn’t harming either of us. I had hoped it would stay that way. She sure didn’t seem like my mom anymore, and I told him so. He yelled at me and scolded me, calling me foolish. I wanted to shout back at him, telling him he has no idea how scared I am every night, hearing her, but I didn’t.

Mother was fine in the morning and for most of the afternoon as well. Although she was always in bed, occasionally sitting up just to stare at the blank wall a few feet past the foot of her bed, she seemed as fine as her condition would deem it. Father was at work. He usually works until two in the morning or so. When my mother first started acting weird, he was afraid to leave me alone, so he took a few days off from work. He didn’t dare hire a babysitter, he trusted those people just as much as he trusted the government. After a few days, he figured it was safe enough to leave me at home, alone with her, and resumed leaving for work every morning. Take care of your mother, he would always tell me before he left. I simply nodded, when in reality, instead of taking care of her, I hid from her. But for the most part, she was fine until evening.
It was only at night, when I’m huddled under the covers in my bedroom, that she begins acting up. That’s when the noises start. I would hear her get out of bed in my parent’s bedroom, and hear her crawl across the hall, making her way to my bedroom. After the first night, I always remembered to keep my door locked. She would crawl; I would hear her crawl, all the way to the front of my bedroom door.
And then the tapping began.
They were just light taps, like how a student would knock at the door of the principal’s office. But the taps, they went on for some time. Just a constant steady tap. I remember clamping my eyes shut, trying to ignore it and go to sleep, and after almost an hour of tapping. It stopped, and I slowly opened my eyes. That’s when I realized the door wasn’t locked, and there she was, at the foot of my bed, just standing there. Staring at me. The fear I felt was real. And it sure wasn’t caused by the unknown. My eyes were open, looking at my own mother (that was merely a label at this point) stare at me. There was something unnatural about her eyes; I think it was her pupils. They were dilated to the point of being dots. Just little black dots.
There she was, just staring at me, not doing anything else. She didn’t hurt me. She just stood there. But there was something terrifying about it. Maybe it was her eyes. Maybe it did have something to do with the unknown. Not knowing what she would do next. Not knowing if she would spring at me, and attack. But nothing had happened. My father eventually came home from work and was greeted with the sight of his wife (only a label now), and his son, covered in sweat and fear.

The days following that incident, I had always kept my door locked. I double-check the lock even to this day. Of course, that didn’t stop the tapping sounds. Sometimes I swear they weren’t even coming from outside my door. Sometimes it felt like they were coming from the window, or the closet, or even under my damn bed. Fear of the unknown, that’s always how it is, one way or another, I suppose.
That was when I had my first encounter with true fear, at the age of twelve. Every day after that, the door was always locked. Eventually my mother passed away (cardiac arrest right outside my bedroom, my father opted to bury her in the backyard, can’t go trusting those morticians now), and I moved out. I tried to convince my father to live with me, but he refuses to let go of our old house; he was always a stubborn man.

Life has gotten much better for me since. I landed a high-paying job at a law firm, and next week I have a date with this beaut of a woman I met a few days back.
But, every single night before I fall asleep, as I lay under a new set of covers I bought, I could almost swear.
I swear I could still hear the tapping noises.

Credit To – Kevin Liu

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The Fermi Paradox

September 13, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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As astronomers began to dig deeper into the cosmos, a puzzling question arose. In a universe as vast and ancient as our own, why can’t we find any signs of other intelligent life? We have already discovered a number of Earth-like planets, and it’s estimated that there are thousands if not millions of planets throughout the galaxy that could support life as we know it. Presumably, at least a few would give rise to advanced alien civilizations, and we should be able to detect such civilizations by listening for radio signals that are too complex and organized to be of natural origin. After all, anyone within 100 light-years of the sun could detect us through the broadcasts emanating from Earth, so why couldn’t it work the other way around?

Yet whenever we listen for these signals, we only hear silence. There is nothing. Nothing but the chaotic emissions of pulsars, gamma ray bursters, and other natural sources.

Scientists refer to this as the Fermi Paradox. Given the seeming statistical certainty there being alien civilizations, why can’t we find any? Why do we seem to be so special? It wouldn’t be a matter of signals fading over distance – we can detect the faint glow of galaxies millions of light-years away that have long since ceased to exist. There have been a number of proposed explanations. Maybe Earth truly is unique after all. Maybe aliens don’t use radio waves.

However, some scientists fear a different possibility. Perhaps advanced civilizations invariably destroy themselves before being able to broadcast for any meaningful amount of time. It could be nuclear war, or it could be an environmental catastrophe. Whatever it is, this theory speculates, within a couple short centuries of becoming advanced enough to harness radio waves, intelligent life is doomed to obliterate itself. The window of time during which it could send – and receive – radio broadcasts is but a blink of the eye on a cosmic timeframe, and if the signals arrived at the world of another intelligent species, it would likely be too early, or too late.

If this is true, humanity is simply another iteration in an infinite cycle of doomed civilizations that repeats itself all across the cosmos. Despite all our achievements and accomplishments, we will all die a painful collective death, perhaps within our lifetime. And just as we are unaware of our alien predecessors on distant worlds, future intelligent life on a system but 20 light years away will never know we even existed. Who knows? We tried sending targeted broadcasts to various star clusters, but perhaps others did the same. We’ve tried securing a form of symbolic immortality by sending probes carrying our life story into interstellar space, but perhaps the universe is littered with such mementos to dead races, all launched in the same, vain hope of being remembered by the cosmos. Why would we be so special?

Of course, this proposal could be false. There is no real scientific evidence either way. It is all an intellectual parlor game for astronomers, right? Perhaps. But the next time you read about climate change, the next time you learn about how close we have come to the brink of nuclear war at times, the next time you hear about an emerging crisis with North Korea or Iran…

Look up at the stars, and remember the Fermi Paradox…

Credit To – W. H. Lane

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Colorado Fishing Trip

September 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Our trip started in late February as my three friends, John, Steve, Max, and I drove my truck deep into the backwoods of Boxwood Gulch to follow the North Fork of the South Platte River. Steve owned a cabin up in the backcountry, so we left my truck there and began our 57 mile hike into the wooded terrain following the river.

