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Darkness in the Rear View Mirror

May 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I have always been uneasy driving alone at night. It was worst the first few times, when I had just gotten my license, but the nagging fear has never gone away to this day. It’s disorienting to look into the mirrors and see nothing, and I mean nothing but the consuming blackness of the night. It makes me hesitant to check the mirrors should I see this dark void, or worse, someone sitting in my back seat staring at me.

In the summer of 2013, I found myself driving home alone on highway 902 from a party. It was almost midnight, and needless to say it was pitch black. As was usual at night, I was on edge. I had the radio off, and could hear nothing but the muffled roar of tires on pavement and the dull hum of the engine. I stole a glance into the middle rear view mirror, and saw nothing but darkness through the back window.

I know that I looked backward and saw nothing. I’m sure of it. Just the seemingly endless blackness of the night. I remember it so clearly because not ten seconds later a car passed me to the left. Headlights on. I had one of those sudden adrenaline rushes like when you think you see a person outside your bedroom window when it’s just a tree, or when you start awake at night with the feeling of falling. Ten seconds earlier, nothing had been behind me. Suddenly, a car. I drove all the way home shivering and knowing something was off.

The next morning, I found two sets of scratches near the back of my van. One was on the left rear, one was on the right. The car was pretty old. They could have been there for months, but that was the first time that I distinctly remembered seeing them.

In hindsight, there are two possibilities for what happened that night. Possibility one. By some glitch in reality, or something paranormal, this other car had somehow appeared behind me within ten seconds of me checking my mirror. Like some weird ghost crap or something. However, the second option is what makes my blood run cold whenever I consider it.

It didn’t even occur to me until months after the fact, but it makes me dread driving alone at night even more. Possibility two. The car was normal. It had approached me from the rear and passed me to my left. However, something large, and wide, and as black as the night had been clinging to the rear of my car, obscuring my view through the window and leaving deep scratches on the sides.

And I had inadvertently driven it home with me.

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The Lost Cosmonaut

May 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Officially, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to reach outer space. His historic flight in April of 1961 kick-started the space race in earnest. The Soviet space program, however, was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning. There have long been questions regarding the existence of “lost cosmonauts,” those individuals who’d ventured beyond our atmosphere at the cost of their lives, their failure and very existence expunged by the Soviet government in an effort to save face.

From a listening station just outside of Turin, Italy, two amateur radio operators had been scanning the skies since the 1950s. In October of 1960, a full six months before Gagarin flew, they picked up a strange transmission from space. Breaking through a sea of static came the ghostly voice of a woman, which they were able to record. She spoke Russian, and while they couldn’t understand it, the distress in her voice was clear. She seemed to be choking back tears as she spit out the words. After a moment the static came creeping back, swallowing her voice like a wave. It wasn’t long before the operators had a translation:

“No one will ever know,” she was repeating. “No one will ever know…no one will ever know…”

The words would prove prophetic, for indeed no one would know who this mysterious woman was, or why she said what she’d said.

Until now.

Growing up, the greatest speeds Roza Ivanova had ever known were on the back of her favorite horse Agripin, racing across the rolling hills of the Irkutsk countryside. She’d never felt so free as on the back of this powerful beast, and almost believed his hooves might well leave the ground upon cresting each rise, never to land again.

Then came the war to shatter juvenile fantasy. Like so many Russian families, hers came to know loss and hardship firsthand. Roza didn’t like to talk about that. She had been lucky though, securing an education in Moscow in the years that followed. It was here at university where she found her second passion after horseback riding, that of skydiving. Agripin never did leave the ground, but Roza, having achieved the feat on her own, now gleefully dove back toward it.

Motherhood and a stint in local politics kept her busy after graduation. Yet if her thirst for adventure was quelled, it was not quenched. It simmered below the surface, anticipating any chance to boil over. It was with great delight, then, that she received news of her selection for training in the nascent Soviet space program: Me? They want to see me? What I can show them!

