Born Dead

October 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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On my sixteenth birthday, just after I had blown out the candles on a fairy cake, my mother told me that I was born dead.

“I’m so happy that you made it,” she said.

I pulled the fork out of my mouth.

“What?”

“Oh,” she said. “I guess we never told you. If not for aunt Kirah you wouldn’t even have made it through your first day.”

Aunt Kirah. Nurse Kirah.

My mother’s contractions started in her lunch break, two months early. She was at the hospital twenty minutes later and another hour after that she pushed my head out of her body.

Like most babies, I didn’t breathe. The doctor gave me a light slap, like for all babies. Another light slap, like for some babies. Then a stronger slap.

At that point my mother started screaming. A thick stream of blood ran out of her lower body. The doctor handed me over to a young nurse who tried another slap and then quickly passed me on to a 24 year old nurse. Nurse Kirah.

Kirah wrapped her mouth around mine and blew air into my nose. She used two of her fingers to quickly massage my chest. She paused, blew another gust of air into my lungs and kept massaging. Over and over again.

My mother stopped screaming. They managed to stop her bleeding too.

They told nurse Kirah to stop the cpr. They said it was hopeless. The doctor tried to pull her hand away from my small and still chest. When that didn’t succeed he declared me dead.

Two days after my sixteenth birthday I met Kirah again. To me she had always been aunt Kirah, never nurse Kirah.

“The world just disappeared,” she said. “It was like there was only you and me and my whole life seemed to have led to that moment.”

She took a bite of the fairy cake and smiled.

“It’s strange, but I don’t even remember moving my fingers or giving you mouth-to-mouth. I just wanted to save you and in that moment nothing else mattered, not even my own life. I just knew you would live.”

“Even when everyone told you to stop?”

Kirah nodded.

“Even then. I knew that you would live and I would have done anything just to make you take that first breath.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s okay. I’m happy that I did. Make sure you bring good to the world.”

Three days after my sixteenth birthday I announced to my parents that I would become a nurse. By the time I turned seventeen they had convinced me to become a doctor instead.

Studying medicine was the most difficult time of my life – or at least the most difficult time that I remember.

Before I gave them a tour of the grounds my parents had never even entered a lecture hall. They had supported me in school, but universit was different and when my trouble with deadlines and stacks of learn-this-by-heart sheets started they didn’t know how to help.

Aunt Kirah did know. She came and showed me the best books. She taught me mnemonics for the most important bones and muscles. She even taught me how to take proper notes and where to sit in the lecture hall – not in the first two or three rows so you don’t get picked on, but in the first third of the hall.

“The ones in the back,” Kirah said, “Are either shy or don’t want to listen. As a doctor you shouldn’t be shy and as a smart girl you should want to listen. It’s not cool to sit in the back. It’s the seats of those that want to chat and gossip or sleep. It’s the seats of those that want to fail and it’s not cool to fail.”

I would be lying if I said my grades were great. But I never failed an exam and my grades were high enough that, when my first placement went well, they allowed me to join the neonatology specialisation. It felt like the right thing to do, the right thing to give back.

When I graduated I had three parents to watch my hat fly. There were my parents, of course, and aunt Kirah sat to the left of my mom with a big smile on her face.

Kirah also helped me get my first job – in her hospital. In the hospital in which I was born dead.

She showed me the way around and introduced me to the other nurses. Aunt Kirah told me how to learn the most and how to handle those wrinkly, small and fragile humans with care, but she also scolded me with her soft voice whenever I handled a newborn too roughly or made decisions that she thought were not ideal.

Just for one year I had that pleasure. I wish I would have thanked her more often.

The doctor’s life is hard. You have to be calm and compassionate to your patients all day. That life doesn’t allow you to take rest and think of yourself. But most of all it doesn’t give you time to sit back and see all the other people in your life that would need your compassion.

I knew that her husband had died long ago, but aunt Kirah never wore a sad face. I also heard the rumors but with my thoughts on the patients I quickly discarded those words from my mental stack.

“Unhappy.”

“Miscarried.”

“Lonely.”

“Can’t have children.”

“Always just at work.”

I always asked her how she was and she always said she was fine. A whole year and I didn’t listen.

She was standing behind me while I was giving advice to a soon-to-be mother. I felt her hand on my shoulder and then she pulled it away.

“… and we even offer a water birth, if …”

The patient turned white.

“Oh my god,” the patient said. “Oh my god.”

A “What?” left my mouth but before she could answer I heard the heavy thud behind me.

Aunt Kirah’s arms and legs were twitching, then cramped. Her lower jaw was pulled down and her eyes turned inside.

Seizure.

We gave her muscle relaxants but her mouth never closed again.

Kirah was in that bed for a week. There were so many flowers that even the second table didn’t suffice.

There were always people in her room, holding her hand and saying kind words. Only when I said that I was a doctor and needed privacy, then they would leave and I would sit down and cry with my head on her chest.

When she fell her head had hit the floor. An aneurysm. Brain dead.

I hadn’t paid attention to that hand on my shoulder; to that hand pulling on my coat.

After a week her doctor made the decision to pull the plug.

“Please don’t,” I said.

He looked at her face.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But you know she’s dead already.”

That afternoon my parents came. Kirah’s sister and her two nephews too.

One after the other a slow procession of nurses and doctors went through the room to squeeze her hand or kiss her forehead.

All except my parents and her sister and nephews left. I was the one that pulled the plug.

There is no sound like that steady, long beep. No sound where you hope so much that it would sound different.

A week later I emptied her locker. Another nurse, one around Kirah’s age, came into the room while I was folding a blue sweater.

The nurse looked around the room, then quickly approached me. She held a file towards me. It had Kirah’s name on it and a patient number.

“We shouldn’t give this out,” she said. “But I think you might want it.”

“Why?”

“You will see.”

That night, with the basket of Kirah’s possessions on a chair and a glass of sour white wine on the table, I opened that file.

There were not many pages of the first years. Just her profile and insurance data. A few standard tests.

I felt a stone in my stomach when I saw the pregnancy test. Positive.

There were several more lab results. An admission sheet. One word was scribbed in red letters at the top of the page.

“Miscarriage.”

My training took over. I looked through the data on the page and didn’t find a cause. For nearly half an hour I read through the sheet and the lab results stapled to the yellow cardboard. All results seemed fine. She had been admitted in the afternoon with pain and bleeding, but there didn’t seem to be a cause.

There was an operation report too. They removed her uterus.

I sank the file on the table and felt tears roll down my cheeks.

I had never listened. I had never wondered why she was alone.

That’s why she had always cared for me so much. She had saved me. She had given life to me. I had been her replacement child.

I took the glass and raised it.

“I would have done anything just to make you take that first breath,” she had said.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

It was in that moment, when my eyes were somewhere on the ceiling and the cold of the glass touched my lips.

The page had turned back to the page with the red letters at the top.

My eyes moved back to the page. I looked at the large scribbled word with the capital M. My eyes moved down the page. Then I saw the date.

My birthday.

Credit To – Anton Scheller

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Early From Work

October 7, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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Margaret had, as usual, been left to the confines of her bedroom. With her father working the night shift and her mother ill with pneumonia, she didn’t have anyone to talk to. The only noise was the ticking of the clock, the slight humming of the radiator in the corner, and her own thoughts.