We had all of our camping and fishing gear packed, and enough food to hopefully last us the 3 day journey both ways. The pre-spawn bass wouldn’t be an easy catch once we reached the hole, but if we were going to endure this brutal cold, we wouldn’t go home without a fight. As we first set out in the early morning, a few light snowflakes began to fall. The terrain was heavily wooded and uneven making for slow going, but the cool mountain air rustled through the trees and sunlight streamed through the canopy, making the snowflakes glint and shimmer as birds chirped overhead. It was going to be a near perfect trip.

We stopped for a quick rest a few hours in. The weather had been slowly worsening since we had left, but it was only then that we realized how bad it had really gotten. The snow was whipping around us in a blinding flurry as the wind howled. The crooked, mangled trees creaked and swayed violently, almost threatening to snap in two. The ground had already accumulated a good 6 inches of snow.

It was about midday, but the sky was black.

And I don’t mean dark due to the ever intensifying storm; I mean that in between the gaps in the clouds, there was no blue, just solid black.

None of us really made a note of it at the time as it was hard to notice through the thick cascade of snow and the limited visibility. After continuing our hike for some time however, it became all too apparent that something was wrong.

In addition to the sky, we also realized that there was nothing in the distance.

There should have been some mountains or something like there had been at the start, but no matter which way we turned, the world only seemed to extend fifty or so feet around us, then it disappeared into the blizzard.

It was nighttime now, or at least, it was dark out. My watch however, read 2:00 in the afternoon.

As we walked forward, new things slowly came into view, but everything behind us disappeared, and although we could progress further, we couldn’t seem to double back. Once we left something behind us, we couldn’t reach it again. Steve had forgotten his lighter a little while back when we stopped to eat, but when we tried to turn around and go back, we were greeted by a wall of snow and fog impossible to see through.

Our flashlight’s beams didn’t penetrate the fog; they stopped as they hit it as if it was a physical wall. Tendrils of vapor danced across the indistinct surface, and the grey void behind it seemed to extend into eternity.

Curious, Steve slowly reached out and moved his hand into the fog. First his fingertips disappeared, and then his whole hand vanished into the haze. We all stood in disbelief, looking at the wall which was impossibly tall and extended as far as we could see. There was no real gradient to it. Things didn’t fade into the distance, there was a clear line where the wall began, and nothing was visible beyond that point. We were making a note of all this when Steve muttered something.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I . . .” He stammered, “I can’t feel my hand.”

He said this slowly, as if realizing it as he said it. Puzzled, he retracted his hand slowly, and then screamed.

His glove was shredded, almost disintegrated, and his hand looked like it had been forced through a wood chipper. Deep gashes revealed white bone underneath, and what fingers were left were stripped clean. We all panicked.

“Oh God, Oh God! This is bad!” Max cried.

Steve simply stood clutching what was left of his hand and hyperventilating. We had to get him to a hospital or he would certainly bleed to death, but we were almost a day’s walk from Steve’s cabin which was already remote enough. We were all frantically checking our phones for a signal when the worst happened.

Steve fainted. His eyes closed, his legs buckled, and he fell forward . . . into the fog.

None of us noticed at first, but when we finally did, all we could see were his legs protruding from the mist. We immediately, without thinking, rushed to pull him out. We grabbed his legs and strained to drag him back into view. Before we even saw him however, we immediately regretted doing so. We somehow knew what we would find.

The thing we dragged out was not Steve. Not anymore.

All of his skin was cleaved off, his ribcage ripped open with his entrails spilling out, and his face instantly burned into my vision, becoming an afterimage that haunts me to this day. Not merely because it was horrendously mutilated, not merely because his eyes had been torn out leaving only empty sockets, but because it smiled at me. A big wide smile that started small, but the gashes in his face allowed it to literally stretch . . . from ear . . . to ear.

Max screamed and shoved Steve’s mangled body back into the fog. We ran as fast as we could, the only way we could, deeper into the woods. Just as before, the snow and fog parted before us, but swallowed up everything we left behind. As we ran and ran, the scenery around us began to slowly change, the trees surrounding us were now withered and dead; the grass was flattened and bleached white.

In fact, everything around us was lifeless and dull. Colors had all but disappeared leaving only shades of grey and an intensified feeling of loneliness and death.

“Guys,” I shouted while I ran, not daring to stop for even a minute, “We can’t turn around and go straight back, but maybe we can circle around back to Steve’s cabin. Then we can get the truck and get the hell out of here!”

John and Max nodded their heads and we turned 90 degrees right and continued running. Eventually, we ran through what appeared to be a herd of deer. All of which were laying on the ground. Grey and lifeless, hacked to pieces. Blood soaked the snow covered ground.
As we ran through the heard, dodging corpses, it was hard not to notice that their dead lifeless eyes seemed to follow us.

When we felt confident enough that we wouldn’t be doubling back on ourselves, we turned towards Steve’s Cabin – towards safety.

We ran for at least another hour, eventually however, none of us could run any longer. Our bodies simply wouldn’t allow it, and we were forced to stop. After some time, Max, John and I managed to get a fire going despite the snow and damp tinder. We had hoped that it would bring some sense of warmth and security, but we were wrong.

The flames were a bright orange hue, bleeding some color into the greyscale world. It clearly did not belong, nor did we.

The longer the flames crackled and popped, the more we began to hear something: distant and quite at first, but slowly growing closer, louder, and more numerous. A chorus of bloodcurdling wails and moans soon filled the stagnant air around us.

Focused on the fire and pretending to be safe, mesmerized by its beauty, we didn’t immediately notice a mangled deer carcass slowly dragging itself out of the fog and into view.
Nor did we notice the second . . . nor the third.