Sergei Korolyov was adamant: It must be a woman. Pulled from the Gulags two decades prior, the brilliant head of Soviet rocket development insisted to his superiors that it would be a public relations coup. Besides, he argued, women in general are smaller and lighter than men. And as he was so fond of saying with regard to launches, every gram counts. Only in the last few months had the potential for a payload greater than dogs been realized. Their deaths were not a deterrent. The Politburo, for their part, did not need much convincing. They glowed at the choice. “Hah!” responded a low-ranking official. “First person and first woman in one — let the Americans best that! They haven’t the balls twice over!” That earned a smattering of laughter from the council.

The selection process began, and by the time Korolyov’s team found Roza, there were nine other candidates. One by one, they were brought in and presented to him in the same brusque manner.

“Name?” The baby-faced director sat scribbling at his desk.

“Roza Ivanova!”

He gave her the briefest of glances as he continued to write. “And where do you come from, Roza Ivanova?”

“Irkutsk Oblast, Siberia!”

“Mm-hmm. Age and weight?”

“Thirty-two years, fifty-six point seven kilograms!”

Scribble scribble. “Thank you, Roza Ivanova from Irkutsk. You may go.”

It was new, tense, exciting. She couldn’t wait to start.

All of them passed the rigorous training process, which included isolation and centrifuge tests, numerous parachute jumps, and engineering studies. But it was Roza they picked in the end. Her skydiving background should serve her well in the mission’s critical reentry stage, as should her political acumen in presenting a face to the media. It was an easy face to look at too, with high cheek bones, asiatic eyes, and a confident smile framed by thick blond curls. She was also the lightest of the group — every gram counts — and her father being a war hero didn’t hurt either.

She counted the days until her launch, half-believing there was no way it would actually come, that this was all a grand dream — until the day it actually came.

The October morning in the Kazakh Steppe was cool, dry, and gray. Early sunlight began its steady march across the warming tarmac. Roza had seen the Vostok rocket plenty before. Still, being ferried to it now, knowing what was in store, it impressed anew as the sun rose. The thing was a marvel, a shimmering silver-white skyscraper towering over the flat landscape. Four massive boosters draped off its sides, meeting the core stage with an elegant taper. The surmounting nose cone pointed triumphantly skyward.

Already suited, Roza met with Korolyov at the launch pad. He took her gloved hands in his. “This day will be a remarkable one,” he said, planting kisses of well-being on her cheeks. “You will succeed.” She smiled, grateful for his words. She only wished her son could be here. Of course, the mission must be kept secret, for now, even from her loved ones. Especially from her loved ones. She made her way toward the service structure cradling the rocket. Back turned, Korolyov fetched a pill from his pocket and tossed it down his throat. He was a jungle of frayed nerves inside.

A flurry of thoughts filled Roza’s head as the elevator inched its way up the scaffolding. She felt as if the whole of her life had condensed to this single moment. That she had a responsibility not to one person, not to any group, but to all of mankind. And realized, behind the pride and joy, there lurked the somber knowledge that for a short time, she would be more alone than anyone who ever lived. She made these thoughts known to the flanking personnel, save the last, and they recorded them. With a soft whine, the lift came to a halt before the vacant craft.

Assisted by technicians, she secured her helmet and squirmed inside the cockpit. Cramped, but not much to it, she mused. Seat could use some cushioning. The instrument panel was simple in the extreme: a few gauges, various indicator lights, a moving half-globe to show position. Controls were all but nonexistent. In fact, all major controls were locked. The craft would operate with automatic systems or via remote ground control — manual override was not an option. Nobody was sure how a human might react in the weightless environment of outer space, so no chances would be taken. After a final check, the hatch was closed and sealed. Roza communicated with ground control, operating under the call sign “Dawn,” while awaiting the go-ahead for launch. She’d chosen as her own call sign “Agripin.”

