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I’ll be waiting

May 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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You don’t know me. No one knows me. Only Master knows of my existence. But Master and I know all of you. We visit all of you, my friends, during the witching hour.

I’m never there during the day. The sun’s rays penetrate my shadowy soul and obliterate my flesh. My bones turn to ash and my organs become dust. Daytime in one place is nighttime in another though, so Master and I always are traveling. Never in one place for too long.

After the sun has died and the moon lives again, I come. I’ll get close up to you and breathe in the scent of your life. I listen to your heartbeat and breathing. Master then starts work on you, putting one finger on your forehead and whispering Latin words. You always end up squirming or screaming. Master calls them nightmares. I always want to comfort you, hold you close. But I can never touch, not ever. Master tells me never to touch.

I’ve learned not to touch. Master hurt me badly, and my skin, my scarred, sensitive skin, has paid the price. But sometimes I can’t help myself. When Master isn’t looking, I strike. I brush my fingernails down your arms, trace your lips, comb your hair away from your face. But my skin kills your kind, breaks the blood vessels, bruises your body in mysterious ways you can never figure out. I’m sorry, I really am. I just can’t help myself. I want to show you how much I love you.

When Master and I are done with you, I always remember to take a souvenir. Usually it’s something small that you won’t notice is missing, like a coin or a pen, snatched up from behind Master’s back. But sometimes you don’t have very much. When that happens, I take something else, with Master’s permission of course. Hair. Nails. Eyelashes. A part of you. And it will always be mine.

I hope to see you tonight. But if you don’t fall asleep, we’ll have a problem. Master says I can’t let you see me. If you see me, our friendship will be over. And I’ll have to kill you. I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want to see the blood seep through your bedsheets. I don’t want to see your face as you scream at the sight of me. My deformed skin. My scars. My love for you.

But maybe, deep down inside, just a little bit, I do. I am Master’s child, afterall.

Sweet dreams, darlings. I’ll be waiting for you.

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My Creation

May 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Being a programmer, one of my dreams has always been to create an original video game, something that nobody in the industry has done before.

After seeing Spore, I became intrigued. Here was an attempt at putting people in control over a universe. After looking at what made videogames popular, I realized the main aspect was control.

People in their daily lives have no control over their environment. They are told what to do, where to go, and how to live. Their jobs consist of standing or sitting somewhere until it’s 5 PM and they’re allowed to head back home. It’s no mystery they’re unhappy.

For many people videogames are an escape to a world where they are in control, or live exciting fake lives filled with adventure. The aspect of control is found in strategy games, the adventure in role playing games generally.

I looked at games like the Sims, and noticed what made them so popular is not just the illusion of control, but the degree of control. You have complete control over people’s lives.

Before the Sims, there was Sim Earth. A game in which you do not control individual people, but an entire Earth! I came to the conclusion that I had to develop a game similar to Spore, in which the player subtly “guides” evolution. What caused Spore to be such a failure is the lack of realistic control people had. It hardly resembled evolution.

To do this, I began by generating a physics system. I know little of physics but decided to study it, and try to create a simplified version in which certain particles can interact, in specific manners. When it comes down to it, physics is simply complex mathematics.

I simulated energy, and matter, and created a simple system, with a sun emitting energy, circled by a planet catching said energy.

I decided to create simple basic cells from scratch, that were “hardcoded” so to speak in the system I was designing. They lived of off the energy emitted by my sun, and had a “genetic” code that coded for the substances produced by the cells. I guess you could call them my eukaryotes.

My world within a few minutes would always fill with these cells, after which they would mutate, and the most efficient cell in converting energy from the sun into useful substances for division would survive. It was very boring, but it worked I guess.

I decided to expand the physics system, and force the cells to create waste products, that were toxic and would kill them. I noticed that some cells responded to this by producing less waste. Others responded by producing something to emit the waste. Yet others developed chemicals to clean up the waste products.

However, I noticed something fascinating. Running the simulation for a few centuries (a few minutes in real life), created cells that made massive amounts of specific waste products on purpose. I noticed that other cells died as a result of this, to which the other cells responded by usurping the building blocks they had created from energy. The first predators were born.

With the first predators, diversity in this little world rapidly increased. Some grew a response to flee when they encountered these toxins. Others grew resistance to them. The ones that grew resistance would eventually grow to utilize the toxins products.

Eventually I noticed something interesting. The cells that escaped from the toxin grouped up with the cells that utilized the toxins. They stayed close together, and helped each other. Eventually these type of cells would attach to one another. They formed a weird symbiosis, where the cell that would normally flee, would now move towards places where the toxins are, and the other cell would consume the toxins and provide the “mover” with some of the energy.

Without going into too much detail, I became very excited, and decided to let this simulation run during the morning (I had stayed up until 5 AM), while I went to bed. When I woke up at around 11, I noticed the world I had created had changed, and was barely recognizable.

Massive plant-like structures grew in this world, consumed by other organism that ate these plants. However, looking at the log, I noticed the world hadn’t changed much in the past two hours or so. I had reached another “stasis point”, where the simplicity of my simulation prevented more complex life from evolving.

I expanded the system, by breaking up “energy” into different types, with different wavelengths that were absorbed to different degrees by different molecules. I implemented vibrations in the air, created an improved simulation of weight, and made some more minor tweaks.

This caused the simulation to run slower of course, but it was worth the sacrifice. I stayed around the whole day watching the simulation in excitement, and playing with it, as it was incredibly addicting. Complex organisms evolved, that cooperated. Plants that depended on each other, or attracted predators that ate the horrible looking creatures that ate from them.

I had fun, and noticed that some creatures evolved “warning calls”. This means that if they noticed a predator, they would issue a sound, and all others of their kind would flee into holes they had dug in the earth. Others evolved “mating calls”.

I decided to have some fun. I made a dump tool, allowing me to dump specific organisms on the Earth, and wrote my name with it. I created 10 “meteorites”, and dumped them on a piece of land to create an island, because I wanted to see whether the animals stuck on both sides would evolve in different directions. I made a smiley-island with volcanic eruptions.

By that time I realized I had stayed up until 5 AM again, as I heard the birds outside. I felt tired again, and woke up at 1 PM or so. When I looked at my simulation again, I felt a sense of shock.

Different groups of animals of one species had made statues with stones. Some in the form of a smiley. Some in the form of my name. I didn’t know why they were doing this, or how. What I did notice is that they would attack each other from time to time.

I didn’t know what to do with it, but I concluded that these organisms must have somehow noticed that the smiley and the name I had written were “special”. The fighting disturbed me, and so I decided to create a massive mountain ridge through volcanic eruptions to separate the two groups.

By this time, changes were happening fast, compared to earlier. While I had to spend a night sleeping to see tribes evolve in my simulation, while I was getting something to eat or take I bathroom break, I would notice the tribesmen wearing different styles of clothing, or having changed their type of dwelling.

Their numbers were also continually increasing. At some point, I noticed the creatures began making their own symbols on the ground, and no longer just copying mine. Most of the symbols seemed random and unintelligible to me, but one stood out.

The organisms had created a symbol that resembled them. A small circle, with a square beneath it. Within the square, a dot could be found in the center. This was meant to symbolize the visual organs of the creature, as the creature had two visual organs, one in the front of it’s body, and one in the back. In the square, other sensory and reproductive organs were symbolized.

Next to the circle on top of the square could be seen something resembling a drawing of a fork. Two of these forks had been painted in opposite direction. And next to that the smiley face could be seen.

I realized something. They were not communicating towards each other. They were trying to communicate to something “out there”. My meddling in their landscape had somehow made them realize that something powerful was out there, capable of changing their world.

I wondered, whether symbols like Stonehenge and the Pyramids in my own world, could be signs of primitive people trying to do the same thing. Begging their creator or overseer to initiate contact with them. However, one thing was undeniable by now. These creatures realized there is something out there.

I wondered long. Did I have a responsibility to initiate contact with something that isn’t real? Or are these creatures real in a different way? Can something be real, merely by being capable of having a concept of itself? And even if they are real, does that mean they will be better off with me initiating contact with them? Should I change my simulation, to ensure them permanent happiness? And is it even possible for me to do such a thing?

I did not want to confirm my existence to them, but I did want to be able to communicate with them. I decided to program a “prophet”. An organism that looks like them, and can not be proven by them to be different from themselves, and is fully controlled by me.

I let it be born into a powerful position, as the son of a leader. I decided to lead by example, and seek to teach these creatures English, so I could communicate with them. As prophet, I instructed them that English was the language we could use to communicate with the “greater one”. They would have no way to be sure if it was true or not.

I hadn’t made up my mind yet about whether I would reveal myself or not. But I did want to be capable of understanding what they wanted to tell me. In a few generations. They all spoke English.

And rapidly, signs began emerging on the ground in English.

“GUIDE US” “SHOW YOUR GREATNESS” “HELP US”

And, during times of disease or hunger or general misery:

“GIVE US FOOD” “SHOW US A MIRACLE” “END OUR SUFFERING”

I decided that I couldn’t maintain a world with such suffering as emerged in the simulation without intervening. Why would I accept a world with death and rape and murder, if I could make on without it?

I implemented fixes that were gradual, so they could not be proven to be miraculous. Murder and rape would over the years become rarer, and so would death at a young age.

I figured that they would not notice if the change happened over generations, but they did.

“THANK YOU”

“ALL BLESSINGS BE UPON THE GREATEST”

“WE LOVE YOU”

And, most heart-breaking:

“COME BACK TO US”

Tears ran over my face. There is something there. And it knows I am here, able to contact them, but unwilling to do so out of fear of what I have created.

But, I felt I had a responsibility.

And so I loaded up the character I had created again, and went to their King, asking to talk to all their wisest men. But, by this time, I was not believed.

“You are number 1341 claiming to be an avatar of the Greatest One. If you are him, I pray for your forgiveness, but please, show us a sign, before demanding of me to gather all our wisest men.”

And so I hesitated, but responded.

“Tomorrow there shall be two more meteors, falling on a deserted island in the sea before you, on the same day. And when they do, doubt no more and realize that I have come back to repair the broken world that I created.”

And so I exited my avatar, and progressed the simulation until the next day was reached, and threw two meteors on the deserted island before the mainland, where thousands had gathered to watch whether a sign would be given.

Upon the descent of the meteors, celebrations were held. All the sentient organisms gathered around the small house where I had exited my avatar, and lay flat on the ground, in apparent worship of the man who was last seen there, and afraid of coming close.

I don’t know who was more afraid by now, me or them. I loaded into my avatar again, and exited the house. The creatures continued to lay flat on the ground, in utter silence. It is as if they felt unworthy of speaking.

“Let your wisest man stand up.” I told them.

And up stood one of these bizarre looking creatures.

“Thank you for coming back. Pray tell us, do you have any requests of us?”

I hesitated, before saying “There is nothing you can do for me that pleases me, but for you to be good to one another, and to contact me with your wishes and fears.”

The creature responded “We know you come from a different world, and we are afraid. We understand how vulnerable we are, and how incomplete our experience is. Please, allow us to join you in the world that you created our world from.”

I began crying behind my computer, as I responded “I do not know how”.

The creature responded: “At risk of offending you, please understand the severity of our situation. By living in a world that is incomplete, we are at constant risk of disappearing forever, never to be seen again. We would never even consciously realize that our end had come.”

I realized that they were unable to comprehend that I only had absolute power within their world and not outside of it. They also did not realize that my knowledge of their world was limited. I may have created it through simple laws, but those simple laws gave way to a reality of its own that is more complex than I can comprehend.

I responded again “I only have power in your world. In my world I have no power, and so I can not bring you there, because my world is not under my control. I also do not understand the world I have created. I do not know what is best for you. Only you do, and you have to inform me what you want.”

And the man waited for a moment. I was about to think they were going to end communicating with me, before their wisest man responded:

“You have created a world that is incomplete, with creatures that can not escape it, and you have no power to save them. They are completely unfree, and they have no power. We are completely at your mercy, and so we ask you from the deepest of our heart:

End us.”

By now I was crying, as I was confused and asked to do the impossible. My own child was asking me to kill it.

This is when I noticed the lights in my room flickering, before my computer suddenly shut down. I screamed. Upon trying to turn on my computer again, I noticed it wasn’t working. I called the power company, who told me that due to an accident, a power surge had travelled through the grid. They promised me they would pay me for any damage done.

I hung up and contemplated. The coincidence of what had just happened was too great to be imaginable. And I wondered. If these creatures were at the mercy of a confused creator, could the same be said of me? And is so, did my creator just prevent me from repeating his own mistake?

Credit To – unpatriotic

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The Duxbury Chronicles: The Detective and the Hangman

April 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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THE DUXBURY CHRONICLES
“The Detective and the Hangman”

Plymouth County Massachusetts, December 21, 2015, 11:21PM. Five miles outside Duxbury.

Detective Johnathan Mcarthy stood in the ankle deep snow, blowing hot air into his cupped hands, while examining the scene. There really wasn’t much to see. Just a guy hanging from a tree. A guy hanging from a tree in a dark, snowy forest, that is.

It really just looked like some redneck had decided life wasn’t quite panning out, and hung himself in the woods. But Sheriff Dan George had called the Detective anyway. As a general rule of thumb Dan, and Johnathan didn’t like each other. Johnathan being a ten year veteran of the force in LA, and the Sheriff being a fifty something backwoods, red neck. The two were natural opposites.

Still, Johnathan knew that the fat man hadn’t called him out of bed at this hour out of spite. Not this time anyway. Even over his cellphone Johnathan could tell Dan was spooked. Now that he was on scene, he guessed it was because of the plastic bag over the dead guy’s head. To be honest it looked spooky as shit. But Johnathan had seen far worse back in Los Angeles.

They hadn’t been able to identify the Vic on account of the bag. His face was completely hidden by the thick plastic. Now they were just waiting for forensics to finish up, before they cut the guy down, and figured out who it was that decided to off themselves today.

The wind picked up suddenly. Blowing through the trees, and causing a chorus of creaks, and groans from tree limbs. Johnathan cursed, and shoved his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat. Giving up on the idea of warming them with his breath. A camera flashed, as Billy Thorton, one of the two forensics guys took another photo.

The scene was briefly illuminated by the brilliant blue of the camera, and Jonathan thought he caught sight of something he hadn’t seen before on the dead man. He moved to the right. Trudging through the snow in a wide circle around the hanging man. His breath coming out in big white puffs. It couldn’t be more than twenty freakin’ degrees out here!

“He’s got a bag over his head Johnny.” Johnathan remembered the Sheriff saying in a shaky voice over the phone. He could practically here the man’s double chins quivering, out there in the snowy darkness.