Finally, we snapped out of our trance just in time to scramble to our feet in terror as a myriad of different animal carcasses clambered out of the fog, drawn to the strange light of the fire. We were intruders in their world. I was paralyzed by fear, unable to breath. The corpses moved with a surreal and broken haphazard toss of limbs, as if poorly animated puppets.

I turned to my friends to find that they were no longer beside me. They had taken off running, leaving me behind. I turned around to run after them, but something grabbed me by my shoulder. I didn’t need to turn around to know what it was. I could tell by the hand gripping my shoulder. A hand that looked as though it had gone through a wood chipper.

I flailed and managed to free myself before it could get a good grip on me and took off running. I didn’t look back. No way did I want to see that face of what was once my friend.

I could no longer see John or Max, and I assumed that they must have been ahead of me, but I was the one with the keys to the truck and Steve had the keys to the cabin! They wouldn’t be any safer if I couldn’t meet up with them, so I ran and ran faster and for longer than any human could possibly do under normal circumstances.

Finally, after god knows how long, I could faintly make out a structure in the distance. It was the cabin. I felt a twinge of hope. The wails continued to ring out in the night air, but I seemed to have a lead on them at the time.

I reached the truck, unlocked it, and jumped inside. I scanned the area for Max or John, but could see neither. I couldn’t just leave them, but I couldn’t wait forever either! I sat sweating and shaking nervously as the wails grew closer and louder. I had just about made up my mind to leave when I could suddenly make out someone sprinting towards me. It looked like Max! I started up the truck and motioned for him to run faster.

But for some reason . . . I found myself subconsciously pressing the switch to my left, locking all of the doors.

My instinct told me that something was wrong. I looked down at my hands, they were shaking like crazy.

I looked back up and Max’s horribly mutilated face was pressed up against the driver’s window, staring at me, smiling. He was trying to open the door.

I slammed my foot on the gas and drove off, shaking like a madman and holding back the vomit.

As I drove home, the sky slowly brightened back up into a blue hue and I could eventually see the sun breaking through the clouds. It was 9:00 in the morning. I began to see other cars on the road and the people inside waved at me as I waved at them. Nice normal people. I went straight home and asked my girlfriend to marry me.

I’m sorry. That’s just not true.

I’m sitting in my house now, door locked and barricaded, windows boarded up, and I’m writing this story . . . and I felt happy for the first time in a long time writing that ending. I hardly even remember what a blue sky looks like, but I just wanted to picture it in my mind one last time. I just needed to imagine a happier world, because in reality, that’s not how it ended.

The truth is, as I drove, the sky did not brighten up, the sun did not reappear, and the fog still surrounded me as it now surrounds my house. I hear wailing all around and knocks at my door constantly, and when I look through the peephole, all I ever see is some THING smiling at me. The stench of death is everywhere. The phone doesn’t work, the TV and radio broadcast nothing but static. I hear the locks on my door being undone at night and I must constantly keep watch and re-lock them. I’m simply waiting for the night they get into my house when I forget the check the door, or when they break through a window, or when I wake up in the middle of the night to see them next to me. Their smiles . . . inches away from my face.

Credit To: Liam Vickers

This story is a Crappypasta Success Story – it got such a positive reception over at Crappypasta that it’s being moved here to the main site. You may read the original Crappypasta post and comments here. Congratulations to the author and thanks to the Crappypasta community for the save!

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The Mill

September 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The sound of the alarm clock gradually bringing her back to consciousness meant she must have finally fallen asleep. She groaned, propped herself up on her elbows and brushed the long blonde hair out of her face so she could read the time. The last time she’d looked at it, it had read 7:34 A.M., and she had yet to get a lick of sleep. Now the clock read 10:07, meaning the damn thing had been buzzing for the past seven minutes…and that she had yet another night that may as well have been sleepless.

Kelly Baker let out another groan and reached out her left hand as far as it could reach, her slender fingers coming just short of the nightstand where the pesky clock laid. Her confusion wearing off and turning to frustration, she rolled onto her back, propped herself up against the headboard, and slammed the top of the clock with the bottom of her fist several times, hitting just about every button on the thing but snooze. Now beeping instead of buzzing, she grabbed it in both hands and yanked it towards her, tearing the power cord out of it’s socket. She was about to throw it across the room when she stopped herself short, gently placing the clock back onto the nightstand.

Sighing, Kelly rubbed her face. She had a headache that raged as fiercely as the alarm clock, and though she wanted nothing more than to crawl back under the sheets and sleep the day away, she knew it was as hopeless as her chance of having another steady relationship. She tossed the remaining covers off and climbed out of bed.

Kelly slept naked, and the cool air of the apartment instantly chilled her to the bone. Making her way to the windowless bathroom across the hall, she pulled the aspirin out of the medicine cabinet and tossed two in her mouth, reconsidered, and popped in a third. Normally a girl that would swallow them one at a time, she poured herself half a glass of water, and swallowed all three at once. She studied her tired face in the mirror for a moment before turning to the shower stall. She turned on the hot water in the shower, the pipes creaking in disagreement as she did, and exited the bathroom as the water warmed up.

Though Kelly had been living in the apartment for a week, she had done little unpacking and nothing was where it was supposed to be save for the furniture, which her dad had helped her put in place the day she moved in. Ordinarily, her living space was very neat and orderly, but the apartment was still in awry, boxes upon boxes stacked and placed wherever they would fit. The spare room was packed with them, a few had wound up in the narrow hallway or in the master bedroom, and the rest were upstairs in the middle of the living room. Despite having the past several days off, she had done virtually no unpacking, spending most of her days haphazardly going about, and today, in all likeliness, would be no different.