AGRIPIN: How do you read me?
DAWN: I hear you well. Cabin pressurization complete. VHF reception is good. Ping 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
AGRIPIN: I understand fine. Ready to go. How do I look?
DAWN: Roger. TV image is good. Heart beat is normal. Lights check.
AGRIPIN: Roger. Lights are good. Like a New Year tree. [laughs]
DAWN: A bit unseasonable for that, I'm afraid.

This pre-flight chatter continued for a while, until finally:

AGRIPIN: I hear the valves working. Slight rumbling.
DAWN: Yes, get ready please.
AGRIPIN: Ready. I feel good. Rumble increasing.
DAWN: We are giving ignition...preliminary stage...intermediate...main...lift off!

Whoomp. The scaffolding parted. Steam billowed, fires burst, and the tower slowly rose in defiance of gravity.

AGRIPIN: Soar, Agripin, soar!

Roza was pushed to her seat with oppressive force as the vehicle shook and rattled. She prayed it would hold together. Agonizing minutes later, having propelled her to north of 18,000 miles per hour, the boosters dropped away in unison. Acceleration let up at once, throwing her forward. The payload fairing split in two petals and fell away, revealing a second porthole at her feet. She radioed that she could see Earth, that it was breathtaking. Then whoomp as the second stage ignited. Multiple Gs pinned her back as the rocket arced in an easterly curve away from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The sky had gone from white to a variety of lighter and darker blues, approaching black: a smooth gradient of Earth to space.

The second stage engine shut down, then whoomp as the third fired up. More Gs pounded every part of her body, threatening to flatten her, as if she were being pinned down by an elephant. She rode the wave of acceleration until the final stage was spent, detaching with a bang. Free. Ten minutes after liftoff, all sensation of speed stopped for good. Roza was now free-floating in space. She sat off her chair as far as the restraints would allow, enjoying the sensation.

The Vostok spacecraft was little more than a hollow ball on a cylindrical chassis, terminating to a retro engine and bristling with antennas. Its objective was to make one revolution around Earth before reentry, after which Roza would eject from the module and parachute to the ground. Total flight time should be just over one and a half hours.

Roza fed ground control continual status updates as she got on her way. This would constitute the bulk of her mission, as there was little else to do but enjoy the sights. Through the lower porthole, Earth was a beautiful mosaic of mountain, sea, and cloud. She reached for an overhead compartment, producing a monocular (a request granted with some hesitation — every gram counts, after all), lifted her visor, and trained the instrument on random landmasses. The terrain crawled by like a conveyor.

Forty-two minutes after liftoff, Roza reported that she was on the night side of Earth and would soon be passing over the United States. The California coast with its nebulous tendrils of city lights rolled into view, and she wondered how slumbering Americans would react to news of this Soviet woman above their skies.

If Sputnik was a headache, this ought to be a full-blown nervous breakdown!

She radioed ground control for a general update. No response came.

Korolyov was himself on the verge of a breakdown. He paced back and forth through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, puffing and steaming. “My capsule!” he shouted to anyone making the mistake of eye contact. “How is my capsule?”

“She has passed beyond the radio horizon,” said a flight controller, “but should –”

“But should have come back by now!” snapped Korolyov.

“Sir, there are any number of reasons why –”

“I’m getting something!” The controller was interrupted again, this time by a radio operator. “I think it’s her!” He turned up a dial.

Korolyov frowned, cocking an ear. Reception was poor at first, the words coming through in disjointed chunks.

AGRIPIN: ...read me? There is...repeat, I can see something...orbit...to be artificial. Do you read me? Dawn, can...I see an object...
DAWN: We read you, we read you. It is poor, say again!
AGRIPIN: I understand you. Dawn, there is a foreign object in orbit ahead.

Every body in the room froze.

The world of dream transitioned to that of waking. Daylight was breaking above the South Atlantic when Roza, still trying to make contact with Dawn, caught sight of a twinkle. A thing that should not be there. Now, communications restored and curiosity piqued, she provided details as they came.

AGRIPIN: Object is in a higher orbit...I believe I will overtake it. Reflective surface, spherical...approaching closer...too big for a satellite, I think. Just a minute...