As soon as Johnathan had laid eyes on the body his first thought was that the bastard had wanted to be thorough. If the noose for some reason hadn’t been enough, the plastic bag surely would have finished the job.

Johnathan continued to trudge around to the right of the corpse. Giving the body a wide berth, as he circled through the snow. Still looking for whatever it was that had caught his eye during the flash of the forensic guy’s cameras.

He was a big guy, whoever the Hangman was. He wore a black, and red plad jacket. Bob Vila style. And a pair of rough cut blue jeans. The boots that covered his dead toes, and swayed in the bitter wind, were a brand called “Bear Claw”. Johnathan had never heard of it.

“Hell of a way to go.” Mike Lawry, the other forensics guy said through a mouthful of chewing tobacco.

“Who you think it is Mike?” Bill asked, as his camera flashed a few more times.

“Dunno. Maybe Darby Gents?”

“Darby?! It’d be a God damned shame…”

Johnathan half listened to the two men, as he continued to circle around the body. Duxbury was a small town. Everybody knew everybody.

Darby Gents was the football coach for the local high school. And by virtue of the local grapevine, Johnathan knew that Darby’s wife had left him a few weeks ago.

Still, he wasn’t sure if that’s who was hanging in front of him. There was something unfamiliar about the body. Johnathan had come to know virtually everybody since he’d moved to Duxbury two, and a half years ago. And the Detective in him was saying that this wasn’t anyone he’d ever seen…

Thunder suddenly boomed in the distance. Halting his movement, and drawing the Detective’s attention from the hanging corpse, to the dark overcast sky above. The moon was full, but hidden. Illuminating the clouds above in a pale ghostly light.

The forest itself was well lit for such a late hour. It had snowed three inches the previous night, and now the woods were lit up in that magical pinkish, purplish glow that only a freshly fallen blanket of snow can create.

“Sounds like a storm’s a’comin’.” Deputy Jimmy Mcduff said to no one in particular.

“Hm.” Was all Johnathan offered in reply. The Detective turned his attention from the sky, back to the dead man.

The guy had to be at least fifty pounds overweight. His jacket and undershirt were pulled up, as a result of the noose and the corpse’s weight. His belly sagged out over his pants. Yeah. He’d been a big dude. But who was he?

Without taking his eyes off the corpse, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a Marbaro Light. He tried to be slick, and light the smoke without looking away from the dead guy. But the wind forced him to look down, and light the cig like a normal person.

“You guys think we can wrap it up soon? There’s a storm a’comin’.” Sheriff George said from the shadows.

Johnathan turned to gaze at the six foot, burly, fat man standing against the trunk of a tree. His normally imposing figure looked strangely small as he stood there. The Sheriff had his arms crossed over himself, but Johnathan could tell it wasn’t for warmth.

“What the hell was wrong with him?” He wondered. Johnathan didn’t like the man, but he knew he was no coward. And certainly not afraid of the woods, at night. Sheriff George was a born and bred country boy. And yet there he stood. Hugging himself in his big trenchcoat. His eyes nervously darting around the surrounding forest.

All told there were six of them out in their woods. The two forensics guys Bill Jenkins, and Mike Lawry. The Sheriff, and himself. Deputy Jimmy McDuff, and the local reporter Jennel Buttchins. Six grown adults, and the Sheriff was shaking like a leaf.

“What the fuck?” Was all he could think to say to himself.

“Sheriff would you care to make a statement?” He heard the reporter ask. She was quite the looker. Johnathan supposed that’s how she got the job. It had to be, because the chick was definitely no rocket scientist.

“A statement?” Sheriff George asked condescendingly.

“Why yes Ms. Buttchins, I surely would. Here goes- It’s as cold as the ice Dante found Lucifer in. There’s a blizzard the size of Texas coming this way. And we should really think about getting the Hell out of here. How’s that for a statement Ms. Buttchins?”

Jennel gave a “hmph” in response.

Jimmy McDuff gave a somewhat stifled chuckle.

Bill Jenkins, and Mike Lawry continued on with
their tasks. Chatting away about who they thought the dead guy was. They were either oblivious, or didn’t care about the Sheriff’s obvious discomfort with the situation at hand.

“What the Hell is he so nervous about?” Johnathan asked himself again.

Finally he decided he’d had enough. He felt bad calling the Sheriff out on being scared, but the Detective in him wanted to know what his problem was. So he momentarily turned his attention from the hanging man, and started to walk over to Sheriff George.

That’s when there came a sudden sound that he couldn’t quite place. It was a sort of quick “swooshing” noise that came from behind him. Followed by the cracking of several branches, and then the frightened cries of his companions.

There was a – “Holy Christ!”, That came from the Sheriff.

A -“Sheeeezus!”, That was from Deputy Jimmy.
And a sort of high pitched muppet sounding “Meep!”, that had come from Jennel.

Johnathan whirled back around in the direction of the corpse. For a second the Detective did not understand what he was seeing. The hanging man was nowhere to be seen. And neither was Mike Lawry.

Bill Jenkins was on his ass, frantically scooting backward through the snow. His mouth agape and his eyes on the dark canopy above.

“What the fuck?” Was all Johnathan could think to say.

“He’s not dead!” Bill suddenly shrieked, as his frantic ass scooting took him passed where Johnathan was standing.

“Jesus, he’s not dead!”

“What the fuck?” Johnathan asked again. Feeling suddenly very much like how Sheriff George looked. He reached for his pistol.

“Did you see that?!” Sheriff George cried. “Holy Christ did you see that?!”

“Where’s the body?” Johnathan asked.

“It took him!” Bill was shrieking. The man used his ass to carve a path through the snow, all the way back to the Sheriff. “Oh god, Mike!”

At this point Johnathan was feeling very out of the loop. “Could someone please tell me what the fu-!”

The loud snapping of branches above his head made his words catch in his throat. Instinctively Johnathan dove out of the way, blindly rolling through the snow. A split second later there came a heavy “thwump!” from the direction he’d dove from.

Jennel, and the Sheriff shrieked. And Deputy Jimmy shouted “freeze!”

Johnathan combat rolled and came up on one knee, with his gun pointed, and at the ready. A maneuver that had saved his life more than once. But then his eyes settled on the sudden source of all the commotion, and his mind missed a step.

For what he beheld made no sense. The dead man was back. He was still hanging from a noose. Except this time the noose wasn’t wrapped around the original tree branch. It was just stretching up, and up, into the dark canopy above.

The man was hanging over where Johnathan had been standing only seconds ago. The man’s arms were outstretched, and his head tilted upward, in a position Johnathan found reminiscent of Christ on the cross.

“Holy shit he’s not dead!” Johnathan’s mind screamed. He aimed his weapon at the hanging man.

“Freeze!” He shouted. Repeating Deputy Jimmy’s words. “Get on the… Ground?”

His words faltered as the noose around the man’s neck suddenly yanked him upward. Neck bones, and vertebrae cracked sickeningly. And the man rocketed up in a blur. Disappearing into the darkness above.

“Well that’s certainly not something you see every day.” Johnathan thought to himself as he stared up into the dark canopy.

“Detective we’ve got to get out of here!” The Sheriff’s voice cut into his thoughts.

“What?” He asked, dumbfounded, and turned to face the big man. Sheriff George wasn’t waiting for a reply. He and Jennel were already high tailing it out of there. Deputy Jimmy for his part, had stood his ground. Bill Jenkins was nowhere to be seen.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” He asked the rapidly fading figure of Sheriff George. “A perp just took one of your men Sheriff! And you’re running away?!”

“That ain’t no perp Detective!” Sheriff George shouted back over his shoulder, as he disappeared into the darkness.

“I-I think the Sheriff might be right Johnny.” Deputy Jimmy said to Johnathan’s right. Keeping his gun trained on the darkness overhead. “I think we need to call for backup.”

“Now that does sound reasonable Deputy.” Johnathan agreed. Straining his eyes to catch any sign of the Hangman. There was nothing up there. It was all just shadows and, leafless branches, against a dark gray sky.

Then there came another loud snapping of branches. This time from the direction the Sheriff, and Jennel had run. A scream erupted from Jennel’s lips, followed by the deafening crack of gunfire.

Both Johnathan, and Deputy Jimmy took off in the
direction of the sounds. There were six shots in total. Johnathan could tell that the Sheriff was firing “Old Betsy”, his treasured Smith and Wesson 500.

The ridiculously huge pistol fired .44 Magnum rounds. Pretty light on the ammo side, but a round fired from that weapon could blow the trunk of a small tree in half.

Johnathan heard that unmistakable sound of an empty chamber “clicking”, followed by a loud jumble of curse words from the Sheriff. Then came another cacophony of snapping branches, and a scream from Jennel.

Both Johnathan, and Jimmy rounded the large trunk of an ancient oak, and almost ran straight into the Sheriff, and Jennel.

Jennel screamed, and the Sheriff swung wildly with the butt of his pistol. Jimmy dodged just on time. Narrowly avoiding what Johnathan was sure would have been a concussion.

“Jesus Sheriff it’s just me!”

“Jimmy?! Mother Mary! You’re lucky I didn’t just knock your block off!”

“Sheriff…” Johnathan gasped, as he struggled to catch his breath. “We need to stick together.”

“Then move your ass Detective! George snapped.
“For Christ’s sake, I’m thirty years your senior, and twice your weight!”

“Are you kidding me?!” Johnathan snapped back. “You just took off, while you’re Deputy, and I stood our ground! I don’t know what’s going on, but someone just assaulted an officer of the law, and you’re the God Damned Sheriff!”

Sheriff George flinched from Johnathan’s words, as if he’d been struck.

“I saw what just happened.” He said, in a quite growl. “A dead man hanging from a noose, just grabbed one of my men, and went rocketing up into the trees with him.”

“He wasn’t dead.” Johnathan said matter-of-factly. “He couldn’t have been.”

The Sheriff suddenly laughed. “He wasn’t dead?! Well he sure as shit should have been after I hit him with four of my six shots from old Betsy! Cause that fucker dropped right down beside me, and little Ms. Jennel here, and I can tell I just pegged that fucker at least four times at near point blank range! Any normal person would have had the courtesy to keel over and die! But that son of a bitch just went right back up into the trees!”

As if on cue, there came the sound of tree branches bending, and breaking from the canopy above. The three men simultaneously snapped their weapons up toward the darkness above. The Sheriff realized he hadn’t reloaded his weapon, and cursed. Quickly bending down to the task.

Johnathan thought he saw a dark man sized shape swoop by overhead through the shadows. But then it was gone.

“Johnny here don’t believe me.” Sheriff George sneered. “Tell him Ms. Reporter. Tell him what you just saw!”

“It’s true.” Jennel said in a shaky voice, as she stared at the dark canopy. “That man just came falling out of the trees right beside us, and the Sheriff shot him! I think he might have even…” She struggled not to vomit as she said it. “I think he might have even shot off one of his arms.. And he… And he, just went flying right back up into the trees.”

Johnathan glanced away from the canopy, and scanned the ground around them. It was too dark to be sure, but there were black puddles all over the ground, that he guessed was blood. There was no sign of a disembodied appendage though.

“So where’s the arm now?”

“Oh for God’s sake, how should I know! He took it with him!” The Sheriff shouted.

“Look, you ain’t from around here Johnny.” George said as he slammed a 45caliber round into the last open chamber of his gun, and then snapped it back into place. “But there’s some strange things that happen sometimes in Duxbury. City folk just don’t understand.”

“It’s true what the Sheriff says Johnny.” Jimmy said, in little more than a whisper. “My Grandaddy used to tell me stories about this part of the land.”

“He used to tell you the land was bad out here, didn’t he?” Sheriff George asked.

“Yeah…” Jimmy nodded, as he gun played across the darkness above. “He told me these woods got something in em’. Something that lives beneath the ground. I never believed him of course. But I never really come out here either.”

“Not many people do.” Sheriff George said. His voice taking on the same whisper-like quality as his Deputy. “Now Detective I know that you’re a practical man. And I begrudgingly respect you for it. But there’s what appears to be a dead man, hanging from a noose, whose flying through the trees.”

There came a sudden peel of thunder, and everyone tensed up for a moment. Johnathan noticed for the first time that Jennel had a can of mace in her hand. He almost laughed despite himself. The guy was wearing a bag over his head! What was mace going to do?

“So what do you suggest Sheriff?” Johnathan asked finally.

“I suggest we get back to town. Get backup. Come back with an armed posse, and clean house.”

“Tonight? Not tomorrow? We come back tonight, and find Mike?”

“Of course! I ain’t leavin’ him out here!” The Sheriff spat. “Now common! It’s more than a half hour drive back to town. This storm’ll be on us before we get back anyway, so I suggest we get a move on.”

The storm was getting closer. That was a fact. The wind was picking up, and big fluffy flakes were already beginning to fall through the air. Johnathan pondered their options for a moment. Finally he spoke.

“Fuck that.” You go back to the SUV, and radio for backup. Then go get your posse. I’ll stay here.”

“What?” Sheriff George asked. Incredulous.

“You’re right Sheriff. I’m not from around here. And because I’m not from around here, I’m not buying into this supersticious bullsh-.”

Johnathan’s words were abruptly cut off as the large figure of the Hangman suddenly dropped from above, and landed on the Sheriff with bone crushing weight. There came a sudden explosion of snow as both figures collided with the ground. Johnathan instinctively raised his hands to protect his face, and took a few faltering steps backward.

Jimmy shouted out in surprise. And Jennel screamed. Johnathan heard the snapping of several bones, along with a sort of guttural, gargling from the Sheriff. But by the time the Detective lowered his hands, the Sheriff’s broken body was wrapped in the Hangman’s embrace, and rocketing upward toward the dark canopy above.

Johnathan got a better look at the Hangman as he rose back up into the trees. The man had three large holes in his chest, from where the Sheriff had shot him. And his right arm (though still attached) looked like it could fall off any second. Never mind the fact that the arm was bearing the weight of a man who had to be at least two hundred and fifty pounds.

Johnathan took aim with his weapon but did not fire, for fear of hitting the Sheriff. In another instant both fat men had disappeared entirely into the trees above. That’s when Johnathan noticed the coughing, and gagging sounds coming from behind him.

He whirled around. Jimmy was on his knees gagging, and shoveling snow into his face like a madman. Jennel was standing over him, Just patting him on the back and saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Over, and over again, in a shaky voice.

“What the fuck?” Johnathan asked for the umpteenth time this evening.

Jennel looked up from Jimmy’s gagging form.
“I’m sorry!” She squeaked. “I maced him by accident!” The would-be reporter was almost crying.

Jesus. And for a second there he had been considering giving the chick his spare sidearm. Johnathan quickly sprang into action. Running over to Jimmy, and helping the man to his feet.
“Alrighty buddy. We’re gonna take the Sheriff’s advice and get the fuck out of here.”