She did not sleep well for a nine year old. School was not hard. Life at home was fairly quiet. No reason to be stressed. But something inexplicable always seemed to occupy her mind. As if it would never seem to cease generating irrelevant questions and thoughts. “I wonder how black bears always manage to-”

A small bump in the kitchen downstairs, clearly audible from her bedroom, interrupted her mental tangent. It was most likely her cat Sid harassing a mouse. Her door was cracked a bit after all. he was a noisy pet.

She began to drift off to sleep, the time on the analog clock read 2:27, dimly lit by a streetlamp through the semi closed blinds of her window. The smell of the old house relaxing her.

She awoke again, unsure of the time, due to the fact that the street lamp must have gone out. The city’s power grid was very inconsistent. The usual rhythm of the small two-story home was interrupted once again by the noisy cat down stairs. “Oh Sid!”, She grumbled. Margaret sat up and turned on the lamp on next to her bed, to read the time. As soon as the switch on the light clicked, the thumping in the kitchen ceased. The clock read 3:48. “That’s interesting.” She thought. The cat must have heard the light turn on and refrained from bumping around. Then the realization struck her. The cat was not down stairs. He had been curled up against the radiator this entire time.

Maggie was about to call for her mother to complain about the obnoxious random bumping in the kitchen. But before she said anything, she stopped herself. It would be terribly inconsiderate to wake her sick mother before the break of dawn to complain about an old house making noise.

She turned the light out and curled up in her blankets. Some time had passed. The bumping did not re-occur. However, she did hear, the side door opening down stairs and the footsteps of an average weight man. Her father must be home early. He wasn’t due back home for another hour and a half. It was about four AM in mid winter so the sun was no where near the horizon. There was a long pause in his movement until his light foot steps moving up the creaky old stair case broke the silence and grew closer to her room. It was unusual that he came to visit Maggie when he arrived from work. As the sound of the grown man treading down the hall towards her room, she sat up in the pitch darkness. The doorknob turned and the door opened. “Hey, Dad.” she said.

There was no reply. She couldn’t even see his silhouette. Just then the street lamp flickered back on again, lighting the room enough through the blinds to see his shape. But to her horror, what stood in the doorway before her did not even resemble her dad. Or a human. She was in shock. She couldn’t move. A squeaky sounding “whaaa?” Came from her. She was paralyzed. And by the time Margaret had found the voice to scream, it was too late.

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“Don’t ever let them in.”

October 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I am terrified of the dark. My grandmother, on the other hand, had an affinity for the dark. She loved and enjoyed the dark so much that most windows in her house were walled shut and the few that remained were, except for rare occasions like family visits, blacked out with several layers of black curtains.

It was only when I was about 16 that I realized that those two, her love and my fear of the dark, were connected.

When I was small I was, supposedly, very hyperactive. My mother never managed to control me and my father only did so on those rare occasions when he threatened me with punishments. But I loved my grandparents and, as my parents, said, I always behave right when my grandmother was around. Accordingly my parents dropped me many times at my grandmother’s place so that they themselves could have a calm weekend.

I was 8 years old when she died. At that time I was already scared of the dark – except, of course, when my grandparents were around.

Those eight years I stayed many times over. I remember vividly how I played with my grandfather and uncle Owen in the darkness. We had our special games, like a noise-based version of hide and seek which only worked when the house was particularly quiet and my grandfather taught me how to carve wood into spoons and flutes with just my sense of touch.

I remember it exactly – the way their faces were lightly visible in the dark but their eyes always penetrated through the thickest curtains of darkness. They were bright white, as if they were glowing from the sindise – with just a black pupil at the center.

My grandmother was always working around the house – cooking and baking for me, cleaning or tidying or preparing the beds for the night. The room always felt warmer when she was there and so, usually, i asked my grandfather and uncle Owen to play with me in the room that she was in.

Those weekends I never missed the light. Even my dreams were, often, just noises and smells and textures and shapes – never colors or visible objects. Still today I can navigate perfectly in the dark. And still today I can see very well in the dark and around my 16th year of life I concluded that my strong vision at night was the cause for my paralyzing fear of the dark.

The fear had been there as long as I remember and on most nights I slept with a nightlight. On those weekends with my grandmother the darkness had never been a problem. Cuddled up to her warm body I never felt fear and I never minded the figures that seemed to stand in the room, all around my bed.

They only came with the darkness. Never when there was a slight flicker of light, just with the absolute blackness of a night in a room without windows.

My grandmother called them the ‘Outcasts.’ She said that they were family and friends, former close ones, that wanted to return from the other side. She taught me again and again that I should never let them return.

I remember the way she said it. We were lying in the bed, my head cuddled up to the warmth of her shoulder. Somewhere behind me my grandfather was snoring and when I turned I could see his face glowing in the darkness, with his white skin it was even more visible than that of my grandmother.

“You can see the difference in their faces,” she said. “Their faces are darker. But if you really want to make sure then you have to look at their eyes. If their eyes are as black as their face or even darker then they are on the wrong side; they are dead and and they should stay that way no matter how much you miss them.”

“So they can’t come?”

“They can’t come unless you allow them to come.”

“What if I let them in?”

“Don’t ever let them in.”

Black on black, but I still saw them as clear as a pencil line pressed hard on a piece of paper, the type of pencil line that doesn’t just color the paper but rather pushes itself into the paper.

That night my grandmother fell asleep quickly but I, in the safety of her arms and with my grandfather behind me, watched the figures. They were gesturing and moving, voiced words and sometimes fought against one another; they pushed each other to the side and backwards, fighting for a spot on the borderline to life.

I saw their figures and I recognized their sizes and hairstyles, often I even thought I knew which clothes they were wearing. I never asked my grandmother about that, but for myself I concluded those were the ways they looked in the moment that they stepped from life to death.

With my grandmother I was safe. But without her the nights were terror. They came closer and they seemed more energetic, more violent, more likely to break through that barrier. Maybe they were closer because I was closer to letting them in, half out of fear and half out of curiosity.

The nightlight was my savior, but in those nights when my parents forgot to plug the light in there was no salvation. They stood above me with their dark figures pressed into the darkness and those eyes so dark that they seemed to extend deeper into space; as if they were hollow.

With 16 I tried to cure myself off my fear by “shock therapy.” I threw myself into one dark night after the other but rather than improve the situation got worse.

There was one figure particularly pushy. A smaller one with wild, curly hair and the darkest eyes of them all. I always knew who she was. She had only been there since I was 8.

The conclusions of my 16th year made too much sense to be overturned. I gave up my defense and accepted my fear and eternal dependence on nightlights. When I moved to university I even chose an apartment with a street lamp outside so that the light would certainly come through my window and keep the figures at bay.

With 23 I learned the truth about my fear.

I was at my mother’s place. We were at our second bottle of wine and a soothing melancholy, the type that you can see in a French actress’s eyes, had enriched the air. Somehow we came to speak about my grandmother.

“I miss her,” my mother said.

“Me too,” I said. “Sometimes I still dream of her cookies and when I wake up I can nearly taste the vanilla.”

“Oh,” she said. “Your grandfather loved those.”

“Did he? I don’t remember him eating any?”

My mother laughed.

“You were probably too young to remember that.”

“Not really. I remember playing with him.”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yeah. I played with him all the time.”

“Really, you remember that?”

“Of course.”

“Wow,” she said. “I’m really happy for that.”

“Me too.”

“I always thought you wouldn’t remember him because you were so young.”