Roza retrieved the monocular and aimed it through the forward porthole. She gasped. The shock could not have been greater were it a flying saucer with little green men inside.

AGRIPIN: A spacecraft! I make out lettering...”CCCP” -- it's one of ours!
DAWN: Chyort!

The expletive was under the breath, unintended, but audible.

AGRIPIN: I see extensive damage. A hole has been ripped through the reentry module...two sides...catastrophic. It...

Roza struggled to maintain composure. The craft was almost identical to hers. She conjectured that a small meteoroid might have punched its way through the hull, a one-in-a-million stroke of incredibly bad luck. Aside from the damage, there was something else about this craft that bothered her. It was…too small? What did that mean?

Then came a new shock:

AGRIPIN: There is...oh! Can it be? There is an occupant inside! I see the torso, the helmet. How is this possible? I am approaching closer...

Her little spaceship sailed toward the anomaly.

AGRIPIN: I see the helmet in the sun. He is smi...

Roza let herself trail off. She could not finish the sentence, because it made no sense. Smiling? He was smiling? She pressed the monocular’s eyecup to her skin and soon saw why.

The meteoroid — or whatever it was — had torn not only through the craft, but through its unfortunate occupant as well. His body ended in ragged strips just below the waist. She forced herself to watch as it floated listlessly about the cabin. When the front of the helmet came into view once more, Roza took a good look at the face. The eyes were tiny, shriveled orbs. What she’d mistaken for smiling was in fact decayed flesh around the mouth, exposing teeth and gums in a horrible rictus. This surprised her. She would not have expected decomposition in space.

And he was so young. So young… Her brain did not want to process the final revelation that would set every piece in context. Yet she could not escape it as the gap between the two vehicles closed:

This was no man. This was a boy of about ten years.

Dogs were not enough. They needed a person in space, and before the Americans. Booster capacity, though, had not been adequate for a fully grown adult. Close, they were close, but not quite there. And they could not wait, would not wait. Their solution was a heartbreaking compromise. He must have launched not four months ago, when the last pair of “muttniks” went up. Every gram counts.

Roza thought of her son as anger welled within.

AGRIPIN: A boy? You sent a boy? How could you do such a thing?
DAWN: Agripin -- Roza -- please. We could not foresee such an accident. It was imperative he go.

Korolyov’s voice reached across space, ringing hollow by the time it filtered through Roza’s earpiece.

AGRIPIN: But why? It wasn't right. He should be acknowledged, people should know he was first. We must tell the world he was first!

A heavy sigh, then a moment of silence before Korolyov spoke again:

DAWN: Can you not reconsider?
AGRIPIN: I insist! The right thing must be done.

Rosa’s resolve was clear. More silence.

DAWN: I am sorry, Comrade. He cannot be first in space. And neither can you.

An orange lamp alerted her to the working of the attitude control thrusters. The view tilted as they fired in quick spurts, pitching the rear of the craft earthward.

AGRIPIN: Wait! What are you doing? Stop!
DAWN: I--we cannot return you. In any form. The wreckage may fall into the wrong hands.

Paralyzed, she stared into a silent empire of solitude. The black expanse stared back with a million starry eyes.

AGRIPIN: You mean to...
DAWN: You have served the Motherland well. I am sorry.

And Korolyov was sorry. She was a good Soviet. A good woman. But he could not risk a return to the Gulags.

The smaller Vostok came into view above and to her right. One arm of the remains of its passenger, palm out and bent at the elbow, seemed to give her a lazy zero-G wave as it bobbed through the window.

AGRIPIN: Nyet! Nyet! What you are about to do --

Whoomp. The retro rocket fired with a roar. In tandem with the nitrogen thrusters, it pushed her into a new orbit curving away from the Earth, into an escape velocity from which there was no return. The corpse floated and grinned behind her.

AGRIPIN: Nyet! You cannot!