Jimmy sputtered in reply.

“Jennel, you stay close. We move quickly, and quietly. We’re only about a half mile from where we parked.

Jennel sobbed, and nodded. “O-Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spray him.”

“I know.” Johnathan said, with as much sympathy as he could muster. “It’s okay Ms. Buttchins. Let’s just get out of here.”

“Okay.” Jennel’s crying quieted somewhat.

And with that the trio started moving. It wasn’t easy. The ground was uneven, and the snow was deep in some places. Snow was starting to fall more heavily as they moved through the forest.

The wind began to pick up. Blowing through the dark trees in great gusts, that kicked clouds of the winter elements up into the air around them.
Jimmy moved well for a man who could barely see. Recovering quickly each time he stumbled. And with every moment that went by, his vision cleared up more.

“Can’t believe she fuckin’ maced me.” Jimmy said under his breath.

Johnathan smiled, despite himself. He could believe it. Johnathan was of the opinion that in this day and age, the only thing reporters, and journalists were good for was spreading lies, and rumors. Most, he thought, simply worked for the military propaganda machine.

“Almost there.” Johnathan said, as they neared the edge of the forest.

There came a sudden horrified shriek from out from somewhere in the darkness behind them. That’s when it had occurred to Johnathan that he hadn’t seen Bill Jenkins since he’d gone scooting passed him on his ass, more than ten minutes ago.

The shriek lent strength to their legs, and the trio picked up the pace. In another moment they were out of the woods, and crossing the field they’d parked the police SUV in. Thunder boomed overhead, and the wind howled. There was no doubt now that the storm was upon them.

By the time they’d all gotten situated in the vehicle, Jimmy’s eyesight had recovered significantly. He snatched the radio receiver.

“This is Deputy Jimmy McDuff, we’re out at the edge of the Northern woods. We have…Officers down. Requesting immediate backup.”

The only answer they got was static.
Jimmy repeated the message. More static. Johnathan turned the key, and the engine of the SUV roared into life. The headlights illuminated the field, and the edge of the forest. Johnathan strained his eyes for a moment. If something was out there watching them, the falling snow was keeping them well hidden.

“God damn storm must be messing with the radio.”
Johnathan nodded, as he threw the SUV in reverse.

“Like a badly written horror story.” He said.
Then he punched it, and the vehicle took off in the direction of town. The three sat in tense silence for a moment, as they flew down the bumpy dirt road. Johnathan kept his eyes focused on the land in front of the bright headlights. Not wanting to think what may be stalking them from the darkness of the trees that zipped by on both sides.

The snow was falling even more heavily now. Coming down in sheets so thick that using the brights would have been suicide. And so Johnathan kept the low beams on as they rolled down the dark road that looked more like a tunnel than a street.

Finally after what seemed like an eternity, they crested a hill, and the lights of Duxbury came into view in the valley two miles below. They reached the end of the dirt road, and Johnathan took a hard left onto Apple Tree Lane.

The tires would have squealed loudly had there not been four inches of compact snow between them and the pavement. As it was, the SUV swerved and careened dangerously to the right. But then the vehicle regained its traction, and straightened out.

A few seconds later they were shooting down the road. There was roughly two and a half miles of rural darkness between them, and the edge of town. Johnathan decided to slow it down to about forty-five.

“What the Hell just happened back there?!” Jennel asked in a shaky voice.

“You tell me.” Johnathan said. “You know a helluva lot more about the lore of this county than I do. And that sure as shit looked like something straight out of some old horror story.”

“Jesus. My Grandaddy wasn’t kidding about Kene’s Road.” Deputy Jimmy said, in an exasperated voice.

“Kene’s what?” Johnathan asked.

“My Uncle used to tell me about this old road that used to run through these woods somewhere out here. Said it was there before the colonists arrived, and that no one had any clue who made it. He said the first settlers of Duxbury were warned by the local Indian Tribes that the place was bad ju-ju.”

The SUV went over a bump in the road, and Johnathan had to swerve slightly to keep control.

“You know now that I think about it, there was a story about a man being hung on Kene’s road.” Jennel chimed in. “Supposedly a gallows was built out here a long time ago. But only one execution was ever performed there before the place was abandoned.”

“So… You’re saying that there’s an ancient, haunted road somewhere out here?” The Detective asked. His voice a mixture of incredulity, and apprehension.

“That’s how my Grandaddy told it.” Said the Deputy.

Johnathan shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. This was ridiculous! This was fuck-ing ridiculous! Why on Earth had he moved out to the country?!

“Jimmy.” He began. Trying to sound like a logical Detective once again. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward your Grandfather but doesn’t that sound a litt-?”

His words were cut short as something heavy landed on the roof. There was a heavy “thwump!”, and the frame of the SUV shook violently. The roof buckled, and caved in, as if a boulder had been dropped on top of it. The SUV swerved to the left, then to the right.

Jennel screamed.

“Shit! Shit!” Johnathan cursed, as he fought to regain control of the SUV. He glanced in his side view mirror just on time to see a bloody hand wrap around it. The mirror was violently yanked upward, and both hand, and mirror vanished.

After a few tense seconds of swerving left, and right, Johnathan managed to regain control of the vehicle. The SUV straightened, and Johnathan accelerated as fast as he dare. Jimmy was already in the back, struggling to unhook the 12-gauge shotgun from it’s mount, as the car jarred around.

Before Johnathan could say anything else, his
eyes were drawn to a dark shape falling through the sky just in front of them. The Hangman landed on the hood of the SUV, and the hood violently buckled inward. The SU V careened dangerously once again.

The Hangman reached up and grabbed both windshield wipers. Then the noose pulled tight, and the man rocketed back upward. Ripping off the wipers, and taking them with him on his rapid ascent into the overcast sky.

Johnathan simultaneously fought to keep the SUV on the road, while continuing to watch in disbelief, as the man disappeared into the swirling snow over their heads. Looking like some sort of twisted marionette making a rapid exit from the stage. The last thing he saw of the man was his “Bear Claw” brand boots being swallowed up by the gray clouds.

“You have got to be, fucking kidding me…” He said to no one in particular.

Jennel screamed once again. As if that was going to help anything.

“Well at least she put her mace back in her purse.” The Detective thought to himself. The hood of the SUV looked like shit. He couldn’t tell if there was smoke rising out of it, or if it was just swirling snow. He supposed that if the engine had been damaged, they’d know either way soon enough.

Johnathan heard the distinct “Ca-Chak!” of a round being loaded into the 12-Gauge Jimmy had pulled off it’s mount.

“I’m gonna blow that fucker to kingdom come!” He heard the Deputy say. The shaky timber of his voice had been replaced with one of wrath.

Johnathan was impressed with the man’s intestinal fortitude. Anger in a situation like this was much more useful than fear. And the man seemed to be holding it together a lot better than Johnathan. The Detective’s hands were shaking badly. It made steering the vehicle that much harder.

That’s when the engine first started going wonky. There came a sudden slamming noise that came from under the hood, and echoed loudly throughout the interior of the SUV. Johnathan glanced down from the road to the dashboard, and saw that the engine’s temperature was rapidly climbing.

Then there came second slamming noise from under the hood, this one much louder. It was accompanied by a violent jarring of the entire vehicle. The SUV began to slow. The gas pedal no longer responding, no matter how hard Johnathan pressed it.

“Shit.” Jimmy said from the back seat. He started to climb over to the front passenger seat.

“Well Jimmy.” Johnathan said, with as much composure as he could muster. “It looks like you’re gonna get your chance to blow that fucker to kingdom come sooner, than later.”

“Good.” Was all the Deputy said in return. There was steel in both his voice, and his eyes.

“There – There’s something in the road. ” Jennel said shakily, from the backseat.

Both Detective, and Deputy strained their eyes to see what she was talking about. It took Johnathan a moment to realize the reporter was right. There was something in the road. Something was a far more accurate description than someone. That was for sure.

Through the swirling snow, and darkness, barely outlined by the headlights, was the Hangman. He was hanging about three feet off the ground. The rope attached to the noose around his neck just stretching up, and up, and disappearing into the night sky. The man’s arms. outstretched in a Christ-like fashion once again.

“Fucker must know that the SUV’s done for.” Johnathan said through clenched teeth.

“Looks like it’s do or die time.” Jimmy answered back.

The SUV continued to slowly roll toward the Hangman. The engine sputtered it’s last, and finally died. After a few more seconds the vehicle lumbered to a stop, in the middle of the dark, snowy road. For a minute they just sat there in silence. Listening to the wind and snow blowing around in the darkness outside.

Johnathan stared at the Hangman, looking the distant figure up and down. What was this thing? It just didn’t make sense. Gangbangers, and serial killers made sense. Johnathan was not a superstitious man. He did not believe in ghosts, or goblins.

Monsters he believed in. He’d killed monsters with his own two hands. But monsters were just flesh, and blood men. Men made into beasts, by the unfair, economically imbalanced society that the U.S. tries so hard to pretend that it isn’t comprised of. But this, this was a different kind of monster.

And suddenly Johnathan found that he very much missed the monsters of old. The old monsters were back in a reality he’d left behind, in a dark forest, about an hour ago. The old monsters were much easier to deal with. You can’t arrest something like this.

Johnathan took note of the ragged holes, torn through the Hangman’s chest. Even in the dark he could see the big red spots where, the blood from the bullet wounds had frozen. If the man wasn’t wearing a shirt, Johnathan knew his chest would look like Swiss Cheese right now.

The thing’s left arm was barely attached anymore. The bone had been clearly obliterated when Sheriff George had put a round from “Old Betsy” through it. Now it was just hanging by a few tendons, and muscle.

“Well at least it bleeds.” He thought to himself.

“If it bleeds we can kill it.” Now where had he heard that line before? It seemed like pretty sound logic. Except in this case, it didn’t seem to apply. The Hangman had bled. But it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect…

Then suddenly a thought struck him. It was a true Eureka moment! At least he hoped that it was.
“Jimmy, when we get out, I want you to aim for the guy’s rope.” Johnathan said.

“The-rope?” Jimmy asked in a confused voice.
“Yeah. Let’s see how dangerous this fucker is when he’s stuck on the ground like the rest of us normal people.”

Jimmy’s eyes widened in sudden comprehension. He even let out a short laugh.

“Alright.” The Deputy nodded, a grim smile playing across his face. “Let’s do this…”

“Ms. Buttchins.” Johnathan said just before he stepped out into the cold night. “You better just stay here.”

All the young woman could do was nod. She had been staring in wide eyed terror at the motionless Hangman, ever since the engine had died.

Johnathan pulled out his nine millimeter, and checked that it was fully loaded. He already knew it was. He hadn’t fired his weapon once since this whole ordeal began. But still he checked anyway.

Then the two men opened the doors, and stepped out into the darkness, and swirling snow. They were instantly wrapped in the night’s cold embrace. It seemed to have dropped at least ten degrees. Thunder boomed overhead, and the snow continued to fall in sheets.

The Hangman for his part just hung there. His body swaying back in forth in the wind. It was as if the thing was waiting to see what the two officers were going to do next. Johnathan knew that hitting the rope at this distance would be near impossible. They would have to get closer.

And so they trudged on through the snow. Slowly making their way toward the Hangman. When they got to about twelve feet away, they stopped and raised their weapons to the rope, just above the man. The Hangman cocked his head to one side in confusion.

Both men fired nearly simultaneously. Neither shot found it’s mark. The Hangman suddenly came rocketing toward them. Gliding over the icy road at frightening speed. Johnathan took another shot with his revolver. Missing again.

The hangman had halved the distance between them in a split second. It would be upon them in the blink of an eye.

Johnathan switched tactics, and let off a few rounds into the oncoming nightmare’s chest. The Hangman’s body jerked violently, as three rounds tore through him. Adding more to the Swiss Cheese quality of the thing.

Jimmy took another shot with the twelve gauge. Even before he took it Johnathan knew it would be the man’s last, before the Hangman was upon them. The weapon boomed loudly. The sound of modern man winning out over the cacophony of nature for a second.

The wide spray from the twelve gauge gave Jimmy a much better chance of hitting the Hangman’s noose, than Johnathan’s pistol. The Detective almost “hooted” in elation as the Deputy’s shot found it’s mark.

The Hangman’s noose violently snapped. For a second Johnathan thought the monstrosity was just going to keep hovering over the ground. His body jerked in the air as the noose snapped. And for a second Johnathan swore that the unholy thing did defy the laws of physics.

But then gravity kicked in, and the Hangman collapsed in a heap. Johnathan, and the Deputy just stood there watching the motionless body, as snow blew around it in great gusts.

“Holy crap, would ya’ look at that?” Jimmy said, as he pointed upward.

Johnathan’s eyes moved upward in the direction the Deputy was pointing in. The Detective’s eyes went wide, as his gaze settled on what Jimmy was pointing at. Even in the darkness he could see the seemingly impossible length of the Hangman’s rope falling out of the sky.

It was piling up on, and around the motionless body. Forming great cords. The two men stood in the blistering cold, watching in disbelief as the rope continued to fall out of the sky.

“What- what the Hell was it attached to?” Jimmy wondered out loud.

Johnathan shrugged. “Satan’s dick maybe? At this point I’d believe just about anything.”

“This… This is crazy Johnny.” Jimmy sounded exasperated. Fear had not yet returned to his voice, but the steely edge had gone out of the man, that was for sure. Thunder boomed once again overhead. The chords of rope were starting to obscure the body from view.

Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the end of the rope came falling out of the darkness. Johnathan guessed that there had to be at least a mile’s worth that had just come out of the sky. It was the sight of that rope that had finally unhinged Johnathan’s concept of reality. And in that moment the Detective from LA truly did believe in monsters.

As one the two men started to approach the body. Keeping their weapons trained on the Hangman all the while. A few seconds later and they were standing over the seemingly dead monster/man, half buried in rope.

It now looked as lifeless as it had when Johnathan had first seen the man hanging from a tree branch in the woods. The detective looked down at the thick plastic bag covering the man’s head. He just had to know…

Slowly he began to reach down for the bag. Jimmy read his intent and stepped back a few feet. Keeping the twelve gauge leveled at the seemingly dead man. Johnathan’s hand closed around part of the bag. He took a deep breath. Steeling himself.

Then, much like one would rip off a band-aid, he gave the bag a hearty yank. It gave a bit of resistance as it’s lower section caught in the noose, still wrapped tightly around the man’s throat. But then the bag gave way.

Both men gasped in surprise. Johnathan really hadn’t known what to expect. But what he beheld certainly wasn’t anything he’d even considered. As the plastic ripped free, the two men were greeted with a sight as disturbing as the plastic bag had been. Covering the man’s head was an old style Hangman’s mask.