The Harwick Mill Apartments were a far cry from the lifestyle she was used to in her parents’ home. Built in the early 1900’s, the building had once been a textile mill at the center of the Harwick Brothers operation, and the entire town, for that matter. The sprawling brick building took up nearly an entire block, and with it’s three stories and countless large arched windows, at one point it had been the most awe-striking building in town, and probably was up until it closed down during the depression.

Over the years since they were abandoned, many of the old factories and warehouses associated with the Harwick Brothers Company had been lost. At least two burned to the ground, one only ten years ago, and several were demolished to make way for newer projects. Several more factories still lay in disrepair, overgrown, and with fences and and warning signs that seldom kept kids from vandalizing the properties into even further degradation, a poignant reminder from a time long passed that nothing lasts forever.

It wasn’t until the late 70s that the restoration project took place; the very restoration that turned the decaying Harwick Mill into the Harwick Mill Apartments. Several other buildings were converted into storage units, offices, and various small businesses. The buildings that once made this Connecticut town rich now served the needs of the lower income residents.
Apartment number 123 was on the interior of the building facing the courtyard, as were all the odd-numbered apartments, and she was glad for that, for she would take the green lawn over the parking lot any day of the week when she looked out her window. And though her apartment was a two-bedroom unit, they charged her the price of a one-bedroom unit. Probably because that was all it was worth, and judging by the lack of people around, she gathered they needed all the tenants they could get.

With the shower still warming up, Kelly briefly returned to her room, grabbing her undergarments and her outfit for the day, coming from the same cardboard box as the outfits from the past three days. The box was marked ‘sweats’ and today’s outfit (that being the one that was closest to the top) was her black and pink volleyball warm-up suit she hadn’t worn since her team made it into the semi-finals her senior year of college. That had been two years ago, when she was twenty-one and things were alright in the world. Well, in her world at least. She thought of the friends she had then, of her drive to do well both as a key member of the volleyball team and towards doing well in school.

The hot water wouldn’t last long, maybe five minutes if she was lucky, and she hurried back to the bathroom. She jumped in the shower, and directed the shower head at her forehead, hoping it would make the headache go away. A cold was coming on, for she’d had a sore throat all day yesterday, and a sore throat had always meant a cold was just around the corner for Kelly Baker. She got them at least twice a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. She thought of Brian, of how she was supposed to be moving in with him, not into this apartment. Doing so was the last thing she wanted to do, but with her parents moving up to Vermont for retirement, it was the best she could do on such short notice, for there were few places that even fit into her budget, and the Mill had been the most viable option, the closest to work. And it was the cheapest, though Kelly now knew why.

After drying herself off, Kelly donned her clothes, not expecting the warm-up to fit as well as it had two years prior, even though she was just as slim now as she was then. She’d lost a little weight since then, and she imagined she probably lost most of it in the past week. She zipped the jacket all the way up, fixed her hair with her hand, and declared herself ready for the day. There was no point in doing anything else if there was no one in your life to dress up for. Though she knew she should at least be happy her outfit fit her as well as it had two years ago, a sudden longing, not only for her relationship with Brian or for the comfort of her parents’ home, but for just being a girl.

Kelly was twenty-three, over a year out of school with a BA in English, and she knew it was passed time to grow up, but…well, being an adult sucked. Being an adult and supporting herself had always been in the future, a thing that never seemed like it would come. And when it did, she would have her steady boyfriend Brian Jackson at her side every step of the way. Or so she had thought, until he dumped her two weeks prior without really giving her a reason why, other than ‘it’s not working for us anymore’, which isn’t a reason.

Brian had gotten a job offer as a CPA up in Mass, while Kelly was still working as a waitress at Chester’s Grill, where she’d worked since she was eighteen, and she had just assumed she wasn’t good enough for Mr. CPA anymore. Initially it had devastated her, and she was heartbroken and didn’t understand what it was she had done. But over the past few days, those feelings had been mixed with bitterness and anger, some of it towards herself, but more and more towards Brian, and the other woman in his life she could only assume existed. She often pictured her as a slutty, bipolar nurse named Samantha. Good, she hoped it was true, because it was no more than Brian deserved.

Kelly made her way to the stairs, being joined by a draft of cool air the entire length of the hallway. She gave a brief glance at the hatchway on the landing halfway up the stairs. Located out of reach of what her five-foot-seven frame could reach without a stepping stool, she had yet to open it, and intended to put a picture frame over it, because a cold draft came out of there, too, it seemed. She supposed if she ever had something valuable enough, it would be a good place to hide it, if she ever felt inclined to get a stool and do so. Of course, if Brian was here, she wouldn’t need the stool. She scowled at the thought, and made her way upstairs to fix herself breakfast in the kitchen, which hadn’t been as warm as she had hoped.

Because of those windows. Kelly was no expert on the matter, but she would eat her panties if those windows weren’t original to the building. They were yellowed beyond belief, scratched, even cracked in some places, and the green paint looked like it hadn’t been touched up since the place had been restored. The four windows upstairs were terrible; the two windows closer to the kitchen had gaps between the frame and the brick wall large enough for her to stick her pinky through in places, and she could only imagine the amount of bugs that must get in when the weather was warmer. And whatever heat didn’t escape through the windows that were taller than her instead uselessly heated the upper portion of the ten-foot high ceiling of the upper level. While the two windows in each bedroom downstairs were smaller and slightly better fitted to let a little less air in, there was a constant draft of air being pushed down the staircase every minute of every hour of every day. And this was only late October. Kelly could hardly imagine how cold it was going to be come winter.

Aside from the windows, her biggest complaint with the place since she’d moved in had been the random noises she heard at all times of the day, but seemed to be particularly prevalent at night. Though some seemed to be coming from apartment 121, the unit behind her kitchen, most of them came from the floor above her apartment. She knew there was no one living up there, for all of the apartments on the premises occupied just the first two floors, but it certainly sounded like someone was constantly moving stuff around up there.