Roza was powerless to stop the remote commands. The stars beckoned, growing the tiniest bit closer.

The capsule, her bravest, swiftest horse, was now her coffin, and it was her fate that she would be interred in the cold folds of deep space. The conditioned air of the cabin was ice on her skin. It smelled sickly sweet, like rotting fruit. Roza began to shiver. “But no one will ever know about us!” she cried out to the uncaring cosmos. “No one will ever know…no one will ever know…”

Agripin galloped through her mind, unbounded at last.

“Shut it off,” said Korolyov, pointing to the radio. Click. The men in ground control sat at their consoles with grim faces. Korolyov opened a new pack of cigarettes, tapped one out and hung it at his lips. “Tragic, yes. A setback, yes.” He struck a match. “Do not fret, Comrades. We will try again. And we will succeed.”

He trudged out the room in a wake of blue smoke, searching his pockets for another pill. No such luck.

Credit: alapanamo

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Graveyard Pictures

May 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Graveyard Pictures

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

Credit: Cold Chills

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Fragment

April 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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FRAGMENT from Noah Griffith & Daniel Stewart on Vimeo.

Directed by Noah Griffith
Produced by Daniel Stewart
Written by Noah Griffith & Daniel Stewart
Starring William Hoverder

An Air Force jet breaks up over the desert. A mysterious radio beacon draws the pilot from the crash site. A discovery is waiting. And it is not of this Earth.

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Unexpected Home Videos

April 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Before I start, I just wanted to explain that what you’re about to read will make you question the writer’s identity, my identity. Believe me when I say that I am too. You’ll question whether I’m telling a lie, or maybe you won’t even believe me, because this story is just so bizarre.

I was 17 at the time this all happened. My Social Studies class was doing an assignment that compared traits we all had as children based on now, and to do this we had to use home videos from our childhood. My friend David’s mother had drawers in their house stacked full with home videos of him, being he was an only child. My mother didn’t have any home videos of me that I knew of. I had 3 siblings, all of which were in the frame of 3 years apart from me. I get the camera quality was probably better by the time they were born, but still.

I didn’t know if it was just my mother’s way of shunning me since I’d chosen to move in with my grandma on my dad’s side 2 months ago. She had alzheimer’s, so my dad and I looked after her since my grandpa had long since died. However, I learned that my mother had a reason for having no home videos of me after I asked my grandma if she had any. She said she did, but couldn’t remember where she kept them, and that I would have to search for them.

I spent about an hour ransacking the house looking for the home videos, until I found them in a box hidden deep in the guest room closet. They were covered in dust, and I wondered if we even had a VHS player in the house. I ended up calling David after finding that we didn’t have one, since I knew that he had one in the living room in his house. I drove over with a box full of home videos and started watching them as David went to get us some soda.

The tapes were pretty poor quality. I guessed that my grandma had an old fashioned film recorder when she was recording. The tapes started out normal enough, the first one contained a cliche bath scene when I was about a year old. There was another kid in the bath tub with me, who looked to be the same age I was. I figured it was a cousin or something, seeing as it couldn’t be one of my siblings. However, the kid’s face was oddly similar to mine. The film was rather blurry and Grandma seemed to be moving around a bit, so I couldn’t exactly confirm how similar the kid’s face was to mine. It didn’t really seem out of the ordinary, since my mom and her sister were twins. I hadn’t seen my cousin in a while, but I just figured he looked similar to me when we were little. But I must have been mistaking him for being older than he actually was at that time, since he was 2 years younger than me.

We started the next video after deciding that the bath video would not be shown in class. The next video was footage from Christmas morning. The tapes had no labels on them, so I was just popping them in randomly. This video was long, the camera never moved from me as I opened all my gifts and giggled with glee at my unwrapped presents. My cousin from the last video was there again, sitting beside me as he opened his gifts as well. We were older, about a year and a half. I heard one of the adults in the video say my name, to which my cousin looked up. Or maybe it was me that looked up. I must have mixed my cousin and I up, considering I never really giggled much as a child and was rather quiet. I shrugged it off, beginning to play the next tape.
This video was recorded at the beach. This time, I could see my brother as a baby in my mother’s arms, the youngest not yet born. My cousin was there again. I thought it was kind of weird that he was there in every single family event, but I slightly remember my mom and her sister being extremely close around this time, so I supposed it wasn’t really that odd.