It was made of rough, weather worn burlap. It was like something you’d see in execution scenes in old black and white westerns. Except that there were two buttons sewn into the mask, made to look like eyes. And there had been a ragged cut made where the mouth was. Though this had been crudely stitched shut with what looked like old-style fishing twine.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Jimmy muttered. His voice barely audible over the wind, and snow. For a moment the two men just stared down at the mask. Already, snow was beginning to cover the body.

“Well what do you make of that Jimmy?” Johnathan finally asked.

“My Grandaddy never had any stories about something like this. That’s for sure.”

“Did you guys really kill it?!” Jennel Buttchin’s nervous voice, came echoing from down the road near the SUV.

Just as both men turned, there came a loud

“swooshing” from behind them. The noise was not unlike that sound he’d heard back in the forest, when the Hangman had first sprung into life. Out of his peripheral Johnathan watched Deputy Jimmy McDuff get violently ripped off his feet.

The man gave a cry that was quickly cut short as his back slammed into the snowy ground, and the wind was knocked out of him. Jennel screamed (helpful as always), and Johnathan spun back to face the Hangman.

The Hangman’s body suddenly went rocketing down the street, dragging the Deputy through the snow with him. Johnathan saw that the monstrosity had grabbed one of Jimmy’s ankles. And that the rope. That God Damned unholy rope, was just stretching off down the road into the darkness, pulling the Hangman by the throat.

The Hangman, and the Deputy kicked up a cloud of snow as they carved a path down the road. Johnathan took off running after them. Although he knew it was hopeless. They had to be moving at least twelve miles per hour! Jimmy was kicking, and screaming, for all the good it was doing him.

“Hang on Jimmy!” Johnathan shouted after the rapidly disappearing figures.

Deputy Jimmy McDuff answered back with an “Oooaahh!” just before he disappeared into the shadows.

“Shit! Shit!” Johnathan shouted, as he stumbled through the snow.

His heavy breath came out in big white puffs. The Detective ran. The snow fell. The wind howled. And the sky rumbled. Johnathan just kept following the trail they’d carved. If the storm kept up, the path would be hidden in a matter of hours, maybe less.

He followed the path through the snowy night at a full sprint, for about ten minutes, before doubling over. He struggled to catch his breath. Johnathan glanced back. He could no longer see the SUV, or Ms. Buttchins. Shit…

“Johnny!” Johnathan turned back at the sound of Jimmy’s voice.

The Deputy was sprinting up the road toward him. Running like Hell itself was fast on his heels. Which might actually be the case. The man’s clothes were torn, and tattered from being dragged across the icy road. And there was something about three feet long attached to his ankle, that was just sort of flopping around.

“Jimmy! Jesus man!” Johnathan went running toward him.

The two men reached one another and their eyes locked. Jimmy was pale as a ghost. Despite himself Johnathan laughed.

“Holy shit Deputy! I thought you were a goner!”
The Deputy doubled over. Hand’s on his knees, as he struggled to catch his breath. He was in slightly worse shape than Johnathan.

“How’d you get away?!” Johnathan asked. Elation, and relief etched in his voice.

Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t know. That- that thing was just dragging me down the street, when I heard this loud popping noise, and I suddenly stopped moving. When I looked up the guy was nowhere to be seen. So I just took off running!”

Johnathan’s eyes turned back to the Deputy’s left ankle. His breath caught in his throat, and his eyes went wide.

“Holy shit.” He murmured quietly.

Jimmy’s eyes turned down to his ankle, and he let out a gasp. Clearly in his mad dash to get away, he hadn’t noticed there was a hand wrapped around his ankle. The hand was attached to a stump, where the tendon’s had finally snapped. It was the appendage Sheriff George had weakened earlier with “Old Betsy”.

Jimmy yelped and started dancing around like a madman. Trying to kick the thing off. But to no avail. The hand had a vice-like grip on him. Finally after a few minutes Johnathan got Jimmy to calm down enough to stop jumping around.

They sat there in the middle of the dark road. Prying the Hangman’s fingers off of the Deputy’s ankle, one at a time. After another couple minutes they finally got the damned thing off him. Then the two just stood there in silence, staring at the torn appendage.

“We’ve gotta take it with us.” Johnathan finally said.

“What?” Jimmy asked back. Not comprehending the words he’d just heard.

“Even if I have to carry it all the way back to town myself, I want the forensics guys to take a look at it.” Tonight he’d come to believe in monsters. And he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to take some evidence back with him.

“Okay Jimmy said, with trepidation in his voice.

“Let’s go back and get Ms. Buttchins, and high tail it back to town.”

Johnathan nodded, as he stared down at the arm. Finally he reached down and picked it up by the wrist. He half expected the thing to snap into life and latch onto him. But nothing happened.

The two took one final look down the road. Hoping that the Hangman wasn’t going to come flying out of the darkness, at them. Darkness, and swirling snow, was all there was to see. Then they turned, and started making their way down the snowy street…

THE END

Credit To – Lebooski

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There are cruel and fearsome things that prowl the open ocean.

April 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Mankind believe themselves to have escaped the horrors that preyed on them in bygone ages. Perhaps we are right. Mostly. The torch of scientific progress kindled by Newton and his contemporaries spread like wildfire in the centuries that followed, and drove the beasts that dwelt in our shadows scampering back to the darkened pits that spawned them; turning the hunter into the hunted. Physics, the idea that our world operates through universal and comprehensible laws, castrated the secret magics that had once left kings and peasant children alike shivering in the terror of all-concealing night. Darwin and his concept of evolution banished the ancient monsters with such speed and determination that Heracles himself would have been envious,

But there are still places in this world where the light of modernity hasn’t reached. A number of San tribes (commonly known as Bushmen) in Namibia speak of the ¯koo-b¯u*, or Bone Eaters. A tall (7-8′), grey, lanky, bipedal creature with lean yet protruding muscles capable of tremendous speeds; large rock hard hands that taper into sharp nailless points with bulbous knuckles and joints; hollow, deep set sockets holding round white eyes that roll about in them like a billiard ball; and of course the mouth, stretching across the entirety of its face, holding spiked teeth as a hard and bright as marble that seem to glisten even at night, always cracked into a broad grin when it encounters a straggling child who has wandered too far from the rest of the tribe.

The Nukak people of the Amazon basin speak of the Kanábéyáa, or Black Jaguar People. Little is definitively known about them, save the resemblance between their black fur, retractable claws, round pinprick eyes, and those of their namesake; their ability to shift between a bipedal and quadrapedal stance; and their propensity for hunting nearly anything, including humans foolish enough not to guard their campsites at night. Again and again, anthropologists hear tales of night sentries looking on in terror as bright eyes; first two, then dozens, circle and dance about the periphory of their encampment. Hellish yowls and hisses cut through the air, followed by panicked shouts and the chaos of men brought into the waking world by their greatest fear. And then, in a brief moment that seems an eternity to those caught within it, silence. The inevitable return into the veil of night. Of course, war stories are always told by the survivors, so there is a lack of testimony from those unfortunate groups who were either caught off guard, or else, for one reason or another, were deemed to be worth the fight. There are also tales of hunting parties finding one of their neighboring tribes eviscerated, stripped of flesh and meat, and left to rot in the coming sun.

But these stories will have to wait for another time. I come to you not with a tale of some hidden crevasse deep in the heart of the wilderness, but of that endless sprawl that surrounds all of humanity’s achievements. The last great uncharted territory. The ocean.

I had just graduated, and, like many that come from families of considerable means, viewed the gap between getting my diploma and getting a job as an oppurtunity for exploration. Unlike many of my peers, I was not content to use this period merely as an opportunity to get wasted and sleep around in a different corner of the globe. Not that I’m trying to come off as superior or condescending, I have no right for that. I started off in Europe just like everyone else, moving from Paris to Rome to Zurich to Vienna to Berlin and then Prague, indulging in the careless excesses that tend to characterize these trips. But at the same time, I wanted more than that. I wanted to ride the back of an oxe drawn cart down a withered trail to places my fellow Americans never laid eyes on. I wanted to slum it in the homes of destitute village inhabitants despite the fact that I could easily afford a four star hotel. I wanted something new, something unseen, some amazing forgotten secret.

The noteworthy part of my trip begins in Vanino, a fairly small seaport town on the Eastern coast of Russia. I had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad as far as Khabarovsk, and from there I decided I would get to the coast by hitching rides with locals. It was the mid 90’s, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still reverberating through the economy, which meant that everyone from corrupt bureaucrats in imported cars to farmers with mule drawn carts were more than willing to lighten my pockets of those heavy Francs and Deutschmarks. From my atlases and road guides, Vanino seemed the perfect place to set off for the final waypoint in my journey, Japan. It was small, and far enough from the railway to be empty of other tourists. Despite this, it had a moderately large seaport, and its proximity to the impossibly large forests of Siberia meant that at least some of its outbound ships were likely en route to help satiate Japan’s monstrous hunger for foreign timber.

While this ended up being the case, it was a bit harder than I thought to secure transport. Looking back, I can’t believe how stupid and brazen my approach was. Just walking onto the harbour of some backwater port town in a country whose language I could barely ask for the bathroom in, and somehow expecting that I would find a crew willing to drag my naive ass halfway down the Eastern coast of Asia. However, the Russian economy was in shambles, people really were desperate, and I was lucky enough to find someone who wasn’t quite so desperate as to simply rob me for all of the promised money. Then again, the way things turned out, perhaps I would have been better off getting beaten within an inch of my life, separated from all of my assets, and left to die in a town unconcerned with the well being of some obnoxious foriegner.

I met Kee Sye in a bar not too far from the harbor. I had spent many hours in that tavern, a fairly typical Russian bar with wood paneling, high tables, and way too many pictures hanging in way too close proximity to each other. I had refined my intelligence gathering technique until it began to take on a ritualistic quality. I went through the motions of this ritual as I always had. Buy him a drink first to warm him up to the idea of chatting with an American, find out if he speaks any English, if he works on a boat, and where he is heading. He was short, even for a Southeast Asian, and judging from his attire, had done quite a bit of travelling. He wore a thick red-brown coat that was scuffed, stained, and disheveled, yet clearly hardwearing, with no visible rips or patches despite the obvious abuse it had suffered, and an equally battered pair of American jeans. I found out that he was from Singapore, spoke English, and was a deckhand aboard the Сумерки бегун. He didn’t seem to particularly enjoy the company of Russians, which accounted for the relative ease in which we struck up a conversation. Seven beers and countless tales later, accounts of our respected travels, growing louder and more dramatic with each empty glass, and I finally had the nerve to bring up my predicament. As it turns out, he was heading to Nagoya on a small timber ship with a crew of eleven other men. I told him I was looking for transit to Japan, I had plenty of money, and that I would make it worth his and his captain’s while if they could find some room for me. He warned me that the conditions onboard were less than ideal, and I assured him it wouldn’t be a problem. He told me to meet with him tomorrow at the same place.

He didn’t show up until almost 10:00 the next night. I was on the verge of giving up and going home when I finally saw a tiny figure in the doorway. We locked eyes and he walked over to my table. I ordered him a beer and listened to what he had to say. The captain accepted my offer. They were leaving in two days. One of the deckhands had some medical issues and wasn’t capable of making the trip, so his bunk was going to be open anyways. I was to arrive at 6:00 a.m. on Monday ready to embark.

The Сумерки бегун was a fairly standard, if almost absurdly old (though this is also fairly standard among Russian ships), timber carrier. About 250′ long and 40′ wide, it had large cranes on both the bow and stern of the ship, as well as a second, smaller crane at the very tip of the stern. The majority of the interior was used for timber stowage. Two large compartments, one for each crane, were on either side of the ship. Between them there was a small section with the bridge above deck, and the crew quarters below.

Besides Kee Sye and myself, there were ten other crew members. There was Vladislav, the captain. A man with thinning hair whose hard stare and sharp voice put him somewhere between distinguished and despotic. Mikhail was the chief mate. An older man, in his mid 60’s by the look of him, he seemed frail compared to the rest of the crew, though if you saw him surrounded by members of his own age group he would probably strike you as robust. Zakhar, the second mate, looked about 40 with a fairly average height and build. Depending on the time of day, there would either be a slight tremble in his hands or else a faint redness in his cheeks. Where I would often see Vladislav and Mikhail debating with each other, Zakhar took his captain’s words with as infallible truths, and was often seen trailing behind him like a hungry dog.

The crew quarters were divided into three rooms with two bunk beds in each. The man whose spot I had taken was bunking with Alexsei, Wei, and Rodion. Alexi was the chief engineer. He had neatly cut brown hair and a nose you could tell had taken more than a handful of punches. When sober, he had a short, direct manner of speaking, but once he had a few drinks in him, he would oscillate between hostile machismo and awkward sentimentality. Wei, the second engineer, was from China. He was slightly taller than Kee Sye, standing at maybe five foot six, and possessed a relentless energy. He would spring, rather than stand up from a chair, and walked around the deck as if he were always on an important errand. He seemed legitimately interested in me and my homeland. I may well have been the first American he ever laid eyes on. However, his command of Russian was only a few rungs above mine, which made communication problematic. Rodion was the tallest crew member, maybe six foot three, and, despite his position as a wiper, he had the large muscular build of the deckhands. He had an aura of detachment about him, especially with regards to me. Despite sharing a bunk, we spoke to each other maybe three times in those first few days, with me trying to either break the ice or address some practical concern in broken Russian, and him giving a one or two word reply and moving on. Whether it was because I was a wealthy outsider or because that was just his approach to new people I can’t say. Though I would occasionally observe him in animated conversation with Georgy late in the evening.

The rest of the crew comprised of Georgy, the boatswain, as well as Viktor, Ganzorig and Nergui, who were deckhands. I’ll spare you the details of each, only noting that Georgy and Viktor were Russian, while Ganzorig and Nergui were Mongolian. Of the crew, only Kee Sye and Mikhail spoke English, so my communication with everyone else was pragmatic in nature.

I came aboard at the appointed time, careful not to disturb the loading process as I heaved my pack into my room and prepared for the voyage to come. I sat on my bed, debated going up and offer my assistance, but eventually decided that I would probably be more of a nuisance than a help. I ended up just kicking up my feet and waiting for the final preparations to be completed. Within an hour or so, the wood was loaded, the gangplank was up, and we were out on the open ocean.

The first few days were uneventful. I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, reading in my quarters while the crew went about their business. In the evenings I would sit in the dining area and occasionally chat with Kee Sye and Mikhail.
Kee would typically entertain me with stories of his adventures while I sat there taking it all in like an eager eight year old. Mikhail had many stories as well, but unlike the bravado that dripped from the Singaporean’s words, Mikhail’s voice possessed a sort of desperation. He had seen it all, and the weight of his lifetime on the high seas had left him hunched and weary. Still, I enjoyed talking with him, finding a certain folksy charm in his stark stories and peasant superstitions.