And then there were the statues. Even the unartistic eye like her own could see the great love and detail put into each and every one of them, and though they were fascinating, she also found them creepy and unsettling. Like she was being watched by them. Most of them were out in the courtyard, but she knew there were at least a few throughout the building. There were two of them in the lobby, of which she believed to be the Harwick brothers, and another of a young girl in the pool room. She knew it was irrational, for if you had bottomless pits of money as the Harwick family once had, you could collect whatever it was you wanted, as many as you wanted, and she gathered one of the Harwicks, or perhaps a descendant, had a love for such statues, and gotten them made in honor of those important to the business, and perhaps their loved ones.

Still, perhaps what she found most disturbing about them wasn’t the statues themselves; rather that the statue population seemed to be higher than the population of actual, living people. And frankly, she wouldn’t mind seeing more people about, especially at a time in her life when she’d never felt more vulnerable. She supposed what she really needed was a friend she could trust, and though she had acquaintances at Chester’s, she didn’t have anyone she really confided in as a friend since high school. Well, anyone other than Brian, and she supposed that had been her own doing.

Though the kitchen was probably the highlight of the apartment and fit her needs, perhaps Kelly’s favorite feature in the entire apartment were the shelves on the far wall of the living room area, which took up two thirds of the entire upper level. The darkly-stained shelves started about waist high and went up almost all the way to the ceiling. Even with all the books, movies and other knick-knacks she had, she didn’t think she’d ever have enough stuff to fill those shelves, which was a good thing, because there was no way she could even reach the top shelves without a ladder or climbing up the shelves themselves. Deciding she needed something to keep her mind occupied today, she reckoned she could do something with those shelves.

All she felt like for breakfast was a plain bagel, and walking around with it on a paper plate, Kelly found the two large boxes of books right off, and started with that, deciding to put the books on the far left corner away from the windows where she would likely spend most of her time reading in her chair. She would have to go digging up the lamp later to put on the table next to the chair so she could actually see the books when it got dark.

Kelly started with the paperbacks, which ranged from Stephen King to Nora Roberts, arranging each by author, starting on the lower shelves and working her way up. She thoroughly dusted and cleaned each shelf before placing her books neatly, and though it wasn’t much, it was enough to keep her occupied from thinking about either her headache or that dick. It had gone unhindered until she reached the fourth shelf.

Kelly had to stand on her tip-toes just to reach the fourth shelf, and without standing on the bottom shelf, she could do little more than dust the very edges. But when she began placing the books on the shelf, starting in the far left corner where the shelf met the brick wall wall, the book wouldn’t push in, as if something was blocking it, and Kelly pulled it back out. She realized she’d have no choice but to climb up there and find out what the obstruction was that was interrupting her otherwise steady progress.

Above her, something metallic clanked onto the floor, and she perked up, looking at the ceiling. She paused a moment, listening intently for any other noises, then shrugged it off.

Kelly nimbly climbed up on to the first shelf, which was solid enough to support her weight thanks to the brick ledge below it, and she nearly lost her balance as she did so, but was spared from falling when she grabbed onto one of the shelves that was thankfully screwed in tight. She squinted at the corner where the obstruction was, inching her way down, but still couldn’t quite see what was there, so she reached back there and withdrew whatever it was hiding in the shadows. She nearly screamed when she saw it, but then quickly realized it wasn’t real.

It was a mouse. Or a sculpture of one, at least. It was light as a feather, even though it looked heavy. Minus being entirely brown, the mouse looked every bit like the real deal. She jumped down from the shelf and blew off the dust and a cobwebs, and spent a good moment further looking it over. It was extremely detailed. Someone certainly put in a lot of work making the little mouse.

Kelly brought the mouse over to the kitchen sink, spending a moment to rinse the little guy off. She looked closer and was startled by it’s shockingly realistic little face, and for a moment she was convinced it was going to spring to life and chew her face off. She almost dropped the mouse at the thought, but then gathered her senses. It was just a decoration. Still, it had a uncanny resemblance to the human statues throughout the apartments, despite not being human, that is. While she was pondering this, there came three steady knocks at the door.

Leaving the kitchen, Kelly gingerly set the mouse down on the banister, and looked over at the door curiously. She wasn’t expecting anyone today, and her first thought was that it was Brian, and he would be in tears, begging forgiveness. Then she could slam the door in his face, to tell him she would never take him back, whatever would make him feel her pain. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she had the thought of seeing one of those statues from out in the courtyard on the other side of her door, and she hesitated a moment before continuing on. It wasn’t Brian in tears, nor was it an axe-wielding statue from hell coming to chop her up into pieces. It was Melinda Harwick, the owner and manager of the apartment complex.

Kelly thought she might have preferred the murderous statue.

Under ordinary circumstances, she would have felt chagrined to be seen looking the way she did, but these were anything but ordinary circumstances. That aside, she had little like for Ms. Melinda Harwick, as the sign at the desk in her lobby read, and cared little for what the snobby old hag thought of her. Short and stubby, the woman always wore her signature white Victorian hat, a large diamond necklace, and enough perfume to choke an elephant. Kelly was certain she could almost smell her perfume through the door, about the only thing in this place that was even remotely air-tight.
Kelly had twice visited the witch’s office since she arrived, once the day she arrived to get her key and be seen to her unit, and then to file a complaint only two days ago about whoever was upstairs making too much noise when she was trying to sleep. Ms. Harwick had explained that the noises were likely caused by her brother, Boris, also the maintenance man. When Kelly asked to speak to Boris about his hours of operation, Melinda had only commented that Boris was not much of a people person, but that she would pass the message along. Kelly had gotten the vibe that she had been little more than a waste of the woman’s time. The last thing the woman had said before Kelly had left, was: ‘You don’t come to live at Harwick Mill for comfortable living, you come here for the experience.’ Kelly had no reply to that, though reckoned her face had given away plenty of what she had been thinking.