I took a sip from my glass and let the bitterness fade from my mouth.

“I don’t remember going to his funeral.”

“Of course not,” she said. “We left you with a friend and went alone.”

“What? Why?”

“We thought you wouldn’t understand it. You were just 2 when your grandfather and uncle Owen had their accident.”

When I was 16 I thought I was scared of the figures standing at the borderline to our world.

Since I’m 23 I know that I’m not actually scared of those figures at the borderline. I’m scared and wondering how many others were allowed back inside.

Credit To – Anton Scheller

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My Grandfather Knew Why We Run from the Dark

October 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I always admired my grandfather’s courage. He had fought in the war on what we nowadays think of as the wrong side, but he had never been a believer in the cause. Sometimes a rifle is pressed in your hand and your choice is either to fire and worry about being shot from the front, or not to fire and be sure that you’ll be shot from behind.

He was young when he was drafted, barely 16. Before he left he gave his first kiss and a promise to a girl. She waited five years until the end of the war, surviving on just five or six letters that she kept as treasure.

The war ended but even the defeat was celebrated. Not openly, but in the hearts and eyes of the people. People never wage war, it is politicians that wage war. No soldier that ever stood in the line of a rifle believes that war is heroic, only those divorced from reality, those that sit in tidy offices, those dream of war.

Soldiers came home with thin bodies and bandaged limbs. They hugged their wives and women before they fell onto beds and relived the front in dreams that made them toss and turn and wake up from their own screams.

His girl watched with tears in her eyes while her sister and mother each welcomed their men home. She heard the men scream at night and each scream lodged a stone in her throat. She prayed that the man she had kissed did not have to scream and then she prayed that the man she had kissed was alive enough to scream. Then she prayed for forgiveness for her selfishness.

The other men, when they came, were often so thin that their women, when they welcomed them, were scared of hugging them too tightly for their spines or ribs might break. Especially those that came from the East were thin, the skin of their faces sunken into their cheeks.

Two years after the war a scarecrow knocked on her door. An old man, forty at least, the arms thin like bare bones, a hard and dirty beard that had long stopped growing for want of nutrition and his skin a gray with blue and black patches. His lips stretched into a black-toothed smile. She stepped back into the house. The door was closing fast.

“Wait,” he said. “It’s me.”

Even after hot meal and shower and shave she still recognized nothing except his eyes and the shape of his nose. It took two weeks before she thought that he was true and another two before she was sure.

Sometimes, on those days where she took him along to the market, the sellers called him her father. The man in the leather chair had to ask her twice and then demand another witness to make sure that he was the man he claimed to be and not his father or uncle or another older relative.

The war had stolen his youth.

When my grandfather spoke about the war he never spoke about his experiences. He spoke in the abstract, the way you speak about a movie or a book, not even the way you speak about history.

“They were overrun. Hundreds of kilometers, there was no resistance at all. Then General Winter, as the Russians call it, attacked.”

“The troops still got further. There were villages, poor people. It wasn’t a choice; the supplies weren’t coming. Everything was taken. All those that didn’t run were shot.”

Sometimes he talked about the early phases of the war, when everybody was hopeful, when things were going far too well and easy. He always said, not with pride but in a matter-of-fact way, that the war would have been won if it had been against one or two or five countries, rather than against half the civilized world.

But my grandfather refused to speak about the things that happened at the end and after the war. When he was asked he didn’t reply. He only shook his head and looked away.

My grandmother said that she heard strange things when he was asleep. She heard him begging for food and water, for a blanket. She heard him beg that someone stop. She heard him beg that someone let him go. She heard him beg for forgiveness.

As long as I can remember I asked my grandfather about the war. Despite his warnings, for me those were stories of adventure and courage. I only heard when he spoke about trenches and gunfire, not when he spoke about catching rats for food and drying puddle water and trousers so soiled that it was better to rub them clean with mud and dry them in the rare moments of sun than to leave them as they were.

I didn’t understand that my questions hurt him, that I forced him to relieve a time that he would have given an arm to forget.

And yet, all those times when I made him tell stories in his odd unemotional and descriptive way, he refused to speak about the end. Once I baited him enough to say that he did not remember how he got home; sometimes riding on trains and sometimes by foot, but always just following the direction of the setting sun until he stumbled upon street signs that he finally could read.

He came from far in the East. Places he either did not remember or did not want to remember. And every time I asked his stories ended with the village that they pillaged, where they condemned men and women and children to death because they themselves did not know how else to survive.

As said, I always admired my grandfather for his courage. He paid that war with his youth and on his return decided that, for this heavy price, he at least wanted to be a good man.

I could recount countless times when I saw him, an old man by then, chase down young rascals that had egged a house or stolen a handbag. He jumped in when neighbors needed help. He passed a burning house and thought he heard a child caught still inside. He told me to stay where I was and without a thought slammed his shoulder into the door until it broke from its hinges and he himself disappeared in black smoke. In the end there was no child that needed to be saved. My mother called him a fool for breaking his shoulder like that. For me he was a hero.

My grandfather taught me that we all dream of being courageous but that very few of us take our chance to be a hero when it is offered to us. In our lives we pass countless times where we could save, but we drive past and look for excuses. “I have to hurry home.” “It didn’t look that bad.” “Others were helping already.”

Being scared and comfortable is easier than being courageous. And to make ourselves feel good we imagine the heroic acts we would have done if we had had the time or if it had been that bad or if others hadn’t been there.

There was only one thing my grandfather was scared of. Dark rooms.

Their house had a basement but they rarely, if ever, used it. There were strong lights installed and the light switch was outside the basement door, but there was nothing inside except for old furniture never to be used again and a few old tires that should someday have made a swing.

My grandmother did not mind entering the basement, but he forbade her to use it.

“There are things,” he said. “That live in such darkness.”

At night he made sure that everyone else was upstairs and in their rooms. He turned the flashlight on and the living room lights off and, faster than he should have moved in his age, hastened up the stairs.

The guest room was right next to their bedroom. So many times and years I heard him run up those stairs, slam the door and breathe heavy air into his lungs. My grandmother never complained. She never told him that he had to stop or that he was risking his life.

She understood. She knew. He had told her.

My father’s parents had died in a car accident when I was young. For me they are a hazy memory, more photos than people. That might be why my mother’s parents were so important for me. They were my personal grandparents, the ones I had and the ones I loved.

They had always been very healthy. When I was young my grandfather still ran and played soccer with me. But in the last few years their age was beginning to take its toll. I noticed that they lost their ability to focus, then their ability to remember recent events, then their ability to remember me.

My grandmother and grandfather still followed their routine. They cared for themselves and didn’t need our help except for tax matters and other administrative duties that some government official had decided needed to be complicated. My parents visited often to make sure that the house was in order and food in the fridge. They kept me updated on my grandparents’ health and happiness.

For Christmas I finally managed to visit. It’s not a nice thing to admit but my parents and I – with my mother as her parents’ only child and me as my parents’ only child – made sure to be there and not have any other plans because we thought it might be the last Christmas that we would have together as a family. I was happy to see them and hug them again. I felt guilty, in a way, that I hadn’t provided any great-grandchildren yet and had not even a girlfriend or wife to present.

I was surprised how confused they were; that they did not remember who I was. My grandparents did not seem to remember my parents’ names either, but they still recognized their faces. I was a stranger, face and name alike and during the meals and songs and conversations I felt as if I was an intruder in bygone lives that they were reliving with glassy eyes.