On the morning of the fourth day, the fog hit. It was unbelievable. The kind of fog that Eliot wrote about in Prufrock, with a thick, overpowering presence that you could almost feel rubbing against your skin. There was some debate among the officers as to how to procede. Vladislav felt that, given how far out at sea we were, it was safe enough to rely soley on their instruments without having to fear running aground. Mikhail disagreed. He brought up of the unreliability of the equipment, the strain it would put on the crew, and the possibility of getting lost. But mostly he spoke of omens, of tales picked up in the decades he spent far from the sight of land. He spoke of ships pressing through such fogs and never returning, and of unspeakable horrors recounted by those few who did. Vladislav made a show of dismissing such claims, trying to keep a stoic expression as he quiped some offhand rejection in his native tongue. Even then, however, I could detect an ever-so-slight quiver in his voice, as if it were the protocols of masculinity and not his calculating judgement that urged him forward. He gave the order to sail on.

Three hours later, we began to hear the screams. I was reading in my bunk when the horrible wails of what sounded like a young girl cut through the air with such intensity that my body shuddered in response. I ran up to the deck to see what had happened, and the confused voices and faces staring into the distance confirmed what I had feared. The voice had not come from the ship, but from below.

Somehow, the fog had gotten even worse than before, I could barely see the silhouettes of people standing ten feet in front of me. The confused voices began to get angry, and after a few minutes they were on the verge of yelling. I waited for a lull in the conversation to ask Kee Sye what was happening. He informed me that the crew had become divided over what to do, with one faction, led by Mikhail, urging that we abandon everything and turn around. Another, led by Alexi, proposed stopping the ship and trying to mount a rescue operation. A third group, led by Vladislav, argued that we should press our way through the fog as quickly as possible, that we would be free of it sooner if we kept going than if we turned around, and that we were so far away from the girl that by that point that, even if the fog lifted immediately, we would still have no hope of finding her. While Kee Sye was explaining this to me, Zakhar came rushing down from the bridge. According to Kee, he had attempted to send a distress signal alerting the authorities to the stranded girl, but wasn’t sure if he succeeded. The radio appeared to be functioning properly, but there was no response to his distress signal. Furthermore, most of the navigational equipment was malfunctioning, giving readings that were absolutley impossible. Immediately, the raised voices tranformed into a full blown screaming match, with each side taking the new revelation as proof of the righteousness of their plan. Eventually, Vladislav used his position to overrule the dissenters, and again gave the orders to push on. This time, however, there was open dissention in the air, and I didn’t need to speak the language to hear it.

Onward we drifted into the infernal shroud. Silence fell over the ship as the crew paced about nervously; gazing off into the murky gloom, seeking out some cause for the sense of doom that hung over us as palpably as the fog itself. It did not take long for the ocean to give its answer.

Those screams. Those horrible screams. At once roaring with untold power and yet quivering with all too human pain. It was as if every minute permutation of human suffering joined together in a demonic cacophony. Men well versed in the pains of violence and hunger fell to their knees like innocent children; tears bursting from their eyes and fear erupting from their mouths. Up and down both port and starboard we ran. The cries seemed to have no definite origin, yet we somehow knew their source lay right below us. Suddenly there was a commotion at the other end of the ship. I ran over and saw Viktor and Mikhail in a ferocious argument. Inscrutable words drenched in fear and rage flew back and forth as the fight began to shift from one of words to one of blows. Viktor suddenly dashed towards the railing. Georgy and Nergui tried to restrain him but swift elbows sent them reeling backwards and in an instant he was gone. Mikhail shouted orders as I ran to where he had jumped. The waters below were empty save the ever present swell of waves.

Lengths of rope were knotted into what my seaworthless eyes would call a modified a noose, or else tied to one of the two life preservers. Looking over the port railing, I saw a figure bob up to the surface, motionless excluding the ocean’s sway. I shouted out, and Kee Sye echoed my words in Russian as the whole crew charged across the deck. Ropes were hurled into the water. First came the life preservers, but when there was no attempt to grab on, everyone began to toss what they had into the water. Whether it was luck, skill, or something sinister that caused Ganzorig to effortlessly catch his knot around the figure I cannot say, but he did, so we grasped the rope and began to pull.

Looking back, there is one thing that strikes me about this rescue operation. Perhaps we were all too caught up in the madness of the moment to think about it, perhaps the fog was too thick for us to notice, but I find it shocking that nobody realized as we rushed about, trying to save our fallen comrade, that Vladislav and Zakhar were sitting in the bridge, ignorant of what was transpiring. It did not occur to anyone that as we scrambled to save that lone figure floating alongside us, our ship was speeding through the fog.

It was not Viktor who we hauled onto the deck, but a woman. We dragged her up, and as she crested the railing, a sense of trepidation grew within us. At first, we were not sure precisely what was wrong with her, though there was no doubt that something was amiss. Georgy pushed through the crowd, dropping to his knees to attempt first aid, but the moment he saw her up close he fell backwards and began to tremble. A wave of shock rolled through us as one by one we got close enough to see her. Her face, my god, her face. That nightmarish visage was burnt into my mind the moment I laid eyes on it. Barely a night goes by that does not see me shooting up from sleep, drenched in sweat, every awful detail recreated in my dreams exactly as it appeared before me on that light-veiled day.

The facial expression of horror exists at the most extreme limits of human body language. Every muscle of the face is stretched to an extreme degree. The eyes are open, but unlike the expressions of interest or surprise, in which the surrounding musculature stretches out vertically, when we experience horror, our muscles stretch back from the eyes in every direction, as if the very face itself is trying to escape from what its eyes are seeing. The mouth too is stretched to the limits of its expressive capability, and unlike a smile, which stretches horizontally, or a “jaw drop”, which stretches vertically, the muscles pull back in all directions, causing that instantly recognizable expression. The muscles in that woman’s face acted as I describe above, but somehow, they had stretched beyond anything I would have thought possible. Well beyond the typical limits of the human facial expression. It was like she had experienced something so horrifying that her face was forced to contort in ways no face had ever done before, or perhaps like it was stretched in terror for so long that the muscles involved had developed a strength unknown to the rest of humanity.

Once we had gotten over the shock of her face, we began to notice other strange things about her. When we brought her up, she was naked, and initially we had thought her to be elderly due to the wrinkles that covered her body. But then we began to notice some strange inconsistancies. The wrinkles of her face curved in odd ways to avoid patches of acne. There were a shocking number of cuts, scrapes, and bruises along her body. While a certain amount of injury is to be expected in the survivor of a maritime accident, what struck me about these injuries was how evenly they were inflicted across her body. There was not a one inch patch of skin unmarred by some kind of laceration. Fresh cuts sat atop an intricate web of scar tissue and her skin formed into miniature X’s wherever a fresh gash happened upon one that had’nt fully healed. Small holes offered windows to the world of organs and muscle within. Scrapes ran about her body in perfect curves like the intricate line patterns found in many Mosques. Fingernails and toenails ran the spectrum from nearly full to entirely absent, with blistered skin suggesting many had been recently ripped from the socket. Looking at her, it was impossible to escape the notion that these injuries were done by a calculating, sentient mind with the aim of inflicting as much suffering as possible.

Actually, there was one place on her body that was slightly different than the rest. On the small of her back, there was a large, circular hole much larger than the others, about two inches in diameter. There was nothing separating hee spinal cord from the outside world, and there was an odd spiral pattern that seemed to have been carved into the bone itself.

While we were deeply shaken by what we had seen, Mikhail in particular was profoundly disturbed. He had fallen to the ground, rolled onto his side, and his voice seemed completely devoid of expression. I knelt down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. Despite something deep inside me knowing it was a lie, in as calm a voice as I could muster, I said:

“Relax. We’re safe as long as we’re on the boat, and it can’t be too much longer until this fog clears.”

There was a long pause as he stared at me the way a worn down first grade teacher might stare at a student who confidantly proclaimed that he had figured out a way to get rid of war and violence: all we have to do is take all the guns and knives away from all the bad people.

“No.” He finally said. “We are not safe. We will not flee her.”

“What do you mean?” I said incredulously. “Who the hell are you talking about?”

“She is the hunter. The cruel one. She has picked us as her prey. We will not escape.”

“You mean whatever did this to that poor girl is after us? If she’s as powerful as you seem to think she is, why hasn’t she attacked us directly? Why bother with the fog and the mind games?”

“It’s her way. She has many powers, but she can’t leave the water. She does not need to. We will come to her. In time all of us will come to her.”

“There has to be something we can do. If she can’t leave the water than we should be safe as long as we stay on the ship. We can turn around. This fog can’t be everywhere. It can’t go on forever. If this fog really does stretch farther than we can sail, then the whole world would know about it by now. There would be rescue missions. Every news station on the planet would be reporting on the death fog and the hunt for all of the ships trapped within it.”

Mikhail laughed a hateful laugh that shook me almost as much as seeing the girl.

“She has been around for ages.” He said. “As long as man has sailed the sea. You think some pathetic beaurocrat or a TV news man will save us. We are trapped.”

“There has to be something we can do.” I pleaded.

“Yes. There is.” He said. Lifting his hand he pointed a trembling finger behind me.

I had been so engrossed in Mikhail’s words that I had not noticed the commotion going on around me. I turned and saw people crowding together. I realized that all eyes were on Georgy. There was panic in his voice as he screamed out in his native tongue. The rest of the crew had assumed docile, placating tones and began slowly mving towards him. I made my way through the crowd just in time to see him drag the knife across his throat. All the fear and trembling fled his body as he crumpled to the floor.

The shock coursed through us, and we all began to truly grasp the true hopelessness of our position, each of us coming terms with it in our own way. Alexi and Nergui by walking away for a moment of solitude. Rodion by weeping atop Georgy’s lifeless body. Ganzorig by screaming into the uncaring and all consuming fog. The rest us stood motionless like a rat in the talons of an eagle, utterly aware of the futility of struggle. Time moved on. Alexi and Nergui returned. Ganzorig went quiet. Rodion’s sobs became muffled whimpers. Once again, silence fell upon us. Once again, it was broken by the screaming.

“She comes.” Mikhail said.

The screaming was much like it was earlier, a chorus of suffering pressed into a single voice. This time, however, it was not a girl’s voice. It was Viktor. As he reached the side of the ship the bestial ululations slowly took on the shape of human language. The climbs and dives in pitch made translating everything he said impossible, but certain words: “death”, “kill”, “please”, “end”, and “mercy” made his message painfully clear. The crew fanned out to gather what they could to aid him, some people grabbing the rope that was still tied from earlier, others, like myself, sprinting to our quarters to collect some device or another. I grabbed my backpack and ran back onto the deck, fumbling through my collection of trinkets and essentials until I found the set of throwing knives I purchased in St. Petersburg. I ran to the railing and did my best to aim at my target, a body at once familiar yet at the same time so contorted in agony that it seemed entirely unknown. Most of my shots were wide off the mark, but even the few that weren’t proved just as useless. Every time something came close enough to potentially end his misery, he would be dragged under the water, only to emerge moments later.

My ammunition exhausted I watched as the rest of the crew fared similarly. Even Alexi, who had the foresight to tie his machete to one of the lengths of rope so he could retrieve it, eventually came to realize the futility of this game. When he realized his best chance was to try and sever the long tenticle hooked into Viktor’s back, the creature moved him fifteen feet or so further from the ship, enough to ensure a fatal loss of accuracy but not enough to deaden the screams. With all hope of releasing our friend from his suffering evaporated, our crosshairs turned towards easier targets. Rodion began raving, and within moments Kee Sye told me we were going to storm the bridge and turn the ship around by force.

As we crowded around the top of the stairs, we realized Vladislav and Zakhar had barricaded the door. Rodion, Ganzorig, and Nergui took turns ramming it with their shoulders, Wei ran off looking for an improvised battering ram, while Kee Sye and myself went to the deck to see if we climb up and talk to them through the forward window. Perched precariously on the small ledge running along the second floor window, we saw too wide eyed men who seemed on the brink of delirium. They were intently gazing at something out on the horizon, and when I had carefully twisted myself around I realized we were sailing directly towards a single point of light cutting through the fog in the distance.

“Don’t you see!” I yelled, with Kee Sye dutifully translating. “That is obviously a trap.”

A furious burst of Russian, followed by Kee Sye’s English rendition.

“We will be free. This nightmare will be over. There is lighthouse aheas, or a rescue ship no doubt.”

“She’s toying with us. This is all part of her mind game. For the love of God, don’t sail towards the light.”

“They will rescue us. They must have been sent when they heard our distress call.”

“For all we know our distress call never even went out. None of our equipment has worked since we’ve been stuck in this fucking fog.”

“They are coming to rescue us. You will see. You will thank me when this is over.”

This continued for some time. Eventually, we realized that there was nothing we could say to get through to them. We climbed down and walked over to where Mikhail had stayed, and layed down next to him, resigned to our fate.

Viktor’s screams began to die down, or else we were just too numb to notice them, as the light grew larger and larger. The continuous banging let us know that the efforts to break down the door had been just as pointless. I turned towards the sky, trying to see if I could get one last look at the late afternoon sun, but even this was foiled by the merciless fog. Somehow, I began to feel tired. My eyelide drifted closer and closed. I wondered how long it had been since I slept.

I was awakened by a roaring symphony of destruction; metal being cut apart, various componants of the ship clanging into each other, the death wail of engines. I didn’t realize I was in the air until I came crashing into the foreward railing. I looked up and saw hundreds of rocks towering over me. They were shaped like spikes, four feet in diameter at their widest, shooting out of the water at various angles, some of them stretching forty feet above me. I quickly realized that the ship was pinned in its mangled position by the vertical spikes, while the angular ones had gutted her insides. Blended into the clamor of the sinking ship were even more screams. It was not just Viktor this time. With panic radiating through my body I realized that not everyone was lucky enough to have been saved by the railing. I sat up, scanned my surroundings, and noticed that both Kee Sye and Mikhail were nearby, apparantly having hit the rail five to ten feet down from where my body had battered it.

As I sat up, I heard a commotion further down the ship. I watched as Vladislav and Zakhar sprinted out from the stairwell, and realized they were taking off towards the free fall life boat. I jumped up, called out for Kee Sye and Mikhail to follow, then took off towards the stern with the two of them close behind. I watched as another two figures emerged from the stairwell in pursuit of the captain; it was Wei and one of the Mongolians. They were about 50 feet ahead of us, and by the time we rounded the corner they were allready struggling with the Vladislav and Zakhar, who were now inside the craft. Nergui was at the doorway, attempting to both hold the door for the rest of us and stop Zakhar from engaging the drop switch. Wei was right behind him, jittering and trying to figure out if there was anything he could do. Rodion’s expression indicated he had just come to as he sprinted around the opposite side of the aft while struggling to draw comprehension out of the confusion. Wei yelled something and he came charging towards them just as Vladislav pulled Nergui into the life boat, slammed the door behind him, and pulled the release. It went flying, slamming into Rodion on its way into the water and dragging him into the ocean. By the time we got to the waters edge there was no sign they had ever been there.