Perhaps she had now come to apologize for her rudeness or to offer an explanation for said disturbances, if it was indeed her brother Boris. And the more Kelly thought about it, there just might be a correlation between her pompous attitude towards the tenants of the mill and the lack of residents therin.

Kelly contemplated seeing how long it would take for her to go away, but she found herself opening the door instead.

“Good afternoon, Miss Baker. Sorry for dropping by without notice, but it’s standard procedure for us to come by and check upon our tenants. May I?”

“Uh, sure.” Kelly said, gesturing to the boxes in the middle of the room “Don’t mind the mess, I’m still unpacking.”

“Oh, no worries, sweetie. I’ve seen my fair share of people moving in my day.”

The tea pot whistled, and Kelly had no choice but to mind her manners. “I was just making myself some tea, but there is probably enough hot water for two. Would you care for a cup? I have green and black.”

“No, but thank you, Miss Baker.”

“You can just call me Kelly,” she said, making her way to the kitchen. She wasn’t going to give up her tea on her behalf. “Would you like to sit down?” Though what she thought was ‘please leave’. “Here, I’ll move some boxes if you-”

“Not necessary, thank you Kelly. I’ve been sitting on my buttocks all morning. I need to stretch my legs for a while. Besides, I won’t be taking too much of your time, I don’t think.”

Kelly just nodded and took a sip of tea. The woman simply stood there for a moment, studying the younger woman, seemingly apprehensive about taking a single step further into the apartment, which was just fine with Kelly. Melinda broke the silence between them. “I used to play volleyball too when I was about your age. I was quite good, if I say so myself. Actually, I..” Melinda’s eyes focused on the top of the stairs, and she gasped. “Oh, my. Would you look at this,” She said, making a move to the top of the stairs, picking up the mouse from the banister. “Where did you get this?”

Kelly had temporarily forgotten all about the curious little mouse, and then pointed at the shelf which now held over forty Stephen King novels. “I just found it a little while ago, when I was arranging my shelf,” she took another sip of her tea. “I guess it must have belonged to the previous tenant and was left behind by mistake. Easy enough to miss, I guess, it’s small, and the same color as the shelving.”

“I thought he was long lost,” Melinda said, looking upon the mouse in awe. “Oh, sweetie, this is a good omen.” She paused a long moment, seemingly forgetting Kelly was even there, her eyes transfixed on the mouse, before she looked up again. “This belonged to my grandfather. My great-grandfather made this for him. This was his first casting.”

“First casting?”

“Yes. Well, have you time for a little history?”

“Sure.”

“Well, as you may or may not know, my great-grandfather was Edgar Harwick. He was the younger of the two brothers who founded Harwick Brothers, Herbert being the elder. They were in the textile industry, and beginning in 1901, the two of them constructed and operated this mill and many others in this area of town. Business flourished, and so did the town. Farmland gave way to homes for the families of the workers, and the town prospered, and for a time, was quite famous, at least in New England. It was such a beautiful town, then. Now it’s over-run by shopping malls and chain restaurants, the old mills and what they did for this town long forgotten. Many town residents don’t even know these mills exist.

“In the years before the Harwick brothers immigrated to the United States, Edgar had lived outside of England for a number of years, working as a blacksmith’s apprentice in Austria owned by a man I only know by the surname, Schmidt. I don’t know what drove him there, or what it was he did, but what I do know is it was there that Edgar developed his inspiration for what he would later accomplish.

“Anyways, Edgar had arranged for a private shop for him to be built before the construction began. Thus, before the mill even opened, Edgar began experimenting with making little toy animals, if you can consider them toys. He spent many a long night, as well as company time and resources, experimenting and modifying his own technique from what that Austrian fellow had taught him many years prior. He had set up his workshop, here in the mill, roughly right above your room here, actually, and spent more and more of his time there, making toy animals. You see, Edgar was never fond of the textile industry to begin with, it was Herbert who really drove the business forward, Herbert who had the vision and the work ethic. Though Edgar had gone along with it for a time, he had a different vision in using the company’s success to help fulfill his dream. And what Edgar saw as his own dream, Herbert saw as a useless hobby. He argued that the toys would net the company no money and that there would never be any money in it.

“You see, as detailed as they were, they weren’t statues of bronze or gold or beautiful sculptures carved from marble, Herbert saw them as cheap knock-offs of the real deal, kind of like how we view Chinese products these days, if you will. What they were actually made of, I can’t say. But no one was going to pay any kind of money for what Edgar was trying to do, and in that regard, Herbert was absolutely right.

“But he continued on in private, working only at night when his brother had gone home, until at last, he had his first success. This very mouse was the very first toy he made, sometime around 1904, and he gave it to my grandfather, Benjamin, when he was only a young lad of five or six. Needless to say, Herbert found out that his brother had indeed continued to work on his toy-making, supposedly saying what Edgar was doing was disturbing, and threatened him. He woud have to dismantle his workshop, or get ejected from the company altogether. Edgar begged for him to reconsider, but he did not, and he was given a week to comply.

“Herbert died in an accident, right here in the mill only a few days later, before the news of the disagreements between the brothers could become more public knowledge. And though Edgar was never considered in any investigation, some of us know better. That he murdered his own brother so he could pursue his dream,” she smiled softly, as if condoning her great-grandfather’s actions, and Kelly got an uneasy feeling from that smile, but brushed it off. She was intrigued.

“Go on,” Kelly said, leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs.

“I’m not sure I should. You see, most of the rest can only be considered a rumor. Little fact meddled with mostly fiction. I will go on, but only if you promise to keep this between just us girls.”

“I’m not a journalist. I won’t be twisting your words and reporting it to the world the way I want them to see it.”