As David and I were watching the video in silence, I remembered my Mom and my Auntie were always together during this time, usually speaking to each other in hushed voices in Mom’s room. I remember being told to leave Mommy alone when I would listen at the door. I could never figure out why they were crying though.

This time, there was another kid with us. He was splashing me with salt water, causing me to run to my Mom crying. The camera followed me as I ran up the beach, but suddenly jerked towards the other kid’s direction. I heard screams. They were unlike anything I’d ever heard before, I’d describe them as bloodcurdling. I saw my Auntie run towards the kid, who had fallen over in the waves and was unseen by the camera. She was screaming a name I’d never heard in our family before; Skylar.

I saw my Mom follow her, they were both calling into the waves, screaming “Skylar!” Over and over again. At this point, I couldn’t see the kid anywhere and the camera had been dropped on the ground, so the view was at a sideways angle. Suddenly someone, who I assumed was my Grandma, shut the camera off and the video went to static.

Now before you ask, I don’t know what happened to Skylar. I assumed he was swallowed by the waves and pushed back far into the ocean, but I don’t have the heart to ask anybody. All I know is that he isn’t alive.

“What the hell.” David said, looking at me in a way like he expected an explanation, but I had none.

“I don’t know, man.” I said, my voice sounded hoarse, my throat was suddenly unreasonably dry. I was so shocked, all I could think to do was put in the next tape, thinking that maybe the next one would explain what happened to Skylar, assuming these were in order.

David didn’t protest as I picked out the next tape, just stared at the screen. This tape felt charred, as if somebody had tried to burn it. It had pieces breaking off of it. I didn’t know if it would still work. I put the tape in, and sure enough it played almost like normal, aside from a few lags in the video.

The video was me, my brother, my cousin and another kid I didn’t know playing in the backyard. I was a little shaken from the last video, so I couldn’t pay too much attention at that point. However, when I looked at the face of the kid I didn’t know, I saw that it looked exactly like my cousin, down to the dimple that only appeared on one side of his face when he smiled. But then, who was the kid in all the other videos? I considered that maybe the kid was a ghost that only I could see, but I ruled it out because my family members had addressed him in the videos before. So then, who was he?

The video went on pretty normally with all us kids innocently playing in the backyard, until it happened. A dog I didn’t see until it surged towards me entered the video. Again, I heard screaming, much like the last video, except the name they screamed was different obviously.

The camera must have been left on a surface or something, because I saw my Grandma helping to try to pull the dog away as it attacked me. The other kids were cowering behind a bucket stood up at the corner of the yard. I watched on in absolute shock as the dog ran from my parents and my Grandma, dragging me with it and savagely shaking me about. My dad brought out an ice pick and threw it at the dog, and it finally let go of me with a yelp and ran.

I could see myself for a few seconds before the adults crowded me. My face was a bloody pulp, teeth marks were inflicted into my throat and I wasn’t moving. I watched them carry me off, blood trailing behind me as they left the thick puddle in the middle of the yard.

Something weirder happened then. Just before my Grandma shut off the camera, I heard my Auntie address the kid that I didn’t know as the name that my Grandma most often mistook me for these days. Justin.

My Grandma again shut off the camera, the video turning to static.

I felt sick to my stomach, but more than anything, I was beyond confused. I hadn’t died, I was still alive, but how had I died? And it had been me, I know it was me because I remember the shirt I was wearing. It was my favourite shirt when I was little, not to mention that everyone had been screaming my name.

I looked over at David, expecting him to say something, but he said nothing. A few seconds later I watched him rush to the bathroom and heard this gurgling purging noises.