We didn’t have any time to mourn their loss. Within moments of their departure, the ship let out a deep, creaking wail. We fanned out along the railings, trying to better assess the situation, but there wasn’t enough time. The Сумерки бегу had cracked about 30 feet aft of the center, and the deck was rapidly tilting backwards. As I cursed myself for not saving one of my knives, the remaining crew began shouting in Russian. Suddenly, Kee Sye yelled that some of the timber bundles were drifting out of the exposed stowage, and that if we hurried we might be able to make the jump. I took of towards the split, and realizing I wouldn’t have enough time to scope things out, used my remaining momentum to make a leap of faith into the abyss.

My knees were the first to connect with the hard wood, acting as a pivot for momentum to transfer towards my face, which cracked the timber when the two inevitably met. I spent the next few moments in a daze, oblivious to the chaos that surrounded me as I assessed the damage. My nose was badly broken, and one of my front teeth was hanging on by a thread. I mourned the loss of my first aid kit until I went to lay down and felt my backpack propping me up. I dug out the kit, stuffed some gauze into my nose, and then laid back and rested my eyes for a moment.

The remaining daylight was almost gone when I reopened them. With a slightly clearer mind, I began to seriously assess my situation. There was no sign of the ship, the rocks, or anything but endless water, though this was hardly surprising given the ever faithful fog. What did surprise me was that I thought I could hear voices in the distance, ones that were not wailing in agony but seemed to be talking. I yelled out, and heard both Kee Sye and Mikhail answer back. They were sharing a bundle raft, and seemed maybe fifty to a hundred yards away. Mikhail had broken his leg in the fall, and was seriously worried about it getting infected. Niether had any supplies, so they couldn’t even amputate if it came down to that. I told them that I had a first aid kit, but I wasn’t sure how I could get to them. Apparantly we were caught in a current and were heading in the same direction, but as far as they knew we were not getting any closer. All of a sudden I heard a voice yelling in Russian from the other direction. It seemed much closer than the others, and I quickly realized that it belonged to Alexi. After a few minutes talking to Kee Sye he began to slow down and enunciate clearly for my benefit.

He said that he was below deck when the ship crashed, and he climbed onto his bundle before the Сумерки бегу ripped apart. Apparantly, due to a pressing need to get as far from the collapsing ship as possible, he discovered that if you grabbed hold of planks of wood, kept your chest on the raft, and kicked with your legs at the edge of the water, you could propel yourself forward without falling into her clutches. I was naturally hesitant, and made no secret of this fact, but I began to hear a rhythmic splashing sound in the distance. I dug through my pack, found my flashlight, and shined it at the source of the noise. I saw another makeshift lifeboat emerge from the darkness with a man spread halfway between it and the water.

Mikhail had understood enough of what was happening that he began to plead for me to come as quickly as possible. Concern for my friend suppressed the last remnants of my fear, so I took off my pants and found a good spot on the raft with beams of timber that stuck out enough for me to grab hold. I gripped the wood, and as I went to stick my legs in an odd feeling I couldn’t quite identify struck me. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it to the ocean. The light glided across the inky water before finally stopping at a massive pair of bulging white eyes almost directly under me. They were each two feet long and about a foot below the water. Entirely white save two pill sized black dots, they slanted inwards, and rose trembling out of their sockets with wild excitement. I moved the light towards the raft, and at the exact place my feet were about to enter was a perfectly round, gaping mouth; its lips, stretched to the waters edge, were peeled back, revealing layers of jagged, hooked teeth that wound their way down the gaping chasm.

I reached into my pack, grabbed a nesting doll of Soviet leaders, and hurled it directly at the bulging eye. She let loose a high pitched, clicking cry and darted off, propelled by webs made out of hundreds of fan shaped fins connected to her upper body. As she passed I saw malformed breasts, swollen to the point that they were leaking out the blood that apparantly filled them, and hundreds of tenticles emanating from the base of her torso. Some ended with jagged hooks reminiscent of her teeth, others long straight spikes, some tapered into writhing, wormlike extensions. A few of them were buried into the backs of my former crewmates. I saw Zakhar flailing about with panic in his eyes as though he were perpetually drowning, his facial muscles allready beginning to stretch back beyond their normal limits. I lifted my head just in time to see Alexi’s pure white eyes meet my own. Without breaking his gaze or reacting in the slightest, he reached his hand into his mouth and ripped out his tongue whole, before being dragged back into the water.

The next few days were spent drifting in and out of delirium. The three bottles of water in my pack saved me from immediately succombing to dehydration, but did not save me from having to endure the endless screaming. Some came from her toys, and some came from Mikhail and Kee Sye. On the first day they pleaded with me to find some way of joining them, on the second they rained down curses on me for abandoning them, on the third they went silent. Early on I tried to reason with them, tell them there was nothing I could do, but when men stand at the brink of death reason begins to lose its power. After the third day I too was out of water. I laid there for what felt like ages, waiting for the merciful hand of death.

When I first heard the helicopter I chalked it up as another auditory hallucination. I didn’t fully accept its existence until I felt the warm hands of the rescue crew lifting me onto the stretcher. After I recovered some of my strength, I worked up the courage to ask them about Mikhail and Kee Sye. I didn’t hold out much hope for their survival, but I figured the least I could do was ensure they had a proper burial. When I asked, the copilot gave me an odd look, and when I inquired further he told me: “You were the only one. We checked all of the other wood piles and they were totally empty. No clothing. No waste. No sign that anyone had ever been there at all.”

Credit To – Snowblinded

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From Perth to Darwin: A Ghost Story

April 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I’d been travelling around Australia for about eighteen months doing the usual things travellers do. Between partying and sightseeing I’d worked on chicken farms, picked fruit and worked in call centres. I’d originally gone with some friends but one by one they ran out of money or got homesick so I was the last. I met James about two months before my visa was due to end. I was staying in Perth in some shitty hostel and one day he moved in to the bunk above me. These hostels were full of colourful characters, some fun, some annoying but most were like me, away from home and doing something different. It wasn’t a very glamorous existence but it was fun and it was what it needed to be at that time.

We clicked immediately. James was unlike a lot of the guys you’d meet ravelling. He’d gone it alone and actually seemed like he was out in the world to actually grow and better himself. He wasn’t obsessed with getting drunk and trying to have sex with anything in a skirt like 99% of the guys I’d encountered. He was calm and easy-going and the type of person who would immediately put people at ease, with James around the hostel actually felt like a home. James had a few more months on his visa than I did but we agreed that we’d go home together and he’d move down to London. We wouldn’t live together straight away, he would find a house share and when the time was right we get a place together. Those were the kind of plans we were making before we set off on the road trip.

The idea was to drive from Perth up to Darwin, avoiding the main highways, where we’d fly out back to the UK. James had some crappy car that he’d brought while living in Queensland and claimed to have driven it across the outback more than once. We set off, a bit later than planned to due leaving drinks the night before but we had plenty of time. With three days for a two day journey, we planned on taking in some sights along the way. We were five hours out of Perth on some outback road when the car gave up on us. Neither of us knew much about mechanics but when your exhaust pipe is visible in the rear view mirror on the road behind you, it’s obvious that something is wrong. All we could do was wait for someone to pass by and give us a lift to the nearest town, which according to our map was a five hour walk across the outback. Though we had plenty of water and food, neither of us fancied that. We had no phones either; we’d given up the contracts as we were leaving the country. We probably should have walked. Hindsight is a bitch.

We waited for hours. When you come from the UK, especially London, and everything is on your doorstep you don’t have the sense of scale for dealing with a land mass of the size of the outback. As time went on and no vehicle appeared the opportunity for starting off on foot left us. It would be dark soon and attempting to cross the outback at night held less appeal than attempting it during the day. We sat in that crappy car for hours before he appeared in a dust storm of exhaust and sand.

When Jonno, that’s what he called himself, pulled up beside us we were hesitant. Jonno was a stereotype through and through. He was covered in grease, unkempt and spoke with a thick accent that seemed almost caricature. His pick-up truck looked fifty years old and the mangy dog sat in the passenger seat, quiet but looking at us like we were meat.
‘Looks like you could use a tow?’ he said.
‘Yeah, any chance we could get back to Perth?’ asked James.
‘Not heading that way mate, my ranch is about an hour north of here. You can rest up the night and I’ll take you to Wagga Notch in the morning. You can get the bus to Perth from there’.
‘Can we go north from Wagga Notch?’ I asked ‘we need to be in Darwin in two days’.
‘Yeah, there’s a few busses that go that way but you’ll need to change at Quietbrook. Might be a bit tight with the changes but I think two days is doable’.
James looked at me with concern. He leaned in.
‘I’m not sure about this, maybe we should wait for someone else? Just go back to Perth and get the train.’
Jonno heard what James had said.
‘I doubt there’ll be anyone on this road till morning, even then it’ll be the ranchers going up to Quietbrook. Look, you’re out here in the middle of nowhere, I really don’t want to leave you, I can tow you, no charge.’

We both a bad feeling about the situation, about Jonno, but what choice did we have.

We decided to leave the car where it was, we’d be getting the bus in the morning and Jonno said he’d come back for it in a few days. He dealt in scrap and could put it to good use. We sat in the back of the truck, we told Jonno we didn’t want to put him out but really neither of us were comfortable around him. We drove through the freezing outback as the sun set and the temperature dropped. I pulled on my Jacket and James put his arms around me to keep me warm. It helped a bit.

After an hour we reached the ranch. Jonno had told us he made his living dealing in scrap and towing broken down cars and his ranch consisted a wire fenced car park of abandoned, mostly derelict cars. Some were no more than rusted shells stacked on top of each other, some looking in relatively good conditions. It was lit by some low level flood lights which cast most the area in shadow. As Jonno unlocked the padlocked gate we took in the surroundings. Off in all directions, nothing was visible, just an endless dark desert where you couldn’t even tell where the dark sands met the sky. Turning back to the ranch I noticed a shack made of old wood and corrugated iron amongst the auto graveyard that must have been Jonno’s dwellings. It didn’t seem like any place anyone could live, let alone spend the night.

We had both seen the movie ‘wolf creek’ and maybe because of that we were immediately on edge. I was staring at the shack, imagining chains, hooks and torture devices while James scanned the surrounding area. He always was calm and level headed. We ground to a halt a hundred yards from the shack and Jonno got out of the truck. He was smiling. Dogs began to bark in the distance.
‘If you wait here a minute or two, I’ll lock up the girls. They don’t really like strangers.’
He walked off to the shack. The dog on the passenger seat remained, staring at us through the rear view window.
‘Fuck!’ James said ‘This is bad! Do you think we should just make a run for it?’
Even though I was having the exact same thoughts, I didn’t want to encourage James. I tried to steady my voice, to be the literal voice of reason.
‘No, you’re being ridiculous.’
‘No, I’m not’ James said as he got up from the truck. ‘People go missing from the outback all the time. Who actually knows we’re out here?’ I couldn’t really answer. The truth was no one knew where we were. Our families back in the UK only knew to expect us back in three days time. Our friends back at the Hostel would have forgotten us already.

James jumped off the truck and headed for the driver’s door. The dog in the passenger seat began to growl aggressively. I jumped off the back of the pick-up and followed James as he backed away from the truck and started heading to the numerous cars aligned within the ranch.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Looking for a working car. Not all of his victims would have been breakdowns.’ I let out a nervous laugh.
‘If we can find a working car, we know he’s lying. We’ll offer him some money for it and get the hell out of here’. James said. He had checked several cars by this point and was heading towards a blue four door car. It stood out amongst the other wrecks, there was no rust or dented chrome like a car only ever driven to church on a Sunday, it was old but still new. James was sat in the car playing about with some exposed wiring.
‘This is the one, I can feel it’.
‘You’re not actually trying to hotwire it. Are you?’ I laughed. The engine started first time and the headlights lit up the surroundings. I stood in the glowing lights of the car, unable to see James now exiting the vehicle. He ran to the pick-up and grabbed ours bags and Jonno’s spare petrol canister from the back. At some point the howling and barking had started again from the shack. It grew louder as the shack door opened and Jonno emerged, shouting.

Before I knew what was happening, James was beside me in the blue car with the passenger door open, screaming at me to get in. I glanced up to see Jonno being overtaken by a pack of scary looking dogs. I jumped in to the car and slammed the door shut. As James drove away some of the dogs had made it to the car, their breath condensing on the windows before we overtook them and drove off into the quiet outback, the barking fading to nothing.

As some semblance of calm took over me I began to register the intensity on James’ face as we sped along the dark road. His jaw was clenched shut and his eyes were fixed on the road ahead. I tentatively reach for his shoulder. He flinched as I made contact and the car swerved slightly. He shot a look sideways and upon recognising me, seemed to relax immediately. All the tension in his body fell away and the car began to slow down.
‘What the hell are you doing? I asked ‘you just stole a car’.
‘We’ll be on a plane before he reports it, if he does report it anyway. You saw how many wrecks he had lined up there.’
‘Still, how do we even know that this thing will reach bloody Darwin?’ I asked.
‘We don’t, but it’s better than being butchered by some psycho in the outback.’
‘You’re the one acting like a fucking psycho’ I screamed ‘I can’t believe you’ve put us in this situation!’ I could see the tension crawl back over him, it made him almost unrecognisable. His fists clenched on the wheel and then his arms and shoulders tightened. He took a long, deep breath in an effort to remain calm but his jutting jaw and grinding teeth betrayed his true feeling. Though twitching lips he let some words slip.
‘If you’re so desperate to be raped and murdered then by all means I’ll stop and let you out’.
‘You’re a prick!’ I muttered. I climbed into the back seat, positioned myself for some sleep the best I could using my bag as a pillow and James’ jacket as a cover. Despite my anger at James and the adrenaline in my system, sleep took me and I slept soundly.

I was awoken by the collision and in those confused moments upon waking I forgot where we were. I sat up, looked out the window and saw James screaming and shaking just out in front of the car. I tried the handle on the rear door I was sleeping against but it came off in my hand. The opposite door wasn’t much better. James was now silent but stood trembling with his hand covering his face. I awkwardly climbed over to the front and exited from the driver’s door, left open from where James had fled. As I emerged from the car I saw a dent in the bonnet and glanced back at the road behind us. There was something in the road, maybe thirty meters back. At that point it was just a ‘thing’ with no discernible shape I could make out. I approached James slowly. As I got closer I could make out his muttering.
‘I killed her’ he said ‘the girl – I only shut my eyes for a second.’
I looked back to the mass in the road behind us. I backed away from James and walked towards the thing. I only had to take a few steps before I could make out what it actually was.