“Very well then,” she cleared her throat. “What I do know is that a few weeks later, Edgar’s very first human statue was produced, that of none other but the late Herbert Harwick. He’d done it out of spite, of course, but he’d done it nonetheless, and he realized that if he couldn’t do it to make money, he would at least do it for his own enjoyment, and no one was there to stop him or tell him what to do. Rumor would have it that he exhumed Herbert’s body, and used his very body as the foundation for the statue, covering him in some kind of tar that made him look and feel like a metallic statue when it hardened. It was said that was how all of his products were made, and was how a novice like himself with little metal-working experience was able to make such accurate and detailed works of art. Ignorance at it’s best, of course, for no one could possibly accept that he knew something they did not. It was even said that he went around, murdering those he didn’t like or who got in his way and turned them into statues. Rubbish, of course, but it does make a good story, as morbid as it may be.”

There was a loud bump coming from above them, as if a table had fallen over. Kelly raised her nearly empty tea mug with an expression on her face that said ‘see what I mean?’ But the expression on Melinda’s face remained solemn, one that seemed to blame Kelly for the interruption of her story, not the noise that had actually caused it.

“Anyways, Herbert had left the business in good shape, and it was able to run with minimal effort from Edgar thereafter. Regardless of how they were actually made, he continued to make human statues, mostly of random people, or maybe people that never existed at all. He did make them of both his wife, who died of the flu, and teenage daughter, who drowned, both of whom sadly passed before his time. Edgar died in November 1920, a few months before the birth of his grandson, my father, also an Edgar. He left the business, and the secrets of his hobby, with my Grandfather, Benjamin. It was he who made the statue of Edgar himself, the very one that now sits in my lobby, along with that of Herbert, Edgar’s first statue. And though Ben too made several others and carried on the tradition for a time, he died suddenly in a car accident in 1929, thirteen years before I was born. Coupled with the Great Depression, Harwick Brothers began it’s rapid downwards spiral and was closed for good in 1932, long before my young father could learn the ways of things. So the business died with my grandfather, as did the family tradition in making these beautiful statues. But they’re all still here, a testament to the will of Edgar Harwick.”

Kelly was wide-eyed and Melinda had a look of satisfaction about her.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure that story won’t allow you to rest easier or help you get over your cold, any time soon, but truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve told anyone the full story and I feel better after telling it. Thank you for listening, and thank you for finding Wiggles.”

“Oh,” Kelly said, assuming she was referring to the mouse. “Sure thing.” She was going to ask Melinda how she knew she was feeling crappy, but supposed between the bags under her eyes and the sniffling, her body spoke for itself. Melinda was a sharp woman who didn’t miss a beat, even if she pretended to.

“I’m sorry, I came here to check up on you. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Kelly had already mentioned the noises, had already gotten an unsatisfactory answer and probably the best one she was going to get without going up there herself. And now that she heard the story, she really didn’t want to ask why there were noises coming from where Edgar’s private shop used to be. Or perhaps, still was. She decided to mention the windows instead. “It’s drafty in here, even with the heat cranked up. It’s always cold downstairs, and the draft actually blows my hair when I’m walking up the stairs. And in the upstairs windows, these ones here, there are actually gaps in-between the window frame and the brick walls in places.”

Melinda paused, as if considering. “If your mother ever taught you how to eat, you might welcome a little breeze,” she said, a thin smile forming on her lips. Kelly wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult, but decided it had been Melinda’s idea of a joke, and that it was probably meant to be both. Kelly smiled softly, unsure if she was supposed to or not, before Melinda continued. “I’ll ensure your windows get some fitted plastic molding to help resolve your issue. That should definitely warm it up in here some, it certainly did for Mr. Johnson down the hall, who complained of the same issue last winter. I do apologize for the inconvience. Is there anything else?”

“No. No, I guess that’s it really. I’m just…well, I’ll get used to it.”

“Yes, Kelly. Moving into a new and unfamiliar place is never easy. Despite whatever may be troubling you in your life, such a drastic change in lifestyle so suddenly can be a shock to the body. Especially here. It’s like taking a step back into history, to over a century ago. It certainly gives me that vibe, and you’re probably getting it too, whether you know it or not. But you’ll settle quite nicely. It might take a month or two, but you will.”

“You’re probably right,” Kelly said.

“I must get going,” Melinda said. “I’ll just leave Wiggles here with you for collateral. You keep him safe for now, and when your little draft issue is resolved, I will come and reclaim him. Deal?”

“Uh, yeah. Deal.” They shook on it, and Kelly wanted to tell her to take the damn rodent with her, but held back. She did want to have her windows fixed before winter came, and thought that rejecting the notion may offend Melinda and she would freeze to death this winter.

Kelly opened the door for her guest, to which she was not uttered a thanks, and Melinda was gone as swiftly as she had come. Sighing in relief, Kelly dead-bolted the door, top and bottom, and looked at the mouse that was once again in her hands. It had a very eerie presence to it now, and she strongly considered running down to the lobby and giving Melinda the mouse back, telling her how she wasn’t worthy of such a historical artifact or something to that effect.

She had never opened the inconveniently-placed hatchway above the landing of the stairs before, but decided now would be an ideal time.

Standing on the desk chair she placed on the landing, Kelly began prying at the hatch, and found it was more stubborn than she had anticipated. Alas, after several moments, the wooden hatchway door popped open and she was greeted with a blast of cool air.

The claustrophobic crawlspace was just big enough for her to crawl through and turn around on her hands and knees, if she so desired, and though it couldn’t go too far, she was unable to see exactly how far back it went without a light, and it did not have a switch built in that she could see. She couldn’t think of a more suitable place for a creepy little mouse, so she popped it in and, with less difficulty than it took to remove it, put the hatch cover back on, making sure it was nice and secure before she stepped back, satisfied. This way it would be both protected and out-of-sight. She could use the former as an excuse if Melinda ever came by asking where it was.

Outside, the storm began to pick up, and Kelly realized just how sleepy she was. She eyed the reading chair in the corner and made her way over, and snuggled into the chair, throwing the blanket on top of her. She listened to the rain pattering against the windows, and for the first time since she moved in, she slept for more than eight hours.