It was the 26th of December. My parents and grandmother went to see the Christmas market. I stayed home with my grandfather and his aching knee to drink tee and play scrabble.

I was in the kitchen when he called out.

“Son!”

With the teapot I walked back into the living room. He sat in his armchair, upright, his eyes suddenly clear and right on me.

“Son!” he said again, loud and forceful.

“Yes?”

“Make sure the lights are on.”

“Sure, grandpa.”

I walked towards the light switch. His eyes followed me.

“They come when the lights are off,” he said. “You know that, right?”

“I’m not sure who comes, but I’ll keep the lights on for you.”

“They!”

His voice was not frail anymore; it thundered through the room.

“They come! Those things! I told you about them!”

I turned the light on.

“I don’t think you told me,” I said. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Don’t fool me, boy!”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, I told you. I know I told you. I taught you to keep the lights on.”

“You told me to keep the lights on, but you never told me why.”

There was anger in his face.

“Why? Why? I saw them and I saw what they do to us and you doubt me?”

“You saw things in the dark?”

“Three years I saw them. Three years they held me and the others.”

“I never heard about that.”

“Oh,” he said. “Then you should.”

That evening, in less than twenty minutes, my grandfather told me about his last years at the front.

One year before the war ended they were ordered to retreat. They fled in small groups through the countryside they had pillaged and burned just weeks before, past houses with the frozen dead still inside.

There was a church, he said, a large old church made of stone. It was the only building still intact in the village, the only place to seek shelter from the wind and cold.

They made a fire with old church benches and sank to their sleep right next to it. Seven men in total, two injured and moaning and the other five just scared and weak.

My grandfather said he woke up from screams all around him. The room was pitch black. The stone floor was moving under his body. He struggled to get on his feet – and only then realized that his feet were being held. The floor was still; his feet were being pulled.

Then he too screamed.

He said they were pulled down stairs. His weapon and knife were gone. Then he heard more people, moaning and screaming. A suffocating stench punched into his lungs.

He was thrown onto a heap of warm bodies. Something bit his leg and he kicked and a man screamed in pain.

The room was pitch black. Another man was thrown on him. A door fell shut and was locked.

He said they moved away from the heap of bodies, but the cold soon drove them to get closer. Every few minutes somebody screamed. He could hear flesh ripping and teeth grinding.

He said there must have been hundreds of people. He said they tried to hammer against the metal door and scream for help and the voice of an old man laughed at them from behind. He said in broken German that the door was thick and nobody there that could hear them.

But once every while the door opened. Something dark moved inside and when it came inside the room grew cold and the humans moved closer to one another. My grandfather said he felt the energy being drained from his body and a panic and dread rise in his soul.

Soon the dread started even before the door opened.

They all adapted. There was no problem with water. It ran occasionally down the walls and if it was not licked off it accumulated on the floor to join with the layers of excrement and sweat. He said that he tried to hold out, but that after days of hunger you choose desperate measures. He said that he never killed one there, that he only took pieces from those that had died or at least those that he thought had died.

Every few days more were thrown into the room. Every few days there was a struggle, some of the old against some of the new.

They tried to stay together, the brothers in arms that had fought together, but soon that too broke apart.

He said that some day the number of new people started decreasing. There were only a rare few and the numbers in the room dwindled. He sat for most of the time on a higher stone, one that the others seemed to not have found. He only climbed down when he knew that a struggle had ended, that one was dead, that something could be eaten.

But no matter the struggles, every time when the dread came and the door opened, they all huddled together. They all felt the same exhaustion and cold and panic in their souls.

And then, one day, long after no more new people arrived, when only three or four or five were left, there were footsteps outside. He was scared because he didn’t feel dread. The door opened and a man with a torch stood there. A gun fell from his hand and his mouth opened and he ran and scrambled up the stairs and he threw up while running.

The door was open. There was a glimmer of light from upstairs. That was how my grandfather left. He said he didn’t turn to look who or what he left behind. Something behind him scrambled up the stairs too, but he was the first to get out and he was the first to reach the forest and eat grass and bugs and other things that he found close to the ground.

He found a piece of cloth first, then a rotten uniform on a corpse and later, when he had scrambled far enough and when his strength returned, he found a village and stole a dry uniform from a laundry line and a bag of potatoes from the same place.

“I don’t know what they are,” he said. “But they live from the warmth and spirit we leave behind.”

I nodded.

“They live off us,” he said. “Do you understand? They need you to exist. They want to catch you. They want to drain you. They want that you forget about the light.”

“The light?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The light. They held us in the darkness. Three years they drained me and lived off me and made me do things I don’t even want to think again.”

He cleared his throat.

“And,” he said. “I know what that dread feels like. It is not like any other. It is at the core of your being, you feel it in your spine and back and gut. Three years I felt it and after that it never went away.”

“It never went away?”

“Of course it didn’t,” he said. “Because they always stay. They always wait. They will always be there, consuming what spirit you leave behind, and hoping that one day you become careless, that you forget about the light. And then they strike.”

I glimpsed outside, where the world was slowly turning gray.

“They are here, right now?”

My grandfather nodded.

“They wait,” he said. “They come and consume what we leave. But they hope for more. They hope that one of us grows careless and ignores the dread. They wait until one of us stays when the room is dark.”

We sat quietly, his eyes meeting mine.

“Okay,” I finally said.

“Good,” he said.

He nodded silently, then looked outside. A moment later his eyes seemed glassy again.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He turned to me and frowned.

“Who are you?” he asked.

It was the last conversation that I truly had with him. Since January his condition got worse, he talked about dead men. He spoke about hunger and fear. He asked for the girl that he had kissed when he was 16 and neither he nor she noticed that the girl sat right next to him, patting his hand.

I loved my grandfather. I miss him. I wish I had been there rather than a six hour drive away and that I could have taken care of him rather than leave him alone. I wish that it had been me or my parents and not the girl that waited seven years for his return that had to find him.

But most of all, and I know that sounds cruel and wrong and selfish, I wish that he would have died in his bed or in the hospital, during the day.

I wish so much that she didn’t have to find him in the morning, on the living room floor, with the flashlight off and his mouth wide open.

Credit To – Anton Scheller

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Away With The Fairies

October 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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It was the latest in a string of sweltering summer nights, where the air was thick with humidity and even the faintest breeze was an honest-to-God miracle. Outside, the lawn had withered to a sickly yellow, with earth showing through in intermittent patches like the branch of a tree peeking out from beneath its peeling bark. Although the clock above the sink read quarter of ten, the heat was still unbearable. The sun was winking out behind vistas of distant mountains, their jagged peaks silhouetted beautifully against the fiery red orb, yet its searing gaze still kept the residents of Los Alamos imprisoned within their homes. Peering outside was like viewing the world through an orange-tinted looking glass, dolls lay forgotten on dead grass, content to endure the sultry predations of Mother Nature with their plastic faces tightened in grimaces of silent displeasure. Shimmering waves of heat radiated above the deserted asphalt streets, daring any who were brave enough to come out, come out, and endure their blistering caress.

Wiping her forehead with the towel, Cara tossed it onto the draining board, turning away from the kitchen window and the view of the lifeless, washed-out landscape it offered.