That night, I considered what had happened. I was still confused as all hell, and beyond frightened. Was this the type of tape that showed you your death if you hadn’t avoided it somehow? Was I being picked off Final Destination style?

This happened a few weeks ago. I still don’t know what’s going on. I haven’t died yet though. I know what you’re all thinking, that it was my twin brother. But here’s the thing, I don’t have a twin brother, never did. I asked my Mom about it and she had no idea what I was talking about. I have no explanation for what happened.

Something weird happened yesterday though. I was at home with Grandma and she kept calling me Justin like she usually does. I always just shrugged it off because of her Alzheimer’s, but now there’s just something unsettling about it.

“Your mother ripped me a new one today, Justin. Said I should have got rid of those videos.” She said rather suddenly. She was staring at me in a way that made my back prickle uneasily.

“Why?” I asked softly, hearing the unease in my voice.

“Said you’d find out the truth, said you’d be mad. She wanted you to be him, she said.” She sounded confused, so I figured she probably didn’t remember the events that happened in the videos at all.

“My name isn’t Justin.” I heard myself saying, but it felt like it wasn’t even me speaking. “My name is Dan, Grandma.”

She smiled at me then, patting me on the hand.

“No honey, you’re Justin. Your brother’s name is Dan.”

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Nobody Can Help My Brother Now, Not Even God

April 21, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It was just like any other day when I received the call. I had been sketching the horizon for the past hour when my phone began ringing with an unfamiliar number. I would have ignored it if the call hadn’t been from my home town. Fast forward 24 hours later, and I’m sitting in a stark conference room and waiting for a team of doctors to arrive. I would have never imagined myself in this position. Who could? My mind was racing, and I wished that the doctor had given me a clearer explanation over the phone. This is all I know. I’m here to oversee my twin brother’s transfer from Charity Medical Center to the New Eden Psychiatric Hospital.

As you can imagine, I was freaking out. My knees were quivering uncontrollably beneath the table to say nothing of my hands, and I only had framed, black and white photographs of Charity’s grand opening to stare at. If my brother had a history of medical problems, I probably wouldn’t haven been as terrified, but James always had a clean bill of health.

I blame myself for allowing this to happen. I know it’s a stereotype that the older twin is supposed to be the role model for the younger twin, but I was always the responsible one. When my parents left the picture, I tried to pick up the slack, and it worked for a little while. At the same time, it just meant that I had to become more of a leader than a brother. I think James resented me for that. It’s part of the reason that when I left for art school, we lost contact with each other. My brother was very simple-minded with limited goals in life. He stayed in our childhood home, probably got himself a local job, and hung out with his remaining friends that hadn’t left our small town. I should have tried harder. I should have been the bigger person.

When the team of doctors, therapists, and other specialists arrived, I was on the brink of tears with worry. They gave me a few moments by gathering files together before introducing themselves. To some degree, I sensed that nobody knew where to begin; they all looked collectively lost. I spoke up first.

“What happened?”

This seemed to be a question that the lead doctor could answer. “If you’ll save your questions for the end, Mr. Harrington, I’ll be able to explain everything to you.”

I nodded solemnly and clenched my hands tightly beneath the table.

“I’m first going to start with how your brother came under our care. James and a few of his friends were out partying at a family farm, and drinking and fireworks were involved. The farm was very isolated, and they planned to shoot off the fireworks. As you may not know, fireworks are illegal in our state. There was an accident. One of the larger explosives was not set up correctly, and needless to say, it exploded in a very close proximity to everyone there. James was the only survivor.” The doctor paused and allowed me to process how I nearly lost my only brother. Before I could say anything, the man continued.