‘James! It was only a kangaroo’ I cried in relief ‘just some stupid, bloody kangaroo’
I was right next to it as James joined me. The poor thing was lying in the road at some awkward angle, its legs bent back under its body, a small trail of blood from its ear. James was still in shock from the collision and didn’t share my relief, I could still see him shaking.
‘It was a girl, a teenager. I was tired but I only shut my eyes for a second, I swear.’
‘It’s just a kangaroo’ I said.
‘It wasn’t. It was a girl, I looked her in the just before I hit her, she looked so sad.’
‘Look around you’ I said, ‘where would she had come from? Why would she have just standing there in the middle of the road?’
‘She was…’ James trailed off, he was confused and tired. We were both stood staring at the poor broken thing when it began to spasm. The kangaroo was still alive.

We both stumbled backwards, horrified by the weird jutting movements as the Kangaroo tried to get back on its feet. It moved like it was a broken puppet, being pulled up by tangled strings and a vindictive puppeteer. There was a silent horror to the violent jerking limbs, as if the laws of nature and physics didn’t now apply to this particular creature.
‘We can’t just leave it like this’ James said. He began walking up and down the side of the road, head down, searching. I crouched down beside the Kangaroo and looked in its eyes. The panicked movement had calmed down by this point and the animal merely twitched. A shadow cast over me and I heard James speak in a flat voice.
‘Out the way’ he said as I turned to see him holding a large rock above his head. I burst in to tears and ran to the car, sat myself in the driver’s seat and covered my ears. A few moments later James was standing at the window, his hand gesturing for his bag.
‘Can you pass me a bottle of water?’ he asked. I leant over and grabbed one from his bag. As I did so I could make out small dots of blood on his hand. He took it without a word and rinsed his hands. I heard the bottle hit the road as he tossed it over his shoulder. I adjusted the seat and mirror and turned to James as he got in the car.
‘You need to sleep’.
‘I saw her before’ he said.
‘What?’
‘The girl I hit, I saw her earlier – a few times in fact. Like, I’d be driving past an old sign post and there’d be some old banner or something hanging from it, but then, when I’d see it in the mirror behind us, it would be a girl, just standing there.’
‘James, you were clearly asleep at the wheel and dreaming. You’re in shock now, that’s why it all seems so real. It was just a kangaroo, you saw that right?’
‘Yeah’ he said.
James turned away from me, staring out at the endless desert. I started the car and drove.

If you’ve ever driven long distance you know how tedious that level of concentration can be. Driving through endless desert with nothing your own thoughts for company can cause all kinds of hallucinations. James slept I turned his words around and around in my head. In some dream like states you could easily mistake a Kangaroo for a person but there was something about James’ reaction that unsettled me. He knew he’d hit a wild animal, but at the same time he knew he had killed the girl. Both realities were real to him. I tried the radio but there was nothing but static. It either didn’t work or there was nothing broadcasting in range. James slept.

Two, maybe three hours passed before we had to stop to refuel. After taking a pee break I was getting the can of petrol out of the back seat when James woke up. He looked at me and then looked out the window.
‘I’m not too sure how to do this’ I said holding the can up to him ‘do you mind doing it?’
I was sat on the side of the road half way through a bag of crisps and warm can of coke as James refuelled.
‘I did see her’ he started ‘when you were asleep, I kept seeing that girl, at least I thought I did’.
He seemed more like his normal self so I let him continue.
‘And just now, I think I dreamed about her. I could see her face, it wasn’t anyone I knew or recognised though. She was weird looking, teenage features but an old face, like, really old – barely starting to decay. There was something else too, when I hit her… the kangaroo I mean, I remember, were you like, stroking the back of my neck?’
I looked up at James. He didn’t look back. He was just staring at the can in his hands.
‘I was asleep, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t anyone. You imagined it.’
‘Yeah, he said ‘you’re right. Maybe it was the petrol fumes eh?’ James pulled the can nozzle out of the refuelling jet and walked to the back of the car. He tried the boot but it wouldn’t budge. He took a step back and suddenly started kicking at it repeatedly and ferociously. He had turned from an introspective, gentle man in to an animal in that one split second. In the time I’d know him I’d never seen him like this. He was angry, kicking at the car in frustration.
‘James’ I shouted ‘I don’t think that’s going to help’.
James stared at the boot. He tried it again and it sprang open.
‘Take a look at this’ he said as he peered into the boot of the car.

I joined him and looked in to the boot. There was a back pack and a pair of hiking boots. I pulled out the pack and sat it on the side of the road. James sat inside the boot, legs hanging over the side, shading himself from the sun. I opened the pack and started pulling out the contents, jeans, T-shirts, pants, socks. It obviously belonged to a fellow traveller, some guy just like us. There were maps of Australia and book of collected poems by Sylvia Plath. Everything had a musty smell to it, like it had been sat in that car for years. I packed it all back up and noticed a pocket on the top of the pack. I found a digital camera inside, quite an old model; it was bulky and looked thoroughly used. I tried the power button and was surprised when it clicked itself on and whirred into life. The battery indicator flashed ‘LOW’ and I pressed the button to see the saved photos. A picture of a guy downing a can of beer flashed up. I scrolled sideways to see the same guy sat next to a woman by a pool, drunk and having fun. I scrolled further and the pictures of the couple by the pool gave way to pictures of the couple in the outback. I stopped at on picture which showed the woman sat in a car. I stood and walked around to the driver’s side, matched up the photo to what I could see in front of me. I scrolled to the next picture and saw the insides of the car, exactly the same as it was now. The next few pictures showed endless desert scenery and then one of the guy stood on a rocky outcropping. The final picture I saw before the battery died showed the woman sat in the driver’s seat, she looked sad. I tossed the camera on to the back seat and went back to the pack where James had started rummaging through it too. He casually tossed the contents on to the side of the road.
‘Useless’ he said as he kicked the bag away from the car. James tossed the petrol can in to the boot and slammed it shut.
‘I’ll drive’ he said.

We drove for hours in silence. We ate whatever food we had left and stopped to relieve ourselves all without saying a word to each other. We passed endless desert and a few abandoned road side shacks. With each passing shack James would watch it come towards us intently and then quickly double take as we drove passed it. He’d then look at it in the rear view mirror until it was out of sight. I remembered what he had said about the girl he kept seeing and wondered if he was seeing her now or just looking for her. We passed a truck hauling what looked like old caravans, worn down and derelict through holidays and recreation. There were a number of empty windows where a phantom girl could hide but James paid it little attention. A few minutes later James turned to me.
‘Did you happen to see who was in that truck we just passed?’
‘Truck? That one just now?’ I asked.
‘Did you though?’ he replied.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Did you see who was driving it?’ He asked.
‘No, why?’
‘No reason’.
We carried on driving in silence. I knew he had seen the girl in the truck’s cab; he was trying to ask me if I’d seen her too. There may well have been a girl in that truck but whatever James saw; it wasn’t what I would have seen. I climbed into the back seat and tried to assume my sleeping position. I’d drift in and out of sleep but between everything that had happened and James playing with the radio, there was no way I could rest. I tried to tell him that I’d already tried the radio but still, all he got was static. James eventually found something that was playing music; he managed to tune in just as ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by ‘Elton John?’ started.

‘That’s nice’ James said in calm, soothing voice.
‘Yeah’ I replied through my half sleeping haze ‘I love this song’. I roused myself and sat up slightly, finding James face in the rear view mirror. His eyes met mine and then flitted sideways to the empty space directly behind him. Panic shot across his face. The car swerved one way and then back the other, brakes squealed and we spun out of control. We came screeching to a halt and James was out of the car before I could register what had happened. Elton john was singing about ‘boys too young to be singing blues’.
Clambering in to the front of the car and finally out on to the road I joined James about ten meters off in the dirt. He was just stood there in the sand facing away from the car, no movement and no emotion on his face.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
James screwed up his face as if trying to even comprehend the question caused him pain.
‘James’ I pleaded ‘tell me what wrong with you?’
He turned back to the car and then back to the desert expanse. He couldn’t bare to look at the car, even for a moment.
‘You…’ he started. I waited for him to finish but it was clear he wouldn’t, or couldn’t even. His face contorted again and his fists clenched.
‘Was it her again? I asked ‘did you see her?’
He immediately grabbed the back of his neck and started rubbing, scratching almost.
‘You thought I was stroking your neck again, right?’
He continued to rub the back of his neck, like he was trying to get rid of something clinging on there. I took his hand by the wrist and stopped him. I came up behind and put my arms around him. His arms covered mine and I leant in to kiss his neck. We stood there for a while.
‘It’s ok’ I said finally ‘you’re just tired. We’ve been on the road for almost twenty four hours and you’ve driven most of it. I’ll take over while you get some sleep. It’s not too bad in the back’.
He turned around to look at car, specifically the back seats. He shook his head and closed his eyes.
‘No, think I’ll just sleep up front with you’.

We got back in the car and Elton was singing about ‘mongrels who ain’t got a penny’. I turned the radio off so James could sleep and set off as the sun began to set.
I drove through the desert and through the night until the sun started to rise. I was glad for the extra light and the extra warmth. The drive had been a harrowing at times. I nearly nodded off to sleep on several occasions and narrowly missed several kangaroos leaping out in front of me. I went through cycles of freezing shivers and blistering sweats as I tried unsuccessfully to maintain the cars heating system. I had some terrifying pee breaks alone in the desert and witnessed the full majesty of an unpolluted star filled sky as I refuelled the car. James slept the entire time. It wasn’t sound sleep by any means. He writhed in the seat and would mumble nonexistent words at random intervals. It made me nervous, having him there right next to me, knowing that his dreams and thoughts were haunted by this girl. As the morning sun crept up over a mountain dead ahead of us the light made it impossible for me to continue, I’d lost my sunglasses the previous night. With my hunger and tiredness increasing I pulled over to the side of the road and tried unsuccessfully to stir James from his sleep. That man could sleep through anything.

I refuelled the car with the last of the petrol and then fished my back pack from the back seat of the car. I looked at the road map and I figured we had about another eight hours on the road and just about the right amount of petrol to get us to Darwin. I took my bag and sat in the shade behind the boot of the car. I took out my camping stove and some bottled water and cooked up some instant noodles for breakfast. James finally woke up and came to join me there. He was back to his old self, all the self doubt and terror had left him. We ate out noodles and then James surprised me with some chocolate biscuits. We washed them down with some warm cans of coke and James announced that he ‘needed a piss’. He stood up, stretched and wandered off a few meters from the car and stopped. I heard his zipper undo.
‘Further’ I shouted to him ‘I don’t want to see or hear you pissing’.

James walked some more, and I settled behind the side of the car with some toilet roll. I look up and down the road for oncoming vehicles, pulled down my shorts and pants and did my business there. I stood up and to see James still going. I walked around to the driver’s side, opened the door and sat with my legs out of the car. I leant back and tried the radio. It was still just the same static as before. I turned it off and saw James starting to head back towards me and the car. He was gazing out to the horizon, taking in all the sights but came to a sudden stop as he looked up to meet my gaze. He stood there and glanced from me to the ground and back to me again. A few moments passed and he repeated the motion, only this time he added a look of anguish. He turned on the stop and bent over, clutching his head with his hands. He straightened up and reluctantly looked at me again, only it wasn’t me he was looking at. It was the back seat of the car. I followed his gaze to the empty seats. I called out to him.
‘What’s wrong?’
‘Come over here’ he offered in response. His voice was somehow lacking conviction, like he was pretending there was nothing wrong.
‘What the fuck, James! We need to get back on the road, we got plenty of time but I don’t want to take any risks’. His hands began to tremble so he clenched his fists to stop them. He spoke in a put on calm, measured voice.
‘Please, just – just come over here with me’.
I got up and slammed the car door, every movement carefully choreographed to show my annoyance. I stomped over to about two meter from where James was standing.
‘What?’ I spat at him. James took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, he closed his eyes.
‘There’s someone sitting in the back seat of the car. It’s the girl, she’s been following me. She’s a ghost or something and for some reason you can’t see her. She’s there right now. She’s been… haunting me.’
I just stared at him as he stood, tense and closed off. I turned to the empty car, turned back to James. I was scared, terrified. Not because I thought there was a ghost in our car though, I was scared for James, scared for his mental state, scared about what he might do next, what he was capable of.

‘James’ I said ‘there’s no one there. The car’s empty. It’s just the two of us. Maybe it’s the heat out here, or maybe… you’re exhausted James, we both are. Please, come with me and I’ll drive us to Darwin and then we’ll go home.’ I tried to be as soothing as possible. James was now had sweat pouring off him. It was hot under the sun but this was something else. He was in a heightened state, running on his instincts and fear alone.
‘I thought that at first’ he said through clenched teeth ‘but she’s there, she’s touched me and I’ve felt her, she has mass and…and form … she’s real. I can’t get back in there with her… I just can’t’.
‘Then what are we going to do then? Abandon the car? Wait out here for someone to pick us up?’ I snapped.
‘Yes’. He said it like it was the only option.
‘Look James, I’m sorry… you just need to relax. I’ve got some valium for the flight, you can have some now and then I’ll drive, it’s only a few more hours to Darwin’. I motioned to touch his face and at the same time he violently swiped my arm away.
‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ he screamed.
I was almost knocked off my feet but managed to right myself mid-stumble.
‘You fucking prick! Don’t you dare ever do that again’ I screamed back at him.

I was furious. I turn around and began to walk away. I tried to calm myself, to think rationally. I put the pieces together in my head and formed an idea that made perfect sense at the time. I marched back towards James.
‘Is this some kind of trick to get rid of me?’ I yelled at him ‘pretend you’ve gone mental so I’ll have to break up with you? You’re pathetic!’ My expletives continued for a few more minutes. I accused him of having a girlfriend back in the UK and told him just how low this was. Told him that if he was a real man he would just admit it and then he could stop pretending. All he did was stare at the ground. His silence and refusal to respond made me angrier. I stormed back to the car got in and started the engine the way James had shown me to do it. I took what I thought was my final look at James.
‘Stay here then, you wanker!’ I literally slammed by foot on the accelerator. The car screeched off in a cloud of burnt rubber and sand and I set my sights on the horizon.