Someone screamed from the living room, the sound soaring to a high-pitched crescendo before being abruptly cut off into an oppressive silence. Smiling to herself, Cara sauntered through the doorway, absent-mindedly twirling a single ashen ringlet of hair around her third finger. The white band where her wedding ring had been until last December still stood in stark contrast against her deeply tanned skin.

Dracula stood with his usual haughtiness and grace, a lithe young woman in his arms, her thin silk shift clinging to all the right places, accentuating the subtle curves of the female form with ease. Her head was tilted back, exposing the exquisite marble skin of her neck. The Prince of Darkness drew back his lips, revealing a pair of elongated canines; twins both sleek and deadly. Dracula bought his mouth down to the sweeping contour of her neck, baring those savage yet eloquent fangs in the moonlight-

‘Mum, no!’ Abby groaned, as the TV snapped off, shifting to an upright position on the sofa, ‘Turn it back on, turn it back on!’

‘You know the rule, Abs,’ Cara replied, ‘nine-thirty on a week night, no later.’

‘But Mary-Beth st-‘

‘Is your name Mary-Beth?’ Cara asked, continuing before Abby had a chance to reply, her voice soft but firm. ‘It’s on tape anyway, so you can watch the rest of it after school tomorrow.’ She shook her head. ‘I’ll never understand your fascination with those horrid films as long as I live.’

Forlorn and defeated, Abby jumped down from the sofa and headed for the foot of the stairs, before stopping to turn and look back at Cara. ‘Is he coming again tonight? Is he?’

Smiling, Cara hunkered down in front of her daughter, running a hand through Abby’s sandy curls. ‘I think, now that it’s finally out, he’ll come and take it straight away.’

Abby looked back at her with staunch defiance, that tell-tale glint of stubbornness beginning to show in her sapphire eyes. ‘I told you,’ she said, in an exasperated tone, ‘he came last night, but he didn’t stay. He’s angry with me now.’

Cara, although now a woman of thirty-two, remembered how it was being nine; old enough to know better, yet still clinging to the last vestiges of childhood magic, before they were swept away in the ensuing storm of teenage angst. Before she knew it, Abby would be more concerned with eye shadow and mini-skirts than Hammer horror and dolls. But for now, she was just Abs, her perfect princess.

‘Of course he isn’t sweetie,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a feeling he’s even more excited then you are.’

‘Promise?’

‘Promise. Now, give your mother a kiss goodnight,’ Cara looked down expectantly, and Abby dutifully obliged, kissing her on the cheek before throwing her arms around her, sending her mother tumbling onto her backside. Laughing together, mother and daughter, Cara hugged her tightly, sending her upstairs with a kiss on the nose and a reminder to brush her teeth.

Still smiling, Cara flopped down onto the sofa. Raising a child single-handedly was difficult, the long days at the factory hard, demanding work. But it was worth it for Abby, for her beautiful little girl. Give it half an hour and Abs would be asleep, then Cara would slip upstairs and replace the lost tooth with $5- from her conversations with the other mothers at work, she’d determined that this was the going rate for the first baby tooth. Lying down with her head on the armrest, Cara switched the TV back on, hoping to catch headlines on the ten o’clock news. She was asleep within minutes.

Upstairs, Abby finished brushing, flossed, changed into her pink My Pretty Pony pyjamas, and shut off the strip light above the cabinet. Now came the part she hated: turning off the bathroom light and dashing down the hall to her bedroom in the darkness.

Tonight, the sense of impending doom came not from the Frankenstein Monster, nor from the Mummy, raised from his tomb to lurk in the moonlit corridor beyond the door. No, this evening’s dread came courtesy of the Prince of Darkness himself. Surely he was waiting silently in the wings, to seize her as soon as she set foot out there, and steal her away to Castle Dracula, where she would be dragged down to the deepest depths of the yawning catacombs, or thrown to the salivating wolves that had menaced Mr Harker, their maws filled with razor-sharp teeth, ready to tear her to pieces and devour the remains.

Shuddering, Abby pulled the door open, took a deep breath, yanked the light switch off and ran. But there were no vampires, werewolves or bogeymen lying in wait tonight, and Abby threw herself into bed the second she crossed the threshold of her room, bundling herself under the covers even before the door slammed shut behind her. Fear immediately transmuted itself to safety. Here, in her own room, wrapped in her own duvet, she was safe from all the monsters on earth. She knew it, as surely as she knew who would visit her in her sanctuary later that night.

Him.

The Tooth Fairy.

He had been here last night, but Abby’s tooth had still been in her mouth then. Now, thanks to some subtle persuasion from her fingers, it lay beneath her pillow in a soft velvet pouch her mother had given her. Sliding one hand underneath to check, she was relieved to feel the soft material against her fingertips. Butterflies of excitement took flight in her stomach. But she had to sleep; after all, the Tooth Fairy only came once you were asleep- everyone knew that. With a perfunctory yawn, Abby flopped back onto her pillows, losing herself in the sweet, dreamless sleep with which the young are surely blessed.

***

It’s a beautiful summer day, the sun is warm and there is a gentle breeze drifting on the wind. Cara sits at the picnic bench, sorting through the food she packed for herself and Abby. She is just unwrapping some of the sandwiches -peanut butter and jelly, of course- when she hears Abby gasp.

Startled, Cara turns to look at her daughter. Abby, still with the string of her kite clenched firmly in one small fist, is just where Cara knew she would be. Only now, there is something else, standing at the edge of the tree line. Cara nearly screams, because for a second, she is sure that the shape in the foliage is humanoid: tall and thin, with an oversized head. But as soon as it steps out onto the verdant summer grass, she realises her mistake.
Standing less than five feet away from her daughter is an elk, its gnarled horns resplendent; its stance majestic and proud. Despite the natural grace of this creature, Cara feels that something isn’t right about it, that there is an underlying decay gnawing away at the flesh beneath that rugged fur. Abby takes a small step towards it, her scarlet summer dress standing in stark contrast to the elks deep brown hide, forming a surreal juxtaposition of man and nature. The elk raises its shaggy head, and Cara feels unreality wash over her in a crushing wave. Huge, empty black eyes stare back at her, absent of both emotion and warmth: twin pits of Stygian darkness.

It takes a step towards Abby; she in turn moves closer, letting the string of her kite slip through her fingers. Cara wants to shout at her, to pull her away from the not-elk, whatever it is. Instead, she finds her gaze drawn to the kite, drifting in lazy arcs across the pristine blue sky. Unable to tear her eyes away from its loops and swirls, she can do nothing except listen to her daughter scream, the dissonance carrying across the rolling hills surrounding them. The world around her begins to fade, colour and clarity blurring into an opaque darkness that enfolds her.

For several seconds Cara is disorientated. Where am I? She wonders. Why aren’t I at the park? There was something…an animal? Staring raptly around her, the murk of the living room begins to unfold, revealing all the old familiar faces: the television set her mother gave them for Christmas last year: the framed photos of Abby that adorn the walls: the bookcase in the corner crammed full of paperback romance novels.

It was just a dream. Of course it was just a dream.

Somewhere above her, a floorboard creaked ever-so-subtly.

Sitting upright, her hand steals unknowingly to the curls of her hair, wrapping them around slim, elegant fingers. Was Abby out of bed? Cara sits rigid in the gloom, straining her ears. Nothing. If Abby was out of bed, Cara knows she would have heard either the bedroom door open or the bathroom light. Instead, she hears only silence. Somewhere in Cara’s mind, a long-dormant warning siren begins to sound.