*****
The loud noise of something crashing onto the floor had woken her out of a sound sleep, and Kelly sat up in the chair with a start, knocking the book resting in her lap onto the floor. The apartment was almost completely dark, the little light the storm allowed through the windows barely enough to light up the room more than a foot from the wall. Save for the light from the microwave clock, she could see nothing on the opposite side of the apartment where she’d thought the noise had come from.

Kelly listened hard for a moment, without moving, and not for the first time that day, she had the sense that she was being watched. But after a brief moment of waiting and hearing nothing but wind and rain against the windows, she risked getting out of the chair. She stretched her arms and legs, placing herself in front of one of the windows as she did so, and she started shivering. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she nervously toyed with the zipper at her neck, and turning towards the floor lamp in the opposite living room corner but she knew she was more likely to trip over her crap than reach the lamp without injuring herself. She headed towards the kitchen instead, her eyes seeing well enough so that she only bumped into one box, the one that contained the rest of her books, on the way there, cursing to herself as she did so.

Turning on the overhead light in-between the sink and the small island, she looked around the kitchen to see what had fallen. Whatever it was had been too loud and too close to be in the room above her, whatever it was, it was somewhere here in apartment 123. But there was nothing on the kitchen floor that looked out of place. She poured herself a glass of water, leaning against the counter. It ws just her mind over-exaggerating the noises she was hearing, making her think they were something other than they actually were. Placing the glass into the sink, she decided nothing might make her feel better than some time out of this apartment. It was too late for the pool and exercise room to be open, but just a nice walk up and down the halls might be good therapy.

Flicking off the kitchen light and the stairwell light on, she bent down at the top of the stairs to put her sneakers on, and then stopped short when she saw the black hole in the wall to her left, level with her head.

Her eyes shifted up a little to where the dark hatchway was now opened, then down at the landing where the panel lay, and swallowed hard. She had put the panel in quite securely, she was certain, and she froze in fear, unable to look directly at the hole in the wall for a second look. She didn’t only feel someone was in there, watching her, she knew. And they..or it…was done hiding.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw two large hands emerge from the dark hole, gripping either side of the hatchway, and the low-pitch grunt was enough to confirm she wasn’t going crazy and that was what freed her legs from their paralysis.

She dashed towards the door, a mere five feet in front of her. She undid the two deadbolts faster than she had ever done anything in her life, and though the doorknob turned in her hand, the door refused to open. Something was blocking it. She screamed in terror as she pulled on the knob as it slowly began to budge as the thing heavily walking up each step, breathing loudly. Then the thing was right behind her.

The cold hand got hold of the back of her jacket collar, pulling her off her feet and away from the door with supernatural strength and speed. Kelly struggled, swinging her arms wildly, knocking something out of the attacker’s hand as she did so, the object falling onto the tile. Without loosening it’s grip, her attacker slammed her body on the ground at the top of the stairs, where she had paused to put her shoes on. It quickly managed to get both arms pinned behind her back, and kept her body forced to the ground, his inhumanly gigantic hand wrapped almost entirely around the circumfurance of her neck. Unable to breathe, Kelly did have her legs free and kicked him in the back frantically, but he seemed unaffected, and despite her urge to panic, she knew it would only be a waste of her energy.
There was something on the ground to the left only a foot away from her face, and despite her situation, she was aware she had knocked something out of his hands, and had hope that it was a knife or something she could use as a weapon.

And when she saw it, she realized it was not a weapon at all. It was the mouse. The thing must have found it in the crawlspace. If she could wiggle her left arm free, she could grab it, and maybe, just maybe drive it’s face into his eye or something, giving her enough time to escape his deadly grasp. Ushering what little strength remained within her, she managed to free her arm and she went for it, but six inches before she could even reach the mouse, his much larger hand grabbed her by the wrist and held her arm there, incidentally knocking the mouse further away, causing it to roll right-side up.

The mouse had a chip in it’s back, just above the tail, assumably forming when it had fallen onto the tile, and Kelly’s already wide eyes grew wider still. Even in the low light, she could see the unmistakable strands of hair where it had cracked open.

Kelly’s senses rapidly began to fade, and as she slipped into unconsciousness, her discovery of the secrets the mouse revealed the last thought she would ever have. Long after she was still, the big man kept his grip firm around her neck, the dead girl’s wide eyes remaining transfixed on the mouse.

The massive, calloused hand gently scooped up the mouse and held it in the palm of his hand, staring at it with equal awe and respect as Melinda had earlier that day, tenderly rubbing the crack with his finger. After a long moment of doing so, he carefully placed the fine specimen in his pocket.

In the following hours, throughout apartment 123 and 121, if either had a tenant, mysterious noises could be heard between bouts of hollowing wind. In the walls behind the kitchen of 123, the sounds of something dragging across wood, the creaking of a door behind the hatchway that was once again covered as it had been before, and the noise of someone heavy ascending a staircase. And amongst sounds produced by the rattling of windows caused by heavy winds and the creaking of pipes, one could also hear the sounds from a room that hadn’t been heard in many long years.

*Two Months Later*

Richard Jones stepped off the treadmill and sat on the bench in the corner of the room, fetching his his towel, wiping the sweat from his brow. He’d only been here for a few days, but the exercise room was something he was certainly going to get used to.

Richard bent down next to the statue in the exercise room. It was of a young woman in a sweatsuit doing a torso stretch, with one hand behind her back, the other stretched across her body, and one leg bent up over the other, which lay flat. He studied the face, and the very detailed clothing the life-like statue was wearing. Though the girl was pretty, the statue gave him the heebie-jeebies.

He supposed he was going to have to get used to it if he was going to be sharing the room with her every time he came to exercise, but if it were up to him, he’d throw every last one of the damn things in the dumpster.

Richard threw the towel over his shoulder, grabbed his gym bag, and headed back to apartment 123.

Credit To – P. R. Harving

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