About a minute later I had calmed down. I stopped the car, reversed and drove back to James. He was sat on his knees in the sand where I’d left him, he’d just given up and let whatever horrors he had overwhelm him and crush him. I walked over to him and took him by the wrist. He started screaming, hoarse screams that came from somewhere else, not from the James I knew. He didn’t physically resist, just screamed ‘No’ continuously. I led him to the car; I think that maybe a part of him knew that this was the only option.
‘She’s doing it again’ he said through howls and tears as I sat him in the passenger seat. He was covering his head and leaning forward, as far away from the back seat as he could.
‘Leave me alone’ he screamed ‘just leave me alone, I didn’t do anything!’

By the time we’d pulled into the car park for Darwin international airport five hours later, James was silent. The inhuman howling and screaming had become crying which then became a whimper which then finally gave way to a blank silence. It was in this dulled state that I sat James down on a bench while I unpacked the car. I got our bags together and led James away from the car leaving the windows open and the inside exposed. I don’t know what happened to it, if Jonno ever reported it stolen or missing. It had served its purpose.

We were both exhausted and filthy and the checking in process was like a blur. James was somewhat unresponsive but managed to get through the security checks without concern. We had seats in different sections the plane and to be honest I was glad. I showed him to his seat and then found mine and downed a valium with a cold beer I’d got in the duty free. I half snoozed through the safety demonstrations but was fully asleep before the plane took off. Aside from some half recollected visits to the toilets I slept the whole way and I awoke as we began our descent in to London Heathrow.

I tried to find James as the plane emptied but he was gone. I pushed past everyone I had to trying and catch up with him but got stuck in a huge queue at immigration control. I made it though and found James waiting at Arrivals. He’d obviously got off the plane before me as he was waiting there in his still filthy state. He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.

‘This is my mum’ he said pointing to a nice looking middle aged woman stood with a teenager ‘and my sister too, they’ve come to pick me up. I had no idea’.
James introduced me as his girlfriend and we made our introductions. We went for lunch where we told his mother and sister about how we met and about all the places we’d been and things we’d done. James was back to his normal self. We didn’t mention the drive from Perth to Darwin. James might have blocked the whole thing out judging by the way he was acting and I certainly didn’t want to think about it. It was done. There was no need to mention it.

James mother, Susan, kindly drove me to my own parent’s house in hackney where James met my parents. My dad invited James and his family to stay the night, we had plenty of room and they wanted to get to know James. I had written all about him in the many emails I’d sent them over the last few months. Susan said they would love to stay but were unable to as she had commitments the next day. They would have to drive back home that evening, soon if they wanted to be back at a reasonable hour.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow’ James told me as I waved him and his family off. I didn’t bother waiting for his call and I tried him constantly that evening and the next day. For some reason the number he’d given me wasn’t connected. I sent him messages on Facebook and via email. Days went by with no response, his Facebook account closed and emails started bouncing back. My parents told me to give him time, let him get in contact with me. Friends told me to just forget him, that he was an arsehole just after a holiday fling. They all have reasonable suggestions and reassured me there was no reason to worry, but none of them knew about the drive from Perth to Darwin

After some time it began to make some semblance sense, to me at least. The whole episode with the haunted car was a trick. He’d make me want nothing more to do with him or use his supposed breakdown as an excuse to end the relationship. Nothing else made sense to me or could explain his behaviour. I turned my sense or loss into anger and I tried to forget him, tried to move on and eventually I did.

I’d been back in the UK for about five months and was working in local bar when one evening someone put on the ‘greatest hits’ of Elton John. This wasn’t anything important until we hit ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and I stopped in my tracks. I rushed to the toilet and started crying, part out of sadness and part out of anger. I relived the entire relationship and that entire drive over the course of that bastard three minute song. I went home that night and sat down at my laptop. I spent hours on Facebook trying to track down anyone who would’ve known James. I eventually remembered the name of his old school and managed to find his sister on one of its associated pages. Though her profile was closed to anyone who wasn’t a friend, I was able to send her a message with my phone number telling her get James to call me.

The next day my phone rang from an unknown number.
‘James?’ I answered hesitantly.
‘Hello? No, I’m afraid it’s me, Susan’ came the reply ‘is James not there?’
‘What?’ I asked. Susan started crying on the other end of the line. She asked if James was here, if I’d seen him recently, if she could talk to him. I told her what had happened, how he had completely cut me off, how I’d not seen or heard from him since they drove away the day we got back. Through her tears she told me what had happened on her end of this tragedy. James had pretended to still be in touch with me, pretended that he was going to come and live with me and my parents in London, and pretended that my dad had lined up a job for him the workshop. Three months earlier James left his mother’s house with all his things packed in a car he’d brought ago and they’d not heard from him since. I didn’t know what to say or what to do so I hung up. Susan immediately called back so I switched my phone off.

I ignored her calls for a few days until I had worked up the courage to talk to her. When I did, I told her about the road trip, about his breakdown. She listened carefully, told me how James was a bit different when he came home. How he’d lost some of his spark, as she put it.

We went about trying to find him, posting missing persons flyers in both cities, even getting his picture in to national paper. I rallied all our friends from Australia and James’ face is now all over Facebook and traveller websites, ‘missing: have you seen this man’. We had the police try and track his car, bank transactions and passport. There only so much they can do though, after all, he’s an adult and can do what he likes.

Nothing has worked so far. It’s like he has fallen off the face of the Earth. I don’t know what really happened to him in that car but I’m certain his disappearance is something to do with it, that bastard car and that cursed drive from Perth to Darwin.

Credit To – Danbell

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The New Arcade In Town

April 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The New Arcade In Town
Isaac Cook

This is the first time I’ve told anyone this story, and it may be the last, because they’ve found me.

The year was 1994. I was a 15 year old who lived in a small town mainly dominated by church goers and elderly couples who didn’t get along, so there was never much to do. The only things that captured my attention were video games. They were pretty basic at the time, but my family wasn’t well off enough to purchase such a luxury as a home gaming system. It was the middle of summer when talk started to spread of a penny arcade moving into the building where the old video tape store was. My friend and I…we’ll call him Terry, were beyond excited, seeing as it was a much more economically friendly option for us (and our parents) to get a chance to play a videogame, straight out of my gaming magazines! The posters all around town, all bright and playful, detailed that the arcade was to open sunday at 9 AM, which was incredibly convenient, because Terry and I had already planned a sleepover that saturday night.

I brought my magazines to Terry’s because his mom wasn’t willing to spend money on “gimmicks like that”. We stayed up into the early hours of the morning, flipping through them over and over, until we had drilled every game made to date into our heads.
Eventually we both passed out on the floor, lights on, magazines out, and minds full of wonder.

I awoke to the sound of Terry’s mom leaving for her weekly church service, looked to the wall and read the clock; 8:06 AM. Wanting to get there early so we could be first in line, I woke Terry and told him to get ready. We both took showers, changed out of yesterday’s attire and into something more fresh, and snagged some change that Terry’s mom had left for us on the kitchen counter. Before we ran out the door, I looked at the clock; 8:47 AM.

It took us about 10 minutes to walk there. When we approached the line up at the door, there were only a handful of people there. No kids our age, just some older social rejects who had nothing better to do. We jumped into line to secure our spot as the fourth and fifth people to enter the arcade. We cupped our eyes against the arcade front window to block our eyes from the sun, and what we saw blew our 15 year old minds. Rows and rows of arcade games.

Something caught my eye, though- two large double doors with the writing “The Virtual Reality Experience!”. To hear those words virtual and reality in the same sentence back then made absolutely no sense to me, so it intrigued us to the point of making it at the top of our agenda for what to do at 9 o’clock when the doors opened.

The arcade games sprung to life in a fantastic display of lights and colour, and the doors opened. A bald man with a scar on the side of his head walked out, and gestured to the small lineup that we could now enter. As I walked past him, he gave me a blank stare that gave me an extremely uneasy feeling. We continued through the doors and into the fantastic space full of lights and sounds that excited Terry and I even more.

Without saying a word, we ran to the large double doors and pushed them open. They were surprisingly light, and we both stumbled into the room. There was a bald woman with a scar on her head standing next to a table with multiple bulky circular gadgets on it. We both stood up straight, slightly embarrassed, and proceeded towards her. She held out her left hand, and silently pointed to the paper on the table with her right. Two quarters per player for the most immersive gaming experience in this day and age! Fight off the alien race that is attacking the moon base! You are its only hope!

Terry took out his mom’s coins and handed over one dollar in change to the bald woman. She blankly took the money and grabbed one of the bulky circular gadgets on the table, gesturing for us to do so as well. We both grabbed one and watched as she placed it on her head, surrounding it like a helmet. We went to do the same but she gestured for us not to. She went through a side door and came back with two Star Wars blaster looking devices. Terry and I excitedly snagged them from her hands and examined them in awe. They were surprisingly heavy. The woman pressed a button and a thick metal door slid open. She walked through it and we followed attentively. Walking down a flight of stairs, we came to a long, narrow hallway, which led to even more stairs.

We came into an incredibly large room. Other than a black and red striped door on the other side of it, the walls of the entire room were covered in an opaque glass-like substance. Terry and I shot each other excited glances and proceeded to the middle of the room. The woman helped us equip the helmets and blasters. We couldn’t see anything. Thinking this was some sort of joke, I was about to take off my helmet, when the it came to life.

The screen inside the helmet lit up and I looked around to see a totally different place than the strange room before. We were on the moon, outside a building with Canadian flags on it. I looked towards Terry and he was in an astronaut suit, bearing the same blaster as before. I heard a screech ring out through my helmet that made Terry and I jump. Sound on the moon? Ah, well. It was a video game, after all. We turned toward the origin of the horrible sound, to see what I can only describe as a true monster. It was lanky and crawled on four legs. My first thought was that its face was made up of only two deep black holes, presumed to be eyes. It looked sickly and injured as it moved toward the two of us. Its face opened up to form a mouth that bore rows of razor sharp teeth. It paused its advance, and stood up on its hind legs, exposing claws that looked as if they could slice through human flesh like butter. It lunged towards me with surprising speed.

I froze. Time felt slow as I watched the monster gracefully soar through the air towards me, mouth open and claws outstretched. It was suddenly violently knocked to one side as a rod of red fire blew a chunk out of its torso and sent it flying. I looked to Terry, and saw his barrel smoking. This brief moment of surprise was interrupted by more shrieks from other monsters arising in the distance. Shaken up from almost losing the game in the its first moments, it took me a second to understand the situation. Protect the space station, kill monsters, stay alive… easy enough. A burst of adrenaline hit me as the monsters came into view over the craters and hills. There were at least twenty, and they weren’t crawling like the last one, but rather running toward us on two legs, spastically waving their claws around, every limb on their body seemingly twitching every second or two. Without hesitation, Terry and I started to use our weapons against them. They got about ten metres away before the last one collapsed to the ground, motionless.

More monstrous screams came from behind, nearly upon us. Too many to specifically say. Terry and I began to fire uncontrollably into the mob of creatures as they stampeded toward us. Terry was firing at the ones in front of me, as was I. I realized too late that Terry’s actions were foolish, as monsters poured onto him, covering him from view. He screamed in pain. Firing wildly into the crowd of creatures, I managed to take down enough of them that they started to back up, realizing that I was a threat. They crawled back over the hills and craters, revealing Terry’s body, motionless, on the ground. I had stared at him for a minute or so, contemplating what to, when I much deeper, groggy, shriek echoed through the air.

I turned to see a creature, larger than the others, slowly striding on two legs across the lunar surface toward me. Its claws were noticeably longer, and its teeth were curled inwards. I switched my focus from Terry to the monster, and just as I did, it stopped advancing on me. It turned to the right and started walking towards the horizon. It stopped, lifted up its nightmarish claw, and slashed into nothing, but as it did this, what I can only describe as a rip in the air formed. It kept striking until the rip turned into a hole.

It disappeared into the hole. I stood there, confused. I heard screams, both from humans and ruined electronics. For a split second, the message “ERROR:00001\POWERREMOVED” was displayed in front of me. Then, everything went dark.

I waited a few moments before taking off my helmet, and saw what I can only describe as absolute carnage. Creatures with chunks blown out of them were scattered everywhere across the large room, surrounded by pools of yellow ooze. I looked to my feet to see Terry laying on the ground with various lacerations littering his body. Crouching down, I took off his helmet. He was dead.

The shock of my best friend’s death was interrupted by the walls opening and more monsters surging out. Instinctively, I raised the blaster and started firing. It worked just as well as it had in the game. Dropping them as they came out of the hole kept them at bay. Finally, they stopped coming. I stared at the gap in the wall. No more emerged from the darkness beyond the glass opening. I looked around the room, to notice that the black and red stripped door had been ripped down. Realizing that this was my only exit, I moved to it, and walked through the remains of the door.

I was now in some sort of control room. Bald male bodies were scattered across the room, with blood covering most of the floor. All the electronics in the room had been destroyed, all bearing huge claw marks. The silence of the room was interrupted by movement behind me. The largest of the creatures emerged from a dark hallway, hunched over to fit through the gap. Baring teeth and claws, it approached, with the same deep, groggy scream I had heard before. Without even questioning my actions, I pulled out the blaster and sprayed across the room at the horrifying creature. It cowered into the darkness from which it had come, and I heard it scamper down the hallways until the sound faded to nothing. I walked towards the darkness, blaster drawn, and was swallowed by it.

I felt my way through the black hallways and up staircases for what felt like an eternity, occasionally feeling long scratches in the walls left by the monster. Low growls and metallic bangs echoed through the unexplored corridors. My curiosity was cut short when I turned a corner to see light coming from a smashed window high above the floor. The wall and floor was littered with long scratch marks, yellow ooze and broken glass. I moved up the staircase to come into a small room filled with blasters and a slightly open door. Peeking through, I saw the woman who had directed Terry and me into this horrible mess. I burst through, aimed my blaster and held the trigger until she was unrecognizable, my mind numb with the pure rage of my best friend’s death. From nowhere, more bald men swarmed to the scene.

I stood there, with cuts, bruises, yellow ooze and blood covering my body, as they all blankly stared at me. Shoving through the crowd, I ran out of the Arcade, blaster in hand.

That was 21 years ago, and the bald scarred men have been pursuing me ever since. I often think about the time Terry and I spent in the game, how it could’ve played out so differently. If not for him, we both would have died in that horrible place. I’ve tried telling others, but I gave up long ago, for everyone thinks I’m mad.

I went out west to the coast but it doesn’t matter how far I go, they always seem to catch up to me. I see them walking on the streets, in restaurants, even on TV. I swear one of them looks like Terry. Sometimes at night I hear the shrieks of that monster in the distance. I fear that my time may be short. As I write this, there is a bald, scarred man sitting under the light of a bus stop across the street, blankly staring at my house. I can hear scratching noises at my back door, accompanied by the occasional low groggy moan.

I’m going to die here.

Credit To – Isaac Cook and John Cook

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