No, not silence: a slight, almost non-existent groan as the heat-warped floorboards shift against one another. Exactly as they would if someone were moving stealthily across them.

Now Cara understands: Abby is in danger. From what, or who, she doesn’t know. Only that her daughter, the most precious thing in the world, needs her. Without a second thought, Cara dashes to the kitchen, striking her hip on the counter in the semi-darkness. Stifling a grunt of pain, she flounders with the wooden block, her normally lithe digits fumbling against sleek metal handles. Without pausing for a split-second, she sprints to the foot of the stairs and hurtles upwards.

***

Abby opened her eyes, her mind shifting from sleeping to fully awake in a matter of seconds as she realised what had roused her from her slumber. Purple light filled her vision, and for a moment it was all Abby could see, before her eyes began to adjust. Now she could make out the tall figure, standing motionless beside the bureau. Swirling shapes of iridescence twirled gracefully around him like thin ribbons, and as the Tooth Fairy stepped forwards, Abby’s jaw dropped open in wonder.

Everything swam into focus with crystal clarity now: the ornate silver wand in his left hand, his right extended towards her in a gesture of grandeur: the way the air around him sparkled and shimmered: his regal attire, purple fit-for-a-king velvets complimented by a scarlet cloak trimmed with gold. He took another step towards her, bringing him almost to the edge of the bed. His aroma filled her nostrils now, calming and sweet; a meadow of flowers in full bloom, a forest floor on a breezeless summer eve. There was more, another taste that lingered subtly beneath the currents of air that eddied around him: the scent of Disneyland and new bikes; of puppies and ponies; of childhood dreams made reality. Although she was too young to fully appreciate it, he was darkly handsome, in an arrogant, aristocratic way, with deep auburn eyes to lose yourself in; able to melt the heart of any female foolish enough to gaze into them. He reminded Abby of the princes in the Disney cartoons her girlfriends liked so much: dashing and brave, always managing to rescue the imperilled princess in the nick of time, before sweeping her into his arms with a lingering kiss.

Sitting up in bed, Abby’s hand scrambled frantically under the pillow for her tooth, for a moment fearing it was lost, and that he would once more depart in anger. But no, her fingers closed around the familiar velvet pouch. Her heart beating a frantic tattoo against her ribcage, Abby leaned forward, pressing the hand holding the pouch gingerly into the Tooth Fairy’s palm. Only as his hand closed upon hers did their eyes meet, and for a fraction of a second beneath his brow were two open graves, yawning black abysses that loomed hollow and foreboding. Then the Tooth Fairy smiled, revealing perfect teeth whiter than sun-bleached bone. All was well again, and Abby squeezed his hand, smiling back.

***

With her heart somewhere in her throat, Cara took the last three stairs in a single stride. The door to Abby’s room was closed, and there was no immediate sign that anything was amiss. Yet Cara remained unconvinced as she covered the remaining distance of the landing: there was danger, no doubt about it, imminent and all too real. Her intuition screamed that it was so. Her mind swam with thoughts of home invasion, burglars or -God help her- sexual perverts. She grasped the brass handle, images of escaped mental patients and deranged psychopaths flitting before her eyes. Cara threw the bedroom door open, and the terror that had seeded itself in her breast unfurled in full, threatening to drag her down and drown her in unconsciousness.

The waxing moon hung low and pregnant in the sky and its baleful light streamed in through the picture-window, illuminating a grotesque scene no fear of sexual predators or prowlers could have prepared her for. Abby was sitting upright on the edge of the bed; duvet and sheets pushed roughly aside, her face was a blissful mask of appraisal. Cara’s gaze barely alighted on her daughter, however; it was the thing standing next to the bed which caused her breath to catch in her throat and her eyes to bulge in their sockets.

The grey man was tall even with a slight hunch; he -it- would have been forced to stoop had it entered through the door.

Of course, Cara already knew that it hadn’t.

It was naked and completely hairless; its skin, pockmarked and rough, unerringly similar to the hide of an elephant, was pulled taunt over an emaciated frame –Cara could see the grey man’s ribs, three on either side- and hideously concave chest. It had no genitalia that she could see, the area where its legs met simply curved upwards in a seamless continuation of the torso. In one hand it held a sinister metal rod, dull despite the moonlight that flooded the room. Several curved protrusions jutted diagonally from its length, revolving with a slow, menacing intent that made Cara’s blood run cold. In the other it held her daughters hand, its three fingers of such a length that they easily encircled the fragile limb, with several inches to spare.

The grey man’s inverted tear-drop shaped head swivelled like that of an owl to stare at her. Having a daughter like Abby, Cara had seen countless episodes of The X-Files and creature-features galore, yet none of those had come within a mile of portraying the stark emptiness of those huge, expressionless black eyes, so clinical, so emotionless and cold. Its nose was almost non-existent, the faintest hint of a triangular dent. Beneath it was a thin, rudimentary mouth, lipless and devoid of any discernible emotion. But its eyes- dear God, if she survived this, Cara knew that they would haunt her evermore.

Despite the sheer, undiluted horror she faced, one thought remained steadfast in her mind: Abby.

That thing is holding my daughters hand.

Holding the Forever-Sharp kitchen knife in front of her, she took a step towards the grey man, unsure of whether she could actually do anything, but knowing that she had to do something. It inclined its head to the right, assessing her as an inquisitive fox would an unlatched bin, and Cara fell to her knees. The stainless steel blade jumped from her hand and skittered away across the floor, coming to rest in the domain of shadows beneath the bed. There was something inside her head, crushing her mind with the force of hundreds, no, thousands of tons of pressure; the pain was unimaginable, and unbidden her hands flew to her face in a futile bid for release. Her daughter was forgotten and the grey man no longer mattered. There was nothing except the pain that flooded her, overwhelming her senses in a fusillade of suffering. She tore at her face, raking deep gashes that immediately welled with blood. Still the agony persisted, and her frantic digits turned their machinations to her eyes, gouging and tearing with the sheer ferocity of a rabid dog.

The last image to grace her retinas was that of her smiling daughter standing hand-in-hand with something straight from the set of a late night sci-fi flick. Then the world descended into blackness and her sight flickered out like a dying street light as the tips of two artificial nails tore through her visual cortex, and Cara’s world became nothing more than pain and darkness.

From the Los Alamos Herald, August 28th, 2001:

INVESTIGATION INTO
MISSING CHILD CONTINUES
Mother Held In Connection With Disappearance;
Police Fear Mental Instability

A thirty-two year old woman is facing scrutiny over the
disappearance of her nine-year-old daughter, after an
on-going FBI investigation revealed startling evidence of severe underlying mental disorders. Cara Moretz, a lifelong
resident of New Mexico, was hospitalized late Thursday night, after police entered her home in response to an anonymous 911 call. According to Richard Delbuana, a paramedic on-scene during the night, Moretz was found in a state of severe delirium and panic. ‘We -the attending officers, along with my partner and I- were forced to sedate her to prevent further self-mutilation; she was hysterical, raving about Martians, for Christ’s sake,’ said a shaken Delbuana, ‘there were empty red pits where her eyes should have been. Every time I close my eyes, I see that woman’s face without hers.’ The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived on scene Friday morning, and in less than forty-eight hours uncovered records indicating that Moretz may have suffered
from severe schizophrenia, paranoia and delusional episodes.
This raises difficult questions for the Los Alamos Department o-
Continued on Page 4

Credit To – Tom Farr

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3000 AD

September 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“What’s your story?” berated the man. It was dark, and the boy couldn’t see the man’s face, yet he could still tell it had a twisted smirk on it.