“This case is one of the most bizarre we’ve ever seen, and I don’t mean to alarm you. When two officers went to investigate the area, they reportedly seized after going approximately thirty feet near the blast site. The station sent professionals to the area, and they recovered seven bodies. Six of them were covered in acid burns while your brother was untouched by comparison. The police theorized that it must have been a chemical within the explosive that shot outward. Samples were taken for testing, but we still have not heard back from the police. We gained some insight when your brother came to. Within a day, he was talking to our resident therapist, Dr. Marshall, and describing what he remembered. James mentioned that he felt uneasy about exploding the fireworks in the first place because one of his friends got them discounted from some street salesman. He said when the accident happened, everything was enveloped in a powdery smoke, and he could remember being unable to breathe.” At this point, the doctor sighed and shifted his glasses to the bridge of his nose.

“We found no clear physical injury. James complained of having terrible headaches, and we quickly diagnosed him with a concussion and performed the necessary tests to determine if there was extensive brain damage. We found nothing. James’s only other complaint was that his arms ached, and he had trouble moving them. We quickly learned that he had full control of his arms. There is nothing wrong neurologically. For whatever reason, he felt opposed to using them, and so he heavily relied on our staff.”

“We were in the process of preparing a series of therapies for him and were considering discharging him when he began showing new symptoms. He began refusing to sleep, and he was reluctant to say why. Asking him about it seemed to upset him. We eventually began inducing sleep which is something we normally do if patients are having trouble resting. It only seemed to worsen his condition. Oddly enough, we linked this to his pineal gland. This gland is located within the brain and produces melatonin which regulates sleeping patterns. It was likely that this part of his brain became damaged during the accident. We assumed that he wasn’t “feeling tired” without the hormone alerting his brain. Even with us trying to induce sleep, it stopped working.” The doctor paused and removed his glasses, releasing a sigh and rubbing his forehead.

“It was at this point that he began babbling to himself. We considered it harmless at first until he began saying things that he couldn’t possibly know. He predicted one of our nurse’s parents having a car crash where three people would die. He predicted six deaths through our emergency services and the exact causes of death. He predicted seven suicides, all in different states, down to the date of death, cause of death, and reason for committing suicide. He also predicted my sister’s lung cancer which she had told nobody about not even me.”

“Shortly after he began making these predictions, he began complaining hysterically about eyes staring at him and being all over his body. He wouldn’t stop screaming until we bandaged his arms completely, so they wouldn’t be able to stare at him any longer. Of course, there was nothing there. Since we’ve called you, he’s been in a catatonic-like state, and we believe that he might have developed a form of schizophrenia as a result of the accident. That’s why we asked you to come, and I apologize for not alerting you sooner. We are a clinic. We are not equipped to take care of your brother which is why I feel transferring him to New Eden would be more beneficial toward his health and recovery.”

I didn’t say anything for a long time. The entire team of doctors seemed exhausted by the explanation, myself included. I couldn’t fathom how something like this could have happened. There was only one thing on my mind though. “Before I sign anything, I want to see James.”

The lead doctor opened his mouth, and I knew that he was going to deny my request. That’s when Dr. Marshall, my brother’s therapist, cut him off. “It would do James some good to see some family.”

And with that, our meeting was temporarily adjourned. I would follow Dr. Marshall to visit my brother while the necessary paperwork was gathered and prepared for our return. I didn’t know what to expect. The doctor’s story had been extremely difficult to believe, yet the grim expressions surrounding that conference table made me feel ill. It was much, much worse than I could have ever imagined though.

My brother had been placed in a private ward where he could be monitored 24-7 by the attending staff. A nurse was actually sitting just outside in case James required anything. There was a large window along the wall that allowed anyone to peer inside. The lights were dimmed, but I could clearly see my brother through the glass.

“What the hell is that?” I demanded, glancing between Dr. Marshall and the nurse for an explanation.

“What?” they replied as if they had no idea what I was talking about.

“You don’t see it?” I asked breathlessly. They looked at me as if I were insane.

I turned wordlessly back to the glass and stared at my brother’s rigid frame. He was sat criss-cross on his bed and facing us, but he wore a blank expression as if he were staring off into space. I was more focused on the crimson eye sitting in the middle of his forehead and studying me.

Credit: Ariel Lowe

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