“What does it matter now?” whimpered the boy. His weakened mind wandered to the thought of his struggles, a long and terrible tale. He couldn’t help but to recall his life before this misadventure, not that terribly long ago, and how greatly even he had changed. Always a skinny fellow, the boy seemed impossibly lean and malnourished, with his shoulders stooped over and a face covered in the grime of mud, dirt, dried blood, and shit. He felt like he was about to pass out from lack of sleep, yet the rocking of the boat never failed to foil his hope of falling asleep and never waking up.

“I’ve been doin’ this for a long time, boy. I’ve found that everyone has a story, no matter how ugly. ‘Specially when they’re in your shoes, tremmblin’ and cryin’. S’you’re gonna die soons boy, you know that, so you got notin’ to lose. Give me a good laugh before the fun,” the boat’s driver snickered through the holes in his rotten teeth as his hand found forgotten food within his teeth. Disgusted and horrified, the boy closed his eyes. If it would shut the man up, he would talk.

“It was, as we were told, the beginning of another cycle around the Sun,” the boy told, “The leaders specifically called it the year 3000. They tried to tell us a century has passed since fire rained from the skies from our enemies. A century since the giant mountains made of steal and glass were inhabited by millions of people. Since it was safe to roam at night. Or something like that, I never payed attention to their superstition,”

“I used to live in what the elders called the ANH of NY. I don’t know what it means, but the in the storytellers spin stories that it was a place of history. They worship the wax creatures and monumental building. It’s all bullshit of course, like most of the superstitious nonsense. Ever heard the one about Dogs having tales? Or how cockroaches used to be the size of bugs and have a craving for human flesh? Bullshit. Anyway, getting back to the story, the social structure of the safe zone was kept like a pyramid. At the top, the Head, our leader, and the elders. Then there are Sweepers, who are the hunters and scavengers. Then there are Creeks, those who don’t leave the safe zone. They cook, clean, and tell stories. At the bottom of the group there are Rubbles. The Rubble group searched the streets for rubble that can be used, since they can’t do anything else.”

“They used to call me Ray. Back in the day, I was respected for my traps. I was able to trick the prey into killing themselves, into tricking the hunter into the hunted. At this, I was a master. One day I even found a Dog, one I was able to befriend and train. I was deadest on becoming a sweep, that is, until it was my turn to kill. I had always been the one leading the animals into traps, having another sweep or my dog kill the beast. However, when it was my turn…. It ended in a bloody mess with one elder and a handful of sweeps dead…. I was demoted to a Rubble. It was an act of grace that I wasn’t executed right there and then.”

The driver burst with laughter at this remark, only to spit up a heavy hairball of mucus and blood.

“My story begins on a cold night after I had just came home from searching the grounds. We had lost three new boys to the rads; a nickname for the monsters. We were already in deep trouble; we shouldn’t have left those boys behind. And the supplies they were carrying. That is when it happened. I was going for a walk with my dog, Hunter, near the town gate trying to get some fresh air when I noticed some Sweeps playing on the gate. I tried to walk by, but it was to no avail. They taunted me, asking how many kills I got today, and threw bottles at me. I tried to run, but I felt a sharp pain on my temple and I collapsed into the mud and bushes near the gate. The last thing I heard was laughter, the sound of someone falling, and mechanical gears. Then it all went dark.”

“I don’t know how long I was asleep for. However, I wish it was longer. When I woke up a horrific sight greeted me. Blood and bodies littered the courtyard, painting the walls and ground a deep shade of red. I couldn’t help the feeling of burning pain in my stomach, and I added my own shades of yellow to the already red ground. The smell, dear god the smell. I have never seen so many dead. Then I heard it. I deep roar coming from within the building, and screaming. Tearing of flesh. A cackle of a howl. Splinters. A pack of splinters, they had found their way in. My greatest fear was coming true! For right in the middle of the dead was a bloodied and battered splinter, looking like any normal oversized dog with two heads. If it wasn’t covered in blood. I knew I had to escape. It was to late for the Creeks, for the Rubbles, even for the splinters. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find; a small metal rod with barbed wire laced on the top, and ran. I was glad to know Hunter had waited for me outside the gate, and we bolted, never to return home again.”

“I don’t know how long I ran. It was the middle of the night, and the sounds of rads surrounded me. Every here and there I stopped, only to hear the soft skittle of a cockroach, or the slight growl of another splinter. Once I swore I heard a sound coming from a hole in the street, a sound that sounded like a man choking on his own blood. The days passed and I ended on the outskirts of the wasteland. I was attempting to sleep, cuddled up with Hunter’s warm body, when I heard a scuttle noise in the dark. I kept my eyes closed, hoping it would go away. But it got louder. I opened my eyes a little, the curiosity killing me, and what I saw almost had me fait. Ten feet away from Hunter and I was a cockroach, one of the biggest I had ever seen. It was larger then Hunter, its mouth like tendrils dripping with foam and blood. Hunter reacted faster then I did, jumping from the ground and onto the roach. Before I knew what was what there was slimy blood everywhere, and the two of us had something to eat.”

“The smell of blood and food over a warm fire attracted another, a skinny wanderer. The man promised to repay me for some food, which was fine with me. The man was heavily armed and reeked of sweat and blood, and I did not want to offend him in any way. Or piss him off.”

“Well we ate and chatted, turns out the old man is a traveling merchant. Been round to many of the settlements around here. However, there was one place in particular he talked about. His speech went like this:

“… And that’s the settlement of black marsh. Dangerous, seedy, and rat infested. My favorite town to do business!” laughed the the old man, only to start up again with a cough, “However, there is a place that would suit you. It might not be far from here but not even of this same world. I call this place “The Lady!”” I couldn’t help but notice the old man’s gaze harden and glow with the light of the fire. “The Lady is an oasis in this sea of nuclear waste. During the scar of long ago, the storytellers say, it was protected against the raining fire. Life survives on the island, surviving off the Lady’s mighty fire that protects them. Some human life has survived there; suckling the milk from the Lady’s bosom to survive.” It was now I noticed the old man’s gaze turned to one of sadness, even with his wonderful tale. “This area is an island off the coast of the city. Many good men have tried to swim across the treacherous water, but the creatures living there are many. None of them have made it.” The old man coughed again.

I couldn’t help but be amazed by the thought of the Lady. “Is there any other way across? Hopefully a way less painful,” I asked the man.

“There is only one way. Some have found mechanisms from long ago, relics from the old ones. I don’t believe in such nonsense, I think they made them. Either way they can carry you across the bay to the island safely. They require a fee, and I call them boat runners,” the old man pointed in the direction of the wind as he yelled with a booming voice, “Go to the Lady. Her light shines the way. Follow the setting sun and you to can live off the Lady’s milk like a lamb!””

“So that is what you call us, boat runners!” laughed the man, amused at his nickname. He thought of how he should start calling himself that for now on. It was a good name after all.

The boy, irritated by the interruption, started up again, “For two days we traveled until we arrived at a wooden structure stretching out onto the water. Its wood was rotten, creaky, and broken, and attached to it was a machine of the likes I had never seen before. It was brown and green, obviously worn from its long period of use, and cracking. It was magnificent, a magical sight almost enough to make me believe in the religion of the Elders. I guess this was what the old man called a boat runner. I was so stunned by the floating wonder that I didn’t notice a man walked onto the deck of the ship. He was a short and stocky, with small, groggy eyes that seem to follow you, fast hands for picking pockets, stale breath, and wearing an old, dirty white suit. The man snarled and called out to me; “What do you want? Beggars aren’t welcome here,” he sounded like a mad dog waiting for its next meal

“I want a ride to The Lady,” I replied, Hunter’s stumpy tail wagging as I said “Lady.”

“You want a ride to The Lady? Well! I would say we have business, but look at you! What would a pipsqueak like you have to offer me for a ride!” The boat runner laughed, stroking his beard.

“I can give you my weapon,” I said, pulling out my batting stick, still clean and unused.

“You got nothing!” he slapped me with the back of his hand, “Then leave…. unless you’re willing to trade that mutt of yours, little boy!” The captain claimed, hungrily eyeballing Hunter. Why I did what I did next was out of complete fear. The splinters could be heard howling from even at the docks, and night was fast approaching. It was the last time I ever saw Hunter. I traded him away…” Ray broke off into a deep trance of sadness.

“You don’t have much longer, scrub. Hurry up already,” the boat runner of the present said, waking Ray, who sighed at the struggle of speaking.

“The ride was long, the boat couldn’t move that fast. The waves were large and salty, and I got nauseous standing on the deck. The worst part was yet to come, for on the center of the boat was a large glass bottom. At first, I was mesmerized. Magnificent creatures were swimming under the boat. They were in every color, in every shape and size. Some had long arm like tentacles, some had large dishes, and some had teeth the size of my head. I couldn’t help but to think what if I fell in…”

“It took a long while before we made it to the island. At my first glance at The Lady I was brought to tears! It was a giant statue of a woman! The boat runner, unfazed and uncaring of my stature, dropped me off at another wooden structure, but it wasn’t like the one I had encountered earlier. It was obviously well kept after, with the wood looking like a newly cut brown and the nails being silver and shiny. This was the first un-rusted metal I had ever seen. The only thing that remained from the world I had just departed from was an old sign. It was yellow from age, but its large white letters were still legible. It read “Welcome to the Statue of Liberty.” What a weird sign. Yet I continued onward, to amazed by the green and false sense of safety. I wandered the island as yet even more tears came to my eyes, but before I could do anything I noticed someone walking over to me. He was tall, well built, with dark hair that seemed to match his dark skin. He wore a robe, one of those that don’t have a hood. I turned towards over to him, but before I could say a word a strong hand covered my mouth. Two more grabbed my arms, and aggressively pulled me into a dark bag.”

“The bag smelled like guts, sweat, and vomit. I was afraid. So terribly afraid. I wished Hunter was there to save me… but I sacrificed him one last time to save myself.. “Don’t think,” I told myself, “That will only make things worse. Don’t think!””

“The bag was soon held upside down and I fell on my head. Everything was fuzzy again, but I was able to make out a few lines. They said;

“Don’t kill him, he could be entertainment!”

“Entertainment! I’m hungry. Besides, look how tender he is,” a heavy boot hit my side, I screamed.

“The Night Stalkers like tender. They will feed slowly this time. Besides, I like to watch those girly screamers get their guts ripped out,”

“Look, hese fine. Get up kid, we got a surprise for you,” one of the men chuckled. I was grabbed and pulled onto my feet, wherever they were. I was still too dizzy to determine if I was dead or alive. Slowly my vision came back, and in focus was a man. He was smaller than the first robbed figure, with white skin and brown hair. He had a facial expression that made him look like he was constantly snarling. Maybe because he was. His eyes looked like he was looking at a fine cooked Splinter, all his for the taking. When he talked spit foamed in the corners of his mouth. I named this man Spittle.”

“Spittle dragged me into a large room full of windows. The other man followed us in here also, and he began to stare out of one of the windows. After a deep breath the darker-skinned guy turned toward me and dismissed Spittle.

“I am the almighty, the leader of the crowned lands. Explain why you are here,” The robed man said, with a voice that sounded like it was being yelled from the heavens.

“I am Ray. I’m here, to, uh, um, I lost the word…” I stuttered.

“You came here to settle? A pathetic, skinny, weakling such as yourself? Well, we aren’t here to take on the unfit. We, as the predecessor of the Unites States of America, will only take the fit. Yet you don’t even know what this is do you?” The almighty laughed. “We still need food, so maybe you could be the perfect candidate,” the almighty circled around me. Then he walked over to the window. “Or, you could venture into there.” I peered past his shoulder, and saw what he was pointing at. It was another island, not far from here where a castle lies, surrounded by a fence. It was the opposite of this island, being run down, yellow, and dead. There was subtle movement in the dark windows, to slight to see. “That is the island of Elis, or what we call “Elistement.” We send who we don’t eat or initiate into the building; if they survive to dawn they are one of us, or they are Night Stalker food, the creatures that reside in that building. It is fun to watch people get ripped apart.” The almighty began licking his lips, and the two guards in the back of the room, who I haven’t noticed until now, began to advance towards me. “Harry did send a fat man here the other day. We are still feasting on his nice, delicious belly. How bout we have a little fun!” The almighty walked towards a window and slid it open. : We have enough food, he shall be Elistement!” His announcement brought a cheer from below, and I was dragged away. By nightfall I was brought onto a slow boat, where I was asked by an ugly old boat runner to tell my story.”

“That’s it! That’s your story! I’ve heard better stories by old men! I can’t wait to see you get ripped to shreds! I already bet a leg that you die,” the boat runner greedily said, his eyes glowing in hunger.

The boat slowed to a stop, and Ray stepped onto the island where Spittle walked up to him, and, with a twisted laugh, and his usual sneer, brought him to the giant door. With a booming voice he yelled,

“And in this corner is, um, this kid!” a few sarcastic cheers could be heard, “Probably a hundred pounds of tender meat ready to be ripped apart,” this time, a loud chorus of cheers could be heard. “In the other corner, the mysterious Night Stalkers!”

The crowd boomed at this announcement, for the death sentence of Ray. And with a screech, the creatures inside of the building begged for their food. Six men with lights walked up to the doors, and with a loud rattle six more opened it. Ray looked into the darkness of the building, and, with no regrets, thought about his misadventure. He missed his family, Hunter, and his home but had no reason to think about that now. That could come later, if there was one. With one step after another he walked forward, his boots making a crunching sound on the dead sand below. He remembered how he hid from the Splinters, and how those things would seem like pillows compared to the beasts inside. Still, he did not run. He was no longer scared but happy to see what was coming, as if it was always planned this way. He used to be the trapper, now he was the defenseless prey. He had finally been trapped in a deliberate and thoughtful mechanism with no way out. His brain screamed at him to stop, told him to remember how some of the animals had escaped, so maybe he could slip out of this trap. After all, he still had his batting stick hidden under his shirt. But could he even use it? Without Hunter would he be defenseless? Those beasts inside could tear him limb for limb, can he fight back? “Just don’t think, everything will be ok if I don’t think.” He whispered as he walked into the darkness as the doors shut and the lights went out. The crowd cheered even louder.

Credit To – Sobellium69

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